6 strategies I learned from ‘Survivor’ for doing life in isolation.

Feel like you’re on exile beach? Wondering how you’re going to survive another day of being stuck at home? Whilst living in physical isolation from others is no game, I can’t help but notice a few parallels between the game of Survivor and this new season we’re living in. We’re all of a sudden feeling isolated from people we love spending time with. We’re all experiencing a loss of comfort, be it: activities we used to enjoy, grocery items we usually buy, or daily routines that grounded us. We’re all being stretched emotionally, physically, mentally and spiritually to adapt and embrace new things; to adopt a new normal for the foreseeable future.

My family loves watching Survivor; a reality show that puts 24 relative strangers on a remote island, to play the ultimate game of survival. To win the title of ‘Sole Survivor’, they need to outwit, outplay and outlast each other; successfully manoeuvring themselves through a game that is demanding – physically, socially and mentally. It takes guts and gumption to successfully survive 50 days on an island, living on rice, sleeping on the beach, competing in physical challenges that push your bodies limit, whilst forming and maintaining relationships, and having the tactical prowess to keep ahead of the game.  It’s fascinating to see what people will do to survive. 

Having just watched the new season, I noticed 6 things that made for a successful stay on the island; and 6 things I think will make living with physical distance survivable. 

  1. Live one day at a time: After a contestant is voted off the island, the following day is begun by marking on a tree the outgoing players initials and the days running tally. This daily ritual is a visual reminder to them of how far they’ve come and the achievement of living to fight another day. Living one day at a time, helps to ground us in the present. If we fall into worrying about how we’ll cope if this season of confinement lasts between 3 to 6 months, the scale overwhelms us and we are defeated. But grace for each day is possible. It’s helpful to remember that this too shall pass.
  2. Be adaptive: The winner of this season’s Survivor, when asked why he appeared to change his game play, responded that in order to remain in the game he needed to adapt how he played. So it is with this season of working and relating from home. I learned a new word in this past fortnight; Zoom. It is certainly not my preferred mode of operandi, however I recognise if I don’t adopt new ways of doing things, I’ll get left behind. I’m always telling my kids to have a growth mindset, now I find more than ever that I must practice what I preach. Now is the time to be creative, and embrace new things in order to thrive in the change. 
  3. Work as a team: In Survivor, to win at team challenges you need to work cohesively with your tribe. The same goes for home. When one person is left to do all the work, resentment is sure to grow. Allocate jobs to each member of the household. Everyone at home usually means a quicker build up of mess, but it also means more time and more hands to do the work of cleaning up. Adjust the distribution of labour to suit the season.  
  4. Be resilient: To live to fight another day on Survivor, sometimes means coming back after a loss. To do this, you need to believe you can win; you can face another challenge and overcome. So too with our present circumstances. There’s going to be days that go badly, and days we feel like we’ve face planted in mud. But after we’ve had a bad day, acknowledge it and then move on. There is always another day to live for and another day to get things right. 
  5. Value your relationships: In Survivor, at tribal beach, if you don’t work on your relationships, and work to make alliances, then you’re pretty quickly in trouble. So too at home. There’s nothing more unpleasant than feeling like your home is a war zone. If people aren’t getting along or becoming selfish and fractious, then it quickly becomes an awful place to be. Seeking to live at peace with each other, forgiving grievances and bearing with each other in love, make for a harmonious home. Find those common interests and spend time doing them together.
  6. If it’s getting stressful, go for a walk: A pastime of all survivor’s is a walk in the jungle to the watering hole. Anytime they need to clear their head, hatch a plan or hunt for an idol, they go for walk. It’s a well known fact that exercise is good for our mental and physical well-being, and since there’s not much else we can do right now, stepping out of the house, breathing in some clean air and going for a walk is a good tonic. 

Taking a new step? Remember: Life doesn’t need to be perfect before you take it.

Is it just me, or do others hold themselves to very high standards? I’m always surprised when I come to realise that I’ve been holding myself to an unrealistic subconscious rule. One I recently became aware of was: When starting something new, it is important to start well. (Well meaning: in perfect health of body and mind; energetic, healthy and feeling positive. Well also meaning: everything is under control, the house is in order, your life is in order.) Wow! Now that I put into words my subconscious narrative, I think, “Yikes! No pressure!” This takes me back to what I’ve written about before and what has been called by some psychologists as, The Tyranny of the Shoulds. An internal set of beliefs that one holds as a definite rule, rather than a flexible “I would prefer”. 

I am starting something new this year. I am beginning a traineeship with my church, working in women’s pastoral care. While I have had experience in returning to study since having children, this is the first time as a mother that I’ve taken on a formal role outside my home. It’s been a big step for me, as I’ve carefully guarded my responsibilities at home and tried to wisely manage my challenges with chronic back pain. However, over the past year I felt God place on my heart a desire to do this work. It’s been a gentle and persistent encouragement to step outside of my comfort zone and to develop and use some of the gifts he has given to me.  

So, with a starting date set and the anticipation of life changing a little, I wrote a list. A list of all the things I wanted to achieve around the house before school resumed and I started my new role. I also had a wish. A wish to begin this new role feeling well. Last year, when the kids returned to school, I found myself unable to get out of bed, with sever tiredness for two weeks. My body had a flare up, and it was a bad one. Summer holidays always push me…I didn’t want a repeat. All was going well until I had a fall. One that had me fall into a chair and land smack on my back; leaving me pretty bruised and knocked around. All I could think of was, “I don’t want to start the new year badly.” It took a bit of self-discipline to think this wasn’t going to ruin my beginning. For it is true that accidents, set backs and unexpected changes are all normal in the ebb and flow of daily life. 

This small accident made me realise how much unnecessary pressure I was placing on myself. The thought that followed this was: there is never a perfect time or state of being to begin something new. If you’re waiting for life to be just right before you attempt a new venture, then you could be waiting a while. Ultimately, it’s not about how much I have it together or how well and energetic I am feeling, it’s about doing life in the strength that God gives. Day by day, hour by hour, my trust needs to be that God is my helper and my strength; whether it be a day of new beginnings or a day like any other. God is the one who has called me to this task, and he will be the one to equip me for all I need to do. Yes, I would prefer to be feeling on top of things and there are certainly things I can be doing to help make starting easier. But the best thing I can do to start well is pray and trust. Leaving all the things I cannot control, into the safe hands of a loving Heavenly Father. 

Are you starting something new this year? Have you had a restful holiday and now anticipating a crazy return to school/employment? Do you feel a little unprepared? Psalm 121 says, “I lift my eyes to the mountains – where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth. He will not let your foot slip – he who watches over you will not slumber; indeed, he who watches over you will neither slumber or sleep. 

I’ve had dud presents, but there’s one gift I’m always thankful for.

Have you ever received a gift you didn’t particularly like? I think most of us can recall such an item. As a teenager I once received a particularly memorable pair of pants. They were hot pink with white polka dots, ankle length and billowed around my legs like clown pants… they didn’t scream vogue!  I am sure I said, “Thank you” but those words may have been hard to get out. It was a gift I didn’t expect, and initially didn’t know what to do with. 

In my house, I am the one who does the majority of the Christmas shopping. On the whole I love this task. I love thinking about each person I’m buying for and what they would love most. I’m a gift giver at heart and it gives me enormous pleasure to do this. It’s a beautiful moment when you give an unexpected gift, and it’s received with much delight. However, there are some drawbacks to being a gift giver. The high benchmark I place on myself to find that perfect present means, potentially hours spent searching, resignation if the dream is impossible and inevitable disappointment if the gift isn’t loved. It’s in moments like these I wish I didn’t care so much and that the expectations of others were simple.  

I’ve just finished reading Ann Voskamp’s book, ‘One Thousand Gifts’, and for anyone who appreciates vivid word imagery and passion, I would recommend this book. She challenges the reader to find beauty in the everyday ordinary and to worship God by receiving and giving thanks for the things he gives – the things we find to be good, the things we deem bad and the things we find mundane and simple. Her exhortation to receive and be thankful is notable, as her personal story of loss and grief, makes her choice to receive and give thanks incredible.

The season of Advent is one that is punctuated with presents. Ask any child and they will say that’s what they are most looking forward to. Sadly, this tradition can accentuate for some of us a feeling of disillusionment and discouragement…the commercial overload, shopping madness, the impossible demand of finding the perfect present, the disparity between our wealth and the poverty of so many and the disgusting waste of over-consumption. It’s enough to put you off Christmas. 

But…the season of Advent is actually all about God’s most wonderful gift to all of humanity. His gift wasn’t wrapped in shiny paper and placed under an impressive Christmas tree. It was wrapped in swaddling clothes and was found in an animals feeding trough (a manger). His gift didn’t max out a credit card, but it was the most costly gift ever to be given. In John 3 vs 16 it says, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his one and only son, that whoever believes in him should not die but have eternal life. 

Jesus…a present that at first sight might not have been what you were expecting – a baby born to lowly, simple folk. But don’t turn away, take a closer look. This gift from God is worth taking the time to unwrap. You won’t be disappointed. Jesus is a surprising gift of unconditional love, hope and salvation. Receive him, and give thanks. 

Wishing you all a Merry Christmas! 

Are you a good listener? There’s an art to holding your tongue.

I’ve been treating myself of late to watching previous seasons of The Crown (a Netflix drama) in anticipation for the new series about to air. In one episode, the Queen was bemoaning to her mother, the fact that she felt ill-equipped to converse with the many educated people she was required to meet. She acknowledged a desire to be able to talk more intelligently about matters of science and philosophy, instead of being confined to talking about dogs and horses. Her mother’s response was to say, “You know when to keep your mouth shut; that’s more important than anything.” The conversation is then interrupted by the announcement that the Prime Minister wants to speak with her, to which her mother rudely quips, “You can smile politely while he drones on.” 

When it comes to talking with my own children, I confess that I find keeping my mouth shut extremely hard to do. It’s not a skill I naturally possess. For me, it requires much effort to refrain from speaking; it takes mental energy and self control. To confine my remarks to just asking questions or saying things like, “I can see this is hard for you” without being able to offer advice or an alternative point of view, feels unnatural…like I haven’t finished my sentence. My natural inclination is to speak. To offer wisdom, to tell a story of my own experience, to try and fix the problem, to say something…anything. I can empathise with the Queen’s frustration in being expected to keep her mouth shut, or appear to hold no opinion. 

There are many times when my teens just want to vent; to say everything that is going on inside of them, out loud. They don’t want an opinion, they don’t want me to solve anything – they just want me to listen. Neither do they want me to smile politely while they drone on; they can spot a fake a mile away. They want me to be a genuine listener. 

Of late, I’ve been getting things horribly wrong. All too often, I have misjudged intentions and moods, and jumped in to saying something, only to find, I’ve fallen into another ditch – the one I had climbed out of, hours earlier. Someone has burst into my kitchen with issues and angst, ready to give me a long spiel about how ‘life sucks’, and how it’s the other person’s fault, or teachers really have no clue how to teach; usual teenage complaints. However, the moment I’ve gone to offer advice, or a counter point of view – rolling eyes, facial expressions that clearly convey annoyance, a quip about never understanding, then a swift exit. I’m left with that awful feeling that I’ve messed up again. I ask myself, “What did I say that was so wrong?”

In a recent seminar I attended, “Surviving the Rollercoaster of Adolescence” the speaker Chris Hudson offered up 5 parenting traps to avoid, and then 5 things to do. This list is a good prompt for any parent feeling like they’re always falling into common relational traps. 

1. Don’t take the bait.

2. Don’t escalate

3. Don’t be blackmailed

4. Don’t take it personally

5. Don’t give up

6. Consistently apply

7. Ask, “Are you okay?”

8. Ask them questions

9. Get curious

10. Keep your opinions

To be a good listener is definitely a skill one needs in ones toolkit to parent teens well. I’ve learned from experience that it is wise not to “poke the bear” and to exercise self control for the sake of maintaining a good relationship. While I am entitled to hold an opinion, there is wisdom and strength in being able to wait for the invitation to share it. I’ve found too, that if I’ve demonstrated a willingness to listen, they are more inclined to allow me into the conversation, with an openness to hearing my point of view.

Screen time; have you found a balance?

Recently a controversial cartoon by Michael Leunig was published in The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age. It depicted a mother so fixated on Instagram that she failed to see her baby had fallen out of its pram. This depiction of modern motherhood sparked outrage online as it unkindly suggested that the mother loved her phone more than her baby. Understandably, this assessment of mothers causes hurt, as motherhood is so demanding, especially in the early years when “a little me time” is a rare occurrence, and being home with small children can at times feel isolating. Being able to connect on-line can be a blessing, a lifeline and a window into the outside world for mothers who’ve spent their entire day talking to a three year old or getting a baby to sleep. It can be a source of inspiration and encouragement to any Mum needing some new ideas…and let’s face it, there’s a bit of mundane housekeeping that needs to happen on-line too.

Regardless of how we initially respond to such a portrayal of mothers (and surely fathers should be included), it is always helpful to temper our outrage with a little self reflection. Is our interest in the on-line world becoming more time consuming than we would like to admit? Am I present with my kids when they need me to be? Am I looking for self-worth and validation from what I see and do on-line? Am I modelling to my kids healthy screen habits?  Do I have a right to expect them to do one thing if I’m doing another? 

Fast forward the image of a mother out walking with her baby by 13 years, and the picture may look very different; a teenager totally absorbed with their phone and a Mum who’s been left out. She’s wondering whether her child will notice her again, thinking to herself, “They love their phone more than me”. I think my teens would argue that that assessment of things is equally untrue and unfair. While it appears that teenagers today are addicted to technology, and as parents we may be worried about the effects this will have on our kids mental, emotional and social well-being. The truth is, they too are using screens to connect with their peers and socialise, create things and play, investigate and learn, and yes…a whole heap of binge watching. 

Setting aside public perception, (for it never does anyone any good to be motivated by the opinion of others) what is important, is to decide as a couple and as a family what you feel is appropriate, realistic and healthy for you and your family regarding screen use. While having balance is the ideal, it doesn’t always happen. That’s okay. However, being mindful of your habits and being accountable to each other is a good step towards balance. 

Alison’s Story

Let me introduce Alison. She is a mother of four adult children and five grandchildren. She has faithfully lived out her role as a stay-at-home mother with much gentleness and kindness; tirelessly giving her time to her family, her church and the community in which she’s been planted. She fashioned her home and garden to be a place of welcome and love and has generously shown hospitality to many people. Raising her children in the great decades of the 90’s and 00’s, I’ve had the privilege of helping her out as a teenager, and being helped by her, when I was a young Mum. I am proud to call her Auntie. 

  1. How old were you when you became a Mum? I was married the year I turned 28, and had my first child when I was 29. 

2. Has anyone inspired you as a mother, and if so why? My mother. I was inspired by her example of her dependance on God and her persistent prayers for her children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. I have no doubt of their effectiveness. 

I would also have to say my elder sister. She was years ahead of me in parenting experience. She had five children and her youngest was six months older than my eldest. I looked up to her and still do – she is a source of non-judgemental encouragement and wisdom. 

Ruth Bell Graham and her writings also inspired me. She was someone who I admired as an authentic, compassionate woman/mother of faith and fun. 

3. What is one of your favourite memories of raising children? I think it’s reading to them. I have always loved going to the library to borrow books – I still do. When children came along, I rediscovered the joy of children’s books and sharing them with my own children. Going to the library was an enjoyable outing, where each child could choose books for themselves. Sometimes we would come home with over 20 books. (Which could be a nightmare to gather, when it came to return them!) I loved the pleasure of having the children nestle up close and share in reading a story.  I remember one very hot summer’s day when the children were older, ( high school and upper primary) school was cancelled due to the excessive heat. We shut ourselves up in the family room, (the only room that was air-conditioned) reading the junior novel ‘Holes’ by Louis Sacher. Two of my children were totally engrossed in the story, as was I, while the other two came and went and generally got into mischief. It is still a fond memory for some of us today.

4. Can you share a story of a particular challenge you faced during parenting? I have four children; two were more compliant in nature and two who definitely found the teenage years more challenging. In general I found parenting through the teenage years challenging, particularly the above mentioned. Challenging because these teens challenged what was asked of them: answering back, being rude and disrespectful, moody and generally unpleasant. They challenged the values and standards of our home which caused disharmony for everyone. Having said that, none of my children were rebellious to the point of destructive behaviour. They were probably just being your normal adolescent.

5. How did you work through this challenge? What gave you hope during times of trouble? They don’t call these adolescent years ’The white-water rafting years’ for nothing. Sometimes it felt like, “Hold on and hope for the best!” I didn’t feel particularly well-equipped to deal with the challenges of these years – I often would be in tears, feeling out of my depth.

This is where it definitely was helpful to have my husband as my team mate; we were in this together. Both of us had strengths and weaknesses. My husband got involved in ‘play’ more than me. It was he that took an interest in soccer, car-racing, ‘rough and tumble’ play and doing daring, ‘out there’ things with the children. I feel it helped to keep things balanced; not ’sweating the small stuff’ so much.

Having said all that, I think we would both acknowledge our average ability as parents. I honestly feel that we did our best. This is where my faith in a loving faithful God was my saving grace. 

My relationship with God has been an integral part of who I am since  my own teenage years. One thing that was very important to me was that my children would come to know and love their Heavenly Father as I had. This was the backdrop to my parenting. In those challenging teenage years, it would often be to my Heavenly Father alone to whom I could turn. I was very aware of my own weakness and utter dependence on His gracious help. And by His grace “He added to my faltering attempts, His great sufficiency”**. This was and continues to be my hope.

** Quoted from a poem I wrote.

6. Were you able to make time for yourself and if so. How did you do this?  Mothers by necessity and by nature are ‘givers’, and when my tank was empty, everyone suffered.

I often felt it took very little to fill ‘my tank’. Particularly in the early childhood years of parenting, I probably didn’t get a lot of time to myself, but it was a blessing to have parents close by to give a helping hand. I found this stage was more physically demanding then mentally and emotionally. Time to just read a book or do something I enjoyed, like getting out into the garden (even if it meant the children were out and about with me), was something that refreshed me. As the children grew older and could be left by themselves, time for just my husband and myself was something I enjoyed; even if it was accompanying him on a trip to the dump.

7. If you were to meet your young mum self, what advice would you give her? I wish I had come across ‘The 5 Love Languages of Children’ by Gary Chapman sooner. I knew my children were all different in nature; but keying into their individual love language was eye-opening to me.

I also would encourage my younger self to spend more time with each child individually; asking questions and listening to them and their concerns. By the end of the day, when it was probably the time they were ready to talk, I was exhausted.

8. What has been a treasured bible verse that has encouraged you throughout the years? The word of God is such a treasure to me. I cannot count how many times His word has gone like an arrow to my heart and strengthened, encouraged, challenged and comforted me through the years; sometimes in the early hours of the morning, reassuring me of His presence and His promised help and guidance. His word was and continues to be my soul’s nourishment.

A favourite verse to which I come back to again and again is Hebrews 4: 14 -16 particularly vs 16. “Let us come boldly to the throne of our gracious God. There we will receive mercy and there we will find grace to help us when we need it most.”                                            

I remember vividly the morning it first came to me. It was a typical busy school morning; two school-age children, a preschooler and a baby. Hectic as usual, with lunches to be made, and much coaxing to stop playing and get ready for school; always the challenge to get out of the door on time. Just as we were all preparing to leave… an enormous dirty nappy from the baby. It was the days of cloth nappies, and as I bent over the toilet bowl rinsing the nappy, I thought to myself (with a degree of exhaustion and exasperation), “Here I am again bending over the throne.”  

Quick as a flash these words from Hebrews shot like an arrow to my heart. What a transformation in me took place – joy!  My God cared and saw me and my little troubles. I went through that day transformed by that knowledge!

A Mother is Praying

Listen, Lord,

A mother is praying

Low and quiet:

Listen, please.

Listen what her tears

Are saying,

See her heart

Upon its knees;

Lift the load

From her bowed shoulders

’Til she sees

And understands,

You, who hold

The worlds together,

Hold her problems

In Your hands.

Written by: Ruth Bell Graham

Are you on an emotional rollercoaster with your teen? A recent seminar had some helpful thoughts on how to survive.

Last week I attended a seminar entitled “Surviving the Rollercoaster of Adolescence”; the speaker was Chris Hudson from of Understanding Teenagers. While I can truthfully say that I have already encountered and survived the steep climb and the initial stomach-lurching plunge of the rollercoaster that is likened to living with teens, and have definitely encountered a few curves and turns that have left me breathless and white-knuckled; I believe there are a few more corkscrew loops yet to be travelled before I can safely say that I have survived the ride – hence my interest in wanting to hear his thoughts. 

As I think about rollercoasters, I can’t help but recall our family’s recent trip to Movie World. A day with teenagers in a theme park is very much like living a day packed with a range of emotion; thrills and fears, excitement and tension. One of the things that makes the teen years so challenging is the unpredictability of your teen’s mood, and also the enormous shift in how they relate to you. On their journey to independence, it is natural and important for them to push against their parents in an effort to find their own sense of self. (A deeply confusing place to be in for both parent and child.) And while it’s easy to blame hormones for all the problems, there are other factors that contribute to them being emotionally changeable. Things like: the amount of sleep they get, personal insecurities, and social issues they face… and a whole stack of homework pressure. 

One of the hardest things I’ve found about this life stage has been knowing how to navigate my way by trying to keep good connections without turning into an emotional wreck myself or becoming just as volatile and cranky as them. At times, I’ve been so fearful of getting my head chewed off ‘just because’ or being diminished to ‘worst mother ever’ because I dared to enforce a boundary. Angry, hurtful words are hard to hear and even harder to let go of and not take personally. Equally hard, has been to watch a teen struggle – with peer acceptance, anxiety, and the challenge of growing up. When they retreat into their shell and lock you out the feeling of helplessness can be a heavy burden. 

So when Chris began to talk about having emotional equality in your home, my ears pricked up. He encouraged us to think differently about how to view emotions. Instead of labelling some emotions as right and others wrong; happiness to be seen as normal and anger to be something avoided, a light switched on for me. So many times I’ve made the mistake of trying desperately to keep everyone happy, and have avoided addressing issues for fear of ‘poking the bear’. I’ve been quick to jump in and patch things back to ‘happy face’, rather than walk alongside and just be there. “Emotions just are,” he said, then encouraged us to have a mantra for your family like: “In this house all emotions are okay.” Some are easier to live with, but they are still just emotions and all part of our human experience. I began to see that by equalising emotions, it normalises them.

I like to think of emotions as being a little window into someone’s heart. An indicator of  what’s going on inside. Whether it be disappointment, excitement, anxiety, sadness or joy; all these things can be a prompt to ask them how they are, and why they’re feeling the way they are. Sometimes they have no idea why! Rather than be fearful of all negative emotions, especially anger, finding a way together to helpfully express those emotions constructively, without dismissing them or escalating them can be such a positive help to your teen. Validating their feelings goes a long way in building an open relationship with them such as saying things like, “I can see this is really hard for you”. Showing your teens that you are willing to sit with and accept uncomfortable feelings, just as you embrace feeling good, is a valuable lesson; for both yourself and your teen.

Rollercoasters are the perfect description for being a parent of teenagers. However, if you are someone yet to enter this life stage, take heart. I think waiting in line and watching others ahead of you being thrown around at top speed and possibly screaming, can heighten your anticipation of impending doom and fuel you with dread the longer you watch and wait. Once on the ride, you’re on the ride. Safely strapped in, you may still be terrified inside, but whatever comes next, you’ll make it through the track. You may even enjoy some of it. I always like to watch people getting off a ride… some are white, others a little weak kneed, but most are smiling. I hope to be one of the later.

“What are your core values?” A helpful question to ask yourself.

In an attempt to return to a more helpful headspace, I was recently encouraged to think about what my core values are. I have engaged with this question before and found it a beneficial exercise; seeing how my life choices reflect what I truely value and then how these choices impact my day to day life. With a spate of health challenges, both for myself and the family, and a growing problem with not being able to sleep…I was feeling at the edge of myself; fatigued and jangled. It’s when I’m feeling like this, when I reach desperation point, that I find it helpful to look for a way to break the cycle. This time, it was good to stop and revisit what I valued most and why.

So I began to think, “What do I value that I give my time, energy and resources to that reflects what I treasure?” I didn’t need to think too hard about this question… I value relationships. My relationship with God, my husband, my children, my family and my friends. I value people, therefore, I give the majority of my time, energy and resources to loving others and building relationships.  I value relationships therefore, when relationships are hard, and loving others is hard, when others are hurting or when I am hurt by others, I am affected – mentally and physically. My natural response is to wrestle and worry about how to set things right; how to improve this relationship – desiring to forgive, show grace, let go and keep loving.  

A friend of mine, once said in a sermon, “Love is inefficient.” This statement has always stuck with me…meaning loving others is never about loving on my terms and conditions. Loving others is costly at times and doesn’t always fit into the neat little box I would like to put it in. Loving others requires self-sacrifice.

My efficient self was becoming frustrated with my present circumstances. I was frustrated at how much time I was spending waiting for doctors, blood tests, scans and treatments. The amount of time spent on the road, driving to and from appointments and the length of time talking with health care professionals. All in the pursuit of caring for the health needs of my family. I saw all these things as an inconvenient interruption to other important tasks I wished I to be doing. I resented the fact that healthcare for my family was so time consuming. Yet…because I value people and their well being, (myself included in this) I naturally was going to do these things.

To raise resilient children, you have to be prepared to embrace the reality that fostering relationship with them will be costly (not just financially) and messy (literally and figuratively). They are not robots that you can program to operate a certain way. They are not clones of yourself; you may see yourself in them, and they in you, however they are unique individuals, growing up in a different world to the one you grew up in. And life has a habit of throwing us curve balls; things we never planned for or imagined could ever happen. To build that bridge between yourself and the other person may mean you have to sacrifice something else you value. For example: To build a bridge to my teenagers, often means chatting with them and hanging out at 9.30pm at night or even later. Not ideal for someone who values sleep and a quiet evening. However, sometimes I have to forgo that, to maintain my bridge into their world. My body clock and theirs are a little out of sync. ( I am also learning that to care for others, I must also care for myself. I do need good sleep to function well, therefore some nights I have to say goodnight early.) 

As I have reflected on what I value most, I can’t help but think of Jesus and what he valued; how he lived his life and what his purpose was. He too, valued people. There are countless stories in the bible of many people who came to him with their sickness and their troubles. He could have seen them as an interruption, but he didn’t. He didn’t turn them away or get frustrated by their demands. He showed them love and healed many, he spoke with them and ate with them. Telling them the gospel (why he had come) and walking alongside them. All this was an intentional part of his journey towards the cross. He also recognised his need to be quiet with his Heavenly Father and to pray. Jesus is who I want to look to, when I think about how I want to live and what I want to value. In looking to Jesus, and rethinking why I do the things I do, my discouragement and frustration begins to pale. 

I encourage you to ask yourself, “What do I value most?”

Crosswords and Adele; unlikely interests led to a better connection with my child.

I have always been conscious, that in a family of more than one child, there is always the challenge of splitting your time and attention between them all equally. It is true that some kids are easier to connect with, and some kids demand more of you, and it’s possible there will be one child who likes to fly under your radar. One who will quite happily allow others to steal the limelight, so to enjoy the experience of being unobserved. 

I have one such child. One who avoids confrontation, who would prefer to figure out a problem on their own, rather than come to me for help, and is so independent that probably fancies growing up without much parental involvement fantastic. To have a self-sufficient child is helpful for a busy mother of four, however this independent spirit has often meant a challenge in knowing how to connect. When you are busy meeting so many needs, it’s easy to overlook someone who isn’t calling out for help.

Regardless of personality traits, all of us need positive relationships to thrive, and while a teenager will say and do things contrary to this, it is important to keep connection; you never know when they will reach out to you. 

So I’ve had to be creative in finding things that we enjoy doing together; things recreational and unique to our relationship. I’ve also had to be intentional about seizing moments that are just the two of us; relating one on one is so important. This can be a challenge, when you are time poor or when others demand attention; but it’s not impossible.

I’ve managed to find two times in my week, where it’s just the two of us, and two unlikely things that we enjoy doing together. Firstly, she is my only early riser, and like myself, enjoys 30 minutes each morning to eat breakfast, while the rest of the house sleeps. She, being more of a doer than a conversationalist, meant I wanted to find something we could do over breakfast that facilitated connection. So I asked her, “How do you fancy doing a crossword?” (I know…it sounds like a Grandmothers idea, but she said yes!) Who knew you could get a 13 year old, who doesn’t like English at school, to learn and enjoy doing an early morning crossword with her mother. 

But what we really love doing together, that none of my other kids would ever do with me, is to sing along to Adele. I love Adele and she loves Adele, and we both enjoy singing. Once a week, we have 20 minutes alone in the car together. The moment the car is ours, and there’s no competition for whose in charge of the music, we switch to Adele. We sing at the top of our lungs. (Personally, I think our rendition of Rolling in the Deep particularly good.) Interspersed with our singing we have a chat and laugh; especially at the fact all her songs are about tragic romances. But what makes it special is finding a point of connection. It’s frivolous and short lived, however we look forward to it each week. Simple things shared between the two of us. 

At each stage of their childhood, I’ve had to adapt and change; finding different ways and opportunities to connect with each of my children. Age appropriate activities that have fostered relationship. There have been times when I haven’t known how to do this well, and busyness has meant I’ve neglected them at times. However, I’ve always taken comfort in the truth that a new day brings a new beginning and a new opportunity to make a change and try something different. 

How do you connect with your kids?

“Remember when…” What milestones do you celebrate?

I like the image of a long hiking adventure, to describe how I see life’s journey. The view of a mountain range can take your breath away and to walk its course a privilege. However when you actually begin to travel the path, you quickly find there are a lot of variables that can make the journey both exhilarating and hard work. The path takes us to valleys and peaks, wilderness and beauty. Rocks underfoot and steep climbs give way to clearings and views that revive the soul. My hiking adventure over the past few years has been fairly uphill and rocky. So when the path began to clear and the incline slackened; it was a moment to pause and rejoice.

On Sunday our eldest son, made a public declaration of faith in Jesus. He did this through  confirmation and the sharing of his testimony; speaking of what God has been doing in his life. His decision to take this very personal step and to share it with our church family, was a significant moment; both for himself and for our own family. For myself and my husband, we have prayed for this moment since he was born, (seeking to raise him in God’s ways and desiring for him to know and accept Jesus as his personal Lord and Saviour).

There have been many days in this parenting journey, when my own faith has been tested and the dark clouds of doubt and worry have shaken me to my core. Traversing the teenage years has been so hard at times. While I have had much encouragement from fellow hikers who have journeyed a little further than myself, I’ve often wondered whether I would ever reach another place where I could stop and admire the view.  But slowly I have seen good things; and only good things that God can do. Changes that have made my heart glad. These changes and these moments are worth pausing for to remark upon and remember.

In Kent and Barbara Hughes’ book entitled, Disciplines of a Godly Family, they speak of the value of having family traditions; moments and opportunities to recall God’s faithfulness by the sharing of stories and occasions to celebrate his goodness. They like to call this practice as building ‘Stones of Remembrance’ for your family; referring to the story in the bible, (Joshua 3 & 4) when the Israelites crossed the Jordan River and took 12 stones from the river and placed them in their camp as a visual reminder of God’s  provision and faithfulness. They encourage this practice saying, “The following scriptural advice, put to work, will go a long way toward building secure families with a sense of solidarity with the past and the future.” I have always appreciated this advice, and have therefore sought to build into our families culture and heritage moments that are recorded and celebrated as special. Sunday was one of these occasions. 

Do you ever pause to rejoice in God’s goodness and faithfulness to you? Do you do this with your family? Being intentional and marking occasions where significant moments of Gods provision, care and faithfulness have been evidenced to you, can be a wonderful source of encouragement. These ‘Stones of Remembrance’ can be returned to, reminding us of what God has done and will continue to do as we journey on. As a family, you can say, ”Remember when”.