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…

Parenting blog 2

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

Peanut butter

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