When the Search for Answers Becomes Exhausting

 

It’s been some time since our family went on a holiday. Just on our own. We’ve gone on trips with grandparents, trips with friends, church camps, and not one just ourselves since Roo was born three and a half years ago.

Of late the laundry baskets and the washing and homeschool days just seemed fuller than before.

Full to overflowing.

And I kept thinking a good break was due, long before we were able to get to it.

What do you do when you’re exhausted with the perpetual grind of family care, situations that don’t seem to move, hearts that don’t seem to change?

Seng and I talked. We planned for a complete change of scene to recoup, regroup, recover. To ponder some crucial questions that have remained unanswered for long enough, to pray over a time of uncertainty.

 

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The Cameron Highlands is special place for our family. It’s always been the first holiday destination we head to after a baby is born. Always. And we go before he or she starts needing solids.

This time we chose to take the kids out of school for a couple of days to avoid the frenetic holiday-makers and traffic jams so characteristic of the Highlands on public and school holidays. It was as low-budget as we’d get. RM120 a night for a quad room in a simple retreat centre. We’d do breakfasts and half our lunches in. I packed whatever food we needed. Think four big kid-appetites – that’s a lot.

Packing!

Puppy mirrors my compunction for lists, but this time she had a three-pager that put me to shame. From toothpaste to the phone charger, tennis rackets to snacks that would fill a whole IKEA carry bag, Puppy nailed it all.

Including five Harry Potter movies and a laptop!

The three older kids packed their own things following Puppy’s list to a T. They put in warm clothing that I laid out on our big bed, three books each, animal friends they sleep with.

Two soft toy dogs. A bunny. A polar bear.

Now, my idea of a holiday is to REST, not to do anything touristy at all. (Read: laze about, do nothing, sleep a lot, read as much as I can.) Our kids’ idea of a holiday is to play a lot and have all the movie nights they miss during term time. That’s what we did!

Upon arrival, I set up a kitchen corner and assembled home-baked seed-filled, wholemeal sandwiches, fruit, salad, and hot chocolate while the kids played outside. Hey, I had even brought a cooler box to keep our butter and two different types of cheese. Does this sound like work or what! But really, the idea of eating out for every single meal even while we’re on holiday makes me sick. Admittedly it also has something to do with the churning in my stomach whenever our budget’s about to get busted.

For dessert, we indulged in grapes topped with Nutella. Because you absolutely need Nutella when you go on holiday. Right?

Of course, we had a steamboat dinner. Roo wriggled in her seat in all the ways a three-year-old can, saying it made her face all hot until I turned the opening away from her direction. 

I’ll say it again, eating up in the Highlands is a simple, but extra delicious experience just because of the weather. Let me tempt you with take-out roti canai with fish curry and dhal and hot coffee for breakfast, out in the breezy cold, our insides filling up with tasty warm, warm, warm. 

 

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We visited the BOH tea plantation one morning. The one with the gorgeous wooden deck overhanging the valley. That’s a given on each and every one of our Cameron Highlands trips. I know I know, it’s a touristy thing. But somehow it doesn’t feel that way during the low season. Hot tea and all the wide, rolling green around us – it never gets tiring. 

The rest of the time, the older kids just played.

They played in the playground opposite our room. They played basketball, table tennis, and tennis on the grounds whenever they wanted. Seng booked a proper tennis court on two afternoons and everyone headed out while I napped with Roo. I knocked out for two full hours on the afternoons they were away!

One afternoon we all stayed in and I just sat and read and watched the kids play. 

I had a wonderful, restful time. Even though I wiped the room floor every morning on my hands and knees (yes, I actually brought our microfiber dusting cloth, go ahead roll your eyes), dusted the floor mats, kept the place in order, and insisted everyone eat their share of fruit and drink their water – it was still a wonderful, restful time. 

It was a space where I was able to ponder, at length, over my questions.

Over the monsters I’d started seeing in dirty dishes from meals and snacks around the clock, in the unending laundry, in floors that never remain clean beyond a day with four children at home.

I spent many hours in total sitting cross-legged and once on my knees until they ached, praying over issues of work and provision and my limited energy and our future direction as a family.

A long time ago, Henri Nouwen, author, priest, and spiritual counselor, asked Mother Teresa for some advice over the many things he was struggling with. This was her answer –

 

“Well, when you spend one hour a day adoring your Lord

and never do anything which you know is wrong

you will be fine!”

 

Too simplistic? Wholly impractical? 

But in a flash I saw how much energy I spent labouring and worrying over things “from below.” Things, situations, hearts that human wisdom cannot convict and human endeavor cannot change. How little time I spent in comparison, focusing on things “from above” – the supernatural that makes possible what is impossible in the natural.

For when you’ve leaped out of the boat in faith and actually walked some way on the water, the wind and the waves can be so tumultuous you start focusing on them instead of the Miracle Maker and wham! you start sinking.

Where do you look, My child?

To what, or whom, do you turn?

“One hour a day adoring your Lord.”

I jump-started my engine again in the hills.

I went for morning walks around the retreat grounds with two bouncy little ones and watched them pick pretty, wild flowers. 

I breathed again with the smallest beautiful things, even the ones growing in a grilled-up drain.

We hunted for cobwebs together on a shivering cold morning with the dew still glistening fresh.

 

“Your hidden glory in creation

Now revealed in You our Christ.”

 

My Christ.

King of Kings in a vulnerable baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and laid in an earthy, wooden manger surrounded by animals.

Supernatural conqueror of sin, sickness, and death.

Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Prince of Peace.

 

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I came back from the hills to four loads of laundry and a house to clean and every night after that I still crashed into bed tired after long days of life, love, and more questions over work and provision and four kids.

But to a different kind of tired.

One hour a day, adoring one’s Lord, doing one’s best to follow Him.

This changes everything.

You skip downstairs after everyone’s asleep and get right to it. Praise. Wait. Confess. Pray Scripture. Pray for others. Pray for yourself. Sing thanks. Meditate. Listen. Praise again.

And you remember again, your life is in the hands of a Father God who loves you so so much.

Who wants to pour out all of heaven’s blessings into your life.

Who will help you turn from what is wrong to what is right and make you a blessing to the nations.

And you sit like a little trusting child in His arms, again.

You walk on the water, again.

You look straight into the wind and the waves to the One beckoning you, “Come!”

You find the supernatural power you need to carry you through questions that haven’t yet been answered, kid fights, curtains cut with a child scissors, Lego and sweet potato bits littered around the couch.

You keep going. You go right through.

 

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*****

*Quotes from Henri Nouwen, Spiritual Direction: Wisdom for the Long Walk of Faith.

** “One hour a day” – Dick Eastman, The Hour That Changes the World: A Practical Guide for Personal Prayer.

*** “Your hidden glory in creation, Now revealed in You our Christ” – What a Beautiful Name, Hillsong Worship.

 

PS. I’m back at Makchic sharing stories of our home education experience. Please do visit and have a read! Thank you! 

 

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When Mama is sick

The past three months has dragged by very slowly. Our family has been fighting a bug that has affected everyone, one by one.

You know, the kind that the smallest kid gets and then passes it to two more and then just as we think we’re out of the woods, the one last healthy kid and adults get it too because a little toddler girl doesn’t know better yet except to keep coughing directly in our faces.

Once is hard enough, but this viral bug has gone around, merry-go-round, FOUR times.

There wasn’t a stop button.

It was a bug that it seems just about everyone has caught at some point this season but because our family has so rarely been sick – hardly even the sniffles – this one stretch of three months has been big for us.

You mamas and your little ones down with it now, I just want to say I know how you feel.

Because being sick and sleep deprived yourself when you have to take care of four sick kids and the house and three meals a day, sucks. It really does.

I could type that a few times over.

The months have crawled by with snot-filled, grubby tees and little feverish bodies and in-the-middle-of-the-night tepid baths and sponging cloths and dusty bookshelves and meals you’re glad for simply because they’re cooked, not for their flavours.

Before you know it the world gets so much smaller, filled with all of these things that don’t seem to end and the gaping isolation of quarantines, not being able to meet friends and their kids because you don’t want to pass germs.

But a season like this makes me appreciate so much more the silver lining that shines, of my mother who comes to help with meals twice a week and save the garden from becoming a jungle again.

Of friends who keep loving on me in their own special ways.

Of things that feed my soul and take my mind off being sick, like building a trellis for the vigorous passion fruit vine whose bright green grasping tendrils can’t wait for the fevers and coughs and colds to pass and stretch obliviously upward daily, higher and higher toward the sun, looking for something to climb on.

Yes, the razors in your throat can drive you completely to your knees especially when a sick baby’s been calling out every hour of the night.

You mamas cowering under the bedcovers hoping to stay there a bit longer after “waking up”, I get you. I do.

Cling on to the LOVE of God the Father. Because He is right down there with you in the trenches.

Cling on when the entire day stretches out before you like an unending blanket with the words “Mama, can I have ….”, “laundry”, “cooking”, “dishes”, “floors”, “homeschool”, and “poopy butts” crayoned in bright colours all over it.

Cling on when it feels you’re juggling everyone’s hats and your overworked husband is doing his level best because he’s down sick, too, and can’t but not do overtime on weekends.

Cling on when you feel you’ve gone nuts at some point – a few times.

Cling on and never for one moment believe the lie, “I am in this all alone.”

“I will never leave you, or forsake you.” (Hebrews 13:5)

Cling on to the HOPE in Jesus. Because He died, and rose again.

That day on which you entertain thoughts of throwing in the towel and going back to work in that carpeted, air-conditioned office without any runny noses or fevers or food crumbs or Legos in it – that day, those days, will pass.

And you can finally deal with the food rotting in the refrigerator.

And clear out the storeroom reeking of dead roaches piled up in the dark corners.

And find the strength to pull out the weeds in the garden and revel in the beauty of the flowering okra plants and pick so much overgrown spinach you will have pots of delicious hot soup to make them with.

“I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in Me will live, even though they die.” (John 11:25)

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Cling on to FAITH in the power of the Holy Spirit. Because His presence makes all the difference in an otherwise bleak day.

How good it is in the midst of it all to feel with body, mind, heart and soul that Jesus the Good Shepherd is carrying you on His shoulder over the thorny brambly bushes through the dark valley to the quiet waters and greener pastures beyond.

How good it is to hear your four year old belt out “Bless the Lord, O my soul!” just as you struggle through the morning routine and as you wonder how you will make it through the day with that congested nose.

He is faithful, always faithful to answer, when you whisper over the pile of dirty dishes – “Let me be singing when the evening comes.”

So whisper along, won’t you?

 

“Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.” (Romans 5:3-5)

 

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