Faith, Life, Personal Growth, Reflection

But For Now

photo by mrhayata (flickr)(shared with permission)

photo by mrhayata (flickr)

“You could plant me like a tree beside a river
You could tangle me in soil and let my roots run wild
And I would blossom like a flower in the desert
But for now just let me cry”

I am an optimist.  I’m the kid in that joke who’d receive a pile of horse manure and just start digging to find the pony.  I look forward to the future with a sense of anticipation, even (often enough) delight, and when difficulties arise I still generally manage to remain hopeful for the future.

Part of this optimism comes from my faith; I have a belief in a greater plan and I trust in God’s provision in my life, throughout times of want and times of plenty.  I am a contented person – and my contentment isn’t dependent on the more evanescent notion of ‘happiness’ because it is based on my deeper faith in the meaning and purpose of life.

Personal history is another reason for my positivity.  I have led (overall) a happy life.  I trust that things will work out alright because, well, they have tended to do so in my experience.

And of course it is in my nature to be optimistic.  Change, although at times unsettling, is an adventure.  I love surprises.  I am happy to travel without a plan and just go where the wind takes me (a small aside: this attitude is somewhat compromised in travelling with kids, as their discontent can erode my own happiness and therefore I find it prudent to be somewhat prepared when undertaking family journeys).

On the other hand, I am a planner and a list-maker.  I derive great satisfaction in plotting my moves and watching my ideas and dreams take form and become reality.  There’s almost nothing that charges me up like having a big plan in the works.

Right now we’re working through a big plan.

We’re in the middle of organizing a big move for our family – a shift that will involve major changes:

  • Another continent
  • A different hemisphere
  • The opposite side of the road for driving (this is big for me!)

These are just the macro changes.  They’re the big differences we can look forward to – the easily-foreseen, fundamental changes that we can take for granted because we know more or less where we’re going.  There are no decisions to be made on these points (I cannot choose to continue to drive on the right-hand side of the road – more’s the pity).

The lower-level changes require more of us.  These include:

  • Locating the right neighbourhood
  • Finding a house to rent
  • Figuring out a new school and education system
  • Making new friends (and re-acquainting with old ones)
  • Settling into a new church

These will require adjustments, certainly; but because I am an optimist, I trust in a positive outcome.  Many of these are practical changes – concrete items about which we can research, discuss, and make decisions.  There are exciting possibilities, too, for the interim time between leaving here and arriving there – lots of wonderful travel plans to consider.

But for now I am distracted from these pragmatic concerns about the move. I feel pulled instead to deal with more abstract concepts like emotion, attachment, and security.

Because, while the optimist in me feels confident about the long-term vision, and while the planner in me loves the challenge of sorting out all these details, there is a part of me that is not so willing to see all of this as a grand adventure.  There is a part of me that doesn’t want to go through all the goodbyes.  There’s a part of me that, although appreciative of the logic in the conclusion, wishes that to go somewhere you didn’t have to leave somewhere else.

Part of me feels bitterly torn about the insecurity we are about to thrust into the lives of our young boys by taking them away from the only home they’ve ever known to face the challenges of building a new life in novel surroundings.  Part of me longs to stay where I am known.

The optimist in me points out that there is much to be celebrated about this move.  My little nuclear family is remaining intact – West and I don’t have to work in separate places or work out other issues; we’re in it together.  We are moving towards family and friends, as much as we are moving away from others. West doesn’t even have to change jobs; he gets to keep doing what he enjoys with a company he’s invested in.  We have choices – and those choices have led us to this point of departure.  This is our decision.

But for now I am feeling the heart-ache of all the ‘lasts’.

This is the last Christmas concert for my boys at this school.

This is the last birthday we’ll celebrate in this house.

This is the last spring I’ll drive along this rise and see the cherry-blossoms lining the street with the snow-capped peaks in the distance…

I am heart-sore about a departure from this life that we are living, about leaving the people and the places that have been such a wonderful part of our lives in the years since we arrived here as a little young family of four.  I am sorry to bring this chapter to a close. And, above all, I am so sad about the goodbyes.

We have such a good thing here – such a wonderful easy relationship with my parents and they are so comfortingly close at hand.  I am so grateful for the opportunities we have to just share a cup of tea or a meal together on the spur of the moment. Oh, the convenience – and the comfort – of the familiar!  What hard work it is to make new friends – let alone all the effort required to attend to more practical issues.  But I will press on.

We will find a school we love.  We will be close to family.  We will have special friends.  We will find ways to serve, and bless, and thrive…

But for now I have to grieve what I am giving up.  You see, I have those things here.  Here, I feel so fulfilled.  So useful.  So blessed. And thus there is pain in the separation.

There is a song I’ve been hearing lately that has been speaking right into my heart.  It’s Audrey Assad’s ‘Show Me’, and it seems (to me) to describe so aptly my need to pause and wrestle through these difficulties in spite of my ultimate belief in the blessings that await us at the end of the journey.  It is a beautiful metaphor for life, and struggle, and triumph.

It speaks of a ‘dying’ – which, to me describes a ‘dying to self’.  It is not a physical process, but a spiritual one.  This process is a letting go of my own agenda; a refusal to cling to the known and a willingness to leap into the unknown, in the faith that things will work out in the end.  I won’t just survive – I will thrive.

But for now – the goodbyes.

‘Show Me’

You could plant me like a tree beside a river
You could tangle me in soil and let my roots run wild
And I would blossom like a flower in the desert
But for now just let me cry

You could raise me like a banner in the battle
Put victory like fire behind my shining eyes
And I would drift like falling snow over the embers
But for now just let me lie

Bind up these broken bones
Mercy bend and bring me back to life
But not before you show me how to die

Set me like a star before the morning
Like a sun that steals the darkness from a world asleep
And I’ll illuminate the path You’ve laid before me
But for now just let me be

Bind up these broken bones
Mercy bend and bring me back to life
But not before You show me how to die
No, not before You show me how to die

So let me go like a leaf upon the water
Let me brave the wild currents flowing to the sea
And I will disappear into a deeper beauty
But for now just stay with me
God, for now just stay with me

(NB: Click on the song title to hear it – it is beautiful.)

Faith, Philosophy, Reflection


Family farewell

Sometimes it seems to me that my whole life has been a series of goodbyes.

I left my first home in South Africa before I can remember. And I have left it and my loved ones there many times since.  Parting is ever more bittersweet as the years go by; my returns have been fewer and farther in between, and each time I have gone back there have been changes in the family and places I hold dear.

My childhood was filled with arrivals and departures; I experienced many wonderful adventures across the globe, but also many farewells.  Many, many forever farewells.

I can still remember the smell of the aviation fuel and hot tarmac as we trod on Sri Lankan soil for the last time, all those years ago.  That country, at once so foreign and so familiar, had been my home for most of my remembered childhood – and I was caught up in an indefinable melding of joy and sadness in that departure.  We were returning to a place of greater comfort and the embrace of family, but we were leaving the land in turmoil – not knowing if we’d ever return; knowing that, if we did, nothing would be the same again.

Those airport smells, even now, bring back so many memories of places I have been and people I have loved.  It is said that that the sense of smell is, in fact, the most evocative of nostalgia.

Nostalgia – this is one of those words I far prefer in French: nostalgie.  Instead of sounding like a Victorian complaint, it somehow sighs off the tongue with a kind of whispery sensation reminiscent of the feeling itself.  Because nostalgia is, by definition, ephemeral.  It enters, encircles your heart, tugs at happiness, and is gone.

I felt it just the other day. We were having lunch in a heritage building and as I walked through a hallway I detected the scent of old wood and some fragrance forgotten but locked away in the recesses of my memory, and it took me right back into the home of my paternal grandparents.  Tears sprang to my eyes before I could stop them, and for a moment my heart was leaden with grief for a time and place to which I can never return, for those people in whose presence I always felt safe, and loved, and special.

Another time the smell of a hand soap at my parents-in-laws house in Auckland transported me to a happy memory of a holiday in Holland with a special aunt and uncle; another beloved aunt had given my mother a vial of scented hair oil (such a beautiful perfume!) and I remember her dripping some into my long brown hair before I wafted downstairs for dinner, feeling so grown-up (at about age eight).  With that first squirt of the soap it felt like I’d stepped into a time machine – so potently did it evoke those memories – and I rushed downstairs to ask my mother-in-law where she had purchased it.  From then on it was the only soap I would buy, and I found myself often raising my hand to my face to breathe in the comfort of that familiar scent.

There are plenty of other things that can be guaranteed to bring on a bout of nostalgia, too.

  • Weather:
    • Mist reminds me of a little town in Belgium; it was a foggy fall day when I first visited and fell in love with this romantic place.  Now all misty days are ‘Bruges Days’ to me.
    • Clear blue skies on a cold, dry day bring me right back to my mother’s hometown in South Africa and all the sights, smells and people I remember from my visits there.
    • Tastes & scents – too many to name/specify
    • Colour:  there is a very particular pink that is symbolic to me of comfort and coziness; I think that it was the colour of my bath-towel at my grandmother’s house.

Nostalgie is, no doubt, as strong a sensation to many people as it is to me; but most particularly, I think, to those whose lives have been characterised by change.  Impermanence has been more a part of my life than constancy, but I do not say this to elicit pity. Nostalgia is a part of me, and I would not know myself without it. Indeed, I feel that it is a blessing to breathe in these memories and to dwell in them for just a moment as they become real to me once again.

There is great comfort in the past because, of course, it is known.  And no matter how many great and exciting things we might have planned, the future is still unknown.  It is this desire to cling to the familiar that causes ex-prisoners to yearn for a return to their lives behind bars; to some, it may prove easier to forfeit freedom for a cloistered cell than to live with the uncertainty of the outside world.  Other people may feel it as a yen for ‘the good old days’.

But I wonder if nostalgie is more than just a wistful longing for a return to the familiar.  I wonder if, at a deeper level, nostalgia is actually a yearning for the heart’s true home.  For, when we feel nostalgic about something isn’t it often because the place, person, or time about which we reminisce gave us a sense of being home?  Isn’t nostalgia actually a kind of homesickness for a connection, a comfort, a sanctuary that we have known at some time in our lives?

And if our hearts – and our souls – are longing for a return home, then there is a truth on which I can hang my hat. This life is not the end of our story.  Maybe that sense of homecoming we experience with nostalgia is but a taste of what’s to come – an echo of our soul’s true home – and a reminder of the One to whom we really belong.

For people who speak thus make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. If they had been thinking of that land from which they had gone out, they would have had opportunity to return. But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city.

-Hebrews 11:14-16