Splash of yellow

One side of the fence wild, overgrown, neglected,

Reflection of my heart.

This side, a tree full of buds promising life;

A reminder, planted for a memory,

Little sweet bursts of sadness…

Not quite time for you to say your piece.

This side of the fence the shooting bulbs, just green leaves.

Life without fruit,

Half life,

My life.

The other side of the fence,

A glimpse,

Unreachable, yet there

Among the thorns, in the midst of pain,

A splash of yellow…

Sweet promise of life after death,

Life after death,

Held like a breath… a pause

a moment in time…

Little splash of joy, heart warmer!

This day of all days

Brimming with tears

In the remembering

What was.

In the planned,

Yet to be.

You, beacon bright, cheerful reminder…

Death is not the end

No, in the ending… a new beginning.

The voice inside my head

Moments that bring a lump to my throat are few and far between these days. The older I get, the more I need those moments. There is a cynical, weather-worn voice that raises its ugly head on days when I feel like life has crapped all over me again.

I want to give in to that hard-hearted voice and look at the world around me through cracked and broken lenses, to see the lack, the scarcity, the inhumanity of it all.

Then a ‘moment’ stops me in my tracks and a lump rises to my throat, my eyes fill with tears that long to spill over. We all have those moments, they leave us with a split-second choice. Soften our heart and let them spill over or grit our teeth, swallow it down and listen to the voice.

For me, those moments are usually quite unexpected and surprising. They are found in the spontaneous acts of my grandchildren. That moment when Miss Three wriggles herself under my arm for a ‘nuggle’ and mumbles ” I love you Nannie”, or the light in Master Five’s eyes when he sees me arrive. When Miss Five’s face crumples because it’s time to go home or the twirls of my other Miss Three when the music is simply irresistible.

Today the moment came watching a video clip of a horse the world had given up on. She was meeting Pat Parelli for the first time to see if Natural Horsemanship could help this uncontrollable, dangerous horse. Seeing the sheer terror in the whites of her eyes, the stiff legged way she moved spoke reams. She wasn’t just afraid, she thought she was going to die. Through the magic of video the transformation happened in minutes, although I have seen Pat calm a horse and ride it in half an hour at a live event. So what was the moment that brought me undone? Seeing her being confidently ridden? Watching her chase cows with no fear and quite a lot of curiosity? No, the lump in my throat happened when Pat gently stroked her face and she let him; someone finally understood her.

The lump came, the tears threatened along with the choice…

I swallowed past the lump, by choice, because I listened to the voice in my head. “Why are you getting choked up over a horse?”

This is the same voice that criticizes my writing. Telling me I shouldn’t bother, that no one would want to read what I write. The voice is familiar, it has spoken all through my life, bringing me undone when I least expected it. Shaming me, making me second guess myself, blocking my creativity and just being a bully in general. Until today I hadn’t realized it was so connected to my heart, that it was having an influence on how I express my feelings, even to myself. I was the only one there, no need to stop those tears, to feel the wonder, the awe of seeing the trust in that horse as she placed her life into his hands.

This blog is me, in part, taking a stand against the voice in my head, just the act of deciding to make my writing public is my rebellion against the voice. The voice tells me that blogging is passe these days,”it’s so last year” and yet I will write.

Someone read one of my pieces today and said something kind and I was thrown into a flurry of emotion. I immediately felt enormous pressure to live up to the expectations of the voice inside my head. The doubts were crashing around demanding attention, “the website is new and you don’t know what you’re doing, you don’t even know how to add images”, “your writing isn’t edited it could be more polished before its published”, “who are you to post anything on the internet”… on and on it nags.

I decided to let it recede into the background, it can’t be stopped entirely because it’s me, so instead I wrote this piece and I’m sharing it with the cosmos as an act of defiance.

“She stood in the storm, and when the wind did not blow her away, she adjusted her sails.” – Elizabeth Edwards-

Memorable meals

Some of the ‘best’ meals I’ve had were so full of feelings of ignorance or inadequacy that the joy was sucked out of it. Meals where waiters snapped to attention to meet my every need while at the same time not knowing which cutlery to use for the lobster I’d ordered. Manners and etiquette were a very big deal in my family, living in my family was a little like a living in a finishing school. Despite being taught by the best, how to behave and which hand it was appropriate to pick up a piece of chicken with, I still felt completely intimidated by all the rigmarole around meals.

The meal that goes down in the history of our family, or at least in my mind, was in a hunting lodge in Fontainblue in France. Our parents had decided to take us all on a European camping trip before we left for Australia. Our culinary experiences had been less than brilliant while we were there. Eating out in a country where no one spoke English looked down their noses if you couldn’t speak French, made it a very tricky affair. We had no idea what we were ordering most of the time, forced to use my brother’s school boy French, he was thirteen, and hand signals to make our selves understood. France was not tourist friendly in those days, shall we say, especially to the English. We kept telling them we were Welsh, but it didn’t make any difference because we still didn’t speak French.

One night my mother ordered a meal and what came out looked a lot like tomatoes, she took a big bite and then her face exploded. You could see the steam coming out of her ears. They turned out to be red hot chilies. I had ordered sardines, you can’t go wrong with sardines… Apparently French sardines are much bigger than the ones that come in little tins, I was put off by their accusing eyes and couldn’t eat them.

We went to a patisserie each day and bought fresh French sticks to have with the various cheeses we had bought in the market. Our mother very quickly knew how to say “How much?” like a local and wore striped T shirts to look more French. It still didn’t make any difference, they knew we weren’t French. The other phrase we knew quite well, with two little girls in the family, was “Ou est la toilette?” It was the first time we had seen squat toilets, that was an eye opener.

French bread and cheese was wearing a bit thin with all of us by the end. We were all longing for good old egg and chips.

We camped in tents beside rivers and even once on a beach, which I don’t recommend, especially when there is an airport nearby. Sand becomes a lot like concrete after a very short time and we were reminded of how uncomfortable we were with every droning plane that flew over our heads. All the while being encouraged by our slightly manic parents that this was “an amazing adventure!” which was accompanied by a huge toothy grin, which I can tell you isn’t very convincing when you can see the whites of their eyes.

So by the time we went to dinner in a fabulous hunting Lodge in Fontainebleau one night, we had all well and truly had enough. Clearly our father had, he was lashing out like the last of the big spenders; he ended up borrowing our pocket money in the end.

We walked into the huge, softly lit hunting lodge looking like something the cat had dragged in I expect. I remember seeing wall after wall of stuffed animal heads. Deer with magnificent antlers, boar with hideous tusks and sightless glass eyes. The deep mahogany woodwork reflected the firelight from the huge open fireplace.

We were ushered to our table by the nicest waiter we’d met yet. The crisp white tablecloth was set beautifully with gleaming silverware and the waiter snapped each napkin and placed it carefully our laps as though we were Lords and Ladies. I felt so sorry for all the animals and couldn’t stop staring at their sad eyes. I imagined them running wild through the nearby forests until their life was taken from them by some overweight pompous land owner, dressed in tweed with a rifle broken in the crook of his arm. He wore a monocle and had a waxed mustache and long riding boots for treading all over people.

The only thing that brought me back from the brink of my overly fertile imagination was the distraction caused by the aromas emanating from the open fireplace. The most tantalizing smell filled the whole room and we saw that there were chickens, pheasants, and all manner of other interesting joints of meat spit roasting over the open fire. The chef in his tall white hat and immaculate starched apron, was basting them as they turned lazily over the flames. We were famished as only children can be, so for me this was the best meal ever. The chef wheeled a trolley over to our table and sitting on top was a silver platter with a whole roast chicken, oozing juices, making our mouths water as we watched the drama unfold. He pulled a pair of silver shears from his waistband with a flourish, proceeded to cut the chicken up and served us each our share. I have no idea what we ate with it or what we had for desert, but it was the best chicken I’d ever eaten in my life.

My mother bought herself some chicken shears after that and I must admit, it’s crossed my mind once or twice too.

My father wanted us to have the holiday to end all holidays and that night, we ate like Kings and Queens.

We were in France for weeks, never making it to the rest of Europe, or to my dad’s conference in Germany, because the old Daimler, we had driven over on the ferry, blew up. My brother, David, tells me it was a 1948 Daimler Conquest, we loved that car and ended up leaving it behind, which none of us was happy about. David remembers the mechanic telling us it was “Kaput” and I remember my mum kicking the tyre to punish it for breaking down as she shed a tear and wrenched herself away.

We spent the last week of our holiday in a small Hotel.

L’Hotel Giraffe where the Maitre D treated us to croissants for breakfast and Shan and I had bottles of pop whenever we wanted, we would go down to the bar and he would serve us like grown ups. If you’ve seen Faulty Towers you’ll have an idea of the what the hotel looked like.

We returned home on the train to Paris then a ferry across the Channel to Folkestone. We were supposed to go to Dover but caught the wrong ferry. We thought it was some sort of sign when the house we bought in Australia was in Folkestone Road. Then it was a train ride to London and then on to Cardiff in South Wales, arriving at two o’clock in the morning. My father hammered on the door to wake his parents up and they were not at all happy. Clearly our parents were completely irresponsible having little children out in the middle of the night and our grandfather was livid that our father had only eleven pence in his pocket and no car.  How would we ever manage in Australia.

But this is the stuff of legend, if it had all gone smoothly and nothing had gone wrong, we wouldn’t have told this story over and over again at every family gathering, relishing every thing that went so horribly wrong.

Change

Life today is completely different and yet, it is the same.  I have always been amazed that I am still me.  My body has changed, my thinking has changed and developed, my level of experience, knowledge, wisdom, day to day common sense, all of these have grown and developed, but the ‘me’ inside all of that, is still me.  I wonder if that is the soul.   We are such complex beings, no wonder it takes a lifetime to understand ourselves; even then many don’t bother.  I have always wondered how it all worked theologically, body, mind, soul, spirit… Is the soul the same thing as the spirit? or is the soul me, and the spirit God.  I have always wanted someone to tell me, give me the neat answer so I could stop wondering.

We like things neatly packaged, labelled, sewn up, put away and figure out, but it doesn’t work that way.  That’s Greek thinking for a rational age.  I prefer Hebrew thinking, which is more philosophical and mytho-poetic, Hebrew thinking encourages questions and isn’t too caught up with the answers, because they put an end the interesting dialogue.

I like Kent Dobson’s explanation of soul, not really an explanation, more of a conversation.  He says metaphor is the language of the soul and that understanding soul is like trying to understand a work of art.  He may have been quoting someone else on his podcast, but that is not quite as important to me as the content of what was said.  I liked the discussion and somewhere along the way as I listened to the series of talks, it all started to make more sense.  I was able to let go of the labels and the neat packaging and allow my soul to be me, or to remain a mystery, to continue the wonder.  

That may not make sense to anyone else, but in that moment, listening to a Kent Dobson podcast, I knew that there was no neat answer, and to quote Rob Bell ‘it’s all Tov’, it’s good; it’s messy and alive, a little scary even.  

Which reminds me of a scene from the book ‘The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe’ by C S Lewis, where one of the Pevensey children ask the beavers if Aslan is safe when they find out he’s a lion and not a man. 

The beavers say: “Safe” said Mr Beaver…”Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe.  But he’s good.  He’s the King, I tell you.”

Wonder is a highly under rated aspect of human nature and our tendency to want the answers can kill it, or at the very least stop it in it’s tracks.  The wonder we feel when we watch the sea during a storm, the beauty of a sunset, the birth of a child, catching a glimpse of the sky on a starry night, all these bring a sense of awe and wonder.  There are some questions we may never have the answers to and that’s ok.

We all need a little mystery in our lives, so when we have a puzzling question that no one seems to know the answer to, we can allow the mystery to create a little wonder in our life.

Now when I feel the urge to want a neat ‘pat’ answer, it is a flashing light warning me that I’m about to lose my sense of wonder.

“Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” Matthew 18:3

“Today you are you, that is truer than true.  There is no one alive who is youer than you!” Dr Seuss

Wonder

Careers

Growing up, I dreamed of being a vet.  I found all animals fascinating and I seemed to have an affinity with them.  I should have been born into a family of naturalists!  I think my obsession with becoming a vet probably spun out of family telling me I should be a vet; mainly because I could get tablets down the throat of the wildest cat, while they spat and scratched and wriggled free for others, leaving the well-meaning human maimed and cursing cats everywhere, I could somehow do it with a minimum of fuss.  Clipping nails, training dogs to sit and stay, grooming, bathing, this was my domain.  

We had a wide variety of pets, ranging from guinea pigs to goannas.   We never had a monkey which I would have loved, and I never got the longed-for pony.  We thought all children in Australia rode horses to school, having watched tv shows where they did, my pony was all but guaranteed when we moved here; it was not to be.

What no-one knew, as I became more and more convinced that I would become a vet one day, was that Maths and Science would be my weakest subjects and were of course pre-requisites to Vet science; Trigonometry sounded the death knell on my dreams.  

Well, if I couldn’t be a vet, then I would be an actor. According to my family there’s no money in acting, this was not a career my family could get behind. In high school there was no one to help students discern where their strengths lay, or none that I remember. I was a prolific reader and writer, which should have been a clue; when the rest of the class groaned as the teacher wrote “What I did on my holidays” I would be digging in my desk for paper and have the first chapter finished before others had come up with a first sentence.  My teacher would emphasise, for my benefit, only one page please; alas, according to my family, there was no money in a writing career either.

I began to give up on the future in the early part of year eleven, drama, singing and writing were the only things I seemed to be good at.  I became so disheartened that I tried to take my own life, unsuccessfully of course, which added to my sense of failure.  I felt all I had to offer the world was my mediocre skill as a chemist shop girl.  How childish it all sounds now, but at the time it was literally life and death.

I decided running away from home was the answer and it worked for a few weeks, but my father found me and made me come home.  I refused to go back to school to face the humiliation of failure there, so with no hope of a bright future and all my dreams in broken pieces, I started a job as an office girl.  This began a long, weary litany of one dreary office job after another.

I learned how to answer phones, be polite to customers, file alphabetically, dress neatly, turn up on time and how to avoid actually doing any work at all.  I learnt how the world of city office jobs worked; men made all the decisions and young girls needed to look pretty to get a job.  They also had to learn very quickly how to handle sleazy old guys and randy young ones; sexual harassment was the norm.  

I never thought of any of my jobs as a career, mainly because I had given up on my dreams, I was just going through the motions.  No surprise then that alcohol and drugs became my choice of escape. Going out for drinks after work was a common occurrence and it was frowned on if you didn’t have several drinks; this was the beginning of a decade of numbness and oblivion.

I ended up getting a job at the blood bank somehow, working as a nursing aide, trained on the job.  It turned out I had an affinity for helping humans as well as animals.  It also turned out I was a quick study and I found it all completely absorbing, maths was not a requirement. I probably could have had a nursing career if that had only entered my head, that or a primary or kinder teacher; 100% on all the tests should have told me something.  After a while, the blood bank became yet another mind numbing job, so I went to a recruitment office in my lunch break one day, interviewed well and landed an office managers role at a new Collins street medical clinic. It sounded exciting, but it was slightly better paid drudgery with patient interaction on the side, working for two very ego driven doctors. 

I left after five years to have a baby and never went back, they didn’t factor in maternity leave in those days. Turned out I was pretty awesome at being a mum and could relate well to kids of any age.  Who knew?  Not me!  I think I was going way too fast to slow down and think about what it was I could contribute to society or the world at large.  I rarely, if ever, planned ahead or dreamed dreams back then, they had disappointed me in the past so it was easier not to think.  

Two years into my new career as a mum, I became a fully fledged Christ follower, with all the trimmings.  My life took on new meaning and I began to take yet another trajectory.  The mind numbing escapism stopped with a jolt and I woke up at last.  For a long time I regretted all the years I’d wasted, but someone helped me see that God could use even my mistakes.  The real change began with hospitality I suppose, I just opened up our home to anyone who needed refuge, a place to pray and someone to pray with, a meal, a bed for the night or the year.  Glyn went along with it all thankfully, poor guy.  God began to send more and more people, young, old, creative, lonely, troubled in their marriage, troubled in spirit.  

Along with this new way of seeing people and encouraged by Ross Green, I got involved in music, first with children and then worship leading; I even started writing children’s songs.  The flame of my creativity began to flicker and as long as I didn’t shine too brightly it didn’t upset anyone. The church lapped up my meagre music gift and I sang and played guitar as often as I could. We opened up to the world of drama, puppets and even clowning.  

Little by little it became clear to me that not everyone could relate to young people as easily as I could and that my words had an impact in their lives.  I decided to study theology, majoring in Youth so I could answer all their tricky questions, instead I learned to ask them.  I am eternally grateful that my dad got to see me graduate.  I was thirty-five but I was the first of his brood to wear a cap and gown.  Dad was an academic and held education above all else, and although years late, I was proud to take out the prize for youth min that year for his sake.

I had been volunteering working with youth for years, but now with my qualification I would be paid for the privilege.  I worked for ten years in a very regimented environment and in the end I had to leave to preserve what little of me there was left.  I gained much in the way of experience; leadership was idolised and creativity was seen as ‘touchy feely’ and unnecessary.  I am thankful for all that I experienced and gained, but I am saddened to this day that my creative self, my very soul, almost faded out completely.

I tried teaching singing and guitar at the local high school for a couple of years but the world of high school teaching is a very negative, isolating world and I decided to take a year off to write a book before I became as negative and gloomy as the teachers around me.  Glyn was so supportive and encouraging, but little did I know I actually needed time to recover. That year everything was stacked against me and I ended up hardly writing anything let alone a book.  I did manage to write a bunch of stuff and to do some online courses, even one in a classroom, but then the year was over.  I had buried two friends, a horse and our dear little dog and almost lost my husband to a gall bladder attack and that’s just some of what happened.  

I ended up going back to work in admin for a church feeling like I had come full circle.  So, my ‘career’ has wandered here, there and everywhere and I have just launched into a new church admin job, will I ever learn? 

I have learned a few things on the way, like it’s not about the money or the prestigious titles or even the clever answers, it’s certainly not about the test scores, even when they’re 100% most of the time, it is about doing the next right thing, whatever that happens to be.

If there is a moral to this story, I don’t know what it is! I am still me and I am who I am because of all the experiences I have had and perhaps I could have been someone completely different, if only I had known then what I know now. I am content to be me and I’m now far less willing to compromise my creativity and much happier to shine quite brightly if necessary. I am looking forward to where God leads me next.

The Scent of Life

When I was very young I noticed how particular people had their own sort of smell. Little boys, for instance, seemed to smell of stale cabbage and erasers while my best friend smelled like violets.

My mother’s lipstick had an exotic, sophisticated scent that made me think of movie stars and dinner parties. It was the only makeup my mother wore. My mother had a smell all of her own, not perfume, a sort of Lux soap, clean smell that made me feel safe and loved. I used to wonder how she managed to always smell so good and I would drink it in whenever she hugged me.

My grandfather, her dad, smelled of pickled onions and peppermints and my other grandfather smelled of leather and tobacco. My dad had a tweed wool and shoe polish smell, with a hint of chemicals and Bunsen burners which he worked with.

There are few smells that trigger more memories for me than ‘Lily of the Valley’. They grew in abundance in my grandmother’s garden and I was always allowed to pick them. I would bring in a posie and keep it next to my bed, when I stayed there, their heady scent filling my room. There was Lily of the Valley in the bouquet I carried as a flower girl at my Auntie’s wedding. My sister and I wore matching floral dresses with crunchy taffeta petticoats that made us feel like grown ups. Our aunt gave us both solid silver lockets to wear on the day, I was five and my sister was seven. The bouquets smelled heavenly, carnations that actually had a scent and the lilies of course; we both felt like princesses.

There are strange smells I love, that I hate to admit to, puppy breath for instance. There’s nothing quite like puppy breath; I told you it was strange. It hooks into all the warm memories I have of all the dogs we have had as part of our family over the years. Then there is the whole realm of horse smells. The grassy smell of horse breath as they snuffle my neck and tickle me with their whiskers. The smell of my horse’s mane after rain, I’m always tempted to bury my face in that smell, it touches me at a deep spiritual level.

The smell of my newborn babies, nothing smells like that ever again. Other people’s children don’t even come close, grand babies, on the other hand, come a very close second. I love the smell of the earth after rain and the almost complete lack when it snows; the air is fresh and crisp and everything is buried under its pristine goodness.

It has always fascinated me that a slight whiff of a scent can take me back in time. Events from long ago, appearing as a vivid image, as though it was only yesterday. Like the dank smell some plants have, that bring to mind the many ponds we played near as children, collecting frogspawn in jars. We would take our jars home and watch for the tadpoles to grow, feeding them little bits of lettuce to encourage them to become frogs. They hardly ever did. Some would grow legs and would even start to look very froggy, but they quietly vanished before they were frogs. Did our mother release them to the wild? Did they escape? We never knew, and by then we had lost interest.

Then there are the classic smells of the Australian summer. Sunscreen and Aeroguard, a slight wiff takes me straight to the beach. Its a hot summer day, the sand is melting my feet and I run headlong to splash in the sea.

Last, but not least, I love the smell of bonfires, and the way the smoke would cling to my clothes, reminding me of all those Guy Fawkes’ nights. My dad lighting Catherine Wheels on the fence, almost burning down our world, and loud penny bungers exploding the life out of us. Jumping Jacks snapping all over the ground and rockets in milk bottles zinging and fizzing into the air, only to end up next door. Just the smell of sparklers, cap guns, fireworks and matches, those were sulphurous promises of fun.