The stuff that changes things. 

 The above wee ditty……it is a little (or a lot) cheeky, right?  I’m not sure I’ve ever done that to complete strangers….but if you promise to not tell the PC Police,  I’ll admit to saying it to family members on the odd occasion…..all in the name of teaching manners. Of course.  You’re welcome.

The above wee ditty got me thinking.

That’s almost always never a good thing.

You see I often tell my boys that ‘manners maketh a man’ and that ‘manners make the world go around’.  With my work in customer service I’m on the front-line as far as manners goes…..and I’ve noticed that most people respond really well to being thanked and spoken pleasantly too.  That’s nice.  Of course there are always some members of the public who make a memorable impression for all the wrong reasons, but I honestly think that if you’re proactive with your pleasantries, then there isn’t a lot of room left for nastiness.

I’ve also been thinking about culture and those things that are buried deep down in a people group.  I’ve lived in four different countries and have found that each place has had many cultural differences from what I had previously known, and these cultural differences take years to learn, understand and sometimes even appreciate.  But they are exciting, and valuable and each play an important role in their people group.

Just as people groups do have cultural ‘things’ that are intrinsically theirs, I do wonder if sometimes we accept certain behaviours and happenings that we don’t agree with, because we label them as possibly being a ‘cultural thing’ or a thing that just can’t be changed.  When really maybe we forget that we, ourselves, have the ability to change a situation by how we carry ourselves and by what we carry in us.

I think we can easily forget that we can change the atmosphere in a situation.  We can set the thermostat in our homes and workplaces.  We don’t have to settle for less than pleasant.  Sometimes this isn’t easy, sometimes this means we’re reacting in a polar opposite way to a situation than how we’d naturally like to react, but we have this uncanny ability to do so.  If we choose.

As a person who chooses to follow Christ, I do believe that I can pray to God and ask for wisdom when I need it.  And I always need it.  I can pray for patience when I need it.  And I always need that too.  More love?  More peace?  More self-control?  Yep, yep and yep.  I’m a work in progress for sure, but that ‘work’ means that I can change situations, I get to set the thermostat.

And that ‘work’, that’s the stuff that makes life all that much better.  All that much more peaceful. All that much more rewarding.

Today I was with some friends and we had the privilege of singing some worship songs with a dear soul who doesn’t have much longer here on this earth.  I’m certain that as we sang (thankfully the others can really SING, cos I certainly can’t), the atmosphere in that room changed.  Comfort entered in. We changed the thermostat.

This afternoon as one of my little boys sobbed his heart out because of a disappointment, his teacher was able to reassure him of his value as she gave him genuine words of encouragement.  She was able to speak hope into that troubled little heart, because of what she carries in her, because of WHO she knows. She changed the thermostat.

Tomorrow, as I deal with Joe Public all day long, I can offer him more than what he came into my workplace for: I can offer him a genuine smile, a listening ear and a heart that cares, because what I have to offer him is the stuff that changes things.  Its the stuff that brings hope to the hurting and relief from the striving. Its that stuff that’s called the presence of God. And the presence of God can change situations.  Big and little situations, all day and every day.  This I believe, because this is what I know to be true.  I can set the thermostat.

That’s the ticket, that’s the stuff.  What a holy privilege.

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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.

Space on my sofa.

I couldn’t tell you what was served in the buffet at our wedding reception. I know it was fun choosing the menu, but I can’t for the life of me remember what was placed on my plate that night. (I do have other wonderful memories of that joyous day though). However, I can describe in great detail the meal we had at the top of the sky tower, celebrating an anniversary with dear friends of ours. As the restaurant moved in a steady 360 degree pirouette, we repeated the same conversation every time we came to the same point again. And again. And again.

There’s a building in this city, that I try to avoid driving past. It isn’t a bad building, it isn’t filled with bad people. It’s to do with what happened in that building, many many years ago. When medical professionals begin a sentence with ‘I’m sorry’, you tend not to have warm fuzzy feelings associated with that place.

The day that glorified dragonfly of a plane delivered us to a new city that was to become our new home, in a new land, my family took up half of all the seats on the plane. As I lugged a sleeping preschooler up to my shoulders, and held on for dear life to the handrail on the stairs,for more than one reason, the heat from the hundred degree day embraced me in moments.

Memories sure are a strange cast of characters in the story of our lives.

I’ve just read a beautiful, soul stirring book, prescribed for me by a Doctor friend. A collection of memories written in a most exquisite manner. Normally when reading such gold, I’d want to share the nuggets of truth and wisdom with all my friends in all the lands. But I’ve held off doing so this time, and instead relished the very personal nature of these memoirs. From one broken soul to another.

But there’s one delicate thread that the author has delicately woven throughout her essays. And it stood out to me, as if this thread was coloured highlighter yellow, against a background of white and grey. Anne’s writings are full of companionship; of facing life’s trials, joys, highs and lows, but facing them with others by her side. And it’s this presence thing that keeps blasting me from every direction.

Some of my memories make me breathe deep and even. Pulse steady and eyes bright. Other memories cause my breath to be short and shallow, with my pulse quickening, my heart racing. We’re reactive beings. Being a bible believing, Holy Spirit filled person, doesn’t stop your body from reacting as it naturally does. But the memories I have that cause my spirit to lift, that bring out all the wrinkles around my eyes, are nine times out of ten the memories I have that featured people by my side. Circumstances may have been hard,  but I was not alone.

This reminder I’ve been given about the importance of companionship, makes me want to have space on my sofa for more. I want my living room door to be one that opens freely and frequently. I also know that there may be times when I need to curl up on my sofa, and have someone else place my snuggly, soft blanket evenly over me. There may be days when someone else potters around in my kitchen, boils my kettle and brings me something warm and nourishing, to be placed on my sofa arm. But what I really long for, is to create a space for others. I want to rearrange the cushions around you. I’ll even hide the one that’s dirty. I know it’s there. I’ll whip up something tasty for you, and I’m working on growing my tea collection, to find something that will just tickle your tastebuds. If you need my snuggly, soft blanket, I’d be delighted to place it over you.

If I ever write a book of memoirs, then I’d like a photo of my sofas on its cover. I know the importance of companionship, I know the blessing of ‘presence’, I just hope and pray I can live it. That I can reach out beyond my four walls, that I can see and respond to others who need my hand of friendship. Come, come friend, come and sit over here. Along with that I hope and pray that I will know when to swallow my pride and step into the unknown with all its vulnerable fragileness during those times when I’m the one who needs to have someone put the kettle on for me.

Memories and companionship. That’s a good mix, right? There’s room on my sofa for you, my friend.

Fourteen. 

Judi went to the preschool where she’d enrolled her son, with the intention of withdrawing his enrolment because of his recent autism diagnosis. She promptly changed her mind about the withdrawing part when the head teacher kindly responded to her with the words, ‘we are here for all children’.

Rowena was struggling in all sorts of ways at her old school and at an interview for a new school the Principal looked her squarely in the eyes and said ‘you have potential and I see it in you’.

Patti, as a young Mama and new believer was facing quite the lifestyle change. She recalls with amazing fondness being told ‘you are good enough, just as you are’.

Julie lost her Mum very unexpectedly, in extremely hard circumstances. To this day, she claims that the kindest words ever spoken to her have been the words, ‘it will get worse before it gets better’.

Anna grew up as a bit of an underachiever, in an underachieving family, and when she came to have her own family, some of her very real fears were around the thought that her own children wouldn’t ever find their passions and would settle for less than mediocre. She doesn’t fear that anymore after having her two children singled out in their school assembly and having some of their amazing achievements highlighted and brought attention to. That was the kindest and most meaningful thing that could ever happen to her.

Shelley was about to get engaged to someone who was not going to be God’s best for her, when her roommate pulled her aside and really questioned her and put words to her concerns about that relationship. Shelley will forever be grateful for those words, hard words but spoken in kindness, with kindness.

Shelley, Anna, Julie, Patti, Rowena and Judi. These are not random, far off people, in situations remote from us. Rather, these are all friends of mine, known and loved by me, who shared with me the times in their lives where kind words have impacted them the very most. And the thing that stands out to me, is that could well have been me, and maybe you, in many of those situations.

I counted up the number of verbal interactions that I had in just one average, nothing out of the ordinary day. I got to fourteen blocks of conversations. Fourteen different times of engaging with people in conversation on some level.

My friend Jenna, thoughtful Jenna, reckons she receives and remembers kindness when she’s at her weakest. That the kindest of words are those beautiful words given generously in the midst of a dark or difficult moment.

How many of these fourteen blocks of interactions of mine on that day, or on any given day, could have been kinder? How open were my ears and eyes to the signs that those I was engaged in conversation with, may have needed a spot of encouragement, a reassurance or a shoulder to lean on?  There are hurting people everywhere. We’re all walking wounded in some way.

We always, always, always remember the best, the most honouring and encouraging words spoken to us. We also remember the very worst of conversations. The condescending. The hurtful and disparaging.

An average of fourteen blocks of conversation a day. That’s a lot of opportunity for hope-filled, life-giving, ‘seeing the best in you’ words. Spoken by me. Given as a gift that is easily given, if I just remember and hold dear the reality of the impact these words could have. Just like the kind, kind words spoken to my friends, that are forever branded in their hearts, secured in their souls.

Collossians 4:6  Let your conversation be gracious and attractive so that you will have the right response for everyone. 

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Avoiding the Hamster Wheel

School lunches, clean and ironed uniforms, drop offs and pick ups, homework, after school activities. Dinner and dishes.

And repeat.

And repeat.

It isn’t going to take much before we could feel like we’re in that hamster wheel…….just keep moving………just keep the momentum going…..family life in full swing.

Preschool life, school life, working life, hobbies and interests, church life, sports.  That’s a lot of balls to juggle.  How do you stop it all from consuming you?  How do you keep joyful in the midst of your taxi-driving and piles of paperwork that demands your attention?

And for those of you who are currently in the preschool trenches – when your nights are constantly interrupted and you’re not sure if you’ll ever get little Johnny to pee pee in the potty, and you’re concerned about behaviors and habits and EVERYTHING that goes hand in hand with the challenges of toddlerhood and babydom…..how do you keep your perspective balanced?  Because, I believe that perspective needs to be balanced, otherwise you’ll be eaten up, continually consumed by the demands of parenthood….if you don’t keep your perspective above and beyond the piles of laundry you currently face….

So….a two pronged post here………how do you keep your family humming happily, and avoid the ho hum hamster wheel of life when life is in full swing……..and/ or……how do you stop the concerns of life with little ones, from eating you alive?

I’ll share a few things I’ve learnt recently…….but please, do chime in with your thoughts and your experiences in the comments too…….remember – we’re all in this together……we have much to learn from each other….

*  Look at what other families do for fun – and copy – steal ideas.  Sometimes ‘fun’ doesn’t come easily….borrow ideas from others…..be intentional with creating ‘fun’.  It doesn’t always just happen.  I’ll do another post at another time on fun family things to do with spending very little or no money.

*  If organizing doesn’t come easily and naturally to you, work on identifying a few things that will make your family life flow a little better.  It may be starting the week with an empty ironing basket, or filling the freezer with some extra meals or snacks.  We all have things that cause little hiccups along the way to happier mornings/ after school or evenings…and sometimes it doesn’t take much to eliminate some of these hiccups.

*  Delegate more – to older kids, spouses, friends…….see if you can carpool more or swap babysitting duties.  Remember the whole ‘it takes a village’……

*  Try to socialize with others occasionally who are one step further along in life than where you are – your babies will not be babies forever, your tween will soon be a teen……..watch and learn by osmosis……I can not tell you what I have learnt from my dearest friend who has one child the same age as my oldest, and she has older children as well…..’cos it is so much….so very much……watch and learn my friends.  And know whatever stage you’re in – it does pass!

*  I think it is a good idea to try to read at least one international news item a day – there’s a big old world out there…..and it is easy to forget when our right here and right now is so pressing, but, this big old world is important to know about.  Our worlds become more meaningful the bigger we make them.

Ok, so those are my few, simple thoughts…what can you add?

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