The Secret to Long Life and Happiness

Rose Garden

The last few weeks were like a roller coaster for me as the year rolled on past significant birthdays and anniversaries.

First . . .

The date of my mother’s birthday in late January – a quiet day which rarely rates a mention, but is always silently remembered by us four sisters.

Soon after . . .

My birthday in early February, followed by the anniversary of my mother’s death only a week later. About 10 days after that, arrived a personal glass ceiling for me ever since my mother died: the day when I equalled the age she reached on her final day.

I know many people experience this barrier – it is impossible to imagine what your life might look like after you reach the age that your mother died (for daughters), or your father died (for sons). As a primary relationship, your role model simply no longer exists after that date.

That day was a milestone for me

It brought a day of both reflection and amazement – I had made it in full health and happiness! Remarkably the day closed with a chance phone call from my lovely stepmother, who had no idea how perfect her timing was. It was good to share my thoughts with her.

With all this reflection and awareness, it made sense to visit the place where my mother’s ashes are buried. I planned a trip from Hobart across to Melbourne a few months ago, unaware of how important it would become. I am not really the sentimental type, and only once before have I visited the cemetery. To be honest, I am happy to remember my Mum anywhere, and don’t have a need to go and visit. But it seemed fitting to see this place, and take some time to remember her life, especially given my recent glass ceiling breakthrough.

I asked my eldest sister to come with me

I would have asked my other sisters also, but they do not live in Melbourne. More than a decade separates us two, and I often feel like the kid sister in many of our interactions, but this was a good way of connecting a little more deeply than usual. It was only later that I realised how unusual it was for me to take the initiative.

We arrived at Springvale Botanical Cemetery and the memories flooded back. The day of Mum’s funeral, and cremation service afterwards, are forever etched in my mind. It is a beautiful place, and it struck me how this is a special place of reverence, honour and respect for those who have gone on ahead.

After making some enquiries, we found the specific rose garden and searched for the Rose Garden_plaqueplaque, engraved in our mother’s memory. We had a beautiful rose with us which we placed in the space provided. And we remembered. Standing there quietly in those peaceful surrounds, we reflected on Mum’s life, recalling a few incidents over those days, so long ago.

Tears were shed.

Hugs exchanged.

The world stopped for a moment.

On the way back to the car, she said,

“It’s lovely to be here with you today. Sometimes, it seems like you are so much older and wiser.”

I quickly responded with equally loving words. But it occurred to me that perhaps I am changing. Perhaps this journey of honouring my mother, even so long after her death, brings me to a point of maturity and self-awareness I have not known before.

Stephen reminded me later . . .

My husband, Stephen, is so good at helping me keep things in perspective! He reminded me about one of the Ten Commandments, given by God to Moses when the Israelites were setting out on their journey to the Promised Land. It  says this. . .

“Honour your father and your mother, as the Lord your God has commanded you, so that you may live long and that it may go well with you in the land the Lord your God is giving you.” Deu 5:16 (NIV)

And then many years later in his letter to the church at Ephesus, the Apostle Paul re-wrote that command and added a little editorial comment . . .

 “Honour your father and mother”—which is the first commandment with a promise— “so that it may go well with you and that you may enjoy long life on the earth.” Eph 6:2, 3 (NIV)

Ohhh! Of course. It’s a promise!

God says to us, each one,

“If you do this, then I will do that.”

If you honour your parents, you will receive blessing. Things will go well. Long life will come.

It does not mean the opposite is true. My mother died young, but not because she did not honour her parents. This world is broken and fallen, and things like cancer take hold, which is awful, but no one’s “fault”.

While she did die too soon, I know my mother did honour her parents, because her “life was prolonged”, which is how the Amplified Bible translates the words given to Moses. I know that. Her life was extended. She did last longer than expected. That is part of another story.

So, here are my reminders for you today:

  1. The Promise: It is good to honour your parents – don’t forget about that promise! Life, wisdom and good things come from honouring.
  2. The Difficulty: Perhaps you feel it is too hard to honour one, or both, of your parents?
    • Maybe you don’t feel that they did much for you – but let me remind you they did give you life, which is something to be grateful for.
    • Perhaps you find them hard to honour because they are no longer with you? However, I think I have shown it is possible to do that, no matter how long they have been gone. Even if it is simply with thoughts and words.
    • I know there are those who struggle with elderly parents, requiring so much love, care and attention. It can be very difficult. But I also know God sustains, God knows, God understands. Lean into him. He will give you strength, ideas, and solutions to honour your parents that you didn’t know were there. Just ask him.
  3. The Problem: Does honouring your parents mean agreeing with them? Well, no. Perhaps you have confused honouring with saying “YES” all the time. And that’s not what is means.
    To honour means to give respect. To listen carefully, and consider what they say. But this does not imply you must do as they say. If you truly cannot agree with them, let them know in as respectful way as you can, and make your own decisions with a clear conscience. Then don’t bad mouth them or put them down.

Honour them!

That’s how things will go well with you, and you will live longer.

You can listen to me talk about this here >>>

The Things My Mother Never Taught Me

My mother never taught me to arrange flowers

There are times as I have grown older when I’ve suddenly realised I don’t know something that everyone else seems to know. Does that happen to you?

These bits and pieces of information have been many and varied throughout my life. But they cropped up constantly when I was a young adult. Usually it was the little things . . . like I didn’t know how to make smooth custard; and I also chucked out so many pots of burnt stewed apples. Lumpy custard with burnt apples anyone?

Sometimes though, there were relational issues when I had absolutely no idea. Such as how to relate to unknown males as a young married woman. One day, not long after Stephen and I tied the knot, I had a big heart-to-heart with a young man while sitting at a dimly lit table at a church coffee shop. At the end of the evening he offered me a lift home! I am not sure who was more uncomfortable when I showed him my wedding ring.

One sunny day a few weeks later, I smiled at a young workman labouring with a team in our street as they worked on powerlines. To my embarrassment, when I left the house a little later, a wolf-whistle echoed up the street in my direction. His supervisor growled at him – and I finally learned a valuable lesson about not encouraging strange young men.

Yes, I have Gaps!

I put these gaps in my knowledge down to the fact that I lost my mother to breast cancer when I was just 16. She was sick for a couple of years before that though, so in reality my learning from her probably stopped when I was 13 or 14 years old.

There were so many areas where, in a perfect world, I should have picked up the information from my Mum: child-rearing, keeping house, cooking, relating to people in general, relating to boys in particular, and these are just a few of them.

Then there are skills she had, which I would have loved to learn from her. For example, before my mother became unwell she made beautiful sponge cakes, our home was always filled with stunning flower arrangements, and her dress-sense was impeccable. I am sure she would have passed these things on to me if she had lived longer.

As it is, I’ve had to rely on others showing me, such as my mother-in-law, who taught me to make a sponge cake. Or I make things up myself, which is why I still have trouble working out what clothes suit me. Or at least I do research and figure it out – this is how I learnt about gardening. I am quite resourceful, and I’ve managed to make a success of many areas that were once a mystery. But I still am aware of the possibility of those gaps, and always wonder if there is something I don’t know, just outside my awareness.

Yorkshire always produces great cooks!

Last year while I was visiting my sister in England, I was telling a lady called Jackie about my mother’s death when I was a teen. Jackie’s mother is still alive and well, and while she was moved by my story, she couldn’t really personally engage with what I had to say.

Until I started to talk about the many places where I have gaps.

Suddenly she said, “Oh, I’ve just realised. I have gaps too!” And her story tumbled out.

It turns out that Jackie grew up in Yorkshire, “And everyone expects women from Yorkshire to cook very well,” she said. “So, people always say to me, ‘You must a be a great cook. You are from Yorkshire!’

“But I tell them, that no, I am not. I am a terrible cook! I never learnt.”

She leaned a little closer. “I never learnt to cook because my mother never learnt. And she never learnt because her mother died when she was 18!”

I don’t think Jackie had quite realised about the huge impact her grandmother’s early demise had made on her. It wasn’t just about the cooking. The big question was: if she missed out on learning to cook, what else had her mother failed to pass on because she simply didn’t know?

It wasn’t just Jackie becoming aware . . . the penny dropped for me too. Suddenly this concept of “having a gap” took another turn.  It goes much further than your own parents running out of time to pass on things they know, because there can be generational gaps. I am aware of this happening in my children too. There are things I never learnt from my mother, and so they haven’t learnt from me.

It is a much bigger issue than I first thought

The fact is, everyone has gaps!

For whatever reason, either parents run out of time (like mine), or they simply don’t know every detail to prepare their children for the big wide world of adulthood. Most of us do our very best to provide all the knowledge and wisdom we can, passing it on to our children at the right time. But often there are things we do not know – and the sad thing is, sometimes we don’t even realise what they are.

We don’t know what we don’t know.

Personally, this is where I ask God to show me. It is what I did when I was first pregnant, and overwhelmed with the task ahead. And I still do it, even today. The number of times inspiration has struck, not long after praying, tells me he has shown me an awful lot!

As a result of all this, I have begun to compile a list of things my mother never taught me. Of course, there is plenty you can work out for yourself. Google and YouTube are pretty good knowledge banks these days. However, some of the gaps take a little more skill and ability, and I am still learning. Plus, I am sure there are other gaps I have yet to realise are even there!

My blog will slowly begin to feature some of these practical realities, and stories about how I learnt them. I’ll be telling other people’s stories too. Soon there will be a treasure trove of all sorts of things that were gaps, and how to fill them.

Let the discoveries begin!

questions for you:
Are there areas where you know you had gaps and had to fill them?
Or that you still have no idea what to do?

Great Questions to Ask Your Kids

Leafy Green Park

Whatcha doin’?

Her little voice piped up whenever she found herself with a willing listener.

It was the well-used question one of our girls offered as she made conversation with friends, young and old. It usually got people going with a story about their latest activities. She would then launch forth into her own explanation of how her day was going.

The thing was, she was barely two years old!

When she grew up to be a school girl, I had no trouble finding out how things were going in her class. Every afternoon I would get the full story: How the teacher said this – or her girlfriend said that – or that someone was in big trouble today!

Now an adult, our daughter is as outgoing as they come. She is always ready to be someone’s friend, or to help someone out. She is unfazed at the size of her audience, or at filling up silence in a conversation.

One Time Only

On the other hand, I also have introverts in my family. One of my two boys took much longer to get his head around speech. There was nothing wrong, it simply took another year or so. For example, as a two-year-old he was prepared to say each word he learnt, once. And once only!

“Train!” he pointed out one day as we sat in the car waiting at a level crossing. And that was the one moment we heard him say it.

“Cheese!” he said at breakfast. It was one of his favourite foods. But did we hear it repeated? Nope.

“Water!” Even though he drank water at every meal, the word was spoken just once.

My guess is he knew he could say it, so why should he say it again? It wasn’t until he was well past his third birthday that he began to verbalise, and suddenly it was a tumble of sentences.

However when he was older, trying to get information out of him after school was an interesting challenge. And his older brother was the same. Our afternoon walks home down the hill, through the leafy park (much like the picture above), were full of newsy items from my girls. But grunts and nods were often all I could gather from the boys as they ran wild and free downhill. Sometimes I had to quieten the girls, so I could catch the boys’ snatches of news!

That particular son is now also a grown-up. He too, is as ready as his sister to be someone’s friend, or to help someone in need. But he doesn’t command the same space she does, and prefers to be in the background. Although it has to be said, he is still happy to stand in front of a crowd when necessary. He surprised everyone when he gave the Best Man’s Speech at his mate’s wedding! Mostly though, he doesn’t seek the limelight like his sister. He is energized by being on his own. On the other hand, as an extrovert, our daughter is energized by being with others.

When it comes to being outgoing, these are the two extremes in my tribe.

The other three fall somewhere between them.

And that’s the thing. Each child is different. You would think in a family of five siblings you might get lots of similarities, but to be honest you find more differences!

As a mother with young children, I soon learned to tailor my responses depending on the child. Yes – there was one set of basic rules when it came to discipline and expectations. But each child was different.

I decided it was very important to throw away the cookie-cutter thinking, and to relate to them as individuals.

I had a big after-school challenge with my boys though. Because how do you get someone to tell you what’s going on for them with one word replies?

I didn’t ever get very good at this. Something about running around with five children makes it difficult to think through strategies very well. (Most likely, my mother could have taught me a thing or two here, but of course, that was not possible.)

After a while I realized it was pretty pointless asking questions with one-word answers. Although to be honest, I often caught myself asking them.

Questions such as:

“Did you have a good day?”         “YES”, came the response

“You must be feeling pretty tired now.”      “NO”, he’d say. I realise now that was a terrible one – it isn’t even a question!

“Did Charlie play with you at lunchtime?”      “YES”. Silly me, you would think I would have worked it out by then.

“Did you hand in your project okay?”                      Nod of the head. Not even any words!

I found out a lot more by asking questions like this:

I call them the W-questions, because they either start with, or have, W in them – What, Where, Why, Who, How.

“What sort of day did you have?”     “GOOD”, was his answer. Well, I suppose that’s better than Yes or No.

       “How are you feeling?”     “OK.” I mean, what was I expecting him to say?

“What did you do at lunchtime?”     “Played with Charlie.” Actually, I probably already knew that.

“What did the teacher say about your project?”     “Nothing.” Perhaps that was asking too much, as it’s unlikely a teacher would say anything at all about work as it was handed in. What did I expect?

As you can see these were still not very powerful, and it would take much more coaxing to get anything much out of them. But have a look at my recent finds! I have discovered there are other questions which really find the “chat” in chatterbox.

Try these for size:

“What problem did you solve today?” (I love this one!)

“What is the funniest thing that happened to you today?”

“What part of your day do you wish could have lasted longer?”

“Which of your friends makes you act your best?”

Where did I find such gems? I recently subscribed to parent.co. And every email I receive has one of those great silence-busting questions. They are just as good for adults as they are for children.

But thinking about it now . . . maybe this is the best and most simple of all:

“Whatcha doin?”

You can hear me talk about this here >>>

Not on My Watch!

It was unusual for the time. As a toddler, I had my own special car seat complete with toy steering wheel.

I would watch Dad as he drove, and copy him. It’s just as well he didn’t copy me, or we would have been doing donuts and wheelies!

A few years later, before there was any Australian legislation about compulsory use of rear car seat belts, Dad installed some in our car. This was prompted by the death of a cousin in a tragic car crash – a combination of speed, poor control, lack of safety fencing and no rear seatbelts. I remember it being a huge event the weekend when Dad removed the seat from the back of our car so he could bolt brand new seatbelts in.

Later still as a teenager he taught me to drive. He sat next to me patiently showing me how to control the car smoothly and safely. One of his huge safety concerns involved keeping a good buffer zone between our car and the car in front, to protect us in case of an emergency.

“Better to be safe than sorry!” he would say.

Obviously, my Dad’s commitment to car safety was very important. There were a few reasons for his vigilance. As a teenager, he had been involved in a motor bike crash – the street corner in Hawthorn, Melbourne where it happened was often pointed out to us. Then, as a young adult, he had gone off to the Middle East as a medic joining the RAAF during WWII. Sadly, he came back a broken man. His Post Traumatic Stress Disorder was not properly diagnosed until he was in his 70s.

As a result of these experiences, he had a thing about speed, machines and death, and over-compensated in a lovely kind of way. Death was not something he wanted us to have to face. Ever. His family would not be injured in a vehicle. Not on his watch!

Even though Dad could be mentally unstable because of his WWII trauma, he showed his care and love for us, his daughters, in many ways. Car safety was just one of them.

As I dig deeper though, I realise it was way more than car safety. His protective instinct kicked in. He used his time, effort and energy to prevent a mishap. Although sometimes explosive in his nature, there was no doubt in my mind that he loved me. He treasured us so much. And it means I treasure him in return – even though it was not ever very easy.

It shows me that even if you feel very broken, uninspired, weary or are just plain sick, we can show our children how much we treasure them by the things we do. The priority we place, even on small things, speaks volumes.

It happens on our watch!

Listen to me talk about this to Scottie Haas on Hobart’s ultra106five >>>

 

Never The Same

The day of my 16th birthday dawned hot and clear. The bright Melbourne sky seared impossibly blue outside my bedroom window.

It was the first day of the school year. Year 11 beckoned.

I could hear some commotion in Mum and Dad’s room, next to mine. Small noises, sighs and groans as they moved around to begin the day. I realise now that they were the sounds of deep pain, weariness and anguish. But by then, I had got used to them as the regular course of things in a household with a sick mother.

As it was my birthday, I was supposed to stay in my room and wait, while the others prepared to walk in with my birthday presents, brightly singing a harmonic rendition of “Happy Birthday to You”. But after a little while, Dad popped his head around my door.

“Come in here Jen, we’ll sing to you in our room.”

He looked tired.

I quickly got up, skipped to the room next door, gingerly crawled across to the middle of the bed, and sat close to Mum. I was careful because I knew any movement caused her a lot of pain. She was thin and drawn. She smiled at me and kissed me on the cheek.

“Happy Birthday Jen,” she whispered.

I smiled back at her, and held her hand.

I had given her a little white vase with a bouquet of wildflowers in 3-D relief on it for her birthday less than two weeks before. It was there, on her bedside table, with some flowers I had picked from our garden, a silent testament to our birthdays being so close.

I went off to school with my younger sister, not realising our lives would never be the same again. The rest of the day, under that brilliant blue sky, I experienced a full range of emotions . . .

Unexpectedly, Dad picked us up from school.

Sadly, he had taken Mum to hospital that day.

Hesitantly, we went to visit – and told her our news of the first day of school.

Happily, I had been elected Form Captain.

Unbelievably, we had birthday cake with candles, and they sang to me again.

Mum never returned home.

 


 

Last year Stephen and I took some time out for a sabbatical – a wonderful month in France. Every morning I spent time writing and reflecting on the way God has led me over the years.

One night I woke up, only half aware of what I was thinking. I had spent the previous morning writing down my recollections of that final birthday with Mum. She wasn’t expected to last until Christmas, I had written. But, I reflected in my sleepy state, she made it to her birthday, January 22. And once she had got to that date, she kept going until my birthday, on February 4.

No, no, no. It hit me like a ton of bricks.

SHE KEPT GOING UNTIL MY BIRTHDAY!

I gasped and the tears came quickly. I stifled them trying, unsuccessfully, not to wake Stephen. She had kept herself going! For me! The thought of this final act of love was overwhelming. I groaned, and the tears flooded. She was there for my 16th birthday, at home, and at hand, with me in her bed. A special memory.

Maybe it was coincidental. Maybe she would have lasted that long anyway. But in the intervening 40 years I have learnt a lot about the human soul. I have learnt that sometimes people decide to let themselves go, and slide downhill in a rapid descent to death. And sometimes they can hold on. They keep themselves going.

It was another week after my birthday before her end came. Turning Sweet Sixteen? That was not to be my story. But thanks to her gift, I have never had any other birthday marred by the anniversary of her death. I am so grateful.

There are a few things I have realised as I have reflected on those events:

  • My mother treasured me – and it makes me want to treasure her all the more. It has a circular effect. No matter what your mother was like, there will be times when she treasured you too.
  • Sometimes it is worth reflecting on those horrible parts of your life, because while it can be costly, you realise things you didn’t know before.
  • As mothers, we treasure our children, but often they will not realise what we sacrifice for them. Or if they do, it might not be for a long time.
  • It gives me a tiny glimpse of God’s overwhelming love for me. Unexpected, uncalled for, unmerited, unjustified, but complete.

Listen to me telling my story to Scottie Haas on ultra106five >>>

Transition? You are not alone

Tram, Burke Road

Looking out the tram window, I panicked.

Oh no! That was my stop! Quickly, I pulled the cord, high above my head, but it was too late. It sailed onwards – the tram would wait for no man, or little girl even. My heart was in my mouth as we travelled slowly up Burke Road in the after-school crush. Mum had shown me what to do when we caught the tram to my new school that morning, but she hadn’t given me any idea about what to do if something went wrong. It had been an exciting start to my first day, that first tram ride to school. But the trip home was turning into a disaster.

What to do? What to do? I knew I couldn’t get off until the next stop, but it seemed to take forever to get there, and each second was taking me further away from the tiny pocket of familiar streets. Past the Hoyts theatre, past the end of that other busy street whose name I did not yet know, and all the way up to the next set of traffic lights. I was in shock.

Finally, the tram stopped. Nauseous, I grabbed my things, jumped off, and ran. I ran as fast as my seven-year-old legs would carry me. Down the hill, carefully over that busy T-intersection. “BURWOOD RD” the street sign read. Past the Hoyts Theatre, and back to the pedestrian crossing where I should have got off.

Stopping there, I pressed the pedestrian button about ten times, itching to cross over, waiting, waiting for the lights to change. Close to tears, I ran when the sign said WALK, then took the corner into Cookson Street, away from the tramline, and the cars, and the noise and kept running. All the way to our new, still unfamiliar, house.

Bursting into tears as I galloped inside there were both my parents, patiently unpacking boxes.

“I got lost!” I blurted out.

After a long first day at my new school, it was such a relief to be home, such a blow to my pride that I had mucked things up, and such an indignity to my, well, to my everything!

I am sure my parents wondered what all the fuss was about. I got home safely didn’t I? To them it was a successful outcome. But to me, in my heart-fast-beating, adrenalin-rushing state, it was something it took a while to recover from. I must have had my six-year-old sister in tow as well – but to be honest, I can’t even remember her being there at all!

Have you ever had to do a transition that felt awful?

Whether starting at a new school (maybe mid-term, like I did in Grade Two), beginning a new job, or turning up at a new gym, transitions are rarely easy to navigate. It doesn’t matter if you are seven, 17 or 70, moving into new and unknown territory is uncomfortable at best, and downright terrifying at worst.

At this time of year, people are in transition all over Australia. In most states, the school term has already begun. New jobs are starting. New mothers arriving at school. New teachers with new classes. New widows and widowers coming to grips with life ahead. New refugees arriving in our lucky country. And far across the sea, there is even a whole nation struggling to comes to terms with a new government, complete with controversial new President – also in transition. It is everywhere.

Here are some things I have learned to ease the pain of transition, not just to treasure myself, but also to treasure my children.

  1. Be patient. This is the “new normal”. One day this will feel familiar, so this feeling will not last forever. It is a temporary discomfort. So stick it out.
  2. Prepare as best as you can. My mother did what she could to prepare me for that tram ride, and it was enough, because I did get home. She tried to cover the bases – but she couldn’t possibly cover every contingency. I learnt not to miss the stop after that!
  3. Be aware of others going through transition. Kindness goes a long way for new people in new situations. Give new people a break, be friendly, smile, show them the ropes. You would be gatetful if someone did that for you.
  4. Forgive yourself if you struggle. It is normal to feel extreme emotions, and nervousness can lead to headaches, nausea, weariness, sleeplessness, lack of appetite and more.
  5. Learn from this experience! Because of my mid-term move in Grade Two, I decided my children would not be doing that. Our children moved schools extremely rarely, and only ever at the beginning of a year. So, what can you take away from your transition to help next time?
  6. Pray that God will sustain you. The good thing is that he is the same – yesterday, today and forever. He will be your rock when feeling unstable, your friend when feeling lonely and your peace in the turmoil. Let him love you through it.

7 Steps to Leaving Your Children for a Trip

Heading away for a week or so without the children? Sounds delicious! But beware – there is sometimes a high cost, even with your best intentions.

Baby Sara (not her real name) was sad. Not even one year old, she could not be consoled. For several days, it was a tough time, for both her, and her carers. Finally, she gave in. And with all hope lost, she squirmed in her cot to face the wall, and zoned out. Broken-hearted.
A few days later her brother came to visit. He was his usual cheeky self, and on seeing him, Sara emerged from her lethargy. It was like she woke up, and the world was right again. Seeing that familiar face was enough to give Sara a new lease on life. She managed the remainder of the four weeks away from her family – just.
This incident happened years ago, but to Sara the memory still has a life of its own. She is now an adult, married, and with nearly grown children. Her response to being left with friends for a month while her parents went overseas to work has now become the stuff of family legend.
“I thought they had died,” she said. “It would have been better if my brother and I had stayed together.”
Unfortunately, the trauma of that incident scarred Sara for life.
“I couldn’t do sleepovers growing up,” she says with emotion. “Well, I did do them, but I always cried myself to sleep.”
It wasn’t until she was 16 years old that Sara finally connected the dots, and realised her separation anxiety was due to that brief period when she was a baby. Thankfully she was given the opportunity to talk it through with someone who prayed with her to release her from the pain of the memory, and the trauma. She was also encouraged to forgive her parents – a difficult thing to do, but incredibly freeing. After that things changed, and it meant she could live a relatively normal life after all.
She is quite philosophical about it all. “I know they left me there with the best of intentions, thinking they were doing the best thing for me in the circumstances,” Sara explains. “It was a different era then, and my parents made the best decision with the information available to them.”
As parents, we all have to do that. Faced with hard decisions about our children, we all make our choices – for good or for bad.
I admire Sara. She has worked her way through the issue and engaged with the problem. Choosing the difficult, but more gracious path, she has come to a point of reconciliation and understanding.

No one has perfect parents

As you reflect on the job your parents did as you were growing up, you can no doubt see places where they could have done things better. Perhaps you too were traumatised as a result of their actions. The challenge for us all is to let go of those ordeals, like Sara did. If you hold onto the hurt, the bitterness, and the revenge, it only hurts you.
Forgiveness has nothing to do with letting people off the hook, and everything to do with giving you back your freedom.

On the other side of the journey, here are some things I learnt about leaving children for long stays:

  1. It happens: Sometimes you must leave your children in the care of others. And that’s okay. Having children does not mean you stop having a life – instead they add richness and vibrancy. If you can travel with your children, then do it. We had some exciting overseas adventures with little ones. In Sara’s case, her parents were going to a country that was politically unpredictable and culturally unknown. It was clear they couldn’t take the children with them.
  2. Prayer: It is a good idea to pray about how to move forward in these situations. Obviously as parents you are the main care-givers for your children, and it is important to take your job seriously, and consider the long-term outcomes for them. Seek God about your plans, and if you do not have peace, then do not move forward with the idea.
  3. Set-up well: Try and house siblings together if possible. When we went away for a length of time we were blessed to have friends and relatives who could have all of them at once.
  4. Physical preparation: Make sure your children are familiar with the people who will be caring for them. Some visits to the house where they are to stay are a good idea, and maybe have a trial sleep-over.
  5. Verbal preparation – Babies: Talk to your baby about what is going to happen, and do it often. We were away for a week when one of my girls was only six months old. Every so often I would sit down with her, look her in the eye and explain what was going to happen. Especially, I would tell her we would come back and take her home after a week. True, she didn’t have the language to converse with me. But I knew I was speaking into her soul and spirit. We all managed the separation without difficulty.
  6. Verbal preparation – Older children: Give more, or less, information depending on the age of the child. Little ones do not always have an accurate understanding of time, so telling them three months ahead that you will be going away may not be helpful. However, you can talk through ideas, such as suggesting with enthusiasm that one day they might go on a holiday to someone’s house.
  7. Trust: While away, entrust your children into God’s care. This is really hard. But if you are stressing over your children, you will not be able to successfully do whatever it is you are going away to do. Sara told me her mother didn’t cope very well and had some physical stress issues during her time away. Sara wasn’t the only one suffering!

It goes both ways.

Reflecting on your own upbringing you can see where your parents failed you easily enough. It takes more effort to see when, and where, you have failed your own children. If you have let them down at some point it is important to forgive yourself. If you are able, talk things through with your child, and ask them to forgive you. Reconciliation is a lovely thing.

Five Golden Rules to surviving the “Why?” stage

Why do lanterns go up?

Facebook is a mine of information!

Recently and friend of mine posted the following plea . . .

Ok, Thoughts and opinions welcomed. Son is asking lots of “WHY?” questions at the moment, which is awesome but does make me want to bash my head against the wall just a little bit. I need help with this question, asked yesterday “When is something not new anymore?”

A friend of mine posted those words and oh my gosh! I could so identify with her. It seems as though every child has a time in his or her life when the reaction to every single thing is, “Why Mum?” or “What’s that there for?” or “How come?”

Talk about tear your hair out! It is such a frustrating thing to have every minute peppered with the six-year-old’s Five W’s: Why? What? When? Where? How? You could almost describe it as a syndrome – the Little Voice with Endless Questions or LVEQs.

So, when my friend posted about her son, I got it. The long-term effect of the LVEQs is enough to plead for a Lunch Break. Or a Leave Pass. Or even a Holiday!

I think everyone has their own family stories of the LVEQs. I remember my own exasperated parents saying to me when I had it: “Just because” or, “Because I said so.” It didn’t really answer the question, but it kept me quiet. For a minute.

And I must have asked this one often when out in the back shed on hot, sunny days: “What ya doin’ Dad?” and he would ALWAYS say, “I’m pumping up my bike!” Which was code for, “Don’t ask me, can’t you see what I’m doing?” It was sort of funny, but it was sort of not. I remember thinking it was a terribly unsatisfying response. I wasn’t asking any old trifling question – I was curious, and I really wanted to know what he was doing!

So, when I read my friend’s post, not only could I see her irritation, I could see her son’s perspective too. When he asks questions, he really does want to know more about the world around him, which means the questions often do require a genuine response. But it really is a dilemma when the record (or the CD, or the MP3 player) feels as if it broken.

There had already been a few responses by the time I saw my friend’s status update. Interestingly, at that point, everyone had given answers to the LVEQ raised by said son, helping her explain to him when something is no longer new. Which was great.

But no one had yet tackled the heartfelt cry within the post: “I think I am going mad with the LVEQs!”

Her frustration caused me to stop and reflect. I remembered that at the coal-face I frequently forgot something very important, and I was so glad whenever Stephen reminded me. He would say, “Jenny, IT IS JUST A PHASE! Don’t forget to keep a longer-term perspective.”

Only then would I stop and think. It is always hard to think straight, and keep the long-term view when you are in the middle of a maddening stage like the LVEQs.

Here is what I ended up writing in my reply to my friend:

I often used to say [to my son/daughter] something like, “Why do you think it’s not new?” That way you engage him in the answer, and get him to reason through what he’s thinking, instead of relying on your response all the time. Also… Remember this is a phase. It won’t be like this forever. One day you might be asking why God has blessed you with a monosyllabic teen! So, if the habit becomes to create conversation then it’s a good thing.

So here are my golden rules for keeping your hair on when going through difficult phases.

  • Every child goes through phases. It is part of growing up, so expect them. They can be good as well as bad. Remember to take time to enjoy the lovely ones.
  • Phases happen at every age and stage. It is more than just the LVEQs, it is also sleepless nights, teething, bad-violin-playing, learner driving – and the list continues.
  • Look for the good. Every difficult phase has a silver lining. Take a step back and be objective about the phase you are going through right now. Here are some positive outcomes of the list above:
    • The LVEQs – a wonderfully educational time, which can develop verbalization and communication skills. It fosters healthy curiosity. It also provides opportunities to talk about inappropriate nosiness.
    • Teething – well, one day there will be teeth, happy toothy smiles, increased food choices and sleep-through nights.
    • Budding musicians – Children who learn the violin, or any other musical instrument, are learning harmony, rhythm, self-discipline, and are growing important neural synapses in their creative (left) brain – plus a great many other skills.
    • Leaner drivers – Gaining a driver’s license is almost an unofficial rite of passage into adulthood for our young people. They learn independence, safety, responsibility for themselves and others. It can be nerve wracking, but once successfully completed will have a long-term positive outcome. Prayer is a lifeline during this phase!
  • Keep calm and carry on. Some phases are very dark, and it is difficult to find the silver lining. At those moments, the good outcome is that you are the one being refined, and your own character is growing through adversity. Will you become bitter or better? That’s your choice.
  • Phases are temporary. Believe me when I say, I am with you! It will not go on forever. One day, each phase will end!

In the meantime, let me remind you to treasure your children. Every stage is precious. Value these moments.

What are some of the phases you are going through at the moment?

Daylight Eventually Comes

I struggled to take it all in.

My friend John patiently said it again, “There was more information about your mother than you knew.”

I looked at him blankly.

He sighed. “If things had been properly done, she may not have died.”

The awful truth enveloped me like an empty parachute settling over my head and body, making it hard to breathe.

“I can see it is hard to understand. I’ll come back soon and give you the details.” And just like that he was gone.

John is a good friend and I believed him. What’s more, as an ex-nurse, I trusted him medically. But I struggled to hear what he had to say. More information, he’d said. What did that mean? What’s more, my mother had died so long ago now. Even decades.

My rational brain tried to catch up, and I attempted to reason my way through it. Of course, this makes no difference I reminded myself. It happened. There is nothing I can do. It’s over. God walked beside me all these years, and I can lean on him through this too.

I waited for John to return, trying to make polite conversation with the people I knew in the room. But I wasn’t comfortable sharing this devastating news with them. Not yet.

My mind raced. Would Mum have lived if we had known? Would she have died by now anyway? Why do I have to wait to find out about this information John had? Where was he anyway?

I gasped, and woke up with a jolt. It was 5am, and still dark.

It was a relief to realise it was all a dream, but I struggled to breathe normally. Disturbed. Upset. I just lay there, my heart beating fast, my emotions continuing to wash over me. It had felt so real, so exact, so perplexing. It is true – when Mum died of cancer, I didn’t have all the information. As young teens, my sister and I were not told very much and kept in the dark. With all the best intentions, we were kept in a space of not knowing.

The dream seeped into reality. In a half-asleep stupor, nothing made sense and I dozed in and out of a fitful sleep – too upset to rest; too weary to do anything but lie there. I knew that eventually, daylight would come.

This is the worst thing about grief: When it feels like you have finally got it out of your system, then at the most unexpected moments it comes up behind you, and clutches your heart. Again.

Death was never meant to be part of our lives – and intuitively we know it. Before their sin, Adam and Eve had access to the Tree of Life, and death was not for them. So, it is not surprising there is something in each of us screaming, “Death is not fair, it’s not right!” Because it isn’t. It’s all wrong. It grates against us with its ragged teeth gnashing.

I’ve worked hard over the years not to allow my mother’s death to harden me. It has been difficult at times, but I wanted to remain soft and pliable, not just for myself but for those close to me, especially my children. It hurts to lean into the grief and roll with it, and it is easy to want to put up self-protective barriers. But I know that hardness brings bitterness, and that’s not where I want to go.

Here is what I have learned – This suffering, this tragedy, this living of my life after death, is the refining thing that changes me. God walks with me closely through it, and shows me the path. He is no stranger to suffering. He leads my steps, and holds my hand. My suffering smooths over the dark and ugly places. The stress and pressure squeeze out the dross, and refine me into someone with more compassion, more kindness, more love for the broken and hurting. Staying soft to death and its horrors, hands me life in all its richness. Such paradox. To allow mum’s death to harden me would have been its victory.  But God brought Jesus to life again. There is such a thing as life after death, and it’s called resurrection.

All these years later, my mother’s death is still a big thing in my life, as this dream last Monday shows. I know deep down, I still treasure her. But thankfully her death doesn’t hold me. Jesus does.

The road is dark, sometimes. Often it feels like an endless tunnel. But if I keep on pushing through, if I keep on pressing into the dark, I know this to be true: daylight eventually comes.

 

Treasured Memories

Newborn baby

Mary the Mother of Jesus can be credited for the Christmas story that will be told in churches around the globe over the next few days.

It was Mary who gave Luke the Apostle the details of Jesus’ birth – from her startling visit by the angel Gabriel, to Jesus’ arrival in the unlikely town of Bethlehem, and then the unexpected arrival of some shepherds with their crazy story about angels singing out in the fields. You can read the story in the Bible in Luke 1 and 2.

Luke made a few small editorial comments in this passage. One of them is this gem:

“But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.” Luke 2:19 (NIV)

Mothers do that. We remember and we ponder. Details of each child’s birth are kept stored away, and these are not only thought about, but they are treasured.

While Jesus’ birth story is well known, public declarations of a birth story are not the usual thing. We mothers hold these details very closely to our hearts. I am thinking that often we hold it all just a little too closely, especially the painful memories. It is good, and often very freeing, to release those details for others to know.

The reason I know this? Because I lost my mum when I was only 16, it meant I didn’t have a conversation with her about my birth – apart from one snippet of information passed on to me when I was little (read what happened HERE). That’s all. And I would love to have known more about her experience.

So, what happened when your children were born? What about those who you ache for who were with us for a very short time, or didn’t even see the light of day?

Let me encourage you to take the time to record what happened at the time of birth for each of your children. Even the stories of those no longer with us. Your family will appreciate knowing what you know.

Your story or stories could take the form of a letter, story, poem, a series of dot points, or even a voice recording. If you are musical, perhaps you could compose a song; or if that way inclined, record a video. It is important to let them know the experience was costly. Tell whatever you are comfortable telling, maybe even the bad stuff, with or without the unpleasant details.

You may decide to deliver this information to a specific person straight away. Or to keep it for a birthday or anniversary, or on the eve of your grandchildren being born. Whichever way you choose to pass on the information, writing down your child’s birth story is a lovely affirmation and declaration of your love.

Your record of their birth story will become a treasured memory. And there may be a hidden bonus, because it could very well be a healing process for you too.

Have you ever told your daughter the details and circumstances of her birth? Have you ever told your son? What happened? If now isn’t the right time to tell them, how about writing it down for a special moment one day?