Life is a journey. Our experiences shape us and become the compass that determines our path. Accompany me as I explore and understand how trauma affected me, shaped my sense of self, influenced my decisions and made my body sick. Who I am and who I appear to be can sometimes feel like oceans apart. My lighthouse is my fervency for life, passion for change, and belief in my dreams. The blog is my way to make sense, process and ultimately heal. I hope it helps you too.
The mustard seed is thought to be the smallest of all seeds, and yet it grows larger than all plants, into a tree that provides not only the delicious food accompaniment but also shade. You can eat the seeds as well as the large green leaves which are highly nutritious. It also grows the most beautiful yellow flowers.
But it is the size of the seed we are most familiar with, because of the parable in the book of Mathew. The father of a boy approached Jesus and begged him to heal his son. He told him that the disciples had just tried but failed. Jesus healed the boy and when his disciples asked why they were unsuccessful, Jesus said to them ““Because you have so little faith. Truly I tell you, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.” (Mathew 17, 20).
I love how so many of the parables in the Bible include nature and this parable speaks powerfully into my heart especially in this season I find myself in and my love for nature.
Having completed my book, Wild Wheat, I now face the next stage, the not so romantic one, that of raising funds to publish it. I decided some time ago that self publishing was the way for me because I want this book to be my baby, written my way, in my voice and to represent me, not a publishing company who will look at it purely from a business perspective.
This book is so much more than ‘just a book’. It is a work of my soul, a labour of love that has turned me inside out, back to front and straight again. I’ve emptied myself on these pages and experienced great vulnerability. There have been days when I could not touch the laptop for fear of the pain that would be unearthed while writing about another memory, another trauma, another painful event that wounded me deeply.
Moreover, this book is not just my story but His story through mine. It talks about the traumas and all the hard things life throws that we try to figure out, fix, check against our many self help books or podcasts. But then it brings the reader to my place of desperation, the place where I had to wave my white flag on my knees inwardly screaming that I could no longer figure it out, put on a brave front, visualise my goals, pin the dream on a vision board, go through the 21 day habit changing program, see another counsellor, one more doctor, meditate another minute or pay a priest to pray for me harder.
It was twelve years ago that I embarked on a spiritual quest, stepping out of the religion of my forefathers and into an unknown world I had little understanding of. The years that followed were filled with so many lessons you will need to read the book to find out about them. I conformed and tried this other way, I learned and rebelled, I accepted then rejected, I fought against and then opened my door again, I researched, analysed, questioned, doubted, until I came to the place of surrender, and it was beautiful. If it wasn’t about God it could be the story of a marriage with the ups and downs, me, battling, walking away and returning again.
All along God was faithful of course, I was the work in progress, I was the one learning to let go, trust more, lean deeper and step out of the box people like to package God in. Oh the wonder of it all when one does this. It is beautiful.
And all this took place with faith as small as a mustard seed. Probably smaller. I’m still working to get to mustard seed size. When I do, apparently I’ll be moving mountains. Watch out world.
Now I need this seed sized faith to publish the book. To tell my story, His story, OUR story, to spread hope, to open the box, to see what is possible with just a little bit of faith.
If you want to jump on board with me and see this dream come true in its real, raw, honest, vulnerable narrative, you can follow my project, pledge, send moral support or pray. All of those are of value to me and I am grateful for all who have walked with me part of the way, held my hand a little, lifted me up, spoke encouragement, urged me on.
Let’s hope that my book will be like a mustard seed, growing into something that will help, make a difference, nourish souls, bring beauty, and most of all of course share hope.
I’ve been quiet here for some time. I have been busy writing so I wanted to pop by and update you just in case you were missing me.
I started writing my memoirs approximately three years ago. I wanted to start writing them much before that but I believed that this was to be a project for retirement. I often visualised myself sitting on my balcony overlooking the ocean in Cyprus and penning my memories, my story. The motivating factor was to leave a legacy for my children, grandchildren and generations to come.
The problem is that this project, this calling, would not leave me alone. That’s the thing with a calling, it calls you! I would meet complete strangers and have a brief chat about this and that and they would exclaim “you need to write a book you know” much to my surprise. Why would they find it so interesting? I would meet friends for coffee and bring up memories of the past, connected to the lessons learned from loss, grief, abuse, pain and they would say “Michelle, you really need to tell your story, you must write a book”.
This went on for sometime and the idea started to take shape but it was to be for the future. Aside from the lack of time for such a project (I am a busy mum), there was also my struggle with chronic illness (fibromyalgia), memory problems and confusion (from trauma and fibromyalgia), and deep down the belief that no one would ever want to read my story and that I could not do it justice by trying to write it. It would be written when I had nothing else to occupy my time and then it would be for my close family members who wouldn’t judge the quality of my writing.
However, if I were to be honest, and I owe you this since you are giving up your time to read my thoughts, the predominant factor stopping me was fear. Fear of giving up precious time to a project that could be a failure when we need to put food on our table and keep a roof over our children’s heads. Fear of the book selling and extended family/acquaintances reading it and being disappointed in me. Fear of exposing my innermost secrets, mistakes, faults, opening up myself raw for the world to have an opinion without even knowing me as a person. Fear of those mentioned in the book in not such a good light, being upset and taking some kind of action. Fear of my own children growing up and wishing I had kept my mouth shut, being ashamed of me and what I have shared with the world. Fear on being judged on the quality of my writing.
So I did what I do best and kept myself busy with a myriad of other tasks, ideas, possibilities to make some money, all along neglecting the call. I even wrote a book but not THE book. I wrote a children’s story which I ended up placing on a shelf for future publication because something just didn’t fit, I had no peace about publishing that first.
Then something happened to nudge me. A very close friend, someone who was like a sister to me and with whom I had grown up, was diagnosed with an autoimmune illness called Scleroderma which over time causes a deterioration of the body, a hardening and tightening of the skin and connective tissue. She was a single mum and her struggle was painful to watch. If love could have healed her, I would have loved her healed.
At that time, I was in a season in my Christian faith where I believed that anyone can be healed with prayer if I just believed enough, prayed enough, trusted enough. I had been believing for my own healing from fibromyalgia but now this was more important. I sent her books on healing and eventually she asked me to stop sending her Christian material. Once, when I visited, she allowed me to pray for her healing and nothing happened. I was devastated. The truth is I was confused but also embarrassed. My God couldn’t or wouldn’t heal my precious friend. Why?
I went on to have words with God, frequently. Whether it’s appropriate or not, there were several one – way arguments with him. In the car, in the shower, in the sound of dishes being washed. Why are some people instantly healed through prayer and others aren’t? Was it the measure of my faith? A cruel calculating God? My unworthiness of such a miracle?
This sent me on a searching journey, digging deeper to understand who God is, why bad things happen to good people, and if God turns a blind eye to suffering in this world. Perhaps a post for another time, (or you can read my book lol) but for the sake of this piece, let’s just say it was a time of drawing in even closer to God, of trusting bigger even when the answer is no. One day however, as I was ironing, I cried out to God for my friend. I asked “I want to give her hope, I want to give her comfort, I want to give her reassurance, I want her to know you are with her no matter what, you see her, you see the suffering and you are present. How do I do that when she won’t discuss you, when she won’t read anything I send? What can I send that she will read”? And I heard a voice say “She will read your book”. That hope was all I needed to start and then, tragically, stop. The fears came at me like an avalanche as well as the financial problems that rendered my book a non-urgent priority and I gave up because it was just too difficult. My precious friend died a year later not having had the opportunity to read my book.
In June 2018, we became homeless and ended up staying with a friend on her farm in Wales, UK, for nine months. My husband used our only car for work and it was too complex to attempt the use of public transport to get anywhere, plus we were saving money. So once the children were happy occupying themselves each day, I began writing my story. I figured, I had nothing else to do with those couple of hours each day so why not pen down whatever came?
By the end of the nine months, we had finally found a home for our little family and life went back to it’s crazy speed. I jumped right back on the treadmill of wife-hood, mother-hood, friend-hood and life-hood. The book took a back seat once more as I focused any left over energy into another income earning idea that failed.
Then Covid 19 happened and in March 2020 the UK went into lock-down. I live in Wales which has its own rules and for us lock-down went on for several weeks, I lost count but it was something like 12 weeks. Twelve weeks of not driving anywhere, no extra-curricular activities for the children, no appointments to make, no organising the lives of five people and staying on that treadmill. Yes, it did mean that all five members of our family where together 24/7 but since we have home educated for the last 8-9 years, it wasn’t dramatically different if you take out the daily outings we enjoyed and my husband not working.
It took lock-down to finally pin me back down to picking up this book project but this time I became serious. What if I lose my life from Covid? What if I die and leave this unfinished book? How will my children know the ending? What if my book can impart hope to others who are struggling?
So I began again and this time I stuck to it even after lock-down. It has been five months of daily writing and I am close to the end of the first draft. Right now it is humongous. Most chapters are 20,000 words long! Clearly there will be much editing and cutting down but that’s the next part of the project. In the immediate, I am focused on the last 4 chapters, nearing the end of this race and feeling the effects of it all.
I still have no idea whether this book will sell, will be read, will help others or will simply be the legacy I leave my children, of their story through my story. But, regardless of that, let me tell you what this has done for me so far.
It has been a cathartic healing process. I don’t know if we ever fully heal from deep trauma but I believe we can heal enough to the point of the wound being cleaned out, closed and a scar being the reminder of what once was agony. The pain doesn’t fully go away. But we learn to manage it and not let it pull us under. I am astounded at how much I remembered once I began writing. In the process of writing or typing, my mind opened and events, feelings, thoughts all came back to me. At times I had to walk away from the laptop, take a breath, do something other than writing just to allow my body and mind and heart to process what I had just offloaded onto the screen that represents my life. I took on cooking as a meditation for that processing to take place and to the delight of my family they got to taste favourite foods from Cyprus that they have missed, foods only my mother in law would make for them at each visit. For me it was time uninterrupted, my hands busy creating while my mind processed and my heart came to terms with whatever I had just relived. I have had therapy (counselling) on at least three occasions in my life, but this process was the most thorough, cathartic, edifying and illuminating of all.
I have learned that I would love to train as a therapeutic writing counsellor, perhaps, one day. To help others walk the journey and clean their wounds, process and derive all the lessons life has taught them. To help them see how their story can turn their adversity into advantage, their test into a testimony, their mess into a message, their lessons into a legacy and their journey into an opportunity for the future.
I have learned to trust God in what He is doing and not in my own doing. This has been my biggest struggle in life, to trust anyone or anything outside of my self.
I have learned to discipline myself to write each day even if it is an hour. I write until I feel nauseous with pain to the point of almost passing out. My right hand and right shoulder take the brunt of it all and usually an hour in, I am in agony. Migraines are frequent visitors. Faith in the calling can propel you to push yourself harder knowing there is a reason for it, trusting that it is all for a purpose.
I have learned to prioritise that which tugs at my heart even if it doesn’t make sense and to set an example to my children to follow that call when it happens. To let go of my default analysis paralysis and just get on with it.
To pull myself up from the bottom of the pile. This exercise in writing my book has been also a work of building a relationship with myself, valuing me and who I am, appreciating the things about myself that others find strange, loving me as I am, not when I can…. or when I am …
I have learned to be grateful for everything including the suffering. A shocking statement I know and you would need to read the book to understand, I hope, but truly had it not been for the immense suffering in my life, I would not have the patience, determination, vision and passion to make a difference with my life. I would not have the insight and gained wisdom, the humility to trust and press through constantly learning, the obedience to apologise and recognise my mistakes, the ability to forgive my perpetrators as well as myself. I would not have a grateful heart in the little as well as in the much. I would not have learned to let go of pride and ego. I would not parent my children the way I do. Oh the lessons are many, many more. We don’t like suffering, we do not want to walk that path, but there is great gain in loss…
If ever I am grateful for the uncertainty, chaos and mess that Covid 19 has created, it will be for this reason. For gifting me the time and space to heed the call and write this book even though I don’t know what comes next. And perhaps this in itself is the biggest lesson of all. Trust and do it anyway.
I recently wrote this piece on Vocal, a platform for writers from all over the world. I decided to publish it here on my blog because it has a place here, it is part of my story.
To the mother I don’t remember.
Well, here we are. If ever there was going to be an opportunity to write you a letter, this is it.
I saw this challenge on a writing platform I recently discovered called Vocal. Nothing like that would have existed when you were alive. Back then landline phones were the main form of communication or telegrams for urgent contact with loved ones abroad.
Today, we can communicate with anyone anywhere in the world in a matter of seconds. You would have loved this. You would have used social media or What’s APP and Messenger to connect with your parents and siblings while you traveled around the world with my dad. I know you sent them telegrams though. Your mum -grandma Audrey- showed me some when I was growing up.
She also showed me the one she received while she was in Malaysia with granddad Paul. The one that told her you had taken your life. She had a breakdown straight after.
I know you wrote her letters. She showed me those too. You wrote long, detailed explanations of all that you were seeing, experiencing in different countries in the world. Being the wife of a sea faring captain was fun and you enjoyed sea -salt seasoned adventures. You met some amazing people, rescued parrots, mynah birds and monkeys from markets in Beirut and Morocco. But you couldn’t rescue me.
It feels fitting to write you a letter. You wrote many and they were beautiful. Little did you know that your daughter would be so like you. A writer, an animal lover, a rescuer, a wandering soul.
When I saw this challenge to write about a woman who inspires me, many women came to mind. Women who have been mother figures when you were not there throughout my life. Even the woman who grabbed me and placed me in her husband’s arms when I walked round to her house and said I couldn’t wake up mummy. She was a rock to our family. And she still cries for you even in her very old age. But I didn’t pick her.
I thought of aunt Zoe, your best friend. She was a mother figure for me while I lived on the farm those first years. She would take me to her home to play with her girls and wash me in the bath. Patiently and often with tears streaming down her face, she would scrub the filth from my body. Caked on dirt from the farm. Dirt my grandparents couldn’t see or wash from my body, they could barely take care of themselves.
Aunt Zoe would use rose scented soap, warm water, and soft towels to dry me. She told me that when you were alive, I smelled of flowers. No one knew what you used on me but anywhere I went, I smelled clean and beautiful. She always made a point of drying between my toes so that I couldn’t get a fungal infection. I used to think it was weird. Now I know she was desperate to protect me in the only way she knew, by keeping me clean.
She still grieves for you. And now she grieves the loss of her own daughter too. Too soon, too young, your age when you left. Who would have thought? But I didn’t pick her.
I thought of Elli, the woman who fostered me when you died. At just 5 years old, she added me into her home with her daughters and made me feel like part of her family. I had my comfortable bed, my own set of drawers with neatly folded clean clothes. She cared about me and loved me like a mother, but she wasn’t my mother. She couldn’t connect the bond that was severed when you left me. Nothing could do that. No one could. But she did her very best, for two whole years she tried but in the end all I wanted was to be close to you by living on the farm with my grandparents, the last people who ever saw you alive, the ones who kept your handbag and nightdress in the wardrobe. Living on the farm meant I could hide in the wardrobe and hug your handbag tightly, smelling your scent, feeling you close. So, I didn’t pick Elli.
There have been other women who have inspired me over the years. Women I called when I gave birth so that I could announce the happy news to someone who resembled a mother figure in my life. There have been women who have loved, supported me, cheered me on but I didn’t pick them.
There are friends who are women of valor, an example of what is it to overcome trauma, adversity and live victoriously. I thought of them. Surviving domestic violence, sexual abuse, loss and severe trauma, being an example to their children, setting up charities, making a difference in the hurting world.
But I didn’t pick them.
Why did I pick you? I don’t even remember you, well, the two memories I have of you are not the stuff of inspirational stories. Your detention in the mental hospital and your death. that’s it.
At five years old when you left, I should have more memories, but they were cleaned out with the same brutality strangers cleaned out our home when you died.
I picked you because you inspire me to be the woman I aspire to being. I picked you because you weren’t perfect and you did life raw, hard but real. I picked you because you loved me in the deepest and most profound way there could ever be. I know this because even though I have no good memories of you when I think of you, I sense the bond, severed but still there like two ends of one umbilical cord cut in half the two bodies floating away from each other and yet, somehow, supernaturally connected through a stronger invisible cord.
I don’t remember you, yet people say I am so like you. I write like you, we even have the same handwriting, how can that be? I love animals, nature, people. I laugh with my head thrown back, loud and full heartedly, just like you did apparently. I see the funny side of everything just like you did. Apparently.
According to all those who knew you as a daughter, sister and friend, you were sensitive, compassionate, loved deep and hard, stood up to fight for those with no voice. My arrival was your happiest moment and as I have been told so many times, I was always carried by you lest I fell, lest I scraped a knee, lest I felt sad.
I remember your mum, grandma Audrey telling me that when you all lived in Malaysia or some other exotic part of the world, while she dined and danced and played tennis with diplomats, you were tending to the lepers that no one wanted to touch. You had access to wealth and luxury, but you preferred the poor and destitute.
Your beauty won you many competitions and many rich and famous men asked for your hand in marriage. But you picked my dad. A Greek man from a poor family who sailed the seas to get away from his own pain and then found you, his kindred spirit, his soul mate. You were happiest feeding sheep on his parents’ farm, helping on the ship, bringing joy and rescuing people and animals wherever you travelled.
You loved fully, unconditionally; you were real. And your pain bore deep. My father’s death was the final straw for you. You couldn’t bear it any longer and so two failed attempts later, your struck ‘lucky’ the third time and left me forever wondering why. Why you left. Why I wasn’t worth living for.
I have been so utterly heartbroken that no one could help me. My body has taken all the pain of my soul and doctors could not help me as I screamed in physical and mental anguish. The trauma of your loss was too much, at times I have been tempted to end it all, to follow you but then there has always been a force within me pushing me on, lifting me up. Is it you?
I went through years of anger towards you. If you had stayed alive, I would have been safe, protected from the molesters, the neglect, the further loss when my grandparents died. I would have had someone to rejoice in my pregnancies, someone to call for that family recipe, someone to hold the baby while I took a nap. You would have been my light in the darkness. But maybe you have been all along.
But its all the stuff of dreams because we truly do not know what the future brings. I was angry for what I thought I was missing and yet so many mothers are alive but may as well be dead for the pain and sorrow they cause their children.
There came a time, I saw what I was doing and how you became a scapegoat. If you were still alive, I would be … If you had not died, I would not have endured …
But its all just thoughts, no proof. It is all futile.
They say time is a healer. I am not healed. I have learned to live with your absence. I have forgiven you for leaving me and I have wished you alive more times than it is possible to count. But you are not, at least not in this same life I am living now.
And yet I am inspired by you. I am inspired to live my life fully even if I don’t know what may come. I am inspired to love like you did even though you knew it hurt. I am inspired to care for others selflessly even if they never acknowledge my kindness. I am inspired to do what thrills my heart even if it doesn’t meet with the expectations or approval of others. As a mother, I am inspired to hold on to my children longer, carry them lest they fall, hold them high above the danger, be real and raw and funny and sad and authentic lest they have some false aspirations of a perfect mother that does not exist.
Most of all mum, I am inspired by you to let go of all that I think I should be, to not conform to the standards of the world and instead be unashamedly and unapologetically myself. Because that is the example by which I want to inspire my own children to live. Holding nothing back, fitting in no one’s box but living fully themselves, making mistakes without shame, discovering without judgement, living according to their benchmark and embracing all there is with no regrets.
By nature, I am a positive and very optimistic person. The glass half – full type. But I can’t lie to you. The Covid 19 pandemic has raised my hackles and I have reigned myself in on multiple occasions to prevent a panic attack triggered by the latest apocalypse style news. I live in the UK and have watched as the world, piece by piece is shutting down, entire countries going into lock-down with a police or military presence preventing unnecessary movement. Here, although in lock down we are told to practice social distancing keeping 2 metres apart from others when out on our assigned daily exercise and avoid unnecessary movement. Schools have closed and parents are trying to figure out how to home educate while surviving the health risks, while isolating, while trying to change their businesses into online ones, while dealing with the uncertainty and financial implications. Panic shopping has seen empty shelves worthy of war like scenarios and fights breaking out over toilet paper. Who would have thought?
It’s easy to look at all this and go into shut down mode. I worry most about people with learning difficulties that can’t understand, people with mental illness already battling to manage, at-risk children and spouses in domestic violence or abusive situations being forced to stay in with their perpetrators. Alzheimer’s patients, children and adults with conditions that make them vulnerable, the elderly (have they not been through enough?), those with underlying health conditions and hence more vulnerable. I have friends undergoing chemotherapy, one who just had open heart surgery. Our family lives in Cyprus, currently in lock down. My mother in law was discharged from hospital after a serious illness only days before Covid 19 hit. We can only hope that all will be well and soon we’ll be tasting grandmas’ delicious dolmades and playing with cousins on the beach.
In the meantime, we have to ride it out. As another friend recently reflected, her parents were teenagers during World War 2 and they spent the best parts of their youth working in ammunition factories and farms, surviving but never really living. Their answer to how they coped “We just got on with it.”
That is certainly one way to look at it, but I believe there is another. We may feel like helpless pawns in some big game orchestrated by nature or bio hacking or the 5G invasion messing with our bodies’ natural electrical current. Whatever it is, we can look at it a different way.
We can use this crisis as a personal opportunity to reflect on how we once lived, naïve, dependant on the state or on world systems to look after us, trusting and faithfully working as cogs in someone else’s wheel. We trust a medical system that in time of crisis can’t cope, can’t help, and due to a lack of resources has to decide who it will allow to live and who must die for the benefit of the younger fitter cogs.
We trust an education system that raises cogs only to find that its perfectly designed formula is putting children at risk of infection and has washed its hands off. It has sent children back home to be cared for, protected and educated by their parents, the people it has convinced us for so long were unable to educate their children. We have been led to believe that only conventional schools, institutionalisation could achieve what no parent could. And yet, it is parents who are now expected to pick up the reigns and ride on regardless even with impossible odds and frustrating limitations.
We trust supermarkets to always provide, that they have systems in place to handle any crisis especially since warnings in the form of previous outbreaks have been around for years. We trust that we will always be fed and watered and sustained, only to find chaos, lack of management, hoarding, fighting and empty shelves.
Reflecting brings awareness, lessons learned and new realisations. Aha moments that lead to new perception, different ways of thinking and creativity unleashed. Usually it begins with looking at ourselves, how we rely on outside sources to feel safe, content, happy. When all is taken away, can we still feel safe, content, happy?
Perhaps we will start to grow our own food in pots or gardens. I saw a video the other day of a woman growing food on a tiled floor and in the crevices of the garden walls. Food scarcity may motivate us to try new recipes using leftovers or less ingredients. A friend sent me a recipe for flat bread with just 4 ingredients. Water, flour, salt and oil. We may become less wasteful, more mindful when eating. The realisation that when all is said and done, the best weapon against illness is our own body, will lead us to take better care of it. Feed it nutritiously, build its immunity, love on it more, hate on it and judge it less.
The coronavirus crisis has forced us to physically socialise less, spend more time at home, more time with our families if we live with others, more creative socialisation online or by phone.
In times past, for many communities, life was isolating with homes miles apart and no phone or internet communication. Visitors from neighbouring villages provided a rare exciting break to the day to day life of those communities. Back then, men worked out in the fields, farms, workshops, mines, sea fishing, or running small shops while women mostly stayed at home working hard to wash by hand, clean with natural cleaners like vinegar. They may have walked miles to fetch clean water (as still happens in communities around the world), feed the animals kept for milk, eggs or food, sew clothes for the family, repair old ones, grind flour, prepare food from scratch since no convenience foods were available. They may have earned extra money sewing for others, making crafts to sell, weaving baskets, making jewellery or make- up from natural resources. They may have foraged for food or natural materials to create items for the home. There wasn’t much time to ‘socialise’.
Children would have possibly and rarely attended some sort of school or outdoor class with one teacher, or even learned at home as their ancestors would have done for hundreds of years before. They would have participated in all chores and jobs helping both parents. And then, there would have been some break, a little time to play and ‘socialise’. This may have been a kick about with a ball with a few local friends, the women would make tea or coffee and have a quick gossip between chores if they happened to live near each other. Men would converse while working or at a gathering in the village. Most socialising over the course of history was a natural part of living, while shopping, doing chores, among family and rarely with lots of people.
Today we think socialising is something that has to be forced, manipulated, facilitated. We bring about hundreds of children together in institutions and time them against the clock to play according to our rules while micromanaged by adults.
Now, we are going back to how it was. Back to using time creatively, productively in our homes, reconnecting with family members, working as a team, taking responsibilities, laughing and playing together and enjoying some safe contact with others. What we may find through this is that our conversations are longer, deeper, more meaningful. That we call people we haven’t seen for years and have those conversations we shelved due to lack of time. That we learn to enjoy our own company, and be comfortable in our own skin.
As home educators, socialisation has been a natural part of life. Of course, we haven’t been shut at home all the time, but we haven’t been mixing with lots of people in a manufactured attempt to socialise either. We have simply been doing life and learning to be content with time alone, or in small intimate gatherings.
Conversely, another benefit from this social distancing or lock-down will be the quietness. Our world had become outrageously noisy. Noise pollution is real. As someone who has battled PTSD for most of my life, noise is painful, confusing, overwhelming. There are many people with sensory issues, autism, Asperger’s, PTSD and other reasons to struggle with noise. Crowded shops and cafes, crowded playgrounds, crowded streets. I’ve given up on so many dates with my husband because I simply could not hear him over the noise of music layered on top of noise from diners. Screaming children make playcentres impossible even for my children who can’t understand why other kids need to scream to have fun. Interesting. Even drying our hands in public toilets is an assault on our hearing with incredibly loud high-pressured air forced through machines. There is scientific proof that the noise level exceeds the legal limit and is harmful to children especially those lower down and thus nearer the output of the hand dryer. Noise noise everywhere. But not anymore, at least not for a time. The world is getting quieter. And we need it. We all need it.
Gratitude and appreciation. We have taken so many luxuries for granted for far too long. History books tell us that nothing is forever, nothing is guaranteed, or secure. We have seen devastating wars, unjustified, making no sense whatsoever, turn stunning tourist hot spots into rubble and millions of people fleeing to safety only to find they are not wanted anywhere. Those that once graced their beaches, enjoyed luxury spas in their hotels, shopped from their markets and enthused in the beauty of their country, now turn their backs on the very people who once served them and made their holiday unforgettable. Now, with their status changed to refugees, they are stranded, unwanted, uncared for with nothing to help them survive harsh winters, dangerous human predators, disease, starvation. Are you safe in your home right now? Be grateful.
We know that in our lifetimes, in this day and age, fires can wipe out entire countries, famine and disease can wipe out entire generations. Floods, tsunamis, viruses, cancer, malnutrition, earthquakes, hurricanes, volcano eruptions. They are all real and dangerous and possible yet if we haven’t been touched by it, we don’t care. Each to their own. But now, when we are all affected, we suddenly have woken up to something that is reality for people in third world countries all the time. Lack of clean water, food, sanitation, toilet paper, medicine. Yet they get on with it. They find ways, solutions.
We see now. We truly see and as such we may no longer take for granted our freedom of movement, social gatherings, material possessions, abundance of food in our shops, concerts, cinemas, theatres, shopping malls, central heating, air conditioning, safe homes, cars, fuel, technology, free healthcare (in the UK).
We may now be more conscious of our temporary state of existing, our mortality, our fragility and how we are all in this together not apart. Distance is no longer relevant. We haven’t avoided this crisis, it has come to find us in every country, every community no matter how much we tried to get on with our lives. We are all part of the bigger picture, each of us relevant and connected. We are suddenly seeing this connection and cultivating empathy, compassion.
The uncertainty is also turning our attention to the higher power, our spirit nature, the rest of the story when this chapter is over. Whatever it is, the universe, God, our inner being, we know there is more, this can’t be it. We are too amazing, intricate, extraordinary for this life to be it. No, there’s so much more. This experience has purpose and we are now considering it, ruminating on it, gleaning wisdom from it, faith growing stronger.
We are finding meaning. What once seemed important, critical, worrying, challenging may have paled into insignificance as bigger and more worrying things have taken their place. Just weeks ago we stressed over meeting deadlines, that promotion, paying for the holiday, what to do with the kids during Spring break, why little Jimmy didn’t get invited to the class birthday party, why little Annie didn’t get picked for the team again. Now, we watch as the world is getting infected with an unknown virus and we are herded and prodded and investigated, quarantined and scared for our lives and those of our loved ones, not least because the healthcare system can’t cope. A scenario worthy of a Hollywood blockbuster, in fact it won’t be long before one is out.
What once felt like a breaking point, showed us that we are stronger and more resilient when bigger threats are on the horizon. In ‘Man’s search for meaning’ Viktor Frankl documents his experience as a psychiatrist sent to Auschwitz concentration camp. He describes the challenges and how differently prisoners tried to survive. The conspiracies, betrayals for a piece of bread, the fights but also the hope, the faith, the instinct to survive, the compassion, camaraderie and sacrifice. In a place where they had no freedom, no food, no warm clothing, no medicine and were beaten, tortured and degraded constantly, those who focused on positive thinking, on loved ones, on dreams, on their faith, on the future, on those they cared about in that place, had the best chance of survival.
At one point in the book Viktor describes how he felt the presence of his wife. He had no idea if she had died or was still alive (she was in fact dead), but he felt her presence powerfully and would speak with her all the time while labouring away on the railway tracks in the snow. At night he would dream, and his dreams provided an escape from the reality of daytime suffering. In fact, he looked forward to sleep so that he could escape through his dreams. Humour existed even in those dire circumstances. No one could take those things from him. No one can take that from us now.
Recently in the documentary ‘The story of us’ with Morgan Freeman, I watched Albert Woodfox who was convicted to solitary confinement, describe the moment he decided he was free. He spent 23 hours of each day in a 6×9 cell alone for 43 years. He watched men he had become close friends with, go insane in their cells. And yet for him it all changed when he simply made a decision that no one could take away the freedom of his mind. His body may have been imprisoned but his mind and spirit were free. With that knowledge, he passed the hours and years until his release. The remainder of his life is being invested in teaching others, inspiring younger generations to be a force for good. Would he have dedicated these years to such an important purpose had it not been for his experience? I doubt it. Something took place in the confinement, a transformation.
How will you use your time in self-isolation or social distancing or quarantine?
“I realized that, even in prison, my schedule and time were in my control. Unlike my fellow inmates who spent their time playing cards, watching TV and “shucking and jiving” all day, I focused on training my mind. In those two years: I read 197 books. I wrote two books. I learned a new language (Korean). I taught my fellow inmates all about business and start-ups. I studied physics and history. I wrote every single day for two years straight. I incessantly trained and disciplined my mind. My routine became the saving grace that allowed me to relentlessly train my mind.” Andrew Medal (www.entrepreneur.com)
So, in summary these are the key take – away’s for this season we are in. My own reflections, conclusions, tools. Add your own. Edit mine. Go deep. Don’t be afraid.
Keep positive and focus on your mindset. Catch negative thoughts before they take root and replace them with positive ones.
Reflect and learn the lessons. What do you need to change going forward?
Use the opportunity. What new ideas can you develop? What old ones can you pick back up? What new skills can you learn?
Slow down. Take longer over tasks you used to rush through and become present, living in the moment, connecting deeper.
Practice gratitude and forgiveness. This is the perfect time to develop a gratitude habit. Journal it, write things you are grateful each day and place them in a jar. Consider people in your life that you need to forgive and cleanse your soul. This will benefit your health and boost your immunity too.
Dream, visualise, plan for the future. Make a vision board, write it on a piece of paper, visualise it daily in your mind and walk through it as if you were doing it. Amazingly, your brain can’t tell the difference, it believes you are actually doing it and will set in motion the means by which to make it reality.
Find meaning even in the smallest things. I once read a book called ‘one thousand gifts’. A journey of gratitude. The author even listed being grateful for the soap suds on her hands as she washed dishes and the rainbow colours reflected in it from the sunlight through the window. The soap suds represented all that she had in her life, children to wash dishes for, food to cook and plates to clean, their farm. The simplest things can speak volumes to our hearts. Don’t miss them.
Its OK to worry and be afraid but don’t stay there. I go through those moments too. We are human. Right now, many hospitals are filled with Covid 19 patients fighting for their lives. I am not being naive or trying to be insensitive. But if anything, the traumatic experiences of my past have taught me to always look for the bigger picture, to look for the good in every situation, to do what is within my ability, to trust for what I cannot understand and to believe that there is more to this life, more to this situation and that I don’t have to have every detail resolved. To see each day for the gift it is and to focus on the now while trusting for the tomorrow.
A couple of weeks ago I finally started my coaching business.
It’s not the easiest profession to describe, but for me, a coach comes alongside someone who is stuck; someone who is struggling in their life, career or business and needs a helping hand to lift them out of the hole they find themselves in. It’s a way of supporting someone so that they might continue onward to their desired destination through a trusted relationship (not friendship).
The ability to coach is both an honour and a blessing. It’s a vocation rather than a job and it makes me feel one hundred percent alive. Yet it took me some time to get here.
I started training in 2016, but didn’t take it further because I felt I needed more training. I wasn’t ready. I was too busy shifting my own junk to pretend to be someone who had it all figured out. I was in no position to coach others.
I hope this irony isn’t lost on you.
Then, last year, I signed up for a three-year course in counselling and psychotherapy. So far, it has been incredibly revealing and, as many of you know, a few months ago I began my own journey of healing from complex trauma, which is primarily what this blog is about. But, I also came to realise a few fundamental truths.
I initially delayed my coaching business because I thought I had to be a perfect coach, that I needed to have it all figured out and be completely healed of my own issues; to be a ‘success story’, if you will. What I didn’t realise was that healing is quite often a long process. For many of us, it’s a life-long one. Yet this doesn’t mean we stop living until we have it all sussed out. In fact, I already possess the skills needed to be a good coach because I have a lifetime of experience behind me.
Every challenge and achievement taught me strength, resilience, adaptability, congruence, empathy, curiosity, positivity, optimism, vision and determination. And while I still have issues to work through, I am perfectly capable of coming alongside others to help them on their own journeys. I learned this in my counselling course by observing the group I was in.
Many of my fellow students are teachers, mentors and therapists using various methodologies. They help people every day while still working through their own issues. Understanding this convinced me to take my own first step. I needed to overcome my fear of getting it wrong and actually do it. I needed to stop procrastinating.
Procrastination, in my experience, is caused by two main factors: a fear of failure, so we stay in our safe place, dreaming, hoping, wondering, but never quite moving; and the pursuit of perfection, believing we can’t do x, y or z because we need to get it absolutely right, cover every eventuality and ensure there is no room for error.
Perfection is, of course, a pretty high standard to set and even if we get close, fear usually jumps in to shame us. What if we get it wrong? We’ll be exposed as a fraud. What will friends/ family / social network / clients think of us? We’ll make fools of ourselves. This kind of inner dialogue can shut even the best of us down. So, we head back to our safe space, the comfort zone where we remain dreaming and wondering with the curse of ‘what if’ bringing its own frustrations.
But unsurprisingly, there is more to procrastination than is immediately apparent.
I have spent a lifetime starting and stopping thanks to a lack of self-belief. I would tell myself I wasn’t good enough, that I would never be good enough to achieve what I wanted to achieve, that I was somehow different – if not inferior – to the over-achievers I knew or read about who had attained success, fame and fortune.
This belief that you’re not good enough can be paralysing. Not only has it led me to start and give up on many projects, but it has also affected other areas of my life leading me to distrust myself, my intuition, my inner voice. I tried to do what other people suggested or recommended. If other people were not involved, my own logic ran roughshod over my heart and dictated my steps. But what is logical is not always correct.
Over the years, I have bounced from one profession to another, from veterinary assistant to dog groomer. I started driving instructor training and attempted to write a cookery book, which I ultimately gave up on because I couldn’t get it perfect. I tried and followed many paths, but I never finished the journey because the fear would paralyse me before the end was in sight.
Fast forward to today and something has shifted. In reality, the shift started many years ago as a drip that got stronger with every small failure or success, that drew power from disappointment and growth from the lessons learned. Then, when I started the counselling course a few months ago, this shift became tangible. I gave my heart permission to lead and my brain to take a back seat. I started to face up to, and acknowledge, the truth of who I am, of what drives me and what fulfills me. I started to see my path more clearly.
At the same time, I began to afford myself more care, love and honour. I finally recognised how badly I treated myself; dishonouring and neglecting my body, soul and spirit. And, as I have begun to take more notice – getting to know myself and to take value in myself as a human being – lots of other things have fallen into place. One of those things is the coaching.
Coaching is not a job that my fellow Cypriot country folk admire, understand or approve of as it doesn’t come with multiple letters after your name, degrees and a graduation certificate that shouts “I made it, I am ticking the boxes of acceptance, admiration and becoming someone.” But as I let go of the need for acceptance and admiration, it allows me to step into the shoes of the woman I really am, and boldly walk the path ahead of me.
When I coach people, I come into my own. I am alive, I am on fire. Joy fills my heart and love pours out to my fellow human beings as I try to help them navigate their difficulties, free themselves from their own stuck places and harness their potential. When I coach people, I feel wonderful because I am serving in the way that feels natural. When I coach people, I have a sense of purpose. Seeing faces light up when an ‘aha’ moment arrives is priceless, witnessing their breakthroughs exciting, and watching them walk into their dreams and destinies is gold.
Little by little, the old skin is shedding. The skin of people-pleasing, distrusting myself, not knowing who I am, this need for approval, this need for admiration, and doing what is expected of me.
I am growing into my new skin and it fits better. It’s shiny, strong and protective. Fear of failure is no longer paralysing; it drives me forward because I now embrace it instead of avoiding it. I know that in every ‘failure’ there is much to learn, lots of wisdom to glean and shame has no place in this journey of self-discovery and self-actualisation. Comparing myself to others has no place in my life anymore as I get to know and value myself. I am learning to be comfortable in my skin and pay the price of this new awakening.
The price may be losing friends who ‘loved’ me as long as I fitted into their paradigm or lived my life in a way they approved of. Certainly, my friends list has shrunk dramatically in recent times. But when we change, our world changes too. We notice things differently, we see that what we once held on to as precious, no longer matters. Labels, opinions, other people’s ideals.
I am seeing a shift in my confidence, self-esteem, my view of life, spirituality, parenting and marriage. There are times of great challenge in this shift, conflict even, but that’s the reality of breaking out. It’s painful. Raw. But watch a reptile shed its skin or break out of its shell and you see the pain is similar. It can be excruciating, but soon their colour becomes brighter, they look fresh, new, bigger, stronger, and ready for the next phase of their lives.
When a caterpillar is encased in its chrysalis, does it know it will emerge again? Does it think the chrysalis is its place of death? Has it come to the end of its life? Certainly, if we didn’t know what would happen, we might think that too. Watching a butterfly struggle to emerge can also be frustrating. Some have tried to help the butterfly by breaking the chrysalis for it, but this largely results in the butterfly’s death. The butterfly must not be helped physically to break out; it must go through the struggle, the pain and the possibility of failure. Then, when it emerges, it is stronger because of that struggle and ready to fly. The fat, unremarkable caterpillar that was shrouded within the chrysalis emerges beautiful, remarkable even, and able to fly.
These are new times for me, new steps I am taking, new paths I am following. I am filled with excitement, joy and anticipation at what I will discover. But I believe my caterpillar years are over and I am now in my own chrysalis; learning, growing and preparing to emerge.
Writing a blog hasn’t come easy to me. Despite the ads on social media telling you it’s the perfect business to get into from the comfort of your own home – it isn’t.
In reality, it has been something of a journey and I’m not even four months in.
Despite my best hopes and my most positive thoughts, I have left a catalogue of attempted and aborted posts in my wake, my train of thought is constantly challenged by new ideas and WordPress seems intent on deleting my posts for reasons I have not yet fathomed. However, all of this pales into insignificance compared to the hammer blow I took to my confidence recently when a Facebook notification informed me that someone had reviewed my blog as ‘not recommended’.
Deflated, I resolved to end it all; blogging was clearly not for me and it was time to press the delete button and get a ‘real job’.
I immediately unpublished the blog that had caused such offence in case this was just one of many criticisms to come. My blogging efforts might have been meager, but they had come from a genuine place and I was hurt by this reaction to them. But then I recalled Brenee Brown’s recent documentary on Netflix (yes, I know, Netflix again, but it’s all I watch on TV, what can I say?) In the documentary, Brenee described the onslaught of spiteful comments and hate mail she had received after her Ted x talk went viral some years ago. Interestingly, the talk was on shame and vulnerability. Comments included vulgar expletives about her weight, face and dress sense. Some even went so far as to suggest she kill herself.
Truly, what kind of world are we living in? What did Brenee do that was so wrong? Nothing. And so she had a good cry and got on with being the brilliant researcher, advocate, writer and speaker she is, inspiring us all along the way. All power to her.
Then I remembered a book I had recently read, ‘Born Under a Million Shadows’ by Andrea Busfield, a respected journalist and author. She wrote this novel after living in Afghanistan for three years. It was a brilliant book that reflected not only the atrocities she witnessed, but also the deep and beautiful friendships she formed with Afghans, something we rarely get to glimpse as we soldier on through novel after novel with much the same start, middle and end. Yawn.
Because I like to encourage others, when I have something good to say I usually post a review. I did that for this author only to become distracted by another review that was not only negative and critical, but rude! Donning my battle armour, I went to war and told this reviewer in as nice a way as I could, how wrong she was. I am sure she is grateful for my response and will thank me for correcting her faulty perspective, not. I don’t know any book that has given me such a respect and love for a country that has been so trashed by the world’s media and scaremongering politicians, and yet Andrea weaved in culture, tradition, beauty, heartache and conflict in a way that resonated with me having been born and raised in a country torn apart by war.
And that’s when it hit me.
My “not recommended” review was merely an irritation compared to these other reviews, and as harmless as an annoying house fly when looked at next to Brenee’s mauling. And yet it unsettled me enough to take me back to that dark place where I constantly question myself, raising the doubts, insecurities and fears that have always plagued me.
After a strong cup of PG tips, accompanied by something super sugary from the fridge and followed by a large glass of Malbec, I took time to pause and reflect. My ego and I had a heart to heart. Well, more of a fist fight really. Being Greek, a heart to heart is a bit of a non-entity in my culture, but having learned to practice stillness I was better at it than before, although I’d argue that the Malbec helped considerably.
There was no great epiphany, but I did realise one thing; I am still, at times, functioning out of a place of hurt, shame, FEAR, insecurity or frustration and definitely from a place of trauma survival. I struggle with criticism because I learned to be a people pleaser and unlearning that is tough. I don’t trust my own judgement or intuition and so I look to others for approval about what I’m doing. This in itself has led me into many problematic situations in the past.
When I initially started writing this blog, I wanted to fit in with other bloggers – to write short posts on popular subjects such as travel. I also hoped it might become something I could monetise in the future. So yes, popular topics, a softly-softly approach, regular posts about nothing of substance just likable, shallow.
Because I was serious, I had researched the art of blogging and even did a course, but when it came to delivery, it didn’t work. So, I reflected on that and I thought again about that first act of WordPress ‘sabotage’. Perhaps losing one of my posts was actually a way to cause me to stumble; to stem the flow of wrong creativity and make me look at everything afresh, frustrated but afresh.
Then, when the second post was deleted and WordPress insisted that they could not find any proof of its existence (even though it had been published, emailed and people had read it), I became stuck. But stuck is not always bad; stuck makes you think after you’ve thrown your dummy out. It makes you consider, reflect, evaluate and then decide a way forward. Do I sulk and delete the lot, as I have done so many times before, or do I persevere? And if I persevere, how do I move forward? What is the lesson I need to learn from this experience? What is it telling me? And then voila! Bingo! Bull’s eye! Hole in one! (OK, I’ll stop.)
I hadn’t been myself. I hadn’t been genuine, congruent. I had been trying to write like other bloggers who make lots of money from their blogs. My motive was all wrong. My compass was out of place. I was trying to be someone I am not. And even though my posts were written with genuine care, I picked topics that were easy, not triggering, not stressful and not too revealing so they wouldn’t leave me vulnerable.
That’s when I wrote about my writing journey and the teacher that inspired me. After that, I wrote about my mother. Both were deep, genuine, authentic ‘me’ pieces. And yet, that’s what had attracted the negative review that left me cowering. When I was fake no one batted an eyelid, but when I became me, it caused a wave, a tremor of a backlash. Why? Did I trigger something in others that they had long buried away? Was I too deep, dull, boring or wordy?
Whatever it is, I know I have to be myself. I can’t pretend to be anyone else.
After years of being who and what others needed me to be, I am daring to be bold and courageous, to put myself out there and overcome the fear of vulnerability, shame and exposure.
I realise that I am not ready to monetise or make a business out of blogging. The purpose of the blog is to help me process, gain clarity, sharpen my perspective and discover who I am and where I am going. It might be a lonely journey or one with few companions, but I know those that do choose to hold my hand, encourage or support me, are genuine individuals who have walked their own stony paths and identify someway with mine.
At 45 years of age, I am learning about and healing from complex trauma. I also have dreams, visions, goals, ambitions. I want to make a difference, leave a legacy. I want to parent consciously, live purposefully. There are new horizons for me out there, but walking comes before running.
“Courage is a heart word. The root of the word courage is cor—the Latin word for heart. In one of its earliest forms, the word courage meant ‘To speak one’s mind by telling all one’s heart.’ Over time, this definition has changed, and today, we typically associate courage with heroic and brave deeds. But in my opinion, this definition fails to recognize the inner strength and level of commitment required for us to actually speak honestly and openly about who we are and about our experiences—good and bad. Speaking from our hearts is what I think of as ‘ordinary courage.’” Brenee Brown.
I haven’t always celebrated my birthday. While there have been occasional candlelit meals with my husband or outings with my children, many birthdays have come and gone with only a passing acknowledgment thanks to matters more pressing to deal with – such as loss, pain, debt, survival.
Today is an exception.
As I begin the 45th year of my life, I feel ready to celebrate. It’s a special date after all – 19.9.19. So, this year marks a new chapter for me. This is the year I step into my writing career, which I hope will be the catalyst for so much more.
Already I am working on a children’s book and a memoir, but it seems fitting to celebrate all that is to come with the ‘formal’ launch of my blog.
When I began the blog, not so long ago, I thought it would be a travel blog, detailing all the places I love in Cyprus and Wales – the countries of my birth and my second home. But as the weeks passed and the words flowed from my keyboard, I noticed a trend in my writing. I wasn’t writing about my travels, but rather my journey. I was travelling through my life stories, remembering the places that had left their mark, breathing new life into past moments that had inspired, motivated and left me with a desire to make a difference.
Having decided to embrace this new path, I am now finding ‘my voice’ as a writer. This remains a work in progress involving a daily battle with the shouts of doubt and disbelief. But at least I am on my way. I celebrate that. This the end of contemplating, desiring, wishing, dreaming and 35 years of procrastination.
For many years I have written, on and off, caught in a cycle of starting and giving up, daring to submit a piece and dealing with rejection, but this year I shall not be deterred because this journey is not only about the writing, but about me and my calling.
The destination of this blog is self-discovery through stories that capture my attention and captivate my heart. Through this journey, I am fulfilling a calling to write stories that make a difference, bring transformation, awareness and change. I am walking towards a bigger vision.
Many years ago, when I was 10 or 11 years old, I was lucky enough to come across someone who planted hope in my heart – the hope that I could be more than the village gossip allowed me to be, that I had a gift, an ability and that I could dare to dream. Over the years, that hope has nourished me through many periods of doubt, rejection, criticism and ridicule. And the person who gifted me that hope was Mrs Nitsa.
Mrs Nitsa was my primary school language teacher when I lived in the village of Yeri, on the outskirts of Nicosia, the capital of Cyprus.
At the time, Nicosia was still finding its way following the disastrous Greek coup that triggered the Turkish invasion of the north of the island leaving the capital divided. In 1984, half of the city was wrecked, naked and groaning from the pain of death while the other half was fast developing into a modern, cosmopolitan city. Half an hour away, my village had expanded overnight with the influx of refugees from the north and our little primary school perched on a hill was subsequently a mish mash of kids trying to understand the world, claiming our bits of territory and establishing hierarchies like every other school in the world, but with the added aftermath of war bringing a deeper layer of confusion to events.
Mrs Nitsa came from the city. Slim, tall, eloquent, even in 30C+ her make up remained intact and her blonde hair backcombed into a perfect bouffant style that was fashionable in the 80s. With a long thin stick, she would tap words written on the blackboard for us to repeat and I would marvel at her ability to walk on such high heels. I can remember the scent of her skin moisturiser when she walked by, blended with foundation and perfume. It took me to memories I could not see, but recognised. It was the scent of my mother. By then six years had passed since her death and I grasped every opportunity to feel her presence.
Back in that school in 1984, I didn’t know then that I was dyslexic or that I had AD or PTSD or hypervigilance or any of those labels we like to attach in order to understand. I knew I could read and that I loved stories, but everything else was a blur and day in, day out I would gaze absentmindedly out of the window oblivious to the lessons. Except for language class.
Mrs Nitsa knew. She saw what others missed – a child hurting from the loss of her parents, lost in a world of structure, judgement, conformity, ridicule, religious rituals and gossip. A child whose coping mechanism was to write stories. So, write I did. Mrs Nitsa would give me a word or a subject and leave me to it, letting me lose myself in my imagination and the pages I created. Today, I am still writing like that, but I’m learning to edit, to cut and crop instead of letting the rant flow because I want to share this journey.
When the final term came and it was time for us students to move on to high school, Mrs Nitsa knelt in front of me, coming to my level, casting off the towering presence that had so intimidated much of the class. She took hold of my hands and looked me in the eyes. Hers – sparkly blue, fierce and soft at the same time – were that day wet and red. She trembled as she spoke.
“Michelle, I have no idea where you will go. You have been through much, God only knows. I don’t know if I will see you again, but I want to tell you something and ask you a favour. I want you to know that you have a gift for writing. I want you to write, keep journals and no matter what is happening through your life, write it all. Then one day you will write your memoir, your story and I want to read it. OK?”
I nodded, not understanding, embarrassed by the attention, yet not wanting to let go of her hands and watching heartbroken as she walked back to her desk.
And that was it.
The years passed with all their seasons, and I didn’t keep my promise to write a journal, not until seven or eight years ago. Each time I visited Cyprus, I asked about Mrs Nitsa. I heard she had lost her husband and was living in Nicosia. Then three years ago, I met her again. I found her number and when I called she recognised my voice. I could see her tears in the quickness of her breath over the telephone line. “Are you writing?” were the first words she said to me.
After the call, we met for a coffee, she gave me copies of her own published books and she made me renew my promise to write. She also asked to be the one to edit the Greek language version of my memoir.
So, here I am; another three years have passed and I am working on that memoir, hoping one day to hand over the gift I promised 35 years ago.
And that’s why today, as I ‘officially’ launch my blog, I celebrate this woman who planted hope in my heart and soul, who saw a way to connect with me, who recognised something good in me when no one else did and who spoke words of life into the broken 10-year-old child that stood before her.
Perhaps I can use this blog to plant hope in the hearts of my own readers one day and, in turn, maybe those readers will go on to plant hope in the hearts of others. Every life needs a purpose and what greater purpose can we live for than to walk with the hurt, inspire the desolate, believe in the forgotten, bring joy to the sad and plant hope in the hopeless.
Four months have passed since we moved to Caergwrle, a picturesque village in north east Wales that sits nestled under the protection and beauty of Hope mountain.
Not a day has dawned when my heart hasn’t overflowed with joy and gratitude at this gift.
Traveling through the pages of my life, I count roughly 26 house moves in my 44 years. That does not include foster care placements in Cyprus, long summers visiting maternal grandparents in Spain, the time leading up to my third birthday when my mum and I accompanied my father on his merchant navy vessel, or the in-between houses that hosted me and my family over the years.
I spend a lot of valuable time (when I should probably be more productive) reflecting.
Evaluating, re-evaluating. Small, seemingly unimportant moments, events, words, can speak volumes to my heart, visiting places of past pain and healing, mistakes, failures, lessons and restoration.
I want to grasp it all, not lose a second, not miss a memory, not forget, not to be passe, ungrateful, apathetic. I want to live it all, appreciate, soak…
The photographs I chose for this post speak of this inner need to connect with the simple pleasures and unrepeatable joys. The quality of the photos is certainly not professional and the camera on my phone is old and decrepit but still, they capture what my heart wants to shout out. Joy, joy, joy. Hope, hope, hope.
There was a time in my childhood when I lived on my paternal grandparents’ farm in a small village outside Nicosia in Cyprus.
It was a difficult time, my grandparents were grieving the loss of their only child (my father), coming to terms with the shock of my mother’s suicide, trying to manage the bureaucracy that comes with death, finances, debts that would one day take our farm & home away from us. They battled chronic and severe illness, isolation, lack of basic facilities like running water or electricity. In the chaos of those years, they tried to provide for me. Their love was unfaltering, unconditional but in a practical way I was neglected.
Still, while trying to make sense of my own pain, while adapting to my new identity as the village orphan (pentarfano), I took refuge and experienced joy in the simple momentary things, which most of us miss in the fury of our busy days.
My pet dogs, the metal swing that allowed me to throw my head back letting my hair brush the dirt on the ground, the golden wheat swaying in the welcome breeze and where I lay hidden for endless hours, the hot sun on my face. The fig tree I hang from staring into the water reservoir that watered the farm’s orange, olive, almond and fig trees. The imaginary monsters underneath the filthy water.
Sitting by the fire listening to my grandmother recite stories of surviving Turkish persecution from her home in Constantinople (now Istanbul).
The fragrance of wild thyme in the fields, evening jasmine and Cypriot roses. Unforgettable. Unmistakable. Precious. Joy. Hope.
Though my life has been filled with its share of challenges, it has also been filled with victories, successes, overcoming.
Hope. It taught me lessons one cannot learn in school not even with the best teachers. Life has been my teacher. Life is everyone’s teacher. Each and every one of us have a story filled with challenges and victories, failures and successes, mistakes and achievements, hurt and forgiveness, pain and healing.
We all have a story. Mine is no sadder than another. It just is what it is. What matters is what I can draw from it. What I drink from this well of fresh water. What I glean from the threshing. What remains inside me that makes me a person who can appreciate more, complain less. A person who can make a difference to others. A mum who recognises that while trying to be the perfect super mum, what truly matters is that I give my children unconditional love, safety, security, presence, memories, joy, hope.
We have no control of our circumstances and we all get our fair share of the good, the bad and the ugly. Some people get more than their fair share. It can be utterly heartbreaking.
And yet, I often read of so many amazing transformational changes that come from adversity.
The mother whose son was stabbed to death now runs a charity visiting prisons and speaking to inmates about forgiveness and restoration. Not only is she preventing further crime, but those men and women are leaving prison transformed and determine to live with purpose.
Charities that provide medical help, surgery, equipment and palliative care, birthed after a child lost its life to terminal illness.
Organ donations that give life after the tragedy of an unexpected death.
Refugees who have found stability in their new home now helping other refugees, ex homeless, ex addicts, ex violent fathers bringing about transformation due to a change in their heats and a need to give back and bring hope.
Hope. Our tests become the testimonies which give hope to the hopeless and propel the hurting and broken to keep walking one step at a time towards their victories and testimonies.
Hope is what keeps us fighting, battling, swimming. When everything else is gone, we cling on to hope.
“I believe that imagination is stronger than knowledge. That myth is more potent than history. That dreams are more powerful than facts. That hope always triumphs over experience. That laughter is the only cure for grief. And I believe that love is stronger than death.”
Forty four years on, I live in a village I didn’t know existed even though I lived 30 minutes away for the last 18 years. It is a fitting place to be in at this season of my life. It is a place that speaks loudly to my heart and soul. It represents all that has taken place over the last 44 years and the direction in which I have traveled, that of HOPE.
Nature and animals were the undoubted keys that kept me clinging on to hope throughout my childhood and held me in survival mode. All through my adult years with every house move I asked God for a tree or water. It gave me hope.
“Please, just a tree to look at, some water, and I can keep pushing, I can keep swimming.”
And He did. With each move there seemed to always be a tree outside my window.
Even when we lived in dire lodgings that belonged to an employer of a take-away shop we worked for. Even then, I looked out of the window of the hopeless miserable flat and spotted a tree. I beheld that tree every day while traversing yet another miscarriage, another loss, another day stuck in a place I hated, with no way out. The tree gave me hope. It happened at every house move. I had found something to help me, to lift my spirits, to being me joy, to keep me hoping.
Imagine the excitement, joy and gratitude I felt with this move when not only did I get a tree, but I got a whole mountain! And not just any mountain, Hope Mountain. wow. Really? Yes really.
But it didn’t stop there. the gifts came abundant. Not only a mountain of trees but a river too. Water AND trees. Double portion. Whoa. Grateful.
It isn’t wasted on me. I don’t take it for granted. I remind my children of the countless children growing up caged in high rise blocks, in flats with no greenery of fresh air, in city pollution. I tell them to practice gratitude for this gift for however long it lasts although I hope it lasts forever.
I am not complacent and as I walk through the village each day I can’t take the beaming smile off my face. All my senses come alive and my heart feels like bursting. I think I can cope with anything living in Hope.
Of course, nothing is guaranteed for ever. It doesn’t need to be. The gift of hope is right now, right here is what I need in order to keep moving forwards, living, hoping, giving.
It is a time of respite, reflection, orientation as my family and I walk into the new. New things are awaiting us all. Exciting, nerve racking, change is scary but not when you have hope.
With hope you can face anything, even your wildest fears because you know that on the top of that mountain awaits you the most spectacular view. The most wonderful picture. The most precious gift. Freedom from the fear that kept you climbing it. And everlasting hope.
“We must accept finite disappointment but never lose infinite hope”
Martin Luther King
“Optimism is the faith that leads to achievement. Nothing can be done without hope and confidence.”
“Hope is the thing with feathers
that perches the soul
and sings the tune without the words
and never stops at all”
” They say a person needs just three things to be truly happy in this world: Someone to love, something to do, and something to hope for.”
“When the world says “give up” hope whispers, “try it one more time”
I’ve fallen behind with the blog. Still in it’s infancy, I have been relying on inspiration on the hop to know what to write about. Then, doubts come in. Does it fit in with the blog’s theme? Can I convey what is in my heart? Will I do it justice? And so I have favoured other tasks over writing the next blog post.
The light bulb moment came while catching up with a friend. “What have you been up to? What’s been on your mind?” Within moments my week flashed before me as if a video in fast forward mode. And the idea came. Why not post my week in this way? Why not give you an insight into the musings, wanderings, reflections, and troubling thoughts of my week? So here they are. A small snippet of the mish – mash of my week. The photographs are from my good friend, Cypriot photographer Kyriakos Achilleos. I’m not going to title them, I’m going to let you ponder over them and see what they say to you. I’ve chosen the ones that spoke to me. Let’s see what they say to you.
Refugees… Never far from my mind or my heart. I’ve been on the frontline, in northern Greece in 2014, watching as they arrived exhausted, thirsty, carrying frightened children, worried, hoping, only to face red tape, political games, cold shoulders, indifference or even anger. If we could just stop to put ourselves in their shoes. To look at life through their eyes, to fear for the safety of our children the way they do. Would we still turn our backs?
I met Salam Noah through a friend who was helping him in Greece about 3 years ago. He had crossed the border with his wife after a most treacherous journey. Having forfeited university in Iraq several times in order to work and put his younger siblings through school, his turn finally came to study and in his last year of university, war broke out and he decided to flee. He succeeded where others did not. Not allowed to work, not allowed to move, he decided to turn his hand to painting for whatever he could get. Years later, now settled in France, his paintings tell us the stories of what he has witnessed and the heartbreak he has felt over and over again. This is one powerful example and reminder for us all.
My friend Laura lives in the UK, raising her family and doing life like all of us. But she is a woman of action. She sees a need and acts. For years, she has been making little blankets for newborn babies and sending them all over the world. Recently, she decided to start creating goodie bags for refugee children stuck in camps in Greece. Faithfully she has gathered items for each bag. Finally, they were ready to be sent. 1200 children will receive gifts they could only dream of. 1200 children will smile and squeal with joy. 1200 children will know that someone somewhere cares and thinks about them. 1200 children will receive renewed hope…
I came across this article in my LinkedIn account and it has been on my mind for days. I struggle greatly with understanding the logic behind decisions that leave people in desperate situations. Although I don’t have the experience of raising a disabled child, I have friends who do. I don’t have the words to describe the daily highs and lows, the terrifying sound of alarms on devices that are keeping their children alive, the humanely impossible efforts to give able bodied siblings quality time with their parents, the utter exhaustion. But I cannot accept that we live in one of the richest countries in the world, able to fund entire wars, send millions of pounds in aid to other countries and yet are unable to care for our most vulnerable.
I urge you to click on the link and read the article that Daisy’s mum has written about the plight of children’s hospices in the U.K. It is eye opening.
We have the opportunity to make a difference just by being a little alternative, by looking at things through a different lens, through taking a step back and considering. This story of a senior who celebrated his graduation by throwing a pizza party for the homeless folk, is just one example. Click the highlighted link.
Another example of using what we have at our disposal to make a difference is this story of a farmer who planted a wildflower meadow to raise money for charity, Elliot’s touch. Not only is he benefiting the charity, as well as the meadow, the soil quality and the local wildlife, but he is improving the mental health of all who come to sit on the benches and soak in the majesty and beauty of it all.
Tongue cancer survivor Elly Brown not only survived cancer but she also refused to allow it to rob her of her singing career. Despite losing most of her tongue, she determined to not be beaten and with much hard work she has learned to sing again. May Laura’s determination and beautiful voice, inspire you to keep going, to not lose hope, to not be beaten and to know that you have been gifted so as to bless others.
We live in an age when travel is a normal part of life. Catching a plane is almost as easy as catching a train. The world has become more accessible and so has the need for more unique and exciting experiences.
I’d like to think that we make conscious decisions every day. Decisions that impact others around us, the environment, wildlife, communities. Whether it is avoiding slave labour or plastic packaging in the products we purchase, or adopting a pet from a shelter instead of funding puppy farms, I believe we are all trying to live life with more awareness of the consequences of our decisions and choices.
This habit can extend to travel. Indeed, for many travelers, making a difference to the communities they visit, is a matter of priority, to others not so. Some want to fly somewhere, have a great time, leave their rubbish, and come home.
But for others, contributing to the lives of the locals, is of importance. Simple decisions can make a lasting impact to the communities we visit. You can have a wonderful holiday and make a difference to the country or community you visit. There are places that count heavily on tourism sustaining them, although sadly this also comes at a cost. Manipulation, corruption and greed, lead to taking advantage of the vulnerable, profiting from the victims of society. You can end up inadvertently contributing to slave labour, fake charities and poverty. Orphanage tourism is thriving in many poor countries.
I wanted to use my blog to highlight some of the ways in which you can help and to warn of some of the ways you can get drawn into unwittingly making things worse.
Below are some ideas to make a difference to the places you visit, but don’t stay here on my blog, go and search for yourself too. Grab pen and paper and let the ideas flow!
Volunteer with a reputable organisation to help in a wildlife reserve, children’s home, or environmental project. This article by Frommer’s has some fabulous ideas.
Teach or use a skill. Look for local organisations (always try to make sure they are genuine) who need some help. It could be teaching English to local kids or adults who need a bit of pronunciation help, or doing some plastering or repairs in poor homes. If you are a musician, entertainer or children’s performer, you can visit a hospital, hospice, nursing home or orphanage and bring some cheer. Make sure you have followed local protocol and legal procedures. Ensure that you are not causing more harm than good for example in the way you present something that back in your home country would be harmless. Take into account local religious and cultural traditions, taboo subjects and those suffering from trauma. Innocent remarks can reawaken memories of abuse, war and suffering.
Don’t fund cruelty or exploitation. Use your eyes and logic to consider carefully what you are about to indulge in. Performing animals in streets have usually been mistreated, beaten to submission or are being drugged to allow tourists to take photographs with them. Elephant rides are popular but how have they been trained? Donkey rides up perilous mountains may look fun but are those donkeys well taken care of? Are they being rested, forced to carry more weight than they should, do they have sores on their bodies? Are there unusual items on menus for novelty value that cause damage to oceans or wildlife? Are souvenirs damaging to local oceans or wildlife? Ivory objects are made from the ivory tooth of slaughtered elephants, natural sponges can be cultivated from oceans depriving fish of natural shelter. Swimming with turtles or dolphins may be the dream of a lifetime but at what cost? Ask yourself the questions and do your research.
Volunteer through reputable charities and organisations which will know how best to use your skills. Even if you don’t feel that you have any specific skills, being available to help can make a huge difference. Simple admin, cleaning, helping in a kitchen, organisation, etc, can contribute to organisations and projects in a worthwhile way. The charity Mercy Ships ran a hospital ship providing medical care to the impoverished in Africa. Skilled or unskilled volunteers who can commit to a minimum of 3 months can help in many ways including serving meals, cleaning, preparing food, processing patient information, sitting with the sick to provide comfort and encouragement. As long as you are willing, there is a way to help. This is an excellent thorough article again from Frommer’s with plenty of ideas and organisations you can contact for further information.
Take part in a race. Canada based husband and wife team Dave and Deb took part in The Tour d’Afrique cycling race to raise awareness of the work of Plan Canada, a charity that helps communities all over the world through the individual sponsorship of children. You can read about their trip here and explore their blog for more information.
If you love running and marathons are your thing, target some destinations where you can run a marathon and raise funds for a worthy cause.
Use your skills and money back at home to spread awareness and raise funds for the communities that impacted you while traveling. Involve your social media network, personal friends, your children’s school or home educating community, your colleagues and local community. Write about what you saw and what others can do. You may not be able to physically do something but one of the people who reads what you have written, may be inspired to take up the mantle.
SANFAN. A friend who was like a father figure to me and who passed away recently, used to say ” SANFAN – See a need, fill a need” He lived his life with that motto. Wherever there was a need, Dave would do whatever he could to fill it. He was a true and humbling inspiration to me.
Recently, my friend Ije who lives locally to me in the U.K, became involved in helping an orphanage in Nigeria. Her parents who live there, had visited the orphanage and were shocked at the poverty and lack of food, clothing and resources. Orphans, traumatised from witnessing the murders of their parents by Boko Haram, have been left at this couple’s home and before they knew it they had 50 children living with them. Not being able to turn any away, meant having no resources to care for them.
Without a second thought my friend Ije, started to pull together resources and used her social media network to ask friends in the UK to contribute children’s clothing and shoes they no longer needed. From that one action, within weeks, she has set up a registered charity, sent an enormous shipment of clothes, shoes and books and raised enough money to feed the children fresh, nutritious food for the next few months. And this is just the beginning. Her charity will now take care of the orphanage and ensure that those children never go hungry again, are taken care of, nurtured, loved and educated to stand proudly in their community and have a bright future. One working mother in a small town in North West England who saw a need and filled it. If you feel inspired to support her this is her website.
Donate. Budget into your holiday plan, a donation to a worthy cause in the country you are visiting. This may take shape in the form of a direct financial donation to a genuine organisation making a difference there. Alternatively, it may mean using the money to purchase a piece of much needed equipment like a sewing machine, chickens that produce eggs for a poor family, baby clothes for a women’s shelter, food for a local food bank, art supplies for a children’s home.
Sponsorship. You are probably well acquainted with the many organisations that help communities through the sponsorship of children. If you are impacted by a country you have visited and want to make a longer lasting difference, you can sponsor a child. The money you give will support the child and their family, educate the child and give them hope for the future. Usually, you will receive a letter from your sponsored child once or twice a year with their news and you can write back. For £20-£40 per month, you can change the life of one child in our world. How awesome is that?
Just do something. If your heart is willing to do something, then you will find what that something is for you. Make your travel count for something more, leave a lasting impact, a legacy however big or small, every drop counts to fill an ocean.
This is not a book review. This is a book chat. What’s the difference? I am not a critic of anyone’s writing unless I am admiring it. Improving my own craft is a big enough job I can tell you. But a book chat? Well, that’s a whole other matter. I love those. So let’s chat about books. Books about travel with a difference.
I have just finished a library book. Bringing Albert Home. I almost never read it. After taking it out on a whim, it sat on my table untouched. Each time I took it back to the library to hand it back, a little voice in my head said “read it first”. I learned to never ignore that voice especially when it comes to books. It has led me down some unlikely choices yet totally spot on for where I was in my life journey at the time.
So, I would renew the book and it would sit on my table until the next renewal date. Some months later I decided to read a few pages before returning it back for the last time. I was hooked and finished it within 3 days. Not one to like alligators, I fell in love with Albert the alligator who ‘smiled’ at those he liked, turned over for belly tickles and made a ‘yeah yeah yeah’ sound when happy. But it wasn’t Albert who kept me reading, or the random rooster that turned up uninvited and accompanied the couple on their adventure.
It was Elsie the young wife of Homer Hickam senior, the father of the author. Elsie is feisty, matter-of-fact, a dreamer. “I always wanted to be a …. insert whatever comes to mind”.
Set in 1930’s America, during the Great Depression, we relish in this story of a most incredible journey. And it starts with an argument between two newlyweds, in a West Virginia coal mining town.
Elsie is made to choose between her husband and her pet alligator since the two of them don’t get on very well. Albert the alligator has just eaten Homer’s trousers, while he was trying to do his business on the toilet. Homer can’t take it anymore, the jealousy between him and Albert has reached crisis point. Albert is coming between Homer and his beautiful new wife.
After three days of pondering her dilemma, much to Homer’s relief, Elsie chooses to keep her husband but on the condition that Albert is returned home to Orlando where he originally came from.
Thus begins the 2 week impeccably planned journey, that turns into a one year adventure filled with robberies, criminals, pirates, ghosts, hurricanes, fighting bad ju-ju, and two young people who are searching for the purpose of life.
In the first chapters, I wondered about the future in their marriage. This couple were so ill matched – Homer , a serious, honest, hard working man, happy with his lot and Elsie a feisty, adventurous romantic daydreamer – trying to do life in a coal mining town, with it’s relentless black dust everywhere, the noise of the coal train and the constant danger of losing a loved one in the mines. As I read on, I started to understand something quite profound. Through the unlikely happenings, Elsie and Homer, began to see that true love and adventure existed within them. They already had everything they needed right there in a small, smelly, dusty coal mining town. They may have disagreed about almost everything but eventually they saw that those differences where what made it work in its own quirky way. They also acknowledged inwardly (according to my own opinion), that they shared the same values. And I believe this is a key aspect for all relationships. Not our differences, not our disagreeing viewpoints, but sharing the same values and principles by which we live.
Some of my favourite quotes / extracts from the book.
Elsie: “It’s hard to fight a dream.” Homer answered, “and maybe harder to lose one.”
“Elsie always felt her life was like a jigsaw puzzle with no picture on the box to show her how the puzzle pieces should fit together.”
“They also didn’t have any food. There was even the possibility that they were being hunted by the police for being (a) witnesses to a bank robbery (during which he’d stolen a penny, (b) accomplices to the destruction of a sock mill, (c) knowledgeable of the possible murders of more than several unknown persons on a poet’s farm and (d) transporting illegal liquor along the thunder road. The end of his thoughtful sequence arrived at a singular conclusion:they were in a bad fix.”
For me an even deeper message hit home. Adventure awaits at every turn. We fantasize about crossing great oceans, wrestling pirates (or maybe not), tasting ethnic street food in exotic locations, experiencing thrills in high places and rafting down raging rivers. We can spend a lifetime looking for true love and be discontent with our ‘boring’ lives at home. Multi million pound businesses have been sustained on making peoples’ dreams come true whether through vision board workshops or life coaching sessions. We can seek and search for the thrills, the excitement, the adrenaline rush, the spiritual revelation, the meaning of life when all along it could be right there back where we started, in the place we least expected to find it. In the mundane, the daily grind, the emotional peaks and troughs. Adventure can become a form of escapism. The tougher deal is to find contentment in the small, ordinary things. Those we miss if we blink.
Our ‘perfect’ life can be staring us in the face right there at home. What we think will make us happy, can be the opposite of where we find contentment. Elsie set off to carry Albert home, but really she was finding herself. Determined that once in Florida she would never return to Coalville, she discovered that her happiness was in the person she was, and that she had a good man by her side even if he wasn’t the Hollywood movie star she daydreamed after. The things that vexed her about him, became the things she appreciated. This incredible, amazing journey, was to be the journey of finding themselves, what they wanted out of life and where that would be. Carrying Albert Home was in fact the journey of finding love in the unlikely places and contentment where they never expected.
There is one more notable point that struck me. As I reached the end of the book, I started to really wonder if any of the stories were true. Indeed, the author hints that even he can’t be certain. He began to write the book after his parents passed away and during their lives, they never admitted or denied the validity of the stories.
And yet it didn’t matter. In fact, I marveled while chuckling at their genius way of guiding their children through life. Each of the stories in the book, came out during challenging times for the author. Each time, during a conversation with one of his parents, he would hear “did I tell you when we….while carrying Albert home?” Each story would give him courage, hope, determination whether to push through a competitive sports game in school or while on his way to fight in the Vietnam war.
Did Homer and Elsie devise a plan to use throughout their child rearing years while having a lot of fun along the way? Was this their ingenious idea of making their ordinary life a little more extraordinary, exciting, mysterious? I guess we’ll never know but I know that I am exceedingly glad I have read this book. It has certainly brought to focus some of my own meanderings, conviction of my fault finding tendencies and appreciation of all that i have in my every day at times tiresome days. I absolutely recommend it.
1998 or thereabouts. I’m sitting on the bench in front of the lighthouse, my legs dangling just above the cliff. My trusted German shepherd dog Leo is sitting by my side. Gazing at the vast ocean in front of me, I wonder at many things. The silent tears betray my broken heart, my searching gaze echoes the questions on my mind, the comfort I feel in this place mirrors the state of my soul.
This time, I am here following a row with my boyfriend. It is one that will lead us to question if it is all over, as he puts it “if the glass is cracked beyond repair”. I ask myself this as I gaze.
I come here every time my heart breaks. It is the place I escape to where I know I can be alone, my solitude allowing for reflection, focus, thoughts to process, emotions to flow through tears.
My relationship with the ocean is one of love, hate, fear and reverence. I fear it because of its might, the power within it, the vastness of undiscovered wonders beneath the untamed fierceness. I hate it because it claimed the life of my father all those years ago when I was just 4. Because of it, I lost my mother as well and then my life took such a sudden turn towards years of inexpressible pain, torment, emptiness, aloneness. Before that, the three of us sojourned the seas in search of adventure.
And yet, I can’t live far from it. Whenever I am hurting I run to it. I crave after Its salty smell and the sting of its wind on my face, the sound of the waves crashing on the shore, seagulls cawing, children laughing as they play.
I don’t know it now, here in my sorrow and confusion, in my bitterness and anger but one day, years from now, I will be back here. 21 years later, I will be back, the boyfriend has become my husband and our three children are the ones playing and laughing on this beach. My trusted dog has long gone and instead, a small rescue poodle – cross, (ironically rescued from a Greek beach some years back), waits for us patiently in England.
And in between? Sigh. I smile. In between…
While this once derelict secluded spot has been undergoing major development, stunning villas with swimming pools being built where I once walked through the wild daisies, a hip cafe perched on the corner waiting for thirsty customers, the land of Pervolia behind me growing into a holiday village complete with a beautiful hotel, I have been undergoing my own development and growing my own little tribe. In between, there has been the aching of land being dug up and formed into holiday lets, while I ached through my own challenges, and rejoiced at my incredible moments.
Each time I am in Cyprus, I visit Faros, the lighthouse. We age side by side, together. In silence, we gaze at the expanding azure watching as it blends fluid with the lighter blue sky and marvel in awe at the magnificence of it all.
The famous Faros (Lighthouse) Beach of the Larnaka village of Pervolia is a 500-metre strip of fine sands of varying shades of beige, calm, shallow seawaters and ample trees and greenery. It is located just south of Pervolia at Cape Kiti. Facilities on the beach include toilets, showers, changing rooms, sun beds, umbrellas, dustbins, recycling bins and a children’s playground. Lifeguards with lifesaving equipment and first aid services are stationed at the beach from June 15 – September 30, 10:00-18:00. The beach offers disabled access. Various forms of marine life are visible in the deeper waters, including sea bass, sea bream, parrotfish, grey mullet, crabs and octopus. The beach also incorporates a protected seaweed area. There are also various water sports available along the coast and a small volleyball court, as well as food and drink options, making it a good choice for both families and younger crowds. The lighthouse itself is picturesque, and a famous monument of the area. Access is easy by foot, bike, bus or car, with car parking facilities, cycling trails and walking trails. The beach also offers disabled access.http://larnakaregion.com/page/beaches
This may seem obvious but truly how often have we come up with an idea, made a decision to start something new only to sit on it for months or even years.
Procrastination and false starts have been part of my story.
Today, however, I turn the page and take a step towards another start. This blog. What’s different this time? This time I am being myself. This time, I am taking an even bolder step to write as I do from the heart through stories.
I love stories. And I love to travel. In the last 22 years, I have moved 18 times.
Life is a journey, that is true and my journey has taken place mostly between two places. The Wirral Peninsula in England and Southern Cyprus. Two oceans separate my two homes, a piece of my heart in each, so here, I begin a new way of navigating this journey by inviting you into my world to meet the people and experience the places that hold such a special place in my soul.
Ten weeks into the Covid 19 pandemic lock-down here in the UK, I noticed a post by freelance author, therapeutic writing specialist and bodywork consultant Kate Orson. She was running online therapeutic writing workshops to help unlock those inner most thoughts we aren’t even aware of.
Something in the description of the workshop about ‘unlocking’ and delving beyond our awareness, caught my attention so I signed up.
I am glad I did. Kate’s warmth and friendly calm manner put me straight at ease and I got stuck in with the tasks of allowing the pen to flow without stemming it or trying to figure out what was coming.
One of the exercises was to write a letter to our emotions. As the timer started for our 15 minute free flow of the pen, I stared at the blank page before me, feeling rather awkward that nothing was coming. I decided to write the word ‘Dear’ just to make a start of some sort. As I completed the word ‘dear’ it came, like a flood, unstoppable, it came out of seemingly nowhere. Kate was right. And I was astounded.
Here is what I wrote, unedited.
Letter to my emotions
Dear insecurity, you’ve been around a long time, influencing my thoughts, steps, decisions. You have kept me hidden in the background, behind the scenes, never wanting to be out there, recognised, exposed, open. You have fed the shame and like good friends, you two have ganged up against me holding me back, holding me down, your words to me always being “what if” or “just in case”
“What if it all goes wrong”?
“What if you make a fool of yourself and prove others they were right about you all along”?
“What if everything you believe is a mistake and it turns out you were gullible?”
“Just in case you are wrong Michelle, stay low, hide, keep out of the way, just in case others are better than you, know more than you”.
But now, so many years on, I ask you, insecurity.
How have you served me?
Why this approach?
I hear you say “for your protection Michelle”
So, I ask “did it work”? “Did it protect me”? “Protect me from what”?
No, it didn’t protect me, it was a mask, a pacifier to my ego, fear, emotions.
Staying low, staying hidden hasn’t served me. But now I am ready to step out from the shadow where I have hidden and into the light, exposed, perhaps vulnerable but finally open, here, visible, raw.
Because now I ask “what if my books can help transform the lives of others for the better”?
What if my spoken words touch the hearts of the discouraged?
What if my actions bring relief to those in pain?
So I am ready to step out even if I make a fool of myself, even if it goes wrong, because the sting and consequence of never trying is worse than that of trying and getting it wrong, learning and growing.
Getting it wrong can redirect me to the right path so actually it’s a win-win. I just never saw it before. I let you rule or lead but no more.
I put the pen down and was astounded at what I wrote.
Where did it come from?
Is that really what has been leading my decisions, feeding my fears? Holding me back from publishing the books I have written, from using my voice to speak, from writing my memoir and sharing hope?
Shouldn’t it have been obvious all this time?
Well, that’s the thing you see with our subconscious. It can lead us into all sorts of behaviours and decisions without us fully aware of the mechanics at work.
Old traumas or experiences can cause subtle wounds that fester and go deep. The damage at work can be deceptive, we are unaware as we carry on doing life and then suddenly we look back and wonder why we made certain decisions, why we were held back by our own limiting beliefs, how we ended where we are now.
Writing that letter to my emotions helped me understand what is at work in my mind and to take charge, to regain control and to be aware of how our mind can work against us not for us. The Bible (Romans 12,2) very wisely instructs us to not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of our mind, that by testing we may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.
What does that tell me?
It tells me that I need to stop relying on my mind, on my self, to figure it all out because I am a product of my experiences and environment which have shaped my thinking, judgement, and decisions. Each of us has their own unique experiences which have shaped our thinking, opinions, beliefs and decisions, so how can we know what is true, what is right, what is wise?
By letting go. By going back to source. By asking the one who holds all the answers and by trusting in His wisdom.
This has been the hardest step for me to take. All through my life I have tried to work it out, tried to figure it for myself, when I trusted others I fell flat on my face. When I trusted myself, I ended up in a mess. When I researched, read and cross referenced I ended up confused and stressed with all the different types of explanations, methodologies, science, or other peoples beliefs, anxious about the what if’s, fear seeping in like a slithering reptile, creeping up on it’s prey.
I am not going to lie or dress this up pretty. This journey has been tremendous and I have fought against trusting because life taught me not to trust, life taught me to guard myself, to watch my own back. But it hasn’t served me well, it kept me constantly wrecked from the stress of watching my back and planning for every possibility. Peace could not come. I’ve gone to this person and that counsellor, and this therapist and that solution but truly never finding peace or healing, just an incredible number of possible solutions. Don’t get me wrong, therapists and counsellors have their place and are of immense value but in my case, nothing and no one could bring healing, restoration, peace and a sense of trust. I had to step out of my person, my mind and into the hands of the all knowing, all understanding, all powerful source of life, God.
Three years ago, I visited a church I had not attended before. In the midst of the meeting, a woman stood up and announced that she had been given a prophetic picture from God. It was of a wobbly rope bridge with wooden slats held by rope. A person stood on one end of the bridge afraid to step on it for fear of falling. She said “there is someone here who has a big decision to make. God has given you a vision and you have a task to complete but it feels huge, too big, too scary and you are standing in front of that bridge afraid. But God is saying, “don’t be afraid, all you have to do is take one step on the bridge and I will be with you holding your hand and crossing it together, all you have to do is make the decision, make the choice, I will honour whatever you choose”.
I knew that word was for me. I had arrived that day praying in the car about a vision God had given me to write books that heal the world and to start with my own story. I was asking God if I had heard right, if this was truly what I needed to do and questioned who would ever want to read my story when every one of us has a story of overcoming? I asked him to show me in a way that I would know it was him, unquestionably. And then, I parked the car and entered the church…
When the service finished, this lady came and found me. The room was packed and I was squeezed in somewhere at the back. She leaned over, tapped me on the shoulder and said “excuse me, can I ask, was that word I gave for you?” Astonished, I replied that I believed it was. She went on to say that when she stood up, God had prompted her to turn around and look in my direction. When she saw my face she knew the word she was about to give was for me but she didn’t want to embarrass me by calling me out. I was grateful. I assured her the word was an answer to my prayers of that morning and at that she simply stated she would pray for me and all I had to do was trust and start.
It took three years of starting and stopping, of believing and doubting, of leaning in and walking away, of trusting and then distrusting, of disappointment, rejection, a sense of being alone. But finally, in these weeks of the pandemic, something new has taken place in my heart. A change. A change of heart, a change of mind, an embracing of my faith, a walking back towards, a letting go of distrust, an admitting of not being able to do it alone, a realisation that I am not alone, a letting go of the shame of what you might think of me, a letting go of insecurity and finding my security in God, in Christ the only one who can never walk away, reject, abandon, or let me down.
So with that, I pick up my pen again, and I lean in, fully invested, fully committed, fully in for the journey. I am buckling up my belt for all that is to come and I am getting my faith armour on as I continue co- journeying with the one who placed the vision in my heart all those years ago…