Tuesday, April 7, 2015

One Year.

Just Spittin' It Out

I'm jumping right into this because it has long felt like there's no perfect way to approach this.  Today marks one year since we boarded a plane for a final departure from South Africa.  My near silence on this blog the last year is mostly because I have been so completely without the ability to share my heart on what leaving means to me.  Not to mention, who wants to hear me pout for a year?  Lastly, I don't want anyone to be confused that missing South Africa means we don't love what we do here. Yes, withdrawal has often felt so much easier.  

The truth is, we have no doubt God answered very specific prayer about our return (which is a good gift to give us).  Had that prayer not been answered so clearly, we would not have left when we did.  We loved our work, we treasured the people we served and Purpose was so clear to us.  If there were ever such a thing as not being born in Africa but Africa being born in me, well, that happened.


There are five categories of grief.  The process of grieving began long before we left.  July 2013 was when we first began to know God's plan for our family to return to the U.S.  For a few months, I was in denial.  I questioned if we'd heard correctly.  I knew we had, but I still had moments of doubt.  By fall, we began to explore options for continuing full-time ministry in the States.  In February, we made our announcement regarding our return.  And then came April.  We boarded a plane and I put on worship music as the plane pulled away from the gate. So much gratitude.  So much grief.

The months before we left, there were periods of intense, face to the ground, prayer.  There was begging for God to give us more time (bargaining).  There were weepy, again, face to the ground, prayers as we had to tell people we love we were leaving.  There was me telling God several times, "I'm not done learning yet."  As if learning ever stops.  

There was probably some measure of resentment that Brian ever asked God for clarity and then when God answered as He did. 

As we landed in Texas, I remember realizing that was the first time I had no joy in returning.  I was happy to see family, yes.  But, grief over what we'd left just hours before left me spent.  I'd let the seed of depression settle in me long before our return.  Not so deep a sadness where life held no happiness but enough that I carried a weight in my heart.  Ironic how emptiness can feel heavy.



A year later, I accept that we are here and fully trust where and how God has led us is GOOD and I am THANKFUL we get to be part the work of getting the gospel to the unreached.  I have begun to see why He brought us back and that part is very exciting.

Acceptance is just that, though.  I can understand it is what it is even if I didn't choose it.  Part of acceptance has been giving this heartache to the Lord over and over...and over again.  Isaiah 43:18-19 is posted at eye level above our kitchen sink as a daily reminder:  

"Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland."  

I fully trust the Lord in this.  And, yet, while my head can know this truth, my hardened heart has struggled to fully release South Africa.  


It has been said re-entry into the Earth's atmosphere is about the most dangerous part of an astronaut's journey.  Angle, timing and speed have to be precise. Conditions have to be more than ideal for successful reentry.  

Re-entry.  I knew it would be hard.  I didn't know it would be this hard for this long.  Going there was never hard. At least not in an overwhelming way.  We never experienced true homesickness. YES, we absolutely missed family and friends and, at times, we wished for minor conveniences like variety in fast food restaurants, not having to calculate what time it was when we wanted to contact people or businesses in the States, dryers and dishwashers and feeling safe in our house, on the road, at the grocery store, etc.  And, while coming back to life's conveniences and adjusting to culture back here went fairly smoothly, the hard part of reentry has been what to do with a shattered heart. What do you do when you feel like such clear purpose has been ripped from you?  When you felt like what you were doing is so fitting to how God created you...and then it ended?

We were told there would be a period of feeling out of place.  Not quite here and not there.  This has been true.  Brian and I have often called this phase the "In Between."  Weeks ago, I shared this with a friend and it was so reassuring to hear her say it took two years for her heart to grieve after serving cross culturally.  Years later, she still longs for the country where she left a significant part of her heart. 

I've grieved for a year and a half.  Angle. Timing. Speed.  It doesn't matter how well we could've planned this. Grief is tricky to navigate.

What east Asia taught me about South Africa

In January, while on a flight to east Asia for work, I watched The Good Lie. It's about Sudanese refugees (the lost boys) resettling in America.  I silently sobbed in my darkened seat, hoping my seatmates didn't notice.  I cried hardest watching the characters in the early scenes when they lived in their Sudanese village, finding such incredible beauty in their culture in its pure state.  And, when it was over, I escaped to the lavatory to release all I'd pent up for so many months.  As my soul sobbed my sorrow, I asked God, "Why?  Why would you put that so deeply in my heart...but not let me live it out?  What am I supposed to do with this passion?"  

While in this particular east Asian country, our team met with several long-time missionaries.  One woman's lesson to me was unexpected.  She shared how, 14 years in this country, she did not "have a heart for" (Christian-ese - sorry!) its people.  There are times she is so overwhelmed by the culture, she needs a weekend escape and literally tells her husband, "Get me out of this country."  I was STUNNED.  I just had always assumed missions worked like this:  
You open your heart to the Lord's leading.  The Lord softens your heart for a people group.  You go to that people group.  

As I'd seen that happen so many times, I missed a big point.  It never occurred to me that it might just be that God never gives you a special affection for the people (or city or job or neighborhood or school, fill in the blank) where He places you.  Why I hadn't made the obvious connection before between Jonah and Nineveh, I don't know.  God said, "Nineveh," and Jonah said, "Nope!  Tarsish!" Jonah didn't "have a heart" for the Ninevites.  In fact, when the Lord showed compassion on Nineveh upon their repentance, Jonah was so angry he wanted to die. God shows Nineveh mercy ---> Jonah pouts and says, "Take me now." A bit dramatic, perhaps?  

Backing up a bit, two chapters after he said, "Nope! Tarshish!" (try saying Tarshish ten times fast, btw), we see how Jonah finally "obeyed the word of the Lord and went to Nineveh."  All it took was being thrown overboard into the violent sea, being swallowed by a gigantic fish, spending three days and nights inside that fish and then being unceremoniously puked up onto the shore.  This is so the fight that has been in me the last year.  I've dwelt on and held onto the past so faithfully and fiercely, I have not received complete fullness of joy from the Lord. I have wanted to be obedient and have gone through the motions of obedience but have been doing so far from abiding in His presence. How much sweeter would this gift of obedience have been had I abided in Him instead of in the past?

I was right about one thing - I'm not done learning yet.  Despite his shortcomings, the bottom line is, Jonah obeyed even when he wanted destruction for Nineveh instead of God's mercy.  This missionary in east Asia is obeying even when it means being overwhelmed and wanting to be elsewhere.  I want that kind of obedience where the simple fact that He is worthy of it matters far more than what I think God should do with my life.  My life looks different to how I would've planned it.  As it should.  My lens is small.  His is eternal.  I don't need it to make sense. I don't have to understand why God has us in America even though a movie about Africans so moved me, I willingly locked myself in a nasty airplane lavatory to cry. 

Final thought.  Grief and re-entry are real, believe me.  But, just as God worked on Jonah's hardened heart even after his apparent half-hearted obedience, I have seen His gentle patience with me in my half-hearted obedience.  He has patiently taught me even as I've resisted His goodness.  He has been personal in His love.  He continues to remind me to abide in Him.  

"To the roots of the mountains I sank down;
    the earth beneath barred me in forever.  
You, Lord my God,
    brought my life up from the pit." 

Jonah 2:6

What might obedience look like for you this next phase of life?  To what degree of trust has God called you where your best motivation is obedience because nothing else about that particular calling makes sense?  When have you had a prayer answered but you didn't like the answer?  In what areas are you dwelling in the past instead of abiding in Him and His leading today?   

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