So you don’t know what your niche is

IMG_3819Recently, I’ve been feeling the pressure to have a “niche” or a “thing”. It feels like there’s a constant stream of messages asking “what’s your calling?” and “what is the unique contribution to the world that you make that no one else can offer?” I think we’ve begun to believe the lie that there is just one lone and solitary role or activity that we need to find in order to fulfil these questions. When we do this, we limit what we’ve been made for and constrain the potential that God has put in us.

Late last year when I was in Italy, I learned a little about Michelangelo. As I stared up at the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel and took selfies next to his statue of David, I realised just how versatile Michelangelo was as an artist. He was a sculptor, painter, architect, poet, and engineer. He didn’t limit himself to just one stream of art but branched out to engage in many practices. I also love that he thought very little of painting as an art form but still managed to produce one of the most famous frescos in Renaissance art, that’s just not fair!

I’ve often beaten myself up about not having a “thing”. I like drawing and writing and painting and leading groups and teaching and making and cooking and planning and strategizing and dreaming. I don’t fit neatly into a box and will flick from project to project. But I wonder if it’s actually a good thing to have a variety of passions. To have a number of passions that you don’t have to pick and choose between. Those projects that I play with and just mess about on, when I flick from venture to venture – they all matter.

I don’t want to limit myself or remove any part of my interests. Let’s not stress about the grander vision or how it all links up. Lets be released from the worry of the overall picture or unity. What unifies your work is the fact that you made it. Perhaps your calling is many things. To be a painter and banker and father and writer. To teach children all day and to write music at night. To work in marketing 9-5 and at 8pm, to mock up a website or 2. Perhaps it’s not either/or. Perhaps we really can have both.

Feeding Hedgehogs

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In the house I grew up in, there was a large, flat bush that grew across the patio. Underneath the hedge, you could hear all sorts of scuffling about as there lived a variety of wildlife – mice, blackbirds, robins, beetles, frogs, ladybirds and the like. You could sit in the kitchen and see different creatures sneaking out to eat the latest titbits that my Mum had left for them.

Every now and then, we’d get a hedgehog in our garden take residence under the hedge. And we would leave milk out for them and watch eagerly to see if we could catch a glimpse of them. They would totter out in the blanket of evening light and lap up the creamy goodness. But one day, we learnt that milk wasn’t the best for them. Although they seemed to enjoy it and would drink it, hedgehogs eat slugs and snails and insects, not milk. Milk was tasty, but to make them strong and healthy, they needed nutritious grubs and creepy crawlies.

Our spiritual diets can become a bit like hedgehogs. There are thousands of faith blogs and books and podcasts out there that talk about the gospel and biblical principles that you find in God’s Word. And they’re wonderful. I find them helpful and challenging and inspiring and they sharpen and refine me. But they were never supposed to replace the word of God. The meaty, nutritious meals that make our faith strong. If we’re not careful, we can end up living off the latest sermon or preach or Christian bestseller instead of turning to the bible. We can live off Christian resources that are perhaps a little easier to digest and take less work to understand. The bible is true and pure and powerful and mighty and perfect. It’s a light to our path and lamp to our feet. These other resources are good but they’re imperfect. They’re flawed and limited just like the people that wrote them. They don’t carry the same power and authority that you find in the bible.

Perhaps you get to the phase where you think “Did I really read that in the bible or did I just read about someone else who read that in the bible and thought that?” There’s a time when we need to silence the other voices and opinions and interpretations of what the bible says and just get alone with God to meet with him and listen to what he wants to say directly to us through the pages in his book and the promptings of the Holy Spirit. Not to us through that Tim Keller, or to us through Spurgeon or Bill Johnson or Bobbie Houston, but to us through closing the door and opening the bible and hearing God’s voice personally.

So don’t stop reading the books and blogs and listening to the preaches, just make sure you eat the grubs too.

Boring Mondays

unnamedWhen I was a child, I remember numerous times moaning to my Mum that I was bored. She’d always answer with the same thing – “that’s nice” or “go and find something to do then”. So we did. My siblings and I would go and play teachers with pens and paper. Claire and I would play stables in the garden being horses. We published a fairy newspaper and created weekly matinees of musical versions of Aladdin. I’d play interior designers and create a dream house I’d want to live in. The boys would choreograph some new fighting scene with Kung Foo kicks off the sofa (often to the demise of various household ornaments). When we were bored, it turned out that we could be quite resourceful.

We can fear boredom and see it as a negative thing. When we’re bored, we reach for some kind of entertainment to see us through – a TV screen, or a mobile device or a slew of other devices to fill us with amusement and fill the void. We consume avidly to erase boredom. But boredom is the impetus to creativity.

The creator of Gilbert, the U.S. Comic Strip, wrote this “I make a living being creative and have always assumed that my potential was inherited from my parents. But for allowing my creativity to flourish, I have to credit the soul-crushing boredom of my childhood.”

My best ideas and thoughts and notions come when I’m bored; an idea for my work, a project at home, a creative piece for a Sunday. When I’m in the shower or running or lying in bed trying to get to sleep, when my mind isn’t stimulated by the constant stream of our technology soaked culture.

But do I like being bored? No. I’m all “go, go, go! don’t dilly dally, get a move on!”. If I’m standing in line or waiting for a meeting, I’ll reach for my phone to check emails or swipe through social media. If I’m driving the car, I’ll put on some music or a podcast. Erase the boredom, only boring people get bored.

 

Delightfully Chaotic, a Beautiful Mess

I liked maths at school. I liked the concreteness of it. The answer was either right or wrong. There were no grey areas. You either got the answer right, or you didn’t. I grew up enjoying the security of the correct answer, knowing that if I picked appropriately, I then would meet the standard and be satisfactory. But then always getting the answer right became hard work. When I got the answer wrong, feelings of shame and blame and judgement erupted. I saw those who around me striving to meet particular unattainable standards and melt down under the belief “If I do everything perfectly and get all straight A’s, I’ll avoid shame and be OK”. Being correct and right and looking perfect and flawless all the time became this unattainable goal. I see it now in other areas too, wanting the perfect job, the perfect home, the perfect relationship, the perfect life – we want perfection and to have it all together. And when we know that we’re not meeting these levels of perfection, we say to ourselves “I’m not good enough”.

Gretchin Rubin talks about perfection this way:

“Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good. A twenty minute walk that I do is better than the run that I don’t do. The imperfect book that gets published is better than the perfect book that never leaves my computer. The dinner party of takeout Chinese food is better than the elegant dinner that I never host.”

As a self-confessed achiever, I need to tape this to my mirror. Good enough is still very good. Romans 3:23, it says “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God”. Perfection is a hoax. It’s unattainable, all of us fall short. As long as we strive for it, we’ll be stressed and discontent and ashamed and frustrated. We need to learn to be kind to ourselves.

In my teams work in the creative office, I have a saying “done is better than perfect”. Yes, we aim for high standards and excellence but that’s not the same as perfection. Aiming for excellence is about healthy achievement and growth. Perfectionism is a weight that we lug around with the belief that if we do anything other than reach this burdensome standard, we’ll be deficient.

And I think that’s why I love art. With artwork, perfection is subjective. There is no wrong or right and so creating can be an antidote to perfectionism. I like the experimental nature of it. The different colours that someone could paint a daffodil and it still is beautiful and right. The different words that people used to illustrate a scenario and capture the details in different ways. There’s safety and freedom in art.

2 Corinthians 12:9 says “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” We ourselves are living works of art with weaknesses and cracks and imperfections. My husband often laughs at my chaotic, disordered way of living. He once came home and thought the house had been burgled. It hadn’t, I’d just got changed and couldn’t decide what to wear. I’m currently wearing jogging bottoms, 2 woolly jumpers, hair tied in a top knot – I look a scruff. But there is beauty in imperfection. My slippers are comfy, my glasses give my eyes a rest and my oversized jumper reminds me of my family as it was a gift from my brother.

There is beauty in imperfection so be kind to yourself. Embrace your imperfections and free yourself to create.

“When you stop expecting people to be perfect, you can like them for who they are.” Don Millar

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Winter Wandering

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When I lived in Finland, there was no such thing as “wet play” where children had to stay indoors if it was raining. You went outdoors whatever the weather, with the exception of the temperature being below -20°C and then children were allowed to stay indoors. We bundled the children into their all-weather suits and wellies and off they went to play in the puddles and rain. There were covered areas to play and not get soaked too, lots of Scandinavian life is outdoors so Finland’s infrastructure and way of doing things supports this. I completely loved their way of doing this – it didn’t feel like you had to organise your life around the weather and the day was never wasted if it was raining. With 1 in 3 days in the UK being rainy, I’m not sure why we don’t have a different set up here, everyone seems to flock to the cinema or soft play centres if the dark clouds come in and cross any options of being outdoors off the list rearranging their plans.

In the winter, I get hugely claustrophobic. After a while, I need some fresh air and big skies. I need to get out of centrally heated buildings and climb out from under my blankets to air my lungs, get some vitamin D from the winter sun and feel some breeze. Ben knows how much I love a good landscape and bit of scenery so last year, he decided that I needed to join all the senior citizens and middle class families with children under 10 and get a national trust membership…and I completely loved it! Just before Christmas, we wrapped up warm and took our niece and nephew for a day out running in the gardens of Cliveden.

I’m not going to lie – I was expecting them to whine and get bored very quickly. Cliveden is effectively just big gardens with an old house. There were no screens, and just lawns and topiary for entertainment. We took some cameras along and gave them free reigns on the day. What I love is that they made a game out of everything: the little bridges, the sticks, the pathways, running and skipping in the fields. We gave them our cameras and they decided to be photographers for the day. They ran around in the maze and at the end of the day they discovered the giant slide and frolicked as they raced down it. When you’re not given amusement or entertainment and have to create your own fun, you’re forced to be more creative.

Here are our budding photographer’s portfolios along with some other favourites from the day:

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We’re planning some more days out this winter, determining not to let the rain and hail stop us. Watch this space.

14 things I learned in 2014

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Another year has passed so I thought it would be fun to see what I’d actually learned from it. Here goes:

1. Don’t Shrink Back
Let’s face it, we are one of the most empowered generations of women to ever exist. We have been given ridiculous amounts of power and influence but so often, we don’t use it. We don’t utilise our influence to build, or even destroy. Our tendency is to do nothing. Back in January, I heard Jennie Allen preach on not shrinking back and it felt like someone grabbed my shoulders, shook me and woke me up to the responsibility I have, not for my sake but for the sake of others.

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2. I love the outdoors, like REALLY love it.

I love big open outdoor spaces. I’ve visited a lot of cities this year but my favourite places have been the mountains and fields and lakes and the spaces where you feel tiny in comparison to the landscape – I’m a sucker for a good view. Being outdoors is good for my soul.

3. Coaching keeps me healthy and accelerates my spiritual growth.

At the beginning of the year, I began meeting up with Lisa who is a coach and spiritual director, a dear friend and all round amazing human being. She has been the helpful and hopeful voice in my life, through asking questions, highlighting the nuances of my answers and providing tools to help me process situations I’m facing. From reading past journal entries and reflecting on the year, I feel like this year has been a season of accelerated growth and I understand myself far more now than I did going into the year. Much of that has been down to time spent with Lisa reflecting and processing and with her sharing her insights. I could not recommend it enough.

4. I can make meaningful friendships quickly.
This year, we’ve made some wonderful new friends and I’ve learnt that if you’re intentional about it, opening up over some round the table conversation, you really can build meaningful friendships in a few days – it doesn’t take a lifetime.

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5. Writing and making takes vulnerability.
Since starting this blog and knowing that others will read it, the temptation for me is too strip away a layer or two of my juiciest creativity and innovation to make the revealing less risky – to create in line with what people want me to say as opposed to what I want to say. It makes you feel exposed and vulnerable. As the things you make and create are personal to you, it can feel like there’s too much on the line to just put my wildest creations out there. If I do share it in its wildest and unrefined form and the reception isn’t great, I have to remember who I’m creating for and the purpose behind this blog. This writing is a risky business.

6. To just start where I am

Don’t wait for everything to be perfect. You can read about that here.

7. To stop wearing busyness and exhaustion as a badge of honour.

I was driven by “should do” instead of “want to do” and thought that if I did more, I would be more. I had mistaken efficiency with love and am learning to answer “how are you?” with responses other than “busy” or “tired”. I’m avoiding these words as then I have to find something more interesting to be.

8. The art of calligraphy.

In the Autumn, I took a calligraphy course and learnt copperplate lettering. I loved doing something so practical and enjoyed every minute – I’ll write about it soon.B1WMT3fIAAA619k

9. To delight

Celebrating is important. Enjoying and cherishing and reveling. This year, we’ve been intentional about celebrating and delighting in the small things – the end of a busy season, pulling off a great conference, birthdays. Its been great for our souls.

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10. There’s a difference between rest and recreation.

I think I’ve always thought that rest and recreation were interchangeable and as long as you were doing something fun, it still counted as rest. Turns out, I was wrong. I’ve tried to pack lots of playing into holidays as possible (days out, hosting dinner parties, holiday activities and projects) but left no time for stopping and stillness. There have been a few times this year when I’ve come back to work after a holiday filled with lots of fun things but not feeling rested at all. It’s R and R not R or R for a reason. You need both.

11. I can keep 2 living creatures alive for a whole month (with help from Ben).

I’ve wanted a dog for a while but I was never convinced I was responsible enough to look after something living and wasn’t sure whether we’d be able to give them enough attention, time and walks as we’re quite busy. However, in the summer, we spent a month looking after our friends lovely labradors and we completely loved it. Granted, we may have taught them some bad habits (sorry about the whole sofa thing Catrina!) and there were a few precarious incidents with some cows, but we had lots of fun with them.

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12. Use every emotion as fuel for prayer.
I did a study on the life of David this year with some friends and my big take away from it was how he used every emotion that he experienced and used it as fuel for a conversation with God. The psalms are a collection of those emotion driven conversations – he complained to God, was angry, delighted, he mourned, he shared his disgust and fear. Through every emotion, he cried out to God because God can handle out emotions. This year, I’ve begun to get better at doing it.

13. I can finish things.

This year, I did a two month program of exercising an hour a day for 6 days a week. I never finish anything as I get bored before the end so this was a major achievement for me.

14. A change of place + change of pace = change of perspective.

There have been many times this year when I’ve realised that I haven’t left that same 10 mile patch of land for weeks. I live, work, shop, visit family and friends all in this same patch of land and I regularly get claustrophobic. It is so life giving for me to leave Bracknell and go to the beach for the day or take a picnic in the countryside. When I’m stuck in that rut and feeling hemmed in, I know I need to slow down and get out of Bracknell, whether just for the day or for a holiday. It helps.

It feels good to track the journey and document the progress that you’re making. What did you learn this year? I’d love to hear it!

How to find Hope this Christmas

A timber merchant. A forest. A woodcutters yard. That’s what our meetings at church look like at the moment. There are tree stumps scattered all over the building and worship team don the stage in their finest lumberjack attire. We’ve designed our Christmas meetings around a beautiful verse in the old testament foretelling Jesus’ birth hundreds of years before he came:

 “Out of the stump of David’s family will grow a shoot—yes, a new Branch bearing fruit from the old root. . . . In that day the heir to David’s throne will be a banner of salvation to all the world. The nations will rally to him, and the land where he lives will be a glorious place”

(Isaiah 11:1, 10)

I think we forget that before Jesus, the world was in a hopeless place – God had been silent for 400 years, he no longer spoke through the prophets. Prayers were left unanswered. God’s people were tied to ritual and sacrifices, laws and commandments, atoning for their sin. The Messiah, the hero who would save the day was promised to David’s family but his lineage looked hopeless, filled with affairs and adultery, murderers and rapists. David’s family was like a stump. The world was lifeless like the remnant of an old tree.

But that small baby’s cry in Bethlehem was the glimmer of hope, that first sign of life. That fresh sprout was evidence of the hope that was ahead. The hope that you can experience the greatest love ever to exist, lasting joy and peace. That can free you from your past, from guilt and shame. Hope that you can experience your true potential and purpose and spend eternity with God in relationship with him. That God would send his son to earth to pay the price for our sins so that we don’t have to. Because of that baby, we have free access to God and have a relationship with him.

Hope is here.

I think of prayers I’ve prayed over the last years, of the stumps that those in my life have faced. For my friend who was told it was impossible to have a baby, who’s been trying year after year but she conceived, and this Christmas holds a beautiful little girl in her arms. For a relative who’s hated his job for as long as I’ve known him, it’s made him miserable and knocked his confidence, but he quit in faith and he has a job he enjoys which is far more financially rewarding. For a mentor who’s watched her friends get married for the past 2 decades and wanted a family of her own but this year, she married and sits by her tree sharing Christmas as a newlywed. For friends in our community who’ve been diagnosed with cancer, but in sheer radiant defiance, in the face of medical expectations, they are healthy, strong, cancer-free and vivaciously absorbed in Christmas celebrations.

I’ve watched hope shoot out of their stumps.

Amidst the celebrations – the flurry of tinsel and baubles, the wrapping and roasting, and laughter galore. Amidst the heaviness – the overstretched bank accounts, the to do lists and pressure of portrayals of perfect families. Jesus gives you hope. Where is it that you feel like a lifeless stump? What does your tender shoot of hope look like?

So I pray for every stump. I pray that you’ll invite Jesus to be the living water that soaks your stump. I know that however painful and ugly and harrowing it’s been – you may have been chopped down or simply been slowly decaying – God works all things together for good. Nothing is wasted. That stump will bear fruit, the physical representation of hope. And hope leads to sheer joy.

Romans 5:3-5 “we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us”

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7 Favourite Christmas Traditions

IMG_3953Christmas is coming and our fourth Christmas into our marriage, we have established a tradition or two. Now depending on how enthusiastic I feel in the run up to Christmas will dictate how much attention I’ll put into all the festivities. This year, I feel really drawn to all the carol concerts at church so lots of my creative energy is going into those (more on that later) but there are a few traditions at home this Christmas that are making me smile. Some of these are inherited from my time in Finland and some are blended family traditions. Here’s a quick round up.

1) Our Advent Calendar

Every year, this is my husband’s pride and joy. He’s written out a bible verse for each day, put a minstrel for each of us in every pocket (I’ve been informed that from the 20th December, we get 2 minstrels each) and he’s also thought  24 Christmas activities to do, one each day. I think this was inherited from his sister who also does a similar thing with her children. These activities range from, “wrap presents”, “make Christmas sweets”, “Sleep under the Christmas Tree” to “Host a carol concert” and “Go to a Christmas Comedy”. He even stamped the numbers on each day – that, my friends, is how dedicated my husband is to the Christmas cause.

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2) Oreo Truffles

Oreo goodness in a creamy, chocolaty truffle. I have no idea why these became a Christmas thing, I started making these about ten years ago but nonetheless we’ve made them each year at Christmas and forget they exist for the other 11 months. They’re insanely easy and oh so yummy – a crowd pleaser at parties if you need one!2013-12-16 11.07.54-1

3) Letters to Father Christmas from Lapland

When Ben and I went to Lapland, my favourite souvenir was a pack of envelopes that children had posted to Father Christmas. The letters are taken out and given to charity and then the envelopes are sold to raise money for Unicef. Letters to Santa from all over the world end up at Santa’s Post Office in Rovaniemi in Finland.  Each envelope was beautifully decorated in lovely, neat handwriting from children in countries all over the world. I love looking at the different names for Father Christmas – “Père Noël” or “Joulupukki” or “Sinterklaas” – and all the effort that’s gone into decorating them, some with the barest of addresses (a UK one just saying “Santa” but ended up in The North Pole) and others with imaginary addresses for Father Christmas.

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4) That Time we met Father Christmas.

In our twenties, we definitely weren’t over having our photo taken with Father Christmas so obviously when we were in Lapland we sneaked in a photo with him (for the small price of an arm and a leg obviously.) It takes pride of place replacing our wedding photo on the wall every December and reminds of our little escapade to the North Pole. (Ben says it also reminds him not to remove his hat in photos or he’ll get hat hair too…).IMG_3928

5) Glögi

You may have seen this in IKEA along with the rows of pretty shaped Pepparkakor (gingerbread) labelled as “glogg”. In Finland, hot glasses of glögi are handed out at Christmas markets, after playtime at school, to warm up after coming in from the snow or gathered round the fire in a cabin in the forest. It’s a traditional type of mulled fruit juice inspired by berries and nuts you’d find in the finnish forest, you can perk it up with wine or vodka too. We’ll either make it from scratch every year or get some at IKEA. It goes particularly well with some gingerbread biscuits on the side.

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6) Our Wedding Bauble

My lovely sister in law made us a sweet little bauble filled aspects of our wedding: strips of our wedding invitation, ribbon, material from one of the bridesmaids dresses. It’s a gorgeous decoration and one of my favourites on the tree.

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7) New Year Place cards

Every year at New year’s, I make a little place card and we take time to celebrate the previous year, commemorating our last season and looking forward to the next. We scribble down our favourite parts of the past year, talk through our highs and lows and share our hopes for the coming year. We have a box that is kept under the Christmas tree that they’re all stored in and it’s fun to look through old place cards and laugh at what did and didn’t happen and what you’ve hoped and achieved. They’re a reminder of God’s goodness and faithfulness and of the road that we’ve walked. We also snap a picture of us that year and put it in the box with them.

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To be honest, those are just a handful of my favourites, I could put lots more. In the busyness of this season, I’m taking time to savour the small moments and allowing myself to take the easy route this Christmas (store bought glögi, no Christmas cards this year). If you enjoy them and these things aren’t a stress then by all means, make and primp and cook and create but be free from the pressure of perfection if perfection comes at the cost of delight. Christ came to give Joy to the world – not a to do list, or burden or stress. These are some of the areas that I find delight at Christmas and I’ll put up baubles and photos and hang envelopes and share treats because it brings me pleasure and I relish the charm and allure of some of these traditions.

Delight over duty. Present over perfect. Stillness over stress.

 

When You’ve Misplaced Yourself

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I have always been quite the good girl. I’ve had the odd rebellious patch here and there but my desire has been to please and to be useful. I’ve wanted to be helpful and to add value, to be useful and recognised in whichever situation I’m in.

What’s great about this is that I am really quite adaptable; I will be whatever is required in any given situation. I can be extraverted, introverted, a leader, a follower, organised and structured or completely free and fluid. I’ve got really good at being whatever you need me to be. Some friends often joke that I’m “the plug filler” – I will adapt to whatever hole needs filling. I’m your “yes, whatever” and “I don’t mind, I’m easy” girl.

The danger of this is that somewhere along the way, you risk alienating yourself from who you really are. As I rush headlong into being the best friend/ wife/ daughter/ employee/ team player (insert many different roles here), I can become so alienated from myself that I no longer know who I am, what I want or what my real feelings or interests are. It can be difficult to distinguish between who I really am and the characters that are useful for a role or job. My pursuit of being what others need me to be can take me away from my real giftings and talents and ultimately from the life God designed me to have. We can gradually lose touch with ourselves.

So I’ve begun to allow myself some space.

Space to answer questions “What do I want?”, “what do I love doing?”, “what do I really not like doing?” I’ve explained before, part of my reason for writing this blog is to use it as a way for me to find my voice, explore what I like and don’t like and learn to figure myself out a bit. Simply forcing myself to answer these questions without an “I don’t mind” is helping me to understand myself. Working out what I don’t like has allowed me to figure out what I do like.

Space to take note of my feelings. Feelings are indicators of your heart and soul. We need to pay attention to our interior. God created emotions for a reason and they have real value in keeping you healthy. I have always put my feelings into a box as I’d considered them as weakness, that some emotions were wrong (eg. Anger, sadness etc) and feared emotionality. But understanding and taking note of your emotions can be hugely beneficial in getting to know yourself. What was it that triggered that emotion? What makes you sad? What fills me with delight and could I do all day? What gets me angry?

Space to define the difference between who I am and what I do. There’s a difference my abilities and my passions. I can do administration, but that doesn’t mean I’m administrative – I hate details, I’m naturally scrappy and find bookkeeping boring. I can be gracious and sympathetic but my default is to be more firm, it irritates me to see mistakes repeated and I have little patience for inefficiency. I can hold a tune and sing a song or two, but I’m no singer – writing music doesn’t interest me in the least. I am a wife, a daughter, a site pastor, a project manager but my roles do not define who I am.

I will no doubt always want to be accepted and please people. But it’s too great a risk for me to adapt to what others need me to be at the expense of who God created me to be. I will still aim to be a great leader and friend and employee, but my hope is that as I listen more closely to the things that God has in store for me and take note of the emotions, strengths and passions that he’s put into the very core of my being, I will be more valuable and helpful to the world that I’d have ever been otherwise.

When you want to Erase your Emotions

A while ago, I read a book by Lysa Terkeurst called “UnGlued”. It’s basically about how to act in the midst of all our emotions and how we should handle them. I learnt that I’m a stuffer, repressing my emotions, not really processing them at all and pretending that they’re not there. Examples of this would be blinking as many times as possible whilst breathing in to stop myself from crying, being silent instead of speaking up as I’d be aware of the risk that I could become emotional, becoming irritable, sarcastic and moody. I saw “being emotional” as a criticism and a weakness, not a strength. Lysa talks about how your emotions are signals for how you feel about a situation but they shouldn’t control the outcome.

“Feelings should be indicators, not dictators.”

After reading it, I thought “yes, I should probably get more in touch with my emotions” and then carried on with living my life without much thought.

A little later, I read the story of David’s children, Tamar, Amnon and Absalom in 2 Samuel 13. It’s the awful story of how Amnon raped his sister Tamar. When Absalom (their brother) found out, he told Tamar to keep quiet and hated Amnon. He basically told her to keep it secret and pretend nothing happened and then never said another word, good or bad, at all to Amnon. Reading this, Absalom was probably a stuffer too – keeping quiet, avoiding talking about the elephant in the room, never bringing up the fact that his brother had assaulted his sister.

When their father David found out, he was furious but didn’t do anything. He was fuming but pretended that nothing had happened. Overwhelming feelings cannot be stuffed. These suppressed emotions will eventually ruin you. Absalom went on to murder his brother Amnon and there was more heartbreak, division and tragedy within this family.

My tendency is to neglect all my emotions and see very little value in them. They’re inconvenient and annoying, to minimise and deny what I feel. I’m all “let’s get on and do stuff instead of thinking about our feelings”. But we were created to be emotional beings. To feel is to be human. By stuffing away our emotions we have, as Thomas Merton wrote,

‘merely deadened our humanity, instead of setting it free to develop richly, in all its capacities, under the influence of grace.’”

At the moment, I’m part of a group reading Emotionally Healthy Spirituality by Pete Scazzero. I am learning that emotions have value. They allow us to love God, to love others and to love ourselves. Whilst I will never be the girl who enjoys crying in front of people, or who can expressively and emotionally communicate her passion and delights, I am begin to notice how I feel. I’m learning what emotion is driving an action. I’m allowing an emotion to linger to explore why I’m experiencing it. Emotions are not a weakness – I’m putting away that box that I relegate my emotions to. The glory of God is a human who is fully alive – and that means emotionally alive too.

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