May 07, 2017

Neither here.... nor there. {Alternately Titled: Caught in the In-Between}





I knew it would be hard. 
But I never anticipated how hard it would be. 
 It's not widely written about, talked about, or even heard of, really. 
Transitioning. 
Not from passport country to the mission field. 
Not from the mission field back to one's passport country. 
But from one host country (or "field"), to another one.  
Entirely foreign. Entirely new. Entirely different.
From a home nestled in a beautiful garden on the edge of a river in a village of Tanzania, to a home nestled in the suburbs on a thoroughfare in the city near the east coast of Australia. 



The last 12 months our family has been living in transition. 
It started when we flew to America from Tanzania to have a bit of a furlough and give birth in May of 2016. But when that didn't go as planned, furlough ended up being 8 months, living in 7 different host homes, and even meant Bill got a job to help make ends meet living in America. Then in October (still stateside), God spoke and clearly showed us it was time to make our way out of Tanzania, to begin a new chapter in Australia. We were in shock, and a bit of denial (okay, it was mostly me, and it was a lot of denial) for a couple of months. But by the time December rolled around it was abundantly clear that when we returned to Tanzania in February, we'd enter on a three month visa and begin the process of closing things up, saying goodbye, and packing our things. 

While in Tanzania, we started by taking a breath. We used the first month of our time to relax. To {literally} do nothing.  Furlough life was crazy and busy and we needed quiet and rest. We drank coffee on our veranda & watched the monkeys jump around in the trees. I lived in yoga pants and tshirts and pony tails. It was glorious. 
As departure time drew nearer, we started being strategic about planning time with our closest friends, planning our luggage weight, estate sale and last minute momento purchases. 
The deepest desire of our hearts was to leave well. To leave a legacy in the Kilimanjaro region. To leave an imprint on the hearts of our friends and community- East African or otherwise. For them to know, though we were leaving physically, our hearts would remain and that we wouldn't be separated in the spirit. 
But doing all that, whilst simultaneously packing up (and weighing) our entire lives into 105 kg of luggage, selling 95% of what we owned, trying to explain to our 5 year old that he wouldn't see some of the kids he'd grown up with for a very long time (if ever again), was not easy. 
I searched for wisdom in a book written by a fellow missionary, Looming Transitions. It was one of those freebie promotions Amazon had, and since I couldn't find much else that matched our circumstance, I gave it a shot. It was incredibly helpful in putting words to so many of the feelings and thoughts swarming around in my head. The most helpful thing in that book (if I had to pick one, because there were many), was her analogy about transitions. Though our transition is a bit outside the norm, it still explained where our hearts were - caught in a balancing act.
It was as if we were a ball, balanced ever-so-carefully at the top of a peak. We were between places. If we weren't careful, we'd cling too tightly to our home in Tanzania and the transition to Australia would become an uphill struggle. If we were to ignore the sad feelings, wait until the last minute to pack and get rid of things and say goodbyes, we'd roll backwards, falling too far to the Tanzania side.  On the other hand, if we sold everything our first month (when the market was ripe!), if we'd turned our hearts off and emotions cold, knowing it would only make things harder in the end, or if we'd begun researching life in Australia and daydreaming about sidewalks, shopping malls and coastal retreats, we'd roll forward too far, living in the future we had in Oz. Then our exit from Tanzania would be an uphill struggle, and it would be highly unlikely that we would leave "well." 
So for months, our hearts were caught in a balancing act. 
There were days I felt myself drifting backward down the hill, wanting to cling tightly to my very favorite Kenyan - the only constant I'd had in the four years in Tanzania outside of my own family. To his newborn, who would grow up not knowing her uncle, auntie & how much her cousin Owen adored her. To my son's playmates, whom he had grown up with for as long as he could remember - the best and closest friends he's ever known. To our little church community, our camping and hashing clubs, with whom we shared such sweet memories and adventures with. To our neighbors down the street, who let us shower when we had muddy water coming through our pipes, babysat our boy, made me homemade marshmallows for his birthday cake topper, taught me everything I know about knitting, and was one of the best friends & confidants (of the same nationality) I had on the field.  To the shops and market owners who knew us by name and would give Owen little treats every time we visited, to the dirty, dusty roads we'd learned so well and could travel with our eyes closed (don't worry we never did!). To the sound of rain falling on our tin roof during the rainy season and the bush babies calling just outside our windows each night. There were far too many things on the "Things I will Miss" list, and I wasn't ready to let go. 
But then there were days when I found myself drifting too far forward, too. When I would research schools we could put Owen in, when I researched cost of living and started looking at houses and apartments and grocery store ads. When I'd daydream about not having a million living insects and creatures in my home all the time. Or thinking about what it would be like to have a clean, hot shower whenever I wanted. When I started following Gold Coast Instagram accounts and searching on Gumtree for things we'd need to replace after moving.  Or when I would start researching vanilla farming and export practices in preparation for our new ministry partnership. When I would look for churches near the house we'd be staying in, or seeing the multitudes of playgrounds and beach access points only a short drive or walk away. 
It's not an easy thing, balancing your heart on a mountain's peak. It's all the emotions all at once. It's feeling everything. It's crying over coffee mugs that have to be sold (who does that?!) and pulling pictures down off the wall. It's trying (and failing) to use all the chocolate chips hoarded for years, and frying an egg with a plastic fork because you've sold all your silverware. It's messy. It's ugly. It's {mostly} unexplainable. It's trying to hold it in so you don't lose it at the wrong time. Or the most awkward time. In front of all the people. It's unpredictable. It's no fun at all. Not even a little.
But it's also full of grace. Because the One who called us to this life of transition has also promised He will keep us. He will hold us. He will mourn with us. And he will redeem anything we mess up.
And I know it's full of grace because after the hardest two months I've had since losing our little Bean, I still see His face. I still see his hand in things small and not-so-small. 
Like when we invited our East African friends to one last chai and chapati and they said all. these. words. to us, about us and the legacy we were about to leave behind - when really it was supposed to be about us saying all the words to them. And when most of those words were in Swahili and someone mentioned that maybe they should speak in English and someone else said, "No, it's okay, they know English," and the table erupted with laughter because she meant to say, "They know Swahili." But they all knew it really was okay for the conversation to flow in Swahili because we do pick up most of it. 
And when they said, "Thanks for this. For this chai and chapati and this time to say goodbye. Thank you for giving us this time and not just leaving. Because we will always have this and we will always remember it." And when those words saturate your heart and bring all the tears to your eyes because mostly this time was for you to remember them by and for all the other selfish reasons you had of wanting some real, lasting, quality time with all of them, just one more time. 
Like when we had to part with one of Owen's first (and favorite) games, Connect Four. And our new ministry partners (and hosts) have the same exact game waiting for him in his room. 
Like when we had to sell our amazingly comfortable memory foam mattress topper and pillows lugged across from America because we couldn't justify the 14kg for just that and surely Australia has normal mattresses... and our bed in our new home is just as comfy as that mattress ever was - and has more pillows!
And when we arrived we see Norwex supplies scattered throughout the house, and our hosts (whom we'd never met- did I mention that?) have a huge supply of coconut water, coconut oil, and other amazing healthy-eating ingredients filling their fridge and pantry - even sugar free ketchup for our ketchup-crazed 6 year old. 
And when our host asked if we wanted coffee while he pulled out a giant french press asking, "Is french press okay?" And I think that's a good one to end on because clearly, the Big Man Upstairs knows the way to make me feel at home: French. Press. 

But seriously even with the grace, abounding grace, that's renewed to us each and every morning the cockatoos fly over at 6am and wake us up with their crazy-loud, obnoxious squawking: it's hard. So. Very. Hard.

So right now, in all honestly. I'm neither here, nor there. We're still balancing, somehow. We're still in transition. We're coming up on two weeks in a new land, after 4 years in Tanzania and an entire year of transitions.
We're still speaking Swahili, I just took the last of the Tanzanian shillings out of my purse, I still don't feel right wearing anything above the knee, we still only know the two people we live with, I carry around toilet paper 'just in case', Owen still doesn't have any friends, and I cry at awkward and random times.  
But we also must move on. So we homeschool. We grocery shop. We do ministry work. We clean house. We hunt for the next fun and exciting playground, and every-so-often, we go to the beach. Because our hearts are weary. They're in a million pieces on too many different continents and sometimes we just have to get outside and remember to breathe. Because when we hold our breath, it doesn't make the pain go away. It doesn't make the transition come faster. So we move forward. Holding our Lamplight out to show us the way, even if it's only one step at a time. We're confident we're moving in the right direction. And we know He's keeping us along the way. But we're not there yet. 

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