Tag Archives: Pastor’s wife

Knowing me, knowing you

It was suggested to me recently that I’m having an “Identity Crisis”. I guess that is one more thing to add to my extensive list of “Issues”.

know-002This came about because I was having another wail about Church People just seeing me as “The Pastor’s Wife”. This variation on my 25-year old long-running theme was a specific gripe, due to me feeling taken advantage of over a current issue, too convoluted to relate here, but one aspect being playing Pipe Organ in Church five out of six consecutive weeks. Which I actually enjoy doing. But, while at the same time, there had been some question raised over my qualifications and skills as an organist. The irony of the confluence of these two things was not lost on me.

I have reflected before on how we go through life being identified, I feel, in relation to other people and other things. Which is natural. Someone’s child. Someone’s sister or brother.

As a student at a particular school.

know-008
Hilary,Kylie, Frances, Caroline in “Die Musiker Studio” days

As a member of a sports team or club perhaps. Or, at a Music or Ballet school on the weekend.

Then, later, as someone’s husband or wife. Then parent of our child or children. By the job that we do.

But to what extent is our identity just “ME”?

My long-ago, long-term Piano Teacher’s wife, Beryl Kimber Leske, an eternal matchmaker, was extremely excited, a img500quarter-century ago now,  when she discovered I was engaged and wearing a diamond ring. One of her first questions was “What does he play?” I explained my fiancé was a “Nice Lutheran boy” (I thought this might go down well, as the Leskes also have Lutheran connections). She was a little taken aback to learn that Neil was not a musician per se (although he does sing well). But then she brightened, stating “Ah, well, every Performer needs an Audience”.  She had assigned a Role for him that, in her world, worked.

On Thursday of this week I did the closest thing to “Work” that I have since I resigned from my school teaching position in September 2016. My daughter’s violin teacher had asked me to assist at a “Strings Day of Excellence” at the local High School where she teaches. This involved the resident String Orchestra of the host High School, plus invited String Students from five nearby Primary Schools.  The purpose of the day appeared to be twofold. Firstly, to give the younger students the opportunity to participate in a larger, more proficient group of musicians, and to inspire them to continue studying by seeing and experiencing where they might be in a few years’ time. And secondly, as a PR exercise by the High School to showcase their Performing Arts options – because they would be looking to recruit students from these Primary Schools.

I arrived early to an assembly hall already set up with 150 chairs and music stands, a few staff getting ready, and a handful of High Schoolers. A few “early birds” – anxious small uniformed children – started trickling in with parents in tow. After checking the plan for the morning, I amused myself how quickly I unconsciously slipped into “Meet and Greet” mode, as the trickle of visiting Primary children became a flood. “Good Morning!” “Welcome!” “How lovely to see you” “Please unpack your instrument over there”. And then “Let me help you tune your violin”. I looked up and realised a queue had formed in front of me of a dozen children all waiting for me to help tune their instruments.

febmarch-039rs

In the middle of all this, a harried looking woman approached me and stated: “I’m one of the other String Teachers”. And then, in an irritated tone: “Nobody told me what time I had to be here, or what I was supposed to do”.

“I’m just borrowed for the day” I volunteered brightly, and carried on tuning fractional-sized violins, violas and cellos. There was something resentful in the other teacher’s tone, which I deliberately did not pick up on. I noticed, however, that neither did she instinctively start another “tuning station” which would have prepared the children more quickly. She simply disappeared in a frustrated huff.

I’m sure we all have “Family Folklore”, those little stories which our parents and Grandparents love to tell of times gone by, as some type example or thing to remember. In our family there was one such tale of a relative who consulted her mother about her current boyfriend. Who she found perfect in very way. Except one.

She was concerned that “John” was not very much of a self-starter where domestic things were concerned. That he did not seem to notice that a table needed to be set or that dishes could be washed. That she was worried that if they were married, she would shoulder all of these things herself.

Her wise mother thought for a moment, and then counselled her. “There are two types of people in this life. Those who “see the need and do”’ and those who need to be asked. Perhaps your young man just does not “see” and you need to “ask”. “Try it”

So her daughter tried this tactic. “John, would you please set the table for me?” “Certainly, dear” and he would immediately leap up and do it. A more helpful, loving and giving person you could not wish for than John. Her mother was right. John just did not “See”.

I have long wondered if this is partly typical of men of this era (“John” is now in his 80’s) – those who were children during World War II and grew up in a time when male/female roles were much more defined such that males were typically “Breadwinners” and females “Homemakers”, so there was an assumption that certain things were “women’s work”. Because I have noted this same lack of domesticity in other men of a similar age.

However, it’s not necessarily restricted to senior folk – “Generation Y” appear to have many, if not enhanced of these tendencies – the ability to be in a room totally oblivious to the fact that others are busily working or things need to be done. “Millennials” – according to one expert – are accused of being lazy, self-involved, cosseted, politically apathetic narcissists, who aren’t able to function without a smartphone and who live in a state of perpetual adolescence, incapable of commitment.

But that’s probably a discussion for another day.

All that said, I believe that being such a person, one in the “See the need and do”’ category, transcends Gender and Age.

It is a way of thinking. In the much bigger picture – A way of defining yourself.

Because I think I have finally got a handle on this “Identity” thing.

(Hallelujah! say long-suffering friends).

I am the See-the-need-and-do person.

I am the Whatever-it-takes person.

I am the Above-and-beyond person (which was the “Theme” of my previous school the first few years I worked there.)

above-beyond

For years, my Facebook “About Me” section has included a statement I wrote some years ago, in reaction to someone who had been quite dismissive and negative when I had suggested trying something more challenging than had previously been attempted in a certain situation. I had found her attitude really frustrating. and it had prompted me coining the statement:

Kylie warns those who say:
“It’s too hard and it can’t be done”, I consider that a challenge and I WILL PROVE YOU WRONG!!

I also found the following quote, printed it out in an attractive font and hung it on the Office wall, where it stayed for some years:

Better to do something imperfectly than to do nothing flawlessly. (Robert H. Schuller)

The last – now five – months of being “Gainfully Unemployed” have also been a time of considerable reflection and soul searching for me, much of which has been personally difficult.

And trying to rationalise and compact so much down to try and work out what, ultimately matters about it all.

Spending seven years of your life going, yes, “Above and Beyond” in a place, working closely with particular people, establishing relationships, building something substantial (in the case of the Strings Program) and aiding in the growth generally of something that is meaningful to you (the Music Department of a school), having the opportunity to impact the lives of young people.

On a personal basis, coming to the “Big Smoke” from a small, regional town where you have built up a life for yourself, including a network of supportive friends, and having to start again from nothing. For the first two or three years counting only three people as friends on the Gold Coast. This sprawling, soul-less, artificial, fake, somewhat seedy place. And two of the three “counted as friends” people being colleagues at the school.

So, over seven years, the school is not just a place you go to, punch the time clock for your allotted hours and leave.

It is Family. It is Community.

And what is “My Role” “My Job”?

Interestingly, I never had a printed Job Description. I was employed as “Instrumental Teacher”. And so, I made the role my own. Whatever needed doing, I did it. So did, at the time, my colleagues. Amongst things my former colleagues did … costumes for Primary Musicals – sourced in lunchbreaks. Sets? Paint them yourself. Christmas Carols to be sung? (as related previously) – throw a choir together. The students have never heard a Symphony Orchestra play?  Research and organise a Group Excursion and put them on a bus to Brisbane. As my Mum used to say “If you want something done properly, do it yourself”.

One year I was drafted into playing Lead Piano in the High School Musical 10 days before Opening Night, in response to an S.O.S. from the High School Music Teacher. “Kylie – I need you. Please help”. I dropped everything and learned the entire score – eighteen complete songs –  for “Aladdin” in one weekend.

Whatever it takes.

However, this exact same approach has got me “into hot water” repeatedly. I have a long history of rarely sticking to my “Job Description” (when I have actually had one). 23 years ago I assisted a hardworking small business owner in England with his accounts and paperwork, including some letter writing and legal work as, English  being his second language, he had got into arrears with some payments and was very stressed and concerned about losing his business. [I was actually employed to sell accessories at 40 pounds cash per week.]

Later, I had a part-time job as coffee-maker and telephone-answerer for a Graphic Design Company in North London. By the time I left there for Australia, the Director had indulged me by calling me his P.A. (which does look good on my C.V.)

Where people have wanted to “pigeon-hole” me and required me to “stay in my box” and “do what you are supposed to do” I guess I have literally felt boxed in. Sometimes their attitude is couched in terms of apparent concern for my welfare – suggesting I should not overwork or overstretch myself – that there are other people who can/should be/are actually employed to do those additional tasks which are “not your job”.

But what is often missed is that much of what I actually enjoy doing is not in the “Job Description”. And one of the things that frustrated me mightily last year was, when I stopped, by request, doing things I was not “supposed” to do, many of these were not picked up by other staff, by anyone – they just ceased altogether.

And – witness the lady at Thursday’s Workshop – I seem to have an innate ability to Irritate people by simply existing. By just diving in and doing what needs to be done. She at least appeared to be put out that she did not know who I was, yet I was doing obstensively “her job”. Yet, importantly, I noticed that she allowed her pique to come to the fore. Instead of taking over, or taking the “if you can’t beat them, join them” attitude and setting up beside me – after all, why can’t we work TOGETHER in life – she chose to take offense.

Amusingly. my ACTUAL role for the day was “Designated Pianist”. AND I was slightly late for the first part of the rehearsal (for the role I was actually hired to play) due to the fact I was busy tuning literally one hundred instruments – something this lady was skilled and able to do. And which was actually her role (probably). But it was not me, but her attitude which prevented her from fully assuming it.

matter-mindFortunately, the organiser of the Workshop, my daughter’s teacher, who had invited me to participate, was the exact opposite. She appreciated all my assistance and thanked me for “pitching in” and helping out wherever needed.

At the risk of sounding like some religious group (and Mr. Google tells me there are a number with this exact name) there comes a point where we all need to step forward in faith.

To stop looking behind ourselves, second-guessing and mistrusting.

To realise that the exact same qualities we have which make one person love and appreciate us, may make another resent and even hate us.

And perhaps true Maturity is finally being able to be content with that.

This is the year that my contemporaries and I reach “Round-number” birthdays, and already some are asking how I might celebrate it. Well, I’m not really intending to. Because there are plenty of people who have walked this earth longer than I have, have achieved more than I have, who have contributed more than I have.

Equally, there are many who have fallen by the wayside, whether that being simply not achieving their potential, or they are staring into some mid-life crisis or have suffered ill health or pain, anxiety, or depression. Or perhaps have tried to deal with life’s complexities, its ups and downs with the use of medications or alcohol or drugs or other therapies.

None of us are perfect and none of us are getting any younger.

This week I came across a handful of letter copies I had written home during my early efforts at word-processing when I first moved to England twenty-five years ago. Including quite lot of “life advice” to a younger friend was I pseudo “Big Sister” to. Reading it now, in some ways I seemed wiser then than I seem to be now.

But equally, I think perhaps I have learned the odd thing in the past quarter century.

And this month, perhaps I’m a little closer to learning Who I Am.

pooh-and-piglet

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Nothing is so good it lasts eternally

Sometimes I wonder if I am just the wrong age. Many of the people dearest to me are ten or even twenty chronological years older than me (or, in the case of my Mother-in-law, 30 years older).  Yet we share an affinity, things in common, a wavelength if you like, where those years on paper are completely irrelevant.

My tastes in some things “officially” belong to a bygone age – for example I joined a Facebook group called “I’m fed up with bad church music”, which has a membership of some thousands of mainly church organists across the world. Its central tenet is a prejudice against the rather benign Christian ditty “Shine, Jesus, Shine” (which I actually don’t mind), yet I find myself in agreement with much of what is expressed by its participants.

shine-jesus-shine

One of my many obscure personal theories is that the popular music we are most familiar with, is that which receives constant airplay in our early teens. For me, that was Abba and local efforts Sherbet, AC/DC, and the ubiquitous John Farnham. Therefore, along with the fact that my own teenage years were devoted to many hours of homework and studying classical piano and violin, I have very little knowledge and understanding of popular music.

Once I stayed for the Easter long weekend with delightful cousins who have, in contrast, a very extensive collection of vinyl LP’s and a keen understanding of DECENT popular music. And, yes, are ten years older than I, so, therefore, blessed to be born into a more quality era of popular music. My relatives took me in, and even gave me “Homework”, a detailed listing of what I should listen to over the four days to improve my musical education.  There was, as you would expect, an album each from The Beatles and The Rolling Stones, but also some musicians I had never, at that time, even heard of, such as Creedence Clearwater Revival and Jefferson Airplane.

This I did, and I still remember, to this day, some of the songs I was introduced to, and it has certainly helped broaden my horizons. Also on that same weekend I saw the newly released film “Dirty Dancing” with Patrick Swayze and Jennifer Grey in the cinema.

dirty-dancing

How time flies. I can remember that Easter, and its significance to me, as if it were yesterday.

Something else that I learnt on catch-up from from my older former boyfriends [with co-incidentally British connections] and then later my actual British husband and the English people I lived amongst for seven years, was an appreciation of British Drama and Comedy. So much more gentle and subtle than the offerings on television here, of both the Australian and American variety.

Although we had been fed, via our ABC, a steady diet of British fare, I had never got my head around “Monty Python”. But I needed to learn about it when my, again, slightly older mates at Uni would quote odd passages from it, and then fall about laughing. One-liners about Dead Parrots and Spanish Inquisitions and Always Looking on the Bright Side of Life.

“Always Look on the Bright Side of Life” – the closing song from “Monty Python’s Life of Brian”. Which I guess I “shouldn’t” watch because it’s considered to be blasphemous by some, and I am, after all, a Pastor’s wife. But, as y’all know, I am not really good at conforming to stereotypes, and I definitely have issues with the concept of “SHOULD”.

So, yes, I have seen the film.

always-look

And right now I am trying to embrace the sentiment of that closing song.

Again, as a teenager, I was a keen reader. One of my favourite books was “Pollyanna”, by Eleanor H. Porter, now considered a classic. pollyannaIt would be seen as quite old-fashioned now, I’m sure, with its dated language and somewhat quaint concepts. The story of an orphaned missionary’s daughter trying to find something to be “glad about” in everyday life, even when things were tough, and attempting to spread that concept amongst those in her community.

She quoted from her late father that there were apparently eight hundred times in the Bible where God exhorted us to be glad and rejoice. So he must have wanted us to do it. Like “Shout for Joy” “Be Glad in the Lord”. “Rejoice in the Lord always”. “Sing to the Lord a new Song”. Her mission was to try and find SOMETHING to “be glad” about in each situation, no matter how bleak it may seem.

To find the proverbial “Silver Lining” in every cloud.

Readers of “Serendipity” will know that I have had my difficulties this year. But that I have done my best to work through them. That, despite a horror start to the year (detailed in “It was the Best of times, it was the Worst of times”), I came to the conclusion, then, that: “My work at the school is not done”.

Sadly, now it is.

I have done everything in my power to make things work. But I have come to the end of the road. Much as it grieves me, it is time to move on.

Sometimes letting go is indeed better than holding on.

holding-on

These past few weeks have been very strange for me, with a number of huge contrasts and seeming coincidences (or out-workings of the power of Serendipity, if you prefer).

I had written to a composer acquaintance in Britain, Peter Martin, asking for suggestions for repertoire to teach my Year 4’s and 5’s, as previously we had used his fabulous compositions to great effect. He wrote back with a list of suggestions. Then, curiously, within days, I received a second email with the rather obscure query – was the term “Down under” – used by Brits to describe Australians – seen as offensive at all? Oh no, I wrote back, if anything we see it as humorous.

Before too long, I discovered the reason for this question. Peter had composed a brand new suite of pieces for Beginner Strings called “String Street Down Under” – all with titles inspired by Queensland place names (such as Hayman Island Hop) and dedicated:

 

My Grade 4 Beginners were very excited to try it out, especially when they understood that they were the first people in the world to ever play the music.

And then, when I got home, there was a beautiful bunch of flowers waiting, which had been delivered, from an esteemed friend overseas thanking me for my assistance with a project we had been working on together.

On the very same day, two different men, on two different continents, send me messages to say I am appreciated and valued.

And then, while doing some filing at home, I coincidentally came across a good-wishes-for-the-future message from my revered Year 11 Maths teacher (a small pink card kept for 33 years).

AND, stored with it, something I had not even seen for 25 years – a thin, white piece of paper folded multiple times.

When I carefully unfolded it I found it was the list of “Good reasons” I had challenged [now husband] Neil to provide for why I should go with him to New Zealand to meet his parents way back in 1990. (Knowing full well I would need to convince my own Mum of the same).

Being just as “bolshie” then as I am now, I had suggested ten good reasons should be the aim, but the handwritten list stopped at 8.

[But I remember the verbalised Number 9 – which I gave Double points – and the rest, as they say,  is history.]

Meanwhile, some local problems loomed on the horizon, and other doors seemed to be closing.

Very strange times indeed.

And then, in a further piece of happenstance, in a “Downloads” folder I didn’t even know existed on my computer, I found an image of a significant day I had previously reflected on.

November 2009 at Pacific Fair Shopping Centre. The day two colleagues and I took a bunch of students, an Electric Piano and a String Quartet, sang some carols with the odd Violin Descant, won a cash prize, and made good on our promise to the kids to reward them for their efforts. On the way back to the Bus stop, went to McDonalds and bought NINETY ice-creams.

november-09-pac-fair

With the passage of time, my many 2009 Year 7 students who participated on this occasion Graduated in 2014, and are now in the workforce or well into their University courses. One Year 11 student of mine from this period has completed a degree and teaching diploma, and has now come full circle, teaching at the same school where she was a student! I posted the photo to Facebook this week, as I have kept in touch with a few former students. Soon comments came flooding in, not only from them, but from their former classmates – names and faces from the past, ghosts of my past.  “I remember this day! Such great memories!” “This was such a fun time” “Oh, my, wow, I remember this”, “Best memories, remember it like it was yesterday”.

Then 12 year olds who are now 19 year olds.

But no longer children but adults. They have moved on.

And so must I.

I described this cluster of rather serendipitous and confusing events and messages to a wise and trusted friend, and mused:

“What is the universe trying to tell me?”

His response: “Be quiet and listen”.

The Bible relates the story, in 1 Kings 19, of the prophet Elijah fleeing the evil Jezebel, who had essentially “put out a contract” on him. He literally ran for his life and hid in a cave in the mountains.

 Verse 9 picks up the tale:

The word of the Lord came to him: ‘What are you doing here, Elijah?’

10 He replied, ‘I have been very zealous for the Lord God Almighty. The Israelites have rejected your covenant, torn down your altars, and put your prophets to death with the sword. I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me too.’

11 The Lord said, ‘Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.’

Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. 12 After the earthquake came a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper.13 When Elijah heard it, he pulled his cloak over his face and went out and stood at the mouth of the cave.

Then a voice said to him, ‘What are you doing here, Elijah?’

14 He replied, ‘I have been very zealous for the Lord God Almighty. The Israelites have rejected your covenant, torn down your altars, and put your prophets to death with the sword. I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me too.’

***************************************************************

Sometimes when things are very bleak in our lives, it is easy to wallow in despair and even depression, to feel that nobody cares, that no-one understands, and, yes, to feel “I am the only one left” When you feel little sympathy or understanding, its easy to take that a step further and feel persecuted, literally “now they are trying to kill me too”.

But did God leave Elijah sitting wallowing in his cave? No, he did not. God sought him out. And gave him some quite miraculous signs that he was not alone – a powerful wind, an earthquake and a fire. But then God spoke, not in those dramatic ways, but in a whisper.

One of my favourite traditional hymns is “Dear Lord and Father of Mankind”

Here are the last two verses. I wonder if they may even reference Elijah?

4 Drop thy still dews of quietness,
till all our strivings cease;
take from our souls the strain and stress,
and let our ordered lives confess
the beauty of thy peace.

 5 Breathe through the heats of our desire
thy coolness and thy balm;
let sense be dumb, let flesh retire;
speak through the earthquake, wind, and fire,
O still, small voice of calm!

O still, small voice of calm!

A gentle whisper

“Be quiet and listen”

***********************************************************************Version 2

“The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there L.P. Hartley

Endnote: Main Photograph is of my daughter Cassie and her friend Jenn singing “I know him so well” from “Chess”, the first lines being:

Nothing is so good it lasts eternally, Perfect situations must go wrong, But this has never yet prevented me, Wanting far too much for far too long…

 

Thank you for the music, the songs I’m singing, Thanks for all the joy they’re bringing

 

serendipity

noun

  • the occurrence and development of events by chance in a happy or beneficial way e.g. “a fortunate stroke of serendipity”
  • In general, serendipity is the act of finding something valuable or delightful when you are not looking for it.
Claytons
Claytons: which has become an Australian expression for something not quite as good as it first appears.

Apologies first up, that this current effort is a bit of a “Clayton’s Blog” (in honour of the non-alcoholic spirit advertised in Australia in the 1980’s as “The drink you have when you’re not having a drink”)

Today is the first birthday of this Blog “Serendipity”. My initial instalment “Let’s start at the very beginning” was published on April 4th, 2015.

From the encouraging comments received there, I was prompted to continue on, and this little site has take on an astonishing life. “WordPress” keeps statistics of “Views” “Visitors”, number of Blog Posts (this is Number 40), and countries the “viewers” emanate from.

To date, there have been a total of 3295 “views” of my efforts in 32 different countries. The majority have been in Australia (2109), the United States and the United Kingdom but the list includes: Denmark, South Africa, Czech Republic, Mexico, Sweden, The Netherlands, Hong Kong, Luxembourg, Papua New Guinea, the Dominican Republic and Panama! That’s simply astounding! The world is surely becoming a smaller place.

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“Views” of Serendipity by country in 2015 – statistics compiled by WordPress.

I’ve always loved to write and indeed seriously contemplated a University course in Journalism, right down to attending the Orientation days at the College in Adelaide where it was taught. I fancied myself as being a Music Critic –attending concerts and events and writing them up for the papers. However, that ambition was thwarted when, investigating the available tertiary course, I discovered it was necessary to take a specialty subject or two, but almost everything was on offer EXCEPT music. This put me off the idea, so I instead signed up for a Bachelor of Music Degree after all.

However, my interest in the written word has always remained …indeed from teenage times onwards I have expressed myself privately in writing – keeping journals and notebooks to work through typical, I guess, teenage issues. In my 20’s, living on the other side of the world, most writing was correspondence, largely with my Mum who was the most faithful letter-writer. As a trained stenographer her efforts were largely typewritten and it’s amazing how may words she could fit on an aerogram.

Round Tuit

Dozens, even hundreds of her offerings have been preserved and are boxed up in our garage. When my elder sister and I cleaned out our childhood home after Mum’s death a few years ago, something I retained was the “other end” of that correspondence – Mum had kept all of mine and my husband’s letters to her stretching back years. Eventually I will marry them up –one of those “get a round tuit” jobs, probably waiting for my eventual retirement or when my kids are grown.

The genesis of “Serendipity” as a Blog came from the encouragement of a friend, who I suspect had heard once too often me bleat about my “issues,” especially my long-running struggles to reconcile what I felt to be my basic personality type and all too real flaws, with the fact that I was viewed as “the Pastor’s Wife” with all the preconceptions and stereotypes that came with that. And this simply because of the individual who I had married.

That, despite over 20 years of this, something still didn’t sit right with me. That I felt to some extent unworthy of any perceived special position that some seemed to think I had. But, on the other hand, how it also amused me when people who had known me for some time –  but didn’t know my husband – would find out what he does and laugh: “You? A Pastor’s wife? Really?”

Anyway, eventually this one friend said “Kylie, did you know he was going to be a Minister when you first met him?” I had to admit that I knew he was studying Theology “from the off”. “So you knew he would end up being a Pastor?” Well, yes. “Well then you knew what you were getting yourself into, so you ONLY HAVE YOURSELF TO BLAME!”.

OK, I had to admit she had a point.

She followed this up by asking: loveiswedding6“So, how did you get yourself into this in the first place?”

On reflection, it was, of course, because I “played the man, not the ball” as they say in sport. Like many bright young things in love, I didn’t look too much further than my nose and glossed over what might be the day to day hurdles and frustrations and strictures. I didn’t really choose the life. Or train for a role (Never have). I was simply a girl in love who wanted to take life further with this young man from the other side of the world. Who only saw the promise and the adventure.

So my friend encouraged me to write about it.

Hence “Serendipity”.

And, do you know, writing this blog has been such a blessing to me.  It has made me focus on how blessed I really am. How much good I have experienced in my life. The opportunities I have had.  The wonderful people I have met and experiences I have had.

Yes, it started out as an attempt to explain “How I got into this in the first place”, a reasonably detailed autobiographical account of events which happened 20 plus years ago. (And I do intend to return to this historical walk).

Kings Christmas 017 cpy copy
Wonderful former colleagues Claire and Lindsay

But then, one week, I diverted into something I was thinking about on that particular day, next I wanted to honour my beautiful friend and colleague Claire on her Baptism day, and I thought to myself… “It’s my Blog so I can make my own rules”.  Since then, I have covered many topics and surprised myself in a number of ways.

 

One, which has been an ongoing revelation to me, is that although my basic premise (I am simply an ordinary person, not defined by the person I married), is that I have more of a Christian perspective on many things in life than I had realised. I have often found myself dropping in “Bible Bits”, progressing to occasionally traditional prayers and hymns.

I was concerned at once stage that this might alienate readers who are not themselves Christian, as my “Facebook Friends”, many of whom kindly keep up with my Blog, come from many different walks of life and a range of backgrounds. But I hope not to have upset too many, and I have been heartened by those who have commented that they have appreciated or learnt something from a Christian perspective.

I don’t intend to preach, although I have amazed myself how “preachy” I have become sometimes (I was thanked for my “Easter Sermon” recently). I think it is probably more that I am passionate about certain things, and I tend to get firmly on my Soapbox.

Serendipity has sometimes become a confessional, and I know at times I have quite passionately expressed my feelings about difficulties, events and personal relationships which have caused me ongoing angst. Occasionally, I have wondered if I have put too much “out there” but the honesty has done me some good, I feel.

And I have been upheld, supported, encouraged and humbled by the many thoughts shared and much feedback, both expressed as online comments or privately or in person especially at those times when I have been down or struggled or have been doing it tough.

Happiness

I have been honoured when I have managed to touch someone else, when I have discovered that my words have struck a chord with another, have been timely or helpful or thoughtful or in some way assisted a reader in their own life.

Thank you to all of you who have been there for me when I have needed it, or given something of yourselves in sympathy or empathy when things have not been going so well. I have been encouraged and uplifted when others have shared their own experiences in support and solidarity.

Thank you to those who have featured in my stories, either by allowing me to include photographs, or by name, or – while not specifically named- those who have been part of something of importance. You know who you are.

Equally, I hope my year of Blogging has not been all doom and gloom – I have tried to also share joy as well as sorrow. Thank you to all who have shared joy with me and added wonder and delight and positivity to my life.

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Blessed to have two such beautiful children and to live in a wonderful place on Earth

This is not my Swan song – I intend to continue to write – but I just wanted to pause for a moment and count my blessings – those blessings largely being people – each and very one of you who read, and think, and contribute, and have become in some way an even more important part of my life through sharing this journey with me.

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You are my angels.

Thank you.

O Sacred Head, now wounded

Each Good Friday I ask my husband “Can I show Cassie (our 13-year-old daughter) “The Passion of the Christ”? And each year he replies: “No, Not yet, not for another good many years”. It is true that Mel Gibson’s 2004 film is R-rated for a reason, and was criticised when newly released as being unnecessarily graphic. Parts of it are certainly extremely uncomfortable to watch, most especially because, to use a Hollywood cliché’ it is certainty “based on a true story”.

I first saw the movie on “the big screen” in Ararat, Western Victoria. In fact, I helped organise a community event with people from other local churches, to offer a special showing with discounted admission. A delightful local Mum (who later became a firm friend) and I walked up and down Ararat High Street, requesting flyers to be placed in shop windows. Such initiatives were encouraged by the production company, who also provided free copies of “The Gospel of John” with a cover branding matching the film. My recollection is there was concern that the film, expensive to make, would struggle at the Box office with standard publicity, as it was not sponsored by a Major Studio and was made by an independent production company.

Mel and Jesus

In addition, the producer – actor Mel Gibson – conceived the movie to use authentic languages, therefore it was either left for the viewer to soak in unfamiliar Latin and Aramaic or scan the subtitles. And the censors moved in to give it an R (Restricted to Adults 18+) rating, usually a death-knell for many productions.

Fears of a “flop” were unfounded – “The Passion of the Christ” is the highest grossing foreign language film in the US Box office history. It is also the highest-grossing “R” rated film, earning $370 million. And, in a rarity for Hollywood releases, re-entered the number 1 spot at the box-office for the weekend of Good Friday, 2004.

The reason it has stayed with me (and despite owning the DVD, I have not watched it repeatedly) is that it depicted so movingly the human side, the very ordinary side, of the –  as Graham Kendrick’s song “Meekness ad Majesty” proclaims –  “Man who was God”. The way that scenes of blood and gore are intercut with flashbacks of happier times, such as the scenes of Jesus as a small child being protected by his mother, who was powerless to protect him as an adult. And especially the juxtaposing of the wounded, bloodied, half-dead, miserable figure hanging pitifully on the cross of Capital Punishment, then interjected with the clean, beautiful face of Christ only hours before, with his disciples, breaking bread, sharing wine and proclaiming “This is my blood, which is given for you”….the next frame being a single red drop falling off his jagged wounds high up on the wooden cross onto the ground below.

No, I’m not being paid as a Movie Critic (unfortunately). But, trying to recapture what struck me about this depiction – the very “human-ness” of events, and people, and reactions, that have now become so much of Christian almost-folklore that they have become unreal and somewhat sanitised.

In similar descriptive vein is Irishman Thomas Kelly’s 1804 Hymn “Stricken, smitten, and afflicted” – a sombre affair in both lyrics and tune. The opening line draws from biblical Isaiah 53:4 “Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted”.

In verse two, we are forced to consider the depth of Christ’s passion, his groaning, his betrayal, his insults, and his unmatched grief. The deepest stroke that pierced him, however, was the stroke that divine justice gave.

Sometimes we hear the cross described as a symbol of how precious we were to God. This is true, so long as we understand that we were not some diamond in the rough that irresistibly drew God to us.

The cross certainly shows us the depth of God’s love, but is a love wholly undeserved. For the cross, verse three reminds us, displays the true nature of sin and human guilt. Verse four elegantly summarises the hope of the gospel: “Lamb of God, for sinners wounded, sacrifice to cancel guilt! None shall ever be confounded who on him their hope have built.”

Easter is viewed by many, especially in Australia, as a wonderful 4-day “Long Weekend” to refresh and send time with family. Traditional foodstuffs such as Hot Cross Buns and Easter Eggs, once specifically symbolic of Christian (or at least “New Birth”) concepts have lost their meaning through commercialism, lack of education and the annoying insistence of stores displaying them earlier and earlier each year. (I very much enjoy consuming “Hot Cross Buns” but I find it pretty weird to see them in the supermarket in early January, even before the chronologically next “Commercial Festival” of Valentine’s Day!)

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In my local supermarket on 6th January this year.

The essence of the celebration of Easter is indeed the “Passion of the Christ” (the process, not the film title). And not just the “Oh Happy Day” that many modern churches like to focus on, but the extreme emotional highs and lows of some of the Bible’s most significant events.

Traditional Churches call this period “Holy Week”, commencing with “Palm Sunday”, celebrating Christ’s triumphant ride into Jerusalem on a donkey (which was last Sunday), then, in quick succession, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, then Easter Sunday (or the “Day of Resurrection). Indeed the aforementioned film is a depiction essentially of the last twelve hours in the life of Jesus of Nazareth, on the day of his crucifixion in Jerusalem.

The story opens in the Garden of Olives where Jesus has gone to pray after the Last Supper. Betrayed by Judas Iscariot, the controversial Jesus is arrested and taken back within the city walls of Jerusalem. There, the leaders of the Pharisees confront him with accusations of blasphemy; subsequently, his trial results with the leaders condemning him to his death. Jesus is brought before Pontius Pilate, the Roman Governor of Palestine, for his sentencing. Pilate listens to the accusations levelled at Jesus by the Pharisees. Realising that his own decision will cause him to become embroiled in a political conflict, Pilate defers to King Herod in deciding the matter of how to persecute Jesus. However, Herod returns Jesus to Pilate who, in turn, gives the crowd a choice between which prisoner they would rather to see set free–Jesus, or Barrabas. The crowd chooses to have Barrabas set free.

Thus, Jesus is handed over to the Roman soldiers and is brutally flagellated. Bloody and unrecognisable, he is brought back before Pilate who, once again, presents him to the thirsty crowd-assuming they will see that Jesus has been punished enough. The crowd, however, is not satisfied. So, Pilate washes his hands of the entire dilemma, ordering his men to do as the crowd wishes. Whipped and weakened, Jesus is presented with the cross and is ordered to carry it through the streets of Jerusalem, all the way up to Golgotha. There, more corporal cruelty takes place as Jesus is nailed to the cross–suffering, he hangs there, left to die. Initially, in his dazed suffering, Jesus is alarmed that he has been abandoned by God his father. He then beseeches God. At the moment of his death, nature itself over-turns.

The Bible says in Isaiah 53:5 “But He was wounded for our transgressions; He was crushed for our iniquities; upon Him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with His stripes we are healed.”

This is the essence of the Christian faith.

That we believe that somebody else took the responsibility, the blame and then the punishment, not for their own wrongdoings, but for others, and ultimately the whole human race.

In our daily lives, at least in my experience, this is, sadly,  rarely the case.

Ephraim R. McLean cynically coined “The six phases of a big project”, a favourite of office posters in the 1970’s.

The “Six Phases” have been jocularly described as:

1. Enthusiasm,
2. Disillusionment,
3. Panic,
4. Search for the guilty,
5. Punishment of the innocent, and
6. Praise and honour for the non-participants.

The unhappy fact is that there is more truth than fiction in the list.

Unfortunately, with many a project there is lack of support in early stages, and then quick abandonment if things go wrong, followed by finger-pointing and blame-laying.

Should things go badly, many have a tendency to wash their hands, Pontius-Pilate like, and distance themselves. Little responsibility is taken.

However, should the project, in the end, be a success, often there is a tendency to “bask in reflected glory”, where those who did not put in the effort and energy still want the recognition which should in fact go to those who put in the hard work from the beginning.

I have chronicled elsewhere, struggles I have personally had with various situations in life, be it personal or professional. At the root of some of the issues I have dealt with, is tousling with the concept of people accepting responsibility (and even blame) for their own part in events.

In some instances, finding true solutions to problems, including forgiveness and reconciliation has proved elusive. Because if there is no admission or acceptance of wrongdoing, and responsibility is not taken for one’s actions, then true restoration is impossible. Forgiving a person who takes no responsibility is in many ways “Cheap Grace” – it may bring relief or release to the “forgiver”, but any attempt at solving problems will be like my own inept efforts at gardening. (Yes, whipper-snippering over the weeds to temporarily keep them down).

Pulling a thistle out by the roots disturbs the ground, and can be hard to do (and requires strength, and time) if the roots are deep. Once it is done, however, it has been done completely and healing can begin. On the other hand,  just chopping the things off at ground level is only a temporary fix, and before long the weeds are just as high as they once were.

Locking people into a “Groundhog Day” scenario of repeated conflict which is never quite resolved, because even when particular situations or issues are seemingly sorted out, the underlying issues remain, just waiting to come back and bite, like the snakes on Greek Priestess Medusa’s head.

Medusa

What a contrast this is to the reported life and work of Christ, especially in the last week of his life!

He took the responsibility and blame for deeds he did not do, sins he did not personally commit. Christians believe that in so doing, our own sin and guilt is washed away. Even though we continue to “sin” day by day.

Whatever your own personal religious beliefs, may you take the time to reflect on the events of Easter some 2000 years ago. As often quoted on Remembrance days, reflecting on other sacrifices  “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends”. (John15:3)

Let us all be a little kinder, a little more loving, a little less proud, a little less defensiveBunny and Chicken 031 perhaps, be the “bigger person” and open our hearts to each other this Easter time.

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Stricken, smitten, and afflicted, see him dying on the tree!
‘Tis the Christ by man rejected; yes, my soul, ’tis he, ’tis he!
‘Tis the long expected Prophet, David’s son, yet David’s Lord;
by his Son God now has spoken: ’tis the true and faithful Word.

 Tell me ye who hear him groaning, was there ever grief like his?
Friends thro’ fear his cause disowning, foes insulting his distress;
many hands were raised to wound him, none would interpose to save;
but the deepest stroke that pierced him was the stroke that Justice gave.

Ye who think of sin by lightly nor suppose the evil great
here may view its nature rightly, here its guilt may estimate.
Mark the sacrifice appointed, see who bears the awful load;
’tis the Word, the Lord’s Anointed, Son of Man and Son of God.

Here we have a firm foundation, here the refuge of the lost;
Christ’s the Rock of our salvation, his the name of which we boast.
Lamb of God, for sinners wounded, sacrifice to cancel guilt!
None shall ever be confounded who on him their hope have built.

 

 

 

 

 

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times

Exactly a month ago, I was contemplating a return to school after 7 weeks of holiday. After spending the previous year’s Summer break moving house, this year we had basically “chilled” – a couple of days we barely made it out of our pajamas, others we went out and about: to favourite places, and places new. Caught up with friends. Watched movies. Discovered “Raspberry Crown” pastries and new-style luxury donuts.

All wonderful things.

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For most of this time, I decided not to “wish my life away”, instead focusing on the here and now, and opportunity to spend time with my kids, but, come 19th January, I took a deep breath and reminded myself that “This is It”.

In the words of my former violin teacher Bogdan’s favourite joke: “Tea break’s over, back on your heads”.

And so, off to school we went. Checked the kids into Vacation Care. Fronted up to the School Auditorium where the Staff Chapel Band was finishing rehearsal. Hung back as the place slowly began to fill with largely familiar faces. Watched silently as staff greeted each other, smiling, renewing acquaintances and catching up their news. I stood quietly, to one side, feeling a little like the kid who is picked last for the sports team – scanning for a friendly face. Unconsciously looking for “my people”. Instead, my eyes settled on a couple of individuals with whom things have not always been “smooth sailing”. My heart sank.

What further sunk in was that “My Team” was no more.

Despite weeks, months even, of planning for this day, of trying to reassure myself that everything would be OK, that I was prepared for “the new reality,” I was hit by the realisation that it really wasn’t going to be easy. I felt like picking up my proverbial bat and ball and going home. Then suddenly a familiar face approached. A friendly, open person who embraced me and ushered me to sit with her. Who exchanged a few words about each of our 10-year-old boys’ mutual cricket-tragicness. I didn’t follow my instincts and back out the door. I stayed for the opening staff session, praying a silent “Thank-you” to this staff member who had touched me by sharing her commonality as a Mum.

I was determined to “get it right”. A lot hinged on establishing positive working relationships with my new boss in particular, and also getting to know 5 new staff members in our expanded Music Department. I was impressed, early on, when the new boss called a meeting or two of all the Instrumental Staff and tutors – at one point having us all in the same room at the same time, a feat which I don’t think had been achieved in the previous 7 years – when there were many fewer of us.

She talked “Team”, of everyone having a place. Barriers were coming down and people were starting to pull together. I attempted to keep my “big mouth” shut, remembering that it was “New Year, New Broom”. I was resolute in my desire not to be like a stereotypical irritating old biddy, often found at churches who my husband refers to as “Gatekeepers” – who says “but we always do it this way – we’ve done it this way for the last 50 years”. I was impressed with what I saw, and relaxed somewhat.

Maybe this would work after all. Perhaps my fears were unfounded.

Over the next week or so, though, I was not so sure. Being the only staff member with continuity from last year to this, naturally everyone asked me how to do this or that, where to find things and so on. And I was so self-conscious about not wanting to step on anyone’s toes, or stray into the territory of others, I was conflicted about how much to assist, whereas this time last year I would have walked the new guys through every step of the first few week’s start-up without a second thought.

With so much to do and so little time, there were moments of tension and frustration, heightened by the fact that I felt, to an extent, that there was “re-invention of the wheel” going on around me, and much being left undone, largely because nobody [aside from me] knew exactly what needed to be done, nor what the priorities were.

This I could understand, the myriad of new staff scrambling to get up to speed, and all on a sharp learning curve, but what rankled with me was I DID know and I DO know but I wasn’t asked.Person feels appeciated

This made me feel undervalued and that I wasn’t trusted by the new regime. A number of times – in my head or, on occasion, vocally – I spoke out: “All you had to do was ask”. Finally, things came to a head on Friday 29th January, when an “executive decision” was made without reference to me, about an issue I cared about, which I felt to have been pre-emptive.

I was seething, and shot back an email expressing disappointment, and giving “chapter and verse” about how I felt the situation should have been played. A further email exchange followed, during which I guess I didn’t exactly cover myself in glory. By the time 7.30pm rolled around, I was frustrated beyond belief, mainly with myself.

Things had escalated quickly. We were 9 days in. I had not taught one single student, but yet all my good intentions were in tatters.

I didn’t sleep well that night.

Saturday morning, I got up early, preoccupied with the fact that, within all this, I felt I had not been a very good mentor or guide to my new colleagues. In holding back and, to my mind, treading on eggshells, I had not been as informative as I could have been. I also had a sinking feeling that I had “cooked my goose” and may well be “out of there” come Monday. So I spent a couple of hours flicking emails to the new staff – sharing procedures, forms and tips. So at least, I reasoned, if I was sacked on Monday I could leave feeling I had at least equipped my replacements.

Later that Saturday morning, I needed to go to school to take Miss 13 to a rehearsal. Due to rain, a tradie vehicle blocking an exit, and poor sight-lines, I managed to back my car smack-bang into a yellow bollard. I got out to look what the hell I had done, and was picking bits of my tail-lights up off the roadway as some of my own students, also arriving for the rehearsal, looked on.

Great. Just great.

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My serenity of the holidays only two weeks before was now completely shot to pieces. All my worries and anxieties and fears came tumbling around my heels.  I sought the advice of a trusted friend whose ears I battered with every she-said-she-said of the scenario, until my friend gently pointed out that after a few hours of patient listening, my verbiage started to become “White Noise”.

I was sleeping poorly, I was anxious, I was stressing…not a good combination. At this point I figured I had nothing to lose, so set out with a new agenda – to properly settle in and look after my new colleagues in earnest, so at least when I was no longer there (which I saw as a real possibility) they, at least, would have a fighting chance of getting a toehold, and furthering the work of the department, so dear to me, that I had assisted in spending many years building up.

Partly due to this new focus, I felt happier. Tension had been slightly released, too, by the scheduling of a meeting with my new boss, to attempt to sort out differences, which I felt a “necessary evil”, while wondering how it had come to that, so early in the piece.

I was, however, no longer sure of my ground, of how I fitted in. I looked back on a proposal I had written in September 2015, laying out my concerns about the new structure, vacuums in authority and knowledge, and fears I had, that this might prove unworkable in a day-to-day context. And how I was concerned that lack of clarity in roles, responsibilities and boundaries would lay open the potential for misunderstandings and conflict.

I felt I had been positively prophetic.

By the end of the week, though, I was exhausted. I had just worked too hard to try to juggle too many balls in the air. I was stressed. I was hyper. I didn’t know which way to turn. The car accident had thrown and depressed me. (Not to mention the looming $1500 repair bill). I wasn’t sure what I wanted any more. And without putting too fine a point on it, the prescribed tranquillisers and sleeping draughts I was taking to help keep me sane weren’t helping my demeanour and ability to keep up appearances and smile through work days, when I felt like anything but.

I was pretty well hitting Rock Bottom. And I was kicking myself. So much thought, planning, preparation, agonising, “talking through”, good intentions, hard work…. all seemingly wasted.

I had tried and failed.

And I just didn’t care anymore. This was pretty well the “Worst of Times”.

Then some of those “Serendipity” things just kicked themselves in. Our invited babysitter for Friday 5th February (a retired friend from church) asked if she could bring a friend – who turned out to be a lady who was very kind to us when our children were small, and the two had often babysat as a team. This second lady had moved away interstate, but was visiting, and they came together. Just like old times. It just seemed “Right” to leave them with our kids.

Then, the occasion we were going out to, which had been booked some time before, was a rare “Date Night”. Instead of either my husband or I on some work-related business, we were actually going out together for leisure – quite a rarity. We had discovered that the ‘80’s girl band “Bananarama” were appearing nearby at the Twin Towns Services Club in Tweed Heads.

So I put on my “posh frock” and off we went.

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At first, I just sat during the (excellent) support act. The volume was loud and the speakers were pointed in my direction, as they always seem to be at these things. I was sitting, my thoughts wandering, dwelling on my various woes, and silently crying.

stress music

How had it come to this?

But then, after a bit, I realised I wasn’t achieving anything, and decided to get my act together and just listen in to the music. The concert just got better and better with the Bananarama girls essentially parodying their younger selves, reaching a climax when they had a number of audience members up with them on stage to dance to “Venus”. Despite myself, I had relaxed and allowed myself to enjoy the night.

I had turned a private corner.

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Monday morning was the “Conflict Resolution” meeting. It was difficult, but ultimately necessary and cathartic. I took the opportunity to express my feelings and points of view.  Forgiveness was offered and accepted, fences were mended and hatchets were buried. Since then, communication, consultation and the general atmosphere has markedly improved. A new dawn – thankfully.

Then, later that week, more of “the Best of Times” – with the visit, from Europe, of my younger sister and her 5-year-old daughter, after a gap of 4 years. We attempted, over a few days, to give them a taste of Queensland, and it was lovely to have two parts of my family under the one roof, and see first-hand my sister’s development and growth as a Mum.  She has a beautiful little girl who is a credit to her.

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And then the “Piece de résistance” ….

I had put together a school excursion to see the “Australian Youth Orchestra”, who were performing locally (a rarity). At first, I had not intended to go, in deference to my sister’s visit, but, when speaking to the AYO office and letting slip we were both alumni , they insisted on offering us tickets from their allocation so we ended up attending after all.

Two things were significant for me about this – firstly, that I had not experienced the vitality and exhilaration of AYO’s playing for many years, and it transported me back to my youth.

Secondly, I met up with the AYO’s CEO, who I grew up with (we had the same childhood violin teacher) and who was part of a close circle of friends when we were Uni students. I had not seen him for 25 years, but those years melted away in a moment.

Somehow, I found myself reflecting to him that I had struggled with National Music Camp, that I had found it overwhelming, and felt I had failed in not coping with the intensive 2-week January summer schools I had attended as a teenager. To my amazement, he (the current CEO!) agreed that aspects were tough back in the day, and he hadn’t always enjoyed it either.

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National Music Camp, The King’s School Parramatta, 1987. Schumann Piano Quintet.

 

Later that night (during the wonderful music) I reflected on this, and found it strangely freeing.  I realised I had not properly embraced my personal musical history, as my love of being included in wonderful experiences such as NMC and AYO had been mixed with my feeling of failure in these same spheres. That, to some extent, I had not kept up contact with many of my old friends because of this.  That many of my friends had gone on to have glittering musical careers, while, to an extent, I had settled for second best.

But did this mean I really was second best? Was I now “just” a teacher and “just” a Pastor’s wife?

As I marvelled at the piano soloist’s incredible rendition of Rachmaninov’s 2nd Concerto, the realisation hit me.

THIS is my world. I belong here.

My work at the school is not done. In all the personal and professional turmoil, I had almost lost sight of my vision and goal there – to give my students a taste of this AYO-style magic.

And, you know, I’m not necessarily “Second Hand Rose”.

Maybe I am prickly sometimes, but there might still be a whiff of some pleasant fragrance remaining.

If I stand still long enough.

Rose

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to heaven, we were all going direct the other way – in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.

Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities
English novelist (1812 – 1870)

 

Heigh-ho, heigh-ho, It’s off to work we go

The delectable long summer school holidays are almost over. That of which snide remarks are made about teachers only working so few weeks a year. Due to the Australia Day Public Holiday on Tuesday 26th January, most Queensland students return on Wednesday 27th, making a short “Week 1” to ease the youngsters in gently.

Staff, at least at our school, return the week before, mostly on Wednesday 20th. So, for me, it will very soon be “Off to work I go”.

A new school year with many new beginnings…. as shared in previous Blog entries, I will have a number of new colleagues as well as a new departmental structure. A good many new students – mostly Year 4 beginners – which is always enjoyable as their enthusiasm is infectious and it is wonderful to teach them an entirely different skill. Plus, the delight of getting to know names, faces and young personalities.

Renovations to our physical department have added a fresh lick of paint, cheering up a suite of rooms which had become tired, and two rooms have been combined into one, giving me my very own useable space for the first time. (Previously, we had one large room and one very narrow room between the two main Instrumental teachers, necessitating frequent swapping around, dependent on who needed elbow room to minimise small cellists poking each other, or space, or those needing bulky percussion equipment).

Maybe staying put in one room, rather than this accustomed dance, will improve my organisation and efficiency…well, I can but try.

So, many good things, but change as well, and change can be unsettling. I have a habit of doing too much, of becoming too involved, of going the extra mile.

This can be a good or sometimes a bad thing. Need a plan

My plan, going forward, is to attempt to take the beginning of all these new things slowly, allow others to take charge, be helpful but not “too helpful”, try to breathe, try to step back, attempt NOT to be the stick-in-the-mud person who repeatedly says “But we’ve always done it THIS way…”

There will be some fine lines to tread and I suspect some “Holding hard” necessary.

Lots of “try” and “attempt” there I know, as some of these things will be going against my instincts, but I will see how I go.

Maybe I might get through January and February unscathed.

Thinking of “work” and “workers”, just today I picked up on a friend’s musings on the topic of ants.

Now, I don’t mind ants – they aren’t cockroaches or wasps. We have tried, unsuccessfully, to corral them into an ant farm or two. I once killed a school laptop computer by a number of the creatures crawling inside and mounting a kamikaze attack on its inner workings. I have murdered hundreds, if not thousands of them over time, including with – a marvellous discovery – ordinary “Jif” Kitchen spray.

Despite all this, I do admire ants for their hard working nature and determination. The way they at least appear to work around obstacles and find new ways to succeed, whether working alone or clubbing together. The epitome of the concept of “Never Give Up”.

Ant Fantasy

Anyway, here are my friend’s thoughts, which rather spoke to me as I contemplated vacation’s end:

Ants think winter all summer.

That’s an important perspective. You can’t be so naive as to think summer will last forever. So ants are gathering their winter food in the middle of summer.

An ancient story says, “Don’t build your house on the sand in the summer.” Why do we need that advice? Because it’s important to be realistic. In the summer, you’ve got to think storm.  

Think ahead.

The ants have small leaves laying next to its entrances, if it starts raining a door ant will move the leaf to cover the entrance, leaving the rain out of the tunnels

 There might be something to learn from the ant about work ethics, and about work ethics only. There is a work life balance and it is important to relax and recover as well. I just spent the day in the forest with my wife and kids enjoying the sun, the warm weather and a nice cup of coffee.

On the other hand, I do not know what the ant is doing when the sun sets; maybe it is all fun and games, getting ready for tomorrow?

(Thanks to Herbert Mtowo)Ant CrackersPreviously in such holiday times I have done some measure of preparation and planning for the new year school ahead, even the odd conferring with colleagues during the break, but at present there are too many unknowns to do that. I could have become really stressed and worried and apprehensive about this, but I have managed not to.

Instead, I have prepared, like Herbert’s ants, by really taking my foot off the accelerator, relaxing and refreshing, and concentrating on gratitude for the many blessings I have, including my family and the wonderful place in which we live.

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The view from a friend’s apartment 20 minutes away in Surfer’s Paradise

In doing so, paradoxically I am possibly (I hope) better mentally prepared for the weeks and months ahead, rather than if I had spent time in fretting and worrying.

The previous owner of our home bred birds, and had a number of aviaries along the back fence. When we bought the property, he removed them but left the boards which were the backs of the cages. Now, a year later, we have finally begun something we have talked about – letting the children turn the fence line into a painted mural. This week was step one – preparing the initial surface.

Back Deck BirdsP1060331

That’s how I’m looking at my return to work – as clearing, to an extent, the slate of the past, and starting anew, but not tearing down the good, rather, building on the best of what is there.

Ants, Murals, People, various ebbs and flows… in everything we need to endeavor to create balance in our lives.

I’ve always loved a good joke, and if it is against myself, more the better. One of my collection of favourites is indeed on the topic of “Balance”. It goes like this:

Once upon a time in the Kingdom of Heaven, God went missing for Six days. Eventually, Michael the Archangel found him, resting on the seventh day. He inquired of God, “Where have you been?”

God sighed a deep sigh of satisfaction and proudly pointed downwards through the clouds, “Look Michael, look what I’ve made.” Archangel Michael looked puzzled and said, “What is it?”

“It’s a planet, replied God, “and I’ve put LIFE on it. I’m going to call it Earth and it’s going to be a great place of balance”.

“Balance?” inquired Michael, still confused.

God explained, pointing to different parts of Earth.

“For example, Northern Europe will be a place of great opportunity and wealth while Southern Europe is going to be poor; the Middle East over there will be a hot spot.”

“Over there I’ve placed a continent of white people and over there is a continent of black people” God continued, pointing to different countries. “And over there, I call this place America.

North America will be rich and powerful and cold, while South America will be poor, and hot and friendly. And the little spot in the middle is Central America which is a Hot spot. Can you see the balance?”

“Yes” said the Archangel, impressed by Gods work, then he pointed to a smallish land mass and asked, “What’s that one?”

“Ah” said God. “That’s New Zealand, the most glorious place on Earth. There are beautiful mountains, rainforests, rivers, streams and an exquisite coast line. The people are good looking, intelligent and humorous and they’re going to be found traveling the world. They’ll be extremely sociable, hard-working and high-achieving, and they will be known throughout the world as diplomats and carriers of peace. I’m also going to give them super- human, undefeatable, strong in character citizens who will be admired and feared by all who come across them”.

Michael gasped in wonder and admiration but then exclaimed, “You said there will be BALANCE!”

God replied wisely. “Wait until you see the buggers I’m putting next to them”.

balance

I know I am not alone amongst women, who, when they become mothers, very quickly develop “Mummy Guilt” over working outside the home. Somehow, whatever you do never seems enough – when you are away from your kids (especially at preschool age when you are entrusting them to the care of others) you feel bad for leaving them.

Yet, when you dash off from work to retrieve the small ones or prioritize family events, its easy to feel the poor relation compared to staff members with older or no children who are able to devote themselves 100% to the job.

So why do we do it? For me, and others (not all – there are those who are perfectly content to be Stay-at-Home Mums) there is the feeling of drowning in nappies and sleepless nights, and that you are divorced from the adult world. And feeling that you have more to contribute to the outside world. “Getting it right” is tricky, and maybe impossible. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try.

I have taught music in some form for the majority of my life – my first student was a delightful young lady who lived in my street, appearing at my house for piano lessons, a picture of blonde pigtails, holding tightly to her Mum’s hand as they walked together up the road. She was six, I was sixteen.

And so it began. I have continued teaching, as well as playing music, more “on” than “off” ever since. I have held a number of full-time Music Teaching positions, both Instrumental and Classroom, in England and Australia, but I’ve often taught alongside other things. My “Day Jobs” over the years have included White Goods Sales, Sales Assistant in a Newsagent/Toy store, Accessory Sales for Shoe repairer/Locksmith, Reception/Personal Assistant for a Graphic Design and Advertising Company, Vehicle Management for QFleet, Admin/Payroll at a Retirement Village and Admin for Disability Services. I’ve had periods of being “Busy doing nothing” especially when establishing life in a new location. I was at home full-time with our first child Cassie when we lived in South Brisbane, but on moving to Country Victoria when she was 18 months old, I felt it time to take up the challenge of part-time work.

I also felt it was time to return to the field in which I had real skill and passion – that of Music, especially as I discovered that there was a limited amount of teachers in the local area.

There the attempt to juggle work and parenthood began in earnest.

One of the additional challenges of being “The Pastor’s Wife” is that, by definition, my work is less important than what my husband does, as he sees himself as not working for a specific congregation/group of people who pay his wages, but that God is his Boss. Mission from God(Always makes me think of “The Blues Brothers”).

So, to an extent, anything that I do is easily trumped by what he does, and the unpredictable nature of the role of a conscientious Pastor, who is the only one working in the Parish, means that he is basically on call 24/7, regardless of his nominal working hours. There have been numerous occasions where we had made plans but everything was dropped for some unforeseen need. Such as one year he was out at a hospital with a literally dying congregational member at midnight on Christmas Eve.

So right from the time that I started Music Teaching in schools in Ararat, I pledged to be largely responsible for Cassie and make arrangements for her care when I was committed elsewhere, whether that be formal childcare, or babysitters. Since becoming parents, we have never had the benefit of living in the same town as any close family, so have needed to rely on each other and the generosity of friends. More so later when James was born, and this has continued to this day – although the children are evidently much more capable now at 13 and 10 years old. My husband is a hands-on, loving, dependable and reliable Dad – but I still make sure I have all my bases covered, and never just assume he can drop everything and cover.

Working three days per week here is just about the right time for me – although probably a day equivalent of my two “days off” has tended to be spent doing school work – preparation, planning and administration.

Meaning there is roughly a day to get other things done. And breathe.

My intention is to do more of that.

And I perhaps might take the plunge to make a few new interesting plans. We shall see.

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Time for a Cool Change

One of the myriad of “Light bulb” jokes goes something like this. Q: How many Psychiatrists does it take to change a light bulb? A: Only one. But the light bulb really has to WANT to CHANGE.

This time of year it seems every magazine, lightweight newspaper edition and certainly online articles and Facebook feeds are filled with “New Year, New You” articles. Suggestions on making New Year’s Resolutions. What they should be. How to keep them. Why people don’t keep them. And then advice on how to go about keeping the resolutions that statistics show you probably won’t keep anyway.

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New Year’s Resolutions typically do not work; in fact, only about 8% of those who make a resolution are successful (however, those who write down their resolutions are ten times more likely to keep them than those who don’t).  Still, this daunting statistic doesn’t stop us from taking stock of our lives and thinking about what we want for the future. It’s a new year, it’s practically impossible NOT to look back and think about what could be different going forward.

The most commonly made resolutions tend to be:

  • Lose weight
  • Eat more healthily
  • Exercise and get fit
  • Quit smoking
  • Quit/cut down on alcohol
  • Spend less and save more

We basically end up with a list of all the ways we feel inadequate, and the things we’ve failed to do. Not to mention New Year (and the associated resolutions) immediately follows end of year and Christmas parties, and pleasant holidays which invariably include over-indulging in unhealthy but extremely tasty foodstuffs. Changes in routine and perhaps additional time spent with family can leave us feeling emotionally exhausted, along with the building stress for many at the thought of returning to work and an inbox overflowing with emails. (Fortunately for us Aussie teachers who are blessed with long summer holidays, these thoughts can be banished for a few weeks yet).

My goals

There are various little sayings or mantras which are supposed to help here, especially with the first two. My Mum used to have a brilliant large poster depicting a table filled to the brim with tempting looking foodstuffs – cakes, donuts, pizza, you name it. Next to this excess was a woman holding a long filled French stick to her mouth, which she was looking at hungrily. She was a large lady. The caption read “Once on the lips, Forever on the hips”. I haven’t seen such a poster for 30 years now. I suspect that in today’s politically-correct world it would be construed as “fat-shaming” (although we didn’t have the frequently demeaning “Biggest Loser” TV “Reality” shows back then).

Another pretty good slogan reads: “Nothing tastes as good as being slim feels”.

In the last week I have had articles pop up suggesting drawing up a “Vision Board”. A friend of mine has one of these pinned up on her kitchen wall. She is approaching 50 and her collage contains positive images – a 50th birthday cake, happy, smiling people, and, yes, a fit slim woman dressed in gym clothes with exercise equipment. All visuals of where my friend would like to be in a certain amount of months’ time. Such vision boards are believed to be a valuable goal-setting tool and an aid in visualisation and meditation by motivational speakers and Personal Development  life coaches.

ces-loftus-vision-board-example-inspired-life-business

New Year’s Resolutions and stated intentions to personally “improve” this or that often contain the word Should.

We teach our children what they should and should not do in given situations, generally for their own safety and well-being. Sometimes this is backed up by hard experience for the child – such as when he has been told repeatedly not to touch the hot toaster, does anyway, and ends up with a blistered finger for his trouble. That hopefully will be a lesson leant for next time.

I believe a baby and then child is essentially a blank canvas. Consider that every child learns its native language from hearing what is around him or her – we are not born understanding English or French or Urdu or Cantonese. As we learn to talk we do so by imitating what we hear, and so our mouths and voice boxes learn the contortions necessary for what then becomes our “mother-tongue”. Likewise parents and teachers (bearing in mind I am both) have the most important jobs in the world imparting young ones in our care with knowledge and understanding of the world, both unconsciously, by modelling, and by direct instruction.

One of my favourite childhood books was “The Bike Lesson”, in the Berenstain Bears Series. Bears CoverYoung boy bear receives a bicycle as a gift, and Papa bear tells him he cannot ride it until Papa has taught him all about riding and road safety.

Unfortunately, everything the over-confident father attempts ends in disaster and sometimes injury, however each time the father still tries to turn the example into a lesson by saying “This is what you should not do. So let that be a lesson to you”.

bike lesson 1bike lesson 2

And I have thought of this phrase many times during my life and also now as a parent – yes we can learn by experience what are good things to do, but also hard lessons in what we “Should not do”.

A very famous Bible passage, often read at weddings, contains: “When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became a man, I gave up childish ways. For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall understand fully, even as I have been fully understood.  (1 Corinthians 13: 11-12)

No longer a child, I learnt some years ago that SHOULD is an EVIL word and conveys external pressure or obligation. [And obligation is one of my “issues”]. We tend to use the word “should” when we talk about unpleasant things which we’d really prefer not to do.

And doesn’t “should” fit nearly into those common resolutions?

  • I should lose weight
  • I should eat more healthily
  • I should exercise and get fit
  • I should quit smoking
  • I should quit/cut down on alcohol
  • I should spend less and save more

But because we don’t do these things, or we have good intentions but fail, we end up feeling more depressed or disappointed than before.

Here’s an exercise for you. Consider a sentence in which you would use the word Should.

  • I should go to the dentist.
  • I should cut down on work
  • I should save more money
  • I should go to church more often
  • I should quit smoking
  • I should go to the gym

And for females:

  • I should have a Pap test.

[You may find your “should” sentence contains something which, if you are really honest, is not your favourite thing in life.]

Now replace the word “should” with “choose not to”

  • I choose not to go to the dentist.
  • I choose not to cut down on work
  • I choose not to save more money
  • I choose not to go to church more often
  • I choose not to quit smoking
  • I choose not to go to the gym
  • I choose not to have a smear test.

Now instead of external obligation, you have taken back choice and power.

That said, choices have consequences. Choosing not to go to the dentist or have a medical test could mean your health deteriorates, giving you further – potentially serious – problems in the future which could be more difficult or costly to address.

However, choosing not to save money could be a valid choice – if you wish to live and enjoy the day-to-day with necessities and perhaps small luxuries, rather than being so frugal that you don’t look after yourself. (A trait quite often seen in elderly people who “go without” even to leave an inheritance to their – often less than needy – offspring).

You might actually really enjoy your work and find it fulfilling, so cutting down is a really the wish of someone else, or a pressure of society.

Quitting smoking might not work for you right now. A friend of mine chooses to smoke as she finds it helps her relax and de-stress, and in her own words “I am a nicer, better person as a smoker”. She has balanced up the health risks but accepts that for her, smoking assists her cope and function well day-to-day. This is someone I admire who has come through enormous adversaries in her life.

My own tenure at the gym was short-lived. I actually enjoyed attending, the “me-time”, the atmosphere, and the feeling of achievement. Unfortunately, however, I injured my already damaged knee fairly early in the piece, and soon my main communication with the gym was emailing them periodically to suspend my membership. When I sporadically re-activated it, other activities and routines crept in and I realised I really wasn’t getting there, but felt  guilty for not doing so, while I continued to pay the membership fees. Eventually I put my membership on permanent hold. I felt as if a load had lifted from my shoulders.

Walk every day

The benefit of disposing of “should” and giving yourself back choice, is that you can indeed make an alternative positive choice.

I choose to go to the dentist, and to have that smear test. It might be uncomfortable, but ultimately won’t kill me, if I keep my eyes closed.  

I choose to save more money. If I set up a direct credit into another bank account it will happen without me thinking about it, and then I can later purchase something special.

I choose to go to church more often than I otherwise might, because my husband is the Pastor and I want to support him, and it shows a good example to my children.

Choices are important and also priorities. This was brought home to me recently by my friend Catherine. Catherine, who I worked with a dozen years ago at Trinder Park Retirement village, may have been a decade younger than me, but she was always the “adultier adult”. Wise beyond her years, level-headed, cool in a tricky situation, but with a warm heart, a wonderful laugh and a keen sense of humour. She would regularly tidy and categorise my desk drawer (a skill I have yet to master), in the certain knowledge that it would soon descend into chaos again, and counsel me frequently to “Play Nice with the Stapler. Kylie”.

We kept in touch in recent times by email, message, and Facebook. I realised a couple of years ago that we hadn’t actually met in person since just before I moved from Brisbane to Western Victoria probably late 2003. Since my return to Queensland 7 years ago, we periodically talked about meeting up in person, but lived just far enough apart for it to be impractical, with conflicting work schedules, children’s needs and so on. This was not unique – there are a number of people who I consider special to me who I have (or had until recently) not seen for 10 years or more –one of the perils of moving around the country and across the world.

For the past few years Catherine has been battling a brain tumour. Despite strenuous and unpleasant chemotherapy , radiotherapy and other treatments, she insisted on working between times, traveling when she was able, and living as full a life as possible.

Sadly, last month Catherine lost her long and determined fight and passed away. In one of many posted tributes, one of her close friends wrote: “To her family and friends, I know she has given you great forever memories that will make you laugh for the rest of your lives! Finally, stop smelling the wrappers Catherine and just eat the damn chocolate”.

In being health-conscious and watching her weight, Catherine had denied herself small pleasures, but ultimately, what good did it do? Chocolate or not, she was taken far too soon. She was 37.

wrappersCatherine’s death gave me pause for a number of reasons, one being something I myself have prioritised in the last year or so. A reminder to hug my children a little closer and remember to reach out to those dear to me that perhaps I haven’t spoken to or connected with for awhile. Because we make the mistake of thinking there will always be time, but that’s not necessarily so… “Tempus Fugit”.

So, am I suggesting that the whole concept of New Years Resolutions and setting goals is futile and we should just give up now? No, not exactly. But in order to change your actions, you first need to change your thinking. Albert Einstein is credited with saying “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results”. Similarly, Henry Ford is quoted as saying: “If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always got.

You are most likely to make positive changes if you align your goals with your passions and dreams. In middle age we might struggle to elucidate these, so its worthwhile thinking back to what you were passionate about aged perhaps 20. Did you achieve those ambitions and plans, or did life get in the way? Are there any that you can re-ignite?

If you do indeed make plans or set goals for the coming year, make sure they reflect your own choices and priorities, not those of family members and friends or some type of society norm or pressure. Otherwise you are setting yourself up for failure.

And some goals may be worthy or desirable but are easier talked about than achieved. Losing weight, for example, requires sustained discipline, effort and patience. Because if it was really true that “Nothing tastes as good as being slim feels”, we would not be a nation where 63% of adults are overweight or obese. Not that I am advocating ignoring your health, however it is also true that “a little of what you fancy does you good” and self-care and the odd indulgence can be extremely valuable for the state of mind.

Resolutions

My own aspirations for the coming year incorporate building on the positive changes I have made in recent times.

These include: making the time and effort to connect with people special to me.  Higher focus on family togetherness while my children are still young. Recognising my own skills and attributes and talents and using them to the best of my ability, and to inspire and nurture others. Being braver in asserting what is important to me.

Not settling for second best.

Tambo Picnic

But still attempting to have a ‘kindergentler polity‘. (Thanks to former Prime Minster Tony Abbott for that fabulous phrase). To stress less. And to be realistic about what I can do and control, and recognise that much is outside of my control, and learn to accept that more!.

My New Year’s advice?

Don’t stress so much over the “Shoulds” in life, that you neglect to “eat the damn chocolate”.Musical Resolution