Sunday, 28 July 2013

Life long friends

The days at home disappeared quickly, with wonderful coffee dates, catch-ups and towards the end I even felt like I could possibly just slip back into life there without too much strife. Eventually I got used to the cold weather, or perhaps I got used to wearing so many more layers than I was used to, but I enjoyed the sunshine and the fresh breeze outside.

In the second last week at home my Grandma passed away and so Mum and Dad headed over to New Zealand for the funeral and all the things that need to be dealt with at the passing of a family member. I was so glad I’d had the opportunity to see Grandma and say goodbye to her. Our visit there was truly timed by God!

During the week that my parents were away I had planned to spend a week at my friend’s house while her husband was away, to help look after her two little girls and to spend time with her. I have been close with this friend since we were at university, single and free and happiest when sitting in the sunshine drinking hot water and chatting, than anywhere else.
Fun times traveling together in Croatia 2008

London 2008

First of all, she and her wonderful husband were married while I was on the Africa Mercy in 2009 and I flew home for 5 days to be a part of their wedding celebrations. I loved that special time with her and even though we were miles apart, we still managed to connect fairly regularly, never losing our strong bond of friendship.

After I returned home for 12 months, our friendship had moved from first confidant to second after her husband and that took some getting used to, but I understood why. The hard thing was, I hadn’t changed and could still offer the same friendship, but her’s had changed. Maybe you have experienced that too in your friendships. As time moves on and some friends marry, you can be over the moon happy for them, but it does mean a change in friendship, which is something to get used to.

The following year after I had returned home and settled in, they fell pregnant and of course with that came so much excitement, but another change. I was heading to the ship for another year (which quickly became two years and now it’s almost undetermined because it’s already been 2 ½ and I’m still here!) and facing the challenges of leaving my safe spot and the two of them were facing a lifetime of parenthood and the joys and challenges that children bring. We faced two opposite life-changing seasons, which could have been the separating of us, but it wasn’t.

I left for the ship 6 weeks after her little girl was born and although I was excited for my adventures, I was so sad for all those moments I would miss out on, not being around this beautiful baby whom I already loved.
6 weeks old

Since I’ve been on the ship another beautiful baby girl was born to their family and all my ship friends knew about it. I told everyone when I knew she was in labour and then waited impatiently for the birth news and then showed the newborn photos to anyone who would look. I am a very proud non-family-member aunty!

So, after all this time, I was able to live in their house, sleeping on the bunk bed above the oldest. I soaked in the presence of these delightful girls. Their individual looks and personalities, sparkling in their home environment. They were not always their sparkliest, but they were quick to bounce back. I loved the cuddles and kisses, craft time and sandpit time, story and play time. I loved hearing the giggles and laughter, the interactions between mummy and daughters. I loved the words and sentences used by this adorable almost 3 year old. While mum was out one day with the youngest, I ate lunch with the other, got ready for nap time and read her a story before tucking her in. Her sweet little face and soft lips kissed my cheek, hands wrapped around my neck, as I said, have a nice sleep. She lay quietly, obediently, as she’d learnt, to rest. I walked out of her bedroom, with a melted heart, after nothing life-changing had been said, just simple actions had shown me love.

Each day was full of routine and I learnt how to help out my friend, doing whatever she needed and when the children were sleeping we chatted, covering every subject known to man, from the light-hearted to the deepest places.

When the week came to an end, I walked away wanting more, with a thirst for that life more than ever before. I wish desperately that I didn’t live so far away because I miss out on seeing the girls grow up and loving them through every stage. I have loved many babies and children as they have grown up, but to be so close to a dear friend’s children and to hear them call your name a thousand times a day asking you to play with them and spend time with them and wondering where you have gone to when you’re not there. It filled my heart with a special love that I have never known, until now. I will treasure those memories and tuck them away safely, because now I’m back on the ship and already sailing to Congo, for new adventures.

Thursday, 11 July 2013

Some thoughts from home

When did it become that my original home no longer feels like home?
I have returned home to Australia for five weeks to be at rest and visit with friends and family. It is always a little bit of a strange feeling returning to a place so familiar after being away, feeling changed yourself and seeing others have changed too, enough so that you're not sure where you'll fit in again.

The first few days I struggled with how freezing cold it was and so I wanted to stay home, not only because of the cold but also because I didn't know where I fit anymore. Although things on the ship are always changing and friends come and go (whether we desperately wish they would stay or not), I know where my place is. I've lived in the same four-berth cabin and slept in the same bed for the last 2 1/2 years. I have a few long term friends and it’s comforting to know they are also still there throughout the seasons. So the thing that puts me out of place here, is that I've been away from my comfortable spot for long enough that it has gone. My closest friend here is happily married with two adorable children and successfully runs a household and I have never even lived out of home or had to cook for myself longer than one month! I look around here and see the marriages and babies, nice homes and cars and wonder what to do with all that. I am glad, so glad, for my friends who are happily married and raising their families. For a fleeting second, part of me wishes I was them before I realise, I just have a different road to walk. My journey is different, so different from how I thought my life would turn out. Like a lot a friends I know, I thought 21 years old would be a nice age to get married and settle down. Now I think back to when I was 21 and am so glad there was no one for me to marry! I wouldn't swap my life for anyone else's because I love it and I know that God has the perfect plan for me, whatever the future holds. I would love to be married and walk this exciting life journey with a partner for life and raise children with him, but I have to wait to see that fulfilled later.
But back here in this place I call home, I see the price of a new shirt and compare it to African money and suddenly I'm unwilling to pay that amount for another piece of clothing that I don't really need. I see a mosquito and I think, did I take my malaria medication? Before I realise where I am. Or I see a baby and look for pierced ears to see whether it’s a girl or a boy, before I realise it's not the culture here.

Coming back to Australia, the weather itself was a shock, as I have not had a winter (as mild as it is here in south-east Queensland) for three years. I have never really liked cold weather, unless it results in snow and then I will gladly face it. So I spent the first week covered in the layers of my only winter clothes and some days, my pyjamas and soft bathrobe, always with my pink fluffy slippers adorning my feet. At night I would make sure my electric blanket had been on for a good while before slipping into the toasty warm covers, tucking them up around my face and snuggling down for the night.
Thankfully over the last couple of weeks the temperature has warmed and the sun has shone brightly, warming up the ground. One weekend my family and I ventured out to the park for a BBQ and soaked in the sunshine, enjoying the red and yellow leaves still hanging tightly onto the branches of the trees. It has been a long time since I've been around for autumn. I can't remember particularly noticing the colour changes in the leaves or the change of the season before I left for Africa, but I have definitely noticed the big deal my American friends make over the season of fall. We have a Fall Festival on the ship and everyone talks about how much they miss the colour-changing leaves and pumpkin spice lattes and everything to do with fall. I didn't share their enthusiasm because my home town doesn't really change that dramatically so it was never really a big deal. But this weekend, I enjoyed staring up at the big, blue sky, watching the clouds blow by and seeing the sunlight twinkle through the sparse red leaves and the wind daring the smaller yellow ones to jump right off their branch and onto our picnic blanket.

I have found myself a few times in these past weeks completely alone. This is such a rare thing that in previous times I would have turned on music or organised to meet up with a friend, but this time, I sit and enjoy the silence. There is no hum of generator or air conditioning ringing in my ears, instead I can hear the birds outside in the garden. Today one of them flew right into the window in front of me, leaving a few feathers stuck to the window and my heart racing twice as fast. I got off the couch to check if he was on the ground, but he'd already flown away.

The bird print on the window

At night though, my ears ring in the deafening silence. You know the ringing after a music concert? It's what I hear every night (although maybe not as loud) from the missing generator and air conditioning noise, perhaps there's damage from other things too, but I know at least the generator drowns it out normally. Perhaps all I need is time to adjust.
My time here so far has balanced between catching up with family, visiting with friends and happily sitting at home, on the couch, basking in the winter sunshine streaming through the windows.

I enjoyed a quick trip to New Zealand to visit my Grandma, whose health has been failing for a year now. She is 95 years old now and lived on her own up until one year ago. She had been in a low care nursing home when Mum, Dad and I had gone to visit. She was sitting up in her lounge chair the mornings we went, happily included in conversation, but not having the mental strength to follow all thought processes. She looked tired. We didn’t know how long it would be before she’d pass away, as the previous three weeks she’d begun to decline in strength. So we said our goodbyes, telling her we’d next see her in heaven. And last night we heard, that’s where she’s gone. Goodbye Grandma, see you in heaven.

There is a little time left here now. More coffees to be drunk with people I love, while chatting about everything under the sun. More little ones to love, squeeze and kiss before they are all grown up. More love to be spread, because that is what life boils down to.


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