a time to throw away stones, and a time to gather stones together;

For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven:

a time to throw away stones, and a time to gather stones together; Ecclesiastes 3:5

A Guest Post by May-Kuan Lim, author of The Curious Scribbler

I feel a hint of pain when I look at these early photos because my children were young and easily amused. I, too, was young and life was uncomplicated: feed the ducks, throw a ball, pick a daisy.

There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven. The season for early motherhood has passed. The children are teenagers now. One has left home. I have to find my place in the world again.

MK Lim

Photo by Victoria Bjorkman (Creative Commons)

The words of Ecclesiastes wash over me: a time to be born, a time to die; a time to plant, a time to uproot; and on it goes, each verb making sense in its context but what is this – a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them? What a strange expression. Who scatters stones? Farmers scatter seed. Hansel and Gretel scatter breadcrumbs. But who scatters stones? Aren’t stones too heavy to be scattered? Perhaps pebbles can be scattered, but to what purpose?

Instead of ‘scatter’, other translations use the words ‘cast away’ or ‘throw’ as a counter point to ‘gather’. Cast away is a much more weighty action, showing effort and intent. But what do the stones represent?

Perhaps a farmer might cast stones away in order to till a field, and then gather those same stones to build a house. Or, in the Old Testament, people used stones to build altars of remembrance. When God stopped the waters of the Jordan River upstream for the Israelites to enter Canaan on dry land, the priests gathered twelve stones from the riverbed and built an altar. God wanted the story of His deliverance to shape the nation of Israel.

Motherhood has shaped much of my life since my first child was born. For two decades, motherhood has been the memorial stone that defined me. The children enabled me to justify turning my back on a career. I will be a mother for the rest of my time on earth, but it is time to move this stone. It need no longer take centre stage. My life does not have to be arranged around it anymore.

A by-product of turning my back on my career is to watch my peers surpass me in their professional achievements. My ego finds it much easier to offer empathy and support to a friend in need than to truly, generously, and unreservedly celebrate the success of another. This ungodly stone of jealousy I cast away. I wrench it out of my being and, with all my strength, cast it as far away as possible.

Now is the time to gather stones to build a home for my approaching-fifty-year-old self to inhabit: learn new skills, write, invest in others, enjoy adventures for their own sake and not for any flow-on purpose such as feeding a child or modelling a virtue or shoring up an inheritance.

These words in Ecclesiastes – a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them – say to me: do not look back with pain; new seasons are to be experienced, enjoyed and celebrated. There is a time for everything.

What time is it for you  –  a time to scatter or a time to gather? Spend a few minutes writing your reflections on each of those two words. It’s often the process of writing that clarifies our responses.

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a time to mourn, and a time to dance;

For everything there is a season and a time for every matter under heaven:

a time to mourn, and a time to dance; Ecclesiastes 3:4

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Despite the poor quality photo, this picture captures a moment from a dance I encountered while working in Papua New Guinea.

Sitting in the dirt surrounded by a jungle of utter blackness, I lost connection with everything I considered as ‘normal’. I didn’t just witness the dance, I experienced it. I have no idea if the dance was a dance of grief or a dance of joy, but the depth of emotion released by the creativity extended beyond the dancers into the community.

In my own community, most of us can’t perform like that, unscripted, in harmony with others, to the rhythmic thump of magnificent handcrafted instruments. Yet, despite our level of ability, talent or experience, we all have the capacity to ‘dance’.

In my journal, I brainstormed how else I could manage times of grief and times of joy. Perhaps you could write freely for 5 minutes and see what your list uncovers? Some of mine included write, walk, listen to the birds, the river, and the wind, smell a lavender bush or baked bread, touch silk or soft skin, read a book, pray, call a friend.

I marvel with the psalmist at the tenderness, empathy, and power of our God when we call on Him in those moments –

You have turned my mourning into dancing;
    you have taken off my sackcloth
    and clothed me with joy,  (Psalm 30:11)

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a time to weep, and a time to laugh;

For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven:

a time to weep, and a time to laugh; Ecclesiastes 3:4

Most of us know about the benefits of laughter, but what about the tears of sorrow? In our ‘stiff upper lip’ inheritance or ‘be a man’, it’s often culturally unacceptable to cry.

If you have ever permitted yourself to have a good sob how it did feel? For many of us, laughter will never be far away in the wings. Our smile may begin with the corners of our lips, perhaps in response to a child, or a pet or a light-hearted comment from a friend.

It’s maintaining the balance between the time to weep and the time to laugh that is the best medicine.

 

 

Lonely sad girl on the dark beach

Which season are you in right now? Is it time for you to cry?  Or perhaps you need to permit yourself to laugh?

Visualize yourself in a safe space. Spend a few moments contemplating what season you may be in. When you are ready,  begin writing and allow your words to flow freely in your journal.

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If it becomes too tough, put down your pen and reflect on this powerful promise:

11 For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope.  Jeremiah 29:11

Now try again. Even when we find ourselves in a season we would prefer to avoid,  God has the most incredible plan for our life.

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a time to break down, and a time to build up;

For everything there is a season and a time for every matter under heaven:

‘a time to break down, and a time to build up’

Ecclesiastes 3:3

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Descent from the Cross – Rogier van der Weyden

Van der Weyden’s depiction of Mary at the foot of the cross reflects the depth of her pain. Her weeping expresses her grief, loss and desperation. She averts her eyes from the world, retreating inside, into her own place of sorrow. She stays at the foot of the cross, clinging onto her son’s presence, unwilling to leave him.

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Yet in the midst of this, Jesus’s death was good. Good Friday is the epitome of breaking down in order to build up. Good Friday is the greatest act of love God ever made for us. Without Good Friday there is no Resurrection, and with Jesus’s Resurrection,  we have hope for Eternal Life.

‘Weeping may linger for a night, but joy comes with the morning. ‘ (Psalm 30:5)

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Write down these four words: weeping, night, joy, morning. As you reflect on each, take note of any that touch you in a special way. Write whatever thoughts come to mind.

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a time to kill, and a time to heal

For everything there is a season and a time for every matter under heaven:

a time to kill, and a time to heal Ecclesiastes 3:3

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Image NASA via MODIS Rapid Response Team

‘On December 8, 2007, NASA’s Aqua satellite captured this image of fires burning on Kangaroo Island, just off the coast of South Australia. Places, where the sensor detected active fire, are outlined in red. Thick, grey-brown smoke spreads eastward over Encounter Bay. (Earth Observatory) 

The fires remained out of control until the 14 December 2007, when the South Australian Country Fire Service officially announced that all fires were contained.

The Kangaroo Island bushfires were considered a natural disaster, initiated by a series of lightning strikes, and exacerbated by unusual weather patterns, including severe wind and extreme heat. The Centre for Australian Weather and Climate Research

 

 

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We drove through Kangaroo Island not long after the fire. The scorched and silent landscape emanated a tragic eeriness.

Ten years later I visited the island again. Evidence of the fire remains but the beauty and promise produced by regrowth generated the sensation of hope.

Sometimes it’s only when we reflect back can we see the growth born of tragedy. We don’t wish for disasters,  but they do come.

Writing about the upheaval in our past can sometimes highlight growth that has occurred unconsciously. Can you look back on a difficult time and brainstorm a list of associated words – emotions, feelings, actions, consequences…anything that comes to mind?

When you’ve exhausted this, choose a new page and sit quietly in the present. Can you write a list of words that describe evidence of healing and hope?

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A time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted.

a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted

Ecclesiastes 3:2

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In the late 1800’s, the Neuman family immigrated from England to the fledgeling colony of South Australia. Following a tough beginning, including the loss of their son on the voyage, they eventually took a significant business risk. When they established a plant nursery in a remote area on the outskirts of the city,  many considered it madness. Yet it was a huge success, attracting customers from all over Adelaide to purchase plants.

I hiked into the area recently to view the old ruins of the homestead. Isolated tracks such as Perseverance Rd and Torture Hill reflect the challenging setting. In the remote location, I found it difficult to imagine a thriving business. And then I noticed clusters of tiny orchids growing amidst the native flora, seeded from plants of previous generations.

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In 1912 a major flood ruined much of the nursery and over the next few decades, the land was used as a dairy and then for sheep grazing. The final devastation came in 1985 when the buildings were destroyed by bushfires.

Despite the tragedies, Newman’s Nursery is still a thriving business, in a new location closer to the main road.

Have you ever taken a risk? Did it result in new seeds? Or not?

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Take 5 minutes and write your reflections.

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A time to be born, and a time to die

For everything there is a season and a time for every matter under heaven:

a time to be born, and a time to die; Ecclesiastes 3:2

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Photo used with permission: © Fabrizio Pece

Despite my mum arriving at the Duke St Hospital in the full swing of labour with me, the staff couldn’t admit her. At the height of the baby boomer years, it wasn’t uncommon for Labour Ward to be full.  My mum and dad were rushed by ambulance out of the city to a tucked away place they had never heard of.

Lennox Castle was an institution built for societies ‘misfits.’  A purpose built wing had been added as a maternity hospital to cater for the city’s overflow of mothers.

When I reflect on the story of my birth, I can’t help feel the irony. In one section new babies created an atmosphere of new life.

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Lennox Castle  Photo used with permission: © Jacha Hoste 

Permanent residents in the main area have recounted tragic stories of their time there, describing the insidious death of their spirit.

Following the movement of de-institutionalisation, Lennox Castle stood in ruins for a number of years and has since been demolished. This photo reflects for me today’s verse, ‘a time to be born, and a time to die.’

It’s symbolic of what has become my life work with vulnerable communities, many who struggle with mental health issues.

What else was happening in the world around you? Did the circumstances impact your life as you experience it today?

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Spend 5 minutes writing about your own ‘time to be born.’ 

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For everything there is a season…

For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven:

Ecclesiastes 3:1

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While hiking through a segment of the Hysen Trail, the blaze of golden wattle heralded early signs of spring. Less than a month ago, walking along a different portion of the trail, the heavens opened without warning and dumped freezing cold rain on me.

This transition from winter to spring makes it a season of unpredictability. Life is exactly the same. In a twinkling everything can change and the plans we have for our future evaporate.

The phrase ‘under heaven’ struck me powerfully. It implies a protective covering. Under God’s protection, no one need weather the storms of life on their own.

Is there a ‘storm’ in your life right now?

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Why not write a request for protection? Or a thank you note for a time when you experienced protection in the past?

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Everything Has Its Time

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Photo used with permission: © Fabrizio Pece

 Ecclesiastes 3

For everything there is a season and a time for every matter under heaven:

a time to be born, and a time to die;
a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted;

a time to kill, and a time to heal;
a time to break down, and a time to build up;

a time to weep, and a time to laugh;
a time to mourn, and a time to dance;

a time to throw away stones, and a time to gather stones together;
a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;

a time to seek, and a time to lose;
a time to keep, and a time to throw away;

a time to tear, and a time to sew;
a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;

a time to love, and a time to hate;
a time for war, and a time for peace.

 

In 1965 the popular band, the Byrds, released ‘Turn! Turn! Turn!’ a song based on Ecclesiastes 3.

Over the next few weeks, Season to Journal will focus on this chapter, verse by verse. For today read over the whole chapter.

Is there a particular verse that reflects the current season of your own life?

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Write out the verse and for the next 5 minutes allow any subsequent words to flow.

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