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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Let your Kingdom come

This morning as we met together in a building, I was reminded again of the fact that this was simply a gathering of people.
It wasn’t church. We the people together were the church. We were a gathering of people wrestling with life and our own responses to it. Whether life meant struggles or celebrations in our families, in our communities or in our country… I looked up and around and saw people whose families are facing challenges, whose communities are being fractured by Xenophobia and different generations of people with different understandings of what makes national transformation important.

I reflected on the weeks that had passed and on the dialogues, in person and over social media and thought about the following points. I don’t have answers to them all. I do know that I was challenged to sit with them some more. In the day. In the week. In interactions.

What does it mean to be in what looks hopeless & yet still have a God of Hope in it?

What does it mean to live surrounded by fear or frustration or hurt and anger & yet know what & who perfect love is which casts out all fear AND then CHOOSE to respond from this space?

What does it mean to feel powerless & yet still have an all powerful God?

What does this mean in terms of our identity & action as people of God?

What does this mean in terms of what we declare? How we heal & seek to be part of seeing others healed?

What does this mean in terms of how we respond to the deep hurt & anger that we cant always connect to, yet there is collective voices expressing this?

What does it mean for us witnessing xenophobia?Afrophobia? Transformation?

I am sitting with this. I want to be a part of hope, of life, of seeing redemption.
I want to be a part of seeing people matter
I want what I believe and what I do and who I am to be aligned & not different boxes that I tick off – which means I need to make sure that my words, my thoughts and my actions are lining up.

Maybe this week some of this answers will become clearer.

Practically:
There are a WHOLE lot of amazing practical things happening in communities from IAMAFRICA which can be found on facebook which is a great practical resource for people wanting to know how to be involved in the Xenophobic relief and helping say NO! to the Freedom Mantle movement which is dealing with how do we develp a vision & leadership in South Africa that allows for South Africa to really be about a place for all and what does it mean to be a part of the change.

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.

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…

SHOWING UP LOVED

Walking through a forest, reflecting on life, justice and the wide world, a friend said the following to me:

“What would life look life if we showed up every day knowing that we were loved?”
(Marlyn Faure paraphrasing Henri Nouwen)

Eugene Petersen paraphrases 1 John 4: 17 – 21 in a way that explores this too:
God is love. When we take up permanent residence in a life of love, we live in God and God lives in us. This way, love has the run of the house, becomes at home, and mature in us, so that we’re free of worry on Judgement Day – our standing in the world is identical with Christ’s. There is no room in love for fear. Well formed love banishes fear. Since fear is crippling, a fearful life – fear of death, fear of judgement – is one not fully formed in love. We, though, are going to love – love and be loved. First we were loved, now we love. He loved us first.
….Loving God includes loving people. You’ve got to love both.

This morning I was convicted of the fact that I often DON’T show up loved. I show up like I need to protect myself, like I need to question the people in my world, like I need to do more, be more and try more than I do. I need to control what is happening around me because if I don’t I fear what will happen. I don’t show up loved when I behave this way.

I am not saying that we should not put in effort, that we should strive to be the best we can be, but if we are not doing this from a place of love, then what is our driving force?

Making this real meant figuring out how would my life look different IF I SHOWED UP LOVED:
– What would my marriage look like?
– What would my work space look like?
– What would I be like and my attitude to the different dimensions of me (physical, emotional, intellectually, spiritually)?
– What would my friendships be like?
– What would my family space be like?
– What would my life dreams look like?

Doing this exercise made me realise how much fear had been allowed to show up – out of habit now rather than always for a good reason.

Fear meant that I took shallower breaths, focused on what could go wrong, focused on needing to protect me, and focused on needing plan B, C or H! Fear meant that I worked harder, pushed harder and judged myself harsher than I would anyone around me. Fear meant that things became personal when they weren’t intended that way always.
Fear meant pulling boundaries into rigid spaces rather than letting them be permeable and healthy spaces.
Showing up loved meant that words like the following peppered my page when I did the above exercise. TRUST, SAFE, GROWTH, FUN, VULNERABLE STRENGTH, DEEP, HEALTHY, GRACE, SATISFIED, PURPOSEFILLED, INSPIRED.
Showing up loved means trusting, checking in and then responding to God, to others before reacting from fear and behaving like I wasn’t loved.

I am re-committing to showing up loved.

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Rythm vs Rut

Over the past few weeks there have been a number of PAUSE and think moments that have challenged me about the way in which my life is lived. I have had to realign goals around health and fitness, I have had to think about what I believe about rest and relaxation, I have had to think about identity vs activity and the theme through all of this in many ways has been about letting go.

My first pause moment really came during a session with my fitness trainer who has had to talk my anxiety down regarding NOT being able to reach the goals that I wanted to before the end of August (I wanted to be running & cycling regularly again and 2 months ago was categorically told that I am not allowed to run. I am allowed MILD to moderate exercise 3 or 4 times a week but more MILD than moderate was the emphasis).

Lana reminded me, again, of controllable vs uncontrollable variables. That I didn’t choose to be in a place where this was the outcome BUT I can choose how I recover from it: I have no control over the fact that this HAS already happened, but I can choose the recovery plan – and the longer and harder I fight that, mentally or emotionally or physically, the longer the recovery plan will be. Controllable variables have meant relooking at goals. Controllable variables have meant redefining what health and fitness is going to look at end of August. Controllable variables mean that there is a little bit of flexibility needing to develop in this life story.

Ironically the exercises the doctor has encouraged are all about flexibility: Yoga, Pilates, stretching and walking! Lana has built the stretching into our training sessions and I have gone looking for appropriate yoga classes/ spaces.

On Saturday I wandered up a piece of the mountain (read steep uphill) with Kate, 2 yoga mats and the intention to stretch and relax outside in the winter sun. During this time, Kate who has been doing this a lot longer than my 2 weeks – reminded me whilst in warrior pose (those of you who know me well will appreciate the irony that follows):

The weird thing is that as you relax into this pose, the stronger you get and as you get stronger, the easier it is to relax.

AHEM! I had just been thinking about ISAIAH 30:15 which reads as follows:

In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength, but you would have none of it. This piece of scripture goes on to talk about the plans made by people rather than turning to God’s grace and compassion – and a blessing on those who wait for him.

I was in what felt like rhythm of busyness, of activity but actually as I reflect back now: It was a rut of activity where I kept going because I didn’t know how to stop: whether because I didn’t choose to, or didn’t feel like I could, or because of underlying anxiety, it doesn’t matter. It was not a rhythm – it was a rut. Rhythm has energy in it – A rut is about repetitive action. Rhythm has beats and steps which can change – A rut is set and can’t.

So, as this new season and decade begins, it’s time to find the new rhythm, to seek the new beat and to work out what needs to be activity out of a space of identity rather than out of habit and activity; to work out where the flexibility needs to be so that the strength and rest for this next season can develop. It’s about allowing rest and recovery to be significant too.

(Actually I am pretty excited about the possiblities of all this now 🙂 )

Leaning in, Breathing out

Leaning into recovery from burnout so that I can breathe out more – this sounds so poetic and positive and yet some days it’s hard. 

It’s hard when I am determined not to let this dictate my days – and yet my energy goes from feeling fine to needing to collapse into a deep sleep in the space of 3 hours.  Seriously! That is hard to feel grateful for a process in the moment.

It’s hard when despite not wanting to let this dictate my days and decisions I know practically it has to influence some real decisions like how much I work, the timing of planned babies and other such things.

It’s hard when I am used to being able to plan, control and determine what next-  and actually have a plan B (yes, my world is that managed -not sure whether to insert a smiley face or a blushing face here!) for the most part. 

SO leaning in means that I have to lean back and say, it’s okay to breathe out.

Leaning in means I learn to value the breathing out – in the midst of the tears or gratitude or grateful but frustrated tears.

Leaning in means as a friend graciously reminded me again: That this is a season for you to relish being, just being.

Leaning in gives permission to breathe out – leaning in gives permission to say actually I would love to but I can’t

Leaning in gives permission to say thank you I appreciate that without feeling guilt at what I am unable to give back.

Leaning in is the healing and refining process that is deepening in my life.

Leaning in has allowed tangible, concrete and real identification of things that weren’t resolved and breathing out and letting go of the things that I no longer can resolve on my own:  Some days I am tempted to breathe them back in but then the ache in my gut which starts when I do, reminds me to breathe them out.

My doctor told me that I needed to look at stretching, pilates or yoga as a part of the recovery process.  All of these require breathing. 

The Bible speaks of the Spirit breathing life

I am excited most of the time at what is happening. 

It’s the breath of life that is reminding me, of who I am, not what I do. 

It’s the breath of life  that is calling out and redefining what it means to be a peacemaker, compassionate and determined. 

We are in Pentecost in the Christian Calendar.  A season which focuses on the pouring out of the Holy Spirit – what an amazing time to be reminded of the Spirit, Life and leaning in and breathing out.