faith, moments

Rest is the place we begin – learning a new rhythm for living

February 20, 2017
rest is not something to be earned. Self-care is not something we're only allowed once we have crossed a certain number of things off the to-do list. Rest is the place we begin. - Fiona Lynne Koefoed-Jespersen

We live in a terraced house that backs onto a railway line. Trains come by every 5-10 minutes depending on the time of day, a fact that my young son adores. The tracks are the same height as our bedroom windows, and the embankment up to the tracks is covered in thick overgrown shrubbery and gnarled trees, which is perfect urban wildlife habitat.

The foxes have been appearing daily over the last couple of weeks. In the first year we have lived here, I’d only spot one maybe once a month, so it’s quite a change. We’ll be sitting at the kitchen table having lunch when Oskar will squeal excitedly, or Kaya will glance up from her play on the living room floor and say, “Oh, a fox!”.

There are two of them. One is almost silver, just her head still showing rusty red. She’s small and thin and cautious, stopping frequently to survey the landscape around her before trotting quickly on to the next spot. She runs along the train tracks, down through the shrubbery and then we’ll spot her jumping into a neighbour’s garden.

The other one is larger, and such a bright bronze that she took my breath away the first time I saw her. Her tail is bushy, her ears jet black. She’s the kind of fox that defies all stereotypes of her urban companions. I’ve only seen her a few times.

A couple of weeks ago I was in the kitchen alone when I saw her wander along the wall at the back of the gardens towards us. When she reached our garden she hopped onto the roof of the shed and sat down. Her eyes were half closed in the bright winter sunshine and she looked entirely at peace. I stood at the sink watching her until she flopped down to sleep on the warm roof, head on her paws.

It felt like a really intimate moment. Maybe that sounds weird, but I felt like I was intruding on her personal rest time, so I took myself away from the window and left her there to enjoy the warmth of the sun.

Her presence spoke to me though. I am bad at resting. I have a suspicion it might actually be our whole culture that is bad at resting, but I have noticed it in my own life this past year. Mothering a baby and a toddler is intense work, but it is also so hard to just switch off. As soon as they are napping or asleep, I am tackling my long list of things to get done to keep our lives ticking over – call the insurance company, hang up the laundry, put in a groceries order, write that birthday card that should have been sent last week, book the rental car for the holiday.

I always think, oh I’ll just get a few things done and then I will feel better about stopping, more entitled to a real rest.

But rest is not something to be earned. Self-care is not something we’re only allowed once we have crossed a certain number of things off the to-do list. Rest is the place we begin. 

My spiritual director has been trying to get this through to me for a while. She’s probably inwardly sighing in frustration at me in every session, but she’s ever patient when she reminds me again that we work out of our rest, that Adam and Eve were created on day six, meaning their first full day of life was day seven – the Sabbath day of rest.

It’s completely counter-cultural, this call and command to rest. Of course, there’s no off button to being a mother, especially when you have tinies. When they’re sleeping, you always have one ear on them, you never entirely switch off. Maybe you have a really intense job, you work long hours, or you volunteer in your spare time, you have an ageing parent to care for or a church ministry that believes your time and energy is infinite (have you noticed churches can be the absolute worst at this?).

But I do have moments I could stop and rest, and the great temptation is to just keep going in those moments, to embrace martyrdom and the lie that I am only worth as much as I have crossed off that list. Or to lose that rest time down the dark deep hole of social media and Netflix. I’m all for a few episodes of Big Bang Theory to help you flick the internal off-button (belly laughing to Sheldon is hugely rejuvenating) but when every night of the week ends that way, I finish the week feeling like I haven’t truly rested. And social media is pretty much the opposite of restful.

If I’m honest, I often feel guilty for resting. It’s so hard to break the lie that rest is something to be earned and I have not yet earned it. And so I come back to the fox, taking her moment to simply lie down and enjoy the warmth of the sun on a cold winter’s day. I watched her, and it was as if her enjoyment was just spilling out from her to me. I could sense it so powerfully.

I am a better mother when I rest. I am a better wife. I am a better writer and friend and neighbour. Because rest doesn’t just refresh my mind and body; it refreshes my soul by reminding me I am more than the sum of my accomplishments. I am enough, I have enough, there will be enough. It’s a statement of trust in the Creator who teaches us to rest before working.

expat, new horizons

8 ways to flourish as you re-entry from expat life

February 6, 2017
8 ways to flourish as you re-entry from expat life

It’s been eighteen months already since we moved from Luxembourg to the UK. When we moved here, it had been eight years since I left as a fresh-faced graduate, and I came home with a foreign husband, a toddler, and a baby quickly expanding inside me. There were a lot of things to adjust to, some specific to our situation, but many I am sure are common to the experience of re-entry, of going home after a period of time as an expat.

(A quick note about language. Expat is definitely a label of privilege – we apply it generally to white, wealthy Westerners who move abroad to live and work for a period of time, but generally don’t expect to settle indefinitely. Actually, we’re all immigrants – temporary maybe, and usually arriving with a huge amount of privilege relative to the local population, but immigrants all the same. It’s a sign of the times that we like to disassociate ourselves from that label. There are so many ways that is problematic, but for now let me sneakily side-step that discussion and focus on the coming home experience of us privileged white Westerners…)

I have some friends in the leaving process now, and others who have recently left. It got me thinking back to my coming-home experience and both the good and the hard of that. I’ve put together some of the tips that got me through that period. Maybe they might be helpful for you or someone you know.

 

1. Be kind to yourself. You will likely swing between many different emotional states – euphoria, boredom, frustration, relief, loneliness, excitement, grief. It’s normal and it’s ok. Lean into whatever you are experiencing, and try to be gentle with yourself. The adjustment may take longer than you are expecting, and that’s ok too. Plan in moments of self-care in each day. Journal through the transition if you find that helpful; connect with other expats who have come home and share your experience; or just take a long hot bath with a glass of wine and a good book. Whatever you need.

2. Recognise that you have CHANGED. You are not the same person who left your home country. Your cross-cultural experience – whether you were the only non-local in town, or mostly existed in an expat bubble – will have stretched you and impacted you. Other people back home won’t always understand this, and may even expect you to be exactly the same as when you left. You might find yourself disappointing people because you’re different than they remember or expected. Don’t be tempted to hide this new you – celebrate it! Bring your whole self home with you and be authentically and unapologetically you. (This post about being a triangle is a helpful concept).

3. Recognise that home will have changed. Life has moved on while you were gone, and that is totally normal. You will need to spend some time figuring out where you belong and how to relate to the people you left behind. Try not to see this as a negative thing, but instead as an opportunity for new and fresh relationships and activities. It can often be up to you to do the work of re-finding your place. Have the same attitude as when you moved overseas – be ready to explore, see it as an adventure, and put in the effort to make it work.

4. Spend some time re-nesting. Yes, I mean making your new/old living quarters feel like “home” again – put up those pictures, get out all the possessions which make you feel like yourself (the guitar, the knitting supplies, the Le Creuset pans, all the books), unpack those last boxes as if your life depends on it. There will be a period of resettling in to your friendships and community, and that can feel destabilising. Let your home be a safe place of rest during that period. And make it ready to invite people in!

5. Re-enter your home neighbourhood with new eyes. Make new memories, explore your home city/neighbourhood as if it was a new destination. Even if you are heartbroken to have left your expat life, there are good things back home too. Find them. Remember them. Don’t deny the things you are missing from your expat life, but also be on the look out for the gifts that are here. At the same time, be ready for some degree of reverse culture-shock. Things that were normal to you before you left may now feel weird, awkward or even plain wrong. That can be a gift too, if you are willing to accept it as one.

6. Spend some intentional time reconnecting. Loneliness is a real danger when you return home. After the initial excitement of having you home, everyone goes back to their regular routines and it may seem like there isn’t space for you. Seek out your old friends and spend some quality time rebuilding relationships that might have scraped by on facebook updates and the occasional skype the last few years. Remember that their lives have moved on too. Try not to be offended by this, but instead celebrate all that has happened for them, and be intentional about being there for them again (and don’t freak out when some relationships don’t rekindle – there will be shifts and changes and new friendships).

7. Be honest about your needs. Probably, most of your family and friends have not had the same cross-cultural living experience that you have had. They may not understand the muddle of emotions you are experiencing right now. Be as open as you can be about your needs – are there practical and administration tasks that you’ve forgotten how to do here? Do you need help finding work/childcare/church? Do you need friends? Say so. I started saying it to anyone I met – at the library, at the coffee shop: “I just moved here. I know no one. I’m looking for friends!” It surprised people but I also made some great connections that way.

8. Think through the values, traditions and practices from your host culture that you want to hold on to and plan a way to do that. This is how we become better people, by purposefully learning from the people and traditions we come into contact with, from the experiences we have, and letting them impact us for the better. Also, this can be a beautiful way to introduce people at home to some of your life the past few years – host a cultural night where you can tell some of your stories.

 

What have I missed? What is your best piece of advice for people returning home after living in another country? And was your experience of re-entry easier or harder than you had imagined? I would love to hear!

faith, moments

What’s saving my life right now

February 2, 2017
What's Saving my life right now?

It’s one of my favourite questions to ask, ever since I read Barbara Brown Taylor’s amazing book An Altar in the World, which is one that I reach for at least once a month. She writes how, when invited as a guest preacher once, she asked what she should speak on and was told, Come tell us what is saving your life right now. It’s that implicit understanding that salvation is so much more than a ticket to heaven, that God speaks to us in the ordinary and the mundane; that God’s gifts to us might be a hot cup of coffee, a serendipitous meeting, an unexpected change of plans.

I discovered a poem by Mary Karr recently. It’s called ‘The Voice of God’, and she writes,

The voice of God does not pander,
offers no five year plan, no long-term
solution, nary an edict. It is small & fond & local.

And maybe that’s the first thing that’s saving me right now: poetry. It speaks to things that logic and prose struggle to form words around, and so poems are becoming good friends. Last month I discovered Jackie Kay and her beautiful collection Fiere, with its Scottish-Nigerian songs and stories. And just last week I stumbled over a poem called ‘We have come to be danced‘  by Jewel Mathieson, which took my breath away.

The knowledge that it is Imbolc tomorrow, which means we’re one step closer to spring coming, is saving me. It’s been a few years now that I have been quietly marking the dates on the Celtic wheel of the year (the solstices, equinoxes, and some of the cross quarter holidays like Imbolc) and I really love the rhythm it gives my year, the awareness of the seasons moving, and all the ways that I can live in step and inspired by those changes. Imbolc means “a stirring in the belly” and is a reminder that the earth is warming up again, that seeds are busy doing their thing under the ground, animals are starting the next cycle of life. And so there’s a question for me too – what seeds do I want to be sowing in this season? What might God want to bring to life in me right now?

Tuesday evenings are saving me. On Tuesdays, Rasmus arrives home early from work to put the kids to bed, and I hurry out the door while they’re tucking into their tea. I walk out with just a small bag – no nappies and snacks and bottles and changes of clothes just in case – and I get on a train that is headed for the City. I fight the commuters headed home for pavement space until I reach a small side street surrounded by tall glass buildings, and I push open the door to a church vestry. There, once a week, I gather with seventeen other people to learn what it means to be formed as a Spiritual Director. It feels like a gift and an honour every time I walk through that door.

London is saving me. Does that sound strange? I love raising my children here. I love flicking back through photos from the last month and seeing them full of museums and parks and canals and libraries and urban farms and overgrown cemeteries. Especially in the dregs of winter, it is incredible to have so much right on our doorstep to keep us interested.

 

I’m linking up with Modern Mrs Darcy. She hosts this link up once a year and I was grateful today for the chance to sit and think on it. What is saving your life right now?