I think this is so cool–Intermissionary is doing 28 days of journal prompts for those headed home from the field! Process that change, mamas. You can check it out here.
My house is haunted.
I’m sitting in Karen’s chair, writing this blog post. Amy’s fan is blowing on me, keeping me cool. Chris’s Kindle sits next on my desk. I look out the window at Liz’s plants, basking in the sunshine. Behind me, my daughter is sitting on the futon, which I actually bought new, but is now so old and funky that it requires extra padding to be sit-able. Ara made the padding when she crashed at our house while we were on furlough. The tiny kid chair I bought from Jennifer is acting as a table for her glass of milk.
Don’t get me started on all the books on my bookshelf…or the dishes and gadgets in my kitchen…or the clothes in my closet. Without even moving, I can touch things that have belonged to many, many friends, and this is a strange reality of missionary life: they leave, and you live on…with their stuff.
Some of it I’ve got because I wanted it (the piano, for sure). Some of it I’ve got because they needed it gone (spices. Always spices). But it all has some kind of attachment, some kind of significance. That’s what I mean by living with ghosts: most of the time, when I turn on the fan, I don’t think about the pressed, painful way Amy had to leave. But sometimes I do. Most of the time, I don’t think about how much I miss Liz when I put on my denim cargo pants. But sometimes I do.
I have no procedure, no plan for exorcising these ghosts. As far as I can tell, they’re not going anywhere. I share this as a warning only: if an object–a rocking chair, a rubber spatula, a book on the cross-cultural communication–is being offered/foisted/forced upon you and it is going to have a bad association for you, here is what you do:
“I’m sorry, I don’t have a space for that.”
You don’t have to explain yourself. You don’t have space for it: in your head, in your heart, in your house, in your life. That’s all. If she asks why, just shrug and smile. And if this is too hard, mama, I give you permission to throw it out when she’s gone. Even if she’ll find out. Even if she might visit. Burn it in the backyard if you need to. Don’t let yourself be haunted by anyone but those who loved you best. That’s hard enough to endure as it is.
This is my one consolation: I know they’ll never leave suitcases. 🙂
Happy Monday, mamas, if it’s still Monday where you are. Tell us about your ghosts if you’ve got time.
You’ve got this.
Hi ladies! I want to introduce you to Liz, who’s bravely decided to share her re-entry story with you as a series. Repatriating or re-entry can be a tough thing; it seems like lots of conflicting feelings are common. So it’s great to have some insight into her experience! Thanks, friend. Enjoy!
It’s mid-morning and I’m sitting in my living room, listening to the comforting drone of my neighbor-farmer’s four-wheeler; he is doing his daily movement of irrigation equipment to water the alfalfa field. I’m happy, with my coffee and my laptop and the chirp of robins out of my large living room window.
But there’s the ghost of fear, tension, and my chest feels a little tight. I gently probe the emotion. It’s raw, it’s hard, and I feel the first tell-tale signs that tears may threaten.
What IS this? What is going on?
It’s been 7 months since I returned from my African-culture overseas post and I’m just now feeling like I can allow myself to feel and explore this tension. Until now it’s been too fresh, too frightening. What if I dig into it and it’s too much for me? What if I start crying and I can’t stop – the homeschool day needs to start in a few minutes. What if it sparks a new wave of depression, and I learn that depression is something I will carry with me longer than my years on the mission field?
But with the comforting lilt of the birds and the fresh spring morning air wafting through the window to strengthen and comfort my soul, I allow the feelings to come. Welcome, troubling thoughts. You may come out into the open, fears and insecurities. I’m creating space for you now.
Flashback to sitting in my concrete block house. Also morning, also coffee. Also noises coming through the windows. But here the light is brighter, harsher, the sounds louder. Motorcycles, yelling. The crackling of fire, roosters crowing. My guard shifting his weight, the plastic chair grating against the concrete. He shifts his shotgun and it’s like an electric shock to the brain: adrenaline hits; danger is out there, possibly near, possibly imminent. Remember the bodies in the street last fall? Thieves are shot dead here. Remember the intruder on your property the first year here?
The Lord is my strength and my shield and I lean into him. My Bible is precious as it sits in my lap, its weight and threadbare cover are comforting to me. I thumb its well-worn pages and cling to the words of my days’ reading. Pink highlights the encouraging, comforting verses. They nourish me and sustain me.
But the fears still lurk, some days. What is that yelling? I can understand the local language when it’s spoken to me clearly at a normal pace, but when slang is tossed around amidst a cacophony of other sound, from the street, at full voice, it’s a discordant, clanging symphony. It’s a club of which I am not a part.
Motorcycles kick up dust and the burning trash sends smoke waves through my house; I tell the kids to go upstairs to play since it’s isn’t so bad up there in the center of the house if you close the guest room door.
I love my ministry, I don’t regret living here. Our family has made a choice and I stick by it; I would choose it again. But when they said missions could be hard, I didn’t understand it would make me feel like this. I’m under assault all day from the dust, the smoke, the repetitive adrenaline activations. It’s a chronic stress and I wonder sometimes how long it will take before my regularly high cortisol levels will start taking a physical toll on my body. I’m already on anti-depressants, thanks to an episode of trauma-induced depression and PTSD during my second year.
I don’t know what the voices are saying and I know sometimes people in the street might wish me harm if they could. Just remember what happened to the neighbors across the lane; they were watched by people sitting in the street and when the right moment arose, those same people brought guns and fists and made their desires known through force, violence. My kids are upstairs and Mama Bear is constantly on the alert. It’s better now that the guard is here, but his presence (or rather their presence, as multiple men rotate through my front yard in the course of a week) just veils the threat.
Jumping back out to the present, as the tears threaten harder now, and school really does have to start soon.
Maybe tomorrow I’ll be brave enough to try again.
It’s time, mamas. You’ve been patient. Six of you asked for it, and boy, have we answered. Here’s how to listen:
-Right in this post! Just click play. You can also download it from here. (Amazing, eh? I know your internet stinks, mamas; I’ve got your back.)
-On Soundcloud. They have a nice app for your phone and if you add to a playlist or a station, you’ll always see when a new one’s posted (I think). And please, if you like it, hit like and share it! Let’s spread the word.
Note: I’m not seeing a way to download it from the app…weird. Sorry.
When we were packing for the field the first time, I took a picture of my keys, because they were so pathetic: one key to my parents’ house. We’d sold our car, moved out of our apartment, and we were so ready to go…but it still felt uprooted, exposed. It made me feel small to be without the traditional trappings of adulthood.
The LORD said to Abram, after Lot had separated from him, “Lift up your eyes and look from the place where you are, northward and southward and eastward and westward, for all the land that you see I will give to you and to your offspring forever. I will make your offspring as the dust of the earth, so that if one can count the dust of the earth, your offspring also can be counted. Arise, walk through the length and the breadth of the land, for I will give it to you.” So Abram moved his tent and came and settled by the oaks of Mamre, which are at Hebron, and there he built an altar to the LORD. – Genesis 13:14-18
At a chapel for our organization, someone shared a message based on the passage above. You’re going to feel homeless as a missionary…maybe a lot more often than you thought. And God hasn’t promised you a land like he did Abram, but he’s promised eternal life, complete with a room with your name on it. It’s easier to live in tents when you have this in mind, I find. And when you need permanence, as we all do, built an altar.
It sounds easy, right? It probably wasn’t fancy. I don’t know if it took him long. But he did this several times in the preceding chapters. When God spoke, Abram stopped to memorialize it. Later on, he even laid his precious son on one of them.
Anything you do that inspires worship, that lets your light shine before all those other guys, that’s altar-building. It’s more permanent than you could imagine. I think that’s what Christ meant when he said that Mary’s choice to sit at his feet wouldn’t be taken away from her. The object of your life is that what is mortal might be swallowed up by life, and that’s something no one can steal, no circumstance can remove, no moving company can misplace.
So when you feel like you’re folding, like the seams are coming apart on your tent…that’s exactly how it’s supposed to feel. Just remember to stop, take a deep breath, and lean on an altar for a minute…even if you have kids around both ankles.
You’ve got this, mama.