Monday, December 6, 2010

The Agony and the Ecstasy of 2010

As I look back over 2010, two words spring to mind - agony and ecstasy. It has been a year of extremes with a range and depth of emotions that I never imagined I’d feel. The highs have been fantastic and the launch of my first novel in October was a dream I’d had since childhood. To actually hold my own book in my hands and hear reports that people were enjoying it was an amazing feeling.

Other highlights included speaking at the Faithwriter’s Conference in Sydney and having a family day in Auckland with all our children and Noel. I also had wonderful travel opportunities with the part-time work I do and got to see parts of New Zealand I haven’t visited before. What a privilege to get paid for doing what I love.

On the 1st December, I received the news that I was first runner up in the Faithwriters Nonfiction Page Turner Competition of 2010. While I have won many awards for my fiction, this was the first significant placing I’ve had with my nonfiction work. My entry was entitled Christchurch Earthquake 2010 and that brings me to the agony of this year.

On the 4th September, my life along with hundreds of thousands of other people's was changed forever. The shock of waking up in a house, heaving on its foundations, shaking and banging while things toppled was immense. For weeks afterwards I couldn’t concentrate and it was an effort to do routine work. Even now I’m more jumpy and forgetful than I used to be.

The damage, estimated to be close on NZ$5 billion, is visible in every part of Christchurch and surrounds. Many have had to abandon their homes and businesses and the city centre is struggling to survive. The pain of all this was compounded by the Pike River Mine tragedy where 29 men lost their lives.

With the launch of my book mixed up in the middle of aftershocks and uncertainty, I felt like an emotional yoyo. I realised how closely tears are related to laughter as exhilaration and vulnerability, joy and fear, excitement and despair ricocheted from one extreme to another. The one constant was the assurance that God was with me. He never said we wouldn’t suffer or live through difficult times but He did promise that these times can bring personal growth.

In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory and honour when Jesus Christ is revealed.
1 Peter 1:6-7 (NIV)

I wouldn’t wish an earthquake on anyone but I’m grateful for what I’ve experienced over the last few months. Whilst it’s been difficult and uncomfortable, I’ve gained a new appreciation of the suffering caused by a major natural disaster. Friends are suddenly more valuable. Community is more important and I have far greater compassion for the people in Haiti. I’ve also realised that God is in the small things as well as the big things of life. A simple word of encouragement, an email or a phone call can make a huge difference to someone who is struggling.

I played the following clip at my book launch as a prayer for Christchurch. I’d love you to watch as it’s also my prayer for friends and family as we head towards 2011. Life is uncertain and we don’t know what each day will bring. The important thing is that God is beside us every step of our journey.

Until next time ...

Saturday, November 13, 2010

You are not Alone

I’m not a Michael Jackson fan but the words of his song, You are not Alone, have been drumming through my head for the last few weeks. I was thinking of them at 1:34am this morning when a 4.7 magnitude aftershock awoke me. As the house rattled, banged and shook, my thoughts turned to neighbours and residents of Christchurch. There’s hundreds of thousands of people out there, wondering like me when this is all going to stop. There was comfort in knowing I’m not alone.

It’s ten weeks since the 7.1 magnitude earthquake and in that time, I’ve travelled twice to Auckland and Invercargill, three times to Dunedin and have also visited Wellington, Balclutha, Kaikoura, Blenheim, Picton and a number of other small towns. As soon as people hear I’m from Christchurch they show genuine concern and ask how the city is doing; how I’m doing and how strong the aftershocks have been. I’ve also seen signs of financial support in these places. Malls have signs up, stores have collection boxes full of notes and I’ve been asked by staff in several towns if I would like to make a donation.

Initially I thought that travelling would give me a break from the earthquake stress. However, I’ve discovered that although I’ve left Christchurch physically since the quake, it has not left me. I see the city centre in the old red brick buildings in Invercargill. I see demolished stores in the rusty scrap metal site south of Dunedin. I feel aftershocks when wind gusts shake the buildings in Wellington and when trains throb in and out of Britomart. I see cratered tarmac in the road-works in Blenheim. I see destruction behind scaffolding and damage marked by traffic cones and fences.

With the constant reminders of what we’ve been through, it feels good to know we are not alone. Finances have poured into Christchurch from around the country and further afield and skilled men and women have joined forces with locals to clean up, repair and rebuild our city. Our scarred landscape is slowly becoming the new normal: broken roofs patched with plastic, 17,000 chimneys toppled, roads with cracks, wrinkles and ripples, stores boarded up, walls braced with steel supports, churches surrounded by mounds of rubble. You cannot help but feel emotional.

Many people have struggled with feelings of helplessness since the earthquake – so much destruction, so much damage and seemingly so little the average person can do. Apart from writing about the disaster, I’ve found another small way to contribute to our recovery. I headed into Christchurch-central early on the morning of the earthquake and took dozens of photos of the damage ... and followed up by returning frequently to capture the changes. I’ve used these in news articles and blogs and have also turned them into a coffee-table book, fridge magnets and mugs. I’m selling them through Trade Me and I know they have been sent as far afield as South Africa, England and the USA. All the profits go to the Red Cross Earthquake Appeal.

As the weeks turn into months and the months into years, our city will heal, buildings will be restored, new ones will arise and the altered cityscape will become familiar. Aftershocks will dwindle, memories will fade, and life will go on. As it says in Ecclesiastes 3: There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens ... a time to tear down and a time to build ... a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them ... a time to tear and a time to mend.

Truly we are not alone.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Earthquake in Christchurch

I often wondered what I would grab if I was involved in a disaster - my bag, my cell phone, my passport, my laptop? I found out this morning that it was none of those. I only thought of waking the children up and getting them out of danger.

When I awoke to the banging and shaking at 4:30am, my initial thought was the log burner had overheated and was rocking the house. Then I remembered we no longer have a log burner. By this time Kevin was up, dragging on clothes and calling me to get downstairs. I staggered out of bed and but couldn’t move. Every time I tried to take a step, the floor shifted at an alarming angle. It was terrifying and I realised we were in the middle of an earthquake.

The church alarm was going off next door and bottles, books and photos were falling from every surface. As the heaving subsided, we got the children out of bed and congregated in the lounge. I was quite shaken, literally and figuratively. Then the power died and we were left in the dark with only a couple of torches and a few tea-light candles.

Eventually we went back to bed after texting family in South Africa to let them know we were safe. Then my journalistic instincts kicked in. I got up again at 6 and went and sat in the car to listen to the radio news. By 7 I was showered and ready to go into the city. I knew it was only a matter of time before it was blocked off and wanted to get some photos. Chantelle came with me and we drove and walked around for an hour, shocked at the damage to buildings and roads.

Armed with dozens of pictures and loads of information from the radio, I then wrote a news report for one of the article sites I work for. It instantly made the first page of Google searches for “Christchurch earthquake” and received several hundred hits in the first few hours.

As we prepare for bed, the city is in a state of emergency and there are major issues with water and sewage. Aftershocks are still shaking us and tomorrow is supposed to bring gale force winds and rain. Kevin and I are both flying out of Christchurch on Monday for work – him to Rotorua and me to Auckland. As all the questions and uncertainty swirl around us, I’m reminded of these wonderful words from Lamentations 3:

Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope:
Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed,

for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.

In spite of the damage, loosely estimated at around $2 billion, there were no deaths and my family is safe. Our power is back on and God has been gracious to us in the middle of the turmoil. Friends and family around the world have been praying for us and I have a new appreciation of what really matters in life. God really can bring good out of any situation.

Watch this space.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

It Cost What!

I was promoted to a featured travel contributor for Associated Content this week and my first assignment was to write an account of a funny travel experience. Straight away I thought of a train trip Kevin and I took years ago. We were leaving from Johannesburg and by the time we got to the station, the train was already moving. I felt quite smug as I wrote the story, thinking, I’ve got travel down to a fine art now. I’ll never end up in such a situation again.
They say pride comes before a fall.

Two days later I was on an early morning flight to Auckland. I was running slightly later than I would have liked and then discovered Kirstin had parked us in ... and we couldn’t find her keys ... and neither could she. After several minutes of panic, they were finally found in her bedroom. So we jumped in the car and set off only to discover that what we thought was condensation on the window was actually a thick layer of ice. At the end of the road, Kevin stopped. “Give me a plastic card so I can scrape this off.” he said. “The window washer’s not helping and I can’t see a thing.”

We finally got to the airport and by the time I reached self-check-in, it was 15 minutes before departure time. The machine declined my request so I rushed to the Air New Zealand counter ... and thankfully they gave me my boarding pass. I was even more grateful when I boarded the plane (last) and passed about seven businessmen on standby.

Unfortunately, that’s not the end of the story. Once I was buckled in, I reached into my bag to switch my cell phone off ... and discovered my purse was missing. I took it out to give Kevin a card to clean the window, I thought. I must have dropped it in the car! I went cold as I realised I couldn’t do a thing without it in Auckland. All my cash was in it, my bank cards and identification. I phoned my dear, longsuffering husband and begged him to rush back to the airport with it, although it was only a couple of minutes before takeoff.

He obviously couldn’t make it in time and I spent the next 80 minutes stressing about what I was going to do. I called him on arrival and he told me it was being couriered up on the next flight.

“What did it cost?” I asked.

“You don’t want to know.” he replied.

I finally got the figure out of him and nearly passed out. “$90! That’s outrageous!” I had paid $1 to get to Auckland and $19 to get back. How could a purse, 10cm by 10cm cost $90? “I’m so sorry.” I said, “I’m never going to live this one down am I?”

My purse arrived safely two hours after I did and in spite of the drama, I had a great day in Auckland. The weather was perfect, I met some wonderful people and managed to get most of my work done. I also enjoyed a lunch at an Italian restaurant and dinner at a coffee shop, received some free soap, expensive body oil, skincare and perfume samples, some strings for my bass guitar and a gorgeous necklace - plus I was given a really nice hand massage.

Looking back, it is something to laugh at but I’ve learned my lesson. I fly to Wellington on Friday and you’d better believe that my suitcase will be packed on Thursday and my purse will be safely inside my bag!

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Life Lessons and How I Delayed 130 Passengers

“I don’t think you should go to Wellington,” said Kevin. “You’ve had a bad dose of flu and you don’t look well.”

I disagreed pointing out that I had work appointments that had a deadline of Wednesday 9th June. So on the 8th June at 5:30 am – on an empty stomach - I swallowed two flu capsules and a spoon of cough syrup and set off for the airport. By 6:30am I was seated in the aircraft and started feeling hot and dizzy. I stripped off some layers, then shoved my sleeves up and turned my air vent on full. By now, the cabin crew had finished the safety demonstration and we about to head onto the runway. My vision was blurring and I knew I was going to faint. There was no space to put my head down and I could imagine the drama if I slumped over during takeoff.

I pressed the call bell.

Friends and family will know that I do not like being the centre of attention and had to be desperate to do this. The cabin crew asked the passengers next to me to move to other seats and through the blur, I remember they shot off like I had the plague. The next step was wet cloths on my neck as I was burning up and sweating. Then an oxygen mask over my face and the reassurance that the paramedics were on the way.

I was mortified.

Still hazy and dizzy, I answered the medics’ questions as they helped me into a wheelchair along with my oxygen. Unfortunately I was seated at the back of the aircraft so all the passengers had the privilege of watching my exit. Two thoughts were running through my befuddled mind: please don’t let there be anyone I know on this flight and Kevin is going to be so cross.

As soon as we got off, the 0°C air in the air-bridge hit me and I felt the first sense of relief. However, the story was far from over. I was pushed through the airport to the first aid room which was a fair distance – and every time I peeped, people were gawking at me. Then I discovered they had called an ambulance.

I was so embarrassed.

Both sets of medics checked me over, measuring my oxygen levels and heart rate and finally I was given the all clear. They advised me to go home and rest – but being a woman with a mission I said no, I needed to get to Wellington and no, they must NOT call my husband. So light-headed and on shaky legs I followed the Air New Zealand staff member to rebook my flight.

I must give Air New Zealand a thumbs up here. All the staff who helped me were wonderful – very compassionate and caring – and no worries that I’d delayed the flight and all the passengers. I’d only paid $1 for my trip but in spite of that they rebooked me for a late morning flight and later put me on standby so I could leave a little earlier. I spent three hours in the airport, eating, drinking and resting to try and get my system back to normal.

Anyway, after all the embarrassment, humiliation and mortification, I believe I have learnt some valuable life lessons:

1) Sometimes husbands do know best – and yes, Kevin was a little cross with me.
2) Don’t take medication on an empty stomach at 5:30am. It will make you feel woozy and faint.
3) There are some wonderful caring people in this world who will help you when you need them.
4) Flying with earache is not a good idea. It can be very painful.
5) Your offspring will laugh at your medical dramas once they know you’re not dying.

Until next time ...

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

My Little Miracle

When God Steps In

On Easter Sunday, the speaker at our church asked who had seen God do a miracle in their lives that week. The response was muted with maybe four or five people responding. He then asked why we aren’t seeing God move – is it because we don’t expect Him to do anything?

The thought stuck with me and when I was in Wellington a few days later, I had the opportunity to ask God for a miracle. I was on a mystery shop flight from Wellington back to Christchurch and needed to be at the airport an hour before the flight to start my observations. As I was about to leave the hotel, I realised I had misplaced my Wellington bus card and although I had enough cash for the fare, I emptied my suitcase to look for it.

Five minutes later, frustrated, annoyed and cardless, I headed onto the street to walk the 500 metres or so to the bus stop ... and as I turned the corner, I saw the airport bus driving off. My initial reaction was not good. Thoughts of idiot, why did you waste time looking for your card and you’re going to be very late, rushed through my head. Then I thought of the question, what miracles has God done for you this week? I changed my thoughts to something along these lines. I’m sorry, God. This is entirely my fault. I made a bad decision but you can turn it round for good. Please do a miracle so I can get to the airport on time.

I reached the bus stop and stood waiting, the minutes ticking by. The airport bus runs every 15 minutes but like all public transport, can be unreliable. Ten minutes passed and in spite of my prayers, my anxiety levels were rising.

And then my miracle arrived. A taxi pulled into the bus stop and the driver lowered the passenger window. “Are you going to the airport?” he called.

“Yes,” I replied, “But I’m waiting for the bus.” (The taxi fare to the airport is about three times the bus fare and I couldn’t afford that.)

“I’m on my way there.” he said. “Pay me your bus fare and I’ll give you a ride.”

I climbed in and because we took the direct route with no stopping and starting, I arrived at the airport an hour before my flight. I was so amazed at how God worked things out and I know it was an answer to prayer. I’ve been to Wellington about 20 times over the last year and always catch the airport bus. Never before has a taxi stopped and offered me a ride.

It’s something simple but I hope my story inspires you to look for your own miracle this week. God is willing and able and wants to be involved in our lives. We just need to ask.

And if you're wondering, my bus card was the first thing I saw when I unpacked my suitcase at home!

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

When Plans go Wrong

Change is a Part of Life

I discovered this afresh over Christmas and New Year! It all started on Christmas Eve with a child's glow-stick – the kind you bend and shake to activate the light. It was our late night service and I was playing the piano. The plan was to turn off the lights before singing Silent Night and everyone would wave their sticks in the air. Even I had one to light up my music. So the lights go off and I bend and shake my glow-stick … and it snaps in half. The congregation is waiting for the introduction and I'm staring at my hands, skirt and keyboard which are sprayed liberally with ultraviolet splotches. By the way, did you know that glow-in-the-dark liquid smells really nice and is as oily as a roast chicken? With no tissues on hand and unable to see my music, I played the first few bars – and miraculously made it through the whole song, albeit with my fingers sliding all over the keys!

So to Christmas morning - the pastor had asked if I would read one of my Christmas stories at the service. I printed it off while eating breakfast and folded it to take to church with me. I was listed as being directly after a DVD presentation of O Holy Night and as the song drew to a close, I picked up my papers. Fortunately, I decided to have a quick look at the story – and to my horror, realized I had printed the wrong one. Here's a word of warning to all writers. Never ever give two stories the same name, even if they are stored in different folders. I was mortified, speechless, embarrassed and didn't know what to do, so I leaned over and told the pastor who stood up and told the whole congregation. He then pulled a poem out of his Bible and asked if I would read that instead. No time to skim through it, just stand up and read. So I did and it was good. And the church laughed with me.

By the time New Year's Eve arrived, I was determined there would be no more mishaps or mistakes. At 9:30pm we would go the square in town to watch an Abba tribute concert and later on would count the New Year in followed by a bagpiper playing Auld Lang Syne and a brilliant firework display from the roof tops.

At 7pm I got an urgent message from my middle son. Please come and fetch me. My friends are drunk and abusing me and I want to come home. That was all very well but he was in Nelson – a 4 ½ hour drive from Christchurch. After a brief discussion, Kevin and I set off. When midnight struck, we had just collected Tim and were driving through the mountains on the way home. I had the radio on in the hopes of hearing some celebration – and unbelievably they read the news at midnight. No Happy New Year, no music, no countdown. I was disgusted and spent the next hour sulking.

Then God whispered in my ear. My son was safe, Kevin and I had enjoyed several hours of chatting and the scenery on the way to Nelson was beautiful. Sure my plans had been upset for the third time in a week … but it no longer mattered. I fell asleep at 2am with peace in my heart and a new understanding of being flexible and accepting change.