Tuesday, 8 April 2014

When life gets tough...

A friend asked me a while ago about how I can reconcile my faith with going through the very real struggles of life. It is a good question. To be honest, in the midst of pain and fear I completely understand why she would ask. I am almost tempted to give a glib, insignificant answer just so that I don't need to think about it too much! There are times when I cry out to God asking Him where He is in all of the chaos of life, I think any follower of Jesus who says they don't is not being totally honest.
To some people it makes no sense at all that we would cling to our faith when our circumstances tell a story that seems to be the opposite of what we believe. And there a few of you reading this who are thinking something along the lines of:  "Some people need a crutch, they need something to hold onto when times get tough, let it be their faith even though it holds no power or truth- whatever they need, let them be."

I have been reading a small book called Epic. The author tells the story of humanity through the eyes of the bible. He looks at how we have been created to crave relationship, how we are built to belong, how we all long for a story of our own. He describes our lives as a movie script, written and played out in this world. We search for a hero, we look for adventure and love. And every good story has a villain! Darth Vader, Dark Lord Sauron, the wicked witch of the west. He asks the question: why would we live our lives without acknowledging that there is a villain, an evil force prowling the earth? Just look around people, just watch the news and you will see pain, suffering, narcissism, greed.... If every wonderful story ever written had no baddy then how would we have been able to fall in love with the hero? The hero would never have a chance to shine, to save the day. The story would be boring!

When things go pear shaped in our life, when everything appears to dissolve into a heap of steaming mess, it is our turn to take centre stage. As a follower of Jesus, I truly believe that satan doesn't want me to grow and change and make any difference to the world around me. And I also know that I was been given authority over satan the moment I accepted Jesus into my life. It is how I choose to fight this battle, not whether it should have happened or not.

So my answer to my friend is this : my faith never promised to make my life pain free or easier than the rest of the worlds. My faith gives me the power to fight the villain that comes prowling around, it helps me to grow and change through every tear I shed so that when we come out the other side, I will be stronger, wiser and more equipped to help others fight their battles.

Tuesday, 18 March 2014

I miss my Mama

My mother. My Mama. We used to build 1000 piece puzzles together on the dining room table, chatting about anything and everything. I would lie on my parent’s bed and brush her hair whilst she dosed off. She would hug me a thousand times during the day and kiss my neck. I miss her.

My mother was a little nuts! We had chickens in our garden, they wondered around freely and laid their eggs under the bougainvillea plant where nobody could reach in and collect them. That plant had big thorns and beautiful purple flowers. When the chicks hatched they would follow their mummy chicken around our garden and try to stay alive- the owls and cats were always out to get them. The chickens would wake early and stand under my mum’s bedroom window, clucking like chickens do, waking my mother. I would laugh as she described how she would fly out of bed and into the garden, chasing the chickens in only her little cotton nighty. And naturally one of the neighbours would drive past seeing my dishevelled mother in her nighty chasing the chickens!

She adored my brother, sister and I! The night before my matric dance (end of school prom) my boyfriend dumped me. My mother was spitting mad at him for making me cry and made sure he knew just how mad. She came to collect my friends and I from school to take us to the hairdresser before the prom and she spotted him across a field. She hit the brakes on the people carrier hard, nearly giving us all whiplash and jumped out of the car. She yelled his name loudly across the field, making every teenage head within a few hundred meters turn. When he looked up to see why he was being yelled at by a tiny little lady, she looked him straight in the eye and yelled: F..k You! The she jumped back into the car and did a wheel spin up the hill, leaving a cloud of dust behind her. Like a scene from a mafia movie! My friends howled with laughter as we drove off and I died with shame!

I am so happy she stuck up for me like that! I am so blessed she loved me so much. My mother suffered from depression. She was often deeply unhappy, she even had to be hospitalised a few times. Her childhood was not filled with love and laughter but rather with abuse and anger. But despite of all that she loved me with such an intensity that it burned away all of the mess that came with her mental health and past.

The thing that always amazes me about this life we have been given, is how painful death is. It makes so little sense that death should hurt so much! There are only 2 things that are certain to happen to every one of us- birth and death. The birth of a baby is joyful but that is not the case when we say goodbye. When we have to let go, often a part of us leaves too. There are times in the darkness after a funeral when the pain overwhelms you. It physically hurts, as if someone is sitting on your chest, forcing the air out of your lungs. Even after all these years, there are days when my heart aches for my mother. My body craves her hugs. I wish she was here to tell me that everything is going to be ok because she will fight the battles with me. If she were still here, she would be fighting my corner like crazed, chicken chasing human!

But now it is my turn to be the mummy… now it is my turn to fight for my girls. And I had a great role model- broken like me but strong enough to love past all the mess. And I have my Father in heaven, the maker of heaven and earth on my side! What a blessing!

Friday, 7 March 2014

Thing 1 and Thing 2

I totally agree with those people who say that the moment you find out you are having a baby (method not important i.e. step child, adoption or birth) you also receive a disproportionate amount of guilt. As parents we spend too much time mulling over what we have done wrong or could have done better. I gave birth to 2 girls so I have double the guilt. We should all learn to focus more on what we have done right! So I shall get the ball rolling! I shall focus on something my husband I appear to have done well.

It seems that one of the thing we have taught our girls is to be exactly who they are, with no compromises! They are independent, strong willed girls who are not afraid to be a little different. This makes our girls a bit like marmite. There are people in the world who ‘get’ them and who love them. There are also people in the world who don’t. Helping them understand that we cannot be friends with everyone but can be kind, loving and understanding is a challenge, not least as it is a lesson all of us are learning!

My eldest is 13. She has just started at a new school very close to us. Having been there for only 2 months, one would expect she would try to blend in but that is not her way. Today was World Book Day and the school asked the high school pupils to come in dressed as a book character or wear mufti. She and her friend spent hours making their ‘Thing1 and Thing2’ costumes from Dr Zeus’s The Cat in Hat. They looked amazing! And when I dropped them at school this morning, I looked around in horror as I noticed that I could see no other teenagers that had dressed up. I saw a few in onesies and I am sure there were more in school but we saw none. What was her reaction? She loved it. Embracing her crazy side, not taking herself too seriously, being proud of what she is.

My girls are still working out who they are, what they stand for, where they get their value from. I can model to them what I believe, my own faith but ultimately they will make their own choices and walk their own path. But I believe that their gift of not wanting to conform is exactly what they will need one day if they continue on their faith walk. Being a follower of Jesus often means that we are not like everyone else, that we are obviously a little crazy. When we truly walk with Jesus we will get push back from the world. The world does not feel comfortable with what we believe, what we stand for. And that is ok because it is not our job to force people to see the freedom that they could have but rather to live in it ourselves. Sometimes that means we get to look like my daughter did, like someone who doesn’t take themselves too seriously and knows how to seek out the joy in life.

What do you stand for?

Monday, 24 February 2014

Toddlers, teenagers and puppies

Toddlers, teenagers and puppies are so similar at times that the only thing separating them is whether they are covered in fur and if have you look up or down to talk with them. As it happens, I am still able to look straight ahead to talk with my teenager but she is quickly over taking me and soon I will have to look up at her to tell her off. I think the step I bought at Ikea will become useful then although I am not sure how scary I will be if I first have to drag the step over to her and then say: Tidy your room now!

So here are what I think puppies, toddlers and teens have in common:

1.      All of us gaze down at the quiet, sleeping toddlers, puppies and teenagers after a long day of trying to contain them and think: Oh my, isn’t this the most beautiful creature ever created. And then we sneak out of the room as quietly as we can so as not to wake them up for fear of losing that feeling!

2.      They are LOUD! Toddlers throw tantrums, puppies bark and teenagers throw tantrums….

3.      Neither toddlers, teenagers nor puppies respond well to a raised voice. If you want cooperation then positive reinforcement is the only way forward.  Some people call it bribery but these people probably write books about behaviour instead of having to manage it 24 hours a day.

4.      All of them want you to ‘leave them alone’ but all of them constantly demand your attention… go figure.

5.      They teach you how to be patient and then they give you lots of opportunities to practice!

6.      For some reason all of them have an ongoing war with the walls and doors in the house! My teenager daily tests the strength of the door hinges by slamming them shut so hard the entire house shakes. She has also adorned her newly painted bedroom wall with ridiculous amounts of blue tac (prestic for you South Africans reading) and doubled sided tape to hold up the photos of strange looking boys in bands people over the age of 15 have never heard of! Toddlers love helping us decorate our walls with their crayons! Paper is boring when you are 2 isn’t it? Walls are much easier to use when practicing how to hold a pen correctly. And puppies? Well, I have a friend whose puppy ate a hole into the living room wall. I don’t think I need say more about puppies and furniture….

7.      Toddlers, puppies and teenagers will eat through every morsel of food in your house whilst you aren’t watching because you are too busy trying to clean the walls before a child and dog free friend comes to visit! And then they will whinge at you all day about being hungry until you go and empty your purse for more!

8.      On the subject of food: have you ever tried to eat something a toddler or puppy can’t have without them noticing? It is impossible- they can sniff out the crisps from upstairs!  I think their brains are wired to hear packets open but not hear their name being called!  And teenagers will happily point out the fact that you said you were on diet but you are now eating crisps. Can’t stick to your diet mum? Grrrrrrr yes I can and these are baked low calorie crisps so they don’t count!

9.      All three are obsessed with their body parts…..

10.  Do you remember the days when you could pretend that everything was not falling apart when it really was? For example, you and your partner could spend the whole drive to the party yelling at each other, still throwing little snide comments at each other as you walk towards the front door but as soon as the door is opened you have an enormous ‘all is wonderful’ smile on your face? Liar liar pants on fire! But as soon as you try and pretend that life is great when it isn’t, your puppy, toddler and teen fix that.  If you had a toddler in the car on the way to the party they would announce loudly that ‘mummy called daddy a bad name in the car’ as soon as your friend opens the door. And your teenager would most likely do the same but in more detail. They say dogs can feel your emotions, knowing when you are stressed or upset. They can and will behave as if the world is ending! My dog would follow me around whining and refuse to listen when we were out if I was stressed!

11.  Toddlers don’t need help from anyone, they can do it ‘by mine self’. Puppies can walk just fine off the lead that’s why they pull you along, they don’t need help staying off the road and teenagers know you are stupid because what has your life experience from the ‘olden days’ got to do with them anyway?

12.  But most of all toddlers, teenagers and puppies make our lives happier and more colourful! We would be so very bored without them!


Monday, 17 February 2014

I might have a screw loose

I am very concerned that something in my house is going to collapse at any moment. I imagine it might be the bookcase or the TV stand. I will be sitting on the sofa, with a glass of wine watching Call the Midwife. I will hear the creak and groan of the TV stand and then watch in horror as it collapses into a pile of broken wood and glass onto the floor. The thing is I keep finding random nuts and bolts and screws on the floor. I have no idea where they come from! I will be wondering through the house, step on one of these mysterious screws and yelp in pain. Then I will pick it up and begin to inspect all the furniture in close proximity for signs of a lost bolt or nut. And I can never find where it comes from. Never. So I am concluding that they are just randomly falling from furniture and so things must be getting ready to fall apart soon. Or the cats are bringing them in from someone else’s house in which case it might be your bookcase that is about to collapse. Sorry.

I shouldn’t really make light of it though. Once a few years ago the heavily laden bookshelves above our spare bed fell down- onto the pillow. My mother in law was visiting and if she had been in bed at the time she would have been squished. But in that case I never found any screws on the floor beforehand, really I didn’t!  

And yesterday, my sister and I were tiding up the playroom when we found a lost screw on the floor. We wondered where it had come from, looking at the furniture in the room and not finding the lonely hole it must have fallen from. I found where it came from this afternoon! I picked up one of our sit-on toy cars by the steering wheel, which promptly fell off and the car landed on my toe! Ouch!

You may think I have a screw loose for writing the next bit, I don’t mind if that is what you think though. Living without God must be a little like finding a screw on the floor and not knowing where it fell from. You know something is missing from your life, you can feel it but you can’t find what it is. You wonder why your job doesn’t satisfy, why your relationships aren’t enough, what you are missing. When we don’t have Jesus in our life, we are like someone that is thirsty all the time. We try to quench the thirst with the world and we are constantly left with a bad taste in our mouth. We were created to be in relationship with our creator, we were created in His own image. Ultimately, all the money in the world, another degree behind our name, a husband to hold onto, a baby in our arms, a bigger house, better friends, a mother that isn’t messed up- all these things will not make you happier or satisfied.

Some of you are disagreeing with me as you read this. You are thinking that you have no need for a God that is associated with the church, the church that has ruined lives. I agree with you. The church has made mistakes, it is full of humans that is why. I am not talking about religion. I am talking about Jesus, the man who really existed- this is not a historically disputable fact. This Jesus is worth getting to know, even if you just want to prove me wrong. But if I am not wrong, you may just find the hole that the screw fits into and it might fix a whole lot of things. In the meantime, wish me luck as I watch the TV tonight!

Monday, 10 February 2014

Oof…..that hurt! Parenting an undercover agent.

It is something that fellow parents and I often marvel at, the age old question- What on earth did we do with all our time before we had kids? The answer is probably drink red wine next to a cosy fire place in the pub, read the paper even the boring sports part, finish whole conversations and stay in bed. The last part is most likely one of the reasons we became parents in the first place so all of you who are yet to embark on this journey- BEWARE!

My children know me better than any other human alive. I cannot fool them for a moment. I am not surprised they know so much about me considering they have stalked me all their lives! When they were little they would spy on me all day even following me to the loo. Kids would make great MI5 agents. Firstly, you can never lose them when you know you are being followed. They can find you anywhere in the house, even if you are hiding in the cupboard under the stairs with the tin of Quality Streets. That’s brings me to their next talent, working out what you have been up to without needing to interrogate you. How often have my kids just come and stood next to me and said, ‘I smell chocolate, can I have some?’  How do they know! They never notice important things like having to step over the pile of dirty clothes on the bedroom floor! And kids never crack during an interrogation! They will never admit they started the fight or ate the brownies no matter how much pressure you apply. They are strong, kids are!

I am privileged to spend lots of time with young mums with the work I do. I can honestly say that some of the best mothers I have ever met have been young. When I first became a mum, I could barely leave the house with my clothes on the right way round. I was probably too busy fretting about the babies sleep routine and whether the food I was going to give her whilst out was freshly cooked from scratch using an Anabel Karmel recipe. I had read the books, watched the DVD’s and I was not going to be defeated by a small human! The young mums I know don’t have time for that nonsense. They have school work to finish, university lectures to attend, seminars to run to. They do all this whilst sterilising bottles, dressing stroppy toddlers and wiping snotty noses. And do you know what? I hardly ever hear them complain.

One thing I tell the young mums all the time is to enjoy the babies whilst they are little. I am not entirely sure why I spent so much time wishing my baby would walk, as soon as she could, she ran everywhere and not always in the direction I needed to go. And then I worked and worked on her vocabulary so that she could talk. Then she started saying ‘No!’ to every request I made. But most of all, a teenager has had 13 years of spying on me in the disguise of a sweet, innocent child. Now she can bring out the big guns! Now she reflects back to me all the things I have spent 40 years trying to ignore! My laziness, my untidiness, my short temper, my impatience, my unhealthy habits! Oof… that hurts! Grrrrr I would prefer to put my head back in the sand!

But that is just the point isn’t it? Having the girls and allowing them to show me where I could do with some tweaking is such an honour. I can choose to put my head in the sand and ignore it all. Or I can take a long hard look at myself and begin to change those bits that need changing. And I can take a leaf out of the book of the young mums. Stop over analysing things, trying to fix it all and just enjoy the time I have with the girls. At least now that I have worked out they are undercover agents, I know to hide the chocolate in a more secure location!

Sunday, 2 February 2014

Zip lock bags are very useful

I have just spent the week at the Vineyard Churches National Leaders Conference in Nottingham. What a week! It is equally exhausting and exhilarating. The week is filled with early mornings, worship, incredible teaching and then late nights! It is a life changing, gear shifting time where God whispers in your ear all week. But I am not good at sitting still for long periods of time, no matter how good the speaker is (if God himself did suddenly appear on stage I would certainly wake up!). So I have a few strategies to keep myself awake- the last thing I want to do is fall asleep and drool down my shirt when all the top leaders of Vineyard UK are in the same room! Yes, we should always stay true to ourselves but there are some things best kept for the sofa at home.

One fool proof way of keeping myself awake is to move around in my seat, bouncing my legs, folding and unfolding my arms but I have found that my fellow conference goers don’t appreciate me wriggling around all day long. My sister fidgets with her pens and this week accidentally threw the blue one (she has a set of many colours) at an unsuspecting person trying to listen! Dangerous!

In an attempt to stop my legs from bouncing around and from flinging things at people, I use sweets and gum. It really works when you have to concentrate, chewing gum may make me look like a cow but a cow that seems to be listening at least! But here in lies the problem. I have an enormous, beautiful handbag that I got as a gift in SA. Leather with the feel of Africa about it and big enough for my note books, multi-coloured pens, water and a large selection of sweets, mints and gum. This year I was clever. Any girl with a big hand bag will tell you that if you want to find a small pack for gum at the bottom, you need to unpack everything- it will always be the last thing you find. How was I clever? I put all the sweets and gum into a clear zip lock bag so it was all in one easy to find place. But oh how I was teased by my church family! They kept asking me if I was expecting to be going through airport security! They are such comedians…

My very lovely friend, has a bible that she got as a gift a few years ago. It holds sentimental value to her and through all the reading and traveling has begun to fall apart. She has used glue and tape but now she uses a zip lock bag to keep the bible together. Zip lock bags are very useful, not always pretty but useful!

It made me think about how we all have ‘zip lock bags’ in our lives. We use all sorts of things to hold us together when life gets tough, things we use to stop us from falling apart at the seams. We use friends but they often let us down, we use food or booze but they will eventually kill us if we eat and drink too much, our careers, always looking for the next promotion but that is not always secure, our children but they will move out one day (I certainly hope so anyway), our husbands but they are only human and mess up, our looks but they fade…. What is yours?

Let me tell you my friend, there is truly only one thing that can hold your life together. There is only one thing that will keep you from falling apart and getting lost like my gum in my huge bag. It is not yourself, or your family or friends. No amount of therapy will help you find it. It is only the living God who can give you peace and security, friendship and love without any conditions. The bible in my friends zip lock bag holds the key- Jesus….