Guilt: a re-entry story

Liz Schandorff is with us once again to share how her re-entry is going. I’ve felt some of these same things on furlough: out of sight seldom seems to equal out of mind for a missionary mama, and there’s never enough to meet legitimate needs in our friends’ lives. Read on, mamas…enjoy!


We’re about to spend our tax return on a sprinkler system. I’ll decline to mention the precise amount we’re going to pay but it’s more than $1,000, more than $2,000, more than $3,000… and (insert incredibly painful cringe here), more than $4,000.

Oh my word. Can’t believe I’m saying any of this publicly; sharing personal finances in public is scary! CRINGE again.

I should preface (to try and make myself feel better, at least a little) that my yard is a certified disaster area. Let me back up. We bought a fixer upper that had been foreclosed two owners ago. The owners previous to us, according to the neighbors, bought the foreclosure (also then fixer-upper) aiming to fix it up… and then spent their renovation money on alcohol. Seriously. I’m still finding broken beer bottle glass in the yard.


Neglected yard, but not Liz’s yard. But it could be. 

Two years ago, the yard was chest high with weeds. Not even exaggerating. We have tamed the beast until the weeds are now ankle height or below and I have spent hours upon hours hand-weeding the front yard, which was the least-awful-and-most-likely-to-be-redeemable area. But the back is kind of still a wreck. It’s uneven, with trenches and random potholes sprinkled throughout but still manages to slope entirely towards the house. Idaho doesn’t get a ton of rain but it doesn’t take a genius to know that a yard that drains right into the foundation of your house is less than ideal.

And I’m a gardener. I love to have my hands in the dirt, creating beauty from, well, dirt! Right now my front garden beds are full of tulips and daffodils; the crocuses are done already but the irises are just about to start. My budget is limited (single-earner non-profit income, anyone? I know you missionary mamas can relate!) but I have begged plant starts from several family members and neighbors (and the occasional generous craigslister) and the front garden beds are starting to look downright respectable.

And my family thrives outside; my husband is never happier than when out in the fresh air and my soul is most at peace on my porch in the mornings when the rising rays of sun hit my face and the potential of a new day stretches out in front of me. My sons enjoy swinging and playing with the dog, whacking croquet balls and tossing bocce balls, swinging for (and missing, let’s be honest here!) baseballs, tossing Frisbees, finding bugs and playing in mud.

So sprinklers make sense, right? Let’s review: 1) Yard is a disaster zone ripe for the “before” setup of an HGTV show. 2) Family loves to be outside and spend quality time with each other; 3) Tax return will cover said sprinkler system as well as leveling the back yard safely away from the house and planting grass.

So… why do I feel paralyzed with guilt about this decision? Why do I feel the need to write such a lengthy tome justifying this purchase? We need it, we can do it, we will appreciate the heck out of it… should be simple, right?

Nope. Because those funds could help fix G & C’s house in Port-au-Prince… they wrote recently saying water is leaking in and they ran out of money before they could complete the roof. Because W has school registration fees to pay this summer and the primary donor who was helping with that has had a change to their income and may not be able to help with that this year. I keep hearing reports that J doesn’t have food to eat and gentle N is still trying to build a block house for his wife and children – an upgrade from the tin shanty on the bare hillside they currently live in.

How can I spend on myself when their needs are so grave? I have food and shelter; my children have multiple educational options. We have clothing, furniture, and extra money to spend on a pet. My older son is going on a (not cheap) youth group trip to a family fun zone this Friday and my younger is taking martial arts lessons… because he wants to and we can.

What would Jesus do? Would he sacrifice sprinklers and the foundation of his home to give it all away? Would he take care of his family this year and give generously next year? Would he get a second job so he could do both – but then not see his kids as much? Would he give half away this year and save half, and hope to get sprinklers next year? This may sound ludicrous but these are the thoughts going through my mind. I feel horribly selfish because I think we are going to go ahead and get sprinklers; the choice is all but made. Bids have been submitted and we will soon sign on the dotted line.

This is a larger amount of money and I’m now 3,000 miles away from the needs mentioned above, but I had the same struggles while living on the mission field. Should we spend this $1,000 on a sorely-needed vacation or give it to the orphanage? Replace the rotting futon or supplement our guard’s meager income so he can get medical care for his son with the broken arm? Buy the ice cream with the inflated, imported price as a treat after an awful week or give it to someone at the gate who doesn’t have rice and beans?

The struggle is real and, I believe, the struggle is right. After 5 years on the field I decided that the Lord values the struggle. He appreciates the thought we put into it. Not that we should obsess over each big decision, but we should pray. Not to nit-pick each purchase, but to carefully consider. This may be heretical, but at the end of the day, but for me, I’m not even sure that choosing Option A or Option B is the important part. It is embracing the struggle that is key.

Why? Because it means you care enough about the needs of those around you to pause and think. It means you are unselfish enough to wonder if spending your resources on yourself is the best choice. So embrace the struggle, mamas. Sometimes you’ll choose yourself, sometimes you’ll choose others – and you know that. Jesus knows it too, and I think he’s ok with it. After all, we are to love our neighbor as yourself. Sometimes we missionaries feel guilty about the “as yourself” part – but remember that it’s there, it’s Biblical too. We need to take care of ourselves as needed so we can keep ministering. That’s going to look different for different people. And that’s okay, too.

As for me? I’m also going to be praying about those needs (which are all real and current, by the way – not fictionalized or generalities for the sake of a blog post) and how the Lord might want to use me to meet them. But I’m also going to be giddy when those sprinklers are installed and I can wiggle my toes in that silky grass while my kids whiff those baseball pitches!

Noise: A re-entry story

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.