The Story of Your Life

Corrections

I’ve been doing a lot of editing lately, of my own work, not of others’. I am preparing a book of short stories for publication, I’m preparing a book of transcripts of my podcast, and I am also working through the first draft of my new novel and making it stronger and better.

I don’t really like editing, going back over my work, figuring out what to cut out and what to leave in, changing this, adding new things here, removing whole paragraphs there. I would like everything I write to be perfect the first time. To make a decision and for that to be absolutely the best one. To not have to change anything.

Ridiculous, right? Writing doesn’t work that way (oh the irony, I had to rewrite this very sentence). Everyone’s first draft is messy.

My devotion today asked, ‘If your life was a book, what would you need to edit?’

When I think about the themes I want my life to convey, the story I want to tell, are there things I need to cut out, or things I need to add to communicate that story better? Are there decisions I made that were right at the time but that need to change now? Are there hangovers I’m holding on to because I really loved them five or ten years ago but they don’t apply to my life now?

One of the big editing tips in writing is, ‘kill your darlings.’ In writing our novels we often love certain scenes, conversations, or even characters. They are our darlings. But the truth of the matter may be that those things are weaknesses in the overall tale, they need to go, they need to be cut out.

I’m wondering if there are ‘darlings’ in my life that I’m hanging on to that are making me weaker. Attitudes or decisions, or even material goods or activities that need to go now to bring the story of my life to a stronger place.

Is it the same for you?

Often authors can’t see for ourselves what these things are. That’s why it is so important to employ an editor to look over our work. The editor is not emotionally involved in the situation and can be a bit more ruthless when it comes to cutting out deadwood. Sometimes it can be difficult to hear the editor’s advice. But you know that they are working with you towards the same goal – a stronger piece of work, better able to convey the story, the theme.

And the same applies to our lives. Sometimes it is helpful to have a mentor or a coach, or a good friend, who can help you look over your life and see where things could change to make you stronger.

If you think of your life as a book, what is the story you are telling? And is there editing that needs to happen to make your life tell its important tale in a stronger way? Do you have an ‘editor’ that can help you make the hard decisions?

Are you missing some of my blog posts? They come out every Monday. Sign up to follow the A Quiet Life blog on WordPress, or you can sign up to my newsletter on www.ruthamos.com.au  and you will receive every post straight to your email inbox. You will also find my podcast, my book ‘My Year of Saying No’, and any short stories or other books will be up there as they come along.

If you would like to support this blog and the podcast then you can head over to Patreon.com/quietlife and help me out for as little as a dollar a month. Thank you so much!

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A tough day

I have to admit it. Yesterday was a tough day.

Not the first half. The first half was great. Just the last half was tough.

I have to go back a bit for this to make sense (though I’m so tired, I’m not sure that making sense is on the agenda).

On Tuesday I flew to Canberra. I spent the week meeting up with longstanding friends from as far back as grade 6 (lost in the mists of time) and spending time with my lovely daughter Jess. I also managed to do some writing, which was very good, working on the first transcript book for the A Quiet Life podcast.

On Friday, Moz and Caleb joined us and we all prepared for the wedding of good friends on Saturday.  You know, those friends who are almost family. Who are family, really.

The wedding was gorgeous. Mel was a gorgeous bride, Pete a handsome groom, but more than that, the joy that was there in the room was delightful. And the people were so great. It was a fun night. Lots of chatting, lots of dancing, good food, excellent speeches.

Late to bed, not so late to rise, checking out of the motel, heading to brunch with Jess and hearing her news and stories from her recent visit to Panama. All excellent.

Then we hit the airport.

I told Moz and Caleb that I was just going to put headphones in, listen to a podcast or five, and not relate to anyone for a while. I had done the extrovert thing, I had socialised all week, I was ready to stop.

Our plane from Canberra was delayed. When we finally got on the plane I was sat next to a lovely lady from Ireland who loved chatting to me. I listened. She really was a nice person. (After take-off we both read books so I didn’t have to chat the whole way).

Once we got going I had a look at our boarding time for the next flight (from Melbourne to Hobart) and started to get concerned about making it to Melbourne in time. My neighbour was also concerned about making her connecting flight. She was in more trouble than us though, she was heading back to Ireland. She had about an hour to make it to the next terminal and get on the flight. I hope she made it.

We didn’t. Our next plane pulled out of the bay as we pulled in.

We were flying with an airline whose name starts with V and goes well with the name Mary and they were really good to us. Sure, they didn’t hold the flight for us, but they booked us on another one, and they gave us food vouchers that were very generous and exit row seats once we got on the flight.

They just couldn’t get us on a flight until 7.40 pm.

So we waited.

The new flight was delayed as well. By over an hour. And even when we got onto the new plane it was delayed another 10 minutes because something was broken, I’m not sure what. None of the three of us were with-it enough to hear the announcement by that stage.

We got home before midnight. Well past pumpkin time for me though.

So it was a very boring afternoon. Not what we wanted. Not what we planned.

But it could have been so much worse.

The thing is, all three of us decided that there was no point in being angry or upset.

Every time I felt the frustration rising I chose not to allow it to overtake me. I chose to stay calm. To laugh, occasionally (it was a bit of a bitter laugh, but still). To just let the time pass. To be grateful for the food vouchers and the little bit of window shopping distraction. To be grateful that Moz and Caleb were there and that we could chat and play games on our phones and look after each other’s bags so that we could go for the occasional walk (I made my step target by the end of the day). Really to be grateful to be ‘suffering’ from such a completely first-world problem.

We just waited.

Now, I’m not saying that we were full of joy all afternoon either. We did not smile and laugh our way through. We didn’t cheer up the whole airport terminal or stage an impromptu evangelistic event. We just waited.

But the afternoon could have been so much worse if we had chosen to be upset and angry, frustrated and grumpy. We could have snapped at each other, and at the airport staff. We could have cried and whinged when we got the information about the further delay of our already-delayed flight. But instead we chose to help each other through and be as patient as possible. And that means that the memories of the afternoon are pleasant rather than painful.

So that’s my little take home from this one. Sometimes it is better to choose to be happy and grateful. Sometimes just that little choice rebounds on you and makes your day better.

I hope that in the little things you are also able to choose a wise response this week.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go take a nap.

 

Are you missing some of my blog posts? They come out every Monday. Sign up to follow the A Quiet Life blog on WordPress, or you can sign up to my newsletter on www.ruthamos.com.au  and you will receive every post straight to your email inbox. You will also find my podcast, my book ‘My Year of Saying No’, and any short stories or other books will be up there as they come along.

If you would like to support this blog and the podcast then you can head over to Patreon.com/quietlife and help me out for as little as a dollar a month. Thank you so much!

Celebrate Life

I have used my sister’s photos because they are lovely and because I don’t have enough photos of Mum! I need to fix that. So thanks Cath 🙂

On Saturday my mother turned 75, and I think that deserves a celebratory blog post.

There are so many things that I could say about Mum.

She is a concert pianist and we could go into how much work that requires, and how she sacrificed for it, and how she managed to look after us children while still doing the practice and playing the concerts. How by doing so she set an example to us that we could work hard and achieve our dreams.

She has a heart for others and is always reaching out, not just to people who can give back to her or make her feel good, but she also sacrificially gives her time to reach out to the unloveable. Sometimes it drives us crazy as a family but at the same time, what an example!

She is full of wisdom and I love to meet with her for coffee once a week and just pour out whatever I’m going through and get her listening ear and her excellent advice.

All these things are good. But the thing I want to concentrate on today is the joy with which Mum approaches her birthdays.

Mum is almost exactly 30 years older than me so I must have been ten years old when Mum turned 40. But I can remember distinctly the way she almost danced around the house. ‘Life begins!’ she crowed, ‘Life begins!’ She refused to let that milestone get her down. There was no grumbling about being over the hill or about life being over now. She chose to embrace her age. To celebrate it.

And it’s been the same with every milestone birthday. This year’s 75 is no different. ‘I think it’s worth celebrating being on earth for this length of time,’ she said to me. And I agree, it is totally worth celebrating.

We live in a culture that idolises youth. We want to look young, we dye our hair to remove greys, we undergo plastic surgery to get rid of wrinkles. We get concerned about thickening waistlines, about slowing bodies, about failing memories.

I remember being down on my 27th birthday. I realised as the day approached that I was definitely closer to 30 than to 21 and I didn’t like the feeling. That was a while ago now and I look back at my 27 year old self and laugh at her worries.

What is that magic youthful age? Are we all trying to look and act like we’re in our twenties? Is it acceptable to be 35? Is 40 the birthday when we realise that we’re old, on the way out?

Isn’t it ridiculous? We are all living longer and longer. If we write ourselves off once we pass 30 then we will spend 70 years of our life, and maybe longer, thinking we are less-than. Putting ourselves down for something we have no control over.

Let’s change it up. Let’s do what Mum does and celebrate every birthday, every milestone. As we go on in this world we have the chance to experience more, to learn more, to enjoy more. We have the chance to let go of the things that hold us back, the bitterness, the unforgiveness, the anger. We can grow in wisdom. We can give more to others. We can enjoy who we are, and love who we are becoming.

So I’m really celebrating Mum’s birthday. I’m so glad she’s my mother and so grateful for the joy and wisdom that she pours into my life. And I’m so glad that she’s celebrating too.

I hope that when I’m turning 75 that I follow her example and approach my birthday with the same joy and confidence.

 

Are you missing some of my blog posts? They come out every Monday. Sign up to follow the A Quiet Life blog on WordPress, or you can sign up to my newsletter on www.ruthamos.com.au  and you will receive every post straight to your email inbox. You will also find my podcast, my book ‘My Year of Saying No’, and any short stories or other books will be up there as they come along.

If you would like to support this blog and the podcast then you can head over to Patreon.com/quietlife and help me out for as little as a dollar a month. Thank you so much!

Preparing for Success

This is the blog post I was thinking of writing when the fires got intense here in Tasmania and I chose to write about that instead. I’m glad I’m finally getting it out now. It’s a bit late because I completely exhausted myself on the weekend helping to cut down the trees that were overhanging our house and I took a day to recover. I’m all recovered now, so here it is!

A couple of weeks ago I was the guest on a podcast. It’s a writing podcast called The Prolific Writer and I was interviewed about my writing life, my methods, my influences and so on. You can hear it here if you’re interested.

The host, Ryan J Pelton, lives in the centre of the USA and it was fun to line up times and dates and find something that suited both of us. I got up a bit early; he was interviewing me from mid-afternoon the day before.

I listen to Ryan’s podcast all the time. It’s one of the podcasts on my list for inspiration and advice for my writing life. I was incredibly excited, as you can imagine, to be a part of it. And I was a bit hopeful that I would find a new audience for my writing as well. An audience in the USA. I was hopeful that maybe I’d make some sales through it. That maybe I’d become ‘successful’.

Now, this brings up a whole swag of ideas. What is success? What does that word mean? What does it mean to me? What does it mean in different circumstances?

In one way I am already successful. I’ve written and published two novels and a self-help/memoir, and I have another three books on the way. If finishing a book equals success (and in my mind it does) then I’m successful. I have also successfully published a blog for four years and I have successfully produced a podcast. This counts. It really does.

But I’m afraid I want more than that. I actually want a large audience. I want to make a living from my writing. That has been my goal since 2010 and it is still my overarching goal. And I am not near that yet, folks. Not nearly there.

So I went on the podcast with Ryan, I answered his questions (some I answered well, some poorly) and at the end he told me that the interview would be live on the Saturday and I suddenly got butterflies in my stomach.

I suddenly realised what my idea of ‘success’ would mean in my life.

When we look at successful people, whether they be authors, sportspeople, movie stars, politicians, or celebrities of any kind, I think that most of us feel we have the right to judge them. We have the right to criticise their words, their clothing choices, their mistakes from 30 years ago, their life choices now.

I realised that if I get the viral audience that I think I want, it will give people the right to discuss (with me or with each other) what I should have said, what I should have written, what I should have done. People will feel a certain ownership of me and will see my flaws so clearly and wonder why I am not dealing with them myself when they are so obvious.

Now people will hopefully see good things as well, and be blessed and uplifted by my words. But I know that I can easily find myself being more critical of famous people than I am of ‘normal’ people and I wasn’t sure if I was ready for that to happen to me.

Because I am still me. And no matter how many people follow my blog, and how many buy my books, I will still be me. Still stuck in the fog of figuring out who I am. Still unable to clearly see my own path. Still unable to see the splinter for the plank, the wood for the trees. Sure, I have some bright rays of insight, but each day I just go through the day like any other person, and selling more books or having more followers will not make my life any easier to live.

I thought through this for a while, then I had a chat with Moz and things became a bit clearer for me. Firstly, I realised that in a way I am already there. I already live parts of my life in public on Facebook, Twitter, and on this blog. I like to do that. I like interacting by text. I like writing deeply about my life here, and in my books. People read my work and feel like they know me. And to an extent they really do. And so far, people have been very kind.

So in one way I can’t ask, ‘Do I want to live in public?’ because I already live in public. I’m already there.

Secondly, the people who read my books now are mostly people who live near me. My friends and family and church family are reading my stuff and talking with me about it. If they feel like they know me better, then that’s good. If someone over in the USA feels like they know me better, it’s not going to lead to more awkward conversations in the supermarket. I already have those 🙂 I don’t think it’s going to get worse with a larger audience.

And finally, I can choose to inflate or to mitigate the problem. I can choose to write something controversial that will attract a viral audience, but will also attract strong criticism, and attract the trolls. Or I can choose to quietly write whatever small wisdom has been given me, and slowly grow an audience that is kind and gentle, my tribe. And that is the path I choose. I want to be friendly, comforting, a big sister to talk with. I don’t need success at the cost of losing what I believe in.

It’s two weeks now since the podcast interview went up, and unfortunately massive success has not yet come my way. So all these thoughts, in one way, look a bit foolish now. But I keep hearing from my mentors that being prepared for success is just as important as being prepared for failure, and I’m glad I went through the thought exercise.

We’ll see what comes my way in the future.

If you’re undertaking a project, or starting a business, or even just in your life, have you thought about what success is? Have you defined what it is that will make you feel successful? Have you prepared yourself for what you’d do if that actually happened? I’d love to hear about it.

Are you missing some of my blog posts? They come out every Monday. Sign up to follow the A Quiet Life blog on WordPress, or you can sign up to my newsletter on www.ruthamos.com.au  and you will receive every post straight to your email inbox. You will also find my podcast, my book ‘My Year of Saying No’, and any short stories or other books will be up there as they come along.

If you would like to support this blog and the podcast then you can head over to Patreon.com/quietlife and help me out for as little as a dollar a month. Thank you so much!

My delicate emotional state

Prayer

Yes, I admit to feeling a bit delicate this morning. A bit emotionally spent.

It’s just an introvert thing, and there are a few of you out there who will think I’m being ridiculous, and maybe I am. But in my devotion this morning I was given a new tool to use when I find myself to be completely empty and I thought I’d share it with you too.

Maybe you want to know why I feel empty?

Well, I went to a great birthday party on Saturday night and caught up with some awesome people. Really good conversations. Absolutely delicious wood-fired pizza. Did you know that you can make rhubarb and custard wood-fired dessert pizza? How about apricot crumble pizza? You can, they’re delicious.

Then I led church on Sunday, was the MC if you like, up the front. It was a really brilliant service and I love leading. I enjoyed myself, had fun, and then there were deep times, and heart wrenching prayers for rain so that we can get through this fire season.

Then we had a couple of friends for lunch. It was so good to have that deep conversation. To share from the heart. And to see friends that I hadn’t seen in months. And my 6-year-old friend drew me a picture with a note that said ‘Thanks Roof for leting us staing your house’ and that was just precious.

And after that I needed time alone so I decide to go for a walk on the beach. But it was full of people. Lots of people on my beach! Of course, it was a 30 degree day and school goes back today so people were to be expected. And as much as I like to think it, I really don’t own any shares in Kingston Beach.

Still, it was delicious to hear the waves and to just walk along and …

I tried to think, I tried to pray, I even tried to listen to a podcast. But by that stage I was done. Really finished. I had nothing left inside. I was not sad, not angry, not upset in any way, not even down. I really want to make it clear that I enjoyed all the things I did on the weekend, I’m grateful for them. I wouldn’t want to change a single thing. It just meant that I used up every last bit in my tank. I was just tired. Just empty. And I didn’t know what to do. I never know what to do in those times. I usually just hang on until the evening when I can sleep and reset.

Last year a friend lent me a devotion book called Coffee with God by Sarah Arthur. This morning’s devotion reminded me of a tool that I can maybe use to get through times like that.

Sarah and I share a favourite author, Elizabeth Goudge, and in one of her books she spells out a simple three-fold prayer:

Lord have mercy.

Thee I adore.

Into Thy hands.

It’s a prayer that I knew, but that I had forgotten about. But I found that it said everything that I wanted to say. It’s a simple meditation that I hope I’ll remember to use next time that I run out of my own words, next time I run out of energy.

I hope it can be useful to you too.

Are you missing some of my blog posts? They come out every Monday. Sign up to follow the A Quiet Life blog on WordPress, or you can sign up to my newsletter on www.ruthamos.com.au  and you will receive every post straight to your email inbox. You will also find my podcast, my book ‘My Year of Saying No’, and any short stories or other books will be up there as they come along.

If you would like to support this blog and the podcast then you can head over to Patreon.com/quietlife and help me out for as little as a dollar a month. Thank you so much!

A burning state

smoky sunset
The sunset from our house the other night. No filter at all. Just a pink, smoky sky.

I have things to say. I have a blog post that’s been percolating in my brain for the whole weekend. But it all feels a bit ridiculous to pontificate about my delicate emotional state when I know that there are bushfires burning all over the state, houses and properties at risk, and people evacuating left, right, and centre.

It has been a dry summer here. The days have been gorgeous. For the most part we have had weather that is just right – not too hot, not too cold. And I’ve enjoyed it so much. I’ve gone for swims (yes, multiple swims) even though the water is still reasonably cool. I’ve worn shorts and T-shirts and sandals and sat out on the balcony with cool drinks and really done the summer thing.

It’s been beautiful.

But the weeks have gone on and we’ve had no rain to speak of, and the fire that started in the wilderness has not stopped burning despite the best efforts of our fire fighters.

And then we had that thunderstorm. The amazing lightning that just kept going and going. Again, no rain, just lightning and thunder. It was incredible to watch. I hadn’t seen anything like it here in Tasmania before. It was like our own fireworks show. The beauty of nature.

But the beauty came at a cost. Dry lightning plus dry bushland equals fire. And we have a lot of it now.

The fire front is now over 1000 km. The fire fighters are fighting 72 fires. The smoke swirls around our house, then the wind changes and the skies clear up, but the fires are still there.

The fire fighters are doing an incredible job. There has been no loss of life so far, and only one property has been burned, to the best of my knowledge. Our house is very unlikely to be affected, though others have been evacuated at different times.

I usually tell visitors to this state that summer doesn’t really start here until February, when the kids go back to school. So there’s a long way to go before we’ll get milder weather to help get the fires under control.

I am praying for the fire fighters, praying for unseasonal rain to come on our land, praying for those evacuating and those with properties at risk. It’s so real, it’s so close.

One of the things about the internet is that we are always aware of these real tragedies happening. I mean, there are fires here, yes, but there’s also that dam that burst in Brazil, and the fuel line that exploded in Mexico, and on, and on. There are tragedies everywhere, all over the world.

Does this mean that we don’t explore the more nebulous things? That we stop thinking about reaching our dreams and just live in a constant state of grief over the state of the world?

I think this is another one of those things where there has to be balance. Or rather, not balance, but rhythm. Some days it is good to concentrate on our families, our dreams, our work, the things that bring us joy. Some days we need to spend in grief, in prayer, and in sacrifice to help out those who are suffering. It’s another seesaw. Up and down. We need both.

And for me today, the seesaw is coming down on the side of concern and prayer for those who are involved in this bushfire. Next week you might get the post about the perils of success that is wandering around the back of my brain right now.

Stay safe everyone, wherever you are, and especially if you are anywhere near the fires.

Are you missing some of my blog posts? They come out every Monday. Sign up to follow the A Quiet Life blog on WordPress, or you can sign up to my newsletter on www.ruthamos.com.au  and you will receive every post straight to your email inbox. You will also find my podcast, my book ‘My Year of Saying No’, and any short stories or other books will be up there as they come along.

If you would like to support this blog and the podcast then you can head over to Patreon.com/quietlife and help me out for as little as a dollar a month. Thank you so much!

Overcoming a Roadblock

crescent bay 1

Firstly I would like to say thank you for all your kind comments last week. My love language is words of affirmation so your comments on last week’s post, on our anniversary on Wednesday, and for my birthday on Friday mean so much to me. Thank you for filling my love tank.

We didn’t do much to celebrate our wedding anniversary on the actual day. We went out to lunch together, and for supper we shared celebration cakes and churros with our good friends who were also celebrating a recent anniversary.

On Thursday we celebrated by going for a bush walk. We walked to Crescent Bay. It’s not a long walk by any stretch of the imagination but it was a big walk in my mind.

The last time I had attempted this bush walk was about 20 years ago. We had arranged to go for a walk with friends. I was six months pregnant at the time and I had spent my pregnancy so far lying on the couch and eating. I was not fit. I was not energetic. But I had been told that it was an easy walk, fairly flat, and so I was willing to try.

It takes a bit of time to drive to the start of this walk. Google says 1 hour 41 minutes. On Thursday we took our time, I wrote a short story to start off with which made us leave home fairly late in the morning, then we stopped for coffee and chai, stopped to say hello to Caleb at the campsite where he was working (and to pick up Moz’s sunnies), and eventually stopped for lunch at Remarkable Cave where the track begins.

I remember that 20 years ago, by the time we had got to Remarkable Cave I already had a headache and wanted to go home. But I pulled myself out of the car and started walking. There I was, hoping for a walk that would be like a wander along the street. Flat and easy. What I got was something very different.

There are just a few places on this walk where the track is very steep, steep up and steep down. Most of the track, in fairness, is reasonably flat. But there are just a few points where flat is not a description you can use at all. The walk did not meet my expectations and I wasn’t sure I could make it.

So that’s how I ended up in tears in the middle of a bush walk. And that’s how this particular walk loomed large in my memory.

And you know, I wouldn’t say that I’m fit right now either. I wasn’t sure how my body was going to cope. But I was determined to try.

If you’re the type of Tasmanian that goes for walks all the time, or a person that jogs for fun, or even someone who is reasonably fit you are probably laughing at me right now. It took us all of an hour to walk in to Crescent Bay and it took us an hour to walk out. We had a lovely hour at the beach wandering along through the waves. (We did not slide down the sand dunes on a boogie board. I wasn’t going to waste energy climbing up.)

It was not a hard walk.

But in my head it was quite a large thing to overcome. It had sat in my mind for 20 years. That bush walk that had reduced me to tears. That was the walk that others say is easy but I that had found so desperately hard.

I had to go back there and try it again. I needed to know I could. And, yes, I could make it. It wasn’t that hard at all.

It is now a goal of mine for this year to get fit enough to go on the walk again in a year’s time and find it easy. To race along the path like it’s no problem at all. Maybe even to have the energy to go dune sliding once we get there. I know I have been fit enough for this in the past, and I intend to be fit enough in the future.

I wonder if there is something in your mind that is a roadblock like the Crescent Bay walk was for me? It may not be a physical thing. You may have tried to write a story in the past and got stuck and now have trouble picking up a pen. You might want to play an instrument but you remember how embarrassed you felt in music class in high school when you took hold of the clarinet for the first time and made that first really awful squeak. You might want to go to uni but you remember just how hard maths was in grade ten.

There are so many places where we can get stuck. But sometimes it’s just that the timing wasn’t right that first time. Things change. We change. Maybe if you have another run at it, you will find that it isn’t quite so hard now as it used to be. You probably have new tools at your disposal, new skills you’ve learned along the road of life. And that roadblock might now only be the size of a speed hump.

Can I encourage you this year to give it a go? Have another try. See what you can learn from the experience. You might just end up having an experience as lovely as my walk along to Crescent Bay on Thursday. I hope and pray that you do.

We didn’t take enough pictures for you to really appreciate the dunes so I have found a website you can look at that shows you the beauty of the spot much better than my pictures do.

Are you missing some of my blog posts? They come out every Monday. Sign up to follow the A Quiet Life blog on WordPress, or you can sign up to my newsletter on www.ruthamos.com.au  and you will receive every post straight to your email inbox. You will also find my podcast, my book ‘My Year of Saying No’, and any short stories or other books will be up there as they come along.

If you would like to support this blog and the podcast then you can head over to Patreon.com/quietlife and help me out for as little as a dollar a month. Thank you so much!

It’s the little things.

This Wednesday Moz and I celebrate our 25th wedding anniversary. We were both 19 years old when we married, high school sweethearts.

Now I know that not all marriages that start out that young can hold together. It’s quite a difficult thing. I wouldn’t say that we knew who we were when we got married. I have learned quite a bit about myself since then. And we have learned a lot of lessons together.

I thought I’d tell you one lesson we learned early on. I don’t think it applies just to marriage either, so I’ll tell you how I think it applies to the rest of life.

It’s a bit of a tongue-in-cheek lesson. Not to be taken too seriously. But at the same time, there’s a little bit of truth in it.

So, are you ready? Here it is:

Everything is worth one point.

It mostly applies to what Moz does for me, rather than the other way around. Here’s how it works:

If Moz buys me flowers, that’s one point.

If he does the washing up – one point.

If he buys me a new car – one point.

If he books us on a cruise – zero points, he should know by now that that’s not the holiday I would choose. (I just put that one in to throw you off.)

Chocolate – one point.

And so on.

The size or value of the gift doesn’t matter, I just need a steady stream of little things to feel loved.

If Moz chose not to show me his love in little ways, but instead bought something big like a house or car and then thought his job was done, the marriage wouldn’t last very long. It’s the little things that really matter.

Sometimes we think that we need to do something really big to make our lives matter. We need to start a non-profit organisation, do some research that once-and-for-all-time cures cancer, write a best-selling and life-changing book, win the gold medal at the olympic games. We think that if we don’t manage something big like that, that we are not worth very much.

I wonder whether life works more like our one-point rule. It’s the little things, the constant little choices that we make that add up to who we are, that give our lives value.

It’s the smiling at the check-out-chick, even if she’s super slow and packs our eggs on the bottom. It’s the choosing to put our rubbish in the bin. It’s remembering birthdays and sending a little card. It’s holding back on our hurtful comments even though someone in the internet is wrong.

The Good Book puts it like this:

If I speak with human eloquence and angelic ecstasy but don’t love, I’m nothing but the creaking of a rusty gate. If I speak God’s Word with power, revealing all his mysteries and making everything plain as day, and if I have faith that says to a mountain, “Jump,” and it jumps, but I don’t love, I’m nothing. If I give everything I own to the poor and even go to the stake to be burned as a martyr, but I don’t love, I’ve gotten nowhere.

(1 Corinthians 13 The Message)

I hope that Moz and I remember to show love in the little ways this year. And I hope you do too.

Slightly incoherent thoughts on the new year

fireworks

It’s the first week of the new year, a traditional time for looking back and looking forward. And because my birthday is in January, I traditionally take the whole month to look back and look forward. It’s handy having both things in the same month, really. No ambiguity.

I have been gardening this morning (yes, really) and listening to podcasts about the new year. I regularly listen to writer podcasts and they have all taken the chance with the change of calendar to talk about goals and resolutions, thoughts and hopes for the new year.

One was a ‘how to’ podcast, saying that our goals or resolutions for the new year needed to be holistic, taking into account the growth of our souls, the states of our relationships, and our physical bodies, before coming up with any writing or creative goals for the year.

In one of the podcasts the host had just attended a tragic traffic accident a few days before and suddenly all her new year goals were shown to be trite and small in the bigger picture of life.

One podcast was broken into two parts, the first aired on the 31st December looking back at the old year and whether the host had achieved her goals, and the second on the 1st January looking forward to her goals in the new year. To be honest, I really don’t understand how she did it. I have too many family things happening, people visiting, and extra Christmas and New Year bits and pieces to be able to think clearly through the previous year, let alone to concentrate on the new year. I might be able to do this later in the month but I can’t see myself ever being able to produce something coherent on New Year’s day.

There have even been some pretty amazing Facebook posts by my friends with pictures from throughout the last year, detailed summaries, and well thought-out goals. I’ve been so impressed.

I have been thinking about the year past, of course. But it took me two days of thinking to remember that we visited Vanuatu in April, and if something that major can go missing in my memory banks, I’m unlikely to synthesise a reasonable summary of the year at the moment. Much of what happened in the year got swallowed up and camouflaged by the health problems I have had in the last couple of months, and in the busyness of the year that Moz has experienced.

But as I look towards the new year I have hope.

My health will get better. It’s in the messy middle at the moment and I don’t know how long the messiness will last, but it will get better. And Moz’s work will not be as busy this year. We have put things in place, he’s not working full time, he will have more space in the new year.

I have hope, but I don’t have certainty.

I’m a person who likes to make detailed plans. I like to set goals, to make lists, to tick things off. And I find that I can’t do that at the moment. I’m just not sure what the year will look like.

What will my energy levels be like? I think I may have just graduated from having to take an afternoon nap every day. So that’s a bonus. But I don’t know when I will be able to work eight-hour days again. I don’t know when I’ll be able to take one hour walks in the evenings again. I’m not sure when my brain function will be up to keeping track of all the things involved in running three businesses.

All of this precludes me being able to set time-limited goals. I don’t like the thought of setting myself up for failure. I need to wait and see.

So while I have some ideas for the new year that I would like to try out, I am not setting any goals right now. I’m just going to step out each day, holding God’s hand, and take it as it comes.

It’s not comfortable, but it’s where I am. And maybe it will stop me from living in the future and will enable me to live more in the present, right where I am now.

Where are you with New Years goals and resolutions? Do you have detailed plans for the year ahead? Or are you just holding on by the skin of your teeth, trying to climb out of the pit that 2018 left you in?

Are you missing some of my blog posts? They come out every Monday (except for Christmas and New Year, apparently. Still I’m back into it now, so it should be every Monday from here on in). Sign up to follow the A Quiet Life blog on WordPress, or you can sign up to my newsletter on www.ruthamos.com.au  and you will receive every post straight to your email inbox. You will also find my podcast, my book ‘My Year of Saying No’, and any short stories or other books will be up there as they come along.

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The best way to pray

Stockings

What type of prayer is best?

There are so many possibilities. I’ve been in a couple of situations lately where one type of prayer has been insulted and another given as the ‘right kind’ so I thought I’d share my thoughts about prayer with you.

Christianity is a relationship with God the Father, through Christ the Son, by the power of the Holy Spirit. We are children of the Father, brothers and sisters of Christ. And when we think about prayer, these titles are important.

Because what is prayer? It’s a conversation. It’s a way that we build relationship with God. It’s a two-way thing. Time spent.

When my children were babies I had an epiphany. You see, I would often pray as I fell asleep at night and I would feel guilty for falling asleep in the middle of conversation with God. But then, have you ever had a baby fall asleep while you were holding them? It is the best feeling. If you could bottle it, you could make millions. I realised that God the Father doesn’t mind if we are relaxed enough to fall asleep while talking to him. We are his children and he loves us more than I loved my little babies. My love for my children was just a poor reflection of his love for us.

So those prayers you pray when you don’t have the words, when you sigh and groan, or cry, or just smile and then fall asleep, those are good prayers. In fact, the scripture says that the Spirit prays for us when we don’t know what to pray for (Romans 8:26). So this is a good biblical way to pray.

How about the stream of consciousness prayers? You know, you’re walking along the street and you start lifting all of your day to Jesus. ‘Oh Jesus, I’m not sure how I’m going to get through the list of things today. Thank you for the sunshine. Annabelle really needs your help right now. Man, my legs are hurting from climbing this hill. Thank you for the exercise…’ and so on.

I was praying that way one day and I found myself saying, ‘I’m sorry Jesus, you probably don’t need to be bothered by my petty problems.’ And immediately the verse popped into my mind, ‘in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.’ (Phil 4:6) You see God wants us to be in constant contact with him through the days. Jesus loves to hear our every thought. Again, it’s a bit like having a toddler around. They just chat. When they’re really small they often chat in a language that you can’t understand. Is that a problem? No. We love their conversation, we love that our children want to be with us and communicating. It’s great. It’s biblical. It’s a good way to pray.

So how about those prayers you pray in public? Like when there’s an end of year function and you’ve been asked to pray on stage. So you carefully write down all you want to say in the prayer. You might even prayerfully write down what you want to pray. You are praying on behalf of others, after all, and you want the prayer to be right. Is this prayer as worthy as the prayer that spontaneously arises from the thanksgiving in your heart? Yes I think it is.

Again, if you think of children it becomes clear. Maybe they’ve written a poem, or rehearsed a piece, and they want to show it to you. At a school camp recently the grade 9 class sat around the campfire and made up a song of thanksgiving to their head of year teacher. Do you think he said, ‘Look thanks guys, but I’d feel like we had a stronger relationship if you just said the words off-the-cuff instead.’ No he didn’t. He loved it. He was raving about it days later. I think it will be a memory that stays in his heart for the rest of his life.

So yes, I believe God loves our prepared prayers. He loves the effort we put in to make it great both for him and for his children who are listening.

And then there are the prayers that are hundreds of years old.

I usually attend an Anglican church. In our service we sometimes pray prayers that come from the liturgy. The language has been changed a little to make them more accessible but the words have been said by millions of people over hundreds of years. ‘Almighty God, to whom all hearts are open’ ‘Father, we offer ourselves to you as a living sacrifice’ ‘Eternal God and Father by whose power we are created and by whose love we are redeemed’ and so on.

It’s true that we can put our minds into a holding pattern and just say the prayers on automatic but it doesn’t have to be that way. Sometimes the prayers written by others are a gateway into meditation. Sometimes the words are just the thing to jolt you out of yourself, to make you think on your life in a new way. Sometimes they are a reminder of just who God is. I think that God loves to hear us pray these kinds of prayers too.

It’s not just the church prayers. These prayers can be found in all kinds of prayer and devotion books. The Spirit prays for us when we don’t know what to pray, but I believe also that the Spirit has inspired some of these written prayers so that we can use the words of others when we don’t have words for ourselves. And after all, Jesus himself taught us to pray ‘Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name’ (Matt 6:9, Luke 11:2). No, I believe that these prayers are also loved by God.

And then let’s go back to silence. To just sitting in God’s presence with no words at all. To listening to him and giving him space to speak to us if he wants to.  It’s a special kind of relationship that doesn’t need any words. Comfortable silence. What a joy to meet with God that way.

I don’t have room to write about the shouting prayers, the ‘why?’ prayers, the real connection with God in the ugly parts of life. I’m sure that he can cope with that too, he’s big enough to deal with our anger and sadness.

So however you pray, whatever words you use or don’t use, whether you are shut away in your prayer closet or on display for the whole church to see, I believe that God loves it all. There is no ‘one right way to pray’. As long as your heart is for connection with him, that’s all that matters.

I pray for you that you will connect with God in a special way this Christmas. That somewhere, whether it be saying grace for your Christmas dinner, or over a candle at the midnight service, or surrounded by screwed up wrapping paper in your lounge room, you will make a space to build relationship with the God of the universe who humbled himself as a baby and came to earth for us all those years ago.

Have a wonderful and very blessed Christmas. If you want to see more from me you can head to http://www.ruthamos.com.au and you can sign up there to receive this blog weekly. I look forward to sharing more with you in the new year.