A year of celebrations….

Every New Year, I have a conversation with God about what the year ahead will bring, and He tells me. For the last three years, I’ve not liked what He’s had to say, or what we’ve had to walk through at times, but it has always come to pass, and He has always been GOOD!

This year, as the fireworks exploded in multicoloured blossoms over the jetty at Victor Harbour while I watched from the silent lounge room of a house we had rented with friends for a few days, I asked the question again: What will this coming year be like? While seven adults and eight children slumbered peacefully through this magical moment, I heard him whisper the secret of 2014: It will be a year of congratulations and celebrations. I knew I was up for a promotion at work, so my mind drifted toward the possibility, but it wasn’t just me I saw being congratulated, people were shaking my husband’s hand and smiling….it was intriguing to say the least!

January was a busy month, though nothing special happened apart from the choice Andrew and I made to let go of the idea of having a fourth child. We both grieved the decision, but knew it was the best choice for our family for where we are at, and considering the ages of our boys (now 12, 10 and 7). The thought of going back to nappies and sleepless nights was overwhelming, as was the possibility that, at my age, one baby could easily become two. It was not without many tears that we decided that we’d missed our opportunity and it was time to move on and let go of the little person we had always hoped would fill the empty chair at our table. Just because a decision is the right one, doesn’t mean it’s not painful!

In February I accepted the promotion at work and was lining up my life and my diary to move into more of a leadership position filling in the dates of upcoming meetings all the way to December while booking in interviews with future consultants and taking trainees out with me. There was the terrified buzz at the back of my brain asking me how I was going to juggle mothering my beautiful boys, keeping our marriage strong as well as making a go of my career…but I’ve always been up for a challenge!

The juggling of work and life did lead to problems when I was called in to school to collect my youngest son who had thrown up in the classroom, and then again when I was called back a week later when the same thing happened. Come to think of it, I was feeling fairly unwell myself and because I work with food and was preparing 5 course meals for groups of people up to four times a week, it seemed only responsible to check I didn’t have something I was inadvertently passing on.

I scribbled a note in my diary to book in to see the doctor that week, but I knew the first thing she’d ask me is if I was pregnant…which I wasn’t, and couldn’t be, as we were using birth control. But doctors are all the same, so I thought I’d check my last cycle dates so I could reassure her that it wasn’t an issue…except that the last period I remember having was on New Year’s eve, at Victor Harbour, watching the fireworks. This in itself was not enough to worry about because the two months since then had been very challenging, and it was not uncommon to have a long cycle when I was under stress. I forked out the money for the pregnancy test because it was $5 worth of peace of mind that nothing was happening.

I did the test late that afternoon while the kids unpacked their school bags. There was nothing special about it, no need to tell Andrew…until two pink lines appeared within seconds! I had been so sure the test would be negative! My poor husband got the news at the end of a very frantic text: “I can’t stop shaking! The test is positive.” and the photo of those two pink lines! I hid in my wardrobe shaking like a leaf and in complete shock not sure if I wanted to laugh, cry or do both. Then I realised that I’d just texted life-changing information to my husband without thinking that he might take it worse than me. The phone rang and the rest is a blur really- except I remember asking him to pick up another test as this one could well be faulty- the results never show up that fast! The second test was the same- two pink lines within seconds. It was happening. We were going to have a baby!

The middle part of the story is less exciting- telling my branch manager that I was going to have to pass on the promotion because I wouldn’t be able to put in the hours with a baby on the way, telling friends and family who all had their own opinions about a pregnancy they believed, or doubted, was unexpected and coming to terms with all those fears about sleepless night, the increased risks of pregnancy at my age, and the fact that I had not been preparing my body for a baby (had I been having enough folate? how often had I had alcohol? how could this have happened?). Thankfully the boys were delighted and took to the idea with such enthusiasm it dispelled all our concerns about adding another child to our family. Our youngest started each day with a fresh suggestion for a name for the baby, and the other boys started thinking about what they were and were not prepared to do: burping is ok, nappies are not.

…and then it hit me…morning sickness like I have never experienced before. Within two weeks I was barely able to get up from the couch and spent the better part of every day hunched over a bucket retching- me, who never, ever, throws up! I saw the doctor and went onto daily nausea suppressing medications to enable me to function, but they did little to alleviate the nausea, and nothing to stop the retching, the lightheadedness and the exhaustion! I did my best to fulfil my commitments to my customers, and it was one of these customers- a professor in obstetrics here in Adelaide- who put the pieces together. “If you feel this sick, Arianne, you might be having twins.” I knew I wasn’t, but when he offered to do an impromptu scan at his office the next day in-between his other patients, I thought it might be a little peace of mind. I was sure this sickness was only because of my age, and maybe this time it was a girl and the different hormones were making me sick. Andrew drove me to the office on the 5th March because I was too ill to get there myself…and there they were on the screen: two little jelly beans each in their own amniotic sac, each with a heartbeat.

There are no words to describe the shock we both felt, the feeling of disembodiment and … no words! We were expecting twins. Twins. Two babies. Two. If people disapproved before, what would they say now?! If sleepless nights were a concern before, what were they now? If finances were an issue when we were expecting one, where did that leave us now? What would the boys say to this new development? Thank God we were still in shock and denial, or we may have imploded!

On the way home, we called the one person who would understand-the girlfriend who had called me roughly 7 years earlier to tell me exactly what I was calling to tell her now. She was amazing! Theresa, you are amazing! For the next fifteen minutes, she spoke life, and confidence, and faith, and hope over us before anyone else had a chance to sow a seed of doubt. There would be many people over the next few weeks who thought it was their job to make sure we knew this was going to be  hard- really hard- just in case we had forgotten how to whip up a fear tornado on our own…but Theresa had beaten them to it and spoken such life over us that I still remember her words over and above all the negative comments of others. They are treasures a mother buries deep in her heart! Friends like that are worth their weight in gold (or in Theresa’s case- worth my weight in gold!).

Every step of this journey has been unexpected. Every step has taken us  where our ‘feet would never wander’, to deep water ‘where feet may fail’, but what an adventure! A year of congratulations. A year of celebrations! A year to remember!

She lives yet…

I have been absent without excuse for months now. It’s unforgivable, I know. It’s just I’ve had nothing to say—nothing worthwhile anyway—and in a world crammed full of information and activity, cyber-traffic and constant noise, I just needed some quiet. I thought you might need the same.

If life goes in seasons, it has been winter for me.

There are times when you feel the thrill and excitement of spring; new buds bursting their way out of the winter barrenness, bright flowers shooting skywards to catch the returning sun. This has not been one of those times.

There are times you feel the celebration of colour and the ripe abundance of fruit, the reward for your hard labour and a time for feasting, sharing and giving generously. This has not been one of those seasons either.

There are times you feel the changing moods from deep greens to crisp reds and yellows and down into lifeless browns, the falling off of things no longer needed and the last minute rush to store away for the coming months of lack. I’ve not been here either.

This has been a season of loss. A time when things I thought were important have shrivelled up and fallen away. The landscape has been barren and I’ve had to live off of last season’s stores. I have discovered there are things I thought were true, but are not. People I thought I could trust, whom I could not. A way things were, that they are not. The big pop you heard followed by a heart-aching silence was the sound of the bubble bursting. It hurt. It really, really hurt…for a while.

At the beginning of the year, I asked God what kind of year it was going to be. He’s told me most years, and it usually turns out the way He says. Last year he said it would be a year of hope and we have friends back who we thought we’d farewelled forever and the precious beginnings of little people who now gurgle and coo their way into our hearts with increasing ferocity. This year I was expecting something good, better than good, something great…but He said it was going to be a year of loss. I thought I’d heard wrong. I hadn’t.

There have been lost loved ones, and our hearts grieve. There have been lost opportunities, though I regret to inform, no loss of weight! But there are things we can afford to lose as well—illusions, misconceptions, idealistic fantasies. A good dose of reality can go a long way to setting you up for the good that has yet to arrive in your life. It makes you think about what you really believe, what you really want, and who you really are…and a barren winter with fruitless branches and long, cold nights set you up for the glorious celebration that arrives in the spring…for the bursting bloom of colour on the branch, the trill of birds dancing in awakening delight, the new shoots of life bursting through the cold soil to feel the kiss of sunshine and the pink snow of blossoms twirling lazily on a spring breeze.

The Psalmist was right. Weeping may remain for a night, but joy comes in the morning.

…and if you’re still reading this, thank you! May morning take you by surprise and may you be kissed by heaven’s grace.

 

The power of laughter…

Ever had one of those weeks where things seem a little harder than usual to tolerate, when your house feels like a prison from which your only escape depends on that teetering pile of ironing that  (if you are lucky) will topple over and smother you, thereby freeing you from a. having to iron it and b. housework in general!

I was spoiled—I grew up in a country where domestic help was affordable for my family. I look longingly into the recesses of my memory for a Betty, Sophie or Precious to come rescue me from this endless list of thankless tasks! I will resist the temptation here to overdramatise things by saying “Arbeit macht frei.” I won’t even mention it!

Anyway, I was just going to offer up one of those little posts in honour of my friend Mel who came to visit me a few days ago now and brought with her the most healing gift I know—laughter. Over several cups of tea (the other healing gift I treat with great respect), we laughed and laughed at everything and nothing. We laughed until we cried, we laughed until we couldn’t breathe and our faces went red, we laughed till we peed…well almost. My stomach ached for at least a day afterwards… and my soul floated heavenward with gratitude for the friends who fill my life with riches that money can’t buy.

Beautiful friends, you fill my life with sunshine. Thank you for the quirky, unique, motley bunch you are! You make me a better person by loving me and letting me love you in return.

And just like that. Everything changes. Again.

Let me just say this: Nothing that surprises us is ever a surprise to God. I know this because He tells me things (or about things) before they happen. The details may be a surprise to me, but never to Him.

On Friday He spoke to me about two things:

1. God gives himself many names, one of which means the God who foresees and provides what is needed. I have experienced this more times than I can count. I know it to be true.

2. Struggle, pain and change are all opportunities for Him to reveal Himself to us. I think God is disinterested in religion and its trappings. I believe His primary interest in creation lies in building a relationship with mankind, with individuals, with you and with me. Our struggles, or pain, or seasons of change are opportunities for Him to reveal himself to us, to show us who He is and let us know Him. I believe His desire is that we accept and respond. It’s beautiful. It moves me to tears.

And just like that….within an hour…everything changes. My husband (who is the primary income earner in our family of five) was made redundant. It wasn’t handled particularly well by the company, but graciously by my husband. I’m proud of him for that. It was a shock, unexpected, but we were not unprepared because there is a God who foresaw what was needed, whispered a promise of his provision, and invited us into an opportunity to see a new aspect of His character revealed. It’s beautiful. It makes me feel strong.

I’m not the kind of person who pushes my faith onto others. In fact, I rarely tell them about my faith at all because I believe that what I value should be evident in the way I live my life. But today, for a moment, if you are still reading this (which I take to mean you are not offended that I mentioned the G-word), I’d like to express my gratitude to a God who invited me to know Him and has never once stopped surprising me with how loving and generous and forgiving and faithful and powerful and beautiful He is. And it’s been 28 years…

Things can be good, and just like that, everything changes. But things can look bleak too…and just like that. Everything changes. Again.

It’s going to be one amazing journey. I’ll keep you posted.

This book is not for everyone…

I have just finished reading Blueprints of the Afterlife by Ryan Boudinot. This book is not for everybody. It is heavy on bad language (really heavy) as well as sex and violence. If you find those things offensive, just ignore the rest of this post. I find those things offensive too, but then I find a lot of things offensive, and yet they continue to exist and—in some instances—are thrust in my face.

The novel is set in a future where the end of life as we know it is no more than a distant memory and where the internet is retro. In this dystopian future, the human body is networked and cures for most of what ails humankind can be uploaded at the click of a button. Unfortunately, humans can also be hacked, remotely controlled and superimposed. There is also a full scale mission underway to recreate Manhattan in Puget Sound and to recreate New York’s last moments before the end of the world (which is known as the FUS), the lives of it’s former residents handed out to those who wish to move in.

It is a strangely disturbing look at the future, one I hope is not prophetic but which is, at the very least, entirely possible. I can’t say I enjoyed it—there are images that will take a while to be wiped from my memory files (a process that is quite simple in Bodinot’s futuristic earth)—but it made me think….and I can cross ‘expand my scope of reading material’ off the list for a couple of years!

And it has a cool cover.

In conclusion, I leave you with a small excerpt which I thought was quite descriptive!

For a sliver of a moment, passing so quickly he didn’t register what was happening until much later, all was darkness and silence. As dark and silent as if he had spelunked the depths of a cave and then, reaching the deepest, darkest place in the cave, stuck his head down his own throat and disappeared inside his own body. A darkness final and unremitting,  a darkness that offered no acknowledgement that there could ever be any illumination, an absolute  black, a backness so extreme it coated him and penetrated his skin, rendering everything that might have colour when exposed to light completely transparent and thus only a vessel for this categorically absolute absence of light.

 

I bet you thought I’d dropped off the end….

….of the planet/page/line. But I didn’t, I’m still here and adjusting to life in the real world again. It’s amazing how good a full night of sleep feels.

I have been reading Yannick Haenel’s book, “The Messenger” . It is a fascinating combination of historical fact and interpretive fiction. The book is about a man called Jan Karski, a Polish Resistance fighter who played a vital role in the Polish Underground during WWII. Mr Karski was rescued from the hands of the Gestapo and charged with a mission to carry a number of messages to the Allies on behalf of the Polish Government in Exile and the Jews of Europe. He was to become The Messenger and, ultimately, the message.

Y’all know this is a particular favourite concept of mine, and that what happened to the Jews during WWII is something that fascinates me for a number of reasons. This book is a unique take on both of those subjects. It intrigued and irritated me in equal proportion.

I watched the footage of Jan Karski’s testimony for Claude Lanzmann’s benchmark movie  about the Holocaust: Shoah. (Thank God for You Tube.) It is hard not to see a man tormented by what he saw in the Jewish ghetto in Warsaw and the Izbica Lubelska concentration camp, a man tormented by the messages he was sent to deliver tot he Allies; messages they chose to ignore.

This book raises more questions than it answers. There were questions I never thought to ask, answers I never thought to question. For example, why, when the Allies had sufficient evidence of the mass extermination of the Jews of Europe, did they fail to respond. Why, when the war was over and 6,000,000 Jews had been exterminated, did the Allies hold the Nuremberg trials where they passed Judgement on the Nazi’s for these crimes against humanity at the same time as perpetrating an equal crime against humanity by dropping atomic bombs on Japan. I am ashamed to admit that the hypocrisy never once crossed my mind. And yet there it sits, mocking.

I’m not a particularly political person, but I am fascinated by the idea of what it means to be human, and how humans behave and think. This book is a disturbing exploration of whether or not such a thing as Humanity can still exist in a post-WWII world.

Another unanswerable question.

People still slaughter other people all over the world for no reason than their otherness. The rest of the world still looks on despite evidence of these inhuman crimes. We argue against war, we rail against laying the lives of our sons on the altar of foreign wars, we preach against the slaughter of animals for food. But men still kill and rape and torture other men and women and children. And all over the world, we turn away those who seek refuge from us, those whose lives are under threat, those who fear what history has taught us humankind is capable of. We turn them away, and fail to act. All for good reason, all in defense of our own rights as humans. In the name of humanity, we do the inhuman.

“[I often thought of a sentence by Kafka]:’Far, far from you, world history is unfolding, the world history  of your soul.’ This sentence was intended for me, as it was for all of my students, and for you. We think that world history is happening far away from us, it always seems to be occurring without us,  but in the end we realise that it is the history of our souls.”

Jan Karski carried messages that he was faithful to deliver, but the world was unwilling to hear. He delivered messages that carried the hopes of millions into the ears of the powerful. The messages themselves were powerful.  The hope of the desperate was powerful. But the power of those who had the most potential to act was impotent. Jan Karski delivered his messages and then became the message: if we who have the power to act fail to, we have lost our humanity, lost our conscience.

The book infuriated me. And challenged me. And grieved me.

There are more questions than answers, and that is a little uncomfortable. good, but uncomfortable.

The light at the end…

The dumbest thing you can say is this: I don’t think I can take any more.

I said it, and then I found out how much more I could take.

Last week I blogged (in a state of utter exhaustion, I must add) that I couldn’t watch my four year old writhe in pain any more. I was wrong. I watched helplessly for all of twelve painful nights as he screamed, pleaded,  moaned and whimpered, I held his little body as it went rigid with pain until his arms and legs shook.  I took him to four different doctors and had two come to me. All of them told us nothing serious was wrong, to ride out the pain. I believed them…for the first few days. But as five nights wore into six…seven…eight, I began to doubt. I was averaging four broken hours of sleep a night. I cried myself to sleep helpless in the face of his suffering.

After the ninth consecutive night of screaming pain (pain he had despite the three different medications I was loading him with as per the doctor’s prescription) I cracked and took him to the Emergency Department to see a paediatrician. She insulted me by asking why I hadn’t gone to my GP (they didn’t have any appointments and their answers didn’t satisfy me), so I told her it was because I wanted to see a paediatrician. She asked me why, if I was so concerned, I had waited this long. I wanted to tell her where to go, but I needed her help, so I told her I didn’t come earlier because the doctors she would prefer I had seen, told me he had to ride out the pain. She rolled her eyes. (ok, maybe I imagined that part. I also imagined making a big scene in her department when they finally did an ultrasound and found out that there was something wrong, but I didn’t.) She did a blood test, palpated his stomach, did a urine test and an X-ray to rule out appendicitis, constipation, urinary tract infection and a twisted gut. I could have told her all those things were not the issue, I did tell her all those things were  not the issue— I had come to her because I needed her to look a little deeper into the problem, to find a solution. I expected her to look outside of the box. She didn’t. She sent us home to ride out the pain even though I told her it was not normal for a four year old boy to have this level of pain over this length of time. I wanted to tell her to come spend the night at our house and tell Gabriel to ride out the pain while he shook his little fist in the air, his legs rigid and shaking as he begged, “When will the pain end.”. I wanted to, but I didn’t.

Within 12 hors I was back in ED with him. We waited four hours to see a doctor, but this time, they saw him screaming…everyone did (they stopped me in the halls of the hospital the next day  to ask if he was ok)…and the nicest, kindest nurses and doctors restored my faith in their profession as well as their humanity, and admitted him. By that night, we knew what was wrong…mesenteric adenitis…a condition where a child’s abdominal lymph nodes swell (in response to an infection somewhere in the system, in the same way your glands in your throat swell when you have tonsillitis) and cause considerable pain sometimes equalled with the pain experienced with appendicitis. Unfortunately, there is nothing that can be done to treat the swollen lymph glands, but something can be done about the pain.

Another two days later (a total of twelve days after the pain began), Gabriel slept through the night. I am so relieved I don’t know if I want to laugh or cry. I’ve done enough crying, so I think I’ll laugh.

Thank God for doctors who recognise that a mother knows her child better than an x-ray can, who realise that a four year old cannot be expected to put up with pain just because they can’t tick one of four convenient boxes. To all those doctors who poked and prodded, stuck things down his throat and up his other end, who looked down on me and questioned my motives…I forgive you. It’s not about me at all, it never was. Your brush offs were more than made up for by one Scottish registrar, one red-haired, tattooed nurse and a bespectacled, matronly doctor who cared enough to see the boy behind the symptoms. It is to them, that I am indebted. You might strive to  be like them. I will.

To all the friends who made meals, sent texts, picked up the kids from school or spoke kindly to them, to the friends who prayed for us from afar, or sought us out to do so in person, to the friend who cried with me…thank you. Your friendship is worth more than words can describe…may you always reap what you have so lovingly and generously sown.

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