Legacy of quiet service

My mum, Lenore Claire, coming up to her 92nd birthday, had a mini stroke 10 weeks ago that set in motion a spiral (ever downwards) of changes in her life – from overworked but determined provider and homemaker for my 94 year old dad, to a ‘client’ in a nursing home.

Mum has cared full-time for Derrick, the only man she ever loved, for around seven years; he has been increasingly dependent on her to be his eyes, his memory, his cook, cleaner and medical advisor.

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Dad’s 90th with my sisters Chris and Liz

Now all that has stopped. My parents have reluctantly moved to a nursing home in Canberra where they will be close to my sister. They have separate rooms so Mum has no direct role in Dad’s care and now relies on my wonderful sister for many decisions.

Mum has lost her daily routine of to-do lists and the security of her vital role, but she has also been freed from the 24/7 burden of keeping Dad alive.

With none of her daughters or grandchildren living in Sydney (how she must have talked to God about that!), my mother has missed out on weekly support –  phone calls don’t quite replace popping in for a cuppa and a ride to the doctor’s. My parents also missed out on church community when they moved to a retirement village in their eighties and never made new church connections.

So what does married life look like now for a woman who wed at 21 in the post war era, and contributed three children to Australia’s baby boom?

Mum at 16
Mum looking gorgeous as a teenager at around the time she met Dad

Who never had paid work after she married  71 years ago but who volunteered in various vital ways to church life locally and across the state. Who cooked and cleaned with zeal (I found over 20 different cleaning products in the flat when we were clearing it).

She has certainly fulfilled her vow to love in sickness and health, for richer and poorer – mostly poorer! As Dad has grown frailer and his mind has grown weaker, Mum must be confused and all I can hope and pray for is that she will find comfort and strength in God and in the next generations of her family.

Written on a chart on the back of the door to her new “home”, she answered the question,

“What gives my life purpose and meaning?” with seven words: My family, going to visit my husband.

In Canberra, my sister and her daughter and grandsons will provide news, laughter and diversion for my mother. And though she still follows the machinations of Aussie politics on the nightly news, her world is now focussed on family.

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Three generations: Mum enjoying time with her oldest grandchild Alexandra and me in Canberra sunshine last week

We should have managed the process of Mum and Dad’s declining health more carefully so that changes happened with their full involvement, but few people I know have avoided some sort of trauma in caring for aged parents (and mum and dad have been rather stubborn!) But that word ‘care’ is obviously key.  How blessed we are to have a family that works together and has the capacity to give time and love.

I know Mum prays for us all each day – may her prayers be powerful to bring hope and meaning to the very different lives of her three daughters, five grandchildren and 4.9 great-grandchildren. And may she, like Anna in Luke Chapter 2, rejoice in her legacy of service, knowing she is a daughter of the King.

 

 

 

 

 

My Facebook life

My Facebook life is not me, it’s a better version of me. Even though I try not to post only about sunsets, talented children and victorious Bible verses, it is inevitable that my life on Facebook has fewer cracks and less boredom than my real life.

So I come to my recent family holiday – we all went skiing and I was sooo keen for the family to be close and happy in the snow. Maybe I was bound to be disappointed by the ordinary awkwardness that happens when adult children and partners get together in a small chalet, with a couple of young grandchildren thrown in.

4b2aa8c1-6e2d-4500-8358-4705716c1235In the end I posted only one image on Facebook – my daughter and son, who are elegant and accomplished skiers, in the sunny brightness of a gorgeous mountain backdrop. It summed up my love for them I guess, and all my memories of our early skiing trips in Australia on the cheap, in borrowed clothes on dodgy cross-country skis. That is where we learned to enjoy the cold, clean whiteness in rather wet conditions, with freezing hands, on home-made runs through the gum trees.

The photo of them as adults so poised on the slopes, is also a reminder for me of friends we skied with, of winter puddings, building igloos and snowball fights. Of the sublime quietness of skiing away from noisy resorts.

On Instagram, I concentrated on the snow, the sunshine and the natural grandeur – it was easy to see God in the beauty of the Alps.

Do I risk making my online life seem sunny and positive all the time?

Last year, a study found that platforms like Instagram, Facebook and Snapchat have a negative effect because they can exacerbate young people’s body image worries, and worsen sleep problems and feelings of anxiety, depression and loneliness. Of course, we cannot just blame social media for these things but there is no doubt that constant access to unrealistically beautiful and positive images makes our own lives seem mundane and therefore inadequate.

It’s ironic that ‘social’ media, designed to connect us and “make the world more open” can actually make us feel alone.

But remember that Facebook quickly became a tool to judge fellow Harvard students especially girls.

The other extreme on social media, once we pass teenage years, is to make our online lives appear messy and unorganised – the slummy mummy approach. This is funny and comforting for a while but not totally satisfying as we know that the writers are NOT as useless as they proclaim. Their life of mess is as curated as Tracy Emin’s famous artwork, “My Bed”.

And of course, image driven social media is not good at conveying our intellectual lives. It basks in sound bites and platitudes, not considered opinion. People ‘like’ or hate too easily without even reading the full article or considering the complexities of life.

Several people I follow on Twitter and Facebook face regular vilification because their ‘friends’ are simply too lazy to read posts to the end or seem incapable of understanding nuance or humour. (Thanks Michael Frost, Ben Thurley, Bev Murrill and Lee Grady for continuing to be polite in the face of all that!)

It seems to me that most of us live somewhere in the middle of the good, the bad and the ugly. We all need to be more conscious that the holiday images, the parties and the smiling faces are not 24/7 life; they are curated.

Last year I posted a lot about the women I work with, about causes I think are important and about justice, as well as family. Those posts are my attempts to be more real and to have a Facebook life that is not just fifty shades of happy.

I may appear more justice oriented (and socially conscious) than I actually am (!) but I am trying to faithfully capture the images, ideas and people who are in my life, not just the celebration moments.

So for the sake of truth, let me tell you my skiing holiday was lovely but not without tensions and the odd argument. We drank prosecco not champagne, and I am still just an intermediate skier. It was not the Waltons* but it was not Home Alone either.

It was ordinary, wonderful life.

 

 

 

*you have to be a child of the 70s for that to make sense

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Side by Side – a parable for 2015

Side by side on the front page of the weekend edition of the New York Times[1] I saw an article about trafficked children who end up in detention in Libya treated as criminals; and one about the record auction price paid for a Picasso – US$179 million.

ny timesMy heart churns at this spectacular juxtaposition of distressing exploitation and unbridled consumerism.

The children in the article on trafficking, a few as young as eight, are some of the thousands of under-18s who travel alone from North Africa, trying to get to Italy through Libya. 13,000 made it to Italy in 2014.

Children are the most vulnerable segment of the 200,000 who tried to get to Europe by boat last year. They are lured by a promise of asylum in Europe but the dream quickly turns to debt and threats. Smugglers demand more than US$3000 from desperately poor parents back home. No payment? The kids are abandoned to detention in Libya. Even for those who get on a boat, the situation is fraught – fifty children drowned with over 650 adults when a boat capsized in April in the Mediterranean. How many more go missing in less noticeable boats?

Most of the children coming from North Africa are from Eritrea (though the roll call of countries includes all the poorest and most fragile nations). The UK, USA and Australia all advise against travel to Eritrea – it is a place of lawless danger. There are very few schools, no jobs and boys want to escape from military service which is akin to slave labour. Of course they have no idea about the lies and cruelty of the smugglers who hunt for prey along the routes to Europe.

This story of exploitation and modern slavery is repeated in the UK where around 3,000 Vietnamese children are in forced labour. Or on the seas off Indonesia where Rohingya refuges crowded on boats are pushed away, unwanted by Malaysia, Indonesia or Thailand. Australia, my home nation refused to assist 700 Rohingya on a sinking boat. The Rohingya, one of the most persecuted groups in the world, are falling victim to trafficking into Malaysia and Thailand, countries with a poor record of human rights.

How can we respond to desperate need with such callous lack of charity?

The response of some politicians is that rescuing people in the Med or off Indonesia only encourages more people to come.

It’s true, we do need to address the causes of need in Eritrea, Sudan, Vietnam and Burma, which means generous aid and access to economic growth, not cutting the aid budget as Australia has done last month. But we must also give immediate aid to the victims of exploitation because God demands that we do so (or basic human rights if you don’t want to bring God into it). And we need to support those on the front line in Italy or Indonesia so they don’t have the whole burden of providing care.

I am not a liberal lovey or a naïve idealist – I just know that we need to respond.

So once again, talk, chat, argue about these issues to overcome fear and prejudice.

Please write to your Foreign Minister (and send a copy to your local political representative) about this. I have included a sample letter about the Rohingya that you could adapt)

If we do not speak out, politicians will think there is no mandate for compassion.

PS. As for the sale of the Picasso, I do not need to tell you the details – suffice to say that the NY Times estimates that the top 1% of wealthy people in the world have their own hierarchy of ‘inequality’ and that someone who can afford $179 million for a single painting must be in the top 0.0001% of wealthy people. Madness!

PPS. Please pray for local people in Italy, Lebanon, Jordan, Indonesia and other places facing an influx of refugees. Pray that they will be open-hearted and pray that other nations in Europe and Asia and North America will not harden their hearts.

Sample Letter about the Rohingya (my thanks to Oddny Gumaer from Partners Relief and Development for drafting this letter)

Dear

I am deeply concerned about the continuing humanitarian crisis we see unfolding in the Andaman Sea, where thousands of Rohingya refugees are trapped in unseaworthy vessels trying to escape persecution in Myanmar/Burma.

I am sure you are aware of the recent crisis involving over 700 people stranded for several weeks. They had no food or water, and many needed urgent medical care. About 1/3 of the refugees were children.

The Rohingya are the most persecuted people group in Myanmar. In 1982, a new Citizenship Law removed their citizenship and rendered them stateless. The law has a very serious impact on the one million Rohingya who cannot move freely, and are denied basic services. In recent years more than 140,000 Rohingya have been forced into camps that many refer to as concentration camps. As life has become more intolerable for the Rohingya, thousands have made the decision to flee by sea.

Malaysian and Thai authorities have said that they will push back boats and deport migrants and refugees, to prevent further arrivals, in contravention of international law.

I want to urge you, to take action on behalf of the Rohingya refugees. Please put pressure on the Thai, Malaysian and Indonesian governments to allow Rohingya boats to land on their shores and urge the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) to work towards a humane and just solution to the refugee crisis, including measures to rescue those at sea.

I also ask that you speak up for the rights of Rohingya in Burma, Bangladesh and Malaysia. An urgent response is needed as this vulnerable group is also falling victim to trafficking.

Yours sincerely,

[1] It was the international edition for Sunday May 24