Today some of our very bestest friends are on their way to a grand adventure.
At least that is how we are talking about it, because to say they are sailing off into the great unknown is a little too real. But that is how this family roles. They are not afraid of adventure, of jumping into a new life, feet first.
Today, my very sweet friend, Alison Chino, and her four amazing kids are on their way to Aberdeen, Scotland, where they will meet up with husband/father Taido, who is starting this fall as a PhD student in Aberdeen. The Chino's are only taking what they can fit into their suitcases, and we are all crossing our fingers that by the time Alison and the kids land, Tai will have found a house that all six of them can fit in.
Not everyone understands this bold move of the Chino's. But I get it. When I was eleven my family of six picked up and moved from Largo, Florida to Juneau, Alaska. And while it is not Arkansas-to-Scotland, it was still a culture shock for all of us. And while things were not perfect all the time while we made our life there for eight years, they were not awful either.
I credit this in large part to our families strong sense of identity as a unit, an identity that my mother worked hard to form. I always felt as if moving to Alaska was a family adventure, not just something my parents did for themselves. My parents struck a good balance of finding ways for us to be part of the larger community of Juneau, while still creating a very solid home life, where we always knew we fit in, even if no one outside our little house understood our traditions or beliefs or southern accents.
I have every confidence that Alison and Taido will do the same for their crew, because they are no stranger to choosing the unconventional path, and because I already see that same sense of belonging in their kids. They are The Chino's and together they will always be okay, no matter where life takes them.
I also credit my years in Alaska for helping to strip my illusions that there was only one way to live, one way to look, one way to think, one way to worship. Living in such a radically different culture than the Bible Belt helped me see that we really are all equal. That Christ died for all of us regardless of all the boxes that we have made for each other. I learned that I am neither better, nor less than anyone else, and the same is true for others. And that God's love isn't concerned with what human love seems to be concerned with at all. In fact it really is, remarkably, unconditional. And that people find Christ in all sorts of ways, and that he takes them into his arms, just as they are, whether we think he should or not.
I have a feeling the Chino kids are going to get to live out this experience as much or more than I did. I know it is the heart of Alison and Taido that their kids believe these things about Christ love, and that they model that sort of love for others, but there is nothing like immersing yourself in a completely different culture for being challenged to live it out. They will all be stretched in a million big and little ways and I believe their character will be strengthened because of it.
If you have read A Homemade Year you may remember the Michaelmas chapter, where I talked about a group of friends -the Playgroup-who were sent, much like angels, to slay the dragon of a deep loneliness in my heart. It has been over six years since that first day at the park when all the kids played in the creek and my heart lept for joy to find momma's who, like me, embraced life at the intersection of mess and beauty.
Over the past six years a lot of change has come to our little group-mostly by way of children growing up. Babies then are now elementary students and elementary students then are now high school students with drive licenses. Over the years the Playgroup gatherings have grown further apart as we haved all juggled to keep up with our lives and the changing needs of our kids. But we never gave up all together. Over the past few years, we have still managed to get together in whatever formation we can, to talk and laugh and cook and drink and let the kids run around the yard like wild hooligans and the teenagers pile on the couches texting each other across the room.
Two weeks ago we hosted one last Playgroup dinner with the Chinos. We hosted, in part because as I told Alison, "this dinner is for you officially, but in reality, it is for me too. I want you in my kitchen one more time" And again, just like that day in the park, all those years ago, my heart was so very, very full. Only, more so. Actually it was spilling over into tears. And I may have pulled out my old Michael W. Smith record and played Friends are Friends Forever. And we might have cried. A lot. And also we might have laughed really hard at all of it- especially some of Michael's wardrobe choices.
Because the truth was a little too much to take in all at once.
A little too much heartache for an seemingly ordinary Sunday evening.
You see, our friends are moving very far away, and this means the end of a very special era.
Yes, we will all still be friends, and yes the rest of us will still get together and eat and laugh and cook. I am determined to see that happen.
And it is not as if we will never see or talk to Alison and her crew again. Thanks to modern technology we will text and keep in touch on FB and Twitter and through our blogs, and eventually (fingers crossed) they will come home to us again.
But by the time three years rolls around, a good third of the Playgroup kids will be in college or on their way shortly. And there will barely be an elementary kid left. And the next round of babies will be grandbabies (though hopefully not in three years!)
Which is so hard to imagine, because I promise it was just yesterday, that our babies were playing in the creek.
Traveling mercies my friends.
Have a wonderful adventure.
Spread your wings and your hearts wide.
Remember you are loved here as you plant new roots there.
And come home safely to us again, when the time is right.
Much love always.