So much has happened since I last posted. January and February were a whirlwind of joy and sadness. We overcame a weeklong flu and a secondary chest infection. We sold, packed, gave away, or tossed all of our possessions in Tanzania. We welcomed a team from St. John in Cypress, TX for the opening of the new Mwanza Lutheran Secondary School. We celebrated all that God has accomplished during our time in Tanzania. We shed many tears as we said goodbye to precious friends. We flew 30+ hours back to the U.S. We surprised my dad for his birthday with a layover in Dallas and then continued on to St. Louis.
Less than a week after we arrived, everything began to shut down. I also came down with bronchitis, and we played the game, “Is it COVID-19 or not?” Thankfully, it was not. However, now we do wish we had some of those antibodies. Instead of traveling to all of our partner churches, we spent 10+ weeks living with Eric’s parents while Eric waited for school districts to interview him via Zoom and while we found a rental home in Dallas via virtual tour. In May, we loaded up a U-pack trailer, moved down to Texas, completely repainted the five previously pink rooms and all of the ceilings in our new rental home. As we were unloading, we realized that the garage conversion room, i.e. our playroom where our pantry and two other main closets were located, wreaked of cat pee. It took six weeks of trying various remedies for us to realize that the cat pee was in the walls. Six inches of the wall had to be removed and replaced around the base of the room. Once the floors were treated and the carpet replaced, we could finally begin to fully unpack.
We’ve had many adventures since moving to Texas, some fun and some not so fun--- breaking my baby toe as I tried to maneuver around boxes and tripped on the couch, participating in at-home Vacation Bible School with our kids, camping with my parents several times, enduring the most painful case of chiggers of my life (over 130 bites), teaching our kids to swim at a friend’s pool, celebrating our kids’ first 4th of July as American citizens, persevering through the entire driver education process again since my license expired while I was in Tanzania, changing many of our habits and food preferences as we are being treated for parasites, sorting through the many boxes that had been stored for us in Eric’s parents’ basement, and Eric beginning a new job at North Garland High School while I help Michael and Julia adjust to online school.
This year is not conducive to closure, but we are trying. We put together one last presentation that friends, family, and supporters could view on YouTube. (If you haven't seen it yet, click here.) We held 14 separate Zoom calls so that we could reconnect with members of our partner churches. (Thank you to all who participated! It meant so much to us.) On July 13-17, we attended an online debriefing retreat through Train International. We are so thankful we had that opportunity to talk with other returning missionaries and to process all that we had been through. Even in the best of times, reverse culture shock and creating a new sense of home is tremendously difficult. We realized through this retreat that we are grieving losses on four levels---
- We are grieving the loss of our home, work, and community in Tanzania. I spoke at length about that in a previous post. What I failed to realize previously is that many of our family norms were about to change. In Tanzania, Eric and I were partners in ministry. Our friend group was the same. I could call him throughout the day when he wasn’t in class. Sometimes he would come home for lunch or we would go up to school. Now I miss my best friend as he is busy teaching, and the kids and I are home without the company of neighbors who were always eager to interact with our family.
- We are grieving the loss of moments with family and friends in the U.S. while we were serving in Tanzania. For example, my parents’ home has numerous pictures of family events for which we were not present. Likewise, my grandmother passed away while we were living in Tanzania, so a fresh wave of grief is hitting as I sort through the items she left for me. Furthermore, relationships have changed while we were away, and we are in many ways trying to figure out what relationships with American family and friends look like when we are not an ocean away.
- We, like all of you, are grieving the loss of dreams and expectations thanks to COVID-19. We and our children had built up a storehouse of dreams for what life would look like once we moved back to the U.S. Very few of those dreams have become reality, and we are figuring out how to adjust our expectations. For example, we initially planned that I would get a part-time job while our kids attend school in-person. For now, that dream has been put on the back-burner while our kids attend school online.
- We are grieving the changes that have taken place since we last lived in the U.S. The partisanship, racial injustice, and general ugliness we see regularly as the U.S. approaches an election has made it particularly hard to bring our family here.
The leaders of the retreat normalized so much of what we have been experiencing. They shared that on average it takes missionaries 1-2 years (not months-- years) to establish a new rhythm, a new sense of purpose, and a new sense of community. They shared that if we don’t process these feelings now, we will miss out on all that God can teach us through it and we will inevitably see the effects of unresolved grief later. During the retreat we talked about what we control, what we influence, and what areas of concern we need to simply hand over to God. They helped us to recognize and embrace the paradoxes in our stories. They helped us to articulate our expectations, others’ expectations of us, and God’s expectations (hint: they aren’t the same). We identified the different types of transitions in our lives: anticipated, unanticipated, nonevent (meaning what we expected to happen didn’t) and sleeper (meaning we weren’t even aware of the transition because it happened so gradually). We celebrated all that we have gained and learned during these years of ministry. We talked about ways to cope with stress, how to maintain resilience and spiritual vitality, and how to forgive both ourselves and others. We drew pictures, told stories, meditated on Scripture, prayed for each other, and made new friends. I highly recommend this retreat to any returning missionaries or missionaries in the U.S. for furlough/home service.
We are still very much in the process of transition, both emotionally and practically. We are still trying to sort out our finances, insurance, medical providers, local bank, local activities, and weekly rhythm. We still need to fill out all the paperwork for our kids’ social security cards, Eric’s Texas driver’s license, our last U.S. social worker’s report for our kids’ adoption, state recognition of our kids’ adoption, our kids’ passports, a second car, my social work license, our will, and transfer of medical records. We are still trying to figure out ways for our kids to make friends, while not endangering family members with underlying health conditions. We are still sorting through boxes and organizing closets and drawers. This transition is definitely a marathon-- not a sprint-- with added hurdles related to COVID-19.
Yet, during our retreat we were reminded of this beautiful passage from Jeremiah 6:16.
“Stand at the crossroads and look;
Ask for the ancient paths,
Ask where the good way is, and walk in it,
And you will find rest for your souls.”
We will continue to take each step one at a time. We will continue to stand, to pause, to abide at the crossroads. We will continue to look to Jesus and recall that we are not the first to experience the stress and pain of transition. We will continue to seek out the good way and walk in it, knowing that in all things God will not abandon us. And Lord-willing and by His grace alone, we will find rest for our souls.