Monthly Archives: October 2011

New Shoes

As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts. Isaiah 55:9

I slipped on some shoes to go to work earlier this week and I remembered the story about the day I bought them. There is nothing remarkable about these shoes. They are not the type of shoes that high school girls give a rating out of ten from their seats in the auditorium when the cool teacher walks on the stage. Those shoes belong to my new friend. These shoes belong to me.

They are plain, practical and a little bit kindergarten. They have lace at the side and I can recall a small boy who used to huggle close for stories trying to weave his finger through the lace to touch the flesh of my foot. The girls I teach now don’t know they can huddle close for stories. The furniture in my room isn’t right for huggling but if I were to stay it’s the first thing I’d change. Heaven knows my home would be grateful if half the furniture could be returned to my classroom. At the moment however I’m of no fixed address.

So back to the shoes…

It was August last year when I bought them. I know this because I dialogued with a friend about them and dare I admit I still have the conversation saved in my phone. Who does that? Do you delete your messages?

In August 2010 I was in much the same position as I am now. I was trying to make a decision. I wanted to let go of something that it made no logical sense to let go off. I’d been leading this amazing team of women for years, doing life together, gathering people and serving in church. It was all kinds of wonderful but the season ended. I knew it had but I couldn’t explain why it had ended or why I wanted to move on. It just was what it was and I felt such deep sadness. I wasn’t sad to let go. I was just sad that I couldn’t articulate why I knew I should. It is so rare for me to have no words.

So in my sadness I drove to the ocean to look for the moon. It’s what I do. It’s this bizarrely precious moment that I have with God at the sea. When all is dark except His one enormous light in the expanse of the heavens and there I am reminded that He holds it all in His hands. It is there that I can let go.

Of course there was no moon that night. There are nights like that. When even God is silent. He turns His back, or so it seems. You go to knock on His door and it says He is out for lunch. You know He probably isn’t. That behind that door He is still working really but for some reason He is leaving the final decision up to you. The truth is you might fail, but He doesn’t mind if you do. He’s a very good teacher and He knows that sometimes the best thing is for you to get it wrong.

I didn’t know where to go from there. I couldn’t go home to the sound of the television or the conversation in the lounge room so I went to look at shoes. I bought the ones I described earlier. They were nothing special but I named them with the place I wanted them to take me.
Over a year later, slipping on those ordinary shoes I realised that they had taken me right to the place I hoped they would. I had completely forgotten about the night I lost the moon and found shoes instead. Then this week I remembered that a dear friend had sent me an SMS that night. She knew I was agonising over the decision and asked, “Did you find the moon?”

I told her instead that I had bought shoes and named them with the place I wanted to go. Lucky for me, you can’t hear the laughter when someone reads your SMS.

I named those shoes with an impossible destination. There was no way in the world I was ever going to get those shoes to take me to that place. Everything about my life told me to just keep doing what I was doing: to stay safe, to be sensible, to follow that line set before me. The predictable path of what life hands you is so much easier to reconcile.

We like the path we can see. I thought about this last Saturday in the pool with my new friend, the one with the great shoes that high school girls grade. I found her in that place that the ordinary shoes with the impossible name took me as well. We’ve been swimming together and last week we decided to swim in the ocean pool near her house. Before we hopped in she told me there was a line to follow in a certain lane but I didn’t quite catch which one as she waded her way in by foot. I prefer to dive straight in, so I headed for the deep end.

The water was freezing and I gasped. The awkward oversized wetsuit top she had lent me filled with air and I felt suddenly lost and incapable. I couldn’t see my friend amidst all the swimmers in the pool I never go to and I could not find the line or remember where my friend said it would be. I gave myself a stern talking to. I reminded myself that I am a good swimmer, that a little cold water never hurt anyone, to just get on with it and be sensible.

After four or so laps, I decided to traverse to were I could stand and bobbing out of the water was my friend’s head with her baby blue cap and pink goggles. “Oh, where did you go?” she asked. “Swim with me.” As I followed her through the water I noticed the line. It wasn’t what I expected. It was the way the concrete had been laid at the bottom of the sea pool. It was like a seam between two massive expanses hidden beneath the surface of the water.

Only a regular would have known it was there. I was fine from then on and suddenly I found myself thinking about how you respond when you are out of your depth, or when life takes your breath away, or when you can’t find someone to follow. I thought how much easier swimming is in my familiar pool, where I know the hidden markers. Life is much simpler when you do things the way you always have done. I don’t know about you, but for whatever reason I do not want the simple path.

I like what Sir Ken Robinson says in The Element. He talks about the things that limit us. “Many people have not found their Element,” he writes, “because they don’t understand their constant potential for renewal. This limited view of our own capacities can be compounded by our peer groups, by our culture and by our own expectations of ourselves.”

I don’t know what comes next, or where the road will take me, or what decision I’ll make next. I’m trying to hear God’s higher thoughts in all of this, but it feels like He is leaving the decision in my hands once again. Maybe I should go, buy shoes and name them with the destination I want next.

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The Small Dot

The descent was unusually slow from Ingleside to Mona Vale for the middle of the day. It’s usually the early morning ascending that has me crawling snail-like and reflective, trying to wake myself with coffee and the early news on 702. This is my route now as I leave the peninsular for work on the days when that call comes for teaching on the North Shore. I’ve enjoyed the new pattern and routine for two terms of the school year. Today, meandering back from a visit to Macquarie University, I find myself thinking how marvellous life’s moments can be.

As my car comes to a complete stop, a lone yellow daisy catches the sunlight and my attention in a crevice of rock. There is roadwork on Mona Vale Road, nothing anyone can do but wait. I smile at the flower, reminded of all those moments during the last two and a half years when life felt as though it had come to a complete standstill. I’ve learned to see that roadblocks are not the end. They are a time to be still, to reflect, and to be grateful. I am so grateful in this moment. Life takes the most surprising of turns.

For years you found yourself on the straight path with your goal in sight in the far distance. It may have been a miniscule, blurred dot so far away that the road seemed to narrow into a triangular point but still you could see it was there. The small dot satisfied your imagination, encapsulating everything you dreamed you might be. It was as powerful as the DNA of a cell and though you didn’t know enough about science to completely understand the formula, you had this idea that eventually you would arrive at your goal. Even though your school report cards told your parents that you did not work to your potential, you believed that you had what it took to get there, that maybe the conventions of school routines and conformity wouldn’t be required in the real world.

You didn’t know then that a year of isolation would cover you after the news came at the end of summer 2009. You didn’t know that every moment would be spent in absolute silence, punctuated only with the clashing of metal trolleys, the beeps of imeds and the sad conversations of strangers through thin curtains. In that year you discovered much about focus and attention. You found out that an ordinary girl could stand and reason with the great minds of physicians without feeling like a fool. A dear haemotologist at St Vincent’s taught you this, as he leaned in and listened to your every word. Though his eyes revealed how tired he was, he never complained of being weary. You learned a lot about what matters in life from this intelligent, unpretentious man.

The small dot didn’t move through that whole season. Instead it wobbled on the horizon like it had been caught on a wave. It rocked a little up and down as if it was trying to help you find level ground. You continued to dream about life when this was all over, when your daughter was well, when life moved on. Finally that day appears and life does move on. You get caught up in the excitement of wedding preparations by day but by night you lie awake searching. When you were not looking, it disappeared. The dot was gone. The thing you focused on for your whole life went completely out of view. You don’t know what to make of this and contrary to everything you believed about writing, that day you put down your pen. There was no longer anything to record.

What do you do when the dot disappears?

You go through the motions of life. You do what is in front of you. You operate on autopilot because life must go on. You are so happy to be through the crisis but after living in crisis mode for so long you wonder: what was the point of it all? You stare at the horizon trying to find what you’ve lost. Perhaps your whole life really is just a drop in the ocean? Maybe your dream has submerged.

Then you do something you never do. Since you’ve nothing to write, you decide to scroll through the pages you wrote over the last three months; suddenly you see that it is not just one dot, but a spattering of dots that have been marked across life’s page. You pick up your pen, not to write but rather to join the dots, carefully following the sequence of events. You look; you consider the sketch as all the dots form a picture that you have never seen before. Suddenly you discover that the journey has been more than remarkable and you begin to wonder whether, in the next three months, you might get to colour it in.

FOOTNOTE: In the July school holidays I began an intense search to see how I could become an advocate for Bone Marrow Donation in Australia. My search led me to find the wonderful, Shula Endrey-Walder from Gift of Life, Australia.

Even though my daughter had a stem cell transplant in September 2009, I knew nothing of Shula’s work. We meet one rainy day at Edgecliffe Station to share our dream for spreading awareness for more donors to join the world-wide registry, so that people like my daughter have a chance of life. We became fast friends.

She, and some of my wonderful friends (you know who you are) gave me courage to submit an application to speak at TEDx Macquarie University. Two weeks ago, after presenting a ten minute talk to a panel of judges I discovered I was successful. The event is next Sunday the 16th of October, I hope you can come. If you would like to help me sign up potential bone marrow donors on the day, please let me know.

Here is my application video, thanks to the prowess of Bek Exton who filmed, edited and uploaded me to YouTube.

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