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Posts Tagged ‘hope’

Imagine what life would be like without worry.   I remember that heady freedom I felt as a child  riding in the car with the windows down, long before child restraints became mandatory, my nose stuck out the window smelling the freshly cut grass, the wind rushing through my hair and a big smile on my face, ready for anything.

I thought that by this stage in life I would have worry all figured out.  I recall jumping onto a plane as a young woman full of nothing but excitement, anticipation and wondering whether I’d order a red or white wine once we took off.  I loved listening to Midnight Oil and Angels songs throbbing on my big old Walkman as the plane soured into the air. Taking off was my favourite part of the trip – so thrilling to feel the plane’s  power, energy and oomph as we climbed into the big blue sky.

These days flying is a very different matter.  The loud rock songs and delicious beverage decisions have vanished from my mind, and in their place are whispers of:  that guy in front of us looks a bit shifty – he could be a terrorist;  what was that grinding noise in the plane’s engine;  what if my son vomits all over the smart-looking woman next to him; my ankles are feeling puffy – I hope it’s not deep vein thrombosis;  did I switch off the iron before leaving the house?  And on and on it goes, relentless and immobilising.  Tapping my toes to Peter and Doc has become an exquisite and bittersweet memory.

Worry can act as a giant eraser, rubbing all the colour and beauty out of life.  I noticed this at the end of the school holidays when I visited a local café with my sons for breakfast.  After a long summer holiday I was feeling unusually relaxed and virtually worry-free.   We sat at the same table as last time – the very first day of the holidays – and I was amazed at the striking coloured graffiti on the wall in front of me.  I commented to my sons and one responded with: “It’s been there all along Mum”.  I disagreed as I’d never seen it before…  So when the waitress came along laden with cappuccino and milkshakes I told her how much I loved the new artwork.  “Oh, that was done before we opened the Café, it’s been there for quite a  while…”  Last time I was in the café I was so tired, stressed and full of anxiety that I didn’t even see all of this colour, movement and artistic expression, right in front of me!  It was an eerie moment of self awareness.  My worry was robbing me of all the best bits in life – the beautiful, special and the meaningful bits.

Yet when I reflect on the times I’ve had to face something really challenging, such as a medical diagnosis that could be fatal, I realise that hiding beneath the heavy layers of shock and despair was a tiny glimmer of hope.  Whether it was a line in a song on the radio,  a conversation overheard in the hospital lift, or simply the uplifting presence of a friend by my side – I caught a little glimpse of light that ignited something in my spirit. I knew I would get through this dark valley – there was a way through and a wellspring to sustain me.  Surely, this little glimmer can be ignited now too, when worry springs up uninvited like a weed threatening to strangle all the joy and colour out of life.

Big problems aren’t always solved with big solutions.  Do you know that a mustard seed is only 1-2 mm in diameter?  A wise man once said if we have faith the size of a mustard seed we can move a mountain. It sounds like a crazy concept, I know, but there’s something in it.

So when those worrying whispers start up in my mind I look for the mustard seed of faith, wrapped in whispers of:   all will be well, you will get through this, things will get better – nothing stays the same, God loves you and nothing can separate you from his love, nothing is impossible, you have a purpose, don’t give up, never give up, just put one foot in front of the other and keep on going…

Seeds have an uncanny knack of taking root and growing.  If you dare to have that first little bit of faith and take a look a few years later, you realise that the seed has taken root and it’s growing taller, green shoots becoming stems and branches.  I’ve heard that in ideal conditions a mustard tree can grow to 3-5 metres tall.  Pretty impressive for a 1-2 mm seed.

So never underestimate small beginnings.  The wise man who told this story knew exactly what he was talking about.  He faced insurmountable challenges of his own with remarkable courage and grace.  Moving mountains seems easy compared with what this wise man actually did.  He transformed sickness into health, despair into hope, pain into comfort, oppression into freedom, prejudice and hate into compassion and love, and ultimately, life victorious over death.

I’m hopeful that one day I’ll be truly carefree again – window down and the wind in my face – strands of hair getting stuck in my teeth.  Maybe I’ll even take to the skies with the Oils or the Angels throbbing in my ears – wondering whether to order the white or the red – worry gone at last and freedom firmly in its place.

 

mountain

 

 

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The week that followed my second hip replacement was both harrowing and miraculous.   After a hazy awakening in the recovery room, I was wheeled in a daze to a tasteful private room, overlooking a busy street in Darlinghurst.   Terrace houses brimming with rich histories, ranged from tasteful and trendy, to run down and ramshackle.    My room was on the sixth floor, the view was expansive, and the sky wide above me.

For the first two days I was high on morphine and anaemic after losing a lot of blood.  I drifted in and out of consciousness, holding firmly to the beat of life which was striving to find its rhythm again.   My eyes drifted out the window to the building opposite and a glowing angel stretched her arms out to me, comforting and nurturing me as I dozed.    The sunlight fell on the angel at all times of day, caressing her at different angles and lighting her gracious face so she stood out from her surroundings.    Later I thought I saw Jesus holding out his arms to me, and I felt so warm and peaceful.   A white light of peace hung in my room, as I struggled to come back to life.

Later when I awoke to take my first parched sip of water, I was surprised to see that the glowing angel was in fact a plain sandstone chimney on one of the terrace houses.    Feeling a bit foolish, I was nonetheless grateful for that chimney, and for all that it had represented.

One morning I awoke at 3.18am needing to visit the bathroom.    As I could barely move my leg and was still very weak, getting out of bed was daunting.    I had discovered a way of shuffling across my bed like a crab, using my hands to move myself.  I did the crab crawl and sat at the edge of my bed, out of breath and dizzy, wondering whether to buzz for a nurse.    I gazed into the black sky and admired the shimmering stars.     Within a few moments a flickering star darted across the sky from top to bottom, like an ember from a sparkler on cracker night, and I gasped in wonder.    Surely if the star could fling itself through space so effortlessly, I could make it to the bathroom on my walker.     I rose to my wobbly feet, and shuffled to the bathroom clutching my walker, like a feeble old lady, but feeling jubilant to be walking on my new hip.

Another challenge came when it was time for the nurses to turn me over and have me lie on my side.    After my first operation, they had dropped my operated leg and it had really hurt.   I had been dreading this ‘turning over’ exercise and tried to convince the two nurses who stood over me that I was not afraid of bed sores, and didn’t want anyone pushing me around.    My pleas were ignored, and helplessly I lay on the bed as they lined themselves up for the big move.    Fearfully I glanced out my window and there right across the sky hung a spectacular rainbow.   

‘A rainbow – I know everything will be okay now ‘ I gushed and the nurses’ eyes followed mine.    As the three of us gazed out the window a second rainbow appeared, even brighter than the first and the sky was ablaze with pastel shades of violet, crimson, emerald and gold.  

The nurses soon lost interest in the rainbows and returned to the job at hand, supported my new hip and began the turn.    They eased me over so I was facing away from the window, and I gritted my teeth and watched the face of the nurse closest me.   I saw her glance out the window and her face went a shade paler and she burst out ‘Will you look at that!’.  I couldn’t look, but she explained to me that the moment they had lifted me and I was facing away from the window, the sky went completely black, and the rainbows vanished.  

Even with the distraction of the display out my window, the nurses managed to turn me without any pain this time, and all was well.

When I was able to sit comfortably in a chair, I sat beside the window in the evenings, watching the terrace houses and wondering who lived in each one.  I created little fantasies about the lives of those living in them.   My dreams would be disturbed at 6.00pm each evening when flocks of menacing bats would flap across the sky with free abandon heading for some nighttime fun.    Watching them I anticipated the freedom I would feel when I could walk again and  I would weep with joy.

My room also had monitors with red flashing lights, plastic tubes, drips, drains, olive-green bed pans, and uninspiring plain walls.    If I had focused on what was within my room I may have gone insane.     I am so grateful for my window, for the visions of comfort and love, the falling star of courage, the rainbow of hope and the freedom of the bats, framed by the wide sky of changing colours  – God’s handiwork which led me so gently through such a painful week.

If you are facing a difficult time in your life, I wonder if there is a window you can look out.    Look for the little things.     I read about a man dying of AIDS who rejoiced each day when sparrows would come to play on his window ledge.    Somehow watching the birds connected him with life and gave him the strength to keep on fighting.     Comfort, hope and inspiration are always there.   It’s just a matter of looking out and up, beyond ourselves and beyond the ugliness that tries to consume us.

 Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.   Philippians 4:8

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Some days I feel like the horse with the worst odds, hooves pounding the turf, ears laid back against my neck, as I tackle the steeple-chase of life.    Yesterday was one of those days.

It started with a throbbing headache and an eight year old reciting a long list of ailments.   After cancelling my plans for the morning, I gave in and took him to the doctors, only to discover I had been conned.   

I dropped my repentant son back to school and tried to turn the day into something positive by going to the gym for the first time in two months.   My absence had been missed and I tearfully confessed my lack of focus and discipline to my toned and tanned instructor, and held my breath until my cheeks puffed as I was weighed and measured.    The result was grim, and I committed to some gruelling months ahead trying to live out the saying ‘less is more’.

After this confronting appointment I took my other son along to an Occupational Therapy and Physiotherapy appointment.    The other children sat quietly tracing letters onto a plastic boards and threading beads onto string, but my son was caught in a Michael Jackson moment and sang ‘I’m Bad’ whenever he could get a word in, his arms flung in the air as he wiggled in his chair.   When reprimanded he reverted to another of his favourite sayings: ‘I’m bored’ as I cringed in the background.

Later in the afternoon I cooked a meal for a friend whose son has cancer.    It was such a hot afternoon, my skirt clung to my sweaty legs and I felt empty and dull as I drove the few blocks to deliver the meal to their house.   My mind circled around my many frustrations with my children and the relentless responsibilities of juggling parenting and work.

When I reached the front door I held out my offerings of lasagna, salad and chocolate cakes.   Then my heart stood still.    The little boy stood behind his mother, gazing at me with big blue eyes awash with curiosity and a sadness beyond his years.    How could it be that one so young was facing the horrors of cancer?    Yet here he was, dealing with it, living through each day with the courage and hope only children and very special adults possess.  

I walked back to my car, the racing thoughts now quiet, and my heart aching at the fragility of life, and how often we forget to be thankful for what we have.

He is a wise man who does not grieve for the things which he has not, but rejoices for those which he has.
                          — Epictetus

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On Sunday night I watched Eric Bana in the Australian movie, ROMULUS, MY FATHER.   The film is based on Raimond Gaita’s critically acclaimed memoir and tells the story of Romulus, his beautiful wife, Christina, and their struggle in the face of great adversity to bring up their son, Raimond.   

It is the tale of a boy’s deep bond with his  father,  and the heartbreak of loving his depressive mother, who eventually commits suicide.   It is a deeply moving story that celebrates the unbreakable bond between father and son.

In one scene Raimond, realising his father has suffered yet another crushing disappointment, takes his father’s razor and stands before a lake on the family farm.   He then throws it with all his might into the middle of the pool of water.    Later his father comes looking for the razor.

While I watched Raimond standing by the lake, I was again a six-year-old girl, trapped in a chaotic suburban kitchen, desperately reaching for the knives in the second drawer with chubby little girl fingers, and hiding them in a nearby cupboard under a tea towel.    Only moments later, the screaming adults flung themselves into the kitchen, searching for a knife in the empty drawer  as I cowered in the corner.   Like Raimond, I had saved the ones I loved.

Thankfully I have many happy memories to balance these disturbing ones.   In Romulus My Father the contrast of the inner turmoil of the characters and the rich beauty of the Australian landscape allow us to believe that there is hope.   The enduring love that existed between Raimond and his father allow us to step into that hope.

However, the most encouraging line in the movie emerged for me as the credits started to roll at the end.  They were the words:   ‘Raimond Gaita grew up and became an acclaimed author and philosopher.’     Such powerful words.   Sure, he endured horrific childhood pain, but he didn’t let it destroy him.  Others may have wallowed in self-pity for the rest of their lives and allowed it to blossom into failure.    Yet, he ‘grew up and became…’

The holes in our hearts left by childhood pain have the potential to destroy our lives.    Yet the pain can also become windows in our soul, letting in the light to heal us, and giving us the courage to reach out to others with the wisdom of lessons learnt.    There is always a choice – to give up – or to allow the windows  in our soul to grow so the light can start pouring in.    Then there will be no limit to the beauty we can create.

Extraordinary and beautiful…a profound meditation on love and death, madness and truth, judgement and compassion.

  Richard Flanagan, Sunday Age – on Romulus My Father.

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Rainbow

As a wide-eyed six year old I listened in awe to the story of Noah and the Ark.   Imagine his apprehension as the ark hit ground after the flood and it was time to step out and see what had become of the world.   The flood waters had receded and a rainbow lit up the sky, showing him all would be well.   The rainbow was Noah’s sign of hope.

Yet it wasn’t only my Sunday School teacher’s eager words that convinced me.  I could see it for myself.

The rainbow has a language all of its own, with luminous pastel shades reaching across the grey sky, transforming an ordinary scene into a surreal vision.    Could anyone ever capture a rainbow or find the pot of gold at the other end?   The rainbow will always escape our grasp.   It is  a glimpse of another world, heaven perhaps, that we humans in this lifetime could scarcely understand.  

I was far too clever for rainbows during my adolescence and in early adulthood and barely noticed them.   I considered them a childish crutch.

However, one afternoon at ‘twenty-something’ I walked along a lonely beach, deep in thought.   I had just made all the calls to cancel my wedding.   In six weeks time I was due to start a new life and become a married woman – just in time for my 30th birthday.   However, the illusion of a happy future had been swept away by the painful reality that I was about to marry the wrong person.   I knew I had done the right thing, but the right thing felt so wrong as I padded through the soft cool sand on bare feet, and listened to the crashing waves.   Threatening grey clouds were building in the sky.   The salty cold breeze bit into me, and the beach looked empty.   The emptiness had spread to my heart.   I cried out silently for some reassurance and comfort.

In an instant it appeared, arching magnificently across the sky above me and reaching out into the hazy depths of the ocean.  It was my old friend from Sunday School, the rainbow, pastel shades scribbled with a child’s crayon, surrounded by the aura of mystery as in the days of old.    I smiled stupidly at the sky and warmth spread to the cold empty places in my heart.   There was hope.  Everything was going to be okay.   Three months later I met my husband.

Two years ago I was bracing myself for a cancer scan.    It had been three years since surgery and two grueling sessions of treatment.   Against all advice to ‘think positively’ I was terrified.

The day before the scan, my son came home from preschool and proudly presented me with a painting.    He explained it to me – ‘There is Mummy with a big rainbow over her head.’   In my fragile state, the tears sprung into my eyes and I had to turn away.   This painting meant so much to me.

The next day I walked down Belgrave Street toward St George Hospital.   I pressed the cold silver button to cross the last street before the hospital and as I looked up I saw it.   High above me and stretching right across the road was a particularly bright and glowing rainbow.    I crossed the street, rainbow over my head, the very image my son had created.   Again I smiled stupidly and hoped nobody was watching.   My hope returned, warming me deeply inside like a grandmother’s hug, and I was able to walk confidently through the green hospital doors.    A few hours later I discovered that the scan was clear.

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