Thursday, March 19, 2015

An Exchange of Grace - Guest post written by Kathryn Timpany

 "When the student is ready, the teacher will appear."                 

- Buddhist teaching

Many of you have known Ashley much longer than I have.  I met Ashley and Mark when they began attending the church that I pastored just a few years ago.  We soon discovered we shared a love of vocal and choral music.  And since I was diagnosed with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome eight months ago, we have discovered that we also share the journey of living with a body that refuses to bow to the sheer force of will.

Like you, I have been inspired by the chronicle of that journey Ashley has shared in this blog.  When she invited me to write an entry, I felt honored and a little bit lost.  What had I to offer that would add to the circle of care that is comprised of those of you who have accompanied her much longer and more closely than I have?

Soon after I accepted Ashley's invitation, this well-known ancient saying placed itself front and center in my mind, and I knew what I wanted to share.  Ashley has become my teacher, appearing in my life just when I was ready to learn what she had to offer, and I am deeply grateful.

The world we live in rewards success and strength.  Our favorite verbs are thrive, achieve, overcome, triumph. We compete for primacy everywhere we turn.  We hail our heroes.  We reward winners and pity losers. We are schooled for glory, and shamed for failure.  And even those of us who find sustenance in spirituality talk about doing it "right".  No sloppy life of the spirit for us!  No pesky doubts, no awful absence or dreadful silence in place of the divine Voice!  No siree.  If things aren't getting better or making more sense, you just need to pray a little harder or a little better!

When you are living with a body that won't let the desires of your heart come to full form, these words and this way of thinking are no longer helpful.  Rather than spurringyou on toward victory and joy, they often give birth to fear and discouragement.  They then become like feral dogs lurking viciously outside the door, snarling and prancing as they wait for a chance to burst in and devour you.

When that happens, you need a teacher to show you a new way of being human.  You need someone to teach you how to protect yourself from despair.  You need someone to help you find your way home to a life of beauty, gratitude and delight.

Ashley appeared to me exactly when I needed her.   When it was my turn to learn a whole new curriculum, a whole new language, a whole new perspective, she made herself available - through words and real  presence - and I am now making my way into my own new normal, baby step by baby step.

For a long time, I thought of myself as a pastor and teacher for Ashley.  Now, she offers me what no one else can.  She is teaching me how to find beauty every day, how to remain grateful in the face of unremitting pain, how to nurture hope in the midst of bleakness. Together we are experiencing an exchange of grace, each of us offering and receiving understanding and compassion from the other.  This is the blessing of being in true community, where you don't have to pretend everything is alright, and success is defined by the strength of the bonds of love between you.

Who is teaching you what you most need to learn right now?

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