Fatherhood – Embracing The Tension

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REPOST in honour of Father’s Day 

Rich and I have been married for 7 years, nearly 8, but have been together a decade in total at this point! We met when we were both still students and have laughed, lived, loved and cried together ever since. Every year is sweeter with my best friend. Marriage takes work and I’m blessed to work hard alongside him. He’s generous, kind and full of integrity. Don’t be fooled by his quiet demeanour, he has a witty sense of humour and works harder than anyone I’ve known. He has wisdom and discernment beyond his years, and a huge random tank of knowledge stored in that beautiful head. There’s so much I could say but at the risk of gushing and causing you to reach for the sick bucket, I’ll stop there. 

I asked him to write a blog on his perspective of parenthood, here’s what he had to say…

Fatherhood – Embracing the Tension

When Anna asked me to write a blog entry for her, I didn’t really know where to start.
There are lots of things that I could write about. I could write about a husband’s perspective on the whole birth process. Maybe I could talk about the initial days of fatherhood and some of the preconceptions I had. I could maybe give some pithy advice as to how to juggle life as a Dad and as the sole breadwinner. But somehow, I feel that all of the above could be written about by far more experienced, and eloquent people than myself.

Becoming a Dad has been the best thing that has happened to me, but also the most
challenging. It is both amazing and terrifying to think this little person is your child, your responsibility, your legacy. That you have the ability to both love her and also fail her. Going to work is bittersweet. I travel quite a lot with work, which always used to be fun and exciting. It now can seem as though I’m missing out when I’m away. We often can’t wait to get her to sleep in the evening, especially after a busy day but as soon as she’s in bed, we’re talking about her, missing her a bit if truth be told. Not enough to wake her up though! I’ve basically realised that being a Dad isn’t simple, it’s actually often paradoxical with the right thing being held in tension between two seemingly conflicting positions. I’m learning to embrace the tension.

Here are a few tensions I’m currently trying to embrace:

I’m expected to lead but I don’t know where we’re going

When I think of my Dad, I always felt like he knew exactly what was going on and what to do in any given situation. I’m sure he didn’t. He was probably doing exactly what I am currently, and making it up as he went along. As men, I feel sometimes we feel the pressure to have it all together and know which way we’re going. The thing is, most of us if we’re honest probably don’t know where on earth we’re going, let alone what we’re going to be doing there when we get there. It’s this self-imposed pressure that I think can cause a sense of inadequacy and even depression. The fact of the matter is, no one knows what is going on. If someone tells you they do, don’t believe them. We don’t get the full roadmap, we have light enough for the next step, no more, no less. I’ve come to realise that when it comes to my family I don’t actually have to know everything and have it all together. I don’t have to lead my family through a specific route that I’ve mapped out. I just have to show them how to take the next step. I have to model what it is to walk in faith, to walk in humility. I lead my family when I model excellence and a healthy work ethic. I lead my family when I am kind and compassionate in a situation that would often warrant a different response. I lead my family when I am consistent, loyal and faithful. I lead my family when I say sorry and show vulnerability. It turns out I can lead even when I don’t know the way by modelling how to take the next step with integrity, even if I don’t know the final destination.

I’m not 20 any more but I’m also not 80

It’s true. When I look back at what I used to look like, it’s as though a complete stranger is
looking back at me. I was a lot thinner, healthier and had way more energy. I have realised that actually, I am not immortal. I need to look after myself and my body so I’m still around and useful when I’m older. I’m by no means a health fanatic, but I have come to realise that I cannot expect to eat what I used to, drink whatever I want and do no exercise without repercussions. People never think of their health until they lose it. I don’t want to be a 40-year-old dad with an 80-year-olds body. I’m trying to look after myself better these days, understanding that I’m not 20 any more but I shouldn’t feel like I’m 80 either. I can’t do what I want any more and it have no repercussions. It’s early days but hopefully Sienna and Anna will thank me for it long term.

I can’t be there all the time but I can be fully present when I am there

This one is really important and so hard to do. As a dad, or the working parent, you can find yourself constantly feeling guilty. You feel guilty for going home early to see your child before they go to bed. You also feel guilty working late knowing your wife or other half is taking the full hit back at home. You know you need to go to work and put in a full day there, but you also need to be a dad/parent and help out when you’re home. I’ve come to realise that it takes discipline and perspective to navigate. Does that email need to be replied to this second? Can that call wait until tomorrow? Similarly, will missing a bath time once in a while ruin my daddy-daughter bond? Can Anna put her to bed once or twice without me being there? The answer is usually yes to all of the above. The real issue isn’t how much time you spend at a certain place, it’s being fully there. If work had 100% of your focus between the hours of 9-5 you wouldn’t need to take work home with you. And if your family had 100% of your focus when you’re with them, they wouldn’t feel like they’re missing out on you either. We lead full lives, we work jobs to pay bills. We work out this journey pragmatically, we have to. The goal is not to spend every waking moment with my family, it’s to let them know that wherever I am, I’m doing my utmost to do my job well so I can come back to them with no unfinished business. They are my priority, wherever I find myself and whatever responsibility I have to fulfil. I need to work in a way that honours my boss and prioritises my family.

It’s impossible to always be in a good mood, but I ‘m consistent with my countenance

I have made the decision, that I always want Sienna to know that I’m pleased to see her,
regardless of what kind of day I’m having, and regardless of how much of a pain she’s been. That’s a choice, it’s a decision that I’ve made, that she will always know that her Dad is pleased to see her. It’s important to me because that’s how I want her to view her Heavenly Father. I’m not always in a great mood. I could have had an awful day but I have disciplined myself to always smile at my daughter whenever I see her. It’s a small thing, she probably doesn’t even notice it, but I need to remind myself that it’s how God is with us. He looks on us and smiles. I can’t always be in a good mood, but I have committed myself to be consistent with my countenance towards Sienna. She needs to know that she can always come to me, no matter what, and she is welcome. She needs to know that her Dad is, and always will be, pleased to see her.

Written by Rich Harris

Serious Fomo

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Becoming a mum is one of the greatest and most challenging things I’ve ever done. When you become a parent for the first time you look on in awe at other mums and dads who have been doing it well for a while with a new sense of admiration. They are secret superheroes that wear their underpants on the right side of their trousers – depending on how much sleep they’ve had.

Daily as a parent we’re faced with many choices, sometimes small, sometimes big, but all feel a lot more significant than they used to because someone else is depending on us to try and make the right decisions! Being a mother has taken me on one of the greatest learning curves of my life. There’s the obvious learning that you were slightly (not at all) prepared for in how to take care of a child, growing as a parent and navigating your relationship now it has another in the mix, and then there are the lessons that you didn’t expect or want to be faced with. Magnified by sleep deprivation and new responsibility, Michael Jackson’s song, “Man In The mirror” suddenly hits you between the eyes and you’re forced to face the good the bad and the ugly truth about yourself. Wanting to give your best to your child and spouse, the wider family and friends, church, ministry and work is no easy task. Sacrifice takes on a whole new meaning and convictions are often tested.

One of the things I’ve had to face within myself is some serious FOMO (fear of missing out). I’ve had to take a back seat in physically being present at certain things at Church, work and with friends in order to look after Sienna and this hasn’t been something that has always come easily to me. I know that being the best mum and wife in this season is part of my ministry. Raising the next generation is a huge responsibility and honour, but I put my hands up and admit it’s been difficult at times looking on from a distance at things I would have previously been involved in or been at. I truly believe in the decisions we’ve made as a family and the things I’ve ‘missed out’ on attending have afforded me the pleasure of being present with Sienna and allowed us to build some structure into her life. Whilst I don’t doubt our choices, it doesn’t mean it’s always been easy to walk out the journey.

FOMO is something I think we all deal with in all sorts of different areas of life. It’s probably been brought to the foreground of our attention by social media which gives us 24/7 access to the best highlights of our day. What I’ve realised is that there are no winners in comparison. We will always look at what we don’t have or haven’t done rather than celebrate what we do and what we have done. Comparison diminishes the value of either yourself or your circumstances or the person and theirs that you’re comparing yourself against.

The beauty of humanity is that there are many similarities amongst us that contribute to our sense of connectedness and need for one another, but yet we are all still unique. There can often be many routes to the same destination and rather than compare the journey it’s important to embrace our own route. The important thing is to keep our eyes on our goals as we each try and build the paths we have chosen.

Proverbs 29 v 18 states, “Where there is no vision, the people perish…” Where there is no focus, no intent, no plan or preparation, no long-term perspective, it’s easy to look around at others and think we should be doing exactly what they are in order to be our best selves. If we don’t have a clear sense of purpose within ourselves or a confidence in the decisions that we’ve made we can be prone to some serious FOMO.

So, practically how do we ensure that we are happy with the lives we have chosen and the things we have chosen to pursue? Well, I’m still figuring it out but here are a few things I do to help combat FOMO:

  • Remain Thankful – When we allow FOMO we fail to appreciate where we now, who we are with and where we have come from. There’s so much to learn and enjoy in the moment if we choose to see it.
  • Keep Focus –  Play the long game. Often the cause of our frustration is partly due to our Western culture in which we’ve become accustomed to having and doing everything that we want instantly. We have access to most things at just the click of a button. Keeping a long-term perspective means the short term sacrifices don’t seem so bad. It’s important to firm your convictions and keep them in view.
  • Encourage Others – If I’m not on the field I can still be a cheerleader and it’s just as important. I’m still a part of the things I find important even if my availability to be present is limited for a season. Encouragement shifts the focus from ourselves and builds others up. When we’re forced on the sidelines we still have a part to play. Teamwork means that it doesn’t matter who scores as long as we get the goal!
  • Stay Planted and Connected – When we look on from a distance vision becomes blurred. It’s easy to assume things when we can’t see the detail and filling in the blanks incorrectly can cause unnecessary grief.
  • Plan – Planning allows us to be intentional about the things that are important to us and provides a path to follow. It helps to keep the bigger picture in view and see clear goals for achieving it. Having a plan allows us to be somewhat in control of our lives and means that we don’t have to worry about what is happening elsewhere because the reasons for our decisions have been well thought through.
  • Find My True North – For me this is God. In Him, I find my identity, my purpose and my fulfilment so I do whatever it takes to keep that intact. He is my source, my strength, my peace and my provision and really He guides me and leads me in all of the above.

What are some of the things that you do to guard against FOMO?

6 Funny Things Parents Do

6 Funny Things Parents Do 

Just for fun, 6 things parents do that you don’t imagine you will until you have kids! No judgement, we’re all in this together!

1.

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Until you’re a parent (unless you’ve worked with children) changing your voice to talk to a child is unusual. BUT lo and behold, as soon as that cute little bundle of joy (and poop) pops (if only) out it’s straight to the “baby voice”. There’s something about those cute little munchkins that makes us want to speak like we’ve emptied the helium balloons at the end of a party.

2.

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Suddenly life has turned into a musical (much to my secret pleasure), and everything just seems to run smoother when we sing things…. “this is the way we brush our hair, brush our hair, brush our hair…”

3.

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You finally get a night off together, you dress up or at least clean your teeth and brush your hair and there are zero nappies in sight. You’ve left the cherubs in good hands and a glass of wine has been ordered. Then it happens, one of you remembers a funny or not so funny anecdote from the day and the date code is broken! You both check your phones, no word, “we hope they’re ok?” Lol! I wouldn’t change a thing!

4.

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Guilty! Not only do we think every photo is worth posting even though it looks exactly the same as the previous twelve we’ve shared with everyone else, but after we breathe a sigh of relief that they’ve finally gone to bed, we open up the ‘cloud’ and re-watch everything all over again!

5.

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Yep, well…. it is what it is! Totally gross, until you have a child and then you totally get it! I can’t stand to see the snotty nose and if it’s inhibiting some free air flow for the poppet, well you do what you gotta do! Obviously, a tissue or wipe is preferable, but on the odd occasion, not available :/

6.

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In private or in public you just lift that bottom up and have a good nasal inhale! In no other circumstance unless you’re a dog is this acceptable! It does, however, bring relief when you’re in some kind of soft play, rhyme time or another social baby group when you realise the culprit of the stench is not your child (this time)!

Tunnel Vision

TUNNEL VISION

This week we did the grocery shop as a family. When we’re all together, I’m aware that Rich isn’t a huge fan of shopping so I try and be as efficient as possible. I sent Rich off with Sienna to get an item off the list whilst I went in the opposite direction to fetch another. On my return, I spotted them both a little before they caught sight of me. Suddenly, Sienna, who was sitting in the trolley, looked up and saw me walking towards them. This was much to her delight and she responded by gleefully waving and saying “hiya” – that’s the Stokie in her! As soon as I realised she had seen me, I joyfully waved back and continued to make a beeline for them both. With my eyes fixed on her as our gaze locked, I ploughed through the other customers to receive my prize – a cuddle and a happy wiggle. However, in doing so I almost had a collision with a trolley and nearly mowed down an older person. Oops. Fortunately for us all, I caught them in my peripheral vision just in time to avoid chaos! What can I say? I was so happy to be reunited with my family, even after only a few minutes, and more importantly, I was delighted to see the excitement on Sienna’s face that I didn’t want to disappoint. I became headstrong in my pursuit of fulfilling that happy longing of hers to see her mummy.

It’s a cute small tale from an ordinary part of life, but it did pop into to my memory and make me smile as I got on with my day today. It made me think of how perhaps God must view us. Being a parent has definitely expanded my view of my relationship with Him. When you see the cogs turn behind the eyes of a toddler who’s just been told not to do something, you can definitely understand how Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit. Despite having access to all of the other wonderful gifts God had given them, they wanted the one thing they couldn’t have. Not too dissimilar from my little tinker! But more than that, the ways that I love Sienna, despite all of these things have given me a whole new revelation of God’s love for us. When she turned to see me and was filled with joy, my mummy heart wanted to respond as quickly as possible so that she knew her feelings were reciprocated.

How much more does God long for us to look up and notice Him so that He can respond in kind? We are created in His image, so we carry aspects of His nature and qualities. Yet they are but a shadow; a small reflection of Who He is. His Father heart must ache much more than mine for all of His kids.

In determined and unrelenting pursuit of us, motivated by pure love, despite ourselves, His tunnel vision for restoration lead Him to the cross. So desperate for us to know His heart, He put on human flesh and left His high position to become nothing to serve us, His creation, His children,

“..rather, He made Himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant,

being made in human likeness.

And being found in appearance as a man,

He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to death – even death on a cross!”

Philippians 1 v 7-8

I saw a beautiful line this week in, “God is Good, He’s Better Than You Think”, by Bill Johnson. It reads like this, “Jesus Christ is perfect theology – He is the will of God personified.” Basically, if you want to know what God thinks, how He acts, what’s important to Him, look at Jesus. Jesus Himself said, “Very truly I tell you, the Son can do nothing by Himself; He can do only what He sees His Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does.” (John 5 v 19). What Jesus taught, when He healed, when He had compassion and when He placed value on those that society outcast, you see the true heart and nature of God for humanity, for you and me.

I don’t know where you find yourself this Easter week. Up to your eyeballs in eggs and bunnies, busy at work, enjoying a holiday or feeling lonely or lost. Whether on top of the world, at rock bottom or somewhere in-between, it’s always good to be reminded that there is a Father in heaven with tunnel vision gazing adoringly at you. Since the beginning of time, He has pursued a relationship with us. When we messed up He set about embarking on His recovery plan. He’s not far off or distant, aloof or callous. He eagerly awaits us to notice His face looking intently and lovingly at us. He sent His Son to right our wrongs once and for all so that we would never have to doubt His feelings again.

Happy Easter week!

Safe Place

safe place

Everyone is entitled to a safe place. A place to find shelter that offers comfort, a place to return to often, that feels like home. A place that brings familiarity when we feel lost or lonely, and a place to just “be” when we have nothing to say. A place that brings warmth, love and rest to a weary soul, and a feeling of protection in an unknown climate.

Sienna has just turned one and she becomes more independent with each new day. She has courage and curiosity to try new things and explore new adventures alongside an endearing belief that everyone will love her just like we do. It’s fun to watch and I feel proud and relieved that she feels comfortable enough to do this. However, she’s still young and when she’s tired, afraid, unwell, hungry or just wanting some familiar comfort she returns to her safe place; us, her mum and dad. If she wakes before she’s fully ready or her teeth are causing her pain, or there’s something she’s a little unsure of, you can be certain there is only one place she wants to be, and that’s firmly in our arms. The familiar rhythm of our hearts, the smell of our skin, the ease of our voices and the warmth of our hold bring her peace. Sometimes if we’re lucky she just wants a cuddle because she finds enjoyment in being with the ones who love her the most and we have a playful and loving exchange.

When she places her head on my shoulder, it’s one of the greatest feelings to know that she feels secure, loved and at home at that moment. No matter what else is going on in her little world, in our arms she finds a place that she knows and is fully known. Sometimes she may be silent, other times she may “talk” (baby babble), but on any occasion, she will never be rejected from our loving embrace, regardless of her circumstances, mood or behaviour.

I wonder do you have a safe place? Or are you in need of a safe place? Do you need reminding that one exists for you too? Do you know that there is a Person Who is to you like I am to Sienna, in fact, more than and better than I could be, even as a doting mother? 

David, in the Bible often found himself in risky and lonely situations and in need of a safe place. Sometimes due to external factors, other times due to his own decisions. Whether in despair from trying to avoid a delusional king hell-bent on murder, the anguish of his own sin or the elation of promises fulfilled, there was one Person he always turned to, his King, Saviour, Father and Friend; his “Safe Place”, God. Well known for his poetic Psalms, read one of his revelations of his “Safe Place” below…

“The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing.

He makes me lie down in green pastures,

He leads me beside quiet waters,

He refreshes my soul.

He guides me along the right paths, for His name’s sake.

Even though I walk through the darkest valley,

I will fear no evil, for You are with me;

Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.

You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies.

You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.

Surely Your goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.”

Psalm 23 (NIV)

When Sienna feels safe in my arms, and I feel the love that swells in my heart, I’m awed to think of how our heavenly Father must feel when we consider Him our home. It thrills me when her little tiny arms wrap themselves around me, I want her to know that she can do that always. Yet I know that I am but a poor reflection of the shelter found in the Presence of the Almighty. It is His will to be our ever-present place of refuge. As Psalm 23 conveys, there is no need or circumstance that God is overcome by, He provides peace where there could be fear, provision in our lack, guiding in our wandering and goodness and love (mercy in some translations) in abundance.

If you’re wanting to find a safe place today or just need a reminder of one that awaits your return, I leave you with one of my most recited Psalms. Full of truth, my heartfelt prayer in every season, Psalm 91. It speaks of comfort, promise and truth found in the shelter of The Almighty, and like Sienna to my arms, it’s a place we can always return to. Our safe place.

“Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty.

I will say of the Lord, ‘He is my refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.’

Surely he will save you from the fowler’s snare and from the deadly pestilence.

He will cover you with his feathers, and under his wings you will find refuge; his faithfulness will be your shield and rampart.

You will not fear the terror of night, nor the arrow that flies by day, nor the pestilence that stalks in the darkness, nor the plague that destroys at midday.

A thousand may fall at your side, ten thousand at your right hand, but it will not come near you.

You will only observe with your eyes and see the punishment of the wicked.

If you say, ‘The Lord is my refuge,’ and you make the Most High your dwelling, no harm will overtake you, no disaster will come near your tent.

For he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways; they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.

You will tread on the lion and the cobra; you will trample the great lion and the serpent.

‘Because he loves me,’ says the Lord, ‘I will rescue him;

I will protect him, for he acknowledges my name.

He will call on me, and I will answer him;

I will be with him in trouble,

I will deliver him and honour him.

With long life I will satisfy him and show him my salvation.’”

Psalm 91 (NIV)

 

365 Days Later

365 days later

Technically upon writing this, it’s only 361 days since the birth of our beautiful daughter Sienna, but it’s her birthday week and I try and post on Mondays, what are a few days between friends?

Coming up to her first birthday has made me reflect on this past year and the highs and lows of becoming a parent.
I thought I’d ask myself and Rich, “If we had to choose three things that we’ve learnt over the past year what would they be?” It’s almost an impossible task to only pick three because it can be a daily stretch into the unknown, navigating continual beginnings, as she progresses from one stage to the next. However, we’re always up for the challenge so here they are:

Anna:

I’m Stronger Than I Think – Perseverance Pays Off

Perseverance takes on a whole new meaning when there is no get-out-clause, you’re sleep deprived and you have no previous experience to draw from. In the early days, weeks and months it often felt like I was climbing a rocky mountain in flip-flops after not sleeping for a month! An uphill battle, with the least amount of energy, whilst feeling totally ill-equipped. Every now and then you stop to take a breathe and are awed by the view, but then it’s head down and back to the grind. However, I made it, each day was followed by night and each night followed by a new day. One step at a time, often one day at a time I put one foot in front of the other and just kept going. Not because it was easy, not because I had the training, not because I was always excited or passionate but because I had to. Now I think back to those early days as welcome distant memories, smiling at the highlights. Today Sienna presents new challenges with her strong will and determination (ha!) but every day she brings joy and life, and to see her grow and learn, smile and flourish make every drop of blood, sweat and tears worth it. There’s no amount of preparation that can make you ready for your individual unique child, it’s a journey that has to be lived, like many things in life.

I Love Sleep – Discipline Reaps Rewards

Thank God for sleep training! Like anything worth doing, it requires consistency and determination but it has huge benefits. From the start, we established the difference between night-time and day-time for Sienna due to some great advice. It hasn’t been easy and this year has meant I’ve hardly left the house on an evening. However, she now has no issues going to sleep pretty much anywhere as she’s in such a good routine, the sacrifice and continuity are really paying off. Parents have different approaches to different things but most likely for most, there’s still some discipline involved somewhere. Discipline requires keeping the long-term goal in view in order to outwork the daily, often mundane tasks to achieve your goals. Discipline can feel restrictive but it actually brings freedom in the end. Freedom to plan, freedom to enjoy its benefits, freedom from issues avoided through lack of discipline.

Just Call Me Bendy Barbie – Flexibility Is Key

One huge lesson for me has been learning to relinquish the need to always be in control. Preparation and schedules are all important and necessary but when the poop hits the nappy at 3 am in the morning in catastrophic proportions, you have to strip your child and chuck them in the bath whether you or they like it or not! I like to be in control of my own life, that’s not an uncommon or unreasonable ask. I’ve learnt to make plans but hold onto them lightly. I take a breath and whatever happens, try and enjoy and embrace the moment I find myself in. There’s nothing as important as this little tiny life that can’t wait another 5 minutes, a day, a week, a month or even a year if necessary.

Rich:

Be Kind To Each Other- Everyone Has Had A Tough Day

Being a parent is not easy. Whether it’s dealing with a cranky child all day, or having no sleep and having to go to work and deliver on projects. It’s tough, you’re shattered and probably just about holding it all together. It can be so easy in this type of stretching environment to play the “woe is me” card and paint a picture of how your day was way worse and far more stressful than that of your spouses… but don’t. Be kind to each other, prefer one another, go out of your way for one another. Try and laugh together, enjoy the absurdity of parenthood. Be kind with your words, they’re the oil that keeps the wheel spinning.

Children Love Easily And Forgive Quickly

It’s true and thank God that’s the case. We all get it wrong, probably way too frequently for our liking, but children are far more forgiving and resilient than we give them credit for. They aren’t insecure, they don’t care about what people think about them. As far as they’re concerned, they are the most awesome human being in existence. They don’t try and hide their emotions to be cool when daddy comes home from work, Sienna’s face lights up. When daddy tells Sienna off for touching the TV, there’s usually lots of frowns and a few tears, but her default position is towards love and closeness. It’s only when we grow up do we, unfortunately, learn how to be insecure.

“Important” Things Aren’t Really That Important

Oscar Wilde once said, “Life is far too important to be taken seriously.” I like that thought. This year has been a discovery of what actually matters. As adults, we get so myopic in our view of success. Having Sienna has stripped away all pretence. The things I used to worry about just aren’t as important as they used to be. Perhaps I’ve got wiser, maybe I’m just more tired. Whatever it is, it feels good to remember that Sienna couldn’t care less whether I’m good at my job or not. She doesn’t care whether I get promoted, get a pay rise or drive a nice car. She just knows me as Dad, and to be honest I think that’s pretty cool.

365 days later sienna

 

Happy New Year!

 

 

This is going to sound a bit cliché and like I’m quoting a song lyric, but this year has been somewhat of a rollercoaster! I’ve lived through fear and faith, success and failure, joy and despair, growth and stand still, birth and endings, new and old, comfort and loneliness, confidence and doubt, excitement and monotony. Often it’s happened simultaneously or in a pendulum like fashion, swinging from one extreme to another, sometimes in the same hour! 2017 has seen some of the highest points and some of the lowest points I have ever had to deal with. That said, I made it, and not only did I make it but I’m excited to step into 2018. I’ve been stretched and tested in every way, physically, mentally and spiritually….. would I change anything? YES I would… ha! But that’s what a new year is for, a new page, a chance to apply all that I’ve learnt and grown in 2017. I never arrive, but I journey forward and hopefully leave behind what I don’t need, and take up what will nourish me and help me to build in 2018.

I’m grateful for every experience, everything has taught me something, good, bad or ugly and that is valuable! Grace has sustained me, and whilst my faith has been challenged, questioned and strained at times it is still the thread that weaves everything together, and ultimately brings me out on top. It resets my failures, informs my best decisions, gives me another chance and drives my passions. Without it I wouldn’t be me.

2018…. let’s go!

“Colic – come at me bro!”

COLIC, COME AT ME BRO' BLOGcopy

Colic is definitely not my “bro”, nor my “sis” or any other relative for that matter, and is actually more foe than friend. So why the title? Well, living in South East London, I’m acquainting myself with the colloquial lingo, (who am I kidding?!)

According to my parents, I suffered from colic myself as a baby. If you have any experience of a baby with colic, you know it’s a miracle that any parent and baby survives past the newborn stage.

When I look at other newborns that lie contentedly in their parent’s arms, or on the floor, in a pram or Moses basket etc. I look on in wonder and disbelief. This was not our experience of our fresh-out-of-the-womb, Heaven-sent little package.

Quite a few health professionals were in disbelief that Sienna had lost 17% of her birth weight within the first week; all of her other health checks had gone really well. After a recommendation from our health visitor, we took a trip to A & E. This resulted in a 48-hour plus stint in the hospital. After being unable to insert a cannula into her tiny arm, (after what felt like an eternity of trying), the doctor said that we should try to feed Sienna some formula. Fortunately, after a strict 48 hours of planned feeding from both myself and the bottle, our gorgeous little poppet had gained enough weight to be discharged. We thought, ‘finally, we can start to enjoy being new parents.’

Enter colic. With hours of relentless crying, sometimes screaming, often in inconsolable discomfort, we could never put Sienna down between the early afternoon and late evening, without her becoming hysterical. It’s one of those things that you can’t imagine until you’re in it. Rich’s greatest hope for parenthood had been scaled back to, “I just want to be able to hold my daughter without her crying.” Mine, “I just need to get through the hours that Rich is at work.”

On the back of 9 months of cooking our child and all that this entails, followed by a pretty traumatic birth; labouring for 4 days with little sleep, a late epidural, meconium in the waters, and an emergency C-section, colic at a few weeks old was certainly an unwelcome guest.

Colic seems to be a mostly undefinable and untreatable phenomenon that some babies get. Both child and parents somehow have to struggle through this period, which can last anywhere between a few weeks to a few months, until it decides it’s had enough of tormenting its victim; the baby grows out of it, the tummy matures.

After trying Infacol, gripe water and taking other advice on how to manage this unrelenting issue, we were at the end of our resources both practically and emotionally. 

If you were to apply for a job with a high level of responsibility, with no prior experience, the chances of being asked for an interview are slim to zero. Yet as new parents, here you are with the most precious treasure on the planet, with zero experience (at least for us anyway), 24-hour responsibility and very little sleep. Now add on top of that, the phenomena that is colic. Argh!

We mustered every bit of strength within us and both Grandma and Grammie to try to ease the discomfort of our special little one. We discovered a few tricks, that eventually, sometimes, 50% of the time, worked every time (not the best odds!) It was proving too difficult to manage. People tell you that the first 6 weeks are the hardest, meaning to be helpful, but 6 weeks feels like a lifetime away when every day is a battle.

Friends wanted to come and visit and drop off food parcels and see our beautiful little girl, but I was barely getting through each day. Walking to the park or the shop was often a cause for mild anxiety, with us hoping and praying she didn’t have an episode in the store. To see your baby cry in distress for at least 6 hours a day is less than fun, in fact, it is an absolute nightmare. I would dread her being awake (how sad is that!) beyond 2pm because that is when it seemed to hit the worst. It’s in those moments that you realise how out of control and on edge you are. 

One day, with emotions, hormones and physical discomfort chipping away at my positive outlook, topped off with a good dose of sleep deprivation, I’d had enough. Rich had gone back to work, and on this particular day he’d had to leave at 5am and wasn’t due to be home until around 11pm. The morning, as usual, was pretty good, with Sienna having some lovely awake time and napping on schedule, confidence built and I thought, “I can do this!” It turns out I couldn’t. I tried every trick we knew, the bouncy ball, the rocking, the gentle shushing, the singing, the feeding, the Infacol, and so the list goes on, and nothing was working. Sitting on that bouncy ball I cried out to God, “I can’t do this, you need to help me, I’m desperate.”

One emotional phone call later and Rich made his way home for as early as he could, arriving home at around 9pm. Just as he walked through the door she went to sleep – typical!

We sat down and chatted and decided that this was not OK and if God had called us to this life and to be parents to this child, then we needed to see His breakthrough. Every day we had prayed faith-filled prayers, but it felt like we needed to go to war for this little one. In the natural, going into battle at your weakest point seems borderline suicidal, but standing on the truth that His Grace is sufficient for us, and His power is perfected in our weakness (2 Corinthians 12 v 9) we decided to fast (sensibly given I was feeding and Rich working) and pray for 7 days.

The first 6 days of the fast were still just as tough, but we had a renewed sense of hope and belief that the end was in sight. The seventh day came, it happened to be a Sunday. What a perfect day to end the fast on! It was also the first time that I had made it to church with Sienna. The day wasn’t without its hiccups and she had a meltdown towards the end of the service, but I thought, “We’ve made it.”

During the period in which Sienna suffered from colic, I had become a Google addict, typing in everything I could think of related to colic that might show up some useful results or advice on how to cure it or deal with it. I did it religiously every day for a few weeks in the hope that maybe I had missed something. In the week of the fast, I did the same thing. The same sites that I had previously clicked on all popped up as results to my new searches when suddenly I came across an article from the Guardian that helped me to refine my feeding methods for Sienna. Where had it been? How have I missed this? The article definitely helped to ensure that the colic didn’t return as the feeding had exacerbated the situation, and it was something I put into practice immediately, but from Monday onwards, Sienna was miraculously healed. God stepped in and healed her and relieved her of her discomfort and gave me the tools to ensure that it didn’t return again. Writing it in a sentence doesn’t seem to do it justice. It is that simple, but it wasn’t that easy. 

I have to admit that every time she cried during the weeks following her healing, I was a little on edge. We had to re-learn that crying is one of the ways in which babies communicate and just because we hadn’t had a “normal” initial experience, we were now able to attend to her needs. The scream that made us fear the neighbours might think we were chopping her leg off had disappeared, and we could finally start to build a meaningful bond and relationship with our daughter. Now we can’t believe it’s the same child, she’s so happy and easy-going, so much fun to be with and has a clear determined spirit. Every day we are thankful.

There is advice out there for coping with colic, and help in trying to manage it, as well as advice on how to get through it emotionally and physically for parents, but there is no medical absolute cure. I am really grateful for medicine and science, however, one-size doesn’t always fit all and sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t, however, I believe one God does fit all.  

Some might think it’s a fluke, a coincidence, but I’m here to say that God healed Sienna and everything I read in the scriptures about Jesus, show that He healed without condition and He was and still is always willing to break into people’s situations. There was no illness, injury or issue too big or too small for Him to care about, and it was and still is His will to see people restored. I can recount many events in my life, and the life of friends and family, where God has responded to our faith and stepped in with His loving hand, to turn things around.

I write this blog in the hope that anyone in the same predicament as me, possibly at the end of their tether, with colic or even some other sickness or issue, may somehow stumble across it. I want people to know that there is hope in a God who is real, who cares and who can and who wants to break into your situation.

I always say that it’s difficult to trust someone who you don’t know. For Rich and I we didn’t just arrive at the decision to pray and fast randomly. It was a decision made based on a Person that we know, whose traits, character and provision we have seen on many occasions. He’s available to be known by all.

Hebrews 4 v 16

“Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”

 

For anyone interested in the article related to colic:

https://www.google.co.uk/amp/s/amp.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2005/mar/30/familyandrelationships.healthandwellbeing

My Journey to Motherhood 

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When you start dating, people often ask, “So when are you getting married?” and then when you’re married, “When are you having children?” On both occasions, if you’re anything like me, you think, “Slow down people and let us enjoy the moment!” For us, having children was always something that we wanted to do… in the future. Moving to London when just married, we both had an excitement and anticipation for our futures, believing we were following God’s direction to use our talents, (dance and sound), in the entertainment industries. At that time children didn’t yet fit into that picture – and that’s OK. We were still young enough, and possibly naive enough, to accept living with other people despite being newlywed, and working in jobs that were a means to an end to allow us to pursue our passions. We could survive on a steady diet of beans on toast, cheese on toast, egg on toast, toast on toast, right?

Five years in and many challenges, highs and lows, stretching and growth later, God started to change our hearts and impress on us a softness towards the idea of having children.  Once Rich made the decision, he was ‘all in’ and ready, but for me, it took a little longer to accept the challenge. After all, carrying and giving birth to a baby changes the game, in every way. Dreams I’d held onto, things not yet accomplished or even had the opportunity to dip my toe into, seemed like a distant pursuit that would be pushed even further away if I chose to put my ‘life on hold’ to have a baby. Having a baby was a huge step of faith for me because that side of giving birth, everything was so unknown and as it was a ‘new’ desire to grow and nurture a tiny human, I had little experience of what that could or would look like.

Fast-forward to Rich and I eating fish and chips, (one of Rich’s faves), after work one evening and the conversation again turned to…. “So kids”… and us both smiling at the prospect of what that could be like. We finally made a decision together to go for it. In my heart, I made a whisper to God, “OK God, I trust you with this.”

Getting pregnant for us was easier than we thought, and pretty much within the first two months of trying, my little regular monthly friend failed to appear. I must mention in the run-up to that I probably thought I was pregnant every day – ha – turns out I was just bloated! Now that we’d made the decision I was excited, albeit a little nervous at the prospect of us becoming parents. We decided to keep the news to ourselves until we reached the ‘safe’ 12-week mark and had seen our first scan. Even though it was still early days and it felt very surreal, we couldn’t help but start to imagine what this little life might be like.

Unusually the hospital had somehow confused our paperwork and we were due to have a 6-week scan, something that seemed a little odd, but as we were newbies to this whole thing we went along with it. At the time Rich was the Head of Production at our Church whilst I was leading the ‘Glam Squad’ – (hair, make-up, wardrobe) – team, and we were coming up to our annual Christmas Carols at Wembley. Lots to do with lots of moving parts. The day before Carols was a Saturday, and we were at our Church warehouse doing the final prep for the big event when I started to experience cramps and experience some light bleeding. A mixture of emotions ensued as I tried to continue to organise the team and final prep, whilst battling this underlying distraction. I found Rich and told him and we both decided that we would pray and give it to God and wait until our scan on Monday, the day after Carols, as there was nothing we could do and we needed to focus on the task in hand.

Praying on the way to the hospital, a little nervous but full of expectation we arrived and patiently waited for our turn.

Lying on the bed and hearing the news that nothing was there, they couldn’t see anything, was somewhat of an out-of-body experience like I was watching from afar. Again, they said it, “I can’t see anything, it looks like you’ve had a miscarriage.” Initially, I managed to get up from the bed and sit next to Rich whilst maintaining a reasonably steady demeanour. As I started to process the words, reality suddenly began to sink in and it seemed like all my hopes had come crashing down, and the tears began to fall.

So much was riding on this moment, I trusted God and I’d put my life on hold, I’d started to imagine a little person, and myself as a mummy. I tend not to cry in public, but this time I couldn’t stop the tears from flowing. What followed was the walk to the crowded waiting room full of expectant mothers. I felt overwhelmed with sadness and disappointment, made all the worse by the embarrassment of not being able to control it in front of a room full of strangers. Rich was looking on in shock and doing his best to console his inconsolable wife whilst trying to process his own emotions.

Fast-forward to many appointments and hours of waiting later, what transpired was, in fact, an ectopic pregnancy, something I had remembered reading about and thinking, “That won’t happen to us.” It was like a cruel joke the enemy was playing, “Ha, you think it won’t happen to you”.

The day I was booked into the hospital to have an injection that would help to remove the cells from my fallopian tube was a Sunday, the Sunday after Christmas, and a touching Heaven service at Church, (extended worship and prayer). I was so desperate to be there; so desperate to not accept this fate, and so desperate to lift my eyes higher.

From a medical point of view, I was in danger if the cells continued to grow in the wrong place. The fertilised egg was going to die anyway, so the sooner we could get rid of ‘it’ the better. Thank God for the concern and diligence of the medical professionals! However, I knew that the living Almighty God of the universe that created everything, who is omnipotent, was able to change this situation around and move this fertilised egg to the womb as this was the beginning of a precious life.

I still believe He is and He can, but on this occasion, He didn’t. Something I still question and seek answers to and may still for a while. Was my faith not enough? All I know is, it’s not God’s will for the innocent to die but we live in a fallen world. My prayer is this, “Teach me to call Heaven to Earth like the Lord’s prayer instructs.” 

So many emotions and feelings ran through me; faith that God was in control no matter what the outcome, reliance and dependence on Him, faith that at any moment God could still infiltrate this situation, grief for a life so short-lived it hadn’t even had a chance, grief from the death of hope.  Disappointment and heartache joined this mix of sensations and a sense of hopelessness settled in, I mourned, “But God, I trusted you with this.”

Rich made the necessary calls and he was excused from work, feeling a little helpless he waited patiently until he could come and be with me at the hospital. Strangely, that Sunday, during the extended worship, the sound system suddenly cut out at our Church venue, the one week Rich wasn’t there! No coincidence I think.

The weeks and months that followed were tinged with a black cloud, trying to make sense of what had happened whilst carrying on and still leading in each of our respective areas. Trying to bring encouragement to others when our hearts were filled with discouragement. There have been so many challenges since moving to London and those bright-eyed, bushy-tailed youngsters were close to being chewed up and spat out by the big City, “why was nothing easy?” There had been many blessings along the way too because God is God, but in moments of despair, they seem to fade into the background if we don’t fight to remember.

A turning point for us was when we were invited to a leadership evening with an American pastor, who shared about losing his wife to cancer and still having to lead his Church. He shared on the report given by the Israelite spies when sent to scope out the land of Canaan, and how the negative report of 10 of the 12 stopped a whole generation of Israelites from entering the Promised Land despite the promises of God spoken over them previously.

I realised I didn’t want us, or the people under our care, (many of whom had no knowledge of our situation), to miss out on what God had for us just because I couldn’t remember the promise of God and had become discouraged at the first hurdle. Little did anyone know in the room that evening how this testimony was watering my soul. Hearing his testimony and the Word that is alive and active, faith once again began to rise within our spirits. The decision to try again didn’t happen overnight and it involved a process of choices, sometimes daily, to believe and profess God’s goodness. I once read a definition of perseverance that reads like this: “Perseverance is a continuation in the state of God’s grace.” Each day was a decision to continue in the “state of His grace.”

There is so much more I could write and share but for the sake of brevity, we finally decided to try again. I’d like to say from the moment we made the decision all things fell into place and we jumped in feet first, and when we fell pregnant again, there was definite joy, but also trepidation and a little numbness as we sought to protect ourselves from further disappointment. Keeping our hearts soft towards God and holding onto hope for the future was a battle we had to fight.

Today our family of 3 is a wellspring of joy to my life. Sienna Faith Harris was born on 23/02/2017. Her entrance into the world wasn’t without struggle, a story for another time, but she is beyond worth it. Piece by piece our broken hearts have mended and God has restored joy to us through her. 

These days I’m a little more careful about asking others, “So when are you getting married?” or “When are you having kids?” knowing that every person’s journey is different.

There is no deep and fancy meaning to the name Sienna and we’ve never visited the town in Italy called by the same name, (although spelt differently). In fact, it means ‘reddish – orange/brown’, not particularly inspiring. However her middle name – Faith – is of great importance to us.

Had we let our story end with discouragement she wouldn’t exist; had we allowed the negative report to be the end of our story she wouldn’t be bringing joy, (and lots of poop), into our every day. It’s also a profession over her life, that we believe that she will have faith that will move mountains and see her enter into the adventure of a life walked with Jesus when she chooses. We believe that she will have faith that will be an inspiration to us and her generation. I have such an expectant hope for her that I couldn’t describe to you what I think it looks like because it’s beyond my imagination.

I realise there are many people out there who have had even longer journeys to parenthood than myself and some may even still be on that journey, but I write this in the hope that it brings courage to someone who needs it, to face whatever struggle they are facing on this day. To know that God’s word cannot return to Him void and if you don’t allow hopelessness to be your end, there’s a promise waiting to have life given to it on the other side of your hope. For us, literally.  

Proverbs 13 v 12 

“Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a longing fulfilled is a tree of life”.