Monday, 24 August 2015

Mothering perfectly...

The tent catches the breeze and billows out as we grab hold of the edges, filled with strength as it pulls at our hands. Hammering the tent pegs into the soil, the scent of the earth fills the warm air. And my child laughs. The sound fills my ear canals, the middle ear sending vibrations along the nerves into my cortex. And then my soul billows like the tent, the breeze of her laughter filling me up, the joy of it so sweet, so precious. My eyes brim with tears as she runs across the field, the dog trotting beside her. Not sadness but a deep sense of gratitude for the moment.

I recall the professional telling me that perfect mothers do not exist. He hands me a tissue as I cry tears of regret, of fear. Being enough was all I could be, perfection was a lie I had been fed. Now, sitting around the campfire, the flames staining our skin with an orange glow, the night velvet around us, I understand that I have spent too long being deceived. For 15 years I have carried with me a conviction, a constant regret, a piercing fear that I would get it wrong. That my precious girls would be damaged by my inequities. So many moments lost, forever tainted with the cold feeling of ‘not good enough’.
If I could time travel, I would go back 15 years and sit beside myself on the hospital bed. My body aching from giving birth, my belly empty, exhausted but unable to sleep as I watch my newborn girl, swaddled, exquisite. I would wrap my arms around this new mother and I would whisper in my ear, ‘You will do well, you will not be perfect but you will be enough.’ Perhaps I would go and sit beside the mother again, on the kitchen floor as I cry tears of frustration, my strong willed, intelligent toddler refusing to do as she is asked. I would hand myself a cup of tea and whisper, ‘Breath. You are not perfect but you are enough. God has healed you, he has taken the anger and resentment, washed them from your innermost being.’ If I could time travel.
My girl and I lie on the beach, the sun baking on our shoulders, the dog panting at our side. We collect little pebbles and shells. They will fill the miniature glass pots we have just emptied of jam onto warm scones. Each stone represents the tiny steps we have taken towards this moment. We could not carry her as the anorexia consumed her, we could only walk beside her, guide her. This moment. I look up at the blue sky, I hear the waves, their rhythm a worship song. And I am filled with a deep gratitude. Now I know that I am enough. God is the only perfect parent. I whisper to my girl, ‘Do you know how loved you are?’ She smiles and my soul swells. She does.   

Friday, 5 June 2015

14 things I want my girls to know about being a friend

Last weekend was a rare moment in time when I was surrounded by some of my oldest friends. On Friday we all squeezed into my house: 6 of my friends and all of our teenage daughters, 8 to be precise. With pen and paper, crisps and sparkling wine in hand, my friend the Creative Consultant showed us how to find our inner creative side. There was laughter and joy as we sat around, the girls in and out onto the trampoline, showing us their work with pride on their faces, us mums surprised at what we could actually draw. I sat and watched the scene with a deep sense of gratitude and love for all the women and nearly women in my house. We are all so different, one a senior teacher, one a trainee counsellor, a brainiac historian, a charity worker, a Jesus follower, an agnostic, an atheist, a single mum, married, divorced…. All of us so different but none of it mattered. We sat and chatted with more than a decade of life in common, our teenagers sitting around us joining in, even the shy ones, the ones with mental health problems and they all felt at home.

Over the last decade we have shared life together, all the pain and joy. We have had babies, made each other meals, cleaned each others houses when we were ill. We have faced cancer together, broken relationships, mental health problems, miscarriages, buying and selling our homes, car accidents, school issues with our kids, weddings and holidays… the list is endless. We have argued with each other, been mad as snakes with each other and sometimes not spoken for months. But we have grown up, forgiven, and rebuilt. We have laughed hysterically, drank 1000’s of cups of tea and even more Prosecco, cared for each others kids, used 100’s of boxes of tissues to wipe away tears, had picnics in the rain and been to tons of kids birthday parties.

I was thinking about what we have modelled to our teenage girls over the last 15 years, what have we taught them about friendship? Our girls will learn through what they observe us doing, how we live our relationships with others.

Here are some of the things that I would like my 2 girls to know being a friend:

#1 To build a true friendship takes risk on your part. You will have to risk inviting people to your house for a cuppa and being turned down. You will have to risk sharing a part of your life story so that they will share theirs. Girls, when you look at the friends your mum has, don’t think that each relationship was an instant success. I bet if you ask her she will say that many people she tried to build friendships rejected her. She will have given time and energy to someone who would walk away. But when the right person comes along, the risk is worth the gain. When you share a painful truth about yourself and your new friend shares hers with you- a friendship born.

#2 I know that it doesn’t feel fair when her house is bigger or her hair is smoother than yours! I promise that if you ask her, she will be thinking that she wished she had your wardrobe or something else. Life never feels fair so enjoy what you have!

#3 Make time for your friends, buy them flowers when they are sad, call them, text them, FB them or Insta- whatever them. No relationship can grow without investment of time.

#4 Be quick to forgive, even the biggest mistakes. We are human and the truth is every human will mess up at some point- even you and I! We will hurt each other without intending to and occasionally with intention. But we are all going to need to be forgiven at some point so as the Frozen song says, ‘Let it Go’. Girls, I want you to see me forgive my friends so that you know deep down that I will forgive you. Plus, I want you to forgive me when I hurt you or forget to buy the right type of biscuits again!

#5 Have a sense of humour but more importantly be able to laugh at yourself.

#6 Learn to listen, really listen to what she says. That means putting down the phone, making eye contact and asking questions. Even when she tells you about her broken heart again! LISTEN!

#7 Your friend will not always agree with you. Sometimes she will tell you that you are wrong and you are being an idiot. That is because sometimes we are just that! And when you don’t agree with her choices remember- you can support her without supporting her choices.

#8 Be ready to drive over in the middle of the night to help or answer the phone to listen to her cry. Then she will do the same for you. We all get our turn to need help.

#9 Accept that you cannot change anyone, you can only change yourself. This has taken me years to learn!! When someone is behaving in a way you do not like, it is not your right to try and change them, in fact you cannot! Do not waste your time. But you can change the way you react to them and how you behave. If you want the dance to change, then you change the steps.
#10 Never change who you are for somebody! Be yourself always. A true friend loves you for who you are.
#11 Be honest but be kind. ‘Does this dress look good on me?’ is the perfect time to practice how to be honest and kind simultaneously.

#12 Don’t gossip about each other. Nothing will teach your future child how to be dishonest more quickly than saying one thing when someone is not there and then another when they are.  

#13 Never ever flirt with your friend’s man! Never!

#14 Lastly, treasure her. Life without friends is lonely and boring!

Friday, 13 March 2015

No worry, no cry

Walking the fluffy puppy through the Ham Lands this morning, we came across an elderly lady who was walking her rather regal looking dog. They were both slow, the lady with a walking stick and the dog trotting happily beside her. Stopping to chat, she told me that her dog had suffered a stroke a few days ago. She looked over at my puppy and with a great sadness in her eyes she said, “You are so lucky, you are at the beginning of the journey with yours.”

That lady made me think about what she is longing for. She has had 13 years with her dog and now she is coming to the end of her journey with him. And I felt an instant conviction. I have been blessed with so many journeys in my life, my precious girls, my marriage, my friends and family, my jobs, my life in the UK.  I think that it is only recently that I have realised that I have spent so much time focussing on the wrong things that I have not fully enjoyed what I have.

I missed so much of the joy of my precious girls whilst I worried about the mundane. I have friendship that are heaven sent but I have been distracted by life. I could go on but I won’t because I don’t want you to think badly of me J

“Blessed abundantly” is not enough to describe what I am. So much love, so much joy and laughter, more than I will ever be able to realise. I recon it is time to enjoy the present and hear what Jesus said on the mountain: “That is why I tell you not to worry about everyday life- whether you have enough food and drink, or enough clothes to wear. Isn’t life more that food, and your body more than clothing? Look at the birds. They don’t plant or harvest or store away in barns, for your heavenly Father feeds them. Aren’t you far more valuable to him than they are? Can all you worries add a single moment to your life?” (Matthew 6, 25,26 NLT)

Nope, not a single moment added but many beautiful moments lost. So, perhaps I should change that, starting now! As the legend Bob Marley said: No worry, no cry :)

Sunday, 26 October 2014

Christmas thinking in October!

How are you all? It has been a while since I have come on my blog, in fact the seasons have changed and we are in the middle of autumn. I love this time of the year, when the leaves turn and we get closer to Christmas. Some of you shudder at the thought of thinking about Christmas in October but at Kingston Vineyard and Growbaby we love to.

Why? Because it is the time of year that my church start the huge job of organising the Christmas gifts for some of the most vulnerable children in our borough. Do you know how many gifts my girls get under the tree? Too many! And I love watching them unwrap each gift, I love the look of joy on their faces. And it breaks my heart to think there are children, possibly even in the road we live in that get nothing under the tree at all. There are children that have had to flee domestic violence this year. I have met their mothers, heard their awful stories of having to flee in the middle of the night, leaving everything they own behind just so that they can be safe. There are children whose parents are addicted to substances and will not have thought to buy them something for Christmas. And then there are the children of parents who love them very much but this year they lost their jobs or they were diagnosed with terminal illness and they have no money to buy them anything special. And the list goes on.

I love my church. We are small and God doesn’t care about that! He can use anyone to reach out into the world and show His love. Even me and even you!

In the year that has gone by, Kingston and Richmond boroughs have joined together and so we have twice as many children to give gifts to.  Last year we gave around 850 gifts to the children and this year we already have 1200 requests and we don’t even have all the names yet! Social services, the police, children centres and other organisations send us the details of children that deserve a gift under the tree. We partner with Epsom College who give us around 650 gifts and so this year we will need another 800 plus gifts. How will we do it you ask? I don’t know but I do know that we are not worried about it because the gifts will come, they always do.

The card that goes with the gift tells the child that this is a demonstration of how much Jesus loves them. Jesus taught that we were to reach out to our neighbours and show them His love. Some of us have had a really difficult 2014, a year filled with tears and heart ache but it is this time of the year that we can look around and be grateful for what we do have. Despite our tears, most of us have more than a lot of others in our community.  Perhaps it is time for us to give a little back. Do you want to be a part of something that could make all the difference to a child this year? I do!

Tuesday, 5 August 2014

Traffic jams!

We are on holiday in France. Nothing fancy, a cheap cottage attached to some lovely French lady's house. It is however close to the beach and has a pool. All forms of water entertain my little family so a holiday has to include at least some access to glorious H2O. The gorgeous French wine that is so cheap at the supermarket is an added bonus!!

I have one complaint, driving down here on the day after the schools in the UK closed was possibly not that clever. And it was my idea so I can't moan too much. We left at 5 in the morning to catch the Eurotunnel train with our car and so we had very little competition getting there. The motorway (highway for all those outside of the UK) was nearly empty and when we landed in France it was early so the roads were clear. We sped along the motorway in France, listening to our music and looking forward to our little gîte in Brittany- a bit apprehensive about what we would find and praying the host could speak some English. Yes, I am ashamed to say that having grown up in South Africa, we never learnt French! Another blog about my lack of communication later!

A few hours into our journey into France we hit the 'school is out' traffic! Wow! We were stuck in one spot for ages, then we moved a meter and were stuck there for ages... and that went on for hours! I can tell you now, the level of complaints went up by 100% in the car very quickly! "How long will this take?" "Why are we not moving?" "I hate the French roads!" (how quickly the young forget the M25...)

In the middle of the traffic jam, God had a little word with me. He showed me that lately I have been so focused on the destination, that I have forgotten the journey. Let me explain what I mean. When we were speeding along the road, with no obstacles in our way, we were so focussed on the the holiday we were going to that we did not stop to consider the freedom we were enjoying. It did not occur to us that we had speed and open roads, that we were following the timeline the Sat Nav had set for us. But once we hit the traffic, we wished for the freedom again, wanted to move without every car in Europe blocking our path! We only grasped the concept of freedom once we had lost it.

Things have been tough for my little family over the last 6 months. I am not ashamed to admit that I have become totally focused on the destination, the place I believe we need to be. A place of health and freedom. I have been so busy looking at where we should be, that I have not noticed the road we are walking. Before things got tough, I had no idea how much freedom I had. Now that we are in what feels like a "traffic jam", I am suddenly aware of how much freedom I had before. But more than that, what blessing can come along when your ability to run without taking notice is impeded.... Now I notice the friends that have stood by me, even when I could not be there for them. I notice how God has paid the bills, even when I could not work. I notice that that God has changed the hearts of those I love most, even when I had nothing to do with it.

But most of all, I suddenly understand that God allows us to go through the "traffic jams" to remind us of the freedom we have. It is up to you, isn't it? Do you use these times to grow and learn? Look around you and see the blessings? Do you understand the freedom you have? Or do you just moan about the French drivers and waste your energy on things you can never change?

Thursday, 12 June 2014

A house by the beach?

I saw my friend at the school gate last week and she had had her hair done the day before. She looked glamorous and beautiful. Don’t you just love leaving the hair salon, looking groomed and shiny? My friend and I had a little giggle though about the times we have gone to the hairdresser with a picture in our minds of what we want to look like when we walk out. We have given the hairdresser all the details of how he or she should cut and colour our hair, confident that they will be able to create the image in our head. But as we hand over our hard earned cash after they have finished, we would secretly cry inside because our hair looks nothing like what we imagined! Ever happened to you? As the owner of curly hair with a mind of its own, this is the story of my hair life!

This got me thinking on the way home about my life. I had a picture in my head of what it would look like. I have been working on this image since I was a little girl. For a start, in my dream life I am pretty sure I was richer and lived in a little cottage right on the beach! Uhm not sure what happened there but a terraced house in Greater London was not in the plan. Before I had the girls, I was convinced I would be a better mother than I am. In fact, I may have been the tiniest bit conceited about my knowledge of children! Hahahaha What was I thinking? The girls soon taught me a thing or 2 about what parenting really is- not anything like the books say and nothing like the picture in my head.

I would bet money (if I was a betting kind of person) that your life looks nothing like you thought it would. Like my life, yours probably has included more pain and loss than you thought it would. Perhaps people you love more than you ever thought possible have become ill and you have watched helplessly whilst they suffer. Did you wake up one day and realise you don’t actually live by the beach and chances are that unless all the jobs and schools are moved to the coast, you are unlikely to? And my moment of revelation- I most likely won’t own a holiday cottage by the sea either….. maybe a caravan or a tent?

But guess what? This would have seemed crazy to my childish imagination 3 decades ago but all the things I would not have chosen for myself have been the most positive. I don’t live by the ocean but I live exactly where God wants me. Here, in this little corner of the world, He has work for me to do. Not work that will make me famous or popular and it will never make me rich but it certainly makes me happy. My girls have taught me humility, patience and unconditional love because they are nothing like the books say and what I imagined they would be. And every minute of pain and loss in my life has strengthen me to be able to deal with every curve ball life throws.
What about you? I would bet money (if I was a betting kind of person) that your life is in fact exactly as it should be in order for you to become the person you will be.

Thursday, 8 May 2014

The Garden

The sun has graced us with her presence a few times over the last few weeks. Living in London, this is something we are very thankful for! She often hides behind the grey clouds that hover over the island that is the United Kingdom so when she shines in full glory, we all feel happier! Loads happier!

This weekend, I woke up to the sun flooding the window with her light. My heart lifted a little at the sight. I went downstairs to make coffee and I stood in the kitchen and looked out of the window into the garden. We have lived in this house for 8 years, I love this small house that is sandwiched by the neighbours on either side. In London most of us don’t live in houses surrounded by a garden, those houses are not in our price range. Rather, a large proportion of us, live in a house that shares it’s walls with the houses next door. It keeps life interesting, I am glad to know the personal music taste of the neighbours although I doubt they are glad of the shouting they hear from our side.

Sorry, I digress… I looked out at the garden I have seen for 8 years and for an instant I saw it as though for the first time. I saw the space, the sunlight playing on the leaves, the table ready to be laid for the BBQ later, the fire pit waiting to be lit, the tomato and strawberry plants that we had planted last week. I saw the garden and I remembered that I fell in love with this house because of it!

It struck me that most days when I look out of the kitchen window, I don’t see any of those things at all. What I usually see are the beds that need weeding, the patio that needs a tidy, the herbs that need attention. Most mornings, I only see the things that need changing in the garden and not the wonderful parts of it that made my heart sing when we first moved into the house.

Is this what I have done with other parts of my life? What about you? Do you do the same? Maybe I have begun to look at my husband and only see the things that could be better and not the incredible man I once obsessed about so much it nearly hurt! What about my beautiful girls? Am I spending time with them and enjoying the pure joy of their love and passion for life or am I just seeing the places they need stronger boundaries? What about my finances? Am I so concerned with the fact that I might be in the red that I fail to see that God has faithfully provided for me for 40 years- I have never been hungry or without a home to live in. But most of all, what about how I view God? Do I look to Him and see the parts of my life that still need healing, that I have been crying out for and forget to see what He does for me every day, what He has done for me already? He loves me beyond measure, died to free me, and answers my prayers in ways I never expect. He has surrounded me with love and friends to help me through the trails He allows. He has never turned away from me, not once.

What about you? This is a challenge for us all- let us try and see our lives with fresh eyes. Let us look at the house we live in and see the things that are wonderful and try to ignore the dust for a bit. Shall we give our kids or friends an enormous hug today and try to see the beauty in them? How about we go to work and feel grateful we can work unlike so many people in the world today. Being thankful can change more than you can imagine. Let me know how it goes!