Disclaimer: Ahead are some raw moments of honesty and attempts at purposeful transparency. If you’re ready to wade in, read on! If you’d rather opt out, feel free!
The other night, Jon and I (Erika), went to a Christmas party. It’s wonderful in many ways to be here to celebrate Christmas as believers the American way. A party with good food, sweet treats, and a fun gift exchange game? Yes, please. We were thankful for the invitation, but in the car on the way there we admitted to each other that we weren’t looking forward to all the work we knew would also be involved while we tried to enjoy the party.
We were newbies in the group and it’s work to introduce yourself, explain what you do, and explain why you’re in the USA over and over again to every person you meet. We do love telling people about this journey God has us on, but sometimes we wish we could just be, like at a party. Then we are reminded that such is not the life we live. Next come the feelings of disappointment in that reality, the swirling thoughts about what it would be like to just be “normal” (whatever the normal is in that scenario), and attempting the challenge of bringing ourselves back around to a good place, all while staring someone in the face and responding to the comment that triggered the whole domino effect.
It’s work to try and engage in group conversation with people who have a completely different lifestyle than you do. The reverse-culture shock hits in many ways reminding us that we don’t automatically get everything anymore, that some of American culture doesn’t make perfect sense anymore, that we don’t fit here anymore. It’s scary, unsettling, and draining.
We wanted to just feel “normal” and enjoy a night with other couples celebrating the Christmas season. But we just couldn’t. The people at the party were super friendly and thoughtful. It wasn’t them. It’s us.
It’s not that we can’t enjoy the good things. We did have some fun. We were blessed to be part of that world for a time and we were thankful for those who welcomed us into it. But after we came home, Jon and I had a heart to heart about how hard it is to feel these things – not just at the Christmas party but many places we go. To never feel completely at home.
We echo what one writer has said in a blog post we found titled “Why Missionaries Can Never Go Home Again”. We often hear, “Isn’t it great to be home!” and we think, “Yeah, kind of.” (for the reasons I’ve listed above and others). As this writer has said, “Missionaries are forever caught between two worlds. They can no longer completely identify with the people whom they left behind in the home country. But they can never truly identify with the people in their host country.”
I’m beginning to realize that this isolation we feel, while being in that place few identify with, is like a breeding ground for fear and grief. It’s human to want to be understood and known. So when you realize it’s impossible for most people to really go there with you, because you’re caught between the two worlds, it feels like everything is falling apart. I’m still learning about what this new paradigm means and how to handle it. Up to now I’ve been trying to hold on to how things were.
Now I’m realizing I have to accept the fact that I’m a changed person and that requires adjustment in how I function, including how I write this blog post. I want to be transparent with those who have said they want to “journey with us”. We consider ourselves as extensions of those who support us so we feel it’s right that we allow them to be as much a part of it as possible. At the same time, we see that it’s not fair to expect anyone not actually standing in our shoes to understand. We long for that, but it’s an impossible standard.
I’m sure you have a situation in your life where you have felt alone in a struggle and wounded by the lack of response when you’ve reached out. A foster parent, someone with a terminal illness, a survivor of abuse and countless others could surely resonate in some ways and from arguably more painful places. We are all broken in some ways. Today God reminded me that I need to let Him hold my heart because He sees me and He cares and He understands. He loves me and He is for me.
And for me, while others I share with may not see my scars or understand what the wounding felt like, I need to give them opportunity to. To stay honest and transparent with right expectations. How can the Body of Christ have any possibility of taking care of the hurting part if the neurons that send the signal are silenced?
There are a lot of advantages to leading this life we lead. I know that and I acknowledge it. I also know that God has called us to it and that He will be faithful to sustain us and give us joy through it, even with the hardships mixed in. I will also take courage that Jesus knew what it was to be a stranger in His own world, the one He made, and I will “look for the city that is to come” (Heb. 13:14) where I will be eternally home.
That doesn’t mean it will be easy or that everything will feel ok. But with awareness comes new insight and energy to carry on. I’m praying God gives that to you when you need it as He just did for me. Thanks for being willing to look in my direction as I give you a glimpse into our world, or wherever this place is caught between two worlds.