“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

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?

Can you advocate for me?

So you’ve had an illness for some weeks now. Maybe it’s a cough, maybe it’s a headache that just won’t go away no matter how many pills you pop, maybe it’s your kid who has had 17 ear infections in the past year. So you go to the doctor, perhaps again. You can’t get into the Doctor you normally see and so you’re scheduled with a very educated and very well meaning other stranger doctor who hears your story, checks your symptoms, maybe writes you a script, or if worse comes to worse, tells you to keep up the fluids and to ‘wait and see’. 

You still don’t feel better. 

You walk  away from the experience feeling disappointed and unsatisfied. 

Why is that? I mean the obvious answer is that it’s annoying because the doctor couldn’t or didn’t fix us. We go to doctors to get help, right? 


I’ve got nothing against the medical profession by the way – I’m grateful for those in our midst who were willing to sacrifice the years of study to know way more about the human body than I will ever  do – but again, so many times when I’ve sought help from health or other services I walk away feeling deflated. 

Maybe it’s because there’s something else going on under the surface. I think the disappoint may also lie in the fact that what we really long for is someone to be our advocate. Someone to take up our cause and say “I see you! I hear your problem. Let’s make this better for you.” We long for someone to follow through with that promise and not to stop until they’ve exhausted all options and it DOES feel better. 

The thing is, that’s not necessarily going to happen at your local gp’s office. I mean, who’s got time for that? 

I was reading this this morning though and it stopped me in my tracks.

“I called on your name, O Lord, from the depths of the pit; you heard my plea, ‘Do not close your ear to my cry for help!’ You came near when I called on you; you said, ‘Do not fear!’ “You have taken up my cause, O Lord; you have redeemed my life.”

‭‭Lamentations‬ ‭3:55-58‬ ‭ESV‬‬

Be careful, oh my soul. Be alert, Kirsten. As weary as you may be, Be aware of who you’re looking to to save you…but take heart. 

Do I want someone to follow through on their promise?

Do I want someone who knew me then, knows me now and will know me in the future?

Do I want someone to hear me and advocate for my cause? 

Here he is. 

Police Never Die, or What Boney M Taught Me About Christmas

So here’s a Christmas story for you.

Growing up, every year we would pick up our highly anticipated real Christmas tree from our local church and put it on the roof of our mini, then my dad would carefully arrange the tree in an old oil can with piece of bricks to stabilise it.

We would then put on 2 Lp albums on at the insistence of my sister and I; Boney M’s Christmas Album, and a Tijuana Christmas (Both still excellent choices).

Then as we decorated the tree, we would sing along. My personal favourite was Police Never Die. You are not familiar?

Let me refresh your memory:

“Police never die, police never die, police never die, mucho do wando police to die, I want to wish you a merry Christmas..I want to wish you a merry Christmas…I want to wish you a merry Christmas from the bottom of my heart…”

It took me YEARS to realise that I was very mistaken in the lyrical content.

I still prefer my version.

When one of my cousins was still young, with the clever idea of making her own presents at Christmas, she stole her father’s mouse pad from the computer in June and hid it for six months, then gave it to him on Christmas Day. I still remember his reaction; “Oh, there it is!”, and then thanked his daughter, even though he had replaced the item months before after it went missing….

The point of these stories? The things that we love, the traditions that we hold to, may be slightly less than perfect. They may even be a little ridiculous. The Christmas hats from your crackers may look stupid on your head. You may have to drive all the way across town to travel to a family gathering. You may have to brave the busy shops more than once to get that last minute present. You also receive a present that you don’t like.

Does it matter? No.

One of the things that I learned in my studies of camps is that Rituals, when they are understood, are POWERFUL. They are the ways by which we understand our culture, our family, even our faith. We understand much more through participation than we ever do by observation. I’ll say that again.

We understand much more through participation than we ever do by observation.

This is not to say that traditions can actually cause pain. This happens when they are prioritised over what they are supposed to represent; at Christmas, this can often occur when shopping for gift giving overwhelms a genuine spirit of generosity. Or a forced-fake smile at family gatherings required even when there is difficulty in the relationships. Or when the festivities remind you of people that are no longer with us. Or when we crowd the calendar with so much stuff that we don’t even get any time to enjoy the ‘fun’.

The thing is though, these practices are the ones that form the strongest memories. I am grateful to my parents who, when we were young, tried to convince us that Santa came early to our house because we opened our presents on Christmas eve. I am thankful to my mum who gave us Christmas decorations each year so that one day we would have our own collection. I admire my Dad for showing excitement when he was given another pair of socks and a jar of chocolate coated peanuts. I am thankful to my aunties for making cucumber and tomato salads every year because they remind me of my Nanna at Christmas. and I am really really thankful for a God who decided to participate in my life by sending his son to be born for me.

Love is born
With a dark and troubled face
When hope is dead
And in the most unlikely place
Love is born:
Love is always born.

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Michael Leunig, the very talented cartoonist of the above once said;

“the search for the sublime may sometimes have a ridiculous beginning”.

I love that. even when our attempts at the sublime, the sacred, the wonderful, the memorable, are ridiculous, are awkward, or even are a disaster, they must be attempted.

Your family needs it. You need it. And at the risk of sounding ridiculous myself, I think our country and world needs it.

So that’s why I will always push for a real tree (even though the needles clog up the vacuum cleaner) because it marks the real beginning of the season in my household. It’s why I will enlarge my collection of Christmas music every year to listen to. It’s why I will spend time searching for that perfect gift. It’s also why I want to make an effort with my family during this time because I want to know them as actual people, not just some randoms that I’m related to.

Maybe even if it’s ridiculous, try to really celebrate this year. Redeem the traditions in your life and your family. Attempt the sublime.

You can even sing a chorus of Police Never Die if it gets you in the mood….

its been a year…

This is Joan

She loved to travel

She was a lefty

She was an incredible teacher

She liked to abbreviate, almost to the point of being compltly illgbl

She sang the lullaby “oranges and lemons” to my sister and I when we were going to sleep

She loved going out with friends for dinner, especially when she could use an entertainment card to receive 25% off

If it was a crime novel, she read it.

If it was a British show (about anything), she watched it

She cut out articles on travel, investing, and recipes out of newspapers and magazines

She loved her friends. and her family.

It is very difficult at times to understand that this person is gone. The person who was sick and bedridden? I can get that she’s gone. But it’s much harder to believe that the woman who made chocolate slab cakes and worked so hard for her family is gone.

The reality, however, is that they’re the same person.

The same person who struggled with cancer, who faced the sudden death of her husband, was the same woman who was gracious and generous with everyone who visited her in hospital, even when she was exhausted.

The same woman who loved going out to enjoy food was the same woman who, last year, closed her eyes whenever she tasted food or had coffee (or the occasional glass of wine) because it was one of the last things she could still enjoy during that time.

The truth is, I miss all of her. And it really sucks that she’s not here, that dad’s not here either, and as my sister and I approach years of (hopefully) families and kids, the thing that really hurts the most is that those kids won’t know who their grandparents were.

But there’s also a but.

This is not the massive-encompassing “BUT” that claims that everything is amazing and fantastic and grief- free. It’s a small one.

BUT

My sister, gorgeous photographer that she is, started taking photos to document times that we as a family spent together during those last months. That’s weird, right? Why document mum in that state? Without hair, with swollen face and limbs, in all that pain? Why force yourself to remember her like that?

Why? It was still mum.
Her eyes were the same. Her smile was the same. Her loving us the best way she knew how was the same. Despite the fear that she had of what was happening to her, despite her often denial of the reality we were all being faced with, it was still her.

When I look at those photos now, I am reminded of her pain, absolutely, but also of the power of grace during those times. I’m reminded of this bible verse that says

“God uses the foolish things in this world to shame the wise”.

The foolish thing is to think that mum was powerful during that time. She wasn’t in a lot of ways. In most ways, actually. She couldn’t walk, sit up, feed herself, or even hold a book to read it.

BUT

She spent time talking to her friends

She gave her time to a researcher who came to interview her, because she knew how much I appreciated when people gave me their time in my studies.

She gave a young nurse who was getting married some platters she didn’t need

She paid for a friend to have their house cleaned before they went overseas, just so she could spend some quality time with her own husband and daughter

She took the trip to meadows in an uncomfortable taxi so she could see her sister get married

Her sisters and sons in law learned much about her teaching life, and the incredible influence she was to many people at her school

Her time in hospital, especially the last few days, gave us the opportunity to talk, and laugh, and pray, and eat, and drink together.

Even in that state of ‘weakness’, she was powerful.

Even in that state of ‘foolishness’, god’s glory was powerful and prominent. And present.

And something I can’t ignore. That’s what I’m thankful for. And there’s the but in the day(s) where I mostly want to be sad.

Missing & loving you Mumsie, today and everyday. Hope you’re enjoying that plane ride….

Surely, goodness and mercy shall follow me, all the days of my life…”

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“let this be written…”

So you’ve heard that we live in postmodernity? Wrong. I’m here to tell you today that we live in a world of over-articulation.*

It’s true. Well, perhaps I do and the rest of you live in that postmodernity land.

The access to social media and the opportunity to blog and the fact that I’m a little too excited about following photography blogs means that a large slice of my day/thought processes/is centred on the idea and calling that you need to express about your life. To articulate it beautifully. Share frustrations. Share hopes. Share funny commentary, share beautiful trees that happen to be in your own front yard:

This is so much pressure! What if I’m just adding noise to an already noisy cacophony**?

And while there is so much wonderfulness about the opportunity for me, for us to share what’s going on with our lives, it carries a certain expectation that your life is worth writing about. Or taking photos of.

Of course it is, but I’m still brought to a halt when I think about the shortcomings of what I invest my time in. Of who I am. Of the words that I share with those around me from day to day. Of the cause that I want to be part of. I feel frustrated and somewhat disappointed that the life I’m living is only a shadow of the faith that I want, the example that I want to demonstrate, the encouragement I want to be a source of.

But I was just reading psalm 102 and a few versus struck me:

But you, LORD, sit enthroned forever;
your renown endures through all generations.
13 You will arise and have compassion on Zion,
for it is time to show favour to her;
the appointed time has come.
14 For her stones are dear to your servants;
her very dust moves them to pity.
15 The nations will fear the name of the LORD,
all the kings of the earth will revere your glory.
16 For the LORD will rebuild Zion
and appear in his glory.
17 He will respond to the prayer of the destitute;
he will not despise their plea.

 18 Let this be written for a future generation,
that a people not yet created may praise the LORD:

19 “The LORD looked down from his sanctuary on high,
from heaven he viewed the earth,
20 to hear the groans of the prisoners
and release those condemned to death.”
21 So the name of the LORD will be declared in Zion
and his praise in Jerusalem
22 when the peoples and the kingdoms
assemble to worship the LORD.

Regardless of my own insecurity and worry that even after 10 years of uni I still haven’t worked out what I want to do with my life, something gets to me about how your life can map something out for a future generation, for those who aren’t yet born so they can know Jesus. The fact that God is powerful and is the saviour of those who are afflicted. That he is a God of justice and freedom….

Holy Heck. How I want my life to be one that can be written for a future generation, even if it is just my own…

This psalm was written by one who wasn’t in a good place. He was in the midst of trouble, fainting, and pleading before his God. Check this:

Hear my prayer, LORD;
let my cry for help come to you.
2 Do not hide your face from me
when I am in distress.
Turn your ear to me;
when I call, answer me quickly.

3 For my days vanish like smoke;
my bones burn like glowing embers.
4 My heart is blighted and withered like grass;
I forget to eat my food.
5 In my distress I groan aloud
and am reduced to skin and bones.
6 I am like a desert owl,
like an owl among the ruins.
7 I lie awake; I have become
like a bird alone on a roof.

In the haze of torment and despair, he knew of God’s faithfulness and the wonderful complicated and compelling joy it is to follow in his footsteps and allow your life to proclaim his.

I think quite often I get so caught up with questioning if my life means enough (or at least, something that’s worth writing about), that I don’t actually remember to get on with it.

When the psalmist’s life was a mess and he didn’t have anything to blog about his own achievements, he spoke of God’s instead…

Perhaps this then is something worth articulating today.

“Let this be written for a future generation,
that a people not yet created may praise the LORD……”

 What is your life writing for a future generation?

-kirst

*  I am acutely aware of my own hypocrisy articulating frustration about over-articulation through a blog entry. I hope you will forgive me and put it down to playful irony…

**(Jarring, discordant sound; dissonance = good word)