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.

Guy + Girl = Friends?

I firmly believe that guys and girls can be friends. I even have an awesome collection of male and female friends that prove it (you know who you are). When I was in my early 20s I didn’t think this statement needed much clarification. My only qualification was that there needed to be a conversation at some point about where the friendship stands. Now I think there might be a few more things to say. Here is my attempt.

Dear [insert name here],*

We are friends. There are so many things I like about being friends with you. I love that you are different to me. I love that you have a different family, different upbringing, different expectations of the world and different hopes and dreams. I love that you think deeply. I love that you know stuff about economics and wildflowers and bridges. I love that you teach me to see the world differently, in richer and brighter colours than I could have seen myself. I love that you make me laugh.

We hang out. We’ve been to the movies, out for drinks, to coffee, to museums, to concerts and for strolls on a warm summer evening. I suspect you like being friends with me too. This pleases me no end.

One time, you told me. Do you remember? It was pretty awkward. We were out, and you told me that you loved being friends with me. You wanted to make sure that I didn’t think that it was anything more than friends. I wasn’t expecting to have this conversation with you, it kind of caught me off guard. To be honest, I had been thinking about it, and wondering why we weren’t more than friends, but after a mini-meltdown in my mind, I was okay. You changed tack and proceeded to tell me about the girl you did like. You asked me what I thought. You asked for my advice. Ever the good friend, I talked you through your feelings, all the while wishing I could vanish into my shoe.

Over the next few months nothing really changed in our friendship. In the beginning I thought this was good, because I didn’t want to lose you as a friend. But over time the intimacy between us grew. I liked you more the more time I spent with you. But you didn’t see this; or if you did, you didn’t do anything about it. You thought that I was so certain of our status as friends that it didn’t matter how you acted. You thought I would one day figure out that you weren’t into me like that. In case you’re wondering, the moment I discovered that ugly truth was the moment I stopped trusting you.

What were you thinking? Perhaps you thought that you’d already told me that we were friends and so you were safe? Perhaps you were enjoying yourself and so pretended like things were fine?

You certainly weren’t thinking about me.

If I liked you a little at the time of that first conversation, I liked you a lot more a few months later. I had heard what you said, but something in me didn’t want to believe it. A little voice inside me (or maybe outside me – girls talk, you know) kept wondering why we spent so much time together if nothing was going on. It was easy to doubt. Something in me persisted in believing that with all the time we spent together you’d see how much you really did like me. Foolish, I know.

What motivated you to have that awkward conversation the first time around? Perhaps you had insightfully thought that I might be considering a possibility between us and wanted to be kind to me and stop those thoughts (this is the most gracious reading I can give, and am fully aware that there are many less gracious possibilities). Maybe next time this happens to you, you might consider taking some practical measures to cut back the friendship. Yes, such measures would have been be tricky and painful and a loss for both of us, but you need to be the strong one. After all, it was you who was certain that this wasn’t going to be anything more than friends.

This is my one thought: I am a girl. I am a real person and have feelings too. I’m not an emotional resource to be mined. If the roles were reversed, how would you like to be treated? My guess is that you’d like to be treated like a friend, and not as a boyfriend. Please do me the same courtesy.

From [insert name 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?

Adieu.

4 years. 8 semesters. 104 weeks.

23 essays. 21 exams. 1 critical reflection. 2 book reviews. 1 sermon series. 1 presentation. 1 project.

4 mission weeks. 3 sermons.

This is the end.

This time last year I said goodbye to a group of people who had become such a huge part of my life. The sadness sat over and around me like a fog. I don’t quite know when or how it eventually lifted. I have been waiting for it to descend again. It hasn’t. I have not yet cried about finishing college and leaving this ragtag group of people who have taken up residence in my heart.

But as I pack up my room I am filled with nostalgia.

I remember the day I moved in. I remember driving my parents car into the driveway at number 28 and being parked in by Kylie. I remember how it only took one trip in the car to bring all my stuff in. I remember feeling intensely insecure and uncertain. I remember being afraid of becoming one of ‘those’ Moore College people. I remember unpacking and feeling certain that this room with its green feature wall would never feel like home. I remember sobbing myself to sleep the first night I slept here, not sure of who I was, why I was here, or what the next one year, three years or even four years would hold. I remember the unfamiliar hallways and fixed meal times. I remember feeling like I was on camp. I remember not knowing anyone. I remember feeling like an outsider.

And then we graduated into second year. Finally we weren’t ‘first years’ anymore. I remember thinking how hard the work was. I remember the whole year feeling like a massive high. I remember feeling comfortable in my friendships. I remember welcoming Kate and Tam on to our corridor. I remember the feeling of knowing what I was doing because I could help them. I remember writing and essay on the resurrection of Jesus and talking about it with my barista. I remember welcoming little Annabelle into the world. I remember the comfort of not having to say goodbye to anyone from our year.

Third year was a vacuum. Not the excitement of first year. Not the delight of graduating in to second year. Not close enough to the end to see it. Just stuck in the middle. I remember the terror of panic attacks. I remember the kindness of Katie who would sit with me during them. I remember the tears. I remember the confusion. I remember a lot of sleepless nights. I remember the stars. I remember Paul and Ryan letting me lie on their couches and just be. I remember Michael’s lectures on the Christian life. I remember the love-hate relationship I had with ethics. I remember learning in a new way that nothing can separate us from the love of Christ.

All of a sudden we were in fourth year. I remember deciding to do both my electives and audit a subject in first semester (not my finest moment). I remember the pain and joy of Shapers. I remember becoming real friends with lecturers. I remember the moment I discovered what I wanted to do with my life. I remember wanting to do a project, and then wishing I hadn’t, and then glad I did. I remember wanting to make the most of the limited time with people. I remember being too tired to make conversation. I remember being thankful for friends with whom to be silent. I remember wishing Sarah and Kylie were here. I remember the way God provided new friendships. I remember the feeling of satisfaction.

And so much more.

And now we are finished. I feel like I blinked and suddenly it’s over. There are too many things to miss. Too many things to grieve. Studying together, not only with brothers and sisters, but with friends. Living together, and the unusual delight of just popping by to say hi. Learning together, both being taught and teaching each other.

I used to think that I made the decision to come to college because I wanted to be trained to do my job better. I wanted to spend time studying the Bible to grow in my knowledge of God so that I could teach others. Now I realise that God brought me here to break me. Never have I been so aware of my own sin, my own faults and failures. Never so aware of God’s unfailing, unending and unchanging grace. I am not the same person I was when I came here.

I wait for the fog of grief to descend. I am certain it will come.

But for now, Moore College, I bid you adieu.

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.

Blessed are the cheese makers

I’m preparing for the digital meltdown. The irony of posting this article, written on an iPad, on my blog is not lost on me. Nevertheless, I have this fascination with bygone eras, especially the ones where traditional skills like carpentry, navigation, and cheese making were common, and where you knew a blacksmith, a cobbler, and a seamstress. In my mind, that place is much calmer than the present, although I know that’s probably not true. Partly in an effort to reclaim lost skills, partly to delight in making fresh cheese, and probably partly as procrastination, a couple of friends and I have been learning how to make cheese.

We started last year with ricotta. It’s so easy. Heat milk. Add vinegar. Stir. Strain through cheese cloth. Voila! Ricotta.

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Today we made haloumi. It’s less easy. Heat milk to 34 degrees. Add rennet. Sit in a water bath at 34 degrees for 45 minutes. Cut into cubes. Increase water temperature to 40 degrees. Strain through cheese cloth. Apply pressure. Let sit for half an hour. Chop into large pieces. Poach in whey for half an hour. Remove and cool. Salt. Leave for 2 more hours. Let sit in brine for 24 hours. A little bit more work, but still, voila!

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If there is ever a digital meltdown and life as we know it falls apart, at least we’ll have cheese.

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.