I am a writer (and yes, it’s a valid life choice).

I am a writer.

It’s taken me the best part of a year, and many practice sessions with a writer friend, to be able to say that without following it up with an embarrassed ‘I-know-it’s-ridiculous’ giggle.

I am a writer.

Early on, this statement was met with one of two responses. Gen Y friends and acquaintances would often loudly exclaim, ‘WOW! That’s so cool!’ I loved their enthusiasm for the pursuit of a passion, no matter the difficulty or the cost. This response was my own: all romantic; no pragmatism.

When I said my well practised line, ‘I’m a writer’ to Gen X and older, I was often met with a furrowed brow. People I hardly knew – friends of friends, co-workers of friends, random people I’d meet at parties – would sidle up to me with a puzzled look on their face, ‘so, Tess, that’s nice, but how are you going to pay the rent?’ It’s true, I had held a very romantic view of what being a writer would be like: drinking endless lattes in funky cafes, me scribbling away on my vintage leather-bound notebook, never struggling for an idea. But I wasn’t stupid, I knew I had to support myself, even if I didn’t know how I would do that. I wanted to reach out and muffle these voices. I wasn’t ready for anyone to question the wisdom of my decision to be a writer. I still wasn’t sure I could do it, and I certainly didn’t want anyone else to raise that question.

But, I am a writer.

I have spent great swathes of this year confused about what it means to be a writer, wondering, often out loud, ‘how am I supposed to do this? How does one be a writer?’ It’s not really a question so much as an expression of my struggle to find my place and work out what my weekly routine looks like (every week is different, in case you were wondering. And yes, it is exhausting). Too often people have felt the need to offer advice about how to be a writer, even though many of them are not writers. I don’t blame them. They love me, and want to help me figure out my life. But still, sometimes – okay, much of the time – I just need to sit with the unknown, feel out the edges of it, and take one step forward.

I have never felt so insecure about my work as I have this year. I feel a constant need to justify my existence to my friends and family, ‘Look! Look! I am a writer. I have jobs that actually pay me to write!’ It’s an unusual choice, to be a writer. A lot of people write, but they’re not writers. As in, they are not trying to make a living out of it. They’re not paying the rent with their writing. And the reason why: if you work in the Arts, it’s really hard to earn enough to support yourself. The average Australian writer earns $11,000/year. That’s not even enough to cover rent in Sydney.

So, most writers have other jobs. Me, I have eight. Journalist, Editor, Researcher, Ghostwriter, Temp, Tutor, Marker, and Freelance Writer. Yeah, it’s crazy. I have had to open new bank accounts, get an ABN, learn how to write an invoice, figure out an hourly rate, get an accountant, and have scary meetings with the accountant (only scary because I don’t understand what they’re talking about). I keep eight calendars on my iCal to track each of my jobs. My brain is full of overlapping and conflicting deadlines for different projects. And don’t get me started about payroll and time sheets and tax. A weekly planner is my friend. The learning curve is big, and relentless.

I am still a writer.

I have survived 10 months of being a freelance writer. Sure, it’s been stressful, and there have been many times when I have flipped out and thought ‘I can’t do this’, but overall, it’s been fun. I can’t imagine doing anything else. I love writing. I love creating beautiful things from words. I love the effect a well-written piece can have on someone.

I am a writer. And I’m getting better at saying it and believing it’s a legitimate career choice.

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.

The Information Age

On Saturday it came to the attention of the Australian population that yet another leaky boat had gone into distress about 300km off the coast of Christmas Island. Reports were varied, mostly because the government refused to comment on the boat, its passengers and its circumstances. They also refused to comment on what their response would be. Would they let these people drown? Would they send help? Would they tow the boat back to India? No one knew.

This non-response attracted the ire of citizens and MP’s alike. I suspect that this outrage was caused by both the less-than-glamorous history our country has in treating asylum seekers, added to our insatiable desire to know everything.

The advent of the internet has meant so many wonderful things, and a fair few unpleasant things as well. One of those is that I, and so many others, expect to know every piece of news as it breaks.

I don’t know a world where the news is aired at 7pm and to miss it means waiting 24 hours for the next bulletin. I don’t know a world where I only hear about news on my doorstep. In my world I have access to news from China, Afghanistan, and the EU. I know about the asylum seeker boats, as they arrive. I can watch them slowly sink, the cries of the passengers etching themselves on to my memory. More than this, I feel entitled to such information, because that’s the world we live in. Nothing is off limits, even if maybe it should be.

Perhaps this is part of why Operation Sovereign Borders is so offensive: it restricts information. Under this policy, I don’t get to see the boats arriving. I don’t get to hear a play-by-play of what the Australian Navy is doing to help them. I don’t get to watch the boat being battered by waves and almost sinking. I am forced into a position of trusting the government to do what is right, without the ability to check their behaviour.

I can hear your incredulous cries: ‘trust!? Why should I trust the government? They haven’t exactly instilled in me a great sense of trust’. I hear you. For me, it doesn’t help that my trust in the government is flimsy, at best.

It now appears that the boat has arrived at Christmas Island, all people still on board. Just because the government didn’t issue a statement telling us what they were doing does not mean they were doing nothing. I may disagree with Operation Sovereign Borders at almost every level, but I must refuse to level accusations at Scott Morrison and Tony Abbott when they are simply following the policy they implemented. It wouldn’t be my choice, but that’s very easy for me to say, sitting in my lounge chair, drinking my morning coffee.

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.

On Inactivity

I have nothing to do today. Literally nothing. I’ve never been in this position before. Sure, like most people I take holidays and have occasional ‘nothing days’ but mostly, I fill my time with people and writing and exercise and people and shopping and adventures and people and travel and work and people. For as long as I can remember it’s been like that.

I find it a strange kind of thrill to be busy. Well, honestly, it’s probably more like manic. There’s something comforting about not being alone with my thoughts for too long. I think I’m probably a little bit afraid of my own brain. But now, now I’m alone. Alone with my brain. Alone with myself. I read this article the other day on how to help a child be a writer. It was both heartening and distressing. This sentence stuck with me: ‘First of all, let her be bored. Let her have long afternoons with absolutely nothing to do’. Check. I’m extremely bored. I believe the point was to ensure that the child has enough time to let her mind wander and to embrace creativity. The rest of the advice was also quite helpful, but also disappointingly accurate.

Boredom: check.

Loneliness: check.

Secrets kept: check.

Failure and mistakes: check.

Finding my own voice: I’m getting there.

Saying Goodbye

Could this be the most hideous word in the English language? Could any other word convey such deep levels of sadness?

I always think there are so many things I want to say when I’m saying goodbye. I should know. I’ve moved over 30 times in my life and at least half a dozen of those have involved significant geographical dislocation. I want to say how much that person has meant to me. I want to let them know just how thankful I am to God and to them for their kindness and their friendship. I want to say how surprised I was that we became such good friends, and how now I can’t imagine life without them.

I have always believed that it is important to actually utter the word ‘goodbye’ when someone is leaving. Not because the friendship is ending. Not because you’ll never see someone again. Not because you don’t care about them anymore. No. It’s because no matter your intention, things will not be the same, and saying ‘see you later’ implies (even subconsciously) that the relationship is not changing. It’s important to recognise the change.

As someone who has moved so much, I know this. And I try to put it into practice. But in the end, the only thing I end up saying is, ‘I don’t know what else to say, other than I’ll miss you’, usually blurted out between uncontrollable tears.

In the moment of saying goodbye, I’m not thinking about logic or being reasonable. I’m thinking about the pain. And it feels like a piece of me is being removed. It’s precise, like a surgeon is using a sharp scalpel to remove a Sarah-sized piece of me. I can’t fight it. I can’t be reasonable. And in reality, I don’t want to. I’m both excited about her new adventure, and devastated at the forthcoming change in our friendship.

My grief and sadness overpowers any other desire to explain just how much this friend means to me. Just how much I have loved being friends with her. Just how much God surprised me with her friendship. The weird thing is, I think she knows. I think she feels it too. She feels the thankfulness. The depth of the friendship. She knows how much it’s going to hurt.

So we cry. We do not need to speak. Together we grieve this loss. This change. It shows me the strength of our friendship that even now, we can sit and cry together, exchanging knowing looks about how much we will miss each other.

This is the pain of being human.

And today? Today I spend the day with a lump in my throat, on the edge of tears, as I process the grief of a best friend leaving. If you see me, please don’t ask me how I am.

On chasing dreams

Chase your dreams.
Nothing is out of your reach.
The sky’s the limit.

These were the mantras of my childhood. I confess, I like them. The outer curves of my imagination also function as my limits. These ideas are very precious to me.

Oddly though, I have always found that my dreams weren’t that difficult to catch, my reach actually extended farther than I thought, and the sky was surprisingly close. It’s not that things have always come easy – I have certainly had a fair amount of struggles and difficult decisions – but more that once I decided that I wanted to do something, and then I just went and did it.

I started a PhD right out of uni. When I decided I didn’t want to do that anymore, I decided I wanted to do ministry, so I did that. Then I decided I wanted to go to Mexico. So I bought a plane ticket and went. Then I wanted to go to College, and guess what, I went.

I know this makes me sound spoilt, as though I’ve never had any battles. That’s so far from true. The battles I have had just haven’t been of the employment variety. I’m coming to see that such an experience is something of a blessing.

But now. Now I face the awful dilemma of knowing what I want to do, but being unable to grasp it. All of a sudden my dreams feel like pipe dreams, all I feel in my fingers is wind, and the sky is cold and distant.

Where do I source the energy to keep applying for the job I want? How do I not give up hope? How do I not take all the rejections personally?

“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?