It’s 4:00 a.m. and I’m awake.
I always do this the night before a big flight.
I wake up every half an hour to check on the progress of the clock, or to make mental note of one of the things I think I’ve forgotten, or to make sure that I’m still breathing. This morning it was the sudden realization that all I have with me are my warmest clothes and I’m meeting the family in Penang, Malaysia for a week’s vacation before we head home and I’ll be hotter than a fried owl (as my Dad would say) in what I have. So here I am, up too early, chatting with my husband at the end of the day on his side of the world about where to find my warm weather clothes.
It seems like forever since I’ve written here. In reality it’s only been a week and a half. The day of Ruth’s wedding I very intentionally pulled the plug. The nice thing about a passion driven life is that we enjoy doing what we’re doing. I rarely feel like writing is a “job” or particularly taxing; I write about things I love. Even so, sometimes a person needs to disconnect, so, I took a week off.
I took a week completely off: No work, no writing (not even for myself), no internet except to swap a daily email with my family on the other side of the world. No editors, no websites, no nothing. The only exception: the class I’m teaching required a Monday and Thursday check in. Otherwise, I’ve been off the grid.
My hands feel better for the break, as do my wrists, and for once in my life I let my brain shut off.
What did I do instead?
- I slept a lot, which I don’t often do well, but this week I slept like a baby every time I closed my eyes.
- I walked a lot, long slow walks through quaint towns with changing leaves and babbling brooks and tall steepled white churches. The kinds of walks that remind you why you’re alive and reconnect you to yourself.
- I’ve had time to think and dig deep and bounce ideas off of people who’ve known me forever and love me anyway.
- I’ve stared into campfires and tea cups, trying to read the past in the flames and the future in the tea leaves in an effort to return to what really matters in the grand scheme of things.
- I’ve sat on the floor and played elephants, read stories aloud and had tickle-fests with some of the sweetest kids in the world. Filling my lap full of littles for a short while reminds me to cherish my big ones who are fast slipping from my fingers.
- I’ve taken about a thousand long, slow breaths, savoring the crisp fall air and the kaleidoscope of shifting company as I’ve tried to weave the threads of our dearest and best into my last days on the continent.
It’s been a good week.
The best parts: long walks and talks with the person who’s best at holding up the mirror for me in such a way that I can really see myself and my life in perspective, and Thanksgiving.
You read that right: Thanksgiving
Being a bi-national family, we’ve always celebrated both Canadian and American Thanksgiving. I would always invite whoever was handy from our friend set, and after a while it kind of became a chosen-family tradition. Unbeknownst to us, our friends have continued the tradition in our absence. When they realized I was going to be here, they shifted the celebration by a week and we celebrated Thanksgiving on Sunday afternoon.
It was impossible not to tear up a bit while Robert prayed over the meal: Turkey, ham, roasted sweet potatoes with onions, sweet potatoe casserole, green bean casserole, homemade rolls, homemade applesauce, cranberry sauce, two kinds of stuffing, mashed potatoes & gravy, pumpkin, apple & pecan pies and about seven other things I can’t remember or don’t know the names of.
Every now and then I am acutely aware of how very blessed we are with our circle of friends.
These are people we see only a couple of times a year, if we’re lucky. People who bend over backwards to help us with the location dependent aspects of our nomadic lives. People who will drop everything on a given Sunday, cook for hours the day before and keep their kids out late just to celebrate my presence and remember a day that matters to no one in the community but me. That is the definition of love.
The house exploded when I pulled in the driveway.
Children poured out of the front door like bees from a hive and enveloped me in a group hug of Lilliputian proportions. There were only four families in attendance, but between them there are 24 children. We have above average friends!
I was presented with offerings of yard flowers, embossed leather bookmarks and a bracelet and a myriad of kisses in between the cacophony of “Mrs. Millers!” My Ukrainian boys wormed their way to the front and hit me with their best English. My big boys, too cool to push through the fray, saved their hugs for after the first wave of littles had washed over me. The girls continued to bring me flowers until I had an enormous pile of purple on the counter. Babies rotated through my arms at a dizzying rate as bigger kids dazzled me with yo-yo tricks and their fondant sculpture projects and stories about dogs and chickens.
There is no love like the overwhelming love of children.
It was hard to hug my friends goodbye:
- Randy & Lois who keep so many of our plates spinning, who are always first in line to offer help when we need it.
- Robert & Jen, who we met by accident so many years ago and who have become family in all of the best ways. Sharing in their adoption story has bonded our hearts in ways that I can’t adequately describe.
- Jay & Jodi who are a continual ray of sunshine and who drop everything to spend an afternoon with us when we blow into town and who work behind the scenes to help with surprises and memories in the making.
- Walter & Dianne, who we’ve known forever, and who move heaven and earth to catch us when we land on this continent and spend hours teaching their babies to say our names by photographs and Skype chats.
- And later Robin & Jeremy who have always been firm and quiet support, folks who never waver in their love and their encouragement. It was Robin who sent all of the floral supplies with me for Ruth’s wedding, and spent hours helping me learn to do the flowers right.
- Alanna, who is my “see ya later” friend, who never sheds a tear but is always there in the background. She’s threatening to bring her girls and join us in Africa in a year or so.
These are a few of the people that constitute “home” for us, and I’ve never felt more home than during Robert’s simple prayer, surrounded hip deep in a sea of elves who were fidgeting with one eye open and on the pie table. These are the things we’re homesick for… never places, always people.
My journey east begins in about two hours.
It’s 6:00 a.m. now. The sky has turned a murky purple. The kids will sneak down the stairs to snuggle in the next few minutes. I’ve spent the two hours talking with my husband at the end of his day in Thailand. He’s preparing for the long bus ride south tomorrow as I wing my way back “home.” The thought of the journey ahead makes me tired. These epic travel days are the worst of our lifestyle, but at the same time they are the great modern miracle that allows me to be in two places at once… or at least almost at once.
- I wouldn’t have missed Ruth’s wedding for the world.
- My week’s vacation was a gift given from many hands.
- The time in community with the people we love the most is always a treasure
But, I’m ready to go home.
Three weeks is a long time to be apart, for people who’ve eaten three meals a day together for about 15 years. We are great at being within arms length, not so great at being on separate continents.
I miss my kids. I miss waking up tangled in my husband. I miss our dinner table and Hannah’s music. I miss Ezra’s antics and Elisha’s spontaneous hugs and cups of tea brought without warning. I miss Gabe’s fried fish.
Day is breaking and the gypsy winds are blowing, in about 36 hours we’ll meet in Penang and another kind of Thanksgiving will be celebrated.