Monday, 18 June 2018

A "Royal" Mission

The recent Royal Wedding captured so many of us around the world; the true fairytale” in so many ways. Much of the world stopped...I watched it on a laptop during my lunchbreak at a conference. The castles, the carriage, the dress, the tiara … it was all beautiful and brought joy to so many people, of course much more to Megan and Harry. In Australia it seems worlds away to have castles and guards and open-top carriages, marching bands and titles like queen”, King”, Duke” and Duchess”. 

When we think of castles, we think of wealthy, privileged and blessed. Positions (titles) and opportunities where people are treated in a special way. The perception is that princesses” and princes” have all they need, can do all they want, when they want. While there is some truth to that, we all know that to a much greater extent, with much power comes much responsibility” and there are a lot of challenges in these positions. But let’s just stay in the fairytale for a minute. 

I said to someone in passing while watching the Royal Wedding that In Australia we don't have castles.”  I know, like myself, many little Australian girls long to be a “Princess” and many boys a King or ‘Prince”. Nearly every Disney movie has the same theme and they keep bringing them out because it captures something for us all that we secretly long for. Harry and William, and now recently Megan have helped this as they project such an amazing life, or so it seems. Then it struck me, maybe we do have castles and princes and princesses in Australia. They just look different. 

I saw a vision of the castles many of our children in Australia have around them. They have their own spaces, bedrooms/playrooms, filled with every toy and thing they desire, with servants (parents) hovering around them, cotton wooling them” to make sure they are safe and don’t get hurt. Our houses are often surrounded by walls/gates sometimes with an alarm, to make sure they are safe. Education is easily assessable to them, yet they endure it. If they are sick, they have the capacity/resources to get help, even having elective treatment for cosmetic/exterior (non-essential) procedures because they can and need to keep up with their friends.  May I go even so far as say they have security guards (Parents) making sure that they are safe as they venture out to do ballet, drama, soccer, art, speech. As they are chauffeured around, there is little they have to do without; food when they are hungry, entertainment at their fingertips, every form of opportunity to learn all forms of the arts” and more. We create stages for them to perform on and no matter how untalented they are, they are told how wonderful they are and get awards for giving it a go, protecting them from the truth in fear that we might hurt their feelings. At the end of every transition of education and/or extra curricula activity there is a ceremony, where they pretend to be the princesses” and princes” they long to be. This is starting even at the age of 5 in some places as they transition from Preschool to School. It is sometimes hard to keep up with and get to all the occasions. 

I know this sounds like a very negative slant on our privileged life”. I know that we have only done all this out of a desire for the best for our kids.  But if it was BEST then why are our kids so Troubled? Entitled? Bored? Depressed? Stressed? Suicidal? So many sit on top of their ivory castles, looking out at the world, and although they have everything they are lost.  I walk with many of them and it breaks my heart to hear their daily struggles and how they see the world. 
It scares me to hear that the highest rate of suicide is in some of the more opulent suburbs of our country. 

What a castle we have created for our children, in the hope that they will be happy and safe and yet all we have created is a place that traps them from exploring the adventure of life, to discover that happiness comes through conquering adversity and that true growth comes from falling down and getting back up again.

Church leaders add to that as we create another place for them to be entertained, safe, comfortable, in hope that they feel loved and a sense of belonging. I wonder what we can teach them when we are wrestling with the same lostness” at times.  Recently, a children's ministry leader, when hearing about how children in poverty see Jesus as their hero asked, “How can they be happy and see Jesus as their hero when they are poor?” The lady working in these poor countries graciously said, “It is not in what we have but who we are in Jesus that gives these kids cause to call Jesus their hero.” The Western worker was stunned. If we as adults, parents, leaders in the Western world don't get the key to real and fulfilling love and life” then we will keep protecting our kids, saving them and shielding them from this important part of growing up. We think that building castles around them is actually the right and loving thing to do, but it is weakening them from the inside out.  

What good is a castle if it doesn't build strength and security and a positive hope for the future? What good is all the privilege and opportunity in the world if it doesn't lead us to freedom and empowerment to be a part of positive change in the world around us?

The fact is we ARE all a part of His royal family. He has gone to prepare a mansion for us. For so many children in Australia, even the incredible blessings we do have here on this earth NOW are being wasted, because it is either not enough or we have believed the lie that we deserve more.  We are busy building our castles and Jesus is wanting to break in and help our children see the simple truth, that none of this will matter in the end; what you do or don't have. What will matter is what you did with what you were given and how you used it for something greater than yourself. We are called to be “producers” not consumers” in this world. A good King” or Queen” knows that is the end goal. How can we help our kids come out of their “castles” and experience life to the full? I want to be a part of that “Royal” mission.

Monday, 28 May 2018

The Forest for the trees....What are you missing out on?

I have always dreamed of turning left on the plane instead of right and being (just once) in those business class beds. It’s kind of on my bucket list. I have always felt it would be such an experience to lay down flat on a plane and sleep the trip away. However, I feel very blessed and privileged to do a lot of travel for my job/ministry. I do love travel for many reasons and I don't even mind the long plane trips because they are a means to an end and a great chance to catch up on movies. However, I have always been very jealous of those who can sleep on a plane. I watch people, sitting upright, eye-patch on and away they go. I get very little sleep on the whole, travelling, so movies help me pass the time as my legs go crazy, my bottom is aching and I feel like I am constantly moving and tossing. I don't need much sleep to function, so basically it is not a big deal and I always seem to catch up. 

But this trip, I had just finished a 15 hour haul from Sydney to Doha and it was midnight. The next flight was a short leg, 6 hours through the night, to land me in the morning in Budapest for a conference that was to start that day. An opportunity came up where I could be upgraded and this never really happens to me. I was so excited. Finally I would be able to experience lying down and sleeping. It was perfect timing. I would be fresh, ready to go to conference AND fulfil a dream I had had for a long time. They announced the boarding, I was internally busting with joy and anticipation. They boarded everyone and left business class till last. They were robbing me of minutes of this experience. I only had 6 hours …”come on, come on” my tired restless soul was saying. Then they finally called me and we were put on a separate minibus to be taken to the plane. There were only two of us. We drove to the other side of the tarmac, past the big planes, past the middle sized planes, past the smaller planes, to come to a very small plane. It was our plane and immediately my heart sank into my stomach. As I walked up the gangplank I was greeted so happily by the attendants. I turned RIGHT to find that it was just a glorified chair, a bit bigger than the normal economy seats.

Well, I have to be honest and say I cried and cried and cried. The attendant was trying to help me with my bags as he could see that I was upset. Eventually he said he would give me some space as it looked like I needed it so he left me with a wine menu bigger than most restaurants and the food menu. Still, I could not stop crying. People were passing us to go to their economy seats in the next section and goodness knows what they thought. I could not stop crying. I was so disappointed, so deflated, so embarrassed. If they knew why I was crying, they would think I was pathetic and rightly so. 

The attendant approached me carefully and asked me if I wanted a hot towel. No thanks. Did I want a drink? No thanks. Have you looked at the menu? No thanks. We’ll serve it to you anytime you request? Can I get you anything? No thanks. Here’s your beautiful, fluffy, ‘purple’ blanket. I didn't want to eat, drink or be served. I WANTED A BED, and nothing else would suffice. 

It was clear he was not going to give up. He was doing all he could to make me happy. When I opened the menu, it was a 4 course meal. So I did what many girls like me do when they are upset, they eat it ALL.  At 1am in the morning, this was the last thing I needed, on so many levelsbut clearly I wasn’t going to sleep, so what else could I do? There didn’t seem to be a screen for movies, but I was crying too much to think about it anyway. And then the service began. They put a table cloth over my little table, put the little (cute) salt and
pepper shakers on one side, a basket of hot breads to choose from, a real knife and fork, the whole deal. Every time I finished my cup of tea, in a real cup, they filled it up, just the way I liked it, because they remembered and aimed to serve me very personally. The meals looked like a chef had prepared them and I just kept eating and CRYING.  I felt so sick after the meal that I still couldn't sleep or get comfortable. They asked when I wanted to be woken (as if I was going to sleep) for breakfast and then left me.

After a while I got up to peek into economy and saw that they all had screens and where watching movies. This can’t be right, why didn’t I have one? Then with a bit of exploring, through blurry eyes, I found there was a small screen in the arm of my chair. I couldn’t understand why the back of the chair in front was a blank floral design, but a big space. WHY wasn’t there a BIG screen there? There were only 7 movies to choose from. Through blood shot eyes I tried to watch something and it wasn’t long before the table cloth came out again and the full service breakfast began. I was so full of food, but I was still upset … so maybe an omelet with mushrooms and tomato would help.

I got off the plane first. I’ve never done that before. I was so worried they were going to ask me why I was so upset. I mean, what would I say? I got to customs first and walked right through and you’d think I’d be happy and see all these “firsts” … but I stood at the baggage claim still crying. Just when I felt like I had composed myself, I turned my phone on to see David’s (my husband) message “How was Business Class?” to which I fell apart again. 

I know this is ridiculous. I am ridiculous. I mean, who cries when being served a 5 star meal on a plane and being treated so well  … when all I wanted was a bed! How ungrateful I was. What was wrong with me?  There’s a saying that goes “you can't see the forest for the trees.” I was so caught up in what I wanted that I couldn't enjoy the things that were all around me. I work with people and kids all the time and get so frustrated at the things they simply can’t be happy for and instead hold onto the one thing they want and can’t have. Well, that was me! I couldn't believe how paralysed I was by my own selfish wants, that I just couldn't get past it. There are some things going on in my life that could justify my ridiculous response, but even so, it was still a case of being so blinded by “selfish” wants that I simply couldn't enjoy any of the experience at all. And that is a sad reality. This is not a good way to live. 

What did I learn from this experience, other than the fact that I am ridiculous, is that that there is no point trying to reason with someone while they are in this state, or trying to help them see how blessed they are. It will fall on deaf ears. I learned that the steward did the RIGHT thing. He didn't try to reason with me, but gave me space and kindness. I learned that self-reflection after the event is a good tool to get perspective and this is the place and time to learn from the experience. God made sure I learned that as on the plane trip home I walked past ALL the beds to get out of the plane from Economy class, and I was able to smile about it. I learned that even saying it out loud to someone helps you see the silliness of the situation and helps you begin to see the “forest for the trees”, so walking alone is never a good option. No one is perfect, there will always be something that happens when you least expect it and at times you will respond inappropriately. Forgive yourself quickly, but learn from it and make the changes necessary to move forward. If you don't you will miss the beautiful forest that awaits you. What are you missing out on? 

Thursday, 5 April 2018

The "Parent" Dance

In England, there is a famous “ritual” called the “Changing of
the guard”. It is a very clear signal of change. The old guard forms on the north side and the new guard forms on the south side, a royal salute signals the handing over of the old guard and the new guard. There is a sequence, everyone knows, there are no surprises, nothing unsure. The march is set and the change is clearly complete. It is full of intentionality, ceremony, celebration and pride. It is done with expertise, precision and it is very clear, the old guard is OFF and the new guard is ON.  People travel from all over the world to see it, but it is more than ceremony, it is fulfilling a very important job of protecting the monarchy of England. 

There are many times as a parent, that the duty is clear, the “march” is set out, the change is obvious. The times in life where your child starts school, moves from primary school to high school, when they can drive, from a legal perspective when they can drink alcohol, when they are legally able to go to a club, when they move from single to married. These are obvious signs of the “change”, the old has gone the new has come, things have changed. We (or maybe it is just me) like to live in the black and white zone … knowing what is right and wrong, what is a YES and NO, what has come and gone, where we stand, basically on everything. It is so much easier. 

And YET… parenting is more often than not, a DANCE, rather than the “Changing of the guard.” I can just see the comical portrayal of what the “Changing of the Guard” would look like as a dance; a back and forward, teetering from ‘yes’ to ‘no’ to ‘yes’ to ‘maybe’ to ‘are you sure’ to ‘YES’ to ‘rack off’ to ‘if I have to” to “no.” I probably lost most of you then, but that is the dance that goes on in my head as a parent of teenagers learning to become adults. 

The challenging, yet never boring “dance” of a parent who longs to walk alongside their child, empowering them to become an adult and yet never quite knowing which step to take at times, to lead them towards the end goal.  Never quite knowing when we are leading or following, coming or going, listening or speaking, stepping up or stepping out, and at any time a quick “change step” must happen, which often takes you by surprise.

I wonder what that looks like in your world?   For my world, it’s the time where she wants her independence shopping, until she wants me to go to the toilet with her, or when she wants me to pay for something. It’s the time when he wants to stay out late as long as he wants, until he needs a lift home and we are to drop everything and go and get him. The time when she can drive and have independence until she crashes and needs saving to get back on her feet again. The time where he moves out, until he gets stuck and needs to save more money so he wants to come back home. The time when you can’t touch her or say anything, until she snuggles into you or wants you to say she looks great, and you clearly didn't get the memo. We have all been there. Oh, the dance we dance, when “no” is not always “no” and “yes” is not always “yes” and more importantly when “no” is actually “yes”.

I have recently had the privilege of being intricately involved in the last week of a young woman getting married, the last night in the house before moving into her new house with her new husband, the many preparations of the ‘changing of the guard”, from single to married. And while the changes are clear, the ceremony is well rehearsed, there is pride, celebration and joy, yet it is not without the ‘dance’. It is an interesting place as a parent to say goodbye to your child to marriage, to understand that the rules have changed and to navigate the dance well.  I have watched this family up close. It has been a privileged and a blessing to get this glimpse, before I will dance this particular dance myself in the future. 

That last night in the house, the final signals that a change is about to happen, the joy and sadness all mixed in together. The look of confidence on the new bride as she has everything organised and ready, until one thing goes wrong and she looks at her mum with eyes that say “fix it”. The beauty of dad walking (marching) his little girl down the aisle to the new man in her life and the words she utters beforehand - “don't look at me and I won’t look at you” - for they know they will both be crying with deep emotions that will distract them from this moment. That first dance, as a new bride and groom, which signals the last dance for Daddy to dance with his little girl. Of course, she will always be his little girl, but on this day some things have defiantly changed. Even on this day, where the “changing of the guard” is clear, it’s still a “parent’s dance”, it is exhausting and not easy to do well. But when done well, like any dance, it is beautiful, graceful and a joy to watch.

For a parent, I am not sure if it ever stops. For me this dance has only begun in the last few years, so I am still learning how to navigate it well. But one thing I do know, it is worth it, learning to dance it well. The cost is too high, not to. I have seen too many times when relationships and connections are lost because parents could not dance the dance well. 

I think it helps to name it, talk about it and acknowledge the “dance”. It is a start anyway. It is great to learn and watch others who have gone before and know that even when we mess up the steps, we can still choose to dance again. While I have seen it first-hand recently, it has reminded me of how well my mother and father danced the dance and the strong foundation that has given me over the years. I am so thankful for them and what they have taught me. The challenge is to simply keep getting better at the dance, and that requires practice, practice and practice. So, stay in the dance and never give up. Your relationship with your children is worth it and the gift you give them is a strong foundation to dance their own dance in time.