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.

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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.

Never let me go…GM, little boys with boobs and Kazuo Ishiguro

I know why I don’t like to eat genetically modified food: I don’t know what it’s going to do to me…or to my family.

In a rapidly expanding world where populations increase exponentially and natural resources are depleted in response to this rapid growth, it’s hard to argue with innovations that could lead to the production of viable and sustainable options re the production of food, fuel and drinkable water.

Increasing percentages of these expanding populations are suffering from cancers, dementia and other diseases making it is hard to argue with innovations that could lead to treatment options whether it be stem cells or organ transplants. Who would have thought we’d welcome (with ooh’s and aah’s no less) an ear grown on the back of a mouse! We did.

A few years ago I read a book called Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood. I don’t know that I can recommend it entirely because I found it both confronting and uncomfortable . Over time I have come to realise it was almost prophetic in its foresight. Online executions, the explosion of internet porn and voyeuristic sex online and the outbreak of new viruses, to name but a few, appeared alongside creatures bred and modified, cloned and mutated for convenience or practicality.

Not all of these things exist only in the world of fiction. We see terrorist executions online, internet porn and leaked sex tapes are an everyday viewing option in thousands of homes and little boys are growing boobs because they are being fed meat that is so high in oestrogen.

How does all this fit in with Kazuo Ishiguro? He wrote a book called “Never Let Me Go.” It deals, in a very human way, with the other side of a very topical debate.: How do we provide for the desperate need for healthy transplant organs for those fighting for their lives.

This book (and the movie of the same name) looks into the moral issues surrounding the issue of cloning and raises questions as to the very nature of the ethics by which a society chooses what it perceives to be the best course of action. Unfortunately, I can’t really tell you too much without ruining the story, so you will have to watch it yourself…then let’s have a really good chat about it, shall we?

If you thought the Nazi take on eugenics was wrong, if you can’t imagine why cloning is an issue, if you found the movie The Island terrifying or fascinating, you’ll find this book/movie food for thought. (warning, it is not GMO free and may contain traces of nuts.)

Top ten quirky favourites…

1. the word quirky…and the fact that I have a ‘qwerty’ keyboard…both lovely words to wrap your lips around. One of the ladies in my writer’s group gave me a new favourite phrase this month…’the scurf from her scarf’…say it out loud, I dare you! (©  S Kay 2010)

2. shopping for vegetables…especially in a fruit and veg shop where the produce is piled together in families. I get soooo excited by the lush green celery lying sedately beside the sour pink of the rhubarb (another beautiful word right there). I run my eyes over the sunshine yellow of the little flower-shaped patty pan squashes and can’t help rubbing the bulbous purple-black of the aubergines. The lemons sit smiling alongside their orange cousins and the perky little limes, the apples—a rainbow display—scent the air already tinged with mango sweetness. Is it any wonder I’m a vegetarian?

3. sitting outside (and under cover) during a rainstorm…listening to Nina Simone…in the dark.

4. pouring chocolate cake mixture into the baking pan! Need I say more…the texture, the smell, the colour, the viscosity….

5. shaping a batch of warm bread dough into a smooth, white mushroom of yeasty possibility! It’s grown up play dough…that you can eat!

6. opening a new book…and then, much later on, checking the size of the wedge of pages I still have to read until the end. It’s especially exciting when I love the book and the wedge is still huge…it means there are still hours to spend in an alternate universe. I enjoy the pleasure even more when the book is one in a series that I have enjoyed or it’s one that I’ve read before. I re-read the following books frequently: Redeeming Love (Francine Rivers), The Time Traveller’s Wife (Audrey Niffeneger), Jane Eyre (Charlotte Bronte), Pride and Prejudice (Jane Austen), the Twilight books (Stephenie Meyer), The Book Thief  (Marcus Zusak) and the Monster Blood Tattoo series (DM Cornish)…and the Bible.

7. the perfect cup of tea at the perfect temperature—hot enough to burn your throat, but not hot enough to burn your tongue—preferably from a teacup…what style of teacup is too complicated to explain, but I know one when I see one. And the tea tastes best when it has been poured from a tea pot, and is followed by a second cup. When I die they will find that, where some people are made up of 70 % water, I am 65% tea!

8. the smell of jasmine warming in the sunshine. The only thing better is lying on the grass  (or a green blanket…it must be green) smelling the flower’s sun-distilled perfume.

9. swimming in the dark. I love that moment of slipping into the water and the soft lapping splip of cold water embracing warm skin and the echoing slap of the same ripple as it hits the wall of the swimming pool at the end of its short journey.

10. long-pronged forks and knives with long, rounded blades (like the old fashioned boned butter knives), not to mention soup spoons with deep, rounded bowls and real old-fashioned tablespoons. I trawl through op shops for them and fight the temptation to buy more than I have room for (but come on, at 20 cents each, I can afford a few…dozen…extras)

What are your quirky ten?  Go on, unburden yourself…you know you’ve been itching to tell someone!

If you don’t have something nice to say…

I know it has been a long time since I wrote one of these posts. I feel guilty about it from time-to-time and then I remind myself not to be pretentious—there are no starving crowds hanging on my every word waiting for me to sprout words of wisdom. The few of you who do follow me faithfully tend to prefer stories about the idiotic things I do and situations I get myself into…and there are a few of those I should be telling you about…but I have just not had anything particularly worth saying really. That, and I started a new job, which is time-consuming and new and takes a fair bit of my already diminished and sleep-deprived brain power to accomplish.

BUT TODAY I have something good to say. Today, my middle son turned eight years old. My gorgeous Hudson has had a whole day of celebrating the fact that he was born. Now that doesn’t seem all that special when you say it like that, but the fact that he stayed alive after he was born is.

When Hudson was born at 38 weeks and 5 days (well and truly full-term) at 8pounds and 15 ounces, he should have been a healthy baby boy, but within seconds, the doctors were inturbating him. In fact, my first real glimpse of him was of this tiny baby  on the table with a paediatrician pushing a breathing tube into down his throat. His apgar score was 3. He wasn’t breathing well at all and, instead of rising and falling as he took each breath, his chest caved in. His newborn nostrils flared as he struggled to draw every single breath. I held him for barely a minute and listened to him grunting each time he exhaled. While the doctors stitched me up, another doctor was downstairs in the nursery putting a drip into my newborn son’s tiny arm. I wept when I saw it; there is something wrong with the idea of invading such a tiny body—so innocent and new—with something that sharp. But they kept him alive, and I was grateful.

As the day wore on and we realised he was not improving, the shock set in. I remember telling my husband to take lots of photos—I knew I couldn’t cope with everything— “Take photos, and I’ll deal with everything later, when he is safe,” as though I had any sense he would be.

Within a few hours, he was retrieved, by ambulance, to another hospital where they had a neonatal intensive care unit. It was the second time I held him, and it lasted  mere minutes before they whisked him —and the oxygen mask we had to hold over his face all that time—away. I don’t know if you have ever held someone you love and wondered if it is the last time you will ever see them alive. I did that day. It hurt like nothing on earth. I carried him inside me for 38 weeks and expected to hold him in my arms for many more to come, and here he was off on his own and barely a few hours old,  to fight for his life—without me.

It still brings tears to my eyes to remember those moments, even now with my healthy son asleep in his bed. Andrew and I held each other and took turns to weep as we waited to find out if they had room for me at the hospital and, if they did, how long it would be before an ambulance could take me there to be with my baby, all the while praying that the worst news we would get is that I couldn’t go be with him. There was other news we feared, but were too afraid even to speak out loud. The nurses were guessing it might be after 6pm before an ambulance could be found for me, a very long 7 hours away! Andrew and I had spent time together reading one of our favourite psalms from the Bible that morning, Psalm 121. I was beside myself with panic and emotion when Andrew reminded me of one little phrase from the Psalm that says ‘God will watch over your coming and going’. I do not exaggerate when I say that within minutes of him reciting those words, an ambulance was downstairs waiting to take me to FMC.

Hudson survived the trip but continued to struggle to breathe, gradually getting worse for at least three days before there was any sign of improvement.  At one point, the incubator was augmented with a 90% oxygen mixture so that he could absorb enough to survive. Monitors beeped all around the ward, but all I could see was this little boy (not as little as most of the neonates in there, but my little boy nonetheless) whom I longed to hold and comfort  as he continued to struggle, his chest caving inwards with each breath. My arms literally ached with desperation to hold him. I sat alongside his incubator and put an inadequate hand into the warm but inhuman space he was confined to. I talked to him endlessly and sang the same songs I had throughout my pregnancy. His oxygen levels improved whenever I was with him and he seemed to struggle more whenever I returned to my room to rest or take my pain meds (I was recovering from a caesarian). On more than one occasion, I returned to my room in tears because some well-meaning (and ultimately right) nurse had told me not to touch him because it distracted him from breathing. I was angry that I could not hold my own child when he needed me, and resentful that the fifteen women whose rooms I passed on my way to my own empty room, held their crying babies or fed them or changed their nappies. I cried because I felt it was my job to comfort my baby, and I could not; because it was my job to take care of him, but I could not. Those first few days of Hudson’s life were the longest of my life.

It is strange to look back at those days and the uncertainty of Hudson’s future. He was four days old  before I even thought about brain damage due to oxygen deprivation. I was too busy counting the fifteen needle pricks on his tiny feet where they had taken blood to rule out one thing or another. I didn’t think about expressing milk to feed him for days because he was too weak to open his eyes, let alone eat. I couldn’t think about how the experience might affect his future because I was too concerned about the drip that was in his arm and the way the tape that held his breathing tubes in place seemed to be damaging his pink skin. He was two days old before I got a photo of him because some obnoxious criminal stole my camera from my bedroom while I was keeping watch at my newborn’s bedside. (how I got that camera back is a story worth telling too…another time).

All the while, my other precious baby, Michael, was in and out of hospital with Andrew to visit us. We shared many afternoon naps on my hospital bed—18month old boys think the world of automatic beds and wheelchairs—while Andrew and I took turns in the NICU.

…To be honest, I can’t stay in those scary days a moment longer….the point of all this is that Hudson survived, has thrived and become an intelligent, sweet, funny, considerate and loving child. Today I have something to say: I am so grateful that God gave us this amazing son, that we get to share his life and be his family. I am so grateful that weeping may remain for a night, but joy comes in the morning. I am glad that time does not heal everything, because some scars are worth keeping—they remind you about what’s important, where you’ve been and, how faithful God is even when everything seems hopeless.

Happy birthday Hudson! You were worth every mile we walked, every mountain we climbed, every tear we shed and the joy you have brought us all is immeasurable. You rock our world little man.

How is it that…

How is it that music can take you out of your daily life and deposit you in a memory almost twenty years old? I remembered a song the other day that I have not heard (or even thought of) for about 18 years. In that single moment of remembering, I was flung back to my late teens— time travelling on sound waves— to some of the most long-forgotten but delicious memories . For those of you old enough to remember the song, it was Nightswimming by REM.

I have always loved swimming at night, especially in the dark, though not in water that is home to other living things—Jaws cured me of that. I’m sure Freud would have something to say about a fixation with being in water in the dark…something about returning to the womb perhaps? I just like the silence of the dark, the water lapping against some unseen barrier, the sensation of being surrounded and secret. I might stop there….there may be one or two of you who know why…let’s keep it that way : )

How is it that a book can transport you to a world in seconds so effectively, in fact, that when you lift your eyes from the page, you are there, emotionally, with the characters, falling in love, grieving the loss of a loved one or floating hopeful through your day? I remember a book I read once that cured me forever of the bad habit of putting a  book aside because I didn’t like where the story was going. The book’s name escapes me, but it was written by Bodie Thoene. In the thrid(ish) book of the series, one of the main characters dies in a bomb blast. I remember reading the scene, the pit-of-my-stomach grief that followed and was marked by four days of ignoring the offending book—an unnoticed protest at the author’s poor sense of story and her homicidal cruelty to my favourite character. I picked up the book the following week and discovered, to my chagrin, that the cliff-hanger bomb blast had not, in fact,  killed the character that I had—for days—been mourning. I learned my lesson well! It’s a good thing too, or I might never have finished New Moon! Twigeeks will know what I mean.

How is it that a smell can transport you half way across the world to the bedroom you had as a child in Africa, the warm scent of jasmine washing over you in waves of pure spring pleasure? I will not think about the other smells that take me back: disinfectant, blood, Earl Grey tea (oh yes, you heard me…evil Earl Grey, thou shalt not have me!).

What are your favourite triggers for long-forgotten memories or sensations?

Lethargy…

Did you know that lethargy is a normal response to dramatic life changes and, in particular, grief? I am finding this out.

Just when everything starts going again, just when you think “I’m back on track, building speed and gaining momentum,’ the tiredness creeps up and slaps you on the back of the head. It’s that stealthy foe that fells, the silent drain that drops you to your knees. It’s not the kind of tiredness you get after a good long run (because I know what that feels like…ha ha…ok, a good, long but fast-paced walk…ok, fast paced for someone half my height with midget-like legs. Can you just see my point please and stop being so pedantic? Darned inner critic!), but the tiredness that steals those extra hours you would have spent doing positive things, extra things, things that make you feel good about life. Instead, I find myself scraping my toes over the last few jobs before falling into bed wondering when last I picked up a book—and that’s bad for me, I usually read two a week and it’s been two books in two months.

My friend—let’s call her Magnesium—calls them her sad days. Just for no reason and out of the blue, she feels sad. I know what she means. I have them too. I find myself watching a movie and out of nowhere I start crying about it, about everything. It’s hard to explain without telling you the ins and outs of the thing that has done this to me, to my friends and the people I love, but it doesn’t matter, because you’d probably laugh and say, “Arianne, it happens every day.” And you’d be right, it does happen every day, but when it happens to someone you know and love, when it happens to someone you really thought was immunised against it, it fells you. NO, it rocks you. And you see the devastation behind the statistics. To most people, a betrayal like this is a fact of life, a statistic, a number in the great tally of human unfaithfulness, but to those involved it is an earthquake, a cataclysm, a tsunami, a landscape changing event. There  is so much to think about: how did it happen? Why? When? Where? Why didn’t I see it coming? What happens now? How does this change things? What should I do? What can I do?

It’s little wonder the tiredness creeps in! The mental energy that goes into evaluating the details of everyday life in the light of new information, of filtering everything through a new sieve and testing every word, and thought, and action, and emotion…is draining! It is all draining. And how do you find a way of carrying on, when there is no enthusiasm for what lies ahead, when the what that lies ahead is unknown, uninvited, undesired?

I’m lucky, I still have my destination intact. I still have some momentum, as long as I don’t try to carry someone else’s load. I can share their burdens without carrying the weight of it, can love them, be there for them, help them…all without carrying their load for them. The trick to living successfully is to carry what I was intended to carry—be it bigger or smaller than someone else’s load—because I was made to carry mine, my shoulders are big enough, my back strong enough, my legs empowered for the task. I need to learn to learn to pick up the friend who has stumbled, hold their load for a moment while they pick themselves up, carry it a mile or two with them if needs be, but then I let them carry their own load as I walk alongside them. and, as a wise friend once said, “Do  not worry about tomorrow;; each day has enough trouble for the day.”

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