Sunday, November 19, 2017

Dealing with disappointment

I believe God has given me the gift of leadership. People who know me seem to agree, because they keep encouraging me to step up and step out.

Yet every time I try to step into greater leadership responsibilities, whether at work or in the church I get the door slammed in my face, or knocked down. It happened again this past week.

I can't begin to tell you how incredibly painful and frustrating it has been, or how much I have grappled with this particular struggle. For whatever reason, it seems that God does not intend for me to be a leader. I am destined, it seems, to simply be faithful; to remain in the background. It feels like God has given me gifts, but not a platform from which to use them.

While it may be that I am totally missing the point in terms of how God wants me to use these gifts, everything in me yearns to do more and be more than I feel am currently doing and being; to use what I have been given to greater benefit for those around me. And it seems to me that I cannot best use the gifts I have been given in my current position. Maybe I'm wrong, but that is how things feel to me at this point.

There is no doubt in my mind that I can serve God where I am, and I will continue to do so, but I also believe that I can have a wider impact with a wider sphere of influence. So why does God continue to hold me back? What am I missing here?

While grappling with this issue, I also have a continual battle against the character flaw of greed and materialism. I want to earn more, live in a bigger house, in a nicer neighbourhood, drive a bigger car, have holidays in expensive locations, wear nicer clothing... you get the idea. And when I ask God for these things and he says no, I understand why. I get that consumerism and materialism are completely contrary to his character, and that to become like him means denying myself. But that denial is not something I have been able to do once and never need to do again. This is something that pops up regularly for me... the love of money... and needs to be repeatedly brought to the foot of the cross.

Unfortunately, this weekend saw both of these struggles collide, leaving me feeling that God doesn't really care - that he takes pleasure in denying me all the desires of my heart. (I know that isn't true, but that's how I wad feeling.) Those feelings and thoughts feed into a much deeper dialogue with God about deep hurts from my past, when I really did feel God deliberately led me down the garden path and then abandoned me... which makes the way I deal with disappointment of crucial importance.

If I don't deal with disappointment, or with God's "no"s, effectively I end up in a dark place far away from him and his purposes and promises, with a very hard heart that denies him at every turn. That's not a great place to be, let me tell you.

So I have to start with honesty. I tell God how absolutely rubbish I feel, and how cross I am, and hurt. That often tends to go for a while, but I have to get to the end of me and pour out all the vitriol before there is space in my heart to hear his quiet voice. And he is always grasps enough to listen and wait.

And it's also no good my repeating truth to myself until all that vitriol is out. If I do, I just get sarcastic and more angry. [It's like when people tell someone who has just lost a pregnancy that "at least they can have another go", or "at least they are young enough to try again", or "at least they already have a child"... speaking those platitudes is the biggest load of hogwash! Just hear the pain and acknowledge it. Don't try to erase it.] I just need to empty myself, to acknowledge the reality of how I feel, whether my emotions are justified or not.

Once the vitriol is out, I'm usually in tears and in a place to beseech God to help me get over myself, to speak to me and show me his plans and purposes, to do anything and everything he has to, to get me out of this hole. At that point, God usually shows up and reveals his love for me, after which he reminds me about whatever truth I particularly need to hear.

So today I got to the point of getting most of the vitriol out during worship in church this morning. Then we went on to study Ps 103. What a great psalm!

And I was reminded again of how much God has already given me in the death and resurrection of Jesus. And that, honestly, in light of that I need to get over myself. I have been given the greatest gift, the most important gift, and therefore I have no leg on which to stand to complain about anything in my life.

Really, not being in an office of leadership, and not having as much money as the Jones', these things are not just "first world" problems. These issues are trifles in the grand scheme of God's kingdom. I need to get some perspective. Of greater concern is the state of my heart and character.

Yes, I'm disappointed that once again I have been unable to step forward into an office of leadership. But that doesn't mean I am not a leader, nor does it mean I cannot lead or influence others. I don't know why God is keeping me back, but I trust that his plans are always to keep me from harm, to do what is best for me, to prosper and grow me, even if I can't see the reason or plan right now. And this current plan is not Plan B or C; it's not God's 2nd best option for my life, even if it feels like it.

Yes, my heart is very sore, but I will continue to walk the path before me, doing the good works that God has prepared in advance for me to do. And if, at some point in the future, he lifts me up to an office of leadership, that would be fabulous. (If he gives me a few million Rands that would be fabulous too, but I'm definitely not holding my breath for that one!)

But if I hang around in this place, allowing my disappointment to become my focus and to occupy centre stage in my thoughts, I may well miss some blessing or experience along the way. If I stay here, I will become angry and depressed.

Instead, I choose to turn my face to him, to bless him, to honour his name. I may well have to keep making this choice every few minutes for the next few days. I may well have to keep choosing to soften my heart and not harden it against God. I will have to take captive every thought.

But I believe that it will be worth the effort. What would it profit me to gain the whole world - fame and fortune, wisdom and knowledge, love and power - yet lose my soul? Far better not to have any of those things, yet have my heart, will and character in line with His. Far better by far.

Friday, November 10, 2017

Joy vs happiness

I was taught, many moons ago, that joy and happiness are not the same thing; that happiness is an emotion, while joy is a state of mind that we can choose to live in; that happiness is the result of circumstances, while joy is a choice in spite of circumstances; that happiness is fleeting, while joy is eternal (or could be...if we choose it); that happiness is surface only, while joy is deep heart stuff.

Then, last Sunday, a preacher stood up and said that was all rubbish, or mostly rubbish - that joy is an emotion, one we are able to experience all the time, like happiness; that basically there is no difference between joy and happiness; that saying joy is a choice actually presents it as a joyless option; that we can have joy (happiness) all the time if we abide in Jesus all the time. Both sides used Scripture to support their point of view, and both sides sound convincing. I suppose, to some extent, it's all swings and roundabouts, pendulum swung too far to one side, or the other, and that both are true concurrently. You know - that typical thing we humans do by over-emphasising one part of a truth over another, which then gets warped out of proportion.

And so I've been pondering joy vs happiness all week, trying to decide what I believe the truth is. I've been looking for moments of happiness and joy throughout the day, constantly asking myself if I was happy in that moment, and if so, why, and if not, why. It's been an interesting journey  and I'm pleased to report that most of the time I have felt happy...even when being BORED OUT OF MIND invigilating. I guess, most of the time, my happiness comes from knowing that I am in the centre of God's will, that I'm doing what he called me to do. The rest of it comes, I guess, from not being stressed because I don't have any marking to do (YET!! That all starts on Monday!)

And because life is moving at a slightly slower pace for me, I've had the time to do things I love, to laugh, to spend time with people, to be creative - which makes me happy, and joyful. But see - if joy is a choice when circumstances are poor, then because this week has been a good one, I can't really evaluate whether or not I have joy... so the coming weeks will be important in this little experiment.

But in the meantime, I thought I would share with you these comics from the New Yorker Magazine, which I just love. Have a fabulous weekend!
"Actually, it all makes me feel statistically average-sized and I resent the tone."


"You lose your phone again, Rusty?"

Monday, November 06, 2017

Examination

Close your eyes and listen.
Listen to the howling South-Easter,
to the trees clapping and clacking.
Inside,
all is quiet.
Tick, tock, tick, tock.
A closing door, echoing,
echoing down deserted corridors.
Dust motes twirling in
the liquid warmth of sunbeams
in whistling drafts
from ill-fitting windows.
An occasional cough, or sniff.
The rustling of a turned page.

One could be forgiven
for not expecting
the 1000-strong crush of humanity
filling these spaces.
Their silence
no testimony
to the power and energy
throbbing inside 1000 bodies.

Listen closer now.
Lub dub, lub dub, lub dub.
Listen to the adrenalin:
The click, click, click of pens
The quiet rip
of teeth on nails, lips, cheeks
The crack, crack, crack of knuckles
The snap of too-tightly wound hair
The pluck, pluck of fingers on fabric
The tap, tap, tap of shoelaces on faux leather
as feet twitch, twitch, twitch.

The ocean of quiet
shattered
by the tsunami of speech.
"You may begin."
And a sudden frantic scrabbling
for the anchor of pens.
It is time.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Hope for the future

This past week we've seen floods in Durban, and continued drought and fire in Cape Town. Yet, despite all this, I am feeling remarkably positive.

Floods are no laughing matter - not for the people who have lost their lives, or family members; nor for those who have lost their homes or livelihoods. Yet, even in this bleak time, I did find cause to laugh - albeit it ruefully.


With Valedictory over, the matrics are gone, and work gets easier with the additional "free" time every day (time to catch up on admin and planning that I haven't got to yet). However, the fact that school ended early on Thursday meant I had time to come home and cook a roast dinner, with all the trimmings, a cake and a baked pudding. What a fantastic family meal we had! It made it feel like the weekend had started a day early.

Then, over the weekend I had time to do something creative (I started crocheting a new project), work in the garden and get it nearly ready for summer, do some school work (show me a teacher who doesn't do work over a weekend!), spend more time with family, help the kids with homework, catch up on some mending, do 2 loads of laundry, finish my book and relax with the dog. It has been a good weekend! (Of course, I'm still sick, so I really should have spent some time in bed... but who has time for that these days?!)

But that's not why I'm feeling positive either.

It's been a year since I realised that I was suffering from burn-out. It was a year ago that I made some changes in my life, and determined to look after myself a bit better. I resolved to:

  • spend time, daily, with God
  • get fit
  • spend time every week doing something creative
  • get a better life-work balance going

  • So how have I done?

    Well, I am spending time daily with God. Not enough. (Not nearly enough!) And still not getting to journalling, which I really wanted to do. But at least I'm in the routine again. That's a massive step in the right direction.

    Getting fit was always going to be a tough one. I had a hernia which gave me reflux every time I either bend down or crunched my tummy, or lay flat on the floor. So I had an op, which put me out of action for several weeks, which was followed (almost immediately) by glandular flu - which I'm still recovering from. But! I joined a gym closer to home, and (until my op) I was going regularly. Now I just need to get back into the routine (as soon as my energy levels recover and I get over this current cold).

    Doing creative stuff has become a much bigger part of my life. I haven't been able to get to it every week, but I have done something creative every month. In reflection, once again I can draw a correlation between the amount of time I spend creatively and my overall sense of well-being. In weeks when I was doing nothing, I began to feel low, depressed and stressed again.

    Work-life balance is an on-going struggle - not just for me, but for all of us, I think. I've been much better about it this year, though. I think, mainly, because I've been so ill. When you're in a lot of pain, or can't breathe properly, it's amazing how work seems less important, and other (more important) things take their rightful place. When you only have a set amount of energy to devote to the day, you have to prioritise where you're going to spend it. I've improved at learning to live with the unfinished, the delayed, the deferred and the deleted. It's been a rare night that I've actually done work at home (although I am still in the habit of bringing work home every night, in the hopes that maybe, just maybe, I will have the time, energy or inclination to do it). The down side to this is that the quality of my lessons has been poorer this year. I've still had to do work over weekends, I don't think I can ever escape the need to bring work home in this profession! So I'm doing better. Not where I'd like to be, but better.

    But none of this is why I'm feeling so positive right now.

    I had a conversation with my dad the other day, in which he positively pleaded with us to leave the country and emigrate, anywhere; just to get out of SA before it all falls apart. He admitted that he's thinking seriously about going, because he just has no hope of things even remaining as they are, let alone improving. And in that moment I suddenly realised afresh why it is that I feel so positive.

    I have hope.

    I have hope because of Jesus.

    I have hope because He is.

    I have hope because He is hope.

    I have hope because He is the hope of South Africa and the world.

    The best and safest place to be is in the centre of God's will. If His will puts me in Cape Town, or South Africa, for the rest of my life, then that's the best and safest place to be.

    As bleak as things are, and they are - no doubt! But as bleak as they are, I can trust in One who holds the world in His hands, who will provide for me and for my children, who will help us weather any storms that come our way. Does this mean we will have everything we want? No. Does it mean life will be easy? No. Does it mean we will be immune to retrenchments, or hunger? No.

    But in the midst of those struggles we will have life, and life in all abundance.

    This is the difference that faith in Jesus makes for me. I can look at a world that lies in darkness, where evil flourishes and goodness seems absent, because I have hope for a better future, a glorious future, a heavenly future.

    I have hope, because I have Jesus.

    Friday, September 29, 2017

    Laugh a little with me

    "Netflix and chill. Because who can afford a TV licence and heating?" Aatif Nawaz
    "You know when you're interrogating a fish? Don't bother with the holding the head under water bit." Seymour Mace
    "If you are being chased by a pack of taxidermists, do not play dead." Olaf Falafel

    It's the end of term and, to be honest, I could use a good laugh right about now. This term wasn't much longer than the others, but gosh it has felt it!

    Having been such a hectic one, I wanted to take some time to reflect back on why it has been so overwhelming. After all, this year was supposed to be better than last. This was supposed to be the year when I achieved better balance, when I reached the end of the year without having suffered burn-out. So what happened?

    Probably the biggest curve ball I've had this year has been my health. I had an op at the end of May (to repair a stomach valve that wasn't working - nothing too hectic), but that was quickly followed by glandular fever. Yeah. That. And it's left me with prolonged fatigue - which is not good for teachers. Of course, I didn't know I'd had it until I eventually went to the doc weeks later, trying to figure out why I was still so utterly exhausted and he gave me a blood test. In between that, I've been struggling with a rotator cuff problem, and could really only use one arm for several weeks.

    So, the best laid plans of mice and men often go awry! My plans of getting fit and trim this year started off well, but have died a slow death since the end of May. I'm trying not to feel disheartened by the fact, but working up the energy right now to get back on the horse, as it were, is proving impossible.

    This year I was going to be more intentional about having creative outlets. And I did - I was very good about doing some painting, and I've done a lot (well, for me anyway!) of crocheting, and I've even blogged a few times this year. But again, dealing with my post-GF fatigue has meant the very last thing I felt I had energy for was being creative. Most days this term I have crawled home, into bed, and pretty much stayed there. But this past week I've started to feel a return of energy. I've started thinking about doing something creative again. Who knows, maybe I will have enough energy to start making Christmas presents.... (it is only 12 weeks away, after all!)... nah! Who am I kidding?

    Something I did get right this term though, is that I stepped out of going to cell group and did something I've wanted to for years - I went to help facilitate a group on Alpha. (For those who have done Alpha before, you might enjoy seeing the new films... I really did!) I love my cell group, and I have missed them, but I have equally loved being involved in Alpha again. There is something refreshing about being at the front lines, as it were, of God's Kingdom.

    At work, this term I have been faced with a lot of pressure in the area of being a grade head. I have dealt with more discipline situations than I care to think about. I think I've been to, or involved in, 8 or 9 discipline hearings of one sort or another, in about 3 weeks. And by the grace of God, and with the help of my incredible co-grade head, the deputy, and the principal, I have come through them strongly. I feel I can walk away from this term with my head held high at a job well done. But, man-alive!, it has been such an exhausting process.

    Another really difficult journey for me this term has been around my purpose. Having been deeply hurt by situations and people at work, at the end of last year I was desperate to leave. However, when I truly surrendered my life and future to God, He made it abundantly clear to me that He has a plan for me where I am, and that where I am is where I am meant to be. Getting my head around His 'no' has not been easy; it is never easy to hear a 'no' to your prayers.

    Yet, it has also been such a good process. So much has come from it - a peace and contentment in knowing I'm in the right place, a joy in knowing that I can hear from God (still something I battle with after two big life events back in the 2000's), an excitement for the future to see what God is going to do in and through me, a sense of wonder that God thinks my faith is mature enough to handle His 'no' (which is not to imply that if it weren't God would have said yes), a deep and abiding sense of God's love for me, and healing in some of the relationships and situations that were broken. I can truly say I am grateful for the struggle I have been through.

    There is one who has stood by me through this term, who has supported me this term, and loved me through some tough times. To my incredible husband, without whose sacrificial love, service and support it would not be possible for me to do what I do, I want to say I am deeply deeply grateful, and that I love you. You are the best friend and husband any woman could wish for. You are the rock that keeps me anchored and the wind that lifts my sails.

    Of course, if I start counting the people who have stood by me this year, I need to acknowledge my kids too. There is nothing like a hug from them when I get home from a very hard day, or at the start of what I know will be a trying day, to bring the sunshine back into my world and remind me that work is not all there is in life. And my parents... I still need them and their support and love, and they still faithfully give that to me. I am eternally grateful to them for their continued love and support.

    There is a season for everything under heaven. Now is the season to celebrate, and laugh - and laugh deeply - because I have made it to the end of this term! I am more than exhausted, but I am alive. I have been hard-pressed, but I am not crushed. I have been surrounded by enemies, but I have fought clear. I have been wounded, but I have survived. And this is all thanks to my God, whose everlasting arms are underneath, who has forgiven me and carried me and fought for me and provided for me and loved me unconditionally through it all. To God be the glory - great things He has done!


    I forgot my cell phone when I went to the toilet yesterday. We have 245 tiles.

    Friday, September 22, 2017

    Blue sky in sight

    I can honestly say I cannot recall a time, other than new motherhood, when I have been as tired - both mentally and physically. While the 3rd term is always a busy one, this one was officially bad for me.

    I had surgery at the end of May, and shortly after my return to work I fell ill. At the time my doc and I put it down to a virus, contracted because my immune system was down post-surgery. But I just did not seem to recover. Exams came and went, and I was still under the weather.  Holidays came and went, but I worked through most of it authoring digital material for a publishing house. What shots have taken me a week took nearly 3, because I just wasn't at my best.

    Then term started. We were straight into PTL meetings and reports, and then it was preparation for CT Expo, and ballet performances at Baxter, and ballet eisteddfods, and setting matric exams, and marking marking marking (projects and tests and practicals and exams). And in the midst of all that I was getting sicker, not healthier. I went back to the doc, and the upshot of it all is that somewhere along the way after my surgery I had had glandular fever.

    My only lasting symptom is the post-viral fatigue. And what fatigue it is! Where normally I would come home and work after the kids had gone to bed, now I found myself falling into bed too. Nowadays I find I can barely move out of bed on the weekends (& my garden is suffering as a result).

    But finally, I can see blue sky at the end of the tunnel. I have one last big project - some more authoring -  to finish before the end of term, and then it is holidays for a week. I have never wanted a holiday more than I do right now. If nothing else, this illness has given me new compassion for those with chronic illnesses, and renewed gratitude for health and life. Praise be to God for bringing me safely thus far!

    Friday, August 04, 2017

    Which way now?

    I think I must be having a mid-life crisis. Or something. I've been feeling for a while now that I need a change of scenery. I've been praying about it, but my problem is that I don't really trust myself to hear God correctly.

    Why? Well, that's a long story.  Let's just say that once upon a time I thought I heard God tell me something really, really, super big, and lots of people agreed with me. Several months down the line though, I found out I had heard wrong ... or maybe I just got the timing wrong ... or maybe the point was for me to walk the road but it had never been God's intention for me to reach the destination. Whatever the reason, not reaching the destination nearly killed me (metaphorically speaking, that is). So now I don't trust that I can hear God correctly.

    Which is a big bummer, because I (along with all followers of the Way) am called to a life of faith. That means regularly talking and listening to God, hearing from Him where to go and what to do or say, and then doing/ saying that.

    But back to my story. I've been praying and trying to listen, but I'm not sure that what I'm hearing is from God.  It could just be my heart's voice, telling me what I want to hear.

    Anyway, I decided to push on the door, as they say, to test the waters... Maybe find some new scenery. Not just one door either - three doors. I am hoping that two of them won't open, leaving one which (I hoped) is the one I am supposed to walk through.

    But, whether it is Murphy's Law, or God at work, or just that phenomenon that when you have made a decision you suddenly have second thoughts, I suddenly find myself feeling that I love my current scenery and don't want to leave. My emotions are so fickle!

    There's that kid suffering with depression who has connected with me, and that other kid who treats me as her mother, or that other kid who just loves me and showers me with tokens of appreciation, or that other kid that I think I've finally got through to, or that class that I've finally won over, or that other class I have such fun with, or that staff member I love connecting with, or those incredibly talented kids who make me so proud when they choose to shine... there are lots of reasons to love my current scenery.

    But there are reasons to leave too... I don't want to go into them here, but they are pretty heavy. On bad days, they are all I see.

    So how do I really discern what God is saying? Should I stay, or go? How do I remove my fickle emotions from the equation and just listen to God? How can I be sure about which way to go?

    I'm praying that once I've pushed on all 3 doors one will swing wide open, while the other 2 will stay closed. I'm hoping it will be that obvious.

    I want to make the best decision here, not for me, but for God's kingdom. I want to get the direction right. Everything else is just details.

    But there's this annoying small voice in my head telling me that, probably, this time God expects me to listen to the subtle, still voice and trust that I'm hearing right. Scary stuff!! What if I get it wrong again? I don't want to miss God's best because I made the wrong choice.

    I wish I had a fleece to throw outside overnight... you know... a bargaining tool with God, to test the waters. (Oh wait.. actually, I have two!! Dare I use one in that way???)

    It's pointless asking for people's opinions, because sometimes God asks us to do the most seemingly ridiculous thing (like God becoming human - who would ever have predicted that?), the thing everyone warns us against (like Jesus going to Jerusalem when his disciples told him he would die if he went), or the thing we really don't want to (like Jesus asking the Father to give him a way out from the cross).

    That's what I would love. I would love for someone else to just tell me what to do. That would be the easy way. But since when does God ever take the easy option? The wide road leads to death. The narrow road leads to life.

    So here I am again... in a place of humbly waiting on God. Which I guess is the whole point. Which way now? I still don't know, but I'm trusting that God does, and that in his time he will tell me.