Everyday Lucky.

Forgive me some self indulgence, but there’s nothing like spending a few days sick in bed to make you grateful for all the wonderful things that surround you. I get sick very very seldom, and getting hit by a nasty bug last week (Dr- you can’t go to work for a week. Me- Oh my GOD they are going to be crabby with me!. Dr- No they won’t. People find shingles repulsive. They’re not going to want to be around you) made me realise just how much I rely on my good health and my ability to do all the things for all the people, all the time.

But now I’m up and have makeup on for the first time since Saturday I’m just feeling full of love and gratitude (kind of like a drunk guy with all the ‘I love you man’s) and want to take a moment to reflect on all the things that are amazing about my life. This year has been tough with Jasper’s surgery and all, but as we have always said, since the day he was born, it could be so much worse. 

Now there’s none of that #soblessed crap here. Many of these things stem from the pure chance that I was born in a developed country. I’m so happy to be an Australian, with all the freedom that offers. Living in Australia provides medical care and education and welfare for those who need it and so many other things that we take for granted but other countries only aspire too. And of course, the opportunity to vote in two months in an attempt to elect a government that truly cares about the needy and vulnerable in society is a right that we should never over look.

I have an amazing husband. Who is good with money. And who is patient. And who is a great father. And doesn’t criticise whatever plan I’ve just come up with…

Children who are just the most amazing little people I’ve ever met, and who I wake up excited to see every morning (which usually happens immediately as often there is one sleeping nose to nose with me).

A job I adore. Teaching has to be one of the best careers anyone could choose. I’m constantly glad that the ‘oh god, I guess I’d better be a teacher’ decision 20 years ago panned out so well. And the fact that my hours mean that I have a chance to volunteer in the community too- many people just cant do that because there just aren’t enough hours in the day.

Beautiful and supportive extended family. I’m so lucky to have a sister who is my best friend, parents who are still alive and I see most days and even a 95 year old grandmother.

I live in a beautiful part of the world, in a cosy and creative home. I mean, look at what I wake up to every morning…

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Enough money to feel and clothe my children. Enough to give to others in need. Enough to mean that for most of the time, I don’t have to spend time thinking about how to make ends meet. So many in the world do not get this luxury.

Good health. Pretty much all of the time. This is something that none of us should take for granted. I should probably eat less sugar but…nah.

Great friends. Who make me smile and who make me think. And who are fucking hilarious.

A place in my life where I’m really happy. Some people ‘find themselves’ earlier than others, but some people never do, so I’m calling early 40s not a bad time to go ‘I’m happy with who I am’. There is of course room for improvement, but this doesn’t come from a desperate need to ‘find myself’. Spiritually, and in so many other ways, I’ve found my place, and now I can just focus on the fact that  all you need is love (well and food and shelter and an equitable welfare system and clean air…)

There are things that I dislike about the world, of course. Injustice, hatred, just a lack of love and acceptance. But I’ll try and have an impact where I can and trust that other people will do the same. That’s all any of us can do.

I think it’s good to reflect on all the things that we have to be thankful for. For most of us I suspect, this list is a lot longer than our gripes. What else would go on your list?

 

 

The one about Agape and Tattoos, Part Two.

 

So, I had a mystical experience.  And I wanted to always remember it. Given I’m a vegetarian I am not going to cut animals in half and dance around in the middle of them, I decided to get a tattoo instead.

And you know what I found out?

People love their opinions.

I actually wanted to get it 6 months before I actually did. I confided my plan in a work friend, who told me that tattoos (in the place I planned to get it) were ‘trashy and bogan’, and I would look like a skanky whore.

YOU DONT WANT TO LOOK LIKE A SKANKY WHORE, DO YOU???

Well no, I really didn’t, thank you very much. So I decided not to get it. Phew, lucky escape!

(Although whorishness would be quite biblical, now I come to think of it)

So I didnt.

But I really wanted to, you see.

I suppose I hadn’t quite realised how much I worried about what other people think of me. A lot, apparently.

And the irony of being given a manifest example of God’s unconditional love, yet still tying myself in knots about what one person thought of me, will be apparent, of course.

Anyway, after a little chat with my soul, I went ‘Fuck it’. And I’m really glad I did.

I love it so much. LOVE IT.

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(In your face, Leviticus 19:28)

And when I told my friend about it, she said ‘Well that is very ugly. I was right’, and then she enlisted some other people to laugh about it, and tell her how funny she was, and agree with her that it was the worst decision I’d ever made and omg what is wrong with me, don’t I have any sense of humour at all, just relax jeez.

So after various other machinations that are just too exhausting  and ridiculous to recount, I told her that didn’t really want to spend that much time with her anymore. And that, in turn, caused her to spiral into a fairly unstable mess. Which I do feel bad about, because I never want to be the source of anyone else’s distress

I suppose there are a few things that could be explored here. We could examine the fact that, despite God’s overwhelming love, we all act badly sometimes. We could look at how hard it is for us to believe in ourselves. Or the fact that just listening to someones idea and supporting them is usually the right thing to do and telling people that their tattoo is ugly is always a bad idea, because they are kind of permanent, you know?

But probably, at this moment in my life, the thing that I need to really think about is that, despite the fact that I think I actually experienced God’s manifest and unconditional love, I still worried what people would think of me, and I still didn’t act in a very forgiving manner towards someone.

Seriously though. The ultimate creative energy that formed the entire universe thinks that I am pretty great, and some woman that I didn’t even know that well completely threw me off my game, and as I result I acted in a pretty unloving way, because my ego was hurt.

My ego calls far too many of the shots, I’m afraid. It’s the worst.

Fuck, we are just so very human, aren’t we? Just so incredibly moral, so much of the time. Of course, though. Of course we are. We’re supposed to be. That’s the point, isn’t it.

But is standing up for what is ‘best’ for yourself, but at the same time hurting someone else, exactly the opposite of the love that we are meant to show for other people?  Surely a learning experience that started with my discovering the ultimate source of pure love should not have ended with me wanting to have nothing to do with someone ever again. I don’t want to have to go all Luke 6:29, but I can’t help but think that this was the sort of thing that was being referred to; showing unconditional acceptance, even in the face of exactly the opposite.

Maybe I’ll do better next time?

But, as Richard Rohr says; ‘The ego hates losing – even to God’.

Hmmm, maybe that quote should be my next tattoo…

 

 

 

Peacing Out.

 

So at the moment, what seems to be incredibly therapeutic for me is reading about Francis of Assisi and listening to Dylan. Apparently I’m a 17 year old boy, but what ever works, hey? So it would be remiss of me not to share this song, which is more of a metaphor than a straight out love song. Of course, though, because it’s Dylan.

And given that TWO PEOPLE during the last month have read and enjoyed books that I have mentioned here on the blog, I kind of feel like a finger-on-the-pulse popular culture guru who sets trends all over the place, so it’s essentially a public service for me to share things I love.

You’re welcome.

 

The Unprotected Life.

I’ve had a week of being scared. And of trying to convince people that I’m not scared. My son, Jasper, who was born with club feet and has had multiple surgeries, seems to be getting worse. In that he is in a lot of pain and has trouble walking. So we are taking him to see his specialist in Melbourne next week to see what’s going on. And when I googled his condition and deterioration and further treatments, I discovered that sometimes it ends in double amputation.

And then yesterday he had some strange, enormous pains, and fainted twice in ten minutes, so we ended up in the emergency department. And the doctor told me that they needed to x-ray his chest to make sure that it was nothing ‘sinister’, as they had no idea what was going on. So I, who does tend to catastrophise, admittedly, spent an hour thinking that he had some kind of bone cancer. He doesn’t, it’s probably some weird muscle spasm but they’re not really sure. He also just seems to be someone who faints. In fact, that’s why he is now deaf. He was knocked unconscious 3 years ago and sustained damage that has caused moderate, but permanent, deafness.

But I don’t feel like I can take these fears and worries to people because then I’ll have to deal with their feelings and concerns. Why is it that when we need to share with people, we end up having to look after them? Or is that just me? It’s easier not to tell people things when you know that they’re going to fall apart in front of you, and then you have to be coping for an extra person, as well as for yourself and your children… Being guarded means you don’t have to hold your own feelings up for examination by other people.

I haven’t been reading during the last week; watching The Office all night is just easier. But I picked up a novel this afternoon that I bought some time ago called Chasing Francis; A Pilgrim’s Tale, and started to skim. I’ll go back and concentrate and underline and take notes when my mind is more settled. But it talks about how we need to tell our stories, with all their ‘shadows and fog, so people can understand their own…trying to figure out how to follow the Lord Jesus in the joy and wreckage of life’.

It talks about living a life (Franciscanism specifically, but lets expand it, hey?) thats ‘dangerously open, revealing all that we genuinely are, and receiving all the pain and sorrow the world will give back in return’.

Aquinas described two kinds of souls- the magna animi and the pusilla animi. The first is open, allowing space for the world to enter and find Jesus. The latter is the defended heart. Guarded, suspicious and closed, viewing everything as a potential threat and an enemy waiting to attack.

Maybe sharing our brokenness and our fears with people is the only way that we can authentically connect. In our world of #soblessed status updates, have we have lost the real connection of exposing our souls to others for fear of judgement, or for fear of being known too much.

I’m almost 100% convinced that my catch phrase of ‘everything’s fine, thanks’, is not going to be altered by these musings, but it’s something to think about…

 

I believe?

“I believe; help my unbelief” (Mark 9:24)

I think about these words from Mark a lot.

I believe. But please help my unbelief. Followed shortly by, ‘Where are you God, and what use are you to me anyway?

I know that’s its my smallest, most ego driven self saying this, but sometimes that willful toddler of a self is the most real thing that there is, you know?

Because the times that we are at our most expansive and embracing, seeing everything and more with a beautiful clarity are wonderful, but few and far between.
Why is it that when you really feel that you need God the most; comfort and reassurance or just a smidge of diving reassurance, he seems so far away? And you find yourself saying ‘What is the use of you anyway?

And when you find yourself sitting in church thinking What the fuck am I doing here? I don’t belong here’

And you wonder why don’t people talk more about doubt and unbelief. Am I the only one, you think, or are people scared that faith is like a 3D picture that will fragment from a picture of God and disperse into so many palm trees and you’ll be stuck with coconuts. Or that if you confess that you are struggling then you’ll lose your place on the cool believers table and you’re even more suspect that you were when you were an atheist.

And I think (ok, enough of the third person, we all know it’s all about me) What is the damn point of believing in God if the hard times as a believer are exactly the same as the hard times when you’re not a believer? If the hard times without God are the exact same as the hard times with God then where’s the pay off? What’s in it for me?

Ah, the ego. I’m pretty attached to mine.

But maybe (and this is just coming to me as I write this, because blogging is just a cheap form of therapy after all, and the quasi-anonymous internet is the best place for soul-baring, after all, and what else is there to do at 2am anyway?) the hard times with God seem just the same as the hard times without God because there is never really a time without God.

There is no with or without,
No black or white,
No worthy or unworthy

and it’s our dualistic thinking, our insistence on focussing on how we should feel and what things would look like if we were happy or fulfilled or peaceful that is the real problem. And God is just sitting out there/ within there going, ‘Yeah, I’m going to have to ask you to sort this one out for yourself. But I’ll be right here there whole time. You’ll see’

I believe. Help my unbelief.

For now we see through a glass, darkly.

I still expect to have all the answers, don’t I?

So many shoulds.

I believe; help my unbelief, doesn’t have to be the hopeless concession that I’ve tended to see it as. It’s actually beautiful. We’re human. We do our best. It’s not always that amazing. Or transcendent. Or loving. But as long as we get back up and give it another go tomorrow,

We’ll get there eventually.

What does baptism really mean?

First of all, I’m going to talk about baptism for a while, and then I’m going to ask for your opinion. So this will be one of those posts that needs other people’s feedback to make it complete.

Just so you know.

And I think that this might be a little bit self indulgent, so if that makes you roll your eyes and go ‘first world problems’, then head on over to these great Countess of Grantham gifs and I’ll see you next post.

So, I’ve been thinking about baptism lately. And I’ve been thinking that it’s something I would probably like to do. And what it means.

Is baptism mainly about belonging? About belonging to the faith, tracing back to the Acts of the Apostles and the letters of Paul. And about belonging to a church.

But a church that isn’t, in its most pure sense, a building. Church is a people. A disparate and eclectic and imperfect and wonderful people trying to bring about their best version of heaven on earth, while also trying to navigate their own lives, and other peoples lives, and the tricky bit where everything intersects and what do we say, and how do we say it and what happens then?

People are fantastic. I know that I joke that I’m a bit of a misanthrope, but I’m really not. I love people. I like to be challenged and to connect and to question and be questioned, and to spend time with the energy and the ideas and the stimulation of others.

But what I don’t like is to be exposed. And I don’t like the walls to go down too far. Because you can connect with people deeply, and forge friendships and make a pretty good go of life without opening up yourself too much.

I know that some people would say that you can’t, but you can.

But I don’t really think that you can say, in front of a group of people;

I repent of my sins…

I turn to Christ…

I commit myself to God…

Without pretty much exposing yourself completely. Don’t you think?

I’ve read that it’s an ‘outward sign’ of an expression of faith, which immediately puts my back up. Outward sign? What, for other people? An expression of faith for other people to accept?

Or maybe it’s much more than that. It’s about God and I. But I thought God and I were doing pretty well. Will getting baptised cause me to be anything in God that I am not already?

I suppose I’m a bit confused at what it’s all about.

Because it will take a bit of interior realigning for me to get there. Which I can do, of course, but it would take some work.  But doing something just because it’s what people ‘do’ when they are a christian isn’t something that I can connect with on an authentic level.

So what is it all about? Do you think it’s necessary? What does baptism mean to you?

Over-quoted bible passages…

Are, I think, usually over-quoted because they are fantastic. There’s always the temptation to go all hipster and find an obscure passage to fall in love with so you can be all ‘I dug Ezra 8:21 before it was cool’, I suppose, but (sigh) 1 Corinthians 13;4-7

Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

It is just the best. BEST. I read this passage at a funeral two years ago, and it would have been equally appropriate to use at my wedding 13 years ago (except I didn’t because ugh, bible and religion).

I’m finding this verse particularly pertinent at this stage of my life, because GOD HELP ME PARENTING IS HARD. Wonderful and great and all that stuff but hard, too. Hard as in lay your head down on the kitchen bench in the middle of a conversation and close your eyes, or pray, or use the worlds worst swear words to yourself for a minute, hard.

Every year has it’s ups and downs, of course. This year has been…tricky. My eldest son was diagnosed with hearing loss a few months ago and now has hearing aids. Which was a shock, of course, but now I get to yell ‘PUT YOUR HEARING AIDS IN, GRANDAD’ a lot, which is fun and give the whole thing a bit of a comedic upswing.

But the main challenge for me at this stage is Maths and my Anxious Child. And the patient and kind love that I have to show to him, and, in turn, the 9 year old Eva.

Backstory; my 9 year old first manifested OCD at the age of 5*. This year we have discovered that he also has high anxiety. Which we kind of knew but an actual diagnosis makes it a bit more real. So, OCD and anxiety. You can imagine. Or you can’t, which is good. Not imagining how hard anxiety and OCD are packaged into a 9 year old boy is good. Because it’s really shit and a bit heart breaking.

And you add to that Maths.

Archie is not particularly bad at maths. In fact his recent grade three tests show that he is above his grade level. But that doesn’t mean that any wrong question isn’t greeted with tears and trauma and end-of-the-world apocalyptic really big feelings, which also tend to be loud and angry. When he doesn’t understand something, he really doesn’t understand something. And his brain locks down and he just can’t take the new ideas on board. I thinks it’s the finality and the injustice of it all. ‘But I went through all the steps properly! How can this be wrong?’

Which is exactly what happened to 9 year old Eva when she was trying to learn maths (I went to third person. Is that weird?)

Because when I was a child (and now), I really didn’t understand maths. And it scared me and challenged me. So people decided that I was difficult, and part of our family lore is that I made such a fuss about doing maths in grade three that the teacher had to stop teaching it to the whole class. Because of me.

This is a story that is still told, by the way.

And I was so resistant and stubborn that everyone gave up trying. This is what I’m told.

Did I mention I was nine?

So when my Archie gets so upset about the fact that he can’t do that maths that he cries and yells and blames me and everything is JUST. THE. WORST, I remember…

Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

And I say to him…

I’m not going to give up on you. I will stay with you in the tricky bits, and the messy bits, and through the angry and the yelling and the sad. Because I love you, and I understand that you don’t always know how to behave. And you don’t know why you feel the things that you feel, and sometimes these things make you angry. But I will be here, and I will try to be your stillness, and when you are ready then we will keep going. Together.

And I like to think that God feels this way about us. Patient, kind and there when we are ready.

Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

Never giving up, even though we yell at the problems and sulk and be our very-most-not-best selves much more often than we would like to admit. Reminding us that, with a sense of perspective, the problem that we are raging it is probably not that huge on a scale of one to eternity, even if it seems pretty damn insurmountable right now.

Although maths does, and always will, suck and I will be having a strongly worded conversation with God about it one day.

Edited to add; I’m studying a course at the moment, and coincidentally we are looking at Paul this week, with a focus on this passage. As it turns out, Paul was actually giving the Corinthians a bit of a schooling, and essentially telling them that they were the opposite of all the shiny and nice things in the passage. Paul being his usual know it all self takes the gloss off it a bit for me, I must say 😉

*the same age as I first developed OCD, incidentally. Which isn’t really related but is so completely related because I want so hard to ‘get it right’ with him.

This has nothing to do with parenting or maths but I took it here at home last month and it's pretty.

This has nothing to do with parenting or maths but I took it here at home last month and it’s pretty.

Telling people to F- off is not an option.

In the last month or so, on hearing that I’m a Christian, people have said the following things to me; ‘How did that happen?’, ‘Really, you don’t seem like a Christian’, or ‘Wow, that’s really interesting. Could you tell me about it?’. *

Actually, the ‘how did that happen??’ is kind of wryly amusing. I’m currently working with a man that I’ve known in a round about way for about 20 years, and is friends with my (extended) atheists family members. We’ve been chatting and a few times he has made ‘Omg Christians, right???’ jokes to me (which I once would have been right on board with), and I thought I’d let him know just so he doesn’t feel too uncomfortable if/when he finds out.

So I told him, and he literally didn’t believe me. As in, laughed out loud and stared at me in shock for a minute. And then, ‘How did that happen???’. And I laughed kind of made fun of myself (as you do) and laughed at him when he joked that I was probably now going to be a pedophile and basically didn’t account for myself in a very impressive way

I need a good story. More than a tweet, less than a blog post. Something that I can tell people when they ask ‘how did that happen???’. Without poking fun at myself, or my faith, or apologizing. Something where I don’t I blither on and make vague comments and giggle a bit and say ‘But I’m not, like, a gay hating biblical literalist or anything’. I’m not looking to evangelise anyone (If I accidentally made someone a Christian I’d probably be horrified) but I would like people to respect my choice, and the best way to do that is to craft my words carefully.

I need to think of something to say that explains myself without over explaining. Something that doesn’t involve, as one friend suggested, telling them to fuck off and mind their own business. Because I’m fairly sure that’s not very Christian…

*My faith isn’t something I open with. Or really discuss much. But it has been coming up recently for some reason.

Has being a Christian made you a ‘better person’?

So, interesting side effect of my new found faith is the changes that have appeared within me. Some I’ve deliberately made, (but too few of these, sadly, as I have the will power of something with very little will power. A puppy?) but when I look at my life a year ago and my life now, there are some real and fundamental differences that, while unexpected, are welcome. Not necessarily at the level of ‘Better person= selling all my shit and moving to Africa to care for orphans’ different, but growing into being more fully myself is probably the best way to describe it.

Apparently I’m a late developer. Your 40s are the new 20s, right?

Some of these are elements that I never really loved, but just assumed it was ‘how I was’. Despite decades of reinforced patterns though, they seemed to have shifted without any conscious effort on my part. I don’t know. The Atheist Me would scoff at the very entertaining of the mere thought that fundamental things about me have changed since I accepted my faith. But I don’t listen to her as much any more.

Which makes me wonder; has Christianity made you a better person? For those of you who chose to become a Christian, how (if at all) are you different as a person now as compared to before you found faith?

And for those who were born into faith, how do you think your faith makes you different from someone without it? This is obviously tricky because you don’t have a ‘before’ to base it on. But is there another path that you might have gone down, do you think?

Of course, this is all subjective and I’m not trying to prove any point. I’m also not defining ‘better’ so really, go for it. I’m just interested. I know enough now to realise that nothing is ever just me. If I experience it then I’m fairly sure that a million other people have also had the same thoughts (sob, not special) and I’d like to hear how this may have manifested for you.

Tweaking the Examen

Last year was a really crap year.

I can’t say that it was the worst year of my life, but it was very, very ordinary. Kind of what I imagine a marathon to be like except with fewer people holding out cups of water along the way and clapping for you when you finish.

I didn’t feel that I was carrying out my roles with any degree of skill, grace or accomplishment. The competing responsibilities of mother, teacher and housewife were constantly banging up against each other, without enough hours in the day to do any of them properly. As for daughter, granddaughter, volunteer, friend and person with any hobbies, they totally fell by the way side.

I took a month off work at one stage, trying to get some balance, and things became lovely. I did all the extra parenting that I’d been neglecting; helping at school, baking bread, leaving little flowers on the pillows of freshly made beds and making sit-down dinners with discussion topics.

But after the month was up, it was back to work and more mismanaged jerry-built, cobbled together semi-coping.

When you look at advice about balancing competing responsibilities, you will get suggestions such as delegating, outsourcing or letting things go if they don’t matter.

None of that was going to work for me. I couldn’t see any ‘extras’ that needed pruning. The things that needed doing this year were going to be the same as the things that needed doing last year. Same places, same people, same number of hours in the day.

But something needed to change, obviously.

So knowing that I didn’t want another year where I was just getting by, and knowing that there was nothing that I could abandon or pass on to someone else, I wondered if there was something that I could add that might help me calibrate everything just enough to get some joy and contentment back in my life.

I’ve mentioned before that prayer has never really been an intuitive thing for me (unless saying ‘Oh for GOD’S SAKE!! counts. If so, then I’ve been nailing it for years). In the past, after stressing, yelling, over-thinking, crying and staring off into space, I may go, ‘Oh well I guess I could have a pray then’. A kind of fall back contingency plan for the times when everything else has failed. A last ditch effort to salvage something when, to be honest, the horses have usually bolted.

But I knew that I needed to have some structure and plan to my prayer otherwise I’d ramble on for five minutes, start a to-do list in my head and give it up after 3 days as a failed project.

But what about if my to-do list became part of my prayer?

Enter the Morning Examen. A way that I can talk to God, plan my day, reflect on how best to go about things and envisage ways to deal with issues that may come up along the way.

I don’t follow the model in the link exactly but my guess is that you’re not supposed to. I’ve been getting up a little earlier for the past few weeks (5 am instead of 5.20 am) and I think that I’ve tweaked it perfectly for now.

Gratitude
This tends to essentially be along the same lines all the time- thanking God for pursuing me so relentlessly and faithfully over the last few years despite some pretty obstinate and bad tempered opposition on my part. I think I’ll always be thankful for this.

Feelings
How am I feeling about the day ahead? Do I have some worries or nervousness that I need to let go? If I go into the day with baggage then it’s hard to really approach it with joy and anticipation. I’ll sit with these feelings until they disperse, realising their transient nature.

Planning
Here’s where I walk through what I’ll be doing today. What situations will be meeting me that I’ve dealt with less than ideally in the past? Where will I need to show extra grace or receive it myself? Where will I be challenged today or where can I help meet someone else’s needs?

Colloquy
What one sentence do I want to say to God now as I embrace the new day? What do I want, feel and anticipate?

So, that’s it and so far, so good. The year is still young but there seems to be less fixed-grin white knuckled winging it than previously so I’m chalking it up as a success at this stage.

Speaking of prayer, I’m also praying the Lord’s Prayer till Easter. It’s put together by some amazing Bible teachers so I’d encourage you to have a look.