Tuesday, 31 July 2012

Sometimes We Don't Need a Good Reason

Gemma-Rose is playing by herself in the family room. The floor has disappeared under a sea of Barbie dolls, clothes, and accessories. My youngest daughter is absorbed in a huge Barbie game. I watch as she lines up all the Barbies and all the Kens. And then I notice something strange… something very strange.

“Why are the Ken dolls wearing dresses?” I ask.

“They don’t have anything else to wear,” Gemma-Rose replies. “All the trousers are worn out.”

She shows me a garment that was once a sparkly prince’s suit. The pants are split in a dozen places. “They can’t wear these,” Gemma-Rose giggles. “That wouldn’t be modest. And the Kens can’t go around wearing nothing at all. That would be even worse.” She pretends to avert her eyes, and giggles again.

 Naked Kens? No. We can’t have that. Something has got to be done.

“I’ll have to buy them new clothes,” I decide, and Gemma-Rose’s eyes light up. I hardly ever buy her new toys.

So I take a trip into town to search for new Ken clothes. Sophie decides to come with me but we leave Gemma-Rose at home. She is still absorbed in her huge Barbie game. There is only one shop in town that sells toys so I head straight there. I look along the shelves. There are plenty of Barbie clothes but not a single Ken outfit.

“What do they expect Ken to wear?” I ask. Sophie shrugs her shoulders, not knowing the answer. “Barbie dresses?” 

What am I to do? I can’t go home empty-handed and watch the light fade from Gemma-Rose’s eyes. But then I see something. Sophie sees it too.

“Wow! Look, Mum! Merida from the movie Brave! Isn’t she pretty?”

I have a thought: “Do you think Gemma-Rose would like a Merida doll?”

“Oh yes!”

Should I? Shouldn’t I?  I start debating with myself:  

Gemma-Rose would really love this doll… It’s a lot of money… But it’s so pretty… I was only going to buy a set of Ken clothes, not a doll. She has plenty of dolls. Look at all the ones she has inherited from the older girls… But those dolls are looking so old and their clothes are wearing out, and it is so special owning something that was chosen just for you...  Buying the doll wouldn’t be sensible… But I won’t have a little girl who wants to play with dolls, for much longer. Soon I won’t have anyone to buy dolls for… But there is no one to pass the doll onto when she no longer wants to play with it. It would be a waste of money… Think of her smile if I came home with a doll… It’s not her birthday. She’ll get spoilt… Or maybe she won’t... 

I have to admit Gemma-Rose doesn’t really need another doll. There is no good reason why I should buy it. But I don't listen to reason...

Go on. Buy the doll.

So I buy the doll, a pale-skinned Merida doll. There is a delightful sprinkling of freckles on her nose and cheeks, and she has long red hair that falls in curls over her shoulders. Gemma-Rose is going to adore her.

I walk through the front door and call, “Gemma-Rose! I have a present for you!”

Gemma-Rose runs towards me, and I hold out the plastic shopping bag. She reaches in and draws out the doll in a box and her eyes open wide. She can hardly speak: “For me? Merida! Is it mine?”

I assure Gemma-Rose she is not dreaming. The doll belongs to her. She thrusts her arms around my waist, and I am well and truly hugged.

“I couldn’t find any Ken clothes,” I say apologetically. But Gemma-Rose no longer cares about Ken clothes. The male dolls can continue wearing dresses. She has a Merida doll…. an unexpected Merida doll… a new doll chosen just for her. She grins widely.

And then I realise that sometimes life is not always about making sensible decisions. Sometimes doing things for no good reason at all is very important. 

I bask in all Gemma-Rose's radiating joy and I grin too.

Sunday, 29 July 2012

Are Online Friends Real Friends?

I discover a new blog and read a few posts and think, “I can relate to this person!” After enjoying a few stories, I leave a comment or two, and soon I am on my way to making a new friend. But will we ever be ‘real’ friends?

What is a real friend? Someone you trust enough to reveal who you really are? Someone you know will accept you, regardless of your faults? Someone you feel comfortable with? A real friend loves you, supports and encourages you, prays for you, is always there for you. Can an online friend be such a friend?

Most friendships are formed in a private way, without the whole world looking over our shoulders. Online friendships are very public. What we say to a friend can be read by anyone. We don’t really want to reveal too much about ourselves when we don’t know who might be reading. But…

Sometimes public friendships can go private. I have a few online friends with whom I exchange emails. We can say things we don’t particularly want anyone else to read. We can extend blog comments into real conversations. We can really get to know each other.

And then there’s Facebook. For all its faults, it is a good way of helping to build friendships. Some of my blogging friends have invited me to be their Facebook friends. I get a clearer window into their lives. I can see photos of their family and where they live, chat in public or exchange private messages, learn what they like or dislike, keep up-to-date with their everyday happenings… just like I do with my face-to-face friends.

I have a few online friends I would love to meet. I imagine getting off the plane halfway around the world, and catching sight of a vaguely familiar woman standing on the other side of the airport barrier. Could that be …? Will my friend recognise me? I’ve been posting only flattering photos of myself since our friendship began. Will she say, “But you look older than I imagined?” Of course not! But will she be thinking those words? Will she say, “I thought your accent would be broader? I thought you would be taller?” Or will we embrace in a warm hug and just be glad we have finally met?

I pick up the phone. I have the number of an online friend. I enter all the digits and then I hear the dial tone change. My heart rate quickens a little as I imagine my friend picking up the phone. What will she sound like? Will she be able to understand my accent? What will we talk about? “Hello?” “Hello. It’s Sue…” The conversation is awkward for a few moments and then we are chatting away. Soon we are exchanging information at a much faster rate than we could online. And next time I read my friend’s posts, I imagine her beautiful Southern accent saying the words. A phone call has added a new dimension to our friendship.

I write about how sad I feel or how I have had a bad day or how I have been unwell. Before much time has passed, my online friends have stopped by to leave encouraging comments and assure me of their love and prayers.

I write about my birthday or anniversary and online friends are quick to share in my joy and offer their congratulations.

Or I feel lonely. I haven’t seen a friend in a long time. I turn on my computer and soon I am chatting away, and smiling. Someone is glad to hear from me. 

There is no doubt the Internet has reduced the size of the world. I can chat with friends from anywhere, regardless of how far they live from me. We can even join talents and work together. I can share interests with like-minded people. That is a great blessing.

What if I were to disappear from the Internet? Would my online friends quickly forget about me, or would they come searching for me? Would they email, write, phone, leave me a message…? Would they be like my local friends who’d worry about me if I were silent too long? Perhaps a few would.

I return to that initial question: Are online friends real friends?

And I have come to the conclusion that my online friends can be real friends. They are a real blessing in my life. I think they will remain real friends unless they decide to…

delete me
unfriend me
unfollow me
unplug me
block me.

Online friends have the option to do all these things, but real friends wouldn’t even think of doing such things...

Would they?

Thursday, 26 July 2012

Playing for Ian

Callum’s singing teacher suggests he audition for a local choir. A few days later, Ian, one of the choir directors, listens while Callum sings a song from his repertoire. Yes, he can have a place. He will be a bass.

A few weeks later, Ian says, “I hear you’ve got a sister who sings.” Callum nods and Ian continues, “Bring her with you next week.”

So on Monday evening, Callum arrives with Imogen, who is clutching her music. She sings for Ian and he smiles and welcomes her to the soprano section.

One night, Ian says to Imogen, “I hear you play the piano. One day, you’ll have to bring along your music and play for me.”

Imogen looks rather nervous. Play for Ian? He’s a first class musician and piano teacher, and she hasn’t had a lesson for a long time. Her teacher retired and she’s out of practice. Imogen is sure she couldn’t play anything impressive. She smiles and hopes ‘one day’ is a long way off.

For a few weeks, Ian says, “One day you’ll have to play the piano for me…” And then ‘one day’ arrives: He says, “Next week, bring your music.”

So the next week, Imogen plays the piano and Ian listens. He smiles encouragingly.

The next morning, the phone rings and Imogen answers it. “It’s Ian. He wants to know if he can teach me the piano,” she says with a huge smile.

I know we can’t afford the fee for a top teacher like Ian so I say, “Please thank Ian but explain we have a large family, and can’t really afford lessons.”

Imogen hurries back, smile gone, to deliver my message. A couple of minutes later, she reappears. The smile has returned. “Ian says he wants to teach me piano. He doesn’t want payment.”

So a few days later, I sit outside Ian’s house while Imogen has her first piano lesson. When she reappears, I ask, “How did it go?”

“Wonderful!” she enthuses. “Ian asked if any of my sisters play the piano. I told him about Charlotte and he said to bring her along next week. He wants to teach us both.”

So each Monday evening, Callum and Imogen go to Ian’s house for choir practice. And every Thursday morning, I drop Imogen and Charlotte off for their piano lessons.

One evening, Callum asks Ian if Andy can join the choir too, “Dad is driving all the way into town to bring Imogen and me to the practices. Could Dad stay and sing too? He’s a good singer.”

Ian smiles and welcomes Andy to the choir. Another bass.

Imogen and Charlotte tell me Ian wants them to do their grade piano exams. He has already filled out the registration forms and paid the fees. All I have to do is bring the girls into town for extra lessons. All they have to do is practice hard, which they do willingly because they love music, and love pleasing Ian.

The day of the exam arrives and Ian accompanies the girls to the exam room. It is a freezing winter’s day and the cold exacerbates Ian’s ill health but he isn’t put off. He sits in front of the heater while the girls play their pieces. He is eager to know their results as soon as they emerge from their ordeal. “Read out the results,” he says excitedly. The girls obey and Ian smiles. “Two weeks’ holiday and we’ll start on the next grades’ work.” The girls enjoy the break but they’re also looking forward to tackling some new pieces of music.

For more than four years, Ian teaches and the girls practice. Ian enters them for exams and prepares them well, and the girls advance through the grades.

And for more than four years, Andy, Callum and Imogen attend choir practices and enjoy performing.

Music fills our home.

One stormy evening, the singers return home early. “The power was cut and the lights went out,” explains Andy. “We couldn’t see our music. We all used our mobile phones to find our way to the door.”

“Ian volunteered to show us the way,” says Callum. “He said, ‘If anyone wants to take my arm, I‘ll guide them to the door.' You know how he is. He thought it was very funny.” We think about this for a moment. For once Ian was in full control of the situation and everyone else was at a disadvantage. For of course, blackouts don’t affect the blind.

This year’s piano exams are almost here. In three weeks’ time, the girls will be heading off to the exam centre, hoping to play their best in the few minutes allotted to them. They will spend half an hour in the practice rooms before their exams. Then they will stand outside the examination room building, to await their turn. No doubt, as usual, the wind will be whipping around the corner making the girls shiver. They will find it difficult keeping their precious fingers warm. When their names are called, the girls will enter the building and head towards the examination room. The grand piano will be waiting. And they will play their best.

But this year, Ian won’t be sitting in front of the heater listening as Imogen and Charlotte play. He won’t be there to say, “Read out the results!” and add, “Congratulations! Well done!” He won’t give the girls two weeks' break before they start on the next grades’ work. No.

Ian died last Friday. Tomorrow we will say goodbye to an extraordinary person: an extraordinary musician, an extraordinary friend.

Ian, thank you for your friendship, your generosity, your encouragement, your laughter and sense of humour, your example. Thank you so much for including our family in your life and sharing your talents with us. You will live on in our memories. You will live on in the girls’ fingers. Imogen and Charlotte will be playing their best for you in three weeks’ time.

Ian, you are now in the Light and we remain behind, blind in the dark. And we are missing you.

One day we shall follow you Home.

Sunday, 22 July 2012

And Good Friends Will Never Die

We live in a dream world. The sun shines down upon us day after day and we are happy. We laugh; we hug; we enjoy. But every now and then, we glance anxiously over our shoulders. We wonder: how long will our dream world last?

And then one day, our world-in-a-bubble floats over a thorn and explodes. We fly towards the earth and land thud! And someone shouts, “Welcome to the real world!”

The real world where heavy grey clouds blot out the sun, where there is pain and suffering.  A world saturated with tears and pierced by hearts that ache.

A world where good friends die.

The real world…

Tears fill my eyes and roll down my cheeks and I bend over under the weight of grief.

But then I stand up tall and shout, “No! This isn’t the real world.”

The real world is the dream world where the warm sun shines down upon us; where love and joy ripple through the air; where children giggle, and husbands hug, and friends smile, and we all laugh…

One day…

There will be no more looking over our shoulders; no more anxious glances; no more wondering if our bubble will burst, releasing all our joy; no more grief; no more mourning good friends.

One day we will live forever in the real world. And the Son will shine upon us…

And good friends will never die.

Friday, 20 July 2012

The Difficulties of Blogging about Homeschooling

A few days ago, I was browsing the blogosphere and came across a post written by a mother who’d decided she was no longer going to homeschool her children. She listed the various reasons: homeschooling was just too difficult with little ones in the family, she didn’t feel she was doing a good enough job, and maybe her children were better off at school away from an unhappy and struggling mother. 

There were nearly 100 comments. Now I didn’t read them all, but it seemed to me that the majority were written by mothers who appreciated someone confessing their problems with homeschooling. They found it refreshing to hear someone being honest and open enough to admit that the homeschooling life isn’t as rosy as many people make out. They felt able to admit their own difficulties. They'd found a kindred spirit.

I have also come across many posts where mothers admit how inadequate they feel when they read other bloggers’ posts where homeschooling successes are shared:

“I hate reading about all the wonderful things other mothers are doing with their families.  I always creep away feeling like I am failing as a homeschooling mother. I have to remember that I shouldn’t compare myself with anyone else. Every family is different. So I've decided not to read this sort of homeschooling post.”

It would be easy to come to the conclusion that posting about homeschooling successes is probably not helpful at all. It’s not what readers are looking for. So…

I had a really difficult day today. No one cooperated at all. I wonder why I bother. I just don’t enjoy homeschooling at all.

Except I didn't, and they did, and I do know, because I do! I had a great day with the girls. I could tell you all about it… except probably nobody wants to hear what we did. And I don't want to make anyone feel inadequate. That would be awful.

How do bloggers share homeschooling stories without making others feel they are failing? What are readers really looking for when they browse homeschooling blogs? I've been thinking about this and I really don't know. 

Do you?

Wednesday, 18 July 2012

The Life I Dreamed

A couple of weeks ago, I received an email from my blogging friend Kari with the title Sharing my Joy… I knew Kari’s novel, The Life I Dreamed, had been published!

Kari and I both took the NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) challenge last November. We had to write a novel of 50 000 words in 30 days. Even before the month was over, we’d both reached our goal and were proclaimed NaNoWriMo winners. Then Kari did something I didn’t. She went on to edit and fine-tune her novel while mine is still sitting in a file on my computer waiting for attention…

Kari told me a little about the theme of her book and I couldn’t wait to read it. So as soon as Kari’s email arrived, I headed off to the Kindle store and purchased a copy.

This is the Amazon book description of Kari Burke’s The Life I Dreamed:

Motherhood is a gift.
Children are a blessing.
Marriage is a sacrament.

Emmy O’Brien knows all that. There was even a time she fought to promote those very values and beliefs. After having four children in rapid succession though, the demands of home and family have blurred her strong convictions. Tired, overwhelmed, and dissatisfied much of the time, she struggles each day to meet the needs of those around her. When her husband receives a phone call from a 16 year old girl, unexpectedly pregnant and suddenly homeless, Emmy’s world is turned upside down and she must now decide, are her old-fashioned values and beliefs still worth fighting for?

Doesn’t that sound worth reading? I couldn’t wait to begin.

From page one I was engrossed in the story of Emmy O’Brien. I won’t tell you the plot. There is enough of a hint in the Amazon description. Any more would just spoil the story for you. I will say all the characters are thoroughly believable. They came alive for me. I cared about what happened to them and so I kept clicking pages, not wanting to put my ereader down. How was the book going to end? It didn’t take me long to find out. I can’t share the ending of course! All I can tell you is this: I was left with a warm satisfied feeling. 

And now I am hoping Kari will write another novel!

Kari, November is not that far away. How about taking up another NaNoWriMo challenge?

I know I am useless at writing book reviews but I hope you sense my enthusiasm and excitement over Kari’s novel.

If you'd like to read an entertaining story with strong Catholic themes, please share Kari Burke’s novel, The Life I Dreamed. It is available from Amazon as a paperback book or Kindle ebook.

And please visit Kari’s blog Overflow.

Sunday, 15 July 2012

A Family Altar or Two

We've been talking about being visibly Catholic, so a post about family altars seems appropriate...

My friend Karla asked me to post pictures of our family altar, and so this morning I grabbed my camera and started snapping away. I downloaded the photos onto the computer and then took a look. They were hopeless. Despite me reading the manual over and over again, I just can't get my camera to take good pictures. It's one of those fairly expensive, super-duper, no-fail, everything-has-been-programmed-for-you cameras and I still can't get it right. I have decided to share my altar pictures anyway. At least my photography talents won't make you feel envious. 

We have two family altars. This one is the first thing we see as we come through the front door. I guess door-to-door salesmen and delivery men know we're Catholic. The first two drawers of the chest contain hymn books, prayer books and cards, and spare candles. The other three contain hair ribbons, brushes and bands belonging to the girls!

The statue of Our Lady and the Christ Child was given to us by friends (thank you Gerard). The flowers are replicas of ones on Thomas' grave. The vase is really an old decanter that once belonged to my grandmother! We chose the Divine Mercy words, "Jesus I Trust in You" for the inscription on Thomas' headstone. The Sacred Heart picture is from Vietnam, and was given to Charlotte at her baptism by our priest.

Here's our second altar. It's in the corner of the lounge where we say our family prayers together. It's a terrible photo, but the winter sun shining through the window was glorious. There is a beautiful photo of Thomas over the altar. 

There's an odd assortment of things on the altar, including statues of the Sacred Heart and my Imperfect Perfect Mother statue of Mary. The crucifix is usually adorned with Rosary beads. There's also a big tangle of beads in one of the drawers. Does anyone else's Rosary beads get into a mess?

Mary has numerous Miraculous Medals around her neck. Every Mother's Day our priest gives each mother a chrysanthemum and a medal. These are a few of mine.

The egg was a special birthday gift from my friend, Cheradee.

There are photos of our children and a couple of our Godchildren. I'd like to have a photo of each of our Godchildren on our altar eventually. The empty frame should have a photo of Sophie and Gemma-Rose inside it, but I never seem to get around to putting one in. I've been displaying an empty frame for years! 

Pictures of Pope Benedict and Bl John Paul the Great are on the left side of the altar. Other things come and go: candles, flowers, prayer cards. Actually, our altar is looking a bit bare at the moment. I think it also needs a lace cloth.

We have other statues and pictures scattered throughout the house. Some of them, like this statue of Christ the Priest, are up high on bookshelves, out of the reach of the cats.

I love my Black Madonna picture. One day I will have to share all my Mary pictures with you. I have quite a collection. They sit on shelves and chests, and cover the walls of our home. Can you just make out my brown framed St Mary Mackillop picture? It's on the top shelf.

Karla's family altar is much more beautiful than ours. Please visit her blog Sacred Heart Farm to read her post Do You Have a Family Altar?

And please share your own family altar. Karla has a Linky on her blog.

Thursday, 12 July 2012

When It's Hard to Be Visibly Catholic

We always make the sign of the cross and say grace before we eat. One comes before the other, and we wouldn’t think of not thanking God for our food, before we begin our meal… But if we are out in public... then saying grace can get a little tricky. Why is it so difficult to make that sign of the cross in full view of others?  Why do we find it so hard to be visibly Catholic?

A priest once suggested we make a tiny cross on our foreheads with our thumb, when saying grace in public. In this way we can do what is right but be inconspicuous.

Another priest said we should be openly proud of our Faith and declare it to the world. He took a family to MacDonald’s for dinner. Before anyone could tuck in, he stood up, and in his loud and booming voice said, “In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,” accompanying his words with a huge sweeping sign of the cross, which was not only beautiful, but positively attention grabbing. How did the family cope? Wonderfully. They grinned, felt good and enjoyed their food, not caring at all whether anyone thought they were strange.

Our family doesn’t use the inconspicuous forehead method or the attention grabbing method of making the sign of the cross when in public. We try to say grace quietly but properly. At least Andy and I do. The children are different. They shout it out like normal. Why do adults worry about what others are thinking, while children don’t?

The other day we took our four youngest girls to the zoo. It was a very special outing, a once-every-few-years visit. Of course, we’d packed a delicious picnic to eat half-way through the day.

At lunch time we found a picnic table under a spreading tree, where we could look out over Sydney Harbour and enjoy the spectacular view. The girls unpacked the food: fresh rolls, salads, cold meats… Soon our mouths were watering and we couldn’t wait to devour all that tempting food. We were starving. But first we had to say grace… we had to make the sign of the cross.

I looked at my family sitting around the wooden picnic table. I thought about the beautiful day we were enjoying together: the excitement as we arrived at the zoo entrance, the smiles on the girls’ faces as they ran this way and that looking for the animals, the stunning scenery, a husband who didn’t mind driving two hours each way through city traffic so we could have this day out…  

And then all of a sudden, something remarkable happened. A unexpected warm powerful feeling spread through me and bubbled over. I made the sign of the cross with great care. I didn’t say grace quietly but joined the girls in proclaiming it to whoever was listening. Who was listening? I didn’t even look to see. I didn’t care. All that mattered was that joyful moment when I felt full of gratitude to God for everything He’d given us.

What did our fellow zoo visitors think of us?

Look at those religious nuts.
Oh look! They’re Catholics too!

Or perhaps no one was even interested in what we were doing.

I wonder why we worry so much about what other people think. It seems especially absurd when these are people we don’t know and will probably never see again. Are they more important than God?

The memory of that warm and joyous feeling, I experienced at the zoo, remains to give me strength. In my imagination, I’m in our local shopping mall with our girls. We have a tray filled with rolls and drinks and we are looking for somewhere to sit. We spot a table in the centre of the food hall and quickly slide into the seats, and then with all the shoppers around us, I say, “In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit…” We all make beautiful signs of the cross and I smile.

I’m a Catholic. I’m not afraid. I belong to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit.

And I am truly grateful.

Sunday, 8 July 2012

The Value of Not Suffering

Thomas died and I suffered and I had no idea what it all meant. I constantly cried to God, “Why?” and one day I started to understand just a little.

I realised that suffering isn’t meaningless at all. In fact it is very valuable. And for the first time in my life, I knew I had something big to give back to God. I could accept the suffering and offer it for the salvation of souls, including my own.

Suffering day in and day out is not easy. I felt like I was drowning. Many times I fell down and never wanted to get up again. I didn’t want to say, “God, if you allow me to suffer, then I will accept it.” I wanted to cry, “I have had enough. Please take away the pain. I want to feel joy once more.” But the grief seemed never ending and joy seemed a long way off, so I did my best to be patient and make the most of my opportunity to earn grace for souls.

I read the writings of saints who were intimate with suffering and I decided that I was going to be a saint too. Thomas’ short life and my intense pain would not go to waste. I started to think in terms of, “Will this advance my journey to heaven? Will this help save souls?” I wanted to choose the more difficult path and embrace pain. I was convinced that the fastest and surest way to become holy was through suffering.

I shared my thoughts about suffering with my children:  there is nothing more important than suffering for God; this world is in dire need of the graces obtained from suffering; anything that doesn’t involve suffering is worthless…

I was convinced this was true… almost. The saints seemed to find joy in their suffering and want nothing else. But some days I faltered. I looked at other people who were happy and involved with the ordinary things of life and deep down, I yearned to be like them too. I especially wanted to feel the joy of new life. Although I tried very hard to suppress the desire for another child, I couldn’t quite succeed.

Eventually, we did find out that I was pregnant again. I expected to feel great happiness but instead, I was afraid. I went to see a priest: “Father, if suffering is so valuable perhaps God will take this child from us too. Our suffering would be far more useful than our joy.”

The priest replied, “God doesn’t want us only to suffer. He wants us to experience joy as well. He wants to give us a taste of heaven here on earth. You should celebrate the new life you have been given.”

We never did have that baby. Our celebration was short-lived despite Father’s words. And so I continued to suffer.

But eventually I knew I could never be a victim soul. I was tired. I needed happiness here in this world and so did my family. I wanted to experience more than suffering. I prayed and I hoped. Gradually I began to take pleasure in the ordinary things of life and my heart healed. I think I could have been happy with that alone but God blessed us with another child. He sent us joy.

I think back to that time when suffering was the focus of our life. When I tried to convince myself and our children that suffering was everything. Nothing else was important. I thought we could survive without the lighter things of life but we couldn’t. Life, which was already painful, became intense and narrow and even heavier to bear.

I still think suffering is infinitely valuable. I try and accept any suffering God allows, and I hope I am prepared to suffer deeply again if that is what God asks. I know I have to offer up sacrifices of my own making. I share all this with my children. But I no longer teach them that everything other than suffering is worthless.

God is not only found in pain. His love can be found in laughter and smiles and hugs. His beauty is reflected in the good things of this world. His joy can be discovered in all the extraordinary ordinary things of this life. There is the sorrow of the Passion, but there is also the hope and joy of the Resurrection. We can't have one without the other. We need to know both. We often say such things as, "It was worth all the pain." Perhaps it is only because of joy, we are able to bear suffering.

I think of the day we brought Sophie home after her birth. As I walked through the front door with her in my arms, all the children cheered. On the wall was a homemade banner saying, “Welcome home Sophie!” It wasn’t until they saw their little sister, that they could believe she was going to join our family. We hugged. We laughed. We loved. We felt God in all His goodness. It was a moment of joy, not suffering. It was an important moment, a valuable moment. It was a moment I’ll never forget.

Wednesday, 4 July 2012

Seven Facts about Me

A week or so ago, Sararose, a teenage friend of mine, left this comment on my blog: “Hi Sue! I have tagged you on my blog - please do it!” I hopped over to Sararose’s blog and found out she’d kindly passed on a Versatile Blogger Award to me.

- please do it!” How can I resist?? So here I am accepting the award with gratitude. Thank you, Sararose. I feel honoured you read my blog and think it worthy of an award.

In order to accept this award I have to tell everyone 7 random facts about myself. Is there anything I haven’t yet revealed? I seem to do an awful lot of talking about myself while writing my blog posts.

I have been sitting here thinking and thinking… and this is what I’ve come up with:

1.       When I was a child I dreamed of having a maid. I used to watch The Brady Bunch and I thought it would be rather nice to have an Alice of my own to look after my house. We were talking about this the other night. Looking back, I can’t understand why Mrs Brady needed a maid: She didn’t have any little children, she didn’t work outside the home and she wasn’t even homeschooling. I am trying to remember what she did with her days. Anyway, I never got an Alice of my own but I have got lots of very helpful children, which is even better.

2.       Would you have guessed  I am a fussy hair person? Every morning I wash and blow dry my hair until every strand is in place. If it rains, I panic. I hate that wet-hair-clinging-to-my-head feeling. I don’t enjoy swimming much, partly because I'm not a strong swimmer, but mainly because it involves getting wet. When we go away on holiday, I'd rather stay in a motel than camp out, because tents don’t have an outlet for my hairdryer. Actually I’m trying to be more relaxed about my hair. Sometimes when I’m feeling especially adventurous and want my children to think I am a fun mum, I suggest a walk in the rain.

3.       After I left school, I lived in Wales for three years. I completed a science degree at the University of Wales, Aberystwyth. Aberystwyth is a small seaside town on the west coast of Wales. During my first year there, I lived in a university hall opposite the sea. The hall was huge and old with a maze of rooms. One room was boarded up and never used because it was said to be haunted by a ghost. On wild nights the sea water would sweep in huge waves up over the promenade and pound against the hall’s shuttered windows.

4.       I'm not a hot weather person. The heat makes me feel heavy-headed and lethargic. When I was a child I lived in Brisbane where the summers were very hot and humid, and the winters were never really cold. I didn’t seem to notice the heat in those days. I ran around in the sun and collected so many freckles on my fair skin that I was teased: “One day you’ll turn into one huge freckle.” I try and avoid the sun these days and so my freckles have faded. Did you know that the Welsh word for ‘freckles’ can be translated as ‘sun kisses’. Isn’t that beautiful? My face was kissed by the sun. So much nicer than having a freckled face.

5.       I’m not a cold weather person either. The coldest winter I can remember occured when I was living in Wales. The snow was falling heavily as I travelled by train back to Aberystwyth, after the Christmas holidays. That was the last train that made it into the town for the next few days. Snow piled up on the train tracks. It also piled up in the streets. The snow ploughs scooped it all up and deposited it in huge piles on the beach creating an eerie scene. The temperatures fell so low the salt water in the harbour froze. With no train and boat access, fresh supplies of food couldn’t be transported into town. I had a coin-operated electricity meter in my room, which needed feeding with 50p coins, if I wanted to use my little 2 bar heater. Most times I wore three jumpers and sat under my feather quilt in order to stay warm.

6.       Years ago I used to be a breastfeeding counsellor. I went to meetings, counselled mothers, rose through the ranks and ended up training other counsellors. I felt important. I felt needed. It was a hard decision to resign, when I realised I didn’t have enough spare time to continue, after our fifth child was born. But after a day or two of being 'only' a homeschooling mother, I forgot all about counselling. I was too busy with my children. I still felt important. I still felt needed. But I also felt loved. There’s no better job than being a mother.

7.       My favourite place in all the world is my bed. Now it’s not a very comfortable bed. It has a hard mattress which we never seem to get around to replacing. My pillow is hard as well. But every night when I climb under my quilt, I think how fortunate I am to have a warm place to close my eyes and rest, and recover from the busyness of the day. Wouldn’t it be sad to be homeless, out on the streets with only a cardboard box for a bed? I thank God and drift off to sleep knowing I am safe. And once I have posted this, that's where I'm heading: off to my bed.

So what do you think, Sararose? Will my seven random facts do? I hope so! Here is my award:

Before I finish, here's an extra fact:

That's me in the photo. A beach ball manufacturer saw that photo and wanted to use it in an advertising campaign. My grandmother said, "You can use it but that's not one of your balls." Sadly the manufacturer lost interest in my photo. Me and my ball weren't made into a poster. I didn't become 'the beach ball girl' and I never became famous. 

Please visit Sararose's blog, This is ME Speaking.

Sunday, 1 July 2012

The Extraordinary Ordinary Things of Life

I am at Thomas’ wake. I have his memory box on my knee and I take out a few photos and pass them to a friend.

“He was a chubby baby!” she exclaims.

I reply, “He wasn’t really. Those photos were taken at the funeral home. He looked different at the hospital.”

I think about this. I remember how much I longed to see Thomas once more at the funeral home before his burial. He was in his coffin at the far end of the room and I hurried towards him. And then suddenly I stopped. He didn’t look like my baby. In some way he’d changed since I’d left him at the hospital. He didn’t look as I remembered. Tears rolled down my face and I wondered, “Did they get the babies muddled up? Is this really Thomas?”

My friend’s voice interrupts my thoughts. She is asking me another question and I open my mouth to reply. My lips move but the words won’t form. I try again, and again I fail to say anything. I have lost control of my speech.

My friend notices my difficulties and hurriedly says, ‘You don’t have to say anything. It’s OK.”

But it’s not OK at all. I want to tell her about my son but I can’t. I don’t want her to move off and leave me alone. But she thinks she is upsetting me. She pats me on the shoulder and hurries away. And I am helpless.

Yes, I remember the day I lost control of my speech. But it wasn’t just the ability to form words that I’d lost. I’d lost control of my whole life.

Life can go on the same, day in and day out. It is known and comfortable and we feel secure. We think we are in control. Yes, we have problems to deal with but we cope. And then one day we wake up and life has changed forever and we know there is absolutely nothing we can do about it.

I am very aware of how life can change so quickly. I travel through my comfortable days where I am seemingly in control and I wonder how long it will last. What plans has God got for me? Will He allow my world to be turned upside down again? Will I once again sink into that pit of suffering?

I remember going to town a few days after Thomas died. As I walked through the shopping centre, I noticed two happy young women. As I passed them, I wondered how they could continue to laugh and chat together about nothing of real importance. Didn’t the air around them turn cold as I walked by? Couldn’t they see I was no ordinary woman but one gripped by the arms of grief? I wondered why their lives were so normal and happy. How could they enjoy the trivial things of life?

The trivial things of life? It is strange how unimportant some things seem when we are grieving. What if my world fell apart today? Would I continue my normal routine? Would I be interested in the little things of life? No, I don’t think I would.

I think of the possibility of more suffering and my heart skips a beat. A feeling of dread and fear overcomes me that threatens to spoil the present moment. And then I tell myself not to be silly. I say: Trust. Live life to the full and don’t look ahead.  Be thankful for the joys of today. Don’t let thoughts of possible pain-to-come spoil the present. The future is God’s concern, not mine. My job is to concentrate on the little things of life.

So I get involved in the little things of life. I think about what I am going to wear for the day. I stand under the shower and enjoy the tingling of the hot water upon my skin. I spend time with God: I pray and read. I hang washing on the line and feel the warmth of the sun. Later I challenge my body to a long run. Afterwards I sit at the lunch table and devour my sandwich as I answer the girls’ eager question: “How far did you run today, Mum?” We work; we share books; we chat; we laugh; we write; we discuss what we shall cook for dinner. Then Andy arrives home. We hug. I pour a glass of wine and we exchange news. Eventually our ordinary day comes to an end.

My children arrive one by one to say goodnight. I think about how much I love my family. I love them so much it hurts and the present moment threatens to be spoilt by the question, “What if…?” But I don’t let it. I really have no cause to worry.

I think about Thomas’ death when I lost control over every aspect of my life, even my speech.  I was sure my life was over. But here I am full of joy, surrounded by love and loving… I still have no control over my life. I don’t even want control any more. Yes, I am aware that God could allow any sort of sorrow and suffering to touch me. But I also know He will always be there to bring me through it. For hasn’t He already done that before?

So I live in the present moment and I enjoy the ordinary things of life which I suddenly realise aren’t so ordinary after all. Ordinary becomes powerfully extraordinary when combined with love.

So as each child comes to say goodnight, I enfold her within my arms and I hug… I hug tightly, my eyes closed, my heart overflowing with love. This is today. This is what is important. This is an extraordinary ordinary moment.