Elizabeth Jane Corbett

writing her way home

Tag: faith

Blog six o Gymru – some Welsh poetry

We have a retired Vicar, living behind Stiwdio Maelor – a stooped, white haired man, lover of God and his country. We speak Welsh sometimes, though his voice is soft and my hearing so poor in the lower registers that I often fail to understand him. Oft times, we swap to English and I don’t mind so much. His wealth of local knowledge is too valuable to miss. On Sunday afternoon, when one of the artists staying at Stiwdio Maelor expressed a desire to see Tal-y-Llyn, he bundled us into the car and took us to the lake. He told us the real name, Llyn Mwyngll, and showed us his favourite vista from the Old Rectory garden. He pointed out the ancient mountain path from Corris to St Mary’s church, sold now, and ready to be turned into a B&B. It’s grounds so hallowed, people’s dreams will surely be haunted.

With him, I have shared my disappointment over the paucity of Welsh language church services in the area. How there is poetry in these mountains and, sometimes, I fancy the land laments the changing voices, the musicality of Welsh receding, further and further northwards. I tell him how sad this makes me feel, that I have been reading R. S. Thomas’ poetry.

Welsh
Why must I write so?
In Welsh, see:
A real Cymro,
Peat in my veins.
I was born late;
She claimed me,
Brought me up nice,
No hardship;
Only the one loss,
I can't speak my own
Language - Iesu,
All those good words;
And I outside them,
Picking up alms 
From blonde strangers.
I don't like their talk,
Their split vowels;
Names that are ghosts
From a green era.
I want my own
Speech, to be made
Free of its terms.
I want the right word
For the gut's trouble,
When I see this land
With its farms empty
Of flock, and the stone 
Manuscripts blurring
In wind and rain.
I want the town even,
The open door
Framing a slut,
So she can speak a Welsh
And bear children
To accuse the womb
That bore me.

Ah, he said, R. S. Thomas. He died a Welsh speaker, you know? I did know but still at times I feel his foment. When, I go into a shop and get snapped at for speaking Welsh. Yet when I look around at the people who have settled in Corris, I see community, caring, a different way a life, and there is beauty in that too. If not for these newcomers, the Vicar said, this town would be in ruins. Yet I know he mourns the loss of language too.

The next day in the cafe he handed me a poem. It’s by T. H. Parry Williams, he said. I have been working on a translation. To me, it sums up all the beauty and struggle and frustration.

Hon
Beth yw'r it's gennyf i am Gymru? Damwain a hap
Yw fy mod ar ei libart yn byw. Nid yw hon ar fap
Yn ddim byd ond cilcyn o ddaear mewn cilfach gefn
Ac dipyn o boendod i'r rhai sy'n credu mewn trefn.
A phwy sy'n trigo'n fangre dwedwch i mi,
Pwy ond gehilion o boblbach? Peidiwch, da chwi,
A charger am uned a chenedl a gwlad o hyd:
Mae digon o'r rhain, heb Gymru, i'w cael yn y byd.
Rwyf wedi alaru ers talwm ar glywed grŵn
Y Cymru, bondigrybwyll, yn cadw sŵn.
Mi af am dro, i osgoi eu lleferydd a'u llen,
Yn ôl i'm cynefin gynt, a'm dychmyg yn drên.
A dyma fi yno. Diolch am fod ar goll
Ymhell o gyffro geiriau'r eithafwyr oll
Dyma'r Wyddfa a'i chriw; dyma lymder a moelni'r tir;
Dyma'r llyn a'r afon a'r clogwyn: ac, ar fy ngwir,
Dacw'r tŷ lle'm ganed. Ond wele, rhwng llawer a ne'
Mae lleisiau a drychiolaethau ar hyd y lle.
Rwy'n dechrau simsanu braid: ac meddaf i chwi,
Mae rhyw ysictod fel petai'n dod drosof i;
Ac mi glywaf grafangau Cymru'n dirdynnu fy mron,
Duw a'm gwaredo, ni allaf dianc rhag hon.

This
What do I care about Wales? An accident
Of birth finds me living in her little backyard.
On a map she is a smudge on the fringes of land
Spoiling the orderliness of things
And the people, remains of past glories
Don't talk to me of nations, or language or country,
There's more than enough on the world without Wales.
Sick and tired of the moaning extremists and their like
I take a trip, my day dream the train
That takes me to my childhood haunts
And there I am lost
Far from their words and complaints
Look over there, the place I was born
A desolate landscape, and there's Snowdon and friends,
The lake, the rivers, the crags
But between them and the sky,
Voices and figures like phantoms appeal to me,
And a weakness comes over me like a mountain mist,
Dear God, for me, there is no escape from this.

The Anchoress – by Robyn Cadwallader

The author’s name first attracted me to this book. Surely she was a Welsh woman? On investigation, however, I found the her to be an Australian. Oh well, dim ots, that made the book a possibility for the Australian Women Writers’ Challenge. Everyone was talking about it – a debut novel, such an interesting topic, so richly imagined. I confess to an interest in medieval monasticism. I have no illusions about my suitability for such a life. But something about the silence and the simple rhythms calls to me. I put my name down on the library reservation list and prepared to wait my turn.

The book when it arrived had a visual appeal. An interesting prologue illustrated the reason for the swallow depicted on the cover. Using the metaphor of a jongleur, the Swallow, who had fallen when learning to tumble and broken his nose with his own knee, Sarah, the Anchoress says

“Here [In my cell], like Swallow, I was body without a body. Even inside the thick walls of my cell I felt I could see the sky all around me, blue and clear, and I thought I had what I wanted

“I didn’t know then that I had landed on hard ground and broken my bones with my own body.”

Having watched her mother and sister suffer in childbirth, Sarah, daughter of a wealthy cloth merchant, has always sought a life apart. Having secured a wealthy patron she is nailed into her Anchorhold on Faiths’ Day, 6th October, 1255. Her purpose being to pray for her patron and the people of the village in which she has been enclosed. Sarah has her rule to guide her and two maids from the village to care for her physical needs. Father Peter, a wise elderly priest from the local priory, is her confessor. But Father Peter’s health is failing and when he is replaced by a younger more physically able priest, his gentle counsel is withdrawn.

I had been told in hushed tones that this book was set entirely within the few square feet of Anchorhold. This didn’t impress me overly. With memories and flashback an author can inhabit a number of different worlds. This potential was not wasted on Cadwallader. Through Sarah’s viewpoint we get a strong sense of the surrounding village, her past life, and the threat posed by her one time suitor and now patron, Sir Thomas.

Cadwallader also uses the third person viewpoint of Father Ranaulf, Sarah’s replacement confessor. Through him we see the corruptions and the preoccupations of the medieval monastic life. We learn how women were viewed by the church in this era (not pretty reading).

Cadwallader’s initial impetus for writing this novel grew out of her PhD research into the life of St Margaret of Antioch, a virgin who was raped and tormented by the man she refused to marry. When Father Ranaulf is commissioned to write St Margaret’s story for Sarah, he sees it as a chance to instruct her. But as the events of her life unfold and as Ranulf is drawn into the secrets surrounding the other women who have lived in the Anchorhold, the story becomes a powerful metaphor for male power and injustice.

The Anchoress is a literary novel full of subtle imagery and hidden meaning. Despite it’s exposure of corruption and injustice, it is also a book about faith and about making small but powerful shifts in order to survive. By the end of the book both Sarah and Father Ranaulf have changed. Their eventual actions may not satifsfy the sensibilities of a modern reader – why the hell is she still shut away from the world? – but they are true to the era and the prevailing belief system and therefore satisfy on a different level.

 

The theory of everything – a few thoughts

Prior to seeing The Theory of Everything I knew three things about Stephen Hawking:

  • He’s a well known scientist
  • Due to a disability he speaks with an American computer generated voice (the later gleaned from episodes of the Big Bang Theory)
  • His book, A brief history of time: from the big bang to black holes, lives down in the 530’s section of the library
  • It is not to be confused with Richard Dawkins‘, The God delusion, which lives in the 211 section
  • Not that I would ever make that mistake (cough)
  • Just saying

Have I ever attempted to read one of Hawking’s books? Never. Or Dawkins’ for that matter. I am mathematically challenged. I have no great interest in science (however important and worthy its study). I find meaning in stories – novels, song lyrics, personal narrative, fairy tales and myths – the later being the category under which I would put the Biblical creation stories. As someone said to me in my youth:

‘The question is not so much whether a man called Adam once ate an apple, Liz. It’s whether you would have eaten the apple.’

Okay, so I probably would have eaten the apple, tried to hide the evidence and, if caught, would have tried to put the blame on others. Just like Adam does in the creation story. My conclusion: Genesis is a story about God and the human condition and therefore not incompatible with science.

So why did I got to the movie? Why not? A friend invited me.

‘Is it a documentary? I asked, entering the cinema.

‘No. I think it is about his marriage.’

Okay, that sounded promising. Apart from this one small detail, I walked into the theatre completely ignorant. This opened me up to a number of pleasant surprises. For a start, I thought Hawking was American. The voice, people! The computer generated voice! Imagine my surprise when I found myself in 1960’s Cambridge. Perfect. There is nothing I love more than a British period drama. This one was particularly well done. Without giving too much away, here’s what stayed with me after the credits had stopped rolling.

  • The acting – Eddie Redmayne and Felicity Jones were amazing
  • The interview in which Hawking’s PhD was discussed – as a writer I can relate to the mixture of strengths and weaknesses in any given work
  • The exploration of disability and the pressures this puts on a relationship
  • Themes of science and religion and how they intersect
  • The humour – I believe the real life Hawking is a witty character
  • The portrayal of Hawking’s struggle not to be defined by his disability
  • The scientific integrity it takes to develop and theory and then set out to disprove it
  • The poignancy of Jane Hawking’s situation
  • The horrorifying prospect of being ‘shut in’
  • The technological advances that have helped people in this situation

Since Saturday, I have done a bit of reading on Hawking, Dawkins and The theory of everything. I’ve learned that the movie was based on Jane Hawking’s memoirs: Travelling to infinity – my life with Stephen. In keeping with the private persona portrayed in the movie, Hawking chose not to read or comment on these memoirs. The film’s music score was composed by Johann Johannson. The music was recorded in the Abbey Road Studios. Eddie Redmayne won an Academy Award for his role. The later does not surprise me. The acting, the scripting, and the sound track for this movie were superb. Here’s the trailer to whet your appetite

 

Celebrating significant milestones

Those of you who know me will realise I celebrated a significant birthday this year. Andrew celebrated the same milestone last year. We also clocked up a thirtieth wedding anniversary. A party was called for, invitations sent out. People flew in from interstate. We had a great night. One of the highlights of the evening was Seth’s speech. Here it is for those who couldn’t make it, with my short response.

*

Naturally I have only heard anecdotes about my parent’s time before marriage. If I trusted them, I would tell you about Andrew Corbett at the Helsinki Olympics. Instead, I thought it best that stick tonight to cold hard fact, verified by those who have lived it.

So here we go.

Quite surprisingly, after being deprived TV until I was 12 years old, I have a soft spot for movies. I therefore can think of no better way to express this speech but with obscure film references. My first thought was to compare Mum and Dad’s marriage to my favourite film trilogy: The Before Sunrise Series. The series follows the life and relationship of two people, Jesse and Celine, over the span of 20 years.

The first movie sees the pair fall in love in Paris.

The second sees them reunite 9 years later in Paris again.

The third sees them married with children

The more I looked, I found that a direct comparison was impossible:

Firstly, Hawthorndene and Vermont are not exactly Paris,

Secondly and most importantly, mum and dad achieved what took the Jesse and Celine twenty years, in the space of twelve months.

So instead myself and my siblings have created our very own film trilogy that better encapsulates the love story that is Andrew and Elizabeth Corbett.

 


Young love

Starring– Andrew Corbett, Elizabeth Corbett, Jack and Phoebe Corbett,

Tagline: Whatever you do…don’t have kids straight away.

Rating: G – minimal drug and alcohol use.

Box Office: limited South Australian release

Synopsis: A young naïve Christian couple fall in love in the hills of Adelaide. A 1980’s South Australian love story.

Things get off to a bad start at the wedding, when the catering runs out. The honeymoon in Robe is tense as Liz realises that the man she has married loves public nudity and outrageous facial hair. Both are studying, Andrew has a landscaping business. After settling into married life, the choice of the Billings method of birth control backfires with the birth of Jack “the guinea pig” Corbett.

Queue montage of chickpeas, no TV – board games, books and singing (Andrew Corbett’s songs), no Christmas presents before church, sugar free birthday cakes, camping holidays. Is this child abuse or inspired parenthood?

Andrew the long haired bearded hippy makes the decision to work for a multi-national oil company. Good thing he does too, because Phoebe “the favourite” Corbett is born shortly after. This is now a relationship of four…

Best moments: Andrew getting a job just before the birth of Jack. The presents from the Grandparents.

Favourite Quote: “We should try the Billings method”

Soundtrack: John Williamson, Andrew Corbett’s back catalogue

Cliff hanger: The Corbett’s move to Melbourne. The first house (paid for by Mobil) is in the inner city. The next, is an hour’s drive from Andrews work, the carpet stinks, rat poo in the oven. Will this make them or break them?

 

 

 

Fiji: there and back again

Starring: Andrew Corbett, Elizabeth Corbett, Phoebe Corbett, Seth Corbett, Naomi Priya Corbett

Tagline: The Corbett lampoons go on an extended vacation

Rating: R – high profanity, nudity, animal cruelty and images of archaic punishment methods

Box Office: Limited Australian release with a cult following in the pacific islands

Synopsis: After the birth of Seth, Melbourne becomes too small a place to keep the Corbetts. This is a family the world must see. (They are also broke and Andrew’s back is buggered). Enter the F word. Fiji. The transition is not smooth. Liz develops the trait of talking in a very slow voice because nobody must be able to understand her. Andrew’s eccentricities become unchecked, culminating in trying to kill the neighbours dogs with coconuts and abusing a confused old man for trying to steal the van. Both done in his underwear. These were the years of plenty – house girl/gardener (babysitter and trips away), resorts. Liz has to join slim life. Sailing, horse riding, embassy balls, more than one ice cream a year, amazing kids parties, sugar and other such novelties, Liz does ladies lunches and runs sea scouts , Dad runs Sunday school music (becomes a legend in the Sunday school circuit).

A new sister enters the family. Can life get any better?

No. All good things must end. The return to Australia is tough, long trips to work, no house girl, no garden boy, winter, have to wear shoes and jocks, plenty of Hungry Jacks.

Best moments:

Getting a new sister and brother

Trips to NZ

Resorts

Curry

Favourite Quote: “Mobil will pay for it”

Soundtrack: Isa Lei, Paul Kelly, Crowded House, Celtic Hymns

Cliff hanger: The Crows win the 1997 premiership, Darren Jarmen kicks six goals.

 

 

Sian! The kids are gone

Starring – Andrew Corbett, Elizabeth Corbett, Phoebe McCann, Jack Corbett Seth Corbett Priya Corbett, Vanessa Corbett, Andrew McCann and Monique Corbett with guest appearances from Carine from Holland, Winnie for a ‘Willage’ in the Faroe Islands and Alice from Switzerland and, finally, Biskit “the bloody dog” Corbett.

Tagline – They’re still married? We’re as surprised as they are!

Rating: G – a great film for the family.

Box Office – World-wide release, with record sales in the Faroe Islands, Switzerland and the Netherlands.

Synopsis: living their “young adult’ years with their young adult kids. The Corbett’s settle back into Melbourne life. Mum takes up a variety of hobbies, becomes a Librarian, begins to write a book. Andrew begins to collect a set of hobbies of his own. Hiking, Canoeing, Fly Kites, fishing. The number of recycled art items begins to increase spreading from the chicken coop to his office, to the house. Ladders, chains, corrugated iron chickens. They are doing things backwards. One after the other the kids fly the coop. Half way through shooting the film, the production is halted as the money is all tied up in a government backed tree scheme. Finally, after more than 20 years, the day arrives. Drew and Sian move to Coburg. These are the hipster years, riding bikes, op shop clothes at retail prices, more art work, writing, learning welsh, teaching welsh, music. Andrew flourishing in the recycling era, hard rubbish collecting now socially acceptable (compared to us hiding in the car on the way home from church while dad searched for stuff).

Elizabeth Jane the writer is born.

Best moments:

The exchange students- lots of cul’cha.

Monique. And Vanessa and Andy.

Google has revolutionised family debate (just unfortunate that Google has multiple answers sometimes).

Dad realises his dream of being a grandparent by fifty.

Quotes:

“It’s a big bad world out there”.

“Where are you? Nobody is home, shit’s flying”

What better parents to have. As these films have shown, our parents have taught us a lot:

  • Family is important but be an individual.
  • It’s a big bad world out there, but it’s also an exciting and interesting place so go out and live.
  • Never be afraid to talk about money.
  • Music and stories should be cherished.
  • Don’t ever stop doing new things.

Whatever happens next, I am sure our days of being cooler than our parents are long gone.

 


My response:

So, here we are. Fifty years old and thirty years married. We have been together longer than we have been apart. And if you do the maths, you will realise we got married quite young. And if you have looked at Phoebe’s photo collage you will also have noticed that we were still children when we started having kids. Were we too young for marriage? Absolutely. Did we know what we were doing? Not at all. Should it have been a disaster? Well, yes, statistically.

But by the grace of God here we are.

I expect if we were clever we would create a formula and write a best selling book something like ‘the seven habits of marrying too young, having kids, struggling financially, and trying to stay sane.” But I’m not sure that there is a formula, apart from loving, living, listening and forgiving. Life is a messy business. And as for the sanity, that’s an illusion (on my part at least).

Yet, here we are.

Tonight, I want to thank Andrew for letting me grow up in my own way in my own time, with all my fads, fancies and obsessive interests. I want to thank our children, Jack, Phoebe, Seth and Naomi Priya for being part of our journey. For our children in law, Ness, Andy and Monique, for loving our children and joining our family. And, of course, our AFS daughters who have enriched our lives. I also want to thank family and friends who have travelled interstate to celebrate with us tonight – Ma and Pa, Willem, Jack, Ness and Charlie, Paul, Rod and Sue Mitchell. Finally to thank each of you for being part of our journey thus far. And for those in Coburg who have more recently become part of the journey. No man is an island. No marriage or family exists in isolation. Your friendship, support, love and laughter have all helped bring us to this point.

We consider ourselves fortunate.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A reflection on the letters ICU

You have heaps to write about. A new bike, travel plans, a trip to the Apple Store, the reasons you favour red shoes over all others. Yes, I know, important topics. They will one day be explored. But this week has been given over to a three letter acronym – ICU.

Your journey began last Friday when your daughter was scheduled for spinal surgery. It would be a big operation you were told and, as with all surgery, there were associated risks. You brace in the preceding weeks, light candles, journal about your hopes and fears, ask trusted friends to hold you in prayer, then you set off for the hospital ready to watch and wait.

The surgery will take two hours the surgeon tells you on admission. Please make sure your mobile phone is switched on. He will call when she is in recovery. You head down to the cafe. Marvel that a hospital canteen can be so unhealthy. The staff in their uniforms ploughing through great mounds of chips. You write a blog, check your Twitter feed. Two hours passes. You check your phone. No missed calls. The same half an hour later. After three and a half hours, you head to the hospital reception.

'Is my daughter in recovery yet?'

'No, they tell you. Still in surgery.'

You wander the hospital corridors. All those safely journaled fears come bubbling to the surface. At four hours, you find yourself in the hospital chapel staring into the stained-glass face of Jesus. Once you would have raged against the the possibility that things might be going wrong. You'd prayed. Why didn't God do what you'd asked? Years down the track and at a different place in your faith journey you know bad things happen to good people all the time. Today, one of them might be happening to your daughter.

In the filtered light of the chapel windows, the call comes. The surgeon says your daughter has lost a lot of blood during surgery. Four litres. You wonder how much blood a body needs. They have managed to collect and transfuse the blood but your daughter will need a night in ICU. The procedure has gone well the surgeon tells you, his voice gentle. This is nothing to worry about.

You try not to worry sitting in the ICU waiting room. And when you see your daughter wheeled past in a tangle of cables, monitors and and oxygen lines. You try not to worry later on when you are allowed to visit her. You look around the ward at people suspended between trauma and recovery. Most of are old, their bodies twisted by illness and time. You wonder how your daughter has ended up in such a place.

You learn a great deal in ICU. As one night turns into three, you realise so much can go wrong. Kidneys don't take kindly to blood loss. When they fail, there is nothing the doctors can do to start them again, only manage the symptoms and wait for the body to remember its lines. You pray. Though, you scarcely know where to begin. Though, once or twice you do inform the Almighty that you don't much like the way things are unfolding. Yet, for all your disappointment you know ICU is a privelege, the possibility of such care beyond the reach of over half the world's population. As three nights turns into four, you consider the likelihood of missing your grandson's first birthday celebrations in Brisbane over the weekend.

Then, on day five it happens. The creatinine levels start dropping. The nausea and dizziness ease. You notice your daughter is smiling again. You wait, trusting this is the tide turn. That all those assurances the doctors gave you were in anticipation of this moment. You are not disappointed. Your daughter is wheeled up to the orthopedic ward. She is walking, eating, her kidneys are filtering. Leaving the hospital after visiting hours that night you walk past the hospital chapel. It is in darkness now. Only a single candle to mark its purpose. As you stand in the flickering candlelight, you know Jesus is there even when you can't see his face.

 

Handling feedback – and some thoughts on perspective

The wait is over. I've received back four marked-up manuscripts from the members of my writing group. They put loads of ticks all over the pages. Used phrases like fully realised …. couldn't put it down …. great historical detail … holds together well, good pacing … written beautifully. But I didn't see any of that. At least, not on my first frenzied read through their comments. All I saw were the words:

Main character's story arc isn't working.

Not working. I went into a tail spin. Had a small (cough, spectacular) meltdown down. Shoved the manuscripts in a drawer. Decided never to speak to my writing buddies again. Somehow got through my Welsh class without weeping. Went to work, trembling. Sick to the stomach. Found it hard to concentrate. Tried to be philosophical.

'It's only a novel,' I told my friend Glen on our late afternoon desk shift. 'I shouldn't get so upset. I mean there are people without fresh food or water, living in war zones, facing death daily.'

'And this is much worse,' he replied, grinning.

'Yes!' I said. 'It is!'

'I'm giving up.' I told my husband that evening. 'No one else has this much trouble writing a novel. Maybe, I'm just not good enough.'

'Really?' He said. 'That's not my understanding.'

'And what do you mean by that?'

He shrugged. 'All those writers I read about in the newspaper struggle to get it right and have crises of confidence. I get the impression it's all part of the process.'

He was right, of course. I'd come so far. And two of the characters' were definitely working. I only needed to re-work one of them – albeit the main one. Maybe I was over reacting? I decided to do some cognitive work on things. Found myself writing down words like, failurefool to try and … wasted ten years of my life. I took these thoughts to my man in a cardigan. 'That's pretty black and white view, he said. 'What else have you done in the last ten years.

Actually…when I thought about it. Quite a few things. He made me name them. I include the list for your edification.

  • I started writing with four teenage kids in the house.
  • Add in the three, consecutive year long AFS exchange students and we were a household of seven for a few years
  • We had a serious back injury in those years
  • Watched four young adults turn into adults
  • Lived through three sets of engagements and weddings
  • Had a seriously sad teenager who kind of made her presence felt
  • This involved multiple medical personnel in cardigan appointments
  • Did three long overseas holidays
  • Worked part time
  • Took my Welsh language skills from lacklustre to proficient
  • Started teaching Welsh
  • Sold the family home and moved house
  • Adjusted to living in a new suburb
  • Learned a great deal about writing… and life

See what I mean? Written like that it was a pretty black and white to call those years wasted.

Now, in addition to asking my writing buddies to look at my manuscript I'd also contacted a paid manuscript assessor. She was having knee surgery so was unable to give me a quote straight away. By the time she was able to get back to me I'd already received my writing buddies' feedback. We decided it was a waste of money to have her fully assess this draft. I would make the necessary changes and send her the next draft.

Next draft? Note the shift in my thinking.

I pulled the multiple copies of my manuscript out of my drawer. Read the notes and markups again. There were huge sections that needed very little change. Small sections that needed huge changes. I transcribed each comment onto one manuscript. Went on retreat. Came home more grounded. Started summoning the strength. It takes a great deal of emotional energy to write a novel and there are absolutely no guarantees at the end of the process, apart from personal satisfaction and the knowledge that you have grown as a writer and as a person. Starting out, each fresh change will be a battle as I undo what I'd hoped was permanent. But re-drafting is part of writing, I'm learning, and, if I take it slow and keep the Little Red Engine in mind, I can do it.


At least … I think I can.

 

Our great big family wedding anniversary

Back from a week of sand, sun and poor phone reception, surrounded by the people I love most in the world – my brother and his family back from Malawi, Africa, the kids and various partners, our first grandchild (who possibly is the cutest baby in the world) and a good friend who joins us on most family holidays. We had fifteen people at the height of the week with a contingent opting for the comparative serenity of the local caravan park. Despite debates, daily planning meetings, big dinners, a shared bath room, and regular, hush-baby, sleep times, it somehow still managed to feel relaxing.

While on holidays, Andrew and I celebrated our thirtieth wedding anniversary.

A bit of a strange way to spend such a significant anniversary, you might think. Yet somehow apt, seeing as I spent my first wedding anniversary in a hospital maternity ward having recently given birth to our eldest son, Jack. With four children, three exchange students and a couple of other young women who also bunked in with us on separate occasions, they have been significantly child filled years.

Andrew and I went out for lunch to celebrate, of course, and there was an exchange of cards and gifts, as expected. But the big surprise was Jack facilitating an impromptu, Denton style, interview on the eve of our wedding anniversary. We talked about the highlights (all present in the room) and the difficult times, how, looking back, those difficult times were all quite normal, and yet they didn't feel normal at the time. How sometimes we were just hanging in there because we said we would, at others because it all made sense. How various health problems have been taxing over the years, yet, strangely, this has also strengthened our marriage. How the four years we spent in Fiji expanded our view of life. How immensely proud we are of our children, how raising them has been our commonest interest, and how glad we are to have put the time and energy into building those relationships. How happy we are to have moved to Coburg. Yet some nights Andrew still looks around the empty dinner table and asks, so, where are the children? How the years have gone by as if in the twinkling of an eye. How the next thirty are going to present significant age-related challenges. That we are currently trying to work out new common interests and how, somehow, in the midst of it all, God has been present to us.

At the conclusion of our 'interview,' I asked my brother, Ian, to pray for us. He said, he thought the children should also be part of that blessing. So, they were, right there in that living room, with tears and choked voices and with ordinary, not-so-awkward silences, and in their prayers, we tasted the fruits of our thirty married years.

 

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