Sarah - the best friend you could ever have

Sarah’s story is, in her words, of an “ordinary girl facing ordinary challenges and muddling my way through them”. In the title I've said she's the best friend you could ever have because I genuinely think it's true. This 39 year old mother of three lives in the Southern Highlands of New South Wales. She keeps chickens, grows strawberries and has a collection of very odd-looking, custom-made (by her husband) bicycles in her backyard. Sarah describes herself as calm, hopeful, internally passionate, quietly driven and secure.

I had a sense of happy security, growing up in a home with my parents and two brothers. I remember lots of playtimes in the backyard, including feeding my dolls a concoction of rhubarb leaves and water.  Later I found out this was poisonous – it was lucky it smelt awful. I went on important adventures in the front yard with my younger brother with our  denim ‘have-a-sacks’, and I played CWCI committees with my girlfriends in the cubby.

My two best girlfriends, Elizabeth and Kylie, are practically like sisters. They know more about me than most and I call them at any time. I met Kylie at Sydney Missionary and Bible College, and thought we wouldn’t be friends because at the time she had a shaved head and nose ring, and I was wearing my denim dress and boots with frilly socks. It turns out that looks are deceiving and we have become dear friends.

Elizabeth and I rode the bus to Canberra Uni together, and one day I noticed she had an ad for a Christian group at Uni sticking out of her bag. She or I must have said something to each other and that was it. I don’t remember a ‘getting to know you’ time with her. We were kindred spirits from the start.

My husband is Elizabeth’s cousin, and although there was a bit of matchmaking going on, there was a spark between us and we certainly did all the hard work getting to know each other between the Blue Mountains and Wollongong, where Peter lived. We married in 1994 on a sunny winter’s day. My husband has proved himself to be a creative, gentle, persevering, honest and loving soul, and we laugh at how we have become more like each other as time goes on. Thankfully he works just up the road, and most days I’ll talk, text or email him a few times a day, as I can’t wait to talk to him when he gets home.

‘Moments of glory’ in my life have come when I have seen myself for who I am. One significant time was when I saw myself change from being a time-oriented person to being more relaxed to be with people and let the jobs wait. This has been a change I’ve really enjoyed in myself, and it happened in the months leading up to the birth of my first child, Amelia. Peter and I were training to do mission work in Iringa, Tanzania, and in that six months of training in Melbourne, I was able to take a good long hard look at myself. Perhaps it was the people around me who modelled the way of having time for each other that became very appealing?

The other significant time of change was when I did a seminar at a Christian conference on envy. I realised how I was being eaten up with envy of other people’s lives, circumstances, possessions and personalities. I saw it for what it was, that it was indeed ‘rotting my bones’, and it freed me up to recognise it in myself, and has made such a difference still now. I see episodes of envy before they  come and I can think to myself, ‘I wasn’t worrying about that before, it’s only because I am comparing myself’ and can see I was quite content before.

After training in Melbourne, and giving birth to Amelia in 1999, we moved when she was a week old back to Sydney, in preparation to move to Africa a few months later. Suddenly the impact of moving and tearing myself away from friendships again, and the thought of establishing myself in another new place, was all too much. All I wanted to do was be a mum at home with my little daughter, but there were expectations that I would be visiting churches to talk about our work ahead, and packing and saying goodbye. I couldn’t face that.

The mission group we were being sent by (CMS) became like a family to us, and gave us the time we needed to sort out these unexpected feelings. All the books I had read about preparing for a baby said ‘don’t move a month before or after the birth of your baby’. I thought they were talking about the physical aspects of being too tired. For me, it was much more about the emotional impact of uprooting. The nesting instinct kicked in big time.

I coped by staying home, giving myself time, cuddling my gorgeous new baby girl, and having lots of chats with my mum, my friends, and one of the pastoral care workers from the mission group. I found it hard to pray, and so I opened up a book of church songs, and would read them as a prayer.  The music spoke the words of despair I couldn’t say. That, or I would pray ‘help me God’.

In hindsight, I think I have always had issues with separation anxiety. Still today, I feel very unsettled if I’m leaving home for an overnight stay and having to say goodbye to Pete and the kids. Many of my friends say how they can’t wait to get a night off, but inside I am all a tumble of butterflies. Once I’m gone, I’m ok. I see it now in my daughter and my older son, George.

Simple things inspire me: a clear sunny day, autumn leaves changing colour, a pair of knitting needles, an early morning walk, a strong dance beat in music, generosity in others, kindness, beautiful fabrics, a hug.

Things I admire in people are especially a contagious positive spirit, someone who isn’t weighed down with bitterness, and faithfulness in hardship. I have seen that in a special friend of mine, Wendy, who has mentored me since Uni days. She has a tender heart, yet plenty of spunk, and has been faithful in her walk with God, even in some longterm suffering.

My mum has been such a loving and wonderful role model to me. I see her reflected in my mothering. There hasn’t been much that I’ve done differently to my mum, and I’m happy with that. She showed me how to give time to my kids, how to be creative in play without heaps of toys, how to be consistent, how to be gentle and kind, and how to trust God.

I now see my darling mum deteriorate with the effects of Alzheimer’s, and yet this gentleness stays with her. My wish would be that one day she would pick up the phone, call me, say ‘how are you, pet?’ and really understand my answer, and then say ‘how about I take you out for a hot chocolate and cake - I’ll pick you up in an hour’. This wish won’t come true unless a miracle occurs in her body.

My faith is important to me. I love how there is always newness in the Bible. I find it amazing that a book written so many years ago speaks right to my situation so often. The deepening of my knowing God has also given me a deepening of security and helps me keep going, as I know when life is awful, this isn’t all there is - the best is coming. That helps me.

I love the deep friendship of a fellow ‘sister’ in the Christian faith- it might be someone like me, or a treasured older woman. I love relating on that spiritual level. I am still helped by God’s loving changelessness as I walk the road, and walking shouldering the burdens of my friends and family.

My favourite place is the library because of the quiet, the potential of so many excellent books for reading and the fact that I don’t have to buy all these books. I feel so lucky in a library. It’s my special treat to myself.

I do love my job, at the moment being home with my youngest son James. I have deliberately chosen to be with my kids in these early childhood years, being with them in these early experiences, letting them know they are loved and secure in our family, showing them God is good, playing and hugging. I don’t want to look back wishing I spent more time with them.

One day when the time is right, I might follow an interest in hospital chaplaincy, particularly in children’s and maternity wards. Maybe I might teach preschool music classes. Maybe I keep on doing what I am doing now.  I feel a stretch of possibilities ahead and I love that.

If I had to give advice, here are five things in no particular order-

  1. Don’t worry about tomorrow, as tomorrow will worry about itself. I’ve seen how the majority of my worries have not come to fruition.
  2. Know yourself and then be happy with the choices you make knowing that.
  3. Don’t save your best serviettes for later - use them now.
  4. There’s more to life than this - let your eternity shape your present
  5. Sit down, have a cry and a cup of tea with sugar in it, and you’ll feel a bit better.