‘We Church’ to ‘Me Church’

I grew up in the Church. It was integral to who I was. It was my family. It defined my identify. It was a powerful influence, my moral development, social opportunities, entertainment, and an invitation to regular fellowship.

Church had been my routine and security. A part of my family history and traditions. Somewhere I belonged. A place where others depended on me. A way to love others. A solidifying of my status in the Christian community. A place to connect with others and restore my spiritual focus.

Until my marriage ended. Then I didn’t really fit in, and church became complicated.

Throughout the betrayals within my congregation and my subsequent divorce, singleness and isolation, I clung to my church attendance quite literally like a piece of floating driftwood from a sinking ship. The organisation that had kept me nurtured and safe my entire life, became an unknowing participant in my prolonged suffering.

Regardless of how much my body shook from the traumas I’d encountered, I still marched through the church doors, week to week.

Regardless of how hard it was to keep the tears from rolling down my cheeks during worship, I returned dutifully to ‘my’ seat in the pews and sang while gulping down the lump in my throat.

Regardless of the pain of mingling with people who were probably talking about my scandalous life events, I still socialised with them to fend off some of the loneliness.

Regardless of the isolation I felt after sharing my prayer needs with leaders who found my circumstances awkward, I still made myself vulnerable and left feeling embarrassed.

Regardless of the exhaustion of working full time, caring for children and pursuing divorce proceedings, I continued to serve so that I did not have to admit my limitations.

Regardless of the ignorant one-liners that reopened my wounds, such as ‘God hates divorce’, ‘you’ll find someone else’, ‘God will prosper you’, ‘things could be worse’…I allowed my ears continued exposure.

Regardless of the devastation of not feeling heard or important, when I addressed the messages that had threatened my wellbeing, I kept advocating, and became further estranged.

It was pure stubbornness that kept me hostage to my church habit, despite how at times, extremely detrimental it was.

Then I underwent a season of rest, reflection, and re-construction.

I first gave myself permission to acknowledge that church had been hard. That many times I did not like it. That it was okay not to go if I was not up to it.

Then I discovered something…new.

I took a break from ‘We Church’ and found ‘Me Church’.

‘Me Church’ was just me and Jesus.

At ‘Me Church’, I could come as I was. Slippers, dressing gown, messy hair and all. It had amazing worship. Personal playlists, set on repeat. There were cups of tea and flexible start and end times. ‘Me Church’ had various campuses, in a range of indoor and outdoor venues. I could sing my heart out in joy, or sit silently in tears.

‘Me Church’ did not require interaction with other flawed, sinful humans, which at that point in my life, was just too risky. There was silence, reflection, time for thinking, and staring out at God’s amazing creation. There could be bible reading, YouTube sermons or podcast discussions…or no teaching at all. There was space for a private conversation with God, including how let down I felt by life in general, or how beautiful the sunshine was.

After ‘Me Church’ there was opportunity to bless others, whether that was checking in and calling a friend, doing a nice deed for the family, or preparing for the working week ahead so I was better able to bless others in the community with my gifts. ‘Me Church’ was not concerned with the denomination I followed, whether I had spiritual gifts, the evangelical celebrities I ascribed to, or my stance on moral and political agendas. There was no power hierarchy, shame, guilt trips or abuse.

At ‘Me Church’, you could share your personal testimony, even if it didn’t have a happy ending…or any kind of resolution at all.

There were no expectations and no awkwardness. It was safe and it was healing. It was genuine and it was real. Despite my imperfect, single, state, at ‘Me Church’, I fit in, and I belonged.

I could be a member for as long as I wanted to. I could leave when I was ready. I would be welcomed when I returned.

If ‘We Church’ has been a complicated place for you too, let go of it for a while, and try ‘Me Church’ out for a season as well.

Even if no one else is there, Jesus certainly will be.

Photo by Audrey Badin from Pexels

Letting Go

Photo by YURI MANEI from Pexels

In my dreams, my husband loved me. He looked at me with desire, he wanted to know what I thought. He cared about me.

Then I would wake up, and know it wasn’t real. My heart would sink into the loneliness of my bed as he left in stony silence for work, or was already gone. No morning hug, no kiss goodbye, the most a grunt, a hassled sigh.

“I’m not happy.” he said, “I’m angry and I don’t know why.”

“Will you go with me somewhere to find out? To try?”

“No.” His face darkened like a storm was brewing. “I am who I am.”

Unkind words came, making me smaller, sneering and patronising until I stopped fighting back, and tried to creep inside of myself for safety. I watched helplessly as the chasm widened. The floorboards rattled with his stomping steps and his fist smashed through a wall near my head in frustration. I saw my things swept from one side of a room to the other. I felt his grip on my arm, squeezing so hard to convey his anger. I had to laugh and pretend it was so ridiculously absurd it was funny when friends noted the bruises that looked like finger prints.

I felt his rage. His rage at life. His rage at me. And his anger that no one worked as hard as he did, or could measure up to his capacity. I bore his disgust that I couldn’t come close.

He would not touch me, he would not look at me, he refused to love me, to punish me for his own dissatisfaction at his situation.

I felt so lonely, so incredibly alone and lost. I longed to connect, to smile and laugh together like we once had, but it was all gone, and my attempts to bring it back were met with “not now, I’m too busy… Do you have any idea how hard I’m working!”

I did know. He made sure I did as I hovered around his temper, trying to show him love and light. But he pushed me away, again and again…yelling, snapping, snarling…and I retreated further into myself and felt he must be right. I must be incompetent and unable to hold my own in the world, or survive on my own.

I felt tiny and sluggish, like I didn’t belong. I felt unseen and unheard and humiliated. I felt like his shadow, slinking around his ego, or his puppet, with him yanking the strings. I felt like his servant, fussing around his needs, and tip-toeing around his temper. But no matter what demands I met, no matter how hard I tried, it was never enough to reach inside his heart and soften the dissatisfaction and wildness of his tortured soul.

Then one day it happened. With the blackest eyes and booze in his veins, he spat at me with venom, “We have nothing in common!”

My heart kicked from my chest; it slithered away into a dark murky corner of the room, whimpering quietly while the rest of my body stood frozen in shock, staring at a man I barely recognised. A man so brimming with unhappiness and anger he looked empty and haunted. Tears ran down my face and he stared back impassively, wanting me to hurt, wanting me to be as miserable as he was. Why should I enjoy life if he has chained himself to work and commitments and responsibilities? Why should I ever be allowed to rest or smile, or create…or just be?

My heart wouldn’t come back, it cowered in the corner and refused to come…broken and bleeding and wounded beyond repair.

So I called for my courage. It came slowly, pressing quietly against me side as I packed my things with shaking hands and an aching hollow agony in my chest that threatened to overwhelm me. My legs gave way, I couldn’t breathe. A panic attack, they call it. How would I survive? Where would I go? What would I do…it was all so huge and scary and empty and grey and bleak. It was all too hard…but staying was harder. Staying was lonelier. Staying was emptier.

I told him I loved him, and would come the minute he wanted to seek happiness with me, to find a way to soothe his soul and hunt down his demons. I told him I’d do anything, if he’d just try to save us.

“I am who I am.” His eyes no longer met mine, “and I’ll never change.”

I did not leave my husband because it was easier. I fought every way I knew how. With words of love, and hours of prayer, messages, old pictures to remind him of who we were before the anger seeped in and destroyed us.

But I knew. After so many years, I knew. You cannot force change on a person who doesn’t want to change. Love slides off, it doesn’t seep in, against a heart of stone.

I went to the corner of the room and collected what was left of my deflated heart, stuffing it back inside me, even though I thought it was damaged forever, and would never beat the same again.

I left with fear at my back, and despair settling over me like a heavy cloak. There was no joy left inside me, no stability, no assurances in life that anything would ever be okay again.

But there was one tiny emotion left that enabled me to force one foot after the other.

It was hope.

The only thing could get me out of my bed day after day and keep me going. Hope that one day I would feel strong. One day, I would feel like me again, and be happy with that. One day I would feel worthy of love again. One day I wouldn’t be broken anymore. That I could put myself back together, and be stronger for it.

One day is hope. And one day I will find my way again, whole and hopeful and knowing who I am in this world.

I am not worthless. I am courageous. I did not give up, I fought to the end.

I am not done. I am only beginning.

Foster Caring: A Consumer Report

Photo by Artem Beliaikin from Pexels

In a perfect world, every child would have a safe and nurturing home where all their needs are met. Unfortunately, our world is far from perfect. Parents are not immune from suffering brokenness, illness, mental health, social issues, and addictions. Foster care placements are crucial services our community needs to ensure that all children are cared for appropriately.

Let me begin this discussion by reinforcing, how much I and the general community, value those who take on children who are not biologically theirs. Whether that be adoption, kinship care, foster care, respite care or assisting in residential care, it takes a village to raise a child, and in this scenario that is no more abundantly clear. Foster caring is a noble act of service.

Over the years I have come across people who are foster carers or are considering becoming one. Often these are couples or families who want to add a new dynamic to their lives. As a guardianship system participant, who has learnt some valuable lessons over the years, I offer the following experience and advice for people to evaluate.

I became a foster carer because of a family need. Prior to this, my only exposure to the foster system, were the ads on TV, romanticising the ‘make a difference’ message, showing images of happy families and appreciative, (previously misplaced) now suitably attached, functional children, who appeared settled within the displayed family unit. There were smiles, typical family scenes around the dinner table, and joy. As a result of this propaganda, I firmly believed that although I was about to embark on a season of challenge and sacrifice, one day it would all pay off and be ‘worth it’.

Fifteen years on, the journey has been different to what I expected. There has been fun, tears, laughter, and despair. Much more to the extremes than I could ever have imagined. The adventure and personal growth that my child has brought to my life IS rewarding and has caused me to develop into a much stronger person. I love my foster child dearly, and always will.

Alongside this, I have learnt a lot about how the guardianship system operates, the community expectations and the impacts it can have on the carer. The best metaphor I can come up with, is the retail industry. So let’s go window shopping!

  1. The CEO/boss/owner, is the government

Children on a guardianship order, who are under the foster care system, do not officially ‘belong’ to the foster parents by any means. They are solely the charge of the government. They are responsible for the upbringing of the child and are accountable for their wellbeing. They decide the morals, education, and discipline. Such authorities sign school excursion indemnity forms, give permission for interstate travel, and police check any friends or family the child stays with on holidays. They approve case plan goals and must show evidence that needs are being met, even if it is just superficially. Child aside, they are predominantly concerned with avoiding future litigation and will do whatever required to prove they have been responsible caregivers.

2. The ‘floor/department manager’ is the social worker

Social workers are the middle management. They have a tough gig. Many of these individuals have also been lured into the industry by their heart strings, however, get lumped extreme caseloads, high responsibility and limited influence. They see the trauma of the child’s upbringing, the challenges of parenting, but must please the ‘boss’. They need to strike the delicate balance of appearing supportive to the foster parents to maintain the placement, while only really being ‘team foster kid’. They have to be friendly and relatable, however at the end of the day, if they want to keep their job and prove their success, they can attribute blame down the guardianship food chain if there is a major disfunction.

3. The ‘customer’ is the foster child

The displaced child ends up being the consumer or ‘customer who is always right’. Happy child = happy social worker = happy boss…and less likely future legal issues. This is not a problem when a child is easy to please, settled and appreciative of the support made available to them. When my child was younger and I took on the bulk of the care requirements, I would receive praise from my social worker. It was a relief for them to not have to worry about aspects of one case, and as a result of my contribution, their workload was decreased. When handover between workers occurred, the comment would be made “I’ve told them how wonderful you are and how you have everything under control”.

When trauma, insecurities, attachment and dare I mention it, teen years come in to play, things can get tricky! If that is not enough, why not throw in some further family brokenness into this picture, alongside the usual biological family contact complexities, carer burn out and other life challenges. Amid such situations, foster children work out that there are a panel of people who are employed just to meet their needs and demands, outside of the foster parents. The usual one or two parent family, now becomes three or more, and you have ‘committee’ of individuals who all have their own theories as to what is best for the child.

4. The ‘sales assistant’ is the foster parent

The ones whose boots are on the ground dealing with the daily chores, school lunches, homework, sicknesses, appointments, ‘I can’t sleep”, behavioural challenges, maintaining employment so there is a home for the child to live in at all…as well as filling the gaps related to why the child can’t live with their biological parents in the first place. Sales assistants are expected to ensure the ‘customer’ is looked after and happy with the service and address any complaints, without the support of a union representative. If there is consumer dissatisfaction, they may have to justify their actions to the store managers and owners. Everything will be documented from whose responsibility it is to take the child to the dentist, how medical and educational needs are going to be met and the parenting style will be scrutinised and reported on. This all leads to annual meetings, where the child, parents, workers, managers, and a heap of random department experts sit around table for an hour to evaluate the care provided to the customer. If only ALL parents had to do this! It can be as enjoyable as trying to source toilet paper from the supermarket in the middle of a pandemic.

When things start going pear shaped, the manager will ultimately look for a suitable child centred response. The go-to (and rightly so in the initial stages of crisis management) is to consider the impact of attachment disorders and put pressure on the carers to address issues with therapeutic methods. The emotions and toll this takes on the carers is beside the point. The managers arrange consultants and mental health supports, however if the consumer’s behaviour escalates to the point of damaging property or affecting other members of the household in a negative way, the manager will not see this as their responsibility to address this.

If the placement does not improve, then the manager will need to report to the owner, with an explanation of what they have done to try to make the customer happy. The manager wants to retain their job, so the only other suitable candidate to direct attention to is….you guessed it…the sales assistant. It is in this situation that foster carers need to be wary and wise with how to proceed to avoid any potential threat to their own reputation, mental health and family relationships.

So, what can be done to make sure the foster caring experience is the ‘product satisfaction’ fairy tale instead of ‘I need a refund from this experience’ nightmare?

Here is my recommended list of do’s and don’ts to safeguard yourself and your foster child:

  • Be at peace with the fact…you are not their biological parent.

…and don’t try to be.

  • Have a supportive network around you.

Dependable partner/family/friends, are a must. Single parenting as a foster carer is difficult, as there is no back up and no one to provide evidence to the contrary if needed. Ideally, other children in the family should be older, and highly settled. A network of family and friends that can assist with respite and emotional encouragement is a valuable idea.

  • Say ‘yes’ to all the help that is available

Do not be a hero and do it all yourself. No one will give you an award for that. Social workers are employed to support you, so make the most of their services to assist with the daily and weekly care requirements of your child. Do not feel guilty about palming off some of the parental responsibilities to them, it is not your role as a carer to pretend there is no guardianship order. Arrange regular respite care, even if you feel bad sending the child away. There will come a time where it is needed, and you will be grateful.

  • Document all communication

Keep the majority of your communication with social workers in written form where possible. Read case plan reports and have any details amended before they are released, that could possibly frame you in a negative light.

  • You can’t fix everything

It is not your fault that the child is not with their biological family, nor is it your responsibility to fix the situation and pretend the child is your own. Love them in a manner that accommodates their additional needs, acknowledges their unique story and background, but not to the detriment of yourself and other family members.

  • Have firm boundaries

Be fair to yourself and your family and keep firm boundaries with expected morals and behaviours for your home. Do not adjust them due to pressure from authorities. Feel free to say ‘no’ to extreme interventions suggested by the department, especially invasive evaluations and meetings (particularly when divorce is involved, as child protection workers are not trained in mediation). You have just as much a right to a safe and happy home and life, as the foster child. Happy foster carers = happy foster child.

  • Accept that you will have to love and let go

This is the most important one, and one I have struggled the most with myself. Well-intentioned foster carers often go into this with the attitude of ‘no matter what, I’ll be there for you’. That attitude is unwise. There are many reasons that the child may not be with you long term. The biological family may be awarded custody. The child may not like living with you. You and your family members may find it too much. The department may choose to put them in a different placement. The child may elect to live independently as a teenager.

The moment that you can open your heart to a foster child and be ready to let go at any time…is the moment you are possibly ready for membership to the guardianship superstore. Your till will have the correct change and resources to ensure you make your customer happy, and exchanges/returns are not required.

To all those thinking about becoming a foster carer, the highest of respect to you for considering this, and the best of luck with your experience.

Badass Mother

Photo by cottonbro from Pexels

Today I am embracing my inner badass mother. On the outside, I am your typical late thirties, skinny jean-wearing, pot-planting, SUV driving mother. But on the inside, I am transitioning to a hip-hop rapping, bling wearing, chin nodding and ‘aha aha’ murmuring, badass!

Or at least, I am trying to.

Parenting teens is difficult, especially as a single mother. I do not have moral backup. I cannot tag-out of the difficult issues I am not naturally adept at addressing. I am no longer their soft place to fall. I am not cool to be around in public. I know nothing…even when my academic credentials prove otherwise. I am defeated in strength and stature. I am not intimidating when I am angry, and my opinion of disappointing behaviour is now rather insignificant.

Up until recently, my children have been my whole world. All my decisions have had their wellbeing at the forefront. I have sacrificed my whole self for them. I relinquished full night’s sleep for a decade, to ensure the management of health conditions was optimal. I worked hard to finance their private schooling. I have juggled weekly life to take them to hundreds of hours of appointments and therapies. I have frozen my tooshie off in winter at Saturday morning soccer. I have driven them across the countryside for music lessons. I have made sure they had nice clothes, haircuts, toys, and books. I have sidelined my own interests and goals and put their needs first.

If I am brutally honest, a small percentage of this sacrifice, has been for my own glory. The glory of being hailed a “good mother”, the accolades from friends of “I don’t know how you do it”, the social media affirmation of staged milestone photos, the recognition at Mother’s Day Church services complete with lapel flower and chocolate hearts, shining case plan reports from social workers who were relieved that my deeds reduced their own workload, the pictures for the family portrait wall, the inner fulfillment of knowing I’m a ‘good Christian woman’.

Another part has also been to compensate for the guilt of being divorced. My subconscious inner voice often reminds me of these failures yet can be easily be ignored when I am busy caring for the children. Being rejected as a wife is the ultimate shame, however if the children turn out ‘alright’, my sins appear forgiven. I can hold my head high in my community! Redemption is possible! My logic tells me, ‘if I can’t be a good wife, then I’ll be a good mother’!

But sacrificing all is what a ‘good mother’ does, right?

Maybe not.

Despite all my intentions and sacrifices, I feel as though I have come up short. Have they all been worth it?

The pre-teen to teenage season, has not gone to plan. I was not successful at shielding my children from the dysfunctions of my marriage and its effect on them. Toxic patterns have started to rear their ugly heads, and out of necessity, I’ve had to change my tune from ‘mother of the year who sacrifices all’…to ‘badass who accepts none of your ****** (insert your own adjective here).

This badass-mother-in-training does not sacrifice all. She invests where it is fruitful, enforces boundaries, refuses disrespect, and elevates her own self-worth, fulfillment, and safety above her children’s. (I felt guilty just writing that sentence…this badass is still a work in progress…clearly!)

The transition has been frightening. It has taken me years of failed attempts at faulty behaviour and co-parenting negotiations to arrive at the only option left at my disposal.

Relinquish.

Let go.

Hand the children over to their circumstances, desires, and ultimately…their God.

Over time there has been incessant regressions, then re-attempts to…

Let go. Let go. Let go.

Let go of their health.

Let go of their moral development.

Let go of their education.

Let go of their opinion of you.

Let go of other’s opinions of you.

Fast forward a year or two, and this is where it has led me.

Silence.

Peace.

Sadness.

Stillness.

Calmness

Okay-ness

Make no mistake, letting go hurts. It hurts a lot.

I regularly grieve. I mourn. I am disappointed that my family is not what I desired.

But I still love them. In a different way. In a safer way.

If I had continued the path I was on, it would have been more of the same for years to come. Arguments, power-struggles, constantly explaining myself, broken things, being used and manipulated, name calling, pleading for co-parenting and department support and character assassinations. It would lead to a future of toxic relationships not only for myself, but for my children and their future partners and families. I could see history repeating itself over decades, I could possibly still be a victim of it as an elderly woman. Round and round the abuse cycle.

Instead, by embracing my inner badass, it is possible me and my children will have a different outcome. I acknowledge there is a risk that I will lose them completely, however, I have placed those worries in God’s hands. Instead I try to focus on the goal of my children learning that all people have limits and all people deserve respect. That choices have consequences, good and bad. Forgiveness can be sought; however, repeated negative behavior does not need to be accepted.

So, I have been on a journey towards badass-ness. Yes, I have been accused of ‘rejection’, and I have faced the dreaded fear of ‘what if people call me a ‘bad mother’’.

But it no longer has power over me.

I am fighting for my children by putting my skinny jean-wearing, pot-planting, SUV driving weapons down, and instead laying my family’s future at the foot of the cross. His will be done, not mine.

I am now free of cursed maternal expectations and guilt trips, and let me tell you, it is nothing short of empowering and enlightening.

Will you join me and become a badass mother too?

Boo to the Bubble

Photo by Lucas Insight

Some bubbles are good bubbles. Like hubba bubba and the types in spas and champagne.

But some bubbles are really, really bad. Like these covid response Australian ‘border bubbles’.

I don’t like these. At all.

I understand the importance…and to be honest it’s reassuring to know my interstate family and friends are safe. But I’m one of those on the outside, wanting to pop them.

The moment border restrictions became a ‘thing’ (I seriously never knew they even served a purpose other than to take my fruit in the Riverland), and then an even more serious ‘thing’ when Victoria went to Stage 4, I cried.

I was triggered and I felt trapped.

It reminded me that I had once been told it was my duty as a wife to leave my home state when I didn’t want to. It reminded me that the move had not been easy. That my marriage was not ideal and I had been isolated from my support people. It reminded me that my sacrifice had not paid off and my family situation had not gone to plan. That I was still outside the border bubble, even though if I’d had the chance, I’d be safely encapsulated inside.

Since leaving my home state, travelling the country roads or taking off into the skies on weekends or school holidays has been my way of finding the rainbow lining.

When I left my home state, my marriage was tough and it deteriorated further after the move. Dreaming of the next getaway to see family or friends, would help me hold on, in the knowledge that I would soon have care and love. I could get help with the children. I could get things done for me. I could be around people that knew me well and could see the situation for what it was without me uttering a word. Travelling interstate kept my head above the murky water.

Another reason getting away was imperative to surviving this difficult season was because there were never any dramas when we were around others, particularly friends. There could be a surface level facade of love, public displays of affection which were otherwise very rare, all the while creating some happy memories with the children. These would later wreak havoc on my perspective of the toxic dynamics that usually occurred, however for this time, they could temporarily be put aside. Holidays with others meant guaranteed safe family interactions.

Following the disintegration of my marriage, travel continued to be an important aspect of my healing. I could hold together my single-woman powers, as long as I knew when I could drop the superhero act and get care from friends and family once every so often. More importantly I could also control my movements with new agency. I could choose where to go and when! I could hit the country roads packed up with kids, luggage and the dog and relish in the achievement of getting this to work from the finances to the planned activities, to the accommodation. I could create authentic, happy family memories. I could be proud of the adventures me and the kids got up to and laugh at the things that didn’t go to plan. Road trips as a divorced, single mother, gave me the temporary illusion of freedom from my circumstances.

I also developed an appetite for flights and weekends away on my own, when I didn’t have my kids and the loneliness hit badly. I relied heavily on this to not feel the sting of being a part-time mother of my children. During these times I morphed into a lady of leisure…with her coat, leather boots, scarf, and cute cabin luggage. I became comfortable at hanging out alone in airport lounges, drinking lattes and reading a book. I would take off for a weekend or week, indulge myself in fun things, then come home to single parent life, content and refreshed. Loneliness crisis suitably averted…for the time being.

Travel has also been a suitable mode of escapism. Marriage break ups are hot gossip especially, and unfortunately, in Christian communities. Divorcee’s are often subject to assumption and judgement, which regrettably often displays a lack of understanding of complex relationship dynamics and the effort that may have gone into overcoming them. Then there are also the accompanying court orders, co-parenting dramas and social intricacies of managing post-divorce acquaintances who may have their proverbial feet soaking in two foot spas. Getting away from the local community, to a place where I could just be me, not the ‘divorcee’, ‘single mother’ or alleged ‘bitter one’ or ‘unforgiving ex’, was a true blessing.

A common trait of post-traumatic stress is the need to have a lifestyle that kind of floats around, like bubbles in a gentle breeze. Those who have been victim to abuse, often have a hard time maintaining deep connections to people and situations. Travel is the perfect antidote for this. They also find incredible hope and confidence in the ability to make their own choices and to have control over what they do, when it has not been an option in the past. Travel can be a healthy way to manage trauma.

So for people like me, for whom travel has been a method of dealing with what life has squirted at me, travel has been a life-saver. The closing of state borders is an unnerving experience. It has forced me to learn a new way to manage the trauma triggers related to my past, by instead finding solace at home and within myself.

I will continue to work at this but I will breathe a huge sigh of relief once the bubbles are burst for good!

Please share a comment if you have experienced any of these feelings in relation to border restrictions.

A Christian Woman’s Guide to Surviving Separation and Divorce

Photo by Polina Sirotina

“…and they lived happily ever after….”

Most of the time. But not always.

But….“God hates divorce”!

Guess what, so do 99.9% people!

No one marries with the intention of getting divorced. Especially Christians. Unfortunately we live in a fallen world affected by sin and separation and divorce result. This post is not in any way advocating a Christian divorce revolution, however it is important that if covenants are broken irretrievably or well-being is compromised, people have the advice needed to get them through the tough times.

Here are my top 10 separation survival tips, in order of importance.

  1. Safety first

Safety is a basic, human need. Whether that is physical or emotional, get what you need in place to ensure you have a safe place to live and safe people around you. It could be moving in with family or friends, getting court orders in place or enlisting help from your community.

2. Be legally proactive

Get legal advice. Even if you don’t need it or use it.

Knowledge is power. Options allow freedom.

Keep a journal of any separation or co-parenting challenges and stick to measured, non-emotional written correspondence with your ex partner. Often there is pressure for separating couples to ‘be mature’ and the media exaggerates the functionality of celebs who are masters at ‘consciously uncoupling’, but that ideal is often unattainable. It also doesn’t allow for the grief cycle to play out or the normal expression of human pain.

Seek recommendations from anyone else you know who has been through this journey as many a people have been taken for a ride by professionals who are purely interested in draining your dollars instead of looking out for your (and possibly ex’s) well being. When you find responsible advice, listen to it.

3. Re-evaluate your social circles

Yep, hate to say it, but this might be a time to batten down the hatches socially. It may even mean not attending your church, gatherings with friends or your children’s sport matches for a while. The last thing you need is to provide the gossip train with more fuel and to be on the receiving end of well-meaning (but ignorant) people who throw one liners such as “affairs can be worked out” and“you’ll find someone else” . It’s highly likely they have no idea what you’ve been through, and probably never will.

Nevertheless, don’t isolate completely. Find your “people of peace”. The ones that have your back. These are the people whose actions, not just words, display their loyalty to you. The ones you can be real with about life, and who you don’t have to feel ashamed about expressing your pain to.

4. Exercise

Keep your mental well-being in check with regular exercise. I can’t rate highly enough the impact that movement will have. Don’t wait to be in the perfect mood to start this, just get going however you can! Begin small so that you will gain confidence, then you’ll naturally increase what you do as those feel good hormones start firing. Also use exercise (especially visualisation when you’re pounding that punching bag) as a healthy form of stress relief!

5. Look after your health

High stress often expresses itself in health disorders, quite commonly related to digestion and mental health. Avoid addictive substances, eat healthy and find a GP who ‘gets you’, to keep on top of your physical well-being. Start paying more attention to your body and how lifestyle factors affect you.

6. Find a good counselor

One that understands the meaning of words such as trauma, abuse, addiction and the right of any person to have choice over their future. Be wary that often pastors don’t have formal training in this area and some counselors are more experienced than others. A therapist that dismisses your feelings, safety or pressures you into unhealthy reconciliation…should also be divorced.

7. ‘Whinge pray’ and read the Psalms, a lot!

You may feel spiritually weak, angry, sad or numb about what is happening.

Express to God every emotion you’re feeling. He gets it and he loves you unconditionally.

Jesus has been through all these experiences a billion times worse. But don’t feel like a failure if reading the bible is overwhelming. In this case, try reading the Psalms, which express all sorts of emotions from one extreme to the other. Allow other trusted people to pray for you, especially when you don’t have a clue what to express or even the words to verbalise it to God.

8. Pursue a career goal

Reality check! No one else is going to support you now….it’s all up to you!

Scary….yes! There’s no other way to get around this!

Although this may feel overwhelming, turn it around and make it empowering. Get excited about your future and goals.

9. Stay off them dating sites….for at least a year

Believe me, you really don’t want to go there until you are in a strong place! You will also require a healthy level of self-awareness, confidence and humor in order to do this well. Instead, devote yourself to study and reflection of healthy relationships. Find your worth in your Heavenly Father and focus on your friendships until you have healed.

10. Celebrate the wins

I admit I hosted a ‘Settlement Party’ during my divorcing season. I possibly offended some of my Christian friends. But this was not a celebration of a failed marriage. It was a celebration of God’s provision, my success in achieving stability for myself and my children and prioritising my own well-being for the first time in my adult life. It was also a toast to better things to come!

Separation and divorce are horrible and not a part of our Heavenly Father’s initial plan for our lives. However, our God is a master of restoration so amidst these seasons find your wisdom, hope and peace in Him.

Beauty in Brokenness

Photo by Tim Gouw

Since the beginning of my mortal existence, I have been blessed with the gift, or curse, of perfectionism. I soon discovered that when my perfectionism collided with the subjectivity of music and the performing arts…things didn’t always go to plan.

Despite my best intentions to practice, practice, practice, for the perfect classical performance, the final product was never guaranteed to go as I wanted. I seemed to have a knack for momentary lapses in concentration and coordination which at the crucial moment, would result in the most amazing wrong notes ever to be produced! Following this I would go home and literally chain myself to the ivories, intent on overcoming those unmanageable passages by sheer blood, sweat and tears…only to be disappointed the following performance with feedback such as “performance lacked expression”. My desire to ‘play the right notes’ dominated my playing, and left no room for appreciation of the beauty of what I was producing.

Fortunately since that time I’ve grown to learn that the admirable quality is not a mistake free performance, but the willingness to put on public display the ‘realness’ of flawed abilities. A desire to make something beautiful despite the imperfect skill base. Now when rehearsing for a performance, I work at the challenges with diligence with the expectation it likely it won’t go to plan. I aim for perfection…but in the real performance, I rarely get it, and that’s okay! The uniqueness of my performances and the experience of putting my work out there for others to critique, and hopefully enjoy, is where the spiritual gifts of patience and humility are refined.

In a world where we are brainwashed into thinking the ultimate success is to plaster the best staged moments of ourselves for all to see, including our picture perfect sets and moments with our co-stars, I’m not so sure that’s the way it should be. When this can’t always be achieved, we can still feel pressured to take this further by hiding the imperfections at all costs, making an exhibition of our suffering, or proving there was a happy ending to it eventually.

There is nothing wrong with the above, however as my life has progressed I now know there’s another option! I refuse to bow to perfectionism any more and will be at peace with the brokenness! This does not excuse poor attitudes, character or abandoning my God-given purpose in life, but it means I’m giving myself permission to perform the musical movements of my life without the expectation of relentless excellence! My personal life sonata could even be re-arranged, with certain new motives developed, diminished, augmented, inverted, accented or transposed to create the ultimate, messy masterpiece!

It’s taken me some time to learn that it requires more sacrifice and character development for our pride to be challenged by realness, and to possibly admit we will not always be able to reconcile all of the wrong ‘notes’ of life and their long-term legacy. Sometimes bad turns to good, sometimes it stays the same for a long time, and sometimes it gets worse. No matter the strength of our faith or how much we nag God to rid the script of these inconveniences, they do not necessarily end in a perfect finale performance.

I can hear you….‘call yourself a Christian?’ Yes…I know! However, isn’t it even more so a test of our faith in Jesus to place our trust in him despite not having the assurance of getting things our way? Isn’t it the highest sacrifice to deny our human desires? Jesus himself explained that “anyone who comes to me but refuses to let go of their father, mother, spouse, children, brothers, sisters—yes, even one’s own self!—can’t be my disciple. Anyone who won’t shoulder his own cross and follow behind me can’t be my disciple.” (Luke 14:26-27 The Message). After all, God promises to “bestow on them (us) a crown of beauty instead of ashes” (Isaiah 61:3 NIV) so what do we need to fear about being real?

As Christians, if we were to expect perfect performances in all the acts of life, we would deny ourselves true creativity, agency and blessings. The ability to work through and with our imperfections and messy masterpieces, requires us to put ultimate trust in our Father, which in our current world is arguably the highest level of spiritual enlightenment.

A Scooter Affair

Photo by Brett Sayles

Don’t you love it when the kids throw a conversational grenade while you’re driving in the car…and have no way to escape?!

“So Mum, why can’t you just forgive?”

Gulp…. silence…and a million thoughts, memories, emotions and traumas ran through my mind within a two second time span. Urggghhh….not that issue. Since the ‘affair monster’ reared its ugly presence in my world, I had wrestled with these issues on a daily and sometimes minute by minute basis. It was hard enough for me to work out my own feelings, let alone to explain them to my children. It had been the bane of my existence the past few years.

I tried my best to articulate the journey that had changed my boys’ lives, reduced me to a part-time mother, decimated friendships, added a heap of single-parent responsibility, all while still holding my demeanor in check in front of my son. I clenched the steering wheel tighter and strained my jaw.

“Ummm….I have.” I stammered, not at all convincingly.

“No you haven’t…you haven’t forgotten about it.”

“Well…forgiveness and forgetting are different things. I’m doing my best”.

I went blank. How do you explain the complexities of adult relationships to children without scarring the security in their own circumstances?

My other son then joined the intervention.

“Mum, we just don’t get it. Why don’t we see our friends anymore. It’s time you told us.”

I sighed. All those stupid divorce recovery books never touch on all these real life, uncomfortable realities. Where’s the ‘wise counsel’ in this particular situation? Nowhere.

This was one of those moments that was not going to go away and could frame these young men for the rest of their lives. I took a deep breath and mustered up every ounce of energy to come up with a intelligent analogy they could possibly understand.

“You know how much you love your scooter?” I asked son number one.

“How excited you were to buy it from the shop, to choose the colour of the deck, handlebars and wheels. To save up and the upgrade parts to make it look and work better? The fun you have when you ride it at to school and skate park?”

“Yes…”

“You know how for months you would look after it, make sure it didn’t get damaged, even put it close to your bed at night to make sure it was right there in the morning when you woke up? Also, how proud you were to show your friends and meet them at the park to ride and do tricks together? Well, imagine if your best friend took it, even though they knew how much you loved your scooter? How would you feel?”

“Sad”

“What if they started riding it to the park in front of you, even though it had been yours? Doing the cool tricks you used to do, changing the parts you added to it, posting photos of it on social media and telling everyone it was their scooter all along and you were no good anyway. Would that be hard? Would you need to forgive him for lots of little things for a long time?”

“I guess so.”

 “Well that is kind of how it is for me now. I’m doing my best and God is helping me.”

How do you explain the emotional impact of infidelity to children? I am fully aware of all those parenting resources that stress the need to not talk badly about ex-partners, but seriously how do you do that on a day to day basis? Children do not have the capacity to fully comprehend the emotions you as adult, yet still a vulnerable, hurting human being is feeling? At the risk of possibly reducing my ‘fully-sick-ness’, and getting real (which may contradict some of those ideas from the experts of the family-break-up-world…I mean, have they actually lived this?!), here are my own pieces of wisdom with how I’ve learnt to master this!

1.      Chill!

Just like grief is a process, so too is forgiveness, especially when you’ve been betrayed. There are stages of denial, despair, anger, isolation, empowerment, steps backwards…forwards…sideways…spiritual peace, then triggers and regressions where you have to work through the messy process all over again. It is not a ‘one and done’ scenario. It is also important to understand that you can’t pressure and hurry people through this process. Proper healing takes time, don’t rush it and don’t let people tell you to hurry up. Be yourself through all the stages of this recovery.

2.      Create some edits

Create some G or PG video ‘edits’ or scenes in your mind that you can pull out to explain to your children, as needed and in an age appropriate manner. As much as you may be tempted to blurt the soap-opera-messed-up details that continually haunt you, take a breath, pause and choose your examples wisely and allow the facts to speak for themselves. Children deserve to know the ‘real’ circumstances without badmouthing the other parent. Let them make their own judgments over time. Use them as teachable moments, be honest about your own short-comings, the impact of sin and various life choices and focus on how God is able to restore every situation, not matter how unorthodox.

3.      Be wary of the sketchy ones and change your flow

Learn from your journey and make changes to your lifestyle and personal boundaries to model how to cope in adversity. Be discerning about the people in your life and limit unhealthy relationships. If your children are likely to be presented with alternate morals and lifestyles, continue expressing your values and modelling desired actions whenever possible. Be comforted that over time they will observe the differences. Research co-parenting methods, and take out your stress in healthy ways by talking to a trusted friend, family member or counselor, exercise and pursue your own hobbies, interests and career goals.

4.      Don’t worry when you ‘bust your cakes’

This one is the most important! Also, the most unlikely you will be told by anyone!

When you stack it in an emotional and parenting sense, don’t be discouraged. Sin sucks. Parents mess up. Nobody’s perfect. Allow yourself to be human.

Apologise, acknowledge your weaknesses to your children, and demonstrate how to get back on track. Practice self-care, be true to yourself and don’t be dismayed. You will get there. Take an emotional day ‘off’ where you don’t try to meet anyone’s needs or have to pretend to be strong. Binge on Netflix, smash stuff at the gym, go for a walk, avoid responsibilities, make yourself comfortable…but set yourself a time or day for when that is over and you are back on the skate ramp of life.

As much as we humans, especially Christians, hate talking about messy stuff like affairs, family break downs and forgiveness, it is time for us to all get real. The ‘let’s not talk about it honestly’ ideal doesn’t work. Children pick up on everything, so it is pointless for us to pretend they shouldn’t understand the issues that ultimately change the course of their day to day lives. The vital part is how we go about it. This will decide how well you all learn to adapt, become resilient, grow in faith and together overcome the adversity.

After all of that, you may well consider yourself ‘totally legit’! Yeah…sorry, it’s so not cool…puns over….

Rocky Forgiveness

Photo by Ir Solyanaya

Six years ago, my life changed forever. Infidelity caused me, married-mother-of-two, to become single-mother-of-two. I was suddenly alone to navigate the world of working, providing, finances and child-custody negotiations. I lost friendships, became disconnected with my community and experienced a deep, piercing grief.

I spun through emotions like a merry-go-round. Over and over I experienced combinations of anger, sadness, depression, stress, fear, and the occasional whiff of hope. There was no logical pattern for this cycle.

Within days of my life turning upside down, I was told to forgive, for ‘my own’ sake. As the months passed this pressure continued from multiple sources. I received well-meaning advice, such as “you need to forgive“, “don’t become bitter”, “it will be okay”, “do it for the kids’ sake” , “you’ll find someone else”, and “you need to move on”.

Unfortunately, the people sending these messages had no idea of the suffering I was enduring, which included regular flashbacks of events where I had been deceived and manipulated. I was still in the process of adjusting my perception of the past and the people I trusted.

The pressure to forgive was enhanced with the expectation that it’s what good Christians do. But I was not allowed to grieve as a widow would. I was not allowed to display my pain about the death of my marriage by wearing black. There was no memorial service for the loss of my friendships. I was not brought meals or flowers. I was expected to carry on as normal and to hide the shame of the situation that had been forced on me.

People gossiped about me. People avoided me. People abandoned me. Some people attacked me. I was told to keep quiet about what had happened. I was then again reminded that I needed to forgive.

The inability for me to do this in the expected time frame, made me feel more of a failure. Why couldn’t I just be at peace with my new lot in life?

How do you forgive when you are constantly living with the daily repercussions of other people’s choices that have negatively impacted your own life?

After years of processing, counselling and healing, I now have my answer. It’s like I have a jar of rocks. Rocks of all different sizes and shapes, each representing a wrong that had been done to me and something that had been stolen from me. Something to forgive.

Just like the rocks in that jar, I needed to start by disposing of the little pebbles that filled the gaps around, under and over the larger rocks. I then needed to grieve them. Put actions in place to prevent them happening again. Then take some more little pebbles. They could represent lost friendships and family, or increased responsibility. I could crush them, skim them into a lake, feel them, grind them, decorate them or make use of them in the garden. Grieve them. Put protections in place. Let them go. Walk away.

The pressure of ‘just forgiving’ was the equivalent of arranging a truck to scoop up the enormous load of rocks and drop them all into the ocean in one, simple movement. Be done with them. Quickly. Forever. Forget they existed. The danger of that process was they could land on me, trip me and control me. I could even be tempted to pick them up and hurl them to cause harm or damage, as an act of retribution.

A sudden deposition might make others around me feel better about the situation, but it would leave me empty and with limited potential at overcoming the pain.

I was unable to do this because I didn’t know what that pile consisted of. What layers, shapes, pieces and materials formed it to make the load so large and heavy? The boulders of betrayal and abandonment would be there a while, maybe forever. It might be simply enough to just look at them, or acknowledge they existed at all. Maybe chisel off a few edges. Sand back a few surfaces. Feel the texture and the weight. Reduce them to smaller pebbles with a hammer. Put them back in the jar. God could mind them until I was ready to deal with them again.

Forgiveness is not an end result. It is a continuous process; one which acknowledgement of the wrong that has occurred, grief and time plays a large role in the success of it.

Ecclesiastes describes this concept as there being a ‘time for everything’, especially in verse 5, there is “a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them, a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing”.

In this chapter of the bible there is permission for people to take time with the seasons of life. God does not give our healing an expiry date. He is patient, loving and kind. He understands how painful grief is and would not look down on us for mindfully and spiritually processing our pain.

To those of you who have suffered greatly as a result of the choices of others, allow yourself space to grieve and heal as you feel able. Forgiveness should not be controlled by the expectations of others and does not reflect the strength of your faith. As long as you are moving along the road of forgiveness with God in a forwards direction of some sort, that is all that matters.

The jar of rocks is yours and God will willingly help with that burden as you need Him to.

When your personal life requires a quarantine lock down

Yesterday I went to my local shopping centre to grab some groceries. This would normally be classified as nothing out of the ordinary, however amid the new social distancing, isolation and COVID-19 requirements, it was anything but that.

The vibe was different. I felt slightly anxious. My senses were over functioning, making mental note of every surface I was touching…the shop looks and feels different…where IS the toilet paper isle now, who is around me…am I too close to that person…do they have the virus…could I have the virus…who can I trust…don’t give eye contact…where is my hand sanitizer…what’s in the air I’m breathing! Get me outta here and back home!

I reflected on this on my drive home and couldn’t help but initially be amused at my overreaction, and then it dawned on me. I have been here before!

Following a season of relationship breakdowns in my life, venturing out to do a grocery shop has at times been a similar, if not more traumatic experience than what I had just felt. The anxiety of having contact with people, constantly being wary of who was there, who could be there, what people thought of me, how I was going to present myself and ensure my emotional safety; meant that doing daily tasks such as grocery shopping, was torture. It would not be uncommon for me to return to the car with my shopping bags, as well as a complimentary dose of body shakes.

Betrayal and rejection have a knack of getting under people’s skin, causing them to question every aspect of their life, just like living in a pandemic. Victims over-analyse every interaction, trying to deem whether they are trustworthy and safe. They’ve often seen the best in others, given them the benefit of the doubt, missed red flags, and they do not want to end up there again. They construct an imaginary crown of shame that adorns their heads wherever they go and whatever they do. In these circumstances one method of dealing with this is to quarantine people out of their lives until it is safe enough to venture into the realm of relationships again.

For me, I describe these times as ‘going into my fortress’ where I miminise contact with others, stay home, drink cups of tea, stare out the window for hours at a time and process events. Here I am safe from threats to my well being and I can practice self-care. I make decisions about things I can control, even if they are as little as not checking emails for a certain time or responding in my normal, ‘people pleasing’ manner. I wear my sparkly slippers and play worship music. In these times it is just God and I. God will not betray or reject me, instead he builds me up, tear by tear, worry by worry, weakness by weakness.

Over the years my need for ‘quarantine time’ has reduced. I am now strong enough to recreate that experience mentally when I am not physically at home. I have restructured many of my personal relationships so that the fortress is not needed as often. My social circles are smaller, but more enriching as I learn to draw more on my faith for my needs, than people themselves.

The social distancing requirements we are all facing right now replicate much of the above. We must put actions in place that minimise threats to our safety, we must build our own fortresses and change our lifestyle in to get us through. We can focus on the little things such as hand washing and coughing into our elbows, to make us feel somewhat in control of the uncontrollable. However at the end of the day, we will all need to dig deeper on a personal level to get our needs met, and perhaps this is the time to rely less on people and the busyness of life, and more on our Almighty Saviour God who understands our suffering and uncertainty. He will sit with us in it. He will care for us. He will provide us with the comfort that no matter what happens, if we love Him, we will be saved. 1 Peter 5:7 says “Give all your worries and cares to God, for he cares about you” (NLT).

Although quarantining ourselves over the coming months is not exactly an exciting prospect, can I ask you to spare a thought (or a text or phone call) for those have been isolated due to circumstances in their personal relationships too, and to use this as a valuable time to reconnect yourself with God who is the ultimate companion and support.

Photo by Tatyana Nekrasova