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Monday, 22 August 2016

You Don't Learn to Dive off a 10m Platform

Anyone else been watching a lot of Olympics these past two weeks? I sure have! Ah, the Olympics. Where we all suddenly become experts in sports we previously knew nothing about and claim our country’s wins as if we were the ones to shed the blood, sweat and tears it took to achieve them. We cheer, we commiserate, we critique (as if we know what we’re talking about), we cry. Or maybe that’s just me!

No doubt it’s the storyteller in me but I’ve never been able to see a person without wondering about their story – how they got to where they are today, what made them who they are, etc. There are some incredibly talented, strong, determined athletes out there in this world.

And brave. Very, very brave.

Like the pole vaulters, launching themselves up into the air on the end of a stick and hoping for the best. Ever thought about what it’s like to do that for the first time?

I was watching the 10m platform diving final the other day and marvelling at the skill of those men. Especially the ones who start by doing a handstand on the edge of the platform. I can’t even do a handstand at ground level and they’re doing it on the edge of a platform 10m up in the air??? Crazy.

I tried a forward flip into water from a 3m height once. I’d done flips into the pool at home a hundred times growing up so didn’t think anything of it. I really should have. 3m is a lot higher than the 30cm diving platform I was accustomed to. I flipped in the air and then, having not taken into account the extra distance, hit the water flat on my back. To say it was painful is an understatement. I literally couldn’t breathe for a few seconds.

I can only imagine how much it would hurt to get the timing of a dive wrong from a height of 10m. And believe me, I don’t want to. What kind of crazy would possess someone to throw themselves off a platform that high knowing that if they get it wrong, it could really, really hurt? If not kill them.

And then I realised something.

Those men didn’t start their careers diving off a 10m platform. Or a 3m one. Or even one barely above the surface of the water.

Nope. First they learnt to swim.

Just like the gymnasts learnt to walk on the ground before trying it on the beam, and the 5000m runners started with 50m.

None of them started at Olympic standard.

So often, we see the final stage and forget everything that came before it. And not just with athletes.

I remember getting my textbook for maths at the start of grade eleven and, for some odd reason, deciding to flick through it to see what we’d be learning that year. And just about freaking out when I saw some of the trigonometry toward the end. I decided then and there that I was probably going to fail grade eleven maths.

I didn’t fail it because we didn’t start with that chapter. We started with the first one. And worked our way through the textbook. And we didn’t do it alone. We had a really great teacher. Trigonometry didn’t seem all that difficult by the time we got to it. [NB. Please don’t ask me how to do it now. I might have passed Maths, but only just! Maths has never been a strength of mine.]

But that moment, again, made me realise just how often I forget the in-between steps.

I look at couples who’ve been married for decades and wonder why my marriage doesn’t look like theirs, forgetting they’ve had decades more practice at it than I have. No doubt at seven years, they were working through the same challenges I am.  

I pick up a musical instrument and get frustrated when I can’t play it as well as I play my viola – forgetting that when I first started learning violin as a five-year-old, I probably sounded just as bad. I might be able to play anything I like on my viola now, but back then, my ‘music’ consisted of three notes just like my guitar playing consists of three chords.

I marvel at the wisdom of others, forgetting the years of experience it took them to learn it. Or people who are incredibly strong and compassionate, completely disregarding the pain that forged it in them.

The in-between. The pain, the training, the courage to move up one more level or take the next step, the years of experience. When you look at the Olympic-standard versions of people, remember, no-one starts at the end. Not them, and not you.

The divers didn’t start diving off a 10m platform. First they learnt to swim.

Thursday, 4 August 2016

Are you really there?

I have two daughters. They’re exactly two years apart in age and while they’re best friends, they couldn’t be more different. You know that test psychologists do where they put kids in a room with a plate of lollies or cake in front of them and tell them not to eat it? One of my girls would sit there and watch it the whole time and not even consider putting a single finger near it. The other would eat it the second the door was shut and spend the rest of the time making up a good story for why she needed to eat it.

Both adorable. Both incredibly loved. Very, very different.

While one of them loves playing by herself and could do so for hours without me even being near her, I’m pretty well certain there’s some kind of invisible magnet between me and the other because wherever I am, she is. She could be playing happily or totally engrossed in a movie, but as soon as I get up and move to another room or to do something else, I can guarantee that within minutes, she’ll lose interest and come to see what I’m doing.

For the most part, I’ve learned to go with it. If I need to get something done, I’ll just set myself up beside her where she’s playing or something. Laptops are pretty great for moving around the house, especially when her movie of choice of a Sunday afternoon is the same one she’s watched no less than twenty times. If not more.

There was one day, though, when I realised just how important my presence was to her. She asked if I’d watch a movie with her (that same one we’d watched heaps of times before) and I agreed – and then went off to grab a book to read while I was snuggling up beside her on the couch. She immediately stopped me. “No, I meant watch the movie with me!”

I suddenly realised that my presence wasn’t enough, even sitting so close beside me that she was practically inside me. She wanted my attention. All of it. Not just to be beside her or holding her but to be actively involved in what she was doing.

I wonder how many times I do the same thing with God.

I go to church or sit and read my Bible but my mind is elsewhere. I’m listening to a sermon while planning what I need to do when I get home or reading my Bible while contemplating what’s happened that day. I’m there, but not completely. God has my presence but not my attention.  

And, like my daughter, he’s no doubt there saying, “No, Hannah, I meant I want you with me. Not just here, but here.”

I know God understands our distractedness. Of course he does. He’s God. And I know there are times when plans and other things will sneak in and take our attention. Stop, write them down and get back to God. Your whole self. Not just the presence bit.

He’s the Creator of the entire universe but more than that, he loves you. He adores you. If that’s not reason enough to give him your entire attention, I don’t know what is.
Wherever you are with God, be there. Wholeheartedly. Your attention, not just your presence.

He yearns for it even more than our kids do.