Monday, June 18, 2012



A week ago my dear friend and former ECE classmate Natalie died of lung cancer a month before her 32nd birthday. She has left behind her husband Richard and her fantastic boys Matthew (almost 6) and Caleb (aged 3). She was diagnosed just 3 months ago after 3 solid months of chest infections, flu and bronchitis.  It never sounded that great but none of us  expected it all to be over so fast.

Natalie was a tower of strength in so many ways, taller than most of us she had a fabulous smile and an ability to talk to anyone; be it a stranger in a shop or on the street let alone during our on-campus weeks where the flexi-study intake tried to put faces to on-line names and those of us who lived out of Auckland gradually found our feet in strange surroundings. Our course was full time and full on. A Graduate Diploma meant 3rd year degree level assignments from day one. It was hard enough being a full time student, yet Natalie not only excelled at her studies but also managed to run a home, bring up her then 2yr old son on her own half the time as Richard's work took him away so often oh and continue to work part time and be pregnant for the last few months of it! As if that wasn't enough she was doing all of this from Sydney, coming over for on-campus weeks (4 in one year) and practicums (14 weeks all in within 12 months). On top of all this she was incredibly creative, kept her friends and family in touch with what was going on with regular newsy emails and lots of photos. In short she was superwoman.

She was the most positive thinking person I have ever come across - she could make Pollyanna look pessimistic, her enthusiasm was infectious. When we were struggling over a particularly difficult assignment she'd sigh and then cheerfully say, 'Never mind Cs make degrees!' and then of course get an A despite having finished her assignment at the airport on the way across for another on-campus week...

In the years since we were studying Natalie and I managed to meet up occassionally when she was over visiting her mum in Kerikeri. One time (pictured above) our paths crossed at Auckland Airport as she arrived as I was leaving for the UK for Christmas. They'd been on an early morning flight from Sydney which had been rather bumpy and not much fun - but you'd never have known it to see her.

It seems incredible that such a bright light could have been snuffed out. Finding out about Natalie's condition a week after Annie died was hard. I was so glad to get a chance in Kenya to talk with Rosie about Annie - we'd been pilgrims together and the two of them had remained close friends over the years. The grief at that time was still raw and Rosie said it felt like everything at the time seemed to come back to the same question 'yes but why did Annie have to die?'. At that point I was able to be more rational and philosophical, but now it is me with the same question 'why?'.

I know I answered my own question back there under the baking sun in Kabarak, that whilst it might not make sense to us there is often so much growth that can come from grief, so much good that might not otherwise have happened. I know how in ringing/emailing round classmates and one of our lecturers it has strengthened the bonds between us, I know that there are those who have gone to extraordinary lengths to fundraise for Natalie and her family and that the Australian Lung Foundation's coffers are fuller as a result of her request for donations to be sent there. I know there will be many more positive aspects when you see the long term greater picture, but... there is still a strong sense of injustice, like another of my classmates I feel an irrational anger against cancer, especially for depriving (yet another) young family of their mother - how can you be angry with a disease? But as Ange said, nothing makes sense with cancer.

Today, whilst Natalie's funeral was taking place I was in a meeting at work about a child whose lot in life has been unstable, full of violence and neglect - the complete antithisis to the start in life Natalie gave to her sons. Part of me was wishing that instead I could have taken that time instead to find a quiet space and be with those gathered at the funeral in thought and prayer if not in body, but the rest of me knew that the greatest tribute I could give to Natalie's life was to try to find the positive in the situation, to focus on the aroha I have for that poor kid who has been handed a raw deal in life and do my best for him.

I'm trying to think positive as I know Natalie would wish, but mostly right now even though I know the silver linings are there, the clouds are what stands out most.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

home group

I've (finally) started to make progress uploading my photos from the World Conference to Flickr. Some of the photos were taken during the home group facilitator training, that combined with thinking again (in the light of new contributions to the emailed reflections on Pardshaw) about tūrangawaewae, got me thinking again.

I really enjoyed my home group at the World Conference - we were a large group including Friends from Britain, Ireland, USA, Kenya, Uganda, Burundi, Myanmar/Burma, India and of course myself from Aotearoa NZ. I don't know about any of the others but I didn't really socialise with any of my home group outwith our sessions, yet this didn't lessen the sense of having a solid  base to go to most days for sharing our reflections on the conference, personal journeys in life and deepening our understanding of each other as individuals, representatives of different cultures, theologies and backgrounds.

Thinking about Pardshaw I know that there are many who I only ever see when I am there. Once we'd ceased to be YFs and prior to facebook coming along contact in between was sporadic and usually centred around organisation of the next get-together with the exception of a few of us hijacking the Pardshaw email list to share Christmas newsletters! But again there is that same sense of there being a solid base to return to (albeit with a longer gap between times and for more than the hour and a half or so we had each day in home groups!) where contact inbetween times isn't really necessary for the experience to be a place for deep sharing.

On the first day of our home group it became apparent towards the end of an introductory go-round that one of the late arrivals had very little English, only speaking Swahili and French comfortably. Thankfully one of the Kenyans stepped up to interpret for him for the remainder of the session. At the end my co-facilitator asked him if he would prefer to move to a French speaking home group but no, he was quite clear, he had been made to feel welcome and wanted to stay with us.

As the week went on a couple of the Kenyan Friends worked out between them a way of interpreting that required less consecutive interpretation using written notes as people spoke, and our Friend from Burundi got more comfortable using a little English with us (two of us had some school French but it became quickly apparent that he understood our English far better!).

On that first day one Friend seemed quite agitated about his inclusion in our group and thought he should be taken to the French group there and then. Whilst I'm sure she had his best interests at heart I am so glad my co-facilitator and I decided instead to continue on that day and let him make the decision to stay or not himself at the end. We were all very much the richer for having him with us and the interpretation time was valuable not only a timely reminder to those of us who have English as a first language to taihoa (hold back/wait) and not rush but it gave us added reflection time on what had been said.

It was a bit like heading over the Fell Road (Pardshaw to the Kirkstyle Inn at Loweswater) at the speed of the slowest 'wimps' walker  - it gives time to admire the scenery/light/flora and fauna etc in a different way than the head down ascent of the 'M word' (aka Melbreak) or other 'keenies walk' does when staying there (thank heavens I've seldom been fit enough for a keenies...). Having a small child or someone with health issues etc is never seen as a 'problem' at Pardshaw - time is made for them, to work around their needs. It enriches the community and possibilities, it doesn't take anything away from it. We're only human and therefore failable so the odd comment about loud snorers etc does get made, but you learn to take earplugs (or sleep in the drying room) if it bothers you that much! Those new to the gatherings may be a bit uncertain at first but if they are willing to trust and take part then they go away enriched and feeling a sense of belonging. As with home groups, you get out what you put in.

Our home group included people from many walks of life, thrown together for the conference. I many never see any of them again but I was so glad to know that they were there to go 'home' to each day. Spending that bit longer in each others company meant we got to know each other in a different way than many others I met often briefly, we shared more of our life stories, our hopes and fears, that which is mundane as well as eternal. All that was missing was a wall to sit on with a cracking view!