Winter’s First Breath.

It’s officially the first week of winter here in the Southern Hemisphere. I cannot believe I’m beginning my second winter of 2016! There are a lot of beautiful things about winter: wearing sweaters, sipping hot drinks and cosying by a fire. Although not one for selfies (but what you gonna do when you are semi-new to a place and don’t have much photo evidence of friends yet) Here is a photo of me this week, while embracing all three of those things and trying to mentally brace myself for (another!) winter ahead…

  

Perhaps the subject of winter is even worthy of another post. For now I simply wanted to share some photos from around Oamaru this week-with the roaring sea on one side and the majestic, white mountains in plain view on the other side. Enjoy!
   
  
    

   
  

Isn’t it just breathtaking?

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How do you like your steak?

…and the fight to remain tender hearted.

  
The only photo in the archives that was remotely appropriate for such a title.

Yea…again with the strange titles…I just have to keep going with it at this stage. So my little input about meat, first of all. I do enjoy meat occassionally although I LOVE vegetables (I sometimes feel like people make it into a competition between the two). So my daily diet doesn’t consist of meat but it is a weekly treat. And how do I like my steak, you may be wondering…. pink and a little bit of blood wouldn’t phase me either. Some tender piece of meat that doesn’t have the texture of rubber or make your jaw hurt from all the chewing. It may still moo and I’m ok with my food talking to me. HOWEVER, what I think more importantly about is the condition of my heart and here is some background into that, as well as how I still experience the tension between being tender hearted and not becoming hardened by circumstances, people or even myself.

I guess my family would have always called me ‘sensitive’ as a hormonal teenager and I don’t think it was ever meant as a compliment. At least, I never took it that way, maybe I was too sensitive over being called sensitive or something like that… In fact, I equally used it as an insult to my brothers when arguments became heated. As I write this down, it dawns on me that I don’t think that that was a good use of the word ‘sensitive’. Why have we been using it as a negative comment? Yes, being sensitive can cause you not to view situations as they truly are or quickly take people up in the wrong way. However, with all good qualities comes struggles with that. If you think about it though, being sensitive to your environment and others can be a huge benefit. It can help you recognise needs when words haven’t even been spoken. It can catch you mid sentence before you say something that will tear someone down. It can give understanding to why so and so reacted in that way and it can give you compassion towards others. A few months ago, I was heartbroken over how I was treated by someone and one advice that really stuck out to me was from the lovely Cheryl. She told me that it was ok to feel angry or hurt, it was ok to have feelings about it, but not to lose the tenderness and become hardened and bitter by it. And that can be a reoccuring struggle as we experience various hurts and disappointments throughout our lives. How do we keep soft when what we really want to do is build a stone wall for defense and fire rockets at any thing that could potentially hurt us? How do we have compassion when we have given people a chance and the results aren’t so lovely? How do we keep tenderhearted when relationships have been breached? How do we keep from bitterness when we see others seeming to thrive as we experience those hurts and disappointments? 

When I was in college, I think I had a little bit of an identity crisis. Who was I? What did I want from my life? I always saw myself as ‘this’ but now it’s not quite looking like ‘that’? What is going on and how come it is not unfolding how I thought it would? I faced disappointments and hurts that came from my actions and from the actions of others. I experienced unforgiving peers and couldn’t forgive myself most of all. I started to build walls and I closed myself in them. I genuinely thought I didn’t deserve to ever have a friend again (until some time later I came in contact with Aoife but that is another blog post…). Within these walls,  I recalled back to the days of being called ‘sensitive’ and after spending so much of this time crying, I decided tht that wasn’t me any longer. I was hardened and had become tougher after this. I was also miserable and a lonely mess. I had been known as someone who wore their heart on their sleeve but now not one single person knew what I really felt inside because I wasn’t going to tell anyone. There were still loving family and friends surrounding me but I chose to close myself off and I take responsibility for that. I genuinely thought that no one understood what I was going through or that they would be disappointed in me if I expressed what I was really thinking.
I still feel some of this at times but my actions are different and I do open up to others. Life isnt exactly what I thought it would be.(Please read When We Limit Imagination, if you get the time) In so many ways, it’s absolutely better especially when I realize that I get to live in such a beautiful country and have breathtaking views shared with others every day. In other ways, I would have loved if certain things didn’t happen or I could have avoided certain friendships or people, but with all of that, the only thing I can control is how I react to these situations and that is the most crucial as it determines whether my heart will be tender or tough.(read When The Heart Is Healing for more on this) 

So amoungst my little idenity crises, there was another element that put me under the heat. My brother Josh and I are pretty close in age with him being two years younger than I. We are also good friends and hung out even when we were in college, so much so that people thought we were dating…which is probably not something I should really be sharing with the world. ANYWAYS, when I was going through this time in college, our friendship broke down too. Josh wasn’t so sensitive to me (and his wife now teases him about his lack of..) and I was becoming more of an ice queen ( I want to use another word, and I’m sure you can guess what that is. It rhythms with itch). I was in such a mess and he seemed to be thriving. Off to America he went to Bible school and within a month or two, he was engaged. I was happy for him and so delighted that I was the first in our family that he shared it with but my heart was breaking. I guess I simply felt the stark contrast of what a mess I was and how he seemed to have everything together.

 This is the comparison game of which I’m currently reading a book about, and I’m sure another post will follow on this subject. When I was at the Acheson household the other week, I was reminded of how siblings want to make sure everything is equal. The cookies we baked had to be counted and equally distributed. Even though, I’m the grown up and think that I get to eat however many I want! Perhaps we grow up thinking that life will be like that but come to find out pretty quickly that it doesn’t quite work out like that. The cookies life gives us are not distributed equally or not at the same time. But that’s alright because although my cookie may be chocolate and yours peanut butter, doesn’t mean that one is better than the other. Why am I always relating everything to food.. . back to steak…

This was all the family’s topic of discussion for majority of the time. I felt like everything that had to do with me was a disappointment to my parents and everything to do with Josh was to be recognised with happy celebrations.( which it should have been recognised. These steps are awesome!) It’s kinda crazy how this was implied in recent times; when my brother in-the-moment spoke of a particular topic of conversation that involved me that carried a disappointment for my family while his subject or news brought …again celebrations. I mention this not as a martyr complex or to paint my brother in a bad light (because he is of no fault) but to explain the differences of then and now. To take responsibility for my actions, to show others how dangerous my reaction was to myself and my relationships and also to recognise that I’m learning from this with a different response than before.

 So back to a few years ago. I decided that I wasn’t going to cry over this because that would mean I was being sensitive and crying doesn’t change anything. So all I can do, is get through the hype of the wedding and get on with my own life. Talk about mixed emotions, I wanted to smile while joining in on the wedding festivities and seeing my brother become a husband but overwhelmed with a deep sadness and sense of loss. I was the opposite of tender hearted, I was becoming calloused and filled with a great anger ( I guess at myself and life). I felt like I couldn’t explain what I was going through because people would be horrified by my thoughts. I mean I shouldn’t have been too concerned about what I looked like because I was doing a fine job of showing a very miserable and bitter person to whoever came across my paths. I know I hurt people in the process and I was a very hurt individual too. I could go into more detail of ways in which I allowed my heart to become colder but will stop for now. You get the picture.
It’s hard for me to write this as I still am afraid that people will think that I’m a heartless monster. My pride wants people to think I’ve got it all together but I suppose no one really does, so who are we fooling? Maybe, someone out there reads this and gets it. If it simply helps us to understand one another and how to live with thankfulness and not bitterness, well, I’m alright with that too. I still struggle with not becoming calloused. Over the past year and a half, I know that God has taken a ‘heart of stone and made it flesh’ (Ezekiel 36.26) and I pray that He continues to as life brings both pleasant times and times of disappointment. Before, I bottled everything up, I didn’t even feel like I could express my thoughts to God, even though I knew that He knew what was already there. He knows my standing and my sitting , as it says in Psalm 139. Instead now, I try to run to Him with my thoughts and allow Him to comfort and heal, as opposed to trying to cover up open wounds with useless band aids. I was trying to be tough in an unhealthy way and like a tough piece of meat all I got was a lot of chewing, no nourishment and a sore jaw. God says he makes His people strong and He gives them peace in Psalm 29.11. Real strength and real peace. Being strong doesn’t mean that you can’t cry or express your feelings. It means that you can and as you release them over to the Lord, He in return gives you peace. You become more like Christ, you are softened to love others and put their needs before your own. He gives you His perspective on situations even if your sensitive feelings scream something else, like ‘it’s not fair!”. I write this to encourage others not to allow hurts or disappointments to harden your tender heart. Here are some ways in which I would suggest how to do so. It keeps me on track as well, because sometimes the temptation to hold on creeps up .
1. Run to God. Pour out your heart, with every emotion and thought. He already knows and He will be your solace, strength and wisdom through it.

2. Be open and honest with yourself and with others about how you struggle. Let’s llead a generation that is passionate about being real!

3. Use your sensitivity to think about others, and try to imagine walking in their shoes to better understand them before you brush them off.

4. Don’t fall into the trap of comparison when it seems as if others are thriving while you are hurting.

5. Don’t let bitterness creep into your conversations of which can be so easy to do! Don’t entertain it as a guest at your table or in the quiet of your thoughts.

6. Don’t lose your tenderness so that others can experience Christ’s love for us, despite living in a world hostile towards him.

I feel like I should also add here. That I do shed a tear…quite often. If it’s not for myself, it’s when someone is sharing their struggles. I would usually roll my eyes at my mother or Ally for being very much a tear shedder. But I know I can learn from them too. I’m so thankful for my brother and sister in law, they are my dearest and closest friends. I’m also glad that Josh has a sensitive wife. It makes me want to point the finger, laughing and say ‘See, the joke is on you for calling me sensitive all those years, cause now you have one around you for the rest of your life..’ Obviously, I would say this without any bitterness.I also feel like I should mention that my parents aren’t horrible people either, in case it came across that way. This was how I felt at the time and that’s why it is important to tell others how you feel so they have the chance to provide insight and clarity.

Four kids in one week.

Some of you may know ( and some of you may not know because I didn’t have as much time to share these things) that recently I had the opportunity and responsibility to look after two teenagers and two children for a week. Normally, you have one child at one time and ease your way into it perhaps (if ease is the word to use?). I have to say that although busy, it went breezier than anticipated but here are some thoughts that I have taken away from that time. So for this short post, I want to share just a few things from the week, however, in another post I would like to share the point of view of a woman who does not yet have children. This subject is especially close to my heart right now so might take a little longer to ruminate. And I think it is something that every woman from every stage should take the time to read. But for now…
  

My intial thought before entering the week was: I’m a teacher and I’m use to 30 teens in one room and all of the responsibility, organisation and discipline that goes with that. So I think I will survive with four and like to think that I would have the patience and the adaptability to not become easily perplexed or frustrated in certain situations. However, at the end of the day I have ‘my time’ to relax and wind down. Instead my week with four additions was replaced with making sure all were fed and clean, as well as ticking off the other essentails on the list. Let’s just say it now too, Moms are also a taxi service as well as a juggler of time, places and events. Lack of sleep and perhaps lack of time to yourself or conversing with other adults should never be taken for granted. I guess Moms have to find the moments in between to read a book or have a cup of coffee, as we all need a little r&r.

When you have kids, you simply don’t get to do all the things that you want to do and when you want to do them! I remember my brother once saying that marriage is a great way to show you your selfishness and then children are another way to show you it too! Did I really want to spend three hours of my Saturday morning watching soccer? Saturday mornings usually involve coffees with friends, writing my blog, reading my book, going for walks… Not watching highly energetic kids run after a ball. With a family, you have others to consider more than yourself. I just booked a flight to the north island for a weekend. I looked at my schedule and once I chose a date that was free of youth events, then I went ahead with my plans. I have that freedom now and also have opportunities that might not have been possible in another stage of life. I’ve been able to walk where not many have walked, experience other cultures with endless cups of coffees getting to know new people from those cultures.  And to iterate what I spoke about in my last post, it has made me appreciate the things that I do have now and not what I don’t have.Last week also made me think about being a single parent and how hard or lonely it could be. That the support from outside is vital too and that we should all look to ways to support one another-despite the various stages we are at. 

I can imagine that there can often be overwhelming times when taking care of a family, and it brings a smile to my face when I think of cooking with one of the children one of the nights. I thought it would be fun to have breakfast for dinner so the plan was to make pancakes and bacon. The family owns a thermomix (any chance Amanda gets, she is bound to bring her fifth baby into conversation, thermomix). I thought that this amazing robot could fix all problems in the kitchen, not cause them. Although the thermomix works wonders, it can only do so when it is put together correctly. Luke discovered, after about five seconds, that this wasn’t the case as milk began to escape and send a white waterfall over the counter top. Already covered in flour and as the saying goes “there’s no point crying over spilt milk.”, Luke and myself included felt like giving up. It can be funny (afterwards) how little things can tip us over the edge and it all seems hopeless. But even amongst the overwhelming, parents are to be recognised as leaders in such situations. They might not be void of the stress or emotions, but they lead the others through it, giving reassurance of hope. And that is what happened in the Acheson kitchen that night where we found ourselves soon laughing with the mixure browning in the pan. 

This isn’t a post for describing all the things that inconvenience us in our responsibilities in caring for younger teens or children. As well as hormones and buggers, they each bring laughter and imagination to the home. It’s messy and it can be unpredictable. It’s not as neat or planned as the home of the single or the couple who knows who put what where. We can usully expect that dinner will get on the table whenever we make it happen without interruptions of sorts. Isn’t that a type of adventure too-the unexpected? It shakes people like I, who like routine, and it’s a really good thing! Who wants to remain the same and not be challenged or stretched? It might be the easy way, but it can be boring and lazy to remain in that state. So whatever can challenge you today( doesn’t have to be kids) Go for it! And remember that adventure can either happen in the home or outside the home, again, I am learning more and more about the importance of perspective.

Also, having children and teens around brings creativity and it’s fun to remove the adult jacket, so to speak, for a few moments and make a mess building a fort in the living room-getting lost in a part of your own childhood as well as the activity itself. How awesome is that. I won’t lie, I have buildt more forts as an adult than as a child. Teens and children have an insightful perspective to life too and I love it when I am surprised by the profound statement of a toddler or the kind gesture of a teenager. Little people bring an excitement and sense of wonder -like anything is possible! How encouraging is it to be around that, and to encourage it in them also!

Then comes the hugs at the end of the day, or the end of the week. Wow. I can’t imagine having a child of my own and being embraced in such a way. I’m so thankful for the family I have here, that are not blood related but have embraced me as one of their own. I was priveleged to be a part of this for a week.

And well done to all you hardworking and loving parents out there!

  

This is an older photo of the four. Joshua, Lee, Luke and Hannah. Doesn’t it just spell out trouble? haha..just kidding.. Photo cred goes to Fiona Anderson.

On a side note to some young moms that I know: you have a beautiful role to play and I can appreciate it. But I would like to write in another post about the temptation to be consumed with this role and exclusion to those outside of it. How sometimes the church ,in particular, confuses womanhood with motherhood and how destructive this can become in our view of women in the church and in society. I want to wrap that in as much compassion and understanding as I can for both types of women but also want my voice to be heard, as I (and others like me) have felt ignored or bypassed in conversations with women in Christian circles. So before I end up writing another post here…. stay tuned 🙂

Coffee, Chocolate and Cigars…

…what they have taught me about life.

With a title like this, even I wonder what is going to come out of my mouth. All I know is that these are a few of one’s favourite things and surely there is some kind of lesson we can take from it. Perhaps, the lesson is that these things are not so good for us… but hey, it’s all about moderation…blah blah blah.  I am all for living a healthy lifestyle but you have to enjoy life too. So in regards to balance ( and this is an insight into how my brain works) here is how I will categorise and expound on these three pleasures-coffee, chocolate and cigars.

  

This is me with my cinnamon showered cappuchino at Tees St Cafe. Clearly giving me inspiration for one of my blog posts.

1. Coffee.  First of all, a little bit about the part that coffee plays in my life. Simply thinking of a coffee mug or take away cup brings such an excitement to me that I recently thought of getting a small tattoo of it. That’s probably not going to happen (just in case it turns out to be one of those ‘why did I do this?’ moments) but the thought has been considered. A quaint cafe, next to a window ( for stalking purposes obviously), with the sound of a machine pouring the black liquid gold. Some people who know me laugh and ask the stupid question of ‘are you going for coffee today?’. Uh….am I breathing? Then yes. Do I even really like the taste of it THAT much? I’m not quite sure, depending on my mood I can take it any way, with or without sugar or milk. Ah it’s so great…coffee. And before I portray myself as an addict (because I’m not), I try to limit myself to just one coffee a day, although today I have had two..but who is counting?

So now for the application. Coffee is an every day pleasure. It is a reminder for me to be content in the simple things and not always to be living through those big mountain top experiences, that are only meant to be with us on occassion. Sometimes even as I’m parttaking in my favourite activity of hanging out in a coffee shop, thoughts of where I am going next or what I am doing for the day often robs me of the peace that there is in simply sitting down and enjoying those moments with a cup of coffee. It reminds of how I can allow worries of the future or current circumstances to rob me from expereincing the peace and the happiness of where I am now. I suppose it is more about our perspective on life and being appreciative for what is around you and not always looking towards the next high. I use to have a friend who was terrified of being termed as boring ( something none of us wants to be remembered by) but it actually influenced her life and those around her. What was the next exciting thing that is crazy and will shock people? If we live by that and don’t learn to be content with what we do have, then we will always be hungry and never be satisfied. I actually started to write this post two weeks ago (last week I was busy watching four kids for the week but that is another post), I really need to remind myself of these things now because I am guilty too of not being content with what I have. Sometimes it is the pressures I put on myself and sometimes it is what others impress upon me and how they think life should look like for someone of my age right now. I have the disposible time to go to a cafe, as I learned last week, I might not have as much of those luxuries in the next stage. 

I think another reason why I am enjoy coffee is because it reminds me of people. I remember a friend of my friend, Alison, came from North Carolina, USA last year. Even though he didn’t know me, he raised questions for what I enjoy most from life and what I could give back also. One of the things he asked me was if I could choose anything to do all day what would it be? I told him that meeting people over coffee would be my top answer. Made me think about whether it was really about the coffee or was it about the connecting? Perhaps it is because I have come to know friends and acquaintances through this and because hearts have been poured over cups of coffee. Not that there is any power in the beans itself, but I think it is a venue we can use for opening up and sharing life with one another- moments of laughter and tears, our good news and our bad news. 
Maybe I do have a problem, but if meeting and getting to know people is a problem, well then, I’m in trouble.

2. Chocolate. Ok, so I love chocolate. Pretty much anything that is smothered in chocolate is delicious. It is my weakness and I try to be strong but sometimes I just cave and a chocolate bar later, I wonder if it was worth it? Yes, probably… I’m going to pretend now for the sake of catergorizing, that chocolate is not a daily pleasure but makes a regular appearance. Let’s say it’s the weekend treat. So it’s not a daily coffee but it is somthing to look forward to at the end of a busy week, when you sit down with friends, or read a book or watch a movie. It’s the treat that sits on tables of birthday parties and gatherings. We socialize around it and it can sometimes be used for consolation purposes…or maybe that’s just my prefered method. Chocolate is the pleasure and the things in life that we experience on a somewhat regular basis. It is the thing we look forward to, such as meeting up with friends, a BBQ or going to the movies. It takes a bit more preparation than preparing a cup of coffee, but it’s no week long vacation in the Carribean either. It can help get us through our week and it reminds us again, that life is how we view it and the simplicity of sitting around a table with loved ones can give us the boost that we need and shower us with happiness too. 

I think these offer times of relaxation and just plain fun. I was talking to my mother the other day (who I may posses some traits from , if I was willing to admit that). Like her, I actually find it difficult to fully relax sometimes because there is always something that needs to be done. I even feel guilty at times because I think that you must work hard before you can play hard, and it is something that I need to put into better perspective. However, it is necessary to have these times to ourselves, or with others, relaxing and enjoying the regular pleasures and to be rejuveniated. That’s why it is necessary to have chocolate in our lives too ( I knew I had to fit that in there somehow!)

3. Cigars. I feel like the first thing that I must say here is that smoking cigars are bad for you. I’m not advocating it and I’m not sharing about having any kind of personal relationship with this activity. What I am saying is that the cigars are like the big guns saved for the graduations, weddings, the birth of a baby, retirement, and other big celebrations. They are not known for being smoked every day or once a week, they are taken out of their box for the ‘once in a lifetime’ moments. They are our mountain top experiences so to speak and there is nothing wrong with enjoying them as they come. They are special and rare, and deserve to be savoured. Ever notice (in the movies or from other observations) that people don’t just quickly puff on a cigar and are on their way? It isn’t a cheaper commodity such as coffee and chocolate, it usually is more expensive (or else you might as well roll up some dirt and smoke that). They are given their proper time because it is not something that we experience daily or regularly for that matter. We shouldn’t live solely for them but they are not to be forgotten either! And that is all I will say about cigars :)Lately, I have been reading about seasons of life in Ecclesiastes. 

There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens. Ecclesiastes 3.1

God know us personally and He knows what timing is best for us. He also wants us to be content in wherever we are at. I think that this is by appreciating the small things as well as the big things in life. Sometimes people want to live ony for the chocolate or the ‘cigar’ moments but those are not for everyday. They might not be for now. So what do you do in the mean time? Complain and moan and become as bitter as that sip of coffee or that square of chocolate. Till they arrive and once they do arrive, wonder what will be the next ‘cigar’ moment. The cycle keeps going and its dangerous. It is also dangerous for us to rob others of their appreciation for the stage they are at. We want to rub it in that we are in that mountain top experience and it is the BEST! Yes, it is the best. For you. But maybe not for everyone. We should be encouraging each other with our cups of coffee and chocolate too! Cause although small, they are still to be recognised, or else we will just create an ungrateful atmosphere that seeks only ‘the once in a life time’ and wastes all the other moments along the way.

Read Ecclesiastes, refocus and ultimately know that only God satisfies, every hunger and every thirst. In the small and in the big.

And drink coffee every day cause it’s delicious.