I’ve been reading Grace Table almost since it started, and love its message about faith and the table. I joined the contributing team a few months ago, and here’s my first offering. Do click over to read the whole piece, and subscribe there as well. You will love the varied perspectives on the hospitable life and the beautiful, thought-provoking writing.
It was a tall wooden house, two levels high, painted yellow with white trim around the windows. It stood on the corner of two streets with a huge backyard that stretched out behind it, an apple tree with branches that stretched up and flopped over on the sides from the weight of the fruit. We called it The Yellow House, and it was our home in Stockholm, Sweden for two years. There were French doors, an open fire place, high ceilings, a huge kitchen, a foyer that opened into a library. Our books stuffed the shelves.
It was my perfect home.
And in it I lived an open life, people I didn’t know piled in when we had been there for only a few weeks. We made pizza and ate it in at a table that was too small, voices echoed in the room because there wasn’t lots of furniture and nothing on the walls. A few weeks later, our backyard was full of more people we hardly knew, enjoying the late autumn light, drinking warm apple cider and connecting with each other. It was easy to live a hospitable life in a home I loved.
And then it was gone on a late August day last year, we handed the keys to our landlord, watched the light filter through the glass one last time and drove away. An Emirates flight carried us across Europe, the Middle East and most of Asia, across Australia to its eastern shore, and we land in Melbourne, Australia on October 22.
We started looking for a new house, and I could feel my loss in every doorway. The tree would have been full of fruit. Applesauce would have bubbled on the stove while a fire burned. It should be dark and cold.
This post is day 27. 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.
This is the thing about our transition, I lose my perspective so easily.
It feels like any decision made too quickly or incorrectly is going to send me hurtling off the edge.
A bit dramatic, no? I suppose these are the delusional feelings of a mother who traveled half-way around the world on Wednesday and Thursday only to have her kids wake up to party from midnight to 4am on Friday night, only to then have gastro hit an entire household on Saturday evening. I suppose no one is thinking rationally after they’ve cared for a puking child only to then be sick herself half a day later. But it’s true. This is what I felt on Sunday. Why are we here? Nothing is getting done. We have so much to do.
But then it was Monday, and I photocopied official documents, went to the Police Department for certification and then to Medicare, and in a few hours my kids and I have healthcare again. Just like that. And then I heard my sister say that we had been in the country for four days.
Four days. Really? I wondered because it felt like an eternity or nothingness and discouragement and illness.
But it wasn’t.
When you see life through the wrong perspective, everything, absolutely everything, will seem like it is against you.
Because here is the truth. In four days we opened a bank account, struggled with jet lag, nursed a sick child and our own sick selves and sorted out health care for our entire family. Nevermind the cooking, cleaning, clothing, laundry and the everyday care for adults and children. We didn’t do any of this alone, we have help because we have family here, amazing family and friends. And underneath all of this are the everlasting arms that carry us home, the hands of God who doesn’t always take away the problem (even when I begged every hour from midnight to 4am), but somehow gives grace to get through and promises and delivers his presence. This grace looks like my sister who cooks and cares for my boys, and this grace also looks like a virus running its course and leaving. Sometimes grace is just surviving a night and knowing that now it is day. Only 12 more hours before bedtime.
Life is moving forward, and life is good even when it is hard. This is the truth. And it is encouragement, it is joy, it is hope.
Now it’s your turn: Whatever stage of transition you are in right now, if you are discouraged, please take a moment and write down what it is that is true. What have you missed in your own story? How is grace holding you up even when it seems like there is pain or when things are not going the way you want it to?
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.
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.
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.
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.
Our children need words of life to build their souls in this breaking, we need words of life to build our souls in this breaking.
Put on your shoes, quick! These are the words that come naturally to me, I am a rusher, I like getting things done, a child’s pace is approximately 10000 times slower than the speed at which I want my to-list accomplished. But I have learned the very hard way the power my words and my attitude have in building or destroying my children. The very, very, very hard way. I feel the need to say this again today, I make these mistakes almost every day. Speaking words of life is an intentional, character-forming, tongue-restraining, control of my natural impulses in every way. It is not easy, it is not natural, but it is a choice. This is good news because as long as I am alive, I can make a different choice, I can choose to speak life and turn away from words that push and rush and from words that hurt and destroy.
When he called and asked me to put his socks on after trying and I want to get out the door, You tried so hard to put your sock on, I am so proud of you.
When we arrive exhausted at a restaurant, but I still want to keep driving, That car ride was so long, I can see that you were hot in your car seat. Thank you for your patience.
When I cannot believe I have to deal with yet another aggressive move on the playground, I see you are sad to lose your toys, but you may not hit and take this other boys’ toys even when you are sad. Come to me and tell me about your sadness, we can talk about it together.
When it is way past dinner time and bed time and it’s Child Fall Apart time but an AirBnB host has messed up our booking, I know it is late and you are tired, we are doing everything we can to get the key to the guest house. Papa is trying to get a new SIM card to make a phone call about the key, we have to wait together right now. We are a family, we are a team, and we are in this together. We can do it.
Your spouse needs to know you can see what causes them stress, and they need to know that you know when you are the one contributing to their stress. It is humbling, it can be exhausting, but it leads to a tired but tried trust.
Thank you for taking the time to sort out the visa application. I really appreciate that.
The garden looks fantastic, thank you for all the time you spent working on it.
I said I would call the airline, but I forgot. I know that adds work to our schedule, I am sorry.
Gentle, patient, building words provide a rhythm of grace and kindness for our family. It makes the pace of our lives manageable in a season that carries with it inherent stress. I have to fight daily to find these words, but it is worth it.
Now it’s your turn: Who needs words of life in your world right now? What words can you speak over them? Do you need words of life yourself? Where can you find them?
So you’ve felt angry, the grief overwhelms you at times, there is an unexplicable sadness in your heart when you think about your losses, and then what? How long does it last? How can you get over it? I want to tell you, Expect negative emotions. Accept negative emotions.
I didn’t say to accept negative behavior – for anyone who is wondering – there is no justification for angry words or actions or passive aggressive conversations or hurtful ways of behaving. Those things will always be wrong, requiring humility and repentance to turn from them, and forgiveness to make things right with the people we have wounded.
But negative emotions are different from negative actions. Emotions are feelings caused by our circumstances, and while we cannot allow our life to be determined by them, we have to acknowledge our anger. We have to honor our grief. We can allow our emotions to lead us to places in our hearts that we must face for the work of wholeness to take place in our lives.
Talk to someone about how you are feeling, preferably not someone who is in the transition with you because they have their own set of negative emotions. It has been crucial for me to find women who are not connected with our transition, friends in Sweden, friends in Germany and friends in other places, to whom I can vent. Irrationally. Negatively. Anything I want to let out, I let it out to them, they are a safe place for these negative feelings. I am angry because I don’t want to move. I am so sad. Life with kids is disappointing and discouraging. Find safe people who can handle the full weight of your emotions but who do not try to fix you or explain your emotions away.
Accepting my negative feelings and acknowledging them to someone else is the door to letting those feelings out of my life.
For those of you who are parents, I want to tell you to expect negative – very negative – emotions and behaviors from your kids during a move. When we moved from Switzerland to Sweden, Big Boy was only two years old. We moved everything out of our apartment, and the boys and I stayed separately at a new place for a week while Husband went to Sweden to start unpacking. Big Boy woke up five to seven times in the night almost every night, and this is after he had been sleeping through the night for well over a year. He woke up more than our newborn did. I was blind with fatigue and frustrated out of my mind. I wish I could tell you I was gracious and patient. I was not. I did not realize how afraid and unsettled he must have been, he had lost his only home and watched his physical life get packed into boxes, and he was apart from his Papa for the longest stretch ever in his life.
This move we’ve dealt with tantrums, defiance, all kinds of controlling weirdness with food and sleep and many other things. Yes, there are certain behaviors we cannot tolerate. But our kids need their fears acknowledged. My sons need to know that they can be sad about leaving their home. They do not need to move on. Right now, it is time to grieve.
They need to hear me give words to their emotions when they do not have the vocabulary for it yet, Are you sad because we are not in the yellow house anymore? You are angry because you don’t have your toys here. You don’t want to say goodbye to your friends. You are sad about leaving Sweden.
And they need to hear me honestly express my own emotions about this move. I was getting ready for our going away party by hanging up lanterns when Big Boy came up to me. He was distressed because he had accidentally broken one of his shoes. But I could tell it was something else, he was falling apart completely. We had set out a table of our things that we didn’t want anymore for people to take, and he had asked me several times that afternoon why people were taking our things.
I pulled him into my arms and said, Are you sad because there are things here that we are giving away? Do you feel afraid that we won’t have anything left for us? Are you sad because we are saying goodbye to our friends and to Sweden?