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!

Saturday, 26 April 2014

The Square in the Tower

It was dark and damp inside the tower, the circular floor and wall were slippery, green and cold. She sat on the floor, her head resting on her knees barely aware of the smell of rot in the air. She felt the ink black of the tower press into her, holding her down. Little Girl could not move. She couldn’t remember how old she was, was she 5 or 6? Maybe she was 35, she searched her mind for some reminder, some clue but found none. In the dark tower, the girl had a vague sense of her name, where she belonged. It fluttered through her mind like a butterfly but was gone before she had time to grab hold of it, to snatch it from the darkness and hear what it said. She had lost herself in the tower, she couldn’t find the door. Little Girl knew there was a door, she had come in through it but now when she looked for it she became disorientated. So she gave up and let the damp seep into her bones. She was so cold, she could not conjure up the feeling of warmth anymore.

A tear escaped from her eye and fell to the floor. Little Girl tried to remember, she searched her brain and found nothing. Her mind was hazy, everything jumbled. “Help,” her small voice whispered, “Why have you left me all alone in the tower? Why won’t you rescue me?”

She looked up again at the square of blue in the tower wall, wondering what it might be. She liked the colour, a flutter of joy pierced the darkness but before she could grasp hold of it, it was gone. In the recesses of her mind the colour evoked a memory. It was fuzzy, she was too exhausted to try and unfold the picture.  If only she could reach that square in the wall and look out of at the blue. Little Girl saw how far away the blue square was, she knew that she was too little to climb up so high.  She stayed on the cold concrete, tiredness overwhelmed her. Sleep came and took Little Girl out of the midnight of the tower for a few hours.

It was the feeling of warmth that drew Little Girl out of her slumber. And something hurt her eyes, a glow of golden light. Slowly she raised her eyelids, blinded by the bright square in the wall. Little Girl felt her heart beat faster, “What is that?” she wondered. Looking around the tower, Little Girl saw that it all remained in darkness but she sat in a pool of light that came from the square in the wall. She felt the Light on her skin, it was not unfamiliar, she knew she had experienced it before but could not picture the place or time. She sat very still, tried not to move a muscle, tried not to breath too loudly, she didn’t want to chase away the Light that shone through the square. Little Girl kept her tear stained face in the glow of the Light. She felt the way it caressed her cheeks, how it spread warmth from her face to her body. Very still, a tiny statue in the square of Light on the floor in the darkness. Little Girl didn’t know how long she sat with her face turned towards the Light but soon she could not bear to sit down any longer. She needed more Light, she needed to feel it on every part of her frozen body, she craved it, she felt she might die if she couldn’t get herself into the Light that came through the square in the tower.

“I want to get out of this dark tower, I have had enough of the eternal midnight, the cold walls and the concrete floor!” Little Girl whispered the words so quietly she wasn’t sure she had even said them. The Light on her face felt warmer, a little more powerful. The flicker of the joy Little Girl had felt before opened like a flower in her heart. She could see the joy, smell the fragrance of it. Little Girl unfurled her body, slowly and cautiously she stood up and lifted her hands towards the Light. “Help me,” Little Girl’s voice was barely there. As she spoke the Light intensified, the heat flooding her, feeding the joy, making it grow. Little Girl was afraid. She had not felt like this for as long as she could remember, she didn’t want to lose it but when she looked around, she could see the darkness just a foot step away from the Light coming from the square in the tower. What if she fell out of the Light into the dark space around her? What if she stepped out of the pool of Light? Her fear began to grow and her joy began to fade. But the Light shone through the square, the Light didn’t seem to care about the midnight around Little Girl.

Little Girl looked at the square in the tower, so high up and knew she had to reach it. She understood that if she didn’t get out of the square the darkness would take her again. Fear crept into her mind, Fear told her that she would get lost in the lower again, she would slip on the slimy floor, fall over. But the Light was so sweet, so powerful, it filled her with a new feeling. If Little Girl could distinguish emotions, she would have recognised courage. Little Girl looked at the square in the tower and saw for the first time that there was a ladder from the floor to the square. “I never saw the ladder before,” marvelled Little Girl.  Little Girl wondered is she had ever looked under the square before, had she only ever seen the darkness, the walls, the slime?

Little Girl saw the dark floor between her Light and the ladder. “If I step into the darkness, the Light will be gone, I will get cold and lost,” Little Girl’s lip trembled and tears welled up in her beautiful eyes. The Light warmed her skin, the heat like a father’s arms holding Little Girl close. Tentatively, Little Girl held her hand out of the Light into the dark, cold of the tower. Her mind told her that her hand would feel the icy air but Little Girl could not believe what happened! The heat of the Light remained on her skin, kept her hand warm as if the Light were still shining on in. Little Girl knew that if she kept her hand in the dark for too long, the heat would disappear and then she knew what she had to do.
Little Girl took a deep breath and stepped into the black space between her pool of Light and the ladder ahead of her. With legs like jelly, little Girl moved across the black floor and grasped the ladder. The glow of the Light stayed on her skin, pushed the icy cold from her. She kept her eyes on the Light coming through the square in the tower. One rung at a time, Little Girl climbed. The closer she got to the square, the more the joy and hope began to fill her heart. The square, a heartbeat away, the Light flooding in, a river of gold. Little Girl climbed onto the sill of the square and stood tall. The view from the square took her breath away, filled her with awe, was nearly too much to look at. From the square in the tower, Little Girl saw freedom

Tuesday, 8 April 2014

When life gets tough...

A friend asked me a while ago about how I can reconcile my faith with going through the very real struggles of life. It is a good question. To be honest, in the midst of pain and fear I completely understand why she would ask. I am almost tempted to give a glib, insignificant answer just so that I don't need to think about it too much! There are times when I cry out to God asking Him where He is in all of the chaos of life, I think any follower of Jesus who says they don't is not being totally honest.
To some people it makes no sense at all that we would cling to our faith when our circumstances tell a story that seems to be the opposite of what we believe. And there a few of you reading this who are thinking something along the lines of:  "Some people need a crutch, they need something to hold onto when times get tough, let it be their faith even though it holds no power or truth- whatever they need, let them be."

I have been reading a small book called Epic. The author tells the story of humanity through the eyes of the bible. He looks at how we have been created to crave relationship, how we are built to belong, how we all long for a story of our own. He describes our lives as a movie script, written and played out in this world. We search for a hero, we look for adventure and love. And every good story has a villain! Darth Vader, Dark Lord Sauron, the wicked witch of the west. He asks the question: why would we live our lives without acknowledging that there is a villain, an evil force prowling the earth? Just look around people, just watch the news and you will see pain, suffering, narcissism, greed.... If every wonderful story ever written had no baddy then how would we have been able to fall in love with the hero? The hero would never have a chance to shine, to save the day. The story would be boring!

When things go pear shaped in our life, when everything appears to dissolve into a heap of steaming mess, it is our turn to take centre stage. As a follower of Jesus, I truly believe that satan doesn't want me to grow and change and make any difference to the world around me. And I also know that I was been given authority over satan the moment I accepted Jesus into my life. It is how I choose to fight this battle, not whether it should have happened or not.

So my answer to my friend is this : my faith never promised to make my life pain free or easier than the rest of the worlds. My faith gives me the power to fight the villain that comes prowling around, it helps me to grow and change through every tear I shed so that when we come out the other side, I will be stronger, wiser and more equipped to help others fight their battles.

Tuesday, 18 March 2014

I miss my Mama

My mother. My Mama. We used to build 1000 piece puzzles together on the dining room table, chatting about anything and everything. I would lie on my parent’s bed and brush her hair whilst she dosed off. She would hug me a thousand times during the day and kiss my neck. I miss her.

My mother was a little nuts! We had chickens in our garden, they wondered around freely and laid their eggs under the bougainvillea plant where nobody could reach in and collect them. That plant had big thorns and beautiful purple flowers. When the chicks hatched they would follow their mummy chicken around our garden and try to stay alive- the owls and cats were always out to get them. The chickens would wake early and stand under my mum’s bedroom window, clucking like chickens do, waking my mother. I would laugh as she described how she would fly out of bed and into the garden, chasing the chickens in only her little cotton nighty. And naturally one of the neighbours would drive past seeing my dishevelled mother in her nighty chasing the chickens!

She adored my brother, sister and I! The night before my matric dance (end of school prom) my boyfriend dumped me. My mother was spitting mad at him for making me cry and made sure he knew just how mad. She came to collect my friends and I from school to take us to the hairdresser before the prom and she spotted him across a field. She hit the brakes on the people carrier hard, nearly giving us all whiplash and jumped out of the car. She yelled his name loudly across the field, making every teenage head within a few hundred meters turn. When he looked up to see why he was being yelled at by a tiny little lady, she looked him straight in the eye and yelled: F..k You! The she jumped back into the car and did a wheel spin up the hill, leaving a cloud of dust behind her. Like a scene from a mafia movie! My friends howled with laughter as we drove off and I died with shame!

I am so happy she stuck up for me like that! I am so blessed she loved me so much. My mother suffered from depression. She was often deeply unhappy, she even had to be hospitalised a few times. Her childhood was not filled with love and laughter but rather with abuse and anger. But despite of all that she loved me with such an intensity that it burned away all of the mess that came with her mental health and past.

The thing that always amazes me about this life we have been given, is how painful death is. It makes so little sense that death should hurt so much! There are only 2 things that are certain to happen to every one of us- birth and death. The birth of a baby is joyful but that is not the case when we say goodbye. When we have to let go, often a part of us leaves too. There are times in the darkness after a funeral when the pain overwhelms you. It physically hurts, as if someone is sitting on your chest, forcing the air out of your lungs. Even after all these years, there are days when my heart aches for my mother. My body craves her hugs. I wish she was here to tell me that everything is going to be ok because she will fight the battles with me. If she were still here, she would be fighting my corner like crazed, chicken chasing human!

But now it is my turn to be the mummy… now it is my turn to fight for my girls. And I had a great role model- broken like me but strong enough to love past all the mess. And I have my Father in heaven, the maker of heaven and earth on my side! What a blessing!

Friday, 7 March 2014

Thing 1 and Thing 2

I totally agree with those people who say that the moment you find out you are having a baby (method not important i.e. step child, adoption or birth) you also receive a disproportionate amount of guilt. As parents we spend too much time mulling over what we have done wrong or could have done better. I gave birth to 2 girls so I have double the guilt. We should all learn to focus more on what we have done right! So I shall get the ball rolling! I shall focus on something my husband I appear to have done well.

It seems that one of the thing we have taught our girls is to be exactly who they are, with no compromises! They are independent, strong willed girls who are not afraid to be a little different. This makes our girls a bit like marmite. There are people in the world who ‘get’ them and who love them. There are also people in the world who don’t. Helping them understand that we cannot be friends with everyone but can be kind, loving and understanding is a challenge, not least as it is a lesson all of us are learning!

My eldest is 13. She has just started at a new school very close to us. Having been there for only 2 months, one would expect she would try to blend in but that is not her way. Today was World Book Day and the school asked the high school pupils to come in dressed as a book character or wear mufti. She and her friend spent hours making their ‘Thing1 and Thing2’ costumes from Dr Zeus’s The Cat in Hat. They looked amazing! And when I dropped them at school this morning, I looked around in horror as I noticed that I could see no other teenagers that had dressed up. I saw a few in onesies and I am sure there were more in school but we saw none. What was her reaction? She loved it. Embracing her crazy side, not taking herself too seriously, being proud of what she is.

My girls are still working out who they are, what they stand for, where they get their value from. I can model to them what I believe, my own faith but ultimately they will make their own choices and walk their own path. But I believe that their gift of not wanting to conform is exactly what they will need one day if they continue on their faith walk. Being a follower of Jesus often means that we are not like everyone else, that we are obviously a little crazy. When we truly walk with Jesus we will get push back from the world. The world does not feel comfortable with what we believe, what we stand for. And that is ok because it is not our job to force people to see the freedom that they could have but rather to live in it ourselves. Sometimes that means we get to look like my daughter did, like someone who doesn’t take themselves too seriously and knows how to seek out the joy in life.

What do you stand for?

Monday, 24 February 2014

Toddlers, teenagers and puppies

Toddlers, teenagers and puppies are so similar at times that the only thing separating them is whether they are covered in fur and if have you look up or down to talk with them. As it happens, I am still able to look straight ahead to talk with my teenager but she is quickly over taking me and soon I will have to look up at her to tell her off. I think the step I bought at Ikea will become useful then although I am not sure how scary I will be if I first have to drag the step over to her and then say: Tidy your room now!

So here are what I think puppies, toddlers and teens have in common:

1.      All of us gaze down at the quiet, sleeping toddlers, puppies and teenagers after a long day of trying to contain them and think: Oh my, isn’t this the most beautiful creature ever created. And then we sneak out of the room as quietly as we can so as not to wake them up for fear of losing that feeling!

2.      They are LOUD! Toddlers throw tantrums, puppies bark and teenagers throw tantrums….

3.      Neither toddlers, teenagers nor puppies respond well to a raised voice. If you want cooperation then positive reinforcement is the only way forward.  Some people call it bribery but these people probably write books about behaviour instead of having to manage it 24 hours a day.

4.      All of them want you to ‘leave them alone’ but all of them constantly demand your attention… go figure.

5.      They teach you how to be patient and then they give you lots of opportunities to practice!

6.      For some reason all of them have an ongoing war with the walls and doors in the house! My teenager daily tests the strength of the door hinges by slamming them shut so hard the entire house shakes. She has also adorned her newly painted bedroom wall with ridiculous amounts of blue tac (prestic for you South Africans reading) and doubled sided tape to hold up the photos of strange looking boys in bands people over the age of 15 have never heard of! Toddlers love helping us decorate our walls with their crayons! Paper is boring when you are 2 isn’t it? Walls are much easier to use when practicing how to hold a pen correctly. And puppies? Well, I have a friend whose puppy ate a hole into the living room wall. I don’t think I need say more about puppies and furniture….

7.      Toddlers, puppies and teenagers will eat through every morsel of food in your house whilst you aren’t watching because you are too busy trying to clean the walls before a child and dog free friend comes to visit! And then they will whinge at you all day about being hungry until you go and empty your purse for more!

8.      On the subject of food: have you ever tried to eat something a toddler or puppy can’t have without them noticing? It is impossible- they can sniff out the crisps from upstairs!  I think their brains are wired to hear packets open but not hear their name being called!  And teenagers will happily point out the fact that you said you were on diet but you are now eating crisps. Can’t stick to your diet mum? Grrrrrrr yes I can and these are baked low calorie crisps so they don’t count!

9.      All three are obsessed with their body parts…..

10.  Do you remember the days when you could pretend that everything was not falling apart when it really was? For example, you and your partner could spend the whole drive to the party yelling at each other, still throwing little snide comments at each other as you walk towards the front door but as soon as the door is opened you have an enormous ‘all is wonderful’ smile on your face? Liar liar pants on fire! But as soon as you try and pretend that life is great when it isn’t, your puppy, toddler and teen fix that.  If you had a toddler in the car on the way to the party they would announce loudly that ‘mummy called daddy a bad name in the car’ as soon as your friend opens the door. And your teenager would most likely do the same but in more detail. They say dogs can feel your emotions, knowing when you are stressed or upset. They can and will behave as if the world is ending! My dog would follow me around whining and refuse to listen when we were out if I was stressed!

11.  Toddlers don’t need help from anyone, they can do it ‘by mine self’. Puppies can walk just fine off the lead that’s why they pull you along, they don’t need help staying off the road and teenagers know you are stupid because what has your life experience from the ‘olden days’ got to do with them anyway?

12.  But most of all toddlers, teenagers and puppies make our lives happier and more colourful! We would be so very bored without them!


Monday, 17 February 2014

I might have a screw loose

I am very concerned that something in my house is going to collapse at any moment. I imagine it might be the bookcase or the TV stand. I will be sitting on the sofa, with a glass of wine watching Call the Midwife. I will hear the creak and groan of the TV stand and then watch in horror as it collapses into a pile of broken wood and glass onto the floor. The thing is I keep finding random nuts and bolts and screws on the floor. I have no idea where they come from! I will be wondering through the house, step on one of these mysterious screws and yelp in pain. Then I will pick it up and begin to inspect all the furniture in close proximity for signs of a lost bolt or nut. And I can never find where it comes from. Never. So I am concluding that they are just randomly falling from furniture and so things must be getting ready to fall apart soon. Or the cats are bringing them in from someone else’s house in which case it might be your bookcase that is about to collapse. Sorry.

I shouldn’t really make light of it though. Once a few years ago the heavily laden bookshelves above our spare bed fell down- onto the pillow. My mother in law was visiting and if she had been in bed at the time she would have been squished. But in that case I never found any screws on the floor beforehand, really I didn’t!  

And yesterday, my sister and I were tiding up the playroom when we found a lost screw on the floor. We wondered where it had come from, looking at the furniture in the room and not finding the lonely hole it must have fallen from. I found where it came from this afternoon! I picked up one of our sit-on toy cars by the steering wheel, which promptly fell off and the car landed on my toe! Ouch!

You may think I have a screw loose for writing the next bit, I don’t mind if that is what you think though. Living without God must be a little like finding a screw on the floor and not knowing where it fell from. You know something is missing from your life, you can feel it but you can’t find what it is. You wonder why your job doesn’t satisfy, why your relationships aren’t enough, what you are missing. When we don’t have Jesus in our life, we are like someone that is thirsty all the time. We try to quench the thirst with the world and we are constantly left with a bad taste in our mouth. We were created to be in relationship with our creator, we were created in His own image. Ultimately, all the money in the world, another degree behind our name, a husband to hold onto, a baby in our arms, a bigger house, better friends, a mother that isn’t messed up- all these things will not make you happier or satisfied.

Some of you are disagreeing with me as you read this. You are thinking that you have no need for a God that is associated with the church, the church that has ruined lives. I agree with you. The church has made mistakes, it is full of humans that is why. I am not talking about religion. I am talking about Jesus, the man who really existed- this is not a historically disputable fact. This Jesus is worth getting to know, even if you just want to prove me wrong. But if I am not wrong, you may just find the hole that the screw fits into and it might fix a whole lot of things. In the meantime, wish me luck as I watch the TV tonight!

Monday, 10 February 2014

Oof…..that hurt! Parenting an undercover agent.

It is something that fellow parents and I often marvel at, the age old question- What on earth did we do with all our time before we had kids? The answer is probably drink red wine next to a cosy fire place in the pub, read the paper even the boring sports part, finish whole conversations and stay in bed. The last part is most likely one of the reasons we became parents in the first place so all of you who are yet to embark on this journey- BEWARE!

My children know me better than any other human alive. I cannot fool them for a moment. I am not surprised they know so much about me considering they have stalked me all their lives! When they were little they would spy on me all day even following me to the loo. Kids would make great MI5 agents. Firstly, you can never lose them when you know you are being followed. They can find you anywhere in the house, even if you are hiding in the cupboard under the stairs with the tin of Quality Streets. That’s brings me to their next talent, working out what you have been up to without needing to interrogate you. How often have my kids just come and stood next to me and said, ‘I smell chocolate, can I have some?’  How do they know! They never notice important things like having to step over the pile of dirty clothes on the bedroom floor! And kids never crack during an interrogation! They will never admit they started the fight or ate the brownies no matter how much pressure you apply. They are strong, kids are!

I am privileged to spend lots of time with young mums with the work I do. I can honestly say that some of the best mothers I have ever met have been young. When I first became a mum, I could barely leave the house with my clothes on the right way round. I was probably too busy fretting about the babies sleep routine and whether the food I was going to give her whilst out was freshly cooked from scratch using an Anabel Karmel recipe. I had read the books, watched the DVD’s and I was not going to be defeated by a small human! The young mums I know don’t have time for that nonsense. They have school work to finish, university lectures to attend, seminars to run to. They do all this whilst sterilising bottles, dressing stroppy toddlers and wiping snotty noses. And do you know what? I hardly ever hear them complain.

One thing I tell the young mums all the time is to enjoy the babies whilst they are little. I am not entirely sure why I spent so much time wishing my baby would walk, as soon as she could, she ran everywhere and not always in the direction I needed to go. And then I worked and worked on her vocabulary so that she could talk. Then she started saying ‘No!’ to every request I made. But most of all, a teenager has had 13 years of spying on me in the disguise of a sweet, innocent child. Now she can bring out the big guns! Now she reflects back to me all the things I have spent 40 years trying to ignore! My laziness, my untidiness, my short temper, my impatience, my unhealthy habits! Oof… that hurts! Grrrrr I would prefer to put my head back in the sand!

But that is just the point isn’t it? Having the girls and allowing them to show me where I could do with some tweaking is such an honour. I can choose to put my head in the sand and ignore it all. Or I can take a long hard look at myself and begin to change those bits that need changing. And I can take a leaf out of the book of the young mums. Stop over analysing things, trying to fix it all and just enjoy the time I have with the girls. At least now that I have worked out they are undercover agents, I know to hide the chocolate in a more secure location!

Sunday, 2 February 2014

Zip lock bags are very useful

I have just spent the week at the Vineyard Churches National Leaders Conference in Nottingham. What a week! It is equally exhausting and exhilarating. The week is filled with early mornings, worship, incredible teaching and then late nights! It is a life changing, gear shifting time where God whispers in your ear all week. But I am not good at sitting still for long periods of time, no matter how good the speaker is (if God himself did suddenly appear on stage I would certainly wake up!). So I have a few strategies to keep myself awake- the last thing I want to do is fall asleep and drool down my shirt when all the top leaders of Vineyard UK are in the same room! Yes, we should always stay true to ourselves but there are some things best kept for the sofa at home.

One fool proof way of keeping myself awake is to move around in my seat, bouncing my legs, folding and unfolding my arms but I have found that my fellow conference goers don’t appreciate me wriggling around all day long. My sister fidgets with her pens and this week accidentally threw the blue one (she has a set of many colours) at an unsuspecting person trying to listen! Dangerous!

In an attempt to stop my legs from bouncing around and from flinging things at people, I use sweets and gum. It really works when you have to concentrate, chewing gum may make me look like a cow but a cow that seems to be listening at least! But here in lies the problem. I have an enormous, beautiful handbag that I got as a gift in SA. Leather with the feel of Africa about it and big enough for my note books, multi-coloured pens, water and a large selection of sweets, mints and gum. This year I was clever. Any girl with a big hand bag will tell you that if you want to find a small pack for gum at the bottom, you need to unpack everything- it will always be the last thing you find. How was I clever? I put all the sweets and gum into a clear zip lock bag so it was all in one easy to find place. But oh how I was teased by my church family! They kept asking me if I was expecting to be going through airport security! They are such comedians…

My very lovely friend, has a bible that she got as a gift a few years ago. It holds sentimental value to her and through all the reading and traveling has begun to fall apart. She has used glue and tape but now she uses a zip lock bag to keep the bible together. Zip lock bags are very useful, not always pretty but useful!

It made me think about how we all have ‘zip lock bags’ in our lives. We use all sorts of things to hold us together when life gets tough, things we use to stop us from falling apart at the seams. We use friends but they often let us down, we use food or booze but they will eventually kill us if we eat and drink too much, our careers, always looking for the next promotion but that is not always secure, our children but they will move out one day (I certainly hope so anyway), our husbands but they are only human and mess up, our looks but they fade…. What is yours?

Let me tell you my friend, there is truly only one thing that can hold your life together. There is only one thing that will keep you from falling apart and getting lost like my gum in my huge bag. It is not yourself, or your family or friends. No amount of therapy will help you find it. It is only the living God who can give you peace and security, friendship and love without any conditions. The bible in my friends zip lock bag holds the key- Jesus….

Monday, 27 January 2014

It always rains at 3 o’clock!

Here in the UK, most schools finish between 3 and 3.30 in the afternoon. I cannot be the only parent who has noticed a very disturbing weather pattern. The sun might be poking it’s head out from behind the clouds at 2 pm when you are rushing through the last of the chores that need to be done before collecting your kids from school. You look out of the window and think that it might be nice to walk to school and combine exercise and parenting- then at least you can tick that off the list for the day! But then you notice that the closer to 3 it gets, the darker the clouds are getting. And at exactly 3 o’clock when you have to leave the house to go and stand by the school gate it begins to pour with rain! Every time! I am concerned that the weather has a behavioural problem, maybe some kind of undiagnosed personality disorder or just really doesn’t like parents!  

Rain and my curly hair are a terrible combination! Just a sniff of moisture make my hair frizz. So a daily soaking whilst doing the school run is not on my list of favourite things. An ice cold glass of wine after a long day is very much on my list of favourite things though- that kind of moisture is very much welcome.

Isn’t always the way though? We have busy lives with many responsibilities that require us to do things at set times during the day. What is happening around us doesn’t change the fact that they need to happen- snow, rain, fevers, migraines- the show must go on.

This is a reminder for myself as much as anything- God searches our hearts, he is not looking at what we present to the outside world. He wants us to be joyful and thankful in everything. I sometimes wonder why the bigger, more exciting things aren’t coming my way. Well, if I am not being amazing with the little things, I am not ready for the big things. It matters how I react when it pours on my head every day at 3. It matters how I react when the door to door sales man gets me up off the sofa to sell me double glazed windows when all my windows are obviously already double glazed!!! It matters how I react when the receptionist at the doctor’s office is rude to me because she has had people being rude to her all day. When God sees me being faithful in the small, everyday things, He might think I am ready for something bigger.

So next time you see me at the school gate and it is pouring with freezing rain- I hope you will hear me singing the words to the old favourite: I am singing in the rain! But let’s wait and see, I can’t promise anything...

Sunday, 19 January 2014

Waiting is like a pair of Dr. Martin boots

I am the luckiest girl on earth. I turned 40 and I did not self-combust! Much better than that, I was spoiled rotten by my family and my friends! What a treat it has been. Amongst the lovely gifts I received is a gorgeous pair of Dr. Martin boots- colour red! Not the classic style, different and perfect. Now I suspect a few of you may have owned a pair of Dr. Martins when you were younger and perhaps some of you are currently proud owners! (before I continue I know that some of my friends have a particular dislike of these boots- if you are reading this then just try to imagine they are some other brand…I know it is hard but try). If you have ever owned Dr. Martins you will know that once you have worn them in they quickly become the most comfy shoes you own and you become tempted to try and find a way to team them up with every outfit you own- shorts, jeans, your lovely new skirt- not always with success! But before the boots start to feel like you are wearing a pair of water proof socks they totally ruin your feet!! You have to ‘walk them in’ as my mum used to say about Bata Toughies school shoes.

You have to wear them through blisters and blood. You have to hobble around for weeks like you have tried to walk over hot coals after forgetting to meditate! The bloody boots hurt so much you want to sell them to another unsuspecting victim on EBay. And then one day you put them on expecting agony and you get comfort. Ahhhhh your feet are happy! Plus you look super cool. And you have boots that will last you through many winters and music festivals. Music festivals? Ok, realistically I mean the kid’s school music recital that includes lots of out of tune flute playing but music is music.

Waiting for something is like having a new pair of Dr Martins. ‘What are you talking about?’ I hear you whisper at the computer screen. Well, wait for it, I will explain J

Are you waiting for an answer to prayer? Maybe you are ill and are waiting to be healed. Perhaps you have a child who is struggling and you are waiting, watching anxiously for a flicker that things are getting better. Maybe you are waiting for a better job, for a husband, for a baby to be conceived. Has God placed a dream in your heart for something that seems impossible to you? Maybe you have not even told anyone what he has whispered in your ear for fear of them laughing at the absurdity of it. And so we wait and wait and wait.

When you are waiting for something that God has promised you it is like knowing the boots will one day be your most comfy shoes even though currently they are far from it. Sometimes it can be painful or at best uncomfortable. And you will often look at the dream or promise and think ‘I was definitely wrong’ just as you look at the wretched boots and think that they will never stop hurting you.

It isn’t the waiting that is important my friend, it is how you wait that matters. You can spend your time complaining and allowing the blood and blisters to stop you from walking. You can give up and take the boots to the charity shop. But then you will never have the most comfortable boots in the world. Or you can walk it out, day by day, choosing to believe that God holds you in his hand.

 One of the best lessons I have learnt, is that how you wait changes what you get in the end. When you remember to look up from your sore feet and reach out into somebody else’s life, you will soon forget that you are in pain. You can help you neighbour, serve your community, look after your friends, go the extra mile for your family without expecting anything in return, give money and time to those in need, stop gossiping and start listening, talk to the lonely mum in the playground and buy her a coffee, ask the tired checkout lady how her day has been, put the trolley back into the right place, give way to someone in the traffic jam, take food to someone who is ill, babysit for a mum that is so tired she cannot think straight so that she can sleep, smile at the teenagers on the street corner, pray for the young mum on the bus and don’t judge her, paint someone’s house, clear their garden….

 What then you ask? Then one day you will notice you were so busy being God’s light in the dark world that you didn’t even notice that the pain was gone, the blisters had healed and on your feet were the boots you had always longed for.


Sunday, 5 January 2014

What about this thing called 40?

What about this thing called 40?

I am turning 40. There, I have said it out loud! There is so much hype around this birthday, Hollywood has even made movies about it. The movie I am thinking about features a woman who looks nothing like any 40 year old I know (she looks about 25), fretting about her looks and then falling pregnant after a dope fuelled weekend away with her ever suffering husband! Please God let me not fall pregnant in my 40th year!! Best avoid the dope fuelled weekends then. That, I must add will be surprisingly easy to do considering the life I lead with 2 kids and a husband, not exactly rock ‘n roll!

But for me, this birthday is not so much about fretting about the physical act of growing old. The irony of life is that now, after my body has been wrecked by child bearing, my hair is insisting on sprouting more white hair than brown I am more comfortable with my looks than I ever was. Crazy isn’t it? I guess, I have grown wiser in my old age and I can see that most of this nonsense world we live in is looking for something that doesn’t exist- perfection. I don’t have time to spend fretting about my wrinkles, I have a life to live. Besides, when I was 20 I thought I was fat. If I could time travel I would tell my 20 year old self that I was never going to be 20 again and that at 40 I would give an eye to be that thin again.

No, turning 40 is about much more than my looks. When my mother turned 40 she had no idea that she only had another 4 years left to live. She died at 44 with no warning, no ability to fix things she may have wanted to, no time to tell her loved ones how much she adored them, no moment to reflect on her relationship with God. She was with us and then she was gone. It didn’t matter if she was fat or thin, if she had done her roots, waxed, botoxed or gone vegan- what mattered was what she left behind in the painful mess of wrapping up her short life.

The annoying thing is that other people in my life are so often right! What is even more frustrating is that I often don’t hear what they are saying until I stumble and fall. Then I sit up and think- well I should have listened! And I should have listened to what my mother told me more carefully. She would so often put her arms around me, kiss my neck and tell me that I was incredible. She would also throw things at me in a rage or yell so loud the neighbours 5 doors down could hear her! But nobody is perfect.

I may only have 4 more years to live like my Mama did at 40 or I may have another 40 to go. Who knows? But I want to live the next part as best as I can, making a small, positive imprint onto the people around me if I can. And if I could tell my ‘future’ grown up girls a few things this is what I would say:

1.    Every day, no matter where you live someone in the family has to wash the dishes! Mostly it is a parent, mostly it is a mum. Even on holiday! Once you become a parent, a holiday is just doing the same job in a different place- maybe in a warmer climate and with the help of a cocktail… but still the same job. The interesting thing is that we all think we know the right way to wash our dishes! In my house there are strict rules about how to pack the dish washer which are enforced by the ‘Keeper of the Dishwasher’- my husband. LOL I was amused when I came to the UK where everyone had a plastic washing up bowl inside their metal sink, very odd for me. Surely the metal sink is ‘bowl shaped’ enough not to need another bowl?  And in Russia (well the part I have visited), they use no plug for the sink but rather wash up under running water. When I asked if this was not a waste of water, after all I grew up in a part of the world that was often in drought, the Russian told me that Russia has lots of water and they do not need to worry like other countries. My advice regarding dishes is this- don’t get too attached to your dishwashing method because you may one day have a mother in law who wants her dishes done in a certain way. In my 40 years I have learnt that being flexible in little things can make a big difference when it comes to bigger things like how to raise a baby without loads of unwanted advice.


2.    Family is everything. It is worth more than money and your career, more than an argument that you know you should win. Family is worth more than your pride. And your friends can become your family. We can choose to be Australian or South African or American or even all 3 in one lifetime. I love the freedom we have to choose where we want to live and raise our kids. But the price we pay for living anywhere in the world, is that we are away from our families. I am blessed to have my sister so close to me, our families can spend time together and we are building a safe and accepting space where our girls can learn to be who God intended them to be. This is after all what family should be isn’t it? A place where you are loved for who you are and are encouraged to grow into everything you can be. But I have learnt that I can build family around me with my friends! This is not an easy process. You have to make yourself vulnerable, be willing to get hurt and be let down but one day you will look up and see that you are surrounded by a small group of people who would wake in the middle of the night to help you- even when it is snowing outside. It is worth taking the risk with people, opening up your life to them. Some may leave but the ones that stay are worth more than you may ever know.


3.    You can be happy no matter whether you choose to live in Australia, South Africa or America. Do you know why? Because happiness is sometimes a choice you make. If you are sitting and waiting for happiness to come along then you will wait a very long time. Places and people are not always what we want them to be. The only person you have control of is yourself. And nobody else will make you happy apart from yourself. It is a choice.


4.    Falling in love and getting married is easy! Very easy! Yes even planning the wedding with all its flowers and invite designs and seating plans is easy. But staying married and happy is hard! Listen, if you told me that to make my marriage work I would have to sacrifice a lot of what I wanted, I may have changed my mind before putting on my beautiful wedding dress. But I would not have believed you anyway, I was young and knew everything. I was used to getting what I wanted! Now! I am not by any means saying that I am the only one in this marriage that makes sacrifices, my husband does too. That is how a marriage works. My career, his career, where we live, what car we drive, how we spend our weekends, even what snack we will eat tonight are all linked to the desires and needs of someone else. Sometimes I get what I need and sometimes he does. I can categorically claim that without Jesus in my life, I would have continued to make poor choices and I would not be sitting here with the love of my life, my soul mate next to me. Jesus has taught me how to love outside of myself. Jesus has kept me sane enough to stay married.


5.    A good song on the radio on your way to work can change the entire day!


6.    Never ever date and most of all never marry a man that does not make you feel like the princess you are. A man who knows you are the most valuable woman in the world. A man who would lay down his life for you. A man that will love you when your body has fallen apart after carrying his children. And watch how he treats his mother and sisters, this is a good way to predict how he will treat you. And if he can do the dishes then this is even better!


7.    Google is your friend…. in the olden days we used the library...


8.    I wish I have known at 20 that I am beautiful. I don’t mean in a ‘Kate Moss’ or ‘Angelina Jolie’ kind of way, I just mean in a ‘God creates only beauty’ kind of way. I spent far too much energy thinking I was not, when it is a plain and simple fact that we all are fearfully and wonderfully made. No matter what the media tells us, no matter what we think the mirror says, we are beautiful. And I love feeling beautiful, even when my hair frizzes around my head like an auburn halo. And if you don’t feel beautiful, then keep telling yourself you are until a tiny little part of you begins to see it. You see, when you tell yourself you are not beautiful you are lying to yourself. I know this sounds crazy but just try it. It will change who you are inside. A beautiful woman makes much better choices for herself. Fact!


9.    It hurts like hell to loose someone you love. There are moments in the middle of grief where you feel darkness that seems impossible to climb out of. The pain can actually physically hurt inside your chest as if someone is squeezing your heart till it bursts. But time is a healer and after a while the light starts to filter back in. And after an even longer while, you can look back over the time and see the good that has come from the loss. Because I promise you, there is always something good that comes from pain. You just have to be patient and wait. And sometimes we lose people we love in ways that we don’t expect. They don’t die but they walk away, forget they love us. Good comes from this too. I know this because I have lived this. Just try and hold on till the sun comes up again.


10. If you want to know what your deepest, most hidden personal faults are- raise a child! When they are babies you will be so focused on sleep routines and getting them to like green foods that you won’t realise that you are imprinting your ‘stuff’ onto them. Then one day when your baby is older and having a bad day or week or year, you will see yourself, clear as day reflected back at you. I see my insecurities and my unresolved pain looking at me every day through the lives of my girls. And then I remember my mother, holding me and telling me I was incredible and I take my girls into my arms and do the same. There is no perfect parent in the world! I may be a bit crazy and messed up but I know how to love. God is the only perfect parent in the universe and He loves me. And that is enough.

This year, my 39th has been wonderfully awful. Yes it have been an extreme of both. But I would not have learnt so much about who I am without the pain. I would not have known who my real friends are without needing them to be there for me. I am so grateful to God for surrounding me with love. But more than that, I am who I am because God loves me. I am the daughter of the Most High, I am chosen. So are you, whether you know it yet or not.