Book Hero

I remember as a young teen coming across a small book inside a tissue paper lined box on a shelf in our home, crafted from birch bark, with poems carefully copied onto every curled-edge black-marked satin page, each poem a gift of words chosen by a young man for his future wife. 

I had always known my mother loved poetry and the written word (after all, she read to us daily, her golden voice a shining road to faraway lands and places of wonder) but as a smaller child, seeing my father as Strength, Work, Wisdom, Fun and Humour, I had somehow missed, with childhood’s myopia, his love for words (How, I don’t know, because he, too, read to us almost every day, from the Word, and chapter stories before bedtime). 

How wondrous to hold in my heart the new knowledge that his love for poetry had lead him to trudge through the woods he loved, selecting perfect peels of bark. Love had lead him to search through the forests of poems to gather those whose sweetness and strength seemed worthy of Her. Here I held between my palms the proof that his strong capable hands were also capable of this delicate artistry and tender tribute…this labour of love. 

As a voracious reader, I had a young girl’s theoretical standards about romantic book heroes, but as I carefully put the birch bark anthology back in its box, my heart swelled in new appreciation for my real ‘book hero and heroine’. (Theirs is still my favourite love story to this day).

Since then, I’m happy to say we have had many sessions sitting around the kitchen table looking up at our favourite mountain,  or by the fire, sharing poetry and stories with my parents and with each other. It’s especially fun to get my Dad started on poems, since he will recite them ‘by heart’ , having learned them over his lifetime. I treasure the almost daily emails I receive with poems and stories from Mama, almost as good as sitting basking in their sunny window seat and reading with them.

Finding the birch bark book that day marked a new state in my life, that of beginning to notice my parents as people, with inner landscapes of their own. I began to see how they dedicated their skills and talents to build a life for us. How they forged ahead in parenting when they probably actually felt young, and inexperienced, and confused and worried at so many points when raising us. How they went from being the center of a romantic story, where every tiny detail about the other was a new discovery, rejoiced in by those around them,   to being the leaders of a house full of small people, somewhat incurious about their parents,  little kids who probably noticed very little beyond what directly affected them. 


So much of my childhood revolved around stories and words, leaning against a parent, watching hands turn the pages of a myriad of books.

I am sure it would have been easier after a long day of work, for my parents to leave us to find our own entertainment. Yet after dinner and chores, before bedtime, they read to us, both picture books, and also chapter books. 
 
Daddy, after a long commute and longer work day, might sometimes require the combined frantic massaging of several small hands on his head and neck to keep awake while he read to us about Narnia or whatever story it was; yet he still chose to spend his scarce evening hours reading to us of heroes and heroines of courage and honour, of humour and tenderness.

Mama might have liked to put her feet up after running after us, cooking meals of artistry and flavour, teaching, and nurturing us, but instead she put us up on the couch, braving the wandering of sticky fingers in her hair, and wove magic with her voice, her evening hours a gift to us.

These reading times were such a part of my childhood, yet looking back, I know that the most important reading of all was my parents’ dedication to family worship.

My Dad read through the Word from Genesis to Revelation, and starting again at Genesis over the years.  They involved us in the simple rituals of candles, prayer, readings, singing. I remember the faint, comforting cadence of Daddy’s voice floating down the hall as we drifted into sleep, reading The Writings to my Mama.

I have become an adult, and my parents are my best friends.  As I spend time with the children in my life now, observing their parents (my siblings and friends)  from a peer perspective, I find that the book of my early life has many more pages than I had known. As I watch this generation of parents, I learn more about the work my Book Heroes undertook when they were so young, and when I was too young to notice much.

Each page of that book was searched out and chosen by them, each satiny surface marked with wisdom and examples for me to keep, an anthology of spiritual and natural life, carefully crafted by their hands, bound with their youth, wrapped in translucent sheets of their dedication and kept safely in their promise to the Lord at my baptism.

Yet when I look closely at that  book,  I see that every leaf has the same message inscribed on its surface; the reminder that any story that is good, any idea that is true, is so only because it echoes the Real Story. My earthly heroes point the way to the Real Hero of that True Book that I  received when I turned seven. 

That Book, with its inner cover inscribed with these words:
‘I will lift up mine eyes to the mountains, whence come my help. My help cometh from the Lord who made heavens and the earth’.

‘And these words, which I command thee this day, shall be in thine heart:

And thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children, and shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up.’ Deut 6:6


On Admiration

I heard over the news, on this southern tip of Africa, that Kylie Jenner had become the world’s youngest teenage billionaire. And it’s all done with make-up. I thought how appropriate it was that her cosmetic business and celebrity status should make her a star for the age. It really is a sign of the times that she and her family should be so ‘successful’. I’m not detracting from her business acumen and the penchant for publicity that her family displays, or the number of ‘likes’ that she scores on social media, but I think that the whole scene needs interrogation.

It reminds me of Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, in which Daisy, one of the shallowest characters ever created, said that her ambition for her daughter was that she should grow up to be ‘a beautiful little fool’. Except that Kylie is nobody’s fool, but a product of this century, nearly a hundred years later. 

We need to ask ourselves: ‘What do we find admirable?’

Whatever happened to humility, the love of use, and attributing all the good things of life to the Lord? They do exist, but finding them in popular culture is becoming exceedingly rare. Strutting self assertion has taken centre stage.

I heroine-worshipped the Prime Minister of Myanmar for some time. She won the Nobel Peace prize, so I wasn’t the only one. She wore exquisite fresh flowers in her hair to offset her singular beauty and seemed the epitome of grace and poise. Myanmar was opening up to democracy and the benefits of a human rights culture. That was then – she was a worthy heroine for our times. It all changed when the Rohingyas Muslim minority left the country in waves of human misery and she did not curb the excesses of Buddhist populism. Nor has she since.

In our own country, South Africa, Winnie Mandela, ex-wife of the fabled Nelson, became a national heroine. She endured painful years of harassment and solitary confinement at the hands of Apartheid thugs to keep the name of her husband alive while he was in jail. She became political royalty in the first post-Apartheid government, despite a messy divorce and some highly questionable behaviour over the years. After she died she was elevated to ‘Ma Winnie’, acclaimed as a heroine and practically a saint by the populace at large. Any mention of her less sublime actions would label her doubters as ‘traitors’, unfit for the human race. It was astonishing. Her funeral was notable for its bile and hate speech with her husband being labelled as a ‘sell-out’ by the most extreme of her devotees. It was actually a disgrace.

This all leads me to conclude that as human beings we have a deep-seated instinct to worship at a shrine.  However, we have to be very careful which shrine we choose.

Welcome to the Lenten Season…

Then Jesus, being filled with the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit into the wilderness,  being [btempted for forty days by the devil. And in those days He ate nothing, and afterward, when they had ended, He was hungry.

And the devil said to Him, “If You are the Son of God, command this stone to become bread.”

But Jesus answered him, saying, “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, [cbut by every word of God.’ ”

Then the devil, taking Him up on a high mountain, showed Him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time. And the devil said to Him, “All this authority I will give You, and their glory; for this has been delivered to me, and I give it to whomever I wish. Therefore, if You will worship before me, all will be Yours.”

And Jesus answered and said to him, “Get behind Me, Satan! [fFor it is written, ‘You shall worship the Lord your God, and Him only you shall serve.’ ”

Then he brought Him to Jerusalem, set Him on the pinnacle of the temple, and said to Him, “If You are the Son of God, throw Yourself down from here. 10 For it is written:

‘He shall give His angels charge over you,
To keep you,’

11 and,

‘In their hands they shall bear you up,
Lest you dash your foot against a stone.’ ”

12 And Jesus answered and said to him, “It has been said, ‘You shall not tempt the Lord your God.’ ”

13 Now when the devil had ended every temptation, he departed from Him until an opportune time.

~ Luke 4: 1-13

Moments of Emotional Overwhelm

I find myself emotionally overwhelmed.

It’s not the first time, but rather than go into the reasons why, I decided to find out what it really means to be emotional and how you then get to the point of overwhelm as well as what to do to let go and free myself from this overwhelm of emotions.  So I started out by looking at what ‘Emotions’ and ‘Feelings’ are to help me understand why I become overwhelmed.

Emotions and feelings are words used interchangeably to express more or less the same thing. Feelings or emotions can be defined as how something or someone makes us feel.  However, as I have learned over the years, they have some distinct differences.

Emotions are physical and instinctive. Emotions generally prompt the body to react to some kind of stimulus: threats, rewards etc.  Emotional reactions to these stimuli are generally the same amongst people although the reaction may vary slightly depending on the individual or the circumstances.

While emotions are associated with bodily reactions to stimuli, feelings are sparked by emotions and coloured by our own personal experiences,beliefs, memories and thoughts linked to that particular emotion.  In other words, a feeling is the product of your brain’s perception of an emotion and assigning meaning to it.

So emotions and feelings go hand in hand. But how does this explain or even help my feelings of emotional overwhelm?  Perhaps there are too many factors, circumstances or stimuli all at once.

In life, I find that we tend to react first emotionally to a given situation, then rationally. However, we have an obligation to learn how to react rationally in spite of how we feel. I know for me that can be difficult. I find that feelings can be destructive (I become defensive, angry and irrational) and misleading.  Therefore, I think that my goal is to learn to act according to the right path forward (see the truth of the situation), and not just according to how I feel.

Easier said than done. Feelings are a part of life. How we allow them to control us or not, is the key to a happier life.

A few years ago, I attended a course in mediation. During this course we talked about feelings and how we tend to hold on to feelings rather than seeing them for what they are: responses to a circumstance or situation at each point in time. Feelings can be fleeting and ever changing, and it’s good to acknowledge them for what they are, but even more important to let them go again and not allow them to control us.

I often find myself talking to my children about their feelings. What was the best part of their day? What made them happy today? What was challenging for them?  How did those things make them feel?

When I am angry by the actions of one of my children, I find it important to let them know that it is okay for me to feel angry; I will then talk about what happened rationally, let it go, and move forward. Holding on to that anger or taking it out on someone else is not okay, however, so learning to express it in a way that is constructive and useful is important.

In this way, I can let go of the emotions that are harmful to myself and those around me and clear a pathway to receive love from the Lord.  Receiving feelings that are nurturing, useful, inspiring, positive and freeing.

I have to remind myself that the Lord is there for us every minute of every day, waiting to give us useful insights and love. However, to feel his love, we need to clear away the confusion and negativity surrounding us from our emotional overwhelm.

So what did I do in my moment of emotional overwhelm?  I wrote an email to one of my best friends telling her all about my current emotional crisis.  I felt a weight lift off my shoulders. Then, feeling less overwhelmed than before I could rationally focus on what needed to be done in my day and plan for the future.

There are also moments in my life with my children where I come home to find that they have music on full blast, they are chasing each other around the house with nerf guns in a ‘nerf war’ and have all but upturned my entire lounge to build fortresses and bases to shield themselves from the volley of nerf bullets which I now see on the floor.  My impulse or overriding emotion at that point is to turn off the music, stop them running around, make them all clean up right away and then to vent the frustration and exasperation I feel at this ‘loss of control’ through shouting at them.

Sometimes, I need to remind myself that they are children. And part of having children is putting up with a certain amount of noise and chaos because for them it was ‘fun’. I have to remind myself that nothing bad was happening. The screams were screams of happiness and joy. My emotional reaction was nothing to do with them. It had everything to do with how I was feeling about life at that point in time: my emotional baggage and overwhelm.

If I can learn to react rationally rather than emotionally (take a deep breath, count to 20, pray to the Lord for strength), I know that I will treat my children differently. But I can only do this if I start to pay attention to and take care of my emotions and feelings at each point in my day.

“A journey of a thousand miles begins with one step. “ Lao Tsu from the “Tao Te Ching”, chapter 64

In other words, even the longest and most difficult ventures (like learning to work with my emotions and behave rationally) have a starting point. It’s important to take a deep breath, pray and then do one thing at a time to achieve your goal. Acknowledge how you feel, but don’t hold on to it. Let it go and free yourself to receive the Lord’s love and insight.

Have you found yourself in similar situations of emotional overwhelm? What did you do to help you to find a place of peace?  What strategies do you use in moments of emotional overwhelm? I’d love to hear different approaches to dealing with these moments.