We have a home again. This is no small matter. Since June 28th, when we moved out of our apartment in Al Ain, we have changed locations 15 times. From friend’s homes to hotels to airbnb apartments to basement suites, our move into our townhouse marks move number 16, and as you can imagine, we are all more than ready to unpack our suitcases.
But how did we get from planning on RV or tiny home living to buying a townhouse? Well, the bottom line is that purchasing one of these options was totally doable, but finding a place to put it was another matter. I thought this would be easier than it was, but with the BC housing market being so crazy, the out-of-the-box affordable living options have also been all snatched up. And setting up house on someone else’s property in Chilliwack turned out to be more complicated than we’d expected, and in the end, not really suitable for what our family needs in this season. So, it turns out we have returned to a much more mainstream living situation than I had been dreaming of recently. However, thanks to generous family and as always, the perfect provision of God, we now find ourselves with lower mortgage payments than what it would have cost to rent an RV pad every month.
Now, I have to tell you that we looked around at the options for housing in our price range, and they were sort of dismal. So when we walked into this lovely townhouse that is now our home, I actually sensed God saying, “I saved this one for you.”
You guys, it’s so perfect for us! All 4 of us. Remember I was telling you about all the things we worked through this summer about what we really needed and didn’t need in order to really thrive and serve? Well, this home far exceeds what anyone in the world really “needs” to live in, but in God’s wonderfully gracious way, it meets everything that each of us hoped for in a living space. Three small bedrooms, big living spaces for family and friend time, a tiny yard (we hate yard work), a covered spot for our car, and very little storage space to force us to keep our belongings pared down and simple. AND, it’s a 3 minute walk to Dairy Queen! Thank you Jesus!
Do you also remember when we built that beautiful dream home in 2010? It’s hard to compare the feelings we had on that move-in day, as that was a labour of love on so many levels. But here’s the thing: our new-to-us home is beautifully reflective of where we are in our lives now. The complex is almost 40 years old. In fact, it was built the same year that Dwayne was born. But inside it has been marvelously renovated, with all of the colours and finishing I would have chosen if I’d been doing the renos myself. (See – God was saving it for me.) I think this home is a good picture of the Hansen family. We might look the same as always on the outside, but we have returned from a very transformational experience. God has done quite a work in each of us. We are not the same. We have also been remodelled. And I believe God has sent us back to do a new thing. To carve out a different life with a new perspective.
So, when I pull up to my lovely dark brown townhouse and walk inside to the fresh new interior, I will remember that God’s greatest work is how he transforms hearts. That he is always willing to do something new in us, if we are open to his prompting. That he created us and knows our longings and our needs better than we know them ourselves. That he is a good, good Father, and I’m loved by him.
That’s a lot for a house to say, but I guess it’s a talker. Like me.
When Mel and I said goodbye to each other last year, there was sobbing and actual breath catching. And in the months that followed we grieved as we let go of being basically roommates to being on the exact opposite side of the world.
So, although our whole family was greatly anticipating a visit from Mel & Nyla, you can imagine that there was also some trepidation, on my part, about saying goodbye all over again. We spent a perfect 11 days together and then found ourselves at the Dubai airport parting ways a second time. Much to our surprise, not a tear was shed. Our hugs were long and tight and we unwillingly pried ourselves away from each other, but grief did not overwhelm us. What changed, do you suppose, from 14 months ago? Some would guess that it must be because we’ve grown apart and the loss wasn’t as deep with this farewell. Nope. Just the opposite actually. We have become closer and more committed than ever this year. We’ve become masters of the long distance friendship- LDF. We even had a practice year in 2008 when Mel & Jeff moved to Calgary. We tested some theories and learned some lessons. And now that we’re in the LDF big leagues, we know what it takes to stay truly connected without being physically present in each others daily lives. The big difference between last year’s goodbye and this year’s goodbye is that we know we can do this. We know what it looks like. We know what it takes. We don’t like it, but doggone it, we’re professionals!
So, whether you are a fellow professional LDF’er, an amateur looking to improve your game, or a rookie about to embark on this journey, here are my top tips for mastering significant friendships from afar.
1. Share the daily details
This is possibly the most important tip of this class, folks. Write this one down and highlight it because it will be on the test. Friendship is found in the details. Mel and I have been texting basically every 12 hours for the last 14 months. Every morning when I wake up I see what she has told me over the course of her day and I see if she’s online for actual real time texting. I message her throughout my day while she’s sleeping and when my phone starts to light up every evening, I know she’s awake. And it’s not just Mel. I have a handful of dear friends who do the same and have invested in our friendship by staying committed to keeping me in the loop in their lives. Skype calls are also awesome for this, but since arranging regular Skype dates is difficult with a huge time change, different weekend days, and life schedules, another method needs to be found for the sharing of daily details.
2. Be honest about what’s going on in your heart
Our decision to move overseas affected those who were closest to us. Our best moments of connectedness came when they shared their hurts and disappointments and feelings of loss about our absence. Also, we’ve felt alienated, at times, by things people back home have said or done and it was most healing when we confessed that honestly, instead of avoiding it. There are also people and things we’ve really come to love in our new country, and even though it felt like betrayal, we had to share that honestly too. Because as hard as it is for all of us, life moves on. People back home carry on without us and we forge new paths here without them. This doesn’t have to mean the end of the significant relationships we left behind. But if we avoid talking about those things and both rejoicing and lamenting over them, we will eventually build up walls of resentment and disappointment that make truly loving and trusting too hard.
3. Make the effort all the time
The moment you notice that there is something going on in your life and it feels like too much effort to explain it to your LDF, you’ve hit the danger zone. What you choose in that moment will either make or break your relationship. If this is a friendship that matters to you for the long haul, choose to take the time and write the long message. Conversely, when you feel like there’s nothing much going on in your life and nothing seems important enough to mention, you’ve hit the other side of the danger zone. Remember that part about friendship being in the details? When Mel and I were together every day, face to face, I’d mention things like the engine repair light coming on in our car, the plants I was thinking of buying for the deck, and the TV show I stayed up too late watching. I do the same thing now, even though some of the details are different. Making the effort every day to share the small details and the big issues on our heart not only keeps us connected in that moment, but it prevents the unfortunate issue of having nothing to talk about because we’ve totally lost touch with what’s been happening with each other from day to day. It’s definitely an investment of time and mental energy, but for those you love most, it’s worth it.
4. If at all possible, show up
This last one is hard, because I have a lot of dear friends and family who I know love me and are committed to investing in our relationship, but simply cannot show up in person. I get that. I totally do. In fact, I didn’t show up for Mel when she lived in Calgary for a year, and that trip would have been a lot easier than the one she just made for me! (This is one of the “failing to show up” incidents in my life that I still regret.) But nevertheless, when going to visit is possible, it is the single most life-giving thing an LDF could receive. Because at the end of the day, the things I want most from my friends are love and understanding. Nothing creates true understanding better than coming in person to see what our life is really like in this new culture. And nothing really says ‘I love you’ better than taking the plunge, making the sacrifices, booking the ticket, and showing up.
Mel and I don’t know what the future holds for us, although we have our hopes. But I love that we have not allowed the uncertainty of what’s ahead to deter us from committing to each other now. I am so grateful for friends who have stuck with me through this journey, sending me texts and emails, making Skype dates, and generally not giving up on what we have. It’s no small matter to have people who love you and care about you enough to make that kind of consistent effort, even when it’s hard.
So few people can realistically come and share in our life here, but for the few who do, the memories and bonds it creates are immeasurable. These are some of the best photo moments from Mel & Nyla’s visit, although, naturally, my favourite moments occurred off-camera and I’ll treasure them for a long time.