On words and silence

I’ve got rather practiced, this last week, at removing words from things. I submitted a couple of pieces of writing to the Pilgrim Hill Arts Festival, which had a maximum word count requirement of only 500 words per piece, meaning I needed to lose some 300 words from one piece, and almost 700 from another—and still keep the original integrity. And then I helped my husband cut down words from one of his university assignments to get it under the required word count.

Just. Of. That. Really.

You don’t realise when you write a first draft, the everything-goes-in, write-it-as-you-speak-it without a single care about numbers or saying things “right”, that half the words you use are really, really just…unnecessary!

It reminded me of my favourite joke from childhood…the man walking past the fish shop:

A man walking down the road stopped when he saw the fishmonger admiring his new sign outside his shop, saying “Fresh Fish Sold Here Today”.

“Why does the sign say ‘fresh’”, the man asked, “Would you be selling it if it wasn’t?”

“Good point,” said the fishmonger, as he grabbed a cloth and rubbed out the word ‘fresh’, then stepped back to look.

“Also, ‘Here’?” the man asked him. “Where else would you be selling the fish but in your shop?”

After thinking about this for a minute, the fishmonger said, “That makes perfect sense!” So he altered the sign again to read “Fish Sold Today.”

No sooner had he finished this the man spoke up again. “You really don’t need ‘Sold?’ either. You weren’t planning on giving it away!”

“Right again,” said the fishmonger, and crossed out ‘sold’.

The sign now read “Fish Today”, which puzzled both the man and the fishmonger. They stood staring at it for a moment, until the man said, “You don’t really need to say ‘today’, do you? I mean, you won’t be selling it yesterday…isn’t that bit obvious?”

“You’re right!” said the fishmonger, as he rubbed out the offending word, leaving one word on his sign: ‘Fish’. “Thank you so much for your help, sir. I’m so thankful you stopped by.”

“No problems at all”, the man smiled as he turned to leave. “Oh, and by the way, you don’t need to say ‘fish’, either. You can smell it a mile off!”

I loved this story as a child. It took me years, though, to realise how much I’d grown to resemble it. We cut out words all the time, and we think it justified, consider ourselves stronger, somehow, for our verbal leanness.

Somehow, slowly, I’d cut out unnecessary words from my communication, until all that was left was a silence filled with an expectation that other people knew what I was not saying.

I learned eventually one very powerful truth:

People don’t know what’s happening inside of you unless you tell them.

Speak up. It’s important that you do. Your words matter. All of them, even the little ones you’d deem unnecessary, they’re all part of the bigger story. Even just really. All of it matters.

If for no other reason than just because…

 

 

 

Advertisements

On Dreams, and Taking my Dead Dad to Queensland

I wanted to talk about my dad, and got sideswiped by my mum last week. It happens some times, I guess. Parents can be like that…even if they have dementia, or are, as in my dad’s case, dead.

Here’s something they don’t tell you when you’re young—when you’re young enough to think that you’ll be young forever, and young enough to think that your parents are terribly, terribly old (in the decades before they actually reach that fated state)—nobody tells you that your parents will be with you, in some form or another, for your whole life. Or, as far as I can tell, longer than they’re actually necessarily here.

(To my kids…I’m sorry!)

They stay in memory. They stay with who you are, in myriad little decisions, little thoughts each day. They’re there in your self-talk, in the way you speak to others, in the way you see yourself even. It can be good or bad…sometimes both…

I still have, strictly speaking, both my parents. My mum, as I wrote last week, is in an aged care facility where they take excellent care of her. My dad—as he has always been—is a little more complicated.

My dad died five years ago. He died quite suddenly, a matter of only a few days after he’d been unwell on a Friday, and we’d made the transition in our minds to “Dad is elderly now”, and began to think about how we’d handle the next few years. “The next few years” ended on a Tuesday morning, and that was that. There was a funeral, and a cremation, and some weeks after Christmas the funeral home presented me with a white paper carry-bag containing the photo I’d given them of Dad, and the presentation they’d made of it, a candle, and a rather heavy plastic box that apparently contains his ashes.

Much happened in our family in the weeks and months after Dad’s death. Most of it good, much of it pivotal. I’m not the most organised person (or, at least, I had a lot to organise at that time), and the white paper carry-bag stayed on my bedroom floor with a few bits of other paperwork. And then the paperwork got dealt with, but Dad stayed there. And then, after a while, he migrated to the back of the cupboard, and he’s been there ever since.

It’s not much of an ending, really. And I guess this is really the key behind my (lack of) decision: I wasn’t ready for an ending.

Dad hadn’t been ready for an ending, either. Dad had dreams—big ones, that had sustained him for twenty years or more. In a way I think it was the loss of his dream that eventually killed him.

Dad was going to move to Queensland.

To be slightly more accurate, Dad was going to marry a lady called Helen and move to Queensland with her. He met Helen soon after he moved to Western Australia, some time in the 1990s. They were friends on and off, she had boyfriends on and off (none of them were my father), and, from what I can tell, a sad and quite complicated life. She didn’t want to marry my dad, annor did she want to move to Queensland, but Dad was an optimistic soul*, and kept the dream of Helen and Queensland alive for many years, and these dreams are the ones that sustained him.

I wanted Dad to move back to Tasmania, to be closer to family in his latter years, and he came to visit a couple of times, which we all enjoyed. He was restless though, unable to settle, because of Helen, because of his dream, because of Queensland.

He came to visit last one August, he’d stay for six weeks, he said, then go back home to Western Australia. He had plans. Helen. Dreams. Queensland. He had to get things sorted, get ready to go.

It was down here in Hobart where everything changed, in the yellow fluorescent-lit basement of JB Hifi. He ran into an old acquaintance from Western Australia, simply by chance, an old flame of Helen’s, apparently, who told him the worst news possible: Helen had died some years before. She wasn’t ever going to marry my dad. She wasn’t ever going to move to Queensland.

Three months after this my dad was dead too. Heart failure. I’m pretty sure it was the death of his dream that killed him.

Now, some astute readers will be saying by now, “How come, if he was so convinced he was going to marry this woman, he could not know of her death? And not her recent death, her TWO YEARS AGO death?” to which I would reply, “he was a VERY optimistic soul”**.

Dreams are, more than I’d ever realised, life-giving. Similarly, the loss of a dream can be quite literally a death to the soul.

I’ve had a few of my own dreams die these past few years. A few big ones I’ve allowed to die a natural death, and in their place new dreams are slowly rising again, perhaps healthier ones, or more true ones. And also, in these past few years, I’ve seen childhood dreams, long dead, miraculously rise into fulfilment and hope.

The lesson for me, I guess, is we need to keep a loose hold on all our dreams, both the living ones and the dead. We need to be free enough to dream, comfortable enough to allow our dreams to die, and have enough faith to understand that sometimes the dead are, miraculously, resurrected.

My dad is very dead, and—aside from in a theological sense—I’m not expecting a physical resurrection of him any time soon. But Queensland remains, and a little part of my dad’s dream lives within me, in the part of me that loved him. And so, in a couple of week’s time I’m going to pull the white paper carry bag that contains Dad’s remains out of the back of the cupboard where it’s been buried, and my husband and I will pack him in our suitcase and take him on our interstate holiday.

We’ll stay the weekend, enjoy the sunshine, find some nice beaches, find somewhere nice, somewhere that Dad would have liked—it’ll have to be near the water, he always loved the water—and we’ll fulfil Dad’s dream for him, and leave him in Queensland.

Parents stay with you, long after they’ve died, it seems. I don’t know what I think about how much the dead can see or experience of life back here on earth, but I do believe that when we meet God face to face all that is broken and wronged within us is made whole again, and that the Dad that I’ll see, eventually, in Heaven, will have a very strong grasp again on reality.

I hope he likes Queensland.

 

*some would say more “lost touch with reality” rather than simply “optimistic”, but who am I to judge?

** some would say more “lost touch with reality” rather than simply “VERY optimistic”, but who am I to judge?

 

The Cushion: a story of dementia and grief

This is a piece of narrative non-fiction. A true story, a telling of an incident that happened this week. My mother moved into a nursing home in July last year, after it became obvious that she was no longer fit or suited to living alone. For the most part she is happy. The place she lives is lovely, the staff incredibly kind. But the mix of emotions–for both of us–is a complicated one, and not easily expressed in the big, brightly-coloured building-block words we often use for our feelings. This narrative is the closest I’ve come so far to express something of the journey that this past year has been…

 

…”You know the one, on my armchair. A creamy colour. Can you bring it in to me?”

We’ve had this conversation three times in as many days now. I remember. She doesn’t.

“Yes, Mum. You asked me that yesterday.” I don’t say, “and the day before as well.” There’s no point. I don’t want to upset her. “I’ll have a look for it,” (the first lie always feels the most sour) “and bring it to you as soon as I can.”

The cushion is gone, the creamy one on the armchair. The armchair is gone, and the funny wooden box next to it that held an assortment of half-completed crossword puzzles, dog-eared coffee-stained knitting patterns, scraps of wool, and cat hair. The coffee cups have gone, all bar one or two. The clothes horse, the towels, the hundred pairs of near-threadbare underpants with their vain attempts at elastic that hung to dry there. All gone, either to the second-hand shop or the council tip. The cushion in question was ripped and lumpy, and ended up in a bag of rubbish with the kitty litter and some old food from the freezer.

“I need a cushion, you see. That one’s quite a comfortable one. Could you bring it by on Friday, do you think?”

The second lie, the tongue’s back broken by the first, is easier. “That’s fine, Mum. I’ll see what I can do.”

*

The pain is not an obvious one. It doesn’t jump up at you, demand to be noticed, but slides quietly in with every passing hour, until your body and mind ache with the weight of memory. A lifetime’s worth of residual fear, unexpressed grief, lies I’ve believed about myself in the past—long vanquished—whose ghosts arise again: “You’ve done a bad thing. You’re a BAD DAUGHTER. You threw out all your mother’s things and rented her unit to strangers and put her in a home!”

I did throw out her things. I threw out her cushion. I threw out her armchair and her table and everything on it. I emptied her cupboards and cleaned them out, and rented her empty unit to a family who needed a new home. I told her all these things, too, multiple times, and she said, “yes, you’ve done a good thing,” and “thank you”. Not that she remembers that any more, when she asks for her cushion. I’m scared to my bones in wonder of what else she’ll ask for that’s gone.

*

I could go to a homewares shop and buy her a new cushion, but I know the stuff they carry these days—textures and big prints and fur—and it’s not her. So I go to the op-shops, the same ones I took her stuff to all those months ago, and I poke through baskets of cushions left there by other mothers, other daughters who have discarded old and unwanted things. I got to five shops, six maybe, analysing each selection’s offering in terms of its size, comfort, and similarity to the one that was lost. I find one eventually, for $2.50, take it home and write her name on the label.

The phone rings. It’s her. I don’t answer it. The guilt of my cushion-discarding transgression overwhelms every other emotion I have today, and in this place I can’t be the daughter she needs.

I don’t go to see her that afternoon, or the next. The cushion sits jauntily on an occasional chair in our lounge-room, one that used to be hers. I let the cushion sit there for days—could leave it there forever until she forgets that she ever had a cushion, an armchair, a unit, or a daughter even—could leave it there until the next lie becomes the truth, “this is one we had at home and we don’t use”.

*

I visit her on Friday, three days after I bought the cushion. I don’t give it to her directly, just leave it in her room and go sit with her and have a cup of tea with her in the communal lounge.

“I brought you a cushion Mum”, I say, and mumble the lie about one from home and something about how I couldn’t find the other one. She doesn’t mind.

We talk about her knitting, and what’s on the news, and about how lovely the staff are there, and I answer the same questions three times in ten minutes about what the kids are up to, and what grades they’re at in school. She doesn’t question anything I say, or confront me on what I’ve done with all her stuff. My mum is happy to have a cushion, and most of all happy to have a daughter and a visit and a cup of tea. I leave her with a kiss and a smile and a promise to come back next week. She doesn’t blame me. She doesn’t even remember. The guilt—like the armchair, the mess of crossword puzzles and old wool scraps, like the old cushion—is no longer mine to carry.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On life, stories, community, and speaking up in spite of it all

I thought as much.

It’s been nearly TWO YEARS since I wrote a blog post. Two YEARS!!! Hello, dear readers, I’ve missed you!

I’d likely, under other circumstances, spend a paragraph or two explaining myself, telling you all about those two years, and why life became so insanely busy that I neglected the hobby that most closely aligns with my passions–writing, stories, people–but in all honesty, they are not all stories I am at liberty to tell.

There were three. All together. None really related, except by the common thread of my integral involvement, and by the fact that, by the end of each Friday I found myself collapsing into bed with nothing more than a deep desire to clean my kitchen and hibernate from the world. It was okay. Everything resolved, as things do, and I’m only reminded now of how crazy those two years really were by the fact of this newly-discovered sense of life, purpose, vision, that was buried under the bedclothes of my mind.

I learned a lot. You tend to learn a lot in those crucible times, and a lot of it I’m still unpacking, sifting through, figuring out the deeper truths, and the bits I just got kinda wrong.

You know sometimes it’s hard to tell the truths from the bits you got wrong? When you actually and honestly and truly believe that Milwaukee is a state of the USA, or that Elvis IS alive and living in the basement of Coles Supermarket…but that’s another story.

But the thing…the number one thing I learned in this season, the thing I feel like I’m only just beginning to unpack, is the importance of Community.

I HAD IT WRONG, ALL THESE YEARS.

Community is where it’s at. More than achieving goals in life, more than dreams, vision, career…more than clean kitchens or boxes ticked. Other people…and our proximity to them. Working together, through the good times and the crazy times. Finding people to be real with, and being real with them. Getting angry with people–and letting them get angry with you–and still being okay. Speaking up, even when I’m scared of what I have to say.

This is my journey.

It’s been harder than I’d like to admit.

This isn’t a particularly inspiring blog post. I’ve been wanting to find some gold nugget, something really pithy to share, to launch back into blogging with some kind of…I don’t know…purpose! meaning! but not today. And I guess that’s the point really, as well. It’s not about achievement, doing the best, kicking all the goals or going home defeated. It’s about showing up, regardless.

This is me, showing up, regardless.

My goal for now is to start blogging again. Regardless of what I have–or haven’t got–to say. Because…people. Because community. Because…speaking up.

My friend Gill was here last week, who astounds me in her incredible ability to build and grow community around her (no she hasn’t written a book about it yet…I’m watching and taking notes from the sidelines). As she went, she hugged me and said, “Keep communicating!”

I’m sure blogging isn’t exactly what she meant…but those two words ran deep.

So here you go, dear reader. My thanks to those who bore with me in the Great Silence, and my promise to…the world in general…to speak up. Not speak up for myself, because I have anything in particular to say, but because I’ve learned, these two years, that when I speak, when I tell my stories, I give other people around me permission to speak and to tell their stories also.

Your story matters, my friend. YOU matter. You deserve community as much as anybody, and your words deserve to be listened to as much as anybody else’s do.

When I hit “publish” on this, and “share”, it’s not for my own glory and self-justification. It’s to help remind YOU, wherever you’re at, that it doesn’t matter whether you think you’ve got anything valid to say or not, your words still matter.

I’ll be back next Saturday, hopefully being a bit braver than I’ve been today.

I’ll see you then…

“Nobody knows what you are capable of”

My name is Megan Sayer. I am 40-something (the number doesn’t bother me, and actually it’s about to change anyway, but I’m not going to tell you here because I’ve learned that information like this can lead people to take out expensive iPhone contracts in your name and leave you with a multi-thousand dollar bill and a bad credit rating…but I digress). I’m a wife, mother of three school-aged children, part-time carer to an ageing mother, part-time worker, owner-operator of a fairly average-sized body, a dog, a cat, a car, and an extremely full life, all of which I love dearly. Constant writer. Occasional blogger. Active church member. Bi-weekly runner.

Okay so when I say I’m a runner, you’re going to have to let go of that image of the woman with the blonde ponytail and the little tank-top with endless legs that you see occasionally while you’re out and about. I see her too–she’s not me. I’m the red-faced sweaty one with a hanky in one hand because my nose runs constantly. And, when you see blonde-ponytail she’s probably running at an average speed of maybe 4.5, 5-minutes per kilometre, whereas I average around 6 to 6.5 minutes per kilometre, depending on the conditions. In practical terms, if blonde-ponytail is the Tour de France, I’m the local bike track.

And I don’t actually mind.

As I was getting ready this morning (marveling once again that I actually DO bother to get up at 5.30am twice a week, and thinking how grateful I was for my running buddies, without whom I would not be doing it, and without whose motivation I would have a significantly larger-than-average body) it occurred to me that this is a transition year for me. Partly because I’m 40-something (insert random concern about iPhone contracts here), and for many of us at this age it’s a slow grind. Bill payment-music practice-soccer games-work-oh I need to do what else-didn’t I have a dream once-no you can’t have Nutrigrain and a mandarin for dinner. It’s a season. Definitely a busy one. This year my husband has started studying alongside his work commitments, my mum has been diagnosed with alzheimers, and I’ve rearranged my work hours to accommodate their needs, with a huge shout-out of thanks to my boss for allowing me to be so flexible.

Transition happens. It’s kind of tiring, but I’m getting used to it already, and give me another six months and it’ll all feel quite normal. It might take a few years though before I feel a little less constantly-busy.

Anyway. I ran this morning, with my running buddies. I run with two amazing women, both called Sarah, who never cease to inspire me. One recently battled through all kinds of difficulties to complete a very successful half-marathon, and the other is in training for a half-marathon is a couple of months’ time. This morning they were talking about running a full marathon next year, and maximising their half-marathon training so they’d be in peak-shape for it.

Me? I’m not in training for anything in particular. I just tag along with them because I like running, and (I’m not sure who first came up with this wonderful line, but it’s oh-so true) because I like cake. I love running with the Sarahs because they inspire me, because I can run at their pace, and because they usually challenge me to run that little bit harder, that little bit faster, and without that I’d stagnate.

Maybe one day I’ll train for a half-marathon. Maybe one day, crazily enough, I’ll train for a full 42k marathon. I think about it sometimes, and I like the idea of doing it–maybe the Sarahs are getting into my brain a little too much–but definitely not this year, and possibly not the next. I’m happy pushing myself just that little bit more to keep up with them when they take off at a sprint.

Life feels madly-busy, and crazy-full, and sometimes it feels so very, stupidly small. Sometimes I almost want to give myself a pat on the back because my kids have packed lunches and are wearing clean socks to school (even if they’re not necessarily matching), and, praise the Lord, I can even see my kitchen benches. My goal for this past month was to paint my lounge room, and I’ve managed a whole three-quarters of this lofty goal, and I’m back to work tomorrow so it’s likely to stay that way a few more weeks. Months, even.

Sometimes I think about the dreams I had as a twenty-something wanna-be world-changer, or even just a few years ago when I was spilling my guts on the page and desperate to write words that impact people, as other people’s words had impacted me.

Now my dreams are clean socks, and cake, and not being caught out in identity-scamming and getting lugged with a bill for somebody else’s iPhone. What makes me happy is sunshine and hugs and being able to keep up with Sarah when she turns her music on and takes off at full-speed 5k into an early-morning 7k run.

We were doing our cool-down stretches this morning, the Sarahs and I, and talking about our speed (bike track, not Tour de France, but definitely improving), and blonde-ponytail runners whose cool-down slow-jogs are about the speed of our race-pace. I mused on whether people who become runners do so because they’re naturally fast, or whether they just commit themselves to much more intensive training than I do. One Sarah told us about a guy she knew who’d only been running a few years, but had just recorded some incredible time for his last half-marathon, whereas she herself has been slowly, incrementally, getting stronger, faster, better. Both these Sarahs are challenging themselves each week, and achieving new and greater things each time. I’m proud to tag along twice a week and manage to keep up. And the other Sarah said to me, “Meegs, no matter how fast we run, you always manage to keep up. Nobody knows what you’re capable of!”

I know she was talking about running, and my pushing myself to run with her when she’s running as hard as she can, but her words resonated with me so deeply. In that little cool-down, stretching out my leg-muscles, I actually felt the lid lift off my world again. I can do things! I can!

Life won’t always be constricted, and small. One day everyone will look after their own socks, drive themselves to music practices, pay their own bills. Much as I love the life I’m living, I’m so grateful that it will expand again, that there’ll be time to dream, and to pursue those dreams.

I came home from my early-morning run with Sarah’s words ricocheting round my brain. “Nobody knows what you’re capable of”. In those six words she challenged me, and made me want to find out. I put the dog’s leash on, grabbed my iPhone and put my ear-buds in, and went for another run, this time as fast as I could.

I didn’t break any land-speed or Olympic records. I’d certainly need a lot of training to get up to blonde-ponytail 4-minute kilometre speeds, but I ran fast, then jog-ran, then walk-jogged, with a big smile, and a bagged-up dog-turd in one hand, and a renewed sense of dreaming, of passion, of purpose. Nobody knows what I am capable of yet!

If you are like me, maybe 40-something, maybe with your own basket of help-yourself mismatched socks, cat, dog, car, average life, don’t worry. Life is not over yet, and your dreaming days are not behind you. Let me encourage you today, the way Sarah encouraged me: Don’t give up your dreams.

Nobody knows what you are capable of…

 

“To”

In September last year I started running.

Well, in the interest of complete accuracy here, I should instead say that in September last year I put on a new pair of running shoes, strapped the leash onto the dog and the earbuds onto me, loaded up a new audiobook, opened my newly-downloaded app, C25k (more about that later), and went out the door into the suburbs.

Some of these things were not new. I’m a mad fan of audiobooks. I’d had the dog a while already, and I was pretty familiar with the streets around me because of a) said dog, b) said audiobooks and c) I’ve always really enjoyed getting out and walking. I’d considered myself pretty fit, really, until the day I tried to run to meet the bus. Ouch.

The “C” in C25k stands for “couch”. As in Couch Potato. Not exactly me…not EXACTLY…but, well, you know. There was that time I tried to run for the bus…

The 5k in the app’s title is a little more obvious. Five kilometres. Running five kilometres, that is. This app’s purpose is in that little number, 2. Or “to”. Small word, hey. Big meaning. This app promised to take me from the couch, to running five kilometres. In three months. With my dog. In the suburbs. Before work. While listening to my audiobook. In half-hour sessions three times a week.

Yes, if you’ve ever wanted to get more exercise, motivation to run, anything like that, you should get this app. (No, they’re not paying me to say that. I got it for free from the app store…I think. Or it might have been $2.99 or something. I don’t remember any more.) It basically gets you walking, with little bits of running in between, and very gradually increases the amounts you run, until you’re running the whole way. It’s called “interval training”, apparently, and it works!

Anyway. This is not an advertorial. This is actually about what happened next.

So I ran my first 5k. Sometime around January, I think. I’d taken a whole lot of breaks. Oh BOY was I proud! And sometime around that same period one of my dear friends said “I go out running twice a week with some other friends. You should join us”, and I did.

I was a bit nervous. They ran 6k or 8k twice a week, and I’d only ran a 5k. But, my friend said, “if you can run five then you can run seven”. The first few weeks were hard. Now…not so much (although there are some days…). And my friend also said “if you can run seven, then you can run ten”, and now I’ve completed my first 10k run, too. I’m still smiling about that.

But even THAT’S not the cool bit…

The cool bit is this: and I’m sure it’s because it’s running that I’ve taken up, running in particular, as opposed to, say, billiards, or professional wrestling (then people would just nod their heads politely and say “ohhhh. Good for you.”). But the cool thing that’s happened is that people, about once a month, come up to me now and say “you’ve inspired me so much I’ve started running too”. Seriously.

It’s that little word, “to”.

People saw me as not-a-runner, and now they see me as a runner (a 10k runner!) and the biggest take-away they get from that is “to”. I wasn’t born a runner. I chose to become one. Working mum. Busy life. Couch. TO. 10k. And the number is growing, and suddenly we’re talking about getting a team together for a big run. TO.gether.

Now I have a growing group of running friends, and, slowly but surely, they’ll grow groups of running friends around them also, as people who see them as “not runners” will see their change to becoming runners.

I’d forgotten the power of witnessing a transformation. I’d forgotten how inspirational change can be. And maybe until now I had no real idea that something little that I’d decided to do for me could have such a powerful, positive flow-on effect to those around me.

Things can change.

Habits can change.

What you are is not necessarily what you’re going to be.

Where are YOU going TO?

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Good Things of Hard Times

Well hello there, it’s been more than a while since I’ve been here. How are you? I hope you’re doing well. To tell you the truth, I have no intention of blogging regularly again in anywhere like the near future, life is altogether so many shades of busy (in a good way). But last night I shared a story in church about the altogether-so-many shades of busy from last year, which was very much not in a good way. Many of you will know this story, if you’re friends with me on Facebook, although I haven’t told it like this, from my perspective, until now. And there are a few of you who used to have this blog turn up in your inbox regularly, who may occasionally wonder what ever happened to me.

I’d thought from time to time about writing out this story, but it was so long, so big, so…much…that I’d not had the inclination to until now.

It was a tough year, last year, but the thing about tough years is that often you learn a lot. This was definitely the case. Would I want to go through it again? NO. Am I grateful for the lessons it taught me? Yes.

Note: I wrote this for church. It’s pretty God-dy. But I’m sure you can deal with that 🙂

Here goes:

When I was young I was taught that it wasn’t “all about me”. Other people have lives too, and things going on. Get on with it. Do it yourself. Don’t expect other people to solve you problems for you, do it yourself.

Hands up who knows this is true?

And hands up who knows that the lessons we learned as a kid aren’t always exactly the way our parents intended them, and as adults sometimes we need to get bigger, Godly perspectives?

This story starts in June last year, when my workaholic husband was running late for an appointment one morning, parked his car, tripped over a curb in a hurry, and broke his foot. I’ve never dealt with a broken foot before, praise God, all bones in tact still here, and it was a big adjustment to our family to learn how to slow down and deal with a husband and father who’s unable to do the stuff he used to be able to do. Basic things like making a cup of coffee and taking it to table to drink were incredibly difficult, and I had to learn to slow down more and look out for him, and remember what those difficult things were, like showers, coffees, getting a book from the bedroom. We were all pleased when he was able to hobble around without crutches, and looked forward to things being back to normal.

 Looking after someone who’s in pain isn’t an easy thing. We’re not at our best when we’re in pain. It’s just the way things go. And we don’t necessarily get taught how to deal with people in pain, either. We just pray, and hope, and wait for things to get normal again.

Things didn’t get “normal” again though. He got sick. It was July, everybody had the flu, and one day, after a few strange nights of sweating and being really tired, Tony couldn’t get off the couch. He didn’t want to see the doctor, and we tiptoed around and brought him drinks when he was up to it, and ice packs when he was hot, and blankets when he was cold, and looked forward to things being back to normal again.

Who likes “back to normal”, hey?

 AND THEN…(who likes “and then”?) his leg started to cramp. And I mean REALLY cramp. He couldn’t walk from the couch to the toilet. He couldn’t stand. He couldn’t sit up without intense pain. The doctors didn’t think it was a blood clot, and, after a day waiting in the emergency room, sent him home.

 Who knows what it’s like when your little trials escalate into big trials? When you’re thinking that “just around this next corner things will look up” becomes “just around this next corner is a whole new mess of stuff to deal with”.

 You can’t help but waiting, still, for to things getting back to normal.

We were doing okay. I had two part-time jobs, and changed my hours so Tony wouldn’t have to do too much. I became the sole parent, and the care-giver to him as he needed it.

I’d not been a care-giver in that capacity before, not unless you count having babies and toddlers. It’s a strange, new place, having to take care of all your husband’s needs like that, as well as everything else, especially because he was in so much pain, and so tired all the time. I made him countless cups of coffee, washed his sweaty pyjamas, did all I could.

 I felt so torn between needing to be a caregiver to my husband and love him as best I could and the need to take care of myself as well.

I remember going to bed one night very early, pulling the doona over my head and crying from sheer exhaustion. I felt like I’d let Tony down so badly, but I simply couldn’t give any more.

God spoke to me then, and said “even nurses only work 8 hour shifts”. I knew then that if I didn’t look after myself I’d be no good to Tony. What kept me going was the thought that in a few weeks I was going to Melbourne for a writer’s retreat, and by then, surely, everything would be all right.

 Then it was August, and Tony’s birthday, and I bought him new pyjamas because he was still sweating through his old ones every night, and then, a week or so after his birthday, I packed the fridge with food for the week, wrote out the kids’ schedule, booked Tony an appointment with the doctor to get some antibiotics or something to knock these night sweats on the head, and I hopped on a plane to Melbourne.

 I went on the Wednesday, the same day he went to the doctors, who sent him for blood tests. He got the test results back on the Friday. The doctor called him at home and said “I want you to get to hospital first thing Monday morning.” The doctor then called back, and said “actually, I want you to get to hospital NOW.”

I was in Melbourne. The people who’d normally take care of our kids were all away. I sent out an emergency text to some close friends, “please pray”, and “can anyone look after our kids?” I spent an hour on the phone, trying to get back to Hobart as soon as I could.

I can only tell you a little of the fear I felt that night. I was already exhausted, depleted, laid low by six weeks of caregiving and waiting for my husband to be well again, and now he was hospitalized, and not one of the doctors knew what was wrong with him.

All I knew then, was that God knew. All I had was to hold onto the fact that God was there, that He cared, that He knew what was going on.

I also had to accept the truth that if God wanted to take Tony to Himself, that that would have to be okay as well. You just never know what life’s going to do.

I got home the next day. I was exhausted. My prayer life was reduced to “Hello God, please help.” I wrote out a scripture on a post-it note and stuck it to my kitchen cupboard, and that became my bible reading. It was from First Peter, and said, “By His wounds you have been healed”.

 I couldn’t do anything more. I didn’t have the strength. I’d been caring for a sick husband for three months already, and things were just about to get worse. Yet this is where the strength of God took over.

 The Bible says that when we are weak, He is strong. I learned a whole new lesson last year about what it meant to rely on the strength of God, what it means to be supported by Christ.

 I’d been taught as a very young Christian that God was all I needed, that I shouldn’t look to people for help, but to look to God. This fit in nicely with my own beliefs, that if something needed doing then I needed to do it myself.

 Only half of that is true. The people who’d taught me that I’d needed to rely on God and not people, back twenty years ago when I first became a Christian, didn’t know the situation I was in. They didn’t know the depression I was suffering. They didn’t know how much I needed help when they said “God is your help”. And I was just a young Christian, and didn’t know enough to question it.

 But last year, these weeks when Tony was in hospital, Christ indeed became everything I needed.

 The Body of Christ knocked on my front door and handed me an icecream bucket of soup.

The Body of Christ nourished me with bags of groceries, frozen pizzas, Woollies chooks, casseroles, cupcakes, loaves of bread.

The Body of Christ brought round coco pops and Milo cereal and muesli bars for my kids, and muffins for their lunch boxes.

The Body of Christ took care of my kids, and took them out on play-dates and bought them ice creams.

The Body of Christ arranged for my house to be cleaned.

The Body of Christ took my dirty laundry and brought it back washed and ironed.

The Body of Christ sent me cheques in the mail, and dropped grocery vouchers off in my letterbox.

The Body of Christ visited Tony in hospital, week in and week out, and the Body of Christ interceded and prayed on my behalf, when I no longer had the strength.

 You might be saying to yourself now, “what do you mean, the body of Christ did all those things for you?”

And I would say to you, 1 Corinthians 12:27

27 All of you together are Christ’s body, and each of you is a part of it.

I’m incredibly pleased to say that, after a massive surgery, removal of a large tumour, two drains to remove the pus from his body, and a whole lot of doctors help, Tony is now fit and well. Sometimes its easy to look back at last year and think “Oh boy, I’m glad that’s over!” but other times I tend to ask why? Why did this happen? Why was Tony sick for five months, God? What was all that about?

And just as quickly as I asked it, God showed me the answer.

Suddenly, I saw those five months from God’s perspective. God did many things in both Tony and I in those months, but one of the most powerful things that happened was we learned what it means to be a part of the body of Christ. When one part of the body hurts, we all hurt. When one part of the body rejoices, we all rejoice.

I really want to encourage you tonight: whatever you’re going through, God WILL use for His glory, and to teach you a deeper, a more beautiful, aspect of Himself.

The book of James says “consider it pure joy when you face trials of many kinds”, and that’s a tough thing, but it’s true. God loves you so much, and He will always use whatever life throws to make that love real to you.

Thank you. 

(The picture below is a sight I got very, VERY used to. I’d like to finish this post with a single post script: Thank you, so very, incredibly much, to the doctors, nurses, cleaners, people who deliver newspapers and food trolleys, and everyone who calls these corridors “work”. You were all amazing. You all worked so hard to ensure Tony was well looked after, as comfortable as he could be. I had only the smallest glimpse of how hard you all work, and, day after day, I was so grateful to you. You rock. Thank you!!)

12019923_10154223411564606_5522104341071641558_n