In defence of #LoveMakesAWay

I am a Christian.

I do believe in Jesus Christ. I do believe that approximately 2000 years ago, he lived, died, and rose from the dead. I do believe that he is now in heaven, with God, waiting for the time when he will come back to earth and take those who believe in Him to be with him in heaven. I believe that the only way to get to heaven is by believing and trusting in Jesus Christ. I do not believe that good things we do on earth contribute to whether or not we get to go to heaven.

I do believe that the Bible is the final and sufficient word for all crises of faith and conduct. I do believe that following Jesus is a radical decision. I do believe that I have forgotten just how radical that decision can be.

I do not believe that seeking asylum is a crime. I do not believe that it is right to lock people up indefinitely because they asked for help. I do believe that it is important for a nation to have an immigration system. I do not advocate a total abandonment of policy and an indiscriminate ‘opening of the gates’. I do not believe that the current system is legal or compassionate, despite the pleas of government. I do not believe there is one decision that is going to satisfy everyone.

I do not believe it is right to continue letting people die at sea. I do believe that people-smugglers play on people’s desperation and need to be stripped of their power.

I do not believe that the only available option is locking people up.

I do believe that locking up people who are fleeing everything they’ve ever known, in pursuit of safety, is adding insult to injury. I do believe that imprisonment scars a person, physically, mentally, and emotionally. I do believe that to inflict such a fate on anyone, let alone a child, is cruel and in this case, unnecessary.

I do believe that God had a hand in electing our current government. I do believe that means I need to submit to their authority. I do not believe that means I must get back in my box when my objections to policy are squashed. I do believe that means I must be willing to suffer the consequences of disobedience. I do believe that democracy offers many avenues of objecting to decisions the government makes. I do believe that letter writing, conversations with MP’s, and rallies are all valid ways of expressing dissent. I do believe that in some cases it is right to pursue a more radical course of action. I do not believe that it is ever appropriate to be violent.

I do believe that as a Christian, I am Christ’s representative on earth. I do believe that Jesus Christ managed to walk the fine line between love and justice, because he was perfect. I do believe that I am called to try and walk in the same way.

I do believe that #LoveMakesAWay is trying to walk this line. I do not believe that they have a comprehensive solution to the way Australia is currently treating asylum seekers. I do not believe they need to. I do not believe that a lack of a comprehensive solution diminishes in any way the message they are circulating. I do not believe that this is a media stunt. I do believe they are trying to raise awareness. I do believe they are trying to help ordinary people engage with a complex issue.

I do believe that it is my responsibility to defend those who have no voice. I do believe that the non-violent direct action of #LoveMakesAWay is one way to do this. If I’m wrong, and this is completely out of line with what Jesus has called me to do, even then, I do believe that that will not be beyond God’s forgiveness. I do believe that I’d rather act in the face of a grave injustice that sit silently and debate with other likeminded people the merits or otherwise of non-violent direct action.

May God have mercy.

The Challenge.

I graduated from College last week. That is, in one night, I saw the culmination of four years of tears and hard work. To be honest, it was a bit of an anticlimax. I desperately wanted to be there – I even won the argument with my doctor as to whether or not I was allowed to go having come down with the flu the day before. In many ways it didn’t disappoint. The memory of standing on stage with my teammates will not quickly vanish from my mind. Still, as I look back over the years, the few hours we spent dressed up in Harry Potter-esque capes and hoods did not equal the pain and tears of four years. There should have been fireworks, and a marching band, and circus performers, and and and.

So here we are. Graduates. Oh my.

Each of us had to write a sentence describing what we’re doing this year, having been pushed out of College into the big bad world. Here’s mine:

Tess is pursuing a ministry in writing, hoping to use what she has learnt at College to write theologically rich articles showing both how the gospel is good news in every sphere of life, and also how Christianity is both intellectually and emotionally credible, in a world which so often discredits it on both these counts.

It’s true. I want to be a writer. I just love words. I love their power to persuade and heal, to hearten and stretch. I’m not silly though, I realise that I have chosen a career in which the days are either brilliant or rubbish, that the middle ground is famously hard to find. I realise that I cannot make the words come, any more than I can make the rain come, and that I depend heavily on my creativity to make this work. I realise that this is an unusual choice, but still, it is my choice.

This brings us to the challenge I am setting myself. One article, every week for the rest of the year. Hopefully I’ll have time to do more than that, and hopefully there’ll be opportunity to be published in actual real live journals or newspapers or magazines. But this is the minimum. I’m setting myself this goal, at least partly because I have become completely institutionalised and need structure. But also partly because I have become immobilised at the immensity of the task that I have chosen. This is my way in.

I heard Mark Scott, the Managing Director of the ABC, speak the other day. He said that people who have successful careers in their 40s and 50s are the ones who worked really hard in their 20s and 30s. This is exactly what I plan to do.

On chasing dreams

Chase your dreams.
Nothing is out of your reach.
The sky’s the limit.

These were the mantras of my childhood. I confess, I like them. The outer curves of my imagination also function as my limits. These ideas are very precious to me.

Oddly though, I have always found that my dreams weren’t that difficult to catch, my reach actually extended farther than I thought, and the sky was surprisingly close. It’s not that things have always come easy – I have certainly had a fair amount of struggles and difficult decisions – but more that once I decided that I wanted to do something, and then I just went and did it.

I started a PhD right out of uni. When I decided I didn’t want to do that anymore, I decided I wanted to do ministry, so I did that. Then I decided I wanted to go to Mexico. So I bought a plane ticket and went. Then I wanted to go to College, and guess what, I went.

I know this makes me sound spoilt, as though I’ve never had any battles. That’s so far from true. The battles I have had just haven’t been of the employment variety. I’m coming to see that such an experience is something of a blessing.

But now. Now I face the awful dilemma of knowing what I want to do, but being unable to grasp it. All of a sudden my dreams feel like pipe dreams, all I feel in my fingers is wind, and the sky is cold and distant.

Where do I source the energy to keep applying for the job I want? How do I not give up hope? How do I not take all the rejections personally?

Why I hate Facebook

There. I said it.

I think it was 6 years ago that I wrote a similarly titled article. The point of that one was that the Internet cheapens relationships when you use it for all your communication. I truly believe there is something special and unique and important about face-to-face communication.

6 years ago I was not signed up to Facebook. I resisted for a long time. My reasons were many and varied but mostly I simply believed that being friends in reality was enough. I didn’t need to be friends in the cyber world. Way back in 2006 I had made a promise to a friend that if I ever moved overseas then I would join Facebook. In my mind, that was the only worthy reason for joining Facebook – to stay connected with faraway friends. Plus, at that point I thought the chances of me moving overseas were slim, so it was a safe promise. Then, I moved overseas. I reluctantly joined. As it turned out, Facebook was a little bit of a lifeline for me. I was glad to be able to know about major events in peoples lives and to be part of that in some small way. I suppose it wasn’t quite the evil I had judged it to be. When I came home, it worked in reverse for a little while. I could stay in touch with friends overseas, participating in their lives from a distance.

It didn’t take long for me to become addicted. I found myself checking it all the time. Even in the middle of the night. I simultaneously wanted to know what everyone else was doing, but didn’t want to be part of it. No doubt this had something to do with an identity crisis that persistently attacked me from within. I had somehow missed this huge shift, but at least in some way, people were living life online now.

I adapted. I joined Facebook groups for College Resos, for ECU Grads, for Church, and for a hundred other things. I was invited to parties and weddings via Facebook. It became another way I stayed in touch with people. If I had felt inadequate as a friend without Facebook, then that was only amplified by the odd expectation that Facebook meant I could have meaningful relationships with people all around the globe. I tried harder.

I checked Facebook frequently. Too many times a day to count. In the morning before breakfast. After breakfast. In class I would have it open in another tab so I could see if someone had messaged me or commented on a photo or status. I would go to cafes to do my College work, at least partly so I could get away from the Internet.

Eventually I installed a program on my computer that restricted my Internet access. That was one of the best things I ever did. I turned my phone off at night. Yes, that meant that phone calls and messages also couldn’t come through, but I figured that any crisis that exploded at 3am could wait til 6am when I got up.

But control of the addiction isn’t enough. There’s another huge reason why I hate Facebook. Almost every time I log on I see photos of my friends new babies, or engagement announcements, or pictures of weddings. I’m not the Happy Family Grinch, I really do love weddings and children. And mostly I am happy with the life I have. But my contentment is fragile, and easily bruised. Am I the only one? I would like to get married and have kids (is it OK to actually say that?), and sometimes my Facebook feed is a painful reminder that I am not. Sometimes, it feels like everyone else in the world is doing what I’d like to be doing. And it makes me want to de-register my account and never go on Facebook again. I’ve been around enough to know that some of my friends see my Facebook feed and think that they’d like to be doing what I’m doing. The grass is always greener hey?

Where to from here? Facebook is a good tool to maintain faraway friendships, and perhaps it is even a useful organisational tool at the local level. But too frequently I find myself envious of others as I watch their lives unfold online. The best book I’ve read on this issue is called The Next Story, which outlines the history of the digital explosion, and some of the key things to consider when thinking how to use the internet. Still, it only asks the hard question:

  • How can I use Facebook and not be used by it?

It is up to us to find the answer.

“It is easy to forget to pause and take stock”

On the 25th of December, I took a minute out of the day to listen to the Queen of England deliver her Annual Christmas Message to the Commonwealth. This one sentence has plastered itself to the walls of my brain:

“We all need to get the balance right between action and reflection. With so many distractions, it is easy to forget to pause and take stock.”

Was she thinking of me when she spoke thus? So often I count action as the more pressing need, with reflection paling into a distant second. Too often I find myself stealing moments of time from one event to reflect on another.

She is the Queen, and I am a loyal subject, so I find myself taking heed of her advice to “pause and take stock”.

Much has happened in the last 12 months. A future leader, Prince George, was born. A new Pope was chosen. The European Union bailed out another country in crisis. Someone bombed the Boston marathon. Morsi was ousted in Egypt. The Syrian civil war raged. The Philippines were devastated by Typhoon Haiyan. An iconic world leader, Nelson Mandela, passed away.

If you close your eyes does it almost feel like nothing’s changed at all? If you close your eyes does it almost feel like you’ve been here before? When I look to 2014, how am I going to be an optimist about the future? Where do we begin to rebuild the world from the broken mess that it has become?

Closer to home there was the debacle of the Australian federal election. The crisis of asylum seekers. The devastating bush fires in and around Sydney. In my own suburb there were prominent strikes at the neighbouring university.

Why does it feel like the new Cabinet in Government is an undoing of 40 years of fighting for equality between women and men? Are we losing the battle against racism and settling for comfort over compassion? Am I courageous enough to speak out against what is not God-honouring? Will I do more than sit on the couch with a glass of wine and whinge about bad government policy?

Even closer to home, I lost January to a virus that saw me confined to the couch while I worked my way through the whole series of Alias. I lost the last week of my academic year to the flu. I finished a degree. I freaked out about the future. I travelled. A lot.

Why is it easy to complain to God when my life doesn’t proceed according to my plan and so hard to return thanks to Him for the moments of pure delight? Why is God thwarting my plan to be a missionary? Why is he closing every door except the one that I’m afraid to walk through? If Christianity is all about trusting God, then why it is so hard?

Why? Why? Why?

I’m afraid to admit that mostly I have only questions. Not many answers here. Will I have a similar reflection at the end of next year? Probably. It almost seems like the world keeps turning and events keep happening as they have since the beginning of the world. Is not every year the same with joys and sadnesses in a constant stream? Now that I take a moment to reflect, I see that my focus has narrowed too much. I see only the trauma and grief, or the joy and happiness. What of the bigger picture? I realise I have become like the scoffers in 2 Peter 3:4,

They will say, “Where is the promise of his coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all things are continuing as they were from the beginning of creation.”

It’s easy to think thus. After all, I see what appears to be a world on repeat. It’s not that I deliberately ignored the fact of God’s creative activity, it’s just that I focused on action and forgot reflection. If I had remembered to reflect, perhaps my attention would have been more evenly divided between the crises of the world, and the reality that,

The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance (2 Pet 3:9).

Perhaps that would have given me a little perspective. Perhaps it would have stopped me falling into disillusionment at major world conflicts. Perhaps it would have tempered the effect that others have on my mood. Perhaps it would have helped me see the bigger picture. What it won’t do is stop me being devastated at civil wars, delighted at beautiful sunsets and new life, and committed to using the voice that God has given me to speak a word of truth and love.

Having regained a little perspective, I once again I make my New Years resolution: looking forward to the return of Jesus, I will, God-willing, work for the good of all people and the glory of God. I pray He will give me an ever more thankful heart, and a spirit ready and willing to trust him.

Thanks be to God for the Queen, and her reminder to “pause and take stock”. God certainly does work in unusual ways sometimes.

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].

Too scared to dream.

Ever had one of those existential moments where you wonder what you’re doing with your life and where you’re going and why and how you got there? Please say it’s not just me.

I write this from an apartment in Bastille, Paris. A strange place for a crisis. I am here on holiday. It’s exceptional. To me it feels like an odd mix of Mexico and America. I recognise stores like Cartier, Tiffany’s and Swatch. But the traffic is manic like in Mexico. The worlds largest roundabout (the Arc de Triomphe) is constantly circled by swathes of cars. There are no lanes. It feels like chaos. It feels like Mexico.

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Aside from all the beautiful things to see, this is the first real time I’ve had in a long time to sit and think. And it’s dangerous. It’s really the first time I’ve let myself totally feel what has happened the last few months. Disappointment. Loss. Unmet hopes. Not one feeling that is pleasant.

I feel lost. More than a little like I’m grasping in the dark. I’m scared about what comes next, mostly because I don’t know what it is. Here I am: a graduate twice over, and unemployed. Eish. I never had a plan, but I’m pretty sure this wasn’t part of it. Everything I thought I would do, I’m not doing. I’m not working in Geography or Urban Planning (my first degree). I didn’t finish my PhD. I studied theology for four years but I’m not being ordained, I’m not going overseas, I’m not working with kids, and I’m not a chaplain.

When I wander through art markets in Montmartre I wonder if I could be a painter who sells her paintings. When I while away time on Etsy I wonder if I could sew vintage decorations and sell them. This is the kind of stuff I wanted to do ten years ago. But I suppressed it because I thought I wanted to be a doctor. And all that other stuff was a bit hippy and weird. Who doesn’t want to fit in and succeed in all the traditional ways when they’re 16? Ten years later and I still want to do those things. Maybe that means something.

Do I have anything to show for the intervening ten years aside from an $85,000 debt to the government? Is all that time wasted? It’s easy to think so. My understanding of the world does not let me think this, even though some days I might like to. Does not God use everything to shape us? To grow us? To teach us of our dependence on Him? I believe so. If I had not started a PhD, I would not have moved to Wollongong, the place I really began to learn that God wants my love every day of the week, not only Sunday. If I had not gone to Mexico, I would have continued to believe that God’s will and mine were the same. I would not have learnt to trust His goodness when I can’t do what I want. If I had not gone to Moore College I would not have been pushed to answer questions like ‘why does God let his people commit suicide?’ There are no easy answers I’m afraid.

What do I have? I have a better knowledge of God and a better knowledge of myself. I’m still scared. So scared. So scared I don’t even like to dream – usually one of my favourite things to do. This pains me more than I care to admit. But I know that He has me. Even if I have no idea what’s coming. He has proven himself faithful, even in the moments when I didn’t think he would. Even in the moments when I wasn’t sure that I would be faithful.

I am afraid. But for this:

The Lord is my refuge and strength,
Therefore I will not be afraid.
Though the mountains give way and fall into the sea,
He will come and rescue me. Ps 46:1-2

Whatever comes.
Bring it.

#reasonsineedfeminism

Do we need feminism? I mean, really need it? What would we lose if we axed it from society? There’s a hashtag on twitter at the moment that reads #reasonsineedfeminism. Many of the posts associated with it are about the existence of misogyny, or the victimisation of girls, or the exploitation of girls and women across the world. It’s hard to argue with that. There is also this article by Steve Biddulph about feminism starting in the home (it is excellent and you should read it).

#reasonsineedfeminism

#reasonsineedfeminism

The problem with labels like ‘feminism’ is that it is immeasurably broad, and different people mean different things when they use it. Nevertheless, it is generally agreed that there have been three major ‘waves’ of feminism. First wave feminism occurred during the late 19th and early 20th Century and focused on promoting equal marriage, parenting and property rights for women. You probably know this wave best through the work of the Suffragettes who campaigned for women to be given the vote. In our own nation, South Australia was the first state to grant this in 1893. Second wave feminism focused on other issues of equality (e.g. ending discrimination). It viewed inequality as inherently political and the product of sexist power structures. Third wave feminism digs deeper, questioning the very nature of femininity itself, along with the gender roles that so often go along with it.

If we get that clear, I don’t know that many people who want to axe the fruit of feminism from society. They might disagree with third wave feminism, but no one really wants to go back to a time when women didn’t have the vote, and husbands had the right to rape their wives.

But I am a Christian. Doesn’t that mean that I don’t like feminists? Well, no. Actually I think I would describe myself as a feminist (so long as I got to provide some clarifications). I have, here. I don’t think the ‘feminist OR Christian’ is a fair dichotomy. I think it’s wrong.

If as Christians we are to have any chance of sharing the good news of Jesus with our world we must understand the extent to which feminism has influenced our friends. It is in the water we drink. The air we breathe. It is not enough to tell people who have grown up in this climate that they no longer need feminism because they have the gospel. It is lazy and doesn’t actually think about people. There are points of synergy between feminism and the gospel. This is the task set before us.

The gospel transforms broken relationships. The gospel brings life and hope and peace. These are all things that women who suffer violence and inequality need. The gospel gives me the vision of the future, and even though I know I cannot bring that perfection about, I can still work towards it. Because I believe things don’t need to be this bad. I believe God doesn’t want women and girls to be enslaved. I believe God is for them.

So. I stand up for women’s rights. I stand up against the sexual exploitation of girls. I stand up against the sexualisation of young girls. I fight against the objectification of women in the media. I can tell a woman that she doesn’t need to sell herself to find value. And I can do all these things as a Christian.

If I can do them all as a Christian, then why do I need feminism?

I need it because sexism, objectification, and exploitation still exist. I need feminism because it highlights the problem for me. It looks for places where abuses are occurring and brings them to my attention.

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.