A journey into openness and honesty… Distilling truths about ourselves, others and life from shared experiences… Learning to live consistently with that truth… Becoming free to be who we truly are…

Archive for March, 2015

Love Your Neighbour – Muslims Included

Jesus said “Love your neighbour”

Jesus said “Love your neighbour”.
He didn’t say “Love your neighbour, except Muslims.”

In Jesus’ day a people group called Samaritans held different beliefs to the Jews and were generally despised and actively avoided by them.

Jesus strongly challenged this attitude:

  • He purposely travelled through Samaritan towns instead of crossing the Jordan River to avoid contact with them (John 4:4-5).
  • He not only spoke with a Samaritan woman contrary to Jewish custom, but reached out to her at a caring, personal level… a radical move for a Jewish man (John 4:9).
  • When asked whom to regard as our neighbor, Jesus told the story of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37). The Samaritan was the good guy in the story who rescued a Jew who had been robbed and beaten. Jesus was sending a clear message that a person with different beliefs is just as capable of demonstrating practical love and care as a Jew. (In fact the other Jews in the story just walked past their fellow countryman and left him for dead!)

The challenge to me:

What can I do to love my neighbour, especially Muslims?
What can I do to challenge my own attitudes and rid myself of unwarranted fears?

What can I do to help break down fear of Muslims in the Australian community?
How can I best challenge negative attitudes toward everyday Muslims based on fear of extremist Islam when I see this promoted by the media or sometimes by the religious right in Australia? This fear is understandable given the horrific activities of Muslim extremist groups such as ISIS and Boko Haram, and was reinforced by the recent Lindt Café seige in Sydney, but in my view it is not warranted, as the majority of Australian Muslims are also horrified by these things.

Some personal goals:

I want to actively seek to build relationships with Muslims and establish some genuine friendships.
This will help me gain a first hand understanding of Islam from Muslim believers themselves, in place of a “Google search” understanding, or a media biased understanding.

I want to be a bridge between Muslims and the rest of the Australian community (one of hopefully many bridges) and help counter unfounded fears by being able to:

  • share my experience of Muslims as personal friends,
  • give others an understanding of Islam from the perspective of regular, moderate Muslims (along with their views on the extremists who pervert it), and,
  • encourage others to also reach out to Muslims and build relationships with them.

A challenge for all of us:

What does “love your neighbour” mean for you in relation to Muslims in your community?

Can I respectfully encourage you to examine your thoughts and attitudes towards Muslims and ask how these were formed? 

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Thirteen Weeks On – Returning to Caritas Christi

28th January 2015 (originally posted on Facebook)

This afternoon I’m sitting in the cafe at the Caritas Christi Hospice.

Thirteen weeks ago today at 5:15pm on Wednesday 29th Oct, Rosie unexpectedly took her last breath here. I am so incredibly thankful that I was able to be at her bedside for that moment, having just come back from having coffee and time out with two supportive mates.

I came here today to return a mattress cover loaned to Rosie by PalCare who just happen to be collocated with Caritas and realised that I wanted to stay and spend one last time here to reflect on the events of that day.I knew that it was important to come back one day and sit here knowing that this is a sacred place of peace and release for both Rosie and I.

In a little while I’ll move from the cafe and go and sit in the chairs in the little foyer outside the room Rosie was in. This was the place where the family gathered in grief with me after she had gone, each of us going to and from her room to say the final words that we wanted to say.

And then, just as we did on that night, the appropriate moment will come today when it’s right to leave Rosie here and return home to begin a new phase of life.

Not that Rosie is really here; I knew in my heart the moment she died that she had left this place. Nonetheless it was in this sacred space that she spent her last moments on earth and it was at that moment a new journey began for her and all of us who loved her.

Goodbye my dearest Rosie.

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Rosie’s Funeral – My Tribute

My beautiful wife Rosie passed away on 29th October  2014.
We held her funeral on November on 6th November 2014.

My tribute…

Rosie's funeral - My tribute

Rosie’s last hour – Live well, die well
Janet and Janice have told us how Rosie lived well… how she loved God, loved living life, and loved bringing hope and healing to the lives of many, many others.

I would like to tell you the story of Rosie’s last hour, the final step in her journey of not only living well but dying well also.

On Wednesday last week I arrived back at the Caritas Christi Hospice around 4pm after two mates had taken me out for coffee. I walked into Rosie’s room where she was laying back on her partly elevated bed. While she did not seem distressed, her behaviour was different from the two days before… Every few minutes she moved her head from side to side and her breathing was more labored. Her eyes needed a clean and her mouth was open and dry. I dampened a face washer and wiped her face and moistened her lips, but she gave no indication of wanting a drink when I offered her a glass with straw.

I held her and spoke to her and, in a barely audible voice, her final words to me were “I love you”.

Shortly after our favourite PalCare nurse arrived to say her final goodbyes. She commented that Rosie seemed restless and suggested I call the Caritas nurse. When the nurse arrived I asked if she could give Rosie a low dose of morphine to make her breathing easier. The nurse went out of the room to organize an IV drip.

In the next few minutes I held Rosie again and said to her a number of times, “Rosie you are free to go”. As I spoke she rolled her eyes in an unusual way and her breathing changed. The nurse returned just at that moment and said “My God, she’s dying, she’s taking her last breaths!” and with that Rosie died peacefully, with no trauma, and no distress.

On the one hand I was stunned and shocked… we were not expecting her to die until later in the week. On the other hand I couldn’t have asked it to happen in a better way. Rosie had continued almost pain free to the very end of her 16 year journey. A few hours earlier Rosie was alert enough to enthusiastically greet Sheralee, our daughter-in-law, who had just arrived from Perth. Just the day before Rohan too had arrived from Perth. Rosie had waited until all her children were together.

On the previous Sunday night, Rosie put in a sterling effort sitting up in a wheelchair for two hours to share in a family dinner at Caritas. It was a time of laughter and a time of tears as we all openly acknowledged with her that she was nearing the end of her journey, and prayed with her as a family.

On the previous Friday night, Rosie and I went to a glass plate making workshop that she was so determined to go to. Rosie sat at the work table in her wheelchair but was too weak to cut the glass, so instead of making separate plates, I cut the glass and we made a plate together. The precious result of our final team effort is on the memorial table in the foyer.

Only five weeks before, we held Rosie’s Farewell/Birthday party. Over 230 people attended. Rosie wanted to celebrate with others and say goodbye while she was still alive, instead of us holding a wake afterwards without her.

Rosie not only lived well, she died extraordinarily well too.

Rosie wasn’t perfect
But, just like you and I Rosie wasn’t perfect, and I believe it’s important to recognize and acknowledge this.

Some very famous words used by Senator Edward Kennedy when he gave the eulogy for Robert F. Kennedy have been on my heart for Rosie. I’ve adapted the words for her but I’m sure many of you will recognize them.

“My wife need not be idealized, or enlarged in death beyond what she was in life, but be remembered simply as a God-loving and compassionate woman, who saw suffering and tried to heal it, saw injustice and tried to right it, and saw the needs of so many, many people around her and gave them love, acceptance and hope.

As she said many times (not in these words but by how she lived) “Some people see things as they are and say why. I dream things that never were and say why not.”

Those of us who loved her and who celebrate her life today, pray that what she was to us and what she wished for others, will continue on in our own lives and the lives of those we touch.”

Rosie need not be idealized, or enlarged in death beyond what she was in life. Just like you and I she wasn’t perfect… but that is the very thing that gives us hope, and the inspiration to love those around us! Rosie had absolutely no doubt that God loved her regardless of her limitations and imperfections, and she worked so hard at sharing that love with so many people in so many practical ways despite her illness. She set an example of what we too can do even though we too are not perfect.

For many of you it may come as a surprise that Rosie and I did not have a perfect fairytale relationship. Up until a few years ago I suffered severe depression. For almost half our married life we lived with the stress of Rosie having cancer. She and I were like two different jigsaw puzzles thrown together to make a single picture. After 33 years of marriage we were still struggling to make some of the pieces fit and there were gaps that we had simply decided to live with. But we loved one another, were very committed to each other, and we worked hard at our relationship… and we made the distance.

So what are the things that I treasure about Rosie?

  • She loved me unconditionally, in fact she adored me and accepted me for who I was. After decades of married life she said her heart still leapt when I walked through the door. How good is that?
  • Rosie had a huge heart for other people. Together we made a home that was open to other people, including many with deep needs… and many people’s lives were touched and changed. I know now however that sometimes our home was too open and our children a paid a price for this.
  • Rosie gave me freedom. When our children were young Rosie and I gave each other a separate night off each week. Later this became a separate week off each year… Rosie would go to a timeshare resort and do her beloved paperwork; I would head off bushwalking. Most important of all however she gave me freedom to walk my own faith journey. Over 20 years ago I stopped going to church. The deep conflict between my Christian faith and my life experience was tearing me apart and so I began a new journey which I am still on today. Rosie gave me freedom… she never tried to pressure me back into Christian faith; she fully respected and accepted the journey that I was on; she encouraged me to stay true to my own integrity, and constantly reinforced that God still very much loved and accepted me regardless.

Grief cannot suppress a profound sense that life is good
Today is a day of profound grief for all of us.

For me the last few weeks of Rosie’s life, and this past week since her dying, have been especially tough. It’s been a whirlwind of people and activity that has constantly prodded the pain but kept it at bay at the same time.

However, in the moments where I have stopped to reflect, alongside the many deep emotions which have yet to break the surface, there is a voice welling up within me that refuses to be silent. It is a profound sense that despite the pain of this time, life is still good, that I have a real hope for the future, and can look forward to new things to come, and that I today I can celebrate with pride and joy the life of my amazing Rosie.

 

Too close for comfort – A tough encounter

I’m currently exploring the south-west of Western Australia. I enjoy staying in Youth Hostels because they provide everything I need, are inexpensive, but comfortable. They allow me to be alone when I want to be alone, or engage with interesting travelers when I feel like company.

I got talking to a lady who’s currently travelling around Australia on her own. She’s a grandmother, a little further down life’s track than me, but very much full of life and energy. We talked about about our travels, some life experiences, our families, and inevitably the subject of losing Rosie came up. She in turn indicated that she was divorced after a long relationship.

So far so good… another interesting conversation to add to the many I’ve had in hostels before. It was getting late so I headed off to bed.

I was about to enter my room when I heard her call out to me. She’d just seen an advertisement on the noticeboard for a Twilight Cruise around Albany’s beautiful waterways. In an excited voice she told me she could extend her stay an extra night to include the cruise and asked if I’d like to come with her? $30 for a 2 hour cruise, some free drinks and food, an opportunity to enjoy a fun event with a fellow traveler.

A big ‘No!’ immediately resounded in my spirit.

But how was I going to handle it??

Not wanting to offend her I hesitated. I considered saying yes to avoid an awkward situation but knew I would regret betraying my very clear internal guide.

After a moment I said, “Thanks for the offer but I think I’ll say ‘no’.”

An awkward pause… what do I say next? How could I frame what my spirit was saying? Beyond the clear “No!” my rational thoughts were all over the place.

The best I could manage was, “At this stage I really need to have space.”

She responded with a questioning look, “I just thought it could be a fun thing to do. It has nothing to do with you and me.”

I thanked her for her offer and beat a hasty retreat into my room, relieved to have the door closed behind me.

As I lay there in the dark my brain was racing. To be fair she may well have had had nothing more in mind than sharing a fun event with a fellow traveler before moving on. Nonetheless I felt a sense of shock. I was shaking on the inside; it was an encounter way to close for comfort at this stage of my journey.

It was especially tough because Rosie loved cruising. Rosie loved water in all its forms and especially loved travelling on it, whether it be in a small, open-top boat or a huge cruise ship.

I missed Rosie’s love of cruising.

And in that moment I really missed her… more than any time since she left my side last year.

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Nature and God –The Big Question

I love being amidst nature… walking fern-filled valleys beneath tall eucalyptus trees; steep mountain climbs with the reward of breathtaking views from exposed peaks; wild, rugged coastline with jagged cliff tops and waves crashing below; wide empty beaches with pounding surf.

The awesome beauty of these places touches my spirit in a way that nothing else does… I am alone, but never lonely. My spirit cries out “Yes!” and I feel that I am home.

Sometimes when I describe my experience of nature to others they challenge me with rhetorical questions designed to lead me into their own personal belief framework…

“If these places have such amazing beauty who do you think is the Artist?”

“If creation is so amazing surely there must be a Creator?”

I’m sure they ask these questions with good intentions but I find them frustrating; perhaps even a little insulting. Do they think I have never considered these questions before? perhaps in greater depth than they have themselves? Why is it so difficult for them to accept and respect that I have reached a different conclusion?

For decades I believed without doubt, and without honest questioning, that God existed and was the Creator of all these things. But then my experience of life and my integrity got the better of me. It demanded I seriously question the beliefs scripted into my thinking during childhood, which I then maintained as an adult.

A case in point: If God created all the magnificent natural beauty around us did He also create the cyclone that has just devastated the people of Vanuatu? Both are examples of nature at work in its awesome way, but you are unlikely to hear someone citing the latter as evidence for a Creator God who loves the people He has created.

These days I am no longer sure that a Creator God exists, and I am far more content not being sure than when I “knew the Truth”. I feel much greater freedom not having to maintain beliefs that are not necessarily supported by the evidence before me.

Tragically it was fear of God’s disapproval, rejection and possible damnation that locked me into these beliefs for so long.

I no longer feel compelled to have an answer as to who, if anyone, is responsible for nature’s awesome beauty.

For me it is a far more authentic to just allow the question to “be”, to appreciate nature for what it is, and to wonder at the mystery of it all.

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When Emotions Collide

Last Saturday was Feb 28th. I found myself faced with deep, colliding emotions… profound grief, a post-holiday-high, the excitement of a new life… all attempting to occupy my brain at the same time.

Our 34th Wedding Anniversary

34 years ago, Feb 28th was also a Saturday. The temperature was a scorching 38 degrees C. When I took my shirt off that night I had coloured spots all over my back… dye had leaked out of confetti that found its way down my collar and stained my perspiring skin.

Last Saturday would have been Rosie’s and my 34th Wedding Anniversary… the first wedding anniversary after losing her… and a whole raft of grief was trying to rise to the surface.

Coming home from an incredible holiday

In stark contrast, I had arrived home late the night before after a 12 day expedition through the more remote parts of North-East Victoria…

Four days in Mt Beauty at the foot of Mt Bogong, Victoria’s highest mountain.

A drive across the top of Victoria on the Great Alpine Rd through the unique flora of the high plains. I stopped at two rustic high plains huts to relive staying there in my early hiking days.

Five days at a horse farm in a secluded valley set amidst beautiful mountain scenery at Anglers Rest.

A long drive over gravel roads took me deep into the remote north-west wilderness region to spend two nights camping at the spectacular McKillops Bridge, an incredible feat of engineering crossing the wild, unpredictable Snowy River in one of the most rugged mountain areas I have ever been.

And then a long drive out of the mountains to camp at Marlo on the southern ocean, where the mighty Snowy River enters the sea.

All of this interspersed with hours of mountain driving (something I love), climbing mountain peaks, riding horses, and exploring amazing places I have never seen before. Encountering spectacular views, especially those from rugged mountain peaks accessible only by a long, tough uphill climb, is literally exhilarating (so much so that twice my total absorption in stunning scenery was broken by the horror of realizing I was standing on large ants nests and had ants crawling all over my boots and socks!)

Being in the bush, spending much of the time on my own, soaking up awesome scenery, touches my spirit like nothing else. The relentless busy-ness and demands of regular city life fade away. The bush takes me to a different mental space… a place of “being” as opposed to constantly “doing”.

When emotions collide

I came home on the ‘high’ of a great holiday then woke next morning to the grief of Rosie’s and my 34th wedding anniversary. It was like being in the ocean surf and seeing big waves coming towards me, each one about to break over my head. Would I be ‘dumped’? I know too well the feeling of being turned head over heels underwater, surrounded by swirling surf, struggling to get to the surface to breathe but not knowing which way is up, while fearing being slammed headfirst into the sand below… you can’t control what’s happening and you know the outcome could be dire.

Grief takes many forms

It is easy to think that grief has just a single form. The reality is far from this…

Profound loss

Feelings of profound loss of a loved one are to be fully expected. It is no surprise that many places, events and calendar dates that were shared with them prompt deep feelings of grief…

Rosie’s and my final holiday together was a trip to Caloundra, her favourite Queensland holiday destination. Caloundra hosts an extensive street market every Sunday. This time Rosie discovered beautiful orange rock salt lamps selling for only $20 so we bought one, lugged the heavy rock home to Melbourne, and it has been lighting her bungalow day and night ever since. Every time I see that soft glow in the bungalow prompts deep feelings of loss and but I cannot turn it off because it is a symbol of her presence in a space that was very dear to her. I know the right day will come… but not just yet. Even going up to the bungalow is very tough. It holds so many memories of Rosie and my feelings of loss become very intense when I’m there.

Our wedding anniversary felt like being in the bungalow… it was a day rather than a place, but feeling grief was to be fully expected.

Unpredictable grief

Grief, however, is not always predictable. I’ve found it can hit me hard when I least expect it…

One of the amazing places my trip took me to was Little River Gorge. This spectacular gorge is the deepest in Victoria. At one point the rugged mountains plummet 500 metres to the stream below. As I was walking the steep track from the road down to the lookout I suddenly felt a deep sense of sadness knowing that Rosie would never get to see the sight I was about to see. This thought and the grief it brought struck me out of the blue. Why then and there I don’t know, but each time I think back to walking down that track the grief returns.

Unresolved issues

Another form that grief takes is one I didn’t expect, and one that is harder to deal with. At Rosie’s funeral I shared how, just like every other marriage, our marriage wasn’t perfect. There were many profoundly good things in our relationship, but even after 33 years there were issues we struggled with and never managed to resolve. While Rosie and I had talked about these issues many times and benefited significantly from professional help in the later years, we still struggled to connect in some key areas, and I find myself now struggling with grief about what our marriage was not (and perhaps could never be).

Now is not the time to share these issues in depth, but suffice to say Rosie and I struggled with issues which are common to many other marriages.

It is worth noting that while wedding anniversaries in our society are seen as an opportunity for couples to celebrate the positives of their marriage, no doubt many couples feel a heightened awareness of the difficult aspects of their relationship at the same time. (If you are married and can relate to this I encourage you to address the issues sooner rather than later… marriages, like our lives, are finite and eventually come to an end.)

Relief and excitement

The tough 16 year cancer journey Rosie and I walked together is over. Rosie’s final days, her death, telling people, dealing with others emotions as well as my own, organizing and attending the funeral, dealing with all the official paperwork afterwards, facing people for the first time without her… these were stressful and emotionally exhausting months. This phase is now mostly over and as life has begun to ‘settle down’ positive feelings are emerging alongside the grief.

I have a deep sense of relief that the exhausting, downward, rollercoaster journey has come to an end. After 16 years of emotional exhaustion a whole new life and sense of freedom are emerging. It’s still early days but I feel an energy that I can’t remember having since my youth and an excitement about the wide range of options that lay ahead.

My new life offers all sorts of possibilities and choices. How will I invest my time? What activities will I pursue? How will I support myself financially? Do I return to paid work? Will I shift house at some future time? A particular challenge is how do I prioritize my relationships? In addition to family and my own friends, I have got to know and value so many people through Rosie, but I know maintaining quality relationships takes significant time and energy, and I don’t have the capacity to manage the number of relationships that Rosie did.

Having new options is exciting; having many new options at the same time can be overwhelming. Assessing them and making choices can be scary. New life brings a sense of excitement, but it is not without some apprehension as well.

Managing colliding emotions

I arrived home high on holiday adrenalin. The next morning I faced the grief of my first wedding anniversary without Rosie… both the profound loss of all that was good about our relationship, and the grief over what our relationship never managed to be. Alongside this I felt the relief, energy, excitement and apprehension of a new life emerging… a mixture of very powerful but very discordant emotions all calling out for attention at the same time.

The breaking waves were threatening to overwhelm me with unpredictable consequences.

How could I deal with this? All I could realistically do was let myself roll in the emotional surf… to allow the different emotions come and go as they would, rather than trying to suppress them, analyze them or resolve them. The important thing was to protect myself from being emotionally slammed into the potential depression that lay at the bottom of the swirling emotions… to just allow the feelings to be, knowing that the turbulence would gradually pass, and that in time I could stand steady and continue my journey.

And that was ok. I didn’t have to deal with it all on Saturday, or Sunday, or this past week. I don’t have to deal with it all in the coming month. It’s okay to just sit with the colliding emotions, to keep feeling the joy of an amazing holiday, to feel the pain of losing Rosie, to be excited and apprehensive about my new life ahead. I don’t have to shut one emotion out for the sake of another. I don’t have to rush to address or resolve the feelings, or face all the decisions and challenges immediately.

Instead I can allow myself to live life one day at a time, and as each day comes, choose what feelings or issues I do or don’t address that day. Each day is part of a much bigger process that is happening progressively with time. Thinking, writing and talking to others about the issues I face will help me set the general direction, but I cannot charter the course with any accuracy and the good thing is I don’t have to. My life will find its way and there are no fixed milestones or deadlines I have to meet.

No doubt more days will come when life causes my emotions to collide again. And that’s ok too, because I now know I can let the waves come and go, and emerge out of the turbulence one step further along the road.

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