Getting my priorities right

Today’s blog is going to be short, I reckon. I don’t have time to fit much into it. I don’t have a lot of time to do anything today, actually. I was a little stressed about that this morning but I’ve decided to change my mind.

You see, Moz is on holidays, so we left the alarm off and had a nice slow wakening rather than the ‘keep an eye on the time and jump out of bed’ one that we normally have.

Which meant that after my normal morning routine I was running about an hour later than usual and starting to panic that I wasn’t going to get enough done today.

I usually start my work day by writing in my journal. It gets my thoughts sorted out before I try to write anything that anyone else will be reading. And I started by journal today by saying what a lovely morning it had been, and how excited I am to be getting my daughter Jess from the airport (she’ll be here for a short and sweet four day stay), and then I wrote, ‘But I find I’m stressed.’

Why was I stressed? I was stressed because I had a long list of things that I could be doing. A long list of tasks that are necessary for moving my different businesses forward. And what with taking it easy this morning, and picking up Jess at lunch time, and so on, I was not going to make it through my list of tasks.

But then I realised I needed to reframe and reprioritise.

Today is not a day for churning through work tasks. I have a lot I could be doing, but even this blog is not something I have to do. I don’t think any of you will die if the blog gets released one day later than I planned. In fact, I could leave the blog, not write it at all, and nothing dreadful would happen. It’s good to remember that occasionally.

Today is a day for concentrating on my family. For enjoying the rest that comes with school holidays. For giving Jess a big hug at the airport and making the most of having her with us for a very short time. For going out to lunch as a family because we can. And for watching Dr Who together tonight (we’ll be late because Caleb will be at uni until 8pm so no spoilers, please!!)

Sometimes it is important to focus on work, to strive to get through the jobs and to put your pleasures on hold for a while. Sometimes the day needs to be prioritised the other way around. It’s part of the rhythm of life, the seesaw of living.

We are leaving in an hour or so to pick up our daughter Jess from the airport  and today will be a family day. I’m going to enjoy every minute of it. The tasks will wait.

I hope that whatever your day holds you also will know what to prioritise and what to let go.

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Rest

This week I’ve been reading a book called Rest: Why You Get More Done When You Work Less, by Alex Soojung-Kim Pang. I had heard it highly recommended on a podcast so I toddled along to the library and placed myself on the hold list and got hold of a copy. I was number 2 on the list for this book, not number 60 like I am for a book called Educated by Tara Westover. You might get a book report on that one too but you’re going to be waiting a while.

Anyway, Rest is one of those books that looks at the science behind resting – fMRIs and studies of various student groups, and all that kind of stuff. It also looks at the lives of great achievers through history – great politicians, authors, artists, and scientists – and shows us how they incorporated rest into their lives, encouraging us to do the same.

When Alex talks about rest, he’s talking about sleeping well at night, napping, walking, vigorous exercise (like marathons, or rock climbing), and immersive hobbies (like chess or building an 18 ft robot giraffe). All of these are aspects of rest and help renew our minds so that we can work better and more creatively.

He nowhere mentions watching TV or movies or surfing social media as aspects of rest.

When Moz and I were first married we lived in a little granny flat out the back of a friend’s house. For the first few months we had no television. (And no computer. Almost no one had a computer back then. It’s really crazy to think about that.)

We didn’t miss it very much at all. We read, we chatted, visited with friends. It wasn’t a problem most of the time. But there were some days I remember coming home and really wanting to sit and stare and be entertained. So I think that TV has its place in the list of restful activities.

But I also think TV-watching has a very limited ability to refresh us. It is so easy to keep watching, keep flicking to the next Netflix show, when it would be much better for us to either sleep, or walk, or read. Any of those things would be ultimately more refreshing. I can spend a day watching TV and be more exhausted at the end than I was at the beginning.

Social media is similar. I love to just scroll through my feed when I’m feeling tired. But the scroll can become never-ending and you can end up more tired than when you started. And more disturbed and emotionally unwell too, depending on the content that comes up.

It’s important for our brains to feel boredom. To spend a little bit of time not being entertained. The flickering low-level entertainment of TV and social media is a short-term gain but a long-term loss for our well-being. I’m sure you’ve heard this before, I’m not saying anything new. But maybe it’s important to check what we are doing when we’re trying to rest, and see whether it actually helps us to feel rested or not.

It’s easy to read Rest and to add a checklist of new activities that you now have to tick off in order to achieve greatness. To feel pressure to add more of these ‘restful activities’ to your week. But I’m sure that’s not what Alex Pang intended.

Instead, if you’re feeling like you should be working more and more and harder and harder to get things done so that you will achieve what you are made for, this book will give you good scientific and historical evidence that making time to rest is essential for good work. And it will give you some good suggestions for what this rest could look like.

Rest, after all, is included in our instruction manual. Let’s include it in our lives.

 

Are you missing some of my blog posts? 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 book ‘My Year of Saying No’, and any short stories or other books will be up there as they come along.

A most beautiful moment

It was hard to choose what to talk with you about this week. I could have told you about the drive to Deloraine to check out the town properly for my first ever writing research trip and how it made me feel like a proper writer. And how I drove through a mad and scary hailstorm on the way home and was so grateful for the truck in front of me that gave me tire tracks to aim for.

I could have told you that it was mind-map time again on Sunday afternoon as I reassessed all my projects and what was involved in each of them, and how much time I could give to each. How I’m making my way through my favourite time-management books again to find hints and tips for organising my day – things that I haven’t been able to put into practice before but might be able to now. And, really, just encouragement that I’m doing alright in organising things and that there are limits to what one person can achieve.

But I thought instead I’d share with you the most beautiful thing that happened to me this week. I’ll try to find ways to put into words how I felt.

This wonderful experience took place at the Bishop’s Training Event. The church I go to happens to be Anglican, and the Bishop of the Diocese of Tasmania holds annual training events where we can go and get teaching. This was the first I have gone to and there were about 400 of us there.

Bishops Training Event
I’m in the row just before the red chairs, right down the back.

It was an excellent day. Excellent talks in the morning, and excellent workshops in the afternoon, punctuated by excellent catching up with friends and family and making new friends in the breaks.

But the very best thing about the day for me was the singing.

The music team consisted of three people with microphones, and a keyboard. No bass, no drums, no flashy lights or special effects. The song choices were excellent, some reasonably new songs that we all knew, some very old but familiar hymns with the very old words (the proper words, if you ask me). The point was, nearly everyone knew the songs, and everyone sang.

Standing there, surrounded by the swell of sound from four hundred people all singing together, was the most uplifting, encouraging feeling. I was carried on the sound. I was buoyed by it.

The sound didn’t assault my senses or bash into me. It just bathed me in song, lifted and carried my spirit until it was soaring in the rafters. And that was how I felt, standing in the back. I can’t imagine what it would have been like on stage with all of the sound coming directly towards you.

Now just to be clear, I love a good beat and bass and I had the best time at the Cat Empire concert recently, down in the mosh pit, dancing as hard as a forty-something can, adding 10,000 steps or so to my fitbit. I love it when the sound doesn’t just go in your ears, but you can feel it in your bones. It’s the best fun. But that’s not what Saturday was about.

Saturday’s singing was about being community. Being family. Singing with one voice. Joining together and making something truly beautiful.

Sometimes all you need is a note to start on and the words to sing.

I treasure the memory.

Have you been a part of a big group all singing together like this? Do you have a moment you can remember where music touched your soul?

If you never want to miss one of my blogs, you can sign up to my newsletter at www.ruthamos.com.au or you can sign up on WordPress and you will get the blog direct to your email inbox. At www.ruthamos.com.au you will also get my latest news, information about my books, and soon (I hope) a brand new podcast! Stay tuned.

Overwhelm

Well, it finally happened, and it only took two and a half months. But for the first time since I went freelance I have got too busy working for myself and this weekend I found myself suffering from overwhelm.

The deadline for a big client is drawing closer and the work is increasing in panic, it was newsletter week last week for my fiction business, I’m leading church this Sunday, I’m trying to get a podcast off the ground and that means (gasp) inviting people for interviews, I know that next week a full day is taken up travelling to Launceston with Moz and while I’ve arranged that and I’m looking forward to it, Friday of this week came so quickly I didn’t even see it coming and having a four-day week for all the work next week is frankly quite scary. Not to mention all the wonderful events that I could attend (and possibly even should attend) like the People’s Library exhibition, my friend’s band gig, the Tamar Valley Writers Festival, and the author talks at my local library…

On Friday afternoon I was exhausted and I was worried. I decided that I’d have to work on the client job on the weekend. There was no way I could get everything done. The Sabbath, the rest I usually have once a week, it would just have to be put off.

On Saturday I woke up near tears.

I was overwhelmed. I couldn’t face anything. It was all too hard.

There is only one thing to do at this point. I needed a day off.

I needed to trust God that he’d take care of deadlines, that he’d look after the speed at which my businesses grows, that he had it all in hand.

And this overwhelm and tiredness wasn’t going to be solved by just any day off. There was no way I could go with a just-do-the-housework day off, or a lets-go-out-somewhere day off. I needed a real and total rest.

The weather was in my favour. It was blowing a gale and raining sideways. It was the perfect day for sitting in front of the fire and reading.

So that’s what I did. I made a fire, I found a library book about shepherding in the Yorkshire Dales that required very little emotional energy, and I sat. Later in the day as I felt better I read some of The Divine Conspiracy by Dallas Willard and thought deep and prayerful thoughts. Then I wrote some silly poetry exercises about what I wanted to eat, and what I could hear and see outside the window. Later I watched some TV. There was a little Facebook in all that too.

Late in the afternoon we had to head down to church to set up for Sunday but that meant that I got out of the house for a short walk and that in itself was good for me.

Soup and toast for dinner and a really mindless movie topped off the day.

I found I was much more able to face things Sunday morning. The list didn’t seem so big or difficult. My energy levels had increased. I could cope again.

I am learning to budget my time so I don’t get so overwhelmed in the first place. That’s obviously the place I want to be. But I’m also learning that when I am feeling overwhelmed, sometimes I need to chuck it all and sit for a while in faith that the world will keep turning without me.

I love a quote from The Messies Manual by Sandra Felton: ‘When I works, I works hard, and when I sits, I sits loose.’ Saturday was a day for sitting loose and now I am refreshed and able to work hard again.

I know you’ve heard this sermon from me before. I’ve written a book about it, for crying out loud. I wish I could learn it so deeply that I didn’t have to relearn every few months. But for now, I’m just letting you know, I’ve learned it again.

A day off is a necessary part of every week, no matter how busy I am. I hope you can also find this rhythm of rest and work in your own life.

Are you feeling trapped? Stuck?

I read an interesting article in The Australian on Sunday morning. It was talking about how women are pretending that they can have it all – career, family, hobbies, everything – when we know we can’t. How women are hiding the failures and airbrushing their lives. How we are falling apart behind the scenes.

What struck me as I read was the feeling of being trapped. The women the author was writing about felt they had no choice, that they had to live like this, that they had to keep on with the career and the hectic lifestyle, that they just had to hide what was going on and just keep going.

It is obviously not only women who feel this way.

But I wonder if there is some freedom that can be found.

Moz now works as a teacher but he didn’t start his working life that way. He trained first to be an electrician. After his apprenticeship finished he got a job installing computer cabling with a small business. We are grateful for that job but long-term it was never going to be the right job for him. It involved long hours, shift work, and massive unpredictability. We never knew when he was working or for how long, and that doesn’t make for a happy family, especially with very young children.

Every month we would struggle to meet our budget and I would complain to Moz, and every month he would work harder, longer hours, more shifts, to try to get the money I was asking for, and I would complain that we didn’t spend enough time as a family.

We felt trapped in an unrelenting cycle.

Eventually we had the chance to stop for a few days and think things through. We realised that the family’s need to see more of him was greater than our need for the money he was providing. We chose to make some sacrifices and he quit his job and we went to university.

This was not an easy decision and we saw God’s miraculous provision for us more than once. But the point I want to make is this: we chose to have less money for a number of years in order to have the family relationships we needed.

This meant that we had crap furniture – a really dreadful brown lounge suite and a very daggy dining table and chairs. Almost every scrap of furniture we owned was second-hand and even the carpet in our house was hand-me-down, given to us by my Uncle and Aunt after they recarpeted their own home.

We didn’t have mainland holidays. When we went away we went to Pop’s beach house. It was free.

We didn’t have new clothes. Op-shopping and hand-me-downs were the order of the day.

We didn’t get to eat flash food. We got to eat a lot of bread that was given to us by charities, and we ate very simply (weetbix, anyone?) the rest of the time.

But we were no longer trapped. We were going on a journey to where we next needed to be. We were doing what we wanted to do.

People would say to us, ‘I wish I could do what you’re doing.’

They could.

They just needed to make that choice. They would have to make sacrifices just like us. But if they really wanted to, they could.

I know I am making generalisations here and maybe this doesn’t apply to you but I think it applies to more of us than we would like.

I think that if you really want to do something, if you have a dream, then you probably can make it happen.

I think some of us need to realise that we are not stuck, we are instead choosing the lifestyle that we have. We are prioritising things that we are not admitting to.

Perhaps you really want to be at home with your children but you are continuing in your job because you feel that you have to be able to provide the best in furniture, clothes, and toys for your kids.

Perhaps you would love to follow your dream but instead feel like you are trapped in your job because of the fees you need to pay for your kids’ private schooling.

Maybe you are putting off your dream because you want the financial security. You keep telling yourself you will do it once you have saved enough to retire early.

Maybe you are working 12 hours a day so you can afford the mortgage on your house.

It’s a choice.

You could choose to go with simpler clothes and furnishings and have more time with your kids. You could choose to send your kids to public school and maybe have a happier home life with a lot less stress. You could choose to sell your house and rent, or at least downsize so that you have less of a mortgage payment to pay. You can choose to work towards your dream now, on the weekends, or in your lunch hours, and not wait for some financially secure time that may never happen.

It is so easy to blame circumstances or external forces for the consequences of our own choices. To say ‘I really wanted to … but things stopped me’.

What is stopping you might just be you.

Are there sacrifices you need to make to follow your dream?

Or are you only willing to ‘rest forever in the shadows of the safety of what might have been’? (Barbara Turner-Vesselago)

This is not the whole story, of course. It is part of the story, part of the argument. There is so much involved in following your dream. Do you do it part-time? Full-time? How will it affect your family? Who do you need to talk to? Do you need training? There are so many questions that need to be answered.

I am just hoping that if your soul has been speaking to you and you have been brushing it off, that this blog post will help you get started. Start the conversation. Think about the sacrifices. Think about the choices you are making. Get un-stuck.

A gift to gladden the heart

Gold coast dolphin
This is a dolphin we saw at Sea World on the Gold Coast

There is a joint memory that Moz and I have from our teens of a house that made an incredible impression on us. I’m not sure why we were there, we only went once. I think my parents were visiting the couple who owned it but I’m really not sure why.

But this house.

I mean, I like dolphins and whales, I really do, but this house went way overboard.

The couple had dolphin wedding rings, dolphin salt and pepper shakers, a whale on the table cloth and a dolphin Doona cover. The mirrors were surrounded by dolphins, there was dolphin and whale artwork all over the walls and dolphin and whale sculptures on every surface. There was dolphin-themed stained glass on the windows and the walls were painted blue.

It was overpowering. There was no getting away from whales and dolphins anywhere.

I really like seeing dolphins and whales. I’ve been fortunate to have two whale sightings right here in Hobart over the past twenty years or so. One at Kingston Beach (close to my house, where I walk nearly every day) and one further up the river where a mother whale had taken her calf.

Dolphins, on the other hand, tend to stay away from me. I’ve been on two wilderness cruises where we’ve seen seals and albatross but no dolphins. I’ve cruised down the east coast of Tasmania on a yacht and seen no dolphins at all, though we did see some amazing luminescence in the water. I’ve spent hours on beaches straining my eyes without the sighting of even one fin.

Ok, as I write this I see that I’m the most privileged and spoiled person out there. My life has been filled with fantastic experiences. I’m not complaining at all. And I did see a whole pod of dolphins cavorting in the waves off Bicheno once.

I wonder whether the way I feel about dolphins is due to the rarity of the sightings, and if I’d become bored with them if I saw them more often. I know that after being in the dolphin house I didn’t want to see anything about sea creatures for months.

On the Saturday just past I spent most of the day sitting in front of the fire and reading. I was taking a day off and loving it. In the afternoon I felt like going for a walk and Moz came with me. We walked to the beach and bought a coffee and then I said, ‘What next? Will we walk along the beach?’

Moz suggested we just stand at the rail and stare out at the water for a while.

And while I was staring something caught my eye. Now, last time this had happened it was a seal enjoying the water and waving his flippers in the sunshine.

But this time … this time it was a dolphin.

I’ve been going to Kingston Beach for forty years on and off and this is the first dolphin I’ve ever seen there. And it was beautiful. It came quite close so we could see it clearly and then it swam away.

Kingston beach dolphin
This is me, and you can see the fin out there in the water. I promise it’s there!

Then a very light shower of rain passed over us, and all that meant was that where the dolphin had been there was now a complete rainbow over the water. The scene would have fit perfectly into the dolphin house art work, but this time it was real.

It totally made my day and I’m so glad we took a few minutes to stand and stare.

I guess there’s not much of a point to my little story, except for the encouragement to take the time to enjoy days off and to enjoy nature. That sometimes when you just stand and stare for a while you will receive a gift to gladden your heart.

I hope you all had a wonderful weekend.

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

New Life

 

It’s a wintery day here in Tasmania, and as I write this the rain is pouring down and it’s snowing at every so slightly higher altitudes. The people moving into the unit just above our house have picked a great day for it. They’re going to have to move furniture in between rain squalls and I’m guessing they don’t even have a kettle unpacked for coffees while they are waiting.

The rain is falling but the birds are singing their hearts out. I can hear them just outside my window, their little voices so loud that I can’t even hear the rain.

It’s a reminder that spring, and with it new life, is just around the corner. The cherry trees are blossoming, and the bulbs are up and flowering. The sun is rising earlier and earlier. We’ve made it through the dark winter and into the snow season and there are some lovely warm days happening too.

I have been moving into my new season of life for about two months now. I thought I’d give you an update as to how it’s all going.

I’m still finding my feet. Sometimes I feel like I may never find them. The ground changes every week, every day, and at times it even changes during the day. Editing jobs come in with urgency and must be completed immediately, or they don’t come at all and I need to figure out which of the other things on my list is of the greatest importance. I am still working out how much time to spend on marketing, and how best to do that; how much time to spend on investing in the future by writing novels and other books; how much time to spend investing in people by having coffee with them.

However, I am loving this life.

On the weekend I had a coffee and chat time I’m calling a Writer’s Salon. This is a time that I’m putting aside for people to get together over a cuppa at my place and just chat about writing. I’ve held two of these sessions now, and I will keep holding them at about six-week intervals. They are great fun and I’m learning from those who come, and I hope they are learning from me too, or at least, feeling encouraged to keep going with their writing.

The Writers Salon was Saturday afternoon, and Saturday evening there was a showcase of songwriters called Word in Song that was held just down the road at our church. This was the seventh such showcase, and each year I have been tempted to go, but too tired, or too busy. But this year I went. I sat and listened to these creative people share their talents and it was great.

Two months ago I would not have been able to cope with two such people-intensive activities on the same day. Two months ago I’m not sure that I could have done either of them. Saturdays were for recovery, for hiding away from the world and getting myself some energy back.

Now I can join the world again. I have enough energy from spending time alone through the week to allow me to spend time with people on the weekend. To be with people Saturday afternoon and evening, and then to go to church on Sunday and still enjoy it.

I probably will never go to every event that is on. I still need more alone time than most people (at least I think I do). But this weekend, as I sat in the pew and listened to the lovely music, I felt like I was rejoining the world and it was wonderful.

I really had wondered as I wrote ‘My Year of Saying No’ and as I planned this new venture, whether it would ‘work’. Whether I would get energy from working like this, whether I would be able to do more reaching out to people, more sharing with others. Or whether I was doomed to always be stretched beyond my emotional resources. I am pleased to say that two months in I am filled with hope that the dreams I have had are achievable. With the time I have alone, I am energised to reach out to others. The Writers Salon, and work I am doing on starting a podcast (more on this later), and the talk I gave at Calvin earlier this week, and the fact that I could go to the Word in Song showcase and support my friends there, these things have been desires of my heart that have been waiting for some energy to allow them to happen. Now they are happening. I am blessed.

Sometimes when I think about my businesses my stomach contracts as I wonder if I’ll be able to keep landing jobs and keep this lifestyle going. But for now, I’m enjoying what has been provided for me. I’m giving grateful thanks. And I’m putting the work in (by myself, in the comfort of my little home office) to keep this state of affairs going for as long as possible.

I was listening to a podcast called Simple by Tsh Oxenrider (yes, that’s Tsh without an I) and was really encouraged by something she said in conversation with Emily P Freeman. I thought I’d share it with you.

They said that if there is something within you that you really want to do, something that won’t go away, then name it. Define it. Don’t just let it sit inside you, worrying at you, making you sick. Figure out what it is, name it.

Then, when you name it, you can either let go of it and work through the grief, if it’s not going to happen. Or you can take steps towards making it happen, and towards blessing others with this thing that you’re heading towards.

You’re not having a tantrum, telling the universe that you ‘have to have’ this thing. You are simply being honest about what you want.

So I guess that’s what I’m doing now. Working through, and towards, what I really want. And hopefully blessing people on the way.

I thank you all for your support and for the prayers of the praying people who receive this blog.

To never miss a blog post from me you can either sign up to follow the blog on WordPress, or you can sign up on www.ruthamos.com.au to my newsletter and you will receive every post straight to your email inbox. You can also find my book ‘My Year of Saying No’ on that website, and any short stories or other books will be up there as they come along.

 

Talking Books with Teenagers

shutterstock_1071091616

It was my great pleasure and privilege to be the visiting speaker at the book week assembly for our local Christian secondary school today. I enjoyed being part of an assembly that focused on books and reading. I was happy to see students getting prizes for being the year’s best borrowers from the library. I especially enjoyed the costume display. People had gone the extra mile for sure. It was great to see a Huckleberry Finn, an Olaf, a Where’s Wally (that’s Waldo if you’re an American), an Anne Boleyn … and that was just the teachers. Donations for the day went to the Indigenous Literacy Foundation.

I thought that, instead of my normal blog, you might like to have a read of what I had to say:

It’s great to be back here. I spent my primary school years here at Calvin. I remember playing kick square, and my great love of Oliebollen started here with the Oliebollen festival.

I wrote my first book in grade 3.

I have written and published two more books now. This one is a murder mystery, and this one is a memoir and self-help book.

I guess you could say that I am now a story teller.

We are all story tellers.

When you meet up with everyone at recess and say, ‘You’ll never guess what happened in science class!’ you are a story teller.

And we love to listen to stories. Whether you end up working as

an engineer,

a plumber,

a scientist,

a hairdresser,

a teacher,

a stay at home parent,

whatever you end up doing, I guarantee you’ll end up telling stories.

We tell stories around the dinner table, the board room, the class room, and some of us write them up into books

and those people are called authors.

I love to read stories. I love reading books. But even more than that I love to hear the stories of real people. Your stories.

You are far more interesting than the most interesting fictional character. Your life is more complex, your reasons for doing things more fascinating, your actions more noteworthy.

One of the reasons I write is to tell the stories of the people I know.

The book I’ve written is fiction. It’s a murder mystery, and that part is totally made up. But in that book I put bits and pieces about people I have seen and known.

I was still working at the university when I was writing this book. I would go to conferences and instead of taking notes on the talks, I’d be taking notes of the people. I’d think

“Oh look at that guy, sitting there taking up three seats. I’ll write him into my book.”

Or

“I can’t believe my eyes, that girl is in the conference but she’s watching a movie with her earphones on, I’ll put her in my book.’

I also put in my book some aspects of the life story of one of my dear friends. In fact, the whole mystery is built on her story, her time studying at the university. She didn’t have a happy time and I was able to weave that into the book, to tell her story in a way. I mean, it’s very well disguised. But she saw it.

One of the biggest triumphs for me with this book is that when my friend read the story —- her story —- she cried. My story helped her to get over her own story and to receive healing. And that was pretty special.

Reading books can do that for us. Reading, whether it’s fiction or not, can help us see the story in our own lives.

Because we are in a story.

You are the main character of your own story.

And your story is part of a bigger story.

I’m a bit strange, when I’m reading a story I often love the bit at the beginning where everything is ok before the thing happens that makes it all go wrong. And I love the bit at the end where everything is sorted out and they all live happily ever after.

But of course, it’s the middle of the story that makes it worth reading.

  • It’s the bit where the hobbits have been captured by the orcs that leaves us on the edge of our seats, furiously turning pages, unable to go to sleep.
  • It’s the part where Aslan has been killed and all hope is lost that has us crying and wondering what the Pevensie children will do now and whether they’ll ever get home again.
  • It’s the bit where our masked hero is mostly dead and the princess bride has gone through the wedding ceremony and we can’t see any way that things could turn out well.

Those are the bits that make the stories worth reading.

Though sometimes I like to just turn to the end to make sure it really will work out alright before I go back and plough my way through the middle of the book.

Until the day we die, each of us will be living in the middle of a story. We’re never going to be living in the happily ever after part.

We’ll be living in the part of the story where the hero doesn’t know if he will survive, where he is battling the monster and just needs to keep going.

We’ve been given a sneak preview of the end of the book and it’s great to know that it will all turn out well in the end,

but in the meantime,

we’re stuck here fighting a battle against evil forces, trying to find where we fit in the plot, trying to figure out who we are.

And the great thing about our story is that it’s one of those complex ones. One of those amazing stories where there are many, many plot lines that all connect in different places and all weave together to make a beautiful end product.

What you do in your part of the story affects others in their parts. It’s a “choose your own adventure” where your adventure links in with everyone else’s.

Nothing we do in our lives is wasted, it all fits into the plot. And you have the choice of which side of the story you are on.

Joining with God’s side of the story means that you are part of something bigger than yourself. It means that you can trust God with the outcome of the story, that whether it looks good to you right now, or bad, He will work it out for good in the end.

One of the best things about writing my mystery was that I got to tell my friend’s story, just a bit of it. I think that every single one of us has a pretty amazing story to tell,

and whether you tell it in a book,

or just live it,

your story is important.

Your story is weaving into the bigger story that God is writing.

Make your life story worth telling, make it amazing.

Fight your battles knowing that you are a part of a bigger army.

And relax in knowing that the end will be worth the fight.

Graduation

Graduation 2018 August

Here we are, PhD graduates, their supervisors, the Dean, and me. The Dean is the only one not still wearing his finery.

Saturday I ate a protein-rich breakfast of bacon and eggs. I dressed with care in my nice black suit with a blue jumper underneath for warmth. I thought long and hard about which earrings to wear and decided on the plain pearls. I packed my academic robes and floppy hat in a suit bag and hung it in the back of the mini. I packed my bulging handbag in the boot of the mini and only took on me what I could fit in my pockets – a phone, a credit card, and the car keys.

I was a bit nervous, but not much. This wasn’t my special day, after all. I graduated with my PhD in 2010 but at present I am allowed by the uni to dress up in my glad rags and join the lecturers on stage to celebrate other’s graduations.

At the multi-storey carpark I met with another well-dressed woman holding a suit bag. We saluted each other with the bags and walked to the Federation Concert Hall together. We knew each other more from email contact than from sight.

She asked which area I was from.

‘Chemistry,’ I replied, ‘well, I was from Chemistry.’

Then I told her what I was doing now, and that if she needed an editor to look at her student manuscripts she now knew where to come. (I really need to invest in some business cards for such an occasion.)

In the robing room I met and mingled with long-standing friends. It was fun to catch up, good to see my colleagues again. Especially when we were there for such a celebration. We got dressed up, adjusted each others hoods, checked the tassels on the floppy hats. The only real awkwardness came when we had to pair up to walk in the academic procession. I found myself paired in a group of three and that just doesn’t work, but hey, we’re all adults. We worked it out.

And then it was time to put on our best pompous faces and make our way through the foyer of the Grand Chancellor Hotel to the concert hall where graduation was being held.

I must admit I was a bit rebellious. I was supposed to sit on the end of a row of five but I just wandered further and sat in the back row with my ex-boss. That caused a little bit of panic when the people didn’t think there were enough chairs for us all. But they got over it. And I bet they felt pretty silly when everyone sat down and they saw the empty seat in the middle of the row.

I wasn’t the worst behaved person on stage. One of the academics stood up and took a photo with his phone when his student crossed the stage. That was a little unprofessional. But a lot of fun.

We had six PhD students graduating on Saturday. Six from Chemistry, among the 50-ish PhDs in total for that particular ceremony. (I am not totally sure of my numbers because I foolishly left my program behind.) Out of the six Chemistry graduates, five were present to dress up in their floppy hats and walk the stage. It was so great to be there and celebrate with them.

The PhD is a long journey, long and fraught with many a danger. But they made it, and Saturday was a day for pure celebration of a milestone reached. I was so glad to be there to celebrate with them and their families.

I was also super-glad to see a couple of special students reach the milestone of a bachelor’s degree. They were students I had worked with in their very first chemistry classes. Students that had become friends over the course of their studies. I never know when these people are graduating (we’re not that close friends) but I was thrilled to see them walk the stage.

After all the pomp was finished we mingled over sausage rolls and party pies (we didn’t make it in time for any sushi) and took many photos and gave many hugs. I repeated, ‘congratulations’ over and over again, but I meant it every time. The hall was crowded and loud, but full of love, joy, and a sense of satisfaction. There is something important about attending the ceremony and giving yourself closure.

I love the pomp and ceremony of a graduation ceremony. It speaks to something deep in my English heritage. It reminds me of my heroes – Tolkien, Lewis, Sayers. I know all the pomp is unnecessary, but for me it’s a great way to celebrate the gaining of an important milestone and I congratulate again all my friends who had their special day on Saturday.

I didn’t make it to the PhD celebration parties that were held on Saturday afternoon and night. If you want to find out why, there’s a great book you can read that will explain it all (wink, wink). This post is my small and introverted way of saying again a huge congratulations to my friends who graduated on Saturday (and to my special friend who graduated Friday as well).

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?