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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Shattered Dreams

Even a month ago, I would never have dreamed that I would be sitting at my parents’ kitchen table and sleeping in my old high school bedroom. But here I am. One decision and one long plane ride robbed it all away from me. The first time I visited Ethiopia I knew our family would one day live there. The past two years have been a dream come true. It was the very best time of my life, and it was the life that I had never known that I had always wanted. It wasn’t glamorous, and there were hardships unspeakable, but it was everything that our family needed, and it was filled with immense joy, contentment, and such abundant living.

Now, here I sit, in my childhood home 7000 miles away from that life, looking out the window at the trees that line the back yard. The leaves on the trees that were so vibrant just a short moment ago have now dulled and are falling to their death. And I can relate. Satan is right here whispering insults and slick lies that speak of failure and a wasted two years and ‘what will people think?’ and children that will grow bitter and a mama that may never recover from this heart ache. Perhaps I have a flair for the melodramatic, but the truth is that I feel everything so, so deeply, and this I am feeling to my core. We certainly did not sell our home and everything that we owned three years ago with the thought of living in Ethiopia for such an extremely short amount of time. We definitely did not prepare for martial law, or situations that jeopardized the safety of our children, or for such life-changing decisions to make. Our dreams were long-term and wide, and they did not encompass a sudden move back to the states. While the ministry continues, and I firmly believe will flourish, and our tiny seed of a dream will come to fruition, it is not going to happen the way we wanted it to happen. And that is awful. It hurts.

But I am proud of the team we left behind in Ethiopia, local men and women who have the same dream and passion as we have, and who work to accomplish that dream. I know this was never really about us. I know, despite Satan’s whisperings, that this is one thing that we did right. I am thankful for that.

“He [the missionary] can live his live amongst his people and deal with them as though he would have no successor. He should remember that he is the least permanent element in the [ministry].He may fall sick and go home, or he may die, or he may be called elsewhere. He disappears,the [ministry] remains.The native Christians are the permanent element.” Roland Allen

I am trying to lean into God and His plans. I am trying to get on board. I find momentary delight in things like finding a home, only to feel sudden guilt for being excited about a fireplace and large back yard and dreams of decorating a house. Should I feel excited? Is it okay? If I get excited will God just take it all away again? I am in this soul-searching wrestling match with God and honestly questioning Him and His plan for us. That doesn’t sound very spiritual or missionary-ish. But it is the raw truth. Every time I wrestle, I notice that God doesn’t push me away, He draws me closer and embraces my flailing, my wailing, and my angry questions. He is big enough to handle my hurt and to let me wrestle. It doesn’t phase Him or threaten Who He is. To leave the mission field and go back to America, is hands-down the hardest thing God has ever asked me to do. In so many ways this feel more foreign and uncertain, and maybe this is exactly the way it is supposed to feel to remind me of where my real home is. Home is everywhere and nowhere at all, because home can never really be here. Maybe this weird and wacky America is our new mission field. Maybe just maybe there is a purpose in this mess, and the shattered dreams will be rearranged into something new.

Deep breath. Here am I God; send me. This new mission field is terribly frightening.

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The view out my kitchen window in Ethiopia. I am going to miss this.

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