Tuesday, 28 April 2015


YOLO - You-Only-Live-Once - and FOMO - Fear-Of-Missing-Out -  annoying acronyms often used to justify reckless, if not downright dangerous actions.

Jack Black on 'YOLO'

Growed ups like me tend to get all judgy on the young 'uns for taking 'living in the moment' a little too far, but actually I think many of us are guilty of much the same thing. We just don't have a trendy hashtag to advertise it! Instead, we have burnout, fatigue, heart attacks and depression.

Many Christians aren't much better - they have their own version of YOLO:

I Can Do All Things Through Christ
Vinyl Wall Quote
 (from polyvore.com)

They translate 'I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me' as 'Let me pack on more stuff because doing more good stuff makes me a better Christian and I'll feel guilty if I don't do it'

I was that person who would secretly enjoy it when people said they just didn't know how I did it all. I was also secretly proud of the fact that I was so very honest and authentic when I told them I cried at least once a week as my form of stress relief.

I used to have this sneaking suspicion that I was really just lazy and if I only managed my time better or took this or that supplement I really would be able to do it all.

That was until my body started showing signs of what 'doing it all' was doing to me. My body chemistry was totally out of whack from crazy sleep patterns, erratic eating habits and rollercoaster emotional rides - mostly because of a very bad combination of YOLO and FOMO. That and the idea that I kind of owed it to the world to do the stuff I was good at. All of it. All the time.

By the time I realised that things had to change, I was in an already stressful job situation, and I realised I was taking responsibility for situations I had no authority to change. Responsibility without authority is demoralizing. I was totally overwhelmed.

For my health, for my sanity, for my marriage and for my kids, I resigned from that job and took a job in a totally new field, with a big drop in salary, but with a better potential earning capacity and in pretty much every other area in my life I wiped the slate clean - and over the course of a few months I just withdrew from everything except work and my family and weekly church gatherings.

It was hard. In many ways it felt like I was dying inside; especially when things I had been involved in carried on perfectly well without me. Maybe it was the part of me that got life from being indispensable that was dying.

But once I got over that, I felt like a new person! Such freedom! I was able to spend more time with my family and learn how to enjoy my kids again because I wasn't always functioning at my limit. I was able to look at where I could best apply my energy and I discovered some activities I never thought I would enjoy as much as I do - like vegetable gardening for example. I also learnt that I didn't have to feel guilty for lying down to read a book or doing something 'unproductive'.

When I say no to things that aren't heading in the direction I'm going in, then it empowers me to say yes to things that will advance me personally and professionally. It opens up space for real yesses.

Some things that helped me on this journey:

  • Read the season - There are things I am good at and many more things I am passionate about, but I am learning to read the seasons. There are some things I carry in my heart daily, keeping the flame alive, but I know they will only come to fruition another time, and even then I carry them lightly and I choose to walk day by day with Jesus - watching for the nuances of the journey he is taking me on. 
  • Good enough is the new perfect - I have been known, in moments of arrogance, to say that I'm not competitive, I'm just always the best, or first, or whatever. Yeah. I really did have that thought. This is a whole blog post on its own. But I've stopped beating myself up or agonising over my 'failures' if something isn't quite on target or absolutely up to the (usually impossible) standard I have set myself. 
  • Find non-violent ways of establishing boundaries - I have been looking at non-violent communication and it really has helped me to find ways of making potential conflict situations into constructive moments. Still learning though!
  • Just be where you are - When I was at work I would feel guilty about not being with my girls and when I was with my girls I would feel guilty about the work I had to finish and so I was less productive and didn't enjoy either activity. Just be where you are.
  • You will always disappoint someone - Not having people disappointed in you is not a measure of success. There will always be someone whose expectations you didn't quite meet - but often you get to choose who that is. And sometimes there is nothing you can do to prevent disappointing someone. Just get over it. It helps me to remember that my Abba absolutely adores me and is always pleased with me - who else matters really?
  • I don't have to do it just because I'm good at it - I met someone who was spectacularly good at a number of things in different fields, but chose to forego greater financial gain and follow his passion. I don't have to make sure everyone knows all the things I'm capable of all the time. I was good at teaching ballet - I danced for over 25 years, and I enjoyed teaching. But it didn't ignite my waking hours. I know that many people don't have the luxury of choosing their passion over what they have to do to make a living, but I had it and I seized it. 
  • I figured out what my deepest priorities are - And I saw how decisions I was making were moving me away from living my deepest priorities and putting me in situations where my values were compromised. I made the choice to get out. I had some idea of what captivates me at my core, and so I started making decisions that would move me towards those goals.
  • A great team - I had a great functional medicine practitioner who helped me see what my decisions were doing to me, and friends who encouraged me as I made changes, even ones that inconvenienced them, because great friends always want the best for you! Most of all I am so grateful for a wonderful husband who sees us as a team, working together to fulfill both our destinies and meet both our needs. You may be blessed with a great team - or you may have to find it. Do what it takes to get a team, and then, be on someone else's team in helping them achieve what they are designed to do.
  • Limits are ok - Some limits need to be shattered, while others need to be respected. Deciding which is which is the hard part! Limits are not always the enemy, sometimes they are your friend.
I bet you're waiting for me to say something about balance. 'Everything in moderation' and all that. But I'm really not that into balance. I don't want to love my kids or my husband in a 'balanced' way. The word balance makes me think of other words like 'pinched' and 'calculated' and 'exhausting'.

I'd rather be centred. And when I'm centred on Jesus that simplifies a number of things.

One proviso though... if you're the mom or dad with kids and a spouse and it all seems overwhelming right now - this is not an excuse to up and leave and go find yourself by hiking through the desert for 6 months. I removed myself from the places where I was dispensable so I could be more fully present in the places where I was truly indispensable. No one else promised to be married to my husband but me, and no one else gave birth to my kids but me. In all other places, I am dispensable. Immediate family is first priority and making them suffer so I could 'find yourself' or whatever, was never an option for me.

I really identified with this quote by Thomas Merton,

There is a form of contemporary violence to which the idealist fighting for peace by nonviolent means most easily succumbs — activism and overwork. The rush and pressure of modern life are a form, perhaps the most common form, of its innate violence. To allow oneself to be carried away by a multitude of conflicting concerns, to surrender to too many demands, to commit oneself to too many projects, to want to help everyone is to succumb to violence. More than that, it is cooperation in violence. The frenzy of activists neutralizes their work for peace. It destroys their own inner capacity for peace. It destroys the fruitfulness of their work because it kills the inner wisdom which makes their work fruitful.

So I realised that I really can do all things through Christ who strengthens me, and sometimes that thing is saying 'No' and letting go of my need to be impressive and just live, because, you know, YOLO.

Sunday, 26 April 2015

Love the skin you're in

Have you ever wished you had another body?

Wikimedia Commons
Before we look at that question, I apologise in advance. Writing this post feels a bit like trying to gather dandelion seeds. Each idea seems insubstantial on its own. Trying to fit them all together seems impossible, but necessary - I trust you will find some value in it!

So, I've often wondered what it would be like to live in someone else's body. I'm curious. How does it feel to be a baby learning to control that huge head? Or to be a teenage boy - what does one do with all those knees and elbows and feet and hormones?

I am quite a slim person, and I sometimes wonder what it must be like to have a large bust - to have to 'lift and wash' so to speak. Alternatively, what would it be like to have to shave my face every day? What does sexual intimacy feel like for someone else?

All these questions got me thinking - do I even really know what it's like to live in this body? How often do I acknowledge all the information my body is giving me at any moment?

Tea must be made with boiling water!
Source: Wikimedia Commons
I think of those times I knew someone had entered the room because of the slightest change in the light, of how I have come to just intuitively know where North is because somehow my body just keeps track of the sun, of how I know when my tea water isn't hot enough by the sound of it flowing into the cup. 

Take a moment and acknowledge each of your sensations. Sight, sound, smell, taste and sensation. Consider them each in turn and thank your body for telling you what is happening around you!

So often we see our bodies as merely vehicles interact with this physical world - just this thing that we use to get around. We speak of them disparagingly, we feed them carelessly and we push them relentlessly. 

Look after it! It's the only body you have!
Source: Wikimedia Commons
Imagine if we did that with our cars: Give a cup of fuel at time and then complain when it runs out; give them dirty fuel at that and berate them for sputtering along and not performing as they should. It would make no sense. If someone gave you a car and told you this is the only car you would own for the rest of your life - no replacements available - you would look after that car with utmost care - your would treat it as indispensable. There are no replacements for your body - treat it with care!

On the other hand, some of us identify too strongly with our physical appearance. If looking good means you feel good (How many times have you heard that before?) then looking bad means you feel bad. I'm not sure I want my feeling good to depend on something that fickle. And by whose standard would I determine if I look 'good' anyway? When women define their value by how closely they resemble a warped and culturally specific ideal, they will always experience some sense of failure. 

So women tend to judge their physical bodies by comparison and in doing so, view their bodies as less attractive than they are, and hence treat them in less than healthy ways either to gain attractiveness or neglect them as unattractive bodies are not seen as worth looking after. On the other hand, many people, generally men, see their bodies as more attractive or healthier than they really are, and tend to neglect them in other ways. 

So where am I going with this?
In short:

Women's bodies are valued as ornaments. Men's bodies as valued as instruments. 
- Gloria Steinem

Your Body is a Battleground - Barbara Kruger
Perhaps the gender distinction isn't as strong as it was when Steinem first made this remark - but I think it is still important to ask - Do I see my body an instrument or an ornament? Does my body exist for me to do what I'm called to do on this earth or for the visual pleasure of people around me?

You've probably guessed from that second question that I've chosen to see my body as an instrument rather than an ornament. 

This distinction became much clearer to me one day when I was exercising. I have/had really skinny upper arms that make my elbows look huge. I was always self conscious about them as a kid. But, one day when I was working out my arms, I realized that I was doing it because it felt good - the thought of bulking up hadn't actually crossed my mind. I came to a point where I the thought of being able to lift my own body weight with my arms just *felt* good. And guess what, my arms did get a bit bulkier.

Even for men, what's the point of bulking up for the sake of looking big or defined or whatever, if you actually aren't much stronger or more capable than you were before? Why pump iron when you can build houses? If the aim is to build muscle, I'd rather do something useful with all that energy. 

So that got me wondering how things would change if we started making decisions based on how something feels rather than how it looks. For example - if your thighs are chafing and that is uncomfortable for you, do what you can to make the change FOR YOU. Don't do it because a small section of society has determined that your value is defined by your thigh gap. 

If you're going to make changes, make them from a place of love rather than loathing, from acceptance rather than tolerance. If you don't love your body because it's yours, can any amount of dieting or surgery or make up change that? I don't know.

Pink Prison
Source: Wikimedia Commons
For me this shift has changed the way I shop. I choose clothing almost primarily on how it feels. I can't stand the sensation of synthetics on my skin, so I very seldom buy items made with synthetic fabric. I am a dancer and I love to be able to experience my full range of movement at any moment. When I try on clothes I spend more time waving my arms about, doing some high kicks, dropping some squats and touching my toes than I do looking in the mirror. 

I will not be complicit in supplying my own prison! 

And high heels - they slow me down and I've discovered they can actually be detrimental to my health. So I just stopped wearing them and found alternatives. If the main reason to wear high heels is because they make your calves look good, count me out. My body is an instrument, not an ornament. 

When a woman sees herself as an ornament, she is continually viewing herself through someone else's eyes - she is objectifying herself. She is, in a sense, out of her body. This affects a number of things. Women who self-objectify often engage in continual body monitoring - Cross your legs so you don't have thigh-spread, hunch your shoulders so you don't appear so tall, suck in that tummy, stick out those boobs, check hair, check lipstick, is this a good angle? 

According to work by Dr Caroline Heldman, among others, this practise can decrease a woman's cognitive function in that there just isn't enough brain space to monitor how you look and do the task in front of you, and, among other things, it decreases one's enjoyment of sexual intimacy. 

A woman who self-objectifies tends to view herself having sex as if through someone else's eyes, or through the lens of a camera, monitoring her wobbly thighs and undignified noises from outside rather than being present in her body and enjoying the actual sensation and intimacy of intercourse. 

So contrary to the popular idiom, looking good stops me from feeling good. To me, that's just not worth it!

A quote from one of my favourite spoken word pieces - Pretty by Katy Makkai:

...but this is not about me. This is about the self-mutilating circus we have painted ourselves clowns in. About women who will prowl 30 stores in 6 malls to find the right cocktail dress, but haven't a clue where to find fulfillment or how wear joy, wandering through life shackled to a shopping bag, beneath those 2 pretty syllables.

So, rather than wondering what it would be like to live in another body, I choose to rather be present in my skin, to love my body for what it can do, rather than for how it appears. I choose to be here, really here, in my skin.

I choose to wear joy. Will you join me?