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Remembering how to dance

“Some day you will be old enough to start reading fairy tales again.”   C.S. Lewis

The magic of live theatre couldn’t be dimmed, despite the face masks and social distancing, as I sat transfixed at the Belvoir Theatre in Sydney watching a matinee performance of My Brilliant Career.

Beyond the compelling themes and narrative, a picture became etched in my mind of the gifted actress who played two roles: Sybylla’s grandmother and a young girl in the family where Sybylla was sent to nanny.  Both roles were played so convincingly. The actress became the grandmother and then she became the young, playful girl.  Sitting in the front row, I watched with growing fascination, the poised body language and measured tones of the grandmother, the self-assured air, the stiffness of her spine and subtle tilt of the head, and then the incredible transformation when she became the little girl, unselfconscious and playful, blurting out words, head bobbing and body nimble and fidgety, moving around freely, with a heart full of mischief.  How could this actress inhabit these two characters with such authenticity? 

I was reminded of an unforgettable moment I witnessed early last year, whilst visiting a chapel at an aged care facility. Sitting in the back row, I watched two elderly women arriving, shuffling into the chapel clutching their walking frames to steady themselves, steps slow and methodical, until they lowered themselves carefully onto the pew near the front.

Whoever chose the songs that morning went for some lively, old fashioned gospel tunes, with toe-tapping beats and uplifting lyrics.  I held my breath when the two elderly ladies rose to their feet, walking frames abandoned, and began dancing together. They swayed their hips like teenagers, linked arms and swung one another around in circles, smiles radiant and faces alight with joy. It was as if the years had slipped away in that moment and they were young women once again, bursting with energy and without a care in the world.

When the song ended and they returned to their seats, and their frailties, I wondered if I had imagined it all.  It felt as if the earth had tilted on its axis and for a few sacred moments these women were able to shrug off the shackles of age, and embrace their youth and freedom once again.

Can you remember the last time you danced?  I always loved to dance and have fond memories of nights spent at local nightclubs and parties with the girls, shaking our hips to the beat whilst encircling our pile of handbags. Even now, I love nothing more than seeing a good band and hitting the dance floor. The pandemic has weighed heavily on many of us. Dancing has been one of victims, along with life-affirming rituals we have taken for granted such as hugging the people we love.  Some days it has felt impossible to move under the weight of the pandemic’s doom and gloom. The air we breathe has been thick with stress and worries, making us choke.  The uncertainty, the last-minute-cancelled-plans, the separation from loved ones, the long lists of restrictions and rules, sucked all the joy out of life, and left us feeling old and tired. No wonder we have forgotten how to dance and play.

When I visited the theatre, a little light switched on for me. I was reminded of the hopeful child that lives within us all. Once upon a time we all had baby eyes filled with delight. We were fearless and radiated love, looking around us with innocence and wonder, still aglow with the purity of heaven before the grubbiness of the world rubbed off on us and stole our joy.

Perhaps it’s time to let these neglected ‘children’ out to play.  With their help we can learn to dance again. We can find things to laugh about and to realise that we don’t need to know it all and have all the answers.  They can teach us that being grown up isn’t all that it’s cracked up to be.

We can choose to turn our attention to the beauty of nature, music, art and literature, simply getting outside to walk barefoot on soft grass, breathing in fresh air and lying on our backs gazing at the big blue sky. We can give ourselves permission to feed and nurture our souls with creativity and freedom.  The child within helps us remember our dreams long forgotten, and invites us to ignite our hopefulness in a future full of possibilities.

I dare you to spend some time being the childish version of yourself, unpretentious and playful, letting go for a little while at least of all of those disappointments, problems and heaviness, embracing pleasures long forgotten and remembering how good it feels to dance.

Have you ever made a really silly mistake? A couple of years ago we were visiting our Aunt who was suffering health issues and struggling with a kitchen in disarray after it had been refurbished. I was in helpful mode, and offered to make everyone a cup of tea. A cup of tea usually fixes everything. Our Aunt’s friend was also visiting, armed with gifts of homemade scones and flowers, so I included her in the tea order, and sprung into action.

I’ll never forget the feeling of shock when my Aunt’s friend took a sip of her tea and then swiftly spat it out all over her lap. I had checked that the milk was in date, and the teabag was fresh.

I think it has salt in it” the poor lady managed to utter when she composed herself, and the penny dropped that the glass container next to the teabags didn’t contain sugar after all… How embarrassing!

It’s amazing how one teaspoon of the wrong substance can ruin what had been a pleasant morning tea.

Scrolling through Facebook this morning, I read that a man was the victim of a road rage incident in our suburb last night and ended up in hospital with serious head injuries. Travelling along the highway at around 9pm, he was hunted down by a man in a van and then assaulted in a service station. Perhaps the victim had cut him off, driven too slowly or remained in the right lane on the highway for too long. Or perhaps he had done nothing at all. I certainly can’t think of any reason to justify such violence and hatred toward a complete stranger.

Last week came the heartbreaking news of a beautiful young woman murdered by her ex-partner in a nearby suburb. Domestic violence raised its ugly head once again, awakening many of us from our comfortable lives and reminding us of the limitations of our justice system and the lack of insight into the nightmares some people face. How can it be that such unfathomable and disturbing brutality exists in the human psyche?

What motivates these senseless acts of violence? Is it the need to dominate another person and control them? Is it a deep well of anger, the pain of rejection and childhood hurt never healed that erupt and can’t be contained? Will the man who murdered his former partner one day come face to face with the wretched state of his heart and see the true horror of the damage he has inflicted?

Reflecting on these disturbing events over my coffee this morning, I remember that embarrassing ‘salt in the tea’ incident and the metaphor it represents.  We all make mistakes, have misunderstandings, hurt others without intending to, and inadvertently spoon salt into tea when our intention was to add sugar. Most of us, when we realise our mistake, apologise and carefully check that we have indeed got the sugar bowl the next time we offer someone a cup of tea. But for some, there is the tendency to continue dishing out the salt. An initial lack of judgment grows into a habit and the harm increases. There seems to be a point that is crossed before humans descend into an abyss of hate. The teaspoon of salt turns to poison; annoyance becomes rage; and on and on it goes.

As much as I hate admitting I’ve made a mistake, I’m learning to sit with the burning shame and allow it to sink in deep. Although I dislike the process, I acknowledge my mistake, take responsibility for it and plan what to do next time I’m in the same situation. How can I react in a better way? Do I need help to get through this? How do I reverse this mindset so instead of choking friends and family with salt, I can offer them the sweetness of sugar instead?

These tragic stories are reminders of how profound our influence is on the people around us, even the strangers we pass on the street. We have the power to ruin a life in a fit of rage, or to restore hope with a kind word or helpful act. What a wondrous thing it is to hold such power in our hands, to have the opportunity to act with love instead of hate, and be a luminous light in a world that is so full of dark fearful shadows.

” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. “ Romans 12:21

The Power of Punctuation

Purple pot

The wind feels icy against my skin this morning. As we head off for a drive in the country, I know I will soon be searching for a warm, cozy café, and avoiding standing at look-outs for more than a few breathless moments.

On the way home we drop into a garden nursery and I’m drawn to a small pot of purple flowers – defiantly cheerful despite the grey sky and spine-chilling breeze. I lift the pot and gaze into the rich mixture of purple hues, a delicious promise of Spring on this chilly morning. The flowers dance in the breeze, telling me that Spring is just around the corner, even though it feels like Winter is here to stay.

I discovered a wonderful analogy in a book recently, comparing the way we think and react to the use punctuation in a sentence. Some of us have the tendency to think and react dramatically, regularly punctuated by exclamation points, especially during difficult times. The media love the use of exclamation points in their broadcasts. Breaking news! 10,000 dead! No travel until 2025! The economy plummets!

I’m guilty of using exclamation points too. Recently, I injured my lower back and the road to recovery has been slow and painful. Many days I wake up with all my self-talk flanked by exclamation points. I can’t get out of bed! I’m never going to live normally again! I can’t do this! My life is over!

The punctuation analogy I was reading about went on to suggest changing the exclamation points in our thinking to commas. This allows for the addition of ‘ands’ and ‘buts’, and for the text to flow. The comma opens the door to possibilities the exclamation point slams shut. I can’t get out of bed, but I’ll do a few stretches and then I’ll slowly get up, I’ll walk gently, be kind to myself, and by lunchtime I’ll be walking around relatively pain free. Oh, how I love those commas.

Whether it’s living through a miserably cold winter, recovering from a painful injury or enduring the agony of grief, consider how you punctuate your self-talk. Keeping your sentences long, with lots of commas, plenty of ‘ands’ and ‘buts’, allows for possibilities to creep in and for hope to emerge. Save your exclamation points for your little celebrations and achievements along the way.  I did it! I got out of bed! I walked to the park!  Winter won’t last forever! Spring is coming!

The pot of purple flowers is now brightening my living room, heralding in Spring. Warmer, sunnier days are on their way, just as healing and hope will eventually follow pain and despair. I allow my heart to trust and rest, content in the knowledge that this isn’t a catastrophe, this too shall pass. This hiccup is just another line in a sentence, another passing chapter in a long story, written by a faithful and loving God.

Holding Onto Hope

How do we hold onto hope when life seems hopeless? Before 2020, I would have considered the idea of a worldwide pandemic a crazy joke. But here we are on the roller coaster ride that is COVID-19. On a good day, I wonder what all the fuss is about. I live in a comfortable home with lots of books to read and Netflix to watch. We are no longer in hard lockdown, just the twilight zone of social distancing, dancing around one another in the supermarket, learning how to wear a face mask with confidence whilst carrying that unsettling sense of worry around with us. On a bad day, depression creeps in like an unwanted guest, and life feels very dark indeed. My heart goes out to our elderly locked in aged care facilities and their families, unable to visit and comfort them, and those caught in the hell of domestic violence. COVID has added layers of complexity and anxiety to everything.

If you’ve had kids or spent time looking after kids, you’ll be aware of the toddler tantrum. Tantrums often erupt in the most inconvenient places, usually in public places when surrounded by perfect-looking people. When my boys had tantrums, the only way I could calm them was by distraction.  Whilst they were screaming in disgust about needing that toy or that chocolate bar, I would shove something interesting at them, like my jingling car keys, or announce that there was a big monster truck outside, and quick we’d better go and see it. By the time we got outside they had usually forgotten all about their meltdown. In these COVID times, I’ve noticed that tantrums aren’t confined to children. Adults are melting down too and I’ve witnessed a few spectacular tantrums in supermarkets and in online forums. I get it. Normal life has been stripped away, and we don’t know if ‘normal’ will ever return. To make it worse, the goal-posts keep shifting, and even the most calm and collected amongst us are starting to show a few cracks.

Lately when I feel the panic rising, rather than succumbing to the tantrum, I have been using the old distraction method on myself. I force myself to look away from the despair and think about or look at something I love. On Monday, I visited a favourite spot at a local beach and sat on a bench, breathing the cool salty air, watching a few brave souls swim in the wide blue ocean. It reminded me of the times I’ve swum there on carefree summer afternoons, and the times I holidayed by the sea in my caravan, drinking in the refreshment. Later, I gazed at photos of the beach and they took me back to that place of peace, smelling the salty air, feeling my body come back to life. I couldn’t swim today, but I will swim in the ocean again. I’ll dive right in and it will be bliss.

Werri Beach 056

On Thursday, when the miseries came visiting again, I bought myself a takeaway cappuccino and sat quietly in my car beside a tree-lined park, with no distractions, sipping it slowly, smelling the rich aroma. I pictured some of my favourite cafes around Sydney and further afield, those warm and cozy spaces, and my favourite café companions, eyes twinkling and laughter igniting the air around us with the thrill of connection, as three hours would slip by like three minutes. I’ll be doing that again, with old friends and new, and enjoying every moment. Coffee and friendship are here to stay.

Coffee

Today I’m lost in dreams of travelling, the anticipation of planning a trip and the thrill of discovering new places. Each town and country holds an essence of its own and seems to awaken a part of our consciousness which was asleep before the discovery. Parts of my heart are invested in beautiful countries now suffering the ravages of this dreadful virus. But even though right now our borders are closed, one day they will re-open and we will travel again. We’ll jump on planes and fly off on our adventures to a world re-awakening to joy after so much pain. Imagine the fun we’ll have!

Gondola Ride in Venice

So when a tantrum is threatening, I will use these three to distract myself: the ocean, coffee and travelling, three sources of delight and nourishment. Underpinning it all is a faith that nothing ever stays the same and, as the saying goes, ‘this too shall pass’. Hope is the light that will always lead us forward.

What are your three distractions?

Surely there is a future, and your hope will not be cut off.

Proverbs 23:18

How do you help someone in pain? What helps?  What doesn’t?

Over the past few weeks I’ve experienced both intense physical pain and the deep emotional pain of grief. The two came at once and, oh, what a miserable, depressed soul I have been.

My writer-self stepped in today, with the bright idea of recording what I’ve been craving from others during this difficult time. I wrote this list as a ‘note to self’ for brighter times, to remind myself of how it feels to be in pain and how I might genuinely help others. Different people, no doubt, crave different things, but being mindful of our own needs is a good place to start. As you read my thoughts, you might think about what helps you and make your own list.

I wrote five words describing what has helped me. I’m thankful for my family and friends who inspired this list with their thoughtfulness. After scribbling the words in my journal, I was amused to see that they spelt the word ‘H.E.L.P.S’:

            Honesty

            Equality

            Listening

            Presence

            Simple Kindness

Here is what H.E.L.P.S (and what doesn’t) when I’m feeling down and out:

 

White rose

 

HONESTY

There’s something about being in pain that intensifies my ability to sniff out people’s motives. I can sense an honest and genuine heart from a mile away. Even a brief text message or a smile from someone who really cares is so uplifting. I can also sniff out from miles away a ‘do-gooder’ who is ticking off their ‘to-do list of good deeds’ and considers me pitiful enough for a tick.  When I’m in a dark place, those motivated by a need to look good in front of others, or to earn tickets to heaven, are annoying at best and soul-destroying at worst.  If you honestly wish to help someone and genuinely care about them, do what you can and it will help. If your motivation is based on building up your own self-image, then perhaps consider saving other worthy recipients such as the environment or the whales.

 

EQUALITY

Chronic pain and depression don’t do a lot to enhance self-confidence. Genuine help is exchanged between those who consider themselves equals. Often it is people who have suffered great pain themselves who are able to offer the most enriching help. When I’m in pain, I want to be around these people. They approach me as an equal and know that at any moment the tables could turn and they could be the one receiving help. When charity is offered by a person who pities you and feels superior, their charity just intensifies the pain.  Whether you are suffering from a physical, mental or emotional issue, being around someone with a patronising or smug attitude feels like rubbing salt into a wound.  If you think you are better than the person you are trying to help, do them a favour and leave them alone.

 

LISTENING

The art of listening is a rare and valuable quality. I remember an encounter I had many years ago when I was battling cancer. After surgery and one round of treatment, I was supposed to be okay.  Instead, I received the bleak news that I had to go back to hospital for another round of treatment.  On my way home from the hospital, trying to absorb this shock, I happened to run into an acquaintance, a church leader, in the supermarket carpark. He asked how I was and, in my stunned state, I blurted out that I was feeling very depressed because I had to leave my two young sons and go into hospital again.  I still remember his peculiar response. He didn’t answer me, turned away and literally ran away across the carpark.  The encounter was so comical I remember laughing out loud, but it was also gut wrenchingly hurtful.  When we are suffering, we long for someone to listen to us. What we say may be confronting, boring or sad to hear, but the gift of listening is priceless.  Advice is rarely helpful and often the less said the better. At my lowest point, I’ve longed for someone to care enough to sit quietly and listen, to resist the urge to try to fix the situation and definitely not to run in the opposite direction.

 

PRESENCE

There are times, particularly when someone is seriously ill or depressed, when simply being present is enough. No words or actions are necessary, it is enough just be there. When my Mum was suffering from cancer, she couldn’t speak for quite some time, and I would sit quietly with her and hold her hand, read to her or just allow the silence to be.  I felt I was offering her very little, but she would smile and look content and many of our visits continued this way as her illness progressed. Sometimes our presence can be shared via technology, through regular text messages or telephone calls.  Following up is important too. I have appreciated the messages I’ve received after I’ve seen a doctor or attended for an X-ray.  Knowing that someone is thinking of me and sharing the gift of their presence is so comforting and sustaining.

 

SIMPLE KINDNESS

Last, but not least, if you want to truly help others, remember you can never be too kind. If your kindness comes from a place of honesty and equality, even the simplest of gestures will bring comfort and healing. Over the past few weeks, this is what I’ve longed for the most and appreciated so much from my family and friends. Keeping it simple is the key. Simple kindness in action is so much more valuable than grandiose ideas you never get around to doing. Some of the most moving acts of kindness I’ve witnessed don’t necessarily cost money or take much time. Pick some daisies from your garden for your neighbour who is grieving for her husband. Write a text message to your friend who is depressed, telling them how much you love her. Pick up some groceries and a newspaper for your uncle who has broken his leg.  Simple, genuine kindness is the best medicine for every type of pain.  It may not take the pain away, but it shifts the isolation and the sense of hopelessness.  Kindness brings light into dark places, and shows us that we’re not alone.  It is one of God’s most powerful weapons against despair. If you have the passion to be kind, do it generously and sincerely, whenever you can, to whomever you can, in whatever way you can.  You can never be too kind.

 

Kindness is the language which the deaf can hear and the blind can see  –  Mark Twain

Motherhood for Misfits

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Blenheim Beach, New South Wales south coast, 2005

I’m so grateful I didn’t listen to the hip surgeon advising me never to have children. With my congenital hip problem, he told me, it would be too painful and I wouldn’t be able to pick them up or chase them around.

Sure, there were times when my two sons, born only 13 months apart, would dash off in different directions and I couldn’t chase them. Thankfully, we made it through those times and thankfully they survived. My hips were troublesome and painful and difficult, but I don’t regret one day of raising the boys. The love I felt for them somehow balanced out the pain until I found a surgeon who possessed a glass-half-full attitude, and fixed my hips for me.

It would have been nice to be the sort of mother who ran marathons and dragged my boys out surfing or mountain climbing. I was usually the mother sitting on the chair in the park rather than dancing around with my kids. I failed them miserably in the active lifestyle department.

My own Mum was brilliant with the boys when they were little. She would come to the park with us and run around with them, laughing wildly and sliding down the slippery dips with them. I would watch from my seat in wonder at the way a grandmother could engage with her grandchildren. It was as if the three of them were on a special wavelength reserved for grandparents and grandchildren and I was the frowning, sensible one, sitting on the park bench, telling them when it was time to go home. Mum would usually be the first one to say “Ohhh, not yet!”

Despite this happy memory, my relationship with Mum certainly wasn’t always Hallmark-card perfect. It was often fraught with disagreements and struggles. Only in her final years did we reach a place of peace and understanding.

When you are a Mum you realize the impossibility of being a perfect Mum. We are all human and flawed and we get things wrong. Yesterday I stumbled upon the genealogy of Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew.  I am not a theologian and I’m not a fan of long genealogies full of ‘begats and begats’, but for some reason I sat and read it. I noticed that in the long list of men named there were only five women featuring in the list:  Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, ‘the wife of Uriah’ and Mary.  Why just these women? Mary I can understand, but what about the others?

It was interesting to read that Tamar was widowed by two brothers and then went on to trick her father-in-law into marrying her by pretending to be a prostitute; Rahab actually was a prostitute who showed immense bravery and strength of character; Ruth was a widow who showed great loyalty;  ‘the wife of Uriah’ was Bathsheba (I think) who had an affair with King David whilst Uriah her husband was sent off by David to be killed at war and then, of course, there is Mary who, despite her innocence, was considered immoral by many at the time as she carried a child out of wedlock.

I love that these women made it into Matthew’s list. I love that some of them made questionable choices, lived immoral lives and suffered bereavement, loss and shame, but rose up beyond their difficult circumstances and played unique roles in history leading to the birth of Jesus. I love that Rahab the prostitute had such a brave and loving heart, breaking through all of the assumptions and stereotypes she must have carried.

These women reminded me too that motherhood is a wondrous mix of contradictions – immense love and strength mixed in with vulnerability and character flaws. A good Mum doesn’t have to be perfect. Her calling is to love her kids wholeheartedly, to sometimes get it right and sometimes get it wrong, to fall down but to get up again, and at times to be willing to say she’s sorry…

Above all else, a mother’s love is a love that’s worth every sacrifice she is called to make along the way.

The White Butterfly

Everywhere I turn at the moment I find articles, pod-casts, news reports, political updates, conspiracy theories, jokes and songs about the coronavirus. Some are informative, some are moving, some are clever, some are tragic and some are funny. All of them, together, are a bit overwhelming. Self-isolation may be quiet in one sense, but in another sense it is noisy, brimming with information and opinions.

Over Easter, I sat outside on our lounge, trying to quieten my thoughts and soak in the warm sunshine. A pandemic is something new for all of us. It’s difficult to grasp the immensity of the loss of life, the impact on our livelihoods and the uncertainty of the future.

Deep in reflection, I noticed a delicate white butterfly, wings shimmering in the sunlight, darting playfully around our garden. After performing an elegant loop-the-loop, the butterfly headed straight toward me and landed gently right beside me on the lounge. Its quivering wings were etched in soft grey and I gasped with joy at its unexpected visit. Then, as quickly as it appeared, it rose into the air again, graceful as a ballerina, soaring skyward and over the fence, a symphony of beauty and freedom.

When I look back at Easter, I try to recall the thoughtful words I read in an article I enjoyed and the insights shared in some excellent sermons I watched via “online church”, but all the details now evade me.  My mind is blank. The only thing I can remember is the white butterfly. Watching it sit beside me, sharing a few precious moments, I was reminded of the promise of better times. As it flew away, I felt a surge of hopefulness and a lightness in my spirit. One day this challenging season will be over and we will be free again to explore the world together.

In the words of Khalil Gibran, “sadness is but a wall between two gardens“. The butterfly was like a divine messenger in this time of sadness, reminding me that before too long we will all be back in the garden of life.

Love and Resilience

During the gap between the bushfires and the coronavirus pandemic hitting Australia, we visited a local nursery and selected some plants for a new garden in our backyard. As we are not gifted gardeners, we chose the plant the assistant described as “fast growing and impossible to kill”. Thankfully, it was also the plant I liked the most, its shiny olive leaves reaching hopefully towards the sun, adorned with white wispy flowers and rich crimson berries.

I loved the name too – a native Lilly Pilly known as ‘Resilience’, derived from the Latin name “Syzygium Australe”. Syzygium is from the Greek word Syzygos meaning joined or ‘yoked together’ and Australe meaning Southern.

Not long after we planted our new Lilly Pilly babies, strong winds whipped up and in the evening I saw the little plants bent over, bowing down to the grass, their fragile stems unable to hold them up against the force of the wind gusts.

The next morning I expected to find them broken and uprooted, however, there they were, upright and perky, reaching up to the sky again. I wondered if I’d imagined their dishevelled state of the night before. Living up to their name perfectly, the Resilience plants had bounced back.

The word ‘resilience’ is often over-used in educational marketing and self-help tweets, presented as something we can learn or adopt if we put in enough effort. When I Google ‘resilience’ I find that it means:

1.  the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties; toughness; and
2.  the ability of a substance or object to spring back into shape; elasticity.

This certainly describes our new plants, but how does it apply to me?  How do I develop this characteristic, particularly when facing loss, pain and pandemics?   I suspect there is more to it than just adopting a self confident veneer or a tough exterior.

Further Googling uncovered a talk given by Rev Graham Long, of the Wayside Chapel in Sydney, about resilience.   I encourage you to watch it here:  https://youtu.be/xmyWn57fAWY

Working with the homeless on the streets of Kings Cross, and also surviving his own personal tragedy, I consider Rev Long well qualified to talk about resilience.

His words inspire and intrigue me. Resilience, he describes, isn’t a personal quality, but it is a gift others will give you, and “there is no end to the resilience available to you because it’s not deposited in you but it’s for you if you want it.” In recovering from his own emotional trauma, he found strength in helping others and, amazingly, received the priceless gifts of love and resilience in the process.

I find it comforting to consider that resilience isn’t a personal quality we are born with or can achieve in some way by our own accomplishments. Even those of us who are feeling weak, ill-prepared, fearful, depressed or desperate, still have hope. It seems that resilience flows from taking that first step. We start to bounce back after we fall down and reach out our hand to someone to help us. Miraculously, we find a way to bounce back. As a result we are empowered to reach out to help others and the miracle continues.

The big lesson here is that resilience is linked to vulnerability. It isn’t about acting tough or strong at all. In helping those we consider to be vulnerable we must remember that we too are vulnerable.  I believe that helping others from a position of superiority isn’t helping them at all. When we are vulnerable we are able to bend and bounce back into shape. When we are pretending to be strong, we are brittle and liable to break.

Since the coronavirus has hijacked our lives, I feel like I’m trying to walk on marbles. The ground keeps shifting and I can’t find my footing. It’s as if the earth has shifted on its axis and everything I thought was solid and secure must be reassessed. It’s time to find a new perspective.

All the panic, loss, disruption and isolation of living through this pandemic bring up questions. I’m looking at many parts of my life, as if I’ve just woken from years of sleep walking. How much time did I invest every day in unnecessary things, and how often did I overlook the truly important aspects of life because I was too busy with the trivial? How often did I rush around like a mad woman until I was utterly exhausted, completing task after task and never questioning why.

The true value of relationships, family and community are flashing at me like neon signs, as is the growing realisation of the ways I’ve wasted time and energy on meaningless pursuits.

My faith in God is being stripped back to its basics too. All the trimmings of religion suddenly look so unnecessary. Church politics, spiritual pride and self-promotion which sometimes sadly infiltrate organised religion now look like frills, false-eyelashes and stilettos to a woman faced with climbing a mountain: unnecessary, uncomfortable and easy to live without.

Without the distraction of the trimmings, I can catch my breath and gaze in awe at what is unquestionably real in my faith. Beneath all of the rubbish, remains something very beautiful: the priceless diamond of  unconditional love.

One certainty that doesn’t shift or change is the purity of love – our love for each other, our love for our planet and our love for ourselves. It’s the love you felt as a child, before disappointment, pain and deceit stole your innocence away.

Resilience, I’m discovering, is linked to love – the love we offer other people and the love we accept from them. Over-arching all of this, is the love of God, that pure, unconditional, healing and freeing love which is available to all of us. Even when no-one is around to lift you up when you fall, His loving presence is always there. The One who knit it all into being can be trusted now to bring us through this uncertain and frightening time.

On my morning walk today I saw an enormous tree partially blocking the path, several metres tall and almost as wide as it is high. It is thriving. On closer inspection, I recognised the familiar waxy olive leaves, the wispy white flowers and the crimson berries. It seems impossible that our small plants could one day grow as tall as this tree but there it is in front of me. Resilience.

Turning the Tide

Bikini Girl

Driving can reveal a lot about a person. On my way home from work I turn left onto a major road. It’s an intersection that requires patience, as the major road is congested and three lanes of traffic are travelling at speed.

Every few days whilst sitting waiting to turn left, a four wheel drive or truck will come along and stop beside me, waiting to turn right. I drive a sedan and the larger vehicle completely blocks my vision of the oncoming traffic and I’m forced to wait until this vehicle turns right.

Sometimes whilst waiting in this predicament, the driver in the car behind will beep their horn impatiently. In my rear vision mirror I see a red angry face glaring at me as if the weight of the world is resting on getting around this corner.

Last week I sat next to a van, all vision blocked, and a red-faced beeper started his usual routine. I was feeling weary this afternoon and for a fleeting moment I went to press my accelerator, thinking idly: “Well surely the road must be clear if he’s making such a fuss…”

A split second later a school bus swept by in the gutter lane, a bus which would have wiped me out should I have heeded the promptings of Mr Red Face, in all of his wisdom.

The white hot rage that shot up my back and down my arms surprised me. I know full well that the world is littered with a generous sprinkling of ignorant people, walking to the beat of their own agendas with little thought for those around them, but the idea that this gentleman was quite happy to bully me under the bus so he could get home a few minutes earlier, really made me cranky.

I considered how to respond. I could put my car into reverse, or hesitate in my turn just a little longer than I really needed to, hoping to REALLY annoy him. I also had the wild idea of waving an object out of my window to intimidate him. All I had with me was a large umbrella which was the enticingly appropriate size to smack him over the head with. It was only the thought of the headlines that may follow – the road-rage incident involving an out-of-control, middle aged woman armed with an umbrella – that stopped me.

Instead, I gazed at the mini solar-powered lady who dances on my dashboard in her pink bikini, jiggling her ample hips in wonderful nonchalance, and turned up my Midnight Oil CD louder than the beeping horn.

Mr Red Face didn’t even blink as the bus rushed by, along with the endless stream of traffic that followed. He continued to beep, glare and mouth words at me which I’m sure would have made a sailor blush. Despite my rising anger, I forced myself to smile back at him until my mouth hurt, and did a few Peter Garrett dance moves (difficult whilst sitting down) possibly making him question if I was having a seizure.

I wondered what would happen if I were to meet this man in a cafe waiting in a queue to buy a coffee. Would he grow red in the face, rant, rave and swear at me if I hesitated for a moment, considering if I wanted a cappuccino or a latte, skim or full cream milk? Would he go berserk if I were to change my mind altogether and go for a decaf? Somehow I doubt it. There is something about getting behind the wheel which opens the door to anonymity and an ugly attitude of self-entitlement, which we usually neatly pack away when meeting people face to face.

Is it possible to slip into a mindset of getting from A to B and forget that the other cars actually contain real, living, breathing, feeling people? Do we block out the fact that sitting in the other vehicle is someone like our grandmother, our son, our partner or our best friend?

I was trembling after Mr Red Face almost sent me under the bus. The music couldn’t calm me and my hands were shaking when I finally drove away.  All I could think of to remedy the situation was showing kindness to others, wherever I could. As I drove home, I threw out my little scraps of generosity along the way, feeling like Hansel chucking pieces of bread along the forest path, knowing they may be blown away or eaten by wild animals, but hoping that they would somehow mark the way. I let a frazzled red P Plater pull out in front of me, I slowed down so an elderly gentleman could gingerly pull out of a driveway and I smiled at a frightened-looking school kid at the crossing.  Gradually my trembling stopped and peace started to seep back in.  I wasn’t trying to be nice; I was trying to turn the tide.

Turning the tide requires a certain measure of determination and arrogance – a resolve to go against the tide of natural human behaviour. Instead of being tied up in knots by anger, resentment and bitterness, we calmly hand our coat to our enemy and offer to buy him dinner. At first it may feel like weakness. It is only when the tide is carrying you in the other direction, away from hate and toward love, that you feel the power, strength and freedom of its force.  In every little kindness we show, in every resistance to bullying and in all of those generous, thoughtful and creative words and actions, we are turning the tide. When we continue pushing in this direction, and others join us, the momentum starts to carry us along.

One remarkable example of turning the tide is the bravery of Bruce and Denise Morcombe, an Australian couple who tragically lost their son when he was abducted and murdered by a paedophile in December 2003. It would have been quite understandable if this couple locked their door and never wished to face the world again, but instead they have created a foundation aimed at child safety education and the support of victims of crime. Their vision statement simply, and powerfully, says: “Today we build a future where children are free from harm and abuse”. They often appear on our television screens, standing stoically beside other victims of gut-wrenching crime, ordinary people but extraordinary in their strength and compassion. Despite their agony of loss they aren’t drowning. They are turning the tide.

Yesterday while I was waiting to turn left at the intersection, an SUV crept up on my right, blocking my vision. I sighed and reached down to turn up the music and when I looked up I gasped as I saw a smiling young tradesman reversing his SUV back a metre or so, allowing me to see the oncoming traffic. Along came the school bus, hurtling along in the gutter lane…  I felt so overwhelmed by this thoughtful gesture, I almost burst into tears.  As my beach girl on the dash wiggled her hips in joyful abandon, I smiled back at this kind-hearted driver, waited until it was safe, and turned the corner.

Do not let evil defeat you; instead, conquer evil with good.  Romans 12:21

Those Precious Moments

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Last night I sat on the lounge, sipping a cheap and cheerful merlot, listening as my husband and son played guitar. They went from Lennon to Bowie to the Rolling Stones, without pause, and things were sounding good. As I sipped, listened, tapped my toes and giggled at their unique interpretations, it occurred to me that this was one of those precious moments.  Here we were, all together, not doing anything Facebook-Post-Worthy on a Saturday night, but wrapped up in the very best that ordinary can offer – connection, love and the freedom just to be ourselves.

Lately I’ve been getting bolder in letting go of organising and planning. An empty diary no longer makes me anxious.  Perhaps the chill of winter is to blame, but allowing life to unfold gently, without careful planning or too much thinking ahead, allows the good times to flow freely and unexpectedly.

When I look back, it is the simple times that hold the best memories.  When I remember my Dad, I treasure the memory of Sunday nights on the lounge watching the Six Million Dollar Man and crunching Violet Crumble bars together.  The overseas trips and the special celebrations were highlights too, but they are hazy in my memory, not in sharp focus like those simple evenings watching the television, overindulging on honeycomb and chocolate and our admiration for Steve Austin.

Mum never ate chocolate and wasn’t impressed by Steve Austin, but I remember our evening strolls along suburban streets, discussing the days events or standing in the kitchen chopping vegetables.  When I’m having a rough day, I still miss calling in for a cup of tea and a much-needed dose of the comfort of home.

I would love to go back to some of those precious moments – re-live them and drink in their fullness. The saddest lesson in growing older is realising how often we wish these moments away, always looking to the next exciting adventure ahead, blind to what we have.  It takes courage to hit pause and stop striving to give our eyes time to adjust and focus on what is happening right now.

It won’t be long now until our much-loved on-site caravan on the South Coast is gone. The charming old caravans are soon to be removed to make way for something shinier and new.  For several decades these old vans have stood steadfastly by the sea, a sanctuary of rest and a gateway to fun for many. Families arrive pale and exhausted from the chaos of the city, to find refreshment in the sunshine and salty air. The simplicity of this life by the sea works a special magic.  It is a place where precious moments abound, where life slows to a speed where our weary eyes are opened to see the beauty of the people in front of us, and the magnificence of the natural world around us.

Losing our van reminds me of what it is to lose these precious moments. It is the deepest of griefs. It is a sweeping away of what I value most in this world – the connection to one another, the simple life of family and genuine friends, and the yearning I have for the natural world.  It is all being swept away for redevelopment, for modern dwellings that will only separate us – for a superficial and disposable holiday designed for people passing through.

When I was a child I would play a game of collecting precious moments.  I would pretend that I had a super power that enabled me to gather the special moments, the time spent with family, friends and pets, and even the best bits of my favourite games, and preserve them for eternity.  Carefully I would collect moments – from cuddling the grey purring cat I adored to skipping in the sand along the gloriously unspoilt beach we visited on holidays. I imagined how much fun it would be at the end of my life to go back and revisit all of these precious moments, filled to the brim with my favourite people, pets and places, preserved perfectly and replayed in technicolour.

I like to imagine that somewhere within this childish fantasy is a shadow of truth and that the day will come when we will all be reunited with our precious moments, the people we’ve loved, the places we miss and the times that have passed us by.  If I try to imagine what heaven will be like, I see a place where we find those precious moments, lovingly collected and preserved, and make the joyous discovery that they were never lost at all.

SIMCAV

Early days in our caravan