I love finding out what other people do and the rich and varied life experiences of friends, new and old. People are fascinating, complicated, messy, more beautiful than they realise, irritating, funny, kind, slow and colourful. People react in a thousand ways and wear a thousand masks. We use stories to tell our truths.
Life hands out lemons and apples; share them if you like. Make lemonade if that helps. But be careful. We don't all want lemonade. Some of us just want to throw the apples and some of us just want to juggle the lemons.
We need each other’s stories to learn truths, and so to grow and to bear our own fruit. We learn from each other and when we read stories the truth resonates. Truth liberates us. Empowers and challenges us. Why are we so keen to read Harper Lee’s Go Set A Watchman? We remember the impact To Kill a Mockingbird had on us – a story rich in truth.
People ask me about me too. There is so much to tell. Where do I start?
My story is messy, but no less beautiful for it. Today I am 38, a wife and a mum to two amazing children. I write and I research. I try to engage in community – online, in the children’s schools, in our church and in our village. My physical health is slowly improving, my mental health is much stronger than it was two years ago and I see purpose in my activities. Life is good.
Let me tell you something about how I got to this point though. There have been some very dark days.
I struggled with people – men in particular – for a number of years. It was not until I was prayed for in 2001 that my fear of men in general was removed and it was shortly after this that I met my husband.
I did well at school academically, but I was trapped in a mindset of duty which eclipsed my identity. Rather than study subjects I found really interesting, I was persuaded to do maths and engineering subjects, ostensibly because ‘there are not enough girls in the field’ and I seemed to do well at maths. Engineering is not my passion. I found sixth form incredibly hard emotionally and was fighting severe depression for much of the time.
I worked for a year in London in a large international engineering consulting company where I floundered. I began an Engineering degree at a good university: my grades sank like a pebble and my self esteem took another battering.
When I retook my exams I passed and was able to change to studying Theology, which was an amazing experience. Suddenly I was allowed to spend my time doing the thing I loved. I wanted to prove how committed I was to taking it seriously and the academic rigour of a humanities subject, so I threw in as many unusual languages as I could.
I did well and had offers to do further study at Oxford or Cambridge, but I had not budgeted for the costs involved. After graduating I discovered a seminary in Prague where I could do my Masters and I spent three years studying part time and working in a local prison in Suffolk with young offenders. I met many fascinating international students and many fascinating young criminals.
I met and married Matthew over this period too, and it became clear that prison work was not going to be a good long term career for me – I needed stretching and he needed to stay in Suffolk working. So I got a teaching qualification – learning on the job (SCITT) for a year in local schools and then teaching in a Catholic Secondary and in an FE college. As RE was not an option, I taught maths. I met some amazing people, learned a lot about myself and about educating, and we started a family.
When I announced to my headmaster that I was pregnant, his words to me were:
"you do realise that your role now is to be a mother"
even though I didn’t think heads could say things like this. He floored me. I had thought I was over my struggle with men and with reduced opportunities and could not understand why was using a truth to hurt me. Of course my role was to be a mother – but surely not at the expense of a career I had invested so much in?
I asked to return to work part time after Lily arrived and was refused. After trying to work in FE on lower pay I realised that my time was better spent raising my family, so reluctantly I put the career on hold and had Joe. My mental health was already suffering and it took me seven months to bond with him and even to accept that he was my son.
I threw myself into trying to please, trying to serve (never well enough, I figured), trying to keep going and trying to be there for everyone. I ran a large toddler group. I helped young people. I visited folk. I listened. I learned a lot more truths and I hit a crucial junction in 2013 at a church holiday club. I fell apart. I wasn’t big enough on my own to do all I felt I should to the degree it could be done, and I collapsed under the weight of my mental baggage.
A doctor I saw assessed me as severely depressed and with huge anxiety issues. I needed to step back from everything I could and rebuild. However, in order to rebuild, I needed to be taken apart, very carefully.
The NHS were not able to provide the help I needed, but a local Christian counselling service found me an amazing listener, who heard my story and saw me through the painful process of dealing with past hurts, tears and anguishes. The counselling had a huge impact on me, and at this stage I am reducing my medication and hope to come off it completely fairly soon.
One major impact was in learning to let go of the huge burden I’d built up to please people as my source of self-worth. I now see my value as entirely tied up in God’s grace, and the healing is remarkable. Another was in discovering my passions and allowing them to flourish. Teaching is in my blood, but it is not the whole of me. I need to spend time writing and reading and making sense of the subject I loved. So I moved from teaching as my identity into a new chapter. A writing chapter.
I am writing a book, based on research I started in Prague and following the stories of some interesting and messy characters. It is academically informed and set historically. I spend time most days on it in one way or another and already have a wealth of research and ideas. Key themes in the book are relationships, raising a family, the art of storytelling and value.
I am writing with the intention of revealing truth, but also because it is something I feel passionate about. All of my own story so far informs what I can write – my fears, my learning, my healing, my disappointments, my family, my health, God’s grace and purpose.
Now that I have better focus and a rich back-story I can choose to get involved at an appropriate level in local and online activities. I have a book in progress. I have a family who need my attention. Now I have better learned limits. And reasonable responses – sometimes Yes, sometimes No, sometimes Later. God has blessed me and my family and I find peace only when I truly rely on him.
Two factors inform my decisions now. They are not about self-promotion but question whether God is at the centre of what I do and whether my choice is the right way at the right time for me to encourage, challenge, teach and inspire others.
So this is whay I do what I do. My story continues and I hope the healing truths in it will touch the stories of others.