“Do not be afraid or terrified…. For the Lord your God goes with you.”

A group of us has recently returned from a trip to Madagascar on an outreach which saw us share our resources and our skills and hopefully express our love to 30 families and their children who had varying degrees of disability. In return, they shared, among other things, their lives, their enduring love and their courage with us.

A few days before our departure, the words of Deuteronomy 31:6: “Do not be afraid or terrified for the Lord your God goes with you,” kept coming into my head. (I had to use Google to find the source of the words because although my faith is robust, my knowledge of bible verses is not).

I have been a therapist for almost twenty years and have worked in a wide range of settings in a number of places with children with different types of challenges. What I experience in Madagascar (this was not my first trip), is often the most terrifying and overwhelming of anything or any place I have encountered. I have seldom been in a position where the lack of access to what could be considered basic services is so serious. We would walk  to and from work some days, through sewerage running in the streets, ceaseless noise and neglected and desperate-looking dogs, no clean running water for many people, and most distressing, old men living next to  piles of rubbish and tiny children with flies their faces and torn clothes sitting or playing in the dust or dirt.

But what I noticed most, as we worked and engaged with the children and their families and with others, was that, although life appeared to be a ceaseless struggle for so many, there was not sense of overwhelming hopelessness or of bitterness, but rather a humble resilience and quiet courage.

I have returned, forever changed, as I was by my trip there last year. And I have realized how afraid and terrified I have been of so much and so many things for so long. I know that I am not alone in this.

Our family of three have had a challenging week and as I was tidying the house this weekend, I found the photo album that one of my children had been tearfully looking at. The photos were taken around the time that their father and I separated and it was as unbelievable to me as it was to that child that the marriage ended when our children were barely out of toddlerhood.  They are such beautiful children who love us both so much and will never know what it feels like to have parents who love each other, delight in each others company and work through hardship in the pursuit of a deeper, stronger and enduring relationship. And how my other child with a new Instagram account searched the profile of the man who used to be a father-figure to both of them and took some comfort in seeing that the pictures of our time together had not been deleted as if that somehow proved that child worthy rather than erasable. I also received a diagnosis that finally explained the chronic fatigue and pain that I have been experiencing that could not be explained by my ulcerative colitis.

Previously, I would have been overwhelmed by events such as these and in order to deal with the fear, would have made myself feel courage. But what I have realized is, that being afraid meant that I found courage like a boxer prepares for a fight and my courage took the form of protecting myself or attacking, not allowing my vulnerabilities to show because that would have risked being wounded. But thankfully life should not be a boxing match and I am no longer overwhelmingly afraid nor terrified because I know God truly does go with me. I also know that everyone experiences something that makes them feel afraid, terrified and overwhelmed at times. And so we need not feel alone. What I was learned in Madagascar was that courage means standing strong and firm, but with gentleness and humility, not allowing fear or circumstances to overwhelm us.

So, “Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the Lord your God goes with you; He will never leave you nor forsake you.”

 

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Buy Long-life Milk

I am in the process of packing up Anna, Ben and my home (along with Sophie, Rufus and Muffy and our latest foster, Lloyd) to move to a more manageable place that we will doubtless come to love as much as every place that we have ever lived, regardless of the circumstances that led us to move.

During the sorting and packing, I have found many things including my knitting and sewing from grade 9 (maybe my Home Economics ability was an early ‘heads up’ that wife may not be my calling); my wedding speech (I can still remember my second one, so yes, the one spoken at the marriage to the father of my children); as well as much that represented the wonders and disappointments of my marriage(s).

And as I say goodbye to the parts I have grieved and take with me the parts I have loved (as well as the Le Creuset pots), it has made me think of my friends who have begun the journey of divorce. This post is for you.

  1. Don’t for one moment think that this will be your ‘new normal’ indefinitely. Having your dreams crushed or crushing those of someone you once loved , while trying, among other things, to parent, friend and earn, while being emotionally battered as well as consonantly forgetting to buy milk for that soothing cup of tea, IS NOT NORMAL, new or not. Contentment, a strong and healthy sense of your identity as an individual, showing vulnerability and having it lovingly and graciously received and reciprocated is normal. As is buying long-life milk in bulk.
  2. Time does not heal just because time passes. If it mattered, you will need to intentionally grieve what you lost, even if it was just the dream of your marriage. Go through the stages in your own way and in your own time. In the beginning,  dating felt like cheating, as in the infidelity kind. Forever becoming never is like a time-machine gone wrong. Bad drugs couldn’t even take you on that trip
  3. When you are ready to date again (there are countless variations of ready), try and keep a few things in mind:
  4. If the answer to “How did you contribute to the breakdown of your marriage?” involves, I don’t know; my ex is…. ; I tried so hard to love him/her but….; RUN (like Usain)
  5. Being dry humped (absolutely terrible phrase, I know) while kissing him goodbye at the door is not a good sign. I have foster dogs who are also lonely and desperate. Say goodbye and come to my house where the dog will add a lick in the face too if you’re into that. And I will make soothing tea with my long-life milk.
  6. If he/she wants to marry you within six weeks because you are perfect, do not be flattered. Wait until he/she has shown he/she loves the whole you, good and bad, and that you feel the same before even considering a commitment that involves life-long promises.
  7. Don’t waste time with people who don’t think you are beautiful. Beauty is the sum of all your parts. Anyone who dates you and implies your beauty is conditional, may be considered a beast (Or a narcissist, *insert swear word here).
  8. If your ex meets another woman/man (no matter when or how or where), and he/she spends time with your children, be gracious (medication may be necessary). You may believe you have control over what goes on in his/her house, but I assure you, you do not. Being bitter, blaming, self-righteous and pretending it is ‘in the childrens’ best interests’ fools nobody, least of all your children. This is a first hand account. I am not proud of it. Neither would you be, my precious friend.
  9. There are so many good people in the world. Open your heart to them once you have experienced their goodness (not just been told) and have made sure you can love their badness too.
  10. Most importantly, always remember that you are loveable no matter what. And allow yourself to be loved by those who love well, with generosity of spirit, openly and unconditionally. You are so worth it.

And don’t forget to buy long-life milk.