“It’s not how much we give but how much love we put into giving.”
In my early twenties I was struggling with life. Some days, getting out of bed to face the world was just not something that I wished to do. I wanted to stay in a cocoon – in the safe environment of my own home, hiding from the world. Talking to others about these overwhelming feelings, it seems they are all too common.
Everyone’s experience is different and this blog relates to how I found joy by making some changes in my life. If some ideas I write about help somebody, it has been worth sharing.
I was living alone near London. I had many lovely friends but I was finding that, with the long hours that I was working in my IT sales job, it was very difficult to connect with anyone during the week. I would leave home in the dark of the cold English winter and return home in the dark to an empty house. I felt lonely, unfulfilled and my life seemed meaningless.
I spent hours (and a lot of money as it was the days before Skype) on calling home to Kenya, to hear the familiar voice of my beautiful mother. She would listen patiently to my woes and tales of loneliness and she comforted me with spiritual ideas. My very loyal father (who is known to never beat around the bush) would give me some tough love and, in no uncertain terms, tell me to pull myself together. Living in Kenya, my parents were seeing immense challenges daily, and compared to the life others endured, I knew I had a lot to be grateful for. Intellectually I was fully aware that I had little reason to be unhappy, but emotionally I couldn’t seem to find my way out of the melancholy. In hindsight I am thankful for both my parents’ approaches, which helped pull me through a very dark time of my life. My parents and I have continued to be best friends and we have helped each other through some very challenging times since my London days.
I was brought up with an unwavering trust in God. However, when I arrived at university, I tried to find my own way in life, on my own and without God. However, after the break up of a difficult relationship and when the going got tough, I returned to my spirituality. I found it was a safe place, a sanctuary. I had the poem, “Footprints in the Sand” (http://www.footprints-inthe-sand.com/index.php?page=Poem/Poem.php), on my wall and somehow I felt this related to my life: God was walking with me and then when I was at my lowest, He carried me.
It was at this time that I decided to look outside of myself and find ways to help others. Giving to others less fortunate has always been part of our family culture. My mother has touched the lives of literally hundreds of people in Kenya. From a small child, I remember her walking purposefully down to the bottom of our garden when she noticed street children squeezing under the fence to take macadamia nuts that had tumbled from the trees. The children looked surprised (and rather unnerved) to see her, but she soon put them at ease and negotiated an excellent plan (which would go on to change their lives): they could have the nuts if they promised to come to Sunday School. She told them that a trust in Mungu (God in Swahili) was the answer. They agreed (they were very hungry!). So our ritual of taking a Toyota Landcruiser full of children from a slum area of Nairobi each Sunday morning started, and continued for many years after that. Some of the children went on to be educated in America and carved out careers for themselves there. My mother has since founded a school in Kenya, Sunrise of Africa, giving hundreds of children an education, some of whom may not otherwise be able to go to school (I am now very involved with the project and I will talk more about it in subsequent blogs). The school’s motto is “Strive and Trust”. Strive for excellence and trust in God. We believe Africa has a bright future if the next generation are educated and are taught to love and protect the incredible resources that it has. As Mandela said: “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.”
My father has also done a lot to help Kenyans by sharing his knowledge and by giving them technical training in the family business. He spends hours showing and explaining how things are done, to those who work for him and customers who come in to see him. Some of his staff have been with him for more than 30 years; one started by cleaning the bathrooms and is now his right hand man. They have absolute respect for him as they know they would not be where they are without the years of guidance he has given. He very much lives by the English proverb: Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.
With my parents as role models, I contacted a local voluntary organisation to find an elderly person whom I could visit. I was paired up with a wonderful Indian lady, Mrs K, who had lost her husband and rarely left the house (except to go the doctor). I started visiting her several times a week and we struck up a special friendship. We had many conversations about her family, life, her husband and spirituality while she made me delicious curries. She told me about how she was too unwell to travel, although she longed to visit her family in India. I became like a daughter to her and we both looked forward to my visits.
In 2000, I made the decision to emigrate to New Zealand and it was a very sad parting when I said goodbye to Mrs K. However, I could see how her confidence had grown in the two years since we had first met. We promised to keep in touch.
One morning in 2001 she called me in New Zealand to tell me that she was going to India; she said our conversations and my encouragement had made her realise that she could indeed make the trip. I felt incredibly grateful for the time we had spent together and how our conversations had helped her to fulfill her dreams. She had a fabulous time visiting with many relatives and friends. Not too long after her return, her son called me to say she had passed away peacefully. However, he had seen such a change in her since her visit to India – she was vibrant, happy and at peace. He thanked me warmly for what I had done for her.
I didn’t take credit for this change as I know God puts people in our lives when we need them most, and the friendship I had with Mrs K had encouraged her to do something which she thought she would never be able to do again. That was the biggest blessing.
I lived in New Zealand for three years and met my husband there. We decided to move back to England soon after our wedding in 2003. I again joined the same voluntary organisation and I was introduced to Alice. Alice was from Wales and spoke with the most beautiful sing-song Welsh accent. Her husband had also passed away many years before and she lived on her own. She had a very loving daughter and son-in-law who did not live too far away, but they wanted her to have other company during the week. We had a common interest of singing, and we would listen to Pavarotti, Domingo, Mario Lanza, among others. We would sing and laugh together over cups of tea and marble cake. She had a slight memory loss and I heard the same stories each week about her youth and her husband’s and brothers’ experiences down the mines. Her life had been one of service to family – her father, brothers and husband. Although she could have furthered her singing career, they needed her to look after them and so she put their needs first.
After we had our first baby, Joseph, he became the apple of Alice’s eye. She adored him from the moment he was born. It no longer mattered whether I was at our afternoon teas; as long as Joseph was there, she was happy! They had the most beautiful friendship. He has always had a very happy temperament and would smile at anyone. Alice spent hours cuddling him and she would shower him with gifts. On one occasion, I found them jumping up and down on the bed together, both giggling like school children.
One sad day we arrived at her house for afternoon tea, as planned. I rang the door bell and there was no reply. As I looked through the window, I saw her lying, lifeless, on floor. I handed Joseph to a neighbour and clambered through the back window. She had had a fall and was not able to reach the phone for help. I called an ambulance and she was taken to hospital. She had broken her arm on a previous occasion and unfortunately she had fallen on the same arm.
She never fully recovered from the fall. We spent many happy times after this before she passed on just a few months before we moved to Australia. She had been extremely excited when she found out I was having a second baby boy and couldn’t wait to meet him. I was grateful that I had never told her that we were planning to leave as she had such a special relationship with Joseph, and it would have broken her heart. As it was, she had her Joseph near her and another little brother was on his way.
Both the friendships I had with Mrs K and Alice blessed both them and me. I learned a lot about love and giving from these two beautiful souls. They were both a blessing to me, as I was to them.
Until I had my third child in Australia, I continued to visit those in their senior years. My second baby, Matthew, came with me to visit my next two companions – Mavis and Merle. It was always interesting listening to them talking about their lives growing up on farms in far north Queensland. I arranged a few music mornings at their aged care home, and sang show tunes, spiritual songs and Christmas carols. It was wonderful to see the faces of those attending light up when they started singing along to familiar tunes. Music is medicine for the heart and soul. As Maria Augusta von Trapp (upon whom the Sound of Music is based) once said: “Music acts like a magic key, to which the most tightly closed heart opens.”
Isn’t life a colourful place made up of so many wonderful people who have so much to offer the world? I am so grateful for the friendships I made through all these experiences. Three of these four ladies have since passed on but the love, laughter and joy I felt while I was with them will always be with me. I continue to love helping others and now my main ways to serve is through being a mother, helping to educate children at Sunrise of Africa School and through my various activities with my church.
As the great English prime minister, Winston Churchill, once said, “We make a living by what we get. We make a life by what we give.”
Blessings to you all.xx