November 02, 2014

five.

Several days ago I found myself in the middle of a cemetery, weeping. I was still getting over a cold so there was snot everywhere and salty mascara stains were smeared across my cheeks. Wayne was patting my arm, his face contorted with concern.

I was not weeping amongst the headstones for why you might think. I was sitting in the driver's seat of our new car, and despite it being my fourth lesson, I could not get it into first gear without stalling. I was crying because I was failing. I was panicking, really. All I could see before me were years and years of Wayne having to shuttle me around, because I wasn't able to figure out how to get our manual car into gear in the middle of an empty cemetery, never mind the middle of rush hour traffic on the Beltline.

"I just want to skip this part," I warble like a pathetic six-year-old. "I just want to know how to do it right and not have to keep on doing it wrong, over and over again. It's too hard."

Wayne nods in careful understanding, a wry smile creeping onto his face. We all know he's going to use that quote in a sermon somewhere down the line.

I knew I was being utterly ridiculous. Spilled milk, and all that. If someone needs to be told to bite the bullet and get on with it, I'll be the first in line to volunteer for the job. I'm self-aware enough to know that I'm not nearly as compassionate as I ought to be. I like to think about and talk about the importance of the difficult challenges we face in our lives and how formative they are to the shaping of our characters. And yet -- I find myself singing the same refrain whenever something hard comes along. Exactly five years ago today I was standing in a frosty cemetery that shimmered with the reds and golds of autumn, my father at my feet, wishing I could jump ahead and skip life's messy parts and get back to that bit where things are a little more balanced, less challenging, where the hard work is done.

As an aside -- is it crass to compare one's grief over her father's death to learning to drive stick? I'd like to think he'd be honoured -- or at least get a bit of a chuckle out of it. Dig up a terrible pun, or something. "Letting up on the clutch too early was a grave mistake!!" etc. 

We didn't get to skip over the last five years. We didn't get to skip the early days that were thick with such deep sorrow that it was hard to catch a breath. We didn't get to skip those days where the scent of the cold fall air broke our hearts because that was exactly how his goodnight hugs smelled in November. We didn't get to skip the days where we thought we had things under control because it had been a couple years but then you walk into a Home Hardware and the sweetish smell of new tire rubber and earthy fertilizer and shining waxed floors will slap you in the face and it will take all you've got to make sure you don't collapse into a sea of tears between the rows of glistening screws because there is so much here that is Dad and he might be around the corner in the next aisle hunched over looking at drill bits except that you know he is not.

Life doesn't let you skip those parts. 

We have been shaped and burned and dulled and pinched and stretched by the reality of mortality, and I am without doubt that last five years have changed us. They have certainly been formative to our characters -- though we're still trying to figure out what that exactly means. I have not particularly liked the hard parts, but I am aware that they were necessary for getting us to where we are now -- a couple steps further forward, dwelling a little deeper in the peace of Christ.  

Because here is the thing -- there is no other real option but onward. And you fight through those hated hard parts and come out on the other side, often feeling better than you did before, and yes, it was painful, but oh! look at what He has done for us!


Around Thanksgiving of last year I happened to be alone at my childhood home, sitting at the kitchen table and morbidly coming to the realization that the weather and the tilt of the sun was identical to the moment that we received that phone call -- and then I nearly fell out of my seat when the phone actually rang. It was my sister, and there was a new baby boy. I was reminded then and still today that the steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; His mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning (Lam. 3:22-23).

So yes, there are hard bits. There are parts I would rather have skipped. But there is His faithfulness as well, and it is truly great!

August 14, 2014

nomads.

Sometime last week while driving home from somewhere, I turned to Wayne and said, "Wayne, I am homesick, and I don't even know where I am homesick for."

"Tell me about it," he said. "Today I told someone that I was looking forward to being home... wherever that is."


In the last three years we have lived in three different countries on two separate continents. We have occupied three different residences. We have been part of four different church congregations. I have worked three different jobs. We have undergone at least six different physical location or community-based transition times thanks to internships and study opportunities, and will have to get through at least two more of those transitions in the next ten months.

It has been exciting, certainly -- a whirlwind of exploration and new experiences. Our web of contacts and friends is vast and reaches further than we though possible when we left the rooted foundations of our childhood homes. But it is a very horizontal web, and not particularly vertical. We meet, we relate, we say goodbye and we'll stay in touch. It is like being terribly thirsty and wanting nothing more than to drink a whole glass of water -- but only being able to take a tiny sip before moving on and getting going elsewhere.

Yes, we are in some places and communities for longer stretches than others, but even then, there are reminders written in red pen scrawled across dates on calendars and in agendas, warning us of impending expiration dates for visas and work authorizations. There is always paperwork, and you are guaranteed a sufficiently peevish questioning period when trying to get through a border crossing, trying to get through your front door, closer to that place that you think is probably, for now, home.

We are constantly faced with reminders that we do not belong here -- wherever here is at the time. We have pulled anchor and locked up our house so many times that even in our own country it is easy to forget that our birth certificates declare us to be proper and legal citizens.

To put it plainly, we are not quite sure where we belong.

Lord willing, within the next year we'll hopefully find a place to set our feet for at least a little longer than a ten month period of time. For now, though, we live a nomadic life. When I am curled up on a couch and tired with making new friends, or when I wake up in the morning and am groggily unsure of where I am, I am reminded of the fact that I am a wanderer. And yet, as I look back over the last three years, I am okay with this, because I think it is maybe a little bit good to feel displaced.

Part of me welcomes that deep longing for home -- and not just a home I can decorate for Christmas or dig up a garden around -- but a home that is not of this age. It helps me understand what Peter meant when he addresses his letters to the pilgrims, sojourners, strangers and aliens of the world -- the saints, the followers of Christ, who understand that their real citizenship is in heaven. It is good to recognize that I do not permanently belong here, or anywhere on earth, because this is not the last stop. It is good to enjoy the blessings of homes and families and communities, but it is important to realize that the misleading permanency of a job and a mortgage and a nice garden is not the end of the line. It is important to realize that none of this is here for good; that clinging too tightly to earthly things will result in a dependency that will only disappoint and crush. The fear of and aversion to change will stunt our growth, keeping our focus on the here and now; keeping us from stretching and maturing into more faithful followers of Christ.


Wayne and I can say with great certainty that we do not know what the future holds. It is more than possible that we will settle down and grow some roots, but it could be that we will always be nomads -- and that is hard, but that is also okay, because why should we expect any different? The world is a shifting, changing place -- and only "Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever." So I will seek a permanence in heaven and dig some roots into the very solid, never changing ground of the King of all kings, and grow where I'm planted, wherever that may be. 

August 02, 2014

crunchy twizzlers

Because twizzlers taste better when they have a bit of a sandy crunch to them. Nothing says summer like liquorice twizzlers on the beach and crazy post-swim hair! Although let's be perfectly honest, beach hair never actually looks this great... we just like to think it does.

Speaking of beaches... we've been living in the big ole land of Alberta this summer. Swimming options for this province include creepy mushy sloughs and frigid mountain pools of icy-freshness. Neither option is particularly enticing. The great lakes have made us ridiculously soft. Miss you, HOMES.

June 10, 2014

baby names.

Have had a few new entries added to the family tree in the last couple months and I actually managed to recognize these occasions with some happy little cards that to some small degree represent the meaning of the dear wee babes' names.  



Never took the time to photoshop them so they're a bit messy -- I was colouring them whilst small nephews & a niece were crawling all over the place (including on me) and asking why Auntie Suzi didn't draw them their own name card when they were born. Dear children, adults will fail you. But you needn't know that quite yet...

May 27, 2014

we belong here!

There is something very satisfying about coming to the realization that you belong somewhere.  Though we were only in Edinburgh for 14 weeks, and though I can't put my finger on an exact moment, we certainly arrived at that level of familiarity and left Scotland feeling like we were leaving an old friend. It wasn't that sort of awestruck relationship, like the kind you form after visiting a city for only a few days -- more like the kind you have with someone who has revealed to you their ugly bits and shortfalls but you still really like them and want to keep hanging out even if they're annoying sometimes. 

Weird analogy? Sorry guys. I like it. 




We were a part of the city's pulse. We would get on the bus and find someone we knew to sit next to. We ran into our landlord in the strangest places and decided that yes, the world really is a small place after bumping into one of Wayne's seminary professors from back in Michigan as he stepped out of a restaurant doorway. We formed unofficial friendships with Lidl employees and shared one cashier's excitement as she counted down the days to her trip back to Poland to visit her family. We were annoyed with the drunken revellers who kept us awake at night and knew to avoid Cowgate after the sun went down. We had real, proper tea -- the kind with a roast chicken and potatoes and 2 choices of veg. By the end of the summer we could hike up and through closes without feeling like passing out and had seen so many sunsets from up on Salisbury Crags that they've (hopefully) been seared into our memories forever. 





We were privileged to be embraced by a church community who allowed us to become a part of their pulse for three months. They were busy -- they are still busy -- training leaders and working tirelessly in their community to get the Gospel out there, yet they took us in as two of their own despite our short-term commitment and awkward habit of not understanding what they were saying half the time. They trusted Wayne enough to ask him to preach, and trusted me enough to let me on the badminton court and contribute food for Sunday lunch (included too much veg, I was told). They let us into their circles and shared the stories of their lives and their faith and their struggles while rolling cigarettes and shaking their heads in disbelief at the work Jesus had done in their lives. They let us stand alongside them on a Sunday morning as they shouted -- literally shouted -- praise to a God who has promised to make all things new. They sent us off in August after many last garden barbecues and pudding parties and dinner dates and goodbye cupcakes and thorough prayer. 



What encouragement! I don't think either Wayne or myself have ever been able to entirely express what our Edinburgh summer meant to us or what it did for our hearts -- what it revealed to us about ourselves and each other and the work of the Church that is happening everywhere, always -- and how that work is sustained so incredibly by the work of the Holy Spirit. 



One day while walking back to our flat after a visit to the library, I noticed an older gentleman, hair white and frazzled, making comments to everyone he limped past, a huge grin spread across his face. As we met, he looked up at me and said what he had said to everyone else in a thick Scottish brogue: "Ye should bae smilin', yer in Edinburgh!"

Can't help thinking of how this phrase can apply to so many other things! Ye should bae smilin', ye have a job! Ye should bae smilin, ye live in a democratic country! Ye should bae smilin', Jesus has bought you, body and soul, with His blood! 

That last one there. Oh yes. 



So -- as I close off the Edinburgh series one year after we jumped on a plane and went on a rather bizarre adventure -- I want to thank you all for tagging along with us after the fact and taking an interest in our stories! I'm sure there's more to come... 


May 19, 2014

week fourteen.

Our last week in Edinburgh -- and what a week it was! Really a good week despite our flights back to Michigan getting completely mucked up and our internet deciding to blow up at the same time -- bother!


 Running errands, taking walks, making plans for our next week -- when we would be back in America! Was hard to imagine. 


 Our last week was filled to the brim with people -- lots of dinners and lunches and final get-togethers -- including my last ladies' badminton night. I always had a little feeling that I was half-decent at badminton. I no longer have that little feeling, but my co-badmintonites made me goodbye cupcakes anyway -- maple-flavoured too yet! Perfect for the Canadian. 


Had a late August walk along the shore in Musselburgh... 


 and tried to teach a five-year-old how to use a digital camera. 


A Scottish sunset for you!


Took a ridiculous photo in front of our church -- then -- next thing we knew... 


We were flying over the blue expanse of Lake Michigan. Home sweet home!