We spent the weekend at a missions conference in Greenville, SC, just an hour and a half up the road.
I was surprised by the flood of emotions I experienced. Arriving at the church Thursday afternoon, setting up our South Asia display board full of glossy photos, I was filled with a gaping sense of loss.
We last visited this church three years ago as hopeful, enthusiastic missionaries-to-be. We had a dream to share and we were overwhelmed and heartened by the support and encouragement we received from the folks there.
But this year. This year we came back and I looked around at the roomful of missionaries and all I could feel was, I’m no longer apart of this group. I’m disqualified. I felt the sadness of a dream that slipped away, and I can still hardly understand how it happened so fast.
But in the midst of the sadness I spent four days with this church who’d committed to support us, who expected great things with us, and I’m here to tell you that all I felt this weekend was love.
I felt the hugs, the kind eyes, the hand squeezes. I felt, deep in my heart, the fervent words: I’m just so glad you’re all better now, honey.
I felt the wonder of brand new faces: You don’t know me but I’ve prayed for you these last three years. I read every one of your email updates.
I felt the healing gift of getting to share our stories of South Asia with lots of different people who genuinely wanted to know. They had dozens of questions. They wanted advice on how to befriend South Asians in their workplaces and in their neighborhoods.
It was because of this outpouring of love that in my sadness I also felt hope. On Saturday I sat across the table from the missions pastor and could hardly lift my head to look him in the eye, and his words, “We’re committed to you guys, the ‘where’ isn’t so important to us,” washed over me like a blessing.
There’s a new dream in our hearts, and this was also a weekend of sharing and rejoicing in the new dream. This church isn’t moving on without us. Nope, they’re ready for the new direction, they’re cheering us on as much as ever.
This is the body of Christ at its best and I feel humbled and honored to be apart of it.
And now, a day of rest, a day of laundry and naps and repacking suitcases, and tomorrow we hit the road again.
Can you do something for us?
Will you pray for our family this week? David and I head to Atlanta tomorrow morning for four days of meetings that are definitive for our next step in ministry. Will you pray that we’ll have peace, that we will be free to be ourselves? And will you pray for wisdom for the folks that will be meeting with us?
Thank you. I know so many of you are praying faithfully for us through this whole busy season of transition and travel, and we feel your prayers each day. God is using you and we are encouraged.
Judah and Amelie will spend this week with Shari and with my parents. They are so excited (“You mean, we get to go to Nina and Papa’s house without you!!??”). Pray that God keeps them safe while we’re apart.
Thank you, dear friends.
Thursday was “Container Day,” as my dad aptly named it. We found out about a week ago that it was making its way down from New York to Charleston, then learned on Wednesday that the truck would arrive Thursday.
The moving company sent men to unload everything, then unpack and assemble all the furniture. It was wonderful! Thanks to my parents for bringing Chick-Fil-A for the kids’ dinner, and to Miriam for giving us a much-needed date night to escape the madness.
It was 51 boxes in all … so our house was in chaos, as you can imagine. We were disappointed to find several things were broken in transit: my desk, our favorite glass-front bookcase, big framed mirror, and our bed frame/footboard. But we have insurance, so should be compensated.
We worked like crazy Thursday and Friday unpacked, sorting, and I’ve done mountains of laundry. Also cleaning. Sheets of dust are still falling from our area rugs–even after I’ve vacuumed about five times! Yikes.
It was emotional for me throughout the morning, opening boxes, feeling a pang pulling out familiar things, noticing how much Priya washed and organized for me. I’m unbelievably grateful that we were allowed to ship our things home. So many sweet memories.
Of course I don’t want to do a house tour until everything’s picture-perfect, but I’m not sure when that’s going to happen (plus, if you remember, I’m supposed to be embracing un-picture-perfection). So here’s our progress as of this afternoon!
It’s been quite a process obtaining and consolidating all our things from storage at my parents’, storage at David’s parents’, storage at my brother’s, and, of course, from South Asia. But now, at long last, it’s all united.
David said, “The best thing about all this work is that next time we move, it will be easy because all our stuff is in one place.”
Hmmm, why does that not make me feel better?
Right now, I won’t even think about “next time.” Right now, I’ll give thanks for our things and I’ll curl up in my cozy living room with a book and I will rest.
Proof that our kids are a little confused . . .
David (on our last day in Isle of Palms): “. . . and then we’ll get in the car and go back to our house.”
Judah: “What house?”
David: “Our house, where we live!”
Judah: “Which house is it?”
David: “Judah and Amie, tonight we’re having some new friends over, and guess what: they’re from India!”
Judah: “What? But we’re in America!”
David: “That’s right. Our friends are from India, but live in America.”
Judah: “Oh. Just like us.”
It is truly impossible to explain what day-to-day life was like in our particular corner of South Asia. I might as well be a million miles away rather than several thousand, for all the difference between that world and my life here. I look around my American surroundings and search for similes to give inquiring friends, but find none.
So often, for lack of good descriptive words, my entire eighteen-month “South Asia life” is pushed to that same-titled compartment in my memory, and days go by in which whole swaths of my life there are un-talked about, un-thought of. The gap is too wide and my brain hurts from trying to bridge it.
This has become more apparent than ever to me now that I have my own house again. Week by week we’re settling into our rented 1,400-square-foot brick bungalow, making it our own, taming the backyard, taking on some furniture-painting projects, and, of course, house cleaning.
I’ve always dreamed of living with a houseful of hard wood floors, but it’s astonishing how quickly dirt accumulates on them. I suppose some forms of vinyl and carpet are more forgiving, but somehow every speck shows up on our sleek dark wood. So I’ve determined to sweep the entire house twice a week. I feel like that’s a reach-able goal.
But say things get a little crazy here and I forget. Or say I remember and would just rather sit on the futon and read blogs during naptime than sweep the floors; say the house only gets swept once a week. Well, the dust and dirt that I sweep in my entire house from one whole week is about equal to what gets swept in our South Asian flat in one day.
You think I’m exaggerating.
How about I put it this way: some of you know that by the end of our time overseas we had a full-time house helper/cook/nanny extraordinaire who did virtually all of our cooking and cleaning for us. When I mention this fact to people here, I sometimes hear the response: Wow, must be nice...
I get that. It sounds a little extravagant.
But, I’m here to tell you from very recent experience that it’s way, way, way easier in my house in Columbia to do all my own housework and cooking and laundry and dishes (no dishwasher here sadly), than to have full-time help and deal with the daily cleaning situation there in South Asia.
It’s way easier to load my kids in the car and drive downtown to do a week’s worth of grocery shopping at Publix, than to have a supermarket delivery service and a vegetable cart parked outside the front gate and an ironing man and a gardener.
It’s not just the dirt or the burning trash or the typhoid-infested water or the blankets of black dust or the cows nosing through the garbage or the roaming dogs or the cat-sized rats (okay, I only saw a cat-sized rat once . . . but I saw many, many smaller rats) or the exhaust fumes or the heat or the daily power outages or the open stares or the poverty or the throngs of people pressing against you where ever you go or the traffic or the noise level at all hours of the day and night.
It’s not just one thing–it’s everything, all mixed together, all day, every day. And add a couple of preschoolers to the mix (or three, or four, if you’re some of my friends), a house helper who speaks little-to-no English, and you get a typical day in South Asia.
Looking back, I guess I didn’t blog about these realities all that often, because it just sort of felt like complaining. Even scrolling back through the hundreds of photos on my laptop, I’m struck with how charming our life looked. Parts of it were charming. But lots of it are left out. Not intentionally of course, but no-one wants to take pictures of raw sewage. And, in time, all of this starts to become your new normal. You forget what life used to be like and you move on with what you have. That’s a good thing, I think.
But now that I’m out of it, I can admit that it was really, really hard. Hard for anyone, but especially hard for a mom and a housewife.
Our country was truly a wondrous one. She’ll always live in my heart as a place of vivid colors and sing-song voices and beautiful skin shades and so many warm, generous hearts. But even South Asians themselves will tell you: day-to-day life there is not easy. Those who’d lived in the U.S. and even some who hadn’t, constantly asked us, “You have everything. Why would you ever leave America to come here?”
(And in all honesty, some days you think to yourself: I don’t know; why the heck did I?“)
If you have friends living overseas as missionaries–especially if they are moms with young kids–give them all the prayer and encouragement and love you can. Every day is hard. God gives grace, yes He does, but it’s still hard. Exhausting. Thankless. Lonely. Incredibly, un-heroically mundane.
Don’t put them up on pedestals. They are serving Jesus in the dust-coated laundry and the stares and the crawling traffic of their everyday, and they do not feel like saints. They know they’re more sinful than ever, and they need to be reminded that God loves them right now, in their mess, and that you do too. They cherish every email, every care package, every hand-written note and Vonage phone call.
To all of you who loved me from afar when I was there in the mess: Thank you.
To my friends who are still there in the mess, who have stayed: Thank you. You’re in my heart and in my prayers when I’m here sweeping my floors and when I’m loading armfuls of wet laundry into the dryer and when I open my door to the quiet, clean air. I miss you.
I woke up this morning and had a fight with my husband. I was such a jerk, so mean-spirited and distrustful. And afterward I didn’t feel repentant, but so angry. The anger just kept welling up inside of me and spilling out all over the place while stomping around the house and while in tears at the breakfast table as my kids brought me handfuls of Kleenex.
I feel like I’m failing as a mom, failing as a wife. My kids pick on each other and bother me and I snap at them to stop. I hole up with my cooking project or my books or my blog instead of sitting and spend time with them. My husband has a mountain of stress on his shoulders and instead of helping to ease it, I add to it by my sour demeanor.
I just want to be left alone.
I shouldn’t be surprised. I should recognize the pattern by now; this always happens the day, the weekend, we are packing up to leave.
I can’t help it—whether we’re packing to move to a new home, or whether we’re packing to leave a fun vacation, my skin crawls with dread and I’m filled with restlessness. My anxiety climbs just looking at the suitcases and at stacks of folded clothes. I compulsively blitz through whichever place we’ve been dwelling, snatching up bits and pieces of our family which have become incorporated into another’s home, organizing and cleaning, mentally checking out rather than stopping and relaxing enough to enjoy that last day together.
I’ve tried all the tactics. I’ve tried to look at the bright side: We have a beautiful life, we experience so many privileges most families will never know—travel, lots of time together, an amazing community of people stretched north to south who love us and pray for us and give to us. A whole host of memories made wherever we go.
I am endlessly grateful for these things. I recognize that I wouldn’t trade this sweet month at my in-laws’ for the stability of my own home. I’m changed by the conversations I’ve had, even just this week, with friends who amaze me with their stories of pain and redemption and hope. I am the person I am today because of our nomadic life.
But deep in the core of my heart, on packing day, none of this knowledge does anything to ease the pain. Choosing a new CD at Target for the trip south doesn’t ease the pain. Popping a Xanax doesn’t ease the pain. Knowing that friends back home are helping us find a house to rent doesn’t ease the pain. Knowing we’ll see Steve and Linda at Thanksgiving doesn’t ease the pain.
I know there’s probably some psychological answer for this, but I can’t fight back the flood of memories, on each and every packing day, of close to a decade of packing days. And worse than packing days, a decade of good-byes, of making friends and losing them.
I’m tired of packing day.