Love

On the anniversary of my sweet mom’s passing, I remember her with these words that I wrote last yearIMG_0944 a few days after we said goodbye. May she rest in peace and rise in glory.

Before we could even pray or ask, God gave us the greatest gift in our mom. We could not have chosen the womb that bore us, but Gods love for us is shown in the fact that we were loved all our lives by an angel. She showed us what it meant to be a believer in Jesus, not through clever words and heavy rules but through a heart of love. She leant money to the poor knowing she would not be repaid, she loved to be generous out of the little she had. Her words were always good about other people, even those it was easy to judge. She was humble in asking for advice even from her children, she always thought of the person who was overlooked or misunderstood. Eternally optimistic and full of hope she refused to see the bad in people or circumstances. She was our number one champion cheering us on, our encourager and the one who believed more than anything that we could change the world. She was a lifelong learner, a hard worker, quick to get tasks done and diligent in everything she did. She has made us who we are. She was a true friend to me, showing me the way to love, faith and patience. The truth is I wanted to be more like her, I wanted to absorb her character, I admired her so much. Mom lives on in each of us, every time we follow her voice and her example. She lives on in us through every act of compassion, every moment we choose faith over fear, every time we laugh and dance and sing, every time we drink a glass of baileys. In the moments when we are lighthearted and joking, when we are hopeful and courageous and determined – our mom remains with us and we live to make her proud.

Failure

There’s nothing like failure to shock the system. I came out of university having done quite well and entered into the world of full time professional work full of optimism. I had landed a dream placement which would allow me to develop an understanding of a key influential organisation alongside developing professional skills. The problem was that I was completely unprepared for the job role (personal organisation does not equal professional administrative ability), for the pressure of the environment (I learned the hard way that I am not good under stress) and the expectations of that kind of office (I had to use Debrett’s etiquette guide more often than most – google it).

When I was eventually given truthful feedback it was soul-crushing. I had been trying my best but still wasn’t up to the standard. I am used to doing a good job and it was completely unfamiliar for me to find myself unable to do what I was asked. I discovered email chains discussing whether to get rid of me, I walked into rooms that fell immediately silent indicating that I had been the topic of conversation. As a first taste of the real professional workplace it was horrific.

I remember being on the way to work and the feelings of anxiety would creep up my throat as I got closer. I would get into the office early and have to pray and then talk to myself in the mirror reminding myself that I was more than what they thought of me. I would worry about work all Sunday evening. But I couldn’t let myself quit. I had to see it through and that was the win for me. I took on this job for the amazing experience and it did help me grow in some positive ways but I knew I had failed in their eyes and they regretted taking me on. It was a shock to the system but after I recovered it left me with some good lessons.

  • Failure is simply about not doing well at something – and that is common for every single person. The person you see succeeding now has failed before, if not at this then at something else. There are things you succeed at that they would completely fail to achieve. You are not a failure, you just may not be good at this one thing and that’s ok.
  • Failure is natural if you have the courage to take risks and try new things. Sometimes it indicates you need to work harder and other times that you need to work at something else. I was hard working but not effective so I changed trajectory. I gave myself time to recover and then took another chance on something new. I took a job with a friend which allowed me to rebuild my confidence and remember all the things I was good at. I needed to shake off all the negative words and expectations, I was literally told I was ‘good for nothing’ one day. It was obviously not true, they just hadn’t seen me in my element. I kept taking better risks after this and they have definitely paid off.
  • You need the support of others to help you succeed, so ask for help and make sure you get feedback. I had a lovely line manager but she was more concerned about being nice than helping me develop, and in the end her reluctance to have the tough conversations meant I didn’t have the chance to grow. Honest feedback is a mirror that helps you improve and you must have it particularly when starting out, but also throughout your working life. There was a woman in my floor who took me under her wing and helped me survive with my self-worth intact. She not only helped me with practicalities but always encouraged me to keep my head up and my eyes on the future. She was to me, a guardian angel.

My journey has not been free from obstacles and no one’s is – but I am glad to have been able to overcome them and keep going. It’s resilience (the ability to come back from a setback) that makes the difference between those who arrive at a better future and those who don’t. So keep going!

 

Compromise

She gave her heart

To the man who took second place in her imagination,

The almost-but who held the hope of love but not its substance.

Each morning she woke from first place dreams of destiny to live the disappointing reality of Mr X.

What ifs robbed her peace.

But be grateful, her mother told her, to wake up next to regret rather than empty space.

She glimpsed the passion that had held her soul like a pillar to the ground, but in a flicker – gone.

Blown out by whispered anxieties and silent screaming anger,

Drowned in the shouts from this shell of promise who still found the gall to demand his kingship.

She had waited, now he did, for the birth of the remedy which choked her with the cord that gave him life.

Each stolen breath quickened her suffocation – the end of her hope for a new future; white and clean and unmade.

Love, they said, was hard work

But enslavement they did not warn her of.

Survival

When did simple questions become so complex.

Someone asks me ‘how are you?’ and I freeze for a moment. I know what they expect, because they asked me with a smile and some excitement. They want ‘things are good thanks’ or ‘yeah I’m fine how are you?’ The problem of course is that I don’t have enough words to explain how I am, but all I know is I am definitely not fine.

Although on one level I may be a little bit ok. I woke up this morning, I may have even had some moment of prayer and reflection today, I had a shower, dressed well and took out my moisturised hair twists from the night before. I arrived at work calm and on time despite my commute and enjoyed my colleagues and students. I went to the gym and had a good dinner.

But then.

I sat down in my lounge about to watch the next episode of Good Girls and my heart filled with an overwhelming feeling of loss and sadness. It has been building all day really, and it all floods in although I’ve been keeping it at a distance. The triggers were all there: the Fred Hammond song that reminded me of mom’s constant singing, the mom and daughter on the train, the song at morning worship that we sang at the funeral. The grief, like a fire, then sets aflame any other material it can find. Feelings of isolation that force me to right down all the names of people who love me, the fear of being alone which almost makes me call that guy I let go for good reason, the anger that I thought I had conquered but now again forces me into silence before God.

I heard someone say depression grows in isolation. So I pick up the phone, scroll and call, and she answers and says ‘Sel, how are you?’

To her, I can tell it all.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Drive

I was watching J-Lo’s speech at the VMAs (partly because someone was mocking how long it took and I want to see if it was justified) – and I found myself unexpectedly inspired. She talked about her career, which has been consistent even if it has not reached the momentous levels of some. Her early days as a professional dancer led into her career as a singer dabbling in several genres (nothing quite as near to my heart as her RnB days), acting (maid in manhattan is the perfect feel good film) and TV shows (American idol most recently). She spoke about the fact that many people told her to just do one thing, because she couldn’t do more than that but her response was always ‘but why?’

It resonated with me because I am also someone who is interested in many different ways of being and expressing myself in the world. Yes, I love academic learning and teaching, but for me, I am not content to simply be a great lecturer who taught others to make a difference in the world; I also want to be able to point to tangible changes that I have helped to make myself. I have had people say – ‘just do one thing well’, but to me, that would not be being true to myself. I take my cue from leaders who have combined the two – those who have developed a sharp mind alongside a commitment to activism and changing the world in practice. Aside from this, I also love to express myself in other ways which is partly why I started this blog. I can write an academic journal which will reflect one element of my personality and connects certain people, but I also want to write about life using poetry and fiction which allows me to express another part of my personality, and will connect with so many other people. I might want to take a dance class or do yoga, or work with my hands making bread or painting, or simply being outdoors among trees and fields.

I agree that you may not be able to do all the things in your heart at once, but I believe in making the time to do what you can while you have breath. I often keep in my mind, an image of my 90 year-old self, and make decisions that will give her good stories to tell and a sense of contentment rather than regret. I wonder what our lives would be like if we stopped listening to the people who told us we couldn’t, which is often only really a reflection of the fact that they don’t think they could. What if you assumed the answer to the question ‘should I?’ was a huge YES – from God or from yourself? What would you do if you had no anxiety about whether or not it was the right thing, but simply gave it a go? I believe that life can be a phenomenal adventure if you assume a yes until there is a clear no. There are always more possibilities than we realise.

 

 

 

She

May each woman know the curve of her own waist and the sturdiness of her ankles.

May she familiarise herself with the thoughts that grow like delicate shoots and sturdy oak trees in the field of her mind.

May she be certain of what sets her heart aflame whether for love or anger and be attentive to the sound of the alarms.

May she be confident of the divinity engrained in her bones by her creator, remembering her head is adorned with a crown of his words.

May she claim as her own the scars that decorate her frame like diamonds and prove that she has overcome.

That she may dance on beds of scorpions without fear of their sting, and silence the hissing snake by the power of her countenance.

So when alone she knows herself to be in the company of a legend and is proud to sing boldly without accompaniment.

That she may walk with friend and lover through the gallery of her soul, explaining to all the art of her existence.

Courage

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I went on holiday alone for the first time in my life this summer. By the time I found the energy to plan a much-needed holiday, my family and closest friends had all made plans. I recalled the adventures of my year abroad and determined that some time alone in new interesting places could be just what I needed. I booked my solo trip to Rome and Venice, with a tiny bit of anxiety, but the feeling that I needed to just trust it would work out.

I arrived at my hotel in Rome, sat on my bed and burst into tears. Why on earth had I put myself in this situation, to visit two amazing and romantic cities alone, while I am still so emotionally raw from trying to cope with bereavement? Am I mad? Why did I not just take the easy option and go to Manchester? As I lay there with a heart full of loneliness and one side of my face soaked in tears, hunger overcame despair, and I ventured out to find food.

As I walked out of the hotel I heard someone say ‘hey’ and as I looked up, a man approached me who had been on my plane. He explained that he was travelling alone and had done so many times, and asked if I wanted to go with him to get some food. He became my travel buddy for 3 days on my trip, and what a relief to have someone friendly to explore new places with. We had some great conversations (nothing romantic before you ask) and this complete stranger helped me make the most of my holiday.

During this season of my life, I have become an expert at listening to myself and my needs, as the way of survival. I used to fear imposing on others, or being seen as unable to look after myself, but the truth is that I need help with a lot, on various levels. Sure, I can plan my work schedule and pay my bills or for a holiday – but I need my friends to just listen when I have a heart full of sadness to talk through, or my siblings to lighten my mood and balance my intense thoughts, or even a complete stranger to walk around Rome with. (Caveat – my intuition serves me well, there are many people I would not walk around Rome with, but I sensed he was ok).

In becoming more aware of how vulnerable I am (and have always been) as a person, I have been tempted to try to manage circumstances to make sure I am as safe as possible. But it is impossible to control what people say or do, who you meet or don’t meet, what might happen or not happen. This works both for wonderful surprises as well as unexpected difficulties. I did not realise what a risk this holiday was going to be and what a rollercoaster of amazing highs and devastating lows. I spent Saturday morning in my Venetian hotel room on the phone to my best friend, crying missing my mom and feeling so disappointed with how life has gone. On the Sunday evening I found myself being absolutely spoilt on the most romantic date I have ever been on, on Venice’s Saint Mark’s square (see pic). Whatever my life is, it isn’t grey. Would I do it again? I am not sure yet…