Saturday, 12 January 2019

The end of bed-time stories


Sometime during the last 12 months it has happened.  Both of our children at the same time, even though one is a tween and one is a teen.  Both have stopped requesting stories at bed-time every night.
Enjoying reading bed-time stories has been a process for me.  When I was pregnant with our first child, a friend lent me Mem Fox’s book “Reading Magic”.  I admire this friend greatly, so I diligently read the book and followed Mem’s advice, which was to read your child 3 books a day from the day they are born.  If you do this, it will greatly increase their ability to learn to read for themselves.
When the kids were preschoolers, I sometimes resented bed-time stories, because it was just one more thing I had to do before the kids went to sleep and I could finally have time to myself.  But I was spurred on by parental responsibility and Mem Fox’s promise!  And it was true.  Our oldest was able to read before she started school, and our second-born was able to read soon after starting school.
Sometime in early primary school, Ben and I decided that after their 3 parent-read-stories, each of the children could do quiet reading for as long as they liked and when they were tired, they could turn their reading lights off and go to sleep.  This worked really well to stop the children arguing for “one more story” or “one more cuddle”, but I believe it’s also given them both a love of reading.
We progressed from picture books to comics to chapter books, with many familiar titles that Australian Children love in this era – Hattie and the Fox, The Green Sheep, The Very Hungry Caterpillar, the 13-Story Treehouse Series, Captain Underpants, Ahn Do’s Weirdo series, Asterix and Obelix, the Harry Potter series, and even some classic Roald Dahl stories.  Occasionally they’ll still read some of their picture books.  But they rarely request bedtime stories from mum or dad these days.
I am grateful that they are growing up and moving in ever-widening circles of independence, after all that’s a big part of our job as parents.  But it’s a little sad - it tugs at my heart strings a little that they no longer depend on us to read stories to them.  At the moment they are away for 11 days, at the Australian Scout Jamboree (www.AJ2019.com.au) which is an amazing experience for them, learning teamwork skills, resilience, and having a great time doing all sorts of activities.  11 days is a long time!  They have never been away from us for that long before.  The first couple of days were just weird, like something was missing from the house (which they were, of course).  Then I felt really sad for a day, but then I started to appreciate the peace and quiet, the amount of jobs I could get done in their absence, and the extra time with my husband.
One day, the kids will fly the coop for good.  Gosh I’m not ready yet, but I hope that I will be wise enough to let them go in stages, so that when they do move out, I’ll be ready to let go.

Tuesday, 30 June 2015

The "hard" in life.

We all have our "hard".  The thorn in our side.  It may be a person in our family who drives us around the twist, but we cannot avoid them because they are part of the family.  It may be a chronic illness, limiting our mobility, giving us pain, stopping us from doing the things we most love with the people we most love.  It may be a child from whom we are estranged, and long to be reconciled with.

Some people like complaining about their hard.  A lot!  Some people allow themselves to be defined by their hard.  Others are able to keep it in perspective.  Even the most positive people have a hard of some sort.

I've been following a blog by Kara Tippetts called Mundane Faithfulness
(http://www.mundanefaithfulness.com/).   This blog is about Kara's hard, but also about being in community with others and allowing them to share in your hard, and serving you in it.  It's about lots of things.  I discovered Kara and her story via another blog that I follow called A Holy Experience (http://www.aholyexperience.com/) Both of these blogs have some gems of encouragement.  Kara calls her cancer her hard.  And various aspects of it "today's hard", or "the new hard".   While I cannot imagine living with Kara's hard, we all have a hard.  Some of us more than one.  The hard may change over the years.  A couple of years ago, the death of my third born was my hard.  Before that it was something else.  In the last few months, the death of Sophie has become integrated into who I am.  It's no longer front and centre.  Some days I don't even think about her.  That hard has been replaced by another, which I am not going to share on this blog.  Maybe that hard was there all along, and it was simply eclipsed by the Sophie hard for a time.

In the early weeks after Sophie's death, I read one particular book over and over again.  It's called " A grace disguised - how the soul grows through loss"  by Jerry Sittser. (find more info about his book here) What Jerry wrote about catastrophic loss made such sense to me in those early days.  He pointed out that it was not very helpful to compare one person's loss with another, since all loss is catastrophic to the person who is experiencing it.  I don't know if one person's hard is more difficult than another.  They are all hard.  Many people in my community are experiencing hards at the moment.  Terminal cancer.  Divorce.  Miscarriage.  Children and grandchildren moving far away.  A child with a brain tumor.   Chronic debilitating back pain.  Our hearts ache for these pains, whether they are felt by ourselves, or by a family member or friend.

Sometimes in order to try to make ourselves or someone else feel better, we are tempted to compare their troubles to something in the news of late, such as well at least you aren't in Nepal, or on that boat, or getting shot in "insert country here".  I know that the intention behind these comments are good, but they aren't actually helpful, are they.  If our basic human needs of food/shelter/love and belonging are not currently being met, I'm sure all the other needs would vanish into insignificance as we battled for survival.  But once our survival needs are met, does it mean that life is easy, and no more pain will ever be experienced?  Nope.

It's my understanding from the bible and from my own life experience that the soul does indeed grow through loss, as Jerry Sittser describes.  I believe that one of the reasons God allows suffering in our lives because it will produce changes in us that no other process will.  And of course if we had a choice, that fork in the road where one side was bliss, happy life, and the other was suffering and hard times, do you think we would willingly choose the suffering?  Heck, no.

Loss can unite communities.  It can lead to forgiveness where previously there was none.  It can lead to loving others in a better way, in the way which they need to be loved, rather than just the way that we feel like giving.  Bizarrely, loss can lead to wholeness.  A knowledge of how utterly dependent we are, as human creatures, on God the Father, for every breath we take.

A glorious sunset

Written in March or April 2015

I met with 2 dear friends yesterday.  One is living with authenticity and bravery in what will likely be the last year of her life.  The other is living with authenticity and bravery in the years she might not have had - a little over a decade go she had a severe illness and came close to death.  Very close.  For one, death this year is almost certain, unless God intervenes to write her story differently.  For the other, her story on this earth continues.  Both are living in the busyness of young children.

I admire both of these women greatly, as wives, as mothers, as friends, as daughters, as daughters-in-law.  I feel like they have such a great balance and perspective on life, even in the midst of their respective struggles.  They both have a great sense of humour and it's a joy to be near them when they are laughing.  Their joy is infectious.  All 3 of us struggle in one particular domain of life, but it's rare for all of us to be struggling at the same time, so we are able to encourage each other, and reach out for help with a text message at any time of the day.  This is the beauty and joy of living in community, as God designed us to.

Once a month, the 3 of us hang out at one of our homes for a few hours.  We talk.  We laugh.  We cry.  We pray.  We encourage each other in our areas of struggle and celebrate the areas of joy and fun.  I cannot remember who came up with the name Loungeroom Ministries, but I think it was Cath.  I like it because it reinforces that when women are sitting around having coffee and chatting and laughing, that is only a small part of what is really going on.  They are building community.  I know I've got on my soapbox about this before so I won't say it all again today. 
Women are ministering to each other in this sort of community.  Cath also had another term for what attracted our group of 3 to each other - she called it the fellowship of suffering.  When a person has been through a traumatic experience, it provides a connection with others who've also been through trauma, even if the details of that trauma are vastly different.
 
I'm so grateful for this community of women that God has brought into my life for a season, a season which I know will change when one of us is promoted to her heavenly home sometime this year.  There's something about the sisterhood that's unlike any other connection.  I'm not sure I can even define it right now.  But I'm confident that any women reading this blog will know exactly what I mean.

Written on May 31st 2015

Yesterday there was a glorious sunset in front of us as we traveled down Shepherd’s Hill Road.  This immediately made me think of my friend Cath, who is in the sunset of her life here on earth.  She was diagnosed with stage III breast cancer just after her most recent child was born, 3.5 years ago.  She reached stage IV at the beginning of last year, and is now in hospice.  It’s not just the last couple of weeks in hospice that have been her glorious sunset though, it’s the last 3.5 years of her life, since the diagnosis.  I knew of her at the time of diagnosis, through working at the preschool which one of her children attended, but had not yet met her.  I was rather distracted at the time.  Her most recent child was born one week after Sophie.  Just yesterday I realized God’s sovereignty in not allowing us to get to know each until the last couple of years, because if I had known her back when Sophie was born, I don’t think I would have coped with a friendship with a woman whose baby was the same age as Sophie.  Her baby was alive, and mine was not.  I would have resisted that friendship very strongly I think.
We began to get to know each other just before her stage IV diagnosis, and the basis of our connection is our faith in God.  A kindred spirit.  A love for God’s Word.  Respect for His sovereignty.  I felt driven to pray for her and encourage her, but as is often the case with “God” things, it was in no way one-sided.  I gained as much as I gave.  I encouraged her, she encouraged me.  She spoke truth and love into my areas of vulnerability in a way that no other person ever has.  A few months ago I introduced her to my other lovely friend Ali.  Ali is also a kindred spirit in the common faith we share.  I was certain that they would connect well, and so they have.  We are able to be completely vulnerable with each other, knowing that we will not be ridiculed or rejected by the others.  It’s a rare gift.  The last time the 3 of us met together was about a month ago, and when I heard that Cath had moved into hospice I wasn’t sure if we would see her again, but she’s invited us to come and hang out with her tomorrow morning.  She told us that she is "ridiculously excited" about us coming to visit tomorrow.  I am so glad to be able to have a goodbye visit.  It’s a wonderful gift that she is giving to us by working us into her schedule with her limited energy and time.  I’ve cleared the schedule for tomorrow so that I can hold space for myself to grieve for the rest of the day if I need to.  I am both scared and excited about the visit.  Scared of saying “the wrong thing”.  Scared of being shocked about her physical appearance (she told us last week that she is not really eating, so it’s likely she’s lost a lot of weight).  Excited at being worthy of granted some of her precious time.  Excited at having one last chance to talk and laugh and cry together before we lose contact for a while.  Until Ali and I also are promoted to glory.

Written on June 7th

The morning that Ali and I spent with Cath was wonderful. We talked, we laughed, we cried, we prayed.  Cath said her Doctor had told her she either had days or weeks left to live.  She replied “Well, which is it, days or weeks?  I need to know!  Because if I knew I still had weeks, I’d plan my time very differently than if I knew I’ve only got a few days.”  He couldn’t be more specific.  I guess there’s so much going on in the body.  He said she would die in her sleep, as her body gets more and more tired, one time when she goes to sleep her body will be too tired to wake up again.  I like that idea.  It seems like a peaceful way to die.  Although I think it would make me afraid of going to sleep, if I knew that I might not wake up again.  Her doctor stressed to her and her husband and kids that every time they say goodbye, they need to make it special, in case it’s the last time they speak.

It’s been a week since that visit, and I still text her a prayer most days, and get a reply most days.  We took a photo with each of our phones of the 3 of us together, and it is lovely to have – strange that we have never taken one before.  It's the only photographic memory we have of the 3 of us together.




Promoted to Glory

Cath was promoted to her heavenly home on June 18th.  The last visit, we joked that she would have letters after her name - Catherine xxxxxx, P.T.G.  She liked that.  I feel a certain peace about it because I respect God as being the author of her story, but I miss her desperately at the same time.  This sounds like a contradiction, but it isn't.  These feelings can co-exist.  The bible tells us in 1 Corinthians 15 that Christ has conquered death, and because of that, death has lost its sting, but death still burns.  It's deeply offensive, and I don't believe that indicates any deficiency of my faith.  I think we're meant to find it offensive.  Randy Alcorn, in his book "Heaven", says that when someone dies, we don't actually "lose" them, we simply lose contact for a while.  It's the loss of contact that hurts so much though, isn't it.  It's the loss of contact that is a pretty big source of the offensiveness of death.  I think that the offensiveness of death has other purposes too.  I think it drives us closer to God the Father, and makes us yearn for our eternal home.  Because then we will be back in contact with those loved ones who we have lost contact with for a while.  And we will fully know God, just as He fully knows us know (1 Corinthians 13).   It will be so good.

Cath has written a beautiful blog about her journey and you can find the blog here.

 

Monday, 16 February 2015

Community and whether to go back to work or not

Why is it that being a full time parent is under-valued in our first world society?  This is a topic which puzzles me and some of my full time parent friends, and we feel an obligation to correct the perception that we are not "doing" anything if we are not in paid work.  We are doing a great deal.  The dishes still need to be washed, or the dishwasher loaded.  Clothes still need to be washed. Food still needs to be gathered, and cooked.  Children's teachers need to be consulted about various hiccups in our children's school years.  Chickens and dogs and the garden need to be maintained.

In some of my circles full time parenting is valued and affirmed, but I certainly feel undervalued by some of the other people I come into contact with.  A comment I often hear is "Oh you're lucky that you don't have to work."  Actually it's not luck in my case, it's planning.  My husband and I intentionally bought a small house that we could afford to pay for with one income.  Small kids don't take up much room (even if their paraphernalia takes up lots of room) so it's only become apparent recently that we are starting to be all on top of each other.  Our house is not glamorous, but we don't care.  It's small, but that has advantages too.  When the kids were younger, I could keep tabs on them regardless of where they were in the house.  I still can ("WHY are you still playing on that iPOD!!!)

One friend, who worked briefly as a nurse before marrying young and having 4 children, has only one child left at home, and even that child will soon leave the nest.  She has said many a time that she hasn't "done anything" in her life, and now that her children can care for themselves, she has nothing to do.  This is a prime example of the failure of our society (or, at least, the parts of our society that have surrounded her in the last 30 years) to appreciate, encourage, and value full-time parents.  There is little monetary reward, although we appreciate greatly the family assistance of various forms given by the Australian Federal Government.  I have responded to my friend's claim that she hasn't achieved anything in her life with what I see as the truth - she has raised 4 children who are now balanced and functional adults, nice most of the time, and are making their own way in the world.  This is the main part of our job as parents, is to equip our children to survive, and thrive, in the world we live in.  What she has done over 30 years will have a greater positive impact on the world that what many people may achieve in their entire lifetime.  It has value that cannot be easily quantified, especially in the early years of our children's lives.  The work that we are doing in preparing them to be functioning adults cannot be easily measured or appreciated.

My husband and I see great value in what I am doing, but I often feel like I have to justify to people that I don't engage in paid work outside the home.  By saying this I'm not criticizing those parents who chose to work.  Many women will tell you with certainty that the time they spend in the adult world makes them better parents when they are at home with their children.  For some there is a financial imperative to work.

The thing is, why can't it just be a choice, and that's that?  Why do we feel the need to justify ourselves, whether we do paid work or not?  As women, we seem to feel that we have to justify whatever we do.  If we work, especially full time, we heap upon ourselves the guilt of having our children in childcare, or in after school care, or even feel guilty if our generous parents are filling in the after school hours with our children, at no cost to ourselves.

When I meet my girlfriends for coffee, we're not just lazing around drinking coffee and yakking.  We're building and maintaining our community.  It might be hard for our husbands to make sense of (especially those husbands who are "human doings" rather than "human beings") but it's vital.  When there's a crisis or an illness in a family, who do you think picks up that family's children from school, and makes a few meals, and comes over and does a load of washing or cleans their house?  Their community.  A friend has recently had an operation and cannot drive for 6 weeks.  Who is taking her and her small child to and from school every day?  Her community.

It's very challenging to feel like you belong to a school community if you work full time and literally never get to school, you only interact with the before and after school care service.  I really admire parents who both work full time, I don't know how they do it, and keep a foot in their children's school community as well.  If both parents still have living parents who are able and willing to help out with care of their children then that is wonderful, but that is not the case for many families I know.  Some have emigrated from other countries and have no family at hand.

I am likely to get on my soap box again about this, as I feel very strongly about it.  What I do in being a full time parent IS valuable.  It might not earn me any money in the short term, but the rewards will be far into the future.

I am choosing to be a full time parent with my children.  Other women choose to work part time or full time.  Both of these things are choices, and are OK.  There should be no justification.  We need not base our identity on these things.

Thursday, 23 October 2014

Sophie's Day 2014

It'll be 3 years next week that Sophie left the world, then was born into the world.  The pattern of this year for me is following the pattern of the previous years, which is that from mid August my distress slowly increases, peaking in the weeks immediately preceding Sophie's birthday, then to find relief when the day itself arrived.  We've made it.  We've survived another year.
Some people join a cause to help give meaning to their child's death.  This may be a specific group that raises awareness and funds for a specific medical condition that caused the death or their loved one, or it may be a more wide reaching group like SANDS or Pregnancy Loss Australia (formerly the Teddy Love Club).  This joining with others helps to make meaning from the death of their child.  I have not done this.  I am not really sure why.  It just hasn't worked for me.  In the early days I did speak to a SANDS counselor a couple of times, and went to a coffee morning, and that was helpful at the time to be able to talk freely, but it was hard work emotionally, being in the same room with 3 other women who'd all experienced the death of a child, and all we talked about was our losses.  I am grateful for that time, but it hasn't filled the gap for me in the long term.  I have leaned heavily on my faith in God who is Father, Creator and King.  In the week before Sophie's death and birth, my bible study group was looking at the last few chapters of Job.  There is no question in my mind that I was being prepared that day, for the sorrow to come.  God is sovereign, and He does as he pleases.  He doesn't need to justify Himself to me.  "It's gonna hurt, honey, but you can take it."  Job lost all of his children, I only lost one child.  Thus far, it's never occurred to me to be angry with God for taking Sophie away.  I concur with Job when he said "Naked I came from my mother's womb, and naked I will depart.  The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised." (Job 1:21) Job's faith lead him to see the sovereign God's hand at work, and this gave him comfort even at the time of a calamity.  The day Sophie was born, a visiting preacher was at our church, due to preach that Sunday and the next.  He'd been led by God's Spirit to teach from the book of Lamentations, about finding God's rest and peace in the midst of suffering.  Another gift.  God was preparing this speaker to speak words of comfort, as he was prepared Sophie to come home.  I have listened to those sermons many times since (you can find the links to the audio here). and they have provided great comfort to me, and I trust also to my church family.  I have such respect for God's sovereignty, that I've never even allowed myself to thing about what Sophie would be doing if she was still alive, at the age she would be, had she lived, because it was never the plan.  It was never meant to be.  The formal ultrasound we had at the hospital, to confirm what we already knew by then, showed that the cord was wrapped around her neck 8 times.  How can there even be enough cord for that?  At the time I had a strong sense that this was a gift from the Father, a message to me about his sovereignty - "Be in no doubt, Kate.  She was always coming home to Me."  Another gift.  No second guessing myself about whether or not I did something "wrong" during the pregnancy.  As you know from an earlier blog post I wrote, cord entanglement wasn't the cause of her death, she died from an infection that she had for a good part of her short life.  The autopsy report did comment about the extraordinarily long cord, but that wasn't it.  God is sovereign, and he does as he pleases.
Thankfulness for what I have, rather than what I don't have, has been a revelation to me in the last couple of days.  I started reading a book by Ann Voskamp (find her blog here) called One Thousand Gifts.  A friend dared her to write down 1000 things that she was thankful for.  As she listed the things, she began to realize that what she was writing was a list of evidence that God loves her.  I began my own list a couple of days ago.  I listed people to begin with.  My close family.  Other significant people in my life, some of whom I currently have no contact with, but they have been significant in my life journey.  The first 10 on my list read a bit like an autobiography.  I am grateful in my mind for all these people and things, and grateful verbally when I pray, but something about putting it into words on a page has been incredibly powerful.  It makes it more real somehow.  Gives it more meaning and value.  As I've grieved in the lead-up to Sophie's birthday, deliberately writing down these things has produced a clarity in my mind that I've not had since mid August.  I'm sleeping the whole night through again.  How could I have not known this before?  The secret of being thankful?  An old hymn says "Count your blessings, name them one by one, and it will surprise you what the Lord had done."  In naming these gifts on a page, these pieces of evidence that God loves me, makes the difference between being in despair, and being able to have joy in the midst of grief.  Being deliberately thankful is making the difference.