One thing at a time

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I can’t remember where I read this advice, and I really wish I could. It was in a book about calming your days, feeling more at peace, dealing with technology better. The advice was do one thing at a time.

I have been watching myself lately and I haven’t been following this advice.

I have been playing solitaire on my phone while watching TV.

Scrolling through Facebook while eating breakfast.

Listening to a podcast and playing solitaire while eating lunch.

I realised this was really a problem for me when I caught myself trying to play solitaire on my phone while I was reading a book. It doesn’t work.

On Sunday night I decided that I wanted to relax and just watch the program I was watching on TV. The program was Grand Designs (I’m a bit of a tragic) and you’re not going to get much out of that if you aren’t looking at the screen. You don’t see the houses.

I sat back on the couch and I watched.

It was difficult. I wanted to distract myself with my computer or my phone. But I kept at it. And it was refreshing, it really was, just to let my brain do one thing at once.

I think I need to push myself on this one.

I need to eat when I’m eating – not watch TV, not read, not scroll through Facebook. Just enjoy the food, taste it, smell it, really appreciate what I’m eating.

I need to watch TV when I’m watching, and read when I’m reading.

I need to remember to turn the wifi off when I’m writing and allow myself to sink deeply into the writing process (I am a bit better with this one).

Sometimes it’s good to do two things at once – some tasks work well together. I like listening to podcasts while walking because the story keeps me going when I would otherwise get bored and head for home. But at the same time, sometimes on my walks I need to turn the noise off and just let myself think.

I’ve been doing some data-entry work lately and listening to audio books has been great to keep me on-task. But it can’t be a book I care deeply about because if I have to think about the work at all then I miss what the narrator is saying. However, I think that the multi-tasking in that situation has worked well.

This world is so full of distractions that it is difficult to concentrate on one thing for any length of time. But I think that’s a muscle worth developing so I’m going to work harder to simplify.

Some good books on this subject are Single Tasking by Devora Zack, and Deep Work by Cal Newport. Also, at the end of Women Food and God by Geneen Roth there is a list of rules for eating which includes:

Eat without distractions. Distractions include radio, television, newspapers, books, intense or anxiety-producing conversations or music.

How about you? Do you love to multi-task? Are you addicted to distractions? What do you think about doing only one thing at once?

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Reporting Back

I’m sure you’re all desperate to know how my time-management went last week.

But first, I want to tell you about an interview with Brené Brown that I read during the week. It’s a good article and I encourage you to read it.

Here’s the bit that stuck out to me. She was talking about words that wholehearted people were using when they were talking with her. The words that describe what we want life to be like.

These were the words: Vulnerability, authenticity, creativity, rest, compassion, boundaries, joy.

These words describe well what I want to get out of my writing life. These are the things I want in my life. I couldn’t have said it better myself, and so I’m not. I’m pointing you to Brené.

There was another list of words too. Words that we want to stay away from: Comparison, perfection, status, exhaustion.

These two lists sum up why I have changed my lifestyle to be what it is now. But these bad habits, these bad aims are not limited to university life, or to any kind of life. These are habits and attitudes that can creep in on anyone at anytime. And the good list are things that can be part of any life, no matter what you are doing or where you are working.

I just love these two lists. I want to write them out and stick them up where I can see them regularly and be reminded to stop comparing myself to others, beating myself up with perfectionism, or looking for status, and to start exercising my creativity, allowing myself to rest, setting good boundaries, living in joy, being authentic and vulnerable.

 

And now to the time management.

Having two hours for writing blocked out in my calendar worked really well from Monday through Thursday.

On Monday in my writing time I wrote an ode to the blank page, then I remembered my dream journal (I write my dreams in it and it sits next to my bed) and I leafed through it for inspiration and came up with a story idea. On Tuesday I started writing the story, taking my time (I had two hours to fill), and concentrating on things like describing all the senses – how did the room look? Smell? Was it cold or hot? And so on. On Wednesday the story took hold of me and changed dramatically from where it started. After Thursday’s writing I had a very exciting idea about a plot twist. It was really wonderful to see the story take shape, to see that I can have ideas, to enjoy the process.

On Friday I was so tired I went back to bed in my writing time and just slept.

The same with the editing business time in the afternoon. That worked really well. The work I’m doing at the moment doesn’t require all that much brain power so I listened to an audio book while I worked. It meant that I got a lot done because the plot of the story pulled me along. Again, Friday didn’t work so well, but I still got some done.

The thing I’m having difficulty with is the in-between time. The big jobs are getting big time allocations but the smaller jobs are still fiddly and annoying. And while I love writing, I get tired after churning out 2000 words first thing in the morning, and then it’s hard to give the attention to, say, the emails that I really should read, or to paying the bills. Still, I mark last week down as a success and I’m working towards a similar plan for this week. I’ll keep working on how to fit the little fiddly things in. It has to happen.

I guess the two parts of this blog are not unrelated. It has been wonderful to put boundaries in place, to turn off the wifi to my computer and dedicate two hours in the morning to unlocking my creativity. And to give up on perfection in the story I’m writing and to not compare myself to others but just to enjoy what was coming out as I allowed myself to be authentic, vulnerable, and creative. And also, to rest on Friday when rest was what I needed most.

May you also have a creative and restful week, with good boundaries, and much joy.

Getting Started

the writing den
This is my writing space. I have been working on finding space for all my chemistry textbooks. The shelves are looking nice and neat now. Time to get words on the page.

So far in this new life of mine, I haven’t been very productive on the writing side of things. I have many excuses – time in LA, family time, Moz and Caleb being on holidays, and so on. And I have been productive in other areas – lots of work on the editing business, sorting out the bookshelves in my den, getting the housework done – all of these things are worthwhile but when they are taking the place of writing then they start to look suspiciously like procrastination.

There are many different ways of getting yourself to write. There is the method of word count – writing 1000 words a day, or 500, or even writing 50 to get you started. Or choosing to sit at your desk until you have accomplished your 1000 words, or 2000 or whatever. There is the method of time blocking (see below), there is the method of heading to a café to write, or using the library, both of which are especially good for productivity if there is no wifi access, I’m told. There is getting up at 4.30 am to write, or staying up after every one else has gone to sleep, neither of which appeal to me very much.

Many (if not most) writers don’t have any choice as to when in the day they write. When I was working full-time I wrote for fifteen minutes at the beginning of each day and that’s all I had time for. Others write in their lunch hours, or in little snatches of time around looking after children.

I now have much more time to write. I don’t have unlimited time, I need to make sure I spend time on my editing business as well. But I have much more freedom as to when I write. I can choose (to a degree) how I will organise my day.

I’ve been thinking that it would be a good idea to block out time to dedicate to writing. This is the time blocking method I was talking about earlier. I’ve been meaning to do this for a while. My problem has been one of perfectionism. I haven’t blocked out any time to write because I want to block out the perfect time.

Up until now I have written mainly in the mornings. First thing, before work. But now that I don’t have set times for work, I can decide exactly which hours of the day to dedicate to writing time. But I haven’t been sure which time to choose.

What if the best time for writing is in the afternoon when I have finished off some of the annoying but urgent business and home tasks? What if I need to be writing in the morning when my creative thoughts are freshest? What if straight after lunch is best, the dreamy time when I can get my self-editing mind out of the way? Or what if I put the writing time in my calendar in a place where I would be better off exercising, or editing, or answering email? I don’t want to block out hours and get it wrong. I don’t want to have an imperfect day when I get less writing done than I could if I got the timing just right.

And of course, this type of thinking leads to no writing being done at all.

So for the week ahead I have bitten the bullet and blocked out some hours for writing each morning. I have also blocked out hours for the editing business in the afternoons. In between I will do housework, have coffees with people, exercise, and make meals etc. If this week doesn’t work well, then I will try a different schedule next week.

Sometimes when I’m being a perfectionist I just have to make a choice and see what happens. The other option is to spin around and around trying to find the perfect option and to never start at all. If you are facing a choice where there is no obvious right answer, and you’ve got yourself stuck in the perfectionistic spin like me, I encourage you to make a choice and give it a go for a while. Let me know in the comments how it went.

Incidentally, while I’ve chosen the morning hours for writing next week, I’m writing this at 5pm on a Saturday and it’s flowing really well. So there might be a bit of adjustment necessary, or I might just have to try different styles on different weeks until I find a method that works very well.

And there’s always the possibility that my writing process will change and that different things will work on different weeks. I need to make sure I give myself permission to change the routine when it’s appropriate. But in any event I need some routine to get me started.

I’ll let you know how it goes.

A weekend retreat at home

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For the last couple of months I have spent quite a bit of time outside my comfort zone, but this weekend I have been firmly inside my comfort zone and it’s been delightful.

This weekend I am on an enforced retreat. I am in quarantine because I am radioactive, but I don’t feel unwell so it’s quite a strange situation. You feel that if you are not allowed to see other people, or go near them (I have to stay a metre away) then you should be feeling like you have the plague. But apart from a slightly snotty nose I don’t feel sick. I just need to stay away from others. I am on retreat.

I am loving being able to choose my own activity and not having to think about anyone else. If I want to get up at 4.30am then I can (I did on Friday, then I went back to bed). If I want to go for a walk, then I go. If I want to read, I read. If I want to watch TV, play the piano, dance around the living room like a loony, I can.

Yesterday I felt very much like going for a drive. I took the mini for a spin around Tinderbox, stopped for a little walk at the reserve, then kept going through Howden. (This is all in Tasmania, if you want to see how beautiful it is, Google earth should be able to help, I didn’t take photos, sorry.) In the dirt road part of the trip I drove through a big muddy puddle, and that decided the next activity for the day. The mini has now had a quick wash and is not a muddy mess any more.

I have work that I need to do this weekend and I have work that I want to do, but even though I am working I am just loving having the house to myself, having quiet when I want quiet, and noise when I want noise. I’m enjoying having time to think, to pray, to read, to write. I don’t think I could live like this all the time but for me this weekend is the equivalent of going on a cruise. It’s relaxing. It’s rejuvenating.

I look forward to the boys coming home on Monday (they’ve been on camp, so they’ve been having a great time too). I will enjoy having company by then. But I am also enjoying this life now.

The Adventures Continue

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This is Caleb, Jessamy, Amaro, Me, and Moz. Isn’t it gorgeous!

Today’s gorgeous picture was drawn by our friend Amaro who is just about to turn six. She and her mum Jessamy stayed with us for a couple of nights (just as I got back from LA) before heading off to Townsville. Their adventure is much bigger than mine and I pray that it all goes smoothly for them.

Amaro drew the picture of everyone in the house. The boys have pink trousers on and I have to say that it’s a pretty accurate representation of Caleb’s hair (on the left).

I’ve been home for a few days now and it’s taken me a little while to figure out what is going on in my head. In fact, I’m proud of figuring it out this early, but then I knew it was coming so maybe it’s taken me too long.

The thing is, I am now officially an entrepreneur. I no longer work for the university, not even two days a week. I am a small business owner. I work for myself.

The whole day is mine. The whole week is mine. I don’t have to go into uni anymore. I can organise the all my time as it suits me.

But that means there is no structure. No fixed appointments. No urgency to get things done today because tomorrow is taken up by work.

And it is easy to let things go. To get lazy. To convince myself that I am tired today and that it would be better to start on that job (whatever it is) tomorrow. To tell myself that I don’t feel like writing this morning and I’ll do it later.

Or to get stuck. To wonder whether I should work on the paid editing rather than the writing because it is paid work and therefore more important. Or whether I should work on the writing rather than the editing because it’s my body of work and therefore more important. And then to do neither of those things because it’s all so confusing that I don’t know where to start.

The fact is, none of the time is mine. It was given to me by God. And though I am no longer working for a business, I am not working for myself either. I am working for God.

Now is the time to put into practice all the wonderful time-management processes that I have been reading about for the past years. I can now figure out when my most creative time is, when it is better for me to do editing, when I need to work on the business side of things.

There is plenty to do. I just need to schedule it in. I need to get started. Try things. See if they work, and adjust if they don’t.

And not feel overwhelmed by the hugeness of having my dream come true.

I am so grateful for this opportunity and I am NOT going to let it pass me by.

I have a novel to finish, editing work to complete for customers, blogs to write, and plenty to learn.

It’s exciting times, folks! Bring it on!

 

P.S. I thought you might like to know that my tooth has been fixed with a filling and you really can’t tell that it was chipped at all. And my arm is feeling much better and nearly all the bruising from the fall has gone. I’m over the jetlag too and I’m borrowing Moz’s old phone until my new one comes in the mail.

I’m very much enjoying having my sister visit us here in Tasmania, and my brother is coming today as well for some proper family time. Life is good. Busy, but good.

A cure for the latest serious health crisis

Christmas party
I wasn’t sure what picture to use to best represent community. Then I thought a pic of our street Christmas party might do it. Just a few of us, getting together, eating and chatting, and enjoying the company.

The best part of church for me last Sunday was the notices. Yes, you’d think that wouldn’t be a highlight of the service, but last Sunday for me it was, because I was suddenly overwhelmed by gratitude and love for my community. Probably a weird reaction to the notices, but hear me out.

The church has been sending out ‘help!’ emails over the last few weeks. We had a massive storm here (link to the big wet) and the church floors were covered with water. All of the church building, and all of the church hall. Our chapel is on slightly higher ground and didn’t get affected but the rest of the property, hoo boy.

On the Friday after the storm the call went out for help and about 80 volunteers congregated to mop up, clean up, and move all the pews and wipe the feet and put them back. It was a huge effort by an amazing team. (I didn’t go, but we had our own clean up to do.) And it meant that we could all do church on Sunday as usual. Well, nearly as usual, the floor was still a bit wet and a bit stinky, some activities had to be moved or cancelled but we did our best.

The carpets all needed to be thrown out, so last week once the assessors had assessed, the call came out again and an army of volunteers (again, not me) lifted carpet and laid some new carpet tiles so that the children have somewhere to do Sunday school.

It takes a community to be able to deal with these major life crises. But it’s not just the crises, celebrations are well taken care of by community too.

My Mum has been the music minister in another church here for the last 12 years or something and that time drew to a close last month. As part of the farewells, the church held a concert, a ‘ham and jam’ night, and I was privileged to attend.

Everyone in the church who wanted to had been invited to perform and that gave the night a flavour that was unique and completely inclusive. We started with a fanfare and a piece by the church choir, then Chopin’s Raindrop Prelude on the piano was followed by a Colin Buchanan song sung by six kids – one evacuating her nose, two singing like this was the most serious thing ever, two swaying and dancing and jumping, and one rubbing sleepy eyes. The littlest (she with the nose) stopped half way through the song, took a short break, and then started again. Beyond cute, I tell you.

A vet told some animal stories and his daughter joined him on stage half way through, smiling at all of us. He just picked her up and kept going. A young lad in a bowtie played a rag on the piano. When he’d finished he bowed, then raced down and gave his mum a high five, and then ran back up to the stage to collect the music he’d left on the piano stand. We had a stand up comedian, he was over 80 years old. He said he was past his best before date, but hopefully not past his use by date.

There were comings and goings, noises and children’s conversation but it didn’t spoil the atmosphere at all. As the night went on the children gradually disappeared home to bed, but the poems and tales, songs – funny and serious, beautiful music, and dances went on. The night ended again with the church choir. It was a beautiful honouring of Mum and a gorgeous celebration of community.

Community is acceptance, not just tolerance, but love for all different people. For the person with autism, the screaming toddler, the elderly one who chats on and on, the tattooed muscle guy, every body type, every energy level. It’s not something that can be legislated, though we do need rules to support and draw attention to those we may be overlooking. Judgement and comparison kill community, empathy is crucial.

Community is putting aside your own needs and wants for the good of others. It’s giving up a Saturday afternoon’s relaxation to clean up a church hall for Sunday morning. It’s putting others first. Not allowing yourself to be a doormat, but choosing at times to give up what you want for what will benefit others.

And community is vital for our own wellbeing. Loneliness is the new smoking, right? (Or is that sitting? Or sugar? I can’t remember). Having a community around you protects you from mental illnesses and brings you into a place where you feel secure and loved. Not that we have to attend every activity that’s going on all the time. If you’ve read this blog at all you’ll know I’m not advocating that. But being a part of a family group, having your tribe, it’s important.

I must admit, I’m enjoying community a bit more now that I’m not overwhelmed by work. Maybe if your work-life balance doesn’t allow you to be part of a small group of people once a month or so then can I suggest it might be out of whack? Changes might need to be made.

Oh, and one more thing, while I’m on the subject. I have read over and over again on my author internet sites that you cannot expect the support of your family and friends. That family and friends won’t give a flying flower about your book, your launch, your writing. So I just want to say how grateful I am to you all, friends both online and in person, who have bought the books, written reviews, given encouragement, attended launch events, and passed the books on to friends. You have totally blown me away and I am so grateful for you all.

You, my community, totally rock! I am so thrilled to be a small part of such a great group of people.

If you are now wondering which books I’m talking about, then head to www.ruthamos.com.au and www.rjamos.com and you’ll find them there.

The greatest argument that never was

I had an interesting conversation the other day. It was a conversation I didn’t want to have. I had tied myself up in knots about it because I was sure that it would go badly.

I like people, I like conversations, but I don’t like conflict at all. So I wanted to hide, I wanted to shoot from behind my keyboard. I wanted to be able to take the time to carefully craft my sentences.

But sometimes it’s better to talk in person.

In fact, my Mother always told me, ‘Talk in person, and if you can’t do that, talk on the phone, and if that’s impossible, then write.’

Let me set the scene.

I am giving a talk for our church soon, and I have been working with the women’s ministry team to prepare the talk. I want the talk to be suitable for their situation. They want it to be right too. It’s an exciting opportunity and I’m thrilled to be doing it.

The ladies organising the talk made some suggestions to me about how I should proceed. I thought through those suggestions and decided I didn’t want to do things that way, I wanted a slightly different take. I needed to tell them, but I was scared.

I was worried that I was wrong, that I was being proud, that I should just take their suggestions on board and go with them. It sounds like humility (a good thing) but I think it was just imposter complex (a bad thing) masquerading as humility.

The thing is, I’ve been a lecturer for ten years, I know how to talk in front of people, I’m trained in it. And yet, here I was, stressing about these little changes. Stressing because I wanted to do things my way and yet here was an email (and an in-person conversation) suggesting that I should do things another way.

So my first instinct was to write an email. A list of very good reasons why my way was better. A strong argument where I could put my thoughts in order and push these people over to my point of view.

The email I wrote instead asked if we could meet in person and talk about things.

After sending that email, I stressed. I spent time thinking of exactly how I wanted to phrase my arguments when we chatted. I thought of the best way to start, the way to push my point across, the way to make sure we were still in relationship afterwards.

Over and over again I replayed the possible conversation. And then I would pray and give it to God and get on with life. I had to wait a few days until we could meet and there was nothing I could do. I decided not to keep stressing, there was no point. But I also replayed my points to myself several times a day so I wouldn’t forget them. I’m not real good at letting go of the stress, can you tell? But I’m trying.

So then the day came, and we had the chat. And I have to say, the women were lovely. They are really great people. They weren’t holding tight to their suggestions, the ideas were just that – suggestions. I only got out maybe two of my carefully rehearsed sentences, they weren’t needed. We had a great chat about all our thoughts about the night and then prayed together and left.

And I laughed at myself.

Imposter complex is so difficult to overcome. In fact, it was really only as I was writing this that I fully realised what was going on there. So I guess that’s one take-home message: check whether your humility is imposter complex or fear in disguise.

But the other thing is, I can see looking back that our conversation could have escalated into a horrible resentment and anger on both sides (or at least on mine) if I had allowed it to continue by email. It would have been impossible to read the subtle body language, the joyous laughter, and the side comments. We would have got more stilted, more precious, and it could have brought disaster.

But dealing with the conflict in person blew all those cobwebs away, made see just how little conflict there actually was, and has left me free and light and ready to go for it with my little talk.

I wish I could keep this wisdom with me all the time. I know I’ve stuffed this one up more than once.

The online world is wonderful and I love messenger and email for giving me the ability to converse easily as an introvert without having to actually get out of my house and see people 🙂 but sometimes, with these difficult conversations, I think my Mum’s wisdom stands:

Talk in person if you can, otherwise talk on the phone, and only write if you absolutely must.

What do you think?

I don’t want to forget

 

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I couldn’t even find a tea cosy for the picture! I guess tea cosies are out.

Once upon a time I remember crying to my mother over the phone, ‘We are so poor that I can’t even buy a tea cosy.’

This was back in the time when Moz and I were both at university, and we had two small children to clothe and feed and put through school. Moz would work on the weekends to bring in extra cash, and we were supported through the whole journey by generous souls and by the delivery of bread. (For those of you who don’t know, the small bakers down this way get rid of their leftover bread at the end of the day by giving it to charities who then distribute to those in need, which at the time was us.)

But we didn’t have a lot of extra cash. There was no going out to dinner, or buying new clothes, or finding a nice nicknack that I wanted and just buying it. We could do all those things, sure, but we had to plan and save to do them and I would get so sick of having to keep a close eye on the money all the time.

We weren’t poor.

There are literally billions of people in the world who would have thought our house was a mansion, and we had cars to drive, and we were never hungry.

But we weren’t wealthy either. At least not in first-world terms.

Now things have changed. We have had a few years on two full-time incomes. We have a house that I actually enjoy living in, and if I ever wanted to buy a tea cosy I could just get into my car and head into town and find one. Though I find that now I can buy a tea cosy, I don’t want one anymore. Isn’t that just life?

We are not rich, at least not by some standards, but we have reached our version of ‘enough’ and we are incredibly comfortable.

But I don’t want to forget what it was like to be living on government benefits, drawing up budgets that had to pass muster with both the government and the school so we could get a bursary. I don’t want to forget what it was like to always be dressed in second-hand clothes that didn’t quite fit and so to feel a little below par every time I stepped out the door. I don’t want to forget that it was cheaper to buy processed food and to eat bread and that eating healthy meals was difficult to afford.

I also don’t want to forget what it was like to be time-poor.

I can have a cup of coffee whenever I feel like it now. I usually drink them while they are still hot. If I don’t, it is because I have got totally wrapped up in whatever project I am focusing on.

Back when the kids were small, hot cups of coffee were not standard fare. Luke-warm, I-had-to-put-this-down-to-tend-to-the-kids-and-then-forgot-about-it cups of tea or coffee were more the norm.

I didn’t get to sleep through the night. I would nap on the couch while the kids were watching TV. If napping with one eye open is really napping.

It was nothing special, just life with two preschool kids. A lot of people have a much harder time if they have more kids, or kids with disabilities or their own health issues they are trying to manage while looking after kids.

But I don’t want to forget how hard it was for me with my children and lose touch with that time in my life now that I can have a hot coffee whenever I want to.

I read a lot of blogs and they are often full of advice:

Ten things you should do each morning that will rejuvenate your life! (How about if your mornings are spent flat-out looking after children and making lunches and there is no way you could have a chance to drink a full glass of water and stretch for twenty minutes?)

Rejuvenate your health by eating fresh fish and wonderful exotic vegetables! (How about if dinner tonight is eggs on toast with plenty of toast to fill up hungry bellies and let’s not go overboard on the eggs because we can’t afford it?)

How to accomplish more in thirty days than most people do in 365! (But what if you’re so unwell that even taking a shower is too much effort for today?)

I know these blogs mean well, but sometimes it can feel overwhelming. There are so many tricks and tips for success, and in some seasons of our lives we just can’t put them into practice. Sometimes I feel like the people who have reached ‘success’ have forgotten exactly what the journey was like as they were trying to climb that mountain.

So if you’re the kind of person who gets stressed reading these things as you try to put them all into practice, today I want to say, relax.

Just relax.

You are doing the best you can at the moment you are in with the struggles you are dealing with. God sees it. You don’t have to be more than you are. And even if you’re taking incrementally small steps towards your individual goal, those tiny little steps are worth a whole heap. And I hope and pray that someday you’ll be in a position to remember what life is like now, and remembering, help others out who will be in that very same place.

I hope I do that for you.

Reframing failure

picture of brandy snap recipe
I didn’t take a photo of the actual dessert but it looked just as appetising as this.

It was Moz’s turn to make dinner on Sunday. He got bored through the afternoon and decided to make us brandy snap bowls for dessert. I’m very happy with him being bored. He should be bored more often.

He used a recipe from a very fancy dessert recipe book that I was given one Christmas. I love the book because it also has the recipe for crumpets in it and I had always wanted to know how to make them. Everything in the book is fancy, or is at least presented as being fancy.

Moz changed the recipe because he used up the end of our golden syrup bottle and didn’t find the new bottle that was hiding in the pantry. So as well as golden syrup he used honey and strawberry syrup. I tell you, they were delicious brandy snaps. Really yummy.

They reminded me of one of the big failures in my life.

Way back when we were training as missionaries with YWAM we were living in a house with 14 people. One of the members of our household was leaving so we threw them a party. I was in charge of the food. (I realise now that this was a bad idea.)

I decided to make shortbread, which is something I can make quite well. The problem was that the kitchen scales in our very poor household just didn’t work. If you placed the butter on them lightly they didn’t register the weight at all. If you slammed the butter on then they registered a lot of weight – much more than was actually there.

I hadn’t done a lot of baking at this point so I just did the best I could. It turns out that I put in way waaaaay more butter than these shortbread biscuits needed. When I checked them in the oven they had spread out and covered the biscuit tray. They were wafer thin, and bubbling.

I couldn’t cope. I just ran upstairs to my room and cried. But Moz coped. He got the bubbling ‘biscuits’ out of the oven and scraped them off the pan. He wrapped each one around the handle of a broom and made them into brandy snaps. We filled them with cream or custard (I can’t quite remember) and served them to the party.

And that’s where I learned something about failure.

‘Who made the brandy snaps?’

‘Can I have the recipe for these brandy snaps?’

‘Oooh Ruth, these are yummy!’

Crazy.

Sometimes our failures can turn out to be great successes. As shortbread biscuits the baking was a complete and utter failure, but as brandy snaps an outrageous success.

I don’t like failing very much.

Ok, I don’t like failing at all.

But I’m learning to reframe failure. Learning to look at each attempt as an experiment. Learning to learn from the failure and maybe to turn it around and make it a successful ‘something else’.

When my kids were small, like all kids, they would give me their drawings. I learned a lot from that as well. The drawings were not perfect. Heck, they weren’t recognisable as anything. But I loved the drawings. I cherished them. I kept them. I still have a selection stored with my other memorabilia.

Until then, I couldn’t really see how my pitiful attempts would be worth anything to anyone. But looking at my children’s pictures I could see how God looks at our attempts, our tries, and loves us for them. Even if they don’t live up to our own ideas of perfection. Even if they fall short by a long way. Just the fact that we have tried means something. Means everything.

One of my very favourite of all time books is The Rosemary Tree by Elizabeth Goudge. One of her characters tries hard to help people, but fails often and is very aware of his failures. But we the readers (with our omnipotent point of view) get to see how everything he thinks of as a failure is actually a success from a different point of view.

Reading that book helped me see that I don’t know the big picture and that I need to sometimes not worry about the outcomes of my actions and trust that God has it under control.

So failure. How do I cope with it?

I probably still head to the bedroom to cry for a while. But I am trying to give much more weight to the fact that I made an attempt at all.

And I’m trying to learn everything I can from the failure.

And, finally, I’m realising that sometimes it is possible to turn failed shortbread into successful brandy snaps.

How about you? Do you have a failure that ended up being a success? How do you cope when things seem to have gone completely wrong?

 

Grateful on International Women’s Day

IWD-2018
This is me and my colleagues today. I’m centre back with the dark glasses 🙂

I’m sick. Not that you’d know it to look at me.

I’ll explain.

In May 2016 I was diagnosed with Graves Disease. Good name that. Tells you exactly where you’re going.

Graves is an autoimmune disease where your body develops antibodies that attack your thyroid. But they attack it in such a way that it makes your thyroid work harder.

This affects everything. It makes your heart beat faster, your digestive system work faster, your body heat up more, and so on, and so on.

It means you can’t rest. You can be sitting on the couch, or lying in bed and even sleeping, but your heart is beating like you’re running a race. So you become very tired.

And you eat like there’s no tomorrow because your body is using up everything that you put into it.

And your brain! It starts working faster too. You become anxious about everything and you can’t stop working because it all needs to be done and it-all-needs-to-be-done-right-now.

You start to feel like you’re going crazy.

So like I said, I was diagnosed with this in May of 2016, and I was immediately given medicine, and the symptoms went away (though I personally had trouble stopping all the overeating). And you simply wouldn’t know I was sick.

But the antibodies are still there. So every six weeks or so I have a blood test to make sure that my thyroid hormone levels are within the limits they should be, and every three or so months we check on the antibodies to see if they’ve decreased. That’s another blood test.

My antibodies have decreased, but not quite enough, so we’ll be doing some fun stuff to fix the problem ‘definitively’ as my specialist says. Basically kill my thyroid gland. But you’ll hear about that later in the year.

What I wanted to say today was that it hit me how blessed I am to be in a country where the government is paying for all the blood tests I’ve had. Where I can go into a clean and safe place, and I have the choice of pathology centres so I can choose one that is convenient for whatever I happen to be doing that day, and I can have my blood taken quickly and easily (and mostly painlessly). The blood goes to a trustworthy laboratory and the results are available within the week.

All this is just amazing. A blessing beyond compare.

So yes, I’m sick. But I’m so grateful for the blessings in this country that mean that my illness is no more than a slight inconvenience.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if the world could work together to provide this kind of healthcare and safety to others? To the poor and needy?

On this International Women’s Day I am so aware of the women who can’t give birth safely, who can’t feed their families, who work themselves to the bone from age 5 or so to feed their parents and siblings, who have to carry water for kilometres in order to drink and cook with it. In short, all those who are so much worse off than me.

I encourage you today, if you can, to give a little – a few dollars, a coffee’s worth, to help some women somewhere in the world, and we’ll see if we can’t make this world a better place.