The Difference is Love (2021) - A Creative Non-Fiction Story

Sunday, 5th May 2019, wasn’t the best day for a swim. Fourteen degrees at dawn, and it would take most of the day to reach twenty-four—overcast and rain expected—I was grateful I’d be inside.

Our girls were in the same hemisphere, and we were a family of five again—seven with partners. After two years, Danielle was finally home, and my baptism could go ahead in Arana Hills Church of Christ.

***

Good Friday 2016 and Nexus Church, Everton Park—one of Danielle’s church crawls. A sprawling and spacious modern brick structure attached to the local school and the hangout for every teacher she knows. They follow the coffee, or so I’ve heard. I don’t know how many out of the way, bohemian, retro, or cart-based coffee hubs Danielle knows about, but I’ve been to many. I’m a tea drinker, English/Irish Breakfast, nothing herbal; not as exciting but infinitely more satisfying than coffee. No time for caffeine this morning.

The church has air-conditioning. Did I mention that? Blissful on the few occasions we visited in summer. Easter in Brisbane can still prove sticky weather, and when there’s standing room only, it’s essential. Children with bunny ears, chocolate smeared faces, and molten misshaped eggs in tiny hands. Mothers with wriggling infants in prams or pressed against their chests in baby pouches—hands poking out—cries muffled. Girls giggling as their heads touch in the seat in front of me. A cacophony of sounds as seats are filled with people who know each other. They belong to a community I know nothing about. I know no one except my daughter beside me.

Intimidated and a little nervous, I try to sing along with the musicians; the rows are narrow. I can’t stand up straight. Being a large lady—read: more to love—my legs are close to cramping. I can’t remember the song, but their vocals and musical skills are excellent, and I eventually get into the spirit of the music. Danielle knows them all. I can’t even remember the sermon now, but I’m positive it was Easter-related.

Towards the end of the service, there was a point that physically struck me.

The pastor called out, ‘If there is anyone who wants to give their lives to Jesus, raise your hand.’

Immediately I felt flutters and butterflies in my stomach, and something like a slow zap of electricity skittered down my spine. I was scared and exhilarated, nervous, and bold; my hand rose—compelled by something more than my will.

Nexus gave me a Bible—the Gospels—and a little welcome kit with cards, a pencil, some flyers. Many people came to congratulate me, hugs galore. Danielle cried—she had been praying for me for years. So had her church and all her friends. I buzzed; I was bubbling over in nervous excitement. I’m sure I floated home.

***

I’ve never been back to Nexus Church. Does that make me disloyal? I hope not. ‘Arana’ is my home, and I haven’t missed a day since, except for illness. They are family.

I first visited ‘Arana’ in 2010. It was a moderately sized church, more extensive than a Queensland highset house but significantly larger than its original home. It started in Ray and June Wilson’s family home in Narellan St on 22nd May 1966, when they held the first Sunday School. Expansion led to the purchase of the current site—2 Bringelly Street—in 1980. I attended the fiftieth-anniversary celebration in 2016 and saw the transformation of the church (Smith 2021). There were photos of the Wilson’s austere post-war home, a type often described as ‘housing commission’ in the early years, and the newly built ‘modern’ brick and tall cantilever windowed edifice still standing on the site. The exterior would essentially remain while the internal decoration would change rapidly with the progression of years. Many of the original members had passed away, but numerous people could reminisce about the old days.

***

5th May 2019 The church was packed. Almost every seat was occupied, and several friends stood near the open doors at the back. My swimsuit pinched under my clothes as I walked to the front row to the right of the stage. The light streamed through the filmy curtains and created shimmering lights amongst the crowd. I knew them all—most by name, some by face; I’ve never been good with names—my physical and spiritual family. The L-shaped room buzzed with murmurings and laughter.

The music started. We stood up and worshipped. Danielle and I knew the words to the songs, but the rest of my family didn’t. They don’t go to church. Pastor Clinton stepped onto the stage, and the room became quiet.

I scanned my written testimony as I waited for the end of the service. Don sat quietly beside me, and Danielle leaned against me. Zoe, Elizabeth, and James (her boyfriend) sat in the row behind us, keenly waiting. Zoe’s husband, Glen, had a history with religion and didn’t come for the service. I was unable to hide my disappointment from Zoe. I was more disheartened for her than for me.

Standing on the stage with Danielle, I felt shivers down my spine, and my mouth became dry. Then it was time to get into the water.

I had visions of falling down the steps, making an almighty splash, then rising sharply and saying, ‘Tada! Okay, I’m baptised now!’

Only having six toes due to Diabetes complications—I had four toes amputated between 2016 and 2018, leaving only the big toes and the two end toes on each foot—made me nervous about the steps, but Danielle stood beside me, and we took the steps boldly.

It was a surprise to find the water quite warm, and the shivers disappeared. I looked upon the faces of my family, scanned the room, then started to read.

‘I was baptised into the Catholic faith at six weeks of age … When I did read the Bible for the first time, I kept looking for the ascension of Mary in the New Testament, but of course, I never found it (Trappett 2019, p 1).’ Laughter filled the room.

I always believed in God. I’m sure he saved us from a house fire on 1st June 1995. Zoe was three, and the twins were seven weeks old then. It was the dryer. I almost died in March 2009 from a blood infection—I developed infections (osteomyelitis) in my shoulder bone and spine and spent thirty-one days in the Royal Brisbane and Women’s hospital. On Christmas eve the same year, I developed anaphylaxis within five minutes of taking an antibiotic and needed an urgent trip to the hospital.

***

I didn’t see Zoe run out of the church in tears then, but Jenny told me afterwards. She hated 2009, the same year as her high school formal. I gave her drama she didn’t need that year. Year 12 is stressful with your mother out of action for almost four months of the year.

***

Diabetes, Diabetic Neuropathy, a work injury, depression, withdrawal from the world, self-destructive behaviour; it all came out. I didn’t tell them I was close to throwing myself on train tracks at one time. The only thing that stopped me was Don. He works for Queensland Rail, and he knows drivers who have never recovered from suicides on their watch. I couldn’t do that to anyone. No one knew the state of my mind at my lowest point—only God.

I spoke about the sparks that truly zapped us when I met Don, our miracle babies after five years of infertility, and the heartache of loss—little Catherine. The witness of Danielle, Simon, and John; the mentorship of Joy; the moment when I saw the Holy Spirit physically move through Leanne; and the day I accepted Jesus.

Quite a few people surrounded the baptistry. I could see people wiping their eyes. Little Jane, one of Lizzie’s friends, was smiling at me. She has Down Syndrome and has become a special friend during my transformation. Hers is not the only smile in the room; many have shared my struggles, particularly the family. They have been to hell and back during the difficult years.

My heart skipped, and I continued. My life gradually changed—a thirst for knowledge, a search for truth and self, a search for God.

‘I no longer listen to the rubbish that passes for music these days, I read more, I pray … that angry person is dead and buried.’ I devoured the Bible. The TV went off. I stopped trying to escape. I discovered joy and fulfilment by living with purpose.

‘Since 2016, I have almost completed a bachelor’s degree, which I never thought I would ever do.’ I told the congregation that I would be travelling to Thailand at Christmas; my first ever trip outside Australia—I’ll see where Danielle lives in Chiang Mai and finally meet Dan, her boyfriend, in Chiang Rai.

After always having problems with money, Don and I are not simply surviving but thriving. I have friends, so many friends that I love and who love me; my second family. My horizons have expanded—Jesus has done that—and I finally belong.

‘Do I miss my old life? Not one bit.’

‘My journey with illness may have started with a diagnosis and some really crappy years; times when I despaired of ever being normal again, but I count my journey as a blessing now. I’ll never be normal—I’m quite fabulous really; I can be happy in spite of my limitations.’

I sighed as I recited the last sentence of my testimony,

‘I might be stumbling on wobbly legs, and my body sucks, but inside I’m dancing with an angel choir.’

While the congregation clapped, I laid the papers down beside the tank and placed my glasses on top.

‘Are you ready?’ asked Clinton.

‘Yes,’ I whispered and kneeled.

Danielle squeezed my arm. Clinton asked me the questions about my belief, and I responded yes each time. Almost before the words were out of my mouth, I was under and out of the water. I was baptised, and I almost missed it. I should have been under the water longer. I didn’t even get a chance to think about it.

‘Baptism was the central rite for entrance into the church in apostolic and later times’ (Ferguson 2013, p 66). Adult water baptism—which is the traditional apostolic form—is the physical witness of believers in the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus. The immersion represents being buried/dying and rising from the water is spiritual rebirth—the old is gone, the new has begun. ‘Baptism doesn’t “save,” but it shows that the person has been saved by accepting the Savior (sic)’ (Cross 2016, p 86). Now I truly am a Christian.

Danielle and I stood in the tank. I closed my eyes as Clinton prayed for me. Then I felt arms surrounding me, and there was Don. Taking no notice of my wet clothes, he encircled me with love. I found out later that he was crying as he approached me.

Marg Williams (2021, pers. comm., 15th August) said, ‘it was the most emotional baptism she had ever been involved in.’ As I leaned into him, my children and others came up and held me in a group embrace. Jane was there too, her hand on my shoulder, and I could hear Jenny praying above the sound of others. Warm hands blessed me. I didn’t want the moment to end. Someone took a photo. A river of love wells up in my heart whenever I look at it today.

***

After I changed my wet clothes, I went to find Zoe. Her mascara had run, but that didn’t matter. Our family and friends surrounded her. Darling Zoe, my firstborn and one of the most empathetic souls on the planet.

‘It’s alright, dear,’ I said as I hugged her, ‘I know 2009 was a tough year for you, for everyone. I’m sorry. Let’s go and have some of Juanita’s yummy cake.’

Our arms around each other, we walked across the recently built deck to the long table. Don, Danielle, Lizzie, and James followed right behind us.

Juanita baked the most amazing Red Velvet cake for the celebration, and even now, I can almost taste it. I cut the cake, and there was enough for everyone, with nothing left over. There are never any leftovers from her cakes. She is well known for her gorgeous baked goodies and cakes, perfect icing, and intricate created sugar decorations. I remember the Easter eggs she made for Don and me one year. They were almost too beautiful to eat. I ate mine anyway!

There were so many hugs and kisses, it reminded me of the day at Nexus Church, but these were from people I truly loved and who loved me. It made all the difference.

~ ~ ~

‘Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called when you made your good confession in the presence of many witnesses.’ (1 Timothy 6:12)

My Baptism, 5 May 2019

Karen Trappett – Baptism Testimony – 5th May 2019

My Testimony – My Christian Journey

I was baptised into the Catholic faith at six weeks of age and attended Catholic schools on the south side of Brisbane, but we weren’t really a church-going family outside of school and the sacraments, and we never read the Bible – just the leaflets they gave out in mass that we binned on the way out of the church. It was assumed the priests and nuns were there for that, (we were unworthy, whereas they were holy) but I read my children’s illustrated Bible voraciously – as I did everything else – which has helped me to have a basic understanding of the life of Jesus. When I did read the Bible for the first time, I kept looking for the ascension of Mary in the New Testament, but, of course I never found it.

I’ve always believed in God and Jesus, but the thought of a 6000-year-old world was always hard to believe. However, I have accepted there are mysteries in this world that we will never understand, and we aren’t really meant to. I’ll ask Him when I get to heaven. In hindsight, I believe there have been many times that I have been saved by God. The house fire in 1995, that I alone woke to when the alarms didn’t sound, and we were saved. I just knew it was the clothes dryer and I still don’t trust them. I was seriously ill in 2009 – septicaemia and osteomyelitis of my spine and shoulder, 31 days in hospital and four months recovering; and on Christmas eve I suffered anaphylaxis at home after taking medication – not a fun season that year. My struggles with Diabetes, Diabetic Neuropathy and Depression, withdrawal from the world and self-destructive behaviour; even suicidal thoughts that I haven’t even shared with my family. God has saved me every day of my life; I am still here for a reason, and a purpose.

My experiences have shaped me – school, work, family, illness, loss and love. Don was meant to enter my life, the sparks flew, and we are still together after 33 years – our anniversary was on the 3rd. The strength Don and I found when we lost little Catherine in 1989, brought us closer together. Our girls; Zoe, Elizabeth and Danielle, are our miracle babies; here to teach us the meaning of overwhelming love; and worry. Danielle was the first in our family to be baptised in the Christian faith, and today I will be the second. I pray that I won’t be the last. This time I get to choose my own faith, I choose to follow Jesus all the remaining days of my life.

At first, I was sceptical of Danielle’s journey to faith. I never understood, and my eyes and heart were not opened; not then. It took many visits to church, intense discussions (sometimes arguments) with Danielle, reading, listening to sermons (particularly Simon Ward’s distinctive Englishness and John Armstrong’s flair for humour), watching the love and joy in others, seeing the Holy Spirit speak through Leanne, and singing praise in worship before my heart of stone started to crack.

Good Friday 2016 was THE day. I was in Nexus church for their AM service and towards the end of the service they asked for people to put their hands up to accept Jesus. Something stirred in me and I was compelled to raise my hand. Goosebumps, flutters in the stomach and finally bubbling joy as my arm shot up, and my journey as a God-centred Christian finally began. The Holy Spirit entered me and began to transform my unseeing eyes and disbelieving heart. I was stirred and shifted, but it was a slow progress at first. I read the Bible and began to understand in part. I remembered much from my children’s bible, and the words came to life. I watched Danielle’s mission in Thailand and saw how God was central in all facets of her life and she became my idea of how God’s love and light shines into the world. I was discipled by Joy Rawson; we did Christianity explained and I gave my life to Jesus. The more I read and understood, the more I yearned. John started the 100 days devotional early in 2018 and Danielle urged me to go for it. It was an immense blessing and I have embraced daily readings, devotionals and everything else I can get my hands on ever since.

I might be a broken vessel – I have only 6 toes, my legs don’t work properly, and Diabetes still ravages my body, I have good and bad days, everyday stresses and trials – but I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me. He is strong enough to carry me every day and he continues to transform me from the inside out. I am no longer the same person I was; I still have my personality, but I am so much more than the sad shadow I was when life and the world overwhelmed me. I no longer sit all day watching television to escape, I no longer listen to the rubbish that passes for music these days, I read more, I pray, and I am always full of inner peace, joy and love – that angry person is dead and buried. I listen to Christian music all the time – the words move me so much and I read absolutely everything. Since 2016 I have almost completed a bachelor’s degree which I never thought I would ever do, and I have brought my spirituality into my writing. I am a new creation; thank You Jesus. I no longer look to the world to satisfy, (except food – I love food, sorry Father), but my heart hurts for what hurts His.

Do I miss my old life? Not one bit. I may have lost some things, but I don’t count them as loss as I have gained so much more. I have hope and forgiveness. The love I feel is exponential, the love I have for my family is so much greater for giving it to Jesus first. I have so many brothers and sisters, in this room and around the world. We share love and hope with each other and everyone. I feel so much inner joy and peace, even when I’m in a season of despair. I am no longer just me, I am a beloved daughter of the most high living God, and I am saved by the precious blood of Jesus Christ. He died for me, He rose from death and is now our eternal High Priest, sitting at the right hand of God, Abba Father. The veil is ripped asunder, and I am free to be in His glorious presence, now and forever.

My journey with illness may have started with a diagnosis and some really crappy years; times when I despaired of ever being normal again, but I count my journey as a blessing now. While I’ll never be normal – I’m quite fabulous really – my loss of weight (fluctuating weight really), amputation of toes and my stupid legs have given me an opportunity to learn and grow. I can help others, I can be happy in spite of my limitations, and He loves me just the way I am. I might be stumbling on wobbly legs, and my body sucks, but inside I’m dancing with an angel choir.

I’m Yours, Jesus.

Nanna’s Sunday Lunch

Every Sunday of my youth was spent in Nanna’s old Queenslander at Sandgate for the ubiquitous Sunday lunch. I didn’t even know there was a beach near her house until much later, which was a shame, I could have used the escape; but as a single digit kid, I had no say in the matter.

Corned meat and vegies was the go to meal, and a dessert of custard and pudding. If it was rhubarb anything, I’d eat the custard around it and try to hide the rest. I learned to be skilful at deception after being forced to eat a whole bowl of it - twice. We’d all sit around the big kitchen table - Mum, Dad, Nanna, Wally (Nanna’s third husband - but that’s another story) and me - and sometimes a cousin or two. My brother and sister where a lot older than me and went through the ritual before I was born as I found out later - I thought they missed out. Suffice to say, the corned meat meal appeared for several decades before age and infirmity halted its practice.

I always remember arriving at the house to see Nanna standing at the door and Wally sitting in his settler’s chair on the verandah. A quick kiss and a hug from Nanna and a slobbering one from Wally and we’d be inside the semi-darkened interior, cloistered and hot for most of the year. No air-conditioning in the 60s and 70s and fans weren’t the best back then, so we all sweltered while waiting for the afternoon breeze. In hindsight, a salad might have been a better choice, but back then, a salad was lettuce and tomato - not a meal.

The kitchen rivalled hell - boiling meat; bubbling potatoes, carrots, fresh peas and cabbage; then the white sauce, all steaming on the old stove. The women looked after it all while the men lounged on the cooler verandah and I swished the flies away. I remember every pea - that was my job; to pick them off the vines in the backyard, then shell them. She must have had a lot of plants to have them every week; but there they were, her endless line of peas all in a row, bursting with pods every Sunday. She had a few avocado trees too, but they weren’t a big thing back then - I could handle an overabundance today, much better than throwing them out.

At last the meal was ready, 12:00 on the dot. I sat in my chair and contributed nothing to the conversation while we ate lunch - children were not allowed to talk with the grownups. Anyway, their conversations were boring so as soon as I could escape after dessert, I did - but not for long. There was the wiping up to do - eye-roll and shuffling feet, trying to postpone the inevitable but doing it anyway (I still hate wiping up). Then I was free while they played Euchre.

When I was very young, I had to stay inside, and that was boring. I can’t remember what I did, but I remember being bored in the house. There were many things I couldn’t touch and rooms I couldn’t enter. The house was a mystery and on my own I sometimes thought it was terrifying - lots of dark corners and things that almost moved. As I became a teenager, I grew out of that and discovered the end of the street, and a park with swings and a slide - not the fancy ones of today; the hot metal ones that burned your bum. My cousins and I would disappear after lunch and wouldn’t come back until mid-afternoon - even without watches we knew when to get back. We’d always find Wally asleep in the settler’s chair, we could hear his snores from three houses away. His snores were epic - they echoed through the house and sometimes we waited to see if the next breath would come, but it always did. I’m sure they would have diagnosed him with obstructive sleep apnoea today.

We would stay for afternoon tea before the drive home. Usually some type of cake, always with fruit and a pot of leaf tea - Bushells (the tea of choice, then and now although a good English breakfast is smashing) - then the drive home.

I find I’m feeling quite melancholy writing this story, nostalgia does that when we remember events and people. Most of them are no longer with us - it’s just Mum and me now. I still love corned meat and hate rhubarb, but I love the way the people and the companionship make the moments we share so special. What is an event without food? When food is prepared with love by those who love us, and shared in companionable surroundings, it creates a vista for the soul and the picture it makes is etched on our hearts forever.

 

A Visit with Mum

My Beautiful Mum, Edna.

 

The road meanders through the outlying areas of northern Beaudesert like a loosely coiled carpet snake, and if one is lucky, a sunbaking specimen may lie in the grassy knolls on the sides of the highway. I can imagine most tourists would give these ancient creatures a wide berth, but perfectly harmless, they are likely to be more scared of us then we are of them. Rolling hills and peaks slowly pass by: The Great Dividing Range signals the Queensland border is within reach; but, that is not our destination today.

As we near the township, we pass rural holdings: a sawmill, a hobby farm, fields of shimmering gold and green, and old Queenslanders, badly in need of paint. On the right is our destination: Wongaburra Nursing Home. It is set in hectares of landscaped gardens, expanses of manicured lawns, flowering Jacaranda, Acacia and Poinciana trees, and rockeries splashed with a rainbow of colour and variegated greens - depending on the season. A brightly coloured and indigenous-themed sign at the entrance identifies the residential village, and we enter a wide pathway that slopes down towards the main building.

The lowset rambling brick complex is usually a hive of activity; today is no exception and the visitor’s book is full of arrivals on this Sunday. A number of the ambulatory residents sit in companionable huddles in the foyer as they surreptitiously become voyeurs of the entering throng. Today appears to be a day of family visitors and the shrill laughter of highly buzzed youngsters bring an atmosphere of jollity to the usual muted reflective mood. This dramatically changes during meal times, when the clatter of cutlery and rattle of plates compete with the loud raucous conversations of the mostly female citizens, amplified by the ill-adjusted hearing aids and selective deafness of those who fail to turn them on, or just detest wearing them.

The lounge room is a sunny room that overlooks the sloping fields at the back of the centre. This room is usually filled with grandmothers watching or dozing in front of the television. Mum is quietly dozing in the corner, almost hidden within an over-padded armchair in a paisley blue pattern, and I approach her with quietened footsteps on the slate-tiled floor. “Hi Mum,” I say as I approach so she isn’t startled; ninety-one-year old ladies need no extra stress on their hearts. “Oh, Karen, I didn’t know you were coming today.” Poor Mum, if I had told her even this morning, she would never have remembered.

We decide to go out into the gardens today, the level terracotta pavement allows easy access for her wheelie walker and we slowly make our way to the terrace. Once seated, we talk about family and health, and I bring out the electronic photo album, full of the antics of the family in the preceding few weeks. “Is Danielle still in Thailand?” she says. As we sit next to the rockery under the dappled shade of the trees, I look at the massive blue hydrangea, clearly of ancient origin, and reply in the affirmative - she has only been there since January 2017, but short-term memory loss is a regular visitor in my mother’s mind. We will have this conversation again, and again.

The breeze, slightly insistent earlier in the morning, becomes an impetuous banshee and creates dust devils and litter bombs in the courtyard. Making an exodus into the calm of the air-conditioned dining room, we see the fire-place - which I’ve never seen lit, unfortunately - peeping from behind a gaggle of wheelie walkers, like a trolley traffic jam at Costco. We navigate around the tables and find her seat, the table is already set with utensils and crockery, and she takes her allotted space while I add her walker to the steadily growing ‘jam’. The muted noise increases - chairs scrape across the tiles, staff bring out the midday roast, tea and coffee is poured, bibs are fixed, food is cut up, late arrivals are seated, and conversations cross the tables, hit the walls and reverberate up and back from the ceiling to the ears of everyone. I need a mute button.

Time to go and we walk to the foyer - Mum loves to wave - and we look at the crafts they sell; made by the wonderfully gifted elderly in their well-equipped workrooms: A colourful wooden cot for a doll; letterboxes in brown, green and terracotta; a wooden train with tracks; crocheted baby clothes; handmade cards and stationery; even a dog’s house. I buy six cards with flower motifs, some raffle tickets for a fund-raiser, and chat to the friendly receptionist while I sign out of the centre. We say our goodbyes, and Mum waves until I get into the car and drive away; I can’t see her do this, but I know she always does and I smile. Wongaburra disappears in the rear-vision mirror as I turn the corner, the road ahead is clear of traffic and I leave Beaudesert.