Before the Birthday Candles

I lit a candle tonight and reflected on the fact that we get to celebrate my son’s first birthday soon.

We get to celebrate the laughter, the giggles, the mischief and snuggles that is fully him.

We get to reflect on the joy of the last 6 months of being his parents. The joy in seeing him sit up, cut teeth, crawl, walk and speak his first basic words to us.

Before we celebrate the sweetness of adoption though, the bitter part of the grief of adoption has shown itself.

I told him his basic adoption story again this evening – he has heard it before.  It is his story after all, as much we are a part of it and he is a part of ours.

His story, the details of which are his to hold onto or tell as he grows.

Tonight on reflecting on our beautiful son and how awe inspiring it is to see him growing before our eyes, I was reminded of the fact that he is going to have things to deal with that we can’t pretend he isn’t.

I was reminded that  for 9 months, he grew under his birth mom’s heart – and as much as people say that adoption is when a baby grows in your heart instead of your womb, this baby grew under a heart in another’s womb and that is a part of his story.

It is a part of her story and now it is a part of our story too.

A friend recently reminded me that the Psalmist speaks in Psalm 139 of being knit together in a mother’s womb and not being hidden from the start.  She reminded me that my son was known from the start as much as we didn’t know him from the start.  I was reminded this evening that as much as adoption was always part of how I planned to grow my family one day, of the conversations my guy and I had prior to marriage that, this plan brings with it a story of loss for two others – but that they are known too.

Tonight I want to make sure that he knows that we will stand next to him in responding to the things that are going to be his to deal with as he matures into manhood.

More than that, before we think about candles on cakes, tonight I lit a candle and want to honour a birthmother, who a year ago was preparing for labour and to relinquish (the details of this are hers and his) the baby who became our son.

I want to honour her simply for being his other mother.  We don’t know her and she doesn’t know us and yet our life stories are intertwined.

So before the candles celebrating a year of life are lit, there is another life I want to honour tonight and have no idea how do that.

Other than to pray.

To hold the space with my son and to say to this other mother that you are a part of our story always.

In a respectful way.

In a way which honours a decision you made.

In a way which honours our son.

In a way that honours the unknown between us and yet shares a life.

Tonight I simply want to honour you.

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My Habakkuk Confession

Pre-read disclaimer: My guy encouraged me to share this as he felt it might be encouraging and helpful for other people too. This is an ongoing part of my wrestling with what and where my role is in a country on a continent that I am passionate about and that I want to be a part of seeing healthy and whole. God is a part of my worldview. People matter to me too so yes this is about the state of the nation but it’s also a part of figuring out how to deal with my perceptions of things around me. You don’t have to agree with them – but please play nice if you are going to comment

It’s been a Habakkuk season
This morning I broke down and confessed to my guy that I am struggling.
Struggling with the raw hurt and anger and sometimes hate that is emerging around us.
Struggling to know how much or when to respond and when to keep quiet.
Struggling with a sense of having been silenced as a result of something that has happened that I don’t fully understand.
Struggling with the edification of someone who has committed the most vile atrocities against all people in his own country – regardless of race. People who have had homes burnt down, markets and trading areas bulldozed, been tortured and killed all in the name of ‘’restitution’’ in his own country and is now seen as a voice of truth. (This isn’t my media propaganda, this is my experience of having been there, having sat with and listened to people’s stories – across the racial divide).
Struggling to deal with the calls for action that are needed but that are leading to verbal and other violence when I still have clear memories of what it was to live through these calls in the fairly recent past – when people were tortured, simply disappeared or knowingly killed for holding opposing views, within the apartheid struggle as well as between struggle parties who disagreed with each other aka faction/ political violence, or across borders within some of our neighbouring nations where this rings true too.
Struggling with the level of blood shed that has already passed and with the levels of hurt, anger, fear and even hate becoming more and more evident in dialogues and engagements – I guess I am especially struggling with this and know that on my own, or with friends who only think like me or look like me this isn’t going to be resolved.

Then I read Habakkuk again as a reminder that none of this is new.

Habakkuk reminds us that law and order fell to pieces then too (Hab 1:1-4), that justice appeared to be a joke and that anarchy, violence and fights broke out all over the place; that the wicked appeared to have hamstrung the righteous.
Habakkuk reminds that God can work among us as he worked among the ancestors and people of before, that we can ask God to not only bring judgement but also Godly mercy (Hab 3:2)
Reminds us that the paths that God takes are older than the oldest mountains and hills (Hab 3: 6)

After confessing this to my guy, who then sat and prayed with me (&for me) and we prayed for the country, for the continent, the following vision came about and Charlie shared with an instruction that we need to write this down, so here they are:

• A picture of Africa (as a continent) beating as a heart would beat but haemorrhaging, blood gushing out; a surgeon then attempted to work on stopping the haemorrhage but to no effect, the bleed continued. After this a hand, the hand of God, moved across the continent and only then did the bleed heal, stop. Charlie reinforced the sense that we need to keep praying, we need to keep holding on to the peace and purposes that God has for us in the here and now. We need to recognise that there is much hurt, much unresolved anger and much change needed and it is all pouring out at the moment. We need to keep praying for guidance as to how to manage this space, to guide it and allow it to transform not only systems but also people’s lives in order for healing to happen.

About 10 years ago I had a dream which keeps returning every time I think about the state of our nation:
Context of the house where the dream happened: I grew up in Tokai – relatively close to Pollsmoor Prison, so lived with an awareness of protests and the political awareness that my mom instilled in us through her refusal to treat or engage with people differently based on their race. In fact, mom and dad through their networks exposed us to prayer, reconciliation and story-telling weekends in the early 90’s. Our home was open to all people always and we had missionary (local and foreign) students of all race and nationalities in our house often.

My dream: I was inside the house I grew up in and could see masses of angry black youth shouting, protesting and throwing building nails at homes in anger, shouting threats and toyi toying. These nails, despite doors and windows being closed, slid under the door lintels and landed on the tiles in our passage. In my dream I remember picking up these nails and looking at them in my hands, crying that these are meant for building up and not instilling fear or damaging or breaking down.

I am still sitting with this dream – trying to work out how and where I pick up these nails (even if they prick and hurt and result in my hands bleeding, as in the dream) to know how I am part of the building process.

I am feeling a little more hope-fuelled than I was this early this morning.
I am acknowledging and confessing that my hands and heart have been bleeding.
It has been overwhelming some days.

My prayer is simply this:
God show me where you are in the midst of this?
God show me practically where you need me to be in the midst of this?
God show me how to be a part of the healing and not the hurting?
God show me.

Faith vs Hopelessness. My wrestle with my country.

PRE-READ DISCLAIMER: This is my wrestling space thinking & I know that I am not alone in it, hence my sharing. This isn’t an answer. This isn’t I have it all figured it out. This is I am hurting for friends whose stories are slowly being revealed to me. This is I am sore for my country at the moment. This is I wish I knew how to engage in this space better. This is I wish that collectively we had more sway in influencing healthy change and new ways of doing things. This isn’t party politics as much as it is about where does the power sit. This is about my wrestling. This is the context of my wrestle. If you want to wrestle with me in faith and hope and love. Grateful for grace to cover where I get it wrong.

‘Faith makes hopelessness forbidden’ – part of a WhatsApp that a friend sent me last night. I have been wrestling with what it means to have relentless, unfailing HOPE and what that looks like for us as South Africans. Beyond just for us as South Africans – what does us it mean for me as a believer in Jesus – the giver of hope and a different way? How do I live hope? How do I speak hope? How do I encourage hope?

So I started thinking about what is taking up energy – not just in terms of my focus but also of taking away hope.

• I realised it’s the lack of engagement – the lack of skills being imparted to people to know how to engage in this space, to be invited into this space at times by people already in it and also skills to know that saying sorry for something doesn’t mean I maliciously hurt you or are carrying shame. It’s about saying I am sorry that you are hurting, were hurt and have been hurting still despite the fact that things are said to be changing.

• I realised it’s the lack of listening from all of us – especially those of us with a history of speaking first and loudest. Yes, we also have feelings and opinions about what is going on, but I am so used to speaking up and out that sometimes I forget that others might be quiet simply because of what was my normal rather than what I would prefer to be OUR normal way of engaging where we both get a chance to be heard and understood.

• I realised it’s the slowness of change, but not being sure how to see practical change implemented as MANY people who have power to ensure these changes in our country are more concerned with their own positions of power and gain than they are with ensuring that people move from absolute poverty to a place of opportunity because the basics are being met (as a simple starting point)

• I realised it’s the language that is being permitted without looking at what do these words mean – my focus and energy and hope gets drained when I hear calls for revolution without looking at what revolution has done in other communities – without asking what will this mean for the children and vulnerable in all our communities. It gets drained when the language we all use from ‘get over it already, its 20 plus years’ to ‘ revolution is now and the white oppressors must realise this’ to a nation whose leader orchestrated exploitation, violent revolution and murder and mayhem and political intimidation being honoured in our own country without recognising that under his leadership people lost everything, feel still live in the knowledge that you can’t speak out against him and that despite his language use publicly, the exploitative nature of his regime continues.

I get tired and struggle when the word revolution is seen as interchangeable with resurrection.

Revolution is about one world system replacing another world system.

Resurrection is about overcoming a world system with a new way of life system. It’s about hope.

Sitting with these realisations makes me want to weep. It makes me want to wail and lament and cry out loud ‘Can’t you see we are simply repeating a system from the past which on the surface looks to benefit the many but experience not just here, but elsewhere has shown us that it simply serves to repeat a cycle’?

I know I sit in a position of privilege. Not only am I historically advantaged, I am protected financially by virtue of being married.
I know that I sit in a faith community that is striving to engage in this space.
I know that I sit in the midst of people working this out. Where we can talk and speak and make mistakes and listen and say ‘’ I am sorry’’ on a micro inter-personal level. Not just where things went wrong in the past, but also where we get it wrong in the present. When I get it wrong with you.

In faith what do I wish and pray for?
• I pray that we will become comfortable with being uncomfortable so that we can have the discussions and engagement as individuals and collectively that we need to have.
• I pray that we will start looking at what we are inviting or engaging people to be a part of through how we speak and what we do: whether we are imparting life giving hope or simply providing a space where energy and a lack of hope finds a space to be expressed.
• I am more and more convicted that within our faith circles as in the pre-90’s faith circles when the church as a body was part of calling to account, that not only do we need to be calling to account our leaders, but also each other as we respond from places of passion, purpose, but also places of fear and hurt. We need to be mirrors to each other in this else the bigger image of what we are wanting to see happen is never going to happen.
• I pray that each and every person who is passionate about this country will see that they have a role in it, beyond simply being nice to people – but actually to ask questions and invite understanding through listening.
• I pray that we will actively choose hope and that this hope will determine our actions, our engagements and our responses.

I was warned about Freedom Day

I was warned.

I was warned that as what would have been the due date of our pregnancy approaches that things might come undone.
I was warned that your first menstrual cycle after a miscarriage would be hard and it was.

But it also helped heal because it reminded me that my body was healthy and had normalised.

I was warned that this would be hard.
I just didn’t know how hard.

I didn’t know how hard it would be to have a grief erupt that had felt like it was over.
I didn’t know how hard it would be to feel undone. All. Over. Again.

BUT as I sit in this space
This hard space
This sad space
This space that could have been something else

I realise
That my space isn’t empty
Nor is it undone.
It simply is.

It simply is another part of the healing of a story that isn’t complete: That of meeting the dreams of a specific baby.
It isn’t just hard. It has softened my heart in ways that I never knew it needed softening.

In this 3 week period I expected to be on maternity leave.
In this 3 week period I expected to be nesting and putting my feet up.
Instead in this 3 week period I am living with the paradox that is life:

That there can be hope in the midst of grief and grief in the midst of hope.
That in the next 3 weeks both hope and grief can co-exist and as we approach Freedom Day,
Which would have been the due date,
That I too can find freedom in this.

Our mirrors. Our freedom.

“Sometimes our light goes out but is blown into flame by another human being. Each of us owes deepest thanks to those who have rekindled this light.”
-Albert Schweitzer

The last 10 days have seen some hard curve balls in our family of 2. The details don’t matter for this reflection, but the outcomes and realisations do
Things we were hoping we weren’t going to have to deal with and yet we did. More than did- we came out knowing that we are okay and there is hope, and in fact in the midst of the heartache and sadness there was joy.
Not because we were in denial but because we had ‘mirrors’ reminding us of who we are and what we are about and what our hearts have always known about what we believe our family to be about.

Regardless of what the situation was, I have realised that in any other hard time my default thinking was always: ‘Some people get the easier end, I am not one of them’ or ‘my story involves zig-zag hair pin, up and down paths rather than a controlled, steady climb to the top’. In fact last year when we fell pregnant, my exact words to a few close friends were – this happened too quickly, it can’t be that easy & sadly it was a blighted ovum – but that had nothing to do with my thinking – other than at the time really challenging me to change it but wondering why I should!

I had been wrestling with my perspective on life and what it said about my belief in God (which I didn’t really like at all) before we even knew we were pregnant so it wasn’t linked to the pregnancy itself. And (bad grammar I know, but the emphasis is needed) AND this is important – because my thinking had nothing to do with things that happen ultimately BUT everything to do with how I respond to things. Some things like a blighted ovum just are, but end up feeling like a (can you say rationalising excuse?) self-fulfilling prophecy and in other contexts mean that I don’t live in the moment but mistrust the joy in front of me.

See in this past week I have witnessed someone share their amazing testimony of how their thinking changed (read and follow her journey here: https://adoptaconvict.wordpress.com ) & had a conversation with someone whose life is in a transition and choices need to be made space, but it’s hard to know that there is permission and blessing to do so, and it hit me again.

We all need mirrors.
We need mirrors to remind us of who we are and who were aren’t.
We need mirrors to tell us truth, to encourage and to reflect back to us when we can’t see clearly.
We need mirrors to give us courage.

My mirror this last week diffused what previously would have felt like ‘here we go again – it’s that hard path’ and turned it into WHAT, WHO ARE YOU? REMEMBER WHO YOU ARE?

I realised 5 days after my mirror in our current context (a friend who knows who she is) did this, that there was no time to focus on the hard path, to get stuck in the default thinking simply as once she reminded me of the bigger picture…the rest no longer mattered as much.

It was an incredibly liberating and joyful celebration in the midst of what could have and previously only would have been an angry and tired place.

More than what and who I discovered myself to be in this, again, I celebrate that in the last 6 months, my thinking has changed, that to quote henri nouwen ‘I have lived into a new way of thinking’.

I know that life isn’t fair.

I know God is there regardless.

I know that ‘bad things happen to good people’ and that good things happen to ‘bad people’. That we don’t always get what we or others think we deserve – sometimes it’s much more, sometimes it’s much less. *see below*

I know that when my sense of shame, sorrow, anger, sadness or ‘it’s not fair’ kicks in that sometimes I don’t see clearly in the mirror.

I know that it’s thanks to the faithfulness of community, of people walking down the valleys and up the mountains and onto the peaks with me to celebrate that things have shifted into a new way of living.

I am grateful for friends and family being willing to be my mirror. Mirrors who can reflect the broken bit but also the whole bits – which allows for freedom & confesssion & healing.

I am grateful for God holding up the ultimate mirror of the paradoxes of life and knowing that in this uncertainty about much, that there is certainty.

I know this because I have witnessed it time and again over the last few months and really across the last 41 years &1 day of my life.

To sit in a car en route to work and want to do a happy dance of joy, knowing that the pathways in my heart and mind have changed is more than just about work I have done.

It’s about grace.
It’s about healing and joy.
It’s really been about mirrors: seeing and being seen.

We need mirrors.

*good and bad people used loosely in this context simply and by no means imply that people are not worth anything or that any of us are better or worse than others…

i say NO!

Forgiveness and Primal Screams

Yesterday I experienced a sense of terror like I haven’t in a very long time.
Waking up to discover a “want to be intruder” about to step into our bedroom was something that I don’t want to experience again. Ever.
People asked me if he took anything. No. Not anything physical.
Just my sense of being safe in my home- temporarily.
My sleep for the night.
My voice is strained still.
My gut reaction was to scream.
To scream from terror.
To scream that this wasn’t okay.
To scream NO!

I know that he didn’t consider that anyone would be awake – would scream.
36 hours later I am saying NO.
NO MORE.
No more of saying that this is how it is.
No more of the fear.

And the only way I know to say no is to say I forgive you.

I forgive the fact that you violated my space – whether or not you think I need to.

I forgive the fact that you intentionally tried to walk into my intimate space with bad intentions.

I forgive you and pray that you will know a conviction of heart that this is not the way to walk.

I have the luxury of neighbours who immediately responded. Who called the police who arrived less than 5 minutes after the call was made. If I look at the stats in this article I still have more luxury despite what happened than many of the people who call the same city home: http://thisisafrica.me/apartheid-geography-murder-cape-town/

I have the luxury of spikes being placed on walls the next day as a deterrent.
According to the police my scream was a deterrent and you won’t be back.

It wasn’t just a scream. It was a no.

I don’t know your story. And I don’t need to in order to forgive you.

I need to know that I am not going to let this incident define me. It’s not going to define my commitment to this city, to this country and to healing, hope and justice.

The fear you bought with you cannot stay. That fear gets too much voice already. It has too much power and too much place in the narrative of our communities.

It’s time forgiveness got a louder voice. It’s time healing and hope got a space to be seen as bigger than fear, than crime, than violence.

I say no.

A Spoken Grief

Sometimes it’s about the things that are hard that people don’t know, that I don’t know – unless I say so, or someone warns me or when the expression of the thing that is hard catches me unaware – and the emotion feels raw. All. Over. Again.

Suddenly in the midst feeling of hopeful and mostly normal it’s hard not be back to the question of “are these PMT symptoms” (after 3 months of none) or are they “early pregnancy” symptoms? Despite a commitment to not think about this until I see my doctor next, I can’t ignore the nagging niggle or monkey on my back that sometimes is quiet, but sometimes is really very loud.

I didn’t know how much I relished being pregnant – 20 HR morning sickness and all. I didn’t know how much I needed things to work out, even when a part of me questioned whether they would.

I am a planner, an organiser of my life. I manage my space. I seek to control my world through understanding what to do next, my work space involves helping others heal and supporting them in the midst of the hardness.

This I can’t control. I can make choices, but there are aspects of this grief that don’t feel controllable some days. Uncontrollable variables – we only get to choose how we respond to them.

I can’t manage how fast the pregnancy hormones leave my body – and should I even want to?

I can’t manage how my quickly body settles back into its own rhythm again.

I can’t manage the things that people say, with good intent but that aren’t helpful.

I can’t not think about this. It’s only been 3 and a bit weeks. I am still grieving and sad AND being hopeful. I am okay with grieving. I need to be allowed to do this. My hormones and mood and sadness are all entangled currently – not forever. Just at this moment. Right now.  On International Pregnancy Loss day. 

I am resentful and saddened by the fact of possibly having to manage monthly cycles again when I would rather be managing morning sickness.

I am resentful of having to consider sanitary ware when I would rather be considering maternity ware.

I am resentful of needing to work hard to get rid of the extra curves that are now there to manage a morning sickness that no longer is (The things that helped me I don’t normally eat at all- but they worked and I was deeply grateful that they did – sadly it was “oat crunchies” rather than cucumber some days).

I got all the pregnancy things people do and don’t discuss – the nausea, the dreams, the tummy issues, the food aversions, the scent sensitive nose of a blood hound, the exhaustion, and the random discovery that foods I don’t usually eat solve morning sickness and foods I used to love make me gag. I got all of that. A good taste of what looked like a healthy pregnancy. And then that felt like it changed in an instance.

AND

I know that this too will pass.

I know that my body will settle.

I know that there is hope.

I know that we will have a family – and that this first pregnancy will always remain a part of that story. The dream to birth babies and the dream to adopt remains.

I know that by focusing on all the things that I can’t control I lose sight of the space and place where I can find healing and rest.

I know that surrender to this next part of the story is needed. And if surrender requires more tears, more expression and more letting go of things that I struggle to, then I am choosing that.

IN the midst of anger, and tears, and heartache and a very normal in this context anxiety, I am back to the place of choosing to let go of my control. It scares me to do this. Yet, it scares me more to stay stuck in this place where it’s hard to love and be loved fully.