Life, Philosophy

Switching Gears

sofa warehouse by sacha fernandez on flickr

Next weekend we are moving out of our nomadic phase into a ‘home rental’ phase.  We’re going to be settled; there are lots of changes ahead.

It’s going to be tough switching gears and actually making purchases to furnish our household.

A normal person looks at a price tag as an indicator of the monetary value of something.  I just calculate the exchange rate directly into airmiles.  So while a friend might say, “How much did he pay for that sofa?  Oh, OK – I think I can work that into my budget,” I’d be thinking,

“I could get to GREECE for that much!” 

Which explains how it is that we’ve still managed to do some globetrotting, even after having kids. 

And why we have no furniture.

So now I need to embrace the ‘homemaker’ in me and nest a little.  It’s exciting and scary all at once – will we go colonial?  Country?  Modern?  More than likely we’ll start with a bunch of items that ‘will do in the meantime’ and end up with a hodgepodge in every room.

Ask me for an itinerary of a Europe-with-kids adventure, and I’ll give you a clear and detailed list.  Ask me to decide on a colour scheme (something that won’t clash with the warm Rimu-wood panelling all over our living room – from the walls right up to the high sloped ceilings), and I’m adrift.  Switching gears isn’t for the faint-of-heart!

Last Monday the new school year began here in New Zealand and, in the absence of a place to stay (and therefore any knowledge of what our ‘local’ school might be) I re-embarked on the homeschooling in earnest.  We had a very trying morning of it (when I say ‘we’, I mean that I was tried to the fullest extent – the boys seemed rather cheerful as they were telling me I’m a mean teacher and positively gleeful as they refused to participate in the learning exercises) – so much so that as soon as the clock struck twelve I raced up to West’s office and, with sotto-voce curses, hissed at him to take over – I’m DONE!!! and then proceeded to sob into my pillow for a good half hour, weepily refusing offers of a lunchtime meal.

And then the phone rang.

Gear switch.

The rental agent was phoning to say that we were being offered a house we’d applied for – an older home a block from the beach in a peaceful suburb just under half an hour away from West’s folks.  Homeschool was out of session – permanently.

I blew my nose, reapplied my makeup, and grabbed a toasted sandwich (my appetite had returned); just under hour later we were at the local school, enrolling the boys.  About an hour after that we were in the local uniform shop, fitting them with shirts and shorts (and sandals, sunhats, and fleeces).  And from there we went to the stationers to collect stationery packages for each of them to take to class.

The next day our boys began school for the first time in New Zealand, and we signed the papers for our house rental.

It’s amazing how often we have to switch gears in life, isn’t it?!

One minute you’re on one path, and the next you’ve jumped the track and you’re headed somewhere else altogether.  Even if you’ve planned the change in your trajectory, it can still be a bit of a shock to your system to actually make the switch.

When I returned from a year in Europe following my university studies, I started saving up to go to graduate school.  My plan was to study counter-terrorism (in my chosen field of Criminology) and gain expertise so that I could go into situations following a terrorist attack and help determine who was responsible.

This plan seemed ideal, as I was passionate about making a difference and willing to travel globally, and I was really interested in the topic of terrorism (as I had peripherally experienced its effects in both my native South Africa and my childhood home of Sri Lanka during the escalation of the civil war there).

And then I met West.

All of a sudden I had hopes of a future that included a husband and children, and the idea of putting myself in harm’s way and travelling away from my beloved became less appealing.

Gear switch.

So now I try to make a difference in smaller ways, and I travel for pleasure (including the pleasure of visiting with family), and I use my knowledge of Criminology in raising my own small band of hooligans.

I went back to school (to obtain my Editing certificate) when C was under a year old; at the same time I was challenging myself physically with a new diet and exercise regimen; and I was called to help lead a new marriage ministry in our church.  It was an amazing time of learning and growth, and I felt so blessed to be involved in things that I was passionate about.  My time, my body, my soul – all were changing and I was thriving.

And then we felt the pull to add to our family – and I became pregnant with baby #4 (our D).

Gear switch.

This is what life is.  It’s doing one thing, and then something changes, and then doing another thing. 

And when it’s tough because of the changes, we have to remember something – we have to bear this in mind to keep our perspective: Making those gear-changes smoothly is key to functional driving on the road of life.

This is a metaphor that works well for me, because I am – at best – HOPELESS at driving a car with a standard transmission.

I mean, if you’ve ever seen a reality show like The Amazing Race and wondered at the imbecility of the contestants not knowing what gear they should be in and laughed at them lurching and shuddering along the road in their standard-drive autos, then you would sure get a kick out of me trying to drive one.  West has tried to teach me (and he’s a good teacher!), but we decided that it would be best for our marriage if we just stuck to owning cars with automatic transmissions.  I am THAT bad.

But on the road of life, I get how the gear switches work – and I can see that going with the changes instead of resisting them is just so much better than shuddering and jarring your way along the road.

So, don’t come looking for me on the travel forums tomorrow.

I’m going to be out buying a sofa.

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Faith, Life

Holding Patterns

Plane by Matt Crane on flickr

We’re homeless right now.  That is, we have a place to stay (thanks to the kind hospitality of West’s folks), but we are currently ‘of no fixed address’.

We haven’t yet found a house to rent – which also means that, as we move into the new year, we don’t know what town or suburb we’ll be living in; what school our boys will go to; what church we’ll attend.  We have no idea what our life here in New Zealand will really look like.  And there are still other uncertainties attached to those decisions and choices we’ll be making – how well our boys will assimilate into their classrooms; what activities we’ll be able to provide for them; how the move will affect their attitude towards school, church, and home…

It’s easy to be discouraged.  It is very easy to be caught up in the anxiety of not knowing what happens next.  We’re in a holding pattern, and for a planner like me it can be tough to be in this kind of state for any length of time.

This feeling of uncertainty, amplified exponentially, undoubtedly accompanies other life-changing situations – a serious illness in the family; separation or divorce; job loss – and I know that, as ‘life-altering’ things go, ours is definitely on the minor end of the spectrum.  But the same rules apply.

In my own life, I can recall a number of times in which I’ve felt that I was maintaining a holding pattern.

I distinctly remember, somewhere in the middle of my university years, starting to feel a bit like I was treading water.  I was trudging through a bunch of prerequisite courses in order to get into the classes I really wanted to take; my social life was minimal, because my university was a ‘commuter campus’ and most of my volunteering was with kids and teens (which was great, but not the same as time with peers); and there didn’t even seem to be any particularly interesting boys around upon whom I could hang my affections.

So what did I do?  I made a list.

I sat down and wrote out a whole lot of goals – short-term and long-term – which I could intentionally work towards and achieve.  These weren’t things like ‘get married’ – they weren’t things that I couldn’t control.  They were little things like, ‘Call so-and-so and go out for coffee’, and ‘Go to the gym 3x a week’ – and bigger things, such as ‘Graduate with my BA (Crim. Maj, Engl. Minor)’.  It was amazing how much it changed my outlook to know that I had a sense of direction and purpose.

What else did I do?  I moved forwards.

I just took one step at a time towards the goals I’d set.  Even in a holding pattern, you’ve got to keep on moving – and that is far easier to do when you trust in the outcome.  And you have to remember that baby-steps still get you there in the end.

Last but not least, I prayed.

I prayed.  I trusted.  I believed that God had good plans for me, and I knew that he would illuminate my path.

Gradually I ticked things off those boxes on my list.

The next time I remember feeling like I was in a holding pattern was when I’d just returned to Canada from a year of living overseas in my early twenties.  Although it was an amazing experience, there had been times while I’d been away that I had been in very basic survival mode.  Much of my energy and effort had been expended towards just coping and hanging in there.  So when I got home, all of a sudden I lost the purpose to which I’d been clinging.  I needed to find work, re-kindle acquaintances, and make new friends – but I didn’t have a clear sense of my overall goals or a firm sense of purpose.

I made a list.  Funnily enough, one of the things on my list was just to ‘go out more’ – and that sparked a list of what I’d be looking for in the perfect guy (for me).  It was important for me to identify what I felt were my core needs and goals in life – and it gave me a sense of momentum as I re-created my life in Canada.

I took one step at a time.  I wanted to be social and hospitable; I made an effort to be more engaged with the people around me and to seek out new friendships as well.

I had faith.  I prayed that God would lead me in the right direction, and I trusted in the outcome.

I ended up doing a bit more travelling while I sorted myself out – a solo trip out to the East Coast to see my sister and brother-in-law and then a trip to South Africa for a special wedding and visiting with my family.  Shortly after my return to Vancouver I made arrangements with some friends to go together to the opening of an Irish pub (finding social opportunities, as I’d promised myself I’d do!).  I commandeered a spare beer keg for a stool and sat down at a small table across from a guy I’d never met – who ended up being the love of my life: my West.

Having one aspect of your life sorted out doesn’t make you immune to other complications, either.  There have been a number of other phases in which I’ve had a spell in the doldrums.

A couple of years ago, when my life was interrupted by my shoulder injury, I felt that familiar sense of anxiety over not knowing what happens next.  I couldn’t travel (insurance wouldn’t cover me with a ‘pre-existing condition’, and my shoulder was too unstable to risk it); I didn’t know what the prognosis would be (surgery? physio?  life-long suffering?); I couldn’t drive…  Even our longer-term travel plans were up on the air.  I felt like someone had pressed ‘pause’ on my life.

I made a list.

I took one step at a time.

I had faith.

I found ways of nurturing my boys without being able to physically wrap them in my arms; I made small goals and met them; I grew in my faith; I healed.

.

.

.

Here I am again; back in a holding pattern, not knowing what lies ahead.  The days and weeks and months in the coming year are going to be full of change – full of things as yet unrevealed.

I’m making lists.  I’m taking one step at a time.  I have faith.

“’I know the plans I have for you,’ says the Lord.” (Jeremiah 29:11)

For I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord,

plans to prosper you and not to harm you,

to give you hope and a future. 

Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me,

and I will hear you. 

You will seek me and find me; when you seek me with all your heart…

(Jeremiah 29:11-13)

Plans to prosper you.  Not that we will ‘get rich’, but that our life will be enriched.

Not to harm you.  Whatever happens, God will make something good out of it.

To give you hope and a future.  We trust in the outcome.

In these times of ‘not knowing’, we do call more on God; we do pray more to him and rely more on him.  We do seek him more (with all our hearts), and we do find him.  God’s provision will be there for us.

The trick is recognizing his hand in all of it, and taking the opportunities he provides.

I don’t want to be the guy in the joke – you know the one: there’s a flood and this guy is stranded on a roof.  A raft, a boat, and a helicopter all come by to offer him a ride but he keeps saying that God will save him… The waters rise and he calls out to God, who answers with,

“What more do you want?  I sent you a raft, a boat, a helicopter…”

I don’t want to miss the boat.

And so I’m praying.  As we make our lists; as we take baby steps; as we rely more deeply on our faith – we are listening for his ‘still, small voice’.  And what a comfort to know that, all over the world, our friends and family are praying for us too.

God is good – all the time.  Even when we’re on hold.

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Faith, Grace, Motherhood, Parenting

Grace

“The present is the only time in which any duty can be done or any grace received.”

-CS Lewis, in The Weight of Glory

It had been one of those days.  Or weeks. Or months.  In fact, for as long as I could remember, A.’s behaviour had been driving me up the wall.  He was seven (nearly eight), and it seemed that for most of his life I had been battling his attention-seeking naughtiness, lip-jutting defiance, and mercurial mood-swings – add to that the nail-biting, thumb-sucking, and eye-rolling nervous habits that were slowly becoming more and more worrying, and  I was at my wit’s end.  Finally the end of the day had come, and with it the blessed relief of some kid-free time (much of which, it must be admitted, I would spend searching out ways of dealing with the aforementioned issues).

I flicked on the TV for some background noise as I pulled my laptop onto my knees and began to catch up on emails.  There was some sort of musical show on that I hadn’t seen before (in retrospect, it might have been ‘Glee’), and in it, a couple of teenagers were falling in love.  Such sweet, enthralled innocence as they declared their fledgling love.  Their enchantment with one another caught my eye, and I abandoned my online tasks as I watched the scene play out.

The young girl rested her hand on her new beau’s shoulder and gazed up into his smiling face; and I suddenly imagined this scene playing out in my own eldest son’s life as he fell in love for the first time. I was stricken with a thought: What if this was the first time he has EVER really felt loved and accepted UNCONDITIONALLY??!   It was with gut-wrenching clarity that I realized that my love for my son had hitherto been expressed with so many conditions as to hobble his very sense of worth.

This was a child I had loved from before he came into existence; one I had wanted, and prayed for and delighted in; one I would give my very life for.  Of course I loved my son unconditionally. This was the child who, when given a special snack at preschool, would insist on a portion of his helping being bundled up to take home to his little brother.  The child who deferred to the wants and needs of almost everyone else before expressing his own preference for anything.  The child who approached others with open arms and ready hugs, even before he had been properly introduced.  And yet this child of mine, who loved and forgave transgressions in others so readily and so completely, was suffering because I was not demonstrating that love and forgiveness to him.

I was spending so much time and energy trying to change what I saw as A.’s problematic behaviour that he could have been excused for imagining that I was oblivious to all the things he was doing right.  I was so focused on the negative that, in fact, I was becoming blind to the positive.

I made a decision right then – one I have returned to again and again (because I, too, am a work in progress) – that I was going to have to change my perspective.

I had to start focusing on what A. was doing well.  I needed to let A. know that I loved and accepted him unconditionally; he didn’t need to wait until he was perfect.  He didn’t need to worry about messing up, because there would always be forgiveness.  He didn’t need to worry about me missing all the good stuff by nit-picking over the little flaws I saw, because I was going to start pointing out how wonderful he was.  And I was going to try to stop seeing some of those flaws, too.  Because when we love each other, we need to be blind to some of one another’s failings.  We have to be prepared to extend grace.  I kind of already knew this, as a recipient of Grace, as a Christian – I knew that God never waited for me to be worthy to extend His love and mercy to me – and yet somehow I was unwittingly withholding that grace from one I hold dearer than life itself.

I didn’t make that decision because I wanted to see change in my son.  I made that decision because I needed to see a change in me.  But grace is grace – and grace changes everything.

My little boy has blossomed.  Yes, he still has some nervous habits and he still struggles with his feelings and he still makes bad choices sometimes.  He still conducts experiments that result in destruction and he still blows up with frustration when he gets overwhelmed and he still sometimes acts defiant… But he knows that he is loved.  He is so quick to apologize when he messes up, and he’s so sincere about that apology.  He is such a loving and cuddly kid, even at age nine when some of his friends won’t even hug their Mums in public.  I delight in him, and he knows it.  Sure, I sometimes yell – we laugh about it, because he knows that I’m a work in progress, too – and then he forgives me.  So now I don’t worry that he is thirsting for love and acceptance.

I’ve chosen grace, and grace changes everything.

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