How (not) to Fail

I recently returned from a 3 week trip to visit friends in America. It was exactly what I needed and I had so many inspiring conversations and revelations during my time there. On the plane on the way back, you would have thought January 1st came early. I was making lists of all the things I was going to do when I came home. It looked a little something like this;

– set up camp on a treadmill at the gym, you can only stop for toilet breaks and maybe to go to work but if possible try to just do your work at the gym. it’ll be fine. 

– blog. all the time. write a new post every day even if you have absolutely nothing of any interest going on in your head which will likely be the case because you live at the gym now, remember?

– get awesome at piano. this is a tricky one because it might disturb the other gym-goers but on the bright side, you can personally provide the soundtrack for your biopics ‘getting fit’ montage. 

– save ALL the money. try not to buy anything. this will actually be really easy because you now live on pure adrenaline and bottled water. it’s still important to stay hydrated. 

– pray without ceasing. just repeating ‘Lord Jesus, help me not die on this treadmill’ over and over doesn’t count.  

– read every book. study the bible in every translation. take notes on everything. don’t worry, everything is an audiobook now so you can just listen while you run. 

– stop watching tv. or movies. or YouTube. or flip books. sell your tv and your laptop and your extensive flip book collection. 

I may be exaggerating, slightly. My point is that none of the things on my list were one-off, clean-out-your-wardrobe, kind of resolutions. The real list looked like this;

– Gym (early morning)

– Start blogging again

– Work on music (piano and songwriting)

– Spend less

– Watch less tv

– Read/Study more

– Pray more 

These are all fine things to aim for but they are also all habits that needed to either be formed or broken. They say it takes 30 days to make/break a habit and I had honestly planned to undergo all of those things as soon as I was home from America. I was gearing up for the most nightmarish month of my life until it hit me – I’ve been here before. 

This wasn’t the first time I’d planned to punch life in the face and make some kind of attempt at being a grown up. (Whaaaaaat?! I’m only 29 and 2/3! Leave me aloooooooone! *Rolls out of bed at 8.55 and eats cake for breakfast*) Which leads me to the Sherlock Holmesian deduction that – I must have failed all those other times because I’m not a grown up and I still feel like life is backing me into corners and relentlessly flicking my forehead.

So I sat down, prayed and thought really hard about what was going wrong. I realised something that honestly broke my heart; I have been setting myself up for failure. Not only have I been setting myself up to always fall at the first hurdle but I am also the queen of kicking myself when I’m down. I am that teacher who gives out really ridiculous homework and then punishes you for not taking it seriously, except for some reason I’m giving MYSELF homework and then punishing MYSELF for not doing it properly and no wonder our education system is failing, I’m a terrible teacher. Ok, so I’m not a teacher but you get my point, right? 

So, I made a new list. A list of things that I thought would help me to succeed in achieving these goals over time. I’m sure these are things that everyone knows and I’m just late to the party as always (I’m notoriously 2 weeks/years behind everyone else when it comes to tv/movies/music but I get there in the end). But just in case, like me, you feel as though you’ve been setting yourself up for failure – here are my tips;

Specify what your goal is. So instead of just saying ‘Gym’ or ‘work out more’ I resolved to (try to) go to the gym at 6.30 every morning and run on the treadmill for at least 30 minutes every weekday. Being specific makes it easier to measure success.

Be realistic. The first set of goals I listed above were exaggerated but often times the goals we set ourselves are not far off. If you want to try and save up £500 a month but you only make £750 and have rent and bills to pay, you’re probably not going to get very far. Unrealistic goals are just asking for trouble. 

Prioritise.  Unless you are superhuman, it is highly unlikely you will be able to achieve all of your goals at the same time, especially if it involves taking the time to form a habit. Decide which is the most pressing and focus on that one first. Once you have nearly achieved that goal you can decide what to move on to next. 

Commit: As I said, it takes 30 days to form a habit and similarly 30 days to break a habit. So if you are trying to limit yourself to watching just 30 minutes of tv a day, you will have to keep it up for 30 days in order for it to become a pattern of behaviour that is easy to maintain. 

Believe that you can do it. This will be easy if you have made your goals specific AND realistic. Don’t be too hard on yourself but don’t go easy on yourself either. Deep down, you know what you’re capable of. 

Remember why you are doing it. Are you trying to get in shape, save money for a holiday, learn a new skill or move closer to being who you know God created you to be? Remember the reason for whatever it is you’re doing and, if possible, have a visual/written reminder handy to keep you motivated. 

Finally, and to me this is the most important piece of advice I could give you, be kind to yourself. Encourage yourself when things go well and when things go less well – stay positive. Rather than telling yourself that you’ve failed and might as well quit, remind yourself that you are capable of doing better. You are strong, determined, persistent and truly amazing. You can do it! 

Stop setting unrealistic goals and then giving yourself a verbal kicking every time you fail. You may not realise it but with every negative word and self-criticism you are destroying yourself emotionally and mentally and what a tragedy to know that you could have avoided it by simply setting yourself up to succeed instead of fail. 

Whatever you are hoping to achieve over the coming weeks, I’m with you. You’ve got this!

Love,

Heather

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Orlando, Mathematics and Love. 

I was thinking about love today and how important it is, when this thought struck me; love is far more complicated than we will ever understand and yet, it’s simple. 

Love is kind of like maths. Some parts of mathematics are easy, some are almost impossible. If we start at the basics though, we’ll slowly make progress. It’s all around us, whether we perceive it or not. It kind of holds things together and makes them work. 

Chances are if you had a bad teacher, a rocky foundation, you probably gave up on it a long time ago. When we get it wrong, things break and can take a long time to repair. 

But, we fix it by going back, starting again and trying to get it right. 

Love is being talked about a lot this week in light of Sunday’s tragedy. The definition of love that I hold to says that; 

…”it does not rejoice at wrongdoing but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things…” – 1 Corinthians 13:6-7

I believe that love takes ownership and seeks to fix even that which it did not break. Love was not to blame for what happened on Sunday but love will roll up its sleeves and try to make things right again. Love mourns with those who mourn. 

Orlando, I am sorry this happened. Friends, I am so sorry this happened in your city, your home. You have my prayers. I love you. 

Heart Made Whole

“None of us finds out what we’re made of when everything is rolling along nicely; we find out who we really are when hell is pressing in from all sides.” – Christa Black Gifford, Heart Made Whole.

I am currently in the process of reading through the advanced copy of ‘Heart Made Whole’ by Christa Black Gifford. It has been a wonderfully enjoyable and yet extremely challenging read. I am just over half way through the book but I wanted to share some of whats been going on so far.

These last few weeks (months, even years) have been extremely difficult for me. Even before reading this book, God has been drawing out all sorts of issues in my heart and trying to help me walk through the process of healing from past traumas. But I have been running and hiding at every opportunity, afraid to see just how ‘broken’, ‘intense’ and ‘damaged’ I really am. Although the process of inner healing is an intensely painful one – God is my healer, faithful friend and restorer.

The tough lesson I am learning right now is the power of my words and the fine line between confessing life/death. I know that it is powerful to declare God’s truth over my heart and my circumstances but while reading through Christa’s book, I have also learned the importance of acknowledging pain. Pretending we are doing well when really we are dying inside is not honouring to God. He does not need us to defend His reputation by painting a picture of a comfy, pain-free life. It is far more honouring to say ‘I am hurt and I am angry and I am confused but I refuse to doubt the goodness of my God. He has shown Himself to be faithful and true and when the walls crash in around me I will cling to Him. In His name, I will overcome.’

I believe very strongly in transparency and accountability. Of course, I also know there are things – both good and bad – that we need to keep to ourselves BUT I think that if we bring God into the process and ask for his wisdom we will find there are many occasions where He is asking us to open up to people (maybe in general or perhaps specifically) about our struggles and the truth behind our victories. As a songwriter, (she says, declaring if not quite believing yet) I write through all different stages of life. I have songs written from the absolute pit of despair and ones that have come from moments of joyful breakthrough and revelation. Each is powerful in its own time. Don’t believe for a moment that God can’t use you in your pain. Don’t let the devil fool you into believing you have to be ‘perfect’ before you can have any impact because you will never get there. You are influencing people around you RIGHT NOW, whether you know it or not. How you respond to God and other people during difficult situations is a powerful witness. Don’t wait for the breakthrough to come before you begin to testify.

Finally, this book has helped me to start believing that God did an EXCELLENT job when He created me. There is so much good stuff in me that even I don’t know about yet. Sure, maybe I’ve been roughed up a bit along the way and some things have become distorted and warped slightly but those things don’t make me who I am because God made me who I am when He knit me together in the womb and He is faithful to remind me who I am (and who I am NOT) every day – if I ask Him.

Love,

Heather

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Heart Made Whole is available to pre-order (in all the usual places) NOW and is released on June 7th (US) and later in the UK. I strongly advise everyone to check it out. It is a powerful tool for individual healing and also – I imagine – for ministry. For more information check out;
http://christablack.com/heartmadewhole/ or the Head to Heart podcast.

As many of you may know, I am in the final week of my Kickstarter campaign to record my first EP. More information about that can be found in the following places;
Kickstarter
Facebook
Blog

Women

I recently watched a documentary called ‘Miss Representation’ which examined the portrayal of females in the media. Six years ago I was beginning research into my final year project at university, in which I intended to explore this very subject.

“In the wake of the post-feminist debate, to what extent do
supposedly ‘empowered’ female characters in popular culture
uphold traditional gender stereotypes rather than challenging
them?”

After a year, I came to the conclusion that they were in fact upholding gender stereotypes rather than challenging them. That was five years ago and I still believe that the way women are portrayed and represented in the media is a pretty big deal. It is by no means more (or less) important than issues of race, class, religion or any other media bias but I make no apologies for wanting to write about something which both interests and impacts me.

I have an interest in film and screenwriting, which is possibly why I am particularly passionate about how women are represented on screen. I recently went to see Mad Max: Fury Road and one of the first things that struck me when talking with my friend about it afterwards was how pleasantly surprised I was to see such a truly powerful female protagonist and not only that but a multitude of roles for women – of all ages. There is a ‘rule’ known as the Bechdel Test which can be used to assess the female characters in a film. It is said that a film passes this ‘test’ if it contains more than one female character, the women in the film interact with each other and they talk about something other than a man. Now, as a film lover and someone who considers herself to be creative, I don’t believe that media should adhere to rules like this in any kind of formulaic way. In fact, the only screenplay I have ever written would actually not pass the test itself as it contains only one female character.

However, a lack of realistic roles for women in films is an extremely important thing. Whether it is a good thing or not, it is true that the media is playing a part in socialising young people. With women in film and TV being relegated to secondary characters and caricatures of gender-stereotypes – the career woman who sacrifices family for work, the tough girl who seemingly has no emotions, the sexy girl who is ‘comfortable with’ (read ‘defined by’) her sexuality – girls are receiving mixed signals about what it looks like to be a woman in our modern culture. Perhaps the most prevalent example of this is the romantic-comedy genre; often referred to as ‘chick-flicks’. Here, women get to be the chief protagonists (as well as the quirky best friends, nagging mothers, bitchy bosses, evil-exes, you name it) but they also fail the Bechdel test spectacularly due to the fact that almost every scene of the movie will be about defining our heroine in relation to a man. A whole generation of young women have been raised to – quite literally – buy into the idea that life is about getting and keeping a man. Of course, most children are not being raised by their TV screens alone, but it would be naïve to think that what they see on the internet and in movies etc, doesn’t impact them. I also believe that until we realise the true impact of the media in our lives, we won’t understand the importance of counteracting it.

I have only written one complete piece of work in my life but in it the only man who defined my heroine’s life was Jesus. While I am very much of the opinion that men are wonderful and marriage is an extremely important part of God’s design, I do not believe that women are somehow incomplete without a significant other. The same is true for men of course. I know many single women who are leading extremely successful, fulfilled lives and I’m sure will continue to do so if and when they get married. Similarly, I also know lots of women (and I’m forced to include myself in this) who limit themselves by letting ‘singleness’ define them. Every choice is informed by the intangible, unspoken belief that everything would be better if they had a man. They dress up, dumb down and dream small in order to appeal to whichever man has taken their fancy. I feel incredibly sad for these women and – as harsh as it sounds – I feel incredibly sad for the men who end up with them. Jesus is the only one who can perfect an incomplete person. Even those who know and love Him can often struggle to believe that fulfilment is not found in another person.

Having said all that; I am extremely glad to be a woman. Even given everything that I have been discussing, I don’t believe that being a woman is some terrible trial or hardship. Do I think that there are some serious discrepancies between the way that women are portrayed on a daily basis and the way that men are portrayed? Yes. Do I believe that, on a wider scale, women still generally face more oppression and degradation than men? Yes, I do. Do I think that women are better than men somehow because of everything we have to face in life? No, I do not. But I do believe that women are wonderful and I also believe that most of us don’t truly know it or fully understand it. To be a woman is a beautiful thing. We are strong, resourceful, talented, intelligent, wise, loving and fearfully and wonderfully made. Our strength is not negated by our emotion, our abilities are not hindered by our womanhood, our love and compassion is not diminished or belittled by instinct and our beauty is not defined merely in terms of our ability to attract a man. We are glorious, heavenly beings, merely housed in a physical body.

I am blessed enough to have lots of men in my life who champion and encourage me. Who don’t define me or limit me in any way because I am a woman. Men who, at the same time, protect and respect me, reinforcing my God-given awareness that women are beautiful, influential people, worthy of protection and honour. To those men I say; thank you. And to the women in my life; the ones who show me every day just what it means to be a friend, wife, mother and powerful woman of God; I am honoured to walk alongside you.

There is an organisation called The Lovely Project, based in Orlando, Florida. The aim of TLP is to empower women and equip young girls to grow and positively impact the world around them. Much of this equipping and empowering serves to affirm these girls’ true identities and therefore counteract the negative impact of the media and other societal influences. If you believe, like I do, that women are important, powerful and lovely, I encourage you to check out http://www.thelovelyproject.org/ for more information about the work they do.

Women, you are beautiful and not only that but you are powerful. You have much more influence than you know. Use it to encourage those around you, to speak life over one another and to fight for each other. We are women of valour, women of boldness and women of strength. We are the protagonists in our own stories; lets make them good.

“when the storm is raging…”

“I refuse to fear,
even when the sky is falling,
even when the ground is moving,
I won’t be afraid.
When the darkness is winning still I will be singing Your praise.

I will not lose heart,
even when the light is fading,
even when the storm is raging,
I will not give up.
When my world is shaken still I will be safe in Your love.

When I’m in need,
You come to me,
I’ll wait now.
I will be still,
You will be singing,
you’re safe now’

This is definitely my song for this season of what feels like barrenness. The word I keep coming back to is that God is drawing me to Himself. That if all I have is Him then I have all I need.

Abba Father,
You are the God of more than enough. I will keep trying to lift my eyes and look beyond the here and now. I won’t entertain the idea that this pile of dry bones is anything less than a soldier of God. Though the rain is cold and the waves are high, I won’t abandon ship. After all, it’s safer to weather the storm with You; calmer of waves, parter of seas, giver of peace. You empower me to persevere. In Your strength I press on. In Your name I overcome.

“and it shall make a name for the Lord,
an everlasting sign that shall not be cut off.” (Isaiah 55:13)

Amen.

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Choosing Thankfulness

A lot of months ago, sitting in a mall somewhere in Asia after an incredibly long day, I started to complain to my friend Kev. I was tired, probably sick, annoyed and impatiently waiting for our friends to finish shopping so we could go home.

Kev opened his bible.

“Gimme a verse.” He said.

“I can’t think of anything right now.” Oh Lord, I repent!

“No, I mean, just pick a random chapter and verse and I’ll read it. It’s like a game. Don’t pick one you know.” (I’m paraphrasing. It was a very long time ago)

“Ugh, fine. Philippians 2. Verse 14?” I kid you not, I had NO idea what that verse was going to be. He opened his bible and read.

“No way! ‘Do all things without grumbling…’ haha!” I’m pretty sure I perked up at that point.

“Shut up, no way does it say that.” It did. Still does.

I read that verse again this morning and I remember so well the feeling of excitement I had when he first read it to me. It was the most lovely and fun way the Lord has ever rebuked me. I’d love to say that I carried that verse into the rest of my time on outreach but I know a few people who would definitely tell you I did not. *cough*myentireteam*cough*

Now, I’m pretty sure this verse is talking about how we interact with others. In King James Version it uses the word ‘murmurings’ rather than grumblings. But if I’m going to work on my attitude when interacting with others, it needs to begin with changing my attitude when I’m alone.

It’s a big challenge of mine. I admit that at times (like, from sunrise to sunset) I have a bit of a grumbling problem. My natural inclination is to complain. Call me what you will but I’m sad to say that I have definitely been guilty of actually enjoying a ‘good’ moan.

Not anymore. Being reminded of that verse this morning has shaken me. In the best way. I know that the power of life and death is in the tongue. Complaining is selfish and ungrateful behaviour. Whether we are complaining to/about someone we know or by ourselves muttering under our breath about something that bugs us. (no, just me? ok, moving on…)

The better thing is to be thankful. There is always (yup, always) something to be thankful for and although it sounds like a cliché, if you choose to focus on those things instead of what’s getting on your nerves you will find yourself feeling lighter, more joyful.

Today I have decided to once again choose thankfulness, joy, praise. I challenge you to do the same. I also give you full permission to keep me accountable. If you hear me grumbling or complaining, please remind me (as lovingly as possible) to choose the better way.

(Unless you’re the one who has annoyed me. In that case I suggest you go away and think about what, if anything, you’ve done. Just kidding! Probably.)

All things for His glory.
Heather