Always we begin again

by Vinod Velayudhan (Creative Commons)Sometimes it’s good to ask the important questions. Like, ‘was I the only child to get a thrill from putting a pencil into an electric pencil sharpener?’ Zizzz Zizzz. (If you weren’t careful, you could get carried away and end up with your pencil almost entirely eaten by the machine, and only a stub to write with. Still worth it).
 

Electric pencil sharpener. So. Much. Fun.

Electric pencil sharpener. So. Much. Fun.


 
For a geeky child, the return of the school year brings inordinate happiness, however good the holidays have been, and September, much more so than January, has always meant ‘beginnings’ to me.
 
Always we begin again.
 
***
 
In January 2011, I woke up one morning and couldn’t walk in a straight line. No sound came out of my mouth, but as I clung onto the walls, internally I was screaming, “no, no, no, no, no, not again.” I felt sick to my stomach, and not from the ME; it was the feeling of having to begin again.
 
Having an M.E. relapse is like falling down a mountain. However hard you had rested in the preceding months to carefully, slowly build up your energy levels, you can wake up one day, and it is all gone in an instant. You are consigned to walking toddler-steps, falling and crying. Sometimes I feel like I can’t do the ‘again’s of this illness.
 
Always we begin again.
 
***
 
I have asked myself: why do I like the one type of beginning, but not the other? Why have I always loved ‘back to school’ and new beginnings, but hate the new beginnings that relapses bring?
 
The answer is this: one feels progressive, the other regressive. One is macro, the other micro. One is linear, the other cyclical.
 
I loved the experience of giving birth, (well, I loved it once the epidural kicked in.) The moment of seeing my baby’s face for the first time made me cry with joy. But there is a moment in every parent’s life in those early days, where you wake up after not enough sleep to pitch darkness and a loud wail and think, ‘not again’. The giving birth is the ‘macro’ beginning, the culmination of pregnancy, a nice linear progression. Somewhere around the four-week mark you get lost in the micro beginnings. There are no straight lines, just tiny circles of feeding, burping, changing, cajoling, rocking, each day the same, over and over again.
 
***
 
[The truth is that I have dreaded writing this first post after my long break. I feel the pressure to say my health has GOT BETTER  and how I have GROWN and LEARNT and COMPLETED my book – and this hasn’t happened. I want things to be gloriously different, to be a changed person, but all I can feel is the sameness of it all. This has not been a linear progression, and so it smells to me suspiciously like failure. I rested and wrote my book a little more than I usually do, but not as much as I would have liked. It is hard to return with empty hands. I am catching and batting away my perfectionist thoughts.]
 
***
 
St Benedict. (you can picture him saying it, can't you?)

St Benedict. (you can picture him saying it, can’t you?)


 
Always we begin again – it was St Benedict who said this, as part of his ‘rule’. The monasterial life is one of repetition: prayers at regular times each day; chores; silence; reflection; sleep. I imagine the groan of Brother Jacques, waking to matins and longing to stay in his hard bed, because when you’re tired even a hard bed is preferable to getting up and singing yet another psalm.
 
I feel and fear the monotony of it, as I fear the days when I dance with the darkness and try to rest properly.
 
I see this in writing: the thrill of beginning a new project versus the sense of dread when day after day you have to begin again, a new chapter, a new blog post. If I ever get to the end of writing this darn memoir, I will love it – but right now I am drowning in middles, and each time I set up my laptop in bed I have to take a breath, and start again from where I am rather than where I wish I was.
 
Always we begin again – we do this in theology, too. I used to think that the Christian life was one long (albeit bumpy) climb uphill to greater knowledge of and greater intimacy with God. But in my Christian life I have encountered theology and story that has countered and crumbled tenets of my faith I previously thought were steady. I begin again, as a helpless child looking to their heavenly parent.
 
It is not fun: this toddler walking, this theological wandering in wilderness, this grind of writing and resting.  It reminds me of my weakness and my dependency on God. (Neither of which I like). It is humbling.
 
***
 
There’s a verse in Lamentations I love. In the midst of agonised cries about how the world is terrible and God has abandoned his people comes this melody of grace:

“The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning, great is your faithfulness.” (Lam 3:22-23, ESV)

His mercies, new, not just each year but every morning. Not just for the Septembers, and the macro beginnings, but for the daily rhythms, and the micro beginnings.
 
In the NLT it reads, “his mercies begin afresh each day”.  As we begin again, so does God.
 
I am slowly learning to embrace the cyclical beginnings, every day anew, afresh.
 
Each day I begin again. Yesterday I rested well, but it is not enough: I need to rest again today, and I need God’s help to do it. That is a humbling and frustrating thought. It is also a hopeful thought.  Yesterday I didn’t spend as much time with my son as I would have wanted, but there is forgiveness, and today I can begin again, I can pray I am more disciplined with my time, more engaged with my son.
 
These micro beginnings are both humbling and hopeful, because we do not face them alone. God’s mercies are there to meet us in each sunrise.
 
Always we begin again.
 
Tweetables:

 
[tweetit]’Was I the only one to like putting a pencil into an electric pencil sharpener?’- @tanya_marlow Always We Begin Again[/tweetit]
 
[tweetit]In parenting, there are no straight lines, just tiny circles of feeding, burping, changing, over and over again.[/tweetit]
 
[tweetit]Why do we like yearly beginnings, but not daily beginnings? The macro but not the micro? – @tanya_marlow[/tweetit]
 
[tweetit]”As we begin again, so does God.” @tanya_marlow on weariness, electric pencil sharpeners and daily mercies: [/tweetit]
 
Over to you: 

  • Which do you like more, the macro beginnings, or the micro?
  • In your life right now, which are your ‘macro beginnings’, and which are your ‘micro beginnings’?
  • What does ‘always we begin again’ mean to you?

 

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23 Responses to Always we begin again

  1. Cathy Fischer 17th September, 2014 at 11:41 pm #

    Love this post and the comments! I keep thinking I need to take an Internet blog break, but can’t take a break from you/yours. So if my comments are sparse or nonexistent, I still care and can relate…

    • Tanya 25th September, 2014 at 11:12 am #

      Yay! Yes, definitely take a break -except-for-mine-yes-please-and-thank-you. 🙂 Don’t worry about comments being sparse or non existent – I really appreciate you taking the time even to read. Thank you.

  2. Janice 17th September, 2014 at 9:29 pm #

    Tanya, I love this. It expanded something in my mind when I read it.

    I’ve been thinking about something along these lines lately. As the season’s are turning and I’ve lived in my new home for exactly a year, I’m finding myself thrilled and comforted and longing for the cycle of the seasons.

    And I’ve been fiddling with this concept that we want so much progress out of our lives and so much of my own disappointment and disillusionment comes from the fact that I don’t see progress very often. At least not in a macro sort of sense. I mean there are things I’m learning (My husband bought me a cello a month or two ago-yay!- and I can see progress in how I play that…) but when I look at my life and myself it’s easy to see that I don’t generally progress. At least not at any speed that feels acceptable to me.

    But then I come back to these seasons that repeat. And the big dipper is back in the sky just as it was a year ago. And there is so much repeating and revolving in creation. But it doesn’t feel frustrating, it feels comforting. and it breeds this tension between seeing how I have changed in the past year and realizing how much I am the same. And wondering what God is trying to tell me with all of these cycles that don’t progress, but just lead beautifully into each other.

    Somehow God makes every morning fresh, even when it’s the 60 billionth morning to happen on this planet which is full of so things that soil. It’s still fresh. Especially if you can find away to be surrounded by creation early in the morning. And I don’t know how he does it, but it’s so incredibly hopeful to me.

    I’ve always loved the verse that says his mercies are new every morning. It’s one of those that seems to speak a deep truth.

    Ack! this comment became so long it probably should have been turned into an email. Just pretend we’re chatting over tea or something english and I rambled for a moment!

    • Tanya 25th September, 2014 at 11:15 am #

      1. I LOVE your long comments. Love love love them. Thank you.
      2. The cello? Wow – awesome! Are you playing from scratch, or revisiting an instrument you learned as a child? Either way, it’s impressive.
      3. I love the way you talk about seasons, and nature. I think you have a real gift for it – it always brings the world alive to me and makes me yearn to be out in creation. Thank you.

      • Janice 25th September, 2014 at 2:33 pm #

        I’m learning the cello from scratch. (yikes!) I’ve watched Dalton learn violin for the past several years so I’m just trucking along using similar ideas to what he has learned. I learned piano when I was young, but a stringed instrument is SO different! So far I’ve learned

        1. it is VERY easy to make a terrible sound with a beautiful cello.

        2. The pressure with which I play is incredibly important. I can’t approach it nervous and weak, it takes confidence and this intensity of movement which I’m not naturally good at. Frankly, I think the whole thing is going to be a exercise in character building. But the reward is such a beautiful sound that I keep coming back to it.

        • Tanya 25th September, 2014 at 6:26 pm #

          That’s really interesting. Kudos for starting an instrument so late. I wonder if I would have the courage to do that, if I were well? I suspect not – I was so badly disciplined and never practised.
          Re:
          1) I can believe it. I used to play in a youth orchestra…
          2) I had ever before thought about how so very physical a thing it is to play the cello. It involves almost your whole body.

  3. Margaret 17th September, 2014 at 6:12 pm #

    Oh, how I relate to this. I am learning that every time my health sets me back I can’t just expect to go back to how things were before. What comes next is going to be new and different – this new beginning that you talk about. But there’s no reason that it can’t also be good, I keep telling myself.

    • Tanya 25th September, 2014 at 11:16 am #

      I think your attitude is courageous. It makes illness sound like an adventure, which is probably a good approach to take. I’m so glad this post resonated with you – thank you.

  4. Juliet 17th September, 2014 at 5:27 pm #

    When I started doing home visits for my local Good Neighbours project I struggled with the very strict rule of no giving or receiving of presents. I realised that I found it hard to accept that I was enough. I used to get over that by offering something else. Over time I’ve come to realise that just being there is enough. And your being here now is enough for me. And by enough I mean it is deeply satisfying, nourishing and reassuring to read your words and have some sense of you. I feel better for it. Thank you.

    And I tried a tweet link with your twitter offerings. Never done that before but I love the thing about pencil sharpeners!

    • Tanya 25th September, 2014 at 11:17 am #

      This was such a lovely, supportive comment. This really blessed me. I love your story of being challenged by not being able to give anything apart from yourself – your clarity helps me see myself more clearly, too. Thank you.

  5. Natalie Hart 17th September, 2014 at 3:06 pm #

    Wonderful post, full of so much good analysis. But I found myself most moved by a throwaway line: “It is hard to return with empty hands.” True, but empty hands are not grasping onto “success” as a symbol of your worth. And full hands are not required to give a gift to your readers. This post was a gift. Thank you. And blessings to you as you work out your various beginnings 🙂

    • Tanya 25th September, 2014 at 11:18 am #

      Thank you Natalie – I was really touched by this. Full hands are not required. I shall try to remember this. 🙂

  6. Mark Allman 17th September, 2014 at 1:50 pm #

    Oh Tanya,

    We are just glad you are back and we like you just as you are. I am absolutely convinced you have not returned with empty hands my friend. You may not see what’s in them but over time I am sure we will. 🙂 I think most change in life is so hard to notice and measure. Once in a while something happens that is easy to measure and notice but we are changing all of the time hopefully for the better.

    Tanya you have done well in your dance with darkness. You have taken the lead and have taught others how to deal with darkness in their own lives through your example.

    Don’t you think we are always where we are instead of where we wish to be and that’s a good thing if we use that knowledge to spur us on towards where we wish to be.

    I like how God made days; how we have a start and stop to them and how in a sense we start each day with a blank page upon which to write our life; a new beginning each day. Not hampered by the things we did not get done yesterday but by the potential of what may happen today. Oh Tanya I don’t know if I have ever had a perfect day but I am thankful that I get to try for one today.

    Tanya just one stone upon another as you build. The book will come and will be better for the length of time it takes you to get it down. Regardless of how many words a day you get on paper I’m sure you are writing and rewriting that book over and over again in your head and it will be good when you get to your stopping point.

    Relish those new beginnings even the ones that take you round and round. You may be going round and round but you are moving the circle forward as well.

    Welcome Back!!!

    For some reason those electric pencil sharpers have always tempted me to stick my finger in although I know it would hurt bad. I’m glad the hole has not been big enough!! And I’ve written with a really sharp one inch pencil before! 🙂

    • Tanya 25th September, 2014 at 6:28 pm #

      Thanks so much for your encouraging words! One stone, one stone. Each day anew. I like the idea of the potential of a single day. And I can totally relate to the gruesome fascination of sticking your finger into the electric pencil sharpener!

  7. Beth 17th September, 2014 at 1:44 pm #

    Beautiful! And, uh, micro beginnings? Yep, you nailed it…they can be so maddening and dispiriting.

    • Tanya 25th September, 2014 at 6:29 pm #

      Thanks, lovely Beth. I’m glad you think so. 🙂

  8. Liz Eph 17th September, 2014 at 1:27 pm #

    beautifully put as usual. i love the macro, but struggle even with micro at the mo. but hey, we’re alive. just coping with anything day to day is an achievement. congratulations on your high achievingness on the day to day survival barometer. why add in k2 when we’re already doing everest. xxxx

    • Tanya 25th September, 2014 at 6:30 pm #

      ‘Why add K2 when we’re already doing Everest.’ I love this! It’s a phrase I’ve been chewing all week. Sorry to hear you’re struggling even with the micro at the moment. But VERY glad you are still alive. So, that’s a win, I reckon. 🙂

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