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.