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
“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.”