When things don’t go to plan

When things don't go to plan

This week I’ve been helping my mother-in-law. On Tuesday when I took her to a specialist, she received a cancer diagnosis, her second one in 10 months. This new cancer is in the same organ of the body as the last one, but it’s a separate and different cancer to the one removed in October. But the treatment is the same – major surgery, and a few months of recovery. Hopefully that will be all that is required.  It’s a blow, to be sure.

On Wednesday I took her to the surgeon, and yesterday for two different types of scans and a GP appointment. It’s been a big few days for this gentle 85-year old and I. On Sunday she heads to hospital for surgery on Monday.

When she had her surgery last October, there were other complications in her life. A husband needing much assistance, a need to look at other options for accommodation for the two of them, a houseful of belongings to sort. Since then, my father-in-law has moved to a nursing home, their home has been decluttered and sold, and my mother-in-law has moved into a studio apartment in a retirement village. This time when she goes home after surgery and rehab, she won’t have to worry about cooking dinners or caring for her husband. She can just focus on getting well.

As for me, I’m very much feeling the pinch of being the sandwich generation. Caring for my mother-in-law (albeit sporadically, depending on the availablility of other family members), running around across Sydney fulfilling HSC requirements (Visual Arts and Music in particular), spending random chunks of my life standing waiting outside fitting rooms in teenage fashion stores, or looking for formal dresses.

And when I’ve arrived home after each of these outings, there’s not been much to eat, and yet plenty of requests for food from my girls who are old enough to cook for themselves but mostly choose not to. With four different diets in the family, eating is not straightforward. Snacks are problematic, but always in high demand. I seem to do a lot of shopping each week, but we still suffer snack shortage.

This is not the school holiday break I signed up for.

And I have a cold, so I’m just exhausted.

What was supposed to happen these holidays was a lovely weekend with extended family two weekends ago (tick! That happened, anyway!) followed by two weeks of sleeping-in, working on home projects, hours reading on a sunlit sofa, and a few pleasurable outings with my girls. That way I could recover from a few busy weeks of casual teaching at the end of last term, and be recharged to get back into it next week. Because, you know, it’s all about me.*

But we don’t always get what we want, do we?

So what do I do?

I’m trying to be grateful for each little mercy – for everything that goes right. For the moments I do get to relax, and the moments noone is demanding something of me, or arguing with me. For good health overall, and a break from the normal routine, even if it’s not entirely relaxing. For the opportunity to serve my mother-in-law and my husband’s family in this way.

And I’m clinging on to what I know is true. God loves me. God is in control. God listens to me and understands what’s going on. (Short sentences are just about all I can manage right now in this department).

But even in the last few crazy weeks, there have been times of great richness where I have learnt and understood new things about God and myself. Just yesterday I heard John Ortberg say “Your life is not your project. Your life is God’s project”. Or words to that effect. Which puts a whole new spin on things. No, I would not have chosen this last week for myself. But God did. He, who knows me intimately, and loves me more than I can understand, put me smack-bang into this week, because I am a project He is working on. I am God’s handiwork, not my own. It’s not all about me, after all.

And the fact is, things didn’t go to my plan this week, but they went exactly to God’s plan.

So I just need to learn to obey, whether that’s hard or easy, and appreciate God’s grace continually at work in me, refining me and making something beautiful out of something so flawed.

. . .

*Yes, my mother-in-law’s cancer diagnosis is a big thing and I’m not trying to be flippant about it, just hopeful that she’s going to be ok like last time, and so I’m staying positive and fairly objective about all that, and focussing on what needs to be done for her.

Slow family holiday

slow extended family holiday

The weekend before last we had a family holiday. Sixteen of us (my parents, me and my siblings, and our families), piled into a big old house at Nowra for 3 days together, something we do every two years or so, in different locations.

We played tennis, read books, ate, played music and games, watched videos, walked by the river, and ate some more. Mum provided a lot of the food, and each family cooked a dinner each. It was a lazy time for those of us who wanted to be lazy, interspersed with bursts of conversation and exercise.

And it was all good.

Good to see my nieces and nephews growing up and interacting. Good to share food, and walks, and games. Good to be together for more than a few hours at a time.

family tennis

We were fortunate that my parents could find and afford to rent an amazing house large enough for the 16 of us. Not every family could do that. But I recommend that you do try to get away somewhere, all together, whether it’s camping together, or even going on an extra long daytime picnic together. You could meet for breakfast and leave at sundown!

It doesn’t have to be a highly organised time. We just did our own things, but together, if that makes sense. But a few tips for beginners: make sure there’s plenty of food, and, most of all, make sure there’s loads of toilet paper 😉