We had this recurring conversation, that first July week - the week before he flew to Crete. "If we can just get everything done and settled, we could have a little bit of relaxed time before I go," he said. It never happened.. and I'd kinda known it wouldn't. Because there were lost items to find, insurance to change, random stacks of papers to sort, suitcases to pack. It seemed a hopeless hope to think there might be quiet stretches in the days before he left. An international move for a family of six, right after selling and vacating your house, doesn't go down like that.
I smiled inwardly at him when he'd said it, those weeks ago, and now I smile at myself. Or try to. I'd piled up books during the packing, you see, a dozen or so, to look through in the eight weeks between pack-up and Greece arrival. Skim through, figure out which to keep, pick a few and read 'em. I opened none. I likewise thought I'd keep up my try-to-write-something-once-a-week stint, since it'd served me well throughout the spring. Nope.
And my language plans? "You kind of gave up on the Greek, huh Mom?" my oldest said to me the other week. I'd started us all into SongSchool Greek in May, and we'd rolled through the first chapter or so (the alphabet mostly) fine before summer got underway. "Yeah, I kinda did," I agreed. Gave it up in the name of Just Hold It Down.
It kind of bums me out, too. I'm not the type who likes to enter a new country - much less a country I'm going to be living in - without knowing a bit of the language. Without having put in some effort, some phrases at least in my pocket. I'm decent with languages; I enjoy playing around with them. Not being able to pull out the group motivation on this one's a disappointment. I don't love the example I'm setting for the kids on this either, as we look out over our first cross-cultural experience.
But Just Hold It Down mode means lowering your expectations about what you can accomplish. And the thing about lowering your expectations is, you have to lower them. The reading plans, the writing plans, the language plans- you gotta drop all of it. In Just Hold It Down mode, your find yourself indefinitely single parenting- with a husband you can rarely reach due to time zone realities- while navigating unexpected health challenges, ongoing nomadic living, and a timeline made uncertain by recovery from unplanned ear surgery. You were in Just Hold It Down mode before these added weirdnesses; you're in it deeper now. You realize... you thought you'd paired things down to the sane and the manageable, but you were wrong. Call it simplicity or minimalism, whatever you want, but ultimately: let go. Expect less from the circumstances, and from yourself. It's OK.
In our plan, the kids and I would join my husband and arrive in Crete three weeks before school started. Enough time to get our bearings, poke around the island, feel a little settled before the routine got underway. By then we hoped my husband would have found a house (he has) and our things might have arrived from the US (they just did). In real life, though, we're apart longer, we'll arrive much later, and we won't have that adjustment time. So again- lower expectations. Just allow the thing to be what it is.
I keep thinking about something Kara Tippetts wrote in her enormously powerful memoir, The Hardest Peace. (If you don't know of Kara, this video about her is one of the most moving pieces I've ever watched.) Kara's with Jesus now. Exactly when she and her husband moved to Colorado with their four kids to plant a church, that was when she got her breast cancer diagnosis, a journey that resulted in her death. She writes about how they thought they were moving to Colorado in strength, that was their plan, but it turned out they came in vulnerability and need and weakness. And the posture of weakness turned out to be the thing that launched the church, gathered the community, allowed God to build the platform He did- one that included her story and influence. She ended up accepting this reality and even being awed by it. It impacted me.
I don't want for a moment to imply that our getting to Crete a month late and a couple of weeks, potentially, after the kids' school has started is anything like Kara Tippetts' journey through cancer and to death. It's nothing at all like that. What I'm getting at is this: we have an idea of how we want to start a thing. We picture ourselves doing it, without even realizing it. We ponder, pray, make plans. We aim to go in strength (and of course, this is how it should be. It's what wisdom and stewardship call for.) But it might not go down like that. We might instead embark on a new chapter in a season of weakness. In the upside-down kingdom where our weakness ushers and reveals God's strength, and where our faith grows through trials, this might be part of God's design.
This accepting weakness and lowering expectations about your plans and how you'd like to approach them... Well it's not fun. And it can feels like a cop-out. But it's necessary, and it's where - in the life of faith - peace and freedom reside. Remembering that the story's not ultimately yours to direct anyway. That the one who's at the helm knows what he's doing, even when you don't.
Maybe there's an awesome Greek saying that means "embrace weakness" or "lower your expectations," a perfect kind of quote for an occasion like this. If there were, maybe I'd end with it here... But hey, no can do, since it turns out the kids and I won't be studying our Greek for at least a while longer. Maybe watch this space...