Seeing the Forest.

Sometimes circumstances in your life come together, and when compounded one on top of the other, they line up to form a perfect storm.

A number of years ago one of these perfect storms blew into my family’s life.  We were living in America where my husband could only work one job, for the one employer and I didn’t have the visa requirements to allow me to be earning anything.  I was pregnant with our much wanted, long awaited number three child, and our health insurance costs took a hike, a sneaky preemptive move by the insurance company before Obamacare came into being.  Then.  Whammo. The pregnancy took a little turn and all of a sudden I needed to be under the care of a Maternal Fetal Specialist and that meant more out of pocket costs that we just hadn’t planned on and what do you know?  Perfect storm.

We were stuck.

Winnie the Poo stuck.

Stuck.

We had very limited options and resources to face the bills coming our way. We chose to hunker down and keep our lips sealed on how big a storm we were facing, but there was a bit of pleading with God going on, a little bit of wailing and gnashing of teeth, and some sleepless nights.

And true to form, like every storm, this storm did not hover over our lives forever.  A very kind person who guessed from her own experience what we may have been facing, put two and two together and this kind person arranged for us to receive some help in the form of some amazing food parcels which helped with our grocery bill, which in turn freed up some finances for the extra medical costs.

Talk about humbling. And hard. And miraculous.

But most of all humbling.

I learnt a lot of lessons in that season of my life.  One reality that stands out to me most, and I didn’t realize how much it had impacted me, until just recently, is how hard and limiting life is when you feel like you have little or no options.

And for so many people – their lives ARE drastically limited by situations totally beyond their control. And I think that is easily forgotten when we are in the throes of serving people and helping people. Sometimes one’s options for a happier life, or a healthier life, or an easier life, are so much more limited by legitimate situations:  be it finances, or ill-health, or the very real demands of dependents (children and/ or elderly), than we sometimes acknowledge.

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When we were getting organised to move from Australia back to NZ, we got some people into our home to look at what we had and to give us quotes for moving options. Most people might get three or four quotes at the most. Ha. Not us. We’d never been in this position before, where we were moving a whole house load, so we called in eight different moving companies. Eight. When it came to looking at our dining area, every one of those eight moving agents counted up: one table, one bench seat and five dining chairs. ‘Where’s the sixth chair?’ all eight of them asked. Well you see, there was no sixth chair. But every agent had this preconceived idea that we should have had six chairs. No biggie. But an example of how we all come into different situations with certain ideas of how things should be. With important issues, with everyday not so important issues….whether we realize it or not, we put certain filters on situations by looking at them with the eyes we have.

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So why am I giving you far too much information about a time in my life that has well and truly passed now?  And why this random talk about filters and preconceived ideas that we all can’t seem to shake?

Well it’s to serve as a reminder to me….and who knows…could possibly be helpful to someone, somewhere….

Perfect storms happen in people’s lives at random times. And when they hit, often they take away people’s abilities to see the forest for the trees. When options are limited because of time/ health/ finances, then powerlessness prevails. And with that can come a multitude of self- esteem issues, trust issues and overwhelming worthlessness .

As a Christ- follower, I see that a big part of my ‘job’, my role in life is to love justice, show mercy and to walk humbly with my God. And from some of harder parts in my own life, I now know that one of the most empowering things you can do for people when they are in tough times, is sometimes to highlight for them the real options in front of them. Sometimes situations need to be ‘fixed’. Sometimes the best option is to show up at their front door with a food parcel. But always people need people to help them to see the forest. Not just the trees in front of them. And that’s what my friend did for me.  Yes we got practical help.  But it was more than that.  She helped me to feel hopeful about a stink situation.  She helped me to realize we weren’t failures.  She validated all of my feelings, without ever making a big fuss.  She was a forest finder for me.

And sometimes helping people, truly helping people, means applying some filters to your own thought processes, before you suffer from foot in mouth disease. I’m convinced that people don’t always know what they don’t know.

Sometimes when you’re helping people the best advice is actually no advice.

Sometimes you need to have the hard conversations and facts to be faced, but always with words seasoned with grace. Always with a heart willing to see the situation for what it truly is, and ears to really hear what a person is truly saying.

To me, that’s the best kind of helping. That’s the best kind of ‘fixing’. We all need friends to help us to see the forests, and sometimes we get to be the ones, leading the way on the wilderness trail,  finding the forests for others.

forest

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Real and raw. 

Sam is a fellow Mum at my boys’ school. English is her second language, but I think it’s fair to say that Sam has a fairly good handle on the ins and outs of English. Three weeks into her brand new life here in New Zealand, Sam made the comment to me that ‘this flag debate. It is hot button topic, yes?’. 

Yep. This ole flag business is indeed a hot button topic. 

Sam’s English is just fine.

Anyway. Today at school drop off, which was more eventful than the norm because some fiddle fingers fidget managed to set off a fire alarm right before bell time so that all the doting parents who were either lingering  over a final kiss on young Johnny’s cheek, or, those who were deep in conversation with another parent, were stuck on the school campus too. 

I’m embracing the doting parent gig right now, so I was one of the stuck ones today. But so was my new friend Sam, so we chatted a bit while we stood on the top field and from a distance we watched the firefighters come and do their checks. Spring has sprung in these parts but someone needs to tell the wind to warm up a tad. Our conversation today began with the grumps over this stupid wind and the stupid coldness that just can’t seem to dissipate. Stupid stupid. 

Then Sam mentioned something to me that has been burning away quietly in my brain for the whole day. 

With a gentleness and earnestness, Sam said to me that she ‘always saw me with a calm face’. 

Now I laughed that off straight away and assured her, that no, my face was not always calm and my voice does get louder on occasion and sometimes I do overreact and definitely do not display lovejoypeacepatiencekindnessgoodnessselfcontrol all the time. Nah. Not this chick. I then told Sam that even if my face looked calm, then certainly my heart wasn’t. And Mother to Mother. Friend to Friend. Sister to Sister. Sam got that. I didn’t need to find a simpler way to say it. I didn’t need to think fast and reach for synonyms that she may have come across before. She got it.

But after I had made sure I had put her straight, and after I had secretly high fived my kids in my head for being the amazing kids that they are, I kinda felt a little teeny bit crushed. I’m not one to wear my heart on my sleeve, but I also don’t ever want to appear to be someone that I’m not. 

Ya know? 

What you see is what you get. That’s healthy, right? 

There’s this new hunger for people to be real and raw with each other. Which is great in my mind, but only sorta. It’s sorta good, but you can’t just spew your deep and meaningfuls to everyone, all of the time. Filters, people. Filters. 

So how do you approach this whole being real with people about your life – all parts of your life; the good, and the great and the not so great, but come out of it all with your heart intact, trust still strong and intact, and your feelings validated? 

One key I’ve only lately discovered is to listen for the right questions. 

Sometimes in your group of friends you may get lucky with a friend who asks you the right questions. Actually they are sometimes the wrong questions, coz they may make you unexpectedly tear up or reveal more of yourself than you ever intended, but that means they were the right questions. 

So listen for the right questions, and when you’ve got someone asking you the right questions, you know they are genuine. You know they are safe. You know you are safe. Because if someone is asking you the right questions, they are most likely listening to the answers to their questions. Your answers. 

Anne Lamott says that she thinks that ‘closing down is safe, but really staying open and loving is safer, because we’re all connected to all that life and love’.

I’d like to one day be remembered as one who asked questions. Questions about the big stuff, but also questions about the little things, and all the in between things. And as I navigate through life I know it’s important to encourage others when things are going well, but when things aren’t good…..when life’s challenges come and stress nips at my ankles, like a persistent dog who doesn’t know that playtime is over and his drooly jowls that were once cute are now unwelcome at my ankles, then it’s ok to not have my calm face on. And then, it’s time to seek out those who ask the right questions. 

That’s being real and raw.

  

When breathing is a struggle.

Sometimes when my littlest guy isn’t feeling the best he’ll creep into my bed at night and snuggle in. With his ninja like ability to sneak under the covers, avoiding Dad’s side of the bed, he ensures that his place beside me is secure. 

My boys are for the most part pretty healthy little dudes, but the youngest, if he’s not going to be well, it does always seem to affect his breathing.

So sometimes he curls into my side, and I wrap my arm around him. I let him know I’m there. He doesn’t need to worry. I can hear the tightness in his chest. The crackling deep down. Sometimes it takes a bit of soothing before there’s a better flow to his breathing, before there’s an ease, and once again he’s breathing deeply and evenly. 

Grief can sneak up on us, just like the struggle to breathe. 

Sometimes we just don’t expect it. We’re moving forward, just getting on with life, when all of a sudden, the simple things, like breathing, just don’t seem so simple any more. 

We grieve for the past. For losses and offenses, for misunderstandings and misconstrued situations.

We grieve for the present. For wrong choices and missed opportunities, for having to live with less than our ideal.

And we grieve for our futures. For that which won’t come to pass.

When we lived in Oregon we were only an hour and a half down the road from Roseburg, where a terrible shooting took place last week. We have friends in that town and many of our immediate circle of friends have close ties to that town. To say this has rocked theirs and our worlds would be an understatement. 

Today the University in the town immediately next to our American home town has been shut because of an unconfirmed threat. Yesterday the community college and library in our town was evacuated because of a bomb threat. Even here in New Zealand, authorities have been investigating threats at three of our Universities. There is madness all around us it feels. 

My social media feeds are full of opinions of all the extremes, in regards to guns and laws and restrictions. I know enough about the bigger picture situation to know that there is so much I don’t know. While I know I’m entitled to  an opinion, my own social media posts will never be about that for I feel we need hope more than we need opinions.

Perspectives are so varied and everyone feels justified and riled up and the need to be heard. 

But in the meantime, people are struggling to breathe. 

People are grieving. 

While opinions surround us, let’s give the gift of presence.

 Let’s be that shoulder, that strength when there is no strength. Yes, for people affected by recent tragedy, but in a broader sense too. For the people around us, wherever we might be. 

When my little guy seeks comfort in the night, when his chest is tight, I find myself holding him close and even though I am perfectly healthy, before I know it my chest is starting to feel a little tight and I feel a little pain, as I sync up with his breathing pattern. 

And so it is with people. Feeling each other’s pain. Being there for each other. And in a greater sense, I know that as we grieve, the Father grieves. The Lord is near to the broken hearted, and saves those whose spirits are crushed.

Whatever grief you’re facing, whatever hurts are held deep down in your chest, making it hard to breathe….you’re not alone. There’s a loving God who is hovering close, who wants to embrace you, to let you know there’s no pain too awful for Him to bear with you. Ask Him, seek Him, invite Him near. He longs to come close. 

Opinions can wait, presence can not. Presence helps the breathing to flow, deeply and evenly. This I know. 

  

Permission.

I wanna be like Penny when I grow up.

With her beautiful twinkling eyes, ever present smile accompanied by love crinkles, feisty spirit, and good natured jesting with her husband, Penny is just the kinda lady I want to be.

Penny was a guest speaker at a conference I just attended. She shared from her wealth of knowledge and experience. She encouraged and she blessed. She told wonderful stories from the early days of the Vineyard Church movement, but the biggest and bestest take home nugget of gold I got from her, out of all the other truths she shared, was permission to just be a work in progress. And isn’t that what we’re all crying out for these days?

There’s this thing out there in the big wide world, that says we need to do it all.  And be it all.  We need to have ‘it’ all sorted, and have it sorted yesterday. 

And sometimes we can do it all.

Whatever ‘it’ is.

But none of us can do all the things we may wish to do, all of the time, no matter how hard we try, no matter how constant the pressure is, whether is it really there or simply implied…..

If you’ve been reading my blog for any amount of time, you’ll know I am a Christ follower. I love God and I love walking my Journey with other Christians. But even in some church circles, there’s sometimes this belief that you should have your life mostly ‘together’. And often this belief is accompanied by the thought that you should only share your struggles from a place of victory, a place of overcoming. 

But the fact is we’re all on a journey. Whether you’re a christian or not, I believe that we are all at different stages. We all have things we can do, we can’t do, things we shouldn’t do, things we should do, to be the healthiest and happiest versions of ourselves we can be. 

And I think we can all do with hearing what Penny had to say at a session yesterday. A panel of women were asked how they deal with anxiety and worry, and I felt like Penny gave us a very real and raw answer. She sat on the stage and very graciously admitted that she didn’t cope with anxiety and worry very well at all. That this is something she struggles with, and she relies on others to help her get through times when worry consumes her. 

This was in a nutshell giving us permission. 

Permission to not have it all together. Permission to have areas in our lives where we need to lean on others. Permission to be works in progress, no matter how far along our christian walk we are. Permission to be real and raw and honest. Permission to be ok with our flaws and troubles. 

Time and time again I’m reminded of community. Of friendship. Of reciprocity. Of people standing in the gap for others. And yesterday Penny reminded me of   the importance of vulnerability, of not ever having to appear as if life is always easy and good. Permission for that is a gift, and a gracious gift at that. 

I wanna be like Penny when I grow up. Just like Penny. 

  

Soundtracks.

When I was a young teenager my family spent many weekends and holidays visiting my Grandad, in a very beautiful part of the world. The drive from Invercargill to Queenstown was very often accompanied by cassette tapes from artists like David Meece and Kenny Marks, Amy Grant and the dcTalk. When I think of every turn and straight along that road, of the majestic mountains in the area, and the beautiful weeping willows lining the rivers and lakes, I also think of the songs that so regularly accompanied my journey.

When I was a University Student I was able to travel a little bit overseas. I remember buying Rich Mullin’s cd ‘Songs’ at a music store in America, then I played it all the way from America to Singapore, then on to Nepal. The air miles ticked away while I happily listened to Rich’s glorious anthems. 

When I was pregnant with my third child, the only real time I had to myself was when I was driving from one end of our small town, to the other end of the town right next to ours for my obstetrician’s appointments. And when some complications occurred and those appointments became more regular, that driving time became more regular, and that driving time was always accompanied by the same favourite CD of mine at the time. If I started with track one as I was pulling out of our driveway, I was usually on track four when I was exiting the interstate, and track six took me to the doctor’s car park. 

Soundtracks. Looking back at the last thirty years of my life, I can remember the musical soundtracks I have listened to, the soundtracks that influenced me and accompanied various ages and stages of my life.

You know just like music has changed over the years, and my musical taste has changed over the years, thank the good Lord……so have the other voices I have listened to changed….and I’m realising that I need to constantly look at who and what are the voices I’m listening to. Who and what are the influences in my life. Who and what are the things that form a crowd on the sidelines of my life. Are they my cheering squad? Do they cause me to love better, to live better and to hope more? Or are they my Debbie Downers? Do they cause my life to be more inward looking, negative and highlight the worst in circumstances?

I realize that right now I’m so fortunate to have amazing people in my life. People who have my back, people who see the gold and can impart Godly wisdom into my life. That’s such a gift and I’m so grateful.  But it takes intentionality to make these things become the soundtrack of my life. 

And just as we can give permission to others to speak into our lives, as a Christian I know I need to constantly be giving God an even greater space to be the main soundtrack in my life. 

It takes determination to listen to the voice of truth. 

It takes decisiveness to believe we don’t need to be afraid, as He is in control. 

It takes a certain resolve to choose to believe we are who He says we are. 

And when we do, that’s  the very best soundtrack for my life that I know I can have. 

God’s word, God’s voice and God’s people,  that’s a recipe for the perfect three part harmony to be our soundtracks for sure.