Letter to my younger self – Dear Helen…

Welcome to the first guest in this series of, ‘Letters to My Younger Self’.
I’m so delighted to have Helen Bullock here 🙂 She’s a great Twitter buddy.
Helen is a primary school teacher. She is the editor of ‘How I Learn’, a crowd sourced study of learning styles – you can find out all about her on her blog; just click here.
You can follow her on Twitter @AnseoAMuinteoir


Over to her…


Dear Helen
This is Helen now - even though she looks 18! :)
This is Helen now – even though she looks 18! 🙂

Happy 18th Birthday!! Hard to believe while you relish being 18 I’m here looking at 28 and thinking how much has changed.  You’ve grown a lot from that 17/18 year old you know now. You’re so confused right now about what to do in college, facing into your leaving cert and boys. Let’s face it boys are always going to be confusing at 18 but don’t worry, at 28 you’ve got it figured out 🙂

Anyway, I’m here to remind you of a few things and encourage you with a few others.
Firstly, study more. I can tell you now you did just brilliantly in your Leaving Cert but it was down to good planning and study. Yes the supervised study is a bore but you actually study there which is more than you do at home….Just get over it. Study. And don’t forget French, you will regret it if you don’t put the effort in. Speaking of French, be ready for your mock aural exam…you’ll have an embarrassing nose bleed and no tissues, maybe you should keep some in your school bag at all times! The teacher won’t appreciate the mess you’ll make!!
There’s a time ahead when your college plans change, you’re planning on going to Mary I in Limerick to become a teacher but that doesn’t happen. Our parents can’t afford the rent and other expenses that come with you moving out but don’t worry. You do get there, you take the long road and are now a fully qualified teacher, it is not an easy road but without it you will miss out on meeting that guy you want and need to meet so don’t worry. Detours don’t hurt.
“Detours don’t hurt.”
When you do finally make it to college you need to remember to study. But if I’m honest, college is about finding who you are and what you want to be when you grow up. Yes you’ve always wanted to a teacher but it’s this time in college that allows you to explore other areas and jobs. Make friends in college, one especially will be your closest friend and you’ll need her in the future. Have fun, there comes a time when you won’t be having much fun and you have some your worst fears to face. Enjoy your first two years in college, the final year is the hard one and your memories will get you through it. Eventually.
Your taste in boys takes a while to mature, let’s be honest some of the boys you’ve dated have been eh, less than stellar; but one ahead is worth his weight in gold. There’s one however who comes pretty close to ruining your life, don’t let him. Yes everything will seem like a disaster but that friend from college will help you through it. The bruises will fade, the aches lessen, the nightmares become less frequent and the friends who matter will stand by you. The rest don’t matter at all. They’re not real true friends if they can’t or won’t stand by you now, yes you made mistakes but who doesn’t? The biggest mistake was choosing to wrong guy to be with but trust me everyone does at some stage. The main thing to remember is every experience teaches you something and this one will give you a lot of lessons and not all of them will be easy. Don’t give up, yes he hurts you, a lot. But you become stronger because of him, braver. Yes your confidence will be damaged but that guy I’ve mentioned will help.
You will eventually meet him,  he’s amazing. Ok so you won’t meet in the most conventional way, or even the way you both tell your parents. But by 2008 meeting online isn’t something to be ashamed of, over the next few years it becomes almost normal and a lot of your friends meet that way. They even find it settling that they’re not alone! By the time you write this you’ll planning your wedding so any ideas or demands now is a good time to think of them!
medium_9692711856Try not to worry so much about what people think of you, yes it’s going to be hard, you can’t help it and you are so self conscience of your clothes, that hasn’t changed much if I’m honest. There are times you still think you’re not good enough but you are. Some people just don’t matter. Ignore them. You are smart, clever and intelligent. Not everyone sees you for you and trust me they are the people you don’t need to be friends with. Make people laugh, you have a quick sense of humour, use it. Sometimes laughter is the best cure to defuse a situation and timing is everything.
“There are times you still think you’re not good enough, but you are.”
Save money. There’s a time when yes your savings go AWOL  but the habit of saving is a great one and at 28 trust me you’ll be glad you did.
As I write this and I think about my life at 18 and all the things ahead of you I can’t help but smile. Things weren’t easy at times but I’ve had fun and I know you will too. Don’t be scared by the rough times ahead, everyone has challenges but they shape who you are and who you will be.
Celebrate being 18 with your friends, enjoy the night, the moment because let me tell you the people who are there celebrating with you won’t feature much in your future. There’s just one who sticks around and she’s invaluable, keep her close. I’ll be celebrating 28 with friends, I don’t know if they’ll be around when I celebrate 38 but I know that the friends you have now (and the ones I have now) are some of the most important people in our lives, cherish them.
Be good to yourself.
Be safe.
Have fun.
From your older, wiser and often less sensible self
* * * * *

photo credits:
1. Helen Bullock – provided by herself
2. dreams & pancakes via photopin cc

Guest Post by Ruth Gyves: the Twists & Turns of Life

A warm welcome to my guest on the blog today – Ruth Gyves 🙂 She was with me on the Wednesday Night show on Spirit Radio this week. I’ll let her tell her story…

Last Wednesday night, I made my debut on Spirit Radio. I was the guest on the lovely Annmarie Miles’ show. We spent time chatting about finding God in the twists and turns of life, in the context of some of my own life experiences. Here is a summary of our discussion.

Ruth Gyves
Ruth Gyves

I am an ordinary person living an ordinary life – my story doesn’t consist of thunderbolts and lightning! I am from Dublin, the youngest of a family of 5 and was brought up in a church going family; I had a great childhood. At the age of 11, at a camp in Greystones I responded to the verse in Revelation 3:20 that says ‘Behold I stand at the door and knock; if anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in’. I had just discovered it was not automatic that I would get to heaven, and the guarantee I sought was to ask Jesus into my heart. Simple? At that age it seemed so, but of course life is not that simple. The journey begun on that camp so long ago, has consisted of many twists and turns but has always brought me back to knowing that no matter what I go through, God is real; His love for me is real, his forgiveness is absolute and he gives peace, hope and security that nothing else can give.

As I reached the end of my teens, I had a ‘burning bush’ experience at another camp when I could almost hear God speaking from a bonfire. I couldn’t actually hear him speak, but the sense of his presence was so strong, I knew there was more to this Christian life than just the security of heaven.

I married in 1984, have 3 grown up children and a beautiful granddaughter, Amelia who is 5 years old. Over the years, life has thrown many surprises at me such as the breakup of my marriage, bringing up 3 children through difficult teenage years, and walking with my 18 year old daughter (and my sons) through the loss of her little baby, Ruby.

Some months before my daughter became pregnant, I didn’t know why but my heart was stirred to ask 3 people from my church to pray for my children. I can’t help but wonder how we would have got through that difficult year, if I hadn’t had that prayer cover. I don’t know why it all happened, and I might never know, but I do know that God was very real to me in the pain and sadness we experienced.

medium_534074080So many negative things happened at once; the illness and subsequent death of my dad, a wayward teenage daughter and a long drawn out divorce process. My closeness to God was not as strong as it is now but I was conscious of God walking with me and hanging on to me when my grip was slipping. Often it was hard to put on my positive face and keep going – times when getting through a whole day was difficult, so I broke my day down into slots – breakfast to lunch, lunch to dinner, dinner to bedtime! As time went on, I was able to look at whole days together and things became less difficult.

How did I find my way back? How did I find God again in the twists and turns?

Four key practical things that got me through, and continue to strengthen me on my journey are these:

I pray about everything, all the time! I used to give God a list of issues and how I thought he should ‘solve’ them. God often has different ideas and I have learned that praying for God’s solution is better. I was unemployed during 2009 and through that year I saw God’s provision for me in a very real way. One month when money was very short, an anonymous bank draft for exactly the amount I needed came in the post. I believe that God’s way of answering my cry was to prompt someone who knew my plight to respond through generosity.

The Bible
The book of Psalms is a great place to start. I have found endless strength and encouragement in reading the writings of David and others, in all sorts of situations. Psalms like 46 ‘God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble’ or 62 ‘My soul finds rest in God alone; my salvation comes from him. He alone is my rock and my salvation, he is my fortress, I will never be shaken.’ It’s through reading the bible that I have learned so much about the God in whom I trust and rely on. If I want to know about someone famous, I’ll read about them – if I want to know about God, then reading Scripture is exactly where I’ll find him.

Writing has been a great way to make sense of it all. I write anything – prayers, thoughts, rants, poetry. It has been a huge encouragement to me to look back over the many many notebooks I have written in and see how God has led me and ‘worked it all out’. Just like the children of Israel – it was when they looked back, they could see all God had done for them. I write about hopes and dreams, reviews at the end of the year – anything and everything. One day I’ll write a book…

This may be the most important. I am blessed with people in my life who have supported and challenged me. I have also found it essential to be part of a church family where I can learn and grow with other people who love God and are willing to walk with me on my journey. We were not made to be alone – finding someone to walk with me, cry with me, laugh with me, bless me and encourage me has been vital in finding my way through the storm.

There is so much more that I could have shared on the show if time had allowed – and so much more I could share here. Perhaps this might not be the last you’ll hear of me!!
Ruth 🙂

photo credits:
Ruth supplied her own photo
Mary Anne Thygesen via photopin cc

Guest Post: Paradise on a Penitential Island (Part 2)

I hope you enjoyed the start of Mary’s story (if you haven’t read part 1 just click here.)
So without further ado…

Paradise on a Penitential island Part 2

I will interrupt myself again with some notes I wrote at approximately half way through this glorious weekend:

“12.35p.m. Day 2
They are queuing for the tea and toast already – they run the danger of me eating them.
…Another boat full has arrived – all energetic and light of foot – they’ve only been fasting for 12 hours after all!
Way more young people here than I’d expected.
It’s clouded over now was sunny – sooo beautiful.
There’s worse ways of doing penance I’d say! Like doing here in the rain!
Smelt the cooking rashers earlier – had to move!
Foodhall opens at 1.15. queue is growing. Good job I didn’t accidentally bring supplies – they’d be gone by now.
Real spiritual stuff this. Can’t even think of a prayer, can only think of my body – sore and tired.
Maybe eating and exercising might engage my spiritual side more… My head feels so numb.
Queue gone! Where? Been eaten?
Should have at least put on toenail varnish – I am so unprepared!
So God… besides eating, what do I do with myself? …when I get home.
Can’t even miss the girls anymore.”

Now, back to the real world:
Let us briefly reflect on what the people were queuing for
– black tea or coffee, dry toast, oatcakes.
But also sugar.
White granulated sugar, in a glass dispenser that pours continuously into your black coffee until you stop it.
But why stop?
The thin flat oatcakes look like cardboard.
Dunked in your sugary coffee they look like wet cardboard.

But, eat nothing for 20 hours, put a warm damp oatcake between your parched lips and wait to be amazed.

The average Hobnob contains 1.1g of protein, 3.1g of fat, 0.8g fibre, and 9.4 g of carbohydrates, of which 3.9g are sugar.

Information again pilfered from the web – God bless my creativity and the world wide web!

The nutritional composition of Lough Derg oatcakes is not available online, but that is of no real account because my second discovery on the penitential island was that if your BLACK coffee contains almost as much SUGAR as it does water, then a strange thing happens when you consume your dunked oat cake.

On this penitential island, St. Patrick’s purgatory, you’ve discovered paradise.

And paradise is a hot oatcake that for all the world tastes like a Hobnob, and you don’t even miss the milk from your coffee because this just tastes so great!

No I don’t just mean great, I mean one of the best tasting things you’ve ever eaten in your whole life.
The only thing that comes close is the tea and toast you get after you’ve delivered a baby, but even that doesn’t taste this good.
The best food in the world is the Lough Derg oatcake – dunked.
Rachel Allen, Jamie Oliver – eat your heart out!

But there is only one meal a day, so it doesn’t matter how good it tastes, you are only going to get it twice.

Notes from sometime later on that second day:
“Short choppy stepping, protect, or are demanded by tender toes grazed on rocks and pews.
People’s feet more recognisable than their faces.
Father – daughter identified by their long slender piggies. Then the white sparkly toe-nails, the flat, fat footed woman, the corroding fake tan feet, bunions – a whole medley of bunions! Strapped ankles, wide feet, narrow feet, archless feet, trousers tied around their legs.
Overnight vigil now surreal, a body of people, rising and swarming, bound by the devotion but singular in its execution, but still part of the swarm.
Waiting for the sky to brighten – victory over night for the sun and the penitent.
God – where are you in this? In a late rosary for the unborn?
Warm breeze – is that you God?
Silvery lake turns pewter in the rising breeze.

Father, Son, Holy Spirit – help me to trust that you are showing me the path of life… taking me into the fullness of joy of your presence and at your right hand – happiness for ever.”

Maybe, just maybe I’m not all flesh.

Guest Post: Paradise on a Penitential Island (Part 1)

Let me introduce you to Mary Barber. Mary is a member of the local writing group here in Kilcullen. Everything she reads to us makes me think and makes me laugh. On Culture Night she shared this story of her experience of pilgrimage on a cold wet island in the middle of a lake in Donegal, Ireland.
On the promise of a coffee and maybe a slice of cake to go with it, she has allowed me to post in here. 
It’s quite a long piece so I’ll give you half today and I know you’ll be wanting to come back to here the rest of it… Enjoy 🙂

Paradise on a Penitential Island (Part 1)

Photo taken from Wikipedia
Photo taken from Wikipedia

I know that it is ungenerous of me but when someone describes themselves as ‘spiritual’ rather than ‘religious’, a little unkind part of my brain thinks that this is the equivalent of saying that you have a slow metabolic rate rather than admitting that you just couldn’t be bothered exercising.
You see I told you it was ungenerous and unkind, but unfortunately a big chunk of me has ungenerous and unkind tendencies.

I have no real idea what I am, but I think that at this stage of my life, viewed from the outside, I could be considered religious.
Obviously I do hope that there is a spiritual element to my religious efforts, but a part of my brain – the self congratulatory part, thinks that doing religion is to God what laundry or putting the bin out is to your spouse – obviously not essential elements of the relationship but when done with good cheer they certainly help the wheels of the relationship to turn.

This summer, as part of my religious efforts, I ‘did’ Lough Derg. I suppose the hope was that I would have a spiritual experience – whatever that is.

For now I would just like to invite everyone – spiritual, religious or both – to ‘do’ Lough Derg.

Not the balmy one described by Wikipedia as “Lough Derg Shannon”, but the one described as “Lough Derg Ulster, best known for St Patrick’s Purgatory, a site of pilgrimage on Station Island in the lake.”

The reason I extend the invitation is because it was there on that island of purgatory, and penance and stations, that I discovered that I am neither religious nor spiritual.

I am pure flesh

– a great lumbering body of raw animalistic appetites.
Deny me my food, deny me my sleep, and by the second day I might just eat someone alive.

To give some background information and to save me the effort of coming up with original material I will now quote from the Lough Derg website:

“The traditional Three Day Pilgrimage follows a 1000 year old pattern. As soon as you arrive on the Island you take off your shoes and socks. You start the traditional series of Station prayers, walking around the penitential beds.
(At this stage I must digress and inform you that what they call a ‘bed’ is not to be confused with the pocket sprung, memory foam, type of thing we normally call bed.
What they call a bed is actually an uneven circle of rock about the same size as a dinner table for ten. So imagine you and six or seven other people stepping from plate to plate on top of this table for ten. This gives you some idea of the physical dexterity required to walk around the penitential bed.
All eyes are down, focused on rock and other people’s feet. Early on you realise that feet come in all shapes and sizes.
Your eyes are down and your entire mental effort is given over to not falling between the cracks. It all feels insanely pointless but maybe that’s exactly the point.
Back to the brochure…)

At 10pm you begin a 24-hour vigil which ends when you go to bed on the second night.
You will experience a great sense of community as you celebrate Eucharist, the Sacrament of Reconciliation and take part in time-honoured rituals and prayers.
You leave the Island on the morning of the third day, although your fast continues until midnight.
Hundreds of thousands of pilgrims have managed to complete this pilgrimage, thought to be the toughest in all of Europe, perhaps even in the whole Christian world.

(Another aside – when they say ‘fast’ they are not talking Usain Bolt or ‘one full meals and two collations’. What they are talking about is described in the website as follows: )

Pilgrims are allowed ONE Lough Derg meal on each day of their pilgrimage, consisting of Toast (without butter), Oatcakes and Tea/Coffee (without milk). On the third day of the pilgrimage, once pilgrims have departed from the Island they are permitted to take Soft Drinks. Still water is allowed at all times throughout the pilgrimage and drinking fountains are available, while bottled water is available to purchase in the souvenir shop.
Please note pilgrims must be at least 15 years of age, and in good health.”

Age restrictions and the term “in good health” is always a bit concerning!

With the benefit of hindsight I can admit that there was enough information in those few paragraphs to have given me full warning, but I thought I was made of stern stuff.

Dry toast, black tea – no problem. My waist hip ratio bears witness to the fact that I am well prepared for a nuclear winter.

“Vigil ends when you go to bed on the second night.”

This bit really did have me worried…

Part 2 coming soon… 🙂 A x