How do I even begin to summarise and neatly package our last four years here in beautiful, wonderful England into a neat little blog post? There’s so much I could write about, yet it all seems so difficult to put into words. The past few weeks have been full of reminiscing, lasts, and goodbyes, but also hopeful looking-ahead. Basically this is me right now:
A lot of feelings. For example, gratitude. I remember back in college thinking about how I’d love to do a semester overseas like so many friends of mine. I got the travel bug way back in high school when I did my first mission trip abroad to Guatemala and it didn’t seem to be going away any time soon. In college, I thought and prayed about it, and knew a semester overseas just wasn’t in God’s plan for me. I gave up that idea and laid it to rest. Fast forward and here we are. God knows the desires of our hearts, people. I have spent the past four years completely immersed in one of my favourite cultures (I mean heck, check out that superfluous ‘u’ back there). Along with that, I’ve been blessed with the opportunity to visit several passport-pages full of amazing places outside England. (Scotland, Wales, N. Ireland, Republic of Ireland, Belgium, Germany, France, Holland, Sweden, Norway, and Greece – in case you’re curious.) What an incredibly opportunity it is to see so many different places, cultures and landscapes. I will forever be grateful for that opportunity and for the memories-made and lessons-learned while doing so.
Another feeling I have at the moment? True affection for this quirky, densely historical, world-changing place and its sometimes proper and sometimes cheeky people. I grew up watching Mr. Bean, Hyacinth Bucket, Mrs. Slocombe, and of course reading of Charlie Bucket, Matilda, Harry Potter, the Pevensie children, and so many more from the British literary world. British rock n’ roll and punk has bounced around in my head since I was old enough to be quizzed about musical artists by my dad. And what American doesn’t fondly watch the royal family with wonder and amusement?
But that curiosity and interest has grown into a true love. Despite its foibles (Toilet light switches outside in the hallway? I’m lookin’ at you. Instant coffee? Don’t even get me started.) I am smitten. By living in the local community and working with a British team (and a smattering of lively, lovely South Africans), I have made enough rounds of tea and endured a sufficient amount of (mostly well-meaning) mocking of my Americanisms to feel at home here. You may have noticed I tend to switch between American and British English spellings – well, blame that on being an American in charge of outgoing communication for an English organisation. Jumping in at the deep end would be a good way to describe it. Breakdowns in communication were frequent at first, but always ended with a good laugh. I will never forget one of my first days at work when my Welsh boss asked me to “hire a purple skip” and I wasn’t even sure if he was actually saying real words. Sorry, Andrew. 🙂 Once I figured out the words, I was still equally lost as to what he meant. In case you are too, he meant I needed to rent one of these:
Now you know.
I’ve absolutely loved exploring this beautiful
country island – Bath, York, Dover, Yorkshire, the Peak District, Snowdonia, Cambridge, Ely, the Highlands, endless markets, castles, estates, parks, gardens, and more – and diving in to the immense history that is often difficult to fathom as an American. We’ve been here a few years and it’s still mind-boggling that so many of the homes, monuments, buildings and museums here are older than my country. Few things can lend temporal perspective quite like standing in the ruins of a 12th century castle or circling the bluestones of Stonehenge that were assembled before Christ walked the earth.
One of the things I’ve connected with most is how England values not only its history and art but also its landscape. Sure, parts are built-up and congested, hundreds of High Streets are probably sadly identical, and you’d be hard-pressed to find a scenic view without scaffolding or a construction crane somewhere in the distance, but you can tell that many British people know they have something special here and do their best to preserve it. There is nothing quite like the varied, gentle, but also rugged English landscape, dotted with breathtaking estates and crooked, picturesque villages. One of my greatest joys living here was being a member of the National Trust (and previously of the English Heritage) and visiting the many lovingly preserved estates and gardens this country has to offer. It has made it so easy to help our kiddo fall in love with nature. While living here in East Anglia, I’ve really missed dense forests of the American midwest, but man, no green I’ve seen back home compares to the stark, bold hues of a wet, English spring and the bright contrast of the iconic red poppies, Royal Mail boxes, telephone booths, and yes, the dog poo bins.
A third emotion I’m feeling? Grief. We are definitely grieving as we leave. We have absolutely loved living here. We feel knitted in to our community, especially at church, and could easily put down permanent roots here and stay. And yet, that’s not the calling we feel on our lives – we feel God calling us back home to the US and we are trusting Him and taking a big step of faith. But that doesn’t mean it’s not difficult to leave. We have made deep friendships here – ones that can only be forged by going through day-to-day life together, joyful celebrations, difficult seasons, and times of change. We served at church alongside friends, we worked alongside them, became parents at the same time, dined together, prayed together, vacationed together. I believe we’ve made friendships that will last long after our plane takes off, our boxes get unpacked, and new friendships are made. We are changed because of the friendships we made here. We are better people because of them. And for that I am incredibly humbled and grateful. But still incredibly sad to say goodbye.
Yesterday our family was in a local pub for a quick lunch when a group of older men sat at the table next to us for a pre-lunch round. They sat with their pints, ready to drink, and glanced around at each other for a cue to drink.
One chimed in, “‘Cheers, dears,’ as they say.”
After an awkward pause, his mate replied, “Who says that then?”
It was followed by a hearty laugh from all, clinking glasses, and the standard brief pause while they wiped ale foam from their upper lips. They quickly settled into their obviously familiar chatter. It was such a simple scene, but one that brought massive smiles to the faces of us eavesdropping Americans. That quick interaction pointed to so much of what we’ve loved here and what we’ll miss most – the culture, the wit, the humor, and the connection.
I’ll leave you with one more emotion I’m feeling, though there are several to choose from (including hunger… that’s an emotion, right? This post is long, I need a snack). That emotion is hope. Mindset might be a better term, but hey. We are so hopeful and excited about our future and the changes we are making as a family. (If you know us but don’t know what I’m talking about, feel free to message me and I’d be happy to explain in a less public context.) We can’t wait to spend more quality time together, to begin our new business adventure, to see what communities and connections God has in store for us, and ultimately to be closer to family and to be able to invest more in those incredibly important relationships. This next season is going to be difficult, opening up a new set of challenges and vulnerabilities, but I also know it is going to rock our socks off. (Which, if you know my husband, is saying a lot. That guy loves his socks.) We are fully trusting God to “do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine” (Ephesians 3:20, NIV) through us for His glory; we are ready for this next adventure.
So, it is with immense gratitude, true affection, yes grief, but ultimately hope that I say goodbye to this season of our lives abroad.