The Risk

I’d like to introduce you to Carl. I met him this evening. He was probably about 40 years old, although because of years of alcohol abuse he looked more like 50. He was pale as a ghost – most probably chilled to the bone. He was thin, too thin for a man of his age.

Our meeting took place under unusual conditions. In fact, I probably wouldn’t have noticed him if his words had not rung in my ears: ‘do you have any change miss?’ I walked past, casually indifferent to his plea – he was not bothered, he just said thank you and went back to huddling underneath his blanket – but his words hit me again and again. I turned back.

The temperature was 4 degrees and I was not excited about standing out there just making conversation. My feet were rapidly turning into ice blocks, my hands were numb and my nose running. Still, something in me persisted.

‘Would you like something to eat?’ I meekly offered.
‘Im actually trying to get enough money together to stay the night in a b&b’, he returned.
‘Oh right. How much do you need?’
‘Its £32 for the night and the guy washes my clothes and lets me stay til 6pm the next day’.
‘Where is this b&b? I’d be happy to pay what you’re missing’.
‘Its a 5 mile walk on the other side of town’.

And on it went. I was cautious. I’ve always been told to never give money to homeless people. He had a story about how there was no room at the shelter and how he had been sober three years and how he went to the church that he was sitting in front of and the priest himself had helped him get sober. I thought of every option. Can we walk with you to the b&b? No, it’s too far away. Can we take a bus? No, there’s not one that goes there. Can we buy you some food instead? Yes please.

He wanted to persuade me that he wasn’t lying so he took me to the priests house – who unfortunately wasn’t home – to prove his genuineness. I was still hesitant. I don’t know what to do in these situations.

He had a phone and rang a friend who then vouched that he wasn’t going to spend the money on alcohol. I talked to the friend on the phone and he even said that he’d ask for a receipt from Carl the following day. Was this all a big scam? Perhaps.

But he seemed so genuine. And needy. I was cold just standing there. I don’t know that I would survive if I had to sleep out there.

So I did it. I gave him the £26 he needed to stay in the b&b. Whether he is there I do not know. I pray he is warm and safely installed in a b&b in Oxford. I hope he finds a place to stay long term and doesn’t have to sleep on the freezing streets this winter.

Did I do the wrong thing? Many of you will think so. But I can’t get away from the fact that people like Carl are desperate. Yes, sometimes they are in those situations by some fault of their own. Sometimes not. I can really never know.

Desperation should not elicit from me a reaction of casual indifference. Whether it is a homeless man begging, or an asylum seeker risking their life to reach my safe country, or a woman fleeing domestic abuse, my prayer is that my heart will be warm and compassionate, not judgemental and cynical.

I think I’m happy to take the risk of helping a desperate person. Yes, it is costly. But how can I possible claim I can’t help him. I have just flown half way around the world for a seven week European holiday. So maybe I’ll buy one less souvenir because I took a risk and tried to help someone. I have been given so much. If you are reading this, you have been given much too. I can’t get away from Jesus’ words:

Everyone to whom much was given, of him much will be required, and from him to whom they entrusted much, they will demand the more. Luke 12:48.

What are you going to do with all that God had given you?

Morning

Slivers of light peeked their way around the edges of the curtains this morning, beckoning me to rise and explore this new place. I declined. I closed my eyes and drifted back into my dreams. The sunbeams grew increasingly impatient and danced across my eyelids tempting me with the hope of a new day. I rose. I pulled back the curtain to be greeted with an empty field. A curious donkey poked his head around the side of the barn as if to say, ‘why hello there. Welcome to my farm’.

I feel very welcome.

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.

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.

Airport Etiquette (as I learnt it)

I love everything about the airport. The warm gush of air as you enter the building on a cold winters morning. The overpriced, bad coffee. The frenzied, frantic people rushing about. The ‘please do not leave your baggage unattended’ announcements. The people going to and coming from exciting places. The thrill of forthcoming adventures. The tears of joy as loved ones embrace in the arrivals hall. The suitcases. The pilots walking by in their uniforms. I LOVE the airport.

I picked up a friend from the airport this morning. When we arranged it, he told me that he’d call when he was through customs and then he’d meet me in the free 15- minute pick up area. I don’t think so. That’s not how my family does it.

First, you always park, go in, and wait in the arrivals hall. Yes it’s expensive, but that’s just the price of travel. No need to bemoan the situation, it is what it is. (If it’s a departure, the same rule applies).

Second, arrive early so you don’t miss the person as they come through customs. (This happened to me once. I was picking up a friend arriving home after a month abroad in India. She came through customs very quickly, looked for me, couldn’t see me, so jumped in a taxi and went home. She didn’t have her mobile, so couldn’t call. I waited for an hour maybe, and then got a call from my home – but no one should have been there. It was my friend). Fail.

Third, balloons and flowers are always welcome. When I was 21 I travelled to Thailand and Cambodia for a month with a friend from uni. When we came home, both of our parents were waiting at the gate, but mine had flowers and balloons for me.

Travelling IS exciting, and it is especially lovely when your friends and family recognise this too.

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.