The Art of Conversation

When I was in high school, I used to offer to braid people’s hair all the time. This may sound weird to you, but I went to an all girls school, where the length of your skirt, weight you had gained or lost and the huge pimple on your head you hoped no one would notice, smothered in make up, were all open to conversation, judgement and uncomfortable probing. (Now, every time I get a large pimple I hope no one will notice, a little voice in my head says “my school would have,” and I leave it be.)
So really, saying “you have pretty hair, would you like me to braid it?” wasn’t so out of the question.

The best thing about it, far from the feel of unwashed hair in my hands, was the conversation that sprung up from it. Like having dinner with someone, or chatting while the two of you play video games, people open up when they aren’t looking someone in the eye, and they forget their inhibitions, distracted. I’ve mentioned more than once I was a loner towards the end of high school, and I found myself starved of interaction, until the day I learned I was a fine braider.
Nowadays, it’s not that easy.

People at university don’t have time for you to braid their hair. Most of them come fully done, their make up and hair so perfect they look like they’re headed to formal dinners (men included). I sometimes worry I have missed the chance to break into groups and start random conversations- now it seems I had to have “been there that time”. At church it’s a little easier- you can ask them what they thought of the sermon, what they did that week, about upcoming events and, if all else fails, note that the cookie selection is not particularly to your tastes, save the mint slices. It seems I have still not mastered the art of conversation. There was one particularly fateful camp where I became known as “facts with Patty”, because all of the random knowledge I have stored up over years became the only thing I could think to mention. Tonight I did whip out that stockings started off at socks, until it became fashionable to wear them higher and the gentry couldn’t get any higher than stockings. Anyway.

 
I think, if this post is to have a point, it would be this. That, I have been the loner. Indeed, in my current state at uni, I am in danger of once more being so. And it’s not that I don’t have things to say, and it’s not that I don’t want to say them. It’s just that I get a similar feeling around everyone the way I do around a crush. They’re always busy, or talking to someone else, or what you had planned to say has no relevance now, and you’re not quite sure how to start, so you blush, and curl up into a ball in the corner or resort to chatting to a well known friend like wrapping yourself in an old blanket. When I actually have a crush, I just wait for it to die from a lack of attention before I even bother thinking of something to say.

Oh yes, the point.

Well, I’ve been a loner and it was no fun.

It was easy, and I had books and schoolwork and stuff, but constantly feeling left out of stuff when deep down I knew no one knew I wanted to be let in felt bad. Avoiding someone you like, and never knowing how they feel about you (or whether they know you exist) feels bad. Being alone in a room full of people you feel cut off from feels bad. And one day, you run out of fun facts and realise all it took was a little leap.
I just need to find something better than, “can I braid your hair?”

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The Empty Pews

  
Last year I got to meet a Christian lady from Pakistan. She said where she’s from, people crowd in rented tents just to hear the gospel, until they are spilling out of the doors. Here, in what is known as a Christian country, we have beautiful buildings, and a freedom to believe what we want, but the preachers are speaking to empty pews. 

I have not been able to shake this image from my mind.

It is a large part of why I moved from Hillsong, a wildly expanding and very popular church, to a local Anglican Church. Because, although the preaching hits me in the heart, and the people are kind and welcoming, there are back few pews are pushed together, unused. And nothing has never stirred my heart so much as to see those pews filled.I think this feeling is common amongst Christians. The people who have been saved from drowning and are sitting safely in the boat drying off know better than anyone what it feels like to still be in the water. If nothing else, Jesus told us to make disciples and spread the gospel. That alone makes it worthy of our time, energy and passion. But I’ve come to realise three things in my mission to fill the pews.

Firstly, that we do not fill the pews to fill the pews. 
So often when you are passionate about converting people to Christianity, you let that become your focus and you begin to spurt utter nonsense in the hope of getting people to listen to you. I’ve seen Christians bring up the most controversial things in order to get attention, or start every conversation with “how do you feel about Christ?” There’s nothing especially wrong with this, but I’ve realised that forcing a reaction from someone on the spot is not the best way to get them into church, particularly with an open mind. For instance, when people stand on boxes in the city and shout bible verses about salvation and hell at passers by. They have this desire to see people saved, but they see the people in front of them as a mass. They are happy to fill their pews with people scared into being there, people they don’t know and who don’t know Christ, and to fill a yearly quota with numbers instead of humans. Something I had to decide from the get go was that I wasn’t making friends with people just to get them to church. People can smell fakes, and advertisers. No one wants to make friends with someone who is just going to try and sell them something. People want to make friends with the friendly. So we cannot blindly go about filling the pews with extras and randoms, just as it’s embarrassing when you find out your friend has an app that gives them followers on Instagram. 

Secondly, filling the pews takes time.
This is something that has been weighing on my heart recently. I’ve just started uni and everyone has been telling me this is the time I’ll have the best conversations and make life long friends. But, every time a class ends, someone has somewhere to rush off to. Every time I make conversation with someone, the next class they’ll be sitting next to someone else. And, as much as you may want to blame my lack of good friends and, consequently, good conversations, on my awkwardness, I had to realise that to get to a point where someone is willing to discuss religion with you, you will have to give them time. Just as you can’t make friends with only the intention to convert them, I think you can’t make friends until you’ve given some time to getting to know them. I think they are worth the time and effort in the first place.

Now, I’m having trouble making friends at all. But once I do, I need to remember, along with every other Christian who has any friends, that they may not say yes the first time, and there is no specified timing to it all. I became friends with my coworker when we started working together. A year on (this Monday, in fact), I gave her a book on Jesus. It isn’t instant, because people aren’t microwave popcorn. When you are genuine with people, you will get closer to their heart. It’s a simple truth, but one that means patience.

And finally, the pews may not always be full. 

When I joined the church I’m currently at, around 5 people left for good things in other places. And I realised that, even as I pray for God to use me to fill the pews, these pews are not the only ones that need filling. They will move, and fill other seats. But God will use them to fill 30, 60, 100 times what was planted. And I’ll just keep filling the seats I’ve got in front of me. And so, the church will grow. Do not be disheartened if your friend moves church- as long as they’ll be with you in heaven, both you and God can have a smile on your faces. The easiest way to fill a pew is to fill it with people who don’t yet believe, and get them to keep coming back. But if a Christian fills it, that’s great. If a person fills it for a while, that’s okay. It just means the work will not be done until Christ returns, and you knew that was the case anyway. 

So, in short, I’ve found my mission in life is summarised in the little catch phrase of “fill the pews”. I don’t care if that’s with kids, or they’re not real pews and were filling a football stadium for Christ. I don’t mind if it’s in Australia or Pakistan or if I’ll pioneer evangelism in Antarctica. I just want real people, with real problems and stories and hearts to come and hear the good news. 

Because there’s no point it being preached to empty pews in beautiful churches no one sees. 

My Mum

MWhen I was two years old, my mum had a heart attack. I didn’t know what that meant, and I don’t remember much of it, apart from dad sitting on the edge of my bed. I’ve decided to start here because maybe this is the first tangible memory I have of realising something was wrong with my mum.

When I was in primary school, mum got a shopping scooter. A big red one with a flag on the back, and a box which I could put my backpack in when she picked me up from school. When I was young enough, I would sit on the seat with her, wedged between her legs and sometimes even allowed to steer. As I got older, I eventually started to walk beside her or race a scooter which could go a maximum of 10km per hour. There was nothing about this which was odd to me. She was just mum, with her scooter and lopsided walk, who liked to cook and sing in the kitchen and dyed her hair red even though it must have originally been brown, like mine.

In year 2, two girls asked me why my mum walked funny. People also used to ask why she talked funny, but one of the girls had a Chinese family so I knew she wouldn’t go there. Something about this, the singling out of my mum from all the other mums as odd, stung and I began to cry. The teacher took me outside, told me to calm down, and left me leaning against the green wooden railing, trying to catch my breath. I didn’t cry for a while after that.

I don’t know if I realised how much I envied other kids growing up. Mums who would take them shopping or could easily converse about boys and troubles. But I do know that, the older I grew, the less that envy was. Because I realised I had a mum who loved me, and I knew that for certain. Surely that was something to be envied by others. I had a mum who thought she’d never have kids, and who rejoiced to get married and find out she was pregnant. I had a mum who was overjoyed just to see me healthy, my strong legs and chubbiness as a kid. I had a mum who thought I was beautiful on days I didn’t. I had a mum who was and is ferociously protective of someone precious to her. I have a mum who loves me.

My mum contracted polio as a three month old in Indonesia. As an adult, I ache at the unfairness of this. That she is disabled due to a virus that, somewhere in the world, was already being cured. That she can’t have any more children due to the risk of it when she loves kids. That the kids she loves so much stare at her in the street. I wept as she explained for the first time last year she struggled to hold me for a year after I was born, her body torn apart from the pregnancy. But recently, as she’s moved from a shopping scooter to a wheelchair, I’ve learned to put aside the pain and just love my mum back, as best I know how.

I like to write poetry…

(This short story is based off a secret I was given in a class, and asked to turn into a narrative. The original secret was “I like to write poetry about everyday experiences”.)

Ever since I was a kid I’ve wanted to write poetry. I don’t mean garbage like kids are forced to do for the HSC or like Shakespeare who everyone thinks is so great but is secretly just making clever “ya mum” jokes. I mean real poetry. 

I kept trying, even when it was really hard. I wanted to write from every day experiences, stuff that I knew well, but it’s hard to rhyme anything with dishwasher, or lunchbox, so for a long time I’ll admit I was stumped. I mean, George Papanakis could write stuff that would make you weep, or sit for hours pondering the meaning of life. He was the kid who sat next to me, and every time we’d have to hand something in for English, I swear, the teacher would beam as if they were getting handed a crisp hundred dollar note, not Georges homework. But whenever I sat down to write, whether it was about X-rays, My Xbox or my eczema, poetry did not seem my expertise. 

So one day, I decided to go to the professional. 

“George?” I asked, sitting next to him one recess. 

He grunted, not looking up from his book. I hadn’t thought he was busy and he was just sitting there, moving only to shove a bit of sandwich in his face or turn a page. Looking at the amount of lines of concentration on his face, I realised maybe I’d caught him at a bad time. 

“George I need some help.”

“No, Juliet Chen does not have a crush on you, she only pretended to win a bet.”

That stung a little, but I pursued my aim.

“No, George, it’s not about girls. It’s about poetry.”

George ripped off a bit of paper bag and bookmarked his page. “Poetry?”

“Yea George. You know, I know you’re good at it and I’ve always wanted to be able to write about stuff in a beautiful way, so I just thought you’d be able to give me some handy hints.”

George looked up at me, chewing slowly. After a bit, he patted the bit of bench beside him. “Take a seat, mate.”

I sat.

“Look mate, you’re not very good at writing stuff.”

“I know! That’s what I’d hoped you could help with!”

“You didn’t let me finish mate. If you’re not good at it now, and you haven’t been before… I don’t think you’ll ever be, mate.”

“What?” I couldn’t have heard him right.

“You just don’t have the gift, mate.” 

“The gift?”

“The gift, mate.”

” I see.”

“Sorry, mate.”

“No worries,” I said, hopping up lightly. “Thanks for your time, George.”

“Sure thing, mate.”

“And mate?” He called after me.

I turned around, tears threatening to cascade from my eyes.

“Yep?”

“I’m sure you’re good at other things.”

For the rest of the day I couldn’t concentrate. The gift? I absentmindedly doodled on the back of my workbook. 

I felt like I’d been slapped across the face 

After being told I didn’t have the gift.

The gift of writing, the gift to create,

And my whole world had taken a shift. 
All this time trying to do something great 

And writing line after line,

Could it be, possibly, inexplicably, 

I had been wasting my time?

All my passion, my love for words

The way they skip and interlace

A dream I had dreamed since just a boy 

Was gone without a trace.

Good at other things?

I didn’t actually want to be.

All I wanted was to write,

Good, great, poetry.

I put down my pen and tried to focus on what the teacher was saying. George was probably right- I couldn’t write poetry if I tried. 

Music

There’s something special about hearing a tune. 

Apparently the sense most connected to our memory is our sense of smell, but as someone who lives in Sydney, I’ve all but learned to turn that off. No, for me it’s my auditory senses. 

My parents were always impressed that, as a kid, I could name a song by its first few notes, or a bar of the chorus, even if I’d only heard it once or years ago. 

The other day, I was standing in church, and we were singing “Love of the Father”, by City Alight, and I couldn’t help myself. After months preparing to perform it for our mission trip to Fiji, I knew all the dance moves. However, being an awful dancer, I also knew the lyrics and chords. One of my most favourite memories is sitting on the floor, strumming my guitar, not plugged into anything, trying to belt it over the top of fifty kids trying to learn the dance. Some sang along, others stood by and clapped, but the joy on their faces was something I’ll never forget. Kids are amazing. I later found my plectrum in someone’s mouth, but for some reason that also makes me smile. So, when we stood to sing it in church, despite being in Sydney, standing in a conservative Anglican Church, I began to clap my hands and stomp my feet. I belted it at the top of my lungs, my eyes closed because the lyrics were in front of me in a plastic sleeve on a woven grass mat, the faces of fifty smiling kids before me. Tears sprung to my eyes, the memories flooding through my mind until suddenly, it was over, and I was sitting on a freezing wooden pew.

Music does something to me. It connects me to people, it reminds me of emotion. There’s something about listening to a song where someone sings about things being okay, and feeling like they will be. For instance, hearing “Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus”, actually brings to life the lyrics “all the things of the earth will grow strangely dim in the light of his glory and grace.” As I sing, everything around me becomes so small and insignificant. Once I’ve started singing, even fears melt away. 

I found one of my first ever stories I wrote as a kid in an old word document. I wrote about listening to Evermore as my “emotional and deep band” and Kelly Clarkson for some “angry music”. I didn’t know about pop culture, or that you should write things you know but that others can relate to- I may have been about 7. But it’s cool finding such things and realising it’s sort of always been this way. 
A few weeks ago, I went to my first concert (this is turning very anecdotal), and I have to admit that, despite the amount of money I’d paid more than a cd, I shut my eyes and just heard the sounds. They were so close, and, despite all of the hard work they’d put into the lights and showmanship, I was satisfied just listening to all the raw sounds out together.

I guess what I’m trying to say is, music is awesome. There are just every day moments that make me realise what a privilege it is to have so many ways of accessing it, and so many different types but even just for what it is- vibrations, or maths, or whatever you want to break it down to. Sounds. There’s something about it that is special. Something about feeling those vibrations in your fingertips as you play, or something special about singing as opposed to saying, writing songs as opposed to stories. That even in the midst of life, we have the ability to switch off everything but our hearing and appreciate music. 

Break ups

Every once in a while they happen. If you have allowed yourself to be vulnerable with someone, they hurt. If you loved someone, they hurt a lot. 

I have broken up, over my short dance with life, with enemies, friends and boyfriends. To tell the truth, I’ve never been a great dancer- to practice and fall a few times, step on a few toes here and there, is the only way I know how to get better. Even after you’ve taken advice, evaluated situations and prepared yourself for the adventure, the blow can still come. It does, sometimes, in the form of a break up.

Sometimes, for instance when you leave behind an enemy, a break up is relief. Whether said out loud or not, the moment you decide to part ways with someone who had been poisoning your heart is a good one. Even bad boyfriends, or someone you knew it wouldn’t last forever with- just deciding not to contact a person again can be good. However, while those moments may help define us, what really makes a mark is when we leave somebody we love. 

My first ever break up was with my best friend. It wasn’t my choice and I didn’t see it coming, but when it happened, it didn’t hurt for a bit. See, a break up has a lot in common with actually losing someone. All the plans you made, and the future you hoped for, are gone. The places you used to hang out have a flavour- the first time someone asked me where she was, I broke down in tears because she was gone. But for a bit I was in denial. Like grieving, there’s a bit of denial, then sadness and rage and all the other fun stuff. After a while I had enough emotion to write pages about all the ways in which I’d been wronged, and it actually came to define a large part of who I am, who I trust, and even how I see God. However, unlike grieving, a break up was someone’s choice. It hurts in a different way because something happened that rendered you – what? Unworthy of love or forgiveness? Maybe to them. (Thankfully, not to everyone else.) In this case, I was passed over for someone else, when she had a choice. There isn’t the closure of death, and it was someone’s choice and someone’s fault, even if it was a million little choices and faults over a long time. 

My most recent break up was with a boy. And, for everyone’s sakes, I won’t assign blame or have a whinge. In all fairness, it wasn’t anyone’s fault and there’s not a lot to complain about. But I thought it might help someone feel better, or maybe give me something to read the next time I break up with someone. 

I wanted to say, what you feel (what I feel) is okay. 

The day we broke up was a Saturday. I was angry. The next day was a Sunday and I was sad. The next day a Monday and I couldn’t focus. I came home from work and called a friend. I called three friends over those two days, all who told me to take care of myself and treat myself. Tuesday I went and did stuff, and kept so busy that was the first day I didn’t cry. I got a haircut, I did what I loved (hung out with kids), and I binge watched tv until I fell asleep. 

From Wednesday to Friday I worked and saw people and distracted myself, and on Saturday I went out with a friend. Then uni started. On Thursday I felt uncontrollably anxious. On Friday and Saturday I cried. While Saturday morning was tough, that afternoon I went shopping with my best friends and we got our nails done. It ended with a smile.

 Today is Monday, and I don’t know what it holds. I’ve started watching “Lost” on Netflix. 

We all deal with grief, loss and break ups in different way. With that friend I felt righteously angry and that fuelled me. I was angry even as I wept, and I knew I would make it through. With the next friend I didn’t feel a thing, because we’d all known it was coming. With this guy, there is a logical part of my brain that says it was no ones fault, it will be okay, and it won’t meant much in a few weeks, months or years. I’ll have some great stories to tell, once I can bring myself to tell them. But the emotional part of my brain (what we romantics call a heart) hurts. It’s acting up in all sorts of ways, and my head keeps saying “well, that’s silly. There’s no reason to cry. Calm down. Breathe slower.” But that’s not fair, and it won’t work. Because, as much as breaking up sucks and grieving hurts, you need it. You are allowed to weep, and scream, and explain to people you’re just not feeling up to it. You’re allowed to listen to sad music and stare out the window at the rain, thinking of what could have been. Just don’t do anything permanent (tattoos, self harm), hurtful (angry Facebook rants, contacting their parents) or stupid (leaving the window open to hear the angsty storm and getting a cold, treating yourself to a pulled pork sandwich when you’re a vegetarian, going to T2) (seriously, treat yourself at Woolworths). And one day you’ll do something fun and not remember anything related. Or you’ll go to that place and a completely new memory will be attached. Or you’ll make a new friend (as tough as uni has been on the tail end, it’s been lovely timing in itself). And you’ll be okay. 

Don’t do it by yourself- tell a handful of trusted people. 

You don’t have to tell everyone – refer to “angry Facebook rants”. 

Let it out in some way, even if it’s sobbing to a chick flick as an outlet, or running, or explaining everything to a complete stranger (I found a lovely lady at church, and have been hugging my dog who doesn’t understand but doesn’t mind). It was awesome to realise every new friend I make has no idea what’s going on and won’t judge me by it.

It was also awesome to realise friends aren’t cards in a game of Go Fish and I could chat to people who knew us both. 

Hug your dad. 

Cry on your mum. 

Buy a tub of ice cream. 

Wallow for a bit.

Heal.

Forgive. 

Move on. 

“They say time heals all wounds,

I don’t agree.

Every wound leaves a scar.

They’re all over me.

They remind us where we’ve been,

And they teach us where to go.

If you haven’t forgiven,

It’s time to let them know.”

Scars; My Brothers and I

Rubbish

I began this year with
 
51 Shirts
18 Pants
12 Skirts
18 Dresses 
15 Coats
6 pairs of Shoes
11 Jumpers 
 

  
Before you judge me, maybe you should start by counting your own clothes. It’s kind of scary.

I’m sorry to admit that about a quarter of that was accumulated just over the last year. I got a job for the first time, a bank card with access to online shopping and a lot more free time to browse. Therefore, I ended up with a lot of things I never knew I’d needed. And, at the end of last year, I decided that it had to stop.

A few things sparked this.

Firstly, a lot less money in my bank account than I should have had for someone who had been working for a year. I had no idea what to do with my savings, and so hadn’t really been budgeting to save. Now, I realise, that was quite silly. [I have, since then, set up a budget. I have not, since then, kept to my budget. Baby steps.] I wanted a pair of running shoes because I started running, so asked for some money from my Nan. After spending the money on the shoes, I realized I could have just kept the money and bought a pair second hand from the markets or an op shop. That left me rather disappointed in myself, thinking of a hundred better uses for that money. 

Secondly was realizing that, even if I went to the effort of looking up ethical clothing or trying to buy from good companies, the amount of energy and resource it takes just to create clothing is enormous. I read an article by a group I follow, 1 Million Women, about a documentary called “The True Cost”, and freaked out a bit. Even if you’re trying to do the right thing, it’s clear a lot of companies have cottoned on to the fact that a lot of people are looking for “sustainable”, “eco friendly” substitutes because Western society is being pummeled with information about a dying environment. Things with green tags have popped up- I most recently saw them at Ikea, H&M AND Bonds- advertising how they’re helping the environment by reducing the impact of the product. However, even if I buy from a company which has signed treaties and has certificates which say they’re doing their part, there is no guarantee no animal, person, worker, or child is not going to get hurt- it takes energy and people to make stuff, simple as that. Buying from these people wasn’t doing as much good as not buying from anyone.

And finally, looking at all the clothes I actually have, the question is raised- do I actually need any more? The answer is simply, no. In a society where we complain constantly that we have “nothing to wear”, I attempted to reconcile that with cultures where they do not wear clothes, or where the same dresses are passed down to generations, resewn, rehemmed, redesigned, but of the same material someone’s grandmother wore. And the amount of stuff I owned, simply because I wanted to own it, embarrassed me. It still does. The number of clothes that I began this article with is after I donated everything I didn’t want or haven’t worn in ages to charity.

 I originally wanted to make a resolution not to buy any new clothes, or anything new that I didn’t need, including a laptop which I’d been considering for a while. After all, my family shares a good PC and I have a tablet to myself. But then I realized that I couldn’t rely on the loophole of going and buying second hand clothes because the mentality of MORE and the actual spending of money wouldn’t change. It’s a mentality that because I can, I should. Even if, in fact, I can’t and shouldn’t.           
 
So, this year I’m going to try and not buy stuff. I saw an article about a woman who could fit her entire years worth of rubbish in a glass jar. In a household where I fill my bin once a month and my family fills the bin at least once a week, I figured that was a bit of a stretch. But I want to change my heart. I decided that, for the majority of gifts, I would still buy things but stick to the companies which I know are doing good. As for myself, it’s time to start wearing what I already own. There’s a Japanese theory that you should only own what makes you happy [which significantly reduces the amount of stuff in your life], regardless of sentiment and monetary value. That was also sort of an inspiration, although I own a lot of bland smart casual stuff for work I should probably keep [despite the fact that a t-shirt and jeans makes me very, very happy]. 

I want to wear everything I own until it’s literally falling apart-this has only happened with a few pairs of shoes, a shirt [which my mum threw out on my behalf] and a pair of pants [which I took part of and made a bag]. Apparently the average person in the U.S. throws out 86 pounds of clothes a year- that’s insane. But I realized that, if I’m going to stick to the clothes I have, I am going to have to wear them until there is so little left that I will have to throw them out and no one will recognize them. Old t-shirts will become pyjamas, and old/odd socks will go in the rag bin. I want to live a life where I get creative, not consumerist. I want to live a life which doesn’t have a lasting negative impact on the planet, or on the people making mass produced clothes. I want to live a life I can be proud of. 

And so, this year, that’s going to be me not buying new stuff [and subtly implying a few things to friends for my birthday].
 
Feel free to join me.

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.