the want for a want for righteousness

What a comforting thought, God.

That the want for righteousness is seen – is recognised – and is granted sustenance.

I say this because we can look at the righteous – the ‘good’ people in this world, the ones who have ‘arrived’ at a state of righteousness – and think they are the [only] ones who are recognised.

But it says those who hunger and thirst for righteousness will be filled – which is wonderful. Because it means that “those who are pursuing righteousness” – those that have a cause or active path of righteousness – “we’re not there yet, but we’re on our way” are seen here.

You are seen in your attempt and pursuit of the righteous things in this life.

Imperfect offerings are the things of God

But what if you don’t have a “cause”?

I would argue that you’re still part of the team.

The want for righteousness is seen here – but more so, maybe the want for a want for righteousness is seen too. If you’re overwhelmed, exhausted, intimidated, hurt, fearful, lacking in confidence or energy to do anything but survive- the hunger and thirst for things to be righteous – are still the things of God. Likewise, then, so is the compassion and recognition that we receive in the want – and in the want for a want.

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.

Indeed. Cheers, Jesus.

On controlling a narrative vs living a legacy: Maybe there are times to tell the full story

Travers: “Mary Poppins is the very enemy of whimsy and sentiment. She’s truthful. She doesn’t sugarcoat the darkness in the world that these children will eventually, inevitably, come to know – she prepares them for it. She deals in honesty. One must clean one’s room. It won’t magically do it by itself. This entire script is flim-flam!…Where is its heart? Where is its reality? Where is the gravitas?

Disney: “‘No whimsy or sentiment’; says the woman who sent a flying nanny with a talking umbrella to save the children!”

Travers: “You think Mary Poppins has come to save the children, Mr Disney? Oh Dear.”

Disney: “It’s not the children she comes to save. It’s their father – it’s your father.”

Conversations between P.L. Travers, author of Mary Poppins, and Walt Disney, during the making of said film, in the movie Saving Mr Banks, 2013.

The movie Saving Mr Banks slayed me when I first saw it. It still does. P.L. Travers was a woman haunted by her past, but also deeply attached to her father, despite his significant struggles and failings as a parent. The movie depicted her desperate drive to protect the story of her father, often times to her own detriment. He was her hero, as parents often are, and in most cases, should be. Seeing her story, I couldn’t help but think of my own. It was hard to watch.

Protecting others’ stories

For those of us who have been unfortunate to lose someone that is dear to us, an interesting task is often bequeathed as a side affect of the loss: you are now the bearers of their legacy. Your (often self-appointed) job is to guard the story and narrative of those dear in your life – whether they are members of your family, friends, or simply people that we look up to. It is a gift to know them and carry their legacies forward.

This can be a beautiful and wonderful thing. We get to recall and relate stories of their antics in our own lives; we can teach our children who never-know-who-they-miss of the quirks and strengths of their relations; for example, of my own deceased parents – the way he pioneered water saving techniques, to the way he ate jam and cream sandwiches, from the way she, without fail, over catered every meal like we were a herd of 15, the way she mispronounced seemingly un-mispronouncable words, or the love and care she invested into her students. One of the glorious ways to grieve is to tell these stories; it keeps memories alive and releases a little bit of the grief-pressure valve.

For me, the task of narrative-keeper has been particularly strong for my Dad; he took his own life in 2000 after a long relationship with bi-polar disorder, and from the day he died I felt like it’s been my responsibility to dispel interpretations of suicide being a shameful, sinful act: this was particularly pertinent in a church context. This post isn’t about debunking myths of depression, however*. My point is that because dad died – and particularly how he died, I’ve felt a consistent pressure to tell ‘that’ story of him, even if it is to me. I felt like it’s my responsibility to defend him because he’s not here to. I have the responsibility to carry Dad’s legacy – and not his illness – in a love of education, the Adelaide hills, a love of wine – you name it.

This is mostly a joyful task –

except when it’s not.

Or perhaps, put another way, the legacy is a little more complex than one story arc.

Even if the person we speak of hasn’t died but is influential or dear to us, we can feel the pressure to curate a particular narrative of their lives and role, especially in a public context.

But what if the narrative under your charge isn’t straight forward? What if you had – or have – a complicated relationship with your loved one? What if you are grieving for them – but also because of them?

I say this only because sometimes it hard to navigate the both/and space.

A while back I was sitting in my therapist’s rooms, spending the session speaking of my parents, and she had the gall wisdom to interrupt my monologue with a simple question –

You know it’s ok to be angry at your Dad, right?

stupid wise therapist

The question took me back, and I dismissed it quickly, before she pressed again

“You can be sad that they’re gone, but also angry at them for failing you as a parent.”

Man, that was hard to hear, especially since dad died when I was 16, I’ve built a ‘career’ on defending him and his mental illness. I was also brought up to ‘honour our parents’ – so this admission flies in the face of that, right?

I ask you – how do you tell the story that is complicated? – of our loved ones – but even, maybe of ourselves?

In my own case, I ask, how do I speak out to garner a greater understanding of mental illness – when my story is also coloured by disappointments that he decided to leave when I wasn’t done with being a kid yet?

Because it has been traumatic. It has been a lot to deal with. Dad’s depression and subsequent death – it coloured my relationship with my mum; it nearly ruined her. It coloured my relationship with myself, and it set in motion many patterns of behaviour that I’ve had to unpack and work through into a healthy space.

I think it’s ok to acknowledge that.

This doesn’t change who he is as a man. It doesn’t make him any less worthy to be loved or remembered. but giving myself permission to “be angry at him – while still loving him” – what it does do, is place my relationship with him, and my remembrance of him, in a healthier space – because it is a more honest space. I have the freedom of remembering all of him, rather than being limited to aspects that are shiny or impressive.

Living a legacy does not mean protecting a particular narrative. There are more stories to tell.

Protecting our story

I’ve noticed that the more we try and control a story, the more we feel we have to lose. The very notion of a narrative is a version of events, steering the audience to a particular conclusion. So when we feel we need to protect and maintain one particular (and therefore limited) version of a person or time, it is often a little bit about fear and a lot about control. Thus it may be helpful to consider what that control costs us, in energy, in honesty, and in the freedom for us to see the whole of these people – as people, and not one-dimensional narratives that look a little cleaner, but are a whole lot less real.

What would it look like to have a culture that had spaces to acknowledge the whole of a person, or story – even the parts that are shameful, cancelable, and hard to swallow – and have them acknowledged in tandem with the parts that are beautiful, digestible, and shiny? This isn’t about justifying or condoning ‘bad’ behaviour – far from it – but it is a comment on how we don’t really know how to do this in our society. We aren’t practiced in dealing with failings, especially when one has a public platform or comes from a place of privilege. We have done great work in our world in identifying historically (and often systematically) silenced abuse, neglect and shameful behaviour and bringing it to light- but we don’t really know what to do with that person afterwards.

It is a dehumanising process when we reduce others – and ourselves – to one story, one season, one act. I wonder where is the role of restoration? Where is the role of redemption? Where is the role of confession? Where is the role of grace? I ask these questions not to open a can of worms but because I believe it’s important – the implications run true both from an individual level to a societal movement. What narratives do we curate, to convey and maintain a particular idea, view, or value? What are we silencing to retain a semblance of control?

Expanding the narrative

I’ve been working hard on giving myself permission to see all, or previously quieted, aspects of my parents. Some of this has been joyful and releasing – like seeing myself in my mum, when previously I have allowed my 25-year old frustration to dominate the memory. Other times it has been painful – like voicing the disappointment that in many ways I’ve had to parent myself since I was a young teenager. The distinction between narrative and legacy has been beneficial – and somehow lessens the burden of the story. Often times we need distance and time for this to be possible or even helpful.

But where I am most heartened is the permission it can give in my current relationships. I can be honest in what narrative I shape in the different roles that I hold in my life. Am I pouring inordinate energy into a particular connection, to be the ‘helpful’ one or the ‘fun’ one or the ‘smart’ one or the ‘leader’ one or the ‘low maintenance’ or ‘together’ one? Maybe there is scope – where appropriate – to shift the focus and expand the narrative.

A good friend shared with me some parenting advice she had once encountered: A mother confessed to her daughter;

There are going to be times in my life when I’m not going to be the parent that you need me to be – just because of who I am as a person, and because of who you are as a person.

I’m sorry that it will.

But when it does, I want you to come and talk to me about it.

– Smart Parent

That thought is an invitation and comfort to me, two fold.

Firstly – as a daughter – as a child – I have permission to see all of who my parents (or insert other loved one) are. It serves them – and me – to know that I don’t have to preserve a narrative that tells one story (and silences others).

Secondly – as a mother – (or one in power/privilege) – I have permission to show a realistic story of who I am. Sometimes vulnerable, sometimes mastering, sometimes learning, sometimes failing. What a gift – not using all that energy to maintain a particular reach to perfection, or a censored version of events.

If it is freeing, know that you don’t have to bear the burden of a narrative, telling only one story (and silencing others).

If it is freeing, know that as a parent, as the ‘responsible’ person, don’t feel that you need to perfect a narrative to your loved ones that you care for…

Expand the story. There’s more to tell. Fill in the detail. It makes for a beautiful-even if hard won-view.

x

*So many of us are impacted by the force of depression and mental illness. If this is you, I’m so sorry you’re navigating this space, whether it is yourself or a loved one. There are people to reach out if you need help such as Beyond Blue

A Jack of all trades, Master of none; On being a bridge between worlds when we’re left of centre

A few months back I finished a lecture in one of my Sociology of Gender classes. It was a great, dynamic exchange with students: the conversation was lively and engaged. But as I returned to my office, I felt the overwhelming need to burst into tears. I was wracked by doubt both in my status and ability, asking myself; Did I say the right thing? Am I guiding these adults in the right path?

I know my skill and expertise in this area: trust me, this is not a pity party post. But that day we were discussing important, deeply personal and integral concepts of identity – and I felt the weight of it. I felt the burden of ‘doing a good job’ according to myself as an academic, and also the institution for which I teach.

As an academic, I desperately want to introduce students to ‘good’, solid sociological concepts that will give students perspective and power to ‘make the invisible visible’1, to empower them to change their context for the better. But also in the context where I teach, I want to offer wisdom in a faith perspective. It’s not easy to straddle both. Again, I felt the weight of the topic, and the importance of the knowledge in my students’ lives.

In that moment, I didn’t feel like I was doing a good job of either role. I felt I wasn’t qualified to be in that space, because I wasn’t ‘pure’ or wholly located in a cultural discipline: Being a traitor to both sociology and theology, I made a meal of it all.

There is something to be said for those of us – and for the times in our lives – where we dig deep. We sink roots into the soil of knowledge and master a craft, or settle into a space/learning/field, gaining wisdom and expertise in an area. We can and should celebrate knowledge and specialties: this can be true of a learning major, a work field, of a hobby; but it also can speak of a community or relationship. We dig deep into a context; building relationships and immersing ourselves where we are placed. This is a glorious and deeply gratifying space. We can – and should – look to the experts in these fields for wisdom, truth, and guidance.

But my question is – what happens if we sit left of centre, out of the thick of things? What if you don’t have a specialty? What if your cultural heritage is different to that which we live? What if you have more than one passion? What if you have multiple groups of friends and networks? What if you are negotiating more than one context at a time, straddling across space?

What if you don’t share everything in common with those around you, and feel on the margins in your perspective, world view and connections?

If you do so,

If this is you, I just wanted to offer encouragement. If you’ve ever felt the weight of not being in the ‘one’ space, not being in the thick of it, not in the centre of the crowd, nor in the heart of the field – if you look at those who seem that they are connected (more than you) and are educated (more than you) and have authority in a space (more than you do) –

I see you.

You are completely valid in who you are, and what you’re doing.

and more than that, more than a lip-service acknowledgement of ‘you’re doing great – thumbs up – etc’

I want to offer the possibility that you’re not necessarily in the wrong space.

The world needs bridges between worlds and concepts.

I’ll say that again.

We need – The world needs – Bridges.

Maybe you feel left of centre – because you’re the one bridging the gap between one space and the next, giving others access they wouldn’t otherwise have.

I was sharing my frustration with a dear friend Mandy (who has featured in this space before – she’s often the ‘wise friend’ I refer to) about this topic; feeling like a jack of all trades and master of none, and she shared such a helpful analogy with me. Her grandfather had once said to her;

“Mandy, you will never speak English as well as the white kids, and you’ll never speak Cantonese as well as the Chinese kids. You’ll just have to work harder.”

(Mandy): As a kid I remember thinking, well that’s super depressing and not at all inspiring; Thanks Grandpa! But now as a 36 year old woman, I see how the extra “effort” it took/takes me to manage both language “worlds” has offered me a more adaptable and flexible brain (amongst other things). I think my grandpa was still right even if he didn’t see that it was/is a brilliant thing that I had to (and got to) navigate two languages…if we were to talk “advantage”, it actually put me “ahead”, and not behind.

What a perspective. We often interpret the navigation of different worlds as a disadvantage – and perhaps it is in some ways. But everyday, we all – experts and amateurs alike – negotiate and internalise different sources of knowledge. And it is in the synthesis of those truths – the way that we filter, discern, question, then create, produce and imagine – this is where the beauty is, friends. This is the money*.

The innovators are the ones who bring a new field of expertise to a persistent problem. The leaders are the ones who bring together systems and people from different spaces and get them to operate in concert. The creators are those who suspend assumption to make new connections between ideas and form. If you’re a believing person, Jesus as God and man – bridging those two worlds – did – and was – this very thing. The incarnation of deity into humanity is a major part of Jesus’ identity.

If you exist in two different worlds, everyday you are working and weaving the two in meaningful, practical ways.

Here is some more wisdom from Mandy:

Kirst, yes perhaps it is true that you and your beautiful brain have to work harder to understand and cultivate knowledge of two different “worlds” and somehow bridge and weave the two in meaningful and practical ways. That is tremendous work and the fruit is/will be incredible.
The feeling of “not being expert of either” is a natural part of that, I think. Perhaps it’s because you’re not aiming for/supposed to be that.
You’re creating and growing something else.

For those of us bridging worlds and crossing contexts, what I’m trying to do in my own work is attempt to reframe my position not as an awkward balancing act, but an opportunity to notice and translate. The best teachers I’ve ever witnessed aren’t about filling ’empty brains’ with information; rather, teachers do the job of interpreting and contextualising knowledge so that it can be embodied and internalised in their student’s lives. This is the very work of those who straddle worlds. We do the introduction, and then point our hearers to the experts (who thankfully know more than us) to dig deep and learn more. This is a joy and opportunity, not a sign that we’re not worthy of speaking in the first place.

Alternatively, when we think about being on the edge of a community, those who are in the immersed in the ‘centre’ are often not aware of those who feel disconnected. Perhaps we can be the ones who notice others on the edge and extended welcome and connection.

The world needs bridges.

Maybe you’re not a Jack of all trades and master of none.

Maybe you’re not left of centre.

Maybe you’re a bridge.

x

*unfortunately I can’t predict that this will actually earn you money. But it is often where our humanity finds its sweet spot.

  1. Mills, C. W. (1970). The sociological imagination . Penguin.

When “You’re so strong!” hits a little wrong – Or, the shadow side of resilience.

“You’re so strong!”

“You’re so resilient!”

Have you ever been the recipient of these tidings? Or been the one who utters them?

“No one else could deal with what you’ve been through!”

In so many ways, to tell someone they’re strong is one of the highest compliments we can give –

“Hey you – congratulations on navigating
[this often crappy] life so well!”

– people

It’s a symbol of recognition and admiration – you’ve come out and through the other side of something challenging and difficult to navigate. So we celebrate and see you for that achievement. It’s a compliment unhindered by age, gender, class, race – an aspect of humanity that we champion and commend.

But the thing is – as much as the compliment is so lovingly uttered – and in most cases – lovingly received, the ‘silence’ of this statement – and the reason why we give the compliment in the first place – is because someone’s life has been awful. There has been a significant, long term, debilitating challenge that they have had to be strong for – and for many people, it is multiple somethings.

So sometimes – as much as the statement is meant to be heard at its best as “I love you! I see you in this moment!” – what I have heard is “Look how crap your life is – and well done on being strong despite that” – to which my response is usually “I kinda had to”.

I was chatting to a girlfriend today about this exact thing. She and her husband have navigated significant challenges for their family, many of which us “lucky ones” will never have to contemplate – and they’ve done it with grace and good humour – it has been a sight to see, to be honest. My hat goes off to them. I’ve often told her (or at least I hope I have) how amazing/strong/resilient she is.

But does she actually need to hear that so often? Is it helpful?

I myself have been through a number of significant traumas in my life and people have told me many times at how strong I am. I love them for it in so many ways – I do feel seen. And there is a fair amount of pride in me that I can and do show resilience in the face of trial.

But if I’m brutally honest, friends –

sometimes

I’d prefer not to be.

I’d like it if I didn’t need to be strong.

I’d like it if the muscles of resilience and ‘coping’ weren’t so exercised.

It’s pretty tiring, hey.

It can make you be cynical about things to come when you expect to have to cope with “what’s next”,

it can make you unreasonably triggered in situations/emotions/contexts that feel similar- or adjacent – to situations you’ve experienced,

and the ‘strength’ can also come with a side of anger, trauma, scars, distrust, anxiety, depression, jealousy and exhaustion (just to name a few).

I’d much prefer my life to be awesome and struggle-free.

Obviously good counselling, therapy, medical care and healthy relationships all have a vital place for those of us who have been through ‘stuff’, and I am of course grateful for the lessons i’ve learned about myself along the way – mostly I’m grateful for the solidarity I can offer when people are stuck in the mire.

But again – if I could trade those character lessons and not have to have lost what I have? – not even a thought.

I would exchange it in a heartbeat. Happy to return the goods to sender.

I would rather not have to be so resilient.

The loss of what was, the grief of what could have been: it’s a long term, heavy price to pay for that bit of character development.

This is an exercise in honesty rather than criticism – I hope I’m not coming across as hypersensitive or censorious –

But I wanted to offer the solidarity for those in the mire – or those who remember the mire like it was yesterday – perhaps the option to not only feel complemented that you’re strong – but instead the freedom to also recognise the grief and trauma that leaves it mark.

The two things can be true at once.

So Friends – if this is you –

I’m sorry that you’ve had to be strong.

I’m sorry that your resilience was so hard fought.

I’m sorry that your wisdom came at such a high price.

I’m sorry that you didn’t have a choice in the matter.

and finally – It’s ok if you don’t feel strong sometimes.

We can be grateful for the lessons but also sad that they were so hard to learn.

Perhaps the gift we can give ourselves and each other is to permission – and practice – space for both sides of the story to exist.

x

hello darkness, my old friend: on greeting our ick

I don’t like admitting my anxiety. But I feel anxious sometimes.
I don’t like feeling ashamed. But that’s a frequent guest in my house too.
My frustrations and anger are likewise good at exposing themselves in inopportune moments.

So in light of this: here’s my greeting: I spent the beginning of the year feeling guilty. Guilty about putting my one year old into childcare – and not one, but two days a week. He’s also with my in-laws another day per week which gives me 3 whole days a week where I’m being a terrible mother guys. I’m not home with him (enough) thus I’m making a bad choice and also setting a bad foundation for his early start. Anyone want to judge me? Go ahead. I deserve it. That has been my ick.

OF course I can understand from a logical standpoint that this isn’t the case, of course. This post is not about debating the merits and strengths of being a working or stay at home mum. Both are valid and necessary for different people and in different contexts.

But I still feel guilty. It’s uncomfortable. And the worst thing is I can’t do anything to alleviate or solve the problem. because the situation is probably not going to change any time soon. I hate it.

Anyone with me? I hate it when I can’t solve a problem straight away. No thankyou.

But here’s the rub.

Even if I could solve the problem,

solving the problem doesn’t solve the problem….

…of how I feel about myself.

Our attempts at alleviating the issues we deal with is perhaps not the thing we need to do first.

There will always be things to feel angry, anxious, fearful, apathetic, guilty, ashamed of. And likewise, there may be many different ways to change our situation. But they’re probably not quick fixes.

One of the most important – perhaps the most important things we need to do with our

anger
anxiety
fear
apathy
guilt
shame
ick,

all of it,

is to greet it.

Speak its name.

It is as simple, and as hard, as that.

Our ick doesn’t get more powerful in the acknowledgement: rather, the opposite occurs. When we greet our ick, it materialises in a more helpful form, as we as people can appreciate its limits, its core, of what it is, and what it is not.

There’s a scene in one of the Harry Potter books where students are taught a spell to hold off a powerful enemy who feeds off their fear: Students were asked to acknowledge what they feared the most, and through it, were given the power to make that fear ridiculous, dispelling its might.

The power of saying
“I feel this” – and not leaping away from that acknowledgement – is the most powerful action we can take in knowing ourselves. We can then ask questions of the fear/anxiety/ anger – & ourselves – to unpack and distil it.

Research is growing around the real impact that naming emotions can have. Not only can it help in down-regulating emotions (Kircanski, Lieberman& Craske, 2012), but it has a consistent and positive effect on health and psychological states (Frattaroli, 2006). In children, emotion regulation is a major asset in helping them navigate inevitable stressors (see great article here by Chowdhury, 2021 on definitions and strategies on emotion regulation in children and adults). These studies affirm what I have seen in my own life: when we have language and a framework – and we are given opportunities to use them – it not only enables us to grasp our present realties with greater clarity, but it gives us the power to imagine the what-is-next.

The challenge, thus is twofold. In the ick, greet it. This is helpful and healthy and NEEDED and entirely valid.

The second part is perhaps even harder: allowing the ick to be witnessed. This can be a terrifying prospect. We feel stupid and vulnerable and weak in the acknowledgement. But not only does it increase the opportunity of someone sharing your pain, but the opportunity for solidarity with others can be one of the greatest gifts we ever receive – or give.

Thus lastly, If you are have the privilege of witnessing someone’s ick, our first impulse cannot be to fix it – if we are in the mire, a front-forward solution approach can actually feel like a dismissal or a smothering – despite the good intentions of you as friend/parent/sibling/spouse. This is not to say that there is never the time to move towards solution, but this cannot be our first impulse. It is unhelpful. Timing is everything. Instead, I would invite you to first, give someone the gift and space of a quiet witness.

Greet the ick, friends. The honesty may grant a – even brief – respite in return.

xx

On Maslow’s Hammer: Or maybe you are more* than you think you are

*this is not your average pep talk. believe me. please read on.

a couple of months ago I came downstairs after settling my son for his morning nap, to find that there was a whole heap of blonde hair sitting on our dining room table.

My daughter was suspiciously out of sight. and quiet.

I stop. I stare. I say to my friend, recently arrived

“Why is there and enormous pile of hair on the table??!!!!”

“Maybe it’s doll’s hair?” she replies.

I suspect that it is in fact, not doll hair.

I proceed to leg it upstairs into my daughter’s bedroom, where I find my darling daughter has chopped off all some so, so, much of her beautiful hair.

so so much – hair which she had been growing so that she ‘could look like Elsa”. Not any more, it seems.

After staring, dumbfounded at her for a long time, I say through clenched teeth “Sweetheart, we were booked to go to the hairdresser TODAY“, upon which she replied “But we don’t have to go now!”

Yep. Also when asked if she’d looked in the mirror to see how much damage she had done, her reply was “Yep! and I love it!

I was so angry.

and so so sad.

so so sad.

I was so angry that I couldn’t laugh at it. I was so embarrassed for her.

but in that – in the hours/days that followed,

I had to ask myself

is this her stuff, or is it my stuff?

Was my reaction completely about a parent so so sad about her daughter cutting her own hair –

or was it four year old me, the little girl who so desperately didn’t want to look like a boy, who wanted to be pretty and accepted, projecting that same fear onto my now close-cropped daughter? (rewind to four year old Kirsten whose mother told the hairdresser to give her a crew cut and didn’t ask me how I felt about it- PTSD, people)

Kirsten and Crew cut 1987. feat most excellent tshirt ever

We carry many things from our childhood. Our taste in food. Our expectation of how to spend holidays. Our understanding of ‘normalcy’ in relationships. Our acceptance of the status quo. But perhaps more than anything, we carry the stories of how people treat us, the stories of what’s possible for us, the language that is repeated so often that it lives just under our skin.

“You’re so smart!”

“You’re the sporty one!”

“You’re so beautiful!”

“You’re so funny!”

“You’re so creative!”

“You’re so good at problem solving!”

How many of us had these statements repeated to us throughout our formative years? In so many ways, these affirmations are amazing. They give us courage and reinforce our fledging skills. They help build our identity and knowledge about what makes me “me”.

…but how many times do those same “good” statements put a boundary around who you are?

How many times do those “You’re always, you’re so…you…statements feel like they’re saying you can be these things – but only these things. Statements that are reinforced so strongly can also invisibly be statements of “you’re this, but you’re not THAT”

The sporty boy can’t be creative

The clever girl can’t be pretty

The highlighting of one aspect – can put limitations on possibility..and this is the damage that can occur through well meaning comments – let alone language that is intended to hurt, demean, belittle and exclude.

Here’s the thing. I was told my whole life that I was smart.

I hear it now: “Oh woe is me, Kirsten, you were lovingly encouraged as a child in your academic pursuit”.

Clearly this is not a major tragedy. My parents were great. They saw skill in me. and encouraged it. But the problem is, that’s basically the story I created in my mind of who I was. Because I was ‘the smart one’, other stories, narratives, possibilities, weren’t explored or reinforced. Because I was ‘the smart one’, I was intimidated in heaps of other areas. I wasn’t the cool one, or the pretty one, to name a few. And that labelling had actual consequences for me in my choices – throughout childhood, youth and adulthood.

because I wasn’t pretty i couldn’t be a girl that pierced her ears

because I wasn’t cool I wasn’t cool enough to listen to interesting/alternative music.

“because I’m not…” made me stop trying a lot of new things…because I believed that it ‘wasn’t for me’.

These are obviously lame and small examples. But the point is that the FRAMING of something has a SOCIAL REALITY. And these realities can be explicit and large, but also implicit and insidious.

This framing gives our soul hints of what we’re allowed or ‘supposed’ to do in life – that others will judge us if we move outside of those boundaries of self. we say things like “I could never”, “That’s not for me”.

This framing can also give ourselves a template or recipe of how we respond and behave in circumstances.

Abraham Maslow (yes of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs fame) once said “I suppose it is tempting, if the only tool you have is a hammer, to treat everything as if it were a nail.” He is referring to what is called Maslow’s Hammer or The Law of Instrument, which is a Cognitive Bias that gives an over-reliance on a certain tool

If we think that we’re hammers, to solve problems, we hit things. Even if there isn’t a nail in sight.

Maybe, to stretch the analogy, it also works when we react to our loved one’s problems: our own framing (or our own trauma) puts a lens or bias on other people’s situations.

If we never thought we were pretty, we rush to help our loved ones to avoid that feeling of ugliness.

If we never thought we were cool enough, we do anything to make our loved ones to feel part of the crowd.

Obviously this analogy can be applied only so far. But it is perhaps a helpful question to ask ourselves, especially when we have a very strong reaction to someone else’s situation/trauma/pain/choices:

Is my reaction about them or am I reliving my own experience?

Am I being a hammer, seeing everything as a nail?

Is this their stuff, or is it my stuff?

In doing so, we might be able to have pause and perspective – for them and us – in the moment, and respond with an appropriate and helpful reaction, rather than one that is triggered by trauma or fear.

You’re more than you think you are. x

On Recognition: When we see ourselves in others – and when we simply see them.

Photo by JESSICA TICOZZELLI on Pexels.com

the recognition of the other
often tells us more about ourselves
than the person we see.

perhaps in the other we see strength –

  • strength to endure, to produce, to protest, to protect, to reach.
  • strength that we once had but lost
  • strength that seems to evade us
  • strength that is actually a good friend – but is also one that other people don’t seem to know you have
  • strength that we would love to be introduced to, but is far too popular to meet us.

perhaps in the other we see weakness – perceived or present

  • weakness that we too are friends with
  • weakness that we try to obscure, camouflage or deflect away – faults that we cannot seem to shake, no matter the lessons we endure

perhaps in the other we see greatness

  • greatness that is fed by a passion and cause
  • greatness that inspires relationship, gathers prosperity, influence and change
  • greatness that is the peace of wisdom, birthed of experience and consideration
  • greatness that sounds so sweet – but is overwhelming in its lack of a user manual or a sign that says “start here”

In strength, weakness, greatness

– in these and in all parts of us, in recognising these in the other, perhaps what we are simply doing in recognition is seeing this divine people project for what it is –

humanity.

we have the privilege of being the same as and the different to – the other.


Thus if you are given the gift of recognising yourself in the other – even if it is more of what you lack than in surplus – cherish the gift of insight.

be encouraged

be chastened

be inspired

be critiqued.

we owe it to the world to be reflective.

ie why are you [inspired? encouraged? scared? hurt? offended?] by this meeting, this person, this aspect of you?

this is where the work is done, and the good fruit is produced.

likewise, if you are given the gift of recognising moments, encouragement, insight, strength, comfort, in the other,

speak it.

practice the art of encouragement – to give courage –

even if it feels awkward

even if you feel vulnerable and stupid.

we often can see things in the other that are obscured in our own reflection – and that we need the other to voice back to us.

celebrate recognition, friends.

being seen is one of the greatest gifts & unsung needs of life.

ON GENEROUS, EMPATHETIC JOY: OR, WHEN OTHER PEOPLE DO/HAVE GREAT THINGS (and you don’t)

Photo by Andrew Neel on Pexels.com

In 2012 Shannon and I had the great privilege of travelling around the world (pre-covid days. Obviously). I remember several conversations in the months leading up to our trip, where select people, upon hearing our plans, responded with the following:

“I’m so jealous!”

-them (and sometimes me)

Of course, this is a lighthearted statement. We don’t actually mean harm in it: It is a response intended to show your conversation partner how good their news is: “Your news is so good I wish it was true for me”.

We hope that they hear the virtue of this statement – “Your news is so good!!” But as I often did – the statement more often falls flat, because what the person actually hears louder than its goodness, – is “I wish it were true for me”. It is really a backhanded compliment because you’re really saying “I haven’t been as lucky as you”. When we make statements like this, we steal the moment, making someone else’s joy about us.

“….thankyou?”

– me (after being made the subject of jealousy)

The thing is, sometimes it’s hard not to see beyond that space. Sometimes people’s lives just seem SO MUCH EASIER than ours. “How come things seem to turn out for those guys?” “How come they get what they want?” “When will it be my turn???”

I have been the author of many of these statements. It is really hard when you seem to get passed over, time and time again, for the good things in life.

This post is not about comparison and stopping it – I mean comparison isn’t healthy, nor fulfilling – and nor is it even based in reality – we NEVER know the full story of someone’s context, or what it cost for them to get where they’re at.

yet – sometimes it’s hard not to compare – I mean, we’re human, right?

sometimes it goes beyond your run of the mill jealous comparison to full blown rage. Someone’s joy (especially when it is seemingly easily won) feels like a personal attack – how DARE they get a boyfriend/get married/fall pregnant/get a job/lose weight/get ripped/find their calling/start a successful podcast – when they KNOW how much I’ve been struggling with it??!!!!!

The rage can be real. So can the pain.

BUT. BUT. BUT, dear friends –

when we extend empathetic joy – when we are generous in our support, even, especially when, we’re not in the same place as our friend/acqaintence/stranger – oh the gift of grace we offer in that moment? priceless.

To say to someone – THIS moment – THIS joy – right now? This is yours. I echo it. I celebrate you – I think it’s one of the truer marks of maturity. And it’s something to aspire to. I guarantee the gift of sharing in someone’s happiness is actually far more healing than if you withdrawal out of envy or spite.

Yes friends, sometimes it is about us. Our griefs and longings are completely real. Sometimes we need to rant and rave about what isn’t happening in our own plan. But we don’t always have to bring it up in this moment, or to this person. It is the art – and gift – of responding well.

This can be really hard when/if we’re struggling ourselves.

But more than one thing can be true at once –

we can grieve, but at the same time, champion our neighbours.

Even if someone’s life seems to be easier/more attractive than yours, it doesn’t demean your story in the slightest.

It can feel lonely – but this is the work of generous grace, friends. And in this you are in fine company indeed.

x

ps – as a standing invitation – if you ever are in the need for some empathetic joy in your lives – Hit me up. Tell me your news.

I’m here for it.

“You don’t have to fill ice cube trays to the top!” On traditions and habits…and how they might do with a revisit.

“You don’t have to fill ice cube trays to the top!” exclaimed a dear friend in a phone call to me a few years ago.

The excited revelation came after we had both been married and out of home for several years. “Kirsten, you don’t have to fill ice cubes to the top. You can leave a gap!”

“Oh my GOODNESS!” I replied. “YOU DON’T HAVE TO FILL ICE CUBE TRAYS TO THE TOP!”

I can appreciate the lame incredible revelation that this information would give you dear reader. Did you know this?!

I’m not being sarcastic. This was amazing news to me. Like me, my friend had grown up in a house in which you just filled the trays to the brim. If you do this, of course the water overflows. Of course it is harder to ‘crack’ the tray to release the ice. Of course the trays stick together. But it’s what you did in the house – so it’s what you did in the house. So when I got my own home, I filled up my trays like a good girl, to the brim.

But I didn’t have to.

So I don’t anymore.

And it’s glorious.

Why do we do the things we do?

So much of the different habits, from big to small, are inherited through tradition and repeated exposure in our lives. Whether it is the tradition of the family, religion, workplace, or even our own selves, the cultures of these different contexts give us guidance and templates for how to act in similar situations. And for so much of our lives, this is incredibly helpful. Traditions allow us to borrow wisdom from those who have gone before us; we benefit from the often hard-won advances in knowledge, and can shortcut processes that otherwise would have to come from our own learning.

Yet.

it may be helpful – and freeing – every once a while, to ask ourselves the following question:

What are you doing that no longer needs doing?

This is not a question to ‘stop and smell the roses’. There may be many things in your diary and calendar that need to be prioritised or deferred in lieu of rest and restoration. Nope. This is a question of ‘is this helpful?’

Traditions in our families, and in our faiths, and in our homes, and in our own selves, are simply rituals that point TO something. Traditions speak of our people’s stories and our values; they simultaneously help us internalise and operationalise what we hold dear.

But. They are not sacred in and of themselves.

Traditions are valuable, when they actually help us remember our values

Inherited habits are worthy, are worth our time, when they provide solution to the question they are answering.

If they don’t, then maybe we need to revisit them.

Please hear me. This is not about change for change’s sake. This post is not about forgetting traditions.

but it IS about the consideration of them

What are you doing that no longer needs to be done?

I’ll give you another example. My husband and I have forcibly become very familiar with the cartoon My Little Pony over the past couple of years. There is an episode where the pony Applejack, an apple farmer, has a day off, leaving an extensive and elaborate list of tasks for her friends to complete in her absence. The thing was, the intricate steps detailed to complete the chores were often unnecessary: previously timid pets no longer needed to be coaxed inside to be fed, and jobs with machinery no longer needed to be completed by hand. With a few adjustments to the process, her friends completed the list in record time. When she arrived home, Applejack had a hard time understanding how effective her friends were; it took perspective to understand that processes that were once central and necessary were perhaps no longer needed.

Growth required an adjustment of process.

Tradition needed a reconsideration.

SO I ask you again; What are you doing that no longer needs to be done?

If we have traditions, processes, habits in our family, workplace, community, and they still ‘do the job’ –

that is – remind us of the value that we hold dear

solve the problem that exists

then GREAT. We can continue in the same practice. That’s excellent. We are given a renewed sense of purpose and security in ourselves.

But if they don’t,

if they are precarious, taxing, hurtful or limiting,

what can we do about it?

We can be grateful for the practices, processes and traditions that brought us to where we are. But we don’t have to continue to be a slave to the tradition in order for its legacy to be held in tact. Acknowledgement doesn’t necessarily require perpetual continuation.

it might be a freeing thing to cease an activity that is no longer helpful – or even is now painful

if might be a game changer to simply adjust or modify the practice – like leaving a gap on the ice cube tray.

What are you doing that no longer needs doing?

You don’t have to fill up the ice cubes to the top.

x

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