November gloom

treeNovember has a certain quality to it. It’s grey, grey, grey. The days are short and dark, the clouds make everything look bleak and dim. Even though you know there is a bright ball of blazing light out there behind them, it’s really hard to convince yourself of that reality. Once a week or so the clouds part and there are bright blue skies, crisp mornings and wonderful sunsets painting the skies with pink, green and gold in the late afternoons. But for the rest of the days it’s slogging through grey.

It’s a time of year where the grey has a different quality to it. January and Feburary greys are just bleak and depressing. November gloom somehow seems to wrap itself around me in a comforting sort of way. The skies reflect some of the grey bleak slog of life right now through the daze of sleep deprivation, toddler tantrums and newborn crying. It’s that old literary device ‘pathetic fallacy’ at work, where the surrounding weather reflects what’s going on in the story. (Hardy and Dickens love a bit of pathetic fallacy…). I like this kind of gloom. It makes me feel strangely safe.

I feel that way because I know it has an end. Coming around the corner of this weekend is the wonder and waiting of Advent. The lights are blazing in the skies around our cities. Christmas is coming and we love to bust holes in the darkness with the wonder of light and The Light come into the world which the darkness doesn’t know what to do with.

November gloom gives way to Advent light and hope. That’s why I can take a bit of bleakness and that’s why we can make our way through the gloom of this season of our lives right now. We might not see much of each other as we stumble around our children’s tears. We might not be able to connect with each other or friends as we stare blankly at the walls but there is Hope with a capital H living here as well.

The gloom of now is tempered by the knowledge that light is coming, in small ways by knowing that babies eventually learn to sleep, evenings will be ours again one day and that our boys will grow up, different seasons will come upon us. The gloom is also tempered by the knowledge that the Light of the World stands with us in this present darkness and holds onto us. Our walk is not dependent on our ability to pull ourselves together and keep going. It’s dependent on His strength holding onto us, helping us hope, helping us trust in the coming dawn each day and the coming final dawn.

For that is what Advent is all about, a coming final dawn when light will conquer darkness forever. When the gloom will be gone and we will be finally at rest. When the Light who came will come again. I long for the dawn light each morning as I stumble through another night of little sleep. I long for the ultimate dawn.

And so until then.

We look for the light. We look for the Light.

Your correspondent, meant to write about the weather, ended up writing about Advent.

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Processing Labour pt 2. The nsfw language version.

pregnantMy second thought from labour that apparently I should share (go talk to Karen Jones if you disagree) is on swearing. I generally don’t swear (except late at night when the baby is still crying and I’ve lost all perspective). Husbandface doesn’t like it when I do. Binface loves it when I do which leaves me in all sorts of dilemmas but for the most part swearing doesn’t really happen.

I’m not a fan of swearing generally, it’s a fairly lazy form of self expression, it’s not the best use of the language we’ve been given and God isn’t such a fan of it. There are times though when I think only a well timed swear word will do. Bono’s use of the f word in the Rattle and Hum video in Sunday Bloody Sunday is perfect. (There’s an 80s reference only my brother will get) It can be comedy genius or the best expression of pain and loss.

I also think it can be employed to express extreme relief. At the end of labour, when the boy came out and I realised I wasn’t pregnant anymore, all I had to express the relief, the wonder, the joy and rapture was the f word. Over and again I said, fuck me. All the time apologising to husbandface for the swearing. But oh my life, no other word worked in the same way to express this inexpressible feeling. That feeling when the pain stops, when the race is over, when you’ve got to the top of the mountain and the glorious view stretches out before you. Breathless I cried in joy and wonder and the f word expressed it best.

My issue is: Will we say this when the new creation is ushered in? Creation is described as being in birth pains. Waiting for the day new life will be born. Imagine the relief on that day. A day when there will be no more pain, crying or mourning. No more being hurt or hurting others. No more sickness. No more death. A glorious crazy wonderful birth. I might let out a few f bombs on that day but maybe I’ll more naturally cry hallelujah to express the wonder of what is happening. Maybe.

Here’s some of that vision in Romans 8 in The Message. It kept me sane in the last few weeks of waiting and in the early stages of labour. Joyful expectancy of total relief one day. I still wonder what words we’ll have to express that final wonderful relief when this world gets to give birth.

Romans 8- 18-21 That’s why I don’t think there’s any comparison between the present hard times and the coming good times. The created world itself can hardly wait for what’s coming next. Everything in creation is being more or less held back. God reins it in until both creation and all the creatures are ready and can be released at the same moment into the glorious times ahead. Meanwhile, the joyful anticipation deepens.

22-25 All around us we observe a pregnant creation. The difficult times of pain throughout the world are simply birth pangs. But it’s not only around us; it’s within us. The Spirit of God is arousing us within. We’re also feeling the birth pangs. These sterile and barren bodies of ours are yearning for full deliverance. That is why waiting does not diminish us, any more than waiting diminishes a pregnant mother. We are enlarged in the waiting. We, of course, don’t see what is enlarging us. But the longer we wait, the larger we become, and the more joyful our expectancy.

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Processing labour…

I’ve been thinking about what to write here about labour and our birth story. I may yet write up the story but I’m still not sure if anyone really wants to read it?

There are some things I want to note though, even if just for the benefit of one friend who loved these thoughts and told me I had to blog them. The first of these thoughts is on writing. The second, coming soon, is on swearing.

First up then – On writing:
Labour was a strange experience, on many levels, but firstly because I discovered that I have a small lady writing furiously in the corner of my brain. As I grunted and groaned. As I rocked and went all primeval there was a tiny observer noting what was going on and how interesting it all was. I remember this voice quietly noting that the contractions weren’t very far apart at all but and that this time round there were small gaps between them. I remember this voice reminding me how gas and air worked again, it doesn’t take the pain away, it takes my brain away from the pain. I apparently repeated constantly, ‘I’m going to the land beyond the pain’.

As I freaked out in the pushing phase the small voice reminded me that this was the phase where the ‘ring of fire’ would happen (I’ll leave you to guess at that) and then as he finally came out it reminded me of my friend Anna’s description of a slippery fish coming out. The writer in me was observing, noting and jotting down things to be able to process this later.

Thanks little writer. Whilst you wrote the rest of me turned into a primeval woman overtaken by my body doing things I had no idea it knew how to. You watched and observed whilst some other part of me gave birth.

I guess I want to note this because I think it means I really am a writer. Adrian Plass talks about this phenomenon as well, the small writer typing frantically all the way through experiences that happen to him, noting how they might be useful for later thoughts and writings.

I like the little writer. I love writing. I Iove communicating and sharing the random stuff that goes through my brain so that whoever stops by here can maybe know we are not alone. I love that my honesty can help others. I love that one day I may get space to write more and more and not just in snatched moments here and there whilst the tiny people sleep.

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‘That can wait…’

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There are few things as wonderful and as soul destroying as trying to get a tiny person to sleep. Wonderful because when their eyes roll back and they finally surrender you feel like a wonder worker. Soul destroying because it takes so long sometimes, there are usually a million other things that your brain is telling you to get on with and it usually involves some physical effort, in the early days at least. My new sling aerobics DVD is coming out soon.

Thursday mornings are good in this house. I only have one child to focus on which is wonderful. However. I’ve got a bit too used to Thursday mornings from pregnancy, when I would sleep, catch up on cleaning, enjoy a book and a cuppa. Last week the boy slept in the swing and so I got a similar morning. Today? Not so much.

All this leads me nicely to the unveiling of my new mantra. ‘That can wait’. It’s short, snappy and coming to a t-shirt near you.

I want my house to be vaguely tidy, I want washing done and meals cooked but there is so much that can wait in a day for another time or another moment. For a completer finisher like myself this is a slight version of torture. But wait I must. Others needs are more important than my desire for jobs to get done in order and completed fully.

Yesterday we all had a melt down because I refused to wait for things to be done. I tried again and again to put the baby down, to no avail. I got more and more stressed and very angry, I shouted at the toddler, I resented the baby, I ate too many chocolate biscuits and I may have kicked a door in frustration.

I need to learn to wait. To discover that sometimes ordering all the chaos can wait. To see my boys needs before the needs of the house. To be patient. I need to learn to wait.

And in that spirit I shall now ignore all jobs, curl up in bed with a sleeping boy (if he’ll let me) and watch some west wing. If you see me attempting to put that mug in the dishwasher tell me it can wait…

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Week 1

e cThis week my adventure into the world of parenting two small boys began. Husbandface is back at work and so me and the tiny people set sail into the unknown together. They are still pretty rubbish at grasping what’s going on in this life, one more so than the other, and so it was a bit of a mental voyage to the weekend. Here’s what we’ve been learning… 

I’ve discovered the joys of all three of us crying hysterically at once. I’m learning to feed on the floor at son1’s level so helping him through Mummy being less attentive goes better. I’m adjusting to feeling like son1 doesn’t get my full attention anymore, and feeling sad about that (mainly by remembering that he never got my full attention all day before son2 came along, my phone got lots as well). I’m learning the art of doing things with son1 whilst standing up swaying with son2 in a sling (such as watching him play on the iPad… Very easy to do whilst standing and swaying). I’m feeling little less guilty about screen time restrictions going out of the window. I’m enjoying the moments I get alone with son1 so much more. 

I still have no idea how to cook dinner with two crazy tiny people and me in full on witching hour mode. I have not mastered self control, patience or calm responses to the boundaries pushed this week. I am still undone by not being able to know why son2 is crying so much. I am still a gibbering wreck when lovely husbandface leaves the house and comes back (feel some sympathy for the poor man) but inbetween those times we have had some fun, been looked after by those in the village helping to raise these boys and generally all alive at the end of the day. I think that’s a good starting point for this new stage of life. 

I’m loving not feeling as hideously overwhelmed this time round. No bomb has gone off this time, there are no shattered pieces of me and my old life lying around. There are adjustments to be made, things that are good and bad about this new place but no major construction works to be done. We’ve cleared the old life and built the foundations of this life in the last two years and now it feels like the new building work has started in earnest. That’s still not easy but it’s not about what has gone anymore. (Apart from some longing glances back to a place where I only had one other person to bundle out of the door and pay  attention to each day…).

As for son2, he’s 4 weeks old, doesn’t sleep much, cries lots, needs his nappy changing with boring regularity and feeds lots. He’s a baby. But every so often there are flashes of what he is growing into. If his fake practice smiles are anything to go by he’s going to have a stunner when it comes along. He has dimples which I adore and he can coo like the best of them in his half hour of happiness each day. I am frustrated by his lack of sleep but not in total despair like last time. I am weary of rocking him in the sling but not overwhelmed to the point of not wanting this life. I occasionally hysterical beg him to go to sleep or stop crying but I have hope that he will develop into a person slightly better able to deal with this world (I say slightly because as delightful as the toddler is he still throws himself on the floor when I refuse him something he desperately wants, such as the children’s programme that doesn’t exist about marriage that he insisted he had to watch yesterday- there is something very sad about not being able to meet his desperate cries to watch marriage…maybe I should have dug out our appalling wedding video..) 

So there we are. I am grateful for our survival of the week. Grateful to all the people who hung out with us and provided lovely places to escape to or stepped into the madness with us. Most of all I am glad to have been held by the One who loves us most. Although I’ve raged at him for once again not giving us a baby with its sleep function intact I’ve known his care of me through the week, reminders of his love have come in song, in son1’s reminders to put on encouraging CDs and in the lovely morning of peace I had whilst son1 was out and son2 napped in his swing for a long time. 

I think a bit of 2 Corinthians 4 is appropriate to quote now. I’m sure it’s not about life with new babies (more about facing hardship for following God)  but it pretty much sums up how I feel at the end of the week. I’ll leave you to wrangle with whether that’s a good use of the passage or not.

But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.  We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed… Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day.  For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.  So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” 

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Sunday Morning

sundayI didn’t want to come here today. 

Sleep depravation is a killer and affects all I think and do at the moment. My brain tried to convince me that church is alienating, un-encouraging and that people would judge me for my son’s inability to sleep at all well and how we deal with that. Weird right? 

I didn’t want to come here today. 

I grudgingly got in the car and I showed up. Something at the back of my mind remembered a blog post I’d read about how encouraging it is when new mums turn up to church, baggy eyes and crying babies in tow. I am part of this body and it is good to show up. Whatever state I’m in I am not here not because I’m in a perfect condition but because I’m part of this body. 

I didn’t want to come here today but I did.

I haven’t talked to new people. I’ve wandered around with son1 as he explored outside. I’ve sat down and heard of a God who lifts us out of pits, out of mud and mire. I’ve said sorry to him, with my church family, for forgetting him and for growing bitter in the night at the circumstances I find myself in. I’ve sung of his grace.  I’ve heard that our God is at work when life sucks and when it’s great (both sum up my life right now, it’s both beautiful and sucky all at the same time).

This is the reality I long to cling to in these weary days – God is at work- I don’t know how but he’s up to something.

I didn’t want to come here today but I’m glad I showed up.

Baggy eyes and small children in tow. 

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Nothing comes from nothing?

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What do we do with a God who answers prayers?

Maria Von Trapp dealt with him by rejecting grace and claiming that ‘nothing comes from nothing, nothing ever could’, she reasoned that ‘somewhere in her youth or childhood she must have done something good’ to get such a catch as the Captain and be as happy as she was. I think we all have a bit of this thinking in our lives. That we need to deserve the good things that come our way. As a pessimist I can all too easily fall into this trap and if good stuff happens I’m immediately looking for what is going to go wrong rather than resting in the grace of being grateful. 

I think I would find it easier to deal with a God who never answers prayer in the way we want. And in day to day life I probably do think like that. I can deal with the silence, the working through God being mysterious, far off and distant, the explaining of times he doesn’t do what I want as his ways not being ours, his desire for my character over comfort.  That may well be true but it’s not the whole picture.  

What about when he does answer prayers in exactly the way I want and expect? Is that because I’m finally praying in line with his will? Is that because actually it’s all just coincidence and God is still working on my character and life has just worked out well? Is God in charge of all the stuff going on in this world? Can he change it? Is God able to answer real physical prayers rather than just the internal stuff?

I think the internal stuff matters more in some ways – praying for godliness when we don’t get the parking space we want might be more important than us getting the parking space. But can God provide the parking space? And what does it mean for all the stuff going wrong in the world if he can and does move the physical world? Why doesn’t he do more to change things? 

Anyway let’s move this away from the hypothetical parking space. This time I’m talking about labour. 

I wrestled with God all last week, I didn’t want my booked induction on Friday, I wanted so much to give birth at home with my boy placed wriggling and squirming and naked and gooey on my chest straight away. I wanted a better experience than last time. I wanted to go into labour without drugs and I wanted my toddler to be safely away, not confused more than necessary. I didn’t want to ask for all this because I knew it wasn’t my right, that others don’t get this so why should I ask for it?  It didn’t happen last time and things were ok (ish) I know God isn’t a slot machine and so I didn’t want to ask.

I wrestled. And then I asked. I knew he could do it and I prayed he would, all the time trying not to get my hopes up. Others had more faith and prayed confidently. I threw my toys around in anger and fear like my own toddler and raged against a God I don’t get. 

And then all our prayers were answered. Physically answered. This wasn’t a lesson in trust, in learning to be out of control or patient endurance, lessons I know so well and think are my default. This was wham bam here you go. Labour, a straightforward one, a boy who woke at the right time and was whisked away by his godmum and family for fun safe times. My flat full of fairy lights and familiarity. My bed.  My body doing crazy things it was made to do and at the end a beautiful gooey boy placed on my naked chest, feeding off me and then lying blissed out asleep. I keep thinking something should go wrong to make up for all these good things. 

I don’t know what to do with a God who actually sometimes gives us what we want. Others seem more deserving. Why doesn’t he do more? Why this world? Why not end all the pain? Questions I’ll never have the answer to. For now I think I’ll have to come to terms with a God who sometimes says yes. Here you go. Have this simple good thing. Mental. 

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