Those Precious Moments


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.


Early days in our caravan


Escaping the Stained Glass

The streets of Sydney hold many secrets and surprises. Breakfast at a café in Hyde Park revived us on a chilly winter morning. I chose the steaming porridge with caramelised banana and walnuts. Served with a strong cappuccino, it was warming and delicious – with a delightful sweet syrupy crunch.

Setting off along the path into Hyde Park, I was surprised by the number of homeless people. The crisp winter air, invigorating for us, our bellies warm and full, was no doubt a living hell for those sleeping rough.

On our way to St Mary’s Cathedral a dazed young man in ragged clothes approached us.

“What’s that around the corner? Tell me what’s around the corner!” he spat at us, looking panicked.

We peered around the corner of the path and saw a council truck parked under a tree.

“It’s a truck, mate” answered my husband in his usual relaxed fashion.

“No it’s not a truck!” shrieked the man “It’s a Brontosaurus!”

Unsure of how to respond, we continued on our way stifling a chuckle, but I felt a pang of sadness for this young man, alone in the park, and most likely alone in the world, plagued by his delusions.

St Mary’s Cathedral took my breath away as it always does, with its majestic architecture and mesmerizing stained glass windows. I’m not Catholic, but I lit a candle and said a prayer anyway, and popped my donation into the little wooden box.

People sat in reverence, gazing at the golden grandeur, the sweeping roofline, the candles, and the depiction of past holy men in the stained-glass windows, dressed in their finery with halos above, lit brightly by the winter sun.

Filled with awe, I tiptoed around this holy place, breathing in the peaceful air, and reflecting on all that we suburban Protestants miss out in our places of worship. Many thriving Protestant churches meet in old warehouses and plain little buildings.  Rather than flowing robes and impressive head-pieces worn by Catholic priests, Protestant ministers often wear jeans and sneakers and are hard to distinguish from the rest of the congregation.

Jesus was depicted in the stained glass, holding an expression of aloof holiness, the Son of God, the saviour of mankind. His face was a mixture of serenity and humility, and perfect in colour and form.  His clothing was regal and he stood amongst the saints, his halo glowing above him.  Jesus in the stained glass bore little resemblance to the Jesus I’ve read about as having “… no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.” (Isaiah 53:2b).

As I gazed at Jesus in the stained glass, I had a strange sensation that his eyes, dark like deep pools of water, were meeting mine with an expression of alarm. As I moved around it was as if those dark eyes were following me, with a plea for escape.

Surely this is what is expected whilst viewing the Mona Lisa, but not Jesus… I shrugged and smiled at my crazy thoughts as we headed for the exit.

After leaving the quiet sanctuary of the Cathedral we walked through the City to the new gardens in Barangaroo and then onto the historic Rocks area. I counted another twenty or so homeless people along the way, most of them lying under their blankets, trying to stay warm.  I noticed a few homeless women, with an odd assortment of treasured belongings gathered around them, making a street corner their home – a far cry from the home they dreamt of having when they were little girls.  I wanted to rescue them all, but the task was too daunting, so I just kept on walking.

Time raced by as we explored all the wonders of Sydney. Our last port of call was the Fortune of War Pub in the Rocks, where a guitarist was just starting to play.  Sipping my chilled Sav Blanc I smiled into the eyes of a dishevelled elderly lady perched on a stool beside me, dressed completely in purple, each item a different shade of my favourite colour.  We connected on our love of purple and no small talk was necessary.

Somebody requested “American Pie” and the guitarist quickly obliged, and we all sang along. I danced as much as my legs would allow me after a day of walking the city.  Somewhere at the back of the crowd I noticed a man with long dark hair and a beard, unshaven and rough-looking, peering through the hazy light.  His eyes were dark and deep and full of kindness, and they followed me, curious but not creepy, like an old friend I’d forgotten.

Conversations paused as the song reached its climax and we all swayed and sang along to the well-worn lines:

And the three men I admire most

The Father, Son and Holy Ghost

They caught the last train for the coast

The day the music died

I turned back to the hazy crowd, but the man with the dark eyes wasn’t there. I wondered where he had gone.

His eyes had looked so familiar – following me, beseeching me without words. Just then I remembered the stained glass window and I was struck with a wonderfully ridiculous thought.

Had he escaped from the confines of the stained glass after all?

Had he left the lofty heights to sit beside those who were hurting out on the streets, to comfort the young man who was afraid of the Brontosaurus?

Was he walking beside us still, a humble servant, undeterred by our flaws and brokenness – at home amongst all the mess of being human?

Be still:

There is no longer any need of comment.

It was a lucky wind

That blew away his halo with his cares.

A lucky sea that drowned his reputation.

— From When in the Soul of the Serene Disciple, by Thomas Merton

Love Worth Suffering For

“Truth is everybody is going to hurt you: you just gotta find the ones worth suffering for.” Bob Marley

Sometimes people drive me crazy.  I remember the elation of buying my first home unit, standing on the leafy balcony off the shabby living area with threadbare carpet and apricot walls, feeling triumphant in the knowledge that I had escaped everyone, and could now live alone, please myself and no longer play the soul-destroying game of trying to please people who could not be pleased.  Perhaps for company I would buy a friendly cat, but that was it – no more people – no, no, no! 

The aloneness was wonderful for a while.  I could sleep in, leave the kitchen messy, play ABBA songs and watch whatever soppy dramas I wanted to on the TV. I’d found my safe place in the world.  But eventually I did crave some company.  Surprisingly, the friendly ginger tom who moved in wasn’t of the feline variety and, looking back, the decision to forego my treasured independence was a wise one.

This Easter I’ve been thinking about what it costs us to love someone, and what it is to suffer for that love.  There are, of course, the toxic and abusive relationships which need to be avoided at all costs, but even our healthy relationships can at times be costly and can cause us pain. 

I was once a young mum staring with besotted eyes at the baby in the crib beside my hospital bed.  I couldn’t take my eyes away from his angelic face.  Then came the sleepless nights, 3am feeding, changing nappies, cleaning up mess, cleaning up more mess, surviving tantrums, running, helping, trying to stay sane.  Yet the love continued to flow.  Even now as I muddle through mothering teenagers, balancing boundaries with acceptance, guidance with support, and often crawling into bed at night feeling like a complete failure, somehow the love still flows.

Love doesn’t always look shiny and perfect.  It doesn’t always feel warm, comfortable or easy. For the heartbroken woman struggling to care for her father with dementia, for the lonely old man living with the cherished faded photo of his late wife on his bedside table, for all who have lost a child, a friend or a parent, the pain is so intense it is often all we can see.  We wonder if it is all worth it. Would it have been better never to have loved in the first place?

Yet no matter what it costs us, I believe love is worth it.   Love calls us, consumes us, expands our hearts just when we think they are breaking, and lifts us up.

Easter reminds me about the reality of love – of a love that gives, suffers pain, perseveres, is patient and puts others above oneself. 

The humble Jewish man, so filled with compassion and love, who led people from their bleak lives and gave them fresh hope, healed the sick, comforted the lost, forgave the sinful and cared for everyone without judgement or limit, was the embodiment of love.  On the face of it, his suffering and pain seemed pointless – to die in pain and humiliation on a cross – to seemingly fail in his quest, and to be betrayed and ridiculed by those he spent his life loving. 

How extraordinary it was that love triumphed over such suffering.  The depth of the suffering couldn’t hold down the height of the love –  it only heightened it and made it stronger. His legacy was the Christian faith and an outpouring of unconditional love and hope for all.

So this Easter, let’s rejoice in love – the type of love worth inviting into our safe places, and the type of love that pain, suffering and even death, can’t hold back. 

Happy Easter!



The Other Anniversary

This year we will celebrate our 20th wedding anniversary. On Friday I sat across a desk from another man who announced that it was our 15 year anniversary and we both marvelled the length of our relationship. I’m afraid this isn’t a juicy confession – this other man is my Endocrinologist who diagnosed my thyroid cancer 15 years ago and has been faithfully monitoring me ever since.

I still remember that bleak afternoon when the telephone rang whilst I was chopping up vegetables, a baby and a toddler at my feet, listening to the strained voice of my doctor asking if I was alone or if my husband was there with me, before dropping the bomb-shell about the lump in my neck. Strangely I remember hanging up and continuing to chop up the carrots which suddenly affected me like onions.

But now those two little ones are teenagers taller than me – one is learning to drive and has a part-time job and the other plays piano and reads ancient history books I don’t understand. I have watched them grow from little boys into young men and what a privilege this has been.  The day I stood over the chopping board, processing the telephone call, the future wasn’t so certain.

The doctor’s office is currently going ‘soft copy’, scanning and shredding their patients’ files, so on Friday the secretary handed me a crisp white envelope containing my important medical documents. When I came home I checked through them, feeling nervous and a bit sick.  There were the first scan results from St George Hospital – fading black ink heaving under the weight of the medical jargon, describing a suspect nodule clinically and without emotion, masking its meaning and making it sound almost harmless.  But then I flicked through the transparent scans showing the offending black spot in my neck.  My stomach clenched into a knot.  That’s all it had been – a black spot on a scan – it looked like a smudge or blemish that needed a damp cloth to be wiped away – but instead it changed my life.

The report I hated seeing the most was the one indicating the black spot was still there six months after surgery and treatment, and I was to go back into hospital for a further large dose of radioactive iodine. I had been quite positive up to this point, but this setback, and a further period of separation from my babies, pushed me over the edge and life at that time seemed very dark indeed.

Eventually the spot disappeared, the scans were filed away neatly in a dusty folder and life returned to normal. Until Friday those words that dictated life or death for me had been forgotten. But remembering them has made me realise that I was one of the fortunate ones. Since then so many dear family and friends, workmates and acquaintances, have suffered the agony of watching black spots return and grow and win the battle.

Perhaps unpleasant times in our life are best forgotten. But when we are accidentally reminded, there is an opportunity to reflect and be thankful – and I don’t mean the thankfulness we feel when someone buys us a coffee or when we find those new shoes we’ve desired so much are on special. Nor do I mean the smug #gratitude type of thankfulness we post on Facebook to show off to our friends… The thankfulness I mean is the true, deep, gut-wrenching type, the kind that leaps for joy at being alive and breathing, and delights at watching our kids grow up and relishes the thought of seeing our hair turn grey, the wrinkles emerge and our upper arms grow wobbly.  This type of thankfulness leaves me teary-eyed and thanking God for every day I’ve had since the black spot vanished – even the difficult and dull days. Every day of the past 15 years has been a miraculous bonus.

So Happy Anniversary, my dear Endocrinologist  – thanks for tracking through this with me – making that awful telephone call to a young mum at dinner time, listening to all my questions, watching me cry and putting up with me every year since then, taking all those tubes of my blood, explaining what those confusing abbreviations mean (so many times), each year listening patiently to my creative excuses about why I haven’t lost weight and for your unwavering belief that I would beat this. It has been quite a journey and I’m ecstatic to still be here.  Fifteen years of bonus time!

The LORD is my strength and my shield; my heart trusts in him, and he helps me. My heart leaps for joy, and with my song I praise him.         Psalm 28:7

Under the Deep Blue Sea


I met Napoleon under the deep blue sea.  After an awkward descent into the icy ocean, I gazed in awe through foggy goggles at the beauty stretching out before me. Coral bowed and swayed as small fish darted here and there, going about their daily routines, the rich colours of the Reef rising in intensity and receding, teasing me to swim further.

The first sign that Napoleon was approaching was a large dark shadow. I stopped swimming and wondered who’d turned down the lights and there he was, adorned in peacock-blue with splendid plump lips reminding me of Mick Jagger on steroids.  He swam swiftly toward me and stopped with his chin level with mine.  Despite his formidable size, I couldn’t resist scratching his impressive chin.  He seemed to enjoy it, floating beside me and pouting his magnificent lips. I had no food to offer, only scratching, but he seemed content with that.

My heart raced and swelled with affection when I was swimming beside Napoleon. I felt privileged to be in the presence of such a beautiful creature and felt strangely connected to him – two creatures swimming together under the deep blue sea.

Travelling for the past week in Northern Queensland highlighted both the goodness and flaws of our fellow travellers. Driving on dusty highways I noticed the driver who would block the overtaking lane and drive along with stubborn ignorance, causing tempers to flare in all the cars backed up and waiting to pass behind. Was he blissfully unaware of his surroundings, or secretly making a selfish stand?

Then there was the sole service station manager in a remote country town. I staggered in after six hours on the road, with a bladder fit to burst. He met my expectant smile with a sour look and told me he did not have a toilet. I could see the ‘public toilet’ sign hanging enticingly right behind him, but he asserted he did not have a toilet.  The lady in the coffee cart outside told me later that he did have a toilet but felt it wasn’t his job to clean it and now it was in such a filthy state he had taken to refusing people entry. She apologised for his behaviour on behalf of the rest of the town and quickly directed me to alternate facilities.

By contrast, there was the elderly lady working in the second-hand shop in another quiet seaside village, who smiled and looked steadily into my eyes. She was stout and honest, with piercing blue eyes surrounded by deep laugh lines. I imagined the fluffy scones she would bake for CWA meetings, and the nourishing beef casseroles she would slow cook for ailing friends. She began telling me she had just returned to work after losing her husband of 60 years only five weeks ago. Her bravery, openness and kind heart warmed me to the core during my purchase of two wine glasses and some board shorts for the princely sum of $6.00.

There was also the couple who rented us a cottage at a cheaper rate just because I ‘sounded nice on the phone’. When I met them I discovered that the lady had cancer and they were about to leave their idyllic cottages they loved so much to live elsewhere while she attempted to recover her health. Their courage and warmth overwhelmed me and I wondered how in the midst of all they were enduring they had found the energy to be kind to me – a complete stranger.

Travelling has a way of shining a light on the differences in people. In our chance encounters, goodness was illuminated and so was selfishness. We stumbled upon such beauty, and also such ugliness.

I’m reminded of one of my favourite books ‘The Great Divorce’ where C S Lewis describes a ghost’s bus trip from hell into heaven. His descriptions of those trapped in hell compared to those walking free in heaven brim with insight.  The ghosts living in hell are pale, grey and transparent, sustained by their selfishness, lies and illusion.  The creatures in heaven are bright, shining, authentic and real.  Even the blades of grass in heaven are so solid and real that they slice through the feet of the insubstantial ghosts, but bend readily under the feet of the heavenly beings.

Many believe that Heaven and Hell are places awaiting us after our death, but perhaps we have already chosen our path and embarked on the journey in this life.

The lady in the second-hand shop, her face shining with love despite her grief, and the kind-hearted man about to move with his wife to find healing, had an unmistakable authenticity about them. In their openness, honesty and love I sensed the very essence of Heaven. Others, by stark contrast, were rude, pretentious and had dark and empty eyes. They appeared trapped in their selfishness and delusion, emitting the oppressive stench of Hell.

But it was Napoleon, with his colour and charm, who captivated me so fully that I was overwhelmed by joy. If heaven could be found here and now, then I’m sure I found it that day with a Maori Wrasse, God’s incredible masterpiece, swimming beside me under the deep blue sea.

“Hell is a state of mind – ye never said a truer word. And every state of mind, left to itself, every shutting up of the creature within the dungeon of its own mind – is, in the end, Hell. But Heaven is not a state of mind. Heaven is reality itself. All that is fully real is Heavenly. For all that can be shaken will be shaken and only the unshakeable remains.”                        C S Lewis “The Great Divorce”

Mother’s Day

African Violet

On Mum’s window sill in her Jaffa orange kitchen sat a colourful array of African violets.  The flowers would thrive with Mum’s attentive care, just the right amount of gentle sunlight and not too much watering.  I remember calling in for a cup of tea after work and seeing the row of pretty little flowers, bright and cheerful and always in bloom.

A couple of years ago I received an African violet as a gift and sat it on my kitchen bench.  The sight of it sitting there reminded me of Mum and her pretty window sill.

I kept the African violet, moving it around from bench to packing box to table as we recently renovated our home and somehow it made it through all the dust and chaos.  However, the little flowers soon disappeared and the leaves lost most of their green hue. When the building works were finally complete the little plant sat forlornly in the corner of our new kitchen bench and I wondered if it was time to throw it away.

Mother’s Day in my house is rich with all the best parts of family life:  breakfast in bed, laughter, gifts and precious time spent together.  I love being a Mum, but despite my thankful heart, I still miss my Mum.  This Mother’s Day was no exception.

Yet something happened this year which brought Mum a little closer.  A tentative shoot emerged from the bedraggled African violet for the first time in so long, and a small purple flower raised its vibrant face to the sun, bright and bold, greeting me on Mother’s Day morning.  Despite its haphazard care, its lack of watering and being abandoned to a dusty corner, the plant bloomed right on cue, a small reminder of another time, of a small kitchen with the Jaffa coloured bench tops and the banter of mother and daughter, chatting over numerous cups of tea.  That little purple flower brought back so many memories, of the complex mother and daughter bond, of laughter and of tears, but mostly the knowledge that I had been loved.

Sometimes it’s the little things that bring the past alive for us – allowing us to reach back and embrace the ones we’ve lost.  More than anything it reminded me that despite all obstacles in its path, even the depths of grief and loss, a mother’s love endures.



Waddles Fights Back

I haven’t always been Kerry Osborne.  Once upon a time I was Kerry Sims.  I’ve also been known by some of my slightly-less-than-charming acquaintances as Dim Sims and Waddles. Those names have a cute and whimsical ring to them these days, when I view them from the comfort of middle age, but back in my school days they felt anything but cute.  They stung, they hurt and left me burning with shame.

“Dim Sims” was flung around in my primary school days – an ‘amusing’ adjustment to my surname which left me feeling like I was stupid.  Ironically, the boys calling me this were regularly failing their tests and getting the cane for their bad behaviour, while I was the “good girl” getting straight A’s.  But the irony was lost on me in those days.

“Waddles” emerged in high school and had a more vicious undertone, as it was a reference to my awkward gait and slight limp due to a then-undiagnosed hip problem.  I remember one day being circled by a group of boys, imitating my walk, thinking it was quite hilarious.  I don’t even remember who they were, but I do remember the burning shame I felt, the tears in my eyes and the heavy feeling of worthlessness.

I was almost forty when I was ready to face my hip problem.  Chronic pain and a concerned partner finally forced me into a corner.  When the orthopaedic surgeon told me that I had severe hip dysplasia from birth and my hip sockets hadn’t formed properly I was shocked.  It was also a gigantic “Aha!” moment when the truth finally hit me. Apparently I had done an amazing job getting around all of those years but now it was time for surgery.  The shame I’d locked inside all of those years, trapped like a big block of ice, began to melt away.  In the café at St Vincent’s Hospital the tears flowed hot and fast, the ice melting at last, as the shame that had shut down parts of my emotions finally washed away. As St Vincent’s Café sees many tears, I was able to cry without interruption.

Thankfully over the years a culture has emerged where bullying is no longer the norm and mentioning it isn’t treated with scorn.  I work these days in a school vigilant in finding ways to empower students and protect them from bullying.

But sadly in our society bullies continue to persist, despite our enlightenment. Bullying may begin in the school-yard but it continues in the workplace and sometimes, sadly, in our homes.  The bullying child may have endearing qualities with his cheeky smile and grubby knees, but the vicious boss who verbally strips staff of their self-worth, or the violent husband who humiliates and damages his wife with his fists and his controlling ways are just plain ugly.

When I was in my twenties I met one of the old school bullies at a party.  My life was full and fabulous and I was about to head off overseas to work and travel the world.  My old classmate was unemployed and just out of hospital for treatment of his mental health and drug dependency issues.  One of the first things he said to me was how sorry he was for the way he had treated me at school. He seemed to be struggling under the heaviness of guilt.  I smiled at his heartfelt apology and told him not to worry.  One look into his eyes told me he had already paid for the way he had lived his life thus far.

Comedian, Jerry Seinfeld  puts it well in his advice to those surviving a break-up:  “The best revenge is living well”.  Now I’m not an advocate for revenge, but there is certainly wisdom in those words.  For a time we may feel belittled by the bullies in our lives, but the scales will turn one day.  The key is to hang in there, and wait and watch.

So if you are being bullied or have been bullied, please take heart.  Don’t believe what you are hearing about yourself. It isn’t true.  Just as I’m not dim, and my disability wasn’t my fault, the same is true of you. If you don’t believe those damning words and hang in there, one day the tide will turn. Walk away, smile to yourself, and believe that you are valuable, gifted and full of potential.

So to my old bullies I say this:  I forgive you all – you were young, silly and thoughtless, and perhaps someone was bullying you too.  But I do believe you reap what you sow and Someone has my back who is far more powerful than all of us.  I pray that you will confess, apologise and take an honest look at yourself, and learn to live a life that brings joy to others rather than despair.

There is no room in this vast and beautiful world for bullies, and there is no room in my heart to listen to them anymore.  Kindness and love are far more interesting.

Don’t hit back; discover beauty in everyone. If you’ve got it in you, get along with everybody. Don’t insist on getting even; that’s not for you to do. “I’ll do the judging,” says God. “I’ll take care of it.”   Romans 12:17-19 (MSG)