Berries & Bathwater

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It’s a normal bedtime in our house. Nick is in Leo’s room reading him a story by lamplight, and I wash the girls hair, soap suds under my fingernails. It’s a deep clear bath, and I can see their fractiousness – the type that makes them grumpy and emotional and excited, all in one little body – start to melt away under the depths of the warm water.

“I’m here to check on my thyroids,” I told the doctor. “I’ve been going through a season of burn out, and my counsellor said I should just come and check everything’s all right. With my levels and everything.”

“You know you’re my favourite girls in the whole world?” I smile, watching them lull around from their tummies onto their backs, finally at rest.

“Really?” Willow asks, “there’s no others?”

“Yes!” I say, always surprised at their unusual responses, and open the door to the corridor.

“But there’s three favourite girls!” she calls after me.

“Three?” I poke my head back around the door. “Who’s the third?”

“You!” she smiles.

“Yes,” I return her smile. “I mustn’t forget myself.”


//

“I’m here to check on my thyroids,” I told the doctor. “I’ve been going through a season of burn out, and my counsellor said I should just come and check everything’s all right. With my levels and everything.”

I looked at the man in front of me – he wasn’t the doctor I normally saw, who is a gentle, spiritual, family man. Instead I had the substitute GP of the day: old and gruff, with a heavy Afrikaans accent. He thrust some papers towards me. “Fill in these,” he said, and left the room. I sat tentatively in his swivel chair and surveyed the form. Are you sleeping well? Are you motivated to get up in the morning? All these questions, trying to discern whether I was at risk from anxiety and depression. I filled them in, and suddenly there he was, prescribing me medication to heal my brain. “I don’t want to take it,” I told him. 

He didn’t look up, carrying on writing. “Nobody wants to take it,” he said, and handed me my script.


//

It’s been such a long time since I last wrote. I’ve been putting it off. Maybe it’s because the last few months feel too difficult to cram into a post, but I suppose it’s not that complex. Here goes: I hit a wall around June last year. I was very anxious and low. I felt overwhelmed and unable to carry on living in Manenberg or running Skatties, the preschool. So we took a holiday, hoping that would fix everything, and it didn’t. I took a couple of months out – and still felt like a mess. It was a dark season. I cried easily, I felt like my brain was thumping. I felt terrified to go back to Manenberg – even though it had been my everyday home for four years – because I didn’t want to slip any further into emotional chaos. Beautifully Jesus never left, the light never went out. He felt like a white hot star piercing all the dark. And I was – somehow, by grace – able to take our kids through our days without much interference. But an alarm bell was going off in my soul: make changes, make changes.

We made changes. I stopped working – handed Skatties over to my co-worker (who is one of my favourite people). Nick continued with his work, but I decided to step back from work and be home full-time for this season. (More on that in another post.) We found a house to rent in the suburbs, a beautiful, spacious house with a garden draped by greenery and purple flowers. (More on that journey, too, in another post!) I started on some medication. I began exercising, doing yoga. I tried to eat well. My three year old began preschool four mornings a week. It was the the first time in seven years that I would drink coffee at 9.a.m. in perfect silence, that I would move around the house and see no one was there. I breathed a little deeper, and began to heal.

Joy returned, and at the risk of using a cliché, it really felt like the sun rising on my soul. Everything felt like a gift: the house, friends, the honeysuckle in the garden. I walked around our little garden, lifting my eyes up to the mountain, marvelling at the God who saw me. Who sees me now.

Am I healed? I am healing, and I am very grateful. There’s no doubt this current crisis we find ourselves in will require that I take stock of my mental health a bit more, and if I dip, I dip. But I’m not afraid of dipping so much anymore. I know there is help. In the form of flowers, of doctors, of yoga, of God. How much it astounds me that God wraps himself up in such ordinary forms of grace, just for us.

It is developmentally inappropriate to give your life away before you’ve owned it, says Ruth Haley Barton. I think that’s probably true. My oldest Lily is a very generous child, but if she let her feisty sister get whatever she wants, every single time, I fear she might lose herself. “You can go first Lily,” I remind her. “It’s okay.” And I smile at my fierce Willow and remind her: “You can go second – you’ll be all right.” 

At 18 years old I was still a baby really. And that’s when I wept over Amos in a tent somewhere in Scotland and decided my life was to be given away. That’s when I told my parents my degree would be left unfinished and planned a move to South London to work with a community of single mums. I have never been paid for my work in the last 15 years, I don’t have a degree, my time has been my gift to the world, our finances have been dispersed and if you asked what my hobbies are – well I’m trying to figure it out. All that stuff felt irrelevant to the kingdom of God. Still does, sometimes. But I can’t give away what I don’t own, and perhaps part of this year was realising I have owned pretty much nothing.


//

Today was a normal, stay-at-home day. We are on day six million of lockdown, just like all of you. There are good days and tiring days – but mostly good hours and tiring hours rolled into one mish-mashed day of togetherness. There are moments where dinosaurs and watercolours cover the thick wooden table, and steam rises from my coffee, and the sunlight bathes the trees outside in gold. Leo paints with his mouth open just so, Willow talks to herself as she rearranges her den and Lily loses herself in a story, under a blanket. I don’t want this to ever end, I think. Until four minutes later, when there is marker all over the wall, and they are all talking to me at once, one won’t do her homework, and I am done, done done. Life with young children is that extreme, they say.

But if this year taught me anything, I need to pace myself. Breaks for mama are mandatory – one in the morning for prayer, one in the afternoon with a cup of tea and something to watch, and a squeezed one in the evening before bed. This is just what I do now, and it still feels strange, but I’m getting used to it.

It’s Saturday morning and we just made pancakes – thick, hot ones with buttermilk, blueberries, the works. One of my simplest prayers a year ago was God can I sit down and eat a meal in peace? Life was so hectic and I was starting to free fall. As my emotions started to give way I remember noticing I would always buy expensive berries for my kids, but never eat them myself. Too expensive, too unnecessary. And so this time last year I stood alone in my Manenberg kitchen and sank my teeth into a strawberry for the first time in so long. And in all it’s red, refreshing sweetness the tears rolled and rolled. It tasted so good.

Well, look at me this morning. Salty bacon, maple syrup, glass of cold juice on the side. Look at all those berries. I don’t cry now, but I’m so grateful. I am learning to think God probably doesn’t look at my daughters and I differently – as if he sees two girls and one workhorse-vessel. I think He likes us all. I think He doesn’t mind me eating berries. I think He likes me owning something. Here we all are, Father – three favourites.

XOXO
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8 Comments
  • Margaret Gillies
    May 16, 2020

    Thanks for sharing this Cate. So good to read your blog again. May God bless you all during this period of healing and restoration.

    • Cate
      May 17, 2020

      Thanks so much Margaret xx

  • Peter Martin
    May 17, 2020

    Cate, this is beautiful and special. Thank you for gathering your thoughts and feelings, and sharing them with us. I imagine that it couldn’t have been easy to do. May you and God continue this healing journey together, under His wings and in His strong arms.

  • Alan
    May 17, 2020

    This is beautiful. I love “one workhorse-vessel”!

  • Ana Maria Ortega
    May 17, 2020

    Dear Cate, how wonderful to read this experience and realised that The Lord was carrying you right through ‘ as always” although we may not feel he is. Keep walking, we’ll keep praying for you to have the strength. It’s good to eat lots of great berries, he made them for us all! AM xx

  • Megan
    May 18, 2020

    Thank you Cate. This was a blessing. I can relate to the ‘giving away’ of yourself before owning it… in many ways I feels there is some of that in my story somewhere too. I love the image of you eating that strawberry- I have also very recently resolved to allow myself to have some too! I am grateful for the Lord’s placing you in my life at this time. Thanks so much for your precious friendship.

  • Iain
    May 23, 2020

    Our weaknesses are a sign of our humanity . You have shown massive strength to confront them , then begin to tackle them and then discuss them with us . By doing so you will heal . We are all different but none of us Can be everything to everyone all the time . Love yourself first , believe in the great things you have achieved and remember what was there before you came .

    Love Iain

  • Bev Molver
    May 23, 2020

    What a great reminder…to love ourselves and to belong to ourselves first. As mummies, it’s so easy to overlook ourselves and regard ourselves as the work-horse vessel/donkey. But you’re right God doesn’t see it that way. Thanks for reminding me of God’s perspective on this and for being brave enough to say ‘enough!’. Love you Cate xxx

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