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'...