Empathy is essential to us, as a human race.

It’s that time of year, when anticipation and joy is in the air. We enjoy the comfort of our cozy, festive homes and the tempting abundance of treats in every shop we visit. I honestly love Christmas and all the memories I have of Christmas are warm and happy. As a follower of Christ, I have always had this sense of celebration; not just for the gifts or prospect of a new year.

Jesus is my new beginning every day, He is the one that keeps me above water when the world is pulling me under.

Reflecting on the actual story of Christmas, I have thought about the journey Mary and Joseph made. For an expectant Mother and anxious Father, it would have been intense to say the least. They travelled strong by their faith in Gods plan and purpose. It’s the story we hear about in the Nativity plays and on the TV. But when we read further, we are reminded that the long journeys didn’t end there. After the birth of Jesus, Mary and Joseph fled to Egypt to seek refuge from the threat and persecution stemming from King Herod.

Matthew 2:13

Reflecting on this part of the story with deeper thought and realism, I have feelings of despair of the unknown, pain for the those families whose sons were killed and an overwhelming sense of confusion. I believe the only way Mary, Joseph and the mourning families could see tomorrow after experiencing the murderous corruption, physically and mentally is by accepting that life is more than what is happening here, now.

In comparison, I think of the millions of individuals and families that flee from their homes, seeking refuge and the warmth of knowing their children are safe from the danger they faced. I want to speak carefully as I write this, as my understanding of the experiences people seeking refuge is so on the surface. All I know is that the level of pain and distress is in a category of its own. We hear stories of refugees in the news, always painted with a political stance. Politics has this dangerous way of minimizing the real experiences, it launches a load of questions and information our way that leaves us feeling overwhelmed by what is right and wrong.

This is where empathy is essential to us as a human race. If we first listen to story with empathy, we begin to find ourselves on the freezing cold journey, approaching a foreign land. We begin to think in a way which questions “what next?”, we stand in a pair of shoes that can only go forward.

Reading the story of Mary and Joseph fleeing to Egypt with baby Jesus, we know the details, we see the bigger picture. In that moment though, the reassurance Mary and Joseph had was their faith in God and the plans that had gone before them. They would have had very human experiences, very human pains and very human fears, but this was the only way forward for them as a family, a scorching fire was chasing them and they had to flee.

Having a faith is a bridge that opens a path into tomorrow, into a tomorrow better than today. Even if we don’t see that straight away, one day we will reflect and see the resilience, wisdom and character that our experiences has gifted us with. Faith varies all around, however you see yours just know that it is as essential as the blood flowing around our bodies. It is what breathes us into our future.

Washed away

Washed away by emotions. They’ve tugged at me left, right and from my centre. My core tense like rock as I’m left in this open space, running a cycle that never let’s up. All I see is bleakness, so much motion yet nothing to grab on to.

I express my worries, the room caves in. As a voice bellows over my concern, I wish I wish I never spoke. How do I stand strong as I am? How can I be me when my words are belittled and blamed.

Yet my pain throws me further into this open space, what does it matter if you let it all go? Allow the fire to burn this room? Your shadow raises up towards me, I retreat trembling like the prey of the lion. Put in my place once more, apologies flow from my eyes and bounce off my lips.

The life of so many, if the power of this pain could be bottled up. The world would implode, life would be free. My God holds me.

Ready or not, nuture

Another school pick up, another opportunity for the Hope’s and fears to sneak in…”did he do well today? Or was it time out?”.

I never truly saw the capacity for anxiety to dwell in my mind until I had my children.

Sure, the concerns differ as my experience grows but my heart has found a vulnerability that only a Mother experiences. I should know how to deal with this by now! I thought I solved that problem? I’m exhausted and the kids are at a sleepover, I miss them so much. Being a Mum is both a joy and a confusion, it’s the most complicated relationship you’ll probably ever find yourself in.

They say you truly learn how to drive when you’ve passed your test and out on the real roads! The same goes for Motherhood. We have a period of preparation where we read, we discuss nappies and feeding bottles with experienced Mama’s over coffee, we attend antenatal talks that give us an insight in the life of a newborn. That’s right, just the newborn stuff. I have debated with myself on so many occasions, whether if I was taught more at the beginning, would it have made the slightest difference to the way I am dealing with things now? Practically, I think it would be time wasted. Mentally, I think I would be less shocked by the experiences I have had, being a Mum.

We all have different ways of thinking, feeling and being, so to assume that every Mum will face anxiety could create issues that didn’t have to be there. I do believe however, in order to inspire new Mum’s; we have to show care of the physical and mental health from the very beginning. Whatever their perspective about their own mental health may be, I want to strive to see the next generation of Mum’s equipt with the knowledge and tools that will nuture their mental wellbeing, good or bad. Antenatal care is a key time for Mum’s, whether it’s the first baby or fourth. We can stitch into the fabric of education strategies that equalise the anxiety capacity; we may just begin to combat postnatal depression.

With mental health becoming more spoken about, I think it’s essential for parents to accept that there will be moments where seeking help is the best option. It is also essential that in a generation where the public health care counselling waiting lists are more than 6 months long (UK), we cannot ignore a problem that may or may not occur. In the same way communities equip their houses with damage control where floods are likely, we have to equip ourselves for the challenges ahead that may or may not cause us to suffer with anxiety, worry or depression.

Training with the Family Institute in South Wales taught me so much about my perspective of mental health. One realisation I came to, is that sitting down and having a good conversation with someone, working through challenging topics is actually pretty normal. Mental health is as normal as the body we sit in. It’s just harder for us to comprehend the unseen, but I challenge you today to imagine your mental health as an image in your mind. Whether by using colour, picture, numbers, words, shapes etc. If it helps to mark this down on paper, do so. Let’s get to know our own mental health, whatever position it may be in. Begin the process of welcoming and loving its diversity, that way we may start to understand that it isn’t to be feared, but nurtured.

“Deeply rooted heartache that falls over me when I’m lost in my parenting, it washes me up like a tidal wave. But continue moving on this wave, trusting that the shore will soon be in sight.”

Listen to your body & mind

Have you ever heard the phrase “sleep when you die”? What do you think of when you hear it?

As a counsellor by trade and an all round sensitive soul; words impact me greatly. I recall being taught in university that every word and phrase is valuable in the process of communication and therapy. I tapped into this as I truly believe that the words we choose or our subconscious chooses to use, expresses more about what’s being said. This effected my practice and relationships in a way that was both a curse and a cure.

If you didn’t already know, I’m Welsh by heritage. In Wales it’s quite common to see individuals speaking with their hands and using phrases that although spoken in English are a bit trivial and sound like a joke. “I’ll be there now, in a minute” as amusing as it sounds, when determining an ETA this makes complete sense to me. Not quite now, not quite in a minute but very soon!

Wherever you come from, we can agree that communication from destination to destination and from one relationship to another. Being understood is the difference between our personal opinions and emotions being valued and undervalued. As I’ve blogged about before, our personal stories are to be treasured and not to be thrown out into the open sea to be caught by any wave passing by. The same goes for the reverse of this. If we catch on to any opinion, trend or emotion that flies our way, we open ourselves up to be deeply affected by things that hold no benefit or positive outcome both ways.

In real time, imagine being a parent in the school yard who socially attracts many individuals! You are unoffcially the friend, the Mum, the teacher assistant, the governor, the mediator and the taxi! How exhausting. Your capacity to offer quality understanding and support to each of these roles fluctuate, people will feel let down and you will burn out emotionally. The same goes for the content we expose ourselves too on a daily basis.

The phrase “sleep when you die” to me is a backwards motivation to get stuff done. It bothered me for a while, with 2 kids at the time and one on the way, all I wanted to do was sleep! Even now with 3 young children, sleep in my constant goal. I had this pressure taunting me though, that people were achieving more with their time, while I was cleaning up after kids and craving sleep.

These type of phrases communicate to a very impressionable generation, that you are going to miss out if you don’t chase that money or promotion! In reality, in order to create a smooth path of wellbeing and professional success you will need more than lack of sleep.

By surrounding yourself with stimulation for your mind, whether this is reading a new book or blog! Creating a daily space to find peace through meditation and prayer, eating well and most importantly listening to your bodies call to rest. We may not be able to control all the trends or communication we come in contact with, but how we react is down to each of us. We may have to feel the pressure of fire phrases before we understand if it’s relevant or not, but the next time we know to do a U turn and seek positivity in our interactions with this world.

With a grateful heart & determination for life

As we move into December, there’s the usual sense of winding down, pressing pause and signing off another year.

Yet this year has been a rollercoaster of pausing and winding down… with not much of the life we know in sight. 2020 has been defined by… well you know, I don’t even have to say whatever you’re reading this from.

It’s all sort of shaken up my perspective of the way I’m approaching my time and the things I do with it. There is a common view that the start of the year is where we place our annual goals and the end of the year is where we start thinking about the whole process again.

With a year of so much negative potential, we may feel like not much has been achieved. The new normal is definitely made itself at home but there is a sense of determination to push through, back to the normality we knew way before 2020 began.

In this season when workplaces would be on Christmas outings, schools performing live Nativities and families gathering to eat, drink, laugh and celebrate together… we have the prospect of a slow end of the year. For someone who is an introvert; I can deal with a quiet season but even for me… I’m craving the frantic buzz of last minute shopping, busy restaurants and the comedy of the school play. In the back of my mind, I’m aware that in a year of so much suffering for many many people, we are prompted by our own good human nature to be grateful for each day as it comes.

With a grateful heart for life and breath and thoughts of “I wish we could…” we have an opportunity to view next year, next month, next week, tomorrow in this new normal that I believe many of us are experiencing. Whether we like it or not, we’ve all been exposed to the reality that we are not invincible and have had real moments of fearing for our lives this year whether that be physically or mentally. Being grateful doesn’t have to lessen our goals, there’s no need to undermine our dreams just because our conscience is more aware of the value of life. Instead, we can use this understanding of value to enrich our short and long term goals.

We also can’t ignore the sense of community that has occurred from this year. In everything we do, we are encouraged to respect each other and be safe. Although this may differ from country to country, we can grasp this idea of looking up and recognising that we’re not the only ones going through this. What can we give back into our communities? Whether this is county wide, in the school yard, in work or even when we’re out and about. What difference do you want to stay or design into tomorrow?

With a grateful heart and determination for life, what is your tomorrow going to look like?

Making moral citizens

When I was growing up, high school was the place I came first in contact with the term ‘banter’. [an exchange of light, playful, teasing remarks; good-natured raillery.- dictionary.com]. Walking the corridors, passing the youngest and the oldest kids… this was the time people would shout their one liners to the crowds pleasure!

At times it would be quite amusing but after a while, it began to grate on me, on others too but even so it persisted. As mentioned before I was a quiet soul in my younger years and for some reason this was the perfect banter target. So many occasions it was implied that “it’s always the quiet girls who are the naughty ones!”. I felt embarrassed and irritated by a label that tried to define me as a joke.

Obviously when I was younger these realisations didn’t dwell on me, I wish they had. I would have stood up, kicked banter up the arse and told it where to go, because let’s be real… banter is a nice home for harassment. At the time, I thought it would make me look like a kill joy if I stood up for how I and many other individuals probably felt.

A few years later… (okay quite a few years later) here I am, I’ve been harassed for being a women since my teens. Now, for me that’s a scary thought being the Mum of two girls. Those years have just gloated by, being called a bitch, being mocked by the term “bitches” that attempts to define a population of women. Being made to feel uncomfortable to dress a certain way or to even be in a certain room. I shout at my younger self to gain more sense about what is going on. It’s not a compliment its degrading!!

We all have experiences that we should definitely analyse and understand… and then figure out a way forward. How can we use our experiences to educate the next generation and the generation after that how to stand up and not tolerate banter, flirtation, teasing, jokes, bullying… harassment. However minor or major they may seem to you, your story can educate and equip so many young people to understand what it means to be moral citizens.

Integrity is key

During the moments of life when we feel our opportunities are being stripped away by our responsibilities, we create an opening for negativity to dwell.

Imagine being in work and a patient, client, customer or system has a complaint… we’ve all thrown a mental tantrum wanting to tell that complaint where to go. But imagine if we lived out that “mental tantrum”, a grown adult kicking and screaming because that complaint messed up their plan for the day. Well, you’d probably get sent home, probably embarrass a fair few people and probably would result in a disciplinary meeting.

When responsibility and integrity stand in our way, we sometimes feel hard done by. As if we deserve to do what we want, we deserve that promotion, we deserve that day off, we deserve that cup of coffee! When we carry this deserving belief around with us, we give ourselves a complex that is damaging to our life experiences and to those around us.

I’m not saying we shouldn’t be motivated in reaching our goals but by taking aspects of being selfish and selfless, we may just get the right balance. One of the challenges I have faced since having children is finding time for myself… but rather it’s more about finding a way to accept that there will be times when I will be disrupted, I won’t get to complete tasks and overall have little control over my “break time”. And do you know what, that’s ok with me! It took time and developing maturity to get to this point. I no longer freak out if the kids don’t go to sleep on time, I care more for being a patient Mum who engages in conversations my 4 year old (even if I don’t know what’s going on!) It has taught me to value the everyday moments and I am learning more and more about myself and what I am capable of. It’s cliche to say this, but by living for the now… we don’t just get to value the experiences but we nuture our character to be patient, in control and focused on the needs of others.

Integrity is key.

“The power is an illusion” – AOC

I want to build up an image for you…

There is a school, with on average two hundred and fifty students, teachers, teaching assistants, caretakers, administration staff and of course the headteacher and deputy.

Imagine then, this school has a number of naturally excelling students who need little support. Then you’ve got children who need a bit more support and children who need consistent support. What happens when the headteacher says “I want only the students who excel to receive rewards for their work.” they have instantly created as divide among the school. Does this now mean that the children who require more support will be less motivated and lack confidence? Quite possibly. Now imagine, the teaching assistants resources have been limited, not only can’t they recommend rewards but they are being directed to split their time with other students who do not need support, in order to back up the students who are excelling.

In reality, a school like this would be called out to be dysfunctional, unequal and in the most extreme terms, corrupt. Just by writing this last sentence, my mind has sparked images of so many establishments, countries and governments.

We may have already heard of the corruption within African countries, today I want to talk about a beautiful country called the Democratic Republic of Congo. This country represents every kind of energy, the energy of love, suffering, culture, physical and mental. Once you have experienced this culture, you see what true patriotism is. My extended family are from DRC and when I say extended, I now have family in France, Belgium, Africa, the UK and USA. My children will have so many opportunities to travel and experience the diversity of their heritage.

How does a country with so much energy be exploited by the rest of the world? DRC is one of the richest countries in the world, it powers this laptop, it powers the phone you are reading this on and it has beautiful treasures that we can only imagine. The depth of the land, the vast ground holding so much potential that just needs to be left alone by the unwanted help. Surely we all understand that it is easy to look like a do gooder if we change the narrative of what’s actually going on and turn it into a more pleasing story for the westerners. I can’t count the amount of time I’ve spent fiercly discussing with my husband the changes that need to be made. I said so many time, the DRC government is corrupt, it’s got no solid foundation because of the past… this is the narrative I’ve been told by so many appeal shows on my UK TV.

Yes, many men, women and children are suffering world wide as a consequence of dysfunctional governments but do we stop there and accept that as the overriding reason? Obviously the information of what is really going on will not be handed over to us by Google that simply. Neither would visiting the areas where the landscape is being torn apart give us much more than a devastating insight into the hard work and unfit working conditions and pay the workers receive. This isn’t some conspiracy, it’s a reality that is ongoing. As the AOC said “the power is an illusion” until we start looking further into the roots and breaking that down, the face value of these international stories will continue to deceive us.

There is no quick fix for any of this, but I believe we have to start by educating ourselves, emerging our families into other cultures, understanding the ways of our neighbours and most importantly making sure the youngest members of society know that their voice has power. Their skills and character have the potential to impact communities and comfortable governments who lack definition.