I started writing this from a lovely motel a couple of weeks ago. A trip which was going to be just me helping to run a retreat for women for the diocese of Armidale, turned into a longer trip, so I could attend a bishop’s ordination on Wednesday, a few hours north of the retreat location.
Then, because the new bishop is important to our family my husband decided we all would go, and make it something of a a late-summer beach/road trip.
I was SO NOT looking forward to a nine-hour drive plus stops with five kids under 13, but I was working in the day and writing notes for my retreat talk in the nights and had generally no head space to do anything about it. I was SO relieved when he told me he’d arranged to break up the drive with a night’s stop over at Port Macquarie, in reasonably priced accommodation that turned out to be a lovely resort. An unexpected benefit of travelling out-of-season.
The children were thrilled by the gorgeous shiny pool and massive spa, and the short walk to the beach. I was thrilled when I saw the shiny washing machine and dryer in the bathroom.
On that first afternoon down at the beach I chatted to a young woman with her baby at the water’s edge. After noticing how many kids I had she asked me if I thought it was ok for her to let the baby stuff handfuls of wet sand into her mouth. With that and my laundry fixation I think that week marked the moment I officially became an older mum.
This was the longest trip, and the most distance we’ve covered, since our third child was a baby about eight years ago. I think my husband made a good call. The four-year-old did get a bit restless in the car after the two-hour mark, but that’s when we wanted to stop for breaks anyway. So it was all good!
I enjoyed some of the time I had as the passenger to catch up on some reading. I read all – ALL – of the Interior Castle by St Teresa of Avila. Anyone who’s read, or tried this book will appreciate why it felt like an achievement to persist after her descriptions of the third or fourth mansions. But it was great preparation for the retreat!
The ordination was wonderful – really one of those graced moments in life that we’ll remember for a long time. Bishop Greg Homeming, a Discalced Carmelite, has been a special friend and mentor who, among many other things, offered us extra preparation for marriage and said the homily at our wedding.
Here’s the video of the ordination, but my tip is – it’s 2.5 hours long; just skip to two hours 18 mins to hear the new bishop’s address at the end of the night. I wrote something about him in The Catholic Weekly in the days after returning home.
Lots of people travelled as we did all the way halfway up the side of the country for the event. We had a sweet little after-party/debriefing session in our motel room with two friends who were among them. In our two days in Lismore we couldn’t get used to the fact that they didn’t have traffic lights or zebra crossings on their roads, though in the town centre it’s busy enough that they could use some.
The next day we headed to Ballina on the coast, to spend it at the beach, but the best thing we found was this awesome creek with water that was crystal clear and teeming with tiny silvery fish. It was shallow enough to let the kids have the run of it and they made the most of the unexpected freedom! The next morning we were able to spend some time with the new bishop before leaving Lismore. Three hours later the family dropped me at my retreat and went to stay at a house in Sawtell – again on the beach.
The weekend retreat in the little valley at Bellingen was lovely, the organisers were awesome which made the whole thing so much easier because I was quite nervous until after I’d got through my presentations (on St Therese, God’s mercy, and prayer) on the Saturday morning. The ladies were lovely and the meal time conversations very interesting! They came from all walks of life, some had lived in Sydney, but Armidale’s a country diocese and at one dinner I sat across from a cattle farmer and a sheep farmer. That’s just another world for a suburban girl like me. The priest, Fr Francis Afu, was a energetic bundle of joy and wisdom and humour, who explained during our alfresco lunch on the Saturday, how in his home country they would catch, prepare and cook the monkeys and snakes they found in trees like the ones we were standing under.
My family came to collect me on the Sunday morning and the trip back was blessedly uneventful. I got to ride shotgun again so I kept up with the reading. The Way of Perfection this time. I feel I’m clearer on St Teresa of Avila’s take on things now, until I forget and have to read her stuff again. My brain, I’m realising, is actually very like Pooh-bear’s in that way.
This was really more like a pilgrimage than a road trip for me. Our next road trip will be much shorter and should be less emotionally and mentally intense – three hours from Sydney to Canberra for the baptism of our friends’ first baby in May.