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Blessed Friendships

Today I am 35 weeks pregnant. I had my baby shower on Saturday. My amazing sister-in-law Rachel hosted it in her lovely home with a delicious high tea. Not all of my dear friends and family could make it of course, but I was able to share in the afternoon with 19 of the most loving, inspiring and encouraging women I have ever known. As my treasured friends started arriving and embraced me with hugs, I was reminded of a message that Cam sent me many years ago about the friendships that God would give me here in Perth.

Rachel had a wonderful idea as an activity for us to sit together in a circle and each friend to share how they know me and to share a word of wisdom or encouragement for me as I embark on the motherhood journey. What an incredibly thoughtful and empowering activity! My self-talk has been very harsh and negative for many years, but as Rachel began to share first, I decided that I would accept all the loving and positive words of truth and let them settle deep in my heart. It was a blessing that will live in me for a lifetime. It reaffirmed for me that I have some incredibly beautiful and blessed friendships.

I went back through my messages later to find the exact words of Cam’s text, which was from 23rd March 2011:

Cam's message

At the time I would have thought, “oh that’s a nice thing to say” but I would not have taken it seriously, nor have I really thought about since then. I now realise it was a prophetic message; a promise from God. A promise He has fulfilled in a way I could never have imagined possible, just as the message describes, as I learn more and more how God sees me, and sharing that journey intimately with friends who I call family.

It is a reminder that He is good and faithful and I just wanted to write a short post to share it.

Ecclesiastes 4:9-12 (NLT) – Two people are better off than one, for they can help each other succeed. If one person falls, the other can reach out and help. But someone who falls alone is in real trouble. Likewise, two people lying close together can keep each other warm. But how can one be warm alone? A person standing alone can be attacked and defeated, but two can stand back-to-back and conquer. Three are even better, for a triple-braided cord is not easily broken.

Hebrews 10:23-25 (NLT) – Let us hold tightly without wavering to the hope we affirm, for God can be trusted to keep his promise. Let us think of ways to motivate one another to acts of love and good works. And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another, especially now that the day of his return is drawing near.

It is my desire for every woman, and man, to have intimate and connected friendships, to have people come alongside you, and for you to come alongside friends, in all times of life. If you are without this, I pray you will find it.

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My (partial) tribe of friends, sisters and mothers.

Winning the Lotto…

The Generosity Guy

We take pride in making choices. They don’t have to be good choices or have positive outcomes, we just like the fact that we can decide for ourselves. It’s one of our favourite pastimes. The amount of times that I’ve thought “don’t tell me what to do, I will make my own decision thank you very much!” is embarrassing. We like to be in charge of our own destiny and we feel better when we are in control.

About the only decision we have zero control over is one incredibly significant aspect of life. We cannot control when or where we are born. I was born in Australia whether I liked it or not. There was nothing that I did that made this possible. The same can be said for my parents and their parents. Being born in Australia doesn’t make me great nor does it make me terrible. Tim…

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Announcement Song

We are excited to announce that our family will be growing by one in 2016. Due on 5th July.  Can’t believe how blessed we are!

The Seven Week Milestone

Today marks seven weeks since Kieran and I got married. It might not seem like a particularly special anniversary to celebrate, but it’s a significant milestone because it is the longest amount of time I’ve ever been married. Cam and I had only 6 weeks and 6 days of marriage.

I shared with Kieran a few weeks ago that subconsciously I feared that our marriage would also ‘disappear’, because this is what past experience has taught me. It hasn’t been at the forefront of my mind, but it has been a lingering and strange feeling, to expect, and anticipate, without any valid reason, that Kieran wouldn’t be with me and I would suddenly be alone, no longer married again. It perplexes me that even though we are in the middle of completely different circumstances, with no illness staring us in the face every day, with no matter-of-weeks prognosis looming over us like dark clouds, with no conversations of death and funeral plans being had, that my mind has still played tricks on me so far as to ‘expect’ something similar to happen.

This phase after my wedding in 2011, I was shattered, lost in concealed tears, traumatised and alone. Today, seven weeks into my new marriage, I am so deeply thankful to have my health, to have a step-daughter and step-son to call my family, and to have a loving, funny, kind, empathetic, compassionate husband, who adores me and supports me and encourages me to be who God shapes me to be. Stepping into a step-family has not been easy. I have frequent days where fear makes me want to run away because I don’t feel like I am capable of being what this family needs. It’s hard to admit that this family is in fact exactly what I need and God knows it. As I slowly work through the fears and the false doubts of my capabilities, Kieran is right there with me, and I know that God is creating a new thing, and just as He promised that He would return to me what I have lost (see post from Jan 2014) He has and is continuing to restore what I have lost.

“…He will give a crown of beauty for ashes, a joyous blessing instead of mourning, festive praise instead of despair.” ~ Isaiah 61:3

So, to my husband, happy seven week anniversary, my love. We made it. Here’s to the next seven decades together.

What is the Colour of New Life?

Last Saturday I visited some friends in the Perth hills who sadly lost their house in the Stoneville fires on 12th January 2014. They shared with me their story and we went to see the ruins of their family home that they shared with their three boys.

At 11am on Sunday the 12th, the fire began, unbeknownst to Nicki and Campbell. By 11.30am they could smell smoke and hear helicopters close by. At 12.00pm the helicopters were flying directly overhead. They had not received any official communication to evacuate but Nicki sensed it was time to take the boys and leave. Campbell stayed to pack a few things. By 12.45pm Campbell was driving away from their house up their driveway that was lined by flames. By 1.30pm, their house was burnt to the ground. Two hundred metres away, you couldn’t even tell there were fires. Fifty-six houses were tragically lost that day. The lives of 56 families turned upside down in two hours. Fortunately and miraculously, there were no lives lost.

We went to see the ruins of their house. I’ve never stepped close to a home destroyed by fire, I’ve only ever seen it on TV. I found it to be fascinatingly tragic. Seeing the tragedy of every item you held dear due to a memorable moment in time. Lost. The things that are irreplaceable. Photos, letters, cards and love notes, a special gift from a loved one lost, an original painting, a piece of art you created, a favourite dress, a family heirloom. At the end of the day, Nicki and Campbell, along with their family and friends, are grateful that they are alive. That’s the healthiest perspective you could have in a difficult situation like this. But this doesn’t change the fact that it’s simply crappy that this happened to them and that they have lost so much. They will rebuild and they will be able to buy new things to fill their new house. But two things that will stay with them for a long time to come that will appear at unexpected times – the memories of the things lost and the fear of losing to a fire again.

My heart broke for them but yet they didn’t assume a position in need of sorrow or pity. They want to get on with life, start anew with the opportunity given to them to rebuild a home of their own design. They have moved into a rental house close to their home which means they are still close to work and school. The next 12 months will have difficulties of course. As if building a home isn’t stressful enough but to have to continue to maintain routine for their children, in a home that isn’t theirs, with a collection of things in it, which have graciously been donated by locals, but also aren’t their own.  Although the ‘stuff’ is insignificant in the grand scheme of life, but we get attached to our comforts and it would be difficult to start all over again.

Nicki and Campbell kindly allowed me to post these photos of the remains of their house.  While we were there, I observed a special moment that I tried to capture on the trusty iPhone camera.  Standing in her driveway, looking at the ruins of her house, I watched Nicki delighting in dozens of black cockatoos flying over us, nesting in the blackened trees high above us, amazed at their presence in charcoal trees.  Earlier she told me that she went shopping to buy a new dress that morning as she wanted to have something nice to wear to go out to dinner that night with me and some other close friends.  She struggled with this as she didn’t want to buy another dress.  Minutes before she evacuated her house three weeks earlier, she put her hands on her favourite dress.  A dress she has had for 15 years.  A dress that always made her feel good when she wore it.  She physically had her hands on it to take with her but decided against it as she thought to herself “I don’t need to take that.”  In the moment I observed Nicki smiling at the black cockatoos, standing in the dust of her lost possessions, glowing in her brightly mesmerising new dress that she didn’t want to buy, I saw her beauty in the tragedy of loss and the new beginnings to come.  I saw the colour of new life.

The driveway to a picture of loss

The driveway to a picture of loss

The ashes of a place made home.

The ashes of a place once a home to a beautiful family of five.

The saddest lost treasure, Campbell's motorbike.

The saddest lost treasure, Campbell’s motorbike.

Three weeks after the fires, new life springs abundantly.

Three weeks after the fires, new life springs abundantly.

The Colour of New Life.
The Colour of New Life.

The full expression of His love

To experience one amazing love in my lifetime was a gift.  Cam came from left field and took me by total surprise.  God had it all planned before I even knew Him to gift me with a beautiful, Godly man I didn’t know I needed in my life.  He further blessed me with His strength to get through the most painfully traumatic experience of my life in losing Cam.  It took a long time, but I no longer see it as loss but as gain.  I gained faith and salvation, the knowledge of what true love is and a life of blessings in Perth.  For a long time I wondered if I could ever love like that again or if there was someone in the world that would be equipped to love me in the way I desired, with a similar intense love I had previously experienced.  A part of me believed God is capable.  Another part of me thought ‘most people don’t encounter this kind of love once in a lifetime, how could I find this for a second time?’  A dear friend from Cam’s and my church said to me soon after he died that God would return to me what I’ve lost.  I didn’t understand how that could be possible.  I’ve lost so much in Cam.  He died.  How could He return that to me?

But God is God.  He is capable.  He is good.  So indescribably good.  His love overwhelms me to the point of wanting to fall to my knees in deep gratitude.  If one love in my life wasn’t already a blessing, to gift me with another, well that’s just ridiculous.  Ridiculously gracious.  Ridiculously beautiful.  Ridiculously furious love.  But this, He has done.  God’s love for me is Kieran.  Through bringing into existence our love for each other, it is in this, that God is revealing to me the depth of His love in full expression.  Showing me what His love for me really is and how love in a relationship is created to be.  A love of who I am.  A love built on honour and respect.  A love born out of selflessness.  A love that leads.  A love that makes me feel safe and protected.  An equal and reciprocal love.

So I really haven’t been good at this blogging thing lately.  A lot has happened in a year.  Obviously.  I spent most of 2013 trying to fit myself into relationship that I couldn’t admit was wrong for us both on so many levels.  But I have no regrets, for I grew significantly in that.   It forced me to face the cyclic patterns of depression I had experienced from my teenage years and through my adult life.  Often I would deny the signs of despair, hopelessness and worthlessness as it came and went, attributing it to whatever was happening in my life at the time.  I never spoke of it to anyone.  I would simply spend too much time home alone crying, hurting, breaking silently.  During these intermittent, unpredictable cycles I would disengage from relationships and friendships and push people away.  I recognised this happening in me through my relationship last year and although I was tempted to run like I normally do, I actually couldn’t bear the thought of losing someone else.  I had it stubbornly cemented in my head that after Cam died, the next relationship was it for me because I didn’t think I could survive any more loss.  This is why I tried to mold myself into something that wasn’t right.  I’ve since realised that I can’t possibly go through life without experiencing any form of loss again.  That’s just not reasonable.  I spoke about this with a friend of mine who experienced a similar loss.  At some level we have both had the notion that because we have endured such tragedy and heartbreak, that we are somehow now immune to any more tragedy and heartbreak, that once we get to the other side of grief, life will be peachy.  That’s just not realistic.  It was a nice thought while it lasted.  Perhaps this brief notion served a purpose as one of the many mechanisms that helped get me through the grief.  I know that there will still be challenges to face in my life.  I also know that His strength and His provision of supportive people is all I need to get me through anything.

When I finally had the courage to seek help for depression, my determined self went all in.  My GP put me on a low dose of a SSRI anti-depressant of which I stayed on for 7 months.  The first couple of weeks was uncomfortable and I had difficulties focusing at work.  I felt spaced out and vague, not good when training customers.  But I persevered in determination.  I started seeing a brilliant Christian psychologist.  I’ve seen counselors and psychologists before which served it’s purpose at the time in having an objective person to confide in.  Talking stuff out is all well and good, but this new psychologist put me to work during our sessions and also giving me homework, the result provided me with practical tools to use in daily life to combat the root of the feelings of worthlessness and hopelessness, dealing with the underlying cause stemming back to where it all begins in the early years of childhood.  This I will keep as a topic for another post.

So in summary.  Found love, my heart was broken, God healed, didn’t think I could find another, God is good, God provides, found love again.  Amazing!  Blessed.  Grateful.  Overwhelmed.  Honoured.  I am treasured.

To live again. To love again.

It’s been too long since my last post. I really wasn’t intended to stop writing or leave such a large gap. I suppose it’s just one of those things where life gets in the way. There has been emotional ups and downs, but for the most part, the last 7 months have been positive.

The first anniversary of Cam’s death was a marked moment in my grief. A line drawn in the sand and a step across to a side of decision. Decision to live again. Decision to be happy. Decision to not let the traumatic events of Cam’s death torment me anymore. I have decided not to relive it. And so if I find my mind flickering towards those memories, I think about or do something that makes me happy, distracts me. It’s not suppressing pain or grief for I believe I have grieved well. It is choosing to move forward and live in peace. And that I am. I feel deep peace. The heaviness and pain I felt has gone. I’m very much enjoying being free from stress, sadness and anxiety. Cam is free, and so am I.

Since my last post, God relentlessly continues to bless me and provide for me. I started a full-time job as a Trainer at the end of August. It took me two months to find work after I came back from the states but it has turned out to be the perfect job for me. I absolutely love it. The people are lovely, the company really looks after their staff and after more than 10 years of indecision, I feel like I have finally found my niche. I have found my passion in training people.

In October I moved into a lovely little townhouse not far from the city and close to my office. This being my 11th move in 10 years, I am happy to settle here for a while.

I am still surrounded by amazing, caring, generous people. I spent Christmas with my family in Queensland, the first since I moved to Perth in 2010. I was able to enjoy this Christmas. The Christmas before, the first without Cam, I wanted to hide from the world, to curl up and die.

In December, a dear friend moved in to my spare room. She is the same age as me and sadly also lost her partner a week after Cam died. God most certainly put us together to share our journey and support each other in grief and moving forward in life. He knows. He knows exactly what we need even when we don’t know that we need it. It’s rather uncanny how in sync the events in our life have been since we were both widowed. She has been a blessing and an absolutely pleasure to know and live with. She’s one of those people I know I’ll grow old with, even if we live on opposites sides of the world.

In February, I turned another year older. Three years shy of 30 now.

One Year On

One year ago today my husband Cam left us to be with Jesus.  It’s been a long and difficult year.  There have been many tears, anger and sadness that seemed never-ending, wishing upon wish that things had turned out differently and that I could wake up next to Cam to find it was all a bad dream.  A deep well of grief in my existence and darkness that I thought the light would never reach.  As if losing Cam was not enough to deal with, but the way he left was incredibly traumatic.  I’ve endured countless flashbacks to those moments where we helplessly watched him decline in a matter of days and even hours.  Thankfully I don’t experience this anymore.  The last time I was overwhelmed with a traumatic flashback, I was at Bethel Church in California in the middle of worship two months ago.  As I began to get emotional and reach for the tissues, I felt God speaking into my heart and gently shifting my focus from what was lost, to what was given.  I started thinking about the good, the joy, the gifts of life and faith and the love that God has given  me through Cam.  I felt the raw grief lift off me and all that has been given to me suddenly had more weight than the pain of losing him.  I felt freedom.  I felt joy.  I felt His love deep within.  And I grabbed it with both hands and I will never let go.  No one and nothing will ever take that away from me now.  What an awesome God!  At times I still feel sadness and lonely without Cam.  But I don’t want to miss him like I used to.  Little by little, at my own pace, I’ve been making healthy progress in moving forward with a life without Cam.  Since coming back from America, I have a whole new lease on life and I’m the happiest I’ve been in a long time.

I am an organised person and I like to be prepared for whatever is ahead.  This has been especially important for me when anticipating the first events without Cam – first Christmas, birthdays, anniversaries etc.  While preparing my thoughts for this day, I thought that I would reflect on the events of this time last year.  But I realised, Cam isn’t reliving those traumatic memories and neither should I.  So I’m not going to.  I’m going to reflect on the happiness and love we shared and put the traumatic memories to rest.  It’s amazing the memories you hold dear even in the most tragic of times.  It’s those moments shared with loved ones left behind that I will hold on to.  An embrace at the precise moment of heartbreak that deepens a bond, the minutes when time seems to stop for an eternity shared with a sister, the care from a mother whose love knows no limits.

“For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.” (Philippians 1:21)

Today I will not mourn what was lost, but celebrate what is given to us in Christ.

Fare thee well New York

Ok so I’m behind again. Here’s a quick update.

I did a lot of the typical touristy stuff in New York. By the end of my time there, I’d had enough of the crowds, traffic, honking horns and hot dog stands. But I had a great time – New York is certainly mind blowing. I got the opportunity to go to a New York Yankees baseball game (which they won), took the double decker bus tour around downtown, uptown and Brooklyn, went to the top of the Empire State building, watched Usher perform at the Rockefeller Centre for the NBC Today Show (when I say watched, I mean heard – couldn’t see much from the back of the crowd), took a cruise to Liberty Island to see the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island where over 12 million people immigrated to America between 1892-1954. I find this amazing… in 1907 approximately 1.25 million immigrants were processed at Ellis Island in that one year – that’s the population of Adelaide. I hung out in Times Square daily, experienced the New York subway, paid my respects at Ground Zero and took a rickshaw ride around Central Park. I also managed to squeeze in three broadway shows – Sister Act, Memphis and Chicago. Memphis was by far my favourite. New York graced me with 5 days of perfect weather. After that it rained so I figured it was a good excuse to go shopping at Bloomingdales and Macy’s.

I have to be honest, it wasn’t all peachy in NY for me. I fight hard against the darkness that grief can bring, but sometimes it creeps up on me. Even with millions of people outside my doorstep, I felt so alone and all I wanted was to be with Cam. I was feeling homesick too, missing my family and my girls – I was in serious need of some girly company!

I started a three week tour from New York to Los Angeles yesterday. First destination: Washington DC where I am now. As I write this I am sitting in a park hand feeding almonds to some squirrels. My new friends on the tour are all really lovely and we’re only a small group of 5 ladies and 1 guy plus our female tour guide. Got my girly company after all!

Visited JFK’s burial and eternal flame yesterday at the Arlington National Cemetery and saw the changing of the guards at the tomb of the unknown soldiers. Did lots of walking today to see museums and art galleries, monuments and the White House. I am spent! Over the next few days we’ll be traveling to Virginia and Tennessee. Yeeha!!

Here are some pics…

Empire State Building

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View from the observatory deck

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At Yankee Stadium

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Statue of Liberty

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New York, New York

I’m going to try to give more regular (and brief) updates. Arrived in New York yesterday. I was quite overwhelmed as the shuttle bus driver drove into Manhattan (not to mention a little afraid for my life – oh my goodness the driving is C-R-A-Z-Y with a capital C). Seriously have to have your wits about you whether driving or on foot or you will get run over but a car, bike, truck, taxi, limo, bus, people or a hot dog stand. My hotel is right in the centre of Times Square, like right in the middle of all the chaos which is awesome. Close to everything one could ever need – clothes shops, shoe shops, tourist centres, sightseeing attractions, a million restaurants and other questionable street food stalls, electronic stores, hot dog stands. The thing I’ve had most difficult trying to find is fruit. Oh well, the clothes I came away with are already a little tight :/

Today I did a double-decker bus tour of downtown NY and Brooklyn. It’s so mind blowing to see street after street after street of skyscrapers. Over 1.5 million people in an area of 59 square kilometers call Manhattan home. To put that into perspective for my Perth people, Perth has 1.7 million people in 314 square kilometers (thanks Wikipedia!).

I also went to the World Trade Center memorial. I felt like bawling before I even got into the plaza. It seemed like I was the only one affected that way out of hundreds lined up to get screened before we could access the memorial and even when we were inside. Maybe it was because my grief is still so raw, I don’t know. It just seemed more like a tourist attraction than a memorial. No one seemed to be still and quiet and reflect on the traumatic time it was, the thousands of lives lost, the thousands of people who risked their lives in the rescue mission, the families who are left with shattered hearts and the people who were there supporting them. It made me shed a few tears.

Tonight I got a cheap broadway ticket from Times Square to see Sister Act at Broadway Theatre which was great. I even sat next to a professional opera singer who is originally from NY but now lives in Germany. Never met an opera singer before – I can tick that one off the list! I look forward to catching another show or two before Tuesday!

Here are some pics for those that are behind the times and don’t have Facebook…

Central Park

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World Trade Center Memorial (pool two)

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Broadway Theatre

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Times Square

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