This time last year Hannelie and I decided to celebrate New Year by going out and sending off some Chinese Lanterns. It was bitterly cold and the wind was high but we wanted to celebrate 2011, a year in which we finally tied the knot. The lanterns were a wedding gift from my father and sisters, who had written messages and drawn pictures on them. We walked out into the field behind our house in Durham in time, we thought, to light them as midnight approached.
The first lantern took 5 attempts to light. Our lighter was almost empty. H trudged home to bring a different one. We still couldn’t light the touch paper because the wind was too high. Even when we found a sheltered spot near the hedge, the paper just wouldn’t catch. When we finally lit it, the lantern seemed too heavy to fly properly and didn’t lift. We tried another, and then another and had the same problem. The last one caught fire and spluttered out on the ground. We went home, pretty discouraged. As we walked H broke the silence:
“is this a sign about the year ahead?”
I thought for a moment before replying:
“it doesn’t have to be. Some things aren’t omens, they just happen. We don’t have to claim it as a sign.”
Underneath I wasn’t so sure.
I believe that God sends signs, and I believe in symbolism, in listening to intuition and noticing events like this. Our conversation moved along a little and I was back on solid ground. 2012 would be a boring year, we said, nothing will happen. I would trudge along with the PhD, H with her job. We would have no big plans until 2013, a year that would bring my completion date. We started to talk about moving house, about having children, but none of this was for 2012.
“Well, let’s just weather this year and accept that some years are just uneventful” I suggested. We went home, drank hot chocolate and slept.
The first six months of 2012 unfolded. I found myself in an unexpected dry patch, struggling to write my PhD. Somewhere in the midst of this I found myself reliving the past, experiencing flashbacks. I started to have intense claustrophobic nightmares. I would wake up panicked, soaked in sweat and screaming. Something was wrong. We had a heart to heart. I owned up to some issues and found myself applying for the healing week at Living Waters. I started this blog, thinking it would help me to write about my academic work in a less formal context, among other things.
In July things looked better. I was looking forward to Living Waters though feeling anxious about it too. I blogged about my mixed feelings about Pride and sketched out a rough idea for blog posts for the rest of the year.
Nothing about that sunny day in July suggested tragedy. I had no premonitions as H and I played on the beach while her brothers’ world (and ours) changed forever.
We clung to each other. Our church community formed a protective barrier around us. Within days they pooled enough money to send us to South Africa, although we couldn’t go in the end.
At the healing week at the beginning of August , someone praying with me told me that I would be given a new address. I laughed it off, inwardly. Nothing seemed more unlikely. I wrote it down in my journal and forgot about it. Within two weeks I was living at my mother’s house in Somerset while she recovers slowly from a stroke. I am still there. I have a new address. I still don’t know what to make of this sign.
I don’t know why we are given signs and warnings and premonitions about some events and not others.
It will soon be 2013. I am spending it with my father and my older sister. Hannelie is in Durham spending it at work. When midnight comes, we will go outside into my mother’s garden, which she hasn’t seen since August and we will light Chinese lanterns. One for each of us, one for my little sister Amelia (who, as befits an 18 year old, is at a party). One for my mother who will start 2013 in the hospital. One for Hannelie. One for Griet and one for Catherina. One each for Hannelie’s two brothers. They are signs of our love and signs of our hope. Rituals that comfort, symbols that soothe.
I don’t know what will happen in 2013. I don’t know if there will be signs or visions to help us on our way. Even if there are, I have noticed that the purpose they serve is not to warn us so we can change the course of the future, but rather to comfort us that there is a God who knows, who knew before us. I will be watching out for them.
For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.