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’.

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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.

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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.]

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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

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“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.”

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