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.

helmut newcake

I’m in love. Not with a man oddly named Helmut Newcake, although I could certainly fabricate a story to that effect. Rather, on a friends advice, I went in pursuit of a gluten free patisserie in Paris. And found it. I’m going back. Maybe every day til we leave.

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Food intolerances and travelling don’t go so well together, so when we decided to spend a month in France, I wasn’t expecting to be able to eat much. No bread. No cheese. No garlic. No butter. I distinctly remembering pursuing the idea that I would live on carrots, eggs and rice. I’ve lived on less.

This is why helmut newcake is such a treasured discovery: everything in the store is gluten free. Everything. And I’m not talking a simple flourless chocolate cake. No. There were chocolate eclairs, passion fruit tarts, lemon meringue pies, salted chocolate tarts, pistachio something’s, Madame de Fontenay’s and so much more. Yum yum yum!

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Everything about this cafe oozes cool. It is quaint and homely. Not overly decorated, but simply tasteful. The cabinet of pastry beckons you ‘come, taste and see’. Nothing tastes gluten free, it simply tastes delicious. The tea is served in delightfully small fine china teacups, and the coffee is surprisingly good. Even if you’re not a coeliac or intolerant to gluten, if you’re ever in Paris, this is a brilliant spot for morning or afternoon tea.

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helmut newcake.
La pâtisserie sans gluten.
I’ll be back.

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.

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.

Pensive melancholy

I am weary with my moaning;
every night I flood my bed with tears;
I drench my couch with my weeping.
My eye wastes away because of grief. (Ps 6:6-7).

I’m fidgety. It’s a sure sign that something’s up. I whine about how hard life is. I cry at the drop of a hat. I try to study. I fail. I try to sleep. I fail. I try to chat with friends. I end up staring off into space; I fail. I decide I don’t want to be with people; that doesn’t work either. I try to distract myself by cooking, or changing locations, or cleaning, or organising something. Nothing works.

I give in. I start thinking about how I’m a terrible friend. I think about the impending goodbyes. I think about faraway friends. I think about not faraway friends who I haven’t seen in too long. I think about my family. I think about that conversation that I need to have. I think about all that college work that needs to get done. I get to a place where I wish cloning was a valid option – that would surely solve my problems. Nothing gets resolved, I just send myself into a spiral of pensive melancholy.

This has happened enough times that I know I have to wait it out. I know that in time some things will be resolved while others will persist endlessly.

But I always need to be reminded that I wait with hope. With the certain knowledge that God is with me. He hears my lamenting. He hears my prayers. He is answering them. Maybe not in the way I want (i.e. immediate relief), but in a way that is for my good.

The LORD has heard my plea;
the LORD accepts my prayer (Ps 6:9).

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.

Ché: my revolutionary hero.

Confession: I have an ideological crush on Ché Guevara. You may know him as the face plastered on the tees of young anarchists today or perhaps as the man who used to be second in command to Fidel Castro in Cuba. He was an instrumental part of the Cuban Revolution and a pivotal part of many other South American revolutions.

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Aside from the obvious handsome factor, I simply love that he saw injustice, corrupt dictatorships and poverty; and he acted. He couldn’t be persuaded to return to Argentina and be a doctor. He wanted to see change.

There are obvious questions to be raised about his approach – not least his appropriation of arms in his battle against capitalism. In the end, his turn towards violent revolution led to his name being added to the CIA’s ‘most wanted’ list, and his assassination in 1967 in Bolivia. Things didn’t end so well for him.

My whole life I have wanted to be a revolutionary. I’m not happy to sit back and watch the world go by. I want to be involved, to have a say, to see things I hate, and to invoke change. It’s why I sign petitions. It’s why I attend protests and rallies. It’s why I read the paper and write letters to the editor. But I never feel like I do enough.

I read about child labour in sweatshops but I still buy cheap clothes. The revolutionary in me wants to jump on a plane and overthrow those who run sweatshops.

I watch as our government introduces an unjust and illegal policy for asylum seekers and write a letter to the editor and a few blogs. I go to a few protests. The revolutionary in me wants to camp outside government house til they change the policy.

I see children exposed to pornography on the internet in the name of free speech and grieve the loss of innocence. I do nothing. The revolutionary in me wants to find a way to boycott those websites that are so wicked.

I do less than I’d like because I like my life. I don’t want to lose my freedoms and my upper-middle class privileges. Revolutionaries don’t think about their own life. They think about others. They are visionaries and picture not what is, but what could be.

I hate guns and don’t at all advocate Ché’s use of them. But still, I want to be a revolutionary. I want to work for change. I want to imagine a better world. Do you?

Traveling with Food Intolerances

Whenever I go on holidays I always get a little nervous about the food. You see, I’m intolerant to most foods, which makes it quite hard to eat out. I never used to have these problems. A group of particularly nasty parasites took up residence in my intestines a few years back when I lived in Mexico City and now, voila, I am intolerant to gluten, dairy, fructose, plus a few other things just for good measure. It’s a lot better than it used to be: my reactions are less severe, I can eat more than rice and boiled chicken, and my mum and I have embarked on a journey of food discovery that has enriched her cooking and my eating. Still, holidays are tricky cause I never know what I’m going to be able to find or eat. Usually I just resolve myself to feeling ill and eating whatever I want (much to the dismay of some of my more concerned friends).

This time it’s been different. Our first day here in the beautiful Adelaide Hills (I’m totally coming back here one day) we were looking for somewhere to have lunch. Grace mentioned that she had seen an organic cafe up the street so we wandered up that way. Entering the store, we were captured by the smells of home cooked food, and then almost immediately by the gluten free menu. I could hardly believe it! A friendly lunch. But even more than that, there were options! The entire menu was gluten free! I could have a frittata, some risotto, a potato bake, a Moroccan vegetable roll, or soup. All gluten free. All served with your choice of a quinoa salad, a roast pumpkin salad or a Greek salad. Normally resigned to the one gluten free option on the menu, I was stumped. I never get to choose. I usually just order the one gluten free option. I had almost forgotten how to make a choice at a restaurant. I settled on a pumpkin and tomato risotto – gluten and dairy free. It was delicious. Dessert was, of course, compulsory. Again the choice baffled me. I settled on a lemon tart. It’s been so long since I’ve had a lemon tart that didn’t make me ill. It was great.

We returned for lunch today. I just had to go there again. This time it was pumpkin soup with gluten free bread (normal bread wasn’t even an option). I realised that pumpkin soup is comfort food. It is something I miss. Dessert was a chocolate and raspberry friand. So so tasty!

Finding Ruby’s Organic Cafe has been such a delight. Sometimes I get frustrated with my limited diet, I just want to go out for Lebanese or Italian or Greek or Thai or Mexican (the irony of not being able to eat the food that gave me these intolerances is not lost on me). But even here, in this most unexpected of places, I have discovered that it is possible to make delicious food within limits. I may have even stolen some ideas for meals to make when I get home.

Ruby’s Organic Cafe. You have made this trip that much more delightful. Just another reason why I love the Adelaide Hills.

the truth about 4th year

I feel defeated. Humbled. Laid low. Broken. Weary.

When I made the decision to stay for 4th year at Moore College, I was swayed by the promises of those who had gone before me. They cheerfully offered the advice that the final year was amazing. Worth it. The year where everything gets pulled together. The year where you get to think about whatever you want. That if I was inclined to study then I wouldn’t find it too hard. Especially on the basis of this last point, and given my excessively long time in tertiary institutions, I figured it would be OK.

They neglected to mention that it was also the year that you get pulled apart. The year you swing wildly between ‘I love it’ and ‘I loathe it’. The year you have an almost constant headache from a painfully tense upper back. The year where your eyes sting from too much time in front of a computer and not enough sleep. The year where your brain feels that if your eyes read anything else, it is just going to pack up and move out.

The most curious thing to me is that it is both these things at once. This confuses me no end. Only a few hours ago I was delighted to discover that I actually liked one of my hardest subjects. Now as I brood over the essay for the same subject I find my mind empty, a string of what appear to be non-connected words flashing before my eyes.

I speak to 1st years, and their bright eyed excitement wearies me. They animatedly ask ‘what’s 4th year like?’ I want to say that it’s a freaking nightmare. But I also want to say that it is brilliant. That I’m learning and growing and actually loving God’s grace more. That in my weakness I see his power. That even though it is hard, it is also an incredible blessing. Oddly, both are true.

Things that are hard are not always worth doing, but things that are worth doing are often hard.

This feels very true today.