Words for the Hour

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          Today, my phone warned me that my storage was almost full so I set about deleting accumulated content. Then, I came to a dear friend’s messages. She was the maid of honour at my wedding almost 23 years ago. But more than that, she was someone who was always looking out for what was best for me. A gentle person, she nevertheless never shied away from telling me uncomfortable truths. She wasn’t always right; sometimes she was dead wrong. Still, the bond between us ran deep and tight.

          When I came to her messages today, I knew that I would have saved any that I wanted to keep so with one swift move, hit Delete. Sure enough, everything went – save one:

Do not be afraid. I am your shield, your very great reward.   ~  Genesis 15: 1

          That was my dear friend’s New Year message to me this year and seeing it now, my heart was pierced. I knew God was speaking through that verse.

          I have a lot to to be anxious about. The Delta variant is wrecking havoc as far as the eye can see and I have no faith in my government to lead us through this. Last month, I also began discerning a major move in my life. While I’ve made some progress, I’m still some way from a confirmation. I’m handling my work stress so much better now – but it hasn’t made me like my job more. There are all these little hills in my life, the terrain far from smooth.

          I haven’t forgotten what the past months and years have been like. The pain and the hurts remind me to be thankful for the present gentle hours, even on days when it’s easy to forget life was so hard a short while back. And so I tighten my grip on gratitude.

          But I’ve always been honest in my writing and here, I will not pretend that I am strong and positive now. The past weeks have seen glorious, stunning sunrises and sunsets. Pinks, golds, tangerines…all the colours of joy and hope that reach out and just catch your heart each day. July has never been an easy month for us for many years now.

          But I don’t remember a July as beautiful as this one has been. Every morning for more than a week now, the angel has woken us up with a surprise in the eastern glory of the sky. All through the day, the winds sing their hymns among the trees and flowers. Sometimes, in a quick foray to my garden on a busy work day, the winds quieten momentarily as I work in the flowerbeds – only to spring forward in a sudden gust, like a little child springing a jolly surprise on his mum. And every evening without fail, someone was sure to point to the sky’s western breast where the sun painted his last words in a spill of colours we know so well yet which still startled us.

          Somewhere over the weekend, I sensed the word, Faith, being written on my heart. It was easy to skip about when the sky is painted in hope and joy, and faith was not difficult to summon then. Then, August Queen prayer came and I knew the days were about to change. On Monday, a strong wind blew for hours and sealed the sky with thick gray and white fleeces. By night, the rain poured its grief upon the land. Nourished from the beauty of recent days, we welcomed each change unafraid. Soon, however, the thick white of the clouds descended deep into my heart, and faith needed a bit more work to reach for.

Let me hear your voice, I called to heaven. Leave me not bereft.

          St. Anne heard me and gently spilled light into my heart this afternoon. Doing some writing and finding the going a bit tough, a friend came forward expectedly and shone needed light on my path. How my heart jumped in happiness! That alone sufficed and I continued working with the renewed vigour that insight often brings.

          But God was not quite done.

           In the evening, when the sky was an unyielding white, He spoke through the love of my old friend, touching the wounds I did not try to hide from Him,

Do not be afraid. I am your shield, your very great reward. 

          So, I’ve come to place His words here. To let them touch and heal and soothe any passing hearts, for even the bravest souls will meet the hour that breaks their courage.

          Here then are His words for that hour.

Shoulder To Stand On

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          Almost 2 weeks back, I felt a vague unease pass by my heart. There was so much to do then that I could not pay it much attention. Nevertheless, it hovered close by, biding its time to come forward. Later, in town, waiting in the car for one my children to run an errand, I sensed a quietening within me. Then, I felt a distinct press on my heart: someone was in need.

          Last week, there was another unexpected sign – someone in need – in New Zealand. My godparents and their families reside there. So did the family of another aunt who had passed away recently. Was it any of my loved ones? Or New Zealand in general, I wondered. I prayed. But again, work interfered.

          Still, even as I worked, one quote kept coming up,

Standing on the shoulders of giants

          Although I knew what the quote meant, I was certain that it was pointing to something else.

The giant souls we depend on to get us through our trials.

Something to do with those we rely on so much, the strong ones among us. Those who hold us up when we would fall, those who will us on when we lose hope. Who wipe our tears when the pain scales the highest walls, holding us close to their own worn and broken hearts, holding us tighter through prayers.

It is the caregiver, whispered my heart. The soul in need was a caregiver.

          On Friday, I received some good news concerning work that brought immense relief –  something big that had taken up quite a chunk of my time and attention had been cancelled. I had been locked too much within myself over that. Freed now, I flew to open my heart more to others.

          Then, a text came in and it became clear who needed me. My uncle in New Zealand. The family has faced so much over the past decades. My uncle patiently, with great love and faith, has led the way forward each time. But the recent trials they have endured have been one too many. Serious illnesses, an ill grandbaby, a business all but wiped out by Covid.

The heart of a caregiver is the biggest heart of all.

          Yet, it is that heart we often forget and that which we take for granted. Who holds a caregiver’s hand when life is hard for him, the difficult journey far from its end? Who loves her back to strength when her heart is broken and her vigour gone? To our eyes, the caregivers among us are the epitome of joy and endless grace in suffering, a tower of strength. Yet, we see only what we want to see. Hidden from ready sight is the price of a caregiver’s love. What is the hidden cost of loving and giving so much? What pains do they bear in silence so that they can be there for us? What do they keep away from us so that we can heal, so that we find our footing once again after a fall?

          The answers to each one of those questions will be varied, I know. I know something about my Uncle’s walk of fire, but every caregiver’s story, if he cares to share it, will speak to a common refrain of sacrifice, suffering and loss, endured in sweetness and silence, so that others may live on in hope and dignity.

          The caregiver cares for someone. But someone else must look out for the caregiver too. So, I go knocking on doors, to all the saints I’ve called upon, learned to trust and come to love over the years.

Help him

help him

help him

I call at each stop.

          When generous souls spare little thought for themselves, we must, for their sakes, for even a giant needs a shoulder to stand on.

In Every Season, Love

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          The world is in seasons, it seems, in more ways than one. If it’s summer for some, winter is hovering close for others.

          In the midst of our own peace and happiness, on a golden Friday, my Muslim next door neighbour informed me that his young son-in-law, a father to two young children, had contracted Covid and had been placed under induced coma. I cannot imagine how hard it must have been for the families involved. The fear of losing a boy they had come to love as their own was compounded by not being able to reach out and offer physical help to their daughter and their two grandbabies living so far away, due to the nationwide lockdown still in effect here. The morning after the most bitter of nights for them, my husband caught a glimpse of our neighbour’s wife. A soul with the most golden of hearts, her face was now shadowed with grief.

Life changed from one moment to the next

          I heard that comment made on tv by a loved one to one of those missing in the Florida condo collapse and I realised how often I had thought the same thing these past days. Sudden changes. Surprises. Shocks. In Florida, in the deepest golden blue of summer, bitter winter came. No comfort of months or weeks to prepare for the change. No gentle leading to the hard of cold and pain.

          Visiting my garden the day after the news, I worked at the beds away from our fence to assure my neighbours that I wasn’t looking for conversation. They already knew our family’s prayers were joined to their anguished pleas to God. Even in our own summer, we must do all we can for hearts wintered in.

          Today, unexpectedly, my neighbour sent us dinner over our fence. It was a heartwarming dish expertly made by his wife, one we have enjoyed multiple times over the years. It is also a time-consuming and painstaking dish to prepare, effort nearly impossible under the shadows of fear and sorrow. We immediately knew then that joy had come to them. I flew to my phone and heard their hope for myself. They were still not out of the woods yet, but hope had come.

From one moment to the next

          Steeping back and looking over all that has happened recently, I learn again that the seasons of life come to all, rich or poor, what marks us to receive more or less from each season not easily understood. How long the seasons stay is beyond anything we can determine, for they lodge at will, the summons to come and leave answered in obedience only to the Almighty.

          Someone tried to teach me a long time ago that a strong, unwavering faith and knowledge of sacred scriptures is a surefire way of facing down times of strife and difficulty. True as that may be for some people, it wasn’t for me. The wall of faith and knowledge that took me through early troubles all but crumbled later when God tested us 14 years ago. In standing before my God, all I had was my naked anguish and raw grief. There were days when Scripture shone light through the impenetrable darkness of debilitating grief; but there were many more when even much loved verses did not make sense, when it seemed like they made their way past the door of my waiting heart, pausing not.

          Today, I asked God once more what takes us through the seasons of life, and what helps us to leave our springs and summers to meet others in their own seasons.

          The answer came, as pure and clear as a new sunrise.

It is love.

Unlock the Door

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Let your door stand open to receive Him, unlock your soul to Him, offer Him a welcome in your mind, and then you will see the riches of simplicity, the treasures of peace, the joy of grace. Throw wide the gate of your heart, stand before the sun of the everlasting Light that shines on every manIt is the soul that has its door, its gates. Christ comes to this door and knocks; He knocks at these gates. Open to Him; He wants to enter, to find His bride waiting and watching.   ~  St. Ambrose of Milan, Bishop and Doctor of the Church, from An Exposition of Psalm 118

          To welcome the Feast of the Body and Blood of Christ today, I thought of doing my usual 3-day Novena. But time slipped past and although I wasn’t as rushed and as frazzled as I usually am, I didn’t go searching for my prayers either.

          Instead, the recent days found me going back to a time in our past. To a long gone Sunday, another Feast of the Body and Blood of Christ. Worn and tired from caring for the kids and from endless troubles on the home front, we had left home late for Sunday Mass. We arrived at church more than 30 minutes late for Mass to find a crowd outside the front doors, themselves unable to get a seat inside. With babies and a toddler in tow, all the sort that just cannot be still even for a moment, we didn’t relish standing outside with the others, offering a comic sideshow for everyone as we dealt with fat, squirming little ones.

          Plus, one of our children wasn’t too well.

          We decided Mass wasn’t for us that day. And we drove on.

          3 days later, we had embarked on the most searing journey of grief.

           This year, as the days made their way to this same feast, I laid down my heart at the feet of my Jesus and asked His forgiveness for what we did that day 14 years ago. Over and over, as often as the winds sang their hymns through the trees, I told God I was so sorry.

          Yesterday, as I was in the midst of revisiting that old day, Someone interrupted me, cheerily ringing the windchimes just above my seat. As I peered up, I spied a lone tree in the distance shake its arms at me. Puzzled that there didn’t seem to be a wind about, nor a bird or squirrel on busy business in the tree, I scanned the skies and trees for an answer.

          Then, I sensed happy mischief. And by that, I knew God was placing His hand upon my heart.

          Still, I didn’t want to go this great feast day without a prayer of welcome. So, late last night, I went looking. I had barely begun when St. Ambrose of Milan stepped out from behind his door. I have grown to love him with all my heart for all the times he has hastened to my side, bringing me the sun of God’s sacred light, lifting my heart to hope when I felt I couldn’t go on anymore.

          Last night again, he gave me his words for my Corpus Christi and reading them, I felt my heart get caught up in an upward, lifting spiral of happiness.

Let your door stand open to receive Him,

unlock your soul to Him,

offer Him a welcome in your mind,

and then you will see

the riches of simplicity, the treasures of peace, the joy of grace.

Throw wide the gate of your heart,

stand before the sun of the everlasting Light that shines on every man.

          A rainbow forms when Light shines through tears. When I saw that rainbow, I knew God’s light had fallen upon my heart.

Be at Peace

Be At Peace

One day, as I was yearning to receive Our Lord, I said to Him: “Teach me what Thou wouldst have me to say to thee.” Nothing but these words: ‘My God, my only Good and my All, Thou art wholly mine, and I am wholly Thine.’ They will preserve thee from all kinds of temptations, will supply for all the acts thou wouldst make, and serve as preparation for all thy actions.’   ~  The Lord, to St. Margaret Mary Alacoque

          I’ve been mulling doing something new for some time now. It’s a major decision and fills me with more dread than hope or excitement because it’s been so long since I’ve done something like this. I’m afraid it will end up a mistake and that I will have to deal with the fallout.

          Plus, my husband wasn’t on board with it. He felt it would be too stressful. He didn’t see why I needed to. Only now learning to leave busy streets to walk in meadows, would this decision take me right back to the point I must never return to?

          I never do anything without my husband’s support, more so for something as huge as this. Nonetheless, while I understood and shared his misgivings, there was no concealing the hurt that he wasn’t giving me his support. I would have welcomed him by my side, examining our options together. If it wasn’t right, then, I knew I would shut the door and get on with life. In dismissing my asking, once again, I felt as if I always had to be the one to make the greater sacrifice. I don’t think I’ve ever held him back from anything. Instead, if there ever was something he wanted, even if I had reservations, I always gave him the freedom to go for it. Yet, now, when I needed it most, I found myself alone by the gate. 

          In the past, having come up against such a wall, I’d have retreated. However, this time, something just wouldn’t let go. I found my thoughts returning to this decision over and over again.

The time for work is over

          Still, in trying to discern from afar, I didn’t get anywhere. So, last Sunday, I pushed open my gate and ventured out a little. I told my husband that I had registered for a virtual session and went in with fingers crossed. There were a number of ‘rooms’  before me and suddenly I felt so small staring up at at them for they seemed like towers to me. Everything about the experience seemed so foreign, so different from all I’ve known. I would have immediately left had it not been for a very persistent friend rooting for me from the sidelines. For his sake, I stayed on, if only to be able to go back to him and at least say that I tried. Still, there was no denying how lost I felt in this new world, huge and shot through with noise. Maybe my husband was right after all, why did I need this?

          Wandering around, I saw a door. Against my friend’s advice to try a different door, I turned this knob and stole in. Almost immediately, I saw something that caught me. Something I hadn’t expected, something that indicated that this might work after all. But I had questions and sought answers for them. The few unseen people I interacted with were polite but offered little by way of the specific encouragement I needed.

          At that point, my home was calling out to me. I wasn’t even physically visiting this particular place, yet, I was beginning to feel overwhelmed. So, just a few hours in, I felt I had enough and retreated home. Perhaps this was a sign that this path wasn’t for me.

          Late that night, I looked down and in my palm was a tiny flower from that room. It had followed me home. As if to say, Don’t give up just yet. 

          That night, I struggled to fall asleep. The fear of doing something new beat hard at me. That I would be doing something for myself after all these years worsened it. And going ahead without my husband’s backing was the hardest blow of all.

          Needing comfort, I called upon St. Anne, the grandmother of Jesus, and asked her to hold me. As I lay my heart against her, I told her I didn’t want anything to come before my husband or children, no matter how enticing it was. And then, I asked St. Anne to help me retreat from this venture. To give me the words for my friend who was hoping I’d do it. To retreat – but with no regret nor rancour.

          I fell asleep and awakened pretty early the next day, unusually fresh and alert. I put in some work but also spent a lot of happy time with my children. All through the day, sun-warmed westerly winds blew against the old windchimes hanging just outside our living room. The cheery lilt of the chimes was a gentle caress, just like the laughter and happy chatter of my kids, loving arms about my heart. Sinking deep into that joy, I gave myself up to it. 

          Soon, no trace of apprehension stained its mark upon me. I was filled with a deep quiet.

And with that quiet, came an unexpected nudge.

          My husband was home from work and I found myself telling him of what I had discovered during that virtual session I had attended on Sunday. It wasn’t with the intention of getting him to change his mind; he was my best friend and I never kept things from him for long.

          This time, I found a very different person before me, attentive and wanting to understand where I was coming from and where I wanted to go with this. Stunned at his change, it helped me to hold nothing back from him, not even my own fears and doubts. At the end of it, he even accepted it and encouraged me to explore my options.

At that, my heart swelled even more with that strange inner quiet.

          Armed with a new, silent confidence, I went back and did some searching, then, made some enquiries. And all through, my heart was at peace. It was basically the same journey of Sunday, and yet it couldn’t have been more different. I took the first polite rejection calmly and went on to knock on another door.

Past midnight on the 1st of June, I got some answers.

Something had been set in motion.

          My discernment is far from over. I still have a ways to go. What lies where the road dips out of sight? Will I go on and take the plunge, will I turn back? Will this journey of discernment be all there is to this experience?

          Give me a sign, I ask Jesus. In reply, He sets before me all the stages of my journey thus far, one by one. My lack of confidence. My nervousness at venturing into new lands. The shame of how little I actually know about anything.

Am I a fool to leave newfound grazing ground to head for the mountains once more?

          Give me another sign, I ask Jesus again. But I sense the time for asking is passing.

          Give me one last sign.

         Jesus’ reply is one I do not anticipate.

Be at peace, He says.

 

Leave the Old

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One who is ill must not wish to do the work of a well man; let him compensate by moderation and patience, and not injure his health.   ~   St. Ignatius of Loyola

 

          Work From Home took effect once more last week, and by the look of things, we could be in for the long haul as Covid cases surge out of control.

          At work, back in March, we were put on a new schedule and it was very demanding. I could barely move from my seat and within a month, I felt and saw its effects. Then came April and a return to my work place. I coped better not having to stare at a screen so much – but the relief was short-lived. When a close contact at work contracted Covid, I was forced into quarantine and soon, our workplace was shut down once more. It made everything so much tougher and that new schedule sure didn’t help things.

           May was a repeat of April in some ways. After another brief time at work, Covid began to overwhelm our nation and soon, we had to shift back to WFH which began last week. After experiencing the fallout from that unforgiving schedule, I knew this time I didn’t want to repeat some mistakes. The awful schedule was going to stay – but I needed to make firm changes to how I handled the workload. I needed to deliver yet manage my health and sanity too.

          We had a short break a week into May and for the very first time, I didn’t touch a single work-related task for those few days. Although travel restrictions meant we could not even go on family drives, not even peeking at my work files and folders gave me such a deep and joyful rest. That short holiday was like a romp in a sunny flower field. There was so much fun with the family. Even the most simple joys delighted me no end. Although I still cooked and cleaned, everything was done at a calm and leisurely pace.

          Around this time, Someone began to remind me about all the little lessons I had learned about coping and living and being happy. 

If today is the best I can make it, the lifetime will take care of itself. If this hour, right now had kitty petting, dinner cooking and book reading in it, and the next had a bubble bath and a call to my mom, and the next had painting with a cup of tea, an old movie and a walk in the woods, if I put all those hours together, what a lovely Red Letter life that would make.   ~  Susan Branch, Martha’s Vineyard, Isle of Dreams.

          Reflecting on this deliberate layering of my day hour-by-hour, I felt led to another life-lesson:

That the time for me to be completely involved and absorbed in one specific thing for hours at a time had passed. More than 2 decades of such commitment had taken so much out of me and I was no longer able to maintain that level of work.

          But neither was this the time to completely shut down and let go. We cannot afford for me to retire early. Neither do I have the luxury of getting more help with running the home. Somehow, I have to still continue working long hours, running the home and still take care of myself.

It was now time to incorporate a bit of everything into a day, whispered a small voice within me. Time to shut out work when it has overstayed its welcome, to firmly ignore the endless beeping of the phone as my superiors text orders and instructions all hours of the day, pushing deadlines on us even at night.

To instead make my day a collage, of not just the tough things which just have to be done, but also of things which sweeten the hours and bring me peace and delight.

          When that dawned on me, it was like light suddenly pooling bright in my mind. I should not wait to live only on weekends or on holidays.

It was time to fight to really live each and every day.

          So, I returned to work after that short break, determined to take charge of my life, to take it back from that terrible schedule first. From Monday till Wednesday last week, I interspersed formal work with work around the home. I began the day very early with my laptop and files and ear plugs stuffed into my ears – but I made sure to get up and move around every few minutes and not become a slave to the laptop. I spent more time in our garden than I ever did before. Granted, it was never much to begin with in the first place. But I learned what so many others have long known – that having even a simple garden routine was a discipline that wrought a lot of good. It was good for my body and certainly good for my soul. A hidden strength and serenity always follows a good  commune with the winds and the sun, the trees and the flowers.

          Those 3 days of the work week passed and I was so pleased with myself. I felt strong and in control. My work schedule had not changed and yet, I had gotten so much done and still felt good.

          Then, came Thursday, Friday, and everything changed. Since March, those have never been good days. A ton of reports is always due on Friday so Thursday is a day to slog. I found myself struggling. On Thursday, I made a lame attempt to be in the garden. On Friday, I just couldn’t.

         It wasn’t that I had fallen off the track or gone back to my old killing ways; I could see no other better way to do things.

          I was disappointed. It was so important to me to learn to work differently and to stay on this new course. So many things were tied in to that. If I failed yet again, then there was little chance to hold on to my job, to win back my health and happiness.

          I wondered if there was something I should have done or not done in order to have lived those days better.

          Just before I fell asleep on Friday, I asked God to speak to me. If there was something that needed to be changed and could be changed, I needed God to lay it out clear and straight for me because all I saw was a hard, high wall in front of me.

          As always, God’s reply was the last thing I expected.

One who is ill must not wish to do the work of a well man; let him compensate by moderation and patience, and not injure his health.   ~   St. Ignatius of Loyola

          The moment I read that quote, I backed away from it.

I was not ill.

That was not the quote for me.

          But those words pursued me gently and silently, like a little friend who loves you and who knows what you need even if you could not admit it to your own self.

One who is ill…

          I am not sick and I will not pretend to be. But for years, I have pushed and battered my body in the mistaken belief that I didn’t deserve any better. While others took breaks and rested, I listened to voices I should have instead shut out, and forced myself to go on working. I worked because I loved to work hard but I also worked to make life easy for others, believing that when you suffer in life, you have to try and keep others from suffering the same. While that might be true and good in many respects, it is not an absolute. In my case, unfortunately, I ended up spoiling some people into believing that I would always be there to pick up the pieces for them. That they could drop things on a whim and yet count on me to finish their job and watch the house, so to speak, while they took time off for hobbies and holidays and rest and rejuvenation.

One who is ill…

          A couple of years back, when it became apparent that something was going very wrong inside me, I tried to get help. I thought it would pass but it didn’t. For a while, meds and herbs helped but soon it was clear that something had been started and my body was set on a path it would not turn away from. Now, I can no longer spend hours scrubbing and cleaning and polishing the house, then, find an extra pair of legs to run after the kids and later, do a good amount of cooking. I will be 49 this year but in a couple of months, I’ll know if I am in menopause. I’m not even 50 but so much has changed within me, little of the old remains. When I compare photographs of myself now and from 10 years before, the deterioration is painful to see.

One who is ill must not wish to do the work of a well man; let him compensate by moderation and patience…

                  There’s something in the Bible about how Love pursues, and those words of St. Ignatius did just that. Wherever I turned, whatever I did, those words from the quote never left me. Soon, I stopped turning my heart away and quietened myself and lay my head upon Jesus’ lap. What do you ask of me, Lord?  

…compensate by moderation and patience…

          There is no point in getting upset over the passing of the old days when I seemed to have endless amounts of energy. I have already mourned that. It is now time to accept the inevitable and move on to learning to do things differently. While I cannot keep to the old pace, I can still do so many things – in fact, I can do a lot – just slower and differently.

          A bit of everything in a day. Work. Gardening. Laundry. Cooking. Cleaning. Teaching the kids. Not for long hours like before but in short spurts. Bit by bit. Or brick by brick as Linda Raha wrote in her beautiful, compelling post.

        …compensate by moderation and patience…

          My Jesus is calling me to gentle living. Even in the midst of the roaring seas that life is now in this country, He is leading the way down a different path, one whose turns and bends I am less familiar with. He wants me to learn that gentle living is not just when I’m on a break or during weekends but that He calls me to it every single day.

          Even if on some days work will not allow me this, I must somehow learn to take back some hours each day to move in God’s meadows. 

          I must learn to let my body teach me how to work. To listen to it as I seldom have before, for more than anything, the body is the Temple of the Holy Spirit. It makes no sense to punish or mistreat this sacred vessel.

          My step will be hesitant and unsure along these new roads. There will be Thursdays and Fridays. I will trip and fall.

          But slowly, by moderation and patience, in adhering to the new discipline of keeping things simple, I will make my way to new meadows.

          And leave the old behind.

 

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 believe how fast my anger disappeared – and more so that the hymn in my ear was for something like this, something pretty minor in the grand scheme of things!

          Suddenly, the coming of the hymn, He, made sense. Getting annoyed with my child seemed such a trivial 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.

Who do I have to forgive now, I wondered.

          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

sunset-690083_1280

          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