“Translations vary, but in our modern day, conversatio morum suorum generally means conversion of manners, a continuing and unsparing assessment and reassessment of one’s self and what is most important and valuable in life. In essence, the individual must continually ask: What is worth living for in this place at this time? And having asked, one must then seek to act in accordance with the answer discerned.”
—Paul Wilkes, Beyond the Walls: Monastic Wisdom for Everyday Life
This is something I would like to be plaster as wallpaper all around my home at times – both to remind me, to remind the rest of my family, to remind those who come to our home, but also to remind us to give this to others. So often our world works on this upward spiral, including in church, of getting better and better and of achieving, of reaching the goal. But this says that in fact we should understand where we are and asking what is worth living for in the now. It’s not about getting better, of having a purpose, of achieving, but of being and living.
Richard Rohr says something similar today (28th Dec 2015) :
Both God’s truest identity and our own True Self are Love. So why isn’t it obvious? How do we find what is supposedly already there? Why should we need to awaken our deepest and most profound selves? And how do we do it? By praying and meditating? By more silence, solitude, and sacraments? Yes to all of the above, but the most important way is to live and fully accept our present reality. This solution sounds so simple and innocuous that most of us fabricate all kinds of religious trappings to avoid taking up our own inglorious, mundane, and ever-present cross of the present moment.
I have been working with young people who haven’t made it in the education system and all we seem to do is trying to keep them in that holding pattern until the can leave school, which is now 18 years old. Why are we not teaching them how to make the most of where they are? Many of these kids have amazing gifts and talents, just not recognised in the modern school system, so they’ve been labelled and made to feel like they have nothing to give. Yet if we could get them to live fully in their present reality, which for many is really hard, but also to ask what is worth living for in this present moment? I think we could get them to change. I really do believe not just with these kids but with everyone if we could work out what things in this present moment are worth living fully for and how can be be fully present then things would change.
The reason why we don’t teach this? Because so very few people live it. I know I struggle to. But that is also something I’m learning and am going to take in 2016 – that if I don’t get it right today then I forgive myself and start again. I don’t even have to wait till tomorrow to start again. I can start again the moment I realise that I’ve messed up and am not fully present, not looking at what is worth living fully for at this moment.
I was trying to practise this whilst out walking with the dog this morning. Ok it was helped by the fact that there was the most gorgeous burnt copper sunrise. But I’ve got lots on my mind. Today my mum and her husband are coming to “do Christmas” with us, so there was food stuffs to think of; my son is having an operation and I want to be there for him but he leave 200 miles away; my daughter is off back to uni 100 miles away and I was trying to work out whether I could manage to take her back; and of course the big one – we’re moving. All these thoughts were crowding into my head and taking over often. As was the thing of wondering what life will be like this time next month. But whenever I realised that I was not in the moment I wouldn’t be cross with myself but would just pull myself back and go back to enjoying the sunrise and the lovely day, and watching the dog rushing about. And of course my mind would wander again and again would have to be pulled back.
Again I think this is a place where we aren’t kind to ourselves or others; we don’t cut anyone any slack. If we mess up we’ve failed. If someone does something wrong they are labelled as a certain type of person. Very rarely do we give ourselves or others the grace to just say this is a phase. I am learning with my family, husband and children, to try to just let it be and say this is what it is for now. Do I force them to change? No that would be wrong because what do I know about what is best for them. Many times I’m not sure what is best for me until I’ve tried it, and then sometimes its best of then but not later on. I am a fluid evolving being and so are those around me. To truly accept this growth and change and living in the moment we must trust that all will be well.
Or as it said is Star Wars: The Force Awakens “The Light — It’s always been there. It’ll guide you.” And also “As long as the sun is there we have hope”
I was pondering Christmases past as I’ve worked through a mediation about rest and Sabbath from Abbey of the Hearts and think how things have changed. I was thinking how, when we were in our heady Ywam Scotland days and also involved in lots of full on Christian ministry stuff the kids and I would go to ground for 3 or 4 days. We’d get new pyjamas on Christmas eve, have a bath and get into the new pjs and then not get out of them till Boxing day when generally we needed some fresh air. But even then we would just go for a walk the 3 of us. We generally didn’t see anyone until at least 28th, maybe not till the new year. We needed it to recover and regroup. We’ve had other years when we’ve spent time with family and friends. Before I had children I use to work in hotels and bars over the Christmas time because I wanted to avoid it. So much has changed.
This year is different – because the kids are older, because the people we would have spent time with aren’t here this year (whether moved away or died), those that needed our support last year don’t need it this year.
I do wonder if some of the stresses for Christmas come from trying to have Christmas traditions that worked great at certain times of life – like when the kids were little – and don’t now. So we try to do the Christmas stocking thing but the kids go to bed after us, try to have breakfast together but again by the time they want to get up its nearly lunch time, or we can’t quite relax into it because the dog needs walking, we’ve offered to look after a neighbour’s cat, family member isn’t with us, we’ve living in a different part of the country. If we say “but we always do ….” then we are asking for a fall. I am sure there are periods in our lives when we can do the same thing year in year out for Christmas, but really this is only for a few years. Things change. People change. We are back to that Change thing again!
I really do believe if we can live in the moment of Christmas this year then we can have peace during it. We can grieve for those who aren’t with us this year – like my friend who would have discussed the latest Star Wars film with her son but her son died 13 months ago – and even when it is longer than that we still grieve for those we would have enjoyed this season with – for myself every year I miss my sister and my stepdad, not because it was all great, but actually because they made the season crazy and drove me mad trying to get things sorted but it was part of the Christmas chaos. Living in the moment doesn’t mean forgetting those who aren’t here but it does mean having peace with what is here, accepting that this is it.
My husband has always said he likes to have family Christmas, which means seeing his side of the family, which as his sister’s children have got older and since his dad died has got harder and looks different every time. And next year, once we’ve moved, will look different again. For him Christmas is a time to rest from work but to be busy with family and friends. Somehow we have to find a compromise and every year has had to be different because my children have grown older, want different things, have different boyfriend/girlfriends they want to include/not include.
So this year we embrace the fact that our home is full of have pack boxes waiting for the new year move, that we have both my children here with us for at least 10 days, that we can only get to see all my husband’s family for one afternoon, and that things with my mum, apart from her not being with my stepdad of 25 years but her husband, who she has had now for 9 years, will be with us as usual in the interim between Christmas and New year, that the batteries have stop on the tree lights and no one can be bothered to get that sorted, and that our turkey has been crowned for the first time ever.
Some things are the same, some different, all accepted as the tradition for this year.
I know I journeyed through some stuff over the past 3-4 years, and it has been a challenge, but I have thought I was getting stronger. What I didn’t realise, until I got it back, was how much my confidence had taken a battering. Mind you as I look at it I do wonder if I was ever a confident person. I put things on my blog because its easier than saying it to people. And at times I have been quite controversial!
How did I notice this? Well I started work in a local college as a learning support assistant, with a team that had been there for a long time who knew I was only going to be there until the end of the term, and I got taken seriously, what I had to say was valued, and not just that they expected me to input and give feedback. It made me realise that I had lost confidence not so much because of what had happened but by the way people reacted to me. So how did I notice that I had more confidence? Well I offered to read someone’s daughter’s psychology degree essay and when I’d done the mum said that it was nice to have it read by someone intelligent, and instead of saying some put down about myself I said yes I am. Also I was in a play at our church and the compare did, what I thought, was a poor introduction and so instead of just sitting back and thinking it I told him so, in a gentle way. And I didn’t blush or make it into a joke which I would have done before.
But you see the thing that has struck me is that I didn’t realise that I needed to have a confidence boost and the team I was working with were not doing what they did for me at all. They were just being them.
The thing that has struck me is how I have got something that I didn’t know I needed and got it from people just being themselves. So I want to thank my team for being themselves. I want to say how pleased I am to feel an inner strength of confidence that I didn’t even though I needed. And I am also pleased that I didn’t know I needed it until I got it!
Wonder what things I’m going to get in 2016 that I didn’t know I needed. Interestingly I’ve been doing a piece with “Abbey of the Hearts” about asking for a Word for 2016 and what I got was:
Blank Page – Wait patiently for it to be written. DO NOT start to plan and fill it.
Enjoy the empty days
For me, with this realisation of regain confidence that I didn’t know I needed, this Word says that instead of thinking and planning and working it out I just need to sit and let God come with what He has and let Him fill it.
(Interestingly in this my fresh meat man Tony of Wiltshire County Fayre has asked if I will consider doing his newsletter once I’ve moved; which he will pay for. So already something is coming. But I need to be careful that I think don’t try to second guess that the other things might be.)
At this time of year everyone sends round their family or ministry news. Its that time of year … to catch up on news. My inbox is becoming inundated with various newsletters and I am being no exception. After I have written this post I will send our newsletter to everyone in my contacts list – well almost. Not to those companies that I email but to all those who are sort of friends even if I have not spoken to them all year. And for some it will be just old news rehashed because we’ve been in contact.
Why do we do it? For me, I started sending my newsletters back in
Christmas 2001 when I was on mission with YWAM (Youth with a Mission) in Scotland. The reason I did it was, for one, because everyone else on the team was doing it. They were Americans and well into technology and support raising. I had my own computer but hadn’t really got into it all at that stage, and was not into the whole support raising. In fact I was a bit unsure of how to share myself and what I and the kids were up to. We were having a blast and getting other people to support us. Awesome! How do you put that in a letter? Also back then very few people I knew had email addresses and so I had to ask someone to print it off for me and post it onward. Also that was how I was told you did it then – part of the support stuff was to have a point person who would do the actual sending of things. Actually I can understand that for the Americans but for myself, well actually it was a bit lazy really, or so I felt.
Well now I probably email over 100 people and print off less than half a dozen. I was going to say I have never liked the whole Christmas card stuff but in fact I do remember sending over 50 at one time. I think I like people to know what I’m up to. I also like to know what others are up to and so I get a bit disappointed when I don’t hear back from people, though of course the hundreds of newsletters may never get read properly but I do like them.
So anyway I am adding in my 2015 Christmas newsletter for anyone who checks out my posts on FB and would really love to hear back.
It’s that time of year for being a recap on what we’ve been up to and tell others about it. There is loads and loads of news of things that have gone on this year but one thing is just taking over from all the other things that have happened – WE’RE MOVING!!!
From what started as a joke, a dream, a nice idea, became a reality in September. It had been a dream for a few years, then became a bit of a silly idea in the early summer and then at the end of September we went house hunting and it became a reality. Our dream is to be able to offer space and hospitality to people and so being able to buy a six-bedroomed house with 3 reception rooms in North Wales for the same price as our house in Bradford on Avon releases us to do this. Our hope it to be able to have regular lodgers and Airbnb guests and friends and family come to stay and visit, and also for Ben and Tabitha to have room to come and bring their friends, partners, etc with them too. We are also hoping that by having an income from paying guests we will be able to have time and space to pursue our own interests. We have made sure there is space for us to have our own offices; for Diane to write, be creative and pursue ideas for working for herself in the creative industry, for Ian to pray, be creative, and maybe go back to exploring working for himself. So we are moving to 6 Sea Road, Abergele LL22 7BU towards the end of January 2016. Here’s a link to the house on Rightmove.co.uk http://www.rightmove.co.uk/property-for-sale/property-36194364.html
Here are just the highlights of those goings on in the year –
Airbnb – In March we became part of the Airbnb community, renting out the larger of the children’s bedrooms to guests. We have met some wonderfully interesting people from many different nations, and did also gain a regular lodger from it: a businessman who often works in the area who has now stayed with us 5-6 times. It was through these guests that we rediscovered our love for hospitality again but also the realisation that our present house was too small for us to really enjoy the experience.
Ben – joined the army on his birthday only be invalided out at the end of his 28 days induction due to a problem with the collar bone he broke back the previous year which had not healed properly. He will be having surgery on it in early 2016 and will then decide what he is going to do; whether try for the army again or go in a different direction. So in April, after being discharged, Ben decided he would like to continue living in Cornwall for the time being, got himself a room in a shared house, a job at a local outdoor/sports shop and has been involved in the local rugby team as well as doing lots with a kayaking group in Truro. Though he is talking of moving to north Wales with us after he has had the operation on his collar bone.
Tabitha – finished her second year at Middlesex university well and was back in Bradford on Avon from mid-May to end of September and spent most of her summer working in a café on the far side of Frome. This meant lots of taxiing for Diane taking Tabitha back and forth to work but also gave Diane the opportunity to use the swimming pool connected to the café complex and to catch up with friends in that area. Tabitha is now completing her third year at university and enjoying the design aspect of her Theatre Arts BA.
Diane – did some tutoring at the start of the year, 4 hours per week, for a twelve year old girl who had just come out of main stream schooling. This gave her the impetus to apply for other jobs and since October has been working as a learning support assistant with foundation students at a local college. Because of taking this post she is already signed up with an agency in North Wales that employs learning support assistants and teaching assistants in the various schools and colleges there. She has had some great trips with the Interweave Reconciliation group she is part of, the March gathering being very much reconciliation with God for many of the group and then in November a trip to Dublin to pray into the coming centenary of the Easter Rising.
Ian – has been away with friends climbing in Europe as well as a work trips to China and Europe, as well as trips kayaking in the UK. He also completed and passed his Mountain Leadership qualification, meaning that moving to North Wales will make it easier for him to be able to use this in various outdoor areas. He has just been accepted in a position at Bangor University writing software that will help with research into Alzheimer’s. It will be 4 days per week and comes with plenty of holiday which will give him time to explore other directions too.
The animals – are coming with us to Abegele, apart from the only chicken we still have left who is going to retire to a farm in Devizes to finish her days there. She has stopped laying and the rest of the ones we bought with her have died but she has learned to fly and surprised one of our Airbnb guests by fluttering up to him ad trying to take his cigarette away from him when he was having a smoke in the garden.
Renly – has been enjoying his trips to Wales with us and has also been up to London a few times with Diane to visit with Tabitha. In fact trips on trains or in the car are something he really enjoys, especially if there is a beach or Tabitha or Ben waiting at the end for him. Though he is finding it a bit hard being left three days a week when Diane is at work so Ian has changed his day off to fit in around that so Renly does only get 2 days “home alone”.
So this is just a snapshot of our year. There is so much more on our facebook pages and on Diane’s blog www.aspirationaladventures.wordpress.com that would never have fitted on 2 pages of A4, so please feel free to join us there, if you don’t already.
Love and blessings to everyone
Ian and Diane –
plus Ben and Tabitha – and of course the animals XX
I was brought up short on how little choice we give people when we are the ones in power to decide. We asked the kids that I work with what they would like for their Christmas party. Of course they came up with loads of different ideas but in reality there was only one option and we, the adults in charge, went with what we believed would work and would come within our budget. One of the young people challenged me on it and I did realise how often I do it too. In my family I will ask my kids what they fancy doing and then will make the executive decision myself.
In fact anyone who has a modicum of power over someone does the same. We pretend that we are including them in the process but in fact we are only going through the motions and making them feel good. Yet there are times, like with me in the week or with this article in the paper where someone pulls them up. What do we do about it? We carry on anyway.
I have often thought that we pretend we live in a free country, yes to a point we do because we can say what we want without fear of arrest, on the whole worship how we want without fear. There are certain rules, like not running naked in public, driving on the left hand side of the road, our judicial system, that keep us in check on certain things but on the whole we are free. But that freedom only comes with being able to safely do and say what we like. It does not mean that anyone will take any notice – whether government, parent or teacher!
No one likes change. Really that is the truth. Some people say they like change. I would say that about myself, but in reality I’m ok if I’m the one orchestrating the change. I like to know that the change is mine. I’ve been really frustrated with the changes made to WordPress because I knew how to do things before and now I’m not so sure. It all takes longer.
With our move we’ve had many different reactions but some have been angry negative reactions to people not liking the fact that we are changing something, changing something they are familiar with. I got cross at first until I realised how upset I get when other people change. My husband is struggling with our change more than I am, which actually is good because he is then more aware of how others are coping. I am ok with our change. In fact I’m quite excited. I’m looking forward to a bigger bedroom, a room to call my own, more than one toilet, etc. Yes there are things I’m nervous about but in an excited sort of way. I then find it hard to understand how everyone can’t just be pleased for us.
Which sits as comfortably with us all really as “there is no certainty in life but death.” We don’t really want things to change and we don’t want to die. Or rather we don’t want other people to change and we don’t want other people to die.
There are people who embrace change and want it continuously change, though again many of these are people who don’t want others to change. And so, as I get older and realise that I like constants in my life, I have to accept that even those who love me don’t like to see me change – or rather don’t want me to move and have a different life than they are use to.
And you know what I can feel for them because much as I like to change and do things differently I would rather appreciate it if they would stay in the same house, in the same job, doing the same thing so I can slot into their lives as I always do.
I know I’ve written about how we can view the world before but today it struck me again just how we view our world via how we want to see it. Take tonight, I have had a really crazy day at work, had to walk the dog first thing this morning in the dark and then when I got home in the dark again. I’ve got a choice! I can lumber round the field grumbling or I can enjoy it. Both times, even tonight with aching feet and legs, I decided to enjoy it. My little dog enjoys it. He is just pleased to be running around outside with me. He chases leaves in the dark, finds his dog friends in the dark, and is generally happy. Also I could decide to be scared of every little movement, be scared of the dark, but I know my field. I know where it is safe to walk without falling over things, where it is flat, what to avoid. I enjoyed watching the car headlights flickering across the hedges, the lights in the sky, this morning the sun trying to get up. It was good. And it makes me day good.
I suppose what set this one off was that on the weekend my mother-in-law said that this year would be the first year ever she had had to decide what to cook for Christmas dinner. She was 70 in September. It use to be her husband who did it but he had now been dead 2 Christmases, and then his brother would choose for her and he died in January this year. There is a choice here – to say ok that’s how it is, to say how awful that this year she has to choose, or to say how great it is that for 70 years she’s never had to choose. I found myself wanting to get angry because for 36 years I’ve either had to choose what I ate for Christmas dinner or where I went. I could feel a resentfulness rising. But then I realised that I have a choice too. I could be resentful. That’s my choice. Or I could say that’s just how it is, or I could be grateful that I have had so much opportunity to choose.
None of these things are right ways or wrong ways of thinking. And again that’s a choice. We could very easily say that this was the right way to think and this was wrong but why? But even that is a choice.
So even though my legs ache and I am so tired that for the last half hour I’ve been playing games on my laptop rather than writing I can decide that today has been a good day. Why? Just because it is and that is my worldview today.