memories, She Loves Magazine, women

Mum’s Accounting Quilt (a story about being all of who you are)

September 21, 2016
Accounting Quilt

When my mum finished secondary school, she had no idea what she wanted to do with her life. The school’s careers adviser apparently passed her an A-Z book of careers and told her to pick. She got as far as Ac – Accounting – and decided, I could do that.

In the UK in the 70s, not a lot of women were training to be accountants. Lectures were routinely 90% male so to say my mum was outnumbered is something of an understatement. I’ve always been proud that she chose that path, that she had the courage and belief in herself to walk into a hall where she stood out and say, I belong here. And then go on to be a successful business owner. Her drive and her leadership skills inspire me.

But perhaps my favourite story from those college years is one about a quilt.

Mum tells us that some lectures (like the ones on tax law) were information heavy and you spent the hour furiously scribbling notes. Others though, were less about note taking and more sitting and listening. My mum is not one for sitting still without something to do. If you put a blank notepad in front of her it will be full of doodles within ten minutes. She says it helps her to concentrate when her hands are busy.

And so she started bringing her quilting to class. Small bits of material from the dressmaking scraps of clothes my Granny was making at the time or old dresses of her own. One by one they were stitched into neat little hexagons ready to be sewn together once she got home that night…

 

It’s my mum’s birthday today (Happy Birthday!!) so it seems fitting that my monthly SheLoves post is a story about her, a story of one way she chose to embrace all of who she was, unapologetically. I’m telling it for her (coz even the strongest women need reminding of their worth) and also for you, for any woman who needs the reminder that you don’t have to quieten or hide any part of yourself in order to be acceptable.

We need you with all your beautiful contradictions, all your stereotype-defying qualities and interests, all your this-is-who-I-am boldness. Read the rest of the story over at She Loves Magazine.

 

memories

The space created by loss (a story of a tree)

September 20, 2016
The space created by loss

I took the kids back to my parent’s home last week, while Rasmus was away on a training course. They still live in the house I grew up in, in a small English countryside village. Our house was nearly new when we moved in, with a smallish garden, but it had an enormous horse chestnut tree towering over it, the tallest in the village. Every year it gave us a huge harvest of conkers, which we’d eagerly gather up from the garden every day. When we got older and that game was less fun, neighbouring children would instead come and knock on the back door and ask to come in and collect them. I have always loved conkers – they are the symbol of autumn arrived for me, their shiny chocolate skins glistening through the sharp green shells.

That tree was cut down this year. After a long life and ministry of bringing joy to conker-collecting children, it began to rot inside, and so became dangerous to the many people walking along the footpath under it’s branches and my parents had to sadly order its felling. My mum worked from home that morning and sent us photos as the workers brought it down. It felt like the end of an era. My bedroom overlooked the garden and was closest to the tree. For all the years of my childhood I could lie in bed and all I would see from the window was its branches – bare and frosty in the winter, covered in candle blossoms and large green leaves in the spring. I loved that tree.

Last week was our first trip back since the tree had come down, and I was a little nervous about seeing the garden without it. But as I pulled open the sliding back door and stepped out into the garden, the first thing I felt was a sense of space. Kaya and I walked around the laid out flowerbeds and stood on the little wooden bridge across the stream, and I felt like there was so much more light and air in the garden. Looking up, there was such a large expanse of sky.

The loss of the tree has also brought new blessings to that space. No more blossom in the spring and conkers in the autumn, but instead the morning sun floods every corner of the garden where once the branches kept it in shadow. I miss the sound of wind whisking the leaves into a spin, but I got to sit and watch the clouds pass overhead in the windy autumn sky.

Later we went to visit our neighbours. They are elderly now, and we always drop around unannounced, but the door is held wide, and the kettle is already boiling by the time we get or shoes off. Oskar fell asleep on their sofa while Kaya watered the tomatoes in their back garden and we caught up on our passing lives. As we were leaving, I was struck by the emptiness in front of me, seeing our own garden from a new angle and I commented on the loss. “Yes”, my kind neighbour replied, “It was sad to see it go. But look, now we can see that beautiful Sycamore over the road. I had never looked at it much before, but it has such a lovely shape.”

We stood and took in this new view, one containing both loss and gain. An old friend gone, a new one revealed.

I know very often I look back and mourn the loss of good things that have passed, seasons that have ended, relationships that have gradually shifted. Didn’t someone say the only constant in life is change? I know that to be true, but I’m not always good about learning how to accept and embrace those changes. The space on the ground and in the air where that tree once stood is reminding me to look for the new blessings that have space to grow and flourish.

dreaming, faith, quotes

On tentatively trusting my desires

September 2, 2016
"Maybe my worry that I'll miss what God is calling me to, has caused me to miss one of his clearest signs of direction: my own desires."

Around this time last year, as we were contemplating our upcoming move, I started doing something brave. I started telling a few people – family and close friends – about a desire I had, something I thought I would like to do in the not-too-distant future. It was something that had been simmering in me for a while, but it was easier to tell myself it wouldn’t work out. I’m not disciplined enough. It’s too expensive. It doesn’t fit in with my life. And who am I to do this anyway?

 

Like an owl you must fly in moonlight with an open eye,
And use your instinct as a guide, to navigate the way that lays before you,
You were born to, take the greatest flight.

Like a serpent and a dove, you will have wisdom born of love
And carry visions from above into the places no man dares to follow
– Josh Garrels, White Owl

 

Growing up in the evangelical church culture, there was this strange idea that God would call you to do something that you didn’t really want to do, and whether or not you did it would be the great test of your faithfulness. Simultaneously I was hearing that the truest test of faith was your willingness to give up the things you loved the most.

These preachers would call on the story of Moses to make their point, this man desperately seeking for excuses not to go back to Egypt, even as the bush burned in front of him, God’s voice speaking from it’s glowing centre. They’d call on Abraham, knife raised over his beloved son as the angel waits until the last second to stop him.

Something struck me as distorted in this message even back then, but still it stuck to me as I grew up. Anything I started wishing for too strongly would be met with the thought, Would you be willing to give it up for God? I learnt to doubt my own desires, to assume I would not receive them.

 

What you seek is seeking you. —Rumi

 

In her memoir, Leaving Church, Barbara Brown Taylor quotes Susan B. Anthony, saying, “I distrust those people who know so well what God wants them to do because I notice it always coincides with their own desires.”

It reminded me of something I once heard my uncle say of the students he taught at seminary, commenting on the surprising number who felt “called” to a ministry in California or Hawaii, and the relative few willing to head to less desirable locations. I laughed at the time, because I thought I’d felt it too, the pull towards the easier, or more beautiful, or more trendy option. I’ve heard it warned against so many times, and it’s one reason I have rarely allowed myself to truly go after the things I want, just in case it’s only my own selfish desires taking me there, just in case they draw me on a path away from God instead of towards God.

And yet Barbara Brown Taylor goes on to write, “I recognise the enormous energy in [our desires], which strikes me as something that God might be able to use.” She noticed that in the stories of the Bible, “their desires propelled them in ways that God could use.”

Maybe I’ve allowed the fear of going the wrong way to keep me from going the right way. Maybe my worry that I’ll miss what God is calling me to, has caused me to miss one of his clearest signs of direction: my own desires.

 

 

And then I became a mother. And suddenly there are these two little people dependent on me for everything.

It has been my biggest fear around this life transition – will I lose myself in motherhood? Is it too late now to do all the things I’ve wished to do? Should I have travelled more, risked more, tried more, accomplished more? Is all the hope of becoming the person I want to be over?

People tell me what a wonderful calling it is to be a mama. They’ve told me that I will find this new life so rewarding in ways I don’t expect. They’ve told me off for worrying that my life is over now. They’ve reminded me how long I wanted this, how many women want this and never get it for themselves.

I believe them. And yet I still frequently feel the panic rising. I adore our daughter and son. I will always do everything in my power to protect them and give them a full life. But my desires, those other dreams, they are no less strong, no less bright and hope-filled than they were before. I’m not ready to give them up yet.

 

So I’m taking a risk. It might not look that way to the people I mention it to, but I’m speaking out a desire in my heart and it feels dangerous and powerful.

Maybe it won’t work out exactly how I expect it to. Ok, probably it won’t, because life rarely does – it’s paths twist and turn in ways unexpected. But I’m hoping that by embracing my desires, digging into them, exploring their roots and winding histories, I might discover myself on exactly the right path, the one taking me further into an understanding of who I am and who my Creator is.

“Without vision, the people perish.”

So the proverb goes and I understand that now. Without dreams to chase, without desires to embrace, a cause to fight for, my life begins to feel faded and empty. Each day passes by in a blur of sameness.

I want to be on a path to somewhere. It doesn’t need to be a path of glory and riches and fame. In fact I’m hoping for something a little simpler, a little gentler, a path that includes growing tomatoes in the garden and going for coffees in the park cafe with dear friends. But I’m reclaiming some of the vision in my heart, without guilt, and daring to hope it will come to pass.