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

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

The Tree of Life

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I have been aware of a nagging sense of discontent in my soul of late. I think it’s probably been there for ages, but as the fog of chronic illness lifts, I am better able to see it. It’s a longing for my life to be different; more full, more productive, more exciting, more fun. I miss my old life when I was younger, was firmly entrenched in a solid crew of friends, and had more invites to events than I cared to attend. Yet, if I am honest with myself, I remember that there was a nagging (sometimes raging) discontent in those times also; I wanted to be married, to own a house and live in America(!). In fact, if I am even more honest with myself, I will come to the conclusion that what I think I need is the free time, energy, health and social status of my younger years, coupled with the current blessings of marriage, family, our own home and a decent education. I want the very best bits of each stage of my life to converge into the present. I want these things because my heart, mind, soul and brain has been tricked into thinking that that is what they need to be content.

When I am in a grotty patch of migraines, I feel strangely more content; resigned to the fact that I can only just barely keep my head above water trying to live and keep two little dudes alive. When my treatment kicks in, the discontent starts squirming and making its presence known. I know that I won’t just be stumbling from day-to-day, waiting until I can stumble into a dark room with an ice-pack on my head. I am aware that I could attend events, I could work a productive job, I could get fitter, I could become more social, and attractive, and popular, and successful. My health would allow me the chance to chase after the things that I so regularly pursue to provide what I think I need for joy and contentment.

Fill in the blank, my life would be more complete/joyous/full if only __________ (I was married/married to someone else/single, I owned a home/boat/car/full head of hair, I was skinnier/stronger/healthier/smarter/prettier/funnier/more popular, I was understood/appreciated/valued, I had a best friend/10,000 followers on Instagram/naturally long and full eyelashes/the magical ability to eat hot chips without gaining weight, I had kids/did not have kids, I had more responsibility/more adventure and less responsibility…).

Unfortunately, when we chase after any of the above and more to fulfil our lives, it’s like sitting down to a meal of lollipops…immediately gratifying and very appealing, but ultimately leaves you with an emptiness within and a longing for something more. The world around us is endlessly whispering to us and enticing us to find life in a million different ways. We get addicted to the sweetness and instant gratification of receiving life from anything other than God, but we end up chasing the proverbial dangling carrot.

I recently listened to an excellent sermon by Tim Keller on the wounded spirit (you can find it on YouTube). In it, he parallels the Tree of Life in the Garden of Eden with the Cross on which Jesus died. He suggests that the Tree of Life, which is cut off to us by deciding to live life on our own terms, becomes fully accessible to us through the sacrifice of Jesus. That is SUCH good news!! Do you know what this meant to me? On the one hand, it is clear that I am going to have to do some work diverting my thoughts away from the ways I habitually seek contentment, but on the other hand, it gives me GREAT joy!! Because it means that the longings I have within do not need to remain going unmet, my discontent can be fulfilled, I can eat from the Tree of Life. Jesus can, and wants to be, my everything. I can give up the exhausting, relentless and ultimately fruitless pursuit of the intangible. Now, that is great hope indeed!

 

Bless you friends,

Deb xx

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

Musings on Motherhood

imageIt has been some time since I have blogged – the advent of a tiny human tends to hamper ones abilities to do almost anything. So I find myself with a couple of hours to myself, sitting outside at a cafe on a blissfully sunny day, finally with thoughts semi-coherent enough to write. Since my days of late have been nothing but kiddos, poopy nappies and endless renditions of ‘watch this trick mum’ (followed by a suitably unimpressive trick), it is fitting that motherhood should be the topic of this missive. So please find below an absolutely random collections of my musings of late (as befits the state of my addled mind):

Life with a newborn can be terribly isolating. I have to get up multiple times in the dark night while the rest of my family sleeps. My ability to do everyday tasks that used to be simple is greatly hampered; meaning that I can’t get out of the house with ease, and even when I do get to catch up with people, my mind is distracted by lack of sleep, a threenager, or giant froggy-eyes begging me for feedies and more feedies. Additionally, the breastfeeding culture here strikes me as a little less free and easy than it is at home, and even though I use a hooter-hider, I have been in the middle of conversations and had people leave when Mason gets hungry. I get that it can make people uncomfortable, it just adds to the feeling of isolation.

I am nothing without my yoga pants.

People that bring food and coffee are the very best kind of people.

I am struck by the fact that Mason in all his tiny newborn vulnerability and immaturity will never be more or less loved by God than he is right now. It is such a lovely reminder to me that I am wholly loved by Jesus just because I am Deb and not because of anything I do.

Wine.

My theological books can take a backseat for now. In attempt to feel somewhat productive I pulled out one of the more weighty tomes on my shelf and wasted some of my precious downtime trying to read the first three sentences. There will once again come a time when I can put my mind to the advancement of my understanding, but that time can wait until my brain less resembles a pudding.

No-one tells you that the contents of your three year old’s potty can rival that of a middle-aged man the morning after Christmas Day. Then you have to congratulate him whilst trying not to vomit.

It is so easy to allow dissension to enter the marital ranks in the midst of the parenting chaos. I have had to be really careful to stop and put myself in Caleb’s shoes. I have found myself getting jealous that he is allowed to sleep through the night and then leave the house to go to work. In these moments I try to imagine going to work and coming home without having the space to unwind; it helps me to remember that we’re on the same team. We each face different challenges in this season, and it’s essential to the health of our marriage that I do all I can to guard against the seeds of bitterness.

I really need to have a ‘no Face-Booking after 10pm’ rule. I go to bed, my mind starts whirring and I have these ‘epiphanies’ that must be shared with the world – only to wake and discover I’ve posted the half-mad ramblings of a very tired person.

Gin and tonic.

I get perverse enjoyment out of witnessing other people’s kids acting out. It makes me feel better about my son’s behaviour.

Having a newborn is extraordinarily hard on my desire to be in control of life.

Coffee.

Love you friends, so nice to blog again! Hopefully I’ll be able to post a wee bit more now that the fog is slowly lifting.

Deb xx

Thanksgiving

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With the occasion of Thanksgiving I had planned to pen a cute and peppy wee list detailing the things for which I am grateful. However, as I pondered this list, I just couldn’t bring myself to do it. Not because I am not grateful for a million things; I absolutely am. All the usuals; Jesus, family, friends, a lovely home, food on the table, clothes on my back, health etc. But somehow as I considered my list, there was no energy behind it. It would be rote and from my head. Because my heart these days is suffering from what I can only describe as ‘ennui’. (Gilmore Girls super-fans, you’re welcome).

My health turned a corner at about 21 weeks pregnant, and I only face migraines roughly once a fortnight, as opposed to the daily battle that was occurring prior to now. So I’m not as sick as I was. But I’m tired. So tired. I sleep about 10 hours every night and then nap for at least an hour during the day. Doing almost anything requires what feels like a superhuman effort. To add to this, the weather has turned. It is on the verge of snowing on a regular basis, the sky is icy and unfriendly, and my 3 year old has just discovered for the first time that he really doesn’t like going for walks in the cold anymore. I feel housebound, deflated, purposeless and there’s a newborn on the way. Help me Rhonda.

Whilst out for a wee walk (waddle) the other day I was pondering the things for which I am thankful. The train of thought followed something like what I have detailed above; I have a list in my head, but it feels devoid of warmth, so what then do I really feel grateful for in my heart at this moment? And the answer? Redemption.

No matter what craziness happens to us, around us, in us or through us, Jesus is in the most hope-inducing business of making the broken whole, beautiful, purposeful, radiant. I know this to be true, not just because the biblical narrative is predominantly a redemption story, but also because my own life narrative has already taken some stunningly redemptive turns. When I look at the state of my inner and outer world over time, I see formerly painful and dark areas I had just accepted as normal, now peaceful, flourishing and light-filled. This has been purely the result of Jesus’ redeeming work in my world. This gives me such hope.

The thing that fills my heart with joy, is that this journey from death to life is not just for my world, but for the people around me, our societies, cultures, and ultimately for the earth itself. Outside a school down the road, I was struck several months ago at a little plant root that had grown up through the asphalt. Even despite the best efforts of a bunch of hot bitumen, this tiny wee plant had raised its tiny head and cracked through to find the light. And so shall my heart. And yours. Maybe not today, maybe not in the near future, but barring all else, most definitely in eternity. Although, can I just say hurrah and thanks be that Jesus does give us great hope, and often beautiful resolution in the here and now!?

So as I go about the days ahead, as grey and murky as they feel right now, I will continue to look for the small glimmers of redemption that are popping their heads above the clouds. And I will remember that those glimmers represent a tiny portion of what will one day be full restoration. Amen.

Love you,
Deb xx