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.
I love every. single. word. Brought tears to my eyes. Thanks, Erika, for speaking for so many perfectly!
Gary Bush said:
Very well stated and very insightful! Thanks for being so transparent.
Deb Sykora said:
Thanks for sharing, Erika. I can certainly identify with the isolation, loneliness, and feelings of being “different” and not fitting in, though for different reasons. Having a chronic illness, can bring on many of the those emotions. May God give you and Jon the strength to carry on and supply you with friends with whom you can share and spend time. God bless you.
I’ve waded into your well thought-out article and stayed for the whole thing. I find your transparency refreshing and have left feeling a bit perplexed. I surely would not tell anyone how to live their life, that is not my place. However I’d be lying if I said I did not have an opinion. Many times in my life I’ve been told I have no filter, so why should today be any different. I think about your little family often and pray for you every day. Perhaps my words may aid you in your direction.
It’s been said that was doesn’t kill you only makes you stronger also that God will not give you anything that you cannot handle. In life we all have trials and tribulations that make us who we are. Most who have faith, who believe in God, his words and messages are lucky and blessed to become ‘wise with age’ and not corrupt or worse off from the misfortunes that they suffer. Seems you have come to a turning point in your lives and need to decide what fork in the road is best to travel. In the time I’ve known you two I feel I could say this, in truth; you are good people, you live in faith and promote Gods will by doing good… I don’t feel that could or would change no matter WHAT world you live in. God wants you and all his people to be happy, to be kind and to love each other. What I also have saw is that you Erika, are a good mother. I’ve seen and witnessed the pride and joy you receive from your little one and the fulfillment you get from your title of ‘mother’. It’s said that babies are a miracle, a gift from God and well I believe that could not be any more true. Even if you stopped doing everything that you do today for others. As long as you show, treat and teach Gods love to your child God will surely welcome you to the ‘eternal home’ he has promised and prepared for us. See I don’t think that where you live or where you work makes a bit of difference, as long as you live within the teachings of Gods way.
Be kind, share love… in doing so you will receive it; no matter what world you live in.
I love your honesty and heart. I have an aunt and uncle that spent 20 years in the Phlilipines and another 5 or so in the Dominican- i know at times they felt thesame way. Now they are “retired”. Maybe talking to older missionaries would give you some comfort. Not sure- but we love you guys and know God has placed you right where you are for a reason. Take care!