Thursday, 18 June 2020

Thursday 18 June

A few days ago, I mentioned some of the transition processes going on in our house currently. Today, I am thinking about significant transitions that are taking place around us, in the networks of relationship that are closest to where we live.

[Photo by Timo Stern on Unsplash]

Within the space of a month, three sets of people that have been part of 'the expat scene' here will be returning to the States. (Yes, somewhat surprisingly, of the non-Spanish people that we've met since moving here a large proportion are American.) Two families and a single woman will be leaving the country, each having lived here for several years. There are at least three other households that come to mind where the conversation is about the possibility of moving on (they do say that transition begins the moment you start thinking about it). And even if we haven't interacted a lot socially, I'm sure the shift of dynamic will be felt as friendships flex and make room for a different matrix of connections.

I reflect on this simply by way of noticing the very transitory nature of non-native communities like ours. For the past 22 years, we have worked with an organisation that is characterised much more by mobility than by stability. Of course, there are benefits to mobility. The aim of the game is to invest in the people of a particular place, to complete whatever ministry purpose you have for being there, and then to move. For some people, mobility is even more of an emphasis, as their role is to travel to run seminars or workshops, regularly serving in places where they are not living.

This can be a very flexible, responsive way of working. It creates the opportunity to respond to immediate needs in different parts of the world. While this breeds people who are very adaptable to different cultures and contexts, it means that our longest standing relationships are with other mobile people whom we've met on teams and projects around the world. It doesn't make for a sense of being known in the place where we actually live, and it's a completely different calling than the vocation of stability, of rootedness, of belonging and community-building.

I feel I must make a disclaimer here. We lived for almost 10 years in South Africa and we travelled a lot while we there. Nevertheless, we felt very rooted and the relationships we made during those years are still some of our most treasured and current. We have lived for 7 years in Spain, travelled far less, and we still feel like a piece of tumbleweed being blown across the landscape. All that to say, it is not necessarily the length of time in a place that breeds a sense of stability.

How do we navigate a call to mobility in such a way that we cultivate places of stability in our lives?

I'll offer 5 thoughts to get us started:

  1. Make friends with people who are rooted in the place where you live, who have history there. Their sense of stability will infect you with a feeling of relational longevity and connection to the geography. While this has been difficult for us to achieve in this season, I still hold to this value and hope.
  2. Create intentional rhythms with a stable group, whether that is a regular weekend pizza night, or Sabbath meals to close off the working week. Consider other seasonal celebrations and develop a groove with a few friends. These patterns of connection nurture stability in us.
  3. Be intentional about moments of arrival and departure, so that welcomes and farewells become meaningful moments and not just another airport run. It's easy for us to become so desensitised to all the comings and goings - ours and others - that we don't give ourselves time to adjust. We can establish some simple 're-attach' or 'release' routines to help ground us in this place.
  4. Plant things. I know that sounds kind of simplistic but, truly, watching a garden grow year on year gives a sense of stability like nothing else. We planted a cherry tree that is now beginning to thicken out and look mature, and it causes us to feel invested in this place and its ongoing flourishing.
  5. Identify those favourite places that bring you a sense of wellbeing and to which you return time after time. Whether a beauty spot you discovered on a hike, or a coffee shop that has a vibe you love, these can become sacred spaces for us. They connect us to this place and give us a sense of stability and belonging.

What's your story? Do feel more drawn to being mobile or to being stable? Where do your experiences of one or the other feel ill-fitting? For what is your heart longing, as you consider your next season?

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