10 lessons from 10 years


Lessons learned concept on green blackboardAs I sit looking back on 2019 I cannot escape the fact that this has been, unquestionably, our hardest year yet. As a parent, a husband, a business owner, a believer and as someone who wants to be significant, not simply successful.
2019 has also been a year of the impossible becoming reality, of moving forward in faith and seeing the God of more than enough move obstacles from our path. So it seems 2019 has been hard but it has also left me with fewer excuses.
We thought we’d look back over the last 10 years and as we we usher in the next decade, share a few lessons we have been exposed to. Not in any order nor is the list complete, but it is always helpful to pause, take a breath and reflect, so here we go:

1. Learn about and confront biases

So these past 10 years have allowed us to journey as adopted parents and adoption advocates. With this comes a need to tackle your own past, to look at your own “stuff” in the hope that you can resolve issues, so that you can show up for your kiddo’s who need you to help them unpack their’s. Living in South Africa, growing up here, experiencing both current and generational privileges, it has become clear that we have gathered on our journey, several biases, implicit and explicit and we have needed to not just deal with those but also dig for other’s that may not be obvious at first.

We all have biases, every person, every colour, every race, gender and religious persuasion. The sooner we accept this, the quicker we can get busy with resolving and doing the work of dismantling them. In a mixed race family, I have in no way experienced what the majority of South Africans have had to endure, but let me tell you that my eyes have been opened, my biases exposed and I am not only aware of the journey I am on and still on, but I am captured by the need to no longer accept the way things are. We need to become mindful and with introspection step up and out of our stories to tackle biases and prejudices, even those lying dormant.

2. Parenting is beautiful and hard

I love being a Dad and it is the title I hold most dear. My son wrote on a Father’s Day craft at church one year that his dad’s job is to protect him. I am so blessed that he sees this in me. The countless memories of sheer joy, being brought to tears from the pride, the victories achieved and fears conquered. These little people have taken my life and breathed value into the mundane existence which we often find ourselves experiencing. The good morning kisses, the “Daddy you are handsome” comments, vice grip hugs and constant revelations have brought an indescribable value into my life. But, boy is it hard. At times it feels impossible and I often feel inadequate and like I am failing them. Parenting can be messy, it can seem hopeless and what you see at Church on Sunday is often not what you’d see on Monday morning as we are trying to get them all up, dressed, fed and off to school.

Take heart, you and I are doing a great work. We are rewriting and rewiring brains. We are establishing and untangling. We are painting afresh and erasing what should never have been. You and I are in the process of creating a legacy and that is no small fete, it is huge and it is hard.

3. We have our plans and then…

Oh this has been fun. I was watching out wedding DVD the other day and happened to come across a speech from one of my groomsmen. At the time of my wedding, I was about to go into third year of my law degree and I was quite happy with the path I was on. I had no idea that path would be a distant memory in 2019 but as I listened, I was reminded by this friend of a deal we made, one where we would pool our money if needed when we turned 26, by a Porsche and share the driving time.

Since then I have graduated, resigned, been unemployed, been depressed, lost friends, made new ones, become a pastor, studied further, needed to move back home, been shattered by disappointment and a many other negative experiences that were not on my initial  growth path.

Having plans is good, being inflexible when they aren’t realised is a recipe for disaster. What I can say is that the good experiences have been blessings I never saw coming and had my plans succeeded, I am certain I would be living a life that would have lived in the shadows of the one that became mine, in spite of my planning. Warts and all, His plans have exceeded my own.

4. Sometimes we carry the good years with the bad

This has never been more true than in 2019. As hard as this year has been, it has also also been full of adventure, unexpected victories, new friends and experiences. I sit feeling tired and worn but with a thankfulness for the blessings and opportunities that have been an answer to prayer.

We often seem to carry the good in one hand and the bad in the other and at different times each is raised to prominence. The good keeps us moving forward and hopeful whilst the bad ensures that we remain humble, holding onto things lightly and onto people with all our might.

5. Our children are a mirror

Nothing has revealed my flaws and weaknesses as much as my children. Just when you feel you have your wits about you and perhaps you are on the journey or nearly arrived at “enlightenment” they expose you and your inner most feelings for the world to see, or at least you fear the world has seen.

They are being kids most of the time and I find myself placing expectations on them that are unrealistic. Sometimes I forget that they are a work in progress, that it is my blessing and my joy to guide them into the people God created them to be. Sometimes I find myself requesting that they stop being selfish, so that I can begin.

They provide a setting where our intentions are challenged, our motives questioned and even if they are wrong in the moment, we are left unable to relish the victory of correcting their course because often our methods were wrong, too harsh or tainted with our own hypocrisy.

If nothing else, they challenge me, leaving me without a doubt that even if I look like I have it all together, it is possibly an above average ability to make things look easy. May they keep challenging me, even when I don’t want it, because they show me things inside of me that I hope others never see and that means I still have work to do.

6. How much we need people

For many years I held my ability to be independent in high regard. I could get by, I didn’t “need” anyone for anything. I felt this was a good thing and when times are good and easy you can perhaps get away with this position, although it can be lonely not having people to share victories. We generally don’t value vulnerability, we see being open and real as weak, especially when leading people and sadly, this is especially so in church leadership.

But when times are tough, I have learned that we need to ask for help and offer it to others. When people are suffering, they are often not only unable to describe what they need but are usually unable to voice the need. We must become better at community care, which means proactively giving help, not simply offering it. I/we also need to become better at self care. It is not selfish to make sure you are well before you step out to help others. I think we have abused the word “community” to a point where we are no longer sure of what it must look like or do. Community as a title can be problematic as it describes proximity not heart. You can have people in your community that you have no interest in or idea about. What I believe we should go after, is real vulnerability with those in our space, this is my challenge going into 2020.

“COMMUNITY WITHOUT VULNERABILITY IS JUST PROXIMITY

7. Love never fails but it isn’t enough (at least our understanding of love)

This is a challenge to me as I’ve always held a firm belief in the idea that love is always enough. However, I have come to experience that such a simple statement often is not sustained in the context of adoption or foster care. The primary reason for this lies more with our contemporary understanding of love than the word itself.

We tend to measure our lives on the level of comfort we can attain and sustain. Perhaps more so in western/privileged cultures. But true love is often shown by completely stepping out of our comfort zone.

Love is not simply kind or patient or long suffering. It is a sandwich of this and more applied simultaneously, often at the expenses of our own comfort, plans, dreams, desires and expectations.

I believe love will never fail if understood in this way, but we shouldn’t see it as the simple remedy, it never is, especially in adoption/foster-care or parenting in general. Perhaps true love is the bedrock which acts as a catalyst for change, usually in our own lives. Perhaps this change, spurred on and empowered by love is then the thing that allows love to never fail.

8. Our comfort cannot come at the expense of children who experience non

I heard the following saying:

“If you find yourself more fortunate than others, build a longer table, not higher walls.”

When speaking of our worship of comfort, especially in a Christ lead belief system, I cannot reconcile how so many children are in need of us. How can we, a people who base our belief on being taken in when we were in need, unable to save ourselves, receive a gift of salvation and then not be consumed and moved to action by the need of millions of children.

I understand the practicalities, the money, the costs involved. Believe me I get the reasons why this will be difficult, I understand the barriers and challenges that will be faced. But I cannot and have not experienced any challenges so great as to render their need unworthy of my cost.

9. You can live on less than you think

It has now been 15 years since our wedding and the Porsche speech. I still have dreams of my orange Porsche with black wheels (because it looks like a tiger:) ) I don’t have a Porsche, I don’t have all that I had hope for, I also know that my story is still incomplete. What I am, is blessed, despite the challenges, the sense that finances are always tight and dwarfed by expenses. I am blessed and fortunate and live a life of abundance, especially when compared to most. All this in spite of not having my Porsche, It’s almost as if I never really needed that sports car. Who would have thought?

10. Church is a people you are not a place you go to, or at least it should be

I feel as if we have have watered down the meaning of church and simply rendered it down to a gathering of people who meet once a week. If this is the definition, we will be hard pressed to complete any mandate or calling we have been directed to fulfil.

In line with point 6, we need to expand how we measure true community. Simply touching base without truly knowing one another, our challenges, our dreams, our strengths, weaknesses, hopes and desires, is not enough in this fast paced lives which most of us immerse ourselves in on a weekly basis.

We need to become aware of and willing to deal with our own “stuff” so that we can can become vulnerable and show up in our own stories and other’s. Let’s keep the buildings, perhaps with little less structure, but we cannot afford to maintain a facade of “gospel Living” while so many people are dying inside and doing so alone, all the while being part of a “community of believers”.

Thanks for reading, have a think and maybe share yours.

Have an amazing blessed 2020, may the ceiling of 2019 become the floor of 2020 and may the challenges experienced this year become launch pads for great success in the new year.

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