Featured

Purpose in Process

 It has been a while since I’ve managed to write anything. The craziness of trying to balance life, lockdown, kids, work and a church to be honest has been a nightmare and overwhelming…but no different than what many are facing right now I know. 

As someone new to the ‘blogging’ world I said that I would post as and when I could and therefore this has been a long time coming however, over the last number of months I have done a lot of processing of what we are all going through and its implication on us all. So, as we are taking time off as a family, I’ve had capacity to put some words down particularly on the place and purpose of process. I hope these are helpful. 

Don’t switch off…I know this may sound boring, but I believe it’s of utmost importance for us as we move forward from living out the experience, we have all been through. For me I have felt that recently the purpose of being present in personal process, the process of what has been going on in and around us all during lockdown as well as specific situations such as the BLM movement has all been highlighting our need to be present in both our personal process as well as what is going on in and around the world. 

The significance of going through the experience of lockdown due to Covid 19 is shaping us as humans more then we realise. Putting not just a country in lockdown but many parts of the world in total isolation and shut down at the same time has caused more chaos then we yet know. For our lives specifically in our home during lockdown we have experienced huge pressure, strain and stress and I know that we are not on our own in this. Covid and the life change it has brought with it has made us realise life is way more fragile then we once thought or made ourselves believe. The experience of going through lockdown and the process of it has reminded me of not taking my life for granted, that I only have one life and what I do with it matters. How I spend my time and with whom matters. It all matters and makes a difference. We only have so much time here and therefore this process of lockdown and all the challenges it has uncovered has presented me with the choice to engage …or not to. 

I’ve been reflecting on the desires we have to live the ‘best life’, of happiness, meaning and importance and how so often we are disheartened and feel like failures when things go wrong in our lives and our expectations of the ‘good life’ are not what we experience. Covid 19 has had this impact on our lives in many ways. Holidays we were looking forward to having now been canceled, seeing loved ones has changed and often the very things we have been seeking meaning and value in such as our careers have gone through major shifts. What has this left us with? And particularly how has this left us feeling? 

It’s made me think that part of the difficulty is to do with how we view the things in life that are hard and challenging. Such as disruption, anxiety, fear, loss, grief or sadness. These emotions and experiences we all face at some point in our lives. They are emotions we want to avoid at any cost as they are often not nice however they are part of our lives whether we accept this or not. If we view the good life, a happy life as being a life absent of these emotions when we experience them we somehow feel we have either failed at life, that our lives have been written off because we are ‘feeling’ emotions we said we wouldn’t experience and they will define us forever or we try push these experiences away, ignoring or burying them. The problem is life is full of all of these things and ignoring them, burying them or trying to cover them up with other things doesn’t make them go away but in fact it means they can end up defining our whole lives and often at the detriment to those around us too. 

For me personally the unique aspect of Covid and lockdown has been that we as a family have had to journey through some really tough stuff personally, in our family as well as that of our church’s and it’s meant choosing to experience feelings I didn’t want to or that felt good. 

I so wanted to run away …but literally couldn’t due to lockdown. The pressure sometimes felt overwhelming and unbearable. But not being able to ‘go anywhere’… but be present made me face the tough stuff and reflect therefore on the importance of this being part of life. I had to choose to be present in the process of stuff I wished wasn’t there, that I felt was causing me extra problems I didn’t want to engage with and quite frankly made me feel awful. My anxiety went through the roof – worse than when I was diagnosed with complex PTSD, I wasn’t sleeping, my body started to show signs of the stress and it often felt like a tunnel without an end. All because I was choosing to be present in the things that had gone wrong or been uncovered. 

There were days when I thought why do people choose to engage in the tough stuff…it makes EVERYTHING worse and certainly for a number of weeks and months that was the case but I’ve learnt a number of really important things through this all which I am thankful for. These have been:

Process brings pain. We are geared to avoid pain because we see it as a problem to be solved or avoided and not the place we find healing. But it’s true, by ‘feeling’ our process, by choosing to be present, turning up for conversations, by taking part, by listening and by sharing our voice we may experience more felt pain to begin with than if we tried to ignore it but by feeling our process we are able to take part in it and take control.  It’s like a journey that you don’t know where it’s going to end so starting feels hard, uncertain and scary but as time goes on, we learn what it’s like to be on a journey with its uncertainties. Although not always easy, nice or enjoyable, coming through the tough parts is better than never starting the process and the more tough experiences we have survived and navigated the more courage we experience as we face the next challenge. 

For me I spent most of my life trying not to experience what I had termed as ‘bad emotions’, sadness, anger and anxiety because I didn’t know how to experience them in a way that felt secure or safe…but they didn’t go away, they just got pushed away deep down and came back to define me. Choosing to experience them was really hard and scary at first but it was the first step to healing. It was me choosing to show up – feeling what I felt and take some control. This personal experience of learning to view these emotions that can feel hard and scary has helped me face some of the challenges we have face recently through lockdown and view the present pain we can experience as not lifelong but for a season. It’s helped me hold perspective. 

Process isn’t perfect. As a perfectionist when I choose to deal with something hard, I want to deal with it perfectly because then it may not last as long and hurt as much. The unknown element of choosing to be present in our processes is really hard. It challenges our want to be in control of everything all the time, but we are not perfect, and neither is our sorting of our mess. Accepting this has been key in helping me learn to be grace filled and to focus on the one who’s strength I have in my weakest moments and when things are far from perfect. 

Process needs time. As someone who likes things resolves NOW I hate that good things often take time and resolving things does too. If I’m ever part of a fall out with someone I hate for it to be unresolved. I need it fixed straight away. This is for a number of reasons mainly my own issues and past however, I’ve learnt that time is really important and can give what we need even if it means we have to wait longer than we would like. Rushing a process can mean we miss out on the important things that come up while waiting. When things are given time they change, grow and evolve. It’s growth that can’t be fast tracked especially when it comes to our personal journeys as people. When we give ourselves time as well as other’s things can happen that otherwise wouldn’t. We give ourselves opportunity to find out more of who we are, of who others are and allow space for healing, learning and therefore growth. The things that have been uncovered in my own life as a result of going through lockdown have needed me to give them time. As a result, they have changed, I have changed all because I allowed some space. 

Lastly process is a place of growth. We all want the growth without the cost. Cost of taking time out to deal with things, of facing realities we would rather avoid, taking the hard conversations, re visiting the difficult relationships, bringing issues into the light that others would rather ignore or hide or choosing to fight for the things in our lives that matter even if it costs us.  Growth comes from challenge, tension and uncertainty. It’s the soil that growth grows in. If we choose to engage in the challenges that come our way I believe we have the opportunity to embrace the life of meaning and purpose we crave. But we have to choose this and to not give into the voices that tell us to ignore things or put things off. Often these are learnt behaviors. Asking ourselves about how our families have dealt with issues they have faced is often a good place to start in helping ourselves think through how we respond. Our natural reactions to these things is often learnt from observing what was accepted and affirmed in our own families and unless we consciously work out how we want to respond we often will follow suit. This is why choosing to engage in our process is so hard. It pushes our thinking, feeling and acting. But it is possible. 

So what do we do? 

In answering this question I want to share on some of my own journey and learning response to the BLM movement which was highlighted recently in response to the horrendous and brutal killing of George Floyde. The issue of racism isn’t a new thing to our world as I’m sure you know but the challenge it raises for us to ‘see it’, and be willing to do something about it poses a question of us being willing to be ‘present in the process’ of engaging in the issue and be willing to learn and bring about change from it. This only comes if we are willing to be present in the process. Things won’t change unless we stop, see things in honesty for what they are, ask the questions that need to be asked and personally reflect on our own biases, cultural upbringing and our role in bringing action to end injustice. These changes won’t happen if we bypass the feelings of guilt, shame, grief, sadness, loss and feeling uncomfortable with the facts. This is something I am going to come back to in future posts as I recognize my need to questions my viewpoints, prejudices and the impact of my culture on issues of race and the role I pay but for now I want to simply reflect that it’s the very thing of process that brings about the opportunity for change, growth and healing.  

Racism won’t change unless I learn to be ok with feeling uncomfortable. Unless I’m confident enough in myself to look at myself, question my beliefs and be willing to see that I don’t have it all sorted as a white women and that I have a need to realise my privileges, it’s impact and be willing to open my mind to the role I play in bringing about the end to racism. Similarly, when life throws us a challenge, maybe one that’s come up as a result of the pressure caused by lockdown I want to be the person who leans into the challenge, is able to step back, be honest, ask the questions and reflect on my role and what I may need to change and develop so I can learn to grow.  

The most significant aspect of this all has been learning to pause to experience His presence in process. God present with me in it all. As a Christian I am learning that there is no where I can go that he is not with me and there is nothing I can face that he hasn’t faced. These last months when I have been at the end of my rope, I have been able to experience his presence in my process and his strength in my weakness. It is this that has enabled me to remain present no matter how messy that has been. 

Isaiah 41:10 says that I need not be afraid for God is with me, the Bible says that God is ‘with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand. … Trust in the Lord forever, for in the Lord God you have an everlasting rock.’ 

This has been an assurance to keep on keeping on when things feel impossible and has been light at the end of a seemingly endless tunnel. If there was one thing I could encourage you with it is firstly, that choosing to be present to the tough stuff in life, not letting it define you but being willing to be honest about it – being willing to see things for what they are as they are even if that’s ugly and not what we want see is one of the most significant things you can do. Secondly, be willing to ask the hard questions of yourself and others – looking to learn and be willing to change. Lastly letting this help shape the responses you give and the action you live out. It’s one thing to realise there is an issue, but it is a whole other thing to do something about it. It’s the walking something out that really pushes us to our limits but it is the birthplace of growth of us personally as well as the world around us. Choose to be present in your process and that of the worlds and see how things will change.

Featured

Waiting well.

I hate waiting. Always. I can’t think of a time when I have enjoyed waiting for something. I am such an action person and this is no bad thing but it does mean that in times of waiting I struggle. 

I have been on a waiting journey recently and as I have been reflecting on this I realise this is the story of us all particularly right now as the world battles COVID 19. Some of us do better with waiting than others and you can guess where I am on that spectrum. However, we have all come through waiting times, are in them now or are about to go through them. Whatever stage you are at … waiting is part of life. But choosing to wait well is a choice.

Right now, the world we live in is waiting for what for many is a nightmare to pass and for dawn to break. Our hope it that we will get through it and that as many people as possible will be unaffected or impacted negatively and I pray this is the case. But sadly, the likelihood of no one being affected is both unrealistic and not the case.  We will all be effected by this. 

Many aspects of waiting are painful as many of us can testify right now and the challenge of not being in control of this or the outcomes of what we are waiting for is really tough. However, that doesn’t mean that waiting is wasted time or that good things cannot come from waiting. 

Everyone knows the quote we all get sighted when struggling with the journey to a result we want to see happen now of being told ‘it’s about the journey and not the destination.’ But what does that mean for the tough stuff? For the waiting periods in our lives and the times of uncertainty? The idea that the more important thing rather than the end destination of breakthrough is the journey of difficulty to it has caused me questions and as a result got me thinking about how the Bible views waiting.

Waiting in the Bible is a key part of the process where God works in people’s lives and where he helps them to learn about his love, grace and provision for their lives. Most of the bible wouldn’t exist and the stories of triumph over evil come from times where people waited on God and waited for their breakthrough. Often this was in the midst of adversity and huge challenge. This has challenged me as I have been struggling to wait well and believe for the breakthrough I need to see in my life.  Will I choose to wait well or spend my waiting time fighting it, refusing to accept it and see the goodness in the space before something happens? Is it even possible to find goodness in the midst of a terrible disaster like COVID 19 or waiting for something you are certain isn’t going to end well? How do we find Gods goodness and provision for us when we cannot see how the end will turn out? 

We all want the story of breakthrough, we all want to know about how someone overcame a challenge, how the darkest story ended up in light and goodness but for all those stories of triumph there were dark times, waiting times, hardship and pain. We can forget this part especially when we are going through it. Until we are out of the pain we forget that the story of breakthrough starts in a prison. That may be physical prison or a metaphorical one, but freedom comes through leaving our chains and breaking free. There is a defining moment when we walk free, when we move on or when we can face our fears and can see triumph but all those defining moments were prepared for in the prison, in the waiting place that was hard and painful. Often this has been behind closed doors, in our minds, in private conversations, private battles that others cannot experience or see that is our battle ground and our defining place. 

It’s that place that the Bible records countless examples of where God called his people out of darkness into light, from slavery into freedom, from bondage to breakthrough. The waiting place is never wasted with God no matter how bleak or messy it is. 

So, how do I find Gods goodness and provision for me when we cannot see how the end will turn out? 

Remembering Gods goodness. 

As I’ve been struggling with waiting for breakthrough these past weeks I have been reminded of previous examples where I have experienced breakthrough when things have been dark and uncertain. 

An example that came to mind was when I was in hospital after giving birth to my son Joshua. I had expected to be home after an easy birth and enjoying the new realities of becoming a family of three however these expectations couldn’t have been further from the truth. Instead I found myself stuck in hospital feeling ghastly and fighting for my life. I remember asking where God was in all of it and how unfair it all felt. My perspective saw my problem and that was it. Reflecting back on this and knowing in hindsight how God was working for my good on so many levels I realize that there is something I can take from this experience now. It says something into the uncertainty I feel and the challenges I face today and puts them in a different light. It taught me many lessons, but amongst them that no matter what I see God is always doing more than I can see and is for me, with me and will not let his promises to me go forgotten even in the face of difficulty. 

He also taught me that he is always good, that he has my life in his hand and is in control even when I cannot see. He taught me that often he has way better plans then I have for myself and that out of the worst pain and heartache he brings his joy, peace and love to my life in life changing ways that I wouldn’t change for anything…with hindsight. 

Today I feel fearful, I feel that my calling is in question, my strength feels weak and my spirit doesn’t feel very bold and courageous. Many parts of my last couple weeks have been full of uncertainty, things I cannot change or control. I have felt overwhelmed at what I face as I try to manage my role as a Mother, as a Director of a charity going through a new focus and trying to navigate a new church plant and the challenges that brings. I have found myself in the early hours of the morning up unable to sleep and questioning it all. In that place of desperation, I have been reminded to reflect on how God has been faithful up till now through other difficult things and that in anything I have ever faced he has never let me go and has always worked everything for his good. Always. 

This past week I found myself on my knees crying out to God and asking why? Why this way? Why now? Those prayers and cries haven’t been answered yet and the waiting hasn’t ended. But God hasn’t left me and he has reminded me to go to his word to find his truths and promises for me again. To remind myself that my life is not my own, like the day I was in hospital asking a midwife whether they knew if the medication I was on was working and what would happen if it didn’t work. Her answer was just that she hoped it did work. I remember feeling like the air had been knocked out of me. Was this it? I had never thought ‘my time’ would look like this? I remember texting Tom my husband asking him if he thought I was dying (poor guy) and being so very afraid when he didn’t reply with ‘no’ but that he too ‘hoped’ the medication I was on would work. Being told you have severe sepsis is never great news.  In that moment I couldn’t see God and everything felt like it was going wrong. Very wrong.

But God was working and brought supernatural healing to me in many different ways. Not because I prayed the right prayers, said the right things or did the right things, on the contrary I felt far from God, I was annoyed and was questioning everything in my life…maybe similar to now when the whole of life has been turned upside down and has left me questioning what the future holds and how I will ever get to ‘walk in the dreams’ again or see the promises that God has given me of his Kingdom here. But is he finished? No. This story has just begun. 

Focus on Jesus and not my problem. 

This isn’t to say my problem isn’t important or that this is easy but as fearful and uncertain as it is I am challenged today to look to Jesus and let him fight my battle for me. It isn’t, mine to fight and it is his to win. He in fact has already won it. 

One of my reasons for hating waiting is it often requires me to do nothing. This is hard on a number of levels for me. One, because I am a ‘doer’. Second, because the result or outcome then is not in my control and may not be what I hope for or want. But it is a place of hope. If all the hardship in life was down to me fixing it, doing the right thing or saying the right thing I would not be here and most of the good things in my life wouldn’t be either. So, I have to learn to sit and wait and trust that he is working for my good even if I cannot see it. In this place I am reminded that Jesus tells me that his burden is ‘light’ and that most of the ‘weight’ I feel is often my own doing and not his. 

This time is defining…not in how good a job I do of it but on my response to lean into him, to sit and wait, let him look after me. He asks for my heart, my willingness to trust and he promises to do the rest. 

In the hospital ward I learnt that God was in control when things looked like they were spiraling out of control. I didn’t have to do anything other than wait and choose to trust him. 

So today I am challenged to choose to trust God with my life, everything in it and all the dreams and hopes I have. I trust that he will pull me through because he is good and cares for me no matter how much my life is together or not.  

Sometimes things have to get so bad that we have no choice but to totally refocus, letting go of everything so we can refocus our priorities on what I am called to do and what God is called to do. I am not God and therefore I don’t hold control…that is his job. The pressure therefore is off. So, whether that is me looking after my kids, doing my job, leading a church as flawed and imperfect a job I may do he is in control and these things belong to him. 

Featured

Learning to live in lockdown

How has the last number of weeks been for you? Have you been in Isolation? We have, like many many others. However, I have found myself struggling a lot more than I thought I would. I tend to be someone who embraces a challenge as I like doing new things, so I thrive in circumstances where I find myself under pressure, but somehow this new challenge facing us all I have found a lot harder than I thought I would. I have felt so incredibly tired this week despite feeling like I am doing less, obviously seeing fewer people and not having to go out. It’s taken me a while to even realize that we’ve been going through a major transition without officially stopping to recognize it for what it is and allow myself some grace.

I’ve realized that I have been putting myself under so much pressure to not only manage the things I normally would in a different context (i.e. working from home with small kids) but to manage more responsibilities too, whilst also transitioning a new church to host its activities online.  I somehow thought I was going to be able to look after my family, work my two days a week uninterrupted (who was I kidding?), catch up on all the ‘jobs’ we’ve not got round to as a family, have time for exercise, start new hobbies and maintain old ones, as this seems to be the ‘new norm’ that people are documenting on social media. I feel this has been the secret message of lockdown or quarantine that we should be able to do it ALL. Despite having to do the normal tasks of life under more pressurized circumstances we have also heaped extra pressures on ourselves. Whether it is learning an instrument, taking up art or whatever the thing you have always wanted to do, those ‘dreams’ were never dreamt up for starting under the curfew of a pandemic. 

It will be no surprise then for you to hear that my week ended in tears and me feeling not good enough…again. Why do I set myself up for this kind of pressure? I seem to only realise this once things have got too much and I’ve locked myself in the bathroom crying. 

It got me thinking, that when we are put under pressure from external sources whether that be work, family challenges, career choices or personal pressure, it tends to bring out the worst in us or uncover hidden issues in our lives that have been lying there dormant for some time. Unless we have placed methods of responding, and not reacting, in place to help us navigate these pressures and stresses differently, it can become a perfect storm. Although I know this, this is so much easier said than done. Things we thought were sorted all of a sudden don’t seem sorted and raise their ugly heads in our lives. Maybe this has just been our family this week? 

This week myself and my husband have definitely argued more. There hasn’t been anything ‘particularly’ wrong other than trying to do the craziness of work and kids under one roof.  I have recognized and noticed the small voice in my head questioning my ability to be a good mum, to manage to do my job well, lead a church and be a good friend etc. It is under pressure that we tend to think the worst of ourselves and those around us without even meaning to. Sadly I have been in that trap this week without realizing it. 

When I come under pressure I notice that I have my go to things that I look to bring me peace. I have my helpful go to list and the not so helpful. You can guess which one I go to more naturally or my heart tells me I need. I am meaning the Netflix binge, the social media scrolling or the eating of more chocolate then I need to, although I would argue this one!

It’s not that these things are bad in themselves, but they do not satisfy the need that I went to them for in the first place. I’m craving a brain break, a chance to switch off, to feel better or get a rest. But I instead fuel the cycle of tiredness and frustration by going to things that don’t bring me peace.

Whether it’s not completing my task list or feeling like I’ve not spoken to my friends as often as I needed to, my go to has been social media this week. I’ve told myself that it’s about ‘staying connected’ but in fact it has reminded me of my lack of connection. It hasn’t helped my loneliness, my lack of patience, but instead has fueled my frustration and insecurities. 

As a result this week I felt so much pressure to be doing lots of stuff with my kids. Up till Covid 19 became a reality I wasn’t feeling the pressure of teaching my kids anything other than play. However, I’ve seen so many amazing news feeds of mums on social media sharing all the great activities they are doing with their kids, (there is nothing wrong with this) all of them brilliant examples of parenting but they have left me feeling overwhelmed at the sheer volume of stuff out there. In turn I somehow took this to mean I should be using this ‘lockdown time’ better than I have been. I decided that I would bribe Josh (always a good parenting method) with looking for sticks if we practiced our counting skills (he loves sticks so I thought this would be a hit).  It went something like this…1, 2, 3, 7, 10…1,6,7,10…you get the picture. Instead of giving up as I should have as it is okay if he hasn’t grasped this yet, I kept trying to make it work. It ended in both of us crying. What lesson did he learn that day? Not sure it was a counting one!

Clearly I need to work on my patience and self-control. This lack of feeling good enough has also been raising its head with keeping fit which is important to me. But with gyms closed for good reasons I’m having to adapt. This all has reminded me that it’s okay to have not completed the latest Les Mills workout and that a run down the drive will have to suffice. This is the thing. We are in this ‘lockdown’ for some time and I need to find the resources to recognize my insecurities and learn to respond to my frustrations better. So here goes. These are some of the things I’ve found helpful and am trying to put in place … you can keep me accountable. 

  1. Start your day right …with God. As a Christian I believe that God has a good and perfect plan for my life and wants to help me in all I have to face. He has given me the best guide to this in the Bible and through it I can find the wisdom I need for my day. I need to start my day by reading it. Even if it’s just a little bit. The days I manage this well are days where I can keep my perspective right and find I feel more strength and peace than the days I don’t manage to read it. Fact. 
  2. Pray. Pray about everything, my worries, fears, for friends, for the news. I’ve started praying on my run (I’m trying to do this most days) or walk with the kids for our daily exercise. It helps keep my perspective right too. 
  3. Gratitude. We have started a gratitude tree. The leaves are things we are praying for and are thankful for. We do it over breakfast after reading the Bible with the kids and it helps us know that we have so much to be grateful for especially when I find myself moaning about unimportant stuff like cheese and coffee. 
  4. Limit social media. I’ve learnt that more social media time does not equal feeling more connected. I’m trying to limit myself to using it for work or once a day for personal use. 
  5. Do exercise. Even if it’s at 10 o’clock outside and you have to improvise to use your husbands garden tools as lifting equipment. (AKA Thursday night… I would recommend actually if you’re missing a bar, a rake does just fine!) 
  6. Write about how you’re doing – one of the reasons I decided to start this blog now. I don’t know if anyone is reading it or if it’s helpful for anyone else, but it’s been helping me process a lot of things during this crazy time.
  7. Speak to people regularly who bring you life and have a laugh using any kind of video app.
  8. The issues in my family that have ‘risen to the surface’ I’m choosing to engage in and not ignore. 
  9. Prioritizing family time. 
‘The path ahead is unsure and unknown but I know my feet can take me there.’

Broken is best.

Broken is Best.

We would never say that being broken is best. Our world mainly celebrates stories of strength or where we have ‘become strong’, even if that has been through brokenness. We rarely celebrate the process of being broken. Being broken is hard and causes many issues as we are in fact all broken and this is the case most of the time. The Bible makes it clear that as humans we live in a very broken world and that we are part of that brokenness. We are not perfect. Believing that we are only worthy or have something to offer once we have ‘gotten over our brokenness’, sets us up to either ignore our brokenness all together, brush over it or feel shame and guilt about not being ‘good enough’ if we are still in a broken state and are struggling to break out of it. 

I believe part of the issue is about what we value. We value productivity, activity, strength, popularity and outward beauty to name but a few, based on certain standards. These things are not bad in themselves per say, but they don’t sit well with brokenness. This challenges our perception of wholeness and what we believe makes us human. If to be fully human is to be all these things all of the time and to do them well when we are not able to meet these criteria or standards, we then view ourselves as falling short or not good enough. It is to say that somehow, we are ‘less human’; like there is something fundamentally wrong with us. 

Wholeness doesn’t tend to conjure up pictures of broken things or people but quite the opposite. We tend to see wholeness as things that are not broken but that are perfect somehow. In our pursuit for happiness and wholeness we look for a world of unbroken people, where brokenness is not embraced but ignored, shamed or swept under the carpet. As a result, when our own brokenness shows up, we don’t know what to do with it. 

This exact issue has come up when I’ve been talking with friends about the stuff we find hard, whether that is work, relationships, family or kids. Our conversations tend to always go in the same direction. We moan about finding something hard but that’s as far as it goes. We don’t want to do something about it as such because that would mean accepting that we are broken. This would mean accepting we’ve not done the job we wanted to do or that we’re somehow not as strong, good enough or perfect as we wanted to be. This perhaps seems harsh but I’m as bad as anyone. It’s often not until things are really bad that we think about getting help. 

Conversations I have with many friends on the subject tend to lead to comments such as, ‘I don’t need help yet’, ‘others are far worse off than me…they need counselling’, ‘I don’t have time’, ‘my issues are not that bad’. However if I was to be brutally honest, after most of the conversations I have had with friends, I would argue that they meet the criteria for needing counselling or other helpful tools to process the tough stuff in life. They differ in need and level of severity, but all are examples of people struggling and needing support. So, what is the big deal with needing support once in a while? 

I feel that part of the issue is how we view brokenness. We don’t see it in a positive light, so we don’t want anything to do with it. We have not yet reached a place where being broken and being honest and open about it is ok and something not to be judged. The worst at judging are often ourselves setting high standards of ‘not failing’, or ‘not being the ones who need help’ like I mentioned in my previous blog. I’ve been there not that long ago. 

Ten or so months ago I started to notice that I was struggling to shake off what I learned to understand as ‘intrusive thoughts’. These horrible thoughts were about my kids coming to terrible, violent harm either by my own doing or someone else. We all actually have intrusive or random thoughts that aren’t always nice, jump into our minds, but normally we brush them off and they don’t cause long lasting impact. 

However, mine started to terrify me. Why would I have such terrible thoughts jump into my head and why were they not leaving? I was fearful as to why I was thinking and seeing these things and was worried that others would judge me as a bad mum or that they meant there was something seriously wrong with me. I felt shame at feeling broken and not good enough as I felt they somehow showed I wasn’t managing. I decided to talk with my health visitor who explained I was seeing my greatest fears in my mind. For me, these thoughts were about harm coming to those that mattered the most in my life; my kids, and that somehow I could ever cause them harm which is the last thing I would ever want. 

I noticed that I was also struggling with my mood. It was low and I was always agitated and would snap at the smallest thing. I just had this negative fear over me and had started to develop serious anxiety around it. I felt like I was being wound up like a tight spring waiting for it to snap. I was really worried about what would happen if it did snap and so I decided that I wanted to do something about it.  

I summoned up the courage to contact a postnatal counsellor who specialised in this kind of thing. Through support from her, I learned that I had something called complex postnatal PTSD from my births with my kids (which were pretty terrible), and my childhood, where I had experienced trauma in a number of different ways. This all contributed to me not feeling safe, and as a result feeling that those around me who mattered most, were not safe either. 

Having now come to the end of my recent counselling process, I have learned some really important things mainly about myself. I wanted to share these things, as I hope they might encourage you to seek the help if you’re struggling, and to know that we all need support in one form or another at different points in our lives. 

  • We are all broken. Some more than others, but we all are. 
  • We often can’t take back the stuff that has led to us being broken, as more often than not, it is out with our control. We can however, take responsibility for its impact on our lives. I realised I had a responsibility to make sure my mess didn’t mess up the most important people in my life. If that meant I had to do some tough work on myself, then I was willing to do whatever it took.
  • Our pasts matter, but they don’t have to define us. That choice is ours. 
  • If I accept that I am broken I allow myself to be me, just as I am. 
  • My life is a role model to my family, friends and kids whether I like it or not. Am I modeling acceptance, grace and kindness, or perfection, shame and guilt?

In this process my faith has been an anchor for me in what has been a big storm. My faith tells me I matter to God, I am made in his image and that despite my brokenness, in him I find wholeness, healing and freedom. 

Blog intro…

Hello, my name is Bridget Sunderland and I wanted to create a space to share some of the real and honest things that come with the craziness of family life and the journey of ministry.

This is never going to be a neat, shiny or particularly well written blog as I sadly don’t have the time or expertise in this area. I have however, felt challenged to create a space to be honest about the journey of learning to be a mum, of trying to find the right balance to family life, whatever that is as well as to create a space to share the lessons learnt in church planting for the first time, the challenges faced in this process and how as a women I am learning to navigate this mindfield.

Raising Hope is about learning that out of brokenness God brings healing, restoration and raises from the ashes, new and beautiful things. This is both true for my own life as God brings healing out of brokenness, as I try to raise hope for my family and children as well as the story that God is rewriting in raising hope in the church where things have declined, been forgotten or have died. Out of the ashes God brings new life, from the mess he brings order and from wounds he brings healing. This is a space dedicated to being honest about this process and to bring hope to others that in their mess like mine, God is raising hope for new life and beautiful things. 

Becoming mum…failure is part of the game.

Being a mum wasn’t something I spent my childhood looking forward to, dreaming about or wanting.  

To be honest I didn’t ever think much about becoming a mum. I have never felt particularly ‘motherly’, whatever that is meant to mean. I used to believe that to be a good mum you needed to feel ‘motherly’. I believed this was about feeling ‘broody’, excited about screaming children and knowing ‘how to be the perfect mum’…whatever that is. However, I have in fact become a mum twice now. So what has changed?  

My expectations and understanding of what it means to be a good mum and parent have changed. We set ourselves unrealistic expectations based on how we view and compare ourselves to others and how we are told we should be by the world around us. We often don’t stop to notice these beliefs about ourselves or others until they are not met and we are left feeling disappointed or not good enough. Most often what we see in others is never the full picture and we find ourselves comparing the worst parts of our lives with the best parts of others, setting ourselves up to feel rubbish and not worthwhile.  

The expectation that to be a good enough mum and parent is to be the perfect parent, is a narrative that to many is normal. Sadly, however, this mindset sets us up for failure. It goes something like this… a perfect parent is infinitely patient, never shouts, always knows what to do, have children that are always happy, obedient and always show love to their parents. Their houses are always tidy, yet they have capacity to run the best extra-curricular activities without getting stressed about their houses becoming a mess. As a perfect mum they hold down a full-time job, yet have all the time in the world for their children, while looking after their wellbeing, perfect image and being a good wife of course. All at the same time and for all of the time.  

In order to meet the expectations of being this ‘good mum’ I believed I had to change. The issue wasn’t the expectations but my capability and who I was. I believed that the version of myself that I could see wasn’t good enough. It didn’t match up. It told me I had to become someone I wasn’t. This ultimately was about me being deeply dishonest with myself and setting myself up for my biggest fear…failing. Failing at one of the most important things I would do. Who was I if I failed at being a mum? Without even realizing it I believed I needed to be someone else. Someone better. Someone worthy. All because I didn’t fit the picture I had seen and told myself was important.  

My expectations had me believing I would come home from hospital, skip out of the car holding my baby with perfect hair and my body looking like it did before I became pregnant (who are we kidding right?) I believed I would be intently happy with my ‘new life’.  

There were so many problems with this. Firstly, I wasn’t that happy with how I viewed myself before I became a mum so no screaming baby was going to fix that no matter how cute he looked. Secondly, expectations on what I thought would happen to my body, my life, my relationship with Tom (my husband) were also very unrealistic. The pain I felt on the most part was disappointment in myself because I was not copying and living up to the unattainable standards I had set. The situation I found myself in wasn’t the perfect picture I had imagined. It didn’t feel fun or joyful despite what the new baby cards told me. The gift of my child, who is a gift, at the time didn’t feel like a gift at all, but the biggest burden. Being a mum felt like a mistake I couldn’t take back and I felt so very terrible for even thinking that.  

Looking back I wish I had been kinder to myself and more understanding. I wish I’d known that the way I felt was ok. Normal even. But I didn’t know that then. I was in honesty very close to postpartum depression and later my experience in hospital would contribute to postnatal PTSD amongst other challenges the last number of years have brought.  There were countless times I had gone to bed crying and got up crying telling myself I couldn’t do ‘this’.  

Looking back, I realised that no wonder I couldn’t do all of it. No one could. The culture around us tells us that to be successful even if we can’t reach the unattainable standards set by society and culture we should at least be trying to reach them. That the act of trying to be perfect is better than just not being despite the damage this does to ourselves, our families and those around us.  

So what changed? I realised that I was working out of a place that was setting myself up to fail. I realised that if I viewed myself as not being good enough before having children and based my worth on my ability of reaching an unattainable goal or at least trying to reach it, I not only was going to fail, but would continue to do so. I realised that this didn’t just have an impact on how I felt but on my kids, family and friends. I had to realise that I was good enough before I became a mum. I also realised that I am a role model. Whether I like it or not, I influence others. I would never lay these expectations on other friends who are mum, yet I placed them upon myself. This was a double standard. How I live my life and view myself says so much to those around me. What message was I giving others without realising? You are only as good as what you do or how great your house looks? How successful your work is? How skinny you are? These were all things I was not willing to inadvertently say so I had to change what I was saying to myself. It has taken some hard work to undo these perceptions which being honest have had a far bigger hold in my life than I would like to admit. My childhood, like most people, has had a negative and positive impact on me. The lie of achieving being the basis of my worth was developed from a young age. I had to begin to learn to accept myself with my flaws, taking ownership for them and learning to be mum…as me.  

The God I have a strong faith in tells me I am precious, important and good enough despite what I believed I was. The problem was my perceptions and what they were based on. Becoming a parent has taught me many things; one of which is that my unresolved issues in my life prior to parenthood don’t go away with the birth of your child. They in fact rise to the surface and raise their ugly heads. I had to learn that the issues weren’t the biggest problems, but how I chose to respond to them. That bit is in my control. I found this challenging because like most of us I didn’t want to admit that the pressure I was putting on myself wasn’t producing the fruit I hoped for such as ‘perfection’ and being ‘good enough’, but in fact the opposite. It is easier to pretend that striving for unattainable goals is somehow honorable then accepting that we don’t feel good enough and are broken. 

This view I had of myself was not honouring to God. It’s like me saying that he hasn’t done a good enough job in who he created me to be and that I think his work is rubbish. I would never say that out loud of course, but the reality of believing the very person I am is not good enough is like telling God that his ‘perfect work’ is not good. Learning to be a good mum has started with learning to value myself as important, good enough and valuable just as God sees me and just as I am. These are not just nice words to tell myself but deep truths that I have had to relearn. Parenting has taught me to love myself the way I love my kids. Unconditionally, just as God does.