Sunday, September 15, 2013

The Simple Life

When you do what we do, you hear a lot about “reverse culture shock.”  It’s the idea that when you leave your ministry culture and return to your home culture, you experience culture shock all over again, from the opposite direction.  I think the fact that we’ve spent the last 5 months in a fairly developed city helped to ease our transition.  Not to mention the fact that our arrival was very focused on the reality of my mother’s illness/death and the items that needed to be dealt with 

None the less, we have had plenty of moments where we have had to take a deep breath and recite to ourselves our culture shock mantra, “It’s not wrong, it’s just different.”  

I never have claimed to be a minimalist.  I like shiny things.  But even so, I think for me, the wastefulness coupled with the ridiculous abundance has been the hardest to process when it comes to our return to the States.  There is just so much STUFF and the created “needs” that I see all around are a bit disgusting.  We live with so much less on the other side of the pond and we have no less joy because of it.  I have been very aware of that over the last few weeks.

Between my mother’s passing and her services, I did a good bit of shopping.  It wasn’t really that I wanted to, but it was necessary.  All of my kids needed presentable shoes and I purchased each of them some clearance rack t-shirts and summer clothes while I could still find them.  I knew that once the fall clothing lines took over the racks, shopping would be useless to us for our “real lives.”  

So, by the time the shopping and city visit was over, we were ready to get away from the plenty.  We decided to spend some days at the weekend hunting cabin that Ryan’s parents share with Ryan’s uncles.  It’s a simple place.  20 minutes from a real grocery store, down a long gravel road, sits a bunk house with a kitchen, a bath and half, a big TV and central air.  Just the right balance of hide-a-way and civilization.  We spent 6 nights with absolutely no agenda.  We rode 4 wheelers, caught crawdads, went on long walks, roasted marshmallows, and ate way, way too much delicious food.  We caught up on our sleep deficit and just relaxed, preparing for our return to the real world.  

We've returned to civilization and it's obvious that the next few weeks will be full of doctor’s appointments, visiting with friends, re-stocking shopping, “experiencing America”, soaking in American worship, and assisting my dad with paperwork while also teaching him how to use the washing machine.  We look forward to it but we know it will be a busy, busy time.  I’m thankful for the time we had to rest before we had to fasten our seatbelts for this crazy-busy pace our American friends keep.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Feeling loved...

Many, many times since we’ve left for the field, I have questioned God’s timing in calling us during the season of life that he did.  The ages of our children at the time of our departure were delicate.  They have struggled in ways that they would not have struggled had we departed when they were preschoolers.  They fully realize the “losses” and sometimes they count them far greater than their “gains.”

Then something will happen and I am reminded of the many ways that leaving in that season has had advantages.  My children know and love their grandparents in a way that they might not have if they had started their lives in Africa.  My kids feel connected to an American church.  They have friendships that they count as dear on both continents.  Their arrival last week certainly reminded me of that.

This was the scene at the airport when they arrived...

Unfortunately, my camera battery ran out before I captured Isaac and his pals, but they were there too.  I'm so thankful that we have folks who love us so on both sides of the globe!

Friday, September 13, 2013


I’ve traveled a good bit, but I have to say that even now, one of my favorite cities on the planet is the one I grew up in... Cincinnati, OH.  I love the way that everything is oriented according to the river.  I love the view of the Cincy skyline when you approach the “cut in the hill.”  I love eating my fill of Skyline Chili, Larosa’s pizza, and Frisch’s hot fudge cake.  I love the sea of Bengals and Reds t-shirts on a Sunday afternoon.  

I actually grew up on the Kentucky side of the Ohio river, about 2 miles from the Cincy airport.  Did you know that the airport is actually in KY?  Most people don’t.  Even though my house was in the Bluegrass State, many of my childhood memories are very “Cincinnati-ish”

I always love to return to that place I call home, though I don’t make it there very often since my parents moved to the Carolinas almost 7 years ago.  My parents had decided years ago that they would be buried in the cemetery where my mom’s parents and her siblings are buried.  So, after we had a funeral service in NC, we headed up to Cincy for a second service and her burial.

Our family on the day of my mom's burial.  We had a family dinner afterwards at the same legion hall where we celebrated my grandparent's 50th wedding anniversary over 30 years ago.

The day of the service, I had the opportunity to see folks I had not seen in 20 years.  I was really neat to visit with so many faces from my past and to spend time with my extended family.  It was a bittersweet day.

I had decided that if we were going to make the trip up, we might as well stay a couple of days and experience the city that I love so much.  It was a good idea.  We got a couple of hotel rooms with Ryan’s parents and the kids got a chance to swim a bit and catch up on some much needed sleep.  

The grandpas treated us to a Red’s game on Sunday night.  We had a fabulous time.  The Reds won with a 9th inning hit and they even had 11+ strikeouts, which means that ALL of us got a free Larosa’s pizza the next day.  We had more pizza than we could possibly eat!  It was a great way for them to experience their first Red’s game.

We also took the kids to the Creation Museum.  Someone had given us BOGO coupons for entrance tickets, so we were able to do it affordably.  They thoroughly enjoyed it and we cannot experience anything like that in Africa, so it was a good way to spend a day.  

Thursday, September 12, 2013

My Mama

About 12 hours after my last post, my mom did pass away.  It was a sweet 12 hours of singing and telling stories, and reading scripture and laughing and crying as her family gathered round her.  I alternated between wanting to be right beside her and needing to walk away from the reality of what was happening.  I wanted to stroke her face, her hair, her hands, knowing that soon they would depart from my touch.  Sometimes I nearly climbed in the bed beside her, simply wanting to drink it all in.  It was a day that I believe I will always remember well.

Looking back, God was so kind in the details of the circumstances.  She was only at the hospice facility about 25 hours, but it was the right place for us to be.  The rooms were big and beautiful and the staff was so kind.  We were able to fit lots of her family and friends into the room so that we could spend those precious hours together.  The staff informed us that she would likely be able to hear us to the end even though she remained unresponsive and so we said everything we wanted her to hear and tried to refrain from anything else.  It was a precious time.

Even the location of my own little family back in Africa was a gift from him.  While I missed them desperately and longed to have them beside me, I see that the way it worked out was truly the best.  My children didn’t need to see their Grammy as she was in those last days.  I needed to be able to fully dedicate my energy to the needs of my parents, not worrying about how my children were adjusting to this different culture.  The timing of their arrival was perfect.

They are here now.  I think Ryan probably got the roughest deal on the circumstances.  He wanted so desperately to be able to support me in the thick of it all.  But more than that, he loved my mom so much and he would have loved to be there.  In fact, he helped me see just how lovable my mom was.  In those post-adolescent years when Ryan and I were starting our life together, he could see the good in places that I couldn’t.  I’m so thankful that he continually helped me see my mother’s strengths.

He is the one who gave words to what I was feeling.  The night that they arrived, he and I were talking about how much we were going to miss my mom and he nailed it.  He said, “Your mom was the one who listened to us.  Not many people have the ability to listen like she did.  It’s a lost art.”  

He was right.  My mom didn’t like lots of unnecessary chatter.  She was a doer, not a talker.  But, when you needed to talk.  She would listen.  And she didn’t listen as one who needed to fix it.  She definitely didn’t listen as one who needed to give her opinion.  She listened as one who loved deeply and truly wanted to hear what was happening in your heart and in your life.  She was one of the only people who cared about our daily lives in Africa.  She tried to learn names of people we worked with and recall the details of our routines, even before she came to visit.  She seemed to be one of the few people who understood that even though she may not love the fact, that was where we were called.  It was where we needed to invest.  It was where her grandchildren were living out their days and therefore, she needed to try and enter into that world, rather than insisting that we return to hers.  She understood that just because it was different, that didn’t mean it was wrong.

Man, I’m gonna miss that.  More than words can say.  One of my mom’s friends described the way that the grief would come very well.  She said it would be like ocean waves that would simply wash over me at different times.  And it is, I can go hours and laugh and cook and put one foot in front of the other and then something will happen and I will realize she’s gone.  She’s really gone.  For the remainder of my days on this earth, my one and only mom is gone.  In those moments the pain is almost overwhelming and the breath doesn’t want to fill my lungs and the tears sting my eyes.  Then just as quickly, it fades away and I’m back to simply doing the next thing.  

When we moved to Africa and our family grieved so deeply, I used to tell the kids, “We can be so thankful that it hurts so bad because that means that we have been loved so well.”  I think it’s the same thing with missing my mama.  What a privilege it’s been to have a mom who loved me so well and who I am going to miss so deeply.