Offering grace

No man or woman is an island, so we exist in community to support each other. It is important then that communities or neighbourhoods have a way for getting to know each and every member of that community. How many members of your neighbourhood do you know? How well do you know them?

I’ve been a member of your community for 20 years. WHO AM I?

“I’ve lived in Mullumbimby (Mullum) for 20 years. When I was five years old I realised with horror that some people could not afford to eat regularly. Since then, i've been caring about those who live on the fringes of society. I lived in Townsville for many years and had the first of my four daughters there. While living there I began a Street Kids Program called Townsville & Area Street Kids. 92 street kids came through the program. It was grass roots and rough, but I loved it, as it was an expression of myself.

I spent most of my 20 years in Mullum living in the hills in my beloved tipi, connected to the land and people. It was through circumstance, but I embraced it and made it a choice for the simplicity of life it offered. It was also in Mullum, in my tipi, that I raised two more daughters. In 2012, I gathered a team together and started a charity - The Grace Space. We offered support for people living on the fringes, to help them move through life more easily. We wanted them to feel loved, to experience kindness, generosity, and safety. They received friendship, practical support, bedding and food. The fire-pit nights on Fridays were always fun. All that we gave was given with no agenda but love. After four years I had to give it up, as my health was rapidly going downhill. In January 2000, I received a near fatal snakebite. I suffered complications following the fourth dose of anti-venom, which also nearly killed me. Sadly, I have now been left with two supposedly incurable and degenerative autoimmune diseases.

As a child, I did not have the average Australian upbringing. I was raised into a fundamental Christian cult. Despite being in the cult, at the age of 2, while sitting on the birthday throne in the church, I had a revelation of Love – perhaps as a gift, a strengthening, for the life I would have. It spurred me to work very hard on myself to become all those things we aspire to be: kind, patient, generous, compassionate, loving. I believed that by being all those things I couldn't go wrong and my life would progress smoothly. Things did not even go smoothly in the church. I was different, and all the inner qualities I was cultivating and showing, was overshadowed by my being outwardly different. I was asked to leave 7 churches and the last one froze me out. Despite all this, and the fluctuations in my life and circumstances, I stayed heavily involved in the cult. The indoctrination was almost perfect. When I turned 53, I finally saw things for what they were and walked away, leaving it all behind in 30 seconds.

The cult and its way of life left me with two mental health labels of Dissociative Identity Disorder and Bipolar II and also really lacking in 'normal' life skills. I’m just odd I guess. My core sense of identity was devastated and suppressed. This was necessary to keep members loyal and dependent on the religion. I admit, the decisions we mine, but then again, I’m not sure I knew exactly what I was doing. I’m 59 now, and can say, it stole my life. I could never fit in, but I turned myself inside out trying to fit-in rather than go to a hell I no longer believe in. The hell I’ve experienced comes from having denied so much of my own existence and the life that was before me to live.

On the whole, I manage my mental health very well and without medication. I have come to know myself well. I was blessed with a brilliant therapist in Mullum for four years, Clency Bernard - and we just 'clicked'. Due to the effects of the snakebite, and the complications that followed, I became too sick to care for myself, even with a carer and so in April 2018 I moved to Townsville to live with my eldest daughter until I can get onto the NDIS support scheme. I’m determined to heal myself from this 'incurable and degenerative' disease because the only alternative that is attractive to me is euthanasia. So after a life of giving, I actually find myself very isolated up here with a daughter who is struggling to cope herself. I'm so sad, lonely and sick. I can’t help but feel ripped off in life.

When my two daughters living with me moved out on their own, the feeling of isolation kicked in. I was still living in Mullum at the time. Although I had people around me in the community and at work, I ate alone most nights. With my daughters gone, I really missed eating with others. As my health went down, I found it harder to cook, especially in a tipi. For someone living alone, the evenings can be long. I counteracted that by going to bed when the sun went down. I had no electricity anyway, so it was easy to do. There were many, many nights when I would have almost given my right arm to share food with other people, or even one other person. People perhaps saw me as super-independent and perhaps I am to my own detriment. To share food with people however, is an intimacy and joyful time that I don't experience often. For that reason Table360 sounds fantastic. I'm so excited about anything that brings people together, but especially something that meets the needs of people who for whatever reason, get overlooked in the daily life of others. There might be many ways to address the issue, but from my experience with the Grace Space and the Neighbourhood Centre, I agree that it is solved best over food.

My Mullum community over the years have been so wonderfully supportive and kind and so have all my (25) good friends. I was working at the neighbourhood centre in Mullum for a couple of years and absolutely loved it. Due to my illness I became too unwell to work. I miss all that, and I miss my friends. I miss Mullum. However, it is impossible for me to move back just yet. My tipi is in storage waiting for me. I hope I can return to Mullum. Hopefully by then I’ll arrive to find a village.

Here is a recipe I would contribute to a village meal:

In a large stainless stock pot, layer thick chunks of eggplant, thick slices of large tasty tomatoes, tons of garlic cloves, zucchini’s cut into 4 or 5 chunks, a bag of pickling onions or ordinary onions cut into 1/4's, 2 or 3 sweet capsicums cut into 8 chunks, 1/2 cup cold pressed olive oil, salt and pepper. Everything should be layered except the oil. Pour oil over the vegetables and put on the stove on low. It should be cooked on low for about an hour or until it is perfect. The longer it stays in the fridge the more delicious it is!


Who Am I?