The Right Questions.

Have you ever been around someone who can very skilfully pry info out of you, without you even realizing just how much you’re sharing with them?

Some people are just better conversationalists than others. But I think that this ability to have better conversations, is something we can all learn to do, even if it means moving way out of our comfort zones.

Why should we even care about this?  Why should it even be on our radar? And I mean ‘we’ as a very broad, collective we. You, me, and anyone in our circles. Well for me, it comes down to caring. A very long time ago I was told that ‘people don’t care how much you know, until they know how much you care’. And part of caring for people is being interested in them, and part of being interested in people is asking them the right questions.

I believe that people are like onions. We all have layers. Layers upon layers. And it takes intentionality and skill, to dig through the layers in some people. Now some people will very happily shed their layers for you, some people are very open books. God bless ’em. Other people take little more digging, a little more prying and a little more time, to reveal the ‘gold’. For whatever reason, some people cling to their layers a little more tightly than others. And that’s ok.

Last week Darlene Zschech tweeted something her husband had said, in relation to building community. He said ‘everyone is interesting. You just haven’t asked the right questions’.

I love that, because I do believe that everyone has a story. Everyone is interesting if we just take the time to find out a little bit about them.

Recently I read this blog post here by a Krystal Masciale who was guest blogging on Phil Cooke’s blog. It gives some fantastic pointers on how to have better conversations, it highlights some great questions to ask others.

I think that we all do a better job at loving people, in being there for people, when we ask better questions. We can be better leaders, bosses, family members and friends when we show genuine interest in others. Let’s go beyond the ‘hi, how was your week?’. Ya with me?

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May Peace Be Yours.

Dear friend,

I know the path you’re walking now is hard.  So very hard.

I’d love to take the pain away from you, I’d love to take the pain away for you.

Those parts of you that are now forever broken…I know time will help, but those scars will remain and eventually they will tell a story……His story, becoming Your story.  As grace dosed over time does the healing.

While my arms long to hold you near, to be a shoulder for your despair….I pray you know Abba Father’s presence is there.

When confusion’s my companion
And despair holds me for ransom
I will feel no fear
I know that You are near

As days turn into weeks, and weeks turn into months…..your confusion will clear.  Your mind will once again focus.  The ability to prioritize and create order, will return.

When I’m caught deep in the valley
With chaos for my company
I’ll find my comfort here
‘Cause I know that You are near

Ohhh friend, He is near.  He is always near. Right there.

My help comes from You
You’re right here, pulling me through
You carry my weakness, my sickness, my brokenness all on Your shoulders
Your shoulders
My help comes from You
You are my rest, my rescue
I don’t have to see to believe that You’re lifting me up on Your shoulders
Your shoulders

In our weakness, He is made strong.  Dear friend, it is ok to feel weak.  To be weak.  That’s the beauty of grace – it is the very glue that closes the gap, between us and His supernatural strength.  His power.  Allow Him to carry you through.

You mend what once was shattered
And You turn my tears to laughter
Your forgiveness is my fortress
Oh Your mercy is relentless

One day, your smile will return.  One day, your soul will erupt with giggles.  That’s mercy.  You will never forget, you will hold memories dear, but joy will return.

My help is from You
Don’t have to see it to believe it
My help is from you
Don’t have to see it, ‘cause I know, ‘cause I know it’s true

My help is from You
Don’t have to see it to believe it
My help is from you
Don’t have to see it, ‘cause I know, ‘cause I know it’s true

Experience has seen me walk hard, rough roads, sometimes in the company of others, and at other times, the journey has been bereft of others.  I know which option I’d prefer, I know which option was made easier…..the roads with companionship have seen me become more vulnerable but the presence of others has made what was raw and harsh, just so much more bearable.

Friend, respond to those who reach out, even if you have to do it time and time again. Choose your ‘safe’ people wisely and then speak honestly time and time again with them.  Even if and when you feel stuck, like a broken record, don’t ever hesitate from telling them how you truly feel.  Their shoulders, along with His presence, will get you through.  This I know is true.

Your rest, your rescue, it can come from Him.

My friend, may peace be Yours.

(words in italics – lyrics to the song, ‘Shoulders’ by For King and Country).

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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The Cycle of Grime?

Today would be a fantastic day to visit me.  I tell ya – my floors are sparkling clean, the toilet gleams, my oven shines, and even my linen cupboard is neat and tidy.

Now we’re not messy slobs, but on a normal day there isn’t quite this level of cleanliness in my house…not with my three boys.

But today we were inspected!  In nearly fifteen years of marriage and nearly fifteen years of renting, this was the first time we’ve ever had a house inspection.  We’ve either had very lazy landlords in the past, or very trusting landlords…….Anyway here in Australia it is customary for property managers to do inspections every three or four months.  Our property manager was happy with our place and we ‘passed’.  Whew.  But I learnt an interesting thing today.  When you leave a rental property here, the expectation is that the house only needs to be in the condition that it was in when you began the lease.  When you take over a lease you have to fill out an entry report.  In that report you write down every mark on a wall, every bit of mould, every patch of weeds you see.  And when you leave……those same allowances are there with the expectation that there is no need to improve on them.  For us – the reality of that is – when we took over the lease here, our bathroom ceiling was absolutely covered in mould.  It totally grossed me out.  With a bit of elbow grease and a good cleaning product we managed to clean the sucker up – and now there is no mould there.  I asked the property manager about that, and she said the mould was allowed to be present when we took over the lease because it had been there when the previous tenants took over their lease.

The cycle of grime.

That’s the reality of it.  If we hadn’t said enough is enough, and that mould ain’t healthy, and that mould ain’t pretty……well then that there mould could have stayed put until we leave this here property.  And that would have been ok, legally.

But, gross.  Right?

This whole entry report/ entry condition being ok for exit condition……while it kinda safeguards the tenant against any wear and tear already present in the property, it also seems to be the easy road to travel down.  I can see how in older homes the grime could just grow by levels…..gardens could become very dishevelled…and so on.

We couldn’t stand to live in the grime we originally found our rental in……I remember crying as I washed down the breezeway and as I swept up mounds and mounds of dog hair and gecko and cockroach poop.  For us, we had to make a stand against the cycle of grime we found.

I was thinking about this whole cycle thing this afternoon, and was struck with the thought that sometimes that is what this parenting gig is like.  We carry on, carrying on, doing as we have always done…..because a.  it may be what our own parents did or b.  it works for us or c. it is all we know to do.  And sometimes that is just fine…..but like a rental house that never gets improved upon, even when new people come and go……if we don’t stop and look at our actions and reactions and if we don’t sometimes mix it up or look for a new and better way of dealing with things……then we’re going to get stuck with the same results, with very little room for improvement.

It takes time and energy and effort to clean a house properly.  It takes getting ourselves dirty, and it takes getting down on our hands and knees sometimes.  It takes reaching into the dark and unseen places.  It takes sheer will power.  And so does parenting – intentional parenting.

So what can we as parents do, to help us upskill ourselves?  How can we not settle for the ‘cycle of grime’?

We can

* attend parenting seminars (Triple P parenting seems to be a big thing here in Brisbane).

*  read books – from a wide variety of authors and experts

*  read blogs – read shared experiences

*  ask other Mums and Dads the hard questions – especially to those who are in the same stage as us and those who have been in the stages we are.

*  parenting DVDs – at the moment a small group I’m in is going through a parenting course called ‘Parenting your kids on Purpose’, I can highly recommend it.

*  share your struggles, your triumphs and successes with your friends.  I guarantee the minute you open up with a concern, there will be others in your circle of friends going through a very similar or exact same thing as you.

I know it is humbling to ask for help – it takes guts to acknowledge a situation when you are out of your depth, but I’m learning that’s ok.

No-one has all the answers, and together is so much better.  Together we’re just a bit more clued up.

The cycle of grime is not a good thing for rental houses – even if it is ‘allowed’……and the cycle of parenting without upskilling oneself or looking for new ideas and asking for help is not a good thing for families – even if it is ‘allowed’.

How do you intentionally upskill yourself, when it comes to parenting issues?

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Rosa – The KitchenAid Stand Mixer

This is about a ‘thing’, but it is about more than the ‘thing’.

I do realize it is not normal behaviour to name a kitchen appliance. Not normal at all. But here’s the scoop – I welcomed a brand new KitchenAid mixer into my family last night. And her name is Rosa.

For the last four and a bit years I’ve had my eye out for a stand mixer. You see I do a lot of baking and once we moved to America I realized the huge difference in price in mixers here….just under a thousand dollars in NZ dollars for the very same thing that I got last night. More than three times the amount it costs here in America.

So for the last four years I’ve been entering every competition I could see on blogs to try to win one. For a while there I would tweet sometimes daily to @KitchenAidUSA, sometimes weekly. Just crazy little comments along the lines of ‘I still have a KitchenAid mixer sized hole in my heart’. I would have friends send me links to competitions. I would write silly facebook statuses along the lines of ‘KitchenAid mixer – the perfect Father’s Day present’. But there was no way I could ever justify buying one for myself.

I was a little over the top I know. But it was fun.

Last night I was invited up to a friend’s house under the guise of ‘cleaning’ in preparation for a new baby’s imminent arrival. Yeah well that house didn’t need no cleaning. Already spotless. Instead the kitchen was full of a bunch of amazing friends who had gathered for a bit of a ‘do’ and to present me with my very own ‘Rosa’ – a shiny red mixer.

Amazing.

Now while I will love using this appliance and will use it all the time – like ALL the time – at the end of the day the mixer is just a ‘thing’ I know…and the meaning behind receiving this gift is more than just being gifted a very handy appliance – that I may or may not have harped on about for over four years….

For me, Rosa will sit on my kitchen counter for years to come and serve as a reminder of just how faithful our Lord is.

Moving to America has been tough. Settling here has not been all smooth sailing.

But we’ve persisted. And God has blessed us tremendously. God has been so very faithful. Every step of the way. In the good times and the bad times. He has been our strength.

Three years ago I never dreamed that people would gather in a beautiful home, one summer’s night, to bless me with a gift – a gift that I can use to serve others. To bless others.

Two years ago I never dreamed that would happen.

But in the midst of just getting on with life, and reaching out and initiating and just being real and raw and learning to not hide who I am……..relationship has happened. Lifelong friendships now exist. ‘Community’ has happened.

Not because of me. Because I say stupid things and I have fierce and strong opinions, and I second guess myself all the time, but IN SPITE of me – God has been so very faithful.

“And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or farms for My name’s sake, will receive many times as much, and will inherit eternal life.” Matthew 19: 29

Those words in Matthew, they are a very special promise.  To be perfectly honest with you, it isn’t the funnest thing in the world to yard sale a lot of stuff, a lot of stuff you actually use and are gonna have to replace once you move countries again.  It isn’t the funnest thing in the world to realize one day you have plenty of friends with kids your baby’s age, but hey, that tween, that tween of yours is seriously lacking in the friendship department and you failed miserably in that area.  It isn’t the funnest thing in the world to say goodbye to family and friends – and to miss special events, for years on end.

BUT God.

But God is faithful.  He does promise that if and when we give up ‘things’ and proximity of relationships for His name’s sake, for ministry purposes, then we will receive many things in return.  According to His purpose.

Whatever God is asking of you – be assured, He does provide all we need – as well as things we don’t actually need.  Like a mixer.  If you are being called to do something for His sake – he will not abandon you.  His will = His bill.

The very fact that I’ll be sad to leave friends behind when we leave in three months time is a very good thing – again it shows the Lord’s faithfulness.  If I left and I wasn’t going to miss anyone – then that would have been a terrible shame.

And for me, right now I can see the Lord’s goodness – represented by a shiny red mixer.  Others may see a powerful kitchen appliance that will churn out whipped cream in a flash and make the best pavlovas, but not me.  I see it as a symbol of God’s goodness.  That He cares about the details of my life.  He wants to bless us – abundantly.  And friendships matter.  They really do matter.

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Building Your Lifeboat

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I’ve been marinating on this little ditty, this little nugget of truth since I saw it on pinterest a couple of weeks ago.

You see it is all very good and well to read these words and to believe them.  It is another thing to actually live them out.  And gee……there is absolutely no denying the truth of these words when you see someone living it out…..when the truth they have stored up in the silence is the only thing that gives them hope, it helps them carry on, sees them through the hard times, when the storms come.

This past week I’ve had the honour to walk alongside a friend as she has encountered one of life’s curveballs.

You know that mixture of feelings you get when you go for your big anatomical ultrasound scan, when you’re about 20 – 22 weeks pregnant?  You’re thrilled to actually see this little person for the first time, you may or may not be eager to know the baby’s gender, but you also have that slight uneasiness..hoping everything is ok with that baby.  Wanting a good report for everything.  Well Lindsay didn’t get that all clear that we all hope for, not then anyway, and she has another wait of a few more weeks before she gets definitive results from more tests done this week.  You can read this part of her story here, and she writes it beautifully, so much better than I ever could.

I said it is an honour to walk alongside her through this and I truly mean that.  I can see the fruit and the evidence of what Lindsay and her husband build up in the silence, carrying them through the uncertainty.  Giving them hope and that peace that passes understanding.  You see it is not that Lindsay and CJ are perfect – nope – they are human, just like the rest of us – it is because they serve a perfect Lord.  They are conduits of the Holy Spirit – vessels – that’s all.

I like to think of ‘the truth that we build up in the silence’ as being the things we build our lifeboats out of.  Lifeboats to keep us afloat when our ships are capsized by life and life’s curveballs.

*  The word of God = the body of the boat, the hull.  Knowing God’s word means knowing God, knowing his heart, and who wouldn’t want to know the creator of the world’s heart?  In Ephesians 6 Paul talks about the armour of God and of putting on the sword of the spirit, which is the word of God.  The bible illuminates, it reveals to us the good and the bad, it gives clarity to the wise and the unwise.  The sword, the bible, is used for offensive and defensive purposes.  Jesus used the bible to counter Satan’s attacks when in the wilderness.  The word of God deep down in our souls is going to keep us afloat when storms come.  We can depend on God’s word and the promises in his word.

*  Prayer = the gps/ radio in your lifeboat.  The prayers that you pray in the silence come back to you in the storm, when you don’t have the words to say, when you can only muster up that Holy moan. An utterance. Prayer is just communication with the Lord and the *best* thing about prayer to me, is it keeps your perspective right, it keeps you looking up and out so that you’re not consumed by your here and now.

No relationship survives without communication, including our relationship with the Lord.  Prayer – communication is necessary for growth and intimacy.

*  The companionship of Godly friends = the outboard engines on our boats.  Sometimes when we walk through the trials of life we can walk that ever bit faster with a friend by our side.  Things can be so much more bearable when you have a shoulder to cry on.  Proverbs 27:17 Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another.  Sometimes it takes a lot of guts to make good friendships great.  It involves a lot of vulnerability, on both persons part, a lot of trust and a lot of wisdom.  It is never a good thing to just spill your guts to just anyone, but when you know who can be a great friend to you, and when you make room in your life for them and them for you……friendship is one of those things that can get you through anything.  C.S Lewis said “Friendship is unnecessary, like philosophy, like art… It has no survival value; rather it is one of those things that give value to survival.”
You know this past week the easy thing for Lindsay to do would have been to hide away.  To just hibernate with her husband while working through the emotions and seeking a Godly perspective in all the waiting.  But in doing that she would have been denying her friends the opportunity to reach out to her, to uphold her family in prayer and the opportunity to partake in a miracle.  The harder thing for her was to share with people where she was at – and God was glorified.  She could call on these friendships because they have been established in the silence.  When life was a little easier.  And then, when the storm came, the outboard engine of friendship helped to push her along a little….reassuring her….

Now here’s the scoop, the latest on Lindsay’s baby, Charlie.  Lindsay’s OB (who also happened to be my amazing OB, a great man of God) emailed her today with the news that the fact that the ultrasound that Lindsay had yesterday showed no abnormalities in the baby’s heart, that it was normal, was a gift from God.  The ultrasound yesterday was so different from the bizarre one from the previous week shows that the baby was healed.  This was not a technical glitch, but a healing.  Praise God.  Praise Him.

And here’s the thing – because Lindsay chose to include others in her journey, both in her real life and through her writing, others have been blessed.  My own faith has been boosted.  What my husband and I prayed for, in the quiet of our time with the Lord, has been heard.  Countless others have likewise stood in faith with her about this too and prayed for healing – they have been touched and who is glorified?  Not Lindsay, not CJ, even though they are strong leaders and amazing people in their own right.  No, the Lord is glorified in this healing of baby Charlie, because the Lord is the reason for their peace and their very purpose.

Lindsay and CJ still have a few question marks hovering over their little Charlie’s life – but nothing can take away from the fact that this life is God-ordained, this life has a purpose, this life already has an amazing testimony of God’s healing power and this life is loved.  Loved by the people around him already, but even more so by the one who created him.

Whatever the next weeks or indeed the years to come bring my dear friends, they will be riding out the storms just fine.  They have a lifeboat.  They are building their lifeboat……prayer by prayer, bible verse by bible verse, friend by friend, they are building their boat.

All of us will encounter storms in our lives, it is not a matter of if, but of when……when will you need your lifeboat to hold you afloat until your seas become smoother?  And will that lifeboat be ready for when you need it?