Called To Rest

Called To Rest

A lot has happened since my last post. I worked. Planned lessons. Corrected essays. Some days were wonderful and some…seemed like there was no way I could get through them.  With the start of the new year (I know, you have to think back a few months…) I was reminded of the topic of rest and felt that God was more than gently nudging me to STOP. Really stop. And calling me to a time of rest. Like that book on the Sabbath – except that I need more than one day. Resting deliberately. Resting continuously. Resting to recover. To understand. Resting to heal. To rediscover. I can think of countless times that I told other people to rest. I assured them that God did not love them based on what they did – that they could be confined to a bed and unable to move and God’s love for them would not diminish in any way. But now, as I have had to leave Pakistan and returned to Germany unexpectedly, I find myself having to give myself that same pep talk and choosing to trust God and to rest in HIM.

People always say that its important to leave well. To say goodbye well.
With handing over my lessons, packing up and just trying to get through the little things…I don’t think my leaving really fit that description. But I tried to stop to rest even in the midst of it all. To take in beautiful moments and remind myself that God is in control.

I know my posts from Pakistan were rather scarce. To be honest, I sometimes found it hard to put it all into words. How can you describe a country so vast, so varied, so wonderfully breathtaking and yet so troubled? How can I talk about my work without being too personal regarding a third party? How can I explain what it is like to go back to the country I grew up in…when a lot of the emotions have taken me so much by surprise I don’t even know where to start?

I do not really feel up to sharing much right now…but maybe I will at least get around to adding some pictures to give a glimpse of my last year in this country that I called home for so many years. I’ll do my best.

I’m also often asked what I’m doing now. Now that my nomadic journey has once again brought me back to Germany. I still haven’t come up with the perfect answer. I’m working on it. For now, I simply choose to rest.

 

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You are not alone

You are not alone

Growing up in Pakistan I got very used to having someone watch out for me. It was not really culturally appropriate for me to go out alone as a young girl and usually, whenever I went to the market, either my dad or my brothers would be my “body guards” and it made me feel completely at ease. I trusted them and felt loved and safe. It never bothered me to take one of my brothers with me, I enjoyed their company and it was nice to know I could rely on them. Moving to Germany ten years ago I knew in my head that things would be different – I knew that I didn’t really need anyone to go with me anymore and I would be ok on my own. But I found that I did miss my dad and brothers sometimes. Knowing someone’s got my back. In our time of feminism and gender equality I sometimes got strange responses from guy friends if I asked them to be my “body guard” for an occasion and step in the place of dad, brother or husband. Some would be happy to oblige, others thought it weird and told me to just look out for myself instead of “relying on a man”. It was funny because being single didn’t bother me that much – not having “brothers” did. But then I also realised something – in the end, no matter where I am, I am never alone because God is with me. I experienced that a lot of times over the years – in Pakistan, in Thailand, in Germany, Spain, Mexico – God is with me. Jesus stands behind me and says “Don’t worry, I got your back.” And even if it is nice to sometimes have someone with me on a journey, I know that I am also totally ok on my own. Now, living in Pakistan again, this topic is once more on my mind. When I first arrived my dad and little brother were still in the country, but we weren’t always together and two months ago they moved back to Germany. I am slowly getting used to moving around by myself. Driving on my own. Doing grocery shopping on my own. It is different…but I realise it is also part of growing up. Moving around on my own would never have bothered me in Germany and is something I have to learn here in Pakistan. Thankfully, I am not really alone. Once again it is true that God is with me always, here too.

Perseverance OR Revisiting the Slackline Challenge

Perseverance OR Revisiting the Slackline Challenge

I wrote this post last year when I was about half-way through my Slackline Challenge and realised that I never published it…happens a lot. I write something and think I just want to edit it a bit and then forget. In this case I decided to publish it now, despite the delay. Visiting Freiburg in June I actually went back to the slackline and tried crossing it again – I wasn’t able to do all I could do last year but then I have been without a slackline for over seven months so I’m not too surprised…it was still cool to be able to cross it, even though I lost my balance trying to turn around.

The post from October really just contains some thoughts on perseverance:

It is erroneous to think that success should come easily as a result of being naturally gifted. Perhaps, to a certain degree, natural aptitude does play a role – but the greater part is hard work, discipline and perseverance.

I once had the chance to listen to a concert pianist practice.
He had started playing at a very early age and it was soon apparent that he was gifted in music. He received tutoring and was supported and encouraged to develop his talent and pursue music in his studies. He would practice five hours a day, sometimes more.
That dedication was evident in listening to him.

What does it mean to persevere?
Am I someone who perseveres?

I think the three questions that influence whether or not I persevere are:
1) Is it worth it?
2) How badly do I want this?
3) Do I believe I can achieve the goal – or am I heading towards failure?

If I am pursuing something but continuously pondering these questions in my mind, it is unlikely that I will press on. If I am not convinced that something is worth it, if I am not fully engaged or if I have doubts about being able to reach the finish line – these thoughts alone are enough to hinder success. Like I wrote in my post on marriage and running – if you start running a marathon but don’t commit to run to the end, you probably wont. Committing and making a personal decision to follow through help you to focus on your goal and to give it all you got.

But how do you answer these questions? I think everyone has their own way of weighing up priorities, risks and setting goals. I find that for me, it is really important to allow myself to actually care enough about something to really fight for it. To permit desire, passion, determination. Sometimes not caring is more convenient – because that way you are never disappointed. But then you also miss out on the joy of experiencing what you dreamed of, or achieving what you set out to do. You need to dare to care and spell out exactly what you are going after – and then not allow the fear of failure or the uncertainty of whether or not you have what it takes distract you.

It is like climbing. Choosing a route to climb is risky. What if I go up half way and realise I lack the strength to finish? What if I slip and fall?
Once I was climbing in the gym and my climbing partner suggested a route with a slight overhang. It looked like an interesting route and I wanted to give it a go – but when he pointed out a few things to watch out for after the overhang I replied something along the lines of, “I’ll keep that in mind if I even get there!” He responded that I probably wouldn’t if that was the attitude I started out with!
And its so true. I need to face a task with a positive “I shall conquer this” attitude, rather than a non-committed “we’ll see how this turns out”. I need to be focused on the goal, rather than distracted by the fears or possibilities of everything that could go wrong.

I also experienced this in slacklining. I am now half way through the slackline challenge and its been so much fun! The first few days I felt I’d made a lot of progress and was very excited to be more and more comfortable balancing on the line and taking several steps. Then I had to pause for three days because I had no slack line or it was raining – but somehow I expected to be just fine starting up again. Wrong! I felt like I had to practice a bit more before feeling the same confidence on the line as before. It was discouraging – but instead of letting that bother me I decided to take it as a challenge and put in more effort to regain my balance. In the end, I managed to cross the slack line and successfully did some turns on the line – both of which were goals I had wanted to achieve. I also learned a few things about myself and how I work best. I realised that its easier to slackline when there aren’t a lot of people around to distract me and its also easier during day light, because I can see my focus point better. While walking across I usually focus on a point in the distance on the other side of the line and that helps me to keep my balance.

So once again, I find that sport offers a nice metaphor for life. In slacklining you want to keep your focus, ignore distractions and just keep putting one foot in front of the other. Keep going. Don’t let people’s comments or your own fear of falling stop you from pursuing your goal. And don’t compare your own achievement to that of others! I watched some videos on youtube of slackliners doing amazing tricks on the line and its easy to feel silly celebrating my small victories compared to their jumps, flips and longlining or highlining – but that’s not the point. I am not competing against them, my goal of what it means to conquer the slackline is defined by me, not by what they can do.
And the same is true for life! Its also important to stay focused and not compare yourself to other people. Don’t let fear or people’s opinions dictate your next step. Celebrate your big and little victories and don’t mind if you fall, just get up again.

At the end of the 30 days I had completed all my goals.
When I started on day 1 I went from not being able to balance at all to being able to balance on either foot and count to 20 and take seven shaky steps.

After thirty days I wanted to be able to:
– balance on either foot for as long as I like (say 2 minutes)
– walk the length of the slackline and back again
– get up on either foot without losing my balance
– change direction midway

I was able to do this after 28 days, some things sooner. Achieving some goals quite quickly, like balancing on one foot or walking the length of the line,
I tried other things like:

– the chongo mount
– the sit mount
– jumping onto the line
– jumping on the line
– lying on the line

I was not always very successful with those things…but it was fun trying. My highlight was being able to do a really short highline in the climbing gym with harness 🙂 (I didn’t measure it, would guess it was 3m high and 4-5m in length)

This month I am doing a new 30-Day-Challenge – its a 10-minute work-out every day. I was inspired by the Monsoon rain which makes it hard to do any sport outside. I realised I was getting rather moody, was not sleeping well and felt the need for exercise…I was always a bit skeptical of work-out videos but its been fun and I intend to keep it up. It usually ends up being more of a 20-30 minute work-out but saying 10 minutes makes it seem like I could definitely fit it in any day of the week and tricks me into getting started – and persevering to the end! 🙂

Thoughts on the Day of Rest

Last weekend I decided to take the day of rest seriously. I have always believed in the concept of a Sabbath and had read the words “keep the Sabbath holy” countless times, but I had gotten a bit lazy. Yes, lazy in keeping a day of rest. I would remember something I had to finish for a class on Monday. Read an article. Work on a presentation. I’d try to keep it generally free, but slipped into a mindset of still doing so-called “emergency tasks”.

But then, what really is an emergency? Isn’t there always going to be some more work to do? Is it not a decision you make to stop, leave everything and rest from your usual work for one day? Isn’t there something healthy and wholesome in obeying God by entering his day of rest and honouring this age-old practice?

warum-ruhe-unsere-rettung-ist_9783417266726A book I found at my church this summer has been challenging me in this. The Swedish original by Tomas Sjödin is called: Det händar när du vilar. I‘m reading the German translation, Warum Ruhe unsere Rettung ist, which means “Why rest is our rescue/salvation/deliverance”. A strong claim, though I’d say I prefer the Swedish title: It happens when you rest. The author is a writer, pastor, speaker who went on his own quest to discover more about rest by looking into how the Sabbath was and is celebrated in Jewish tradition. His approach is a refreshing combination between a good grasp of present-day reality and an insightful description of age-old practices and principles. I love how Sjödin lets the reader in on his own thoughts and reactions as he learns about the Sabbath, including rhetorical questions that lead one to reflect why one lives life with or without rest. One key thing that has intrigued me is the idea of rest not being passive, but active. Rest is not about “doing nothing” but about doing something different. And, in a way, you have to “be active” about resting in the first place.

Some of the questions asked:

What changes when you finish what you are working on and postpone rest for half an hour? What really changes? Nothing. But this is where we go wrong. We say “I just need to…do this one thing. Finish this one thing. Check this one thing…” and the clear cut between work and rest disappears. Finishing „one thing“ ends up being “and one other thing too”. The Sabbath in Jewish culture starts abruptly and deliberately. Friday evening. One moment people are still working, the next it is time to stop everything. People go home, change their clothes and begin the Sabbath by sharing a meal together. It is a deliberate stop of work and beginning of rest. I feel this is a really important aspect of rest. It must be deliberate. It is not the same to rest at random – unplanned rest often feels guilty. You think “I should be doing x”. This is not the case when rest is planned, anticipated, scheduled. There is nothing else you should be doing right now. It is time to rest.

Why did God rest on the seventh day? Did he need to rest? Was he exhausted? The book offers this interpretation: God created rest. Just like he created everything else before that. God created rest, for us. He established a pattern, an order – just as he established the order of all nature, of the universe, with days and months and seasons. And so the life of man and woman, created on day six, began with rest.

What is the relationship between work and rest? Work as God entrusts it to us is a responsibility, a privilege and a duty. We are not slaves that must be afraid of a god who enjoys seeing us suffer. Instead, God gives us responsibility to care for things on earth and responsibility to rest. To spend time alone with him, but also in fellowship with friends and family, to enjoy meals together, to praise God for his goodness and seek him.

In reading, I begin to remember something that I‘ve thought about before: the discipline of rest. A discipline to be cultivated, practiced, respected.

In our culture today it often seems almost sinful to be rested. Being stressed, having a lot to do, and too many people that demand your time is almost synonymous with being hard-working or successful. Sleeping in past 7am? Unthinkable if you want to make it in life. Maybe that’s an exaggeration…but I do find that “busyness” is highly prized and rest is saved for the yearly holiday where everyone tries to catch up on what was missed.

I’m in the middle of this. Not working or even doing homework on a Sunday used to be a no-brainer for me. There wasn’t even an option, this was Sunday. Family time. God time. Leisure time. The whole day. But like I said, I got lazy, especially during the last couple years. I got pretty stressed with finishing Uni and investing in different projects and trying to figure out the future…and kept thinking „when x is over I‘ll be more relaxed.“ When I pass my chemistry exam. When I‘m done with my thesis. When I’ve moved house. When I’ve completed my degree. But that‘s not a very helpful mindset: there will always be different stress factors in every phase of life. The question is, how do I deal with them? I’ve felt God leading me to rediscover his rest in the midst of the chaos of every day life. Slowing down. Taking things one step at a time. Focusing on the task – or rest – of the moment. It’s not always easy. I love making plans and starting projects and being involved in lots of exciting things…but am realizing that not everything worth doing can and must be done right away, or even by me. And I can commit my ten-year plan to God and trust that being present now, he will guide tomorrow. I am trying to work towards working when it’s time to work and resting when it’s time to rest. There is something liberating in following rules and principles. As Sjödin observes after an interview with a nun – the nuns he met at the convent live in a very strict manner with a lot of rules and regulations and yet, they were some of the most relaxed people he had ever met! We love being flexible and enjoying our “freedom” – but might there be something worth discovering in the freedom of living according to strict principles?

It’s something that‘s really true for lots of areas in our lives. The freedom that the Word of God gives when things get confusing, when emotional turmoil or stress would turn life upside down. Continuing to follow Jesus regardless of the storm, keeping my eyes and heart fixed on him and obeying God’s word give safety and direction and stop me from making rash decisions in moments of instability. Decisions I’d probably regret a little further down the road. I want to apply this to resting and discover what happens. Make rest a habit, a principle – a mindset. I haven‘t finished the book yet and am excited to see how it will challenge me further and what I can learn from the Jewish Sabbath teachings. The last part I read talked about not even trying to change anything on the day of rest. I like that too. Just let things be for one day. Don‘t fret about what isn‘t, be grateful for what is. Let things that are on your mind settle a bit and you never know, you might get peace doing nothing but resting.

What are your experiences with rest? Do you deliberately keep a day of rest every week? Saturday or Sunday or another day that suits your schedule better? Or do you tend to work more and not make a clear distinction between times of work and times of rest? Would love to hear your thoughts 🙂

The Ghost Cat Moment

I tend to be quite sensitive when it comes to the messages I perceive around me. A movie I watch or even a book I read or song I listen to all have the potential to move me deeply and make me think about what they convey. This also means I can only tolerate certain messages when I’m stressed, tired or upset. They are times I prefer to curl up on the sofa with a positive book or lighthearted kids movie, rather than exposing myself to the wars of the universe and plight of mankind.

I really noticed this once again coming back to Pakistan last week after my 6-week trip to Europe. I was really tired, drained by travel but also by a lot of time with lots of different people and just felt like I had a lot to digest and was emotionally strained. I knew I would soon have to dive into lesson planning and needed to be wise in using my energy and recharging. What did I do? Besides sleeping, cleaning my flat and listening to music – I decided to chill in the living room with a feel-good kinda movie. I ended up watching something a friend had recommended, “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty”. (Spoiler alert) All I knew was that there were epic landscape scenes in the mountains. A volcano. A sweet longboard scene. Sounded safe to me. (Ok, after about fifteen minutes of watching I confess I read the summary just to make sure it had a happy end…beard guy was getting on my nerves, but I only do that in emergencies…honest!)

In the end I was surprised, though. I had just expected to find a fun movie, but really loved the whole feel of the story, the main characters with their quirks and especially all the beautiful little moments. That moment when Walter imagines his crush singing “Ground Control to Major Tom” and decides to brave the odds and runs to the helicopter. That moment where he offers his mom’s cake to the warlord to gain passage over the mountains. And yes, that moment when he straps rocks to his hands and goes down the winding mountain road on a kid’s longboard! But I think my favorite moment is the one when he finally finds Sean up in the Himalayas, in search of a rare mountain lion. When she appears, Walter asks Sean when he plans to take the shot and Sean replies – sometimes I don’t. Sometimes he just likes to enjoy the moment. When he really likes something, personally, he doesn’t want the lens to get in the way.

In a time of endless selfies and instagram and who knows what…I find it refreshing to not capture every moment. Don’t get me wrong, I love pictures. But especially since my camera broke about a year ago, I began to indulge in that freedom of not taking the shot. Just living the moment. Now my brother recently gave me a phone with a pretty sweet camera (thanks again!) and I really am excited to take more pics and hopefully share some beautiful moments and places soon…but I know I won’t share everything. At times I’ll decide to put the camera aside and just cherish the beauty of a moment by being in it. Chase a ghost cat and keep her to myself. Beauty that often goes unappreciated; if you don’t take care to look closely, it might pass you by.

Tired but/and Thankful

If I had to use two words to describe my sentiments after my first half year teaching full time, those two would be it.
Tired. Tired from lack of sleep, new pressures and responsibilities, lack of a balanced diet and regular exercise. Mistakes of a rookie, maybe. But certainly come with lessons learned.
Tired from/of grading seemingly endless papers and editing a PowerPoint to find the laptop freeze and crash…again.

Thankful. Thankful for smiling faces in the classroom, even when I know they hate poetry…
thankful for encouraging words. Please and thank you. Can I please go to the bathroom? Yes, you may.
Thankful for laughter and morning tea. Thankful for little goals and little victories. Thankful for beautiful moments in between the stress that somehow make it all worth it.
Thankful for Gods grace. And second chances.

A friend recently said how teaching is really such a crazy job…and how you have to be crazy to do it.
In a way I agree with her. But then again, the students – and those random beautiful moments in the midst of the craziness – somehow make it all worth it.

Beginning in the Middle

Beginning in the Middle

I just heard some fireworks outside – early celebrations for Pakistan Day? That will be celebrated on the 23rd March, with parades in the city and most people enjoying a national holiday.

What is Pakistan like in March? In what aspect? Let’s stick to the weather. Favourite topic of conversation in so many situations. The weather here in March is quite different from what it is in Germany. Some places in the plains are already quite warm during the day, reaching around 25-30°C, while places in the mountains can still be quite cool. There might still be patches of snow around while the first blossoms announce spring. We’ve had some rain, also some snow and hail in the mountains recently – but I do believe spring is pretty much here 🙂

I would say that starting work in Pakistan has been wonderful, strange, stressful, a privilege…a whole mix of things. It is a new beginning: first time working full time after studying, first time living in my own apartment, first time independently responsible for a number of classes…but somehow its also like starting in the middle of a story: I joined the staff in the middle of the school year and I’m back in a place I used to live, though it feels like that was a long time ago. A mix of old and new, strange and familiar. A country I lived in as a child and teenager that I am getting to know in a whole new way. A country where I love the food and clothing and friendly hospitality, yet I hardly speak the language and struggle to fit learning vocab and the alphabet into my busy work schedule.

What have I learned so far?

1) Working hard for the sake of the students is a lot more motivating than research paper deadlines or exams at university…but it also feels like a much bigger responsibility!

2) No matter how cute/sweet you feel you’re students are…try not to say it out loud.

3) Grading homework, presentations, tests and essays is just as much work as I anticipated…but it is do-able. Just…don’t procrastinate. Same as in school. At Uni. Always.

4) School food is so much nicer than having to cook every single day…

5) No matter how much work you feel you have, don’t forget to sleep, eat, get some fresh air – and BREATHE.

And in all, remember that God is the one carrying you through. Don’t try to do it alone. And don’t be too perfectionist. With that said – I have really felt privileged to have so many people praying for me and also for the country. I feel peace about being here in Pakistan and feel thankful for all the friends, family, churches praying, supporting me, sending me messages or mail. Thanks guys!