Are you a guest?

I am writing this on Friday afternoon because Monday is going to be my Sabbath. Why Monday? I hear you ask. I’m glad you asked that!

The weekend is full. 

We have guests staying. Our guests are part of the band for the wedding we are attending on Saturday afternoon and evening.

Saturday morning my friend is launching a book.

Sunday I am leading at church.

And that is enough peopling for me. Monday will need to be a rest day.

But it’s got me thinking about community.

Because as much as I am an introvert, I am also a fully paid up member of the ideology that community is important. Very important. Even for us introverts.

We all know that loneliness is the new smoking. That we need to find a community to be involved in for our own physical and mental health.

But community isn’t always a lovely, joyous, barrel of gooey good feelings and warm fuzzies. True community is sticking together through good and bad. Hanging out with the beautiful shiny people, and the successful. And looking after our elderly, our young mums with screaming babies, our loud teenagers, and our disabled.

It’s the sharing of the dinner and the washing up.

It’s dancing at the wedding reception, and helping to pack all the tables and chairs away afterwards so that the church service can be held the next day.

It’s the coffee together at the beach, and the going to visit in the nursing home.

If you truly want to feel part of a community, you’re going to have to do some uncomfortable things. If you’re not doing the uncomfortable things, then you may just be a guest.

Now I’m not saying you have to do all the uncomfortable things. And beware that you’re not becoming a martyr, because no one wants that. But I think to truly experience community you need to be prepared to serve the community, whether that community is church or Rotary or an online club that you’re a part of. 

I hope you can find a community you can serve, stick with, and love through the good and the bad. A place that you belong.

Are you missing some of my blog posts? They come out every Monday. Sign up to follow the A Quiet Life blog on WordPress, or you can sign up to my newsletter on www.ruthamos.com.au  and you will receive every post straight to your email inbox. You will also find my podcast, my book ‘My Year of Saying No’, and any short stories or other books will be up there as they come along.

If you would like to support this blog and the podcast then you can head over to Patreon.com/quietlife and help me out for as little as a dollar a month. Thank you so much!

And speaking of book launches, the next book in the Deadly Miss series by yours truly (aka RJ Amos) will be launching on Friday, this Friday the 23rd November. It’s called Deadly Misdirection and I think it’s pretty good. You will find e-books on Amazon, Apple Books, and Kobo, and the paperback should be up on Amazon shortly too. I’d love you to pick up a copy, or three, and give one to someone for Christmas. 🙂 

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A most beautiful moment

It was hard to choose what to talk with you about this week. I could have told you about the drive to Deloraine to check out the town properly for my first ever writing research trip and how it made me feel like a proper writer. And how I drove through a mad and scary hailstorm on the way home and was so grateful for the truck in front of me that gave me tire tracks to aim for.

I could have told you that it was mind-map time again on Sunday afternoon as I reassessed all my projects and what was involved in each of them, and how much time I could give to each. How I’m making my way through my favourite time-management books again to find hints and tips for organising my day – things that I haven’t been able to put into practice before but might be able to now. And, really, just encouragement that I’m doing alright in organising things and that there are limits to what one person can achieve.

But I thought instead I’d share with you the most beautiful thing that happened to me this week. I’ll try to find ways to put into words how I felt.

This wonderful experience took place at the Bishop’s Training Event. The church I go to happens to be Anglican, and the Bishop of the Diocese of Tasmania holds annual training events where we can go and get teaching. This was the first I have gone to and there were about 400 of us there.

Bishops Training Event
I’m in the row just before the red chairs, right down the back.

It was an excellent day. Excellent talks in the morning, and excellent workshops in the afternoon, punctuated by excellent catching up with friends and family and making new friends in the breaks.

But the very best thing about the day for me was the singing.

The music team consisted of three people with microphones, and a keyboard. No bass, no drums, no flashy lights or special effects. The song choices were excellent, some reasonably new songs that we all knew, some very old but familiar hymns with the very old words (the proper words, if you ask me). The point was, nearly everyone knew the songs, and everyone sang.

Standing there, surrounded by the swell of sound from four hundred people all singing together, was the most uplifting, encouraging feeling. I was carried on the sound. I was buoyed by it.

The sound didn’t assault my senses or bash into me. It just bathed me in song, lifted and carried my spirit until it was soaring in the rafters. And that was how I felt, standing in the back. I can’t imagine what it would have been like on stage with all of the sound coming directly towards you.

Now just to be clear, I love a good beat and bass and I had the best time at the Cat Empire concert recently, down in the mosh pit, dancing as hard as a forty-something can, adding 10,000 steps or so to my fitbit. I love it when the sound doesn’t just go in your ears, but you can feel it in your bones. It’s the best fun. But that’s not what Saturday was about.

Saturday’s singing was about being community. Being family. Singing with one voice. Joining together and making something truly beautiful.

Sometimes all you need is a note to start on and the words to sing.

I treasure the memory.

Have you been a part of a big group all singing together like this? Do you have a moment you can remember where music touched your soul?

If you never want to miss one of my blogs, you can sign up to my newsletter at www.ruthamos.com.au or you can sign up on WordPress and you will get the blog direct to your email inbox. At www.ruthamos.com.au you will also get my latest news, information about my books, and soon (I hope) a brand new podcast! Stay tuned.

A cure for the latest serious health crisis

Christmas party
I wasn’t sure what picture to use to best represent community. Then I thought a pic of our street Christmas party might do it. Just a few of us, getting together, eating and chatting, and enjoying the company.

The best part of church for me last Sunday was the notices. Yes, you’d think that wouldn’t be a highlight of the service, but last Sunday for me it was, because I was suddenly overwhelmed by gratitude and love for my community. Probably a weird reaction to the notices, but hear me out.

The church has been sending out ‘help!’ emails over the last few weeks. We had a massive storm here (link to the big wet) and the church floors were covered with water. All of the church building, and all of the church hall. Our chapel is on slightly higher ground and didn’t get affected but the rest of the property, hoo boy.

On the Friday after the storm the call went out for help and about 80 volunteers congregated to mop up, clean up, and move all the pews and wipe the feet and put them back. It was a huge effort by an amazing team. (I didn’t go, but we had our own clean up to do.) And it meant that we could all do church on Sunday as usual. Well, nearly as usual, the floor was still a bit wet and a bit stinky, some activities had to be moved or cancelled but we did our best.

The carpets all needed to be thrown out, so last week once the assessors had assessed, the call came out again and an army of volunteers (again, not me) lifted carpet and laid some new carpet tiles so that the children have somewhere to do Sunday school.

It takes a community to be able to deal with these major life crises. But it’s not just the crises, celebrations are well taken care of by community too.

My Mum has been the music minister in another church here for the last 12 years or something and that time drew to a close last month. As part of the farewells, the church held a concert, a ‘ham and jam’ night, and I was privileged to attend.

Everyone in the church who wanted to had been invited to perform and that gave the night a flavour that was unique and completely inclusive. We started with a fanfare and a piece by the church choir, then Chopin’s Raindrop Prelude on the piano was followed by a Colin Buchanan song sung by six kids – one evacuating her nose, two singing like this was the most serious thing ever, two swaying and dancing and jumping, and one rubbing sleepy eyes. The littlest (she with the nose) stopped half way through the song, took a short break, and then started again. Beyond cute, I tell you.

A vet told some animal stories and his daughter joined him on stage half way through, smiling at all of us. He just picked her up and kept going. A young lad in a bowtie played a rag on the piano. When he’d finished he bowed, then raced down and gave his mum a high five, and then ran back up to the stage to collect the music he’d left on the piano stand. We had a stand up comedian, he was over 80 years old. He said he was past his best before date, but hopefully not past his use by date.

There were comings and goings, noises and children’s conversation but it didn’t spoil the atmosphere at all. As the night went on the children gradually disappeared home to bed, but the poems and tales, songs – funny and serious, beautiful music, and dances went on. The night ended again with the church choir. It was a beautiful honouring of Mum and a gorgeous celebration of community.

Community is acceptance, not just tolerance, but love for all different people. For the person with autism, the screaming toddler, the elderly one who chats on and on, the tattooed muscle guy, every body type, every energy level. It’s not something that can be legislated, though we do need rules to support and draw attention to those we may be overlooking. Judgement and comparison kill community, empathy is crucial.

Community is putting aside your own needs and wants for the good of others. It’s giving up a Saturday afternoon’s relaxation to clean up a church hall for Sunday morning. It’s putting others first. Not allowing yourself to be a doormat, but choosing at times to give up what you want for what will benefit others.

And community is vital for our own wellbeing. Loneliness is the new smoking, right? (Or is that sitting? Or sugar? I can’t remember). Having a community around you protects you from mental illnesses and brings you into a place where you feel secure and loved. Not that we have to attend every activity that’s going on all the time. If you’ve read this blog at all you’ll know I’m not advocating that. But being a part of a family group, having your tribe, it’s important.

I must admit, I’m enjoying community a bit more now that I’m not overwhelmed by work. Maybe if your work-life balance doesn’t allow you to be part of a small group of people once a month or so then can I suggest it might be out of whack? Changes might need to be made.

Oh, and one more thing, while I’m on the subject. I have read over and over again on my author internet sites that you cannot expect the support of your family and friends. That family and friends won’t give a flying flower about your book, your launch, your writing. So I just want to say how grateful I am to you all, friends both online and in person, who have bought the books, written reviews, given encouragement, attended launch events, and passed the books on to friends. You have totally blown me away and I am so grateful for you all.

You, my community, totally rock! I am so thrilled to be a small part of such a great group of people.

If you are now wondering which books I’m talking about, then head to www.ruthamos.com.au and www.rjamos.com and you’ll find them there.

The Big Wet

Hobart Rivulet
Hobart Rivulet taken by my friend Katie

It rained and it rained and it rained. Piglet told himself that never in all his life, and he was goodness knows how old – three was it, or four? – Never had he seen so much rain.

– A.A.Milne, Winnie the Pooh.

I am writing to you today from my place of warmth and comfort after the big storm that Hobart had last night. I should be writing my novel but my head is full of the storm. So the novel can come later.

I enjoy thunder storms. I love the noise and the lightning and the sound of rain on the roof. I also love my sleep, so I enjoyed the first part of the storm last night but I was tucked up in bed and cosy when the real storm hit and I missed the lightning striking every six seconds and the hail and the change in wind direction. I know about this because my son was up and watching it all and he informed us about it this morning.

I also missed the really heavy rain. I thought I’d seen the heavy rain, and I had, but the really heavy rain came down after I was asleep and formed a torrent down the side of our house and along our garden path and the water crept into our bedroom from under the house and from the garden.

There was a torrent pouring down our driveway to the units below and two garage doors have been pushed in and all the garden from unit number 4 is now in the driveway of unit number 6. And the bath in number 6 is full of water that came in through the garage.

I get excited by these events. I’m loving all the stories, all the pictures, all the videos all over Facebook and Twitter. I’m excited by the updates from emergency services with the Auslan interpreter.

And then, as it all calms down, I realise what a job of mopping up there is to do. Not just in my house (where I’m wussing out and letting Moz do most of the heavy lifting) but in our street where there are rocks all over the road and a pile up of mud and clay on the corner, in our little town where the local supermarket, pharmacy, newsagent etc. are all under water, as is our church building, and in our city where the rivulet went on a rampage and cars were carried along and where the university law library has been flooded so badly that books are strewn all over the oval from the water.

I don’t know how many weeks and months it takes to recover from something like this.

On the bright side, there were no reported injuries as of 11am today. There were no deaths that I know of. There’s a car accident now, but most people are being sensible and staying out of the danger zones.

But this will be a time when we see just how much of a community we are. Just how much we all pull together and look after each other. I hope that we do. I need to get off my butt and go and help someone else out – not least my husband who is wringing out wet towels as we speak.

I hope you stay warm and dry today, and even if you don’t live in Tassie, that you are able to reach out to others and build community where you are.

No Bridezilla here

DH has spent most of today washing, cleaning, and polishing my little Mini (Verdi) and his bigger Audi (Wombat) to within an inch of their lives. You see, tomorrow we are going to be the wedding cars for our friends’ wedding and we are pretty excited. Yes, the bride is going to try to squeeze her beautiful gown into the Mini. We’ll put all the bridesmaids into Wombat. Then after the service the bride and groom will travel in Wombat and we’ll work out the rest later. As my lovely MIL says ‘We’ll come to that bridge when we cross it.’

A couple of weeks ago there was another wedding in our church. Both the brides (tomorrow’s and last fortnight’s) have known each other since they were tiny (if not since birth) and have grown up together in the church. Both met their men around the same time and both decided to get married at approximately the same time.

This could have been a recipe for disaster, but it wasn’t. The two brides have worked together on timing – making sure one is back from her honeymoon before the other has her wedding. Making sure the first wedding was first because the second bride is moving to Western Australia immediately after her wedding.

They are bridesmaids for each other and I heard Bride no. 1 talk about how she was going to look out especially for Bride no. 2 this week and give her extra support. Bride no. 2 has talked about how grateful she is to have been part of a wedding already and therefore she knows what sort of timing things need – things like hair and makeup, for example.

They are mature enough to have their weddings reflect their own unique personalities without even the slightest hint of competition with each other. Bride no. 1 has had a bridal shower tea with gifts of kitchenware and this awesome game where we had six pots of different kinds of tea and we had to guess which tea was what. Bride no. 2 had a bridal shower picnic in the Botanic Gardens where she wore a veil and sash and we gave her photos and written memories so that she didn’t have to pack boxes of stuff into the ute that’s taking her to WA. Both brides were delighted with the parties (except for the part where the attention was placed on them).

These two lovely humble women are starting their married lives in what I consider the right way. The weddings are a reflection of who they (and their grooms) are, not a competition as to who can make the day the flashiest. They are still doing the dress, the flowers, the service and the reception, the cake, the speeches and the dancing, but they are doing it their own way as a celebration, and as part of a community, and it’s something I enter into wholeheartedly.

So I pray for them, long life and happiness. I pray that they can face the challenges of life with a commitment to their other half that goes way beyond signing a piece of paper. I pray that their wedding day will be a milestone in a journey that lasts the rest of their lives. And I thank God for the example of selfless celebration that these two brides are.Wedding cars

Names

I have been musing lately on the subject of names.

It started when DS told me one morning that he had recognised a comet from its picture. That’s right, he’d seen a picture of an unlabelled comet and knew its name. I was so impressed! (Not impressed enough to find out what the name was but, hey, impressed.) This was my son, a man who knows comets by name!

(‘Mum, I know the name of one comet. Not all the comets.’)

It got me thinking. Do comets have names before humans label them?

If you know the seven-day creation story in the bible you will know that it was man who gave names to the animals. God made the animals but he gave man the job of assigning names. And we – humans – love giving names to things – kingdom, phylum, class, order, family, genus, species. It’s a big deal.

This week at the university I had two days of lab sessions with my summer school students. We all got together in the chemistry lab and we played with various chemicals and reactions. It’s a full-on, but very productive couple of days. One of the fun things about these days from my point of view is the chance to meet people that I have known all summer as a name, and see what they are really like.

One of my students has the name Thelma, but she goes by Pixie. Another is named Tiffany, but called TJ. That got me thinking as well. You see, for most people, they are given a name at birth. That is, before anyone knows anything about them, they are given the name that they have to live with all their lives. My kids’ names were chosen well before they were even conceived. (We’re so glad we only had a daughter and a son, we didn’t have any more names chosen.)

So the name you are given by your parents has nothing to do with your personality, your likes or dislikes, your educational status, your wealth, nothing. And yet, we judge people by their name. Somehow we assume that the name someone has been given will have something to do with who they are.

There are studies showing that (in the sciences at least) a decision on a resume with a female name will be different to the decision on the exact same resume given with a male name. That if a name on a  resume is spelled interestingly Raychelle, for example, rather than Rachel, then the resume again will be treated differently. But it’s not poor Raychelle’s fault that her parents named her with the interesting spelling. And they probably did it with her best interests at heart.

I realised that I would have thought very differently about Pixie all semester if I had only known her as Thelma. That old-fashioned name gives a very different picture.

It says in the good book that God knows us by name. But which name?

I learned in last week’s sermon that Jesus gave Simon the nickname Petros (meaning little rock, pebble) but then he talked about him being Petra – a massive great boulder that he would build his church on. Jesus knew the whole of Simon Peter – the beginning of his life as the rowdy Simon who kept getting it wrong, but he also knew the Peter who would give the sermon that started the whole Christian church, and he knew that God would continue to build that church until now ~2000 years later.

DS suggested to me that God knows each of us by our Entish name. In Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings, there are Ents – walking trees. And the name that Ents give is not just a label, but the whole life story of the tree. The names can be very long, very very long – trees live a long time.

God isn’t worried by time. He is eternal. He lives outside of time. And I like to think that when he says he knows me, or an animal, or a comet for that matter, by name, he is talking about the Entish name. The whole life story.

Now, I happen to love the name I was given at birth, and I find it very interesting that a nickname has never stuck to me – I have always been Ruth. And Ruth means beloved, which is a lovely short name to have. But I feel very beloved when I think that God knows my whole name, and loves me anyway.

Let’s be aware of our unconscious bias and try not to judge anyone by their name or label.

And be encouraged – God knows you by name.

Celebrations

In the last week I have been part of two major life celebrations.

On Saturday I went to a wedding of two lovely young people who are part of our church. They had invited the whole church, whoever wanted to, to come along, so I went. (DH wanted to come too but was stopped by a very inconvenient attack of hay fever.)

The couple getting married were young and beautiful. The bride (of course) was especially gorgeous. Thin, blonde, and radiant, she could have stepped right from the pages of a magazine. The groom was also a dashing young man, and the church was filled with the young and the beautiful, all dressed up to the nines. Now, I’m not that old, and I don’t consider myself to be ugly, but wow – I didn’t hold a candle to all this youth and beauty. But, you know, it was so great to have them all there, supporting their friends as they made their life commitment.

The service started with an announcement that I’ve never heard before.

‘Please, could you turn off your mobile phones’ I’ve heard that bit before, obviously, ‘the bride and groom wish to have all photos during the service taken by the official photographer.’ We weren’t asked to turn off our phones because they might ring, but because they didn’t want us taking photos during the service! That was the new bit. And then came this:

‘And while the bride and groom are happy for you to post to Facebook, please let them post first.’ Brand new. And oh so necessary.

So I’m going to have to make sure they’ve posted before I put this up on my blog, but that’s fine.

Anyway, the wedding was beautiful. It’s just so amazing to see people take the risk, take the plunge, commit to each other for life. And I realised, as they clearly (and a little tearfully) said their vows, that while I love individualised, poetic, beautifully written vows, for me there is something so special about the stock standard Anglican prayer book vows. And the something special is this: I said those vows. DH said those vows. And as I listened to another couple vow to love, cherish, protect, and honour each other for as long as they both should live, I could renew my own vow to my husband too. (It would have been more special if he could have been there, but we can’t have everything).

After the wedding we were all invited to share afternoon tea together, I said hello to people I hadn’t seen for (literally) years and renewed old friendships. I live in a small place and it’s guaranteed that you’ll meet with old friends at this kind of thing.

It was a truly special celebration. An absolutely joyous afternoon.

The other celebration in my week was the celebration of the life of DH’s grandfather. He was 92 and had passed away peacefully at his nursing home with his daughters by his side. We’re so used to having him around, it was hard to say goodbye, and there was so much to celebrate.

Pop had made it easy for us, he had written his own life story, so getting dates and names correct was not the difficult task it sometimes is. And both daughters and several grandchildren, as well as other friends and family, stood in front of the congregation and shared their experience of this outgoing, enthusiastic, energetic man. Even the great-grandchildren got involved – the youngest two stood bravely in front of everyone and sang ‘Down by the station’ as they had been taught to do by Pop.

One of the grandchildren had written her part of the eulogy but there was no way she could read it to us, even through her tears, so her husband read it on her behalf. That led to a fun moment where he told us about the time he was pregnant and Pop came to his rescue. There were a couple of other fun times in the service, particularly when Pop’s poetry was read out. He had so much fun writing his poems, he was quite serious about it, and if rhyming couplets are your thing, then these are the poems for you! But they make pretty hilarious reading.

Once again afterwards we had a morning tea, and then the family went out for lunch. We shared stories and caught up on each other’s lives. I met people who were connected to us through Pop that I probably will never meet again. It was such a joy to meet the pint sized Elsie (Pop’s sister-in-law) who is a tiny woman with a personality as big as a house. “I’m the small one!” she said when we were introduced. And it was good to catch up again with Pop’s elder sister Betty, who is still going strong. One of the great-grandchildren found out that she was the second cousin once removed of one of the teachers in her school. And even though the service was in Launceston, we met Hobart friends there as well.

I love being part of community. A part of a family tree that branches out through parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, in-laws, and down through the children, and grandchildren. A part of a church community that shares each others’ lives, that celebrates together and mourns together, and helps each other through tough times. A part of a friendship group that has been close for over 25 years and that knows each other almost as well as cousins do. And a friendship group that is new and growing as we meet more people that we make a special connection with. I feel connected, established, supported.

Sometimes the community means that you have to put up with irritations, with personalities that you just can’t stand, with little quirks like Pop’s poetry, or with being around people so shiny and beautiful that you have to wear sunglasses. That’s all part of the deal. But I am so grateful for the traditions, the celebrations, the people, that make me who I am and for the reminder of that in the celebrations this past week.