Grown up learning is hard learning.

My earliest years were spent in a land-locked country.  There were some rivers, but my memories of rivers feature funeral pyres and hindu shrines, built up on the riverbanks, speckled with bright red and orange flowers and random cheeky, pesky monkeys, stealing the fruit offerings. Never swimming in a river. I do remember boating on a lake – a row row row your boat kinda boat, but I don’t ever remember actually being in the water of the lake.  The only place where we ever went swimming, was at a hotel when we lived in the city, and how we wrangled that, I’m not sure.  But it wasn’t a common event and certainly not common enough to build any proper swimming skills in me.  So when I went to school in New Zealand and when the whole school would jump on a bus to head into the pools in the city centre, and when we were divided up into ability groups, I was very quickly plonked in the very lowest of the groups.

Bam. Teach that kid to tread water.  Teach her to float.  The very basics.

Now I was eight at the time and surprise surprise I was plonked in a group with mostly newly turned five year olds in it.  Pretty much every kid in my school level could do the basics already and were grouped in the big kids pool.  Me, I was stuck in the very shallows of the learners pool.

I wasn’t too impressed by this, so I worked on my swimming. I listened to whatever the teacher tried to teach me, then in the weekends and school holidays I got myself to the pools to practice.  And practice I did. And by hook and by crook, I pretty much taught myself how to swim, through trial and error. So that the next year, when those school buses pulled up at the school and we began our noisy ride to the steamy concrete pools, full of chlorine that stung and reddened our eyes, I knew that I wasn’t going to have another humiliating experience of being in the shallowest end of the learners pool.  I could swim, maybe not like a fish, but enough to be at least with stragglers my own age.  And that felt good enough for me.

I had a similar experience when I started ballet.  I absolutely loved to dance…….I began with jazz dancing at the age of ten and I begged and begged my parents to add in ballet as well.  They relented when I was eleven and I joined the ranks of the R.A.D students.  Now jazz dancing is easy to pick up at any age and to be in a class with any similar-age kids, but ballet, not so much.  You really need to learn the basics and master the basics and work your way up the grade levels, to be able to handle the harder stuff.  So here I was at age 11, in a class of five year olds again.  Of course at the time I didn’t see that and recognize that negative feeling I got from that was one of ‘shame’, but I knew I didn’t like it.  So once again, I just worked hard.  I practiced and I practiced. I listened and I copied and I practiced some more, and I used all the shame and embarrassment to drive that desire in me to improve and do better.  And I did.  I was never an amazing dancer, but I worked hard and I progressed up the levels and my very wise teacher allowed me to skip a grade or two and by the age of 18 when I finished high school I was dancing five days a week, including teaching lower grades for my teacher and absolutely loving everything about the world of dance.

When you’re a little bit motivated and a little bit inspired, it is amazing what you can teach yourself to do.  And.  It’s a heck of a lot easier to teach yourself things the younger you are.

How is that??  You’d think that the older you are, the more skills you’ve got in your toolbox, right?  But, no.  Somehow it doesn’t work like that.  It’s a scientifically proven fact that the older you are, the harder it is to learn new things.  There are studies galore about this…..with reasons ranging from: your brain looses its plasticity (the ability to form new pathways) with age, your experiences of learning new things aren’t consolidated as well with age, as they are as a child, and there’s even a thing where your sleep changes during puberty and the type of sleep you end up having post-puberty is not conducive to helping learning new skills.  That’s not super encouraging though, is it?  Not when you’re someone who actually likes to learn and likes to develop new skills for a job requirement or out of interest, or even as a necessary step to help manage your health (like my husband had to when diagnosed with type one diabetes out of the blue at age 35).

So what can you do to help with new learning?  I’ve been thinking about this and reading a little and have a few little thoughts on this……

Allow for more rest. Your brain is working hard.  Your body is not a battery that just keeps going and going.  You need to recharge.  You need sleep and you need rest.  Without sleep you cannot actually commit new experiences to memory.

Allow for more self-love.  I’m pretty sure I’m not the only person in the universe that blames herself for x, y and z, when that’s totally not called for, and that revs up about five thousand notches the minute I can’t do something new.  We never ever expect children to be able to read Chaucer after their first week of school, do we?  We teach reading in steps.  We progress from short sentences to longer sentences.  We advance from shorter words to longer, harder words.  We encourage and we’re patient.  We need to be the same for ourselves, whenever we’re learning something new.  Whatever that new thing is.

Allow for more courage to try new things.  I think courage breeds courage.  All you need is a little to start with, and it somehow, magically, it multiplies.  Do the next hard thing, and then the next, and then the next.  I didn’t learn to drive in New Zealand.  I had a whole heap of reasons and excuses not to, but after we moved to America, after I’d left all my friends and family and moved with my husband and two small children to a place that I’d never been to, all of a sudden I had this new found courage in me to tackle other new things.  So I learnt to drive.  On the wrong side of the road.  And I made my husband sit the test before me, so I could learn the route and feel more confident. But I did it.  What had previously been something that was too hard for me, became something I had the courage for.  And I haven’t ever regretted that.

Allow more letting go.  This is something I don’t do well, but see the need to really work on.  It’s all too easy to hold onto all the ‘I can’t dos’ and ‘I wish I could do betters’….that’s easy…a better narrative would be ‘I’m working on that’, ‘That’s something that is in process for me’.  Just recently I was working on a problem in one of my jobs, and I openly made the comment to my boss that I wished I was an accountant as then I’d be able to solve that problem easily.  And then I felt dumb for saying that.  I know I don’t have that training, but more importantly, my boss knows very well I don’t have that training  – all I need to do in any situation is do my very best and seek out help when I need to.  And let go of all the things I’m not yet……emphasis on the yet….

Looking back, I can see that teaching myself to swim and learning how to dance when I was the ancient of days in the classes, were actually easy things.  I  had oodles of time, passion and determination all in my arsenal.  It may be harder to learn things as a adult, but it’s definitely not impossible, and it helps to know you’ve got a cheering squad by your side, which is what I have in my amazing friends and bosses.  When it comes to learning anything new, I’ve got people telling me they believe in me, that I can do it.  And that makes the world of difference.  I hope you have that too.  If I can do hard things, you can too.  Let’s do hard things together.

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When English doesn’t cut it.

I think we need more of the imperfect in our lives. All sorts of imperfect.

And, specifically, I think we need more of the Latin imperfect tense in our lives.

Random, I know.

But relevant.

Just lately I’ve been forced to think about where my family is at in life with certain things. Don’t worry, this isn’t a ‘woe is me’ post, but rather a very real acknowledgement of the choices we’ve made; the things we’ve said ‘yes’ to.

You see sometimes we think that saying ‘yes’ to something is a once-off event.  And sometimes it really is.  But where I’m at in life tells me that saying ‘yes’ to something is more often than not, a continual action. An ongoing action. And it helps to recognize this.

Years ago, when our oldest boy was a chubby five month old we said ‘yes’ to an ask for my husband to leave his job in mainstream media and move into Christian media.  We said yes then, and then we said ‘yes’ again to another job offer in America, and then Australia, and then another one back in NZ.  Yes, yes and yes. But even before that initial yes when we were in the throes of power chucks and power poos (our firstborn – not us), we’d been saying ‘yes’ to opportunities to serve the youth and young adults in our church, yes to stuffing envelopes and whatever little tasks needed doing.  Yes.  Just yes. Yes that stemmed from a desire to see us just be used by God.  Has it been hard?  Yes.  Has it been amazing?  Yes. Are we a little crazy?  I think it has helped!  Would we change anything if we could?  Not a chance.  But that’s all a very big tangent that I won’t take right now.

This continual action business – I think it could do with a bit more of a spotlight shining on it, because it is important in shaping the trajectory of our lives.

I think we could all do with remembering that many things require this continual action.

Saying ‘yes’ to a loving someone is not a one-time event, is it?  You don’t go to all the trouble of a fancy pants wedding to love and to hold your spouse for just that week.  No, you choose to love to them, again and again and again.  You see beyond the niggly and the hard and you love, and you love and you love.  Again and again.  Continually.

I love words.  I love interesting words.  But sometimes I find that the English language can be somewhat lacking in accurately describing things.  My high school offered Latin as a subject, and I loved it.  Dead language?  I think not.  A language that makes complete sense?  Absolutely.  In Latin (and all the romance languages) there’s a tense for this whole ‘more than once’ in the past business.  The imperfect tense is used to indicate an action that took place in the past but was an ongoing action rather than something that happened just once.  It’s actually a very handy tool to have.

To put it into context:  do you know that old hymn ‘I have decided to follow Jesus’?  “I have decided to follow Jesus. (3 times)No turning back, no turning back.”  There’s a story around this hymn that talks of an Indian convert (thanks to some Welsh Missionaries) coming up with the lines of this hymn when he was facing his imminent death. His martyrdom. The Village chief hadn’t approved of his conversion to Christianity.  Now this wasn’t a ‘brand new, knee-jerk reaction, just made the commitment to be a Christ follower on the spot, right there and then’ statement, no it was a ‘I have decided, I have decided over and over again, to follow Jesus’.  If the song had been written in Roman times it would have surely been in the imperfect tense:  ‘I have decided over and over again, to follow Jesus’.

And I think that its worth focusing on these imperfect tenses a little bit more and a little bit more often, because it reaffirms who we are and what we’re about.  Works in progress that we are. People who have to make the choices again and again and again to say Yes to loving God and to say yes to loving others.

I hope at the end of my life there are certain things that can be said about me, making excellent use of the imperfect tense.

I hope that it can be said of me that I chose to love my husband, my kids, my friends. my extended family, and my co-workers and neighbours, over and over again.

I hope it is mentioned that I continually said yes to God – however that looked (knowing that it always looks different for everyone).

I hope that someone acknowledges that I did decide to follow Jesus, over and over again.

And have you been wondering why this whole imperfect tense business is called ‘imperfect’?  Simply, it’s because something that is imperfect is something that is not yet finished.

I have chosen to say yes to following God, but there will be more opportunities for more of those ‘yes’ agreements to come.

These continuous actions are not yet completed.

I have decided to follow Jesus, and there’s more following to come.

The verbs, these doing words that give us the greatest amount of joy, and teach us the most important things, they are actions that are not yet completed.  And this for me as a Christ-follower gives me such breadth and scope for growth and development and potential.  The actions are not yet completed, not over and done with yet, therefore not perfect.

Perfectly imperfect.  That’s me.  And that’s you. Bring on more of it!

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The trip gift.

I’m being given the gift of a trip. For when I turn 40. Which isn’t soon, but soon enough. It’s the kind of gift that people never expect to fall into their laps. But it is happening to little ole me.

Seriously.

I get to pick a place in the world, anywhere in this wonderful, beautiful world we live in, and I have a bit of flexibility in what time of the year to go, and to celebrate my birthday, my brother is taking me, to my chosen destination.

Gobsmacking stuff, right?

Anywhere.

My kids think I’m a little crazy that I don’t have a set place to go to yet.

You see there’s a lot to consider. This is my one big chance to go wherever. Wherever.

For a mere day I toyed with the idea of choosing something radical like signing my brother and I up for a half marathon in some amazing historical city like Prague (and yep, a marathon is held there, I got as far as googling it). But who am I kidding? I can’t even run to the corner and while a challenge would be good for me, I’m not that gal that needs to prove herself through that kinda challenge. If I say that three times fast then I may begin to believe it.

I’ve also thought about doing something adventurous like climbing something…..or cycling something….but that’s not really my cup of tea.

The fact that it’s my brother and I on this trip is neat. I like him a lot. My brother. And not just cos he’s uber generous. But it also rules out a few destinations that would be what my romantic self would prefer to go to with my Spunky Hunk.

I’m also taking into consideration that I have coeliac disease and really don’t want to be in a foreign country and be hungry the whole time, because of the food limitations. A hungry Fiona would all too quickly become hangry.

So yeah. I’m thinking practically. But I’m also trying to engage a part of my  brain that hasn’t been used in a while. That part of me that allows herself to dream.

Yeah dream.

I think that somehow, somewhere, in amongst the demands and expectations of everyday, normal life, the ability to dream has somehow, somewhere leaked out of me. How about you? When was the last time you had a dream about something you wanted to do, something you desired to be? Something just for you. Not for your spouse/ partner/children/ siblings/ family/ friends. But you.

The book club that I’m part of is reading Bill Hybel’s book ‘simplify’ at the moment. The book looks at ten practices to unclutter your soul. I think most people these days are over scheduled, exhausted and overwhelmed at times. If any of those words are niggling away at your conscience , then I recommend giving this book a go.

Last night the chapter we looked at was talking about harnessing your calendar’s power, of how a calendar can be the primary tool for helping you become who you want to become. Hybels gives examples of people who by prioritising something enough to make room in their calendar for it, were able to make drastic changes to their lives. ‘If you start by plugging in the time slots on your calendar that determine who you want to become – and then fill in the other stuff around it, you’ll gradually become the kind of person you want to be’.

John Grisham was an attorney until he put the word ‘write’ into his calendar.

What’s your word?

What have you forgotten about, or put aside, in the hustle and bustle of life? What word have you left on the train, a by-product of your daily commute? Has your word been left on your baby’s change table? Is it in the pile of newsletters and communiques that you’re quietly ignoring weeding through?  Is your word stuck in your car, because you’re in and out of that vehicle all day, between the demands of your job, and maybe caring for elderly parents?

Maybe it is time to pick up that word, from wherever in your world you’ve cast it to, and it is time to remember what that word stirs in your soul.

I’m pretty sure my word for the moment is ‘dream’. To take some time out from the demands of raising a young family, to forget about the restrictions of budgets and schedules, and to relearn how to dream. And I’m hoping that with that, will come a very strong desire in my mind for a destination for this trip of a lifetime.

My fortieth is going to be epic, wherever I end  up going, whatever I end up doing, but the journey I’m taking in getting there, is maybe worth as much as the trip itself. This rekindled ability to dream. That’s kinda priceless.

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