Monthly Archives: January 2011

Goal Setting

“Our achievements grow according to the size of our dreams and the degree to which we are in touch with our mission.” Keith Ferrazzi

I love January, it’s a time when we relax, make plans, set things in order and make new goals. At least that is what I do. In January of 2010 I made it my goal to write 5 mornings a week and to post a blog every Sunday. I succeeded. There were other goals as well, things I did not succeed in; these ones got carried forward to this year’s page and I hope that a year from now I will be able to say they were accomplished as well. I won’t tell you what they are just now because I read this post and it made me think twice about it.

I like setting goals; it comes fairly naturally to me. I am not sure if that’s a ‘teacher thing’? Everything we do with the children has a desired outcome, indicators as to how we will know if the thing has been achieved, there’s a whole lot of cross referencing that we do all the time. We examine the scope and sequence of things, looking for overlaps, reviewing the best order for getting things done. Back in the days of teacher’s college, everything was about long-term and short-term objectives and evaluation; so I guess, after a while it gets into your psyche and goals are second nature. A little bit like breathing.

Maybe it isn’t the setting of goals that is hard. We can all write lists and cross things off as you get things done but it’s more important to know where you are going isn’t it? I was processing this thought this morning, debating it with myself whether it was more important to know the dream or to know the steps to get there. The dream can be aloof and far off if there are no steps, or if we think it can’t be done. Yet if there is no dream maybe you just exist, maybe life slips by without you ever accomplishing anything? On the other hand if you project too far into the future can you really enjoy the moment you are in? What do you think? I am genuinely interested to know.

Maybe part of success is having someone to follow? As a Christian I am eager to find God’s will for my life. Maybe you are not a Christian but maybe you have someone you look up to and admire, someone you want to follow? Even that can be hard. Often the people who lead us are not so good at showing the way. I think for the disciples that even following Jesus was tricky at times.

“Thomas said to him, Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?” John 14:3

I love characters like Thomas. They are the ones who dare to say the things we are all thinking. To ask the questions we are afraid to ask for fear of looking foolish. Have you ever been in a conversation where you just nod and smile like you know exactly what the other person is talking about but really you have no idea? I can’t fake it anymore. I think I have gotten beyond the point of caring that people might think I am foolish for not knowing. Isn’t it better just to say you don’t know and ask them to explain?

I want to go somewhere. I want to find the path that has been set for me, to discover the purpose for my life. I figure I am going to have to ask a whole lot of questions to get there and to risk looking foolish sometimes. Poor Thomas, even the answer Jesus gave him was cryptic. He said, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” It isn’t completely clear is it?

Another reason I really like Thomas is because he didn’t just conform because everyone else did. He had the courage to do it his way, not just follow the pack. I like people who are brave enough to take risks and stand on their own for what they believe. It isn’t always the right thing to do. Sometimes this attitude will get you in a whole lot of trouble. It’s easier to be ‘cookie cutter,’ to blend with the pack, to go with the flow but maybe you don’t get what you want in life by playing it safe.

I was making icing for cupcakes and as I sifted the icing sugar I watched the lumps that danced up and down avoiding the holes in the mesh for as long as possible. I wondered to myself if that was how God sees me. No matter how I bashed against the side of the sifter those lumps did not dislodge; they resisted conformity right to the very end, when every other grain of sugar had gone willingly through the wire. I talked to God about this because in the case of the sugar lumps I had two choices. I could either discard them or crush them in my fingers and dissolve them with the rest of the ingredients.

I thought about the effects my daughter’s cancer has had on my life. I know that in some ways I have changed as a result. My prayer is that I have become resilient but I know there is potential for me to become hard. I don’t want to be hard or defensive or unapproachable. I want to be light.

I discussed this with Emma. We were talking about photography and she said photography was wonderful because it was all about light. I said how I didn’t get it. I love to set up frames and capture what I see but years ago when I did a photography course I was completely overwhelmed. I couldn’t get my head around all the terminology, it seemed so mathematical knowing how to calibrate the f-numbers to get the correct aperture. I could never remember whether it was the higher or lower numbers that let in more light and in the end I just gave up and let the automatic settings on the camera do their job.

There’s a fine line between letting go and plowing forward. It’s a bit like that old fashioned prayer about God granting you the serenity to accept the things you can’t change, the courage to change the things you can and the wisdom to know the difference.

I’m learning that my annual goals need to be broken up into bite size chunks, so now in my journal I write about one of the goals and a step I will accomplish that day. I also decided to look at the year, a month at a time, and make monthly goals, like stepping stones.

In January I decided I would:
Swim or walk everyday
Journal 6 days a week
Enrol for two subjects at uni
Buy a new Bible and read it every day
Join The Red Cross and give blood
Re-enrol at Toastmasters and book in to speak

Mission accomplished!

What about you? What do you think about goal setting?



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Wordless Wednesday

Come over to my place!



At the end of summer holidays, with the sofa covers washed, the cupboards sorted and order restored I feel such sweet contentment and affection for my home. In a couple of weeks, chaos will return and things will be everywhere! But today it is a sanctuary, all quiet and peace.

What do you love about your place?


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As I left home at 6 to take Jack for his shift at work the sky was white like the matte finish of photo paper. An ominous grey cloud stretched its head over the beach, a massive silhouette, growling in my direction.

“There’s a lion in the road, a fierce lion roaming the streets!” Proverbs 26:13

This scripture turned in my head, which still felt full of the haunting dreams of last night and the magnificent film Sarah’s Key that I had been down to the cinema to see. I had woken half way through the night, suddenly seeing the images of the cupboard – the part the film director was wise not to show us – because we saw it anyway, in the crevices of our own imaginations.

I lay staring at the ceiling in my half hearted attempt to get back to sleep. Really I just wanted to make sense of the feelings running around in my brain and all those questions. Oh the questions! Do you really ever get over trauma? Was life for Sarah ever really meant to go on after concentration camp, the brutality of war and her desperation to save her brother? Do any of us who have confronted death ever really get over it – even if we escaped?

The images developed as they always do in a dark room. Those images that are lifted out of the water in a photo lab, swished with tweezers and clipped up before us, hung there to dry. And I started to cry.

Images surround us don’t they? Even when we are not looking, when our eyes are closed and we are meant to be sleeping. The images of what we fear, disjointed frames that don’t connect. Our lives, the lives of others, fictional lives from the pages of a book. They roll around in our dreams. We wake to the stifled sounds of sobbing behind closed doors. Theses sounds are silent on waking, it was just a dream and I tell myself it’s okay, ‘the monster’s gone’ but the images remain in the silence of the bedroom. I see it all again. The downward glances of nurses, who walk the corridors watching their shoes because there has been bad news. I remember the sound, the squeak of navy hush puppies on the stained linoleum that’s been sterilized but still doesn’t shine.

I think about this, staring at the time on my iPhone and tell myself I should sleep – no time for this. But the film is still turning and there is so much to see and so much I want to do and people I want to rescue…

I see it again, those mothers in the movie forcefully knocking back the soldiers to be with their children and then I picture the women in the papers whose children drowned in the flood and I feel so incredibly sad and helpless and afraid. Does it get to you too?

I throw back the covers; make my way into the lounge room. I silently creep into each of the children’s rooms. They stir when I enter but go on sleeping as I stand in the doorway just to watch them breathing. I feel so grateful for their lives. My three beautiful children!

I was speaking to a stranger the other day, trying to sort out medical bills, trying to catch up still on the ones we neglected to pay, trying to explain that it was so big that the bills were the last thing on our minds and how in the piles some just slipped through unnoticed, got shoved in a drawer – like they didn’t exist anymore. (I love it when my thoughts rhyme)

While I was explaining about my daughter she said it was terrible and asked if she were our only child? When she discovered we had to others, she said that at least if we had lost her we would have had them.

How do you respond?

How does a child ever make up for the loss of another?

Does this woman have a heart? I better not start!

I was still awake when Jack made his way into the shower. “I’ll take him,” I say to Reid who doesn’t hear me anyway. I grab my journal, my Bible and throw on something respectable enough for the café. I don’t honestly care what I wear but I want to be decent.

“I’ll be in the car.”

As I drive no words pass between us. I order my coffee.

From the pages of my journal the Annie Leibovitz programme falls on the table. I shove it back into the covers then realize these are more images…what am I meant to be seeing? I sigh!

I really loved this exhibition.

Reid and I took a whole day in the city and I was as excited as a kid in a candy shop. We had a proper lunch at a café in The Rocks and I recalled the annual trip there with my mum and my sister when we were children. I told Reid how we had a routine. First the candle shop, then we watched the man blowing glass into dainty ornaments and then we would buy some “Newcastle Rock” because that reminded my mum of her childhood trips to the sea back home in the north of England.

It’s precious to remember traditions of our childhood. Sometimes memories are all we have. They are embedded all the way through the inner part of our existence and no matter how life cuts you they remain the same, like the words in the Newcastle Rock.

I squeezed Reid’s hand going up the stairs to the exhibition. “Thank you,” I said.

For years we couldn’t afford to go into the exhibition or go for lunch in a café. For years we ate lunch on the grass outside the MCA, ‘cop-a-squating’ like Julia Roberts and Richard Gere in Pretty Woman, then passing our time looking at the books in the foyer, reading about what was going on upstairs for those who had money to see.

We strolled through the exhibit, standing like experts in front of each frame. I read every plaque, soaking in the stories of this life. Magnificent photography, outstanding images – I loved the ones of Demi Moore and Keira Knightly but most of all I loved the ones of Annie’s family. I loved reading what she wrote about her mother, in her bathing costume and how she always wanted the children to smile for photos. I cried, real sobs (yes me – what has happened to me lately?) when her friend Susan died because cancer came back – a type of Leukaemia!

I tucked the programme into my journal and opened the pages of my bible. I bought a new bible last Saturday, it’s an NIV (I finally decided that the Amplified has too many words!) and I am doing the ‘Suggested Bible Reading Track’ in the back. I discover I am up to The Beatitudes. Matthew 5: 3 and 4 goes like this:

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, 
 for they will be comforted.”

I realize I have been thinking for a long time. I look up and the sky is blue. The scent of coffee drifts through the bi-fold windows of my local café and the guy next to me is madly writing his thoughts in an A4 exercise book.

“It helps me get it out,” he tells me. I nod, smiling in acquiescence. This is the language of the morning and dopamine releases in my brain, like a sudden rush of happiness.

The lion of the morning was not my enemy. He is my dearest friend, my great redeemer, my Aslan.

How do you deal with the things you fear?


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Wordless Wednesday

I love cheese toasties. It’s a family favourite on Sunday nights served with tinned tomato soup. Sweet, simple Sundays! Do you have a favourite? Your turn to talk – I’m the wordless (wordfew) one on Wednesdays. Shall I keep this up – or save it for school hoildays? Do you love photos as much as me?


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Core of my heart, my country!

Chair at the second hand store

I was at the second hand store the other day with Jack and I found this great chair. Actually the chair kind of found me because I wasn’t looking for anything at all. I think we have enough stuff in our house from the second hand store. Sometimes I wonder whether we give more stuff to them or whether we buy more stuff from them but either way, I guess we can say there is a continual flow of giving. If anything sits in our hallway for much longer than an afternoon, Reid will have slung it into his car for delivery, convinced that whatever is in the bag was intended for the second hand store. Poor Emma went on a search through all the local ones the other day to see if her precious India purchases could be relocated. Reid has a type of amnesia in these situations and never can recall which ‘op’ shop scored our things. Emma made me laugh when she tweeted her dilemma: Anyway, back to my chair!

As I sat waiting for Jack, I realised that the little slipper chair underneath me was very comfortable. Suddenly I could visualise little people in front of me ready for story time, so I went to enquire if it was for sale.

“Oh yes, dear, it’s for sale but it’s a very expensive one because it’s a Parker Knoll,” the assistant advised me.

I told her that I thought it would be lovely in my Kindergarten classroom and she told me they had much cheaper chairs that would serve the purpose just as well, chairs that would not require the great expense of being re-upholstered. I smiled and walked away suddenly thinking that the $75 price tag was too high. I quickly texted a series of photos to a dear friend who buys things like this at auction to reupholster all the time and awaited her response. When word came back that it seemed completely suitable and that her equipment was ‘all mine’ to upholster it myself, I made the purchase and drove home delighted.

Stripped back!

It took me almost a day to tear back all the rancid, dusty and faded pink fabric from the timber. I did it slowly and carefully so as not to rip it too much. I figured if I labelled all the pieces carefully I could cut a new cover from a different fabric using the old pieces for a pattern. As I did this, another lovely heavy brocade fabric appeared under the layer that I was peeling off and the closer I got to the bones of the chair, the more I began to wonder about its date, its history and the life it had lived.

Authentic markings under the fabric

What amazed me was how sturdy this little chair was and how beautifully crafted it was under all the layers of fabric. The beauty to me was in the markings hidden beneath the fabric in places where only the upholsterer would see. It’s often not until everything is stripped away, all the layers peeled back, all the outer coverings removed, that you actually get to assess the true character of a piece of furniture like this. I’ve seen the same strength of character in my daughter as her hair fell out, as her weight dropped, as all hope of vitality seemed stripped away through the harsh effects of cancer and the treatment methods that were designed to make her well. In her physical weakness I observed her core strength; her dogged determination that this was going to pass and she was going to get better. There were dreadful moments as well, times when the fight didn’t seem worth it to her, when she wanted to give up and the challenge to recover seemed impossible. I can still hear her little voice saying, “Oh mum, I don’t know, I think it’s just too hard and I should just go to be with Jesus.” I held her close and kissed her little face because at times like these I had no words.

Sometimes there are no words to describe the pain that is caused through devastating circumstances. Like you, I’ve watched in horror this week as images of the Queensland flood infiltrate our media. We shake our heads in disbelief wondering how our nation will recover and what we can do to help. We eagerly wait for leadership and instruction, for someone to break it down for us so that we can do something that is helpful.

In the heat of Sydney’s summer, walking at dusk along the beach, I found myself trying to contemplate the situation. Dodging the bluebottles embedded in the sand at low tide, watching the setting sun reflect off them like opals, I was reminded of Dorothea Mackellar’s description of our nation – ‘an opal hearted country.’ I thought for a long time about that image and what it means. It is the rich mineral wealth beneath the surface of our earth but it is much deeper than that as well. Amidst the loss and the grief we see the best (and maybe the worst) of people in times of great need. I think the most incredible thing to witness is the beauty, the strength and the integrity of the Australian spirit. In the words of the Queensland Premier, Anna Bligh, ‘it may break our hearts but it will not break our will.’

God promises in Isaiah 42:3-4 A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out. In faithfulness he will bring forth justice; he will not falter or be discouraged till he establishes justice on earth. In his teaching the islands will put their hope.

I used to ask God about this all the time when Sam was at her weakest; I grappled to understand what it meant. I am still not completely sure, but I have discovered that in my weakness, His strength is sure. In my need to completely rely on Him, my life feels supple in his hands and my capacity for compassion is increased.

‘Core of my heart, my country!’ The poet so aptly describes the passion that is felt for this nation that we love. That passion is immovable, strong and unwavering. Our heart aches for those who have lost loved ones, who have no insurance cover and who will spend years trying to rebuild. As you already know you can donate money here

All ready for Kindergarten

Whatever we are going through in life, we all need a friend who is available to offer help. Even an insignificant, discarded chair can be rebuilt when you have a friend who sees its potential. So with all my smelly pieces of pink silk, pinned to bright apple green velvet, I headed up to my friend’s house and spent the day giving my Parker Knoll new life. It will be recovered again one day in duck egg blue (a more suitable choice perhaps) and find its home in my lounge room. But for now I eagerly await the children who will sit in front of it and stroke its soft fabric and maybe give my suede shoes a break.

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Wordless Wednesday

Life is a gift tied with a bow. Beauty is everywhere. Tell me…what do you love?

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The calendar I got for Christmas in 2008 still hangs in our pantry listing all the activities of January 2009. I realized this the other day. Two years out of date, it hangs there and I have barely even noticed. Almost every box is complete, people to see and places to go. It is filled with activities and plans.

January is all about making plans. It is in our house. I start the year running, determined to achieve great things. I begin setting goals for exercise, meal preparation, spiritual reflection, organization, education, books to read, as well as plans for work and family.

Mostly in January I read this little book called “Sorted” and I begin to throw out everything that did not get worn or used the previous year. I try to create order and space in the very tiny place in which we live. I re-read “The Artist’s Way” because it reminds me to relax, to explore my creative side and to indulge my passion to write. I start an assortment of Bible reading plans but revert back to the method of reading it at a snail pace, journaling under four simple headings that help me find relevance, revelation, meaning and application. I am immensely thankful for January. It is a time for positioning oneself for the year ahead. I am astounded that God, by His grace, gave me January to get prepared for Sam’s diagnosis. Even though nothing prepares you for cancer.

As we sat in oncology on Thursday for Sam to receive her monthly infusion, we listened to the story of the boy opposite; he looked like he was about 19. He told the social worker that he got diagnosed with cancer on New Years Eve. He told her about his parents, the trip they had planned and how they had left anyway. His elder brother was there, and a couple of friends. They were supportive, filling out forms, inquiring about drugs, side effects and treatments. They were laughing hysterically over some of the questions that Centrelink want to have answered. It made me laugh too, just listening to them. I love how laughter is contagious. I whispered to the nurse ‘does he have Leukaemia?’ and this unexpected wave of emotion swept over me and I began to cry.

I don’t cry, not usually. So I felt a bit embarrassed by my sudden overflow of tears. “Are you okay?” the nurse asked me. “Yes, sort of,” I replied, “Its just so unfair that he is at the beginning and it’s such a long road.” I could have completely lost it at that point, so I laughed instead. I looked at Sam and told her I was sorry, that I was just sad that his mum wasn’t there. Sam said she was sad too, kind of shocked by that and suddenly we were judging his mother for going away. Then I remembered that two years ago I did not realize how bad Leukaemia was, maybe if I had a trip booked I would have gone too.

I did not know then that every part of my life was about to change or how hard things would get. It’s so easy to make judgments about others and act all self-righteous about how good we are. Sometimes it takes a while to work out what you are meant to do in a circumstance you didn’t expect. Sometimes all our best plans are interrupted and we have to change course.

I remember all the phone calls back and forth to my boss (who is amongst my dearest friends) trying to work out how I could stay at work through Sam’s treatment. I thought life would just go on as it always had. ‘I am high capacity, I can fit in work as well,’ I had thought. We looked at every possible scenario before we realized there was nothing for it but for me to take leave. Leaving work terrified me almost as much as the cancer. I didn’t know how we would survive. I felt like life was over in so many ways but good things come as a result of pressure. We begin to think creative, unconventional thoughts. We learn to make peace with today and discover that there is no point in fearing what might happen tomorrow because today is all we have. We get God’s perspective and our focus shifts, He teaches us how to think.

“We look not at the things which are seen, but at the things that are unseen. The things which are seen are temporal and the things which are unseen are eternal.” 2 Corinthians 4:8

Sometimes all we can see is our circumstance, the hellish place that we are in right now and all we want is for God to deliver us from it. We don’t want life to be hard, we don’t want to have to make sense of a situation that seems unfair and undeserving. We want to be delivered from it, for the thing to pass as quickly as possible. We want to wind back the clock and freeze time in the past when life was wonderful and opportunities for success were ours for the taking. We are terrified about what lurks behind the shadows of the future. Every now and then I catch myself asking my husband, “What will we do if this or that happens?” In his wisdom he reminds me that God will be with us then, in our future, should the situation arise and He will give us strength, He will be with us just as He has been with us the last two years.

There is nothing like His presence. Even when life is upside down and out of order, God’s grace filters through the cracks. He fills and expands the places of our hearts that feel rough edged, brittle and unprotected. His love oozes out like ‘polyfiller’ forming a buffer, a landing pad for the bubbles of grief that rise and fall unexpectedly in the pit of our belly. He coaxes us to swallow the lumps that get trapped in our throat and see the possibilities instead. He shows us the beauty all around us, the things we actually didn’t stop to notice when life was good. He teaches us to settle with today and enjoy it completely. We can still shoot for the moon but while we are travelling towards it we discover that we already have the stars (like Bette Davis said) and life is good.

On the flip side of what it is worrying you today, can you see something good? Is it possible that what you fear night not even happen?

This upside down shop display made me smile.


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