The Spotlight of Hope. 

Last week we all celebrated having an extra day in the calendar year. The 29th of February. Leap day. It’s a cool but weird thing, right?

Dear friends of mine both celebrate their birthdays on leap day, and one of the many special things about these friends is that they are Mother and Son. Apparently the chances of a Mother and Son both having their birthdays on a leap day are two million to one. Groovy.

Anyway, I was chatting with someone on leap day, about leap day. Let’s call that someone ‘Mr X’.  Mr X was kind of befuddled about the whole leap day thing. He couldn’t work out if having this extra day was in fact a blessing or a curse. Something to be celebrated or something to endure. He came to the conclusion that to him, that extra day we get every four years is really just another day to go through the machinations of life.

And I could see where he was coming from.

Because although Mr X is a great guy; he’s a devoted husband to his wife, and a present and caring Dad to his kids, as well as a good son to his parents and a great buddy to his mates, he is all of this, but, by his own admission he’s living a life with no huge purpose. Just living to get by. Living to provide.

So one extra day, to carry on, carrying on……..that’s a little depressing, right?

Believe it or not our conversation was light hearted, and we both ended up having a bit of a laugh over this extra day weird weird weird business. But I’ve been thinking about the conversation ever since.

I think the biggest difference between my view of an extra day to live, and Mr X’s view, comes down to the very fact that I live with a greater sense of Hope. To me it’s a cool thing to have had that extra day, because it’s another day to be alive. Another day to admire God’s creation. To adore His creativity. To embrace the fact that I get to love my family and to reach out to others I see, to offer encouragement, and speak and write words of life.

Hope. It makes all the difference in the world.

And so, this is my heart’s cry, because I’ve seen Gods fingerprints of grace and I’ve seen the spotlight of hope beam in front of my path, time and time again.

I’ll never forget the time I was driving at night and a man stepped out in front of my car, forcing me to stop, and then he tried to climb in to the car. Being a Christ follower doesn’t mean that the world is never a scary place.  But it does mean that when we walk through the waters, God will be there.

I’ll never forget the anguish and heartache I felt at having to have my unborn, life-less baby taken from my body, and the recovery process that my weakened then forty kg body had to go through. Yes I suffered through thoughtless words from some but I was also offered plenty of hope, through those who were present, and as the Father heart of God became truly alive for me. As I learned first hand that God grieves when we grieve. Christ followers are not immune to hardships in any way, shape or form, but we have do have a blessed assurance in the form of a ‘peace that passes all understanding’. We learn that things don’t always have to make sense.

I’ll never forget the utter loneliness and all the feelings of self-doubt and self-criticism that came with being ‘new’ time and time again. But paired with that, I also know the freedom of finding my tribe, finding my people. Of relaxing into who I am, and knowing that is enough. Of being offered hope in the forms of being loved and accepted, just as I am.

And because I know what real hope is, I know what it is to be loved with an everlasting love. I know that this gal, who still second guesses herself way too much and says all the wrong things at all the wrong times, and feels vastly inadequate for all the things she dreams of doing……this girl has hope. Hope that enables me to smile genuinely even when the going is tough. Hope that comes in the form of energy when there really by all accounts should be no fuel in her engine. Hope to offer love to all.

And so the leap day we had last week was the gift of an extra day. An extra day to spread a little Hope.

Today was another day to speak words of life, words of hope.

And tomorrow will be another day, full of opportunities to breath life into dry bones.

If you don’t truly feel this way, if you feel a little like my friend, Mr X, I get it. Life is a messy and hard thing. But for me, the messy and the hard becomes tidier and easier, when I choose to believe that God grieves when we grieve, that His presence is for accessible for all, and I’m loved and accepted with an everlasting love. People say to give peace a chance, I say ‘give hope a chance’. Read a bible. Talk to a friend who is a Christ follower. Reach out to God. He’ll meet you where you’re at. This I know.

Hope changes things. It gives purpose and adds value. What an incredible gift.

~ In loving memory of a friend who lived a hope-filled life, and embraced each day as the gift that it truly is ~

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Layers. 

Sometimes winter lasts for a very long time. Winter with its iced mornings and bone-chilling winds. Winter that brings numbing of the extremities and dribbling noses and foggy breath. It is winter that requires us to wear layers upon layers.

The coldness of winter means we need layers for survival. Layers to keep us warm and as healthy as possible. I see layers as a form of self- preservation. Sometimes layers are the best and only option.

However long and arduous a winter may be, it doesn’t last forever. 

No matter how hard and fierce and piercing a winter may be, unless you live in Antarctica, winter is followed by spring, as surely as day follows night.

Sometimes we can be in a winter season in our life, and it may feel like it is lasting forever. It may be arduous, it may be bitter, it may be challenging on many fronts. But for every person, I truly believe that Spring can and does come. Not necessarily when we wish it, or hope for it, or sometimes even pray for it, but spring does come.

Here’s what I know about life in wintertime: sometimes you just need those layers.

Sometimes you need layers of self-protection in your life, sometimes you need to just distance your heart just that little bit further away, to take time and to create some space.  But everyone knows that you shouldn’t wear too many layers in spring and summertime. It’s not a wise thing to allow yourself to overheat. Sooner or later, when circumstances are different, when they are better, warmer, brighter, you need to peel some of those layers away. And sooner or later you need to peel some of the layers around your heart away.  Because here’s the thing…..if you don’t allow those layers to fully peel away, it is hard to truly feel joy, to feel love and acceptance, because those are the things you need to swirl into your heart. 

Sometimes in winter your fingers get so frozen by winter’s touch that it makes undoing buttons or fiddling with a zip quite tricky. That makes getting your big, bulky layers off, just that little bit trickier. What helps is warming up a little first, then beginning the process of getting rid of a few layers. Sometimes you need to be in that happier, brighter, safer place for a bit first, before you start to break away the layers around your heart. And you know what is necessary sometimes?  A friend. A buddy. A pal. Sometimes your own jacket zipper keeps you stuck stuck stuck. But with the help of a friend…..you can get unstuck pretty fast. Friends, good friends can be really good at helping you cut through your unnecessary layers.

Chronic sickness can be like winter. Grief can be like winter. Anxiety, depression and self- harm. All these things can bring about extended times of life just being that much harder, and that much more trying, and that much more inward focussed. Which can in turn make someone either intentionally or unintentionally form layer upon layer over their heart.

The good news is that layers can come off. They aren’t stuck on forever. And like I said, sometimes they need a friend’s assistance.  Sometimes they need professional help. But always, they can come off as new seasons, brighter seasons, warmer seasons are entered into. 

Layers surrounding our hearts can be chiseled off in the act of worship. When we realign our hearts with God.  When we focus on his goodness and loving kindness. Sometimes the best heart surgery does happen when we’re around good friends, kindred spirits, like-minded people. Sometimes the layers peel off when we pray, or have others pray for us. Someone I know, told me that she had a protective layer of her heart just melt away by the simple act of a friend standing next to her, when she was having a ‘moment’, and her friend simply put an arm around her. A simple hug.

There really is a danger than comes from wearing too many layers in the wrong season.

Let’s be people who look out for over dressed people. And let’s be people who offer grace and love, understanding and permission, to those who are still in the depths of a fierce winter, who really do need a few extra layers on at the moment.

Finding the delightful in the different.

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This is for any parent who has ever had to sit through an ‘assessment’ on their child.

For every parent who has had developmental milestones clearly spelt out for them and been told their child fits outside of the normal parameters.

Gulp.

For every parent who has sat through an ‘indivualised education plan’ meeting, appearing as their child’s advocate as best they know how.

That’s never easy, not even for those who have walked this road for years.

The size of your child’s gap between what’s considered ‘normal’ and where they actually are, doesn’t actually reflect how big or small your feelings towards this situation could or should be.

Feelings are feelings, reality is reality.

What you have to shoulder each and every day, is no light load.

The grief you may face, knowing your child’s future will quite likely be rather different to their siblings realities, and the hopes and dreams you may have had for them, have had to morph into something different, to your early dreams for them.

I don’t know what challenges you face in your daily life. I don’t how how hard you have to fight to keep a smile on your face, to keep one foot walking in front of the other. I suspect that you rarely get a break, that sometimes people don’t know how or what to say to you, that you’re used to living in a constant state of exhaustion.

However there are parts of your story that I do know. I suspect if you were to sit me down and share your heart with me, I have an inkling that there are certain things you’d want to make crystal clear for me.

I think you would freely share that even though the tiredness is never-ending, there are still snippets of joy and of hope in your days.

I suspect you’d say that yes the appointments, assessments, meetings and therapies are ongoing and are costly in more than one way, but you’ve come to realize that these professionals are (mostly) on the same team as you, with your child’s best interests truly at heart.

I reckon you’d state, with eyes blinking away the tears, because you’re real and you’re raw, that you’ve come to find the delightful in the different. You see that what sets your child apart from others in how they see the world, or how the world sees them, and you can find some true delight in that.

And isn’t that the thing that makes every parent’s heart swell, in each and every child ? Your child is delightful. Your child has a purpose, your child has a place to belong, your child has unique giftings and talents and abilities.

Your child may well be different, but often, that’s the true beginning of real delight.

Pointe Shoes and What Ifs

I was a late starter in the world of dance.  At the age of eleven I decided that dance was something I really wanted to do and had to do and couldn’t live without.  So I entered the world of leotards, tights, shoes and buns.  I started with modern jazz and quickly added ballet to the list of classes.  Now with ballet you really need to start with the basics and build up from there….so I was placed in a class of five and six year olds.  That’s quite a good motivator for anyone….to be twice someone’s age and to be learning something new……I practiced and I pranced and I danced and a twirled and I skipped, all with good toes and bad toes….and I worked my way up the grades….and I sort of caught up to my age group, but never really got there…

While I had determination and drive, its fair to say I never had a huge amount of natural talent.  I was never going to be an Anna Pavlova.  But it is amazing what you can accomplish through lots of practice and a sheer will to succeed.

Pointe shoes.  They were my nemesis.  They hurt.  They really did hurt. I was never comfortable in them, never felt at ease and never really loved them.  Those pretty, shiny pink satin covered blocks of wood became the enemy.  My barrier to success.

A couple of years ago I was online looking at ordering some pointe shoes for a friend, to send back to NZ from America.  Everything in America was cheaper.  Everything.  I came upon an article on how to find the right size of pointe shoes for your feet, and I realized that all along in my experience with pointe work, I had been wearing the wrong size shoes.  I’d never been properly fitted, never had the best fit for my feet.

And thus began my brief flirt with the idea of the ‘what if?’.

What if I had actually been wearing the right size shoes and what if pointe shoes had no longer hurt?

What if I grew to love them and wearing them became such a natural and easy extension of my life as a dancer?

What if I flew through the upper grades of RAD and my level of talent actually matched my level of enjoyment?

What if?

Now I quickly came to realize that even if any of those things had been true…..I was still not a great dancer….but for the meantime, that flirting with the idea of ‘what if’ gave me a false sense of reality…a warped view of the truth.  Allowing the ‘what ifs’ to creep in….overshadowed some stark realities.

And isn’t it the same with parenting?

Any and every time that we tango with a ‘what if’ with regards to our children, when we’re looking back in hindsight, from my experience….that ‘what if’ doesn’t do us any favours.

These ‘what ifs’ can be anything from:  what if we’d noticed such and such earlier?  What if we’d been more proactive in this area?  What if we’d made our kid do x, y and z?  What if we’d stopped them from doing x, y and z?  What if we’re not the right parent with this job?  What if I don’t how to handle this issue?

Big and small ‘what ifs’ surround us.

If you’ve been reading this blog for any amount of time you’ll know that for me, personally, the fact that all three of my boys have speech impediments/ issues (all three are different too!), has been a big thing for us both practically and for this Mama’s heart.  I’ve battled sooooo many ‘what ifs’ over this one.  I once got an email from a well-meaning person with a link to a (poorly written and badly researched) news article about a link between television watching and speech problems in kids.  Whammo.  There’s a massive ‘what if’.  It wasn’t until a saw a speech therapist with my oldest boy and she sat me down and told me straight….GENETICS…..that I realized I could no longer hold onto these ‘what ifs’.  I can’t escape the fact that these issues have been a part of my boys’ journeys, but I can control how I react to these situations.  And believe it or not, I am equipped to help my boys.  While I am lacking in a whole bunch of good qualities, just ask my kids, they’ll put you straight.  One thing I do possess is patience in bucketloads. And patience is what I need with these boys and their impediments.

If I have what I need, to parent my kids as best I can, both in me and my husband with our giftings combined and with calling on friends who are that little bit further along in their parenting journeys, not to mention as a Christian I believe so very strongly in the changing power of prayer….and I’m just as flawed and a mess as the next person, then I believe you too, have in you what you need, to parent your kids as best as you can.

Whatever the issues you’re facing, I’ve found that you can’t hold onto your ‘what ifs’.  They skew your reality.  They take your eyes off the goal.  I’ve found it takes a lot of energy to focus your thought life on all your negative qualities, all the things you’re lacking in.  That energy surely is better spent by focussing on what tools you do have at your disposal to approach different issues, as best you can.  Whether they are tools inside of you, or in people who are alongside you.

What ifs?

So what.  Let’s all work on eliminating parent guilt.  We can live without it.

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Beyond the Smiles

It was my husband’s birthday yesterday. To honour the spunky hunk I posted a reasonably recent photo of him on Facebook, along with a few lines about how I feel about him. Then I got to thinking about that particular photo and what it represented.

The photo was taken in New York, in Times Square. We’d been ‘given’ a glorious 56 hours away from our three kids, and my very generous brother had flown us over to NYC to be there while he was there. The time  was magical in a huge number of ways. I honestly wasn’t expecting to love the city as much as I did, it was awesome to explore it with my brother and his wife, the weather was beautiful, the sights were stunning, it was simply magical. The photo shows a very happy husband, thoroughly enjoying a once in a lifetime experience.

What the photo doesn’t show is that happy husband had at that time begun to exhibit some pretty severe symptoms for type one diabetes. That photo doesn’t show the seriousness of what he was facing. The week after we got back Michael went to the doctor and was diagnosed with this life changing condition.

Beyond that smile, there was a lot more going on than what that smile would let on. Yes, that smile in that photo was genuine. We had an absolute blast in those 56 hours and created memories that will last us a lifetime. But, I’ll always remember there was more going on, there was more beyond that smile.

Last year before my kids started their new school, I remember being weirdly freaked out and overwhelmed by the thought that my kids wouldn’t fit in. It felt like everyone else had it all together, that their kids were all extremely high achieving and I held onto a completely unfounded fear that my boys with their ‘point of difference’, their speech impediments, would suffer and not fit in, when all around them were ‘perfect’ kids.

Yeah, well, it didn’t take long to realize that as I said earlier, this was an unfounded fear. A stupid fear. Ignorant thinking on my part. You see I know, I really do know, that there are no perfect kids. Just like there are no perfect people. We all have our issues. Every kid has something that they struggle with, some things are obvious, others are not. My kids did fit in just fine, because it is an imperfect world we live in.

But that false thinking of mine prompted me to think, more often, what is really going on with  x, y, z kid? How is that family doing?  Just like so much was going on behind the scenes of that photo I took of Michael, a moment in time, in Times Square…..what’s going on beyond the smiles of your kids classmates? Your kindy teacher? The check out operator you see once a week? The basketball coach? Hairdresser? Friend you just texted?

Now I do know that most people aren’t going to open up, blab on your shoulder and tell you their life’s woes, just because you’ve bothered to take the time and noticed them, some may though! And we actually don’t have to be in the loop with everyone’s own private business. But I felt this worthy of a blog post because I myself need reminding that so often we only see people’s highlight reels. We’re exposed to all that is good and noteworthy and praiseworthy in life, and it is easy to think how easy some people have it. And that can isolate us in our struggles, especially our kid struggles. But we’re in this together. There are no perfect kids and there are no perfect parents, but we are better together.

We are better when we look beyond the smiles, when instead of highlight reel, we see a real life reel.

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Our Paintbrushes.

Yesterday I may have been vacuuming up a mess, half the playground brought inside in a pair of shoes mess, and I may or may not have uttered a sigh and some grunts of exasperation.

A couple of hours later the four year old was trying to do something and was having difficulties and I heard the same exact sigh and grunts of exasperation that I may or may not have uttered only hours earlier.

Little sponges.

All the time.

Our children – big and small – are sponges.

I was thinking about this sponge business and thinking about how I need to reign in my silly displays of frustration, and then I was struck by a memory of something that happened a while ago.

Some time ago I was present when a friend of mine was with her Mother, and the Mum kept making remarks about the Mum’s weight.  My friend was in her twenties – but even at this age, I could see her crumble at the sound of these remarks.  You see the remarks weren’t even aimed at the daughter – they were a grown woman’s observation of herself, but spoken in her daughter’s presence, and in my presence, they made us feel……weird.  Awkward.  Unsure of where to take the conversation.  Unsure of what our response should be.  Those incidents – not a one-off event – but over a period of time – made me vow to myself that I wouldn’t make any judgement calls on my appearance in front of my children, and in front of their peers.  Especially if I happened to have any girls.  As it turns out we’ve been blessed with three amazing BOYS – but my stance remains firm – I won’t talk negatively about my appearance in front of my children.  Ever.  Because of how it made my friend and I feel, when we heard my friend’s fifty-something year old Mother talk about her appearance.

Sponges.  Our kids are sponges.

Now I know there are Mums and Dads out there who do have real issues with their own appearance and struggle daily with accepting their particular ‘package’.

Pregnancy changes your body in ways that are, quite simply, irreversible.  Blokes your bodies don’t change as a result of childbirth – but you’re often on the receiving end of the struggle to adjust to these changes and the ‘I have NOTHING to wear that fits me’ situations…..

Ageing changes our bodies.  Yep.  That ole Father Time has a lot to answer for.

If you’re having a hard time accepting what you look like, or how pregnancy has changed your outer shell, then please, can I encourage you to read the following two blog pieces I read that prompted me to focus on this issue?  Can I encourage you to have a go at attempting to be at peace with your body?  And can I encourage you to avoid projecting your negative feelings onto your kids?  There’s a whole bunch of junk that comes out of that, and nothing positive.

The first blog piece is by Emily Wierenga.  She’s a former anorexic and writes powerfully, from experience and gives really great advice for this journey we need to walk.   The blog piece can be found here.

The second blog that I’d love you to read is by Glennon Doyle Melton, who blogs under the name Momastery.  ‘Your body is not your masterpiece, your life is’.  Powerful words – and a good dose of reality that I think we all need.  The piece can be found here.

Do yourself a favour, and do your kids a favour…..remind yourself of these truths today….

‘Your body is not your offering. It’s just a really amazing instrument which you can use to create your offering each day. Don’t curse your paintbrush. Don’t sit in a corner wishing you had a different paintbrush. You’re wasting time. You’ve got the one you got. Be grateful, because without it you’d have nothing with which to paint your life’s work.’ – Momastery

If this accepting of yourself, of your outer shell, is something you struggle with, your partner struggles with, your sister or your cousin or your Mother or your daughter……point them in the direction of these links…..

And remember, as I am learning…..our children…..are little sponges.  Always.

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Picking and choosing

My family is made up of wannabe dog owners.  We have a habit of befriending our neighbours’ dogs and acting like they are our own.  Charlie the chihuahua was a firm fav, and Polly the schnauzer, then Tana the labrador/ border collie cross quickly became the most frequently walked dog in all of Cracroft, Christchurch when we stayed with him for three weeks.

At the moment Top Dog position is held by Frankie the unknown mix.  He lives to the left of us and we hold a relationship with him through the fence.  Somehow he even managed to score a starring feature on the personalized lego Christmas themed wallpaper that is currently on our desktop monitor.

One day, probably when we own our own home we’ll become dog people for real.  In the meantime I was humoring myself the other day by using this online tool – choosing the right dog breed for us (based on all sorts of interesting things) and I was struck with this idea – how completely different this is to how our families look, with the mishmash of personality types we end up in our family groups. Ain’t no pre-conception, before they are even a ‘twinkle in our eyes’ picking and choosing of personality types in our kids, is there?

You see one the most challenging things we face as parents is in seeing all the different personalities our children have, and learning to appreciate all that they encompass – and not try to change them into what is best suited to us, or to what we know and can understand better.

Our oldest boy is a planner and an organizer.  He’s extremely detail specific and has a very high idea speed.  He wants to know by 8pm one day, what the entire plan is for the next day.  Now both my husband and I are organized people too – we like routines and structure, especially my ‘oldest of 6 kids’ husband who has quite the reputation for organizing his whole entire family.  His rearranging of his Mother’s pantry in ’98 is still quite vivid in all of their minds and there may or may not have been great appreciation for this gesture.  Anyhoo – as parents we are organized. However, sometimes we’re tired, we’re hot and bothered, we’re waiting on other people, we’re doing housework or other jobs, we’re spending time with our other children or we’re distracted by a gazillion and one other things and we can’t answer the multitude of questions that are fired at us by Mr Tell Me Everything You Can Right Now.  Then I get frustrated by his need to know so much. Then I feel bad for getting frustrated.  Spiral, spiral, spiral.

But lately, I’ve been realizing more and more that Nathanael’s personality is a gift – it is part of a package deal of what makes him unique and gifted in what he is gifted at.  He is who he is for a purpose.  And although I wouldn’t have picked and chosen such a planner and such an organizer for a firstborn (and yeah I know it is a common trait in a firstborn) when I look at Nat’s interests right now those personality traits make complete sense – and fit him to a tee.  Right now Nat loves all things aviation.  His main interest is planes – and everything about them.  He can look at a plane from a huge distance and tell you what make and model it is.  He is adept with flying his plane simulator computer game.  If he continues with this interest, I can think of no safer hands at the controls of a big or small plane.  I would trust him in a heartbeat – he would be an educated, responsible, knowledgeable and ultra competent pilot – if he so pursues that career path.  And by golly he’d do his utmost to get you to your destination on time.

I need to see and appreciate all of Nathanael’s personality (as well as my other children’s) for what is it – special, designed with a greater purpose, well beyond my limitations and short-sightedness.

It is just as well you can’t pick and choose your kids’ personalities, otherwise I wouldn’t have daily opportunities to develop my patience in particular…….but you mark my words, I’ll be super picky about that breed of dog we eventually get……

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