Give peace a chance

Peace I leave with you, Jesus said to his disciples. My peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid. John 14 v 27

I have got this rest thing all wrong. Been looking in the wrong direction. I have imagined and fantasised rest as an absence of doing, a break from activity. A stretch of time outside normal life, with stress receptors on pause. Hard-won respite from reality.

But without peace there can be no rest. When I finally reach that plateau called rest I am so exhausted from the climb and so tense from the preparation that I cannot actually rest. And resent those around me who can. Forced rest, like forced love, is empty and superficial. A pretty husk. Ultimately pointless. And tiring.

This year has started fuller than last, with a new job adding to the usual stuff that comes with a houseful of children and a micro(scopic) business. I’m working very hard, but despite a well-developed vocabulary for stress and anxiety, I’ve not much use for it these days because, in truth, I’m neither stressed nor anxious. No more than momentarily. Home life is shape-shifting as the children become more independent, more able, sometimes even willing. We’re all growing.

The anxiety of whether I’m good enough, whatever that actually means, is losing its relevance. I wonder now why I wasted so much time on it. I think I now believe that I am able and that such a belief is both appropriate and healthy. Talking to my husband a few weeks ago about work challenges up ahead, I heard myself say that I was going to learn a huge amount over the next few months. There was a pause while we both tried to recognise the speaker. This was new, for me to see opportunities to grow instead of mountains to climb. To be still before the unknown with openness and expectation, not clenched with fear and foreboding. It was like new language had been downloaded into my mind without my having to learn it. A strange tongue.

This didn’t happen overnight. To quote my favourite Bible teacher, Joyce Meyer, there’s no such thing as a drive-through breakthrough.

They who wait on the Lord shall renew their strength. They shall rise up on wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint. Isaiah 40 v 31

And I have been waiting. Expectantly. Like waiting for the man to come to install the heating system or unblock the pipes, I have been clearing my stuff out of the way so that God can get to work. He has heard my often tearful, snotty prayers to please help me stop going around in circles of self pity and introspection, blind to opportunities, blessings and gifts. He has reminded me of the power of worship to refocus and refuel. He’s given me some new practical strategies, too. Instead of staring at the problem until I’m paralysed, I step away for a while. And I have been asking God for help with specifics – that phone call, or phrasing that tricky email, that child kicking off. I get perspective by asking myself where this problem sits in the hierachy of The Worst That Could Happen. Death? Injury? The Wrong Envelope on Oscars Night?

I fall into bed exhausted and sleep deeply, rising earlier than I would like with a whole stack of tasks for the day ahead. But I don’t wake with a knot in my stomach these days, genuinely grateful for each day. The routine stuff of home that used to fill my time and take all day now gets done in a flash or not at all. So much more to do and so much more getting done.

Yes I’m boasting about God because what he is doing in me is worth boasting about.

He has poured peace into the place where anxiety used to smash me up like the blades of a blender. This peace grounds me instead of grinding me,  reminding me who I am. I use it to sift the thoughts that come. I consciously and regularly remember who God is and how he feels about me by reading and thinking about what his word says. And in those foetal moments when I run out of words and ideas – yes those still happen – God’s peace wraps itself around me like a blanket.

Perhaps all the time I wanted rest I really needed peace. The gift direct from Christ himself. I think of how Jesus breathed into the disciples just as God breathed into Adam. It was like Jesus was conferring a new kind of life on his followers. My God-breathed peace is becoming my default, replacing the darkness and negativity I lived with so long. In God’s peace I have space, room to manoeuvre, the choice to respond rather than react. Strength. Energy. Even courage. And in the midst of everything, rest.

Rest

The year that started without a focus let alone a resolution has its own word now. It’s not an obvious one. But it’s the one I have been given to take into this year. The word to keep returning to, checking myself by, measuring myself against.

The more I think about it, the more convinced I am of the simple clarity of starting the year with rest. Judging by the space devoted to it in all forms of media, December is the month for looking back over the previous 12 at lessons learnt, mistakes made, goals met or missed, weight lost or gained. For me, and countless others, December is the month where time, emotion, creative energy and dutiful attendance are all demanded in a continuous sushi train of year-end pageants, plays, concerts, sports presentations, speech nights, shopping trips, cooking marathons, late-night giftwrapping, Amazon marathons, surprise entertaining, carols at midnight, lists and expectations.

So come January I am spent. Nothing left.

Last year, December was, well, largely as I have just described. We had moved back into the house after the fire in September and then I had got a new job. And suddenly it was December. And I was totally unprepared. Not in my usual, exaggerating for effect way, I mean totally. Unprepared.

I realised something was amiss when I and no.3 spent two days looking for the Christmas tree. It took us awhile to realise why we had a box but no tree. Oh, yes, she and I suddenly remembered. The tree was destroyed in the fire. Not burnt, just impregnated with smoke. I had until then forgotten how the house was back then, frozen in time, still reeking of fumes, just as it was when we fled weeks before. It was an eerie experience, which I thought I would always remember. Wrong.

So when I knew that the tree had been binned, along with 15 years of accumulated decorations, I raced out to the nearest stuffMart and replaced it. The matching baubles I bought for it looked a bit alien in our slightly chaotic, uncoordinated living room. Only the star, another cheap and cheerful addition, secured to the top with the help of a cardboard loo roll, looked like it belonged here.

I realised I didn’t remember anything about last year between preparing a guest room for my father-in-law in early December and the fire breaking out on the 27th. Christmas was totally eclipsed. I was surprised by this gap in my memory. I suddenly wanted to sleep for a week. No chance of that, not with the December juggernaut on the move. But I realised the family all felt the same way. Finally Christmas came and we could stop. We couldn’t even be bothered to overeat.

Like last year, this year sort of started without me. Adversity does strange things to your perception of time. It plucks you out into another time zone, contiguous with this one but bending and twisting away from it unexpectedly. I didn’t move into 2016 until about May.

I’m catching up though. 2017 started for me about a week ago, with a prompt to sit with God and ask for a word for the year. I wanted this. I wanted to start in the right place, not waste time and effort pedalling into the wind. If I’ve learned anything from this last year, it’s that  generally, God’s way is the more peaceful and the more powerful. The less I try to control events, people and outcomes the more space there is for God to move. And His moves are infinitely better than mine. So I sat still for a while and I asked for a word for this year. And the word He gave me was rest.

Those who wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength. They shall rise up on wings as eagles, they shall run and not grow weary. They shall walk and not faint. Isaiah 40:31

So I will be learning how to rest over the coming year. How to work from a place of rest rather than stress, how to relax from a place of rest rather than guilt, how to enjoy, love, laugh and live the life abundant Jesus promised.

God made the rest day the first day of the week. I want to learn to work from a place of rest. I have a lifetime of busy-itis to fix. I think a year is a reasonable timeframe to work to.

Just as soon as I work out where to start.

Self. pity

 

We’ve now moved to a short-term rental following our house fire a few weeks ago, with a bit of geographical stability and a space to make our own for the next couple of months. I am now connected to the internet without having to buy endless cups of tea, the kids are back at school, my work is back on track, and we’re all set.  But with this has come an unexpected challenge.

Here it is. For a month or so, a handful of people have known about our situation and helped out in various, beautiful ways.We’ve got on with moving, moving again, keeping our temper (mostly) with the insurance process and all the rest.  At the start of a new school year, with families drifting back from their holidays, other people are asking me what happened. And each time I talk about it, and significantly, each time I sense their sympathy and watch them imagining themselves in our shoes, moisture appears at the corners of my eyes. And everything I then say, and they respond with, adds to my sadness.

When they say ‘oh, you’re so brave, you’re taking it so well,’ I want to lie down and howl. And yet a strange thing happens to my tongue. It stops wanting to say positive things about all the exceptional kindness we’ve been shown, and instead  it describes and lists the loss, the shock, the frustration, all that junk.

I first noticed this when seeing a potential rental house a couple of weeks back. I mentioned it to the agent and her hand flew up to her mouth. If she’d not been holding a clipboard she might have hugged me. A couple of our kids were wandering through the house and she said ‘oh, and your poor kids, oh love, how are you coping?’ Well I was coping pretty well at that point to be honest but I poured out a little bit of self pity and felt a bit less capable after that.

This has begun to snowball into extended conversations with various friends and school parents, all with a heavy emphasis on how terrible it’s all been for everyone. Yes it has been difficult, but in the grand scheme of things it’s all manageable. I know how much God has blessed us in the midst of this, and yet it is so easy to not say that, so much easier to harp on the negatives, which is what the world expects and which pays us off in the sympathy of strangers.

What God is teaching me in this is the wisdom of guarding my tongue. I need to watch what I say because at the end of one of these conversations I feel drained and disappointed, flat and ashamed. Because in failing to mention the kindnesses, the generosity, the hospitality and the support God has given us, I am discounting His work in our lives and our situation, and I’m failing to give him the credit for the fact I can still smile and laugh and make jokes and trust that whatever lies ahead he’s already there and he knows what we need. It’s like realising that worship is not to make God feel good but to make us feel good.

It’s a bit like teaching your children to do something that’s good for them. They think you’re just nagging them because that’s what you live for as a parent. That’s also true, of course ;), but usually it’s for their benefit. Like brushing their teeth. Or practising an instrument.

I have to practise not using my tongue in a careless way so that my words really line up with reality, so there’s no tension between what I need to say and what others may be expecting to hear. For my own sense of well-being and consistency. And to give God the credit that is due.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Relocation, relocation, relocation

The sand has been running in this year for nearly a month now and here I am, just climbing into my blogging seat. Why the delay? Late nights? Late mornings? Too much fun? Not enough?

All of the above, really.

A fire broke out at our house just after Christmas. No injuries, thanks to a cracking team of firefighters who got to our old wooden house just in time. The worst damage was a couple of holes burnt through the floor, an exploded bath and a house that smells like my first barbecue. I had no idea smoke could reach into so many places.

We are now in our third relocation in four weeks. God has kindly provided, and house-hopping has given me great insights into how other people organise their homes (some great ideas), their cutlery drawers and their laundries. We are surrounded by kindness and compassion from friend and stranger alike in a land where our flesh and blood number a total of six, four of them children.

It is humbling and difficult to receive help, even in circumstances like ours. Our sense of ourselves as self-sufficient and generous has had to sit down and shut up while we accept the help and share the space of others, sleep in their bedding and wear their clothes.

It’s not easy to maintain some kind of equilibrium because the children need to see Mum strong and smiling, not foetal and wailing. It’s hard to wait for the wheels of the insurance machine to grind forward. You get the feeling they don’t turn that willingly ;). The shock of it hits us afresh every couple of days. If only I had asked for a time machine for Christmas…

But the emotional and physical toll of our temporary displacement is nothing compared to that on the millions of homeless families who rely on the goodwill of strangers, some victims of bushfires here in Australia, others further afield victims of conflict and political upheaval, all suddenly forced out of permanence, out of stability, out of home. What must that be like?

Next week our school year begins and we have to create a new normality out of the random collection of things we’ve brought from our smoky house. I don’t know how long this stage will last, but I know what I must do in order to keep my balance, which is to tell God (occasionally foetal and wailing, yes) how I feel about it all and then trust him to get on with the clearup operations.

When my heart was grieved and my spirit embittered

I was senseless and ignorant; I was a brute beast before you.

Yet I am always with you: you hold me by my right hand.

You guide me with your counsel and afterwards you will take me into glory.

Whom have I in heaven but you? And earth has nothing I desire besides you.

My flesh and heart may fail, but you are the strength of my heart and my portion forever.

Psalm 73 vs 25 – 26

Lavinia

About three months ago our family visited the dog home. The children and their father were enthusiastic and keen, peering into the cages where the young dogs and puppies waited to be chosen. Classical music blared through speakers on posts near the cages, adding a surreal pathos to the scene. I found it all a bit much, to be honest.

Our eldest stopped and looked at a medium size dog whose cage label said Lavinia. She liked her short black and tan coat, her tufty eyebrows and big brown eyes. She brought me to look first, then the rest of the family. The dog’s dignified name seemed to suit her. Lavinia, a 2-year-old Kelpie Shar Pei cross, found abandoned in a house nearby, lay still while the other dogs barked, yapped or jumped at all the people peering into their cages.

When we met her in the exercise yard the connection was immediate and strong. She was quiet and relaxed, not bounding around in excitement or chasing the youngest, as other dogs had done. She quietly found me and stood by my knees, perhaps sensing my nervousness. I was the least keen to get a dog, my well-worn practical objections revealing themselves as fear in the days immediately before our appointment at the dog home. My only experience of dogs was with Kelly, my Aunt’s terrifying German Shepherd, who as far as I know never left the house and lived under the stairs waiting to eat small visitors.

For a long time the children had lobbied, begged and made ridiculous promises to break down my objections to having a dog. Until recently, circumstances were my ally – we lived in a rental, we’d just arrived in the country, we were about the leave the country, the youngest was still too young…then there was the extra responsibility, picking up poo, vet bills, having to walk the thing, the cost of pet food, restrictions on holiday plans, you name it. I finally had to cave when their father joined in.

Fast forward three months or so. The unimaginable is happening. I am becoming a Dog Person. At the local dog beach I watch her sprint and play with her pals. I know the names of some of the local Dog People, and even their dogs. I carry treats in my pockets and other dogs come up and nuzzle me. I do not recoil. I hardly recognise myself. Except for the times Lavinia stands in my blind spot and I nearly trip over her. Then my objections to dog ownership return. Briefly.

It makes me think. What else do I think I can’t handle that I might actually enjoy?