Thursday, September 25, 2014

When Spring is at the wrong time of the year and other ramblings

Sometimes life just takes some good old hard work.
I ventured out into our garden this week and decided that it was all just too overgrown and something needed to be done. Spring is supposed to be here, the annoying plover who was squawking aggressively from the roof next door has thankfully disappeared and looking at the clover that was pushing a foot high, I knew it was time for some gardening graft.

As I pushed the lawnmower round the garden like a pram, it very satisfyingly ate the overgrown weeds and clover into a nice trim length. A big effect for a small effort. I wondered why it had taken me so long. It seems though that it is one in a long list of things to do.

We seem to be at that point in the year. The last push of term 4 is almost upon us, the year is marching towards the last quarter and people are starting to talk about how many days/weeks til Christmas as if they can't wait to get there. I can. I am not ready for Christmas at all. There is far too much to do, far too many miracles I want to see happen before I'm ready to finish 2014.

And I think I am still not quite right ways up, living here upside down in the southern hemisphere. Spring is still supposed to be March and September should be autumn. Spring for me is the start of new things, it's the time when you have plenty of energy at the beginning of the year, not when you're doing the final endurance sprint to to wind things down to December.  I am all of a muddle.

The other day I wondered to myself what God has been taking us through this year and I realized that there was quite a lot of structure to it... particularly in the area of financial discipline.

We've learned

  1. Faith - that God is our source and other people or jobs are merely conduits
  2. To give to God and to others even in tight circumstances
  3. To save even in tight circumstances
  4. That it is important, no matter what our financial situation, to continue to invest in our personal Christian leadership development.
  5. That life needs joy moments and these have to be created and planned in.
I'm still pondering that. Still mulling it over. It has most definitely been a year of learning discipline and my brain, like always when you do intense learning, hurts. I'm hopeful thought that after a period of intense learning the pedalling gets easier and the wind begins to blow in your hair and refresh your spirit. You begin to breathe and feel the joy of having accomplished something, learned something new.

In the busyness, in the push push push of learning, the endurance, the aching muscles, the digging deep in the garden of our hearts, I was reminded that when life to be the busyiest, when you have the least time, that's the time to sit and just enjoy God. It's quite possibly the only way to get through it. To sit with a cup of tea and just soak up the sunshine of his presence before you do anything else, before you even attempt to launch yourself into the day.

I'd love to hear your reflections on the last three quarters of the year. What have you learned? What has this year been all about for you? Has it been a year of coasting downhill, feet off the pedals and enjoying the wind in your hair or has it been a long slow uphill push where your muscles ache?

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Total Surrender

Sometimes two separate thoughts from two different people join up to make a powerful impact on your thought life.

A couple of weeks ago the hubster was reading Bill Hybel's book Courageous Leadership (which by the way is well worth taking the time to read) and we talked about a quote he read there about Mother Theresa's life. Mother Theresa made some personal private vows early on in her life.

One was to refuse God nothing that he asked of her no matter the cost to her personally, to give him carte blanche, and another was to do whatever he asked of her without delay.

Now skip back a couple of weeks to a women's event where Pastor Cathy Green was speaking. Cathy talked about a moment of revelation for her that came when God asked her to give her sorrows to him. She talked about how she realized she didn't want to give her sorrows to God even though the Bible says about Jesus dying on the cross Yet it was our grief he bore, our sorrows that weighed him down. And we thought his troubles were a punishment from God for his own sins! Is 53:4 TLB.

As Cathy thought about it, she admitted to herself that she didn't want to give Jesus her sorrows because if she did they would be gone forever, she feared they would be forgotten and her pain with them. She shared how as she was thinking about this, she remembered the verse You have seen me tossing and turning through the night. You have collected all my tears and preserved them in your bottle! You have recorded every one in your book. Ps 56:8 TLB. 

I was so touched by her revelation that every single tear that we shed is written down by God, it is recorded and remembered by him. He has collected them, he counts them as precious.

When my little sister was around 4 years old, the age Little Bun is now, I was 17 and I remember that Dad, when she cried, would sit her on his lap and hold his big work-hardened, rough hands out in front of her and he would say ooh wait a minute, wait a minute, let me catch those tears, they're precious they are, they make my hands soft. Can I have them please?

As the hubster and I talked about what it meant to surrender everything to Christ - our hopes, our dreams, our fears, our insecurities - to give them wholly to him just because he asked for them, and as I thought about Cathy's revelation and the picture of my Dad collecting my sister's tears, all three came together into one beautiful picture of Abba Papa, our Creator and Father.

He sees yours and my struggles, our pain, our tears of frustration, our fears of not being good enough. He sent the only son he had, Jesus to take them off us, to make a way so that he could collect our tears and record them in his book. He remembers every struggle we've ever had, every heartbreak. They are no forgotten, he has recorded even the ones that time has swept away from our memory and he counts every one of them as precious.

I find that supremely beautiful and encouraging. It does however require us to surrender them.  Ps Cathy Green is a remarkable lady, completely soaked in prayer and often very honest, in a beautiful funny way. She commented to a friend that her bottle must be very big and her straight-talking friend replied: Oh no, it's very small. You haven't surrendered any tears!

Mother Theresa's challenge, the example of her life, is huge. Do we surrender everything to Jesus? Do we hold our grief and our sorrows back from him? Do we hold our dreams back from him, afraid that he won't give them to us? Radical living means radical surrender.


I'd love to hear your thoughts please leave a comment.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Why I write: A Blog Hop

I've been tagged by the amazing budding photographer Meghan Maloney of MnMsAdventures to take part in a blog hop about writing processes and I find the question, why do I write? quite an interesting one, the answer to which has changed an awful lot over the years.

What am I working on?
At the moment, I'm simply working on getting healthy and surviving life. After six months of battling with gut problems and five weeks of battling flus and colds in the family, I'm at the point where good health is almost my one and only aim.

Writing-wise, I'm trying to blog when I can and trying not to care when I can't. My aim would be about three times a week but at the moment it's about once every two weeks. I have been reading about the Sacred Pathways book in another book called Courageous Leadership and what has struck me is that I feel closest to God when I'm by myself at home or having uninterupted thinking which falls into the 'contemplative pathway'. Of course being busy with work, school, kids activities, housework, you can see that it would be hard for a potential contemplative to get some real thinking done without that uninterrupted time, which in turn, because my blog seems to have morphed into a contemplative blog, means I don't get much blogging done!

When I do blog though one of the things that I'm on and off working on is the 100 Memories project I've had going for a few years. These are flashbacks from when I was a child, mainly from the period of my life growing up in Pakistan. You can read 39 or so of them here. I'm keeping up with these writing them whenever the memories are strongest in my mind so that there'll be some record for my kids and for the rest of my extended family. I find that as my grandparents have passed away many memories from their childhood have simply been lost like so many old photographs consumed in a house fire. I tried to get my Granny to write some of them down and am now badgering my parents to do the same but it's all falling on deaf ears so far.

I have a vague plan that one day these might be able to be edited into a book but for the moment I seem to have a very short attention span... a sort of writing ADHD which means that I can't concentrate for long enough to make it happen!

In addition to the blog, I'm also talking to another lady who is writing a book, just encouraging her, offering her editing advice where I can, praying for her etc.

How does my work differ to others in my genre?
To be honest, I'm not sure how my work differs to others in my genre. I'm not sure what my genre is...mainly faith, observations about life, parenting, memories. I try to be as real as possible. I try to be honest with myself. I try not to write when I'm angry or depressed. It's not that I want to project a false happy mask but there is far too many depressing, negative things out there and not enough joy, encouragement and uplifting things for me to add to it. I don't know if this makes me different or not but I hope that when people read what I write they are encouraged and spurred on, renewed and refreshed.

Why do I write what I do?
Originally when I started the blog, it was just after we had moved from living in NZ to living in Fiji. I had dabbled with a group blog in NZ but in March 2006 when we had just arrived in Lautoka, we were so amazed at the tropical paradise around us we wanted to share photos with friends and family and a blog seemed the most efficient way of doing it. Of course since then Facebook launched and life has changed. Over the years I've tried blogging about all the things that interest me like travel, craft, cooking, writing (fiction and non-fiction), photography, social commentary, parenting and faith.

Finding your blogging niche is quite like panning for gold. Unless you're brilliant at discerning exactly what you want to blog about all the time, you tend to start blogging about anything and everything but you begin to realize that there are little nuggets that elicit a powerful response from people and that themes that you enjoy writing about and naturally gravitate towards.

My advice? Learn to spot the nugget, concentrate on that and go for it.

I recently had an AHA moment with regards writing. I have some friends who write about other things that I, sharing part of their history, thought I should be writing about because it was part of my identity too. In a conversation with the hubster, I suddenly realized that God has given each writer or blogger, an area within which they are 'ordained' and 'anointed' to write. Those are very churchy words, but they have that sense of authority to them. God has given us each an authority to write in a certain area and when you find what 'flows' most for you - whether it be something that you see as important or not - you find most fulfilment. It could be that you're ordained to write about cooking or gardening or interior decorating. I know that I'm not. But I love reading those blogs or books. Too often we put God in a box and tell ourselves he's not interested in our passions and hobbies, the things that bring us joy. We think he thinks those are not worth us wasting our time on but that's not true. He created us to take pleasure in life and when we write about those things that we love to do he loves it! He takes delight in us!

I found that thought incredibly freeing. I no longer felt condemned for not writing about what other people were writing about and I didn't feel like I had to write about things that made me feel 'meh'.

I have gone through various times (regularly) when I want to give it all up, delete the blog and forget the whole thing but I realize that even if I did that, I would still start up another blog for myself, perhaps tell no one about it and just write. Blogging for me has become more a part of my thinking process rather than a business, a kudos thing or about having an audience. Yes, it's lovely to have a response and I crave comments but I almost can't get rid of a thought unless I've put it down in the blogosphere.

A couple of years ago, I was wondering why I blog and in my blog header I put down I think therefore I blog. I think that pretty much sums me up. When I stop thinking, I'll stop blogging.

How does my writing process work?

I had to laugh when Megs asked me if I'd like to take part in this blog hop because my writing process isn't very posh. I usually do my thinking when I'm at home doing something else - having my quiet time, hanging up the washing, driving, vacuuming the house, waking up in the middle of the night, washing up or having a shower. Mostly (and annoyingly) it happens at a time when I can't sit down and write what's on my mind straight away. Alternatively that might possibly be beneficial or I'd write more trite rubbish than I actually do.

So I scribble the nugget of a thought down.
The day Megs emailed me, the closest thing was the back of an envelope (photo above)!

As the day (or night) progresses, I find myself writing the post in my head, thinking around the theme, phrases that describe it best popping into my head.

Switch on the computer recently I've started to pray. It might sound odd, but recently I discovered that I can't actually write a blog post without mentioning God or bringing faith into it. And I figure if I'm writing about God and faith, I should probably check in with him to see what he wants me to write about.

By the time I come to writing, if I've remembered what I wanted to write and am still inspired, I simply write. Then I re-read it and see if the way I've expressed it makes me feel satisfied. It's a bit like eating a meal. Was it delicious? Was it satisfying? If so, then I've expressed the thought well. If not, I rejig or perhaps abandon it altogether.  Sometimes I have to simplify it because being a girl, all my thoughts are interlinked and sometimes there are too many things attached to one central theme and they can be saved for a later post or just not said at all.

Once I've pressed publish, I go back for a quick skim for typos but I rarely do any editing unless I think I've said something outrageous and need to delete it or add something vital I've forgotten.

Often I might get a lull where I haven't had time to think or reflect and inspiration seems to have got lost along the way. That might be followed by a period where I have 4 or 5 ideas come along at once and I am able to sit down and get them down in which case I post schedule them.

[For non-bloggers: post scheduling is where you can delay publishing your posts until a certain date and the computer does it automatically for you later on.]

And that's all from me folks! I would like to nominate +Marilyn Gardner and +Robynn Bliss jointly to join me on this blog hop process in answering the same questions about their writing process and also  +Cecily Paterson. I know all three girls from Pakistan and they are all wonderful published authors and bloggers with very profound things to say. You can visit Marilyn and Robynn at Communicating Across Boundaries and Cecily at her blog Cecily Paterson.

I'd love to hear your thoughts on your writing process so please leave a comment. You know how we bloggers luuurrve those comments!

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Being patient with myself

I am having to be patient with myself at the moment and extend myself grace.

It has been a month of sickness in our house where often more than one family member has been at home ill, culminating with me having a week of feeling truely grim. 

There has been more work (which is an answer to prayer) but it also means less time to sit, reflect and write.

The house is... well... ugghhhhhh would be the right word. So much so I've considered putting a facebook status to the effect of please don't come round to my house because I just can't cope. Thankfully no one has. 

The biggest frustration is that I think of what I would like to say on the blog I'm in the shower or hanging out the washing or vacuuming or any activity where I can't just sit drop everything and sit down at the computer. When I do have time to write, I am usually utterly spent, my brain has turned to mush and I can't summon up the will to sit and think deep thoughts or even the will to care about the blog.

It is, in short, a very humbling season. On top of all these creative frustrations, it seems that it is my season for feeling small. Tiny and insignificant in fact.

I am not loving this season. I am holding on to the fact that seasons end and pass into another, that my life, my worth, my identity is not rolled up in a blog.

What season are you in? Are you able to get on with your creative outlet or are you having to put things on hold while other things get sorted first?

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Parenting & Me: Kicking & screaming

Last night getting the kids to do the washing up turned into a major drama.
For one child (who shall remain nameless) in particular.
I love her to bits but she is, shall we say, black and white to say the least. When a change in how we do things needs to happen, I have come to learn that there will be a massive battle of wills, which once won is followed by peaceful acceptance and almost cheerful resignation.

It happened when she was 6 months old and dinner was not provided at 4pm.
It happened again when she had to stop wearing nappies and start wearing big girl pants.
And again when she had to learn to sit at the table for meals... all her vegetables... any kind of fish.....
...make her own lunch for school...
...when she was told she wasn't allowed to heat her lunch at the school canteen (their rule) so had to choose something cold to take to school...
etc etc.

As the flopping, the delaying, the moaning, the complaining and the stomping went on, the inevitable accident (a finger trapped in a cupboard door) happened and we got into screaming the house down, howling, sitting on the floor inconsolable and the conviction that her nail was going to fall off.

I'm afraid once the first delaying and moaning started I could feel myself harden and by the time the accident happened I was all for a quick comfort and then get back to the business in hand. The hubster thinks I'm hard-hearted. I'm trying not to be but sometimes it seems like it's all just a big excuse to try and get out of what she doesn't want to do.

As we worked through all of this and eventually got the washing up done, I thought that actually I can be a bit like this with God.  When he wants to make a change with me in how things are done, I really don't like it. I delay, I moan, I cry. I tell him he's ruining my life. I figuratively stomp round the house doing it as ungraciously as is humanly possible and when I realize that he isn't going to change his mind and that I'd better just get on with it, I find I can manage it with quite a bit of cheerful resignation and even eventually joy? at the new discipline and freedom it brings.

So my girl and me, we're not so different, it's just my tantrums go on longer than hers do. Months sometimes, possibly years! Oh dear.

How about you? Do you spit the dummy just as much as your kids? Are there things that you are battling God on? Things that you've come out the otherside of when you realize he's not going to budge?

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Our Freedom Fighter

The other day I was hit by a random thought:

Jesus is our Freedom Fighter.

The more I thought about it, the more it tickled my fancy. When Jesus arrived on earth and started fulfilling the messianic prophecies, people thought this is it! This is the guy who is going to overthrow the Roman oppressors and free us. They were looking to him as their freedom fighter, their Che of the day.

The irony is that Jesus is our freedom fighter. He came to fight to set us free and give us freedom from all kinds of oppression.... from things like fear, anxiety, depression, oppression, poverty, sickness, addictions, condemnation, anger, unbeatable habits etc. Anything in fact that keeps us enslaved, where we have no choice but to keep repeating the things we so long to be free from.

These things oppress us and like an oppressive regime, they need the ultimate freedom fighter to come and do battle on our behalf. And it wasn't just a once off moment, Jesus carries on interceding for our freedom every single day, interceding for our hearts to be changed and for us to take up his amazing offer of new life.

I don't know about you but I love that thought that Jesus is as militant and as passionate about our freedom as any freedom fighter round the world. Except that he's light-years kinder and he doesn't kill people to do it. The only life he sacrificed was his own.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Where in the world do you come from? When being a TCK gets lonely.

It's been more than 20 years since I left Pakistan after finishing school and recently I had been congratulating myself on no longer being a third culture kid (TCK). I no longer felt like I had the same hang ups, the same frustrations as I used to. I felt like I was pretty normal, fitting in. It's not that I don't value being TCK, no, the minute I meet one or read their blog I feel like I can instantly connect, but lately I haven't been feeling the same angst or maddening frustrations I used to have.

I felt like I was pretty regular and it was nice just to be 'normal'. It wasn't exhausting, it didn't feel forced. I felt I could just be me. People could meet me without me feeling I had to explain where I had grown up. In fact recently some people I've known for a little while were surprised to hear that I had grown up in Pakistan as they didn't know that about me.

And then a few chance conversations recently pulled back the curtain on my core beliefs and I was reminded again of being 'different'.

It's lonely being different and to tell the truth, sometimes I wish I wasn't. In those moments I felt like I would never fit in, I'd never be 'normal' and never have the same opinions as other people around me or be truely understood.

I know that coming from a TCK background is a rich and exciting background to have, I know that it gives you unique understanding, compassion and skills but in those moments where your difference is exposed, it's just lonely and you realize how far from your tribe you really are.

It reminds me of how deep our human longing to be understood is, how we crave sharing our beliefs and values with others, how we long to know where we come from, where our identity lies. When loneliness hits, how important it is to remind ourselves that even though we might not share everything with everyone, we do share something with someone around us and it's on the back of that that we need to relate, not on what we don't share.

Sometimes TCKs can get into a bit of a woe is me mentality but it's good to remind ourselves that there are others who feel as displaced and lonely as we are. In a city like Sydney there are so many people who have had to leave their home culture behind for political or economic reasons, there are Christians who feel different to everyone else and I'm sure other people from other faiths feel the same too, people with broken family circumstances also must feel very similiar.

It's odd that in our loneliness, we are not really alone.