Saying Goodbye

Could this be the most hideous word in the English language? Could any other word convey such deep levels of sadness?

I always think there are so many things I want to say when I’m saying goodbye. I should know. I’ve moved over 30 times in my life and at least half a dozen of those have involved significant geographical dislocation. I want to say how much that person has meant to me. I want to let them know just how thankful I am to God and to them for their kindness and their friendship. I want to say how surprised I was that we became such good friends, and how now I can’t imagine life without them.

I have always believed that it is important to actually utter the word ‘goodbye’ when someone is leaving. Not because the friendship is ending. Not because you’ll never see someone again. Not because you don’t care about them anymore. No. It’s because no matter your intention, things will not be the same, and saying ‘see you later’ implies (even subconsciously) that the relationship is not changing. It’s important to recognise the change.

As someone who has moved so much, I know this. And I try to put it into practice. But in the end, the only thing I end up saying is, ‘I don’t know what else to say, other than I’ll miss you’, usually blurted out between uncontrollable tears.

In the moment of saying goodbye, I’m not thinking about logic or being reasonable. I’m thinking about the pain. And it feels like a piece of me is being removed. It’s precise, like a surgeon is using a sharp scalpel to remove a Sarah-sized piece of me. I can’t fight it. I can’t be reasonable. And in reality, I don’t want to. I’m both excited about her new adventure, and devastated at the forthcoming change in our friendship.

My grief and sadness overpowers any other desire to explain just how much this friend means to me. Just how much I have loved being friends with her. Just how much God surprised me with her friendship. The weird thing is, I think she knows. I think she feels it too. She feels the thankfulness. The depth of the friendship. She knows how much it’s going to hurt.

So we cry. We do not need to speak. Together we grieve this loss. This change. It shows me the strength of our friendship that even now, we can sit and cry together, exchanging knowing looks about how much we will miss each other.

This is the pain of being human.

And today? Today I spend the day with a lump in my throat, on the edge of tears, as I process the grief of a best friend leaving. If you see me, please don’t ask me how I am.

Home.

There are a million tiny thoughts circling around the periphery of my mind. I cannot decide which one to grasp hold of. It could be the dreaded farewell of one of my best friends coming up on Sunday. It could be that today I moved out of college permanently. It could be the uncertainty of future friendships. It could be any of the thousand little tasks to be done before Monday. It could be that this time next week I will be in Paris.

They sit there, threatening to jump into my consciousness and overwhelm me with grief or excitement or fear or busyness. Their presence destroys me a little. Partly because I know they are there. Partly because I don’t know what to do with them except wait.

In the meantime, I sit on the worlds most comfortable couch, enjoying the view of a wild green garden, the sound of birds playing in the bird bath, and my mums gluten free, dairy free, fructose free, but curiously not flavour free tabbouleh.

Ah, home. I like it here.

Lost

lost /lɒst/
adjective
1. unable to find one’s way; not knowing one’s whereabouts.

I am not a planner. In fact, I might be the antithesis of a planner. It has been said by certain members of my family that I ‘tend to just fall into things’, and I have often declared that I am on the ‘no plan’ plan. I am not the proud owner of a 5-year plan, have no idea where I’ll be living or working next year. It’ll work itself out. I like the flexibility of having no plan. I like the mystery. I love the surprise. I love the adventure. It’s how I roll.

I concede that it is near impossible to make no plans at all. But I’ll tell you this: the bigger the plan, the greater potential to be disappointed.

I made a plan. It didn’t come through. And now I feel lost. A little like I’m floating in a little wooden boat in the middle of the ocean. Directionless. Confused. Disappointed. Lost. It’s easy to think that I shouldn’t have tried to plan. I don’t know how to do it properly. It’s not the way I’ve lived the last 10 years. Why would I alter the ‘no plan’ plan?

I’m lost. Lost in the sea of my own mind. Lost in a world of possibility. Lost in a world of changing relationships, changing homes, and changing environments. Lost in the land of confusion. I cannot see a way out. I don’t know what to do, where to go, or how to even begin the process of thinking about it.

What happens now? Do I trust God and keep putting one foot in front of the other? Well. I think so. It’s much easier said than done, especially when I have no idea where my feet are taking me. It’s hard because I have no plan, not even an idea that I fully understand. I don’t have a clear picture of the future. But even in this fog, God is still trustworthy. Trusting Him is hard right now. But I think that’s the nature of trust. If it was easy, or there was some kind of guarantee, then it wouldn’t be trust.

Would it?

The steadfast love of the Lord

I read Psalm 107 this morning. Two things struck me.

First, this phrase is repeated four times:

‘Let them thank the LORD for his steadfast love,
for his wondrous works to the children of man!’

It comes after a report of some kind of human distress, be it being lost in a desert, being imprisoned, being sinful and hungry, or being caught in a storm at sea. In each situation the people in question suffer in their respective conditions until they can bear it no longer and then, only then, do they cry out to God. And He acts. He saves them from their distress. It makes me wonder why they didn’t cry out earlier. It makes me wonder why I don’t.

Second, the very last verse is this:

‘Whoever is wise, let him attend these things;
let them consider the steadfast love of the Lord’.

There are so many ways that God has lavished his love on us. I see this in the blue sky, the bright sunshine, the spring breeze, the jacaranda trees, my beautiful friends and family, and the unbelievable freedom I enjoy.

I am spending today considering the steadfast love of the Lord. And I am thankful.

No? No?! What do you mean no?!

I had dinner with my family last week, and as I was talking to my sister in law, she mentioned that my niece has learned to shake her head to indicate how much she doesn’t want to do something. She’s only 9 months old and she can already say ‘no’. But what is more curious to me is that when my niece does this, my brother says, ‘No? No?! What do you mean no?!’ I witnessed it, and it’s pretty funny.

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What surprises me is that I do the same thing with kids whenever I babysit or teach kids church. Now is that nature or nurture?!

When I was a kid, I don’t remember the word ‘no’ factoring into my life very much. This is hardly to say that my parents never disciplined us, but more to say that I was encouraged to imagine possibilities and not let silly old reality get in the way. I did attend a Montessori School in my early years and I’m certain that this is at least partly a product of that time too. I’m a classic Montessori child. My dreams about the future are limited only by my imagination. My creativity is limited by the same. There’s something beautiful in this. Opportunities are limitless. In some ways I have loved growing up in a home marked by such freedoms.

But reality isn’t like that. In reality I am limited by more than my imagination. Physically, my body needs sleep. Mentally, my mind needs time to switch off. This is most often accomplished by staring at the wall. Emotionally, I need deep friendships and time away from those friendships. It is simply not possible for me to do everything I’d like to. This is perhaps, one of the most regrettable facts ever.

Either way, be it by my own imagination or by reality, I am limited.

I have always been both puzzled and comforted by this verse in Paul’s letter to the Ephesian Church:

Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.

He is not limited by a weak body as I am. He does not need time out from people as I do. He is not even limited by his imagination, as I am. I have such an extreme imagination that it seems weird to me that God could do more than what I can dream up. But he can not only do more, he can do immeasurably more. My mind boggles.

God is even more Montessori than I am!

I lost myself, and found someone better

My plane landed in Sydney on the 24th of January 2010. Three days later I moved all my worldly possessions into the room at Moore Theological College that I have now occupied for almost 4 years. Four days after that I spent my first night here. Then class started.

For the 13 months previous to this I had lived Mexico City. I lived with a charming Mexican family in one of the more pleasant parts of that megacity. When I was 24 I decided that I wanted to do one year of my MTS Apprenticeship overseas. I knew some people there, they invited me to train with them, I said yes, bought a plane ticket, and was on a plane within 7 months. I spent the year working with Compañerismo Estudiantil (it’s the AFES equivalent in Mexico).

But I digress.

Looking North West over Mexico City

Living in a megacity is a bit like living between the emergency department of a hospital and a rave dance party. All day and all night are marked by sirens, people shouting, dogs barking, children yelling, and noisy buses. All day. All night. It is a huge city, and it never sleeps. This, mixed with worsening digestive problems, produced in me a highly strung, intensely stressed personality. I didn’t know any of this until I got back to Australia and slept at my parents house. It was so quiet. I felt like I could breathe. It took me a long time to unwind all that pent up stress.

But this was the least of my problems.

As I was reunited with friends and family, I felt both there and not there. My body was there, but something was missing. And it wasn’t just jet lag. That bit of me never came home. The Tess that I knew was somehow no longer with me. This perplexed me no end. Australia is my home. Sydney is where I grew up. I expected to be comfortable here. Instead, everything felt foreign. I expected to know what language to speak. Instead, I would go to say something and it would come out in Spanish. I expected myself to be able to relate to people. Instead, I found myself wondering why people were being so cruel to me. I’d never had these problems before. I’m not socially awkward, I am pretty good at making friends, and usually love being in new places with new people. Not anymore. Now, the list of things I no longer knew how to do was endless. And extremely disconcerting.

I had expected to be able to slot back into my lovely Australian life as I had left it 13 months before. Nothing could be further from the truth. Not only did I not know how to slot back in, as I watched others live their lives I wasn’t entirely certain that I wanted to. It didn’t look as appealing as it used to. I knew that I had lived like that for many years, but I wasn’t certain anymore. All I had was zillions of questions. And no answers. Again, disconcerting.

I had never consciously decided to live the way I had before going overseas, it was just the way it happened. I adopted my familial ways of doing the washing up. I emulated the fashion and music tastes of my friends. I wanted to fit in, after all. I travelled, because that’s what you do in your early 20s. I went to uni, because that’s what you do when you finish school. I never questioned any of this. I never asked why we do things the way we do. I just copied. I grew into well-worn patterns that had been trodden by many people before me. What could be so wrong with that?

Because I had travelled, I knew that moving to Mexico would mean learning a whole new way of living. I had prepared myself to consciously think about new ways of both verbal and non-verbal communication, of thinking, of shopping, even of doing the washing up. A thousand things, some big, some little, needed to be learned. It was fun, for the first two months. Then terrible for two months. And then, it just was. What never struck me was that I already had learned ways of doing these things in Australia, it just hadn’t been conscious. So when I got back, everything came crashing down. I had to learn everything. Again. Like a child. Every single moment was plagued by this learning, but was mirrored by my internal dialogue which persisted with the phrase: ‘you should know this’. I came to know this constant companion as reverse culture shock.

I watched as endless nameless faces paraded before me asking what I did before college, what living in Mexico was like, what I hoped to do afterwards, and then paid me out for all those things. Confusion was the order of the day. I cried a lot. A LOT. I skipped most of my Greek classes that year because I was having enough trouble figuring out whether to speak English or Spanish. I didn’t need to add another language into the mix. I would sit in the sun and quietly cry behind dark sunglasses.

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I was focusing on surviving. Anything more than that was a bonus. At almost every point I questioned why I was here. Most of the time I didn’t even want to be here. I struggled through essays and exams and classes. I almost dropped out once or twice. I had always planned to stay for three years but on a spur of the moment decision I had enrolled in the one year diploma. I vacillated between staying and leaving maybe half a dozen times that year.

My whole life had been ripped apart. I didn’t know who I was. I didn’t know how to live here. I didn’t know how to relate to people. It was a total disaster.

Through the tears and exhaustion, I knew something had to be done. But what? How was I going to put a life together? And would I be happy to live it? Only questions. No answers.

From pretty early on I knew I didn’t simply want to emulate those around me. There had to be another way. I couldn’t really put my finger on why I thought this, but I was certain. Whenever I caved, my heart and mind would chime in, asking, ‘Why are you doing this? Do you really like those jeans? Or do you just like them because she thinks they look good on you? What do you like/want/think?’ It was a question that I didn’t know the answer to. And it happened over and over again. It was exhausting.

So I embarked on a journey of self-discovery. I would open iTunes and look through music I’d never heard of until I found something I liked. I would wander down King St, Newtown and find some clothes that I liked on me. I needed to spend a lot of time with myself to get to know myself and my likes and dislikes. It was unpleasant. I was a total mess. I was no fun to be around. I did not enjoy my own company. All I wanted was to get out of my head, and here I was intentionally spending time with myself. Surely that is the definition of madness. Not only unpleasant, it was also really hard. I had been conditioned to know what I think only as I know what others think. What did I think? How would I even figure that out? It took a long time. And I’m not even finished yet.

There has been some beautiful fruit from this long and painful process. I am more sure of who I am than I was four years ago. I like electronic and rap music. I never knew that. I like having my books in colour order on my shelves. I never knew that. I like to write, and I certainly never knew that. I have opinions. That scares me, but it’s a bit fun to know what you think. I am creative. I think I knew that, but it has taken on a whole new level in the last few years. I am whimsical and dream up blanket forts. I love to be the date night enabler for my married-with-kids friends. The funny thing is that I would never describe myself as confident, but maybe for the first time in my life I have a sense of myself.

I’m certain that I would never have done this or ended up here had my life been not pulled apart by moving continents a couple of times. Why would I have messed with something that worked? But now that I can actually think about it, I am so grateful for the chance to discover the person that God made me to be. I’m not done, I’m sure I will keep finding out more stuff about me as time rolls on. I’m a little bit excited about that. Who will I be? I don’t know, but He does, and I actually can’t wait to find out.

For now, I like this Tess. I might even like her better than the old Tess.

me. happy.

moore college family holidays

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Three years ago we came here to Diamond Beach for the first time. It was as peaceful then as now (perhaps even more so – there was less development then). When I arrived on holidays I was not certain I would be staying for 2nd year at Moore College. By the time I left, I was decided. Though many pro/con lists had been made, after spending a week with these people I was certain that I wasn’t ready to not be friends with them. This was the deciding factor for me.

I’ve never really been one to keep going back to the same holiday destination year after year. With the limitless number of destinations it is odd to me to stop exploring and settle for familiarity. This is the third time we have come here. I expected myself to be bored, to want some new place to explore.

But there’s something about this place. I sit on the verandah and breathe in the blue green ocean. It feels like I am inhaling rest.

We have returned here for our final College Family Holiday before we graduate at the end of the year. In the blink of an eye four years have passed. I’m still not ready to leave them. I want to take each and every one of them with me.

In many ways this year has felt a lot like a long process of saying goodbye. Is started with the graduation of some dear friends last year. It is so precious to me to be able to spend this week with them. They each have a special place in my heart and while I know that this unique time is coming to an end, our friendships are not. They are simply teetering on the edge of the abyss of the future. How they will change I know not. Where God will take us I know not. I will miss them, this I know.

Diamond Beach. You have been the home of sweet memories. I shall miss you as I miss the people with whom I have shared these past four years.

The uneasy smell of Summer

I can smell something burning. The smoke-flavoured air wafts through my window providing a pungent reminder that Summer is on the way.

I grew up around campfires, they never worried me. I learnt how to build a fire and how to safely put one out. Fire safety was part of my upbringing. The smell of a campfire is soothing, it speaks of an escape from the world and an uncommon sense of calm.

It wasn’t long before that changed. In 1994, there were a series of very bad bush fires around Sydney. We were living in Lane Cove and were evacuated after some concern that the fire burning on the next ridge over could jump the valley. By 2001 we had moved to East Ryde. Another bad year for bush fires, we were almost evacuated because there were fires on all sides of our suburb. There’s only one road in and out so panic was pretty high. I remember walking home after being at school late and the sky was dark but lit up orange from all the fire. And again in East Ryde, last summer there was a fire the next street over from my parents place. Those big orange helicopters flew overhead dropping water onto it, trying to keep it away from houses.

But even all this is not my worst encounter with a bush fire.

When I was 11, my Mum, my brother, and one of his friends were camping on a property in Kangaroo Valley. The property ran from the road, down a big hill to the river. No real roads, just a few tracks to get in and out. You had to park at the top and walk in with all your stuff. About halfway down the hill was an old tin shed. It was open at the front looking down towards the river. There was a fireplace inside. One evening we had lit the fire (an essential part of camping) and were hanging out inside the shed. Someone heard something and peeked around the side of the shed to see if they could see anything, and we saw a bush fire racing down the hill towards us. Mum went into action yelling at us to get our shoes on quick smart and follow her. We left everything and ran. Making it around the fire, we got to the car and drove to a neighbours property to ring the fire brigade (there were no mobile phones in 1995). We basically outran a bush fire. The firemen came and put it out. They really did rescue us.

Bush fires make me anxious. Perhaps understandably, but anxious nonetheless. The smell seeps into my nose while I sleep, causing me to have frightful dreams about getting caught in a fire. The smell remind me of the fear of that night when I was 11. The smell reminds me of those who have been caught in bush fires and not been able to outrun them.

The Bible says,

The LORD your God is a consuming fire, a jealous God. Deut 4:24.

This verse has always been a bit intimidating for me. I have seen consuming fire, and it is scary.

One thing you learn about fires when you grow up spending time in the bush in Australia is that once a fire has burnt a patch of bush, it will not go back there. In other words, the safest place to be in a bush fire is where the fire has already been.

The same is true for God. He is a jealous God, and his anger is something to be feared. But it has been expended on the cross – Jesus willingly suffered the anger of God. For us that means that the safest, and really the only, place to hide from God’s anger is in the cross of Jesus Christ. Of an end to God’s anger for those who are found in Him, Jesus says,

“It is finished.” John 19:30.

And so it is.

An open letter to my Dad

Dear Dad,

I was 10 when my world fell apart. After dinner one night, you and Mum sat down with us and explained that you didn’t love each other anymore, and that you’d be separating. It didnt have anything to do with us. You assured us of your love for us. There was no yelling. Not even any tears as far as I can remember.

Before that, there wasn’t much you could do to get me offside. You used to go bush walking for days and days; I thought you were an adventurer and an explorer. You inspired me. You made me an ice cream cake for my 9th birthday and when I went to the bathroom during the party, you showed it to all my friends. I always hated you for that. We would pull up the carrots from the back garden together, pick mulberries together, go camping together. I loved you.

You moved out. We visited you in your new apartment, but it wasn’t my home. You bought me clothes and a toothbrush to keep there but they didn’t feel like mine. I never felt comfortable there. I don’t think you intended it, but the distance grew.

You moved in with Jan what felt like pretty soon after you split with Mum. It’s hard for a child to navigate the step-parent situation. You expected a lot of us. The whole thing was made a lot easier by the fact that Jan never tried to be our mother. She was always adamant that that role was already taken. I’ll always be thankful for that.

That place didn’t feel like home either. You had another life, one that I didn’t fit in to. I felt like I needed to be a grown up. So I grew up. I could only think about this in terms of invisibility. If I wasn’t taking up space, or making a mess, or making noise, then I’d be welcome. I learnt to walk on eggshells. I tried to act like an adult cause that’s who I thought I needed to be to be part of your life. I was 11.

I would see you every second weekend and we’d try and talk on the phone during the week. I was never very good at ringing you, but when Mum reminded me, I would call and you would chastise me for not calling more, saying things like, ‘I was beginning to wonder if you were still alive’. I think you thought it was a joke. I didn’t hear it like that. It made me feel like a failure as a daughter.

On my 12th birthday you sent me a card that said, ‘welcome to being a teenager’. You didn’t know how old I was. That hurt. The distance grew.

I started high school. You weren’t there. You came to Presentation Day, and maybe the music recitals, but I don’t think you ever went to a parent-teacher night.

I needed you to tell me I was beautiful. You didn’t.

I needed you to show me that you loved me (not just say the words), just as I was. You didn’t.

I needed you to listen to me tell you about my friends, my taste in music, the boys I liked, the girls who were mean to me, the train I caught to school, and a zillion other useless things. You didn’t. You took every opportunity to tell me about your interests, and hijacked my stories to tell your own. I learnt to not give you information because I thought you didn’t really want to know. I learnt to ask and not talk.

I stopped trusting you. I stopped wanting to see you. I stopped believing you would do anything for me. I stopped looking forward to our visits (were they not court-ordered, I might have stopped going). I think I probably stopped believing you loved me.

I lived with you and Jan for a couple of years when I was 19 and those are some of my most precious memories. It felt like a family again. I came back from overseas and you guys sat me down one night and told me you were splitting up. It was too much to bear. There was yelling this time. Jan made you tell me why. You had had an affair. I was so angry. You had betrayed my trust. Again. And broken up the closest thing I’d had to a family in 10 years. I hated you for that. For the second time in my life, I watched you move out of my home. I stayed with Jan. I trusted her. I seriously entertained the idea of cutting you out of my life.

I’m glad I didn’t. But it took me a long time to forgive you for that affair. The wounds still bleed when I poke them. As I write this, I am weeping. Even though I didn’t cut you out, I decided that I wouldn’t be vulnerable with you. Given our history, it seemed too risky. I couldn’t put myself in that position once more.

We have spent a bit more time together in the last few years. I have been glad for that. I feel like I know you a bit better. Still, I’m hesitant to share anything of value with you. There’s too much water under the bridge.

And the problem is still that I want you to be different.

I want you to want to spend time with me. I want you to want it enough that you’ll make the effort. A few years ago we made a plan to have breakfast before my class started. It was early. Maybe 7.30am. I waited on the corner. At 7.40 I rang you. No answer. At 7.45am my phone rang. You were still in bed. I felt like I didn’t matter to you. Like I wasn’t worth the effort.

Since then I have watched you date several women. I feel like I come second in your life. Or third. But definitely not first. That place is reserved for the woman you are currently seeing. When you are single, you call regularly and find time to see me. When you’re dating someone, it’s like I don’t exist. I don’t want to compete with her. I don’t think I should have to. So I don’t. But when I do speak to you, you make the same old comment, ‘I was beginning to wonder what had happened to you’. It will never be funny Dad.

Every time we speak, the conversation always ends with you saying ‘I love you’. I struggle to believe this. Love is more than a word Dad. Saying it doesn’t mean anything if it’s not accompanied by actions.

I do love you Dad. That’s my choice. I want to love you because even though there’s been so much rubbish in our relationship, there are lots of things that I like about you, and my life would be poorer without you.

Love,
Tess

Let the tears flow.

Friday was the last day of third year at Moore College. I’m not leaving, but many dear friends are. These halls will not be the same.

The day I moved in is etched into my memory with such depth that I doubt I shall ever forget it. It was the day I met Kylie. I hadn’t been long in the country and she was so smiley and lovely I thought I’d cry. I think I did. So began a beautiful friendship. And then there is Sarah. A treasured sister who knows not how precious she is to me, only because I lack the words to tell her.

Having all moved some 12,000km from different sides of the world (Johannesburg, Jumla, Mexico City) to be here, it seems God had always planned that we’d be friends. And so it was. Tears were shed as we grieved the loss of our past lives and adapted to life in this old, yet strangely new city. Laughs were shared as we reminisced over some of the funny and awkward moments in our time overseas. Much of our life together has been very run of the mill: a cup of tea here, a stroll there. And yet it is in these run of the mill moments that each of these girls have taken up residence in my heart. I love them dearly. I dare not even guess how much I will miss them. Only time will tell.

Friendship is one of those blessings of God that can be wonderful – when you have deep and real friendships you wonder if there was ever a time when you weren’t friends. And then change comes (as it inevitably does) and it hurts so much that you don’t want to ever invest in friends again if it will mean feeling like this. I’m there. I don’t want to let go, don’t want things to change, don’t want people to move away. I guess the tears make the friendship real and meaningful. But I know, at least for Kylie and Sarah and I, that we will always be in each others lives. No matter if we live 12,000km apart again, we are committed to visiting each other, to sending snail mail packages of delightfulness, and to praying for each other.

There are others. Many others. It is too overwhelming to grieve them all at once. I suppose I shall feel like this for a season.

And there are so many who are staying. More dear friends with whom I am privileged to do life for one more year. For this I am grateful, if only because it gives me another year before I must go through this process once more. I can’t think about what this time next year will feel like, I must simply move forwards, loving these friends while we dwell in the same space and giving thanks to the great God who has called us together for this season of our lives.