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bowels of RNS for x-rays, MRIs and the endless hours of waiting for Sam to come out of some horrid procedure, when the out-of-date, once glossy magazines held no lustre or attraction, it was my memory and my imagination that created the best escape.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.