We live in a 105 year old house in Winnipeg’s inner city. One of its best unique features is a second floor balcony which I use constantly in the warm months. Now that the weather is cooling, I am still crazy enough to head out there before work in the mornings, coffee and Bible in hand, along with blankets and sometimes even a heating pad, determined to hang on to the “outdoor quiet time experience” as long as I can. My cats usually brave the weather with me and keep me company, each competing for lap space. The best part is watching the bluejays, chickadees, nuthatches and woodpeckers pay a visit to my feeders, each with their beautiful sounds. From where I sit, I see my neighbor’s roof, an apartment block, our maple trees and some grand old elms way off in the distance.
Even though the weather forecast was predicting high winds by noon one day this week, it was still quiet at 7 am and I sat studying the trees. Their branches were beginning to sway and maybe it was all the hurricanes in the news lately, but I began to marvel at how a tree usually stays strong during a storm. The beginning of a school year brings that challenge to me, asking me to stay strong amid life’s faster pace. This particular week was a difficult one with my old headache battle. Would my branches and limbs hold steady? Sometimes I felt myself snapping with the challenges. As always, these tests are what bring me to prayer. Nothing like limitation to remind me of my dependence on a higher power.
Recently a friend has been going through a wind storm of challenges of her own, and something she said has been coming back to me lately. “There is something about the Christian story that offers a center that will hold,” she wrote in an email. Over the 25+ years that our community has been together, through all our ups and downs, “the gospel has had the power to hold people together over the long haul.” This life of faith has substance which is a glue during tough times.
As I sat watching the tree soon to be swayed in the windy day ahead, I thought about this phrase, “a centre that will hold.” My eternal temptation when times get tough, it seems, is to wimp out. How can love prevail when my head is pounding and my lessons don’t feel planned enough? It often feels crazy to pray nonetheless, trusting in a reality I cannot always see with my human eyes. I held onto that image all week, stepping out in faith that the Centre, which for me is Jesus, would hold me together.
And it did. Despite my wonky neck and too many deadlines making my head swim, I found myself feeling grateful this week.
Grateful for friends at work who made me laugh despite myself and helped me out with lesson advice. Grateful for our Wednesday night study which held reminders about this invisible world of faith running deep like a river beneath the appearance of things. A desire to stay tethered to faith got stirred up in me during this mid-week meeting.
I was grateful also for my students. I certainly have my times of impatience, but in my deepest heart, I love those kids. As my dear teaching friend Karen said to me lately of her new class, “I like my kids. I even like the ones I don’t like.” I laughed and said I understood perfectly. In my heart of hearts, I am glad for each one of them. They challenge me to respond in a way that brings out their better selves. I certainly don’t always pull it off, but they are good teachers for me. There’s a certain joy that comes as I exercise this muscle. In last week’s Winnipeg Free Press, local celebrities talked about a teacher who had made a difference in their lives. Ace Burpee, a local radio personality, talked about a grade 1 teacher who was “kind, fair and patient.” All week I kept rolling these 3 words in my head and soon it turned into a daily prayer. “God, help me to be kind, fair and patient today.” I think I’ll make this the prayer for the rest of my career!
I also oddly found myself grateful for my physical challenges, such as they are. Perhaps the more accurate thing to say is that I’m grateful that physical challenges are not the only reality and that God is greater. I’m also grateful for the chiropractor who helped me yesterday, but limitation always reminds me to lean on God. My mother-in-law battles Parkinson’s every day, and on the phone yesterday, I reminded her of our prayers and love, and I knew that this heart-felt wish came from empathy that God grew in the garden of my own battles.
As I type these words, it’s another windy day in Winnipeg, and I’m watching the same trees in the distance, swaying in the wind. I’m grateful for my friend’s reminder of the Center that holds no matter what the weather. Where would I be without this?