Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Celebrating what is

balloons afloat from Flickr via Wylio

Life is good.

I have been enjoying it quite a lot lately.

And I feel the need to point this out (mostly to myself) because I have spent so much of the past not enjoying life. Beyond a handful of months there have been very few extended periods where I have appreciated life—embracing what is going on in and around me with open arms and spirit.

It is hard to put into words the joy that comes over me when I realise how… dare I say it… happy and grateful… I am with my life.

Recent days have not been without their stresses and strains. Between full-time study, paid work, volunteer work and starting to try my hand at a few short writing pieces, life is very full; but beautiful. I am living at a busier pace than I have in nearly ten years. Sometimes I misjudge my energy and my body can’t keep up with the motivation that I feel, but I am constantly learning and reminding myself of the gift of that problem.

All those years of dreading life and struggling to see the joyous gifts and moments in my days. All those years of fighting and struggling against my wants and the realities I found myself in. All those years of being numbed by the combination of pain and hopelessness and affects of medications.

I am learning to celebrate.

In her book Cold Tangerines, Shauna Niequist says that “When what you see in front of you is so far outside if what you dreamed, but you have the belief, the boldness, the courage to call it beautiful instead of calling it wrong, that's celebration.” (p.178) This is a truth that I’ve taken my whole adult life to learn, and I’ll probably need to keep learning it until the day I die. I can only hope I get better at it!

Despite never having dreamed of being where I currently am, for better or worse, I am learning to celebrate—the light streaming in to the lovely little house I share with two friends, the joy of making food for others, the accomplishment of another piece of writing being submitted and/or published, random late night adventures in the city with new friends. Most of all, I am learning to celebrate my creativity and myself.

It is hard work to dedicate myself to study again. However the freedom and joys I have been finding in exploring my own creativity with more abandon than ever before has been the best reward. This is the power of art. Another reason why Shauna’s book has been so significant over these past weeks. She says that “art slips past our brains straight into our bellies. It weaves itself into our thoughts and feelings and the open spaces in our souls, and it allows us to live more and say more and feel more.”  (p. 227)

This I know: at the risk of maybe experiencing depressive lows again, I will celebrate. I will attempt to make art and bake and love the people in my life and find energy in celebrating what is, instead of wishing about what should have been.

Monday, July 7, 2014

I Spy Beauty...

A (sometimes) weekly post about beauty seen, heard or discovered.

It is the end of a long and stressful semester. In amongst the weariness, attempts at resting, unexpected hospital visits and other fun holiday things, I have spied beauty in paying attention. For these things I am grateful…

Sitting snuggled on the couch with my two nephews, reading some of my favourite stories and rhymes from Dr Seuss, while the littlest tries to copy my words and we giggle at all the silliness.

Walking in the warm sun along the beach with a dear friend; the sound of tumultuous waves crashing, clear blue sky and deep green ocean and the squelch of sand under my bare feet.

Cups of tea beside us and bowls of dessert in hand, chatting with a kindred spirit about words and faith and relationships and the beautiful chaos of life.

Watching a host of different birds visit my mum’s new bird bath out the back window; splashing, trying to mark territory, drinking together and darting in and out of nearby bushes.There is serenity and there is life in motion.

Being one in a room of hundreds of people passionate about justice, reconciliation and compassion; feeling the sense of hope in community and commonality.

Speaking with my mentor and friend about Christian belief and hypocrisy. Then afterward watching one of Hollywood's silliest movies together, laughing until our stomachs hurt and ribbing each other about our guilty pleasure television habits. 

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

On Packing Light

I am notorious for packing heavy. I am the girl who always has one of almost anything you might ever need. Sometimes I blame this on my time as a nanny (Mary Poppins bag and all that), but the truth is I was like this long before I started work.

So imagine my sense of great achievement when I set off last Friday for a three-day weekend away with only one duffel and my handbag. I know, I know, that’s a normal amount of luggage right?!

But it was all the more notable because I had just finished reading Allison Vesterfelt’s inspired book ‘Packing Light’.

I am a sucker for a good road trip story. I still harbour the slightly odd dream of driving across America (I probably should start with Australia, but I feel America calling). So I picked up a copy of the audiobook for free on Noisetrade a little while back (you can still get a free sampler there). But this book is so much more than just the story of Ally and Sharaya’s roadtrip. It is a reflection about the decisions we make in life and what we carry on our journeys— both metaphorical and physical. And while Allison doesn’t use this descriptive, the story is about being brave.
“You don’t have to go. You can stay home. It’s up to you. But if you let fear stop you from doing what you really want to do, you’ll regret that forever.” 
Allison writes with such clarity about that stage in your twenties and early thirties of trying to figure out where you are going and what you want from life. Whether you struggle with the same questions as Ally- singleness, financial security, vocation- you can still learn so much from these reflections.

As the pair of friends attempt to journey across all fifty states of America, Ally grows and learns how to pack; what to bring, what to leave behind and what to let go of along the way— whether they be expectations or dreams or difficult decisions made with the best intentions. And there is hope. The further along the road they travel, clarity arrives and peace becomes more present. The bravery of launching out is rewarded with freedom and new, better things.

I have so much to learn about packing light, both physically and metaphorically. Allison’s book has shaken me well out of my comfort and prodded me on my own journey. I'll probably always struggles to pack light when traveling, but I hope I can learn to live life with a little less baggage too.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Living bravely and why I choose to write

Yesterday writing felt intoxicating and joyous. Today it feels terrifying. The artist's life. 
(A Facebook status I posted earlier this week) 
I am a living paradox. I hate change. I struggle with uncertainty. Yet at the start of this year I decided to live BRAVE. I also quit my steady job and enrolled to study Creative Writing full-time.

This somewhat crazy decision has resulted in a tumultuous few months for me. I have retreated into my shell as I have been trying to make my way through severe doubts about my capabilities as a human. Not to mention extreme moodiness and depression.

I really do not deal all that well with change! I envy my friends that thrive on challenges and change. I want to keep moving in my life. I just don’t want to have to move to do it! I therefore have not put hand to keyboard to reflect on my year of brave, as much I had hoped I would. I was too busy struggling to get up each morning to think about being brave.

As I have settled into some rhythms with study and life, freedom and enjoyment have snuck back in. While the work that I am doing terrifies me some days, it enlivens me and brings me so much hope on others. Thankfully more and more of the latter as the days go by.

I am braving the steps of workshopping pieces of my writing in class, trying to write for publication and tackling personal issues in my writing. Some days, as in the day I posted the above status, I second guess myself and feel paralysed by the fear that I have nothing of worth to say. I am learning how normal that is for so many writers and other creatives. I am learning the importance of having like-minded fellow travellers along the journey; to build up a community of people who genuinely love you and support your work around you. It is important to risk using your voice to receive feedback from others who can sharpen and challenge you along your journey too.

Mostly, I am enjoying that journey. I am blessed by the days I am reminded that I do have something that needs to be said… and I want to say it. And so do you, each and every one of you! 

Today that reminder came through listening again to Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Opening Address to the 2009 Sydney Writers Festival. You can download a podcast version on the festivals website.

It was this speech on ‘The Danger of a Single Story’ that began to reawaken in me a desire to connect with my creativity. At the time I was studying International Development because I felt compelled to do something of purpose with my life and I thought that required helping people in the area. But then I heard this smart and sassy woman, with an undergraduate degree in politics and communication talking about the importance of telling stories and something broke in me. I am forever grateful.

A shorter version of the talk is available through TEDtalks. Take some time to watch it and be reminded of the power of stories. 

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Words for Wednesday

Owning our story can be hard but not nearly as difficult as spending our lives running from it. Embracing our vulnerabilities is risky but not nearly as dangerous as giving up on love and belonging and joy—the experiences that make us the most vulnerable. Only when we are brave enough to explore the darkness will we discover the infinite power of our light.
~ Brené Brown The Gifts of Imperfection pg. 6

Sunday, March 23, 2014

I Spy Beauty...

A (sometimes) weekly post of beauty seen, heard or discovered

At the beginning of this year, I had every intention to get into blogging a couple of times a week. I was going to get serious with my writing. Well, I am doing that. But some other things have come up too.

While I have been struggling along making sense of this chaotic and crazy and beautiful and mean life recently, I have also started postgraduate study in Creative Writing.

I having been struggling to notice beauty. But this week I found great encouragement, strength and light in the creative work of others.

Sarah Bessey has a way with words that constantly breathes new life into me. This week her blog entitled "In which you are a beloved warrior" was timely and needed.

Parker J. Palmer wrote a guest post called "An Encouragement for Spring and the Writing Life" at OnBeing. While it is now Autumn here is Australia, I am over the metaphorical winter in my life and am expectantly holding out for some spring. 

Amy Stroup is a Indie Singer/Songwriter out of Nashville I have been following for a few years now. Her new album Tunnel (you can listen to it over on The Drop) is just what I've come to expect from Amy- diverse lyrically and musically, soulful and easy to listen to. I've also had an oldie 'Hold onto hope love', from The Other Side of Love Sessions stuck in my head.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

On virginity

I have spent the last few hours researching and reading about ideas of virginity and purity for an article I am working on. And I have to say that there is some seriously disturbing stuff out there!

Having come from the evangelical Christian sub-culture and knowing its philosophy on such a subject, I still find it to hold to some of the most dangerous and damaging beliefs about sexuality. Just try watching the documentary The Virgin Daughters.

But I am still struggling to get my head around what it really means to people today in our progressive western culture.

So I need some help….

I would love for people to comment below, anonymously of course(!), about how you would define virginity and whether you think it still holds significant weight- for good or bad- in today’s culture. And if you’ve read or watched anything about the topic you think is particularly interesting mention that too.


Sunday, March 9, 2014

I Spy Beauty...

A (sometimes) weekly post about beauty seen, heard or discovered
I am awake again in the in-between. That time in the early hours between darkness and sunrise. That blurry-eyed time when we glimpse the hope of light, but have not yet thrown off the cover of darkness fully.

I have been here a lot lately. It is a tiring place to be. Being awake in the darkness is troubling. There are moments when it feels like it might never end, like the morning might never come. When you are tired from the struggle for rest and freedom, anything can feel endless, hopeless.

And yet, the light comes every day without fail. First, gradually. Slivers of light and shadow begin to ease the weight of darkness. It is an uncomfortable tension between despair and hope. Do we dare to hope for sunrise?

The in-between is a time of questions. The darkness has stripped away much of what we knew, giving us permission to ask. It is a time of wondering and wandering in the half-light.

And then with a blaze of glory, all of sudden it seems, we are overwhelmed by the shining light of the sun and the weight lifts. A new day. A new beginning. With the light of the sun comes a lightness of spirit, the feeling that we can try again. To live and love and not be overcome.

There's a moment when
Faith caves in
There's a time when every soul is certain God is gone
But every shadow is evidence of sun
And every tomorrow holds out hope for us
For every one of us

'Sunrise' Nichole Nordeman Copyright 2007

Good morning. And thank God for the sunrise.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

The blog about sex

Neither my housemate Rachel, nor I could sleep the other morning and so we ending up talking about sexuality…. as you do. Now of course there is a context. She is currently taking a summer school subject on gender and sexuality. We don’t just randomly talk about sex a lot!

But the reality is that I have found myself having a lot of conversations with girlfriends lately about sex. About femininity. About the words we use around sex and sexuality. About marriage and sex. About masturbation. About cultural expectations surrounding sex- in the Christian culture bubble and the wider culture around us. About the conflicting nature of so much discourse around women and sex- especially in the church.

That’s normal, right?

I have spent most of my twenties (and the so far small part of my thirties) living in houses with other young women. But strangely these recent conversations are largely the most open and honest I’ve ever had. And my Christian friends usually agree. It is like we finally feel the permission to be frank with each other and be brave in speaking from our hearts about issues that are so deeply embedded in our identities and self worth. And this is the case whether or not we are single (as I am) or in relationships.

But it strikes me as deeply sad that up until now I have felt unable to speak and question and travel this road together with my fellow sisters. And I have a suspicion that I’m not alone in feeling this way.

The reality I’m discovering is that you can’t talk about your body and identity and value as women without talking about sex. Yes, that is a blindingly obvious point. But how did all my youth pastors and leaders manage to talk about these things without really addressing our female sexuality! The unspoken message that I seemed to absorb over my adolescence was that sex and sexuality was off limits unless you were married… and even then it was a very private, sanitised discussion. Sex outside of marriage- in word or deed- was bad, not good.

I bought into and believed this to be the righteous way (don’t worry, saying that makes me throw up a little in my mouth too).

Thankfully I am an unstoppable questioner. Studying Anthropology I was instilled with a deep understanding of the need to deconstruct my own understandings of culture and belief in order to engage in the world more authentically. So as I got older I became more uncomfortable with the tension between the Church’s clean, sanitised version of sexuality and their seeming obsession with it (sometimes it seems that the sin of sex outside of marriage is worse than all others). And don’t get me started on the fact that the gospels alone talk far more about compassion and grace and social justice than it ever does about sex, as far as I can tell!

And if sex and sexuality is off limits, is not good, than why when I began to talk with girlfriends more openly, did I begin to feel free? As my friends and I began to talk over our questions, feelings and concerns, we began to hear each other and realise we were not alone in being Christian women who were unwilling to accept the stories we had been told. And we began to feel more alive.

If genuine Christian community and fellowship is about sharing our lives, does that not mean our whole lives? If talking about our sexuality and femininity helps us embrace our true identities as women created by God, then is that not the best thing we can be doing?!

There is so much more I want to explore and discuss. I want to understand how it is we got to where we are and how we can move forward more authentically. So I am thinking that I would like to start a blog series on sexuality.

And in thinking that, I will.

However in truth – as I attempt to organise my thoughts on this topic - I am faced with the seemingly impossible task of ending this blog. So as she instigated this journey into all things sexual…I thought it was only fitting to get Rachel's very eloquent closing thoughts on a way forward…

“As we wade our way through countless books dictating the truths of sex, open our ears to the truths and lies society screams rather loudly at us, sip our way through cups of coffee talking with girlfriends, and pray over what being a female in this sexualised - and in many ways sexually oppressed - world means to us… Maybe the conclusions we come to will be eloquent enough to provide some clarity on the subject that is ‘sex’! “

Sunday, February 2, 2014

I Spy Beauty...

A (sometimes) weekly post of beauty seen, heard or discovered

I have about 5 half-written blogs sitting on my computer. Not to mention the document that is just called ‘Random thoughts’ that has pages of unfinished, unedited computer scribblings.

My brain is awash with confusion and hope. Uncomfortableness and happiness. Frustration and joy. I’m in a very in-between kind of place.

And I’m in a waiting period at the moment. Waiting around means a lot of procrastination. Baking. Friends reruns watching. YouTube surfing.

There’s lots of beauty to be found on YouTube.

Earlier this week I was having a particularly unproductive day and that was getting me down. Until I watched this….

If you haven’t seen any of the Kid President clips before, may I suggest you go and watch a bunch more. This boy and his cousin have a big heart and vision for changing the world…. and they’re doing it!

We all need beautiful reminders like this now and again!

And if you ever need a little pep talk watch the video that made Kid President famous, here.

And hopefully I'll finish one or two of those blogs real soon....