The Wedding I Never Dreamed Of.

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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.

We Go Together Like Coffee & Coke

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There are some friends in your life that come along and it’s like they were there all the time. Its like they’re automatically part of your family. I have one of those in my life ~ in fact, she’s even got my maiden surname now. I was C Bradley and she’s the new C Bradley. We’ve gotta be something special.

Charisse and I met when we started working together, I think it’s about 8 years ago now. Since that day, we’ve practically been sisters. Ok, Charisse has two sisters already, so she basically gained a third but I never had one. God knew, that day way back when that I needed one and along came Miss Charisse.

Today is my bestie’s birthday. My porker (no it’s not derogatory, I call her that) ~ when you were born, 28 years ago today, God knew that you’d make up half of one of the most precious relationships in my life. And I think, that if I look around, a friendship like ours is hard to find. Pretty rare, we are. Crazy too, but whatever.

Along the way, friend, you’ve taught me so many things and I have so much to thank you for. So seeing as it’s your birthday, I wanted to say thank you for a few things that you’ve given me over the years.  (I’m a huge believer in expressing people’s worth to them while you can ~ not getting all sad now but you just should never hold back on telling someone what they mean to you)

THANK YOU (I don’t think I’ll ever be able to tell you how thankful I am) for being the first person to know and for not freaking out. I know you were inside, but you put on a brave face for me, sucked up all your strength and stood by me. I wouldn’t have been able to make it through most days if it hadn’t been for you.  I remember you calling me those nights before you went to bed and telling me “If you need to talk to me in the middle of the night, my phone is on. Call me. I’m here.” And I did and you always answered. Sometimes I wouldn’t even say anything, I’d just cry and you’d also cry but I knew, that whatever happened, you would always be there. Not to pass judgement or pretend you had the answers ~ just to let me know that it was going to be ok. That’s priceless.

THANK YOU for teaching me so much about sacrifice. When Noah arrived, we both were clueless about babies. It was like the blind leading the blind ~ and he’s grown up all ok 🙂 ~ but again, we did it together. Every night, you’d come over and make dinner for Matt and I and do our grocery shopping. Twice a week, you’d sleep in Noah’s room and feed him so I could sleep through the night and then you’d head to work after that. Part of the mom I am today, I owe to you. You’re the epitome of loving people before yourself.

THANK YOU for becoming a mom when I did. Me being thrust into motherhood might’ve changed our friendship. It was sudden, unexpected. But you didn’t let it. We went from going to the hairdresser together and having Vida coffees, to having to cart a pram and car seat for the routine run to Dischem or Baby City. When I was thrown in the deep end, you were right there treading water with me. You’ve always been my right hand man, my partner in crime and my fellow warrior.

THANK YOU for never wanting to change me, even though we’re so different.

THANK YOU for showing me Jesus when I didn’t think I was worthy enough. You’ve taught me more about grace, generosity and kindness than I think you’ll ever know.

THANK YOU for always telling me you’re praying for me. I always know that when the going gets tough, or any time really, you’re one of the people on your knees carrying me and my family to Jesus.

I think we’re a testament to honest, unconditional friendship. We share without reservation, and we know, whatever happens in this life, we aren’t alone in it. We have husbands, of course, and they’re awesome. (You can thank me for the introduction to your husband another day 🙂 They get us, and they kinda have a fab friendship going on themselves, which is grand!

People always say “Friends are either for a reason, a season or a lifetime.”  You’re all of those in one. We became best friends, and I think we know the reason why God did it to start with. He’s my firstborn and I’m sure they’ll be many more in the years to come. We’ve walked through seasons of happiness, sadness, grief, anticipation, gladness, stress, loss – the list is endless. But we always know, this is a friendship of a lifetime.

So for my bestie, here is the revised version:

Best friends like mine enter your life for a reason (or many reasons), they walk with you through all the seasons of life’s journey and form part of a friendship that lasts a lifetime.

Happy 28th birthday, friend. You’re one of the greatest gifts God ever gave me. I wouldn’t be half the mom, friend, daughter, wife, sister I am today without having shared these past 8 years with you as my best friend.

You’re the best flat footed, gown-loving, coffee-obsessed  little duck I’ve ever known.

xxxxxx

Motherhood ~ The Miracle Station

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Couple of years ago, my brother told me “There’s at least one miracle that happens every day in your life – you just have to be aware and look for them.” That’s stuck with me since then.

It means even more to me now that I’m a mom. I feel like most days I get too caught up in the small stuff. Life just passes me by in a blur of cleaning, picking up, dropping off, feeding, washing, dressing, rocking to sleep, singing and the list goes on. I forget that when I take a step back, God is intimately involved in my life. So much so, that miracles are happening around me all the time. In the life of a mom (not just moms, anyone really), miracles happen all the time and believe me, miracles don’t have to be mind-blowing, outrageous and drastic.

Mine would list something like this and each and every one of these, no matter how trivial some of them sound, is miraculous in my life:

  • The miracle of Noah sleeping through the night, without waking me.
  • The miracle of Tyla putting her own shoes on – even if it’s on the wrong way, she’s getting it!
  • The miracle that both my kids wanted to share today ~ much less refereeing!
  • The miracle that both my kids brushed their teeth without me having to remind them
  • The miracle that both my kids got into bed and they didn’t fight about which DVD they wanted to watch! Bliss!

Then there are more serious ones:

  •  The miracle of having a sibling – that God intended Noah to have Tyla as a sister, and Tyla to have Noah as a brother. (And as a mom, the miracle of loving two kids equally)
  • The miracle of child-like faith – that when my kids pray, like they did last night that the rain would stop, they truly believe it’s going to happen.
  • The miracle of self-sacrifice. Next time you get to the end of the day and are just feeling like you’re at the end of yourself because you’re busy taking care of everyone else but yourself ~ think of that miracle. You’re willingly placing your kids/husband before you, without even knowing it. God gave you a natural ability to ensure their wellbeing before your own. Miracle!

If you’re aware of God’s constant involvement in your life, you’ll see it all the time ~ in the small things. Yes, He works in big things, course He does. But that doesn’t mean He’s not directly involved in the seemingly mundane, trivial little victories we as moms experience every day.

The other day, I was walking with Noah and Tyla to my mom’s house and there was a beautiful yellow daisy in our neighbour’s garden. Tyla says to me “Mommy, look! A yeyyow flower. Pretty.” And Noah says “God makes sure that flower gets water, Mommy, that’s why we have the rain.”  Tyla says “Yes, Mommy, God looks after everyone. Even a yeyyow flower.”

Now if God can look after a little daisy on a pavement in suburban South Africa, and be so involved in its wellbeing, why would He not be involved on a daily basis in yours ~ someone who is so precious to Him, made in His likeness, someone He sent His Son for?

The thing about kids is, is that they look to bring God into everything. If it’s raining, it’s because Jesus is watering the plants. If someone is crying, Jesus can make them better. If they feel like they can’t do something, they say Jesus can help them do it. I’m trying to learn from my kids. God is here, with me on this unpredictable, sometimes-heartbreaking-but-always-worth-it, rollercoaster ride of motherhood and He gives me signs every day that He’s here. I just need to step back and recognize them.

The miracle of motherhood should daily, just over-awe me. That God would give me two little people, who were created and formed BY GOD HIMSELF, and entrust them to my care. That’s mind-blowing. He didn’t give me my kids and leave me to raise them without Him. Yes, He entrusted them to me but He’s right there with me every day ~ He’s intimately involved in my life, as crazy as it is, on a daily basis.

He’s there. In the small things. I just need to look for Him.

I Have A Dream. Wait! I Do?

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The other day, I watched Chicago, the movie. It’s one of my favorite movies and mostly, because of the music. I’m a sucker for musicals as it is – my kids have watched Mary Poppins, The Sound of Music and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang since I could get them to sit still for longer than 5 minutes. Old classic musicals are quality.

Anyway, this all got me thinking about dreams and when last I’d actually thought about mine. Since I was a little girl, I’ve wanted to be on Broadway. Theatre has always been my first love. Musical theatre – that’s my game. I was in musicals all through my school career and since I could talk, I’ve loved to sing. There’s an electricity you get from performing for a live audience. There’s a certain camaraderie between a cast on stage that you can’t describe. It’s like an artistic chemistry that buzzes between people who share a common passion for the stage. Ok, I’m gushing.

So, since I’ve had my kiddies, I subconsciously gave up dreaming. Ok, I have dreams that are mommy-specific like “oh I dream of the day that I can sleep uninterrupted, longer than five hours at a time” or “oh I dream of the day that my living room doesn’t look like a toy factory that blew up and I can see the floor.” But in terms of MY DREAMS, the ones I had from when I was a baby and disappeared when I had my own babies? Those were packed so far away in the attics and basements of my mind, that I had all but forgotten them. Watching Chicago the other night, it was like a trip into the back roads of my mind.

When you become a mom, it’s almost as if God turns a switch on in your being and you automatically push everything related to you – your dreams, your needs and wants, your sleep! – onto the back burner and the funny thing is, you’re happy to do it! The very essence of being a mom, in my opinion, is ensuring your children are cared for – emotionally, physically, spiritually – and whether you have one child or five children, that means that you’re always at least second or third in the queue, and you’re totally happy and content with that.

Don’t get me wrong. I think that’s the way it’s meant to be. It’s a season of a mother’s life. But I think once your kids reach a certain age, while kids should always be a top priority, life starts to allow you space to dream for yourself again. Your kids will start to follow their own dreams and you’re bound to be an integral part of helping them reach their goals and aspirations. They start to spread their wings, which will give you chance to spread yours.

C S Lewis said: “You’re never too old to set another goal or dream a new dream.”

So…

Hold on, Mommy and keep dreaming, for you. There will come a time when you can once again follow your dreams if you want to, and on the sidelines, you’ll see your babies (who aren’t so baby anymore), cheering you on, knowing how much you’ve given up to watch them chase theirs first.

Oh and keep your eye on Broadway. You might see me flying in on an umbrella, singing a cracking version of A Spoonful of Sugar – hey, I’ve got the experience looking after kiddies, don’t I? 🙂 Mary Poppins, I’m coming for you. Give me ten years or so.

Chronicles of the Off Duty Mom

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Last week, I was at home alone for just over an hour, before I went to the dentist. Ok, that’s a big deal for me. I think since my kids were born, I’ve been home alone maybe 5 or 6 times in four years! Look, it felt weird, and strange that the house was quiet but I decided it was time to let it all out.

I turned on some music, blasted it at full volume and danced around my house ~ and not dancing while I’m mopping, or dancing while I’m washing dishes ~ dancing like no-one was watching, dancing like it mattered, and JUST dancing, not doing anything else house or mommy related! (I hope no-one was watching that is because that would be slightly embarrassing) Let me tell you ~ IT WAS LIBERATING. It has been christened my Mommy Dance Jam.  For about an hour there, I was back to my twenty-something , carefree self and it was glorious.

I then drove to the dentist and BLASTED my music so loud, played air guitar, head banged and sang at the top of my lungs to Timbaland! Very entertaining for the traffic? Maybe, but seriously, it was the first time I’ve driven alone for maybe 6 months, without one of my little ninjas in the back.

Now before you all think I’m gone a little crazy…

I wrote a blog a little while ago for my friend Brett’s blog series about parenting small children (If you wanna read it, it’s here: http://brettfish.wordpress.com/2013/05/09/taboo-topics-parents-of-small-children-meet-candi-fourie/ ) and one of the things that I mentioned on there, was that in the middle of trying to survive without sleep in the beginning stages of your motherhood journey (and as you mature into motherhood), you can forget who you are.

I can tell you out right ~ for the last, going on now, 5 years, I’ve forgotten who I was before I had my babies. It is like when I had my first baby, I was automatically all-consumed as a mother and everything else was lost in the black hole of eternity of what had gone before and who I was before.

For example, I really love to dance. I’m not that good but ever since high school, my down time was to put on a tune (or seven) and groove around the house, and sing my heart out. I didn’t remember that until I did it for the first time, for a long time, the other day.  I dance with my kids all the time but they have preference on what the music choice is (right now, it’s one of three on repeat ~ The Lumineers, Maroon 5 or Bruno Mars.) Of course, there are times at home when my kids are napping that I could possibly put on a tune or two, but firstly, I don’t want to risk waking them up and secondly, the couch (ok, I’m lying, the ironing or the washing or the cleaning, but let’s pretend: couch) calls me and my time out is really not a time out at all.

Another thing I love to do is read. I NEVER get time during the day to sit with a big glass of Coca Cola and tuck into a great book. Again, down time isn’t really down time at all. Read when I get into bed, you say. Well, great idea except once I’m horizontal in bed, I can only manage to keep my eyelids open for about three paragraphs and then, I’m asleep. I remember reading well into the early hours of the morning, really getting stuck into good books. Now I’m awake in the early hours of the morning still, but there ain’t no reading happening besides trying to see the markings on an Avent bottle when measuring my daughter’s nightly drink.

Am I ok with who I’ve become and the responsibilities that comes with? Of course! I’m loving being a mommy ~ it’s an immense blessing. I understand it’s a life stage ~ I’m walking through, as a parent, some of the most intense (time-wise) ages in a child’s life right now and I’m game for that. I’m so proud and grateful to be a mommy. My little impromptu solo dancing session just made me think about my life and how it’s evolved. Who was I before I defined myself as a mommy and had my babies? What did I like doing before I had kids?

I’m encouraging you mommies out there to take time every once in a while, to return to and identify with who you were before motherhood ran away with you. Go and do something that you did before your life was being chief bottle washer, head of the laundry department, executive chef of all things pureed and keeper of hours of non-existent sleep. After all , the person you were before is part of the journey that made you the mommy you are today.

I don’t do it often enough and hey, I get that my kiddies are young and I might have more time as they head to school etc. BUT this little hour I had this past week to really check in with my pre-mommy self, was refreshing. Try it. If I see you in the traffic, jamming, believe me, I get it. I’ll hoot in support! The off duty mommy moments are rare ~ sometimes, a mommy has to turn back the clock and let it all out. I’m right there with you, sister.

The Parenting Pressure Cooker

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The pressure of being a parent is immense. Moms I think especially as our little kiddies start their lives, we carry huge burdens in terms of what people think about our kids, are we doing everything right, what would my mother have done, what do other kids think of my child? If it’s not on the good side, is that my fault?

We have a supper club that Matt and I are a part of. About 2 years ago, maybe a bit more, Matt and I went through the “Laugh Your Way To A Better Marriage” course at church with two other couples and we’ve since stayed close friends. (By the way, if you haven’t done the course and you get the opportunity to, RUN, not walk, to sign up! It’s such a great way to learn more about your husband/wife in a light, fun environment.) Anyway, us three couples meet every couple of months for a get together and a dinner which is always just an awesome time for us all to chill out and catch up. Now, we have two kids, one couple has one little boy who’s nearly a year now and the other couple are having their first baby in December. You can just imagine the amount of advice flying around that room at our last dinner! After sharing our stories and funny anecdotes and do’s and don’ts to help them deal with their impending parenthood, my good friend Sim (who’s got a little boy) turned to us girls and said “the one thing I’ve learnt since becoming a mom is that I’m no one to judge. Whatever gets you through the night and whatever makes your child a happy one, that’s what you gotta keep your eyes on. What works for me, might not work for you.” And that’s stuck with me since then.

It seems that parenthood between moms especially, is a competition. Maybe it always has been and I think that every stage of your baby’s life, comes with a different facet of competition. When you’re in the baby stage, it seems that everyone wants to know how you gave birth (and everyone has an opinion as to which one is better ~ c section or natural) and once that’s out of the way, how long you breastfed for (when I mentioned I wanted to put my second baby straight onto the bottle, I was met with looks of disdain.) Then it gets down to seeing whose baby sleeps the longest at night, when your child got teeth, when your child crawled, when your child walked, when your child talked.  Parents, let me warn you ~ if you’re ever asked if your child has spent even a night in your bed, be careful at your answer. This seems to be the MOST HORRIFIC parenting mistake one can make.

Let me give you a little insight into my life as a mommy and feel free to look at the computer screen with contempt ~ this time, I won’t be able to see you 🙂

Noah is 4 years old. Yes, he still has a dummy. Ok, not all the time, but yes, when his head hits the pillow to sleep, he still wants his dummy and I’m ok with that. I understand the dummy’s reign is going to come to an end soon, but right now, yes, he still has one when he sleeps.

Tyla is 2 years old and she still has a bottle. Yip, the pukka Avent bottle, not a sippy cup, not a normal cup. Look, depending on what mood she’s in, I can get her to drink out a sippy cup and a normal cup, but when she’s looking for something to soothe her, she’ll ask for her bottle. Do I give it to her? Yes, I do.

There we go. I’ve admitted just a couple of my parenting shortfalls and there are many more, believe me (Just as a side note, Noah still doesn’t sleep through the night… How’s that for sleeping through the night before they’re one? Um, try “I’m still trying to get that right at 4 years old.”)

Now, obviously there are boundaries. Noah won’t be entering 2014 with a dummy at night and my baby girl Tyla won’t be having her bottle until she’s 4 or 5. I hear you that I could’ve gotten rid of both these things earlier. Being a mom, means putting your child’s needs before your own. That sometimes means picking the harder way to solve a problem, rather than an easier one. I’ll admit I’ve up until now, bailed out on this idea in the name of sleeping, for example. Because I don’t want to fight Tyla’s crying for an hour before she sleeps, I’ll give in and give her a bottle. I always tell myself I’ll gather the strength one day to do it and that day just never comes. It’s like putting off the inevitable. Do I think that it’s a major train smash and that I’ve failed Noah as a mother because he still sleeps with a dummy? Definitely not but a day is coming where I’m going to have to get less sleep than I am now, pucker up enough resolve and strength to fight my little boy’s tears in the name of getting Noah dummy free.

No-one’s parenting journey is the same. Before I was a mom, and a child had a dummy at 3 years old, never mind 4 years old, to go to sleep with, I would totally get the “that’s just horrendous parenting” look but now that I’ve walking this parenting path, if there’s any facet of a child that I can’t identify with because my kids aren’t the same, I just look at those parents and think “hey? They’re doing a good job. Whatever works for them and gets them through a 24 hour day, awesome.” (Now let me clarify, that anything to a child’s extreme detriment, I could never condone or justify)

Let me share something with all your moms who worry that your children aren’t keeping up, that they haven’t walked early enough, that they haven’t crawled soon enough, that they don’t sleep through the night young enough:

YOU ARE NOT A FAILURE. God gave you your specific child because He chose you to be their mommy. He didn’t think anyone else could parent that child better than you could, and that’s why you get the privilege of bringing up that baby. Don’t worry about when everyone else’s child was potty trained, when everyone else’s child could form a full sentence, when everyone else’s child got their fine motor skills mastered. As long as you’re pouring your heart and soul into loving your baby as best you can, ensuring their best interests are at heart, and relying on God to help you be the best mother you can be on a daily basis, you’re doing the best that can be done for your child.

I have this little note on my phone and I refer to it every once in a while ~ to all my mommy friends out there, and all of those who know a mommy who could use this reminder, send it on.

“Dear mom who needs to be reminded that she matters ~ this is your reminder.

Nobody could be the mom you are to your children – only you can.

Now, go back to all you’re doing – your cleaning, working, driving, nose-wiping, cooking, clothes-folding, everyday things – and hold your head up high. Motherhood matters. More than having the perfect house, the perfect body, the perfect planning schedule, THE PERFECT KIDS, the perfect anything.

You are a game changer. A life changer and that is why you matter.”

The Power of Vulnerability

People don’t need Christians to act like we always have it together. They need us to be real! What kind of healing would come if we all just got real before God and others? – Beth Moore.

Beth Moore has a way with words ~ but this quote is something that hits me in the heart. Somewhere between the pages of my life story, this quote explains exactly where I was and how I got to where I am today. Something that I really learnt along my life’s journey is that being transparent with people is a great blessing, not only to them, but to me.

Most people who know me, will know that I got pregnant before I was married. Me? Yes me. The brought-up-in-Christian-home, on-the-worship-team, dating-a-Christian-guy girl.  Lessons I learnt from just getting pregnant as a Christian girl, before I was married? That’s a different blog for a different day 🙂

Anyway, I can remember sitting down with my friend, who’s also kinda like my mentor, and saying “I’m so tired of everyone always pretending that everything’s always fine, and everyone is always “good,” everyone is always seeming like they’re all holy and “tight with God” ~ nobody wants to be real.” I will admit I was a little angry and maybe that was because I couldn’t pretend I was fine anymore, I couldn’t pretend I was all HOLY anymore ~ I carried the evidence of my struggle on my body, for all to see so no point in pretending really. It was clear.

It’s like God forced me into a corner. Matt and I had stumbled, and we could’ve kept it a secret if I hadn’t gotten pregnant but now here I was, 6 and a half months pregnant, and having to be public about how I’d stumbled? Whether I liked it or not, it was glaring people in the face!

Being transparent about my struggle ~ that was HARD to do! Pride is a huge factor with Christians, I think. I think most people assume that because we’re supposed to be doing life with God, we’re never  NOT having a wonderful life and nothing is ever difficult. We don’t experience hardship ~ it’s just rainbows and roses! And in my opinion, us Christians give them good reason to think so because we confirm their thinking by putting up this front that we are ALWAYS fine, and that can’t be true, surely!

I think that making yourself vulnerable, coming to terms with the fact that’s it’s ok not to be ok, is a massive leap of faith. It’s putting yourself out there, for scrutiny and for judgment possibly, but you’ll be amazed at how many people actually identify with you, appreciate your honesty, and walk with you, because they’re either going through something similar or they’ve been there before. I learnt that first hand. Being real with people gives God the space to work PUBLICLY in your life ~ His providence and His grace become apparent to everyone as they journey with you, in whatever you might be dealing with. You’re releasing and sharing your burden with people, not so they can judge you for it but so they can help you carry it.

I can only speak from the journey I’ve had. Having been pregnant (and not married…yet) within the Christian community, where I was heavily involved, really knocked me down a peg or two ~ in terms of how I viewed myself and how I thought others would view me. Once I’d admitted to God that I wasn’t ok and I needed Him basically to make it through every single day without beating myself up over what I’d done, and I admitted that to other people that I needed their help too, it was like God and His supernatural comfort and provision invaded my life.

There are dozens of examples of how God provided for us during this time ~ but as I said, different blog for a different day. Not only big things but small things, made a difference to me. People would come up to me and hug me and say “This doesn’t change anything. We love you the same.” They didn’t have to say that but seeing where I was coming from, and how I was walking through probably the darkest valley of my life, they knew it was important that I knew that, even if I didn’t feel I deserved it.

I always told everyone that I knew that God had forgiven me, but it took me years to forgive myself. It humbles me that God used my biggest trial to give me my greatest blessing ~ my little Noah. God can take my mistakes, and consequently my struggle and use it to bless me more than I can ever imagine. Sometimes, I think I take that verse for granted ~ Romans 8 v 28 ~ “All things work for the good of those who love Him, and are called accordingly to His purpose.”

It took me ages to accept that God might have called me to a struggle, a time of hardship in my life for His purpose. Yes! I can tell you without a second’s hesitation that I needed that struggle in my life. At the time, I didn’t think I needed it and I surely didn’t want it, but when I look back, God refined me through that and I wouldn’t change it. The person who I was back then is not even close to the person I am now. The level of involvement I thought God would ever have in my life was made clear to me when I was at my lowest ~ God got real with me, when I admitted I couldn’t make it on my own. Not only through God Himself, but I saw God get real with me through other people. Would I tell you to wish struggle upon yourself to see how God works and changes you? Never. All I’m saying is that if you are heading through a time of trial, God can still be found in that place. He hasn’t deserted you.

Would I recommend any of you go through what I did and make the same mistakes? No! And that’s exactly why “God uses rescued people to rescue people.”* My story can help or encourage people who are struggling with the same things I was, and am still working through today. I wouldn’t want anyone who was walking the same journey I was, to think they were alone in it. Being open about where I’ve been can help someone who’s living the struggle right now ~ just so that they know they’re not the only ones who’ve fallen, they’re not the only ones who’ve felt they failed and disappointed people, they’re not the only ones who’ve destroyed dreams. Getting real before God and before others, brings about healing that we can’t even imagine.

I don’t think I’ll ever be able to thank Noah (and God) enough for showing me the importance of transparent struggle. I had always said that when I had a son, I would call him Noah. Look, if I’m honest, I liked the name but I had no clue what it meant. I just thought it was a really snazzy name ~ and it was biblical. Bonus! 🙂 Noah was born, despite having been through my greatest struggle and trial leading up to his birth. When he was born, one of my friends texted me and said “What an awesome name! Did you pick it because of its meaning?” I didn’t even know the meaning! I looked it up and it said “Noah: of Hebrew origin meaning to find rest, to be comforted.”

As I held my little boy about an hour after he was born, it was almost as if God said “ This little boy is My reminder to you ~ never forget who to run to. No matter what you’ve done, I’m here, waiting. Find rest in me, I will comfort you. Look! We made it ~ you, Me and Noah.”

*Quote by Christine Caine

Sibling Separation and Life As I’ve Come To Know It

I’ve just turned 30. Well, in April but I’m still coming to terms with it ~ hee hee. Since then though, I’ve been thinking a lot about my journey in life. What makes my life, my life? I don’t know if when you hit 30, there’s a mental switch that turns on in your head that starts you thinking and contemplating the meaning and importance of circumstances and relationships in your life. That’s how it’s gone for me.

As I think back on my life, besides the obvious events that had a massive impact on me (getting married, having my babies, knowing Jesus), my life is clearly split into two parts. Life with and without my brother. This month it’ll be ten years that I’ve been doing life, essentially, without him being involved in my everyday life, on a day to day basis.

My brother moved to the USA when he was 19. He got a scholarship to study there and he’s never come back, for longer than a 5 week period or so.

I think many families deal with this type of situation. I would say close on all the families I know have either a daughter or son or a sibling somewhere else in the world so my situation is not unique, I don’t think. I just think it’s sad that families are mostly scattered around the world and don’t live close anymore. I don’t think it’s anyone’s fault ~ life happens and you end up settling somewhere that’s not necessarily where your family is.

Do I think that God intends families to be separated? That’s such a hard question. I know God loves the concept of families but would He intend them to be apart, for reasons that only He knows? Maybe.

Let me try and apply this to my life ~ my brother left ten years ago. He’s a pastor in the USA ~ do I think he’s where God wants him? Do I think God’s using him where he is? Do I think that he’s prayed about his life’s journey and feels that he’s where God wants him? Yes to all of the above. So that would naturally mean that if he’s where God wants him, and I’m where I believe God wants me, then yes, God sees a purpose and plan in our separation and I should just trust in that.

Ryan and I have always been VERY close. People used to think we were twins. I have always had a relationship with my brother that I’ve always thought was really special and the bond we have is something I treasure. Being born only twelve months apart, we basically lived in each other pockets for 18 years until he left. Yes, we fought ~ BAD sometimes ~ but we always knew that when it came down to it, we had each other. The funny thing is when Ryan left for university at 19, I didn’t think too much of it. I thought “cool so he’s going to be in America and I’m here. He’ll be back for holidays. Yes, of course I’ll miss him but I rate its all ok.” And just now, as I’ve turned 30, I’ve realised how deeply not having him involved in my everyday life, has impacted me.

Most of the time, I’m really ok with that. I’ve gotten used to the Skype/FaceTime relationship, the sending huge parcels of presents at Christmas/birthday time, the missing out on important events and posting the pictures on Facebook, as a way of including each other even though we’re not there. But I will admit, there are days where I drive in my car, and a song comes on that triggers a memory of my childhood or teenage years, a memory I shared with Ryan ~ and the tears come. I’ll admit that big events in my and my kids’ lives are sad and happy at the same time ~ sad because I would have loved my brother to have been here when both my kids were born. Sad because I wish my brother was here to see Noah in the school play. Sad because I would love him to see Tyla sing a Hanson song she loves and clap for herself at the end. Sad because my kids give the best hugs and they don’t get to share them with Ryan as much as they want to. I’ll never forget that when I said goodbye to Ryan almost exactly this time last year, he took Noah into the room where he got changed for his wedding and he said “Noah, come here. Look at me!” He picked him up, looked him dead in the eye and said  ”Look at me, Noah! You’re my best friend ~ never forget that. I miss you every single day and I love you, boy.” That still makes me cry because Noah still tells me randomly, every now and then “Uncle Ryan, Mommy, in America? I carried the rings at his wedding and he told me I’m his best friend.” It’s like sometimes, something triggers that memory, and he remembers to not forget Ryan is part of his life.

So Ryana, as we celebrate 10 years of you in the US and me turning 3 times that (aaahhh!) I just wanted you to know:

  • I’m proud of you. I’m proud that you left everything that was familiar to you, started a new life at 19 in a foreign country and you made so much of yourself. I’m proud of the man you’ve become through your journey ~ more, I’m proud of the man God moulded you into through these 10 years. I’m proud of Lindsey and everything she is, and everything she stands for. I love her, as if she was my own sister. Most of all, I’m proud to call you my brother.
  • I miss you and that will never change. I miss listening to random music and dancing around the house like crazy people. I miss us making lame videos with the Bradley cousins. I miss you playing the piano really loudly and me trying to watch TV and shouting at you to hurry up and finish! I miss having you around to come and visit, so I can rush over and play you the latest AMAZING cd that I bought ~ that you will probably think isn’t THAT cool, but you sit and listen to anyway. I miss being unbeatable at 30 Seconds when we used to play together on the same team ~ we could talk in code and we’d always know what the other one was meaning. (Just as a side note here, Ev has become my new partner and we’re pretty much unstoppable! Hee hee) As I get older and my life takes its natural course of being a wife, motherhood and having my kids grow up, I wish you were here even more.
  • Thank you. Thank you for always being my number one fan. Thank you for being the first person to tell me it’s gonna be ok when I started my unexpected journey into motherhood. Thank you for always allowing me to be me. Thank you for being my first best friend. Most of all, thank you for never giving up on me.
  • I love you. I love you for always being the responsible sibling. I love you for always only seeing black and white and no grey ~ which can annoy me, like you know cos I can sometimes be quite abstract, which in turns annoys you. I love you for never believing in a short cut. You’ve always done things the right way, or not done them at all.

I always thought we’d do life at least in the same city ~ your kids would be best friends with my kids, our families would do holidays to the sea together once a year etc etc. but doing life on separate continents? That’s our reality. So lastly, I just wanted to tell you that home has never been home since you left. Yes, I’ve got my family, my husband and my kids and Mom and Dad but since you left, although my definition and composition of home has changed, home as I have come to know it, will never be complete without you here.

You always hear at Christmas ~ “Jesus is the reason for the season.” That’s what I believe about you, me, and our families. Jesus has His reason for this season ~ the season of separation. Hey, this season might be our whole lives and while some days I struggle with that more than others, I just have to trust in that ~ that Jesus has His reasons and that should be enough.

The Journey From My Head To My Heart

I just finished reading Floyd McClung’s book “Living On The Devil’s Doorstep” and if you haven’t read it, you have to! 

 
Not wanting to give away the entire book for anyone who wants to read it, There a few things about this family’s story that made me stop and re-evaluate my life and what I was doing with it.
 
Being a mom and a wife made me made this story much more hard hitting for me. When the McClungs had children who were about the same as age my children are now, they moved into a house in the middle of the Red Light District in Amsterdam, to start a ministry among the prostitutes, pimps and drug addicts. They had a satanist temple next door and a brothel as their other neighbor.  Picture perfect – all they needed was a picket fence right? 🙂 Not exactly a place I would be comfortable taking my family to visit, never mind to live. Their children used to walk past the prostitutes sitting in the windows on the way to school and greet them BY NAME. They had drug addicts showing up all hours of the day and night on their doorstep, desperate for help and they were never turned away. For many of the people embroiled in the sex-driven, drug addicted culture of the area, Floyd and his family were the example of Jesus they had, the only lifeline they had to the Saviour and if you read the book, you’ll  read about the hardships and struggles that calling brings.
 
A few things hit home about this family and about our God:
 
1: All of us – every single one of us – are broken. I’m too quick to judge a prostitute for example and look down my nose and assume I’m better than they are. Like everyone born on this planet, God created them and formed them and knows them intimately. My sin or struggles might not be as public as theirs, but that doesn’t mean that I’m better off than they are.
 
2: What you do, the sin you commit, doesn’t define who you are. This is why the McClungs insisted on learning the names of all the girls in the windows. They didn’t want to label the girls as PROSTITUTES, or THE GIRL IN THE BUILDING NEXT DOOR, SECOND WINDOW ON THE RIGHT. Calling the girls by name meant they had their own identity, their own story, their own struggles and their own individual importance to the Saviour.  That beggar at the robot isn’t just A BEGGAR – he’s a person with a name, a story and an identity in Jesus.
 
3:  Just because they don’t acknowledge Him, doesn’t mean He loves them any less. What’s the best way to show them that Jesus loves them? By me loving them the way He would – inspite of everything. There is no sin that Jesus’s blood doesn’t wash away and there is no life too far gone, that He can’t fix and they won’t know that, unless I get take my gloves off, I’m ready to get involved in their lives, warts and all and be Jesus to them.
 
4: I SEVERELY underestimate the power my family can have in changing the world around us, when we’re walking in the will of God. And that includes my kids. Floyd talks in the book of break throughs they had with some of the girls because of their small kids, who wouldn’t hesitate in hugging them, in making things for them at school and dropping them off at their windows. God can use anyone, NO MATTER WHAT AGE, to bring someone to  a little closer to Him. 
 
5: The power of a praying couple is something that God uses to change nations, but it starts with a husband and wife team willing to step out in faith, even at the risk of their and their children’s safety, knowing they are doing the will of God. Floyd and Sally had both prayed and felt God calling them to where they were, even though as an outsider, it looked like a pretty horrendous place to take a young family. God doesn’t call PERFECT people – He calls PRAYING people! God may be calling my family to somewhere that could stretch us… Am I open to that? Right now, I would say far from it. My life is way too comfortable and way too safe, but then how is that kinda life impacting the world for Jesus? 
 
If I call myself a Christian, and I trust with all my heart that God can do the impossible, why would I not do the same as what they did and go to where He leads, no matter the cost?
 
It’s been said – “The will of God will never take you, where the grace of God will not protect you.” My dad always tells me that the longest journey is from your head to your heart. While I would totally and utterly believe that statement in my head, when it came to crunch time and my number came up, would I trust in that with all my heart and give God the opportunity to use me and/or my family for His glory, BUT on His terms?
 
I’m praying the journey from my head to my heart gets shorter everyday.