It’s been a while since I’ve posted (apologies to anyone who was wondering where I was). I’ve been on a short holiday to the English seaside and I’ve had so many lovely experiences and heard so many great words of wisdom in the past week or so that I wasn’t sure what to blog about first.
But I’ve finally settled on the concept of waiting joyfully or joyfully waiting – whatever it is we might be waiting or wishing for. Easier said than done, I realise, but definitely worth giving a go.
Let me begin by saying I feel I’m entering or have entered a season of joy. I don’t want to speak too soon but I’m feeling quite uplifted these days. Maybe life really does begin at 40 after all. If anyone has read much of my writing since I began blogging in March, you’ll have realised I haven’t always felt this way – that I’ve had many joyful times in my life and a lot of “fun”, but I’ve also done a fair amount of struggling and striving. And some of the “fun” I had actually wasn’t that much fun and was driven by extreme behaviours and a general lack of peace and contentment. Well, I feel like I’m finally starting to experience a sense of peace and contentment, a sense that everything, in fact, will be OK. Not that everything necessarily will be great or that life will be rosy all the time, but that everything will be OK – whatever happens.
This new season definitely feels different to the highs of lows of how I used to live. I’d liken it more to a slow walk on a quiet beach rather than a roller coaster ride. In the past, a slow walk on a quiet beach wouldn’t have been anywhere near as appealing as the thrill and adrenalin rush of a fairground but today it’s much more attractive. And that’s a really pleasant feeling – not a thrilling one – but a calm, pleasant one. That said, there’s still space for the odd roller coaster in my life – in fact, I’m hoping to plan a girls’ day out to a theme park very soon – but I’m happy for the roller coaster to be an occasional treat.
I’m attributing this developing feeling of peace and contentment to what I sense is my growing faith and a deeper understanding and acceptance of that faith. And that’s come from dedicating a lot more time over the past month or so to prayer, meditation and generally going slow. To give you a potted history, I began my life with faith, a childish/childlike faith but a faith all the same, but then it left me, or rather I left it, as I chose other rather unhealthy means to cope with the ups and downs of life and discovered alternative outlets for my anxiety, worry, hyperactivity or thirst for adrenalin highs (eating or not eating, binge-drinking, partying extremely hard, excessive exercise, over-achievement etc).
Then, some three or so years ago, after I’d managed to give up a lot of those unhealthy behaviours, I rediscovered my faith or at least accepted that I needed it back following a period of existential crisis (pardon the cliché and the drama but that’s the only way I can describe it) in which I was looking for answers to life’s perennial questions: What am I doing here? Why am I here? What’s my purpose? Why bother? Those questions ultimately took me – rather reluctantly and with a fair degree of embarrassment at first (it just didn’t seem a very cool thing to do) – back to God and back to church.
Which brings me to today. I’ve just been away with my church and lots of other churches to Mablethorpe in Lincolnshire. It was a week of fellowship, friendship, fun, picnics, barbecues, walks on the beach, swims in the sea (complete with seals), lazy hours lying in the sand dunes, singing, disco-dancing and inspirational teaching. It was a week that taught me a lot about myself, brought me closer to God and gave me a greater sense of peace and a feeling that it’ll all be OK, in the end, whatever happens.
Where I most felt a sense of peace and a connection to something greater than me was on the beach. I’ve always loved the outdoors but I especially love the beach and the sea, particularly on a sunny, breezy day. It was on the same beach last year that I had a close-up encounter with a seal in the sea (I blogged about this in May in my All will be well post). I had another encounter with a seal last week when swimming with a friend and I spotted another seal in the sea when I was walking on the beach. Both experiences made my heart leap. But I’m just as amazed by the shells, the starfish, the waves and the sand. Maybe it’s something to do with the fact I grew up close to the sea (in the exotic port of Liverpool), but I really feel at home on the beach and very free.
So, back to the title: waiting joyfully. I’ve noted before on this blog that there are some desires of my heart that haven’t yet been fulfilled – the desire for a partner, for children and to find the answer to that other perennial question: What should I do with my life? But I was reminded this week that a) there can be great joy in the waiting b) I might not get exactly what I’m waiting or hoping for and c) it’ll be OK if I don’t because there’ll be a purpose for it and God will have another plan.
The most powerful message along these lines came last week from Nick Vujicic, an Australian who was born with no arms and no legs and has become an inspirational speaker and globe-trotting encourager, challenging people to live joyfully whatever their circumstances and to be thankful for what they have rather than focusing on what they don’t. He had so much to say and I took reams of notes but I particularly liked these phrases: “What’s the point of being complete on the outside if we’re broken on the inside?”, “It’s not about what you’re going through it’s about what you learn when you’re going through it”, “When God gives you His dreams, don’t be worried about what you don’t have or can’t do” and “If God doesn’t change something, there’s a reason for it.” There are tonnes of YouTube videos of him if you’re curious or want to hear more or there’s his brilliantly named website Attitude is Altitude.
Now, I know not everyone is going to agree with these sentiments and it’s not always that easy to muster up gratitude for what we’re going through in the present or to have hope for the future, but Nick is certainly a testimony to living joyfully, independent of circumstances or limitations.
And I figure if I start cultivating acceptance and gratitude today, and every day going forward, I’ll be better equipped to accept whatever does come along. So for today, I’m feeling very grateful for what I do have: the freedom that comes with being 40, independent, childfree and single with a few months of summer ahead, my own beautiful flat in London, a mountain bike I love riding, an able body, friends, family, dinner invitations, work projects, ideas, visions and dreams. Plus the sun is out and I’ve a long weekend planned at the end of August at another beautiful British beach in Dorset. And even if I don’t feel this way tomorrow or the next day, I’ll have this blog to remind me that this is a season of joy.