Of books and children

I have lived in Putaruru for a whole year. Sometimes it seems like 15 minutes and sometimes it seems as if I’ve always lived here. It takes a year to ‘grow’ into a new house, you need to find out what the garden does in all four seasons, where the prevailing wind comes from, whether you are happy with your décor and how to cope with the heating and cooling.

This is a gorgeous house in summer. The trees are all in leaf and they sway in the wind and the sun streams down onto the big decks around the house. I have a swing seat and I can sit in it and drink in my view.

It has been a life-changing year in many ways. On the ‘work front’ I have graduated to an author whom people take seriously. I travelled to Europe for research, I wrote a whole book, I went through a long and detailed editing process with it and I am extremely proud of the result. The cover is evocative and haunting. It is called Rachel’s Legacy and it will be released March 1st 2016 with a major launch party planned for March 7th. And PaperPlus, a big bookstore chain here, are taking me on a nationwide signing tour. Even Harpers Australia have committed to get right behind this book. So we shall see what happens…

And of course “Blood, Wine and Chocolate” came out in March and went straight to number one on the Neilson New Zealand Adult Fiction best seller list. It sold very well, it stayed on the list for 16 consecutive weeks. And I took it to a couple of wonderful and hilarious literary festivals. LOVE speaking at festivals and there are some more planned for next year.

I signed a contract for my fourth book, Levi’s War, which will be the third, and last, in the Horowitz Chronicles. It will be a new challenge, a novel in the first person. The story is full of promise and emotion and passion and I look forward to some serious writing in the next six months.

I have launched myself on a health kick. I am on insulin, injected every night and it is levelling out my blood sugars and giving me energy I didn’t know was possible. Early next year I shall have an MRI scan and then a balloon valvotomy to open up my pulmonary valve. I shall be on the path to more years of fulfilling life than I ever expected to have. Which tends to change your outlook on life.

The other part of me that has blossomed this year has been my faith, my church life and what I know now is my ministry. I love St Paul’s in Putaruru. It’s an Anglican/Methodist co-operating parish and it hums with life and the Holy Spirit. The people are delightful and welcoming and I feel at home there. I go to a wonderful weekly Bible study and I do the newsletter for the Sunday services, I sometimes read one of the readings during the service and we have spectacular morning teas (not that I eat anything I shouldn’t).

But the greatest part of St Paul’s is the children. Through the ministry of a wonderful woman called Mary we have been allowed to help so many families. Some people in this town are doing it tough, as they are all over the country, all over the world, and often the children can suffer. They come to us every Sunday and do craft work and laugh and sing and eat! Last Saturday evening was a glorious example. It was our nativity “Messy Church.” My craft table made “Jesus rocks” nativity scenes out of painted rocks – cold glue gunning at it’s best. I was the narrator for the most wonderful, almost impromptu play. Where else would the donkey hold the star over the stable and Joseph have his face painted? Then we all feasted on ham and potatoes and peas and coleslaw, followed by mountains of Pavlova, jelly and ice-cream and huge strawberries.

This morning I helped to wrap and label shoeboxes full of gifts for our children. We will deliver them on Christmas Eve. The parish and the wider community have combined to double the number of shoeboxes we have this year, not to mention the bags overflowing with goodies.

It’s not a hand-out, it’s not charity. It is a parish caring for its own. These families, adults and children, are, as we are, part of the body of Christ.  Some of our farming families have had it tough this year and the parish is there for them too, quiet help and lots of prayer. That’s one of the wonderful things about believing in God. It brings you peace and joy like nothing else, but it also brings you a supportive church family who will be right beside you no matter what.

On Friday it is Christmas Day and two years to the day since my darling Mum passed away. I will celebrate the day with family and then, later, with good friends, and there will, no doubt, be a glass raised to her. I still miss her and I wish she could be part of all that has happened in the last 24 months, but if she was, it wouldn’t have happened. She’s there, she can see and she is happy.

I hope you all have a wonderful holiday season and all the very best for 2016, if I don’t come back here before New Year’s Eve. I never know when the urge to blog will come upon me! It is a time of children, books, cows in the paddocks, a cat asleep on the deck rail, ham and pineapple sandwiches with cranberry sauce and love. Merry Christmas!




From the nebulous to the concrete

My mind has been exercised today by nebulous concepts that mean different things to different people. I heard a news report on the radio about how some of the families of the passengers on the missing Malaysian Airlines plane accused the authorities of secretly negotiating with terrorists for the release of their loved ones. That made me think about ‘hope’ as a concept. The things we wish for and the possibilities that we stubbornly keep hold of in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary. If, as a species, we didn’t have hope, we wouldn’t have explored new worlds.

Faith is a concept that I, as a Christian, think about often. The Bible describes it as a belief in things not seen. I know to many scientific, fact-based brains it is a ludicrous idea. Personally, I’ve never had a problem with it and I wonder if that is because I have a creative spirit and a writer’s imagination, so believing in something, or someone, that I can neither see nor prove is not a problem. I’ve always thought it was arrogant of us to assume that we were the only life forms in the entire universe and that doesn’t affect my faith either. I believe because I choose to believe.

Trust is another one, a decision I make. I trust you until you give me reason not to. Sometimes people don’t behave the way you expect them to, the way you would, but that’s part of accepting that everyone is different, it doesn’t mean they are, necessarily, untrustworthy.

On a more concrete note we had aqua-aerobics this morning. The pool is cooler when you first get in but is refreshing and lovely to exercise in. We have two jokers in our class and they passed on two jokes this morning that amused me.
Fred worked at the freezing works and at the end of his shift he would wheel a wheelbarrow full of sawdust out the main gate. Every evening the guard would check it, and him, thoroughly, but he never found any stolen meat. Finally one of Fred’s mates could stand it no longer and he asked him, “where are you hiding the meat?” Fred shrugged. “I don’t do meat, but I have a nice line in new wheelbarrows.”

Our instructor told us about visiting the gym when a striking young blonde walked in. He asked his trainer which machine he should get on to impress her. The trainer looked at him and then at her and then said, “If I was you, I’d try the ATM machine by the front door.” Hope Springs Eternal.

Easter at St Andrews

Yesterday was Palm Sunday, the beginning of Easter week. We had a procession. Those of us able to, met outside the church with large palm branches and processed around the church, singing a hymn. As we got further away from the sound of the organ and the choir disappeared around the side of the building, I was suddenly surrounded by about 12 different versions of the tune, so I found my own and stuck to it. Then we went back inside and were given little palm crosses.

Andrew, our very cool young vicar, always gives a good sermon. He is concise and funny and relevant and finds the connection point to today’s world and he makes me think. When he was asking us to put ourselves in the place of the disciples, watching the thousands of people celebrating and cheering Jesus as he entered into Jerusalem, he reminded us that these were a people under oppression. That no matter how much they sang and waved, they were ever mindful of the fear of displeasing their Roman masters, and of how much they wanted Jesus to be the one who would deliver them from the Romans. He connected this back to today’s world when whole countries still suffer oppression and when we all go through times of feeling submerged in grief, worry, fear and anger.

It’s a very lively church, lots of kids and young people and lots of activities, choirs and groups for all ages, from Bible study to Tai Chi and music for pre-schoolers. Every Sunday morning Andrew invites all the children up to the front and blesses them before they go off to Sunday School and then when they come back, he often brings them back and asks questions and gives them the microphone so they can tell us what they did and learned. “I love Mum as much as my dog” and other little gems. They come up to communion and get blessed and feel very comfortable in church. We have a blind parishioner with a gorgeous golden lab guide dog called Utah and the dog gets blessed at communion too. It just has a great, warm, community, inclusive, alive atmosphere. The Spirit of God is alive in our Church.

The other thing I absolutely love about it is the fact that it is our family church. My Great-Grandfather helped to build it and he and his wife and 14 children worshiped there. Mind you, there was quite an age spread so some of the children were grown when the younger ones were growing up. He married at 42, to a younger woman, and had 14 children! I sit and look at the gorgeous wooden interior and stained glass windows and carvings and dedication plaques and know that he sat and looked at them too….and so did my Grandmother when she was growing up. My Mum was christened there and confirmed there and married there. I often imagine her wedding day as she and my Dad, in his Air Force uniform, stood in front of the altar where I take communion.

Both Mum and I will take part in the three-hour vigil service on Friday, we will each be a character in the reading of the Passion story. It will be a privilege to help bring the story to life again. Then on Sunday we will rejoice in one of the best services of the whole year. I went to Sunday school as a child, I went to a church school and we sang hymns at assembly each morning, I went to the Holy Trinity Cathedral as a teenager and was involved in the very formal life of the Cathedral, I joined a Pentecostal church for a few years as a young adult and spoke in tongues and was baptised in water, then for many years I didn’t go to Church at all. I filled the hole inside with unsatisfying, secular things. Now I’ve reclaimed my Christian faith and I love going to Church and I love praying and I love trusting God to answer my prayers. In so many many ways I have come home to St Andrews.