Monthly Archives: February 2010

Hidden

Psalm 22:24
“For He has not despised or abhorred the affliction of the afflicted neither has He hidden His face from him, but when he cried to Him, He heard.” (Amplified Bible)

Have you ever felt invisible?

Have you ever wondered if your voice was heard? Have you ever wondered if you had drawn the short straw? Said the wrong thing? Were born at the wrong time? Have you ever been knocked down and got back up again, dusted yourself off and started again? Have you ever believed that the year ahead of you would be the best year? The one you’ve been waiting for, all of your life? Have you ever wondered why, when you seem to be doing everything right why nothing turned out at all?

Have you ever felt invisible?

I woke up early the other day, as is my habit, it seems. In my dream like state I could see the children I teach getting off the floor holding their reward books that they had filled with stickers, walking mesmerized towards their trays where these books are stored. Some of them were sniffing the pages because they had reached the highest honor, the ‘scratch and sniff’ sticker status and they were showing their peers, discussing the scent, counting the squares until they would get one again.

As I boiled the kettle I thought about the children who still sat upright on the floor waiting to be noticed, waiting to be rewarded, waiting for their seal of approval from me. We just want to belong don’t we? We want our names to be connected with success, we want to be encouraged and we want to fit in. We don’t want to be sidelined, reprimanded, taken out, sent to another room.

When your daughter gets diagnosed with a life threatening illness it feels like you have been taken out for good. You can’t do what you used to do. You no longer conform to the social delights that life used to offer.

Instead you sit by her bed, you watch her hair fall out, you watch her face change from the effects of prednisone, you see the texture of her skin change, you watch the tremors in her hands, you see the elasticity leave her skin through sudden weight loss, you watch her try to make herself look pretty when she goes out with friends, you listen to her slurred words, you watch as sheer exhaustion prevents her from going out at all, you pray to God that the three days without a memory are just a passing thing induced by drugs, you pray that the paralyzed vocal cords miraculously vibrate again, you pray that all the attacks against her somehow make her stronger and that she never gives up the fight.

Everyday your heart breaks a little bit more as you wonder how much longer, how much further, how much more you will loose.

You watch others make their way to the teacher to get another sticker. You ask them for a smell. You tell them it’s beautiful and you think, “Wow, they really must be good to be rewarded like that.” Sometimes you feel like you might just disappear altogether.

As I pour the boiling water over my tea bag I decide to investigate the sticker books. To try to discover if I have overlooked anyone and if I have I will make amends. I will show them that I’ve seen them, embraced the individual gifts that they bring to my room.

I shared this with Sam. We love to talk about the children, the psychology of the classroom, the changes in the curriculum since she was at school.

“I was never a ‘stand out’ she tells me. I was always just average. I never got student of the week, a citizenship award, a most improved or an academic achievement award.”

“I’m the same,” I tell her. “I’m average too.”

All week long I have been thinking about value and conformity. Why do we value the assembly line, the cookie cutter, the simple, compliant life? Why do we embrace the status quo? Weren’t we designed to be world changers?

Deep inside me, under layers of disappointments, under the sting of regret, beneath the pressure of grief, a flame flickers. It never goes out. I can feel the heat as it burns inside me. It is strong in hope and even the anguish of my tears cannot put out this flame.

I’m watching through the lens of my life and I can see that I was never compliant really. Even on my first day of school I was placed on the time out chair at the front of the room. I’ve never really just accepted what they told me was true. I liked to investigate and know for myself. I came to salvation through investigating and I have never looked back since that day in my bedroom when I was 17. That day I surrendered my life, it was real.

My passion for God has caught me out at times. I’ve been opinionated, I’ve been out spoken, and I’ve let me get in the way. I have kids like that in my class. They call out instead of listening, they forget to put up their hand and I remind them that it isn’t helpful to the rest of the class if they continue to stand up and speak out of turn. To be honest, I like these kids. I think that they might be world changers and so I tell them I understand that it’s hard, I give them another chance to conform.

Like them, I wonder if God might be teaching me to behave as well. Maybe He is just waiting for me to sit still long enough to hear His wisdom. Maybe He is preparing me for the day when my voice can be heard. Maybe He is taking my life and coating the pain with grace like honey, sweet to taste.

Maybe he’ll make a line through the ‘get it perfectly right kids,’ the good kids at the front, maybe one day I’ll have something worth saying, something worth listening to, a message that doesn’t sound like me at all.

L.B. Cowman writes: “John the Baptist never performed a miracle, but Jesus said of him. “Among those born of women there is no one greater.” (Luke 7:28). His mission was to be a ‘witness to the light.’ (John 1:8). John was content to be only a voice if it caused people to think of Christ.
Be willing to be only a voice that is heard but not seen or a mirror whose glass the eye cannot see because it is reflecting the brilliant glory of the Son. Be willing to be a breeze that arises just before daylight, saying, “The dawn! The dawn!” and then fades away.”

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Hello world!

Hi, my name is Clare. I update here every Sunday (though lately it’s been Fridays). I am a Kindergarten teacher who returned to work in 2010 after a year off class. Instead of teaching I spent my days walking through corridors and sitting in hospital waiting rooms. My daughter had ALL Leukaemia, no sibling match, 7 months of chemotherapy (with all the complications that go with that) and finally an unrelated, bone marrow transplant in September 2009.

2010 was amazing, a rollercoaster ride towards recovery but we still have a long way to go. I never quite imagined how incredibly hard but deeply enlightening life could be. I invite you to join the conversation by leaving a comment. Tell me about you. I’d love to say hi and to know what brought you here. If you have questions feel free to ask me or check out the ‘Meet Me’ tab for my email address. I hope you find something helpful here and that you will be back. If you would like to receive ‘girl on a swing’ by email, subscription is free. Just fill out the ‘sign me up’ information in the sidebar under Email Subscription.

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To do list

These days it’s all about the ‘To Do’ list. Tick, tick, tick. I roll into bed tired when everything’s done. Teaching full time is busy. Insanely busy and when you get home at the end of the day it starts again. Gym, dinner, wash-up, fold, iron, sit and fall asleep. I’m getting things done. I am organised and I laugh over lunch with a colleague that we indeed are domestic goddesses.

I’ve always loved the feeling of making lists, drawing lines through the completed things or ticking the little circles I’ve drawn in the column in the left hand side of the page. Anything incomplete gets carried over to the next page and a diagonal line is struck through today. I love that feeling when something is over, goals have been achieved and I’m ready for the next thing – the new day.

Yet some things just never seem to carry over or be complete after a bone marrow transplant. People say “Isn’t it marvellous, you are back at work.” Isn’t it wonderful that your daughter is so well.” I smile and swallow so my tears don’t leak through. “Yes, we’ve come along way.” Occasionally I even convince myself that its over but when the doctor calls in the middle of the day I know its bad news.

We’ve been trying to reduce the immunosuppressant drugs but this weeks blood tests reveal that Sam’s liver isn’t coping with the withdrawals and suddenly all the drugs are multiplied again. Five times the dose of one drug, double the dose of another and then another drug is added to the mix, bringing her daily total drug intake to 19 tablets. It’s a backwards step and it’s frightening and a hundred questions fill my mind.

I wait on the Lord early in the morning. I am heavy of heart, the heat from the tears that have not yet escaped, warm the bags that have developed under my tired eyes. I can feel the thud of disappointment pounding in the cavity of my ribcage. “When will this be over?” I ask, wondering for a moment if He hears me at all.

“My mercies are new every morning.” He replies. “My grace is sufficient for you.” He adds. “Be still and know that I am God.” He hovers in front of me and I place it in His hands. “I just want to tick boxes.” I tell Him. I want this pain to pass. I want this to be over, for her to be well, is it too much to ask?

I feel Him,

He is present,

He hears,

He listens,

He waits.

He’s giving me space to process,

He’s sitting on the other settee.

He’s waiting for me to catch His thoughts

He’s teaching me how to just be.

But I want to do something.

I want to change the world.

I want to live out the dreams

I’ve had since I was a girl.

There isn’t time.

The alarm rings,

The shower runs,

I dress,

I dash for coffee.

I drive to school just thinking it all through.

I don’t know what to do.

I don’t know when she will be better.

I don’t know. I don’t know.

Once at school I discover it is my turn to run the staff devotions. I am all tears and vulnerability. I share with the others what God’s been telling me all morning. He hasn’t called us to ‘do’; he has just called us to be. ‘To be still and know that He is God.’

Later that day I’m teaching my Kindergarten children about sentences. They have sight words to learn: I, am, a, is, the. We are trying to help them put these words in a sentence but most of them have no idea. “What is a sentence?” I ask and they look at me with fear in their eyes. As if to say “please don’t ask me.” So I try to get them started “I am a” I write on the board. Can anyone finish it?

Then one little guy decides to have a go. “I am a person,” he says and I celebrate his brilliance. The truth is I had expected a different answer. I was looking for “I am a boy, “ or “I am a girl.” I don’t know why I was expecting that, I just was. So I tried to dig for that answer. “What kind of person are you?” I pressed and hands went up all over the room. “I’ll tell you what he is,” one child volunteered. “He’s a skinny person.” I had to try not to laugh. It was delightful. I could feel tears welling up inside me with sheer joy. Then at the back of the room another child said, “I am a human being.”

It was like God himself sat in my room, in a tiny chair at a tiny table. For the briefest moment I knew the sheer delight of living. “That’s what you are,” I heard God whisper over my shoulder. “You are a human being not a human doing.” At the end of the day, when all the “To Do’s” in my daybook were ticked and the rest carried over into tomorrow. I thought again about my daughter.

I thought about all my questions and all the answers I expect. I feel the frustration of not hearing the words I want to hear. I thought about last year, how we kept hoping for a different outcome, how we wanted good results, how we wanted miracles, how we just wanted an ordinary life with three healthy children. I think about how instead of that ,we got cancer and bad diagnosis after bad diagnosis. I think that if I was God I would say a completely different sentence to the one I keep hearing. Yet even though there are so many things I do not understand, so many prayers still waiting to be answered and so many days of returning to hospital for tests I did learn one thing this week. It’s the Pareto principle. The 20% of what I do is twice as effective as the 80% and if I keep prayer and God’s word as the most important “To Do” in my day, He will make the rest happen on my behalf. I’m just going to have to trust Him 100% because He’s never failed me before.

What about you? What’s on your to do list?

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Springs

The truth about suffering is that through sickness you discover delightful intimacy with God.

My life is full again with work, with family and with all the hospital visits in between. I find it harder to hear the whisper of God’s spirit that carried me so freely last year. His sweet, warm breath that daily ushered His word is no longer on the wind of the morning. I feel the absence of His presence and decide to rise early to seek.

Like the psalmist wrote “O God, you are my God, earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you, my body longs for you, in a dry and weary land where there is no water.” Psalm 63

The tremors in her hands, the weight loss, the fast pulse rate and  the lack of sleep are becoming unbearable. It should not be like this still, a month after the thyroid has been removed. For weeks we’ve suspected it’s a result of withdrawal from prednisone but the blood tests finally show that the dose of the thyroxicin was too high giving her hyperthyroidism even though she has no thyroid at all.

I am constantly reminded that I cannot survive a day without God’s presence. My spirit and soul have become completely parched yet within moments of my seeking He is beside me bringing fresh revelation, filling my mind with the bounty of His deeds.

God promises me “Behold, I will extend peace to her like a river, and the glory of the nations like an overflowing stream. As one whom his mother comforts, so will I comfort you; you shall be comforted in Jerusalem. When you see this, your heart shall rejoice; your bones shall flourish like green and tender grass. And the [powerful] hand of the Lord shall be revealed and known to be with His servants.” Isaiah 66: 12 – 14

I want it now. The ‘will’ is disturbing me. I want to know how much longer. Does He not know I am anxious and raw?

“Great things come from the hidden place.” He tells me in response to my frustration and “from the valley of despair, the dark confinement where life feels pressed on both sides.”

I keep thinking of the ocean and feel like the wave has thrown and winded me onto the shore. “Lean in,” He directs me and shows me water. Every scripture, every thought, leads me to drink. So I sit in His presence and wait. Sometimes I write, sometimes I turn the pages of my dog-eared Bible, sometimes I sit and I weep.

Even my tears water me, even as they fall, salty on my cheeks, He reminds me that He is close. That rivers of refreshing will come. I slowly ponder, slowly making my way through the verses and He leads me through. “Through the wilderness, through deserts, through pits, through a land of drought and of the shadow of death and deep darkness, through a land that no man passes through and where no man dwells.” (Jeremiah 1:6) It’s all there in the book. Its there like I’ve never read it before and He is teaching me His way. “Surely you desire truth in the inner parts; you teach me wisdom in the inmost place.” Psalm 51:6 He is showing me that we are passing through, that no man lives here forever and in my season I will completely pass through as well.

Then at the end of the verse He shows me that He is also grieving because the people did not behold His presence. That when they arrived at their destination they forgot about Him who brought them through. With heaving sobs I repent for my demands, I ask that grace may come, that I may not abandon Him also.

He brought His people to “a plentiful land to enjoy its fruits and good things. But when they entered, they defiled My land and made My heritage an abomination. (Jeremiah 1:7). I am like those people, already caught up in the pace of life, the busyness of getting things done and I’m sorry because He has brought us so far. His gentle touch caresses me and I can see that the healing happens slowly so that He can teach me His ways, so that I can know His heart. “For my people have forsaken Me, the Fountain of living waters and they have hewn for themselves cisterns, broken cisterns which cannot hold water.” (Jeremiah 2:13)

There is no way like His way. There is no refreshing aside from His presence. Where does that Fountain come from? That Fountain of living waters, God lead me to you. And I see it now; it rises like artesian springs at the lowest place in the valley, far from ice-capped mountains of winter months melting in the springtime.

Deep beneath the surface, where no man sees

Crevices in small dark places

Confined beneath impermeable rock

The spring is trapped until the right season

And then, when tapped

It springs forth with tremendous force

Bringing refreshment in torrents.

Then the rain fell and His voice was on the wind that blew,

“Blessed is the man whose strength is in Me, In whose heart are the highways to Zion. Passing through the Valley of Weeping, they make it a place of springs; the early rain also fills pools with blessings.” Psalm 84:5-6

We are passing through.

God takes our tears and turns them into springs of refreshing. Hope does not disappoint. It tarries. Yet in the end, if we wait for it, the water of hope tastes sweet.

We are thirsty for understanding so He leads us to water. Sometimes His presence is a quiet estuary and we bathe in the pools as His beauty sparkles like starlight on the face of the water. All is well. He places a cup in front of us and He fills it up. Our season of spring waters is coming. We shall burst forth.

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Knots

It’s a curious thing, grief. It settles like a weight in your belly. It’s an ache that is always there. Sometimes you forget the heaviness for a moment. When life fills you with delight or distraction, you throw back your head and you laugh with the rest of the world. But when you are still again, or on your own, you feel it tugging again at your heart. You can feel very afraid, tired and overwhelmed. It’s tempting to give up on hope, to say that it just wasn’t fair, to curl up in a ball and decide not to go out to play anymore.

I watch, as the children I teach, thread wooden beads on old shoelaces. Some of the laces are already full from a previous day. They are knotted together and I watch as they try them on around their neck and then parade around the room. It’s so inspiring to work with children. They have such a capacity for delight. They live in the moment and do not worry what tomorrow will bring. Occasionally they ask, “Can I take these home?” And when the answer is no, they ask me to untie them; they return to the box and let the beads slide off the lace and into the box for the next child. It’s over and they move on.

I find it such a challenge to move on. Not so much because it’s over but because I so desperately wish it was. I find myself projecting my thoughts further and further into the future. I try to make plans about when this is really over but God keeps bringing me back to today. Today her head is fuzzy, her legs are cramping and her bones feel sore. Her words come out of her mouth but her sentences are incomprehensible so she shakes her head and starts to tell me again. Like a child, she tells me she is trying to be brave but she misses me and the days are long. Then she laughs and tells me it’s okay. “How was your day, mum?” and I remember when she was small how I taught her to ask me how my day was, when I used to pick her up from school.

There are so many knots inside me. Knots of regret, knots of pain, knots of not understanding. It’s almost too much to bear. I look at her and wonder where she went and why this had to happen. It leads me to my knees in prayer. All these heavy knots are getting in the way like the knots on the shoelaces that leave the beads suspended half way. Like the children, I am asking Him, “can you help me unravel this knot so the bead can slide down?” I don’t want to be stuck; I don’t want to go around this mountain again.

Deuteronomy 1:2 says, “It is only eleven days journey from Horeb by the way of Mount Seir to Kadesh-Barnea; yet Israel took forty years to get beyond it.” I don’t want us to be stuck here for longer than we need to be. So I cry out to God to help me understand why this journey of healing is so slow and so tedious. I ask Him to help me to remain sweet while I wait for completion to come.

It seems like all the polished beads of my life have been rolled back into the box. That my string is empty. I watch as he lifts the lace to his teeth and tugs on the link where a knot has formed in my heart. I’m familiar with the sweaty, unpleasant taste of the shoelace and I know this isn’t easy for Him either. It hurts as He pulls at my life trying to loosen the grip of the enemy but I give it all to Him. All my grief, all my pain, all my confusion, I yield to Him. I know that if these knots are not removed they will grow tighter and smaller. That the beads will be able to thread over them and cover them. That one day I could hide how much this whole process really did effect me but more than anything I want to get rid of those knots altogether. So for now I hang limp and empty in his hands. I know that the knot at the end will remain permanently in place. He placed that knot there and it is the anchor of my faith. It is the one that will eventually hold all the beads from slipping off the other end of the lace.

I surrender it all, my daughter, her healing and her wholeness.  I trust that when He is ready He’ll find new beads and He will wear us like a garland around His neck. This is why He sent His Son:

“To preach the Gospel of good tidings to the meek, the poor, and afflicted; to bind up and heal the broken hearted, to proclaim liberty to the [physically and spiritually] captives and the opening of the prison and of the eyes to those who are bound. To proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord [the year of His favour] and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn – to give them an ornament (a garland or diadem of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise instead of a heavy, burdened and failing spirit – that they may be called oaks of righteousness [lofty, strong and magnificent, distinguished for uprightness and justice and right standing with God], the planting of the Lord, that He may be glorified.” (Isaiah 61:1-3)

I think it is a fairly magnificent exchange and I have all of eternity to discover it. So for now I make it my endeavour to be content in the moment, no matter how challenging that is.

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