Thursday, 16 October 2014

The devil in the deep end

The wheels came off my swimming programme last week.

I have been plodding along, or trawling along, for weeks and months, feeling a bit better about things; about the shape of my body (if not its weight) and about the undeniable improvements in my stamina, lung power and recovery times. I find that in my lane of fitness swimmers (as opposed to the competitive swimmers in the other lanes that often leave us floundering in their wake), I can keep up pretty well, most of the time. We get out of breath, we have a laugh. 

It's been good. 

Then, last Monday, this happened. 

1.  I had a great 50m sprint. Personal best, everything went well. 
2.  I had an appalling 50m sprint where everything that could go wrong did go wrong, and, blimey, has it cast a long shadow. 

So, in order to explain, I need to dwell for a few precious moments on 1. 

We swim from 8pm until 9.30pm on a Monday night and a Thursday night (others do a third night as well, but that's a step too far for me!). Usually for the last half an hour we practice timed sprints where the coach sets us off from the blocks in batches of four to six and calls out times as we touch the wall, and then do it all over again a few times. 

It's taken me some considerable time to feel halfway comfortable with this last half an hour, because after an hour's strenuous swimming I rarely have another gear to change up to. Still, I have a go. 

Have a go I did. Four of us dived off the blocks, and I got it right, for once. The right height, the right depth, the right glide, perfectly timed breakout, great! Swam well, turned well, swam some more and hit the side ahead of two out of three of the other swimmers. A friend even called out from the other side of the pool how well I'd done. Hooray! 

And then. Round two. Dived in, goggles came off. Or they didn't actually come off, just slid low enough to be a complete nuisance. No idea how the dive went as couldn't see anything and so mistimed everything. Turned too far from the wall so lost all my momentum and had no push off, then ended up veering slightly off course and finished the fifty half way under a lane line which forced my head down when I tried to take a breath, and so inadvertently inhaled a load of water. 


Pride comes before a fall, hey?

I felt so odd. No idea what happened, really, except I was thoroughly disorientated and felt terrible. People's voices were coming from a long way away and my head hurt with one of those vicious chlorine headaches that you get momentarily when you inhale water. No fun. I suppose the only up-side is that feeling appalling took my mind off having made a total mess of it all in front of twenty onlookers. 

We switched to 25m sprints and I managed the 25m but not the sprint part. I then climbed out of the pool on wobbly legs and called it a day. I had to stand and watch for the last five minutes as I couldn't rely on walking the length of the pool without falling over, feeling so woozy. 

Twenty minutes later I stood outside the sports centre leaning against the car wondering if I was going to be sick, but the nausea ebbed and I managed to get home to my bed without incident, and lay before sleep reflecting on the evening's sublime-to-ridiculous experiences. That was that, I thought. 

Let's draw a line under it. 

Sadly, no. 

I woke up on Tuesday morning with my face on fire. Pounding headache, painful jaw, eyes as if they might explode. Dramatically runny nose, sneezes, coughing. This was my sinuses' way of telling me that they were Not Happy at being swilled out with chlorinated water the evening before.

It took me a while to work this out, of course, and I marvelled at the sudden onset of such a powerful cold. I felt fine on Monday! Nary a sniffle, and yet Tuesday, there weren't enough tissues in the northern hemisphere. It was only when I was feeling grim still by Wednesday that my acute powers of deduction belatedly kicked in. The GP agreed with me and I have precious antibiotics. 

I've had to cancel a week's worth of everything. Sent my apologies that I would't be swimming on Thursday, though I didn't explain why; didn't think anyone else needed to know. Ahem.

So what I have I learned this last week? 
  1. I can have great triumph and unmitigated disaster within the same five minutes.
  2. Triumph and disaster may both be impostors but it is very hard to treat them the same.
  3. Chlorine is not my friend.
  4. Don't underestimate my sinuses' power to make me miserable. 
  5. I am so, so fortunate to have antibiotic medication available for occasions when my co-ordination deserts me and results in snorting half a swimming pool. 
Talk about first world problems.

Well, if anyone reading this was looking for spiritual truths, or uplifting devotions, sorry 'bout that. I was just writing about the main event this week.  It does feel sort of significant for me, in a way, as my pursuit of better fitness with my swimming has long been part of my struggle with self-esteem and body-image problems, and it feels as if this is yet another excruciating twist in the tale. On the other hand, I have got this far and in a way it's amazing that I could contemplate messing up publicly in the pool and yet I will go back there next week (I hope) and risk doing it all again. 

Maybe the devil is finding new ways to try to derail me; a new way to stick a spanner in the works. First the huge challenge of going to the swimming club at all, getting into a swimsuit, trying to keep up with those much fitter and more streamlined than me, the fear of people seeing me, then the certainty that everyone would, and then they did - I survived all that. So this is a reminder that no matter how far I've come, I still have the ability to get lost following a straight black line.

You couldn't make it up, could you? 

Listen, I'll be back. I've ordered new goggles. They'll solve all my problems. 

Won't they? 

Thursday, 9 October 2014

Nineteen miles upstream

And the rain comes down. It's very hard to feel motivated to do anything on a day like this.

Karen Carpenter sings:

'Talking to myself and feeling old
Sometimes I'd like to quit
Nothing ever seems to fit
Rainy days and Mondays always get me down.'*

I never knew Karen, but she was on my wavelength. 

Here's a thing. I found myself exploring the book of Joshua in the Bible. I started out searching online for cuddly walruses (surprisingly hard to find) and then, link by link, I found myself reading the book of Joshua online. Walruses to the Ark of the Covenant.

It reminded me of some sermon notes I made quite a while ago, and when I looked them up, well, you've done it again. Something I learned three years ago, and I need to learn it again. 

Joshua 3 and 4. The Israelites are crossing the River Jordan to take possession of the promised land.

Now, I've never really given much thought to crossing rivers. It's dead easy. There are bridges. Big bridges to drive over, railways, viaducts, footbridges, ferries... most of the time I don't even need to get out of my car. But the Israelites didn't have these luxuries and an immense rushing torrent of water maybe a mile across might well have looked like an insurmountable barrier. So that puts a different complexion on it.

Still, Joshua knew that you wanted them all on the other side of the river. And he told them what to do.

The priests carrying the Ark of the Covenant set their feet in the water of the river, which has overflowed its banks because it's in flood. It's a big, wide, fast river. Joshua has prophesied that you will stop the water from flowing so that they can cross. So they step into the water. I imagine they're not that keen.

'You first.'
'No, after you.'
'No, I insist.'
'I went first last time.' 

But, Joshua said that you would take care of it, and they believe him. So they step in...

And take care of it you did. But you didn't stop the water right there, like the parting of the Red Sea - you stopped the water nineteen miles upstream.

So, they stepped in, carrying this precious, heavy load, and they wouldn't have known immediately that they weren't going to be swept off their feet. They went in anyway. Surely the waters would have taken a while to subside as there must have been quite a lot of water in nineteen miles of Jordan, but they stood in the river and waited.

You didn't let them down. The waters subsided until there was dry ground. The priests holding the Ark of the Covenant stood there until every last one of the Israelites had passed by onto the other bank. That would have taken some time as there were getting on for three-quarters of a million of them, I'm told. They stood there, presumably in the mud, heavy burden on their shoulders, but standing firm.

This is what I scribbled down:

1.  I have to trust that you will do what you've said you'll do. 
The priests had to step into the water before the flood waters stopped. They had to commit themselves. Joshua said that you would hold back the flow and they trusted in you. They wouldn't have known that you'd honoured your side of the bargain for quite some time, but you had. You said you would.

So - all those times when I think, 'Where are you in this? I asked for your help and you're not helping me', it could be that you have built a dam nineteen miles upstream and I just haven't felt the effects of it yet. You may have done the work, but I am just not yet in a position to know.

Oh, Lord, so much of this year is about TRUST. It's my word for the year and, blimey, you've taken me at my word indeed. I'm trying, Father, I'm trying.

2.  Am I standing in mud with the tide against me, holding on to a heavy burden? I have to stand firm.
I have to just keep upright and be strong because relief is coming. Perhaps you have given me a job to do and I'm wavering and uncertain that I can carry on doing it - I should stand firm. Maybe the priests were tired and aching and needing a rest but there were still a few thousand Israelites still to cross. They stood firm.

It's hard work, and I'm not very good at suffering in silence, am I?

3.  Maybe I'm still on the river bank and I'm scared to put my toe in the water. Time to climb in.
Time to step out in faith.

So here I am contemplating where I am in this scenario.  Maybe all three? I definitely feel as if I should be taking a step somewhere but I've long been asking you which direction.

Are you telling me that I should just step off the edge in some way? What does that mean, exactly? I'm good with metaphor and analogy, but not so good at applying it in any concrete way.

I've had so many questions about what you want me to do with my life and I've had ideas, some of which have just evaporated, some of which seem to be coming to nothing, and some of which (the most precious and fragile dreams I have) I have not properly explored yet for fear of failing; in case they don't work and I make a fool of myself. In case I have to discard hopes that I've had for a long long time.

So maybe now's the time to put my foot in the water. And not in a dangly-what's-the-temperature-like-shall-I-shan't-I sort of way, but a wholehearted step-off-the-edge-into-the-torrent sort of way, if only you'll show me what that actually means.

But I'm afraid, and I have so little energy.

You've said that whatever my own personal promised land, you'll get me there if I follow your lead. You've planned something for me and if I can only hear your voice, you'll guide me. So if you are with me, who can be against? If I hold onto you, you'll keep me upright until the waters abate. After all, you've made a dam upstream, if only I can wait for relief. If only I can trust that you'll do what you said you'll do.

Like they did, back in the book of Joshua.

And then at the same time as hesitating on the bank, I am stuck in the mud.

At times lately I've felt as if the burden I'm carrying is far too heavy and I shouldn't have to carry it on my own. I've felt misunderstood, resentful, frustrated and angry at things and I've felt isolated and hurt. I've felt that the anxieties building up around me have grown to monstrous proportions and I'm no better equipped to cope than I've ever been.

I hear you telling me that I should stand firm.

Sometimes movement is not required; I only need to stand firm and hold onto my precious burden, and fix my eyes on you rather than down at the mud. I'm playing to an audience of one.

Stand firm until the job is done and then I can lift my feet out of the mud with a satisfying squelch and climb onto the bank. (Where, presumably, the priests had a bit of a break from carrying the Ark of the Covenant. Surely they sat down and put their feet up and had a snack while someone else took over then? The Bible is strangely quiet on these details.)

So here's the thing. I know that I'm vacillating a bit at the moment. I know that I've got some things wrong recently. I know that I'm filling my time with so many things that there is so little left for you. I know that I have so many unanswered questions and I'm constantly complaining that you don't speak to me when it's quite likely that you're there, just where you've always been but I just can't hear you over the background noise of my life.

I need to stop and listen.  And then I need to get on with it.

Give me strength, Lord, and courage. Help me to believe more than I do now that I can step into the current and not be swept off my feet. Help me to believe that upstream you have made a dam and even if it doesn't feel like it straight away, you have honoured the step I've taken.

I just need to find the courage to climb down off the safety of this riverbank.

Even though this bank is the wrong side of the river, and I can see where I want to be, and you've promised to see me safely across, I am hesitating. I'm not sure. I keep making excuses. I'm scared of committing myself. What if it goes wrong? What if I can't do it? What will people think? What if...
'And there they stood; those priests carrying the Chest of the Covenant stood firmly planted on dry ground in the middle of the Jordan while all Israel crossed on dry ground. Finally the whole nation was across the Jordan, and not one wet foot.'Joshua 3:17 The Message
Well, not one wet foot, apart from the brave souls who stepped out first, now standing with their feet planted in the mud, Ark in their arms, thinking, "Get a move on. This thing's heavy and my feet are freezing."

I'd love to have seen that.

I wonder how this translates into what you want from me in my life. I wonder what my River Jordan is. I wonder what you want me to carry across. I wonder what you are doing upriver.

Show me, Father, because I want to know. I want to have the courage.

I want to get to the other side.

*Rainy Days and Mondays, The Carpenters, 1971, A&M Records

Thursday, 2 October 2014

Still tired. Revisiting an old post

So, sitting here with the keyboard under my fingers and feeling so, so tired. 

So unmotivated, so discouraged, so apathetic. Thinking I should post something, I should try to write something even when the brain is fuzzy and the words don't come because that's what I should do, and I always do what I should do. 

What I said I'd do, what I am expected to do, what I ought to do. 

And this came to mind. Already written, not new, already posted here in February this year, when I was feeling a bit like this. I wrote this as if Jesus said it to me.

Maybe He did. Maybe He's saying it again.



You there. Feeling overwhelmed; trying not to cry. This is for you. 

I know that you're so, so tired. 

I know what's going through your mind right now, and I know that it's all jumbled up and confused and you've given up trying to make sense of things. I know that you feel that everything is going wrong and that you're further than ever from where you want to be. I know that you're exhausted trying to keep up with your racing thoughts as you struggle to work out what to do next; what to say, where to go, what to think, what your next move should be. 

I have a message for you. 

You're not on your own. I know what you're going through and I am right there with you, even in the dark. I never lose my way, and I will not allow you to be lost either, because you are my beloved child. 
'...even the darkness will not be dark to you; the night will shine like the day, for darkness is as light to you.'
Psalm 139:12
You know when they tell you that the darkest hour is just before dawn, and that at the moment that you think you simply can't keep going any longer - that's when daylight might break over the horizon?  

It's not as simple as that. It's not a matter of holding your breath and putting everything on hold until you can see again. Only I know how long the darkness will last. It might be that at any moment glorious light will flood your life and everything will fall into place, or it could be that you can't see the way forward for quite some time. Don't be afraid of the darkness.

I want you to learn to breathe, even when it's dark. I want to show you how to be so calm, so still, that you can see the pinpricks of light in the night sky. I want to show you the stars. 

I'm teaching you about trust.

When you are still enough, close enough, you can learn to find beauty even when your eyes cannot make out anything else. There is beauty in the dark too, because I am there.

I see you agitated because you can't see, because you don't know. I see you struggle to make sense of life, trying with all your mind to understand things that are out of your control. 

Stop. Be still. I will fight for you.
'The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still.   Exodus 14:14
There are times for dynamic action. When you can see the path ahead and you know what you need to do, these are full-speed-ahead times. There are other times when I want you to do nothing. Times to hide in the shadow of my wing. You're always asking me what to do, but doing is not always what is necessary. Sometimes I want you to stop, just sit with me for a while.

When it's dark and confusing your instinct to rush off can cause you to trip over things, to dash off in the wrong direction and I would save you that.
'Be still and know that I am God.'
Psalm 46:10 
Stop thinking that it all depends on you. You are not responsible for other people. You're not responsible for their happiness, or their success, or their opinion of you. You answer to me and me only, and I say - stop. Just for a while.

Stop striving. None of your dreams depends on you. I have the keys to all the doors that you wish would swing open in front of you and my timing is perfect. I see the end from the beginning - I know the damage that would be done if I gave you all that you ask for when you ask for it. I know you. 

Maybe the dawn is just approaching, or maybe the night will go on for a while yet; that's up to me. I will work it all out for good.  If the darkness persists, then I want you to come close to me and hold on tightly. 

'But those who wait upon the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not be weary; they will walk and not be faint.'
Isaiah 40:31
I want you to rest and listen to the beat of my heart, feel the warmth of my arms around you, draw strength from my strength. If you are still enough, if you put aside the hopes and fears and worries and lean into me, you'll hear my voice whispering to you in the dark. Listen to me. I speak words of truth. I guide you. I prepare you. I inspire you. 

I will give you the strength to carry on. 

I will never leave you in the dark. 

With my love


Thursday, 25 September 2014

The thunder of great waters

I did a little musing as I sat on a railing watching the sea do its thing back in the middle of summer when there was time for sitting on railings and watching the sea.

The tide was in, and there was a strong breeze that gave the waves white tops and blew spray at me from time to time. The sun was in and out from behind fluffy clouds and there was nobody else about.

Dear God,

The sea is like you.

It is eternal. Always there, never stopping, never still. It never rests, never sleeps. Shifting, multi-faceted, unpredictable, wild and untameable. Breathtakingly beautiful in all its moods, whatever the weather. That beauty is a complex mixture of light and shade, a million colours; shimmering, sparkling.

It engages all the senses - the blue, the green, the sunlight and reflected sky, the sound of crashing, thundering - and the soft and reassuring sound of surf on shingle.

I sit with my eyes closed and feel cool spray on my face; I swam and was embraced by its silky coolness, lifted off my feet by the swell.

I taste salt on my lips and inhale the fragrance that you only find at the seaside: freshness, brine, the smell of open space and freedom. I find that I breathe more deeply at the seaside in moments like this, luxuriating in solitude; just me and the vastness of you.

There is another sense that the sea touches, for me; the thing inside me that longs for you; the thing that is more than imagination, that comes from the deepest part of me.

My soul reaches for you, because you seem more tangible to me at the seaside.

I watch the ocean and see my God.

The sea is relentless and powerful. You cannot keep it out, you cannot keep it in. It will go where it will. The sea demonstrated its power when the tidal surges engulfed our coast a few months ago; I have seen the destruction left behind. The strongest man-made structures - concrete, iron bars as thick as my wrist, bent and broken like matchsticks, and discarded with the next wave. Flooding, overcoming defences, washing away things that we cling to.

The fury of the sea in a storm; deafening and intimidating. Restless, ruthless, threatening...and yet. that same sea reflecting a cloudless blue sky, soothing and welcoming, splashing on sand and shells, gently caressing my daughters' feet as they play at its edges.

Glory and majesty - the sea reflects the sunrise and the sunset, the beginning and the end, and will still be there, churning, shifting, waiting for the next day. It was made on the second day and will be there on the last. What are we, in comparison?
"Have you journeyed to the springs of the sea, or walked in the recesses of the deep?"   Job 38:16
The sea shows us our smallness, our frailness. It allows us to interact with it in a small way; it gives up some of its treasures and allows us to form a relationship with it but it demands respect. It gives life and sustains life and can take it away in a moment. We try to harness it, to subdue it for our own ends, but it will only allow us so far. We hover at its edges, gazing awe-struck into its depths, and it is pleased to show us some of its wonders, but we are never in control.

It has hidden depths that we cannot imagine.

Underwater mountain ranges that we have never seen. We don't know how deep it is - it is unfathomable. We cannot draw maps or chart the seabed. We are too small, too weak; our most impressive technology falls short of something so primeval.

We see the surface, and the things it permits us to explore, but it leaves us in no doubt that we are quickly out of our depth. There are things impenetrable, places we can't go, experiences we'll never have, whole ecosystems that we know nothing about, creatures never seen, photographs that will never be taken.

A mystery. Pre-historic, vast, sheltering, nurturing, secretive.

We are so small. We make mistakes; whole aeroplanes are swallowed without a trace in the depths. We are reminded of our fragility, and it's power.

Endless contrasts. I held in my hand the tiniest of crabs from a rock pool, a starfish. The seas are home to countless microorganisms too small for us to see - and then huge and powerful creatures like whales and sharks, seals and fish too large to land in a fishing boat. The delicate and the vast. Floating, mystical jellyfish, shoals of translucent fish, and predators with row upon row of lethal teeth. Things that we eat, things that would eat us. All life is here, and death, too.

"There is the sea, vast and spacious, teeming with creatures beyond number, living things both large and small." Psalm 104:25
Dangerous, yet healing. The sea helps to heal wounds, sterile and soothing. Life-giving, life threatening. Hidden currents, lurking dangers play alongside soft surf and exhilarating swell. It supports us, keeping our boats afloat and our bodies buoyant.  Full of joy and fun, beauty and possibility, yet we misjudge it at our peril.
"You rule over the surging sea; when its waves mount up, you still them." Psalm 89:9
Only Jesus had authority over the sea. There has only ever been one man who was unafraid, who spoke to the waves and they obeyed him.

I sit here and lift the camera to my eye and realise that the sea cannot be captured.

No wonder that throughout history we have been fascinated by it. We have tried to copy it, to halt it, to pin it down on canvas or film, to recreate it to take away for those of us who live inland, but we cannot, for no sooner have we frozen a moment in time, than that moment is gone and the sea is completely different.

It is only now. It was, it will be, but it is always the present. No two waves are alike. They each hit the seawall differently, throw different fountains of spray. There is no pattern, no predictability. It does its own thing, regardless of time, of me, of everyone.

There is so much to see. It whispers, shouts - booms an insistent invitation to tiptoe at the edges, come a little deeper, discover something new, dive in, explore, immerse yourself.  Be brave, get used to the coolness, the movement; enjoy the ride. Know who you are, and who the sea is; don't forget. Don't take it for granted, have respect, but come and enjoy.

Be washed clean. Be lifted off your feet.

Inspiration is here. Beauty is here. Refreshment, restoration, healing, strength are to be found here.

There is no barrier that you cannot break down,
There is no space you can't flood,
No door can keep you out,
No defences you can't breach.
"Mightier than the thunder of the great waters, mightier than the breakers of the sea - the Lord on high is mighty." Psalm 93:4
You are here.

Thursday, 18 September 2014

Letter to little sister

To my littlest girl

How I love you. I'm not sure that either of you will understand how enormous that love is until you have babies of your own, but until then I will keep telling you.

Does your Mummy love you?
That's right. How much does she love you?
All round the world and back again. 
More than that!  Why does Mummy love you?
Because I'm Katy
That's right. When will Mummy stop loving you?
Never, not ever.
That's right. Never, not ever, not no-how. 

I won't stop telling you, because I want you to keep that knowledge really deep down in your heart, somewhere that is safe where you can reach for it whenever you need to, because you are the little sister.

Comparisons are inevitable. Everywhere you go, your big sister has already been there, done it and got the T shirt. We can't help that because you've been to the same nurseries, schools and clubs. In many ways she's a formidable act to follow because she's good at so many things, and because she's good at them, you long to be good at them too.

Who knows? you might be. But you're very hard on yourself. When you find that you can't do something she can do, always remember that she's almost two years older than you; it might be that at your age, she couldn't do it either.

But that doesn't solve the problem. It just reinforces the fallacy that you are both on the same path, just that you set off a little later than she did, and that's not how it is.

You are different in so many ways. You don't look the same; people sometimes don't realise that you are sisters. You think differently, you have a different way of looking at things. You speak differently, you laugh at different things, you respond to people in your own individual way.

You are both unique. You are both special. And, my little love, you shine just as brightly as she does.

You are you; you're not her. You're the only one who can do Katy. Oh, my lovely, you do it so well. That's because you didn't come off a production line, you were hand-made by the Master Craftsman.

Your heavenly Father lovingly made you just as you are; that's how He wanted you. He didn't make a single mistake. He was careful, thoughtful and thorough when He designed you, and when He had finished, He looked at you and smiled with delight. I bet He said something like, 'Well, look at this beautiful daughter of mine!  A masterpiece. She's exactly right,' and the angels all cheered and clapped and admired you.

God never makes mistakes. He never gets things wrong - He doesn't make a Mark 1 version and a Mark 2, with improvements. No, He knew what He was doing when He made you. You have a totally unique set of characteristics, my beautiful girl. There is no-one like you.

This is true of your big sister too, of course. She is put together with the same care, the same attention to detail, the same joy.  She's different, though. He didn't mean to make you identical. He wanted you to be different.

And one thing that you can be sure of: when God gave out talents and gifts, He was even handed. There is no-one fairer than God. There's no way that He'd favour one of his daughters with more gifts than another, no matter how it might seem at times. He gave each of us a different set of skills just as we each have our own personality.

It's hard it is to follow in someone's footsteps. It's hard to follow someone who does well, who wins things, who attracts attention for being great at something. It's hard not to look at them and wish you were the same. And when you envy someone their gifts, you start to overlook or undervalue your own.

It's a lie that some gifts are worth more than others. This world perpetuates the myth that some people are better than others because they are faster, stronger, louder. Look at the politicians, the athletes, the celebrities. Some people have gifts that are very obvious; they're there right in front of your eyes. Some people are breathtakingly beautiful, skilled and articulate and the world adores them, and other people have gifts which are much more subtle, but no less important. The world is not a reliable gauge of what is valuable.

For example, Princess Diana and Mother Teresa of Calcutta died on the same day. Diana, famous for her beauty and scandal, filled the front pages for weeks and the world grieved extravagantly. Mother Teresa, who devoted her life to caring for the poorest and weakest, was mentioned briefly on page 8 of the newspaper I saw. For whom, do you think, was the biggest party in Heaven?

Sometimes we have to look past the limelight and the adoration of other people to see the truth of what gifts really mean.

I love that your big sister is good at sports, and I cheer her on with all my heart, but my pride comes from how hard she tries, how determined she is, how gracious in victory and defeat, and the spirit in which she takes part. Make no mistake; I cheer just as loudly whether she comes first or last.

And the same is true for you. I cheer for you, my darling. I cheer for you in my heart every morning when I watch you walk up into the playground of the big school you've just started. I cheer for you in your new role on the school council. I see you growing up into such a beautiful young woman, inside and out, and my heart swells with pride. Trophies and medals and mentions in the school newsletter won't change that.

Who you are is the most important thing, not what you can do.

You will find more gifts as you get older; you don't get them all at the same time. You'll try things, and sometimes you'll succeed, and sometimes you'll fail, and sometimes, strange as it sounds, it's through the failures that you grow the most. Some of your gifts are easy to see already, and others will be ready for you to unwrap when the time is right. Right now I can see kindness, warmth, generosity, the ability to make people laugh, the desire to make people happy. Your quick wit, your ideas, your ability to point out things that no-one else has noticed. Your courage, your determination, your thoughtfulness, your tactile affection, your enthusiasm.

These are powerful, precious things, beautiful, never to be underestimated. This world badly needs people like you.

Don't compare yourself with anyone. Have confidence in yourself, because you are enough. Know how loved you are. By me (and lots of other people) and the One who made you. If He'd meant you to be good at the same things others are good at, He'd have made you that way, but the place would be very boring if we all excelled at the same things, wouldn't it?  You are in this world for a very special reason that's specific just to you, and He's given you all you need.

So cheer on your big sister with me, and celebrate who she is knowing that you are celebrated just as much. Don't wish you were someone else, or try to be like them. Put all your wonderful energy into  making the most of every opportunity, discovering more and more about yourself as your life unrolls in front of you, full of potential and promise.

Be yourself, my treasure. 

There is nobody like you.

With my love - all round the world and back again


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