Rach's Ramblings

Thoughts from another world

5 prepare to say farewell…

 

I have written before about the inexorable march of time, and now once again, we have moved into a stage of counting the moments.

Four months until we leave India and with the packing of the first box, comes a beginning of a new stage of our lives.

How does it feel?

Well, it feels big and emotional and heart filling.
We are already having our ‘lasts’ and we are seeing our surroundings with the new eyes of wonder that are the gift of imminent departure.

I remember the same thing happening when we left Australia, where everything is enhanced and the difficulties are not the focus anymore- and instead it’s just drinking in the wonderful. Having new appreciation for the small things- the faces of those we love, the views of the misty mountains, the jungle sounds heard from our porch, being known and loved.

I guess that’s one of the best things about leaving a place- it makes you take stock and weigh down each moment rather than being lost in the bustle and monotony of daily life.

We have walked this leaving process with so many friends and are therefore more aware of the potential pitfalls. The temptation can be to leave too early and to distance yourselves from people in an attempt of self preservation. Thankfully, I am not feeling this urge, and instead feel excited to pour into relationships in a fresh way, with the certainty that there is always something to be gained and given, even if the ‘sharing community’ with them is about to end.

The focus of our conversations as a family now is on leaving and arriving. We are trying to learn the language of transition all over again, with children that are no longer little enough for most emotions to disappear in the excitement of catching a plane.

The boys are all suddenly finding themselves heartbroken to be leaving. We knew that Levi would struggle as our longest cross cultural child, but now Josh and Samuel are feeling the leaving hugely too. They find it hard to wrap their minds and hearts around the fact that the next time they say goodbye and make the winding trip down the mountain, it won’t be just for a holiday, but for good.

We have decided to make the move to Geelong. This was not an easy or quick decision but is the result of much prayers and soul searching. It feels scary and new, but we feel that this is where God is leading us and He has confirmed this with His incredible provisions- a house and a great school for the boys on a part scholarship! We are now only needing a job for Andy, but everything else has fallen into place.

So Australia feels uncertain to us now. Although it is familiar in so many ways, it has so many unknowns for us. New friends, new school, new jobs, new beginnings and those things are always daunting.

Here, we are known and there we have to become known, and therein lies the wondering and uncertainty.

But we hold tight to the memory of God’s unfailing grace and compassion to us in the past. We never imagined that life in India would be so rich and full and that God would make a way for us so completely- but He did and He will again, we are certain of that!

He is faithful. He is trustworthy. He is love!

There’s a good chance I’m going to cry every day from now until we leave. I can’t even imagine what those final days here will be like, and perhaps it’s better not to.

One day at a time. One step at a time. Just doing the next thing until the next thing is goodbye.

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Shadows under my eyes…

                                                             

Are there dark circles under my eyes today? Is my face lined and drawn? 

These are the marks of the presence of my companion, my Shadow that never leaves me. 

You see, he prods me in the darkest hours of the night. He watches me sleep and then stirs me to wakefulness. He jams hard fingers into me to ensure my eyes are wakeful till the first morning light. It is a cruel game. His skill is perfected as he tweaks and pulls and causes me to stumble. His place of strength – the stairs, the slopes, the rocky path. He is gleeful to see my hesitation. 

Sometimes he hugs me so close that I can hardly breathe and other times he withdraws to a distance and then strikes me unawares. He has no concern for time or place- his only purpose to strike me and break me. 

His name? It is pain. 

  

I fight him often.  Other times I accept his company. Push him away or console myself to him. Patiently bear him or angrily curse him. Bravely face him or turn my face and run from him. Our relationship is troubled. I never invited him to walk with me but for 28 years he has lurked nearby. Sometimes closer, sometimes further away.

Perhaps you know him too. He plagues many, oh so many.

But my Shadow makes me strong too- strong enough to be made weak and able to rely on my helper- my other constant companion- my Light. 

                                                                  

My Light shines through my Shadow and lets little beams of radiance fall on me.
My Light rises between my Shadow and I and takes the blows meant for me.
When my Shadow wants to squeeze me to despair my Light enters me and I am strong and invincible.
Other times he redirects the attacks so the Shadow helps shape me; knocks off hard edges and softens my heart. 

 The Shadow even has beauty when viewed through my Light. I can only bear one when I am assured of the other.
Light with Shadow- darkness and light. 

                                                            

“Life is full of light and shadow 

O the joy and O the sorrow 

O the sorrow 
And yet will He bring 

Dark to light 

And yet will He bring 

Day from night 
When shadows fall on us 

We will not fear 

We will remember 
When all seems lost 

When we’re thrown and we’re tossed 

We remember the cost 

We rest in Him 

Shadow of the cross”
‘Shadows’ Dave Crowder Band. 

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Christmas Monkeys

Photo Credit – Ben Bowling

I’ve been watching the monkeys play this morning and thinking about Christmas. There is a huge family of grey languor monkeys capering in the trees and they remind me of our Christmas last year in Australia. 12 boys cousins frolicking on the trampoline, wrestling, running, wreaking joyful havoc.
This year is quieter and more reflective and in essence absolutely beautiful.
There are still many pesky monkeys in my mind- to do lists, thoughts about what to make for dinner, worries about my health as I have been bed ridden with a bad back. Josh is also sick with a good old stomach bug.
But the mind monkeys are loudly drowned by the excitement of Advent. I have felt it as never before, in all my 37 years. The hope that is coming beckons to me around every corner. It is there when I wake up and when I go to sleep. The hope that the King brings, coming as a helpless baby and born into a simple dirty manger, is there in the Winter sun, the huddling close to the fire and the cuddles of my boys.  Winter Christmas has so many blessings. We draw in rather than running out. We spend quiet evenings before the fire and read stories. We have time to dwell on God with us.
I am filled with excitement and anticipation and a deep inner peace. My Christmas pasts have been filled with excellent things, each special in its own way and all completely unmissable. I wouldn’t have missed the carols by candlelight, the break ups of every activity, going to see the Christmas lights. But these joyful busy things drowned out the echo of the coming King. We fought to bring Jesus as central to Christmas, but it was a fight- and here in India this Christmas there has been no battle.


There is a complete absence of materialism- no advertisements screaming dissatisfaction from the television, no shops to walk through and see all the things that I suddenly really need.  School has finished and the mountain has been emptied of its students, each to their own country. The mornings are hushed and still as the sun peeks over the mountains and the bazaar is quietly sleeping with cold. There is one shop, the stationary shop, that gives a nod to Christmas with a gawdy selection of decorations, but the rest of the bazaar is devoid of display. And I don’t miss it one bit.
The few families left on the hillside will celebrate together tonight and we have enjoyed some play dates with them – but even those, we walk to without the battle of Christmas traffic.
This is not to say that our Christmas is perfect or even better. There are benefits to both sorts of Christmas. The absence of family here is deeply felt and irreplaceable.  But, I am relishing this Christmas as it is given to us. A gift of being able to stop and rest and reflect. And a chance to remember that the amazing present God gives us is the gift of His presence.

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Until we meet again…

My boys love playing with the timer on my iPad. They set the timer and change the sound to an obscure tone like ‘old car horn’ and then giggle when it goes off.

But there is another timer ticking in these final weeks of term. A timer that leads to farewells.

The nature of life in an international school is that yearly there is a group of people who leave. They go back to their old lives or move on to other cross cultural adventures. When we arrived I heard the names of those who had left- there were hints of them in stories or they were mentioned as previous owners of ‘this lamp’ or ‘that sari’. My house speaks of past inhabitants- stickers on windows, pencilled marks on doors, nails in odd places. Woodstock echoes with the voices of people who have lived, worked and laughed here over the span of 150 years.

This is my second round of farewells. Once again there will be so many goodbyes to be said when the final bell goes for the school year. They loom before me, sitting on the horizon where there is no avoiding them. The inexorable march of time marches loudly and I can’t block my ears. I keep reminding myself that these dear ones are not dying, but merely moving away….but it feels a bit like a death. They will not be part of our life here anymore. I won’t share smiles and tears and adventures with them here again. I know that the tremors of their leaving will shake and hurt and leave cracks, but I also know that as time moves on, the community that is our life will shift and adjust and settle into new patterns and shapes. And it will be ok. There is such beauty in having loved and lived and shared life with these bright stars and I am different and changed from having shared my space with them for a short while.

There is the temptation in this expat life, to keep the relationships shallow so the uprooting is less painful. The national staff who stay year after year must find this very tempting, but they invest in each new batch of staff with energy and love. And so it must be. Shallow is empty and unrewarding. In the depths is where the beauty lies.

As that timer ticks on towards farewells, I don’t want to run from it. I won’t welcome the sound as the timer runs to zero, but at least I know it’s coming and I have no regrets from the time we’ve spent and the love I’ve received and given. And as dear friends leave, there are spaces left vacant that are ready to receive new friends, and so the cycle begins again.

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Moments of joy!

Life here is remarkable. There is nothing to compare it to. Joy is hidden around a corner, in the face of a child or a scooter stacked with an unlikely load of eight chairs and three men. The remarkable is in the everyday. “Joy comes to us in moments- ordinary moments” ( Brene Brown)

And so, I want to document those moments. To capture the wonder that is life here in India.

I flipped through a week of my life and shone a spotlight on a few moments of the everyday.

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The monkeys were up early today, as were the cricket players down below. I could hear the thock of the ball and excited shouts as I lay in bed in the early light. I refused to attack monkeys before showering so I let them get close, hearing the heavy rustling of branches, as I showered. Later, Samuel and I went downstairs together to mount an attack with our glove guns. Brownie, the neighbor’s dog looks up sleepily as we wage war. He is old and deaf and hadn’t heard the monkeys but now he slowly gets up and pretends to be part of the battle.
The weather has finally changed and the sun has a delicious warmth. It is a joy to ride my scooter again now that it is fixed and this weather is perfectly suited to scooter riding. The cool breeze blows through my hair and cools the sweat off my body and I find myself grinning as I ride.
I used to grin as I went up the ‘crazy path’. If I didn’t, I’d find I was far more likely to go off the tiny safe strip in the middle of the path. Smiling and sometimes singing had the strange effect of relaxing me and the pretense of confidence kept me on the track. Now, that road has been finally fixed, after 2 1/2 months of huge road works. It is smoother and safer and not as exciting.

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Much as this may look like Levi, this is actually his best friend, Liam.

It is a big day for Samuel today and I spent the morning trying to brush his hair down and ensure he didn’t get breakfast on his shirt. He is performing in the pep rally for the Win Mumby basketball tournament. I have learnt that basketball is an American thing and they get very excited about it and that the pep rally is the chance to let that excitement out. I am so excited for Samuel and I know he will be so cute! As it happens, I am also performing- a surprise flash mob! Looking forward to singing with a group again- it’s been a long time.
Soon I will scoot up the mountain to a staff meeting at Chhaya cafe where we will pray together and do a devotion and then I will teach them to make pizza. I also need to do a taste test of the carrot and walnut muffins I taught them a while back, just to see they’ve got it right.

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I could see the whole world today from the top of the mountain. The morning rain had cleared the smog from the valley below and all the horizons were visible. Mountains, cities, valleys and rivers, spread out before me and it made the rain worthwhile. As I exclaimed in wonder and praised God for the view, Levi asked me what a view was. I told him it was everything we could see before us and we rode the scooter down the mountain, singing a duet at the top of our lungs.

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I stole this photo from someone but I can’t remember who. Photo credit ?

I wanted more flowers around me. I miss my garden at home- the riot of colors, the daily joy of discovery and beauty. On a whim, I took the pig path home from the bazaar, Levi bumping along in front, standing between my legs. We carefully scooted past the families of pigs, dodging them as they rooted in the garbage built up on the side of the path and hooting them when they blocked our way. Nestled into the side of the cliff above the path is the nursery. This was my first visit and I was surprised at how much they had on offer. I found myself caressing the flowers as I passed and whispering their names tenderly. The manager lady was surprised by my knowledge of the plant names I think. I wanted them all, but chose a petunia in a hanging basket and a beautiful smelling pink carnation. Carrying them back down the steps, I realized that I was going to have some trouble getting them home. The helpful shop assistant tied them on the scooter and positioned them at my feet. Levi climbed onto the back and with my legs sticking out the sides we carefully navigated around the pigs and over the potholes and made it safely home. I have little hope that the flowers will last a week. The monkeys will discover I have fresh flowers and one day I will come home to smashed pots and eaten flowers…but for now I have color and scent and joy.

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We had our last Downton session tonight. The final two episodes of the season, watched on a computer screen with dear friends in the silence that descends when children are in bed. I made the trek up the hill in the evening light, listening as the birds said their good nights. There is one particularly annoying bird that sings in a monotone, and I am always happy when it has finished its last note for the day. My friend’s house is filled with candles and sweet treats and we immerse ourselves in the world of a society in days gone by. I get far too excited and live every moment as it comes on screen. It’s something that Andy always laughs about- how when I watch a movie it is completely real and I am completely there- I think that’s why I have never totally recovered from the movie ‘Arachnophobia!’

 

To finish Brown’s quote, ‘We risk missing out on joy when we get busy chasing down the extraordinary.’  There is joy all around us, no matter where we live.  What fun to find the joy in the ordinary moments of our days.

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Restart, Reboot, Reset…and eat chocolate.

My friend calls it ‘resetting’ and that’s what it feels like. It’s not bad or good, it just is.

After two months in my homeland, the first week back in India has not been easy. I am reprogramming to life here; feeling my feet slipping and then remembering where the footholds are again.

I had to reset when I got back to Australia too. The roads were wide and clean and the cars went so fast. Here we never go over 60km, and it took some adjusting to life in the fast lane. I went to the supermarket on my first day back, and Andy had to come and find me as I was gone for over an hour. He found me standing lost and confused in front of an array of clothes detergents and not knowing what to choose.

I wore a dress and sandals and felt exposed and vulnerable- I was showing so much leg! I held hands with Andy in the street. I crossed the road at a pedestrian crossing and the cars stopped. I used a credit card. I held up a line of shoppers as I tried to figure out what pay pass was. I carried my own groceries to the car. I ordered a salad and felt safe eating it.

I also readjusted to movement and shifts in the lives of my friends. I admired pregnant bellies, gooed over new babies, grieved over broken marriages, wondered at bravery in the face of terrible sickness. Time had shifted and moved on and there was a sense of running to catch up.

I relaxed fully. I sat for hours on a chair at the beach with the sound of waves and my children playing and the sun warm on my face. I remembered this life and it fit, but it fit differently. Like a favorite t-shirt that has shrunk in the wash; it looked the same, I loved it the same, but it didn’t sit in quite the same way as it once had. I know why. I was a visitor and this was not my home right now. I loved it, cherished it and had my fill of it but I was passing through in the knowledge that I wasn’t ready to live here again quite yet.

Back in India I am finding my place again. Andy was immediately thrust into the routines of work, but I am home with the kids and rediscovering the blessings and difficulties of life here. Last night, Levi decided he doesn’t like egg yolks anymore. He likes the whites but not the yolks. Ordinarily, this would not be the end of the world, but I nearly cried. I have a precious list of what I can cook here. It is limited by ingredients available and it has taken me a year and a half to put together a menu that does not include cheese on toast three times a week. It is not ok for egg to be removed. Egg will remain and Levi will have to remember that he likes it!

I soak the vegetables again. I wait for the water filter. The grocer didn’t have cheese and my pizza doesn’t taste the same. Last week I was wearing three items of clothing- bra, undies, dress. Today I am wearing fourteen- bra, undies, long socks, long johns, jeans, thermal singlet, thermal top, kurta, cardigan, fleecy, down jacket, gloves, beanie and scarf. All at the same time. And I am still cold. I know I am blessed to even have fourteen layers to wear. I’m not complaining. I’m just saying.

In truth, I like myself better in India. I am a better version of me. I am not distracted by materialism, I am satisfied with less. I am more reliant on Gods grace and I run to His arms daily for my every need. I am a better parent and have energy and time for the things that matter.

But not this week. I am resetting. I need to not think big thoughts, make big decisions, get morose or over analyse. I just need to put one foot in front of the other and take my baby steps through this week and into the next…. until my resetting is complete and I can once more delight in my life here. In the mean time…I’m going to eat my entire stash of Australian chocolate in one week!

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My beautiful home in the clouds

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The Road Home

There is a moment on my way home where I am hit with a deep expectation. As the car tops the crest and travels through the gap in the divide I see a vista of still beauty spread before me. I see dear, familiar farm houses dotted into the distance. I see our hill to the left and I see the dust lift on the dirt road that winds down to our farm. I am home.

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No matter where I have been, over oceans or simply into town, that is the moment of homecoming.
Home. Oh how deeply rooted I am to that place. It is the soil I am planted in and the tendrils of my soul have spread deeply and drawn fully of its sustenance.
It calls to me here in India. It calls in the slant of evening light on trees. It calls in the memories. It calls in a single word. It’s as though it is sending messages on the breeze, reminding me of who I am and always will be.

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There is another road that speaks of home. A narrow, enchanting road, that winds between ancient gums and smaller saplings. It leads to my grandmothers and to buckets of memories and joys. It is long enough for ample thought and quiet enough for the thoughts to be unhindered. It has inviting twists and turns and has many different faces of beauty on its way.

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Both roads speak of homecoming. But they also speak of leaving. One direction arrival and another departure. One direction anticipation of familiar welcome and another direction unknown adventure. Each departure for a distant land leaves me wrenched. I am hesitant to arrive and to love as I await the leaving and loss; as they ebb and flow into each other I am tossed in their meeting place. I begin to believe that the only survival is in restraining my connection and oneness with home so that I can leave with less pain. A futile suggestion…

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I cannot separate myself from my roots no more than I can not be who I am. I will allow myself to love and live and connect and will believe that it is better for such a thing to end that to never have happened at all. There is no true loss if strength and renewal is gained and I am sent out once more into the world. Home is a thing of such beauty- I am enhanced by it. I can love it utterly as long as I am not restrained by it and lulled into forgetfulness of God’s future for me. The road will always be there, leading me out….and drawing me home.

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The first child

The first child. The rule keeper. The promoter of justice. Are the slices of cake exactly the same size? He has one more m and m than me. You said we could have 45 mins computer time and it’s only been 44 and a half minutes. That’s not fair!

Take the first child, the rule keeper and transfer him to a third world country. A place of fluidity. A place where rules bend and flex and do not keep a fixed position. All that he has held dear and all that has defined the parameters of his life is torn away and thrown into the air and he is left reeling and frustrated and judgmental of this new reality.

His black and whites are forced into new patterns of gray – and red and orange and purple. His rules, the rules of ordered society, are openly flaunted around him.

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He stares as he sees rubbish thrown out car windows or tossed on the path. He sets in motion a personal mission to stop his friends from littering. They look at him with raised eyebrows and a quizzical expression. They humor him but have no intention of changing their habits. Why would they? This is what you do! We explain to him that when life is a struggle for survival, rubbish disposal is not high on the agenda. We explain that his views are the product of an extensive media campaign and national effort to stop littering. He wasn’t just born with that ideal.
He is aghast when toys that are left out disappear. How dare other children steal them! Don’t they know it’s wrong! Why don’t they just buy their own. We gently explain that they have nothing and we have everything. We tell him that they see the world differently and taking a toy is often not seen as stealing but as making the most of an opportunity.
He watches the men cutting the lawn with scythes. There are four of them and only one cuts at a time. The take a break every five minutes and play in the yard- they start up a game of cricket using his bat. The job takes four days. He is aghast. They are being paid to do this job ( not by us) and he has been taught his grandfather’s work ethic. This is not the way it should be done! He cannot watch- but then returns to watch again. Once more we explain to him that work is done differently here. It is not better or worse, just different. We explain that he sees work a certain way because that is what we, and society, have taught him, but here they are modeled a different work ethic that does not match our own.

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We encourage him in all these things to be aware of his value adding. We add or subtract value according to our culture, upbringing and experience. We encourage him to not judge but accept that he is the visitor here and does not have enough understanding to pass judgement. Yes, rubbish makes things look dirty, stealing causes ramifications for others and work would be finished sooner if cricket were not played. But….. this is the lens in which we see the world and we cannot impose that lens on others.
I’m sure our advice and encouragements are full of flaws and I don’t think he is taking on much of what we say anyway. We keep saying it none the less. Perhaps it is soaking in. We cannot expect a 10yr old to be self aware enough to understand world views and cultural complexity- we still struggle with all this stuff too in spite of our adultness. But perhaps this experience is shaping him and stretching him and in the future he will be a more self aware individual. We can only pray!

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Five celebrate an exciting anniversary

So I got to thinking, that celebrating our one year anniversary in India deserves a blog.
What an amazing year it’s been! All that was foreign is now familiar ( although often still surprising).
I feel like one year deserves something profound, but all I am feeling is extremely grateful for the gift of the year that has been and so very thankful for the chance to live and love in the year to come.

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I am thankful that I am no longer a newbie here and that I know the phone number of the grocer.
I am thankful that this week I browsed through delicious magazines and actually felt inspired to cook and think that I might be just able to find the ingredients.
I’m thankful that I have a bread maker which means we get to eat real bread! (the alternative is a white cardboard bread that last for around 2-3 weeks- yes, it may have just a small amount of preservatives).
I’m thankful that I am not freaked out by scorpions.
I’m thankful that I know how things work at Woodstock now.
I am thankful that Andy LOVES teaching here- he is fulfilled, challenged and passionate about his teaching.
I am thankful that my boys are settled- they chase grasshoppers, walk through the clouds and ride bikes around and around and around the house.
I am thankful for the beautiful people who we share life with here. They are an exceptional group of people from all over the world who I love to be with.
I am thankful that I can finally put in a garden now we have neighbors with a dog who can scare the monkeys away.
I am thankful for our new neighbors and their two gorgeous kids who are playing monopoly and duplo with my boys as we speak, leaving me free to make brownies and write this.

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I am thankful that I have a scooter and that I got to ride over a crazy landslide yesterday.
I am thankful that for some strange reason, possibly the nature of living in a smallish community, we no longer get colds and flus. We still have the same bottle of kids panadol that we brought with us. In Australia we seemed to have constant colds and flus. Here, instead, we have semi- constant runny tummies:-)
I am thankful for a beautiful home church that has blessed us beyond words. We LOVE to meet together, study the bible and pray together. Our kids love the Sunday school.
I am thankful for the hugs of the students and chance to love those whose parents are far away.
I am thankful for the cafe. The girls are getting so independent and making great food. They are laughing together and caring for each other. It warms my heart.

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I am thankful that this holiday has given me the chance to truly delight in my boys like never before.
I am thankful that this holiday has given me the chance to delight in God and spend concentrated time in prayer and reflection without the busyness of school.
I am thankful that I feel ready and rested for all that this term holds.
I am thankful that the other day I scooted into the bazaar and managed to find an Allen key, some rice paper, some panadol and some curtain material all in different shops but all in one trip!
I am thankful for the love of my heavenly Father that sustains us and gives us joy.
I am thankful for ferns on trees and lush vegetation.
I am thankful for the fact that the chocolate brownie that just overflowed and filled the bottom of my oven is a baking disaster that is the exception rather than the rule.
I am thankful that I found some white cooking chocolate.
I am thankful that I can now make my own yoghurt.
I am thankful for the blessings and love that fill my life.

And so, I am thankful. As things get busier and we get back into a new school year, I want to keep being thankful. I want to keep this perspective of gratitude to God. In the good and the bad I want to give thanks.

‘Be joyful always; pray continuously; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.’ 1 Thes 5:16

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Francis fun in France

As we spend this incredible time in France, a gift from our parents, we are in a state of constant exclamation over all that is different and wonderful. We are in no way saying that we do not love living in India or that there are not amazing things about India that the West really lacks, but we cannot help but appreciate and feel blessed for all these things that remind us of Australia and give rest to the senses and stomach!

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There’s something to be said for removing kids from the saturated West, as their levels of satisfaction change hugely. They are so easy to please! They are excited over bread, ecstatic over cheese, red meat is a massive treat, and drinking water from the taps is amazing! Car seats are a novelty, a bike ride is huge, stopping for a croissant is such a treat and running free in open paddocks of wheat and poppies reminds them of the farm at home.

I got the giggles yesterday when I said to Levi that we were just going to walk up the hill to a cafe and he started to cry. “I don’t want to walk up the hill!”, he exclaimed! But he was picturing the mountain that he climbs every day to school, not the gentle slope of a French hillside!

I am so thrilled to also realize that the boys have a new perspective garnered from their year at Woodstock. Josh asked me two questions that revealed this to us. Before we left he asked what the cultural dress in France was. And when we got here he asked what the main religion of France was. Two questions that the Josh of last year would not have asked, but for the Josh of this year they are questions which are normal for his new understanding of the international world.

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