To Thelma, from George


The Mark Twain Birthday Book that sits amongst my collection of old and treasured books, once belonged to my great grandmother, Ellen Hayward.

This little book proved useful to my great grandmother for remembering birthdays of family and friends, and also for recording family weddings and deaths, and the occasional interesting family event. After Ellen died, her daughter Doris, my grandmother, inherited this little book and added to the record of our family history from her generation. My mother has also added her contributions and handed me the book a few years ago. Likewise, I continue to add to the family record.

I cherish this little book. Every now and then I take it off the shelf, make myself comfy on my lounge with a cuppa, and pour over its pages. Reading through the ebb and flow of generations of my family’s lives  always evokes something deep within me.

It’s a sense of belonging, a sense of having been passed the family baton, and a desire to play my part well in running this family race in my generation. 

The pages of The Mark Twain Birthday Book are now discoloured and stained with age, and some are no longer attached to the binding. Although in places the ink is fading, the beautiful handwriting is still visible, reminding me of an earlier age when life was not so rushed, and penmanship was a valued craft. 

Slipped in between its pages are yellowed newspaper cuttings. 
There are records of weddings – 
                         “… the bride was given away by her father and wore a white mousseline 
                          de soire, trimmed with lace and insertion, and an embroidered tulle veil
                          arranged over a coronet wreath of orange blossoms …” (19 Sept, 1900)
Of births – 
                        ” HAYWARD – April 20,1906, to the wife of George W. Hayward, Mildura,
                          Elswick St., a daughter, Thelma Jean.” 
Of deaths – 
                        “HAYWARD, Ellen, November 3, 1954, widow of the late George W. Hayward,
                          mother of… grandmother of … and great grandmother of …… and Julie..”

One newspaper clipping dated 1944 relating to my uncle is headed “U.S. Awards to Australians”, and reads :
                        “The War Dept. has announced the award of the Legion of Merit to six 
                         Australians for exceptionally meritorious conduct”.

Amongst this memorabilia there is one very special sheet of notepaper that I delicately open every time and it always moves me to tears. 

The edges are frayed in places and the folds deeply imprinted. This page has been opened and closed many times since it was written. There is a poem on the page. Handwritten. The handwriting is beautiful and the author has taken special care in writing each word, spacing them just so. The ink is smudged in places hinting that many tears have fallen on these words over the years.

The poem begins, To Thelma and concludes with from George. 
Thelma is the daughter born to my great grandmother in 1906, and George is her brother. Thelma was married to Alan and they lived in a little cottage in Leura, in the Blue Mountains, NSW. They loved their little home, ‘Birdswood Cottage’, with its beautiful garden that they spent hours creating together. Although they had been married for many years they had no children. 
Thelma’s life changed forever the day her beloved Alan died. It seems George was moved deeply by his sister’s grief, and put pen to paper and wrote her this beautiful poem.

                               To Thelma,

                               When sunlight brightened your garden,
                               With your lover hand in hand,
                               Came peace and love to this garden,
                               In a world that seemed so grand.
                               Now all alone in this garden
                               As the petals have left the rose,
                               The sigh of the wind seems to whisper
                               Like the voice of the one you chose.

                               You must live again in that garden,
                               With flowers so sweet and rare
                               Let thoughts be full of its beauty
                               And the love you had to share.
                               The birds may be hushed in the garden,
                               And the shadows near sunset fall,
                               With light and joy at the dawning  
                               Come memories that are shared by all.

                               The birds will awake in your garden, 
                               And their melody tune to the breeze.
                               His presence will ever be near you,
                               In the quiet of the murmuring trees.
                               He will come again in the moonlight
                               And gently press your hand,
                               For he’s just ahead in the gloaming
                               Of that far eternal strand.

                                                                  From George

Beautiful – isn’t it.

And isn’t it amazing that lives that were lived generations ago, still reach out and impact those of us who follow.

There is a verse in the Bible that I have memorised.

“When David had served God’s purpose in his generation, he fell asleep.” (Acts 13:36)

I have memorised this verse because I realise that God has given me a purpose in my generation and I want to be sure to fulfil it. 

One day my children will inherit the Mark Twain Birthday Book, and continue to write our family history within its pages.


I want to be vigilant in sowing good seeds today so that the legacy of my life will be such that their generation, and those following, will enjoy great blessing and be positioned to take all the remarkable opportunities that will arise for them to fulfil their purpose in their own generation.

To Thelma, from George

Birdswood Cottage at Leura

Thelma and Alan, with my young mother, Enid


Solitude, Our Long Lost Friend

I have an old suitcase. 
It’s battered, but loved.
It’s been with me since the beginning, travelled many roads with me, and it’s the keeper of my experiences. 
It lives in the attic of my memory, and I visit it often. I can’t resist the invitation to climb those familiar stairs, turn the key in that old lock, and fossick through bygone days.
I’d like to take you there today.
You’ve been on my mind.
I’ve had a stirring in my spirit these past few days, and I need to find some images, some recollections of the past. There’s something I want to show you, snapshots of experience.

Come. Sit for a while.
Ah, here’s one.
That’s me, 18 years old, walking late at night along a foggy street. Those street lamps are glowing like eerie sentinels and it’s cold. Winter. I’m accompanied only by the sound of my own footsteps. I feel a little nervous being on my own, but not so much that I hurry. I’m enjoying this aloneness. Solitude allows me to contemplate the future.

Here I am sitting on the deck of Triple 888, watching stars blink out their messages in secret code, listening to the gentle, rhythmic slapping of the sea against the hull. The sea is so vast, the sky so infinite, and I am just a speck. This experience was such an unexpected and timely gift. We hardly knew the man but he offered us 3 beautiful days on his luxurious $4 million boat, complete with captain and hostess, and so we’ve set sail around the Whitsunday Islands. I’m loving the isolation. Solitude refreshes my soul.
That’s me standing at the window of an old mountain cottage staring at all those incredibly beautiful leaves drifting down, settling on the mossy rocks strewn across the garden. Autumn has always been my favourite season. The sunlight is blinking through skeleton branches, and I feel its warmth on my face. It’s refreshingly chilly outside, but so cosy inside. Ross has just got the fire going and it’s crackling, and hissing. You can see my journal there, on the window seat, and my hot chocolate on the table sending up smoke signals. This secluded moment of Solitude is offering me time to reflect on decisions that need to be made.
And here’s another Autumn, about nine years ago.
That gorgeous lake – with the stunning trees lining it, is Lake Okareka, in New Zealand. Our newly married son Ben and his wife Bec, have organized this beautiful weekend for the 4 of us. They have moved to NZ to take up Youth ministry, and they’re keen to have us see their new world. I sit at this window seat early each morning and bask in the love we have for each other, and find that my mother heart is beginning to refocus – less on what I have lost, more on what I have gained. Solitude convinces me that this ‘empty nest’ stage of life won’t be so bad after all.
This memory is very old. I’m sitting in a field at night. It was such a clear night. You can see the moonlight casting shadows around me. And the stars! So many stars! I once heard someone describe a star-studded sky as being holes in the floor of Heaven… I love that! I can sense the descending dew dampening my hair, and I can hear the rustling sounds of grazing cattle. This experience of isolation helps me re-evaluate my purpose in the scheme of things. Solitude is allowing me to enjoy where I am in life right now and remember that Heaven is my home, and my time on earth is precious.
There’s many pictures like this one in this old suitcase. It’s 2am and I’ve just made myself a cup of tea. My journal and Bible are there on the table. This is my favourite time of day. It was hard to keep this daily appointment at first, but after a while I found I wouldn’t miss it for the world. My children are young in this season, and I’m teaching fulltime, and this is the one  hour every day that I know is completely mine. This Solitude refreshes my soul, keeps me intimately connected to Jesus, my source of life. The gospel writer, Luke told me, “At daybreak Jesus went out to a solitary place”, and again, “Jesus often withdrew to lonely places to pray”. Jesus understood the value of solitude amidst the constant pressures of life.
And this one … another early morning snapshot.
It’s about 3am, and I’m lying on Rachel’s couch. Wow! What a day it’s been. My daughter Rachel has just had an emergency caesarian, and my first grandchild Zion has been born 9 weeks early. I’ve flown down from Qld a couple of days ago. Rachel’s husband Joel, and I have just returned from the hospital. We were not allowed to spend time with her because she was so ill. And Zion has been placed in ICU. Lying on this couch, in the early hours of this morning, alone with all manner of emotions vying for my attention, there is a moment, a split second, when a peace, a supernatural peace, washes over me. In that moment I know everything is OK. This Solitude silences the fears and gives me Godly perspective.
Oh…. Is that the time?
I could stay here for hours, but I know you have plans. Seems we need to close this old suitcase. Appointments are calling, people waiting, things to be done…
You’re probably wondering why I brought you here.
I’ve noticed you’ve been busy lately.
Really busy.
You’ve been doing so many amazing things – getting through the relentless, mundane, every-day pages of life, planning, solving problems, caring for others, meeting challenges, moving mountains …
And now you are spent.
You’ve been giving, chasing, working, doing, doing…
And you’re struggling to stay on top of it all.
You’re running on empty.
Your soul is weary.
You need a taste of Solitude.
You need to find an empty street, a boat, an open field, an Autumn window, a comfy couch, an alarm clock…
You need Solitude.
“I don’t have the time”, you say?
The good news is – there actually IS time for Solitude.
There is.
It’s not that hard … try it.
Turn off the laptop, close the lid … and walk away.
Leave the ipod on the table, and walk around the block.
Try walking from the car into (and around) the shopping centre with the phone switched off and in your pocket.
Turn off the TV. Just sit.
Find a park.
Schedule a Saturday to go to the country, or to take the ferry around the harbour,
Keep the car radio off for a week and drive to work in silence.
Say no (politely) to that invitation, and that request.
Set that alarm – trust me, that 1 hour, in the middle of the night, when no one else is vying for your attention, will become addictive.
It’s just a matter of being intentional.
Making that choice to keep the Inner You healthy. 
Give yourself time and space to think, analyse, dream, create, answer the nagging questions, make that decision, or simply let go of the pressure and relax, refresh, refocus…
You will be surprised just how many opportunities there are in your day to catch a slice of solitude!
Don’t think of Solitude as a luxury. Consider it a necessity.
It’s time to live a more balanced life, perhaps become acquainted with more of that unlived life within you.
It’s time to become reacquainted with your old friend.




The Masked Crusader


This morning my 2 yr old grandson, Knoxie, came to me and asked for my help. 
He was trying to put a mask on his face. Knoxie’s toybox has all manner of superhero masks, but this wasn’t one of them. This morning Knox had found a different kind of mask to wear. 

It was one of those masks you are given on aeroplanes to help you sleep. He had the right idea about placing this mask across his face, but he just couldn’t manage to get the elastic bands over his forehead and positioned around the back of his head. 
So I bent down and helped out.
“There you go!” I said as I stood up.
Knoxie turned around, poised to walk off down the hall.
“You can’t walk around with that on Knoxie,” I said, You’ll bump into something.”
“No, Nanny”, was his response as he set off down the hall.

It came as no surprise that about 5 seconds later I heard – THUMP!
Followed by –  “WAHhhhh….”
The Masked Crusader had hit the wall.
I found him sitting on the floor in tears, still masked. I picked him up, hugged him and repeated my earlier advice, “Knoxie, you can’t walk around with that mask on. You’ll bump into something.”
Taking the mask off his poor little head, I put him down on the floor and looked at the egg that had appeared on his forehead. 
Still sniffling, he took the mask out of my hand and attempted to put it back on, once again asking my help.
So I obliged, repeating the same warning, with added emphasis.
“Now don’t walk around Knoxie or you’ll bump into something again.”
“No Nanny,” came the reply, again.
Off he went. Before I could stop him he tripped over the pram which was lying in the hall.
And this time he cried even louder. One of those I’m seriously hurt  cries. I went over and picked him up. My poor little masked crusader cried like his heart would break. He buried his little face (still masked) into my neck and sobbed. 
I felt his pain. 
Tears welled up in my own eyes … but I’m rather ashamed to say at this point that the tears flowing from my eyes were not the result of empathy. Rather they were caused by a desperate attempt to stifle an incredibly irresistible urge to laugh hysterically. 
Heartless grandmother.
I removed the mask and examined the damage. Not only did Knoxie have an egg on his forehead, he now had one across his eyebrow to match. And a cut on his eyelid.
We went to the freezer, I got some ice, put it in a cloth and applied it to his eye. We then sat on the lounge while he calmed down and watched the end of Playschool.
After a few minutes, deciding  that eating the ice was a better option than holding it on his head, he jumped down from my lap and set off, maskless, to play something else.
So funny, yet so sad.
Knoxie wanted so badly to wear that mask and to do all the things the masked action heroes do in the cartoons his big brothers watch on TV.
He just didn’t understand what I understood. And he decided not to heed my advice.
He couldn’t see the relationship between being masked and the pain which he was bound to experience in the very near future. His lack of experience and understanding created a lack of foresight. He was setting himself up for failure. His noble intentions to save the world were thwarted by his failure to listen to sound advice! Twice.
Knoxie, the Masked Crusader, reminded me later in the day of how easy it is for me to be lacking in foresight. It’s possible for me to make wrong choices in life simply through lack of knowledge and experience. It’s possible to ignore warnings or advice because my desire to reach that goal, to fulfil that dream is more important to me than the preparation of the foundations that will be needed to support it, or of my understanding of the cost involved. How dangerous is it to wander through life wearing a mask of ignorance!

I’m blessed to have wise friends and family members who are willing to impart into my life from their wealth of experience and knowledge.  
But what’s an even more important source of wisdom to me is the Word of God, the Bible. This provides both the foundation and the framework for every aspect of my life. I’m committed to studying it continually so that I don’t make the same mistake Knoxie did –  bumping my way through life sustaining unnecessary injuries.
I want to be able to see clearly as I move forward on my crusade through life to save the world!


Easter On My Mind


Here’s something I wrote with Easter on my mind . . .
He stopped amidst the swirling, stifling, suffocating crowd.
“Who touched me?”
The woman trembled, bloodied, afraid.
She knelt before the Lord of Ones and whispered her confession.
And He, who would one day Himself be bloodied
for Ones such as this said,
“Be healed.”
He slept through the storm as they crossed the Lake,
While the Madman waited in turmoil amongst the tombs.
Naked, too strong for chains and irons, yet hopelessly bound,
He ran and fell at the feet of the Lord of Ones.
And He who would one day be bound in the place
of Ones such as this said,
“Be free.”
He sat and watched the Rich and Powerful throw in their coins.
The Widow came, unnoticed, yet seen.
She gave out of her poverty two small coins of infinite value.
“She gave her all,” mused the Lord of Ones.
And He who left the wealth of Heaven in order to give His all
for Ones such as this said,
“Be blessed.”
He stood alone as the crowd hurriedly dispersed.
“Unclean!” they reviled, and hissed and cowered.
The Leper knelt before the Lord of Ones and pleaded, “If you are willing..”
And He who would soon be defiled by the sins
of Ones such as this,
Reached out and touched, and said,
“Be clean.”
I wait, speck in an ocean, grain of sand on a beach,
Bloodied, bound, impoverished, unclean.
Overcome by His Presence, overwhelmed by His Grace, “I come to worship,” I whisper.
And the Lord of Ones who died in my place embraces me,
And draws me in,
And in words that echo across time and eternity whispers back,
“We are one.”
Happy Easter everyone!


Cross = Heart, image created by Ross Cochrane

Cross = Heart, image created by Ross Cochrane

Cross = Heart, image created by Ross Cochrane

Cross = Heart, image created by Ross Cochrane

Cross = Heart, image created by Ross Cochrane

The Unlived Life

             He shuffled up to our table, coffee in one hand, umbrella and newspaper in the other. I noticed his hands were trembling as he placed first the coffee, then the paper and umbrella down on the table. He slowly removed his backpack and put it on the ground. He sat down on the bench seat opposite us, bent over and pulled an aluminium ashtray from his backpack, then carefully positioned it on the table next to his coffee. Next, he reached into his coat pocket, pulled out a cigarette – the kind you roll yourself – and lit it up.
             I watched him hoping to make eye contact so I could say hello, but he kept his head down as if he was unaware we were there, or he just didn’t care. He wore one of those caps that English gentlemen wear pulled down over his long unkempt hair, making it difficult to see his face.
             It was Friday morning and Ross and I had headed down to McDonalds for a late breakfast. We were staying in the city for a couple of days and planned to visit the Chinese Garden of Friendship down by Darling Harbour this morning. We proceeded to unwrap our breakfast meal while our mystery table guest unwrapped his newspaper and began reading.
             I watched as he puffed away on his cigarette and turned the pages of the paper. His hands were very dirty, his nails long. He wore a gold ring on his third finger.
             “Hello,” I said, but there was no response. Maybe he didn’t hear me.
             I tried again, louder. “Good morning..”
             He lifted his head, slowly turned and caught my eye, nodded, and then went back to scanning his newspaper. 
            The umbrella. I persisted.
             “Do you think it will rain today?”
             He looked back at me with bleary grey eyes and said something which I couldn’t quite make out. He had a long beard with overgrown moustache which muffled his words. He turned the pages of his paper and pointed to the weather report. Rain was forecast, he said.
             And so a conversation of sorts began. We introduced ourselves, and he told us his name was Ron. He lived around the area, was born here in Sydney, at McMahon’s Point.
            “You know where that is?” Ron asked. No, sorry we didn’t.
            We respectfully asked if he would like to share our breakfast. He respectfully declined. At first.
             I felt incredibly sad for Ron. He looked as though he was probably our age, and I wondered what desperate circumstances had led to his living on the streets, of becoming another “homeless statistic”. Had he lost a wife? Children? He had certainly lost direction, hope, and any sense of self-worth. 
             Finally it was time for us to leave, time for us to visit the Chinese Garden of Friendship. We said goodbye to Ron and walked away from one place of friendship to find another down by the harbour. We spent a long time wandering through the stunning gardens which had been established many years ago as a gesture of friendship between two cultures. The freshness, the beauty, and the peace of this incredibly beautiful place stood in stark contrast to the life of the man with whom we had recently shared a meal.
             And all the while, I found myself mulling over a statement I had heard someone make just the week before, a statement I had been pondering over ever since:
                       “We all have two lives – the one we are living now, 
                                        and the unlived life within us.”
             It’s a statement about life purpose, about potential.
             Over the past week I had been wondering how close the gap between my two lives was. 
             It’s actually something I’ve wondered about many times throughout the years, always striving for greater clarity of my purpose, always challenged to close the gap between what is, and what can be.
              And now I was wondering how wide that gap was for Ron. It seems to me that gap has become a chasm so deep he probably does not think much beyond surviving today. I prayed  that he would begin to search for his purpose in life, and for the One who gave him life. I prayed that he would find the way back to believing in himself. I prayed that he would have the courage to step out into his unlived life.
              I know it’s not too late for Ron.
              I know it’s never too late – for any of us.

Thinking of you today,


Picasso Pa

Picasso Pa, by Zion Brave Bennett

Every parent asks their child the same question when they pick them up after school.
“How was school today?”
And every child gives one of two answers. 
“Good” or “Boring”. That’s it. Nothing more. End of story.
Then every parent follows up with a subsequent question.
“What did you learn today?”
To which every child answers, “Nothing.” Full stop. End of discussion.
Why we do this is, day after day after day, is something of a mystery. 
Yet we persist.
My daughter asks the same questions of her 6 year old son, and he answers with the same responses.
Until yesterday.
Yesterday was a day to go down in history.
No sooner had Rachel pulled the car in to the ‘Kiss-and-Drop’ zone (aka quick pickup lane) outside school, when Zion leapt into the car and blurted out,
“Guess what we learnt about today Mum!” She didn’t even have to ask THE question.
“You know, the painter guy, Picasso.”
Zion then proceeded to enlighten his mother about Picasso’s ‘Rose period’ and his ‘Blue period’ and other interesting Picasso facts all the way home. He was totally excited about the whole thing, and had even done a Picasso painting himself which is now on display in his classroom.
Later, when Rachel and the boys came over for dinner, Zion presented Ross with a portrait of his Pa.
A Picasso Pa.
Ross being an artist himself knows all about Picasso, so dinner conversation tended to centre on the works of Picasso.
Rachel and I smiled at each other. Wow, maybe we have another artist in the family – yes!! Can never have too many creative types in one family I say!
This morning I taped Picasso Pa onto Pa’s study door. 
Then I proceeded to check up on Picasso via the internet – thought I’d better keep up with my grandson’s education. And as it turned out, I was grateful that I did.
Interesting man, unique artwork, can’t say I agree too much with his religious or political beliefs, but I did appreciate some comments Picasso had made throughout his life.
Comments like,
                        “Every child is an artist. 
                        The problem is how to remain an artist once he grows up.”
                        “It took me four years to paint like Raphael,
                         but a lifetime to paint like a child.”
I love this revelation – a child has the ability to imagine, to wonder, to create, and to express life in such naive freedom. A child is spontaneous, open to new concepts, ready to try new things. 
I’m sure that’s what Jesus was getting at when He said,
                          “Don’t keep children away from me. Don’t ever get between 
                          them and me. These children are at the very centre of life in
                          the Kingdom. Mark this: Unless you accept God’s Kingdom
                          in the simplicity of a child, you’ll never get in.” (Mark 10:14-16, MSG)
The simplicity of a child. Openness, receptivity.
 Picasso said a couple of other things which also struck a chord.
                           “Others have seen what is and asked why.
                            I have seen what could be and asked why not.” 
And this,
                           “I am always doing that which I cannot do,
                            in order to learn how to do it.”
I love this too – Picasso striving to go beyond the expected, to stretch beyond boundaries, to explore possibilities, to uncover more of the potential within himself.
It seems this belief in himself, and this challenge to climb ever higher was fostered in his childhood . . .
                           “When I was a child my mother said to me, ‘If you become
                           a soldier, you’ll be a general. If you become a monk, you’ll
                           be the Pope.’ Instead I became a painter, and wound up
                           as Picasso.”
Parents, grandparents, teachers, leaders what amazing opportunities we have to water seeds of greatness in those entrusted to our care for a season. Great movers and shakers of the future, doing their best to make a positive difference in their generation.
So, I’m grateful to Picasso.
Grateful he fired up my grandson’s imagination and inspired him to step outside the box and try something new.
Grateful he’s encouraged me to keep “doing that which I cannot do in order to learn how to do it.”
Grateful he’s reminded me to keep on watering seeds of greatness into the upcoming generations.
It might also surprise Picasso to know that he reminded me too of the fact that God Himself has planted those seeds of greatness in all of us – and that He loves to help us discover them and use them to make a difference in this world.

Picasso Bird, by Zion Brave Bennett.
Currently on exhibition in Grade 1JP classroom