The Necklace

  

 

When I was in year 9, I held a birthday party where I asked everyone to give a gift to charity instead of giving me a gift. An avid gift giver myself, people never really seem to know what to get me, so I figured I’d make an easy way out. But, as we sat down to pizza, one girl gave me a gift anyway. A dainty bronze coloured chain held a green coloured stone. And it was one of the most beautiful things I owned. It was certainly, up to that date, the best gift I’d ever been given. 

I wore it constantly- it went with everything from my school uniform to smart casual get ups. It made me feel confident, it was beautiful and I felt like I looked sophisticated just for wearing it. I felt it had been given to me by someone who truly knew me and cared about me- it was a gift in the truest sense, unasked for and truly treasured. 

And then, two years later, our friendship ended in flame and ashes. It was fury like I had never expected and pain I hadn’t seen coming. Notebooks were filled with pages of rage [that is not an exaggeration], and I spent many night curled up on the couch, crying on my mum’s shoulder. There is no point in explaining the details- the point is, a person I had thought cared turned out not to. Photos were deleted, and one still lives in my cupboard because I can’t bring myself to look at it or throw it away. Letters were thrown away and I had to slowly figure out how to live life differently. I lost many few friends in that time, in the fall out. 

But that necklace sat in my trinket dish, and it wasn’t long before I wore something I wanted to complement with it. I decided to, and tried to look at the necklace as just a thing. To remember the pizza and party- the characters who could still play the joyful memories again and again in my head. 

I did that up until two weeks ago, when I lost the necklace. 

As I rummaged through every bag and coat pocket, waited in agony for the current load of washing to be done so I could dig through the clothes I’d recently worn, and even began to dream about where it was [that is also not an exaggeration], I had to ponder why I was so caught up about it. It wasn’t as if I’d lost just some piece of jewellery – indeed, I have to admit, sometimes when cleaning up I find something I hadn’t realised I’d lost. No, this was combing the house as if I’d lost an engagement ring or some medication I needed to take daily. This was trying to describe jewellery to my DAD as he were a sketch artist trying to understand the face of someone who had attacked me in an alleyway. This was heart racing, this was important enough that I am writing about it now, when I lost it maybe three weeks ago. And, being me, I had to ask why.

Initially, I tried convincing myself it’s because it was pretty. To be fair, I have lost something that was once a staple to my style. My hand goes to my throat when I’m distracted, and doesn’t find anything. My work outfits look significantly more boring. And something I considered truly beautiful isn’t within my reach anymore. But, I have a few pretty things now. I could wear another necklace. I’ll probably end up buying another one soon enough. 

However, eventually I came to think about the memories that were attached to it. The person who gave it to me. That birthday party, surrounded by those girls who I don’t talk to anymore. Those girls who turned their backs on me. A group of people who might never have seen me or known me the way I wanted. A girl who, years later, would sear me with words in the middle of the quad at school. The memories that were attached to that necklace were sweet and pure, because I’d never allowed myself to attach the bad ones to it. It was a reminder of a time when things were good and happy, and without it, I live in the aftermath of what happened. For some reason everything else about the time is slightly bitter and I still get a weight at the base of my sternum when Facebook suggests them as a friend, or I find a note from long ago. But that necklace was from a time when a good friend gave me something I treasured. 

What insanity is human reason that a mere string of metal and rock should make one weep?

So what do I do now? Do I just forget about it? I jumped out of bed this morning to check a pocket it had been in during my dreams last night- the realisation it was so significant is what caused me to write this post. I rarely write about simply my “life”, but this I wanted to get out in some musing way that could perhaps provoke thought in another. I have to admit, I searched online for a similar one. I still get jittery when I remember another place it might be- I cleaned our drain looking for it [I might have pushed it down rather than up, a thought which still scares me]. How can I let it go? Why shouldn’t I, says the cynic in me- after everything, all I’ve managed to let go, perhaps it’s symbolic. And yet, I still instinctively search that trinket dish when I’m in a rush of a morning, ready to pick it up and put it on. 

If I Have Not Love

I’m standing in the middle of the room, seven girls in bed around me, reading 1 Corinthians 13, and one makes a farting noise with her mouth. I ignore it and continue. Another girl [her friend] calls out that I said something that sounded like a swear word. I’m about to raise my voice when I realise the line I just read says “love is not easily angered”. But she always interrupts me and never listens! “Love does not keep a record of wrongs.” I sigh, continue and say good night.

It is my belief that God has a sense of humour.

 

I’ve just gotten back from leading my third camp, and it’s left me with a lot to think about.

My main thought being, how do you love someone when it’s hard to?

In day to day life, you can avoid people you don’t like, which makes “loving your enemies” a lot easier. You can avoid them, and be kind for short spurts of time before running off and having a sob to God. But when you are designated to show the love of Christ to a group of kids that might have never have experienced that before, how do you continually love when all you meet is resistance?

Sure it’s easy to love the kids who make you smile.
The kids who grin at you and tell you you’re a good singer; the kids who write notes during the talk and ask questions during discussions. The girls who give you a sense of pride as you watch them do their dance routine during the talent quest, and help clean up after dinner. Those kids are deserving of your attention, a kinder tone when they’re mucking around [because you rarely have to tell them off] and some lenience at bed time.

But to the kids who just came to camp to have fun, I was the biggest obstacle.
What’s the point of getting them to stand for songs they won’t sing to?
What’s the point of asking them their opinion during discussion when they keep interrupting others?
Why should I care if they enjoy the day when they kept me up all night?
Why should I bother trying to start conversations when I know they couldn’t care less about me?

It felt like hitting my head against a brick wall to just keep trying with these girls.

But if I do not have love, I have nothing.

Leading a camp is a unique position in that it doesn’t present the typical authority figure that kids are used to. You’re not the distant teacher or the familiar parents- you meet these kids on the first day, and they just sort of have to listen to you, which gets easier as you form a relationship. The privilege of leading is that you’re in a position to form a deeper sort of relationship than usual, especially on Christian camps. You have the opportunity to start deep conversations, and ask personal questions kids might never have thought about or share your own story. For me, it’s special because I get to share the person I love most with the people I love most- Christ with kids. But I realised that, if they weren’t going to listen to what I had to say, maybe the only thing they couldn’t escape was the way I acted.
In 1 Corinthians 13, Paul talks about having what the world would consider everything- knowledge, money to give, religious zealousness- and says it means nothing if it’s not combined with love. Like sugar and flour are just a nasty tasting powder without some eggs. And I realised that, no matter how good I was at discipline and singing and leading discussion groups, if these girls couldn’t see that I loved them, and that I was putting everything I had into that, continuously, regardless of what they did, then I would have nothing. I would have accomplished nothing. Even telling them the most important message they’d ever hear and them believing it- that Jesus died for them and rose again- would mean little if they only had it in their head but didn’t feel it in their heart. 1 Corinthians 13:13- for now three remain- faith, hope and love- but the greatest of these is love.

There was no point in me leading if I couldn’t do it with love.

So I diverted some energy. Instead of just sitting with girls who I knew would love to chat, I sat with the girls who it was harder to talk with. I asked them about their lives, and sat through many awkward silences. And I should point out, at no point did the heavens open and Christ call out “good job, my faithful servant!” as doves descended and a triple rainbow flashed in the distance. Actually, they stayed resiliently resistant until they left, one without saying goodbye [and that stung]. But at the end of the day, I didn’t yell when I really wanted to. I didn’t give up when I was really tired. I didn’t abandon them for the other girls, because no one gets to be more important. I didn’t love perfectly [perfect love drives out all fear, and I’m pretty sure they were afraid I’d make them do the compost], but I loved as hard as I could and I hope God will use that.

I remember the leaders I had growing up at camp.
There were the ones who stopped to talk to me and ask me how I was going. I had a tough time, sometimes, getting along with the other kids, but always seemed to click with adults. There were the ones who listened to my endless nattering and told the cabin stories and read books to us to help us fall asleep, who sang the loudest and danced around and were silly. I can’t remember how we behaved, but I do remember the unconditional kindness shown again and again by so many different leaders. The curiosity about what made them different from the other people I knew.
I also remember the leaders who made me feel bad. The leaders who made me feel like I didn’t belong, and the leaders who we avoided. The leaders who I felt didn’t have time for me, or weren’t real Christians and led confusing double lives. The leaders who were sarcastic and only spoke to each other and told jokes we couldn’t understand.
I remember sitting in the rows of kids and thinking about what leader I wanted to be. I wanted to be a cool but kind leader and I wanted to sing in the band, as a six year old. I’m now known for singing in the band. I pray I am and will be known for being a cool but kind leader.

In the end, both my co-leader and I told the girls our testimonies, and I ended mine by pointing out we didn’t come to camp to tell them to go to bed, or make sure they didn’t get sunburnt. We came to tell and show them God loves them because we think it’s important. And I’d like to keep that as my priority in leading from now on.

Because, it’s sort of a double sided coin.

Insomuch as what I do, without love, I am not giving worth. If I have not love, I am nothing.

But insomuch as what God has already done, without love, I am not given worth. If I have not love, I am nothing.

 

 

13 If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonour others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, 10 but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears. 11 When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me. 12 For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.

13 And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.

1 Corinthians 13

 

Gunna

A friend of mine posted on Facebook, on the very first day of the year, “there shouldn’t be a need for New Year, New Me. You should be trying to better yourself every day of the year.” And, true as that is, doesn’t it give you a kick up the backside to realise that an entire year has passed and another one lies before you, untouched? And as I looked at the New Year, I thought to myself, what a lot of gunnas.

You know the idea. I was gunna meet up with so and so. I was gunna get my license. I was gunna keep in touch, and clean my room, and pick up this habit and drop that one. And I am sick to death of all the gunnas. 

So, from the very first day of this year, I set to work.
Sunday was my hundredth time doing Sunday School, and my first time thinking in a while, how could I make this better? It was also my first time volunteering at a new church- that was a gunna that got accomplished towards the end of last year. For ages, I wanted to move to a small community church and learn people’s names and help it grow. Well, I finally did and decided to get more involved by joining the church band. Almost as a cosmic LOL, I ended up at the front, a lone singer with my guitar and two other musicians safely tucked behind me. The minister joked he didn’t think I would look too enthusiastic, but in all honesty, I put aside my nerves when I considered this was it- I had been going to get involved, and here I was. 

Monday, I set to work on my room. A room full of “character” as I like to say, I’d been going to clean for a long time. But when you have guests over and you nearly slice off their toes as you embarrassedly try to shut the door as they walk in curiously, it is time to consider vacuuming. I started at one end of the room and worked my way to the other. My parents were out so I cranked my music and danced around the house. I swept the floors, did the dishes and came back to my room every time I had a spurt of energy. And I did a lot of things I’d been going to do for a while.

I threw away a gift I’d handmade for someone I was no longer friends with- it had been in a box since last January. 

I binned the shirt people had signed on my last day of high school- it had been slumped on my floor, my heart halfway caught between the bad memories and the feeling it should be sentimental. 

I gave two bags of clothes and knick knacks away to charity, and filled another bag with torn, permanently stained, paint splattered clothes I didn’t think anyone would want, all the while conscious that I’d probably bought about as much as three bags in the past year anyway. 

I watered my plants, who were dying due to my gunnas. I lit a candle, dusty because I’d always been meaning to burn it. I vacuumed, and God rewarded me with the scene of my dog barking, jumping and trying to protect me from a roaring monster, and then whimpering and running away. All these gunnas, smashed. Then I sat down and ate an ice cream, which I was gunna do anyway. 

I decided to write letters to people I wanted to keep in touch with. Yes, they live far away and it’s going to be more difficult than easy to get to see them, but that doesn’t mean the end. It means being creative. And I put out an ad on Facebook asking who would like a letter, because I realised gunna isn’t just something I struggle with. If people truly cared, they would overcome their gunnas and meet me halfway. 

Gunna is the people you want to see but never seem to have time for. 

Gunna is the notes you were supposed to write, and the letters you were supposed to send and the texts that are still drafts or on your to do list. 

And so I bought some overpriced stamps [because love means sacrifice] and wrote some letters. And the response to that ad was astounding. So astounding I ran out of envelopes and took it down. I decided to stop striving for people who didn’t have time for me and start with a good honest list of people who did. Because the feeling of accomplishment when a gunna becomes a done is something that should be amazing. Like walking a straight line from my door to my desk for the first time in forever. 

And today, Wednesday, I did some of the hardest gunnas of all. 

I went back to work and did some office duties. The last time I was at work, I’d been yelled at and abused [I was asked to pop in during the holidays and keep everything running], and I have to admit, I’ve been avoiding going back. But I had a to do list, and I was going to finish it. Usually when people say “so help me God”, they mean it in a sort of sarcastic and weirdly threatening way. Today, when I turned the key in the lock, it was one of my most earnest prayers. 

I met up with a friend who I haven’t had a good, sit down chat with in a while. And I told them I would like to stop being friends. There are a lot of reasons behind that- some of them might not even make sense. But it was something that, as time had gone on and we’d grown further and further apart, I’d been thinking I was going to do. And so I did it. 

And finally, a not so hard one- I opened and used all the bits and pieces of a shower set I got for Christmas. You know, the fancy ones that usually end up being given to a family member you don’t like and forgot to buy for, or chucked into a Kris Kringle a year later. I attempted to pamper myself, and it didn’t go too badly, although I now fancy my head smells like a salad, due to my peppermint shampoo, coriander conditioner and grapefruit face wash. 

Sometimes accomplishing something you’ve been waiting to do is an exhilarating feeling. Getting a tattoo or going overseas or giving away something. Telling someone you like them. Putting the final full stop on a story. A weight is lifted, a smile is on your face, and you give yourself a little nod of “good job”. 

Sometimes finishing something really hurts. I was gunna do Year 13 and when it was over, I wept. I was best friends with a girl for six years, and when it ended, it crushed me. I was good friends with a person for over a year and today, when enough was enough, I felt a little lost. None of these hold regrets- a gunna is a decision you’ve already made, and you’re ready for. But they sometimes hold pain. 

Sometimes, making your gunna into a done feels like nothing. We do things every day. Little steps are made every time we decide to move forward. 

But none of that means we should shy away from our gunnas. 

No, we should run at them, and keep running until they’re done and we’re out of breath and they’re behind us and we can see the next one, faintly in the distance. 

I’m gunna finish the Bible this year with a friend. 

I’m gunna get more flexible so my arms don’t shake when I hold a yoga pose for over thirty seconds. 

I’m gunna buy my clothes and as much else possible this year second hand.

I’m going to love my family and friends better. 

I’m going to run into the life God has for me. 

I’m going to trust Him more, because he’s done a pretty good job with my life so far. 

And this week, when I sing at church, it won’t be so scary. 

Because I’ve done it. 
 

Lighthouse

By Danielle Bennett

April ran me down,
left me looking at the backside of a pig herd.

At the end of the month, mud thick as thighs
was smeared across my eyelids and lip corners,
and all over my spirit.

So tired, this voice I am losing is both a red and white flag
that tells a more honest story than my mouth does.

I’m tired of the discipline it takes to say no.
Of the daily quits and the daily asks.
Each message a jagged skip and whatever groove I had finally slid into.

Tired of being a thread always pulling through.
Of showing up to a keyboard, unimpressed by anything I have to offer.
I, too, am unimpressed by my own biography.

Tired of wanting to claw my way through skin until I am an indistinct skeleton,
slinking out unnoticed.

Perhaps then I wouldn’t be held by the fire of my own splintered dreamboards.

Shrink me tiny enough to escape failure by any on of my hundred definitions.
Help me believe that this art was only ever an experiment

I’m tired of doing my best.
Of telling the sugar to let me go.
Of being looked at like the next shiny trophy.
A feeling like a ladder rung, like an empty promised land.

I’m tired of what it takes to get clear,
of how heavy the fighting heart weighs in.
Of the “not quite, almost, just wait here”.
Of the questioning of my own aloneness, of my own enoughness, of my own too-muchness.
April reminds me that I am a six-figure grave and whoever taught me what that would mean.

Where is the triangle of blame that promise me relief one day?

Where is the relief in any of this one day?

 

The truth is, I am only bothered when I think or I know I have completely lost control.

My reputation, the feels, the knowing.
I have chased and begged them home, but I never learned to lasso.
So I’m doing my best for the thousandth time to actually let it go.

And everyone who’s actually nailed crow pose or hit five miles
know that repetition expecting a different result isn’t always insanity.
Sometimes it’s just a way of growth.

I am flaking mud.
Really I am left in no one’s dust.
I am miles behind and I am still winning.
I will never forget my own name.

I am letting us all off my hooks.
I am showing up, even when other people don’t.

I am not forcing resolve,
because I’m not sure that’s the way life folds.

But I’m reconciling versions of myself,
because I want them to meet one day and laugh at how right we swore we were.

I am not made of formulas, so I can no longer respond on your cue.
I’m gonna start asking questions that may make me seem slow,
but I am labeling that a good four letter word

And I figured out that two pieces of dark chocolate a day are not adding more inches to my waist,
than nearly three decades of stress I asked this body to stomach.

The manna has come enough to know that I will not be buried alive.
And I’ve never watched, but I can tell I am beautiful when I’m writing
and I know there is a humble man saving the rest of his fourth of July’s for my firework giddy applause.
And I don’t know where he is, but I know he doesn’t play hide-and-seek.
And I know I want to tell him that I haven’t been waiting.
I’ve been creating a hotel of stories he can thank for the shameless, crooked smile I’ve become.

I am flaking mud.
I am waking up.
Praise!

April is gone and I think May was a new sun and I’ve never loved the sound of crumble as I do now.
Under all that earth, I got soft, somehow.

I got a second draft biography.
It says: I’m not much of a sailor but I’ve built some sort of boat.
If you judge me by my crew, I am thoroughly good.
If you judge me by results, I am a two-time world champion of facing what I feared the most.

I have been published by several renowned atlases, for my work repairing lighthouses using only sound.
You’ll know they’re mine when you see them.
How the lights loop haphazardly like they’re completely out of control.

 

lighthouse
“My Guiding Light”; by Caitlin Robinson