Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Lessons from the Dentist

Ever since my experience of orthodontics I have been wary of visiting the dentist. The results are phenomenal but the memories of wires poking into gums and train-tracks cutting inner lips linger on.

Last month a couple of teeth became sensitive so, curious, I went exploring with a dentist's mirror. To my horror I found brown crevices in two of my upper molars and a black spot hiding around the side of one of the lower ones. Horrified, I determined to brush my teeth more thoroughly and with more vigour and enthusiasm as well as alternate flossing and using dental sticks followed by a swig of mouthwash. Surely I could postpone (if not reverse) the inevitable before my upcoming dental check-up?

I smiled as I walked in and sat on the chair of doom. I felt strangely relaxed as I reclined though I wasn't looking forward to the questions, "And do you wear the retainers every night?" "How often do you floss?" "Are you using mouthwash?" To my surprise the questions never came but I began to hear God's soft, whispered questions.

"Do you still see dread coming to Me as much as you dread the dentist? Do you dread yourself being laid bare, your imperfections and failings coming into the light for all to see?"

The dentist worked patiently, adjusting my retainer- adjust, check, adjust, check, adjust, check. He didn't scold me for not wearing my retainer- he just took my teeth as they were and worked from there. What a picture of God's grace?! Rather than give out to us when we mess us, He takes us as we are and works from there.

Next came an interesting surprise.
"You've been doing too good a job- you've been brushing your teeth too hard." He went on to show me how to position the soft brush ("soft is better than hard" he said!) and gently rotate it in place. I had been too hard- too hard on my teeth, too hard on myself instead of just coming to the Expert and letting him do what He does best.

The crevices will have to be sealed. He told me that they are too difficult to clean by myself, I need help.

Thank God I can't do life by myself- I need Him. :)

Thursday, April 14, 2011

2 Unexpected Observations

Roma Gypsies
There are 3 groups of people who put me on high alert when they come into my workplace: travellers, young boys (unaccompanied by adults) and roma gypsies. More often than not these groups cause trouble- taking food that isn't theirs, stealing milk, wrecking bathrooms... They'll chance their arm at anything! Today though I came to a realisation about roma gypsies. As a group of them walked out of the restaurant today (having behaved very well during their visit- just to dispel my fears about them :) ) I couldn't help but notice how elegantly dressed the women were. In fact, I realised, I have never seen a roma gypsy who hasn't been elegantly dressed. Unwashed and a bit rough around the edges perhaps, but not inelegant.

The women have beautiful long hair, sometimes with their head covered. They wear long, ankle length skirts with high shoes and never bare arms, legs or bellies. They wear their babies and are not ashamed of breastfeeding in public. Hang on... aren't those things that I aspire to? Dressing modestly yet beautifully, baby wearing and exclusive breastfeeding (when the time comes). What an awkward and humbling moment of affinity with a group I usually feel loathe to serve. I will never look at them in the same way again.


After 10 months of working in a fast food restaurant I finally got sick of fast food. Yes, it really did take that long! I was helped along by reading Joyce Meyer's book, "Look Great, Feel Great". I bought this book about 5 or 6 years ago. I didn't think it was worth reading past a couple of chapters when I bought it. I was newly saved and wanted to grow spiritually. What did looking after my body and mind have to do with anything? I wanted to be great spiritually, everything else was irrelevent. I consigned it to the bookshelf. For some reason though, it survived numerous declutterings. Now, 5 or 6 years on, a couple of burnouts later, and numerous warning signs that my body and mind had been stretched past capacity too many times, its contents make so much sense and have so much wisdom. I can now appreciate it.

One thing she says in the book really struck me. To paraphrase, she said that we can only push our bodies and minds into breakdown so many times before they have been damaged irreparably and can never recover to full health and wholeness. As someone who has experienced mental and physical breakdown, this set alarm bells off in my head. If I don't take care of my body (the temple of the Holy Spirit, a gift from God) and my mind (my sanity, my well-being, my emotions) nobody will. I have a responsibility to take care of these and as I do, my spiritual life will also benefit as without my body and soul, my spirit has no way of making an impact on this world (or even just managing to life one day at a time).

From reading this book I learned and was reminded of the impact that different foods have on your body: sugars, proteins, trans fats, good fats, carbohydrates, whole grain vs processed, etc. Within the first week of starting work I learned that carbonated drinks need to be "buffered" through the digestive system (I'm assuming so that they cannot do too much damage?). The body uses calcium as a buffering agent, so the more carbonated drinks you consume, the more calcium is leached out of your bones to try and usher them through, resulting in osteoporosis and brittle bones. I can count on one hand the number of carbonated drinks I have drunk in the past 10 months!What concerned me while reading the book was the amount of sugar, salt and added nasties that I was eating 5 days a week at work. But it's free food! What about the cost to my health? Thankfully, my body has made it pretty clear that that amount of crappy food is bad for me. I no longer drink lattes every day, my palatte gives out about the caffeine. I switched to hot chocolate but now only as a last resort because the sugar is grating against my taste buds and my blood sugar/energy levels were shooting up and then plummeting really fast.

But it's amazing what just 2 days of bringing my own lunch to work has made. Yesterday and today I took a bowl of soup (cream of chicken, then carrot, coriander and fennel) plus half a mini loaf of homemade bread (soda bread with roasted hazelnuts, rosemary and sultanas). Yesterday, I think I ate a bit too much because I got really tired after eating- my body wanted a nap so that it could digest that nice food! Either that or my body was confused- why are you feeding me good stuff now? No more crap? Woo hoo! Today I got my 15 minute break very late, less than an hour before I finished work, so I was a bit hungry. I took some mozzarella dippers with sour cream and chive dip to tide me over until dinner time. I was amazed at how my sense of taste had improved in just two days! I could taste all of the flavours so well. My taste buds weren't already saturated with salt and sugar so they could appreciate it when they experienced it again. However, after a half an hour (and right up 'til now actually) there is a nasty tang on my tongue. The feeling that I've had too much sweet, salty, acidic food. I have gotten that feeling many times before but haven't realised 'til now what it is. I don't want it anymore thanks. One of my colleagues has given up smoking after 22 years. He told me that he can smell the blossoms on the trees again. That's a bit what I feel like. After 10 months I can taste the flavours in my food again.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Snapshots of the Past Couple of Days

I need a massage! Yesterday at work was really tough- the business manager was running the shift, we were overrun with customers and there was mutiny in the air. No matter what I did it wasn't right. Now that our practical massage classes are over (I passed all of my practical assessments with flying colours!) I miss the weekly massages, opportunities to release some of the built-up tension in my muscles. Is it ironic that I find it hard to justify spending €45 for a massage session for myself, despite knowing that, as a massage therapist, it's worth a lot more?

Red Apron
Today I bought three items in anticipation of the future: a sabatier knife, a garlic press and a red apron. Part of the reason for the apron is that one of my friends is having her bridal shower soon and we've all been asked to wear aprons and bring wooden spoons! I browsed the range of aprons: striped, patterned, pictured, frilly, plain... I settled on an unpatterned bright red one made of thick cotton. I love red accessories, I'm not always brave enough to wear red clothes (though I do have a red dress on the sewing table). I have a red umbrella, an elegant but sturdy one that I love. I think that's why I chose the red apron. It's not as pretty as some of the other ones but it will last and there's a touch of class to it despite its humble practicality. I love the apron we wear in the cafe at work, a brown, straight-edged one that runs from high on the waist to mid calf. I feel such a sense of purpose and contentment in wearing it. Perhaps it's that the homemaker in me gets a chance to express herself, to set herself apart as having an important role, being someone who people come to for nourishment and care and love.

Making Plans
I must admit, part of me feels guilty about those purchases today. I plan to get a contract working on a cruise ship for 9 months- the interview is in June. To me it marks a clean break from my family. Not that I want to get rid of them (not anymore, anyway!), but that I want to establish myself as being a person in my own right. I want to have a chance to live as a "woman", not only as a "daughter". I want my own kitchen, to run my own household. I'm in the slow process of decluttering things in my room that I don't want to take with me when I leave and storing things that I do want to take with me. On my list of things I want to have in my own home are a sabatier knife and an apron. Perhaps I just feel unsure about taking that first stumbling flight out of the nest? Or I feel guilty about making plans when in New Zealand and Japan homes and lives are being shaken and swept away without warning. I keep having to remind myself not to be afraid, that Jesus told us that these things would happen and that it's just a sign of things to come. He's coming back soon.

"let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us, Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith" Heb 12:1-2

"Know ye not that they which run in a race run all, but one receiveth the prize? So run, that ye may obtain. And every man that striveth for the mastery is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a corruptible crown; but we an incorruptible. I therefore so run, not as uncertainly; so fight I, not as one that beateth the air: But I keep under my body, and bring it into subjection: lest that by any means, when I have preached to others, I myself should be a castaway." 1 Cor 9:24-27

"For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come." 1 Tim 4:8

In order to prepare for working on a cruise ship (5 and a half 12 hour shifts a week) I decided I needed to build up my stamina and fitness. I've been doing interval training on my cross trainer plus some stretches. Though I've only been at it for a little while I can already see tangible results. When I started, my pulse rate would peak at about 120 bpm. During my last workout at the same level of exertion my bpm peaked at 96! My body seems to be already adapting to the increased activity! This line of thought has also been spilling over into my spiritual life. I'm not a spiritual athlete. I find it difficult to pray and read the Word sometimes until I get spiritually dehydrated and have to turn to Him or burn out. For the first time in possibly years, I've been spontaneously worshipping God in the car, not only singing praise and worship songs but praying and prophesying in song! Sometimes it starts out feeling laboured and put on, but it always ends up feeling natural, loving, exciting and passionate.

Elijah and Leah
In Home and Away today, Elijah arrived back in the bay... with his new wife and stepson. Leah had only recently left Zimbabwe after the two mutually agree to end their relationship. Leah is devastated. I would have cried along with her except that I was at the dinner table with other people. It touched a sore spot in me that had been submerged for a while. Maybe it was just a chance for it to express itself and release some emotions by empathising with someone else's (even though she's just a character in a soap opera)?

Thursday, February 17, 2011

God's Dibber

The past couple of months have been very tough. Circumstances seemed to mount up and overwhelm me. There were a lot of tears and a lot of wondering whether God was listening and why I couldn't hear from Him. I was reading His Word (I needed it to get through each day), but in general nothing jumped out and grabbed me.

Recently things came to a head. It was a very tough week where I had to deal with a stalker as well as ringing the pastor of my first home church telling him that I had made a mistake leaving and wanted to return. A lot got resolved and then I took a blow that knocked me off my feet. In the past, I have felt pain like a knife being torn through my heart. This time, it felt like a rapier piercing my heart- a blade that was sharp but clean. I couldn't understand why I was still in so much pain. It was only last night that God showed me a bigger part of the picture than I had been able to see before. Things started to make sense.

I was driving home after a night out with the girls (karaoke!). I was crying and telling God that I was aching and I knew that He was the only one who could meet that need, sooth that ache. I told Him that I didn't know what to pray, only that His will be done. Out of the blue, for the first time in a long time, I heard His voice. He didn't speak about my circumstances or the future or His purposes for me. He reassured me,
"I love you very much". I repeated it after Him,
"You love me very much?"

"I love you very much. I have never left you and I never will." I thought of the people who I felt let down by, who I felt had abandoned me.
"You'll never leave me?"
"I'll never leave you." I repeated these truths over and over to myself, allowing them to sink into my heart, like seeds into the soil of my heart. Today it struck me.

It wasn't a rapier that pierced my heart, it was God's dibber making a hole in the soil of my heart, making room for those two seeds to be planted. My heart was hardened from pain and my unwillingness to let anyone it. I was holding up my circumstances as a shield between me and God, not letting Him come in. It took something sharp to pierce through my defenses and plant those two seeds.

Now that the seeds have been planted, I can water them and allow them to grow, blossom and bear fruit. They will not be taken away. The revelation that God loves me very much and that He will never leave me cannot be taken away, it is embedded in my core being, planted in my heart.

What I thought was a painful moment, something meant to hurt me, God meant for good. What I thought was destructive was used to be creative, generative, an opportunity for comfort and growth.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Downsizing my Wardrobe

Stumbled across Project 333 this evening and was so excited I jumped straight in! I've been decluttering my room one baby step at a time and I still get surprised at what I find in my wardrobe sometimes. Here is an inventory I took of the clothes in my wardrobe (not including socks, underwear, pyjamas or accessories, e.g. hats, gloves, scarves...). The first figures represent what was there (not including what I'm wearing/what's in the wash) and the figures in brackets represent what I kept, i.e. what did not go into probation before I visit the charity shop.

Clothing Inventory

  • Dressy camisoles/tank tops- 6 (2)
  • Casual/plain camisoles- 19 (3)
  • T-shirts- 23 (8)
  • Long-sleeved T-shirts- 9 (3)
  • Light cardigans- 10 (4)
  • Woolly jumpers- 8 (1)
  • Other heavy jumpers (inc. hoodies)- 9 (5)
  • Dresses/long tops- 11 (7)
  • Shirts- 6 (3)
  • Waistcoats- 2 (1)
  • Suit jackets- 2 (2)
  • Jeans- 3 (2) (loads of these in the wash!)
  • Dressy/work trousers- 2 (1)
  • Suit- 1 (1)
  • Shorts- 2 (1)
  • Skirts- 5 (0)
Also did shoes/boots
  • Leather boots-3 pairs (haven't purged anything yet)
  • Snow boots- 1
  • Hiking boots- 2
  • Sandals- 2
  • MBTs- 1
  • Heels- 2
  • Flip flops- 2
  • Flats/pumps- 2
  • Sneakers- 3
  • Work shoes- 1
The aim of Project 333 is to get down to 33 items per season. According to this list I've pared my clothes down to 43 while shoes are at 19 (whoa- I have 19 pairs of shoes?!). I do think that I'll be able to get shoes down to 13 though... ;) The clothes tally isn't as bad as I thought although I'm amazed at my skirts- I've been moving more towards wearing skirts or dresses but realised that I don't like all but one of my skirts (which is in the wash as we speak)! If that isn't an excuse to sew some new ones I don't know what is :p

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Remembering 2010

Wow. The beginning of a new year, a fresh look at things, a chance to forget the worries that lie behind and press on.

This time last year I was about to start a 4 week long teaching placement. I had just met up with my ex for the first time since the previous May. That renewed contact got me through the 2 weeks of the placement that I struggled through. It was hell. A week and a half into it I started getting panic attacks, I couldn't manage my classes and I was hating the placement. I took Thursday and Friday off and tried to rest for the weekend. I couldn't sleep on Sunday night and I was getting more and more anxious and upset. I rang Ollie. He calmed me down and I decided to pull out of the placement. It was not worth messing up my mental health over it. I visited my GP and decided to go on a low dose of anti-anxiety tablets. Now, a year later, I've decided it's time to wean myself off them.

In June, I had a breakthrough. After dropping a friend off at work one day I felt like a hot fudge sundae. As I was waiting in the queue I noticed a poster that said the restaurant chain was looking for employees. I noted the website. I applied for a job in 2 local branches. Both applications were declined. Unperturbed and sure that the prompting was from God (I'd been unemployed for a while and too afraid of rejection to seek work) I applied to a third branch. This one was 10 miles from home and I'd never visited it. Ollie and I had started seeing each other again and he came down to meet my family. While we were chatting in the dining room before going for a walk I got a phone call from the manager of the restaurant asking me to come in for an interview the next morning. I couldn't believe it! Ollie and I drove over early the next morning- we were gobsmacked. It was the nicest branch of this restaurant I had ever seen. It had a cafe attached and we drank tea and coffee before the interview. The interview went well and then the manager asked me a question: "If I ask you a question will you please answer it honestly? It will not affect your chances of getting the job." I got nervous. What on earth was she going to ask me? "The job advert was for a crew position but if I offered you work as a hostess would you accept it?" She continued by explaining that I would be responsible for a team that would clean the lobby and for looking after the customers. I replied in the affirmative.

A couple of weeks later I was working as a hostess. Over the next few months I learned how to use the till, work in the drive-thru and most recently, work in the cafe all by myself. I have been given opportunities to prove myself, taken them and been rewarded with positions of higher responsibility.

In September, I repeated my teaching placement in the same school I was in in January. I still hated it but by the grace of God I got through it. I will never set foot in a secondary school classroom again and that's ok.

I must note at this stage what a miracle all of this is. In early January 2010 I sat beside Ollie in his mother's sitting room crippled with fear. We started on a journey of discovering who we are in Christ and putting aside our fear. God led us through scriptures that affirmed who we are in Christ. Gal 2:20, Col 3:8-17 and Eph 6:10-18 were 3 that helped me settle into work. I repeated them to myself in the car journey over. I'm so thankful for Ollie's support during this time, I needed to lean on him and he was there. To date, I've been able to hold down a full time job and Ollie has been sober for 14 months- praise Jesus for His healing touch! This year I've come to see how dependent I am on Him. I don't feel weak or stupid admitting that, I feel relieved. I don't have to live this life on my own strength, Jesus is in me, the hope of glory and He lives in me, through me. :)

I still struggle with feelings of fear and inadequacy, but now I feel better equipped to deal with them. Life is not perfect, but I know that I can settle in the knowledge that God is in control, that His plans for me are good and He will bring them to pass.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

A Life Told in Swims

Today I went swimming for the first time in about a year. By myself. I swam 3/4 lengths at my leisure, avoiding dive bombing kids and adults swimming with floats. I swam for 25 minutes but rested for a moment between lengths. This was followed by a relaxing hot shower, a few minutes in the sauna and taking my time getting dressed and combing conditioner through my hair. Contrast this to my 9 year old self: Racing to get to the pool early (having put on my togs beneath my clothes to save time), waiting at the poolside to be the first in, darting here and there over, in and under the water, getting the most out of every minute. I would wait until the lifeguard shouted, "time's up" before clambering out for a quick shower and change.

I enjoyed today as much as I enjoyed swimming when I was 9. Today was one of the infrequent times in the past few years that I have enjoyed swimming. I enjoyed not having to think, just doing the equivalent of a stroll in the pool with nothing/no one to worry about.

I can mark a lot of developments in my life in the swimming pool.
At 4 years old I clung to the bar afraid to let go. At 5 I jumped straight into the deep end, unafraid in my bright orange armbands. Through primary school I gained confidence, earning certificates and medals for my achievements. My Dad, brothers and I had season tickets at the local pool which we used often. By the age of 9 I had started lifesaving lessons, dividing time between learning in the water and shivering as I practiced CPR and the recovery position on the cold, wet poolside tiles. During one trip to the local pool the lifeguard told me to get out of the deep end. After towing my Dad around the shallow end I was never told to get out again!

At 13 however I was training for a particular lifesaving medal. There was one section (a timed swim carrying a person in a tow using a shirt) that I just couldn't do. No matter how hard I tried I just did not have the stamina to make the time. Discouraged I left and didn't return. Swimming lost its joy for me. In my teens and 20s my most enjoyable swims were with friends in the sea (I no longer feel so cold in the open water). But, for me, today was the first time I went swimming alone and didn't feel bored with nobody to talk to/chase around the pool. I enjoyed the time to myself without anybody needing my attention or being responsible for anybody. Thanks for the blessing today, Lord!