A few weeks ago, I bought flowers for myself for no reason. I like having flowers around. I like looking at them, I like trimming the stems and arranging the blooms, pulling out my vases excites me, having a spot of beauty where I can rest my eyes during the day brings energy and strength.
So I’ve started buying myself flowers. Weekly. It’s now part of the grocery shopping experience.
Flowers felt like an extravagance in the past, but more than that, it came with expectations. That someone else was going to by me flowers. My husband, friends, people who are coming over for dinner.
I see myself as a person who knows what she wants and goes to get it, but somehow when it came to these small things that bring beauty, joy and ease to my life, I treated myself as a consumer and not a creator.
I could consume beauty by joyfully receiving flowers, watching a movie or reading a book, but I couldn’t take ownership for my love for beauty by creating what I longed for. There is a bigger story here about writing, but for now I am sticking with the small lesson. I was created by God, who is the source of creativity that cannot and will not end, and I was given creative strength because my creativity points back to the goodness and beauty of his creative strength. I do not have time these days to hole away for days writing, I cannot paint a masterpiece for an art gallery, there is no time to perfect any creative skill or talent.
But I can do small things every day that remind myself that I am a creator, I have ownership for my life, someone else is not responsible for my desires. For now it means I stop to paint with my boys, I print pretty printables with truth about identity and daily work, I sweep my floor, I make my bed daily, I chop parsley and scatter it on top of soup. These are simple actions that transfer my creative mind into my daily work, it keeps beauty filling my life, and it helps me to keep going.
And for the days when there is no time for anything else, it helps that my vases are full of flowers.
For you there’s a story as well. What do you want to create? What is an idea that has swum around in your mind for a while? Maybe it’s more than an idea? Maybe it needs a life of its own? What small thing can you do this week that would say to yourself and the people around you that your creative self matters?
Camping with small kids is doable and a lot of fun. I like a bed under my back, and I like not sleeping in the same room as my kids, so the idea of a tent, squished next to my (cuddlesome) two-and-a-half-year-old who likes to wake up at 5:15am, was less than attractive to me. But we live in Australia now, my parents are here, my sisters and their hubbies, and it was determined that we should go on a holiday all together. The truth is that it was amazing. We camped for two nights, and not once did I hear a little person whine about when they get to watch Jake and the Neverland Pirates. The boys played with dirt, sand and water, we ate two-minute noodles and drank hot chocolate. My back still feels out of whack, but write it down in the books: Camping may be the easiest family holiday we’ve ever had.
Bite-sized goals are changing my life. I didn’t make resolutions this year, but I had two goals for January: No eating at McDonalds for the boys and I, and I will wake up before the boys. We had zero fast food until last weekend, and I’ve woken up before the boys more than I used to. It was a boost, a good one. So I made a list for February. It was a bit longer and required more of me; I would have to organise my kitchen drawers, and figure out how we are storing our books. But it got done. Midway through the month, when I didn’t want to do anymore (the bookshelves, our bedroom), I saw the things I had done, and thought, keep going. You can do it. I’ve made a list for March, and hopefully this new trend of goals for each month will continue bringing small changes throughout the year.
I love taking and sharing photos. It had been months since I picked the “big” camera up, but I had been watching golden hour for days with longing. I paid attention, picked up the camera and snapped a few photos of the boys and our yard. It felt clunky at first, I had forgotten how to use the settings, but it still felt good to come back to the camera. I’ve been posting again on Instagram, too, and you can follow me over there. It’s met my need to share what I’ve been learning when I don’t have time to blog and also to capture moments of beauty.
I don’t like choices, but I pretend like I do and this stresses me out. Here’s what I mean. For the past few years, I’ve felt an unspoken pressure to find new cute (and cheap!) places where I can grab a cup of coffee or catch up with a friend. Moving to Melbourne made it worse, there are great cafes around every corner, and I never wanted to be at a place that had (gasp) less than inspiring ambience or (shudder) bad food. (Hashtag firstworldproblems.) But what this meant is that the slivers of time I had to myself were full of internal pressure: Should do this, should be there, should see so and so, and instead of being able to unwind my mind and my soul, I was getting more and more wound up. So I’ve eliminated some choices. There are several cafes in our neighbourhood, I chose one, and every chance I get for 30 minutes or more to myself, I go there. I order the same thing – a small mocha – and I journal, read, make lists, or read the newspaper. It has made the time I have to rest that much more restful.
Hello from the other side. And yes, I’m listening to the radio again, and Adele! Apparently she’s been around for years, but I’m only hearing about her now. Send help fast before I get a reputation as the least cool mom at kindergarten.
I know, I know, I had you all at chickens. We are pet owners, much to our boys’ delight, and the chickens’ dismay. I suppose one day they will stop trying to pick them up, throw balls at them and hit them. I blame the chickens. The boys keep expecting them to interact, like a toy that moves without batteries to replace. Obviously chickens are the Perfect Toy, except that they run away and only want to peck for things in the ground. When we moved into our house (the chickens came with the house), we had three eggs a day from the three chickens, a few weeks ago we were down to two, and in the past few days, it’s been an egg a day. This is their way of protesting? Any chicken experts out there who can educate me?
We first walked into what is now our house 17 days after we first arrived in Melbourne. We were supposed to see a yellow weatherboard house, and I wrote the story in my head, we leave one yellow house for another one. I had looked at the photos for days. But the inspection was cancelled unexpectedly for yellow house, and we drove on to a plain, brick house instead. I had taken five steps into the house when I knew it was ours.
When we are lost, we will look to the past to guide our way. God’s hand took us to the Yellow House in Sweden, and he made a nest for us within those walls, and I thought he would do the same thing in Melbourne. But he had a new thing for us, it is brick and there are chickens, and it is good because it came from him. What is he doing in your life? Are you looking back and wondering why he doesn’t provide the way he provided for you in the past? He’s doing something new for you, too. A new way of working, a new season to live in, a new taste of his grace, a new need for his help.
Do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the desert and a stream in the wasteland.
It is perhaps the revelation every parent comes to at some point. I can’t take the pain away. But you try, the baby falls over and you swoop in to pick her up. The toddler runs too fast for new feet and smashes a knee, your kisses make it all better. Is there anything a regular parent wouldn’t do to take the pain away from their child?
But I’ve done almost nothing. I’ve sat there, reflected his words back to him and rubbed his back. Not because I think it’s the best thing for me to do, but because I have no idea how to fix this, and authenticity is something I aim for as I love my kids. And I know that there is no real answer in the in between we are in right now. We are waiting, waiting and waiting some more. I don’t know when we will find a house, I don’t know that everything in our shipment will be as it was when it left Stockholm, I don’t know if my sons will be happier here than they were in Stockholm. I have no idea, so I do the only thing I can. I nod my head, and I listen. I pray he knows there is a safe space in me for all of his emotions.
Maybe I’m looking into the future to a time of broken hearts and girls, to jobs lost or exams failed or friendships betrayed, and I can see the truth: I won’t be able to do anythingabout it. There is a deception about these little years, the feeling that I can do something, I hold the keys to their health, happiness and security. But I do not. I am not their healer and provider.
And there is yet another side to all of this. My boys have no idea if we will ever get a car or a house or find work because they have no memory of having to search for these things in the past. They got carried to car seats, they ran around a house they loved. The work involved in finding these things? They knew nothing of it. I know we will find a car and a house even though I have no idea how or when these things will materialise.
I’m doing some tantrum-throwing, too, not in public of course, but into my pillow, words poured out to God, Why? Why does it have to be so hard? Why does it have to take so long? When will my life get back to normal? When will my children stop waking us up at 6am?
I wrote several weeks ago about wrestling with God, and I am still living in that place right now. One morning a few weeks ago, the boys were stirring and getting up around 5:30am, way too early for us and way too early for them. We lay in bed and prayed, and I don’t mean just prayed, Husband and I begged God to make the boys go back to sleep. They didn’t, they woke up, the morning was unpleasant. We were unpleasant, and there has been a lot of this. Many, many prayers thrown at God, without the answers we hope returning to us. And there is profound pain in this process, it shows me the things I long for, why I long for them, and why it hurts when things don’t go as I want them to. But there have always been answers, even if it is not the answer we hope for, God has spoken clearly in the middle of our questions, there is a light leading us on this path. It is a path that shows us daily a bit more about who God is and he is showing us who we are as well.
This is what I am trying to say: I need to let my boys face the pain in their lives because this is teaching them something about life and about God, something that is necessary for a long-term life of health and wholeness. I could give them words and things and experiences that numb their pain, but that only trains them to turn away from pain and toward what they can consume to take the ache away. It is a set up in the direction of addiction and escape. They need to know that experiencing pain is a normal part of life, and that our God will be their companion in the middle of it. And while it is tempting to speak my promises to them – think something along the lines of We will find a house soon! It will be amazing! –turning their hearts toward God’s promises gives them tools for the future. Jesus is with us, he will never leave us, he has good plans for us, he will take care of us, those who trust in the Lord are safe. These things are true.
Every day that I live this out with them, I am giving myself another gift. The daily reminder that I am God’s child, and he doesn’t come to take away my pain. He comes to redeem it. Redemption is not escape or numbness. It is an exchange, it requires a total and complete acknowledgement of what happens, it is never ignoring the bad. I have lived this year after year for over a decade now, and I see it in story after story in the Bible. Deep pain, profound human failures, and a God who sees it all. He didn’t make it go away, he hung on a cross in the middle of our pain and experienced it. God knows the pain for the hurt that it causes, and in his time and in his way, he exchanges it for something beautiful, he turns it into something we cannot imagine. Only God can do this.
Beauty for ashes. The oil of gladness instead of mourning. A garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair. So that we may be oaks of righteousness, his planting, that we may stand forever in strength and beauty, smiling at the future because we know we are in safe hands.
Now it’s your turn: What pain in your life do you need to face today? What do you need to believe about who God is to help you do this?
How many cities have I watched disappear into that fog in my lifetime? I can buckle my seatbelt with my eyes closed.
When I was a little girl, we only listened to Christian music. I used to think in tiny boxes, a pile of black ones on one side and a pile of white ones on the other side. But airplanes were one of the few times I got a taste of the music that was out there. On a British Airways flight from Sri Lanka to London, I first heard those words, Got a picture of you beside me, got your lipstick marks still on your coffee cup. This was back in the day when each channel on an airplane radio station had a set one-hour or so play list and it played on a loop. It was a total delight to an uncool one like me, I would wait and wait for the song I wanted to hear and delight in the fact that I could hear it multiple times before the flight was over.
Whatever I said, whatever I did, I didn’t mean it. I just want you back for good.
It was over a decade later when I found out it was Take That who sang those words, but wherever I am even today if I hear Gary Barlow’s mellow voice singing, I guess now it’s time for me to give up, I am 13 again, a geeky country Filipina girl with long frizzy hair sitting on an airplane, wondering where she belonged because when your life is in boxes but you aren’t a square, you get left out of your own story.
I scratched out the words in my journal. It was the best song I had ever heard.
It is 2001. Train releases Drops of Jupiter, and I listen to the radio now. I’ve wanted it that way, known the meaning of being lonely, and said bye, bye, bye to friends in Manila, Philippines and friends in Fayetteville, Arkansas. It’s another flight, United, I think, and I listen to Drops of Jupiter again and again and again.
Now that she’s back from her soul vacation, tracing her way through the constellation…
I am sailing tens of thousands of kilometers in the air, and I can pretend that this is my story, somewhere there is a nonexistent person – preferably he is tall and resembles George Clooney (grace please, I was 17) – and he’s waiting for me to land while I look for myself out there. Because I used to think an adventure was needed for change to come, it needed to be big, bold and radical for it to be real.
Those were the years when flying meant leisurely hours to watch movies, sleep, crochet and read books. Or to just stare out the window and think about nothing. But this is 2015. Not this flight, not with Little Bear clutching at my clothes as he tries to fall asleep. We cried our tears and said goodbye to Husband’s family, the boys run through security, and delightedly climb into their seats next to the oval windows. Big Boy gets his seat belt on without my help, he’s only interested to see if Cars is on the Emirates media program. It is. Little Bear sits in my lap and plays with my face, with his seat belt, with anything he can touch.
Wheels are off the ground, and I grab the headphones to find music. I’ve hardly listened to any music in the past five years. Beyonce has songs other than Crazy in Love? What? A song called Roar? Who is Katy Perry? I’m mid-30 and have two kids, is that a good excuse?
So this flight I go to the CD of the year, 1989 by Taylor Swift. I listened to it for most of the six hour flight to Dubai and again on the 13-hour flight to Melbourne. Apparently my old habits haven’t died.
Because here I am, wife, mother, woman, moving yet again. The world is a bed of clouds under this piece of machine, and I am taking flight. Higher, higher.
I used to think in boxes of black and white and stories that were big and bold, but now I am small, a speck of molecules and dust zooming through the clouds, living, loving, learning and it is time to meet the next change. There is no morality prize, no medal for pretend heroism, only the reward that comes from slow, painful growth.