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.

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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

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.

Why I hate Facebook

There. I said it.

I think it was 6 years ago that I wrote a similarly titled article. The point of that one was that the Internet cheapens relationships when you use it for all your communication. I truly believe there is something special and unique and important about face-to-face communication.

6 years ago I was not signed up to Facebook. I resisted for a long time. My reasons were many and varied but mostly I simply believed that being friends in reality was enough. I didn’t need to be friends in the cyber world. Way back in 2006 I had made a promise to a friend that if I ever moved overseas then I would join Facebook. In my mind, that was the only worthy reason for joining Facebook – to stay connected with faraway friends. Plus, at that point I thought the chances of me moving overseas were slim, so it was a safe promise. Then, I moved overseas. I reluctantly joined. As it turned out, Facebook was a little bit of a lifeline for me. I was glad to be able to know about major events in peoples lives and to be part of that in some small way. I suppose it wasn’t quite the evil I had judged it to be. When I came home, it worked in reverse for a little while. I could stay in touch with friends overseas, participating in their lives from a distance.

It didn’t take long for me to become addicted. I found myself checking it all the time. Even in the middle of the night. I simultaneously wanted to know what everyone else was doing, but didn’t want to be part of it. No doubt this had something to do with an identity crisis that persistently attacked me from within. I had somehow missed this huge shift, but at least in some way, people were living life online now.

I adapted. I joined Facebook groups for College Resos, for ECU Grads, for Church, and for a hundred other things. I was invited to parties and weddings via Facebook. It became another way I stayed in touch with people. If I had felt inadequate as a friend without Facebook, then that was only amplified by the odd expectation that Facebook meant I could have meaningful relationships with people all around the globe. I tried harder.

I checked Facebook frequently. Too many times a day to count. In the morning before breakfast. After breakfast. In class I would have it open in another tab so I could see if someone had messaged me or commented on a photo or status. I would go to cafes to do my College work, at least partly so I could get away from the Internet.

Eventually I installed a program on my computer that restricted my Internet access. That was one of the best things I ever did. I turned my phone off at night. Yes, that meant that phone calls and messages also couldn’t come through, but I figured that any crisis that exploded at 3am could wait til 6am when I got up.

But control of the addiction isn’t enough. There’s another huge reason why I hate Facebook. Almost every time I log on I see photos of my friends new babies, or engagement announcements, or pictures of weddings. I’m not the Happy Family Grinch, I really do love weddings and children. And mostly I am happy with the life I have. But my contentment is fragile, and easily bruised. Am I the only one? I would like to get married and have kids (is it OK to actually say that?), and sometimes my Facebook feed is a painful reminder that I am not. Sometimes, it feels like everyone else in the world is doing what I’d like to be doing. And it makes me want to de-register my account and never go on Facebook again. I’ve been around enough to know that some of my friends see my Facebook feed and think that they’d like to be doing what I’m doing. The grass is always greener hey?

Where to from here? Facebook is a good tool to maintain faraway friendships, and perhaps it is even a useful organisational tool at the local level. But too frequently I find myself envious of others as I watch their lives unfold online. The best book I’ve read on this issue is called The Next Story, which outlines the history of the digital explosion, and some of the key things to consider when thinking how to use the internet. Still, it only asks the hard question:

  • How can I use Facebook and not be used by it?

It is up to us to find the answer.

“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.

Guy + Girl = Friends?

I firmly believe that guys and girls can be friends. I even have an awesome collection of male and female friends that prove it (you know who you are). When I was in my early 20s I didn’t think this statement needed much clarification. My only qualification was that there needed to be a conversation at some point about where the friendship stands. Now I think there might be a few more things to say. Here is my attempt.

Dear [insert name here],*

We are friends. There are so many things I like about being friends with you. I love that you are different to me. I love that you have a different family, different upbringing, different expectations of the world and different hopes and dreams. I love that you think deeply. I love that you know stuff about economics and wildflowers and bridges. I love that you teach me to see the world differently, in richer and brighter colours than I could have seen myself. I love that you make me laugh.

We hang out. We’ve been to the movies, out for drinks, to coffee, to museums, to concerts and for strolls on a warm summer evening. I suspect you like being friends with me too. This pleases me no end.

One time, you told me. Do you remember? It was pretty awkward. We were out, and you told me that you loved being friends with me. You wanted to make sure that I didn’t think that it was anything more than friends. I wasn’t expecting to have this conversation with you, it kind of caught me off guard. To be honest, I had been thinking about it, and wondering why we weren’t more than friends, but after a mini-meltdown in my mind, I was okay. You changed tack and proceeded to tell me about the girl you did like. You asked me what I thought. You asked for my advice. Ever the good friend, I talked you through your feelings, all the while wishing I could vanish into my shoe.

Over the next few months nothing really changed in our friendship. In the beginning I thought this was good, because I didn’t want to lose you as a friend. But over time the intimacy between us grew. I liked you more the more time I spent with you. But you didn’t see this; or if you did, you didn’t do anything about it. You thought that I was so certain of our status as friends that it didn’t matter how you acted. You thought I would one day figure out that you weren’t into me like that. In case you’re wondering, the moment I discovered that ugly truth was the moment I stopped trusting you.

What were you thinking? Perhaps you thought that you’d already told me that we were friends and so you were safe? Perhaps you were enjoying yourself and so pretended like things were fine?

You certainly weren’t thinking about me.

If I liked you a little at the time of that first conversation, I liked you a lot more a few months later. I had heard what you said, but something in me didn’t want to believe it. A little voice inside me (or maybe outside me – girls talk, you know) kept wondering why we spent so much time together if nothing was going on. It was easy to doubt. Something in me persisted in believing that with all the time we spent together you’d see how much you really did like me. Foolish, I know.

What motivated you to have that awkward conversation the first time around? Perhaps you had insightfully thought that I might be considering a possibility between us and wanted to be kind to me and stop those thoughts (this is the most gracious reading I can give, and am fully aware that there are many less gracious possibilities). Maybe next time this happens to you, you might consider taking some practical measures to cut back the friendship. Yes, such measures would have been be tricky and painful and a loss for both of us, but you need to be the strong one. After all, it was you who was certain that this wasn’t going to be anything more than friends.

This is my one thought: I am a girl. I am a real person and have feelings too. I’m not an emotional resource to be mined. If the roles were reversed, how would you like to be treated? My guess is that you’d like to be treated like a friend, and not as a boyfriend. Please do me the same courtesy.

From [insert name here].

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?

No? No?! What do you mean no?!

I had dinner with my family last week, and as I was talking to my sister in law, she mentioned that my niece has learned to shake her head to indicate how much she doesn’t want to do something. She’s only 9 months old and she can already say ‘no’. But what is more curious to me is that when my niece does this, my brother says, ‘No? No?! What do you mean no?!’ I witnessed it, and it’s pretty funny.

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What surprises me is that I do the same thing with kids whenever I babysit or teach kids church. Now is that nature or nurture?!

When I was a kid, I don’t remember the word ‘no’ factoring into my life very much. This is hardly to say that my parents never disciplined us, but more to say that I was encouraged to imagine possibilities and not let silly old reality get in the way. I did attend a Montessori School in my early years and I’m certain that this is at least partly a product of that time too. I’m a classic Montessori child. My dreams about the future are limited only by my imagination. My creativity is limited by the same. There’s something beautiful in this. Opportunities are limitless. In some ways I have loved growing up in a home marked by such freedoms.

But reality isn’t like that. In reality I am limited by more than my imagination. Physically, my body needs sleep. Mentally, my mind needs time to switch off. This is most often accomplished by staring at the wall. Emotionally, I need deep friendships and time away from those friendships. It is simply not possible for me to do everything I’d like to. This is perhaps, one of the most regrettable facts ever.

Either way, be it by my own imagination or by reality, I am limited.

I have always been both puzzled and comforted by this verse in Paul’s letter to the Ephesian Church:

Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.

He is not limited by a weak body as I am. He does not need time out from people as I do. He is not even limited by his imagination, as I am. I have such an extreme imagination that it seems weird to me that God could do more than what I can dream up. But he can not only do more, he can do immeasurably more. My mind boggles.

God is even more Montessori than I am!

Pensive melancholy

I am weary with my moaning;
every night I flood my bed with tears;
I drench my couch with my weeping.
My eye wastes away because of grief. (Ps 6:6-7).

I’m fidgety. It’s a sure sign that something’s up. I whine about how hard life is. I cry at the drop of a hat. I try to study. I fail. I try to sleep. I fail. I try to chat with friends. I end up staring off into space; I fail. I decide I don’t want to be with people; that doesn’t work either. I try to distract myself by cooking, or changing locations, or cleaning, or organising something. Nothing works.

I give in. I start thinking about how I’m a terrible friend. I think about the impending goodbyes. I think about faraway friends. I think about not faraway friends who I haven’t seen in too long. I think about my family. I think about that conversation that I need to have. I think about all that college work that needs to get done. I get to a place where I wish cloning was a valid option – that would surely solve my problems. Nothing gets resolved, I just send myself into a spiral of pensive melancholy.

This has happened enough times that I know I have to wait it out. I know that in time some things will be resolved while others will persist endlessly.

But I always need to be reminded that I wait with hope. With the certain knowledge that God is with me. He hears my lamenting. He hears my prayers. He is answering them. Maybe not in the way I want (i.e. immediate relief), but in a way that is for my good.

The LORD has heard my plea;
the LORD accepts my prayer (Ps 6:9).