Lessons Learned: One Year On My Own

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It is one year today since I started working as a freelancer full-time. I thought I’d take a moment to reflect on the year and the lessons learned.

This time last year I had just come back from a trip to visit my lovely sister in LA. I had seen her living her freelance composer life and had been very impressed. Now it was my turn.

I had big plans. My freelance life consists of three businesses: the Ruth Amos author business (non-fiction), the R. J. Amos author business (fiction), and the Fix My English business (editing). The idea was that the editing would help pay the bills as the author businesses got off the ground. I had listened to a lot of podcasts and read a lot of books and I was eager to put it all into practice.

And it’s been a fantastic year.

There have been ups and downs – I wouldn’t recommend losing all thyroid functionality in the first year of starting your own businesses for one thing. But it’s been a joy to be able to run with my ideas, to see where they lead me, to experiment and try new things. I have launched two books in the last twelve months, both big highlights of the year for me. I don’t think that I have it all figured out by any stretch of the imagination, and I’ve heard that the second year of full-time life at home is more difficult than the first. I guess we’ll see. I’ll let you know this time next year.

Anyway, here are some lessons I have learned in the last year:

1) Having backup savings is really important.

Every piece of advice you see when you’re thinking of going freelance tells you to have at least three-months and even six-months worth of expenses saved. I could not agree more. It has been a great comfort in the lean times (like over the summer where I didn’t get an editing job for four straight months) to know that there’s a cushion to fall back on. It takes the pressure off and allows you to be creative in your activities and to think more long-term when you are planning your future undertakings. It takes away the panic, and we know that panic leads to bad decision-making.

the writing den

2) Streamline Online.

All of my work is performed on the internet. Without the internet I wouldn’t have any of my businesses. This has meant that I have needed to learn some online marketing techniques. And it was around January when I realised that the editing online personality I was trying to build was different from the author online personalities and that one of them had to go.

I tried keeping the editing on LinkedIn and just advertising the author businesses on Facebook and Twitter. That worked better, but it was a lot of marketing work for very little return.

In the end I decided to go a different route for my editing business, working with other businesses who source the work (academic and technical editing) and not trying to do all the marketing myself. This was less satisfying than doing it all by myself, but I had to decide which business I wanted to build up, and that is my writing, of course. I just had to let go of some pride.

So now I am myself on social media, like I am myself in my books. A bit silly, hopefully fun, caring about my friends, sharing ups and downs, sharing about God.

And as far as the editing is concerned, well, now that I’m not trying to do it all myself, I’m actually getting work and managing to make some money. So that turned out to be the right decision.

time money

3) Flexible time does not mean unlimited time.

I was very fortunate coming into this work that I had been trained as an academic. In the work I had done before I didn’t have anyone clocking me in or out, I was responsible for getting the work done. Working for myself was similar, and I knew how to discipline myself to focus. I have not been spending my days lost in social media, YouTube, or Netflix as some warned me I might be. But I have enjoyed the flexibility of being able to get out for a coffee with my friends and doing extra activities at church during the day.

When the editing load was light, this was fine. But as my business has grown and the workload has increased I have realised that I need to be much more careful with my extra-curricular activities. I think I need to read ‘My Year of Saying No’ again, prioritise, and then say no to some of my activities.

Priorities

Related to this:

4) Book holidays first.

The year has a rhythm. Unfortunately in Year One you don’t know what that rhythm is. As the year passed I didn’t know when would be a good time for holidays so I didn’t book any. In freelance work, if you don’t have work to do for a client, then you have work to do to get the next client. I just kept going with the writing, marketing, editing, podcasting, all the bits and pieces that just roll on week by week. This, of course, has led to me feeling very tired and lately I have realised what a bad idea a holiday-less year is. So I have now booked myself two weeks of holidays to be taken in a few months time when the Very Big Editing Job I’m working on now will be finished.

I have a bit clearer idea of what the rhythm of the year is like now, but even if the next year turns out to be full of opportunities for the whole 52 weeks, I realise now that I don’t have to take all of them. I will be booking holidays and sticking to them in the future. Rest is important.

teapot and cup

5) Exercise must be booked in too – incidental exercise doesn’t just happen.

I work from home. My desk is about ten steps from my bed and another few steps from the bathroom. I don’t have to walk up two flights of stairs to go to the staff loo anymore. I don’t have to walk the three blocks from the carpark to the office. I don’t have to wander down the hill to the café to get a coffee at lunch time. If I am not careful I can walk less than a thousand steps in a whole day.

I have started using the pomodoro technique to help with this. This is a timer app I have on my phone. It runs for 25 minutes during which I work solidly, then it gives me a five minute break during which I jog on the spot, stretch, hang washing out, clean up the kitchen, and so on through the day. This is not enough, of course. I need to also make sure that most days I have a good hour-long walk, or head to the gym for some weights.

I want this lifestyle to continue on a long, long time. And to do that I need to take care of my body, give it good food, and good exercise. I am not just a brain and fingers, I am a whole person, spirit, soul, and body and I want to look after all of myself.

walking into sunset

6) Keep talking to your friends and family.

So much has changed this year and the change is continuing. I think that change is the only definite thing in my life.

In all this it has been essential to keep talking with Moz, to get an outside opinion on it all and to keep him appraised of all my goings on. He is not my boss, but it always helps to have a friend to share with and to be accountable to so that you don’t end up going off on a tangent accidentally.

The weeks slip by, the months follow them, and before you know it, a year has passed. By talking with Moz on the way through I have been stopped from spending too much time on the wrong activities, or pushing the wrong agenda for too long.

I have other family members I talked with regularly too that help me to see my life from the outside. And while I work online, I need to meet with my friends in real life and keep a grasp on what the real world is like. As I said, I love my coffee dates and the things I do for church.

Communication is essential. Community, both online and in-person is one of the most important things in this world. I hope that I am helping build that by what I write and what I do.

So there are a few things I have learned this year. There is so much still to learn. When I was brainstorming this list. I could think of so many things that I still don’t understand. So many lessons that I am in the middle of learning. Hopefully they will make it onto a ‘lessons learned’ list for a future year.

Thank you for being a part of my community as I walk this journey. I am hoping I will have many more years doing this, it’s great fun!

Are you missing some of my blog posts? They (usually) 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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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.

Temptations (part 1)

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My biggest temptation when beginning this blog series was to list all the things I was doing at the beginning of the saying no process so that you would recognise just how busy I was. I wanted to list my job, my home duties, the care that I was taking for various people. I want you to see that I was Super Woman, that I had it all, that I was trying to do it all, that there was good reason for my near mental breakdown, for my near burnout. I wanted to justify to you my need to say no. Like it is some sort of competition: I’m so much busier than you are, when I go to work I have to walk sixteen miles through the snow, barefoot, uphill both ways, and so on.

Of course, the risk was that listing all my jobs would make you  say, “is that all? I have twice as much to get through as her. What is she whinging about? Talk about first world problems.”

One of the things I have learned this year is that I don’t need to justify to anyone why I have to say no. I really did need to start saying no though.

Here’s a quote from my journal at the end of 2016:

I am still deeply emotionally fatigued. I am having trouble making decisions or forcing myself to do things that I don’t really want to do. I am feeling ready to have whole days alone right now. And yet I’ve booked coffees fro the next three days and I need more bookings to have coffee with Ruth and Jane. I think it’s possible that one coffee a day with someone won’t wreck me. But it’s hard to tell, when you are bone weary. All I want to do is sit in bed and read and write and look out at the rain.

I’d love to write a blog post but I don’t have the energy. I really want to write my novel, but no energy. I want to clean the kitchen and get groceries and do office paperwork and so on but all I really want to do is sit here in bed and write and read and sleep.

That was a journal entry in the middle of my holidays. You can hear that I needed more of a break but I wasn’t allowing myself to have it. Whatever it was that I was filling my time with, it was too much for me. Things were out of whack and I knew it. I needed to learn how to say no.

Tiredness was something I knew very well. Bone-weariness was my old friend. I am now in my forties and I had decided at the end of 2015 that I needed to improve my heath to get rid of this overwhelming tiredness. I guess that was the 2016 project.

I worked on my diet – trying to find intolerances that would mean I wasn’t getting the correct nutritional value from my food. That helped a bit, I found some things that were doing me damage and I eliminated them from my diet.

I also cut down on sugar dramatically, changing my tastes so that I didn’t crave the sugar in the coffee, the sugary treats, the constant sweets to get me through the day. That changed things too – the ups and downs of blood sugar were evened out and I wasn’t getting the mid-afternoon crashes that I had before.

I dealt with some women’s issues and sorted them and got rid of the monthly energy crisis that was being caused by them. That was great. I cannot say how much better I feel from that.

Then I went to the doctor to investigate a constantly ticking eye and severe fatigue and found that I had Graves disease – an overactive thyroid. Treatment for that meant that my legs no longer felt like they were made of concrete. That it was actually possible to get the energy to do things again. It was incredible the change it made. If you’re feeling bone weary, get your thyroid checked. It could really help.

But after all that I still felt tired.

It became embarrassing to go and see my thyroid specialist. She would say each time, “How are you feeling?” and I would say, “Tired. So tired.” And she would say, “Well, your hormone levels are great so it’s not the thyroid.”

And I would think, “Damn.”

It’s not that I wanted to be sick. But it was great to be able to blame the thyroid for the tiredness, to blame something out of my control, outside of myself. To be able to take a pill and feel better. But now I was taking the pill and still feeling bad, I knew that the change in my life had to come from me.

I had to simplify my life. I had to build in margin. I had to figure out what it was I wanted to spend my limited energy on. I had to make some difficult decisions.

I had to learn how to say no.

How about you? Are you feeling the same way? Feeling the constant overwhelm, the constant pull and tug to do the things you know you should do? Feeling that all the things on your list are completely overwhelming? Or is there some health problem that you needed to get fixed in order to get your energy levels up?

I would love to hear about it in the comments.

This post is part of a series I am writing about what I have learned about saying no. I’d love to have you join me on this journey. If you want to make sure you never miss a post, you can sign up on WordPress and the post will be sent to your email address every week without fail.

You’ll notice some new art in this series. If you want to see more of it you can find the artist on instagram @deteor42

Purpose

I have been doing a lot of reading in my holidays and there’s a certain idea that keeps popping up over and over again.

It may be confirmation bias, but I’ve been seeing it in the non-fiction I am reading, in the fiction, in the blog posts and articles, in the different podcasts (yes I have been enjoying my holidays, how could you tell?). It just keeps coming back to this:

What is your purpose? What is your vision?

Why do you do what you do? What do you want out of life? What do you want from your money? What is the thing that gets you out of bed in the morning?

There are very broad answers to this question (e.g. I want to do God’s will for my life) but I’ve been challenged to narrow it down and down and down. I’m still narrowing. I think my vision probably comes down to something like ‘working against imposter syndrome’, or ‘helping people feel like they belong’.

I’ve found the question particularly difficult to answer. I have had answers before, but I think that at this level, your purpose is something that changes in the different seasons of life. I personally think that it’s a rare few that are working towards one thing for the whole of their lives. I have had the season of raising my children, the season of completing my university studies, the season of researching towards a PhD and working hard on teaching well.

And for the past few years I have been going through the motions. I have made sure that I have worthwhile activities in my life and that I’ve worked hard at them and I’ve just kept going but without any clear plan. Part of the reason for that I guess is that I have struggled with illness so that just keeping going has been all that I’ve been able to do. That may be the season you are in right now.

But lately I’ve felt a real sense of discontent and a desire to have more of a structured goal.

I remember when DH was working for a communications contractor. It wasn’t fun. He was frustrated and angry much of the time. The work wasn’t fulfilling, but it was constant. He rarely had a day off. He was exhausted most of the time. There came a time where he needed to go into hospital and have a major operation and in the four days that his boss allowed him for recovery before he was called back in to work (yes, I know) he stopped bashing his head against a wall for long enough to realise that it hurt. That was the beginning of a season of change for us. DH ended up leaving his job, going to university, and retraining as a teacher.

I feel like I am in the midst of a similar season now. I want to know what I am living for so that I can arrange my life to work towards that goal. I would like clear five year and ten year goals. And a clear reason to pursue them.

The writing is good, the blog post and the novel and all, but the writing is a way that my purpose gets lived. Just writing isn’t enough. There needs to be a reason for the writing.

I want to live my life for a reason. As Hitch says, I want to begin each day as if it’s on purpose. I want to serve God in a way that suits how he made me. I’m enjoying spending the time figuring out what that is.

Do you know your purpose? In a tweet-sized statement could you tell me what you’re living for? Feel free to do it in the comments, I would be fascinated to find out.

Quitting

Today I quit one of my jobs. It’s been a long process – the process of quitting this job has lasted over a year.

The job involved working after-hours as a tutor in a small business that tutors primary and high school students in literacy and maths. It’s an excellent business, the tutors do excellent work, and it’s something I totally, whole-heartedly believe in. There is also a huge need for tutors – there is always a waiting list for the business. And tutoring is something I can do. I know enough maths and science to tutor people through high school and beyond, and I could probably do english at a pinch.

All of the above is what made quitting this job so very hard to do. But I’m pretty sure that quitting this job was right.

And before you ask, it’s not about the money.

It’s about the tired.

You read a lot on the internet about how being busy is a sickness of our age. How when you ask people how they are, they answer, “busy” and they wear it as a badge of pride.

I am done with being busy. I don’t want to spend my days stressed because I can’t fit everything in. Or at least, I want to be busy with things I love, rather than things I ‘should do’ or ‘would be good at’ or things that are an answer to a great need but not a good fit for me.

I want to be free enough to be there for people when they need me. I want to have enough energy to give to my children when they need to talk, and to have that important coffee with a friend, or a new friend that I’ve just met, and to hear their problems and to help out.

I also want time to read, to think, to write, to follow my dreams.

I am a writer, I want to be an author. In my head that means publishing books, yes books plural, though I’ll use the term author after one book is published, don’t worry. I am finding that the writing process is hard work. It requires a functioning brain. It requires energy. It is not something I can squeeze in to my life in the free evenings, or for half an hour on the weekends.

For me, writing a novel requires (at the very least) working a little on it every day in the morning, and then giving it more time over the weekends. It also requires me to make sure I am healthy, that I eat well, sleep well, and exercise, so that I don’t wake up feeling foggy and unable to think. And that requires me to evaluate every single activity I undertake because I can’t do all the worthy things that come my way and still write a book.

And, you know, that’s hard. Because right now, I have no evidence beyond this blog that writing is something I can do. I am investing hours, days, in something that may not pay off. I am also spending time learning the business of writing, and it is common knowledge that the vast majority of writers in Australia earn about $10,000 from their writing each year so I may never make a living from my dream. I am very unlikely to make big dollars.

The process of investing in my writing is making me re-think all my ideas about success. I have never been one to judge success by the size of someone’s income, but I have definitely judged success by the number of people reached and helped. If you use that analysis to weigh up my writing against the tutoring job I just quit then I am moving in the wrong direction.

Or I am taking a huge leap of faith.

I also feel incredibly selfish. If someone suggested that they would pay me to sit in my little den and write all day, every day, I would jump at the chance. Writing is my happy place. It’s what I love to do. So turning down a worthy job like tutoring, stopping helping children so that I can sit in my happy place more, that’s selfish, isn’t it?

But maybe it isn’t. Maybe God made me with this inclination to shut the world out and think deeply and write about my thoughts. Maybe sitting alone in my lounge room and tapping on a keyboard is how he wants me to spend my time. Maybe it’s not my job to solve everyone’s problems but just to do the best job I can at what I love.

Or maybe the truth is somewhere in the middle.

Only God knows what will come of my writing. At the moment I’m going to keep going and trust him with the outcome. And keep working my other day job.

If anyone wants to pay me to write though – you know where to contact me!

If you enjoyed this post and would like to hear more about my writing journey as it comes to the pointy end with my first novel (a cosy mystery), please drop me a line on rijamos@gmail.com and I’ll add you to my newsletter list. I’ll still be writing posts on this blog but the newsletters will be more writing focussed – what I’m doing with my writing, and what I’m reading myself. I look forward to hearing from you.

Micromanaging

You know the situation. There’s a job that needs doing. You have a picture in your head about how it should be done but you don’t want to do it yourself. So you give it to someone else and they do it ALL WRONG.

This is what happened to me yesterday. I’ll tell you the story.

I am a member of the Royal Australian Chemical Institute. The RACI is 100 years old this year so we’re trying to do all kinds of interesting things to celebrate and our Chair has come up with a great idea – 100 reactions in 100 days (here’s our first one: RACI 100 Reactions in 100 Days #1). The idea is that we (we being chemists all over Australia) create small YouTube videos describing a reaction of some sort. We need 100 of these videos so we are reaching out to all sorts of people to have a go. Starting with us here in Tasmania, and that means me.

Now, DS has made some really fun YouTube videos on a whim. They are called Caleb “Cooks” and I encourage you to look them up if you want a laugh. So I said that I could provide a video and I decided that DS should be the actual person to do this.

We don’t actually have a chemistry lab in our house (though believe it or not, I know a family that does) but I knew a cool experiment that can be done with red cabbage and various household chemicals (vinegar, bicarb, dishwashing detergent – they are all chemicals). So I suggested (strongly) to DS that he do that experiment and do a video for me. He was happy to comply.

DH and I decided to go out for lunch yesterday and as we left, DS was happily story-boarding his ideas and coming up with a good video of the purple cabbage experiment. He said he’d do the recording while we were gone. I thought that was a great plan.

We had a delightful drive, a delicious seafood lunch at the Inn at Kettering overlooking the yachts in the harbour, a delightful drive back. The weather was gorgeous – sunny but not too hot. We were peaceful and in accord with one another and we felt like we’d had a micro-holiday.

When we got home the scene was slightly different: the house stank of cabbage, the kitchen looked like a bomb had hit it, there were bowls and cups everywhere and there were two more whole red cabbages being put through our Kenwood juicer (one whole cabbage having already received this harrowing treatment).

This is not what I had planned!

When I have performed this experiment I have made the purple cabbage juice by cutting up the cabbage and then pouring hot water over it. DS made the juice by using a juicer which provided a much deeper purple colour.

I would have poured some juice into a few glasses, added the different chemicals, and watched the colour change. I was actually a bit worried that DS’s juice was so strong that there wouldn’t be any colour change at all. I was concerned that he was doing it all wrong and I was severely tempted to step in and change things.

But I held back. I took my books and computer downstairs and I tried not to worry. I could hear the video being made and the first two times DS poured chemicals in to the cabbage water there was no change in colour. I got more worried. I even snuck back upstairs and peaked in through the doorway, ready to give my advice if it was needed.

But the third chemical – vinegar – did what it was supposed to do. The purple cabbage juice changed colour to become pink. I was relieved. I went back downstairs, stopped listening, and left him to it.

I haven’t seen the final video yet. I will post it when it’s done. But I had a chat to DS after he had cleaned up all of the mess in the kitchen and this is what he told me, ‘It felt a bit boring Mum. I looked for other reactions to do but they were all a bit boring too. So I made it big so that it would be more fun.’ And I’m sure it will be. It definitely looked more fun than my idea.

If I had made the video, or made the process my process, then all of the reason for asking DS to do it would have been lost. We would have lost the joy, kept it safe, and kept it boring.

By allowing him full creative control the process was messier, true, but so much more fun. And mess can be cleaned up. And yes, DS did clean the mess up, basically by himself. There are consequences to our actions and we need to deal with that.

I think sometimes we lose a lot of joy in life by trying to retain control over processes that we should leave in other people’s hands.

Take from this what you will.

Here is the link to the finished video:

Names

I have been musing lately on the subject of names.

It started when DS told me one morning that he had recognised a comet from its picture. That’s right, he’d seen a picture of an unlabelled comet and knew its name. I was so impressed! (Not impressed enough to find out what the name was but, hey, impressed.) This was my son, a man who knows comets by name!

(‘Mum, I know the name of one comet. Not all the comets.’)

It got me thinking. Do comets have names before humans label them?

If you know the seven-day creation story in the bible you will know that it was man who gave names to the animals. God made the animals but he gave man the job of assigning names. And we – humans – love giving names to things – kingdom, phylum, class, order, family, genus, species. It’s a big deal.

This week at the university I had two days of lab sessions with my summer school students. We all got together in the chemistry lab and we played with various chemicals and reactions. It’s a full-on, but very productive couple of days. One of the fun things about these days from my point of view is the chance to meet people that I have known all summer as a name, and see what they are really like.

One of my students has the name Thelma, but she goes by Pixie. Another is named Tiffany, but called TJ. That got me thinking as well. You see, for most people, they are given a name at birth. That is, before anyone knows anything about them, they are given the name that they have to live with all their lives. My kids’ names were chosen well before they were even conceived. (We’re so glad we only had a daughter and a son, we didn’t have any more names chosen.)

So the name you are given by your parents has nothing to do with your personality, your likes or dislikes, your educational status, your wealth, nothing. And yet, we judge people by their name. Somehow we assume that the name someone has been given will have something to do with who they are.

There are studies showing that (in the sciences at least) a decision on a resume with a female name will be different to the decision on the exact same resume given with a male name. That if a name on a  resume is spelled interestingly Raychelle, for example, rather than Rachel, then the resume again will be treated differently. But it’s not poor Raychelle’s fault that her parents named her with the interesting spelling. And they probably did it with her best interests at heart.

I realised that I would have thought very differently about Pixie all semester if I had only known her as Thelma. That old-fashioned name gives a very different picture.

It says in the good book that God knows us by name. But which name?

I learned in last week’s sermon that Jesus gave Simon the nickname Petros (meaning little rock, pebble) but then he talked about him being Petra – a massive great boulder that he would build his church on. Jesus knew the whole of Simon Peter – the beginning of his life as the rowdy Simon who kept getting it wrong, but he also knew the Peter who would give the sermon that started the whole Christian church, and he knew that God would continue to build that church until now ~2000 years later.

DS suggested to me that God knows each of us by our Entish name. In Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings, there are Ents – walking trees. And the name that Ents give is not just a label, but the whole life story of the tree. The names can be very long, very very long – trees live a long time.

God isn’t worried by time. He is eternal. He lives outside of time. And I like to think that when he says he knows me, or an animal, or a comet for that matter, by name, he is talking about the Entish name. The whole life story.

Now, I happen to love the name I was given at birth, and I find it very interesting that a nickname has never stuck to me – I have always been Ruth. And Ruth means beloved, which is a lovely short name to have. But I feel very beloved when I think that God knows my whole name, and loves me anyway.

Let’s be aware of our unconscious bias and try not to judge anyone by their name or label.

And be encouraged – God knows you by name.

Celebrations

In the last week I have been part of two major life celebrations.

On Saturday I went to a wedding of two lovely young people who are part of our church. They had invited the whole church, whoever wanted to, to come along, so I went. (DH wanted to come too but was stopped by a very inconvenient attack of hay fever.)

The couple getting married were young and beautiful. The bride (of course) was especially gorgeous. Thin, blonde, and radiant, she could have stepped right from the pages of a magazine. The groom was also a dashing young man, and the church was filled with the young and the beautiful, all dressed up to the nines. Now, I’m not that old, and I don’t consider myself to be ugly, but wow – I didn’t hold a candle to all this youth and beauty. But, you know, it was so great to have them all there, supporting their friends as they made their life commitment.

The service started with an announcement that I’ve never heard before.

‘Please, could you turn off your mobile phones’ I’ve heard that bit before, obviously, ‘the bride and groom wish to have all photos during the service taken by the official photographer.’ We weren’t asked to turn off our phones because they might ring, but because they didn’t want us taking photos during the service! That was the new bit. And then came this:

‘And while the bride and groom are happy for you to post to Facebook, please let them post first.’ Brand new. And oh so necessary.

So I’m going to have to make sure they’ve posted before I put this up on my blog, but that’s fine.

Anyway, the wedding was beautiful. It’s just so amazing to see people take the risk, take the plunge, commit to each other for life. And I realised, as they clearly (and a little tearfully) said their vows, that while I love individualised, poetic, beautifully written vows, for me there is something so special about the stock standard Anglican prayer book vows. And the something special is this: I said those vows. DH said those vows. And as I listened to another couple vow to love, cherish, protect, and honour each other for as long as they both should live, I could renew my own vow to my husband too. (It would have been more special if he could have been there, but we can’t have everything).

After the wedding we were all invited to share afternoon tea together, I said hello to people I hadn’t seen for (literally) years and renewed old friendships. I live in a small place and it’s guaranteed that you’ll meet with old friends at this kind of thing.

It was a truly special celebration. An absolutely joyous afternoon.

The other celebration in my week was the celebration of the life of DH’s grandfather. He was 92 and had passed away peacefully at his nursing home with his daughters by his side. We’re so used to having him around, it was hard to say goodbye, and there was so much to celebrate.

Pop had made it easy for us, he had written his own life story, so getting dates and names correct was not the difficult task it sometimes is. And both daughters and several grandchildren, as well as other friends and family, stood in front of the congregation and shared their experience of this outgoing, enthusiastic, energetic man. Even the great-grandchildren got involved – the youngest two stood bravely in front of everyone and sang ‘Down by the station’ as they had been taught to do by Pop.

One of the grandchildren had written her part of the eulogy but there was no way she could read it to us, even through her tears, so her husband read it on her behalf. That led to a fun moment where he told us about the time he was pregnant and Pop came to his rescue. There were a couple of other fun times in the service, particularly when Pop’s poetry was read out. He had so much fun writing his poems, he was quite serious about it, and if rhyming couplets are your thing, then these are the poems for you! But they make pretty hilarious reading.

Once again afterwards we had a morning tea, and then the family went out for lunch. We shared stories and caught up on each other’s lives. I met people who were connected to us through Pop that I probably will never meet again. It was such a joy to meet the pint sized Elsie (Pop’s sister-in-law) who is a tiny woman with a personality as big as a house. “I’m the small one!” she said when we were introduced. And it was good to catch up again with Pop’s elder sister Betty, who is still going strong. One of the great-grandchildren found out that she was the second cousin once removed of one of the teachers in her school. And even though the service was in Launceston, we met Hobart friends there as well.

I love being part of community. A part of a family tree that branches out through parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, in-laws, and down through the children, and grandchildren. A part of a church community that shares each others’ lives, that celebrates together and mourns together, and helps each other through tough times. A part of a friendship group that has been close for over 25 years and that knows each other almost as well as cousins do. And a friendship group that is new and growing as we meet more people that we make a special connection with. I feel connected, established, supported.

Sometimes the community means that you have to put up with irritations, with personalities that you just can’t stand, with little quirks like Pop’s poetry, or with being around people so shiny and beautiful that you have to wear sunglasses. That’s all part of the deal. But I am so grateful for the traditions, the celebrations, the people, that make me who I am and for the reminder of that in the celebrations this past week.

Take the time

I know that much has been said on this subject before, but to be honest, I have a gripe and I want to let it out.

I went to the supermarket the other day and the check-out chick (sorry, the register operator?) was a nice enough girl, she was trying to do the right thing I’m sure, but she wasn’t. She was asking all the right questions, but she wasn’t listening to my answers.

‘How has your day been?’ she asked. And I started to tell her. I had quite a funny story to tell, that would have made her day, brightened her afternoon. I wanted to tell her that I’d gone into work, despite it being a public holiday, and I’d given an online tutorial. And all the way through the tutorial I’d said things like ‘for those watching the recording…’ or ‘I’ll go through this quickly, it will be on the recording’ and right at the end of the hour, I realised as I said goodbye to the students, that I hadn’t pressed record. There was no recording.

As I started to tell my highly amusing (ok, mildly amusing) anecdote, I looked at the girl, her eyes had glazed over. She was no longer listening. I think I stopped talking after telling her I’d gone into work.

So we were quiet, and she tried again.

‘Doing anything special for Australia Day?’

Now I had all sorts of interesting things to say about that. I could have discussed the conversation that was happening among my Facebook friends about whether there was a reason to celebrate Australia Day or not. I could have talked about the fact that we’d just come back from Adelaide a couple of days before and how the public holiday meant that I only had a two-day work week. But once again, she wasn’t listening. I gave up. I am not that much a fan of my own voice.

I don’t mind quiet at the register. I think I would have preferred quietness over this almost conversation.

She brightened up a bit when the supervisor told her she could close the register. I asked ‘is that it for you?’ ‘No,’ she said ‘I’m going until 530pm’ it was the most conversation we’d had. We were almost connecting there for a minute.

I had the same thing happen at a conference once. The professor had asked a question at the end of a presentation, and it pertained to my field of research. Stupidly, I thought he’d asked the question because he wanted to know the answer, so I sought him out in the break to further elucidate the quick answer that had been given by the student giving the presentation. But he didn’t want to know. He shared in-jokes with the man standing with us, rather than listen to what I had to say.

I must admit, I like being heard, and like most people, I hate being overlooked. And so I am as guilty of not listening as the next person. I usually want to be listened to, not to take the time to listen to others.

I think that listening, truly listening, is one of the greatest gifts we can give one another. Listening to understand – not listening to build our own argument, or rehearsing our own story while waiting for a chance to get a word in, or making conversation on automatic. Everybody has a story to tell, and you’ll be amazed at what you’ll find when you take the time to listen.

My dream life

I’ve been reading a new organisational book. I think they’re a bit of an addiction for me. I just love them. Especially if there’s a picture of a coffee cup or a journal and pen on the cover. I’m very sensitive to suggestion.

They usually have excellent advice and this latest book is no exception. It had really good advice on how to write lists and prioritise. How to make your special project a priority. How to encourage yourself and keep track of the progress you’re making.

I really enjoy the books and I’m always disappointed when I get to the end.

While I’m reading them I’m so full of hope. They just sound so confident, so sure that if you just follow their advice (to the letter) then your life will suddenly be amazing. All you have to do is follow their particular method of organising your day, their method of keeping track, their method of making lists, and suddenly you’ll be making millions by working just 3 hours a day and all your dreams will come true.

It reminds me of when my lovely in-laws bought a George Foreman grill. You know ‘knocks out the fat’ – it was essentially a toasted sandwich maker with a disability. Shorter front legs made it slope forward and all the fat ran out when you were cooking stuff. The parents-in-law bought one, then the brother-in-law bought one. The family loved their Georges – every week we met for dinner and they would rave about how great the food was. And, truth be told, it was pretty good food – my mother-in-law is a pretty good cook! We didn’t buy one. We didn’t have a whole lot of money to spare. So the lovely in-laws bought us one for Christmas.

After a couple of weeks we met up for dinner again and they asked us ‘How’s the George?’ We had to tell them – it made everything better! The food was better, we were exercising more, our sex lives were better, our jobs, the kid’s behaviour, everything was better! Oh dear.

This is how I think when I’m reading these books. It’s all going to work. It’s all going to be better.

It’s not that my life is bad to start off with. In fact, it’s pretty excellent already. I don’t know what I’m expecting!

I’m sure that some of the things I have put into my life from reading these books have helped my life be more organised and less stressed. The strategies are pretty much the same in every one and they are good strategies. But I always feel let down by the end of the book because I get to the end and I still have the same life, the same time pressures, the same job. And that’s not going to change by me putting in some new organisation program.

I know that the fault lies with me. With my inability to say no to anyone who asks me for help (should I write this here? Don’t ask). And, also, with my health at the moment. Maybe I only read them when I’m feeling a bit overwhelmed, maybe I don’t need them when I’m getting things done and feeling like I’ve got it together.

There are things I can change, there are things I can’t, and there are things that I think I wouldn’t change, even if I could. And all these things add up to my life.

Maybe the trick is to find a book that perfectly describes your life and tells you that it’s great just as it is. Or maybe to write your own self-help book that tells you that you’re pretty good, really. That you can make it just as you are. Because each of us is different. We have our own dreams and hopes and pressures and needs and stressors. We don’t fit into anyone else’s ‘get it done’ mould.

I guess one of the things that makes me, me is the enjoyment of reading organisational books. So I’m going to enjoy that enjoyment but I’m going to choose to not beat myself up at the end. And I’m going to be grateful for the life I have. Like all the organisational books tell me to. Here’s to life!