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.

Over the valley

This last weekend our church held their annual houseparty, just over the valley from our home. As usual, it was a great time of learning and fun, friendship and love. But learning from the book of Daniel was hard going.

I was challenged by our speaker to think about idols. In bible times, idols were statues made of metal, clay or wood. They distracted people from the true God but filled their need to worship something. I’ve never bowed down to a statue, but all too often I’m metaphorically bowing down to something I’ve put between me and God. A person I love, an activity I enjoy, a possession I must have to make my life complete. In the book of Daniel, we see the famous story of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego who refused to bow down to Nebuchadnezzer’s massive gold image. They drew a line, and would not cross it. Never mind that the threat of doing so was to be burned alive in a furnace. They didn’t cross the line, and were thrown into the furnace, where, incidentally, God miraculously rescued them. But Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego didn’t know how that would end when they drew the line.

All of which makes us wonder what lines I’m prepared to draw, and stick to? What am I prepared to give up, because it is taking God’s place in my life? I’ve given up a lot of possessions already, but most of those didn’t hurt to give up. I talked about it a bit here.

And as I think more about society, God-worship, and the ever-growing threat of persecution, I wonder how strongly I can stick to the line I draw? Can I face being ostracised and discriminated against, or even prison, torture, or death for the sake of knowing Jesus? I certainly hope so, because I don’t plan to turn away from Him at any time in my future.

Career vs Childrearing

Career vs childrearing

Some people just about my age have almost 25 or so years of experience and expertise in their career. I’ve been made very aware of this in recent months in a few areas of my life.

Me? Not so much. I taught Music for seven years before I had children, and then made a conscious decision to stay home with our girls full-time, as both our mothers did for us. I have no regrets about that decision. Although my parenting is flawed in so many ways, I’m so glad we could afford for me to be here for them.

career vs childrearing 3

But now that my girls are hurtling towards the end of their school years, I do wonder about earning some serious money again. If for nothing else than to pay for Yr12 formals, post-school mission trips and perhaps in the future, a couple of weddings. And then there’s the mortgage, which is just not going away on our ‘one-and-a-bit’ income. And I wonder about my so-called career.

I have been earning money, and these days have a decent part-time income for the relatively few hours I put in.  I’ve had piano students nearly every year since 1989, only taking a couple of years off when I had babies. I’ve taught recorder classes for Yr2-3 kids for nine years or so. I’ve run craft classes and sold Tupperware, (although they didn’t turn out to be as lucrative as I had hoped). I’ve led adult bible study groups for years. And I’ve learnt valuable skills as I undertook each of those endeavours.

Fiona 2014

My patchwork of part-time experiences doesn’t present so well on a resume these days, however. “17 years full-time childrearing” doesn’t count for much, even for teachers. Those 17 years have been life-changing for me, giving me confidence, wisdom and more knowledge of child development and discipline than can be found in any textbook. But when I’m searching for work, those years don’t compare with 17 years full-time teaching. And methods, ideals, objectives, syllabuses and technology have all changed since I last taught a high school music class back in 1997, I’ve missed a lot. In fact, the Dept of Ed won’t even let me apply for Music Teacher jobs, since I’ve been out of that position for over 5 years. (They will, however, let me teach any subject and any age group as a Casual Teacher, which doesn’t make sense to me at all.)

So, I wander in a middle land. Where I feel like a schoolteacher but am not one, where I wait for the phone to ring for a day’s teaching and mostly it just doesn’t ring. Unable to get more experience without more teaching, but unable to get teaching because I haven’t got the right experience.

I’m not sure where this is all headed. If I’m not going to teach in schools (more than just a random day here and there), I feel like I need some other direction from God. Or perhaps I will teach again, but not just yet. In the meantime, I probably need to give up dreams of having that great “career” where I’m a brilliant primary or music teacher, because there’s limited time on earth to do and be all things.

A person’s days are determined;
    you have decreed the number of his months
    and have set limits he cannot exceed.(Job 14:5)

Don’t get me wrong, I  love my life, – what I get to do, where I’ve been at various stages, the people in my life, and the day-to-day events and responsibilities. I’m oh, so thankful that my husband has selflessly worked in his career to support us all these years. I like my mix of work and fellowship and home. But now and then my horizon opens a little and I wonder “What if ..?”

I can’t help remembering Kathleen Kelly’s words in You’ve Got Mail:

Sometimes I wonder about my life. I lead a small life – well, valuable, but small – and sometimes I wonder, do I do it because I like it, or because I haven’t been brave?


Perhaps I’ve been relying too much on The Great Casual Teaching Idea and not relying on God to lead me. God doesn’t need 25 years of career experience chalked up for me to be of use to Him, nor is He limited by my financial contributions to our family. He is the One who has set me on this journey, and I guess I need to keep my eyes on Him to guide me through the rest of it.

Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. (Prov 3:5)