Just another WordPress.com site

Archive for November, 2012

Restored Vision

I have been struck lately by how God is with us in dark and light places. Last week God saw me through a dark place where I’d lost my hope amid stomach woes and regular school stress. I was not left alone when I’d lost my way, as I wrote in last week’s blog.

This week something Mysterious happened that is hard to explain. Light broke through the dark place. Hope snapped back into place and I feel changed. One of the songs we sing in our community has a line, “Oh I have been revived.” That’s what I found myself singing. Last week I was talking early retirement and this week I thought, “Nah, I’m good here, in fact, I think I kind of love this job.”

So what changed? A few things happened last weekend that rekindled hope. For one thing, my dear friends Lyle and Bev and Marilyn all offered me words of hope. “Don’t give up.” “You’re not alone.” “This too shall pass.”

They also let me bend their ears. It wasn’t even so much what they said but that they stayed with me when I felt I was at my worst and listened and told me they were praying for me. In fact, I knew others in my community were praying, as we always do for each other.

The scheduling problem that was giving me grief at work got addressed, at least for now, and that helped too. But I rediscovered the “Why” of my job when I found Love and Spirit bubbling back up in me. Scripture says “When there is no vision, the people perish” (Proverbs 29:18), and I think my inner glasses got a bit of a cleaning up. I’ve heard that when we know the “why” of something, we can do any “how”. I can only say that God answered prayers and reminded me why I am a teacher.

My students and I at the zoo

It’s not like every student is easy and without challenges that feel beyond me. It’s not like I am not exhausted and in need of a break and sometimes wonder how I’ll get through another day, especially after the marathons of report writing and parent interviews.

But there’s something else that kicked in again when I started my days with the kids. In the give and take of relating to them and teaching the lessons, I saw that Love flows through all the million interchanges. The same Hope that got rekindled for me is what I pass on, so I know the source is God.

On one day, the Math lesson seemed to come alive and kids began to see the connection between addition and multiplication. Light bulbs were going off and I thought to myself, “Is there a luckier person anywhere than me?” Of course, other light bulbs remained dim, and many lessons are not successful, but even that’s ok. We are all on the spectrum between light and dark in this lifetime and the point is that God doesn’t love any of us less or more. We are all precious. We all belong. God is reaching out for all of us, all the time.

I hesitate to write all this because I know how easy it is for me to lose my way. I know that I will slip back into the darker places again where I’ve lost the vision. I will wonder, “Was I deluded?” Future blog posts will reflect these struggles I am sure, along with God’s answers.

There is a story in the New Testament about someone who finds a treasure hidden in a field. “He is ecstatic – what a find! – and proceeds to sell everything he owns to raise money and buy that field.” (Matthew 13:44, Message translation)

This story came to mind as I noticed my worries of losing the treasure I’ve rediscovered this week. When I lose my way again, I can remember the treasure which not even moths or rust can destroy (says scripture again), and set out again to find it. I am so blessed to have a community in search of that same treasure, which for us is God and the Christian path. And when I am lost and have forgotten even to look, I remember that God is looking for me constantly.

On Wednesday night, our Mark study group reflected on the story of Jesus feeding the 5000 people. Jesus and the disciples were stressed out and in desperate need of a break. Instead of down time, they were faced with a huge crowd. After Jesus taught, the disciples urged him to tell the crowds to disperse and find food for themselves. But Jesus felt compassion for the crowds and decided to feed them like a good host. The disciples thought it wasn’t possible, but Jesus took what little was offered (5 loaves of bread and two fish), and miraculously changed it into

The folks from Watershed

enough food for 5000.

Our community reflected on the many times when a little became a lot, where God provided for us when it didn’t seem possible. Not just in a physical or financial way, but also by the spiritual or emotional empowerment we have often received in our 25+ years of being together.  God is so faithful to us even when we are not entirely faithful to him.

This abundance from God despite meagre human offerings certainly was my experience this week. Faithful friends, prayers heard, restored vision. How else can I explain the revival of my spirit?

Open for Business

By Tuesday of this week, I thought it had finally happened. It’s been 1½ years of getting a blog post out every weekend. Looking between the cracks where God faithfully opens my eyes, at least a bit, and provides some kind of answer to the question of the blog.

But this week, I thought the well had dried up. “I will have to put a notice up on the blog on Saturday,” I mused with more than a little cynicism. “Due to circumstances that are too tangled and messed up, we are closed. Come back next weekend.” One of my favorite jokes from The Simpsons is the sign on the handle of the Quik-E-Mart store. On one side it says, “We never close,” and the other side says “Closed for the first time ever!”

It is obvious by now that this did not happen, for here I am, typing away once again, setting out in this exercise of hope, saying no to the cynicism that sometimes pounds on me with hurricane force. The act of typing words of hope this morning, of being “back in the saddle” when I didn’t think I would be causes a prayer of thanks to well up in me to God.

The outer circumstances don’t look like much – the reoccurrence of stomach flu which I’d had less than two weeks ago, added to the regular stresses of school. This combination made for a perfect storm for my inner critic to pay a visit.

It’s difficult to describe the torment that comes at night when I can’t sleep and am left alone with thoughts that seem all tipped over on the doubt and cynicism side of the cart. I was convinced that I should retire early from teaching, that I am a “has been” and am no longer able to do this admittedly challenging job. Convinced that it’s too difficult and I can’t make it through another day.

I know I’m not unique, but when you’re going through it, doesn’t it seem like you’re the only one? That you’ve got it worse than any known human being? But of course, that’s part of the lie isn’t it? We separate ourselves from resources at the very time we need them the most, thinking we are unreachable.

The reason I’m back to blogging about it though, is despite what I felt at the time, I wasn’t alone with that torment. As soon as I reached out my hand for help in prayer, I found God was there the whole time.

What happened was that at 3 am, a Word came to me like a life rope. I remembered something from our Wednesday night study only a few hours earlier. Paul had reminded us that the deepest challenge on our walk of faith is to hold both Good Friday and Easter Sunday in balance. We go through trials and difficulties and like Jesus, we feel separated from God. (Didn’t Jesus cry in anguish on the cross, “My God, why have you forsaken me?”)

But we also experience the odds miraculously winning out on the side of resurrection. What seemed dead and clearly past hope, comes to life and breathes again in God’s rescuing hands. If we live only in Good Friday, we give in to the doubts and fears. If we live only in Easter Sunday, we live in triumphalism where we are not being honest.

At 3 am, I remembered about keeping these two sides of the Story in balance, and I had the thought, I better start standing against the flood of anxieties and pray. Not that I hadn’t been praying until that moment, but something in my will kicked in.  Was this a real prayer where the others had been in doubt? I’m not sure, I just know that a verse came to me and I just began to repeat it, holding on to it like a life raft amid the storm.

“The Lord is my Shepherd. I shall not want.” Psalm 23:1

At those moments, I felt anything but “not want”. My life felt like a big canyon of “want”. I want happiness, I want sanity, I want more peace, I want a less stressful job, I want to get this incessant school planning out of my head, I want a less messed personality, I want a healthier intestinal tract. I want. I WANT!

But against this crazy flow of thoughts, I repeated the mantra, remembering the Other Side of the coin – the side where God rescues, and God has always rescued me, despite myself, despite the crazy feelings. Where even in tough experiences, God never leaves me without meaning,  love and hope.

Today is Saturday, and my want list is still there in some ways. My stomach is still gurgling for one thing (doctor tests are underway). But on Friday morning, I woke up with a line from a song repeating like a mantra, and this strange sense of peace. The lines were,

“Drink this wine and eat this bread,

By your Spirit we are fed.”

Scripture says that we receive a peace that passes understanding, and that’s what stayed with me all day, more than less. Christian tradition calls that God’s consolation, and I know it won’t always be there, but I know that no matter if my experience is Good Friday’ish or Easter’ish, God is always with me, making sure the blog post sign stays firmly on the side of, “We never close.”

“We share in the terrible sufferings of Christ, but also in the wonderful comfort he gives.” 2 Corinthians 1:5

First Things First

“First things first.” I’ve heard it said that God speaks in short sentences, and this is the one that kept coming to me all week.

I’ve been writing lately of making a switch in my evenings and holding off on the to-do list in favor of reading or writing. I started toying this week with the order – maybe, I thought, I ought to get the school work out of the way and then sit down to read, but I knew that it wouldn’t work. “First things first,” I kept repeating to myself. Often, the outside world demands attention, but “first things first” is the order of the day. Like a soldier carrying out orders, it is the new normal.

The phrase was made famous by Stephen Covey, the author of Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, a book that our community studied years ago. “First things first” is the third life habit out of 7 that he says will guide our lives to “true north”, the direction we most desire our lives to face. It is a book filled with wisdom which has guided many of us at Watershed over the years, including our kids who studied the teen version of the book together a few years ago. According to Wikipedia, U.S. President Bill Clinton read the book and invited Covey to Camp David to counsel him on how to integrate the book into his presidency.

Covey has a great analogy showing the importance of this habit. He talks about the “big rocks” of our lives – those things that reflect our deepest values. Time with loved ones, reading books that inspire, exercise, service to the community/church, recreation,  learning and study, a cause, a project dear to the heart, teaching or mentoring others, time for reflection, meditation and prayer. Writing for me is a big rock, as is studying scripture, singing and being with my faith community.

Covey says that if we first fill our lives with the countless small stones that fritter away our time, we’ll never fit the big rocks in later because the jar is already full. Small stones are the non-important things that feel pressing but can swallow up our time. They can be urgent (interruptions, distractions, some phone calls, most e-mails) or non-urgent (spending too much time on the Internet, mindless TV, escape activities). Someone called this the “tyranny of the urgent”. Big on this list are the dramatic inner crisis that feel so important but are not – insecurities, worries, moods, physical discomforts. The list is endless.

“First things first” says Covey. If you put the big rocks in first, the small stuff can fit in around it. He calls this a shift in perspective, or paradigm shift. Scripture has a great verse that I would like put on my gravestone, “Seek first God’s kingdom, and all these things will be added unto you.”  (Matthew 6:33)

My old perspective believed that the goal of each day was to get a lot done. It sounds logical and effective, but when it came time for fitting the to-do’s of my deeper values in, time was up and I often felt frustrated.

What I have noticed in this re-prioritizing is this: I feel more myself. When I get back to the to-do’s later, they don’t feel as urgent and pressing as before. It’s not that I necessarily “feel” better, but there’s something about trusting in True North that reminds me of the Why and more important, the Who of my life.

Jesus calms the storm- drawn by Barbara James Lyon

This week in our Mark study, we looked at some stories of Jesus getting interrupted. His to-do’s pressed in all around him: preach and heal the sick who all clamored for his attention. In one of the stories, Jesus was in a boat on the lake with his disciples. He was exhausted from a day of work and fell asleep when a huge storm hit. The disciples paniced, but Jesus was so deeply anchored in his faith that he was able to sleep. After he calmed the storm, he asked his disciples where their faith was.

I wish I could say I was more like Jesus, calm amid each day’s storms, but usually I begin to panic over many things, like the disciples. Jesus reminds me of the change in perspective that happens when my sights are set on True North. I take a breath and put down the many small stones I’ve been anxiously grasping and pick up one of the big rocks instead.

P.S. – If you’d like to see an older, somewhat cheesy video of Covey explaining the big rocks, here’s the link.

A World Within A World

This week I’ve been mulling over a certain phrase. I’ve just finished the famous and wonderful autobiography of C.S. Lewis, Surprised By Joy, and I learned that one of the things he used to say over and over in his classes was, “The inside is bigger than the outside.”

The mythical wardrobe from the Narnia books is a good example. The 4 children are playing hide and seek in the house on a rainy day and are having fun enough. This is the outside of their experience. But when one of them enters the wardrobe, a whole new and more expansive world opens up, that of Narnia. The inside of a closet became bigger than the outside.

Apparently, Lewis was fond of saying this often to his students. I would say it helps me understand why writing this blog has served to bring me to a deeper experience and understanding of God.

The things we all experience are like the “outside”. We drive to work and listen to the radio – news and weather reports, sports, music. We park our cars. We enter the work day and experience the usual dramas, challenges and tasks, boring or fun. We prepare and eat food. We interact with people. We experience setbacks. We take part in our recreations.

Looked at from this perspective, life is hum-drum, repetitive and a certain wonder that we had in childhood can start to escape us as we become habituated to routine.

The journals I used to fill up every year are a good example of this. For some 40 years, since Grade 5 in fact, I filled the pages with handwritten accounts of my days. Perhaps I wanted to grasp on to life after our family experienced the death of my sister Hildi in 1968.

If you were to take a peek into my closet, you might be surprised at the stack of them. They were filled with the chronicling of the outside of life, for the most part. I tried going deeper, and I’m sure I sometimes did, especially in more recent years when I began to write out daily prayers and hopes that I had. But for the most part, I wrote about what I “did” or experienced each day. Fun or difficult, it was like the children running around in the house before their great adventures began.

The life-changing question that Paul Patterson gave me, “Where was God in my day?”, has been like going into the inside of things. This year, I have stepped way back from journalling as it dawned on me that it was only serving to keep me skittering on the surface of my life. I still pop in occasionally to write of important events, like my father-in-law’s death, milestones in Joel’s life, or important movies, concerts and celebrations we’ve taken in. I began to realize that the real journal of my deeper thoughts was in my blogposts. I have not missed it, and I have grown to love blog reflections more and more. They serve to ground me every week in my deeper values in a way my journals never did.

Take this week for example. In the old days of journalling, I would have written (once I’d felt better) about the 1½ sick days I had to take, and the agonizing feelings of having the flu and a bad headache at the same time . I’d had written about the frustrations of body limitations and wondered why.

Besides venting, I’m really not sure how useful this account would have been to me or anyone in the long run. We all experience illness and frustrations. As I lay recovering in bed, a far more useful reflection point was asking that question, “Where is God in all this?” I was feeling useless and pretty down, and when I looked at things from this perspective, I had every reason to keep feeling useless and down. Even asking the question, however, gave me cause for hope as I remembered that God is in every experience.

And I did experience God. First in the love of Joel and Lyle, who themselves didn’t just see me as the zombie walking in the house. In their acts of kindness, they reminded me that I was worthy of love and not just the scorn I was feeling from my body. I experienced the same from the kindnesses of co-workers and friends.

I also experienced God as I kept hanging on to the thought, “The inside is bigger than the outside,” and I said it like a mantra. The outside (feeling sick) was certainly not giving me hope, but remembering that God had an “inside” to this kept me going. Every experience can be transformed by God for the healing of the world. “Nothing is ever wasted,” said a wise person.

And so I took consolation in this mysterious truth. God can use this difficult  experience to build compassion and empathy in me for others when they are sick. Sickness can turn our thoughts negative, and it helped me remember that there was more to life than my current overcast thoughts. God is here.

C.S. Lewis himself wrote about keeping a diary, and it illustrates well this distinction between the inside and the outside. In the last pages of Surprised by Joy, he wrote that when he turned from Atheism to believing in God, one of the benefits was that it cured him of the “time-wasting and foolish practice” of keeping a diary.

You put down each day what you think important; but of course you cannot each day see what will prove to have been important in the long run. (C.S. Lewis, Surprised by Joy)

This was confirmed in him when he began to write out his autobiography. He began to read over his old diaries and he said they did not prove to be nearly as helpful as he had hoped. I’m afraid this will prove true of all the stacks of journals I’ve still kept in my closet!

Asking the question, “Where is God in my day?” is just like wondering what is most important in the long run, like Lewis wrote. What is more important than writing out the events of my days, I’m finding, is lifting up layer upon layer, and finding God’s way of seeing the world.

In the closing pages of the seventh and final Narnia book, The Last Battle, Lewis writes perfectly about all this, so I’ll end with it.

The further up and further in you go, the bigger everything gets. The inside is larger than the outside.

Lucy looked hard at the garden and saw that it was not really a garden at all but a whole world, with its own rivers and woods and sea and mountains. But they were not strange: she knew them all.

“I see,” she said, “this is still Narnia, and more real and more beautiful than the Narnia down below. … I see…world within world, Narnia within Narnia.”

“Yes,” said Mr. Tumnus, “like an onion: except that as you continue to go in and in, each circle is larger than the last.”

Tag Cloud