Welcome to A Quiet Life everyone. Today my guest is Libby Todd, and I thought I knew nothing about, well I do no nothing about Libby so I’m really looking forward to interviewing her. But I actually found out that she knows my Poppy and Nanny from way back when Poppy who is Eric Phillips was a minister at Cygnet. And Nanny who is Doris—
Mrs Phillips, taught me piano.
Yay! She taught me piano too. So we have that in common. I was probably a much worse student than you.
So Libby and Kelvin have just recently moved down here from Launceston, 14 months, so that’s very recent. And they have two grown up girls and two absolutely gorgeous-sounding grandchildren.
They’ve got a daughter each.
And then I said to Libby, I’m going to stop talking to you now, I’m going to press record, and we’re going to get the rest of the interview recorded.
Now I take my valium.
So we always start with, how did you become a Christian?
I grew up in a church-going family. Stalwarts of the Anglican church at St Mark’s Cygnet. And I can say that I’ve always known God in my life. I just have known. And yet I was very frightened of God for a long time. We did all the usual things, Sunday school and church and all the rest of it. And I was a good girl.
We moved to Blackmans Bay when I was 15 and Mum and Dad started going to St Clements church. And St Clements was going through the charismatic revival at the time and Mum and Dad got caught up in it and they went all funny and freaky and I couldn’t cope.
So I ran away. I went the opposite direction. And I moved, literally, to Launceston in that time and I did my own thing. But I just knew that God was there, tapping on my shoulder.
And it wasn’t until I had Alex, our first daughter, that I just started questioning the meaning of life and all that. And for the first time I understood what love was. Love without wanting a return, necessarily.
And the tapping on the shoulder persisted to the effect that I took myself off to St Aidans church. Mum and Dad, when I moved to Launceston, said, ‘If you ever want to go to a church, go to St Aidans church because they’re just like St Clements.’ Well that was the last thing I wanted to do. In the end I went back and Jesus got me good and proper, and that was that.
So that was 1985.
And did your husband come to the Lord after that?
After that. He got dragged along to meet these strange people at St Aidans church, who were very, very nice. And they became our family, really. And then he started going to a home group, and gently he will say that they just loved him into the kingdom. And it didn’t take too long. Six months, twelve months, something like that. That’s that.
Can I ask, are your daughters Christians?
No. They are not practising. They know the power of God in their lives. They know very well. But they’re not walking with God now.
That’s alright. We just keep praying, don’t we?
So what did you do for a job?
I’m a nurse. I’m retired now, I’ve been retired about two years. But once a nurse, always a nurse it seems. I went nursing, did it the old-fashioned way. Trained down here at the Royal Hobart Hospital.
Were you a particular kind of nurse?
I’ve done a lot of everything. I’m a bit of a flitter, I like to try, sample new things. I’ve had a lot of roles in my nursing career. The most recent, though, was as a manager in the palliative care service in Launceston. And that’s where I found my home. With palliative care.
I arrived there.
It’s like all my life, all my experiences, all my faith, culminated in this experience with palliative care. It was hard to leave but I knew it was the close of a season when I did leave.
What drew you to it? I can see what you’re saying that you felt like everything pointed you to that point, but what was it about dying people?
Because in dying, we start to understand what living is about. And some of the most honest experiences I’ve had in caring for other people have been with people who are faced with terminality.
And you know, that’s when you can get real with people. I’m not one for small talk. I’m not one for pitty-pattying around the edges. I tend to dive in deep. And that gave me the opportunity to talk about things that were of value and had meaning.
And professionally I could do so much to alleviate their distress and they taught me a lot about living as well.
So that’s what it was.
I had a conversation with Sean in a previous podcast where he talks about being a chaplain in that situation. Not necessarily in palliative care but how he had to be careful about when he brought his faith to bear and when he didn’t. Did you have a similar situation?
Yeah, you couldn’t really be overt unless you were invited to. In which case, look out! You’re in! But you could talk about hope, and you could talk about meaning. And you could refer to what you put your own hope and faith in. But you had to be very, very careful.
Because one of the easiest things to do, I learned, and I used to tell all my juniors this one, was it was very easy to trespass on what is a treasured experience for people as they approach the end of their life. Very easy to trespass and trample all over. So you’ve got to be careful.
And the other thing too, I’ve been with so many people as they drew their last breath, and you just pray, and you pray, and you trust that (and I have to apply this to my own children) Jesus loves them far more than I will ever be able to understand. And what he’s doing in their last moments I will never know and I trust that as I take that person to him, he will do what he’s planning to do.
Do you have a story that stands out to you from that time?
Now you’ve put me on the mat.
Yeah, I haven’t given any warning.
Not a particular one. I’ve got bits of many. I just grew so close to a couple of people. Yeah, I suppose there’s one.
I did a few roles in the palliative care business. I did the clinical role for a few years and then I went away and did some other things, and I came back as a manager. The management role is a whole other thing, and God taught me so much in that.
But the clinical role, I remember a client (we call them clients in the community) whose wife was a Christian, but he wasn’t. In fact, he was, ‘Bah humbug’.
And he was really quite brusque and everything with her in her faith. But she was just steadfast. And through our mutual prayer for the situation, I grew so close to him and to them. And he and she became so close. It wasn’t an easy death. I don’t recall that he professed any great conversion, but I do believe that he accepted the reality of Jesus. I think he kind of gave up the fight against Jesus and probably would give him a go. Although it was too late for him at that point to articulate that. But you just got the feeling that the barrier had broken.
And I stayed friends with that wife for many years afterwards.
I’m thinking about that with the wives and family of people who have passed away, it’s just such a deep time that you’d have to make deep connections?
Yes, you do. And yet, you can’t take them all on board. You can’t — it’s taken me a lifetime to learn that. You can’t take it in. So some remain with you, others you forget.
Which is a good thing because you can’t take all of that experience, that suffering, that pain. You can’t even take all those good times. So that’s just the way it was for me.
And then being in the more management position, you’d be helping other nurses deal with all of that, and teaching them all that as well?
Yeah well that’s exactly right. I fell into a situation where I worked with a team that I’d been a clinical nurse in. It was a brilliant team, brilliant people. I loved them like a hen loves its chooks. But it was a case of departmental bullying and harassment and I got the job of spearheading the change and bringing it to the light.
And others had tried and hadn’t succeeded. And it was only because God was with me, and had me there for that appointed time, and it was the most amazing supernatural experience because it was like I was coated in something. To just keep me able to move through the muck that was around.
I was able to really influence things.
And after that it was, ‘OK that’s enough. Down tools. You can walk away now.’
Which I regret because I would have liked to have stayed on, but my job was done and I just knew it. So I’ve gone off into this land. A new land.
So this is the reason that I wanted to talk to Libby because we have been talking about, we have a thing at church called Love Kingborough where we’re trying to reach out to our community and share with people. And Libby, you brought up about using art as that sort of ministry. So when did you start art?
I used to win prizes at school etc. I always knew I could draw. I didn’t do anything with it until, it was with my clinical experience with palliative care. And it gets to you, as it would, it can be a bit depressing. And everybody has their way of coping. And rather than hit the bottle, the first thing I did was weed obsessively.
I just wanted to make things right, so I attacked a few patches of garden and weeded. The next thing, I can’t explain it without twiddling my fingers because I felt charges of colour. This sounds weird. But I felt like my fingers were charged with colour, and I had to play with colour. I didn’t know what that was about.
I’d happened to come across some adult-ed classes. This is ten years ago now. In water colour painting. And I thought, ‘I could get messy’ so I went, and I found I could do it. And that just opened a whole new life for me.
And I haven’t stopped painting since.
So that was just my little hobby. That need to play with colour became my therapy when I was doing the clinical stuff.
When I came into the management with palliative care and things were really hard some days, my outlet was to come home, and somebody had given me one of the modern colouring in books. Which I obsessively collected. I collected every pencil known to man and whatever. And I got a pile of colouring books a mountain high.
And Kelvin, my husband, knew that when I came in the door of a night I would go down to my studio in the spare room, I’d take just a little glass of sherry, and I’d do my colouring for an hour. And whilst I was doing that, playing with colour, all the dark stuff in my head was finding its level. And it was working its way out. After about an hour of that time I could come out and reasonably have a conversation. And that was what got me through.
Did you listen to music while you were doing that?
And then when I finished work, no, through various associations I made at work were with some social working friends of mine. And they were running sessions for women who were going through a hard time. And one of them asked me to go along and could I do something? Knowing I was painting. I’d painted her a picture, that’s right, and she said, ‘Oh could you teach me how to do that?’ Anyway, so we got together, and since leaving work, I’ve actually, with this friend, been able to run a couple of workshops for women, ostensibly.
And all it is, is about, I suppose you’d call it mindfulness, except you’re doing something. Mindfulness is not, for me, about lying down and staring into space. It’s doing something but with another part of your brain. And whilst you’re doing that, things are achieving a level in your head.
And the other thing is, some people were quite creative about what they did. And they were just so proud of themselves that they could actually do something on a canvas and they could hang it on their wall and say, ‘I did that. I’m OK.’
Do you find that you have to battle against perfectionism?
Yeah a little bit, but I’m very familiar with that. Going back 61 years of that. I don’t think I’ll ever get there but there are different techniques that you can utilise to do that.
And I would love to do a course in art therapy, to do it formally, but I think I might have left my run a bit too late. There’s not a lot you can do from Tassie without doing it by distance, and it costs so much too. So I think I’ll just potter around and do my own thing. And look for opportunities.
So in terms of Love Kingborough, I’d love to facilitate something like that. I’m just looking for the space to do it.
So you’ve found that when you were working with people using art that it was a healing time for them as well?
That’s right. It was just taking them, just for the hour or two that they were doing it. Taking them out of themselves. Just reorienting themselves.
Doing it in a group also gave peer support. A couple of workshops I’ve run they’ve also started talking about their problems, and it’s what they can do for one another. In that time. I didn’t do much I just threw canvas and paint down for them and sort of guided them in some exercises.
It’s what they do together. Which is what I find women do anyway, as a rule. And they found another aspect to their life that they didn’t have before, and that they could look back on when things were getting rough, as one told me. And say, ‘Hang on, I can do that, I’m OK.’
So that to me is healing.
And it’s also reflecting, because as a facilitator, I can be encouraging them. I can be, not talking about God necessarily, but I can be talking about the creator, that gave them their creativity, whatever that may look like. And I can talk about my belief in the creator. And I can help open their eyes to see creation, and that’s going back to palliative care days as again too.
I could walk into a situation, or a nurse could walk into that situation, and with the right skill and toolbox and all the rest of it, reorient that person’s framework to look, not on the dying, but on the living. And look at all the little things within that, that makes quality of life. And just gives them a little bit to hang on to.
When do you feel close to God? Is it when you’re drawing that you feel close to God?
No, I’m usually frustrated because I’m a perfectionist and I’m not perfect. No, it’s when I’m walking on the beach, or sitting staring out the window at the mountain in the morning. It’s nature, it’s His creativity, which is boundless.
I’m just having a thought, I probably shouldn’t bring this up in the middle of an interview, but so many people have said that in nature is where they feel closest to God, and I just wonder how that affects people in the big cities?
Yeah, I’ve got that too. But even in the big cities there is a creativity, as you well know. You’ve got to look a bit harder for it I think.
It doesn’t beat you over the head like it does when we’re walking on the beach.
What’s one thing about God or Christianity that you wish everyone knew?
Freedom. You don’t have to do things the way the world dictates.
I had this very strange image of what it meant to be a Christian woman when I was a teenager, based on absolutely nothing. And that’s what I was afraid of. And instead, when I did say yes to Jesus, everything just opened up. And I realised that that wasn’t a reality at all. That had been a big fat lie. And I found, well I’m still finding who I am. Find yourself, different versions of yourself in different seasons.
That’s the biggest thing. That freedom.
I got myself a tattoo a couple of years ago. There on my wrist. And that little bird with a paintbrush in its beak symbolises creative freedom to me. Birds equal freedom, and to be able to soar above. And of course the paintbrush is self-illustrative.
My daughter dared me, so I did it. We got one together.
That’s really great.
And I felt free to do it, that’s the thing. It doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter. God loves me, warts and all. I’m not always brilliant at proclaiming that on a day-to-day basis. I have my moments.
What does day-to-day Christian life look like for you now?
That’s changing. Probably just the older I get, the wiser I get sometimes. And also, the less you can do.
I’m an activist. I’ve got to be doing something all the time. So to me, the old adage, ‘bloom where you’re planted’ comes to mind, I suppose. Whatever you’re called to do, wherever you are. Be that professional life, relationships, whatever, you do it as Jesus would want you to do, would do.
I’m not saying I’ve got all this right. And there are some days that are quiet and I get frustrated because, ‘I’m not doing anything for you Lord.’ But other days I’ll accept the fact that that’s OK because I need one of those quiet ones. I’m an introvert by nature, I need more quiet ones the older I get.
And that’s OK because really God can do whatever he wants to do without me. He doesn’t need me. So whatever you do as a Christian, wherever you are, you just do it, mindful that he loves you. Breathe him in; breathe him out. And try to be a blessing to whatever you’re in.
That’s lovely. Well, thank you very much for sharing.
That’s OK. That’s it? It wasn’t too hard.
I keep telling people.
It’s been really awesome, I think we’ve got things to think about from what you’ve said. So thank you for sharing.
Thank you, Ruth for asking.