It's hitting me. We live on the other side of the world. The. Other. Side. Of. The. World.
Everything familiar is gone...sights, smells, language, tastes, conveniences, and, even to some degree, the relationships, are gone. Living here is H-A-R-D.
Over the past week, I've missed home. Our honeymoon phase is ending, and the cost of the decision to follow Christ here has seemed magnified. Jesus said there is a cost for following Him, but now I'm recognizing the true cost and sacrifice to follow...and, I confess, it is H-A-R-D.
My Dad celebrated his birthday and my family went to great measures for us to be able to FaceTime with him. Although he could hear our voice, we could not hear his. (Our computer and phone connections here stink!) It was our one time to talk to him and I couldn't even hear my father's voice. As we were trying to converse, we would ask questions and he would write down an answer and hold it up to the screen. (It felt so impersonal communicating this way, but it is all we could do!) I asked, "Dad, what can I send you from Africa for your birthday?" Dad looked down and wrote something on a piece of paper, then held it up to the screen. "You," was the answer. I wasn't prepared for this response. I almost burst into tears in that moment, but knew I couldn't. "I can't send you me," I thought, "but I want to." Then on my dad's birthday, I couldn't reach him. I tried to leave a message for him at home, but do not think the call held so he may not even hear his birthday song I attempted to sing for him. I miss being there to celebrate my Daddy.
My sister is preparing to bring her son home from Ethiopia. Her friends hosted a shower for her last night. Everyone was able to shower her with gifts for Christopher. I hate missing special moments like that! I long to celebrate this with her so badly - she has waited for him so long! But I was here while everyone was celebrating there. It made me homesick.
Thursday Connection started this week, and I was not there to hug my students. I miss them. There are friends facing difficult things at home, and I can't do anything to help them. My grandmother's memory is slipping, and I don't know if I will ever see her again. My other sister, Kelly, just started a new job and I don't know how it is going. Friends are facing new things, and I'm not there to walk through it with them. I miss home.
When I climbed in bed last night, I had a little pity party thinking of all the things I was missing at home...Sigh...Tears...Sadness...
My love language is "gifts" and I've wanted to find a gift for my dad and one for my nephew. As I look around here, I can't even find something to send home for them. I don't want to send home a "souvenir," I want to find a perfect gift for both of them. I haven't been able to find anything. I don't want to buy something used. What about a piece of fabric? No, I can't see my sister carrying Christopher with fabric tied to her back. I don't think my Dad would appreciate any tools from here, Home Depot's selection is more than I can find anywhere here. Ahhh...this world is so different. I can't even find a birthday gift for my Dad or a baby gift for my nephew!! Sometimes it can be frustrating! (On top of this, I wrestle with the thoughts of, "Do they really need a gift when everyone around me is in such great need?" Oh, it is such a struggle and my head swims from it all!)
Maybe this post is too honest...again, I'm only sharing MY PERSONAL WRESTLING, I AM NOT ATTEMPTING TO IMPOSE GUILT ON ANYONE. (Why do I always feel the need to include this disclaimer when I am sharing from a raw place?)
This week I had a conversation with the mother of a missionary. We both shared tears for everything we miss. She shared about her daughter and grandchildren living here and how hard it is to miss seeing them grow up. I shared about missing my family and friends. At times, we both just looked at each other with tears coming down our faces not knowing what to say. Because really, what can you say?
I talked with a dear friend on the phone in the States and our call was dropped four times. The fourth time I called her back, she shared she was out in the store buying birthday supplies for her daughter. Even this was another reminder of what we are missing because we won't be there to celebrate her birthday. Then the line went dead again. Our power was out and I found myself in total darkness holding a cell phone slapped in the face by the contrast. I hadn't even shared with my friend that I was speaking to her in the black night because that is simply the normality of our life here. She is out shopping and I am sitting in the dark without power. The world my friend lives in is no longer my world.
We had friends here recently, and I was so blessed by our time together. They breathed some life into us...and then they headed home. We saw great needs of people together, and then they got to leave it behind...while we are still here wrestling with it. I'm jealous to some degree. There are times I want to go home too. I want to escape from hungry children, needy families, etc... There are moments I want to climb on a plane too and go home. I admit it. But I know we are not supposed to go home. We are called to stay here.
I am trying desperately to make it work living in both worlds. I want to live here and I want to live there. I miss what I know. I miss my family. I listen to my boys daily tell me they miss their cousins and friends. I wipe their tears. I miss my friends. I miss the ease of Internet. I miss paved roads. I miss being able to have a conversation without straining to read lips and understand. I miss Breyers Chocolate Chip Mint ice cream. I miss drive thru windows. I miss not sitting in traffic. I miss having a yard that is open to my neighbors and not surrounded by a concrete wall. I miss windows without bars. I miss my family. I miss my friends. The boys miss their cousins and their friends. I miss my family. I miss my friends. But didn't I already say that? Twice?
Living here is H-A-R-D.
Yesterday we intentionally tried to spend the day as a family. We went to a local beach hoping to enjoy the ocean waves. We needed some family time. Within 30 seconds of setting our things down on the sand, we were surrounded by eleven boys. Eight were in their underpants and three were completely naked. The boys were all between 8-12 years old. These boys were far too old to be naked - or even in their underpants - on a public beach. My honest response was, "Please, please go away. Please just let us have some time as a family. Please give us some space." (I'm selfish, aren't I? My eyes were tired of taking in naked needy children. It's constant.) As soon as I had this thought, a man behind me yelled at the boys and they scampered off in fear. Of course we were the only white people on the beach, but sometimes I long to just be like everyone else. (Not gonna happen here...) I didn't mean to wish the young boys away, but my heart felt so heavy to take in more. Three naked boys seemed like too much on this day. At times, we feel we have no where to go where we can simply "be."
We walked down the beach and two new boys walked with us. They appeared from nowhere, but were by our sides while we walked. One boy's flip-flops were completely worn through. These shoes were all he had, I'm certain. Their clothing was ragged, torn and stained. "They are probably fishing slaves," I thought to myself with anger and numbness sweeping over me. How can I make sense of this world I am now living in? It doesn't make sense yet. As I'm processing these thoughts, my own boys are hunting for shells among the rocks, debris, and trash along the beach. Braden comes to me to show me a new collection of shells and crabs. The flip-flop boy hands me a sea-urchin at the same time. Two boys battle for my attention, but one is my own child. Braden's eyes tell me he wants the other two boys to go away. Selfishly, I do too. Trying to communicate this is defeating because neither boy spoke English.
On the walk, I stopped and talked to a man. He looked at me strangely then motioned that he could not hear. He was cleaning the inside of his ear with a stick as he said this. (Yes, a stick. Two days ago, I saw a woman stick a thumbtack inside of her ear. Yes, really. This world is so different.) This old man lives in a silent world, and, based on how he was dressed, I doubt he even has a home.
This was our "family day" at the beach. We did give the two boys some juice as we were leaving. They stayed with us the entire time. A security man shooed them away like flies before we could do anything more. Heartbreaking.
Everywhere we go, people conspicuously stare at us. We are different. We look like aliens here. My guess is that 0.0001% of people here look like we do, talk like we do, and think like we do. We are different, and that drains me sometimes. I don't want to pay more because I am white. I don't want to be pulled over by the police because I look this way. I don't want to be cheated because people think I am a tourist. I don't want to be give special treatment because of my skin color either. I want to "blend in." I want to feel "normal."
I told Reid, I constantly feel like I am being "jarred." Emotionally jarred by the needs surrounding us. Spiritually jarred by the misunderstanding of our faith that is so prevalent here, and the other deities people openly worship. Physically jarred by riding on the rough roads - sometimes riding sideways because we are giving rides to people. Mentally jarred by trying to understand customs and language I find so foreign.
Coming here on a trip for a few weeks, it's easy to find the differences intriguing. Living here however, the differences are something we must navigate daily. And, how do we live here but still hold on to our own identity? Our challenge right now is figuring this out.
A missionary friend told me that "we will think of our friends/family at home all the time, and sometimes they will think of us." Oh, I am finding that to be true. Everyone at home is constantly on my mind and heart. Honestly, I had no idea how isolating or lonely living here would feel at times. I yearn to bring everyone into my world or step back into theirs. There are days one email from home will lift my spirits because I know someone has thought of our family. Words from home are like bringing water to the desert on some days. When I say that you have no idea what your encouragement means to us...trust me that you have no idea. Words are inadequate to describe what it means to us when we hear from home.
This morning we attended a worship service under the trees. The pastor leading this congregation is intentionally planting a church in an idol-worshipping village. The Chief of this area has told him not to use his speaker system because it "disturbs the gods." This pastor and his congregation meet on Tuesdays and PRAY for this community. There are new converts weekly. This morning we worshipped God beside these faithful followers. It is time of the annual festival in this community and the idols are being worshipped in horrific ways. Drink offerings and animal sacrifices are common, not to mention the nightlife. The pastor spoke of birthdays, festivals, and anniversaries as a time to "give a sober look back" to see where we have grown. He challenged the congregation to mature, and not remain fixed in ways that are comfortable. He addresses spiritual laziness talking about all the things that will steal our time and energy. Then he encouraged the congregants to immerse themselves in what is best. This morning, I was thankful to be right where we are because, honestly, I was challenged by the message.
As I give a sober look back today, I can't believe where we are. I am amazed that our family is living in Ghana, West Africa. I am astounded that the Lord has brought us here through His provision. I am encouraged by the spiritual decisions I witness in our boys. I am thankful that God has moved us from the comfortable into a life that requires more faith in Him alone. I am grateful that God is requiring us to be spiritually "fit" living here; laziness is not an option. It is evident here that our life is a breath, so we strive to make every day count. I'm thankful that God is drawing us closer to Him and forcing us to lean hard on the members of our immediate family. So, even though it is hard, I praise Him. We are where we are supposed to be.
I hope to learn from Katie Davis who writes,
I would like to say that as I become more and more surrounded with sorrow and destitution, it gets easier or less painful. But it doesn't. The brokenness of this world does not become any less sad. Each and every time, it is overwhelmingly devastating that people have to live, and die, like this...While it does not get easier, I have found that I am able to face each situation with a little more hope. I always hope my friends will live hear on earth with me, but I tell them with a new sense of urgency about Jesus because mostly I want them to live with him, experience His profound, unconditional love, whether here or in heaven. I see the sadness, but I also see the redemption.
Kisses from Katie, p. 251-252
Over time, I hope to become more like Jesus on this journey. He faced everything we are facing now, but the cost was so much greater for him. May God continue to give us His mercy as we confess our struggles - like I have done in this post.
As I've wrestled with these thoughts this week, I continue coming back to Psalm 139. When we attended MTI training, our boys memorized the entire passage. Right now, these words are providing the promised assurance of God's presence with us. I'm thankful He is here to lead us and help us.
Where could I get away from your presence?
8 If I went up to heaven, you would be there;
if I lay down in the world of the dead, you would be there.
9 If I flew away beyond the east
or lived in the farthest place in the west,
10 you would be there to lead me,
you would be there to help me.
P.S. If you see my Daddy, will you sing him HAPPY BIRTHDAY for me? (Trust me, he will be glad his birthday is lasting longer so don't worry if you are singing a month from now!!) And if you see my sister, Wendy, will you give her a big HUG from me letting her know how much I long to be there to experience Christopher's homecoming with her? Pray with her, encourage her, love her, support her!
P.S.S. Please know that we are OKAY. Just because things are hard doesn't mean we are doing poorly. It's just challenging, so that means we are growing. This is part of our journey. We are grateful for your prayers for us though.
Update: I wrote this post late last night. Today I was sharing with our boys about how I want to "fit in" here and be "like" everyone else. Braden looked at me and said seriously, "Mom, we should just paint our skin brown. I mean we DO have brown paint here!"
Oh goodness! My boys help give me some perspective! I love my boys!