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.
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.
” The world is filled with travelers. Some travel by force, some by choice. But for some of us, it is a calling. At the heart of this brotherhood is the desire to connect, find community and a place to belong. And every single connection made, makes the world a little better because as Mark Twain put it “travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry and narrow-mindness. Charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in on a little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime” “
Leon Logothetis – the Kindness Diaries
Television is really not my thing. Give me books, books, books and yes please, even more books! Every now and then however, when I need to take a break from reading, writing or studying, I flick through channels and Netflix categories looking for something worthy of my time.
I don’t mean this in a proud, derogatory way, please do not misunderstand. What I am trying to say is that I channel my focus and time into whatever feels productive, not wanting to miss a moment, not wanting to waste an opportunity. So if I am going to watch something, it needs to be good, impactful, powerful. It needs to leave me with something to ponder, reflect on and from which I can grow.
The Kindness Diaries is such a program. I watched series 1 a few months ago. I was so impressed by it that I set everything aside to watch almost the entire series back to back. As Leon set off on his trusted canary yellow motorbike (with side car) from Hollywood, L.A, I journeyed with him. Together, we crossed through the United States of America, Europe, India, Cambodia, Vietnam, Canada and back to Hollywood.
Relying entirely on the kindness of strangers to feed him, put petrol in Kindness One, and give him a bed or sofa for the night, Leon was gifted an inside view to the lives of the strangers who offered kindness. Each one with their story to tell. Their own journey of hope and reason for offering kindness to a stranger. I laughed. I cried. I paused episodes and contemplated in silence. Each episode – each story left a mark on my heart and filled it with fresh motivation, inspiration and hope.
But there is something more. Leon does not only receive kindness. He also gives it. Every now and then, when he meets someone who has profoundly touched his heart, who has given out of their lack, Leon gives them a gift. It may be a home to get them off the streets, funding a charity, a dream holiday, and much more.
In series 2, Leon embarks on another journey, this time with a canary yellow VW beetle with no modifications, heating or power steering. Kindness 2 takes him through Canada, Alaska, America, Mexico, Costa Rica, Panama, Colombia, Peru, eventually ending in Argentina.
Listening to their stories, Leon connects. Sometimes, like in the case of Rena who rescues stray dogs in Colombia, the story is a bit too close to home. Moved to tears, Leon shares with Rena that his own dog Winston was the one who taught him about love. Winnie loved him unconditionally and marked Leon’s life profoundly.
Rena shares the story of her and her siblings’ abandonment by their mother and how they were treated like dogs by their father. It caused her to commit her life to rescuing and re homing stray dogs. Rena and Leon shared a common thread, a deep connection, visible in their interaction, Rena, an elderly lady who hugs him like a wise, loving grandmother and prays a blessing in his life. Leon in turn, shares with her the real reason for his travels. To find kind, selfless strangers who are in need of his help. And help he does, by funding the rescue and rehabilitation of 100 stray dogs for Rena. Her joy is magnetic.
“We are all travelers in one sense or another but what matters between life and death is our journey. But while we are here, there is an opportunity for us to connect in ways great and small, to experience the richness of cultures not our own, and thereby, enriching our own journeys as we travel this road on this ultimate adventure we call life”
Each episode in series 2 is connected to a particular theme, each is a gift. We see the gift of faith, community, purpose, home, food, shelter, hope, Winnie love, connection, knowledge, travel, friendship and of course kindness.
” As humans we don’t control the circumstances of our birth, but our lives can be changed by the decisions we make. Some people spend their lives taking while others spend their lives giving. And while each can leave their mark on history, ask yourself for your own life and for the legacy you will leave behind what story are you trying to tell?”
We also learn of atrocities and meet people who are battling insane red tape regulations to reunite with families across oceans. This series is not a travel documentary. It is so much more.
When Leon asks two paramedics why they are travelling around the world, their reply is simple yet heartrending. “So that we don’t have any regrets’. They explain that because of their job they experienced conversations with the dying. On many occasions they were told their regret was not seeing more of the world and not having a family.
A deported Mexican father, is staying on the border in a shack, planning his third swimming attempt to cross to the USA and be reunited with his wife and child. Each time, he is caught by the coast guard and sent back. Many drown, he has survived twice and is not stopping until he arrives or dies. Sobering.
When Leon travels through postcard perfect images, breathtaking views and surreal adventures, we are faced with stark reminders of the darkness within us when kindness or love is absent. He visits a plantation outside Lima, a stunning property fit for a holiday brochure. Yet underneath, in the basement, its dark narrow terrifying maze of catacombs tells of a slave trade 400 years ago and the shocking truth of how they lived here. Above ground, beauty, joy, fresh air. Below, desperation, stench, death.
But then he enters Urumbamba and surprises an old friend named Duska. Duska, a missionary who has devoted her life to caring for the orphans of her community, met Leon when he volunteered at the orphanage in his late teens. Duska was one of the first people in Leon’s life who showed him what kindness is. Before leaving, he pays for the orphanage and school to be extended.
” The construction of a person is similar to the construction of a building. Each begins with a clean slate on a foundation built by others and sometimes the external facade can hide an ugly truth or fail to show true worth. Eventually, people and buildings are left on their own to brace the elements of the world, but how well each holds up to those forces is always determined by the care taken when the foundation was laid. “
In Costa Rica he meets Father Sergio who runs Espirito de Santo, a mission to feed his community’s poor and destitute of all ages. Leon gives him a gift to help feed even more children before he remarks. “My gift made one day easier for the children in need, but I guess every day we are given is a gift and a chance for rebirth, redemption or reinvention”.
There is much more to this series than I can do it justice in this blog. I would recommend you watch it for yourself, with your friends, with your children. Inspire the younger generation to look for opportunities to make a difference. If they dream of travelling, they can travel in a way that is not only kind to our planet, but kind to its inhabitants too. They can live out their adventures by making a difference to the world around them, by giving their own gift of hope.
” So, as my story comes to an end, another story, your story may be just beginning. And on this journey, I’ve been inspired by other people’s kindness, day in, day out. It’s changed me. Because truly the greatest gift that we have to give another human being, is ourselves. You are the final gift. Because how you show up in the world, it matters. It matters profoundly. We all have the power to change the world. Because to change the world, all you need to do, is change one life. And the most beautiful, the most profound way to change one life simply, is to be kind. So my challenge is simple. the final gift of the kindness diaries is for you to go out into the world and give of yourself, be kind, share love and have as much fun along the way as you can”
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”
If you told me in 2001, when I moved to the U.K with my Cypriot husband, that one day I would be living in a small Welsh village with a name I can’t pronounce, I wouldn’t have believed it.
And yet, here I am, 18 years later, living in Caergwrle.
There are two sights that warm my heart in a way that nothing else does. The ocean and mountains. Living on the Wirral peninsula for the last 18 years was hugely comforting to me because it meant being near the sea thousands of miles away from my beloved Mediterranean ocean yet somewhat comforting that I was nonetheless near the sea.
But 11 months ago, we found ourselves homeless and living on a friend’s alpaca farm in North Wales. Only us!
This meant living within sight of Moel Famau mountain with views to the valleys and the Welsh sheep grazing below. Wow. I didn’t realise then but it was to begin my new love affair with Wales and to condition me away from my beloved Wirral, preparing me to embrace a new season our lives were about to enter.
My children now aged 16, 11 and 7 didn’t want to leave Wirral.
“We’ll be too far from our friends!” they lamented even though we were just 30 minutes drive away. But to a child it may as well be hours away. The mere frustration of not being able to pop round to their friends, was enough to make them feel we were moving to the other side of the world.
My husband was working as a waiter at a Greek taverna in Birkenhead, Wirral, from 4pm until late and did some self employed coffee barista training work in between. While on the farm and sharing the one car, it meant I had to organise our daily home educating schedules and outings to be back by 3 so that husband could have the car. Then of course we had an old car that guzzled petrol and the long drives were damaging to the bank account.
Living in someone else’s home comes with its own challenges and I learned that smallholding wasn’t my thing despite how much I adore the alpacas, especially little Nugget, the cutest thing I have ever seen. I have highly sensitive hearing so the crowing rooster at the crack of dawn and all through the day, coupled with the quacking ducks was challenging to my (selfish) need for quiet.
The months were rolling by and we couldn’t find a home within our budget. Until one day, a friend asked if we would be interested in her parents’ house as they were moving into a bungalow and would be renting their home. The catch was that the house was in North Wales.
We jumped at the chance though and visited the house as soon as we could. Being the end of Autumn when trees were bare, brown sticks dangling off faded tree trunks and the village looking a bit sad and grey, we didn’t fail to notice that it was also nestled under a mountain which sprawled behind the house, rising high as if thousands of tree soldiers were standing guard over it. I was immediately drawn.
When the owner told me the mountain was called Hope, I knew this was the house for us. I instantly remembered months before, driving to an appointment and passing a road sign pointing to Hope. “I’d love to live in a place called Hope” I thought to myself.
Fate. Meant to be. God’s will…
It led me to an online search to find what Caergwrle means.
Fortress. Wow. A fortress at the foot of Hope mountain. It is meant to be, this is our home. But the children?
The house, last but one at the top of the hill, meant no passing traffic, safety for the children, quiet for me, and with spectacular views. Wonderful.
We entered in. 4 bedrooms. One for each of the children at last. They had never been able to have their own bedrooms. For them, that was the clincher that overlooked the 30 minutes drive to their friends.
For me the confirmation that this was our home came in a different form. While looking around and eagerly announcing we wanted to rent this house, the owner casually mentioned that he was planning to get rid of a desk that they didn’t need. “You don’t happen to have any use for it?”
I glanced at this ‘desk’ and was instantly moved to tears. The most magnificent old fashioned writing desk stood before me. What the owner didn’t know was that, firstly, I love to write, secondly I had never owned my own desk and thirdly, I had always wanted my own vintage writing desk JUST LIKE THAT ONE.
Done deal. But was it?
We agreed to rent this house. Weeks turned to months and frustrations grew as solicitors and red tape kept us longingly dreaming of our new home yet increasingly looking like it was not going to happen.
But just then, at the last minute, in the last week of the deadlines for things to fall into place, just as I was begrudgingly about to apply for another house – in the Wirral – I received that desperately awaited for message.
“The house is yours, we are moving out on Friday, you can move in at the weekend”
Delight doesn’t express how we felt. Within days we were in. It was end of March and by then, Caergwrle was wearing its new season clothes.
Trees covered in fresh caterpillar green foliage, longer days, blue skies with amazing candy-floss cloud formations.
When I open my windows in the morning, I hear birds singing and my lungs draw in the fresh misty dew. I take every opportunity to drink my coffee outside and look at the mountain.
I stand at my bedroom window admiring the castle ruins, imagining life as it would have been hundreds of years ago, the sounds of the blacksmith hammering the iron, the smell in the air from burning wood or coal and all that castle life entails.
Our dog Poppy, adores her walks up to the castle, or Hope mountain and all the others in between.
My little girl enjoys the local playgrounds, three within walking distance from the house. My middle child, confidently rides his scooter to the local skate park, stopping at the corner shop to buy sweets and chat to the friendly ladies behind the till.
On the same row of shops, you’ll find a vet, beautician, optician, carpet shop, sandwich shop, grocer, fish and chips, Chinese take away and more I haven’t discovered yet. The shops are small, with friendly owners and staff smiling as you pass by.
My favourite walk is to Honey’s cafe, a gem I discovered quite by chance on my return from Hope GP practice. Just before the train station, right next to the river, is this little cafe with homemade cakes, scones, food and beverages.
The afternoon tea overlooking the river is a treat to delight in. One day I went with the children and had forgotten they have a limit of £12 in order to use a credit card. I asked the lady if she would like me to leave my kids there while I run to the local shop to get cash out to pay my £5 bill.
“Don’t worry about it, pay me next time” she replied clearly not knowing if I would ever return having never seen me there before!
We have been in our new home for a few weeks. Boxes are still stacked hidden behind the sofa. The garden needs weeding. We are not the most green fingered people. We need to buy recycling bins to separate the rubbish.
I make coffee. My favourite Mexican blend that my husband brings home freshly ground from his new job, a coffee roastery and supplier.
Propped up on the stone steps in my garden – we need garden furniture too- I reflect and one by one I count my blessings.
I could look at the last year with ingratitude and pain at the stress of nine months of homelessness, uncertainty, doubts, the feelings of failing our family, the extreme testing of our marriage and subsequent crisis.
Or, I could look at this last year as the path that led to our new home and new season in life. In these last months, we have known generosity like never before. What person offers you her home for your family of five while she lives in her caravan so as to accommodate you? What kind of friend sees your need and puts herself out of her own home in order to fill your need not once complaining, not pressurising, not making you feel awkward?
I have known that kind of friend. My family and I have been privileged to know a friend that loves us and cares for us as if we were her own family. I have known the meaning of true unconditional love and friendship. The laying down of one’s life for her friends. Priceless.
The smaller things? Those too.
We were able to buy a newer more comfortable and more economical car. Wow!
My husband got a new job as sales and training manager for an amazing small coffee roastery and it comes with a work car! No more car sharing and he does what he loves. Boom.
We are in a home we love, we have peace. We are safe and happy. Invaluable.
The railway station minutes form our home takes the boys all the way to Wirral direct so even if I can’t take them, they can go see their friends. Joy.
I can sit in my bed and look at the mountain outside of my window while I write, listening to bird song. A dream.
My daughter has made a new friend and she is the best friend she has ever had. They have become so close they are like sisters. I know these friendships. They are those that last the ages, these two will grow old together, tell stories, reminisce of the endless hours they spent in each other’s homes playing. Bliss. Double bonus, her mum has become a treasured friend to me too. Amazing.
I keep on listing, each blessing, each thing I am grateful for, my heart swelling with content pleasure.
But I am also reminded that none of it would have happened, if I were not willing to step out of the old and into the uncertain new. Change can be a frightening prospect. The what if’s can be debilitating so we stay where we know and feel safe. But we miss the new. We miss all the what if’s and more. We miss the learning and growth that comes in the dark moments.
The testing of my marriage taught me perseverance, forced me to examine myself, my heart, my faults and unrealistic expectations. It taught him that I am strong but fragile at the same time. The crisis took us to places we hadn’t explored before and showed us how much we mean to each other. How we are willing to sacrifice for each other. And that we needed boundaries as much as needed to let go of things that were holding us back.
It took nine months to move into our new home. It takes nine months for a new life to form inside a woman. The end of the pregnancy, uncomfortable, irritating, exhausting, desperate to just get that baby out.
Then the birth, excruciating before the drunken joy of delivery, relief, exaltation, deliriously ecstatic.
Change can be like pregnancy and childbirth. Change brings it all, tests you on all counts and brings out the best and the worse in you. But change brings also transformation.
The last nine months was not a bed of roses but then again a caterpillar does not become a butterfly unless it goes through the pain of transformation into the new.
Caergwrle is in the county of Flintshire, North Wales. Most famous for it’s castle ruin and stunning country walks. There is plenty to do around Flintshire, from beaches, country parks, castles, manor homes and estates, leisure centres, shopping and even an indoor ice skating rink in Deeside. For more information and to build your itinerary visit the following sites.