Here is the next instalment of the Alternative Advent Calendar I have been writing on Facebook and Instagram through the month of December. I hope you enjoy it. (You will find December 1st – 7th here).
December 8th
The gift of Vulnerability

At this time of year the pressure to be HAVING A GOOD TIME ALL THE TIME is great. So often, it can feel easier to wear a mask. To act as though all is well and you are having a great time. Anything other than letting your real emotions be seen.

If you are feeling low or depressed or anxious it can seem a lot more straight forward to hide, to pretend you are not suffering, to pretend that behind closed doors you are not a weepy mess, to slap on some lippy and your best smile and manufacture a front that is acceptable.
But this is not a good idea. Hiding never helps. Pretending causes more damage and pushes those who love you away.

Can I ask you, please, dont do this? Give yourself the gift of vulnerability today.
Find a friend, someone you trust, and reveal the truth. Use words to express how you are feeling. Don’t apologise for it, or caveat it, just say it out loud. This can feel hard and raw and risky, but it is important and it is good.
The amazing truth about vulnerability is that it is not just for you – it is also for the person you are vulnerable with. When you are vulnerable with someone you are showing you trust them, you are inviting them in, you are allowing them to be vulnerable too.

Don’t wear a mask – even though it is Christmas – be honest, share how you are feeling. I know it is tough, but be brave, you can do it – Give yourself the gift of vulnerability today.

PS. I am cheering you on.


December 9th
The Gift of Letting Yourself off the Hook.

Oh how I struggle with this one. I am the queen of beating myself up and giving myself a hard time. I can at any time give you a list of reasons I feel guilty/ people I feel I am letting down. We hold ourselves to an impossible standard – perfection- and then chastise ourselves for not being able to attain the unattainable.

When I was just starting the long process of recovery and re-learning how to live after a long bout of depression and while still battling with anxiety, I repeated this phrase to myself often.
Elli, let yourself off the hook.
I knew the hook was my own creation and only I could release myself from its grip.

Today start the process of letting yourself off the hook.

For me this looks like a ready meal and an early night. It often looks like saying no to things people might have wanted me to do, places they have wanted me to be. It can look like giving up on the idea of a home made Christmas, or having the perfectly decorated house (so far Christmas has not arrived at our home!). It looks like being realistic, letting go of disappointments and the need to make everyone Instagram- worthy, and memory-makingly special and learning to relish the everyday and the ordinary- finding that life there is pretty great.

Life is a hard when you are always scolding yourself and feeling you don’t make the bar- here’s an idea- lower the bar, let yourself off the hook! This gift is so essential and life giving, it will make your life easier and happier.
Give yourself the gift of letting yourself off the hook today.


December 10th
The Gift of Mulled Wine

That is all. (And no, it’s not home made, I just put oranges in it to be fancy).

Today give yourself the gift of Mulled Wine (other Christmas themed alcoholic drinks also work).

December 11th
The Gift of Compassionate Understanding

Suffering is a big word for all the hard stuff, the things that cause us pain, the things that hurt us and those we love, the things that don’t seem to be going away anytime soon. I know a little about suffering. I know it can feel pointless, unfair and has at times made me furious, or filled me with regret.
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But within suffering there is a gift to be found. The Gift of Compassionate Understanding.
Ten years ago I would not have understood if someone had talked to me about depression and anxiety. I would not have understood when they talked about overwhelming sadness or a feeling life was out of control and they could do nothing about it.
My response would have been one of activity- ‘you can think or act your way out of it’ I would have said or this would have been the subtext to the solutions I would have been offering. There would have been no recognition, no ‘me too-ing’, no silence or space. There would have been no compassion.

Do not underestimate the importance of this gift that can only truly be born from the place of pain. It can be a catalyst for healing, it can deepen friendship, it can offer solace and comfort. It can change the world.

So it isn’t a gift to give yourself today but something to recognise. If you have suffered, if life feels tough and you wonder whether you have anything left to offer, remember this- you have been given a great gift, a gift your friends will love, a gift that has made your edges softer, your eyes kinder and beauty to radiate from within you: the gift of Compassionate Understanding.


December 12th
The Gifts of Remembering and Perspective.

Sometimes I have to trace my thought process back a few minutes to recognise the exact point when I was hit with the wave of envy or anger or regret or disappointment. I follow the thread of my thoughts until I find the moment when my stomach flipped and my mood turned.

And other times I don’t need to go searching. Like this morning. I already know.

Facebook has a lot to answer for. Or maybe the way I use it does.

Today a number of friends were jubilantly posting about an exciting new development that is happening in the city. And although I was delighted for the people involved, my over-riding feeling was bitterness and regret. I felt let down and disappointed. I felt left out. My response (to the small screen in my hand) was not gracious, to say the least (I said many things I wouldn’t want my children to hear).

When these moments occur it feels like being hit by a wave of emotion. It comes from nowhere, it sweeps me away, it destabilises me. If I am not careful I can be overwhelmed by it. If I do not have my reserves – or maybe my foundations – in place, I can feel I am drowning, and it can be many moments- hours even, before I surface into the clear light and fresh air of perspective and I remember.

And these are the gifts I have for you today: the Gifts of Perspective and Remembering.
This perspective isn’t a stick to beat yourself with (‘other people have it so much worse than me, how dare I complain!’) but it is a light to shine on the dark and swirly places in your heart, where comparison and anger fester. The light shines to remind you, to remind me today, that I have a place to belong, that I am seen and have a worthwhile contribution to make. The light shines to remind me I am loved.
The light shines to remind me of the important things- which aren’t things at all, but people.
And as I remember and illuminate the many gifts in my life: my children, my husband, my friends, the wave recedes and I am back on dry land.

Today give yourself the gift of Perspective and Remembering. Remember Facebook is a black hole and nothing there is entirely what it seems. Remember life is long and there is plenty of time. Remember you are loved and have a place to belong.

(Is it just me who needs this reminder daily?)

December 13th
The Gift of a Short Pause in proceedings.

I would love to give you (and me) the gift of patience today but unfortunately I could not find any.

We are fried.
It’s the end of term tomorrow and we have managed the year 8 buffet, the year 3 party, teachers presents, own clothes day, Christmas jumper day, the Christmas fair and the Christmas concert. It’s all been great (and the people who organise these things heroes). But now we are fried.

I’ve done enough taxi-ing to last a lifetime, or at least a month. My youngest has just got home from school and had a meltdown (he is sleep deprived due to the excitement of the last few days). The food shop is about to arrive, the washing needs sorting and my husband is working late.

I’m not complaining. We have abundant, full lives. We are so lucky.
But sometimes there is too much going on and the constant movement and relentless activity means we cease to enjoy any of it.

So as we gear up for the last 10 or so days, let’s prepare. Let’s remember to pause. To take some deep breaths. To realise the world will not stop turning if you sit down and properly enjoy that cup of coffee/ read a chapter of your book/ watch some trash on tv/ have a nap.

And so today I am suggesting you give yourself the gift of a short pause. Yes, there is lots to do, yes the days are full and at times the anticipation tips over into outbursts of emotion (of the crying variety), but you can pause for a few minutes. Sit down, everything can, and will, wait for a few moments.

Big love.
We can do this.
Xx
Ps. Can’t remember which child made this excellent nativity scene where it seems the part of Jesus is being played by a worm. X

 December 14th

The gift of Waking Up

Yesterday things looked very different to how they look today. For me, a little. For my friend and her family, a lot.
When life flips upside down in a moment, what really matters suddenly comes into stark relief. 

It changes how you feel and behave.

At the nativity this morning we held eye contact. We didn’t shy away from each other. We spoke of important things. We hugged. We cried. We spoke with compassion to each other.

At times like this I remember that only relationships are eternal. Nothing else.
No presents or tree or food or decorations or Christmas party or any of the other lovely nonsense will last for more than this year, let alone forever.

Love. Relationships. These are the only things that really matter. Today I will tell my friends I love them, I will send messages to those in other parts of the world to let them know I am thinking of them, tonight I will squeeze my children a little tighter.
I will not sleepwalk through today. When life throws the unexpected and devastating at you, or someone you love, it is hard to care about the practical details of Christmas.

Today give yourself the gift of Waking Up. Open the front door. Breathe the fresh air. Think about those you love. Tell them. Hug. Be hugged. Offer truth to each other. Remember what really matters.

December 15th
The gift of a Good Question

There is a story about an ancient teacher, Rabbi Akiva. One night on his return home from work it is foggy and he misses the turning to his village.

Instead he ends up at a large Roman military outpost. He hears a noise up on the wall of the garrison and a soldier yells down;
“Who are you? And what are you doing here?”
Akiva says;
“Excuse me?”
And the guard yells down;
“Who are you, and what are you doing here?”
Akiva pauses and asks;
“How much are they paying you?”.
The guard is confused and Akiva repeats the question;
“How much are they paying you?”
The guard pauses and then answers the question naming the sum he receives.

To which Akiva says;
“I’ll pay you twice that, to come to my house and ask me those two questions every morning”.
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Who are you? And what are you doing here?
Not a bad question to ask yourself.
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Life can be so busy we don’t find time to stop and think about the important things. It is often only at times when life is unexpectedly turned upside down that we reflect on our lives, on what the moments of our days are filled with.
Take some time this Christmas to think about these questions. Don’t live with your head buried in the sand rushing from one event to another, from one responsibility to another, from one obligation to another.
Remember our time here is finite. Make sure your time and actions reflect your priorities.
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And I am not talking about being a “history maker” or whatever other aspirational nonsense you have taken on board. I am not talking about career advancement or the accumulation of stuff. I am not talking about climbing ladders and pushing yourself relentlessly to be the most productive and achieve as much as you can. I am talking about what really matters which, in one guise or another, is people.
For me this looks likes caring for those around me, being someone who is open and keeps learning, and offering myself and my experiences with vulnerability in the hope it might bring hope or relief to others. The means to this end for me is seen in these collections of words I publish, and in the conversations I have.
The understanding of who I am totally informs what I am doing here. What about you?
If you don’t know, why not find someone you trust and begin talking about it?
Give yourself the gift of a Good Question today.

December 16th
The gift of Celebration

Yesterday, on the first day of the kids Christmas Holidays, we met up with a school friend and her two girls to make lebkuchen. Much fun was had in shaping and cooking the dough but the real celebration happened when we got to the decorating.

Lebkuchen was dipped in and drizzled with chocolate, as was much of my kitchen and (as you can see from the photo) as were our children’s faces. The youngest of the party really threw herself into this activity with aplomb. There was no standing on ceremony or wondering how she looked or whether she was getting it right, at four years old she didn’t worry about such things, she just got stuck in.

It is difficult to celebrate when you are worried about appearances, or what other people think. It is difficult to relax and really enter in when you are guarded or cynical.

This Christmas give yourself the gift of Celebration. Take after my young teacher, go the whole hog, let yourself go, be exuberant, be like a child.

Big love X