Parenthood

Rant

My sweet little chilled out Macie has, overnight it seems, turned into a scratching, biting, dirt-eating, roaring, running, scaler-of-all-things-high-and-dangerous. This turn of events, coupled with the sassy-pants attitude of Mr. Four, has pushed stay at home parenthood to a whole. new. level. So here goes my requisite ‘parenting is so hard’ whinge. I figure I’m probably due for one…once a year seems about right.

Before I get into it, I feel the need for a disclaimer. This isn’t going to be one of those ‘find the gold in the hard moments’ posts. Not that we don’t need those, of course, we do. BUT, I read a lot of articles that talk about the trials of parenting and then finish up by talking about how precious our kids are, how cherished this time is, and how fleeting it really is. I read these and initially feel comforted, but somehow end up feeling worse…guilty somehow that in the midst of the chaos I’m not appreciating these years enough. SO…please rest assured, I love my kids to the moon and back, I’m trying to milk the loveliness out of these years, and I understand that one blessed day I shall look back with nostalgia and annoy some harrowed mum by commenting that, “I miss those days!” But today is a vent. Hopefully my venting will let you know that you are not alone in your messy house.

I think the thing that causes me to feel like the breath is being strangled out of me some days is the sheer relentlessness of raising kiddos. On a semi-regular basis, my own version of the Hillsong United song flashes through my head, “This kid is relentless.” Having battled ill-health for a couple of years surely can’t be helping, but I sometimes get to the point where I feel like I’ll explode or just disintegrate if I get asked for one more snack. I have, I kid you not, started sneaking around the house at times, hoping that no-one will notice my presence, quietly going about my business, because I know if I get spotted, Thing 1 or Thing 2 will be inevitably uncontrollably compelled to ask me to do something, or hang on my pants until they start to fall down. I swear they think, ‘Oh look, it’s the lady that does stuff. I must ask her to do more stuff.’

I think one of my main problems is that most days I hunt like a starving stray cat for morsels of the life I used to have. I try and trap moments of time that are uninterrupted and whimsical. I dream of the airy freedom of going about life without having my radar out for a small mountaineer attempting a first ascent. I long for the indulgence of having a grumpy day where I can just shut myself in a dark room and watch Netflix all day. Instead, I am the only introvert in a family of extroverts, and I get approximately 3.5 seconds in the loo before it becomes a shared experience.

Another thing that works against me, is that I am so driven by productivity. There’s nothing that I love more than putting my hand to a worthwhile task, and while I KNOW in my rational self that there could be nothing more worthwhile than raising tiny humans, the productive part of me dismisses the mundanity of daily childrearing as a box I cannot tick at the end of each day. I want to finish a tangible project, email it off to the appropriate parties, and receive constructive feedback and praise on what I have accomplished. Instead I get to scrub the floor, only to have Thing 2 post his newly dismantled banana over the side of his highchair.

I have become scarily adept at spotting the sound of Caleb’s truck arriving home from 14 miles away. Macie runs to the door to greet his D when the workday is done, and I’m about one step behind him. I get almost giddy to have my teammate back at my side. I read an article from a Psychologist recently who mentioned that parents of young children always feel overworked and underappreciated. Never a truer word. But at least the two of us are both clinging on to the same flogged horse together!

So there you go friends, rant over! (For this year). I pray that in this time of our lives God will grant us grace and strength. I also pray that through the continuous squeezing, our characters and personalities become more patient, loving, kind, peaceful, good, gentle, and self-controlled. You are not alone dear parent…and you are doing a great job.

 

Much love,

Deb xx

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Welcome Home

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From the moment we stepped off the plane when we emigrated, there was a settledness in my heart that I hadn’t experienced for the whole four years we lived in Christchurch. That feeling has stuck with me for the nearly three years we have lived here in the USA, however in recent months I started to experience a longing for home like I hadn’t up to this point. It was kind of kickstarted by watching “Hunt for the Wilderpeople” (… “and through that door are all the nummiest treats you can imagine; Fanta, Dorritos, L&P, Burger Rings, Coke Zero…”). Something happened in my heart watching that movie. The familiarity and comforting homey feeling of seeing a Kiwi police car, the farmland, native bush, and the Auckland bungalows was almost overwhelming.

Over subsequent weeks that feeling grew. I felt restless. I’ve always had a thing where I feel like reaching my hands to the sky and yelling to passing aeroplanes, “Take me with you!” This intensified to the point where I was in mortal danger of walking into a lamppost as aircraft jetted overhead. And then something magic happened. I received an email from my boss at Thinkladder asking if Macie and I would be interested in being flown over to New Zealand to take part in a writing workshop. Macie was very interested.

From the very moment I received that email, it’s difficult to explain what happened, but all of the normal anxious feelings I would normally have had were quieted by a blanket of grace. It just felt like God was offering me the kindest gift, and he was allowing me the peace to go with it. And believe me, I had plenty to feel anxious about! The chronic migraines I had been battling for the better part of two years were rearing their ugly painful heads. How was I ever going to travel, let alone work? It was at this point that Caleb reminded me that I had now met the prerequisite requirements that the medical insurance required before they would approve the Botox treatment. I received the treatment about a week before my trip. It takes 7-10 days to work and after a course of steroids to break an intractable migraine, I experienced a predominantly pain-free trip. Ah-mazing.

As any parent can imagine, the thought of flying long haul solo with a 13-month old was also a cause for potential concern. But, contrary to what would be the norm, I genuinely felt pretty relaxed about it! (Macie turned out to be a total travel champ, despite a few ill-timed poonamis of epic proportions…I’m talking incinerate-the-clothing type explosions. Bless his good-natured, poopy adventuring soul.)

Arriving back in NZ was totally surreal. The humidity, the familiarity, the lush greenness and vibrant colours all hit me smack in the face (I swear, the colours are more vivid there…the hole in the ozone layer may be burning us all to a crisp, but I think it may be making everything brighter?).

We headed up north to Tutukaka (with a one-night stop in Mangawhai) for the writing retreat – a bunch of nine counsellors from around the country gathered to write content for the app. The specialist of special treats was that my good friend Kayla from the BTI days was also at the retreat, so we got to have a wee reunion with our wee bubbies. From there, Mace and I made the marathon mission back to Tauranga, basically in one shot…put it this way, by the time we had reached the service centre at the end of the Auckland motorway and I was desperate for the loo and a coffee, Mace had fallen fast asleep. So I had to keep driving. With a highly pressurised bladder. For three more hours. Kids.

Getting to see a bunch of my nearest and dearest in Tauranga was the biggest blessing. The week was jam-packed with catch-ups, and my only regret was that I didn’t get to see everyone that I wanted to. It was so special that my fam got to see Macie while he’s still small and super cute.

By the end of my two weeks, I was well reacquainted with Kiwi culture…the best bits (DAIRY!!, the people and the landscape) and the not-so-shining bits (hello, NZ drivers?). Somewhere in the last few days I even encountered the paragon of Kiwi passive-aggressive sarcasm in the form of a note left on my car in the K-Mart carpark. I had been having a little trouble parking due to being on the other side of the road and car again, and I when I came out of the shop to a note on my windscreen, I was gutted, thinking that someone had damaged my borrowed vehicle. It read, and I quote, “I’m super impressed with your parking, well done, keep it up ☹.” With sad face and all! God bless the Kiwis.

This trip was a surreal, beautiful, providential, outrageous blessing. When I was younger, I used to think that one day I’d get flown places because I would finally be important enough…and now I know that I get to do cool stuff simply because God is really kind.

I love you Aotearoa, you’re the best.

Deb xx

The Coolest Nun You’ll Ever Meet

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I was thinking about writing the third part in ‘The Journey of Freedom,’ but as I thought about what I wanted to write, so much of it came back to one person. A nun. Her name is not Sister Mary Clarence unfortunately (I used to pull Judah’s onesies ‘til they stopped over his wee head and say, “Sister Mary Clarence, is that you?” It was the BEST game), but her name is Sister Marie (pronounced Ma-rie). I met her in 2012 when she became my counselling supervisor in Christchurch. She was roughly 70, always wore a woolly cardy, and was one of the most remarkable people I have ever met.

I don’t know about you, but I have always found nuns absolutely fascinating. I feel like I have so many questions about the monastic life, especially regarding habits…like, are they super uncomfy?!. I never really got to ask Sister Marie these questions, not because I think she would’ve minded, but because she was such a consummate professional, and we were there to talk about me, not her.

The order she belongs to is one that is specifically devoted to serving the poor in the local community. She started her professional career as a teacher, and then re-trained as a counsellor in transactional analysis. She worked out of the Salvation Army in the lowest socio-economic suburb in the city and would ask between $5-$20 an hour as a donation. One of the things that I loved about her, is that in order to preserve people’s dignity, she would hand her clients a plain brown envelope to put their donation in; no-one ever need feel embarrassed if they could only afford $5.

It was Sister Marie that helped me get a handle on anxiety. I had experienced several episodes that were like constant mild panic attacks that would last for sometimes weeks at a stretch. My breathing was shallow, I felt dizzy, and unable to come down off the edge. It was horrible. Sister Marie helped me to understand that anxiety was the culmination of years of feelings that I had not allowed to be felt; left to their own devices, they banded together and took my attention by force. She taught me that if I stopped pushing anxiety away, and instead, stopped and listened to what it was trying to say, it would no longer need to arrest my daily life.

Sister Marie also taught me that in order to face the terrifying abyss of inner pain, I only needed to tip-toe up to the therapeutic window, take a peek, and tiptoe away again. With a trusted guide, the trips to the therapeutic window became less scary, and eventually, the carnage I witnessed became less and less alarming, and I could begin to make peace with it.

One of the biggest lessons I learnt from Sister Marie was one of her favourite mantras, “The only way through the pain, is through the pain.” It carried weight when she said it; the weight of someone who is qualified to say such a thing because they speak from experience. She told me that when she started her counselling training, she committed thoroughly to working through her own issues, aware that she could only lead people as far as she herself was willing to go.

But more than what she taught me, it was who she was that left such an impression. Up until that time, any notable moments on my healing journey were reasonably dramatic…punctuated by loads of emotion and quite instant tangible results. The journey I took with Sister Marie wasn’t like that. It was slow, and steady, and peaceful. Much like Sister Marie herself. I have never met anyone more grounded, secure and unflappable. She was very kind, but I also got the impression that she could be faced with the scariest, meanest person in the world, and not back down an inch. It was as if through a lifetime of silence, liturgy, devotion and surrender, she had discovered who she was and what she was called to do. There were no qualms, no ‘what ifs’, and no striving to climb the ladders of success, self-promotion or chasing ‘something out there’. She was completely settled within herself.

Those many mornings spent in her sparse, yet cosy, office were a game-changer for me. Sister Marie, in her humility, groundedness, kindness, and honesty, allowed me to see that the while the flash-bang of emotional healing is wonderful and a such a gift, the long-game of quiet, consistent plodding in a healthy direction is just as necessary. I want to be like Sister Marie when I grow up.

 

Much love,

Deb xx

A Fish out of Water

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I realise that it’s been some time since I’ve blogged…which is a whole ‘nother blog in itself, but in short, I’m still clawing my way slowly back to health after being unwell for the better part of two years. Thankfully, things are looking up thanks to a big diet adjustment, and hormone and migraine preventative medications.

I also realise that I’m still due to do Part III in my Journey to Freedom series, and fret not, it’s still coming, I just felt like I had something else pressing on my mind.

It’s been two and half years since we gathered our five suitcases, one guitar, and 19-month-old J-Dog, and headed off to the Big Smoke. In some ways it feels like forever, and in others, just yesterday. In many ways, Oregon has become home to me. There was always a part of my heart and personality that felt a bit ‘too much’ for New Zealand, and as soon as I arrived here, I no longer felt that way. Additionally, almost as soon as we touched down, I felt settled in my heart in a way that I hadn’t for the longest time. We have met lovely people, enjoyed the beauty of our mountain town, and just so appreciate our centrally-heated miracle home. And I can’t forget the bargains, it does a Dutch-Kiwi’s heart so glad to get real, honest to goodness coupons for the groceries each week. Heck, I got to double two coupons a few weeks ago and got $27 off my weekly shop! (Cue Caleb rolling his eyes, and my sister peeing her pants in disbelief).

But despite all this, I’m facing something for which I had not been prepared. I feel different. A bit off-centre. A little misunderstood. Weird-ish. The way I think of it is this – if you think about sonar, (my knowledge of which comes from Octonauts and the two submarine movies I’ve watched), a boat sends out sound waves to ping off surrounding objects to get an idea of their location. In life, we are constantly sending out pings to get our bearings and locate ourselves socially, culturally, spiritually. When I left New Zealand, I felt very sure of where I was at. The pings I was sending out were returning from where I thought they would and I felt very centred, accepted, confident and understood.

In some ways, it would be easier to move to a country that was so obviously different in its culture to my own (and in other ways, hideously harder). But, at least, you’d expect things to be really different. Moving here feels like I’ve moved to a parallel universe, that is almost the same, but just a little bit different. It’s enough to lull me into a sense of sameness, until I miss a social cue, or get a response that I’m not quite expecting, or get a blank look when I tell a joke (there’s nothing quite so soul-destroying as having to explain a joke). Then I feel just a touch off-balance. The pings are coming back in a way that is just different enough to make me feel unsure socially and culturally. (This is probably a good place to mention that this has nothing to do with people I’ve met – not at all, like I said, they are some of the loveliest people I’ve encountered).

A good example would be Kiwi humour – the type of humour that uses sarcasm and mockery as a form of affection. I remember at youth group there was a period of about a year where we gave each other the fingers just because. I have encountered scenarios here where I use my Kiwi mockery to let people know how much I like them, only to have them look at me like I’m the biggest meanie there ever was. Neat. (The good news is that there is a fellow kiwi on the worship team, we call him Kiwi-Colin, and when we’re on the team together we basically spend the whole time mocking each other.)

It’s kind of a lonely feeling. I don’t really like it. But I feel God all over it. He’s giving me the tiniest insight into what it’s like to be an outsider – how life must feel to the foreigner, the unpopular, the social misfit. I think this is really important. Because what I’m also learning, is that I am no less loved because of it. I feel like my world has shrunk in many ways, but somehow in this place I’m learning all that really matters is the gaze of my Father, and walking hand-in-hand with Jesus to live out his Kingdom in really small ways. In feeding my kiddos and rocking them back to sleep, in praying for people every day, in dropping a meal to friends in need, in taking the time to ask about a cashier’s day, in giving some cash to a person without a roof over their head.

Much love, from your slightly-off-centre friend,

Deb xx

A Journey of Freedom – Part II; Gollum

Gollum

I have to smirk; a few people commented on my tricky trickery in leaving you all hanging at the end of my last post. I have a confession to make: it wasn’t intentional. I’m not that clever. I just didn’t want to bore you all to tears, so I decided to stop writing. However, for those of you waiting with bated breath, here is part two. (Those of you waiting with bad breath? I can’t help you there…).

Gollum.

As mentioned in my first post, the voice of ‘the dread’ finally got so intrusive that I could no longer ignore it. Whether it became that way because my life was increasingly contrasted with my deep longing to be free, or because it was yelling louder and louder, I do not know. Or possibly because I had started to make some concerted efforts on a journey of freedom, the lid of the can had started to give way and the proverbial clat of worms started emerging. (On a side note, did you know that there are four possible collective nouns for worms? Bed, bunch, clat, and clew. Drop that into the convo next time you want to impress someone. You’re welcome).

The beginning of this journey mainly consisted of spending a lot of time lying on my bedroom floor, arms splayed, listening to Christian music of some variety and bawling my eyes out. It wasn’t sophisticated or cognitive. There was something about opening my soul to that of the Spirit of God that I think allowed a lot of unidentified grief to be aired. I cried and cried. And then I cried some more. For years, actually. I cried in my room, in church services, on altar calls, in prayer times…you name it, there I was, knee deep in tissues, and with the worst panda-eyes you ever did see. (One would think if I was going to cry for half my life, I would have at least worked out my mascara game). It was deep, painful, and therapeutic. It was also unquantifiable. I’ll never be able to measure what those times did in my heart, but I know for sure that they were essential to my journey of freedom, and that I would never have been able to move forward if they hadn’t have happened.

These encounters created a fog-clearing effect; it was necessary for the smoke to lift so I could see in sharper focus what was behind it. And what lay behind it terrified me; a Gollum-like creature that had the power to torment me. It was so hideous, yet it was hiding inside me. It seemed almost demonic, yet, much like Gollum, once I got to know it, I realised it wasn’t what I initially thought. In fact, given some vitamin D and a good hearty breakfast, it could even be called cute. It wasn’t scary, it was scared. It was a fractured part of my personality, a small Deb, that having experienced a frightening childhood experience, had hidden in a cave, and stayed in there, scared stiff, yelling to big Deb until she finally got my attention.

I was well into the 20-year journey of freedom before ‘the dread’ could finally carry another name. Nowadays I think of her as ‘little Deb’, and far from being my tormentor, she is someone I have come to care for. As you can well imagine, it wasn’t an easy, fun or straight road to get to that place. In fact, it was one of those things that if I knew what it was going to be like at the outset? I’m not sure I would have had the guts to take the journey. But I really, really needed to. And I’m really, really glad I did.

If you’re still reading by Part III, I’ll share a little of how I managed to make friends with my captor.

Much love,

Deb x

A Journey of Freedom – Part I; The Beginning

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For those that know me, emotional wholeness is something I am extremely passionate about. It’s what led me to study counselling, and something that I could discuss ad nauseum – even at 11pm when exhausted from a long day. Just ask Caleb. He loves it. One would think that I would for sure have blogged about it by now…but I haven’t. It may seem surprising, but it’s a topic so dear to my heart that I couldn’t do it justice in one pithy blog, and no-one wants to read an 11-page diatribe on the subject, so I’ve demurred until now. I’ve decided to write a wee mini-series about the subject. I want to share a bit of my story, in the hopes that may be of some help or encouragement to some of you.

In the Beginning

By most standards, I had a pretty good childhood. There was no significant trauma, my parents loved us and each other, there was always a roof over our head and healthy food (read, not nearly enough treats), I had a good education, friends, and a church family. But I was always plagued by what I guess I can only describe as a feeling of unease; ‘the dread’. It’s like there was this cavern deep within me that sent unsettling and frightening echoes into the atmosphere of my life from time to time; a small, very scared, dark voice. From a really young age I can remember thinking, “I want to be free”. I just didn’t know what from.

‘The dread’ impacted more than I realised at the time. Probably the most obvious impact, was that I found it intolerable to experience solitude. I loved my alone time, but I always had to be reading, listening to music, watching something, playing a computer game or sleeping. I slept a lot. If I allowed myself to be undistracted, ‘the dread’ would start to beg for my attention, and it was way too freaky to focus on, so I had to stay busy. I remember my dad once saying that I was too future driven. I now know that it was because the present was too painful, and my constant hope was that the next conference, camp, holiday, project, outing, opportunity or potential relationship might hold the key to freedom.

I say ‘potential’ relationship, because ‘the dread’ impacted that area of my life too. I always had a crush on some poor probably not-so unsuspecting guy. I cringe now to think about how intense I was with those crushes, my wee heart was right out there on my sleeve, and deep down I was looking for something to soothe the disquiet within. The cruel irony, is that the odd time that someone began to return the interest in any way, I ran for the hills, freaked out of my tree. ‘The dread’ badly wanted attention and affection, but it couldn’t handle either.

My life was far from a social failure, but even though I had what many would consider an enviable circle of genuinely amazing friends, I was plagued by the feeling that I was never really ‘in’. On top of this, I would experience these super unfortunate bouts of blushing. Not the rosy, sweet, feminine, pinch-your-cheeks sort of glow. Oh no. This was the ugly sort of mottled scarlet that started somewhere at the base of the neck and spread with horrifying rapidness to my whole head. The sort of fire-engine red that has people asking if you’re okay and getting ready to seek medical attention on your behalf. I hated it. So. Much. I knew deep-down that I was a confident person, and it killed me that I had to leave conversations, or stop speaking out loud in class when I felt it happening.

I really wasn’t sure how to get free from this stuff. I just knew that my life was not peaceful, and that somewhere in the recesses of my soul, was a small, caged girl. She felt powerless, unlovely, alone and invisible. She was trying to get my attention, but it was too unbearable to listen, so I ignored her, until she got so distressed that I could no longer avoid it.

I’ll continue the story soon.

Deb xx

A Weighty Matter

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Sometime last year I blogged on the subject of body image. I had an epiphany regarding my own self-image, and since that time stopped weighing myself on a daily basis, and cast the scales into the outer darkness (the garage). Which is probably just as well, because since that time I got pregnant, was very ill, had a baby, and stacked on the pounds. I’m one of those blessed creatures that can’t lose weight while breastfeeding, so the not-so-small matter of an extra 30 pounds has given me a perfect opportunity to put some of my new-found resolutions to the test.

Let me just paint you the picture of how things are right now: I’m a couple of sizes bigger than I’ve ever been, the post-hormonal hair loss left me with a couple of receeding/baldy patches, my feet have widened to the extent that I can’t fit into some of my favourite shoes, and my giant feedy boobs are giving me continued migraines. Physically, it’s pretty much up there with my worst case scenario. This is what I spent countless hours exercising and counting calories to avoid. And here it is.

I would love to be able to say that I haven’t given the whole situ a passing thought, but let’s be honest, there have been tears. BUT…the really cool thing, is that I am more and more genuinely discovering that IT DOESN’T MATTER. What I look like is not one teeny bit related to how valuable I am. NOT ONE BIT. I realise I’m shouting here, but you see, from the youngest of ages it’s drummed into us just how much it does matter. It’s been a battle, albeit miraculously not a massive one, but still a battle to get to this place. So, I will shout.

The essence of who God has made me to be is wonderful. Full stop. This beauty, which we all possess, is not linked in any small way to our physical appearance. There is no ‘but’ (although there may well be a butt 😉).

We are trained by our culture to think that attractive physical appearance is imperative from the youngest of ages (hello, Barbie?). Not only are we taught that it’s important, but it’s been given a moral status. That shame I feel with weight gain? The relief and confidence that comes with weight-loss? It’s all a total sham. And before I get a barrage of comments regarding the importance of health, let me just say, I know. Health is definitely important. Health of all sorts is important; emotional, relational, mental and spiritual health are all very important. Can I just ask you this? When was the last time you saw a before/after post about a rocky relationship that has healed? Or a viral post about a spiritual awakening? No? It’s because it’s not about health; it’s ideals spawned in marketing meetings the world-over designed to keep us self-monitoring our acceptability (and adjusting with the appropriate product as needed to fit in). It’s way out of kilter.

What can we do about this? Well, for me, it’s a commitment to place appearance in its proper place; something that is nice, but not terribly important. Instead of relentless commenting on other people’s appearance as small-talk, it’s saying things like, “Gosh, it’s so lovely to see you”, or “What I love about you is that your presence lights up the room”. It’s about being confident going to a party just as I am, and not feeling the need to explain to the world that I know I’ve gained weight, and there’s not a whole lot I can do about it right now.

Measuring value by appearance needs to stop. It’s just not important. No buts.

Deb xx