Tuesday, 22 April 2014

confessions of a mousekiller

(Because some stories just NEED to be told!) 

(And just in case anyone questions my sanity, I am traumatised by the events described here, but I'm trying to make light of it so the whole thing will just ... go away. Forever, hopefully!)

Years ago, when we first moved into the house we built on the corner of my brother-in-law's farm, the mice moved in too. But we found the gaps they'd crawled into, blocked them up, and haven't seen them since.

But with the arrival of spring sunshine the kids have been flying in and out of the house, dusting off bikes, shovels and sand buckets, leaving the garage door wide open. As the kids went out, the mice came in - I saw the first one face to face last week just as I was heading for bed.

The next day, after getting the traps down from the attic, the girls and I saw another mouse in the playroom. We opened the patio doors and tried to shoo him out but he squidged himself under the adjoining door back into the kitchen. I got the kids to jump up on chairs while I swept mouse turds off the bookshelves.

"Why didn't you kill him, mum?" Amber asked as I muttered to myself, swishing the broom. Which is exactly what hubby said when I messaged him about the mouse in the laundry.

"I'm not fast enough, and besides, I just couldn't do it!" I said. "I've never killed anything!"

"But you've got traps for them, isn't that the same thing?"

Ah. "I guess you're right!" I admitted. That girl can think!

That night as I sat knitting on the sofa, taking in a movie after a hard day of keeping the kids entertained during mid-term break, a mouse wriggled through the leather sofa under my butt. I took that as a personal insult! Wretches! (We haunted the furniture showroom for months waiting for that sofa; and finally bought it only after someone scratched it while moving it, knocking the price down by 50%. Worth the wait!)

So I got up and baited two traps, setting them in the kitchen and playroom, and removed myself to the relative safety of the study and youtube.

The first trap went off just a few minutes later. I went out to check the trap under the kitchen sink but couldn't find it; it seemed the mouse had somehow flipped itself and the trap over a pipe and down behind the cupboard unit. Oh well, deal with it tomorrow I thought.

But when I opened the cupboard the next morning I nearly had a heart attack. The mouse hadn't flipped back at all, but fallen to the lower shelf where it still lay flipping about in smears of blood.

Sick to the stomach, I knew I had to kill it. All I could think of at the time was our meat mallet. A few quick jabs with my eyes averted and the mouse was dead. I flushed him quickly before the kids realised what was going on and cleaned up the cupboard, all the while feeling my stomach churn. Why did this have to happen while hubby was on night shift?

More mice surprised us that day - as bold as brass - and I found stuffing falling out of the leather sofa so I knew we had no choice but to set more traps. Alone again that night, I heard the first trap go off and walked out to find another still-alive mouse.

What to do? I couldn't face the meat mallet again. Heart pounding, I thought of the loo. Reaching forward gingerly, I picked up the trap by its' back end, keeping my hand well away from the wriggling body at the front. Snapped open the trap into the loo and hit flush. Phew!

But lately we've had problems with iron and manganese deposits in our water, radically reducing our water pressure, and the mouse just wouldn't go down. I stared in horror as he paddled frantically. No, no! Could this get any worse?

I grabbed the gallon bucket we use to get milk from the farm, filled it at the laundry tap and threw the water down the loo, eyes closed. Then looked again with huge relief to find the mouse gone.

Texted hubby, looking for sympathy. One down. He was alive - I had to flush him.


Are you serious? I've never killed anything before. I'll need counseling after this!!

Within the next hour or so, three more traps sprang, catching three more mice by the leg.

Texted hubby. Wish you were here.


After four flushes the traps were empty and I couldn't set any more. Horrible useless things. I went to bed with my stomach still lurching.

The next day we bought more traps - great heavy things with springs so tightly wound that they wouldn't trip without savage pressure - I almost split my thumb testing them out.

Hubby's still on night shift - but tonight's his last night for a while. HE can deal with the mice after this. I'm calling it quits!

Sunday, 20 April 2014


Last week my hubby let our 20-month-old walk down to nan's house. Oh dear. Bye-bye buggy! She won't even get into it now, just shakes her blonde curls and shrieks, "noooooo ...!!!"

I took the kids out to the river this afternoon while dad slept between night shifts. Thea wanted to be "down!" like the other two, who had skipped ahead of me through the gate towards the sloping bridge. Thea of course stopped every 5 seconds to ooh and aah at the river, pointing at the rapids, hovering all too close to the electric fence wire just above her head.

As she walked the path for the first time I found myself mentally navigating the hazards ahead of her - parts where the track came right to the edge of the river, sections of mud with stepping stones, steep inclines, loose gravel and stinging nettles.

Some of my friends have hit road hazards just recently. I thought of two in particular as we walked the path today - one who's just said goodbye to a difficult marriage, and another who had a sudden and completely unexpected breakdown last week.

As I witness their struggles I'm seeing all over again that life is a delicate balance. We have so many roles and responsibilities to juggle! I don't know about you but sometimes I feel just one hair's breadth away from dropping all the balls and seeing them shatter into one almighty, seemingly irreparable mess.

I think that's what happened to my neighbor last week. Karen (not her real name) has a 7- and a 4-year old, a 9-month old baby, a terrific husband and a friend who's just stiffed her out of a job she had planned to return to after maternity leave. When she called me in a panic on the last day of school before mid-term break I thought someone had died. Loaded my kids into the car, rushed down, found her sitting sobbing in her driveway. She asked me to mind her kids while she ran up to my house to send an email. Huh? I didn't ask questions, just gave her the keys.

Karen's house is usually spotless. That day I knew she was not okay because there were clothes piled everywhere, plates stacked in the sink, food congealed in pots on the stove, tissues and used nappies on the kitchen counter. Baby J sat strapped in his pushchair, quietly mouthing his fingers. I sent the older kids outside to the swings and sat waiting to see what would happen next.

To make a long story short, Karen's in hospital. And I'm wondering how I missed the signs that she could no longer hold everything together. I think things had been unraveling for a while and her friend's treachery was the last straw.

It's tough to juggle kids, house, job, bills; maintaining, guarding and repairing all the 'stuff' we've gathered; and trying to figure out what happened to our dreams in the process. But if we lose sight of our dreams I think something in our soul dies; we get so busy watching for stones on the path that we forget the thrill and beauty of the river.

As Karen once said to me, "Life is a strange thing. We get up, eat, go to work, come home, go to bed, and do it all over again the next day. There has to be more to it than this!"

Yes, there's more! But often when we've hit a few speed bumps the fight begins to leak out of us, just like the diesel in our car right now (yeah, we need to get that fixed).

As I scooped Thea into my arms to carry her up a hill, I thought about what I've been seeing on the internet lately - people being raw and honest, navigating the road hazards for others who haven't got there yet: "hey, if you're going down this particular road, watch out for X - I hit that and nearly went under. But I pulled through it like this ... "

I have another friend who's watching her daughter battle an eating disorder.  I can tell her, "Yeah, I've been in her shoes. Watch out for this, and this - but don't worry, she'll be okay."

I can't navigate as easily for Karen, although I've had bouts of depression and watched my sister walk through it too. But I can at least be there when she needs me.

When I put Thea down at the top of the hill she cried a sad little "noooooo ...!" and held out her arms. I scooped her up again and she snuggled deep into my shoulder, drawing her legs up in a tight huddle.

Sometimes we need that - someone to scoop us up when our legs get wobbly and we just can't do it anymore.

But it's okay. We'll walk again, when we've had enough time - and support from the people around us - to recover.

Saturday, 12 April 2014

take five

Right now my head is one big jumble of kids, work schedules, laundry, dirty windows, mice in the sofa (um, yes, it's gruesome!), friends in crisis, hopes and dreams, language classes, and some major developments for our family's future - more to come on that later!

I have great ideas for posts while dropping my kids off to school, but by the time I get home they've fizzled and I can't retrieve them.

However, according to a quote I found on the internet today, "It's not about having to say something, but having something to say."

So until something more solid comes together, I think I'll just 'take five'!

My parents sent me to a psychologist when I was around 17 years old. I was so suspicious and defensive at the first session that I don't remember much of it, but I've never forgotten the homework assignment she gave me that day - to go home and make a list of "5 things I'm good at" and "5 things I like about myself."

Back home I sat down with a blank sheet of paper, but couldn't think of a single thing to write on it!

That process helped me realise two things about myself. First, if I had nothing good to say about myself, I needed help - and second, maybe I should accept help from this psychologist after all. Her simple assignment had totally disarmed me!

So just for fun, and as a confidence booster, tonight I'm writing out two revised lists for 2014 and inviting you to do the same. Feel free to post your list in the comments section (anonymously if you prefer!). And maybe ask a friend to write out these lists for you as well - you might be surprised at what they come up with! (I've been surprised and blessed by some unexpected compliments from friends over the past two weeks ... does your soul good!)

5 things I'm good at:
- loving my kids
- listening
- writing (hmm, feels debatable at the moment!)
- photography
- cooking
- surfing the internet (does this count? I guess not. Okay ... knitting then!)

5 things I like about myself:
- compassionate
- non-judgmental
- creative
- intelligent
- wise (people keep telling me I am, but this is also debatable!)

Wednesday, 2 April 2014

an honest answer

Okay, so it's been a little quiet on the blog lately. I don't know what possessed me to start a year-long language course and a blog at the same time! We're also battling bugs - just as baby came off her 4th dose of antibiotics this year, I lifted her out of the cot last night and she threw up all over me, the cot and the floor. Here's to summer and warmer weather!!

It's funny how the little things can make you feel like such a failure as a parent.

Last week as I put my 4-year-old Kayla to bed, she snuggled into me and then pointed to the photo canvas on the far wall of her room."Mum, I really miss my puppy!" she said - and then, so typical for our little drama queen, her face crumpled and she sobbed as if heartbroken.

Let me explain. When she was somewhere around 2, I got hooked on a pre-loved toy store in town. I couldn't resist picking up toys that were in near-perfect condition, often for just a euro or two. The puppy was one of them - a gorgeously soft cream puppy with floppy brown ears.

At first sight Kayla clutched him tight and adopted him as her one-and-only sleep toy. But Kayla being Kayla, that didn't last. As she moved to a big bed I'd often find puppy thrown in a corner of her room, abandoned for days if not weeks, and she seldom slept with any toy in the bed.

Around that time I realised that too many nearly-perfect toys were too much of a good thing. So one day while the kids were out with dad I swept through the house, bundled up all the toys they never played with, and handed them back to the charity shop.

The kids barely noticed and we could see the floor - a win-win situation, right?

Um - no.

Fast forward to a few years later when I decided we needed some life on our walls. Under pressure to get a last-minute deal at photobox.com I zipped through our photo files, chose a few of my favorites and ordered some canvases for the girls' rooms.

The one I chose for Kayla was soooo cute - a photo taken at our local airport on the way out to my workmate's wedding in Greece. Kayla stands there forlornly in the queue, surrounded by a forest of legs, holding her beloved puppy by the neck.

 I thought she'd like the photo, but the moment the canvas went up on the wall she burst into floods of tears. "Mum, that's my puppy? Where's my puppy? I lost him and I miss him SO much!"

Well, no you didn't lose him, I thought, but I can't tell you who did! And you really weren't acting like you loved him at all back then! So I said, "I'm so sorry bubs,  I think puppy IS lost and I don't know where he is." And gave her the biggest hug ever.

But she wouldn't be consoled and we've had the same conversation several times since.

I did try taking the canvas down but she seemed happier for me to leave it there.

Then at church a few weeks ago, a friend came up to us waving a handful of paper hearts. "We had these up on the wall for Valentine's day - want one?" she asked my kids.

Each heart had a simple, hand-written quote about love. When we got home, Kayla begged me to read hers and later that day I found it stuck to the wall beside her pillow.

But last week, the heart moved up to the canvas, right beside the beloved puppy.

And folks, I kid you not, this is what the heart says:

"An honest answer is like a kiss on the lips."

Somehow bedtime isn't so much fun anymore. I'm debating taking down that canvas and replacing it with something else - more recent, more fun, less ... guilt-provoking.

I'll tell her the real truth about the puppy someday, but not now. Maybe when she's a bit older. What would YOU do??

The guilt has a silver lining though. The more I mess up, the more I'm able to forgive my parents' mistakes. And I'm determined, these days, never to buy anything I won't let the kids keep. In fact, never to buy anything unless we really need it. More on that in my next post!

Monday, 24 March 2014

camp stories

It's been a while - we're still recovering from St. Patrick's weekend! Baby Thea was sick at camp so there was a lot of lying awake with her in my arms, staring at the ceiling, remembering camp stories from days gone by.

Like the time I went to a farm camp in the middle of summer and our leaders marched us through a field of nettles. There wasn't much sleep that night either!

Or the school camp where we learned to abseil off the side of a cliff and my classmates all marched back to camp while I - fatally - noticed the blackberries on the side of the road. Since I had nothing to carry them in, I rolled up the hem of my extra-long t-shirt and arrived back at camp an hour later with a shirt full of blackberries, stained purple of course - and everyone laughed at me. I dropped the berries and crawled into my tent feeling sooooo humiliated!

But the most vivid camp story involves a plane crash in the jungles of Papua New Guinea (PNG) - a story that's very much on my mind this week as crews search for Malaysian flight MH370, missing since March 8.

My parents worked with a mission group that had volunteers scattered through the remote valleys and mountains of PNG, and while we had radio communication every day just so everyone stayed safe, we only saw each other once a year - at our conference in the central highlands.

We all had to fly there, in a fleet of tiny passenger planes operated by mission pilots that dipped and zoomed over the jungle. Mostly you'd have suitcases jammed under your feet as you traveled, and maybe 3 months' worth of groceries and a goat or two in the space cleared for 'bulky luggage' at the back of the plane.

a typical 'donga' - family accommodation during conference!

At conference each family had a small hut or 'donga' made of woven sheets of coconut matting. The huts had no electricity, running water or indoor loos - no mod cons at all! In bed at night you could look through a million and one pinholes in the walls and see starlight outside. The holes also let in the creepy-crawlies but that wasn't too bad - we were used to that!

Family photo, 1979 - I'm the girl with the pigtails on the far right

Most of the actual conferences are a blur for me, but the highlight was always talent night on the final night, where each family had to go up on stage in the big meeting hall and present an item. In 1979, when I was 8 years old, the Wilkinson family - including my friend Marcia - got up to sing a hymn. They'd just had a baby boy, and I'll never forget how Marcia's mum Lois cradled him in her arms and sang 'Because He Lives' with her face shining, in absolute, heartfelt conviction: 

How sweet to hold a newborn baby 
And feel the pride and joy he gives
But greater still the calm assurance
This child can face uncertain days

Because He lives!

Because He lives I can face tomorrow
Because He lives all fear is gone
Because I know He holds the future
And life is worth the living
Just because He lives!

The next day, Monday, planes began rolling down the airstrip, taking each family home - but the plane carrying the Wilkinsons never made it. When the pilot failed to contact base, all other flights home were canceled and the adults signed up for search parties that worked from sunlight to sundown, fighting bad weather, dense jungle and a 48-hour time limit on the radar beacon of the small plane.

My mum and dad both took turns in the air, or in the kitchen back at base preparing food for the search parties. The week dragged on until finally, on Saturday, my dad's team spotted the crash site; the plane had hit the top of a ridge and bounced down the side of the mountain with tail and wings exploding away from the main body of the aircraft.

And then one day I'll cross the river
I'll fight life's final war with pain
And then as death gives way to victory
I'll see the lights of glory and I'll know He lives!

As we mourned, the words of that hymn and Lois' conviction as she sang it echoed over and over again in my head. I knew it could just as easily have been my family that went down. That week I understood with brutal clarity that we never know when our turn is coming - and we have to be ready to cross that river - just like they were ready.

It's a lesson I'll never forget.

Friday, 14 March 2014

eyes in the back of your head

It’s been a crazy couple of weeks. I kept myself going by using each circled date on the calendar as a stepping stone until I reached the last one, a presentation I had to make on Tuesday. When that was done I think my body said, “Well, we made it through that one - time to crash!”

I felt the blanket of fuzziness descending even as I drove home. Unloaded the kids and fed them - something - can't remember what. Hubby eventually woke up - he had a run of four back-to-back overnight shifts this week so he was asleep. I handed over the kids and said I needed an hour’s sleep myself before he headed off to work, then collapsed on the sofa - with temp spiking to 40C but feeling frozen to the bone.

I waved hubby out the door at around 5.15 and plonked the rest of us down in front of the television, counting the hours until bedtime. We eventually made it through cereal for tea (easiest!), jammies, teeth, wees and stories before finally - aaaahhhh - settling into bed.

Only to be woken at least 3 times that night by baby, then by the other kids waking up far too early and refusing to be shooshed back to sleep. I pulled myself up bleary-eyed to hussle Amber through breakfast and onto the bus, gave Charles a quick hug as he arrived home from work before rushing out the door for pre-school drop-offs, and then tried to dream up something quick and vaguely edible to put on the table for dinner.

We repeated the whole thing again on Thursday with an even dodgier dinner as the fridge got emptier.

Then today, just as the killer bug began lifting, Thea came down with it too. She was so, so miserable that I spent the afternoon glued to the sofa with her in my arms, leaving the other kids to - mostly - fend for themselves.

And now we have a dilemna - we’re supposed to leave for camp tomorrow. The kids have looked forward to it for weeks. We were at the same camp last year over St Patrick’s weekend and they loved it - they had an entire dorm room of 8 bunks to themselves, while mum and dad were just down the corridor in a tight double bedroom with the cot jammed in. But we had a blast meeting the other families and competing against them in events like the great St. Paddy's Day cupcake contest and "Who's the Boss?" photography shoot - which is why I really don’t want to miss it this time around. (Especially after my new resolution to embrace Ireland as home!!)

 Awesome entries for last year's cupcake contest. (Um, ours didn't even make it into the photo!)

At least Charles and the older girls have escaped the bug which means we're not entirely contagious.

The onliest thing is, since I haven't done much housework this week - you should see the laundry pile. The ironing pile. The kitchen!!! The kids have turned their rooms upside-down choosing toys to pack for camp, but I haven’t even pulled the bags out of the storage cupboard. I'm hoping we still have bags. And I’m really not sure if we'll make it to camp - depends how Thea is in the morning.

The joys of it.

But there was a brief moment this morning that made the whole week worthwhile. The kind of moment when you have to turn away so your kids don't see you laughing - and you realise that despite the days when you have to summon up every ounce of strength you have, parenting is THE best gift in the world.

I’ll leave you with the conversation my two older girls had this morning over breakfast - word for word. Enjoy!


Kayla (4): “My teacher said she has eyes in the back of her head so she can see when we’re naughty.”

Amber (6): “Well you’d better mind yourself then!” Then, after pausing for a minute to consider the situation; “Can you see the eyes at the back of her head?”

Kayla: “No.”

Amber: “Well then it’s not true. And besides, God made us with only one pair of eyes. I think she’s just trying to make you be good all the time.”

Wednesday, 12 March 2014

a place to stand

It's been a strange season, these past few weeks. I spent at least a week grieving over my sister, fearing a phone call to say she was gone. Then I looked deep to find the source of that grief. She's okay, by the way - in hospital for the time being with a good support team looking after her baby.

For the last 13 years or so she's done so well. And I've made progress too - at least I think I have! So the fact that my sister can fall back into despair so deep she can't endure it is a warning to me. I don't suffer from bipolar disorder and that's a huge blessing ... but I still have this inner tendency to worry, over-analyse and live with regret for what might have been.

So last week I made a new commitment to embrace Ireland as home. I've lived here for almost 14 years now but my roots have yet to go deep. I still miss New Zealand - the bare-foot hot beaches of summer, mild winters, familiar buildings, streets and people. Even the trees and the hills are different here! I don't recognise the wildlife or signs that the weather is about to change. Smells and sayings are still foreign to me, and my family are about as far away as they could be!

But in order for some deep part of my heart to heal, I need to let go and embrace THIS place as home.

The Maori people of New Zealand have an amazing word to describe that sense of belonging we all yearn for. Turangawaewae is most simply translated as 'a place to stand' - a place where your feet are planted and you live your life surrounded by family and community. That sounds good to me these days.

I used to think that if anything happened to my hubby I'd be on the next plane out with my kids in tow. But this is their heart-home, the place where they were born and learned to walk and talk, surrounded by grandparents, cousins and a whole community of people who are part of the fabric of our lives. I'm not so sure now that I could uproot them and put them through that same sense of homelessness or not quite belonging.

This week I find myself reaching out to embrace where I am and who I am, right now - this stranger with an Irish passport, a husband, three kids and a house on the edge of a farmer's field.

I used to dread getting old here in the Irish countryside, unable to drive and miles from the nearest friend - but who knows what might happen between now and then? Maybe we'll retire to a cottage by the sea, just down the road from supermarkets, cafes, kids and grandkids. It's hard to imagine right now when I'm still buried in nappies, school runs and mountains of laundry, but anything's possible, right?

Now, where did I put that shamrock cookie cutter?

Tuesday, 11 March 2014

on being beautiful ...

Sorry all, life has been a bit crazy! New post up tomorrow but in the meantime if you need something inspiring, check out this youtube video of Oscar winner Lputa Nyong'o talking about real beauty ... worth watching!

Saturday, 1 March 2014

knocked sideways

Tonight I feel like roadkill. Seriously. It's not just the fact that one or more of my kids has been seriously sick each week since mid-December, sparking rounds of doctor's visits, sleepless nights, prescriptions and even a trip to A&E last week. Or that I'm staying up far too late at night working on this blog, or that working on this blog has made me confront things in myself that I haven't really faced for a long time.

No. This week one of my sisters took an overdose. She survived unharmed - a miracle - but it feels like the past just reached out and dumped us right back into the pain.

I did say I wouldn't share my siblings' stories but I want to share just a little of this one because it's relevant, and because I'm so angry at the bipolar disorder - a chemical imbalance causing extreme depression - that has made her life such a misery.* I don't think she'd mind me sharing because she is strong and honest, and like me she's always wanted to help others get free.

Her battle with depression began somewhere in her mid-teens - she'd spend hours alone in her room, moody and withdrawn, often coming out only at night when the rest of us were asleep.

One of the first times she overdosed, I was the one to knock on her door. She'd just come back from a rehab centre, bringing with her a fellow patient so scarred by the past that she was just an empty shell, almost soul-less. I opened my sister's door to find this goulish 'friend' sitting beside the bed while my sister lay unconscious, an empty pill bottle spilling from her hand. The rest is a blur - ambulance, sirens, that tight dizzying feeling at the pit of my stomach, willing her to live, wondering how she could possibly hurt so much that she wanted to end it all.

Then I left home and the next several times I wasn't the one to find her, but the phone calls were almost as bad. There was always the fear that we'd lose her, but - please God! Thank-you God!, He always intervened.

From Pinterest, exact source unknown

I've never suffered the extreme of a bipolar episode - but I've tasted ordinary depression and seen how it sucks away everything that brings you joy, making life appear empty and meaningless. I can only imagine that bipolar is that emptiness times the power of infinity.

Right now I'm feeling my sister's pain so acutely that it almost takes my breath away. I'm shocked at how much it's affecting me, but perhaps because I thought, after 10 years of doing so well, she was safe. It's also forcing me to look deeper into myself and realise that I too am still far too fragile and affected by grief.

I'm guessing that my sister wonders, as I do, who she would have been without the abuse. But I believe we are better people because of it. Better - with a price. We have an understanding of grief and despair that can only be gained by living through it. We can listen and empathise and help people walk through emotional pain without giving them easy answers because we know what it feels like to be in those shoes.

So, sis - you are strong (so strong!), beautiful, intelligent, creative - and I love you so much! There IS light at the end of this tunnel - please hold on until you get there! And if you don't have the strength to hold on, please let go and let the rest of us hold on and be strong for you. One day the shoes may be on the other feet! xxxx

* Click here for more info on bipolar disorder

Tuesday, 25 February 2014

on being real

So there we are. Most of my story - at least the bit that involves my dad - is out there. It's been good to re-visit things I mostly try not to think about anymore, and good to explore how it's affecting my life right now.

Late last year I shared my story with a small group of women who knew me, but knew nothing about where I'd come from. Driving home that day I had a watershed moment. "I don't want to be defined by that story any more. I'm tired of being broken! I want to be defined by who I am in the present ... but who am I, really?"

I know I've been shaped by the past, both the good and the bad. As my husband keeps telling me, "You wouldn't be you if you hadn't been there." And I am grateful for the grace I've learned to give others along the way; for the compassion, the ability to see all the shades of grey between black and white. But I'd like to let go of the fear, insecurity, bad coping strategies (toxic trees!) and low self-esteem.

Deep down a voice still says - you're damaged. Broken. Messed-up. You'll never be free.

I had nightmares when I was around 10 years old that went something like this - I'd wake in the middle of the night to 'see' a cloud of demons over my bed, shaking chains and chanting, "You'll never be free!"

In my early 20's I had a flashback to a day when I was somewhere between 5 and 7 years old. My dad said to me, "Be good, or else ..." and I knew more abuse was the 'or else' bit. From that I grew to believe the abuse was my fault; that I obviously wasn't being good enough - otherwise he'd stop!

The last words I clearly remember my dad saying were, when I planned on going to uni, "Don't bother - you'll never make it!" I sweated through my degree and passed with honors, but his low opinion of me stayed lodged deep in my spirit.

There's been so much healing already. But on my bad days I still believe I have nothing worthy to offer the world. I'm good at many things but not excellent in anything. I love to write, but I read other blogs out there and think, "Who am I kidding?" I can cook, but I'm no Michelin chef. I love being a parent but sometimes I shout at my kids and they cower away from me. As for the best wife - let's just not go there!

I still genuinely wonder what my friends see in me. And I'm useless at small talk. It's hard to talk about tractors or the weather when I really want to know what's going on in your heart. Most people find that intimidating, so sometimes it's easier not to start a conversation at all - but then people think I'm snobby and just don't care. Can't win either way!

Most of all I'm still waiting for that aha! moment when I find the one thing I was made to do, where I can really shine. Like that moment on X-Factor when a garage mechanic from the back of beyond opens his mouth and sings in a way that makes your spine tingle and your soul soar. Even more so when you realise that the world could easily have missed out on his gift.
But he showed up at the audition!

And maybe that's all we have to do - be real with ourselves and with each other, and then help each other get on with whatever it is that we're called to do.

I'm really enjoying a series over on Momastery right now that deals with this very thing - showing up to change the world in our own small way, despite our secret fears and insecurities. Well worth a read!

Friday, 21 February 2014

my dad, part 5: the forgiveness letter

(my dad, part 4: face to face)

Family photo, 1971

May 29, 2006

Dear Dad,

I’ve struggled for a few days in writing this letter because I really hope you will hear my heart.

When Sharon rang me in Ireland to tell me that you had cancer I cried for four days. I couldn’t bear to think of you coping with this news alone with nobody to help you through it. I knew straight away that I needed to come home and see you.

So I’m glad you let me come and visit. I’m sorry that things didn’t go so smoothly, but the only reason I brought up the past was to try and mend the break in relationship between us. I was angry over things in the past and wanted to know how you felt about it and give you a chance to give your perspective.

I’m sorry for doing it now when you’re sick. If only we’d been able to talk years ago, then we could have put all of this behind us and still been involved in each others’ lives. I’m sorry that we’ve both missed out on that – and I’m sorry for the pain and loneliness you’ve been through.

I’ve been confused because I’ve written several letters to you over the years, sharing my life with you. One Christmas long ago I came to your door with a gift and knocked but you didn’t open the door. I thought maybe you just didn’t want to talk with me.

Again, the only reason I brought up the past was because I felt it was an unspoken issue between us that had to be addressed if you in your pain and I in mine were to find healing and peace, and restore relationship, and just be father and daughter again. That is what I want – genuine peace between us because I do love you, and I feel terrible grief because I’m about to lose you, and I know things could have been so different.

You are still dad to me and always will be. As a little girl I looked up to you – I still have copies of letters I wrote from boarding school, asking if you would write to me. When I asked you to give me away at my wedding it was because I wanted to honour you as my dad and I’m grateful to you for accepting and giving me away.

I don’t know what else to say except that I do love you and feel great sorrow that you are having to fight this battle with cancer, without the closeness of family around you. I will try to come again after leaving this letter but if you don’t want to see me I will understand, you obviously have the right to say no.

With love from your daughter,

my dad, part 4: face to face

(my dad, part 3: fallout)

Before I start, I need to say this: I struggled for years to forgive my dad. I wanted to forgive him for my own sake, to get free. But each time I tried, rage would bubble up from deep inside because of the way my dad's choices had ruined my life.

Until, through the fog, I realised two things: first, my pain wasn't entirely his fault. Yes, he abused me, but he didn't force me to self-harm or starve myself. I'd made bad choices too, and I had to take ownership of those.

Second, my dad and I were in the same boat. He was also a victim of childhood abuse; but since he never healed, he passed the pain on to me. If I didn't forgive, I could end up doing the same thing to my kids. 

Fying to New Zealand with my dad, 1976

As a 35-yr-old adult, I was too afraid to visit dad on my own. So I took my sister with me - old habit dies hard!

I tried to visit him once in my teens, when he lived in a ramshackle old caravan on his building site, but he refused to open the door. The second time was just before my wedding, when my husband convinced me that dad needed to give me away. (Long story short, he was right, though it added mega-stress to the day!) But this was the first time I'd been inside the raw cobbled-together house my dad had lived in for the past 15 years.

My dad's face was the same - a face I'd both loved and feared - apart from a patch over his right eye following surgery a few years earlier to remove a brain tumor. But his belly was now large and swollen, pregnant with more tumors.

Impending death has a way of sweeping away years and focusing thoughts; but I found that day difficult because, although we talked, we said nothing. It was a plastic conversation, sidestepping so much unspoken grief.

Afterwards I realised I just couldn't miss the opportunity to be real with my dad.

The next day I asked my younger brother if I could bring up the past during our visit. He rolled his eyes but thankfully agreed.

"Dad, I was hoping we could talk about the abuse."

He went white. "How dare you bring that up at a time like this?" He paused for a few seconds that stretched out towards me like a black hole, waiting to swallow me up. "Yes, I did abuse you, but I was sick then and I won't be held responsible." A few more silent seconds. "Now get out, and don't bother coming back!"

I walked back to my mum's house in tears. Sure, my dad had finally admitted the abuse after years of denying it - a huge plus - but he'd also shut me out.

Over the next three days I wrote him a letter, praying over every word because I knew that without divine help, he wouldn't get what I was trying to say. Then I dropped the letter in his mailbox and cried, convinced it was over.

But the next day he phoned, asking for me. "Thanks for the letter. Would you please come and see me again?"

This time when he opened the door he said, quite simply, "Can we not talk about this anymore?" And I was happy with that - there was no apology, but I knew it was an invitation to peace.

As I waved goodbye for the last time, I knew my dad had suffered in his own way - left lonely, bitter and empty because of the choices he'd made. And for the first time I felt huge, crazy compassion, not only for my dad but for all the other broken, abusive people out there. They were people trapped by pain; God in his mercy wanted to scoop them up in his arms but they refused to be held.

Flying home to Ireland I felt so free on the inside. There was still work to do, but I was a different person and my husband could see it too.

I know not everyone has the opportunity to meet with their abuser face to face - that was a gift. But there are other ways to let go. If you're battling to forgive someone, can I encourage you to read my letter - in the next post - and write your own?* If you can't or don't want to give it to that person, then give it to someone you really trust - or give it to God, and ask him what to do next. It may not be the immediate fix you're looking for, but it's a definite step on the road to healing.

* You won't see much anger in my letter - I knew if I exploded, my dad wouldn't bother to read it 
- and by that time his suffering had defused most of my anger anyway!

Monday, 17 February 2014

my dad, part 3: fallout

(my dad, part 2: bomb blast)

I left for university shortly after the restraining order was placed on my dad. I chose a double major in psychology and education and, after a few hiccups in actually getting there (like my mum's overloaded car burning out on the highway!), I loved uni. I loved the mental challenge, and loved being able to open my mouth and give an opinion without being shot down in flames!

A few things stand out from those years ...
* reading a word-for-word description of my dad's behavior in a textbook one day and realizing I didn't want to spend the rest of my life reliving the moment. Right then I decided a career in clinical psych wasn't for me - but I still went on to finish my degree.
* looking up from a desk in the library one day to find a classmate staring at me with lovesick eyes and feeling my heart lurch in despair. He'd become a friend of sorts, but I hadn't seen what was coming. When I told him "sorry, I can't go there," he told me I'd been calling him the wrong name all year. Oops!
* passing my degree with honors and being offered a full scholarship to go back and complete my masters ... but being so burned out, I couldn't even open a book for the next six months.

In those days if you were unemployed for six months or more, social welfare would call you up for 'volunteer' duty. And so, because of my education major, I was placed as a resource assistant in the special education unit of a local school.

I got to work at around 8.30 each morning and so did the kids. Pretty soon we had a session going where the kids would ask questions and tell me their stories - about gang fights, watching porn movies with their parents, living under their own houses for days at a time ... it was an eye-opener for sure!

I was particularly drawn to one little boy - I'll call him David - who came in with new bruises each morning and always had a story to explain them away. He'd fallen down the stairs, tripped over a ball. He wore the same clothes for weeks in a row and stank of urine.

As the other kids went out to play, David edged closer to me. At first I fought the urge to move away - but his need for love screamed out, so I let him sit close and quiet. Then one morning he limped through the door like an old man, tears streaming down his cheeks. He sat on my knee, reached back and drew my arms around him, hugging his body tight. I held still, fighting back my own tears, wishing him love and courage. It probably wasn't 100% p.c. even in those days, but there's no way I could have pushed him away.

Weeks later the family moved with no forwarding address. But I'll never forget the mirror David held up to me, or the stirring deep inside to use my own life, somehow, to help others through the pain of abuse.

the damage goes deep - image courtesy of IrishCentral.com

After that I left the school and volunteered for a local radio station. But I was still emotionally broken. One night I decided to have it out with God, telling him, "I'm not going to sleep until I know why I'm still so miserable."And I let him have it - pouring out my grief and rage over the years of abuse.

At the end of it came a peace and stillness unlike anything I'd felt before. Then I heard God say, "That's all I wanted - for you to be honest with me." And for the first time in my life I realised I was safe with God - I could be myself and he'd take me just the way I was.

Three years later I moved to Switzerland and spent a year ghost-writing a book for the manager of a retreat center. From there I moved to Costa Rica, South America; and finally to Thailand where I worked with refugees. But my baggage came with me, and oh did I have baggage!

It was in Thailand that I met my now-husband Charles, who spent 2 or 3 months of every year volunteering there. Long story - I'll tell it one day! And that's how I ended up on the opposite side of the world, 100% married, despite telling God that I'd never marry anyone, even if he found me the right guy.

We struggled in the early years ... I'm sure we're not alone in that. Two years into our marriage I was really depressed, sobbing my heart out on the floor of the kitchen each night - until I woke up one morning in early 2003 seeing only shadows. That's also a story for another time - but a reminder that, in the words of Glennon Doyle Melton, "a broken heart won't kill you, but running will!"

I was diagnosed with a rare condition that made the retinas in my eye bubble and burst, like water on wallpaper. I spent the next three months semi-blind, with one specialist telling me I might never recover. I couldn't read, could barely peel a potato, and was afraid to walk because I'd lost all sense of space and dimension. As I sat immobilised on the sofa, I felt God clearly say to me, "Well, you needed to deal with some stuff and I just couldn't get your attention any other way!"

So I listened, for a while. But then my sight came back - bar some damage in my right eye - and I kept right on running.

Then one day in 2006, out of the blue, I had a call from my sister in New Zealand. She had just found out that my dad was dying of cancer. I immediately knew I had to go home. Chances were he wouldn't even see me, but I had to try.

I prayed for just one thing on the flight over - that I could see my dad, say goodbye and make peace with him. I had no intention of bringing up the past. But as it turned out, God had other ideas!

(to be continued)

Saturday, 15 February 2014

in the shelter

We've been plagued by storms for the past week - storms with hurricane force winds, torrential rain, snow flurries, flood waters surging, huge old trees ripped out of stone ditches by their roots and power lines down all around Ireland.

Storm waters rising in Irish coastal towns - photo from The Irish Mirror

We were lucky - out of power for just 24 hours. We did run out of water, but since there was no real damage to our house or garden, that brief interlude of howling winds and huddling around the fire by candlelight was good for us. No half hour of television before the kids went to bed - just telling stories before heading upstairs to unusually cold beds.

The next morning the kids' schools were closed so we all trekked out to a nearby town to wander, eat something hot and recharge our cell phones in a cafe.

We also huddled in the library, just above the town's water wheel. They had a great kids' section with wide curving shelves, rainbow-rugs and a wee wooden table and chairs. My kids had a blast in there and I did too, reading aloud while my 18-month-old wandered around pulling random books off the shelves - yes, we put them back again!

We spent a good hour in there while the storm raged outside. It was shelter, true shelter - hushed and quiet, warm and dry, with friendly faces at the counter even when our teething little one got cranky and howled the place down.

It was such a relief to get home that day and find power and water. We loaded the dishwasher, ran the washing machine, flushed the loo (yippee!) and made spaghetti and meatballs. But a small part of me missed the brief peace of those 24 hours.

As the last breath of the storms played out today I took a quick run into town and bumped into a few people I knew. Their power was still out. Their freezers were full of rotting food. But it was okay, they said, because "we had to talk to each other!"

Fallen giants everywhere - photo from The Irish Journal

Seeing the news headlines tonight - more fallen trees obstructing roads, farm tanks bubbling with three days' worth of sour milk, people being evacuated from their homes - I couldn't get past that feeling of shelter. And I couldn't get a line from this song out of my head, "In the shelter of each other, we will live ... we will live!"

You know that old saying, "It takes a village to raise a child"? Turns out it's really really true - we do need each other. Especially in times like this, when those who've suffered most need the help of those who escaped the worst of the storm.

This week it was our turn. Next week it might be yours.

Seems to me that the same thing happens with emotional storms. Life traumas are often unexpected, uncontrollable, choosing their victims at random. Some of us need a place to sit for a while that's hushed, quiet, warm and dry. Filled with friendly faces, with people who can say, "Don't worry, it's gonna be okay" - because, from their vantage point, it already IS okay.

As the storms abate that's the lesson I'm taking from this week ... let's be that shelter for each other!

Monday, 10 February 2014

my dad, part 2: bomb blast

(my dad, part 1: a broken heart)

Somewhere after that first kiss at 13, abuse became the new normal in our house. Once home from school we kids were constantly on guard against my dad who prowled around the house, mostly naked, hoping to surprise us. My older brother hid in his room; the rest of us moved around the house in pairs, afraid to walk alone. With the abuse came threats too - that if we told anyone, there'd be more serious consequences - and we were innocent and fearful enough to believe him.

(This is proving a hard post to write. I find myself standing back a little, needing distance - so if you find this a bit unemotional - it's not, really it's not! ;-)

The pain and confusion of those days was horrendous. I remember getting out of the house as fast as I could in the morning - sometimes escaping from my dad in my pj's and spending the day hidden in the bushes in a park near our house until I knew the other kids would be home from school. Other days I skipped school because I couldn't face keeping up the pretense of 'normal' when everything was falling apart.

Since my dad was a peeping tom, I'd line the windows and door of our bathroom with towels every time I took a bath. Paranoid? No. My dad built a shower with a glass door facing into our laundry room. We mostly never used it. The one day I did, thinking my dad was out, I looked up to find him watching me through the glass and I shrank away in total humiliation.

My GP prescribed sleeping tablets around that time since I had trouble sleeping - I didn't tell him why - and since the days were so awful I began taking them first thing in the morning. Then one day, so numb emotionally but aching for a way to feel the pain, I dropped a glass in the kitchen and drew a sharp shard across my palm - again and again. This soon became a habit - the only way to physically express what was happening to me on the inside.

There were five kids in my family, and the others' stories aren't mine to tell - but I will say that three of us tried to commit suicide, some more than once, during that time.

The method I chose was slow - I decided not to eat! Perhaps feeling that if I lost enough weight my dad would lose interest in me; or perhaps because not eating made me feel clean, strong and in control like nothing else did.

One day my maths teacher reached out and asked, "Laurel, there's something wrong, isn't there?" For the first time I felt that someone cared, that I just might get help if I found the right way to ask for it. So with a pounding heart I made an appointment with our school guidance counselor. I spent hours in her office before finally finding the courage to 'tell' - and then shrank in fear and relief when she said she had to take action.

So my mum found out and my dad was warned. I'm not sure if social services were called in. But nothing changed. Nothing changed! Until my mum realised just how serious things were and moved us to a safe house. But even that was temporary. The police advised us kids to stay home the first day while mum went to work, but my dad figured out where we were and turned up on the doorstep. I turned and ran out the back door and into a nearby shop with my dad in hot pursuit. The police were called. But my parents talked it out and got back together, and in a quiet moment not long afterwards my dad made sure we knew that, once again, nothing had changed.*

Except that my parents began sending me to weekly appointments with a psychologist - the best thing they ever did. This incredible woman sat me down, listened, and then taught me how to look at my situation and say, "This is awful - but it's not the end of the world." For the first time I began feeling that I might actually get through this tunnel and out the other side.

She didn't talk to me about food - but she did warn me that if my weight dropped beyond a certain limit, I'd end up in hospital. And of course for me, that weight limit was like a red rag to a bull! (Photos from that era that will remain under lock and key until my kids leave home ... or maybe 'til I'm buried! I'm like a stick insect with a Michael Jackson hairdo - what was I thinking?!?)

At 17 I was made dux of our secondary school. An ambulance waited outside the awards ceremony to whisk me off to hospital, where I spent the next month in a solitary room on suicide watch, with windows locked shut and all books and personal possessions confiscated. My only comfort during that time was the sensation of a warm blanket wrapped around me; to this day I'm sure it was God's way of saying "I'm here! I haven't abandoned you!"

They put me on drugs that fogged my brain, but one thing stands out - I refused to let anyone come into the showers with me. The nurses were afraid I'd fall over, but they didn't realise how potently impossible it was for me to let anyone see me like that!!

Then I was sent home - and my dad was still there. I applied for university and he laughed at me, saying "If I were you, I wouldn't bother - you'll never make it!" - which made me determined to prove him wrong.

But before I left home, my mum had a court order put on him while he was away visiting family in another town. He couldn't come back - although he did try, once or twice. So we were technically safe - just a little too late because the bomb had already fallen.

* I should make it clear that I don't blame my mum - not really. In her day the shame of divorce was much stronger and she didn't know how she'd survive on her own. She was also a victim of abuse. The one thing I regret is that she never let us see how overwhelmed and frightened she felt - if she had, we might have had the freedom to express our feelings too. 

(to be continued)

Thursday, 6 February 2014

got the bug :-(

My kids are sick! So no mid-week blog post this time, I'm leaving it 'til Sunday when I may have had a full night's sleep!! xx

Monday, 3 February 2014

my dad, part 1: a broken heart

I posted a link on the Facebook page today - a response from author (and former alcoholic) Glennon Doyle Melton to the death by overdose of actor Philip Seymour Hoffman. In her blog post, she calls on all who are emotionally wounded to "stop running from your broken heart. A broken heart won't kill you, but running will."

I can relate to that. For years I ran from memories of my dad. But I hung on tight to the bad coping strategies I'd chosen (toxic trees!), even though I'd half forgotten where they came from, until God brought things to a head in 2006.

Somewhere in the middle of that year my sister rang from New Zealand to tell me she'd learned, from a virtual stranger on the street, that my dad was dying of cancer. At that point I had a choice to make. Take courage and go back, or walk away from the one opportunity I might have to make peace with him.

So this is my story ... it will probably span over several posts and I'm telling it for a few reasons. First, to remember and deal with the roots of my own pain; second, to make a case for abusers who are damaged people, just like us; and finally, to share my l-o-o-ng journey towards forgiveness in the hope that it may encourage others who wonder if they will ever be able to forgive.


My dad, my older brother & me (with the bucket)

I don't have many warm fuzzy memories of my dad, but there are a few.

We kids were born and grew up in the jungles of Papua New Guinea, where my parents - who were out there working for a mission organisation - met and fell in love.

We lived in a crude split-level house on a mountain, built by my dad using timber from the mill he'd constructed in the village below. I remember him bringing ants' nests home from the jungle to feed our pet parrots; building a playhouse high in the branches of a tree in our backyard; and playing the guitar before bedtime while our parrots sang along with us from the rafters.

I also remember the day our little cast-iron cooking stove set fire to the thatched roof. My mum rushed us outside to the edge of the mountain while my dad ran barefoot up a ladder with buckets of water, burning his feet - somehow managing to save the house.

I remember hearing how my dad, as a young 20-something, told his parents he was leaving for New Guinea and they begged him not to go, promising him a house and a good job if he'd stay. He refused because he felt called to live for a purpose beyond himself.

Yo! That's me - the blonde with the coconut :-)

But there was a darker side to my dad.

In the very early days I mostly remember his anger - raging, violent anger; and his sheer hatred of my older brother, who was so terrified of my dad he could barely speak to him.

There's also a very early memory of abuse, when I was so young I couldn't fully understand what was going on - so young that the memories are just vague shadows in my mind.

My mum home-schooled me at first, but I wanted to attend a 'real school' with my older brother. So my parents relented and shortly after my 7th birthday my dad flew with me out to the coast and dropped me on the doorstep of the boarding school. I still remember the shock of realising he wasn't staying with me - leading to a year of homesickness, letters home begging my parents to come and get me, and finally sleep-walking and terrible nightmares.

Eventually the school called a psychologist in to administer some IQ tests and my parents were advised to take me home to a more settled environment in New Zealand, to cater for my strange combination of high IQ and extreme lack of social skills!

At around the same time my dad was diagnosed with a serious illness. He and my mum had flown in goats from the coast to set up a livelihood project for the people in our village who were hunter-gatherers, relying on good weather and fate to provide enough food for daily survival. They also poisoned rivers so the fish would float belly up into their nets; and then spent hours begging the spirits for forgiveness when people grew sick and died after eating the poisoned flesh.

My parents wanted to make life easier for them. But the goats came with an unwelcome guest - Brucellosis - a disease which ruined my dad's health. My mum's letters home to her family show the progression from occasional sweats and chills, to extreme weakness and even hallucinations. Doctors eventually advised my dad to leave while he still could. Since he was too weak to walk, the villagers took the front door off the house and used it as a stretcher to carry him down to the airstrip at the foot of the mountain.

Back "home" in New Zealand, we kids were like fish out of water, living in what was to us a foreign country. Since dad was too sick to work, my mum took on several jobs, finally settling as a florist in a business they started together.

She worked long hours while my dad spent most of his time at home - and it was then that the abuse began in earnest. One day, when I was around 13 years old and home sick from school, my dad showed up in the living room, stark naked, asking for a kiss. I knew something was wrong, but out of respect for my dad, I let him kiss me. That was all, that day - but it was the beginning of a nightmare lasting several years that blew our family apart. (to be continued)

Sunday, 2 February 2014

digdeep on facebook

Digdeep now has a Facebook page! If you're on Facebook, it's an easy way to keep up with new blog posts - just head over to digdeepflyhigh and 'like' the page. Links to new blog entries will be posted as soon as they're up, taking you directly to the blog.

There will also be a few extras on the page - a mix of inspirational quotes, photos and links to articles - but nothing too overwhelming! Your comments/feedback on the page are more than welcome.

Thanks so much for reading, and to those who've already left comments so I don't feel entirely alone out here in the blogosphere - thanks for your encouragement! ;-) Laurel.

Thursday, 30 January 2014

toxic trees

Back when I first set up the page for this blog, about a year ago, I was thinking of trees. About how, if our roots are broad and deep, we can grow strong and tall, flexing but not breaking in the storms life inevitably throws at us.

Then at a conference in mid-2013 I heard about Dr. Caroline Leaf, a specialist in the study of the human brain. Dr Leaf's key discovery is that we - weak feeble humans that we are - can literally, physically, change the structure of our brains depending on the thoughts we think. (Image below borrowed from the University of Minnesota Psychology Blog)

"As a man thinks ... so is he."

As our brain accepts the seed of a thought, brain chemicals lay down a protein pathway with multiple branches, creating an actual, physical tree in our brain. If we think positively the 'good' trees flourish, leading to overall health and wellbeing. But if we dwell on the negative, toxic trees take over - leading to mental, emotional and physical distress and disease.

toxic trees vs. trees of life (source: Dr Leaf)

Incredibly, the process - either positive or negative - can be reversed! Damage can be undone folks! This is a message of hope that so many of us need to hear. You were damaged by abuse or rejection in your childhood? You can change that! Sure, the neural pathways for rejection or depression have been reinforced year after year and the roots of those trees in your brain ARE strong and deep, but you can pull them out by the roots ... if you deliberately choose to think more positively about yourself and your future.

In her book, 'Switch on Your Brain,' Dr Leaf describes how we begin this process of undoing lifelong patterns of toxic thought and re-training our minds.

Some key facts (based on actual scientific observations of the human brain):
- your mind is in control of your body and your mind is stronger than your body
- you are not a victim of your biology
- you can't control the events and circumstances of life but you can control your reaction to them
- you are designed to stand outside yourself, observe your own thinking and change it
- you are wired for love, and fear is a learned, unnatural response
- you are not a victim of the things you shouldn't be doing (bad habits, addictions, self-harm ...)
- you can overcome and control depression and anxiety
- 75-98% of mental, physical and behavioral illnesses come from toxic thinking
- each choice you make - and we make thousands every day - results in proteins forming in the brain to capture the thought as a physical reality. Make your choices count!

Dr. Leaf's book 'Switch on Your Brain' is now available on Amazon. But if you prefer something visual, TBN began airing a new 'Switch On Your Brain' series in January. Below are the links to the first 4 episodes:

Episode 1: Thoughts are Real
(To be honest I wasn't all that fussed on Episode 1. The producer has stitched as many talking heads together as possible, maybe to avoid boring us, but I would have preferred watching one head giving what amounts to a short and simple intro.)

Episode 2: Wired for Love

Episode 3: Stress

Episode 4: Bad Choices Lead to Toxic Thinking

One thing that strikes me about Dr. Leaf - it's amazing how one person who has new information, insights or skills to offer the world can change the lives of millions of people, given the right door of opportunity. That thought alone is mind-blowing.

Monday, 27 January 2014

a different kind of remedy

(Not the post I'd planned for tonight, but it seems this is the one that wants to be written!)

We had the fire banked up in our stove tonight, warm coal beating back the wind and rain. Our two older kids were in the kitchen but I sat near the flames with Thea curled in my lap, her eyes limp and heavy. She's been like this for the past three days, coughing, spluttering, temperature spiking and wanting nothing but me.

As I leaned in close, hubby and I both caught a whiff of something strange - like burning plastic - in the fire. The flames roared suddenly upwards, perhaps sucked up by a gust outside, and a wave of heat burst out through the cast-iron doors. Charles looked at me and we both had the same thought - was the house on fire? I found myself planning, quickly - we'd grab the kids and run out into the wet dark. No time to save anything, not with a sick baby to care for. As for clothes, papers, somewhere to stay if the house was gone - we'd figure that out when we got there. Once the lives under this roof were spared, nothing else mattered.

picnic by the fire - a favorite winter pastime for our kids!

I watched a house burn down several months ago. We were passing by just after it caught alight and stopped to offer any help we could, shocked at how quickly the flames licked through the roof and bit great chunks out of the walls.

But as Charles went out to check the chimney tonight, the flames died down. I could still smell something acrid and foreign but the adrenaline died down too. Relief. Back to cuddling my baby.

It's unlike Thea to stay still in my arms for so long. Usually a hug lasts for a few seconds before she's up on her feet, emptying pot drawers and leaving a trail of destruction. It's only when she's really sick like this that I get uninterrupted affection.

I found myself thinking, then. Perhaps it's only when I'm really soul-sick and tired of trying to fix everything myself that I stop running. There's a time to search and grow and work towards healing, but I think there's also a time to rest and be still, and trust that God will take care of it all.


We held off taking Thea to the doctor this time. She's too miserable to be out in the cold, and she's already had two runs of antibiotics since Christmas. Instead I'm trying a home remedy I found on the internet - a natural vapor rub made in just ten minutes using coconut, peppermint and rosemary oils. She's upstairs in bed now, fast asleep and smelling like a herb garden. Hopefully this will do the trick ... but I'm kinda hoping I'll get cuddles for at least one more day!

Rosemary & Peppermint Vapor Rub

- 1/4 cup pure coconut or olive oil
- 1 level tablespoon of beeswax
- 10 drops of eucalyptus or olbas oil
- 10 drops of peppermint oil
- 5 drops of rosemary oil

- melt beeswax and oil in a double boiler until just melted
- add the essential oils
- stir until well mixed and pour into a small container with a lid
- leave to set for 30 minutes
- use as needed to help sooth coughs and congestion.

Note - You'll find all the ingredients at a health shop. Pricey to buy everything but even this small amount will keep you going for a loooong time!

Friday, 24 January 2014

mind the gap!

If you’ve ever used the underground tube stations in London, you’re familiar with the phrase “mind the gap!” These words are painted all down the platforms and announced repeatedly on loudspeakers both in and outside the trains. The gap is the space between the curving platform and the straight-edged train, where a person could easily get trapped if they don't pay attention.

Photo courtesy of the London Telegraph

I’ve been thinking a lot about the gap lately - not the one on the underground but the gap we often have between the “me” we want to be, and the me we actually are. The two can be miles apart, and the bigger the gap is, the harder it seems to close it.

When you were small and people asked “What do you want to be?” what was your answer? An astronaut? Engineer? Farmer? My kids’ answers range from artist and dancer to mother and clown. Right now there are no limits and no judgments; they can be anything they want to be.

But as we "grow up" we often let go of our dreams. The smallest disappointment or cutting remark can start us on a downhill slide towards existing rather than flourishing. We make one choice, then another, then hundreds more everyday choices that lead us further and further away from the person we were designed to be.

In psychology, this gap is called ‘cognitive dissonance’ - the mental stress created when the beliefs we have about ourselves (or about anything else) don’t match up with reality.

Sometimes we’re so resigned to the gap that we don’t see it anymore. A recent anti-smoking video on the net shows this perfectly. In the clip a group of young kids ask smokers on the street to help them light up. The adults immediately tell the kids why they shouldn’t smoke - they’ll mess up their lungs, get cancer etc. When the kids reply, “Then why are you smoking?" their reactions are priceless - watch it here:

I’m feeling intensely challenged by the gap. I can see things in my own behavior that are self-sabotage, pure and simple. I watch TV when I want to be fit; eat chocolate when I want to lose the spare tyre round my middle; stay up late when I need more sleep.

So a few weeks ago I sat down and wrote a description of the person I want to be - focusing on character, lifestyle and achievements. Then I wrote a similar list for the person I actually am, right now. (After that I really needed chocolate!)

The next step was a “stop - start” list of all the things I need to STOP and START doing to bridge the gap.

Here’s part of that list ...

- chain-drinking coffee (to stay awake)
- snacking on carbs - and chocolate! (because I need energy to keep up with my kids)
- avoiding all forms of exercise (because I’m too wrecked - I’ll do it tomorrow)
- wasting time on the internet (because I need the time out)
- staying up late (which is turning me into a grumpy, short-on-energy mama)
- snapping at my kids (because I stayed up so late the night before)
- feeling sorry for myself (because my bad habits mean I’m not achieving anything!)

(Hmm ... these things are ... kinda connected!!)

- drinking more water
- eating more fruit
- 20 mins on the exercise bike every day
- limiting facebook time to 30 mins a day
- get to bed by midnight, weeknights
- spending 30 mins quality time with each of my kids at least twice a week
  (if I can do facebook time, I can do one-on-one time with my kids!)
- sign up for a language course
- start a blog (hey!)

It’s working already. Having a clear, simple list helps. And I really am fed up with the spare tyre round my middle. It was either get on the bike or buy new jeans, and I can't do the second because it soooo doesn’t fit with the image of me in my head!

As a wise man once said, if you have no clear goals, there's no need for restraint! (my take on Proverbs 29:18, the Bible)

So what’s on your stop-start list?

Sunday, 19 January 2014

the right touch

There are some seriously scary people in our world. A couple of months ago in Ireland, two drunk guys lured a couple of very young girls at a neighbour’s birthday party into their own house and raped them. The news sent shockwaves throughout Ireland; but for every story like this that hits headlines, I’m sure there are countless more that remain buried in the victims' hearts.

Last week my six-year-old daughter, Amber, was sick for a few days. One night she was so miserable that I promised her an extra story, so she pulled one of her favourites off the shelf.

‘The Right Touch’ is a gentle, non-explicit book that helps protect kids from sexual abuse. I bought it a few years ago because, as an adult survivor, I’m determined to make sure the same thing doesn’t happen to my kids!

Can you say, "Stop it, I don't like that!"?

The book opens with a bedtime conversation between a little boy and his mum. As kids follow along, they learn that some parts of our bodies are private; that some touch is okay and some touch isn’t; how to identify warning signs, and three simple ways to protect themselves from harm. The book also stresses that if bad touch happens, it’s never the kid’s fault.

We usually talk for a few minutes after reading the story, but this time Amber's question was different.

“Mummy, is that story true?”

I paused for a minute, let out a breath and gave an answer I hadn’t planned on giving until she was much older.

“No Amber, but it does happen to real people, and it happened to me when I was little,” I said. “That’s why I bought this book, because when I was little, I didn’t know what to do. Bad touching doesn’t happen to everyone, but at least if someone tries to hurt you, you’ll know what to do. And it probably won’t happen, because the world isn’t a bad place and God is looking after you.”

I didn’t want to explain any further. But I did want her to see how important the lesson was, so IF the time ever came, she’d remember. (And I pray she never does need to remember, because I think I’d explode with rage and grief!)

My memories of abuse start in a fog somewhere before the age of five, and come back into sharp focus at around 13 years old, when my dad - at home while my mum worked full-time - began stripping off and walking around the house completely naked in front of us kids. Pretty soon we weren’t safe in the house, but because of his threats we were afraid to tell anyone. As a 16-yr-old I took sleeping tablets some mornings to numb the emotional pain, then cut my hands with broken glass to let the pain out.

Finally I started seeing the school counselor and - thank God - she intervened. Long story short, my mum moved us to a safe house, my parents separated and eventually divorced. The fallout from the abuse and all the other craziness in our childhood still haunts my siblings and I in different ways. The pain goes so deep that it’s hard to break free.

Being an adult survivor of sexual abuse definitely adds another layer to parenting. You’re always that bit more aware of what’s going on around your kids, a little more careful about who they play with and whether they get to do sleepovers. I’m slowly learning to let go and trust that they’ll be okay e.g. I'm okay with posting a few of their photos online - I think if we can't even share innocent photos, the abusers have won. But I also think there’s nothing wrong with giving our kids some age-appropriate tips to stay safe!

staying safe ... better to be forewarned and forearmed!!

Being a survivor messes with other relationships too. For years I was determined not to get married - and certainly never thought I’d trust anyone enough to have kids. So the fact that I’m now married with three kids is a miracle - but I still struggle a bit with any kind of physical closeness. In fact that’s a huge part of my resolve this year, trying to break off those last claw-holds of abuse.

A few years ago I googled for help online and found a website for Adult Survivors of Child Abuse*. I read a few posts in the forum and bookmarked the page but didn’t go back. I guess it just felt way too heavy at the time. But last week after talking to Amber I clicked through and downloaded a new, free resource - the workbook used by ASCA in their support groups. ASCA deals with all forms of abuse (domestic violence, alcoholism, you name it!) and the workbook looks fabulous, so - if you’re also in recovery - it’s worth checking out. Perhaps not quite as good as a trained counselor, but if that option isn’t available this is a great second-best!

Another great resource is “Strong at the Broken Places: Overcoming the Trauma of Childhood Abuse’* by Linda Sanford, a psychologist who's worked for years with abuse victims. This isn’t a how-to book; it simply lets people who’ve lived through some of the worst abuse imaginable tell how their pain has - over time - turned to strength. Their message is clear - if we can do it, you can too!  Read this and then give it to your partner, if you have one - it’ll help them make sense of your hangups as well. Even if you haven’t personally suffered from abuse, this book is a great resource to pass on to friends and family who have - because it proves that the fallout doesn't have to last for a lifetime.

Phew - how was that for soul-baring? Next post not so heavy!

xx Laurel.

(* More tools available soon on the resource tab.)

Wednesday, 15 January 2014

the heart and the bottle

On the journey towards healing, I’m constantly amazed at how much I learn from my kids.

A few weeks ago as I rocked Thea to sleep in the room she shares with Kayla, I looked across to see Kayla lying on her back, body loosely sprawled across the bed, hands thrown above her head. The ceiling shimmered with stars and moons from her night light and her rag doll Lucy lay upside-down beside her, scrunched between the bed and the wall. I marveled at the way Kayla slept, just like her doll, without a care in the world - trusting that morning would come as always, there’d be food on the table, clothes to wear, and mum and dad would take care of everything. I found myself suddenly deeply envious of that simple trust.

Along those lines, tonight I’m borrowing words and just a few visuals from one of my kids’ favourite books - ‘The Heart and the Bottle’ by Oliver Jeffers. This really is a parable for adults, thinly disguised as a children’s story ...

The Heart and the Bottle

Once there was a girl, much like any other, whose head was filled with all the curiosities of the world.

With thoughts of the stars. With wonder at the sea.

She took delight in finding new things ... until the day she found an empty chair.

Feeling unsure, the girl thought the best thing was to put her heart in a safe place.

Just for the time being.

So, she put it in a bottle and hung it around her neck, and that seemed to fix things ... at first.

Although in truth, nothing was the same. She forgot about the stars and stopped taking notice of the sea.

She was no longer filled with all the curiosities of the world and didn't take much notice of anything ... other than how heavy and awkward the bottle had become.

But at least her heart was safe.

It might never have occurred to the girl what to do had she not met someone smaller and still curious about the world.

There was a time when the girl would have known how to answer her.

But not now. Not without her heart.

And it was right at that moment she decided to get it back out of the bottle.

But she didn't know how. She couldn't remember. And nothing seemed to work. The bottle couldn't be broken. It just bounced and rolled right down to the sea.

But there, it occurred to someone smaller and still curious about the world that she might know a way.

And it just so happened that she did.

The heart was put back where it came from, and the chair wasn't so empty anymore.

But the bottle was!

This story so resonates with me! If you also locked up your heart at some point in your life, what was the key to opening up again? Anyone willing to share their insights? For me it was a long series of encounters with GOOD people who cared about me and gave me the courage to trust again. Faith was also a part of it, because I had to take the first leap and hope God didn't let me fall off a cliff! I'm still learning to open up as I watch my kids grow, explore and discover the world. I'm especially challenged by the way they love without reservation, because they don't yet know how it feels to be hurt by someone they love. Much food for thought there!