Rest

“Hey”, she said, gently leaning on the railing. He looked up surprised. It was freezing cold and his hands were blue. “Hey,” he responded.

“How are you?” she asked, consciously looking out to sea instead of meeting his gaze.

“Oh, I’ve seen better days,” he responded with a smile, taking a step back so he could see her face more clearly.

She smiled. “Well, you see,” she said, looking down to examine the pattern on her gloves, “it’s my first time here in California.”

“Oh?” He raised an eyebrow and a sly grin began to spread on his face. She watched his grip tighten and released a breath that had been stuck since she had initially noticed him.

“Yea,” she continued, reaching out to grab his shoulder “and not to kill your buzz,” her grip tightened, “but it would really ruin it for me if you jumped.”
No, I don’t really know how I came to be in San Francisco. I mean, like most people, I had a plan for the next couple of years- uni, settling down, beginning a career- but I guess a spanner got thrown in the works. I mean, when the person you were making those plans with drops out, it makes a lot of sense to pack your bags and fly to America. 

Before you ask, I don’t know what made me go to the bridge either. I had heard that the Golden Gate Bridge was so big that every time they finish painting it, they have to start again, and I couldn’t comprehend something of that size. A work of art constantly being attended to and never being finished. That night, I was just sitting in bed eating from the mini fridge in my room, and watching a movie. I paused it half way and left.

 
When I was eight, I told my English teacher what was happening at home. He looked at me, smiled and said I should be grateful because at least I’d be able to stick up for myself when I was older. After that, every time I’d walk into English, I would look up at my teacher and remember that there is no use telling anyone anything. I ended up failing English, funnily enough. 

When I was eleven, I got into my first fight. It wasn’t over much- an action figurine or a playing card or something, but a voice in my head said “I can win this one”. And I did. And when a cop came over and asked what was going on, I told him to walk away, and he did. And that was when I learned that the world was fair. If no one was going to look out for me, no one was going to look out for the kid in the alleyway who had something I wanted. If I wanted it, I had to take it. And so, fair was fair. 

When I was seventeen, my mom died. When we were sitting at her funeral, the priest started talking about how God offers rest, how he is just and merciful. Mom didn’t get rest through justice or mercy though- she didn’t deserve to die, and the man who did was living and breathing right next to me. I guess that’s why the idea of “God the Father” didn’t really appeal either. That priest was wrong. That God was wrong.

When I was twenty two, I met her.

 
When he climbed back over the fence, I didn’t know what to do. He had felt so far away until he was right in front of me, and I hugged him. Completely without thinking about it, I just grabbed him and hugged him- he was really here in front of me. I could feel him laughing and when I let go, he had this huge smile on his face. Something in me realised he probably hadn’t been hugged in a long time. After that, I invited him to dinner. I had some money on me, but hadn’t seen any of the city apart from the route to my hotel and the view outside my window, so I asked him where we should go and he just began to walk as if it were any ordinary day. 

As we walked, I asked him about himself and he answered each question concisely- accurate but short sentences, like he wasn’t used to talking about himself but he was glad to. Or maybe he just thought I deserved the answers. Perhaps he just didn’t care any more. I guess neither of us thought we would get this far. So we continued to walk until we reached a small and nearly empty Chinese take away with a few tables and chairs scattered inside. A small old lady was seated at a table, a cigarette in her mouth, peeling string beans. She glanced up when when we entered, tapped her ash into the bucket of scraps, and returned to her work. A young man materialised out of nowhere and handed us menus, pointing to a booth next to the window. I placed my coat on the back of a fraying vinyl chair and sat down, putting my gloves in the pockets. He pulled up his sleeves to reveal arms that were milky white with scars. He noticed me staring, but didn’t say anything and I quickly turned to my menu as I felt a blush creep up my neck. I took off my scarf. He called over the young man who had been waiting for us eagerly, and quickly rattled off his order, as if by heart. I stammered out a foreign sounding dish and hoped for the best. He gave the waiter his menu and turned to me. 

“So.”

 
When we sat down to dinner, I was starving. I hadn’t eaten in a few days, like in preparation. I didn’t see the point of fuelling a vehicle that was going to the junk yard. I didn’t have my wallet on me, or anything, so I had no cash- I just sort of assumed she’d pay, and I hated myself for it. I don’t like accepting gifts, but I didn’t see a way out. She wanted a meal, and I needed one. So I took her to this crappy place on the outskirts of town- I’d been there a few times before to do pick ups and deliveries, and it was a real dump. Dan pretended not to know me when I walked in, which I was grateful for, but what was the point? He wasn’t surprised when I walked in, but I had figured for a long time that if I never walked in that door again, no one would notice. She ordered cows tongue but I’ve heard Australians eat funny things, so I didn’t question it. You know, it might not even have been her culture- it might just have been her. It took a while to climb over the ledge, and I was standing on the edge for a few minutes before she came along, looking down. No one stopped me or even honked from their car. Just like every other day, no one noticed. Except her. 

I wanted to get rid of Dan as quickly as possible so I ordered the first thing that came to mind and started to ask her about herself. I had already told her all the basics about me, but I wanted to know what had led her to be where she is. She sort of looked all embarrassed and awkward, like she didn’t know what to say. You’d think answering a question about yourself would be the easiest thing, but I reckon she was one of those people who like to listen more, and for that, I liked her.

 
I guess his transparency made it easier to talk to him. He’d been so open about his life- his mum dying when he was young, getting involved in gangs and drugs- everything that had led up to a point in his life when he felt worthless. I began to think that maybe a part of me identified. Sometimes, I think a part of everyone does. The sense that you’re not worth someone’s time, or energy, or love. The feeling that it might make things easier if you weren’t around. We all just live around the line of letting it overcome us. Today, he had crossed that line. So I told him about the past few months. Falling in love with the man of my dreams, and making plans about forever. The moment when it all fell apart and he left to live a different life. A better one, without me. And he listened. Even when my voice broke and my eyes watered and I struggled to explain how it feels to wake up on a Saturday morning and realise you have nothing planned, or how it feels to talk to everyone you were so excited to tell. He didn’t move except to pass me a napkin. Once I was done, he asked, so quietly that I barely caught it, “so why are you still here?” 

 
My earliest memory is of my mom holding me and telling me it was going to be alright. We were on the floor, and she was cradling me and rocking back and forth, and I had no idea what, exactly, was going to be alright. I didn’t realise that it wasn’t. 

When Dad came home drunk that night, and was ranting about the football scores, I didn’t even look up from my phone. I keep thinking that I should have. Mom was already busy preparing dinner, and scrambling to get him a beer while I was blindly scrolling through images, purposely not facing him. What a disgrace he was, how ashamed I was, he couldn’t even stand up straight. Recently, though, I’d been coming home more and more often exactly the same way. The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. He told me, plenty of times, to look at him and greet him like a good son, but I didn’t listen. I didn’t want to. I didn’t care. The stupid thing was, I didn’t believe him. 

My dad beat me for the first time when I was seven. Up until then, it was mom, but that night, I got in the way, and he realised it wasn’t any different, so he kept doing it. By the time I was seventeen, I figured I could take it. I’d learned to take it. He beat me, I beat others. Fairness. But that night, he didn’t beat me, he pulled out a gun. And I didn’t see it because I didn’t want to face him. Mom saw it. He gave me a last chance, and I ignored him, and she was next to me and then- 

And then she wasn’t. 

That night I lost the one person in this world who cared. The one person who kept telling me I was worth something, and the one person I believed. And it was my fault. And I went through four years of convincing myself it was okay, that I could keep living with a hole in my heart that I could cram full of things to keep me from remembering I was garbage. 

 
I couldn’t stop talking. After months of not telling anyone where I was going or why, I couldn’t stop telling him what had happened to me. But when he asked why I was still around, I stopped. I think everyone feels, deep down, that they are worthless at some point. But there also sometimes comes a point when we realise we are not. 

When I was twelve, I was invited to a camp, and I’d never gone to one before outside of school. It was very different. The food was better, the people were nicer, and I had the most fun I’d ever had in my life in that one week. I struggled to figure out what was different about this than other camps or hang outs. On the last day, a man got up and told me what exactly was different- these people knew what they were worth. They were worth loving, they were worth protecting, and they were worth dying for, and someone had done exactly that. A perfect man had died for the wrongs of imperfect people, and there was hope. Because even in a world that likes to tell us we are worthless, there is a voice above the rest screaming we are worth sacrificing everything for. And that’s someone worth listening to.

As I told him, I watched his eyes light up. His shoulders straightened, and his goofy smile faded to something much more beautiful. As I told him about Jesus, I said that I couldn’t imagine what it must feel like to be worth dying for. 

“I can,” he said.

 
My dad still lives in the house I grew up in. Many times, I’ve thought about going to that house and burning it to the ground. When I think of all he did to me, and what he did to mom, I sometimes think to myself he is not worth the ground he walks on. But the biggest fear for me growing up was that I was becoming him, and in that, I was also becoming worthless. Why should he love me when I was a reflection of him and he hated himself? But, as much as I’d done wrong, she told me about someone who didn’t care. As worthless as I felt, here was someone who, like my mom, had stood in the way of death for me and given me a second chance. A love to fill the hole is what I had needed. And as I sat there and listened, I slowly felt what I had resisted for so long- I felt rest. 

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Psalm 77

I cried out to God for help;
I cried out to God to hear me. 

[Where are you? I’m hurt!
I’m banging on heaven’s door.]

When I was in distress, I sought the Lord;
At night I stretched out untiring hands,
and I would not be comforted.

[I’ve called out to you until my throat is dry.
I keep on praying, calling, screaming, pushing and
people are telling me I’m crazy, that’s it’ll all be okay but I want you.]

I remembered you, God, and I groaned.
I meditated and my spirit grew faint. Selah.

[I did what I was meant to do- you asked me to pray, so I did, even when I couldn’t find the worlds.
I couldn’t even eat, couldn’t drink, just sat and thought about you. Sigh.]

You kept my eyes from closing;
I was too troubled to speak. 

[I couldn’t sleep, restless in cold sweats
People keep asking me what’s wrong but I just shrug and look to the ground, and sometimes a tear will escape.]

I thought about the former days, the years of long ago;
I remembered my songs in the night.

[Remember the good old days? Playing and carefree when I was a kid;
I remember the songs I used to sing, and I sang them when darkness closed in.]

My heart meditated and my spirit asked:
“Will the Lord reject me forever?
Will he never show his favour again?
Has his unfailing love vanished forever?
Has his promise failed for all time?
Has God forgotten to be merciful?
Has he in anger withheld his compassion?”

[Questions! They plague me, flittering around my head like wasps.
“Are you giving me the silent treatment, ignoring me?
Don’t you care about me? I don’t deserve this.
They call you loving, and yet how could a good God allow this? The God of Israel is nowhere to be found on Earth today.
Another promise broken- I thought you weren’t like everyone else?
Did you forget what you said, about protecting me? Did you forget about me?
Did I do something wrong?”]

Then I thought, “To this I will appeal
The year when the Most High stretched out his right hand.
I will remember the deeds of the Lord;
Yes I will remember your miracles of long ago.
I will consider all your works and meditate on your mighty deeds.”

[Something clicked though, and I remembered the Sunday School stories.
I thought “I remember all that you have already done,
and instead of letting my head be filled with questions and my heart be filled with hurt, I’ll concentrate on who you’ve already shown yourself to be, through what you have done.”]

Your ways, God, are holy.
What god is as great as our God?
You are the God who performs miracles;
You display your power among the peoples.
With your mighty arm you redeemed your people,
the descendants of Jacob and Joseph. 

[The way you act is set apart.
I look at the way everyone is living and recognise this is the best.
You can do things beyond our control and our imagination,
and you’ve shown us again and again.
You sent your son to die on a cross for me, because you loved me
and now I get to be a part of your family, adopted]

The waters saw you, God
the waters saw you and writhed,
the very depths were convulsed.
The clouds poured down water,
the heavens resounded with thunder;
your arrows flashed back and forth. 

[You’re not afraid of what I find scary
The scary things are afraid of you instead.
In the chaos, you have control
In the war, your weapons win.]

Your thunder was heard in the whirlwind,
your lightning lit up the world;
the earth trembled and quaked.

[Your voice calls above the cacophony of my terror,
I can see you through the storm
Your power shakes everything to its very core.]

Your path led through the sea,
your way through the mighty waters,
though your footprints were not seen.

[I remember when you made a way for your people,
even when it seemed there was absolutely no way out,
and you were there even when it really seemed like you were nowhere to be found.]

You led your people like a flock
by the hand of Moses and Aaron.

[We’re lost. We’re scared and scattered
But you’re a good shepherd who protects us from the wolves and brings us back.
You give us good leaders- mentors, friends, and people to guide us along the way.]

Coincidence

  
These past two weeks have been pretty hectic for me. I managed to find myself on not one, but two camps leading high school kids with about 18 hours in the middle to come home, sleep and pack for the next round. And from the get go, I was recognising that to get through it all, I would have to rely on God. Yet, looking back on the last day, exhausted, I began to wonder if He had been there at all. 
For two weeks, all I could see was trials. 

I went to the first camp expectant but hesitant- I finished year 12 last year and here I was leading on a HSC study camp. I felt inexperienced and unqualified, not to mention I knew I was younger than a lot of the campers, while other leaders were high school teachers in their early twenties. I felt out of place and I had no idea what I was doing. To add to it, one of my fellow leaders was a girl I’d gone to high school with, so overwhelming feelings of nostalgia flooded me, and nostalgia of my year 12 experiences wasn’t pleasant. It took a few days to settle in, to find a rhythm and I got a few people to pray for me. In the end, it was my discussion group co leader sitting down with me, after I admitted I wasn’t okay, and talking through everything. He read 2 Peter 1 with me, which talks about not being ineffective, and so I finished that evening feeling really good. I made some friends, found some people to sit with. 

But, just as I started to get up, I got knocked down again. A girl who I’d been sitting with, and making friends with, turned on me. She started to say horrible things and push me around, and all of my doubts came flooding back. And it’s here some Christians would point to something working in the supernatural. Ephesians 6:12 says “for our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” And that’s what it felt like. I’d just started to see God, to get some strength for the days ahead and feel like I could do it, when again, almost immediately I was knocked down. 

So, I did what every little girl does and I called my dad. And he calmed me down, as I wept, afraid and alone. Why was this happening? Why would she do this? And where was God? And he said to go and talk to the directors, and that he was so sorry he couldn’t just wrap me up and hug me, and finally that, if I wanted, he could come and pick me up tomorrow. I just sat there for a few minutes, before getting up and washing my face. As I looked in the mirror, I wondered what was going on. My face set, I went and dealt with it. Apparently the girl had no idea how much damage shed caused and was just horsing around, and it made me wonder. It hadn’t seemed like that in the moment, and yet, once I’d decided to push through, it was all resolved, as if her entire demeanour changed. I just had to keep pushing. 

And then the next camp. Almost straight away, I was tired. I took a few hours during one of the games to sleep, exhausted and overwhelmed. I knew I had a finite amount of energy and that was either to be spent having fun or being a leader, and, as I do, I decided to be a leader. I made sure kids were in bed, I made sure to put 100% into everything and to do my best, I roused on kids when no one else would and I sacrificed having fun. I just kept pushing. 

And then, on the last morning, when I didn’t feel well, I kept pushing. I went to band practice, I wrote my cabin letters, I sat in on discussion, and I tried to go and supervise the games until finally, I ended up on the bathroom floor calling out for a nurse. Miraculously (not a word I use lightly, given the two weeks I’ve just had), the nurse was in the cubicle next to me. For the next few minutes, I was caught between being conscious and in an immense amount of pain, and unconscious with someone trying to wake me up. And all I could think was, God make it stop. Not now. I’m so close to the end. 
At some point, someone took my watch off, which is on my left wrist. Under it, I had tattooed “pray”, to remind me even in the tough times to turn to God. And I realised that every person trying to find a pulse, every person taking blood, every ambo and nurse would have seen that tattoo. When they didn’t know what was wrong and called an ambulance, one of the camp nurses called out for a team to just sit and pray for me. When I turned on my phone, I had been flooded with messages from people telling me they were praying for me. People had prayed. I had prayed. And yet it seemed like God was so distant.
I waited in the hospital alone, wishing I had someone with me while I waited for my parents. I had heard them ask if I was 18, and I guess being an adult they let me go alone, but I wasn’t awake enough to beg them to let me bring a friend. And so I ended up in a room, by myself, silently crying. Not out of pain, although I hurt. Not out of sadness, although I was disappointed I hadn’t made it to the end. But out of too much. Too much emotion, and lack of someone to comfort me. So I turned to God. And he was quiet. 
  
I’ve had a lot of time to think about things since then. A lot of time spent in bed, a lot of time waiting and half sleeping. The thoughts even seep into my dreams. 

When do you stop pushing? They needed leaders, so I put my hand up. I had chances to go home, and stayed. And yet, I may have been able to handle the pain better if I hadn’t been so exhausted. I was passing out because my body couldn’t handle it. Getting up that morning, I had consciously thought “mind over matter”. It turns out sometimes you just can’t push through. 
For every one sermon I hear on rest, I hear dozens on keep pushing, keep trying, roll up your sleeves and get involved. For every job I do, there seems to be ten more that need doing. 
So, coincidence. 

Coincidence that I end up on two consecutive camps? (No, I didn’t actually plan it.)

Coincidence I end up leading on a HSC camp when I’d been running from year 12?

Coincidence that the day I start to feel better, a girl turns on me?

Coincidence that I stay and get to see a girl I’d been praying for turn to Christ?

Coincidence that I stay at the second camp and see a girl turn to Christ?

Coincidence I get sick on the last day?

Coincidence help is in the next stall? 

I don’t know. 
But, talking to a friend of mine, he asked how I would feel about this tattoo on my wrist if I did lose my faith. After all I’ve been through, prayer has been constant. And, after all I’ve been through, I’m still here. And I choose to believe, through it all, God is here somewhere too. 
Having doubts doesn’t mean you’ve lost your faith. And doubts tend to be easier to have when you’re tired. And God, I’m tired. Sometimes you need to stop pushing. But sometimes, like I think with my faith, maybe you just need to keep on. 

When I pray, coincidences happen, and when I don’t, they don’t.” -William Temple.