18 December 2020

Older and taller, younger and smaller

I was in my parents' living room seeing in the new year the same way I had been for the last five years. We dress up and put glitter on our eyes, drink cocktails and leave lipstick marks on the glasses. We listen to our favourite songs. It's sad that I wince as I write this – who told me to be ashamed of how I feel? This wasn't what I had envisioned for my life. I thought I'd be married by now, at least with someone, or perhaps come close to it. Watching my friends, one by one, meet the love of their lives, get married, have babies, while I stayed the same, still here, again. And it felt like the years were slipping by, faster than the year before and the year before that and time was running out; everyone around me was changing and growing while I was just stuck. It's always fun while the champagne flows, but when the morning glows I am empty. 

We watched the fireworks on the telly and as the countdown started I tried focusing on the anticipated feeling of a new year coming, but 2020 arrived and it was just like watching the numbers on my alarm clock go down as I press snooze again, and again, waiting for the inevitable. So many moments pass by without a thought, invisible, but the ones I do remember are like framed artwork in my head, and a snapshot of that night has stayed with me for the whole of this year. We shared Happy New Years and a family friend squeezed me as we clinked champagne glasses. 'This is going to be your year,' she said. 

I'm sitting on my bed and it's December again. In the year the world learned to slow down my mind seemed to speed up, and to-do lists and life goals and hopes and fears grew and grew but had nowhere to go. I don't want to miss a thing but I sleep soundly every night, and every morning the air is crisper and I am so stuck inside my own head, I've forgotten how to be still.

It's a slower pace of life here, so why can't I be still? Be still and know that I am God. How do you still your heart and mind and be with God when the demand to do is so relentless? As a Christian in 2020, being open-minded, liberal and (dare I say it) feminist doesn't always match up with what the church says. I feel alone most days, torn between pursuing a life that promises excitement and possibility, one in a city, perhaps, where I know I'll have fun and meet people like me, and one that I truly long for – the quiet of Wales, the support of my family, the church to which I belong. Nature and peace and space to run and write. This is my home, but it feels lonely.

This year hasn't been what we expected – and for much of it I have wondered when it would begin to feel like it was mine. I am thankful, though, for I would never have had this time to learn more about God, or learn about how much I need him, even when I wonder if He is there at all. I have to hold onto the part of me that knows that he is, though – what would life be, otherwise? And the promise of this year given to me as the clock struck midnight – I still believe it is my year, despite the derailing of my own plans.

I left my job in March just before the pandemic hit and we went into national lockdown. Looking back I feel like this was probably a mistake – I had no income and very little sense of belonging or purpose, and in many ways I feel I have gone backwards this year, but it's okay to have regrets. I had a plan that got torn to pieces yet somehow I stayed afloat – I started a baking business, and this creative outlet that I've known as my hobby since I was seven turned into something that gave me a reason to get out of bed in the morning. From the outside, an exciting venture, yet for me, fear (mostly of fear itself), the social anxiety caused by months of staying at home, so much time to spend with my thoughts caused panic at having to reply to messages and being the one in charge. It's all rubbish that stops me from seeing what I have achieved and the gift I have is, ultimately, undermined. That is not what God wanted. So this is a note to anyone reading – affirm your friends and loved ones. Tell them how you see them, remind them of how God sees them. The texts I receive from friends that simply say 'I'm praying for you' or 'I miss you' are the ones that help me to feel less alone in what has been the loneliest year of my life. 

The perspectives of others are hugely underrated in today's culture, one that tells us we should be wholly independent and thrive in doing the most, to be happy by ourselves. We shouldn't need anything or anyone to help us. But we weren't built to be alone and it's time to stop shaming ourselves for wanting companionship, love, affection, security – or whatever it is your heart desires. 

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20 May 2020

This too shall pass


It's mental health awareness week and I don't know about you, but since the rona I have been more aware of my own mental health than ever before. It's not an easy or fun thing to talk about but it is so important that we do. Sometimes it's good to deal with stuff on our own, and often we are able to, but when we can't, talking to someone just helps take the weight off your shoulders. For me, that is often the best way for me to heal and move forward.

Part of me absolutely hates this lockdown; I long to see my friends, family and just to do something that resembles normality, like going for a coffee or browse in the shops. The change of scenery and renewed perspective is often what helps me get through bad days. And, like a child, I crave structure. I want to be told what to do and when to do it, but right now it's one big waiting game and quite frankly, I'm getting sick of the sight of these same four walls. Although I never had any control over the future anyway, it feels more uncertain than ever. I feel helpless and stuck, and since I'm in between jobs right now, (careers, even), I just want it all to go away and shun any form of responsibility.

The other part of me is grateful to have this time. I have a roof over my head, food to eat and a loving family around me. It should be enough, but every day I am plagued by my thoughts. I can usually tell them to be quiet and get on with the day, but since there isn't much to do right now they seem to be louder than ever. But this might be the time I need to reflect and try and allow myself to find better ways of living and processing things. In the past, I have been so used to just shutting unhelpful thoughts down whenever they crop up, thinking it was unhealthy to dwell on them. But stewing in your thoughts is different from allowing yourself to experience a feeling and figure out better ways to cope.

So, how have I been coping? One foot in front of the other, it feels like, most days. Just get through it, is what the pragmatic part of my brain tells me. Also, talking to my family and being honest about how I feel, and a new thing I've been doing: forcing myself to get out of bed every morning regardless of how I feel.

Like so many others, mornings are the hardest time of day for me. When anxiety hits hard, I wake up with a racing heart, tense all over, and an overall feeling of dread. But – and I'll be forever grateful for this – my doctor gave me some valuable advice once. He said that instead of waiting for my feelings to tell me what to do, I should just do it anyway. In this case, getting out of bed even when I feel like I am completely paralysed. It is really flipping hard, but it's a bit like pressing snooze on your alarm. The sooner you press stop and just get up, the sooner you can move on. That part of the day is over and, sometimes, so is the feeling that comes with it.

I listen to a devotional (Lectio 365 has been amazing). I put some clothes on and go for a short walk. Right now I am more thankful than ever to live in such a beautiful, peaceful part of the world. There are trees and fields and mountains and I can hear the river and the birds singing. I ask God to help me get through the day, to help me to do my best and to serve him in whichever way I can. I speak scripture over myself, reminding myself of God's truth and promises. It amazes me how some time off from our busy world can cause us to be overwhelmed by thoughts and feelings that simply do not align with God's plan and design for us. I don't always feel better. I don't always hear God's voice or feel his presence, but I know he is there and that he will help me to persevere even when it is really, really hard.

And I know I am not alone in this. As isolating and terrifying anxiety and depression are, I know they do not just affect me. It says in 1 Peter 5:6-10:

"Humble yourselves, therefore, under God's mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you. Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that the family of believers throughout the world is undergoing the same kind of sufferings. And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast."

I have to be totally honest and say that I often wonder if the scripture I read is really meant for me. Maybe I'm different? My anxiety is different, my circumstances don't fit into what the word is saying. Then I am reminded of the very first part of this passage: humble yourselves. Who am I to think I know better? Whether you believe in God or not, I think we can all do well to humble ourselves. We can't know it all; sometimes we don't know what's best for us – I find the mixed messages my poor mental health gives me utterly infuriating. But that's when I need to give it back to God and wait for him to show me the way. There is so much mystery in the world and while everyone's suffering is valid, it is important to remember there is a season for everything and this too shall pass.


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7 May 2020

The Best Chocolate Cake for Grandpa's 90th

My most wonderful Grandpa turned 90 in March. If you are fortunate enough to have met him you will know just how special my Grandpa is. Despite nearing a century on this earth, he remains as sharp as ever, feeding his mind with endless puzzle books and episodes of Pointless. He never fails to make me laugh and keep my feet plantedfirmly on the ground. There's nothing like the perspective of a grandparent to shift your focus and make you realise just how good you've got it, especially from one who has endured many battles of his own. I was so glad we got to celebrate his birthday just before lockdown, and I had the privilege of making his cake! He had to have the very best, so I combined a couple of my favourite recipes and came up with the best chocolate cake for the best Grandpa.


Since I live in south Wales and Grandpa is in Glasgow, a fair amount of planning went into this cake to make sure it was fresh, delicious and still in one piece on the big day. I decided to bake the sponges a few days before traveling, freeze them and on the morning of our journey, I packed them securely into boxes with ice packs. When we arrived in Scotland the cakes had defrosted but were still cold, so I popped them in the fridge and, the next day, I assembled, iced and decorated it ready for the party 🥳


This cake is so delicious and I can't take much of the credit – Smitten Kitchen (one of my favourite food bloggers) shares her 'I want chocolate cake' cake here, which I simply quadrupled for this four-layered, 8-inch cake (with some to spare for a cake for me to snack on). The buttermilk and dark muscovado sugar are what make this cake SO yum – you'll never use another recipe again.

For the crumb coat, filling and neat coat I used the ultimate chocolate buttercream recipe from Love is in my Tummy, again multiplying the quantities by four (it's better to make too much). This buttercream is a total dupe of the infamous Magnolia Bakery's chocolate buttercream – so light, chocolatey, buttery and downright delicious, not to mention an absolute dream to work with. My drips were made with a simple cream and chocolate ganache and I finished it off with a touch of buttercream piping and loads of edible glitter and gold dust. I cannot live without my turntable, palette knife and side scraper and wouldn't dream of decorating a cake like this without those three tools, so if you're thinking having a go (and you totally should) get yourself some off Amazon (they're dead cheap) and see how you get on!

Safe to say we ate the lot and Grandpa had an epic 90th birthday. Since lockdown I have been phoning him a lot more, but I can't wait to be able to see him in person again, hopefully very soon.



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