saying a sad goodbye
We're back to the crazy days. They feel so familiar. This is exactly what May 2010 felt like. I guess there's simply no way around the stress of an international move, whether you're coming or going. True, this time there is a lot less packing, but there are now more children to inhibit the packing process. There's an equal amount of cleaning. (No, wait, there's more. There are more children making things dirty faster than I can clean. And I wasn't pregnant last time.) Also there are more people who want to say special goodbyes since this time it is not "see you in two years!" but rather "see you in heaven!" And there are just as many baffled customer service representatives on the phone. This week I had to call our electric company in the States to have the power turned back on in our Pennsylvanian house. The woman who had the misfortune of picking up my call asked (routinely) for the address of my house, for my SSN, and for my telephone number. I don't have a telephone number. At least not one that is going to fit into the designated spaces on her computer screen. When I explained that I was calling from New Zealand and did not have an American telephone number yet, the phone went silent....and then the inevitable "Can you hold for a moment.....(while I go get a manager...because lady, this just doesn't happen in my normal workday and THERE IS NO FIELD FOR CALLING FROM NEW ZEALAND ON MY COMPUTERIZED FORM!!!!!)"
Just like exactly two years ago this time, I am cleaning. I am throwing things away. I am driving to St. Vincent de Paul's....a lot. I'm wiping down board books and laundering tutus and making mountainous piles of items that will have to fit somehow into the twelve bags with which we are permitted to fly. My planner is crammed with deadlines and lists and reminders. My mind is spinning and my shoulders always seem to be hunched up very tight together.
And just like two years ago, I have no idea what will happen after the plane lands. In fact, I think two years ago I had a better of idea of what would happen after our plane landed in Auckland than I currently know about what will happen after our plane lands in Pittsburgh. That's one thing that I thought would be so different on the return trip. I thought we'd know exactly what to expect for the return voyage - no surprises. For these past two years, I thought that when the mission was over we were going back....back to what was familiar, back to what was known, back to our old life....back to the family and friends and community and home we'd missed so much all this time. But the Lord, the One who makes all things new, so often prefers to move us forward, not back. And it seems that there is a chance that He will indeed be moving us "forward" rather than "back". With 18 days to go until departure, I literally can't even guess at what we are "returning" to. On the one hand, there's a good possibility that we are indeed returning to a (mostly) familiar life. That option is always open to us. On the other hand, there is also an equally good possibility that we are going to be starting over again in a brand-new life, knowing nobody, in a city, state and region which neither of us has ever before laid eyes on. (Kind of like two years ago...) The Lord may give that option as well, leaving us free then to choose. But we don't know yet for sure. Most likely we won't know until days before we fly out of Auckland (if then!).
It feels....weird. I don't find that kind of uncertainty as easy as Richard does. I'm a planning type. I love to organize and structure things well in advance. Right now, I can make no solid plans. No doubt the Lord is teaching me a great deal by keeping me in this state of limbo. I don't normally "do" limbo. I barely know how to exist in limbo. In fact, late at night, the wheels of my brain simply spin with two sets of plans - one set for if we return to PA and one set of plans for if we do not. That's my limbo-resistant brain, where I live most of the time. But my heart - which I do visit occasionally - is different. Deep in my heart I trust that the Lord is simply going to make it obvious where He wants us and that He is at work even in the timing of our knowledge of where that is. He has a good plan, a brilliant plan, a beautiful plan. I have to keep reminding my limbo-hating brain of that. Hourly. Especially between the hours of 9pm and 11pm.
So there is a feeling of *some* stress. I think I can honestly say that Rich and I are both at peace that the Lord is going to provide job, home and community - and that He will do all things well. He has given us clear signs and we are both at peace. Nevertheless, there is an ENORMOUS mountain to climb in the near future before there is any feeling of being settled or at rest. The mountain consists of packing, and of the emotional drama of saying goodbye to people and places we've come to love. It consists of the thousand little details that must be attended to when moving. It absolutely consists of a thirteen hour flight from Auckland to LA with three very small plane-phobic children, followed by seven hours of travel on two flights the following day before we finally reach Pittsburgh. It consists of the jet lag that will attend adjusting to a sixteen hour time difference. It consists of settling ourselves and our children back into our old home on Wilson and helping them cope with a total lifestyle change. It consists of possibly packing everything back up soon thereafter, preparing the house for sale, finding a new house and then settling the children again for a second time in a very short span of time. And then...just as perhaps we find some sort of new normalcy....we'll have a baby. I think even the saints would find this mountain at least a little stressful.
So today we took a much-needed break from the stressful things and we paid a bittersweet final visit to one of our most beloved places in New Zealand. All these photos were taken today at the place we have called "Shelly Beach" (we have no idea what the locals actually call it.) Truly, photos do not do this beach justice. In these photos, you can't see the variety, abundance or perfection of the seashells. You can't see the stretches of beach where there is no sand, just layer upon layer of salty shells crunching underfoot. You can't see the tide pools teeming with starfish and crabs and snails (mostly because it was low tide when we went today). You can't see Mt. Maunganui towering immediately above you, ridiculously green, dotted with sheep and encircled at its base with fantastic trees that transform you effortlessly into your favorite character from Lord of the Rings. You can't feel the sea breezes or hear the lapping of the waves. You can't see the shifting colors of sea and sky, nor touch the amazing textures of the rocks. You can't explore all the secret hiding places among the rocks or hunt for the treasures they hold. You certainly can't pretend to be Ariel from the Little Mermaid, sunning yourself on one of the outermost rocks (and this is a good thing, as Richard's brother Jason nearly was dashed to bits by a powerful wave doing just that last year). Nevertheless, this is the place that we have taken the kids more times than we can count, a place we have gone on sunset dates together, a place we have taken all our visitors. It is the place where I have collected most of my beautiful seashell souvenirs and the place Rich and I have climbed enormous rocks and sat in silence to watch the water crashing all around us, feeling very close to God indeed. Our family has had so many precious memories at this beach (to say nothing of the trips to the nearby gelato store that inevitably accompany these outings). I can't think of any place in New Zealand at which I have been happier, except for the (intoxicating) Tyburn Monastery.
As usual, we had a wonderful time - but this time was also stabbingly sad. It was like saying goodbye to a really close friend - knowing that it would be a very long time before I saw it again, if I did see it again at all. For all its own charms, I'm not sure Pittsburgh has anything that compares to this. Not even on Wilson Avenue.