Category Archives: Chronic Illness

Je suis Notre Dame…

“To know her, is to love her!”

The Beatles

Thank goodness, this isn’t a eulogy and has become more of an appreciation of our beautiful Notre Dame Cathedral. Indeed, these words are the outpourings of a heart which almost broke yesterday, as the blazing orange flames all but consumed her like a savage beast.  Yet, we’re not grieving her death, but are now grateful that she miraculously survived.

Like so many of us who have survived horrendous infernos of this magnitude, Notre Dame is still standing, yet all but destroyed.  I am a survivor myself and know that seemingly bottomless grief. Indeed, I have asked these very same questions myself…How did this happen? What has been lost? What is left? What can be done? I have also known that very same, fierce determination to get back on my feet and overcome like so many survivors. We will rebuild. Yet, it still hurts and the pain feels like it has no end. However, somehow you suddenly reach the other end of the rainbow and your ordeal seems like a bad dream, although the scars remain.

Personally, Notre Dame has never just been somewhere I went in Paris. Indeed, our connection has always been personal and it wasn’t just about the building either. No doubt, it’s the same for millions around the world and throughout history and we each have our own story to tell. Indeed, in a strange way and no doubt encouraged by Victor Hugo’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame, she’s almost come to life.  We can almost feel her pulse, her heartbeat and believe she knows and understands us in ways beyond human understanding. Indeed, as I watched those infernal flames blaze with such fury, I could hear her gasping for breath unable to discern whether she wanted to live or to die.

Of course, by now I was also walking through the streets of Paris crying and singing the words of the Hail Mary in solidarity with the people, although I didn’t know the words in French or in English. I didn’t need to. Notre Dame was in my heart. As Notre Dame burned, Paris might have been one of the largest cities in the world, but she was a village once again.

However, who was I kidding? I wasn’t out on the streets with the people of Paris. Rather, I was still stuck here on the other side of the world and couldn’t be there. Of course, it wasn’t quite the same sense of anguish you feel when a loved one is dying and you can’t get back. When you desperately want to hold their hand and say your “I love yous” and goodbyes and miss out. Yet, I still felt the need to vent. Respond. Do something.

So, I did what I could.

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Yesterday, on the way to the Art Gallery of NSW with my daughter, we detoured via Sydney’s St Mary’s Cathedral to pay our respects to the smouldering remains of Notre Dame and her extended global community. Indeed, I needed to pray and being there was the closest I could get to being near Notre Dame.

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Our daughter sitting on the steps of St Mary’s Cathedral on Tuesday. Not quite the same effect as Princess Diana at the Taj Mahal but there’s promise. 

 

Back when my husband first told me the news, I jumped straight out of bed and switched on the TV expecting some kind of mistake. Yet, there she was right before my very eyes…a blazing, orange inferno. Brutal, cruel and almost evil, she was trapped in the flames with no way out. Yet, the valiant fire fighters of Paris, just like those of New York on 9/11, were there fighting to put out the flames and save her from eternal destruction.

Notre Dame! The name says it all, even for me as an Australian.

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My backpack and I just before I left. 

On the 13th July, 1992 I arrived at Paris’s Gare du Nord with my backpack and I found my way to the Hotel Henri IV in Rue Saint Jacques only five minutes’ walk from Notre Dame. I stayed there with friends for a few weeks, exploring the city of light and romantic turmoil, while Notre Dame stood seemingly unmoved and her bells chimed.

Being immersed in all that history and architectural grandeur, was an incredible experience for a young Australian experiencing Europe for the first time. We had nothing like it. Unfortunately, the City of Love also turned out to be the City of Heartbreak and despair. Indeed, I’m sure it’s no coincidence that so many philosophers, writers and artists have gathered there. I definitely sensed a dark undercurrent to Paris, and perhaps in this context, Notre Dame needed to be the light.

Rowena Notre Dame

My parents met up with me in Paris and we not only went to Notre Dame, my father and I also had our portraits sketched out the front. While I don’t particularly remember the interior, I still remember going inside and experiencing the most incredible sense of peace…the peace which surpasses human understanding. I also remember feeling it was much cooler inside with a distinct temperature drop. Being July, it was boiling hot outside and perhaps it was a few degrees cooler inside the cathedral. I don’t know. However, this combined with the stained glass windows and subdued lighting did create an ambiance.

Yet, quite aside from that, I could really sense the comforting presence of God. Only a few weeks’ beforehand, my mother’s aunt had passed away. She and Mum were particularly close and brought closer still by Mum’s strict upbringing. So, although we’re not Catholic, we lit a candle for her. Lighting that wick, has always been special. However, it’s felt even sacred since the fire. It was such an incredibly poignant moment. I think we also lit a candle for Mum’s younger sister, Lyn, who’d suddenly been ripped away from us at 36 with double pneumonia. Lyn’s death was one of those wounds which never seemed to heal. Lyn was beautiful, vivacious and so young. Naturally, her death rocked everyone who knew her. It didn’t make sense and we just had to get used to living with our grief.

No doubt, over the last 856 years, millions have also had such moments where they’ve been  touched by God’s love and this indescribable peace at Notre Dame. Of course, I know this experience isn’t unique to us, although it certainly felt that way. People have prayed for the living, cried for the dead and wrestled with everything in between and Notre Dame has stood as solid as a rock through the French Revolution, two world wars, and hoards of visitors. Indeed, even that blazing infernal couldn’t destroy her completely, but it’s been too close a call.

Yet, she has also suffered terrible neglect, which has taken its toll. As Victor Hugo wrote in The Hunchback of Notre Dame:

 “(I)t is difficult not to sigh, not to wax indignant, before the numberless degradations and mutilations which time and men have both caused the venerable monument to suffer.”

So why was it so difficult to raise the money to restore and maintain this stunning, historic and sacred cathedral, which has always been at the very heart of Paris? It is hard to understand.

However, as we move forward as a global community, we now have the chance to show her the love we’ve always felt, but haven’t sufficiently expressed. She has given us so much, and now it’s our turn to give back in whatever way we can. For some of us, that will be in words or paint while others have been financially blessed.

Notre Dame needs to be that phoenix rising out of the ashes. We need to see that you can rise up from near total destruction, and start over not only as a building but also as individuals and communities. We can get better. Moreover, we also need to restore Notre Dame for future generations who will also be reaching out for God’s love and the peace which surpasses human understanding in an imperfect and often turbulent world.

Have you been to Notre Dame and would like to share your thoughts? Please leave them in the comments.

Best wishes,

Rowena

 

O- Optimism…A-Z Challenge

“We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars.”

– Oscar Wilde

Welcome to the latest installment in my series of Motivational Quotes for writers. We’re moving quickly through the alphabet and now we’re already up to O. The word for today is Optimism, which I believe is an important ingredient for getting that book project finished. After all, if you don’t believe you’re good enough and have what it takes to get through to the end, why get started at all? You’d be much better off staying in your day job.

Here’s a few more quotes I came across:

“A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an

optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty.”

– Winston Churchill

 

“Life is too short to spend your precious time trying to

convince a person who wants to live in gloom and doom

otherwise. Give lifting that person your best shot, but

don’t hang around long enough for his or her bad

attitude to pull you down. Instead, surround yourself

with optimistic people.”

– Zig Ziglar

However, how do we retain our optimism in the face of repeated knock backs and defeats?

  1. Believe in yourself.
  2. Break the task down into smaller, more achievable chunks.
  3. Take some classes and skill up.
  4. Ask someone we trust for advice.
  5. Keep thinking laterally and looking for the opportunity. There’s more than one way to skin a cat.
  6. Keep writing. Set yourself a daily word limit to reach or a length of time to write. I don’t do this but I’ve read this recommendation a lot.
  7. Read some books, watch some people. Open your eyes and ears and constantly be on the look out for new ideas, observations, details which could help a story along down the track.
  8. Keep a small notebook for ideas with you.

I hope this encourages you all to feel more optimistic and positive about your writing and now we all just need to get out there and do it!

Do you have anything else to add? I’d love to hear from you!

Best wishes,

Rowena

 

N-Never Give Up: Motivational Quotes.

“Never Never give up.”

– Winston Churchill.

Welcome to the latest installment in my series of Motivation Quotes for writers as part of the Blogging A-Z April Challenge.

The timing of this quote is pure coincidence. However, yesterday when this should’ve gone up, the world watched on in abject horror as those blazing orange flames engulfed historic Notre Dame Cathedral. As I and millions like me, watched on in shock and abject horror, the fire department fought that blaze with everything they had and more and they managed to salvage more of the cathedral than I ever thought was possible. Confirmation…never give up!

“I have heard there are troubles of more than one kind.

Some come from ahead and some come from behind.

But I’ve bought a big bat. I’m all ready you see. Now my

troubles are going to have troubles with me!”

― Dr. Seuss

All too often, we hear the most incredible stories of overcoming illness, disability, terrible accidents and even going as far as conquering Everest, the mighty mountain herself.

However, I also somewhat disagree with Winston Churchill. While never giving up might be good political rhetoric, sometimes we need to give up, walk away and try something else. Perhaps, devoting a year or so to writing that book, isn’t worth the investment either in time or money. We need to be strategic, and try to see the bigger picture and no be so focused on the goal that there is no plan B.

With this in mind, I’ve included the following quotes:

“Failed plans should not be interpreted as a failed

vision. Visions don’t change, they are only refined.

Plans rarely stay the same, and are scrapped or

adjusted as needed. Be stubborn about the vision, but

flexible with your plan.”

John C. Maxwell

“Throwing your heart into something is great, but

when any one thing becomes all that you stand for,

you’re vulnerable to an identity crisis when you pivot

to a Plan B.”

― Reid Hoffman, The Start-Up of You: Adapt to the Future, Invest in Yourself, and Transform Your Career

 

“Everyone has a plan ’till they get punched in the mouth.”

Mike Tyson

What are your thoughts? I’d love to hear from you!

Best wishes,

Rowena

G: Goals – Motivational Quotes A-Z Challenge

Today, our journey continues through an alphabet soup of motivational quotes especially geared towards writers and creatives working on a big project.

Of course, all of us know that goal setting is important. Indeed, many of us also know that goal setting needs to be SMART:

  1. Specific
  2. Measurable 
  3. Achievable 
  4. Relevant
  5. Time-based 

Developing SMART goals is all about removing that fantastic dream-like quality from what you want to get done, and creating an actionable plan for results.

For many creatives, no doubt terms like goal setting and SMART goals sounds way too business-like and we’d prefer to go with the flow.

The trouble with not having a goal is that you can

spend your life running up and down the field and

never score.

– Bill Copeland

However, for me there comes a point where your credibility is at stake. Not just when it comes to other people, but also with yourself. If you’re not even striving towards your life’s goal, what are you waiting for? Life is short. Not only that, it can be shorter than you thought. After all, not everyone receives their full entitlement of four score and ten. Not that I want to be morbid, but I do live under the shadow of a nasty auto-immune disease and I’ve already slipped through the net a few times. That has made me think, but it hasn’t always led to action!

The greater danger for most of us isn’t that our aim is

too high and miss it, but that it is too low and we reach

it.

– Michelangelo

However, I don’t believe that goals need to be rigid and stuck in the ground like football posts. They can and do change, and it’s important to be responsive. Intuitive.

To be perfectly honest, this is probably something I need to put some more time and focus into. I have worked in small business and been to quite a few seminars and one of the big catch phrases for small business owners is about spending time on the business as well as in the business.

As writers, writing is our business. The same goes for artists, photographers etc. However, we still need to work on our business which includes things like goal setting, planning, keeping our desks and computer files sorted and backed-up. Having the best goals in the world doesn’t mean a thing if you don’t have the wherewithal to carry them out and see them through to the end.

Otherwise, they’re just dreams!

Well, so far I’m somewhat keeping up with the annual Blogging A-Z April Challenge again this year and am finding there’s much I need to action from these posts.

Best wishes,

Rowena

 

 

E – Exercise A-Z Challenge.

“Leave all the afternoon for exercise and recreation, which are as necessary as reading. I will rather say more necessary because health is worth more than learning.”

– Thomas Jefferson

No doubt, many of you are questioning how exercise can help you get your get your big writing or creative project finished and out the door? Why should we be motivated to exercise, when we could be getting on with the job instead? After all, isn’t success all about focus and shutting out all distractions?

Believe me, I get it. I’m not a very balanced person, and anything but exercise fanatic. There are days where I barely crank out 100 steps.

However, after really ramping up my writing and research over the last couple of weeks, I’m now at the point where I’m struggling to wind down to sleep or keep up with the family calendar. Indeed, life is flowing right past me, while I’m caught up in the creative flow and the words, ideas and pure magic is flowing like a crystal stream. It’s hard to let it go. Pause to even make a cup of tea. Go to the toilet. Taking a break to go for a walk, then becomes quite an effort, even along our beloved, picturesque beach where I could be living the dream, instead of almost tearing my brain cells apart trying to nut things out.

I know I’m sounding very much like a pokie addict, wearing nappies so they don’t have to leave their machine. However, I’m desperate to get those runs on the board, and it’s been such a long time coming. I’m scared that if I stop, I won’t get going again. That it’ll all start crumbling down.

Self-doubt is clearly part of it. Clearly, I need to have enough faith in myself and what I’m working on that I can walk away and come back and it won’t be the end of the world.

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Proof I actually went for a walk today!

I also need to reprogram how I view the writing process. Understand that writing is more than coming up with words and the plot. That incorporating exercise and relaxation into your daily writing schedule, is also about acknowledging that a healthy mind and body are equally important ingredients to creative success. That’s because writing a book is a marathon, not a sprint and your mind and body both still need to be pumping when you reach the end.

Rowena Wamberal

Out going for a beach walk locally with my camera bag on my back. Don’t leave home with out it.

Just to share with you a bit of what exercise looks like for me. Walking is my main form of exercise. That includes walking the dogs around the streets and going for walks along the beach. I also go for the occasional photographic walk, where I go exploring through the lens and kilometres stack up quite unconsciously until I almost collapse heading home. I also do an adult ballet class which runs sporadically and has a lovely social and creative element. So, exercise doesn’t have to be torture and it can also stimulate the creative juices.

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Our dogs Lady (left) and Rosie running along the beach making exercise look exhilarating. 

My walks actually end up with quite a social element. On occasions, I go walking with my dogs and not also see them wagging their tails being happy, we also meet loads of people including friends and complete strangers.

By the way, when it comes to writing and walking it appears I’m in good company. French artist and sculptor Edgar Degas (who is famous among other works for his sculpture The Little Dancer) used to work around the streets of Paris, even after he had lost his sight. Charles Dickens walked and walked and walked and seemingly needed to walk something out of his system. He wrote:

 “I think I must be the descendant, at no great distance, of some irreclaimable tramp.”

Scarcely a day went by that Dickens didn’t flee his desk and take to the streets of London and its suburbs. He routinely walked as many as 20 miles a day, and once set out at 2 a.m. to walk from his house in London to his country residence in Gad’s Hill, Kent, 30 miles away. As several of his walking companions described it, he had a distinctive “swinging” gait. And, like many a serious runner of today, he “made a practice of increasing his speed when ascending a hill,” according to his friend Marcus Stone.

So, now I’m going to throw the ball into your court. How do you go with juggling writing and exercise? Is exercise important to you, or is it more of an avoidable drudge?

This has been E- Exercise the latest in my Motivation for Writers and Creatives in the annual Blogging A-Z April Challenge.

I look forward to hearing from you!

Best wishes,

Rowena

PS I make no apologies for not keeping up to date with my posts this year. This year the challenge is intended to fuel my book writing project, not replace it.

PPS It’s been a few year now since I’ve hit the slopes. However, as a member of the Disabled Wintersports Association, I was able to get an instructor training in working with people living with disabilities for half price as well as half price lift tickets. Unable to climb a mountain due to my disability and health problems, I decided in effect to turn my mountain around and ski down one instead. I did it! (also thanks to my instructor Tom who you can see further up the hill.)

D- Dreams, Doubt, Determination…Motivation A-Z Challenge

“Cherish your visions and your dreams as they

are the children of your soul, the blueprints of

your ultimate achievements.”

Napoleon Hill

Welcome back to my series of motivational quotes for writers and creatives for this year’s Blogging A-Z April Challenge. Today, I’ve decided to focus on three words which, at least in my mind, go hand in hand…Dreams, Doubt and Determination. Indeed, they’re all part of the production process which take us through to the finish…The End.

Dreams

How often has a writer or creative person been described as a dreamer? Moreover, while we might view being a dreamer in a positive light, the description is usually applied in the more derogatory sense…”You’re a dreamer'”. Or to quote one of my favourite Australian movies, The Castle: “Tell ’em he’s dreamin'”

“Writers write. Dreamers talk about it.”

Jerry B. Jenkins

Yet, in many ways, creatives need to be dreamers. Not only to come up with the initial creative spark which inspires a project, but also to set aside a massive chunk of time devoting yourself to something unknown, unseen… a vision. Something where there isn’t a pay packet at the end of each week, and you’re turning your back on the well-worn road  to a warm seat at a much-used desk and having what is otherwise referred to as a “real job”. In this sense, it takes us back to my first word in this series “adventure”. While “adventure” is usually portrayed as a more rugged and physically challenging  form of travel often involving daring physical feats like climbing Mt Everest, writing a book out of nothing, is also “a daring adventure”. It’s a massive risk, when there are so many other tried and tested paths. It is anything, but the easy road. Yet, somehow for some of of us, it becomes the only road.

Self-Doubt

This leads me to the flip side of dreaming, self-doubt. While that initial creative spark can be rather intoxicating, the process of converting that into a finished product is  challenging involving a lot of hard work, dedication and often crippling self-doubt.

Having experienced crippling self-doubt myself, I wasn’t surprised to find an abundance of quotes covering on the subject. Although he lived centuries ago, William Shakespeare could have been writing about me:

“Our doubts are traitors,

and make us lose the good we oft might win,

by fearing to attempt.”

― William Shakespeare, Measure for Measure

However, it’s not just the up and coming who are plagued by doubt. In Modernism’s Patriarch (Time Magazine, June 10, 1996)] Australian Art Historian, Robert Hughes wrote:

“The greater the artist, the greater the doubt.

Perfect confidence is granted to the less

talented as a consolation prize.”

Even the great Tennessee Williams wrote:

“I don’t believe anyone ever suspects how

completely unsure I am of my work and myself

and what tortures of self-doubting the doubt of

others has always given me.”

This self-doubt can escalate and literally gain a stranglehold either in terms of creatives taking their own lives. Indeed, this incredibly heart-breaking loss of life is something our creative communities need to address. Too many have taken their own lives to keep hiding their epitaphs under the carpet. While nothing compared to the loss of life, too many truly brilliant ideas and valiant efforts have also been dashed against the rocks due to self-doubt.

“If you hear a voice within you say you cannot

paint, then by all means paint and that voice

will be silenced.”

― Vincent van Gogh

Determination

This brings me to determination, which often starts out with something incredibly basic…simply taking action.

“We all have dreams. But in order to make

dreams come into reality, it takes an awful lot

of determination, dedication, self-discipline,

and effort.”

– Jesse Owens

“Inaction breeds doubt and fear. Action breeds

confidence and courage. If you want to

conquer fear, do not sit home and think about

it. Go out and get busy.”

– Dale Carnegie

On a personal note, the photos featured in this post were taken at Palm Beach back in 2014 while I was having chemo treatment for my auto-immune disease, dermatomyositis. At this point in time, my future was looking rather grim, but I was also very determined to beat it. My kids were ten and eight at the time, and as much as getting a book published has long been my burning, almost all-consuming desire, the prospect of leaving my kids behind was excruciatingly painful. That was five years ago and the treatment worked and I’ve been in remission ever since, with ongoing ups and downs.
So when you see me standing on top of that rock, it personifies determination and overcoming all sorts of doubt. I also needed quite a lot of help climbing up and getting down. Yet, that’s okay. You don’t need to get there alone.
Best wishes,
Rowena

Our Spiritual Journey…

It’s not very often that I even touch on the spiritual side of my life…my beliefs, my faith or Christian community. That’s not because they aren’t an important. Rather, it’s just that I often see too many shades of grey, and wrestle with so many aspects of my own faith, that  it’s not easy to package it up and present it to anyone else in a vaguely coherent state.

I guess that’s what happens when you’re “beyond the flow”. You’re not usually the sort of person who walks into a place and immediately feels comfortable in that empty seat. Indeed, you bring your own. Ask questions. Wriggle. Don’t quite feel comfortable and look around at all the people who belong and ask: “What about me? Where’s my place? Will I ever belong?”

Above: Barney’s back in my day before it was destroyed by fire and rebuilt. Although I really struggled within myself while I was there, I was very happy there too if that makes sense. Found my place for awhile.

When I was in my twenties, I moved from the small Lutheran Church where I’d grown up and didn’t have many people my own age, and started going to St Barnabas Broadway. “Barney’s” was the Anglican Church aligned with Sydney University, where I’d literally swung from the chandeliers as an undergraduate, loving and being fully immersed in virtually all aspects of campus life. Barney’s was jam-packed with hundreds of young people, and I thought I’d hit the jackpot. That was until I struggled to run into the same people week after week and missed the intimacy of my home Church. Yet, I persevered and went to home groups and formed a really tight group of friends who were also mostly on the fringe of things to some extent. For example, the women among us weren’t real good at wearing floral dresses, which were a kind of uniform at the time. Over time, we came to see ourselves as the “black sheep”.   Indeed, a friend of mine and I wrote this incredibly sad, cynical story of sheep drowning in their own tears abandoned by the shepherd. This wasn’t so much a comment on Barney’s, but more a sense of the individual getting lost and overlooked. Of course, that’s nothing new, but when you feel yourself drowning in sorrow, it can feel like you’re the only one who has ever been there. However, with the exception of mental illness, it is often something everyone experiences from time to time. Moreover, your teens and twenties can be particularly turbulent as you try to launch yourself out into the so-called real world and search for love. It is difficult for most people to respond to drowning souls. However, if you know anything about life saving, you’ll know that you’re not meant to drown yourself saving someone else. Rather, they recommend using props like a broom, which enable you to save a life and not go down in the process.

Anyway, as it turned out, my sense of drowning in my own tears, wasn’t far off the mark. While I was turning to spiritual and psychological sources of help, I was actually battling the effects of undiagnosed hydrocephalus (or fluid on the brain) where the cerebral spinal fluid (CFS) was building up inside my head and squashing my brain. I didn’t have trouble with headaches, but I was clumsy right through high school  and with the pressure on my frontal lobe, wasn’t just extroverted. Stress was also quite disabling. After all, my brain was already under the pump.

When I was 25, I moved to Western Australia thinking a more relaxed lifestyle would be better. However, I was diagnosed with the hydrocephalus a few months later when I couldn’t touch my nose in a basic medical check up. Six months later, after a serious and sharp decline, I had brain surgery in 1996 where they inserted a VP Shunt from my brain under the skin through to my peritoneum. I moved back to Sydney to recover. The shunt blocked and it was decided I had to stay put and I moved back home with mum and Dad and did six months rehab to get back on my feet. I was off work for six-twelve months and went from being a Marketing Manager in a serious relationship to moving back in with my parents with my life squeezed into my bedroom cupboards. While I was grateful for their support, becoming a dependent child again was devastating. It wasn’t part of my plan, ambition and contradicted every little aspect of how I saw myself as a intelligent,  independent career woman.

Then, the shunt blocked, and my bad luck appeared terminal. Not in a life and death sense, but in terms of my morale. I remember talking to a friend and thinking I’d never get married and have kids. That I “couldn’t even take care of a goldfish”. These were gruelingly difficult days, extending into months which kept crawling along. 

Clearly, I’ve come a long way sense then. I met my husband Geoff on NYE 1998, while I was still in the recovery phase from that surgery. He took me on when I was still pretty much a rough diamond, and loved me regardless. Was part of the ongoing journey which saw me continue to recover and extend myself even to the present day. Thanks to what we are still finding out about neuroplasticity, I started rising back up and getting back into the land of living, even if I wasn’t quite back in the fast lane.

Anyway, I’ve taken you on a massive detour from where I intended to take you today.

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Praying for our son after the baptism.

The reason I’m touching on the spiritual, is that our fifteen year old son, who is known as on Beyond the Flow as the inimitable “Mister”, got baptised yesterday. When I asked him why he got baptised yesterday, he told me today that the baptisms were on so he might as well do it. However, his face told a different story yesterday when he was bursting with excitement, glowing and clearly being touched and immersed not only in the water, but also in the Holy Spirit and God’s love. Please don’t ask me for an explanation. This was clearly supernatural. I live with this character and experience the ups and downs, highs and lows and the clean versus messy bedroom. I know he’s not a saint, and yet he is. Somehow, so am I. Yet, I feel incredibly ordinary even if I’m no longer that lost, black sheep drowning in my own tears.

I am incredibly proud of our son for choosing to get baptised now. He turned 15 on Friday, and clearly this is an age group renowned for making other choices. Fantastic!

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Our family after the baptism

The other thing I was really stoked about, was that despite the last minute notice, we had a good contingent of family there. That even included Geoff’s sister and her boyfriend from Queensland, who just happened to be down. It was actually a very rare situation where Geoff’s family outnumbered my side. With my Dad being one of seven, that doesn’t happen often. Mister also had a few of his friends along and our Church (Hope Unlimited Church) also has a strong youth group and they were there literally cheering him along. Indeed, four of the youth were baptised yesterday.

Haebich Bible crop

 

Lastly, although it spent the service out in the car, the family Bible made it inside afterwards and I managed to share it with a few people. It was published in 1872/74 in Philadelphia and originally belonged to my grandfather’s grandfather, Heinrich August Haebich who was a blacksmith in Hahndorf, South Australia. His wife’s family included the Hartmann’s and Paech’s who were among the first German immigrants to come to South Australia. They migrated to under Pastor Kavel, because they didn’t believe in changes to the liturgy back home.  On one hand, you could say they were very devout and fought to defend their faith (which for Pastor Kavel included going to prison at the time). On the other hand, you could describe them as stubborn and resistant to change.

Papa's Retirement

My grandfather photographed at his retirement service.

My grandfather became a Lutheran Pastor. A shepherd in the very meaning of the word, he told stories of driving out through the mud to reach families and connect them with Church and salvation. He and my grandmother worked tirelessly in a ministry capacity, but also as what we’d today would view as social work. While serving in Wollongong in the 1950s, their congregation was mostly made up of European migrants known as “New Australians” who were struggling to adjust to a new country, language and culture and deal with having to start over again with perhaps little more than the shirt on your back. These legendary heroics of migrant Australia, didn’t come without a cost. My grandparents and their kids, lived in a tiny matchbox-sized manse next to the Church where their door was always open and they gave more than really was a good idea. My grandfather would marry a couple. My grandmother would be the bridesmaid and my mother or aunt would play the organ. At the larger weddings, the family would have to leave before the dancing could start. These were interesting time, so different to how I have grown up.

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The Walker Family after their release from the Japanese. 

This is just my Christian and spiritual legacy to our son. Meanwhile, Geoff grew up in a Seventh Day Adventist Family in Scottsdale, Tasmania. In his twenties, he moved to Sydney where the home group he attended broke away, becoming Dayspring Church. Going back in time, his family included a Methodist lay preacher and another branch of his family, the Walkers and Brookers were active in the early days of the Salvation Army. Indeed, his grandfather Herbert William Brooker played the cornet in the band which we’ve inherited. Actually, I just found out last night that Herbert William’s cousin, George Walker, was a Lieut.-Colonel in the Salvation Army and was interred by the Japanese during WWII while serving as a missionary in China.  Geoff’s Great Great Grandfather, Robert Sleightholm,  actually built much of the historic Church of the Good Shepherd at Hadspen in Tasmania. I know that’s different to pastoring a Church, but he was still a Church builder. Incidentally, that’s far better than being a Church seller and wrecker. The Anglican Church has put  the Good Shepherd up for sale. Read here. What did I say about the shepherds and the sheep?

While we are very proud of our strong Christian heritage, that is not to discourage people my kids refer to as first generation Christians. While it can be quite encouraging to come from a Christian family and there can be that internal cohesion, it can also be quite different if your Christian walk goes off on a tangent to your family. Christian communities have seemingly become more tolerant in recent years, there are tensions between different expressions and interpretations of faith. This legacy might not always leave you with a blank slate or room for your own faith to grow unimpeded and without perhaps being pruned too harshly. So, whatever your family situation might be, that’s okay. We are all God’s children and valued members of God’s family. Jesus loves us.

Funny I should write all of this, because I usually don’t speak up and it’s been really hard for me to feel an ongoing sense of belonging and commitment to Church. As you’re probably aware since my battle with the hydrocephalus, I was dealt another whammy when I became progressively immobile following the birth of our second child, Miss, and was diagnosed 18 months later with dermatomyositis. For awhile there, I felt like God didn’t love me any more and had channelled his wrath my direction and was zapping me with thunderbolts. I was really angry, hurt and just bereft that I had a second very rare, unpronouncible disease and I hadn’t even turned 40. Of course, I was mad. Mad with God. Mad with life, but mostly petrified of dying and leaving my then three and 18 month old children without their mum, especially when they were too young to even remember their mother or what it was like to have a mum.

My ongoing struggles with chronic health and disability also made it difficult to get to Church regularly and build those ongoing, continuing relationships where I could be a part of things. Me being me, I was also radically overthinking everything. Plus, I was fighting to stay alive, particularly after the dermatomyositis started causing fibrosis in my lungs. I developed bronchitis, pneumonia. I really should wear a mask out in public during fly season, but I am who I am and that isn’t me. I want to be with people, not behind a wall of any sort.

So, life is complicated and as frustrating and exhausting as it might be, I have to keep rising back to the surface and being not only part of community, but being something of a shepherd and caring for the flock from my seat somewhere out the back and not quite out the front. That’s my place. Meantime, Geoff can be found either up the front playing base, setting up and packing up chairs often with our son in tow. Our daughter went to her first meeting of Church dancers last week. That’s quite development compared to when my Mum was growing up.

Well, although this is the extended version of the baptism, it really is very much a fleeting overview of our spiritual journey and we’d love to hear from you. Moreover, if you have written any posts along these lines, please include links in the comments below. I’d love to read them.

Love & God Bless,

Rowena

Lt-Col George Walker Dies

Lieut.-Colonel ‘George Walker, commander of the Newcastle Division of the Salvation Army, died in Newcastle last night at the age of 61. Lieut.-Colonel Walker became an officer in the Salvation Army’s Burwood Corps 37 years ago, and then joined the China and India mission service. During the Second World War he was interned by the Japanese, and is remembered by many prisoners as welfare officer in a number of internment camps around Peking. After the war, he served as a travelling evangelist in New South Wales and Queensland, before taking up his Newcastle post a year ago. Newcastle Sun (NSW : 1918 – 1954), Wednesday 16 April 1952, page 3