Moving out of my comfort zone

Cat and computer
Kat on lap and computer, that’s my comfort zone!

If I had my way I would live forever in my comfort zone. Even the name of it sounds good – comfort zone. Lovely pictures of feather beds, coffee, chocolate, and books come to mind.

However this is not where I find myself this week.

Over the past couple of weeks I have been trying to launch a business. I’ll call it launched when I actually have customers. Right now I have a website and an advertising campaign, a Facebook page, a LinkedIn page, and an email sent to colleagues.

This is so far out of my comfort zone it’s not funny. Every little step I take takes a decent load of energy. It’s all so scary. What if it goes wrong?

Well, what if it does?

And that’s the thing. I’m just trying to launch a small business. And the reason for that is that I want to work from home. If it doesn’t work, that’s ok, I will start looking for work again and take what comes my way.

If it all falls flat it will be a bit of an embarrassment. But I have until June to make this thing work. That’s a few months. I’ll be embarrassed then if it hasn’t worked, and rejoicing if it has.

The thing that gets me is that I am doing this to make my life better. If everything works according to plan I will be able to work from home, work on my writing, and make a little money to live off. Life will be excellent. I know, I know, life will still be full of ups and downs but I still think there will be benefits from doing this, I wouldn’t be doing it otherwise.

So there will be benefits, but to get to those benefits I have to do this stretchy business of advertising, putting myself out there, being prepared to be rejected and scorned. I have to be thick skinned, audacious, pushy even.

I have to step out of my comfort zone.

Nothing good will happen if I stay in my little quiet space, comfortable, secure.

Atrophying.

I think that comfort zones are not static, they are dynamic. They are either growing, or shrinking. If I don’t want to stretch my comfort zone in this way, I need to stretch it in another way, because to do nothing is to start to shrink into myself. To lose the ability to do what I already do.

So I am choosing to stretch my comfort zone out into areas where at present it is anything but comfortable, in the hope of future benefit, and also just to keep growing. I want my life, my reach, to continually expand and grow. I want to use my talents, to take risks, and to leave the outcome in God’s hands.

Oh, and by the way, if you need an editor to look over a scientific manuscript for you, go to fixmyenglish.com.au and I’d be happy to help you out 🙂

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Thank you to friends near and far

Sometimes in our lives we need to feel the closeness of friends and family. This is one of those times. My Grandmother passed away on Sunday night at the ripe old age of nearly 100 and an anchor is gone from our lives.

But like the rest of the world, we don’t live in a tight knit community where our family is right around the corner. Some of us were there, together, when Granny passed, but some of us were far away.

The thing is that technology brought us all together anyway. Our phones and social media meant that wherever we were we could connect with each other and grieve together.

Many of us got together today to celebrate Granny’s life. But those who just couldn’t be there will still be able to see a recording of the service, and we’ll share photos and videos of our time together too.

Our family has had a group chat on Facebook for years now. It was set up so that we could keep  everyone linked in to news about Granny when she was unwell but it has grown to mean so much more than that. All our news has been shared as it has happened. And not just news. Hilarious child quotes and photographs. Puns and Dad jokes. The Family Chat has it all. We have grown closer as a family and gained so much.

Several members of the family have shared just how comforting it has been to have the support of our friends through this time. Again, and I don’t want this to be an ad for Facebook necessarily, but that’s the social media I use, and my Facebook friends have been such a blessing.

One little status update gets responses of hearts and tears in the emoticons, and comments sharing love and memories listed long underneath. It means so much to me. It really does.

It’s not only friends far away either. Meeting with friends in the supermarket and getting hugs. Or the gorgeous person who saw me lunching with my brother and paid our bill for us. Or the good friend who stepped up to be there for me today, just in case she was needed. It’s a blessing to be a part of this community.

Sometimes when you are putting thoughts out into the void on a blog like this you can forget that the people who are reading your thoughts are people too. I just listened to a podcast where a blogger said that she was travelling and a reader said to her, ‘You’re near me. Come and drop in for coffee.’ And she did. How cool was that? A relationship built over the internet and confirmed in person. So great.

You all are my friends. I am so encouraged to see when people have read my blog, and I love to read the comments you post. I love that technology brings us together. What I share here is from my heart to yours and I hope you can feel that.

I may not have a lot of money but I am rich, so wealthy in the friendships that surround me. I want to thank you all for being a part of my life and for the richness and comfort you bring to me.

That’s all really, dear readers, dear friends. Thank you.

The strongest woman in my life

Granny's hand

In just over a month my Grandmother turns 100. It’s not going to be one of those birthday parties where the news reporters come around and the birthday girl gives a chirpy interview about what she did that made her live so long, in fact we’re not completely sure that she’ll make it to the line, but she’s held on this long by force of will so if it’s important to her to turn 100 I’m pretty sure she’ll do it.

Granny is one of the strongest people I know. She’s been an amazing influence on my life and I’m so grateful for her.

One of the stories told by the family is about when Granny decided she wanted to learn to drive. She didn’t ask anyone permission, she learned in secret, and presented Grandad with the fait accompli by stating that she was going to pick up one of the children from kindergarten.

Not that she drove particularly well, but that independence was incredibly important to her and very difficult to give up as she aged.

Granny had five children. Two planned children (David and Gill), then my Dad (John) was the first ‘accident’. Wendy came along by accident quite a bit later and Lil came to keep Wendy company. When I asked Granny how many children she thought was a good number she said ‘two’. Hilarious. She was not the ‘earth mother’ type but she was totally devoted to her family.

Granny and Grandad emigrated to Australia when Dad was 3. They lived in very cramped quarters with Granny’s brother for a while and then got their own housing department house at Warrane, where they started by furnishing the house with packing boxes until they could afford something better. They really started life here with nothing.

It must have been the Warrane house that I stayed in as a baby when my own parents went overseas for a while. I feel like Granny and I have a special bond because of that. But I’m pretty sure that every single one of Granny’s grandchildren and great-grandchildren feel like they have a special bond with her. She’s good like that.

One of my earliest memories (quite a bit later than babyhood) is of staying overnight in the Warrane house. I remember that if we put our dressing gowns at the foot of the bed and went to sleep, we would find a lollipop in the pocket as we awoke. Nothing like bribery to get your grandchildren to go to sleep quickly!

Granny taught Sunday School at St Phillips and I remember working the bar at the local RSL for one of my casual jobs during high school where my trainer remembered Granny very well from her Sunday School classes. Granny had made quite an impression. She didn’t care about where people were from. She cared about people. She was out to share God with everyone.

Granny looked after her ailing mother for years, and shortly after her mother passed away, Grandad also passed away. While preaching. At the church I attend now. It’s a great story. But Granny was not impressed.

I joke about it, but it was quite serious, Granny did not cope and had a mental breakdown. Of course, I didn’t know about it, I was still very young at this stage, but the breakdown changed Granny’s life. She started to limit herself. She stopped going out so much, stopped seeing most of her friends, and totally dedicated her life to her family.

I remember going to visit and staying overnight in the end bedroom, the sewing room. In the bedroom and in the hallway were bookshelves and my love of Gorgette Heyer was built from those books. Granny taught me to sew and she taught me to knit. I do neither of those well, but what I know I learned from Granny. She sewed all her own clothes and she was one of those knitters that can do it without thinking, while carrying on a conversation. She knitted for all of us and I also remember later in her life that she knitted a plethora of baby blankets and little hats and jackets for a local charity.

We moved away to Canberra for a few years and when we’d come back for holidays we would do two things: visit Nanny for afternoon tea, and visit Granny for dinner. We weren’t really home until those were complete. My younger sister knew that Nanny had the tic tacs but Granny had the lollies. The end of every visit to Granny would involve her going to the pantry and pulling out a jar of Columbines or Fantails and allowing each person ‘just one’.

When we moved back to Hobart every Monday would involve a roast dinner at Granny’s place. How she got her potatoes that crispy on the outside and fluffy inside I will never know. I’ve tried to replicate it, believe me.

We would start by heading to her West Hobart home straight from school. Granny would let us watch afternoon TV – something we never did at home. Our memories of Captain Planet and Round the Twist are solely due to her largesse. Or we’d sit at the organ in the corner with headphones on and bash away – no-one could hear the music except the child with the headphones, but everyone could hear the clicking of the keys and the pounding of the foot pedals. We were all given a small glass of sherry before the meal, then we would squeeze ourselves around the table in her tiny kitchen, sitting on chairs and small stools. Once Moz and I were an item he would come too making seven around the table. The roast consumed, we would finish with peaches and ice-cream and ice magic. My sister would have the peaches separate from the ice-cream. Either consecutively or in separate bowls. I also have a memory of my brother accidentally throwing beetroot at me across a snow white table cloth. It must have been a lunch visit with buttered bread (cut into quarters), salad, and spam. Yes, spam. And meat paste too. All things I only ate at Granny’s.

We ate properly with the proper accoutrements. Even when we were staying over and eating dinner in front of the TV we would eat off tray tables and use linen napkins and have a bread and butter plate on the side of our dinner plate. While Nanny would watch Wheel of Fortune over dinner, Granny would watch Sale of the Century. It really separated them in my mind.

Granny’s kitchen wasn’t flash, and after dinner us children or our parents would squeeze around the tiny corner sink and wash up the dishes by hand.

As far as I can remember I was the first grandchild to get married. Granny gave me her grandmother’s wedding ring to use as my own. A blessing I don’t feel I deserve.

Granny revelled in her grandchildren and great-grandchildren. All five of her children had married and had two or three kids of their own, and many of us grandchildren produced offspring as well. Each baby that came along gave her a new lease of life.

Life wasn’t all wonderful though. We all had a great shock when Wendy saved two children from drowning and she herself died in the process. She gave her life for others all through her life and she gave her life at the end. Granny told me she wasn’t supposed to outlive her children. She was devastated. But very proud to go to Government House for the awarding of a posthumous bravery medal.

There were other struggles too. I won’t go into them all here.

I remember having Granny for a meal at our house. She and Lil came over and we had made a tuna casserole with pasta. Oh dear, I should have stuck to roasts. Lil told me afterwards that Granny didn’t eat pasta – I guess while it was a staple for us, it was a foreign food to her. Not that she was a stranger to strange food – during the war she had eaten whale meat. She told me it looked like steak but tasted like fish. I really don’t need to experience that for myself.

And making a cup of tea for Granny was also scary. The tea had to be served in a cup and saucer, with exactly the right amount of milk. And while we were allowed to put the sugar in, the stirring was for Granny to do. If we didn’t do it right she would send it back and we would have to start again.

As Granny grew older her world shrank until it was completely contained in her West Hobart house, and the mental illness flared again. All of the children and grandchildren would visit whenever we could but we could often hear her talking, no, arguing with herself as we let ourselves in, and while we chose to laugh and love, we knew something would have to be done. Granny had not seen a doctor in thirty years, and no dentists either. She just wouldn’t go. She must have been in a lot of pain but she didn’t let that show to us. She just kept going. Her will power was amazing. She was existing on cups of tea and sweet biscuits. All the meals that were made for her by family were stored in her chest freezer and never eaten.

It had to end of course. And it ended in style. My Dad, and Lil, and the mental health authorities, and the ambulance, and the police were required to get her out of the house and into hospital for treatment. But once she was getting the right medication and had moved into a lovely nursing home her life got significantly better. She had people to talk to again, things to keep her occupied, concerts and dinners and of course the beloved family came and visited.

I have always admired Granny’s great strength. Even when she was pushing hard against something that would do her good I would be just so proud of the strong woman that she was and is. She knew what was important to her and she stood up for those things. She loved her family with her whole life. Every part of her. She shared everything that she had. Her food, her house, her books, her space, her wisdom, her knowledge, all that she had she gave away.

Granny loves Jesus. She has tried to live according to his example. She knows where she’s going. And he will stand to welcome her with a ‘Well done, good and faithful servant.’

I only hope that I hold to her example however long my life will be.

Edit: My beloved Granny passed away 12 hours after I wrote this. I was privileged to be there as she passed and I look forward to seeing her in heaven.

 

Reasons to Journal

journaling

(This is not a Moleskine journal, it’s an old picture, but it is a Bic pen)

One of my very favourite books is Daddy Long Legs by Jean Webster. One of the reasons I think I enjoy it so much is that most of the book is written in the form of letters that Judy Abbott writes to her mysterious benefactor. Now yes, I want a mysterious benefactor myself, but it’s the slightly naughty delight of reading someone else’s mail, of seeing right into Judy’s mind, that’s the thing I love.

Another such book is The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows, and Welcome to the Working Week by Paul Vitos (written in email rather than letters, with a fair bit more cynicism and swearing). And then there’s always The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis.

All of them have this fun feeling of reading over someone’s shoulder, of seeing a new insight through their eyes.

I’ve been getting the same feeling lately through reading back my journal from last year.

I’m not being totally self-indulgent – I’m writing a book about 2017 using my blogs and I thought it would add some interest if you all (dear readers) had some insight into how I was feeling as the year went on. Ok, maybe I am being self-indulgent but I’m getting a lot out of it anyway.

Journalling is important to me. I don’t remember why, but I do remember that in grade 10 I decided to write a journal entry every day. I remember very clearly sitting in bed in the dark at 1am (I shared a room with my sister and couldn’t turn the light on) writing a few lines on a new page knowing that I would not be following the lines, I couldn’t see the lines, but I had to complete my journal entry for that day before I went to sleep.

I tend to follow rules like that. If I’m journalling every day, then I’m journalling every single day. No excuses.

I’m easier on myself now, I don’t make myself write every day, but I write most days because it’s so helpful.

Sheridan Voysey has some tips for journalling. He says that you don’t have to write every day. That you must not let anyone else see what you’re writing – it is just for you (write in code if necessary). That you date each entry (he records the time as well and I’ve started doing that too). That you write freely and honestly. That you keep it simple and that you write anywhere. His podcast on reasons to journal is worth listening to.

Why do I journal?

I mistrust my memory and love to have a record of my life. I think that part of me feels like I’d lose my life if I didn’t write it down.

I find that journalling slows me down enough to know how I’m feeling. I can be running around (either literally, or inside my own head) and stop to journal and write: ‘I don’t know what I’m doing, I don’t know what I’m feeling. Oh boy do I feel tired.’ And then I go nap. Journalling gets me in touch with myself. It helps me to see if the problem I’m experiencing is physical tiredness, or just my own narkiness, or whether I have an issue I need to sort out with someone else. In other words, it stops me snapping at Moz when the issue I need to deal with is my own tiredness.

Journalling stops the hamster wheel of thoughts inside my head. Once it’s written down, it’s written and I can move on. If I leave the thought in my head then it can swirl around and never get dealt with.

And finally, I can look back on my journal and see where I’ve been.

I tell many newlyweds, especially those I know who marry young like Moz and I did, about how comforting it was to read my journal from our first year of marriage. You see, no matter how bad things were in the next few years, it never got as bad as the first year. (Our first year was hard work, but worth it).

And looking back at last year I can see objective evidence that the days were hard and busy but I can also see the record of cosy nights in front of the fire, peaceful walks along the beach, little pockets of peace and joy through the hard times. It gives me strength and encouragement for what I’m walking through now. Which, by the way, is nowhere near as bad as last August.

It doesn’t take much to journal, you don’t need a fancy book or a fancy pen. I have a very fancy Moleskine journal at the moment – a Christmas present from my parents – but I have a motley arrangement of journals on the bookshelf to my left, all colours and sizes that I’ve used through the years.

The pen I use is a Bic biro. Nothing fancy there! But I like the way it writes. But you know, you can use anything. Some people like to use a really fancy pen, a fancy journal, do drawings and so on and make it a special part of their ‘me time’ and others like me just like to get the words down on the page. Whenever and wherever I find myself.

Some people like me keep all their journals. I hope to go through my boxes soon and find the one I wrote in in grade 10. I think it will be interesting to read. Others like my mother-in-law destroy them. That can be really cathartic. A nice journal fire when you’re saying goodbye to some particularly dreadful part of your life could be an excellent symbolic gesture.

Words are my thing, obviously. But I think a lot of us can find joy in journalling.

Do you keep a journal? What have you found best or worst about it? Or have I tempted you to try? Let me know in the comments.

What makes you a Success?

to-do-list_o_915180

I wrote this post a couple of weeks ago but didn’t put it up because it’s January and EVERYONE is writing about goals and resolutions and so on right now. But I’m going to post it anyway, because it’s what I’m thinking about as I start this year. My birthday is in January, so as well as the big New Years Day thing, I also have the next year of my life to think about. January for me is all about goals, dreams, plans for the year ahead.

And what it means to have those plans succeed.

Success. What does it mean? More importantly, what does it mean to you?

How would you define a successful year? What makes you successful in your career? What does success mean in your family?

I’m a bit of a list addict. When the weekend comes I like to write a list of everything I want to accomplish in the two days. My list will have bigger tasks like ‘change the bed linen’ and smaller tasks like ‘clean up the kitchen’ (alright that can also be a big task – it depends on the day), and even hobby tasks like ‘read book’ or ‘bake cookies’.

If I cross all the tasks off the list by the end of the weekend I judge it to be a wildly successful weekend. But what if I don’t manage to get to all the tasks? Is the weekend a failure? Am I a failure?

I listened to a podcast interview by Steve Laube a literary agent, about success. He was talking about how writers define success and how it can be a dangerous thing. He said that some define success by sales numbers, ‘I’ll be successful once I sell 50,000 books,’ or by income, ‘I’ll be successful when I make $100,000.’ But, he says, what if you only sell 45,000 books? What if you only make $98,000? Are you a failure? If you haven’t ticked over that success milestone does that mean you have failed?

His point was that it is better to define success as the impact that you have on people – that even if you impact one person’s life for the better by your writing, you have therefore been a success.

We can apply that to our general lives too. We might never be millionaires, we might not ever be able to be Prime Minister, or a movie star, or the CEO of our corporation, or any of these high-impact people, but if we can impact the lives around us in a positive way on a day to day basis then we can also say that we are successful.

I agree. Money or fame or power are not good measures of success. They are more like gaping bottomless pits that suck you in and suck those around you into the abyss as well. At least, that’s what it looks like from the outside. I’ve never really been close enough to find out.

So yes, doing good to others, spreading the light however we can, reaching out and making anyone’s life better, that is a good measure of success but there’s a risk with this kind of thinking.

The risk is that we stop trying. We can be tempted to not push ourselves, not try hard, not grow, because all we’re doing is just trying to help the people around us, trying to shed light, and isn’t that enough? Just being a nice person? If that’s the definition of success then why bother training? Why bother learning? Why bother developing our artistic skills? Why bother with academic excellence?

But I believe excellence is something worth reaching for. Learning and growing and improving is a life-long journey and if we stop doing any of that then we stop living. Or at least we stop living a life filled with any richness.

My dream for my writing career is that I can make a living by what I write. That is what I think would constitute a wildly successful writing career. It is what I’m aiming for. My big shining city on a hill that I’m toiling towards. This is not something that I expect to tick off my list any time soon, but it’s the thing that will keep me striving for excellence, will keep me training and working.

And failure in my writing career is defined solely by this:

  • I fail if I stop writing.

So in between the failure and the big shining city there is a wide plain of moderate success:

  • I am successful if I put aside the time to write.
  • I am successful if I hone my skills, train in character development or descriptive writing.
  • I am successful if I bring a book to publication.
  • I am not a failure unless I fail to do that which I am called to do.

I think you can see from this list though that the goals that are on the success pathway are goals that are within my control. Goals that depend on me, not on external forces. Goals like exercising every day, rather than a goal of losing 10 kg which has a lot of factors you may not be able to control. Goals like mastering that piano piece or practicing five hours a week, not goals like winning Australian Idol. It is easy to fail if your definition of success depends on something that you cannot have a hope of controlling. Some people call these systems, not goals. I’ll probably write another post on this in the future because I think it needs some unpacking but just bear it in mind right now. When I talk about never failing, I’m talking about reaching for goals that depend on your own input, not externally defined goals.

Success and failure are not binary concepts. Success is not an on-off switch.

Rather there is a continuum from failure (which I think is only final once you’re dead) to wild and absolute success. And every step you take towards your shining city is a successful step. Every setback is just that, a setback. If you pick up and keep going, you have not failed.

 

I’d really love to hear your thoughts on this in the comments. What do you see as success? What do you think about goals? What are your goals for the new year?

New Year’s Resolutions

It’s that time of year again. The time that we all make our goals and resolutions and swear that this time we will stick to them. Or we laugh at everyone making goals and resolutions and swear that you’ll never catch us making such stupid arbitrary-date-related promises to ourselves.

I found myself not wanting to write down goals at all today. No resolutions, no goals for January, no goals for the week. I didn’t want anything written down at all. And I couldn’t figure out why for a minute but I worked it out in the end.

I didn’t want to write them down, because if I didn’t achieve them, didn’t cross them off the list or give them a big tick, then I would feel that I had failed. And I hate feeling like I’ve failed.

I don’t think I’m alone in this.

For some people writing the goals is fine, but they don’t want to tell anyone their goals because if someone asks, ‘how is that project going?’ that’s when they will feel that sense of failure.

But we have to have goals.

For some of us goals are given by our workplace or by our school and we can use those to track your progress. But if you don’t have that, then you need to come up with goals yourself. If you don’t have any goals it’s a road to depression I think – you’re not going anywhere and it doesn’t feel good.

This morning the problem wasn’t that I didn’t have goals. I had plenty of goals for January floating around in my head. I just didn’t want to commit them to paper. I didn’t want to make a target that I would fail to reach. I didn’t want it written there in black and white.

But the problem with that was that the goals swirling around my head were nebulous, they were unformed and shapeless. While I removed the risk of failure, I also removed the feeling of success. And I actually think that without those concrete goals written down I would have a sense of failure anyway, a fear of something I’d missed.

So what did I do?

It’s taking me a while to process this but I have been reading over and over again in the last year an amazing concept. Amazing. I tell you, it’s life changing.

You can change your goals.

You can adjust them.

If you are working through the month of January and you find that you’re not able to achieve that ambitious list that you had at the beginning of the month, that’s fine. If you had something to aim for, you got half-way there and you couldn’t quite summon up the energy or strength to push through to the end, that’s ok.

Change the goal.

Change the deadline.

It’s ok. It’s fine. It’s not failure.

It’s just adjustment.

That’s part of the process. You make goals. Set them somewhere. And as you move towards them you chart your progress and make adjustments.

It has to work this way because let’s face it, life isn’t straight-forward. You could be moving really well towards a goal and then get the flu. Or someone close to you passes away. Or, on the brighter side, a friend comes to visit from overseas and you need to make time to visit with them. Any number of interruptions and stumbling blocks can get in the way of a goal and there’s no way you can know beforehand what’s going to happen.

So my suggestion this new year is that you make goals, goals that are appropriate to what you can achieve right now, but hold them lightly, and continually adjust.

And may we all feel like we’re making progress as we head through 2018.

The Twelve Steps of Christmas Grocery Shopping

Christmas Dinner

Step 1: Budget. Put aside money through the year. At least twice as much as you think you’ll need. (If you’ve missed this step then Step 1 might be buying a TARDIS. You can go from there.)

Step 2: Watch American Ninja Warrior or Ultimate Beastmaster or some such strength/parkour adventure competition game show the night before.

Step 3: Write a list. A complete list. Don’t forget to ask everyone in the house what they need you to buy to make it feel like Christmas.

Step 4: Pick a buddy that will have fun with you while shopping. Singing and dancing along to the shop music is perfectly acceptable behaviour.

Step 5: Decide it’s going to take a long, long time to do this.

Step 6: Park at the very far end of the car park. Why not? It’s easier to park and you’ll get to stretch your legs.

Step 7: Stop and buy a coffee on the way in. This is particularly effective if you’ve decaffeinated yourself for months beforehand. The caffeine feels like a Christmas miracle. A large chai can also work if you’re not that into coffee.

Step 8: LARGE trolley. The smaller ones have all been taken anyway.

Step 9: Visit every aisle in the shop. But reframe each aisle as a level in the American Ninja Warrior or Beastmaster show. We are now playing Ultimate Hardcore Grocery Challenge. Each aisle/level has different challenges – some have pillars in them, some have people going up the aisle on the left and on the right, some have that person stopped right in the middle that holds up traffic both ways, some have people you need to stop and chat to, it’s all part of the game.

Step 10: Check the list at the end. Do you have everything or is it time for a bonus round?

Step 11: Pick a checkout with a friendly check out chick/chap that you can chat to. Remember to try not to wince when the total comes through, you’ll be eating this stuff until the end of January.

Step 12: Putting it all away when you get home is part of the game. Or is it a new game? Tetris, maybe.

End of Year Weirdness

teddy bear christmas

I just realised why it feels so weird.

I know that everyone says that they don’t feel Christmassy and all every year, but I was definitely feeling something different about the end of the year this year, and just now it hit me what it is.

Both my children have finished school. This is the first year in 18 years that I haven’t had an ‘end of school’ routine with a child. I haven’t had any final assemblies, any prizes or awards, any end of year activity days.

And yes, Moz is still a teacher, and would normally attend all these things, giving me some sense of normalcy, but this year he got hit with the horrible cold thing – the one that ends with the everlasting hacking cough (apparently) – and wasn’t able to attend any of the end of year things for his school at all.

And while I’ve finished up work for the year, I’ve been doing that slowly and in pieces for a few weeks now. There was no big last-day marker.

So this year the end of the year has come in a dropwise, petering out, unmarked fashion.

And it feels weird.

But in another way, it’s been really nice. We’ve taken it slow. Our tree isn’t up yet (the picture is from 2013) and I’m not worried about it.

Tonight the kids both come home – Jess from Canberra, and Caleb from a four-day road trip – and tonight we will start to celebrate Christmas and end-of-year-ness together. I’m really looking forward to it.

With two adult children we’re starting a new set of traditions.

I have a friend who has moved to a small mining town in Western Australia. This will be her second Christmas ever without her wider family around. She also needs to start a new set of traditions. And I think she’s feeling a little weird too.

Then there’s my friend whose father-in-law passed away just last night, and things have changed for that family too.

We have such high expectations for the Christmas period. We build them year by year. We can do it all ourselves but we’re given unhelpful help from Christmas movies, TV shows, advertising, and all the marketing guff that goes on.

For some people this time of year is incredibly hard as they battle loneliness, addictions, and so on. But even for those of us blessed with happy families and first-world wealth the changes that each year brings can shock us and hurt us as we approach a milestone like Christmas Day.

I find it helpful to go back to the foundations. For me, the foundation of Christmas is the celebration of the birth of Christ. That is enough for a huge celebration no matter where I am or what I’m doing.

The second foundation stone for me is the celebration of family. My own husband and children, my parents and siblings, my in-laws, and my church family. No matter what the day brings I have so much to be grateful for.

I hope that you can find something to be grateful for this Christmas, even if you celebrate through tears.

Lots of love,

Ruth

How to ask

Buy my book

Well friends, this is the last post in this Saying No series.

It’s not that I’m going to stop writing about this stuff, it seems to be something I love to explore, but I’m going to be writing about it less regularly and writing about other things more, and I’m going to give my artist a break 🙂

And of course, it’s time to write some Christmas posts, isn’t it?

I’m also going to add a little more to the saying no posts, include some thoughts that have been sparked by your comments, and wrap it all up in a ribbon and make it into a book. I’ll let you know when it’s for sale!

I’ve talked in this series about losing the ‘shoulds’, about figuring out priorities, about making rules beforehand so that we don’t have to make yes/no decisions on the fly, about pushing ourselves sometimes, and resting regularly. I want to finish with something that came up the other day when I was chatting to some good friends over lunch.

We were talking about this blog and the conversation moved to discussing methods of asking people to do things in such a way that they feel free to say no. It got me thinking about things from the other side of the fence and I thought I’d explore the idea.

An interesting thing has changed for me as I’ve been writing this series. Now, when people have asked me to do something they preface the request with ‘you can say no, but …’

‘You can say no, but would you like to come to the quiz night on Saturday?’

‘Feel free to say no, but would you like to be a part of this fundraiser?’

‘I know you’ll probably say no, but there’s a dinner on and I’d love you to come.’

It’s been wonderful. My friends are so great. They can see that I’m working on something here and they are trying to help.

Some requests are not so easy to refuse.

I think one of the worst ways of being asked is this, ‘What are you doing on March the 21st?’

This method of asking assumes that if there is nothing booked into your calendar then you are available for whatever event the person is asking you to.

However, what if there is nothing booked in your calendar because you need the day off as a rest day? Or sometimes you even need to wait and see – if the week before turns out to be huge, then maybe you need to turn the event down.

Now this is difficult, because sometimes the person asking really needs to know how many people are attending an event so that they can plan properly. And sometimes people are putting off answering because they are waiting to see if a better offer arrives, and that’s, honestly, a little rude.

Tasmanians have a dreadful habit of booking tickets to things at the very last moment. We’ve had some big name performers cancel their tours because people couldn’t make up their minds whether or not they wanted to come. I guess this is another place where there needs to be a bit of balance.

Having said that, I still think there’s a better way of asking.

How about, ‘Hey, could you check your calendar and get back to me? I’d love to invite you to this thing on March 21st if you would like to come. I need to know numbers by Feb 20th.’

Or ‘I’d really like to get together with you for dinner, I know you’re busy but I’m free on these days, would you be able to make it on any of those? Or maybe you could suggest one that works for you? I don’t mind how long I have to wait, I’d just like to spend time with you.’

Or ‘There’s this really great event happening that I’m sure you’d like. Have a think about it and get back to me.’

I can see a pattern in these invitations, they all give the invited person time to think. This may purely be my introverted nature but I really hate being put on the spot. I like to have a chance to think about anything before I give an answer. So maybe this is what we can do. Give our friends time to think and the freedom to say no without guilt. Do you have suggestions for good ways to ask? Let us know in the comments.

Thank you so much for joining me on this journey. I pray that each of us grows in wisdom about when to say no and when to say yes so that our lives fill up with meaning, joy, and peace. And yes, feel free to say no, but when the time comes, will you consider buying my book? 🙂

Sabbath

Indispensable

When I started working at the university on short-term contracts, I had a plan. I would say yes to as many things as possible, and make myself indispensable, and then they would have to keep renewing my contracts and my employment would be as good as permanent.

I didn’t say it was a good plan.

You see the problem with thinking like that is that when the time came this year when I really needed to take a break, I didn’t feel like I could because I had made myself indispensable. I felt like things would fall over if I took so much as a week off. And so I came close to exhaustion.

I think it must be a personality-type thing for me or something. I like being friends with people, but what I really like is being needed. I love being the one people turn to in a crisis. I love it so much … until I don’t. I love it until I am tired and I really need a break but there’s no one else who can take the load.

It’s pride, people. Plain and simple.

None of us can carry that burden.

I’m not meant to be the one solving everyone’s problems. I am not meant to be the sole provider of friendship to people, or the sole dispenser of wisdom. It works much better if everyone does their little bit than if I feel (even mistakenly) that it all depends on me.

One of the things that can help stop me from continually falling into this trap is the practice of regularly taking one day off a week. It’s a discipline that helps put everything back into order. That gives a regular reset of the brain.

When I was working full-time, a Sabbath for me meant a day when I didn’t do any paid work. I would make sure I didn’t do any work at all on that day as a statement of faith that God would either make it ok that the work didn’t get done, or make me cope with the fact that disaster happened.

It was amazing how little disaster actually happened. In fact, I can’t think of one time when taking a whole day off work for the week led to a crisis. What it usually led to was a rested, more competent, more peaceful me. And that was a very good thing.

Now that my ‘work’ consists of two days paid work and the rest of the time trying to get my own business off the ground I think I might find it a little harder to take a break. Harder to trust that it will all be ok. But I want to all the same. Because I want to remember that it’s not all about me, about my business. I don’t want to disappear into the rabbit hole of entrepreneur burnout.

So what does a Sabbath, a weekly day off, look like?

I don’t believe that a Sabbath needs to always be taken on a Sunday. I don’t think that we need to spend the day sitting quietly and reading religious texts. I love the idea of preparing meals and such beforehand and not doing any work at all but I don’t think that is achievable for most of us, and for some of us doing housework and cooking is a way to relax – a different way of being than we have for the rest of the week at work.

When Moz and I were doing missions training (back in the day, before we were married) we took Sundays off. We would go to an early church service and then we would just spend time together, chatting, maybe exploring the neighbourhood. We didn’t even have to cook meals because we were living in a missions community. It was a true day off.

Last Saturday for me the day off meant that I did a whole lot of washing, and went grocery shopping, and spent a few hours in the kitchen cooking up a proper meal for my family. I tried out a couple of new recipes and I enjoyed the creativity. I read a book. And I topped the day off by watching a mindless chick-flick.

Eugene Peterson describes his Sabbath in his book ‘The Pastor’. When he was a pastor he would take a day off each Monday, and he wrote to his congregation to explain what he was doing and why. He and his wife would pack a lunch and go for a bush walk each Monday (or a hike I guess, he was in America, here in Australia we would call it a bush walk). For the morning they would walk in silence, just taking the time to process the week that had come before. But when they broke for lunch they would talk to each other and they would keep talking all the way home.

Kris Rusch just happened to talk about her weekly day off in her blog this week. She writes that she takes the day off from work and that she has a no screen rule with that day off. ‘No email, no iPad, no laptop.’ She writes. ‘Phone with me but set on do not disturb except for the handful of people who call in for an emergency.’ She also writes, by the way, that once she started doing this kind of resting her productivity increased because her stress levels went down.

Perhaps if you are parents of small children your day off would include meeting another family at a park for a play – or possibly taking your kids to one of those indoor play centres so that you can sit and read with a nice coffee. Perhaps it means using disposable nappies for one day a week so that you can take one day off the washing.

There are many options and it’s not a one-size-fits-all deal. But however you put it together, I encourage you to take time off somehow to rest and rejuvenate each week.

How do you take a day off? What would your perfect Sabbath look like? I’d love to hear about it in the comments.

This is the second-last of these posts on Saying No. But the blog will continue afterwards, don’t worry. If you would like to make sure you never miss a post then feel free to sign up here on WordPress. If you would like to read my regular newsletter about my novel writing then drop me a line at rijamos@gmail.com. And the amazing work of our artist Caleb is always available on instagram @deteor42.