“So what is it that you’re doing with yourself these days?”
“Are you still working on that novel?”
“How are you getting on with finding work in the field you trained for?”
I get these questions from well-intentioned people, who are – poor lambs – trying to keep track of what’s going on with me. Not an easy task – not ever since I let go of the whole set of normal expectations and passed the steering wheel to God, saying: you’re the one who knows where we’re heading, you drive. I’m not going to try and navigate, I’m not going to even sneak a look at the map.
There have been some very sharp bends on the road, we have sometimes gone on some strange track that doesn’t look like it’s leading anywhere, and one thing I’ve learned:
whenever I think I know where we’re heading, it turns out I was wrong.
Just like those people around me who ask these questions, I too tend to assume that if we’ve gone onto a road with a sign that says it’s the way to Edinburgh, then obviously we’re going to Edinburgh, right? And I start thinking about what I know about what Edinburgh is like, what sort of things could be good to do there, do I have any friends who live nearby, etc etc etc. I might even, naively, forgetting everything I’ve learned, post on Facebook: off to Edinburgh.
This is usually followed by an unexpected turning off the road.
I really don’t know God’s plans – just that they are good, because he is good, and he knows what he’s doing.
Sometimes I can see, looking back, what a particular part of the journey was for. I can see how what I learned then is serving a purpose now. One specific example is how God got me to learn to cook – over the years I had had it drummed into me by some very non-affirming people that I was no good at cooking, absolutely hopeless, no chance that I’d ever learn; so I lived on microwaved ready meals and the odd takeaway, convinced that proper cooking was beyond me, and (don’t ask me why) especially meat. Then God got me onto a rather unexpected cookery course – I was living with two friends who ran a small retreat house in Wales, helping them with their work in exchange for board and lodging; they did the cooking side of things and I helped with washing up, serving the meals, plus all sorts of cleaning/gardening/whatever jobs. Then one of them fell ill (heart issues), and there were two of us left doing all the work between us. And then the other one fell ill – nasty flu bug (I know, I got it later and it was the most vicious flu bug I’ve ever experienced) which knocked her out completely, and I was the only one left standing. And we had six guests staying, who would need to be fed the next day.
For a week I followed instructions from the sickbed, did exactly as I was told and the food came out just fine! including roast beef, which I’d always thought was really complicated. And casseroles. I cooked meat almost every day (Monday was usually a non-meat day because it was the butcher’s day off, so it was a tuna bake instead), all sorts of different dishes, and I didn’t even get as far as panicking about it – there just wasn’t the time for that.
I remember how we joked between us at the time, saying God was preparing me to be a good wife for someone. Little did we know how true that was! This was the summer of 2001, and in March 2002 I met the man who is now my husband, and he is a serious carnivore so it really wouldn’t have worked all that well if he’d met me before, when my culinary skills ended on the level of omelettes and pasta.
How I met him is also an example of the way God has been leading me, but I don’t want to meander into too many examples just now. The point is: I’ve chosen to follow God, to trust him and do what I hear him tell me to do, and over time I’ve learned that even when it sometimes looks like “oh, that’s where we’re heading”, I still don’t really know where we’re really going.
There was a story that did the rounds on the email several years ago, about a man who had a dream in which God told him to push a big rock that was standing outside his house. The man was very excited to get a job from God, and he went out in the morning and pushed against that rock with all his strength. He did this every day, pushing with all his strength, despite the obvious mockery from friends and passers by, because he was determined to do the task God had given him. But, as time went by and the rock didn’t move by so much as a whisker, the man started to get despondent. He started to wonder if he had got it right – maybe these mockers were right, maybe he was a fool to believe that God had given him this task.
Then he had another dream, in which God drew his attention to the difference between the actual task he had given him, and the man’s expectation of what this task’s purpose might be. God hadn’t told him to move the rock, he had told him to push. The result the man expected was that the rock would move – otherwise why would God tell him to push it, right? But the purpose God had in mind was quite different. Look, he said, see how your muscles have grown since you’ve been pushing this rock? Now I can use you for the job I had in mind…
There was a point when I felt God was clearly telling me to let go of a whole load of other things I’d been doing, and to focus on writing a novel. I did that – I let go of things, some of which I’d really enjoyed, and focused on the novel, getting disciplined about sitting down every day (or nearly every day) to write, and even told people that that’s what I was doing. (I had by then got past the shyness and was ok about admitting to people that I write.)
I don’t remember now how long it was that I kept working at it – a year? two years? I had got up to about 14,000 words. On good days I felt like I could really do it, I could, for once, actually finish a novel. On bad days I thought I was doing it all wrong and it needs to be restarted and… I think most writers know these voices.
Anyway, I put it on pause when I started the counselling course. There was simply no way I could do both of these things at the same time. The counselling course was demanding not just academically but emotionally too, and there were times during that course when all I could do was continue to get up every day and put one foot in front of the other and trust that somehow I was going to survive this. Depression, which with hindsight I can see had always lurked in the shadows but never managed to drag me down, now came out much more forcefully. I was barely coping, so there was no spare energy for writing the novel.
I did keep on blogging – this answered a very deep need for me and sometimes helped me cope. When the idea of getting out of the house and meeting people seemed as feasible as a balloon ride to the moon, and even phoning a friend seemed impossible, I could communicate with people through blogging and social networking, get my feelings out, and even get support – it never ceases to amaze me how often I get “me too” responses when I write about struggling with depression. There are so many people out there who, on some level, in some way, have experienced it.
When the course finally ended, I found I needed some recovery time. It had pretty nearly wiped me out.
Throughout that recovery time, I kept on blogging. That is the one thing that I have felt very clear about, that it’s part of what I was made for. It comes naturally to me, and when I go without it for too long I start getting ratty. It’s a form of expression that really works for me. Writing fiction is something I’ve sometimes done and enjoyed but it’s not the thing that comes naturally to me. Poetry does – poems just spring out of somewhere and demand to be written, so I write them and maybe tweak them a teensy bit and that’s it.
People who remember I talked about writing a novel – and I did talk about it with great determination – wonder how I’m getting on with it, and I feel awkward explaining that no, I haven’t finished it and am not sure I ever will. And those who believe in God might wonder: but you felt so sure God was telling you to do it, surely if he told you to focus on writing a novel he meant you to finish it?
But that’s it, we never really know his plans. We humans tend to assume that the purpose of that work back then was that the end result would be a novel and that it would get published – that’s the sort of expectation we tend to have. But maybe he was just getting me to practise and hone my writing skills? Maybe he wanted to get me into the habit of writing regularly, so that I’d do well at blogging?
That course that I finished – I remember hearing some encouragement from the front which I thought was… how shall I put it… wrong, misguided, misleading… Telling us that we would do just fine because we’re each of us there through God’s calling and “God didn’t bring you here to fail” – sorry, but that’s not always true. God does sometimes bring us into a situation which we won’t be up to, and his purpose is not always the one we humans expect, his purpose could be that through failing we would learn something and grow in a way that we couldn’t have otherwise.
Back at that point when I had to let go of stuff in order to focus on writing – actually that wasn’t how God told me, he told me in two separate stages, first he told me to let go of stuff and only later did he tell me to write, so when I was doing the letting go I had no idea what it was for. And I remember phoning someone who was leading a church activity which I’d been part of, telling her that I was backing out of it because I felt clearly that God was telling me to, and her response was “but why would God tell you something like that”, to which I replied: “that’s his business.”
So yes, it’s not all that easy to keep track of what’s going on with me. Lots of sharp turns and bendy roads. Oh, but didn’t you say you were going to Edinburgh? Oh yes, that’s where that road was going, but we turned off in the direction of Liverpool, and just as I thought that’s where we were heading we turned off again and were heading for Wales, but then the road was bending in a totally different direction and… who knows… It’s one big adventure. All I know is that the driver is perfectly good and perfectly wise, and that he loves me.