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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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.

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?

Waiting for Rest

I have a love-hate relationship with the night. I love it because I can see the stars, and I can feel tiny amidst the huge huge universe. My imagination is always better in the night time. I think that’s a win. But I hate it because I can never sleep and time seems to slow down overnight just in order to make the whole experience more painful. Of course this isn’t true, but it feels true. When I was younger I was afraid of the dark, but these days I live in the inner city, right next door to a hospital, so even when the lights are out its not dark. But I’m still afraid of bad dreams, of waking up more times than I can recall during the night, and of waking up more tired than I was when I went to sleep.

When I lived in Mexico City (2009 – and a whole other story), one of my favourite things was siesta time. I’d come home from language school, and have a rest for a couple of hours. Maybe sleep. Maybe read. It was so good. I think I was consistently on edge from living in a mega city. I was always stressed and tired and always ready for a sleep. Since I’ve been back, siestas have become my enemy. My GP has forbidden me from sleeping in the daytime. She says it doesn’t help my night time sleeping issues. I probably agree, but I’ll tell you, it’s *very* hard to not sleep in the afternoon when sleep is elusive during normal sleeping hours.

So today I caved. Two weeks of bad sleep mixed with a fair bit of life mess finally caught up with me. I slept for maybe 45 minutes. I woke up tired and groggy – siestas always leave me feeling like that. I’m still tired now, but my brain has decided to go into overdrive replaying all the days events over again…and over again…and over again…and over again… Not cool.

It’s nights like this I wish I was fearless. I wish I didn’t care about safety so I could go for a walk without fears of being kidnapped. Very occasionally I want to go for a run. I know I’m tired when that happens cause I hate running. Sometimes I go and sit on the roof. Maybe I’ll go up there soon.

This verse has always has a special place in my heart:

Weeping may tarry for the night,
but joy comes with the morning. Ps 30:5.

So often this has been my experience. Like a small child, when I am overtired, I cry. In the night everything feels hopeless, but the morning brings such joy. I long for the morning. I’m always a little less crazy in the morning. A little less liable to totally lose it because I can’t sleep. But it is more than the morning that brings me joy. Yes, at 2am, the thing I am most looking forward to is the sunrise, but there is something even better than the sunrise.

My soul waits for the Lord
more than watchmen for the morning,
more than watchmen for the morning. Ps 130:6.

I am waiting for Jesus to return. This is the long game. Right now I wait for sleep. For my brain to turn off. For my weary body to relax just enough. But I know that I am waiting for Jesus to come back. To take me to be with him in eternal rest. To a place where I won’t have sore eyes from not enough sleep. Where my mind will be full of glorious thoughts, and not plagued by fear and doubt. Where I can rest. Rest. REST. Oh yes.

Bring. It. On.

An open letter to my Dad

Dear Dad,

I was 10 when my world fell apart. After dinner one night, you and Mum sat down with us and explained that you didn’t love each other anymore, and that you’d be separating. It didnt have anything to do with us. You assured us of your love for us. There was no yelling. Not even any tears as far as I can remember.

Before that, there wasn’t much you could do to get me offside. You used to go bush walking for days and days; I thought you were an adventurer and an explorer. You inspired me. You made me an ice cream cake for my 9th birthday and when I went to the bathroom during the party, you showed it to all my friends. I always hated you for that. We would pull up the carrots from the back garden together, pick mulberries together, go camping together. I loved you.

You moved out. We visited you in your new apartment, but it wasn’t my home. You bought me clothes and a toothbrush to keep there but they didn’t feel like mine. I never felt comfortable there. I don’t think you intended it, but the distance grew.

You moved in with Jan what felt like pretty soon after you split with Mum. It’s hard for a child to navigate the step-parent situation. You expected a lot of us. The whole thing was made a lot easier by the fact that Jan never tried to be our mother. She was always adamant that that role was already taken. I’ll always be thankful for that.

That place didn’t feel like home either. You had another life, one that I didn’t fit in to. I felt like I needed to be a grown up. So I grew up. I could only think about this in terms of invisibility. If I wasn’t taking up space, or making a mess, or making noise, then I’d be welcome. I learnt to walk on eggshells. I tried to act like an adult cause that’s who I thought I needed to be to be part of your life. I was 11.

I would see you every second weekend and we’d try and talk on the phone during the week. I was never very good at ringing you, but when Mum reminded me, I would call and you would chastise me for not calling more, saying things like, ‘I was beginning to wonder if you were still alive’. I think you thought it was a joke. I didn’t hear it like that. It made me feel like a failure as a daughter.

On my 12th birthday you sent me a card that said, ‘welcome to being a teenager’. You didn’t know how old I was. That hurt. The distance grew.

I started high school. You weren’t there. You came to Presentation Day, and maybe the music recitals, but I don’t think you ever went to a parent-teacher night.

I needed you to tell me I was beautiful. You didn’t.

I needed you to show me that you loved me (not just say the words), just as I was. You didn’t.

I needed you to listen to me tell you about my friends, my taste in music, the boys I liked, the girls who were mean to me, the train I caught to school, and a zillion other useless things. You didn’t. You took every opportunity to tell me about your interests, and hijacked my stories to tell your own. I learnt to not give you information because I thought you didn’t really want to know. I learnt to ask and not talk.

I stopped trusting you. I stopped wanting to see you. I stopped believing you would do anything for me. I stopped looking forward to our visits (were they not court-ordered, I might have stopped going). I think I probably stopped believing you loved me.

I lived with you and Jan for a couple of years when I was 19 and those are some of my most precious memories. It felt like a family again. I came back from overseas and you guys sat me down one night and told me you were splitting up. It was too much to bear. There was yelling this time. Jan made you tell me why. You had had an affair. I was so angry. You had betrayed my trust. Again. And broken up the closest thing I’d had to a family in 10 years. I hated you for that. For the second time in my life, I watched you move out of my home. I stayed with Jan. I trusted her. I seriously entertained the idea of cutting you out of my life.

I’m glad I didn’t. But it took me a long time to forgive you for that affair. The wounds still bleed when I poke them. As I write this, I am weeping. Even though I didn’t cut you out, I decided that I wouldn’t be vulnerable with you. Given our history, it seemed too risky. I couldn’t put myself in that position once more.

We have spent a bit more time together in the last few years. I have been glad for that. I feel like I know you a bit better. Still, I’m hesitant to share anything of value with you. There’s too much water under the bridge.

And the problem is still that I want you to be different.

I want you to want to spend time with me. I want you to want it enough that you’ll make the effort. A few years ago we made a plan to have breakfast before my class started. It was early. Maybe 7.30am. I waited on the corner. At 7.40 I rang you. No answer. At 7.45am my phone rang. You were still in bed. I felt like I didn’t matter to you. Like I wasn’t worth the effort.

Since then I have watched you date several women. I feel like I come second in your life. Or third. But definitely not first. That place is reserved for the woman you are currently seeing. When you are single, you call regularly and find time to see me. When you’re dating someone, it’s like I don’t exist. I don’t want to compete with her. I don’t think I should have to. So I don’t. But when I do speak to you, you make the same old comment, ‘I was beginning to wonder what had happened to you’. It will never be funny Dad.

Every time we speak, the conversation always ends with you saying ‘I love you’. I struggle to believe this. Love is more than a word Dad. Saying it doesn’t mean anything if it’s not accompanied by actions.

I do love you Dad. That’s my choice. I want to love you because even though there’s been so much rubbish in our relationship, there are lots of things that I like about you, and my life would be poorer without you.

Love,
Tess

MONA

I recently visited Tasmania. I had the privilege of spending some good quality time with some dear friends who recently moved there. Plus I got to explore the hidden delights of Battery Point and Salamanca. Last time I was there, MONA had just opened. MONA is the Museum of Old and New Art. It is a privately owned gallery, built deep into the ground, right on the banks of the Derwent River in Hobart. I didn’t get to see it that time, but this trip I had an afternoon free, so jumped on the ferry and had a look around.

It is so swish. From the moment you step off the ferry, climb the 99 (curiously not 100) steps to the front door, and enter the mysterious building, your imagination and senses are engaged. Leaving your coat in the cloakroom, you make your way towards a glass elevator (Willy Wonka anyone?) surrounded by a spiral staircase leading down to multiple levels of galleries beneath your feet just waiting to be explored. Before you descend, a woman in black hands you an iPod. Curious. There’s no artwork names strategically placed on the wall. No guides. No pamphlets. You simply refresh the iPod screen and it tells you what you’re looking at. Clever.

Moving down through the levels, I see a room full of warm light globes. They flash in time with your heartbeat. Over there is a giant trampoline NOT only for looking at, there’s a queue to have a turn. I anxiously enter the affectionately titled ‘death room’. I’m not enjoying this. There’s a room full of individual arm chairs in front of televisions playing foreign news. There’s a pink furry room that looks like something out of a Dr. Seuss book. There’s the ‘poo room’. Enough said. I stroll past a glass coffin with a life size doll inside. If if was a person, she would be about 8. She looks sad.

I wander into an exhibition that has something to do with enuma elish (the Babylonian creation story). It’s a bit like a maze. When I get to the inner room, I poke my head around the corner and get frightened by the man hanging from the ceiling. No, wait, that’s a mirror.

Everything about this place screams postmodern. There’s a lot in it that is not politically correct, a lot that many people would not consider art. I usually have a pretty open mind about art, usually I’m the one who defends a red square on a white canvas and insists that it can be art. It was different this time. Some of what I saw I’d like to forget. Some was offensive. Some was simply disgusting to me.

So is it art? Even, and maybe even especially, the works that made me gag and walk away?

sleepless nights

It’s 3.58am. I’ve been awake since 12.26am. Time goes very slowly at this time of the morning.

I went to turn off some lights that were still on and found another body, poring her heart out over an assignment that’s due tomorrow. Well actually, today. I sat on the sofa with her for an hour, thought about my fear of sleep, longed for sleep, tried to sleep. No sleep. I decided to make the most of this awake time so came back to my room, brushed up on my Spanish and wrote a long overdue email. I learned a new word – inquietud. I wrote a letter to an old friend. I’m writing this blog post. Still, no sleep.

There are others. I’m certain. Right now, all over Sydney there are people not sleeping. How do they fill the long dark hours? Do they long for sleep as I do? I don’t know about them, but I, for one, would be happy to kick this habit.