Category Archives: Life

Rapunzel

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“Do not be afraid of sudden fear…for the Lord will be at your side and will keep your foot from being snared.” Proverbs 3:25-26

There has been so much bad news lately. People dying, friends who got a bad diagnosis, others waiting for their annual check-up which almost turns them inside out with worry. Young people are applying for jobs, saving for homes, trying to have babies and constantly hearing they’re unsuccessful. You take a deep breath, you swallow hard, you tell them it sucks. You want to tell them that in time, things will work out, that things always do. Instead you just hold them close.

The trouble is, that while things do work out in the end, they don’t generally work out the way we hoped they would. It can be tempting to think that God has a high regard for our ability to be strong. Or perhaps that He is unkind and uncaring, ignoring our plight. Maybe he wants us to figure this out in silence in a lonely room, like some sort of closed book exam.

 Recently, I sat with the children at school to watch an online reading of the Rapunzel story. This reading was a prelude to a maths lesson about measurement. In the lesson the students were going to create a picture of Rapunzel, decide how long to make her hair and then demonstrate their understanding of how to measure length. It seemed like a fun idea to begin with.

Not long into the story, I noticed the terror that filled some of their eyes. Little bodies began to wriggle, some scootched towards my chair. I turned the screen off. Instead of length we discussed fear. I told them I had not wanted them to be afraid, that we could do the craft activity without watching the rest of the story.

“No!” they said in unison. “We want to know what happens.”

I proposed that instead of watching the story being read, I could tell them the story.

“And we could close our eyes?” suggested one student.

“Or we could sit even closer together?” proposed another.

“We could sit closer to you?” Came another voice.

Some students still looked worried about these ideas.

“We could not read it at all?” I offered.

One student stood up.

“I know what to do. Let’s watch it, but we must all hold hands and sit closely together.”

They all agreed. Even the ones with blotched faces and tears in their eyes nodded.

“We need to make fear our friend and then it will get smaller inside of us.” One small voice heralded the final decision. They took each other by the hand and watched the rest of the story while I watched them, warmed by the innocent wisdom of their solutions.

This year I have been thinking a lot about what community looks like now that our own children are adults, now that our careers are in full swing, now that our parents are aging, now that any free time is dedicated to seeing family. It seems to be getting more difficult to gather with friends. I wonder about how to deal with this. How to support all those people I love who are going through difficult times.

Around the time of the Rapunzel episode, Emma had tickets to hear George Saunders at the Sydney Writers’ Festival. He opened with this magnificent recount of a terrifying experience he had on a plane. He described the sudden fear that jolted him from the pleasure of reading Vanity Fair. Passengers were screaming, black smoke streamed from the air-conditioning vents, lights flickered and the pilot told everyone to buckle their seatbelts. The only thought Saunders had was “No, no, no, no, no, no, no.”

The audience laughed as he explained how disappointed he had been to feel so paralysed and helpless in the situation. He couldn’t even remember his own name.

Then he heard the voice of a young boy beside him asking whether they were going to be alright. He noticed the face of a woman across the aisle, wet with tears. He told the audience that he did the only thing there was to do. He held their hands and they waited to die.

They didn’t die. Though a flock of geese that had flown directly into the plane engine may have. Eventually, everything was resolved and they flew safely home.

This week as I sat by the bed of my husband’s dying mother, I thought a lot about the simple joy of holding hands. The power of that connection to help us face life or death, head on. This simple act ushers a sense of soul time where even the worst of circumstances feels quite natural and beautiful. All the people who were meant to show up are somehow guided to the gathering, and the triune God gathers around the circle, holding you in.

It is just like the Bible said it would be.

“He comes alongside us when we go through hard times, and before you know it, he brings us alongside someone else who is going through hard times so that we can be there for that person just as God is there for us.” 2 Corinthians 1:4

Anne Lamott writes,

“In a fairy tale, you often have to leave the place where you have grown comfortable and travel to a fearful place full of pain, and search for what was stolen or confront the occupying villain; it takes time for the resulting changes to integrate themselves into the small funky moments that make up our lives.”

Eventually you discover that the seeds of hope were already present, that God had already acted on your behalf. There was an open door or a way to take but you were too consumed by your difficulties to see what was right there in front you. The truth is we can’t do life in isolation any more than Rapunzel could. The worst thing of all is to find ourselves alone in a tower in a dark forest. But if we search hard enough there are people who will help us to find our way home.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Questions

Questions

In the beginning [before all time] was the Word (Christ), and the Word was with God, and the Word was God Himself. He was [continually existing] in the beginning [co-eternally] with God. All things were made and came into existence through Him; and without Him not even one thing was made that has come into being. In Him was life [and the power to bestow life], and the life was the Light of men. The Light shines on in the darkness, and the darkness did not understand it or overpower it or appropriate it or absorb it [and is unreceptive to it]. John 1:1 

 

This year I have found a new sacred place in a little café off the beaten track. On my first visit, the girl at the counter commented that “it is unusual, at this hour, for people to have their coffee here.”

“I’m unusual,” I smiled.

As the sun rises, and people grab their coffee to go, I sit.

After nine years, the habit is the same. Three pages, stream of conscience. A Bible verse, a poem, a gratitude, a thought, a cry for help. Any combination of these words gather on the page which I’ve prepared with the date, time and place. They flow from my pen in obedience to my taking the time to sit. They help me make sense of the past, the present and the future. I have no idea what I am doing.

I am like the children at the beginning of the year when I tell them we are going to write in our books. The children, with terrified faces, tell me, “I don’t know how to write.”

I tell them that they do. That it will become easy over time.

I like Marie Howe’s words. In her poem, The Meadow, I see a metaphor for my mornings.

As we walk into words that have waited for us to enter them, so

the meadow, muddy with dreams, is gathering itself together

and trying, with difficulty, to remember how to make wildflowers.

 Every day I need to remember how to do this life. I need to find the Word who was there from the beginning. He is waiting for me to walk in, though I am muddy with dreams.

Like the children, I start my mornings writing everything I know or want to know. It doesn’t take long. Sometimes today’s questions are the same as yesterday’s, last week’s, last year’s. I am learning to live within the question.

“Try to love the questions themselves like locked books that are written in a very foreign tongue. Do not seek the answers which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.” Rainer Rilke

 Words have the power to save us and somehow in the process of writing, healing comes.

It is important work. If the children learn to write well, they will have success. I want to encourage them in this. “Wow,” I say, looking at their convoluted letters. “Wow, look at all that writing!” I try to be kind when I squat down low by their side, suggesting that finger spaces would help me so much. “Oops, I forgot!” they reply.

“Tell me about this part?” I ask.

They stare at what they have written. They pause. They no longer know.

So, I search for the patterns and clues. I look for the things that I know early writers do. Slowly the message emerges and I ask them about what I see.

“Oh yes! I remember now.” The little face lights up and together we decode what exactly it was she did over the weekend and what she intended to say.

“Hooray! You are a writer!” She beams with pride and I am moved to tears. It is a simple miracle; the learning that letters, make sounds and when combined together they can make words which communicate stories. I care about this student and her story. How much more must my Teacher want me to grapple with the questions? How much more does He care about my story?

Today I have no answers and yet;

 “We do not need to live as if all we are and have now is all we will ever be. The present does not need to have the last word. Life always has new possibilities.” Charles Ringma

 

 

 

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Thoughts

“I have told you these things, so that you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart, I have overcome the world.” John 16:33

During pastoral care sessions at school we’ve been rehearsing this sentence, “Sometimes bad things do happen.” We are trying to enable the students to understand that this is a fact but it doesn’t need to ruin their day. We are talking about strategies to reframe our thinking so that we can shift our feelings and behaviour so that things are not blown out of proportion.

On Friday night, I toss and turn overwhelmed with problems of my own. I’m frustrated. There seems no end to the curve balls that this week has thrown. I search for solutions for the diverse situations that are vying for attention in my mind. They roll over the top of each other acting like children who’ve forgotten the rules.

“Sit down, hands up, one at a time,” works wondrously with the children but I’m having no success in controlling my thoughts. Each one seems to frog leap over the other hurling ammunition at me. I wake early on Saturday morning deciding to journal.

For me writing has always felt like praying, even when I wasn’t writing prayers, as I was often enough. You feel like you are with someone. Marilyn Robinson

“Be still and know that I am God.”

I recognise this voice deep within me.

“Oh God,” I sigh, “If only you knew how hard this is!”

He does know but in my present reality the problem feels bigger than the scriptural solution. I know if I sit in His book, peace will come. That He will remind me that nothing can be accomplished by might or strength. That the breakthroughs are ordained by His Spirit.

Throughout the week I’ve been listening to podcasts. The New York pastor talked about Galatians 5:22-23

“The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.”

He unpacked the conditions for peace. If you are at peace but are full of pride, he explained, your peace won’t last. It is based on your own achievements. On the other hand, if you are worried, he continued, you are arrogant. You think you know how things should be. You want control and this is not trusting God. It seems there no way to win.

“The peace of God passes all understanding.” 

I hear Him whisper as I pause with my pen.

I guess that means His peace does not make sense. It is completely based on absolute trust in Him.

“Not my will, but yours be done.”

And so this morning I relinquish control.

“Put on the full armour of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand.” Ephesians 6:13

The truth is, there’s a myriad of things that happened this week that are beyond my control. I ponder this and ask myself, was there anything more that I could have done?

When the answer is no – I let go. I lay these things at His feet. Sometimes bad things do happen but He is in control.

 

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Word

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Atul Gawande writes, “It can be hard not to feel that one is just a white-coated cog in a machine – an extraordinary successful machine but a machine nonetheless…None of us is irreplaceable. So not surprisingly, in this work one begins to wonder: How do I really matter?”

Is this not a question we all ask from time to time? No matter our profession, our roots, our context. Is this not the question that drives us to think, to strive, to reinvent. What do you do when life has hit you so hard that you find yourself reeling again? When seven years later, the smallest setback causes the images to replay through the night, the horrors of the years that came before.

You never fail to write. It’s habit now and you roll out of bed to the car, long before the sun begins to rise and make your way to the café. You bury your head in ‘the word’ and fill journal pages with your hopes and your prayers. You carefully scribe your thoughts and reflections from the things you’ve read. For years you chronicle your life in this way, closing the journal and getting on with your day. You stay busy. Study new degrees, change jobs, try new things, only to return in a way, to the things you did before – different context.

And so I find myself doing the very thing I always did, teaching Kindergarten.

My days are made up of sounds and numbers, of little people and extremes of emotions. It is satisfying but tiring work. I roll into bed at the end of the day empty but full. Exhausted but satisfied. The work is important. I realise this now more than ever before.

Sam has been well and off her medications for so long now.

Then out of nowhere, her liver flares. On the other end of the phone I hear the sound of her breathing, then her swallow, as she tries to suppress the tears long enough to tell me what the haematologist has found in the bloods. As she swallows, I too, dig deep. In the centre of my belly there is a well where truth resides. I prepare myself for not only what she will tell me but for how I will respond. As I listen, I coax myself from fear of the worst to that hope anchor, deep in my soul. I enter, mindfully into that place behind the curtain that is strong and secure. I remind us both that God remains true to his promise. This too will pass.

“A person’s steps are directed by the Lord. How can anyone understand their own way?” Proverbs 20:24

For years now I have struggled to find a way to really matter. To use the hardship of the suffering for the better good. It’s as though I’ve been in some kind of giant ballroom dancing with my eye on the exit, eager to get to the next event. I’ve wanted more but could not find the door.

“Many are the plans in a person’s heart, but it is the Lord’s purpose that prevails.” Proverbs 19:21

Yet in the pages of the morning, out of habit more than anything else, I continued to follow that invisible thread, the Holy Spirit whisper. Returning hence where I began, to the simple art of teaching children to read.

As I sit in my chair before them we engage in the learning of sounds. It is a whole body experience. I guide them to hear it first with their ears as I repeat it, then they repeat me. I correct them showing them where to position their tongue in their mouth; behind your front teeth to make ‘n’, curved high in the roof of their mouth to make ‘l’. We are absorbed. Mindful. Then we draw it in the air in large invisible strokes, top to bottom, up and around. We brainstorm every word we know containing that sound and sort them into categories: beginning, middle and end.

Then sometime in the middle of the day, a child will randomly forget her manners and the rules and call my name, then a new word. “Yes!” I exclaim, “An excellent example.” We give thanks for a word and His presence is tangible.

I am a wheel in the cog that slowly turns. I am doing what I did long before that dreaded first phone call that changed our lives forever. Since then I’ve completed a degree, a masters of education, applied for promotions and finally returned to the thing I always did. Somehow this is okay. Perhaps it is now that I give myself to the work more fully than ever before, embracing the simple life, counting the blessings, laughing with children and preparing them to be strong and resilient like my daughter who followed in my footsteps to teach young children too.

This same daughter hangs up the phone after we pray in agreement that God will continue to complete the work he began. We are rejoicing too, that we understand His word. That it is formed in us like the sounds in the mouths of children learning to read.

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Remarkable Things

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When the fire in your life is the hottest, Stand still, for later on…it produces a harvest of blessings. Sainthood finds it’s source in suffering.
L.B. Cowman

These days are harvesting days.

“Can I ask you a question?” My student raises her hand to ask me this in the midst of our discussion on “how could a good God allow so much suffering.” They know about Sam, they know she had cancer. So many of their lives are affected by cancer as well. Parents have suffered, some have died. Younger cousins and loved ones are suffering still. At 15, many of them are angry at God about this. “If He is in control, like we’ve been taught all our lives, why can’t he step in and stop this?” they say.

Sometimes I feel like they blame me too. I must be a conspirer in God’s party. After all I represent Him. I stand up each week and tell them He loves them, that He is good and they roll their eyes as if I existed in the last century, that I haven’t got up to date on this suffering gig.

“God is to blame for everything!” one of them tells me, fixing her eyes on mine, like a dare.

She wants a response even though it’s a statement not a question. The other students stop still to see what I’ll say.

My heart is split down the middle.

One side remembers my 15 year old self. Angry with church, with rules, with the formality and expectations of Christian life. The frustrations of being a passionate female in a man’s world. How desperately I wanted someone to throw their arms around my angry, risk-taking self and tell me to be still. To tell me one day it would all make sense.

The other side of my heart is tender and sore. It senses God’s presence in the corner of the room. He reminds me that this is about Him, not me. To choose my words carefully. I want to spring to His defence. I want to find the intellectual statement in my mind that proves God’s existence but in this moment I do not really think this is what needs to be said.

I did not come to God through facts, or an argument laid out clear and logical. I wasn’t convinced by theology in the educational sense. I came to Him through searching and just like He promised in His word, when I sought, I found. How do I articulate this to a room full of curious teens who may not even seriously want to know. I was 15 once. I remember that sometimes the questions were asked for attention rather than response.

But rise and stand upon thy feet; for I have appeared unto thee for a purpose, to make thee a witness both of those things which thou hast seen, and of those things in which I will appear unto thee. Acts 26:16

I make eye contact with the invisible man who hovers by my desk.
He nods.
I sigh.
Gentle is His presence. He is Love, never angry or boastful or rude.

So I tell the listeners, who wait for my answer to the girl with the raven eyes, to take out their phones. This is not what they expect. Phones are banned. Or so they think.

Then I show them the new App and tell them to join my class online and anonymously enter their questions.

While they do this I wonder. How do I articulate what it is to know God personally? How do I tell them how my life was transformed?

Open the eyes of my heart, Lord.

The girl who respectfully raised her hand smiles. “I just want to know how you manage to be a Christian when you’ve suffered so much.”

My heart swells. I have no words but technology has given me time.

And as they type and compare notes and delight in using their phones in class I am mindful of this morning…how I got up early enough to see the most incredible sky.

The sun was not visible as a single glowing ball. It was not visible as a strip of light on the horizon. The sky was a soft grey and the clouds were luminous pink. The sun was only visible in the clouds. Dissected and scattered. A flowing art work. As I drove up the hill the bench on the headland, where people can wait to catch the bus, was silhouetted against this back drop like a still life. The ordinary backed by the extraordinary. As I turned the corner a cyclist made his way up the hill toward the horizon…slow motion…like the scene from a film. As I passed the lake the waves of the sea were visible in the distance, lapping their foam on the concrete structure of the ocean pool. Closer to the bridge a lone fisherman.

This is my life. The ordinary and extraordinary colliding. Imperfectly perfect. No day the same as the last. Even the sun as it rises and sets does not have a predictable pattern. Slowly He comes, revealing His love to me in all the ways I understand Him, through light, water and words. I steal time for the things I love before the frantic pace of work begins; I drink coffee, I read, and today the novelist captured the things I feel better than I could record them myself. So I take my pen and scrawl his words in my journal.

He says my daughter and all the love he has is wrapped up in the tone of his voice when he says those two words. He says my daughter you must always look with both of your eyes. He says this is a very big world and their are many things you could miss if you are not careful. He says there are remarkable things all the time right in front of us, but our eyes like the clouds over the sun and are lives are paler and poorer if we do not se them for what they are. He says if nobody speaks of incredible things, how can they be called remarkable. Jon McGregor

The bell goes, they stand and push in their chairs. “Thanks miss,” they say and I remind myself, there will be time for harvest.

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He inhabits the praises

I’ve been reading Oswald Chambers everyday since my last post. Today he encouraged the reader to compare this week last year with this week this year. I can’t find last years journal but I found today’s entry from two years ago. Every week the same habit continues, so I thought I would share with you about the women I have prayed with and who have prayed with me since the day of Sam’s diagnosis. If you are in the habit of praying, you could unite with us as we ask that her ears would no longer bleed in the night, that her eyes would not be sore, that her ankles would unlock. You could also thank God with me for the way she views her life as a complete blessing, filled with opportunity!

 

“It is easier to stand in a place of bold trust than in a place where we cautiously and timidly cling to the shore” L.B. Cowman

Wednesday 28th March, 2012

I love that I pray every week with believing believers.

I love that I have friends who are bold on the promises of God. That they weep over situations and pray until the light comes on and the oil of God lubricates the rough, jagged situations we face.

I love that God comes. That he hears, that He sits alongside us.

Sometimes, if you lean in, if you are still – you hear the voice of His intercession between you all at the kitchen bench.

Quietly He comes.

Not that He was late or distracted by other things. He was not disorganised or worried or unable to make it earlier.

He waited until you discussed the situation between you. Til you laughed in the face of your fears, til you sighed, finished your tea, bowed your heads.

He came in the quiet intercession of your prayers when your words ceased, when the fear settled.

You didn’t see Him come in. The dog didn’t bark, the door didn’t slam, the keys didn’t jingle as He laid them on the table. You didn’t see Him but you knew He was there.

His presence was tangible.

In the silence He showed you pictures. He reminded you of His word, His faithfulness – the stories of old.

He was not worried about the missing lamb when He sent Abraham up the mountain with Isaac.

He was not worried about Joseph’s reputation when He was thrown in jail.

He wasn’t concerned for what people would say about Mary, pregnant, out of wedlock.

He wasn’t confined by man’s ideas or judgements, their fears nor the things that limited them.

And time and again, He proved himself faithful and He delivered them.

He used an ordinary boy with a rock in his sling to slay Goliath.

He didn’t care what you did in public or how great people thought you were.

It was your heart He fully desired. He wanted you to desire Him above all things.

He wanted you to know Him, to discover His character.

He wanted to move you from faith to trust.

He wanted you to know His sufferings so that you could truly experience the deliverance of His hand. That you would know Him and desire Him.

That you would rise in the morning to meet Him because without Him your day would be incomplete.

 

 

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The door

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Oswald Chambers arrived in the mail yesterday like an old friend. I haven’t read him for years. Not since my children were small. We reconnected in January on the internet through ’30 days with Oswald Chambers’ that I found in an App. It whet my appetite for more so I rang the store and ordered a year’s worth of his words.

I’ve devoted my mornings to sentences for five years now. They have become my passion and my delight, my space between the absent mindedness of sleep and the hectic pace of the day. Through this habit I punctuate the morning. I pause. I stop.

Selah.

Some people exercise in the morning, I write. I consider sentences. I linger on words. As I ponder playfully on the pages I “organize the world into manageable units that can then be inhabited and manipulated.” This is the beauty of language according to Stanley Fish.

Today in his writing, Oswald quotes Isaiah 26:3 from the RV MARG translation of the Bible. This is a version I have never seen.

(Note to self): Search dad’s shelves to see if one is there.

“Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace whose imagination is stayed on Thee.”

In my memory the word is not imagination but mind. I ponder this and decide I like ‘imagination’ so much better. It’s more apt, more descriptive of how the process of being at peace actually works. It’s the part of our brain where images are kept, our artist mind.
Without developing my artist mind I do not know how we would have survived the past five years.

To imagine God was never to deny reality. I determined early on after the diagnosis to hold an image of God firmly in my mind. I determined to imagine him physically beside me every moment. All those long nights of terror I determined to find him.

“How can you have faith in a God you cannot see?” My students ask me. “I want to believe,” they tell me, “but I don’t know what to do with the doubts.”

I know…I know…I understand this more than they realise. So how can I transfer my knowledge of God in order for them to see what I see?

I tell them that His word promises that we will find Him if we seek Him (Jeremiah 29:13). “If you look for me wholeheartedly you will find me” (NIV).

Imagining God, taught me to live in the all things are possible realm, to experience that his ways are higher than my ways, his thoughts than my thoughts. Through imagining God I discovered a door that had previously been hidden, kept only for special occasions.

Are you like me? Does your natural inclination go to fear? Do you look at a situation and determine all the reasons it can’t be done? Do you start out wondering why bother at all?

Do you lean in to pray, hoping for the supernatural light to shine upon you yet no matter how you wait or how tight you squeeze your eyes, the situation remains the same….daunting, overwhelming, and too hard?

Oswald reminds me that God is very practical. “He tells us to do the most ordinary things – the things we would never have imagined God was in and when we do them we find He is there.”

“Arise and eat,” the angel said to Elijah. (1 Kings 19:5)
“Rise, let us be going.” Jesus said to His disciples. (Matthew 26:46)
“Arise, shine.” God said to Jerusalem. (Isaiah 60:1)

My devotion is a combination of pausing to consider words and possibilities, then rising to believe it can be done. It is both in the imagining and in the moving that I discover the way forward.

As I leave the cafe and head to work, I perceive that God is with me. I have discovered that practical living is spiritual. It is not all inspiration and angelic visitations though those things are helpful. The answers come when I ask questions. When I knock, I find the door is open. As I seek I continue to find and so it begins…another day.

What about you? How do you manage those crazy thoughts?

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