Openness, honesty and t-shirts

A couple of weeks ago, a friend asked me whether I was the ‘real me’ on Twitter and on my blog – I’m not entirely sure how or why this came up, but it prompted an interesting discussion. The bottom line is that it is the real me exists – here, on Twitter and on Facebook.

No, not every single detail of my life is documented [though one friend at the weekend suggested I did just that on Twitter, with the exception of dating activities – though as I go on very few of those, it’s not exactly a massive omission], but the highs and lows are both in evidence. While I don’t necessarily blog about moments of heartbreak in the public sphere, I do mention the days when life isn’t quite as great as it might be. I’m more likely to rant on Twitter than Facebook; my blog dwells on the quirkier side of life; and Facebook is day to day stuff with real friends. I have boundaries and make conscious decisions about what to share and when (except when under the influence…).

I wonder sometimes at the ability of others to be so candid in their online activities, those that ponder deep philosophical thoughts, document the harsh realities of life, or tell the world just how much they’re hurting right at that moment. I’m not that kind of person, I keep my messy stuff anonymised and highly inaccessible. But openness is also important. Like many a good Christian, I belong to a small group which requires me to be honest and accountable about even the difficult areas of life. It’s scary, but utterly worth the feelings of vulnerability it brings with it – like on Sunday when I shared something incredibly personal and very scary.

In a bizarre coincidence, this concept was the main thrust of this week’s Glee, kind of. At the end of the programme they appeared singing Born This Way (Lady Gaga) wearing t-shirts on which words or phrases were printed that summed up their deep secrets or insecurities – Kurt’s said ‘likes boys’, Santana’s read ‘Lebanese’ (i.e. lesbian, it’s an in-joke), Emma’s admitted her OCD. Within seconds, Twitter was abuzz with people contemplating what their own t-shirts would say.

What about mine? Well, that leads me to the main point of this ridiculously long and honest post…

One of the things I’m particularly in awe of are people who write about their experiences of food, weight and diets in a public forum and use that context to stay accountable. A Facebook friend posts their weight updates every week – good for them, but you wouldn’t catch me doing that. (Partly because it would be so hard in the weeks when things don’t go your way; partly because I wouldn’t want people to know my actual weight; partly because it’s such a bloody hard journey that only the most supportive friends should be involved. Plus, I have a paranoid fear that people will think I’m attention seeking.) However, I came across something a little while ago that I wanted to share, and this seems the logical place to do it.

You see the thing is, my t-shirt would probably read ‘Fat’ or ‘Used to be Fat’ (though people have such varied definitions of the word than in many contexts, like the Daily Mail, I still would be fat). Yes, I used to be fat. Not just ‘could do with losing a stone’ fat, but almost Monica in Friends fat. In my late teens/early 20s I would watch episodes in which her diet was mentioned and think “Wow! If only I could do that…” [though obviously Courtney Cox never was fat so it was a slightly unrealistic ambition]. There were moments when she’d make the throwaway comment “oh, I used to be fat” to explain her attitude to cheese or cookies – a phrase that I’ve actually found myself using recently in pastoral contexts where food issues have cropped up.

Aged 21 I began a journey that saw me lose 5 stone in just over a year. Over the following years I put some of the weight back on and two years ago I began over again with a new attitude and lost another 4 stone. Some people know about both these times, having known me way back when; others know about the last two years; while lots of you have never met me in the flesh and have little idea of what I actually look like.

While I may not put those words on a t-shirt and wear it in public when we go and watch Glee Live in June, there is something I can share publicly that’s just as honest. The photo below was taken on my 21st birthday, while on a walk with the family that lived next door (it’s desperately depressing that the baby in the backpack is now 9, Doris needs to stop growing up!) – today, I honestly don’t recognise myself.

The point of this post is to draw a line under the photo, to stop the past being what identifies me. I’ve put a lot of time and energy into getting out of that mindset and improving my quality of life – it isn’t who I am any more.  I appreciate that it sounds awfully cheesy, but it’s an important idea. Emma’s t-shirt doesn’t need to say ‘OCD’ once she’s dealt with it; you – and I – don’t need to be defined by our pasts once we’ve moved on. Whether it’s a t-shirt that reads ‘Fat’, ‘Divorced’, ‘Self-harmer’, ‘Single’ or whatever, we don’t need to keep wearing it. 

Introducing: OneSound

I’ve spent quite a lot of this week writing a newsletter for a charity that I’m a trustee of, so therefore I feel it’s only right that I give my efforts a shameless plug…

One of the formative influences on my teenage/student/young adult self was singing in a Christian youth choir & orchestra. Putting it like that makes it sound a little stuffy, but it was far from it. Performing a repertoire that ranged from classic choral anthems and gospel greats to Disney songs and chart hits, we did gigs across the country including the Royal Albert Hall, the NEC, Greenbelt…you name a random city/town, I’ve probably sung there. (Even went to Grimsby twice – I assume God knows why!)

I literally wouldn’t be where I am today without this experience. Not at my church, not in my job, probably not still singing and with a lot fewer lovely friends.

But I digress. In recent years things have been hard for this group of young adults. We had to become independent in 2006 and this has meant a long toil of becoming a company, a registered charity, applying for grants, running an organisation with no paid staff…

However, a landmark moment has recently been achieved: we have successfully re-branded ourselves, marking a new beginning for the group and hopefully a very exciting one.

So, the group of 13-25 year old musicians formerly known as the ‘MAYC Orchestra & Singers‘ are now:

What particularly excites me is that we’ve put a lot of prayer and thought into our vision as an organisation, as a community of people. It’s never been just about the music, but now the music, our faith and our passion for sharing both of these is much more obvious. We’re not sure what the years ahead might involve, but there are lots of opportunities for the taking.

Hopefully lots more young people will continue to reap the benefits that I’ve been grateful for.

As an aside, at the meeting where we chose the new name, we joked before the discussion began that maybe we’d just end up still being ‘MAYC O&S’ at the end of it all. Mid-way through a conversation where we seemed to be agreeing on ‘OneSound’, I realised that was still ‘O&S’. One of our options for a strapline was: ‘Youth Music and Christ’ which would’ve been just a different configuration of ‘MAYC’.

We’ve always been affectionately known as ‘O&S’ so we really know God’s in this because he’s let us keep our initials!

OneSound can be found on facebook and on twitter.

On the night of pancakes

So Lent’s rolled around again, as evidenced in the pancake displays in supermarkets across the land and the sudden deluge of church press releases on a variety of lenten campaigns.

People are doing the annual self-deprivation thing. Colleagues are giving up alcohol, connexional biscuits and taking on morning prayer, walking to work, making time to spend with God; my sister’s giving up shopping for unnecessary items; facebook friends are going veggie or even giving up facebook!

Two years ago in one of my early blog posts, I ranted on the subject of giving stuff up for lent, so I won’t repeat myself. I still feel quite strongly about the subject and I’m not giving up anything or taking something new on because actually I don’t think that’s the point, and I’ve got a lot of my own missions/resolutions going on:

I’m still continuing my ‘advent mission’ to give up free papers on my commute & read proper books. It’s going well so far, though the idea was to get through my pile of Christian lit, which hasn’t really happened yet, although I am alternating fiction & non-fiction. But I can recommend Dawn French’s biog Dear Fatty and Alice Sebold’s The Almost Moon. (Wasn’t quite so keen on Lionel Schriver’s The Post Birthday World, though probably just because its London geography was flawed.) My current read’s Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go which 40 pages in is holding my attention.

My new year decisions (not resolutions!) are going strong. I’m keeping up with the one year Bible, though inevitably there have been days when I’ve had to do 3 lots in one go. My mystery decision has been acted upon, though I’m still procrastinating about the next step. There’s also my random decision to not think about something from Feb 1st – April 1st. I’ll say no more, but it’s hard & it’s not going well!

However, despite my cynicism about the practice of ‘giving up’, there is sense in remembering why this season exists in the first place. The temptations in the desert were a time of testing, of getting closer to God and listening. So maybe it’s just time to get back to what Lent’s really about: prayer.

I’m not good at it. But, just as I’m gaining a new liking for daily Bible reading, maybe I can get better at the prayer thing too. I was quite inspired by something Carla wrote today about the power of prayer in getting on with work. It sounds so obvious, but we don’t always think of it – or, at least I don’t.

We should count ourselves lucky that prayer is at least something we all have the freedom to do. One of my vivid memories of the ‘holy sites’ bit of my trip to Israel Palestine was our experience of the monastery on the Mt of Temptations. In the very place where Jesus was tempted (or believed to have been), an orthodox monk forbade us from praying because none of us were orthodox. Therefore I prayed, hard, under my breath. Probably not best to pray in revenge…but I had to pray in that place, right then.

Anyway, my point is Lent = prayer. End of story.

Something for Sunday

Without Ceasing – as found on Lisa’s blog this morning

and this is how we pray
backs nestled into the hammock
faces turned toward the stars
the warm air lifts against us and we are quiet, quiet
as you, god, speak to us
about how big you are

and this is how we pray
sitting on the leaf strewn ground
peering across the pattern of sun and shade
the clear pool under the giant fig
where the monitor lizard slips through the water
and we whisper our worshipful thanks again and again

and this is how we pray
standing in the kitchen
speaking out the worries in our minds
telling this perfect parent god
just how small our faith feels
while seeing how sweetly ludicrous
our doubts must appear

and this is how we pray
curled into our duvets
safely tucked in on this wind blown night
thoughts far from here
with our friends who sit in vigil
waiting for a precious life to pass
maybe even tonight

and this is how we pray
with longing
and with hope
with stress
and with joy
with daring
and with simple words

I realise this is a slight departure from usual, but I’m pursuing different directions…

Had been thinking about doing a Sunday “faith” theme, but I don’t want to make it look like faith is just for Sundays, because it definitely isn’t. So anyway, there maybe a bit more depth to my blogging from time to time. In the meantime, if you’re interested, head to Abidemi’s blog for some reflections on prayer.

The blogging family

Every blogger reads other blogs; links to other blogs; draws inspiration from other blogs…

I’ve mentioned once or twice how I have three lists of blogs: “American”; “Friends” & “Church-y” (soon to be joined by a “Geeky” list as I continue to be amused by some technology blog feeds I’ve inherited.)

It never ceases to amaze me just how small these blogging worlds are. The Church-y ones crossover a lot, but then the Christian world is always randomly small! The American ones seem to connect a lot too, and that’s particularly odd as I’ve stumbled upon most of them in a rather haphazard fashion. (Although, as I discovered in July, there is a Mormon streak running through a lot of them.)

For many of the bloggers whose work I read, the last couple of weeks have been tough.

Some of you may have heard of NieNie day (August 28th), which was a day designated by a US blogger to fundraise for a couple who were seriously injured in a plane crash almost a month ago.

Several blogs I read have mentioned this and I’m now avidly following C Jane’s blog which descibes how she’s coping looking after her sister’s 4 children whilst their parents fight for survival in a burns unit. [On another level, it makes me eternally grateful for the NHS because should something like that happen to a member of my family, I shouldn’t need to fundraise for the medical costs.]

Stephanie (otherwise known as NieNie) wrote a blog about her life, husband, children and crafts which had quite a following. The blog world isn’t big and like attracts like. As a result, the outpouring of support for this family has been huge, even resulting in an article in today’s NY Times.

At the same time, in many of the other blogs I read, I’ve sensed a feeling akin to impending doom – mostly because the new school year is upon us, along with all the challenges that brings.

Like Lisa, whose post on her grief at her elder sons heading back to college actually had me in tears as I read it at my desk.

Ian continues to blog about his struggles with larium and the stresses & strains of his third year of being a PCV in Mozambique.

Abidemi is just plain hacked off with Britain’s idea of early September weather!

And what about me? I don’t tend to dwell on what’s going on in my life on this blog (unless some randomness has been occurring), but as I mentioned yesterday, there’s been a distinct air of back to school blues over this last week. As of yesterday, I have two new challenges – a job interview on Friday for a job that’s what I view as a “proper grown-up’s job” and a quest to find a new flatmate by the end of next month. That should keep me occupied for a while…

If you’re of a praying persuasion, do pray for Stephanie & Christian Nielson’s recovery and for their family as they cope with all the challenges thrown at them.
Pray for Lisa Borden & her family, split between Tanzania and the US.
Pray for my random friends and their even more random activities.
And pray that I manage to find the right job and dig any escape tunnels that might be needed!