Wednesday, March 26, 2014

The murder of a child

I usually finish every book I start. Some weird compulsion thing I have. Tonight, after getting half way through a book, I skipped to the end, and then did not go back to read the rest. Why? In part, because the book was not what I was expecting, but more because it was an account of pure evil. 

After several disturbing scenes involving abuse of various types, when I reached the scene in which a child had been murdered, I found I could not go on. The child's murder was not detailed, but the murderer then kills his mother. What got me was that just as the murderer starts in on her, she sees part of her child's body, and realises the child has been killed. I couldn't read any further. 

I know it's just a story, but I also know that this kind of evil exists in our world. I know it happens, but I can't understand the kind of evil that would murder a child in revenge, nor can I understand the author who can conjure up and give life to this kind of evil. 

Of course, I assume that it was easy for the author to write this story. Maybe it wasn't. Maybe the author really struggled, maybe it was written in the midst of constant tears. 

But as I pit the book down, having satisfied myself that at least the story sees some justice in the end (even if I know that that's a Hollywood ending, and that in real life, most times there is no justice on this side of heaven), I felt almost physically sick at the way my one felt violated. 

I couldn't go to sleep with that junk knocking around in my brain, as otherwise I would have nightmares. I've recently been having a bit of insomnia coupled with middle of the night paranoia (we have a mouse or rat or squirrel or something that seems to have taken up residence in the ceiling again), so I don't need to add nightmares to that mix.

So, I turned to my Lent Bible reading devotions. All of today's readings were on holiness. What is holiness? Who is holy? What does holiness look like in this day and age? I know it's Lent, and that holiness is a major theme, but I don't believe that it's coincidence that it was the theme being explore today. 

I was reminded of Phillipians 4:8 Finally  brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable - if anything is excellent or praiseworthy - think on such things.

Let's hope that as I fall asleep tonight, my thoughts will be drawn to holiness, not to thinking about the murder of a child.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Just do it

That was my advice to a group of teachers and principals over the weekend. I was delivering a workshop on the flipped classroom, and was encouraging them to stop thinking of excuses, and just to start, with a single lesson if needs be. Yet I know how hard it can be to just start something, how difficult it is to take my own advice.

Over the last few weeks several different themes have come to the fore in my life - about where I find my identity, about my purpose in life, about my strengths and talents, about my spiritual gifts, about the importance of self-leadership and character development. Foundational to all this is my relationship with Jesus.

As part of my struggle over the years since Zoe died I have lost the habit of a daily time with God. At various times I have heard the call to return to it, felt the encouragement of God, yet I have failed to implement it, for a variety of reasons. Now, once again, I have had my eyes opened to the age-old truth that I need to spend time with God, and in His word, on a daily basis, if I am to grow and develop as a person, let alone as a believer.

Just do it.

As I have been pondering Lent, I realised that I have already given up so much (sugar, grains, carbs), that there isn't really anything I can give up in my diet for Lent. I could give up technology, but then I couldn't do my job, so that doesn't really work. I don't watch TV much, so that wouldn't work. Instead, I felt led to take something on.

So, rather than making grand plans of what I will do in these times, or how I will try to schedule them into my day, or which devotional method I will use, etc. I have decided to just start.

Just do it.

Sunday, March 09, 2014

Who am I? Who are you?

The theme and question about identity is one that we all grapple with, some of us more frequently than others; some of us to a deeper level than others.

Who are you? How do you define yourself?

For me, I guess I've always defined myself by my name, my relationships, my job, and by the things I love to do. I am a Masureik; a wife and a mother, a daughter and a sister; a Christian; a Saffa; a teacher; a reader, a dancer, a speed freak, a gadget lover, a pianist.

But is this who I am, or just what I do, and how I'm connected to the world?

I guess, if I'm pressed, I would also define myself by my characteristics. I'm loyal and trustworthy, faithful, hard-working, passionate, with a deep sense of right and wrong. I hope my family and friends would say I'm friendly, loving, kind, forgiving and generous, but I also suspect they would speak the truth - that I have a horrible temper and can be intimidating, cold and stuck-up, not to mention being a liar.

Most of these are as a response to fear, because, actually, I'm a terribly fearful person. I'm afraid of being abandoned, of being hurt and wounded, of being cast out, of being left out, of being over-looked, of my life being meaningless. I'm scared of getting things wrong, I'm fearful of the depth of my own emotions and their potential to rip me apart, or of my entire life being spent in grief.

So who am I really?

People talk about 'finding themselves', as if they lost themselves somewhere along the way. I learnt quite early on that I am capable of deluding myself. I believe what I want to believe about myself. I don't think I need to 'find' myself, so much as try to discern which of my inner voices speak the truth.

All this sounds like I'm about to have a nervous breakdown, or something. But I'm not. Promise. I'm not even feeling morose or moribund! On the contrary. I haven't felt this positive in a long time.

As it happens, our church has recently finished a sermon series addressing this very question. I didn't get to hear most of the sermons in the series, so it wasn't very helpful to me. LOL! What I did take away from it though, is that my identity is not based in what I do, or my relationships, or even my characteristics. Rather, my identity is simply this - I am a child of God, adopted into the Family by payment of the ultimate Gift. Everything else follows from that single source of identity.

Flowing from this position, I have done the Gallup StrengthsFinder survey (if you haven't done that, it's well worth the R100 to do it!) to try to work out how I'm wired. And it was so spot on. All the things I've known about myself for years I finally have the language to talk about.

I am an achiever, a task-orientated person who loves lists. I get stuff done. And lots of it*.

I have belief - a deeply rooted set of core values that dictates how I live my life, standards to which I call myself (and those around me) to live up to.

I am an activator - someone who gets others to get moving and do stuff, who energises, motivates and encourages others to get moving with a task.

I need input - I thrive on gleaning VOLUMES of information. Talk to me and TELL ME STUFF. Let me browse the web, Twitter, Facebook, ScoopIt!, Feedly, news websites or whatever for information. Give me books to read (I can read several books in a day, if I'm motivated enough and have no interruptions).

I am a learner - someone who doesn't just need information, but likes to process all that information and make connections between it, understand the deeper way in which information is connected.

These are just my top 5 strengths. (I don't want to spend R1000 to learn about the other 30 or so.) This is how God has wired me. I don't need to make apologies for who I am. I need to start living confidently in who I am.

At the same time, our church is doing a sermon series on spiritual gifts. These are not necessarily the talents you're born with (although they can be 'upgrades' of a natural talent). These are things that God gives you when you become a Christian. Once again, doing a quick questionnaire has told me what I always knew.

I'm an administrator - I like organising people, processes, resources and tasks so that things function efficiently.

I'm a teacher - I get a HUGE kick out of making gospel concepts easier for people to grasp, and then making it practical so they can see how to apply it to their lives. (Of course, that doesn't mean that I always apply it in my own life... LOL!)

I'm a leader - someone who helps to cast vision, motivate and direct people, all to accomplish God's purposes.

When you put these two different assessments together - one secular, one spiritual - it's pretty obvious that I lack many of the softer people skills. I'm much more of a task-orientated person. I'm not completely devoid of people skills, but they're definitely not my area of strength. But God hasn't wired me that way. I don't need to apologise for it. Instead, I need to look at the positives of how God has wired me, and lean into that. Yes, I need to think carefully and be deliberate about emotional intelligence, but at the same time, I can't go around spending all my time trying to be something I'm not, at the expense of not being who I am.

And I am fabulous! I really like all the things that I am, and the gifts that I have. I like me**.

I've been reminded about who I am: a child of God. I've been reminded that God has wired me a particular way for a purpose, and because I now have a better understanding of what that wiring is, I am in a much better position to discover my purpose in life.

And isn't that what all of our searching to 'discover' ourselves is actually all about? We want to know who we are, because fundamentally we want our lives to have meaning. We want to have a purpose. Unless we know who we are, and how we function, our lives can never be truly meaningful.

I know that, for now, I'm in the right place as far as my employment is concerned. As far as God's kingdom is concerned, I know I'm in the right place in some areas. Some areas need tweaking though, refinement of purpose. Experience tells me though that God will move me on in those areas when the time is right. So, for now, I'm just sitting tight.

What about you? Who are you? How have you been wired? Do you know?
*Take today's check list... get the kids out the door to church as on time as possible, go to church, do the grocery shopping, purchase and wrap a present, put together the material I'm presenting at a workshop later in the week, walk the dogs, spend time with the kids, finish updating manuals on a few aspects of the new database at work, clear my in-boxes, send out emails to everyone to ask them to support my fundraising venture, pick up the dog poo, mow the lawn, do a load of laundry and hang it, check Facebook, finish watching a video on technology & teaching, write a blog post. There were things I didn't get to today, but I'm pleased with what I did manage to achieve today.
** Of course, each of these strengths and gifts has a dark side. If I'm not careful, I can wind up on the dark side - and that person would NOT be a fun person to be around, or to live with. Too much achiever becomes a workaholic. Too much belief becomes a religious bigot. Too much activator becomes someone who is gun-ho. etc, etc. I know that I've been there, and will probably go there again. But rather than focus on the dark side, I want to focus on the positive side, and see the incredible person that God intended when he wired me this way.