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 :-)

Saturday, May 21, 2016

A Blog Post For the Less Emotional

This post is for you if:

1)      When something sad or hurtful happens you may (or may not) feel sad or distressed for a short time, but it doesn't interrupt your life in a big way. (A massive loss may affect you more than this.)

2)      You make decisions based on what seems most logical, not based on how others may feel about your choice.

3)      You find it confusing when other people cry, or feel upset for a long time, over something that doesn’t seem like a big deal to you.

4)      You don’t think about how others feel about you (even the idea of other people feeling things about you may be too confusing and alien for your brain to process).

5)      You don’t know what to do when people are upset.

This post describes me perfectly; at least it describes how I used to be before I learnt about emotions! 

It’s not that I don’t feel anything.  I can feel fear, guilt and shame.  I regularly feel annoyed.  I don't often feel sad though.  And when I do, it's not a deep, pervasive sadness.  It's usually more that I feel a little unsettled.  I can't think of many times when I've felt hurt by people; if I do feel this way, it usually doesn't take much to talk myself out of it.

So, here are my tips to myself, and to anyone like me:

1)      Recognise that you don’t have to suffer the painful emotions that others do.  This is particularly true for overseas workers away from home.  (As much as I love and appreciate my extended family, I’ve never once looked at pictures on Facebook at Christmas time and felt sad that I wasn’t there.)

2)      Realise that statements such as ‘If you don’t cry when you read this book, you aren’t human’ weren’t written with you in mind.

3)     Some authors will have you believe that all women feel emotions strongly, act a certain way or most desire a particular thing.  Books with these claims were apparently written by people who haven’t interacted with a wide enough range of women.

4)      Be grateful for the abilities God has given you.  If you are the only non-emotional person in your group of friends, you can bring a unique perspective to a situation. (Some of my deepest friendships work so well because we are different from each other in the area of emotions, so help each other achieve balance in our thinking and feeling.)

5)      Recognise that other people’s emotions can be a massive force in their lives, even if you can’t understand why they are upset.

6)      You don’t have to understand people’s emotions in order to help them.

7)      Often the best thing you can do is just to listen. (You may later have the chance to help with the practical issues; but first listen.)

8)      Listening is not a waste of time.  It’s often extremely helpful for people to process their emotions by talking. 

9)      Good listening involves acknowledging or clarifying what people have said. Again, the feelings don’t have to make sense to you.  You can still say things like, “It sounds like you felt really sad.” or  “How are you feeling about it all right now?”.

10)  Be gracious when people don’t respond to your own issues in the way you would most like, or when people assume you feel something that you don’t.  For instance, I realised years ago that when someone said, “I’m sorry to hear your relative died”, it would have been better to have responded with “thanks” than with “It’s ok – she was old”. 

11)  If you have children, listen out for their feelings too.  When they come home from school bubbling over with a story of something that’s affected them, or are clearly distressed, take the time to listen to their perspective, letting them share how they feel without immediately jumping in with solutions.   

If you have any tips to add, I'd love to hear from you in the comments section!

Monday, May 16, 2016

Medical Stress

Of all the issues in life, it seems silly that my children's minor medical issues are what so often cause me the most stress. 

We are fortunate to have great doctors and nurses here where we live, and we are grateful to be free from serious medical problems, but I still stress about things like:

- Should I take my child to the clinic? 

- Do I assume it's a virus or might it be an infection that needs treatment?

- Is my child's asthma bad enough right now to need a doctor?

- Can I send them back to school yet?

It seems like all my desires and insecurities are battling together:

* My hatred of making decisions
* My (often hidden) desire for excitement and attention
* My fear of putting people out
* Not wanting to be seen as ridiculous
* Wanting to follow black-and-white rules
* My dislike of staying home with ill children

One thing I know is that I need to get over my fear of getting it wrong.  I have to remind myself regularly that I'm a human and am not all-knowing or all-wise.  It's good to be aware of all my motives, but sometimes I'll think it all through carefully and still get it wrong.  And that's ok.  And if ok with that, I'll spend less energy stressing about the little things.

Saturday, April 16, 2016

A Debt of Love

I've finally finished 'When People are Big and God is Small', by Edward T Welch.  Since my last blog post about this book I've come across another concept that really stood out to me:

In regard to loving others, Welch writes: 'we are in debt to our enemies, neighbours, and friends. No matter what they have done, and no matter how lopsided our giving to them is in contrast with theirs to us, we are in their debt.

Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for he who loves his fellow man has fulfilled the law. The commandments... are summed up in this one rule: “Love your neighbour as yourself.” (Rom. 13:8-9)'

I certainly don't normally think in terms of having a Debt of Love to those around me.  My normal thinking goes like this: If someone has done something kind for me, I feel that I owe them a favour in return.  And if I've helped someone else with something, I feel better about asking them for help. 

I think some of our expectations in these areas are cultural.  In Papua New Guinea, reciprocity (a word I can neither spell nor pronounce!) is a vital part of relationships.  Gifts go back and forth, with each gift affecting the balance of the relationship.

Although I know really that God calls me to love everyone, I find myself taking on a new perspective when I consider the idea of a Debt of Love.

It's vital to remember that love does not mean saying "yes" to everyone.  As Welch puts it, 'People-pleasers can mistake “niceness” for love. When they do, they will be prone to being manipulated by others, and burn-out is sure to follow.'

It didn't take long before the opportunity came along to put the above into practice.  I was recently asked to do a small task that I'm not enthusiastic about.  It's not that I don't have the time, or that the request is unreasonable.  It's not something that someone else could do instead either.  I know that instead of carrying out the job resentfully, I need to see this as an opportunity to love people who haven't done anything for me, but who I have an opportunity to bless.

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Stationery Stress

Believe it or not (and this will be especially hard to believe if you've been inside my house) but I actually enjoy sorting out cupboards. 

I don't get around to doing this sorting as often as I need to.  By the time I've done the more urgent tasks of picking things up off the floor and tidying up surfaces (if these jobs get completed at all), I've usually run out of time for the deeper organising.  I have started to schedule 'organising things' into my weekly schedule; it's one of many activities that I rarely get around to if I don't schedule it in advance.

I recognise that if I had better systems in place for storing items, I'd have to spend a lot less time picking things up from the floor and horizontal surfaces.  Now that the children are at an age where they can be helpful, this is particularly true.  They are getting good at 'pick up 15 items from the floor', but the activity would be even more successful if they knew where to store these items once they'd picked them up.

I don't seem to be a natural at figuring out good storage solutions.  Until yesterday most of my stationery items were stored in zip-up plastic bags in this box:

If a system is to work for me, then I need to be able to find and put away anything in a couple of seconds.  Obviously that wasn't working with the 'pile everything into one big box' method.  In fact, I discovered no fewer than eight rolls of tape hidden between bags in that box as well as numerous pens and pencils of all descriptions, and lids that don't match any of them.

Another difficulty is that there's no Office World around here.  I have been looking out for storage solutions though, and was happy to find a three-drawer storage box for sale second hand this week.

This is what the cupboard looks like now.  It's not beautiful, but I'm very excited that every member of the family should now be able to find and put away stationery items.  Note the 'spare lids' box; I've recently discovered how essential this is to keeping our felt/marker pen collection going!

Of course I won't really know how well this system is working until I take another picture in a month and see what it looks like then.  It surely has to be an improvement on the big-box-pile in any case!

A Success!

We have an Easter tradition of eating lunch with a family who are good friends of ours.  With last month's disaster fresh in my mind, I was keen to plan our part of the meal very carefully.
My plan wasn't written neatly, and by the end it had got too wet to read...but it worked!  We even ended up arriving for lunch 15 minutes early.  What a difference from previous years, when we arrived stressed, grumpy and late.

Saturday, March 5, 2016

Pizza-Making for the Organisationally Challenged

"Agh - the play starts in 25 minutes!" I exclaimed last night, between bites of pizzas. uslu
mehmetali uslu
mehmetali uslu
mehmetali uslu

It seemed like a simple plan: A kind friend was coming to babysit the girls while the rest of us went to the high school play; I'd planned a simple meal for us all to eat before the play started.

I had been able to buy ready-made bases and sauce (woohoo) so all I had to do was throw on some toppings and cheese, put it in the oven, and then cut up some salad to go with it. 

This is what really happened:

Although I came up with a time that I planned for us to eat, I didn't fully consider how long it would take to find and chop up the toppings and grate the cheese.

I also didn't think that I might not have enough time, while the pizza cooked, to chop up the salad and clear and lay the table. 

I gave no consideration at all to the 'putting everything away' aspect that would ideally have happened between finishing the meal and leaving the house.

I didn't stop to consider the importance of having the meal on the table at the specified time, given that we had to be somewhere by 7pm.

I also didn't think about all the small jobs that needed to be done before we could leave the house, many of which could have been done earlier in the afternoon.

We did make it to the play on time, but not without stress and panic on my part!  The hour before leaving for the play certainly wasn't a relaxing one, or one in which I had time to focus on the friend who had joined us for dinner.

I considered the contrast between this stressful evening and other recent evenings when we've had friends over for dinner.   When we've had families over for dinner in the last few months I've been careful to plan out my time so that things would run smoothly.   I've actually come away from the evening feeling happy and relaxed about how well everything came together. 

The more simple the event I'm working towards, the less likely I am to plan out my time carefully.  And the greater the potential for disaster!

Planning out my time properly is important in so many situations.  I'm slowly learning that.

Last time we were in the UK, I remember how difficult it was to get the children out of the house and into the car.  There were bags to be packed, socks to find, shoes to be put on, nappies to be changed, hair to be brushed.  The list seemed endless.  

Again, I found that I had to plan carefully and be realistic about how long everything would take, even for a trip of an hour or two, or I'd find myself running terribly late. 

The older I get, the more I learn about myself.  It's all useful stuff!

Saturday, February 20, 2016

You won't find me on the Great British Bake Off

On two occasions I tried making cookies from scratch.  The first time, I pushed them too far into the oven and watched them burn in the fire at the bottom.  The second time, I think something went wrong when I mixed the butter and sugar together; in any case, they didn't work.
I think I may be the only expatriate woman around here who doesn't bake.  Though I certainly appreciate my friends who do :-).  Other than the doughnuts which we eagerly buy at market each week, there is no opportunity to purchase cakes around here.
I have a couple of exceptions to my 'no baking' way of life:
A) I sometimes make 100% wholemeal bread rolls with the help of my breadmaker (which I think I may have broken last week...).  We can't buy nice-tasting bread here and packed-lunch options are limited, so it's very helpful to have bread rolls that my family will all eat.
B) If a member of my family has a birthday and I haven't managed to talk anyone else into making a cake for them, I will somehow get involved in that process.  Usually Andrew makes the cake, using a box mix with some interesting added ingredients, and I do the icing.
Yay for our dinosaur cake tin, which so far as been used three times.
This is why I don't bake:  

1) Baking is not fun for me.  I know at least some people enjoy it.  Many people apparently also enjoy other activities which require some degree of co-ordination and artistic interest; for example painting nails, putting on make-up or doing crafts.  Not me.
2) It takes me too long to find the ingredients in my cupboards.  This leads me to believe my time would be better spent tidying my cupboards (something I find more enjoyable and satisfying than baking anyway!)
3) If I took time to bake, I'd have to give up something else in my life.  I don't want to stop resting or working, and I certainly can't afford to give up tidying!
4) In the culture I grew up in, a store-bought biscuit (Americans: think Oreo...or even half an Oreo with no cream) was considered a perfectly adequate snack.  So it's hard for me to find the motivation to produce anything more extravagant for 'snack' purposes, knowing that I could just purchase a packet of Oreos (which thankfully are available here).  I'm finding there are a range of other snacks I can send to events such as school parties that don't involve baking.
5) If I attempt to bake, I end up with flour and sugar all over the place, as well as dirty pots and pans that I might not get around to washing very quickly. The number of ants, cockroaches and rats and are roaming in the vicinity, eagerly searching for food, make this particularly dangerous.

6) I already have to cook mostly from scratch, due to the limited availability of ingredients.  I don't feel the need to spend any extra time in the kitchen.

Green omelet anyone?  I don't think I'll be starting a food blog anytime soon!
So, baking can leave me 1) unhappy 2) frustrated  3) unfulfilled  4) unmotivated 5) overwhelmed with mess and 6) kitchened-out.  Rather than feeling that I should bake more, I can see now that the world (and particularly my household) is probably a happier place when I avoid it as much as possible!
Please don't think that I have a low opinion of baking overall, or of time spent baking.  I greatly appreciate the efforts of people who make the baked goods that I love to eat.  I know baking can be great way to love and bless other people.  Life would be a lot less exciting for me if I never got to eat homemade baked goods.
But that doesn't mean that I personally have to be involved!

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Seen by Others

How do others think and feel about me?  Does it matter? Do I need others to see me a certain way? Do I need God to have a good opinion of me? 

These are some of the questions that are coming up as I read through 'When People are Big and God is Small' by Edward Welch.  While I don't necessarily agree with everything Welch writes, it's certainly providing some great food for thought.  (Quotes in italics are from this book.) öztürk

I like to have the approval and acceptance of others; It feels great to be seen as special, capable and helpful and to be included by others. I like to know that what I'm doing is important and significant to God. I think most people want to know they are loved. 

I feel good, temporarily at least, when these desires are satisfied. 

I've seen God use the encouragement of others to give me direction for the future.  

I can love other people by speaking positive words into their lives. 

I think it can be helpful to let our loved ones know how much we appreciate it when they acknowledge or recognise us in positive ways.

But what about the times when these desires aren't fulfilled and we're left feeling bad?

Is the solution to make sure that these felt needs do get fulfilled, even if it means resorting to demanding, complaining, or manipulating?

 Is it possible that the pain we feel in these situations is more complex than we realise?  Could it be that our unquenchable thirst for love and approval stems from our own brokenness and from our doubts about who we really are?  Perhaps the compliments and affirmations we so desperately seek will never be enough to fully satisfy us.

But what if let the difficult, sometimes agonising, feelings of not being loved or accepted direct us to pursue the truth about who we really are and what we really need?

Here are some questions that I've been considering as I read about unfulfilled emotional desires:

-Do I need to grow in my Fear of the Lord, and 'remember that these people who control you are harmless kittens when compared to the Lion of Judah'? I was greatly helped by Welch's chapters on the fear of the Lord; it's a topic I've mostly glossed over before.

-Am I fully believing who I am in Christ? 

-How aware am I of God's unfathomable love? Am I delighting in the God who fills me (which is the subject of Welch's 10th chapter)?

-Do I know what it means for God to cover my shame?

-Do I know that I'm accepted by God?

-Is the strength of my unmet desire exacerbated by hormones or by a lack of sleep? In these cases, I find it helpful to remember that the feelings are temporary.

-Have I lost sight of some of my deepest needs: To bring glory to God; to love him and love others? Here is something I've discovered in various relationships: If I move my focus away from what I want from my friend, and onto how I can love that person in the way that's best for them, I've been able to maintain a much more happy and healthy perspective.

I certainly don't see any simple answers when it comes to handling these emotional desires.   Things can get particularly messy when issues from the present and wounds from the past bring extra pain and complexity.

I'm also not saying we should allow people to hurl negative messages at us (I'm remembering what I learnt about 'Debunking the Myth of Forgive-and-Forget').

Sometimes we do need to avoid certain unhealthy situations: Perhaps permanently; perhaps until the situation changes; perhaps until we have reached a healthier point in our ability to deal with it.

It's not simple, figuring out how to deal with those feelings that lead us to believe we need to be more loved, more understood, more approved of, more significant etc. I still don't know exactly what I think about it all. But as I notice strong unfulfilled desires within me, I want to react in a way that draws me further into loving and fearing God, loving his people and bringing glory to him.

 Thoughts, comments, and challenges are welcome in the comments section!

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Dressing an Overseas Worker

Do you have a clothing style?  I think my criteria for buying clothes has always been something like 'If it's cheap enough, and isn't too long for my short body, or too short for my comfort, and doesn't need to be matched carefully with other clothing items, then it will do'.

That worked fine when I lived in the UK and had clothes shops within walking distance of my house.  If I was buying clothes that had been designed in the last decade, and if they met the criteria above, then I couldn't go too far wrong.  I was never a fashion queen, but I had clothes that I felt comfortable in.

Skip forward to now.  With very few exceptions, everything in my wardrobe was either

a) Given to me (thanks Mum and Mom!)

b) Bought for a couple of pounds second hand (either from colleagues or at a second hand store)

c) Purchased more than 10 years ago

The result ends up looking something like this:
Photo by T Bunnow
This photo was taken while I was playing the part of someone who sang very badly, so it probably was fitting that my clothes didn't look too great either. 

The truth is though that it had been one of those evenings when I was rushing to feed everyone, to get the children ready for bed, and to go and pick up the babysitter, so I had just grabbed something typical from my wardrobe.
I also don't usually carry soft toys around with me.
The skirt in the photo was passed on to me about ten years ago by a colleague who found it in a second hand store here.  It was a great skirt...ten years ago.
So, what are the challenges I face, as an overseas workers trying to clothe myself?
1) There are no clothes stores that I can easily get myself to.  The only clothes stores within easy travelling distance are second hand stores.  But unless someone offers to take me to one, I'm just too unmotivated to try to find a ride there or to travel with someone else on local public transport, especially with the added pressure of having to be back by lunchtime for the children.
2) The cost.  Yes, our budget is set up so that we can afford to buy clothes.  However, I just can't seem to bring myself (even when I do have the rare opportunity to do so) to spend money on full price clothes, knowing that there are others ways to get clothes for a small fraction of the cost.  I'm not saying this is a sensible or rational thing, but I do find it really hard!
3) The local culture.  If I look at the local women, there's a whole range of dress styles.   Not so long ago it was much rarer for women here to wear trousers: the tops of the legs are the area where most modesty is required.  Many women, especially those who are older than me, wear long, loose skirts and blouses.
However things are changing fast, and I've noticed that many women working on the centre here now wear closer fitting outfits, including trousers. 
So if I wear longer, looser clothes I'm fitting in with some people here, but will look very baggy compared to others.
4) Losing awareness of what's normal back home.  I remember, years ago, meeting a young person who had grown up overseas.  She was wearing something that looked totally out of place to me, and was fine with that.  At the time I couldn't understand it.  But now I totally get it. 
I don't often see people dressed in the most recent fashions, and I'm seeing other overseas workers dressed more modestly than they would back home, so I wouldn't recognise a 'normal' look if I saw it.
When I'm on home leave, I'm sure I must look like I've stepped out of a time machine.  Especially because the winter clothes I bought last century still keep appearing; I don't wear them often enough to wear them out.
It's true that I don't generally care too much how I look.  Overall I see this as a good thing; it's not as if I need anything extra to obsess about. 
Most of my life I go around not really noticing what I see.  I might have a long conversation with someone; but if you asked me later what they were wearing I wouldn't have a clue. 
In theory I think it's good to contribute beauty to the world.  But in reality, I choose to concentrate on other things.  So I'm not usually too motivated to do anything about the clothing situation.
Recently I have been starting to think a little more about how I dress.  After 10 years of wearing skirts, I find myself wanting to abandon them for the jeans that I wore constantly, outside of work, in my previous life  (What's not to love about jeans: they go with anything. No thinking required!).  And I realise that with the changing times, this is probably fine here (at least depending on the jeans, and depending on what top I wear with it).

I get to spend a couple of days in Australia soon, so I'm challenging myself to look for a new pair of trousers to buy!
It's been bothering me more lately when I wear baggy clothes that I know I don't look good in at all.
Last week I went through my wardrobe and gave away all the clothes that I don't like to wear.  The item that was hardest to let go of?  The skirt from the photo above. 

Saturday, January 9, 2016

Seeking God

'Seek God' is a phrase that has been in my reading and my thoughts a lot lately.

I want to follow King David's instructions:

"Now devote your heart and soul to seeking the LORD your God." (1 Chronicles 22:19)

I'm still figuring out what it means to truly Seek God. 

One thing I quickly worked out is that if I'm Seeking God, I can't hold on tight to my own agenda.  If I'm seeking His Kingdom then I want God, not me, to be King of my life.

Most of the time I find myself seeking to fulfil my own desires.  My desires might involve helping others; but they are usually more about wanting to feel good about myself than they are about bringing glory to God.   Many of the things I want in life aren't wrong.  But when I seek these things more than I seek God, then there's a problem.

*I know it's important to pay attention to my feelings (for instance, it's usually my feelings that let me know when I've been overdoing things).  But my feelings are not my king; God is.  Obeying him matters more than doing what I think will make me feel good.
     When I'm Seeking God, I'll stop and consider what I really need to be doing, rather than automatically doing what my feelings suggest is most important.

*When I see someone who is struggling I want to help them, perhaps even try to fix them. 
     When I'm Seeking God I'll first bring my concerns to him.  I'll be happy, not uncomfortable, if God brings healing in a way that doesn't involve my own practical involvement.

*I have dreams for the future of how I might serve God.
     When I'm Seeking God, I'll trust and wait on his timing, rather than forging ahead immediately with my own ideas.

*There are people I'd like to know better.

        When I'm Seeking God, I'll let him bring people into my life in the way he chooses.  I'll offer my friendship, but without forcing my own agenda.

*I like interesting challenges; I like solving problems; I like talking about different situations and scenarios.  But my life also involves non-exciting challenges, and less stimulating conversations.  Life involves wiping the table, and cleaning children's teeth and listening to stories of what has been achieved on computer games. 
     When I'm Seeking God, rather than my own desires, I'll willingly wipe, clean and listen at the times I need to, rather than let myself get distracted by more stimulating communication.  (And even as I was typing that, I initially ignored my preschooler who had come to me in tears wanting attention after being hurt!)

So do not worry, saying, “What shall we eat?” or “What shall we drink?” or “What shall we wear?”  For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them.  But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.
  (Matthew 6:33)

The food, drink and clothes mentioned above are essential to life on earth.  Most of the things I get worked up about are not things that I need, but rather things that I want.  I think the solution is probably the same though: Seek His kingdom and His righteousness, and let God bless me in the way He chooses.

Obviously Seeking God isn't a formula for getting what I want.  However, in my own life I've been delighted to see that many times when I've surrendered a desire to him, he's fulfilled it in wonderful ways that I never even hoped for.  Sometimes what I seek does turn out to be what God wants; but how much better it is to let him do it his way and in his timing than to rely completely on my own solution.

When frustration sinks in during daily life and I'm tempted to dwell on my own desires, I've been gently telling myself, "Seek Him".