Finding myself beloved: an everyday story

When I arrive at the station the train is already in despite there being twenty minutes before we leave. I buy a cup of tea and check my ticket: Coach D, seat 32.

 

When I find my seat it is at a table already occupied by two people. The woman is dressed smartly in a navy blue dress which fits her form perfectly. She is the personification of a business professional. Across from her sits a man in a suit and tie, his jacket hung on the hook by the window. The woman has to move to allow me to take my seat, next to her by the window. I can sense her frustration. She had placed her bag on my seat hoping beyond hope that no one would claim it and she wouldn’t have to sit arm touching arm with another human.

It is hot on the train and it takes me a few moments to settle. I try and take up as little physical space as possible. I remove my phone and headphones from my bag alongside my notebook, pen and the book I am reading.

And a banana. I place a banana on the table. I can almost hear the disapproval of my fellow passengers.

Before long the train fills up. An Indian woman and her son take the seats across the aisle. He is three or four years old and full of energy. His mother takes an iPad out of her bag and puts a programme on it for him. He has no headphones. We are all now also listening to his superhero cartoons. We momentarily unite in our disdain. A glamorous older lady takes her place behind them making a loud phone call about where she will meet her friend later.

Behind us, passengers I cannot see talk in a language I don’t understand, an animated conversation about I do not know what.

Finally, the fourth occupant of our table arrives. A boy-man aware of his own attractiveness. He pulls large wireless headphones from his bag and places on the table a large coffee he has brought from one of the stations’ coffee shops. He holds in his other hand a bag containing a sausage sandwich. He takes two ketchup sachets from his pocket and squeezes them liberally over it. How he eats it without spilling sauce down his black Adidas jacket is a miracle. We look away.

Fellow travellers in this small enclosed space avoid eye contact and interaction by all means possible. We long for solitude and silence, to travel without the inconvenience of others touching us, talking in outdoor voices, eating and drinking in our personal space.

I think, if only this train wasn’t so loud, so crowded.

I think, I wish I could afford to get the quieter, earlier, more expensive, train.

And then.

(A hang over from my more anxious days.) A slight shooting pain up my left hand side momentarily gives rise to the idea I could have a stroke.

I dismiss it immediately, no longer held hostage by this kind of intrusive thought.

But the thought makes me curious.

I take a moment to consider what would happen if I did.

If, here and now, I suffered a stroke. (Go with me).

I imagine the woman next to me jumping up, calling for help. From somewhere a traveller with medical expertise would appear making sure I was in the recovery position in the aisle. Someone would find my phone and call a loved on my behalf. Someone else would alert the train manager. The nearest hospital would be rung. The glamorous lady would put her cardigan under my head and my train neighbour would hold my hand. Someone would distract the young Indian boy with sweets, or conversation.

I would not be alone. I would be cared for.

Don’t ask me how I know.

I just do.

For all our masks and indifference and desire to remain separate and private something deeper would call out. Our humanity. Our humanness. My fellow passengers would make eye contact with each other. They would work together.

And I would be helped.

I would be cared for. I would know kindness.

As I look up at the people who sat with me, travelling through the rainy English countryside, my heart warms. What amazing people I get to travel with. What a privilege to be among fellow humans today.

Late Fragment

by Raymond Carver.

And did you get what

you wanted from this life, even so?

I did.

And what did you want?

To call myself beloved, to feel myself

beloved on the earth.

Elli Johnson has been blogging at thehippochronicles.com for over 4 years. She writes about mental health, creativity, beauty and the chaos of family life. She is a professional child wrangler, (over)thinker, and tea drinker.

Elli lives in Liverpool with the river Mersey at the bottom of the road.

To find her newest and most exciting work, check out: patreon.com/thehippochronicles

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Finding place

I remember sitting at the counter of the diner, a narrow wooden plank with squeaky chairs. The gas station turned restaurant was much smaller four years ago. But the smell of fresh biscuits, flaky croissants layered with ham and pear, and smoked meat remained the same. I watched life unfold outside the window, wondering how I fit into the scene here too. It all resembled an old movie playing in slow motion with the sound turned off.

I didn’t know much of Winchester, the town my soon-to-be husband had moved to for a job.

I only knew it was quiet and slow. Less hurried and rushed. Strangers looked up as they passed and small talk was woven into the culture. It felt rude not to engage in conversation with the person in line beside you.

Hil

Like most people my age, I was living and working in Washington, DC. It seemed customary to move to a big, trendy city after graduation. That’s where you would find yourself, climb the ladder of success, and build your dreams. I got used to looking down or straight ahead during the week, walking quickly to work or weaving in between cars on my bike. Getting from place to place was more a race rather than a leisurely stroll.

I’d visit Matt on the weekends, where in-between holding hands and sitting real close, we’d chat with locals at the one coffee shop in town. The one he used to live above. The owner of the shop was one of his dearest friends.

I always left visits feeling filled up in places I didn’t know were empty. Deep, slow breaths came easier as we drove further out of town towards the valley. I learned how the Blue Ridge Mountains got their name, a bluish tint kisses the tops of each slope as you inch closer. The mountains are like a quilt, various shades of grey and blue overlap each other and on certain days, it’s hard to tell where the mountain ridge ends and the clouds begin.

These weekends served as a moment of selah and rest from my life of performing and hustle during the week. And while I loved the way this small town made me feel, I never actually considered building a life there.

Once we got engaged, I considered all the places we could live. Should we embrace culture and move to a big city? What about quitting our jobs and heading overseas as missionaries like I had always wanted?

We were young and limitless. We could do anything. My heart was restless, still holding on to places I had lived before and countries I longed to explore. I prayed God would call us to a village in Africa or a city with good food and rich culture. I figured to nestle in Winchester, a town I had never even heard of before, was to settle. And while I found it quite charming, I wanted to write a more interesting story.

And yet, the arrows kept pointing us back to living right here, as much as I fought against it.

“One year” I said, “That’s all I’ll give. After that we are headed somewhere new.”

It didn’t take long for the loneliness and wrestle with purpose and calling to settle in. I was unemployed and without deep, rich community. My days were spent cooking elaborate dinners, keeping the house clean, and applying for jobs I wasn’t getting. I’d be invited to interview, only to be told I lacked experience and all the gaps in my resume weren’t intriguing but flaky. My mornings were slow and meditative but also uncomfortable. I’d wake up anxious, jealous, and insecure – frustrated at God for being so quiet, begging Him to just tell me where to go and what to do.

And yet, He was there each morning, handing me a blank canvas and paintbrush I refused to embrace, cupping my face in His hands to say – Sweet girl, look. Look at all I’ve offered you. This is your Africa right now. This is your great adventure. Join me in making this place even more beautiful.

With time, patience, and tears – community was slowly built and I finally got a job. I actually got a few jobs. Only to fully step away from all of them last year to pursue my dreams of becoming a writer.

Friendship grew around tables and floors and lingering after yoga classes. Through inviting folks over and feeding them food I made with my hands. It took intention, time, and hard work. Trust was built on front porch swings, long walks through the park, and coffee shops. We ate in each others homes, rather than meeting out, so meals lasted as long as we wanted. We carried our friends’ hardships and suffering as if it were our own.

We ate at that diner we loved again and again. You still have to show up early if you want homemade biscuits. We bought a pass to explore the National Park, reminding me that beauty and adventure is only a short drive away.

Suddenly a whole year had passed and instead of buying a one-way ticket to Africa, we bought a house. Suddenly leaving felt harder than staying. The house we found was all the things and more we prayed it would be. And we were anxious to stay long enough to see how this gift God had loaned us, could be used for good.

Hilary Hyland

Our street became my Africa. Friends became our family. The one coffee shop in town turned to four. We joined a small church we could walk to. It meets in a school cafeteria, the place our future baby boy might eat his lunch and make new friends. All we ever hoped for was right here, in a town I didn’t know existed four years ago.

That’s what community does, it changes us from the inside out. We find abundance rather than all that is lacking.

Our town is teaching me that I don’t need more shiny, interesting things to do. I just need a few tables to sit at. I don’t need a plane ticket each time restlessness kicks in, I just need to look to the three feet in front of me and call it holy. I don’t need an interesting job in a fancy office perched way up high, I need a barista that remembers my name and order. And a front porch for greeting my neighbors and mountain tops kissed with blue.

Most importantly, I need to root myself where I am, hang a few things on the wall, lean in hard to community and take care of my people well. Because as we offer and receive – peace, contentment, and joy will follow.

Maeve is a writer, kitchen dweller, and people gatherer. She believes in building a longer table and make room for one more. Most often you’ll find her in the kitchen (because she loves to eat) or on her porch (because she loves people). She believes the art of neighboring, living and loving right where you are, could actually change the world. Her heart is prone to wander, though lately she’s learned the joy in abiding, of keeping close to the vine, and of staying. She shares more about hospitality, friendship and finding significance in the ordinary over on her blog: maevegerboth.com and instagram: @maeve_gerboth. Come say hello!

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For those who live in a land of deep shadows

Having been a school nurse for a number of years, I was well aware of the increasing rise in the number of children and teenagers struggling with incredibly complex mental health issues.

However, I was totally unprepared when we found ourselves facing this issue in our own family.

I remember the feelings of total helplessness when I was called into school because my own precious child had caused physical damage to themselves through extreme self-harm.

I felt that somehow, I’d failed as a parent. How could I, as a trained nurse, have missed this? We had known that they were struggling with some issues, but we had put it down to hormonal teenage mood swings.

Having not experienced any mental health issues myself, I struggled to really understand how my child was feeling. I had prided myself on having a good relationship with all our children and being a family who could talk openly and share our problems. Yet during this time, I felt totally unable to reach my child.

They were completely trapped in a dark prison of despair and isolation and I was powerless to help them.

In their desperate search for a way out, their behaviour and life choices became very destructive and caused us all more heartache and sadness.

We spent many hours at difficult doctors’ appointments and counselling sessions, but nothing seemed to be changing. To my shame, I often resorted to angry outbursts and very unhelpful comments and suggestions. My frustration was overwhelming as I grappled with my desire to ‘fix’ them.

Out of protection and care for them, we found ourselves carrying a huge burden which we were only able to share with a very few people. However, our family and close friends really did an amazing job of consistently standing with us and supporting us during the darkest days.

Living with someone who is battling mental health issues really does affect the whole family. We felt like we were walking through a minefield every day. The pressure on us all was exhausting, as we never knew what might happen next.

I went through a range of emotions each day as I faced the reality of our home life.

Ultimately, I was angry and frustrated at God. We had read all the ‘right’ Christian parenting books and followed their advice as we had brought up our kids. This was not part of the plan and it wasn’t fair. I ranted and railed against God; why us, why my family, and ultimately, why me?

Although I had been a Christian since my childhood, what I really wanted from God was this;

‘It means no worries
For the rest of your days
It’s our problem-free philosophy Hakuna Matata!….
(The Lion King 1994)

However, I was finding following Jesus didn’t mean that our lives were a fairy tale story. In fact, Jesus said that we will all encounter the storms of life as we journey through it.

‘In this life you will have trouble, but take heart, for I have overcome the world.’
John 16 v33

I had read these words, spoken by Jesus to his disciples many times over the years. But it was only during this time, I felt that I came to understand what they really meant.

In the times when I felt I was losing faith in my heart, I discovered a greater depth of God’s love and He met me in my brokenness and pain.

He was and is my Saviour. He healed my heart and He gave me new hope and strength to face another day.

It was during this time that we first heard about Karis house.

This amazing place was to be part of God’s healing for our precious child.

The God centred holistic Xchange programme at Karis house combines counselling and prayer ministry alongside medical care & practical support.

God gives us this promise from these words of truth in Isaiah 9;

‘The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light. For those who lived in a land of deep shadows—light! Sunbursts of light! 
The Message.

God broke into the land of darkness and shadows where our child was trapped.

His light shone and we saw a miracle happen- our child who had been paralysed by fear and despair was released into a new freedom towards health and wholeness.

Our family journey continues; often the roads can be unfamiliar and at times very hard to navigate. My story is that we never have to face it alone; regardless of how difficult the path.

Jesus is the light of the world and His love can reach us wherever we are no matter how dark it is.

Charlotte Osborn

Charlotte is an evangelist at heart and she’s passionate about sharing the good news of God’s love & hope with the world. She is a speaker & event facilitator who seeks to encourage others to find creative ways to share their own stories.

As a qualified nurse, she runs her own home care business, supporting people through the many changing seasons of their lives. She has 3 fantastic grown-up children who she counts as friends and she lives in the beautiful Cotswolds UK with her equally fantastic husband!

www.livemovebe.org.uk

Choosing Brave

At the end of every day, I collapse onto the couch and make the most of my evening with Netflix and a glass of wine or warm cookies or salty, buttered popcorn, glad to waste brain cells and time until I crawl into bed and fall asleep. My husband died three years ago, when my son was two years old and I was still pregnant with my daughter; being a single mom is the hardest thing I’ve ever done.

Quite often when someone finds out I’m a widow, the conversation comes to a grinding halt. I watch as their eyes glaze over and they enter the foggy land of “what on earth do I talk to her about when my hard stuff could never compare to being a single parent of young children, grieving the loss of a partner?”.  I really wish we would stop comparing hard stuff; the challenges you face in life are daunting for you, just as mine are for me, and nothing gets any easier when we insist on making life the saddest type of competition.

In the last five years, I’ve lost my dad and my husband, given birth to two children, and learned to live with my chronic anxiety and depression. It has been incredibly challenging and tremendously rewarding. I have learned what it means to live bravely.

Ten years ago, if you asked me what it meant to live a brave life, I would have described something along the lines of giving up worldly possessions to live in the deepest, darkest jungles like the Swiss Family Robinson. Or to join an elite military squad, risking my life just to do my job. Or to escape a human trafficking or other abusive situation. But I never would have used the word brave to describe what happens after a loved one dies.

I would never have said it’s brave to keep living.

As I explore what it means to practice courage, I realize that brave and heroic are not the same thing. Parenting my children when I’ve lost the person I built a family with is brave. Getting through my daily routine when I’m in a brutal depressive spell is brave. Breathing through a panic attack and remembering it will end is brave. Celebrating another life milestone without my dad or my husband to cheer me on is brave.

Going food shopping when we could have cereal for dinner, but we’ve already done that for a few days is brave. Maybe not, but that last one sure feels like a giant accomplishment.

Grief and anxiety pull my thoughts towards the past and depression makes survival seem impossible. But I’m learning to dream again because loss and mental illness don’t mean my life is over. There are more good things to come. Dreaming and hoping are brave.

Anyone can be brave. Courage doesn’t require an extra chromosome or special coursework. It simply (but not easily) requires the choice to be brave. Maybe your brave thing is to keep putting one foot in front of the other. Maybe you need to say no to something. Or say yes. Brave can be admitting life is hard, but choosing not to give in. Or acknowledging the broken parts of your heart and pursuing healing.

I wasn’t born brave and neither were you, but we can choose to live bravely, together.

Becky McCoy

Becky L McCoy lives on the Connecticut coast with her two precocious and hilarious children. She once enjoyed teaching high school physics and now tells her story of loss, grief, and joyful living on her blog. Having struggled with depression and anxiety and experienced several seasons of grief and struggle, Becky is passionate about creating an online community where people share their stories and encourage one another to choose to live bravely and authentically through disappointment and discouragement.

You can find Becky on all forms of social media @BeckyLMcCoy, on her blog at BeckyLMcCoy.com, and her podcast Sucker Punched.

I stole a bra!

I did, I really did, and it wasn’t even a sexy one.

Let me explain.

I’d been out to lunch with a girlfriend and our laughter and chatter hadn’t stopped for a moment. The modern, deconstructed menu challenged my taste buds, and our conversation stirred my emotions – she was going through a rough spell and I couldn’t fix it.

We paid our bill and decided to spend the precious minutes before school was out and our kids needed us home, meandering the smorgasbord of new shops that had sprung up in the area.

The sun was out … the sky was blue… the shops were open …

All was calm and as it should be on a girl’s lunch out, until I screamed,

“Aaaaaaahhhhhhhhhhh!! I’ve stolen a bra!”

I’d left the first boutique empty-handed and as I grabbed the handle of our next fashion emporium, eager to find something more my style, I noticed a rather ugly bra dangling not-so-innocently from my wrist.

“I stole a bra, oh my goodness, I stole a bra!”

Immediately, I spun on my heels, waving the snow-white undergarment above my head, determined to confess and surrender to my fate. Peering around her shop door, the store owner’s confused expression said it all …

“Did this middle-aged English woman really walk out of my store, wearing a rather unsexy brassière slung over her wrist like a Kate Spade clutch?”

To which the answer was, most decidedly, YES! Yes she did!

With a thousand apologies spewing from my lips, in my humblest English accent (I’ve found a good Downton Abbey accent gets me out of the stickiest situations), I paid for the bra and left – embarrassed and contrite.

She had silently watched me pick up the bra, turn to my friend to exclaim that I’d been looking for one just like it (yes, I wear unattractive underwear … for comfort!), sling it nonchalantly over my wrist to buy later, get distracted by the shiny objects in the jewelry area, and then absent-mindedly turn to leave; completely unaware I was still carrying the underwear I’d so admired for its practicality and comfort!

Her grace, humor, and understanding kept me out of jail and in a slightly heady, I-can’t-believe-I-just-did-that kind of mood for the rest of the day. I had the clear sense I’d dodged a bullet, or at least an awkward conversation with my teenagers about underwear, policemen, and the dangers of mixing the two.

But as the day wore on, my relief turned to reflection as God nudged me to think about the day’s events and the allegorical connection between my lingerie thieving and my tendency towards emotional kleptomania.

“How much emotional baggage, invisibly slung over your wrist, are you carrying around with you?” He asked.

Whoa! He had me there!

As I looked at myself, I saw myself tired and exhausted from carrying the weight of emotions and beliefs I’ve refused to put down over the years. There were slightly hippy looking hurts from growing up in the 70’s swinging next to beliefs from the 80’s still lurid in their neon ra-ra skirts. Work-related resentments, deep unforgiveness from failed relationships, and ugly self-beliefs, all tumbling down my arm like thrift store rejects.

“I’m not good enough.”

“I can’t forgive him”

“You’ll leave me.”

And so the list went on … and on … and on!

Boy, do I have some spring cleaning ahead of me!!

Thankfully, just like the shop-keeper, God’s grace and humor prevail, and like the shop-keeper, He knows I didn’t mean to pick up all that emotional detritus along the bumpy road of life. He knows it weighs me down and gets me into trouble, and He knows just how to help me put it down.

He forgives me.

He heals and comforts me.

The one BIG difference between my new favorite shop owner and God, is that He paid for me. I don’t owe a thing. Nada. Zip. Zero. All I have to do is put this baggage down, let go, and walk away.

Of course, that’s easier said than done, but I know it’s worth it.

So, that’s how God spoke to a dippy, middle-aged woman, through a very unattractive piece of underwear, about how to lay down her emotional baggage! Wow. I guess He meant it when He said,

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the LORD. Isaiah 55:8

I love His sense of humor!

Niki Hardy

Niki Hardy is a Brit in the USA, a cancer survivor and pastor’s wife, a fresh air junkie and tea drinker. As a speaker and blogger her candid, humorous storytelling helps us find humor and grace in the darkest place, and learn to laugh and trust God when all we want to do is scream. When she’s not speaking, writing or running trails with her Doodles, she can be found trying to figure out which of the three remote controls actually turns the TV on.

You can find her, encouragement, and lots of practical resources at nikihardy.com.