Thursday, 25 September 2014

Because

It's Friday - so that means we're linking up with a flash mob of writers over at Kate Motaung's page to write for 5 minutes, unedited without use of the delete button or worry about it being just right.
Click on her name to join us :)

Because....

So I'm rubbing my eyes and my aching back and I'm wishing that I hadn't just stubbed my toe on the train track that is laid out on your bedroom floor.  I just stepped on another zillion pieces of lego and I'm kicking them out of the way.  I'm trying to extract myself from your bedroom that I came in to read a bedtime story 45 minutes ago and all I really want is to go downstairs and drink hot tea and drink in all the evening quiet.  But instead I'm holding a girl close and whispering what the day tomorrow will bring.  She asks, "what will we do tomorrow?" even though she full knows she's at school all day, then has a dance class that she loves.  Her big brother will swagger his way through the day - being on the cusp of teenage boyhood is no mean feat.  But she'll ask me anyway and brother will listen in.  Just because .... just because she is stretching out those last minutes of being together before the sun goes down on the day.  And I'm there in her room, then in his room to talk about the day and what tomorrow will bring.  Just because the aching back and stubbed toe and hot tea waiting can all wait.  Just because when the smell of sleep on their skin is beckoning and I feel warm breath close on my face, I'm in the glory moments and I stay, I linger, because there's no other place I'd rather be.

Monday, 22 September 2014

What Your Heart Needs for the Hard Days - Book Review

September rolls round and I sway between whether this is still my favourite month of the year, or whether it is a series of hard days. Earlier this month I wrote a post about Going for Gold.  September is Childhood Cancer Awareness month and that is something close to my heart, but not what my heart needs.

I was drawn to this book simply for it's title.  And of course the cute polka dot cup on the cover didn't hurt either.  I have a matching one I made a hot cup of tea in, then opened up for a read.

I began a little skeptically.  There are books out there that promise us nuggets of wisdom, cliched slogans and are packed with all kinds of positive mantras to recite to build oneself up and I really didn't need another of those. Because what I really wanted was something to help me on the days when I didn't want to read the slogans, or recite some positive message to myself in the mirror.  Those are the really hard days.

Right from the opening page though, I knew this book was going to be different and speak differently to my heart.   Gerth's opening sentence is a hook to every woman I know.  "She stands at the edge of the room and stares at the floor.  All around her conversations flow and laughter pours out, yet she feels alone."  I have been there and I think most women I know have sometimes felt this way, that everyone else has their friends and is having a great time.  Everyone but me while I stand awkwardly at the edge of the room, on the edge of the school grounds or the church entrance way before service.

Gerth can identify with our insecurities, our fears, our temptations and our grief.  She describes it.  She reaches in and says, Yes - you, I know how that feels.  She knows the hard days.   But she doesn't leave it there.  She goes on to show us another way, and the great thing is, it isn't a "pull yourself up by the bootstraps" way.  It's reassuring and gentle, but strong and can empower us with courage and strength to not only get through the hard days, but live them and live them well.

How does she do this?  She writes 52 chapters, walking us through the Bible's book of psalms, and replaces darkness with truth and light, that is both believable and dependable.  Whether Christian or not, I would wager this is a book appealing to any woman who has ever had a hard day and needs to hear a friendly voice.  The chapter titles tempt us in with such gems as "God Wants to Update your Wardrobe," God does not expect you to be "Fine," and "God calls you His Own."

Gerth addresses difficult topics head on and manages to deliver a fresh perspective without being contrived.  She speaks frankly and honestly about some of her own hard days and how she was able to come to a different understanding about pain, sadness and grief.  In one chapter she speaks of grief being the positive process that helps us move forward over time.  In another how God is present during our darkness, that we are in the shadow of His wing.  I found Gerth able to give me an opportunity to shift the way I perceived the pain and hard days, that though they were real and I could give credence to them,  I could also begin to recognise and understand something else in them. It was also a refreshing way to see how the psalms, though written thousands of years ago are as appropriate today as they were then as each chapter is linked to part of a psalm and can be applied to modern day topics and circumstances.  It is the very essence of our humanness that they speak to, and Gerth illustrates this beautifully throughout the book.

The book can be enjoyed as a devotional, or can be dipped in to selecting a chapter whose title speaks to you.  Most chapters are 2 to 3 pages long, and as this is a pocket sized book it is great to pack along with you and read when you have a few minutes to spare.  I read it daily first thing in the morning and I found myself set up well for the day.  There is a space at the end of each chapter to record "what my heart is saying"  and "what my heart is hearing"  I sometimes wished I had a little more space to write here, but as this is a pocket sized book, if treating as a devotional study it might be a good idea to have a separate place to record notes.  I liked that it was a smaller book though as could take it with me wherever I went.  When I've gone through exceptionally hard times in my life, having this book with me would have been like carrying a hug in my pocket.  It's tag line is "52 encouraging truths to hold on to" and I found that this is exactly what it delivered.

In short, if you've ever found yourself having a hard day, read it!  If you've never had a bad day read it anyway!  

Saturday, 13 September 2014

Going for Gold

September rolls round and my profile photo changes on my Facebook page.  This year I have a photo of small girl with the iconic ribbon, this time in gold and the words, "I wear gold for Jasmine" emblazoned across the front.  It's a beautiful graphic created by a kind stranger who gives her time freely to make these for us.  It's Childhood Cancer Awareness month.  But the truth is, I don't want this as my Facebook profile picture, I don't want to have to raise awareness for childhood cancer and I don't want to wear gold for Jasmine.  Not my little girl.  I also don't want to wear gold for your little girl, or boy, or any of those children whose images I see, and stories I hear and meet in the waiting rooms and treatment rooms of our hospitals.

I can't make you aware of the fact that childhood cancer exists.  You already know, but like I used to do, you probably live your days knowing about it, but safe in the knowledge that it's someone else's burden to carry, and affects someone else's family, not yours.  Until one day it does.  And it stops the breath in your body and breaks your heart in an indescribable way.  It breaks something inside of you and no matter how your journey goes, grief-stricken shards of that heart never find their way back to being whole again.

Childhood cancer is rare.  But ask any parent of a child diagnosed with cancer and they will argue that it isn't rare at all, because we meet altogether too many families affected by this, altogether too many parents who are going home to empty bedrooms where once they held their child and rocked them to sleep, and played hide and go seek.  Their child now hidden from their view until another time.  The angel wings we pray will never come prey on our minds anyway.

In real terms, very little is known about childhood cancer.  Jasmine was diagnosed at 5 years old with Grade 3 Anaplastic Ependymoma.  I could find little information about it on the internet and was told it was one of the rarer cancers.  From time of diagnosis to now, there have been too little new developments that help children with this type of brain tumour.  They knew there were 9 different types of Ependymoma but couldn't tell us which kind Jasmine had, they couldn't tell us if it was fast growing or slow growing.  They couldn't tell us if chemotherapy would help Jasmine or not, nor could they give us any kind of prognosis for her long term health and recovery with any kind of clarity.

It's a frightening thing.

So, as it's Childhood Cancer Awareness month I find myself wondering what it is I would actually like to make you aware of.

Well, financially more research needs to be done and more funding is needed for research, but I am skeptical about this.  Raising money for Cancer Research is a very worthwhile cause, but a minute amount of the money raised finds it way to research in to childhood cancers specifically.

I don't know what I can do to change this but what I do know is how you, you reading this post about Jasmine's Journey make a difference to me.  I would say a heartfelt thank you to those who helped and continue to help families in need when cancer hits home.  A family affected by childhood cancer needs your support and often in ways they don't even realize.

They need to be prayed for and prayed over, they need a meal made, they need a ride to the hospital, they need an older or younger sibling being made to feel special, they need gas cards, parking meter money, a shoulder to cry on and an ear to listen.  They need to know that it's OK to laugh, to splurge money on a massage or a lunch out when money is so tight because your income is knocked out by the interruption to your working life.  They need to know that tomorrow will come,  and today's challenges won't have to be endured again in quite the same way, each day will look different, but the sun keeps coming up and with it a day with renewed graces.  They need to know that crying and crying some more is OK, and even when you daren't cry because you're afraid you'll never stop, it's OK and to go ahead and cry anyway.

My daughter's cancer diagnosis has changed me and I will never be the same again.  I am so very blessed to be sitting here today and be able to share that Jasmine is my living miracle girl.  An hour ago, I sat having dinner with my husband and son as Jasmine is at her friend's birthday sleepover party - awesome!  I was enjoying my dinner then looked at the empty chair at the table and suddenly there it was - the rawness of the pain that hit me that this could so easily be how our dinner table looks every night and the hurt I feel for those mamas out there who have an empty chair at their dinner table now.  I had to breathe and blink back tears that had no place in the middle of a happy dinner time.  But those times come, unexpected and uninvited because that's how it is for parents like me.  I live fiercely every day now and I love fiercely too.

So tonight I'll go hug my children extra long, look at them, really look at them and see them for the extraordinary gift they really are.  I'll turn off my laptop, stop surfing Facebook and go and sit with them and build something with lego instead.  I'll stay up late with them and look at the stars, eat pizza and have the chocolate bar.  I'll laugh - a lot.  I won't be afraid to be silly and let my children laugh at me.  I'll give them my full attention when they want to tell me about the mine craft house they just built - though I might be bored out of my brain by that description it might be the most important thing in the world to them and the most important choice that I ever make in my life to choose to notice and listen.  Because while they're building mine craft structures, I'm building relationships. I'm building up a boy and a girl to become a man and a woman and what that looks like in a family.  I'll dance with their dad in the kitchen and I'll play the music loud even though it's close to bedtime and it should be quiet.

These days I live each day, just one at a time.  Because that is all that is given.  So I gratefully accept that gift and thank God that the journey is just that - a journey and we're always moving, moving through the sorrow and embracing the joy along the way.  Raising awareness?  Yes! This cancer ribbon is gold - gold for Jasmine.  It's a painful ribbon to pin on.  But the pain makes the release and the joy all that much greater.