Dear Toxic Social Media

Dear Social Media,

I just want to address your toxic side and I know that during COVID so many of us have been using you more. Alone in our houses, sometimes we can get caught up in that toxic side and drown in our feelings of insignificance or lack. It’s the side of you that carries a heaviness and a touch of ‘high school’ popularity contests.

No, it’s not all of you, just certain parts of you and that’s the part that drives us mad. It’s that part that tells me that if I’m not a big success than I am nothing. Well, I don’t buy into that. Your forced comparison seems highly suspicious. It sounds a lot like you are trying to pit us against each other and there is no community in that. There is no joy in that, only pain, comparison and resentment.

I have the advantage of being around before you were an integral part of our lives, so I know that our value runs deeper than what you are preaching.

You are in fact a liar.

A ‘like’ does not equal approval and a ‘follow’ doesn’t equal belonging. Neither does a re-tweet, wink, friend, swipe, share, pin and so on.  These are surface things and although they are nice, they are meaningless when we turn off our devices. I cannot bring any of them into my living room and share a meal. They may make us feel good, but they aren’t there to help us when we face a problem. Let’s just keep you and your madness in it’s proper place.

I will admit, you do bring some joy into my life, of course you do. I get to make connections, see, read and experience things that I never would have without you, but you are not my gauge for someone’s importance or influence. I’ll determine that on my own thanks. The friendships I have made online are because of the people, not because of stats on a screen.

Numbers don’t determine a person’s value and I think that’s where your lies are the most toxic. That is where you start to poison our minds. You tell us that numbers equal value and that numbers mean we count in this world. You try to tell us that only having high numbers means we matter.

I call you out and say nope, that’s not real, my worth is not found on a screen. I won’t buy into that and others don’t have to either. We can use Social Media without the toxic part and that’s what we’ll do.

So thanks for your ideas about being a ‘big hit’ or an ‘influencer’, but I’ll pass thanks.

Love Jess xxoo

PS – Dear Reader, sometimes we just need a reminder 🙂

What to do with Frustrating Friends

Dear Frustrated Friend,

UUUUGGGHHHH! I can hear it in you already. Your friend just shared something with you and all the alarm bells are going off in your head. They have either told you about something you have already warned them not to do or they are making the same mistakes anew. It’s incredibly frustrating.

You are allowed to be frustrated.

I almost feel like creating a secret space for you to let it all out. A place where you don’t feel as though you are betraying your friend. Maybe you could call me up anonymously, vent to me and I’d nod my head and say “Yep, they are crazy” and then we’d hang up and you’ll feel better. 🙂

It’s so hard when you see friends making bad decisions, because you want to be there for them and let them know that they are making a huge mistake. What is a friend to do in those moments? Let’s look at the options.

Two options: Say something or say nothing.

Both of these options have positives and negatives and your preference will mostly depend on how you view your role and responsibility in friendships. Some of you will always say something, while others will always keep silent; whatever you chose is fine with me.

I find for my own personal sanity, my preference is to lead people through questions which challenge their thinking or motivations rather than pointing out obvious blunders. I’ve always felt that if people find the answers themselves, they are more likely to take it onboard. Honestly, no-one really likes to be told what to do. I’m probably more gentle than I should be at times, but that’s how I function best. I have tried it other ways and it usually didn’t turn out how I wanted it to.

No matter the style we adopt, we should always remember that whatever our friends go through, their decision to listen to us is not about us. We can’t control and never should control others – even if it would be easier at times. 🙂 I’m joking… I am not responsible for other people’s choices and I refuse to be. I have carried the imagined burden of responsibility and I ended up with heart palpitations, so I stay far away from that one now.

Regardless of what happens, remember that now is the time when you will demonstrate exactly what love looks like. You can love someone and disagree with their choices. You can also love someone and place a boundary around what you are willing to discuss with them. So how do you love them well and keep your own sanity?

Two Options: Stay close or love from afar

Let’s pretend you (or others) have spoken to your friend and they didn’t listen and it’s so very frustrating. Why do they keep you around if they don’t value what you say? It might actually hurt too much to see them blindly or willingly walk into a bad decision.

You can choose to keep the door open, keep the communication flowing so that if and when they fall, they know you are a safe place. This will take time, patience and a loose grip. You won’t be the one to say “I told you so”. If you get the urge, just call that frustrated friend line I mentioned before and tell it to me 😉 I’d nod and say “Yep, you were right”. I will then encourage you to hold onto you empathy and know your limitations.

As upbeat as the song above is, there can be certain friendships which push you beyond your limits. May I suggest, if you can no longer stand it anymore, that you can actually love someone from afar. You don’t have to stay up-close to witness the mess of their life. It doesn’t mean you have stopped loving them, it’s ok to step back… it really is. You may need to start the slow pull back because it’s too hard to watch as they blindly walk into more seemingly obvious pain. It is totally fine to step back and it can be very wise.

Sometimes to love a friend and look after yourself you need to stay, and sometimes you need to leave.

At the end of the day I know that your heart is good and you want the best for your friend (seriously, you are reading about friendship). Hold onto your love no matter what you do. Hit me up for an imaginary phone call and I’ll validate all your frustrations while you navigate the best way forward in your friendships. Trust your instincts on how to move forward. You’ve got this.

Love Jess xxoo

Dear Lonely Soul

Dear Lonely Soul,

I thought I would write to you and let you know that I’ve been thinking of you this week. You see I know what it’s like to feel the way you do; I have been there. Of course our stories won’t be the same, but our hearts will have known the same sense of exclusion. That feeling you get of being alone in a room (or chat-room) full of people, I have felt this many times over too. I understand the sinking feeling of isolation and wondering if there is anyone who truly understands you. It is intimacy in friendship that you long for, not just surface conversation, but to have someone really ‘get you’ and be in your corner.

My own story stretches over the first three years of being a Pastor’s Wife and Youth leader, surrounded by people yet dying on the inside. I doubt many people outside of Tim and maybe my Mum would have known about it at the time. On the outside, I was connected and extroverted, on the inside it was a whole other story.

Take it from me, leadership can be very, very lonely; those people you see on the stage, they want authentic friendship too. The irony was that Tim and I were cultivating community on a weekly basis, trying to create a place where every teen could be known and belong. I loved connecting with the teens who most would consider on the ‘outer’, because I understood them; I never quite fit either.

Lonely heart, I know you are in your story right now. I know the crushing feeling, the ache in the heart that won’t go away; the desire to know and to be known is strong. To have people love you for your thoughts, not just your edited actions is so releasing.

I know what it’s like to have these heartfelt desires. Oh, how I know it. Ironically, you are not alone in your loneliness. It’s something that many people, regardless of their age, stage or location experience. It is surprisingly more common than we think.

I cannot walk your journey for you and the truth is that for many of you, I won’t even be able to walk it with you. I can’t not give you those relationships that you desire, but I will give you three thoughts from my ‘lonely years’ which might be helpful:

Persevere Lonely Soul

I had two people tell me this during my own three years of loneliness. Any time I felt the desperation overwhelming my soul, I would remind myself to persevere. I have a love/hate relationship with the word, because perseverance is not enjoyable or ‘sexy’, it is necessary. May it be your source of strength as it was mine.

Ask for a friend

The second thing I learnt was to ask for and keep looking for friends. I asked God over and over for friends whom I could be my true self with. It took a while for them to come, two years in fact from when I first asked, but eventually He brought me a Liz, and a Jess and a Bec. The perfect friends for that season. They become my life-line and I am still grateful for them to this day. Bizarrely I had already known these ladies for years, but it just seemed to be the right time for our friendship to change and become closer. I didn’t even realise they were there until God opened my eyes and I opened my heart. So if you currently believe in God or not I would encourage you ask Him, ask Him for friends today and I will ask for you as well.

You are not forgotten

One of the big lies is that you are invisible – both humankind and God have forgotten about you. Well that is not true, you are still seen even in this season. This post may be the very sign you need right now.

Lonely heart, God won’t stop talking to me about you, prompting me to pray for you, asking me to reach you through the screen and through your tears and say that YOU ARE SEEN. He wants you to know that He hasn’t forgotten about you and that he cares so much about your soul. There is nothing wrong with you, it’s ok to be different. Your ‘people’ are coming. Persevere.

Psalm 34:18 (NIV)

18 The Lord is close to the brokenhearted
and saves those who are crushed in spirit.

It is a difficult place you find yourself in and I can’t bring myself to offer empty platitudes as they won’t fill your heart. However, as someone who has been there I can offer you hope instead. In your loneliness today, you happened to read these words and I trust you realised that you are not alone. God (the universe or whatever) is reaching for you right now to lift your heart. I am praying for you and believing that God will bring people your way or open your eyes to undeveloped friendships. Persevere Lonely Soul as I did, this moment in time is not the sum of your whole life.

Love Jess xxoo

PS – This song (although old now) was one I used to sob to on repeat – it was God’s promise to me.

I’m sorry I didn’t notice you: Thank you to my WordPress Community

This one is for my WordPress Community,

Firstly, I’m sorry I didn’t notice you for so long. I really am sorry. When I started this blog back in July 2013 it was solely to connect with our family and friends whilst overseas. I honestly didn’t pay you much attention, but now almost seven years later, I hold you close to my heart.

Instead of mindlessly scrolling through social media feeds, I can step into other countries and cultures whenever I want. I can access different perspectives, expertise and expressions and it warms my heart. You are helping me grow as I experience life through your eyes.

This morning I had some time on my hands as the kids sat quietly eating breakfast, so using the App Reader I searched through posts about: joy, creativity and photography. I was amazed and inspired by you; all of us working away, investing time (and often money) to share our hearts with others. Some of you had lots of followers and others, just a few, but that really didn’t matter to me. To me, your expressions were not considered as ‘important’ depending on how many followers you had. I felt so grateful in those moments as I poured over words written in South Africa, Portugal, Australia, Brazil, India and England.

So, thank you. From me to you, strangers on the internet, thank you. I know it can be hard sometimes, anyone who has been blogging for more than 6 months knows this, but keep going. Did you know that some mornings the first thing I think about is refreshing my reader feed to see if any of you have created something new while I was sleeping?

Sending you lots of gratitude.

Love Jess xxoo

Dear Mums, yep this is hard

Oh man, I don’t know about you but this forced iso is hard when you have children. Yes, it is necessary to fight this virus by staying at home, but it is still hard. I have heard from countless Mums recently, all sharing about moments when they have desperately hide from their family members. I am one of them, because sometimes it’s one question too many. Sometimes it’s one screaming, annoying, angry, defiant, bored, emotional, messy, face too many. Sometimes you have given everything you had to give and you still have to keep giving.

So Honey, hide from your family when you must. You cry if you want. Give the finger to your cat (a personal favourite of mine) if that helps release the tension. This is hard, it’s not just you. That shame or Mum-guilt you are carrying doesn’t belong there; many of us are feeling bat-crap-crazy at the moment. You do not have to be perfect in this moment. You can’t meet all their needs. You are not letting them down. I guarantee, if you are even worried about your kids in this moment, you are loving your kids as best as you can.

My girlfriends and I have been more connected recently because we need to hear the “Oh me too, today was horrible” or the “You did so well” or a “I’m so happy you had a great day today”. We send each other funny memes or encouraging posts, because this is hard. It’s not a competition over who has it worse… it’s hard for us all in our own ways. Sweetheart, now is not a time for comparision. We are processing everything that’s going on, as well as other stresses like joblessness, cancelled plans, feelings of unrest and so on whilst raising children. It is incredibly hard some days. But hey… We are doing the best we can. Let’s give ourselves a break.

You are not alone – this is actually hard. I hope by hearing that you feel less alone, less like a failure and that tonight after the kids have gone to bed you can realise how hard you have been working. Well done Babe, you are amazing.

Love Jess xxoo

PS – Yes there are also many Dads who are in the same boat, but this one is for Mums because I am one 😉

Dear Anxious Heart

Dear Anxious Heart,

I speak peace over you right now
Peace over the fears and thoughts that keep you up at night
Peace over the worries that weigh your heart down.

I speak peace over you right now
Peace over your body and your breathing
Peace over tension in your shoulders and the tightness in your chest.

I speak peace over you right now
I have known the bondage of anxiety
And I know the sweet freedom of peace
So, I will speak it over you just as it was released over me.

I know that your mind is crowded with thoughts right now and you want to chase them all down, but we both know that it’s not possible because you can’t hold onto them long enough. Take a breath and sit with me in this moment, sit with me and bring your uncomfortable feelings; I am not afraid of them, you are safe here. I will not tell you to ‘get over it’ or ‘just stop thinking about it’ and I’ll mentally punch anyone in the head who says those words to you 😉 I understand that it’s not that easy – I’ve got you.

I don’t know your situation, but I will tell you what I know… I know that it’s possible to break out of this mental prison. It’s possible to come out the other side (it really is), however I also know it’s hard for you to believe that right now. I have personally worked for years on my thoughts, fight/flight reactions, breaking down lies and perfectionism while failing, trying again, failing, trying again and again. It is hard work, but it can be done. Maybe I will write more about this one day (ok I will, just for you), but for today, you need to be seen in this moment and told that you can and will survive this. Go read the beginning bit again, change is coming your way. Sit with it today. Sit with it. We’ll talk more later ok?

Love Jess xxoo

For the Struggling Creative

Any time I post a blog I will undoubtedly get someone misinterpreting what I am saying, because well, that’s what people do. We interpret what we think someone is saying and we put our own lens over it. It’s not bad, it just happens and is inevitable if you are going to share your creations with the world. I know all of this yet I’ll be honest, there is still always a moment right before or after I post a blog when I hesitate and wonder if maybe I should just stop doing this thing. There are two questions I have around blogging – should I create anything at all and is it worth being vulnerable to do it?I know that being creative takes courage. It takes courage to share what’s in your heart without being able to control the outcome or manage the misunderstandings that will inevitably occur. I look at artists, designers, songwriters, dancers, writers, chefs, musicians (anyone in the creative industries really) and I take my hat off to them and say thank you. Thank you for sharing yourself with the world. Some of you bring me so much joy as I experience what you have created and I’m grateful you pushed through your fears to share what you have with your fellow humans. I may not always like your expression or agree with every message, but I acknowledge your courage and say well done.

“There is no creativity without vulnerability”
– Brene Brown

If I am going to be misunderstood and perhaps ‘take a personal hit’ for something I have written, why on earth would I keep doing it? It’s because for every person who misinterprets what I’m saying, I get another who tells me “that’s just what I needed to hear today” or “Far out, I never knew that was happening in the world”. It’s for those people that I keep sharing my thoughts. There are many times when I think to myself… “Nah, don’t write any more Jess, honestly who really cares what you are thinking”. And then for some reason I just keep doing it anyway. As I said before, there is always a moment when I put myself out there and I question if it’s worth sharing. If no one likes this, is it still worth creating? For me, the answer is yes. I create for the fun of it. If I can, you can too. Create because you can. Dream it. Do it. Work at it. Create something uniquely you. You can do it. You should do it.What started out as a blog to update people on our travels has morphed into an avenue for me to share my thoughts. My short unedited writings are unlikely to make it into main-stream media, so I continually check in with my heart to see if it’s worth doing. Does it still provide me with a creative outlet? Yes. Do I enjoy putting words and thoughts together even if I struggle in the process? Yes. Although I only write about things I have already processed, many people don’t know that I’ve already moved on. How could they, unless I told them. So sometimes I get a message from someone asking me if I’m ok, or perhaps someone (*cough* my husband) looks at me sideways for a few days, wondering if I’m ok (love you Babe). It is the price I am willing to pay by sharing honestly with others.

What price are you willing to pay to be creative? If you are willing to be misunderstood, misinterpreted (which you will), then keep going for it. I would encourage you to create and share it with the world. The ‘world’ may end up being your five friends on TikTok or your Nan the next time you see her, but I would remind you that the people you impact need to see your creativity.  I have heard many amazing original songs that I wish everyone knew the lyrics to. I have viewed some breathtaking photos which will never be in a gallery and I have tasted some amazing meals by home chefs that will never feature on cooking shows. However, it is the exchange of other peoples ideas in those moments that enriches my own life; I am aware of the impact. One of my Pinterest boards is full of other people’s creativity that in turn inspires my own. I am so grateful for my fellow creatives and I need you to keep it up.

Those moments in time when others have shared their giftings with me have added delightful wonder to my life. I am a better person because of the things others create and my life is richer for all their hard work. But let’s be real, not everything everyone dreams up can be a masterpiece and some people excel because they have trained hard for many years. With all this in mind, even if your creative expression doesn’t get the recognition you think it should or you lack the resources/time/energy to develop your craft, it may still be worth it – simply for the joy of creating. Create simply for the joy of creating.

This leads me back to my original questions – should I create anything at all and is it worth being vulnerable to do it? Yes and yes. Let’s keep creating for the fun of it. Let’s keep being vulnerable and push past our fears by sharing our ideas with those around us. Please, please dear reader keep on creating and I will too. Let’s do it together.

Love Jess xxoo

PS – Those who know me well are aware of my love of the music group BTS, and will probably have a little smile as they read this. 😉 If you like dance you’ll appreciate this gem – the choreographer and dancers in this video just blow me away.

To the Christian Couple trying to fall pregnant

To the Christian Couple trying to fall pregnant,

I have been thinking a lot about you the last few weeks. You are on my mind and I can’t shake you no matter how much I try. Some of you I know personally, while others I wouldn’t know you if you were sitting next to me right now. Regardless, I wanted to take a few moments and type these words to you, because what you are going through is painful, so incredibly painful and usually hidden.

Psalm 56 v 8
You keep track of all my sorrows. You have collected all my tears in your bottle. You have recorded each one in your book.

If I could sit and have a beverage with you, I would look you in the eye and tell you that you aren’t alone. I know it feels like it, believe me, I know it does. It may seem like others around you are falling pregnant with not a care in the world and you feel you’re the only one’s struggling… but you aren’t. For some reason, knowing that other Christians are going through or have gone through a similar struggle can make you feel less isolated. I say this not to take away from your unique experience, but to encourage you and remind you that your thoughts, questions, doubts, victories and triumphs are perhaps similar to what others have felt.

Psalm 31 v 7
I am overcome with joy because of Your unfailing love, for You have seen my troubles, and You care about the anguish of my soul.

Although some of your closest friends may not see your pain… I see you in my mind’s eye. I acknowledge this difficult season with its’ faith filled highs and the hopeless lows. I understand the courage you draw upon when you celebrate other people’s victories and the anguish in your heart when you see that photo on social media or glossy picture in a catalog. I can relate to the faith in your heart when you respond to an alter-call and the frustration when someone says something insensitive. Sometimes you have grace and things don’t bother you, while other times you want to put your fingers in your ears to block out the noise. It is difficult. Plus, those ever-changing thoughts and emotions can really throw you can’t they? Up and down and round and round. Then, there are the faith-based questions, medical decisions and ethical considerations that can keep you up at night! You are really doing so well. No, really you are. Be encouraged.

Psalm 9 v 9-10
The Lord is a shelter for the oppressed, a refuge in times of trouble. Those who know Your name trust in You, for You, O Lord, have never abandoned anyone who searches for you.

I am aware that your stories are all different and so will the outcome. I sincerely pray that your dearest dreams will be realized, and yet I know how hard it is to believe that at times. I don’t pretend to have answers for your situation; I only want to let you know that you aren’t forgotten. You aren’t abandoned and your journey is important, so important that God keeps bringing you to my mind. Even if you don’t tell anyone about this season, I am praying for you and for the child or children you want to have.

All my love

Jess xxoo