Finding faith in unexpected places

A sculpture made of silver ferns in Wellington, New Zealand // Flickr, Creative Commons
A sculpture made of silver ferns in Wellington, New Zealand // Flickr, Creative Commons

“None of us knows what might happen even the next minute, yet still we go forward. Because we trust. Because we have Faith.” – Paulo Coelho

Earlier this week, I experienced something new for the first time. I watched more than five minutes of a game of cricket, and I enjoyed it.

Up until that moment, I had always thought of cricket as The Most Boring Sport In The World. I have memories of childhood Sundays spent with Dad while he cradled a portable radio to his ear and listened to cricket commentary with near religious fervour. My sister and I would be forced to play quietly in hushed tones as he engaged in a heated one-way conversation with the commentators.

I remember one afternoon when I must have been about ten, the cricket was on the telly and Dad taught me the difference between scoring a 4 and a 6. That remains the extent of my knowledge of the sport today.

On Tuesday 24 March 2015, something changed. New Zealand played South Africa in a Cricket World Cup Semi-Final. I sat down to watch ten minutes out of a vague sense of patriotic duty, only to find myself glued to the screen for the next three hours.

I was mesmerised. My heart was racing with anticipation. I desperately wanted the Black Caps to win. I spent the final few overs peeping at the screen behind my hands, scared to watch in case New Zealand committed a final, irreversible error.

What was happening to me?

We’re all in this together

Big sporting events bring people together in a way that is both beautiful and also slightly odd. In what other situation do people experience similar (positive) emotions on such a large scale? There’s something delightful about feeling as though the entire country has stopped to watch the same thing.

In the back of my mind, a small voice wonders why sport has the power to engage people in a way other big issues fail to do so? Why do I get so emotionally invested in a game of cricket when there are ‘more important’ things happening in the world?

But I push that thought to the back of my mind, because – for the most part – I can’t find fault in something that encourages people to come together for a common cause.

Gotta have faith

Watching Tuesday’s game of cricket provided me with another unexpected comfort. It reminded me that it feels good to believe in something, no matter how small or trivial.

I realised it is the act of placing your faith in something, not what you place your faith in, that is most important.

Faith is such a big word with so many underlying connotations. It sparks different feelings for different people.

But for me, faith is simply choosing to believe in something – be it of momentous proportions, like an afterlife, or of seemingly irrelevant insignificance, like believing your local sports team is the best.

Faith has no rules. It doesn’t have to be tangible, it doesn’t have to be justifiable, it doesn’t have to be approved by someone else. It is yours to place where you wish.

And when placing your faith in something, you are saying to yourself and the world: “I believe. I have hope.”

Go the Black Caps!

On that note, I’m looking forward to feeling the faith of New Zealand as the Black Caps go into the final against Australia this afternoon. Yes, I have well and truly jumped on that bandwagon!

Black Caps captain Brendon McCullum wrote an open letter to fans, published in the Sunday Herald this morning. I particularly liked this part:

“Make no mistake, we’ve felt your belief. We’ve heard the chants, the cheers and the roars. We’ve seen the emotion in the faces of the children, in the faces of the mums and dads, and the grandfathers and grandmothers. We’ve seen grown men in tears; we’ve seen strangers hugging and we’ve seen the elderly dancing. I’m not how to say this but we’ve never felt quite so ‘New Zealand’ in all our lives.”

It’s a weird and wonderful world we live in, don’t you think?

When travel is less than perfect: my bittersweet London memories

Last Sunday I woke up without an alarm. I felt rested and content. I went for a walk up Mount Victoria and sat cross-legged on top of an old concrete bunker and marvelled at the beauty that is home.

To my left, the perfect symmetry of Rangitoto. To my right, the harbour dotted with sailing boats against a backdrop of white beaches and rolling hills. Directly in front of me, the calming presence of North Head and a dozen islands stretching out to the horizon.

This is the place I call home.

Rangitoto Island
Rangitoto Island
North Head & beyond
North Head & beyond

My hometown often leaves me speechless. Gratitude bubbles up in my chest and silences my restless mind. In moments like these, I think, this is enough. My life feels both expansive and tiny at the same time. Expansive because my mind is flying free, soaring over the blue water. Tiny because my home seems so small, this little peninsula, a collection of streets, familiar houses.

I feel immensely grateful that I love the place where I grew up. That my desire to explore has never been marred by a desire to flee. That no matter where I go, I carry home in my heart.

But sometimes I worry that I will get too comfortable, too content. That I will become complacent. As I sat on top of that bunker, on that still Sunday morning, I thought: I hope I never take this beauty for granted. I hope it is forever enough to calm my frantic mind.

Beyond home

Another Sunday dawns. Today it is rainy and humid. I wake up at 5.45am, my throat parched, gasping for air. The weather is warm and sticky. I pushed open our two bedroom windows, as far as they would go, and lay still, listening to the wind swirling outside.

I can’t sleep, but it’s too early to get up. I check my phone. I scroll through Instagram, Facebook. Spring has dawned in London. The sky is a bright blue, people are at the pub. Immediately, bittersweet memories flood my brain.

I close my eyes, and for a few moments I am back in London. Walking to Putney Bridge. Shopping at Waitrose. Leaning against the doors of the tube on a weekday morning, reading about nicer places, as I speed towards work. Fumbling for my swipe card to enter the office in Farringdon. Always fumbling for my swipe card.

Sitting in our back garden in Fulham, chatting about the world with our flatmates, interrupted by planes flying low overhead. Heathrow Flight Path.

Waking in the middle of the night to shouts from the flat above. The neighbours are arguing again. People run up and down the stairs, cursing. The front door bangs.

Venturing to unseen corners of the city on weekends, eyes wide open, minds exhausted. Eating the best chocolate cake we’ve ever tasted in Brixton. Always looking for a quirky, independent café to try. Often ending up in Pret-à-Manger, hungry and tired, eating a ham sandwich.

The best chocolate cake, ever, at Brixton Village Market
The best chocolate cake, ever, at Brixton Village Market

After-work drinks in the pub during winter. Old pub, low ceilings, pint glasses overflowing. Standing outside in the rain, trying to get to know my colleagues. Navigating the different cliques and unspoken rules. Yearning to be asked about my home, for someone to listen to my story, for someone to see the real me.

Shopping for winter boots in Bromley in the rain. Feeling broke and broken. Desperately looking for something practical, something I can walk long distances in. Most boots are fashionable, with chunky heels and non-existent lining. I leave the store with sturdy lace-ups, something I’d never wear otherwise, out of a primal desire to avoid cold, damp toes.

Catching the train to somewhere new, and feeling the breath return to my chest as we soar out of London, passing the rows of houses and finally seeing nothing but fields of green, or even better, a glimpse of the sea.

Revisiting old favourites. Being transported back to my 19-year-old self in the Tower of London, a mesmerising piece of history. Climbing the Monument for the second time in my life and seeing a completely different view. Walking past private gardens and posh shops in Chelsea, but this time wondering what all the fuss is about.

Tower of London, one of my favourite places
Tower of London, one of my favourite places

Eating curry in Brick Lane. Feeling conned. As usual, wishing we knew the area better, so we could seek out the trendy eateries and meet some locals.

Coming home from work during a transport strike, after three hours on a bus. Collapsing, exhausted. Tom takes my shoes off, puts me to bed, hot drink and a piece of toast. Crying my eyes out, out of sheer exhaustion.

Loneliness, even though Tom is nearly always by my side.  Wanting to get to know locals, to form a connection, to be part of a community. Wanting to be asked about New Zealand, getting the odd question about Lord of the Rings if I’m lucky. Telling people about New Zealand anyway, often met with kind eyes and blank faces.

Always talking about home, thinking about home, until one day: home.

Right back to where we started

We went home. When people asked me about London, I didn’t know how to answer. When I am passionate about something, a place or a person or an idea, I can’t stop talking about it. I speak fast and freely and excitedly. I get frustrated when people can’t see what I mean, because my heart is so full, my soul so alive.

I felt this way when I returned home from my first big trip overseas. When I was 19 I went on exchange to Lyon, France. I arrived in the city alone, with nowhere to live, and spent my first ten days in a hostel, madly visiting flats and putting my classroom French to the test.

My six months in Lyon were exhilarating. They remain one of my fondest memories. I awakened an independent streak in me I didn’t know I had. I made new friends and spoke a new language and pushed myself far beyond my comfort zone.

It was in Lyon that I decided to move to London one day, even though I might not have known it at the time. What I did know is that Lyon was just the beginning of my overseas adventures – I quietly vowed to come back to this side of the world.

19 year old me, living in Lyon
19 year old me, living in Lyon

When I met Tom, I had been back in New Zealand a year but Lyon was still fresh in my heart and soul. He quickly established that I wanted to live overseas again, that this was something I envisaged happening in my near future.

One year later, the company he was working for went into receivership, I was stuck in a job I hated, and we decided to move to England.

We all form opinions based on previous experiences. I had no doubt in my mind that this second round living abroad would be just as exhilarating as the first, perhaps even more so, going with the man I love.

But London was no Lyon, and for some reason, for reasons I am still trying to figure out, my soul did not engage.

Moving to London was a hard and difficult process. Unlike when I moved to Lyon, there was no time-cap on the experience. We could be there for a year, we could be there for ten years.

We made decisions blindly, fumbling in the dark. We went in the wrong direction more than once. I spent a lot of time isolated, unemployed, looking for a job while Tom worked long hours. It was tough.

Things got better. We moved house, lived with close friends from home. I found a job. We met other Kiwis living in the area and we managed a few holidays in our spare time.

But our ‘everyday’ was a slog, it was an uphill climb. It took most of my energy to commute to work and then spend nine hours in a job I wasn’t passionate about. I wasn’t earning enough money for weekend escapes to outweigh the dullness of my 9-5 reality.

I felt like we were failing. I still sometimes wonder if we did fail. Did we give up too soon? Were our expectations too high? Did we make too many wrong decisions? Did we not have the right attitude?

When we arrived home, I was still working through these feelings. People asked me about London, and I didn’t know how to answer without sounding ungrateful or small-minded.

Redefining travel

My experience in London forced me to redefine what travel meant to me. I had been on three other trips: a one-month exchange in Tahiti when I was 14; a two-week trip to Rarotonga with my best friends when I was 17; and a six-month exchange to Lyon at age 19.

All three of these trips were challenging but exhilarating. They nourished my soul and mind and helped to shape the person I would become.

Before London, to me travel was synonymous with adventure and discovery. It was undoubtedly a positive experience, despite any negatives.

I am still coming to terms with the fact that London felt like none of these previous trips, and did not warm my heart in the same way. I kept wondering: where did we go wrong?

But the lessons I learned in London are now propelling me through my life in New Zealand. The complete lack of direction we felt in London has helped us define our way forward back home.

Making the everyday extraordinary

When Tom and I were living in London, we had Europe on our doorstep. We had infinite options. The city was alive and buzzing. There was always an event on, a new show to see, a new park to visit. Although some people thrive in a busy environment, to us it felt heavy, suffocating.

There were moments when it was brilliant. When I adored the city and its people and its history. But these moments were the exception, not the rule.

The day-to-day grind, the long commute to work by tube, the grey weather, the constant need to be on high alert, this didn’t feed my soul.

And it was then, when we were both trapped in a routine we didn’t love, that we decided we did not want to live our lives waiting for an exception to the rule.

We wanted every day to have a little bit of light. We weren’t prepared to sacrifice daily dullness for the odd wild weekend or once-in-three-months trip abroad. What we wanted was to love our ‘Ordinary Wednesday’, to create a life we didn’t want to escape from.

If we hadn’t lived in London, I’m not sure we would have arrived at this conclusion – at least not so soon in our relationship. After being home a few months, I realised I had been devaluing the time we spent in London because it wasn’t an incredibly positive, happy time.

Walking to Putney Bridge, where I did most of my soul searching. Always a relief to see the murky Thames.
Walking to Putney Bridge, where I did most of my soul searching. Always comforting to be near water, even if it is the murky Thames.

That was my first mistake. Just because something is hard, or not the right fit, doesn’t mean it isn’t valuable. It doesn’t mean it wasn’t worth it. And most of all, it doesn’t mean you failed.

I’m sure everyone has bittersweet memories of some kind, anxieties about the past, worries that you could have tried harder. What if you had done things differently?

When I see glimpses of London on Facebook or Instagram, I sometimes feel sad that our time over there wasn’t what we expected. And sometimes I wonder, if everyone else is loving it so much, then where did we go wrong?

But then I remind myself that travel is an intensely unique experience for every individual. We all respond to situations differently. What works for one person may not work for another.

The beauty of travel is it awakens you to who you already are. It shines a light on your uniqueness. Through comparisons and new experiences, you are able to identify what is really important to you on an individual level. And that is invaluable.

On the road to our Ordinary Wednesday

Another lesson that London taught me is time is finite. Many people describe London as being a city made up of small cities. There is music London, or theatre London, or café London, or pub London, or history London… whatever you are interested in, you will find a group of people interested in the same things, and they will become your community.

What this taught me is that there is not enough time to do everything. We only have so many hours in each day. So, you have to be selective.

Find what it is that feeds your soul, and concentrate on investing your time, money and energy into that. Don’t worry if it’s different to what other people want, or more importantly, what other people think you should be doing.

We are all unique and life is too short not to listen to the desires of your heart. No matter how bittersweet my memories of London, I will always be grateful to the city that put me on the road to creating my ideal life.

Accidentally Overweight and Rushing Woman’s Syndrome by Dr Libby Weaver

Dr Libby

“Remember to see the wonder in the world. It’s everywhere, it keeps you young, and lights up your heart.” – Dr Libby

Dr Libby Weaver is a ‘Holistic Nutrition Specialist’ from New Zealand. If you have seen any of her YouTube clips or Facebook posts, you will know she is a veritable bundle of energy, ready to come at you with all the optimism she can muster. Yep, I like her.

You can probably find her books Rushing Woman’s Syndrome and Accidentally Overweight in the self-help section of your local bookstore. And let’s be honest, who likes to linger around self-help? I have to admit, I nearly didn’t start reading her work because I thought to myself “I don’t need these books! I’m not one of those accidentally overweight people or rushing women!”

What is it they say about denial?

Sure, I’m reasonably healthy and happy. But since when were these books only written for people in the depths of despair, crying over littered chocolate wrappers and last night’s takeout? Since when was being ‘averagely healthy and happy’ reason enough to shun all dietary advice and er, self-improvement?

So, one hungover Sunday morning I delved deep into self-help territory – and well, I haven’t looked back since.

I’m about to make a big statement: I think every woman should read at least one of Dr Libby’s books. I learned more about my own biology in Accidentally Overweight than I did in years of school science classes. I almost couldn’t believe that just a few weeks before reading her research I had been walking around completely unaware of how simple processes in my body worked.

Those little things called hormones? Yeah, they are quite important. And, digestion, that is a pretty essential process too. And don’t even get me started on what I learned about food. Or should I say ‘woke up to’ about food – because reading Dr Libby’s books feels like waking up to reality. You know those moments when reality dawns and the earth seems to shake a little beneath your feet, because you realise with anger and resentment the absurdity of the messages clever marketing has been feeding to you for years on end?

Every day we are told different things about food, about health, about what we are supposed to eat and drink. “Don’t forget your vitamins!” “Have you had your probiotic yoghurt this morning?” “Do you get enough grains?” “Are you allergic to gluten?” “Meat is bad, no meat is good!”

Food is a multimillion dollar industry. Next time you go to the supermarket, walk down every aisle and observe the advertising screaming at you from the shelves. No matter how much sugar, artificial flavourings or processed nasties a product contains, the manufacturers will try and make you believe that your body needs it. Cereals are perhaps the worst. Nutri-Grain? Don’t worry about all the sugar it contains, you need to eat it if you want to be strong! Special K? Eat it and you will be running along the beach in a skin-tight red swimsuit in no time!

I mean, it’s completely ridiculous right? But let’s be honest: we all want to believe it. That’s why it works. Of course we want to think that eating sugary breakfast is good for us, or pre-prepared microwave meals really are packed full of nutrients.

Dr Libby shakes it up a bit and tackles these false truths head on. In fact, she makes the message pretty simple: “Nature knows best.”

Say what now? You mean, the way food comes in nature is good for you? It doesn’t need to be refined, processed, coloured, then refined and processed some more before it contains all the nutrients you need?

Reading Dr Libby’s work is like being punched in the face with common sense – in a good way. We are fed so much crap – literally – from food giants, that women who opt for salads over sandwiches when out for lunch with their friends get berated for ‘being anorexic’, or those who eat organic are told that they are just paying for the word ‘organic’.

According to Dr Libby, “Organic is the true price of food”. It takes more energy, time and patience to cultivate. But the result is ‘real’ food, just as nature intended. Isn’t it sad that we now have to differentiate between ‘real’ food and ‘processed’ food? It now is a ridiculously difficult and expensive task to try and fill your shopping trolley with only nourishing food. And that’s just from a practical and financial perspective.

The emotional challenge lies in defending your food choices against people who judge you for being ‘boring’.  You realise the full power of food manufacturers when you are judged for choosing health and happiness, as if looking after your body and your mind is an outrageous pursuit. I can’t count the amount of times people have judged my food orders and said, voice full of condemnation, “You’re so healthy“, as if healthy is a dirty word. Sorry, should I eat food that makes me feel sick just to conform?

Anyway, I digress. Dr Libby’s two books Accidentally Overweight and Rushing Women’s Syndrome both explore and explain how the body works, how it processes food, and what foods you need to eat in order to support your body in the best way you possibly can. In addition, they both explore how hormones, such as stress and sex hormones, impact a woman’s happiness, health and weight.

Written from a biochemical perspective, Dr Libby’s work is scientifically sound and may even have you looking up words in your dictionary. Yet it also covers the relationship between emotions and food – something that I personally found enlightening and empowering. And by emotions I don’t mean crying over a bowl of ice cream – I mean emotional attachment to certain foods, such as eating chocolate after a hard day at work ‘because you deserve it’, or reaching for a bag of chips when you’re stressed. I’m not saying there is anything wrong with this (heck, I eat chocolate on daily basis) – but it helps to be aware of why you make the choices that you do.

If this review has made you feel somewhat disgruntled or depressed, then I would definitely suggest you read one of Dr Libby’s books – they are meant to make you think, to shake up your current beliefs. And if you are reading the review whooping for joy because you know all this stuff already, then the books are only going to help cement your beliefs (and trust me, they take a little cementing… I’m still yo-yoing between putting my health first and heading straight for the chocolate muffins)…

But we’ve all got the right to choose.

Jess x

How to give in to homesickness (and for this to be okay)

I just booked my flight home. 9th of February.  A few weeks ago, in the midst of homesickness, that would have seemed like a life time to wait. But now it feels just around the corner, and the homesickness has disappeared. Vanished. Gone. I can’t tell you how weird that is, because homesickness is one of the most consuming feelings I have ever felt; it exhausts you. It’s a feeling of constant displacement and nostalgia. It’s a kind of yearning that comes right from the bottom of your gut, an invisible string tugging in the direction of home; a physical presence even though homesickness is almost purely mental. It’s the first thing on your mind when you wake up and it hovers over your thoughts all day, so that you are walking around in a dream-like haze.

Yeah I know what you’re thinking. She’s nuts! She’s in France, how can someone be homesick in France? Well that’s another reason why being homesick is so exhausting: because when you are in a country like France, and on one of the biggest adventures of your life, it feels like a sin to be missing home. So not only are you walking around with a constant yearning for the comforts of the familiar, but you are also kicking yourself at the same time for being so stupid, when you have all these new and fabulous experiences to replace everything that you left behind.

It’s only now that I all of a sudden don’t feel homesick anymore, that I can actually reflect on this and put it into writing that seems remotely coherent. Because when you are in it, you can’t describe it. You can only feel it. And it’s different for everyone. Continue reading