Rolling on the Floor (with Skeletons) Laughing

On a day off, several years ago….

It’s ‘time-off’ time again – the time I know I need, but find difficult to take. Some weeks the time stands out in my diary as a welcoming light of refuge. Other weeks I feel its impending approach and the demands it makes on me to come up with some idea of what to do – with the added pressure that the idea be ‘fun’.

A year or so ago, I was ‘accosted’ in the street by a man wanting me to sign up to some charitable cause or other. But his approach was different to the usual ‘Can I have 30 seconds of your time?’ One always suspects such requests are less demanding in wording than the time that will actually be required of you.

He surprised me by asking, ‘Whatta you do for fun?!!’

He’d managed to arrest me – to stop my purposeful stride through the streets of this familiar city. I couldn’t come up with an answer quick enough. I stood there, staring blankly out onto the main street, mentally scanning my life for evidence of fun. Even he seemed surprised!

It’s not that I don’t like my life. I’m grateful for what God has given me and where he’s placed me. But I do sometimes wish that he’d made me a little differently: one of those ‘fun’ kind of people; a ‘hoot’ to be with; one who makes people ‘ROFL’ (that’s ‘Roll on Floor Laughing’, apparently). I find myself occasionally longing to be someone who’s spontaneous, adventurous and just a little bit crazy!

I’m more the kind of person who has people examining their lives – not laughing their cares away. Even when I’m on my own, I examine my own life. Not necessarily in a reflective, positive, life-changing kind of way, but in a way that makes me wish I could sometimes make myself laugh or at least laugh at myself.

I walked away from the charitable man, examining my life and wondering what I could do to have a bit more ‘fun’.

A year later and I still haven’t come up with any convincing answers.

Last night, as I got ready for bed, I was determined to plan my time-off the next day. I was going to plan something interesting. I didn’t put too much pressure on myself to make it ‘fun.’ Still I hoped that fun might just accidentally happen along the way.

This morning after getting my washing done (not everything can be fun), I caught the train into the city centre with the intention of going to see St.Michan’s Church – an old church which reportedly has lots of skeletons in its basement. I know! ‘Not much fun there, Ms Fun Seeker!’ Still, a little adventurous and just a little bit crazy! Though I had planned my itinerary for the day, because I can only cope with so much spontaneity and craziness.

Within ten minutes my ‘crazy’ plans had gone awry. It turns out that St.Michan’s opens later in the winter months. I still plan to go there today – but in the meantime I find myself here in ‘Third Space’ – an excellent new cafe opened by creative and entrepreneurial friends. I’ve had a delicious coffee and scone and, while I haven’t yet been ‘ROFLing’, I do love their new (old) floor and am thoroughly enjoying the aesthetics of the place.

At one point, I was asked by the owner if I would mind changing tables so they could move some tables. He said he could ask me because I was a friend. So I moved, as a friend, and felt a little spontaneous and crazy as I did it!

I like to think that there are different kinds of fun in life. One person’s joy at the beauty and aesthetics of an old wooden floor may be another’s idea of ‘not-so-much-fun’. While one’s desire for constant adventure may be just a little scary for another.

This one will take delight in being just brave enough to visit somewhere new, once in a while, and have fun writing while she waits to see the skeletons.

When I search in vain for ‘fun’ in my life – the kind of fun that others may consider to be fun – I find comfort in God’s creativity in making a rich, fun-loving, varying humanity: people that know how to have fun in all sorts of different ways. I’m also thankful for those he has placed in my life who have the ability to occasionally have me ‘rolling on the floor laughing’.

Postscript: I got to see the skeletons. I even had a few laughs – but none on the floor – which is just as well, as there were skeletons down there.


Posted in response to the Daily Post prompt for today.


Soft-Boiled Eggs

Today, for the first time ever, I cooked a soft-boiled egg.

I’ve boiled eggs before. I’ve just never mastered a soft-boiled one. Not that I’d ever tried before today. Today’s achievement was mostly due to my impatience. I was hungry. I wanted two boiled eggs. I turned the heat off more quickly than I normally would have. It wasn’t deliberate but the eggs turned out perfectly!

Today’s writing prompt has us thinking about the phrase ‘Life is too short for….’

My initial response was that life is too short for challenges! I’m supposed to be writing a post each day of the month of November. I’d signed up for a challenge.

I quickly came to the conclusion that sometimes challenges are just burdens in disguise. Furthermore, when it’s a challenge you needn’t have taken on, it’s a self-inflicted burden.

I was going to give up. Who would care, anyway?

I was going to set myself a new challenge – the challenge of not following challenges to the letter – and being OK with that! Who am I fooling?

Normally I love challenges. I rise to them! As long as they’re not too challenging.

This morning I failed several challenges and that was just one morning.

So I boiled two eggs for lunch and without setting myself the challenge of cooking them correctly, they turned out beautifully.

I’m going to go easy on the challenges for a while.

We’ll see how challenging that proves to be.

Dear Pillow

Dear Pillow,

Or should I say ‘Neck-Support Pillow’ for you are not like other pillows.

You are unique. You have that lovely curvy edge where other pillows are flat. You remember me well and adapt to me in a way no other pillow can.

I tried searching in other places for help. I placed my head (and life) in the hands of those who would seek to tug and twist my neck into place. But when I finally found you, you just let me rest my weary head and the pain floated away.

You’ve given me rest. You’ve removed the pain. You’ve soaked up tears and, let’s face it, occasional dribbling as I’ve slept deeply. You’ve been there as I’ve tossed and turned. You’ve given a platform for dreams and plans and problem-solving. You’ve listened to the sighs of contentment as I’ve laid down my head to rest after a busy, fulfilling day. You’ve heard the silent sighs of angst after a day of challenges and disappointments.

I need you in my life. You know I can’t go a day without you. I’ve tried but the pain I feel is not worth the absence. This means I have to pay for checked-in luggage each time I travel in order to accommodate your bulky frame.

But you’re worth it.

Pillow, I need you. That is all that need be said.

Yours, in need of neck-support.


Dutiful Gamblers Anonymous

I could easily be addicted to gambling. It’s hard to know this for a fact without testing it out, but I figure my childhood experience at Primary School fetes gives a fair indication.

My parents would give me $5 to spend at the fete – a huge sum for a child in those dim and distant days. It should have got me a sausage sandwich, some fairy floss and perhaps some little treasure from the ‘White Elephant’ stall.

No, it got me as far as the ‘Lucky Envelope’ stall where I’d proceed to cautiously spend $2 buying tickets, win a bit or win my money back, feel lucky, then blow the rest of my cash in one fell swoop. It was always on that second go that I would LOSE EVERYTHING.

I say always, because it took me a few years of school fetes to see a pattern emerging.

Recently, on a little mini break with friends, we were scheduled (much to my dismay) to play a French game with numbered tiles. I don’t much like French. The language, that is. The people are lovely, I’m sure. I certainly don’t love numbers. I like my game tiles to have letters on them, with numbers merely serving the purpose of scoring the letters.

Well, to my delight, one of the more attentive of our group, noticed that there was some kind of false bottom on the coffee table of the holiday cottage. We soon discovered that there was a marvellous collection of gambling games under the table top! There was even a roulette wheel!! I had only ever seen these marvels in movies – and here was one right in front of us!

My friends agreed to play one game (I persuaded them to play three). No money changed hands. The mathematician among us won. It was actually pretty boring and nothing at all like the glamorous, tension-filled scenes in the movies. I liked using the little scraper thing that gathers all the lost chips, but that was the extent of the delights for me.

We then moved to the dreaded French game with numbers. They somehow convinced me that if you lost (or won? I can’t remember) you had to sing the French National Anthem. I complained that I didn’t know it – but I could remember my Primary School Anthem. Don’t ask me how. I couldn’t tell you the names of most of my friends at school but I can somehow tell you the words of the anthem.

You must imagine a stirring, but annoyingly addictive tune as you read:

Above the river stands the hillside

And above the hillside stands the trees.

Above the trees there stand the mountains,

Gazing eastward to the seas.

Above our pleasure put our duty.

Hold our heads high loyal and true.

But our honour, this above all,

For our school, Mt.Riverview.

As I sang to my friends that evening, I was struck for the first time by the emphasis on putting duty above pleasure. I don’t believe you’d find that affirmation in any current school song. Perhaps schools don’t have songs anymore? Perhaps the children are encouraged to compose their own song? Pleasure would no doubt be encouraged (and perhaps it should be) and the only duty would be the duty to be true to one’s self and achieve one’s best.

In my school song, our duty seemed to be toward our school – certainly our honour was to be for the school, above anything else. If the song was to be sung with any conviction and integrity, we should all have given our whole lives to the service of our local primary school. At that age I’m not sure we would have known how to do that – apart from turning up each day, not passing notes in class, and standing in straight lines when lines were required – or even when they weren’t.

I liked school. But I wouldn’t have given my life for it.

I am, however, all for duty. I’m quite compulsively dutiful. This addiction to duty doesn’t make me a better person. In fact it can sometimes make me quite a pain to be around and, when I fail at my duty, rather gloomy company.

Recently I had to be given a new, temporary duty: the duty to drop pretty much every other duty and rest. It had to be put to me like that – a duty – otherwise I wouldn’t have taken the command seriously.

It’s a sad reality when someone has to dutifully rest from obsessive duty. There were other factors that contributed to my tiredness – but one factor was the upholding of duty.

It’s not that replacing duty with pleasure is the answer either. I tried that. It just felt a little empty. And pleasure, no matter how good and wholesome, only lasts for a moment.

It turns out, after dutifully resting and gaining perspective, that the answer is the same as it’s always been. It’s all about what, or who, you honour.

I didn’t honour my Primary School. But I have at times honoured others above the God who made me and them. In the end that honouring of others and their needs was a form of honouring myself above God. I was forgetting to keep pointing them (and myself) to the Lord who can fix the problems they have and take the burdens they carry.

Rest is one of the best ways to honour the Lord. It’s a way of saying ‘I can stop for awhile because God never stops.’ More than that, he doesn’t need to stop. His energy and strength is boundless. He’s in control, not me, so I can take a break. I can be weak because he is strong.

For a few weeks I did become addicted to sleep and compulsive napping – but I needed it. Now I’ve had a rest I can see things a little more clearly – me, others, and the God whose honour I live for.

That’s a duty worth being addicted to. A duty I can rest in. A duty that brings pleasure that lasts forever.

An Elephant’s Tale

The other day, in my ongoing efforts to declutter my home, I came across one of my favourite stories. I also found my journal entry about this same story. The journal entry is copied below.

Travel with me (and the elephant) if you will…

Yesterday I finished reading a delightful and refreshing book: The Elephant’s Journey’ by Jose Saramago. It was translated from Portuguese, which is just as well because I don’t speak Portuguese.

The narrator in the story was careful to explain ‘historical’ details of life, politics and travelling in the 1550s, which is just as well because I’m living in 2012.

The author is a keen observer of human nature under the pressures of unfamiliar experiences and long journeys, which is just as well because, though I have made my own observations under similar pressures, I have no such skill as Jose’s to express it with such clarity and irony.

Aside from recommending this book to anyone who’d listen, I was delighted to read that the elephant, called Solomon, and his travelling companions passed through Verona, Trento, Bolzano, Innsbruck and even stopped off temporarily in Salzburg.

Why was I delighted? Because I am about to undertake this same journey over the next couple of weeks. Saramago’s fable is based on a true story of an elephant and his journey several hundred years ago. I love the fact that I’ll be treading in the footsteps of both an actual and a fictional elephant.

Most of my journey will be by train. I’m told, in another book I’m reading, this is considered ‘slow travel’. So though I’m no literal elephant, I’ll be taking my time as I tote my 20 kilos of luggage behind me (in addition to my own, not to be enumerated, personal kilos) on a journey I’ve not taken before. But the elephant has.

So far I’ve been staying with friends in somewhat familiar places. This next stage of the journey is not familiar and therefore a little scary. I’m trying to be brave. Several Bible verses supplied by friends these past few days make mention of the Lord taking hold of my right hand – which contains all sorts of baggage – and that he won’t forsake me.

His hands are so big and hold much more than me and my solitary travelling.

Though it is of some comfort and amazement that I’m travelling where an elephant has travelled before me, it is of much greater comfort to this timorous traveller to have God as my present travelling companion. Him and his big hands.

Which is just as well, because elephants don’t have hands and the feet they do have inevitably end up as umbrella stands.

For those who are interested, I completed the journey safely and happily. I saw places I’d never seen and learnt things I needed to learn.

‘The Elephant’s Journey’ remains on my bookshelf – a survivor of the decluttering and a symbol of my own survival as I journeyed to unfamiliar lands.


Daily Post – Second-Hand Stories

“Excuse me, young man, might this be a ‘hipster’ cafe?”

An old friend was booked to fly into town for a day visit today. We have an old-fashioned friendship. We have been writing letters for thirty years now. Old-fashioned hand-written letters. We’re ever so ‘vintage’. So vintage that we’ve never called each other on the phone and so, when she had to contact me at the last-minute to say she couldn’t come, an elaborate system of various modes of contact ensued.

So here I was with an empty day before me. Something to do with my ‘vintage’ friendship, gave cause for my temporary housemate to exclaim ‘You’re quite the hipster!’ and this from a girl who was much closer to the age and form of this cultural phenomenon.

I decided to embrace this well-meaning misdiagnosis and attempt to be a ‘hipster’ for just one day. Today, that is.

Could I be a hipster?

Could I be a hipster?

Now, at the end of the day, I’ve put some lentils on to boil and will take some time to reflect upon this short-lived cross-cultural experience.

Returning home from my weekly pilates class, I searched the internet for tips on how to be a hipster girl and found some helpful advice. I was apparently off to a good start! I had worked on my fitness, but not in a way that was too challenging. All with the added bonus of wearing my hair in ‘messy bun’.

Messy 'just woke up' hair

Messy ‘just woke up’ hair

Earlier that morning I had been pleased to see a post from The Cookbook Guru about their new cookbook for the month, ‘Saha’. I pulled it off my bookshelf, determined to locate a recipe that would make use of the overabundance of parsley I had in my garden. With plans to make the Malouf’s ‘Lentil Tabbouleh’, I was delighted to discover that I had inadvertently ticked a few more ‘hipster’ boxes on the checklist. I was going to make something vegetarian (let’s ignore the sausages that will appear alongside the salad!) and it was going to be with parsley from my ‘organic’ garden.

Organic Garden

Organic Garden

But that was for later in the day. First, I had to venture out in the world and try to pass for a ‘hipster girl’. Let’s just say, right up front, that I probably failed to pull this off.

My boots should have been ‘military style’. They weren’t.

Sensible (not military) boots

Sensible (not military) boots

My tights should have been coloured or floral. They weren’t.

Is black a colour?

Is black a colour?

Though I had a bag, it should probably have been brown and slightly beaten. Not red and from Marks and Spencer. There is a fake ‘vintage’ clock in the photo and ‘organic’ roses from my garden, so perhaps I get some points?

I could fit an LP record in that satchel!

I could fit an LP record in that satchel!

According to my research, I mustn’t ever venture out without a camera and a book in my bag. I happened to be re-reading an old favourite, so that probably earned me ‘recycling’ points. Though my camera wasn’t ‘vintage’ and so I believe that brings me back to zero.

A recycled vintage book

A recycled vintage book

Armed with a WordPress challenge to conduct an interview (real or virtual) and (after a last-minute decision) not armed with my fake black-rimmed hipster glasses (remnants from an ill-advised 3D cinema experience), I caught the bus into town to visit a ‘hipster cafe’.

I did a quick scan of the establishment before committing myself, and found that it fit many of the required criteria. There were an abundance of skinny-jeaned, poncho-ed, bearded, satchel-bearing customers. There was concrete, steel and recycled timber as far as the eye could see. A blackboard ironically declaring the cafe to be ‘Established 2014’ clinched it for me and I confidently approached the counter to order.

The ‘How to be a Hipster Girl’ guide had instructed that I ‘speak with an air of confidence’ and not be afraid to use sarcasm. So the following cross-cultural exchange ensued:

Hipster: Sorry, we’re all a bit ‘spaced out’ today – recovering from this morning!

Would-be Hipster: What happened this morning?

Hipster: Oh, just loads of people coming in?

Would-be Hipster: For coffee?

Hipster: Yeah, it’s like they planned it or something!

Would-be Hipster: Mmm (pausing to silently give thanks that I left my planning diary at home – close call!)

Hipster: What’ll you have?

Would-be Hipster: A Long Black, please (proud of my confident ordering in hipster language).

Hipster: Oh, an Americano?

Would-be Hipster: Mmm (now not so sure I’d entered into a real hipster cafe)

Hipster: Where are you from?

Would-be Hipster: Oh, I’ve lived in this city for a while, but originally from Australia. We call it a ‘Long Black’ there and I’m always delighted to see it on blackboards in this city (regaining confidence).

Hipster: Oh yes. We do use smaller cups here, like they do in Australia – because bigger cups are just, well, they’re just nasty!

Would-be Hipster: Mmm.

I finished my ‘hipster interview’ with an order of one of their sandwiches with sides of salads with interesting pulses contained there-in, then sat down at a table where I was afforded a clear view of the rest of the cafe.

Hipster Lunch – note interesting salad on left


My sandwich arrived and as I ate I was delighted to overhear my hipster-waiter-friend declaring to the bearded customer next to me that the coffee was ‘Natural – it’s like the farmer just takes the seed and throws it out!’

I stayed until the moment where an elderly, suited, silver-bearded man sat at the table on the other side of me, whereby my mind could not cope with the counter-cultural considerations that presented.

So I left.

I briefly toyed with the idea of staging a protest against skinny jeans, as the hipster guide had said that protesting was an essential part of the hipster culture.

My protest

My protest

But I was a little scared of starting something I couldn’t stop. So I figured the most enjoyable effective way to protest was to strut to my favourite tea-drinking establishment and leave hipster culture far behind me!

Being true to myself

Being true to myself

I returned home to boil some lentils, harvest some (organic) parsley and make what I trust will be a delicious salad. I’m taking it to my friend’s house tonight where there’s nothing hipster to be found. Nothing whatsoever.

Unless a vintage Scrabble board counts?





If Only These Stones Could Speak…

The gently spoken monk stood next to an old stone well and said “If only these stones could speak…”. We had been clambering over stone walls and past some obliging farmers to see an old well that was likely an old baptismal pool. Or it could have been a well. He couldn’t be sure – but it was ‘instinct’ (and a lot of research) that led him to believe it was a baptismal pool. I liked this man with his instinct. Others smiled – but I liked it. I mean, what else have you got, really, when you’re guessing about the history of some old stones?

Just prior to this, we had been in a churchyard in a small village nearby. A motley gathering of interested farmers, clergy and a cult expert were clustered around a High Cross as the Brother explained the different engravings in the stone. St.Anthony caught my attention (or was it another name? I can’t remember). What I do remember is that he was remembered for being the first religious hermit – living in the desert for many years. As the monk outlined the common features of the engraving, all I could think was how I would hate to be a hermit – and to be remembered for being a hermit. It struck me as ironic that the way he was engraved in memory was with a picture of him and a visitor (another hermit saint whose name I can’t remember) sitting on chairs in the desert. Did they talk as they shared the bread that a raven had bought them? I hope so.

At the front of the church there was a cylindrical stone resting on some other small stones on the ground. This could have been an old Irish King’s grave – or maybe not. We all liked to think it was – but no one was old enough to know for sure! It was certainly ancient. One of the interested farmers could remember when they all found it as they tidied up the church graveyard one day many years ago. He remembers it was a great day.

Inside the church, still used on Sundays, there was a beautiful patchwork wall-hanging. It was made in memory of the seamstress’s husband. I can’t remember who he was, but the quilt was lovely. I wonder, now, if the husband would have liked to be remembered with a quilt on the wall? I hope so. On the back wall there was a noticeboard with rotas for flowers and wardens to help people remember their tasks. So many memories. So many reminders.

Then, looking at one of the stained glass windows, we saw a reminder of something well worth remembering. A sower with seed, on the path, surrounded by thorns, with harvests in the background. And an inscription at the top “The Seed is the Word of God”. I stood at the window with the man who was my boss at the time. A man who lives by this conviction. He said “If I die and they make a stained glass window in memory of me, will you make sure it’s like this one?”

I’m fairly sure he wouldn’t literally want a stained glass window made in memory of him – but I know he’d want to be remembered for that. And as I stood there, I wanted that too. I saw how ambiguous stones can be. How carvings and stories and pictures and quilts can be open to all sorts of rememberances and intuitions. But the word of God stands forever and impacts lives forever – beyond the life of a carving in stone – beyond the length of a flower rota.

After our tour we were invited to lunch back at the Brother’s monastry. A hearty meal served by the Brother himself. We had tea and conversation with him after lunch and asked about his spiritual journey. He spoke of how it was the word of God that had most impacted him in his life. We didn’t get to ask him how it had impacted his life – time was short.

On the way home, I kept thinking of how I’d like to be remembered – a sower of God’s word. I’d prefer a patchwork quilt to an old stone – but the memory of being one who lived for something that lasts forever – that’s what I really want.

(In response to the Daily Post)

Why did the friends cross the road?

Two summers ago, I found myself in the streets of Klagenfurt. The neat, tidy, clean streets of Klagenfurt – streets with pedestrian crossings clearly marked.

It was here, at the pedestrian crossings, that I found myself in the company of friends. I knew no-one – in the usual sense of friendship. I had earlier been sitting in a cafe, reading my book, drinking a coffee, on my own. But here, before the red shining man, I enjoyed the company of those who abide by the rules. These were my friends!

I generally like to keep the rules. Not because I’m more virtuous but because, in my inner world, it feels safer to me. I am quite comfortable with an inanimate light box instructing me, with red and green lights, when to walk and when to stop walking.

And here, in the streets of Klagenfurt, my new friends were OK with that too.

In Salzburg, three days earlier, I had found a smattering of such friends. But they were slightly hidden from view by a plague of ‘foreigners’ who forged ahead, crossing the road when a gap appeared in the traffic.

In Klagenfurt, my friends and I were happy to wait – with not a car in sight – for the green man to appear indicating that we were now allowed to walk across the road in law-abiding solidarity.

Yet, this is where our friendship ended – at the other side of the road. Law-abiding will only carry a friendship so far.

That evening, I experienced true friendship – an outing with old friends to a field strewn with straw, surrounded by unharvested fields of sunflowers and ranges of beautiful mountains. We sat on sun-warmed bales of straw, with beakers of good, cold, Austrian beverages and disposable plates of hearty food. All this with good conversation and laughter.

I was getting a taste, from my friends, of some of the highs and lows of living as ‘strangers’ among a polite people – a people who were ‘friendly’ but hard to build friendships with. They told a story of a woman from Ireland (a place where friendship-building also takes some time). This woman was struggling to find friends and community in this foreign land. My friends spoke to her about their church community where friendships were forged – with the help of the Maker of friendships. The Irish woman came to see this community. She came again. She found both friends and friendship with God.

Later that night my friends and I spoke together of painful times when our community and friendships had gone wrong. And yet – how God, the friendship-maker, often used those times to build community in later times and in other places.

The next morning, I read the pain-filled words of Heman the Ezrahite and I recalled my own times of conflict in the past:

You have put me in the lowest pit, in the darkest depths.

Your wrath lies heavily on me;

You have overwhelmed me with all your waves.

You have taken from me my closest friends and have made me repulsive to them.

I am confused and cannot escape;

My eyes are dim with grief.

(From Psalm 88)

Those times are mere memories now.

Today I rejoice in God’s gift of friends – two years ago among sunflowers – and right here, right now. Friends who have welcomed me into their hearts and homes, near and far. I am blessed with good friends and they’re a blessing because they know the Maker of friendships – they are friends with him – and he with me.

I am in the company of friends and I find God there.

(Response to the Daily Post

When I Grow Up I Want to Be a Missionary Ballerina Doctor

‘When I grow up I want to be a Missionary Ballerina Doctor,’ said a girl with little idea. Actually she had a third of an idea. Now, as a young woman, she’s working in a country not her own, not too far from here, with students who want to know God better. She sounds like my kind of woman.

This woman, typing right here, had similar dreams. She used to dance around the large living room of her family home, in a manner most elegant and moving. Well, she moved anyway and would abruptly cease movement whenever others entered the room. She dreamed of the day when she would appear on the TV talent show for the youth of the day. She never did. That was the convenience of intentions not acted upon – one could fully believe that, should Jonny ever see her audition performance of ‘Fernando’ (all dancing, all singing), one would become the teen star of the year.

She aspired to be a singing ballerina…but her feet and fears were too big.

She considered being a Doctor. This morphed into a desire to be a Physiotherapist. She went to a local clinic for her week of work experience while in secondary school. She was all set. This was her career path! Only to make the devastating discovery that the study of Physiotherapy required the study of the Sciences. Chemistry class made her cry.

She aspired to be a Doctor – or some kind of medical practitioner – but her grasp of science, maths and reality was too small.

She always wanted to be a missionary. Whenever she heard someone speak of their work in places where people had little access to food, medicine or shelter her heart strings were tugged. When she heard of places where people didn’t have the opportunity to be introduced to the God she knew to be so loving, forgiving and restoring, she felt she had to go there and make some introductions.

In her minds eye (and on the slide shows she saw) she would be living in a small, dark, bark hut. She lives, now, in a comfortable home with big windows.

She assumed there would be much dust and little grass. She lives, now, in a place with much rain and too much grass (if that’s possible).

She ignored the fact that it would involve adventure and being out of one’s comfort zone. She hated adventure. She loved comfortable zones. Since then, she has learnt to live with adventure because the God she lives for has been with her and held her hand each step of the way. She has learnt to construct comfort zones – no matter how temporary – wherever she lays her head.

She wanted to be a Missionary Ballerina Doctor.

She had no idea.

She had no idea of where this would take her. Even if she had some idea then, it would not have prepared her for the twists and turns of the years that followed.

But in the end. She’s what she wanted to be. She may be more a Doctor of the heart. She may still be confined to ‘dancing on the inside’ – or at least inside the house when no-one is watching. Her feet and fears are still very big, but she’s living the life she dreamed – though in a way she would never have imagined.

In Row 47, Seat F

At my inflight, fold-down table, I was appreciating the extra inch or two of legroom that one finds in the last four rows of economy seats on an Etihad flight back to Ireland. The girl next to me hadn’t flown before and so she didn’t know any better. For now, she was just excited! Legroom wasn’t a concern for her. She was an Australian travelling with her Irish boyfriend to see his beautiful homeland and meet his family. She was proudly clasping her newly-purchased copy of ‘Angela’s Ashes’. She told me she had saved reading it for the long flight. She was excited! The first offering of a drink and miniature bag of pretzels will do that for most first-timers.

Later in the flight – about eight hours later – the gloss was wearing off her first in-flight experience. She was now experiencing that precise moment for all passengers (the ones that can’t sleep on planes, anyway), after the first drink, the first meal tray, the first two movies and a fitful attempt to sleep, when one realises that one is not going to arrive at their destination anytime soon.

I noticed her fidgeting and her squirming (sure signs) and then with moistened eyes she turned to me and asked “How long is the next leg of our journey?” We still had 8 hours left of the first leg of the journey. I recognised the rising panic – the realisation that this journey was going to feel longer than she had ever imagined.

It’s at that moment that every economy class passenger faces an important choice: giving into the panic and tears and angst or submitting to the present reality – thinking ‘This is my life for the next 24 hours and I will calmly try to accept that life.’ You don’t have a third choice (short of one involving a parachute but, as far as I know, there are no parachutes provided in economy class). So you can either fight it or submit to it.

You don’t have to be seated in row 47 of an Etihad flight to face these two choices. They can appear before you in many different contexts: a 40 hour train trip to Townsville; an 18 hour trip on a Greyhound bus; a 15 minute trip on a train at peak hour with your face in a stranger’s armpit; or just about any situation in our ‘long-haul’ life where we are faced with an inescapable reality from which we would like to escape.

Can God be found in these moments? It’s sometimes very hard to find him there. Often we can admit that he’s there but we’re fighting with him for putting us there or for leaving us there. Occasionally we don’t even look for him there, as we are consumed with the rising sense of panic.

So many songs, poems, riots, screeches from fed-up children and status updates come from this space. ‘I’m here with seaweed wrapped around my head’, ‘My bones are aching’, ‘I’m forgotten’, ‘Where are you, God!?’

Some time ago, I travelled a short car journey with a friend. He is a true poet, a man of depth and one who suffers the excruciating ups and downs of chemical imbalance. He’d had a good week. A glimmer of joy in the lyric of a new song he’d heard. God had stepped into his long-haul journey and shown he was there. He lifted him out of the miry pit – for a little while anyway. This friend, like many others, has journeyed in this reality and pain for what seems like an eternity.

We long for rescue. Someone to step into our present journey and lift us into another – to upgrade us to the flat-bed seats and champagne of business class. Sometimes that happens (for awhile anyway) and other times it doesn’t. Other times we’re there in row 47, trapped by our seat belt and the overly reclined seat in front of us. There’s no way out. Fight or submit?

David, the poet king, once wrote of his submission to a good shepherd who gave him all that he needed. This shepherd sometimes took him to still waters and made him lie down in green pastures. But other times the shepherd travelled with David in row 47 in the 8th hour of the first leg of the journey – the ‘valley of death’.

This shepherd is not just a fellow passenger, but the pilot, the air-traffic controller and the flight attendant with a real glass overflowing with the best of beverages. He’s all that, right there with us in row 47 as we settle back and try to enjoy the in-flight entertainment and ignore our swelling ankles.

At the end of the long-haul flight to Ireland there are green pastures in sight.

This journey will be over soon and it will end so beautifully with a feast of the fruit of our longings during those dark valley times – feasting in the house of the shepherd forever.