I Still Love Calligraphy

10734031_10204414470594735_5603430516819942575_nFor as long as I can remember, I’ve loved getting to learn about lettering and fonts. I used to be all about bubble writing titles and outlining words in chunky black felt pen in my “topics” book when I was in school. I’d add flourishes to title when I underlined, did a circle as the i and try to add my own style (until the teacher told me off and told me to write properly). Then it moved onto the computer with curlz and comic sans and selecting the most unique and interesting fonts I could find, whilst still just about being readable. Even now, I’m particular about the fonts I choose. I like experimenting with combinations and exploring shapes of lettering that are interesting and unique. I find it fascinating how you can create a mood or a style through a typeface. I’ve never had the neatest handwriting so have always tended to rely on digital tools when it comes to creative lettering.

However, for my birthday, Ben bought me a course by Melissa Esplin called “I Still Love Calligraphy”. Melissa is a Calligrapher who has created some beautiful pieces. It’s a course for beginners to show you the basics of Copperplate Calligraphy, how to use the tools and it teaches the anatomy of letters. It looks at the traditional methods and techniques of Copperplate Calligraphy but gives you freedom to develop a more contemporary style.

I’ve learnt different strokes, different letters and have graduated onto words. I’m on style and flourishes. Here are some of the exercises that I’ve done so far, hopefully you can spot a vague improvement!:

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I could not speak highly enough of this course. I’ve found the rhythm and flow of drawing letters beautifully therapeutic after a day at work. Melissa has been really encouraging and helpful in her feedback and the exercises and videos are clear, concise and easy to follow along with. If you’re into fonts and always cooing over the beautifully drawn envelopes and quotes that you see on pinterest, have a go!

Living a Better Story

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Earlier this month, I picked up a book that had been sitting on my shelf for the last 6 months or so. It was Donald Miller’s book “A Million Miles in a Thousand Years”. It’s about a time when some film makers came to Don to ask if they could turn his memoir into a film. He then began the process of thinking about the kind of story that he was currently living and started to explore what it would look like to live a better story.

I read it in a few days. It was a really compelling, easy and captivating read. He bases the book around the idea that a good story is about “a character who wants something and overcomes conflict to get it”. During this process, Miller realised that his life was lacking direction, he was a character that wasn’t sure what he wanted. And he also struggled not to run away when faced with conflict, his character was not willing to overcome conflict. It documents different subplots in his story – relationship with his father, his quest to get healthier and find a wife and it also talks about the subplot that he is playing in God’s story.

What I love about it is that he doesn’t just talk about the epic, venturesome, larger-than-life stories. He talks about the role that the everyday; the tough, monotonous routines that don’t feel significant or like you’re making any progress and the role that these play in creating a great story.

“I think this is when most people give up on their stories. They come out of college wanting to change the world, wanting to get married, wanting to have kids and change the way people buy office supplies. But they get into the middle and discover it was harder than they thought. They can’t see the distant shore anymore, and they wonder if their paddling is moving them forward. None of the trees behind them are getting smaller and none of the trees ahead are getting bigger. They take it out on their spouses, and they go looking for an easier story.”

Ironically, at the same time, Ben bought me Don’s book “Storyline” which is an accompanying workbook for people to help assess the story that they’re creating. I didn’t realise that they were linked at the time, but as soon as I get a free moment, I’ll go through the storyline process for myself too.

Here are a few of my favourite quotes and one liners from the book, but you should really read it. I think you’d enjoy it.

“Fear is a manipulative emotion that can trick us into living a boring life.”

Human beings care about characters who suffer and overcome obstacles”

“Extreme experiences aren’t enough – there is more to life”

“We have to get up off the couch and turn the television off, we have to blow up the inner-tubes and head to the river.  We have to write the poem and deliver it in person.  We have to pull the car off the road and hike to the top of the hill.  We have to put on our suits, we have to dance at weddings.”

 “If the point of life is the same as the point of a story, the point of life is character transformation.”

My Favourite Things – IF:Equip

In February last year, a bunch of my favourite bible teachers gathered together and put on a conference in America called the IF:Gathering. It was a conference based simply around the question “If God is real, then what?” and looks at the calling that God’s placed on each of our lives. There were some fantastic sessions that I listened to online and if the podcasts are available, I’d encourage you to give them a listen.There are a ton of resources off the back of the conference (I love the idea of IF tables – you can find out about them here, who doesn’t love food and great conversation!).

One of my favourite things about this group is IF : Equip. It’s a Bible reading plan for every weekday (Monday-Friday), where you read a passage of scripture, jot down a few thoughts and then hear what other women have learnt from that passage. There are a load of comments to read and add to, and also a 2 minute video from different bible teachers to watch for some extra insights too.

I’ve been using it as my bible reading plan for the most past of this year – we’ve gone through the book of John, Acts, Galatians and have just finished up Genesis (although I’m still doing it as I’m a fair few days behind!). I really like the videos too. There’s a whole load of people that are filmed sharing their thoughts on each passage (Natalie Grant, Ann Voskamp, Shauna Niequist, Jenni Allen, Jenn Hatmaker, Lindsey Nobles, Angie Smith, Kelly Minter, Jennie Catron, Lisa Harper… to name a handful!)

On Monday 19th January, they are starting their next book Joshua which lasts for 3 weeks – if you’re looking for a reading plan, it’s the perfect time to start. If you have 15 minutes, I’d really encourage you to join in – it’s completely free and a really wonderful resource in my mornings. I’d love to hear if you’re using it too!

JOSHUA

 

On Running

I’m a sprinter. I don’t do long distance running. When I was a girl, I would win every sports day in my red tshirt for Kennet, our school house. Long distance running, I would fake twisting my ankle so I could get out of it and sit and watch (one time I produced real tears and everything…). I attempted running with Ben on a few occasions but after about 7 minutes it usually ended up with me getting cross with him for being patronising or going to fast or going to slow or running too close or too far away (I’m a demanding exercise partner) and then walking home, leaving Ben to carry on alone.

However in February a few years ago this began to change. I was sitting with 2 friends in Carluccios having lunch and we began to discuss running. Lots of people we knew were running long distance, going jogging and generally sounding like they were models in Nike adverts exercising through the fields and beaches of Bracknell at sunrise before facing the world each morning. We had a “yeah we should do that” type conversation and then tucked into the Italian balsamic goodness of a Carluccios lunch.

So it took me 3 months to get started (I figured I’d wait for the warmer weather) and then I began a couch to 5k plan.

If you want to get into running I would HUGELY recommend doing a couch to 5k plan. I began it in secret when Ben had gone away for the week as I didn’t want the pressure of people knowing (bearing in mind I’m married to Mr Half Marathon, and am daughter of “I started doing 26.2 mile Marathons in my mid 50’s” Dad… my 5k plan looked meagre in comparison). But this was my kind of running plan. The first session is walk for 90 seconds then jog for 1 minute six times. It’s basically lots of sprints and then walking as soon as you get tired. I LOVED it and stuck at it and was just amazed at how my health and fitness improved so quickly. Over 8 weeks, Miss “I fake twisting my ankle to get out of running at school” went from only being able to run for 1 minutes to running for 30 minutes and doing a 5k. There’s even evidence (I am irrationally proud of this photo as through the majority of this particular run, I felt like I was about to throw up, but here I have the casual “yeah, I do this all the time” nonchalant kind of look):

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I initially started running for the health benefits and as an excuse to buy some flashy new florescent trainers. But one of the big benefits for me was in the self-discipline it taught me. Paul says to the Corinthians “But I discipline my body and keep it under control,[a] lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.” (1 Corinthians 9:27). Other than the obvious health benefits , running has improved my self-discipline; It’s taught me to get up early, to go running in horrific hours of the morning, to run in torrential rain when dogs look out the windows of houses and wonder what I’m doing, to keep going when it’s hard, to ignore what others think of you when you run past people you know and get “encouragement” from the group of 14 year old boys loitering at the park, to stick to a plan and to work towards a goal.

Bill Hybels talks about discipline as “delayed gratification”. He says “the key to practising discipline can be described in three words –advance decision making. You are making an advance decision to delay gratification as long as necessary to achieve the results you most desire.” As much as lying in bed would be gratifying, getting up and exercising to feel more awake and achieve better health is the greater reward in the long run. Although bad mouthing that person may feel good at the time, a greater reward is holding my tongue and receiving the blessing God promises the blameless life. The satisfaction in the long run in being self-disciplined will always outweigh the short-term pleasure of instant gratification.

This year, I’m going to carry on to a 10k plan and see what happens now. The app I’ve been using is c25k Run for Pink which is one produced by Breast Cancer, you can download it here. I’m pleased to say that both my friends also have now run 5k and if we can do it, really anyone can!

Favourite Books from 2014

I love it when I see a post filled with favourites and recommendations. On social media when people share gems that they’ve come across – whether it be that puppy video to make me coo or a deep and meaningful article to tell me to sort my life out, I’m really not fussy. I’m a big believer in people being generous with the content they come across – articles, websites, book, products, and tools that have been valuable to them.

So on that thread, here are some of my favourite books that I’ve read (or reread) in 2014:

Notes from a Blue Bike

I’ve been reading Tsh Oxenreider’s blogs for a while now, hearing about her tales of travel round the world and her endeavours to live simply, so when she published her first book, I was very excited to get my hands on it. In her words, it’s “part memoir, part travelogue, part practical guide.” She tells stories of her life in Texas and Turkey, Kosovo and Oregon and her plight to not just conform to cultures approach, but to live intentionally. I loved Tsh’s exploration of food, work, education, travel and entertainment and her overall message encouraging us that even in the chaos of life, we have the freedom to creatively change life’s little things so that our everyday walk better aligns with our values and passions.

Exponential

My office is completely sick of me referencing this book and talking about some tool or strategy in it. It was my text book when we launched Sandhurst – telling the story and sharing tools of how to grow a church from a handful of people to an entire movement. There’s some really helpful tools in the book and they tell their story in a light hearted and easy way which makes it an easy book to digest.

Leading and Loving it

I cannot tell you how much this book has spoken into my life. It’s written by Brandi and Lori in the US who have formed a ministry for women in leadership and pastor’s wives called Leading and Loving it. There were so many occasions in this book where they managed to express the nuances and particular situations that you find yourself in as a leader and I found myself on many occasions verbally agreeing with them out loud and reading sections to Ben (who looked blank, as he’s not a woman in ministry). Reading this book is like being part of a late night conversation with a group of friends where you’re all snuggled on the sofa, making hilarious confessions and giving hugely profound advice all the at the same time. If you have any kind of leadership role or are married to someone who has, you need to read this book.

Poke the Box

Great books come in small packages too and this is Seth Godin’s mini gem. I’ve written all about this already, you can read that here.

Love Does

Bob Goff is someone who you just want to be friends with and hang out with. He comes across as genuine, unassuming and hugely fun and adventurous. When you read this book, you won’t necessarily come away with tools and concepts that will change your life, but you’ll have been inspired by a person and by his curious and fanciful stories from his life that he shares. Bob has a very simple and real faith but lives in out in an enormously vivid, exuberant and compelling manner.

4 Hour Work Week

Yes I’m very late to the Tim Ferris train but I thought after 6 years or so of it sitting on the shelf, I might actually read it. Now, firstly there’s a lot that I don’t agree with in this book (with a strapline of “Escape the 9-5, Live Anywhere and Join the New Rich”, I didn’t have my hopes too high which I picked it up). That said, I still enjoyed reading it and I think finished it within 72 hours of starting it. There’s a lot in this book and you really have to sift through his ideas – about 25% is completely genius. The part that made the lasting impression was his point that people work to make as much money as possible and to retire but then aren’t really sure what they’d want to do when they get there. Ferris urges you to define for yourself what a rich life would look like (for me, it meant a slower paced life, meaningful work, increased flexibility) and then encourages you to redesign some of those aspects into your life now.

There have been a bunch more that I’ve also read but those are the books that stand out for the time being. How about you? Any recommendations?

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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9 Types – The Enneagram

Have I told you about Enneagram? If I’ve had a conversation with you in the last 2 weeks – if we’ve had a meal together or a staff meeting or you’ve been stuck in a car with me – the chances are, you probably have heard of them. Some new friends introduced me to it when they basically had me sussed after 24 hours of knowing me. I’d heard about it in passing but never really paid much attention to it.

The Enneagram (pronounced “any-a-gram”) is an early Catholic personality profiling system that describes 9 basic types of people and explains why we behave the way we do and then points to direction for individual growth. It teaches that in early life, we learn to feel safe and to cope with different personal and family situations based on our natural talents and abilities.

A really brief overview as I’m not an expert:

1’s – The Perfectionist –  1’s are motivated by the need to right and perfect. They are realistic, contentious, particular and principled. They strive to live up to their high ideals.

2’s – The Helper – 2’s are motivated by the need to be needed or loved. They are loving, warm, concerned, nurturing and sensitive. They are emotionally expressive and focused on relationships.

3’s – The Achiever – 3’s are motivated by the need to be successful. They are energetic, optimistic, self assured and goal oriented. They fear being worthless.

4’s – The Romantic – 4’s are motivated by the need to be special and unique. They have sensitive feelings and are warm and perceptive and fear having no identity or significance.

5’s – The Investigator (or the Observer) – 5’s are motivated by the need to understand and perceive. They are introverted, curious, analytical and insightful.

6’s – The Loyalist (or the Questioner) – 6’s are motivated by the need to be safe. They strive to receive approval and to feel taken care of. They are responsible, trustworthy and value loyalty to family and friends.

7’s – The Adventurer (or Enthusiast) – 7’s are motivated by the need  to be happy and avoid pain. They are energetic lively and optimistic. They want to contribute to the world.

8’s – The Asserter (or Challenger) – 8’s are motivated by the need to self-protect and be strong. They are direct, self-reliant, self-confident and protective. They fear being harmed, controlled or violated.

9’s – The Peacemaker – 9’s are motivated by the need to keep the peace. They are receptive, good-natured, adaptable and supportive. They seek union with them and the world around them.

 

Shauna Niequist has written more in depth about the types here. Or for even more info you can look at Enneagram Institute here or 9 types here.

I’m a 3 and understanding this has helped me see some of the positives of my personality. Knowing that I can be task driven and competitive, I love being busy, that I thrive on striving for new challenges and goals, that I value feedback and affirmation has always felt like something to be ashamed of. It sounds vain and narcissistic, competitive and selfish. But learning what a 3 looks like at their best (optimistic, confident, industrious, energetic) as well as their worst (deceptive, vindictive, pretentious…eek!) has shown me habits and patterns of thinking that I have when I’m in health and also in stress. It’s confirmed aspects of my personality that I hadn’t acknowledged before (I value feedback good or bad, and I don’t like being interrupted… I really don’t!). It’s encouraged me to stop and rest, highlighted my tendency to adapt to whatever I feel would be valuable to that situation, as opposed to truly being myself. That I’m loved for who I am, not what I do and that my feelings are as valuable as my accomplishments.

I’ve found it hugely helpful in understanding why I do things, I can see a bigger picture of my coping strategies and am beginning to learn alternative behaviours. It’s added a whole new awareness of the way that I’ve been made and is helping me live in the healthiest possible way. I see my feelings and emotions in a new light, it’s encouraged me to create boundaries, it’s highlighted potential pitfalls and negatives habits that we’ve been oblivious to in our marriage and has given me insight in conversations around peoples motivations so it’s helping to improve my relationships.

So I’m a 3. My husband is a 9.  I shouldn’t inflict my desire to be busy on him as he values peace and relaxation and if I have an issue, I should engage in discussion with him but not confrontation. My close friend is a 6 – she values clarity and direct instructions, gentle reassurance and lots of encouragement. My in-laws are 8’s and 4’s. My mother in law appreciates it when I’m straight and direct, she would prefer that to me being diluted or vague. My father in law values compliments, particularly about the things that make him unique. He will always enjoy theatrics, humour and creativity no matter how much he’s told be sensible.

It’s valuable to get to know each type, not just your own and to learn some of the characteristics of relationships between those types. Next time I see you, we can sit down and work out which you are and I pray you’ll find it as useful as I have.