Just another WordPress.com site

Archive for November, 2011

Resiliency

I knew early in the week what my God experience of the week would be. Monday and Tuesday had been more trying days at work with my students. I’m sure all teachers can relate to the feeling of coming home and not really knowing what to do because we’re tired to the bone. Sure, we make meals, clean up, maybe do some marking and other routine tasks, but when it comes to the hours of relaxation before us, we are just exhausted.  A certain depression can set in after we have dealt with students who have higher needs, and we lose perspective. I am prone to depression, but I know I’m not alone in this.

When I get to moments like these, I always know I can’t stay there. Working with children is a huge blessing, but it draws prayers out of me. I need continual hope like I need air and water. I prayed in the evening and especially in the morning, with my cup of coffee and scripture passage for the day. I usually ask for patience with the kids and for the virtues of kindness and wisdom as I face each challenge of the new day.

I have always been told that when we “cry out to God” (that’s how the Psalms put it), God always hears us. I believe that God even hears us if we sigh and don’t put words to our feelings. What I noticed this week was that I received a few very specific answers to my prayers for help.

One answer was a single word that came to me: God reminded me to be resilient. As a young mother years ago, I often marveled at how my own son, Joel, could be resilient in the face of change. We as parents are prone to worry. How will our kids cope with transitions and the sometimes less than optimal situations in their lives?  When 9/11 happened, I remember being so worried at how growing up with the knowledge of terrorism would affect his young mind and heart. I often drew consolation from what I had been told – that kids are amazingly resilient.

“Resilience” refers to the ability to cope, and remain hopeful, even during times of adversity. It occurred to me this week that this was what I needed to exercise as well. Like putting on a jacket against the cold, I put on resilience, remembering that I could take a breath and face another day with confidence that I would receive the help I prayed for.

This one word, resilience, led to the world opening up and expanding again. I received some more, very specific answers to my prayers for help. In particular, I had an “aha” moment of insight into the challenges a certain student was facing. I literally felt like God was whispering in my ear, saying, “Why not try this approach instead?” I asked our guidance counselor and immediately was given a few pamphlets of information to guide my thoughts.

Another answer came to me as I was reminded of the old adage that difficult situations and people are sent to us to be our teachers. Instead of digging in my heels, wishing my challenges were gone, I asked the question, “What can I learn here?” and it made a huge difference in my outlook. Suddenly, I saw my student the way God sees her, as a beloved daughter with God’s image imprinted in her heart. Sometimes the challenges we face can mask that image, which is why I believe that we need to continually practice seeing with “God’s eyes”.

It was helpful during this experience to reflect on one of my favorite stories about Jesus. As part of our weekly Bible study at Watershed, we prepare by answering some questions. One question this week as we studied the gospels was, “What is one of your favorite Jesus stories?”

The feeding of the 5000 is one of my favorites. In this story, there are 5000 people gathered on a hill to

Feeding of the 5000 by artist Justino Magalona

listen to Jesus’ teachings. Lunch-time rolls around and Jesus’ disciples are worried about feeding everyone. They have next to no money, and the only food is 5 loaves of bread and 2 fish from some kid in the audience. The disciples panic but Jesus calmly takes the food that was offered, gives thanks to God and blesses it, and suddenly a miracle happens. Not only is it enough to feed everyone, but there’s baskets and baskets of leftovers.

I grew up with war-affected parents who had known what it was like to lose everything. We always had enough food, but that worry about money was always there. I remember lying in bed as a kid in the ’60’s, overhearing them talk about how they were going to pay the electricity bill, and I snuck out of bed and turned out all the lights in an effort to help.

I think I love this Jesus story because its message of bounty and fecundity is so opposite to the ethos I grew up with. This story teaches that, in God’s world, “There will always be enough”. I’m blessed to know that not only will I have physical needs taken care of in my life, but that I will make it through with more than enough meaning and love. And like the meagre food that the boy in the story gave, the little that I give to God isn’t what is important, but what God does with it, touching my offering with grace and something greater than I can see.

There is a quote by Rumi (the 13th century Persian poet and Sufi mystic), which I love. He says that “Someone always fills the cup in front of us,” and for me that someone is Jesus. He’s someone I love. 

I’m grateful that I was given the reminder to exercise resiliency this week. It’s a small word, like the small offering of 5 loaves and 2 fishes. Like Jesus’ disciples, I’m usually in panic mode but in God’s expansive world, that one word was more than enough to restore me to balance and open my ears to love once again.

Advertisements

Wearing the Right Shoes

This week I found myself thinking about shoes a lot. The snow has started to fall in Winnipeg (finally), and several students came to school with no runners for gym. Off they trudged to the office, more than once, to borrow extra pairs. I myself made a trip to the basement to dig out my winter boots, leaving my daytime shoes at work.

I wear practical black shoes, not as fashionable as some might wear, but they can double as runners if I decide to give my students an extra gym class or plop on the floor to help someone with their work. As practical as they are, they won’t do for my nephew’s wedding next weekend, nor will the boots! A trip to the shoe store may be in my future, or at least a rummage through my closet to see what is hiding in there.

My favorite shoes are my runners, and I was wearing them on the treadmill this week at the Y, listening to a podcast. I heard a great quotation, which stayed with me.  “We walk in shoes that are too small,” Carl Jung once said.

I think what Jung meant was that many of us (myself included) think that we are flawed, born sinful and incompetent. When we think that’s all there is to the picture, we forget that we are also blessed and noble creatures, born to love others as God loves us. Just as tight, uncomfortable shoes can keep us from walking or running very far or very often, tight, uncomfortable thoughts can make us into unhealthy people with too-narrow boundaries on our lives. I’ve often been guilty of wearing shoes that are too small; of forgetting that God’s world is one of freedom and emancipation.

So, to answer the question of this blog, this week I noticed that my shoes felt bigger. Maybe I’ve always had these shoes from God, but I became a bit more aware of them on my feet, making my world a bit bigger.

Richard Rohr (in one of his daily email meditations that I highly recommend) wrote “Why do I have this new desire, this new capacity to love some new people, to love the old people better, maybe to enter into some kind of new love for the world? I even find my thoughts are more immediately loving.”  He goes on to say that this new capacity is always from God.

I read this quotation and found myself nodding. “This is what I feel lately,” I thought. I love people. Maybe it’s weird that at age 50, I am still in recovery from a lifetime of less hopeful thoughts, but there it is. It’s not like until now I’ve been without love for people and life, but there was something in me this week that felt new. Like the old boundaries were being pushed away. Like my shoes were bigger.

Many years ago now, I was blessed to have a wise Bible college prof named Henry Krahn.  He was famous for beginning each year with a certain story. He talked about an eagle who was born in a chicken barn and grew up thinking it was a lowly chicken, pecking away at the grain and never knowing the huge, expansive sky above him. “Don’t be chickens when you are really eagles,” he would tell us with piercing eyes that saw to our hearts. “Spread your wings and be who you are created to be.”

I thought of his story this week as an awareness stayed with me of how expansive life is. One expansive place is the kids at school. I certainly don’t do it perfectly, but there is joy in being an encouraging guide to these little people who are still so open to life. It’s a crazy and busy life being a teacher, but it is a huge privilege to be with them. Many are affected by poverty and issues I’ve never had to deal with, but they are my teachers every day.

I have to admit, however, that by week’s end, old habits of burn-out crept up again, and this sense of awareness left me. But I kept remembering the bigger shoes. Was what I saw true? What would it mean to keep living in God’s expansive world, pushing forward in hope? On Friday night, as my husband can attest, I certainly didn’t feel hopeful. Life felt scattered and too-small again as the day’s challenges just felt like too much.

Writing this blog has become a spiritual practice that helps me immeasurably each week to stay focused on faith. More than anything else in life, I desire to keep my lens focused on God and the universe of God’s love. Like the galaxies around our tiny earth, it is much, much bigger than we imagine. A continual proof of God’s love is that even when I forget, God never does. God is ever merciful, renewing me when I’m spent, reminding me to put on the bigger shoes.

Jesus showed us what to ask for when we pray. “Thy Kingdom come.” Thy Kingdom come dear God, even when our shoes are pinching and we’ve forgotten.

Here is  a prayer for American Thanksgiving. Henry Krahn would have loved it.

Thanksgiving Day Prayer
by Walter Rauschenbusch (1861–1918)

For the wide sky and the blessed sun,
For the salt sea and the running water,
For the everlasting hills
And the never-resting winds,
For trees and the common grass underfoot.
We thank you for our senses
By which we hear the songs of birds,
And see the splendor of the summer fields,
And taste of the autumn fruits,
And rejoice in the feel of the snow,
And smell the breath of the spring.
Grant us a heart wide open to all this beauty;
And save our souls from being so blind
That we pass unseeing
When even the common thornbush
Is aflame with your glory,
O God our creator,
Who lives and reigns for ever and ever.

Lady Wisdom

This last Tuesday, my friend Lorna gave me a ride to work after I dropped my car off for a tune up and the switch to winter tires. We work close to each other so we sometimes help each other out. Talking to a good friend, however briefly, is always a great way to start the day.

“How are you doing?” she and I both asked each other in the 7 minute ride. She was battling a headache, and I the edges of depression, but our quick conversation didn’t become a complaining session. We both reflected on stuff we’d been reading and we mused on how so often we get stuck in thinking these human battles are who we are.

The day before, I had stopped off at Safeway on my way home, and I realized how incredibly tired I felt. Walking through the aisles, all I kept thinking was how I felt dead inside.

I kept remembering that “this too shall pass,” and of course it did, but it’s amazing how tempting these times are. I am tempted to think the passing clouds are the only story there is, but we are so much more than these passing human battles. “Lady Wisdom” (wisdom is often personified in the Bible) can weave her way through our lives, no matter how we’re feeling. We had talked about her in Watershed’s Sunday service the day before and I wondered what she would have to say to me in my tired state here in Safeway. What would she say as Sunday’s wisdom met the grind of Monday?

This is the snapshot I shared with Lorna. Tiredness, headaches, struggles – they’re all part of the human lot we have to face. “I’m trying to remember that I am not my body,” Lorna said to me, to which I quickly said that I was trying to remember that “I am not my feelings.”

In reflecting back over the week, this little interchange is what kept popping up as where I saw God bringing wisdom to bear on my very human life. Like a stone dropped in a pond, the words were small, but they kept rippling in my thoughts. God used Lorna, and I heard the words as a whisper in my ear, reminding me of the bigger picture.

I was reminded of Richard Rohr’s words in the daily email meditations I receive. He said this week that our life’s pains, such as they are, teach us a paradoxical lesson – that we must go down before we even know what up is. Like the title of a book from my childhood, Up the Down Staircase (anyone remember that one?), the way “up” to wisdom often seems to happen whenever we are on the “down staircase” and in some kind of normal human pain – pain that Rohr defines as simply “whenever we are not in control”.   

I don’t know about you, but my first impulse is to resist pain by complaining and letting negative thoughts run rampant. What I’m finding is that this only leads to more pain. It’s like the lesson I learned at my pre-natal classes, over 20 years ago now – breathing deeply and facing the pain as calmly as possible helps you move through it. Bracing against it makes it worse.

For me, breathing deeply looks like this – remembering moment by moment that God can always transform our wounds into sacred wounds, and help us find deeper meaning in them. It’s like I have to make a conscious choice to send my thoughts there, instead of toward darker thoughts. God can use any situation for good.

Remembering this is like taking a deep breath, giving my often jumbled emotions to God, and asking God to give me strength to face the day with courage and wisdom. And like I often remember, I have never yet been let down by God. I think the friends at my house church would say the same thing.

One of my heroes

As I watched the Dog Whisperer (one of my favorite shows) with Lyle this week, I realized God/Lady Wisdom is like the dog whisperer, taming the wild beast in us that would otherwise keep wreaking havoc. We saw how Cesar Milan hold a dog gently but firmly, letting the dog thrash around until it got the idea that there was another way. It could let go of its fear and impulses and surrender to the trainer. We saw a snarly beast (whose only future up to that point was euthanization because it was such a danger), transform into the unconditionally loving gift that dogs are created to be. The transformation needed reinforcement over the next while, but it happened.

One of my favorite pictures about Lady Wisdom is in Proverbs 1:20: “Wisdom calls aloud in the street, she raises her voice in the public squares.” She doesn’t call out to us once we have it “all together” in some ivory tower, but in the nitty gritty of every day. The public squares the verse refers to was the open market of ancient times. Vendors would call out, advertising their wares.

I remembered my time in Israel as we walked through the open market. Small shops on either side of us were never quiet. Just like the verse says, we heard everyone hollering for us to come look at the deal that was better than all others. Lady Wisdom is like one of these vendors, shouting “Hey you! Come over here! I’ve got something better than what you’re trying!” Like the classic optical illusion of the old lady/young lady, we can choose to see her.

We can choose what to see

As we left our Sunday meeting, we were told to look for Lady Wisdom this week, listen to her calling out to us. As Sunday met Monday and I strolled through Safeway, feeling depleted, I couldn’t help but remember this. I wondered what she’d say to me in this market place. She spoke this week, but as I walked, it was enough just to remember her. To remember that my small story wasn’t the only one.  The first thing she said to me the next morning were simple words, “You are not your body. You are not your feelings.”

I felt grateful all week that she called out to me. I seem to have a major memory problem and I keep forgetting all the things she teaches as I fall into the same old habits, but lucky for me, she is always calling out, always speaking, always reminding me of who I am.

Persistent Prayer

“God’s mercies are new every morning.” -Lamentations 3:23

Lately, the sun has been rising at just about the time when I get ready for work. Earlier this week, I called my husband Lyle to come look at the gorgeous red streaked sky as he was getting up. Sitting down to start my blog this morning, another sunrise greeted me. You could almost hear the music in the background. It’s a great backdrop as I form into words where God has met me this week.

It was early Tuesday morning that I awoke for my regular prayer time before work. This particular morning I was feeling pretty down. The day before had been Halloween. The annual party at school had been great and I always love giving out treats to the neighbourhood in the evening, but I was feeling down for a different reason.

In between giving out treats, I had been working on my questions for our Wednesday night study on the theme of Wisdom in the Bible. The last question had been, “What are some of the life questions you have at this time in your life?” I thought back to the question our pastor Paul Patterson had challenged me with a while back. He’d asked me why I often don’t have peace about my vocation of teaching, even though I know God meets me there constantly. Why indeed? Admitting a weakness is never easy. “Here I am, 50 years old,” I thought to myself, “shouldn’t I be heading into my wisdom years instead of grappling with a lack of peace in my heart at work?”

I should say that it’s not that I don’t love the kids or love doing my job. Every day the kids call out the best in me. I love their honesty, energy and kindness.  I love how they soak up new experiences. It’s just that when problems arise, my heart can get troubled and it’s like I’ve dropped the keys to everything and I wonder where the joy went. Answering the questions and emailing them to the group (as we all do) brought the question to my awareness.

One of the wisdom books of the Hebrew scripture (the Old Testament) is the book of Ecclesiastes. It talks a lot about the folly of life, and asks the same question. Where is God in a life that often seems like “dust in the wind”? Where is God when our shortcomings seem to get the best of us? The book acknowledges this struggle, but still ends with a verse that stayed with me all week, “Remember God in the days of your youth”

So I sat down to my early morning prayer time with a heavy heart, with this question for God. Where is the peace of heart that is supposed to pass all understanding? Over the years, Paul has often reminded us that God will always come through for us when we pray with an honest and searching heart.  I hung on to that truth like a life preserver as I sat down to pray.

There’s a parable in the New Testament of the persistent widow. She goes to a judge who doesn’t really care about God or even people and this widow has not received justice against her adversary. She pounds on the judge’s door and for a while he refuses to help. Finally he says, “Because she keeps bothering me, I will see that she gets justice so that she won’t eventually wear me out!” The point of the parable is that if this grouchy judge will help the widow, how much more will God help us in our troubles? The parable also asks of us, do we have faith and persistence like the widow did, believing that God will help us?

I thought about her that morning and all that week. I felt like I too was pounding on the door, pleading for help, refusing to go away. “Help me to remember God that You are stronger than all the doubts I have. Grant me peace of heart.

God answered my prayers. This week I found peace settling back in my heart. It wasn’t just when lessons went well, but in the normal bumps in the road that come up every day. It was like someone pulled the camera back to show the bigger view of things. Troubles don’t need to take my peace away. An image came to me of a ship at sea, and how it is built to withstand storms. I want to be like that ship, exercising long-suffering when things got tough.

Comic by David Hayward

When I had to decide on the experience to share this week in my blog, I kept coming back to this answered prayer. It was difficult to decide to share it because I knew it meant I needed to be honest about my weakness. I’m hoping I’m not the only one who loses equanimity and peace and comes to God with a sad heart in need of healing.

One of my favorite quotes of all time says it all. The playwright Eugene O’Neill (someone who grappled with major depression in his life) says, “We are born broken. We live by mending. God’s grace is the glue.” There’s always two parts to the equation – our fragile human lives so tangled up with troubles, and God who always goes before us and figures out the way through.

It’s like God backed up his message to me with the visual reminders of the sunrises. “I am all about new beginnings,” God said to me. “Every day we start again, a new chance, remembering that we are forgiven and infinitely loved.”

For anyone reading this who is grappling with the first half of the equation, I wish you faith as you pound on the door. God’ll always answer.

Tag Cloud