Thursday, 15 December 2011

Home is Wherever You Are

The day before I left for London my friend Kirstin gave me some of her handmade cards decorated with koru designs and photos from her home town and surroundings in Otago/Southland. Kirstin, the resident artist at the Gordon’s out Tuapiro way and at St Paul’s in town, spent much of 2010 in South Africa and India – a seasoned traveller to be sure. She said that these cards were a good way to say thank you to people you stayed with and shared life with along the way. I was grateful for her advice, and the cards that accompanied it.

Kirstin also said that wherever you stay, whether just for the night, or for a whole week, put out, or put up your mementoes from home, your pictures of the people and places you know. Kirstin didn’t know it, but what she said gave me permission to feel at home wherever I lay my head. It wasn’t about homesickness, it was about belonging. Those keepsakes that connected me with the homeland reminded me that I belonged somewhere, that I belonged with a community of people in a particular part of God’s world. In the same way, I belonged wherever I was, and with whoever I was with, at that particular moment it time. I will never be divorced from where I’ve come from, but at the same time, I will never be disconnected from where I am going.

I’ve been back home for months now, and flatting with a friend of mine in a little house up beach road with a paddock next door. Occasionally the cows come in. When they do I spend some time with them, sitting on the fence and eating my toast. Wayne, the flatmate, is getting married at the end of the month, and he’s moving up north to be with his girl. On Monday the movers came, packed up his stuff (except for the alcohol and the aerosols) and took it away.

I’m staying on for the next couple of weeks. 

I made myself scarce on Monday. When I returned home in the afternoon the house was empty and the cupboards were bare (a part from the aforementioned possessions, and my room, where I had stashed all my stuff).

Remembering the wisdom and experience of the homeless traveller, I set to work making this relatively empty house ‘home’ – even if it’s just for two and a half weeks. It’s not worth retrieving the couch and kitchen table I have stored at my folks place. So, I bought my nana’s old red rocking chair, a side table and a bookshelf out of my chock-a-block bedroom, and set them in a corner of the lounge as a little ‘living area’.
This exercise reminded me to the time when God told the Israelites, who were living in exile, to make a home for themselves, to plant gardens and settle down (Jeremiah 29:4-7). Although they would not be living in Israel in the time being, they would not cease to be Israelites. Although they belonged to the land of Israel, more importantly, they belonged to God, and therefore belonged to each other. They would always be at home together.
I am not living in exile, nor am I far from my homeland. The nature of my age and stage means that I am in a state of transition a lot of the time. For now, my living situations are only ever temporary – for a year, or maybe just a few months. I would like, more than almost anything, to build a home and settle down, to have some stability and security. But, at the same time, I have itchy feet, eager to get going. Perhaps it is the nomadic life for me (for now). And so, wherever I am, wherever I lay my head, I will make a home for myself. I will settle down.  I will belong, because I belong, first and foremost, to the One who has called me here, and will call me on.
Guide me, oh thou great Jehovah. 

Wednesday, 5 October 2011

Story Telling

I am like a child and I ask you to read me my favourite storybook over and over again. Each time you tell me the tale it gets further and further entrenched into my being. I notice new things and I am drawn deeper and deeper into the drama of the narrative – I become a part of the story and the story becomes a part of me.
Don’t ever stop telling me that story. I want to hear it again and again. I need to hear it again and again.
Remind me of the One who created me and sustains me, the One who created us and sustains us. Tell me again of the One who made a space for us, of the One whose love will stop at nothing, of the One who is love. Remind me of the One who reconciles and restores, the One who redeems.
That’s the story I want to hear, that’s the story we need to hear. Tell it.

Thursday, 8 September 2011

Ride it Like a Wave

'The Lords of Dogtown' is a movie about a bunch of surfers-come-skaters in Sante Monica, America in the early 1970's. The story is set during the time when the standards of skateboarding were taken to a whole new level. Skip, the coach and mentor of a group of teenagers, introduced his boys to a new variety of wheels for their boards that would change their world - they would be able to perform tricks that were never possible before. Skip took them out to a concrete drainage system and called out "ride it like a wave boys!" And they did.

You may have heard that grief is like a wave; it comes and it goes. Sometimes the full force of its raging power comes crashing down on you and you're left breathless as you struggle to the surface. Sometimes its swift and steady as the current carries you. And then at other times it's still and serene and you feel quite secure.

The change between these states can be quite unpredictable and I've been caught out more than once. It happened again while I was away.

I'd met my Aunty in Prague, she was heading over to the Czech Republic for a wedding of this guy she knows and I got to tag along. Three years ago her husband, my mothers big brother, passed away. It's been three years, and although I've come to accept the fact, I don't think I'll ever get used to Uncle Ron not being around. It's not right that he's not here and I found myself continuing to grieve his death. Perhaps the process is never completed. Ride it like a wave, Cate, ride it like a wave.

Jesus knows what it's like to lose someone; his friend Lazarus died. Jesus got word from Mary and Martha, Lazarus' sisters, that he was sick. When Jesus arrived Martha said to him, "where were you? If you'd been here Lazarus would still be alive."

I found myself saying something similar, "Jesus, where were you? If you'd been here Uncle Ron would still be alive."

Martha told Jesus she knew she'd see her brother again, at the resurrection, on the last day. He told her that he, himself, is the Resurrection.

He told me the same thing.

Grief sucks, it really does. I dont think it will ever stop hurting, but I think that I am getting better and better at riding the wave. I have become honest enough to ask Jesus where he was when it happened, and he keeps me humble enough to hear him say that he was right there with them, and that he was right there with me too, he's always with me, closer than my breath.

Jesus is the Resurrection and the Life, in him we live and move and have our being. Nothing changes that. Not even death changes that.

Wednesday, 17 August 2011

Imitation (sing it the way U2 sing 'Elevation')

My dad knows Dr Seuss' 'The Lorax' off by heart. He read it to us so many times as kids that it will be imbeded into his memory forever. When he is too old to remember the names of his own children, I bet he will still remember the names of the Brown Barbaloots, the Swammi Swans, the Hummingfish, and the Lorax.

My father has also recited this story to me so many times that when he begins, 'At the far end of town where the grickle-grass grows...' I am able to repeat the words along with him. I am yet to learn the entire story by rote, and I rely on him to help me along, giving me prompts and clues and suggestions for expression.

In Prague I attended a strings performance held in the old museum, which is closed for construction until 2015. It opens in the evening though, especially for these concerts.

The museum sits at the top of Wenceslas Square and is hundreds of years old. We entered the atrium and filed up the stairs to the main landing. From there four stair cases, two on each side, lead to the balcony above. I imagine that the rooms which run off from the balcony are full of history and mystery, and will be nothing but beautiful when the renovations are complete.

The musicians stood on the landing and we sat on the stairs. Sitting on the steps diagonally across from me was a blond haired boy in a blue shirt, about 12 years old. He too knew some of these songs off by heart. He played the air violin note for note, stroke for stoke. I valued his contribution and his enthusiasm. I suspect that the quality of his performance was thanks to his familiarity with the song and his opportunity to imitate the master musicans below.

Imitation isn't mere copy-catting. When I recite 'The Lorax' I am telling the same story as my father, but I tell it slightly differently, with my own particular emphases and personal style. When violin boy plays Mozart he is animatedly and energetically playing the song that was written all those years ago, and he plays with the passion his personality brings.

In his letter to the Corinthians, Paul said 'imitate me as I imitate Christ.'

As I reflect on this I give thanks for those mentors and role models who have significantly impacted my life. I have been blessed with people who are familiar with the story of how God entered human history and showed us what true and perfect love is. They know the story well, they tell the story well. They sing it. They play it. And I have seen something of Christ at work in and through them.

I've been shown how to love the story. I've been shown how to live the story. I've heard the beauty of the song and I've been given space to play along.

Together, let us continue to imitate Christ and share in the life of his story

Sunday, 7 August 2011

He Tangata

My friend Mia has been living in Switzerland and I went and stayed with her for a few days. We caught a train from Gland, near Geneva, to Interlaken - the Queenstown of Switzerland.

The train was quite full so we had to sit with some strangers. Mia and I sat facing each other. I was next to a woman with her ear phones in and her eyes closed. Mia sat next to a man, she looked at me and made a baby motion with her hands. This young dad had his wee girl in a front pouch. She lay asleep against her fathers chest for a while.

Mia is an au pair and over the last few days she's been telling me that although she likes kids, she also likes her time off and can find children irritating when she's in "holiday mode." I felt for Mia when this wee lass started grizzeling and let out a short cry - Mia hates crying babies.

The dad opened up the pouch, kissed his daughter on the head and took out a bottle for her. Four month old Sophie spent the remainder of her time with us wooing Mia with her big, beautiful, blue eyes, staring intently at bright colours and chewing on her dad's finger to help her teeth come through.

As we watched and delighted in new, vulnerable life, and made sporadic small talk, I was reminded of the old Maori saying He aha te mea nui? He tangata, he tangata, he tangata (What is the most important thing? It is people, it is people, it is people.) I whispered it too myself and gave thanks to God for our humanity.

Monday, 1 August 2011

This is the Life

I stayed with the Iona community for a week and learnt about life. We all came  from different parts of the world, with our different journey's and our different stories, and we came together for seven days. We ate together, and worked together, and played together, and prayed together - we did life together. Nothing extraordinary, just everyday life (except that we had left our other everyday lives, with all their routine and reunions, at home).

On Friday we caught the ferry to Fionnphort and said our farewells. I continued on to Inverness to stay with some friends for the weekend.

Wendy, and her girls Megan and Allie, met me at the train station and we had dinner together. Spending time with this family of six (plus the dog and a visiting Granny) was another experience of sharing everyday life together. Callum was kind enough to give up his bedroom for a few days and Hugh had made some space on his floor for his brother to sleep.

We went sight seeing and grocery shopping, hired books from the library and had lunch at Loch Ness. Angus and I chatted about theology and us girls discussed wedding dresses with Granny. Wendy and I reflected on life, and we all played with the dog.

On this journey I have been blessed with community; first at Iona and then at Dingwall. This is what we were made for - for life - and life is something that is shared, something that is done in community. I can not create or sustain life, nor can I live in isolation. I can only share in the life that God has created and sustains.

During those times when I seek my own individual, self-centred life that I can preserve according to my own agendas, I find that I am not creating any kind of life for myself at all. I become arrogant and insular, and that will suck up any health and life within me, and I'll be left for dead.

But when we submit ourselves to God and sharing in his life as his people, that's when we find life, that's when we share in something far more beautiful than we could have ever created. It's not pristine and perfect, it can be messy and laboured, and beautiful.

I am reminded of the time Jesus told his followers that whoever wants to find thier life will loose it, and whoever wants to loose their life will find it. I want to loose myself. I want to be lost in the life of God - the life that his people share. Because, really, that's a pretty good place to be lost, and because, really, that's when I am found, that's where I am found, that's when I expereince real life - life in the Spirit.

Friday, 29 July 2011

This Moment

Earlier this month I spent a week on the island of Iona on the west coast of Scotland. This island is where St Columba first landed when he made his voyage from Ireland back in the 6th Century. The Abbey on the island has largely been restored and services are held there at least twice a day. 

The nunnery, on the other hand, lies in ruins.

At first I wondered why there had been no apparent attempt toward restoration or recovery - to put the stone slabs back together or pull the weeds from the walls. And then I wondered why I had this desperate need to return things to their former glory, as if a particular moment in time ought to be permanently preserved for fear of change. But lately I have been learning how to allow things to be what they are, when they are; delighting in each moment for all its familiarity as well as its diversity.

This place was a nunnery - it served that purpose for a moment in time. And now, now it serves a new purpose, and I can see the beauty of it. The rugged beauty of this outdoor garden, with its flowers that just seem to grow wild where they are without wandering all over the place, is just as meaningful and intentional and purposeful. This collection of stones was what it was, and is what it is.

May the bones of my body be the same: living each moment meaningfully and intentionally and purposefully. May this be true for you too. And may we allow ourselves to be changed by the one who is steady and unchanging, the one who is the beginning and the end, the one who says "I Am Who I Am".

Saturday, 16 July 2011

A Mothers Love

I caught this train from London to Glasgow today. It was a 4 hour journey and half way through I scored myself a sweet window seat. I spent the remainder of the ride gazing out the window, capturing the countryside.

All along the edges of the train tracks there were pockets of wild foxgloves bursting with beauty.

My mother loves foxgloves.

My mother loves me too.

As I rocked along the train tracks I was struck again by the beauty of creation, and the beauty of love. I too know what it is to love, and I too know what it is to be loved. It almost seems paradoxical, but in the bonds of love we are set free.

This bought tears to my eyes - the kind of tears that just leak out and you can't stop them. I wasn't sad, I was grateful, and this was my response.

I understood anew that I am loved, by my mother and by my God, and it is this love that defines me. As I travel through this world and as I travel through this life, I don't always know what I'll be facing, but I face it with the knowledge that I am loved. I think that's beautiful. I think that defines all that I am. I think that defines all that I think and say and do. I think love defines everything.

(p.s. I love you mum, and I think that I may just be learning to love foxgloves)

Friday, 15 July 2011

Butt, I Wanted to Wear Those Pants in This Relationship

For Regan Jackson because it was his birthday. 
For Carol Vicarage because, well, you know why. 

I developed a keen interest in op-shopping and secondhand store scavenging in my early teens. I still have a jacket I bought from an op-shop at Mount Maunganui when I was 14, both because it is a cute little jacket full of character, and also because it was such a bargain - the best bargain I have ever come across - and it symbolises all that is good with secondhand items.

By the time I was 16 I was well educated in this area. One Saturday morning I was scouring the various stalls at Paddy's Market - an annual fair for St Paul's Presbyterian Church in Katikati where I grew up - when I stumbled across another bargain. Score!

I had found the fabric stall. Being a keen sewer with an adequate level of technical skill (and an unfortunately low interest in patience and precision to a degree which horrified my mother), I was eager to transform this fabric into something worthy of the character of the print. I had found a piece of fabric that had been stored since the 1970's.

It was only right to make something great. Flares were in order. Big, 1970's flares. Luckily I had just the right pattern. I set to it and my creation was constructed in a couple of hours.

My mother had warned it would never work. The fabric had no give to speak of, as well as no strength to support the movement that would be required of it. I told her I knew what I was doing - as 16 year old's are inclined to do.

I wore these pants to the next school mufti day. I paid my $1. I felt good. I looked good. My new pants were a perfect fit, and peculiar enough for me to feel that I had not fallen into the crowd. As we were exciting form class, down the wet wooden step, this boy I liked told me I had cool pants. He was right. I did have cool pants.

Not long after, the pants went into storage. I can't remember how it happened (truly, I can't!) but somehow the seam in the crutch split and rendered these pants unwearable. My mother was right, the fabric couldn't cut it.

Earlier this year these vintage pants were rediscovered. My parents were doing that thing where they make sure you have well and truly flown the nest. The wardrobe in the spare room was no longer my own private storage space. With what was mine I either had to claim it, or it would cark-it.

I couldn't let these pants kick the bucket. I asked mum if she could fix them. She said "I'll get me lady to do it," meaning the local woman who makes clothing alterations for a small fee.

Last week I got my beloved pants back. The following Saturday was moving day, and I thought this was a prime opportunity to try out my trusty old trousers. The first thing for me to do was take a ar load of boxes and books to Phillip and Carol's place. They're keeping them in their garage for me while I am away. I lifted and stacked, and lifted and stacked, and all was well.

On my way back to the beach I called in at New World in Waihi so I could bring some more banana boxes back with me. I spoke to the guy in the produce department and he headed out the back.

The thing with the Waihi New World is that every time I'm there I have to get some dried mango slices from the pick and mix section. They are so tasty and this particular brand can be hard to come buy. I made my selection and waited for his return. He came back carrying four boxes stacked one of top of the other. He asked me if I wanted a trolley and I said thanks, but I should be fine.

It was a little awkward as I took them from him; clutching my wallet and my mango slices while trying to get a good grip. The top box was above my head which meant that I walked at an odd angle around the corner to the checkout chick.

Despite my light load I remembered to use good lifting and lowering practice. I bent at the knees and placed my boxes on the floor. I waited in line and was aware that I couldn't waste much time (it was still moving day after all). Each time I moved up the line I would use my foot to slide the stack of boxes a few steps ahead of me.

She scanned my mango, I paid her $2 and I bend down to pick up my boxes. This time though, my trousers did not bend to the shape of my bottom.

With a sufficient level of surprise I informed the checkout operator that unfortunately I had just split my pants. The terrible thing is that these trousers weren't even tight - truly! I had had to hold them together with a safety pin. And what's worse, it wasn't even a tiny little tear, it was a gigantic rip right up the rear. With as much grace as I could muster I stood and walked out the door, albeit as discretely as I could, keeping my back to the wall were possible.

The trick to walking the streets of Nairobi as a white woman on your own is to exude confidence - look like you know where you're going and what you're doing, even if you don't. The trick to walking out of a supermarket with a hole in your pants the size of you hand is similar; exude confidence. That's waht I did anyway, and I think it worked.

The only saving grace of that mornings events is that I was wearing a large black scarf. Once in the safety of the foyer I stood with my back to the small plants sections and wrapped this unendingly useful piece of fabric around my waist and tied it together on my right hip. Wardrobe malfunction successfully managed!

When I reflect on what those pants represent for me I am reminded that I am too quick to hold on to things longer than I need to. I should have been content to allow those pants to be a good thing for a moment in time, and then moved on. That's why I'm not getting them fixed again.

In this relationship I have with life I wanted to wear those pants, because they were mighty fine pants. They represented creativity and uniqueness, ingenuity and experimentation. But at the end of the day they are still only a pair of pants, and I couldn't pretend they were anything more. It's time for me to let them go. This is their memorial. Farewell.

Tuesday, 5 July 2011

ka kite ano

I tend to get all sentimental when I'm leaving, and I'm going to be leaving soon. It's time for me to start heading in a slightly different direction. It's time for me to let some things go.

Almost a year ago I moved out to this cute little place at Waihi Beach, with it's high wood-paneled ceiling angled upward toward the apex. When the rain comes the water sneaks its way inside, slides down the ceiling and slips onto the carpet or into a bucket.

I reside upstairs, and from the front window I look out into a Totara tree, where the tui’s perform their tricks. Beyond are the Bowentown Heads; they're neither particularly beautiful nor boastful, but they are bound, and I love them for it.

Between these are a bunch of houses, holiday homes and batches mostly. My view extends up the street and I can see when the posties red, rural delivery van arrives, and I rush out with my mail.

Outside there's a small balcony. It came with a picnic table and an orange sun umbrella. I added the pot plants, which are struggling to survive because, unfortunately, I did not inherit my father’s flare for horticulture. This space proved useful during summer. Each Sunday we'd spend time together eating fish and chips and sipping shandy - or something stronger.

Just next door, between number 5 and number 7, a sandy beach access slithers its way over the sand dunes and out to sea. I like the sound the sand dunes make at dawn and dusk; the gentle calling of nesting birds, the reeds and the wild grass rustling in the wind, the sniffs and sighs of my neighbours lap dog as she gives me the guided tour, "come on, Bugsly," I whisper.

Each time I walk this way I wait at the top of the last dune before wandering down to the water. I can't help but pause, the view is glorious and ever-changing; sometimes sweet and still, sometimes rough and raging. Most days I can see her, sitting out over the horizon. "Kia ora Tuhua," I call, and I continue on my way. 

On Saturday I'll be leaving. I'll be saying good bye to this place. I'll be moving out and moving on.

Ka kite ano.