Happy?

I have a very distinct memory of being absolutely beside myself as child. My mum, being concerned with my emotional outburst (and probably not knowing what else to do) asked me to write down what she could do to give me a happy life. I stopped crying and began to put pen to paper, my eyes slowly becoming alight with imagination. I still remember how she held that shoddy piece of lined paper in her hands and said, quietly bemused ‘Is that it?’. In my grand and bold quest for happiness I had requested (wait for it) a vegetable patch and a dog.

It’s funny how, as children, we don’t really set the bar very high for what will make us happy. Inevitably there will always be the girl who sulks because daddy won’t buy her the latest polly pocket set (or if she’s anything like me she will have asked for a Roboraptor and roller-skates), or the little boy who is crying is heart out for the latest power rangers figure (or whatever it is these days!). But on the whole, I remember being a very happy and joyful child, and not for any material reason. I have so so many bright and warm memories of that time in my life, and these memories aren’t of achievements, possessions, or status. But they’re of people.

I remember playing ‘mushrooms’ with my sister where we would get out of the bath and put towels over our bodies in front of the fire and pretend to be mushrooms (turns out it’s a great game). I remember my dad carrying me on his shoulders and holding me upside down, and tickling me until my stomach hurt from laughing. I even remember eating spaghetti with just my mouth because my friend dared me to (yep, childhood me had no shame). I have so many memories of always singing, dancing and having fun (except when lamenting for my vegetable patch and dog of course).

And yet – in comparison to my life now, the world might say I had very little cause to be so happy. I mean – I had no first class honours degree for a start (which is an immediate pathway to happiness and success, right? Spoiler alert: it’s not). I had no flashy gadgets, not even one of those fancy colourful leapfrog devices that came before the tablets took over. But what I did have, and what I think most children have, was a heart that recognised the intrinsic happiness and joy that comes from spending time with other people, letting your hair down and just having fun.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that we don’t do this now. Many of you reading this will be thinking hey- I’m a student – I AM the party – I live for other people! And hey, that’s great. I’m not doubting you. But I also know that for many of us, it’s so easy to see our social lives as an ‘add on’ to the ‘real’ important stuff of life. You know, the stuff that ‘really matters’. I know for me when I’m planning my week, I often have to stop and ask myself, ‘Ok Liz, you have no social events going on this week, what are you going to do about it?’. Because in reality, I’m often a fool to the lie that fulfilment and life is primarily about doing and succeeding. But what if it’s not?

I once read a story of a man who asked his son, ‘When you’re older, and you’re looking back on your life, what would you rather have around you – your medals, achievements, and awards, or people who you love?’. While this is an extreme example, it does make you think. So often we prize money, possessions, status and job prospects at the expense of forming deep relationships and community with others – or at the expense of doing something we truly love. I challenge you to look back at the simple joys of childhood, and think ahead to how fleeting the pleasures and rewards of wealth and status will be, and ask yourself  – is it worth it?

 

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“When I was five years old, my father always told me that happiness was the key to life. When I went to school, they asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. I wrote down ‘happy’. They told me I didn’t understand the assignment, and I told them they didn’t understand life.” John Lennon. 

 

 

 

 

 

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Maybe It’s Because Their Parents Didn’t Let Them Climb Trees

In an age of social media, and constant connectedness- we’re sadly becoming more and more disconnected from the wisdom and insight of the older generation. It’s no secret that life is a lot different compared to what it used to be. But what was it really like – and what can we learn?

The first man I had the pleasure of meeting, Jeff, having grown up amidst the German bombings in London, gives us a brilliant insight into how life has changed since the 1940s.

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It’s all changed now. People – you always see them walking around looking at their phones or sipping on plastic bottles of water. When I was a kid, we used to go on a cycle ride, about 20 to 30 miles long and we never took a drink. If we were thirsty we’d stop and knock on someone’s door and ask for a drink”.

 

His wife explained ‘People are in such a hurry to do things now. In the past, people would choose to be stay at home mums. Or you’d walk everywhere and know your neighbours really well. When everyone travels in cars, you don’t get the chance to see people. You’ll say hi if you see them, but it isn’t the same‘.

I ask them whether they think things are better now, or whether they preferred them back then.

Jeff promptly replies, ‘Oh if I had a time machine I would go back. Even though back in those days, when I was growing up in London, we had no water, no electricity, no flushing toilet’.

‘You wouldn’t go back’ his wife says in astonishment.

‘I would’ Jeff insists.

It seems that material wealth, safety or even health holds no match to the prospect of going back the good old days for Jeff. I’m intrigued to find out why.

‘Where I lived, it was like paradise. We had so much freedom back then. There were no cars and as kids we could play on the streets. If I took you back to my village I could show you a wall which we drew chalk on to play cricket. And I’d take you to a plantation with so many trees. We used to battle with each other with branches. And if you got hit you’d have to lie down and you’d wait 20 seconds and then carry on battling! We were out making dens and playing on railroads. If you saw kids doing that now you’d think they were bad kids, but we weren’t, we were just having fun.

And you know I learnt to swim in the river trent! My dad was a great dad he would always get involved and wouldn’t shy away from fun. With him I built a diving board and every day before school – I was so keen to swim – that I would dive off this diving board and swim in the river trent! Baring in mind I was only a kid – I was 9 years old. Kids were more free back then’.

It’s a romantic idea hearing all of Jeff’s stories, and I can’t help thinking all children’s childhoods should involve battles with branches on plantation fields. But is it possible now?

‘These days parents are with their kids all the time. It’s sad that schools put red tape around everything for fear of being sued. I know my granddaughters’ sports day got cancelled recently because it was pouring down with rain. So they rescheduled and the next week it was a beautiful scorching hot day. And the headmaster cancelled again because he was afraid of someone getting sunstroke. It wasn’t like that with us – we’d play football in all sorts of weather. Our referee used to wear a huge camouflage waterproof cape. Now the children would be told to go inside for fear of the parents complaining that their kids got wet’.

‘But my grandkids – they do the same things that we did. I think in part it’s due to the influence that we had on their parents. My kids were out climbing trees, but I know others who wouldn’t allow their kids to climb because they were afraid of them falling. Funnily enough those are the same kids who owe tens of thousands of pounds of debt and struggle with money. My kids don’t. I wonder if it’s because their parents wouldn’t let them climb trees’.

If there’s any thread to pick out from my conversation with Jeff, it’s the sense of freedom of the past that stands out most profoundly. In a society where we’re constantly bombarded with information that tells us we ought to bubble wrap ourselves with precaution, comfort and convenience- Jeff’s stories challenge us to wrestle with the more meaningful aspects of life – of pursuing adventure, having a free spirit and investing and journeying with others in meaningful ways.

It seems we’re not the first generation to have been seeking a ‘yolo’ culture then! While for people like Jeff, this may have been expressed through running through railroads and swimming in the river trent, for us – perhaps the desire for adventure and freedom is revealed through our generation’s notable desire for travel, and for going out and partying. It does make me think though – perhaps if we gave the children of today a little more freedom, a little more adventure – they might be a lot happier, fulfilled and less likely to go off the rails at the slightest taste of freedom and independence.

 

Liz

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pride in Achievements: Good or Bad?

My friend and I had been discussing a topic back and forth for a while recently before we came to a conclusive agreement. The topic was the issue of pride, and whether pride- and feeling proud- can ever be good.

I had initially set out with the mind set that no, pride in itself cannot ever be good, given that in itself it means that one is thinking of themselves as superior to others. My good friend however argued that- in the face of equal circumstances and situations as other people, it is reasonable to be proud of the hard work that one has put in in order to achieve one’s goals. I eventually relented and accepted that yes, this made sense, but we both agreed that ultimately there is a measure of grace for each of us that allows us to be successful in life. It would be crazy to think that every single achievement and factor enabling our achievements in life has always been under our control, and attributable to our own actions.

To take a quick recent example, throughout this last year of working for my degree there have been so many instances when my achievements could have swung one way or another due to factors outside of my control. When I submitted a piece of coursework late for example, the result of 10 credits, and potentially the difference in my overall degree classification relied upon the grace of that lecturer. Similarly, there was another time when I had to (well I could have started earlier but that’s another story) write an essay in less than 6 hours (I started at midnight) which was due the same day as my dissertation. I had people praying for me and completely relied on God to get me through. There was no way when I found out that I got 65 (1,000 words short and with no reference section) that I feel I could take credit myself! For me it was nothing short of a miracle.

Therefore it seems that being proud is a difficult concept. For while it may be said that to feel good or proud that we have worked hard is a beneficial thing. On the other hand, it may be argued that feeling proud of our achievements can put as at risk of underestimating the contribution of favourable circumstances and situations around us, that have enabled us to succeed. In this way, it also makes us more likely to look down upon others who haven’t been so fortunate, whether due to their upbringing, circumstances or other influences. Thus, it seems to me that feelings of pride about one’s self must be taken with a large dose of thankfulness, and humility, recognising that it is by grace that we are who we are, and achieved what we have. Just think about all those little details that made your success possible that you never even considered.

That’s why for me- I’m thankful, and not proud, knowing that every good gift I have comes from the hand of God, and just as easily (although this is hard to say!) can be taken away.

Jeremiah 9:23 ‘Thus says the Lord: “Let not the wise man boast in his wisdom, let not the mighty man boast in his might, let not the rich man boast in his riches”.’

Proverbs 29:23 ‘One’s pride will bring him low, but he who is lowly in spirit will obtain honor’.

Romans 12:16 ‘Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight’.

 

Why Corbyn Makes A Great Leader: The Strength of Personal Conviction

I was on the train travelling back to Loughborough yesterday evening. I had to take a few unexpected changes due to delays, but I was grateful in the end that it resulted in some very chance and interesting meetings with others. The first person I met was a graduate student who studied in Manchester. We were sat at one of those table seats opposite each other. We all know how awkward it can get as you both negotiate trying to avoid eye contact so I decided I would speak to him.

“Excuse me what book are you reading?”

“Oh you like reading too?”

What started off as a discussion of books, soon turned into a discussion of all sorts of topics including politics, race, and religion. I could pick out all sorts of interesting sound-bytes from our conversation, but instead I want to expand on one issue in particular.

We had been discussing each other’s courses, when the topic turned to the question of morality, and how masses of ‘normal’ people can get involved in mass killings such as genocides. This was a topic I had written an essay about, and become aware of the many situational pressures that would push seemingly ‘normal’ people to rationalise and even moralise such evil behaviour.

“It’s usually the case that, because of the situation, people are put into situations where they cannot, or feel that they cannot escape. Then they’ll experience cognitive dissonance, an inconsistency, between their beliefs, and the behaviour they are carrying out. In this situation, people usually do one of two things, they either change their behaviour, or more likely, they’ll change their beliefs. For example they’ll dehumanise the victims and see them as sub-human in order to make their actions seem moral”.

“Yeah that’s so true, because no one wants to see themselves as the bad guy”.

“Exactly”.

I reasoned that it was quite a rare, and bold thing to do, to say to yourself “no – this is right, and this is wrong”. And to hold that as personally true, regardless of the situations. In fact, it represents functioning and thinking at a level of morality that the majority of the population usually don’t reach. This is according to research by Kohlberg (1958), who showed that for most of us, morality is judged on the bass of social approval, and the influence of authority, and not internal moral principles.

My new found friend agreed and started to tell me about his admiration of the actions of Nelson Mandela, a political activist and leader who showed just this type of moral thinking. His behaviour was strongly motivated by an internal moral principle of peace and justice, so much so that he was willing to face imprisonment for his opposition protests of minority white rule in South Africa. Even on his release and on achieving the role of presidency, he sought to reconcile and work with those who had imprisoned him. He even had dinner with those who had tried to have him killed in order to help bring about this healing peace-making process.

I agreed in amazement that this was a man with real conviction and courage.

Like Mandela, I have come to believe that Corbyn is a man of great moral conviction, courage, and personal integrity. Once returning back into my university halls, I was prompted by our conversation to follow some of the debates and look up the manifestos (rather than founding my political opinion on bits and pieces from my Facebook feed – which I admit is easy to do but perhaps not the most responsible way). I watched many different interviews with both Corbyn, and May, representing the Labour and Conservative parties respectively. I was impressed by Corbyn’s answers, and his confidence – even pride in defending and explaining his manifesto and plans. And, furthermore, the moral basis on which his manifesto was built. But I was also impressed by something else.

It may be no surprise to many of you reading, but it has been known and publicised that many of Theresa May’s promises and ‘priorities’ clash against her voting history and apparent convictions. One key example of this can be seen in her speech at Birmingham in July 2016, in which she stated that high-earning global companies, such as Amazon and Google, have a duty to pay their taxes. And yet – just months before, she had voted against implementing proposals intended to reduce tax avoidance and evasion. Jeremy Corbyn, however, appears to have great integrity, and has been quoted as such by many colleagues and acquaintances.

He has a track record of standing by the same socialist principles and convictions, even when the pressure to change his opinion gets tough. This can be demonstrated not least through his involvement in many campaigns over the years. He has served on the National Executive of the Anti-Apartheid Movement (which also resulted in being arrested in 1984 for protesting outside South Africa House), chaired the ‘Stop War’ coalition in protest of the Iraq War, and campaigned regularly against the conflict in Gaza. By his actions he has been shown to consistently promote the values of justice, peace, equality, and solidarity. Further to this, he appears to do this unashamedly, and without pride. It is noted for example that Corbyn usually has the lowest expenses of any MP.

The integrity of Corbyn really hit home for me when I heard his response in a Question Time episode by the BBC. Supporters of the Conservative party questioned him about his apparent reluctance to use nuclear weapons as defence. In response he replied, ‘look I don’t want to be responsible for the deaths of millions of people, and neither do you’. And it’s true – that even since being a school boy in 1966, Corbyn has been all for campaigning against nuclear disarmament. Rather than finding this act of determination and defiance worrying however, as others might, it filled me with trust and admiration. For it’s clear to me that, like a real leader should be, Jeremy is leading out of a strong sense of moral conviction. For his political behaviour evidently is not just a matter of politics, but of true, personal deep conviction.

A man of courage, integrity, and convicted on the grounds of equality, peace, and justice. That’s the kind of person I trust to lead me, and to shape the future of this country.

Who will you trust?

Bodies

Bodies. The flesh, the muscles, the bodies that both fuel us and pain us. The bodies that drive us to conquer amazing feats, yet need days tucked up in bed to recover from flu and illness. Can we ever be free?

I was thinking about this recently and concluded that, while we’re on this earth, we are trapped in these bodies. Perhaps not a particularly remarkable conclusion you might say, but notable that I would perhaps be asking the question in the first place.

I was asking these questions because, so often I have felt the burden of my body being judged. I’m not blaming anyone else, I know the judgement is largely self-directed most of the time, and happens inside my own head. To an extent, it reflects the culture we are absorbed in, in which our knowledge of people is informed overwhelmingly through visuals in social media.

But how far can we really judge someone by their body?

A friend of mine recently gave a talk about body image. Something she said really related to me, related to the struggle that we can often feel when we identify with our bodies. When we ‘feel fat’ we feel sensations of sadness, and when we feel fit and toned, we feel happy. Generally speaking. But thoughts like this end up directing your emotions along a mad rollercoaster at every ‘fat’ and ‘toned’ day. So where do these thoughts come from, and should we be entertaining them?

I think I could probably sit here, as we all could, and point fingers all day… at the media, at people in our past, at ourselves perhaps. One of the biggest contributors perhaps in this age is social media. So often we see the skinny toned figure, the countless likes and followers, and we make the connection. Body = social acceptance/ favour/ love (perhaps even happiness). And before you know it, we’re on the way to seeing bodies as means of gaging how much one is loved, or deserving of love and happiness.

This is so so wrong! Anyone who has tried to live their life keeping a certain figure for the purposes of gaining approval and love will know the disappointment and even the anxiety that this kind of thinking can cause. The constant comparison always leads to disappointment and at it’s worse self-hate, and the constant fear of coming up short can lead to stints of anxiety and panic. And surely this isn’t the type of life that we want to live… right?

So how can we bring change here?

I think it all starts with you – with me – with each one of us.

Because the way we think about ourselves will often shape the way we think about others.

Two major principles that Jesus lived by were grace and love. He met for dinner with the hated tax-collectors, he showed favour and love to prostitutes, he healed the outcast and the diseased. He saw beyond the outward appearance, and into people’s hearts. He saw beyond what the religious leaders of the time saw (the way people dressed, the rituals they followed, their reputation, upbringing, health, or promiscuity) and saw into the core of who people were, loving them through God’s eyes, and seeing past their faults and failures.

What would it look like if we treated ourselves, and our bodies, with this kind of radical love and grace?

If we understood that the core of who we are is far beyond appearances. If we understood that a loving, godly heart is of far more value than can ever be gaged through a number of likes. And that a toned, slim body is a temporary state, that many might pass into and out of, and that ultimately will fall beyond the reach of us all with time.

It’s so easy to let our bodies take over our thinking when the messages are all around us, telling us that they are to define who we are, now for guys as much as girls I’m sure. But how amazing is it that we can seek peace and rest from these worries and concerns through taking a further look at what Jesus taught. A man, a leader, a son of God, who showed the value of the human heart, over the temporary and fading value or appearances, rituals, and reputation.

God’s grace and love extends to each one of us.

And I find, that when you accept, and meditate on God’s love for you, it frees you to love others and see the beauty in everyone else too.

So I would encourage you (as much as I am encouraging myself!) to be strong, KNOW that God’s love and grace covers you in spite of what is visible on the surface, and allow this knowledge to empower you to change the lens through which you see and understand bodies… for yourself, and for others.

Romans 12:2 ‘Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect’.

A special thank you to Hannah Fox for being a radiant beautiful beam of love, inspiration and hope in this area (and in many other ways too!)

Too Hard Too Fast

I posted recently about my newest challenge! Training for triathlon! So far it’s been a blast! And actually last week I was so keen on reaching the adrenaline high that I thought I might be getting addicted… I pushed through every wall, every barrier. If the coach said you could stop early if you felt tired… Did I stop? Nope! I drove through the pain and finished it, panting and exhausted but equally thrilled at the accomplishment.

I upped the training volume by nearly 50% that week and during the week I did feel a bit like superwoman. But then the weekend happened. I literally could not be more EXHAUSTED. Now I know maybe most of you will be thinking, ‘well obviously?’ ‘What were you thinking haha’. And when I write it down, yes I guess it does seem pretty predictable. But honestly I just expected to keep superwoman-ing my way through life, at least after maybe a days rest or so!

Unfortunately I am now bearing the burden of overtraining and have been super tired for the past 5 days, wanting to sleep all the time and sleeping a LOT! Not only this but I also gained weight from pushing myself into the ground. This is perhaps the opposite of what you might expect, but in fact it’s a common reaction that happens when the body has increased stress (cortisol) levels over a long period of time. The body doesn’t know that you’re just in a spin class, a swimming pool or running up a hill, for all it knows you’re being endlessly hunted by a ravenous bear. And cue survival mode.

BUT at least I have recognised the signs, and BACKED OFF for the time being…

In the past I was extremely perfectionistic and even more driven than I am now. I know from experience that if you don’t back off when you’re body is under this kind of stress response, it will only back fire later. When I was sixteen/seventeen I was very underweight and undernourished and overtrained my body on a relentless no-excuse basis. Although at the outset I got ‘results’ there came a time when my body had enough. I had lost my periods, was heavily fatigued, I had digestive problems, high risk of osteoporosis amongst other health concerns. And actually in the end it took me a really long time to recover and nourish my body back to health.

And so, my ‘little superwoman you are not not so super’ experience has reminded me of how health and fitness is not so much about always driving and pushing. It’s about respecting your body too. Yes you can run hard, swim fast, squat heavy etc. but, in my experience at least, hard efforts are only successful in the long term if you nourish your body and give it time to recover and rest when it needs to. This doesn’t only apply to sports but to everything you’re doing/ thinking that makes you stressed! To some extent, your body doesn’t know the difference between being chased by a bear, doing hill reps or doing an essay the night before a deadline. It all provokes a physiological stress response.

Instead of overriding the signs of tiredness and fatigue by reaching for the next cup of coffee, or pressing on regardless, why not take a minute to listen to your body?

And if you need to, REST.

 

“Come to me, all you who are weary and heavy burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light” Matthew 11:28-30

 

 

 

Set-backs or Set-forwards?

About 5 days ago I was out on my usual Saturday long run. About 4.5 miles in I had to stop because my knee was so painful! For those of you who don’t know I have been training with triathlon recently and upping the training quite a bit. I have been getting quite excited about the progress I have made so as you can imagine, getting this knee pain and feeling a potential injury coming on was not a welcome thought!

In the past I would have been tempted to run on anyway, refusing to admit that I was weak and that it would be fine. These days, after many injuries, I tend to have a more realistic view of my own capabilities. Saying this, that didn’t stop me from complaining to God… God why would you let me get injured? C’mon it was going so well, why this? Do you not want me to do well?

Then I went to read my bible notes (shout out to UCB Word for Today) and found that the message was about 1 Kings when a prophet (someone who God speaks through) called Elijah was held back his usual provisions from God. The river that had been providing him water in the desert had dried up, and the ravens who had been bringing him food stopped coming. Well that sucks, you might say. Why would God do that?

Then I realised, it was to get Elijah to move on- to get his attention and to get him to move. The story carries on to tell how God then sent him to go and see a widow ‘Zarepath’ who would provide food for him, in spite of having very little food for herself, and being in the midst of a famine! Despite these apparent setbacks, Elijah pressed on and had faith that God would show his faithfulness in the place where he had lead him.

How is this relevant to a knee injury?

Well, like Elijah I realised that this apparent set back might be God’s way of moving me into a different direction. And knowing that God is always faithful, I clung to this promise and decided to trust him with it and I prayed and asked him to give me direction.

The next morning I was walking into Loughborough town and, on the way, noticed a bright yellow sign reading ‘Osteopathic Surgery Open Day – free consultations’. I will admit I hesitated a little, but, feeling the nudge to go in, I made my way in to reception. And do you know – the physio gave me such good advice about my muscles and my training that I can now run again without pain… AND (since a follow up half priced appointment!) my muscles are being worked on such that they are getting to better condition than they even were before my knee incident.

It made me think… If I had not believed in God’s faithfulness, I probably wouldn’t be experiencing the blessing that I am now. Much like if Elijah had not took God at his word, he wouldn’t have eaten that day!

I know that a knee injury is not much in the way of a set-back really, and that many of you may be experiencing much bigger set-backs than I could even imagine. But I think that perhaps sometimes these set-backs are challenges to our faith that then propel us to ‘set-forwards’.

In searching for God’s answer and perspective on our problems, it allows us to make steps forward with a new sense of gratitude and humility, knowing that it is by God’s grace and faithfulness alone that we do all these things!

“Blessings hinge upon obedience” Bob Gass

1 Kings 17:1-15

Lamentations 3:22-24 “The faithful love of the Lord never ends! His mercies never cease. Great is his faithfulness; his mercies begin afresh each morning. I say to myself, “The Lord is my inheritance; therefore, I will hope in him!”