Life, Philosophy

Switching Gears

sofa warehouse by sacha fernandez on flickr

Next weekend we are moving out of our nomadic phase into a ‘home rental’ phase.  We’re going to be settled; there are lots of changes ahead.

It’s going to be tough switching gears and actually making purchases to furnish our household.

A normal person looks at a price tag as an indicator of the monetary value of something.  I just calculate the exchange rate directly into airmiles.  So while a friend might say, “How much did he pay for that sofa?  Oh, OK – I think I can work that into my budget,” I’d be thinking,

“I could get to GREECE for that much!” 

Which explains how it is that we’ve still managed to do some globetrotting, even after having kids. 

And why we have no furniture.

So now I need to embrace the ‘homemaker’ in me and nest a little.  It’s exciting and scary all at once – will we go colonial?  Country?  Modern?  More than likely we’ll start with a bunch of items that ‘will do in the meantime’ and end up with a hodgepodge in every room.

Ask me for an itinerary of a Europe-with-kids adventure, and I’ll give you a clear and detailed list.  Ask me to decide on a colour scheme (something that won’t clash with the warm Rimu-wood panelling all over our living room – from the walls right up to the high sloped ceilings), and I’m adrift.  Switching gears isn’t for the faint-of-heart!

Last Monday the new school year began here in New Zealand and, in the absence of a place to stay (and therefore any knowledge of what our ‘local’ school might be) I re-embarked on the homeschooling in earnest.  We had a very trying morning of it (when I say ‘we’, I mean that I was tried to the fullest extent – the boys seemed rather cheerful as they were telling me I’m a mean teacher and positively gleeful as they refused to participate in the learning exercises) – so much so that as soon as the clock struck twelve I raced up to West’s office and, with sotto-voce curses, hissed at him to take over – I’m DONE!!! and then proceeded to sob into my pillow for a good half hour, weepily refusing offers of a lunchtime meal.

And then the phone rang.

Gear switch.

The rental agent was phoning to say that we were being offered a house we’d applied for – an older home a block from the beach in a peaceful suburb just under half an hour away from West’s folks.  Homeschool was out of session – permanently.

I blew my nose, reapplied my makeup, and grabbed a toasted sandwich (my appetite had returned); just under hour later we were at the local school, enrolling the boys.  About an hour after that we were in the local uniform shop, fitting them with shirts and shorts (and sandals, sunhats, and fleeces).  And from there we went to the stationers to collect stationery packages for each of them to take to class.

The next day our boys began school for the first time in New Zealand, and we signed the papers for our house rental.

It’s amazing how often we have to switch gears in life, isn’t it?!

One minute you’re on one path, and the next you’ve jumped the track and you’re headed somewhere else altogether.  Even if you’ve planned the change in your trajectory, it can still be a bit of a shock to your system to actually make the switch.

When I returned from a year in Europe following my university studies, I started saving up to go to graduate school.  My plan was to study counter-terrorism (in my chosen field of Criminology) and gain expertise so that I could go into situations following a terrorist attack and help determine who was responsible.

This plan seemed ideal, as I was passionate about making a difference and willing to travel globally, and I was really interested in the topic of terrorism (as I had peripherally experienced its effects in both my native South Africa and my childhood home of Sri Lanka during the escalation of the civil war there).

And then I met West.

All of a sudden I had hopes of a future that included a husband and children, and the idea of putting myself in harm’s way and travelling away from my beloved became less appealing.

Gear switch.

So now I try to make a difference in smaller ways, and I travel for pleasure (including the pleasure of visiting with family), and I use my knowledge of Criminology in raising my own small band of hooligans.

I went back to school (to obtain my Editing certificate) when C was under a year old; at the same time I was challenging myself physically with a new diet and exercise regimen; and I was called to help lead a new marriage ministry in our church.  It was an amazing time of learning and growth, and I felt so blessed to be involved in things that I was passionate about.  My time, my body, my soul – all were changing and I was thriving.

And then we felt the pull to add to our family – and I became pregnant with baby #4 (our D).

Gear switch.

This is what life is.  It’s doing one thing, and then something changes, and then doing another thing. 

And when it’s tough because of the changes, we have to remember something – we have to bear this in mind to keep our perspective: Making those gear-changes smoothly is key to functional driving on the road of life.

This is a metaphor that works well for me, because I am – at best – HOPELESS at driving a car with a standard transmission.

I mean, if you’ve ever seen a reality show like The Amazing Race and wondered at the imbecility of the contestants not knowing what gear they should be in and laughed at them lurching and shuddering along the road in their standard-drive autos, then you would sure get a kick out of me trying to drive one.  West has tried to teach me (and he’s a good teacher!), but we decided that it would be best for our marriage if we just stuck to owning cars with automatic transmissions.  I am THAT bad.

But on the road of life, I get how the gear switches work – and I can see that going with the changes instead of resisting them is just so much better than shuddering and jarring your way along the road.

So, don’t come looking for me on the travel forums tomorrow.

I’m going to be out buying a sofa.

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Life, Reflection

Fare Thee Well

Swirls by Renate Flynn on flickr

 

Today we’re a week from launch, and I am a finger-painting of emotions.  Not a whirlwind of emotions – that would imply a greater direction and force of feeling – and not a kaleidoscope, either, which would imply that each emotion was somehow pure and discrete and ordered… No, I think that a finger-painting is the best approximation of how I’m feeling – a hodgepodge of colours, all smearing together; over and under and around, with one thing oozing into the wet mess of the next.

For ages I’ve been able to speak with a philosophical detachment about the grieving process and stress that accompanies a move like this one.  I’ve acknowledged that leaving their grandparents here (to whom they are greatly attached) will feel, to my boys, a bit like a death (particularly for D, who’s only two years old, and who therefore cannot understand how people can be present although far from us).  But now, that veneer of logic is being peeled away and I am in the grips of what it actually means to leave.

I know – and it is becoming painfully clearer as our departure date nears – that there will be a rending of my boys’ tender little hearts in discovering this void in our daily lives that has hitherto been so wonderfully occupied by our extended family and beloved friends.  I know that we will all struggle with the growing pains of putting down new roots, finding a new groove, getting into a new ‘normal’.  There’s just so much that is unknown at this point – and questions that won’t be answered for months and months yet.  So it’s hard, and sad, and stressful.

I find myself crying over silly things, like running out of my muesli and having to buy another packet that I won’t be able to finish before I leave – or looking in the fridge and finding dairy products that are due to expire after we’re gone.  I will, have no doubt, be on a knife’s edge on Sunday morning when we share a final service with our church family – those who’ll be there, you have been warned.  Bring Kleenex – I will need lots.  There have already been lots of goodbyes, and they’re all hard, but I know from experience that there’s something particularly difficult about leaving that safe and sacred space and the cherished people therein.

There are so many friends I wanted to see just one more time, and so many places I hoped to get to again before we left – but now the countdown accelerates and I’m resigned to missing out.  Missing is something I’m familiar with – missing people and places and times past is a fact of my life.

It is an emotionally-charged time, but there is a beauty and a balance in the fact that, busy as we are with the physical preparations for moving, we are unable to give due attention to the emotional aspect of shifting countries.  Thoughts and feelings bubble up; we deal with them as they appear and then continue as before.  There is work to be done, and our focus is necessarily on that – and so we gradually receive some immunity against the waves of homesickness and the missing of friends and family that invariably follow a big move.  We’re grateful, too, for the period of travelling we have to look forward to; our excitement and anticipation for that also acts as a buffer from the harder, deeper feelings about our departure.

Our time in Europe will serve, we hope, as a bonding time for us as a smaller family unit.  It will give us all a bit of time to find new little rhythms as we adjust to different quarters and experience life with other languages, foods, adventures…  Because of this sojourn we won’t be so quick to compare this home life with our eventual new situation and routines – and that’s good, because this is a positive move and we’d hate to forget that in all of our sadness about leaving here.  We’re moving towards something else – our new life in New Zealand – more than we’re moving away from life here; that is to say, there’s nothing driving us from Canada but there is simply an impetus to shift back to our NZ friends and family and continue our lives there.  We are grateful for this.  We have been grateful for here and we will be grateful to be there.

And so, in spite of the myriad of emotions and the abundance of stresses as we’re farewelling, we are faring well.

We are faring well.

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Faith, Life

Letting Go

 

letting go by

 

Up in the attic

Down on my knees

Lifetimes of boxes

Timeless to me

Letters and photographs

Yellowed with years

Some bringing laughter

Some bringing tears

Time never changes the memories

The faces of loved ones

Who bring to me

All that I come from

And all that I live for

And all that I’m going to be

My precious family

Is more than an heirloom to me

 

– Heirlooms, by Amy Grant, E. Brown Bannister, Robert B. Farrell

 

We’re packing up.  We’re sorting and boxing and discarding and selling and giving away.  And as we sift through our old boxes, we unearth forgotten treasures: preschool crafts; birthday trinkets; photos and notes and cards and souvenirs…  We chuckle over the inexpert scribbles from our Kindergarteners and the funny messages from our fledgling writers, and we grow misty-eyed over images of their sweet baby and toddler years.

It can be difficult to know what to hold onto.

The temptation is great to just keep everything, especially for a sentimentalist like me; these scraps of paper and pieces of our children’s history so powerfully invoke my memory of our family’s early years.  Each item is like an amulet, with the power to transport me to the past – and I treasure this, because without such talismans the years we’ve left behind can become just a blur of wiping noses – changing nappies – feeding-soothing-cuddling-correcting-teaching…  But these precious keepsakes have piled up, even in our seven short years of living here – there is too much to store; too much to move across the seas.

And so I am sorting.  I’m sifting through, and I’m learning to let go.  Now everything goes into one of three piles: recycle, keep, and photograph.  One of the boons of living in this digital age is that almost any memento can be scanned or photographed and saved onto a memory stick that takes up a fraction of the original object’s space.  Thus piles of papers, mounds of clay-work, libraries of schoolbooks, and closets full of clothes with sentimental value can be distilled into a single photobook, or just saved indefinitely (and eventually forgotten about) in cyberspace.  This is the way life is; the things we cling to – those that seem so important at one stage – may be more easily parted with as the years go by.

I learned this lesson in a different way last summer.  After a number of years with an unstable shoulder joint, I finally dislocated it so badly that it didn’t automatically pop back into place as it had always done previously.  As I waited for the ambulance to arrive, I cradled my arm tightly in the other arm to try to minimize the pain of shifting the joint.  Regardless, my muscles periodically tensed up in excruciating spasms until my prayers were answered and the shoulder spontaneously relocated – just before the EMTs arrived.

Later (in the months before I had surgery to fix the damaged ligament), I asked my physio what I should do if the injury recurred.  His advice?  Basically to do the opposite of what I had done: instead of holding my arm tighter, it would have been more helpful for me to let go.  What I really should have done was to dangle my arm in as loose a manner as possible, so that it could drop out of the wrong position and pop back into place.  Letting go was the answer.

How often do we do the opposite of what we should do, though?  How often are we so afraid to let go that we hold tightly in the hopes that this will minimize the pain?

Letting go is not easily done.  It is an act of faith.  It’s a declaration of hope in the future as we move beyond the comfort of the past.  We don’t let go of everything, but nor do we cling to it because we are fearful of the future.

 

Let me hold lightly the things of this earth.
Transient treasures, what are they worth?
Moths can corrupt them, rust can decay,
All their bright beauty fades in a day.

Let me hold lightly temporal things,
I who am deathless, I who wear wings.
Let me hold fast, Lord, things of the skies,
Quicken my vision, open my eyes.

Show me Thy riches, glory and grace,
Boundless as time is, endless as space.
Let me hold lightly things that are mine
Lord, Thou dost give me all that is Thine.

-‘Hold Fast True Riches’, by Martha S. Nicholson

These little mementoes of our history; these treasures from our time here in this house, in this community, are precious because they are a key to our past.  But I am learning to release things so that I am free to embrace the promise of our future.  I am learning to ‘hold lightly the things of this earth.’

I am learning the art of letting go.

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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.)

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