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.

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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?

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.

I’m not ready to grow up

I am 29 years old. I am about to graduate from a tertiary education institution for the second time. And I’m still not ready to grow up.

Perhaps you think I’m just another example of Gen Y kids being unwilling to move out of their parents houses and take responsibility for their own lives. Can I assure you that this is not me? I have lived out of home since I was 20 and took on a great deal of responsibility at a very young age.

To me, growing up includes taking responsibility but is fundamentally about something else. When I think of growing up I think of stale, boring jobs. I think of what doesn’t change. And the problem is this: I haven’t done everything I want to do. I still want to be a baker, an astronaut, a train driver, and a pilot. I want to learn how to be a carpenter, how to fix a dripping tap, and how to grow a plant from a cutting. I still want to get a tattoo and dye my hair. I still want to learn French and Italian and Russian. I still want to travel to Morocco and Alaska.

I’m not ready to let go of my dreams, but we are standing at a crossroads. The time for study and excessive holidays is passed. And it feels like the time for stable jobs and families and circles of friends is here. Goodbye freedom and whimsy, hello stability.

Ever since I can remember I’ve always loathed stability. It’s why I don’t go back. I won’t live in the same place twice. I usually won’t holiday in the same place twice – there’s too many places to explore. Even now as I holiday at Diamond Beach, it isn’t the same as previous years. In first year I discovered that I actually liked my friends (if you guys are reading this, thanks for giving me 9 months grace). In second year it was not like first year and that made it sad. And now, it’s all a bit bittersweet and somber because we don’t have three years in front of us, we don’t even have three months.

We stand on the precipice of the future, gazing into the unknown, and I only see fear. I fear becoming stale and boring. I fear that my dreams will pack up and leave me. I fear that my whimsical, daydreaming, crazy holiday planning, creative, flower picking self will be left behind and replaced with a boring adult.

Who will I be? How will I change? How will I force myself to stop running? Only God knows.

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.

I can’t go back

I’ve had the privilege of seeing a precious friend twice in two days. We went to church together what feels like an eternity ago. In the emotional roller coaster known as the teenage years a deep and lasting friendship was formed. I treasure her.

Since then, I’ve moved countless times, lived overseas and am finally back in Sydney where we’ve been able to see each other infrequently. She got married not long after I first moved away, and has stayed in the same area, worked, had some kids, and been faithful at church. Our lives have been very different. Not better, not worse, just different.

As I sit on the platform at Eastwood Station waiting for the train that will whisk me to my home, I feel nostalgic.

I went to school around here and lived close by too, so it all feels very familiar. The combination of geographical familiarity and precious friends is making me long for a time long gone. I miss that time. Everything was easier (or it felt like it). Friendships were less complicated. We had less responsibility. I wish I could go back there. It was a nicer time: I would see friends more regularly, I didn’t have to schedule people in to my diary, they were just assumed presences. I knew less people and was less busy.

But I can’t go back. Not least because I don’t have a time machine. But even if I moved back here, that wouldn’t fix things either. The film Midnight in Paris describes nostalgia as:

denial – denial of the painful present… the name for this denial is golden age thinking – the erroneous notion that a different time period is better than the one ones living in.

Sometimes the present is painful. Sometimes I wish I could go back and make different decisions. Sometimes I think I just want a do-over.

Mostly I just wish that I could spend quality time with all the people I know. I wish that the world was a little smaller and that I didn’t have an insatiable desire to travel and explore new places. Or that I could take everyone I know with me.

I probably need to find a wishing well and let that one go.

Moving, Friendship and Emotional Blackmail

I love moving. Really. I do. I love packing because it lets me be as organised and ordered as I like. I love throwing stuff out – less is totally more. I love starting afresh. I love redecorating all my stuff in what feels like someone else’s house. I love exploring new places, and figuring out the most fun way of setting up furniture. I love moving.

It’s probably because I have lived in over 20 houses in my life. Maybe closer to 30. I’ve lost track. Prior to the last four years (in which I have lived in the same two rooms at Moore College) the longest I lived anywhere was maybe two and a half years. Change is stability for me. The idea of living in one house for 20 years freaks me out. Even if I live somewhere for a year I feel the compulsion to rearrange the furniture or the books or the linen cupboard.

But all those little things are manageable. Even the way that moving throws you into new circles of friends is manageable for me. I have practice. But having moved so much means that I know a lot of people. I have circles of friends from school, from old churches, from uni, from Wollongong, from Mexico, from Clovelly, from College, not to mention the complicated family circles I find myself in. You can read a bit about my complicated family here.

Now we all know that it is tricky (read: impossible) to be friends with a zillion people. It’s taken me a long time to learn this. Like most people, when I finished high school we all promised we’d be friends forever. That didn’t happen. By the time we finished uni we’d wised up a little and realised that as our jobs took us away from each other we wouldn’t be able to maintain the level of friendship to which we had become accustomed. Still, we had not perfected the art of leaving well. As we all grew up we noticed that the complexity of life meant that we just wouldn’t have the same frequency or even intensity of contact as that we had enjoyed while studying or working together.

Perhaps it is possible to maintain the frequency or intensity of friendship if you remain in the same geographical space, but my experience tells me that moving can throw a pretty big spanner in some friendships. So I try and keep a handful of close friends from each place I’ve lived. We don’t live in the same city, but we stay in touch via email, text, the occasional phone call, and of course Facebook. I see them every few months, if that. Sometimes it is years between visits. I always miss them and always want to see them, but life does not permit it. I have to be ok with that. So we steal occasional moments for a cuppa, and we do what we can, trying to recognise that we are both doing our best. There’s no pressure to do more than that. For me, this means that (at least theoretically) I am not consistently feeling my inadequacy as a friend, but instead recognising that I’m doing what I can, and what I can do is actually pretty good. This lets us pick up where we left off last time we were together. This I love.

Not every friend is like that. I wonder if you have ever had an experience like this one: someone you are friends with (or used to be) emails you. One of the first things they say to you is ‘have you forgotten me?’ They proceed to ask you how you are, what you’ve been up to, and how your family is. Perhaps like me, you hear none of those questions because it only took one tenth of a second for the guilt to hit after that first comment. You think to yourself that you have been a bad friend, that you should have rung her last week when she popped into your head.

This is not friendship. This is emotional blackmail. It is frustratingly common. And it’s not ok. Everything in me wants to walk away when people do this. This is using people for selfish gain. It is repulsive.

If this picture of emotional blackmail is so repulsive, then what should friendship look like?

A friend loves at all times. Proverbs 17:17.

Love. This is the characteristic marker of friendship. Of course, there are stacks of ways that love is manifested, but I think we can safely rule out emotional blackmail as one of them.

It’s interesting to me that Jesus calls humans beings his friends:

This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. John 15:12-13.

He loved us. We know this because he lay down his life. He died. For us. This is no small sacrifice. This is the picture of friendship. But this is not a one way friendship. Jesus tells us that we are his friends if we obey him. Sacrifice and obedience are the characteristics of friendship with God. There is no blackmail here.

I don’t know what to do when you find yourself at the mercy of someone who blackmails you. But you and I can know that this is not how it should be.