The Magnitude of Just Being

3 months ago I became mother to a beautiful 5 month old baby boy.  The magnitude of this has been overwhelming some days – suddenly my life is not my own.

It was an adjustment when I got married.

This is different.

Motherhood feels different.

There are many treasured moments that belong to my boy and I, or to my guy, my boy and I and these are ours alone.

My not working for a while, at least for as long as he was alive and not with us, feels like a public thing.  It feels a like I have had to redefine where I fit in my community and social spaces.  It feels like a gift and yet one which I have had to intentionally articulate.

 

Recently I was sitting watching my little man and suddenly it struck me that his biggest joy for the afternoon was my just sitting and being with him.

He gurgles, he plays, he explores, he cuddles and he checks in in between as his agility and mobility is increasing (way too fast some days for me!).

Yet the smile and the giggle that lights up his face when he knows that I have seen him, or am simply being with him overwhelmed me that afternoon.

just be

 

Just being  was enough for him.

No, I didn’t sit there passively, we engaged and giggled and smiled and made sure that he explored in a way the allowed for discovery with reduced risk of harm.

Yes, we feed, clothe and ensure he is cared for.

His joy though came from just being.

This forced me to question how much value I place on just being.

 

Just being with God

Just being with my guy.

Just being with my son.

Just being in community with my people.

Just being.

 

Is there enough value for me in just being present with him to transition joyfully into motherhood, with the lack of sleep some nights and my world suddenly seeming to be so  much smaller?

Is there enough value for me in being his mom or do I have to own that until this point much of my own validation came from being a part of bigger conversations, being a part of a work space where I knew people’s lives were impacted practically through research and skills and being with them?

My word for 2016 was to JUST BE.

I am learning how hard this can be some days.

Yet, after an afternoon in which my almost 9 month old explorer took a horrible tumble and there was snot, blood and tears (some his and some mine after); on top of his second ever illness since us being together, I had to concede that actually this mattered more to me than I had been able to fully own:

This just being his mom.

Just being his mom is far bigger, far more joyful, far more overwhelming and far more fulfilling than I could have anticipated.

I said no to further post grad studies to explore a relationship with the man who became my husband.

I am saying yes to just being my son’s mom. Who knows where that path is going to lead us?

Just being.

 

 

 

 

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What a (almost) burst ear drum is teaching me about listening .

I am currently struggling with an ear drum that has threatened to burst.  Seemingly out of the blue.  It was a painful ache, much like when scuba diving, or flying with your ears that don’t want to equalise, that sent me off to the doctor.

The doctor, on examining my ear kept saying OH MY WORD, OH MY GOSH repeatedly. Never a good sign really. She then went on to tell me that the inside of my ear looked more like a haemorrhoid, a shiny (this was apparently a good thing) one than like the inner anatomy of an ear.

I am grateful for modern medicine – hopefully the deaf, blocked, dizzy, unbalanced, ringing, buzzing, motion induced nausea sensation will be passing soon.

It’s ironic when someone whose career is all about listening to people suddenly can’t.

Then I thought about the haemorrhoid thing, and other than thinking EEUWWW…thought about some hard conversations around race that I have been engaged in.

Around how when we have to consider things like privilege, shame, fragility, guilt, we often listen with ears that don’t hear. About how hard it is to listen to the anger or stories of others whose stories don’t make sense to us because we don’t experience life that way. About how uncomfortable or inconvenient, or how much we don’t want to have to keep listening.

We listen ready to explain the buzz, the nausea or maybe don’t even acknowledge the blockage that is the problem.

A friend recently challenged me on not being afraid to listen and speak up less apologetically.

I have realised that part of my buzzing has been not wanting to deal with some of the fall out of speaking up and out, of not feeling like there is enough energy to do so.

I am committed to not apologising for learning and wanting to keep walking with, learning from, and speaking up when I feel I must. I am committed to quote another wise friend to ‘failing forward’ in this as we learn to listen together.

I can’t learn when I am focused on the buzz.  I can’t listen or concentrate on what you are telling me when I am distracted by own blocks. Whatever they are.

I am grateful for friends, like my doctor, who have pointed the ‘haemorrhoids’. I am grateful that we can create spaces where we can learn to listen despite the buzz.

I am dreaming of a South Africa where listening means clarity and being heard, and being quiet when needed. Without the buzz.

Are there more white people like you?

In the past few weeks I have been faced with my ‘privilege’.
My white privilege.
Yes mine.

I have been faced with the fact that as much as I am surrounded by amazing people, doing things to see communities shift and healed, that there is not enough contact between different (colour)people happening to make people realise that actually there are many(white)who are seeking this change. Who think that justice matters, who think that restitution matters.

How do I know this?

Simply because too often, it’s the same people in contact with the same circles –regardless of what the circles look like. I know this because a friend boldly told me this. He heard me say that my heart was sore because in 2 days I had two friends of colour (from different contexts) voice this sentiment:

Are there more? Maybe there are more but we don’t see or hear them?

Then I got thinking about how do we make these circles bigger? How do we mix them up more?

The next challenge then got thrown at me by someone whose dreams I respect and support, whose voice is loud, whose passion for community, for people and for South Africa is being refined and yet I know that these dreams seem to belong to someone else at times for this friend, as he has other responsibilities in life that stop the pursuit of these dreams.

Why do I think that his dreams matters?
• I believe that we need more young leaders and men like my friend in communities speaking, advocating and encouraging people.

• I believe that we need to relook at how we understand supporting education in this country – for some of us it is about equipping teachers, advocating for bursaries – but I was recently challenged to think beyond that to what does it mean for someone whose very BASIC income is needed to support their family (with basics – regardless of the nature of their work) to how do we support big hearts and brilliant minds out of relationship to be able to study further. We all know that education matters, in this instance though – relationship matters too.

• I was privileged in having parents, who still had to sacrifice, but were able to put me through Varsity with no study debt. My friend’s starting point is not this but it could be if we stood next to him in this. If we acknowledged our privilege – our connections, our contexts, our means – and used it to support him. Then maybe there would be more – more people with privilege being seen as people who are there, who truly are committed to seeing things change.

I want to stand beside a friend to see his dreams come true while his family still live and eat and can celebrate his dreams too. So I am talking with others (yes more of us & mixed racial circles), and praying and seeking other people to stand alongside him. Not out of charity. Out of relationship. This is what family does. This is what we do when we are in relationship and see and hear and acknowledge each other’s dreams.

We help find ways of seeing them happen. I have had people doing this with me. And still do. I want to be a part of someone else’s story too.

This was written with the knowledge of my friend whose story challenged mine – I am grateful that he shared his story with me. In doing so it made me a part of his story as much as he became a part of mine.

SAME same but DIFFERENT

Things that are the same same but different are a big part of why I have been forced to slow down and stop sometimes.

This past week I have had lots of time to sit and think and reflect on what is good, what is hard, what is making this soooo very hard.

I know that I am not (mood) depressed – but two of my friends said to me there is a lot of underlying anxiety/ stress. They are wise, and honest and gentle and worth listening to often!

I reflected on what they meant by this and realised that actually there was.

There have been so many changes in the last 18 months, as well as the last 10 years. Many of these amazing changes, worth celebrating, like master’s degrees and mom’s healthy heart, and adventures in Africa and becoming self-employed. Maybe the biggest has been shifting from a 30 something single to a very recently married and very recently 40-something.

We are still in the midst of the unknowns and the pace at which I have been living has made this harder, but actually yes, there is a lot of underlying anxiety at the moment.

The gift this week has been recognising that I have not struggled with accepting more responsibility and the role of being married and a wife, but I have struggled with letting go of what it meant to only be single.

I simply added wife and married onto the existing things.

See I am the same person with the same dreams, passions and convictions but I am having to learn that my life
has changed and that means that the expression of this by default actually needs to change. It means finding clarity and focus and intent differently. It has meant looking at what is working and isn’t working energy wise.

It’s also meant that I have had the opportunity to look at what hasn’t been dealt with personally, or professionally that is fuelling the anxiety.

What are the unknowns and what are the unspoken, unfinished things that need attention?

What do I need to make peace with as possibly never reaching a finish line and what can I process and perhaps find peace in the processing either alone or another?

How can I not be grateful for this gift?

It’s about rest. It’s about peace. It’s about slowing down and it’s about healing. A journey I get to go on with God, myself and with community.

I like that a lot.

GENUINELY WITH: Nyanga, cows, traffic lights and the working part of me

Today I got to climb back into my ‘professional’ skin again after a 4 month break from working in my field – the field where I am comfortable and things seem familiar.  I know I can run groups.  I know I am competent as a therapist.  I know I am able to work cross culturally –in fact I love working in teams and communities that are diverse. 

Today started with a drive to Nyanga, down Wetton Road.   Wetton Road which becomes Govan Mbeki Road is filled with of reminders of my first social work job ever.  I drove over the bridge where I did my first community research as a newly qualified social worker (Assessing a feeding project so that it could be grown into a new season).  I still smell peanut butter sandwiches on chunky brown bread when passing that piece of road.

Signage along Govan Mbeki Road indicates Brown’s Farm, Philippi, Gugulethu, Hanover Park and Mannenberg:  All communities that make up a part of the Cape Flats.  Mannenberg is the site of Ross Kemp’s documentary exploring gangs.  It’s also perhaps one of the most notorious communities in the Western Cape due to the high level of gangsterism.   Nyanga, my destination community, is just past Mannenberg.  In the background to all of these communities are beautiful mountains – in any given direction – not close by, but as a part of the horizon.

This morning I watched 3 HUGE cows enjoying the sights and sounds of the morning traffic from the traffic island.  Who knows how long they had been sitting on that traffic island next to the traffic lights? I saw packs of dogs scavenging, couples pushing shopping trolleys across a road, many micro-enterprises, refuse piled up against “informal” housing and mini-bus taxi’s everywhere.

The group of healthcare workers that I work with (or more specifically consult to twice a month) are part of an amazing healthcare center, in Nyanga. Our meeting room is on the 2nd floor.  From my seat this morning I could see the clouds rolling in over the mountain, groups of unemployed men (or gangs I asked myself?) chatting and others going about their daily activities – this all happening to the background sounds of taxi’s hooting and dogs barking.  My own internal process was assimilating all these things, whilst my professional person was listening, facilitating, summarising, reflecting and planning.  The group I have been tasked to work with has much to teach me, as much as I hope to be able to support and assist in containing & growing them.

Cape Town is often said to be a place on its own – not quiet Africa really.  This morning I could have been on any part of the continent.  Cape Town is only a place on its own when you not able or don’t see the fact that 20 minutes from the beautiful suburb where I live a stark contrast exists.  I know this because I have never had the traffic stopped on my side of the bridges, by a cow with an engorged udder and bloated stomach.  I know this because this morning the harsh face of inequality in Cape Town struck me again. 

It’s amazing knowing that I get to be a part of people living in, and doing amazing work in challenging circumstances.  It was good being back in a place that felt familiar and yet I know that I have much to learn about.  It was hard knowing that I get to climb into my own car, and drive away from the realities that the team I work with face daily and are still called to speak hope, life and resilience into others.  Nyanga was cited as the most dangerous township in South Africa in stats released in 2012 – see more here: (http://yazkam.wordpress.com/2012/09/28/nyanga-township-is-cape-towns-murder-hotspot/)

This past week I have had 2 conversations with women working in different communities and the question repeatedly asked wasHow did I get the life I did and some of my colleagues and friends theirs?

The places I missed while not living in Cape Town were these communities. The children and families whose realities I want to be a part of seeing shift live in these communities.  If we want our rape stats to change, we need focused intervention WITH these communities.  Not for them.  Not against them.  WITH THEM.  That means that while I look at professionally developing my work space in Cape Town, personally I need to work out what it means to be “with”Genuinely “with”.  If I don’t work that out, then the working part of me really won’t matter much in the bigger picture.  

 

Loving WHOLEheartedly

God doesn’t ask us to love in halves……. (2009)

This has been tumbling around in my head; over and over and over again…..during a discussion with a friend recently I was warned to guard my heart in terms of the way I loved a foster baby… through my tears I responded God does not call us to love in halves.  Nowhere in scripture does it say:

Kinda love them

Love, but hold back

Share your love in part…..

Imagine if God only loved us half.  He adopted us so he is under no obligation to love us with everything, I mean we not really, totally his since we get to make choices  – oh and we are going to hurt him and let him down, so you know if He only chooses to love us partially, then that’s okay – NO!!!!!  That is so not what love is: chosen, adopted, love means He does whatever it takes for us to understand what His love means.  Yes God is wise in His loving, knowing we are mortal, but does it mean that he loves us less – NO.  In fact it’s almost as if through our brokenness He gets to share His love with us more.

Guard your heart I hear you say – most definitely I respond.  But who better to guard my heart than the author of love – God.  I mean Jesus knows what it means to hurt for love and if I can’t trust Him with my heart then who is safe?

It may mean my heart feels hurt when things don’t always work out comfortably for me – but He won’t let me be harmed, or damaged or permanently wounded so I can’t love and the reason I know this is because if we are called to love and to be an imitator of His image why would we only need to do this in halves?

SO when I look at A, or people in Mozambique who lose everything to natural disaster, or L whose mom poisoned her and I weep for her, it’s because I have opened my heart to love and to feel compassion in a way that means my heart has to be engaged, not just my head.  It means when I look at A that I see an opportunity to love wholeheartedly, knowing that whether I get to love him for 6 weeks or 6 months or 6 years I get to practice being like Jesus.  I look at A, this little 2 yr old ball of energy and am humbled that I get to love him – what an honour.  Me.  In my brokenness, I, Alexa, get to love unconditionally, with all my heart, someone who can’t give back beyond simply being.  Isn’t that awesome?  He chose me long ago – he was the first child to look at me and call me mama.  This invisible thread that connects us that my mom sees and others’ recognise is simply genuine love.

Will I miss him if he gets parents – of course; would I adopt him full time, 24-7 if I could? Without a doubt.  Can I love him enough to let him go to other parents?  I pray for this to happen, much like I pray that God will open the doors if I am going to be the person who gets to love him for life.

Throughout it all though, how dare I try and love in halves, partially, with a big guard across the entrance to my heart?  That’s not love – that is self-protection.

God has taught me that He wants to be my guard.  He wants to hold my heart in the safest place in the universe – His hand and mould it, and grow it and guide it.

Why is this important?  Imagine if we all let our guards down, just 5% – we just were willing to love 5% more.  Real, genuine love.  How different this world would be.  Imagine the depths of relationship we could attain.  Imagine the amount of hurt that would be healed.  Imagine children growing up learning empathy through living in it.  Imagine how more potent our prayers would be – not just for those we are safe to love, but those we have yet to meet.  People in countries we don’t see, yet hear about all the time – are we willing to allow God to show us His heart, just 5 percent more than what we would normally allow in.  How different would this world be?

SO I look at my world and I ask myself:

Who do I get to love in my world?  Who do I get to treasure in my world?  Who do I get to impact with the heart and mind God birthed in me?  And when I put my head down at the end of my day, I don’t ask myself what did I protect myself against – the question I need to sit with is:

Did I love – wholeheartedly, passionately?  Did I love with wild abandon? Did I love generously?  Did I love the way in which I have been loved?

Did I love?