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Sunday, 14 December 2014

Remembering Christmas

I absolutely LOVE Christmas! And no, I’m not ashamed of that in the slightest.

Yup, I’m one of those people who starts playing Christmas music long before December, delights in choosing and wrapping gifts, thinks fairy lights are one of the most beautiful inventions ever, wears jingly-bell earrings and gets super excited about days spent with family and friends.

Best. Time. Of. The. Year.

But also, unfortunately, one of the most stressful. Getting everything done on time, finding the perfect presents (at the perfect price), figuring out how to fit one more bowl of salad into the already stuffed full fridge – and how to fix the ‘roast’ chicken which is burnt on the outside but still raw in the middle because it didn’t defrost in time and the oven is temperamental at best...

This year, I had one more thing to add to my to-do list – teaching my four-year-old the real meaning of Christmas. It’s not that I haven’t in the past, just that she’s old enough this year to actually start to grasp it. I want her to know that Christmas is about giving, not receiving. Sharing, not clutching. Jesus’ birthday and God’s love, not Santa’s sleigh.

I planned and planned and researched and planned some more. I put together advent calendars and meaningful activities and searched (unsuccessfully) for mini candy canes so I could teach her about it being a J for Jesus with the red being his blood and white being us washed clean ...  and honestly? I stressed so much about getting that message across to her that I made myself sick. For a week. Which, of course, meant I got a week behind with the advent calendar and didn’t have the energy to do anything...

I realised as I sat in church one Sunday crying and feeling like an absolute failure as a Christian mother that I was so stressed about doing it all ‘right’ and teaching my daughter that I’d forgotten myself what Christmas was about.

Joy. Peace. Love. Family. Grace. Giving.

I had to stop trying and just be. Stop stressing and just show my daughter every day what Christmas was about. Teach her about gratitude as we decorated gingerbread together to give away. Let her help wrap presents for her cousins and make a special bracelet for her little sister. Watch Christmas lights together. Sit and enjoy time with family instead of rushing around making sure everything’s done. Answer her questions about what different carols she hears mean instead of brushing her aside because I’m trying to get the next activity planned.

Slow down. Relax. Show her what peace is. Let her see me giving, praying and sharing joy with others. Because, as God reminded me that day as I cried, she will learn far more from what she sees me do than anything I could ever tell her.

Even if it comes with a paper plate angel stamped with star shaped potato prints.

I challenge you this Christmas to slow down and remember why you’re celebrating. Take some time each day to not just get everything done but really focus on the One who made this season special.

And have a great Christmas J

Saturday, 29 November 2014

To Those Who Work the Night Shift

We don’t celebrate Thanksgiving here in Australia, and I honestly think that’s our loss – especially in the days leading up to Christmas. A chance to stop for a day in our crazily busy lives and say thankyou? Yes please!

I’m thankful for so many things and so many incredible people in my life but you know who I’m really thankful for this year? Those who work the night shifts.  Those who work while the rest of us sleep to give us the lives we have, and rarely even get noticed until something goes wrong. You deserve far more gratitude than you ever get.

Mere words could never be enough, but thankyou...

To the doctors who answer the 2am emergency calls, and the nurses who spend their nights cleaning up far more than I ever want to know exists. You do a job I could never do and mean the world to me. I don’t know how you do it, but I want to thank you.

To the firemen, paramedics and policemen who work long hours, often beyond their scheduled shifts, and daily risk their lives to save ours. When I think of heroes, I think of you. Thankyou.

To the pilots, bus drivers, taxi drivers, train drivers – those people who drive through the night and deal with grumpy, sleepy people so I can get home to those I love. Thankyou.

To the dedicated men and women who spend the lonely dark hours cleaning. You amaze me. Cleaning is miserable at the best of times, but in the middle of the night? When all is quiet and every noise ten times louder. When no one’s there to see. You’re there, night after night, early morning after early morning. Thankyou.  

To the support people on the other end of the phone at so many helplines. I’ve never had reason to call, but just knowing you’re there gives me such comfort. While I’m sleeping, you’re saving lives. Thankyou.

To those who stock shelves, fix roads, bake bread... I might not know your names, but I appreciate all you do. Don’t ever think you don’t make a difference – you do.

To the mothers who get up night after night to feed babies, administer medication, check on their kids, change dirty sheets, listen to their child’s raspy breathing, chat to the child who hasn’t yet figured out that 4am is really early, cuddle a crying toddler, settle and un-settle-able baby – and then stay awake all day doing the same – you are appreciated. The nights are long and lonely but you’re not alone. You might not feel like it, but you are making a difference. A huge difference. Thankyou.

To God, who never sleeps and never gets tired. Who hears every desperate midnight plea for one more ounce of energy and another round of wisdom, who comforts and holds and is just there. Believe me, you are appreciated! I’d have given up long ago without you.

To all those who work the night shifts – THANKYOU!!! You are more appreciated than you’ll ever know. You bring hope in the dark hours. And every day change lives. Thankyou.  

We might not celebrate Thanksgiving, but we can all be thankful. So this is my challenge... thank someone. Pick one person who makes a difference in your life and thank them. You might be the first person who ever has.

Sunday, 16 November 2014

When God sends Pyjamas

I’m a stay at home mum – and I love it. Absolutely love it. I can’t think of a single job I’d love more. But it doesn’t pay particularly well. At all, really. As such, I’m incredibly aware of the money I spend. Everything purchasable gets categorised: needs, wants, need-but-could-probably-leave-till-next-week, really-need-since-I-should-have-gotten-it-last-week-and-talked-myself-out-of-it, maybe-if-I-were-a-millionaire, etc.  Funny how we categorise things...

Pyjamas usually make it onto the ‘need, but not urgently’ list. At least, that’s what I decided the night I realised I was dressing my girls in their winter pyjamas and it was halfway through spring – and they’d grown out of last year’s summer pyjamas.

Yep, the girls would need new pyjamas. But not this week. They’d probably be okay for next week too. In fact, maybe I’d get away without having to buy any. Some of their shirts and shorts would do. We’d just call them pyjamas. Admittedly, they wouldn’t be as cute as real pyjamas but it’d be okay ... right?  I mean, they weren’t that important. Or so I told myself.  

And then a totally unexpected package came in the mail from friends who were travelling. We opened it to find ... yep, two sets of brand new pyjamas just the girls’ sizes. While my daughters danced and delighted in their gift, I sat there stunned. I think I might have cried. I hadn’t told anyone they needed pyjamas. I hadn’t even admitted it to myself.

But God knew.

When I hadn’t even thought it important enough to pray for, God had answered anyway. He’d sent pyjamas. And not just any pyjamas – pink ones with sparkles.

I know God provides for our needs, I’ve seen and heard it happen so many times. But I love that he sees and cares about our wants too. The things that aren’t ‘important’ – to anyone but us.

And believe me, he does.

I have two sets of tiny pyjamas that prove it.

Tuesday, 4 November 2014

Cakes, Bakes and Expectations

It’s funny the things God uses to teach us – little comments kids make, songs on the radio, a poignant line from a movie, pain. One of my biggest God-lessons lately has come from a cake. Yep, a cake. Last year’s birthday cake, to be exact.

I cried my eyes out over this particular cake – and not in a good way. I hated it. If it hadn’t been for my mum stopping me I would have dumped the whole thing in the bin. With great pleasure.
It’s strange remembering that now since, a year on, I look back on this photo and am convinced it’s one of the most beautiful cakes I’ve ever made.

It took me a while to realise that the reason I hated the cake so much had nothing to do with the cake itself and everything to do with my expectations. I’d dreamed and planned and prepared for this cake for months. A week before my birthday, I made the flowers and, to my delight, they turned out perfectly. I spent the week admiring them and imagining in my head just how they’d look on top of the cake.

And then the day came to actually ice the cake. And everything went wrong. The ganache icing wouldn’t thicken, and then it got too thick. The hot day made the butter icing melt, which then mixed in with the ganache making a pure and disgusting chocolate mess (which might have tasted okay but looked terrible!). It was supposed to have roses piped all over it but the icing I did get to the right consistency burst through the piping bag and fell with a great big plunk on the icing I’d finally managed to get smooth. And on and on it went. Needless to say, it was an utter disaster.
Since ‘chocolate covers a multitude of sins’, or, in my case, decorating disasters, I melted some chocolate, carelessly dumped silvery dots on it, chopped it up and stuck it around the edges of the cake. Purple sprinkles covered the mess of a top (purple because it was all I had in the drawer) and the flowers I’d admired all week got plonked unceremoniously on the top. Next step was to dump the whole disaster of a cake in the bin. Fortunately, Mum came along and saved it. She put it in the fridge while I cried a bucketload of tears and determined to forget about it altogether. The only reason it got a photo was because I wanted a reminder of what not to do next time.

So yeah, disaster.
But God has this way of bringing good from disasters in a way that only he can.

See, that’s the funny thing about expectations – they have a way of ruining our vision for what’s really there in front of us. The only thing wrong with that cake was that it looked nothing like I’d planned. And it was only once I let go of those expectations that I realised it was actually quite beautiful. Not perfect, but definitely beautiful. 

Just like that cake, my life these days doesn’t look anything like I planned it to be back in high school (read more about that here).  For a long time I was disappointed with myself, angry even, wondering how everything had gone so wrong. But then, at the same time, I was overwhelmed with guilt for even thinking such a thing because I love the life I have - my husband, my kids, who I am and the experiences that have brought me here. I was torn. Wrecked. 

Until the day God opened my eyes to the truth - it wasn't my life which had gone off track but rather my expectations. I was holding so tightly to the vision and plans I'd had for my future that I couldn't fully appreciate the beauty of what was before me. There was nothing wrong with where I was, only that it didn't match up with what I expected. And to be honest, the place I'd ended up, who I am today, the work God has for me exactly where I am, far outstrips any expectation I could have had back in high school. What an incredible life he's given me!

I wonder how many times in life we think the same. What’s right in front of us – our life, career, children, body – is something beautiful and yet we don’t see it for the blessing it truly is, purely because we’re expecting something different.
Sometimes it takes a change of perspective to help us see what God has given us, sometimes simply the passing of time and other times the encouragement of a wise friends. But many times God leaves it up to us to step back, take off our expectation-coloured-glasses and truly see for the first time.

Any ‘disaster’ cakes in your life that need a bit of re-thinking?

Monday, 27 October 2014

The Pursuit of Perfection

I have a confession to make. I set up this blog a while ago and this is the first time I’ve actually posted anything. Sad, I know. The worst bit is, it’s not because I haven’t had time or something to say but rather because nothing I wrote seemed ‘perfect’ for that inaugural blog.

I’ve written a few other pieces, even given them cool titles. But none of them seemed quite right for my first blog. None of them were perfect. I mean, that first one’s got to be incredible! Awe inspiring! Have everyone suddenly flocking to this particular blog as the most wonderful in the world!

Ha ha. Yeah, right.

But still, I kept procrastinating. Kept waiting for that perfect idea. Kept finding a thousand other things to do while I considered my options.

Pathetic. Right? Crippled by perfection.

Now, I have no problem with perfection – in the fields of construction, engineering, medicine, computer programming, and a thousand other little things I use on a daily basis. I count on the fact that those things have been made to perfection, every time. In those fields, where the smallest imperfection can kill, I am a definite advocate for their perfection.

But when it comes to life, creativity and relationships, the pursuit of perfection can be crippling. Our quest for perfection becomes such an issue that we don’t even try. And that is a definite problem.

Being so afraid of making a mistake that we don’t do it at all.
Walking away from a relationship because there’s a chance one day it might fail.
Spending our whole lives missing out on joy because it might come with heartache.

The truth we seem to often to forget is that we’re human. And humans make mistakes. We are, almost by definition, imperfect. We grow through our mistakes, not in spite of them. It is our imperfections that set us apart and make us who we are.

Now, maybe I’m the only one in this world crippled by this – but I have a pretty good idea there are more like me. More people missing out on so much joy, so many great experiences, so much growth, simply because they’re afraid of not doing it right. Like me, they’re crippled by perfection.

And like me, I hope they realise that it’s okay to not be perfect. It’s okay to make mistakes. It’s okay to try, and fail. Because maybe, just maybe, the thrill is in the trying.