On sporadic shorthand and compassion; Or, on a decade without Joanie.

There are several things that I love about this photo. It’s a list of quotes and sayings that Joan collected & compiled. Let me tell you why I love it.

  1. The pad is full. Every page. Back and front.
  2. It’s one of many that she filled over her life.
  3. She didn’t discriminate in her wisdom; there’s quotes here from poets and world leaders and the bible to name a few
  4. Her handwriting changes from page to page: the project required visits from different times
  5. It demonstrates mum’s incredibly annoying endearing tendency to use shorthand unnecessarily and incorrectly (example: I got a text from her once that read: “My f is low” Decipher that).
  6. The pad she chose to record her gems of wisdom was free merch for a Nasal Spray

It’s pure gold. It’s also pure Joan.

We’re remembering Joan today; it’s been 10 years since we said goodbye. A decade! It’s a really long time. It’s also not a really long time, but that’s the beast of living post/without/after people you love, hey. It’s living with the reality of multiple things being true at the same time. It’s peaceful but also too silent. Memories are rich but also gut-wrenching. You’re totally ok but also carrying the weight of a longtime longing. It’s a both/and situation.

In any case, as has become tradition on our anniversaries, I was pondering how to mark the day. The thought came to mind to sit amongst her handwriting; somehow it seemed fitting, especially considering the post I wrote on Dad’s anniversary this year. Sonya and I have been spoiled with the letters, journals, and cards that both Mum & Dad wrote to each other, us, and their friends (seriously, I have a whole pack of draft letters that they wrote to their mates: who has ever been that dedicated in their friendships?).

I think if i’m being truly honest, I think I wanted to get as close as I could to having a conversation with mum, adult to adult; now me being a mum, to her being a mum. That’s what feels missing. I think if you ask anyone who’s lost a loved one, it’s the inability to have conversations about your daily run-of-the-mill-life that’s the real kicker. It’s the “You’ll never guess what happened today!”, the “Just checking in”, and the big one, “What did you do when I did this?!”

I don’t know what it’s like to be truly peer to peer with Mum. It sucks. I mean, I thought that I was far more mature than her when I was a teenager/young adult, and I like to think that I can fairly accurately fill in the gaps of our conversations from her end in the exchanges I imagine from time to time; but it isn’t the same. The older I get, the more I realise that as much as I think I knew her, I still saw her through the lens of a mum-of-me-growing-up rather than seeing her as a woman in her 30s, raising young children, as a woman in her 40s, working full time and navigating life with a husband who had significant depression, or as a woman in her 50s, raising young adults on her own while she battled cancer. That’s the woman I want to talk to now.

I guess I’m trying to acknowledge the reality that relationships are supposed to a be a living, breathing thing. When they get cut off (especially early), you have to accept the shifting dynamic that only one of you is moving. And that blows.

What i’m grateful for, though, is that I think I’m being given the gift of compassion towards mum as I get older. So much of my early adulthood was filled with frustration towards her: I saw her hesitations and fears through her illness and Dad’s death, and wanted to shake her because she didn’t want to seem to move: I didn’t understand her lack of drive or follow through, or appreciate her desire to cling to the friendships in her life. Maybe I wouldn’t ever have been able to do so at that age/stage.

But now: I read her words and I see a woman who wants to be inspired, who wants to grow and be and do great things. When I read her journals, I see a woman who was prepared to admit her weaknesses and dreams for her marriage, for herself, for her children. She wrote many of these words at my age. Her kids were the age of my kids. Her challenges are my challenges. I think about all the fears and frustrations and complete stuff ups Shan and I navigate as parents and adults, and I get it. I get her. I think I know her a bit better.

What a gift and promise for us all: regardless of whether our parents are with us or not, maturity brings us compassion. And compassion, dear friend, you are a balm.

You are so very welcome.

so. Mum’s top quotes reads

“When we confront sadness, misfortune and defeat with a gallant spirit, our children will learn to live bravely.”

Mary Serfarty

Oh, you were gallant, Joan. Thank you. Love you. x

“Can you give me the specifics?” Or, when analogies fail.

There is NOTHING more specific than a four year old.

I have learned quite quickly that if my daughter wants toast, I’d better ask her how she wants it cut, because cut into squares is of course not the same as triangles. It’s a completely different meal. There is a right way to fold a piece of paper. There is a right (and consequently very wrong way) to sing a song. There is a certainty in the way that this tshirt that doesn’t have Elsa on it is and never will be as good as one that does. It’s in the details. It’s in the specifics. I love her and hate am frustrated by her daily for it.

But there is actually something beautiful and comforting about specifics. On our drive home from kindy yesterday she said didn’t have a great day because her friend said that she wasn’t very nice; (to be fair, Cadi had instigated the exchange by telling her that she was a slowcoach with her scissors). But as we were talking about it, I mentioned that I too had had similar experiences in school where a friend said a mean thing to me – and her eyes lit up and said “can you tell me more about that?!!” I, of course have a terrible memory and so scrambled to think of a specific example with which she could relate. Because it was important to do so. A generalisation or platitude of “be kind, treat others like you treat yourself” wouldn’t be sufficient.

She needed a specific story that was grounded in that moment to be real. Analogies can be helpful but aren’t always the most appropriate tool, especially in times of pain and grief.

Which brings me to adulting. Adults are very good at analogies. People of faith are even better at it.

Think of all the analogies that (completely good intentioned) Christian songs are full of: times in the valley. In the shadow. In the mire. In the mud. On high places. In the storm. In the waves.

I have sung many of these songs many times over and many times have received connection and healing and peace through them. The point and power of an analogy is its ability to connect with thousands of people or stories and helping us feel seen and heard. They also don’t date – hence the way that songs can transcend time and context. They’re great.

But I was feeling rubbish on my way to work this morning and so wanted to listen to some worship music to lift my spirit a little.  And the analogies weren’t cutting it for me. “The dark lasts longer than the night” wasn’t enough. “Where feet may fail” wasn’t enough in that moment. It felt trite and vague in a way that didn’t resonate.

I think I was crying for some specificity. I didn’t need everybody’s pain to be recognised in that moment, just my own. I just wanted to hear a word of “I’m really worried about my parenting a four year old” or “I’m scared of what a pandemic will do for my job prospects” or “you come to me in my lack of patience with my partner” or “I’m crying out for some advocacy”:

People of faith talk of a God that presents us with himself. We talk of a Jesus that has experienced humanity so to empathise with us. Of course we are told that we shouldn’t worry, and of course there are greater concerns than our bank account or my lack of disorganisation or my relational troubles. We are called to ‘seek first his kingdom – and all these things will be given’. But aren’t we are also called to present all our cares to him? Aren’t we invited to pray about everything? The scriptures are filled with relatable content – but they’re also full of specific stories with real people and interactions and definite circumstances.

So perhaps it’s ok to have specific laments.

Specificity.

Being specific invites and challenges us to name the thing we’re actually scared of, the particular hope that’s disappointed, the anger that resides under the surface. I don’t think this is about comparing pain or generalising your experience – that’s good ol’ analogy’s job. Instead, in recognising specifics, maybe there’s an opportunity for deep empathy in that moment both for ourselves and also from the God that we are seeking or crying out for. Perhaps it can be an opportunity for welcome and hospitality for others in their own specific pain.

In response, here’s my offering: a psalm of specifics. I thought about reworking an existing psalm but I ain’t no Eugene Peterson.

May you be heard in the specifics x

A Psalm of specificity

From the shame of my thoughtlessness yesterday

From the worry of my bank account

From the laziness of my disorganised diary/house/life

from my loneliness and envy of others’ closeness

From the lethargy of interrupted sleep

From the fear of parenting in the wrong direction

From the lack of respite. The piling on of responsibility, of expectations, of effort that a positive mindset requires to maintain

From the frustration of plans cancelled.

From the disappointment of people that didn’t call, of relationships that are painful rather than life-giving. From the effort it takes to avoid or placate those same friendships

From the story of me that others have taken or written

From the envy of myself in 2019 – where the unawareness of what was to come was a blissful blinker

Can you deliver me, Jesus?

Can you be here with me in this?

X

What if I’m not special? The myth of individuality

(on creativity & contribution, Part 1)

Mt Crawford Forest, Adelaide Hills

My new favourite place is the Mt Crawford Forest. My family and I ‘discovered’ it during the recent lockdown and consequently found ourselves returning there every few days: It’s a beautiful place, stuff your Narnia-dreams are made of. Closed to traffic, it was so quiet, and hardly seeing any other people there, it felt like ‘ours’. It was easy to spend many hours exploring; I don’t think I’ll ever get tired of the stillness amongst the seemingly never-ending rows of trees. We had picnics and played hide and seek and drank coffee and read The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe – perfection, right?! There’s a large part of me that wishes it was still locked to traffic so that it can be that quiet and idyllic again.

Now if you take a walk amongst those seemingly thousands of trees, they’re all different in their own way: Height, branches, number of pinecones, if they are situated on a hill or on a flat, if they’re sheltered in the middle of the row or exposed on the edge; you could spend a lifetime describing the details that make all of these trees unique and distinctive.

In contrast however, one day Shan and I hiked to the lookout of the same forest and before us spread the expanse of the plantation. It was hard to pick out the afore mentioned distinction of the trees: the carpet of green was similarly impressive – but at that height, in its uniformity, not in its ‘specialness’.

So. If a tree [actually] looks like all the other trees in a forest, is it still beautiful?
Does it retain value and worth – even if it is hard to distinguish it from others?

…What happens to us when we’re not unique?

Now we come to one of the pressing identity dilemmas of our generation: in our culture, our worth has become intrinsically linked with the idea of uniqueness, of specialness. Who we are is only really valuable if we’re not like everyone else: if we’re a new/exciting reinterpretation or voice on the stage, we can rest assured in our worth.

Please hear me that I’m not denying the goodness in fresh expressions or new stories, or even strangeness and uniqueness. There is bravery and courage and intelligence when people do find a ‘new space’ or a new voice. Furthermore, the impetus to be different and unique can often come as a healthy push back against unhelpful voices of conformity and ‘sameness’, the peer pressure and group think to conform to the status quo. The pursuit of being ‘normal’ can also fall in this unhelpful category.

But in our day and age, there is a real shadow side and danger for us when we pursue difference for the sake of it, when it is championed to the detriment of all other qualities of our contribution or identity.

We don’t need to be telling each other or ourselves that we need to be new and shiny to be desirable.

My girlfriend commented recently that she was reflecting on some dreams and projects she has in her chosen vocation. She said she was scrolling Instagram and the thought hit her; “You don’t have original thought. That’s not special. Don’t worry about it. Go home”. This accusation came not because she had been proven wrong, just because she saw a post that resonated with what she was already thinking. Instead of reading that post as an affirmation of her ideas, the fear of ‘being the same’ – or arriving at an idea second – turned a moment of confirmation into a narrative of dismissal.

Wouldn’t it be incredible if when thoughts are heard in concert, when you thought the same way as someone else, it was not taken as a criticism of your own lack of creativity, but rather an affirmation of the humanity that we share?1

I am aware that there is danger in only engaging with ideas that we agree with instead of educating our selves about diverse perspectives. Please hear me. This is not what I’m talking about here. I’m just curious why the most revered form of creative judgement – and indeed identity judgement – is in the form of UNIQUENESS = WORTH.

Yes we are different. Yes we carry incredible stories of wins/loss/pain/love. And our stories and context are the very things that shape our contribution. You know, I even wrote an entire piece on this. It utilised the French oenological (wine) term of terroir to make the point. But I’m not going to publish it. Because we hear enough about the pursuit of individualism in our culture: it is implicit in our consumerism, in our relationships, in our spiritual life:

Indeed, our entire political and social model is supported by the concept of individualism: the core of individualism insists that we see our lives through the lens and unit of the individual: instead of communities or collectives, we champion a life that is autonomous and choice-based. Many, many other people (especially sociologists) have written about the story of individualism in our lives, but in short, the ‘gift’ of modernity is the reported stripping-off the burdens of race, religion, class distinctions, giving us a ‘project of the self’ where we can be whoever we want to be.

life is not about finding yourself – it’s about creating yourself

George Bernard Shaw

What an inspiring quote…right?

We have the freedom to be anyone we want. We don’t have to be the same.

This is a wonderful idea. Of course. But we also need to recognise that it is an idea.

Firstly, we still continue to live in a society with realities of race (ism), wealth (poverty), gender (discrimination) and power (imbalance). We can’t always ‘live our best lives’, because our reality may be incredibly hard.

Furthermore, if we can no longer rely on ‘concrete labels’ of identity that our previous generations wore, then “Identity is no longer a ‘given’ on the basis of belonging to a collective, but has become a ‘task’” (Cortois 2017). The consequence? We judge people on their ‘ability’ to make the best life for themselves, even when their social circumstances make that project a really hard – or unachievable – task. This means that those with privilege usually get more opportunities to be ‘acceptably special’.

Secondly, the story of an autonomous, powerful actor, is that –

An idea. A myth – a story of how life is best lived. Here we think of a myth not just as an un-reality, a ‘fake’ or wrong narrative, but a teaching-story. As Cortois (2017) tells us, a myth offers us ‘guidance for orienting ourselves’, and offers us clear expressions of cultural stories – of the values we hold dear.

So what do we learn about our cultural values from a myth of individualism?

I don’t think it’s that we necessarily or always like to be different, or separate from anyone else, because the pressure to be different runs parallel to stories of belonging, of being part of something bigger than ourselves.

The story of being an individual – at its heart- is perhaps a longing for us simply to be seen and recognised.

We want to be special. We want to feel worth something.

And if the loudest voice of society is that in order to do that, you have to do or be someone worth noticing,

than the consequences of that society – are that many of us are exhausted. And intimidated. And paralysed.

I don’t think I’m exaggerating when I say that this thinking can impact and hinder so many aspects of our lives – that we need to prove ourselves so that we can be worthy. We curate our wardrobes, our social media profiles, our podcast selections, in order to be interesting and notable. I’ve noticed it in my relationships, but also in my work life, and even in my faith life – that I need to sprout the newest instagrammable-sharable-profile that becomes a business but also a ministry so that I am reassured in my acceptance and love. It’s exhausting. And not something I want to be modelling to those around me.

I could finish this post by sprouting encouraging and comforting ideas that if your voice is the ‘same’ as someone else, it’s no less beautiful: indeed, a choir of harmonised and echoed voices is one of the most beautiful sounds you’ll here.

But I won’t do that (even though yes I have written a post about that too)

I could tell you to dance like nobody’s watching

But I’m not going to tell you that either.

I do, however, think one of the most important things we can do is recognise the times in our lives or perhaps the parts of ourselves that lean into either or both of these needs –

the need to be recognised (as different),
the need to belong (with others)

and be friends with both parts of ourselves in that moment.

….

nb: This is just the beginning of hopefully a series on the story of creativity in our lives: I want to explore how we view/how society shapes our creativity or simply contribution. I’d love to hear your thoughts on this if you’re inclined.

1The fear that is loud in this space speaks of the myth of a scarcity model of contribution– something I’m planning on teasing and debunking out in a future post.

Liza Cortois (2017) The myth of individualism: From individualisation to a cultural sociology of individualism, European Journal of Cultural and Political Sociology, 4:4, 407-429, DOI: 10.1080/23254823.2017.1334568

“Sorry that I’ve haven’t been too happy recently”; On 20 years without Dad.

Lance Neville Gladigau. Circa 197-Awesome

I have a very specific memory of my Dad just a few weeks before he died in 2000. He and I were home alone, and he was working in his office. I can easily picture him in that room: surrounded by timber panelling, in a desk he made himself, made out of old doors and supported by filing cabinets. We were chatting, and I remember asking him how he was doing; his response was “Not well.” He then proceeded to be honest with my then 16-year-old self, sharing how he was feeling particularly down of late; symptoms we as a family were eminently familiar with, following the years that Dad navigated Bi-polar depression. The conversation went on for some time, and concluded with us praying together about his health and mental wellbeing. I’ve always treasured that memory: what a moment of sadness (and greatness) for a man to be that vulnerable with his daughter. 

I miss his handwriting.

Likewise, you can see above the types of cards and letters he used to write to the ladies in his life. Filled with apologies, hopes, frustrations, he was honest to a fault. The card with the bird on it came after a big fight we had when I was around 15: He had been earnestly trying to convey a life lesson that he had learned to an unwilling audience; an angsty teenager. My angry response had been in the vein of “Just let me live my life! Let me make my own mistakes!!”. In the card he had confessed that his frustrations that day had stemmed from a work disappointment and not completely in our conversation; furthermore, he promised to try to step back and give me space as I navigated the season. Again: What a profound thing – to confess his humanity in that moment, to speak beyond platitudes to how he was feeling, and give context to where he was coming from. I treasure his cards – not only for his handwriting, but also for the rich cries of LANCE that the prose within proclaim.

The other day in a moment of frustration my daughter hit me in the face. Mostly with surprise but with also a deal of pain, I started crying. Arcadia was really confused and said But mummy, “grown ups don’t cry like that”. “Yeah honey, they do”, was my response. For it is 20 years today since dad died. 20 years. And as I’ve been remembering him this day, these moments of confession and vulnerability have been really real. I’m grateful for the gift of seeing Dad – Lance – as he was – seeing how lonely and frustrating it was to go through bright and ‘shiny’ periods of mania – filled with ideas and dreams and the energy to pursue them, followed by seasons of sleep, pain, lethargy, isolation, depression and disappointment. It has given me such insight into his story, and likewise mental illness and depression – something I’m really grateful for. 

But in the same breath, the gift has also been a burden. It is a scary and dislocating thing to have your parents exposed as ‘humans’ at any age, much more when you’re a teenager. Like an image that has been scratched off with a coin to reveal the ‘true nature’ underneath, I know I still grieve the pedestal and hero that we inevitably hold our parents up on. I have asked myself – and Dad – many times- could you have kept the shiny silver layer for a little while longer? Could you have stayed up there on the stage – for a few more years at least? Now being a parent, perhaps what I’m actually angry about, or truly scared, of is how early I’m going to fall off the pedestal for my kids. How do I navigate that safely? Honesty vs protection; Vulnerability vs stoicism. Anyone got the magic formula?

In the end though, I think I would choose vulnerability every time. Of course there’s an appropriate time, age, and circumstance to be vulnerable. Of course I would have preferred that the mental illness wasn’t present, or that he is – they are – both around to be parent to me now- I don’t care that I’m all grown up- I’ll take whatever form they could have offered. But perhaps the vulnerability that was offered opened the door for me to be vulnerable in turn. Not that it has always been the path I’ve taken. But I like to think that my healthy self knows the good that it can do.

So it does raise a question then. What exactly is parenting?
Is it pedestal perfection? Perhaps not. 

Perhaps it is proximity & being present. As myself. Perhaps with some vulnerability-as-courage. 

I hope that I can gift some blend of that to my kids as they grow up.

Cos Dad’s still my hero. Depression, faults, weakness, and all. 

Love you Lance. Until we meet again x

“I just can’t feel any more feels”; On emotional lethargy & trauma

In the summer of 2003, my sister and I travelled around the United States, spending a number of days in Washington D.C. Now what does one spend their time doing in Washington D.C.? Museums, of course. Museums, museums and more museums. It was an interesting, sometimes wonderful, and often-times somber trip. We saw monuments and memorials and spaceships and piles of suitcases and sparkly sequinned red shoes. I loved it. I was emotional in many moments of the few days, standing in front of Abraham Lincoln and reading his Gettysburg Address, visiting the Holocaust museum, and gazing up at Iwo Jima at Arlington Cemetery.

Our museum tour culminated in our visit to the Library of Congress. Exciting, right? Very famous treasure maps pieces of paper. The thing is, as we were standing in front of the Declaration of Independence, I felt nothing.

My brain was telling myself that it was a really important document and I should be excited seeing it – but I got nothing from my heart. I was spent. It wasn’t possible for me to emote any more about American History in that moment. We had reached emotional saturation and lethargy. So that night we went to the movies. We felt guilty for doing so, for it seemed almost sacrilegious – but we just needed something different, something that didn’t require an emotional response; an escape.

Have you ever felt that way? In a season of immersion, or even grief and trauma, we emote and respond – up to a point. There is surprise, fear, anxiety, warmth, sorrow – appropriate responses to the information and situation presented. Good or bad, there seems to be a latent response mechanism present in our emotional arsenal.

But if it continues too long,
if the days trickle into weeks and months,
if the list of hits keep coming,
if the cancer comes back again- and again- and again,
sometimes we’re too tired to respond with the same level of grief and sorrow – even if the news is the worst we’ve heard yet.

Lethargic, tired, and guilty, our response may come out in a surprising way:
In an inappropriate joke
in a laugh when you ‘should’ be crying
in a dismissal-like acceptance when we may expect a full-blown riot against what is happening.

…but is that always a bad thing?

Many of you would know that my mum went through a long journey of cancer before she passed in 2010. Her story was not an uncommon tale: diagnosis, shock, surgery, chemotherapy, radiotherapy, grief, pain, hair loss, sickness, (repeat), remission, lymph node removal, lymphedema, sickness, deterioration…the process went on for many years.

I remember at one point during the last couple of months, amongst being surrounded by many prayers and hope of healing, that I just felt exhausted. I was even exhausted by the thought of mum miraculously getting better. It had been such a long few months of contemplating life without her, of tending her bedside, of sorting through financial and medical matters, that the long journey back to health seemed like an insurmountable process. So I couldn’t entertain the idea.

Of course this was a symptom of grief, of depression, of trauma, but I felt guilty feeling this way. Shouldn’t I care? Shouldn’t I want her to get better? Of course I did – the healthy and whole part of me of course did – but I had reached emotional saturation. I didn’t have capacity to emote any more at that point in time.

We can grit our teeth and clench our fists and ‘think’ our way into a response that we ‘should’ be engaging in in prolonged periods of suffering, but maybe that’s not the most helpful thing to do. Perhaps our body and soul is craving a release valve and respite, a some-thing other than the options our grief story is offering us.

Take for example; a side affect to doctors removing lymph nodes in mum’s arm was lymphedema. Her arm swelled up to around 3 times its original size, to the point where she had to constantly support her massive left arm with her right. It was horrible and debilitating. But man it was also hilarious, watching her having to deliberately move her hand from place to place; her ‘throwing’ her left arm into a high five was a particular highlight. I know this is in poor humour. But it offered a light moment and relief to my family during those awful months.

This is why compartmentalism/bad taste humour/online shopping/watching bad TV/not talking about Covid-19/etc can be helpful, life giving, and dare I argue, necessary. Long term or continual trauma is a marathon, not a sprint. We only have so much emotional capacity or energy before we get saturated and tired. I believe it is a life giving process for us to find spaces of respite that allow us to tend both heaviness and lightness at the same time.

Even if we think about this time of pandemic. We’ve had significant restrictions of our way of life for a number of weeks now, and even if some social distancing measures start opening up in the near future, we won’t be returning to ‘normal’ for a really long time: indeed for many around the world, Covid-19 is not just an inconvenience, it is – and will continue to be- a harbinger of long-term emotional, physical, social and financial trauma. So how do we sustain? How can we seek rhythms of rest amongst the enduring circumstance?

Rest – true rest – is a long term goal that is supported and maintained through intentional rhythms. It is spaces of self care and gratefulness and consideration. It is found in relationship and faith and peace and hope…but it doesn’t happen over night.

So in the mean time, while the trauma continues, while the exhaustion is present, I think it is far more important to celebrate and enable respite than it is to police ourselves (read: others) in our behavioural response. We don’t know other people’s stories. Most likely, there has already been tears – and there will most likely be more tears to come. Even more likely, they’re just tired.

So firstly, an acknowledgement of lethargy is paramount. Having grace for our tired souls is the first thing we should seek.

Repeat after me: “I’m tired. I’ve reached my emotional capacity”: The saying, the seeing, is important.

Secondly, we create spaces of respite:
Permission it for yourself. Champion it for others.

Laugh at the joke. Go for a meal. Watch the bad TV. Send the meme. Moments of lightness allow spaces – and breath – for the heaviness to be continued to be carried. Let’s not judge ourselves or others in their handling of trauma – but encourage and enable spaces for relief, respite and restoration.

XX

On collective grief & confession; the lament.

Solomon’s Room. 445am.

It’s 445am and Solomon is feeding. He’s not settling. Which is fine. I mean I’d prefer to be asleep, of course. But it’s ok. I’ll sit here longer and feed. I’ve got nowhere else to be. I can sit here longer and rock on my chair.

I’ve started reading The Handmaid’s Tale. It is confronting in a new way since I’ve watched the series. Not because of the atrocities that the depicted culture performs and condones; this of course is present, but tonight/this morning/lately, the protagonist speaks of what life used to look like, the things she misses and that which she took for granted. I can only read a couple pages at a time: the topic hits much closer to home than it ever did.

That’s my confession tonight. It is not particularly profound: I just miss lots of things. I miss certainty in work. I miss opportunities to occupy outside my home. I miss playgrounds and play dates. I miss the lack of fear and risk that permeates our interactions with other people. I also know that it hasn’t been that long, and I also acknowledge what a privilege it is to have a safe home to be.

But I still feel the lament.

Scrolling social media over the past weeks – which many of us have/are/will do- have you noticed a change in tone? I have. There is still rubbish and information overload, but I also find myself less envious of others’ Instagram posts. I find people are updating statuses with vulnerability and creativity. People are posting far less about #livingmybestflife, or #lookhowawesomeIam, and much more about simple pleasures, aspects of gratefulness, but also their grief for what this pandemic has cost them, or what it is doing to the world, to people they’ve never met. How wonderful. I’ve read more honest stories on social media over the past few weeks than I ever have. I’ve seen less polished performances and more humble offerings of creativity and generosity. It can still be noisy and overwhelming, but the tone is less aggressive somehow.

The collective grief that we’re all experiencing is/may be the singular event of our lives. What other story has impacted every country, economy and family like this? Covid-19 exposes the privilege and poverty of different spaces and places, but it also beautifully reveals the common humanity we have. And the tool that is at our disposal- the true strength of the social media medium- can be a way for us to communicate our collective experience.

There is an incredible spiritual principle of lament* in many faith traditions: the practice of “calling out” our sorrow. It is the deep, guttural “WHY?” when we don’t know the reason or the outcome. As N.T. Wright has argued recently:

It is no part of the Christian vocation, then, to be able to explain what’s happening and why. In fact, it is part of the Christian vocation not to be able to explain—and to lament instead

Wright, 2020

Lament, then is a heart cry that connects the personal story of loss to the public narrative of grief. It is the practice of speaking out and giving language to the mess- in order for us to move from sorrow into joy. Speaking out pain brings exposure and healing in a way that silence does not; indeed, as Breugemann writes:

Lament is an invitation to a public practice in a society that has no other text that is adequate to our newly embraced loss…

Brueggemann, 2003

Moreover, one of the incredible aspects of lament is the way that it requires an audience. It is the sharing and hearing of grief that gives the story its healing qualities. In the psalms the audience is God:

Save me, O God, for the waters have come up to my neck. I sink in the miry depths, where there is no foothold. I have come into the deep waters; the floods engulf me. I am worn out calling for help; my throat is parched. My eyes fail, looking for my God.

‭‭Psalms‬ ‭69:1-3

I have been encouraged time and time again in the way that the scriptures, particularly the Psalms, champion and call us to lament: it speaks of a God who cares about our circumstance, one who Laments with us, and also one who knows the process that healing requires.

While God is often the primary recipient of lament, the audience of confession can also be each other. We are also called to confess to each other to be healed (James 5:16). When we confess to each other, not only are we restored to relationship and connection, but our lament may just give someone else words to voice their own similar story. Confession and lament can be interwoven together in the same grief.

Basically this is my long winded way of saying KEEP confessing. Keep story telling. Start posting. Even if it’s embarrassing and makes you cringe in your vulnerability. Keep lamenting. Even if it feels overwhelming and murky, like a tune that has a discordant chord that longs for a resolve. It’s ok if we don’t know the answer. The point is to speak.

The practice of lament, the celebration of collective and individual confession, is the vehicle of healing and one of the ways that we as a country/culture/world can ride out this storm. X

*many others have written far more extensively on Lament: I refer you to the great N.T. Wright or Walter Bruegemann or Matthew Jacoby for further exploration & illumination of the concept.

On choosing laundry tiles and anxiety attacks

About 18 months ago my husband and I were in the latter stages of our house build. After 2 years we were finally coming up to the point that for many is an exciting stage: bathrooms & wet areas. Unfortunately for me however, this is a nightmare scenario. Bathrooms mean fixtures. Sinks. Toilets. And the kicker: TILES. All of these needed to be picked and decided upon.

If you’re decisively-challenged like me, it ain’t no fun being presented with a choice that you’re going to have to look at and live with for the rest of your life, no. Rather, it’s your proper torture device. Kirsten’s internal monologue in this scenario: RUN!!

What if I don’t like it? What if other people don’t like it?? 

Over the years I’ve almost perfected the art of forgoing and defaulting my choice, often leaving the decision to others, and of late, my husband. This has been something I have done in many relationships, mostly because I have been desperate for people to like me – so if they make the choice (of restaurant, activity, movie, tiles), they can’t be disappointed in me.

Why is this? Do I believe I have bad taste? No. Do I believe that I need to concede my choice to males? No. But the fear of disappointment, the fear of creating a reason for someone not to like me? That’s the world ending. It’s painful. I don’t enjoy it. Even if the consequence of constantly saying “I don’t mind, you pick” is actually the other person resenting you for it, the practice is so deeply ingrained in me, I continue it, despite it being debilitating for me, and deeply annoying for those who know me.

Hence when I was given the task of going down to the local tile store to pick our laundry floor, I couldn’t do it. I tried: I went to the store three times. I returned 2 sets of tiles to the store after bringing them home and hating my selection. 

Cue meltdown.  I ended up on our kitchen floor in a fetal position because I couldn’t pick a tile. I couldn’t make a choice and back that choice. I stayed on that floor for over an hour, disgusted with myself. I was pathetic. And I hated myself for being so. So now not only could I not make decisions, but even when I recognised the destructive nature of indecision, I still couldn’t make a choice. 

I understand the ridiculousness of this moment: tiles don’t matter. Especially laundry floor tiles! Who even cares?  

It wasn’t about the tiles. This post isn’t about tiles.

The thing is, even knowing myself, even in the pain of lying on the ground in an anxiety attack, I had no pity for that woman. I was disgusting to myself at this point.

JUST MAKE THE CHOICE, KIRSTEN. BE BETTER. GET OVER IT. I was standing over myself, critical and full of judgement. 

I spent an entire session with my wonderful psych about this a couple of weeks later (this is a little embarrassing to admit). We spent time talking about my recurring fear of decision making, but she also encouraged me to spend time looking at my hatred and disgust of myself too. She kept asking me how I was feeling toward myself at that moment, and the words kept repeating: Shame. Disgust. Frustration. Hatred.

She then stopped me in my tracks and asked me what that woman on the floor actually needed:

Compassion.

That’s it.  

She asked me to ‘parent myself’ in that moment and imagine what a compassionate parent would be feeling and acting towards me on that kitchen floor. Rather than judgement, not only was it completely acceptable to feel pity towards myself, but it was also appropriate – and much more helpful – to extend compassion and grace to a young girl who just wanted to be told that it was ok that she was scared. And that she was ok too.

We need judgement FAR less than we need compassion. Judgement rarely inspires healing, growth and life-giving decisions. Even if it is ourselves who are floundering or indecisive or completely in the wrong. 

I have returned to that moment a lot since it happened. In my times of anxiety and self-hatred I imagine myself on the floor in the kitchen – but now I also try to picture the compassionate parent who sees her. What would be helpful to say to her? I try to imagine the compassion that is needed.  

And I try to EXTEND IT TO MYSELF.

Thanks to Shan who told me to write today.  

Also thanks to Shan who ended up picking the laundry tile. They’re grey.
In case you were wondering. X

Allowing the Ferment: Or, what Kombucha has annoyingly taught me about the process of reflection

Kombucha. What a millennial marketing dream.

“Look guys, here’s a drink that is homemade and environmentally conscious and healthy but also feel free to buy it from us and feel so much better than everyone else when you drink it.”

Many of you will know Kombucha devotees who preach about its benefits to everyone and anyone who will listen. They will tell you to stop buying/drinking soft drink. They even may tell you how easy it is to make your own.

Now my first reaction, like many of these fads things, is a roll of the eyes. FAD ALERT AHOY!! OPPORTUNITY FOR CONSUMERIST EXPLOITATION AHOY! Mostly I wish I bought shares in Kombucha years ago. Even if that were possible.

The amazingly annoying thing, is that kombucha is actually really good for you – as is many many things that are fermented. Fermenting is the process of a chemical breakdown of a substance by bacteria – bringing agitation, excitement and effervescence. The positive outcomes of fermentation, are a plethora. It’s also really tasty. Yes, I admit it.

According to choice Here’s just a few; it Preserves food,  Adds good microbes to the gut, Increases micronutrients, Makes food more palatable, Changes taste,  Eliminates anti-nutrients,  Decreases cooking times, and Produces carbon dioxide (yay for bread and beer and champagne). Indeed, before we understood the chemistry within, fermentation was believed to be a divine process, a gift from God himself.

Now despite the base ingredients, the common feature of all fermentation reactions?

Time. It’s the process that brings the benefit.

So it’s got me thinking lately. Is there also a benefit of allowing ideas, concepts, lessons, to ferment within me?

I am an educator. I truly love the teaching process. I love introducing concepts to my students (or friends or family  – I apologise to all of my long suffering mates) and seeing them wrestle with it – even better if we wrestle with it together.

So many times in my life, if I come across a gem of an idea, or a concept that I read about, I instantly think of how/where/who I could share that concept with. Many times in my study I think – who is this for? What lesson is this? In many ways, this is a good thing right? Long live public debate; the exchange of ideas, the grappling of concepts.

But here’s the thing. Maybe I need to allow concepts a little bit of fermenting time in order for them to achieve their true potential – or even for me to truly learn the lesson for myself – before I share them prematurely.

The story that keeps coming to mind for me is when Mary (mother of Jesus) hears this ridiculously amazing thing about the baby that she’s just given birth to. She is witness to the shepherd’s story of a HOST OF ANGELS in the SKY, singing glory to God. About HER baby. And what is her response to this incredible event/news?

“But Mary kept all these things in her heart and thought about them often.” (Luke 2:19)

For many years I’ve always been dumbfounded and a bit annoyed at Mary and her reaction. Really? This is your response? You have confirmation of the deity of your newborn, and you ‘think about these things often’? Surely the first thing you want to do is tell other people about this, just like the shepherds did.

Come on Mary, don’t be lame.

But maybe Mary’s not being lame here. Maybe this is the ferment. Perhaps it’s a picture of something so wonderful, so special, that it requires a treasuring first before it’s shared with other people. The discernment and reflection gives honour and worth to the experience.

I understand the perhaps double standard nature of this post: Why are you sharing about not sharing Kirsten, in a format most famous for exposure? I hear this critique. Point Taken.

But mostly I think it’s a wonderful and weighty call that we can take seriously the responsibility of what we learn for ourselves, and then what we can share with the people in our world. All of us have opportunities to speak and be heard; some of us even have the privilege of being in responsibility and paid positions to do so.

If you are, could I encourage you, sit in the ferment. If you have a lesson that you’re learning, be honest about that stage – with yourself. It’s not about not being vulnerable, but perhaps it is a question of honouring what the process of reflection does for us.

Jesus honours the one who prays in secret – can we perhaps honour our stories and moments, giving ferment to them – so that when we do share, the words are curated, full of life; of effervescence, and much more palatable?

we the redeem-able, we the restor-able

2018 has not been an easy year for my family. There were job changes and losses and juggling. There was stress and sickness. There was the learning of how to parent a 2 year old that never forgets ANYTHING. And there was also the building of a house which seconded and underpinned all of our energy, finance, time and attention. My dear husband has basically been working 7 days/nights a week at his ‘real’ job and then at site to make it ready enough for us – But it is a site no more, because as of two weeks ago, we finally moved into our home. It is beautiful. I’m so proud of us. Of Shannon in particular, but of both of us – that we actually made it here.

Many times this year I’ve had conversations with friends and family who ask about the house or how we’ve been going, and I shared mostly about the hard work that a self build-off the grid-custom house is, and the toll that it’s taken. Please understand, I don’t want to whinge: So many people only dream about the opportunity that we have had to build this place. I get how privileged we are. It is a beautiful thing.

But it has been costly. And by costly I mean in time. And in relationships. And in health. And in sanity. I think about the disagreements that Shannon and I have had this year and all most of them have simply arisen from the fact that we’re both so tired and desperately just wished our partner would acknowledge how hard we’ve been working.

Anyone with me?

I’m just tired. and done. And after yet another Christmas where sickness has taken us out of celebrations, and after all the work and stress and frustration and envy of other-people’s-seemingly-simpler-lives, this is the prayer that I’ve been repeating – as I sit in our beautiful home – a beautiful home at the end of a really long, hard year

“Jesus. It’s been really really hard.
Can you redeem this for us? Can you redeem me?”

I really really hope so.

There are many names for Jesus – we are reminded of them at Christmas – but one of my favourites is Jesus the Redeemer.

Redemption is Deliverance. Rescue.

The God-setting-things-right that we read about has become Jesus-setting-things-right for us…Out of sheer generosity he put us in right standing with himself. A pure gift. He got us out of the mess we’re in and restored us to where he always wanted us to be. And he did it by means of Jesus Christ.

Romans 3 (MSG)

To redeem is to gain or regain possession of (something/someone) in exchange for payment. Redemption costs something. It also requires a third party, the redeemer, to pay up. So Jesus being our redeemer, has freed us from slavery and death, in payment of himself.

As an aside – thinking about Jesus the Redeemer makes me thinking of the amazing statue called Christ the Redeemer that stands above Rio de Janeiro in Brazil. It’s truly magnificent: I’ve always loved how Jesus stands guard over the city, his arms raised high.

I have not seen it in person.

But what I have witnessed is in the outskirts of Buenos Aires. You take a suburban bus and come across a gem called Tierra Santa or the Holy Land, a Jesus theme park. You heard it right kids. An entire theme park exists where you can visit reenactments of the creation, of Jesus’ life, and you can dress up as biblical characters. What Tierra Santa also has is a Jesus that resurrects (and rotates) out of a mountain on the hour, every hour. It’s so good. Take that Rio De Janeiro.

But back to the Redeemer. This name for Jesus is truly wonderful.

Redemption is a powerful, enticing idea. And it is something that I long for so often.

I think it’s something that we all long for really.

Can those parts of us, of our lives, that have been, or are presently, destructive, painful, shameful – can they be freed?

I think that’s the real prayer I’ve been making. Not that my entire life would be replaced and made perfect – although that would be nice – just that the elements which are broken can be redeemed and made to be life giving.

The thing is, I think Jesus is all over that too. Because what is also encaptured in this concept of REDEMPTION, is RESTORATION.

Redemption means freedom FROM something, yet restoration – a closely linked process – is the act by which we are brought TO something.

Redemption FREES, but Restoration PROVIDES – provides new life, peace, meaning & relationship.

The two work hand in hand in the biblical story – both in small lives but also across whole groups and nations. God is in the business of offering MERCY to redeem us, but also GRACE in the restoration to beauty, wholeness & life.

I didn’t want to get too preachy in this post. Sorry about this. But it’s so good. YES. God redeems. YES Jesus restores. He tells us that he does. And I’ve seen it happen.

We often hear about the stories of people meeting Jesus and their whole lives have been transformed in one moment – like Paul on the road to Damascus, or the drug dealer who suddenly becomes sober – and as a young person I remember feeling so jealous of their stories when mine was a far more mundane one.

But the way I’ve seen God work in my life is within it – restoring and redeeming the stories of heartbreak, the feelings of loss or loneliness, the times of intimidation or embarrassment. What I’ve come to realise is that it’s an equally valid & transformational story.

He has redeemed my whole being of course – but every day, and within and through my life, he restores it.

Moreover, the thing that I’m so comforted by is the thought that the very nature of restoration and redemption assumes that there is something worth saving.

It assumes that I’m worth saving.

The very nature of restoring an old car, house, chair, person – assumes that they have worth. There are parts of me, of you, that are worth the effort. The very point of redemption is that you don’t throw out the baby with the bathwater, but recognise the beauty & creation in something’s, or someone’s, essence & soul.

This is the thought that has warmed my cynical, clapped-out heart this past two weeks.

If he is the redeemer,

I am the redeemable.

if he is the restorer,

I am the restorable.

x

black friday, true crime podcasts, and everything anxious

You may have heard that my husband and I are building a house. Which we have been building for the last 299409 years. She is a beauty and I can’t believe that we’ll be actually living in it someday soon. This piece is not about building a house – I’m sure many will come of the like – but it is about the fact that when you’re at the end of a house build, you rarely have money. The money you do have should and does go into buying boring things like curtains. and septic tanks. and doors. You know, the things that make a house liveable…but not sexy. Septic tanks are not sexy.

Now despite the reality that I know I should be buying roller door fire retardant seals (clearly the most exciting product on the planet), this weekend I have found myself scrolling Instagram and Facebook, seeing add after add of “BLACK FRIDAY SALE”, and wanting so desperately to buy all of it. Whatever IT was. Not only do did I want 1200 thread count sheets at 70% off, or that gorgeous Gorman dress that would be so amazing over summer, but the hard truth is that I cared less about how wonderful all these purchases would make me feel  (which is the #1 rule and trick of consumerism) and the identity I am creating (which is the #2 rule and trick of consumerism), and more about how anxious I was on missing out on the opportunity to feel better about myself and support the image that I am creating (which is really the driving force behind #1 and #2).

Let’s state that again. Yes I want wanted dresses and sheets and crockery and Rollie shoes and environmentally sound keep cups. But the anxiety on missing out on the opportunity to gather these items was a far stronger force than any desire for discounted Kikki K 2019 diaries.

I just didn’t want to miss out.

The thing is, this is what the consumerist society is designed to do.

Consumerism is DESIGNED TO MAKE YOU FEEL BAD ABOUT YOURSELF.
SO THAT YOU BUY MORE STUFF. It is defined as Perpetual non-satisfaction.
IT is BEST FRIENDS WITH ANXIETY and man, do they have a good working relationship.
The system works so well: Guys, buy stuff to make you feel good & represent your identity. But more than that, do it NOW so that you won’t miss out on becoming/staying part of the in crowd who have already done so.  

I’m not knocking purchasing. I do it all the time – just take a look at my 63 strong hoard collection of vintage dresses. I’m not even talking about the role of of unethical purchasing or irresponsible stewardship of our money, which are both really important things to consider in our purchasing habits.

But if you are feeling anxious about shopping – and what you’re missing out on, please. take a breath. wait a minute or hour or day to purchase.
THERE WILL ALWAYS BE MORE CLOTHES.
THERE WILL ALWAYS BE MORE HOUSES.
THERE WILL ALWAYS BE MORE T2.
THERE WILL ALWAYS BE ANOTHER OPPORTUNITY.

Perhaps you are one of the chosen ones in our society who aren’t implored to shop. But maybe you like podcasts instead. I love podcasts. They’re so good. Give me a true crime, or a revisionist history, or a tv show dissection, or a Cultural Theory, and I am done. I am happy. and I am probably smug that you haven’t heard of the podcast yet and I get to introduce it to you.

But here’s the thing. I have been anxious about podcasts too! In my work commute I have an hour of juicy time to listen to my episodes. But more frequently than I care to admit, I have caught myself thinking “What podcast am I missing out on? What knowledge or in joke or unbelievable-but-true crime am I missing out on knowing the ins and outs of?”

This is dumb.

Podcasts are a privilege of the elite and learned. Podcasts are a joy of creation and thinking and sharing of knowledge and humour and wisdom and musical theatre. We should delight in the fact that they’re free and that we get to listen to them. We don’t have to be anxious about what we’re missing out on. Just put it on the list and you’ll get to it if and when you can.

We don’t have to add a consumerism lens to our resources and time.
We just don’t. It’s exhausting and robs us of joy and peace.
Maybe we can choose not to. 

You and I, dear friends, have far greater things to spend our time and energy on than feeling anxious about the purchases that we should be making to feel good or the podcast that we’re missing out on.

If you are feeling anxious, I implore you: Name it if that’s what you’re feeling, and consider why you are feeling like you’re missing out or feeling crap about yourself today. Talk to someone about it. Pray about it. Read some truths about yourself – Such as you are an incredible masterpiece, a gift, a delight, someone worthwhile.

It might save you some dollars and maybe also give you some joy and peace that lasts longer than it takes to open the package.