Once upon a time there lived an elderly couple, minding their own business and going about their daily lives.
"Pack up everything. Say goodbye to your friends, family and neighbours. I want you to go on a journey."
If the dear elderly couple wondered where they were going, they weren't told the destination, but in a move that must have seemed bonkers to their loved ones, they took the first steps in a journey so life-changing and epic - indeed world-changing - their story has been told and treasured around the world for centuries.
Fast forward to early 2018. A couple really on the brink of middle age but still in the time of life when they're wrangling a gaggle of young children, hear that very same voice, prodding them to go on a journey. It's a still, small voice, but the urgency is palpable.
January to June is tough. She is thrown illness after illness and he wearies on, picking up the slack, one day at a time, faithfully doing really boring but necessary things for the family. But throughout, the sense - no, the knowledge - that 'something is coming', a new journey is beginning, starts as a few snowflakes falling at the top of a mountain and careers into a giant snowball, shooting down the mountain, gaining size and momentum.
And then, CRASH! "I want you to go to Nashville."
"Nashville. Tennessee. Not both of you. He's going to stay behind and with the girls. It's not the destination, but the next step. 4 days. A 2-day symposium and then a 2-day conference."
"Your little girl's birthday. You won't see your precious little one on the day she turns 6."
"But... But..." Sigh. "I know, I know. You said, 'If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and his own life also, he cannot be My disciple.' There are no buts. I love you more than I love my precious 6-year-old. I trust you. But it hurts. Is this what you meant by counting the cost?"
"This is just the beginning. There's more to come. It will be difficult. It will keep hurting in ways that if I told you, you'd run a mile in the opposite direction. Or perhaps you'd even get on a boat and go to Tarshish. And we know how that worked out last time. So, for now, Nashville."
And so, without knowing the full ins and outs of why and what and how and WHAT NEXT, they arrange for her to go. The little one was upset that Mummy wouldn't be there on her birthday, but she understood that she and her sisters and their Dad weren't Mummy's 'whole world', because before they existed, Mummy had pledged her allegiance to more, to eternity right here, right now, to obedience, to a narrow way that seemingly makes no sense... But also to joy and peace and adventure and a life so far removed from dull as Tarshish is to Ninevah - or indeed Nashville.
They're not daft, this couple. Just like our elderly couple, they know there will be bumps along the way, most likely failings and screw ups. But there will always be forgiveness. They know too, that the waiting continues and that sometimes there are years between one step and another. They know they must hang on to the promises.
And so, at 3am on her daughter's birthday, she stole out of the dark house, sneaking past the bedrooms containing two sleeping girls each, three of whom understand, but one very little one still saying at bedtime, "See you in the morning, Mummy!" She climbed into her travelling companions' car, and set off for the airport, bleary-eyed but expectant.
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