Tuesday, 8 May 2012

Emerging from the Fog

When I teach Greek and Hebrew, I start the first semester by warning my students that they are about to enter what I call 'The Fog'.  A few weeks into the semester they will not know how the grammar they're learning fits together; they may not even remember why they signed up for the course.  They will be able to focus on only the lesson in front of them.  Then I promise them that if they trust me, and if they actually do the lessons as I put them in front of them, and if they listen for my voice in The Fog, the day will come when they EMERGE from The Fog.  It will all suddenly seem like it 'clicks', and seemingly out of nowhere, they will find themselves able to read whole verses in the original Greek or Hebrew!

I have just emerged from my own fog, the most demanding year of my life.  At the same time I was teaching full-time for the first time, in a new university, having moved from another country with all the accompanying adjustments; and looking for a permanent teaching position; and finishing my dissertation; and mostly failing to be a decent wife and mother.

I will say this: having been able for most of the year to do only what was right in front of me, I am so thankful for the voice of my Shepherd, calling to me through The Fog.  For much of this year I've been able to pray only, "Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me."

The dissertation is submitted (but not yet defended); the school year is almost over (just teaching May term now); the contract for the new job is signed (but the move not yet planned).  So though I haven't left the work behind, The Fog has dissipated, and I am coming back to life.  He brought me out of it, and there is no other way I'd have made it.  Praise the Lord.

Friday, 2 September 2011

Living in a Scrapbook

Have you ever returned to live in a place where you've lived before?  Big Man and I went to college in the town to which we just moved.  As did 45 other members of our immediate and extended families.  Yes, you read that right: 45! (And that's only the ones off the top of my head, without asking those who'd know of more!! I couldn't begin to count the friends!)

I grew up hearing their college stories, and then Big Man and I made our own college stories.  Some of those family members lived in this town for reasons other than college, and so I've lived with their town stories, too; now Big Man and I are making our own town stories.

In the month since we moved here, I find myself flooded with those memories, from generations of our family.  Someone we love bought a significant item at the store we just passed, or had a first date at the restaurant we just ate in, or snuck off to make out in the cornfield we just drove by (I'll never tell!).  I can't set foot off our block without being reminded of a dear one, and yet, none of them live here now but us!

It's like living in a scrapbook, and I'm profoundly grateful for our heritage, for the opportunities this place has brought to me and mine.  So now it's time to make it our town again, to add another few pages to the Stewart-West-Coleson-Rickard-Derck family scrapbook.

Thursday, 1 September 2011

Finally settling in

Ok, so I am aware it has been a verrrry long time since my last post.  And in the intervening months, everything about our life has changed: new country, new house, new job, new school, new puppy (see pic below), new church.  The only things remaining the same are the people in our lives.  Our God is the same, which has been more meaningful to me than during any other transition in my life.  Our families and friends have remained just as supportive and loving through this transition as they always were, despite the fact that the miles between us have changed.

We've gone from living in a beautiful village of gloriously international Manchester, England, to a slightly "worn" neighborhood in small-town Indiana.  But God must have known we were coming, because a Japanese restaurant opened recently on the main road, just in time for our arrival!!  ;)

The good news is abundant.  We've found a great church full of warm people who welcomed us so well that on our very first Sunday, Little Man pronounced on the way home, "That is definitely the church where we need to be."  Out of the mouths of babes...  They are a great group of people, though, who have made room for us in the congregation.  I suspect our gifts will have a chance for exercise, but on the other hand, they aren't desperately in need of us, either.  That is just the right balance for us at this point in our life!

All through the move, each of thousands of details fell into place seamlessly.  A fortuitous Facebook post ended with a gorgeous, old house being dropped in our laps.  It meets all our needs, and even some of our dreams (butler's pantry!  leaded glass bay windows!  front porch!  shady trees!).  And best of all, a GREAT family of old friends, with 7 kids right across the street.  Little Man need never again be lonely.  :D  If you're heading through or near Marion, Indiana, get in touch; we love houseguests!!

The financial provision through this transition has been inspiring, too.  We basically had to start over; it felt like when we were first married 10 years ago.  In a two-week span, we had to buy: a car, two sets of mattresses, washer, dryer, and stove.  Talk about sticker shock!!!  But again, God went ahead of us to provide what we needed.  And we feel so loved by that care and provision.

It's a good thing the good news is abundant, because in some ways this has been the hardest move either of us have ever had to make.  The culture shock in reverse has been even more jolting than it was when we moved to England.  (Exhibit A: a near melt-down a few weeks ago in the grocery store bread aisle!  Why on earth are there soooo many brands and varieties of a simple loaf of bread????)  But here, too, God has gone ahead of us, preparing friends new and old who have lived in England (really, it's a bit spooky how many of us there are around here!!), proper English tea in the grocery store, and even a real butcher's shop, which set Big Man's heart at rest.  :)

So, I say with all my heart to God, "Thank you for being the God of Psalm 121."  He has kept our goings out and our comings in.  Amen.

The newly-six Little Man, and his puppy, Chester.

Thursday, 14 April 2011

The Now and the Not-Yet

So I haven't posted about the big change coming our way, yet, but we've been living with it for a couple of months now, and the contract is signed, so it's time to go public.  :)  We are coming to the end of my PhD programme here in England; I'm aiming to submit my thesis on 1 July.  Which means I've been job searching!  And the winner is: Indiana Wesleyan University!  I've been appointed as a Visiting Professor of Religion in the undergraduate School of Theology and Ministry.  We're moving to Marion in late July.  Which means, among other things, that we've been preparing to wrap up our life here in Manchester.  I stepped down from my role as college chaplain at NTC this week.

Yesterday was my last chapel service, and it went very well.  My sermon was concluding our year-long series on 1 Cor 13, and we had a special focus on the graduates, and communion.  It was very moving, but I managed to make it all the way to the end with no tears!!  Until, that is, I came up at the very end to give the benediction.  My benedictions have become a bit of a special thing for me over the last two years; I take great joy in blessing my people.  So, I was perfectly fine, until I raised my hands for the benediction, and then, as I looked out over the congregation, BAM!  My face just crumpled, and I had to put my hands back down and compose myself before I could go on.  Lots of others joined me in crying, too, so it was ok.   :)  After the service, we went out into the sunshine for an end-of-year BBQ.  

Then this morning at coffee, they had a 'leaving do' for me.  The Student Council had bought me flowers and a card, and the faculty/staff had all signed a card, and bought me a HUGE box of chocolates, a lovely journal, and a stunning set of necklace and earrings, solid silver with onyx.  And several cards from others.  So all in all, a very nice celebration, and I feel loved.

People keep asking me how I feel, but I'm at a bit of loss to describe it.  I'm caught in a 'now-and-not-yet' place; having ended my ministry, but still with almost 3 months before we leave.  And at the same time, beginning to get communications and bits of our future life in Indiana creeping in.  So, I'm devastated to be leaving this place, and thrilled to be moving on, and overwhelmed with all the work left to do, and desperate to get it done and off my back, all at the same time.  They're letting me stay in my office until we leave, so I'll actually keep on working here, and being around for morning coffee, and lunch in the staff room, etc.  I'm glad for that.

And for a God who ushered the Not-Yet into the Now on the Cross.

Getting ready for the last chapel service of the year

Wednesday, 26 January 2011

Flowers Needed

Ok, how in the world did it get to be the 26th of January?  Seriously?  On the other hand, walking to work in the cold today, and seeing little buds on the trees and daffodils shooting their stems out of the earth (yes, spring comes early in Manchester), I thought, yes.  Yes, I am ready for spring.  Ready for sunshine, and flowers, flowers, and more flowers.  So, I've preempted this flower hunger with a new background for the 'ol bloggeroo.  

That's all.  Nothing profound today, I'm afraid.  Haven't had enough caffeine to be thinking profoundly yet today.  I hope your day is great!

Wednesday, 29 December 2010

Blessed with . . .

I was going to call this post Blessed with Boredom.  But then, that doesn't exactly fit, because I've actually been working quite a bit on my laptop, finishing grades for my online course, working on my thesis chapter, writing an essay for publication, etc.

And in the midst of all that boredom-forestalling work, I've also been able to enjoy the celebration of Christmas with Big Man and Little Man (featured as the most adorable shepherd ever in his school Nativity play the week before Christmas, on the right there), and the delightful addition of Momma and Daddy, who've come to stay for a month from the other side of The Pond.  We've had a truly lovely visit so far, except for this stupid chest/sinus infection, which has taken out Daddy as well as me, and left me weak and in bed quite a bit!.  (I can't wait to move to a different climate.  I love Manchester, but have been ill here much more frequently and much more intensely than ever before in my life.)

The week before Christmas, we had a fantastic 3 days in front of a toasty, roaring fire in an idyllic cottage in Hay-on-Wye, Wales, a booklovers' paradise (40+ bookshops full of goodies!!!).   That's the cottage kitchen on the left.

We had a delicious Christmas dinner, with all the traditional English trimmings, courtesy of Chef Big Man, with our dear friends the Ermakovs and fellow PhD-expat Mr. Stark.  We had a beautiful Service of Carols and Lessons at church on Christmas Eve, and I was honoured to bring the homily, and terribly thankful to make it through without a major coughing fit.  We even managed to stretch our present-opening over Christmas and Boxing Day!  This is Little Man's new quilt made with love by Grammy - the Poky Little Puppy fabric is adorable, and it came just in time, as his toes have started peeping out from under his baby quilt now.  STOP GROWING!!!

Despite all this activity, I am resting.  Resting by sleeping in.  Resting by observing the cooking by Little Man and Momma (this was taken during the pumpkin pie production) - too ill to join in myself, unfortunately.  Resting even whilst working on the laptop, curled under a blanket with a hot cuppa in my PJs.

So maybe I'm not blessed with boredom, but blessed with time.  For this little while, time to manage as I choose, not dictated by meetings and services and seminars.  Time to rest.  I couldn't ask for a better Christmas present this year!

Monday, 22 November 2010

How can it be so?

How can it be so, that we might have so much sorrow and joy in the same day? In my 'day job' I have the privilege of walking with people through some incredibly difficult life circumstances, in which I can do nothing to solve their problems. Most of the time, as they're crying and talking, I'm praying as I listen.  One of the great mysteries of serving people is that some of their sorrow gets transferred to me. It is a beautiful thing, in a Gethsemane kind of way. So painful, so beautiful, such a privilege.

And then, not even 15 minutes later, I'm running the daily obstacle course with Little Man on the way home from his school: follow the paint squiggles on the sidewalk, walk along the wall, slide down the signpost, climb up and over the tree stump, and back up onto another wall, then piggyback him the rest of the way home. Now we're snuggled on the couch with Little Man, and he literally couldn't be any closer to me without sitting right on my lap. He's pouring over a comic book that he can't quite read (Tiny Titans - a kids version of DC comics, GREAT for getting reluctant readers interested!).  Soft Christmas music is playing, and I have a whole evening with my son ahead of me.  Delight. 

How can such sorrow and joy coexist in one person?  I wonder, as we follow Christ, who knows both to the fullest, does our capacity for this sorrow-and-joy cocktail expand?  What do you think?