Be a shepherd...
The advent of nativity season is also that of tea-towel donning. I am constantly reminded, thanks to all the tea towel donning, of the words my father used to drum into me as a child,
"Be a shepherd, not a sheep."
He wasn't referring to the bun fights over costumes in Year One. No.
A true eccentric, my father has always been, slightly off-kilter shall we say.
I can still distinctly remember his dalliance with going everywhere barefoot, including shopping...painful for the average 14-year-old. Even now, in his sixties, my father sports a rather spiffing set of curled whiskers and wears a cravat and tasselled loafers.
I have inherited a fair few of my father's traits, not least his occasionally flamboyant dress sense. However, for much of my teens and twenties, I fought against this inevitable expression of my genes and allowed self-doubt to shoehorn me into social norms that for me, felt far from normal.
It wasn't until I had my own children that I began to understand the importance of those words.
To be a shepherd, is to be true to you.
Anything else, in my father's eyes, is to devalue yourself and the result will leave you feeling empty and worse still fragile. I spent many years feeling fragile.
I would like my three children to grow up valuing themselves. To understand that their quirks and differences are undoubtedly some of their greatest assets.
"Bang your own drum!" I chant, "Embrace your quirks!" I sing.
Very likely, these words are still falling on deaf ears. I have an eight year old painfully pre-occupied with 'fitting in' but at this moment in her little life, conforming makes her feel good...and that's OK too.
You see, there is nothing wrong with being the same as everyone else either. Conform if it makes you happy, conform if it makes you feel secure. However, don't conform if doing so leaves you waking in the middle of the night with a sinking feeling, because you have moved so far away from yourself, you can no longer feel the sparks of 'living' dance inside you.
I have been on a long journey of self-discovery. It has taken until now for me to understand how very right my father was.
In order to find contentment, you need to allow the voice that wants you to walk barefoot or wear rainbow colours in your hair, to be heard.
Note to self: Put your tea-towel on my lovely, wear it with tassels and be a happy shepherd.