Category Archives: Hope

New year, new path?

Image by Brayden Law from Pexels

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I immediately unpublished the blog that had caused such offence in case this was just one of many criticisms to come.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.

Photo by Anny Patterson from Pexels

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.

Photo by Adrien Olichon from Pexels

“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.

Photo by Lukas Hartmann from Pexels

Planting hope

Me at Yeri primary school maybe around 1983-84

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.

Mrs Nitsa ( Nitsa Anastasiou) with our class at Yeri Primary School, 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.

Mrs Nitsa and I at our meeting in 2016

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.

Photo by Suzy Hazelwood from Pexels

Hopelessly in love with Hope

Watching my 7 year old daughter walking with her best friend towards the Packhorse bridge confirms in my heart that we are where we are meant to be…

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.

Two sweet little girls, my daughter and her best friend playing pooh sticks on the bridge. Joy.

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.

Photo by Carl Attard from Pexels.

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.

Joy abundant and overflowing.

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.

Spot the ducks
Family…

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.”

Robert Fulghum

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.

Friendships that last through the ages and seasons of life.

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.

Alyn river

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.

Play…

“We must accept finite disappointment but never lose infinite hope”

Martin Luther King
Laughter.

“Optimism is the faith that leads to achievement. Nothing can be done without hope and confidence.”

Helen Keller

“Hope is the thing with feathers

that perches the soul

and sings the tune without the words

and never stops at all”

Emily Dickinson

H.O.P.E

Hold

On

Pain

Ends

” 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.”

Tom Bodett

“When the world says “give up” hope whispers, “try it one more time”

Photo by Engin Akyurt from Pexels.