I have been in Poatina for 12 days now and I feel as though I am finally arriving! There are a number of things that I do whenever I arrive in the village again that help me to arrive. Sitting by the fire in the chalet lounge is one, finding a way to get some toasted muesli and yoghurt for my breakfasts is another and making sure I get to morning tea is yet another. There is one particular thing however, that unless I do I find it hard to feel fully present to the village.
At the bottom of the village is a beautiful golf course full of stunning gum trees and old conifers; friends of mine had their wedding in it one year with the breathtaking views as the back drop to their vows. In one corner of the golf course is a memorial garden with particularly spectacular views, there is a wooden hexagonal gazebo in the middle where I have spent many hours over the years sitting with God, journaling and settling my heart. I love to return to this place when I am in the village. Before sitting on the steps of the gazebo when I first arrive, I take a walk a few meters down the slope where I spend a few moments with some very special people.
The first plaque I come to is one belonging to Alex. Alex went to be with Jesus when she was 11. I never had the privilege of meeting Alex, but when I read her plaque, I recall the stories that her family tell and the pictures in their home and I look forward to being with her one day. The next plaque belongs to Gordon. I felt as though Gordon and his wife Agnes adopted me as one of their grandchildren when I first arrived in the village. I would invite myself round for tea and biscuits, Gordon would tell me all about the wild birds in the village and they would share stories from their lives over the years. I like saying hello to Gordon.
Next I think is Bob, he died about 6 months before I arrived in the village. He seems to live and breathe in the stories and memories of many, many people I now work with, both young and old, including his wife, a good friend of mine. He loved God and he loved his students and colleagues and I somehow feel certain that he would love me too – not because of me, just because of who he was or is. Most times when I come to his plaque I really, really wish I could sit and talk with him for an hour or two. There are things that I would love to ask him but most of all I have a feeling that he would help me recognize Jesus when things feel a little hazy… as they sometimes do these days.
Then there’s Samuel, baby Samuel. I never met Samuel. When I see his plaque I think of two friends of mine who I love, they are usually on the other side of the world trusting God, loving him and those around them. And then I think to myself, I cant wait to meet Samuel one day. The last plaque belongs to Richard, he was a good friend. In my early Poatina days I would pop round and spend a happy hour with Richard and his wife Bev drinking tea and hearing amazing stories of God’s grace. Richard taught one of my class mates to read and write.
If I am honest I don’t really know why this meeting is so important to me each time I return to Poatina. Somehow greeting each one seems to strengthen my faith. There is something about the mixture of grief and loss, joy and celebration that deepens my sense of God’s faithfulness. There is something incredibly powerful about being part of history, that I am connected to amazing people who have lived and breathed and proved God to be true and no amount of pain or death or loss can destroy this story that I am part of. All this and much more helps me to find my bearings and be a little more grounded as I arrive here in Poatina each time.