What To Do When Life Is Hard

it sucks, but it's true.

It sucks, but it’s true.

Today, I got a message from a special friend of mine overseas whose three year old has just spent two days in hospital. Her little girl has some as yet undiagnosed cardiac and respiratory problem.

The day before, I got an email from another close friend who found a lump. We’re waiting for results.

This past week, another friend had to rush her husband to hospital at 3am after he inexplicably collapsed unconscious.

Last week, I sat with a friend whose marriage is on the brink of collapsing. They have two kids.

I must be honest, tonight I’m feeling a little overwhelmed. I don’t even really want to write about what I feel or think because compared to what these friends of mine are dealing with, it can only sound trite. My words feel pale. Pale and weak.

Isn’t that so often what we feel when open up that message, or sit across that table from someone in pain? Maybe we say,

“I don’t know what to say.”

Maybe we don’t say anything.

This evening as I caught up with my mom after her trip away, I was telling her about these friends. I said to her, “You’re probably used this by now, Mom. These hard, horrible things that just seem to happen all at once, to such good people.”

And this is what my mother said…

“I’ve learnt to accept it. I’ve learned that it is inevitable. That pain and hardship is inevitable. I’ve just come to peace with the fact that we are each going to suffer in some way. But if you can get through it, if you can manage to get through, you realise that it’s because of this suffering that we grow. It’s because of this pain that we mature. And when it’s over, you never forget the people who cried with you. You remember the text messages, and emails, and you know that you are loved. Sometimes all you need to know when you’re going through terrible pain is that someone is thinking of you.”

Silence.
(My mom just busts out profound stuff like this while we’re watching Last Week Tonight with John Oliver)

“But Mom, you kind of have to believe that. Otherwise what other conclusion can you come to than the world is just a shit place?”

“Jess, for me it’s true because I’ve experienced it. It’s not just something nice I tell myself to get through hard times. I believe it because that’s how it happened for me.”

We went onto speak about an old family friend who was on holiday in the States and she had a terrible horse riding accident. She still can’t walk properly. Her husband was in the Kruger National Park at the time, and it took them three days to track him down to tell him what happened. She told my mom how when she was lying in that hospital bed, alone on the other side of world, wondering why this had happened to her, she’d get a message from someone miles away…

“Thinking of you. Praying for you. Love you.”

And she said that’s what helped her to hold on. Simply knowing that there were people thinking of her and praying for her.

Simply knowing she was loved.

I don’t know what your faith is, what your thoughts on spirituality are, or what you believe about God. But I do know that no matter what you believe, what people need is love. When their kid is in hospital, or he’s waiting for test results, or she’s about to walk out on him – they need love.

So say something.

Send the message. Pick up the phone. Drop off some food. It doesn’t have to be profound or life-changing or have all the answers. It really, really, REALLY doesn’t need to be advice. It just has to say “I love you”. Maybe tell them a few reasons why. Maybe share your favourite memory you have of them.

But say something.

As my guru Glennon says, We can do hard things. 
I can’t.
But “we” can.
When you say something, you make their hard things into our hard things.

Together, we can do hard things. 

You can make this your screensaver if you like.

You can make this your screensaver if you like.

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Women Rock – A Tribute to the Brave and Beautiful

Being a young mom of two toddlers, I’m often approached by many other woman who want to know the secret to my glamorous look. And by many other woman, I mean absolutely no one. Even now, as I type this, there is literally dried yogurt in my hair. I felt it when I ran my fingers through my glossy locks and I thought, “Oh, a clip.”

It’s not a clip. It’s dried yogurt.

Then there’s the time when I was waiting in line at the La Lucia clinic for baby vaccinations. I stood rocking my restless infant in the crowded room, with my serene, I’m-so-chilled-even-though-I’m-in-a-germ-infested-clinic face on, and I occasionally caught the eye of someone in the room who smiled at me. I smiled sweetly back at them. Hi there. Yes. I am one of those relaxed, go with flow mamas, how are you? Until about 20 minutes into my stand-up demonstration of awesomeness when a kind elderly woman whispered to me that my fly was down. 

Me and my fristers.  (friends + sisters. we made it up.) Two of the most beautiful women I know.

Me and my fristers. (friends + sisters. we made it up.) Two of the most beautiful women I know.

So glamorous.

If you’re not convinced about my sophisticated style, let me share the events of last month. We were down on the South Coast for an absolutely idyllic family holiday. I’m talking warm sunny weather, clambering over rock pools looking for crabs, building sand castles in the little bay in which a burst sewage pipe flowed giving everyone in our family chronic diarrhoea and vomiting for the entire ten days. That’s right. Idyllic.

After four nights of changing bed sheets and pyjamas and syringing medicine into a baby’s throat, I had had enough. The boys had woken up at 4.30am. I had to get them out the house. My poor parents had been amazing but I suspect they were on the verge of disowning us, and I’m pretty sure my sister will being arranging a vasectomy for her fiancé when they get back to Cape Town. So I packed the two kids into the car and drove to the Shelly Centre at 6am. There the three of us walked around the mall in our pyjamas for an hour, looking into the windows of the closed stores and waving at the staff who stared at us as they walked to work. Did I mention I was wearing my bright purple running shoes? It was a highlight in glamour for me, personally.

 But what is it that makes a woman beautiful? Is it her hair or her clothes or her flawless make up? Is it her skinny bum or long legs or ability to rock the sky-high wedges?

Here’s the truth. You are not more feminine when you are beautiful. You are a beautiful woman when you are brave.

  • Brave is the mom dropping her baby off at day care for the first time because whether she wants to or not, she’s got to work full-time.
  • Brave is the single woman going to another work function alone, another dinner with all the couples, and popping the champagne for another friend getting engaged.
  • Brave is the woman visiting the fertility clinic each month, waiting for her own good news, and throwing a gorgeous baby shower for her best friend.
  • Brave is the forty-something empty nester who starts studying for her degree after the kids have left home and is the oldest person in the lecture hall.
  • Brave is the young career woman applying for that top position even though all the colleagues she’s up against are guys who play golf with the boss.

Brave is beautiful.

On 9 August 1956, more than 20 000 South African women marched to the Union Buildings on in protest against the extension of Pass Laws to women. It was a turning point in the role of women in the struggle from apartheid. Absolutely beautiful. On the way to the Union Buildings the women sang a freedom song: “Wathint’ abafazi, Strijdom!”

Lilian Ngoyi, Helen Joseph, Albertina Sisulu, and Sophia Williams-De Bruyn - the brave beauties who led the march

Lilian Ngoyi, Helen Joseph, Albertina Sisulu, and Sophia Williams-De Bruyn – the brave beauties who led the march

wathint’ abafazi,
wathint’ imbokodo,
uza kufa!

[When] you strike the women,
you strike a rock,
you will be crushed [you will die]!

Brave is beautiful. And women rock.

Your marital status, your ability to produce offspring and the size of your bra is not what makes you a beautiful person. It’s your unique perspective and talent and strength that make you beautiful. It’s your ability to partner with other men and women in the workplace and in schools and in families and in communities, to put things right in the world and contribute towards the things that really matter that make you beautiful. And every single one of us can do that. Brave is beautiful.

Just before I sat down to write this, I lay on my little boy’s bed as he fell asleep. There in the dark, he snuggled up to me, lying with his forehead against mine, his warm chubby hand on my cheek.

“Love you, precious mama”, he whispered.

I closed my eyes and took a deep breath. This right here. This moment. This is beautiful.
And then, he licked my face.

Yes. It’s a beautiful thing to be a woman.

Love and Fear and Frozen

There are a million reasons why I love the animated movie Frozen.

frozen

Even Jesus loves Frozen. This blog will tell you why.

Firstly, Let it Go is the greatest song of all time. YES. Well. Not officially. But its pretty phenom.

Secondly, its the first animated Disney movie directed by a woman (and their highest grossing animated movie to date). What an interesting coincidence.

Thirdly, its about sisterhood. In the process of scripting the movie, Disney Animation convened a “Sister Summit”, at which women from all over Disney Animation who grew up with sisters were asked to discuss their relationships with their sisters, to fully explore the unique dynamics of the kind of relationship that would become the core of the film’s plot. How freaking cool is that?

But mostly, the reason I am in love with this movie is because of what it shows us about love and fear.  You kind of need to have seen the movie to get some of what I want to say, so just go quickly watch it right now.

Done? Great.

Ok. (spoiler alert)

Elsa is so afraid of hurting people she loves, that her fear makes her distant and cold and ultimately it is her fear that freezes everything. And what causes her to thaw the frozen summer? Her love for her sister. Perfect love casts out fear.

Not only this, but when Anna’s heart is accidentally frozen, she is told that only “an act of true love” can save her life. She, along with all of us, thinks this is going to be a kiss from Hans (who is so NOT her true love) or from Kristoff (obvs the right guy). But it is neither. It is in fact Anna’s own act of true love in giving her life for her sister that causes all the frozenness in her own heart to thaw, and the fear in Elsa’s heart to disappear. Perfect love casts out fear.

I love this plot twist. Finally, a Disney movie where WOMEN DON’T NECESSARILY NEED A MAN TO RESCUE THEM. What a refreshing theme change for all the I’m-a-helpless-princess-who-needs-to-be-rescued movies that our strong young daughters are constantly bombarded with! But that’s a blog for another time.

Back to the love and fear thing.

Last week, I wrote a blog about being brave. I didn’t get a chance to really dig into it because not even my mom wants to read a million word long blog, but mostly because I was in a coffee shop and I really need to pee. So I kind of rushed it to go the loo. Writing a blog is hard, guys.

ANYWAY.

Last week, I wrote a blog about being brave, and I felt it stopped short of really saying what I wanted to say. So here is what I am learning about being brave…

Every single one of us would like to live a beautiful story (like Frozen. Or at least have a soundtrack like Frozen. Or just Elsa’s awesome plaited hair. Do I sound like an 8 year old? I digress.)

Every single one of us would like to live a beautiful story. And what makes a story great? I once heard someone say that all good stories involve someone who wants something and overcomes conflict to get it. That is what makes a great story. There is no story without the conflict. There is no beautiful without the brave.

When we face the pain of life with bravery, our story starts to sound different. Our lives start to sound different. Instead of life being busy, tired, painful, complicated, difficult or frustrating, life can be courageous, daring, bold, adventurous and valiant.

But here’s the kicker…be brave means facing the pain. And when we face pain or conflict – we feel fear.
Fear makes us freeze. We tense up. We get cold.
And when you are tense, you feel more pain. Knowing there is more pain makes us afraid. So we clench our fists and tighten our jaws and, you guessed it…we feel more pain. Dr William Sears calls it the fear-tension-pain cycle. Apparently it happens a lot when you’re like, having a baby, or something.

So how do we get rid of fear?

We lean into the pain. (Please go visit Sarah Bessey’s blog because its awesome and talks about this so well).
Instead of fighting it and resisting it, we accept it. We embrace it. And we feel the tension released.

It’s kind of like a good massage.

So how do you lean into the pain?

For me, leaning into the pain means stop pretending you’re ok. It means stop longing for it to be easy. It means stop, actually in general, just stop. At our church on Sunday morning, I was thinking about these things during worship. And then we started singing a song that has these lyrics:

I’m wide awake, drawing close, stirred by grace
And all my heart is yours
All fear removed, I breathe you in, I lean into
Your love

It’s all there. It’s all true. His perfect love casts out fear. (OMG. LIKE IN FROZEN. Can you see why I like that movie? Even Jesus likes that movie, I’m telling you.)

Fear is removed when we lean into pain, because in that space of pain we find Jesus’ love. I don’t always like the church – even though I worked at one for many years. I definitely don’t like every Christian I’ve met. But I like Jesus. He understands love. He understands fear. He understands pain. Do you know that Jesus said “Follow me” 15 times in the Scriptures, and 14 times straight afterwards he says something about how painful it will be? Its like he knew – life is going to be painful. And there are two options:  you can do it on your own. Or you can follow me through the pain. (P.S Spoiler alert – following him helps). So when fear starts to grip me, I read or I pray or I listen to songs that remind me about Jesus. And the cycle breaks. One of the greatest joys of my life of my life is unlearning how to be a good Christian and learning how to be a good follower of Jesus.

You can listen to that song here. It’s beautiful.

Like Frozen.