As I write, rain is pummelling the roof of our holiday cottage. The kids and I are on a mini-break while hubby finishes off another house move. More like a mini-escape. Yesterday was 37 degrees in Perth, the culmination of a long, hot week packing boxes. As we drove south indulging in the picture of cool water and a sun lounge on the hot sand, the weather dropped a degree with each passing service station. Then the rain arrived. It has not stopped since.
The inclement weather is not unexpected. In fact, statistically, this outcome is utterly predictable for our family. The reason is simple – we have disaster holidays. Despite the fact that it is summer everywhere else in Western Australia, we are, paradoxically, on a chilly beach holiday. Therefore rather than sun and sand, my day will now include around 11 hours of ABC Kids, and approximately two hours of bored whining interrupted only by the mandatory IGA trips for all the milk/butter/bread items I forgot.
This is not pessimism. I genuinely do not lean that way. Let me take you on a little wander through Payne history if you need supporting evidence that our holidays are historically afflicted.
It all began on honeymoon to Phuket, Thailand. The world’s playground for broke, conservative, child-brides of the late 90s, and bogans. The inaugural Payne holiday, we were excited, until around 2 am the first night when we woke to a muffled crash and minor concussion. The massive wooden wall carving had fallen from above our bed directly onto our heads. It was the size of a native canoe and equally heavy, but somehow neither the intrusion nor the injury warranted so much as a free drink in the eyes of the staff. Later that same trip I landed in the hospital for different health reasons, and we dejectedly concluded it was best to board the plane for home.
A bad start to married life but easily put behind us in the glow of new beginnings. Pure coincidence, we reassured ourselves.
The following 18 years of attempted holidays have included – but not been limited to – gastro in Paris, debilitating morning sickness in Japan, severe newborn constipation in Switzerland, and a complete sewer/water blockout across an entire stinking dive island in Malaysia.
We’ve lost flights to Spain, had a family death during Italy, missed the Eurostar to Paris, slept nights on airport floors and had suitcases uncannily sent to all the wrong places. Three days on an idyllic, summer catamaran tour full of unwashed backpackers in the Whitsundays ended in storms, gale force winds and a near island collision. On another occasion, my uncle drowned diving in South Africa while we sipped Mojitos on Hamilton Island.
Perhaps most spectacular was the freak surfing accident on a road trip of the South-West during which a large wave and a leg-rope colluded to slice off my little finger resulting in yet another hospital stay mid-holiday. I’ll admit I rather enjoyed the clean hospital bed after weeks sleeping in a converted van.
Well, I hear you think, this is all par for the course when travelling. But wait, I’m not finished yet.
When children arrived we decided that local travel was safest for family holidays. With three little boys now part of our trips we opted to beat the odds and avoid medical encounters.
Our first trip to Dunsborough following the new ‘Go Local’ rule was blessed with the most ferocious rain the region had seen since 1953. It flooded gloriously. Not discouraged, we rebooked for January a year later. It can’t flood in January, we reasoned. On arrival, the town was oddly, hauntingly vacant. The cause, we quickly uncovered, was a fly infestation. It was impossible to go outdoors. The locals marvelled at the novelty of the sudden onset of flies in Biblical numbers. We didn’t. Apparently, it began the day before we arrived, and was over in a week. Our one holiday week.
‘Go Local’ had failed. The following year we booked for Queensland. On day three, the boys came down with chicken pox and couldn’t be seen in public. This included the hotel pool and restaurant. A week into this drama, Murray flew home for work stranding me in an isolated farm house with pox-ridden children and no access to supplies for ten long days until they were cleared to fly.
Undeterred, we tried again. Adelaide. Safest city in the world. No disaster could befall stately, sedentary Adelaide one might think.
Remember the storms in South Australia last year? Yup, worst on record. In the middle of the torrential rain, the boys succumbed to bronchitis, and we lost all power, heating and hot water. The State was white with hail and freezing cold. Lightening hit our holiday farm’s magnificent, iconic, 100-year-old tree (which had featured in a motion picture and countless wedding photos) sending it crashing down to the owner’s abject devastation. We’re sorry, is all we could say, we think it’s us. We should go.
And so it goes on.
One day we’ll plan and execute a relaxing holiday, and meanwhile still manage to laugh at all the failures, but at times the problem of faith in a good God in our regular life is genuinely challenging to maintain amongst the speed humps and stolen joy. Life bites hard. How do we process our day-to-day disasters, disappointments and angst? How do we trust God in the less-than-perfect? In the now?
“Can anything ever separate us from Christ’s love? Does it mean he no longer loves us if we have trouble or calamity, or are persecuted, or hungry, or destitute, or in danger, or threatened with death?”
We are more than conquerers, yet we are promised nothing more than a chaotic, glorious, devastating, mundane and sometimes mad Jesus-centered life. Things will not go well for us simply because we are Christians. We are not owed better, and circumstances may not be easy. Our days will be muddy with tedium and misadventure, interspersed with rare, euphoric mountain-top moments. There will be great joy and much trouble, and in every single minute, the Lord of heaven and earth goes with you. He is enough.
So dust yourself off, be encouraged, and try, try again because sometimes it just helps to know you are not the only one face down in the dirt. Am I right?