when it’s time to say goodbye

Wrapping up a present for my son’s friend, I found myself gently sobbing in the quietness.

Sandwiched in between leaving parties and goodbyes, those tears caught me off guard. This particular friend of my son – his best friend – is really more like a brother than a friend. He’s been an incredible gift to my son, and his whole family a precious blessing to us all. It’s a particularly hard relationship to say goodbye to, even though skype, emails, texts and visits will continue to keep us connected.

I’ve been surprised at when my tears have come. And when they haven’t.  They haven’t come in the big ‘goodbye’ events. Not because I’ve been holding them back: they’ve just not been the emotional times for me. They’ve come in the quiet times, the unexpected times; the times when I’ve had space to reflect on the depth of relationship with various individuals.

When we first knew that we were leaving Sheffield I remember feeling like God wanted us to fully invest in our relationships right until the day we left. There’s a temptation in a transition period to start to withdraw in relationships. It feels easier that way – less painful and less vulnerable. But it’s also less meaningful.

It’s right that we feel pain and loss in relationships as we leave. We can only feel loss when something has value. If we lose an item we don’t care about, we shrug our shoulders and move on. But if we lose an item that is precious to us, we feel sadness in its loss. Infinitely more when it comes to relationships.

To fully give means at times we experience loss too.

It’s a heavy price. But it’s a price I’m willing to pay. To hold back emotionally, and merely maintain shallow relationships feels like a greater price. Yes, I would never feel hurt or loss in the same way, but neither would I feel the joy that I have come to know in precious relationships.

So as we say goodbye to those we love in Sheffield we know it’s not the end: just the next leg of the journey. And as we enter our new season we’ll be looking again to give ourselves fully in the relationships placed around us.

It’s the only way we know how.

 

five reflections from five months off facebook

5 months ago, just before we went on our summer holiday, I signed out of my Facebook account and quit Facebook. Initially I planned for it to be a fairly temporary thing. But 5 months later, I’ve only just returned.

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(Image source)

This has been a personal journey for me  – I’ve needed space to sort out my heart and mind – rather than having particular issues with Facebook itself. So what have I learnt in this time-out? It seemed fitting on the day of Facebook’s 10 year anniversary to share my reflections during my absence.

1. Facebook is generally a good thing.

There were lots of things I missed about Facebook. I especially missed the news and photos from friends overseas, or friends that I don’t see so regularly. I missed seeing the little snippets of life that would seem too trivial to put in an email or a text message and yet are part of the fun and beauty of everyday life. Maybe some of my friends missed seeing those in my life too.

Facebook gives us chance to regularly connect with friends, to encourage others , share our faith, and laugh. We can communicate with each other what we’re doing, feeling, thinking and processing.  There’s so much fun to be had on a good ol’ perusal and posting on Facebook. However, it’s a bit like the playground: there’s a whole lot of fun to be had – we just have to work out how to play nicely….

2. It’s all about boundaries

We often feel a bit more confident when hidden behind the comfort of a screen. We can say things, or read things from others, that we wouldn’t say, or hear,  if we were face-to-face with people. Jamie the VWM wrote an excellent post on this, where she says this:

If you wouldn’t say it to my face, then don’t say it. Go find somewhere else to pretend to be brave. If you just want to argue, you’re in luck, this here internet is full of  {people} just itching for a fight. I am not interested.

I like the idea of this as a guideline: “If you wouldn’t say it to my face or if I wouldn’t say it to your face, then don’t say it on Facebook.”

Facebook also gives all of us more access to, and more information about, other people’s lives than we would probably naturally have. And like-wise, others probably have more access to our lives than they would aside from Facebook.  My husband (Rich) and I have very differing views about what levels of information we’re happy to share. I recognise that I’m a bit of a sensitive soul and that we all have differing levels of what we’re comfortable with so we need to decide what our boundaries are. On this blog I try to maintain a level of transparency I think is helpful for others to hear, but other things I’d choose to keep private. It’s the same with Facebook. Sometimes, just taking a few extra moments before posting or commenting on something is a valuable use of time. What are we happy to post about ourselves, but also what are we happy to read about others?  Are there times when the information we’re receiving is more intimate, or giving us more access to someone’s life than we normally would have? Clearly our “friend” is happy with the information they’re sharing, but are we comfortable with the access to information we have about their life, given the level of friendship we have with them? It’s worth evaluating who we accept friend requests from, taking into account the type of person you are, and how you wish to use Facebook. Again, Rich, for example, will accept a friend request from a zebra, if requested  (please take no offence if you happen to be his Facebook “friend”/zebra – I’m sure you’re very special to him). The way he uses Facebook is totally different to the way I would choose to use it, which reflects our natural personalities of extrovert (Rich) and introvert (me). And he’s absolutely happy with his approach, as I am with mine.

3. It’s part of life but it doesn’t define life 

Facebook is part of the way many of us interact with one another.  As we eat lunch together in the office we’ll often talk about what’s been posted on Facebook, or it may fuel a discussion on a particular issue amongst friends whilst together offline. Facebook is part of life

But it shouldn’t define life..I wonder how many more photos we take of ourselves, or of what we’re doing, because of the public arena Facebook provides to display our lives. Or, have you ever said, or heard words like these uttered:

“Oh, that would make a great Facebook status”

In my first few weeks off Facebook I reached for my phone several times and then realised I wasn’t on Facebook to share my amazing status update. It’s worth checking our motives here.  You know that old philosophical question : “If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?” I think sometimes we can verge towards living our lives in a similar way: “If an event/quote/photographic moment” isn’t posted on Facebook, has it really happened?”

If we start believing that our lives have to be projected on Facebook in order to give them meaning, we start treading on thin ice….

4. Facebook doesn’t validate me.

Facebook neither has the power to elevate, or demote me. The “friends” I have on Facebook don’t form my identity. Whether or not I write a status update, or post a photo that keeps that little red notification button flashing all day, or whether I have nothing to say, my worth is not defined by Facebook interactions, just as my worth is not defined by any interactions off-line.

The three primary temptations Jesus faced (appetite, ambition, approval), can be subtly played out in Facebook: how many likes or friends we gather, what we do or don’t share with others, and how much time we spend on it,  amongst other things.

5. Less time on Facebook helps me to be more engaged with the here and now

I think for me, the biggest difference whilst off Facebook was that I was more engaged with what was going on right before me. The little sneak peeks took me away from engaging with right now, especially with the kids. I understand the assertion that Facebook is as much “real life” as our life when we’re physically present with others , especially amongst adults.

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(slightly ironic photo)

But that doesn’t apply to our kids who don’t interact with us online and are desperately tying to hold a conversation with us whilst our eyes are glued to a screen. This is a constant challenge for me, regardless of whether or not I’m on Facebook. I love reading online. With enough time I could easily spend a whole day reading blogs. In fact, one of the reasons I love Twitter is because it opens up so much food for thought and discussion on so many topics.

The problem isn’t Facebook, or Twitter or any other social media. The problem is me, and how I choose to use this stuff.

Just like the sabbath was made for man, not man for the sabbath, so is social media made for man, not man for social media. In simple language that means that social media serves us, we’re not slaves to it.  I need the little reminders from those who love me to say things like “stay engaged in the here and now.”

My absence from Facebook has given me chance to healthily evaluate how I want to use it, so that I return with some of these reflections in mind.

What never ceased to amaze me during my Facebook absence was the response I received whenever I made a new off-line friend and they asked if I was on Facebook. When I replied,  they invariably said something along the lines of “Oh, that’s probably a good thing. I spend too much time on it” This response came from a whole spectrum of people; it seems that many of us haven’t yet got to grips with how to incorporate it into our lives healthily without having some sense of uneasiness and wariness. I totally believe that if we get the right balance, Facebook and other social media can be a positive and fun part of our lives.

How about you? Agree/disagree? Do you love or hate facebook or do you have a love/hate relationship with facebook, or could you not care less?!!

8 ways to stay sane when your husband goes away and leaves you with three tinies

“So what’s your strategy with Rich going away?” a friend asked me this week.  I shrugged my shoulders and said “I’m not sure I have one.”

After a bit of reflection I realised that although I’m never going to have a 20-point plan of how to cope when Rich is away there are a few principles I’ve learnt along the way. I’ll admit I’m not the most organised person in the world so batches of pre-cooked frozen meals are never going to be my thing. But I guess over the last few years, as Rich has increasingly travelled away from home, I’ve learnt a thing or two on how to make it work with young kids. I wish there was a magic-formula which would guarantee success every time but it appears there isn’t. Whilst we can manage one trip with apparent ease we can have another one, where I appear to do all the same things, and yet it feels like we’re counting down the minutes to Rich’s return (with a week left to go!) Sometimes it’s plain sailing and sometimes it’s plain tears all the way. Kids are kids (and mums are mums) so there’ll never be a formula. But here are a few things I’ve found helpful:

skype. skype. and more skype

Oh thank the Lord for skype. Actually, when the kids were younger they found it harder to connect over skype as it just made them more aware of Rich’s absence. But as they’ve got a bit older skype means that we can sit and eat tea together or do family prayers together or Rich can consult on our lego-building technique (an important factor in the Robinson household).  But it’s not just important for the kids; it’s important for us as a couple. I’ve heard other people say that there’s a bit of a re-adjustment period when a couple return back to each other, after time away. This is definitely true for us and particularly for me as I find it easy to become overly-independent. This “re-adjustment” aka “arguing” is really minimized if we keep well-connected whilst Rich is away.  Regular skype communication keeps us feeling like we’re still journeying together even if there’s geographical distance.

Be realistic in what you can achieve.

Having a husband away is not the time to prove that you’re superwoman. Simple food, McDonalds, soft-play centres, TV, online supermarket shopping: you are all my trusty friends. And I no longer feel ashamed to call you this.

Work out which are helpful offers of help.

Lots of people offer to help when Rich is away, which is a massive blessing. But there are varying levels of helpfulness. Sometimes it feels like a bit of a discipline to allow others to help. I’m an introvert, so just getting on with looking after the kids on my own can seem like the easiest thing to do.  I try to say “yes” to the things that will either bless me or the kids.

Get people praying

Knowing that other people are praying for us makes a massive difference. I usually give  people specific things to pray for, and update them with prayer needs throughout the trip.

Help the kids become more independent

I think this is one of the major benefits of having Rich away: I’ve had to teach the kids to help around the house and help themselves to the things they need. One pair of hands to three kids is not a particularly even ratio, so the more helping hands the better. Today I came downstairs  to find my eight year old unloading the dishwasher for me #proudmummoment.  There’s a greater awareness that we need to pull together as a team to make life work.  I’ve also had to work harder at getting the kids to solve their own disputes.  I find sibling arguments the most stressful aspect of family life. So I’m increasingly putting disputes back into the kids’ hands: “I know that you two are able to solve this argument so I’m going to do the washing-up and you can come and tell me when you’ve worked out the solution” feels like a much more relaxing and effective alternative to being Robinson referee.

Look for the gain.

There’s always some kind of growth in my life or in the life of our family whilst Rich is away.  It may be spiritual, relational, physical, intellectual or financial. But I can easily miss it if I’m not consciously looking for it. It may be something as simple as remembering the kingdom advancement taking place through the work Rich is doing whilst away or what I’m doing at home. It may be seeing the kids mature a little, or some spiritual revelation that I receive from having a bit of extra time on my own with God. Or it may be just be having a bit of girly-time with one of my friends. Sometimes it’s only after Rich has returned that I’m able to see what the “gain” has been, but it’s really great if I can acknowledge it whilst he’s still away.

Lean in

A place of weakness is always an opportunity to lean into God. This is rarely a pain-free process but a new level of surrender to God brings greater freedom and greater fruitfulness. My weaknesses – my impatience, my insecurities, my inadequacies all float to the surface when Rich is away. So I can either try to stuff them back down or surrender them. Sometimes I manage this. Sometimes I don’t. 🙂

S-l-o-w down

The kids need more of me when Rich is away. I give them more time particularly at bedtime because that’s usually the time when they process how they’re really feeling. Longer snuggles, more stories, more prayer, more conversation. S-L-O-W down.

I know I’m not the only one who has a husband who travels. So how about you: what are some of your coping strategies?

where I realise that reputation is rather like soap

Trying to hold onto reputation is like holding a bar of soap.

It’s impossible.

I’ve been considering reputation a lot recently. Because how I’m perceived is important to me. Too important. I want to be someone, and to be regarded as someone, with integrity, as someone who is passionate about Jesus and tries to love others as best I can.

But trying to hold onto reputation is like holding a bar of soap.

There’s a tricky balance in this because there’s lot in the bible about being faithful representatives of Jesus (Like this for example). And trying to be faithful representatives, by God’s grace, is exactly what we should aim to be. But even with the best intentions and motives in the world – even if we did happen to be perfect – we can’t Continue reading