Raise a (gentle) ruckus

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I attended a protest rally recently.

I didn’t carry a placard, didn’t raise a clenched fist. I joined in with the chanting, but only in a very quiet voice. I felt a bit uncomfortable. That type of resistance just isn’t me. And then I felt guilty for not shouting louder. Did I not care enough?

But is that form of protest my only option? If I’m not a slogan-shouting, flag-waving freedom fighter, how do I best express my despair with the things that are awry in the world just now?

Last week I came across this lovely illustration by Mari Andrew and it reassured me.

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There are all kinds of ways to resist and many of them are gentle and full of grace. They may not be direct or vocal but they are subversive, wrapped in joy and beauty.

One of my favourite writers seems to agree.

On receiving an award at the recent gathering of the Writers Guild, the brilliant Aaron Sorkin (creator of tv programme The West Wing) lamented the current state of play in American politics before asking the room:

“So what can we do? A lot, actually. Because the most powerful delivery system ever invented for an idea is a story.”

In other words, show your resistance in your art.

Be creative with your protest.

When the landscape around you is in rubble and ruins, plant colourful flowers that speak of hope and new life. When the news is full of violence and greed, share stories of peace and wild generosity. In the face of uncertainty, paint your truth. Stand toe to toe with despair and sing your splendid joyful song.

As I watched the people around me at the march, read their banners and listened to the chants and angry cries, from somewhere on the other side of the crowd came a very different sound.

Singing.

Gentle female voices raised together in a chorus.

Eventually those ladies marched past me. I couldn’t read their banner to see who they were but they looked like seasoned campaigners, women who had attended many rallies over many years to make their voices heard in the most beautiful way. Raising a gentle ruckus.

They made me feel at home. They reminded me that I don’t have to shout to be heard.

The writer Sally Lloyd Jones said,

“I see all of it [art] as redemptive. Sin has unravelled the fabric of the world and art is one of the ways that we re-weave, however we do it.”

There are large gaping holes being torn all over this wonderful world of ours and it’s up to you and me to pick up our chosen tool or instrument and begin the slow, delicate but deliberate process of pulling the frayed edges back together. I take great heart and encouragement from those leading the creative way. People like Sarah Corbett and her Craftivist Collective, cross-stitching their mini protest banners for London Fashion Week, or Shane Claiborne and his friends, turning guns into garden spades and musical instruments, or Mari Andrew sharing her art on Instagram and reminding people like me that there are many ways to make your voice heard.

And so I salute my fellow marchers, the flag-waving, slogan-shouting masses. I need you. The world needs you. And I will stand with you.

I may simply choose to raise a more gentle ruckus.

On taking a break

I’ve had a break from writing over the summer. It wasn’t intentional, I just ran out of steam. I started my blog just over a year ago, and at first I was going great guns, posting two or three times a month, then my strike rate slowed to twice a month and then to monthly. I last posted at the start of June and in the second week of July I became a little twitchy. The voices of should and have to started whispering in my ears, but I didn’t have anything to say. A week or so later they won out, and I sat down to try and write. I began several different pieces but didn’t get anywhere. Starting from a place of should is never going to produce your best work. Perhaps I did need to stop for a while.


Taking a break, whatever it’s  from, is a good time to evaluate. Remind yourself why you began in the first place. Is that still the case? Is there something that needs altered or realigned? What are your values, and is what you’re doing in symmetry with what you believe? Decide afresh what matters to you. Write it down and place it front and centre in your day, on your desk, your mirror, the bedside table. When I began this blog I saw it simply as a place to ponder, reflect and share whatever thoughts I had on any given subject. This time of reflection has allowed me to distil that breadth into a narrower field of vision, giving me a specific lens through which to view my writing topics.

Once there I felt in need of fresh inspiration. Instead of writing I have re-read some of my favourite books, found new authors to enjoy and listened to podcasts which have refreshed me and reinvigorated my creativity. I’ve given myself the permission to take time away to sit at the feet of others and drink in their genius.
And now it’s time to begin afresh. Tempting as it would be to simply admire the work of others, and listen to the voices constantly telling me someone else will always do it better so why bother trying, I choose to believe that there is room for each person’s creative input to this world, and so I will offer mine. There are enough people spreading hate and violence, negativity and darkness. We need more people to stand up for joy and peace, to celebrate beauty and hope, to find and share the quirks, colour and spiritual splendour of life. I pray that’s what you’ll find right here from now on.

Are you needing to stop doing something for a time? Embrace the break. Silence the voices of should and have to. Let yourself rest and be still.

Then ask yourself those key questions about why you started, who you are and what you value.

Find inspiration – read, listen, look, pray.

And finally, refreshed and reinvigorated, get going!

Celebration Story

This time last week I was returning from America and had a five hour layover at Charlotte airport in North Carolina. After about ten minutes in the terminal it had become my favourite airport ever. Not only could you sit in white rocking chairs on a tree-lined avenue, but they had therapy dogs for you to pet. I was charmed. They had tapped into two of my bucket list desires – to own a rocking chair and a dog. (I know, reach for the stars, right? What can I tell you, I’m a simple girl with simple pleasures.) What had felt like an excruciatingly long time to spend in a relatively small airport suddenly became a great time to relax and watch the world go by.

As I sat rocking in my chair, eyes closed and imagining I was on a southern porch at sunset, another delight grabbed my attention. Someone was playing the piano. I looked around to see a baby grand diagonally across from where I was sitting, and a young man playing the most wonderful music. I love listening to people play the piano, especially those with real talent, and I was absolutely mesmerised. Almost immediately people began to stop in their tracks near the piano to watch and listen. After a few moments they would reach into their pockets, pull out a wallet and drop a dollar or two into the tips jar.

But as I watched more closely I realised that something else was going on.

This wasn’t simply an exchange of a little money for a pleasant moment of distraction. No, something much more profound and precious was changing hands. Almost without exception, each person, having dropped their money in the jar, turned away and was beaming. Their joy was evident even from the distance at which I was sitting.

The transaction was a moment of celebration. We had been invited, implored, to stop in the middle of our busy days and spend a few moments relishing music, creativity and joy. To pause and wonder at someone’s skill, and to encourage and thank them for enriching our lives, albeit for a brief moment.

How many times do we let those moments of celebration pass us by? How many days have there been where pure joy has crossed our paths and we have barely acknowledged it, let alone paused to celebrate? We are too busy rushing to where we need to be, preoccupied with what we think is important. Or even worse – we’re on our phones. Heads are buried in the nonsense notion of having our fingers on the pulse, all the while we miss the treasure that’s right in front of us.

I think we miss moments of celebration every day, and it’s time to stop.

It’s time to stop and recognise real talent. To say ‘how wonderful’, ‘keep going’, ‘you’ve made my day’.

It’s time to say thank you to one who has served you well, to acknowledge their efforts not only to them but to their managers.

It’s time to pause and pet the dog, but also to spark a conversation with the owner.

It’s time to stop and smell the roses. To comb the beach for shells. To admire the view.

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Children do it all the time but somehow, in our grown-up and important lives, we lose the ability to see what’s really important.

I think that most days will bring us at least one opportunity for celebration, if we take the time and adjust our focus to find it. What could be better? I want to start seeing each day as a potential gold mine of joy. Yes I will need to carefully sift through the distractions and the dross, determine what is masquerading as treasure but is really trash, and adjust my eyes so I can see the tiny sparks among the dust. But when I find them, hold them up and let them gleam in the light, it’ll be worth it.

Let’s celebrate and exchange real joy each and every moment it comes our way.

To do anything less would be an extravagant waste, don’t you think?

What if you fly?

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Quote: Erin Hanson. Image from Pinterest.

Perhaps, like me, you have dreams deep in your heart that you keep tucked away in the secret box of your imagination. Every now and then you bring them out, hold them aloft to see how wonderful they look, shiny and bright with possibility. You entertain the thought of actually doing something with them, of them becoming a living, breathing reality. And for a short while you bask in the glow of how wonderful that would be.

And then the other voices come.

Don’t be ridiculous.

You could never do that.

Who do you think you are?

People like you don’t do things like this.

Someone else is doing this already.

And doing it better than you could.

Where will you find the time?

You’ll make a fool of yourself.

You’re too old.

You’re too young.

What will people think?

What if I fail?

And with that, all of the possibility suddenly seems tarnished by doubt and fear, the dream feels like foolish nonsense, and so you fold it back up and tuck it away once more, never to see the light of day.

But what if….

What if the dream that is in your heart is exactly what someone else needs?

What if you become the best version of yourself as you do it?

What if you inspire and lead others to do the same?

What if you fail?

Who cares?!

The issue of failure can be crippling and terrifying but I’ve come to the conclusion that there is a more frightening question.

What if I never tried?

Imagine getting to the end of your life and all of those dreams have stayed locked in the box without ever once having had the opportunity to spread their wings. How tragic would that be? How wasteful? Each one of us is packed full of creativity and possibility, but some of us only use the tiniest portion of what we’ve been given.

Let’s unleash it all!

Be prepared to be a glorious failure rather than scared and safe. I want to get to the end of my life with nothing left unfulfilled inside me. I’d rather crash and burn than never make it across the starting line.

Today, why not let one of those dreams see the light of day once more. Consider it afresh and let it sing to you of all that might be possible. Stare down the disapproving glare of doubt and pray for the courage to take that first step off the ledge.

Because, my darling, what if you fly?

I can and I will

**GBBO Spoiler alert**

I’ll admit it now – I cried at the end of the Bake Off final this year.

But then so did Mary Berry, so I figure I’m in pretty good company.

I didn’t cry because of my sadness that it’s all over for another year, nor because of any terrible injustice over the result – because I thought that Paul and Mary got it spot on.

It was what Nadia said at the end that got me, as she stood holding her winner’s trophy.

“I am never going to put boundaries on myself ever again. I’m never going to say I can’t do it. I’m never going to say maybe. I’m never going to say I don’t think I can. I can and I will.”

What made her triumph all the more beautiful was the obvious joy and pride of her family who were there to support her. They had clearly been cheering her every step of the way, encouraging her when she was down, believing in her when she struggled to believe in herself and spurring her forward right to the end.

There’s extraordinary power in encouragement.

I am scared of heights, and have been ever since I was a little girl.

But I have been to the top of the Eiffel Tower in Paris, the Sky Tower in Auckland and have crossed the Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge on the north Antrim coast of Northern Ireland.

How has this been possible? In every case my knees were like jelly and I had that fearful quiver in my voice when I tried to speak. But on each occasion I had a friend with me to hold my hand (literally), tell me I could, or simply not take no for an answer.

On one occasion I decided to be brave and head to the top of the Scott Monument in Edinburgh – on my own. I made it up to the main part of the monument where you can walk around the edge and get such a wonderful view of the city. Scott monumentHowever there’s another bit you can ascend, in the spire-like part of the structure. I made it about three steps up when my fear stopped me and turned me around. I decided I had been brave enough for one day.

The Scott Monument is around a quarter of the height of the Eiffel Tower and about a third of the Sky Tower (very shonky maths – please don’t look it up), so why could I not get to the top?

Because I was alone.

No encouragement, no hand-holding.

No one pushing me on, telling me I could.

And it made all the difference.

Encouragement is a powerful gift.

The Acts of the Apostles and letters of the New Testament are peppered throughout with calls for us to bring encouragement to one another. Why is it so important?

Because without it we falter.

We look around at what we’re trying to achieve and wonder who the heck we think we are. We see the heights we’re trying to scale, the distance we’re reaching for, the giants we’re facing and we feel the fear.

Or perhaps we look back at the road we’ve been walking and feel disappointed with how slow the journey has been. We are tempted to give up, to just sit down where we are and call it good enough.

At each of these places encouragement makes all the difference.

It lifts us back on our feet again and sets us on our way or gives us the foot up that we need to reach the heights we’re stretching for. Encouragement brings boldness and bravery and drowns out the voice of fear. When we’ve compared ourselves to other brighter, shinier people and told ourselves that there’s no point trying, encouragement reminds us that our contribution is unique and the world needs to hear it.

Encouragement lifts our heads when they are down and strengthens our resolve when it has weakened.

It enables us to say, “I can and I will.”

Who can you encourage today?

Who needs you to be their cheerleader?

And who would like to come and hold my hand, to the very top of the Scott Monument?