The Secret to Long Life and Happiness

Rose Garden

The last few weeks were like a roller coaster for me as the year rolled on past significant birthdays and anniversaries.

First . . .

The date of my mother’s birthday in late January – a quiet day which rarely rates a mention, but is always silently remembered by us four sisters.

Soon after . . .

My birthday in early February, followed by the anniversary of my mother’s death only a week later. About 10 days after that, arrived a personal glass ceiling for me ever since my mother died: the day when I equalled the age she reached on her final day.

I know many people experience this barrier – it is impossible to imagine what your life might look like after you reach the age that your mother died (for daughters), or your father died (for sons). As a primary relationship, your role model simply no longer exists after that date.

That day was a milestone for me

It brought a day of both reflection and amazement – I had made it in full health and happiness! Remarkably the day closed with a chance phone call from my lovely stepmother, who had no idea how perfect her timing was. It was good to share my thoughts with her.

With all this reflection and awareness, it made sense to visit the place where my mother’s ashes are buried. I planned a trip from Hobart across to Melbourne a few months ago, unaware of how important it would become. I am not really the sentimental type, and only once before have I visited the cemetery. To be honest, I am happy to remember my Mum anywhere, and don’t have a need to go and visit. But it seemed fitting to see this place, and take some time to remember her life, especially given my recent glass ceiling breakthrough.

I asked my eldest sister to come with me

I would have asked my other sisters also, but they do not live in Melbourne. More than a decade separates us two, and I often feel like the kid sister in many of our interactions, but this was a good way of connecting a little more deeply than usual. It was only later that I realised how unusual it was for me to take the initiative.

We arrived at Springvale Botanical Cemetery and the memories flooded back. The day of Mum’s funeral, and cremation service afterwards, are forever etched in my mind. It is a beautiful place, and it struck me how this is a special place of reverence, honour and respect for those who have gone on ahead.

After making some enquiries, we found the specific rose garden and searched for the Rose Garden_plaqueplaque, engraved in our mother’s memory. We had a beautiful rose with us which we placed in the space provided. And we remembered. Standing there quietly in those peaceful surrounds, we reflected on Mum’s life, recalling a few incidents over those days, so long ago.

Tears were shed.

Hugs exchanged.

The world stopped for a moment.

On the way back to the car, she said,

“It’s lovely to be here with you today. Sometimes, it seems like you are so much older and wiser.”

I quickly responded with equally loving words. But it occurred to me that perhaps I am changing. Perhaps this journey of honouring my mother, even so long after her death, brings me to a point of maturity and self-awareness I have not known before.

Stephen reminded me later . . .

My husband, Stephen, is so good at helping me keep things in perspective! He reminded me about one of the Ten Commandments, given by God to Moses when the Israelites were setting out on their journey to the Promised Land. It  says this. . .

“Honour your father and your mother, as the Lord your God has commanded you, so that you may live long and that it may go well with you in the land the Lord your God is giving you.” Deu 5:16 (NIV)

And then many years later in his letter to the church at Ephesus, the Apostle Paul re-wrote that command and added a little editorial comment . . .

 “Honour your father and mother”—which is the first commandment with a promise— “so that it may go well with you and that you may enjoy long life on the earth.” Eph 6:2, 3 (NIV)

Ohhh! Of course. It’s a promise!

God says to us, each one,

“If you do this, then I will do that.”

If you honour your parents, you will receive blessing. Things will go well. Long life will come.

It does not mean the opposite is true. My mother died young, but not because she did not honour her parents. This world is broken and fallen, and things like cancer take hold, which is awful, but no one’s “fault”.

While she did die too soon, I know my mother did honour her parents, because her “life was prolonged”, which is how the Amplified Bible translates the words given to Moses. I know that. Her life was extended. She did last longer than expected. That is part of another story.

So, here are my reminders for you today:

  1. The Promise: It is good to honour your parents – don’t forget about that promise! Life, wisdom and good things come from honouring.
  2. The Difficulty: Perhaps you feel it is too hard to honour one, or both, of your parents?
    • Maybe you don’t feel that they did much for you – but let me remind you they did give you life, which is something to be grateful for.
    • Perhaps you find them hard to honour because they are no longer with you? However, I think I have shown it is possible to do that, no matter how long they have been gone. Even if it is simply with thoughts and words.
    • I know there are those who struggle with elderly parents, requiring so much love, care and attention. It can be very difficult. But I also know God sustains, God knows, God understands. Lean into him. He will give you strength, ideas, and solutions to honour your parents that you didn’t know were there. Just ask him.
  3. The Problem: Does honouring your parents mean agreeing with them? Well, no. Perhaps you have confused honouring with saying “YES” all the time. And that’s not what is means.
    To honour means to give respect. To listen carefully, and consider what they say. But this does not imply you must do as they say. If you truly cannot agree with them, let them know in as respectful way as you can, and make your own decisions with a clear conscience. Then don’t bad mouth them or put them down.

Honour them!

That’s how things will go well with you, and you will live longer.

You can listen to me talk about this here >>>

Never The Same

The day of my 16th birthday dawned hot and clear. The bright Melbourne sky seared impossibly blue outside my bedroom window.

It was the first day of the school year. Year 11 beckoned.

I could hear some commotion in Mum and Dad’s room, next to mine. Small noises, sighs and groans as they moved around to begin the day. I realise now that they were the sounds of deep pain, weariness and anguish. But by then, I had got used to them as the regular course of things in a household with a sick mother.

As it was my birthday, I was supposed to stay in my room and wait, while the others prepared to walk in with my birthday presents, brightly singing a harmonic rendition of “Happy Birthday to You”. But after a little while, Dad popped his head around my door.

“Come in here Jen, we’ll sing to you in our room.”

He looked tired.

I quickly got up, skipped to the room next door, gingerly crawled across to the middle of the bed, and sat close to Mum. I was careful because I knew any movement caused her a lot of pain. She was thin and drawn. She smiled at me and kissed me on the cheek.

“Happy Birthday Jen,” she whispered.

I smiled back at her, and held her hand.

I had given her a little white vase with a bouquet of wildflowers in 3-D relief on it for her birthday less than two weeks before. It was there, on her bedside table, with some flowers I had picked from our garden, a silent testament to our birthdays being so close.

I went off to school with my younger sister, not realising our lives would never be the same again. The rest of the day, under that brilliant blue sky, I experienced a full range of emotions . . .

Unexpectedly, Dad picked us up from school.

Sadly, he had taken Mum to hospital that day.

Hesitantly, we went to visit – and told her our news of the first day of school.

Happily, I had been elected Form Captain.

Unbelievably, we had birthday cake with candles, and they sang to me again.

Mum never returned home.

 


 

Last year Stephen and I took some time out for a sabbatical – a wonderful month in France. Every morning I spent time writing and reflecting on the way God has led me over the years.

One night I woke up, only half aware of what I was thinking. I had spent the previous morning writing down my recollections of that final birthday with Mum. She wasn’t expected to last until Christmas, I had written. But, I reflected in my sleepy state, she made it to her birthday, January 22. And once she had got to that date, she kept going until my birthday, on February 4.

No, no, no. It hit me like a ton of bricks.

SHE KEPT GOING UNTIL MY BIRTHDAY!

I gasped and the tears came quickly. I stifled them trying, unsuccessfully, not to wake Stephen. She had kept herself going! For me! The thought of this final act of love was overwhelming. I groaned, and the tears flooded. She was there for my 16th birthday, at home, and at hand, with me in her bed. A special memory.

Maybe it was coincidental. Maybe she would have lasted that long anyway. But in the intervening 40 years I have learnt a lot about the human soul. I have learnt that sometimes people decide to let themselves go, and slide downhill in a rapid descent to death. And sometimes they can hold on. They keep themselves going.

It was another week after my birthday before her end came. Turning Sweet Sixteen? That was not to be my story. But thanks to her gift, I have never had any other birthday marred by the anniversary of her death. I am so grateful.

There are a few things I have realised as I have reflected on those events:

  • My mother treasured me – and it makes me want to treasure her all the more. It has a circular effect. No matter what your mother was like, there will be times when she treasured you too.
  • Sometimes it is worth reflecting on those horrible parts of your life, because while it can be costly, you realise things you didn’t know before.
  • As mothers, we treasure our children, but often they will not realise what we sacrifice for them. Or if they do, it might not be for a long time.
  • It gives me a tiny glimpse of God’s overwhelming love for me. Unexpected, uncalled for, unmerited, unjustified, but complete.

Listen to me telling my story to Scottie Haas on ultra106five >>>

7 Steps to Leaving Your Children for a Trip

Heading away for a week or so without the children? Sounds delicious! But beware – there is sometimes a high cost, even with your best intentions.

Baby Sara (not her real name) was sad. Not even one year old, she could not be consoled. For several days, it was a tough time, for both her, and her carers. Finally, she gave in. And with all hope lost, she squirmed in her cot to face the wall, and zoned out. Broken-hearted.
A few days later her brother came to visit. He was his usual cheeky self, and on seeing him, Sara emerged from her lethargy. It was like she woke up, and the world was right again. Seeing that familiar face was enough to give Sara a new lease on life. She managed the remainder of the four weeks away from her family – just.
This incident happened years ago, but to Sara the memory still has a life of its own. She is now an adult, married, and with nearly grown children. Her response to being left with friends for a month while her parents went overseas to work has now become the stuff of family legend.
“I thought they had died,” she said. “It would have been better if my brother and I had stayed together.”
Unfortunately, the trauma of that incident scarred Sara for life.
“I couldn’t do sleepovers growing up,” she says with emotion. “Well, I did do them, but I always cried myself to sleep.”
It wasn’t until she was 16 years old that Sara finally connected the dots, and realised her separation anxiety was due to that brief period when she was a baby. Thankfully she was given the opportunity to talk it through with someone who prayed with her to release her from the pain of the memory, and the trauma. She was also encouraged to forgive her parents – a difficult thing to do, but incredibly freeing. After that things changed, and it meant she could live a relatively normal life after all.
She is quite philosophical about it all. “I know they left me there with the best of intentions, thinking they were doing the best thing for me in the circumstances,” Sara explains. “It was a different era then, and my parents made the best decision with the information available to them.”
As parents, we all have to do that. Faced with hard decisions about our children, we all make our choices – for good or for bad.
I admire Sara. She has worked her way through the issue and engaged with the problem. Choosing the difficult, but more gracious path, she has come to a point of reconciliation and understanding.

No one has perfect parents

As you reflect on the job your parents did as you were growing up, you can no doubt see places where they could have done things better. Perhaps you too were traumatised as a result of their actions. The challenge for us all is to let go of those ordeals, like Sara did. If you hold onto the hurt, the bitterness, and the revenge, it only hurts you.
Forgiveness has nothing to do with letting people off the hook, and everything to do with giving you back your freedom.

On the other side of the journey, here are some things I learnt about leaving children for long stays:

  1. It happens: Sometimes you must leave your children in the care of others. And that’s okay. Having children does not mean you stop having a life – instead they add richness and vibrancy. If you can travel with your children, then do it. We had some exciting overseas adventures with little ones. In Sara’s case, her parents were going to a country that was politically unpredictable and culturally unknown. It was clear they couldn’t take the children with them.
  2. Prayer: It is a good idea to pray about how to move forward in these situations. Obviously as parents you are the main care-givers for your children, and it is important to take your job seriously, and consider the long-term outcomes for them. Seek God about your plans, and if you do not have peace, then do not move forward with the idea.
  3. Set-up well: Try and house siblings together if possible. When we went away for a length of time we were blessed to have friends and relatives who could have all of them at once.
  4. Physical preparation: Make sure your children are familiar with the people who will be caring for them. Some visits to the house where they are to stay are a good idea, and maybe have a trial sleep-over.
  5. Verbal preparation – Babies: Talk to your baby about what is going to happen, and do it often. We were away for a week when one of my girls was only six months old. Every so often I would sit down with her, look her in the eye and explain what was going to happen. Especially, I would tell her we would come back and take her home after a week. True, she didn’t have the language to converse with me. But I knew I was speaking into her soul and spirit. We all managed the separation without difficulty.
  6. Verbal preparation – Older children: Give more, or less, information depending on the age of the child. Little ones do not always have an accurate understanding of time, so telling them three months ahead that you will be going away may not be helpful. However, you can talk through ideas, such as suggesting with enthusiasm that one day they might go on a holiday to someone’s house.
  7. Trust: While away, entrust your children into God’s care. This is really hard. But if you are stressing over your children, you will not be able to successfully do whatever it is you are going away to do. Sara told me her mother didn’t cope very well and had some physical stress issues during her time away. Sara wasn’t the only one suffering!

It goes both ways.

Reflecting on your own upbringing you can see where your parents failed you easily enough. It takes more effort to see when, and where, you have failed your own children. If you have let them down at some point it is important to forgive yourself. If you are able, talk things through with your child, and ask them to forgive you. Reconciliation is a lovely thing.

Slowing Down

Slow down – Things happen!

SAMSUNG
Browns River, near where I live, is a go-slow river

I finished working with Samaritan’s Purse as the State Manager of Operation Christmas Child only a few days ago and I suddenly came down with the worst cold I’ve had in years. It is making me go slow . . . really slow. It’s probably not the best way, but it is surely forcing me to stop!

The bright side is that it has given me time and space to organize my copious notes, books and research material (more on that in future blogs). Plus I have started reading through some of that copiousness. And I’m doing some journalling which I haven’t done regularly for a long time. Already I have learnt a few things:

  • I feel guilty about not pushing through when I am sick like this. I remember deciding to “keep on keeping on” when I was in Year 10 and I’d had a horrendous attendance record over the previous two winters. While it is good to do that at times, I am now giving myself permission to stop and (surprise, surprise) the world has not fallen in!
  • While it is a long time since I have journalled, I don’t have to feel guilty about that either. I have reflected on some important things the last few days, such as what stage of life I am in; ‘crucible’ turning points over the last year or so; and my relationship with my Dad – who would have turned 98 yesterday. While no doubt it would have been valuable to have pondered on some of this well before now, that is time which has flowed beyond my reach like a leaf on a river. But I CAN take hold of today and savour this moment, without regret.
  • God’s timing is always much better than I could have planned! I am just so grateful that I didn’t get sick two weeks earlier, or finish up two weeks later. Now that would have been very difficult. I have to keep reminding myself that He has got things under control – and that’s much better then me trying to control everything.

Going S-L-O-W. Hard work. But worth it.