Thursday, 12 June 2014

A house by the beach?

I saw my friend at the school gate last week and she had had her hair done the day before. She looked glamorous and beautiful. Don’t you just love leaving the hair salon, looking groomed and shiny? My friend and I had a little giggle though about the times we have gone to the hairdresser with a picture in our minds of what we want to look like when we walk out. We have given the hairdresser all the details of how he or she should cut and colour our hair, confident that they will be able to create the image in our head. But as we hand over our hard earned cash after they have finished, we would secretly cry inside because our hair looks nothing like what we imagined! Ever happened to you? As the owner of curly hair with a mind of its own, this is the story of my hair life!

This got me thinking on the way home about my life. I had a picture in my head of what it would look like. I have been working on this image since I was a little girl. For a start, in my dream life I am pretty sure I was richer and lived in a little cottage right on the beach! Uhm not sure what happened there but a terraced house in Greater London was not in the plan. Before I had the girls, I was convinced I would be a better mother than I am. In fact, I may have been the tiniest bit conceited about my knowledge of children! Hahahaha What was I thinking? The girls soon taught me a thing or 2 about what parenting really is- not anything like the books say and nothing like the picture in my head.

I would bet money (if I was a betting kind of person) that your life looks nothing like you thought it would. Like my life, yours probably has included more pain and loss than you thought it would. Perhaps people you love more than you ever thought possible have become ill and you have watched helplessly whilst they suffer. Did you wake up one day and realise you don’t actually live by the beach and chances are that unless all the jobs and schools are moved to the coast, you are unlikely to? And my moment of revelation- I most likely won’t own a holiday cottage by the sea either….. maybe a caravan or a tent?

But guess what? This would have seemed crazy to my childish imagination 3 decades ago but all the things I would not have chosen for myself have been the most positive. I don’t live by the ocean but I live exactly where God wants me. Here, in this little corner of the world, He has work for me to do. Not work that will make me famous or popular and it will never make me rich but it certainly makes me happy. My girls have taught me humility, patience and unconditional love because they are nothing like the books say and what I imagined they would be. And every minute of pain and loss in my life has strengthen me to be able to deal with every curve ball life throws.
What about you? I would bet money (if I was a betting kind of person) that your life is in fact exactly as it should be in order for you to become the person you will be.

Thursday, 8 May 2014

The Garden

The sun has graced us with her presence a few times over the last few weeks. Living in London, this is something we are very thankful for! She often hides behind the grey clouds that hover over the island that is the United Kingdom so when she shines in full glory, we all feel happier! Loads happier!

This weekend, I woke up to the sun flooding the window with her light. My heart lifted a little at the sight. I went downstairs to make coffee and I stood in the kitchen and looked out of the window into the garden. We have lived in this house for 8 years, I love this small house that is sandwiched by the neighbours on either side. In London most of us don’t live in houses surrounded by a garden, those houses are not in our price range. Rather, a large proportion of us, live in a house that shares it’s walls with the houses next door. It keeps life interesting, I am glad to know the personal music taste of the neighbours although I doubt they are glad of the shouting they hear from our side.

Sorry, I digress… I looked out at the garden I have seen for 8 years and for an instant I saw it as though for the first time. I saw the space, the sunlight playing on the leaves, the table ready to be laid for the BBQ later, the fire pit waiting to be lit, the tomato and strawberry plants that we had planted last week. I saw the garden and I remembered that I fell in love with this house because of it!

It struck me that most days when I look out of the kitchen window, I don’t see any of those things at all. What I usually see are the beds that need weeding, the patio that needs a tidy, the herbs that need attention. Most mornings, I only see the things that need changing in the garden and not the wonderful parts of it that made my heart sing when we first moved into the house.

Is this what I have done with other parts of my life? What about you? Do you do the same? Maybe I have begun to look at my husband and only see the things that could be better and not the incredible man I once obsessed about so much it nearly hurt! What about my beautiful girls? Am I spending time with them and enjoying the pure joy of their love and passion for life or am I just seeing the places they need stronger boundaries? What about my finances? Am I so concerned with the fact that I might be in the red that I fail to see that God has faithfully provided for me for 40 years- I have never been hungry or without a home to live in. But most of all, what about how I view God? Do I look to Him and see the parts of my life that still need healing, that I have been crying out for and forget to see what He does for me every day, what He has done for me already? He loves me beyond measure, died to free me, and answers my prayers in ways I never expect. He has surrounded me with love and friends to help me through the trails He allows. He has never turned away from me, not once.

What about you? This is a challenge for us all- let us try and see our lives with fresh eyes. Let us look at the house we live in and see the things that are wonderful and try to ignore the dust for a bit. Shall we give our kids or friends an enormous hug today and try to see the beauty in them? How about we go to work and feel grateful we can work unlike so many people in the world today. Being thankful can change more than you can imagine. Let me know how it goes!

Saturday, 26 April 2014

The Square in the Tower

It was dark and damp inside the tower, the circular floor and wall were slippery, green and cold. She sat on the floor, her head resting on her knees barely aware of the smell of rot in the air. She felt the ink black of the tower press into her, holding her down. Little Girl could not move. She couldn’t remember how old she was, was she 5 or 6? Maybe she was 35, she searched her mind for some reminder, some clue but found none. In the dark tower, the girl had a vague sense of her name, where she belonged. It fluttered through her mind like a butterfly but was gone before she had time to grab hold of it, to snatch it from the darkness and hear what it said. She had lost herself in the tower, she couldn’t find the door. Little Girl knew there was a door, she had come in through it but now when she looked for it she became disorientated. So she gave up and let the damp seep into her bones. She was so cold, she could not conjure up the feeling of warmth anymore.

A tear escaped from her eye and fell to the floor. Little Girl tried to remember, she searched her brain and found nothing. Her mind was hazy, everything jumbled. “Help,” her small voice whispered, “Why have you left me all alone in the tower? Why won’t you rescue me?”

She looked up again at the square of blue in the tower wall, wondering what it might be. She liked the colour, a flutter of joy pierced the darkness but before she could grasp hold of it, it was gone. In the recesses of her mind the colour evoked a memory. It was fuzzy, she was too exhausted to try and unfold the picture.  If only she could reach that square in the wall and look out of at the blue. Little Girl saw how far away the blue square was, she knew that she was too little to climb up so high.  She stayed on the cold concrete, tiredness overwhelmed her. Sleep came and took Little Girl out of the midnight of the tower for a few hours.

It was the feeling of warmth that drew Little Girl out of her slumber. And something hurt her eyes, a glow of golden light. Slowly she raised her eyelids, blinded by the bright square in the wall. Little Girl felt her heart beat faster, “What is that?” she wondered. Looking around the tower, Little Girl saw that it all remained in darkness but she sat in a pool of light that came from the square in the wall. She felt the Light on her skin, it was not unfamiliar, she knew she had experienced it before but could not picture the place or time. She sat very still, tried not to move a muscle, tried not to breath too loudly, she didn’t want to chase away the Light that shone through the square. Little Girl kept her tear stained face in the glow of the Light. She felt the way it caressed her cheeks, how it spread warmth from her face to her body. Very still, a tiny statue in the square of Light on the floor in the darkness. Little Girl didn’t know how long she sat with her face turned towards the Light but soon she could not bear to sit down any longer. She needed more Light, she needed to feel it on every part of her frozen body, she craved it, she felt she might die if she couldn’t get herself into the Light that came through the square in the tower.

“I want to get out of this dark tower, I have had enough of the eternal midnight, the cold walls and the concrete floor!” Little Girl whispered the words so quietly she wasn’t sure she had even said them. The Light on her face felt warmer, a little more powerful. The flicker of the joy Little Girl had felt before opened like a flower in her heart. She could see the joy, smell the fragrance of it. Little Girl unfurled her body, slowly and cautiously she stood up and lifted her hands towards the Light. “Help me,” Little Girl’s voice was barely there. As she spoke the Light intensified, the heat flooding her, feeding the joy, making it grow. Little Girl was afraid. She had not felt like this for as long as she could remember, she didn’t want to lose it but when she looked around, she could see the darkness just a foot step away from the Light coming from the square in the tower. What if she fell out of the Light into the dark space around her? What if she stepped out of the pool of Light? Her fear began to grow and her joy began to fade. But the Light shone through the square, the Light didn’t seem to care about the midnight around Little Girl.

Little Girl looked at the square in the tower, so high up and knew she had to reach it. She understood that if she didn’t get out of the square the darkness would take her again. Fear crept into her mind, Fear told her that she would get lost in the lower again, she would slip on the slimy floor, fall over. But the Light was so sweet, so powerful, it filled her with a new feeling. If Little Girl could distinguish emotions, she would have recognised courage. Little Girl looked at the square in the tower and saw for the first time that there was a ladder from the floor to the square. “I never saw the ladder before,” marvelled Little Girl.  Little Girl wondered is she had ever looked under the square before, had she only ever seen the darkness, the walls, the slime?

Little Girl saw the dark floor between her Light and the ladder. “If I step into the darkness, the Light will be gone, I will get cold and lost,” Little Girl’s lip trembled and tears welled up in her beautiful eyes. The Light warmed her skin, the heat like a father’s arms holding Little Girl close. Tentatively, Little Girl held her hand out of the Light into the dark, cold of the tower. Her mind told her that her hand would feel the icy air but Little Girl could not believe what happened! The heat of the Light remained on her skin, kept her hand warm as if the Light were still shining on in. Little Girl knew that if she kept her hand in the dark for too long, the heat would disappear and then she knew what she had to do.
Little Girl took a deep breath and stepped into the black space between her pool of Light and the ladder ahead of her. With legs like jelly, little Girl moved across the black floor and grasped the ladder. The glow of the Light stayed on her skin, pushed the icy cold from her. She kept her eyes on the Light coming through the square in the tower. One rung at a time, Little Girl climbed. The closer she got to the square, the more the joy and hope began to fill her heart. The square, a heartbeat away, the Light flooding in, a river of gold. Little Girl climbed onto the sill of the square and stood tall. The view from the square took her breath away, filled her with awe, was nearly too much to look at. From the square in the tower, Little Girl saw freedom

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!