An Ode to my Favourite Feeling

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I once heard some wise person talking about the best feeling in the world – and before I knew what it was, my guesses would have included love, mirth, joy, hope, satisfaction, fulfilment, or that tantalising anticipation of being starving/hangry at your favourite restaurant, but knowing you have just minutes to wait before you get to eat something delicious. But it was none of these things.

The best feeling in the world, according to this person (who obviously left a deep impression, because I can’t for the life of me remember who it was), is relief. Relief! Really? But the more I thought about it, the more it made sense. And since that time, it has become my favourite feeling in the whole world – so let me take you on a little tiki tour of the world’s greatest emotion in my life.

When I was around 14 years of age, an awkward stage at the best of times, I was having hideously painful cramps, so needed an ultrasound to rule out any nasties. To add insult to injury, the ultrasound tech was a young and studly male. The first time they tried to get an image, my bladder wasn’t full enough, so I was sent to the waiting room to let the water I had imbibed earlier make its merry way down. I was feeling a little sheepish that even though I said I’d had the requisite amount of water, if I was being completely honest with myself, I hadn’t. So, I stopped at the drinking fountain in the hallway and downed a gallon to make up for it. That was before I realised that they were also sending out the world’s largest tankard of water with the receptionist…which I couldn’t refuse, because then they would know about the drinking fountain, and make the connection to my earlier deception. Needless to say, my bladder was plenty full for the second scan (it was a blessed mercy I didn’t explode). Then, as I was leaving the room, the tech told me that the bathroom was just down the hallway, and I, at the age where needing to pee was an embarrassment in and of itself, just airily said, “Oh, no thanks, I’m fine,” and sauntered out of there like I wasn’t dying of pain in my lower mid-section. The car ride home in dad’s bumpy little Barina was about the most tortuous experience of my life – I literally ended up having to hoist my butt off the seat with my arms. But, when I got home, oh, THE RELIEF!!

Many of you will be aware that my husband Caleb got impaled on a job site in 2013 (that’s a whole five-part blog series in itself). When I made it to the hospital, I didn’t get to see him before he went in for surgery, so I was stuck waiting in this cell-like windowless room, with my dear friend and her then 5 month-old baby. I made a number of calls to various people to tell them what had happened, and one of those calls was to a friend of mine who was a nurse, so I could ask her questions about what to expect. She told me that I should expect surgery to take a minimum of six hours. After an hour-and-a-half, the surgeon came into the waiting room – I thought that it was either terrible news, or he just had an update for me. (In fact, I didn’t want to shake his hand, because in my frazzled state, I knew he had to go back and keep operating on my Caleb, and he shouldn’t touch my germs). But, the news was glorious! The surgery was done, Caleb was going to recover, and in the words of a man who looked like the person least given to hyperbole that I have ever met, “He is very, VERY lucky.” I think that this was the most overwhelming relief I have ever experienced…I laughed, and cried, and almost hugged the very cardboard man (but his vibe was most-definitely of the ‘no touchy’ variety). As we left the hospital to get some food (McD’s – the ieal food for a crisis), I jumped, I ran, and I even danced! (The only spontaneous dance I think I have EVER done). I can still feel that relief to this day – and that day goes down as the worst, then best day of my life.

I have a million other stories of blessed relief – too many migraines that finally responded to the pain medication, babies that eventually made their arrivals, and those same babies that finally slept through the night, kiddos that out-grew illnesses, assignments, practicums and degrees completed, medical tests and scans returned benign, necessary big-ticket items purchased, job interviews done and dusted, and first dates out of the way.

I am SO glad that the landscape of my life, with all its hills and valleys, is peppered with the airy, refreshing breath of relief. And do you know what the coolest thing is? I reckon that heaven is gonna feel a lot like blessed relief for a really long time.

Love you friends,

Deb x

What if Freedom isn’t all it’s Cracked up to be?

Product-ConstraintsI have been eating up the work of John Mark Comer and Mark Sayers lately. They have a Podcast called, ‘This Cultural Moment’ (I HIGHLY recommend) in which they look at what it takes to be a disciple of Jesus in our current cultural climate. In the episode I listened to this morning (at 6.00am while hiking up our local mountain – which has to be mentioned, because I forgot to take a selfie) they mention that for human flourishing, three ‘tanks’ need to be full; freedom – as in freedom of choice, individuality, expression etc., meaning, and community. I’m sure one could argue for other tanks, like food for example, but at the risk of indulging my contrarian nature, I shall digress.

They go on to say that in our current Western climate, the freedom ‘tank’ is full to overflowing, and as a result, the ‘meaning’ and ‘community’ tanks are suffering. This got me thinking about how true I have found this to be in my own life. Parenting is a prime example; it is, as I often say, the very worst and the very best. In this framework, you could say that this is because while the freedom ‘tank’ is totally plundered by my tiny baboons, the loss is well made-up by the massive deposit in the ‘meaning’ tank…but you can’t have the meaning, without the loss of freedom.

Another example of this is prayer; I have found a liturgy of prayer to be extremely meaningful and peace-making in my life, however I feel the restraint of sticking with it and am legit tempted to grab my phone at regular intervals. My free time is, by my own choice, being used towards a discipline from which I reap substantial benefits, but it takes the loss of small freedoms in order to achieve the reward of meaning.

The point that I take away from all of this, is the reminder that the constraints we face in life can actually be for our benefit. I know that sounds like some form of heresy given the world in which we live – a world in which unlimited personal freedom is Mecca. The problem is that we so often can’t enjoy the beauty and simplicity that God has provided for in this life, unless we have something with which to contrast it. I have never enjoyed sitting in my back yard, breathing the clean air and watching the trees so much as since I have battled with chronic illness. The restraint of physical symptoms has allowed me to find meaning and beauty in things I once took for granted.

Creativity is another such area which flourishes under constraints. We have a buddy that wrote and produced one of the most creative, intricate and peaceful albums I have ever heard using just his voice and one old electric guitar. The limitation of instrumentation brought his creativity to a remarkable place. Similarly (although not comparing my cooking to the aforementioned album), the elimination of grains, sugar and carbs from my diet due to health, has caused me to get really creative with inventing meals that are within the confines of my diet, but still taste delicious…(well, I think they’re delicious, however getting Caleb to try one of my keto ‘treats’ is like pulling teeth – and I gave Judah some of my keto ice-cream once, to which he responded, “Mum…is this an actual treat?”)

So, let’s be encouraged today friends, that whatever constraints and limitations we find around our lives, it’s possible, just possible, that our lives wouldn’t actually be as meaningful without them.

Love you,

Deb x

They Never Tell You…

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There have been several occasions over the past five and a half years that Caleb and I have started a conversation about some aspect of parenting beginning with, “They never tell you that…” Exactly who the nebulous “they” are is unclear, but assumedly there is a gaggle of experienced parents out there whose job it should be to prepare the newer parents for every surprising eventuality. Having been a parent for five and half years now, I can only surmise that by the time these parents have recovered from the rigors of parenting, they are approximately 98 years old, and have trouble using communication devices, like computers, to share their wisdom.

They never tell you, for example, that you will develop an entirely new vocabulary dedicated solely to the description of poop. Real life examples in our family include, but are not limited to, “nugget”, “squidgy”, and the horrifying, “code orange”. They also never tell you that you will spend an unholy amount of time researching and baking your kid’s second birthday cake from scratch, in the shape of an American school bus, and using an entire bottle of yellow food dye, only to have it turn out looking like one of those really odd, flat one-person fertilising trucks. But, you allow yourself a secret smile and a self-deprecating Facebook post, because you just know this little guy is going to think it’s the coolest bus in the world…except all you get is, “What is it?” followed by a refusal to even eat the damn bus.

They never tell you that you’ll get to the end of your rope, then discover that you have to hang there by the skin of your teeth while trying to remain coherent and patient and nice. But they also never tell you that the desperation for the kiddos to go to sleep at the end of the day, is surpassed only by the swell of your heart when you hear your two year old stumbling into the lounge like a tiny drunken sailor in the morning.

They never tell you that while you feel pretty chuffed that you let the five year old stir the pancake batter once, and there was also that one time in a moment of parenting awesome-sauce that you set up a giant piece of paper with some crayons, that there are actually parents who do finger painting (AT HOME!!) and woollen pom-pom making, and who love school holidays because they get to do all the fun activities, and their kids only watch an hour of TV a month, and they make muffins comprised of 8 different kinds of antioxidant ancient superfoods that kids somehow magically love.

They never tell you that your kids are gonna have strange and unusual quirks that you most definitely did not teach them…like putting their brother’s stinky gross socks on their hands and wiping their face with them, or having a Chernobyl size meltdown because you won’t let them leave the house with undies on their head.

They never tell you that the moment your kids enter the world, the range on the volume knob on life gets immediately expanded; the lows are so much lower, the highs so much higher. Or of the horror you will experience losing your kid at the museum, or of the uncanny ability you now possess to pick your progeny out of a large crowd simply by the shape of his head.

And they never tell you that somehow, as you feel yourself being stretched beyond recognition, somewhere between the new wrinkles, and peptic ulcers, and sudden disconcerting penchant for repeating old-timey phrases that your mum used to say, somewhere in all of that, there is a sense of rightness. A sense that, even though you would never willingly sign-up for half of what you experience on a regular basis, a life lived in the servitude of others (even tiny belligerent dictators) is really good for your soul.

Love you friends (and may the force be with you).

Deb xx

That Attitude of Gratitude

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I’ve been thinking about gratitude lately. It used to be one of those buzz words that annoyed me. I felt like it was the sort of word that people would throw out there to minimise people’s pain and use as a kind of silver-bullet-cure-all for any ailment from depression to the hot runs. I found it to be the domain of the Pollyanna types that lived in a Technicolor world that seemed so far removed from real life. And maybe it’s because in the church I have had many experiences where the message I received was that I should be grateful for areas of my life where things didn’t seem fair. Which kind of felt like someone leading their dayglo tambourine parade past my wheelchair and telling me to get up and dance – invalidating, and insensitive, and patronising.

But I’m seeing things differently these days. The really beautiful thing I’ve discovered is that gratitude has started creeping up on me. Instead of wielding a stick and trying to force gratitude, it’s been tapping me on the shoulder and delighting me with an infectious smile and a warm hug. I don’t think it’s just a spontaneous lucky break that it’s started happening, but as a result of engaging in practices that have taught my mind and spirit to look for the lovely. For the past several months I have been regularly meditating, practicing mindfulness, and becoming more present in my body. As a result of this I’m seeing joy in the small things I once took for granted.

I was putting the groceries away after a trip to the super a while back, and as I was putting food in the cupboard, I was overwhelmed by such immense gratitude that there was plentiful, healthy and delicious food to feed my wee family. I found myself holding the peanut butter in both hands, close to my chest and with tears in my eyes, whispering, “Thank you peanut butter.” (And it winked at me and whispered back, “You’re welcome Ma’am.”). Then I began thanking each item of food before it got stored away. Me of five years ago would be reaching for the barf bag about now, like, seriously, how cheesy can you get? But it wasn’t cheesy, because it wasn’t rehearsed or forced or staged, it was a genuine expression flowing from heart, and it just felt like the right way to respond at that moment.

The more we allow gratitude to win our attention, the more we will become aware of how much there is in our lives to be grateful for. Our brains are super cool – we have a thing called a Reticulated Activating System (RAS) that acts as a filter for the innumerable amount of data that we receive. The RAS is attuned to whatever we deem important, and it will filter out other data, and present to our attention the things that we have trained it to present. A perfect example of this is how when you buy a White Ford Explorer, it suddenly seems that every second car you see is a White Ford Explorer – your RAS has been taught that this particular car is now important, so it filters out all the other cars on the road, and zooms in on the pertinent vehicle. As we become more grateful, we will train our minds that this is important to us, and it ends up becoming an ever-increasing cycle of goodness that adds colour and music to our lives.

Allowing gratitude to become an active part of my life has genuinely brought me so much joy. Genuine gratitude doesn’t try and keep the lid on my grumpy-groozleness, or ignore the despair I feel when my head starts hurting again, but it contrasts those moments with such rich and fragrant and fresh and life-giving joy. I feel like I’m coming alive.

 

Love you friends,

Deb xx

An Ode to Little Deb

Little Deb

I’ve been thinking a bit about my inner child lately as a part of a personal/spiritual growth course I’m taking at the moment. I’ve come to realise that there are parts of Little Deb that I have abandoned or rejected because she experienced these very feelings and I don’t want those feelings to be a part of my now life. The problem with that, is Little Deb won’t experience the healing needed until I extend my Big Deb love and kindness to her – so, let me introduce you to one of the quirkiest, coolest, most loveable little girls you’ll ever meet.

Little Deb rocks the mullet like no-one else rocks the mullet. No-one believed her when she got older and she told them that she had sported the most worthy fe-mullet for ten years of her life. That was, until, they saw the pics and were completely awe-struck. One of the funniest moments of her adult-life was finding a photo at her BFF’s house of said BFF with an almost identical childhood mullet – only to discover that they had shared the same uber-lovely, but not-so-gifted, mobile hairdresser.

Little Deb’s sense of fashion pretty well matches her amazing haircut. She occasionally has a moment where she thinks about being cool or trendy and risks mortal peril by stealing an item of her sister’s clothing in order to experiment with fashion. But for the most part, Little Deb is a total creature of comfort. Her favourite outfit consists of a threadbare black corduroy black A-line skirt and a pair of jelly shoes that are broken at the heels. Her mum tried throwing the skirt out once, but thankfully her sister told her about it, so she was able to rescue her most treasured item out of the rubbish sack before it could be permanently ripped from her life.

Most kids are quirky to some degree, but Little Deb really takes the cake. She loves to swim and would spend all day in the water if she could. The only problem is that sometimes the water gets up her nose, and it really hurts. But it’s ok – she’s discovered that if she bobs up and down breathing out on the bob-down, it soothes her wee sinuses and it feels really good. She kind of knows that people are looking and laughing when she’s on her bob-round the pool, but she really doesn’t care. In fact, she kind of feels sorry for them that they’re missing out. And she cannot for the love of Pete figure out why her mum won’t let her ‘mail’ leaves and stones in the neighbour’s letterboxes when she’s playing ‘postie’. So unfair.

Little Deb has an incredible imagination. She has managed to convince some of her friends that if they wrap certain dead flowers in their leftover morning tea glad wrap and leave them in a certain bush for a few days, they will turn into real gold. She’s also started a lunchtime game called ‘The Handicapped Four Eyed Geeky Express’ (she’s not terribly PC). Her very favourite game of all-time is the Bee Clinic…all you have to do is stand on a bee until the white stuff squishes out, then you ‘operate’ on it with a stick until it’s all better. It’s a miracle she hasn’t been stung by any of her patients yet…although to be fair, they’re not terribly active once she’s finished with them.

Little Deb has two great life ambitions. The first is to become a famous singer (however, believe it or not, she’s not that good a singer), and the second is to be locked in the Foodtown supermarket overnight by herself. She lies awake at night figuring out which aisle she’d go down first, and which treats she’d consume, in what order. Needless to say, she’ll do almost anything for a bag of lollies.

If you’re looking for a fun, imaginative, loyal friend, you need look no further than Little Deb – plus as an added bonus, she’ll almost certainly make you look more fashionable. She’s such a cool wee girl, and I love her to pieces.

Until next time,

(Big) Deb xx

Dear Parent of Young Children…

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Dear Parent of Young Children,

You are amazing – an ordinary person taking on an extraordinary role. There’s not much that can adequately prepare you for the change of everything that is thrust on you when a small person enters your world. You find yourself facing scenarios that you could not have imagined pre-kiddo. Like, that time when you went to a friend’s house for dinner and found it difficult to concentrate on conversation, because something distinctly smelt like poo. Everyone was chatting, and all you could do was nod and smile while your head was trying to Sherlock the birthplace of the malodour. You were hoping like heck it wasn’t you. Perhaps it was the dog? Oh, please Jesus, let it be the dog. But it wasn’t the dog. Your very own human puppy had left a schmeer on your pants, and was found happily eating his dinner and depositing his payload on a lovely and expensive, fabric-covered dining chair.

Or that time you woke up from a nap to discover that your five-year old had hacked his coif with a pair of paper-only kid scissors. You were tempted to garb your mini Lloyd Christmas in a shirt that said, “I did this ↑ to myself” but you didn’t because it would’ve been cruel (obvs) and also, future therapy sessions… so you sucked it up, and began to learn the difficult lesson that your tiny humans have an independent will, make their own decisions, and not everything they do is direct reflection on you.

And you most certainly will never forget that ill-fated trip to Fred Meyer two days before Christmas. You dropped your little love at the playland to at least alleviate some of the stress of holiday shopping, and headed off into the mass of humanity to complete your task. That’s until you got to aisle three and your heart sunk as the Christmas music stopped and you heard, “Would the parent of <insert name here> please return to the Playland”. That was bad enough, but on the way to the childcare, your blood positively froze as you began to hear the name of every.single.child subsequently called out for their parents also to return. It transpired that your resourceful wee lad had thought the carpeted corner of the room would make a fine urinal and the whole place had to be shut down for an hour while sanitising measures took place. And as you took the walk of shame with your stinky bundle past the other parents in line, you made a decision about the sort of person you are going to be – not the person giving you daggers because your kid ruined their child-free shopping experience (because clearly you had spent months training your child to find creative and inconvenient places to pee), but the person who gives you a knowing smile, because they know, it’s probably their turn next, and we’re all in this together.

No-one ever tells you that you will scroll through Insta pics of child-free people posting pics of themselves at spendy day spas with captions like, “Taking a much-needed self-care moment.” And it burns, because the only self-care moment you can hope for right now is five minutes in the loo without several knocks on the door and at least one piece of artwork being slid under the door for your critique. But they also never tell you of the restorative powers of a small body leaning in for a cuddle while a tiny arm hooks around your neck.

People will tell you things like, “It’s totally fine changing a nappy when it’s your own kid.” But then you discover, it’s not fine. You discover a deep hate for poo outside the watery confines of the toilet, and your reaction if some gets on your skin is just like you’ve been smeared with Ebola. But then you slowly begin to learn that doing the things you don’t like on a regular basis builds character in the way that nothing else could.

So, fellow comrades in the trenches, take heart. You are not alone on this crazy, exhausting, incredible and humbling journey. I have no doubt that Jesus cheers you on as you undertake this most important of roles. You are loved, you are seen, and you are doing a great job.

Much love,

Deb xx

Confessions of a Recovering Smugaholic

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I have become aware in recent times of what I can only call an indulgent sense of smugness. Some of it manifests itself in a self-satisfied Cheshire cat-like enjoyment of my nice house, nice family and cosily heated car seats. Some of it manifests itself in the sort of attitude displayed by the old guy that reminds any complainers that he used to have to get up at 3am to walk 20 miles to school, barefoot in the snow through bear-infested woods. It shows itself in the form of my firmly tied tubes smirking at people recounting the torment of sleepless newborn nights. It’s the little piece of me that is in danger of giving out slightly patronising relationship advice from the warmth of my happy marriage.

All-in-all it’s really pretty ugly. I had always put it in the category of pride up until now – and while that still may be a part of it, I have become more convinced that for many of us, smugness is the cushion on which rests the still traumatised parts of a past experience. An emotional and mental barrier between where we’re at and where we once were. An illusion of being protected from ever having to return to that place or those feelings.

You see, when I consider it, I am most prone to smugness in areas where I have come through a significant struggle. The nightmare of having a severely-refluxy newborn that won’t stop screaming, the many years of singleness that were so desperately unwanted, the intense work of dealing through my inner mess – my bitter acquaintance with these things has resulted in an almost ironic mingling of compassion and smugness towards others facing similar issues. Which only goes to show, that there is a measure of brokenness evident.

For me, there are two main reasons to be aware of smugsville. The first of which is that it is terribly unkind to others. You know that feeling when people are patronising, dismissive, or know-it-all about a situation you are facing – it’s the very worst! Our smugness leads us to assumptions about others’ experiences and blocks us from truly being present and compassionate. And secondly, it’s an indicator that there’s likely some part of me that is needing a bit of TLC.

When we encounter a traumatic event (which doesn’t need to be ‘traumatic’ by any objective scale – it’s all in how our minds perceive it), our brains often segregate the traumatised part behind a wall in order to help keep us functional. While this is super handy to keep living life, there comes a time, usually once the trauma is well behind us, when the injured part of us can start to be disruptive to healthy living. In order to experience wholeness, the wounded part of ourselves needs to be integrated back into our lives.

Put it this way, the part of us that has experienced trauma is locked up in a cell so it’s not able to incapacitate us by running rampant through our minds. But, eventually, it will start to make its presence known. At that point, we have a choice. We can smother the tin-cup-on-the-jail-bars noise with a big pillow of smugness and rest our weary bones on top of it. OR, we can undergo the often-painstaking process of integrating our injured cellmate back into the society of our life. How we go about that will differ based on varying factors – including the severity of our trauma, other stuff going on in our lives, and past experience of working through mental and emotional issues. We may simply need awareness and a few moments of reflection or journaling – or we may need to get help from someone qualified to walk the journey with us.

I don’t want to be a smuggerton any more – the only cushion I want others to experience with me is a soft place for them to rest their stories for a bit.

Love you friends,

Deb