Category: Uncategorized

Trust Part 7

Trust Part 7

“Chris’ comment about taking the dangerous oral chemo drug Pazopanib rings in my ears: ‘I wouldn’t take that – it’s too dangerous! Hypertension, heart attack, stroke, pneumothorax – far too dangerous.’ The four little white pills in my hand traumatise me as I take them to Shirley for the first time. ‘Why are you doing this?’ I ask. Her pinched white face looks up at me: ‘Because this could win me time – I want to give God all the time I can so that He can heal me.’ A small tear swells, spills over and slides down. Another one swells in my heart – what faith is this? What trust that her God can do what is necessary! But may need time….”

Trust Part 6

Trust Part 6

“I met Mark falling through the air,” Shirley joked on her wedding day in 1998. By then she had done 88 jumps in her pink and blue sky-diving suit. The total commitment once you leap out of that plane always struck me – what kind of trust was this, other than the total absolute thing? And through her suffering God nurtured the trust she had in Him towards such completeness. To me the acid test came when the consultant told her that there was no hope. All weekend long she lay in bed wrestling: “Do I love God enough to lay down my most precious thing – to lay down my life – if He asks it?’
I kept thinking of Abraham being asked to sacrifice Isaac. Would Shirley be prepared to offer the same total hugely costly obedience, in her case to be prepared to die – should God ask that of her? ‘Mum,’ she said when finally I crawled in behind her and held her close, ‘it’s okay. If God wants to take me I’m okay with that.’ Here was the same kind of trust again – total and complete.”

Trust Part 5

Trust Part 5

“How does Shirley react to the news in 2013 of her cancer and 10% chance to survive? Disbelief numbs her. She talks and cries. She looks back over her life. In the small hours of the morning she decides. Then she phones: “Mum,” she says, “now it is time to cut my crap.” With impressive resolve she declares even more firmly, “I’m going to cut my crap and do it with God, Mum.” Holding the little wooden cross that lives on her bedside table she says, ” For me the big thing now is can I trust God? Because if I can trust Him I can believe everything He’s now promised me. I can stand on His promises.” And that’s exactly what she decides to do. Fear makes it a struggle but much of the time she does just that.
(From my book, “Mum please help me die”)

Trust Part 4

Trust Part 4

Right now I drink deep – I have to, as Chronic Fatigue bites after two more presentations of the amazing Shirley story and before two more. I’m just sitting with Him – so cool – and drinking deep.Shirley’s eleven months of brutal cancer had her drinking deep time after time after time. When she couldn’t breath after relieving herself she had me put my hand on her heaving chest and pray until it stilled and she could breath again. And she would say, “It’s okay now Mum – you can go back to bed.” That was drinking really deep – actually it was putting her trust of Jesus into action. We trusted and we drank. I have just read this and I think it’s beautiful: ‘God loves an uttermost confidence in Himself – to be wholly trusted.’ As Shirley would say, ‘Whoo hoo!’

Trust Part 3

Trust Part 3

“If God is trustworthy,” Shirley said, “I can believe His promises – that He will not let my foot slip, that He will never leave me nor forsake me, that He has plans for me… There were times in the hospital I was so afraid and I just needed to cling to a promise. Then God’s peace would descend on me and it was okay. He held my hand. What would I have done without this? I sometimes felt He literally held my hand.” For me as her mum there was a single particular promise that held me up: “My grace is sufficient for you.” As He held my hand He made those words live for me over and over again.

Trust Part 2

Trust Part 2

I was watering my hydrangeas and I saw a spider launch himself from the gutter above and absail down on a thread. He was caught by the wind and swept about but totally secure. I marvel at his trust in one single thread. It’s amazing to realize that for so long now I have trusted too! Some one has been responsible for that! And that I have come to Him to sit and be still. Why come to Him? He did say, ” My grace is sufficient for you – now which word of that did you not understand?” So I also did something else: every day I asked for fresh manna just for today – even when I was nauseous because of the horror of watching her cancer and what it was doing to her. But through it all the thread by which He held me was completely unbreakable.

Trust Part 1

Trust Part 1

Shirley was seriously ill for eleven months – what about trust, Thy – how did you do as far as trusting was concerned?” I really had to think. And I realized by the time all of this happened God had taught me a bit about trusting. It took a lot of doing, but being an unhappy teenager crying myself to sleep, struggling to fall pregnant and coping with monthly disappointments, and needing to prop Shirley up for years all helped. Circumstances turned me to God. Through them I got to know Him … Again and again He asked one question: ‘Will you depend on Me?’ Many times I didn’t, or only for a bit. But by the time my 39 year old daughter was diagnosed with cancer and given only a 10% chance of survival I had become a truster – pretty much. So I didn’t struggle with trusting. I struggled much more to understand what God was doing.

A Short Bio of Shirley – Part 2

A Short Bio of Shirley – Part 2

University life begins for Shirley in February 1993 in beautiful Stellenbosch. She’s eighteen and life looks more promising.

Shirley in Stellenbosch

Shirley in Stellenbosch

Shirley moves into a residence and then shares a flat with Loren. The two become like sisters. Years later Loren and I chat about those years over coffee.

 “Oh, Thy,” Loren says, “We laughed such a lot. What an amazing sense of humour! “The other thing we did was sleep – or at least Shirley did. I had to work my butt off. But she would hardly open a book and still cream her subjects, especially English and Psychology. Cum laude, no less – I found it so frustrating! What did amaze me though was her strange taste in men. And the other big thing for her was to be on Prozac for two years.” Our doctor prescribed this because of her battle with depression, as well as counselling. She did the first though hating the pills but went only once for the second.  .

She found these new experiences strange and alarming. They stirred up and added to buried fears. It was not long before she was thinking: “There you are – I always knew it – there’s something very wrong with me.”

Of those years, Shirley later writes:

“Somehow I managed to miss discovering how very much God loves me. I kept interrogating myself. It seemed that, instead of setting me free, my faith was causing me feelings of failure, guilt and unworthiness. For a long time, I struggled to keep these inside. Surely then the logical thing to do was to leave the church and religion behind?”

Shirley’s wedding is on 16 December 1998. She met him ‘falling through the air,’ as she put it. They were at the same sky-diving club. (Shirls is wearing the cerise suit).

Shirley Skydiving

The wedding is absolutely beautiful – at Delaire, a wine farm just north of Stellenbosch at sunset.

Shirley, the beautiful bride

Very soon the two of them move to Johannesburg to take up promotions – they work in the IT industry. Not long after that they move to London, again to better prospects.

During the build-up to the wedding, Shirley is particularly unsettled – rattled, and uncertain – more fragile than usual. And needs more support.  While we’re filling little boxes with chocolates for the guests one afternoon Shirley has a terribly frightening meltdown. Her mood blackens to the point where she feels as if she is sinking into a dark, sooty-black pit. I try and try – but I can’t reach her. This is the worst despair I have ever seen. Fear threatens to panic my soul. Helplessly, I stroke her back – very tentatively – as I sit beside her. I do not know what else to do. I hang on to the belief that marriage with someone there to supply her chronic sense of need is the answer.

After five and a half years of struggle the marriage breaks up.

Totally Alone on the beach

Totally alone. Sellobost Sand, Hebrides, after her divorce.

Shirley stays on in London, then takes herself off for a three week holiday in New Zealand, exploring in a hired car. Her adventures include her first tattoo:

First Tattoo

Sometime later, alone on Dunedin Beach she decides that “God hasn’t heard from me in a long time.” So she prays, thinking that “perhaps He might want to hear from me again.”

Dunedin Beach

Shirls on Dunedin Beach

Back in England, she finds a job in Bracknell near Reading, buys a car and a house. Not too long afterwards she joins Greyfriars church. Her struggles continue. She longs for a husband and children and tries online dating through a Christian website. One of the things that make her feel good is holidays and she lives from one to the next.

Diving in the Red Sea

Diving in the Red Sea. Shirley called the shark Bob.

Skiing in Europe After Christmas

Skiing in Europe after Christmas

But life goes pear-shaped again and again. Depression continues to raise its ugly head. Again and again she rejects the idea of a Psychiatric assessment and anti-depressants and insists all will come right with the aid of a counsellor.

After a bitterly sad year (2012) she considers packing it all in and coming back to our garden flat in Cape Town to find herself and start all over again. Her life has been tattooed with misery and pain. She does wonder though whether starting again will be the answer or whether, in the end, she may feel just as bad. It would mean that she carries the root of the problem with her. The disappointment of that would be far too much to bear.

Then, in April 2013, she bumps her leg in the office…..   

 

A Short Bio of Shirley – Part 1

A Short Bio of Shirley – Part 1

In 1970 Brian and I decide it’s time to start a family. But we can’t fall pregnant. The five years that follow are tough. In the end we put our names down for adoption. Two more years of heart-anguish go by.

Then an amazed gynaecologist has to admit we might be pregnant. “I can’t believe it, I just can’t believe this!” he says. “Go away,” he says gently, “and come back in two months and then we’ll know.”

So, after a very long two months, we come back. And, shaking his head, he has to admit, “You really are pregnant, four whole months pregnant.”

When Shirley is born in 1975 no baby could have been more loved or welcome.  A pastor friend says, “You haven’t lived until you’ve had a child.” How right he is!  

As a little child, Shirley is a delight. She loves to chatter, learns very quickly and likes to do things for herself. She loves cheesy bread, but vehemently rejects banana custard and pawpaw. She never runs short of ideas, to the point of sucking three dummies (pacifiers?) at once, always with a mischievous twinkle in her large green-brown eyes.

Shirley as a toddler with dummy in mouth

At bedtime she loves the stories I make up which stretches my imagination big time. When she is out of line – like taking a liking to dog biscuits – a stern voice is all that is necessary.

During Shirley’s teen years, our youth group becomes her brothers and sisters. We produce a musical together. We sell boerewors rolls every Saturday until we have enough money for the group to fly from Pretoria to Cape Town for four days’ holiday with no sleep.

In Cape Town - Shirley is in front on the left
In Cape Town – Shirley is in front on the left

Shirley is born with only two – not three – blood vessels in her umbilical cord. This suggests to our paediatrician there could be trouble ahead. I dismiss such a thought as absurd. At no point does God say He is giving us a perfect baby, but I assume it. So I never follow up the two-blood-vessel story and its possible implications.

In time a shadow of concern does creep ever so slowly into my heart. School days bring the catty interchanges of little girls. This is distressing for most of them, but Shirley goes to pieces. I am always comforting, holding her on my lap and gently drying the very many tears.  Her troubles are extreme and intense. Eventually I do have to admit that Shirley really struggles. I can’t put my finger on it, but it’s not how it should be. I become incredibly concerned about her. 

I remember being on the beach on holiday at Scottburgh. Nine-year-old Shirley takes off her thick glasses. She doesn’t want to lose them in the sea.

The day Shirley got her first glasses
The day Shirley got her first glasses

There is a moment when I look up to see her coming up from the water, totally lost. I see my child as so lost and alone. She just can’t see where we are. I run to fetch her, aching for her and how she must feel.

From then on, pics of Shirley utterly alone always stirred up an ache in me. Perhaps this is because they suggest the intense loneliness and isolation she experiences as a result of her psychological challenges. Her deep insecurity, poor self-image, and battle to find relationships satisfying whisper that she is in trouble and that anguish lies ahead. Tears drench each new challenge.

I know something is amiss, although I can’t put my finger on it. Along with hers, my distress grows too. I know this is when my pain for her began – pain that lasted for a very long time.

As a family we move to Cape Town on New Year’s Day, 1991. It proves to be a very long, very sad journey. Shirley is devastated. No matter where she turns, she sees nothing but loss. She was probably going to get provincial colours for netball. To be part of the school’s debating team … to sit on the junior city council of Pretoria … to get distinctions for all her subjects in matric. She was almost certainly going to be a prefect. She’s also lost her extended family, her netball team friends; youth group pals and worst of all, Brendan her brand-new first boyfriend. She depended upon her relationships to survive and now they were almost all gone. Loss is just everywhere.  

Some weeks later, Shirley finds herself in the playground of Westerford High in Newlands. It’s a beautiful setting because of the Cape Mountains, lawns and ancient chestnut trees. But Shirley continues to yearn for the people back home that energise her and bring her to life. The school psychologist says she’s mourning her brother and sisters.

Shingwedzi - Kruger National Park - With Michelle
Shingwedzi – Kruger National Park – With Michelle

In her Art class, Shirley paints a huge, sad face – her face. She makes the eyes green so that they swim in pain. She paints huge cracks in the face. And she fills some of the cracks with a chaotic jangle of musical notes to document her anguish.

Shirley paints a huge sad face

I’m very sad to see Shirley so extremely unhappy. But I’m not surprised. Even before we left Pretoria, I was worried sick about how she would manage the move. Almost every week, I end up holding her close as she lies sobbing in my arms. I do what mothers do – pour out love and care unreservedly. But she needs a professional counsellor. Tragically, not one of us realises that.

 Her heart is awash with pain. And her thoughts are very dark:

“I can’t do this. I can’t see a single thing to live for. All I do is flounder in pain.”

Meet Thy – Who wrote the book

Meet Thy – Who wrote the book

The next bio gives a bit of my background : Thy:

Thy at the beach

As I said, Brian and I met on a blind date. I can’t remember if I explained my name to him, as I usually do whenever I meet someone new. I say, “My name’s Thy.”

“What?” they ask, often close to staring. “Yes, its short for ‘Thyra’ – I’m named after the Norwegian Goddess of war.” Adding that doesn’t improve things much. And I’m not sure I have my facts correct, but just maybe God gave the name to enable me to break the ice and start conversation!

It’s strange that someone else in our families lost his father at two or three years of age. That was my father. He was also two or three years old when he lost his Dad. My Dad was the youngest of six children. His Norwegian father, after sailing for Norway, had gone ashore in Saldanha Bay only to meet and lose his heart to a Miss Kotze. He never left. Instead he married her but, sadly, died before he could reach a ripe old age. For my father there was a double whammy in store in that he then lost his mother – at about thirteen. And so it is probably true to say he brought himself up. 

When he married my mother, the youngest of five children, he insisted they wait until they had a hundred pounds in the bank before they had children. On cue, my mother gave birth – but what a surprise when we turned out to be twins! My father was over the moon to have a son and poured himself into him from then on. I think he wanted him to have everything he himself never had. 

We grew up on a small holding with Muscovy ducks, turkeys, a flourishing vegetable garden and a succession of dogs and cats. Our home was not a happy one – my father believed he had been overlooked for promotion a number of times. He became bitter and withdrawn and spoke little. There was no fun in our home. I did three things: began painting in oils, cried myself to sleep in my pillow and made sure I read my Bible every night. This, my mother taught me and it was a wonderfully significant thing she did for me.  

It was a relief to go to teachers’ training college. I was determined to live in Res and have a social life. And I loved teaching. But it was a big thing to leave home and I was very insecure and unsure of myself.

That blind date I mentioned earlier with Brian became a relationship, going to church together, playing tennis and writing real letters whenever he was in camp and we couldn’t see each other. We were both studying, but in my case it was a BA at Wits, at the same time as the teaching diploma of those days – to teach high school.

It was in church one night that I too, in response to a visiting speaker (a different one!) committed myself to Jesus. This was also the biggest thing that ever happened to me.

Marriage:

We were married in 1968, when we were both 22, which seems so young now. When Brian became a curate in 1970 I gave up teaching to support him full time in every way I could.

Thy and Brian Getting Married

So I ran the Sunday school, the ladies work and served on the church council. In 1982, after being asked to read Mary’s part in a message for Radio Pulpit, I was invited to make programmes for them. For about 17 years I created and presented music programmes, children’s stories most of which I wrote myself, and magazine programmes. I did a lot of interviewing, especially for a programme called “Spotlight.” Hearing people’s stories did a lot to shape and grow my own faith.  

 Some of us love to keep many balls in the air at the same time and I’ve always been happiest when I can do that. One of the “balls” has been oil painting, in the holidays when alone on my Dad’s small holding with no friends nearby. Another ”ball” near to my heart has been training Sunday school teachers in seminars, and with booklets, etc. I was also drawn in to studying Christian Education online at an American university. After a master’s degree I also did a doctorate, and taught masters students on line for seven years.

My love of people led me into counselling and small group work. Not surprisingly, the special prayer applied to me, in that know-yourself seminar, reads as follows:

“Lord, help me to keep …. Oops! There goes a butterfly!  …. my mind on one thing at a time.”

But, all along, what I longed for more than anything was to have children. Imagine our joy when after five years of struggling, treatments, hopes and disappointments, Shirley was born in 1975. I made the decision then always to make her my top priority. And think I did.