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.