Tag Archives: #messylife

Some lessons for Mother’s Day from my great great grandmother

Mother’s Day can suck for a lot of people. For some it’s a beautiful and wonderful day with your own mum, and you as a mum. For others it’s a reminder of everything we don’t have.

As a single mum I find it a mixed blessing. It’s a day like any other because who else is going to take care of the kids? There’s no special breakfast in bed, or gifts, or lunches. It’s just the same old same old. Except with a gnawing feeling that other mums are getting something that I don’t.

Except this year. I’m determined not to feel that way this year. Here’s why.

My great-great-grandmother was born Sarah Ann Lee in Hampshire in about 1857. She married my great-great-grandfather (Henry) and they had about 6 children together. He was away at sea a lot – he was an engineer in the Royal Navy just as steam ships were starting to be introduced. Sarah Ann died of tuberculosis after the birth of their last child and Henry married the housekeeper by proxy to ensure there was someone to take care of the children (because I suppose that’s the kind of thing one did back in those days).

By all accounts the housekeeper was not very nice to the children. He was a very loving father though. He wrote a letter to each of the children individually, of which I have inherited one.

“Her children arise up and call her blessed, her husband also, and he praiseth her.” Prov. 31:28.

A token from the father to the children.

In affectionate remembrance of a loving wife and devoted mother. She was the inspirer of all that is best in my character and I do pray her ennobling qualities may be reflected in the children. Patience and contentment with an exalted sense of truth and right pervaded her whole life which from childhood was one of complete trust in God. She always had a cheery word for those in trouble and the old folks of her acquaintance will ever remember her love for them and they with us all sadly miss her bright and happy disposition.”

It’s beautiful. As I reflect on these words, I note how many of the fruits of the spirit were in her. I don’t suppose that she was a perfect angel at all. This is Henry’s loving eulogy to their children, not an editorial comment about her every day behaviour. But there is much to admire here.

She was an inspirer of good in people around her, she was kind, patient, joyful, content, and above all had a complete trust in God. These qualities she, and Henry, prayed would be reflected in the children.

So this Mother’s Day, I’m not going to look at Facebook to see what gifts everyone is getting or what was delivered to their bedside for breakfast. I’m going to look at my children to see the many admirable qualities they already possess. I’m going to take a moment to self-reflect on the good qualities that have been passed on to me from my mum. I’m just going to take time to appreciate the beauty around me in the things that are not obvious, but are so tangible.

“The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.” (Galatians 5:22-23). I see these already in my kids. I mean they also have the gifts of being forgetful, messy and really annoying, but that’s pretty normal! And one thing I know is how proud of them I am for their kind and innocent hearts, their love of God and their wide eyed joy.

Mother’s Day might suck – but we can choose to treat it differently. Switch off Facebook. Take some time. Self-reflect. Look at those around you and see what qualities you have inspired in them, and they in you.

Look to Christ Jesus because great-great-grandma Walker’s beauty was underpinned by a complete trust in God. He is the inspirer of all that is good in us, and what he grows in me, I pray I can pass on to my children, and always see it there, and praise them for it.

Are your coping mechanisms actually sabotaging you?

As children, all of us find ways of surviving in our environment. We develop learned behaviours to manage situations we find ourselves in, or avoid certain situations all together. These are coping mechanisms. They’re the means we develop to protect ourselves.

For example, some learn from an early age to over-compensate. If your stressor revolves around a fear of failure and how people will react to you when they do, you may tend towards perfectionism – trying to go out of your way to help people and please people and not disappoint them. So you might go overboard to organise and make everything okay.

Other may compensate for areas they feel a failure in by covering it up and throwing their energies into another (apparently more successful) area of their lives, like work. Others deny their feelings. Some repress fears or impulses. Everyone’s is different and can be a combination.

All of these are the natural means we have developed in response to our environment from our earliest days to manage stress. As we get older, they become our emotional and behavioural norm.

But sometimes we find ourselves in situations that our defence mechanism is powerless against. When under stress, we work harder and harder in our natural defences. We spin our wheels faster and faster because that’s all we know. Why isn’t this working? We listen to our inner voice that tells us what to do and say and how to feel because that is the only inner voice we’ve had since childhood.

When the walls come crashing in, and our defence mechanisms don’t work, we find ourselves defenceless, scared, helpless and vulnerable. We can even find ourselves exhausted and hopeless. When you have no defences, all you can do is pray for the safety of Jesus’ arms to take you to a place where you don’t have to fear any more.

At best, you might burn out. At worst, the trauma is so relentless, and the lack of defence so palpable, you might just lie listless and hollow, praying for death.

In either of these situations, and everything in between, we need our Christian sisters and a trusted professional. Because it takes time and help to find a new voice to listen to – a new voice that can help us cope without leading us into old (and unhelpful) habits.

Consider this, your coping mechanism might be hyper-vigilance which is usually a learned behaviour in response to prolonged trauma. This means that your threat response is intense and ever-present. You may have taught yourself that the way to respond to stress is to be “on” all the time – 24/7 and 360 degrees. Your inner voice tells you to be looking for threats everywhere all the time so you can be ready to defend yourself and those close to you.

This is our coping mechanisms on steroids. This is our inner voice at its most over-active.

I’m not saying we’ve all learned wrong. Most inner voices are fine and help us cope on a day to day basis without any drama. What I have learned recently though, is that the inner voice of an over-active coping mechanism is not one that is helpful. We have been stripped bare. Our defences are down. All we know is to keep trying the same defences and hoping desperately that it will protect you.

Except it doesn’t. So we need a new inner voice.

As Christians this becomes so much easier for us. Don’t worry, I’m not going to say something trite like “just read your Bible and pray and Jesus will become your new voice”. Firstly, it’s just not that easy. Secondly, the voice has to be your authentic voice – not someone else’s.

What it does give us though is a foil for our own current voice. In the face of trauma, do we really think that Jesus would tell us to be “on” 24/7 and never let up for a second? I don’t think so. That would be a terrible thing to advise someone. Which means our voice is flawed, handicapped by our own learned behaviour. Standing back and looking at our voice like this, helps us to see it for what it is.

What would Jesus tell us? I have no idea. But if I am in the Word as often as I can be, my instincts and discernment will be shaped in a God-ward direction, in his strength and his resolve and his faithfulness. If I am in prayer, asking the Spirit for wisdom, clarity and peace, I will be moulded. I will be alert to what my old instincts were telling me and more equipped to hear a fledgling new voice – a voice that is coming from my new resilience.

It’s a process of allowing God to re-configure us in a manner that has just enough capacity to absorb difficulties when they arise.

Jesus warned there would be tribulation, but that we may have peace in him because he has overcome the world (John 16:33). Paul, in writing to the Philippians, tells them that in staying close to God in prayer, God’s peace, which transcends all understanding will guard their hearts (Phil. 4:7).

We know these things. But there is no silver bullet here. We can abide in Christ, and seek his help in understanding the unhelpful coping mechanisms that are actually sabotaging us. And then, in him, we can gradually move to re-calibrating our learned behaviour as we build a new resilience.

Is “living your best life” attainable and what does it look like?

I don’t really know what “living your best life” means. First of all, how do we know what our “best life” is? We can’t possibly know, surely. We haven’t lived it all yet. Does it mean “living to what I feel is my fulfilled potential”? Or does it mean “living joyfully and freely and with nothing to worry about”. Possibly. So surely what we really mean is, “living the life I dream of”.

What sits behind this is the feeling of satisfaction. Feeling satisfied means feeling complete, peaceful and contented. To feel completely satisfied means to feel happiness. Now, we often think that these feelings are states of being – that happiness or satisfaction is a constant state of experience. This is just not the case, nor can it be.

This struck me the other day when I returned home from dinner with A Mate. I’d had a great day. I did some writing I was really proud of, I didn’t have to be in the office for my day job for another couple of days, and I really like my job so that wasn’t even a big deal. I felt really close to God and had some great devotional time. Then I saw My Mate and we’d had a super lovely evening. We’d laughed and connected. It was still early so we got to have our own time before bed (top consideration when you get to my age). It was a really perfect night.

Then I got home and my new dog had poo’d in her crate and then done that doggy digging motion and sprayed the plops through the bars and all over the living room. As I wiped and mopped I cogitated on the dignity of my life and the fact that “your best life” will always probably have some dog poo on it.

This may sound flippant but it’s worth thinking about because contentment and satisfaction underpin how we approach life – or rather, how we let life approach us.

You see, if we think there is a “best life” we will constantly feel dis-satisfied. Or at least only satisfied in the fleeting moments in which we feel replete – during a relaxing holiday when the cares of the world seem far away, in a new relationship that is thrilling and romantic, when we self-medicate with our favourite pleasure to take our attention away from the fact that we feel horribly mediocre.

If we aren’t careful then, we will live for transitory moments that we wish would last forever, and bemoan our woefully inadequate lives which never match up to what we think our “best life” should be (or what it looks like in the movies).

Now it’s an easy thing to say we should feel satisfied in Christ, as though it’s the answer to all our problems. It would certainly be true, but not necessarily too helpful at this point.

So what to do?

Well, first of all, it’s OK to want a “best life”, to feel satisfied and replete. It’s even OK to want holidays and nice times and money and a better job.

What’s less OK is to let it take over. If always wanting the next best thing is all you think about, if you live for your next holiday, if you are constantly dissatisfied, that’s something to consider carefully. There may be some things in there to repent of. There may be some pride or covetousness.

Here’s something else to consider. Our dissatisfaction itself can be sinful because what we’re saying is that we are not content with where God has placed us and what he has given us. That’s a harsh truth.

The antidote to this is gratitude. What has he given us? We must practice our powers of observation and thankfulness.

If we are in a situation that is making us unhappy, one of two things needs to occur – we need to change our situation, or change our attitude. In either case, the object of the change needs to not be us, but Christ. Is this holiday so I can focus on a fleeting “best life” moment? Or so I can take time with my family, who are my first ministry? Am I looking for a new job because I want power and prestige? Or because a higher salary would allow me to give more to my church, or allow my family members to volunteer more, or have a greater platform to witness to others? Remember, Proverbs 16:2 says “All the ways of a man are clean in his own sight, but the Lord weighs motives.” Our motivations, our choices, are the proof of where our heart is.

Some of us are in a situation that is extremely difficult to feel content in. Some of us suffer in sickness. Some are burdened. Some are heavy of spirit. Some are strangled in poverty. Some are put upon by others, pressured and oppressed. For some, a “best life” seems like an impossible dream.

For those people, know that nobody is living their best life. Even on their best days there is dog poo to clean up.

Take a look also, for encouragement, at my blog on finding peace (you can read it here). This gives us hope and certainty that there will be a best day. There will be an unending best life, with him.

Until then, we must strive to be satisfied – but satisfied in the right thing and for the right reasons. We must rise above our circumstances knowing there is something greater, just as Paul did when in prison:

I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.” (Philippians 4:12)

Paul achieved this the way we can achieve it. By taking his strength from Christ. But just because Paul said it, doesn’t mean it was easy for him. He was human just like us. He had a shady past and he was kind of a jerk sometimes. But he learned what he needed to learn through his faith in Christ alone. Paul was living his best life, even in poverty and persecution and personal attack and imprisonments. Because he persevered in his faith and growth and obedience.

We too must constantly seek to grow and to guard our hearts, even among the difficulties and the dog poo.

This moment. This. Moment. The realness is astonishing

There are some things you know so well that you go onto auto-pilot. The crucifixion is one of those things. Yup. Heard it. Know it. Saw the musical. What’s for morning tea?

Except there is a moment when it hits you full in the face like a bucket of cold water. The reality is so chilling that you see the cross as though it was the first time. And we need this moment.

Jesus famously cries out from the cross “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46). Why did he say this? I mean, he had been tortured, imprisoned, beaten, and now he was nailed to a cross, the Roman instrument of brutal execution. But Jesus is fully God So it’s hard for us to understand the cross in human terms. We intellectually get that crucifixion was horrific, but he’s God so it was always gonna be alright…right?

So why did he say those particular words?

He is quoting the first line of Psalm 22……

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, so far from my cries of anguish?

………which suggests that there is something there we need to see.

All who see me mock me; they hurl insults, shaking their heads. “He trusts in the Lord,” they say, “let the Lord rescue him. Let him deliver him, since he delights in him.” (Psalm 22:8, written about 600 years before Jesus’ death).

Those who passed by hurled insults at him, shaking their heads and saying, “So! You who are going to destroy the temple and build it in three days, come down from the cross and save yourself!” In the same way the chief priests and the teachers of the law mocked him among themselves. “He saved others,” they said, “but he can’t save himself! Let this Messiah, this king of Israel, come down now from the cross, that we may see and believe.” Those crucified with him also heaped insults on him.” (Mark 15:29-32 written about 30 years after Jesus’s death).

This was foretold. It had long been foretold. This humiliation. This death. It was no accident.

But also in this psalm, the psalmist gives voice to the loneliness of suffering that we can all relate to. Where are you God? I’m so alone. This suffering is unbearable. Jesus apparently speaks into these feelings by quoting just one line. The depth of his emotional suffering is palpable.

But Jesus’ physical pain is described in Psalm 22 too.

I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint. My heart has turned to wax; it has melted within me. My mouth is dried up like a potsherd, and my tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth.” (Psalm 22:14-15)

Poetry is so expressive. I read these lines and see Jesus on the cross, his limbs twisted and mangled, his flesh ripped, in all the physical anguish that is possible for a human to bear.

Sit with that for a moment. Because when we say “Jesus died on the cross” it can be a distant concept – an idea that’s too far, too alien for us to see clearly. But this is where we see it. The agony. The loneliness. The heart-breaking torturous physical pain.

You would think this would be the point that Jesus is trying to communicate in as few words as possible. And it is an important one – because it connects us to the realness of his suffering.

But Psalm 22 doesn’t end there.

From you comes the theme of my praise in the great assembly; before those who fear you I will fulfill my vows. The poor will eat and be satisfied; those who seek the Lord will praise him – may your hearts live forever!” (Ps 22:5)

Posterity will serve him; future generations will be told about the Lord. They will proclaim his righteousness, declaring to a people yet unborn: He has done it!” (Ps. 22: 30-31)

If these were Jesus’ last implied words, these are profound. The praise. The promise. The hope. The certainty. He has done it.

This Easter Friday, remember. Reconnect with the memory of the cross. Sit for a moment in the startling realness of what Jesus went through. It makes what has been done all the more astonishing and wonderful.

What if you could see yourself the way others do?

Is confidence seeing yourself as others do? Or is it seeing yourself as you would like to be seen? Is it being fierce and fabulous or quiet and sure? Or is it just being content with the way you are?

The point may be moot since I’ve never met a woman who was completely confident in herself. We may be confident in some areas of our lives and looks but not with our whole body and life, and not all the time. There’s always something we’d like to change. There’s always something we’d like to do better, or more of, or less of.

Some of these insecurities run deep. Some of us take prescription meds to function. Some of us self-medicate in other ways. Some of us try and hide what we don’t want people to see. Some of us just can’t bring ourselves to believe what others tell us. Why? Because it’s arrogant to believe we’re great? Because its vulgar to brazenly accept compliments? Because we can’t, in the deepest darkest places of our hearts, believe that kind of thing is true?

Not me, we think. Not me. And we laugh a little too hard, or shrug it away, or blush and change the subject. All the while we live our lives in clothes that are a bit too big, so we can cover the lumps and bumps, and not saying things because we might show ourselves up, or saying things we don’t mean so people don’t find out what we really think.

It’s all about hiding. As though if people saw or knew the real us, they wouldn’t like it.

As Christians, there is an extra anxiety. In the book of Romans, it says “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Romans 5:8. Not me, we think. It’s a knee-jerk reaction in our brains. Not me. God couldn’t love me. Christ didn’t die for me.

We know in our brains that God loves us. But believing it is something else.

Why? When God has shown his love by sacrificing his own son to bring us to him, why would we doubt for a second his love for us?

You know, I think its because our faith is in ourselves rather than in him. That sounds wrong because surely with low self-esteem, we have no faith in ourselves! But actually, if we believe our self-talk rather than God’s, what does that say? Our faith is in what we think about ourselves, rather than what God has explicitly said about us.

I have been learning a lot lately about life and faith and courage. I feel stronger in spirit and closer to God than ever before. And yet, in my head, I am a lumpy old potato. That is not how God sees me.

A friend recently bought me a make-over and photo session. I would never normally do something like that I have to admit I was terrified and cried a bit too – I knew I wanted to look fabulous, but there is the whole potato-truth thing. There is no photo that can cover that up.

Well, I did it. And it was hard. But it was so worth it. It really made me question where self-image comes from, and why I find it so hard to believe God over myself.

So how do we believe it? Here’s my thinking:

Give it time. You can’t believe something overnight. Especially something as intensely personal as this. Allow it to percolate through your thinking over time. Which leads to my second marker;

Think about it. Don’t avoid thinking about it. Actually make a point of ruminating on it. Thinking about it repeatedly makes it normal, and it needs to be normal.

Take the focus off yourself and put it on God. Let’s stop thinking in terms of what I think about myself and instead think about what God thinks. Write it down. Writing it down makes it concrete. You can go back and look at it in black and white. It’s real.

What would you write? Try thinking about all the amazing things that you do and are. Here’s some starters – God sees me as:

  1. His child
  2. His chosen one
  3. A mum
  4. A woman who can make my kids feel better just by hugging them
  5. A woman who strives to learn about God
  6. A woman of enormous curiosity

Try it. Keep adding to it. If you’re so inclined, scrapbook it. Add pictures. Draw on it. Do it with friends if you find it too hard to start. Do what you like. But on those days when you need it, go and review it and know that the list is written in your hand, and be inspired by how God sees you and your ability to see it too.

Finally, know that having confidence is a quiet thing and its not a forever thing. It is quiet because it is a calm knowledge of how God sees you, which will always be better than we see ourselves. And its not a forever thing because it’s not like we can “get confidence” and then keep it forevs. It rises and falls, it ebbs and flows. There will be good days and bad days. But not for God. “For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight.” Ephesians 1:4

In the meantime, here’s what a lumpy old potato looks like when you put make-up on it.