Thursday, 31 March 2011

Apple of my eye

This Lent I have taken on a new challenge. This was partly of my own choosing and partly under the direction of my mentor now that I am officially a paid up worker of the Church of England (scary). So for the last few weeks during Lent I have been doing Morning and Evening Prayer. For those who haven’t heard of this before (I was in your number just a few months ago), it is a basically a set of readings and some set passages from the bible that you read sandwiched around prayer for your day, the world and so on. I’ve never done anything so structured before as it all feels a bit religious but as people have been doing this for near on 2000 years I figured its possible there may be something in it so I should get off my high horse and give it a go.

One thing I have discovered is how beautiful the language is and one particular phrase really struck me from the Night Prayer (also called Compline). I really like Night Prayer because it is very calming (and a bit shorter as your pretty snoozy by that point) and one particular line of the prayer has really stuck with me:

‘Keep me as the apple of your eye
Hide me under the shadow of your wings’

Being the apple of someone’s eye basically means cherishing someone (or something) above all other things (I googled!) and it was actually appears in the bible, which is mad as it is in the early Old Testament and that is properly old and yet we still say it now! Stevie Wonder sung about it (love a bit of Stevie) and Shakespeare used the phrase in Midsummer Night’s Dream and I just love that it is right here in the Church of England’s night prayers and one of the last things I say before I go to sleep.

I know a lot of my friends and family thing I’m a real loopy one for taking on what I do in church and for even going to church in the first place. Sometimes I wonder myself! But in many ways this phrase ‘Keep me as the apple of your eye’ sums up exactly why I do it because that is honestly how I always feel when it comes to God, that I am the apple of someone’s eye. I am watched over, loved, cherished above all other things. Not that that always means things go my way or that bad things don’t happen, it’s just how I feel and you can go a long way on that feeling. You can even endure endless church meetings and feedback on notice sheets on your day off! Good job too!

Tuesday, 22 March 2011

Assertiveness a.k.a how to kick butt in the nicest possible way

I've been thinking a lot about assertiveness recently, probably because I've found myself in a number of situations with very strong people with very strong agendas. It can be so easy to be buried under other people's demands and the only person to suffer is you! As I've been reading around the subject I've also been talking to some friends about it over a glass of vino and it seems to be a common problem, especially – dare I say it – with women.

I don't know whether as women we are hard wired to expect that everyone else's needs should be met before ours or if we are just so busy trying to be nice but most women I know have trouble with being assertive. This is also credited with the wage difference between men and women that still exists in the UK. Men ask for pay rises, women take what ever is given to them or back down too quickly. I've been reading a book called 'A woman in your own right' by Anne Dickson on the recommendation of a very assertive woman I know and I have been getting some useful tips that I have been putting into practice with some surprising results.

I have simply started stating what my terms are. In a meeting last week the anxiety-o-meter of the group started to rise a few notches over a really unimportant admin task. As the administrator I stepped in and stated my terms, that as I am new to the role I wouldn't take comment on nor deal with the task until three weeks time when I was settled in to how to simply do the job rather than starting to change things. I expected uproar or at least some kind of disgruntled noises but everyone just looked down at their papers and said, 'Ok then'. Since then this mundane task has reared it's ugly head again and I have simply and calmly repeated my initial statement, that I will be dealing with it in my own time on my own terms. And it's working!

The thing about being assertive is that it is neither aggressive nor doormat passive, and if you are calmly asking for what you need then you are much less likely to get frustrated and snap at someone or my favourite trick of all, end up weeping in the bathroom. I can't even count the number of times I've been a doormat and then silently seethed about what I've had to give up for days. No more! And as is written in the front of another book I am reading about dealing with difficult people, if we all learnt how deal with each other in all our weird and wonderful ways we would be significantly closer to a peaceful existence with one another. Yes, world peace is at stake!

Thursday, 17 March 2011

Thank you for blowing my mind

 It is incredibly easy to get wrapped up in our own lives, I do it on a daily basis and as an emotional, pretty sensitive person simple things can easily become mountains out of molehills. The problem with focusing on ourselves is that our world becomes smaller and yet we still have the same range of emotional reactions as if we were facing some massive life crisis rather than being put on hold by a call centre. That is why I really appreciate volunteering for Tearfund, it's good for my soul to have a fortnightly reminder of how lucky I am. Rather than leaving feeling overwhelmed by the problems of the world I feel hopeful and able to take on more challenges, how could I not when I hear what other people are able to survive and thrive under?

Today I spent time interviewing someone at Tearfund about his recent trip to Myanmar (also known as Burma). The problems here are real mountains, do some googling if you're not familiar with them. Yet in the face of conflict, extreme poverty and persecution I heard about some local pastors who are setting up a project called Eden. Their vision is to make a place of peace between God and man, man and man, and man and the environment. They hope to find local solutions to local problems by training volunteers to get out into the community, asking people for their greatest needs and then coming up with local solutions that can be sustainable for the long term. In a country rich with natural resources the opportunities are there and as a local pastor said 'these people are full of potential but they are stifled and depressed.' Tearfund are giving the initial legs for the project to begin by paying for the training of these first volunteers.

But all this doesn't come easy. These pastors are risking everything, their lives even, for the good of their neighbours, for a future for the place they love. Suddenly the challenges in my life don't seem so big any more. They just look like tiny puddles to be leapt over. And it's so inspiring. Though it may be counter cultural these days to do anything but look after number one how much more would my brief and precious years on earth mean if I took the same attitude as these people? As my interviewee said 'the window of opportunity may be small but we don't give up. We still have hope'.  Food for thought indeed.

Saturday, 12 March 2011

Fearsome key mountain

I was on my way home from the bookshop last night and suddenly became aware that I was carrying what felt like ten tons of bricks in my bag. I normally carry around stacks of books with me, but working in a bookshop this is hardly necessary hence I knew books were not the offending items. As is customary on a Friday I was off to the pub for a swift celebratory pint, which provided an opportunity for some handbag exploration.

What I discovered was this:

I now carry 32 keys with me. 32! I am quickly descending into the realms of hunchbacked, knuckle dragging key carrier. Alarming indeed. But more alarming than the practical and potential aesthetic considerations is that each of these keys represents a new responsibility that I have acquired in the last two weeks.

You know when you leave the house and half way up the road decide that not only have you left the door open but also the grill on and a fire raging in the living room, when in fact everything is fine?! Well now I do that several times a day and with my more fear because if I leave the church or the shop open people will steal really good stuff not just my Glee CDs and a nice top. Even though it's not possible to have left an oven on in a bookshop or a church I am still utterly convinced that there magically is one and that is exactly what I have done.

The roles I've taken on are exciting, I love the local church and serving there is a blessing and the bookshop is wonderful but my goodness the weight is not just the physical one of a ludicrous amount of keys. There is so little room to mess up when you are responsible for people. In some ways it would be easier to be behind a desk, doing something that affects no one, or at least no one I can see.

80% of the time, in the midst of the daily busyness, it all looks fine but when you get home and close the door and hang up your 32 to keys on the hook well then it starts to look a little scary. So I'm just crossing everything I have and putting up as many prayers as I possibly can that I get this right, that I prove to be someone worth putting trust into and that most of all I can be pleased with myself at the end of each day at a job well done. And I'm also going to walk with my shoulders back, can't be too careful with the ol' hunchback thing...

Monday, 7 March 2011

Monday morning guilt

This new higgledy-piggledy lifestyle is giving me all kinds of psychological issues. This morning I woke up to a beautiful sunny day with that familiar Monday morning feeling:

'Oh God, it's Monday morning, why world?! Why?! Why taunt us with this sunshine on a day when all I will see is the same dastardly four walls?!'

After much wailing and gnashing of teeth I realised that I wasn't in fact going to work and to the same four walls. My first meeting was not until well into the afternoon and then the next one wasn't until later in the evening (I'll come on to the weirdness of this later..) By all sensible standards that should mean that Monday morning was in fact my time off for the day. Hmm.

The problem is that this just feels wrong. Monday morning is a time for working, for sighing with your colleagues about how far away the next weekend feels and making copious amounts of tea to 'get you through'. And oddly, though Monday morning is truly rubbish, it's a least familiar. You can chart your emotions fairly accurately by the progression of the week and you have the camaraderie of your office mates that you are all in it together on your quest for the wonder that is the weekend. Working evenings is also the epitome of wrongness but I am slightly more familiar with this. It's not so much the having to work at different times that is the problem but rather the not working at what I consider to be 'work times' that is doing me in.

So, this morning I decided that there was no option but to embrace the weirdness of a Monday morning off. I took myself out for a walk and a cup of tea in town but was still unable to shake the innate wrongness of the whole situation. I really don't want to become one of those mentalists who works every hour in the day and ends up with ulcers and frown lines and a general air of anxiety about me. That is NO fun. So I suppose I am going to have to shake my sense of duty around time and instead work when I need to work and not when I don't. Hmm. I'm not sure exactly how this is going to work out, sooo blog readers I need you - tips anyone?!

Thursday, 3 March 2011


Today I had some great news and it is Tearfund related news so, as regular readers of my blog will know, I am liable to get stupidly excited about it. I am currently working on a project with Tearfund promoting the excellent work that they are doing in the Mekong Sub Region (the border region of China, Thailand and Myanmar – don't worry I didn't know either!!) and the first piece I have written for them has just been published on their website. And here it is!


This comes at a really great time as I was starting to question the wisdom of this crazy new way of life I've taken on and so it was a very welcome boost to see a tweet from Tearfund HQ announcing that my news update is now online. It's so wonderful to see something I have agonized over at my little writing desk getting out there to the masses. I always find any work I do for Tearfund hugely rewarding because every piece of information that comes through to me I find so mind blowingly humbling and inspiring.

This story from one of the partners in Yunnan Province, China, really struck me both because it is so heartbreaking but also so hopeful (like nearly everything I've encountered through Tearfund). This kind of work is exactly what the church needs to be doing and what it is best placed to do in so many countries – the local church is everywhere and in many cases trusted by the community so it is well placed to run education and social programmes, particularly in the area of HIV/AIDS awareness (and it is a fundamental part of being a Christian – believe it or not!). But all this starts with getting the church informed, resourced and inspired. That's why I love Tearfund so much, they are at the grass roots, empowering people with the knowledge and resources they need to tackle the issues that concern them in their own communities.

Anyway enough waxing lyrical about the wonders of Tearfund (what am I saying! I could never say enough!!) lets just say I am grateful to be able to write this today and boosted to keep going, keep writing and putting myself out there. All in all what I can say about this new lifestyle is that there isn't a day when I'm not doing something I really care about and that is pretty wonderful despite the challenges it brings.

This also seems like the perfect opportunity to plug my book which raises money for Tearfund's work around the world. It's a collection of stories, some of which were inspired by a trip I took with Tearfund to Zambia, you can get a copy here for just £5.99 and all profits (at least 65% of the cover price) go to support their amazing work around the world.