Faith

Why there is power in pruning

I am no gardener. One look at my forgotten borders will tell you that. However once or twice a year I will get a sudden surge of enthusiasm to trim edges and plant bulbs in the hope that something beautiful will burst forth in the summer months. So, it is of little surprise to me that my blooms are never anywhere near as impressive as those of my neighbours, who have lovingly tended them.

We have a lovely rose bush in our garden that is climbing up a trellis, and one year my mother in law cut every single flowering head off and put them in a vase. As beautiful as they were on my windowsill, I was horrified that she had butchered my beloved rose bush. I was convinced that my plant would not survive the massacre, much less ever flower again that year, yet the roses came back three fold a few months later.

I had never understood the importance of pruning until now. You see pruning isn’t just a way to control growth, it is the way to increase it. By pruning a rose, you cause the plant to produce a growth hormone called auxin which helps it to grow to its optimum. Pruning strengthens the very vines that connect it to its life source, the stem, so that when they grow and flower they are able to bear much larger, heavier blooms.

Pruning isn’t just a way to control growth, it is the way to increase it

2017 was a year of pruning for me. We voluntarily stepped back from ministry as we focussed on our family, but the stepping away felt more like stripping away. Who was I if I wasn’t a worshipper on the platform? Who was I if I wasn’t a pastoral leader looking out for our area? Or preaching on a Wednesday morning?  Who was I if I wasn’t ‘known’ or ‘seen’ by others? I truly believe that my heart to serve has always been from a place of authenticity, and a desire to make Jesus famous, not myself. But when all the ‘stuff’ was stripped away, I felt exposed, vulnerable and a little lost.

I am a ‘do-er’ by nature. My strength finders list includes activator and achiever, and I like to muck in and get my hands dirty. Even being a stay at home mom, my ultimate life dream isn’t enough, and I run two businesses to keep my mind busy and my bank account in the black. My husband says I can’t sit still for two minutes and he is right. I am constantly flitting from one thing to another, and frequently have two or three tasks on the go at any one time much to his annoyance. But as I gradually reduced my tasks and increased my time, panic crept in.

Don’t panic in the pruning

Stepping away from gifts that I loved was like watching the full blooms of my roses being cut down. I know they are still there, but I wanted them to be connected to the vine, not placed in a vase. I never feel more alive than when I am serving in the house of God, either in worship, preaching or in pastoral care, and I found myself frustrated at serving in my home instead. The pruning season felt painful; I didn’t feel free, I felt like a fish out of water. No longer ‘busy’, I had too much time on my hands and too many thoughts in my mind. I found myself questioning my destiny, my purpose, God’s plans, and during these times of sadness and self-pity I was forced to sit and be still.

Be still and know that God loves me.

Be still and know that I am loved regardless of how or where I serve. That I am perfectly positioned in His will, right here, right now. That my purpose in the Kingdom of God is as important on a platform as it is in a playdate. That my service to my children and my husband is as valuable as any song I could ever sing, or any sermon I could ever write.

And as I rest in the stillness, the pruning season will ensure that my branches are stronger than ever so that I can grow new shoots and produce better blooms.

Pruning prepares for producing

I don’t know what season this finds you in. Perhaps your blooms are budding, waiting to explode in glorious technicolour, maybe you are already in flower, displaying your gifts and fragrancing the world with your own unique aroma, or perhaps your petals are beginning to wane, and you are bracing yourself for the dead-heading. Wherever you are, know that God is working. He is cultivating the ground where you are planted. He is watering the seeds of your faith. He is tending to your shoots and leaves, and He is removing the dead-heads so that they don’t block the Son.  You are standing in the light of Jesus, connected to the vine, and as the ultimate gardener, He will remove what isn’t necessary to strengthen you for the next season.

Don’t panic in the pruning, you are being prepared to bring forth beauty.

Go ahead and bloom like never before.

“Yes, I am the vine; you are the branches. Those who remain in me, and I in them, will produce much fruit. For apart from me you can do nothing.” John 15:5 

R x

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Parenting

Why new moms need new expectations

Expectation. What a word. To some it can bring excitement, to others it can bring exhaustion. To one, it can bring fun and to another, it can bring fear. We all have expectation in our lives, whether that is how we expect our day to pan out, or how we expect our careers to pan out, whether we expect to build a FTSE100 empire before we are 30 or build a family home.

I love having a goal, a dream, an expectation. My expectation was to get married and be a mom before I was 30. I happily achieved said expectation, but did the reality live up to the dream? Not quite. Rest assured that I am happily married and couldn’t be more grateful for the blessings that have been bestowed on me in the form of my three little ones. But that doesn’t make my long-awaited expectation of the motherhood experience any less challenging.

My first son was born (relatively) easily in a peaceful water birth, but he soon made his presence known by keeping his poor unsuspecting parents awake all hours for the first three months. I expected to cherish these first few weeks of his little life as I blissfully washed his bamboo nappies (yes, really), however, these were some of the hardest and saddest weeks as we desperately tried to fathom out our new family member and survive on next to no sleep. I vividly remember one night, around 2am, when Dave and I were literally on. our. knees. and I placed our son in the middle of the bed and stepped back, not knowing what the heck to do next. In our sleep deprived state, we had tried everything, except swaddling, and this turned out to be the saving grace for our sanity, as we turned a corner and saw our firstborn sleep for more than 2 consecutive hours.

Then came the second son. Another much loved, much planned for baby, albeit with a much larger gap than I would have liked. Surgery necessitated the long wait, and my health was more important than expanding our family, but when he came oh what joy I awaited.

Only the joy didn’t come.

Don’t get me wrong, I was head over heels in love with this little one who snuggled up to me so calmly, but my heart raced as I contemplated juggling two children. I expected to breeze into motherhood second time round, but as reality set in, my fears became nerves that grew into anxieties. I soon felt so overwhelmed that I just couldn’t face being a parent to anyone, much less the precious boys I have been blessed with. All this, despite a hands-on, supportive hubby and a fantastic network of family and friends.

After five months of juggling schedules and struggling to keep my head above water, I was diagnosed with Post Natal Depression. The diagnosis came as no surprise in the end, and if anything, it was such a relief to know that I wasn’t losing the plot and that I wasn’t a bad mother. I was not alone. Accepting the diagnosis was no problem. If anything, I almost wore it as a badge of honour to explain that actually, I wasn’t failing, I was a work in progress, and within 6 months I was back to my normal self.

PND is no discriminator of people or circumstance. My baby was wanted, planned for, prayed for. Yet when he came, I was so overwhelmed with the responsibility; the sudden influx of hormones, the sudden immersion into baby world, and the sudden subjection to his every need. I was an experienced parent, who knew what to expect, and my son was a relaxed little man, yet I was so completely overcome with emotion and anxiety that I could barely think straight. I thank God for the medical professionals who helped me through this difficult time, not to mention my faithful husband and my many friends who had journeyed this path before me or with me.

So onto baby number 3. She was no less planned for, prayed for, and prepared for than her brothers, if not she was more so. The nursery was decorated, the work schedules were created, the books were read and the home was ready, yet when she came I felt the old anxieties creep into my mind as my expectation stood at odds with my reality. There I was, with this sweet little one who fell into our arms with a smile and fell into a routine without batting an eye lid, yet I found myself feeling totally overwhelmed by the now enormous task in front of me. How was I ever going to juggle three children along with a writing career, keeping my home (and me) in a half reasonable style and state of cleanliness, oh and build a blog and write a book….. and manage more than 5 hours sleep in the process.

To raise another is the greatest privilege. As a mom of three, I can safely say this is the greatest, most rewarding role I have ever had, however, coupled with my expectations, it has caused the most pain, upset, anxiety, and, at times, even depression. A classic ‘achiever’, my character is such that I want to do everything to the best of my ability. This means holding it all together, at all times, having the tidy house, the contented babies, and the completed deadlines. My ambitious striving, of course, can be a strength, but for those, like me, who place too great an expectation on themselves, it can be a curse.

When it comes to motherhood, the thing I have craved, dreamed of and desired, I expect to succeed, I expect to flourish. I expect to sail through because I am a ‘do-er’, and ‘achiever’. I constantly measure myself against impossible standards, then wonder why I fall short. The advice I dish out to others I can barely swallow myself. The prayers I pray for friends are barely audible for myself.

Why? Because I expect too much of myself.

It is OK for a friend to fall apart, but I cannot. It is OK for a family member to need counselling but not me. It’s OK for a loved one to ask for help but I must march on. How ridiculous.

I recently read this quote from the inimitable William Shakespeare;

Oft expectation fails, and most oft there where most it promises or in modern day language; Expectation is the root of all heartache. 

I put too much expectation on myself, and the resulting wave of heartache that accompanies feelings of disappointment when I don’t ‘make the grade’ hurts like heck.

There is nothing wrong with wanting to succeed, with wanting to achieve, with having a dream. New mom’s do not need to cast off all their ambitions and put their lives on hold in order to raise their baby, but friends, we need to stop putting too great expectations of ourselves. Stop trying to have the Pinterest worthy house, the picture perfect family, the insta-flawless selfie. We need to embrace our flaws, our failings, and our frustrations because this is what makes us human. And I am speaking to myself before anyone else.

So next time I feel overwhelmed, fall down or mess up, rather than just painting on my face and marching on I might just let someone in. If someone texts to check in on me or taps me on the shoulder at the school gates, I might just let them know how I am really doing. I might just say, “Do you know what? Motherhood is a gift, but man is it hard work!” I might just accept the offer of a hug, a prayer, a cuppa or a meal.

Fellow parents, let’s stop being proud and start being real, and today, this starts with me.

Just sayin’.

R xx

 

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Parenting

You make it possible

Wednesday is my favourite day of the week. Why? Because it is a downhill slide on your backside to the weekend! Anyone who is parenting one small person (or multiples if you are truly reckless like me) will know that when your other half walks through the door on a Friday you can finally relax knowing that no longer are you the only source of entertainment / food / drink / discipline in the house.

To all the Dad’s, Step Dads, partners and parents of stay at home or self-employed moms; we salute you.

You make it possible to face another day of refereeing bickering boys and darling divas. You make coffee. Seriously, this is better than diamonds for most mommas! (OK maybe not quite). You make it possible for us to cook a reasonable dinner once or twice a week while you entertain the masses. You make it possible for us to resist cracking open a bottle of Pinot Grigio before 7pm (just).

But, more importantly, because you are working all the hours of the day (and night) you make it possible for us to do the school runs and wish our babies a great day as we wave them on. You make it possible for us to sit in assemblies with tear-soaked tissues as we watch our little one make their stage debut. You make it possible for us to cheer them on at sports days and you make it possible for us to be at home to mop fevered brows and give cuddles on demand when needed.

Children need their mommas, whether that is a birth mom, step-mom, foster mom, adoptive mom or spiritual mom. To be a full-time parent often requires a full-time salary sacrifice, and this usually has to be made up for somewhere else, be that benefits, partners or your own parents.

Being a full-time parent often requires a full-time sacrifice

To other halves everywhere, and especially to my own, thank you for enabling me and other mommas like me to raise our babies at home. Thank you for then coming home to take some of the load off us, despite having had a crazy week yourselves. Whether  we are juggling diapers or deadlines, you are our constant source of love, support, encouragement, guidance and strength. On the days when we can’t go on, or flat-out just don’t want to, it is your hand that pulls us up, dusts us down and sets us on our way again.

You make it possible.

We couldn’t do it without you, and quite frankly we wouldn’t want to.

R x

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