This post is day 17. New to the series? Start here. And if you want hundreds of other great 31 Days topics, you can find them here.

Today’s post is by my friend, Olivia. I’ve known her for almost 10 years now, and am so grateful for her friendship and influence in my life. I’ve watched her transition to different places and also different seasons of life, but she has always done it with grace and strength. She doesn’t have a blog – yet – but comment away and thank her for these wise and memorable words, and maybe she will start one (smile).

Olivia Staggers is a wife, mother of six (ages four-12) and a missionary alongside her husband of almost 15 years, Jason. She’s moved 10 times calling three different countries “home.” She’s a worship leader and passionate discipler of young women. In addition to her many responsibilities within the home, Olivia loves to cook and bake cakes for the many birthdays celebrated throughout the year.

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Photo by Roz Case of Spotted Zebra Photography

Text by Olivia Staggers

“I  can’t do this any more!”

I’ve uttered that phrase at least five times in my life.

Having pushed six children out of my body – two of them at the same time – I can confidently say I understand a few things about childbirth. I’ll spare you the gory details of all the stages of labour, but there’s one in particular that’s relevant. It’s called “Transition.”

Transition is the point in labour when you go from focused labouring mum to psycho woman. The pain is so intense and the feelings of despair so great, you begin to feel like you’re completely losing the plot. It’s the point at which you want to jump off the bed and run for dear life, as if that was even an option.

You may have been coping well with labour before, but in transition, you start freaking out and wanting to give up. Of course, by then it’s too late. When told it’s time to push, this is when even the most God-fearing woman will start repeating words their husband may not have even realized were in her vocabulary.

My second birth experience stands out. I was roughly three hours into strong labour and after experiencing regular contractions every 60 to 90 seconds, the pain began to greatly intensify. I suddenly became very emotional. I looked my husband in the eyes, and I uttered those six words, “I can’t do this any more!” I literally wanted him to take me home. I was ready to forget the whole thing.

But 10 minutes later I was holding our beautiful baby girl. The pain was a distant memory in the light of embracing the most perfect and beautiful gift.

The beauty of transition is that you know you’re about to meet your beautiful baby. The greatest gift comes after the greatest pain.

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Photo by Roz Case of Spotted Zebra Photography

I’ve discovered that transition in labour is a lot like transition in life. I grew up in Yorkshire, England, one of the most beautiful places in the world. If you’ve seen photos of rolling hills, purple heather, and 500 year old stone walls – that’s Yorkshire. Since first leaving England in 1998, I’ve moved 10 times in 17 years, from England to the US and back, within the US, and to Australia.

Transition can be intensely painful, but it can also be a great adventure. It’s difficult leaving behind familiar surroundings and people that you love, but the beauty of the next season – whatever that may be – pulls you forward. Here are three tips that I can offer to anyone relocating to a new city or nation.

Don’t leave emotionally before you leave physically

Sometimes the pain of saying goodbye to people that you love causes you to draw away from them. This can happen without us even realizing. We think that if we can distance ourselves emotionally before we leave, it will make the leaving less painful.

But God calls us to embrace the pain of transition. Solomon says in Ecclesiastes 3, “there’s a time to weep and a time to laugh.” Give yourself the freedom to do both. Grieve for the things and the people you’re going to miss, and even for the things that you’re afraid are ahead. But don’t forget to laugh as well.

I love this quote by Alfred Lord Tennyson, “Tis better to have loved and lost, than never to have loved at all.”

Include your children in the process

As our children have grown older, we’ve become more aware of how our transitions have affected them.

We’ve never come to our kids and told them we are moving. We’ve talked to them about the possibilities and asked them to pray with us for God’s wisdom and guidance.

We’ve had some highs and some lows in the midst of all our transitions, but bringing our children along on the journey, has given them the security of knowing that God is faithful – He always leads us and provides for us, both physically and emotionally. They also get to share in the joy of the moment when God speaks and confirms His word.

Hopefully they are learning that while we don’t know the future, which can make us anxious and fearful at times, we can always trust Jesus, being honest with Him about how we’re feeling.

staggersfamily

Photo by Ellen Maclaine

Continually remind yourself of the “why” behind the transition

The only way to cope with the intense pain and despair of labour transition, is to keep remembering you’re about to meet your baby. In the same way, amidst life transitions, we must keep our eyes on the joy ahead. Every time we’ve moved, it’s because we felt God was calling us to a new place for His purpose. The ultimate “why” for us has always been to honour and obey God and fulfill his purpose.

If, however, I keep dwelling on all the things I’m going to miss, and the things that may be worse or different in the next place, I’ll miss the moment where God is waiting to meet me, the moment I take that step of faith into the unknown, trusting completely in a God who promised He would never fail or forsake me. Or in the words of an old hymn I used to sing as a child, “Trust and obey, for there’s no other way, to be happy in Jesus, but to trust and obey.”

One of our toughest transitions was our move back to the States from Australia in 2011. Nathan was eight-years-old at the time and had lived in Australia for virtually his entire life. As we were leaving our house for the last time, we couldn’t find Nathan.

I walked back through the house and found him in his bedroom, staring out of the window. As I approached him, I saw the tears rolling down his cheeks. I knew he didn’t want to leave. I didn’t want to leave either, but we both knew it was the right thing to do. So we embraced, dried our tears and headed out the door.

Two years later, we miraculously found ourselves living back in Australia. God had led us back to the nation that had captured our hearts. That first morning back, Nathan woke up early and came into our room. I still remember his exact words, “I feel like I’m in a dream and I don’t ever want to wake up.”

Nathan would have never experienced that moment of pure joy and excitement, if he’d not had to let go and trust God and his parents to lead our family to the other side of the globe. Watching our children learn about the providence of God in opening up a door for us to come home has made all the pain worth it.

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This post is day 16. New to the series? Start here. Thanks to all of you who have shared these posts and commented, I so appreciate it. Do say hello if you’ve been reading or are new. It would be lovely to meet you. If you want hundreds of other great 31 Days topics, you can find them here.
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 beauty blog
It was a bunch of lavender cut from her garden, wrapped in purple tissue, not a crinkle or crease in the paper. She handed it to me with a smile on her face, A bit of beauty to brighten your week, she said. The packers would come in five days, the physical makings of our life in Stockholm dismantled and put into boxes. Chaos would reign, we knew this, we have moved before.

But there it was all week, the sprigs of lavender in a short glass bottle, muted fragrance swirling around, purple beauty to behold. It was our humble centerpiece for the last Saturday morning pancake breakfast. It was there when the movers filled our living room with packing materials. When everything was in a box in the kitchen, the sun caught the glass and sparkled through the lone bottle standing at the sink.

lavender table

Small? Yes. Some might even say a speck of nothing in a sea of grief, upheaval and chaos. But every time my eyes saw that glass bottle with the lavender poking out, my soul’s rhythm changed, I knew that I was loved and seen by people who love me.

This is the work of beauty. It helps our souls to breathe. We can rest in its presence. When we embrace beauty around us and in us, it frees us to be ourselves, and I have found time and time again that simple markers of beauty unleash this soul freedom in me. On normal days it is my turquoise bowl from Afghanistan, the white window panes, my giant mug. But in the chaos of moving week, these things are not always around to provide comfort.

But the purple lavender spoke peace to my heart and my senses, a resolute monument to the truth that in the middle of the ugliness that moving can be, I can still choose beauty. When there is chaos around, I can choose rest. Freedom is available to me, I do not have to be in control. Beauty is here, I can let go. 

Now it’s your turn: How can you create small moments of beauty in the middle of your busy life today (transition or not)? Is there someone who needs beauty from you today? What can you do for them?

I’m linking up with The Grove, part of the Velvet Ashes community today. 

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 Velvet Ashes: encouragement for women serving overseas

This post is day 15. New to the series? Start here. Thanks to all of you who have shared these posts and commented. I really appreciate it. Do say hello if you’ve been reading or are new. It would be lovely to meet you. If you want hundreds of other great 31 Days topics, you can find them here.

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The list of things to get done is long before a move, the tasks are tremendous and time consuming.

I know this because my Husband tells me so.

We were flying from Geneva to Australia with our six-month-old on Christmas Day in 2011. Imagine Husband’s surprise when he walked into the kitchen an hour before we had to be at the airport and found me rolling out dough on the kitchen counter tops. I don’t have words for the expression on his face, What are you doing? he asked in disbelief.

MAKINGBISCUITS, I replied, and I’m sure my face said, WHATDOESITLOOKLIKE? Because it was our first Christmas with a baby! We had to have a good breakfast together! We have to make memories! To his everlasting credit, we sat down and had a mostly unhurried brunch together, and he was very kind about it all even though the biscuits were flat.

Someone has to be the one in charge of fun, memory-making activities when it’s moving time, and that is my territory. My Husband is the bearer of news that usually sounds like, We have to pack. Our bags are too heavy. Your [insert crazy gift or purchase idea here] will not fit. But what that means as we get close to the moving date is that I am increasingly focused on what fun things we can do together – and deeply disappointed when these things don’t happen –and he is increasingly stressed out about the things that have to get done. Like emptying the refrigerator.

We are not there yet, but somehow in this move, we had moments when we managed to meet in the middle. Emphasis on the word MOMENTS. He relaxed on some things that had to be finished, and chose a quick drive to the café on the water so we could have ice creams together. I cleaned our outdoor toys and got them ready to be packed. But this only happened because we had those honest, awkward conversations.

It’s really hard for me when you can’t see that there is so much work to be done. I need your help.

I feel sad when we can’t do some of these things together. I wish you were more present.

The communication of expectations and desires is perhaps the most underrated and dull part of marriage, but it has made ours so much better.  I made my list of things to do before leaving Sweden (see last Monday’s post on bucket lists). It was full of important details like, Hang something in our garden and Have a pizza party.

Husband’s list, in contrast, had things like Visa. Sell car. Pack.

But he took note. He checked with me periodically about how my list was going, and he did what he could to make sure white lanterns were hung up in our garden for our going away party. I did what I could to make sure he had time alone to work through his tasks, to help him out when I could and to ask others for help to ease both of our loads.

Now it’s your turn: If you are married and going through a transition right now, I am guessing you and your spouse have some differences in how you want to work through your move. How can you meet in the middle? What needs do you have that you can communicate honestly and sensitively to your spouse? What needs does your spouse have and how can you take the time to listen and attend to them?

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This post is day 14. New to the series? Start here. And if you want hundreds of other great 31 Days topics, you can find them here.

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declutter

This post is of the Very Practical variety, and I am sort of squishing two posts together, so bear with me because I think these two tips are some of the most important when it comes to moving: Declutter and get help.

So first, decluttering.

I went through each room of our house and put things into three categories: give away, throw away and keep. Years ago I read Tsh Oxenreider’s book Organized Simplicity, and it was the first tool I had to look at ‘stuff’ differently. In her book she says to look at your things and ask Is it beautiful? Is it useful? and if the answer is no, the thing needs to go. I would also add that for me there are things that are beautiful and useful (or one or the other) that I simply was not using, and I went ahead and gave it away.

Set aside some time before your move to evaluate every single thing you own. I promise your future self will thank you for it. Get rid of the garbage – and think about why we have so much waste (it was scary how much garbage we had lying around in our house). Throw away the little things that take up space on your mantles or bookshelves. Give away books and music that sound good but you don’t really love. Look through your kitchen, are you still using that gadget? Or the pot? Perhaps it is better in someone else’s kitchen.

The most surprising quantity of things I had were three boxes worth of childhood memorabilia. Cards, programs from shows, photo negatives, photographs and albums, notes (remember how we passed notes in class?), basically a forest worth of trees in paper. I spent an afternoon going through each box, reading many of the cards, looking through the photos, laughing at my preteen humor and I will say it, crying several tears.

Transitions are about looking back and looking forward, decluttering can help us do both. I saw a picture of the girl I was, insecure but brave in her own way, forever out of place, misunderstood, confused, and I saw the way slowly, over time, I’ve come to a space of my own, where I have a sense of who I am, what is important to me, what I love and who I want to be with. I saw a girl who didn’t know much about boundaries, a young woman who wanted to please everyone, and it helped me celebrate even more the boundaries I fight to maintain now and the beauty of a life lived within the confines of who I am and what I love. Three boxes of memorabilia became one box by the time I was done, and I suspect that in the years to come I will whittle it down even more.

But I am so thankful for the opportunity to reflect on who I was, and I’m thankful for the opportunity to put the past in the recycling bin. Hopefully someone else will turn it into something useful or beautiful for the future.

And after you’ve decluttered, make sure you say yes to help. 

I don’t know what culture you are from (and maybe you could comment, it would be great to find out), but I grew up in Asia and in the United States, and we were always surrounded by a community of people who helped out, no matter what. When the stress piled on, they pulled in closer. Smiling women with casseroles showed up at our door after our family car wreck in 1991, people drove us to the airport in the middle of the night, family members helped us move, friends helped me clean every year that I moved out of my university dorm room.

These were huge gestures to me of love and community, and quite simply, I needed the help. I could not have done it on my own.

Swiss, Swedish and German cultures are different in this department. Very, very different. A stressful time comes your way? Most people pull away because they think you need the space to deal with it on your own. No one wants to burden you with their presence, and no one wants to be a burden themselves. Being strong enough and doing it on your own is highly valued, and people do not want to make you feel like you cannot do it on your own. I remember meeting a new Swedish mom at our church and telling her I would love to bring her a meal, and she looked at me like I had lost my mind. Why would I ever do such a thing? Different culture, different values.

We’ve done most of stressful times on our own for the past few years with very little help from others, not because we have chosen to live that way, but simply because we lived in cultures that had a different attitude about help.

Not this move. This time I knew I would need help, I knew we couldn’t do it on our own. Instead of looking at my life and lamenting the ways in which I didn’t have enough help, I looked instead at the ways I did. I listened carefully to people who offered help and I took them at their word.

I asked for help.

When someone said, Do you need help? The answer they heard back from me was always, always, Yes.

The contrast was huge.  A friend brought by a meal while her husband helped my husband cut up furniture we had to throw away, so everything fit in our car. Another friend looked after my boys while I cleaned bicycles. Another friend brought us food, arranged or us to stay in her apartment building, provided toys for our kids and numerous other tiny and big details.

Your friends are probably wanting to help you, too, they may just be waiting for you to ask. Give them specific tasks they can do for you and let them honestly tell you if they can help or not.

Now it’s your turn: What do you need to get rid of in your life or maybe even your heart? Who can you turn to for help? How can you be a help for someone else right now?

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This post is day 13. New to the series? Start here. You can join the conversation by commenting, it would be lovely to have you join us. If you’re reading this in your email, please click over to the post to comment. And if you want hundreds of other great 31 Days topics, you can find them here.

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rock 2

The story goes like this, I tell Big Boy and Little Bear, Joshua and the people of Israel were getting ready to cross the Jordan River. Days away from entering the Promised Land after decades of wandering in the wilderness. And God tells them to build an altar, an Ebenezer, the altar is a monument to the faithfulness of God, it is Israel’s way of saying thank you.

Ohhhhh, the boys nod along in the car.

So today, we are are going to make our own Ebenezer, I tell them. We are standing at the steps leading up to the door of the Yellow House. Everything is finished inside, clean and gleaming, our things are gone. Our landlord comes in an hour to inspect and take the keys. Our little family of four gathers around this large rock and a permanent marker.

We will write down our thanksgiving on this rock, and it will stand as a monument to the faithfulness of God. 

What are you thankful for, Josiah? I ask Big Boy.

I’m thankful for the Yellow House, he says.

And we write it down. Line upon line, here a little, there a little. Little Bear goes next, Husband, me. We cover this rock in what our eyes have seen, what our hearts have known. We write down the ways in which we were embraced by Love. In the throes of grief and sadness, it tells us the truth: He led us here, he provided for us here, he gave us everything that we need here, and he is the same yesterday, today and forevermore, he goes before us as we leave. 

You cannot say goodbye without first saying thank you. Our gratitude drew us back to the truth, that we bore witness to the goodness of God the two years we lived in Sweden. Even though we were heartbroken to leave, even though we didn’t know the details of what comes next, we needed to remind ourselves of what is trueLook what God did. That’s what this rock says. We planted it in the bushes in the garden that is no longer ours, a monument to the faithfulness of God.

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rock

This was on a Monday, the day before we said goodbye to our little church in Stockholm. Our dearest friends gathered around us, laid their hands on us and prayed. Our pastor said he saw a picture of a snake shedding its skin, There are some things you are going to leave behind in Stockholm. And my soul knows it is true, there are habits that cannot continue, there are attitudes that will kill my soul, there is selfishness that will destroy my family. I can repent, I can say to myself: No more. It does not have to continue. 

Leaving Sweden was an open door to me to draw a line, to take responsibility and to turn in a new direction. Leaving any place is that opportunity for all of us, the ending of one thing is the beginning of something else. We do not have to know what that thing is in the very real terms, I may not know what our life will look like in Australia, but we have ownership of our hearts, our souls, our minds, our actions. We can choose what those things will look like. We can choose how to think, what we will believe and how we will act. We are not helpless victims in difficult circumstances, we can choose what goes into our minds, we can choose the meditations of our hearts.

So that is what we do next at the Yellow House. I have scraps of paper in my handbag, and we each write down what we want to leave behind. What I wrote was personal, but I can tell you this, it felt powerful. Like I was owning my life instead of saying life is happening to me, like I was taking responsibility for my mistakes instead of saying someone else made me choose this. 

The boys dug a tiny hole in a corner of the garden, and we buried those scraps of paper in the fresh earth. I can tell you that it felt like freedom even though the work is real, the failures daily are real, but there is a hope this moment writes on my heart. He makes all things new. 

I was searching for the Ebenezer and Joshua story in the Bible while writing this post and couldn’t find it because it turns out, I got the story wrong. It is found in 1 Samuel 6-7 (chapter 7:12, for the specific verse). Israel is walking away from God, and in the beginning of chapter 7, they turn around and ask Samuel to intercede for them before God, turning away from their idols and promising to love God alone.  As they gathered to repent, the Philistines come back to attack, but Samuel intercedes for them and God saves Israel.

Samuel then sets up a stone and calls it Ebenezer, Hebrew for, The Lord is my help. Then Samuel took a stone and set it up between Mizpah and Shen. He named it Ebenezer, saying, Thus far the Lord has helped us.

Thus far the Lord has helped us, he says. Because he helps us in all things, and we saw his help, his provision, his incredible grace in the Yellow House, and all we can say is, Thank you. Because he helps us see our mistakes and our weakness, and he says, Return to me. Always, always, his words are, Return. 

I don’t know who you are or what your circumstances are, but perhaps he is asking you today, What do you need to give thanks for? What do you need to turn from? He is your help, and he can do it. 

I’m linking up with Jennifer and Holley today. 

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