Life: A Series of Goodbyes

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Because our lives right now are being built up to a time soon where we will say goodbye to Africa, and almost everything feels like a goodbye in some type of way, I got thinking about this goodbye thing.

Let me say upfront: I am REALLY, SERIOUSLY bad at saying any type of goodbye. Having had a brother living overseas since I was 18, and always knowing when I saw him, I’d come to a time when he’d leave again, I thought I’d be used to them. Not even used to them – but I’d find a way to cope and get through them with grace and dignity. Alas. As much as I try, that feeling of dread descends two days before and I get my ugly cry on every. single. time.

Here’s what I figure. Life is just a series of goodbyes. From the moment you’re born, you navigate your way from one goodbye to the next until the ultimate goodbye, which isn’t really a forever goodbye at all. Well, in my books anyway.

You’re born and you say goodbye to anonymity. You are given a name, and a family and you are known. You grow and say goodbye to infancy, to being a toddler, and eventually goodbye to your childhood. You say goodbye to friends, to family. You say goodbye to cities you leave, to places you’ve been. You say goodbye to phases of life, to the people who’ve journeyed with you there. You say goodbye to memories, to pasts, to promises.

Why are goodbyes so hard? I think it’s because I know that even though a piece of my heart stays behind, the time has come to move on and ultimately, the unknown is scary. Do I crave the comfort of all that we’re leaving behind? Leaving behind not only places – but do I crave the comfort of safe spaces, of familiar faces, of people who know what I’ve walked through, a place where I’m known? Um, yes.

But here’s the thing: on the other side of every goodbye, is a radiant hello. Journeying to a goodbye, a point in life where I know I’m leaving behind and entering something new, that’s the glorious part of living. Who I become, what God teaches me, how God uses me, who I meet, who I carry and who carries me, how and for who my heart breaks and mends, how I process pain and elation and what it teaches me, how I impact the world where I am for that time and how my world at that time impacts me, how God can use me exactly where I am because of where I’ve come from – that all brings me to a point of goodbye. But not any less important, is the magnificent hello.

Hello to new friends, while I never forget the ones who’ve marked my heart with their fingerprints already and carry them with me always.

Hello to new beginnings – while I carry the scars of my past, they bear testament to what God has brought me through – a beautiful testimony of redemption.

Hello to new places – my new phase or place will be impacted by all I have become, through the journey God has taken me on. Every heart breaking, painful, joyous, spectacular, nervous, unsure, confident, confused step I’ve taken, God has intended to get me to where I’m standing right now. My story has prepared me for  where I’m going.

Hello to the unknown – closing the door on the familiar. Beautifully scary – but I have a God to whom nothing is unknown, and I gotta place my trust there, in Him.

They say if there’s a Goliath in front of you, there’s a David inside of you. I’ve got a Goliath of a goodbye coming up here in a couple of weeks. I’m just praying that the David I have hiding in the coves of my heart pushes through the waves of ugly cry tears and reminds me that on the other end of this painful, heart wrenching goodbye, is the dawn of a glorious, soul shaping hello, whose full impact on my life I won’t be able to see unless I’m willing to try.

One thing I do know for sure though – the One who goes with me, and is taking me there, He knows. That should be enough for me. I’ve just got to be brave enough for the goodbye.

Stepping Off The Edge

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Recently, God’s really challenged me on faith. Believing in the dark because let’s face it, believing in the light is pretty easy. Everything is clear there. The rubber hits the road when waters of life are muddied, you can’t see the wood from the trees and you are found wishing you knew what was around the corner and why God was leading you there.

My dad always tells me that the longest journey you can take is from your head to your heart. Things I know in my head, do they resonate in my heart? Things can roll off my tongue so easily –  “Oh wait, Hebrews 11:1 – Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.” Or my favourite easy-to-say-but-difficult-to-cling-to-when-I’m-in-the-pit verse “Oh yes, Jeremiah 29:11 – For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” I will admit, in times when I felt like my life was falling apart, hope and a happy future, or any future at all even, did not even enter my mind.

Have I got all of this figured out and do I walk around in a big blissful bubble of abounding joy? That’s a resounding no. We’re walking together and in all seriousness, no-one ever has it all figured out. But we love the Jesus who writes the most glorious stories if we give Him the pen and that’s the essence of faith.

I’m about to embark, with my family, on a huge move from South Africa to the USA – I’ll fill you in on the process. Matt won the green card lottery. We didn’t go applying for jobs, we weren’t active in trying our best to escape this place at all, as most people would think. We randomly entered the green card lottery, literally as a tongue in cheek kinda thing, and Matt won. From 15 million people who entered worldwide, narrowed down to 85 000 in the second round and finally 50 000 worldwide who get their final interviews – we made it. Fast forward to 18 months later, I cannot even begin to tell you the miracles that have happened in order for us to get on the plane in 34 days time. Police clearance certificate we needed in 5 weeks, when the police department told us a minimum of 6 weeks, processed in two weeks. Passport applications for our kids – minimum processing time was 6 weeks at our nearest home affairs. We pitched up there with 6 weeks to go, only to find that their scanners were down, and we had to race to the next home affairs office to be told we’d have them in 2 weeks. Hand of God? I think so. There are loads more, but honestly, being on this journey and processing our immigration, has been just like journeying with Jesus through every step. Does that mean it’s been peaches and cream this entire time? No. We’ve had to have our lives on hold for this entire journey- 18 months and still counting – we couldn’t be present where we were because we knew there was a chance we could be leaving. THAT, my friends, is seriously difficult and strenuous on a family.

Are we running from South Africa? No, we’re not. America has its own problems – it isn’t going to be heaven on the other side, we are under no illusions about that at all. We love this place, we love so many people here, most of our family is here and this is the safe option, in terms of having life figured out. Our kids are so happy in their school, which is a huge blessing to me as their mom. Our kids have all 4 of their grandparents and their godparents around them constantly which is just an immense blessing. Matt has his dream job. We have amazing church families – people who’ve walked with us through so much. We live comfortably here. Why would God make His path so clear, a path that leads us from here?

All in all, I believe He wants to take us out of our comfort zone – it’s an exercise in faith. I believe He has work for us to do on the other side. Do we know what that is yet? Not really but that’s the faith part. Holding onto the fact that because we believe He’s brought us there, there’s got to be a reason why. A reason that will bring Him glory, impact the world for His name and grow us as a family. We can’t see God working when we’re comfortable. We can’t become world changers for Jesus by staying in our comfort zones. When we’re willing to step off the edge, not knowing if there’s solid ground under our feet when we land, that’s when, my friends, God displays so vividly, the love and grace He has for us and His willingness to be intimately involved in our lives.

Are we scared? AMEN AND YES. Do we have everything figured out on the other side? No, we definitely don’t. But we are sure of one thing: God wants us there so we’re believing in the promise that He is faithful to sustain us, guard and guide us through whatever happens when that plane lands on 12 December in the US of A.

On 3 August 2014, my brother preached a sermon at his church on having faith. At the end of that sermon, he broke down a little talking about us in South Africa, while he lives thousands of miles away in the USA – our uncle had just been the victim of a violent robbery, it was a tough time for our family as a whole and he had mentioned that as part of his sermon. Here’s how he ended it:

“But I have faith – I’m not walking by sight. What I see is devastating, but what I know, and I believe, is that I can trust Him with them. All I have to do, my responsibility is, to continue to obey.”

As us four Fouries stand in the airport, headed off on an adventure we believe to be in obedience to what He wants for us as a family and trying to serve Him as best we can, with all that we own in the entire world packed in four suitcases, pray for us as we go. Pray that we go with hope in our hearts for what God has to do in and through our family. Pray that we honour Him and believe in His will and purpose for our lives when we ache for the people and places we left behind; that when the days get dark, we hold onto the trust we have in His provision for us. But most of all, pray that we walk not by sight, but by faith in the One whose plans for us are more than we can comprehend, who loves us more than we can ever imagine and whose fingerprint on human lives is most prevalent, and whose name is most greatly glorified when we are willing to step off the edge and make ourselves uncomfortable.

Oh by the way – to all of you who we say goodbye to in this beautiful country we will always consider a home, remember:

You can trust Him with us.

The Art of Surrender

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I’m finding myself questioning these days and wondering about the impact of surrender. Of course I trust Jesus and rely daily on Him but how much of my life do I place completely under His control, without sitting back and constantly trying to take back the reins? What does it mean to truly surrender everything to Jesus?

Here’s what I reckon – if I was willing to daily get on my knees, and say to God “Good morning God. Here we have a blank canvas – a Wednesday – I’m giving you the brush. Let’s paint a picture today that speaks of Your glory and wonder. I’m willing to take the back seat here and just because I can’t see the picture You’re painting today, doesn’t mean You aren’t there or that my life is less meaningful. Help me to trust in your workmanship, invisible or not, in my life today.”  The greatest adventure of my life begins there.

Walking to the edge, and being willing to jump off IN FAITH, knowing that no matter what, God has my best interest at heart and will never forsake me, is easier said than done. Having a God who personally works in my life, doesn’t mean it’s devoid of pain, of discomfort, of sorrow, of heartbreak.

The thing I find with my life is that I easily give praise to Him when all my ducks are in a row, my life is hunky-dory and I’ve got everything going my way. I’m willing to say “God, You’re the captain of my ship and praise! You’re doing a great job! Hallelujah!” But in the dark, in the shadows of life, where it’s a plough and I’m running on empty, I’m so quick to jump to “God, remember the great job You were doing when everything was awesome? Well, You’re starting to drop the ball here and I think I need to take over.”

The thing about me wanting to control my life is that my humanness is a problem. There is only so much I can do. My wanting to control my life, which He gave to me in the first place, puts God in a box. I think God can’t give me what I can give myself, or I think God won’t give me what I want, or I can do it better than God can, so I fight for control. Let me just say something:  what God wants for us, or what God wants to do in and through our lives, is so much more than we can ever dream. Will the process be difficult? Well, maybe. There’s no guarantee of rainbows, smooth sailing and bottomless coffee, or Coca-Cola in my case.

I need to not only be willing to give God total and utter control of my life in the joyful seasons but I need to learn that the control I give Him when life is going wonderfully, needs to be the same amount I give Him when I’m crawling through the trenches. The depth to which I surrender to Him is directly linked to how much I trust Him. My belief in His ultimate grace, and love for me, NO MATTER THE CIRCUMSTANCE, should surpass any earthly tribulation I have to face because I’m assured of that fact.

I walked in my deepest valley when I found out God was sending me Noah. (You can read my earlier blogs to catch up if you don’t know the story) Did I think God had my life under control? Definitely not. I questioned whether God was even in my life at all. I thought He’d stuck me on the backburner. But I distinctly remember where I was, the exact time of the day, the actual date, where I pulled my car over to the side of the road and shouted at the top of my voice, hearing my words echo back at me off the roof of my car: “OK GOD! I’m done!  Whatever this journey is supposed to mean or teach me or anyone else, I’m done trying to figure that out and I’m totally done trying to handle this all myself. I’m laying it down RIGHT NOW, RIGHT HERE.” It does sound weird, and totally spacey but at that moment, I just had complete and utter peace about the road I was walking. Did life get easier? ABSOLUTELY NOT – in fact, it got harder before it got close to being ok. But, from that moment, where I chose to lay it all at His feet without picking it back up again, God wrote such beautiful stories through my pain, and through my processing and through my discovery of motherhood. God did miracles, God was tangible to me in a way that I’ve never forgotten. Jesus’s refining process, in His way and on His terms, was more astoundingly beautiful that I could have ever imagined. Excruciating, difficult, painful? A resounding yes, but not any less magnificent and indelibly soul transforming.

There are times I want to grab my life back from His clutches, of course. The human heart is fickle and there are times when I think that the vast space of trusting and not knowing, is too much to try and navigate and trust through. When there’s no evidence of His working that I can visibly see, that’s when the need for control creeps up on me. In a way, there’s comfort and freedom in truth – the truth of knowing that God fights for me, in battles I can’t even see. That He’s creating and moulding and shaping in the quiet depths while I think He’s barely on my side at all. That truth resonates in my heart if I’m willing to listen to it. Faith is believing that, even when I can’t see any evidence of it.

There’s a song that is deeply touching me right now – probably the reason why I’m on this path right now of questioning all this stuff. It’s Touch The Sky off the new Hillsong album, Of Dirt and Grace. A few lines go like this:

My heart beating, my soul breathing

I found my life when I laid it down

Upward falling, spirit soaring

I touch the sky when my knees hit the ground

 The greatest and most beautiful stories are written when we’re willing to give up control, surrender and hand God the pen. Let God write your life story.  Give Him the boundless space to create no holds barred, the most breath-taking tapestry with your life – a portrait so glorious and outside of our human capabilities that it can only be attributed to the giver of life Himself. He’ll astound you with what He’ll do, if you’ll just let Him.

Surrender – the act of laying your life down, and in the process, finding out that is really where your life begins.

 

Recapturing Wonder

Last weekend, we took our kids to a Living Nativity at one of the local churches down the road. It was incredible. We got taken on a walking tour through the nativity story , complete with angels, real goats, sheep and donkeys, a bustling Bethlehem marketplace with tax collectors and stalls. I walked around with my kids and at every stop, it was like The Christmas Story became alive to them.

I sat back and I thought what Christmas meant to me personally – as a 30 something adult. So Christmas means planning a trip to church (would it be Christmas eve or Christmas Day? Which service time? After present opening? Before?) Christmas means making sure the tree is up, that my kids are ready for Father Christmas (milk? check. cookies? check. reindeer treats were a late addition last year – should I prepare for that too?) and that they understand why we’re celebrating Christmas in the first place. Christmas means less traffic in Joburg, hot summer days in the swimming pool. As I sat watching my babies journey quite literally through the Christmas story, petting a donkey (a real one, yes) while baby Jesus slept in the manger, I knew that I’d lost it. It was there – I could see it on my babies’ faces – but I’d lost mine.

The WONDER and AWE of Christmas.

The Saviour of the world is born, in a stable. He laid aside His majesty (as the song says) and stepped onto earth, to eventually die for me. Joseph – a brave young man willing to believe in a message and a promise. Mary – carrying that promise, carrying the hope of the world. It’s the greatest story ever told – where did I lose my sense of wonderment at that? Where along the way, did I forget to marvel at the amazing miracle of this?

I think Christmas to me, has become more about parties than peace. More about rushing than resting. More about festivities than faith. More about work than wonder. I think as I’ve walked through adulthood, I’ve forgotten to just sit, in quiet reflection and just marvel at what actually happened. I’ve just not taken time to bask in the revelation of Jesus and His entrance onto earth. How absolutely astounding that really is.

Kids have a way of teaching you more about your faith than they ever realise. My kids point me more towards Jesus than any other influence in my life because their faith is so boundless, and so expectant. As I celebrate with my family, I’m going to take a moment to soak up the wonderment I see on their faces at as they experience the story of Jesus’s birth. I hope that I can envelope some of that into my own heart this year.

One of my best Christmas albums is JOY! by Steven Curtis Chapman. In fact, he’s one of my best artists of all time. On that album is a song called I Am Joseph, and the final verse goes like this:

So let’s all gather at the manger

And bring all our hopes and hurts and fears

All of our unworthiness and shame

Knowing every one of us is the reason that He came

This year, I want to be a child again. I want to kneel next to the manger, peer into the cradle filled with hay, and gaze at the baby – knowing how imperfect, unworthy and flawed  I am and He still chose to come. The baby who left glory, to become flesh – everyone of us, every single one including you, is the reason that He came.

Our God is with us. He is for us all.

That’s a miracle.

That’s wonder-filled.

That’s Christmas.

PS: If you want to hear that song by SCC, here it is. It’s incredible and it inspired a lot of this post: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qiWnY97fSbA

 

Finding Meaning in the Mundane

One of the greatest struggles I have as a mom is feeling like I’m not doing anything significant. Sometimes I sit back and feel like I’m caught in the mundane. I’m stuck in a routine of a ruthless, meaningless to-do list, with my main aim being to make sure my kids and I come out alive at the end of every day, without too much drama and maybe with my kids having learnt a few life lessons along the way. Oh and we included a bit of Jesus in there somewhere too. Phew.

Everybody wants recognition. Whether you want to be the best graphic designer, the best chef, best soccer player, best student, best artist. The list is endless. Everyone in the world wants to feel like what they do, matters. That they are changing the world in some way. As humans I think our basal instinct is to crave recognition for things we think we do well at. Acclaim from the world means you’ve made it. Fame validates us for some reason. Recognition for something we’re good at, that’s the key to strive to want to be better.

The thing about motherhood though is that most everything we do is done when no-one sees it. Nobody sees you in the dark hours of the night trying to curb a fever. Nobody sees you at 5am (probably having just gone back to sleep and having to wake up again 45 minutes later) making school lunches. Nobody sees you sitting with your pre-schooler on your lap, explaining why it’s ok to lose and winning isn’t everything. Nobody sees you ironing sports uniforms, or sewing sequins on dance costumes. Nobody sees the tears you cry, when you just don’t feel like you’re coping.

Picture it. Spilt juice on your clothes, running down the passage to find a towel to mop the floor in your bathroom that is now flooded from bathtime, hair in a messy bun because you didn’t have time to shower yet, with a 4.6 second pit stop at the kitchen counter to have a sip of a cold cup of tea. Glamourous, I know. Famous for the amazing job we think we’re doing with this motherhood thing, while looking so glamourous? Hardly.

Wait. Take a breath. There it is. You have all the acclaim you need right in front of you.

YOU ARE FAMOUS.

When that school bell rings and those kids run into your arms, you’re famous.

When a bad dream wakes a sleepy toddler and your name is the first thing to leave their lips, you’re famous.

When your little boy falls off his bike, needs a plaster and wants his mom, you’re famous.

When you sit on the side of a sports field in the pouring rain and your baby looks over and waves hello, you’re famous.

To the only people that matter, you’re famous. Not only that, nothing you do is invisible to Him who gave you this calling in the first place. He sees you. He holds you close. He cheers you on. He picks you up. He loves you more than you’ll ever be able to love your kids.

It doesn’t matter that the no-one sees everything us mothers do. What we do when no-one sees, makes our children want to be at home. What we do when no-one sees, means our kids know they are cared for. What we do when no-one sees, means our children know they can count on us. What we do when no-one sees, means there’s meaning in motherhood, even if most days it seems mundane. Everything we do shows our children something about selflessness and sacrifice.

The mundanes of motherhood are necessary. The mundanes of motherhood are essential. The mundanes of motherhood mould our children and who they think we are, who they think they are and how they see Jesus in it all. The mundanes of motherhood have meaning. The mundanes of motherhood are messily magnificent.

To the world, you might ONLY be a mom.

But to God, you’re a world changer and generation shaper.

To the babies entrusted to you, you’re what it means to be home.

That’s all the recognition we need.

Dear Me…

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Dear Me,

Right now, I know you feel like you’re drowning. I know you feel like your world has crumbled, that when everyone finds out about the little baby you’re carrying, you’re going to shatter people’s dreams – dreams they had for you, and dreams they had for themselves which involved you. I can see how you feel like the baby you’re carrying, is actually carrying you. You feel like people will only see the baby and what your pregnancy says about you right now, and people will never see you as you. People don’t see you struggling for every smile and fighting for each step.

I know you wish you were invisible but instead, you feel that you give failure a face.

You feel like you are the poster child for pain.

You feel like your name symbolises shame.

I see you are walking in the valley. You feel that God has left you – that any kind of good He could’ve done through your life is now shattered. You wonder about your worth, you question your character. No-one could possibly love you through this right? Including God? He abandoned you before you even knew yourself that you walking this road to motherhood. He knew you were, before you did and He gave up on you then, along with everyone else when they find out.

Stop.

You see that empty seat in the doctor’s waiting room? He’s sitting there.

You see the man sitting next to you, whose life has plunged into chaos just the same as yours has been? God chose him, for you, to walk with you right now (and forever) – Noah and you, He’s entrusted to him. Funny, his name is Matthew. Matthew means gift from God. Yes. He’s a gift from God for you. Dear Candice, Love Jesus.

Listen, me, six years from this day in the doctor’s room, you will tuck your little boy into bed, hold him close and realise these things:

1:            Your baby boy will be the dream that, those close to you, never knew they had. He will heal relationships, he will bind up broken hearts and he will shine light into lives that are trapped in the darkness.

2:            God never left you. In fact, when you look back to this time in your life, you will realise that it was this time right now, that He as closer to you than ever before.

3:            God doesn’t make mistakes.  Ever.

4:            From your greatest trial, came your greatest blessings. You will look back on this time and not wish it away, I promise you. These few months defined who you are, made you re-evaluate what you thought about God and carved your character in a way that you can’t even conceive right now.

5:            The little boy’s arrival will teach you all about unconditional love. Your friends and family will show you more about God’s grace lived out, than you will have ever experienced before. Abandonment should not even cross your mind. The next few months, they will prove that to you.

6:            The life you have now, six years later, is so much more fulfilling than the one you planned. I know you can’t see that now. Right now, you’re broken hearted about the life dreams you lost. I can assure you, this life you didn’t plan for – a life of jumping headfirst into motherhood and marriage so suddenly – that’s the life that actually makes your heart happy. You won’t cry for what you feel like you lost – because you actually didn’t lose anything of significance at all. You gained. You are where you weren’t planning to be but nonetheless, you are where you are meant to be.

7:            The greatest lesson you will learn is that grace means that everything in your life, including the hurt, the disappointment, the pain you’re going through right now, the products of your mistakes, all serve a purpose instead of serving shame.

Everything you believe about yourself and about what God thinks of you is eradicated by what is there on the screen. Look over.

You see that little hand on the sonar screen? Can you hear that heartbeat?

Noah is created by God. His time is right now. God loves you enough and finds you worthy enough to be his mom.

This time is the right time.

You are worthy, in fact so worthy, God entrusted you with another life. He made you a mother.

If I could hug you right now, me six years ago, I would. I know you feel you don’t deserve it. I know you will have to learn to love yourself again, and it won’t come easily. In fact, you will have days where you feel like you’re back here again.

But at least in the future, you know where to run to. He’s waiting. He never left you. Nothing, ABSOLUTELY NOTHING, you do will ever change that.

Now if you weren’t where you are right now, on this day six years ago, where you are at a tipping point of grace without knowing it, you may have never had the chance to experience that for yourself.

God is about to become more real to you than you’ll ever know. He’s there. Just lean into Him – you’re carrying a baby, and He’ll carry you both.

Love,

Me

The Encore of the First Time Mom

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On Sunday, I watched Noah walk into his new Sunday School class. I’m not really the emotional type but he’s moved up into the bigger section and goes to a separate building to Tyla so he’s with all the primary school aged children – Grade R to Grade 6. I saw my boy walk into that hall, the shortest little guy by about 5 feet (I’m pretty sure that grade 6 boys are giants these days and this mommy is having heart palpitations), turn around and wave and say “bye mommy!” ~ just like that. And instantly, I was that new mom again. That unsure, cautious first time mom. Actually, I AM a first time mom. I’ve never parented a 5 year old before so yes. First time mom, it is.

I think it’s become more prevalent in my life because my brother and my sister-in-love are having their first baby next month. I can remember being a pregnant mommy and waiting for the baby to arrive and while Lindsey (my sister in love) is just beginning her journey, I’m entering a new phase of mine. That’s always quite scary. Just like giving birth and entering motherhood is life-changing, seeing the “birth” of your children into another stage is emotionally jarring as you birth a new phase of your parenting journey.

Lindsey ~ the first time mommy of a newborn.

Candice ~ the first time mommy of a 5 year old. Same but different.

Having said that, I sat back and thought about my experience so far so here are some thoughts on what I’ve learnt so far. I don’t profess to be the perfect mother by any means but there are points in this blessing-filled, crying-enveloped, hug-infested, love-dosed journey where these have meant a lot to me. I’m not saying I’ve got it right because I definitely don’t and my way isn’t the only way, that’s for sure – but here goes.

  • Everybody will tell you “It goes so quickly, enjoy every stage and every minute.” Yes, it does go quickly but I promise you, you won’t enjoy every moment. It’s just not possible. You’ll have days where you feel like you’re going to fall apart and you do, in a big way. There will be days where you will hate every second. That’s ok. It’s not meant to be easy and it’s ok to admit that.
  • You’ll hear “sleep when the baby sleeps” – I have never met  a mother who’s got this right. I never did. If my daughter was sleeping, she’d think that 15 minutes at a time was about enough. In that time, I’ve just actually re-heated my cup of tea (yes I’m still in my pajamas) and I’m about to drink it while sterilising the bottles. Before I can even vaguely think about even sitting down, let alone sleep, my child is awake. Moms operate on minimal sleep with a smile most days. You’ll be totally fine!
  • The other day I was in a baby shop and I was floored. I only had my last baby nearly 4 years ago and there are another 3546 gadgets you can buy for your child since then! You honestly don’t need all that stuff ~ your child will grow up and be the most amazing, happy child even if you don’t have the best baby gym with original Frozen characters that sings Do You Wanna Build A Snowman? everytime you push Olaf’s nose. Noah’s favourite toy was an old apple box from the fruit shop. Go figure.
  • Pick your battles. With your kids and with your man. You’re going to be so tired so you can end up grilling your husband about something totally ridiculous (been there, done that) and when you look back, IT IS completely ridiculous. Before you rage, take a step back and think about it. With your kids too. I’ve learnt this the hard way.
  • Work at your own pace. My son gave up his dummy at 5 years old. So what? I had loads of people tell me that he’s way too old to still sleep with a dummy. Hey, he only had it at night and it lived under his pillow. The minute he went to bed, out it came and he slept like that. In my eyes, that’s not a big deal. In his time, Noah said “Mom I don’t need this dummy. We can give it to the elf babies.” And he and his sister left their dummy and bottle in the garden for the elves to fetch. Forcing him to do it earlier wouldn’t have achieved anything except he’d have been younger. Just because the world dictates milestones, doesn’t mean you have to enforce those with your kids. Your child will develop and grow how he/she is supposed to.
  • Trust your mommy intuition. It’s basically always right.
  • Accept help. Of course, everyone wants to be super hero mom but you can’t do it alone. You’ll burn out. Take help and accept it gladly whenever it’s offered, from people you trust.
  • Don’t be hard on yourself. Your child will never be like anyone else’s and just because your child isn’t sleeping through the night at 8 months, doesn’t mean that’s your fault. Comparing your child to anyone else’s doesn’t achieve anything but mom-stress. What messes with our heads the most is how we think it’s supposed to be. Be confident in the way you choose to parent your babies.
  • Eating sand, running in the muddy puddles in a Spiderman suit or wearing your gum boots to the mall is cool. Cultivate the explorer in your children. Let them experience. Let them get dirty. Don’t be a mom that stops them from trying new things.
  • Be an example to your kids. I’ve often found myself disciplining my children and then taking a step back and realising that I do the same thing, yet I tell them not to do it. I heard it said that life doesn’t come with a manual, it comes with a mom. We’re the blueprint they work off in learning how to react, how to behave, how to deal with emotions, how to express emotions.
  • We should always have the courage to admit when we’re wrong and say sorry.
  • We can NEVER hug, kiss or tell them you love them enough. Never stop.
  • Let your kids surprise you. They are more capable than we think. That happened to me on Sunday with Noah at Sunday school. I expected him to come running back to me and have me walking in holding his hand. Alas. I was shut down!🙂 Give your kids the opportunities to show how they’ve grown, even if that means they don’t need you as much anymore. Be proud of that. They know you’re always there when you need them but have the courage to let them go. It’s harder than it sounds, believe me.
  • Be honest about your struggles. Other moms will appreciate that.
  • This is the MOST important thing I can tell you ~ always remember, you are their mother first and their friend second. That might be choosing the harder road sometimes and it hurts but you’re their mother first, before you’re their friend.

The birth of a child is also the birth of a mother. Miraculous as it is, motherhood is ours at every stage and at every age. Motherhood is difficult. I sometimes feel like loads of moms pretend like it isn’t. Believe me, it is. On the days that you think you just aren’t shaping up, remember this:

“ No matter how busy or difficult your life gets, never forget:

  To your little people, your kisses stop pain, your voice defeats monsters and your hugs make the world right again.”

Nobody can ever take that away from you. Ever.

Motherhood has been my greatest character shaper. Funny how the littlest people teach us the greatest things. What a privilege to have a front row seat ~ whether you’re a first time mom of a newborn, or a first time mom of a 5 year old like me. Either way, we’re both rookies thrown in the deep end,  and that’s where we learn the most.

See you in the trenches, fellow mommy warriors. Chin up. One day we’ll drink HOT tea together and wish our babies fitted in our arms again. At least we know for sure, they’ll never outgrow our hearts.

Out of the Mouths of Babes

praying

It’s been said that the prayers of children are some of the most honest, and truthful prayers around. I’d back that. Children have no filter and while us adults have learnt to filter (or not filter) everything, it seems that children don’t find merit in it at all. Adults pretend, even when they’re praying. Maybe actually most of the time when they’re praying. In groups. By themselves. Whenever.

Praying can be a pretense to assure the people around you you’re doing well, even if you’re really not.

Praying can be trying to convince God of something He knows you’re lying about.

Praying can be a way of trying to prove your worth.

Praying can be a selfish way to indulge your own desires and bring attention to yourself. Playing the victor or the victim.

It’s an area I struggle in. Praying doesn’t come naturally to me. I struggle to find things to say, I struggle to pray things I know I should want to pray. I feel kinda lame saying things I want to say, even when praying by myself.

No-one ever said that prayers need to be long. No-one ever said that prayers need to be formal. No-ever ever said that prayers need to be rehearsed.

I just got schooled in this tonight – by my five year old.

Tonight, as I was unpacking some dishes in the kitchen, I was half listening to my babies and their daddy having their prayer time. Most of the time, their prayers sound the same, which is totally ok -“thank you Jesus for my Lego and that I could play at school today with my friends” or “thank you Jesus for my mom and dad and Noah my big brother” – but tonight, I heard them singing Jesus Loves Me together. As they finished, their dad turned to them and encouraged them to start praying and my oldest, Mr Noah, had a one line prayer. All he said was:

“Thank you Jesus for having me.”

That was it.

Even if his little 5 year old self doesn’t get the full weight of his prayer, I started to tear up. In that statement, He taught me so much. Noah just bowed his head and thanked God for His grace, in his five year old way. Undeserving, unconditional love of the Saviour for him. Accepting him as he was – a sinful, fallen-short-of-His glory little guy. (Ok, he’s five so I’m guessing he didn’t read into this as much as I have ~ but I’m just taking his prayer and expanding on it a tad.)

Isn’t that what’s most important? Without that, the Gospel isn’t anything at all. Gods unmerited grace shown in Him sending His son for us, is why we get to pray in the first place. A lesson in the powerful simplicity a prayer can be. Noah doesn’t know the power of his prayer and that’s the beauty of it. He bows his head and says something that comes naturally to him when he thinks about talking to Jesus. Today, it was just that one line and it was enough.

Pious prayers mean nothing. It doesn’t matter how you say it or how long it takes you to get it out. Even if your prayer is a one liner, but you’re being honest and transparent with the One that’s listening, you’re doing better than pretending to say the right things and meaning none of it.

I’m preaching mostly to myself here. I think tomorrow night, I’ll join the ones who seem to have this right and have figured out just how to talk honestly to God. Think it’s about time I took some notes on this from the smallest, youngest members of my family. My kids.

“Our prayers may be awkward. Our attempts may be feeble. But the power of prayer is in the One who hears it, and not in the one who says it.”*

*Adapted from a quote by Max Lucado.

My Most Unexpected Cheerleader

Beautiful-rainbow-cupcakes

It’s tragic sometimes ~ only when people go, do you realise how much they meant. That’s a really sad thought. But it happened to me today.

Today, I found out that the doctor who delivered both my babies had passed away. I struggled with this when I found out. I cried for what she had been to me and really, we only ever had conversations during mandatory ultrasounds and pregnancy check-ups but I’ll always have her close for what she meant to me from 13 March 2009.

I knew I was pregnant and I was one of four people on the planet who knew my secret. I had no idea where I would have my baby. I had no idea where to book myself in for an ultrasound and check-up. I had no idea I was supposed to be taking vitamins! I didn’t even know how far along I was exactly ~ I just knew I was pregnant. From there, I was walking into the unknown.

I couldn’t even summon up the courage to make the appointment. Having to deal with being pregnant, and everything that’s attached to being a “church girl”, unmarried and pregnant, having to make an appointment just meant facing another mountain. It meant that it was real. Until then, I had nothing to confirm that inside me, my Noah was being formed and shaped. I couldn’t see him from the outside so at times when I wanted to ignore the reality of what was actually happening to me and the massive amount of drama I was about to cause for everyone in my life, I could tune out. Making an appointment meant admitting my shortfall. It meant facing the consequence of my actions and accepting my plunge into motherhood.

The only stipulation I made was that I wanted it to be a female doctor. Matt called the switchboard at the hospital closest to us. (Bless his heart, he’s always been the one to step up when I just couldn’t fathom it. Love him.) He asked if he could make an appointment with one of the doctors for a pre-natal check-up. The lady on the switchboard said that she didn’t think we would get an appointment for at least a month but she put us through anyway. On the other side of the phone, the receptionist told us that she had a cancellation for 13 March and she could fit us in. We booked and I had two weeks to prepare myself.

It’s here that looking back, I begin to see God’s hand guiding me when I felt He was the furthest away. I had pushed Him so far out of my life, I didn’t even think He cared because I’d failed Him so greatly. I landed a doctor, RANDOMLY or not so randomly, who loved Jesus. Out of all the doctors in the hospital, I got her.

On 13 March 2009, my first real ante-natal scan and check-up, I met this lady who was the first person to tell me, to my face, that God doesn’t make mistakes. Every single birth is miraculous. Every baby is a blessing. She didn’t know my story (she never did know my story, I never got to tell her) and she didn’t know what I was walking through BUT she was a voice of calm in my life. She was my voice of reassurance. I think it was my eight month check-up, I was walking out and she gave me a hug, held me at arm’s length and said to me “I just wanted to tell you that I see you. And more than I see you, Jesus sees you. Noah is coming, and you can’t do anything about that (she always was really straight forward! HA HA) but we’re a team. I might deliver him to you on this earth, but Noah really is a delivery from the Saviour. God chose you to be his mother, not for any other time, but for right now. Never forget that.”  That changed my life.

Thank you for being one of the many miracles on my journey. Thank you for never asking me any questions but listening to your heart, offering me words and shoulders and hugs when you could feel I was wilting. Considering the timing of our meeting and the role you played in my life I never doubt how intimately Jesus is involved in my life. Even today.

Me:  A guilt-ridden, shame-soaked girl, struggling to keep her head up.

You:  A messenger from my Father, sent to intercept my life for His divine purpose at a time when I felt like I didn’t really matter, to anyone. You’re the reason that I began to realise that it’s not about how I see myself, but more about how Jesus sees me.

Never doubt the people who cross your path ~ some of them might just give you reason to believe that Jesus sees you and is there, camping with you in the trenches of your life when you think He’s left you to fight it out on your own.

Here’s to you, Dr Jean Sharpe ~ captain of my encouragement team.

The Wedding I Never Dreamed Of.

wedding-spoons

I know about the girlhood dreams. I know about the white dress, the first dance and the baited breath as a bride enters a church at the top of the aisle. Confetti, speeches, cake. I dreamed all of that. But none of it happened for me.

I didn’t have a wedding, as we know it today. Twelve people, our super cool pastor pal and we were married on 23 May 2009. I wore a grey dress, I didn’t want to walk down the aisle and I had no bridesmaids. I was eight months pregnant when I got married. I didn’t want to be centre of attention. I didn’t want to make a spectacle of myself ~ I was walking through the darkest valley of my life (Read my “Power of Vulnerability” blog post – you’ll see why.)

I didn’t feel worthy enough ~ worthy enough to be given any of that.

Hey look, this is no pity party. I’m not looking for sympathy. Just laying it out, how it was. Choices lead to consequence which leads to circumstance. I made a choice, I was dealing with the consequence and part of my expression of my inner struggle was that I denied myself the right to be a bride ~ in the traditional, white-dress-princess-tiara, kinda way.  In denying myself that, I realised in hindsight, I denied my dad the opportunity of walking his only daughter down the aisle. I denied my best friend the chance of being my maid of honour. In denying myself, I denied those closest to me of things only I could give them.

I’m coming up on five years of marriage this May and this has been running through my mind over and over again. People have always asked me “Do you regret not having a wedding, in the traditional sense of the word? Don’t you wish you had it?” and it’s honestly, sincerely always been “No, I loved my version of a wedding. Where I was in my life right then, it was the best way I can think of doing it.”

My grey-dress-baby-bump-flat-shoes-no-tiara wedding was an inspiration to me. Once we’d said our vows, everyone in that chapel, including our parents and our best friends came around us, we all held hands and everyone prayed for us. It’s the only wedding I’ve ever been to that that has happened at. It was just like God was the thirteenth guest there. I could sense Him. And that’s all I really needed right then.

I didn’t need the dress. I didn’t need the walk down the aisle and have everyone gasping at how angelic I looked ~ cos I knew I really wasn’t. What I needed right then, was to know that God still loved me and for those few minutes, He came and reminded me He had never forsaken me. He’d never cast me out. He’d never believed I was not worthy of His grace, even though I told myself that.

You see, marriages aren’t about weddings. I think loads of girls get this wrong. Marriages last WAY longer than that one day that you’re in the spotlight. Well they should, anyway. The white dress gets packed away, the photos get hung on the wall and the video gets played when you’re feeling particularly nostalgic. The essence of marriage is commitment. Marriages are about loving without reservation, putting yourself second for your spouse, and about bringing God into every day and every situation, working together to bring glory to Him. That takes inexhaustible, daily, personal commitment to get that right.

I can say without a doubt, my marriage day (we’ll take the wedding out for my case) had everything that was important. A man who loved me, still loves me today and loved me even when I never loved myself (that still happens some days) ~ a man whose heart for me is one of the most beautiful features about him and a God who took the time to let my heart know that it was ok to return to Him. The man God intended for me, and the God who never left me were both there that day and both of them made it clear to my inner-hating-covered-in-guilt-shame-ridden self that they loved me, exactly where I was. In this life, no matter where it took me, they’d never abandon me.

So white dress, bridal party photos, toasts and speeches aside ~ my wedding day was everything I dreamed it would be. I don’t think in the normal rushing, loud music, always smiling, saying-hello-to-family-you’ve-seen-once-since-you-were-seven wedding, I would’ve heard this. But in the quiet of our ceremony, with everyone holding hands in prayer, it was as if God wrapped me up in His arms and said “Welcome home, sweet girl. I’m proud to call you Mine. No matter what.”

Hey, maybe one day, Matt and I will have a re-run and do it like everyone traditionally does weddings ~ I’ve actually always wanted to bust out Michael Jackson’s Thriller dance with my posse of cousins and my brother, in a wedding dress ~  but until then, I’m happy to say that there’s nothing I’d change about 23 May 2009.

The man I adore and the God we both love both showed up, and that’s all I needed.