Monthly Archives: June 2011

The Hallways

You learn a lot about life in the hallways, the corridors and the waiting rooms. You learn as you wait to order coffee, to pay for groceries, to see the doctor. You learn as you sit with students on icy linoleum floors outside exam rooms cramming that last bit of info into your brain. You learn what you know and what you do not. You learn that eventually your number will be called and in that moment you must be ready.

In those moments of waiting all your egocentric thoughts race around your head and you wish you held a microphone in your hand. If you did you could announce that you are running late, that you don’t have much in your trolley, or ask if you could give a practical demonstration rather than a written paper. You are convinced that if there was, you could show them that you know what to do. You want to justify your rights and your reasons. You want to state your case, be given special consideration; you want to charm them into letting you go to the front of the line or to escape the process entirely.

If you are anything like me, you verbalise these emotions with the person next to you. Since there is no microphone, you whisper that you hadn’t expected the queue to be so long at this hour, or that this is the third time you’ve been to the store to get all the things you forgot, or you look at the papers in the hands of a fellow student and feel the blood drain from your face. You realise you have completely forgotten its content. Then within moments you discover that the person beside you has a story too.

The magic begins as you find a common thread and for a brief moment in time you find yourself conversing with a complete stranger. It is like you have been friends for years. You recommend a coffee they haven’t tried, you mind their spot as they rush back down the aisle for one last thing, you exchange an acronym that’s been really helpful for remembering some of the content for the paper and suddenly the dull boredom of waiting has become a fun adventure.

It’s tempting to think that waiting is a waste of time. You think of all the places you could be, all the things you could be doing; but instead you are stuck, immobile, frustrated. Mostly we just want to get on with the business of living our life, but God stops the action to get our attention. I’m beginning to realise what a privilege this is. I never could have dreamt that anything good could come out of my daughter’s Leukaemia diagnosis. I used to lie to her and tell her that one day we would understand and that it would all make sense.

The truth was I had no idea if we would gain understanding and even today it doesn’t make sense. Yet in the shadows of grief I see His faithfulness standing with me like the horses that Zechariah saw “standing among the myrtles.” (Zech 1:11). Throughout this never-ending journey, He has never left my side. Just like the prophet I have never stopped asking questions, confident that one day I will ask at the right time, in the right way and all will be explained.

In writing class my teacher talks to us about subtext. She says that books, like life, have a linear form. The text appears as a line on a page. In some ways the novice writer feels contained by this line in much the same way as one does in real life when waiting for their turn.  Sometimes you feel you have no choice, you are tied to time. She encourages us to develop our skills, to discover the tools of the great writers that went before us. “Create interest for the reader,” she says, “by learning to skillfully use foreshadowing, seeding and flashbacks. You need to know your chronology, but you do not need to show it in chronological order. Use flashback to show us something before the story even begins.”

I ponder her words as I reflect on my personal journey and again I rise in the morning to start my day with the finest of writers. As I languish over words I feel His kiss, damp and fresh like soft dew. “Look,” He whispers, “let me show you what I’ve been seeding all along.” He entreats me to follow the lesson; I hear Him laughing because He has used a word I’ve only just begun to understand. I am comfy on the couch with my tea; the steam from the cup is warm upon my face and He positions Himself right in front of me on the coffee table so that I don’t need to move at all. I’m not sure at first what He is getting at. I’ve read this story a thousand times and though I love it, I don’t see anything new.

In my Bible Reading Plan, I am up to the women of the Bible. I find this amusing because on my Kindle reader I am also up to reading “How I changed my mind about women in leadership,” by Alan F. Johnson, and as the circumstances of life would have it I have also just taken a small block of teaching in an all-girls’ school. Maybe it is coincidence or maybe it’s part of the plan. I don’t spend too long wondering about this. It is what it is, that is all. I read the story of Deborah in Judges 4 as I have done many times before; but for the very first time I notice where the seed for the story is planted way before the battle begins.

God is with you before the battle. He has a plan for your life. He didn’t pick you at random to fight the thing that you are facing. He didn’t want to take you out, or destroy your life, or cramp your style. He knew from the day you were born, the things you would be capable of and the things you would discover if you kept Him close for the duration of the journey. He knew the experience would shift you, terrify you and humble you. He knew you would want to run; that you didn’t think you would make the distance. He knew that you would have passed the baton earlier if there were any way you could; but He also wanted to show you the stuff He placed inside of you. He knew that you had exactly what would be needed and there was no one else on the planet that could do it like you did.

He knew that you hated waiting in lines, being inactive and taking tests but though He measured you, He became the wall around your life and the fire within you that never went out (Zechariah 2). He sent people because He knew that it would delight you to make new friends and though they were not the people you expected to come, they cheered for you in ways that helped you believe the same things He had told you all along. He understood that being human you would hear His voice better in another human voice, so He carefully selected people who were nothing like you. Even that got confusing at times. Sometimes you got so down on yourself you couldn’t really believe that people would care so much to stick with you for so long and you weren’t sure how to behave; you wanted to release them, to not be a burden.

Sometimes all we see are the reasons we are inadequate and why someone else is so great. We forget that in God’s grand plan, He promised to use everyone who was willing according to their gifts. It doesn’t matter if we don’t have it all together because in a moment He can come along and move something so small as a decimal point and give 0 a whole new place value. Sometimes He needs to get you from Kindergarten to Year 4 maths to remind you it is so. He knows you learn through seeing, that you prefer hands-on experiences and that hearing a lecture has never taught you anything. Over the last few years you wish hearing about other people’s suffering had been enough for you to learn the point but not you. You had to experience it first hand; but in doing so your understanding of life and compassion for others has gone to whole new level. You know that you would do whatever it takes to ease the journey for someone else. Through it all, He reminds you that you have everything you need, that it takes a variety of talents, personalities and courageous acts to get a job done.

When your essay comes back from Uni with the words “I love your writing style but this is not an academic essay,” even then, He finds a way to encourage you, to remind you to never give up. You find an article about AS Byatt, the great writer and discover that she too was led to believe that she didn’t have what it takes. She explained that in the summer of 1959 she was married and at the same time was working towards her doctrine of philosophy. Her supervisor, Helen Gardner, advised her that as a married woman she would have her grant withdrawn; had she been a man it would have been increased. After this conversation, “in a state of pure rage,” Byatt said, she went to purchase the whole of “A La Recherche du Temps Perdu,” in French. Reading all through summer, she came to the revelation that she was a writer, not an academic.

For centuries women have felt that they had much to offer and yet the words of others, life experiences or religious mindsets about their role have held them back. How grateful I am to have the greatest advocate for women sit with me in the mornings and teach me from His word. He knows I don’t learn in isolation and so He leans forward, placing His finger on the page. There in Judges 4:9, He shows me that even though Deborah, the leader of Israel, tried to empower a man, she prophesied that “the Lord would hand Sisera over to a woman.” He looks me in the eye and smiles. “You would have expected it to be Deborah wouldn’t you?” he winks, “but I just look for someone whose heart is fully mine.” Religion tells us that women must wait for the permission of men before they do anything useful, but God never saw it that way. He came to place value on women so that the enemies’ plans would not succeed.

It really doesn’t matter who you are or what you think you are good at. Maybe like Jael you will woo the enemy with a blanket and a warm glass of milk before you drive a nail through his head. God didn’t chose Jael because she was female, He chose her because the man who was Deborah’s first option was afraid.

In the hallways, in the corridors and in the waiting rooms, you discover people’s stories. When you hear them you see the common thread that links all of our lives. When you hear that the person next to you has the same diagnosis as your daughter, you see that we are all afraid and desperately wanting to hang on to life. You find that community is built over cups of coffee, saving spots in queues and exchanging ideas that might help.

You forget that you are supposed to be dignified, or to apologise for being female; and when the enemy comes close to your tent you do the thing that you were created to do. You crush his head because back in the beginning God told you that you were able and when He sent Jesus to the cross He broke the power of the curse against you. You realise that you are neither trapped nor afraid, that He has placed in your hands the very thing you need to get the job done. You see that He laid the seed for the next chapter of the story a long way back; you simply never noticed the words on the page. You flip back now and you see it. Your eyes glaze over, your teacup is empty and you head for the shower. It’s another new day.

 

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Somersaults

 

I’ve wanted to learn how to do a somersault at the end of the lane so that laps can be sequenced, continuous and uninterrupted. I used to do it in high school morning squads before school. But like other things over the years, I have forgotten how. I used to have all kinds of skills as a teenager, things I’m slowly returning to now that I have my life back. I realise completely that life is too short to not do everything you dreamed about in childhood; and perhaps midlife crisis can be avoided by picking up where you left off all those years ago.

 

In the waiting rooms, the corridors, weaving my way through the dark labyrinth of the hospital it was only my memory and my imagination that kept my hope alive. As the elevator took me to that dark, windowless place in the bowels of RNS for x-rays, MRIs and the endless hours of waiting for Sam to come out of some horrid procedure, when the out-of-date, once glossy magazines held no lustre or attraction, it was my memory and my imagination that created the best escape.

 

Sometimes I felt like Alice in a world of mirages. I knew that shrinking sensation as the world of sickness swallowed me up; but every time I began to drown in the pool of tears I saw how pain creates way for possibility and how you can learn to float to the surface. Hope always floats, doesn’t it?! Eventually it lifts you out of your despair and you find yourself on a bank under a tree with a great book. Life is somewhat normal now, but it will never be what it was before the rabbit hole experience.

 

Have you been in that place? Where you try to return? You go back to what you did for a while, but somehow you discover that you are not the person you were. The experience has messed with your head in so many ways and nothing quite fits anymore. This is okay. Instead of being the end of the road, you decide that it’s the beginning. You look at your life and you remember what you used to love, hoping that in those things there might be some answers or steps for what comes next.

 

At the beginning of the year I made a list of goals. I examined my life, the things that were incomplete. I decided I needed to finish University, my first Toastmasters’ manual, my book and a quilt I started to piece together many years ago. It looks so simple in list form. You think you will just tick those things off and it will be easy. You think that because you battled hospital every day for almost a whole year that maybe now you have the stamina to do these things. The truth is that each little word on the list involves an enormous amount of work and dedication. It takes time management and discipline. It means giving up some things in exchange for doing the important things. It takes the support of everyone around you because though you don’t want to admit it, it involves them too.

 

On one long contemplative walk with my husband, he released me. “I’m right behind you,” he said. “Do whatever you need to do.” Slowly, together, we worked out a process and a plan. It wasn’t much of a plan. It looked ridiculous; it was full of risk and reckless abandon.  I climbed to the high tower, I knew the rhythm of my old routine, I swung with delight on that old trapeze for a while but when the time came to repeat old tricks, I couldn’t do it any more. I heard the distant roar of the crowd; I knew they were expecting me to keep going, to keep in time with the beat so that I could make the next exchange, so the performance could go on. But I was frozen somehow mid-swing. Though the support was there – the comradeship, the encouragement – somehow I let it slip through my fingers. Somehow I let go.

 

I’ve enjoyed the rush of wind in my hair as I’ve fallen, the adrenaline that comes with the terror of not knowing what comes next. I’ve enjoyed the break from routine, the occasional coffee with friends and writing all day. I am always writing something: an essay for Uni, an assignment, a blog post, the morning pages in my journal, a speech and my book. It is sheer indulgence to sit under the spotlight at the local café with my laptop, the scent of roasting beans and the company of people making conversations that don’t involve me. Then every now and then I punctuate my stillness with swimming. Somehow under the water I keep writing, keep processing my uninterrupted thoughts. For me this is the best therapy. It is better than counselling or massage or facials – though I believe in all those things.

 

Just the other day I realised that it would be so useful if I could remember how to somersault at the end of the lane. I tried to work out in my mind how it was done, but for some reason I felt too embarrassed to try. I don’t get embarrassed very often. You can’t afford to get embarrassed when you are a Kindergarten teacher. You have to dress up and act silly and get down into the game with the kids. That is how you facilitate discovery: through trial and error and having a go, helping the children create theories. Maybe if I had a kid in the pool with me I would practise the flip, but on my own I couldn’t bring myself to be brave.

 

Then the other morning, I was reading Acts 10. You know the story about Cornelius who received a vision and though he grappled with it, there was just no way he could work it out. Life is like that sometimes. It’s for this reason I rise before 6am and head to the couch with my tea. I do this before the family stirs, before the questions start about odd socks, what’s to eat and requests for lifts to school. I need the silence of the morning to hear His voice through His word and then I pick up my pen to pin my revelation to the page. Somehow this activity anchors my day in stability. Usually He shows me through these ancient stories that over time nothing much has changed. God still demands that we be willing and vulnerable and somewhat teachable.

 

It doesn’t matter if you are the head of the Italian Regiment or one of Jesus’ disciples. It doesn’t matter if you are wise spiritually or smart in the ways of the world. We all need help and more often than not the answer to the question we are asking is found in somebody else. On Monday I saw this chapter with new eyes and I scrawled all over the page. I noticed that Cornelius was humble enough, in all his learning, to ask for help. He was obedient and sent his men to get Peter since the angel told him he should. Then God prepared Peter by showing him a vision of a sheet filled with all kinds of animals and gave him some instructions to go with the scene. I love that Peter, being a spiritual man, didn’t get it. I felt encouraged by this. He must have asked God to show him again because the scripture tells us that the vision came to Peter three times.

 

God works with us, doesn’t He?! Sometimes you just need to admit that you didn’t get it the first time and ask to see it again. I do this all the time. Sometimes I get a sense of what I am supposed to be doing but then I’m not sure, so I do nothing. Or I wait for a while, I ponder the image, I ask questions. Sometimes I know in part. I know for sure about a little bit of the answer, but I can’t confidently nail the whole thing. Well, Peter was exactly the same. It says in verse 21 that “Peter went down and said to the men, ‘I am the one you’re looking for. Why have you come?’”

 

God is good to me. He illustrates all of the lessons I need to learn in simple ways so I can apply it when a bigger challenge comes along. He scaffolds my experiences, building on the little I already know so that I can learn new things. He is the best kind of teacher. I love the bit where Peter gets to Cornelius’ house and tells all the people there “that it is against the law for a Jew to associate with a Gentile or visit him. But God has shown me…” he continues with his talk.

 

God likes to shift our paradigms: to push us out of our securities, to challenge us with new things, laws we thought were set. Sometimes we prefer to be stuck, to hang with the regular crowd, to stay contained and comfortable in that convenient place. It’s like that lane at the pool. I can turn around at the wall quickly enough. It’s far more respectable than attempting that embarrassing somersault alone. So I settled for the conventional turn at the wall approach until just the other day. I arrived at the pool and Jack’s old swim teacher was there. We talked for a while. We caught up on life. Then I asked her, “Can you show me how to somersault?”

 

In a few simple lessons she broke down the steps. The water went up my nose. I spun sideways. I thought I would hit my head. “Don’t do laps,” she said, “just practise the turn until you’ve got it and then pull it all together later.” I didn’t want to hear that. I wanted to do laps. I wanted to be a synchronised swimmer like my friend Charlotte. I wanted to turn like Jack. But God wants me to be like Peter and Cornelius. He doesn’t care if I don’t know how to pull it all together yet. He wants me to walk obediently, to respond to His voice, to do what He says today. God operates on a ‘need-to-know’ basis.

 

God doesn’t push you before you are ready. He waits. He is gracious. He knows your form. He knows who you need to help you unfold the missing part of the vision. Sometimes it is all about timing. You just need to wait, free-fall, land without injury and before you know it, you are heading back upwards. The net has catapulted you for the rebound and you are perfectly poised with arms outstretched. There on the other trapeze is the person you’ve been waiting for and it all comes together. It is seamless. To anyone watching, it may appear rehearsed. There is no way you could have possibly planned such synchronicity but it’s perfect, just like it was with Cornelius and Peter. It’s the next chapter: things unfold and you know that He’s setting you up for success.

 

 

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So now what?

Image found on tumblr_lbd6keHiQr1qcy3dro1_500_large_large

 

“Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God.” John 14:1

I saw an old friend yesterday, an acquaintance really! I was coming out of the café with another friend and I could see this woman wanted to hug me. I hadn’t seen her in years; we were never close. She was just another mum from school when my girls were small, back when Jack was a toddler. She had boys, I had girls and I don’t ever remember hanging out. In spite of this, she wanted to hug me; I could see it in her eyes.

So when my friend left I hugged the almost stranger and, looking me in the eye, she started to cry as she asked, “How’s your daughter?” Somehow, though they live in Queensland now, she had heard about my daughter. “I got out the old photo albums,” she said, “and I searched for her face amongst the class photos and wept.” I could see that what she was telling me was true. Her compassion was so genuine it astounded me, such kindness from a stranger! I reassured her that Sam was doing well and explained how far we have come, that we were getting back on our feet and moving on with life.

“How do you move on?” she asked me. “What comes next?” She told me sometimes she doesn’t even know what to do next and they’ve not had our kind of trouble.

What do you do when you’ve suffered loss, your marriage has failed or when things don’t work out in your job? We get stuck sometimes don’t we? After all the activity of life whirls over us, suddenly we are standing still with nothing to do. We get up in the morning and think, “Okay, so now what?”

In John 14, Jesus told his disciples He was going to prepare a place for them. I’ve heard this before! Sometimes it makes me mad. I don’t want to hear about the future or what I’ve got to look forward to. I want to know what to do now. It seems we spend all our life waiting, thinking about the future and hoping that our big break will come. We figure all the hard stuff we go through is preparation for this and that somehow all our struggles have made us great and now we have stories to tell. The truth is we have no idea what comes next. I’m so thankful for Thomas for saying it how it is. “Lord, we don’t know where you are going so how can we know the way?”

Like Thomas, I’ve got no idea about tomorrow; all I know is Jesus is with me now. He was with me yesterday. He was there when no one came. He was there when not even the medical staff responded after I pressed the emergency buzzers behind the hospital bed. Somehow in the season of yesterday He showed me that I knew what to do. Mostly He isn’t preparing us for our future or some grand moment when we arrive in some fictitious place in our imagination – and it’s just as well. The truth is we don’t know what we want. We think we want a bigger house or a new car or an overseas trip.

Phillip said, “Lord, show us the Father and that will be enough.” It’s never enough though is it! As soon as we get the thing we always thought we wanted, we would want something else.

I don’t know what comes next but as I told my old acquaintance, I’m learning to live in the moment – to embrace each day. Jesus is an ‘in the moment’ kind of God. He says, “I am the way, and the truth and the life.” It is in present tense because it’s for right now. So my way of seeing things is that I should simply do what I know how to do and all the pieces for this day will be there. Jesus tells us to do what we see Him doing; just copy and you will do great things.

So I guess the trick is to see! To do that you need to remove all the things that restrain you: the limiters, the mindsets, glass ceilings, anything that holds you back. You must remember that you are not alone; Jesus promised not to leave us as orphans and if we listen He coaches us through. The truth is you are more capable than you think. Why did you settle for so little? Why are you still waiting for permission to do the things you always wanted to do? Do you think you need a man to validate you, or a university degree or to drive a better car? These things are wonderful and helpful, but maybe waiting for them is just an excuse.

Judas asked Jesus, “Lord, why do you intend to show yourself to us and not the whole world?” Maybe Judas was waiting to hear Jesus tell him he was in the ‘in’ group and that made him worthy of success; but Jesus said, “Anyone who loves me…”

His love is great and wide and deep. When no one was there, it was His tears I felt on my shoulder, just as wet as the tears of this old acquaintance I happened to meet in the street. Jesus knows when we are stuck. He knew we would get distracted, discouraged and dismayed so He sent the Holy Spirit to remind us, telling us He “will teach you all things and will remind you of everything.”

So with that kind of backing, I figure we are equipped to move on. Consider yourself prepared.

All verses quoted in this piece are from John 14.

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