Thursday, September 1, 2011

out of season



A little musing I have been having recently… on the unhelpful habit we seem to have of wanting things ‘out of season’.

My thoughts on this phrase were nurtured in the deep ‘soil’ of spiritual principles and lessons, but it has many practical, everyday applications and outworkings which serve to illustrate the point. A ‘swing’ song I was listening to recently triggered this particular line of thought with the lyrics ‘Adam… didn’t care about those apples out of season’ (‘let’s misbehave’ by Cole Porter). 

As most people would know, this is refering to the biblical story of the Garden of Eden, and centres around Adam and Eve being told they can eat anything in the whole garden, except the fruit from ‘the tree of the knowledge of good and evil’. Of course, they end up eating this fruit, and are banished from the garden forever, losing their intimate connection and relationship with God in the process. All because they couldn’t be happy with the many options they were allowed to indulge in… But doesn’t this sound familiar?

Let’s start with a very simple example: nowadays, we can eat any fruit and vegetables all year round. The concept of ‘out of season’ (i.e. wait until it is back ‘in season’) is almost unheard of in these days of mass production and transport of food around the globe. But believe it or not, there once was a time when certain fresh produce appeared only at certain times of the year – and our parents and grandparents would eagerly anticipate the arrival of oranges and apples in winter, strawberries in summer and so on…

The fact that we can now eat these all year round has more serious consequences than the loss of this level of excitement and appreciation, however – it has resulted in the destruction of our natural environment (e.g. through overuse of water for irrigating crops that would otherwise not have grown at that time, or in that place), other living creatures (e.g. through the use of pesticides and fertilisers to boost unnatural growth cycles) and is now affecting our climate too (food transported across the globe is one of the major sources of carbon emissions, fueling rapid climate change).

Humanity is in danger of being ousted from ‘the garden’ – losing our wonderfully fruitful planet and all its many natural blessings… perhaps even our very existence in the process, since there is nowhere else to go (some argue that we could colonise another planet, but this is still highly unlikely in the foreseeable future)! All because we can’t be satisfied with ‘enough’ – we can’t just enjoy our many other options, in season.

So I started thinking of many of the other destructive examples of wanting things  ‘out of season’:
- Sex ‘out of season’: when one is too young, or it is outside of a relationship that is loving and committed, results in so much heartache, unwanted children, abortions, and sexual diseases… 
- Infidelity: pursuing another, who is technically ‘out of season’ for you once you commit to a partner, results in broken relationships, marriages and families… 
- Alcohol ‘out of season’: again, when one is too young, or unable to exercise self-control and good judgement, causes well-known (and now well-researched) physical and emotional damage…

Even something as trivial as clothing ‘out of season: dressing ‘too young’ or ‘too old’, is very unflattering and speaks of deep emotional and self-image issues – ‘aging gracefully’ is far more stylish than clinging desperately to one’s youth anyway, and not trying to ‘age’ before one’s time is equally important….

The previous example is part of the prevailing mood of the times we live in – as evidenced by the prevalence of ‘plastic’ or cosmetic surgery and the many, many ways in which people attempt to avoid the aging process – it’s quite pitiful. No really, I pity those people who seem to have nothing better to do with their lives than obsess over their looks and trying to look younger… There is so much more to life.

Yet we are all vulnerable to the insecurities and uncomfortable adjustments that come with aging. Part of maturity and wisdom is gracefully navigating through the various ‘seasons’ of life - childhood, puberty, adulthood, motherhood, middle age or menopause, and beyond… 

With each season, there are many new advantages, but also challenges, and always there are things we need to sacrifice, let go, surrender… What was perfectly acceptable, indulged and even encouraged in one season, may be inappropriate, embarrassing, and even harmful in others – it is ‘out of season’, and should be left where it belonged.

Similarly, longing for times gone by, or times to come, has often been one of my shortcomings - instead of whole-heartedly embracing the season I am in.  I have been examining my heart and thought life quite strictly in this regard in recent years, trying to ‘surrender’ and ‘be at peace’ with where I am for now, who I am for now, what I must do, or do without for now

This is especially important for me to remember as I head into the next season – becoming a mother. Many people bemoan their inability to ‘party’ or be ‘footloose and fancy free’ once they have children – and I don’t want to be one of those people. I don’t think my concerns are of that nature, however, but more of a concern that I have not ‘achieved’ enough yet, or seen enough of the world yet, to become house-bound and baby-bound…

Yet I wanted this, I want to have a child – the next season will bring so many blessings and a whole new person in my life, to love and cherish!! So I will deal with the difficulties and sacrifices, somehow - one step, one day at a time. Like all big changes, or new seasons. I have certainly had a lot of practice in recent years in ‘surrendering’ and ‘sacrificing’ - including sleep, food, alcohol, friends, ‘home’, desires, dreams, pride and ego…  

In the later seasons of life, there are also those people who give up on living, instead of embracing a different sort of living, a different season – they are still clinging to who they were and what they could do in their youth, and usually end up grumpy, bitter, and constantly complaining. I do not want to end up like that either.

My Ouma is a wonderful example of how to carry one’s age and all its discomforts with fortitude and humility. She never complains or grumbles, never refers to the younger generations or her altered ‘place’ in her family, or the world, with bitterness. In fact, she loves spending time with her great-grandchildren, and extracts so much joy from every little thing – a sunset, a full moon, a flower, a bird… that she is full of joy and gratitude for each day. 

I want to be more like my Ouma one day – but I will have to start working on it now, as I am prone to complaining and grumbling when things are uncomfortable or not going my way.

Following this thought through its interconnected loops and circles, I also came to see that a house we looked at in the breathtakingly beautiful peninsula suburb of Noordhoek, was not for us in this season. It was a lovely ‘family home’ - so said the advert, and for once this was not a misleading euphemism for something else. 

I was already picturing us in it – dogs bounding happily around the massive garden, toddler toys strewn across the lawn, cats exploring the bush next door, long strolls together through the tree-lined streets to the magnificent beach, actually befriending our neighbours (it’s a close community, not like the collection of loners and grumps in our street in Muizenberg)… So perfect. But so ‘out of season’.

For starters, we would need to buy furniture for the whole house, since we got rid of all our furniture when we moved from Australia two years ago, and have been renting furnished houses here, undecided as to how long we will be here for. This would be a massive expense, and perhaps not wise when we are about to discover just how expensive having a child can be! 

Secondly, husband would have to travel much further to work every day, driving instead of taking the train, and I would be left without transport, and no nearby shops, or anything really… Just me, the trees, the mountain and the sea. Ahh, it sounds like bliss – but perhaps not practical with a small child and many unexpected needs cropping up – and husband often away on business trips… 

So there it is – the needs and limitations of this season, and the happily imagined bliss of a house that we might only be ready for in a few years time.

The key is to let go of this picture in my head for now, along with the feelings of loss and disappointment, and refocus on what will be suitable for this season that we stand on the threshold of. So much joy and excitement can be gleaned from the options that are available to us, now. Yes, it’s harder, much harder than it sounds… but only in mastering this outlook on life, will true joy and peace be found. 

Let me know how you’re all doing with this one, will you? ;D

Monday, August 8, 2011

foundations



In light of some life changing news in the last two weeks, I found myself angrily and defensively asking myself and God questions like:

‘How can I be a good mom when I haven’t ‘grown up’ yet, or without good foundations, and good role models…?’

Of course, at 35, I have some level of maturity and responsibility, but I feel constantly challenged in some key areas of my character, and often fail to be the person I want to be – especially in certain situations… My relationship with my own mother is also a constant source of frustration, confusion, and stress - even though we have both tried in recent years to rebuild and restore it…

I am sure many people can identify with these fears and insecurities, but on the surface everyone looks to me as if they have it all together, know exactly who they are and what they are doing with their lives.

While these thoughts have been mocking and taunting me, it has been impossible to feel excited or peaceful about what lies ahead. It is with great relief that I came across some notes I made recently, after listening to someone speak about ‘strong foundations’.

What follows is a bit of a conversation I had with myself, which I am now applying to my heart and soul again – a much-needed balm of grace and the peace that comes from resting in God, our Father. I hope by sharing these random thoughts, maybe some others will find a bit of comfort and encouragement.

‘Who do I need to be to accomplish the things I want to accomplish with my life?’

Notice I didn’t say in my life, as in: ambition and personal goals in a shallow sense; but with my life, as in: by offering my life towards building something, contributing towards a better world, giving life and enriching the lives of others…

I need some time and spiritual impartation to fully answer this question, and its intertwined, inseparable question, ‘what do I want to accomplish with my life?’

If this is a question of needing a stronger foundation to support the bigger and heavier things God may want to give me, or build into my life…then how can I retrospectively strengthen my foundations - is it even possible?

Of course with God all things are possible – and with God being omniscient, it is surely not implausible to suggest that He knew long ago what He wanted for me and from me, and would have been building these things in me already – all along the way.

I am no surprise to God. He knows me intimately, better than I know myself in many ways, because none of us can bear to look too deeply into the dark recesses of our own souls- we all have blind spots and self-deception or denial.

We need to tackle these weak areas on the path to maturity and growth and healing… BUT I am not sure if any of us manage to reach full self knowledge in this journey we call life. It’s too difficult to sustain an ongoing self awareness at that level, and anyway there is so much more to life than looking inward…God would not wish us to spend our whole lives only on looking at ourselves and our shortcomings or areas needing improvement.

That’s probably why God deals with things gradually, in manageable increments, and sometimes doesn’t address certain issues in our hearts and lives at all. Think of all the other people you know who have glaring issues, yet are used mightily by God to impact others. Although their all-too-human habits may be obvious to us, they carry on for years, or maybe their whole lives, without these issues being addressed in an obvious way, much to our annoyance!

So it seems, mercifully and graciously, God leads us on this journey slowly, carefully, lovingly…not with a ruler poised, ready to rap us on the knuckles, and not with pen and notebook ready to record every misplaced step… and this is how we should remind ourselves to view others. More love and grace, less judgement and nitpicking. How about applying this to ourselves too- being gentle with ourselves, even as we push ourselves to keep going onward and upward…

Now back to foundations: whatever is in there, is probably beyond changing by now. I can’t rewind time and avoid the mistakes I made first time around, and the resulting wounds and baggage… Anyway a lot of our foundations are built by others – our parents and teachers, for example. In an ideal world, this would mean they poured in love, acceptance, encouragement, and a host of other essential ingredients into building the foundations that would support a secure, whole, balanced, well-adjusted person one day.

Not many of us had that though, and even many who did have, later in life wobbled a bit anyway… human being and identity is such a complex, fragile thing. So if I don’t have those foundations, it is tempting, but pointless to blame those who did not live up to their roles as foundation builders in my life (probably because their own foundations were so compromised they had no ‘overflow’ to impart to the next generation).

Feeling angry and sorry for myself will only take me further away from being the person I need to be to live my life to the fullest, and be a blessing to others – to add value (not merely survive) and break all the self-centered, self-serving, wounded, unforgiving and fearful cycles I see in relationships around me through the generations.

What is needed to do that, is the ability to accept myself as I am, while of course still trying to improve, fill in the gaps, strengthen the weak points, and so on…but realistically, I am never going to be like those whose foundation builders took their responsibility seriously, and really wove priceless gems into the very fabric of their beings… as I hope to do for our little one in the years ahead.

So where does God come into this? God can and has miraculously reformed many aspects of my character - which is another way of talking about foundations – and I pray and trust God will continue to do that for me. I am just not sure how much, or what, or when God will change me.

That sounds very passive, it’s not – there is a substantial amount of pleading, praying, yearning, striving for change in my heart, my life, ME. But there is a massive amount of leaning on God, because without the grace and guidance and spiritual input, true change is not only difficult or unimaginable, but exhausting.

It’s exhausting to never be happy with who you are, or to feel you have nothing to be “proud” of (in a good way), to never feel good enough… we all need to be loved and accepted for who we are, even (or especially) along the way to healing and maturity.

So for now, perhaps that’s all I can say about this question of foundations. For now, it’s probably all I can bear – I am too tired to go further and end up with yet another self-improvement list or end up in the space of ‘woe is me for missing out on all this, now I can never do anything meaningful with my life and no one will ever like me either…’

I have got to find my way to a safe space, where I can just ‘be’, and trust that everything will be okay, even though I haven’t got all the right foundations in place. Perhaps because I don’t, God could use me in ways He couldn’t use a more ‘stable’ and confident person, who knows?

So here we go, Father, here I am again – surrendering to you, your amazing love and grace – falling into your arms, because I can no longer keep dragging my feet along this path…for now I just need to rest in YOU.