Tag Archives: prayer

Thursday Doors – St Mary’s Cathedral, Sydney.

Welcome to Another Thursday Doors.

This week, we’re heading off to St Mary’s Cathedral in Sydney. Somehow, St Mary’s has managed to remain a striking architectural and spiritual beacon, despite the urban jungle’s concerted efforts to smother and suffocate architectural relics beneath  with its towering canopy.

 

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My grandparents on the steps of St Mary’s on their wedding day.

With my usual propensity for ending up in seemingly random places, I ended up at St Mary’s on Tuesday afternoon when it became the central point for me to meet up with my Mum and her brother and sister. Mum’s sister was visiting from Fremantle in Western Australia and for a brief moment in time there, all our roads led to St Mary’s Cathedral.

This was strangely more in keeping with my Dad’s family who is Catholic and his parents actually got married there in 1940 during WWII and the first Curtin to arrive in Australia from Cork, County Cork got married in the original St Mary’s Cathedral in 1855. My Great Grandfather’s funeral was also held at St Mary’s in 1936.

However, we are Christian and as far as we’re concerned, those old boundaries don’t matter anymore. We have one faith and being inside St Mary’s Cathedral with it’s incredible stained glass windows and reverence to God, was incredibly spiritual. Of course, you don’t need all of that to hear and talk to God, but it can be like putting on a beautiful dress. It doesn’t change who you are, but it lifts you up.

Our visit to St Mary’s was more of a time of reflective prayer and gratitude, than being there to do the touristy or photographic thing and admire all the architectural details. I did that a few years ago and am currently cursing my photo filing system, because I can’t find the photos anywhere and I wanted to share them with you.

However, what I did find, was the aerial perspective above which was taken from Centrepoint Tower.If you look carefully out the front of St Mary’s you’ll see a funeral cortege and I was reminded that the State funeral for Australia’s most successful and iconic horse trainer, Bart Cummings, was in progress at the time. Our daughter was auditioning for a role as one of the young Von Trapp children in Andrew Lloyd Webber’s production of The Sound of Music in Sydney that day, and I took her up Centrepoint Tower afterwards as a treat. For better or worse, she didn’t make it into the next round but even getting to the audition stage was an experience of a lifetime.

Map Showing Location of St Mary’s Cathedral

By the way, before we move inside the Cathedral and I do understand that I’m supposed to be showing off a few doors, and not just giving you the grand tour of everything but. However, I’d also like to point out that Sydney’s famous Hyde Park is in the foreground of that photo, and you can also see the striking Archibald Fountain by French sculptor Francois Sicard, which commemorates the association between Australia and France in World War I.

We all arrived in the city a bit early. So, I ended up meeting Mum and my aunt at the Archibald Fountain. We are all renowned for running late, and just when we thought we might be able to sneak in a quick coffee and raspberry tart at a French Cafe at St James Church in Macquarie Street, my uncle was also early and those ambitions were put on hold.

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St Mary’s Cathedral.

As the Cathedral’s web site explains:

“Today St Mary’s Cathedral is one of Australia’s most beautiful and significant buildings but it did not happen overnight. The Cathedral evolved through a long and patient timeline following a fire which destroyed the first St Mary’s Cathedral in 1865. As Australia’s largest Cathedral building, this English-style Gothic revival building constructed of honey-coloured Sydney sandstone, is regarded as the Mother Church for Australian Catholics. Its central Sydney location ensures a strong and visual presence of the church in Australia’s largest city. Architect William Wardell was commissioned by Archbishop John Polding to design a new St Mary’s following the devastating fire in 1865 razed the original Cathedral. According to Archbishop Polding to Wardell in a letter dated 10 October, 1865: “Any plan, any style, anything that is beautiful and grand. I leave all to you and your own inspiration”. Despite the building’s European origins, Wardell used Australian native flora throughout as a decorative element to ground the Cathedral in its local setting. It took close to 100 years to finally complete St Marys with the first stage constructed between 1866 and 1900 and stage two between 1912 and 1928. However, the original Wardell design was only finally completed in June 2000 when the metal frames of the imposing Southern Spires were lowered into place by helicopter and then sheathed in Gosford sandstone. According to the former Archbishop of Sydney George Pell: “This beautiful Cathedral Church is many things: a historic building, an architectural wonder, a monument to the role which Christianity and especially the Catholic faith has played in Australian life from the first days of European settlement and a magnificent tribute to the faith and commitment of generations of Catholics.” Dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary, under the title of Immaculate Mother of God, Help of Christians, the Cathedral will celebrate its Sesquicentenary in 2018, 150 years since the laying of the foundation stone of the new Cathedral by Archbishop Polding.”

 

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Door St Mary’s Cathedral.

While we were visiting St Mary’s on Tuesday, I spotted the ancient-looking doors to the cathedral and thought they’d make a very respectable contribution to Thursday Doors. Moreover, with only five sleeps til Christmas, it’s quite apt to visit a Church this week and in addition to the Cathedral’s doors, I also wanted to share the nativity scenes and other Christmas decorations.

Side door St Marys

I also spotted these doors for confession:

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I couldn’t help wondering what was being concealed behind this door. It looked rather mysterious.

Before we leave St Mary’s, I would like to share both the indoor and outdoor nativity scenes out of interest, but also to give our visit a touch of the Christmas spirit.

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Lastly, when it comes to Churches, I also think it’s important to talk about them having their doors open and welcoming people in, as well as them being closed for whatever reason. When I was a child, the doors to Catholic Churches were always open. However, that is no longer the case. The doors to St Mary’s Cathedral are open from 6.30am to 6.30pm and longer around Christmas.

For those of you interested in the musical side of things at St Mary’s, here’s a few links:

Well, I hope you’ve enjoyed our visit to St Mary’s Cathedral. This has been another contribution to Thursday Doors hosted by Norm 2.0. Why don’t you come and join us and share a few of your favourite doors. It’s a lot of fun and helps you see parts of the world you’ll never get to visit.

Before I head off, I’d like to wish you and yours a Merry and Blessed Christmas and a wonder-filled and happy New Year.

Best wishes,

Rowena

A Pathway to Heaven.

Brian put on his very best thinking cap and mustered all his concentration. As golden rays of sunlight beamed through the clouds, he could see heaven. Surely, if he looked hard enough, he would find Mother.

Moreover, in his nine year old mind, it wasn’t a huge leap of faith to believe an angel might bring her back. That just like Lazarus, Mother would miraculously rise from the dead.

His faith was bigger than a mustard seed.

Yet, Mother never came back. The gates of heaven stayed shut.

That’s when Brian stopped looking at the clouds.

There were no dreams.

Rowena Newton

This has been another contribution to the Friday Fictioneers . This week’s photo prompt comes from our host, © Rochelle Wisoff-Fields.

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The inspiration for this story, comes from my late Father-in-Law whose mother died when he was nine years old. He grew up in Penguin, Tasmania and we spent a few days there while we were in Tassie recently. We visited his old school (which now opens on Sundays for a market) and I looked through the windows to the clouds and thought of him grieving through class and missing his Mum.

After his mother died, family took in his sister and his Dad went away to work, leaving the two boys to fend for themselves. At 12, Brian left home to join the railways, despite being a bright pupil.

Brian died when my husband was 16. So, we’ve never met and we know very little about him and while I’ve used a real name and situation, it’s a purely fictional account of his response.

 

 

M:Mary Stevenson: Footprints Poem

Dear Mary,

As a young 22 year old Australian backpacking through Europe, a friend I met along the road gave me a much treasured copy of your Footprints poem. Despite being a Christian most of my life, I’d never come across your poem before. All of a sudden, it was like all my matches had been lit at once, sparking such a fire. Naturally, the poem was particularly poignant being a traveller at the time. I felt understood…a very rare experience for me at the time!

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While backpacking is supposedly about seeing and discovering the world, it can also become a journey deep inside yourself. Without the structure of a schedule, having no fixed plans, being far away from family, friends and any kind of personal history and simply drifting with the wind, you could easily feel like an atom drifting through space. Such freedom is incredible and indeed, I didn’t even have a watch but it’s all too easy to slip into some kind of existential angst.

Who am I? Why am I here? Where am I going? What is this nagging feeling inside which I can’t quite explain? When am I going home? What am I going to do with the rest of my life?

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Of course, the quest to find true love, weaves its tentacles through all of this.

Personally, I also had a pool of excess fluid sloshing around inside my brain, which I sort of knew was there although I didn’t know what it was. I simply turned to my faith, writing, philosophy, psychology and the humble cup of coffee for the answers I desperately sought.

Overseas travel is quite different for young Australians. Given the high cost of getting to Europe, many of us save like crazy and then try to stay away as long as possible. While this makes for a grand adventure, it can also mean serious homesickness and dislocation. At least, it did for me and I wasn’t alone. I heard quite a few Aussies hanging out for the scent of gum leaves. I had a an Australia $5.00 note stuck up in my room in Heidelberg where I lived for about 6 months.

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Brandenburg Gate, Berlin 1992.

As you could appreciate, I came across your poem at an intensely confusing and vulnerable time and it fortified me. Gave me such strength, knowing I wasn’t alone. That God was walking along this path with me and when the going got tough, he picked me up and carried me on his shoulders, just like a parent carries their child…right out of the quagmire. It was truly transforming. While The Bible is the word of God, somehow you translated its complexity into something I could understand, bringing alive God’s infinite love for me.

Thank you so very much for that. I know your poem still speaks to so many, possibly at a time when it might feel like the light’s gone out. Helping the broken-hearted to rekindle that light is  life changing.

I hope that I share some of that light with those I meet and through my writing. It is not that easy for me to have that physical presence but I try to share what you gave to me all those years ago…hope!

Love and God’s richest blessings,

Rowena

 Footprints in the Sand

One night I dreamed a dream.
As I was walking along the beach with my Lord.
Across the dark sky flashed scenes from my life.
For each scene, I noticed two sets of footprints in the sand,
One belonging to me and one to my Lord.

After the last scene of my life flashed before me,
I looked back at the footprints in the sand.
I noticed that at many times along the path of my life,
especially at the very lowest and saddest times,
there was only one set of footprints.

This really troubled me, so I asked the Lord about it.
“Lord, you said once I decided to follow you,
You’d walk with me all the way.
But I noticed that during the saddest and most troublesome times of my life,
there was only one set of footprints.
I don’t understand why, when I needed You the most, You would leave me.”

He whispered, “My precious child, I love you and will never leave you
Never, ever, during your trials and testings.
When you saw only one set of footprints,
It was then that I carried you.”

– by Mary Stevenson

This is the latest installment in my series of Letters To Dead Poets for the A-Z Challenge. Please click  here to catch up on Letters A-H. This list will be updated on Sunday.

Apache Blessing: 3 Day Quote Challenge.

“May the sun bring you new energy by day,may the moon softly restore you by night, may the rain wash away your worries, may the breeze blow new strength into your being, may you walk gently through the world and know it’s beauty all the days of your life.”

― Apache Blessing

Rainbow Toes at Byron Bay 2015.

Rainbow Toes at Byron Bay 2015.

Many thanks to our friend Melinda from purpleslobinrecovery, who has nominated us for this Challenge. Melinda blogs about her journey from slob to clean queen, and her ongoing battle with the Clutter Fairies, who we think must be related to the Slapstyx Goblins!

Thank you to Annabelle Franklin from https://annabellefranklinauthor.wordpress.com/ who nominated me for the challenge.

Rules of the Challenge

  • Thank the blogger who nominated you
  • Publish 3 quotes on 3 consecutive days on your blog. It can be your own, or from a book, movie or from anyone who inspires you.
  • Nominate 3 more bloggers to carry on this endeavour

I would like to nominate:

Kathy from https://timenomatter.wordpress.com/

Kath Unsworth: from https://timenomatter.wordpress.com/

Trent: https://trentsworldblog.wordpress.com/

I would also like to thanks Joanne from Top of JC’s Mind for this Indian Pudding Recipe. Living in Australia, I haven’t had much exposure to Indian culture but am going to try making this with the kids https://topofjcsmind.wordpress.com/2015/10/13/indian-pudding-recipe/

xx Rowena

Evicting the Elephant from the Room!!

An elephant has been living in my room. It’s never had a name and it’s never shared its story but some time ago, it simply moved in and it hasn’t moved out, rudely bailing me up in my own home.

Ever since, I’ve been feeling like a teeny, weenie, terrified mouse scrunched up hiding in the corner too afraid to come out.

After all, how could a tiny, little mouse ever take on such a monstrous elephant? It wouldn’t even need weapons of mouse destruction. It could just sit on me and I’d be flatter than a pancake. I doubt you’d even find my shadow.

Obviously, confronting an elephant is a serious consideration and not something I’d file as an “irrational fear”.

However, costs are mounting and I simply can’t afford to indulge its freeloading consumption any longer. That elephant has to go and I will do whatever it takes to get it out!!

For many years now, the elephant in the room has been my auto-immune disease, which is inconveniently known as dermatomyositis. That elephant moved on now that I’m back in remission. However, as we all know, elephants are very sociable and have fantastic memories. So once you’ve entertained one elephant, word gets around and another one quickly takes its place. You don’t even need to serve peanuts.

While having your own elephant might seem amazing, they’re actually very hard work. It might be fun riding an elephant to work or using it to clean the car, water the garden and even to do a bit of heavy lifting. However, take a serious reality check. Elephants are actually seriously high maintenance!

After all, elephants not only eat and eat and eat and eat. What goes in, must come out.

Talking about what goes in, a handful of lawn mower clippings is hardly going to feed this insatiable beast. Elephants eat 250-300 pounds of food per day on average and in a zoo, a typical adult elephant eats 4-5 bales of hay and 10 – 18 pounds, or 4.5 to 8 kg, of grain. Annually, that’s more than 29,000 kg of hay and 2700 kg of feed per animal. Naturally, buying all this food puts a serious dent in your household budget.

An elephant also needs to be bathed and thery don't exactly fit inside your tub!

An elephant also needs to be bathed and thery don’t exactly fit inside your tub!

Elephants also need to drink and in a drought-ravaged country like Australia, an elephant places an enormous drain on your resources. Their daily water consumption is 25 – 50 gallons per animal, or 100 – 200 litres. Let’s hope you’re not depending on a rainwater tank! I wouldn’t like to run into a thirsty elephant on the rampage!

Obviously, just satisfying the consumption requirements of an elephant, even a metaphorical one, takes an enormous amount of effort.

However, that’s only half the story and to be perfectly honest with you, that’s the better end of the story too!

Elephant Poo.

Elephant Poo.

As I said, what goes in must come out and in the case of a herbivorous elephant…out and out and out!!!!!
An elephant defecates from 12 to 15 times a day, a daily quantity of 220 – 250 pounds. This adds up to a yearly quantity of over 85,000 pounds of manure, more than 40 tons per adult elephant. That’s a huge pile of dung in your room and can become something of a Tower of Babel rising right up to your ceiling and you really wouldn’t want to fall in!!

Yet, that’s not all that comes out either!

Elephants also produce huge amounts of methane gas. Properly equipped, a car could travel 20 miles on the amount of methane produced by one elephant in a single day. That also makes having an elephant in the room, a rather stinky proposition, well beyond the scope of even the strongest air freshners. Urgh!

So after exploring the barest minimum survival, “nothing fancy” requirements of that elephant living in your room, perhaps you, like me, can appreciate that it’s time to send that elephant packing.

No more being nice!!

Miss in hospital waiting for her endoscopy. So brave but she also loved having her own remote control TV!!

Miss in hospital waiting for her endoscopy. So brave but she also loved having her own remote control TV!!

The current elephant in our room is our daughter’s health. She is struggling to eat and is seriously under weight. She’s 9 years old and eats less than 500 calories most days when she should be eating upwards of 1,800. Most of the time, she can only eat very small amounts and then feels sick. She also complains about bread and potato getting stuck in her throat and troubles with reflux.

You can just imagine the stress that we’ve been through having a child who doesn’t eat. She’s now 9 and this has almost been going on almost since birth. Well-intentioned multitudes have told me that they’ve never seen a child starve themselves to death but our daughter has certainly pushed the boundaries. It might just be the gastro bug that’s been going round or our increased awareness, but she seems worse over the last couple of weeks and is arriving home from school looking weak and off-colour but perks up with food and will eat something. At the same time, she’s a pretty active kid so it’s hard to understand where she is getting that energy. It’s been very perplexing.

Late last year, we took matters in hand and over the last couple of weeks she’s had a barium meal test, an endoscopy and a tube into her nose to check her throat. She’s been so brave and gone through this with courage and strength but even though I’ve had these tests myself, it’s awful to watch her suffer. My heart aches for her and I just wish I could simply kiss her and make her better! Yet, I can’t and rather than being the strong rock I’m portraying, I want to cry and cry and cry. Crumble apart like sandcastle being swept away by a sea of tears. A bit melodramatic, I know, but she’s my little girl…our princess!

So for us, dealing with the elephant in the room has meant documenting what she eats and after realising how close she is to running on empty, I’ve bought her some medical food replacement drinks to at least try to bridge the gap while we seek answers.

I know I probably should’ve been looking into her calorie intake before, but I’ve been trying to keep this low key. I don’t want this thing to evolve into an eating disorder and I wasn’t sure that teaching a child who doesn’t eat about calories was a good thing. The same goes with getting on the scales. I also don’t want her feeling bad about herself or thinking that she’s faulty in some way. I would love to be thin but the more I look into how she is, the more I’m noticing that she’s becoming like a car running out of fuel. Moreover, I’m also realising that whatever the elephant in the room might be, identification, classification and treatment are beyond my capabilities.

I don’t know whether my awareness has just increased but she’s seemed worse this last week. She’s come home from school really tired and lethargic a few times. Feeling completely confused, stressed and perplexed; I didn’t even know which doctor to call or whether I should go to emergency or what. I’m trying to limit her doctor’s appointments and so I needed to pick the right doctor out of the hat. After flapping around all week and getting some good advice from the pharmacist and some food replacement drinks, I finally rang her paediatrician yesterday. I was trying to get my story out and convey some sense of urgency but didn’t need to. She gave me an appointment this very Monday. The only thing worse than having to beg and plead for an emergency appointment is being offered one. Then, you know that your worries are really something to worry about.

At the same time, I am so relieved!! Whatever we’re dealing with, we are no longer alone. Our concerns are being taken seriously and help is on its way. Our paediatrician really is excellent and I know he’ll help us navigate whatever this is and find a clear path. We are also fortunate to know two people with delayed gastric emptying, who have been very helpful and supportive. I also expect we’ll be seeing a dietician and other health professionals who’ll enlighten us.

I’m sure that now we’re starting to expose the elephant in the room and reveal it’s true identity, it’ll either take off straight away or deflate from a 4,500 kilo elephant into a mouse-sized ornament.
I sure hope so!!

Thank you to all those of you who are supporting and encouraging me through this journey with our daughter. It is much appreciated and reflects so positively on the bonds of friendship forged through blogging and even though we have never met face-to-face, that we are connected, if not becoming good friends.

Love and blessings,

Rowena xx

Sources

http://www.elephantconservation.org/stay-informed/just-for-kids/

Compassion Fatigue: A Light Bulb Moment!

For so many with a passion for compassion, there can come a point where we need to reassess our vision. Admit that we have over-extended our scope or perceived list of responsibilities beyond our sphere and have actually gone too far. Moreover, although we not be thinking about compassion fatigue or burnout, we need to pull our heads in before we implode. Otherwise, instead of being able to help and support others, we risk needing help ourselves!

I would suggest that if you are watching ants lugging heavy loads with more than just a casual eye and indeed considering learning ant language so you can help them more effectively: “Hey, can I give you a lift?” Then, perhaps you have taken compassion just that little bit too far.

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There comes a time when especially the most compassionate souls need to re-visit their priorities before it’s too late.

 

I have been putting a lot of thought into compassion since I signed up for the 1000 Voices Speak for Compassion Movement where on this day Friday 20th February over 1000 bloggers worldwide have signed up to write a post about compassion on their blogs.

Here is a link to the project: http://new.inlinkz.com/luwpview.php?id=497564&fb_ref=Default

Today, is the United Nations Day of Social Justice. Thanks to my husband and has his particular way of challenging “stuff”, I would just like to stress that “social justice” has nothing to do with society taking justice into its own hands, mob rule or the formation of such abhorrent organisations as the Klu Klux Klan. Rather, it’s about giving everyone, as we Australians put it: “a fair go” and fighting against all forms of discrimination…even the insidious, invisible ones!!

Bloggers Around the World Unite: 1000 Voices Speak for Compassion.

Bloggers Around the World Unite: 1000 Voices Speak for Compassion.

Writing one post about compassion for me is impossibly difficult. It’s like taking me to the most sumpuous smorgasbord restaurant (all you can eat)  and being told: “You can only eat one thing!”

WHAT THE???!!

My husband would tell you that’s impossible. That I could never, ever go into a smorgasbord restaurant with all those tempting tables of every kind of Chinese, Thai, Italian, Mexican etc etc food each piled up as high as Mt Everest and all those tantilising aromas ticklooing my senses coaxing me to completely pig out: “Eat me! Eat me! I know you want to eat me.” THat’s before we even get to dessert and I can’t even think about chocolate without salivating, even in extreme heat when most mortals find the concept of molten chocolate abhorrent.  They want something cool.

THerefore, you won’t be surprised when I tell you that I’ve never left a smorgasbord restaurant without feeling incredibly ill and being reminded of that infamous restaurant scene where Mr Creosote explodes in Monty Python’s: The Meaning of Life:

 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aczPDGC3f8U

Unfortunately, my poor brain just can’t cope with sooo much choice and its default mode is:

“I’ll take the lot, thanks!!”

So with that graphic image of over-eating firmly etched in your brains, you’ll understand just how hard it is for me to write about just one aspect of compassion. There are literally limitless possibilities out there and a bit like Mr Creote, I could spew all those fabulous anecdotes and reflections out in the post, which would just be counter-productive….not to mention messy and very, very smelly, stinky and downright repulsive!!

MY instructor helping me up the magic carpet on my first ski lesson in 2013.

Giving me a helping hand: my ski instructor helping me up the magic carpet on my first ski lesson in 2013.

Just a few of the anecdotes I’ve considered revisiting today include address the love of a stranger and the compassionate support I received from my ski instructors who skied back down the mountain lugging my skis, boots and poles so I could take the chair lift back and conserve my small reserves of energy. Their compassion and using their physical strength for good, enabled me to ski down the best slope for my ability and give me the experience of a life time. It would not have happened otherwise and I would never have left the “magic carpet” or beginner’s area. Moreover, my testimony of skiing down the mountain for a second time after overcoming a flare up of my auto-immune disease, pneumonia and chemotherapy would not have happened.

Skiing down the mountain at Perisher in August 2013.

Skiing down the mountain at Perisher in August 2013.

I also wanted to write about some of the ways people actually treat people with disabilities with anything but compassion. Things like parking in disabled car spaces without a permit, crashing into people using a walking stick and how there is the completely inadequate social support to allow people with disabilities to live with dignity. For example, despite have a muscle-wasting life-threatening disease, it took me five years to get any domestic assistance and that is completely inadequate. There are also no long term supports for parents of young children who might be dying or living with severe, disabling illness and who require ongoing child care but lack the second income to pay for it.

Just to compound this sense of paralysis through analysis and compassion overload, I started looking up inspirational quotes about compassion.

Some were beautifully poetic:

“Grief can be the garden of compassion. If you keep your heart open through everything, your pain can become your greatest ally in your life’s search for love and wisdom.”

Rumi

“The dew of compassion is a tear”.

Lord Byron

However, reading through compassion quotes became quite challenging and rather than concentrating my compassion into some kind of manageable, bite-sized portion, it expanded the scope exponentially:

“Compassion, in which all ethics must take root, can only attain its full breadth and depth if it embraces all living creatures and does not limit itself to mankind.”

Albert Schweitzer

“Let us fill our hearts with our own compassion – towards ourselves and towards all living beings.”

Thich Nhat Hanh

“If we’re destroying our trees and destroying our environment and hurting animals and hurting one another and all that stuff, there’s got to be a very powerful energy to fight that. I think we need more love in the world. We need more kindness, more compassion, more joy, more laughter. I definitely want to contribute to that.”

Ellen DeGeneres

Okay. So after reading all of these quotes, I’m starting to think i should go back to the ant I saw this morning lugging that mighty big crumb and offer it a lift. After all, an ant is one of these living creatures we’re been calling on to assist!!

Ouch! Double ouch!! My brain hurts. Really hurts. This compassion fatigue seems terminal!!

But to add further salt to the wound:

“Throughout history, it has been the inaction of those who could have acted; the indifference of those who should have known better; the silence of the voice of justice when it mattered most; that has made it possible for evil to triumph.”

Haile Selassie

That’s why I decided to write about compassion fatigue. Not the clinical version but just the garden variety which anybody with even just the smallest social conscience can experience. After all, each of us only has so many gold coins we can put in the collection tin and some of us, especially those living with any form of severe chronic illness, can feel like we could warrant some charitable donations ourselves. That’s particularly after paying for prescriptions, a medical specialist or about ten or when all our household appliances decide to breakdown at the same time. Moreover, if you have kids, you are the charitable institution. I remember my Dad telling us that: “Money doesn’t grow on trees”. “Kids, I don’t have a money tree, you know.” I don’t know whether we ever believed him. However, I still kind of believe in Santa, the Easter Bunny and the tooth fairy and given their generosity to kids worldwide, there has to be a money tree or at least a magic wishing tree out there somewhere!!

However, all this takes me back to what has almost become a cliche:

Think global: Act Local.

We can not help or save everyone but the chances are that we can help our neighbours in small, little ways that don’t really cost much such as giving people a lift, mowing their lawn and you know what I value the most: a smile and a hug. They are absolutely free and we could keep on passing them on. Well, we would be able to send and smiles and hugs right around the world if Australia, as our national anthem so ridiculously put it, wasn’t “girt by sea”. Gee, that ocean can get in the way at times!!

That’s been my modus operandi for awhile and while blogging and recent world events have extended my scope, I will still focus on the home front. After all, “charity begins at home”.

” I alone cannot change the world, but I can cast a stone across the waters to create many ripples.”

Mother Theresa

I almost forgot to mention this but unlike Atlas,  we  don’t have to carry the weight of the world on our shoulders. The state of the world, the environment and all the people and animals in it are not our responsibiity alone. While as individuals we might be ineffective on our own, when we collaborate we can move mountains. Moreover, through the power of prayer, we can also call on divine intervention. Never under-estimate the power of prayer!! Miracles can and do happen although I must also admit that sometimes for whatever reason God seems to be deaf…just like our kids.

Here are some of the other posts I have written about compassion and tomorrow I will post a selection of posts which were part of 1000 Voices Speak for Compassion.

Brain Plasticity & Saving Two Australians on Indonesia’s Death Row: https://beyondtheflow.wordpress.com/2015/02/19/brain-plasticity-two-australians-on-death-row/

The Aftermath of the MH17 Tragedy: Compassion in Action!! Sowing those precious sunflower seeds: https://beyondtheflow.wordpress.com/?s=sunflower

Emotional versus Physical healing: The Struggle To Heal The Broken Foot & the Sydney Siege: https://beyondtheflow.wordpress.com/2015/02/09/the-struggle-to-heal-the-broken-foot-and-the-sydney-siege/

Love of a Stranger: https://beyondtheflow.wordpress.com/?s=love+of+a+stranger

Skiing: Back to the Mountain Almost: https://beyondtheflow.wordpress.com/2014/08/17/back-to-the-mountain-almost/

Have a wonderful International Day of Social Justice and I’ll start the ball rolling by sending a smile and a hug to you!

If you have participated in 1000 Voices Speak for Compassion, please leave a link and even a brief intro to your post in the comments here for inclusion in a follow-up post.

Love & blessings,

Rowena

The Struggle to Heal: the broken foot and the Sydney Siege.

Have you ever considered the different way we respond to physical injuries versus psychological trauma? There’s absolutely no stigma going to a physiotherapist to treat your physical injuries, whereas admitting to seeing a psychologist could well open a whole can of worms.

Quite a double-standard, isn’t it?

It’s now almost been two months since the horrific terrorist siege gripped Sydney as a gunman held 18 people hostage in the Lindt Cafe in Martin Place at the heart of Sydney’s CBD. While the hostages each have their own story, I am addressing the ripple effect which spread beyond the Lindt Cafe and held Sydney in its grip and is still rippling in the shadows. As evidenced by the thousands of floral tributes which overflowed through Martin Place and a Facebook request to send Christmas cards to Katrina Dawson’s kids spread; many, many people were deeply moved and grief-stricken over what happened. We truly and genuinely cared. This concern is naturally mixed with grief, fear and compassionate empathy and there’s naturally a need for psychological healing here too. There has been such grief for the Katrina Dawson and Tori Johnson…two courageous heroes…strangers we’d never met before.

Flowers Martin Place

Flowers Martin Place

The night before the siege, I broke my foot and I felt this coincidence provided an opportunity to explore the differences between physical and psychological healing. The hostages were interviewed at length on TV last night and they each have their story. Naturally, I am very mindful of their trauma and send them my love and prayers. However, I’m looking further afield at how Sydney is responding to its psychological wounds. Are we undergoing treatment?

As I mentioned in my previous post, I returned to Martin Place for the first time since the siege last week on my way home from a series of medical appointments. I usually go off on a bit of a detour on the way home and quite intentionally don’t declare my whereabouts. This is Mummy’s secret escape…an absolute indulgence. I usually end up in a gorgeously quirky vegan cafe in Sydney’s Surry Hills. There’s a portrait of “The Vegan Mary” at the entrance and they make the most scrumptiously divine Coconut Chai Lattes. They’re like drinking a coconut cloud.

However, this time I decided to go to Martin Place and pay my respects to the siege victims and survivors. I didn’t know what to expect. I naturally thought I’d get emotional when I reached the Lindt Cafe but what surprised me was the creepy uneasiness I felt even walking through Martin Place. Quite out of character, I wondered whether I should report in and call home. Let my husband know where I was just in case. After all, nobody knew I was anywhere near the city. I was meant to be on the train heading home, in the absolute opposite direction. If something happened, no one would know I was there. Not that anything was going to happen. After all, lightening doesn’t strike the same place twice. That said, we didn’t expect it to strike the first time either. Now, we’ve woken up. Sydney is on alert. Not red alert but we’re certainly no longer asleep.

You see, despite the superficial rhetoric that Sydney is back to normal, things have changed. Something has shattered and the pieces don’t quite fit back together like they used to. Everything is just ever so slightly disjointed, out of kilter. Although we’re getting on with it, that doesn’t mean we don’t feel or haven’t been changed. It’s only early days and it really does take time for any kind of healing…physical or psychological.

As I mentioned, I broke my foot the night before the terrorist siege. Therefore, the progress on the foot front provides a good platform to discuss how Sydney is psychologically recovering from the siege versus the physical healing of the foot. I should also mention that I live with a severe life threatening auto-immune disease and been through a bit of trauma myself…especially where my kids are concerned.

While I did play my violin in the Christmas concert straight after breaking my foot and I also staggered into school the next day despite excruciating pain to watch the kids perform in the end of year talent show, that all stopped after the x-ray. Once I knew it was broken, it was sentenced to 6 weeks in the protective boot and I was also prescribed Panadeine Forte and had to rest it. The kids were incredibly caring giving me a massage and doing everything for me…at least for a few days!! I’ve been severely ill before and the kids have never given me the red carpet treatment rolled out for the broken foot. That really intrigued me.

Six weeks later, I’m starting to ease out of the boot and started physio. Of course, she’s not sending me straight back out there cold turkey running along cracked and broken footpaths wearing my high heels. No, she’s given me a couple of very simple, basic exercises, which require many, many repetitions. These are aimed at retraining the nerve endings in my ankle to stop it from flipping over. This retraining process sounds very similar to the neuroplasticity in the brain. Hmm…I guess that means I have a brain in my foot.

While nobody’s been pressuring me to get over my broken foot, I do feel that Sydney is being pushed and expected to recover from the siege quickly. While it is important to reclaim our city and not let terrorism cramp our style, this can also be a gradual process. We are allowed to inch our way back and not just jump in the deep end when we’re not ready. It’s also perfectly okay to get professional psychological advice and support just like I’ve had physio to help my foot recover…even if you weren’t one of the hostages and perhaps don’t even work near Martin Place.

Boys Don't Cry.

Boys Don’t Cry.

I try to laugh about it
Cover it all up with lies
I try and laugh about it
Hiding the tears in my eyes
‘Cause boys don’t cry
Boys don’t cry

The Cure – Boys Don’t Cry

 

 

 

This psychological pressure to simply get over it is exemplified by these no doubt well-intentioned words from our esteemed Prime Minister Tony Abbott: “The whole point of politically motivated violence is to scare people out of being themselves. Australia is a peaceful, open and generous society. Nothing should ever change that,’’ Mr Abbott said.

“I would urge all Australians today to go about their business as usual”….

“Our thoughts and prayers must go out to the individuals caught up in this. I can think of nothing more distressing or terrifying.”[1]

Does anybody else see the contradiction? How could we simply go about our business as usual when 18 people were being hostage by a seeming terrorist? While people have been sympathetic and understanding about how long it takes a broken foot to heal, there is quite a double-standard when it comes to psychological trauma and scars. There’s this expectation that psychological wounds should heal quickly…almost like clicking your fingers…especially when you were indirectly affected. However, it seems quite logical to me that if you go through a dreadful, traumatic ordeal that you would have some kind of lasting reaction. Moreover, this reaction deserves (at the very least) the same kind of treatment, respect and TLC that my broken foot has received. This can include learning techniques and skills from a trained psychologist just like I’m getting exercises for my foot from the physio. After all, if you have a significant injury of any sort, it requires treatment.

Whether your wounds are psychological or physical, professional advice can boost the healing process. It makes good sense.

To make sense of the psychological kickback from the siege, we need to return to 15-16th December without injecting hindsight. While it is easy in retrospect to minimise the threat this lone wolf gunman posed, he had staged his campaign with maximum impact. Firstly, he chose the prominent Lindt Cafe opposite the Channel 7 TV Studios in Martin Place for maximum coverage. Then, he bluffed his way through the siege claiming his backpack was a bomb and that other “brothers” had bombs in other strategic locations in Sydney’s CBD. This threat had to be taken seriously and brought Sydney’s CBD to a grinding halt. The pre-Christmas rush vanished leaving an eerie ghost town behind. The Opera House and Cahill Expressway had been evacuated and Martin Place Train Station was closed. This was perceived as a potentially serious terrorist attack on Sydney and was dealt with accordingly. Thank goodness, it wasn’t but we still went through “the motions”.

Map Showing Roads Closed During the Sydney Siege- SMH 15.12.14

Map Showing Roads Closed During the Sydney Siege- SMH 15.12.14

Since then, events in Paris have also dwarfed what happened here. However, Sydney could have been a different story. We can not minimise what people have been through because something even worse happened somewhere else. Once again, that is the power of hindsight… something anybody who lived through the siege, didn’t have at the time.

As I mentioned earlier, the impact of the siege has rippled far beyond the hostages and their families. TV and other forms of media bring events right into our lounge rooms in vivid technicolour, drawing us in. We are human beings, not robots, so of course we have emotions, feelings…a response!!! Moreover, although Sydney is a big city, it still has an intimacy about it. Somebody always seems to know someone involved. As it turns out, I used to work closely with one of the Sydney hostages many years ago. I must admit I felt quite shattered hearing her talk about the intense trauma she endured on TV last night…especially when we were so bright-eyed and bushy-tailed all those years ago. That was my first full-time job.

There are also those people who work in or near Martin Place and those who frequent the Lindt Cafe but through some almost freakish twist of fate, they weren’t there that morning. They slept in. Missed the bus or were sick. Started a diet and swore off chocolate. Just like the siege survivors are asking, “why me?”, they could well be thinking: “It could have, or even should have, been me.” That intense sense of identification, another form of survivor’s guilt, deserves compassion just as much as my foot and yet these walking wounded have no walking sticks or boots to communicate their angst. Their own grief and anxiety seems hard to understand and perhaps even self-indulgent, attention seeking. They could well have a whole Pandora’s Box of questions, emotions and fears even though they were nowhere near the place. They also deserve hugs, understanding and compassion.

The whole question of the future of the Lindt Cafe in Martin Place confronts these psychological scars head on. Personally, I can’t understand how they could ever re-open it at that location but others have called for it to re-open and there will be a touching memorial inside. I know the chances of a repeat of the siege must be statistically unlikely but with all of Sydney open for coffee, I’d rather be gentle with my soul and go somewhere else. I don’t need to go through that emotional stress…especially when I’ve never been to the Lindt Cafe before.

I’d much rather head back for that heavenly Coconut Chai latte in Surry Hills and think about something else…like a buying a box of Lindt chocolates at the supermarket.

Any thoughts?

xx Rowena

PS I should mention that just as people may experience Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, survivors can also experience post-traumatic growth. I have experienced both. It would be an intriguing process if only it didn’t hurt so much!!

[1]The Australian Financial Review: http://www.afr.com/p/national/islamic_state_linked_terror_grips_Ck62N1NvnYuygeXu1rfXbI

 

Map Showing Roads Closed During the Sydney Siege- SMH 15.12.14

Map Showing Roads Closed During the Sydney Siege- SMH 15.12.14

 

 

Martin Place: Only 9 Sleeps Before Christmas…

As you would probably know by now, the siege in Martin Place ended tragically with the deaths of two hostages and the gunman. While the siege has been coveraged in ample detail in the media, I wanted to offer a tribute. I didn’t feel I could just keep blogging about our Christmas and dance and christmas concerts and making Christmas cake with my son under the circumstances. I wanted to honour the victims of the Martin Place Siege and send my love to their families, friends and colleagues and as a mark of respect.

Tori Johnson, 34, was the Manager of the Lindt Cafe. Like most of us, he’d simply gone to work but he never came home. Johnson was killed attempting to disarm the gunman.

His parents released a statement describing their pride in their “beautiful boy”:

“We are so proud of our beautiful boy Tori, gone from this earth but forever in our memories as the most amazing life partner, son and brother we could ever wish for,” the statement released through 2GB presenter Ben Fordham read.

“We’d like to thank not only our friends and loved ones for their support, but the people of Sydney; Australia and those around the world for reaching out with their thoughts and prayers.

“Our deepest gratitude to the NSW police, armed forces and paramedics for their tireless efforts.”

Former colleague Genevieve Collier posted on Facbook: “R.I.P Tori Johnson, at times we both hated each other, and at other times we’d be hysterically laughing. You gave me so many chances even when i was a little s*** eating all the lindor balls and pretending I was a barista. You had a good heart, and I knew you were in there protecting everyone.”

Source:

http://www.perthnow.com.au/news/martin-place-cafe-siege-police-storm-cafe-and-kill-gunman-sheik-man-haron-monis/story-fnhnv0wb-1227157498633?utm_content=SocialFlow&utm_campaign=EditorialSF&utm_source=PerthNow&utm_medium=Facebook&nk=85b48321ae410590e37671c1f7b4d9f4

Katrina Dawson, who died protecting her pregnant friend, was a wife and mother of 3 little children aged under 10. Like all children, her kids would be counting down the number of sleeps before Christmas and then suddenly…

Katrina also had a brilliant mind and was a very respected and successful Barrister.

She loved her husband and her children with all her heart and no doubt that love helped sustain her during those 22 hours…along with her concern for her pregnant friend also being held hostage. She also had a mum, a Dad, a brother, friends, colleagues. I have a 10 year old son and an 8 year old daughter, so naturally I relate to her very strongly as a Mum and a wife and like everyone else, am thinking of and praying for her husband and kids.

Barrister Katrina Dawson was simply having much loved hot chocolate before work.

It was just an ordinary Monday just like any other Monday.

There are signs hung outside the Lindt Cafe wishing a Merry Christmas. These same signs were above the windows where the hostages were forced against the glass. The media blurred their faces but we could see their hands so clearly right underneath that Merry Christmas sign.These same signs were intended to spread Christmas cheer and good will to all mankind…along with a box of Lindt chocolates, of course. Indeed, I have 3 large boxes of Lindt chocolates in my cupboard…some intended as gifts and others for personal use. Lindt is the ultimate in convenient chocolate luxury.

Ooh!!! Right then my 8 year old daughter just appeared with a Lindt Chocolate and it seems while I’ve been immobilised with a broken foot and compassion for this awful tragedy, the kids are raiding my Lindt Chocolates. This just reinforces the awful paradox of what happened in that cafe. Lindt chocolate are heaven and that siege was hell… 22 hours of pure hell and a lifetime of heartache for the victims families and friends.

How do you reconcile that? Lindt Chocolate heaven, Merry Christmas and a gruesome siege where two innocent, very much loved people who were just going to work and drinking coffee were killed? The love that our community feels for the victims and their loved ones, versus the hate which drove a lone wolf to attack Sydney at its heart?

You can’t.

Yet, at the same time we have to keep believing that love can triumph over hate, good over evil!

Despite what some of our community leaders are saying, many of us can’t just get on with it as though nothing has happened. We’re not made of stone. We’re living, breathing, loving human beings who want to do something, somehow to show we care. That such acts of terrorist violence are not acceptable. That we will stand up and fight …if only we could work out how. There’s one thing I do know. It certainly doesn’t mean picking on innocent Muslims and becoming what we despise.

Perhaps, we just need to keep following the Golden Rule. Treat others as we would like to be treated. Perhaps, it really is that simple, after all! Child’s play.

This is not the first time that Australians have been affected by terrorist violence this year. On the 17 July, 2014 38 Australians were effectively murdered when Flight MH17 was shot down over the Ukraine. On the 24th September, 2014 an 18-year-old man who was being investigated over terrorism was been shot dead after stabbing two police officers in Melbourne’s outer south-east.

As much as we like to think of ourselves as being geographically isolated from such evil, we have now well and truly lost our innocence. We are no longer immune if, indeed, we ever were.

I can’t get into the city to leave a wreath of flowers thanks to my broken foot so I decided to put this memorial on my blog.

Little people like us might feel powerless when confronted with such evil and tragedy but together goodness is a mighty chain and we must all join hands united against terrorism, violence but also discrimination…not just against the Muslim community. Right now, that includes accepting and helping Muslim women and other mainstream members of the Muslim community feel love and accepted.

It also means not turning people with mental health issues into the villains here either. Truth be told, who hasn’t had mental health issues at some time and certainly some are worse than others and there was Port Arthur but over all have mental health issues doesn’t make you a crazy terrorist gunman.

We know that this guy wasn’t a lone wolf. There are others out there. Not just in Australia but also around the world. Reports today told of Muslim community members who are reporting extremists and have been unhappy with the response from authorities. I pray these people are flushed out before history repeats itself somewhere else and more innocent people are put through this severe kind of anguish.

My blog is about my life and what’s going on around me and I just felt I couldn’t keep writing about all our Christmas festivities without acknowledging this dreadful tragedy before I moved on.

We sent our love and prayers to the families and friends of Katrina Dawson and Tori Johnson. May God hold you in his arms and wrap you up in his incredible love.

xx Rowena

 

Wave Watching at Whale Beach

Here I am sitting on the rocks at Whale Beach watching the waves literally explode as they smack against the rocks. It is hard to describe their incredible force, bursting like fireworks and then cascading through the cracked and creviced rock platform down below and returning back to the sea.

Multitasking out here is absolutely impossible. It’s a case of either write or take photos. I can’t do both. Damn! The frustrations of an imperfect world!

So let me rewind just a little and look through the lens instead of the pen.

The waves are taunting and teasing me. Luring me close with their smashing, violent force only to recede and disappear and fade into a gentle rolling lull. Talk about utter frustration!

Not that these efforts were ever going to be about achieving the perfect shot…getting the big one! The light’s all wrong. It is almost dark and this is a time of low light and shadows. These photography efforts are more a case of just trying the capture the moment as it is and I guess with a hope of coming back at a better time. I’d also like to “play it again Sam”. I was mesmerised by it all. Not just the visuals but also the symphony of sound as the waves beat and whooshed around the rocks and into the cavernous depths below. I would love to share this experience with the world even in its imperfection because it was just so powerfully beautiful and moving. Moreover, the turbulence of the waves somehow reflected some of my inner unrest and the knowledge that I have a hell of a fight on my hands. My journey is currently very intense.

Trying to photograph the waves reminds me of surfing…not that I’ve had a lot of experience on the front. Aside from getting the light right and choosing a good subject, timing is critical. You have to press the button at precisely the right moment or ideally just that microsecond beforehand to compensate for that barely perceptible time lag between the subject and the lens. Timing has never been my strength. In fact, today I wouldn’t even say I ran late. I went AWOL…off the grid…beyond time. Bought myself another watch and I’m hoping that will help. Ro without a watch doesn’t stand a chance!!

In the end, I found myself trying to read the waves to better predict the big ones in advance. While this all sounds like I know what I’m doing, I’d probably have better luck trying to read its palm. I’m no seasoned surfer who lives and breathes with the waves. I can’t even spot a rip. Moreover, although I’ve been spending a lot of time at my parents’ place on the Pittwater side, that’s flat water. There’s barely a ripple.

Yet, while I mightn’t be kind of enlightened wave-watching expert and interpreter, that didn’t stop me from trying. Even though the light wasn’t anywhere near perfect, I still wanted that shot. Every single muscle and cell is primed and on red alert and I was poised on the rocks with my camera in position like that stalking, lurking cat about to pounce on a mouse. I’m watching waiting, observing all those very subtle signs as the water surface curves and tightens but then swells and falls. Of course, the big one doesn’t come while I’m fixated, camera poised. I wait and wait and wait.

As I said, photographing the waves is like surfing. Surfers seemingly sit on their boards for eternity waiting for the big one to come and now I was doing the same!

Waiting is also a big part of photography…huge!

The waves go quiet. There’s absolutely no action whatsoever so I decide to swap my camera for my notebook and pen. In this instance, my notebook is made of paper. It’s pad not a computer.

Of course, now that I’m writing and I’ve packed up my camera, a huge, ginormous waves smashes against the rocks and water shoots up like lava from an exploding volcano. Whoosh!

I am in such awe of its raw, unbridled energy and power. I have always loved watching the waves feeling that all that energy somehow mirrors the raw, turbulent energy thrashing around in my soul. I’ve never been one of those chilled out peaceful types. Definitely, a woman of passion!

Wave hits just as I'm taking a selfie.

Wave hits just as I’m taking a selfie.

Many years ago, I spent hours sitting on these same rocks when my parents had a place across the road from the beach. Back then, I also photographed the waves somehow trying to freeze all that energy and power in 6 x 4. I had a favourite spot… my rock…where I used to contemplate and photograph life, the universe and everything. Indeed it was on this rock that I met a special friend and I was visiting her this afternoon for a healing massage, a chat and very much a merging of souls. She has the most amazing kindness and is such a giver. Such an amazing giver and at this point, I have just absorbed her great kindness as a healing gift. She even gave me a sunflower plant not knowing that I’d written about being the seed a few days ago. Not knowing that I am intending to give my children a sunflower seed so they can think about how they are going to grow and develop this year in themselves (that was in response to astronaut Chris Hadfield’s comments mentioned in a previous post). We are also going to plant some sunflowers and watch them grow. Sunflowers have always been my flower and I’d also written a poem called Sunflower back in my 20s that was one of my signature poems. My friend knew nothing about all these sunflower connections when she gave me the plant. It was so very obviously mean to be. After this fairly amazing time with her, I just felt drawn to go back to the rock where we’d met and complete the process. That’s what took me back to Whale Beach.

After the crash, the waves flow over the rocks like spillt milk.

After the crash, the waves flow over the rocks like spillt milk.

Anyway, as I said, I have spent many, many hours sitting on these rocks. Back in 1997, I at on these rocks while recovering from brain surgery wondering when but more likely if I would ever get better. It really looked doubtful that I would ever get my old life back again. The road back to so-called “normal” was just way too steep…an insurmountable climb!

All the quirks and idiosyncrasies of my hydrocephalus haven’t left me entirely but they have virtually disappeared and I can usually compensate for my remaining weaknesses.

This gives me much hope that we will contain and manage this lung disease and that I will heal…at least enough!

It is a huge leap of faith and very, very scary for me to step out and put my hand out and say: “Please God, heal my lungs and save my life.” Yet, God is my father. He loves me. At the same time, I know that he doesn’t always intervene and we all have to die one day.

You could say this is a bit of an aside and yet it’s not. While I’ve been savouring the absolute beauty here, I’ve also been stepping over cigarette butts stubbed out against the rocks and left behind. It is so hard for me to comprehend how anybody could light one of those cancer sticks consciously and actively destroying the very same lungs I’m fighting tooth and nail to save. These same morons are also littering the environment.

We live in a strange world.

I put down my pen and return to my camera opting to film the wave instead. As much as you want to freeze the wave in 6 x 4, a wave is a living, breathing, and above all else moving experience. It’s not static.

It’s like picking a wildflower and sticking it in a vase. You’ve destroyed what it is. Its spirit has gone.

A wave doesn’t sit still.

I drove home.

It was low tide and I took the dog down onto the mudflats for a walk. After being so absorbed in the turbulent even aggressive surf at Whale Beach, Pittwater was so completely serene almost standing still with just the smallest of ripples caressing the surface. It was so peaceful.

I couldn’t help but notice the contrast between the two. Pittwater reminded me of a Bible passage I have struggled with for many, many years: “Be still and know that I am God” while at Whale Beach I could hear Christ’s impassioned plea from the cross: “My God! My God! Why have you forsaken me?” Pittwater is only round the corner from Whale Beach symbolic perhaps that peace is only round the corner when we’re feeling all consumed by troubled times. Relief isn’t far away.

I must remember that!

xx Rowena

Seeds for the New Year

January 2, 2014

Seeds in anybody’s language spell hope, new beginnings…the start of a dream but for me there was an added resonance.

Yesterday, I received the ultimate New Year’s gift.

It wasn’t expensive or luxurious.

In fact, it was deceptively simple and it cost its giver nothing.

Not even a cent.

“How is this so?” I hear you ask in a very Professor Julius Sumner Miller tone of voice. Perhaps, you haven’t heard of him but he used to host a science show called “How is it so?” and he also did an ad for Cadbury Dairy Milk Chocolate where he managed to get a boiled egg inside a milk bottle. It was pretty impressive stuff.

Julius Sumner Miller

This was in the days before a more recent Australian politician, Pauline Hanson, made the phrase: “Please explain” legendary.

Well, I am overflowing with explanations.

The kids and I were visiting some friends. All the kids were playing. I’d brought my friends some of my White Chocolate Rocky Road and she’d given me a slice of her Wild Strawberry Cheesecake, which was incredibly lush and made completely without additives and nasty chemicals. Wow! It was exceptionally creamy and I must admit I was feeling rather spoilt. This is the sort of thing you usually have to go to a café or gourmet bakery to find….very, very nice. My friend also made me a cup of tea and there is always something particularly healing and soothing about someone else making you a cup of tea, especially when you are a busy Mum and always seemingly looking after everybody else. She was an angel.

While the kids were bouncing round in the pool, I couldn’t help notice all their veggies. They grow their own tomatoes, beans, beetroot and more in garden beds raised above the ground. All these veggies, which could almost amount to a small market garden, are growing slightly more than a stone’s throw away from the beach on a standard suburban block. Quite a miracle really except you can see this garden is very well-maintained and cared for. Loved.
I was incredibly impressed and inspired.

Not that I looked at their set-up thinking: “if they could do it, I could do it”. Not on your life!!! However,  I did consider that just maybe we could manage one tub…a veggie patch on a smaller scale and actually grow something! The rest of our garden might be derelict but perhaps we could manage to look after this small patch of soil and develop our own backyard “oasis”.

Actually producing veggies we could eat would be nice but that would be more of a by-product. I was equally interested in the gardening experience in itself and all that excitement that comes with planting seeds and waiting, waiting, waiting for that very first green shoot to finally poke its head through the soil to greet the sun and a whole lot of eager watching eyes. The kids would love it. I remembered picking beans straight from my grandfather’s vine and just how amazing that was. As a child, it was a veritable miracle!

Moreover, being somewhat of a life-lesson addict, I thought the routine of having to water our plants was going to be good for the kids as well. Routine, responsibility, nurturing…these are all important life skills. Things perhaps you could learn from books but I really doubted you could learn them from playing Minecraft, even if you do get to grow virtual crops!  They need life experience as well. To do things with their hands aside from pressing buttons all day.

There was only one drawback to my veggie garden scheme.

Me!

Although I’ve always loved gardening and used to have quite a green thumb and have grown my own herbs, bulbs etc even in our exceptionally barren and sandy beach soil, I’m not good at keeping up the watering and so many, many plants have died from thirst.

In other words, I’ve become a plant killer.

Now, being a loving, caring and nurturing person at heart, I’ve had more than a little guilt over this and stopped buying plants until we could get the watering system going again. We’ve been on drought status and water-restrictions for many years but now we have no excuse. Water restrictions have eased and while we still need to be responsible about our water consumption and I do tend to re-use water at home, we can actually water our plants.

However, I have a very bad track record. It all starts out alright but slowly but surely the watering tapers off and without rain, we all know what that means.

But I am always a firm believer in change. Personal growth. After all, we are fluid, flexible beings. We’re not set in stone.

So after expressing my interest in starting our own veggie patch, my friend gave me a handful of dried beans filled with seeds with the potential to create our very own bean plantation in our small, yet to be constructed, backyard tub.

I carefully, put the beans in my handbag trying to think of the right words to tell Geoff, ask Geoff, to build our veggie patch. It wasn’t exactly the best timing but it was something we could do together as a family and I wanted the kids to learn all about gardening, soil, watering, worms…our environment. We have had a worm farm for 4 years and so this would just be an extension of that and indeed it would be a great use of all our juicy, fertile worm dirt. It no longer go to waste just sitting at the bottom of the tub. We would convert it to lush, fresh produce oozing with vitamins and none of the horrible chemicals. Perfection, in other words.

But as I said, this isn’t exactly the best time to launch into new gardening project even a small-scale because we are currently struggling to manage the everyday stuff and when you consider Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, growing your own veggies is more of a luxury not an act of survival. At least, when you live walking distance to at least three huge supermarkets and a great fruit and veg shop, it is.

I guess this is where I really have to stop being cryptic and answer your “please explain”.

You see, I haven’t really explained or updated my health status for some time. Even though I am fairly open about my life, I have struggled to find the words and it is difficult to tell people when things get worse, when I have a setback because I know that even people I haven’t met in this weirdly intimate world of blogging, care about me.  We are only human and you don’t need to meet in person to be a friend, to love or to care. My situation is also quite emotionally charged because I have young kids and it’s not nice having to think about children potentially growing up without their Mum but that is what we live with. We are conscious of this as a possibility as it is for any one of us. We are just more conscious of this possibility than others and can actually take steps and plan ahead. Not for the eventuality but the possibility. While this shadow lurks around,it also enables us to capre diem seize the day and squeeze the marrow out of life. We have fun!

Anyway, a few months ago, I developed pneumonia. This wasn’t as bad as pneumonia gets but it was pretty awful and I spent 3 weeks in bed and was coughing so badly that I pulled muscles in my stomach. That’s never happened before and that was really scary and it hurt. We put the kids in before and after school care for 2 weeks straight…something we’ve never done before. It was a big deal. Things were pretty serious and we were considering hospital but there was also the risk of catching something else in there so Geoff wanted to keep me at home.

My GP sent me off to get lung x-rays and these showed some issues so I went for an updated CT Scan. I’d had my last CT scan two years ago and it had shown mild institial lung disease, which is a form of fibrosis. This wasn’t considered a problem at the time but they started monitoring things more closely. This is a nasty disease and it kills. But treatment is available and of course, works better when you catch it early, which we have. Monday I saw my rheumatologist. Tuesday his secretary called and Thursday I started chemo along with transfusions of methyl prednisone, which has all the reverse side-effects of the chemo and makes you really bouncy, euphoric and unable to sleep. It’s like buzz! Buzz! Buzz! All this steps are designed to reduce inflammation and gain control of my disease.

This situation may not be ideal but I am certainly in the best position to mount a counter offensive and I am also looking at other ways of improving my lungs such as swimming and playing the recorder.

Of course, the side-effects of the chemo can include losing my hair. I almost had to laugh at that because after taking 6 years to finally get my hair cut off and being really pleased with the results, now I was being threatened with losing the lot. 90% of me didn’t care as I had no doubt that losing my hair was nothing compared to saving my lungs. I need to breathe. But at the same time there was still a residual “growl”. I figured that it would be just my luck for my hair to fall out just when I’ve got it all sorted.” I really do love my new hair.

So far so good. My hair has stayed put and I’ve had none of the expected side-effects from the chemo aside from fatigue. I have a few buzzy days after my treatments from the prednisone and then a few days feeling wasted and then I’m back on deck for the next one.

While chemo might and I guess certainly does sound depressing, right from the start I have been telling myself that it is only six weeks. Being in the lead up to Christmas, I thought of the kids countain down the number of sleeps until Santa arrived and I would do the same…6,5,4,3,2,1…blast off!

This really helped me face my first treatment and now that the side-effects are nowhere near as bad as I’d expected, the countdown isn’t really an issue. I had my third treatment today so now I’m officially halfway. It’s all been going so quickly.I also made jokes about getting chemo for Christmas, which in reality is the best Christmas present I could have. Treatment and hope. These are a gift.

Yet, to be perfectly honest with you, the important thing isn’t just surviving chemo and getting through.

What matters is that it works. That my auto-immune disease responds and goes back into its cupboard and doesn’t come out.

A rainbow of hope.

A rainbow of hope.

That’s the real waiting game. My cough has dramatically improved. Yet, as positive as I am, I still have doubts. Just like the seeds of faith, the seeds of doubt can also germinate and grow like crazy…the weeds in the garden of hope.

That’s where my ultimate New Year’s Day present comes in…those bean seeds.

It didn’t hit me straight away but those seeds were almost like a promise ….a hope. I will get better. Those seeds are offering me the vision of a brand new life and healing…renewal. I cling to that hope and pray!

Now, I don’t know that for sure. My disease has been pretty resistant in the past but it has also responded…eventually. I like the science behind my new treatment. I will also be treated with a drug called rituximab after the chemo and it is a much more targeted therapy without the toxicity of the chemo. It really could be the treatment that will ultimately work for me and you can only access it after other avenues have failed due to the cost.

So it could be that while this setback is serious, it could well be that coldest time of night before dawn. That this new treatment should and could be the solution!

That is our prayer and our hope.

I would love to receive any words of encouragement or stories of overcoming the odds. It would mean the world to me.

Love & best wishes,
Rowena xx

I was given a handful of dreid golden beans filled with seeds….the makings of our new veggie patch.