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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The Coolest Nun You’ll Ever Meet

Vintage-Holland-Mold-Praying-Singing-Nun-Figurines

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

Fish

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

Bird

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

image

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

The Pursuit of Happiness

soap bubbles into the sunset with beautiful bokeh.close-up

I’m one of those people that evolve into an irrational three-headed monster on less than eight hours of solid sleep.  Needless to say, being woken in the wee-smalls is not the easiest, however one of the silver linings of midnight feedies is the luxury of watching whatever I want on Netflix. This time around I have fallen head-over-heals with BBC’s ‘Father Brown’ (go the Beeb!!). Based on GK Chesterton’s character, Father Brown is a down-to-earth, non-judgmental, mischievous, and strongly principled priest with a penchant for solving crime. In one of the episodes he stumbles across a group of hedonists, and during a conversation with one of them he says, “…there’s the paradox…happiness is an unexpected gift. It is evasive. If we pursue it, we will never achieve it.”

As a culture, we are majorly preoccupied with the pursuit of feeling good; and far from being the exception, much of the church is right up there leading the charge! Naturally, we want to feel good. Pain is unpleasant. Suffering is gross. And aside from the grottiness of experiencing these things, I think one of the things that makes it so much worse is the misplaced belief that we should be happy all the time. Somewhere along the way we’ve fallen into the trap of thinking that being continuously, unstoppably happy is an option, and if we feel anything other than that, we’re somehow to blame. So we end up on a fruitless treadmill, trying really hard to reach a destination that will always be just out of reach; the proverbial dangling carrot.

We spent much of last year saving for what we knew was going to be a massive hospital bill for the birth of our little Mason. We had to say no to a number of things that we wanted/needed in order to make sure we’d be able to pay the bill when it arrived. And then something totally magic happened; they have this thing at the hospital called the Financial Assistance Program, where you apply with a bunch of your personal info to see if they will help you out with your bill. It turned out they forgave our bill…100%! It was so amazing! We were so grateful, and set about purchasing a number of big ticket items that we had been holding off on. It was kind of a crazy, fun, calculated shopping spree. And it didn’t increase my happiness one iota. Now, I know that stuff doesn’t make you happy, but I was genuinely surprised to find my inner state not altered even a bit. I even felt a bit flat. And maybe it was because of this: I cannot manufacture happiness. It’s a gift.

I remember playing bubbles with Judah one summer when he was a tiny tot. I was a wee bit disappointed that he wasn’t that into it, but that’s okay, because I was. I blew a bunch of bubbles and chased them around the yard trying to pop them. I always felt like a bit of an egg taking big swipes at the bubbles only to have them fly further away by the draft created by my hand (cue embarrassed laughter and side-eyes to make sure no-one else is watching). That’s what happiness is like. It’s like a lovely magical bubble that sometimes floats your way and lands on you for a bit. You can’t force it to come your way, and it always pops in the end, but how lovely when it does arrive.

Now don’t get me wrong, there’s about a million different things that can assist us in a journey of freedom; and such a journey is, I believe, very much what Christ has in mind for us. But freedom, contentment and peace are things that can be ours in crappy situations, not hot air balloons to lift us away from the reality of life.

The cool thing about thinking this way is that it has helped me enjoy happiness so much more! When the lovely happy feeling visits, I am no longer suspicious of it (because I know it’s gonna leave me at some point). I also am less tempted to try and trap the feeling in a cage to make it stay. I am free to just enjoy for as long as it chooses to be there and appreciate its beauty.

 

So here’s to just being normal; to feeling deliriously happy, to feeling totally grotty, and everything in-between. Here’s to being human.

 

Love you friends,

Deb xx