Have you ever woken from a deep sleep disoriented and struggling to reach through the fog of dreams to return to reality?
The moment where no amount of self-talk calms the mind or body to re-enter that bliss of oblivion. It happens to me often, more so now after retiring. A little odd when the clock should be slowing down to give you time to cherish and enjoy ‘smelling the roses’!
For me, life is passing too quickly. I sometimes have to pinch myself and shake off the truth. I am into my sixties, mother/step-mum to four, a Grandmother to four, and I lived my life surrounded by ‘extended extra kids’ who came to visit and stayed.
When surrounded by my beloveds, I stare in wonderment and have trouble seeing the truth: these are mine! When did all this happen? How come I still feel 20, free-spirited and ready for life’s next adventure?
Now I have joined (albeit through age, not choice!) society’s bastion of ‘grey nomads’, I supposedly have deep pearls of wisdom to impart – instructional tales of survival of life’s many, varied stages. A woman that is meant to have all the answers!
In truth, if I can’t understand and accept the fact I’m a Grandmother, any sane person would see that I’m a fraud!
So here I am, sharing thoughts and lessons learned, happy times and loneliness, challenges and disappointments, fights and victories, and the struggles and delights of my life. All in the hope that I might encourage, and shed a little wisdom of my experiences for those who may see the challenges ahead with dread and trepidation.
I do not profess to have answers; no textbooks, nor magic potions, just stories of the heart spoken in love with degrees of honesty, each bearing all the glaring mistakes and fears of years gone by. Struggles to get up when knocked down, yet with resolution: to know that my life past and life future has meaning. I belong here.
Do you remember your very first memory? Truly remember, not just someone else’s recall or a photo, but a particular event that happened in your earliest years?
Mine? A beautiful pale-faced woman, my mother, laying on a 1950’s over-stuffed grey couch in the ‘front room’ in our house. The room that we only dared enter when we had visitors on a Sunday afternoon. It carried the musty smell and cold air of inactivity and isolation.
The only other memory at the age of 3 was the sound of my Father’s grief at the gravesite.
Isolation and separation go hand in hand when you have no idea why you are suddenly thrown into a whole new world. You learn to survive and build protection inside.
You learn many things in your formative years, and learned behaviours mould you into the person that moves through life stages plotting the future path you will tread.
By the time I was in high school I had pretty much mastered the art of shy pretence. My reality was constructed through the world I discovered in books. Not fiction, but the powerful stories of real people, carving out a life that was acclaimed by the world as testimonies of godliness, compassion and martyring. This became my dream: the romantic and wholesome world of being a hero and making my mark on the world. That’s what I wanted to be when I grew up.
Gladys May Aylward (24 February 1902 – 3 January 1970) was a British evangelical Christian missionary to China, whose story was told in the book The Small Woman, by Alan Burgess. The book became my inspiration, my dream, my prayer, and my utter desire. A path of holiness and life for God. That book was my constant companion.
By 15, I was already, in my mind at least, measuring up for a nun’s habit or such saintly attire that would shout my desire to make a mark in the world! Don’t you just love the pure innocence of the young?
I do however have to admit that I had become so used to dealing with the impossibles of life, that joining the China Inland Missionary Society just seemed a no-brainer.
Life at 17 in the 1960’s was exciting, and everything was possible. I packed my overnight case, caught the train to London and arrived at an austere country house for the weekend recruitment seminar. I can’t remember how I managed to get into the seminar. I’m sure the powers that be had no idea that I was so young, so unworldly, and yet so passionate.
Having now travelled through five decades of life, and being of the age that most of the participants were at that weekend, I reflect and marvel at their patience and understanding of my innocence and bravery. They told me, with great love and empathy, that even though my heart, mind and every fibre of my being wanted to book a ticket to China, I still had some growing up to do before that could be a reality.
They guided me on the path of gaining my teaching degree, communicating each month for the next three years their triumphs and ongoing work in China, and gently reconciled me post-graduation to the undeniable fact that China would never be my final destination. The doors by the late 1960’s were firmly closed. Gladys’ work had been curtailed. She retired and was later buried at the age of 68 in her beloved China.
By now, some will be wondering why I am sharing this story. I beg you to take a moment and think back to your childhood, or perhaps to your own children’s’ aspirations for the future when that question is asked: “And what do you want to do when you grow up?”
Pause and reflect, and like me, turn to the ever constant in our lives: God.
“Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.”
Ask, seek, knock. Notice the three different senses being considered here.
Asking is verbal; we are to use our mouths and petition God for our needs and desires.
Believe and seek with our minds—this is more than asking; it is a setting of priorities and a focusing of the heart.
To knock involves physical movement, one in which the we take action.
His heart’s desire is for us to persistently and passionately look for Him all around us, and when we do, He promises He will be found. Seeking is a matter of paying attention with an engaged mind and acute awareness.
And that’s what I did, I asked.
If not China, then where?
I sought the way to get there.
I knocked on the door of my future, and God opened it.
At the age of 21, my life began. As the plane left Fiji, the blue Pacific lay below for three hours until the jewels of the Pacific came in sight, like a beautiful hand sculptured necklace. The Gilbert Islands (now known as Kiribati) dazzled me. I still had my treasured Gladys’s ‘The Small Woman’ safely packed along with my bible, but now lay open on my knee was the book ‘Pattern of Island’ – my destiny and my future.
I may have wanted to be the next missionary in China, but God led me to the United Nations and my teaching post in the middle of the Pacific Ocean.
Never say never, either to yourself or any child that you may be blessed to be given.
My life is a patchwork of experiences and opportunities, but it has always been based on my dependency on God.
It began when the plane touched down on the short coral palm tree-lined runway, and stopped beside a small open thatched roofed hut with the sign: TARAWA INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT.
I lost my way many times in the years that followed, but always, always, when I got back to asking, seeking and knocking, I was found.
So began the exciting, many times frightening, road to NOW.
There are many more of life’s lessons that can be put into words, and maybe I can share sometime in the future. For now, I am resolute in my mind and spirit that I will continue to accept where I am now and imbibe its truth with satisfaction and the knowledge that learning never stops. We never stop growing up. There’s no magical age to reach; each year brings more opportunities to ask, seek and knock.
If there is one lesson I have learnt which I can wisely pass on to anyone who wishes to listen: never belittle or be negative towards another’s dreams, visions or aspirations. It takes courage to believe and have faith.
“Courage is contagious. Every time we chose courage; we make everyone around us a little better and the world a little braver.”
As a Mother and now a Grandmother, I have tried to encourage and pass on what has always kept me in check.
You are unable to change the past. Yesterday’s actions and decisions are now over. The future, though? The future can be moulded and changed by learning from both failures and successes. Not just saying sorry, but changing direction and choosing a different path. Above all, to acknowledge the ultimate Truth, that I am saved by the Grace of God.