Who Am I?*

Who am I? My friends they tell me
I love to create, to sew, to paint,
They say I’m cool and hip and funky,
They ask me for help to decorate.

Who am I? My friends they tell me
I speak with compassion, wisdom and grace,
They say I’m full of insight and thought,
As though I am infused with intellect and peace.

Who am I? They say I bear my
Trials with patience and poise,
They say I smile and do not cry,
As though I had a choice.

Am I really what these people say?
Or am I only what I know myself to be?
Anxious and weary and sad,
Struggling to get through this hour, this day, this week.
Longing for friends with whom to sit and be silent,
Restless for human contact,
Thirsting for someone, anyone, to know me.
Like a wave tossed by the sea,
Full of fear in anticipation of future events,
I am unwillingly submissive to the tumult of emotions within.
Weary of thinking, empty from praying,
Ready to give it all away.

Who am I? This or the Other?
Am I one person today and tomorrow another?
Could I be both at once?
How could that be?

Too many questions in my mind,
Mocking me, telling me I am inadequate.
Am I alone in this struggle?
I am not. My God, he knows me.

*inspired by Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s ‘Who Am I?

The Train Wreck

I’ve lived through a couple of train wrecks. Both to do with my family. Both unexpected – at least from where I was standing at the time. The scars won’t ever fully go away. It’s part of who I am, and in lots of ways I like this person, and I know that God has used such horrible events to grow in me virtues like compassion, empathy, and a spirit willing to listen. These are things I like about myself. Still, the process was pretty unpleasant.

I see another one coming. Thankfully, this time not in my family, but in the family of some people I know. Don’t get me started on how hideous I feel because I am thankful it’s not coming towards my family. Because of a torrent of water already under the bridge, I am powerless to stop it. I cannot say anything. I cannot do anything. I can only watch. I don’t know when it’s going to happen. I don’t know how. I don’t know who else will be affected. I watch, and think back to my own personal train wrecks, hoping beyond hope that my experience will not be replicated in this family.

I sit. I watch. I pray.

Prayer is the only thing I can do for this family. I’m constantly tempted to think that it’s *just* prayer. It’s not. Prayer is pleading with the one person who is able to stop the train wreck. I am tempted to think that prayer is *just* words. It’s not. Prayer is conversation with the God who made the world and sustains it by His word. And His word is powerful. I am tempted to think that action is more powerful than prayer. And let’s be honest: if I look around, that seems true. It’s not. Though the battle sometimes appears lost, though sin seems to win, though train wreck after train wreck hits the people we know, God is still good. And I have to trust that nothing is out of his hands. It’s pretty hard for me to say that – like I said I’ve had a few personal train wrecks, and mostly I cried out to God saying ‘what are you doing? I think you’ve made a mistake here’.

The gift of hindsight is extremely precious. I can see now how God was shaping me into this person I am today. Not fun. Not pleasant. Not easy. At many points, not even good. But the outcome, this is good.

An Open Letter to Scott Morrison MP

Dear Minister Morrison,

I am sorry. Sorry for the many times I have spoken ill of you, in public and under my breath. Sorry for thinking you couldn’t really be a Christian and act like this. Sorry for judging you to be a hideous specimen of humanity, and not a creation of the living God, loved by Him. I am sorry that I have not prayed for you more in what I can only imagine is an incredibly difficult job. I am sorry that I have spent more time hating you than loving you. I’m sorry that I have attacked you as I would a straw man.

Please forgive me.

It’s hard for me to know your personal views on this issue, partly because you’re in politics so the policies you are charged with implementing cannot simply be your own views. But more than this, I’m not sure you’re at liberty to state your own views, because you are the Minister for Immigration and that carries with it a whole lot of responsibility that I do not pretend to understand.

I’m not shy about saying that I disagree with the current policies regarding asylum seekers. I believe that as Christians, and as human beings, we are charged with the responsibility to show compassion to all people – this is both an Australian value and a Christian one. Compassion must be the litmus test by which we define the boundaries of possible responses to this issue.

Therefore, my question is this: Can we be more compassionate?

Like so many others, I do not want any more people to drown at sea. Neither do I want people smugglers to continue to profit from trafficking desperate people. Yes, you have stopped the boats, this I cannot argue with. I do not like the way you’ve done it, but you have stopped them. I’d like to know, what now? You have a unique opportunity to forge a new path through this complex and difficult issue. How will you make a mark on the political landscape of not only Australia but the world? Will you take the time to brainstorm ways to deal with the 52 million displaced people in our world?

Please don’t stop here. Please surprise me with a forward thinking, creative response to this issue.

For my part, I will try to turn my frustration into prayer.

Tess

In defence of #LoveMakesAWay

I am a Christian.

I do believe in Jesus Christ. I do believe that approximately 2000 years ago, he lived, died, and rose from the dead. I do believe that he is now in heaven, with God, waiting for the time when he will come back to earth and take those who believe in Him to be with him in heaven. I believe that the only way to get to heaven is by believing and trusting in Jesus Christ. I do not believe that good things we do on earth contribute to whether or not we get to go to heaven.

I do believe that the Bible is the final and sufficient word for all crises of faith and conduct. I do believe that following Jesus is a radical decision. I do believe that I have forgotten just how radical that decision can be.

I do not believe that seeking asylum is a crime. I do not believe that it is right to lock people up indefinitely because they asked for help. I do believe that it is important for a nation to have an immigration system. I do not advocate a total abandonment of policy and an indiscriminate ‘opening of the gates’. I do not believe that the current system is legal or compassionate, despite the pleas of government. I do not believe there is one decision that is going to satisfy everyone.

I do not believe it is right to continue letting people die at sea. I do believe that people-smugglers play on people’s desperation and need to be stripped of their power.

I do not believe that the only available option is locking people up.

I do believe that locking up people who are fleeing everything they’ve ever known, in pursuit of safety, is adding insult to injury. I do believe that imprisonment scars a person, physically, mentally, and emotionally. I do believe that to inflict such a fate on anyone, let alone a child, is cruel and in this case, unnecessary.

I do believe that God had a hand in electing our current government. I do believe that means I need to submit to their authority. I do not believe that means I must get back in my box when my objections to policy are squashed. I do believe that means I must be willing to suffer the consequences of disobedience. I do believe that democracy offers many avenues of objecting to decisions the government makes. I do believe that letter writing, conversations with MP’s, and rallies are all valid ways of expressing dissent. I do believe that in some cases it is right to pursue a more radical course of action. I do not believe that it is ever appropriate to be violent.

I do believe that as a Christian, I am Christ’s representative on earth. I do believe that Jesus Christ managed to walk the fine line between love and justice, because he was perfect. I do believe that I am called to try and walk in the same way.

I do believe that #LoveMakesAWay is trying to walk this line. I do not believe that they have a comprehensive solution to the way Australia is currently treating asylum seekers. I do not believe they need to. I do not believe that a lack of a comprehensive solution diminishes in any way the message they are circulating. I do not believe that this is a media stunt. I do believe they are trying to raise awareness. I do believe they are trying to help ordinary people engage with a complex issue.

I do believe that it is my responsibility to defend those who have no voice. I do believe that the non-violent direct action of #LoveMakesAWay is one way to do this. If I’m wrong, and this is completely out of line with what Jesus has called me to do, even then, I do believe that that will not be beyond God’s forgiveness. I do believe that I’d rather act in the face of a grave injustice that sit silently and debate with other likeminded people the merits or otherwise of non-violent direct action.

May God have mercy.

a prayer for the broken

The sound of my voice rings in my head:
‘Here are the things you could have said’.
Weary but restless my body cries out,
‘Leave me alone, stop persisting in doubt’.
Tonight the voices have won,
I turn on the light so I won’t feel alone.
The sting of tears fills my eyes,
An ever present reminder of the mess in our lives.
I cry out to God:
‘Where are you now?
How can I go on?
I feel so alone’.
I listen, but silence mocks me,
Where is this God of love and peace?
When will He come and make things right?
When will I no longer fear the night?
When will the pain and tears cease?
When will I meet my long-lost niece?
When will death meet it’s final end?
When will the days be fully spent?
When will I have the guts to say
The thoughts that occupy my night and day?
Lord, I don’t want to live this life,
I need your grace to fight the fight,
To stand and walk, step by step,
To pray and trust and take a breath.
I cannot do this on my own,
Lord have mercy, until my time is come.

“It is easy to forget to pause and take stock”

On the 25th of December, I took a minute out of the day to listen to the Queen of England deliver her Annual Christmas Message to the Commonwealth. This one sentence has plastered itself to the walls of my brain:

“We all need to get the balance right between action and reflection. With so many distractions, it is easy to forget to pause and take stock.”

Was she thinking of me when she spoke thus? So often I count action as the more pressing need, with reflection paling into a distant second. Too often I find myself stealing moments of time from one event to reflect on another.

She is the Queen, and I am a loyal subject, so I find myself taking heed of her advice to “pause and take stock”.

Much has happened in the last 12 months. A future leader, Prince George, was born. A new Pope was chosen. The European Union bailed out another country in crisis. Someone bombed the Boston marathon. Morsi was ousted in Egypt. The Syrian civil war raged. The Philippines were devastated by Typhoon Haiyan. An iconic world leader, Nelson Mandela, passed away.

If you close your eyes does it almost feel like nothing’s changed at all? If you close your eyes does it almost feel like you’ve been here before? When I look to 2014, how am I going to be an optimist about the future? Where do we begin to rebuild the world from the broken mess that it has become?

Closer to home there was the debacle of the Australian federal election. The crisis of asylum seekers. The devastating bush fires in and around Sydney. In my own suburb there were prominent strikes at the neighbouring university.

Why does it feel like the new Cabinet in Government is an undoing of 40 years of fighting for equality between women and men? Are we losing the battle against racism and settling for comfort over compassion? Am I courageous enough to speak out against what is not God-honouring? Will I do more than sit on the couch with a glass of wine and whinge about bad government policy?

Even closer to home, I lost January to a virus that saw me confined to the couch while I worked my way through the whole series of Alias. I lost the last week of my academic year to the flu. I finished a degree. I freaked out about the future. I travelled. A lot.

Why is it easy to complain to God when my life doesn’t proceed according to my plan and so hard to return thanks to Him for the moments of pure delight? Why is God thwarting my plan to be a missionary? Why is he closing every door except the one that I’m afraid to walk through? If Christianity is all about trusting God, then why it is so hard?

Why? Why? Why?

I’m afraid to admit that mostly I have only questions. Not many answers here. Will I have a similar reflection at the end of next year? Probably. It almost seems like the world keeps turning and events keep happening as they have since the beginning of the world. Is not every year the same with joys and sadnesses in a constant stream? Now that I take a moment to reflect, I see that my focus has narrowed too much. I see only the trauma and grief, or the joy and happiness. What of the bigger picture? I realise I have become like the scoffers in 2 Peter 3:4,

They will say, “Where is the promise of his coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all things are continuing as they were from the beginning of creation.”

It’s easy to think thus. After all, I see what appears to be a world on repeat. It’s not that I deliberately ignored the fact of God’s creative activity, it’s just that I focused on action and forgot reflection. If I had remembered to reflect, perhaps my attention would have been more evenly divided between the crises of the world, and the reality that,

The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance (2 Pet 3:9).

Perhaps that would have given me a little perspective. Perhaps it would have stopped me falling into disillusionment at major world conflicts. Perhaps it would have tempered the effect that others have on my mood. Perhaps it would have helped me see the bigger picture. What it won’t do is stop me being devastated at civil wars, delighted at beautiful sunsets and new life, and committed to using the voice that God has given me to speak a word of truth and love.

Having regained a little perspective, I once again I make my New Years resolution: looking forward to the return of Jesus, I will, God-willing, work for the good of all people and the glory of God. I pray He will give me an ever more thankful heart, and a spirit ready and willing to trust him.

Thanks be to God for the Queen, and her reminder to “pause and take stock”. God certainly does work in unusual ways sometimes.

The Risk

I’d like to introduce you to Carl. I met him this evening. He was probably about 40 years old, although because of years of alcohol abuse he looked more like 50. He was pale as a ghost – most probably chilled to the bone. He was thin, too thin for a man of his age.

Our meeting took place under unusual conditions. In fact, I probably wouldn’t have noticed him if his words had not rung in my ears: ‘do you have any change miss?’ I walked past, casually indifferent to his plea – he was not bothered, he just said thank you and went back to huddling underneath his blanket – but his words hit me again and again. I turned back.

The temperature was 4 degrees and I was not excited about standing out there just making conversation. My feet were rapidly turning into ice blocks, my hands were numb and my nose running. Still, something in me persisted.

‘Would you like something to eat?’ I meekly offered.
‘Im actually trying to get enough money together to stay the night in a b&b’, he returned.
‘Oh right. How much do you need?’
‘Its £32 for the night and the guy washes my clothes and lets me stay til 6pm the next day’.
‘Where is this b&b? I’d be happy to pay what you’re missing’.
‘Its a 5 mile walk on the other side of town’.

And on it went. I was cautious. I’ve always been told to never give money to homeless people. He had a story about how there was no room at the shelter and how he had been sober three years and how he went to the church that he was sitting in front of and the priest himself had helped him get sober. I thought of every option. Can we walk with you to the b&b? No, it’s too far away. Can we take a bus? No, there’s not one that goes there. Can we buy you some food instead? Yes please.

He wanted to persuade me that he wasn’t lying so he took me to the priests house – who unfortunately wasn’t home – to prove his genuineness. I was still hesitant. I don’t know what to do in these situations.

He had a phone and rang a friend who then vouched that he wasn’t going to spend the money on alcohol. I talked to the friend on the phone and he even said that he’d ask for a receipt from Carl the following day. Was this all a big scam? Perhaps.

But he seemed so genuine. And needy. I was cold just standing there. I don’t know that I would survive if I had to sleep out there.

So I did it. I gave him the £26 he needed to stay in the b&b. Whether he is there I do not know. I pray he is warm and safely installed in a b&b in Oxford. I hope he finds a place to stay long term and doesn’t have to sleep on the freezing streets this winter.

Did I do the wrong thing? Many of you will think so. But I can’t get away from the fact that people like Carl are desperate. Yes, sometimes they are in those situations by some fault of their own. Sometimes not. I can really never know.

Desperation should not elicit from me a reaction of casual indifference. Whether it is a homeless man begging, or an asylum seeker risking their life to reach my safe country, or a woman fleeing domestic abuse, my prayer is that my heart will be warm and compassionate, not judgemental and cynical.

I think I’m happy to take the risk of helping a desperate person. Yes, it is costly. But how can I possible claim I can’t help him. I have just flown half way around the world for a seven week European holiday. So maybe I’ll buy one less souvenir because I took a risk and tried to help someone. I have been given so much. If you are reading this, you have been given much too. I can’t get away from Jesus’ words:

Everyone to whom much was given, of him much will be required, and from him to whom they entrusted much, they will demand the more. Luke 12:48.

What are you going to do with all that God had given you?

Too scared to dream.

Ever had one of those existential moments where you wonder what you’re doing with your life and where you’re going and why and how you got there? Please say it’s not just me.

I write this from an apartment in Bastille, Paris. A strange place for a crisis. I am here on holiday. It’s exceptional. To me it feels like an odd mix of Mexico and America. I recognise stores like Cartier, Tiffany’s and Swatch. But the traffic is manic like in Mexico. The worlds largest roundabout (the Arc de Triomphe) is constantly circled by swathes of cars. There are no lanes. It feels like chaos. It feels like Mexico.

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Aside from all the beautiful things to see, this is the first real time I’ve had in a long time to sit and think. And it’s dangerous. It’s really the first time I’ve let myself totally feel what has happened the last few months. Disappointment. Loss. Unmet hopes. Not one feeling that is pleasant.

I feel lost. More than a little like I’m grasping in the dark. I’m scared about what comes next, mostly because I don’t know what it is. Here I am: a graduate twice over, and unemployed. Eish. I never had a plan, but I’m pretty sure this wasn’t part of it. Everything I thought I would do, I’m not doing. I’m not working in Geography or Urban Planning (my first degree). I didn’t finish my PhD. I studied theology for four years but I’m not being ordained, I’m not going overseas, I’m not working with kids, and I’m not a chaplain.

When I wander through art markets in Montmartre I wonder if I could be a painter who sells her paintings. When I while away time on Etsy I wonder if I could sew vintage decorations and sell them. This is the kind of stuff I wanted to do ten years ago. But I suppressed it because I thought I wanted to be a doctor. And all that other stuff was a bit hippy and weird. Who doesn’t want to fit in and succeed in all the traditional ways when they’re 16? Ten years later and I still want to do those things. Maybe that means something.

Do I have anything to show for the intervening ten years aside from an $85,000 debt to the government? Is all that time wasted? It’s easy to think so. My understanding of the world does not let me think this, even though some days I might like to. Does not God use everything to shape us? To grow us? To teach us of our dependence on Him? I believe so. If I had not started a PhD, I would not have moved to Wollongong, the place I really began to learn that God wants my love every day of the week, not only Sunday. If I had not gone to Mexico, I would have continued to believe that God’s will and mine were the same. I would not have learnt to trust His goodness when I can’t do what I want. If I had not gone to Moore College I would not have been pushed to answer questions like ‘why does God let his people commit suicide?’ There are no easy answers I’m afraid.

What do I have? I have a better knowledge of God and a better knowledge of myself. I’m still scared. So scared. So scared I don’t even like to dream – usually one of my favourite things to do. This pains me more than I care to admit. But I know that He has me. Even if I have no idea what’s coming. He has proven himself faithful, even in the moments when I didn’t think he would. Even in the moments when I wasn’t sure that I would be faithful.

I am afraid. But for this:

The Lord is my refuge and strength,
Therefore I will not be afraid.
Though the mountains give way and fall into the sea,
He will come and rescue me. Ps 46:1-2

Whatever comes.
Bring it.

Lost

lost /lɒst/
adjective
1. unable to find one’s way; not knowing one’s whereabouts.

I am not a planner. In fact, I might be the antithesis of a planner. It has been said by certain members of my family that I ‘tend to just fall into things’, and I have often declared that I am on the ‘no plan’ plan. I am not the proud owner of a 5-year plan, have no idea where I’ll be living or working next year. It’ll work itself out. I like the flexibility of having no plan. I like the mystery. I love the surprise. I love the adventure. It’s how I roll.

I concede that it is near impossible to make no plans at all. But I’ll tell you this: the bigger the plan, the greater potential to be disappointed.

I made a plan. It didn’t come through. And now I feel lost. A little like I’m floating in a little wooden boat in the middle of the ocean. Directionless. Confused. Disappointed. Lost. It’s easy to think that I shouldn’t have tried to plan. I don’t know how to do it properly. It’s not the way I’ve lived the last 10 years. Why would I alter the ‘no plan’ plan?

I’m lost. Lost in the sea of my own mind. Lost in a world of possibility. Lost in a world of changing relationships, changing homes, and changing environments. Lost in the land of confusion. I cannot see a way out. I don’t know what to do, where to go, or how to even begin the process of thinking about it.

What happens now? Do I trust God and keep putting one foot in front of the other? Well. I think so. It’s much easier said than done, especially when I have no idea where my feet are taking me. It’s hard because I have no plan, not even an idea that I fully understand. I don’t have a clear picture of the future. But even in this fog, God is still trustworthy. Trusting Him is hard right now. But I think that’s the nature of trust. If it was easy, or there was some kind of guarantee, then it wouldn’t be trust.

Would it?

For the faint-hearted

Today I am angry and deflated. I read the newspaper this morning.

Seven Red Cross workers kidnapped in Syria. Members of the Syrian Coalition refuse to participate in peace talks brokered by the United Nations. Israel cuts off supplies from the Gaza Strip because they discover a tunnel underneath the wall which they presume would be used to kidnap Israelis.

Our world is plagued by deep insecurities. We do not trust each other, nor behave in a way that is trustworthy. Therefore we have civil wars and international conflicts. Those who hold power in Syria do no believe that if they relinquish their power they will be safe, or heard, or free. And they’re probably right. Israel does not trust Palestine, nor vice versa. Perhaps they have good reason – history and all that.

But humanly speaking, nothing is going to change until these people and these nations let go of at least a little of their fear and begin to look for a solution that is built on trust. Am I too hopeful?

What would it take for people to let go of fear and broker solutions based on trust? It would need a deep and immovable belief that the other party was committed to my good. Each person would need to be convinced that the other was for them and their good. Right now, nothing could be further from the truth. Can we get here? I believe so, but much needs to change.

Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell. Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father […] Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows (Matt10:28-31).

Fear God, not man. God is the one who was committed to our good, even when we hated him. Jesus died. For you. For me. For everyone. Now I think that makes him trustworthy. We can trust Him. Our fears are real, but so is God. Imagine a world where all people were trustworthy like Jesus. I can’t accurately picture it. But I think it’d be good.

I suspect most people like to think they’re trustworthy. And for the most part, they may be. But picture this: the middle of a war zone. F-18s flying over constantly. Bombs going off next door. Armed officers guarding every street corner. Life is marked by the stench of death. Sounds like a pretty good recipe for insecurity. In that context, anyone could be forgiven for trying to stay safe. Step outside of middle class Sydney and I wonder whether anyone could be forgiven for not trusting people. When you see so much trauma, it must be easy to stop believing that things can be better.

But there is a promise. It’s not for now. It’s for the future.

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away” (Rev 21:1-4).

Entrust yourself to the God who promises this. This hope. This future. This promised better world.