What is the essence of a person? It has nothing to do with their circumstances. It is rather whomever they understand themselves to be while they’re doing – or not doing – whatever is in front of them in the circumstances they are in.
I’ve just been on a lightning trip back to LA. The children and I came to England last July to visit their grandparents post-my divorce and, unexpectedly, a path of major life transition spooled out before us. We decided to stay for good. (For details see earlier blogging on bemusement, amazement and reckoning).
And so it came to pass (Advent motif here) that I would need to go back to organize the shipping over of all our stuff. A brief window of opportunity opened and, two weeks ago, I charged forward.
As I’ve written here before, when you move you use the time you have. So, for me, it’s better the shorter and harder you hit it. I’ve also learned that you can never “go back”. You’re no longer fish nor fowl once you’ve moved, so be fast and brusque and firm. No one knows what to do if you linger, and no one – least of all you – needs the emotional drain of mushy sentimental goodbyes. Focus instead on going onward together, flags to the fore!
I went for six days. I packed, I shipped, I sold, I conquered the monumental list.
And in the midst I managed to squeeze in (I counted) over forty fierce hugs and hopes with beloved friends. Many of them one on one (my personal fave). How did I do it? There was a lot of providence in timing and unexpected windows opened.
I have to say it was utterly bizarre being back. It felt as though I had never left. Walking into friends’ houses felt so normal it was as if these past 18 weeks abroad had simply been some sort of brain seizure on my part: “Now THAT was a crazy dream!” Which of course it is not.
I think the problem with modern travel is that you traverse the globe too quickly. Don’t get me wrong, the faster I can get there physically the better. However, one’s heart and mind don’t travel at the same speed as the rest of one’s body.
I left frosty, sharp Surrey on December 1 to touch down in balmy, blue skied LA just 11 hours later. Going over, I coped with the transition by subsuming my recently established English life into a sort of surrealist daydream. I didn’t have to deal with it and, to be honest, I didn’t have time to.
Returning home has been a different story. I do think of here – England – as my home, but I have been almost unable to speak of my trip “home” to LA since I got back. It’s just too much. It feels like I have this huge holding tank of emotions in my chest and as long as I keep it level and don’t spill it, I’ll be ok. Briefing my sister I came perilously close to upset and changed the subject.
I have grown super sensitive to my limits, which is a good thing. While in LA I didn’t go within a two mile radius of our old home. I couldn’t see our neighbors, I couldn’t look at the house that had been ours, go to our local stores. There was a force field in my spirit every time I thought about it: “Don’t put yourself through it, Jose. It’s purposeless pain.” And so I didn’t.
I went to our old church to say goodbye though. Knowing there would be no orchestra to play me off, I took my Oscar speech moment and ran with it.
What I wanted to – and did – say was how hugely impactful the love of the Body of Christ in that place had been to the children and myself. We arrived in crisis in ’08, we endured numerous crises thereafter, and we left in crisis last July. What had remained constant throughout had been the love and support and community of our friends: down in the ditch together; scaling the heights; shoulder to shoulder; eyes always up.
I said that I would happily tell anyone more specifics of the circumstances of our move, but it seemed irrelevant. Because the point is that Sarah Jane, Guy and I are children of God going on with Him – just as all of our friends there are too. No matter where He takes us, what transpires, how many moves still lie ahead. We’ve got our anchor for high seas;we’ve got our rudder for the horizon; we’ve got our sail for the wind. And it’s Him.
At my parents Golden Wedding service a few years ago, I quoted Rupert Brooke:
There shall be
In that rich earth a richer dust concealed;
A dust whom England bore, shaped, made aware,
Gave, once, her flowers to love, her ways to roam,
A body of England’s, breathing English air,
Washed by the rivers, blest by suns of home.
And I spoke of that richer earth within my mum and dad. That richer soil that had nothing to do with what they’d achieved or what had happened. It was the rich earth sourced only in their relationship with Christ. That rich soil concealed and therefore not evident to the naked eye. That rich soil that sustains them, grows them, strengthens them, heals them and is only made known through the fruit it has produced in them both.
For me returning home to the U.K. after 24 years abroad, I pray that all the mulch the Lord laid over that rich soil of my relationship with Him during that time – the pain, the joy, the challenge, the victory – may have served as the fertilizer needed to produce richer and more abundant fruit in who I am today. I do so hope anyway.
It shall just no longer be fruit that will grow in the balmy climes of California, but in the green and pleasant land of England instead.