Sharing inspirational stories, reflective thoughts, amusing anecdotes, and more

Gifts of love

Betty Butler 1 001

 My Mum in her latter years

 In the 1950’s, with five children to care for while my father spent two years away in a Sanatorium recovering from his second bout of tuberculosis, my mother’s frugal homemaking skills were essential for our survival. I’m not sure what kind of income she had, but it would have been the most basic of pensions. But Mum had an amazing gift of making something out of nothing, and we survived.

I don’t remember her conveying her worries or concerns to us children. I do remember small things, such as noticing she only had chicken bones on her plate, while the rest of the family had the meat, and commenting on this. Her reply: “Oh I much prefer the meat on the bones to the rest of the chicken,” satisfied me at the time, although on reflection in later years I realized the truth of the matter. There just wasn’t enough to go round. I learnt at an early age that a mother’s love puts the needs of her family before her own.

The veggie garden and fruit trees provided us with staples, chooks gave us eggs, and for a while Mum kept a goat for the milk. Spare fruit was made into jam and preserves, left-over tomatoes into tomato sauce and chutney, home-made bread and cakes were the everyday norm. Second-hand clothes were handed down from one child to another, until they became fourth and fifth hand. Outdated clothes were unpicked and re-made into new garments. Our life bore no resemblance to today’s society with its “must have” fashionable brand-name clothing, cheap throw-away goods, or fast food. As we grew up Mum’s gifts to us were not often outward demonstrations of affection with hugs and kisses, although they were showered upon us as babies, but oh how she cared for us with the work of her hands. If we cried out in the night, she was there in a minute. I never doubted her love for me.

When my father finally came home from the Sanatorium, the only work he could find meant he had to live away from home during the week, and come home on weekends. He was not strong and needed to rest a lot. During the seven or more years he did this he missed all our important school events. Despite his ongoing health problems my Dad had a wry sense of humor, and there was always lots of laughter in our family. We learnt at an early age to laugh at ourselves and not take ourselves too seriously.

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 A favourite photo of my Dad with his three eldest children,
Terry, Robyn and Tim,
protesting that we were too great a weight for him to bear

One Christmas morning we sat around the tree and exchanged gifts with our usual lighthearted banter. When the wrapping was off every present (and carefully put away to be ironed and stored for re-use the next year) Dad said to my younger brother, why don’t you go outside and look under the window. Curious, he went outside, and then we heard this great shriek, “A bike, a bike. I’ve got a bike.” He then proceeded to ride it around and around the house, a huge grin plastered from ear to ear, shouting, “I’ve got a bike. I’ve got a bike.”

No matter that it was a second hand bike, made by my father from bits and pieces he had somehow scrounged from goodness knows where and goodness knows when. It was a bike. In my early teens at the time, I can still remember how moved I was, and the tears it brought to my eyes when I thought of the little time my father had on his weekends at home, the weariness he felt, how he dreaded the thought of boarding the bus every Monday morning for another week away from the family to keep food on our table. But he made the time and did it.

 When I think back to that Christmas some 60 years ago, it still touches my heart. Perhaps the memory has been colored by the passing of time, and compared to the materialistic standards of today, it was a meager offering. No doubt the bike was far from glamorous, but the love and sacrifice that went into the making of it is something that left a lasting impression in my heart. It was truly a gift of love.

I remember how my husband Terry, not a great animal lover, would drive Carrol out to her horse early in the morning, to float her to a show, and then spend the day videoing her riding in various events. One day he spent hours with her chasing the horse around a paddock filled with chest high grass, despite the fact that he suffered badly with grass allergies and hayfever, and ended up covered with a rash and hardly able to breathe. I remember the hours he spent videoing Sharon competing in Irish Dancing competitions, proudly stating to any who would listen, “That’s my girl.”

Gifts of love don’t have to cost a lot of money. In fact the gifts that are of greatest value are those that cost us time, and energy, and sacrifice.

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We all accumulate a lot of STUFF in our lifetime. My husband was an easy target for a good salesman, and I could always tell by the sheepish look on his face when he came home from the shops that he had bought some you-beaut new gadget that he just couldn’t do without, which would eventually end up in our already overflowing  gadget drawer. One of the popular sayings at our house was – ‘this would be handy if you had a use for it!’

I am in de-cluttering mode at the moment and have been going through filing cabinets, drawers and cupboards, throwing out boxes and boxes of old notes, papers, documents and general “stuff”  which I no longer need or have space to keep. Someone said to me, “When you are going through your stuff, think about what your children will do with it when you are gone, and then save them the trouble and throw it out yourself.”

There are tips that are helpful in this process. One of the things that I do if I think I can’t bear to part with clothes that I rarely wear, is to put them in a separate cupboard, and if I haven’t worn them in the time allotted, say the past 12 months, then out they go. And of course the flip side is, there is then room in your wardrobe to buy something new that you will find much more useful!

A story is told about a man who was taking a cruise on an ocean liner. Somehow one of his socks got away from him and blew over the railing, lost forever. Without a moment’s hesitation, the man flipped the other sock over the railing too, then stretched out on the lounge in the sun and took a nap. He knew when he was looking at a hopeless situation, and he wasn’t about to let it ruin his opportunity for pleasure. You will note, of course, that this was a man – not a woman!

Many of us would take the remaining sock home and KEEP it, hoping a mate might miraculously turn up some time. But all we would be doing is cluttering up our sock drawer with another single sock. Instead, like the man on the ship, we need to let go of the surplus stuff that clutters our life. Of course, if you have young children, there is every likelihood that the missing sock will turn up in a mud puddle in the back yard, or under the bed or behind a cupboard. However, if the sock drawer becomes so cluttered with single socks that you can’t fit the pairs in, then perhaps it’s time to have a clean out.

Our lives can become over-filled with all the stuff we insist on hanging on to, both physical (like single socks and broken gadgets and old clothes), and emotional (like guilt, pain and misery). We can be afraid to let go of things that have been with us for a long time.

It’s like the story of the little monkey who put his hand into a jar to get a biscuit. When he closed his fist on the biscuit he found he couldn’t get it out of the jar. The only way he could remove the jar from his hand was to let go of the biscuit. And until he let go, he was doomed to carry the heavy jar around on his hand, weighing him down and restricting his movement. He could complain all he liked about the inconvenience and the heavy weight of the jar, and how sad he was because he couldn’t swing from tree to tree with the other monkeys, but he was the one who had to let go of the biscuit to regain his freedom.

Sometimes the stuff we hold on to, be it years of accumulation of needless possessions or the emotional stuff that we feel we can’t get over, weighs us down and clutters our life. But if we are willing to open our hands … and our hearts, and have a real spring clean, get rid of all the stuff that is cluttering our lives, including negative attitudes, we will have a lot more room in our cupboards and drawers … and in our hearts, for the things that are really important.

There is great blessing in letting go and stepping out, unencumbered, knowing that God holds our future in His hands.

 

 

The fire

The Fire

A tale of miraculous protection during the devastating 2003 Canberra bushfires.

Extracts from Paula’s story as told to Robyn

 

… January 18, 2003, was a sweltering Saturday with scorching winds battering the bush and stirring up the dust, which lodged like grit in our eyes. It felt like all the moisture was  being sucked out of our bodies. The searing winds had dried off all the undergrowth until it crackled under our feet as we walked through the bush. On that day 96 fire-fighters from the previous night shift were asleep at Greenhills. Early in the afternoon we were told that the fire was changing direction to the north-west and was now coming more toward us.

We alerted the sleeping fire-fighters and watched in trepidation as the flames plunged over the mountains in the distance and roared down the Brindabellas.

Without really thinking about it I decided to make a last-minute dash in the car down the road to our home to collect our little dog. I rushed into the house and had just gathered up Missy in my arms and taken our two Bibles off the table when suddenly the CB radio crackled into life and I heard Ed’s voice, full of tension, calling out to me with great urgency, “Paula. Look behind you up the hill. Grab the dog and get out of there NOW!”

When I looked up I saw the fire had converged with one from the other direction and a wall of fire was roaring over the hills towards Greenhills at incredible speed. It was a terrifying sight and the noise was horrendous. I only had minutes to make my escape. There was no time to gather up photos or precious possessions. As I ran from the house I simply cried out in all sincerity, “Jesus, this is your house and all that is in it is yours. You can have it if you want it, but I’m asking you to look after it for us.” Then I drove back up the hill to the Centre, with my foot flat to the floor on the accelerator.

… The fire came up the valley and over the hill and raged over the building where we sheltered. We sat pressed up against the back wall of the downstairs room, swaddled in wet towels and breathing through wet tea-towels. The noise was deafening, as if hundreds of trains were roaring overhead. It felt like we were about to be incinerated in a giant furnace, such was the ferocity and heat of this fire. Our hearts were pounding as we prayed and asked God for His protection. Could He save us from what seemed to be certain destruction?

… When the worst of the fire storm had passed over us the air in the auditorium had become so thick with smoke and debris we couldn’t stay there any longer and moved upstairs to the dining area. Incredibly, the building was intact. The body of the fire had roared up the valley then, miraculously, jumped right over the top of the whole Murrumbidgee Centre, including the accommodation blocks on the hill beside us.

… Unbeknown to us a few of the fire-fighters, without any thought for their own personal danger, had stood together in the upstairs dining area holding trestle tables pressed up against the glass windows all along the front of the building. Their fear was that if one of the windows exploded there would be no way of saving the building or the people it sheltered.

We stood and looked out into the pitch darkness. The air was filled with thick smoke. We couldn’t see how much damage had been done or what buildings were left of the old Cotter Centre down the hill from us. Suddenly the vacuum created by the intensity of the fire as it passed over us seemed to suck the flames back and ignite a second wave of burning. It was as if the fire came back to finish the job it had started. We stood in shock and watched as the old buildings down the hill below us caught fire and lit up the sky. Dorms and halls were consumed by flames ignited by the sparks and embers. The buildings were flattened by exploding gas bottles. Flames launched like spitfires into the black sky while we stood watching with horror. One building after another succumbed to nature’s destructive power.

Later that evening the fire-fighters drove the fire truck up to inspect the damage and then continued to put out smouldering wreckage for hours. When they returned the driver had a stunned look on his face. He gave us the thumbs-up sign and told us that incredibly, against all odds, our house was still standing. The fire had burnt the brush fence right to the edge of the house. My hanging pot plants on the front veranda had melted and were hanging down like stalactites. All around it was burnt, but the house was intact. We were stunned and just looked at each other in amazement.

To read more of this amazing story, and other unique stories that will captivate your heart,  see my book, Inspiring Stories of Life and Faith. Details at:  www.inspiringstories.net.au

 

 

 

morning mist 5

To a Mist

Up from the river, softly stealing,
by wanton breezes rent and torn,
Half concealing, yet, half revealing,
The glories of an early dawn,
The mist sprite draws her gossamer veils
O’er the wakening face of earth
As on the wings of the wind she sails
Clouding the sunlight’s birth

Clammy, damp, bewildering,
Thou art as light as thought,
Folding us in a fairy ring,
Making our vision nought.
Bedewing all the flowers and leaves,
With gems of priceless cost,
From us these favours thou dost retrieve,
They, with the rising sun, are lost.

In billowing waves thous dost ascend,
Unto an unknown height
Waiting till time to re-descend,
At dawn of day, at close of night:
No-one knows how thou dost go,
Or when, or why, or where,
We only know, that here below,
Thou changest into air

The magpies are in the leafy trees,
Heralding the dawn with notes divine,
Up the vale thy slow approach they see;
How, over all you slowly climb,
O’er-whelming in thy chilly grasp
Rocks, stones, trees, both far and near,
At thy touch they seem to gasp,
To sink, and disappear.

*****

Written by Wilfred Butler in September 1924.

A fragrant memory

 

A fragrant memory

 

December 13 - April 14 108

I t was the first thing I noticed as I walked through the sliding doors into the foyer of the large Sydney Adventist hospital – the rich enveloping fragrance of a multitude of flowers drifting from the florist shop beside the lifts. I stepped into the lift and rode up to my floor, and as I walked along the corridor to my room a faint echo of that same fragrance came from the flowers in other patient’s rooms.

My five-hour operation for bowel cancer was scheduled for early the next morning, and although I was extremely nervous, somehow the sweet perfume of those flowers lifted my spirits and reminded me that God is on His throne and that there is love and beauty in His world.

When I finally managed to get my eyes to focus a few days after the surgery I became aware of that fragrance once again. I saw that my room was now filled with the colors and perfume of beautiful floral arrangements lovingly sent by friends and family, like a vibrant wallpaper bringing the bare hospital walls to life.

Over the next two weeks as I gradually regained my strength and began to cope with the ugly colostomy and the huge scar that the surgeon had left when he removed the tumor, those flowers helped to sooth my heart and spirit with their perfume and their beauty. Somehow they are linked in my memory with the cheerful little nurse who took the time to rub my back and sing hymns to me while she did. I felt so fortunate to be in a hospital where prayer began every shift and operation.

When I returned three months later to have the colostomy reversed, that same perfume greeted me as I walked in through the doors of the hospital, like the warm welcome of an old friend.

This time when I awoke from the surgery I became aware of a more delicate perfume. When I turned my head I saw on the  table beside my bed a small but beautifully crafted glass swan filled with pink water, overflowing with pink carnations tied with pink ribbons, its image reflected in the small round mirror it sat upon — like the still waters of a glassy lake. I was transfixed by its beauty and the thoughtfulness of the friend who had given it to me, particularly as my favorite color is pink.

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Each day as I battled to cope with the after effects of the surgery and the fear that my bowel would never function properly again, the pink swan with its frilly dress of pink carnations sat serenely beside my bed and brought comfort to my heart.

Today when I walk past a florist shop in a busy shopping centre that same perfume catches my attention and takes me back to that time, reminding me of the goodness of God. I am thankful that He has given me more than 26 years since then to enjoy His blessing and good health, to see my children grow up, marry and have their own families, and to delight in my beautiful grandchildren.

 

To everything there is a season

Autumn seemed to be late in coming this year, but finally summer decided to depart in a blaze of glory. This tree in my street had a luminous quality about it, almost as if showing off before shedding it’s finery and hunkering down for the rigours of winter. phone pictures 292

The last of the roses drooped sadly as the first frosts confirmed winter had definitely arrived. I had so enjoyed their individual beauty and perfume this year, with a longer than usual season, but now it was time for them to also have a rest.


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I look forward to the daffodils poking their heads up through the frost encrusted ground, like small green armies bobbing up in clumps around the garden. With a little encouragement from the warmth of the sun on bright winter days their cheerful splashes of  yellow and gold will soon be brightening those gloomier days when the clouds hang heavily over the city and the icy winds whistle off the snowy mountains and chill us to the bone.

Everything has its time. To everything there is a season. A time for every purpose under heaven. Ecclesiastes 3:1

Let’s not live our lives worrying about yesterday or being anxious about tomorrow. Better to seize the day and enjoy the moment.

This is the day the Lord has made. Let us be glad and rejoice in it.

We are all very different. For many years I tried to be like my clever creative friends, and undertook a variety of craft activities.

I started a patchwork quilt when I was 16, cutting out little octagonal shapes of material, backing them with paper, then hand stitching them methodically together one by one. The idea was that I would use scraps of material from different eras of my life, and the quilt would be a lovely reminder of times gone past – sound familiar? Well, by the time I was in my early 60’s it had grown to about a small cot quilt size – so I figured it wasn’t ever going to fit my queen size bed as I had planned, and took it to the Op Shop. Perhaps some other creative person would pick it up and run with it.

In my early 20’s I tried my hand at making hats, when hats were in vogue, but I don’t remember ever being brave enough to wear one of my creations. I even tried singing in a trio for a few months. Definitely not a good idea! I can hold a tune, but harmony was definitely not one of my talents!

I did have a little more success with china painting. After all, with each firing of the plate you get a chance to improve the design, and with 7 firings for each plate the results weren’t too bad at all. But really, how many decorative plates does one need in the china cabinet?

Another project I took up with great enthusiasm was candlewicking, which involves sewing designs on calico with tiny knots and stitches. I was inspired by a neighbor who had made a beautiful candlewick quilt for her daughter. My daughter became pregnant so I told her I would make a cot quilt for the new baby, bought all the materials, the cute teddy bear patterns, and began earnestly knotting away – until she told me she was having twins, which meant I would need to make two! That finished that. One was a challenge. Two would have been climbing Mt Everest. I gave it away to my sister-in-law to finish. She’s very clever with craft projects.

Of course, through the years I have found other things I love to do which bring me great pleasure, such as growing beautiful roses in my garden, and public speaking, using humour to help people relax and see the lighter side of life. But by my mid 60’s I had finally figured out that a lot of craft was actually more stressful for me than it was relaxing.

The words of a preacher who came to our church many years ago, come to mind – “What is it that makes your heart sing? That song has been put in your heart by God. Find it, and do it well.”

In my early 60’s, with a little more time at my disposal, I discovered, or perhaps I should say re-discovered, that I love to write. For me writing is relaxing. It is sheer pleasure. I have to drag myself away from the computer because I get so involved in the writing process.

I decided to try to record the life stories of some inspirational women who had touched my heart and life over the years. I had endeavoured to prod and provoke them into writing their own life stories, but nothing seemed to be happening.

I had no idea how to go about it, but as I began to interview, question, and record, I discovered my fascination with the creative power of the written word. In my various roles in the church I had written numerous studies, children’s programs, articles for magazines and such like. But this was more intensive stuff. As I applied myself to bringing these stories to life, I began to appreciate the creative power of writing. Words were magic. Words could paint pictures. I was fascinated, and compelled to find new and better ways of saying things. I was glued to the computer for hours on end – playing with words. I discovered that perhaps I did have a creative bone or two in my body. It is the craft of writing that makes my heart sing!  I was hungry to improve my writing skills to do justice to the stories entrusted to my care.

In 2006 and then in 2009 I published two books, firstly Australian Women of Grace and then Australian Women of Courage, each recording the inspirational life stories of five women. In my third book, Inspiring Stories of Life and Faith, released in 2012, I recorded more remarkable stories – this time of both men and women. I was encouraged by the feedback I received from readers, one lady writing … “Thank you for your book!  All the stories were fascinating and inspiring.  What an incredible bunch of women you all are and how brave to share your life with all of us. Each story was so well written and precise, that I found it impossible to stop reading once I had started.”  Details of these books can be found (and books ordered) on my website: www.inspiringstories.net.au

Rather than comparing ourselves and our gifting with others, and beating ourselves up because we can’t be like them, let’s celebrate our differences and enjoy doing the things that make our hearts sing. They’ll be the things that bring us the most pleasure and fulfillment.