Making it Count

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Yep, summer is still here. And I’m absorbing all I can.

More friends are turning 29, and it’s bringing that all important 3-0 closer, there are so many things that once you pass 30, you don’t get the opportunity for. Like a working holiday visa in Australia, for example.

I don’t know why, but each day I’m reminded how I could be dead tomorrow. And it makes me want to have as much fun and enjoy life. Get every scrap out of it I can. I was watching Adam Hills Tonight, and they had a segment called Naked Tuesdays. Naked Tuesdays was started by a great guy called Craig Coombes, who has terminal throat cancer. He just seems like the epitomy of an ‘Aussie Bloke’ – down to earth, sense of humour, friendly, caring, wants to have fun and doesn’t take himself too seriously. He started Naked Tuesdays as a way of showing his family, friends and the world that it’s still ok to have fun even in the face of terminal cancer. That he’s ok with his body. His mantra is ‘Make the rest of your life, the BEST of your life‘. Amen brother – let’s do it!

And I don’t want to wait to get runover by a bus, or diagnosed with some horrible disease to start living.

I love my bucket list. There are loads of ‘normal’ things on it, and some random things on it. Over the last week, as I’ve strolled, sipped iced lemonade, snoozed or read in the glorious sunshine, I’ve been thinking about other things I’d quite like to do.

Like be part of a flash mob. And go punting on a river. Learn Spanish, French and Sign Language. Get my holiday permit for Girlguiding. Try out an adult gymnastic class. Go see the NCAAs. Have lots of campfires and barbecues with friends. Go to more music gigs. Go to a symphony. Oh plus all the stuff that’s already on my bucket list!!

If I die tomorrow, I want people to know I have so few regrets. I don’t even regret days I lay cosied up in a duvet watching a DVD boxset of White Collar. Because I love that show. :) Or when I dance in the kitchen along with the How I Met Your Mother theme tune while cooking my tea before going to a Senior Section meeting.

The times I’ll regret, is the times where I could have done something but decided I couldn’t be bothered. That just sucks.

And so, I’ll jump on a train to meet my friends so we can go to the beach because the weather is gorgeous. I’ll stay in the beer garden and end up going to (what turns out to be a totally crap) fringe show with my friend at 1 a.m. I’ll go rock climbing with my friend. And I’ll go to the cinema to see Despicable Me 2 and randomly say ‘Bottom hee hee hee’ on facebook or while in the car driving with my friends for many months later. I’ll buy the How I Met Your Mother boxset so I can watch it on the days I’m sleepy and just want something that makes me smile. And I’ll attempt to do things on beach car park furniture that can act as a balance beam as the sun is setting over the sea. I’ll give my friends kids squeezy hugs and teach my godson and his brother silly things like dancing in the rain and swinging off of bars. I’ll bounce on a spacehopper or go to university in my pyjamas for charity. I’ll sing out of tune in the shower and the car. And I’ll cartwheel on a beach and end up falling in the sand. I’ll wait by stage doors to meet Logie winning Aussie soapstars. And I’ll wish that I could be in Bristol to go Gromit hunting with my friend. I’ll cheer people on, and try to encourage people to use their gifts and skills and not be afraid of failure. And I’ll bully my boss into pretending to run down a beach reenacting Chariots of Fire. I’ll read my bible. I’ll listen to God, and then I’ll get the words He tells me inked on my skin so I always remember the nutty moments of faith.

I don’t get to choose how I die, but I get to choose how I live.

And I choose to live so I have lots of fun and stories to share.

What else are blogs for?!

Quote of the Week – Week 17

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When I first began these weekly (ish) ‘Quote reflections’ I asked my friends for their favourite quotes. I’m pretty sure a twitter friend gave me this one, and I’m guessing the Pete Wilson they’ve quoted is Pete from Without Wax. :)

For whatever reason, I’ve always felt very aware that I don’t get to choose where or when I die. I could live until I’m 90 years old, or I might get squashed by a bus tomorrow. What I do get to choose is what I do with the time I have on this planet – however long or short it may be.

Earlier this week, I attended a memorial celebration for a Guider in our area who had fought a courageous battle with cancer. This woman had served Girlguiding for 40 years. Her rainbows led us all in a singsong with the songs this Guider had taught them with the other leaders. Many people from Girlguiding – her friends and guiding colleagues got up to share their memories. It is clear she has left an incredible legacy and inspired many in Guiding. She had guided our very own Division Commissioner as a new young leader of a Brownie Pack…over decades they became not mentor and mentee, but firm friends. Many others told of how this person them had encouraged them just to do their best as they marvelled at her energy and organisation.

This past wee while, having reconnected with my old Ranger leader on facebook, and having my Ranger leader and one of my friends from Rangers give me ideas of campfire songs to teach our Guides, has made me really think about the influence of those women on my life. I remember meeting my friend at a regional camp and just being inspired by her self=confidence, serving attitude and never complaining. She was so much fun to be around, and I wanted to be more like her in character. I still do!

And then I wonder what influence I’m being on the girls I’m with every Monday and every second Wednesday. I wonder what kind of legacy I’d be leaving behind if I died tomorrow.

Because everyone leaves a legacy for better or for worse.

When I come to the end of my life, will I have regrets? I’m sure there’ll be a few, but I hope to lessen them. I know I’ve managed to have a lot of incredible experiences already in my 29 years, and so if I do die tomorrow I’m quite content with what I’ve done with my life up until this point. Just as long as I never just go ‘well that’s enough’ and sit idly when I could do some more!

Are you happy with how you’ve been living your life? If you are – FAB! Continue on as you want to. If you aren’t – then I encourage you to sit and reflect on what choices you’re unhappy with. And then make different ones.

Once you’ve made one good choice and seen the positive consequences, it gets easier to make the future good choices! I promise you that. :)

Quote of the Week – Week 13

The greatest thing you’ll ever learn is just to love and be loved in return.

Christian in Moulin Rouge

**Hi, I came down sick (again) so didn’t have time to do my usual picture of the quote – sorry!!**

I’ve been thinking a lot this week about Eva, her friends and family. It’s difficult to believe that it was as much as 3 whole years ago that I clicked onto my blog reader to discover a message on her LiveJournal page left by someone else saying that she had died that morning. I remember going to church the next day and bawling my eyes out. Someone said to me that she had lived much more than most people did in a lifetime. She was sick, she was in pain. But I remember all too vividly her posts in those last couple of months, how she asked for her family to make sure people fought for her life. She so desperately wanted to live, though she had accepted death too.

When news filtered out that Eva had chronic rejection people began to send her mail again from all over the globe. What was created was her ‘Wall of Love‘. One of the things sent was the quote from Moulin Rouge that she and her Dad quoted often in those final 7 weeks she spent in hospital.

The greatest thing you’ll ever learn is just to love and be loved in return.

Like three years ago, March 27th falls in Holy Week. I remember walking through The Meadows on a rainy day a few days later, reflecting on Eva, her death, her campaign for CF research and organ donation, my desire to be an organ donor and Jesus’ sacrifice when he was crucified. I remember thinking how Jesus died so others could have life. I remember thinking how that’s a little like organ donation…when you are an organ donor, you give an opportunity for someone else to have a second chance in your death.

Now I think back on those words from Moulin Rouge. I think back to all the people that spoke at Eva’s memorial and how she lived a life of love. She loved well and loved hard. And she was loved in return.

Love is a huge theme throughout the bible – particularly in the New Testament. It is taught that the greatest thing in life is to love God, and love the people in this world. 2 simple rules, but tough to always apply.

I’m sure as the year goes on I’m going to write more about love. My real hope is to live those words out though.

**Note: I’m sad to say that this week (the day before the anniversary of Eva’s death), her friend Meg Moore died from Cystic Fibrosis related illness. Meg also starred in the award winning documentary 65_RedRoses with Eva and their friend Kina. There was a beautiful letter written by Director, Nimisha Mukerji to Eva on Wednesday which you can see here paying tribute to Eva and Meg.**

The story behind the ink…

I realise a few people have not pieced together the what or why of my tattoo. On Tuesday evening I was at my friends’ home having dinner and we were reflecting on where life has taken us over the last 5 years. We were talking about the tattoo, as I had shown my friends Kathy & Vicky the design on my birthday. They know the journey because they were my sisters who supported me through it.

It all began 3 years ago.

I was down at a church in Watford with about 300 others to get our training and team building for going to South Africa a few months later. At the time, I had an infection in my gum which was causing my jaw to freeze or click out of place a lot. Near the end of the day, a guy felt God was saying to him that a few of us needed to be specially commissioned to for our trip, and one of those people had a problem with their jaw, and it had stemmed from a gum infection on bottom left molar.

Pretty specific. And no way I could deny I fitted the description.

I went forward, and some women prayed for me, and as soon as they begun praying I fell back onto the floor. No one pushed me, I hadn’t fainted and I hadn’t done it voluntarily!

While on the floor I had a vision of a woman wearing red, I sensed she was south African, and heard a word. I assumed it was a name at the time. (I later googled it, but I’d spelled it wrongly!)

Over the next few months, every obstacle believable stopped me from getting South Africa. To the point where my Mum said to me ‘There’s so much going wrong, maybe it’s a sign you shouldn’t be going, maybe if you go you’re going to get killed or raped or something’. 

To list the ones I remember: My passport application being denied 3 times (because of the photos), my payment not going through as my references got lost in transit, almost being denied a place because of food allergies, my team host getting ill so my original team had nowhere to go, getting a sinus infection and not  being able to get my second set of vaccines when I was supposed to, extra bills and debts…Even the day before we departed there had been a terrorist alert and Edinburgh airport had been shut for several hours. Oh, yeah, and finding out that my Dad was in court and could go to prison while I was in South Africa.

But I got there. And it turned out God had reasons for some of it.

On our second day while in the minibus during our orientation, I asked Calvin (an intern in the church) and Ntuks (a young pastor) if they knew anyone in with this name or if it was a word they knew.

Do you mean themba?‘ they asked

I said I guess that’s what I meant.

It’s a Zulu word – it means faith or hope or love’.

I was floored.

On Day 7 I injured my knee, and on Day 8 I was hopping around the Seed of Hope centre and was struggling to join in as we taught a song that became the kids favourite. The premise of the song is based around the story of Noah and the ark, and how to show God’s promised convenant with his people he puts a rainbow across the sky.

That day we came out, to find a rainbow across Bhekuwandle.

The next day, I met my woman in red.

At the time the blog readers who knew the story from March were leaving me tweets and comments about whether I’d met ‘the woman in red’ yet. So I was relieved she did exist! And that what I shared with her was an answer to something she had been praying about for a while.

After that, I wanted to remember what God did that year. Not only in asking me to trust Him that I was meant to go to South Africa, but the fact that I have no other explanation how a woman who had no knowledge of Zulu language could fall the ground, hear a random word, it turn out to be quite  a poignant meaning and in Zulu and be told something and see someone in a vision who she’d never met before then meet her 4 months later in another country.

It was bizarre.

And I wanted to remember.

Because there are days when I question my beliefs and think I’m totally mad. There are days when I wonder if God exists, then where the heck is He? (I actually think Kevin Bridges theory on this at 8:16 is more accurate than he maybe realises). Shitty things happen in life and I have no answers for why one person dies tragically and someone else experiences a medical miracle or by chance ends up not being in the plane they should have been on that crashed.

I just know there is always, always hope that good will come out of the crap.

I trust in that.

An extra bit to this story that made me feel a little bit emotional when I went to get my inking done is that on Tuesday evening, a friend of mine – in fact one of the people who supported me in getting to South Africa those years ago – text me to say that her friend’s daughter had died very suddenly with no explanation to why.

It’s difficult to trust in faith, hope or love when you hear news like that.

But I’ve seen the resilience that themba brings to people who have faced unimaginable pain and heartbreak.

And so now, I’ll always be reminded.

Even when I don’t want to be reminded – it’ll still be there.

Inked on my skin.

Trust. Hope. Faith. Love.

Themba.

 

The wall: to bring pleasure or pain?

“It seems to me that if you or I must choose between two courses of thought or action, we should remember our dying and try so to live that our death brings no pleasure on the world”

-John Steinbeck

2 years ago, I quoted those words reflecting on the death of Eva Markvoort, a blogger who had a huge impact on me and thousands of others across the world. I found myself deeply affected by her death, which came as a shock to me for two reasons. Firstly, even the people who I’m very close to that have died, I’ve rarely broken down in tears as a reaction to their death. Secondly, I had never met or even spoken to Eva.

I think Eva epitomised those words from Steinbeck. Eva knew her life would likely be shorter than most of her peers. She could have chosen a very different path of bitterness, anger, resentment. Instead, she chose to live a life of love. She chose to battle her CF and chronic rejection with everything she had. She chose to take risks. She chose to be vulnerable allowing a film crew into her and her family’s life at one of the toughest times of her life so that others might understand what life is like for someone waiting for a transplant and how it affects those around them. She found ways of living life and making a difference to those around her in very creative ways. When life said ‘no’ she’d fight for a ‘yes’.

Her death brought no pleasure on the world.

I was watching an episode of The Mentalist, where a guy was the intended target for a car bomb and everyone thinks he’s dead. The CBI decide to let people think this is the case in the hope it will help them find the murderer. During the investigation the guy gets to hear what people say and think about him. Let’s just say a lot of it wasn’t positive.

Quite the wake up call.

I really wouldn’t want people being relieved or glad that I’m dead – apart from the ‘LA is kicking it with Jesus now‘ factor wearing her heavenly pretty shoes that don’t give her blisters* singing songs to God that sound nothing like music made by Coldplay with lots of freaky creatures with wings and tons of eyes** doing the same thing. :)

The main thing is – we’re not going live here forever and at some point we’re going to die. So we have two possible courses – live to bring pain in the world or live to bring pleasure in the world.

I would like to choose the latter course.

*this is not mentioned in the bible, but I’m hoping in the new heaven & earth that there will be gorgeous shoes that don’t bring you pain to wear like the ones here on earth.
** Confused? See Revelation 4&5 for more details. Apparently heaven is not a peace and quiet kind of place. It sounds like it be quite the musical gig and the reserved religious types might be a little uncomfortable with the worship there.

Curiosity may get me in trouble from my friends…

One thing is for sure, I think I’m discovering why there are so many ‘Mommy bloggers’ out there in the blogosphere. Kids sure provide you with much to write and think about. Sorry to say that not much to blog from last weekend when Mr Teapot turned 2 – but check out my friend’s creation for the event (totally homebaked from scratch!). The best part was the fact that it was chocolate cake inside.

The only downside – my jeans got literally ‘caked’ with Thomas. And I didn’t notice until I went to put my jeans on to go to church on Sunday morning. Ha ha!

However, last night was one of those nights that I had one of those potentially corrupting children moments. Several of them in fact, complete with a classic BK style malteser moment. It all began as me & Miss Sweetroot were watching a DVD of her dance show from a couple of years ago. We’re talking about the dances, and the dance teachers we’ve had. Then out of the blue she just asks:

“Do you have a job?”

I of course answer “Yes

This is of course followed up by the key question: “What do you do for your job?”

Panic sets in. This is my friend’s only just turned 7 year old daughter. I’m pretty sure they have not had ‘the talk’ with her at this point in her life. I’m definitely sure the subject of people getting pregnant when they don’t want to be pregnant has never been talked about because she has only known pregnancy as something to be celebrated and excited about. I’m now wishing I’d become a teacher. Teacher would be an acceptable self explanatory answer to this question that my friend’s daughter would already know about. Pregnancy counsellor and teacher of sex education? Even amongst adults in the pub this answer can be quite the conversation shocker.

I think my answer was quite honest (and hopefully not going to get me killed by her parents!)

Well, I help people who are pregnant, and some Mummies whose babies went to heaven while they were still in their Mummy’s tummy before they got to be born“.

At this point I’m praying that this will be acceptable answer for her.

It seems to be.

She tells me of someone she knows whose baby went to heaven while it was in their tummy. But then she asks me the toughest question of all:

Why does God let the babies go to heaven before they get to be born?

Thankfully my truthful answer of “I don’t know” is acceptable. (Phew. Because I really don’t know.)

Later I take her up to bed and I read her a bible story (Jonah and the big fish), and she reads me a story (Chip & Wilf’s Arctic Adventure). We’ll skip the part where I had to climb up to her bunk bed and in the process caught my scarf with my leg, almost knocked myself out and fell in ungracefully into a pile of stuffed toys. We chat to God together for friends we know on holiday (prompting a question about whether they have sharks in Morocco in case our friend gets his arm bitten off while surfing like Bethany Hamilton).

I’ve no sooner gone downstairs, when I hear little creaks and footsteps outside the living room. I’m reading ‘Father Fiction‘ by Donald Miller.

What is that book about?

It’s about people who grew up without having Daddies” I say.

“How does that happen?” she asks.

And let’s just say that for the next 20 minutes we have lots of chats about half-siblings, step siblings, step parents, how some people’s Daddys might go away by choice and others don’t, and whether the Mummy of mine she’s met before is my ‘real Mummy’ and how I have lots of brothers and a sister but we don’t have the same parents.

Thankfully, when my friends came home and I told them these stories, they did laugh. And they told me that when she starts asking how babies are made, they are going to tell her to ask me instead.

I really hope my friends are joking. (You are kidding, right?!)

Anyway. All this to say that I’m back in the business of corrupting children. Or trying not to corrupt them. These conversations are definitely up there with the time when Miss S asked me about why I had two earrings in each of my ears.

And I now realise I’m officially getting too old to try and climb onto bunk beds.

:)

 

Another tough lesson on choices & consequences

“Humans have a knack for choosing precisely the things that are worst for them.” 

- Albus Dumbledore in Harry Potter (by J.K. Rowling)

This quote from one of the greatest fictional wizards of all time has stuck in my head lately. Albus Dumbledore talks a lot about the importance of choices in how they shape a person’s life.

On Boxing Day my Mum and I were thrown, along with many of our close family friends – who to all intents and purposes minus blood and DNA are our family – into a state of shock when we found out that a member of that family friend group had been discovered dead on Christmas Eve.

Was this death unexpected? No.

Was it shocking and tragic? Yes.

26th December is a big huge daze. Throughout the day came tear filled, traumatic phone calls to one another as we tried to piece events together, and at one point my Mum asked me “When was Christmas Day?…Was it really only yesterday? It feels so long ago now

All we could think was back to the 80s-90s. Me and this person as kids who were inseparable every time we got to be in the same place. My earliest memories involve this person – in holiday in Spain, sitting in the back of the car yelling ‘here we go, here we go, here we go‘ as we drove away from one of our homes beginning a journey promptly followed by us turning to face the back window and shouting ‘Stop following us! Stop following us!’ repeatedly to any car that was behind us until they turned in a different direction.

Our poor Mums. It must have been incredibly noisy and irritating!

We would go to the zoo when they came to Edinburgh, and to Ramboland when we went up to them. They lived in a more rural area, so when went to them I got to jump over burns and climb trees which are things you don’t get so easily growing up in the inner city. We held hands, made up our own games (usually based around our favourite programme He-Man) and used to tell everyone we were going to get married when we grew up.

As we grew older and became teenagers neither of us would visit with our mothers as often, and soon they moved abroad.

Over the last few years, my friend made poor choices, and despite numerous attempts by many to help him make better choices and help him out of messes he got himself into, those choices continued to be precisely those that were worst for him.

One question we all asked: How did it come to this? How did it all go so wrong?

And as my Mum said ‘there by the grace of God goes [your stepbrother]‘. Another person who made poor choices and happened to be one of the unlucky ones, and ended up in hospital for over a year. He’s now coming out the other side, much better. Perhaps not so unlucky after all.

But my friend is not.

I have many friends that will happily drink alcohol every day, others that don’t think it’s a big deal to smoke a little cannabis every now and then.

I think it’s a huge deal because I can see how slippery that slope can be. I thank my lucky stars that my emetophobia overpowered the desire to escape, relax or take substances to help me socialise.

I honestly do believe that it saved my life.

Because I know that it so easily could have been me.

But when the opportunities and temptations came I made different choices.

There’s another quote from Dumbledore I love that talks about choosing between what is right and what is easy. Note the words there – he doesn’t say ‘right and wrong’ but between what is right and what is easy.

I hope that the next time you, my reader, have to make a choice you are able to have the courage to choose what is right over what is easy.

Even if it means taking the courage to stand up to your friends.

Why are we so afraid of death?

If there’s something I don’t have much patience for it’s ‘taboo’ subjects. Over the weekend I had two pretty frank conversations about sex. One of the things that bugs me is the way it’s talked about (or sometimes isn’t talked about) within the church and its people.

To me, sex is an incredible gift from God.

Not only does it give us the ability to create a human life, it is something that can be so enjoyed.

Of course, with as is the case with most ‘wow’ gifts, they can be abused and trashed. It becomes this mysterious thing, something we get embarrassed about. Something we’re afraid to ask questions about. Something we are in fear of. Something we can feel pressure about.

But you can have a conversation and blow the whole thing in the open, which can be awkward to begin with, but such a relief once you are in the flow of it.

I feel similarly about the topic of death.

I’m not afraid of death. Being a Christian, I really do believe in heaven and the new earth and eternal life. I would be lying if I didn’t admit to being anxious about the actual process of dying – in that having some kind of terminal illness, being in pain and all that kind of thing.

But I think I shocked people recently when I said that I have prayed that I would die in a way that means I can be an organ donor. I think people thought that I was being very morbid, or almost wishing my life away. I can understand that in our culture.

We don’t like to talk or think about death, and as a society we avoid it as much as possible.

In my mind – the simple fact is that we’re all going to die. And we have no control over how or when that happens really. It was unbelievably sad this time last year, knowing that the likelihood was that Eva was dying and new lungs were not going to come in time. But I so admired the openness and honesty Eva & her family dealt with it all.

It wasn’t the end. It was sad. But there was still so much to celebrate.

Why? Because Eva had left a legacy behind. Her life had made a difference.

I have no idea if I’ll live to a ripe old age of 85 like my Nana, or if I’ll get hit my a bus tomorrow as I’m crossing the road while blowing my nose for the zillionth time. And I have no idea if I’ve really made a difference in this world.

I just know that the quality of my life is so much more important than the quantity of it, and that even if I haven’t made a difference in my earthly lifetime, I’ll still make a difference to one or many people in my death.

Is that such a bad thing?

I want to people to know that. Because when I die, I can’t speak up anymore to say ‘Hi there, doctors & nurses! Can you please cut me open, take out my organs and see if they’ll be any use to any of the 1000s of people waiting on the transplant list so they can have life in all its fullness please?’

Someone else is going to have to speak up for me.

And I give you full permission to rugby tackle my next of kin to the ground if they don’t give permission for my organs to be donated, ok?!

;)

Be gentle with those who are grieving…

Last year, I began looking further into grief and loss – trying to find anything that may prove to be something that a client can hold onto as they journey through their grief. There can be no time limit on grief. It can come in fits and bursts, all shapes and forms. Somehow, I was led to this poem on an old website created by a family who had lost a child through SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome).

I shared it with one of the miscarriage support trainers, and we’ve discovered it has resonated with clients both within our centre, but also with friends who have lost loved ones in other circumstances that have no connection with our centre.

Please Be Gentle

Please be gentle with me for I am grieving.

The sea I swim in is a lonely one

and the shore seems miles away.

Waves of despair numb my soul

as I struggle through each day.

My heart is heavy with sorrow.

I want to shout and scream

and repeatedly ask ‘Why?’

At times, my grief overwhelms me

and I weep bitterly,

so great is my loss.

Please don’t turn away

or tell me to move on with my life.

I must embrace my pain

before I can begin to heal.

Companion me through the tears

and sit with me in loving silence.

Honor where I am in the journey,

not where you think I should be.

Listen patiently to my story,

I may need to tell it over and over again.

It’s how I begin to grasp the enormity of my loss.

Nurture me through the weeks and months ahead.

Forgive me when I seem distant and inconsolable.

A small flame still burns within my heart,

and shared memories may trigger

both laughter and tears.

I need your support and understanding.

There is no right or wrong way to grieve.

I must find my own path.

Please, will you walk beside me?

-Jill B. Englar

Quite frankly, I don’t think I’ve seen it put better anywhere else. So thank you Ms. Englar for articulating what so many people who have loved and lost are trying to navigate through.

Happy 70th birthday John Lennon

One of my favourite albums of all time is John Lennon’s Imagine sessions. I would have loved to have been able to go to his gigs, and sat down and talked songwriting with him. Today would have been his 70th birthday, and I imagine (no pun intended) that there are many gathered in Strawberry Fields gathered around this very memorial in Central Park.

Happy Birthday John.

Even though someone ended your life prematurely, your legacy lives on to inspire so many…still.