Learning through Life

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Hampshire, United Kingdom
I love how our day-to-day life can teach us lessons to help us understand our past, challenge our today, and inspire our future. We can learn through experiences, situations, conversations, songs, books, nature ... the list is endless! Live with eyes ready to see, ears ready to hear and a heart ready to be touched.

Friday, 28 September 2012

The one with the opportunities

Five Minute Friday

Earlier on today Kay Morgan-Gurr shared their 'Five-Minute-Friday' Blog on Facebook.  A little later Tanya Marlow shared theirs on Twitter.  Now, I have interacted with social media long enough to have seen this blogging concept before, and although I have enjoyed reading many 'Five-Minute-Friday' posts, I have never considered writing one myself.  Could it be that I am just too busy on a Friday to write?  If I said 'yes', then I would be lying.  I do have time.  I mean, it's only five minutes isn't it?  If it were a problem I could slurp my tea a little faster, shower quicker, or spend less time surfing the net. Time isn't the issue here.  It's my speed.  The simple fact is that I am a slow writer.  I can touch type, but the words just don't flow at speed.  I am fussy and often delete sentences or paragraphs that don't quite communicate what it is I am trying to say.  That's the problem.

So the very thought of writing a post in five minutes is actually quite comical.  I might get past the title, but I can't envisage much more finding its way from my head - to my fingers - and onto the page.  And with that in mind, is it even worth me considering it?

But, what if I gave it a go?  Would it really matter if I only managed a few lines?  Would you be hugely offended if my grammar was dodgy or my spelling incorrect?  Would it be reported to the blogging police and taken offline?  I seriously doubt it.  So - how about I give it a go?  You never know, I might actually manage to put a thought out there that might make a difference.  Doubtful, but  not impossible.

But wait.  I have already taken quite some time in writing the above.  That doesn't have to count does it?  Can I be given more time on the clock?

Five minutes.  Clock set.  No cheating.  And ... go!

This week at Twinkling Stars, a baby and toddler group I run, I had several really exciting opportunities to have meaningful conversations with some of the parents and carers that attend.  I have known them for quite a while now, and have slowly been developing a good rapport with them.  We often talk about how we take our tea.  Or the weather.  Or the farm trip at the weekend.

But this week, something happened.  A concerned parent opened up about the possibility of her cancer returning, and the agonising wait she had for the results.  One of the carers asked me about my life, and my experience as a Christian.  And another parent shared how difficult she was finding it since the death of her father.  All important life conversations and I got to be a part of them.

What changed?  Did we do anything different this week to encourage meaningful conversations?

Well, yes, actually we did.  We prayed.  Don't get me wrong, it isn't as though we don't ever pray for the group.  It's just that we don't usually get time before people start arriving.  This week, however, we set up early and had time to spare.  We asked God to give us opportunities and to be in our conversations that morning.  And it happened.  It was an amazing morning!

That afternoon, as I walked back from school, I reflected on the morning's conversations.  And it got me thinking - did God give us more opportunities as we asked him - or were we just more aware of them?

Of course I believe that God answers prayer - so I can see how the conversations etc could have been a direct answer.  However, I can't help but wonder whether our expectations of the morning had something to do with it as well.  We had asked God to provide us with meaningful conversations and expected them to happen.  Our eyes and ears were open and we were ready to embrace the opportunities given.  Perhaps we also asked the questions with a greater authenticity and a tone that said 'I really care'?

Which was it?

Does God only provide opportunities when we ask him too?  Or, could it be that the opportunities are always there, we just don't see them?  Or maybe we do see them, but lack confidence in taking them?

I don't think it matters.  What does matter is that we keep God at the centre of all we do. Our expectations will then be raised, we will have greater confidence in our ability through him, and we will encounter Him moving in spectacular ways in our lives.

Confession:  I forgot when the five minutes started!

Thursday, 27 September 2012

The one with the School Bag

Last week there were tears.  My five year old niece came home from school having been told that she was no longer allowed to take her bag into the classroom.  Instead, she should use a book bag.  Luckily, she already had a book bag at home, so the changeover should have been straightforward - but no!  She loved her bag.  It was big and brown, had funny animals printed on it, and it could hold everything a five year old could possibly need!

She wasn't happy, but it was school policy.

Bags like hers take up too much space in the cloakroom - they cause a potential tripping hazard in the corridor and create a general untidy environment to work in.  Book bags, on the other hand, fit safely and tidily in the box provided.  It makes sense.

I explained the rationale behind the bag exchange to her, and although she understood, she wasn't impressed. 

But, rules were rules, and reluctantly she swapped her beloved brown bag for the regulatory blue book bag.  And that was that.  End of story.

Until ...

You can read the rest of this post, written for YouthWork Conference here ... This will take you to the main page, click on the blog tab at the top, and find the post titled 'Everyone Else Does it!'  And while you are there - why don't you check out the rest of the blog posts and site?  There's a lot of good 'stuff' there!

Let me know what you think :)

Monday, 17 September 2012

The one with the problem

I have a problem, and 18 years ago today, in a speech my Father gave at my wedding, he told all the guests about it.

I still struggle with it today, despite knowing it limits and restricts a life lived to the full!

You would think that after all this time I would be free of it, but no, it still lingers and rears its ugly head without invitation. 

I need to shake it off and get over it, but it's deep-set and firmly lodged in my very being - in my thoughts, words and action.  It sucks - and it's time to come clean in an attempt to loosen its hold on my life.

This blog welcomes the start of the healing process ...

You see, I'm a competitive perfectionist.  There, it's out.  Written in black and placed on white.  A truth that has often been dressed up and disguised as something good.  But it's not.  It's really not.

The words my Father spoke all those years ago came as a surprise - I hadn't realised he knew me that well to be honest.  We were not the closest of families!  And yet, he recognised it.  He had seen it play out in many areas of my life, and seen the effect it had on my ability to enjoy the opportunities given to me.

'Joanne (that received an audible drawing in of breath from the guests as I had never been known by my given name, and had changed it to 'Jo' by deed poll before getting married!) - is a talented and gifted girl (well - I was only 23) who is capable of achieving great things, and I hope she does and that her need to be the best at everything she does won't get in the way of this.'


That was me!

So many times I had given up on something when I realised I wasn't the best.  I wasn't the fastest.  The toughest.  The most clever.  The funniest.

I loved life and learning new things and often found myself at a pretty good standard at most things I did.  But pretty good wasn't good enough.  Silver or Bronze looked dull compared to Gold!  I felt a failure.  I couldn't handle it - and when it became clear that I was unlikely to push through and achieve what I wanted I found an excuse to give up.

And today, nothing much has changed.  Even when it comes to blogging.

When I first dipped my toes into the sea of blogging nearly two years ago, I never expected to find myself feeling totally submerged and tossed around by its waves.  

In my first blog I explained ...

'Writing somehow allows me to express myself in a way that makes sense - to me at least!  As someone who finds expression difficult in word - I seem to be able to put my true thoughts and feelings down through pen and paper (keyboard and screen!).  Which - I guess - is ultimately the whole point of attempting this blog.  I hope writing this will allow me to explore and express!  That is for me.  For you?  I hope that through my ramblings you will somehow be encouraged and empowered - to explore your life - and all that God has planned for it :)'

The truth is, whilst I obviously hoped that one or two of my friends would read my ramblings, I honestly never expected my posts to reach the eyes of anyone else.  I guess I had a rather naive understanding of the blogosphere!

And now ... 60 posts on - with almost 50 followers and 25,000 hits on my blog - I have began to feel the pressure.  People actually choose to read my writings?!

But there are so many good bloggers out there.  They are funny, interesting, profound, creative, well-written, frequent, encouraging, insightful ... and I just can't compete with them.

And so, as always, I back off.  I go quiet.  I focus elsewhere and create excuses not to write.  Here we go again ...

But no!

I love writing.  I love sharing my thoughts.  I love that people are kind enough to read and sometimes comment or share.  I love that you have come back to read this after I have been in hiding for so long.

So, I'm not the best writer.  I am slow.  It takes me a long time to put my thoughts into sentences and paragraphs that I am happy with.  My grammatical understanding isn't great.  I just can't get my head around 'affect' and 'effect' - or when a colon or semi-colon should be used.  I make mistakes.

So, I'm not the most creative of thinkers. I can't always think outside of the box and offer new thoughts and ideas.  I don't often write in a way that captures the reader and carries them to new places.

And I could go on ...

I am never going to be the best blogger out there.  I'm never going to win an award.  I'm never going to soar the heights with stats and followers ...

But that's ok.  It isn't why I started blogging in the first place, and I need to remind myself of this.

It isn't about being the best is it?  We can't all be the best.  Imagine the blogosphere (or any other area) if all bloggers fought to be the best.  It would no longer be a colourful meadow of experiences, thoughts and ideas - but a battleground. Cold.  Ugly.  Messy.

I can't be the best at everything - and neither can you.

However, although I can't be the best, I can do my best. And this makes a big difference doesn't it?

I believe that God wants us to do our best in all that we do.  He has given us each unique giftings and talents and wants us to use them well. Half-hearted efforts do not reflect well on our relationship with a God who went all out and sent his Son to die for us.  We should do our best with what God has given us.

When we are doing our best, we consider our own experience, skill, resources and time - and not those of others.

When we are doing our best, we can let go of competition and enjoy the experience.

And that is where I am right now.  I accept I'm not the best blogger out there, and that I never will be and that is good. It releases the valve on the performance pressure that has built up almost to a level of writing paralysis.
I can stop the fight and enjoy the ride!

Maybe you understand?  Maybe you have battled with something similar.  Perhaps not in blogging, but elsewhere.  Can I encourage you to take some of the pressure off.  Accept you are not going to be the best at everything, every time.  It's just not possible.  Drop it.

But you can do your best with what you have, and when you do you will not only being to enjoy the experience but you will be able to live life to the full!

So, I'm blogging again. I will do my best.  I believe that God wants us to do this.  I love sharing my thoughts and experiences with you and hope that what I write will entertain, encourage and maybe even inspire you.  Yes, mistakes will be made, and others will write with greater creativity, but I am going to enjoy the experience again- and I hope you will too.

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