In Your Heart

 

When you were alone in the crowd

Did you know

I was there

Alone with you?

 

When you hid away in the shadows

Did you know

It was my hand

You held?

 

My heart is with you

My heart is with you

My heart is with you

In your heart

In your heart

The black can never be pitch

I shine through the dark

Light the way

For you

 

If the well is bottomless

You’ll never know

I reach down, take your hand

And pull you up

 

My heart is with you

My heart is with you

My heart is with you

In your heart

 

© Sandra Swanepoel, 2000

 

This poem was inspired by e.e. cummings’ poem, i carry your heart with me(i carry it in my heart). The concept of my poem, however, is the inverse of his. cummings’ poem speaks of him carrying the other person’s heart within his heart. Mine speaks of the other person carrying my heart within theirs. cummings’ poem is about romantic love. Mine is about being the support someone needs when all is not well with their soul. Nevertheless, cummings has been a great inspiration to my poetic side, so I’d like to acknowledge him here.

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Life, Interrupted

No one lives a charmed life. If you’ve ever thrown your hands up in bewilderment, thinking, “This is NOT how I planned my life to work out,” you fall within the 100 percent of the population who’ve done the same.

fall apartOnly the slightly delusional few plan their lives down to the finest detail. They’re the ones soonest and hardest hit by the stark realisation that no amount of planning can set the future in stone. Ironically, the rest of us wonder if our failures were due to the fluidity of our expectations.

As six-year-olds we confidently assert that we’ll be firemen or astronauts when we’re big. Fast forward ten or so years and we consider more seriously what we want out of life. Most of us jam-pack our futures with a dense, interwoven set of pathways and goals: illustrious careers, dream weddings, two point five children, a vibrant social life and, of course, a comfortable retirement resplendent with cruise holidays.

broken-glassWe’re just about as realistic as our six-year-old, astronaut-in-training selves. We don’t factor in setbacks like illness, loss of a spouse, the many years it might take to find said significant other, financial disasters and other speed bumps that bring our pretty plans to a screeching halt.

Our failures hit us all the harder because we don’t plan to fail. Life becomes a series of tangents as we find ourselves stumbling through gauntlets and ploughing face-first into unexpected brick walls. The way forward becomes unclear and success seems frustratingly elusive. Stopping to catch our breath, we cry out, “I did NOT sign up for this!”

keyboard

It’s exhausting and often demoralising. Crushing heartbreak, the pain of seeing loved ones suffer and the alienation of loneliness strain and twist our internal resources until we shatter.

There is only one hope. While we were building castles in our heads, thin veneers of perfection that turned out to be concealing harsh reality, God was rolling out His infallible plan for our lives in intricate and complex detail. According to His flowchart, everything is going precisely according to plan – and it always will. Only He knows exactly how things will turn out.

That’s enough for me. I trust Him. I have survived every ordeal and more importantly, encountered joys that I could never have dreamed up. I can honestly say that the painful moments have refined and enhanced me.

Beyond that, know that the vastly greater proportion will be sublime in its perfection. One day the last piece of the jigsaw will slot into place. I will see my life in its entirety and will at last comprehend the point of every moment of it. As I consider it all, I will say what God said in the beginning: “It is very good.”

Memories and their matrices

Memories

I remember the days of my life
I recall the faces – mostly yours
Magic moments – life was a mystery
There’s no place on earth that we’d rather be

Moving up – going through some changes
Storing up the memories
Can you give me the light of my life?
I always gave the best I could give

I remember the days of my life
I recall the faces – mostly yours
This is my life
And I’m passing on the
Memories

If you can get yourself beyond the the clichéd response to the unexplainable fashions and hairstyles of the eras depicted in this ad, you’ll be able to appreciate its brilliance. Volkswagen South Africa’s homage to its “Beetle” was first aired in the early 90s. My favourite element here is the soundtrack. Memories, performed by Andre de Villiers, is a work of art.

I’ve heard the song played in various settings. Once, Andre showed up with his guitar at my school and performed Memories and some other songs for us. That happened well over 15 years ago. Still, the delight of that experience ensured that I’ll always recollect it with clarity.

The song is loaded with open-ended concepts. Read the lyrics again and see how many mental images they evoke. This version of the song reminds me of so many things. Looking back at the series of events and the vast array of different situations I’ve experienced brings home the realisation that while sometimes life seems to be running on a mundane loop, it is punctuated by events and experiences that not even the wildest or bravest of imaginations could dream up.

There’s more to it though. Even though the ad runs for over 90 seconds, which makes for a long and costly bit of advertising, the song itself is longer than that.

There’s a bridge. It’s a whole section of the song that couldn’t be included into the ad. Using the entire song would have made the ad far too long to play during regular TV ad breaks.

Here it is:

Sometimes it never seemed like enough
Though we never quit when – the going got tough
Do you remember the way it used to be?
Never counting cost – was a matter of trust
Covenant cut – were lovers for life
I still bear the scar – you used to carry the knife

The bridge speaks of the context these memories are rooted in. The relationships, the challenges and the constraints of our situations. The expectations, values, norms and non-negotiables. Those things that saw us staying the path with those we love, no matter what, or that led us to break away and set off in a new direction.

The context is often what outsiders don’t see when they look at a person and sum up their abilities, personality and possessions. What battles did that person have to fight to get to where they are? Where did they sow love and reap unexpected rewards? You’d have to step into their memories – and their contexts – to know.

Did you ever see this advert on TV? What memories does watching it now bring back?

Judgment: do you demonstrate God, or do you play God?

New Test Leper – R.E.M.

Michael Stipe

Michael Stipe

I can’t say that I love Jesus / That would be a hollow claim
He did make some observations / And I’m quoting them today
“Judge not lest ye be judged” / What a beautiful refrain
The studio audience disagrees / Have his lambs all gone astray?

Call me a leper / Call me a leper / Call me a leper

“You are lost and disillusioned!” / What an awful thing to say
I know this show doesn’t matter / It means nothing to me
I thought I might help them understand / But what an ugly thing to see
“I am not an animal” / Subtitled under the screen

Call me a leper / Call me a leper / Call me a leper

When I tried to tell my story / They cut me off to take a break
I sat silent five commercials / I had nothing left to say
The talk show host was index-carded / All organized and blank
The other guests were scared and hardened
What a sad parade / What a sad parade

Call me a leper / Call me a leper / Call me a leper

 

When Michael Stipe’s somnolent monotone isn’t verbalising frustratingly enigmatic lyrics, it can give me a jolt that leaves me shuddering for days.

New Test Leper expresses Stipe’s thoughts pertaining to the experience of being a talk show guest. The show covered the topic of being judged. Read what R.E.M. guitarist Peter Buck had to say about the lyrics here.

Stipe makes some rather disquieting observations on discussions about beliefs. Talk shows can be melting pots for horrific human behaviour, but does this also play out in non-televised contexts? Have you been part of a conversation that mimics what has featured in Stipe’s encounters?

The song drips with the judgment he feels has been leveled against him. It’s also clear that he’s often been cut off when trying to explain his point of view and beliefs.

There’s a strong sense that the “evangelising” Stipe has been subject to hasn’t struck him as coming from the heart. All he hears are glib platitudes, which he’s resorted to recycling into weapons of self-defence. In the end he’s left feeling alienated and appalled by the way the matter has been handled.

Sharing one’s faith is not a simple, textbook process. Everyone you encounter has different experiences, biases and expectations. And so do you. What’s more, fumbled attempts to hand out your religion to others can shake your own faith.

But don’t lose heart; God wouldn’t have given the command to share His good news if doing so was ultimately going to be destructive and futile.

The last thing I’d claim to have is all the answers, but here’s what I’d like to see myself doing:

  • When a person is willing to hear about my beliefs and offer their thoughts, I’d like to show them that same level of respect, rather than resorting to clumsy Bible bashing tactics.
  • On that note, I never heard of Jesus steamrolling anyone with a giant Scriptural scroll. Instead, my understanding is that He backed up what He said and did with compassion and a sound understanding of the Word of God. As a Christian, I am called to imitate Christ.
  • I’d like to imitate the love and humility Christ showed in His dealings with mankind. He took it to the extreme, meeting people where they were at by stepping down from heaven and being plunged into hell thanks to His great love for us.
  • I’d like to remember that while talk has its place, living the beliefs I proclaim is the proof people will look for.
  • I’d like to look to God; praying for His guidance in enacting the commission He’s given us.
  • I’d like to remember that God is sovereign in all things, and to trust that as I play my role, He will ultimately bring to fruition His will.

I won’t give up on my call to share the gospel message and I pray that you won’t either. I hope, instead, that I’ve given you some interesting insights and made you think about how we bear witness to Christ.

Death and other terminal pursuits – part four

The unspoken pain of being the terminator

The snatching quality of death and other such terminal moments are traumatic because they’re beyond our control. Whether we like it or not, they happen and we’re left to deal with things we’re not prepared for.

How we face life after a part of it has been taken from us is reactive. We do what we do because the circumstances demand it, whether we deal with the loss and its implications in a constructive way or not.

Sometimes though, something needs to be brought to an end. In this case, the process that leads up to and follows the termination is quite different. There’s the preceding disillusionment and dread, the rallying of courage, the fun and games of swinging the axe, the postmortem and finally, the healing.

The person who breaks off a relationship often attracts the majority of the flack dished out by onlookers, while the spurned party is often seen as the only victim in the scenario.

I’m grateful that, in my case of self-inflicted relational dismemberment last year, the criticism wasn’t weighted too heavily towards me and my decision. In fact, I received a heartening amount of support and respect.

Also, my mindset and motivation centred largely around self-preservation – to act in a responsible manner towards the life I have been given – so others’ opinions, whether congratulatory or condemning, wouldn’t have influenced me too much anyway. Still, the support was helpful and greatly appreciated.

But if you make a practice of reserving your sympathy for the person who gets their marching orders, consider pausing and analysing this – be brutally honest (it’s so empowering) – is your appraisal of the situation actually based on ignorant judgments?

Here are a few things that the party who officially pulled the pin on the relationship may be grappling with:

  • Having to accept that they made a serious mistake and became completely caught up in a false reality. Love is stupid and blind sometimes.
  • Having to concede that, based on this false reality, they projected a lifetime of love and happiness which was, in fact, just an unrealistic illusion
  • Having to admit defeat in terms of their efforts to bring out the best in the person they loved
  • Facing the creeping paranoia that this failure is part of a pattern that will forever disqualify them from a successful “til death do us part” relationship
  • Relearning to navigate the terrain of single life when the coupled-up gig has become such familiar territory. In the context of an emotional ground zero, they have no choice but to summon up the fortitude to face spending a lot more time alone with their thoughts, having to go places without the reassuring presence of their “partner in crime” and getting used to the absence of that person with whom they shared their life

Often you will have to pick a side; being the confidant to both parties is tricky and potentially treacherous ground. Still, it’s better to reserve judgment and instead resolve just to be there for the person who needs your support. What they’re going through is difficult enough without the added strain of fielding opinions that aren’t going to change the past anyway.

Death and other terminal pursuits – part three

It’s an unholy hour of the night and still I’m not asleep. That can mean only one thing: it’s time to write a blog post. It’s not like I have RSI and need to rest up my now deformed-looking wrist for the load of copy I’ll need to produce for work tomorrow… But without further ado, let’s get to the subject of adieux, from the perspective of my psyche of yesteryear.

(If you haven’t read the first two parts of this series yet, you should. To read part one, click here and to read part two, click here)

Shaun and Sandra

Shaun and I being whack jobs together.

Saying a long-term goodbye to a family member who’s off to seek their fortune on another continent seems innocuous enough. A pumping farewell party at a local bar and a tearful airport farewell, but with the assurance that we’ll be in touch regularly via Facebook and other postmodern mediums.

Follow that up, though, with having to support your significant other and his family as they make the heart-rending decision to end the life of a pet whose aged organs just can’t do their job anymore.

So, just an emigration and a dog, right?

Actually, it was a little more painful from my perspective. The tear-streaked faces of my boyfriend’s family and his own grief over the next few days, as they mourned the passing of a 14 year-old (canine) family member, who had brought only sweetness and joy to their lives, was not fun to witness.

The dogAnd really, I should’ve coped – after all, it wasn’t even my dog, I’d only known her for two years. But I didn’t. Metaphorically, I fell flat on my face as that final straw sent my legs sprawling beneath me. Too many other incidents and eventualities faced during 2013 stacked on top of the immigration and the dog, leading my brain and body to stage a coup against my will, which was determined to carry on with an unrelenting pace of living.

That’s what happens when you push yourself relentlessly beyond your physical and emotional limits. I’m guessing that the primal section of your brain senses that you’re sort of killing yourself and steps in before you succeed in that. Miss Primal Brain then co-opts your body into malfunctioning so severely that you’re forced to take it down a notch stress-wise.

A full day of nausea, trembling, incoherence and an inability to focus for more than a minute stopped me in my tracks. Unfortunately there was still work to be done that day, so I made my best effort, fumbling though it was. Still, I don’t think it was wise or safe for me to drive (i.e. operate heavy machinery) at night in that condition. But I did what I had to do and I survived.

It was a pretty bad day. I felt bewildered, frustrated, tearful and highly anxious. My memories of the day are hazy, but I think I collapsed into bed feeling dazed and dismayed.

Resilience is a wonderful thing. A few days later I could feel that I had turned a corner from the moment I woke up. For weeks I’d experienced deep disappointment every morning – simply based on the fact that I’d actually woken up at all and had no choice but to face another day. My inability to shake this dark outlook had been discouraging. The mind is a beautiful servant, but a dangerous master. When you wear yourself so thin that your mind begins to control you instead of you it, you’re on dangerous ground.

But all that was over. I’d shaken the months of depression and even feeling just a little better was exhilarating. Getting recharged to 100 percent took a bit longer. Fortunately the December holiday came around (not a moment too soon), giving me a chance to forget about some of life’s pressures and just relax. Resting, taking proper care of myself and re-mastering my mind over the next few weeks brought back my trusty old strength. And I was going to need it…

Death and other terminal pursuits – part two

I don’t want to dwell too much on the tough times of 2013, but I began this series of posts and now I must see it through to completion. In case you missed it, you can find part two by clicking here.

 

As I told you, my year of painful goodbyes began with the loss of my two Labradors, whom I had to leave behind when my marriage broke up. I thought losing two beloved pets was bad, but a new tragedy was about to overshadow that completely; something that was intensely sorrowful not just for me, but for a whole family and all their friends.

 

In June last year a member of my extended family went into premature labour and gave birth to a son. His first few days of life were fraught with complications and much anxiety. As it happened, his life did not extend beyond those first few days. He passed away at only eight days old, before anyone except his closest family members had ever met him.

 

To say we were all shocked and disconsolate would be a gross understatement. Many of us were grieved into silence, not knowing what to say to the child’s parents. I know they were (and still are) broken-hearted beyond measure, but the strength and peace they showed throughout the ordeal is a remarkable testimony to their deep-rooted faith in God.

 

One of the most painful things for me was to see my older sister’s suffering. She was especially close to the situation and is the most empathetic person I know. She has the gift of truly feeling the suffering of others, which is most definitely not a gift for herself (as would be a talent that could make a person rich and famous), but for those on whom she heaps her love and care.

 

Her despair at the situation was so intense that it scared me. At times I didn’t know how she would survive. But, like the parents of the little boy and many of the rest of us who were shaken by this trial, she made it through by holding firmly onto her faith in God.

 

Believing that our Maker is in absolute control of everything, that He loves us and that everything is part of His plan and happens for His ultimate glory gives us hope and comfort. He heals the broken-hearted, binding up their wounds. And most of all, we know that physical death is not the end.

 

We believe that the little boy we lost is safe in the arms of Jesus. He is in a place where there is no more pain, only eternal joy. When this world comes to an end, we will understand everything that we now find unfathomable – such as the untimely death of an eight-day-old baby – and God will wipe every tear from our eyes.

 

We wait in anticipation of that day, when we will be reunited with all of our lost loved ones and when we get to spend the rest of eternity with the King of Kings.