Let’s Talk About Love

 

 

Below is an adapted version of what I spoke on at the inaugural ‘A Conversation About Womanhood’ event, envisioned and founded by my best friend and visionary Seun Awolowo. To respect privacy (some stories are not just mine to be told), some details have been edited and condensed. After I finished speaking, one of the beautiful women in attendance suggested I write-up the speech on my blog, so here it is, a typed-up version of my notes:

“I want to start with a disclaimer: obviously I am a student of life just like everyone else hearing these words, I am no professed ‘expert’ on love or relationships (lol), so these words are very much delivered in a ‘if my journey could teach you anything’ spirit. This word Seun entrusted me with and asked me to speak on, love, is huge, and therefore in the next few minutes it’s impossible to say everything I would want to on the topic, so instead I’m distilling what has been put on my heart to share as pertinent in this specific environment.

 

What I realised when contemplating this word was that really, at our cores, we are motivated by two things as human beings—love or fear. There are nuances to each of these motivators, but if we strip back the layers, revealed will be one of the two in every decision we make and every choice that we have. To frame everything I’m about to say, I wanted to share words from scripture that Seun actually shared with some of us girls before we attended Colour Conference last year, they seem apt as a preface:

 

To Start All Over Again

 

“And now, here’s what I’m going to do:

I’m going to start all over again.

I’m taking her back out into the wilderness

where we had our first date, and I’ll court her.

I’ll give her bouquets of roses.

I’ll turn Heartbreak Valley into Acres of Hope.

She’ll respond like she did as a young girl,

those days when she was fresh out of Egypt. ~

Hosea 2:14-15 (emphasis added)

 

What I love about these verses is that they show that God always intends love to be romantic, romance is not solely reserved for the realm of ‘significant-other’ relationships, you can have romance in your friendships, your familial relationships, in your relationship with God. He intended romance for us: the giving of reverent attention, extra care, taking us somewhere out of the ordinary to revive our relationship, so that we can start all over again.

 

First dates, I love that reference, I’m going to draw more on that later on; to return to the place where we first met, and the feeling of newness, anticipation and a blank slate that accompanies that. I also want to briefly touch upon the fact that God gets what it is like to be in ‘Heartbreak Valley’ and he will meet us there, in fact, as Psalm 34:18 promises, he will be closer to us than ever before, as he is close to the broken-hearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit. I can testify to this first hand. Anyway, all this to say, let’s reframe what we think of as romantic love and not separate it from any relationship we have.

Tell us your story: what does this word mean to you?

 

I remember learning that before the age of 7, science has proven that we, as children, have developed a blueprint for how we will think about the world and relationships which we will view through for the rest of our lives. I dug deeper into this and discovered UNICEF’s study which shows that our brain at the age of 3 years old is actually twice as active as it will ever be when we are adults, that blew my mind. The architecture of our thinking and the blueprint for how we understand relationships and love is formed at such an early stage of our lives, our earthly pattern can be perverted, and though I firmly believe in the promise of Romans 12:2that we can be transformed by the daily renewing of our mindsthat takes active and conscious work, otherwise we can remain in the patterns of our formative years for the rest of our lives, and sometimes those patterns are extremely negative.

I want you to think quietly for a moment, close your eyes if you need to, and think back to your first experiences of love. When did you first feel loved, when did you initially comprehend what love was? What it felt like to give it? What it felt like to receive? When I did this, I quickly realised that love was not verbalised in my household growing up, it’s a pretty common cultural thread in Chinese upbringings—you don’t tell your children “I love you”—you show them. Love was enacted for me, it was felt and shown through food, pride, acts of service. It was also not particularly physical in my household, we weren’t super tactile with our parents. My early truths about love were therefore: love is enactment, love is sacrifice, love is so much more than a feeling, love is unconditional and beyond mere emotion. I am grateful to have had this as my initial blueprint for love.

It’s interesting to me as well, that though I love words, the gravity of love felt, love enacted, was beyond them. In fact, speaking of language, one thing I’ve realised in the years since my mother’s passing, which, perhaps by virtue of being mixed race, seems to come up in even the most innocuous conversations on almost a daily basis: “where are you from?”, “where do your parents live?” etc. I always find it slightly awkward to answer these questions (for the listener, not for myself, as people often find it difficult to talk about death, particularly in a small-talk context) as it is revealing of bigger truths through the use of different tenses for both parents, present for one and past for the other. Sometimes the listener picks up on this, sometimes they don’t, but even my mouth forming those ‘was’ versus ‘is’ still feels subtly telling of a much deeper truth than the average stranger is prepared for. The one verb I have realised I never have to say in the past tense in reference to my mother though, is love. I love her, she loves me, love is the only thing that outlasts us, it is the only verb that we can always say in the present.

 

Of course, I couldn’t speak on this topic without talking about romantic love. It is the area of love which vastly impacts our everyday lives and changes who we are as people.  One of my most hated phrases in regards to romantic love is “we fell out of love”. No, no, NO— that’s fake news right there— there is no such thing as falling out of love, it is an active choice. Lust and infatuation can be fleeting and they can be hella powerful, but real love is not something we merely fall into and therefore we cannot haphazardly ‘fall out’ of it. It is a choice, there is a moment, conscious or subconscious when we decide to love a person, the physical, emotional and spiritual aspects of gaining intimacy and deep knowledge of a person can follow that and your momentary feelings of affection towards someone can waver, but when you choose to love someone for who they are, their inherent being, it goes beyond that to enacting love on the daily, weekly, monthly, year in and year out.

 

I currently have one close friend who is married, and having spoken to her before I spoke on this subject, her insights crystallised everything for me. She verbalised why romantic love is so important and so incredibly powerful and significant in our lives. It’s probably the only type of relationship in your life where the conjoining of all three aspects of our being are fully engaged: the physical, the emotional and the spiritual. Most other relationships in our life will have two of the three, some of them maybe only one, but it’s only really in an S.O context that all three are fully realised, or on their way to being so. But what I want to make clear is that my realisation over time has been that love is not different in different contexts, it is expressed in different ways but the core values of what love is and its essence are very much the same.

 

What has your journey of discovering your feminine power in relation to this word been like?

Funnily enough I’ve always had a lot more male energy in my home life than female, I grew up with three brothers and a father, so my mum and I were the only feminine forces in our home. I have definitely found in the years since her passing that I became more of an emotional conduit for the men in my life, it is something that is partially conditioned by society’s perception of masculinity (which is definitely shifting for the better but still very much in-progress) but I think as much as this can be a burden and I have learnt in recent years to draw my emotional, mental and psychological boundaries when it comes to pouring out of myself (to the point of being empty)—we can encourage the ultimate strength of vulnerability in the men in our lives in a positive and productive way, we can encourage them to talk to each other about real and deep and necessary things rather than just to women. Emotional labour is not just ours to carry, but maybe in this moment of cultural change, ours is still the model they are following for now.

 

What do you know now about this word and yourself that you didn’t know in your teens?

 

A few words to my younger self on love: love isn’t tortuous baby girl, it isn’t melodramatic (it may be beautifully dramatic at times, but there’s a clear difference), love isn’t toxic. If what you’re experiencing is any of the above, it most definitely isn’t love, PSA for both parties: get out while you can! Also, though love is self-sacrificial, it is NOT self-obliteration. I really hope you see the difference and know where to draw the line. Love is synonymous with respect, and a good relationship is the ultimate collaboration. Not only are the best relationships built on mutual respect, but they are corner-stoned by self-respect. Don’t leave your self-respect at the door, again, there’s a key difference between self-respect and pride. One is still loving, the other is putting your ego above your own needs and what you actually want to ascertain in a situation. Sometimes you need to step back and self-evaluate, or do so with someone who knows you better than you know yourself. I came to realise that in relationships we too often place so much value on love and not an equal or greater amount on respect. It takes love and respect in equal measures to have a successful, healthy relationship. Toxicity breeds when respect leaves the room and one is clinging to your notion of love sole. A significant relationship in my early twenties helped me to realise the beauty and the key of having respect and friendship as an integral foundation for love. Even if circumstances lead to the breakdown of a romantic relationship, mutual respect always remains and will allow you to hold love for that person despite a change in your relationship status.

 

What scriptures have encouraged you or brought light to your sense of self in relation to this word?

 

I can’t speak about love without interpolating what the Bible has to say on it, what is commonly referred to, even in secular society, as “the golden rule” is a direct quote of what Jesus said and a clear definition of love as enactment:

““Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind” (Deuteronomy 6:5). This is the first and greatest commandment. The second is like it, “you shall love your neighbour as yourself [that is, unselfishly seek the best or higher good for others].’ The whole Law and the [writings of the] Prophets depend on these two commandments.”” Matthew 22:37-40 Amplified translation

These verses honestly floor me. They answer every question about legalism, judgment and condemnation that is often associated with religion, when Jesus says that the law and the writings of the prophets (essentially everything within the Old Testament, which he directly quotes from Deuteronomy, also a part of the Torah) hangs upon the commandment he gives, and ties the New Testament with the Old by associating the first commandment issued to the Israelites with the final one he issues during his time on earth. The explanation of love given here is so counterintuitive, the unselfish seeking of the best or higher good for others above ourselves, but not forgetting that we are supposed to love ourselves in this way as well, as this is how God loves us. I love that though self-love can seem very new age, as can vision boards and manifestation, these concepts are all within the ancient scriptures and texts, nothing is new under the sun. e.g. ‘A Course In Miracles’ is actually based on biblical scriptures.

Following on from the above, this verse sums up what I believe to be the definition and embodiment true love: ‘Love makes it impossible to harm another, so love fulfills all that the law requires.’ Romans 13:10-12 The Passion Translation. Obviously, oft-quoted 1 Corinthians 13 defines love in terms of actions and is such a beautiful and definitive map of how to love and what love looks like in its tangibility. I’ve included it below for those who would like to read it afresh:

‘Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5 It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.’ 1 Corinthians 13:4-7 (NIV)

 

What is a healthy truth we need to remember about this word?

 

To finish, I just want to leave you with the lessons I have learnt about love through personal experience and revelation: it is mysterious but it isn’t illusory, elusive or intangible. Mystery has to do with allure and the ongoing sense of revelation that you have in discovering the many layers of someone’s depth and breadth, that continues to change over time. Love is most definitely tangible and in reality it can be seen. It is not fickle, it is not insecure. Everyone has love languages, and if you take the time to learn those of your friends, family et al. your relationships with them will become infinitely easier to navigate in both how they express and how you show love to them, e.g if theirs is words the way they talk to you (not just in what they say but tone, method and consistency) is an expression of lack thereof of love, if it’s time, they will prioritise and make time for you.

 

When someone shows you who they are, believe them. It can be tough to swallow this truth, as sometimes we have vision for who someone can be/see their potential, but it isn’t our place to necessarily be with them on that journey. Remember, love is sacrificial, but it’s not self-obliterating.

 

Two last slices of learned wisdom to leave you with, firstly a quote from my fave, Bobbie Houston:

 

May love be the last great act to shock the world”.

 

And finally, these words from a previous blog post:

Love isn’t blind. Love is intelligent, love is considered. Love is so much more than a feeling. Love is synonymous with respect. Love is an enactment. Love is tenacious. Love is a moment-by-moment choice. Love is in the doing as much as it is in the being.”

 

Always in love,

 

J x

 

Feature image: Wefie snapped in the English countryside, July 2018 (spot the sibling)

A Woman’s Worth

You are, actually, worth fighting for
You are worthy of selfless friendship
You are worthy of unexpected kindness
You are worth a good night’s sleep

 

You are better than giving them another day of your life
You are more than less than

 

You are allowed to take up space (especially when you got there first)
You are allowed to be more educated
You are allowed to walk in your desire
Be entitled to.

 

She is worthy of shelter
She is worthy of freedom to bleed
Without interruption to her everyday month
She is worthy of understanding the world
She is worthy of still being able to feel
Electricity between her thighs
Unmutilated.
She is worthy of owning
She is unworthy of being owned

 

No, you don’t have to always make room for him
No you don’t have to accommodate
No—it actually doesn’t mean yes

 

You are worthy of not crying yourself to sleep
You are worthy of being accommodated
You are worthy to serve

 

You are worthy of taking the time
You are allowed to take a breath
You are allowed to be breakable
You are allowed to dream, please do
You are allowed to not know

 

You are worthy of not being prey

 

She is entitled to your respect
She is entitled to her feelings
Yes, she is worth your unadulterated fidelity
She is every woman you love
Yes, maybe she is better off without you

 

You are worthy to serve
One another in love
You are worthy to be treated
In love as you treat others

 

Yes, you are.

 

 

— Jennifer McGeever

Ed note: The symbol on the envelope above is a (badly scribed) Chinese character for ‘female’.

Women of Style & Substance: Wai Ling McGeever

Feature image: Taken in Dubai, 2008

She Who Made Me

If my journey could teach you anything…

When I first had inspiration for this series profiling everyday women who embody and walk in their own rhythm, with their own style and who own the substance that makes them who they are, I always knew that my mother was top of the list. This is a little tribute to her and therefore I felt nervous and delayed putting it out as I wanted to get it right and say all that I wanted to share.

She who made me was a hell of woman. She passed away 8 years ago, her anniversary being New Year’s Day, and to be quite honest, writing so openly about something and someone so close to my heart is not at all comfortable for me. However I strongly know that we can learn and aid each other in our journeys, and though I in no means claim any monopoly or expertise on grief, I do hope that my firsthand experience can help anyone who may be going through something of similar gravity. I am very much someone who believes in pushing myself out of my comfort zone, which has resulted in some hilarious, crazy decisions and pursuits (one being moving to Singapore and all the struggles and joy that came with that) and I live in the ‘why not? ‘ mode of being rather than the why.

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She Who Made Me: LOVE this photo, I've carried it around with me, framed, through different apartments, seasons and countries over the last eight years. If I can take you with me for a moment beyond the veil, I want to share the thousand words that this picture doesn't speak in the hopes that it will bring comfort and healing to those who need it. Whenever I see this moment captured, my spirit is simultaneously lifted and broken. My mum and me, taken on the last evening of our last holiday together in Dubai, 2008: One of the big things that this picture doesn't say is that at this point, my mum had undergone several gruelling rounds of chemo in an attempt to prolong her life. Dubai is a HOT country, and we were experiencing it in all its 50 degree mid-August glory, even for me as a healthy teenager, it was hard-going. How much more for my mother? I can't even imagine. She never complained, not once. The small thing this picture doesn't say is that we painted her nails together on the plane journey there, perhaps to the chagrin of other passengers, in a moment of celebration as she wanted to stop biting her nails as part of her bucket list. Love the resolve. A hilarious thing this picture doesn't say is that when we went on a very intense, sand dune jeep ride through the desert, one of us couldn't handle the motion and ended up being rather sick. Nope, it wasn't my mum but, as always (a running joke in our family) my dear father whose stomach cannot handle the smallest dip in a rollercoaster 😂 all this to say this woman's strength remained unparalleled even in these most deeply excavating physical and emotional moments, she never let us see her fear. In fact, in all purity, her greatest regret and sadness in her end days came from knowing she would not get to see us grow up. Here's a tribute to my mum (link in bio) the OG, who was always top of my list when the idea for "Women of Style & Substance" came about. I hope you enjoy the read and more importantly, can find hope and joy within the words if you are in need of it ♥️♥️♥️ always in love http://goo.gl/C1g0Qx @styleishsubstance #WomenOfStyleAndSubstance #8

A post shared by Jennifer 詠嫻 McGeever (@j_wenghan) on

 

This year one of my personal resolutions is to live more authentically and be more open in my vulnerabilities, as scary as that is for someone who is by nature extremely private about the things that I really care about. In this day and age, it is difficult to keep things sacred, however, the past few months I have felt convicted to share a little about this amazing woman, her life and some of the many, many lessons she taught me, which are still ongoing in my day-to-day. In The Sisterhood’ book (which I know I talk about a LOT, but it’s one of those books which has really evolved my thinking) Bobbie speaks about having friends and people in your life that cause you to push yourself beyond your personal containment lines; I am grateful to have such friends, and most grateful to my Wonderful Counsellor, who prompts and nudges me from within regarding my convictions. I was pondering why in particular I felt so prompted at this 8 year mark to share a little, and then I funnily realised that in Chinese culture, the number 8 is THE number! It is the number of good fortune, prosperity and carries a whole host of wonderful (and superstitious) attributes. Anyway at this moment, it seems an auspicious and ordained time to share:

She who made me, made me in every sense of the word. She was extremely vital, and she birthed myself and my three brothers (it is crazy to think about that sometimes, that each of our lives came through a living, breathing woman). That is something I particularly struggled with in the earlier days of grief, being able to remember and recall my mum as her healthy, strong self, rather than the destruction and physical deterioration of the entire body that cancer brings about. It took me many years to be able to envisage my mum separate from her illness, and I do still dream about her in her latter states of being even now.

A little background about this wonderful woman: she was born and grew up in Kuala Lumpur, the capital city of Malaysia in the mid 50s to Chinese parents. The Chinese population in Malaysia is vast, however historically there are a lot of racial and civil disputes in the country, and therefore her parents enabled her to move to the UK (Malaysia was a Commonwealth country) when she was still a teenager to live with her older siblings who were in tertiary education here at the time. It was extremely unsafe for Chinese people living in Malaysia at that point, and as the youngest of eight siblings, her parents thought it best to keep her away from the rioting and killings that were taking place. From what my mum told me, being a young Chinese girl in London, with a “strange” name and little knowledge of English norms in the 60s, was not the one. Racial bullying was prevalent and London wasn’t as diverse as it is now. She was an immigrant in every sense of the word, and that shaped her and our experiences growing up. She adopted a more British-sounding name for her teen and young adult years in London, Rowena, though hilariously I have never met someone called Rowena over my lifetime as of yet! I am glad that by the time myself and my brothers were in the picture, she walked in her given name and the glorious juxtaposition of that alongside a very Irish surname.

Mum as captured by dad in Egypt

She met my father when they were both working in the London Stock Exchange and she told me that she had known him for a while before they ever went out on their first date. She recalled that one of the reasons he stuck in her mind was that he often wore a – in her words – “really annoying” skinny, red belt which drove her a bit mad (my mum was quite the fashionista back in the day) and therefore made a lasting impression on her before they even spoke. They dated for approximately five years and travelled the world during that time, choosing to get married later than most couples of their generation. My dad has told me that she gave him, a London-born and bred boy, a thorough cultural education in all things Chinese, starting with his first ever dim sum in Chinatown on one of their first dates.

I was very much raised by a Chinese tiger mother, with every stereotype that that may embody. We are first generation kids, and she expected nothing short of the best from us (though this is something recently I have been learning to be kinder to myself about, but that’s a whole other story in itself). She forged me, tempered me to have steely resolve and rebuked me no end. One of the things I didn’t think about until recent years is that though I am the only girl amongst three brothers, I was never treated any differently when it came to what was expected of me in life and never made to feel less than. To be honest, I think most of the time they were so used to raising boys, that I was treated as very much “one of the boys”.

She made our moral fibre, our cultural framework, she ensured our standards were high and informed our opinions. She was very much involved in our formation not only physically, but emotionally, intellectually, culturally and spiritually. One thing in particular I have learnt since her passing is that grief can be crippling but it can also be propelling. What has kept me afloat in times of overwhelming pain is the knowledge that for myself and my brothers to give, bring and do anything but our best in every endeavour and encounter we have on this earth would be a severe detriment to her. And that most importantly her legacy is embodied in us. She taught us perseverance, embodied strength and she never indulged us. In short, she never stood for our bulls*&t!

There were most definitely arguments, tears and many a teenage and toddler tantrum. But it does all fade to insignificance when you realise what was significant, I pray that we learn to value those eternal things more than the ephemeral that we so often laud: “what is seen is temporary, what is unseen is eternal” (2 Corinthians 4:18). Can we please pause on that for a second? Bar a plastic bag, almost everything on this earth begins to quickly decay without maintenance. I remember when I travelled to Madagascar, seeing the dilapidated buildings gone to ruin and a remnant of the French colonisation and having a stark realisation that even once magnificent, supposedly glorious things all fade to ruin on the scale of eternity and without maintenance in the passage of our time on this earth.

She was formidable in the truest sense of the word, most of my friends who met her would testify that she was not someone to be messed with, and may have personally witnessed her wrath on a few occasions lol! I  inherited her fire, slightly diluted, and we both share a fiercely stubborn streak, so as you can imagine, our relationship was at times ablaze, but always full of love. As I’ve grown up, I realise that in many ways we are very similar, hence why we sometimes clashed magnificently, as my brothers will gladly testify. It is good to remember and talk about those you’ve lost with people who knew them as intimately as you. It keeps their memory alive and prevents you from over-sentimentalising someone, forgetting the bad times, which to be honest are just as important, formative and occasionally hilarious as the good times. None of us are perfect, but it is our imperfections that make us 3D, human and relatable.

What I’ve learnt about death is that the clichés are so true, we bring nothing into this world and we take nothing out; her physical body is long gone but her presence is still very real. Maybe it sounds strange but I still literally, not figuratively, feel the palpable force of her love surrounding and buoying me at all times. Her love is so, so great. One tangible thing I remember is that she would always come and check on us sleeping in our rooms, way into our teenage years. Occasionally I would wake up to find her fussing over my PJs and I remember asking her why she always checked on us in the night. She told me that she couldn’t sleep well herself without knowing that all her babies were okay, I thought to myself how beautiful and poignant that was. That love unseen, that devotion, it actually surpasses and outlives your physical body.

I had a great conversation with my dear friend Saskia via Skype last year, and I remember she spoke directly to my soul. She basically said to me that for me as a woman, I am getting to know my mother even after her passing on a peer-to-peer level, as I live out many of the same rites of passage, beauties and struggles that come with being a female in this world. In many ways I had felt that over the years but had never heard it verbalised back to me before, and speaking with one of my mum’s close friends in Malaysia and her sisters over the last eight years has given colour and added depth to her life, having some knowledge of the years which we didn’t share has been a crucial part of me coming to terms with her passing. For many, getting to know your parents on a really human level only really begins in your late teens into adulthood, and for my mum and me those years were only just beginning when she was diagnosed. Having conversations with those who knew her growing up in a childhood, teen years and young adulthood has formed a unique kind of therapy for me as I get to know her more personally, through the eyes of others and can empathise and relate to their tales of heartbreak, friendship and the overarching theme of love that threaded through her life. Generational reality is something I’ve become very aware of, and in many ways we abide in our parents, and they in us. “David asked God for a permanent place for worship. But Solomon built it” (Acts 7:47). To me this passage speaks volumes about how our parents lives are sown in living sacrifice and we reap the fruit of them. This verse comes from the New Testament, and yet talks about the intertwined lives of the Old Testament that were still informing the present hundreds of years later, King David was Solomon’s father and his prayers were literally being built into reality by his son. The hope and promise in that astounds me.

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I will never pretend that the heartbreak doesn’t still exist, as quite honestly when you lose the person whose very blood runs through your veins (can we pause and think on that crazy reality for a second please?!), colouration inks your eyes and melanin in your skin deepens every time you catch the sun, you quickly realise that they are inherently within you. There are occasional surreal moments when I think on it too long, and the realisation still floors me, that I will never again see her in this life. Yet how beautiful is the knowledge that we can create and allow to be bestowed “a crown of beauty instead of ashes” (Isaiah 61:3) and that our lives are beyond ourselves. One perfect analogy for me is that of the Japanese philosophy of Kintsugi, where when pottery is broken, they join it again by soldering gold in the cracks. They see the cracks as part of the history of the object rather than something to be disguised, gilding it with gold rather than concealing it or seeing it as unworthy of repair. How beautiful are those who place gold in the cracks of brokenness?

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One reality I want to briefly touch upon is that in grief you mourn for the future memories as well as those you have. Incredible author PP Wong, who also happens to be the first ever British Chinese novelist to be published in the UK (shocking as it was in 2014!) wrote it so aptly in her (highly recommended) book “The Life of a Banana”:

“Then, I think of the future memories that should have been. Memories that I will never have. Things that should have happened but didn’t.

Mama explaining to me about my first period, Mama looking proud at my graduation, Mama smiling at my wedding, Mama crying and holding my first child.”

– The Life of A Banana, by PP Wong

For me, that last line kills me a little, my mum would always joke fondly about how she couldn’t wait to meet her grandkids and spoil them, she had such a heart for children, hence why my mad parents decided to have four of us (!) and I knew how much joy that would bring her and how much I now mourn her presence and wisdom for potential unborn children, nieces and nephews. We need to mourn those future things as well as the past in order to start to reap beauty from the ashes, I share this with you all not to depress but to elevate. To comfort anyone who may be in mourning but to also gently encourage those who are in a season of rejoicing. Please darling readers, I urge you to see past the cliché and genuinely live in your present happiness whilst not forgetting the eternal fruit. Don’t live half-heartedly, if you love and value someone, say it and more importantly show it. Life is extremely short, in fact, I realised recently that by next year, I’ll have lived half my mother’s lifetime. It’s a sobering realisation as it puts things in perspective. Her presence still informs me so deeply in her absence. I think especially as so-called “young people” my generation can undervalue those around them, and there is a false sense of us feeling immortal. Let’s place proper value on life both present and eternal, treasure those around you, put your phone down and talk to your best friend/significant other across the dinner table. Tell that person that’s been on your mind how you feel, pick up the phone and call that relative. Seriously now, let’s not think about what we lack but invest and take the time to treasure what we have. Our time on this earth is finite and temporal things are not guaranteed, yet it is possible to live in the tension between the right here, right now and being aware of the magnitude of history, generation and eternity that we operate within. 2017 for me will be a year of living more authentically than ever before. I’m quite happy to be known as someone who loved too much even if at times, it’s not reciprocated, but not content to be known as one who didn’t give wholeheartedly. Love outlasts us all, sows seeds for the next generation and on the scale of eternity, is the only thing that actually markedly makes a positive difference.

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In living memory of my mother, I invite those who wish to donate to the incredible place which housed her and us in the last days of her life here. A place filled with so much warmth, generosity and joy despite the sadness of all that takes place there. I’m forever indebted to the incredible staff and volunteers of the North London Hopsice, your smiles and humour brought light to our darkest days.

Always in love,

Jenn

x

Negative Spaces, Magic Shapes

26th December 2016

I was just sitting and being this morning.

For me that involves praying (talking and listening to God), drinking in all that’s around me and remembering to be consciously grateful. The skies today in London are gloriously clear. The light and the air are ringing in clarity and freshness.

I felt prompted to share something I wrote a while back, perhaps in 2015, that I came across in a Word doc more recently. I hope it blesses you today and going forward.

As a point of reference for those who may not know, the ‘negative spaces’ I refer to below are an artistic term. They signify the background spaces (as opposed to the subject/foreground) in a traditional method of painting; I was taught to mark out the negative spaces in a composition before painting anything else in greater detail. They are as important as the main subject, as the work and use of colour in those negative spaces can make the difference between a study and a full-blown masterpiece. Beautifully and aptly, those shapes are called “magic shapes” in artistic terminology. In the spirit of this beautiful day, I extend new hope, love and prayers to you all:

Let us live our lives in the negative spaces, let us feel and breathe in the magic that comes with the potential in the unknown. Before you reach that next milestone, that next full bodied line, exhale and inhale the in-between, the unknown, the unseen. Those character building, spiritually-refining moments which allow us to be who we are when the spotlight comes on. Don’t be afraid of the dark, step into it, step into a place of separation, walk on water, believe in the unknown. Live your faith – faith is after all believing that what is unseen and intangible is not only possible but has already been done, that it far exceeds our expectations and is not dependent or conditional on our verification of its eventual tangibility.  

 

Almost eight years ago, I experienced the most painful and poignant Christmas of my life so far. My mother was in a hospice, where cancer had spread to her brain and mentally she was no longer fully with us. She was, as we would soon discover, in the last week of her life. I share this extremely personal note as a means to say that hope is real. Love is real. Sometimes we may become tired and weary of hearing sentiments and reading positive #quotesoftheday on Instagram, I feel you. Words do have power, but they can also bear ritual.

When I think about my reality eight Christmases ago and my reality today, they are extremely different, but there is one constant. “The passage of time can heal” is something often said, but the passage of time can also destroy, allowing for decay and deterioration is a harsh reality that we must be equally aware of. Over the years since her death, close friends and acquaintances have sometimes said to me “you are so strong” which I guess is shared with a mixture of admiration and empathy. Really, I am so blessed.

I was so blessed to have my mother’s love, which is still so real even after her physical prescence is gone. Over the last eight years I have been beyond blessed with family, friends, the love of significant others, confidantes, kind strangers and more. Matthew 5:3-4 reads in The Message translation: “You’re blessed when you’re at the end of your rope. With less of you there is more of God and his rule. You’re blessed when you feel you’ve lost what is most dear to you. Only then can you be embraced by the One most dear to you.” Quite honestly, it doesn’t matter what your spiritual affiliation is, or even if you don’t have one, there is deep wisdom in those words. Where you turn and what you’re surrounded by when you’re at the end of your rope, in a place where there is a deep void in whatever capacity, will define you, it will make or break you.

I was having a conversation with a great friend the other night and she told me how a young mother who attends her classes had told her that in the midst of suffering post-natal depression, my friend’s smile had brought her hope and joy. That struck a chord with me, we really don’t know what that person sitting opposite us on the tube is going through, or even in this case, those within our direct sphere of influence. If we are attuned to those around us, a smile, a simple gesture of welcome and kindness, can be something they are grateful for that day. Please, extend that smile today with an added dimension of warmth, bear joy in your heart; you don’t know what the fruit of those small seeds will be. There is so much darkness out in our very neighbourhoods that we must be responsible for carrying light within us. It can outpour and overflow from you.

I’ll leave you with this today, said by the all-out amazing Bobbie Houston:

“May love be the last great act to shock the world”.

Love is intelligent, love is considered. Love is so much more than a feeling. Love is synonymous with respect. Love is an enactment. Love is tenacious. Love is a moment-by-moment choice. Love is in the doing as much as it is in the being.

Happy (almost) new year dear readers!

Jenn x

 

Feature image: Snapped in Monaco

Women of Style & Substance: Saskia Bewley

Feature image: Saskia, captured by yours truly on the iconic steps of the Palais des Festivals, home to the Cannes Film Festival

 

We first met back in the autumn of 2010 and our years of friendship since have been so rich in discovery.

A commonality in both our lives is that we are ethnically mixed and it has allowed us to share so many conversations about the beauty, frustration and issues of identity (many of which come from external sources) that are part of the territory in embodying the hilarious and ambiguous tick-box on the form marked”mixed other”. This has taken formal contexts e.g. being interviewed on mixed race identity as part of her Masters in Intercultural Communication for Business and the Professions (yes she’s a modest genius) and attempting to give insight into diversity within the fashion industry for her thesis based around Indian Vogue, to wine-fuelled heart-to-hearts on my bedroom floor.

 

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Plum foolin’ in Cannes

 

Saskia is insanely intelligent, stoically perceptive and profoundly gifted at providing the right word at the right time. She is one of those rare people who speaks directly to your soul (even across continents via Skype) and has delivered me moments of profundity and as she would say, great synchronicity (those connecting the dots, everything interconnects on so many levels ones). Over the years we have somehow developed an unspoken tradition of gifting each other with the words of great men and women in the form of poetry, books and the occasional handwritten quote. Our conversations and shared love of literature always leave me thinking in new ways, challenged and motivated to act accordingly. This interview was no exception!

 

SS: What did you last Google? 

SB: Hand in Hand for Syria’s Aleppo Emergency appeal: https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/AleppoAppeal [Ed note: Please do donate to this worthy cause if you can, it is often difficult to know if you are investing your money in the right places or organisations, but you can rest assured that this appeal provides direct aid where it is needed].

 

Great souls die and
our reality, bound to
them, takes leave of us.

[…]

Our senses, restored, never
to be the same, whisper to us.
They existed.  They existed.
We can be.  Be and be
better.  For they existed.

~ Maya Angelou, ‘When Great Trees Fall’ (shared with me by Saskia)

 

SS: Name one app you love that we might not know about: 

SB: I recently downloaded Insight Timer – Guided Meditations. It’s great for timing meditation sessions and there are some really nice guided options as well. I am pretty hopeless at being mindful so this is good discipline for me. Also, it sounds ridiculous but I often hold my breath without realising it, especially when I’m concentrating on a task, so the app is helping me to be more conscious of my breathing. Overall I’m just trying to be more present. And also not pass out!

 

SS: What is your happy place?

SB: My grandmother’s kitchen. One of my earliest memories is being sat on the kitchen floor whilst my grandmother cooked. She would give me and my brother mini rolling pins and boards so we could “help” make chapatis. She never seemed to mind that ours were any shape but round! And she would always make sure she ate ours first. I suppose ultimately my happy place is wherever stomachs are full and hearts are fuller. [ I couldn’t agree more, Amen!]

 

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SS: What book are you currently reading or did you most recently finish? Would you recommend it?

SB: I recently finished ‘This is How You Lose Her’ by Junot Díaz. It’s a collection of interlinked short stories, predominantly centred around a recurring protagonist called Yunior. The prose is really raw. It’s really interesting as an insight into Dominican American culture, the immigrant story, masculinity and infidelity. In a way I found it quite alienating, and as a woman it left me feeling a little empty afterwards. I think that was kind of the beauty of reading it though. Not all stories are for you so to speak and these challenged me.

 

SS: Who embodies style with substance for you?

SB: Zadie Smith. I think she has an incredible mind. And she carries herself with a humility, authenticity and grace which I find really captivating.

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Author Zadie Smith

 

SS: What is one lesson that you’ve learnt this year?

SB: To pay attention to my mental and physical health – that compassion starts with the self. Something I think I’ve known intellectually for a while but am only just beginning to understand emotionally.

 

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Beauty in her natural habitat, surrounded by books in Paris’ Shakespeare and Company (a must-visit if you’re in the city!)

 

SS: Do you have a favourite podcast? 

SB: I’m a podcast noob! Sporadic listener at best. Very open to recommendations though! If my earphones are in I am usually listening to whichever musician I am currently obsessing over. [Ed note: we both agree Drake is a poet]
SS: The first thing I do when I wake up is:

SB: Check the news on my phone. A lot can happen while you’re sleeping! Particularly in 2016 it seems…It often puts me in a strange headspace but Im trying really hard to replace feelings of despair with hope and feelings of helplessness with purpose and action.

 

SS: What is your guilty pleasure?

SB: Playing the same song over and over until I’m sick to death of it! [Ed note: So glad this is not just me!]

 

SS: If you could travel the world in a day, what pitstops would make and why?

SB: There are a few places that are ancestral homes for me and a few loved ones who I don’t get to see as often as I would like, so I suppose I would go and find all the places and all the people that feel like home.

 

SS: Any final words of wisdom?

SB: I’m going to defer to the wisest of the wise on this one – Maya Angelou – “I love to see a young girl go out and grab the world by the lapels. Life’s a bitch. You’ve got to go out and kick ass.’


I can’t thank Saskia enough for sharing these words and tools of wisdom! Who cannot love a girl who enjoys a little too much wine and dancing as much as she does geeking out? A woman after my own heart, inspiring us to close out 2016 replacing “feelings of despair with hope and feelings of helplessness with purpose and action.” Yes!

 

Women of Style & Substance: Abiola Babarinde

Feature image: by Abolade Babarinde

 

I have many a celebrity girl crush, believe you me, however I equally have so many incredible women who are right beside me in the field, doing life with me, that I wholeheartedly celebrate every day. They champion and inspire me all the time, so I thought, why not celebrate the everyday women as well as the already celebrated? We start this little project/series with my right hand girl, Abiola Babarinde, her life, her spirit and her mind always inspire me, and honestly have since we first met when were 11 year old girls. There was just something about her, funnily enough, I vividly remember thinking before we had even spoken one word to each other “I want us to be friends” as I saw her across the room (romantic right? Side note: romance isn’t just for non-platonic relationships) from memory she was wearing a blue uniform and a preppy straw boater hat (maybe my mind embellished that last detail but I enjoy it).

Every friend represents a world in us, a world not born until they arrive, and it is only by this meeting that a new world is born – Anaïs Nin

 

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As Bobbie Houston put it so beautifully in her book ‘The Sisterhood‘ (which as it should happen Abiola gifted to me): “I strongly believe that heaven aligns our lives with certain people to inspire and help us in our calling”. She is always sharing exciting, life-breathing and insightful things with me to help me on my journey, whether it be an apt beyond belief Bible verse, a book or her own words of wisdom; so I thought I’d share the love, open the table, and ask her to share them with all of you. Thankfully, she agreed! Here goes…

 

SS: What did you last Google?
AB: I last Googled ‘What is a markdown [tech term]?’ I’m trying to build up my tech skills as I spend a lot of time writing and playing around with my website. Although after reading a bit about them, I’ve decided to leave the technical stuff to the developers and techies to deal with!
SS: What’s one app you love that we might not know about?
AB: I recently downloaded Bear on my Macbook and iPhone. It’s an app where you can organise your notes and articles in a simple and beautiful way. I write a lot of articles and random thoughts, so I found that as my content increased Google Docs got a bit onerous. I’ve only been using Bear for a few days so don’t quote me, but so far so good!
SS: What is your happy place?
AB: Simply being by myself with a good book or great podcast. That can be anywhere: in bed or on the train usually. The only thing that beats that is when I’m writing at my laptop and I’m totally ‘in the zone’, where I know what I’m producing is going to have some sort of impact. [Editor’s note, her website is amazing! Please see details below]

 

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A rare, sweet moment 😋

SS: What book are you currently reading or did you most recently finish? Would you recommend it?
AB: I’ve just started reading ‘Early Retirement Extreme’ by Jacob Lund Fisher. While I don’t really plan on retiring because I’m passionate about my work, I’m always looking to improve the way that I handle my money. So far I’m loving it because it’s not just a ‘how to’ guide with ‘hacks’, it’s way more philosophical and explores how we can shift our foundational attitudes to value creation. My opinion may change once I finish the book, but right now I think that it’s just what the doctor ordered. In his introduction, Fisher describes it as the following: “This book isn’t a travel journal, nor is it a set of map directions; it’s a book that teaches you to become a navigator”. Who wants to mindlessly follow a list when you can create your own well-informed journey?
SS: Who embodies style with substance for you? 
AB: Right now, it’s definitely Tracee Ellis Ross – her style only gets better with every year that goes by. Also, through social media she is really owning her own story, encouraging people to own their differences and speaking about issues which may have previously been taboo for celebrities. Best of all, she does it all in her funny, gracious and slightly eccentric Tracee way. It’s brilliant because it feels really authentic.

 

 

 

SS: What is one lesson that you’ve learnt this year?
AB: I’ve learned that even if you’re not seeing any progress, stick to your vision. When you feel ‘stuck’, take a step back and think, how can I change my attitude and perspective about this? I like to think that if I’m still in a certain position, there must be something beneficial that the universe wants me to learn or experience.

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SS: Do you have a favourite podcast?
AB: Podcasts are my thing right now, and I am loving Dear Sugar by Cheryl Strayed (the writer of Wild) and Steve Almond. Their discussions typically revolve around the nature of our relationships with our significant others, friends, families, ourselves and our work. I’ve shared it with a number of friends and the amount of crazy, deep conversations that come up as a result are unmatched. Thank you Sugars!

 

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SS: The first thing I do when I wake up is…
AB: My emails – usually looking for the latest Word for Today. I’m still working on building that perfect morning ritual, but now that I think about it, for at least the last 6 years reading my Word for Today has been pretty consistent.

 

SS: What is your guilty pleasure?
AB: Sweet and salty popcorn. Our bond is deep. [Ed note: Yup, the struggle is SO real!]
SS: If you could travel the world in a day, what pitstops would make and why?
AB: I’d try and go to at least one remote or coastal island off of every continent. Just to see what life is like there.
SS: Any final words of wisdom?
AB: “It’s worth the wait”. Life can be really frustrating sometimes, and rarely happens on the timing that we expect, so reminding myself of this keeps me sane.

 


 

Well, I think you’ll all agree with me that Abiola embodies the definition of style with substance, so honoured that she agreed to be our inaugural interviewee. Her inquisitive mind, generous spirit and simply her being I am personally grateful for, merci beaucoup Boo.

For more of Abiola’s beautiful thoughts please visit her blog Abiola.me and follow her (and a few besties’) foodie adventures on Instagram @galstronomy