July 13th 2007. Our bedraggled family of four arrived on the tarmac at Heathrow, our clothes tattered and stained orange by the Zimpeto sand, our hearts in pieces from having loved too much. We returned “home” to a house that held a fraction of the possessions we’d once owned, to a community that didn’t know what to make of the people we’d become or how to help us adjust. We, ourselves, did not know what we needed or how to ask for help.
In our hearts we were pioneers, reluctant to put down roots, but circumstances dictated that we learn to be settlers. So we started again, slowly building a new life in England, slowly re-engaging with friends, families, schools, workplaces and community, learning how to love this country and to forgive it for not being all the things we wanted it to be.
It was a long process. When you have asked for bread and you are given stone after stone, you stop asking for bread. In fact, you soon find that you’re no longer able to recognise bread, seeing nothing but stones everywhere. Even when you are fed crumbs (as that is all you can stomach), the crumbs taste of gravel. It takes a long time to learn to eat again. To learn to taste and see the goodness all around.
In seven years, our children have changed almost beyond recognition. The little boy and girl on the edge of adolescence have grown up. Childish things have been put away, their place taken by GCSEs, driving lessons, A-levels, a girlfriend, a boyfriend and an unnecessary number of guitars. The seven years began with Sarah preparing for secondary school and they have ended with her leaving school and heading for University.
Here they are in July 2007, about to leave Mozambique:
And here they are in the summer of 2014, Tom with Beth and Sarah with Chris:
In comparison, we adults have not changed much on the outside, unless you count grey hairs and lines. Instead we’re aware of invisible changes. We’ve learned how to put down an anchor, how to ignore the stirring of the tides and the tugging of the wind at our sails, how to appreciate the beauty of the harbour. Through loss, offence and disappointment we’ve begun to understand acceptance, grace and forgiveness. Despite being anchored for seven years, it turns out that we’ve travelled a long way.
I am thankful for these past seven years. They were not easy but they were a gift. After all, we came close to not being around to experience them.
Seven is a significant number across cultures and through history. In my spirit I feel something ending: a sense of one season slipping into another. It’s time to celebrate what has gone before and to look forwards, eyes to the horizon for a glimpse of what is coming next.