45026

Image Source: Christianity Today

A Malaysian Airlines flight goes down over Ukraine, 298 people dead in an instant, taking with them decades of HIV/AIDS research, family life and memories. Israeli teens are kidnapped and murdered, a Palestinian teen’s life is snuffed away. Rockets fire into Israel, the mothers of Gaza hold 414 broken, lifeless bodies. Rachel is crying for her children. Hagar weeps for her sons.

Yezidis hide in the mountains with no water or food, surrounded by an enemy bent on their total destruction. Christians flee Mosul and Qaraqoush, they have no idea where they will go. Children are beheaded, women raped, men tortured and killed.

Bombs are falling in Gaza, bulldozers tearing down buildings leaving the rubble of an economy and dignity behind. Jets fly over Iraq dropping food, hoping for bombs to fall on men of evil, holding back an advance. 

Bodies pile up in West Africa, 961 with blood flowing out of them as a disease shuts down borders and hospitals and lives and families and communities. There is no cure, the world scrambles to halt the spread. 

Our broken world.

My one-year-old and three-year-old sit on their matching red IKEA chairs at a red table, outside in a beautiful, spacious garden. The air is cool, it’s a perfect summer evening, and they munch contentedly on ears of corn and sauteed asparagus. They smile at me, I smile back, we talk about the day, playing, about the wonder that is corn. Husband will be home in a few minutes, we’ll dress up and go out for tapas, slicing our knives into perfectly seared tuna with pickled ginger and pea puree on the side.

And it feels unspeakably wrong because I’m thinking about a mother in Mosul as she hides with her children, praying for another day, I’m thinking about a father hiding in a cave hearing his children beg for water and food when there is none.

Shame and guilt are unproductive at best, evil at worst, and I can pray, grieve, remember, give and advocate without both. If you’re like me, living with our western comforts and safety and feeling uncomfortable, your guilt serves no purpose. It doesn’t make anyone’s life better, all it does is rob you of your ability to do something now.

In heartbreaking times I want to shake off my guilt and live this way instead:

Pray I am a person of faith, when I pray, I pray in the name of Jesus and believe that God listens, hears and acts. I am praying that he will draw near to the brokenhearted, to bind up their wounds, that he will come and heal bodies and spirits and hearts, that he will rescue from the dominion of darkness and transfer to a kingdom of light, I pray that hearts and spirits will be opened, that a flood of justice will flow down, that the world will see and hear and know Truth.

Grieve and remember This feels small and insignificant, but I do it anyway. I keep the stories of loss in my heart, reminding me that I am human, I am connected to those who suffer, and that one day I, too, may suffer great physical and emotional trauma. Because the loss of human life is always a tragedy. We were not meant to die, we were intended for life. I read the news, in balance, and try to keep myself informed. I try to give my toddler appropriate information, right now it sounds like, There is a country called Iraq and there are people and kiddos there going through a very sad time, so we are thinking about and praying for them. As they age, they will receive more information because I refuse to raise ignorant, materialistic, over-privileged kids.

Advocate There will be many assylum seekers and refugees who come out of Iraq. Wherever you live but especially if you live in the United Kingdom, United States, Australia and other European nations, talk to your politicians about keeping their policies welcoming toward assylum seekers. Look for and help refugee and assylum seeker organizations in your cities to find housing for people as they come in and provide food, clothes and education.

Give There are several organizations doing frontline work that are I’m sure in need of financial support.

Doctors Without Borders (or MSF) are one of the main organizations fighting Ebola in West Africa. 

Preemptive Love Coalition are in Iraq offering heart surgeries for Iraqi children. Please go through this website – they do a unique, necessary work in this troubled nation. The founder and director Jeremy Courtney’s twitter feed is also a great source of information from someone on the ground in Iraq.

World Vision has suspended it’s program in Gaza for security reasons, but intends to reopen as soon as possible. They are currently supporting injured children and families with its Psychological First Aid and hospitals with medical supplies.

Live I will choose to look for the goodness of God in the land of the living, I will see the beauty in a sunrise, the cool air against my skin, I will rejoice in it. When I watch my boys growing and changing and filled with life and joy, I will be thankful. I will keep entering into the beauty of each NOW moment, and I will do it as an act of war against the powers and principalities of evil in the world who want to remove beauty and joy and peace. I will choose not to be anxious about anything, I will choose not to feel guilty, and instead I will choose to pray for those whose lives are in unspeakable danger. I will choose thankfulness in all things and at all times because everything I have comes from the hand of God, a gift of grace unearned and unmerited.

plate 1

How We Fed The Toddler This Summer, just in case anyone gets the impression from reading this blog that our children eat three-course meals, cutting meat with a knife with their right hand and spearing broccoli with the fork in their left hand while they down organic kale salads. No one in our home eats like this. Just kidding. My husband totally does (and you should see his knife and fork skills).

The last few months have seen us struggling mightily to feed our three-year-old toddler. He has never been difficult to feed, but with every month of extra age, there have been some new peculiarities. NO SAUCE. NO TOMATO SAUCE. NO TOMATOES. THE SAUCE TOUCHED MY CHICKEN. PIZZAONLYWITHTOMATOSAUCE. We haven’t eaten spaghetti bolognese in months. I almost miss it. I’m sure you’ve been there, and I’m sure there is more to come.

This is not a post about curing toddler aversions – although if you have tips, please leave it in the comments – only to share one little presentation tool that seems to have made a difference this summer: The Communal Plate.

We spent most of the month of July in Stockholm for a family staycation. We ate as many meals as we could as a family, something we are rarely able to do when Husband is at work, and did a lot of eating outside. One day on a whim, I put everything on a beautiful black tray from Vietnam that a friend gave us for our wedding, took it outside and put it in the middle of the table. All of us had forks or used our fingers and picked food off the plate.

Mommy, what is this???? Little Boy wanted to know. The Communal Plate, I told him. He was hooked. He loved that we ate the food off the plate together, there was less of a focus on quantity of food to eat and more of the experience of eating as a family. He also probably loved that there was no sauce on anything.

plate 3

We pulled The Communal Plate out as much as we could this summer, for lunch, for dinner, whenever it was possible. They both like vegetables, but we don’t eat salads all that often, so it’s not something they are used to. I don’t typically care too much about this, but it becomes a problem when we are guests in someone’s home where salads are usually part of the meal. So the communal plate became a great way to get a bit more of the “salad”-type food into our boys.

There are no rules here. I take a look at the contents of my fridge, chop up whatever veggies need to be chopped, thaw frozen chicken meatballs or warm up leftover chicken satay skewers. A can of beans would work well, we love olives, cheese, cucumbers, grapefruit, orange, avocado, red peppers, anything.

Husband grilled these chicken skewers on Saturday, so the boys and I had the leftovers on our Communal Plate for lunch this week. Tasty, easy, delicious. Happy tummies, happy toddler, happy parents.

plate 2

Chicken Satay Skewers

from Jamie Oliver’s 30 Minute Meals

700g  chicken breasts cut into small chunks
½ a small bunch of fresh coriander
1 clove of garlic
3 heaped tablespoons good-quality crunchy peanut butter
a 2cm piece of fresh ginger
2 limes
soy sauce

1. Put the garlic, ginger, lime juice, garlic, coriander (stems and all) and peanut butter into a blender or food processor and blend at a high speed. If you’re making this for older kids or adults, chili is recommended, but I left it out because our kids are a bit young for very spicy food.

2. Add a few splashes of soy sauce  and some water and blend some more. It should be a a sauce-like consistency, not thick like a paste, but not too runny either. 

3. Coat the chicken pieces in it and put in the refrigerator to marinate for a few hours. I usually do this in a bag because it’s easy to make sure all the chicken gets properly coated.

4. When you’re ready to cook, thread the chicken onto skewers, drizzle on some oil and barbecue on a hot grill until it’s cooked. You can also cook it in the oven under a hot grill for 10 minutes on either side. I’ve also cooked these on the stove (not on a skewer) like a stir fry, and it’s been great. Drizzle on some honey toward the end of cooking, whatever method you use, for a sweet finish.

instruments

Sometimes it takes a long time to understand what lies beneath the surface, what the thing is that needs our focus until it waits no longer, it gives up being a gentleman or woman and pushes through the surface, lava out of an erupting volcano, crying out for attention, unrelenting and turning you to face it and pay attention. It corners you somewhere and says, I’m here, we are going to work this thing out.

This moment comes for me on a cold afternoon in March, holding a baby in my arms, standing on our green grass and waiting for Assistancekåren to come and re-charge our dead car battery.

Music class is the most highly-anticipated event in our week. We started attending a few weeks after we moved to Sweden, Little Boy could barely let go of my leg when we walked into the first class, everything was new and scary for him.

But not the guitar and the strumming of his teacher, Dale. He’s always loved the guitar.

Most weeks he started by sitting on my lap, refusing to stand or do any actions, but he watched guitar and all the instruments that came out from time to time. In a new place, in a new stage of life, music was one of the few things he could understand and trust. In the spring we had the second semester of the class, and now he sings along, does the actions, runs around and is still devotedly in love with his teacher. Almost every day of the week, he asks me, Is today for music class?

One of the best parts of my week is when he wakes up from his nap on Tuesday afternoon, and I get to tell him, We’re going to music class now, quick let’s get in the car!

Basically, music class is a big deal.

Several months ago on a Tuesday afternoon, I woke him up from his nap for the class, it’s the only time I can interrupt nap time and get away with it because he’s thrilled to go. We got in the car, it was a beautiful sunny afternoon in late March, I turned the key and the car did not start. I turned it again. Nothing. Checked if it was in Park, put it in Drive, and put it back in Park. Still nothing. I tried everything I could – including laying my hands on the car and praying for it – and nothing happened.

You can imagine how this went down with Little Boy. He’s logical enough to hear the car not starting and see the key turning with no result.

Mommy, can we walk? Can we take the stroller to music class?

No, my sweetie it’s too far to walk.

Can we take the bus, Mommy?

We will be late if we take the bus. I’m sorry kiddo. I’m so sorry.

He got it. He knew he was not going to music class, and my son was devastated. He hugged me as his little frame shook with sobs.

We found out later than the battery died, and in the week that followed it died a few more times, so we knew we had to buy a new one. The place where I needed to go to get it done was five minutes away from the music class, and it was supposed to take 15 minutes, so when the next Tuesday arrived, I had a plan perfectly in place.

I was going to call Assistancekåren (the local equivalent to Triple A or RACV) to come and restart the battery, drive with the boys to the car place to buy and have the battery installed, then off to music class we would go. I left myself about two hours of buffer. Nothing could go wrong. We would go to music class.

Mommy promised a music class. It would happen this week.

I woke Little Boy up extra early. I wanted to make sure we had spare time. Then I called the car assistance people, and we stood in the yard and waited. They will be here soon, I promised. The last time I called they came within 20 minutes.

Twenty minutes passed. Then 30. Then 45 minutes. I’m starting to feel the pressure building inside, We will get to music class. There is no way we are missing music class again this week.

I called them again. You’re at the top of the list, the man says, We’ve had a lot of calls.

I’m praying, Please God, please make this work. I don’t want to miss music class. I’m watching the time, the class starts at 4pm, it was now almost 3:30. I didn’t even care if we would be late. We would go if there was only five minutes remaining.

One hour passed by. Fifteen more minutes and nothing. I realized that I had no idea what time the battery place closed, so I called them. It closed in 10 minutes for battery repairs and replacements. There was no point in the car assistance people coming anymore. I called them to cancel.

By this point I don’t think Little Boy believed we were going to class anyway.

But I was devastated.

I made promises. I made a plan. This Tuesday afternoon was going to be our redemption after last week’s heartache. And now again through events I could not control, I’m holding broken promises and undone plans.

Baby was in my arms, I turned away from my todler playing in the yard and walked a little bit so he couldn’t see the tears falling hard and fast down my face, but I didn’t hide the swelling anger inside.

How could you, God? It’s his favourite thing. How dare you? Fixing a car is nothing to you. This class is everything to him. We’ve been standing out in the cold for almost two hours now waiting, believing, expecting you to come through. How dare you? HOW DARE YOU?

My broken soliloquy continued until I was shaking so hard and so cold that I knew it was time to go back inside. Little Boy had moved on already. I put a video on and hid in the kids’ play corner of the living room.

I was shaking because I knew – this wasn’t about music class disappointing though it was, this wasn’t about the car, this was about me. And four years of adjusting to a new continent. Three years of sleep deprivation and stretch marks and hormones and nursing bras. Three years of no time for marriage, for myself, for the life I thought I would have. Four years of almost no community, four years of feeling ripped from my friends and family, four years of having no frame of reference. Four cold winters, cold springs and colder-than-normal summers, four years of feeling lost.

How dare you, God?

The words I felt in my soul for too long, finally making its escape.

The only thing I know to do in these moments is reach for my battered blue Bible and ask God to speak to me, anything. I hear Isaiah and turn to the middle and start to read, after a few mintues, I reach these words.

I know your sitting down
    and your going out and coming in,
    and your raging against me.

I know your raging against me. 

I know your raging against me.

No words of comfort, assurance or hope, only the Truth.

I know you, I know what you’ve experienced, I know that it broke you in every way, I see your broken heart, I know you lost everything. I knew you were angry before you knew it. I knew you were angry at me when you thought you were surrendering it all. I knew you didn’t trust me. I know your raging against me. I have heard your raging against me.

It’s tempting to tie these stories up with a bow, a happy ending, but there is none today. I’m walking this path with God, rebuilding our relationship one day at a time, looking deeper to see what happened to simple trust, holding fast with what little strength I have to what I know to be true, enjoying the now surprisingly warm summer days in Sweden, taking my vitamin D pills, talking things out with a counselor and finding alone time when I can.

Perhaps you’re reading this, holding your own disappointments and anger in your hand and wondering when The Good Part of The Story Arrives. I’m sorry – I don’t have it. I walked away from that couch and made dinner for the boys and put them to bed, raw from emotion long hidden inside now let out into the open.

Friend, you’re not alone. I know your raging against me, that’s what He says. He knows your raging, your failing, your successes, your inadequacies, your disappointments and your pain, fill in the blank, he knows it. He offers his presence to you, to me, to anyone who would accept it, and he gives you the opportunity to keep walking, to see what He is like and what He can do in you if you keep going.

I know your raging against me,  I hold this sentence tightly in my heart. God knows me, he knows the details of my thoughts, emotions and words. He offers his presence, his intimate knowledge of who I am, where I am and in knowing and accepting me as I am, he offers me an invitation to hold his hand and walk.

I’m linking up with the #TellHisStory community today. 

 

fountain

Sigtuna town is full of tourists in the summer, families coming to soak up the sun, quaint old streets and waterfront. Little kids run around in the parks, grown ups sit in the outdoor cafes eating lunch, the lines for ice cream are long. I’ve eaten more ice cream in Sweden than I have almost anywhere. I queue up for a waffle cone of blueberry, creamy and sweet, purple jam-like ripple in places, it starts dripping down my hand faster than I can eat it, but licking blueberry ice cream from my fingers while sitting on a bench facing a shining lake seems very Swedish.

I walked to my hotel room on Wednesday morning, it is small and comfortable with beige wallpaper and yellow roses. The single bed is white and soft, the writing desk faces Sigtuna lake with white chiffon curtains that blow into the room with the steady breeze.

This place was an old monastery converted into a hotel and conference centre. Tuscan orange buildings with vines and roses that creep up the sides, one of my windows opened out on a rose garden courtyard and fountain. Beauty everywhere, climbing up the vines, pouring into my room, invading.

I slept for five hours when I first arrived and woke at 5pm.

Husband found this place after asking me what I was looking for, Beautiful, I said, something beautiful where I can rest, be quiet, think, sleep, write. He checked me in, brought me to my room, said goodbye with the boys – he blessed me, he released me, which in turn gave me freedom to fully enjoy it and to fully enter into what the time could be. Now I’m asking myself, How am I releasing the people I love? Or am I controlling them, trying to make them into what I want them to be? Or am I giving them the freedom they need to bloom, thrive and flourish?

Space to breathe. That’s what these three days were for me. I slept whenever I wanted to. I rarely went out. I sat on my bed and read and read and read. I wrote for fun, I wrote for serious, I just wrote. I took two showers a day. I went running. The first morning I woke up at 4:30am, no doubt the same time Baby was waking at home, because yes, they are always with me. You don’t stop being a mother.

There’s a dignity lost daily in the grind of motherhood, the inability to take a slow shower, the hurried pony tail and comfortable-over-style shoes, the way your body becomes a human washcloth and your brain a child activity centre. This isn’t a problem – all of these actions help me to love my children.

But we need dignity, it lifts our heads, reminds us that there is more, that our mind was made for something other than kids (even if you use it primarily for that now), that your body needs lavish care (even if it is wiping up messes now), and you can spend time on yourself (even if most of the time is spent on others now).

I feasted on a banquet of time and rest, one that filled me up, and a gift for which I will be forever grateful, but it reminds me – carve out a space in my day-to-day that is a space of dignity. Maybe it’s five minutes, maybe 30, and maybe one blessed day it will even be one hour (if one of my friends stops waking at 4:30am). But carve it out. Set it aside. A Sacred Stop. A Dignity Moment. Name it whatever you want, but call it something so that you know it is time set apart. It doesn’t matter if you have kids or not – all of us are pressed for time. Make time for yourself now, in whatever stage of life you find yourself. This is worth it.

sigtuna

In six days we remember the day we first arrived in Stockholm as a family. A two-year-old, a two-month-old, a new assignment, a new place, a new people, a new life waiting for us here. When I left Geneva, I said I was ready to write a new story and sing a new song, and for a while it seemed like I was. But winter came, sleeplessness came, and there was so much darkness. I think on this now in this season of light so bright I almost want to hide my eyes from it and disappear into a hole.

It is not easy to live in light when you’ve been in the darkness for so long.

But I am choosing differently now. I celebrate this place, I celebrate a new season of slightly older kids, more sleep, more connections in Stockholm, and I welcome it with open arms.

How will I live this next year? How will I love my children? My husband? What needs does my family met that must be met whether I want to or like to meet them? How can I meet them? What do they need from me? How will I love myself? What do I need of myself? How will I love my community? What does it need from me?How am I uniquely made and what space can I uniquely fill?

If there is anything I have learned it is this: We fight for what matters. We fight for our relationships. Sometimes it’s handed on a silver platter, and we say, Thank you, that was so easy. But most of the time, it’s carved one small victory. If we are armed with love and intentionality, we can battle for selflessness, faithfulness and gratitude: To be disciplined by selflessness, to endure in faithfulness, and to perservere in a committment to gratitude – in all things, at all times.

What about you? How will you live this year? 

combo
Well, hello there. It feels like it’s been a long time. Starting a blog post after a long absence always feels awkward. What to share? What to leave out? Is an explanation even necessary?

Survival Mode has been the name of my game in the past few months, and it doesn’t leave room for  anything other than what keeps you treading water. I’ve tried to keep breathing though. Inhaling and exhaling, I can do that. I guess you can say it’s been an even mix of life with two small kids, sleep deprivation, cultural adjustment, dealing with sickness, the disappointment of laundry that won’t wash and fold itself. Etcetera. Etcetera. Etcetera.

I’ve been reaching for whatever I can find in the fridge for our meals, waking when the boys get up and stumbling around in my pajamas until 9am. No routine, no meal plan, no celebrations – these are the things that are my downfall every single time. Some people flow with the changes of a day, I don’t. I flow from one to two to three on my schedule, and if there is no plan, I look like a lost, confused person wandering around with no map and likely, I’ve dropped my phone in the toilet, so not able to call for help.

meat

But the fog lifts, as surely as winter gives way to spring and spring gives way to summer (or more spring if you live in Sweden), the fog lifts. It must. It cannot last forever. I’ve moved past survival mode now, and while I’m far from thriving, this place in between is an improvement even though my laundry still refuses to wash and put itself away.

Yesterday it felt like we had our first real summer day as a family. The sun was out, it was hot, the sunscreen came out (our June weather was much like Melbourne, Australia, where it is winter), we played football, climbed on balance beams, I planned ahead and made Sunday dinner. We sat down together as a family, held hands and thanked God for our food.

And it was very, very good.

plate

Oxtail Stew

Adapted from Jamie Oliver

This isn’t a summer meal, but when I saw oxtail – or what I thought was oxtail, I suppose one can never know when you’re working with a language you don’t understand – I had an instant craving for oxtail soup. I ended up making this recipe instead. We ate it with roasted sweet potato mashed with some feta cheese, a green salad and blanched sugar snap peas. The lightness of the sides offset the heavy, wintery taste of the stew. 

This cut of meat isn’t for everyone – it’s not classy, quite fatty and grizzly, but when cooked for so long, something beautiful comes out. 

1 kg oxtail, chopped into 4cm chunks (I bought mine like this, but you may have to ask a butcher to do it for you)
sea salt
freshly ground black pepper
olive oil
1 medium leek
4 stalks of celery
4 medium carrots
a few sprigs of fresh rosemary
4 dried bay leaves
4 cloves
2 heaped tablespoons plain flour
275 ml beer
stock of your liking (I used porcini stock I still have from a trip to Italy last year, and it was diving, but I think beef or vegetable stock would be great as well)

1. Preheat the oven to 220ºC/425ºF. 

2. Take a large roasting tray and put the oxtail inside, cover with salt and pepper and drizzle over with olive oil, make sure each piece is well coated, and put in the oven for 20 minutes. 

3. Chop the leeks, celery and carrots into chunky pieces (it cooks for so long that larger pieces are better – it won’t disintegrate so quickly). Put the veggies with olive oil into a large ovenproof casserole pan over a medium heat, toss the rosemary and bay leaves in there as well and cook for 20 minutes or so until the veggies have a nice colour and smell sweet. 

4. When the oxtail’s time is up, take it out of the oven and reduce the temperature to 170ºC/325ºF.

5. Stir in the cloves and flour to the veggies on the stove, then add the beer. Let it reduce for a bit, add the oxtail and any roasting juices, cover with stock and stir well. Keep it on the stove, make sure the heat is high and let it boil then put it in the oven for around 5 hours or so. I stirred every hour and kept track of the liquid content. I put the lid on around hour 4. 

6. When it’s done and cooled, take the oxtail out and remove the meat from the bones and return into the stew.