Faith, Life, Parenting

Unable

 

9 Crimes

There have been times when I’ve sat on the beds of my young children and wept with frustration and angst at the impossibility of motherhood.

I have cried bitter tears about the enormity of my to-do list and my ineptitude at accomplishing simple tasks.  I’ve sobbed about the big and the little things; the things I’ve meant to do but haven’t; the people I’ve let down; the ways in which I am failing consistently, constantly, relentlessly.  When I’ve been too quick to anger and too harsh in my responses I have fallen broken-hearted on my pillow and cried hot, copious tears until my throat was hoarse and my eyes were swollen and my emotions were spent.

This is the hardest job I’ve ever had.

From the physical process of becoming a mother onwards, this journey has been fraught with discomfort and difficulty.

The crushing discovery that my endlessly-breastfeeding baby was not gaining but losing weight; second-guessing every decision I had to make about supplementing, pumping, formula, etc; searching for answers which – when (or if) found – were never quite satisfactory…

The panicked, prickly adrenaline rush when racing to retrieve a tot from the edge of disaster; anxiety about setting and maintaining boundaries for adventurous little explorers without sacrificing their curious spirit nor damaging the maternal bond…

The exhaustion from a full and busy day that then spills into a long night with a sick child; weariness from dealing with other stages and problems that seem interminable and unsolveable…

The heavy burden of guilt – when impatience has become the standard response; when care and prayer haven’t yet yielded solutions to a parenting dilemma; when ‘at the end of my tether’ has become a habitual destination…

Some parenting difficulties, once finished, are easily forgotten.  Sleep issues are one of these.  We went through different phases with all of our kids where they’d need a lot of help to get to sleep, or they’d have trouble sleeping through the night.  At the time that we were going go through them I’d wonder when it was that we’d last had an easy evening or a full night’s sleep, and I couldn’t imagine that it was ever going to be easier to get our kid to sleep; but once we were finally through that phase I almost couldn’t remember why it had seemed like it was such a struggle (until the next sleepless phase was upon us).

But there are other tribulations I’ve faced as a parent that linger even after they’ve been dealt with; echoes of past struggles, internal debates that haunt me; circular arguments on repeat in my head.  Did I really make the right decision about x?  Could I have handled y better?  Should I have responded differently to z?  And how is it that I’ve got a kid who does/says that?!!!

Every time I think I’ve got a handle on one problem, another one crops up.  Just when I’m about to pat myself on the back, I end up having to slap myself on the back of the head, instead.

I mean, sure, there’s joy.  Sure, there are moments where I feel like all is right in my world (through God’s grace alone).  And certainly there is love – deep, fierce, strong, tender, and abiding.  There’s humour – because, after all, they can be funny little people (even when they’re not trying to be).

But where’s that moment – as yet so elusive – where I get to feel that I am doing well at this job?

Where’s the proof that my life’s work will result in the contented, loving, productive people of faith and character that I pray my boys will grow up to be???

I have come to the conclusion, again and again, that I am not able for this challenge of motherhood.  I’m not enough.  At times, this realisation of my profound inability has dragged me to the depths of despair.

But that despair doesn’t get the last word in my story.

Today at church we heard again about the miracle of the loaves and the fishes – actually, the two miracles of the loaves and the fishes, because we were reminded that first Jesus fed 5000+ people and then later he repeated the miracle with 4000+.  Both times, a crowd had gathered to learn from Jesus; he filled their souls and their minds, but another need arose: their stomachs needed filling, too.  The disciples asked around and gathered a paltry amount of food in the face of such need: a few loaves of bread and some fish.  It wasn’t enough.

Jesus took those loaves and those fish and he multiplied them.  The people who were gathered on the sand – and, later, the people who were gathered on the mountaintop – ate their fill, and there was still plenty left over.  God turned ‘not enough’ into an abundance.

I was reminded today that what we bring to God – what we bring to life – isn’t enough; but He multiplies our offerings.  We are unable, but He is able.  We are mired in our weakness, but in His strength he frees us.

Today I need to remember to simply make my offering.  I need to remember to trust in God’s ability to multiply, magnify, and sanctify my small, imperfect efforts.  I need to take tiny, shaky steps towards the goal, and trust in Him to bring me to the finish line.

I am not – and I never will be – enough.  But God is.

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Friends: There’s simply no way around it.  Unless you’re the perfect parent, or you have perfect kids (both of which, believe me, I thought were my destiny before I had kids), you’re going to have parenting trials.  Take heart.  I have been leaning on two verses recently, in my own hour of need:

‘Come unto me, all you who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest’

                                                                                                -Matt.11:28

‘I can do all things through Christ, who strengthens me’

                                                                                                -Phil.4:13

Bring your need: God will be your sufficiency.

Be encouraged, 

-Trix           x

 

 

 

 

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Faith, Grace, Life, Philosophy, Reflection

Growing Old Graciously

Folded hands by Horia Varlen on flickr.jpg

There was a series of ads for a popular anti-aging cream a while back that ended with this tagline:

“I don’t intend to grow old gracefully.  I’m going to fight it every step of the way!”

The line was delivered by a beautiful, feisty woman; one who didn’t look her age and one who, by her own admission, had no intention of allowing her beauty to fade as she grew older.  This was ostensibly her main goal in life.  As if wrinkles somehow negate a woman’s beauty.  As if youth were a commodity more precious than experience.

But is it truly a measure of ‘aging well’ that we should remain unchanged by the passage of time?

Aging, and how (or whether) we change as we grow older, has been on my mind lately because I’m on the cusp of a milestone.  As I’m a sentimentalist, this birthday feels like a significant event in my life; and, as with all such things, anticipating this milestone has caused me to evaluate the past and make plans for the future.

To me, the mirror isn’t the only place we should pause for reflection.

There’s so much to celebrate about the decade I’m leaving behind.  In the past ten years I have borne children (I had only my eldest in my twenties); I have moved countries (twice); I have travelled (with kids!); I have studied (and I’ve been a student in the school of life); I have written (and been published!); I have served (and been served).  I’ve grown.  I’ve matured.  And, most of all – I’ve softened.

I’m not just talking about the physical softening and the extra exertion of gravity on a body as it ages; I’m talking about a softening of the heart.  The years have had a tenderizing effect on me; many times when my heart is full, so are my eyes.  I no longer contain my emotions as carefully as I once did; I am no longer in such firm command of the inconvenient welling-up of love, or sympathy, or heartbreak.  And yet – I’m stronger, too.

I’ve seen more death, so life is more precious.

I’ve seen more life, so death has more significance.

I know more about people, so I can relate better and sympathize more.

I know more about myself, so I can play to my strengths and work on my weaknesses.

flaws quote

And there’s more to come.

In the decade ahead, what will I learn, and how will I grow?

This is what I’m hoping for:

I hope that I will grow more tender – and yet stronger, too – with each year that passes.

I hope that I will reach out more to those around me; to shake off the guilt over what I haven’t done in the past and embrace the opportunities that present themselves in the future.

I hope that I will honour my belief in the paramount importance of Relationship by nurturing the relationships I feel privileged to enjoy, while also opening my heart to new friends.

I hope that I will be quick to listen and slower to speak; I hope that the perspectives of others will always inform and interest me.

I hope that I will continue to listen and heed God’s call upon my life; my time; my service; and my heart.

I hope that, while my body ages, I will continue to be renewed by His grace.

Lamentations 3

I hope that, whether or not I grow old gracefully, I will grow old graciously.

 

Maybe my reflections will give my friends pause to consider their own.

How do you intend on growing old?

 

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Faith, Life

My Simple Superpower

Smile by Jason Csizmadi on flickr

You’d never guess it if I kept it hidden, but I’ve got a Superpower.

With the slightest effort, I can transform myself.  With a tiny bit more effort, I can transform the world around me.

Can you guess what my Superpower is?

Give up?

It’s my smile.

 

Now, my smile isn’t the straightest around.  It’s not the brightest.  It’s not the whitest.  The corners of my mouth don’t curl adorably upwards – when I smile, I just kind of end up with a wider mouth with thinner lips.  My full cheeks swell out and my small eyes squeeze smaller.  You wouldn’t think it would work for me; it’s decidedly not the stuff of supermodels.

And yet…

And yet, without the whiteness or the brightness or the dazzle or the glamour, my smile transforms me.

I cannot count the number of times people have commented on this.

Friends laugh about how constant my smile is, in spite of all the crazy in my life – the noise and mess and delight of having four little boys, travelling and moving, etc…  Those I haven’t met yet but who’ve seen me at school have referred to me as ‘the girl who’s always smiling’ or ‘the smiley one’.  Total strangers have stopped me in the street to remark on my smile.

And I can say this entirely without vanity, because I know that the reason people notice me smiling is not because of how it makes me look – but because of how it makes them feel.

In this distracted, busy, hectic world, we are simultaneously over-connected and not connected at all.  We know everything about everybody but we don’t know each other’s hearts.  I could document my friends’ meals and outings, name their children, remember their birthdays and anniversaries, and yet be completely oblivious to their personal triumphs and struggles.  I could walk past a thousand people in the city centre and never truly see a single one of them.  So I have to choose to connect; I have to consciously acknowledge other people with eye contact and a smile, or else I risk passing them by without reminding them that they matter.  And we all need to be reminded that we matter.

Yes, my smile transforms me.  But the thing that you might not know is this: so does yours.

You have a Superpower, too – the power to transform yourself, and the power to transform the world around you.

A truly warm smile is simply an outward sign of the joy contained within.  I believe that this joy – God’s gift, freely-given – is meant to be shared.  I see smiling as a way of sharing my heart with others – and, more importantly, a way of sharing God’s heart for them.  Quite simply, if there is anything whatsoever remarkable about my smile, it is that God’s love for others can shine through it.

So smile, and spread the joy (it is truly contagious).  Show the people around you that they matter.

Transform the world with your smile.

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Faith, Grace, Life

An Elegant Sufficiency

My Grace by Sapphire Dream Photography on flickr

He stood at the front of the church with his head bowed under the weight of his grief, a young man there to bury his even younger wife.  He spoke of their love and their faith – and he concluded with a statement so powerful that it etched itself into my soul:

“His grace is sufficient for me.”

I am OK, he was saying.

I will be OK – because God’s got this, and he has got me, and I am going to come out from the weight of this.

God’s grace was enough.  Enough for him as he gave the eulogy for his wife, lost tragically so young – too young.  Enough in his mourning.

Enough, in spite of it all.

Our hearts were breaking for the Love he had lost – the one that we, too, had to farewell.  But his words gave us hope.  He was quoting the apostle Paul, who spoke of God’s encouragement in the face of his own trials:

But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.

At the close of the service we sang the song our friend had requested.

It was ‘Amazing Grace.’

Amazing grace, how sweet the sound…

I have witnessed the sufficiency of God’s grace time and again in the lives of my friends and family.  I have seen them lifted from their suffering; delivered from their misery; relieved of their burdens solely through their faith in the One whose strength could carry them through.  And I, too, have felt the power of this grace.

I have been buoyed in my despair and sustained in my hour of need.  I have been reminded of his grace when my faith in the outcome has been insufficient to sustain my happiness; God’s grace has been, and is, and always will be sufficient for me.

When my path doesn’t run straight and when I’m stumbling in the dark, I struggle to maintain my sense of hope  – and I look to God’s provision of peace.

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We spent more than two months looking for a home and not finding one.  The pressure felt enormous.  How will God come through on this?  What is he waiting for?  Why can’t we find something suitable so that we can just feel settled??  Where will our boys go to school???

My emotions were on a razor’s edge, and I was feeling raw and beaten-down as we walked into the sanctuary.  We were at our old church in Auckland, looking forward to the sermon and the fellowship but unsure of how it would feel to report to friends that we were still looking for a place to stay.

The service began with a worship song:

Great is your faithfulness, O God

You wrestle with the sinner’s heart

You lead us by still waters

And to mercy

And nothing can keep us apart.”

They had me at ‘faithfulness’.

I had no tissues – and I needed tissues – so I sat there mopping uselessly at my brimming eyes with a nappy wipe.

And then they got to the chorus, and I gave up trying to stem the flow of tears (for the record, wet wipes are useless at absorption – I just ended up with a saline sheen across my visage).

Your grace is enough,

Your grace is enough,

Your grace is enough for me…

It was God’s voice piercing the gloom; his voice shining hope into my despair: ‘My grace is sufficient for you.’

The sermon that followed was fittingly entitled, ‘Certainties in an Uncertain World’ – so apt for our situation – and the scripture was from the book of Romans.

We know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called in accordance with his purpose.

– Romans 8:28

The opening song, the message, and the scripture all seemed to carry God’s soft answer to my angst: an assurance of his love and provision.

Later, in explanation for my emotion during the service, I told West about how I’d felt God assuring us of his sustenance and his grace.  God had spoken into my anxious heart.

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A week later we were in another church.

The service opened with the worship team leading.  And what song were they singing?

You’ve guessed it, I’m sure.

Your grace is enough, your grace is enough…

This time, even West’s eyes brimmed.

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When I was a little girl, I was taught to refuse another helping of dinner (when I’d had my fill) by saying, “I have had an elegant sufficiency.”  My mischievous Grandpa loved to joke that we should instead claim that we’d had ‘an elephant sufficiency’, but I was only ever cheeky enough to say that at their house!

It seems to me that it may well be said that we are all recipients of ‘an elegant sufficiency’ with God’s provision of grace.  It is as beautiful as it is extravagant.  Christians may remember the acronym GRACE thus: God’s Riches At Christ’s Expense.  We have such abundance in Christ, who has removed the impediment of sin from our access to God’s goodness.

God’s magnificent grace is, indeed, more than sufficient for us.  What a welcome balm that precious truth can pour upon broken hearts.

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Faith, Life, Philosophy

Do Not Stand at My Grave and Weep…

grave by Oliver Quinlan on flickr

 

Do not stand at my grave and weep.

I am not there.  I do not sleep.

 

I think about death a lot.  Not in a morbid, ghoulish way – I know that some are fascinated by dark images or haunted by the unknowable elements of ‘the beyond’, but these things hold no sway for me.  I’m not a big fan of our modern-day culture’s obsession with vampires and zombies, either – I’ll admit to having had a passing interest in the Twilight movies, and I can appreciate the ‘noir’ humour of ‘Shaun of the Dead’ – but I find the current fetish with death macabre and gratuitous.  And don’t even get me started on the topic of people dressing their kids up as decaying corpses…).

No, when I think about death it’s more in terms of questions about life – particularly my own life.  I wonder, What kind of legacy am I leaving? and What memories are we making for our kids? and Am I fulfilling my life’s purpose; am I living out God’s desires for my life?  I think about whether or not those I love and care about would know that I love and care about them if I didn’t have any more chances to tell them that I do.

There are times, of course, when questions about death itself come more to the fore – like when loved ones pass away, or when something happens to make me more keenly aware of my own mortality.

Earlier this week I lost a precious aunt.  It is a great comfort to me that hers was truly ‘a life well-lived’; the legacy she leaves is in the love and care she bestowed on our family (and her own).  She was a uniting force and a faithful Christian; she was a do-er and a pray-er and always full of motivating advice…  I will miss her dearly, but I trust that I shall see her again in heaven.  Her death brings us to a celebration of her life on earth, and a peace that comes with our faith in the life to come.

Around this time last year I had shoulder surgery, and as I anticipated the operation and its inherent risks (admittedly small – but I was feeling fragile), my thoughts turned as they so often do to life and death.  I scribbled a few notes about funeral arrangements, just to spare West the difficulty in the event of my sudden demise.  And I wrote down a few other miscellaneous thoughts as I pondered the subject:

What I don’t want is for people to feel embattled or embittered by my passing, whether it be prolonged or quick. 

‘Naked I came into this world and naked I shall return’.  I was once weak and needy – perhaps I shall end my life in the same manner.  But this is no more beneath my dignity than it is for me to have been helpless as an infant at the beginning of my life. 

My existence has meaning and purpose because of how I have lived it; the choices I’ve made when I’ve had a choice…

I hope not to be defined by how I leave the world, but by the good I have done (and experienced) while in it.

As I experienced my initial injury and subsequent convalescence, I also pondered the subject of suffering:

Every experience that allows us to relate more to and better love those around us is a gift.  What a privilege that, through the process of suffering through our own difficulties, we can be awakened to the needs of others!

 

Right now there’s an article making the rounds on social media; the tragic story of a 29-year-old woman with terminal brain cancer who is advocating for people’s right to end their lives ‘on their own terms’.  Not so long ago, there was a story in the news about an older Canadian woman with dementia who took her own life before the disease could rob her of her ability to make that decision for herself.

Both of these cases, like so many others, have been centred around the ability of the victims/patients to prevent themselves from having to experience powerlessness and suffering in their final days.  Both cases have struck a chord with people and garnered support for the ‘right to die’ campaign.

While I feel immense sympathy for these women in facing heartbreaking diagnoses and making difficult decisions, I cannot subscribe to the idea that the only humane option is to allow people access to drugs/technology/legal options that will allow them to exercise a ‘right to die’.

Do I understand the wish to escape the pain and uncertainty and suffering that accompanies such diagnoses as these women were facing?  Yes – of course, yes.

Do I support efforts to mitigate the suffering of people in other phases of life? Yes.  I abhor the fact that slavery still exists; I yearn for the day when the vulnerable are no longer subjugated by the powerful; I pray for the alleviation of suffering experienced by those who are sick, who are hungry, who are lonely

Do I support the use of drugs and technologies in easing the suffering of those in palliative care?  Yes.  I agree with easing people’s pain and affording them the opportunity to say goodbyes and make peace inasmuch as they are able to do so.

Obviously, preventing suffering and powerlessness are universal concerns.  But how far do we take this desire to avoid those difficulties?  Isn’t suffering a part of life – and therefore, necessarily, death?  Isn’t powerlessness also a part of life and death?

I do not stand in judgement of those who make different decisions than I believe I would in their shoes; but I also cannot champion their choices.  I cannot support the claim that the only kindness in this sort of situation is to ‘put people out of their misery’.

Most of us can’t choose the hour or day on which we leave this world.  Whether or not that’s something we consider acceptable or not depends a lot on our core beliefs about life and death.

As for me, I believe fundamentally in the sanctity of life – even when life holds suffering.

…we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.  Through him we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in our hope of sharing the glory of God.  More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit which has been given to us.” (Romans 5:1(b)-5)

I believe that the grave isn’t the end of the story.

…and He will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away.”  (Revelation 21:4)

I believe that, while death causes us temporary pain and separation from loved ones, it doesn’t get the final say in our lives.

Where, O death, is your victory?  Where, O death, is your sting?” (1 Cor 15:55)

My own experiences with suffering and death (limited though they may be) have led me to believe that they do serve a greater purpose.  When I suffer I am forced to lean closer to those who love me, to hope more fervently in God’s care and mercy, and to anticipate the life to come with a greater sense of peace and joy.  And whenever the day comes that I ‘shuffle off this mortal coil’, I know that this too will bring me closer to God – in dying I will enter into his kingdom forever.

I wish that this wasn’t the way of the world; I wish that nobody had to suffer, ever.  I wish that death didn’t exist.  But suffering and death are inexorable parts of the human experience, and they are not experienced in vain.  We may not always see the bigger picture, or appreciate the purpose, but we may trust that God has riches awaiting us (should we choose to accept them) in eternity and these good things will far outweigh any trials we might face in life.

Maybe, then, these questions of life and death are bigger than all of us.  And we shouldn’t be the ones answering them.

My answer to those who are dismayed by my stance on the ‘right to die’ campaign is the same as the one I would offer to those who would mourn my passing:

There is peace in Jesus.  I have this peace – it shines throughout my life and I pray that it will continue to do so no matter what suffering I endure.  And whenever God calls me from this life on earth (though I love it and shall cling to it as long as I am able) I shall taste life everlasting because of the gift of salvation – which is freely offered to all.

Do not stand at my grave and weep
I am not there. I do not sleep.
I am a thousand winds that blow.
I am the diamond glints on snow.
I am the sunlight on ripened grain.
I am the gentle autumn rain.
When you awaken in the morning’s hush
I am the swift uplifting rush
Of quiet birds in circled flight.
I am the soft stars that shine at night.
Do not stand at my grave and cry;
I am not there. I did not die.

(Poem by Mary Elizabeth Frye)

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This post and farewell hymn are dedicated to the memory of my beloved Auntie Lavinia.

We shall meet again.

(click on the link to hear the song)

-Trix

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