Autumn in Melbourne has been a few months of beauty and hard. March was probably the hardest month I’ve had in years, and it’s taken a few weeks to recover, but I am always, always amazed at the richness found in the seasons of difficulty. It becomes fuel for the seasons to come. Here’s what I learned in Autumn 2017 in Melbourne, Australia.
I want to live in Melbourne. Maybe forever.
It’s too long a story to share here, but we had to deal with some administrative paperwork related to my husband’s Australian visa this autumn. Having to stare in the face the reality that living in Australia together is not guaranteed is the first time I realized there is nowhere in the world I would rather live than Melbourne. I guess you don’t know what you want until it feels like someone is going to take that away.
Take away social media, add in something else.
I went off social media for Lent, and it was not nearly as restful as my previous social media sabbaticals have been. Instead of surfing Facebook and Instagram, I watched Stephen Colbert’s Late Show monologues every day, I started watching The Crown and SeaChange (an Australian drama from the late 90s). What I learned: Media is easy to consume. Whatever that media may be.
Homemade hot cross buns are a thing of wonder.
Easter morning was insanely delicious. No need to elaborate.
Music makes miserable moments a bit better.
Hubby started making playlists, and he finds the best music, and one of my kids is calmed magically by tunes, the other one is obsessed with playing DJ. We have music on most mornings, evenings and afternoons now via Spotify, and it has been a delight. Music has been bringing tears to my eyes, levity to difficult moments and dance party fun. Some of my current favourites are Stay Alive, Fools Gold, and for something sassy, Hey, Soul Sister.
Don’t just say yes to a project.
I said yes to a writing project without thinking too much about whether or not I could write it. Saying “Yes” was easy, I was flattered, it involved a contract and pay, but when I got to writing, I felt out of my depth in a way that I did not expect. The deadlines were around some of the personally darkest weeks of the autumn season as well, I could not have anticipated that, but I wonder what would have happened if I had actually sat down, weighed the work and seen. Can I do this? Am I supposed to do this? I won’t be taking on another writing project without having a strong sense of “Yes” to those two questions.
For the past week, every time I read the news from any part of the world, I can feel fear wrap around me like a blanket. Strong, heavy, unbearable. I can hear the stories from my history classes in university and high school, stories of people turning against each other, of wars and raids, of the destruction of people, of corruption and power, and it seems like we are running toward our destruction.
We are not nearly as good as we thought we were.
Whatever corner of the world you are in when you read this, it doesn’t matter. I sense that you want your life to matter, and you want to live beyond the seemingly hopeless realities in the news. You feel a call to do something, but what? How? When? You feel helpless. I know I do. This is for you – the one who wants to fight, the one who wants to create and not consume, the one who knows you have something you want to do but isn’t sure how to do it.
Our action step – plan to find daily moments of rest from the news and information, set aside a day week when work stops completely.
Find the margins.
There is always work to be done in the margins. There are people in all of our communities who are forgotten, and who believe that their lives are worthless and disposable. Two weeks ago I was in the library and witnessed a young person mistreating a child. A few days later, I saw the same person again in Kmart. I don’t think this was a coincidence. Both times I was faced with someone in the margin, a bewildered, hurting child and a lost, broken parent. I had no idea what to do then, but I know that this was not a coincidence. It was an invitation. To do something. To ask questions. To provide wisdom and truth. To be present. Your margins are different from my margins – be present in your community and find the people who are afraid and pushed to a corner. Who could you connect with in your community? What are the needs of your schools, government and neighbourhoods? Where do your gifts connect with the needs around you?
Our action step – read your local newspaper or website, go to a part of your town that you haven’t been to, maybe a part that is unsafe, listen to members of your community who are involved and find out what needs to be done.
Pick one thing
Choose one issue to which you can devote whatever time and resources you have. It is impossible to do everything, and in this age of information I can get passionate about everything. But I wonder if everything is distracting me from the one thing that I can do. Find your one thing. Learn about it. Research it. Do what you can. The one thing will also lead you to the people you need to work with.
Our action step – what is one issue to which you want to devote your time and resources? Is there an organisation or team you can partner with? Who can you contact? What can you do?
You are not just a witness to history today. You get to play a part in creating it. Let’s reject helplessness together, let us embrace the small ways we can lend our life toward the needs around us.
Now it’s your turn:What are you going to do today? How can you rest from the anxieties of daily life? What are the margins in your world? What is the one thing you can do?
Most of you may be thinking (or trying not to think) about a certain international event of importance. Me? I can’t help myself, I’m still looking back. History has always fascinated me, it was my favourite subject in school, I majored in it at university, and it continues to be something that keeps me grounded both in my daily life and also in the way I perceive the future.
2016. What was it like for you? As the world seemed to descend into chaos around me, our little world in Melbourne, Australia pieced itself together. I dropped one child off at kindergarten, played with the other one, cooked, started the slow work of getting to know people, reconnected with some of my dearest friends and family, traveled to Alaska, became my niece’s “Wevi.” A million ordinary moments and a few extraordinary ones, the making of a life in one place.
So here’s what I learned this year in no particular order.
Rest is the start I began the year by reading “Soulkeeping” by John Ortberg, and this quotation from the book served as a foundation for the year, undoubtedly for the rest of my life:
“The soul was not made for an easy life; the soul was made for an easy yoke.”
I think that year after year, maintaining a sabbath practice, both daily and weekly, is key to the rest of my life, the root system out of which everything else grows.
Grocery shopping stresses me out I go to the grocery store usually two times a week, sometimes more, but this year was the first time when I realized: This is causing unnatural stress. My kids are wonderful shoppers, which is why I didn’t allow myself to see it (I kept telling myself how blessed I am to shop with kids). We experimented with online shopping and Husband taking care of the groceries, and it has made a difference.
Hold the gifts inside There are two beautiful things that happened to me this year, and my instinct was to share it. Write about it on the blog, tell someone about it, put a photo on Instagram, but something about the the glory of these two gifts stopped me. Sometimes there is space to share about the beautiful things but not the way in which it most deeply touched my soul. I learned to enjoy the gift on the inside, to turn it over in my hand and watch the way it changed in the light, to enjoy watching its different facets and what the process of time did to it, and to let the gifts become part of a system of internal resources, something to rely on during the harder weeks and seasons of life.
My children know when my love for them comes with requirements I used to write a lot about parenting here, and I haven’t in a long time. There’s a reason for that. The past two years have just about done my head in as a mother, not just because of my children, but because of myself. Perhaps the most humbling thing about parenting is the way it will pull out every evil thing in your heart on display for the most easily influenced, innocent members of your family. Someone asked us in August if we weren’t perhaps expecting too much of our children, it was a turning point for us in so many ways. You cannot give your children something you cannot give yourself, and it has been six months of relearning or maybe learning for the first time, the nature of grace and love.
Trust takes time I’ve spent a lifetime rushing into deep relationships, and this was the year when I learned to slow it all down, to pay attention to my soul and to my circumstances, to honour the needs of my husband and kids and the way it impacts my ability to relate to others and connect with others. There are longer, deeper thoughts here, but for now here it is: It takes time to build relationships that are based on trust and connection, and that time has to be taken to sustain healthy, truly deep relationships that are characterized by freedom and love. 2016 was the year I decided that I will take the slow path to healthy relationships; it has been a painful but very worthwhile lession.
A hopeful vision for the future I read The Atlantic Monthly’s essay about Donald Trump in the middle of the year, and it was the source of one of my major “aha’ moments this year. The article helped me to see the powerful way with which fear can drive me, and in contrast I saw the way God leads, through hope. In the middle of my fears (and I have many of them), I sensed God saying to me, I have a hopeful vision for your life. It has served as an anchor and a reminder when I am afraid that God has a different narrative for my life.
Our brains can change I went to Dr. Caroline Leaf’s seminar in Melbourne about renewing the mind, based on her book “Switch On Your Brain,” and even though there are things I disagreed with, this basic truth was profound to me: God made our brains in a way that they can change. The connections in our brains can be rewired, and our thoughts directly impact the way our brain is formed. Something about this seemed like the truth that I know is found in God – he makes all things new, his mercies are new every morning, there are second chances for us when we fail again and again. Change is possible. He has literally wired it into our brains.
There is time Alaska. I spent a week there on a writing retreat in September, and it was probably one of the best weeks of my life. I went into it saddled with many writing fears: Can I sustain a writing life? Will I miss out if I don’t do anything now? Each one was answered not by any person but by the love of God in many tiny, intentional moments. I see you, I know you, and you have time. 2016 was the year when I decided to take the timetable stress off my life, my marriage, children, writing, passions and calling and to embrace instead a trust that God has all of these things in his hands, I can trust the process, and I can enjoy learning along the way. I don’t think I have ever received such an extraordinary gift as the week I spent in Alaska, I will probably spend the rest of my life unpacking the beauty of it all.
Thanks for journeying with me on the blog last year. It was a joy to get to know you and share in your highs and lows as well. I look forward to another year of walking and growing together. Now tell me, what did you learn in 2016?
I told friends that June was probably the roughest month in Australia since our move. There are no ways to prove such superlatives, but it felt like it. I went to sleep later and later, our children woke up earlier and earlier, and for anyone who has been reading this blog for a while, you know I’ve written those sentences before. You know me well enough to know that no one in our home does well in those circumstances.
The trap of difficult seasons is it casts our eyes backward, Life was so much better when…. or it drags us into the future, If only I had or was in or… We think we need a big change of relationship or a new home or if we spent more money on clothes or a course, we may have the opportunity we look for. Painful seasons leave me with little capacity to do big things, but as the fog lifts, I can see four small changes that helped ease the difficult weeks or would have helped when the challenges hit. Most of these I can only see in hindsight, but I am tucking it into a little file in my mind to pull out when the next rough season comes. Here’s hoping that if you are in a difficult season, these will help you out.
1Remember the stressors. I got in a car accident, a minor one, but it required adjustments – my car was in the shop for a week, we had to rent a car for a few days, I lost my phone in the middle of all of this, which meant I was harder to contact, and I couldn’t do some of the administrative work I do for our family. Once the car was repaired, something else went wrong with it, and it had to be taken in again. The whole process lasted about three weeks. Husband had several hectic weeks at work. Our children woke up earlier than normal in the morning. We took the our littlest’s paci away. The boys got new bunkbeds, and the little one isn’t in a crib anymore but a bed. He doesn’t like to stay in his bed in the evening. Or in the morning.
When I read that to myself, I’m amazed the past month wasn’t harder. A pacifier is a huge source of comfort for my youngest. A car accident where no one is injured in the slightest and the car is drivable without repairs, doesn’t seem like a big deal, but it puts pressure on our schedules. I wish I had paid attention to these things while it was happening instead of adding guilt to myself for not coping. Hard times need to be named and called out, so that you know you will have to gather up your strength and bear up underneath the difficulty. There are seasons, sometimes days or weeks or months or years, where you just have to stand (or sit) as the hard times blow around you because there is nothing for you to do except outlast the storm and find a way to live inside of it in a way that is whole and healthy.
2Embracing screen time. Almost everyone has opinions on screen time, I certainly did. Likely you could find some of those ideas in archive. I’m still a believer in limited screen time, but I’ve come to embrace what it can do for me when I need it. And to embrace it without guilt because I will not put my kids in front of a screen and then feel guilty about it. The boys were on two weeks of school holidays in June, and they watched a movie a day, there was one day when I think they watched something for most of the day. I did laundry, cleaned the kitchen, cooked, cleaned our bedroom and got some quiet time to myself. It felt wonderful to get things done, and to get a lot of things done in one go. I loved getting quiet time to myself while the boys were happily watching something in another room.
Screen time is no replacement for relationship time, and I’m not suggesting kids get a free pass to watch what they want, when they want. But I am saying that there are days when it is in everyone’s advantage to turn a movie on and to do so joyfully and willingly without feeling like a failure as a parent.
3Reach Out I emailed a few friends, women who know me well and whom I trust, and I spilled. I gave them the raw version of daily struggles, they heard my despairing, discouraging thoughts about myself, and I asked them to pray for me. Each of them emailed me back, encouraged me and prayed for me. I can tell you that I started to see a difference in my daily circumstances in almost 24 hours. One of them challenged me on some things in a face time call, and I needed to hear it. Difficult times – because of the mistakes of others or our own – have a way of pushing us further into a cave of our own making. No one else feels this way, I’m the worst person in the world. But the truth is that there are few things I need more in this time than the arms of those who are stronger, coming around me, picking me up and bearing the burden with me.
4 Pray Big God, please make them sleep longer. Most of my mornings of the past five years involve some version of this prayer. In seasons we’ve had dependable, peaceful mornings, but for the past two months it has been wake up calls from very tired children anywhere from 5 am to 6:30 in the morning, too early for them and too early for me. But this morning last week, as I lay in my bed begging God for more sleep for all of us, I sensed instead his kind, corrective words.
Don’t you have something more to ask me about? Don’t you think I can do more than this?
It stung because it’s true. I spend a lot of time daily praying for God to change something in what’s happening with my kids so that my life will be more manageable, and while I have nothing against that, there are other things happening in our lives and in the world that require bold, persistent, vision-filled prayer. My dad told us that we think we change God’s mind when we pray, but really he is changing us. I believe it. One of the ways it changes me is that it casts my eyes outside of myself, it reminds me that I have a place in a much bigger story where things are happening, and it is not all about me. I still pray for my kids to get 12 hours of sleep a night, and I won’t stop, but I have been praying about other things, too. For their souls, for their friends, for the people in my life who are in a difficult season, for the world that seems to unravel around me one gunshot at a time. For the enormous number of things I could not name here, but require faithful, faith-filled prayers, I have asked and asked and asked again. And it feels good.
There is hope, my friend, whatever season you may be in today. You are not alone, you are not alone, you are not alone.
Now it’s your turn: What small thing helps you get through hard times?
Maybe you’re frustrated by the list of big goals but wanting to seize your life and change? Small changes are for the rest of us, the ones whose dreams mock us from the sidelines, the ones who yearn for change but know they can’t just shove everything to one side. We do it bit by bit, piece by piece, and we believe that each piece is making a difference. If you want to read more about small changes, you can start here:
Saturdays are for expectations. I wake with thoughts of rest, time off, brunches and exciting expeditions, ideas that are rarely shared by my three-year-old when he wakes up at 6:30am. Nevermind my five-year-old who would rather ride a bike than read a newspaper with a coffee.
It took me years to realize I left most of my weekends heavy with disappointment and frustrated by unmet expectations. What has made our weekends a bit lighter? Staying present, focusing on the need, whether it is for food or extra play time or another round of hide and seek. Expectations put me in the future, staying present keeps me grounded today. I need this to thrive. Also, I do tell Husband when I need time off because 30 minutes in a coffee shop can fill me up in ways many things do not. It may not be brunch, but it is something.
Here’s to a happy weekend for you and yours, and if you’ve got a few minutes, these reads filled up my heart and mind this week.
How to Survive the Election because I cannot be the only one out there who is so finished with the US elections. And for the love, I don’t even live there. These are sound tips for anyone who wants to stay sane, healthy and whole until November
Don’t Go Chasing Waterfalls by Nichole Nordeman she wrote most of the songs of my teen years, and her words in this post brought ears to my eyes. So much truth and beauty, give it a read if you’ve been through a hard season and are doubting that there are good things in God’s heart for you.