Sunday, September 10, 2017

Living In The UK: Things I Love

It was great to spend five months back in the UK this Spring.  Here are some of my favourite things:

1) Seeing the friends and family who live there.  I might get in trouble if I didn't put this as number one; but it really does come first for me!

2) Complete strangers understand my accent and vocabulary.

3) Being anonymous when I go out in public.

4) Almost anything I need is within walking distance.

5) Being able to walk to the shops at 10.30pm.

6) I can buy pasta for 30p, baked beans for 25p and crisps for 7p; I even found some 17p toothpaste reduced to 3p!

7) Meat comes with instructions for how long to cook it.

8) I can travel alone to places I've never been to before (yes, I realise this one may sound strange).

9) I can catch a train to almost any place I'd want to go (unfortunately it costs more than 30p though).

10) We live next door to a library.

11) We live opposite a fish and chip shop.

12) Our church has a fantastic children's programme during the service.

13) I don't have to cook from scratch.

14) Hearing my children speaking more like me :-)

15) English villages are beautiful.

16) Clean tap water.

17) It's never too hot or too cold to go outside (though I may have contested this back in March, when I was quickly reminded what 'cold' feels like).

18) Free medical care.

19) Fresh milk.

20) The enthusiastic welcome of friends, family, small groups and churches.

21) The Puzzling Place Museum.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

You Know You're Still Adjusting When...

We've been back in the UK for over a month now.  Most of the time it feels completely normal to be here.  But now and again there are sudden reminders that I've been away for a long time.

You know you're still adjusting to British culture when...

1) ...the traffic lights are flashing amber but you can't remember what that means.

2) proudly enter your PIN correctly at the ATM but forget to collect your cash.

3) ...every time you see people doing something sterotypically British, you get excited and point out the activity to the people standing around you.

4) are impressed when the preacher uses the British pronunciation of the name 'Isaiah'.

5) choose your clothes for the day assuming that today's weather will be roughly similar to yesterday's.  You spend the rest of the day feeling too hot or too cold

6) find yourself asking a friend where the end of the queue is because you can't remember what the rules are (and you congratulate yourself that you remembered to use the word 'queue' at all).

7) fight the urge to greet people in town with, "Good morning!" and to offer strangers a lift in your car.

8) don't know what normal clothes look like: When you ask your spouse what the brown stretchy item is that you've just found on the carpet, you are informed that it's your sock.

9) correct yourself after using words from a different dialect of English.

10) still forget to take bags to the shop to put your shopping into.

11) feel slightly awkward after using 'home' to describe the country you've been living in.

12) ...your children still don't understand the point of socks and so never wear them.

Saturday, November 5, 2016

I Hate to Wait!

We now have tickets for our furlough travels next year.  Now that they are in hand I'm wondering why the process of purchasing them was so excruciating for me! 

It took seven weeks from sending my initial email of enquiry until the day the tickets arrived in my inbox.  For someone who hates to wait, that's a long time!  (If you're wondering why it took so long, it's partly that there are many factors to consider when visiting people on three different continents, and when paying for the tickets involves three different currencies.)

Of all the painful and stressful events in the world, why was I letting the small issue of waiting for plane tickets become such a big factor in my life?  Why do I find waiting so hard anyway?  I know that my inattentive/impulsive tendencies are a factor but what is it specifically that makes waiting such a big deal for me?

© User:Lokshen3ace / Wikimedia Commons / CC-BY-SA-3.0

I don't know if I got them all, but I sat and listed the things that can make waiting so difficult:

*Fear that something will 'run out'.  This could be cheaper tickets, or the time I have left before I have to be somewhere.

*Fear that the thing I'm waiting for will never happen.  This fear is often irrational: the chance that a bus will never come, or that we'll never get tickets is pretty remote!

*Fear of something going wrong that will delay the waiting further.  In the case of the tickets, one fear was there would be a problem with the payment method.

*Annoyance because of wanting my time to be used more efficiently. 

In some cases I have no idea why I don't like waiting.  Even if I'm not feeling hungry, I impatiently wait for the trolley carrying meals on a plane to slowly trundle my way.  I don't know why it's stressful for me to sit waiting for an event to start even when I have friends to chat to, when it wouldn't be at all stressful to be talking to those same friends in a non-waiting situation.  Perhaps stopping to remind myself that it isn't actually a problem if I have to wait a bit longer will be helpful in future :-)

Early on in the process of buying the tickets, I read Paul Tripp's blog post about the good things that can come out of waiting.  I was challenged to deal with the difficulties of waiting in a more positive way.

Over those seven weeks of waiting, I discovered that the antidote to my hatred of waiting was Trust.  Over and over again I had to choose Trust:

I needed to Trust that God is our provider.

I needed to Trust God to work out the details, even if I made mistakes along the way.

I needed to Trust in God's timing.

Several times I surrendered the whole thing to Him, placing all the arrangements in his hands. 

And on various occasions I saw that leaving it with him yielded much better results.

As I was waiting for news that payment had gone through, I had a thought: What if it turned out to be better that things were taking so long?  What if we even managed to get cheaper tickets because of waiting to purchase them until a particular date?   That same afternoon, I got an email from the travel agent informing me about a new type of fare that had only just been released; I discovered we could save a substantial amount of money by choosing this new fare!

Yes, I really do need to Trust in God's timing!

The waiting for tickets is over but I know that as we make arrangements for our upcoming trip, and as we set off on numerous journeys, I'll have plenty of opportunities to put into practice the concept of waiting well. 

Saturday, October 15, 2016

What Do You Want From Your Friends?

Photo credit: Shannon Pifko

When do you feel most fulfilled or happy in your friendships?

Is it when you receive compliments from your friends, or when they help you solve a problem?  Perhaps you like to shop or watch a film with them, or hang out at the playground while your children play?  Do you just love a hug from your friends?  Are you most blessed when your friends help you in some way?  Do you enjoy receiving frequent text messages?

For me 'intense conversation' is what I love best.  It could be in person, by phone, by email, or messenger.  For me, there's nothing like a deep chat with a friend, probably discussing the issues in our lives.

It took me a long time to realise that this isn't the case for everyone!  Although I think most people enjoy spending time with their friends, I've eventually realised that not everyone gets the same joy from uninterrupted conversation that I do.  Not everyone values so highly each minute or sentence of one-on-one communication. 

I liked this blog post, which shows how Gary Chapman's 'Five love Languages' relate to friendship and gives examples of things that people with each preference would appreciate or would struggle with.  I found myself nodding in agreement to the 'avoids' in the 'quality time' section.  I struggle when planned times to talk with a friend are cancelled or changed into a different kind of event.  I can find it hard when I don't have opportunities to talk or communicate online to my close friends. 

So how do I respond to all this?  Do I demand that all my friends love me in the way I want to be loved? 

I hope not! 

One thing I've realised is that I can love my friends in ways that might not feel too special to me, and I can acknowledge the ways that they are trying to showing kindness to me. 

Instead of dwelling on how unfulfilled I am, I want my longings to spur me on to loving others in ways that's meaningful to them.   How can I encourage a friend who loves to hear positive words?  What can I do for a friend who appreciates receiving help?  Can I arrange a night-out for a group of friends who would enjoy wanting a film together? 

If I'm going to love others as I love myself, I'll sometimes need to choose activities that are more meaningful to the other people than they are to me.

It's helpful to recognise when a friend is showing love to me in her words or actions, even if it's not in a way I would choose.  I'm not a 'gifts' person.  I don't get too excited about receiving gifts unless it's something I really want.  But if a friend chooses to give me a present, it's good for me to stop and think about the love that is being shown to me, even if the actual act of receiving the gift isn't particularly thrilling. 

If I'm expecting my friends to always meet my felt needs, I'm going to be disappointed.  But if I'm willing to give and receive in ways that don't come naturally to me then my friendships will benefit.

Another things I've been considering is that it can be helpful at times to state my own preferences.  I can't just assume that my friends know what I like, as the things that seem so important to me might not seem like a big deal to my friends. 

Here's an example from years ago that's stuck with me:  I was taking a walk with a friend.  She asked if I'd be ok with stopping to talk to another friend.  I was polite and agreed.  But I ended up feeling very frustrated: I'd been expecting to be able to have a long chat with my friend, but it didn't happen.  (I got over it, realising that it had been my choice to agree to this!)   A while later we were out walking again.  My friend asked if I'd be happy to stop in on someone else.  I remembered the last time, and answered honestly (as my friend would want me to) that I would rather keep walking. 

I do seem to have an advantage, having a friendship preference that's easily instigated.  It's not too hard to say, 'Do you want to come over for a cup of tea?'; however, if my love language were 'words of affirmation', I couldn't really say, 'Please pay me a compliment now'.   But whatever we most value, we can let others know how much we appreciate these things, and not assume that they already know this.  I think there's a big difference between demanding things of our friends and loved ones, and of gently sharing information that they would find helpful as they seek to love us and deepen their relationships with us.

Although I am not responsible for the happiness of my friends, I do want to love others in a way that is helpful to them.   I also know that being aware of both my own preferences and those of my friends can help me to understand the dynamics of my relationships with others: this understanding can lead to more realistic expectations, and help me to express my own desires in a way that considers the preferences of others too.

Saturday, August 6, 2016

Why I'm not Ready for a Perfect Husband

I think every married woman has moments of wishing their spouse was different in some way; and of course praying for our husbands to become more like Jesus can only be a good thing. 

While I'm extremely grateful for a husband who loves me and our children and for a safe home environment, I realise there are definite advantages to having a husband who, like me, still has room for growth.

Because my husband is imperfect...

1) I am reminded that only God is the perfect Bridegroom, and that he offers never failing love.

2) I get lots of practice at dealing with my thoughts and emotions, something that is useful in all areas of life.

3) I am prompted to turn to God more often in prayer and see answers to
prayers I wouldn't otherwise have prayed.

4) I recognise that I need more than one person to encourage me, pray for me
and spur me on to love God and love others. My husband and I together do
not make up the whole body of Christ.

5) I have greater appreciation for the times when my husband loves me in a way that doesn't come naturally to him.

6) My children get to see the process of repentance and forgiveness

7) I am able to encourage and be encouraged by my friends who also have
imperfect husbands.

8) I'm not tempted to worship him instead of God.

9) I don't have to be the only one who gets things wrong.

10) My children will hopefully have realistic ideas about marriage, understanding that a successful marriage is not about two perfect people always agreeing about everything.

Saturday, July 2, 2016

Confronting my Idols

I don't think I'm in any danger of bowing down to golden calves, as people did in the time of Moses.  But there are certainly times when I choose to let things in my life push God away from being in first place.

I wanted to expand on some of the examples of my own idols that I wrote about in my last blog post:

*If I'm crushed after a conversation with someone because I wasn't affirmed by them, then to me that's a sign that I care too much what they think.  Their positive opinion of me matters more to me than anything else, and has become an idol. 

In this case, I find it helpful to stop and consider my priorities.  I try to shift my focus away from what this one person thinks of me, and onto better patterns of thinking:  How can I best love this person?  How am I doing at showing love to those whose opinions I'm not so concerned about?  Those are the things that I know are really important.

It can be helpful to remind myself, "What matters is that God is great; I don't have to be seen as great".   

(Perhaps different response are helpful to others, but this seems to be the best way for me to deal with those feelings)

*Sometimes my plans are my idols.  Whether it's staying in a location or a role that I love, taking part in a certain event, or even my family size.  When these desires more important to me than following God on the journey through life, wherever it might lead, my plans have become idols.

I know that I need to lay down my own plans, and be willing for them to change.  I need to have a trust in God and a hope for the future that isn't reliant on things going in the way I think they should, or am planning on.

*When 'wanting to be helpful' goes from being a healthy desire to being an unhealthy 'need', then I'll notice it in my feelings.  If losing an opportunity to help someone brings out extreme emotions in me, then I can tell that this desire to be helpful has become an idol for me.

I need to remind myself that God is the healer.  He may or may not choose to use me in the lives of others.  My desires for God to be glorified and for others to receive healing need to come before any longing I may have to be involved in the process.

*If I find myself unwilling to press 'send' on an email because of my fear of making a mistake, then I know that my desire to get things right has become too important to me. 

Things go better when I decide to trust God with the outcome, even if my obsessive fears are still trying to convince me that the world may fall apart as a result of my actions.

And as I listen to my emotions more, I'm sure I'll find further areas where a change of priorities is in order, and where calmer emotions often follow as a result of this change.

Horrible, Helpful Emotions

There are all sorts of views out there on emotions.  From 'Let your emotions be your guide' to 'Ignore your emotions and focus only on your thoughts', with a whole heap of other ideas in between.

I'm discovering a few things about myself, when it comes to working out what to do with my own emotions. 

As a mentioned last time, there are a lot of emotions that I don't feel deeply.

However, I've noticed that paying attention to difficult feelings can be extremely helpful: My feelings often are an indication that I need to straighten out my thinking, or make positive changes in my life.  At other times, feelings just are there, to be lived with until they fade.

My difficult emotions seem to fall roughly into three categories:

A) Feelings That Help Me Identify My Idols

By 'Idol' I mean anything, or anyone, who has become more important to me than God.  If I'm seeking after something or someone else at the expense of seeking after God, then I consider it an idol.

*If I'm crushed after a conversation with someone because I wasn't affirmed by them, then for me that's a sign that I care too much what they think.  Their positive opinion of me matters more to me than anything else, and has become an idol. 

*Sometimes my plans are my idols.  Whether it's staying in a location or a role that I love, taking part in a certain event, or even my family size.  When these desires more important to me than following God on the journey through life, wherever it might lead, my plans have become idols.

*When 'wanting to be helpful' goes from being a healthy desire to being an unhealthy 'need', then I'll notice it in my feelings.  If losing an opportunity to help someone brings out extreme emotions in me, then I can tell that this desire to be helpful has become an idol for me.

*If the thought of pressing 'send' on an email fills me with dread because of my fear of making a mistake, then I know that my desire to get things right has become too important to me.

(To stop this post from getting even longer, I started a new blog post to describe how I attempt to confront these idols!)

Please note: I'm not saying that every feeling is an indication of an unhealthy desire!!  Often, our emotions are just natural, healthy responses to things that are going on around or within us.  Which leads me on to:

B) Feelings That Are Normal Responses To Life Events:

*I remember when a close friend left on home assignment.  I found myself all tearful shortly afterwards and realised I must be feeling sad about the separation.  The tears were a healthy reaction (even if non-emotional-me did take a while to realise what was happening!).

*I feel sad when we say goodbye to our parents, knowing that they may not see their grandchildren again for a few years.

*Sometimes I feel sad and/or angry over an injustice.  I might even cry or weep.  This seems like a natural, healthy reaction to a undesirable situation.   This normal, healthy reaction can be helpful in leading me into positive action such as fervent prayer, or doing something practical about a situation.

*I might feel uncomfortable if I've just said 'no' to someone.  This feeling of discomfort can be the price we pay for making healthy decisions.  (Not that I always make the best decisions; but sometimes it's the wisest decisions that leave us feeling most uncomfortable!)

*There are times when I'll be in a bad mood for no discernible reason, or because of hormones.  It might be helpful to consider whether I can do anything to improve the issues (eg taking better care of my body).   But usually I just need to remind myself that it will pass, distract myself as much as possible, and try to focus on being kind with my words at a time when it isn't easy to do so!

The last category is for times when my feelings are important in telling me that something is wrong, and that change is needed in order for me to stay healthy:

 C) Feelings That Show Me I Need To Do Something Differently

*If I find myself flooded with negative emotions and thoughts, it can be a sign I need to get more sleep.  Of course I can't guarantee that I'll be able to sleep well, or that I won't be woken up in the night, but I can at least put myself to bed at a sensible time, and have an evening routine that is conducive to good sleep.

*Sometimes a difficult feeling (eg guilt, shame, jealousy) is because of an issue that still needs to be worked through, or needs to be worked through yet again. 

*Occasionally a situation just feels 'wrong'.  That doesn't necessarily mean we need to jump to immediate conclusions based on our feelings.  But if we ignore the feeling and don't stop to think (and perhaps talk) about what's actually going on, we may find ourselves sinking deeper into messy situations or relationships.

*Although many feelings are normal responses to difficult situations and just need to be felt, sometimes we get a bit stuck when dealing with them and need further help (eg from a friend, a professional or a book).

So to sum up, I try to deal with difficult emotions by asking myself:

1) Is there an idol in my life that I need to surrender?
2) Is this just a normal reaction to a difficult situation?
3) Is there something I need to do or work through differently?

These are great topics for me to bring up in prayer!

And this is real life, so the answer is likely to fall into more than one category :-)