Monthly Archives: September 2010

Framed

“I’ll just peep up through the hole in the cloud and see if by any chance the Land of Spells is there yet,” said Moon-Face. “If it is, we’ll go up and see what we can do for you.” So off he went up the little ladder and popped his head out of the hole in the cloud to see if the Land of Topsy-Turvy was still there, or if it had gone.
There was nothing there at all, only just the big white cloud, moving about like a thick mist. Moon-Face slipped down the ladder again.
“Topsy-Turvy has gone, but the next land hasn’t come yet,” he said. “We’ll have breakfast and then I’ll look again.” (Magic Faraway Tree by Enid Blyton)

It’s a while now since our world was turned completely upside down by Leukaemia. We peek out at life and so much has returned to normal, a new kind of normal perhaps? There is good news and lots to celebrate.

Sam has survived the last two weeks on the lowest dose of prednisone since January 2009. Nothing has flared up or gotten out of control. Her appointment with the ear doctor this week indicates that things are not any worse. Not better either, but not worse.

“Just keep on doing what you are doing.” He tells her. This means she will continue to puff a dry, powder into both ears every morning and every evening. It is inconvenient and uncomfortable but it is an experiment to try to keep the area dry and to reduce the risk of further infection. She has lost some hearing already in her right ear and if not controlled she risks losing it altogether, with this in mind she administers the dose as directed.

Before rising from her bed each day, Sam takes her thyroxin. She will continue to do this for the rest of her life. I have made the taking of this drug her responsibility whereas I administer all the others. The thyroxin replaces the hormones that her thyroid produced before it was removed in January this year. It was removed because a rare case of Graft Versus Host Disease (GVHD) attacked her thyroid after the transplant causing an acute case of thyrotoxicosis. After it was removed it took a while to moderate things, to get the dose correct but eventually things were under control and for now things seem to be working.

After breakfast, Sam takes a collection of drugs that I have left in the kitchen for her before leaving for work. Each days dose is slightly different depending on the day of the week and I have become an expert at discharging them with precision. Every day as I pop the pills from their silver foil I pray that the prednisone reduction will be successful and that her body will produce its own cortisone. When this goal is reached we can begin to reduce the immune suppressant drugs and little by little, maybe life will become normal again.

Everyday I tell myself how far we have come. I congratulate myself that I am doing a great job balancing life, my pastoral role at church, my full-time job at school, my course at university, being a mum to my three children and being Reid’s wife.

I am doing okay but so much has changed. The truth is that life may never be right side up again. Sometimes, like Moon Face I wish I could climb a ladder at the top of a tree and peek into a different world. Sometimes I wish the land of spells would come along and turn everything back to the way it was in the summer of 2009 before Sam was sick.

Life is rich and deep and full of miracles but few can understand the dichotomy that it has become. Life exists in two disconnected parts, there are no overlaps and in this no man’s land I seek out meaning. I am trying to pull things together. To reach into the void that exists between what was and what may be. I confer with a friend whose child has also been extremely ill. We consider that these may be the good days, the best days and that we should live them well.

In so many ways life is more full than it ever was before cancer crept its way under our door and completely invaded our lives. The small inconveniences of life do not bother me in the slightest. I can look past these trivial things for I have witnessed such courage and faith in the face of death. I have seen that it is almost impossible to destroy a man. That even without hope there is such determination in the human spirit. I know now what it is to live each day as ‘the gift of fortune, to be enjoyed as intensely as possible and at once; for there is no certainty about tomorrow.’ (Primo Levi – If This is a Man) I have learned to rejoice in today.

We have survived winter without infections or flu and without Sam returning as an inpatient in hospital. This in itself is a miracle in her immune suppressed state and with all the bugs I carry home from school. I see God’s divine hand of protection over our lives.

Yet, I tread carefully through the shallow murky water of life, ever cautious that something lurks below the surface. I am not fearful but I am wise and aware that it is important not to take risks. I notice Sam reading her book on her bed as the sun shines on her legs through the windows and I remind her to cover up or not sit for too long. She must be careful not to burn, not even the slightest bit because her skin is susceptible to GVHD now and her liver would not tolerate sunburn. It is all the little things and all the terrifying stories that make life unbearably hard. I know too much. I have seen too much.

Blank spaces fill the places where my dreams used to be but God shows me that “By faith we understand that the world’s were framed by the word of God, so that what we see was not made out of things that are visible.” (Hebrews 11:3) All is not lost, my faith has not weakened because of the reality of sickness and hardship and suffering. It is from Him that faith comes and all I need to do is to look to Him and trust. He is framing my world, even what I can not see, with His word.

Images of death wake me in the night. The thin armour of sleep does not protect me from the grip of my memory. So often in my dreams I am transported back to the kitchen room in the hospital. In this room there is a kettle, a toaster, a sink, a fridge and a microwave. There I wait in line with the other carers who are trying to make food for their loved ones who battle life and death somewhere in a room off the corridor.

I stand with people from every race and background. I confront the prejudices of culture and smells as we reheat food brought from home, as we line up for the microwave, as I clean it in a desperate attempt to remove the stench of flavours that are abhorrent to my senses. I spray and wipe and am revolted by spillages on the counters where there is little surface to prepare, I am repulsed and brought undone. In time, after many months of living this way, despite the barriers of language I discover that really we are all the same. We are all frightened and fighting for our mothers, our fathers, our daughters, our sons and we are willing them to live.

As the months transpire I learn a new kind of compassion, I learn to nod and smile and to share my knife. I teach the new ones how to survive. The new ones are easy to identify. They speak positively about remission; they do not know yet that remission with Leukaemia is only part of the process, that there will still be a wait for a donor and for more biopsies and many years of uncertainty. I congratulate them anyway; I show them my picnic basket and the things that are helpful to bring to the hospital. I show them where to get stickers with the patient’s number so that all their food can be labelled.

When Sam is sleeping, I clean the fridge. I learn how to read the white board opposite the nurse’s desk. I know who has died, and who has gone home and I throw away the food they have left to make room for the food of the new patients. In the corridors of the hospital I learn a new way to live and a new way to die to myself. As my life is erased in so many ways I learn to see with new eyes.

The faceless presence of death crowds my memory and even now I wonder who made it through. Our relationships were merely built around our joint quest to survive but mostly we did not exchange numbers or re-engage on the outside, only in very rare instances because to bear the grief that they carried was not possible on top of our own.

This week God reminded me of all the rustic frames I collected when I was newly married. I can see them hung together on a wall containing nothing. I ponder whether this was in fact my style, or did I not know my style, or did I have no money to buy images to fill them? I cannot remember the answer but I can hear God’s voice and the rumbling of His laughter as we connect together over this week’s lesson.

I can see that like Paul, ‘we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair’ (2 Corinthians 4:7,8) and I see that we should ‘continue to fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal’ (2 Corinthians 4: 18) and even if I don’t know what comes next on this journey, He is close and He calls us and He carries us through.

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Ink Stains

Dedicated to Jennifer for having done all to stand, standing and inspiring me to do the same.

I have looked at the pages. I have seen their edited form. I have checked the grammar twice and leaned back in my chair with satisfaction. All is in place. It has begun to read like it should read. The story is delightful, the problems are solved, and the illustrations are perfect.

I’m a collector of stories. Somewhere in the conscious, thinking part of me I have a whole library of books. From time to time I hear again from one of the authors. There is a new chapter, something else to add and nothing quite satisfies me like the story.

My favourite text type is narrative. I love to know every detail. Who, where, when? Sometimes I need to stop and ask permission, ‘am I asking too many questions?’ but usually the author is fine with it and over time, through relationship, the story unfolds. Best friends are discovered when the complications arise, and complications will arise or it won’t be a story.

I try to teach my children this in writing. There has to be a problem though it seems so unfair to look into their eyes and make them realise that the story was good in the end because something went wrong. A problem was resolved.

In the midst of complication, characters form. It’s surprising who comes. It’s surprising who goes off the scene for a while. We all have our stories and our reasons for what we do and none of this is wrong. It is, what it is. We muddle through. We deal with what we have. We fall into the arms of those who were there to catch us.

I marvel this morning as an email arrives in my inbox. Good news from a dear friend and tears drop into my morning cup of tea as I read. If you knew her story you would cry with me. Her life had just fallen into place, after years of battles, after complications you could never imagine had been resolved, as we looked at her story in its perfect form, as we rejoiced, as we sighed about how good it was; out of nowhere the unexpected happened and her life spiralled down.

What do you do when your perfect life, the one you have fought for, the one that wasn’t just handed to you on a silver platter completely falls apart? What do you do when someone spills the ink well on your final draft? How do you scratch off the stain? How do you live with the voice in your head that says somehow it was your fault? That you are to blame, that if only you had done this thing or the other thing life would have continued to work out for you.

I have turned these questions around in my head. I have stared at the page where my dreams used to be. Now they are covered with ink, blocked from view and I have become Hermann Rorschach analyzing what I see. Is it a vase or two people face to face? Is it a young, elegant woman or is it an old hag? What is the relationship between what we see and what is real? How do our perceptions form our paradigms?

I worry that I have become too deep and I ask a friend that I trust if this is so. She reminds me to stay close enough to the edge. So I position myself for the dig careful to not fall in, to be covered again by the falling rubble.

The story demands to be dug out. How could you let your old ambition be covered completely when you still hear its voice? You know there is some life left there. You hear its muffled cry. It wakes you in the night and in the morning you go to it and you dig some more and the tiny voice guides you, stone by stone.

Surely this is our purpose to keep searching until we have removed all the bedrock that’s hidden the treasures we’ve been called to discover. In the digging we find that life is a great quest, fraught with danger. It is a great challenge and the evidence presented is both conflicting and confusing. Yet we dig, knowing that beneath the surface there are riches to uncover. We hope it is so.

Thoreau puts it this way, “Pursue, keep up with, circle round and round your life … know your own bone: gnaw at it, bury it, unearth it and gnaw at it still.”

If our focus is blurred we can attribute it to the way life hit us so hard on the head from an angle we had not anticipated. We rise to our feet, dizzy with uncertainty. Still, we will not lie down. The desire for conquest tightens our core and we stabilise our position, motionless, until we decide what comes next.

There is a squawking call overhead. Cockatoo voices calling ‘this way, this way.’ These birds are parroting what they’ve been taught by man and I am cautious now, less trusting. I sit on a rock and wait for a while. I am looking through the bracken, observing, waiting, listening and as I close my eyes I ask God to let me hear His voice.

“Amid disquieting dreams in the night, when deep sleep falls on men, fear and trembling seized me and made all my bones shake. A spirit glided past my face, 
and the hair on my body stood on end. It stopped, but I could not tell what it was. 
A form stood before my eyes, and I heard a hushed voice.” (Job 4:14 – 16)

I am like Job, so confronted with all that has happened but so connected to the truth that God and life is good. Through the bitter wilderness I have known the tangible closeness of God’s presence. I would not have chosen this path. I would that I could record for you a beautiful story, to present an image of my perfect life. But to do so would be to alienate you because perfect lives do not exist.

Yes there are moments of perfection. These moments exist in the simple things and are attainable to all. They are fresh cut daisies and warm bread and hot coffee. They are warm hugs and salty teardrops intermingled through close embrace. These moments are beautiful and perfect in everyway.

Yet as Paul Klee writes “To emphasize only the beautiful seems to me to be like a mathematical system that only concerns itself with positive numbers.” So I write of the pain knowing that in life, as is in painting and writing, the colours and shapes emerge in an unexpected way, as if the page dictated it.

It would be easier not to write, easier to leave it alone but as I write the truth is uncovered. Not in the way I anticipated it would but what is uncovered is great all the same. I think of my friend’s son Gilbert whose favourite colour is ‘see through.’ He told me this many years ago; when he was 5 and the thought was so profound it stays with me still.

My favourite colour has always been white but white is not a colour at all. White is the absence of colour yet ‘see through’ takes it to another level. I want ‘see through’ too. I desire clarity. I desire this stain to be gone. I want a blank canvas to write again the chronicles of my life.

I am Lady Macbeth, washing my hands, I am repeating ‘Out, damn’d spot! out I say!’ Yet the spot remains. I open my hands, i show my palms, I surrender it all to my maker. I enquire about the stain that I did not see coming, the one that covered all of my dreams and He reminds me that He has hidden me for a season.

“It is enough for the student to be like his teacher and the servant to be like His master… do not be afraid of them. There is nothing concealed that will not be disclosed, or hidden that will not be made known. What I tell you in the dark, speak in the daylight; what is whispered in your ear, proclaim from the roofs.” Matthew 10: 25-27

One of the children asks me to read “Shark in the Dark” this week by Peter Bently. We enjoy the rhythm, the rhyme and the alliteration of the story. I delight in the way it reads aloud as the children enjoy the illustrations by Ben Cort. It’s fantastic and at the end we discuss it as we always do with great books. We agree that the best solution to huge problems is always to work together in community, to help one another and this way we can look bigger than we are. The bell rang for lunch and I didn’t give the book another thought. There is much to do in Kindergarten, paintings to hang, books to mark, duties to do on the playground and I run from one activity to the next.

At the end of the day a tiny cold hand is slipped into my hand. I have this dear little boy in my class who knows just how to get my attention. He stands there, my hand in his, until I stop talking to the parent who has come to enquire about their child’s day. I feel the tender rubbing of his fingers and I lean down so that we are face to face.

“Do you know,” he starts, “its not just that all the fish worked together to look like a shadow of a giant whale that scared the shark away?”

“What else was it then?” I enquire.

“It was the squid! They have ink, you know and it covered them.”

His sister arrives to take him to his bus and I am left standing there with this huge concept from a tiny child and it’s like a message from heaven. I have swum so close to danger, I have been terrified in the depth of the seas but somehow I have lived to tell the story. Somehow I have been covered and protected, at least for now.

In the morning I return to my journal, to the vision that has been covered and as I return “its structure is at once luminous and translucent; you can see the world through it.” (Annie Dillard) I look up and over the valley I watch the colours of the morning merge out of the dark black night. Hope comes and vision follows hope like a walk through the garden on a spring day. I check my emails and my girlfriend is pregnant and it’s a wonderful miracle. It is a new birth and a promise and a resolution. Today life is so good. So incredibly good!

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The Dark Wood

If you read my post last week called “Rain” then you have already met Maggie. It is my honour to bring her writing back to you today. Please take some time to read over last week, to click on her name which will lead you to the posts she wrote for Random House. If you can get your hands on it, buy her book ‘when it rains.’ Though that might not be as easy as it seems! Random House sold out and need to do another reprint. My copy has gone to India with Emma, so I can’t loan you that either but seek and you will find.

Go on, pour your glass of red, make your cup of tea…you’ll want to stop by a little longer today.

My friend girlonaswing ever so graciously asked if I would like to write a guest post for her beautiful blog. I tell her ‘Yes, I’d love that’ without really understanding what I was saying yes too. Then I reread her blog.

I’m new to the blogasphere. I’ve dipped my toe in the water through twitter and I’ve managed a couple of tiny posts on my web page and a guest as blogger of the week at my publisher’s blog. But these are really just playing on the edges of the blogging world. To write something for a proper blog, a personal and disciplined blog, a blog with a regular audience, who (I imagine) look forward to sitting down with a cup of tea or a glass of wine and peering through the looking glass at the world girlonaswing has created – when I think about it this way – then I become a bit daunted. What, I wondered would one write for such a blog?

Girlonaswing and I share a mother – well not literally – but my mother was the sort of woman who was able to see a hole, a need, a moment in someone’s life and step forward and fill it. She did this for many people. Girlonaswing was one of them. We also share an intimate knowledge of a harder truth. It goes something like this:
“Midway along the journey of our life
I woke to find myself in a dark wood,
for I had wondered off from the straight path.

How hard it is to tell what it was like,
this wood of wilderness, savage and stubborn
(the thought of it brings back all my old fears),

a bitter place! Death could scarce be bitter.
but if I would show the good that came of it
I must talk about things other than the good.”
Dante, Inferno, Canto I

Dante gets us to the beginning. For the heart of the writing problem for anyone trying to tell of the real guts and goriness of life is how to tell the ‘not good’ in order to show ‘the good’ that can come. But Dante’s words don’t necessarily fit into the comfortable version of life that is held up as the norm in our society.

What happens dear blog reader, when your story sits outside the comforting boundaries of 3 kids, mortgage, church on Sundays and a beautiful future? What happens when all you can pray for is a miracle and a miracle never occurs. My mother lived her life doing just that and she taught me the juggle between believing in a better life and living the one that was right in front of me. She taught me about faith – the sort that sustains despite the absence of a miracle.

My story goes something like this:
Married. Happily. Beautiful daughter. Pregnant. Husband suffers massive depressive episode from which he cannot be saved. Gone. Baby born. Breathe. Mother. Stalwart. Warrior Woman. Cancer. 12 weeks. Gone. Breathe. Leave Sydney for a sabbatical from University Lectureship. Find some peace. Resign. Write.

Two scenes:
Scene 1. Age 16 Year 10, fancy girls private school with hardcore intellectual emphasis. Career Night = Doctors (multiple specialists). Scientists (various). Assorted health professionals. An academic. Multiple business women. A politician. A lawyer. A vet. A pilot. Artists (various – cool like photographer, sculpture etc) And a lost and lonely writer.
I have no idea who this woman was. Most probably she was a successful well-known writer who deserved far more than her seat in the corner with no girls lined up to talk to her – or more accurately not too many parents wanting to encourage daughters in this particular direction. But not my mother. Oh no. She made a beeline for her, dragging me with her and we had an awkward conversation – none of which I remember. But what has stayed with me was my mother’s valuing of my secret desire to write.
Scene 2. 16 yrs later, mother of two, motherless. I’ve left the city and my relatively successful career trajectory as an academic. It’s midday. My 2 year old is miraculously asleep. I have a moment. I curl on the couch and write to order what has happened to me. I draft and redraft a memory of the beginning of my husband’s breakdown.

I take it to an editing workshop at Sydney University. It garners praise. I resist offers to publish, sensing it’s too soon. A wonderful friend and experienced writer says: “write it, but put it in a drawer.” I write it. I put it in the drawer and I write another history book. This, my second book is a job. A piece of work, its shape is formed around the lives of long dead pioneers. But the writing of it is good because it means I can stay out here in the country and despite its small readership, the writing of it adds to my experience of understanding how sentences form paragraphs and paragraphs form chapters and chapters lead to books. This is not knowledge to underestimate.

Which brings us to the matter of the paper in the drawer and the journey through the dark wood.

My two year old is now seven and that stack of paper is now a book. The process of transformation from the first scrawls made sitting on the couch to the final reality of the bound book has been a journey both metaphorical and real. When I took the stack of paper back out of the drawer something had shifted. I had a new perspective on it – the words and scenes had a distance from me that had been absent when I first wrote them. I could start to approach the question of whether I wanted to work these pieces of paper up into a book or just let them be a personal record for me of the shift in my thinking.

Dante’s words about the bitter place and his injunction to talk of it hint at the discovery of ‘self’ that can lie at the heart of the writing process. Girlonaswing’s blog is her record of the pain, fear, hope and faith she has lived over the last year and I think it is this – the telling of the dark in order to see the light that so typifies her writing. I suspect it’s this telling that makes people continue to drop by and read.

When I pulled those papers out of the drawer the question of why write seemed to sit heavily over them. I couldn’t get past it. So I let the pages sit a bit more and built next to them a tower of books, both fiction and non-fiction. They were books on loss, on suffering and surprisingly, in the best of them, on hope. And I thought. And what I thought was: Why does reading of someone else’s journey though darkness bring into sharp focus our own?

I write so I might know. Not so I might be known. It’s an important distinction and brings to mind the words of my PhD supervisor who used to peer at me over the top of her glasses as I sat in her room and sprouted forth with great authority on what I had read that week. “Write it down” she would say “And then we will see how well you understand these thinkers whose work you so effortlessly dismiss”. Well she wasn’t quite so cruel, but that is what she meant and she was right. I have not thought through something, I have not really understood it until I have written it.

And so I wrote and then I published to bear witness to the dark forest and light that exists within.

There are things we can’t change in our lives. I can’t change that my husband and my mother died. Girlonaswing can’t change that her daughter had cancer and continues daily, her walk back to health. But through the reconstruction of our journeys on the page we seek a connection with others and perhaps, if we are lucky a moment of peace with the things that we cannot change. So here we are, the three us, girlonaswing, my mother and me – linked through hardship, through the knowledge of how children delight and exhaust and enrich and crush you all at once. We are linked because we dared attempt to describe the dark of the wood, to say the unsayable, to write the bad in order to see the good.

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Rain

I woke early yesterday to the sound of rain tapping on the roof, running along the gutters, racing down the pipe and into the drain. I roll over, happy it is Saturday, a day to enjoy the deep comfort of my bed. The sound of rushing water is pleasant, it’s a river, picking up the deluge in its path and moving things forward.

Listening to the water I am reminded of the words that Rumi wrote, “God’s joy moves from unmarked box to unmarked box; from cell to cell.” I find myself thinking of the hidden things that make no sense and within moments it is these mysteries, and the wonder of life that move me from my bed to the couch to pick up the deluge as well.

So much of my life is solved in my journal, the pages where I pour out my thoughts like rivers. God gathers them, until His cups of healing spill over anointing my head, watering my soul and refreshing my life.

Friday marked a year since Sam had her bone marrow transplant.

A bone marrow transplant is not what you expect. Everyone prays for ‘the operation,’ they picture gowns and gloves, facemasks and the bright lights of theatre. They envisage hospital beds and the worst kind of pain because Hollywood has portrayed bone marrow transplants this way.

Having the transplant is the easy part of the process. The lead up to that day and the days that follow however are a terrifying miracle.

On the transplant day, the box arrives. It is a small esky that contains a bag of stem cells. These cells are the cells from the donor’s marrow and for us they were flown from America especially for Sam. In the box is a beautiful hand made card, unsigned. We are not allowed to know who the donor is, in case she doesn’t survive.

In every other way the transfusion takes place like all the other transfusions of 2009. The observations are done and recorded, the risk form signed, the bag hung and double-checked between two senior nurses before it is attached to the central line that will take these cells into my daughter’s body. In a few days the battle for life will begin.

If you were not aware of the serious nature of the process, you would consider it like any other day. For the procedure we did not even leave her hospital room. My parents arrived, we drank good coffee, we laughed, we admired Sam’s creative genius in decorating the hospital pin board and her proficiency at making this sun-filled ward her second home.

A year later we muddle our way through the aftermath, we process our grief, we focus on the many things for which we are thankful, the passing of time, the way we’ve been enlarged, the people who have come into our world and for life itself.

In Kindy this week we’ve been working with boxes, empty boxes of all shapes and size. We’ve been collecting them for weeks and finally the day came for construction.

The tape, the glue and the scissors are laid out like a smorgasbord down a long table I created by joining all the desks together. This way everyone has access to the same resources, a collection of paddle pop sticks, straws, matchsticks, foil pie tins, patty papers, and colourful balls. I tell them they can make whatever they want to with the boxes and if there is something they need that is not on the table I will try to get it for them.

When I tell them they can get up off the floor after rest time, it’s as if the gun has fired for the start of a great race. The energy is tangible, the focus is intent, and then there are tears. There are always tears in kindergarten.

“He got the box I wanted,” a child tells me.

I know, I get this and I feel the pain. Someone always gets the box we wanted and things do not seem fair. I listen with empathy, understanding that this is difficult. She had spotted that box from the floor while she was resting and thought of a plan. She knew exactly what to do with that box.

As I listen I think to myself, ‘If it only it were that simple. If only God handed out the boxes we knew how to use.’ Instead He gives us ones with flaps missing and holes and tears. He says, “have a go, you can do something with this.” He has a way of seeing our potential in a way we could never see it ourselves.

Like the children, we tantrum. We don’t want to do it. All we can see is the child across the table with our great box. We fold our arms across our chest and look down, we turn our back to the teacher, the only one who can really help us and we sense Him walk away. This is the worst part. When God himself has abandoned us and then we have nothing at all.

There have been times in my life when I thought God walked away. Like the time when Jack was born with silent reflux and cried for a year, the same year we were building our first home. I didn’t know how to construct a home to the background noise of a screaming child who would not sleep.

I tried to manage it all. The choosing of tiles, the fittings, the power points, the paint colours – all those things I had thought would make me happy but all I wanted was to sleep and for my baby not to cry. I wanted to be surrounded in family, friends and sunshine. I wanted to be in Sydney where life was easier, where I wasn’t alone and afraid.

I couldn’t see the opportunities in front of me just like that child this week could not see the trimmings down the centre of the table. Sometimes our eyes are fixed on other things, we are immersed in our sadness and the way things have not gone according to our plan.

I prayed for months that Jack would get better; I spent my days searching for a remedy or cure. He just kept on crying and I paced the floors all night with him slung over my arm. I didn’t get answers, or healing, or a quick fix. Instead God sent me a woman familiar with pain.

I can see her navy shoes and her matching trousers before I can see her blouse or tender face. I see her through the glass as she makes her way down the stairs that lead to the home we finally moved in to, the one that was built in tears. She descended into my life like an angel, carrying songs of joy. (Psalm 126:5)

I hear her laughter as she realises it is bath time and she takes my crying child from me so that I can adjust the taps. She rests herself on the toilet and I on the side of the bath and as the children soak, we have adult conversation.

For at least a year we did this. We bathed children, we drank tea, we talked and somehow I grew larger from her words of experience, her wisdom and her faith in me.

When I plucked up the courage to share the contents of my journals, she encouraged me that one day I would write a book. She spoke of her daughter who would write one as well. One day she arrived with a story written by her daughter about her horse, a story for me to keep because I appreciated great words.

It is incredible how all the experiences throughout our lives come together to equip us for the future and the phenomenal people who equip us to be brave. Cancer has completely changed my perspective about what makes a person great. I used to think it was about public ministry, or popularity, or talent or something like that. Now I see that greatness comes in the ordinary clothing of those who keep turning up.

In the months proceeding Sam’s diagnosis the Lord taught me how to prepare and how to lie down. He told me to take His yoke upon me, because His burden was light. He told me to come to Him because He would bring me rest and refreshment for my soul. Every time that I do this, I know His words are true and that they sustain me. We never quite know what lies ahead of us but one thing I know is that God always sends the right people to help us manage the season we are in. I watch and see as ‘God’s joy moves from unmarked box to unmarked box,’ infiltrating the empty spaces as I open up to Him.

His joy moves from cell to cell and life continues to flow. He finds ways to connect you to the right people, giving you ears to hear and eyes to see and a thousand opportunities arise. It was through ‘Twitter’ that I found my friend’s daughter because in the waiting rooms of hospitals, this strange form of contact kept me connected with the outside world.

I had heard that Maggie was writing now and that her book was ready to be published. So I followed, gleaning all that I could from her and thoughts of her mother loomed large in my memory. So here we are, three women, three challenging sets of life circumstances and somehow we are linked by the finest thread of connection and a little bit of history that goes back more than a decade.

On the 3rd of August I wrote about Maggie in my journal, it was on one of those days when I had lots of questions and this is what I wrote. “Maybe I can get to know Maggie MacKellar beyond the 140 characters of Twitter?” Then the very next day, not even having registered that she was also following me, I spotted a DM in my Twitter feed from Maggie, it’s a comment about my blog and the rain of joy lightly falls.

On a farm before the rain comes there ‘is in the unspoken solidarity of large beasts all over the district that simply lie down…with intent, not in the relaxed way they do in their normal routine where they snooze in the middle of the day. Rather it’s a serious sitting on the earth. How do they know this? They must feel some shift in the atmospheric pressure – because they do know and in preparation for having to stand in the wet & cold, they sit in the dry before the rain comes.’ (Maggie MacKeller)

If we could sense what was coming, maybe we would lie down too? Maybe our perspective of what is important would change; maybe we would just get on with building a life from the box we’ve been given without complaint the way my friend once taught me. Maybe as we create this life and as we tell our stories we will discover a peculiar strength, a raw beauty, and the capacity to conquer in ways we never thought possible. My friend’s daughter published her book, just as her mother knew she would.

Today I stand in a Kindergarten classroom and hope that I can teach the children the kind of wisdom that Maggie’s mother once taught me. I return to the child who is holding the box that she doesn’t want and I think of my daughter who is also trying to rebuild.

After a little time of fossicking in the art cupboard, I have found sequins; foil cut outs and all manner of glittery things. I present them to the child and I ask, “Would these help?”

Suddenly every child in the room wants what she has but there is only enough for her. Am I wrong to give gifts to a sulking child? Maybe I am but this has been the way God has extended His grace to me. He takes the flimsy remains of the box I didn’t want and presents me with embellishments. He sends people who are acquainted with sorrow to fill the empty spaces and somehow through the stories we share, joy comes and I am recreated.

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