The ‘gift’ of chickenpox: slowing down

So last week chickenpox came to our house. The timing in some ways was terrible – it meant my mum couldn’t come to stay. But as the days wore on I saw how God held us and worked through the situation.

I had wanted my son to get chickenpox before he gets much older (he’s now 6). So when an outbreak happened in his class I was secretly fairly pleased. But when it actually happened I immediately started stressing – at the last minute my parents couldn’t come to be with the kids while we went to a leadership weekend (could we even go if he was really suffering with it?).

I then started stressing about how I was going to juggle my work with my son at home. My daughter is great at amusing herself – when ill she simply takes herself off to bed and reads and naps. But he is different. He doesn’t seem able to play for long on his own and wants constant attention.

After the first day of him appearing by my side constantly I was beginning to get irritated and even more stressed. So I made a conscious decision to bring it all before God and ask Him to help order our days and allow me to be there for my son and comfort him, but also get the work done that I needed to without too much difficulty. I also prayed that we would have precious moments together that we could look back on with fondness afterwards.

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What then followed were a few days of him either napping or playing for a little while so I could start some work, and then we’d snuggle up on the sofa and watch a film together. I always took a pile of reading or other work with me, but it usually stayed in a pile and I didn’t look at it at all.

One of the days this untouched work started to weigh on my mind but then I felt God really clearly tell me to stop worrying about it. The vital work was getting done – yes I didn’t feel like I had much head space but He gently reminded me that my body isn’t working at 100% at the moment and that the rest was good for me too so I should simply embrace it rather than not allowing myself to unwind and enjoy it because I thought I ‘ought to’ be doing something.

It made me think about how often we don’t allow ourselves to rest because we are in ‘do’ mode and rest seems lesser somehow – not worth as much as getting through our ‘to do’ list.

So, through my son’s illness, God was yet again gently reminding me that I need to slow down and allow myself to rest. The things I have to get done are no less important, but the way I view them and the hierarchy I so often put on the things in my life needs to change to allow me space just to ‘be’ more regularly.

 

The weight – and joy – of leadership

Have you ever wanted to just hide away and not go to church? That’s how I felt on Saturday evening. The thought of getting up early in the morning and speaking to dozens of people, of worshipping God even (yes, it was a low moment) and of feeling the responsibility of needing to be stood next to my husband in the front row all weighed heavily on me.

I just needed a break.

I’m sure I’m not alone in this – and I know it is right to take time out at times.

But one of the burdens of leadership is living by example. And just hiding under my duvet when I don’t feel 100 per cent is not setting a good example. So I shot up a quick prayer asking that God would refresh me and I was immediately reminded of the Sunday before.

On that day, I was suffering from such severe back pain that I hadn’t slept all night. I was playing the main instrument in the worship team and we had a visiting speaker from Nigeria, who we were hosting a lunch for after the service. On that particular Sunday the whole of me was screaming “It isn’t fair! Why should I have to carry on? Why can’t someone else do it?”

To read the rest of this post, please click here.

Leaders need to look after themselves too!

Earlier this month my husband and I were able to enjoy a weekend with the other leaders from the network of churches we are affiliated to. It was a great time catching up with those we know but don’t often get to see. But the thing that struck me most was what a privilege it is to be led by such honest, trustworthy and transparent leaders.

The first session covered something the speaker said isn’t often spoken about in conferences: a leader’s health. He talked about the fact we have a responsibility to ensure we are spiritually, mentally, emotionally and physically fit so that we can continue being passionate as we work out our calling throughout life’s seasons.

Obvious huh? But actually we don’t talk about it much – although I think he probably got every leader’s attention when he said that very few leaders finish the race stronger than when they started.

This is actually taken from my latest Help! I’m now a pastor’s wife! column for Christian Today. To read the rest please click here.

Can’t settle down to work…

Ever have one of those days when you simply can’t seem to settle down to anything? I am today – I can’t believe I only have half an hour left before I pick up my son from nursery and I’ve achieved nothing so far (apart from bagging a free book for my hubbie – yay- and having email conversations with publishers). I have managed to do my bible reading for the day. I’ve been finding reaching back into the Old Testament really interesting and thought-provoking, but today, when I read about a man sacrificing his daughter, all I could think was ‘really?’. My brain couldn’t go further than that!

Both my husband and I look and feel shattered. It has been an exceedingly long couple of weeks, partly because our church is in the process of trying to buy a building and there have been endless plans and letters to formulate. But today is submission day – so we’ve done all we can. Now, as well as praying earnestly, we need to turn to what else needs our attention – him to his preach and me to my writing. But I think we are both simply too wrung out. I am usually incredibly focused. I’ve been doing this work-from-home freelancing thing for a long time now, and I am always determined to utilise the first few hours of the day really well as that is my only child-free time. But today I’ve been meandering through the windows on my computer – looking at the drafted book I have almost finished and the half-written ideas file for a magazine editor. I can’t quite seem to actually get down to doing anything. But I think that may be because my body needs a little rest – it’s done so much already this week. The fact that I can’t focus on anything is my body revealing I need to slow down a little and take it easy today. This is really unlike me, but I’m finding I’m telling myself that it’s okay if I don’t actually achieve that much today. There is always tomorrow… 🙂

What a week under par has taught me

This has been a very strange week for me. It all started with my daughter coming down with a very violent sickness bug that has been going round her school. She was up a lot one night being sick, spent the next day very listless but then bounced back. Then my husband and I both went down with it the same night – all night. The next day we were laid out completely, having to call on friends to do our two different school runs. But then he bounced back…and I didn’t. It’s taken me all week to be able to eat a full meal – and I’m still not eating plenty of items as the thought of them makes me feel super sick. I still feel slightly nauseous constantly.

I’ve had to force myself to eat to ensure I’m well enough to look after my kids – and earlier in the week we had the struggle of both kids playing up because our routine was disrupted due to our sickness. Just when we asked them if they could be extra helpful and good they did precisely the opposite – and we both felt too ill to deal with it. To be honest, I’ve been pretty short-fused with them all week. It’s just plain hard work to get on and do all the normal things a parent has to while I feel like this.

But I can also see that this week has done me a lot of good. Just slowing down so I only do the bare necessities has actually made me realise what a lot of rushing about I do – and made me wonder whether I need to do absolutely all of it. I’ve been really challenged recently about the fact that I feel I have my finger in so many pies, how many of them am I actually doing to the best of my ability? And what room is there in my life for those people that really need me to down tools and help them at a moment’s notice?

It has also given me a renewed admiration for people who cope with illness long-term. That is a subject on my heart at the moment, and I’m hoping to write about it soon. How do people who suffer with something day in day out keep their head above water, keep believing and trusting in God’s promises? People like my mum, who struggles with some horrible illnesses and has been suffering from terrible nausea for months and months that no expert seems to be able to get to the bottom of despite countless tests. I was talking on the phone to her after she had been away for a few days with my dad. I was saying how I’d been feeling and what a struggle it had been, and then she told me how she had had to come face to face with her limitations yet again while away. How hard that must be when you are on holiday, as you can’t ever take a holiday from your sickness…

This week has also made me grateful at times. When I first started feeling well enough to eat again I was grateful; when I first felt able to drive again too. When I felt well enough to tidy up a bit I was glad – as the state of the house was getting me down. And the sense of achievement of getting the bits of work done I needed to this week was much more intense than usual – because I’d had to battle through more than normal too. While I did struggle with resentment at times about some of the things I had to carry on and do even though I didn’t feel up to them, it has actually been really nice to hide away and spend most evenings at home on my own or with my husband just doing very little. I think we all need regular periods of time like that – perhaps my next one was so long overdue that God allowed this sickness to really knock me out so that I actually did slow down for a change!

I wonder whether your week has been ‘the same as usual’ or if you can look back and see something you’ve learned afresh. Do you regularly take the time to take stock and think about what your days have been filled with, and what God may have been trying to teach you through your everyday circumstances? I think I look for such things more regularly now that I am writing, but it is certainly a beneficial habit for us all to cultivate…

A positive turn of events…

I seem to start all my entries these days with phrases such as ‘I know it has been a long time’… and here I am at it again! The last few weeks have been gruelling – not due to work, which I am afraid has had to sit on the back burner. I’ve simply been getting through each day – and night. The virus that is going around hit our household big time, and my youngest has been up night after night. Sleep deprivation is something I find so so difficult, and I admit I was getting pretty down. It didn’t help when, after our newly introduced family DVD night, he slipped and cut open his chin – the second trip to A&E with him! But last night he slept through for the first time in weeks – yay! And even more positive is that my attitude and conversations with God had changed before then! 😉 I don’t know if it was because it was such a beautiful, crisp day yesterday, but I found myself walking to my mum and toddler group full of thankfulness about the blessings God has poured on me. Okay, life had been tough – but I have two beautiful children, a wonderful husband and I’m making my way in a career that I love and can fit around family life. When I got home I was greeted by a message to say I had some more editorial work offered – to edit Jeff Lucas’ new book (which I found rather exciting!). I also suddenly realised an article I’m working on has the potential to be developed into a great book too, and managed to chat this through with a publisher. I made some great contacts for that too yesterday and, on top of that, feel that God just ‘dropped’ an idea for another piece of writing into my head. I was soooo excited yesterday afternoon and was brimming over with information that I just ‘had’ to share with my poor husband, who was trying to concentrate on his work in another room of the house! Well, if he will work from home too what does he expect?! 🙂 After calming down I had time for reflection and realised that, in less than a year, God has really helped me develop my career in a totally different direction. The contacts I have had for years in the publishing industry just seem to no longer get in touch with me. I was quite down about that for a while – after my first child they carried on giving me work, but after my second it was becoming a huge slog to find work with them – they blamed the economic climate and I know that is true, but I also know not being available full time had a lot to do with it (even though I have never missed a deadline and they have always been happy with my work). But now I realise God was making room for the writing and editing work He had in store for me. I have a lot of editorial work, but it is all with new Christian clients and I’m loving it! I have also had some real encouragements with my writing – people coming back to me about ideas I submitted back in the summer, accepting some straight off and changing their mind about others! I’ve now got some new book ideas too, which is wonderful because I really felt like I wanted to write another book but wasn’t quite sure what direction to take that in. There are still magazines I really want to have articles in that I haven’t managed to yet, and that is quite frustrating, but I feel like I’m now writing about the subjects closest to my heart and that I actually feel I have something of worth to say about. I realise what a great privilege that is, and am so grateful to God…

A whirlwind week

It has been a little while since I’ve been on here – mainly because life has reached whirlwind proportions. And the thoughts spinning around my head also have me reeling from their speed. So I’m trying to catch a moment to slow down and take stock. The last week has certainly been a varied one: I had my birthday, found out my mum was incredibly ill, had a terrible conversation with a magazine editor that left me wondering if Christians really can be that judgemental, shot down to see my mum in hospital, enjoyed a fantastic international day at church and also made some great new contacts with book and magazine publishers.

Each night I have fallen into bed late, absolutely exhausted, only to be denied sleep by my 2 year old, who really doesn’t seem to understand that waking up at night does not equate to coming to say hello to mummy, daddy and his sister! Even with the gate firmly fixed on his door he is still finding a way of keeping us all up at night. I look at him tearing around during each day and wonder where on earth he gets his energy from – and whether I could borrow some of it! In amongst the busyness, and emotional turmoil at times, I worry that I am so focused on different things I am not parenting to the best of my ability. I guess as parents we always have that nagging feeling – could we be doing things better? Are we juggling too much? Our society seems to only accept survivors – supermums who can spin every plate highly successfully and look fantastic at the same time!

That’s not really the reason for this entry though. I could write a series of blogs on that subject – and on the fact that while I believe in a God who can heal today, and have seen miracles in front of my eyes, one of those dearest to me – my own mum – continues to suffer pain from a debilitating disease day after day, year after year. I know suffering and healing are subjects I’m never going to fully understand, but I do have lots of questions I’m waiting to ask God when I do see him face to face! God does seem to have a way of turning things upside down – I travelled to see my mum expecting her to be hardly able to lift her head from her hospital bed but I was greeted by a beaming face as she had just had a chance to talk to a daughter of a patient about her faith and offered to pray for her. Gone was the downcast soul who had had enough of struggling with each breath and here was someone excited and vitalised by her faith once more. She said herself that every time she is in hospital she has such ‘divine encounters’ and that being there had lifted her spirit from the depth of despair. She is still physically in severe pain, but her spirit is back in line with her God.

All of this has made my own spirit go up and down. A high point was definitely yesterday at church where we celebrated the diversity of nationalities within our church. Sam Amara from Nigeria visited us and preached and we feasted on a wonderful array of dishes from around the world afterwards.

Yes it has definitely been a pretty crazy week. And today has continued to be crazy. I’m on my own for a few hours, for which I’m exceedingly grateful to my husband, but busy organising work and what I need to do before heading off to Brighton for the last Newfrontiers International Leaders’ Conference, Together on a Mission. I am excited about what God will do when we are all together – I just hope I manage to stay awake! ;D

Feeding the clown while half asleep…

I had a really fulfilling day yesterday. Absolutely manic but I felt I achieved a lot and got on top of loads of things that had been hanging over me. As well as looking after my son I cleaned the whole house from top to bottom, worked on some articles, came up with some more article ideas, did a load of ironing, cooked a nice meal for me and hubby after the kids were tucked up in bed and even managed to watch a film with him too as it was our only night off this week. I went to bed exhausted but happy. I had just snuggled down into the covers, just got myself into that half asleep state, when in padded our little boy saying the rain had woken him up. I got up, told him the rain wasn’t scary, put him back into bed, tucked him in, kissed him good night and prayed with him then left his room while saying there was no need to get back up again till morning. This little routine happened about 8 times over the next 21/2 hours – then he finally fell asleep… only to appear again at 4am. This time I was so exhausted I couldn’t even bring myself to get back up and let him crawl in with us. I never normally do that – and it was a bad decision because then I only got fitful snoozes after that. As our daughter ran in at 7am all bright and cheerful my heart sank, as I knew I was helping at the school fayre all day and really needed to be livelier than I was feeling! I know there are so many other parents out there that have to cope with this lack of sleep on a regular basis. For me, it is one of the hardest things about parenting. It’s at such times, when something out of the ordinary happens, that I realise that the pace I live my life at is only just about do-able. I did really enjoy helping out at the fayre on the ‘feed the clown’ stall but I felt incredibly sick. As soon as we got home both me and my son crashed out on our bed for a couple of hours – actually quite nice but not a luxury I can afford most days. I asked my husband to help me make sure we both go to bed early each night this week – as it was getting later and later and now I’m just past exhaustion. I know I was talking about spiritual spring cleaning the other day – but we also have a responsibility to look after our bodies too – and this one is just plain tired…

The leadership conundrum

It is Monday and I am absolutely exhausted. It has been a long week, an even longer weekend and now here I am at the start of a new week feeling like crawling back under the duvet! In fact, to let you into a secret, my daughter has an inset day today so we really didn’t get out from under the duvet very early. My son did come and join us at 5.45, but that’s another matter… The reason for my tiredness? Well there are a mountain of reasons, but there is one I have been mulling over since I woke up. A few days ago I felt like writing a blog on leaders stepping up – getting over our own ‘issues’ as there are so many hurting people out there in the world – and in our churches too. They need us! They need us to be in a place where we can serve them, help them and then equip them to help others too. But there’s the conundrum right there. As a leader how do you know when it is time to stop giving out and take some time out for yourself? To be refreshed? How do you give out when you are on empty? People who look to you, and come to you regularly, don’t think about the fact that you are a human being with your own family, and get tired just like they do. (Well, a lot don’t.) I know that we should only do what we are called to do, but if you are so busy giving out how do you have time to stop and hear what it is that God wants you to do? It is so so vital to have that quiet space to just be, and hear, but I have to be honest I’m struggling with that right now. I know Jesus took himself away and if he did that, how much more do I need to!! But if you are a ‘do’er’ like I am, it takes real discipline. And I care about people, and want to help them when they are hurting. I have to keep telling myself that I can’t really help that well if I’m not in a great place myself. There is always going to be that tension of people needing you but you needing space to recharge. I think we all have to work out for ourselves what works for us – I’m just being very challenged because I think I’ve got it wrong this week!

Bleary-eyed but still serving

We are going through one of those seasons. You know the ones – where one of your children decides that waking up mega-early is fun and they are going to do it constantly, night after night. So you are surviving on at least three hours less sleep than normal.

It’s at times like these that I get tested to the limits. It always seems to come when we are at our busiest. I never quite know whether it is them showing their disdain for the extra work or church commitments we’ve taken on, or God’s wry way of asking us to check if our priorities are still round the right way. Whatever it is, I know I get more irritable, lose my patience more easily and generally feel more down. If I’m honest I can find dealing with the children an extra burden I could do without – and then when I realise that I’m overwhelmed by guilt – sometimes… And it sometimes also hits me what these seasons reveal to me about my character flaws. And I wonder how come they are all still there, when I thought I’d made some headway with some of them…

The worst night of all often happens right before a Sunday meeting – when my husband is obviously facilitating the meeting, I may be playing and singing but whatever else I’m doing I will probably be ministering to a few people. I often think how can I when I feel empty myself – when I’m drained and grumpy? And that’s when I find the miracle I’m so regularly thankful for – God steps in when I’m beyond it. I know others say it too – when you really aren’t in control because you are so tired, it is actually often easier for God to accomplish what He wants to because He doesn’t have to get past your own thoughts and feelings on the matter. That’s not to say I wouldn’t prefer to be serving from a more awake state – just that I’m extremely grateful for what He does when I am struggling to keep my eyes open and my brain focused on what I am supposed to be doing!