Rise to every occasion

How did she get here?

Belinda at her Bakery Apprenticeship Graduation in 1991

There is no way the young, fresh-faced, enthusiastic, Apprentice Baker/Pastrycook, in 1990, could ever have imagined her life would turn out as it did.

Really, she was blissfully unaware – perhaps naïve – as to just how tough navigating life could be. Things were simple then and she was fortunate: a loving family, plenty of close friends, a healthy Church life and a bagful of rapidly developing baking skills. As she drove off to work while the rest of the city dreamed peacefully, it seemed the hardest things she had to deal with were hiding the occasional tray of burnt cornflake cookies from the boss, and whether she’d finish work in time to join her friends clubbing on Friday night.

She had one of those popular job-related play-on-words stickers on her Datsun which read “Bakers rise to every occasion”. The bigger and better her knowledge and skills got, the further she climbed in the industry; the more awards she won, the more people in high places noticed and praised her; the further she went, the more she earned. The sticker was accurate. Like the hundreds of loaves she baked daily to sustain people’s hunger, she believed that her own strengths and skills were the keys to sustaining hers and getting ahead in life. And life was looking good! Somewhere along the way, time and the need for God got smaller and she began to rely less on him and more on herself.

It takes the right balance of ingredients and a specific environment for bread dough to rise. One missed step, one incorrectly weighed item, or one knock as it is rising, can compromise an entire batch, leaving nothing but a lump of useless dough that has no chance of being made into something edible. Fast forward several decades. At first glance, the woman I see looks something like that apprentice, but the longer I stare at her, the less obvious that resemblance becomes. Life did get more complicated – and a whole lot harder. A sudden loss of career, two years of severe peri-natal anxiety and depression, the breakdown of her marriage after 21 years, unexpected major spine surgery, the loss of loved ones, and ongoing mental health presented challenges.

The face I see before me now is etched with lines, marked by permanent creases and the mischievous spark that once flickered in her hazel-green eyes is not burning quite as brightly these days. But, in spite of the countless challenges, sadness and hard times, she seems wiser and more at peace.

How did I get here?

A song by the band Powderfinger states, “These days turned out nothing like I had planned”. As I turn away from my mirror and return to the mountain of paperwork needed to finalise divorce, those words are bang-on. And yet, these days haven’t turned out too badly. The loss of career in the baking industry led to time out to bring a beautiful child into the world, a new degree, a new career direction and a deeper, richer relationship with God.

My ongoing mental health challenges have developed into strengths and skills that, combined with my adult education degree and other mental health qualifications, God has been able to utilise to support people who are struggling with their own mental health challenges – for his glory, not mine. I’ve been blessed to show his love to others through support work and in the privileged position I now hold, supporting the Community Mental Health sector and drawing from my lived experience to advocate for systemic change and improvement that upholds human rights, focusses on people feeling safe when they seek support, and puts people at the centre of their care and decision-making, not the system. I have the most spectacular, kind-hearted, almost 17-year-old son who truly is a gift from God. My ex-husband and I remain friendly and amicable, and we co-parent our son with love and respect for each other. I’ve been able to purchase my own home and plan for my retirement. My supportive, faithful parents, who taught me about God’s love for me from such a young age, are still with me and I enjoy hanging out with my brother, whose faith also remains strong despite his own challenges over the years.

I got here by realising it is not my own strength that gets me through. It is the strength offered to me by the One who created me. The One who created this earth on which I live but who designed the world to look very, very different from the one I’ve been born into. The One who knew my life would be tough, that there would be times I’d wonder if the world would be better off without me in it, but who assures me through my favourite verse, this is not what he would want for me. For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. (Jeremiah 29:11). He also declares, I am the Bread of life. (John 6:35). It’s only through trusting him to provide for me, to give me my daily bread, that I can rise to every occasion. I don’t always rise elegantly, mind you. Often, I’ll be kicking and screaming. But these days I do look for him and I do follow … and he is patiently waiting with an outstretched hand every time.

About the Author

Belinda Brown

Belinda is the Program Manager for the Mental Health Coalition of SA’s Lived Experience Workforce Program. Since 2006, her lived experience and expertise, with plenty of guidance from God, have been invaluable in the development of SA’s first Mental Health Peer Work training programs and national qualification, and contribute to better support for people experiencing mental health challenges. Belinda loves being a Mum, donning the lycra and cycling, exercising her creativity and spending time with those she loves. She never bakes bread!

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