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.

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 CompaƱerismo 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.

IMG_2222

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.

Waiting for Rest

I have a love-hate relationship with the night. I love it because I can see the stars, and I can feel tiny amidst the huge huge universe. My imagination is always better in the night time. I think that’s a win. But I hate it because I can never sleep and time seems to slow down overnight just in order to make the whole experience more painful. Of course this isn’t true, but it feels true. When I was younger I was afraid of the dark, but these days I live in the inner city, right next door to a hospital, so even when the lights are out its not dark. But I’m still afraid of bad dreams, of waking up more times than I can recall during the night, and of waking up more tired than I was when I went to sleep.

When I lived in Mexico City (2009 – and a whole other story), one of my favourite things was siesta time. I’d come home from language school, and have a rest for a couple of hours. Maybe sleep. Maybe read. It was so good. I think I was consistently on edge from living in a mega city. I was always stressed and tired and always ready for a sleep. Since I’ve been back, siestas have become my enemy. My GP has forbidden me from sleeping in the daytime. She says it doesn’t help my night time sleeping issues. I probably agree, but I’ll tell you, it’s *very* hard to not sleep in the afternoon when sleep is elusive during normal sleeping hours.

So today I caved. Two weeks of bad sleep mixed with a fair bit of life mess finally caught up with me. I slept for maybe 45 minutes. I woke up tired and groggy – siestas always leave me feeling like that. I’m still tired now, but my brain has decided to go into overdrive replaying all the days events over again…and over again…and over again…and over again… Not cool.

It’s nights like this I wish I was fearless. I wish I didn’t care about safety so I could go for a walk without fears of being kidnapped. Very occasionally I want to go for a run. I know I’m tired when that happens cause I hate running. Sometimes I go and sit on the roof. Maybe I’ll go up there soon.

This verse has always has a special place in my heart:

Weeping may tarry for the night,
but joy comes with the morning. Ps 30:5.

So often this has been my experience. Like a small child, when I am overtired, I cry. In the night everything feels hopeless, but the morning brings such joy. I long for the morning. I’m always a little less crazy in the morning. A little less liable to totally lose it because I can’t sleep. But it is more than the morning that brings me joy. Yes, at 2am, the thing I am most looking forward to is the sunrise, but there is something even better than the sunrise.

My soul waits for the Lord
more than watchmen for the morning,
more than watchmen for the morning. Ps 130:6.

I am waiting for Jesus to return. This is the long game. Right now I wait for sleep. For my brain to turn off. For my weary body to relax just enough. But I know that I am waiting for Jesus to come back. To take me to be with him in eternal rest. To a place where I won’t have sore eyes from not enough sleep. Where my mind will be full of glorious thoughts, and not plagued by fear and doubt. Where I can rest. Rest. REST. Oh yes.

Bring. It. On.

An orange sky

It feels like a long time since I’ve been here. 2.07am. Sydney sleeps but I lie here awake. About an hour ago I gave up on my bed and took my blanket and pillow to the roof where I have installed myself on a sofa. I can see the hospital, so I guess not everyone is asleep. I have a pretty good view of the city from here, and because it is cloudy, the lights from the city make the sky glow a dim orange. At dawn I’ll be able to see the first plane come in to land. It’s not all bad. It’s comfortable enough. Still, I’d rather be asleep.

It’s been a while. Last year I had lots of these nights. I expected them. My truckload of thoughts and I would come up here and stare at the stars, thinking of other faraway places where the sun had already risen and waiting for the sun to rise here. The minutes tick by very slowly at this time of day. I hated the night. I would dread the end of the day because it meant another long night of no sleep and zillions of thoughts that I couldn’t remove from my head.

It’s been a while. Mostly this year I have been so tired that by the time I fall into bed my body is already giving up so my brain has no chance of keeping me awake. But I handed in my last essay of the term yesterday and now it feels like my brain is relishing the opportunity to once again flood me with suitcase-loads of somethings and nothings to both think and worry about.

It’s been a while. Oddly, I’ve just been texting a friend who is currently in Nepal who I miss dearly. I haven’t been able to speak to her for a few weeks cause Skype is not working. I wouldn’t have been able to chat with her now if I were asleep.

I’m not overjoyed to be awake. But thanks be to God that tonight unlike so many that have gone before, there is a silver lining.

Starting again.

I’m back in the town that is always new.

It’s only been a week, but has felt longer in many ways. The absence of precious friends has made these halls seem empty, even though they are filled with new, delightful, and smiley-faced people. The absence of classes has meant that afternoon tea has quickly become the highlight of my day. I am only now noting that the absence of sleep has become a normal part of Newtown life.

I miss people. To be able to sit in silence with a friend. To cry together. To know someone who won’t freak out when you’re freaking out. To laugh together. To stroll together. To take tea together. To do life together.

And I’m loving getting to know our new housemates. People who have their own stories. Their own history. Their own friends and family that they are sad about leaving. Their own hobbies and habits.

This place is weird. In a fantastic way. I can be so joyful that I feel like I’m going to burst, and so sad that I feel like I’ll never be able to pull myself together. And all this in the same 24 hour period.

And that’s just life in Newtown.

Welcome back.

sleepless nights

It’s 3.58am. I’ve been awake since 12.26am. Time goes very slowly at this time of the morning.

I went to turn off some lights that were still on and found another body, poring her heart out over an assignment that’s due tomorrow. Well actually, today. I sat on the sofa with her for an hour, thought about my fear of sleep, longed for sleep, tried to sleep. No sleep. I decided to make the most of this awake time so came back to my room, brushed up on my Spanish and wrote a long overdue email. I learned a new word – inquietud. I wrote a letter to an old friend. I’m writing this blog post. Still, no sleep.

There are others. I’m certain. Right now, all over Sydney there are people not sleeping. How do they fill the long dark hours? Do they long for sleep as I do? I don’t know about them, but I, for one, would be happy to kick this habit.