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.
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.