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Taughlumny – what’s in a name?

I’ve had to change my name. Well, I could hardly continue to be called Coastal Reflections when I’m now living in the heart of the countryside, far from the coast. So Tales from Taughlumny it is. Taughlumny is the name of our road – our postal address is Donaghcloney, but we live nearer Moira and the townland is called Ballyleney.

Confused? So am I. For a girl with no sense of direction – and a car with no Sat Nav – it’s a challenge. But I’m managing to find my way around alright (although I do confess to having got lost a few times).

Confusing names, confused identities. We attach so much importance to our names and we gain so much significance from our identities. You know how good it makes you feel when someone remembers your name (and the reverse is also true). Or how important it is that they get your job title right. We like people to know who we are and what we do. And we like to know who other people are and what they do, too. It helps us to fit them into a box.

Well, here I am in Taughlumny with not only a changed postal address (and yes, the postman does manage to find us here) but also a changed identity. Who am I? I was a Pastor’s wife – at least that’s how I was normally introduced to people. Not as Pauline Wilson, but as the Pastor’s wife. In fact, we were sometimes introduced as Pastor and Pauline.

Now my husband is no longer officially a Pastor – he’s become a full-time student. So what does that make me? A student’s wife? No, I get to be Pauline! I have made a whole group of new friends in the neighbourhood who only know me as Pauline – now that’s refreshing.

But who am I? With these friends, we are exploring the meaning of grace – and we are encouraged to take off our mums’ hats and our wives’ hats and our chauffeurs’ hats and all the other hats we wear every day – and just for a while enjoy being who we are in the Presence of the King – his children, his daughters. It is an opportunity to remember who we are and who He is – to relax in the knowledge that our real identity is found in Him and by His grace we can enjoy all that He has for us.

I’m enjoying finding out more about who I am and I’m enjoying getting to know these new friends – as well as the local lanes and countryside. It’s all part of life in Taughlumny.

Until the next time….

Good-bye, Dede

A good friend, a next door neighbour, a member of our church in Switzerland, a member of our small group, a lady who loved life, loved her family and loved the Lord – all this was DedeGayi who suddenly, with almost no warning, went to be with the Lord on Thursdaydede

night. Your infectious laughter, your zest for life and your love for God’s people will be missed by us all, Dede.

Are we at home yet?

Last September, I blogged about our reverse culture shock and wondered how long it would take us to feel at home here. I talked about some of the ways we knew we weren’t at home (and others must have known too!) – see blog entitled ‘Culture shock – in reverse?’.

Now, a year later, we are feeling more and more at home – but what does that look like?

Well, we know our way round a bit better (I now can find all three supermarkets in our home town).

We are tempted to drive on the ‘wrong’ side of the road less often (that’s a good thing).

Now we turn our heads when we hear French spoken.

We are aware of fewer gaps in the girls’ spoken English (I even heard one of them talking about ‘the dole’ the other day – until a year ago that meant a mountain top near where we lived in Switzerland!).

We enjoy the ease of having a carry-out (or is it a take-away?).

We are becoming more accustomed to the ‘banter’ that is such a way of life here.

Words like ‘diaper’ and ‘vacation’ and ‘pacifier’ have dropped from our vocabularies (having been added for the sake of ease in conversing with our American friends in Switzerland) – though I must admit I still do think twice when someone asks me if I want to ‘nurse’ their baby!

We are getting used to starting the day later than 6.30am and finishing it later than 9.30pm – though how much of that has to do with having teenage girls?

We are certainly getting used to phoning (not ‘calling’) people and having them phone us later than 9.30pm without automatically thinking it’s an emergency.

It’s interesting how many of these adjustments have had to do with language. I can now use the word ‘coup’ (or is that cowp?) freely in a sentence without having to explain what it means!

But just in case we are tempted to forget our ‘American’ or ‘international’ English, we have had several visitors here to help us keep it fresh. And we have even had the chance to use our French, firstly when Alan and I had the pleasure of escorting the President of Burundi and his entourage at the Franklin Graham event, and then when some Swiss friends visited us earlier in the summer.

Aaaah! the summer! Now, that is something we miss! The weather here is not quite what it was in Switzerland. We are certainly realizing why it is a constant topic of conversation – because it changes constantly. There is an old saying that if you are in Ireland and you don’t like the weather, wait a minute. It’s true that it changes all the time and it’s also true that we get lots of rain (see Alan’s blog about our weekend floods).

But then we didn’t come home for the weather…..

A year on…

We have been back in N.Ireland a year now and, as with all passing of time, in some ways it seems it can’t be a year yet and in other ways it seems like we have been here for ages. The former because sometimes we still feel like the new kids on the block, the latter because in many ways we feel ‘at home’ here now.

I sat in church yesterday and looked around and thought how blessed we are to be here. I am thankful to have the first year behind us, for it was a year of transition and that I don’t find easy. I am thankful that we each have found a niche here where we can feel at home and at ease. I am thankful for the many new friends we have made – they have made us feel so welcome. I am thankful for the many old friends we have managed to see again – they are people we have a history with. I am thankful for the ‘old’ friends from Switzerland who have remained in touch with us – and for those who have come to visit us – they have helped us still feel connected.

And I am thankful for my garden – and for the fact that there I have my own roses – what a joy!

Roses in my garden

Roses in my garden

And sitting in our garden is our cat – how amazing for this family who were flat-dwellers in Switzerland for 17 years to find themselves in a suburban house with a garden which has its own roses and a cat!

KFC our cat
KFC our cat

 

And so for friends, roses and cats I am thankful – for they have all helped me in the emotional roller coaster called transition.

Home is….where the heart is?

I’m still thinking about the whole question of what makes a place feel like ‘home’. We moved from N.Ireland (our home for more than 30 years) to Switzerland, where we lived for 17 years. Now we have come back ‘home’ – but is it home? What makes a place home?

When I asked this question in an earlier blog, I had these responses from some friends:

‘I would say that “officially” home is wherever your mum lives, but unofficially, and at the risk of sounding rather naff, I would say that home is wherever I’ve found love. ‘

‘Home is anywhere where you can get a decent cup of tea.’

‘Home: A place where you want to go back to no matter where you are in the world because that’s where you feel most comfortable.’

These comments all speak of comfort, of love, of feeling …. at home. When we first arrived back here, I realised that I felt grateful to be home because it meant we had more contact with our families – the chance not only to see them more often, but to be there for them and with them in significant moments – like birthdays, anniversaries, and other milestones – the chance to celebrate together, in person, and not just from a distance, the chance to be more involved in one another’s lives. No matter how hard one tries when one lives abroad, it’s just not the same. We don’t have so many conversations and those we do have concentrate on what seem to be the most important things – the less important, day-to-day details of lives are not recounted because they seem too trivial for an international phone call.

Coming home also gives one the chance to meet up with old friends – friends not forgotten, but not seen for years. I was in a local garden centre one day when I spotted an old friend I was at school with – and we hadn’t seen each other for almost 30 years! We have since renewed contact and have been relieved to find we haven’t changed too much – we can still enjoy one another’s company – so much to catch up on…

Coming home is also coming to where you’re understood. On the most basic level, that means the language. We lived in French-speaking Switzerland and although we were both fluent in French – and loved speaking it – it was not our native tongue and therefore we were never ‘at home’ using it. We could understand and be understood – but we were limited. Sometimes we would feel frustrated because we couldn’t find the exact translation of something we wanted to say.

But it’s more than language. It’s understanding the meaning behind what is said, the history, the humour, the culture. Things don’t have to be explained – there is a common, shared understanding of what was and what is. Irish jokes are renowned the world over – but are often misunderstood by the non-Irish. And of course Irish history is a puzzle to most people (sometimes even to the Irish!).

Coming home is also a return to one’s roots. You remember things you had forgotten. Like putting out the rubbish bin each week; like eating potato bread any time you want it (and not just when visitors come from Ireland and bring you some which you then carefully eke out until the next visitors come); like the green, green fields gently undulating as far as the eye can see; like the majestic sea rolling eternally, demonstrating one mood after another; like the weather which constantly changes, not just from one season to the next, but from one day to the next, sometimes from one moment to the next; like hanging out washing and then having to dash out to take it all in again because of the rain; like the phenomenon of the Irish supper – the fourth meal of the day; like enjoying a joke with someone you scarcely know just because there is that common, shared understanding.

I think that, above all, that is what coming home means to me – coming home to a place where I’m understood, where I’m known. But, at the same time, coming ‘home’ has made me aware that there are actually people in Switzerland who know me much better than the new friends I am making here. Which brings me back to an earlier blog and an earlier comment from one of my friends: ‘It’s interesting how much we need to be known – not just by God, but by each other. I think this is why it is possible to feel totally alone in a room full of friendly people.’ There is so much that goes up to make any one of us – over millions of moments over decades of our lives – and we each yearn to share that essential person that is ‘me’, that is ‘you’, with at least one other person.

I was thinking about this yesterday when I came across this interesting concept in an article by Cynthia Bezek and Buddy Westbrook in ‘Discipleship Journal’ (Sept/Oct.2007):

‘Most of us can appreciate how important it is to receive understanding from God. But what about giving understanding? What if God wants to feel understood too? Jeremiah 9:24 says our highest goal should be to know and understand the Lord and what He delights in. Yet Romans 3:11 laments, ‘There is no one who understands, no one who seeks God’.

I (Cynthia) happened onto the idea of giving God understanding when I was reading Luke meditatively during my quiet times….I was surpised that I’d never given much thought to how Jesus felt. I knew God was big and didnp’t need my sympathy. But I also knew that He experiences and displays emotions and it seemed self-centred of me not to acknowledge them….I connected deeply with God that day. Since then, giving the Lord understanding has become the most genuine and natural form of worship I’ve ever engaged in. I experience intimacy with Him – like I’m experiencing the fellowship of sharing in His sufferings (Phil.3:10). In those moments I feel like a friend of God.’

Could it be, after all, that what we all long for is to know God and to be known by Him? There is no doubt that He knows us. He said to Jeremiah: “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart.” (Jeremiah 1:5). He knew us before we were born! The colour of our eyes, the texture of our skin, who our parents would be, who we would (or would not) marry, the choices we would make in our lives – He knew it all! He knows us – deeply and intimately – like no one else. And He longs that we would know Him too.

‘This is what the LORD says: “Let not the wise man boast of his wisdom or the strong man boast of his strength or the rich man boast of his riches, but let him who boasts boast about this: that he understands and knows me, that I am the LORD, who exercises kindness, justice and righteousness on earth, for in these I delight,” declares the LORD.’ Jeremiah 9:23-24.

Sure, we have a need to know and be known by one another – and God Himself acknowledged this when He said ‘It is not good for the man to be alone’ (Genesis 2:18) – He made us for relationship – with one another, but also with Himself. Could it be that we sometimes wrongly expect from others what only God can give us? That we demand of our spouses, our parents, our friends and family what only God can give us? That we yearn to be known by them in an intimate way which is not possible — when all along the God who made us, who knew us before we were born, who numbered the hairs of our heads, is longing that we have that same yearning – to know Him?

‘Now this is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent. ‘ John 17:3.

What’s in a friendship?

In the bursting of the bubble and the realization that the honeymoon has ended, there is the reminder that I don’t necessarily know anyone here well enough yet to share with on the level where I need it when everything goes wrong in my day. In Switzerland many of my friendships had been built up over many years – some of them 17 years. When you have a friend that long, you know how she will react to something like an unexpected bill, or a new blouse that’s ruined, or a new wardrobe that’s damaged. She doesn’t have to explain things, you know what she needs and you instinctively give it to her. Sometimes it’s a shoulder to cry on and sometimes it’s a rebuke – but a friend normally knows when to offer what.
As Kiki said, you have a ‘shared history’ – you have been through things together, you have all that to draw on. My new friends here are wonderful people and I am so much enjoying getting to know them – but they don’t know how I would react to any of these scenarios, and therefore they don’t necessarily know what I need. That’s not their fault – that’s just how it is when new friendships are forming. I don’t know them either.

As Gemma said in her blog recently (http://gemmarwilson.blogspot.com), what she misses is people who know that her favourite colour is pink…and what she is looking for in a guy…and walking into a room with the feeling that her life is intertwined with the lives around her.

That is interesting – for our lives are intertwined with those we meet, with our fellow-travellers on the road. Alfredo said at Alan’s Induction Service recently that the story of Westlake Church in Switzerland is intertwined with the story of our family’s lives. That is true, for we spent 17 years there, our girls grew up there – from babyhood to the teenage years. My friends and I were pregnant together, had our babies together, survived the Terrible Twos together and swapped stories on parenting, marriage and all sorts of things for 17 years. That is why our lives are intertwined. We have ‘a shared history’. We don’t have to explain ourselves.

Now, as I have the opportunity and privilege to make new friends, I hope I will quickly learn what makes them tick – what makes them laugh and what makes them cry – and that I will know how to be a good friend to them.

The bubble is burst, the honeymoon is over

We have had such an easy time since arriving back here – we have been warmly welcomed, the transition has been straightforward for the most part and we have enjoyed a period of smooth sailing…..

……..until Monday of this week when the bubble burst. First it was an unexpected tax bill from Switzerland; then it was a blouse which had been washed for the first time and got ruined in the wash; then it was one of our brand new wardrobes which had suddenly developed a crack in its door; and throughout the unfolding drama of the day, we were trying to fill in forms to apply for university loans/grants for Gemma – using the Swiss tax system of the calendar year which doesn’t at all match the UK tax system which runs from April – April.

All has been sorted out except the tax bill and that will be sorted out. But isn’t it interesting that it is always these kinds of things which get us down and make us fret and worry? The honeymoon has to end, the bubble has to burst, and in a sense it’s good to be on the other side of that. But it is a salutary reminder that I tend to worry about things which the Lord has already under control – before we got that tax bill He had provided the money to pay for it, in an unexpected and unsolicited way. And I tend to depend on the actual gifts (eg the money) rather than the Giver. Why do I find it so comforting to think there is some money stored away for a rainy day and fret when I actually have to use it to pay a bill? Did the One who provided it in the first place not promise to meet all of my needs? Does He not know when the next unexpected bill will come from – and is He not already planning how He will provide for it?

Why do I have to learn the same lessons again and again? And why is God so gracious and patient with me?