Missed the previous posts and the ideas behind this series? Catch ’em here.
He was barely in the front door, cheeks flushed from the bike ride home. He smelled like the cold and that faintest puff of little-boy sweat. “Mom! Guess what! We’re getting a new kid and his name is Toby and the teacher wants me to show him around and tell him all about the school!” He drew a breath, those Chiclet-sized adult teeth still, charmingly, just a bit too big for his eight-year-old mouth.
I grinned. Just a month ago, he’d been the new kid. Now my little guy was thrilled to be the one ushering in a new friend.
My house is (blissfully) quiet now. I sit at my clean wooden table. My stomach is comfortably satisfied. My kids are actually adjusting remarkably well to school life—something I couldn’t have anticipated after five years homeschooling them in Africa. (Adjusting so well, in fact, that after their dental appointments last week, the younger two begged me to return to the last hour of school. Um…okay!) My new job as a freelance writer—after a few weeks of what might be called panic—is actually a delight. And my husband is happy, which is just a good gift all around. We are all healing mpola mpola (slowly by slowly).
This is to say: I have a lot I am thankful for. Many of you have asked about our transition, probably because my heart has seeped out a bit into cyberspace. I would not be telling the truth to say something other than—wow. This has all gone much more smoothly than I thought possible. (Thank you, friends, for praying. He hears.)
I noticed in myself this weekend—I guess you could call it a longing. As a friend pointed out, I’ve lost a couple of my jobs in the last year. And I think the slight gap I feel, where the wind whistles through, could be called purpose. Occasionally I see flashes of it, like light on water. But a little part of me is still puzzled. It whispers, see–when I’m not flying around with school lunches and permission slips and work deadlines. Why am I here? (And maybe, Why am I not there?)
I padded downstairs to shake my daughter’s shoulder, waking her for school. But instead, she woke to my “Oh, no.”
‘Cause that’s generally what you say when you see liquid pooling in the hall in the half-light, oozing from the laundry-room-slash-pantry.
That was the price-club-sized empty detergent bottle on its side, the cap to the air vent lying surrendered beside it, and the laundry room now flooded with a pleasantly lemony, biodegradable, outstandingly viscous liquid soap.
It’s very possible I’m showing my age with this. But remember One Fine Day with George Clooney and Michelle Pfeiffer? He’s Jack, popular reporter and ladies’ man; she’s Melanie, overprotective single mother. Of course, they’re starting to fall in love. At one point:
Melanie: I-I realize it’s difficult what with, uh, Celia, Kristen, Elaine.
Jack (pauses, looks at her): I know your name, Mel.
This is what I like: I get that sometimes, you just want to know someone sees you. That you’re not just another name.
Maybe that’s why the words from Isaiah are whispering through my brain nearly once a day right now: See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands.
I know your name, Janel.
Well—we did it.
We got on the plane.
After four months of playing some crazy game show of “Pack, Trash, Sell or Give?” with all our stuff ad nauseam, settling our respective work into trustworthy hands, and enough heartrending goodbyes that at the end my heart was twisted dry—we neatly quietly faithfully? closed the chapter of our lives that is Africa.
Well. Scratch that, too. Africa’s far too kneaded into us, far too braided into the fabric that is us. And the work continues in Uganda, even if at a distance for us.
I now find myself in that odd twilight that is having arrived, but my life still flayed open like a cardboard box. The pieces of me are finding niches, or seeking one, or temporarily cast aside, or still hiding out. I’m that inevitable bin at the end when you’re unpacking, where you dumped all the spare randomness. Where in the world should this go?
Transition can feel…bereft.
Quick role-play. Let’s say you, your spouse, your kids—you’re all headed back to the Western world from some distant land. You’ve been missionaries somewhere; Africa, maybe. (You pick.) You’ve been helping people gain clean water, maybe, or teaching refugees, or advocating for orphans of AIDS.
How would you live in your home country?
This is actually my personal, particular predicament. My family and I have been living and working in the developing world for five years now, and are now headed to suburban America. I’m asking a question that perhaps many of you are already asking: What does it look like to be missionaries…who stay?
On many of the Wednesdays of 2017, I’m helping my friend Barbara Rainey, on everthinehome.com. We’re exploring what she calls “prayer lessons”: ideas to pray for ourselves, our most critical relationships, our communities. This month, as we pray for our communities, I’m looking in to how to live “sent“–no matter what zipcode in which you find yourself. Check it out here on everthinehome.
Missed the first post? Grab it here.
In three weeks, my family and I will quietly glide across the line sectioning our lives into before and after. And it will be as innocuous as stepping onto an air-conditioned airplane.
With an escapade like living in Africa—and really, in many ways embedding ourselves, and it in us—we bear the marks inside. Strangely, truthfully, I have fear this plane will land me back in a place I was giddy to leave seven years ago.
My thirtieth birthday was approaching. From childhood I’d pictured and prepared myself for a lean, vibrant life overseas. Instead, my approaching birthday found me squarely in Little Rock, a fistful of miles from where I graduated high school. I wielded a deep inner fatigue unique to welcoming four children in five years. (No. No twins. A couple did feel like twins.) Insert the picket fence and the dog—and you can picture the level of contentment I both seized with two hands and questioned, even while cherishing my life. I mean, I knew how I got there. I was grateful I was there. But still, I wondered. How did I get there?