I Have Moved!

If you have come here looking for my unique wisdom and insight, sorry, I’ve now moved to my own site.

You can still view posts up to January 2010, but if I were you I’d go to my nice shiny new site, which is at:

www.mylittlenotepad.com

Drop in and say hello, I’d love to hear from you.

Thanks!

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To err is human…

…to forgive divine. Alexander Pope

I’ve been thinking a bit about this quote lately. Taking it literally, it works out well for me. Especially since most people focus on the first part and use it as justification for something they’ve done. Or not done. Or said, or not said. You get the message.

“Well, I know I shouldn’t have done x, y, z, but you know, to err is human and all that.” Uh-huh, and at this point the other person is supposed to be divine and forgive, just like that. That’s not going to happen, realistically. So it’s a win-win situation – I can err, because I’m human, and that’s what humans do, and I don’t have to forgive because that’s God’s job.

The problem is, I’m not let off the hook that easily. First off, forgiveness is important. I think that’s a fairly unarguable statement, whether you believe in God or not. If you know you’ve done something wrong, you like to know that the person you’ve hurt has forgiven you. If you’ve been the victim, you need to get some closure from the hurt, and draw a line under that chapter of your life. That’s basically forgiveness – letting go of the offence so it can’t hurt you any more.

If you do believe in God, forgiveness is taken to a whole new level. There’s the ultimate forgiveness, for all human sin. Yes, to err is human. Sin is essentially turning away from God, choosing self over God, and humans do that on a spectacular scale. We all have free will, and the best of us uses it at some point to do what we want to do, not what God wants. There has only ever been one perfect man who unfailingly chose to put God’s will over his own free will, and that was Jesus. And let’s be honest, we should pay for that. We are hurting God every time we sin, in the same way that we are hurt when people betray us or let us down. If we need forgiveness from each other, how much more do we need it from God? But God does not have to forgive us – He does not have to do anything. Which makes it even more amazing that He does. There is a whole other discussion here on sin, redemption and salvation, but I’ll save that for another time. The relevant point today is that God forgives us  – and, by the way, that means for the bitching x did about y last week, as well as the pack of cigarettes z nicked from the corner shop last week, as well as the countless innocents killed by wars, and the wife killed by her husband for not cooking the dinner properly. God’s forgiveness does not have criteria or a cut off point, it is there for all sins, even if we personally think they are unforgiveable. In His eyes sins are not graded, they are all equally bad, so it’s a good job it is up to Him to forgive them, not us.

But on the other side of that, He is also calling on the part of Him in each of us to forgive each other. This is hard. To forgive is divine, and since we are made in His image it is a standard we are asked to aspire to. Forgiveness may be important, as I said earlier, but not necessarily imperative until you bring God into the equation. He directly commands us to forgive when He gives us the perfect prayer to use:

Our Father in Heaven,

hallowed be Your Name,

Your Kingdom come,

Your will be done,

on earth as it is in Heaven.

Give us today our daily bread.

And forgive us our debts,

As we have also forgiven our debtors.

And lead us not into temptation,

but deliver us from the evil one.

(Matthew 6:9-13 NIV). Most people know these two lines as ‘And forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us’. It’s hit-you-over-the-head clear that forgiveness is not optional, and it ties in with the rest of Jesus’ teaching to love our neighbours.

Now, confession time. I find forgiveness a real struggle. Even as I am writing this, I am painfully aware of offences against me both long-term and recent, and I am bitter and hurt. It’s the reason I wrote this post – I know what I need to do, I know what God calls me to do, and I do struggle. I take things very personally and very deeply. I invest a lot in relationships and when those relationships let me down I grieve for a long time. It’s not so bad when people apologise – I can move on. But there is no sub-clause saying “as we have also forgiven our debtors [*as long as they’re really, really sorry]”. Jesus says, again unequivocally, that you have to love your enemies. Forgive anyone who has wronged you. And this is one of the many places where I fall down. I’m naturally clumsy, and never more so than on the road to God. But I have to learn, slowly and painfully, that I cannot have the whole-hearted, joyous relationship with God that I want while I am carrying this burden. It is a real, heavy burden, that twists your heart and colours everyday life with bitterness. I suspect there are thousands, maybe millions of people under similar burdens, of varying shapes and sizes. Luckily, Jesus knows we are human, with failings, and He’s got a lifebelt for us.

Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. (Matt 11:28)

If we call on Him, He will help us. The only way I will get rid of my burden is to offload it onto Him. I need to pray for the strength to leave old wounds behind and look ahead. And when I’ve done that, I can have hope that my own sins (against God and others) are also forgiven.

On God, #1

This post is a bit of a new direction for me, but I felt it was something I should write.

At the risk of putting off some readers, I have to say I am a practising Christian.

Wow, writing that felt like I was confessing to some heinous crime.

When I say I am a ‘practising’ Christian, I know that can be taken in a number of ways. I am practising in the sense that I go to Church most weeks, I pray, I read the Bible, I have faith in a living God and His Son who bought our salvation by His death. On the other hand, I am not a practising Christian, in the sense that I know certain truths and values to be priorities for Christians and I constantly fall short of this. I have yet to fit the Christian part of me comfortably into the external projection of myself, so that when I am with people who do not believe in God, I hide my own faith until directly confronted with a question, but when with other Christians, I am uncomfortably aware of my lack of continuity and commitment. I guess in a third sense, I am practising in an endeavour to improve!

I would also like to make a distinction at this point between myself and some who do claim, rather loudly, to be Christians and to represent Christianity. There are those who take passages from the Bible, particularly the Old Testament, and (I believe) distort them to justify acts of violence, discrimination and hate. I believe that the God I am coming to know more and more has a deep love of people, and is saddened by these acts. I don’t want to go into particular details here, each issue is a discussion in itself, but the fact is that Christianity is based on God loving the world (not just one sector of society) so much that He sent His only Son to die for it. That kind of love just does not match up with the kind of things some people are saying and doing in the name of God or Christ.

Jesus made it very clear that God is about love. His teachings in the Gospel emphasise that people need to show love for each other in every aspect of their lives and use this as a base for their actions – Matthew 22:37 – 40 reads “Jesus replied: ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’ All the Law and Prophets hang on these two commandments.” On the basis of this, we are told not to judge others until we have judged ourselves. Specifically: “Do not judge, or you too will be judged…Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in someone else’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?” (Matt 7:1 – 3). This passage is often overlooked by those who are quick to condemn (either verbally or more violently) others for things they do, and I know that I am also guilty of this.

The good news is, it’s not just one way. We have to show love for God and for each other, but we get it back from God in bucketloads. I often find myself trying to sort things that go wrong out on my own, instead of praying about it or asking for help. When I do turn back to God, I feel His love almost as a physical sensation. It’s a wonderful feeling that cannot be described. There are hard times, times when I need to learn a lesson, but I am reminded constantly that God is not abandoning me during those times, any more than I abandon my son when I stop him having a biscuit or sticking his fingers into an electric socket. When I don’t feel God with me, it’s because I am shutting Him out and trying to go it alone. God wants to be allowed to love me, I just have to let Him.

The Year I Turn Thirty

2010 is the year I turn thirty. Yes, it’s not until October, but it’s a big milestone!

I know a lot of people have hang-ups about milestone birthdays, and I’m probably due some kind of early-mid-life-crisis, but to be honest I’m actually pretty excited about it. I love birthdays anyway – every year since I turned fifteen I’ve had a sort of awed feeling that I actually made it to another one (nothing morbid, I’m just easily pleased). Thirty feels like a respectable, grown-up age. Your twenties are in-between times, you’ve got neither the optimism and energy of adolescence (or the excuse!) nor the maturity and hindsight that nothing but a bit of life experience can bring. It’s a time where you find out that your preconceptions that you grew up with are wrong, and you haven’t yet figured out new ideas to replace them. Whereas thirty is, to me, the time when you pull your socks up (figuratively speaking, of course!) and say ‘Right, this is who I am, this is what the last three decades have turned me into,’ and look ahead to the future as a new, mature adult. In theory anyway. I realise that I will almost certainly be not much different in a year’s time to now, but there’s always hope.

There are of course lots of targets I won’t have met by the time I’m thirty. I won’t have had a book published, although I’m going to keep (start?) plugging away at the short stories and competitions. I won’t have learned grace and poise and polish – I’m afraid that I am and always will be a bit of a shy, bumbling mess. But perhaps I will have learned to come to terms with it. I probably won’t have won the lottery or made millions. But I can come to terms with that too. What I will have done is gained a comfortable home and life, a wonderful husband and two adorable children (although one of them won’t be born until April. I’m assuming she will be adorable too). I have formed world-views and faith that I am pretty comfortable with, although these will keep being refined and tested.

When I’m thirty, I will also find my experience of motherhood changing, and this is so scary. Instead of the mother of a baby boy, which is how I’ve come to think of myself over the last two and half years, I will be the mother of a son who goes to nursery and a daughter. I cannot even begin to think how this will change me, but it will be the most exciting year finding out.

When I’m thirty, I will hopefully be a little wiser than I am now at twenty nine. I hope I will have learned how to save, and how to deal with difficult life events. I’ve had a few in my life already, that have definitely left their mark, and the year I turn thirty seems like a good time to deal with these and try to put them behind me. I’m hoping this year can also give me the strength to help my husband do this too, and that this year sees us having some better times as a family, able to put the challenging times of the past year or two behind us.

When I’m thirty I hope I will be further along my path as a writer. I keep setting a lot of goals, and they keep changing or being missed, but I hope that by the time my birthday comes round I will be better at keeping to my goals and more disciplined, seeing writing more as a job than a hobby and improving myself.

I know I am putting a lot of expectation into this year. I imagine there are people reading this and thinking ‘Don’t be daft, none of that is realistic,’ but I don’t care. I am, despite things that are going on at the moment, starting this year thinking that 2010 is a landmark year for me, and that things are going to go well for us. I am going to try and start this year being optimistic and full of hope.

What milestones do you have for your landmark birthdays? Or for 2010? I would love to know, and see if other people share my new-found optimism. After all, it’s not every year you turn thirty.

10 Things They Don’t Tell You About Toddlers

It’s one of the things you probably hear most before you have a baby. “You don’t realise how much they’ll change your life,” usually said with a dreamy faraway look. At this time, you probably assume that the speaker is thinking fondly of their little darling, and how life is so much better now. With hindsight, the odds are just as good that they are remembering the last time they were able to eat a meal in peace or get a full night’s sleep.

Well, having been caught out by this ourselves, I’ve decided to be selfless and tell people the Truth About Toddlers. (sounds good doesn’t it? It could be a book…) You may have heard some of these before, or some may be a total shock, but if you haven’t got children, take heed and learn. If you have got children, feel free to heave a sympathetic sigh and add on any vital points I may have missed. We need to work together, people.

1. They are in training for adolescence as soon as they hit eighteen months. The Terrible Twos doesn’t start at their second birthday and end at their third- as soon as they can walk and talk the Terribleness is in place right up till their teenage years. They have strops, they have mood swings, they tell you to go away. My two year old even stamps into his bedroom and slams the door on me. All that’s missing is “You don’t understand,” and I’m sure that’s just a matter of vocabulary.

2. They are experts at manipulation. They could write a book on it (if they could write). Machiavelli could learn a thing or two from any toddler. Tactics vary, from going straight from one parent to another hoping for a different answer (everyone knows about this one though), to using emotional blackmail that they learn from Grandma when you’re not looking. They keep you on your toes – just when you’re all fired up, in strictest, no-nonsense mode, they switch to utterly adorable and you cave instantly. And you fall for it every time.

3. The mess. Seriously, even if people tried they couldn’t warn you about the mess. I was never a great housewife (I can hear my husband choking as he reads that understatement of the century) but even I get depressed by the sheer scale of mess one tiny little body produces. And they do it without you noticing. It’s one thing to tip the toy box upside down – at least then you just pile it all back in. But I’m talking about the house exploding. It’s relatively tidy one minute, so you go congratulate yourself on keeping on top of it and go to make yourself a cup of tea. Five minutes later you can’t find the floor.

4. The amount of ‘stuff’ you need with you. When they’re newborn, that’s fairly self-evident, what with bottles and muslins. And I imagine once Daniel’s toilet training it’ll be the same, pants, spare trousers etc. Now, I thought I had it easy. After all, all he needs is a few wipes and a couple of nappies and a drink? Yes, but he also insists on bringing a train, or Buzz Lightyear, or a cow. Soon you’ve got half of Toys R Us in your handbag, and get a funny look at the checkout because instead of your purse you’ve pulled out a toy shark. And you wonder on the way back to the car why your neck and shoulders ache all the time.

5. Speaking of shops, the old ‘tantrum in the aisles’ chestnut is a classic. This is a tricky one, because everyone’s seen the cliche on tv and is prepared for it. But the true horror of it actually builds up over time. It starts when your child is around eighteen months, and you’re thinking behaviour problems should be starting any time now, but since they’re not you must have the best-behaved child in the world. You go around the supermarket, outwardly commiserating with the harrassed mother coping with meltdown in the biscuit aisle but secretly smug because your little angel is sitting contentedly in the trolley smiling serenely at the world. Then one day they decide enough is enough and you are suddenly the harrassed mother, caught totally unprepared because you’d been lulled into a false sense of security.

6. How much you can love and loathe CBeebies simultaneously. No matter how much you swear pre-parenthood that you won’t let them watch too much tv, it’s a rare parent that doesn’t, in a moment of desperation, blurt out “How about CBeebies?” and savour the moments of peace that follow. Mister Maker is pure genius, at least that’s what my son thinks. On the other hand, Waybuloo is just weird and you want to shoot Little Cook Small after about three minutes.

7. Their unerring sense of timing. They will desperately need something (insert most inconvenient request you can think of here) right when you need to make a phone call / leave the house / go to the toilet. They are at death’s door until the moment you get them into see the doctor, at which point they jump up and run around, completely healthy. They will sleep through for the first night in eight months the night they sleep at Grandma’s (not that I’m bitter and twisted in any way).

8. The total lack of fear. They’re tiny, they look so fragile and you hear horror stories about children who’ve landed on their heads. So you spend your life a quivering wreck if they are higher than 5 centimetres off the ground or even slightly close to the road. But the little so-and-sos really don’t care. They climb onto the sofa, jump off, roll off. They climb onto the slide and try all sorts of interesting ways to come down, none of which include nice and safely on their bottoms. They launch themselves off every piece of furniture they can get onto. They arrange toys so that it makes a precarious ladder to the top shelf just to reach a DVD. Or just for the fun of it. And every hair on your head that turns grey overnight they count as a job well done.

9. The lack of freedom. Yours, not theirs. When they’re a baby, they lie in their pram looking cute and you can go just about anywhere and do just about anything. Please, make the most of it. Yes, you have to stop for an occasional feed or nappy change, but this is nothing compared to going out with a toddler. They don’t like a shop, they WILL let you know. You fancy a pub dinner? Forget it. You can’t just up and out for some late night shopping because they need to be back in bed by seven. I hadn’t realised how often we had popped out for an evening, browsing at Borders and having a leisurely latte in Starbucks (with our only constraint the closing time), until we couldn’t do it any more.

10. How much none of the above matter. You are totally unprepared for how much you love this little person. When I am upset or ill Daniel will come and give me a cuddle and ask “alright Mummy?” with such love and concern in his face, and there is no way of describing the feeling that comes with that. Just as there is no way of describing the feeling you get when you haven’t seen them for a couple of hours and their faces light up when they see you.

Is there anything I have missed?

A Helping Hand

I’m coming to the conclusion that writing can be a teensy bit frustrating. You can be flying high one moment and then totally without inspiration the next. Now, I realise this is groundbreaking stuff that no-one has ever written before. You may need to sit down to carry on reading. But joking aside, you don’t actually grasp the reality of it until you are doing it, and it’s a lot like parenting in that respect. A complete shock to the system.

I have also realised, however, that writers as a breed are supportive, caring and genuinely want to help each other. I know, this is a sweeping generalisation and there will always be the odd recluse who likes to tuck himself up away from the world and avoid contact with other human beings as much as possible. In general, though, through my experiences mostly on Twitter and my own fledgling blog, the writers I have encountered are caring people who want to help you through sticky patches.

In a world where publishing seems to exploding – everyone is writing and blogs and sites like helium.com give opportunities to anyone to be heard – it is a huge challenge to get anywhere. I am always reading advice on how to stand out in the slushpile, descriptions of mountains of manuscripts drowning publishers and agents, warnings that for every success story there are x number of rejections. It would be natural that in such a competitive world, every writer would be out for themselves, and offering help to someone else would be akin to shooting yourself in the foot. I remember auditioning for Oklahoma! once in a local dramatic society, and another girl had missed the rehearsal where we were given scripts and set audition pieces. I typed out the pieces for her and emailed them to her in time to practice for the big day, and she actually got the lead part and I was in the chorus. If I hadn’t done that, who knows? I could be on my way to the West End right now (probably not, but since we’ll never know I can daydream a little).

But there isn’t that kind of mentality at all. Everyone I have come into contact with since calling myself a writer has been kind, encouraging and genuinely pleased at their colleagues’ successes. I would like to take advantage of that a little.

I have set up a social network on Ning called Writing Cafe – writingcafe.ning.com – where I’m kind of hoping to start a sort of online writing group. I know there are probably lots of these already, but my Google searches haven’t really brought any to light so they must all be hiding somewhere – perhaps run by the miserable recluses I mentioned earlier. The idea is to connect with other writers  (with a little more intimacy than Twitter allows), publish pieces of writing to receive feedback (with a little more privacy than sites like Helium allow for the more bashful among us), and basically see what else people would like to get out of such a group. I also had the idea that there could be a regular online chat time.

Anyway, that’s my little contribution towards helping writers connect together. And it’s completely selfish, I felt so touched by the support I had during the week on Twitter I want to take it further. Have a look and sign up!

Writing Cafe

Why Write?

I’ve been congratulating myself a little the last couple of days. Having gone from being close to giving up completely on writing I am now feeling more confident and have even finished a couple of projects. I can feel writing becoming a more and more integral part of my life, to the extent where it seems strange to go a day without writing anything. It’s taken me a while to get there, but I feel much happier.

This has led me to wonder why I ever wanted to write in the first place. What was it that, even when I felt so low, kept me going instead of giving up as I usually do so easily with other things?

I had a dim memory, a few days ago, of when my grandma died. She had always lived in London, whereas we live in the north east, so we didn’t see her all that often, but when we did she was always good fun. She was a proper old Irish lady, full of stories about the fairies at the bottom of the garden and tales from the part of Ireland that she came from. When she died, about fourteen years ago, we went down to London to sort out some of her things, and came across a rejection letter from a publisher.

She had written and submitted a children’s book – I don’t remember whether it was a collection of stories or one long story. It was something I had never known about her and I had a strong feeling of pride that she had actually taken the leap and submitted something. Now when I am starting to take myself seriously as a writer it feels quite apt to keep hold of that memory. It feels like a link to someone very special, and in some strange way like I am carrying on from her.

This isn’t the only, or main, reason I write though. I only remembered this incident a few days ago, after all, and I’ve been writing on and off for a while. I have been a voracious reader since childhood, does that explain something? A desire to emulate the authors I admire and to make up for the ones I don’t?

I have always enjoyed words – at school I was best at subjects that used words and language like English or French. I was the one people asked about spellings and synonyms. I have written little pieces since I was a child, just for the fun of it, until I became a teenager, and fitting in and being cool became more important (not that I ever managed it!).

But perhaps the most important reason to write is just…because. Because I can, and I know that with work and perseverance I can do it well. Because it feels right (no pun intended) and increasingly natural. Because when I am doing some mundane, everyday activity and I get a story playing in my head, the logical next step is to jot it down to play around with.

I’m fairly sure I’ve missed some reasons, and I will shout out at some random point “Yes, that’s another one!” In the meantime, what are other reasons people write?