Late afternoon, the sun was shining and the birds were chirping. I wrapped my skirted legs around yours on our garden swing, gently swaying as we sat. We watched. And waited.
And we breathed.
We inhaled spring and exhaled winter. Every breath a relief and a solace.
You pointed out the tui on top of the tallest pine. It was perched there at the very tip, immobile, and like a heavy star on the Christmas tree, we expected the branch to bend under its weight. It didn't. Motionless. Still.
You squeezed my hand and said, "it's a sign..."
"Of what?" I asked.
And you laughed because you really had no idea. I said, "it's not a sign; this is a sign. All of this."
The stillness. The peace. The beauty.
And I squeezed your hand harder, knowing you had to go back to work, back to town to be master of ceremony at an event. You were a little nervous even though you were born for the role. Born to command, to dictate and to entertain. Born to keep a crowd at ease while carrying on a whole programme of events. But at that moment you were still by my side and still mine, all mine. You didn't belong to hundreds of maths enthusiasts then. Just to me.
I remember writing about the Cow Man in our lives, celebrating our heroes, not for one moment thinking that I would come to this place of absolutely depending upon and needing several heroes in my life. I needed them; they stood up. And I celebrate them again.
More than anyone, you stood up. As you always have and always will. You stood up for me, made the phone calls that needed to be made, said the things that I needed to hear and held my hand. Because that's what you were born to do. You were born to be my hero, my Cow Man and I am grateful.
You slipped away from me into the dusk and I sat a little while longer on our swing. Alone with the tui and a gentle breeze. Alone, but not afraid. For a moment at least, not afraid.
Alone, I inhaled spring and exhaled winter.
And I rested.
Late afternoon, the sun was shining and the birds were chirping. I wrapped my skirted legs around yours on our garden swing, gently swaying as we sat. We watched. And waited.
Last night, or should I say, in the early hours of this morning as I went from groggy unsettled sleep to groggy unsettled sleep, I kept having the same dream.
Now first of all, I don't put much stock in dreams. Yes I know about Joseph in the Bible and I know that God is capable of speaking to us in our dreams and visions but I have seen this potential abused far too much by men and I admit it would take an awful lot to convince me that a dream is a word from God. It is more likely to be an accumulation and interpretation of the thousands of images that have crossed in front of our eyes, during the day, both in real life and in what we glean from our technological world. Some of these things we don't actually see but our brains acknowledge them and they get into our self-conscious without us even knowing.
So my dreams last night were not from God but directly from my brain. Still, it's my brain saying something to me. And I've been listening.
You've all probably had that dream where someone or something is after you and you can't move? You experience the panic and frustration of wanting to run but you can't move. Your legs are glued to the spot. And then you wake up in a cold "oh it was just a dream!" sweat.
Well last night or this morning, I dreamt that I could not see. I could not open my eyes except for brief moments but when I did, I was blinded by glaring awful light that hurt my eyes and made them cry. The dream went on for ages, in and out of days, all with that frustration and panic of not being able to see. I would stumble around the house, go to the grocery store grasping at the aisles and whatever I could touch, ride my bike and drive my car--all blind. And afraid of what could be lurking right in front of me that might hurt me.
Think about it: if someone were to put a blindfold over your eyes and make you take steps in a clear room, even knowing that there were no obstacles in front of you, your steps would still be tiny and awkward and your arms would be flailing in front of you because of what could be there. The unknown is the most frightening thing we face.
So naturally I've thought a lot about seeing and blindness and the world we live in right now. There is a lot we would rather not see. So much we'd rather not know. The Nigerian school girls kidnapped by rebels, the bombing of the Malaysian plane, the massacres in Syria and Iraq, the racism and turmoil in Ferguson--all horrible stuff in our world that most of us, if we're honest, would rather not see.
And if we did see, if we did open our eyes, we would see plenty in our own cities and towns. Poverty. Domestic abuse. Rape. Drug and alcohol abuse. Suicide.
Hey, if we're really honest, we'd have to admit we have our eyes shut to a lot of what we'd rather not see even in our own churches. Abuse. Exploitation. Manipulation. Judgment. Gossip. Assumption. Perversions of truth. Lies and corruption.
I read a lot of blogs by some amazing people who refuse to keep their eyes shut. People like Sarah Bessey, Rachel Held Evans and Jen Hatmaker. All women who, no matter how much it hurts to see, they welcome the seeing and they use their voices to give us all the opportunity to see as well. They make a stand for social injustice, for the abused, for the marginalised and they hope that others too will see what needs to be seen. That others too might stand up and that one small seeing step at a time, we might make a difference.
I've seen a fair bit too. I've seen things I'd rather not have seen and I've seen a lot of hurt and pain and fear. This week, especially, I'd have liked to close my eyes and not see anything. How tempting it would be to simply shut my eyes and run away. But instead I've chosen to keep my eyes wide open, to stand up to what I fear. Because as in my dream, although it hurt to open my eyes and see the glaring awfulness outside, it also hurt to be blind. I was stumbling, fearful of what I could not see, afraid of what might happen. At least with my eyes open, I am fully prepared.
No matter how tempting it is to shut our eyes to the hurt and the awfulness, we can't. We need to keep our eyes open and we need to acknowledge what we see, not just for the sake of others, but for our own sake as well.
And God knows this. He knows that for our own protection, we need to keep our eyes open and we need to see: "All this I have told you so that you will not fall away. 2 They will put you out of the synagogue; in fact, the time is coming when anyone who kills you will think they are offering a service to God. 3 They will do such things because they have not known the Father or me. 4 I have told you this, so that when their time comes you will remember that I warned you about them." (John 16:1-4)
Jesus warned the disciples and us that we will face trouble and heartache. I believe that time is now. We need to accept it and be aware. We need to keep our eyes open and be ready to protect ourselves and to offer protection to others.
Most important, we need to stand in the assurance that we are not alone in facing what we fear because we have the Holy Spirit as our advocate, the spirit of Truth who will guide us in all things and speak for us.
In my most unimaginable week, when I knew I had an enemy who intended to harm me, when I found myself in my very own episode of Doctor Who facing the ugliest of the Slitheens too big for his stolen skin, my son gave me a hug.
My 12-going-on-13-year-old-anti-touch-since-being-in-the-cot-son gave me a hug.
Because he knew. He just knew: mama needed a hug.
In fact, God knew. God knew I needed a hug. I've had lots of them this week, both physical and virtual from so many people but what better miracle--what better way for God to say "I know what you need," than for my anti-touch son to spontaneously wrap his gangly arms around me, awkwardly bend his head toward my cradling shoulder without exactly leaning in, and say something so simple and so beautiful as "thanks for all the wonderful dinners you cook for us Mum."
Because this is the week where I have seen evil and stood up to it and said, "no more! This stops now!" But I did not do it alone. Oh no. As strong as I am, I could never have done it alone: "who will believe me?" The words of a every victim of abuse, whether physical, emotional or spiritual. Who will believe me?
This is the week where I have been embraced by my community...my actual God-given community who or may not acknowledge Him for themselves, who have stood and said with me in a great big Jesus-over-turning-tables-in-the-temple voice: "ENOUGH!" They have combined their strong and protective arms with my son's around me, some in uniform, and I have exhaled a long sigh of relief. They have stood with me, and they have surrounded me. They have loved and they have protected. Together in full volume they have said, enough.
This is the community I love and value no matter what they believe. This, the community which understands love and loyalty and authenticity even if they don't understand Jesus Christ.
They may not understand Him; but He understands them. And they are fantastic.
I love them. And I am so grateful for them.
Since reading about some of the controversy that has plagued Mark Driscoll and Mars Hill Church recently, I have had a question gnawing at me and it won't let go. I have asked this question before, in my own context of small church hurt. This is so much bigger; yet the question is still the same.
How can people be so blind to the truth? How can they carry on believing? Why do they just accept the status quo?
In my local case, I know some of why the people keep believing. They weren't told the truth and still aren't and it will be the Holy Spirit's job to present the truth to them as He did to me and to others. Unlike the people speaking publicly about Mars Hill, I deliberately made a choice not to expose anyone or anything. I put away my soap box. I did not present the evidence I had in my possession. I walked away and never looked back. And I am okay with that, even seeing and admiring so many brave people who are speaking out about Mars Hill. The difference is that Mars Hill is global and therefore has huge potential for influence--good or bad. My local church...not so much. I do not fear that the lies, control and manipulation going on locally will be much of a threat to evangelical Christianity although, yes, more people will be hurt. As I am sure they already have.
There are a lot of issues surrounding Mark Driscoll's and Mars Hill's credibility. There is only one that I will address here and to me it is the crux. It's the clincher. It's the thing that requires common sense to say: "Get out! Run for your lives! Head for the hills and duck for cover!"
In a word: accountability. The Executive Elders refuse to disclose their salaries to the congregations of Mars Hill.
Now to me in my black and white world, that non-disclosure says a whole lot. And the fact that Dalton Roraback was forced out of leadership shortly afterwards for asking the question, says a whole lot more. Common sense says there must be a reason, something hiding in that non-disclosure. Common sense says, stop believing. Stop following. Get out.
And yet, there are many many many people across the United States still donating money to Mars Hill and believing in the institution.
It's complicated I know that. I am too black and white and coming from a very limited perspective. I know that.
I also know that if it were their government spending their tax dollars, pretty much every American citizen would agree that it is their right to know how much their leaders and politicians are being paid. If that information were not available, cries of corruption would erupt far and wide. And rightly so.
But why isn't it the same in a church? Why do so many people accept that it's okay not to be told? It's okay. We don't need to know. We trust our God-appointed elders and it's okay. We submit to their authority. We trust them without question. Yes Sir, no Sir, thank you very much Sir.
What are we afraid of?
Why do we lose all of our God-given common sense when it comes to church governance?
Because it is not okay, even in a church. Because that God-appointed leader may be anointed, gifted, humble, spiritual, wonderful, amazing and all those things but he or she is still human. They are not God. They are fallible.
And believe me, the more powerful and influential they are, the more susceptible they are to greed and control and manipulation and the more in line they need to be with Jesus and His teachings. It's human nature. And it's a problem. A problem that demands accountability.
And so the original question plagued me: why do people accept it?
And then I remembered a novel I used to teach at High School called The Wave by Morton Rhue. In fact, I think I may have even studied it when I was in school. The students in a history class ask the very same question to their teacher referring to Nazi Germany and millions of Jewish people killed. Why didn't people stand up? Why didn't they stop him? How did they let it happen?
So history teacher Mr. Ross endeavours to answer the question through a social experiment. He starts a group called the Wave. At first the students are sceptical and think their teacher is loopy but eventually they join in. They start chanting and marching. They subscribe to Mr. Ross's principles of "Strength through Action, Strength through Community, Strength through Discipline" and everything improves. No one is left out, even the former class reject Robert Billings and all their grades improve too. Mr. Ross himself is amazed with his success until some of the group become violent with non-members. He realises that his experiment worked dangerously well.
The answer to the question, the students discover, is that they all long for something bigger than themselves to believe in and to be a part of. This was especially true of the class clown who was suddenly accepted. He was the one with the most to lose when it ends and who took the group most seriously, even volunteering to become the body-guard for Mr. Ross, the leader who had given him so much.
People long to be accepted and they need to feel valued. I have heard a church leader recently admit that church leaders can play on that need and he warned that some will. People want to be a part of something bigger than themselves--a contributing part--which is why some churches are so successful at getting people to leave their common sense at the door. Join us. You are welcome here. We value you. Just don't ask any questions.
Christian: You do not have to leave your common sense at the door of a church. And those with discerning gifts need to trust that those questions you want answered come not just from common sense but from the Holy Spirit. John 3:20 reminds us that "Everyone who does evil will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed." If by asking a question or pointing out injustice you are shining a light on the situation but leaders refuse to allow it, thus insisting on hiding in the dark, then there is a problem. And the problem is not you.
Most important, as Christians we need to remember that we already do belong to something bigger than ourselves, that is, we belong to God as His daughter or son and are a significant part of His universal plan. Jesus Christ is your brother. And you are valued and loved. You do not need to find your value in a church by contributing or belonging there. You need to find your value in your relationship with Jesus Christ and know that you already have it.
You already belong. You're already there.
An aside: lest anyone should think my tone is haughty or arrogant...I too once left my common sense at the door. I belonged to a church and I belonged to a team in that church. And it felt good and it felt right. So good and so right in fact, that I lost my sense of judgement and trusted those who shouldn't have been trusted. Others had warned me but I didn't listen. I should have pried myself away from that group and that church long before the decision was taken from me. Thankfully I woke up before much harm was done, or the Holy Spirit shook the sense back into me. Probably both. The point is, I know. I know.
Today I said good-bye to my nearly 13 year old slider rocking chair. The age of the rocker is significant; it is also the age of my eldest baby. My lanky, gangly, sleeping-in-to-all hours baby. My boy-man.
We bought the slider rocker 13 years ago from The Baby Factory on Devon Street. It was the first piece of furniture we had ever bought brand new and somehow it matched our second hand forest green 2 seater sofa perfectly. With no family nearby to hand down their baby things to us, we needed all the essentials: crib, stroller, high chair, all-in-ones, diapers, bins, toys, singlets, cardigans. All of it, brand new. But the first thing we bought was the slider rocker. The soon-to-be mama in me already had a picture of late night feeds and early morning settling, sitting in that rocker.
And I was not wrong. It was well used. The arms of that rocker were the perfect height for cradling a baby whilst feeding or just rocking while singing a lullaby. That rocker saw me through four babies and two houses.
Bit by bit we have sold all that baby furniture that we had to buy for our sprogs. Saying good-bye to the white-washed crib that went through three babies and then was converted to a toddler bed from one of the twins--that was the hardest moment. I loved that crib. And I loved that rocker and because I am a hopeless romantic and because that chair held so many memories, I said I would never sell it, even though the matching 2 seater second hand sofa was long gone. In fact, that slider rocker has not matched anything in my house for a very long time. The cushion began to sag years ago and all the screws were loose. It squeaked horribly when it rocked.
That slider rocker was only really used as a last resort for seating in my lounge, but there it remained, pushed into a corner between the stereo cabinet and the piano.
And with another move in our future, I looked at the slider rocker one day. The one in which I nursed and rocked my babies. That terribly out of place and falling apart slider rocker.
It was time to go and so go it did. To a young mum with her own wee bairns to feed.
I saw it go, put the cash in my pocket, turned away and washed the dishes.
No tears, not even a choking at my throat.
It simply was time.
Time to move on. Time to let go. Time to smile and remember fondly. But time for new memories.
How glad I am for new memories!
Am I becoming less sentimental as I age? Maybe I am. I am certainly becoming less attached because I have learnt recently that nothing lasts forever. But I already knew that. Robert Frost and I both new that, that poem I studied back in Middle School simultaneously with our study of a classic novel, The Outsiders:
Nothing gold can stay. Certainly the inevitable outcome for the leaf is to wither and die. Clearly the rosy hues of dawn must fade to grey before they succumb to the blinding light of day. And obviously, my golden time of raising babies is well and truly over.
But here's the thing: there is always new gold to take its place. And there is always more gold yet to be discovered for you. There might be a lot of day to get through first...just ordinary grey, green, blue day before we see another golden dawn but we will see it again. There will always be another dawn, often bolder and more beautiful than the one we tried to hold on to, the one we dreaded to lose. Be filled with joy as you anticipate the golden dawn ahead.
For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the , “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. (Jeremiah 29:11 NIV)
God has plans for gold in my future. Plans for gold in your future.
It's not such a bad thing after all, saying good-bye to something old and rickety and worn.
Not such a bad thing.
"It occurs very rarely in the life of a nation that the courageous spirit of one person unites all people in the celebration of his life and in the mourning of his death ... We do not think of him as one who was defeated by misfortune but as one who inspired us with the example of the triumph of the human spirit over adversity." Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau on the death of Terry Fox
Paul's Cross Country season came to a close last night as he celebrated with his team at the annual Marbles dinner. Paul realised it was the 10th anniversary of this tradition and reminisced with me on how the dinner got started. One of his first runners, when the team was only a handful, suggested a celebration-of-the-season dinner but it took a couple more years for it to get off the ground. As the team grew and a culture took form, the dinner became a celebration of the year past as well as a presentation of trophies hard-fought for and well-earned.
Every year at this dinner, Paul presents a speech to his team. He wraps up the year's achievements and fondly retells the in-jokes. But in his speech he also hopes to inspire the boys, not only as runners but as maturing young men.
Paul read his speech to me last night and I begged and pleaded with him to let me share some of it (in-jokes aside). I think it's important because it demonstrates what running and Cross Country is all about to Paul. And it also says a lot about what it means to be Canadian as it truly highlights a thing I call Canadian courage. We are born with fire and ice in our blood. It takes a lot to knock us down. And even then, our inclination is to get right back up, no matter what adversity it is we face. I feel that my friends and family in B.C. who are fighting for the right to good public education against the Liberal government, might need to be reminded of that Canadian spirit which urges them to keep going, to keep pressing on despite adversity.
In sharing this, Paul has asked me to acknowledge and thank two of his friends in Canada, Ray and Doug. They both have taken the time to get to know and understand him as well as his passion for running and young people. They both have loved him for it. And thank you Ray and Anne, for taking us to Mile 0 on that cold December day. For the memories and the walks and the seals and the fish and chips.
The Teacher's Creed:
I am a teacher.
I accept the challenge to be sagacious and tenacious in teaching every student because I believe that every child can learn. I accept the responsibility to create a learning environment conducive to optimum achievement academically, socially, and emotionally. I actively pursue excellence for myself and for my students. I provide a model of decorum and respect that guides my students as well as honours them. I affirm superlative expectations for my students and myself. I cherish every child. I am a teacher. I change the world
one student at a time.
It's my birthday today.
It's my birthday today and I ought to be writing about all the love and warm fuzzies I have received on this my special day. It truly has been a wonderful day. As one of my Facebook friends put it, I am blessed among women. I know I am.
I am blessed because I am surrounded by friends and family who love and appreciate me and want to make me feel special on this, my birthday.
But I am blessed also because I am a teacher in New Zealand. Moreover, I am blessed because my children have the privilege of being educated in New Zealand.
And that means that I am valued. Because so far at least, teachers in New Zealand are valued and treasured and respected. Which means that the children we teach are also valued and treasured and respected. Yes, we've had our pay disputes and contract collisions with government but in my time anyway, they have never gone too far. In my time they have been resolved fairly and adequately. And a couple of years ago, when the education minister Hekia Parata mooted a policy about increasing class sizes etc etc, THE WHOLE COUNTRY WENT TO THE FRONTLINES. I wasn't the only one who wrote letters. The letters came from EVERYWHERE and she very quickly (and graciously) backed down. An entire nation could see and made sure she knew they saw, that it did not make sense. We weren't about to have the wool pulled over our eyes.
And while I should continue to write about all the ways I am blessed as a teacher in New Zealand, I am actually writing because my heart hurts.
I am not a New Zealander by birth.
I am Canadian by birth, and lived most of my Canadian life in British Columbia.
My heart hurts because my colleagues, friends and family in the education sector of B.C. are fighting a battle which should not have to be fought. They are fighting illogical government mandates such as lockouts at lunch and pay deductions based on these enforced lockouts. And let's face it: since they are fighting a government which defies the B. C. supreme court, they are fighting corruption at the highest level.
So now the teachers federation is fighting fire with fire and will strike. They are going to the very front of the front-lines and I support them in their strike.
But my heart hurts because it shouldn't have come to this.
The government of B.C. would stop immediately if there were enough public pressure. The government would back track and lick their wounds and come to an agreeable resolution if the public said they should.
But the public is not saying that they should. Yet.
It seems to me, over here across the ditch, that either the public of B.C. has had the wool pulled over their eyes, or they simply do not support the teachers in B. C. From my perspective it looks as if the public thinks the teachers are greedy, are asking too much, and that the government should continue to hold out.
Who will ultimately lose in this battle?
I'll tell you will lose: your children. And your children's children. Generations of children who are getting a raw deal now because their classes are too large, their teachers are over-stretched with high needs and so the gap between rich and poor gets bigger.
Is that really the price you want to pay, residents of B.C.? Because what you are actually saying by your inertia, your apathy, or worse, your gregarious condemnation of supposedly greedy teachers is this: "children, teenagers, next generation, we don't care about you; learn to sink or swim but work it out for yourselves."
Really? If that's not what you think, then you should be writing letters and sending emails. Now. No matter your age or stage, you should be standing up and joining the picket lines. You should be visibly and actively supporting teachers in B.C. Now.
Because if you don't, what you're saying to me and my husband and my family--two well educated and talented teachers with four bright and beautiful and promising children is this: we don't want you.
So my heart hurts.
Because suddenly I have one less option. I no longer have a choice to return home and invest in the country and province which once invested in me.
I cannot in good conscience choose to raise my children in the province of B.C., let alone teach in it.
And that's just not right.