Faith, Life, Philosophy, Relationships

Have Courage, and Be Kind

The Kindness of Strangers by Darinka Maja on flickr

I sit here in the golden light of evening, wrapped up snug and warm in my duvet.  I’m holed up in my room for some quiet writing time, and it feels like bliss.

I haven’t been finding enough time for writing – not enough for writing blog posts, anyway, although I’ve been working on a piece for a local publication.  When Westley ushers me out of the chaos of boy noise and action and into the sanctum of this quiet space to collect and record my thoughts, I know that he cares.  He understands what it means to me to have this time to process feelings, thrash out ideas, and write, write, write.

And the thing is, the more I feel cared for by West, the more I feel connected with him.  So even though I am here, far from the madding crowd (as it were), and he – bless him – is in the midst of it, our connection is nurtured.

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A week or so ago, we watched Disney’s latest ‘Cinderella’ movie.  In the film, the protagonist Ella’s dying mother gives her an enduring piece of advice:

“Have courage, and be kind.”

This motto, which Ella puts into practice throughout the movie, resonates with me.

The necessity of the first part of this counsel is evidenced throughout the trials and challenges of life; if we are to chase dreams, pursue goals, and follow our hearts, we will undoubtedly encounter obstacles along the way.  Having the courage to face and overcome those obstacles is key to both success and happiness.  Not only that but, although we don’t always realize it, having courage is often a necessary step towards connection with others.

It takes courage to approach people we don’t know – even if we imagine that some of them might have the potential to become our friends.

It takes courage to show empathy to those outside our immediate sphere.

It takes courage to meet people where they’re at (and, for me, that includes having the courage to drive new roads and tackle traffic in unfamiliar areas!).

It takes courage to perform, speak, or play in front of people.

It takes courage to make ourselves vulnerable in sharing our hearts.

But each of these things, if we summon the courage to do them, can lead us into a closer relationship with those around us.

I remember, on my first solo trip overseas as a young adult, meeting another young woman on the Tube from Heathrow.  We were similarly adorned with large backpacks and other carry-ons; but whereas I was journeying into my adventures, she was returning home from hers.  We got to chatting, as you do, and she shared with me how excited she was to see her family again, but that she felt it was so important that she’d been brave enough to head off and go travelling on her own.  She said, “I was so scared to leave, but I realized that courage isn’t doing something without being scared – it’s about doing something you need or want to do in spite of the fear.”

That wise young backpacker – she was probably a decade and a half younger than I am now, but she’d got it right.  Being courageous doesn’t require us to be fearless; it requires us to do the important thing even when we are afraid.

And as for kindness, well, it has been on my heart lately to write about the symbiosis between caring and connection.  Everywhere I look, I see the one leading to the other, and it is a beautiful thing.

A while back, I heard the story of Tinney Davidson (as depicted here in a Canadian TV news segment).  Mrs. Davidson is in her eighties.  When her husband retired, the two of them began a habit of waving to the high school students as the teens walked by their living room window en route to and from school each day – and pretty soon many of the students were waving back.  Her husband passed away some time ago, but Mrs. Davidson has continued her practice of greeting the students walking by her house.  She makes a point of being there to see them.  This elderly lady has shown caring, simply by making a point of greeting these kids, and the result has been a connection that runs deeper than either she or the teenagers could have anticipated.

Then there’s that Thai life insurance commercial – you know the one?  (It’s here if you’ve missed it.)  In the video, we see a young man going about his day.  On his way to and from work, he performs one small act of kindness after another: he pushes a parched plant under a dripping gutter; he helps a vendor push her unwieldy cart across the road; he shares his lunch with a stray dog; he reaches into his wallet and pulls out one of the few bills within to give to a begging mother-and-daughter; he hangs a small bunch of bananas on an elderly neighbour’s door handle.  And at the end of the day, this generous man sits down alone to a simple meal of boiled rice.  He is not rich; but we see by the end of the video that he has cultivated relationships with those around him – his wealth is in the connections he has forged through his kindness.  And he has made a true difference by caring; the poor beggar-woman has been able to send her daughter to school.

It’s such a simple video, and yet it has gone viral – it touches people profoundly.

The reason kindness is so powerful is this: we are all LONGING to connect.  Kindness is a means to that connection. (It is, too, an expression of love – and a response to the goodness with which God has blessed us – and the fringe benefit is that we become more deeply connected with others through it.)

We all need relationship.  Oh yes – even introverts.  Even if you connect with others and then need to retreat from the world to regain your sense of equilibrium, I’ll bet that, deep down, you still covet connection.

I take, as further evidence of this truth, the enthusiasm with which my little gang of boys and I are greeted as we arrive on the path to school.  One little boy, who’s accompanied to school by his loving Grandma, leaves her side to make a beeline for our party when he spies us.  He hops off his scooter and slows his pace (and ours!), as if to draw out the time until we arrive at the schoolroom; and he always has something he wants to chat about.  He looks up at me, eager to share some little nugget of news or other.  Why?  He wants connection.  His Mama is working in the morning, but he’s still craving that Mama-time – and I’ll do in a pinch.  He’s not neglected – no doubt he’s loved and cherished by his parents as much as our boys are loved and cherished by us – but he has a specific need for a mother’s nurture.  I recognize it, because my boys have the same need – and that’s why our morning walk and hang-out time before school is so precious to me.  If I were working away from home at that time, I’d hope that another Mama would understand their need for reassurance and show them just a little bit of kindness to fortify them for the day ahead.  Eye contact, a pat on the shoulder, a listening ear, and an encouraging word as they head into school – it’s a simple thing, but it makes a big difference.

Another boy joins us for our walk home.  He makes a point of checking in with me and asking us to wait while he fetches his scooter so that he can walk home with us – even though we only go a portion of the way with him.  This boy is ten – not yet old enough to be left on his own, and yet (by necessity of his situation) he does spend a lot of time at home alone.  He’s mature, worldly (possibly rather too sophisticated for his age), and very self-assured.  And yet this child, too, craves connection.  He is thirsty for a mother’s attention, because his own Mum has to be at work to provide for him.

It is a small kindness to notice the people in our lives who need us to share a bit of ourselves.  The old lady whom we see through her window, sitting alone in her living room – or the young teenagers, alternately unsure and cocky, striding along the sidewalk outside our house.  A young man who dines alone each night – or the poor woman who’s desperate for the means to allow her daughter to attend school.  The little boy who needs a stand-in for his Mummy at the beginning of the day – or the older boy who just wants to connect with a caring adult before he heads home to an empty house.  Even my very own boys, clamouring for my attention and trying my last nerves at the end of a busy day.

The reward for this caring is connection.

Have courage, and be kind.

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What situation in your life is demanding your courage, your caring, or your kindness?

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Anyone who reads my blog regularly knows that connection is very important to me.  I’ve just set up a new way to connect with my readers, too: if you’re on facebook, head along to my new fb page: [https://www.facebook.com/autocratricks]  This is my new way to notify friends of the latest posts and to share more informally with my readers.  Thanks in advance for checking it out, and for ‘Liking’ and sharing it!

– Trix

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Faith, Life, Philosophy

Walk in the Light

Man in fog by Ben K Adams on flickr

Winter’s on its way in this part of the world, and with the season comes the shortening of days.  It gets pretty dark in our neighbourhood once the sun has set; there are dim streetlights dotted along one side of our street but some of the side streets are unlit.

I walked in the dark to a PTA meeting the other night.  The school’s not far, and I left home at around seven, so it was hardly a dangerous hour to be walking the streets alone – and yet I still found myself on guard.

One of the curses of completing a degree in Criminology (aside from the obvious – unemployment) is that I have been exposed to the very depths of human depravity; I have witnessed enough of evil people’s perversions to make me very keen indeed to avoid the clutches of any such perpetrator.

Towards the end of my studies, I took a course in forensic science.  It was fascinating and I loved it except for the fact that it fell just before lunch; who wants a bologna sandwich after staring wide-eyed at a slideshow of gruesome crime scenes?!  Viewing the result of foul deeds in technicolour whilst receiving a blow-by-blow account of what preceded the unfortunate victim’s demise was enough to keep me clutching my personal safety alarm and eyeing my fellow transit-passengers with suspicion as I travelled home from university on dark winter evenings.

Those same feelings of raw vulnerability and alert defensiveness returned as I headed along a particularly dark stretch of road the other evening.  All the tips I’ve heard about maintaining personal safety began to flood back into my consciousness, beginning with this one:  “Walk in the light.”

As a Christian, of course, ‘Walk in the Light’ has a whole other meaning.

It doesn’t just mean, “Stay visible to stay safe” – it also means something like Live your life through the Light of the world – remain in Christ as you walk the path set before you, spiritually-speaking (or possibly something quite a lot more succinct than that).

So as these words Walk in the Light (and the phrase’s dual meaning) popped into my head, I automatically began compiling the other tips I’d heard for maintaining personal safety; by and large, I found that most of them could also be applied towards navigating the journey of life as a Christian.

Here’s my list:

Walk in the Light

Seek illumination; avoid dark places.  Not only does walking in the glow of the streetlights allow you to see any dangers lurking around you, but it also allows onlookers to provide informal surveillance for lone pedestrians; this also acts as a deterrent to potential offenders.

”Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honourable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.  What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.”          -Philippians 4:8-9

Jesus is the Light of the World.  Through his example, we know what a good life looks like.  Walking in the Light involves keeping our hearts and minds fixed on holy things; keeping our hands involved in righteous work; keeping our eyes fixed on God.

“Therefore do not be partakers with them; for you were formerly darkness, but now you are light in the Lord; walk as children of light (for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness and righteousness and truth), trying to learn what is pleasing to the Lord. And do not participate in the unfruitful deeds of darkness, but instead even expose them; for it is disgraceful even to speak of the things which are done by them in secret. But all things become visible when they are exposed by the light, for everything that becomes visible is light. For this reason it says,  “Awake, sleeper, And arise from the dead, And Christ will shine on you.”     -Ephesians 5:7-14

Stride Forwards (feign confidence if necessary)

Personal safety experts advise taking firm, determined footsteps to send the message to potential attackers that you are not an easy target.  Avoiding victimization can be as simple as walking confidently, with your head held high, even if you feel fearful.

“The LORD directs the steps of the godly. He delights in every detail of their lives.”

-Ps.37:23

There will always be times in life that we feel hesitant about moving forwards.  Maybe we’re in a state of uncertainty over something major, or maybe we’re just plodding along without feeling like we have much of a sense of direction.  But the Bible makes it clear that we are to walk confidently on the path set before us, even when we feel unsure; we are not to be mired in place by guilt over past regrets; we are not to be bound by fear and indecision.  Instead, we are exhorted to look forward with hope to the promises of the life to come, and to trust that God walks with us on the journey.

Choose Victory:

Attitude matters.  Experts point out that some people’s body language automatically casts them as a potential victim.  Slumped shoulders, shuffling gait, arms swinging limply by their sides or clutching an armload of things – these are the marks of an easy target.  Thinking that you’re weak and vulnerable can make you weaker and more vulnerable; acting confident, even if you have been victimized in the past, can help you to avoid becoming the target of another’s aggression or ill intentions.

“For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.”          -Matthew 5:45

There are many people who, because of past hurts, continue to view themselves as victims.  They go through life expecting others to treat them badly, and they do.  They expect the worst, and the worst happens.  They remember the rainy days and forget about the sunshine.  And they forget that ‘the rain falls equally on the just and on the unjust’; being a child of God doesn’t offer us blanket immunity from the pain and sorrow of this world.

In life, we have a choice.  We can choose to be defined by our failures and the things others have done to hurt us; we can live in a mire of bitterness and envy – or we can choose, instead, to claim victory over our life.  We can choose to find fulfillment in the promises of faith and the relationship we have in Christ. We can choose hope. 

“I have told you these things so that in me you may have peace.  In this world, you will have trouble.  But take heart!  I have overcome the world.”      -John 16:33

Beware of Stumbling Blocks (and Distractions)

Knowing your route is key to navigating in the dark.  Being aware of impediments to your progress will help you avoid injury and allow you to get to where you’re going quickly and safely.  Keeping your wits about you and avoiding distractions like loud music and cell phones helps you to stay focused on your destination and mitigate against potential hazards.

We all have our weak points.  Pride, envy, lust… You know the list – and you probably know which boxes you should tick next to your own particular vices.  These are all stumbling blocks to truly experiencing freedom and joy.  They are all impediments to living successfully.

“Therefore, brethren, be all the more diligent to make certain about His calling and choosing you; for as long as you practice these things, you will never stumble.”  – 2 Peter 1:10

Similarly, it is easy to get distracted.  Chasing happiness, following our own desires instead of pursuing Christ’s purpose for our life, and indulging in fleeting pleasures of worldly things pull us off course and divert us from the goal of walking wholly in relationship with God and our fellow man.

“But He turned and said to Peter, “Get behind Me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to Me; for you are not setting your mind on God’s interests, but man’s.” – Matthew 16:23

Face Your Fears

If you feel like someone might be following you, experts advise turning around and acknowledging them.  This doesn’t mean that you have to be confrontational all the time; in fact, crossing the street or taking other evasive measures would be preferable – but in the event that you can’t outrun a pursuer, it is advisable to turn around and face him head-on.

There’s a lot of ‘take heart’ and ‘don’t be afraid’ verses in the Bible.  Pretty much anywhere you encounter fear in the Bible you will see it in the context of being courageous in spite of your fear.  Fear and anxiety, as most people who have experienced phobias will tell you, can be crippling; but God doesn’t want us to be bound by fear.  As the Bible says, we can ‘call upon the Lord’ in times of trouble – he makes his own strength available to us.  We don’t have to cower.  We needn’t be frozen by fear.  We can be courageous in facing our fears because God will act in us and through us in spite of our human weaknesses.

“Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go.” – Joshua 1:9

Be Bright

As a safety measure, this just makes sense: wearing bright colours and some form of illumination when you’re walking at night can help prevent you from being hit by a car or bike – and it helps other pedestrians to notice and acknowledge you, too, which is a deterrent to anyone who might be on the lookout to rob or otherwise assault a lone traveller.

“Always look on the bright side of life…” – Monty Python said it best!  But it’s not some sort of Pollyanna-esque attitude of cheeriness that I’m advocating here.  Being positive and optimistic in your life is a natural by-product of a deeply ingrained sense of hope.  Contentment, too, leads to a joyful demeanor.  So, as we’d choose bright clothing to reflect the light of traffic and help us to be visible for personal safety, so should we choose a mindset of hope to reflect our faith in God’s perfect plan.

“The LORD delights in those who fear him, who put their hope in his unfailing love.” – Psalm 147:11

Keep Company

There is strength in numbers, as the saying goes.  Connecting with others along your route – strolling alongside a buddy or calling out greetings to familiar faces as you go – can help you to stay safe as you walk at night.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again (and again, and again): life is about relationship.  Fellowship is crucial for authentic growth; we might gain great spiritual insight through solo communion with God, but it is in putting that wisdom into practice as we walk alongside others that we truly grow in faith.

“And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” – Hebrews 10:24-25

Put Your Sneakers On

Be prepared.  Tottering around in high heels may be fashion-forward, but it’s a foolish choice if you have to take a walk alone in the dark.  You need to be ready to run or even just to stand firmly in case of trouble.

There’s a lot of practical advice in the Bible.  The Ten Commandments, for starters, are not just ‘helpful suggestions’, but rock-solid instructions for enjoying God’s goodness in this life.  God’s Word is the bedrock on which we can build our lives; it provides a firm foundation.  Knowing the Word, we can then be ready for action – ready to face whatever life throws at us.

“Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock. And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it.”  -Matthew 7:24-27

Don’t Be Shy About Calling for Help

When people feel physically threatened they are sometimes reluctant to call for help – they’re hesitant about drawing attention to themselves, or causing a scene in case they’ve read things incorrectly and they end up ‘making a big deal out of nothing’.  But the best advice is to seek the assistance of others or call the police emergency line whenever you feel that your safety is at risk.  Better safe than sorry!

The Bible reminds us, time and again, to help one another and to be willing to let others help us.  God’s Word also reminds us to lean on Him in times of trouble, and to call to the Lord for strength in times of need.

“In my distress I called upon the LORD; to my God I cried for help. From his temple he heard my voice, and my cry to him reached his ears.”    -Psalm 18:6

Trust Your Intuition

If you have a feeling that you’re being watched or that you are in danger, trust your instincts and act accordingly.  Personal safety experts advise you to always trust your intuition about people and situations.  If you don’t feel safe, it’s possible that you aren’t safe.  Go with your gut.

Intuition, spoken of in the Bible as discernment or ‘understanding’, is the ability to sense the presence of good and evil.  In the secular world, it is hardly spoken of as such, but the Bible makes it clear that this ability is a gift bestowed by God; it is a gift given to us in order that we might distinguish things that are from him (good) or things that will harm us (evil).  Christians must understand that to exercise this ability to its fullest extent we are required to be rooted in the One whose counsel admonishes us to ‘flee from evil’ and to ‘seek good’.

“But solid food is for the mature, who because of practice have their senses trained to discern good and evil.”                      -Hebrews 5:14

“Whoever is wise, let him understand these things; Whoever is discerning, let him know them For the ways of the LORD are right, And the righteous will walk in them, But transgressors will stumble in them.” – Hosea 14:9

So there’s my list – it’s my best advice for keeping safe, and for thriving in your spiritual life as well.

Walk in the Light!

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Life, Philosophy

Switching Gears

sofa warehouse by sacha fernandez on flickr

Next weekend we are moving out of our nomadic phase into a ‘home rental’ phase.  We’re going to be settled; there are lots of changes ahead.

It’s going to be tough switching gears and actually making purchases to furnish our household.

A normal person looks at a price tag as an indicator of the monetary value of something.  I just calculate the exchange rate directly into airmiles.  So while a friend might say, “How much did he pay for that sofa?  Oh, OK – I think I can work that into my budget,” I’d be thinking,

“I could get to GREECE for that much!” 

Which explains how it is that we’ve still managed to do some globetrotting, even after having kids. 

And why we have no furniture.

So now I need to embrace the ‘homemaker’ in me and nest a little.  It’s exciting and scary all at once – will we go colonial?  Country?  Modern?  More than likely we’ll start with a bunch of items that ‘will do in the meantime’ and end up with a hodgepodge in every room.

Ask me for an itinerary of a Europe-with-kids adventure, and I’ll give you a clear and detailed list.  Ask me to decide on a colour scheme (something that won’t clash with the warm Rimu-wood panelling all over our living room – from the walls right up to the high sloped ceilings), and I’m adrift.  Switching gears isn’t for the faint-of-heart!

Last Monday the new school year began here in New Zealand and, in the absence of a place to stay (and therefore any knowledge of what our ‘local’ school might be) I re-embarked on the homeschooling in earnest.  We had a very trying morning of it (when I say ‘we’, I mean that I was tried to the fullest extent – the boys seemed rather cheerful as they were telling me I’m a mean teacher and positively gleeful as they refused to participate in the learning exercises) – so much so that as soon as the clock struck twelve I raced up to West’s office and, with sotto-voce curses, hissed at him to take over – I’m DONE!!! and then proceeded to sob into my pillow for a good half hour, weepily refusing offers of a lunchtime meal.

And then the phone rang.

Gear switch.

The rental agent was phoning to say that we were being offered a house we’d applied for – an older home a block from the beach in a peaceful suburb just under half an hour away from West’s folks.  Homeschool was out of session – permanently.

I blew my nose, reapplied my makeup, and grabbed a toasted sandwich (my appetite had returned); just under hour later we were at the local school, enrolling the boys.  About an hour after that we were in the local uniform shop, fitting them with shirts and shorts (and sandals, sunhats, and fleeces).  And from there we went to the stationers to collect stationery packages for each of them to take to class.

The next day our boys began school for the first time in New Zealand, and we signed the papers for our house rental.

It’s amazing how often we have to switch gears in life, isn’t it?!

One minute you’re on one path, and the next you’ve jumped the track and you’re headed somewhere else altogether.  Even if you’ve planned the change in your trajectory, it can still be a bit of a shock to your system to actually make the switch.

When I returned from a year in Europe following my university studies, I started saving up to go to graduate school.  My plan was to study counter-terrorism (in my chosen field of Criminology) and gain expertise so that I could go into situations following a terrorist attack and help determine who was responsible.

This plan seemed ideal, as I was passionate about making a difference and willing to travel globally, and I was really interested in the topic of terrorism (as I had peripherally experienced its effects in both my native South Africa and my childhood home of Sri Lanka during the escalation of the civil war there).

And then I met West.

All of a sudden I had hopes of a future that included a husband and children, and the idea of putting myself in harm’s way and travelling away from my beloved became less appealing.

Gear switch.

So now I try to make a difference in smaller ways, and I travel for pleasure (including the pleasure of visiting with family), and I use my knowledge of Criminology in raising my own small band of hooligans.

I went back to school (to obtain my Editing certificate) when C was under a year old; at the same time I was challenging myself physically with a new diet and exercise regimen; and I was called to help lead a new marriage ministry in our church.  It was an amazing time of learning and growth, and I felt so blessed to be involved in things that I was passionate about.  My time, my body, my soul – all were changing and I was thriving.

And then we felt the pull to add to our family – and I became pregnant with baby #4 (our D).

Gear switch.

This is what life is.  It’s doing one thing, and then something changes, and then doing another thing. 

And when it’s tough because of the changes, we have to remember something – we have to bear this in mind to keep our perspective: Making those gear-changes smoothly is key to functional driving on the road of life.

This is a metaphor that works well for me, because I am – at best – HOPELESS at driving a car with a standard transmission.

I mean, if you’ve ever seen a reality show like The Amazing Race and wondered at the imbecility of the contestants not knowing what gear they should be in and laughed at them lurching and shuddering along the road in their standard-drive autos, then you would sure get a kick out of me trying to drive one.  West has tried to teach me (and he’s a good teacher!), but we decided that it would be best for our marriage if we just stuck to owning cars with automatic transmissions.  I am THAT bad.

But on the road of life, I get how the gear switches work – and I can see that going with the changes instead of resisting them is just so much better than shuddering and jarring your way along the road.

So, don’t come looking for me on the travel forums tomorrow.

I’m going to be out buying a sofa.

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Faith, Life, Philosophy

Do Not Stand at My Grave and Weep…

grave by Oliver Quinlan on flickr

 

Do not stand at my grave and weep.

I am not there.  I do not sleep.

 

I think about death a lot.  Not in a morbid, ghoulish way – I know that some are fascinated by dark images or haunted by the unknowable elements of ‘the beyond’, but these things hold no sway for me.  I’m not a big fan of our modern-day culture’s obsession with vampires and zombies, either – I’ll admit to having had a passing interest in the Twilight movies, and I can appreciate the ‘noir’ humour of ‘Shaun of the Dead’ – but I find the current fetish with death macabre and gratuitous.  And don’t even get me started on the topic of people dressing their kids up as decaying corpses…).

No, when I think about death it’s more in terms of questions about life – particularly my own life.  I wonder, What kind of legacy am I leaving? and What memories are we making for our kids? and Am I fulfilling my life’s purpose; am I living out God’s desires for my life?  I think about whether or not those I love and care about would know that I love and care about them if I didn’t have any more chances to tell them that I do.

There are times, of course, when questions about death itself come more to the fore – like when loved ones pass away, or when something happens to make me more keenly aware of my own mortality.

Earlier this week I lost a precious aunt.  It is a great comfort to me that hers was truly ‘a life well-lived’; the legacy she leaves is in the love and care she bestowed on our family (and her own).  She was a uniting force and a faithful Christian; she was a do-er and a pray-er and always full of motivating advice…  I will miss her dearly, but I trust that I shall see her again in heaven.  Her death brings us to a celebration of her life on earth, and a peace that comes with our faith in the life to come.

Around this time last year I had shoulder surgery, and as I anticipated the operation and its inherent risks (admittedly small – but I was feeling fragile), my thoughts turned as they so often do to life and death.  I scribbled a few notes about funeral arrangements, just to spare West the difficulty in the event of my sudden demise.  And I wrote down a few other miscellaneous thoughts as I pondered the subject:

What I don’t want is for people to feel embattled or embittered by my passing, whether it be prolonged or quick. 

‘Naked I came into this world and naked I shall return’.  I was once weak and needy – perhaps I shall end my life in the same manner.  But this is no more beneath my dignity than it is for me to have been helpless as an infant at the beginning of my life. 

My existence has meaning and purpose because of how I have lived it; the choices I’ve made when I’ve had a choice…

I hope not to be defined by how I leave the world, but by the good I have done (and experienced) while in it.

As I experienced my initial injury and subsequent convalescence, I also pondered the subject of suffering:

Every experience that allows us to relate more to and better love those around us is a gift.  What a privilege that, through the process of suffering through our own difficulties, we can be awakened to the needs of others!

 

Right now there’s an article making the rounds on social media; the tragic story of a 29-year-old woman with terminal brain cancer who is advocating for people’s right to end their lives ‘on their own terms’.  Not so long ago, there was a story in the news about an older Canadian woman with dementia who took her own life before the disease could rob her of her ability to make that decision for herself.

Both of these cases, like so many others, have been centred around the ability of the victims/patients to prevent themselves from having to experience powerlessness and suffering in their final days.  Both cases have struck a chord with people and garnered support for the ‘right to die’ campaign.

While I feel immense sympathy for these women in facing heartbreaking diagnoses and making difficult decisions, I cannot subscribe to the idea that the only humane option is to allow people access to drugs/technology/legal options that will allow them to exercise a ‘right to die’.

Do I understand the wish to escape the pain and uncertainty and suffering that accompanies such diagnoses as these women were facing?  Yes – of course, yes.

Do I support efforts to mitigate the suffering of people in other phases of life? Yes.  I abhor the fact that slavery still exists; I yearn for the day when the vulnerable are no longer subjugated by the powerful; I pray for the alleviation of suffering experienced by those who are sick, who are hungry, who are lonely

Do I support the use of drugs and technologies in easing the suffering of those in palliative care?  Yes.  I agree with easing people’s pain and affording them the opportunity to say goodbyes and make peace inasmuch as they are able to do so.

Obviously, preventing suffering and powerlessness are universal concerns.  But how far do we take this desire to avoid those difficulties?  Isn’t suffering a part of life – and therefore, necessarily, death?  Isn’t powerlessness also a part of life and death?

I do not stand in judgement of those who make different decisions than I believe I would in their shoes; but I also cannot champion their choices.  I cannot support the claim that the only kindness in this sort of situation is to ‘put people out of their misery’.

Most of us can’t choose the hour or day on which we leave this world.  Whether or not that’s something we consider acceptable or not depends a lot on our core beliefs about life and death.

As for me, I believe fundamentally in the sanctity of life – even when life holds suffering.

…we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.  Through him we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in our hope of sharing the glory of God.  More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit which has been given to us.” (Romans 5:1(b)-5)

I believe that the grave isn’t the end of the story.

…and He will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away.”  (Revelation 21:4)

I believe that, while death causes us temporary pain and separation from loved ones, it doesn’t get the final say in our lives.

Where, O death, is your victory?  Where, O death, is your sting?” (1 Cor 15:55)

My own experiences with suffering and death (limited though they may be) have led me to believe that they do serve a greater purpose.  When I suffer I am forced to lean closer to those who love me, to hope more fervently in God’s care and mercy, and to anticipate the life to come with a greater sense of peace and joy.  And whenever the day comes that I ‘shuffle off this mortal coil’, I know that this too will bring me closer to God – in dying I will enter into his kingdom forever.

I wish that this wasn’t the way of the world; I wish that nobody had to suffer, ever.  I wish that death didn’t exist.  But suffering and death are inexorable parts of the human experience, and they are not experienced in vain.  We may not always see the bigger picture, or appreciate the purpose, but we may trust that God has riches awaiting us (should we choose to accept them) in eternity and these good things will far outweigh any trials we might face in life.

Maybe, then, these questions of life and death are bigger than all of us.  And we shouldn’t be the ones answering them.

My answer to those who are dismayed by my stance on the ‘right to die’ campaign is the same as the one I would offer to those who would mourn my passing:

There is peace in Jesus.  I have this peace – it shines throughout my life and I pray that it will continue to do so no matter what suffering I endure.  And whenever God calls me from this life on earth (though I love it and shall cling to it as long as I am able) I shall taste life everlasting because of the gift of salvation – which is freely offered to all.

Do not stand at my grave and weep
I am not there. I do not sleep.
I am a thousand winds that blow.
I am the diamond glints on snow.
I am the sunlight on ripened grain.
I am the gentle autumn rain.
When you awaken in the morning’s hush
I am the swift uplifting rush
Of quiet birds in circled flight.
I am the soft stars that shine at night.
Do not stand at my grave and cry;
I am not there. I did not die.

(Poem by Mary Elizabeth Frye)

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This post and farewell hymn are dedicated to the memory of my beloved Auntie Lavinia.

We shall meet again.

(click on the link to hear the song)

-Trix

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Life, Parenting, Philosophy

Shall I Compare Thee…

comparison by sean dreilinger on flickr

 

 

“Life is one race I never want to win – I’d rather stroll around enjoying the scenery”

― Aditya Chandra

It’s funny how, in some things, my boys are so different.  Just looking at how they sleep and wake up, they are a study in contrasts.

Our A is a proper early-bird.  He bounces out of bed wide awake and ready for the day.  He’s immediately ready for conversation at a normal (if not louder than normal) level, and he breakfasts soon after waking (he is now, I’m grateful to say, competent at preparing this meal independently).  Because of these early starts, he’s often ready for a nap in the afternoon – although he rarely gets to indulge in one during the school year.  He falls asleep easily when he naps; his is often the first head to nod in the car; and he tends to sleep quite solidly (whether it’s a shorter day-sleep or the full night), although he does sleep-talk fairly often.  He’s soft in his slumber, curled and nestled and cuddly – he doesn’t at all mind being woken slightly with a kiss and blanket-tuck when West and I head to bed.

B is, in this as in many other things, A’s complete opposite.  He’s our night-owl.  With very few exceptions, he simply cannot sleep during the day.  He’ll whine and complain and moan from the confines of his car seat on a long drive about how tired he is but that he can’t fall asleep.  He stopped napping the earliest of any of our boys – even jetlag doesn’t push him over the edge enough to convince him to seek slumber during the day.  Once he falls asleep (he goes to bed at the same time as A, but often struggles to settle), he may wake again for any number of reasons.  He sleepwalks, sometimes, and he often falls out of bed. When we go to lift him back onto his mattress, he straightens his limbs in protest and it becomes an ungainly balancing act to manoeuvre him onto his pillow.  He protests thickly in his sleep if we bother him too much with kisses as we tuck him in again.  He sleeps in a hard line, often angled awkwardly along his bed. Because he’s such a night owl, he sleeps in longer than the other boys – and when he wakes, he’s still tired.  He rolls out of bed (literally – *thump*!) and creeps along the hallway to the living room, collapsing onto the floor for a little snooze at regular intervals.  I’ll often pass him like this – on my way to or from the living room – and I know enough by now to just whisper a greeting and step over him.  He’s not ready for food or conversation for at least half an hour – ideally an hour or more.

C falls somewhere between the extremes of his older brothers.  He normally falls asleep well, as long as we leave the light on a bit.  He has to be a certain distance from the wall alongside his bed, so that the ‘monsters in the wall can’t tickle’ him when he sleeps; he sleeps with a couple of beloved stuffed toys in his bed, but not in his arms, ‘because they got lost once’ when he went to sleep that way…  He has some of the ease of slumber that A enjoys – he’ll drift off quickly when we’re travelling in the car and falls asleep fairly readily in other situations as well.  But he’s more like B in waking; while A would show up  silently to our bedside if he needed something in the night (startling me and making me yelp loudly on more than one occasion), B and C shout from their beds.  C will call out for blanket-adjustments, water, comfort from nightmares, philosophical discussions, or religious queries.  He will have comments and complaints and questions ready upon his night-waking; the most common ones being, “Will you sit on my bed for one minute?” and “It’s too dark to sleep!”  When he wakes in the morning, he stretches and yodels out an arpeggio, belts out a few high notes with extra vibrato, and then trots off to do his little routine (bathroom, reading, cuddle with us) before he’s quite ready for breakfast and conversation.  He is cherubic in his slumber – all tousled curls and ruby lips – and snuggles into his pillow with a half-smile when kissed good-night.

Although still a baby in many ways (he just turned two, but I have a feeling he’ll be ‘the baby’ forever!), D already has his own little sleep signature.  He went through a phase – we’re thankfully on the other side of it now – in which he required the constant presence of West or me while he was drifting into sleep; but now he only needs a little cuddle while he drinks his bottle, and (after brushing teeth), music, dummy and favourite little stuffed elephant to clutch and he’s asleep very quickly.  He still naps during the day, too – usually for a couple of hours.  It’s hard to know at this stage which of his little sleep quirks will stick, but for now he’s pretty adorable with his little bottom up in the air while he slumbers.  When he wakens each morning, he stands up in his cot – cheeks rosy and fluffy hair forming a halo around his sweet head – and calls out to us:  “Hi Mummy!  Hi Daddy!”  As I lift him from his bed and into ours, he’s full of snuggles and lisped requests:  he wants ‘walkies’, ‘eat’, ‘Gogo-Bapa’ (my parents), ‘play car’, and ‘milkies’ – and he wants them all at once.  But he is placated by the closeness of us, and he’ll dandle a strand of my hair and bestow kisses as he shares our pillows; and that will hold him for a while before he starts to wriggle and sit up to begin on his day’s activities.

They’re all different – they’re all unique, and all special.  When I was listing off their various ways of waking up to my Mum the other day, my boys were all ears.  They grinned, and giggled, at the descriptions of their quirks.  They revelled in the differences; they recognized that I was appreciating those qualities that set them apart from one another.

Why can’t my response to comparisons be like that?

When I feel compared to someone else, my immediate reaction is often to become resentful, or defensive.  Right away, I assume that I’m coming off as the loser in this comparison – in any comparison.  When I feel compared, I become competitive.

So-and-so just bought an amazing house.  Her kids are taking Japanese lessons, and the family is going to stay at a manor in England this summer.  She only shops at Whole Foods, which she can afford, because her husband is a nano-technologist.

“Oh, really?”  I want to sneer, “Well, isn’t she lucky?!”  And I start racking my brains for the last time my children said or did something intelligent and I shoot them laser-beam looks as they giggle over the milk dribbling over their chins as their too-full mouths chew too-sugary breakfast cereal spooned from chipped breakfast bowls…  I start to wonder what I’m missing, that other people have it all together and they’ve earned – earned – the admiration of whomever it is who’s giving me this news.  I’m a failure, I think, and I hand my ill-bred boys a paper towel (not a linen napkin) with which to mop their messy mouths.

But that’s not how it should be, clearly.  How much better it is to be like my kids, and revel in the differences between myself and others.  I can celebrate the uniqueness of others’ lives just as I prize my own ability to live life in a way that’s unique to me and my family.

And here’s the thing: I am far better at doing that – far better at celebrating the differences and embracing my own unique path – when I have a strong sense of myself and my priorities.  The cure for the problem of comparison leading to competition, for me, is this: recognizing my qualities; having firm plans; and upholding strong values.

It’s easy to become envious and competitive when people are talking about someone else’s achievements or acquisitions as if these things were a mark of their superiority; but when I remember that my qualities and goals are different but worthy in their own right, I am spared from feeling ‘less than’ in the face of others’ abundance.

We can lose sight of truth, beauty, and abundance in our own lives when we focus on what other people seem to have (seem to – because we can never know the true measure of a person’s life from the outside).  So we need to re-calibrate from time to time.  We need to ask ourselves – and to really delve deep in doing so – “What are my gifts, and how am I using them?”  We should strive to make the world a better place through our actions; in identifying the things that we do well, and the things we’re passionate about, we are best able to discover our place and purpose in the world.

I’m a big planner.  I love making plans – and at times in my life when I’ve been thwarted in my desire to have a firm sense of the future, I have felt frustrated and adrift.  This doesn’t mean that I’m inflexible.  It just means that I feel better when I have goals, and when I can make plans to reach those goals.  When I have a vision for what I’d like my life to look like in five, ten, twenty years, or more (God willing), I am far more secure in my own path and thus less likely to engage in petty competition to walk in someone else’s proverbial shoes.

It is important to recognize that, while who I am and what my goals are may be part of an abiding contentment with life, more essential than either of these is having a strong sense of what my core values are.

I’ve developed my value set over my lifetime; and as I mature, my unshakeable belief in these values only grows richer.  While my abilities and gifts may change over time, and while my plans and goals are altered in the face of life’s serendipity and challenge, my heart remains true to these beliefs.

Some of my core values are:

  • A belief in the benevolence, omnipotence, and omnipresence of God (who is a personal, relational, God who desires good things for all His creation)
  • A belief in the immutable value of humanity and human life (and in our responsibility to relieve poverty and suffering, fight injustice, demonstrate love and mercy, and help others)
  • A belief (stemming from the aforementioned values) that the meaning of life is, in essence, relationship. Relationship with God and relationship with others; in my estimation, these two things are paramount.

Knowing my values and trusting in the path set before me, it’s almost laughable when (for one example) I feel challenged by the material wealth of others.  I am passionate about social justice and stewardship of resources – surely those things aren’t often compatible with the acquisition and retention of personal wealth?!

When I’m sure of myself and my place in the world; when I have a sense of direction as I navigate through life; when my core beliefs are foremost in my heart and mind (where they belong) – this is when I am able to stand secure and avoid being competitive with others.

As a Mama, it’s part of my job to help my children develop these three aspects in themselves: to inspire them to find and use their gifts (and acknowledge their precious uniqueness in all of creation); to encourage them to set goals – and to hope and trust as they journey through life; and to nurture them into spiritual maturity as children of God.  We need to create in children this trifecta of strength – because this will afford them perspective and allow them to continue to delight in their differences throughout their lives, just as they do so naturally when they’re young.

“In the end, only three things will matter: how much you loved, how gently you lived, and how gracefully you let go of things not meant for you.”

-(Author Unknown)

 

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