This week was emotionally demanding. Sick kids, surgery of a loved one, waiting to hear about a job application and a car that decided to not work, then work, then not work again.
One day in particular, my youngest had a high fever, had maxed out the cling-o-meter and was weak and teary. I was not far off. I decided not to drive to the pharmacy since there was vomiting in the mix as well, and asked them to deliver some pain medication.
A couple of hours later I was still waiting and he was getting weak and his little two-year old body scalding to the touch. A quick call to the pharmacy to check how long they would be, placed me on the line with a man who (with hindsight) was clearly busy. I immediately felt the rage bubble up in my throat as he told me that the driver was busy and would be here, well, when he got here. His abrupt answer was like a red cloth to my Mommy heart and even though I didn't voice the 10 sarcastic answers that came to mind, I fantasised about reaching through the phone and give him a swift slap.
Who did he think he is? My child was very ill and I had phoned early enough to get it delivered on time. I was agitated for the rest of the morning, replaying the scenario in my head, rehearsing what I should have said. Calls were made, sympathy was gathered.
I would love to say that, eventually when the driver came, I met his broad white smile with my own, but sadly, I was determined to punish him for his boss' ungraciousness. I was curt and didn't give him a tip as I normally would. "I'll show them", I thought. I felt completely justified.
But God never smoothes over my ugly. Sometimes I wish He did.
That afternoon, we had to go to the same pharmacy to get medicine for my husband who was starting to get a cold at work. It annoyed me that I had to go. By "annoyed" I mean I felt guilty, knowing the full adult-tantrum I had thrown just hours earlier. As we got out the car I said to my oldest: "Let me go and learn how to forgive". Little did I know...
I was in and out as fast as possible and tried not to make eye-contact. The shame-walk. When we got back to the car, it wouldn't start. My phone battery had died too. My shoulders drooped when I realised that I would have to go back inside and ask for help.
It really is embarrassing for me to explain what happened during the next hour. We were made to feel like guests. The boys got seats at little table for colouring, we were given access to their phones, they offered me paracetamol for the little one's fever and one pharmacist even phoned her husband to get a number for the local taxi service. They were on the phone with my husband and also with the taxi to let them know the exact location when he got lost. The delivery driver came in and met me with the same white smile. I half-smiled, too ashamed to look up properly.
"Let me go and learn how to forgive". Indeed.
See. I re-told this story to a lady who is not a Christian and especially when I mentioned the "f"-word (forgive), she reacted in the same way I did. "How dare he? I hope you complained!" The funny thing about forgiveness is this: It's not funny. It's not easy. It doesn't make sense.
Jesus said so many things that didn't make sense to us: "Forgive and you will be forgiven", "Give and you will receive", "Turn the other cheek." And why? - Because we are inherently selfish, proud and self-centred. That is the 'ugly' that is sitting in all of us just below the surface. Antagonise the thin veneer just a little and it's there for all the world to see. And we cover it up and justify it and egg each other on.
What scared me and scares me now even while I am writing this, is how Jesus saw through us and got to the bottom of it in Matthew 5:21-22 (NKJV):
Murder Begins in the Heart
21 “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder,[a] and whoever murders will be in danger of the judgment.’ 22 But I say to you that whoever is angry with his brother without a cause[b] shall be in danger of the judgment. And whoever says to his brother, ‘Raca!’ shall be in danger of the council. But whoever says, ‘You fool!’ shall be in danger of hell fire.
In that moment on the phone, I DID hate that man. "You fool!" is a lot more timid than what I had in mind. That is why God dealt with it the same day. He loves me too much to leave me in that dark place. He knows that when I fellowship with acrimony and self-pity, I lose my ability to hear His gentle voice.
I am so thankful that He did. And the discomfort I still feel when I think of the situation is my reminder to live light, forgive easily and get back to the plan He has for my life in stead of getting stuck on the treadmill of offense.
I resolved to use only that pharmacy in future if I can help it, as a reminder. A "monument" to the effects of sin that He saved me from.
Today my favourite 11-week old is having surgery. On her eye. *Shiver*
It is hard to describe the emotions I have whizzed through in one day. Anger, sadness, hope, loss, grief, fear, helplessness, jealousy and guilt.
I see other little babies on Facebook and think: Why were they born without a cataract? Do their parents appreciate their sight? I fear that she will be teased one day for wearing glasses. I grieve the loss of her "perfection". Helpless for not being there by her side. Guilty for not being there by her side. Anger at the doctors who made her wait two and a half hours extra before they operated, teasing her already hungry little frame.
And hidden in that list of gloom: hope. You possibly read past it. Hope, that the operation will be a success. That she will have favour with the surgeons and staff. That her parents will be at peace. That her recovery will be miraculously fast. That His Name will be glorified through this somehow. That she will have the coolest eye patch any baby has ever had.
And that is just it. That tiny word: Hope.
Romans 12:12 New King James Version (NKJV)
12 rejoicing in hope, patient in tribulation, continuing steadfastly in prayer;
Romans 15:13 New King James Version (NKJV)
13 Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.
It is more than just a "fingers crossed" or "good luck" or "wishful thinking".
It is the birth place of faith.
Hebrews 11:1New King James Version (NKJV)
11 Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.
So hope is not futile. It's not empty. It 's not naive. Through hope we can rejoice and be patient in troubles, we are filled with joy and peace and according to Hebrews 11:1, Faith is born out of it.
Hope is the armour that protects me against myself. Against my tendencies to jump to the gloomy list above.
Where there is Hope none of these will be able to stand.
Perfect and constant peace. Isn't that what we all want and even if we don't know it, need? I stumbled across this verse at a time in my life when all I needed was peace, but instead, fear, worry, anger, doubt, shame, blame and suspicion ruled the roost. I lived backed into a perpetual corner of expectations from others and myself. My mind was always going at a 100 miles a minute. Every situation was analysed and re-analysed. Every word spoken or emailed turned over and over anxiously in my head. For example, our pastor would send a simple email saying that he'd missed me after the service and just wanted to give through some details for the next week. And it would start: "What did he mean by that? Maybe he is trying to tell me I should have stayed behind in church to help pack up? Why do I always do this? Why didn't I THINK?! Off course they need help packing up. Next week I am going to stay behind and help. In fact I am going to reply right now and explain why I couldn't stay this week and that I will definitely be there next week to help before and after the service." And next week would come and one of three things would happen: 1. One of us would get sick and I would be unable to go, but would then send emails, texts and stopping short of smoke signals, to make sure they knew that I hadn't just absconded ("after all, what would the people say!"), or; 2. By about an hour before we had to go to church, my poor family would have had their heads chewed off and spat out, because we are LATE. I would be ranting in the car to two teary-eyed blessings who couldn't understand where this terrible concept of church I had created met with the sweet Jesus I was trying to tell them about; 3. Or worse even, I would be there, but grumbling about the fact that no one else helps. I wish it wasn't true, but it is and I have done each of these 3 at different times and sometimes all together. I was a slave to looking and seeming perfect. I was a slave to what others thought of me. I was a slave to what I thought others thought of me. I was a mess. And I suppose that I just thought life was always going to be like that. But that is not the message of the Gospel. So God intervened. At the beginning of 2014, I read this verse and it was as if everything within me shouted: That's it! I want that! You know that moment when you just know that you can't go on like that? I kept seeing this verse over and over in different places.There are only about 4 verses that God has ever confirmed and re-confirmed to me like that. "Life-verses" I suppose. I had hurt my little family (and myself) enough and I was in danger of scaring them off church and God forever. The NKJV says:
You will keep him in perfect peace,
whose mind is stayed on You,
because he trusts in You.
A marriage counsellor once told me, that any problem in any relationship, always has to do with a lack of trust. I have tested it in many of my relationships and any problems that arise always boil down to: "I don't trust that you have my best interests at heart" or "I don't trust that you love me unconditionally". Which off course is absurd because we are human and selfish and definitely have our own interests at heart most of the time.
But in this case it meant that the problem in my relationship with God, had to do with trust. I didn't completely trust that God had my best interests at heart. And that is why I had to try and take control of every situation and scenario, because: "Just suppose God doesn't come through".
So, I wept and repented of that and I asked God to help me trust Him. As Joyce Meyer says: I was desperate to become addicted to peace.
It was a long road and it took me repeating this verse over and over maybe 10 times a day every time I caught myself getting on the merry-go-round of thoughts again, before it sank in. "I trust You", "You keep me in peace", "Hey, this is not peace, so it's not of You", but finally I thought it had become a constant in my life and I could teach others to do the same. (Spoiler alert!!! I was wrong).
One day this week (after I had started writing this post), I had a hard day. It was just one of those days where I was tired and the kids were ill and bickering and I felt ugly and like a bad wife and mother and housewife.
I spewed my tears and self-pity to my sister (who has MANY other more serious things to worry about, by the way) and she just listened and then she sent me the verse with the Protea flower above to comfort me.
I had a little laugh at God's sense of humour and I calmed down and I realised that I will never "arrive". God in His love and mercy, mercy, mercy still takes time out from building galaxies and babies in wombs, to remind me (and you):
Tonight life hurts. Life is too dark and too heavy and too unfair.
It chokes and smothers and draws ugly dry sobs out of me.
A baby shouldn't have to suffer. Not even a parent should have to suffer or watch their child do the same.
Tonight I know the theological answers of how when sin came into the world the perfect became imperfect and sick and toxic and our bodies will only be free from it's effect when we enter eternity with God.
But tonight the theological answers are not enough. Because tonight I just want to sit on my Father God's lap and beat at His chest and cry: "Why Daddy?!"
And I hear Him say: Don't hold back. I can handle your questions.
They arrived last week and were met with much excitement (mostly about the tv and Playstation) and all the exciting bits like the coffee machine and Lego were immediately mined out.
And now what is left are the day-to-day casserole dishes, old school reports, books and odd pairs of socks. Not exciting.
I am reminded of so many projects gone by that started like my box delivery: with excitement and joy and laying awake at night that ended in ...nothing. See, I am a good starter. I can dream about what lies ahead, lay awake imagining the outcome and write To-do lists. But when it comes to the middle and end? Things get fuzzy. Messy. Anti-climmatical. It involves lots of "Did-I-really-hear-God" 's and emergency trips to buy toilet paper to avoid facing it.
But I have learned the following more recently (Thanks to Cheri Gregory:)
When I avoid doing something it is most often due to fear
Either fear of doing the wrong thing or making a wrong decision or
Sometimes it is fear because I don't really know what the next step is
And very often, it is because there is a seperate unresolved issue that will be dug out at the same time.
In the case of these boxes it is all of the above!
I don't really have space to put everything that came in these boxes AND I don't know where everything should go. We moved back from London to a fully furnished home we had happily filled for 6 years before we left for the UK and then my mother-in-law's things were added.
I don't know whether to start with the kitchen boxes or the book boxes or the keepsakes or clothes or toys. So.. I don't start at all.
4 years of our life are in those boxes. Yet it seems so small. London was like a pressure cooker (for lack of a better analogy). It 'cooked' me quickly and brought out parts of me I didn't know or want to know. But it also brought friendships to a quick depth that ran so deep that I am still bleeding from being pulled away. I will heal, but in those boxes are paintings that were painted for me, a prayer cloth with scriptures written on it with loving, prayerful hands, a cross-stitch of Psalm 73:25-28, a Dyson vacuum cleaner (don't laugh) which had my friend running all over London to find it, handwritten notes from children and people I had the privilege of sharing life with and a Russian apron and oven mitts from my sister-from-a-Moscow-mother.
Aaaah I see...
So- I resolve that for today I am going to do the following things:
1. Be kind to myself. And when I start feeling guilty or condemned about my progress, remember:
Romans 8:1: There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit" (NKJV)
2. Take the unpacking 15 minutes at a time (that's thanks to the Flylady) and
3. Have a cup of tea
4. Enjoy the memories. It cleanses and heals the wounds.
So... What was masked as my relentless procrastination habit was actually a fear. Fancy that.
More about Procrastination another time (Wait, did I just procrastinate "Procrastination"?)
Early in 2012 I went through probably one of the most difficult times in my spiritual life. It involved what I saw as a betrayal by other Christians which always makes the wound sting so much more.
Until recently, I had blamed this incident for the shaking in my faith and the subsequent spiritual lethargy I felt. I couldn't pray, praise Him, get involved or even read the Bible. And it was EVERYBODY else's fault.
Much to my shock and horror, God showed me more recently that a) He was ok with what happened ( What?!) and b) It was for my good (Again, WHAT?!)
See, I had come into 2012 and probably 2010 and 2011 before that believing that spiritually I had ARRIVED! I fasted, prayed, spent time studying the Word, was studying Christian counselling and had been involved in a ministry for women who had been hurt or abused. I also came from a vibrant, caring, home group for women, which had become my little throne and safety net.
But it was when I thought I knew everything that God had to show me I knew nothing.
I hope to unpack more of what The Surgeon is doing in me as He reveales it to me...