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When Not Breathing is an Empathic Response to what’s going on in the World

I don’t know about you, but when I watched the scenes of George Floyd on the ground, taking his last breaths as a result of the violence that was being inflicted upon him by Derek Chauvin… my body responded. I felt like

I

COULD

NOT

BREATHE.

Somehow in the process of taking in what was going on in my telephone screen, I started to feel what he was feeling. And not just for that moment, but as I started to process the grief and trauma over the next few days. Even as I went back to work on the Monday following the Friday viewing, it was evident to my colleagues that something was wrong. Thankfully, my boss had the discernment to pick it up and gave me space to talk about it with them.

This incident triggered, not just an indignation for what has been happening in the States for too long, but also for what has been placed upon me and my children in the past because of the colour of our skin.

Being a POC in New Zealand growing up never really presented itself as an issue, so when I moved to Australia as a six-year-old, I was horrified by the different treatment my sisters and I experienced because of our colour. Words like “Blackie” or “Darth Vader”, and torturous bullying that I was exposed to because of facial features that come as a part of my cultural difference, (ie. my big lips), made me feel less-than my Australian counterparts.

As we migrated back to New Zealand, I still felt safe in my skin. In my world, I felt like being brown was the cool thing. We were exposed to stories of Apartheid in South Africa and the Civil Rights movement in America, and somehow I became acquainted with their anguish. Nelson Mandela and Martin Luther King Jr were heroes to me. The injustice done to whole people groups because of the colour of their skin, confused and outraged me to no end.

When I was in High School, I did a “cultural exchange” to South Auckland as the demographics of their school was highly populated with a distinctly different cultural make up to what I had known. Within a short period of time, I was confronted with the discrimination that existed within my own city. One of the teachers (who was also a local council politician) came late to a class one day, gave a very vague lesson plan on the board then started to walk around the class. As he approached me, I asked him in my very curious teenage way “Why don’t you teach these kids properly?” to which he replied, “because they’re not to pass anyway!” Shock Horror, he was a white man and the class was full of actually highly intelligent Pacific Island and Maori students living in South Auckland. I had the priviledge of having this three month experience captured for a documentary called “How the other half lives” and was able to be a voice for the discrimination I experienced.

The best talk I have listened to regarding the tragedy surrounding George Floyds death and the systemic racism was this interview with Christine Caine and Dr Anita Williams. In it, Dr Anita talks about the dehumanisation, that underlies racial discrimination. The language that she has given to what has been going on for too long, not just in the States, but also in Australia and around the world, is mind blowing. It explains a lot about how people can justify their inhuman treatment of other human beings when they are not fully convinced that the other person is human.

When I look at this situation through the framework of B4A which is based on Isaiah 61 and Gods desire for us to be holistically restored, I understand WHY my body responded in the way that it did. Although I didn’t delve into all the different racist incidences that have affected me and my family, suffice to say that being brown, has not gone unnoticed to all- and sometimes that has been a good thing, and other times, not so good.

As my therapist would say, trauma is felt in the body first. Triggers would not make their way directly to our cognitive processes, until they had first responded in our body. Our BODIES speak a language (as Christine so aptly named their interview “Body Language”) that invites us into a space of healing and restoration. We HAVE TO BE self-aware so that we can feel, hear and respond to the signals that our bodies are sending out.

Real restoration can not take place if we are not self-aware, because how can you repair something that you don’t recognise as broken. Trauma, whether it is racial, physical, mental, spiritual, social, or even financial, cannot be healed until it is named.

And so, as your body may have sent YOU an invitation lately, to do the deep, hard work of restoration, I want to champion you to go there. Exposing your past trauma, is best done in the company of someone who has the capacity to help you heal your pain. Find a good therapist, a safe friend or family member, and allow empathy and love to take the place of shame and grief.

Or maybe it’s not about you- Maybe, your body is inviting you to be a part of the restoration of the people group in your land, that has been treated less than human. The Body of Christ has an obligation in this season to respond; to stand up against the injustice and usher in a new level of solidarity for the African American, Indigenous and People of Colour. If our bodies collectively respond by doing something (in a manner of peace and love), then we actually prepare a place for God to do His work of restoration.

“Righteousness and justice are the foundation of his throne.”
‭‭Psalms‬ ‭97:2‬ ‭NLT‬‬

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The Principle of Weaning

“I feel like I’m being weaned!” were the words that spilt out of my mouth like water from a waterfall.

Almost like that time I cried myself to sleep and went into my daughters room in the middle of the night to find her in a leg cramp that had her reeling in pain. I pressed her foot upward toward her shin while she fought against the pain and defaulted to a point position. While I was trying to encourage her that I knew what I was doing the words “JUST> TRUST> ME!” spilt out of my mouth- as if the Holy Spirit was speaking to my heart through my own mouth in a night of confusion and despair.

Here I was again, speaking words that were more a message to get my attention from an Supernatural place. I started entertaining the thought that there was something more significant going on than just an initiating of a business in the birthplace of my re-entry back into the Western hospitality industry.

Feeling like I was being weaned, came about because my first job for my new business was situated in the very kitchen I had started serving two years earlier as a volunteer- the 7th of March 2017. It was a volunteer position that would eventually lead the way to the job that I had left to start my business. That date was significant yet it was not by choice but by “chance” (that someone happened to be having a bridal shower that day) that I ended up there two years later, self-employed with no guarantee of future income. Just a step out on a nudge that this was the right direction to go.

Weaning meant that I was still able to sit in the familiar, while trying to navigate the new. I was surrounded by people who made this transition safe and spaces that would accomodate my desire to know something by experience. It was all there for me, yet it was still a step away from where I was.

Have you ever felt like you were being weaned? Or like a season of transition was taking far longer than you anticipated?

I looked back over all my major life experiences and realised that there were plenty of examples where transitional periods took two years. From the time I met my children’s father to the time we were married was exactly two years. The time I stepped into a Baptist Church to the time I got up and walked at the invitation to know Jesus as my Saviour was two years. Same period of time filled the gap between the time I stepped into a Pentecostal church and attended their Baptism of the Spirit night. More recently, it was two years from the time we arrived in Sydney to stay with my mum that she decided she would move away to New Zealand- a lot more prematurely than I had expected but somehow in sync with this new revelation.

I asked the Lord what the significance was and He reminded me that two years was the period of time a Hebrew mother would nurse her infant before they were weaned. Once the child had been attached to the breast for that period, the weaning would introduce them to real food so that by the time they were three or four, they could stand on their own. This was a celebrated occasion as the child would pass the most crucial phase of their formation.

Breastfeeding mothers can all attest to the fact that weaning is not an easy process. Unless your baby is introduced to a bottle from an early stage of their development, pulling them away from the skin of their mother and replacing that with a plastic device, a cup or spoon, requires persistence and a strong resolve! There’s something about the familiarity of a mother’s breast that fastens that baby to the soothing source of nourishment and comfort. Who would want to leave that kind of provision?!

Photo by willsantt on Pexels.com

Many mothers give up – delaying the process for years- exposing their breasts to the world as their toddler starts demanding milk on tap at any given time of day and at any location. They give up the temporary pain of hearing their child cry for the long term agony of having a child dependant on their body.

But weaning is necessary for the growth and development of any child. It’s also an important discipline for the mother as she establishes a life long pattern of letting the boundary lines between her and her baby grow further and further apart. Children develop into adults and adults need to understand the value of responsibility and honour.

In life, we go through certain stages within the seasons of our existence, where infancy comes back into play. Infancy defined as the early stage of growth or development of something. Whether it is starting a new job, going to a new country, getting into a new relationship, or starting a new business. Each new thing that comes into your life, will often feel overwhelming and create within you a sense of anxiety as you feel the pulling away of the way it used to be. The effects of change and transition can have you feeling edgy, (not knowing what the future holds) anxious and feeling disengaged. But all of these feelings are a natural consequence of weaning.

The Psalmist in this passage seemed to have mastered this transitional phase- perhaps his state of contentment in the present and the small tasks of daily life had something to do with it…

My heart is not proud, Lord,
    my eyes are not haughty;
I do not concern myself with great matters
    or things too wonderful for me.
But I have calmed and quieted myself,
    I am like a weaned child with its mother;
    like a weaned child I am content.
Psalm 131:1-2

Contentment is a state of mind that often leaves us singing the Psalm of David, The Lord is my Shepherd, I LACK NOTHING. Clinging to a form of outward supply, can overwhelm our hearts to a point where we lack the awareness of our Inner supply. But once we have been weaned off the external suppliers, we can solemnly say, we lack nothing. There is a breaking away from our dependance on knowing, on concerning ourselves with things that are too big for our human minds to comprehend, and an aligning of souls with the One who knows our inmost being.

I have been going through this journey over the last year of being weaned off outward suppliers…suppliers of emotional and psychological support, financial income, spiritual scaffolding, but in the process have learnt to have this inner calm and a quietened spirit. I have learnt to be content with what I have, and that wasn’t always easy and it definitely wasn’t natural. It was a spiritual awakening that took incremental steps to evoke within me this sense of completeness.

It came to a point where I had to get down on my face in my bedroom and confess my discontentment and understand my place in Him. That in Him, all that I have within me is enough.

I am enough.

So I can be content.

He holds me now.

And with that, I can grow at another level.

Be warned, you will be weaned, but you’re going to be okay. The fact that you are leaving the old, means that you are stronger now. You are in another zone, achieving new heights of being and creating new levels on which your life can exist upon. Remember- What you have within you, is all you ever need. xx

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Mental Health Awareness Month: My personal story of recovery

My Mental Health Recovery Story

Mental Illness is a label that is becoming more common to talk about in the society we live. But in the world where I was raised, amongst the working-class of Auckland, New Zealand in the 80s and 90s, it carried a lot of negative stigma.

My father was diagnosed with Manic Depression (now labelled Bipolar disorder) just a few months before I made my way into his world. I grew up in an environment that was determined by the mental state of this man, who exemplified symptoms of paranoid schizophrenia and showed little positive affirmation towards our family. There were frequent seasons when we would spend days going to visit him in mental institutions and always carried the shame of that into our schools and churches.

With that frame of reference for what mental illness looked like, it wasn’t until I was alone in a café with a woman visiting from the States (a woman I knew I would never see again) that I confessed my own struggle with depression. I had this underlying sense of sadness about where my life was at that time. The relationship I had just committed to the year prior to her arrival to New Zealand, was not what I had dreamed it would be. It was laced with an unspoken, misunderstood struggle with addiction and codependency. There were holes in my wall that were hidden like the abuse that would go on in my home for years.

Her approach to my confession exuded love and grace. There was no shame, no condemnation and no advice given. All she gave was a listening ear and an empathic understanding. She made me see the positive features of the compassionate heart I carried and how that heart gave me a propensity to experience feelings of sadness.

Two years later, I was about to deliver twin baby girls. As a planner, I had prepared their room, updated our family budget, bought a new car and booked our house to be painted while I was in hospital. Everything was set in my mind about how it was going to be on my return, knowing that things would change but confident that I was prepared for the adjustments I would need to make. As usual, I had high expectations of how that would all pan out.

However, the day after I gave birth to these two beautiful babies who created in me a new feeling of inadequacy, I wondered how I could manage both of them at one time. I was twenty-two years old with a strong-willed three-year-old son and a husband who had been involved in some suspicious activity over the last year. The day after I gave birth, he came to visit us and admitted to me that he had lost his job. Not only did he lose his job, but he admitted that he was taken into the police cells the day before their birth and was having to face charges in court.

My whole world felt like it flipped upside down and I was hanging on by a thread.

With this news that threw me into the deep waters of disillusionment, I found myself back in a state of depression. Yet, because of my history of dealing with mental illness, I kept that knowledge to myself. It carried shame as a daughter of a mentally ill man and it carried guilt as Christian trying to navigate my way through religion and relationship.

A year later as I noticed a change in my normal social activity, had shifted the places I went to in my mind for solace and as I struggled at some points with the idea of ending my life, I watched a program on TV that opened my eyes. This Breakfast show was talking about the subject of Postnatal Depression. As the host went on to describe the symptoms of this disorder of types, I resonated with most of what she described. It put a name to what I had been experiencing for the past year and I was finally able to see a way out.

Fast forward four and a half years and once again I was in a new city, birthing my fifth baby without any family support around me. I was twenty-seven now and had four babies under five years old. I had to juggle my preschoolers and tend to the needs of my eldest son. One night while doing ordinary household chores, I found myself crying uncontrollably and I realized that I was again going down the slippery slope of depression.

My children in 2005.

With the knowledge of what PND is, I flagged it with my nurse and told her what was going on at home. I didn’t want to waste a whole year again, living under the cloud of depression so I wanted to get help. Thankfully at that time, there was a post-natal depression support group going on in that little town at that time. Once a week, I got to spend time with other women who were experiencing similar emotional and psychological struggles, relieving myself of any guilt or shame this breakdown was wanting to bring.

We sat under the care and teaching of one woman who had been through PND herself and wanted to help us get through this season of having a new born and not knowing what to do. She took us through a series of lessons about the downward spiral of depression, the effects on our brain and the ways we can rise above it. I was given access to a free babysitting service where I could just get out of the house and go and have coffee with my friends. I learnt the importance of exercise and getting out of bed even when I didn’t feel like it.

The things that I applied to my own recovery and have put in place to maintain my mental wellbeing over the last few years, boil down to these three points:

I call them “the Three S’s of Sanity”

  1. Sleep. Getting a good sleep gives me the mental capacity to withstand the demands of the day. If I’ve slept well, I have the cognitive function to navigate my way through relationship confrontation, unmet expectations and normal daily upheavals. Even if I don’t sleep well in the night, I will make space in the day for a twenty to thirty minute power nap. That allows me to focus and enjoy the rest of the day.
  2. Self-Care. Looking after me had taken the back burner for so long until I realized that I needed to look after me so I could look after others well. Little things like hot baths or bush walks, or big things like massages and time out with friends at the movies, all became common place in my weekly routine. From that place of feeling valued and loved, I was then able to love those around me.
  3. Support systems. Living away from family support (as I have done for a quarter of my adult and parenting life) has made it even more important to be a part of a community that supports me. Right now, I’m a single mother with four teenagers, so having friends I can call on to vent, counsellors around I can debrief situations with and a place I can give back to the community have all been important. I went through a journey of holistic recovery after my marriage break-up so helping others to get through their own break-ups has been part of my healing as well.

Struggling with mental illness doesn’t mean it’s the end of the world and it certainly doesn’t disqualify you from being able to help others. You become a greater advocate for change when you start to see change in yourself. People in a season where mental illness is trying to knock them out, need to know that change is possible. Choose change for you and others will have hope for a better day by witnessing your life!

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Waiting with Ambiguity: When what you thought was right, turns out to be wrong…or was it??

ambiguity/ambɪˈɡjuːɪti

The quality of being open to more than one interpretation; inexactness.

synonyms:ambivalence, equivocation;

“I just want to know, was I right or wrong?”

“You just need to learn to hold ambiguity.” Replied my counsellor.

I was confused about this whole two year journey I had been on where I had assumed I knew what the outcome was going to be and convinced myself (despite obvious evidence that was contrary to what I believed) that it was going to play out the way I had envisioned it in my head. So safe and secure was this little dream in my head that I had built a case and circumstantial evidence that defended my case down to the most minuscule detail. Little room had I given, to the possibility that I was “wrong”.

To be honest, I didn’t even know what that meant to “hold ambiguity” and I didn’t know how to do it, but I could tell from her body language that it was going to be something that this stubborn heart was going to find it hard to do. So I took up her challenge and became a student of this learned art. Held in suspense around a situation that made no sense to me, I had to learn to be okay with the not knowing. It messed with my head and challenged my ideals…and Lord knows, I have high ideals. Yet I was forced to release my attachment to a desired outcome and undergo a huge awakening. So in the process, I wrote a poem:

Its not easy to hold ambivalence
And to burn in deep suspense
But when fear starts to accuse you
Jesus comes to your defence
For ambiguity, it beckons
For a solid sense of trust
But the unknown is still known
By the God who fashioned us
And in His wisdom and His Grace
He left the known beyond our reach
So that in the waiting seasons
New lessons He could teach

We do not want you to become lazy, but to imitate those who through faith and patience inherit what has been promised.

Hebrews 6:12

When you are waiting for a promise, a measure of patience needs to be added to your faith. Patience, while it is a fruit of the spirit, is not one that is produced easily- you can’t be lazy about it. Patience means you actually have to do the work to keep you from rushing ahead of what God is going to give you in His time. Patience means that you have to live in the limbo between the vision and the fulfilment of the vision and in that space, your character will be tested. In that space, you can find your old default settings and addictions tempting you to soothe the pain in the wait. To give our minds and our hearts permissions to be suspended in this air, with no tangible reality in which to cling, allows freedom for our eyes to be fixed on, and our souls to be anchored in Jesus. His way of escape is found in running to Him when we’re tempted to numb our pain in superficial ways. Waiting is inevitable but patience is a choice.

To give our minds and our hearts permission to be suspended in thin air, with no tangible reality in which to cling, allows freedom for our eyes to be fixed on, and our souls to be anchored in Jesus.

This hope is a strong and trustworthy anchor for our souls. It leads us through the curtain into God’s inner sanctuary. (Hebrews 6:19)

As human beings, we have an innate desire for power and control. Its built within the hardwiring of our brain so that, at its maximum potential, it is utilised to operate our spiritual inheritance for self-control. However, when we can’t control our circumstances and are left in the waiting season of our lives, there are three things to remember:

  1. Know Yourself. What motivates you to want to know and activate what you desire? Take a SWOT analysis of yourself and decipher whether or not your motivations are healthy or stem from a history of fear and trauma. What are your strengths? If you’re like me and your strengths are about knowing the vision and strategising a way to work it out, then this ambiguity thing will mess with your head. But Jesus knew this even when He was leaving His disciples in a confused state when they thought He was going to take over the Roman Empire and set them free. When things didn’t turn out the way they had envisioned and He came back FROM THE DEAD, some of them still doubted!! But He said to them in Acts 1:7 “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority.” Ouch! God has the final authority on all things, and even when we don’t understand, we have to remember that He knows all. Be kind to yourself in the process, and breathe in the spaces where anxiety tries to dictate your season of ambiguity.
  2. Know Your season. “There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens:” Ecclesiastes 3:1 Waiting is just a season. Not knowing, is just a season. So while you’re waiting for one thing, look around to what the delay of that thing is making way for. Utilise this season to maximise your next. If you’re waiting for that life partner to join you on your journey (ie. your single and are waiting for the right person), do the things that you wouldn’t be able to do when you are married. Once you’re married, you don’t get a break from it! If you’re waiting to be a parent- there isn’t a holiday break from parenting- it’s a constant responsibility that you have to carry, yet it too, takes on different seasons. Embrace the season you are in and capitalise on it. Do the thing that will make you a better candidate for the next season. If you’re believing for a promised position at your job, go and do some professional development courses; if you’re wanting to travel the world, get your health up to a standard that will facilitate the travelling life; if you’re believing for the child you’re waiting to come out of addiction, get involved with others who are helping people who are working in that field so that you know how to handle your child when they are going through recovery.
  3. Know Your God. He is patiently working on your behalf. He loves you and wants the best for you. He’s not working against you in this season but working all things together for you. He’s a good Father watching you navigate the road you are on. He watches you like a daddy watches his child try to start walking. He sees your heart to explore your options and test out the waters of your life. He doesn’t cringe at your decisions but more likely smiles down and watches you correct yourself in the process. He’s not the god of the right and wrong. He’s the God of Light and Love. Darkness is His enemy, and our enemy, NOT being wrong as wrong is subjective. Anything that we don’t understand, He is able to turn around. My mum recently bought a journal and she shared a quote on it that perfectly fits this situation: When we have a situation we feel is “wrong” we can “Give it to God and let God make it right.” He is a God full of grace and mercy and He ” works all things together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose”. Romans 8:28. He loves our faith and is pleased by it, even if the result we were expecting was not as we had planned.

Give it to God and let God make it right – Joyce Meyer

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My faith… — Image from @worshipgifs

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Walking in the Wilderness: Celebrating Three Years of Freedom

Photo by Guillaume Meurice on Pexels.com

Three years ago this week, I was let loose. In my own struggle for authenticity and transparency, God made a way for me to live in complete relationship with Him as my husband and my best friend. He became my road map for the path I didn’t know I could walk. In that journey, I was set free from putting up an image and I was empowered to unveil the life of addiction that held me ransom for so long. Jesus paid the ransom by valuing my life above the marriage that had kept me bound.

I went on a journey with my children to rewrite the template of our home. We made intentional efforts to recreate the culture of our family and the main value I wanted to install was Integrity. I wanted the life we lived at home to be the life that everyone saw on the outside because for so long, what went on behind closed doors didn’t align with the what you saw in the pictures.

We are still on that journey but we have come so far- no longer hiding away in secrecy, but living out in authenticity and finding the balance between vulnerability and disclosure. I wrote some lines into my phone in the beginning of that journey that would then be put into my book. It spoke to the desire of my heart and the pieces of my value system that I wanted to strengthen in myself and in the world I would create for those around me. They were words I believed, Heaven breathed into my spirit for me to share with the world…

“Religiousness causes us to worry more about the image people have of us, and so, our devotion to God becomes more behaviour-oriented (keeping the law) than heart-focused (being connected to the Holy Spirit so we can produce His fruit in our lives). Once we believe we have “attained” the goal of “righteousness,” we become self-righteous, conceited like the Pharisees, diminishing the position of other people before God because their performance isn’t as good as ours. Performance-based religiosity is not the heart of God. His heart for ours is to experience transformation; our lives changed as a result of the inner exchange in His presence.

When we have an obligation to an image or an ideal that takes priority over the obligation we have to cultivate our own self-worth, we will get lost in the pursuit, self-sabotaging our ability to know who we really are.

The Bible tells us time and again not to make idols or set up images for ourselves (Leviticus 26:1). What if the image we are setting up is a façade of ourselves? We bow to this image rather than to the God who created us. God is all about restoring His image in us, for in that place, we find freedom. Religiousness quenches the Holy Spirit that exists to bring us freedom. (2 Cor 3:17)” (An exert from Into the Garden)

In a world that is all about the image we portray to others, let us NOT bow to it but rather to the God who created us to be made whole as He sees us. I come across many people who are set about living a life that is second best to what God has for them because they want to put up a front and don’t want to deal with what’s going on deep down inside of them.

“My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart you, God, will not despise.God uses broken vessels. God won’t despise.” Psalm 51:7

God is not just NOT AFRAID of our brokenness, He is not ASHAMED of it- He doesn’t despise it, He WANTS it! He sees it as a sacrifice because He understands that it will give HIM the opportunity to heal it. We can’t live a life, unwilling to admit our brokenness and our addictions, our sin and our shame and expect good results. Its only when we are vulnerable before God and openly towards man (as David wrote this for all to see), that we can truely find our identity and calling in our Creator.

My challenge to you today is: Don’t put up an image of how you want your life to be, live a life that brings about the best image of God in you. He’s not about image. He’s about relationship. And when we live in an intimate relationship with Jesus, we start to glow with a light that shines from within. He is the Light of the World. The best lighting you can have for those images you put up for all to see, is not an external light, but an internal Light that shines from a place of security in knowing Whose you are.

For more on this subject, you can read my book! Right now its online as an ebook. The hard copy is still to be released.