My yellow tufted couch

I closed my eyes and in my mind’s eye, I walked through the big iron gate and stepped into the tiny tiled compound which held our three story home. I then slowly walked through every nook and cranny of that house and let the memories collide with the tears. I find myself doing this again more lately as the one year anniversary of our departure nears. Sometimes the grief that comes after this silly exercise makes it hard to literally breathe. The weight of what feels like a bag of bricks can be felt on my chest, and the pain can be unbearable if I don’t get control of it at the forefront. It’s as if I realize all over again, but for the first time, that it is all over. I will probably never step foot into that pink (yes, pink) house again, and most certainly never again call it home. Last night at 2 AM as I laid in my warm bed far across the ocean from my other bed, I felt the panic rise up to swallow me in waves of grief, as I was hit with the reality of what we had lost. Sometimes people still ask me how I am doing with the transition, and I always say that I am okay. Because I am okay, but these moments still happen and it still hurts.

I don’t doubt that we followed God’s calling in leaving behind a country and people that we loved. Although Ethiopia was also our calling, in this season our highest calling is to our children – even over children in our ministry. We had to do everything we could to ensure not only their actual safety, but just as importantly because of history for two of them, their felt safety. There is a time and place to teach bravery and courage and we always want to teach trust and faith in a good God, and we do that. But nothing was worth making easily triggered children reface and possibly relive some of their worst fears. So, as the story goes, we left it all behind. It was God’s prompting and gentle guiding, but ultimately our choice – we moved our feet. But sometimes in the deepest, most honest and authentic places of my heart, it feels like He took it all away.

Last night, as I imagined myself once again in the tall pink house nestled in the beautiful mountains of Oromo country, I kept getting distracted in my Ethiopian living room. Never before moving to Ethiopia had I ever owned new living room furniture. We were given a cute little set from relatives when were married. And then when we moved into our first house, we found a set on Craig’s List that we liked. Upon moving to Ethiopia, we were again given living room furniture. It was a huge gift and help to not have to purchase that living room furniture on top of everything else we needed to purchase in order to furnish our home. However, the Ethiopian made couches were lower quality than most furniture here in the states, and with sixteen plus people living in our home at one time, and numerous guests in and out of our home, it quickly became worn and rickety. Pieces of our couch were literally falling off every time someone tried to sit on them. When we returned to Ethiopia after our summer in the states in 2016, we felt so much peace with where we were as a family in Ethiopia, and felt in our hearts that we would be there for a long, long time. So, we took our tax refund money, and we went into a furniture store that sold imported European furniture. It was the first time in my life that I was able to choose exactly what I wanted for our living room. I chose a beautiful, bright tufted yellow set with an adorable accent comfy chair and bright colorful contrasting pillows, because it matched the sunshine in my soul in that moment. I felt so much joy and contentedness with the life that we had carved out and I felt so much hope for our future.

IMG_3401

I only have this one photo of my beautiful yellow tufted couch set, because as a missionary I feared people’s reactions to us having nice things. I wish I hadn’t. I know now that God is okay with even missionaries having pretty things. Making a home beautiful within the bounds of one’s budget is so okay.

Less than two months after purchasing our couch set, we sold it at almost half its value and boarded a plane to go back to the states. I believe that God does give and that He does allow things to be taken away, but slowly, as I allow myself to delve into all of the pain that is still at the surface, I think I am understanding that God does not give to take away. My formative years have skewed my view of God in ways that I am still untangling. But I can confidently say that God is the giver of good gifts, and that yellow couch, in all of its tufted sunshiny glory, brought me days of ridiculous happiness. When I would wake up in the morning, I would come down the stairs, grab my Bible and curl up on that couch or in the cozy chair. I felt joy every single time I walked into my living room. It held me one day as I laid on it under blankets sick with food poisoning.  And even in the very short time that we owned it, I am so pleased at how many people it held – teenage boys doing a Bible study, teenagers playing xbox, little kids wrestling one another, family movie nights, friends, and even on occasion one of our dogs.

Yes, that pretty little couch set is gone, and so is Ethiopia, and so are so many dreams and ideas of how we saw life playing out, but God remains. He constantly shows up inside the mess inside of my heart, inside the doubts and fears and pain. He continues to be a Father who desires to lavish good gifts, and He continues to do that. His gifts are just wrapped much differently than maybe I had once hoped for, but they are here and good nonetheless. Do I miss that couch, and that home, my people, and the mountains, and walking the cobblestone paths for avocado juice? Do I miss the much simpler way of life and the ’13 months of sunshine’? Yes. Every single day I miss it. But at the same time I love my new little house and the odds and ends furniture that we have scraped together to make home. I love the sound of my children giggling in our family room, the memories we are making around a fire pit in our back yard, the small kitchen that feels just perfect. I love the unlikely community of people that God is growing up around us, and the new dreams that He is placing in our hearts for Ethiopia and for here.

Daily I am learning to renew my mind with the truth of Who God is. He is a God Whose love for me is without end. His goal is not to hurt me, but to save my life. That alone fills in some of those achey places in my heart, and allows me to remember the beautiful gift of a yellow tufted couch.

Removing the Politics out of Loving my Neighbor

I think that one of the greatest disservices that we commit against one another is that of labeling each other. I understand that sometimes we need labels, especially in this culture we live in, but far too often those boxes that we label people into are boxes of judgment and stereotypes. I was born and raised as a Baptist, and up until a few years ago, I was content with that label of a Baptist. However, during that time if someone had labeled me into the same box as a Westboro Church Baptist, I would have been deeply offended, because not all Baptists wield picketing signs that read “God hates fags”.

I am guessing the same sentiment is true for my Muslim friends who are so often immediately labeled as a “Radical Islamic”, and yet we do it. Last week I saw a Facebook post that made a blanket and ugly statement about Muslim people, and I literally wept in horror. Later that evening I was talking to my husband about it, and I shared that I did not understand why I felt so much pain and responded with so much grief to what I had read. He answered, because when you read that, you picture all of your Muslim friends in Ethiopia, who you love and who you know fit none of those labels. He was right.  I think that what hurts most about labels is that they mostly happen outside of a relationship. We share posts on Facebook that box people into just one way of being – we judge the heck out of someone that we do not even know and we excuse ourself from the greatest command that we were given – love your neighbor as much as you love yourself. Sometimes love looks as simple as thinking twice before we share something on social media that unjustly labels an entire group of people.

We use labels to determine who is worthy of our love and who is not – who is in and who is out. Inside the polarizing political climate that we find our country in, we are so quick to draw a box, a dividing line depending on what side we veer to. The political labels are especially divisive and hurtful, and can never really tell you the whole of a person’s heart, because labels never can. I fear that we have allowed our political leanings to give us permission to not love that neighbor. It is a sad commentary when we have reduced someone to a singular label that allows us to forget their belovedness and the fact that they were created in the image of God. It is a sad day when our politics have become our god, and the filter in which we view all of life is which political party we align with. Perhaps this generation’s biggest blindspots will trace back to our love for political labels over our love for our neighbors. I fear this as I look around me and into my own heart.

The same Jesus Who died to free us, died to free them, and loves them with the same love that He loves us. Honestly, I do not really line up anywhere on the political scale, and most days I feel like an outcast because of this. I have very swiftly been pigeon-holed into a side and labeled, but the reality is that I don’t fit on the right, and I don’t fit on the left. I am a mess of contradictions and all over the place as I try to navigate this life loving God and loving my neighbor, and maybe we were never created to be labeled into one box.

IMG_2302

I am guessing if the people who choose to label me would instead choose to sit down and share a pot of coffee while I share my heart, they just might walk away with a different label for me or none at all. They might see that I am apprehensive about the safety of my Black children, not because I am listening to the left and believing lies and fake news, but because of real life experiences that have happened to them here in America. They might see that I have a heart for Muslim people because of the community of Muslim friends whom we did life with in Ethiopia. They might see that I am tender toward refugees, because I am a bleeding heart who knows how hard it is to live inside of a foreign country and not speak the language or understand the culture. Maybe they would understand why I am so passionate about sanctity of life, and why that reaches farther than just the unborn lives. Maybe they would walk away agreeing with me, or maybe not, but it would certainly be a better start than just boxing me into a label without knowing me. The same is true for everybody.

IMG_4640

I believe a lot of the tension in this country could be relaxed, even just a little, over pots of coffee, steaming cups of tea and a cozy kitchen table. Maybe this will not fix everything, but it gives us a place to start.  When we step into the lives of people, it is so much harder to label them into a box. People are nuanced and contradictory and unique, and worthy of our time and our love and of our listening ear. Maybe loving our neighbor should stop being political and start being practical and relational. Love is always the best, first step. When we don’t know what to do, how to think, where to go, loving someone over a cup of coffee is never wrong.

To My Kids As They Go Back to School

Summer with you was beautiful. The older you get the more I fall in love with each one of you, and the more I want to slow down these years with you. I am all too aware of how quickly these days are flying by, and how before I know it my last baby will be in a cap and gown, and there will never again be a need for a  ‘back to school’ post. As always the seasons seem to pass so swiftly, and here were are on the verge of another. As you prepare to start another school year, there are three things that I want to tell you.

Grades are not everything.                                                                                                                  While it is true that we have you attend school for an education, and we believe that is an unalienable right for you, as it should be for every child, academics has never been the most important thing to your Dad and I. I know that the the world around us places a great emphasis on grades and academics, and there is a place and necessity for them,  but listen to me when I tell you that is not the most important thing. Your worth and value as a person does not come from a letter grade or a test score. There will be some subjects that you excel in, and there may be others that you struggle in, and that is all okay, because that is how life works in the real world. I want you to be diligent in your school work, and as long as that happens, your grades matter little to me. Because I know that an A or B or C or any other letter can never tell the whole story of the wonderful, incredible person that you are. So, yes, be diligent, follow directions, work hard, but please understand that grades are only one very small piece of a much bigger picture. There are far bigger, and dare I say far more important, lessons to be learned inside of your school than the ones that you will take tests about. I hope that you learn character traits that will serve you well, and that you will develop a personality filled with love, sensitivity and empathy. I want you to learn to be courageous, brave, and strong, and to lead by gentle example. I want you to learn how to navigate this world as a follower of Jesus by first learning how to navigate the halls of your public school.

You will never regret being kind.                                                                                                             My hope for you this school year is that you would walk so closely with Jesus that you are a beautiful reflection of Him as you walk your hallways, sit in your classes, eat in the cafeteria, and kick a ball out on the pitch. More than good grades, I want you to be a good person. A good person is a kind person. Every single day you will have opportunities to be kind or to be unkind. You will have a choice to be a person who includes others or excludes others. There are kids inside your school who are picked last, picked on, and left out. Be intentional about looking for those kids – the ones that are different, not cool, the kids that are hurting, the kids who are new and nervous. When you find them, run to them, these are the kids that need your kindness – they are desperate for it. These are the kids that will remember your smile, your words of encouragement, your invitation to the lunch table, the recess circle, or the seat on the bus. You will never, not one single day, regret the kindness that you give, so give it freely, give it often.

20414037_10159055207385371_3112070919054926329_o

It’s okay to make a mistake.                                                                                                                      In this life, and in your time at school, you will make mistakes, because you are human. You will fail, you will flounder, and you will fall, and unfortunately that is just a given if you have a heartbeat. But the real test of characters comes after the mistake is made. Your response to your mistake is important. Take responsibility for your mistakes and  allow them to teach you to make a better choice the next time. Admit your mistake and apologize whenever necessary, and then move on. Keep walking forward, and heed the wise words of Maya Angelou “when you know better, you do better.” I don’t expect you to be perfect. Dad and I are not perfect. Nobody is. We love you regardless of any mistakes that you make in this life. Mistakes are good learning lessons for the rest of your life. They do not define you, but they do help you to grow and to change. Life is a journey, and there will be bumps along the way, there will be good days and there will also be bad days, but at the end of every day, know that you are beloved by your Creator, and that Dad and I will be right here to help you navigate this big, wonderful life you were given.

20248105_10159033150880371_5175998706523267635_o

 

 

 

4 Comments

Dear Bathroom Scale; It’s Not Me, It’s You

I know this may come as a surprise, but I have thought long and hard about this, and I think we need to take a break. I have known it for some time, but I have been too scared to live without you. I have lied to myself that I need you in my life, but I don’t need you. I never did. When I lived in Ethiopia, I did not bring you along with me. You didn’t live in my bathroom, and I found a freedom from you, but the freedom was short lived. I started to walk by other bathroom scales right out on the street, and I began to pay one birr to step onto that scale. While the culture I lived inside viewed the scale differently, I could never adapt to that kind of different.  My Ethiopian friends took great pride and joy over increasing numbers on a scale, and they would cheer and congratulate one another when they had gained a kilo. I, on the other hand, would hope nobody would get close enough to read my numbers on the scale, and I would cringe if I had not lost a kilo. After all, even being a small person, the scale read me as close to the same number as many of the grown men in Ethiopia, and that was mortifying. Even though you didn’t live with me, you still had control over me.

scale

In moving back to the states, I immediately put you back in the bathroom, and I became loyal to you once again. Every morning I would visit you first, and I allowed you to determine, not only the kind of day I would have because of the number you would give me, but also, as ridiculous as this is – my self worth and my value as a woman, as a mom, as a human being. You became a vehicle of frustration, anxiety, and even depression. And I allowed you to have that power. I gave it to you many, many years ago. Somehow it seemed that a number told my story. It is true that some of the time you did bring me happiness, but it was always fleeting and it was always false.

I think that I knew that it had to be over between us when I found myself unexpectedly in Barcelona on a once-in-a-lifetime kind of trip. Of course I did not carry you in my luggage over the ocean. But every time that I bit into a buttery, flakey perfectly chocolate filled croissant, I thought of you. When I sipped chocolate cappuccinos or Spanish reds, you crept into my thoughts. When I got to try paella for the first time and discovered it to be one of the best meals that I had ever eaten, you were in the back of my mind. When I only intentionally did one workout in the entire two weeks of travel, never mind the almost 90 stairs I climbed to get to our flat, and the literal miles I walked – 6 hours of actual walking the first day while trying to unravel the mystery of using the metro – you were constantly in my thoughts. I must have spoken aloud about you no less than ten times. I feared returning to you, and what you would say to me. It didn’t matter that my clothes still fit fine, and that I had accumulated so many amazing memories and experienced things some people can only dream of experiencing; the sad reality was all that really mattered to me was what number you would give me when I came back to you. You had become my master.

Today is the day bathroom scale. I am calling it quits. I am kicking you out of my life. I have deeply depended on you to predict my day, but I don’t need you for that. I can choose to have a good day despite a number. Our relationship has been unhealthy for so long, and I need a clean break. I know that I am the one who pursued this relationship, and that is why I have to be the one to also end it. The only thing that you have ever really given me is an obtuse number that means absolutely nothing. You have never been able to tell me my true worth, or my true health, and you most certainly do not define me. I am done listening to your lies. I am walking away from you, and I am walking into freedom.

Sincerely, Tiffany, your slave no more

***

Sadly, I know I am not alone in these thoughts, and that many can find solidarity in this battle. If you are one of those people, I would love to hear from you. Let us encourage one another in this journey toward freedom. Please drop me a comment or an email, or come find me on Facebook or Instagram. You can even take a photo of yourself saying goodbye to your scale and tag me tdarling02 and hashtag it #ditchthescale, as I would love to cheer you on in your own journey.

 

 

The Power of the Table

The older I get and the farther removed I grow from the white-washed flannelgraph Jesus of my childhood, the more in awe I am of the actual Jesus. As a lover of food and the kitchen, I especially love how much Jesus ate with people during His life on earth. I think it is a significance that we have often overlooked. We tend to focus on His sermons and His miracles, and the proper ministry portions of His life, but what about the everyday life of Jesus – the ordinary? Perhaps there is even more to learn from these mundane moments of Jesus’ life on earth. Have you ever wandered through the gospels and took notice of how much ministry happened around a table and with food shared among friends? Meals around the table were such a significant part of Jesus’ everyday life. The table was a precious part of Who Jesus was and how He lived. What is perhaps so startling is the kinds of people that Jesus invited to His table. They were not the pristine looking religious people, but rather quite the opposite.

Later Jesus and his disciples were at home having supper with a collection of disreputable guests. Unlikely as it seems, more than a few of them had become followers. The religion scholars and Pharisees saw him keeping this kind of company and lit into his disciples: ‘What kind of example is this, acting cozy with the riffraff?'” Mark 2:15-16 MSG

Jesus’ choice to invite these people to the table was no doubt very intentional. He was blatantly ignoring the social norms of His culture and even the religious laws of purity. But these were the very people that Jesus continually chose to invite to His ‘Supper Club’. As these people sat around the table eating and drinking, and let’s just be authentic here – partying – with the Son of God, they were exposed to a little bit of heaven – to the Kingdom breaking into the ordinary rhythms of daily life. It was life-changing for many of these people who had been spit out by religion, but had been offered a seat at the table with Jesus and His friends. These people got a glimpse into a new and better way to live – they got a taste of a new life – of the kingdom breaking into earth. It was like the appetizer before the main meal – a taste of what is to come.

Our culture is not really a dinner table culture anymore. We live in a high-speed, fast-food country that celebrates individualism and isolation.  Although, we so easily curate status updates on our social media, and have a false sense of community through these outlets, the truth is, so many of us cling to our privacy. But there is still power to be found around the table. The dinner table is relational and communal and everything opposite of private and isolated. The table is the antidote for loneliness; it is a powerful expression of inclusion and friendship and belonging. Food ties us together, when it is eaten together.

Luxurious-Beautiful-Dinner-Table-Settings-99-To-Your-Home-Decor-Concepts-with-Beautiful-Dinner-Table-Settings

{source}

If I am to be a representation of Jesus on earth, which I am, then perhaps meals around a table with guests should be a significant part of my life. When we set a table, whether it be with perfectly coordinated dishes and wine goblets or paper plates and red party cups, when we serve a carefully prepared gourmet meal or buckets of Kentucky Fried Chicken with our neighbors, our co-workers, our community, we are inviting the Kingdom to break into the ordinary rhythms of life. We are giving people a safe place to belong; many times people who do not feel like they belong in the chairs in our churches but are comfortable in the chairs at our table. We are nourishing bellies, and we are nourishing souls. We offer people a sanctuary to be covered in grace, to taste a new and different way to live, to experience sacred love. If you eat, which you do, and can put food on a table, which you can, then you can pull out a chair and invite a guest – even a disreputable one – to join you for a meal at your dinner table. And the more we become comfortable with this, the more our table expands, our reach extends, and we  discover that the table has become one of the most beautiful, authentic mission fields that we have ever been to – all without leaving the comfort of our homes.

Coming home, making art, and having courage – on living the life you were born to live

Slowly I moved from one painting, one sculpture, one portrait to the next, completely immersed in a kind of creative ecosystem. As I wandered art galleries in Barcelona, Spain, my being welled up with intense, undeniable emotion. At first this feeling left me confused, as I am not an artist, at least not that kind of artist, although I can certainly empathize with being a creative. So, maybe I really am an artist. Maybe we all are. Probably we all are, once we discover our own kind of art. Upon further prodding and introspection, I discovered that the emotion I was feeling, as I took in the art around me, came from a place of longing, a place that I did not expect to have tapped into with a few visits to art galleries. But there was no denying what I was feeling was indeed longing.

To get a glimpse into someone else’s imagination through the portal of their art is a gift for sure, but for me it went so much deeper than this. As I gazed upon art and read bios about artists, I realized that I was witnessing people’s life works – I was witnessing work that flowed out of what these people were born to do, and it made me long for the ability to do what I was born to do. I encountered this theme, and the emotion that was married to it, again, while I watched my oldest son train for soccer in Barcelona. As I watched him essentially make his own kind of art out on the hot pitch with a soccer ball, I was reminded anew that indeed he was born to play soccer. I wrote briefly of this on my social media accounts, and likened my son’s stepping onto the soccer pitch to ‘coming home’, because that is what I am reminded of when I see him with a soccer ball. Everything else falls away, his true self surfaces, he is at ease, and he ‘comes home’. I believe that it is true that we are all searching for that place that makes us ‘come home’, and I believe that we all have that place – we all have our own kind of art. As I typed out these thoughts last week, I alluded to the fact that I had not found what it is that I was born to do, and watching him made me ache to discover my own destiny. But even as I wrote out those words and shared them, I knew it was not true. In second grade I knew what I was born to do. It is what I would do in my free time. It is what I dreamed of doing. Just like my son knew when he was six years old what he was created to do with his life. When one is thirty seven years old and still finds immense joy in doing the very same thing she did at eight years old, well, that is probably what she – me – was created and born to do.

I was born to write.

Even typing that brings tears to my eyes, because it is so full of emotion. It also scares me. Because what if I fail? What if, what I was born to do, just isn’t good enough? There are so many writers in this big world, and there are so many good writers that I sometimes wonder if it is even worth a shot in finding my place among them. But just because there are better writers, and just because there are good writers doesn’t take away the gift that I was given. As I encountered art from vastly different artists, each was unique, each had carved out their own, different space in this world, and the beauty of one did nothing to detract from the beauty of the other. Some of the art that resonated the deepest with me did not resonate with my husband, and some of the art that moved him did not move me. And that is okay. That is life, and that is art. Some people may read my words and not relate, some people may not even read what I have to say, but someone, somewhere may need my words; someone may need what I was born to do.

It takes risks and courage to put art into this world  – whatever that art looks like. There is no easy way around that. I become vulnerable when I expose my art – when I write and allow people to read it. It is so easy for me to talk myself out of trying. I let this blog go dormant, and I find a million excuses to not write. I have a manuscript that is years old that has grown dusty, and I refuse to finish it, and perhaps for some really valid reasons. A new, fresh idea was born this winter, and although I write, it is not often enough, and it is with immense trepidation and self-criticizing. I sit here with a mug of now mostly cool coffee, and I wonder if anyone even reads blogs anymore, but then here you are, reading my blog, and you are someone, and that is enough. I fear that I will write and write and write and never get published, and the fear leaves me paralyzed. But if I never try, I will never succeed. If I start now, I can fail faster, and try again. There is never a good time to begin perfecting one’s craft, there are always excuses, there is always life to get in the way, so I might as well begin now. There will always be failures, but what if one out of a hundred times, I don’t fail? The what if is to beautiful and motivating to ignore.

Today is as close to the perfect start time that we will ever have, because nobody knows what tomorrow holds. We will never get better if we don’t begin. What is it that you need to start today? Where do you find yourself ‘coming home’? What were you born to do? What is holding you back from trying?

20017556_10158977182775371_7327318237860201733_o

Now is the best time to begin. We get one, wild life to live; what if we live that life doing what we were created to do? It takes courage to live out our destiny, but perhaps the reward from the risks we take is worth the joy that can only be found inside of our own, wonderful art that we put out into the world.

“If you feel like there’s something out there that you’re supposed to be doing, if you have a passion for it, then stop wishing and just do it.” — Wanda Sykes

1 Comment

Learning to be all there

IMG_3477

Wherever you are be all there.  -Jim Elliot-

Every time that I read this quote it gets to me. I know exactly why.  I struggle to live this way, and have for as long as I can remember. God is so tender and patient with me, as He continually impresses on me this weakness of being fully present exactly where I am in life. Because I am super sentimental, sensitive, and nostalgic, I can often find myself longing for what was. My mind and memories are very selective with the past, and I hold on to the sweet moments tightly, but usually after the fact, in a nostalgic, missing them, wishing for what was kind of way. The irony is that when they are happening to me, I am unable to be present, because I am longing for the time in my life before that. If you have ever listened to the lyrics of Passenger’s popular song Let her Go, what I am writing will echo the song’s sentiment. In those lyrics, I cringe and find myself.

Well you only need the light when it’s burning low
Only miss the sun when it starts to snow
Only know you love her when you let her go
Only know you’ve been high when you’re feeling low
Only hate the road when you’re missing home
Only know you love her when you let her go
And you let her go

This theme of not realizing what I have until it is gone has wrapped itself around the years of my life, but I don’t want to keep missing out on the here and now. It has been years of striving to learn how to be present, of reminding myself to be mindful, purposeful, and intentional in the every day life I am living. I know that the beauty of this moment, of the day before me – the present – is that God has given me all of this as a gift. He is gifting me this life right here and right now, with these people, in this country, in this neighborhood for a great purpose. It’s a purpose I could completely miss out on, if I am constantly looking backward. I don’t want to keep missing the gift of the present.

I think that the people that really understand the gift of the present moment are more content and less filled with stress, and of course that is something that I desire. So, I am continuing on in this long journey of trying to learn how to be present, because it does not come natural to my personality. It is so easy for my mind to wander to the yesterdays, for me to feel and dwell in the pain of missing what was, and to fall into a cycle of depression and sadness. But this week, God in His kindness, brought me into the present a few times in a way that demonstrated the beauty of right now in tangible ways. Every single night this week we have had people in our home. Every person had a different story and a different reason for needing us in those moments, but it became evident that every one needed a moment to be inside of a healthy, loving family – yes, an imperfect, mess of a family at times, but a family who fights for each other, loves each other to the core, and makes time to be in each other’s worlds despite busy schedules and a span of ages. Two out of the three visits were completely unplanned; I had no time to make sure that my house was perfect, or time to prepare the kids to be on their best behavior, and prior to our life in Ethiopia this used to terrify me enough to not even answer my doorbell to let someone in. I couldn’t share any part of my life if it did not meet my expectations of perfect.

This week, I found myself opening the door, with a few floors that could use sweeping, a few dishes in the sink, with obvious signs that children live in this home, and yet I was at peace with letting people in to a real, living, breathing family. I heated up my stove and did what comes so naturally to me, fed people’s bellies, while my husband fed their souls. We work in tandem, merging the physical and spiritual.

I paused this morning after staying up past eleven last night to make teenage guys brownies and banana bread, and waking early to make a breakfast of french toast, eggs, bacon, and sausage. As the smells of fresh roasted coffee and sweet french toast sticky with warm maple syrup wafted through the air, I realized that I was actually living in the moment and loving doing exactly what I know how to do. I found myself smiling in my kitchen and filled with complete all-encompassing joy. Yes, it felt a bit like our life in Ethiopia, but I was really content with the present  – with life here in this moment.

This present moment will always be different from the past, because it needs to be. We were not met to live static in one frozen moment. There will still be days ahead where I find myself unable to breathe, because the waves of grief and shock will come again as the realization settles once again over me of the fact that we really no longer live in Ethiopia. But I have hope that the present moments will eventually calm and even still those waves. I am so thankful for my time on the mission field as a missionary. The experiences that I lived through in those two years radically shaped my life, and they taught me a new and a better way to live. I could never have learned the same thing had I remained here. But there is more life to live; there is more good, sweet moments to come. What I now know is that the past in Ethiopia taught me a way to live anywhere that I am in the world. I don’t have to live in Ethiopia to have a house full of people and a table spread with food. I don’t have to live in Ethiopia to meet people where they are and join God in meeting their physical and spiritual needs. I can be anywhere, and that includes right here – learning to be all there while right here.

IMG_3958

1 Comment

Hemmed In

From the driver’s seat of our van, I watched him walk confidently around the bus circle, his legs longer than they were just four months ago, his blonde hair forever spiked, just like when he was a baby. His bright backpack bumps up and down on his small back, and my heart catches every time, because it feels as if my heart is the one carrying that backpack – he is my heart. And just before he gets to the big double glass doors, and just before the aid opens them and ushers him into another day without me, he turns his head and searches for our van, searches for me. Once he sees that I have not left him, he grins, he squares his shoulders and confidently walks out of my sight.

Everyday is the same for the past few months that he has been enrolled in school. He listens to me talk about kindness and about being a light, and then as I pull up to the drop-off line he quietly asks, “Mommy, will you wait? Will you watch me?” Every single day. He wants me to watch him walk into his school before I drive away. He needs to know that I see him, and that I am with him. My presence gives him courage.

IMG_4923

I realized today, that this dance we are participating in is a small reflection of the one that I have with my Daddy in heaven. He gently urges me into something new, something that scares me, because it is new, and as always He promises to be with me – every day.  My steps are almost always tentative, but I have learned that I can take them, because every single time that I glance over my shoulder, He is right there. His presence gives me courage. I wonder if, as He looks at me, much the same way that I look at my son, does He feel as if His heart is carrying my baggage; does He look at me and see His heart? I think He must. Does He smile at me and get a lump in His throat, like I do, when I see my child doing something brave?

This morning as the sun glitters off of my screen and breaks through a few clouds to enter my home, I feel His presence, and it gives me courage. This walk around the bus circle has been hard and frightening for me. There have been moments that I walk in complete darkness and trepidation, feeling my way around, but light always breaks through enough for me to turn my head and get a glimpse of Him right there, right behind me, right with me. He always steadies my heart with His presence. The darkness still comes. I still have to walk forward when the truth is, sometimes all I want to do is turn around and run, but I am not alone. He won’t ever drive away. The beauty of this dance is that I am hemmed in – all around. My son can only see me when he turns around, but as I was driving home this morning, I realized that I can see my Daddy in heaven when I look behind and ahead. Because He is all around me. There is nowhere that I can go where He is not present. This truth gives me courage to keep walking around that bus circle, even when I cannot see the double doors to enter, because I never walk alone.

I look behind me and you’re there, then up ahead and you’re there, too – your reassuring presence, coming and going. This is too much, too wonderful – I can’t take it all in! Psalm 139:5-6

Homesick

I think I could spend hours trying to chase words that would capture how I feel about seeing a dream that my husband and I dreamed years ago actually and finally coming true. Something that was once just captive in our imaginations has come to life, and that is beyond any words that I have right now. Jim just returned home from a quick trip to Ethiopia, and oh my was that trip productive, encouraging, and probably even healing for him. We finally have five boys, who have been selected by the government and our in-country director, enrolled in our program in Addis, and they are now beginning to receive care. These boys have no idea how long and hard we have prayed for them, and I am so excited for what is in store for their future lives. Jim came back home laden with goodies from the country that still holds our hearts – coffee, spices, incense, injera, our jobena, art, framed photos and mementos from our house in Ethiopia, and as he unpacked, the feelings of being surrounded by these familiar comforts soothed my aching soul.

But it also made me feel that familiar, and at this point unwelcome, searing pain that seems to have taken up permanent residence in my heart. Jim came home with stories, and I could picture every single one of them. I could close my eyes and know the smells, tastes, sights of everything that he shared. It was a paradox of comfort and torture mingled together. He stayed in our house in Ethiopia for the very last time, as we will rent a new location for our safe house very soon and give up renting our family’s house. The reality that our family would never, ever again be family in that home, that holds so many memories, hit me so hard. I knew that truth when we left in October, but now it seems actual, and it is hard to bear. The reality that my husband got one more time there, and I did not, makes me fight ugly bitterness. He hugged and kissed the people that I wake up daily missing. And on the very last day, he found my precious Muslim friend, Husain, and delivered love and warm wishes from me. I poured through photos of him with hot tears on my cheeks, both happy and so devastatingly sad. Jim went back to all of our old places and spaces, and I hung onto every one of his details. It was soothing, and it was torture.

It has taken me four months to really understand these emotions and this, at moments, unbearable grief  that I am feeling, and the darkness that it has brought into this season. I think I am finally able to name this, and it is so remarkably simple; I am homesick. What makes it so difficult is that this is truly the first time ever in my life that I have been homesick. I have never experienced this until now, and I was not prepared to handle it having never had to handle anything like it before. I am a grown adult, and there are moments that I am so intensely sick for my home that I cannot get out of my bed or function like a normal person. The way we moved back here, the reason, the rapidness, the lack of closure has all been overwhelming and exhausting. I miss the familiar, because for some reason here in this country now feels strange. I look around at this beautiful home that God so quickly provided for us, I go through the motions of life here most days – the motions that I am expected to go through, and yet this new life has left me feeling extremely empty and lifeless. I have felt numb and paralyzed and angry, and confused, and sad – just so absolutely sad. The acute emotional distress has taken a toll on me. It makes me question if I will ever ‘get over it’.

IMG_5297

But then Jim left for a week in Ethiopia, and I was forced to kind of take a deep introspective look into these feelings, and I think I have maybe finally realized that it is okay to be homesick. It is even understandable. I have felt guilt and shame over these sometimes consuming feelings, and I don’t need to feel that. But I am ready to try to work through it, to try to accept that the former life is over, but our dreams are far from over, and God has bigger things planned than we could imagine by bringing us back to the states. That Mercy Branch might look different than we had once thought, but oh my, it might look better! I dare hope that it may be beyond our wildest dreams.  I don’t want my homesickness to continue to prevent me from living this life that God is curating for me here and now. I don’t want to spend all my days wishing I was somewhere else. That is no way to live this life that I was given, and I will miss out on all that He has for me right here in this new adventure.

image3

I am so overwhelmed with gratitude to have lived and experienced life in a place that I truly loved with all of my heart. I am not foolish enough to think that everyone has this same experience. I am homesick, because I had something that was remarkable and special, and that is a blessing that I never would want to trade. Every part of me was attached to our life in Ethiopia, and I will always, always feel sentimental and nostalgic for that time in our lives. But I really hope and pray that someday soon, my heart can form new attachments, that the grief will fade, the memories will be less bitter and more sweet, and that someday I will feel like I have once again found home. Because I am finally in a place where I can at least say that I want this place to feel like home.

[To learn more about our NGO in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, click here.]

Where the Light Breaks Through

I am the only one home for a few hours this morning. That is a rarity that I am going to sit here with and savor. I just walked outside to the mailbox, and nearly cried as I felt the sun warm on my face. The weather is so mild for New York in February. I think God is trying to help me understand that He sees me and knows what I need. I closed my eyes, and for a moment with the sun warming me, it almost felt like Ethiopia. It felt, for the briefest of time like going home. Going home is all I can think about. I have not hidden that, but at the same time it is hard for me to be transparent in it, because it hurts to share too much. It has been hard for me to wrap my mind around the truth that this is home. My truth is that coming back to live in America after third world missions has been super hard. Perhaps it would have been easier if it was more of a choice, if I had more time to prepare, if I had closure, or perhaps if I had not been so happy living over there. But maybe it always would have been this hard.

We thought we would raise our babies in Ethiopia, before passing the baton onto Habesha staff to run our NGO. We had friends that had lived in Ethiopia for twenty plus years, and we thought that might be our same story. We looked forward to that. I was a teeny bit apprehensive about our home assignment in the states last spring, because I feared it might be hard to go back to life in Ethiopia. I didn’t know what to expect after spending time with family and friends and leaving them again. Would it be harder? Would we want to leave Ethiopia? That wasn’t the case at all, though. Coming back home to Ethiopia reaffirmed for us that our life and home was indeed over there. An entry in my journal from the night we returned home from the states read like this:

I was struck with the thought of how not weird it is to be back. It doesn’t feel strange at all to jostle down the rough streets, with our kids unbuckled  after weeks of buckling, and laughing with such joy as they pointed out our familiar favorite spots, to see the chasm between the wealthy and the poor intermingled, to witness Muslim women in full garb, and Habesha men holding hands. The traffic flowed as always in a chaotic dance that needs no laws to orchestrate it. People are everywhere, and animals claim the middle of intersections as their own. And yet a calm fills this city, like nowhere else on earth that I have ever been. It is the calm that beckons me back. It instantly soothes me to be here. My heart and soul immediately slowed back down to keep pace with this life that I love more than I have ever loved life anywhere else. I wasn’t sure what re-entry into Ethiopia would feel like after being back in the states, but it feels like coming home. It is the only place I want to be. I am home. This is where I belong now. God is so good to me!

I read that with a mixture of grief and bitterness. I can barely remember what it felt like to FEEL that. I left behind so much, when I climbed into an airplane four months ago. I feel like I left behind a piece of myself that I might never find again. It is a scary thought, and one I wrestle with. I feel loss and nostalgia and even trauma. Coming back here brought me to a place of deep sorrow. That feels dramatic, but it is honest.I feel enormous guilt for the feelings that I do own, because God is still so good to me. There are so many ways that He has lavished kindness on our family since our abrupt departure from Ethiopia, and yet, all I want most days is to go back again, to pick up life as I knew and loved. I may never understand why it has to be this way, but as the days here have become longer and sunlight breaks through the darkness, I am feeling a tiny flicker of hope that the same might be true for my life. The fog has not lifted, but there are moments where the light breaks through.

I fell in love with an unlikely life in a third world country and with people that I may never have otherwise rubbed shoulders with. Living life with Muslim neighbors, sharing meals with people who sacrificed significantly to share with us, crying and praying together with people in a different language, learning that to live with less is really living with more, it all radically changed the Tiffany that I once was. I came back here a different person, with different eyes, and with a heart that is stretched beyond recognition. If I could learn to love such a radically different life over there, perhaps God can show me how to once again love a life here, one day, one sunbeam at a time

.IMG_2816

“When you travel to another culture and people, your heart becomes enlarged in such a way that it will never be as small as it was before you left.”