building plans

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We went for a walk along the harbour the other weekend. The girls rode their bikes ahead of us, wheeling off into the distance and then coming back again. It was a beautiful day, warm and clear, although over on the edge of the harbour the wind was cold. On the way home we stopped at the section we’re planning to build on, to pick apples from the trees at the very top. It was amazing to be there in the full afternoon sun, looking down over the valley and the hills on the other side. It’s a little piece of paradise, and one day we’ll live there.

The apples we picked sit overflowing in front of me here on the table. Two bowls of them;  red and tart and real. I look at them and I am amazed. Apples from our own trees! We’ve been eating them crisp and fresh every day, and cooking them with cinnamon and ghee until they are soft and unctuous. We are producing, it seems, after some lean years. The fruit may be tentative, but it can’t be denied. There it is – hanging off the north facing trees of our future.

This is how it is you see; we’ve lived through a long winter. It’s been three or four years now of harsh weather. The worst weather I’ve seen, a full range of extremes. Gale force winds, heavy blasts of rain, low grey clouds for months at a time. I’ve learnt how to batten down the hatches, how to step in and shut the door behind me. I had no alternative but to pay attention to my interior spaces. Sometimes it takes us a long time to learn how to give ourselves what we need the most.

I’ve been off facebook for a while now and one of the reasons I left was because I got sick of all the rubbish that kept filling up my feed. Superficial ten point nothings about how to have a successful relationship, blah-blah-blahs about how marriage is nothing to do with what you need it’s all about what you can give the other person. These are particular views, hailing from the evangelical headquarters of the world, and once upon a time I wouldn’t have batted an eyelid at them. But I can’t stomach that kind of garbage anymore.

There was a time early on in the stormy weather, when the fierceness of it was still bewildering, that I thought fixing our relationship was what needed to happen. Financial difficulty had triggered the storms, as it often does, but it was the fundamental weaknesses in our relationship that were uncovered almost immediately. Whole sections of roof lifted off in the wind and what we’d managed to avoid noticing was now plainly clear.  There were rooms missing entire exterior walls, and half the house needed re-piling. We’ve never liked the idea of giving up, so we worked at it. We sought professional opinion, made game plans, developed strategies. There were late night dramas, bags packed and unpacked, ultimatums delivered, and whole sections of the house abandoned, deemed completely unliveable. Everything was negotiable.

But as soon as we patched up one corner, another blew out in the wind. The repair list didn’t seem to be getting any smaller, no matter how many things we crossed off. And the weather wasn’t letting up. It was the longest winter. One day I stepped out of the house and looked at the surrounding land. It was good, flat land with a northern aspect, and there was so much more of it than either of us had realised. I picked up a shovel and started digging. Before I knew it, I had the ground prepared for the foundations of a small house. I ordered concrete, supervised the delivery, and then kept building. Once Pat saw what I was doing, he did the same thing a few paces away. We got on with the difficult but completely necessary job of building ourselves.

To say we ditched the flimsy edifice that was this relationship we’d tried to put together, is an understatement. All that is left now of that weather-beaten building are a few piles of old bricks, a corner of concrete poking out of the earth. We keep it there as a reminder, a warning for our children. We’ll tell them the story when they’re old enough to understand, and hopefully it will mean something to them. But it’s more than just a cautionary tale. It’s a testament; a bold monument to hope and to the possibility for change than exists within all of us.

Meanwhile, I’m still building. It takes work to go right back to the foundations of our lives and start again. I’ve had to make some hard calls, and there are parts of my life that may still look ugly to the outside eye. Everything I do now is intentional, I do it because it works for me, because it helps me to build. I have no interest in keeping up appearances, or in putting energy into what is superficial or false. I’ve lost friends, allowed formative relationships to lie fallow, abandoned a million “shoulds” and “must-do’s.” I’m finally learning how to look after myself – I wouldn’t have survived otherwise.

And it’s very nice to have company as I build. It’s a miracle, in some ways, that Pat and I still love each other. But it’s even more of a miracle, I think, that we are friends. Even better friends now than we were before. We have fifteen years together, which is long enough to create history. We share a tall stack of memories, haunting and otherwise. I know not everyone gets to start again together, and for many, separation is the only way forward. But the building requirements are the same. In the end, all we can do is build ourselves.

It’s Time

Change. The church has been doing it since she was born. We are a responsive creature. We move, adjust, transition, re-configure, re-imagine, re-group, adapt, alter, and transform. It’s a sign of life.

Here’s a potted history: Pentecost, Constantine, Polycarp, Clement, Iraneaus, the Council of Nicaea, Arianism, the Council of Ephesus, The Nestorian Schism, the Iconclasts, monastic reform, the Inquisition, the East-West Schism, the Crusades, John Wycliffe, the Protestant Reformation. Each name or event a marker for a moment of tumult…

I wrote a guest post on Pat’s blog for the series we are writing together about marriage equality. You can read it over there.

south

sth is journey pic2

It’s been three weeks since we left, two and a half weeks since we arrived. This was the sky that spread itself over us as we travelled south, the wide wide blue pressing down onto yellow-dry land. Driving off the ferry and through Malborough to Kaikoura was like turning a corner and suddenly finding ourselves somewhere completely different. Not so different that we didn’t know where we were, but different enough that there was no doubt we were somewhere else.

And it’s all new down here too, in this place we now call home. Dunedin is different to Auckland in almost every way. The size, the weather, the landscape, the people, the pace of life. I spent the first week or so pinching myself, reeling as if I’d just stepped off a ride at an amusement park. Where was I? Was I really here? The first few days were mad, the hallway so full of furniture and boxes we could barely walk through, the floor in the girls’ bedroom a forest of partly unpacked boxes, the contents spilling out over the floor.  We had no internet for two weeks,  waiting for our fibre to be connected. Every time we got in the car we had to use GPS.

Even now, here in this tiny sunroom that is my study, I can only get into the room by gingerly walking sideways, careful not to knock over the towers of boxes and papers and books stacked up behind me. We knew it would be a challenge downsizing to a small three bedroom house, but we really couldn’t have imagined just what a challenge it would be. On the day the truck arrived with all our things I stood on the footpath watching the movers ferry our boxes and furniture into the house and it dawned on me that our lounge suite was not going to fit, not in the lounge which we had measured up carefully on paper, nor through the front door and into the hallway which was already filled with furniture which we hadn’t yet been able to fit into place. I rang my friend Stacey and said By the way I’m crying and Do you want to borrow our entire lounge suite? She said yes, having just done the opposite of us and shifted from a small place into a much larger one. There were no words for how grateful I was.

I wrote about letting go a while ago, about the process of paring back. We did that in plenty of ways before we moved down here, but it wasn’t until we were here in the reality of this new life that we saw how much more we needed to do. Isn’t that just how life goes? There’s only so much preparation that can be done prior to the event. Preparation takes us so far, and then at some point we have to step out and do the thing we’ve been preparing for. Whether an adventure or venture or some mix of the two, we really have no idea how it’s going to go until we begin it. And look, I’ve just written my way to the word Advent. From the Latin adventus, to arrive or approach.

The season of Advent finishes today, Christmas Eve. Our Advent this year has been the least advent-y of them all. We put the Christmas tree up a few days after we arrived and bought a few presents for the girls, but other than that we’ve been living in a nebulous time, as if we somehow became separated from the calendar. The light down here at the bottom of the world is so different, it barely gets dark before ten in the evening. The days stretch out so that we completely lose track of time. We’ve hardly known what day it is, let alone how far away we were from Christmas. And yet we were living an advent of our own as we prepared for the big move. And living in a wider, less tangible advent over the last two years as we sensed a growing need within us for change.

Significant change doesn’t have to involve physical change, but often it does, the outward transformation becoming an external representation of what has happened internally. I think of a friend of mine who transitioned from female to male over the last couple of years. I watched from afar as he ‘crossed over’ via surgery. It seemed to me that the surgery he underwent both confirmed and crystallised the state of being that already was already  a reality for him on the inside. The physical change he experienced in surgery was a representation of something internal and at the same time the catalyst that brought the change about in its fullest, most complete sense. It brought congruence.

I’d already shifted, before I moved south. I was already somewhere else. The move was simply an external representation of what had been an internal reality for some time. And yet it was more than that. The change in location crystallised my inner transformation like nothing else could. It brought out what had been inside, it made physical what had been metaphysical. It shifted me to where I already was. So that I can now be where I am.

I can’t help wondering whether the Advent of Christ did something similar. That perhaps it brought into being something that had already existed. That the physical birth of Christ into a physical, tangible location was a representation of the divinity that was already present metaphysically. That by being born as a human child in the most ordinary of circumstances, Christ gave us what we already had. The presence of God.

We had no idea how much we needed to move, until we got here. We had no idea how natural the change would be, how easily the girls would fit in, make friends, make themselves at home. Just as we could never fully prepare for the worst that the shift would entail (and there were moments when the upheaval was overwhelming,) neither could we fully prepare for the best that was waiting for us. We couldn’t have imagined how good it was going to be.

I’ve written many times over the last few years about being pregnant with my self, about giving birth to my self, about being born, finally, after all these years. There were times when I wrote as if I was out, born, alive. And yet the actual birth process was much longer and more complicated than I ever could have seen. I’ve been born in little ways, bit by bit, for a long time. But perhaps it wasn’t until now, until I picked myself up by the scruff of the neck and threw myself down to the bottom of the country, that I could really breathe.