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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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.

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.

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.

The Commuter’s Life

My alarm goes off at 6am. I am barely awake but my finger knows the sleep button well and before I have a chance to prod my brain into action, the alarm is off and I return to slumber. 6.10am. This time I am slightly more awake and face the physical battle to swing my legs off the side of the bed and sit up. It usually takes til about 6.17am for my feet to hit the floor.

The cat is hungry. I feel my way to the laundry and fetch her bowl, narrowly missing stepping on the cat who weaves in and out between my legs as I walk. She likes to live on the edge. Cat fed: check.

I creep back to the bathroom where my eyelids are still fighting the losing battle to be shut. Who is that girl in the mirror? She looks tired. I desperately wish I had chosen my clothes the night before. Jeans: sure. That red top: ok.

Clean and dressed I make my way to the kitchen. Breakfast. Yes, I should eat something. Cereal is easy, let’s do that. I sit down with a bowl on the couch. I look at the stereo. 6.44am. Is that really the time? I wolf down the rest of the cereal, and leave the bowl soaking in the sink. No time to wash up. I’m already late.

My shoes go clickety-clack as I head back to the bathroom. Makeup: ok. I almost paint my eyeball with mascara. Oops. I stand in the bathroom looking lost, wondering: ‘what else do I have to do here?’ Ah yes, teeth. Clean teeth: check.

I collect my bag from where I dumped it last night as I came in and head out the door. Stop. I forgot to give the cat her tablet. Find cat. Wrestle cat. Lull cat into false sense of security and then execute ‘plan: cat meet tablet’. Back to the door. Stop. Am I wearing earrings? No. Back to my room to find some matching red earrings. Back to the door. Stop: do I have my train ticket. Rifle though bag until I find the ticket. Yes. Ok, let’s go.

On the train my eyelids sense an opportunity to get back in the game, and get in cahoots with the gentle rhythm of the train to make me very drowsy. I give in. I doze. It feels good.

Eyelids: 1. Tess: 0.

Walking to work, I smell coffee. Yes, coffee. This is what I need. I wait patiently to order. It comes. My eyes light up as I take the first sip.

Hello addiction.

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.

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?

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.