Courage, Dear Heart – Jane’s Story
About 5 years ago I started an NGO, as you do when your marriage is falling apart and your heart is breaking.
A friend in rural Fiji needed help sending her daughter to school, and before too long, a grassroots program was born supporting Girls to overcome barriers to education. My friend became the Fiji Coordinator with her local contacts and networks and I watched her get busy making a difference. I pulled a team together and we established ‘a Girl & her world’ in Australia as a registered charity and started fundraising. We began with five Girls and now serve 65. It takes my breath away that Girls who would have been married at 14 are now finishing their final year of senior school, the first women in their families to do so.
My family and I had lived in Fiji for three years from 2004. I had worked for the Fiji Red Cross, my introduction to the world of international development. With a background as a Nutritionist, I started a Masters in International Health while we were there and loved every hot, humid minute. I had found my thing. Four years after we returned from Fiji, when I was at my lowest point, I was given the gift of opening myself outward. It helped me heal as I felt like my world was falling apart. I gained a community, an extended family and the richness of being part of something life changing for ‘our’ Girls and their families.
In the midst of it all my husband and I separated and got back together, we went to counseling. It felt like moving in slow motion or underwater. Lights were too bright, noises too loud. I didn’t know which way was up. I howled and grieved. I learnt a lot about myself during this time – my need for rescuing, nurture and the security of a Disney like picket fence with the family and home wrapped up in a neat bow. I also learnt that this was too much pressure for any man and my man came with his own needs and baggage; we couldn’t quite meet in the middle, though we tried.
After a while and not without effort, together again after eight months apart, we found that we had become like friends catching up for coffee, enjoying conversations around the kids or our jobs, but not connecting and finding each other at the heart level.
So where I had thought I needed rescuing, I learnt to pull myself up. Where I wanted to be taken care of, I found ways to take care of and nurture myself, I got massages and bought my own flowers. I loved watching the stories of change from Fiji, I started working in an agency that partners with overseas communities, this work makes me come alive, and my world opened up even more. I made plans to look after myself.
My husband and I had healed from our grief of five years ago, but we had healed as different people and we realised we wanted different things from life. Earlier this year we parted as friends and while there was sadness we know we’ve done the right thing. We are still friends who catch up for coffee and he remains one of my people. We will always be family.
I told my story recently and someone lamented ‘Oh I wanted the happy ending!’ My response was that I did get my happy ending; it just looked different to what I thought it would.
I have learnt to be able to sit with the full breadth of human emotions and for them to coexist in my heart at the same time, in the same day and the same moment. I have learnt not to press my “easy buttons” too often, as Glennon Doyle Melton writes about in Love Warrior (highly recommended reading). My go-to easy buttons are food and red wine but I have learnt not to numb but to sit with pain and not to try and fix it. To feel it and see what it is teaching me.
I meditate, I walk in nature, I eat vegetables, I pray, I am honest with trusted friends who love me. I do yoga, I listen to the people I work with, where there is relentless poverty and trauma and hear about how they find strength and resilience.
Another thing I lost through this journey was the belief system of my youth. Not my connection to God, but the framework, rules and certainty I had grown up with and needed as a younger person to feel secure and safe. This led to a different kind of unraveling. Previously held labels and structures no longer define me and while this journey has been about freedom, at times it has left me gasping for air. But in the same way I have learnt to live with pain, I am now comfortable with ambiguity. I no longer need to be right.
We are made to stretch, we are agile and adaptable and I have found my groove, I am now living in what I can only describe as a state of grace. Brave and broken hearted.
The word crisis means to sift. I have and continue to shake out what no longer serves me.
I feel happy, I feel free. I live with gratitude that I have found and am finding my unique contribution to the world and draw immense satisfaction and joy from that. I am also learning when too much of a good thing can be harmful and what my place of balance is. Anxiety and inadequacy can sometimes also find their way in but I have learnt not to be overwhelmed by them. They visit much less frequently now.
In ‘Voyage of the Dawn Treader’, master storyteller C.S Lewis writes of a great storm and of Lucy, a young Girl steering a ship into the rising of her darkest fears. Aslan, or God, in this story, whispers to her through the strong winds ‘Courage, dear heart’ – She feels His voice give her strength and she steels her resolve to face the storm and not retreat.
Face your storm, feel it, open yourself outward, do not retreat…Courage, dear heart.