My Little Duke

teaching

Defining a Decade

Motherhood, FaithSteph Duke1 Comment

It’s the last few days of my twenties and I’m spending time looking back over a defining decade and forwards to a future that feels free and full of wide, open space.

If you’d asked me 10 years ago what my life would look like by the time I’d reached 30, I wouldn’t have had a clue. At 20 years of age I was just a baby, still winging my way through university, not really knowing who I was or what I wanted to do with my life. Now, 10 whole years later, I can say with confidence that I know exactly who I am and what I want to do. This assurance has everything to do with faith and my relationship with Christ.

At 20 I was engaged to Matt, dieting the heck out of life and ‘going through the motions’ of university. I majored in English and minored in Drama and was always asked the same question:

“So, you’re going to be a teacher then?”

“Eh, no. There are other things I can do with my degree.”

Out of stubbornness I didn’t apply for a PGCE the year I graduated. Instead, I took a year out and explored a few other options. Nevertheless, I still ended up in teaching and I loved it. From the moment I was accepted onto the PGCE, I thrived.

Being a teacher gave me great purpose, real thrill and huge satisfaction. I was exactly where I was supposed to be. But gradually, what began as ‘just a job’ turned into my life. I lived for teaching. My role as ‘teacher’ totally defined me - in very positive ways, but in the worst of ways too. As workload increased, I shrank further and further under the weight. As students became increasingly more difficult, I battled and fought till I was weary and war-torn. As unrealistic demands were made of staff, I panicked myself sick. As I strived to look after the students’ spiritual, physical and mental wellbeing, I neglected my own … burning myself out.

April 2017 saw me off work for a number of months - the result of a serious incident, through no fault of my own. It got to a stage where I was on my knees, crying out to God in desperation and frustration. I felt lost, hopeless and completely and utterly broken. All I’d ever known had been cruelly stripped away and I was left facedown on the floor, desperately trying to pick up the battered and bruised pieces of me. But, but, BUT … the life that I’d made for myself … the life I’d so carefully curated … was slowly poisoning me. Little did I know, on that cold, hard floor … in that deep valley of brokenness and hopelessness … God was waiting.  In fact, he’d always been waiting. God met me in my place of darkest despair. When I had no-one and no-where else to turn … I finally turned to Him. 

Over the course of a few days I experienced personal revelation like I had never experienced before. I received clear direction, complete clarity and perfect peace about leaving my teaching job and stepping out in faith. In total surrender to the Father, He began to reveal His heart and His purposes for me as I began to listen to His soft and gentle whispers of love. Making the decision to quit my teaching job was easy. After hearing clearly from the Lord, my only fear was of being disobedient to Him. Yes, actually implementing and following through on that decision was tough, but having God’s peace in my heart and lots of confirmation (over and over) about going in the right direction made the process so much easier. 

The months that have followed see me day and daily stepping forwards in faith. The connections, opportunities and conversations I’ve had over the last 6 months have and continue to blow me away. As I take a moment to pause and reflect on a truly defining decade (in so many other ways too like marriage and motherhood) one thing remains ... God’s faithfulness. As I stand in the doorway of my thirties I am overwhelmed with gratitude for a God who sees who I am to become in Him. I feel honoured and privileged to get a sneak peak at my tapestry ... my beautiful and intricately woven tapestry. The bigger picture reveals so much of God’s goodness and provision over these last 10 years. It shows His hand firmly over my life, even when I didn’t even realise it was there. 

My days in teaching were important days in my journey. They were days of learning, maturing and growing in my love for people and my desire to show empathy in the connections I make with others. Teaching was a crucial season in my life. I was perfectly positioned for those key moments in time; for pupils, for colleagues and for me. I am astounded by the ways in which God used me in that school. It was absolutely nothing to do with me, I take not one ounce of credit. Yet, God saw my heart. He knew the person I was becoming and placed me exactly where I needed to be in order to get there. Even still, I am able to mentor and encourage past pupils. Never in a million years did I think I’d get to make that kind of impact on my students. Only because of Christ. 

There are so many aspects of both circumstances and experiences in my twenties that have moulded me into who I am today - good and bad. But above all, it is God’s relentless pursuit of me that has me standing where I am now, feeling more free and alive than I ever have. I’m risking daily. I’m sacrificing financially. I’m desperately listening for His voice, leaning into all He has for me in the next 10 years. I begin my thirties as a writer and blogger. I still can’t believe I’m even typing those words! I’m just a month into the launch of Mighty Mothering - an online journal of stories of Motherhood. I’m curating a safe online space for mums to simply share their story. This was not my idea! God knows what makes me tick and he dropped a thought into my spirit, watered and nourished it till it bloomed and flourished. God has been at the centre of every detail of the project: branding, journals, podcast and name! He is a creative God! I am just so thankful and honoured to be trusted with this venture. Every journal is prayerfully considered and anointed with the Holy Spirit to speak truth, love and life through the words. 

So what have I learned about myself?  

I have learned that I need God more than I ever thought I did. I’ve discovered that He makes me more brave than I ever thought I was. I know that I can hear God’s voice and that I also have a voice that needs to be used. I have learned that I have a unique sphere of influence and that I am uniquely and creatively gifted by God to bless others in a way that only I can. I’ve finally realised that teaching did not and does not define me. That my identity is rooted in Him and Him alone. I am called for such a time as this. 

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'Present over perfect'

MotherhoodSteph DukeComment
White Park Bay, Northern Ireland

White Park Bay, Northern Ireland

It's been too long ... I know. Even this very blog post has been sitting written and pending for weeks now...

Please forgive me, and hear me out. 

 

This part of my life - My Little Duke - has been saddeningly sacrificed as I've battled through my 5 day, full time teaching workload and mummy role to my 2 and a half year old daughter! It's been relatively easy to keep IG posts up to date but the shop, and the ... blog - I can only apologise and hope you'll stick with me!! This is not the next blog post I'd planned but these words found their way together just today (now weeks ago) so here goes ...

 

A week in April: It's been a challenging week. It's not been the week I'd been expecting and certainly not the week I'd ever expect to have. But it's been an important week for me. I've been forced to stop and evaluate. Stop and pray. Stop and take stock. For more time than I care to remember, but especially since January of this year, my life has been running at an exhausting pace. Always something to be done (usually what should have been done days, even weeks before!) One day I was forced out of my routine and into the unknown because of an incident. This 'unknown' for me is a frightening place but it's a place that I'm beginning to learn is where I'm actually supposed to be right now. 

Co. Sligo

Co. Sligo

 

It's Saturday today and the sun has been splitting the trees for the most part of the day. No plans were made and Phoebe ended up in bed between Matt and I at 9am. Matt made an interesting comment that really struck a chord with me.

He said, "it's been ages since we did this."

He was right.

I struggled to remember the last time we snuggled under the duvet on a Saturday morning - all three of us. Together.

The past few weeks/months have been and gone in a blur, with Matt and I, (more often than not) passing like ships in the night. So this morning was sweetly savoured. Those precious moments were enjoyed and ingrained in my memory as I vowed to ensure it wouldn't be so long until we did it again. This seems like an appropriate way to have started today. Little did I know that the rest of the day would be so important; what feels like a real turning point in my life. I needed a change. I needed a pause button. I needed this. I never thought that what happened to me would EVER happen. Yet it did. And it happened ... to me. I can't give you the details. Know this though...

I am fine and I am finding myself again. 

 

After breakfast the three of us headed off to our local park. I basked in the sunshine, watching Daddy and daughter potter around the park. We went round and round the roundabout while Phoebe squealed in delight as we whizzed faster and faster! She slid the slide countless times screaming, "Again, again!" after every turn. After the park we strolled the green fields before making our way to the bakery for our favourite iced and sugar doughnuts.

 

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Phoebe was absolutely zonked, and as soon as we arrived home she went for her afternoon snooze. Matt headed off to his studio to mix and I popped the kettle on, grabbing a summer chair and 'Present over Perfect' by Shauna Niequist.

This book is a life changing one.

I'm not being hyperbolic here, I'm being honest.

Every page and every word have resonated so deeply with my soul and spirit. I had meant to finish it long ago but there never seemed to be the right moment. Today was the right moment. I settled in and began to read ... I don't know if it was the birds chirping, the gentle breeze, the clickety clack of a train passing nearby. Or, if it was the warmth of the spring sunshine as Phoebe snoozed peacefully after her morning adventures, but ...

I felt content.

I felt peace.

I felt more alive than I've felt for an awfully long time.

Glencar, Co. Sligo

Glencar, Co. Sligo

Shauna's words became so real to me and I began to realise that there are some serious changes that need to be made in my life. Deep down I knew I couldn't continue the way I was going. My life was like a tram, rolling at speed along a track, speeding up all the while and gradually getting out of control. I felt out of control of so many things in my life. I have spent the best part of the last 10 years dieting and I wouldn't dare to total up the number of times I've stepped on and off the scales in my bathroom. After spending such a long time controlling my eating, more recently, even that seemed to be slipping out of my control.

I was beginning to crumble from the inside out.

My hormones have been haywire and just coping with day-to-day mummy/house/teacher stuff has been a huge struggle. Interestingly, it has taken something completely unexpected and completely out of my control to make the biggest impact. In the aftermath of an intense week I sat in my front porch and Shauna's words came alive

 

"Learn to live lightly, freely, courageously, surrounded only by what brings joy, simplicity, and beauty."

 

Only God can truly satisfy our deepest longings and desires. In my total weakness, and sitting facing an uncertain outcome, I was utterly certain of one thing - Jesus.

 

He is everything. 

 

White Park Bay Beach

White Park Bay Beach

Moving forward, I intend to put a few markers in the sand, metaphorically drawing a line of separation between what's been and gone and what I am stepping into. It's Sunday now (again, this was weeks ago) and this verse was declared over our kids ministry this morning. I'm claiming it as my mantra for moving forward: 

 

"You have taught children and infants to tell of your strength, silencing your enemies and all who oppose you."

~ Psalm 8 v 2 ~

 

It is with boldness in faith in Christ I go. Earthly future uncertain. Heavenly inheritance certain.