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.

    Saturday, July 15, 2017

    Time to say goodbye

    Yesterday we euthanased one of our dogs. It was a particularly heart-wrenching experience because it was the first time our kids lost a pet. Navigating their first experience of loss, and grief, was also a first for us - helping them to know what to expect from the experience while trying to manage our own grief was tricky at times - trying to figure out when to hold it together and when to reveal or own pain....

    But I think my lasting lesson will be my son's unwillingness to accept this. Right the way through he refused to give consent to the process. Even after she had died he kept saying that her dying was not okay, should not be happening, was not what he wanted, was not the best option, had to be stopped.

    To an extent he is absolutely right. While death may be a part of life, it is not natural, and we all feel that instinctively. Death was never a part of creation until Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit.  Only once sin entered the world did God speak of death as a part of the penalty.  Instinctively we know that death is unnatural and instinctively we rail against it. My son's heart cries were holiness in action - a cry against the effects of sin and a plea for God to restore and heal that which is irrevocably broken.

    Our hearts long for that day when death will be no more. But till that day, we are left with the pain of having to say goodbye, of having to live with the absence of the other. I have no answers as to whether or not our pets will be raised to life again, of whether or not we will see them again. It's hard to accept that when our fur babies die they are truly gone forever.

    Thank God, though, we don't grieve as those without hope when it comes to people! Thank God I know where those I love, who also love God, will be and that we will be together again on that day when death is no more! (And how great the tragedy when those I love do not love God - but that is a topic for another day...)

    Sunday, July 02, 2017

    Beyond the river

    Our church hosted a movie night on Friday, and screened 'Beyond the river'.
    This South African story of the friendship between a white and black man, arising from a shared love of canoeing, and their goal of racing in the Dusi, is a heart-warming example of transformation. In these times when there is so much hatred, anger and pain between black and white, it is good to be reminded of our shared humanity.
    There are many lessons to be learnt from this movie - that small decisions can have big consequences; that true friendship sometimes requires us to make hard decisions; that true love sometimes requires us to sacrifice greatly; that things worth having are worth fighting for; that healing is found in forgiveness; that family is not just about people who share your DNA; that grief is personal and different for each of us; that compassion goes a long way to bridging the gap between our islands of humanity; that great courage is necessary for life to be truly meaningful; ... the list goes on.

    The question I am left pondering though, is one that Bill Hybels framed many years ago in his book 'Just walk across the room' - will I have the courage to make the first move, to step out of my comfort zone and walk across the proverbial room?

    Friday, June 30, 2017

    Unexpected visitor

    Sitting on my bed, marking (yes, I know - school's out for the holidays, and I'm still marking... sigh... the life of a teacher!), when I heard a thump on the roof. Initially I thought it might be a burglar, attempting to remove roof tiles, but as there were no further sounds, I then thought it might be a hadeda landing. However, when hadeda's have landed previously, their claws have scraped on the tiles because the pitch of our roof is so shallow. There were no scraping sounds.

    Perplexed, we looked out the windows, but couldn't see anything. I didn't want to go out, in case it was a burglar after all. However, a few moments later, what should fly down from the roof into the tree in our garden, but a Peregrine falcon! I was gob-smacked! I haven't seen one of them in town before, and definitely not in suburbia.

    It sat in the tree, with its back to me, but kept a beady eye on me through the window. I didn't dare move - I wanted a photo, but thought living the experience was more important than recording it (my phone was in the kitchen, so if I had gone to get it, I would probably have missed the experience). We sat there watching each other for several long moments.

    Finally, with a flick of its wings, it took off, and only then did I notice its prey in its right talons. Clearly what I heard was the impact of the falcon catching the dove, and then landing on our roof.

    I believe these falcons have been reintroduced in Cape Town CBD to help reduce pigeon numbers. I know they are also actively breeding on the Tygerberg Hills. So they are clearly around. But it's so thrilling to see one while sitting in my bed. I hope it nests up on the tallest building in the area (a block of flats) and returns soon.

    Since I couldn't get my own image, here's one taken at Arabella Wine Farm, on R60 near Ashton. Thanks to whoever the photographer is! (Their website seems to be down at the moment, so you can find out more about the wine farm here.)

    Thursday, June 29, 2017

    The times they are a'changin'

    I had two interesting conversations today at work. Both surprised me - and I'm not often genuinely surprised by the things people say to me, or about me. So here I am again...

    Humility, true humility, is something I think many of us struggle with. I know I do. I know that I am capable in many areas of life. I hesitate to say I am gifted because I know many people who are far more gifted than I am. I'm more of a generalist. I do a lot of things really well, but nothing really excellently. There are few things that I am not capable of doing well if I really apply myself to them (of course, I'm too lazy & selfish to really apply myself).

    In addition, growing up I was thin, tall and stereotypically beautiful. Given all this, I felt guilty. I felt guilty that I was blessed with so much, while others were not. I felt guilty for other people feeling uncomfortable around me. I felt guilty for being so much better at things than others, for things coming so easily to me. So I developed a habit of always downplaying myself, never accepting compliments. And as we all know, bad habits stick.

    Why do I tell you this? Because today I was reminded of how far I have come, and how far I have yet to go. I've learnt to accept myself more, but I still find it hard to overcome my learnt responses. I still struggle to accept compliments. Now, however, it's not because I am trying to downplay my own abilities, but rather because I see myself more truly than those who see only the outside of me, and I find myself wanting.

    Today I was given a compliment that I have the ability to write excellently phrased letters to parents seemingly effortlessly. I caught myself trying to deflect - I know I don't get it right all the time. Before I could though, this person told me I should blog, because I write so beautifully. Well! Blogging is a TOTALLY different skill to drafting letters - there I go again, trying to deflect (even though it's true). But the comment got me thinking. Why did I stop blogging? If I'm honest, I stopped blogging because I felt I had nothing to say. I didn't want to just rehash things everyone else was talking about - there are others who said it first and so much better than I ever could. I also felt curtailed in writing about the things I really wanted to say and reflect upon, because of professionalism. That left me with nothing much to say.

    And there is nothing worse than reading a blog post that has neither substance nor direction, that skirts around the issues, or says nothing in particular and everything in general. If I wrote, I wanted it to be because it was genuine, heart-warming, thought-provoking, life enhancing, pleasurable, something, anything other than boring and mundane. I may not write for others to read - I write so that my children can look back and get to know the real me, and so that I can look back and see how (hopefully) I've stopped being quite so pretentious - but I do like to be read, acknowledged. And if people are going to read my writing, I want it to have some sort of meaning.

    I suppose the lack of writing, of feeling I had neither something to say, nor something worthwhile to say, was actually symptomatic of a much deeper issue - the fact that I was bored with myself; that my life had become narrow and grey and lifeless.

    It was into that context that the second conversation took place. The second person also complimented me, by saying that I have been a different person this year - glowing with inner beauty. (Wow! Really??) This person asked what I'd changed. Initially I had no answer, but as we chatted I realised that what had changed was my attitude. When I went to the Global Leadership Conference last year (I try to go every year. It is an incredible event!), I realised that I was burnt out, and that unless I made some significant changes in my life, I was going to end up on medication for depression, possibly suicidal.

    So I found myself a mentor, and she has been holding me accountable for implementing the changes I identified that I needed to make. As I've made the changes, and tried to stick with it (some months are better than others), I've found that my life has been richer, happier, broader.

    And so maybe it is time to see whether I have stuff to say again. Maybe my first colleague is right - maybe I should be a blogger again, in practice, not just in name. It may well be that what I want to say and reflect upon I can't really, for professional reasons, but maybe I've recovered enough of myself to have other things to talk about. The times they are a-changin'...