Grace for the moment

It’s been a big (but good) couple of weeks.

Scratch that, it’s been a big (but good) couple of months.

In case you haven’t managed to follow all of this as it happened, the crazy all started straight after Easter with a trip to Canberra for Jess’ graduation, then we had our Vanuatu visit, which seemed to flow straight into the first book launch, which was followed less than a week later by the second book launch. Then I had a few weeks of finishing up at uni, packing up my office and being given lovely farewell lunches, and then I was off to Los Angeles for a week. I brought my sister back with me from LA and we’ve been doing family things for the last week or so. It’s been pretty hectic.

In fact, by last weekend it was starting to feel like Christmas. On Saturday we had a big wider family lunch together at my Uncle’s house (my great aunt, and aunts and uncles, and cousins and second cousins), and on Sunday we all went to church (Mum and Dad and my brother and sister and me) and afterwards came back to our place for lunch and collapsed in a heap. That’s what Christmas feels like to me – family and church and exhaustion and good food. I think we ticked all the boxes. The weather wasn’t quite warm enough, and we were missing some important family members, but all the rest was right.

I’ve enjoyed all the fun things we’ve done. I really have. It’s been so great to catch up with people and meet new people and have excellent conversations. The trips overseas were amazing, and the book launches were a dream come true. But there have been aspects of the last few months that have been challenging for me as well.

On the plane over to LA I was listening to The Screwtape Letters by CS Lewis, narrated by John Cleese. It is absolutely brilliant (of course). If you don’t know what this book is, it’s a series of letters from the demon Screwtape to his nephew Wormwood giving instruction on how to get a patient (that is a person) safely into hell. It’s sort of Christian instruction from the opposite point of view. Very clever. And Cleese shows his brilliance in narration too.

One thing from the book that stuck in my mind was the phrase ‘grace for the moment’. Screwtape was telling Wormwood that he needed to keep his patient’s mind focused either on things he had messed up in the past, or things that he was worried about in the future. That ‘our Enemy’ (that is, God) had promised grace for the moment, and that if the patient could keep living in the future or the past then he wouldn’t be able to access the grace that God had promised for the now.

It’s so true, isn’t it? If we are focusing on now, living in the moment, depending on God for the energy only for now, then it is so much easier than trying to access grace for things that may never happen.

And if we look into the future too much, there is a great variety of possibilities, many different ways that things can go wrong, many eventualities to worry about. But only one of these possibilities can happen in this trouser leg of time and we only need to face that one possibility as and when it happens.

So that has been my experience over these last few, very full, weeks. God has given me grace for each moment and I have come through rejoicing and grateful.

I don’t want to promise too much, but things seem to have slowed down a bit now. I’m starting to get the washing under control, and to clean up the mess that happened when my uni office was moved into my home office, and to go for walks and cook my own dinner instead of relying on easy meals and takeaway.

And I have plenty of wonderful memories to look back on.

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Brownie points

On Thursday nights there is a prayer meeting at church that I want to want to go to. There is no typo there. I find it hard to get there – it’s the end of the day, I’ve usually used up all my emotional energy, I don’t want to leave my warm and comfortable house and have to talk to anyone anymore. This is no reflection on the people who are there – they are some really close friends of mine, or on the quality of the meeting – it’s an awesome time (in the true sense of the word). I just often find it hard to lever myself out of the house and go.

I went last night though. I put on my jacket and walked down to the chapel in the dark. Past the supermarket with the final remnants of Easter shoppers stocking up for the public holiday, past the small group of people waiting in the council carpark for the Vinnie’s van to come and give them free bread, and down to the chapel with it’s beautiful windows all lit up from the inside.

The door was locked.

Well, that was ok, the leaders usually walk in through the big church and up into the chapel, I’ll keep walking around the courtyard and to the other door and…

That door’s locked too.

At that point I smiled, and turned for home, grateful for the walk and grateful for the night off.

When I got home I told the boys that it was cancelled and said, ‘I get all the brownie points for going without having had to stay’. Then we all laughed. It doesn’t work that way. It just doesn’t.

Sometimes we think that all our good works are like a bridge to heaven. But if they are like a bridge across a chasm, they are like a rope bridge that is slightly too short. No matter what we do, we will not be good enough to reach the other side. And a rope bridge that is only attached to one side of a chasm is more like a ladder down into a pit.

That’s the good news. That is the news I celebrate each Good Friday. My works are not good enough and God did something about it. Something that cost him everything, that caused him intense pain such as I will never experience, and something that is enough.

Because of Jesus’ death on the cross I have a way to cross that chasm. I can talk to God now. I can know his love for me.

I no longer have to ‘scrabble, scrape and scrooge’ my way through. I don’t have to be in control. I don’t have to beat myself up for every little error I make. I don’t.

It’s not a licence to be evil, not at all. But now, when I do good, when I try to be good, I am coming from a position of gratefulness and wanting to return to God just a smidgeon of what he has wonderfully done for me.

Sometimes I forget and I start to try to work my way into God’s good books. But folks, that is really not how it works. The bible talks about our names being written in the book of life and that’s the only good book that matters. The only thing I had to do to get there was repent and believe.

I don’t know where you stand today. But if you’re not in that book of life, I want to encourage you that it’s wonderful to know that you’re safe. And if you know your name is written in the book, let’s rejoice in what our wonderful Saviour has done for us and forget about boasting in our good works.

No brownie points needed here.

The same 24 hours, but…

Have you ever been told by someone, probably someone on the great interweb, that we all have the same 24 hours in the day and that if you just woke up an hour earlier, or went to bed an hour later, or somehow jigged your life so that you weren’t wasting precious minutes, you could actually achieve your dreams?

I remember watching a video to that effect, it pictured a guy practicing piano in his basement at night when he could otherwise have been watching TV or sleeping or something, and in the end he had all his friends over for a little concert and it was a delightful scene.

I watch these things and I get all excited and I want to change my life to fit more of my dream in. I become determined to just squeeze a little more into life, to sleep a little less or to somehow rearrange things so I can fit more in. But I have decided lately that the whole premise  is not true. We don’t all have the same 24 hours. It’s a lie. Or maybe a half-truth.

I’ve been in a strange place lately, one that I’ve never been in before. I’ve had days when I’m energetic and days when I’m totally beat. Maybe because one day the thyroid medications are working at the correct level and the next they are not. I’ve had days when dragging myself up the stairs to my office feels like climbing Mt Everest and other days when I can run up the stairs with barely a second thought.

One day I’ll be feeling amazing, and the next, I’m lying on the couch unable to think.

Now I’m no stranger to having low energy levels. And I think I can remember some other times in my life when I’ve had great energy – like when I was doing weight training twice a week and walking for an hour every other day. Or the time when I decided to take up baking as a hobby, deliberately messing up the kitchen and then cleaning it again. But I’ve never had the energy available to me change this quickly before and it’s given me new insight.

Let’s go back.

When I was diagnosed with my thyroid disorder I was living a normal life. I was teaching and researching at uni three days a week, tutoring on a fourth, writing (or trying to write) on the fifth. I wasn’t doing anything extreme but I was tired. So tired. And I wasn’t sure why. I was trying to exercise but failing. I was trying to eat well but failing. I was trying to follow my writing dream and I was managing that some of the time. But I couldn’t understand why I couldn’t fit much into my days. Why cooking a nourishing meal just was too difficult to fit in. Why it was so hard for me to get even half an hour’s writing in.

But none of these problems were my fault. It wasn’t that I was eating badly or not looking after myself, my energy levels were low because I was sick. Not because I was unfit, or not trying hard enough, or not believing in myself enough. No. I was struggling because there was something wrong and I needed to find out what it was.

Once I started taking the blessed and wonderful tablets my world changed. Suddenly I could fit a whole heap more into my day. It was not that I stayed up later or got up earlier, though occasionally I did, but that I could do more with the hours I was awake. I would think,‘Maybe I’ll make muffins’ and then I’d make muffins. I would think ‘If I just whipped around the bathroom it would look so much cleaner and I’ll be less frustrated’ and then I’d pull out the cleaning equipment and ten minutes later the bathroom would be clean. It was amazing!

Then I had to have some surgery. Nothing big, but it required a general anaesthetic. And suddenly I was back at square one again. I still went to work, cooked, tidied, washed, did everything that I had to do. But there was no margin in my energy. I would be more likely to sit on the couch for just that little bit longer, to surf Facebook just that little bit more. I couldn’t think enough to write, I had to let myself recover.

I’m starting to feel better now, it’s been over three weeks since the surgery and I’m healing, I think. I hesitate to suggest that I’m better, even to myself, maybe I’ll relapse again tomorrow, or do too much, and it will be ‘tired, so tired’ again. I’m definitely not at those high levels of energy yet.

And these fluctuating energy levels have taught me something. We might all have the same 24 hours in the day, but we don’t all have the same amount of energy, and therefore we don’t have the same amount of useful time. When I am energetic, the amount I can get done in a day increases dramatically. My dreams are within my reach. I can put in ‘just a little bit more’ and I can accomplish so much. But when I am tired and my body is unwell I can’t perform in the same way. Everything I do takes just that little bit longer and I take longer to recover from any exertion.

Therefore, I contend that we don’t all have the same 24 hours. We cannot judge ourselves by what someone else accomplishes each day. That person might be one blessed with huge amounts of energy and they will be able to achieve heaps. But we must not call ourselves lazy or undisciplined just because we achieve less in the same amount of time. There may be a reason (like thyroid disorders, depression, glandular fever, or the horrible CFS) for your tiredness, but I also think that everyone is just made differently and each of us has different energy reserves. A bit like spoon theory I guess, spoon theory even for people not struggling with a chronic illness. (Can I say that?)

Many of us want to achieve our goals and are working towards them as best we can. We’re not going to get further faster by beating ourselves up because we’re not as far along as Betty-Sue or Gregory. Maybe we all need to accept ourselves and each other just a little bit more. Stop calling ourselves lazy and start giving ourselves a break.

Remember you’re a human being, not a human doing. You are valuable just because of who you are. Rest in that and enjoy doing what you can. And I’ll try to do that too and be patient with myself as I heal.

Behind the scenes

In this novel that I am writing, one of the main characters owns and runs a cafe. I didn’t think she was going to be that important when I started but now that I am getting to know the characters better I find that she is pretty essential to my main character’s well-being, to the plot, to the whole thing, really! She might even be more important than the murder in my murder mystery. She’s a great person – I hope you love her when you finally get to read the book.

Anyway, DH suggested that maybe if I’m going to write about owning and running a cafe, I should learn something about the process. Just to make sure I wasn’t making any mistakes. I thought that was sensible advice so I took it. We have an friend that we know through church who used to own a cafe and I asked her if she would mind having a chat so that I could learn what it was like. She was very accommodating (I find that people generally like helping me out with this book thing, although it might just be that I have awesome and generous friends.) and we met today for coffee and a chat.

You know what? I found out that I know nothing at all about running a cafe! I hadn’t thought about rosters, about debtors and creditors, and ordering in food. I hadn’t thought at all about having cooks working in the kitchen – heaven’s knows where I thought the food would come from! Perhaps I thought it just cooked itself! I hadn’t thought about much beyond what you see as a customer in the cafe and there is so much going on behind the scenes.

She told me a story about a lady who came into her cafe with her daughter. My friend asked the daughter what she would like to be when she grew up. The little girl said that she would like to work in a cafe. Her mother said, ‘well, I think you’re too smart for that!’ Apart from that being terribly insulting to my friend, the other thing is that this woman really didn’t understand the layers of complexity involved in running one’s own business. The health and safety regulations, the superannuation, the budgeting. There is so much involved and so much brain required.

It’s like that for many of the businesses we see – we only see the smooth sailing of the duck on the top of the water – we don’t see the paddling like crazy that happens underneath. We often don’t appreciate the amount of work that is going into giving us a reasonable customer experience.

And as we talked I realised that I knew nothing at all about what was going on behind the scenes in my friend’s life. I didn’t know (until today) anything about her struggles, her family, her ups and downs. All I knew was that she was a stylish, friendly and generous lady. I knew the smile, but I didn’t know the pain behind it. I would never have got to know without taking the time to have coffee and a chat but I’m so glad I took the time. Now this woman is one of my heroes. She has gone through so much and come up smiling and she deserves so much respect for that.

There’s a saying that the most complex fictional character is less complex than the simplest of real people. Each one of us have lives that may look simple on the surface but are so much more complex underneath. Each of us has our own battles to face, our own struggles to learn through, our own difficult people to work with.

I guess I’ve just been reminded today that I can only see the surface and that you can’t judge by the surface. We don’t really have a clue what’s going on underneath and we might just be horrified if we did. Maybe we should treat each other with grace, kindness and respect at all times, just in case!

That locked in feeling

I’m having a little problem with my car. She’s a lovely car, very reliable, totally fun to drive and I don’t want to say anything against her really but I think maybe she loves me too much and is being over protective.

You see, although I have very politely asked many times for her to stop, she will still lock the doors whenever I start the car, locking me in. I think she is concerned that someone will car-jack me at a traffic light or something but I feel that’s unlikely to happen.

Also, once the doors are locked, they are very reluctant to open again. I click the button and I hear the mechanism unlock but then the door immediately locks itself once more. At the moment, when I wish to get out of the car, I must wind down the window (that’s manual by the way, no electric windows in this car – which may be a good thing the way things are going) and find the lock with the key and turn it to unlock the door. The lock catches inside the doors broke years ago. They just flap uselessly.

And I have a fear that the driver’s door will start to act like the passenger door. That one sometimes can’t even be opened with the key. It immediately locks again as soon as you release pressure on the key. If that happens on the driver’s side then I will be reduced to climbing out the window Dukes of Hazard style. That will not be graceful!

So I can tell you what DH will be working on this weekend!

Now unlocking through the window is a reasonable work around and most of the time it’s ok. But I have to admit that this morning when I turned up to work and parked and found myself locked into the car again, I almost decided that it would be easier to spend the day in the car. Almost.

I think that like most people, my ability to handle small frustrations like this is totally dependent on how I am feeling about everything else in my life. If life is going smoothly and I am not feeling overwhelmed then I can handle the little things, I can laugh at the little things, they are small pebbles in the road of life and I am glad to have them happening because they give me something to write about. But  when I am having an off day, when I have not slept well and my head hurts and I have a busy day ahead, then these little issues become pot holes at the very least, jarring me, shaking me up. And sometimes they are pebbles in the shoe, constant small irritations. Or they are mountains in the road. Enough to stop me from moving forward.

The car locking mechanism has been playing up for a few weeks now. No-one has had the time to work on it and I haven’t worried about it. It’s been an intermittent problem and I’ve been fairly intermittent in how I’ve responded to it. Some days it’s been amusing, some days irritating, and mornings like today it’s been almost enough to send me back home and back to bed. (The day got much better, BTW).

Many of the letters in the bible start with the words ‘Grace and peace to you’. If you know you’re forgiven and loved, if you are surrounded by that grace, then you can extend peace to those around you. You are able, from your place of forgiven-ness and unconditional loved-ness to respond peacefully to these irritations that come your way. If you know the supernatural peace that comes from knowing that there is a plan, that you don’t have to be in control of every circumstance, then you can extend grace to those around you and allow others to be irritating within the cushioning that comes from the grace.

I think it’s like breathing in grace and breathing out peace. Then breathing in peace and breathing out grace. And laughing at the little things, the imperfections in life. Because this side of eternity there will always be imperfections, even if it’s something as small as an overprotective car.

So for you my readers I pray ‘Grace and peace to you’ and I hope you pray the same for me. And I hope that after tomorrow I will be able to jump out of my car easily again and will never take it for granted!