Get used to the familiar acceptance that wells up when I hear dear ones say Ang’.
Get used to an over-abundance of good.
Get used to polite.
Get used to crying every day.
Get used to hundreds of gifts that furnish our home, fill the kitchen, and clothe us.
Get used to a drive instead of a walk.
Get used to advocating for my soul and well being.
Get used to the default “easy”.
Get used to my cocoon of not-yet and not-anymore.
Before we moved to the States I asked my children to share their greatest fears and their greatest hopes. Had I been in my right mind I would have carefully transcribed that conversation like a dutiful stenographer. I didn’t. Now I trust the Fates to remind me of their thoughts when I need to remember them.
One of the kids said that their greatest fear was that when we got to the States that all that happened in Bolivia these 13 years would disappear, or not matter. I understand that feeling. In all our unsettling settling things look muddled. We feel shaken. Memories mix up with emotion and remembered reality morphs.
We passed the 40 day mark since leaving Bolivia. Six weeks is all; that’s single digits my friends. Gratitude abounds in the midst of the many moods. The goodness God has poured out is undeniable and comforts me.
One of the nicknames of my hometown, which I have returned to, is The Big O! (With the exclamation mark, thankyouverymuch.) One whole week has passed since we began our Big New Life in the United States of America. I have come full circle. Getting re-acquainted with the place where DaRonn and I grew up has been fun. Showing the kids around and introducing them to Stateside life has been interesting. Adjusting to the new unspoken expectations has been rough.
We have noted that people in the U.S. compared to people in Bolivia:
Worry about safety a ton more – seat belts, mandatory car insurance, car seats, a disinfection wipes station for the shopping carts at the front of the store, and a very visible presence of well-equipped law enforcement officers all around town, just to name a few.
Have so many more options – huge menus, restaurants everywhere, shops full of shelves full of varieties of every type of thing you could want to buy, channels on tv and on the radio, religious expressions, styles, and employment for a wide range of ages and abilities.
Are SUPER generous with their resources – thrifts shops, homeless shelters, relief aid programs, free stuff on curb-sides and craig’s list, abundance of donations of VERY nice things from perfect strangers, sales and clearance items, and volunteering of their time, not to mention so many gifts of brand new things.
The Midwest is S…P…R…E…A…D… O…U…T.
The land sprawls. The ribbon of roads and highways stretch long and wide. The spaces between dwellings feel vast. The immense forests and parks preserved in these borders make me swell with pride.
At first when I began maneuvering in this spread out place I thought of all the space as wasted. My thoughts stopped short. I remembered the reoccurring theme for this season of my life. No, this is not waste, this is healthy. I am regaining the margins which I allowed to be eaten away over time. The corrosion of busy-ness crept in, cramming out breathing room. Reparation begins with the creation of margins.
Margins. Yes, I am letting the margins grow once again.
Margins of time. Margins of space.
Margins for thought. Margins for belief. Margins for health.
Margins to tend my garden. Margins to be still. Margins to breathe.
Margins which allow me to fall in step with the unforced rhythms of grace.
Margins which enable me to be kind, gentle, and faithful.
Margins which suck me down into the plushy, over-sized, purple swivel lounge chair and swallow me up for spontaneous sessions of solace.
The Big O!
Oh! I had almost forgotten what a livable life looked like.
Oh! There is hope for restoration.
Oh! My God, my Emmanuel, thank you…
For a long while I hung my head in shame assuming that God was removing us from our “post” in Bolivia as a punishment for misbehaving. Maybe there is some truth to that, but I think my thinking was skewed. More and more, as I watch this transition unfold, I think He removed us to demonstrate His Goodness and Grace.
This evening I watched my precious nephew wriggle and wrestle and resist the sleep his weary toddler body needed. His mama wrapped him up and rocked and rocked; he finally fell asleep. I smile now as I think about God watching me over the past few years fight and fuss against the rest He knew I needed. Submission to this season came slowly. I am grateful as I look back and see God’s patience with me as He pulled me closer and closer to Him. My, how I pushed against those arms! My, how He rocked my world! Finally I fell…
Our little mob of weary wanderers rounded the final corner of our 36 hour journey. Mama and Papa caught each others’ eyes and puffed out a breath to prepare for impact.
“You ready for this?” they asked.
“Nope,” they answered.
“Here we go,” they said.
All the kids, with baggage to drag, followed the plod of their parents up the ramp from the airplane to the airport. I saw my parents before they saw us. My mom, my dad, my youngest brother, and my youngest sister came out that chilly Saturday afternoon in January to gather us. You might tell me that was only four days ago; it feels like a lifetime ago.
We left Bolivia. To quote a friend, “It is not so weird that you left, what’s weird is that you are not coming back.” Oh the sting.
The impact of the separation has not yet hit me. I am sure the ones we left back in Bolivia are feeling it. I have been the one left behind, it is excruciating. I can see on the faces of some of my kids the sadness and loneliness. Others beam with relief and renewal. The colors of our emotional profile burn bright like a sunset on fire. Or is it the sunrise?
The transition material tells me that a new beginning starts with an ending. The rites of passage of ancient cultures teach us to face the end, embrace the grief, and move through to the new. Denial, slap a happy-face emoticon on it, fake-it-’til-you-make-it, just won’t do. Honest tears help wash the soul.
It hurts so much, though. And there are so many people so very happy to have us here. And we don’t want to disappoint people. But it is not fair to them if we are dishonest with our “glee” in the hopes to manage their emotions. No. This is not what we want to do. So we sit broken, together. Yet, there does exist happiness in all the grief. Sparks of hope of what will be flare up and our faces make genuine smiles.
Oh yes, I was talking about the airport.
We walked into view. My mom burst with shouts and ran to catch me. My sister cried and wrapped my kids in her arms. My brother said with pride and joy, “My sister!” My dad laughed as he welcomed us all. What was left of my mascara ran down my cheeks. I felt like my heart would explode.
Then I looked around at my children. My oldest stood off to the side, away from the huddle of hugs. I moved over to her. The anger and helplessness radiated from her reddened eyes as she met me with an indictment. Through gritted teeth and a cracking voice she whispered a gruff, “This is NOT home.”
I wrapped her in affirmation and understanding. Yes, I told her, you are right, this is not home. We cried. I told her we would talk later. She nodded.
We grabbed our 12 checked bags off the conveyor belt. I unzipped a few and snatched out sweaters and jackets for all of us. No matter how many layers and hats and scarves and gloves I put on I couldn’t cut the chill. We loaded up the people and the stuff and drove to our borrowed residence. The rest of the day rushed by as we set up beds, tended to the kitchen and bathrooms, and sorted the bags into the rooms.
When just the Washingtons remained in the home warmed by the wonder of heat blown through vents I called Raimy to my side. She initiated the conversation. Her countenance was calmed yet fatigued, and she said, “About what I said… this is not home, yet.”
Can you believe that? One week ago we didn’t even have plane tickets for our family to travel to the U.S.A.. Now, we are here, have a great place to stay while we find a place of our own, and OWN a 7 passenger van (which is a whole story for a separate, dedicated blog post). A small army has been working to gather stuff for our new home. My sister and brother-in-law collected from tons of people: some beds, bedding, dressers, towels, toiletries, some groceries, coats, hats, scarves, toys, games, some kitchen items, laundry soap, a laundry basket, Target gift cards, and a coffee maker. Thanks to the collaborative efforts of a friend who set up a facebook page to organize people, a few churches helping out, and many people networking, we feel very loved and cared for.
My parents, one of my brothers, and one of my sisters met us at the airport. There were hugs, happy tears, and lots of loud. It was great! They helped us get into the house of my brother-in-law’s father, who happens to be away on a golfing vacation and graciously opened his vacant home for us to stay in for free. WOW! I am so grateful for the generosity from someone I have never even met.
Before dawn Friday morning dear, dear friends came and collected us from the missionary housing where we were staying in Cochabamba. We said tearful goodbyes and started the 36 hour journey back to the city where both DaRonn and I were born and raised. The kids are amazing travelers! There were lots of talks about our move down to Bolivia way back in 2001. We compared, contrasted, and reminisced.
Ahead of us now in the coming days are: finding a house, filling it, and settling in. Please pray for us, as I know you already have been. Things seem to be falling into place. I am so grateful.
The kids have said some amusing things these first few days. The laughter has been helpful to break up the fatigue and tension.
— — — — — —
Me: Tyler, when you go to the bathroom you can put your toilet paper in the toilet and flush it down.
Tyler: [look of utter disgust] That is so gross!
Me: Yep, your pee, your poop, and the paper all together.
Timothy: [from the other room, singing loudly] We will all go together when we go down!
Cultural orientation – – – in Bolivia the plumbing systems are different and the used toilet paper is thrown into the trash can beside the toilet. Here in the U.S. the used paper is flushed.
— — — — — —
Can I go drink from the water fountain! (Five children RUN through the airport to quench their thirst.)
— — — — — —
Look, a mailbox! Oh look, there’s another one!
— — — — — —
These houses are so beautiful! (In one of the more simple parts of town.)
— — — — — —
There are SO MANY [you name it on the shelves in the stores] to choose from!
— — — — — —
This pizza is SO GOOD!
— — — — — —
It is SO COLD! (The locals are in lightweight shirts and no jackets. We are in layers, coats, hats, and scarves.)
— — — — — —
You can drink the water from the faucet. WHAT? Yes, from the faucet.
— — — — — —
Timothy on day 2: I still feel weird drinking water from the faucet. I mean, it tastes fine, but I am thinking in my head the whole time, “I am drinking bugs!”
I love that I have been able to raise my children in Bolivia.
I love our Bolivian friends.
I love the missionaries in Bolivia.
I love Bolivian food.
I love the landscapes of Bolivia.
I love the diversity of Bolivia.
I love what Bolivia has taught me.
I love the humility, the quiet fury, and the endurance of the Bolivian people.
I love Bolivian art.
I love the language of Bolivia.
I love the rhythm of Bolivian living.
I love Bolivia.
Now I am leaving Bolivia.
Bolivia has left it’s mark on my body on my soul on the very threads of my being. In case I haven’t made it clear, which is highly likely since at this time clarity eludes me: I don’t want to leave Bolivia.
Yet, I know we must. Things could not go on the same. Big change necessitated a big decision. Most people have been very tactful about the lingering “why?”; I appreciate that. The ones who need to know why do know why. For that security of trust and advice I am ever grateful. I am even more grateful for the ones who let the uncomfortable silence of unanswered questions sit between us, and don’t push, and don’t push away either.
Ah, my dears.
It’s been my belief that it is always harder for the ones who stay than for the ones who go. I feel like we are ripping ourselves out of the lives of people we love and who love us; it hurts. I feel horrible, like I am inflecting intentional pain. I am sorry for all the pain.
The weird part? The intensity of sorrow twists and throbs with the very opposite feelings of contentment and hope. That’s tearing me up, most of all! I am sad to leave Bolivia but happy to go to those who are waiting to catch us in the States.
We walked through the lobby of the Real Audiencia hotel in Sucre, Bolivia with our kids. Displayed by the front counter stands a full suit of armor from the days of knights and castles. They said, “Wow!” too many times to count in awe of the ancient artifact. We walked down the corridor of red carpet and through the arch ways draped in flowering vines. We rolled our luggage over the bumpy tiles by the pool, complete with statues of voluptuous Grecian ladies preparing to bathe. The spiral staircase took us to our suites overlooking the courtyard. My oldest threw her hands up in the air and proclaimed, “Imma freakin’ princess!”
Those sprawling beds were ones of about a half dozen upon which we have laid our heads in the past weeks. Favorite bed thus far during transition? The ones we are in now because they have down comforters which are very cozy during this drippy rainy season. Worst bed thus far? The reclining chairs in the bus on the way back from our royal vacation because I was puked on by my daughter in the first hour of a ten hour ride. You better believe those windows were pried open no matter how cold and wet the night was.
Current tally of observations people have made about our present living conditions:
We have been living out of suitcases for almost a month now. This will continue for the foreseeable future in the coming weeks.
Our 13 years of life in Bolivia has been whittled down to 13 bags.
Sometimes the thought of scaling back so much makes me want to cry. Other times I would just like to flick a lit match at the remaining piles of crap as it is tiring to lug it all around. What would be really cool is to have Merlin’s magic from the classic animated Sword in the Stone (my all time favorite Disney movie, by the way) to be able to shrink everything to fit into a dusty old bag with only a song and a dance. Imagine the look on the TSA agent’s face as he rakes his hand through hundreds of teeny tiny objects to determine if miniatures pose a threat to national security.
In the midst of mobility we have been meeting with people and doing the last rites. Last Sunday at church. Last night of youth group. Last visit from out-of-town friends. Last cook out with the ladies group. Last coffee out with friends. Last stroll through the Saturday market. The litany of lasts lasts and lasts.
Every once in a while I let myself be happy anticipating the upcoming flurry of firsts. New weather. New friends. New home. New vehicle. New schools. New clothes. New relative relations. New realities in a new culture. Soon we will trade the now for the new; until then we will wallow in Limboland.
Speaking of mobility and new things… I started my new job on January 5th. Pictured below is my “office” contained in a comfy backpack. Give me electricity and an internet connection and I am working to empower the rescue of victims of human trafficking through the diffusion of truth by way of social media and communications with The Exodus Road. I still have to pinch myself every time I get to work my hours with such an amazing group of people doing such important work.
The kindness and generosity of people towards our family during this transitional season astounds and humbles me. Provision has come in such unexpected, unsolicited, and amazing ways. Yes, there are still lingering details and staggering logistics. Yes, the emotions are too numerous to name. Yet, sparks of goodness illuminate the path in the middle of the darkness.
I’ll leave you with some lyrical loveliness so you can hum along with me:
“I get by with a little help from my friends…”
“It’s the end of the world as we know it… and I feel fine…”
“Abra, cabra, dabra, nack… Shrink in size very small… We’ve got to save enough room for all… Higitus, figitus, migitus, mum… Prestidigitorium!”
Patterns can be deciphered only after the passage of time. We hear beauty in music because we anticipate repetition, as well as remember what came before.
My life used to be driven by goals, small objectives to reach those goals, and problem solving along the way until those expectation boxes could be checked. My eyes fixed forward rarely glanced to the sides and abhorred what laid behind. I rushed ahead at breakneck speed.
Recently, like over the past five years, I have started to value awareness over accomplishment and affection over ambition. In this new way of looking at things I have loosened my grip on accusatory tendencies (both towards myself and those around me) and moved in the direction of unconditional acceptance of all people, including myself. I began to open my vision to more than only what lies ahead, but also to who walks beside me, and occurrences from my past informing my present reality.
Goals are good, but they are only part of all the good in this life.
Accomplishments help people, but they are not the only thing that help people.
Driven people, such as myself, sometimes get a lead foot. It serves us well, at times, to slow down and even stop the car.
Thanksgiving morning I sat in bed doing one of my favorite “slowing down” things: writing and doodling with a pencil in my notebook. As of late my prayers have become provincial and sporadic. Journaling moments have become as prayer for me. Even the drawings are my heart spilled out for my God to hear. He understands. I believe. That morning my thoughts and “prayers” turned to employment in the Sates.
For this fresh start to work we both need to work. I knew that was one of the stipulations we agreed on as we talked through the decision. I wasn’t worried or anxious. I knew, though, that with only my lonely little high school diploma to present to future bosses I had to fill out a resume with life experience stuff. I also needed to be open to any kind of job that came my way. I had puttered around with putting on paper my past positions and dates of employment. I had done a few searches online to see what was out there in Omaha.
On Thanksgiving morning I made a list of what kind of job I would like to work when we get to the States. The basic gist of the list is this:
“I want to do something I enjoy with people I get along with and get paid for it.”
Reductive living is the name of game at this stage, my friends. I scratched a few more thoughts on the page about weekday hours which allowed time for study. I also noted the idea of working within a creative, purposeful team for a company which was upstanding in the community.
It felt insignificant and ho-hum at the moment. The day progressed with much merry making and lots of fun with a few other families gathered together to eat, give thanks, and play games. I got home late at night. After the little kids were put to bed I sat down to check on my friends who live inside my computer.
One of the messages stopped me completely. The brakes were full on, folks. I read and re-read to comprehend the words on the screen. I cried as I remembered my morning “prayers”.
A job offer!
It felt as though God slipped his arm around my shoulders and whispered in my ear, “Here you go; you don’t have to give up.”
See, the thing is, there was part of me that was grieving the giving up of a missionary life. We are coming off the field. We are seeking stability. Even my Isaac-like life as a missionary had to be put on the altar. I see the necessity of going to the States. It just makes me sad for so many reasons, and this was one of them.
This unsolicited job offer came from an organization fighting human trafficking in South East Asia!
It came from a dear friend, Laura Parker. We met about five years ago through our blogs. I was the first person who came to her mind when the position was being made. The job is Communications Manager doing the online stuff of: the bloggers community, facebook, twitter, pinterest, etc. It’s a part time gig.
They want to pay me, too! Where do I sign?
Me officially accepting the job I start January 5th, even before we get to the States. I am so excited!
This gift came to me on Thanksgiving and I have not stopped giving thanks for it. I am so humbled to be invited to be a part of this phenomenal team empowering rescue and fighting to end modern day slavery.
When I sat down with my children to tell them about this new job I used my words carefully. “I will be helping an organization who operates in Asia to legally shut down places where people have women and children as slaves. These slaves are forced to do things with their bodies that they do not want to do. Using online connections I will help people get the word out so more people will join in to help free those slaves.”
One of the kids said, “So basically your job is a super hero.” I have such great kids.
The name of this amazing team of super heroes is called: Exodus Road. <– Click the link to read more.
I began this post speaking about patterns. A pattern is emerging. I am so thrilled to see it happen.
One of my closest friends, Andrea Baker, and her husband Andy lead an incredible ministry called Word Made Flesh Bolivia which serves to give abundant life to woman and children affected by prostitution. I have always admired their work.
Our former interns, Melinda and Romon Gore, have begun a ministry in the Dominican Republic to house underage girls who were victims of child trafficking and prostitution. Red Roots is all about bringing restoration to the broken. Love that!
My desire to become a midwife has led me to become informed about the dire issues worldwide regarding victimized women. The passion to become involved has been slowly growing.
It would seem that my path has been leading me in the direction of helping bring freedom to women.
I am humbled and honored to be invited to help in the abolitionist movement of my time.
Thank you to all who have been praying for us through this transition. This is one of many answers to prayer that we have been seeing. Though undeserving and still messed up I receive this kiss from Heaven and I am so very thankful.
“It’s not like Bolivia is a blanket that we were using and now we are throwing it to one side. Bolivia is woven into me and it’s threads are a part of who we are forever,” I said with tears blurring my vision as I spoke with my oldest Bolivian friend sitting in front of me in the coffee shop today.
She gave me a butterfly ring as a going away gift, to match my first tattoo. “These are wings as you go on the next part of the journey God has for you.” I settled in and listened, as I have learned to do when I know the time has come to listen, to her speak out from her heart blessings, encouragement, sweet memories, and kind wishes. Bolivians know how to make heartfelt speeches. I was touched.
Bolivia has given me many ‘firsts’. I came as a 25 year old mother of three small children, practically a blank canvas just getting started with life. Remember those lists I was talking about in the previous post? Here’s a fun one I did.
Firsts in Bolivia
1. Kiss on the cheek greeting
4. Climbed a mountain to the summit
5. Got a massage
6. Went to a spa
7. Changed my mind about drinking
8. Learned I prefer white wine over red
9. Officiated a wedding
10. Served as a pastor
11. Ate Indian food
12. Stayed at a 5 star hotel
13. Got a tattoo
14. Got on social media
15. Used the sci-fi predicted miracle that is Skype
17. Wrote a book
18. Bore a Bolivian child
19. Adopted a Bolivian child
20. Had major surgery
21. Learned Spanish
22. Held a baby abandoned on a the doorstep
23. Held the hand of a friend as she was losing her baby at 19 weeks of pregnancy
33. Traveled internationally with only my nursing baby as company
34. Traveled internationally with only my five children as company
35. Built a snowman with my kids
36. Won an award for my photography
37. Visited children who live in a prison with their criminal parents
38. Ate Bolivian food
Since I am now 38 years old I’ll stop there.
We are looking at a season of some new firsts for our family. Some will be fun, some terrifying, some silly, and some very serious.
Please pray with us about a huge first for our youngest, Kaitlynn. She will soon, by the grace of God, become for the first time in her life a citizen of the United States of America. There is paperwork, appointments, and other rigamarole to get through for this to happen. Not impossible, just needs to get done along with all the other stuff that is happening right now. Thanks so much for praying with us.
Since we started moving in the direction of moving I started moving towards resources to help with the move. More specifically, I started to gather aids to help our family with this impending Time of Transition.
One thing I have learned from being on the team of A Life Overseas is to not take the resilience of the children for granted. Third Culture Kids need to be given the gift of vocabulary to be able to communicate as they process their transient life. They need to know where they belong and how they fit; and it is our privilege as parents to guide their eyes to the truth of who they are.
I have also picked up on the fact that transition is inescapable in life. We can choose to be intentional about the work it is doing in our lives, or we can ignore it and become emotionally constipated and bitter. The emotional ups and downs and sideways and backwards and loop-do-loops that everyone in our family is experiencing all at once must be validated.
Funny thing, too, I have discovered that we are not the only ones doing this kind of thing. Tons of others have been-there-done-that and tons more are right here in-the-thick thickness of it all. Following is a list of some of the things we are using to help us through this transition. Feel free to add your thoughts in the comment box. Also, following the list I have included a very special request about a “dream tool” I would like to add to our Transition Tool Box.
9. REAL LIFE PEOPLE: Geographically close people who I can be intimately authentic with
10. REAL LIFE PEOPLE: I call, skype with, email, facebook chat, etc. who I can also pour myself out to without fear of rejection
11. Journal – – A magical awakening of my spirit stirs to life as my hand makes the shapes of letters, words, and phrases. As my ears hear the slight scrape of the pencil on the page the crusty, dry encasement of my soul scrapes away to reveal a clarity not known before the slow quieting of writing.
12. Reading aloud to my children – – I read a portion from a book or a new article I have found about transition, third culture kids, etc. aloud and then we talk about it. I ask leading questions to get them to voice what is going on inside of them. This has also built a beautiful trust within the siblings.
13. Charts around the house – – Like the image above
14. Lists – – I make some kind of list or chart every day for all kinds of things. Allowing myself to go a little overboard with the list making as we go through this transition has been soothing and helpful.
15. Crying, Laughing, Shouting, Sleeping, Watching Shows, Saying the Hard Things… living in the moment. For most of my life I shunned emotions. This has been a huge point of growth for me to value emotions, and not be scared of any of them. Attentive to my emotion at the moment I allow it to be expressed in a healthy manner, then I move on.
17. Enneagram study- – This is an ancient tool aiding in self awareness and appreciation for the diversity in the people around us
18. Travel – – If I don’t have a trip to look forward to I can become stir crazy; I know this about myself. To keep sane I plan trips.
19. Exercise – – I jog
20. Nails – – Self-care is the catch phrase I hear often as I educate myself about transition. Getting my nails done is a tiny bit of that. Every time I see my cute nails I am reminded that it is good and necessary to take measures to care for myself.
Almost every missionary who has been through a similar transition speaks of debriefing. Most recommend this one in Colorado called MTI. Here is what a friend had to say:
“…the program at MTI is just wonderful for the kids. That is one of the reasons we went there rather than somewhere else. Just wanted to let you know, too, that the debriefing program is not actually counseling. They will recommend counseling afterwards if they think you need it but they don’t do counseling. It’s really just a place to share your story and process what you have been through. The most valuable part for us was being with others who were sharing their stories and realizing that even though locations and circumstances were different, we were all going through the same processes and we were not alone! Just normalizing our experiences was so beneficial. The program at MTI is also just one week.”
Here’s the thing folks, and I am just being real here, the week for our family would cost thousands of dollars. Oftentimes when a missionary is connected to an organization these kind of services are provided. As independent missionaries in a bit of a money bind this idea sounds unreachable to me. But I want so much for our family to being able to do this! Can you pray with me? Should God desire for us to attend a debriefing I trust that He will provide for it. Thanks friends.
Join the Facebook group a friend started for us if you would like to help with practical needs as we set up our new home: