Monday, 24 March 2014

camp stories

It's been a while - we're still recovering from St. Patrick's weekend! Baby Thea was sick at camp so there was a lot of lying awake with her in my arms, staring at the ceiling, remembering camp stories from days gone by.

Like the time I went to a farm camp in the middle of summer and our leaders marched us through a field of nettles. There wasn't much sleep that night either!

Or the school camp where we learned to abseil off the side of a cliff and my classmates all marched back to camp while I - fatally - noticed the blackberries on the side of the road. Since I had nothing to carry them in, I rolled up the hem of my extra-long t-shirt and arrived back at camp an hour later with a shirt full of blackberries, stained purple of course - and everyone laughed at me. I dropped the berries and crawled into my tent feeling sooooo humiliated!

But the most vivid camp story involves a plane crash in the jungles of Papua New Guinea (PNG) - a story that's very much on my mind this week as crews search for Malaysian flight MH370, missing since March 8.

My parents worked with a mission group that had volunteers scattered through the remote valleys and mountains of PNG, and while we had radio communication every day just so everyone stayed safe, we only saw each other once a year - at our conference in the central highlands.

We all had to fly there, in a fleet of tiny passenger planes operated by mission pilots that dipped and zoomed over the jungle. Mostly you'd have suitcases jammed under your feet as you traveled, and maybe 3 months' worth of groceries and a goat or two in the space cleared for 'bulky luggage' at the back of the plane.

a typical 'donga' - family accommodation during conference!

At conference each family had a small hut or 'donga' made of woven sheets of coconut matting. The huts had no electricity, running water or indoor loos - no mod cons at all! In bed at night you could look through a million and one pinholes in the walls and see starlight outside. The holes also let in the creepy-crawlies but that wasn't too bad - we were used to that!

Family photo, 1979 - I'm the girl with the pigtails on the far right

Most of the actual conferences are a blur for me, but the highlight was always talent night on the final night, where each family had to go up on stage in the big meeting hall and present an item. In 1979, when I was 8 years old, the Wilkinson family - including my friend Marcia - got up to sing a hymn. They'd just had a baby boy, and I'll never forget how Marcia's mum Lois cradled him in her arms and sang 'Because He Lives' with her face shining, in absolute, heartfelt conviction: 

How sweet to hold a newborn baby 
And feel the pride and joy he gives
But greater still the calm assurance
This child can face uncertain days

Because He lives!

Because He lives I can face tomorrow
Because He lives all fear is gone
Because I know He holds the future
And life is worth the living
Just because He lives!

The next day, Monday, planes began rolling down the airstrip, taking each family home - but the plane carrying the Wilkinsons never made it. When the pilot failed to contact base, all other flights home were canceled and the adults signed up for search parties that worked from sunlight to sundown, fighting bad weather, dense jungle and a 48-hour time limit on the radar beacon of the small plane.

My mum and dad both took turns in the air, or in the kitchen back at base preparing food for the search parties. The week dragged on until finally, on Saturday, my dad's team spotted the crash site; the plane had hit the top of a ridge and bounced down the side of the mountain with tail and wings exploding away from the main body of the aircraft.

And then one day I'll cross the river
I'll fight life's final war with pain
And then as death gives way to victory
I'll see the lights of glory and I'll know He lives!

As we mourned, the words of that hymn and Lois' conviction as she sang it echoed over and over again in my head. I knew it could just as easily have been my family that went down. That week I understood with brutal clarity that we never know when our turn is coming - and we have to be ready to cross that river - just like they were ready.

It's a lesson I'll never forget.

Friday, 14 March 2014

eyes in the back of your head

It’s been a crazy couple of weeks. I kept myself going by using each circled date on the calendar as a stepping stone until I reached the last one, a presentation I had to make on Tuesday. When that was done I think my body said, “Well, we made it through that one - time to crash!”

I felt the blanket of fuzziness descending even as I drove home. Unloaded the kids and fed them - something - can't remember what. Hubby eventually woke up - he had a run of four back-to-back overnight shifts this week so he was asleep. I handed over the kids and said I needed an hour’s sleep myself before he headed off to work, then collapsed on the sofa - with temp spiking to 40C but feeling frozen to the bone.

I waved hubby out the door at around 5.15 and plonked the rest of us down in front of the television, counting the hours until bedtime. We eventually made it through cereal for tea (easiest!), jammies, teeth, wees and stories before finally - aaaahhhh - settling into bed.

Only to be woken at least 3 times that night by baby, then by the other kids waking up far too early and refusing to be shooshed back to sleep. I pulled myself up bleary-eyed to hussle Amber through breakfast and onto the bus, gave Charles a quick hug as he arrived home from work before rushing out the door for pre-school drop-offs, and then tried to dream up something quick and vaguely edible to put on the table for dinner.

We repeated the whole thing again on Thursday with an even dodgier dinner as the fridge got emptier.

Then today, just as the killer bug began lifting, Thea came down with it too. She was so, so miserable that I spent the afternoon glued to the sofa with her in my arms, leaving the other kids to - mostly - fend for themselves.

And now we have a dilemna - we’re supposed to leave for camp tomorrow. The kids have looked forward to it for weeks. We were at the same camp last year over St Patrick’s weekend and they loved it - they had an entire dorm room of 8 bunks to themselves, while mum and dad were just down the corridor in a tight double bedroom with the cot jammed in. But we had a blast meeting the other families and competing against them in events like the great St. Paddy's Day cupcake contest and "Who's the Boss?" photography shoot - which is why I really don’t want to miss it this time around. (Especially after my new resolution to embrace Ireland as home!!)

 Awesome entries for last year's cupcake contest. (Um, ours didn't even make it into the photo!)

At least Charles and the older girls have escaped the bug which means we're not entirely contagious.

The onliest thing is, since I haven't done much housework this week - you should see the laundry pile. The ironing pile. The kitchen!!! The kids have turned their rooms upside-down choosing toys to pack for camp, but I haven’t even pulled the bags out of the storage cupboard. I'm hoping we still have bags. And I’m really not sure if we'll make it to camp - depends how Thea is in the morning.

The joys of it.

But there was a brief moment this morning that made the whole week worthwhile. The kind of moment when you have to turn away so your kids don't see you laughing - and you realise that despite the days when you have to summon up every ounce of strength you have, parenting is THE best gift in the world.

I’ll leave you with the conversation my two older girls had this morning over breakfast - word for word. Enjoy!


Kayla (4): “My teacher said she has eyes in the back of her head so she can see when we’re naughty.”

Amber (6): “Well you’d better mind yourself then!” Then, after pausing for a minute to consider the situation; “Can you see the eyes at the back of her head?”

Kayla: “No.”

Amber: “Well then it’s not true. And besides, God made us with only one pair of eyes. I think she’s just trying to make you be good all the time.”

Wednesday, 12 March 2014

a place to stand

It's been a strange season, these past few weeks. I spent at least a week grieving over my sister, fearing a phone call to say she was gone. Then I looked deep to find the source of that grief. She's okay, by the way - in hospital for the time being with a good support team looking after her baby.

For the last 13 years or so she's done so well. And I've made progress too - at least I think I have! So the fact that my sister can fall back into despair so deep she can't endure it is a warning to me. I don't suffer from bipolar disorder and that's a huge blessing ... but I still have this inner tendency to worry, over-analyse and live with regret for what might have been.

So last week I made a new commitment to embrace Ireland as home. I've lived here for almost 14 years now but my roots have yet to go deep. I still miss New Zealand - the bare-foot hot beaches of summer, mild winters, familiar buildings, streets and people. Even the trees and the hills are different here! I don't recognise the wildlife or signs that the weather is about to change. Smells and sayings are still foreign to me, and my family are about as far away as they could be!

But in order for some deep part of my heart to heal, I need to let go and embrace THIS place as home.

The Maori people of New Zealand have an amazing word to describe that sense of belonging we all yearn for. Turangawaewae is most simply translated as 'a place to stand' - a place where your feet are planted and you live your life surrounded by family and community. That sounds good to me these days.

I used to think that if anything happened to my hubby I'd be on the next plane out with my kids in tow. But this is their heart-home, the place where they were born and learned to walk and talk, surrounded by grandparents, cousins and a whole community of people who are part of the fabric of our lives. I'm not so sure now that I could uproot them and put them through that same sense of homelessness or not quite belonging.

This week I find myself reaching out to embrace where I am and who I am, right now - this stranger with an Irish passport, a husband, three kids and a house on the edge of a farmer's field.

I used to dread getting old here in the Irish countryside, unable to drive and miles from the nearest friend - but who knows what might happen between now and then? Maybe we'll retire to a cottage by the sea, just down the road from supermarkets, cafes, kids and grandkids. It's hard to imagine right now when I'm still buried in nappies, school runs and mountains of laundry, but anything's possible, right?

Now, where did I put that shamrock cookie cutter?

Tuesday, 11 March 2014

on being beautiful ...

Sorry all, life has been a bit crazy! New post up tomorrow but in the meantime if you need something inspiring, check out this youtube video of Oscar winner Lputa Nyong'o talking about real beauty ... worth watching!

Saturday, 1 March 2014

knocked sideways

Tonight I feel like roadkill. Seriously. It's not just the fact that one or more of my kids has been seriously sick each week since mid-December, sparking rounds of doctor's visits, sleepless nights, prescriptions and even a trip to A&E last week. Or that I'm staying up far too late at night working on this blog, or that working on this blog has made me confront things in myself that I haven't really faced for a long time.

No. This week one of my sisters took an overdose. She survived unharmed - a miracle - but it feels like the past just reached out and dumped us right back into the pain.

I did say I wouldn't share my siblings' stories but I want to share just a little of this one because it's relevant, and because I'm so angry at the bipolar disorder - a chemical imbalance causing extreme depression - that has made her life such a misery.* I don't think she'd mind me sharing because she is strong and honest, and like me she's always wanted to help others get free.

Her battle with depression began somewhere in her mid-teens - she'd spend hours alone in her room, moody and withdrawn, often coming out only at night when the rest of us were asleep.

One of the first times she overdosed, I was the one to knock on her door. She'd just come back from a rehab centre, bringing with her a fellow patient so scarred by the past that she was just an empty shell, almost soul-less. I opened my sister's door to find this goulish 'friend' sitting beside the bed while my sister lay unconscious, an empty pill bottle spilling from her hand. The rest is a blur - ambulance, sirens, that tight dizzying feeling at the pit of my stomach, willing her to live, wondering how she could possibly hurt so much that she wanted to end it all.

Then I left home and the next several times I wasn't the one to find her, but the phone calls were almost as bad. There was always the fear that we'd lose her, but - please God! Thank-you God!, He always intervened.

From Pinterest, exact source unknown

I've never suffered the extreme of a bipolar episode - but I've tasted ordinary depression and seen how it sucks away everything that brings you joy, making life appear empty and meaningless. I can only imagine that bipolar is that emptiness times the power of infinity.

Right now I'm feeling my sister's pain so acutely that it almost takes my breath away. I'm shocked at how much it's affecting me, but perhaps because I thought, after 10 years of doing so well, she was safe. It's also forcing me to look deeper into myself and realise that I too am still far too fragile and affected by grief.

I'm guessing that my sister wonders, as I do, who she would have been without the abuse. But I believe we are better people because of it. Better - with a price. We have an understanding of grief and despair that can only be gained by living through it. We can listen and empathise and help people walk through emotional pain without giving them easy answers because we know what it feels like to be in those shoes.

So, sis - you are strong (so strong!), beautiful, intelligent, creative - and I love you so much! There IS light at the end of this tunnel - please hold on until you get there! And if you don't have the strength to hold on, please let go and let the rest of us hold on and be strong for you. One day the shoes may be on the other feet! xxxx

* Click here for more info on bipolar disorder