Self. pity

 

We’ve now moved to a short-term rental following our house fire a few weeks ago, with a bit of geographical stability and a space to make our own for the next couple of months. I am now connected to the internet without having to buy endless cups of tea, the kids are back at school, my work is back on track, and we’re all set.  But with this has come an unexpected challenge.

Here it is. For a month or so, a handful of people have known about our situation and helped out in various, beautiful ways.We’ve got on with moving, moving again, keeping our temper (mostly) with the insurance process and all the rest.  At the start of a new school year, with families drifting back from their holidays, other people are asking me what happened. And each time I talk about it, and significantly, each time I sense their sympathy and watch them imagining themselves in our shoes, moisture appears at the corners of my eyes. And everything I then say, and they respond with, adds to my sadness.

When they say ‘oh, you’re so brave, you’re taking it so well,’ I want to lie down and howl. And yet a strange thing happens to my tongue. It stops wanting to say positive things about all the exceptional kindness we’ve been shown, and instead  it describes and lists the loss, the shock, the frustration, all that junk.

I first noticed this when seeing a potential rental house a couple of weeks back. I mentioned it to the agent and her hand flew up to her mouth. If she’d not been holding a clipboard she might have hugged me. A couple of our kids were wandering through the house and she said ‘oh, and your poor kids, oh love, how are you coping?’ Well I was coping pretty well at that point to be honest but I poured out a little bit of self pity and felt a bit less capable after that.

This has begun to snowball into extended conversations with various friends and school parents, all with a heavy emphasis on how terrible it’s all been for everyone. Yes it has been difficult, but in the grand scheme of things it’s all manageable. I know how much God has blessed us in the midst of this, and yet it is so easy to not say that, so much easier to harp on the negatives, which is what the world expects and which pays us off in the sympathy of strangers.

What God is teaching me in this is the wisdom of guarding my tongue. I need to watch what I say because at the end of one of these conversations I feel drained and disappointed, flat and ashamed. Because in failing to mention the kindnesses, the generosity, the hospitality and the support God has given us, I am discounting His work in our lives and our situation, and I’m failing to give him the credit for the fact I can still smile and laugh and make jokes and trust that whatever lies ahead he’s already there and he knows what we need. It’s like realising that worship is not to make God feel good but to make us feel good.

It’s a bit like teaching your children to do something that’s good for them. They think you’re just nagging them because that’s what you live for as a parent. That’s also true, of course ;), but usually it’s for their benefit. Like brushing their teeth. Or practising an instrument.

I have to practise not using my tongue in a careless way so that my words really line up with reality, so there’s no tension between what I need to say and what others may be expecting to hear. For my own sense of well-being and consistency. And to give God the credit that is due.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Relocation, relocation, relocation

The sand has been running in this year for nearly a month now and here I am, just climbing into my blogging seat. Why the delay? Late nights? Late mornings? Too much fun? Not enough?

All of the above, really.

A fire broke out at our house just after Christmas. No injuries, thanks to a cracking team of firefighters who got to our old wooden house just in time. The worst damage was a couple of holes burnt through the floor, an exploded bath and a house that smells like my first barbecue. I had no idea smoke could reach into so many places.

We are now in our third relocation in four weeks. God has kindly provided, and house-hopping has given me great insights into how other people organise their homes (some great ideas), their cutlery drawers and their laundries. We are surrounded by kindness and compassion from friend and stranger alike in a land where our flesh and blood number a total of six, four of them children.

It is humbling and difficult to receive help, even in circumstances like ours. Our sense of ourselves as self-sufficient and generous has had to sit down and shut up while we accept the help and share the space of others, sleep in their bedding and wear their clothes.

It’s not easy to maintain some kind of equilibrium because the children need to see Mum strong and smiling, not foetal and wailing. It’s hard to wait for the wheels of the insurance machine to grind forward. You get the feeling they don’t turn that willingly ;). The shock of it hits us afresh every couple of days. If only I had asked for a time machine for Christmas…

But the emotional and physical toll of our temporary displacement is nothing compared to that on the millions of homeless families who rely on the goodwill of strangers, some victims of bushfires here in Australia, others further afield victims of conflict and political upheaval, all suddenly forced out of permanence, out of stability, out of home. What must that be like?

Next week our school year begins and we have to create a new normality out of the random collection of things we’ve brought from our smoky house. I don’t know how long this stage will last, but I know what I must do in order to keep my balance, which is to tell God (occasionally foetal and wailing, yes) how I feel about it all and then trust him to get on with the clearup operations.

When my heart was grieved and my spirit embittered

I was senseless and ignorant; I was a brute beast before you.

Yet I am always with you: you hold me by my right hand.

You guide me with your counsel and afterwards you will take me into glory.

Whom have I in heaven but you? And earth has nothing I desire besides you.

My flesh and heart may fail, but you are the strength of my heart and my portion forever.

Psalm 73 vs 25 – 26

Lavinia

About three months ago our family visited the dog home. The children and their father were enthusiastic and keen, peering into the cages where the young dogs and puppies waited to be chosen. Classical music blared through speakers on posts near the cages, adding a surreal pathos to the scene. I found it all a bit much, to be honest.

Our eldest stopped and looked at a medium size dog whose cage label said Lavinia. She liked her short black and tan coat, her tufty eyebrows and big brown eyes. She brought me to look first, then the rest of the family. The dog’s dignified name seemed to suit her. Lavinia, a 2-year-old Kelpie Shar Pei cross, found abandoned in a house nearby, lay still while the other dogs barked, yapped or jumped at all the people peering into their cages.

When we met her in the exercise yard the connection was immediate and strong. She was quiet and relaxed, not bounding around in excitement or chasing the youngest, as other dogs had done. She quietly found me and stood by my knees, perhaps sensing my nervousness. I was the least keen to get a dog, my well-worn practical objections revealing themselves as fear in the days immediately before our appointment at the dog home. My only experience of dogs was with Kelly, my Aunt’s terrifying German Shepherd, who as far as I know never left the house and lived under the stairs waiting to eat small visitors.

For a long time the children had lobbied, begged and made ridiculous promises to break down my objections to having a dog. Until recently, circumstances were my ally – we lived in a rental, we’d just arrived in the country, we were about the leave the country, the youngest was still too young…then there was the extra responsibility, picking up poo, vet bills, having to walk the thing, the cost of pet food, restrictions on holiday plans, you name it. I finally had to cave when their father joined in.

Fast forward three months or so. The unimaginable is happening. I am becoming a Dog Person. At the local dog beach I watch her sprint and play with her pals. I know the names of some of the local Dog People, and even their dogs. I carry treats in my pockets and other dogs come up and nuzzle me. I do not recoil. I hardly recognise myself. Except for the times Lavinia stands in my blind spot and I nearly trip over her. Then my objections to dog ownership return. Briefly.

It makes me think. What else do I think I can’t handle that I might actually enjoy?