Sunday, January 14, 2018

Father Abraham, Brother Laurence... and me.

I had a bad sleep last night, but I woke at some point during the night with words from God still in my ears.  Which more than makes up for the lack of sleep!

For years, I have struggled with the Bible, particularly the Old Testament.  I struggle with the stories and people in it, and with the way God is portrayed in it.  In fact, I almost lost my faith over reading the Bible.  So for a couple of years I have barely read the Bible at all, because I didn't want to upset what felt like a delicate balance of faith.

Yesterday a book arrived in the mail for me.  It's called The Practise of the Presence of God, by a 17th century monk, Brother Laurence.  It's a very short book, less than 100 pages, but it's one I know I will re-read many, many times.  Brother Laurence talks about how he doesn't find the set prayers and times of prayer to be of much importance, instead he focuses his thoughts and heart at all times on God, and in this way he has been constantly aware of the presence of God with him for many decades.  As I read his thoughts on not doing what everyone says you should do, but doing what works for you, my thoughts went back to my struggles with the Word… because I miss it.

I have been aware, over the last few weeks, of whispers in my spirit from God - little nudges and promptings back towards Himself.  I am more aware of Him as I go through the day and night, and it feels like a re-awakening.  It's lovely.  It's also sad, because I realise how much I have lost and missed  of this communion.

So I woke last night with the clear thought that I should try reading the Bible again, but this time rather than letting my focus be captured by the flawed people who populate the pages, I should focus instead on God in the Bible.  Look for Him, and His works and character.  The other thing God said to me was that apart from Jesus, He has never had a perfect person to work with.  We are all, the whole human race of all times, messy, generous, sinful, kind, stupid and flawed.

As I lay in bed thinking all this over, one thing became clear to me: the teaching I've heard from birth about the Bible from varying denominations has all had something in common.  The people in the Bible are placed in gilded cages; ring-fenced with perfection.  Either their own perfection, or the perfection of God.  Because of this perfection, it is very hard to see them as real people, just like us.

Take Abraham.  He is talked about in churches as the father of faith, and the man who would do whatever God asked of him - he was even willing to kill his own son because God asked him to!  If we take off the perfection-tinted glasses, we might notice some things that, if they are mentioned in church, tend to be brushed over VERY quickly.  Abraham pimped his wife.  He pimped his wife to the Egyptian pharaoh, and got so much cash and livestock as a consequence that he became one of the richest men around.  Hmmm… that isn't usually mentioned when we're talking about Father Abraham!  Then there's the story of the sacrifice.  The Jewish take on the story of Isaac's near-sacrifice is very different to the Christian one.  They see it as a story of Abraham's failure, rather than the triumph of his faith - in their view Abraham failed because he didn't question that God wanted child sacrifice, just like all the pagan gods did.   They say that Abraham should have known God well enough to know that that was not something that He would ever want, and that God was wanting him to have the courage to say so. 

I've never ever heard a sermon on any of this from Sarah's perspective.  Sarah tends to be looked down on because she doubted God - she laughed, mockingly, at the prophecy, then she lost faith and tried to fix the problem herself instead of waiting for God, creating Ishmael in the process. 

So.  We've got faith-filled Abraham, and doubting, impatient Sarah.  Or, we've got a man who doesn't mind handing his wife over for someone else to use if it makes him rich, and who would rather kill his son than question what he thought God said… and long-suffering, loving, patient Sarah, who follows her man through right and wrong, childlessness, bigamy, deserts, step-children, visits from angels, family break-down, near murder and visions… because her love is as strong as his faith.

See what I mean?  Both these versions of the story are true, but only one is ever spoken.  And the air-brushed version is the one we get. 

I'm starting again, reading through the Bible.  I'm reading a new translation that I haven't read before, and I'm going to do my best to see the people I meet in the pages with fresh eyes.  I want to let the stories breathe a bit, and let the people be who they are, instead of who we've made them be.  And somehow on this journey, I'm hoping to find more of the God who is whispering to me to come looking for Him… because He is the whole point of this.

Sunday, December 31, 2017

Happy New Year!


It's the end of another year.  I took the kids for a swim in Mary and Arthur's pool this afternoon, after spending the morning with Ian, working out details of the landscaping we want to do in the next few months. We ate chips and dip, steak, meat patties, salad and cheesy herbed mashed potatoes while we watched Star Wars: The Force Awakens.  Halfway through the movie we felt peckish again, so we had salted caramel cheesecake and ice-cream.  Jamie and me nodded off occasionally towards the end of the movie, but we all enjoyed it.  Jamie went to bed at 10pm, and Samuel, Isabella and Ben are in Ben's room, determined to stay awake till midnight.  We shall see!

I'm looking forward to next year.  It feels full of possibilities and promise.  I'm sure it will hold it's share of troubles, but right now the new year is still a beautiful blank slate.

When I had my last birthday, I realised that having cancer has changed my perspective on birthdays.  I see no reason to be ashamed of the fact that I'm getting older - isn't a long life what everyone wants?  To achieve that, you have to get older!  Now, when I celebrate my birthday, I am celebrating that I have lived for another year.  I had a whole year to love and learn and live in.  I've had 44 whole years, full to the brim of laughter, tears, pain and joy, and I'm not finished yet!  What's not to celebrate about that?

So here's to 2017.  What a year it was!  Full of restoration, brokenness, grief, laughter, light and shadow.

 And here's to 2018!  The chance of another year to be with the people I love, watch them grow and change, to work and play and rest… I am so blessed.  Happy New Year!


Thursday, September 14, 2017

Love or Fear

I found out that a good friend died yesterday.

I only met her last year, but we had an instant connection.  We both liked growing things, and making things.  We both had fractured families and loved books. One of the other things that helped cement our friendship was discovering that we had both had breast cancer.

She was funny, kind, wise, interesting, beautiful and about ten years older than me.

Yesterday she died from breast cancer that had come back and spread to her liver and bones before it was noticed.

I was expecting to have more time with her, to be able to at least say goodbye, but the cancer was growing too fast... and yesterday we ran out of time.

Her name was Nanda.

She wasn't afraid, or even particularly concerned.  She was ready to die, but I wasn't ready.  I still have lots of things I want to talk with her about, and I'm sad that the relationships she was beginning to form with my kids have come to an abrupt end.  I want to hear about the corners of her life that we hadn't had time to talk about yet.

I'm sad about Nanda, and I'm scared for me.

See, here's the thing about cancer.  Once you've had it, your chances of it coming back are increased.  Mostly I ignore that uncomfortable fact, and pretend that I'm just as invincible as I used to be, and that my plans of living to 93 are perfectly reasonable... but then something like this happens, and I am reminded that while my chances are good, the reality is that this could happen to me just as easily as it happened to Nanda.

It's scary.

Even after the cancer is gone, the shadow of it lingers.  I'm very aware of things that might be suspicious (or not), I'm much more aware of my energy levels (does the fact that I've been feeling really tired for the last week or two mean anything bad?), and I am VERY aware that time is not guaranteed to anyone, including me.

I'm not overwhelmed with fear on a daily basis, but it often niggles away at the back of my mind.  Because I know that like my lovely Nanda, what seems like back pain that should be fixed by a visit to an osteopath, could actually be cancer destroying my life, one cell at a time.

But.  Here is what I know for sure.  Regardless of cancer, hurricanes, car accidents or winning the lottery, love and kindness are ALWAYS the best choice.  I can't chose whether I get cancer or not, or what path a hurricane will take.  Turns out there's an awful lot I have no control over!  What I can control is my reaction to the events I'm presented with each day, and I want to be responsible for adding love to the world, not hurt.

I chose love.






Thursday, August 3, 2017

Time Is Like Water

I had a bath today.
Coming up from the water, after washing the shampoo from my hair.
At around the same time a year ago, I was coming out of a thick fog of anaesthetic
after surgery to remove part of my body
so as to save my life.

I had a bath today, and thought about how time is like water.
We are conceived into a seemingly unending ocean of time,
which we are as unaware of as the amniotic waters we temporarily live in.

As children, time stretches endlessly before us, never behind.
Children only look forward, and wish they were older.
Time's ocean is still so vast and mysterious, swirling around us - what will we be, when we grow up?

I think it's in our thirties that we start to notice something changing.
There doesn't seem to be as much time as there used to be, somehow.
We say things like 'How can it be July already?'
and 'It seems like yesterday that I was still at school!'
We feel vaguely confused about this, but life is so very busy that we don't pay it much heed.

There are occasions when time seems to stop;
 at the birth of a child, or the death of a parent.

 The rhythm of the waves of time change,
and we are left floundering, gasping...
everything seems upside down and far away.

We have just been dumped by a big wave.

Somehow, we eventually regain our sense of equilibrium,
and carry on.

We don't realise that the ocean of time that we live in
is really a bath with an ill-fitting plug.
Time disappears while we are busy,
slowly draining away, season by season.

Eventually it always runs out and we are left, high and dry.

Are we?

I live within the boundaries of time, but time is not my life.





Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Oh, What A Day!

Today I had what could be described as 'a bit of a morning'.

It started off well enough, the kids all got on like best friends, and occasionally took a break from their conversations about the meaning of life to beg me for jobs to do around the house to fill in their time before they went to school.  I wish...  In actual fact they fought slightly less than usual, and didn't argue more than they usually do when I asked them to do their chores.

I had a cleaning job to do this morning, so I was leaving the house too.  The boys got in the car, while I figured out how to get my shoes on while carrying a bag, two pieces of toast and a mug of coffee.  My bag hit the ground hard, and the coffee tipped over, so once I'd cleaned that up, I got my shoes on and got in the car.  I put the keys in the ignition, turned them, and heard an ominous clicking sound.  The battery was flat!  Then somebody mentioned that one of the car doors was open when they got in, and we realised what had happened.  When we got home from school yesterday afternoon, my biggest boy was deep in The Hunger Games, and stayed in the car for 1.5hrs until he'd finished the book.  Which was fine, except that he didn't shut the car door when he got out, and now we had a flat battery!

I left messages on two friends' phones, hoping one of them would get back to me soon.  The two biggest boys ran to school, but I kept the youngest with me - I didn't trust him to behave for his brothers.  We came back inside, and started cleaning up the breakfast dishes while waiting for a phone call.

After fifteen minutes I'd heard from both my friends.  Meg said she'd be at my house in 30 minutes, and Kerri said she'd be here as soon as she found some jumper leads.  Kerri arrived after a few minutes, without any jumper leads, as she'd discovered her husband had them in his vehicle.  We hunted around our garage on the off-chance there might be some there, but no luck.  Kerri went down the road to ask my neighbour Albert if he had any jumper leads, and I came back inside to finish the dishes.

Kerri arrived back, and I went outside to chat with her while we waited for Albert.  After a few minutes a vehicle came down the drive, but it wasn't Albert - Meg had arrived!  She had jumper leads, but they were too short to be able to use.  Albert now tootled down the drive in his old ute with a bale of hay on the back.  He had jumper leads, but we thought we needed to push the car out of the garage to be able to use them.  I went to put the keys in the ignition, and realised I had locked myself out of the house.

So.  I now had a car with a flat battery, 3 extra vehicles in the yard, 2 sets of jumper leads that couldn't be used, 3 friends, one of their children who wasn't well, my youngest child, and no keys. 

We decided we would have to burglarize the house.

It turns out we wouldn't make very good burglars.  All the doors were locked, all the windows were shut, and despite applying a hairpin to one of the door locks, we couldn't open them.  By this point I was beginning to think I might have to break a window to get my car to start! However, after a bit of faffing about we DID manage to open one of the windows (without breaking it), and my son wriggled inside, and reappeared waving the keys.  Hooray!  The car started after the first try with the jumper leads, and Albert, Kerri and Meg left.  I rang my husband to let him know the problems had been solved, dropped my son off at school only 1.5hrs late, and went off to my cleaning job.

Lessons learned.
1.  ALWAYS shut the car door, no matter how fascinating your book is.
2.  We need to buy some jumper leads.
3.  We need a spare house key.
4.  You never know when you might need a hairclip.

Now I've just got to get through the afternoon...



Monday, June 5, 2017

Where Was God When I Had Cancer?

I haven't said much about God while talking about all the crappiness that's been going on in my life.  That's more because it takes a lot of explaining, than that He hasn't been there!

As I went through the waiting for a diagnosis, eventual confirmation of cancer and then surgery, He was there like a warm, comforting presence.  Not saying anything or expecting anything of me, just there for me to lean on.  And then He wasn't.  I wasn't concerned, but I was aware that that closeness wasn't there any more.

As you know, if you've read any of my other posts, I love gardening.  It makes me happy, and sometimes also produces veges and flowers. :)  One of the things I found particularly hard, going through chemo while spring happened around me, was that I wasn't able to do even quarter of the gardening I usually would.  I didn't grow anything from seed this year, despite having lots and lots of packets of seeds begging to be planted.

I was complaining to God about this, around the time of my first chemo round, and He told me that this spring, I was the seed.  I had been planted.  And when I didn't like the sound of that, He said 'Peace, be still.'

For all my lovely friends who are now thinking that this was most probably chemo-brain and I have obviously lost my mind if I think I can hear God, relax, calm down, and let me unpack that a little for you.  Yes, I believe God speaks to me.  And sometimes, I hear Him!  No, I don't hear a voice speaking, with my physical ears.  What usually happens is a thought cuts across my train of thought, which is different to what I was thinking, with a very different perspective to my own.  Sometimes the thought comes with a picture, sometimes it doesn't.  But there is always something about the thought that is so different to my own, that I know it wasn't my own thought.

There is also something consistent, every time, about the thought, and this is the hard bit to explain.  You know the times you hear the first few notes of a song, and immediately know who it's by, even if you haven't heard it before?  Or the times you start reading a book/article/blog post, and the style of writing is so familiar that you know who wrote it, even before you see the author?  That's what it's like when I hear God.  There is always the same feeling to what is said, and I am familiar with it now.  What I hear is always better than myself - kinder, more loving, forgiving, and often funny.  The perspective the thought brings is bigger than my own.  What I hear isn't always about me, sometimes it's about other people.  And no, I can't make it happen. Sure, I can pretend, and make stuff up... but it's like the difference between seeing a three year old's painting of a sunrise, and seeing the real thing.

So, God had told me that I was a seed, that had been planted.  As I was going through the awfulness that is chemotherapy, I mulled over this thought.  I thought a lot about seeds, and dirt and growing conditions, and I eventually realised a few things.  First, a seed has no control over what happens to it.  It does not choose when it is planted, or where.  When it has been planted, it has no control over creating the conditions it needs to sprout - it can't make the dirt warm up, or bring the right amount of moisture.  All a seed can do, is wait for the time to be right.

I didn't like the thought that I'd been planted in the dirt - that sounded an awful lot like burial to me, which isn't a very comforting metaphor when you've got cancer!  So I ignored that bit, and focused on the seed.  One thing really intrigued me, which was that I had no indication at all of what kind of seed I was - dandelion, maple, mangrove, apple, coconut or carnation?  It was a mystery.  I sincerely hoped that I wasn't the type of seed that needed a forest fire to sprout!

And then there was the 'Peace, be still' bit.  I knew that this was the exact expression Jesus used when calming a storm - which seemed appropriate!  I had been talking with a friend about breath prayers, and I found that this phrase fitted perfectly.  So when my mind was churning in the middle of the night, and I was scared and worried, I would lie in the dark and focus on my breathing.  Every time I breathed in, I would think 'Peace'.  And every time I breathed out, I would think 'Be still'.  And I would remember that I was a seed that had been planted, and all I could do was wait.  However, there was one thing I could do that a seed couldn't - I could hope.

So I did.  I waited, and breathed, and hoped, and spoke peace to my body and soul in the middle of the storm.

To be continued...

Saturday, March 4, 2017

I Am A Survivor, And I've Got The Sash To Prove It.

I've just had one of the more surreal experiences of my life.

Today was the annual Relay for Life, organised by the Cancer Society.  I had been asked if I would like to go, to participate in the first lap of the relay, which is walked by cancer survivors and their families.  I decided that, yes, I would like to do that, so today we made the long drive, and got to the sports park where it was being held.  My husband had to work, but was planning on meeting us there, so I got the kids sorted, and got us all over to the marquee where there was a little bit of shade (it was a beautiful, scorching late summer day), and drinks and snacks were being provided for survivors and their families.

The marquee was packed, and there wasn't anybody there that I recognised, so I found some spare chairs, sat the kids down, and texted my husband that we'd arrived.  Some kind girls brought orange juice over for the kids, and I was told to help myself to food off the tables, so despite having to edge in between people already sitting round all the tables, I did so.

That was awkward enough... but it was about to get quite bizarre.

We were sitting in a row, eating our snacks, when a man walked up to me and said, 'Hello Donna!  Do you recognise me?'  I looked at him for a moment, and he helpfully added, 'I'm your cousin.'  I looked again, and then I realised - he was my first cousin, whom I hadn't seen in 19 years, since I left the brethren!  As I glanced away from his face for a moment, the penny dropped.

There were quite a few adults, teenagers and youngish children all dressed the same, in smart dark blue outfits with red logos, and a ute nearby with the same logo on it.  The logo was RRT, which stood for Rapid Relief Team.  These were the people doing a great job of supplying the food and drink for survivors at the relay.  These people also all belong to the brethren, the cult I had been brought up in and left, many years ago.  I hadn't seen most of them since the day I left, and now here they were, all smiling at me (and whispering behind their hands when they thought I wasn't looking), and offering us food and drink.

Two others came up and introduced themselves - I couldn't talk to one of them because my phone rang - and it was such a surreal experience, seeing teenagers that I'd never seen before, but knowing exactly who they were because they looked just like their parents, who were teenagers the last time I saw them!

So.  There I was, sitting awkwardly in a row with my kids, not knowing any of the other survivors at any of the tables, and eating food I'd stolen (it felt like) from off the tables in front of other people, surrounded by members of the cult I had left 19 years ago.  One of the rules of the brethren is that they don't eat or drink with anyone who isn't a member... except that now they were quite happy to provide me, an ex-member (ex-members are regarded as the worst of all sinners) with food and drink.  In fact, they were quite insistent about giving us drinks, and my kids had to keep saying they didn't want any more drinks just yet.

At this point, my husband arrived, and now all of this had to be explained - several times, because the kids all wanted to know what was going on - while trying not to make it obvious to the milling brethren that we were talking about them.  A brethren lady who had been friends with my mum came over and said hello, and we chatted briefly, which was nice... but very odd.  The whole experience was very odd!

Eventually I saw a fellow survivor whom I recognised from the Look Good, Feel Better programme I'd been to, so I went and talked to her for a few minutes.  Her gorgeous four year old daughter bounced on her knee while she told me that she had been told she was going to die before next Christmas.  Her cancer had spread throughout her body, and the treatment she was having wasn't stopping it.  We talked for a while, and then it was time for the relay to start.

As I walked towards the starting line, holding my husband's hand and surrounded by a gaggle of kids, I started to laugh.  I was wearing a sash I'd been given, which said 'SURVIVOR', and I told my husband that when we got back from doing the survivors' lap, I was going to ask for another sash.  He looked surprised, and I explained that the representatives of both the things I've survived were there - the cult, and the cancer - and I wanted a sash for each of them.


We stood with the other cancer survivors, their families, and the families of people who had died from cancer, and I listened as the Lord's Prayer was said, a drumming group started playing and led us all round the track, and I walked.  Holding hands with my husband and one of my sons, my arm around another son, and my other two children huddled in close, we walked past the brethren group I used to belong to, and I smiled at them as they took photos of the parade of people streaming past them.

After the first lap, we watched as the real work of the relay began, and hundreds of people walked and ran round the track.  Eventually we left them to it, and walked out the gates.  Past the Cancer Society tents, past the brethren now busily setting up water stations for the relay participants and getting a bbq going, and out into the clear air and sunshine to get on with our day.