Something Beyond the Bend

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He alone can see what lies beyond the bend.   ~   He by Richard Mullen

 

          At what should have been the start of a cheery week, we heard the sudden announcement that we are going into full lockdown yet again for a month. No dining out. No travelling beyond district lines. For us, that meant no trips to the city, no quiet moments in the church there, no forays to the garden centres – our newfound delight.

          But we comforted ourselves that at least, living in a huge district, we could still stuff everyone into the car and take our sunset drives out of town but still be within district boundaries. We had begun that practice about 2 months ago and all of us enjoyed that hour out of the house, driving along quiet country routes, the big sky purpling, making ready for its night. We’d set out with hearts full of thorns and along the way, drop each one by the wild wayside, returning with our spirits calmed and in order.

          Then, the government hit us with a 3-person cap on the number of people in a car – even if it’s from the same family. So, there went our drives too.

          I could feel my heart drying up around the edges. We had relatively simple needs as a family. With the pandemic worsening by the day in our country plus in a few others as well, we’ve given up all hope of a family holiday for the next 1 to 2 years. But we found that it’s something we could live with. With thanksgiving planted firmly into the soil of our hearts, we found that we could be happy in other ways. There were other joys for every one taken away from us.

          But to come home yesterday after one such happy, country-drive and to hear that even those little replacements had been snatched away is a blow that takes time to recover from. It is cruel because yet again, we are paying the price for the recklessness of others. While we have followed the rules, kept as safe as can be and kept others safe too, too many haven’t done the same.

          In the end, everyone gets punished.

          I retreated into myself to try and come to terms with this development. As I searched for God’s word which I may have missed, I remembered that for the past day or so, snippets of an old hymn had been sung into my inner ear.

He can turn the tides
And calm the angry sea.
He alone decides
Who writes a symphony.
He lights ev’ry star
That makes our darkness bright.
He keeps watch all through
Each long and lonely night.

          So, I sang the hymn in my head, tracing my heart over its lyrics, trying to find God’s voice in it for me.

He’ll always say, “I forgive.”

          I groaned a little. I wanted answers. I wanted comfort. Not another exhortation to forgive heaven knows who. The fact that I wasn’t angry with anyone made it harder to figure out who God wanted me to forgive.

          Maybe I’m just imagining it, I told myself. Maybe, ‘I forgive’ isn’t for me.

          But those 2 little words wouldn’t leave me. Like the tinkle of a distant tiny~bell, they chimed quietly from afar through the following day. So, I sent up a quick prayer to forgive all who had hurt me. I pictured a couple of faces and figured, it must be one of them.

          A little deeper into the morning, my youngest child unexpectedly annoyed me with her schoolwork. I was sick and tired of having to tell her the same thing over and over and I felt that I needed to get really strict with her as it had gone on for too long. Working through the laundry with sharp, angry movements, I sifted through my options for action before I went to her.

          Then, more out of habit than any real obedience or humility, I turned it over to God. Tell me what to do, I shot my arrow in the direction of heaven – and promptly turned away.

I forgive

sang a voice in my ear. Blithely – and a tad cheekily.

          In an instant, in one swift second, all my anger evaporated! God wanted me to forgive her. I couldn’t believe it. I just couldn’t.

          Suddenly, the coming of the hymn, He, made sense. Getting annoyed with my child seemed such a minor thing against everything else that was happening in our land. Yet, the angels had brought His voice and His word to me early. Because even as our country shook, God clearly didn’t want me drying myself out looking beyond our fence at whatever was beyond my control.

          A short while later, helping my child with her studies again, nary a trace of residual anger remained. Because of that, I had a little girl eager to learn from her mistakes.

          Sometime in the afternoon, on our final day of freedom before the lockdown took effect, I wondered how the year would end. Whatever we built seemed to be crumbling and breaking. Nothing seemed to last.

          Slowly, I became aware of the hymn, He, floating by once more. This time, it didn’t pause but like a lone traveller along a country road, it gently went on its way, leaving it to me to decide to follow it or not.

          Curious, I reached out and opened my heart to its lines once more.

          This time, something else was laid upon my heart.

He alone can see
What lies beyond the bend.

3 Words

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          Just about 2 weeks ago, I became unexpectedly overwhelmed, reaching a cliff-edge I had not been quite so near in some time. Many times before, I have been overcome by exhaustion and a host of other emotions. But something was different this time. This time, part of me was calm and fully functional.

          But there was another part and that part of me was at the very edge of hysteria; I felt as if I wanted to just scream and scream till I was emptied of everything that had accumulated inside unseen. There was no rage or fury nor sorrow. None of that. Just an overpowering sense of being being filled to bursting with things that had no right being inside me.

          Thank God my husband walked into our bedroom just as that moment and I blurted out to him about how I was feeling. Very firmly and quickly, he told me I had pushed too much, that I needed to drop everything and rest. With that timely support in place, I did just that. Although it was just a little past 10pm and there were still some things to be seen to at home on a week night, I dropped everything, shut the door and picked up a book I had been reading since the beginning of the year, Barack Obama’s A Promised Land.

          The effect of that shutting down was instantaneous. Just a few lines in, a sudden inner quiet took hold of me. It was not due to anything on the page I had been reading – but I suspect just the fact that I had intentionally stepped away from something not quite right – saved me.

          In that moment of sudden quietening, I called out to my God.

Help me, Lord. I need help. 

          I was a workaholic and I needed to quit working the way I did and yet, not actually quit my job. But I didn’t know how. I had tried breaks. I had tried to not care as much. Nothing worked.

Help me, Lord. I need help. 

          Into that silence, I heard a male voice, with an American accent, speak at my ear.

Keep it simple

          Like a bolt of light, those 3 words pierced me.

Keep it simple

          I didn’t need anything more explained to me. Early in the year, I had heard a voice say to me, The time for work has ended. I wasn’t too sure what was meant. With each phase of lockdown we entered after that, I wondered if that end had come. Yet, it wasn’t so. Deep inside, I wondered if it meant that the old way of working had ended. But with the terrible crush of work that came in March, that too didn’t seem likely.

          Keep it simple suddenly made it clear. The world would go on the way it was going – it was I who needed to change my approach to work. The time to work as I had for more than 2 decades had ended. The endless 18-hour days, the vicious cycles I put myself through, the high intensity of perfection I pushed myself to – it had to go. It all had to go.

Keep it simple

          I went in to work the very next day and for the next 2 weeks with those 3 words firmly pinned to my heart. A clear stream began to trip and tumble within me. An exquisite sweetness began to light the edges of my spirit. Some days, I still came home very tired – but something had changed. It was a tiredness that was quickly healed by a day or two of good rest and sleep.

          In the past, none of that had worked for long.

          Today, I realised that the cliff-edge I had almost tottered over was that of irreversible burnout. Had I not been obedient to God’s voice through my husband, something could have happened that night 2 weeks ago.

         3 words sent from heaven had saved me.

Keep it simple

 

He Will Not Refuse You

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I advise you to have recourse to the Sacred Heart of Our Lord Jesus Christ, if you want to conquer your enemies and obtain the strength and consolation you need; He will not refuse you this help, if you ask it of Him.   ~  St. Margaret Mary Alacoque

 

          Covid-19 cases continue their surge in my country and I am once again under home quarantine due to 2 close contacts testing positive.

          Last week, as I was being swabbed together with 80 plus others from my workplace, a team leader posted a message saying that our additional work assignment under her was to continue. That unnecessary assignment required us to return to work after formal hours and to work in cramped rooms with little regard for social distancing. Of course, being under mandatory home quarantine, I needn’t have worried about it. But her posting angered me. Since there were so many of us involved in this latest cluster, we were all being swabbed in the community centre in our place of work. Photos of the event were posted on our work groups. Those being swabbed were beset by frustration, anger and worry. Nobody, absolutely no one, could claim ignorance of what was happening.

          And yet, this woman chose to turn her back and her heart against our collective pain and worry, and to insist that her programme continue. I decided enough was enough.     

          There’s one thing that singles out narcissists like this particular team leader: their fear of public ridicule and the like. In any dispute, I’ve always gone one-on-one and in private. But this time called for something different. Since the woman had put her announcement out in the open, so to speak, I decided I’d meet her there. I felt I had to make a stand once and for all and I had to let others know what I was doing. So, I posted my own notice saying I was pulling out of her programme as long as Covid remained an issue and especially due to the fact that we were now already seeing more and more close contacts test positive.

          As far as words go, mine appeared to be like bubbles, small and ineffective. But no public slight is small enough for a narcissist. She went completely, uncharacteristically silent. Soon, 2 other voices joined in, urging her to scrap the programme. I expected more to join the chorus of protests but it stopped at 2. Of course, behind the scenes there was plenty of bitter noise but none of that mattered as it didn’t fall on the ears which needed to hear it most.

          Strangely, despite doing something so out-of-character, I was untroubled, my mind clear, my heart calm. More than that, I was glad I didn’t trouble myself to try and save others who couldn’t be bothered to help themselves.

          Close to midnight that day, a directive came from higher up, effectively cancelling the programme. I had deepened the lines of enmity between that woman and myself but at least, we had some respite now.

          Still, for how long?

          In the days since then, I’ve been reflecting. There have been times before when this woman has successfully forged ahead with her ridiculous plans. There have also been a few clear occasions when she has been unexpectedly thwarted. By and large, it has been disruptive and frustrating. This sort of turbulence is unnecessary distraction to anyone who just wants to work and especially to those who work hard and work well. During Covid uncertainty, with our daily worries about our own families, such disruptions and upsets bite deeper and harder. How much of this could I take? I wondered.

          One thing becoming more and more clear to me is that this pandemic has set into motion a massive reset. It has shown us we need to return home in deeper ways. That even as we hold down jobs and work, we need to return to some aspects of life as it was in the past – spend more time with home chores, cook more, making caring for others a priority. Create gardens, tend to vegetable plots. Watch the sun rise and set. Listen to the rains and winds, learn their songs and understand their word to us.

          Enjoy our kids. Teach our own kids. Learn how to teach our own kids.

          Learn to be silent, learn to love silence and stillness.

          In a painful way, this scourge is making us undo some of the knots we have worked into our lives.

          But some people, like my team leader, do not seem to want us to rectify the wrongs in our lives. They are resisting this reset and straining against the ropes to return to imprisonment – and insist that we too return to our prison cells. They are, in effect, willing us to believe that the prison should be our home. And there are also the many enablers who do not try to resist but instead choose the easier path of acquiescence to all that is wrong simply because it troubles them less.

          About 3 years ago, just before Covid came upon us, I had a dream of a dark, dark night. My family and I were on the darkened streets. I seemed to be leading them. Some danger was closing in on us. Then, I ran into a bamboo hut. Inside it were some of my colleagues. Desperately, I pleaded with them to leave the place, to run to safety. While they looked up and listened to me a bit, there was barely any reaction from them. Soon, they had returned to their business. 

          At that moment, we were attacked. A massive tiger was pricing and tearing apart the bamboo walls of the hut. Somehow, I managed to escape. But escaping only put me out on the dark streets again. Out in the open. In trying to go out and warn my colleagues, I had taken my family with me away from safety and now because of me, they were in danger too.

          Many times since then, I have gone back to that dream, pondering it. The message was clear: it is not my mission to save my colleagues. If I save my family and if my colleagues wish to learn from it, they are most welcome to.

          But my workmates are not my mission. My family is. This week, I learned that lesson anew.

          And as long as one chooses family, there will be forces against it. Like the woman at work who will not allow us to choose family because she won’t. She will trouble us until we admit defeat and resign ourselves to her will.

          In a moment of quiet yesterday afternoon, I sensed a tiny movement in my spirit.

         I advise you to have recourse to the Sacred Heart of Our Lord Jesus Christ, if you want to conquer your enemies and obtain the strength and consolation you need; He will not refuse you this help, if you ask it of Him. 

          I think of the many things that have happened this week. Incidents, realizations, choices and decisions. Each invisibly linked to the other, creating a little bridge across this Jordan of my life. The other side still some way off, I need a way to win this battle and reach it.

Have recourse to the Sacred Heart of Our Lord Jesus Christ.

He will not refuse you this help, if you ask it of Him. 

          And so I do. And I ask big. I ask for all the miracles possible to end this battle.

 

 

Word for the Seas

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I believe that I shall see the bounty of the LORD
    in the land of the living.
Wait for the LORD with courage;
    be stouthearted, and wait for the LORD.   ~  Psalm 27: 13 – 14

 

          In the days following Easter, over and over a single verse resounded,

This is the day the Lord hath made.   ~  Psalm 118: 24

And with it, a quote that came to me during Lent,

God always answers prayers – just not our way.

          Exactly a week ago, I needed to make that long drive to the city. I actually dislike driving long distance; I’d rather be driven, free to let my mind drift and roam and dream. But that Friday, I felt I needed to drive myself there, even if I didn’t feel like it because being alone meant being able to go and be in church.

          As usual, letting myself into our still and empty church, it seemed worth all the difficulty. The welcoming silence and peace within God’s Heart is without compare. 

          I cannot recall everything I took to the Risen Jesus in my hour there, but I did set down my prayer cart before Him, and linger by it a while before finally reaching for my much loved copy of In Sinu Jesu. I will go back to a lot of noise, Lord, I told Jesus. So, please let me hear Thy voice, if You will. Loud and clear, I added helpfully. The tyrants at work were warming up to their innate talents. I needed to keep God’s voice close at hand for when the days grew long and hard, as I knew they would soon enough.

          So, I attentively read word after word, line after line, parting the boughs and leaves in search of His words for me. Along the way, finding humble little blooms, I dutifully gathered them and tucked them absently into the posy in my heart.

When you are weak, come to Me

When you are burdened, come to Me

When you are fearful, come to Me

          Yes, Lord, thank you, Lord, I know, I know…. but is there anything … more? I looked deeper. There had to be something for the days and weeks ahead.

When you are assailed by doubts come to Me

When you are lonely, come to Me

          With small sigh, I gave up. My hour in church was nearing its end. I thought of visiting a little store on my way home and getting us some things for the weekend. Turning my gaze back to the Crucifix behind the Tabernacle, I felt a wave of tiredness wash over me. So, I decided against going to the store. I would spend those minutes here instead, rest a while more.

          And so I did. Just a while. Just Jesus and me and the little birds fluttering their wings against the glass panels of the church. From outside, the muted drags and hums of passing vehicles reminded me of what lay waiting. Work, duties, responsibilities. Nothing much had changed in my world but I had. Always tottering and in turmoil, the recent weeks had found me a little more steady on my feet. My friend, Linda Raha told me once about counting our blessings each night and that found its mark in my heart. Making it a point to be grateful each day, picking little flowers of thanksgiving each night has gotten me to a better place.

Come to Me

Come to Me

Come to Me

          Perhaps for now, that was all the grace I needed.

          Just before I packed up, again, one last look but not expecting anything.

You did not expect to receive these words from Me today…   ~  In Sinu Jesu

          They were not the words I was hoping for. Not searing, not a light-bolt that strikes the heart, slicing through the fog. 

You did not expect to receive these words from Me today

          They were words of a friend. A friend of the heart. One who can sift through the layers which cloud our seeking, knowing what our spirit needs most.

You did not expect to receive these words from Me today

          Just as I was rising to leave, He speaks so gently, tenderly. And again, as before, they were not the words I sought but they were the ones I truly needed. Because just like that, everything came to a rest. The seeking dried up and a cheery quiet slipped in to take its place.

...that I should know how to speak a word in season to him who is weary.   ~  Isaiah 50: 4
          
          Jesus is the Master of that knowing. Whatever the season, He knows the word we seek. And when our spirits have bent low enough to His lips, He will whisper them to our hearts.
   
          And the seas will calm.

The Sea of Life

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          As I write this, I have been so moved by pictures I’ve been looking at this evening, photos taken by beautiful souls. Of seaside cliffs, of the sea, of places where winter lingers in its final farewells. It was one of those times when I allow myself daydreams of a new home, a new life – by the sea, no less! But more importantly, away from this town of a thousand eyes, freedom to work and live as I wish, no longer beholden to those who will never understand.

          I wrote to someone today, remembering a day some 8 years before. I was attending a course in a little town by the sea. It was the first time I had been away from my young family. Even as the pangs of mother’s guilt tore at me for enjoying this time away, I had nurtured hopes that the course I was attending would herald a change in my professional life, give me some hope, some measure of joy, because as much as I loved my family with all my heart, the darkness of depression was biting deeper and deeper into me. At that time, I thought perhaps an opened window in my career would let in some light and that it would make life livable.

          Late one evening during the course, after a walk on the beach, I sat on one of those wooden beach sleepers, and watched a storm slowly roll in. From the time I was a child, I have always been enthralled by the sea. The crash and slosh of its waters on the shore and salt-washed rocks were the only sounds strong enough to still the ever present tumult within me. That day in that little town by the happy sea, I realised that I had not outgrown this childhood love. And that the power the sea had over me had not waned either.

          On my last morning there, during an break, I went out to the beach once more. I knew passing eyes were curiously eyeing me, wondering what a formally dressed woman was doing sitting by the beach at past 10 in the morning, staring out at the swell and fall of the sea as it ran with a lover’s grace towards the sandy shores. I was a deeply insecure person back then, and it took a lot to get past what others thought of me, and to remain by the sea for a while more. But I’m glad I did. When I think of that moment now, I think that in my heart, I knew that even if I did return to the seaside for holidays with my family and such, I would not come back this way, in this same short-lived freedom from the call of home.

          How true! 8 years or more have passed and with it, every manner of opportunity to make something of myself. Still, even if a part of me is disappointed it turned out this way, bitterness finds no real hold within me; I chose family over everything else and given a chance to re-live those days, I’d do the exact same again.

          Such decisions, like everything else, alter the path that leads from every fork in the road. For some, it leads to something new, an unexpected bounty that refreshes flagging spirits. For others like me, some of our dreams fall further and further behind in the rearview mirror, increasingly eclipsed by the present, challenging, difficult at times, yet utterly beautiful too.

          It is what it is, as Gary of Bereaved Single Dad is wont to say. You do the right thing whether it feels right or not, no matter how strong the lure of dreams to choose a different path.

          And like the sea, life comes to carry you on.