Friday, 18 April 2014

It's going to be alright: Mary's story

Someone told me that they had come for him.

You know how people love to pass on bad news? Someone rushed to my lodgings to tell me the worst news there could be, and close behind them my daughters pushed past to kneel in front of me. They would have been more gentle with their choice of words but the news would have been the same.

They had him and they meant to kill him.

I have no words to describe the agony of that moment. I know that I have no right to speak of agony having witnessed what they did to my beautiful boy, but I was torn apart right then. There was a stillness in the room as time stopped and my heart began to bleed. I couldn't take a breath. 

It was over. 

I had never understood my boy Jesus. To be honest I longed for him to live a quiet life, to take over the business, to stay with us and find a nice girl to marry and bring me my first grandchildren as befits my eldest son, but I always knew that it wouldn't happen like that. That there would be no easy life, no perfecting the carpentry skills that his father taught him. Joseph always said he was a good woodworker - had a feel for the wood in his hands - and with practice he could be great, but Jesus always smiled said nothing. He knew that his hands were made for something other than sanding wood. 

As he grew up I knew that he was not like the other children, even though in many ways he was just the same. He had a sense of fun, a ready wit, a boy's curiosity. He had something about him... he was such a good boy. No pushover, don't get me wrong, he was no goody-goody. I used to say that he was stubborn, but Joseph always laughed at my exasperation and told me that it was determination. The other children looked up to him. They deferred to him; he had presence, even as a small boy. And as he grew up and Joseph took him to the temple, we were soon in awe of his understanding. It was as if he were from another world.  Ha. 

I knew. I think I always knew. I knew that day at the wedding when he did the thing with the wine; I knew when I heard reports of amazing things that he was doing. I knew he was born for something greater than staying at home with his mother. If only.

As I wept and rocked back and forth that awful night and wished for a husband to hold me, and a strong carpenter son to walk through the door to tell me that it would be alright, just as he always had - that's when it came back to me.

Thirty three years ago. 

I was in a room not dissimilar to this one, and I was sleepy. 

'Don't be afraid, Mary. You're going to have a baby, and you'll call him Jesus. He will be great - he will be the Most High - his kingdom will never end.'

That's what the angel said to me. Have you ever had an angel speak to you? I remember the turmoil in my head that night, and then the strange, unnatural calm that came over me. It would be alright. I've looked for that same calm many times since then but it doesn't come from inside me. No, it comes from God. When I was with my eldest son I usually felt calm; he had that effect on people. I saw it over and over again as he was growing up. 

These last few years it's been different, somehow. He still inspired, still comforted, still reassured, but I saw a few people narrow their eyes when he talked to them; some people didn't get it. They didn't open their minds to his message. And this is what got him into such trouble. His determination - that stubbornness - to get the message across made him his enemies. He spoke out more and more. Yes, he did his wonderful things, he healed people, he taught people, but he challenged them too. He didn't pull his punches, and some people don't like to be told.

But I digress. There was something else. Quite apart from the circumstances around his conception and cousin Elizabeth's response, apart from the angels and the shepherds and the wise men, as if those things weren't enough!

Something else. 

Back from the early days when I still didn't know what being a mother was all about. I was so, so tired that day that I could barely put one foot in front of the other but it was time to take him to the temple for purification, and so we did. Joseph was so proud. You should have seen his face; and when I think how hard it must have been for him... he was the proud daddy of that baby boy that day, let there be no mistake. He was a good man, my Joseph. I miss him so much. 

So - at the temple. We presented Jesus and they all crowded round. An old man called Simeon came up to me. He looked at me with urgency in his eyes and tears on his cheeks and he told me that my baby was special. He would save people. He said that he could die in peace now because he had seen the Holy One of Israel.

Joseph and I wondered at it. Simeon gazed at Jesus for a long time. I wasn't sure what to do as he was due another feed and I really didn't want him to make a scene in the temple. I should have known better. There was nowhere that he was more content than at the temple. Before Simeon turned to go, he put a hand on my arm and spoke in a low voice. His eyes filled with something I didn't recognise, but I now know it to be pity. 

He said, 'A sword will pierce your heart.'

I told Joseph about it when we got home and he didn't get it either. He dismissed it as just something else that we didn't understand about our baby son. He put his arm around me and told me 'It will be alright,' and my heart settled. I believed him. God has had his hand on this boy's life since the beginning. Why would it not turn out alright? Great things were in store.

That day, when they told me that he'd been taken, the old man's words came back to me. It's exactly what happened. I sat there, my daughters' faces buried in my skirts, and I wailed as if I had been stabbed in the heart. I thought I might die, it hurt so much. 

The thing is, I have had to be strong. From the day that I found out I was pregnant, life has had moments where I've needed to be strong above anything else, and this was one of those moments. I was no use to anyone if I crumbled and refused to get up off the floor. I brought my beloved son into the world and I nursed him, and I taught him everything I knew, and then listened as he taught me.

I would not fail him.

I cannot talk about the next hours. I saw it all. I saw him endure more than a man can endure and I must confess that I shook my fist at God as I watched my eldest son, my perfect boy, suffer so completely. They did unspeakable things to him and they left him on that hillside to die. I saw it all. My throat was hoarse from sobbing and my eyes ran out of tears and became so dry and sore from the dust and...from seeing things that no mother should have to see. 

My boy. My beautiful son. He knew I was there, you know; he spoke to me as I leaned on John and watched him bleed. I take some comfort that he knew I was there. I didn't run away as some did; I didn't fear the Romans. What could they do to me that they hadn't already done? They took my firstborn son and they killed him. They broke my heart.

I watched that kind man Joseph take his body down and I kissed his bloody forehead as they wrapped him in his grave-clothes. Even in death he was not diminished, you know. He was still so beautiful to me. They couldn't hurt him any more. I took the thorns from his head and I smoothed his hair as I used to when he was small. They had to pull me away as they laid him in the tomb. I would have stayed there with him. They could have buried me too.

They took me home and the girls sat with me late into the night. 

I have nothing more to say, because you know what happened on Sunday. You know that this wasn't the end, even though it seemed like it. 

I don't know what the eleven did that night but I didn't see them. They would have known that I'd have words to say to them - where were they when my boy needed them? They stayed away from me. I imagine they hid, and I suppose I don't really blame them. Who knew if the soldiers would come for them too?

But I sat and I wept some more, and I berated God who had asked me to bring his child into the world in the first place. I wanted him to take the pain away. To bring back my son. To make it alright. But surely nothing would ever be right again.

I didn't move all night and all day Saturday. The girls brought me something to eat, but there was no way that I could feel hunger. I prayed. I gave him all my tears and my pain and my pierced soul. I laid it down. I had nothing left.

And then things changed. Everything changed.

I knew before they came bursting through the door for the second time in three days. I knew before Mary took my hands in hers and stammered out her tale of joy and wonder.

It came to me in the night as I sat, lost in my pain. That strange, unworldly feeling of calm. God spoke words of peace once again; this time not to a naive young girl with an unplanned pregnancy - this time to a mother whose soul was torn apart from watching her perfect son crucified. He didn't leave me in my agony.

I knew that they would go to the tomb to take care of the body.

I knew that they wouldn't find him there.

It's all going to be alright. 






Picture credit: 1. Cenetaph003.jpg (sic) by LittleJack 
Courtesy of Morguefile.com
Used with permission.

Reposted from not long ago, actually, but it seemed the right thing for Good Friday.

Thursday, 10 April 2014

A short account

I'm so familiar with the phrase, 'keeping a short account' that I realised the other day that I've stopped considering what it means. It came to me in a sudden revelatory kind of way that I am not very good at confession. Not very good at all. 

Now, I've been reading lately about revelation (small R) and about how God communicates with us and I read about the term, 'apokalupsis' which is a Greek word used in the Bible as one of the several kinds of 'revelation'.  It means uncovering; when something hidden becomes visible. One of those moments when something that you've known and thought you understood suddenly becomes Real. When head knowledge becomes heart knowledge, maybe. When the words jump off the page, or when you stop in your tracks and your eyes widen slightly because abruptly you get the message. 

The penny drops. 

Well, it's right out there, obvious for anyone to see, but I didn't see it. 

I am not very good at confession. I don't tend to keep a short account; in fact my account has run to many hundreds of pages. 

I know without any doubt that it has already been settled in full by Jesus but I do know that I need to keep a track of it. Make sure that things are dealt with in a timely way so that I don't get dragged under by the sheer weight of rubbish that I carry round with me, or damage other people with the unwieldy things that I haven't sorted out.  I need to keep an eye on what is accumulating around me and keep it from piling too high, because that in itself has consequences.

I mean, there are times when I think to myself, 'Oops, shouldn't have said that, sorry, God,' or send a quick arrow apology up when I'm calming down after shouting at the children, but that's only the tip of the iceberg, isn't it?

There are a few opportunities to stop the accumulation that are handed to me on a plate; for example the general confession that we do corporately early on in church on a Sunday. That's all very well, but if one of the children chooses that moment to ask me a question (anything from the deeply theological, 'Mummy, how come God can be three people at the same time?' to the scarily mundane, 'Are there parsnips for dinner? I don't like parsnips,' to the ominous, 'She won't let me touch her model walrus,') and my attention is far, far away from my sin. 

So I go straight onto soaking up the absolution and blessing (if I get a chance) without the effort or inconvenience of examining myself. 

Alternatively, but with an equally negative effect, is when I am asked to bring to mind my own wrongdoing over the past week and all I can think of is what someone else of my acquaintance should perhaps be confessing. I could be quite helpful in compiling a list of transgressions on someone else's behalf; my own - not so much. 

Bypass the confession bit. Let's sing something.

And then came my Apokalupsis moment:  

I had a picture of myself, walking in a valley. A beautiful, wide, lush valley with majestic, snow-capped mountains either side - several of my significant scenes take place here. God is here, in my valley. It's very beautiful. I am enjoying being there, strolling around and looking at the view. I can feel God as the sun on my face, on my skin. I am warm, relaxed and happy.

I turn away from God to examine something beautiful and I still feel His warmth on my shoulders. I bend and pick something up, and then my hand closes on it too tightly, and it breaks. I hold the broken remains of this beautiful thing for a moment, and then I decide that there is nothing I can do about it, and I throw it over my shoulder. I move on.

A moment later I reach in my pocket and I take out a piece of paper. It has writing on it, but I don't know what it says. It annoys me. I screw up the paper with both hands and throw it behind me, over my shoulder. I walk a few more steps and pull something else out of my jacket; it's been tucked inside, in an inside pocket. I don't know what it is, but I laugh unpleasantly and I discard it behind me. I walk on.

I keep going, and I keep throwing away bad things over my shoulder. I go through a range of emotions; disgust, aggression, fear, anger, slyness, bitterness, self-pity, pride, spite, resentment, malice. I discard each one because I want rid of it but there's always more. Sometimes the sin is represented by an object - a half-eaten apple with a grub in the middle of it, a book with the cover ripped off, a bracelet with the precious stones missing... and sometimes it's a word on a piece of paper, or even a bad smell. They all go behind me as I wander on, my back turned to God.

At last, I sense that something has changed. I am cold. I can't feel the sun any more.

God has gone. He's left me. 

I whirl round and immediately see what's happened. There is a huge pile of rubbish towering above me. God hasn't gone; He is still where He has always been, but I am some distance away. All the mess that I've discarded is blocking out the light and warmth of the sun. I am standing in a shadow. 

No wonder I'm cold. 

I hesitate, not knowing what to do. I am amazed that I had not been aware of all these things that I had been carrying around - where did they come from, to make such a huge mountain of rubbish? But I know, in my heart - that's where. They came from inside me.

And now they're blocking me from experiencing God. I can't feel Him any more. I can't see the light, and my beautiful valley is in a terrible state. It isn't beautiful any more, with the offensive landfill of my life strewn across it. 

What can I do? 

*

And that was it. That's what I realised about confession. I was still in my valley; God hadn't cast me out, because I have a right to be there. Jesus paid the price for my huge pile of rubbish, and yet its presence there was ruining everything for me. The sense of space was gone, the fragrant air now smelled of refuse, and most importantly, I couldn't feel the warmth of God on my skin. I couldn't gaze into His brightness, for the way was blocked.

I need that light and warmth. I can't grow without it; I can't manage without it. It might be a while before it seeps into my consciousness to notice that it's faded, but I am lost without it. 

So I got out my journal and I asked God to send the Holy Spirit to show me what I needed to confess. I wrote a list. I numbered them, and I wrote without stopping as specific things popped into my head one after another with no repetition. I stopped when I got to one hundred and one things. 

One hundred and one.  

I think I only stopped then because He took pity on me. 

I realised how bad I am at confessing things. And also how thorough the Holy Spirit is. 

How small I felt, and yet how grateful. How God is endlessly patient, endlessly forgiving. How nothing had changed, but something was different. 

How after I finished with my journal that evening how calm I felt and how well I slept. 

I am trying to do better. I'm trying to examine the state of myself each night instead of letting things get so out of hand. I know that I'm fighting a constant battle against the things that lurked in that huge towering pile of rubbish but I know that now and again, something that I threw away stays thrown away, and that's a triumph.

And by the grace of God, I am facing Him again, now. 

I can feel His warmth on my face.  

Thursday, 20 March 2014

Seemed like a Good Idea...

If I ever write an autobiography, it's going to be called 'Seemed Like a Good Idea at the Time'

It's the story of my life. 

A few weeks ago, I was sitting thoughtfully by the side of a swimming pool watching my athletic older daughter at her swimming training. She switched between freestyle and breaststroke, backstroke and butterfly as the coach instructed, and he walked up and down the poolside as they all swam, calling corrections to their technique, monitoring times and chivvying when necessary, by turns stern and encouraging. 

Leaning forwards, elbows on knees, chin cradled in my hand, I reflected, 'I would have loved this when I was Lizzie's age.' 

Just think. You're young and fit and all the bits of your body do what they're supposed to do without hurting. Nothing is stiff, nothing creaks when you bend or straighten it. You can leap out of bed in a morning and jump back in it at night. You don't have to monitor how many painkillers you've had in a day to decide if you can treat yourself to two more at bedtime. You can spend a day at a gymnastics class, swimming training, bouncing on a trampoline and riding your bike and still have the energy to splash too much in the bath and resist bedtime. 

You can get out of breath without your throat hurting and starting to cough. You can break into an unexpected run without pulling up suddenly and limping. You are lithe, light and bendy. And swimming is your thing. So you're at a club where someone else takes charge of your fitness. Warm ups, intense training, cardiovascular workouts and muscle building is all thought out for you and someone else guides you through it. They watch that you're doing it right and correct you if not. They monitor how tired and out of breath you get and adjust the workout so that you're challenged but not stretched too far. 

She's eight years old, and she takes all this for granted. Two or three times a week, in a pretty swimsuit, matching hat and goggles, she is a fish. 

And I watch. 

And that fateful evening, I did more than watch. I thought to myself, 'I can do that, too.'

Where did that come from, God? Did you mischievously plant a rogue thought in my head, just to be funny? Or was it from the other guy? Because I sat there, clearly high on chlorine fumes, and at that moment, and for some time afterwards, it seemed like a Good Idea to join the adult swimming sessions that take place two or three times a week with the same coach. 

On my way out, I casually asked him exactly how fit you had to be to come along, and he waved the question away and suggested I come along on Monday. And my fate was sealed. 

The thing is, if I chicken out, I still see him three times a week as he coaches Lizzie and is teaching Katy too, and I haven't a clue why, but he's one of those guys that you want to please. A word of encouragement from him is a precious thing, and I've seen both my daughters blossom in delight at a compliment from the coach. So why on earth would I want to put on my swimsuit and climb into the water in front of him? 

It seemed like a good idea at the time. 

So, to bring you up to date, I'm swimming two evenings a week for an hour and a half each time. Yes, an hour and a half. Ninety minutes. I usually glance at the clock after about 20 minutes, which shows pretty much when I start longing for my bed. The first time I was there I noticed that it was 25 past the hour and congratulated myself on getting through the session, only then realising that it was twenty-five past eight, not twenty-five past nine. The horror. 

And yet, there have been moments of joy. One session each week we have some coaching on our technique, which is brilliant as I taught myself to swim aged about ten with no regard for conventional wisdom on how it's done. I have learned so much, and not just the true picture of how unfit I've become. I am improving. I can do a tumble turn (and even face the right way when I surface - how's that?) 

I've got a kick board borrowed from my daughter (and noticed that she's BITTEN it - why on earth would you BITE it? Must have a word but strangely it keeps going out of my mind) and a pull buoy and fins. A pull buoy is this devilish lump of foam that you place between your thighs to prevent you from using your legs when swimming, thus building up strength in the arms. Hmm. The fins, or flippers to you and me, are designed to make your legs work harder as you kick. I dislike the pull buoy with a vengeance but quite like the fins, because I hate my legs, and it feels like hard work when I've got the fins on. On the other hand, at least when I'm wearing them I can zoom through the water as if I know what I'm doing.

Feel a bit like Jacques Cousteau. 

So, splish splash. Got all the kit. Even a water bottle, so I must really be a sportswoman, mustn't I? 

Then, the icing on the cake. The other week, the coach said, 'Well done. Looking good.' 

Ahhh. 

It happened, it really did. I know because I checked with one of the other adult fitness people trawling up and down in my lane. She heard. He really did say, 'Well done. Looking good.'

She understood the magnitude of this incident. She quickly told me of an occasion when she had received a similar compliment. 'It kept me going for weeks!' she confided, and I know what she meant. I am still basking in that moment. 

Of course, it has to be said, I am not actually looking good, but you have to start somewhere. Me doing a tumble turn in my black cossie and black hat is reminiscent of a whale breaching. (NO! I am fearfully and wonderfully made. I am. Even me.'

Even me. 

I have come a long way from the first session where I was so self-conscious that I pushed myself so hard that I thought I might either die or throw up, and now I know when to say, 'No, I'm having a rest.' and stare assertively through my goggles when the coach does that excruciating drill sergeant whistle-through-his-teeth that indicates we're supposed to be setting off from the deep end again. 

I have come a long way. That first evening, it was the hardest thing I have ever done in my life simply to walk out from the changing rooms to the far end of the pool in front of twenty odd fit and athletic-looking men and women. I really thought that someone might tell me I shouldn't be there, and my humiliation would have been complete. Actually, everyone is very friendly (even when I'm getting in their way) and yet there's no getting away from the fact that I am the most overweight and least fit of all of them. There are a couple of people older than me, but they are in breathtakingly good shape, and one lady of sixty still competes at county level.  I always let her go in front of me.

Actually, I let everyone go in front of me. 

It gets to half past seven in the evening on Mondays and Thursdays and I can honestly say that at that point I would rather eat my own feet than get in the car and drive myself to the pool. It's the time of day when the kids are nearly in bed, nearly settled, the end is in sight, coffee and a good book and an early night, and here am I preparing for ninety minutes boot camp. 

What on earth was I thinking? 

I was thinking that I need to get fit. I need to lose some weight, ease the old joints a little and try to get my heart doing its thing so that it can go on doing its thing well into the future. I think it's a good idea despite the trauma of changing rooms, swimsuits and fighting for breath amid gods and goddesses who don't seem to break a sweat or ever run out of breath. It feels right, even at the points when it feels so wrong, and I am feeling better for it, even if, inexplicably, the scales haven't yet registered the monumental effort that I'm making. 

But onward I go. Breathing a sigh of relief after each session that it's a few days until the next one. Wondering if my trousers are a little looser, and trying not to compensate with cake. Using up an inordinate amount of shampoo so that my hair doesn't fall out. 

I will carry on because I need to do something, and I like swimming, but if left to myself, I would make excuses and not bother;  I know this, because it's happened often. So, because I have a time and place that I'm expected, I feel more obligation to go. I'll keep going, because every time I've been, I've been glad I did. And I'll keep going, because I think it's right. Once I'd had the idea, it stuck in my head and kept coming back in a way that reminded me of the times when God has spoken to me. I'm not saying that my latest fitness campaign is sponsored by the Almighty, but I think He's smiling. 

Then today, I saw this, and it had new meaning for me.
'When you pass through the waters, I will be with you.'
Isaiah 43:2
He won't let me sink.

Thank you, God.




Thursday, 13 March 2014

Seeing and not seeing

I was reading about the trial of Jesus; the crowd are growing louder and louder calling for Jesus' execution, but nobody knows what to do with Him.

Jesus appears before the Sanhedrin, before Pilate, and before Herod, and then is passed back to Pilate. An innocent man, He stands before the authorities bruised and bloody. He has been beaten, mocked, spat at and insulted, and yet Pilate knows that He has done nothing wrong.

Both Pilate and Herod don't want to make a decision. In all four gospels we read that they don't see a basis for a charge, and yet the mob are baying for blood and they are afraid. What are they to do? To begin with, they are uneasy, and want to see this 'King' for themselves, to find out if He was looking to depose them.  Then at the last they see the defeated, pathetic man dragged in front of them and decide that He is no threat after all.

None at all. He wasn't a pretender to the throne. He was weak and pathetic. Finished. Just another deluded Jewish unfortunate who the mob had turned against.

I picture Jesus in the fine robe in which Herod had Him dressed, blood and dirt caked on His face and body. Bruised, eyes swollen shut, nose broken and bleeding, handfuls of His beard torn out. Head bowed, exhausted, limping. Silent.

No wonder Pilate and Herod thought that there was nothing special about Him after all. He worked no miracles while they watched, He didn't argue with them, accuse them, defend himself. He appeared every inch the broken man.

The loyal disciples were nowhere to be seen, either. They were at a distance, in hiding, fearing for their own lives. What must they have been thinking? Surely they were convinced that it had all gone terribly wrong - where was their leader now? Surely this was not what Jesus had in mind when He talked of a new Kingdom, of justice and restoration and hope?

And yet, it hadn't gone wrong after all. Impossible as it is to get my head round, it was going exactly to plan.

At the time that it seemed completely out of hand, it was all under control.
'He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth;
he was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is silent,
so he did not open his mouth.'

Isaiah 53:7
Jesus knew exactly what was happening and at any moment He could have called a halt to it. An army of angels would have descended and instantly struck dead everyone who had injured, mocked or spat at him if He had only summoned them.
'Do you think I cannot call on my Father, and he will at once put at my disposal more than twelve legions of angels? But how then would the Scriptures be fulfilled that say it must happen in this way?' 
Matthew 26:53-54
He had the power of Heaven at his fingertips and yet he was silent. He knew that it had to be like this. He was far from powerless, but he appeared totally broken.

It made me wonder how often I look at a situation, anxious and despairing, and ask, 'Where are you, God? Why aren't you doing anything?' 

When I'm in the middle of my struggles, the big and serious ones, or the daily trivia that gets me down, I sometimes feel defeated. I've been asking and asking, and yet God isn't helping me. Nothing is changing. I've been praying for this for years and He is silent.

The doctor says the very thing I've been dreading, even though I've implored God over and over not to let it happen. The situation that is out of my control seems to get worse instead of better. The people that I repeatedly pray for stay ill; the people that I long to introduce to Jesus stubbornly remain uninterested.

There's no point. It's all gone wrong.

Or so it seems.

Jesus looked a broken man. Not the Messiah at all, not the King of anything or anywhere. He went through all this horror and then on to an agonising and humiliating death without a fight and the soldiers stood at the foot of the cross and stole His clothes.

He looked like nothing, and yet He was everything. We know that he was indeed the King; the King of Kings. He might not have looked like the Son of God, but he was. He may have died the agonising death of a criminal, but he was alive again on the third day, and he will be back in triumph and majesty and glory and not a soul on the earth will be in any doubt about it.

When he stood before Pilate, Jesus was not what they thought. They didn't see the truth of the situation; how could they?  They saw what anyone would see, but they were wrong.

When my life seems to be falling apart around me, every door seems closed, there's no hope - it's all gone wrong - that's when I need to stop wrestling and striving and trust Him. Trust the One who put up with the cruelty and the injustice and the pain because there was a bigger plan. Trust the One who has the Plan right here and now, just as He did then.
'Weeping may last through the night, but joy comes in the morning.'
Psalm 30:5b
The night lasted three days, and joy did indeed come in the morning. At first light, the women went to the tomb and found it open, and empty.

So when I think that it's all gone wrong, nothing can be right again; I can think of Pilate, looking at the beautiful, all-powerful Son of the living God, and shaking his head and seeing a pathetic man, beaten, defeated, deserted and left to his fate.
'Like one from whom men hide their faces, he was despised, and we esteemed him not.'
Isaiah 53:3b
It's not what we think. Just as God had not abandoned Jesus, we are not abandoned. Now, as then, when all seems lost, we can trust that the One who holds the universe in His hands has a plan that we cannot see from our limited vantage point, just as Pilate could not see from his.

Glory stood in front of him, but he saw only weakness.

We think we know, but we don't. All the time I make the same mistake as Pilate; I think that what I see is all there is to see.

We are called upon to stop staring at the problem and trust.
'Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding.'
Proverbs 3:5
My word for this year is 'Trust' and in so many ways already I realise that God has taken me at my word. There are things that I can't do, can't sort out, can't change, and He's asking me to stop trying to work it out, but to trust Him. It might look like a mess to me, but I don't see things the way He sees them. Every day it's a battle, because I seem to gather up the anxieties over and over again and hug them to me, but I'm trying to breathe out, slowly.

I trust you, Lord.

Like Pilate, I think I see, but I don't.  But you do, you see everything. You are my heavenly Daddy, my Abba, my friend and my God; you love me and you have promised that you will never leave me, that you will bring good out of even the most devastating circumstances. So, when I look around and I see all the things that I struggle with and so want to be different and I question whether you care about me at all...

I trust you, Lord.



Image: thorns_purple.jpg by lb63664 
From Morguefile.com 
Used with permission



Thursday, 27 February 2014

Sinking and swimming

Advisory:  This post contains nothing profound, nothing revelatory or inspirational, nothing very spiritual or deep in any sense at all. (Unless you count the deep end, which is 12'6". Not the place to drop your goggles.)

As part of my latest drive to shake off some excess poundage, I have started to swim again. The water level of the local swimming pool rises ever so slightly twice a week as I climb in and trawl up and down for a bit.

I have to say, getting in is a bit easier than getting out; funny how heavy you feel when you try to exit a swimming pool. Heavier than you were when you got in, strangely enough, which is unfair given that you've worked off some calories while in the water - it stands to reason that you should feel lighter when getting out, but sadly not. I hate getting in and out - much more than the actual swimming, which I don't mind too much.

The distance from the ladies' changing to the shallow end seems a long way to me. While in the water, I'm just another head and shoulders, the water happily distorting all that lies iceberg-like, beneath. It's a great equaliser; until we all start moving, it's hard to know who's the swimming club star out for a bit of serious training, who's the sinewy lifelong swimmer with lungs of iron, and who's the portly middle aged woman trying to work off a bit of flab.

That's me, the last one. In case you were wondering. 

My aim is to swim twice a week. 

The other day the water was quite warm, for a change. Last week it was so cold that you could see your breath and the lifeguard had a jumper on; it felt like a Christmas Day swim in the Solent. The cold wasn't the worst of it, mind you. The worst bit was that I saw five people that I knew.

Five. That's not good news for someone as self-conscious as I am. I try to keep track of people I know when I see them in the pool so that I can engineer a good moment to get out when it's time to flee. I try to wait until they're on their outward length when I head for the steps so that their backs are turned when I make my exit but with five people that wasn't too easy.

That's how self-conscious I am. I hate being spotted in my swimsuit, even though I know intellectually that nobody actually cares. The casual observer probably has no interest in the sight of me staggering to the changing rooms but still it preys on my mind.

I was swimming along, trying to stay submerged as much as I possibly could, but it seemed that every time I came up for air, there was someone grinning at me. Figures from the past (junior school classmate: might not have recognised me in goggles - I can only hope), someone from the school run (no such luck, wanted to compare notes on the school trip), a couple of people from church (likewise, bright smiles) and a waitress from my favourite cafe (might not technically count as someone I know, but nonetheless...)

On the upside, I was motivated to keep moving. Chatting at the pool requires effort and concentration as my eyesight is limited without my contact lens and more often than not my goggles are steamed up or half-full of water. My hearing, never that acute at the best of times, is also somewhat compromised when my ears are swishing with water and so more than an awkward 'Hello!' between breaths is about all I can manage. Am I the only person who gets hung up on the possibility of social encounters at the pool? I bet for most people it's not a thing at all.

Sigh.  It's so much easier not to bother, but I must do something. I've asked God to help me with the problems I have with eating and myriad other problems relating to self esteem, body image and health and so it's only right that I should try to help Him help me.

So - up and down the pool.

It's amazing how your mind wanders while you're swimming.

I've tried doing lots of things to relieve the boredom as I trawl up and down the pool - I have counted breaths, counted strokes, sung songs in my head, recited poetry, tried to pray, but it's all a bit disjointed and incoherent, as if the act of swimming demands not quite enough concentration to be absorbing, but too much to allow the thoughts to do anything constructive. 

'Breathe...breathe...breathe...ouch...shoulder twinge...is that a hair clip on the bottom of the pool or a small creature? Blimey, that guy must have lungs of iron...water in my goggles...breathe...breathe... cracked tile...hello, Jesus, been meaning to talk to you about...bit cold tonight...LAND OF HOPE AND GLORY...did I send Katy's school trip permission form back...?' 

And so on. 

In my own little world, watching the underwater world go by, looking out of my little round windows. 

Goggles. If ever there was an invention straight from the devil, it's got to be goggles. I have a hate/hate relationship with mine. 

Before I invested in my first pair I asked about, got some recommendations and deliberated long before choosing which to buy. Make and model. Then a few weeks passed without the opportunity to nip into a sporting goods shop, so I ended up getting some out of the vending machine in the foyer of the leisure centre. 

That was a palaver in itself as I managed to jam the machine and someone had to come and open it up, rummage in the bowels of the machine (isn't it fascinating, the inside of a vending machine?) and extract my goggles and my change. Then it turned out that I'd inadvertently purchased a pair of kids' goggles, so had to do some apologising before I was allowed to change them for an adult pair. By this time I had no bargaining power and so accepted the first pair that were handed to me. This pair were a sort of grey and purple and, if I do say so myself, I looked a complete prat in them when I put them on. 

It was about two weeks before I got the hang of actually putting them on without snapping them painfully on the bridge of my nose or accidentally removing eyebrow hair, but then it turned out that they leaked. I'd read the instructions on how to adjust them but I just couldn't get it right. Maybe my eyes are the wrong distance apart or something. Every time I raised my eyebrows, they sort of slipped down. Of course, the ability to raise one's eyebrows unimpeded while swimming is a bit of a necessity, isn't it?

By the time I splashed my way to the deep end there they'd be, half steamed up and half full of water. I would squint through the murk and tread water while I emptied my goggles. So I tightened them a little more, but still they leaked. I think my eyes must have bulged with the pressure, but since I can't see much it's not a problem. Actually, as I have one short-sighted eye and one long-sighted eye, I am able to see any distance if I kind of lose focus in one eye, but that involves a slight turning in of the eye I don't use, so I don't tend to do it very often for fear of unnerving those around me. (Imagine: a fat middle aged woman treading water with half-full goggles and a wandering eye?)

Those goggles never did stop leaking. I tightened them until they started making a sucking noise when I took them off, and still they leaked. They left a pair of rings, raccoon-like, that stuck around for an hour or so after I've finished swimming, which isn't a good look for the school run.

Then there's the issue of steaming up. All goggles steam up, even the ones with the non-steam coating. I was struggling with mine one day when a stranger volunteered the information that you had to spit into your goggles to stop them steaming up. He demonstrated (on his own goggles, I'm pleased to say) and then stood there, waiting for me to do likewise. I hesitated, then delicately licked the lenses in as ladylike manner as possible, and he laughed, informing me that I'd be better 'gobbing' in them.  I muttered something and pushed off from the side with as much dignity as it's possible to muster after an exchange like that. 

Next time I was at the pool the helpful man was there again and he smirked at me from the far lane. Had I felt like it, I could have informed him that his advice didn't work as copious quantities of saliva still hadn't solved my steaming up problem, since I'd had a sneaky gob on them before I left my cubicle in the changing rooms. Maybe there's something wrong with my spit. 

I think my current pair are a bit better, and I have to say I have finally cracked the steaming up problem, if not the raccoon rings or the looking like an idiot. My goggles are reliable enough for me to leave in my lens these days so I have a better chance of identifying objects beneath me on the seabed without adding a floating contact lens to the debris. 

The struggle continues. 

Up...down...tiles...tiles...turn...agh, coughcoughcough...how much longer? I'll be 44 next birthday...MUSIC AND PASSION WERE ALWAYS THE FASHION AT THE COPA, COPACABAAAANA...oh, lovely swimsuit...bit chilly tonight...'Alas, poor Yorick, I knew him, Horatio...' ouch, my hip...breathe, breathe, breathe...

Breathe...




Footnotes:

1.  I am not actually a Barry Manilow fan. Really.
2.  The secret to unsteamy goggles appears to be a tiny, tiny drop of washing up liquid rubbed over the inside of the lenses. Pass it on. Let's eliminate the need for goggle-gobbing.
3.  This is my 400th post. Thought I'd make it an important one. 



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