Monday, April 8, 2013

An "infamous" word - at least for me

It's a classic end-of-movie scene - full of drama, suspense, loss of hope, tears
and then the happy ending where those tears metamorphosis
into drops winding rivers of joy down smiling cheeks...

the REENTRY of the Apollo 13 space crew!

It resonates with me for more reasons than just the typical movie stuff. I was nearly 19 months old and a recently-become big sister, so I don't actually remember it, but, on April 17, 1970, it really happened...

...Apollo 13, after a traumatic space voyage, 
successfully reentered Earth's atmosphere!

I can only imagine what it might have been like for any and all directly involved with that space mission:
  • blasting away (or watching those you care about blast away) from Earth not really having any idea if they'll survive the initial blast much less the trip and the return;
  • having something go drastically wrong that impacts your continued trip and your possible return;
  • having to "scramble" to put pieces back together and come up with some sort of plan for how to continue;
  • continuing to function in situations that are physically difficult and challenging; and
  • feeling so far away, at the mercy of circumstances beyond your control... and wondering how you'll ever get back.
Yes, I know it is a stretch to say that Apollo 13 parallels in any real way our experience this past term - but the fact remains that for those astronauts so badly wanting to come home, rest, recover and just be safe, the most dangerous part of that journey might have been their reentry. Reentry refers to those long moments of blackout, as the intense heat caused by traveling through the upper levels of the Earth's atmosphere caused massive particle ionization all around the Command Module. There was radio silence... for longer than expected... and the fear that that silence might never be broken.

It did, however.

After six (instead of the expected 3-4) minutes, parachutes appeared and a short time later, the astronauts were safely aboard the recovery ship, USS Iwo Jima.

Everyone smiles and cheers!

I identify with those astronauts, at least as I imagine they might have felt. I feel many of those same things and think many of those same thoughts, although admittedly on a much milder scale. (I don't want to be overly dramatic - I've got 2 teen/1 tween girls who make more than enough drama for our family.)

We are down to a countdown of single digit weeks remaining. There are so many potential potholes and pitfalls on the road before us. So much emotional and intellectual turbulence rumbles around between now and that moment when we blast off to begin reentry, not to mention the pure physical exhaustion that infiltrates packing up your home, saying so many goodbyes, and living in the relentless 110-120'F heat. Tempers boil and patience "ionizes" causing communication blackouts - within our nuclear family here as well as friends and family over there who are helping us make all the numerous and necessary arrangements.

Finishing and leaving well... checking off those tangible and intangible lists, completing what can be done, transitioning what needs to be carried on and continued by others, saying those goodbyes and having closure, all while maintaining a testimony that points to God, His goodness and our overwhelmed thankfulness for all that He has done... feels like a mad, oft' disorganized scramble.

Traveling with a family our size... all of the paperwork involved - residence permits, visas, passports, plane tickets, car and hotel reservations - sigh. This time, we are mixing a stop in another country for some family vacation time into the batch. It's delightful fun to anticipate, as well as lots of joy and headache taking care of all that planning and arranging. This will, however, allow us some time for adjusting so that we don't step on a plane here and less than 48 hours later step off the plane there, still grieving leaving but expected to be overwhelmed with joy at greeting. Both sentiments are valid and true and can exist all at once, but it is hard on the heart: all that wringing, twisting, squeezing, ripping and stitching back together all at once. There were some advantages to the slow boat mode of travel for missionaries of the last century.

We've changed (photos of our kids point out that undeniable reality). We look different: older, a bit more ragged and weary, clothes that looked so nice when we packed them in Niger will suddenly feel embarrassing to wear out in public - and all of those external and visible pieces simply hint at changes that have happened on the inside. Our friends and family will have changed as well, and we won't be quite sure how neatly and cleanly all the pieces of those relationship puzzles will (or if) snap together again. Our culture and world will have moved on, yet once again. My kids think carrying a cell phone is anathema... I wonder if... or maybe how quickly is more accurate... that will change - and what their friends and peers will see when they look at them. What will my friends and peers see when they look at me? Familiar church faces will be gone, replaced by unfamiliar ones who have no clue who we were. Yet we still try to act as though everything is the same and that that church is still our family.

We will have lived without things many take for granted. Buzzing through a drive through for a cup of fancy coffee? Well, it has been at least three years. Being told we must run an AC in a house when the temperature outside is cooler than we've felt it in our house for several months will be hard to reconcile in our minds. It will seem like poor stewardship and a total waste of money when opening the windows would make the place more delightfully comfortable for us. Don't be surprised if we'd say something like, "For heaven's sake, please just cut the moldy section off the cheese or the potato!" We won't say the rest, but will be thinking, "The rest is still usable. Don't throw the whole thing away because you don't want to be bothered or because you think it is gross!" We don't mean to be judgmental or seem overly pious and we are aware that we have our own huge blind spots where we waste and do not steward God's provisions well - but when you've just come from a world where people dig through your garbage to salvage chicken bones and suck out the marrow and you feel guilty about that, deliberate waste that we do recognize carries a heavy weight of culpability. 

We will be tempted to tell our stories, even though we see our listeners eyes glaze over after 4-5 minutes because they really can't relate, even if they want to... are really trying to be interested. We aren't intentionally hoping to bore you to tears. We just want to share the real, deep down pieces of ourselves and the things that God has used to change us. We want you to do the same, but realize we'll sometimes have that same struggle with your stories. In that scene from Apollo 13, the welcome home for those astronauts was phenomenal. A whole country applauded, cried for joy and wanted to hear their stories. Twenty-five years later, they are still making huge motion pictures about what those men lived. What if we come back, people hug and cry and say hi... but then it is all over, no one cares and we are supposed to somehow fit our round selves back into the square holes we left?

Then, there's the biggest fear of all. 

What if we REENTER life in our home country, find ourselves smothered by the heavy atmosphere of our home culture and lose the clear vision we had while working in that other world, and forget what we've seen, what we've lived, who we've known, what God's done?

What scares you 
when you REENTER your home country for any period of time? 


  1. good gracious. with one month left before re-entry... I've got no words. Thank you for voicing the struggle. may share this one- so my mom knows what to expect :)

    1. is this your first time heading back after being on the field for an extended time?

  2. I too am feeling a little overwhelmed by being an outsider for a time when we get back to the states sometime this year. Even though we are in a developed country with all the luxuries of America, it is always tough to go home, especially when I feel bad for not keeping in as much touch as I would have liked, also, knowing that things will not be the same as we left. It is hard to explain...Hard not to feel judgmental when US friends whine about the cost of taxes, gas and food when people here pay 3× the price. Hard to see people waste food, time, and complain about nothing but on the other hand be humbled by the ways I could be a better steward. I pray that our first few months will not be wasted on bad thoughts about others and instead I would be busy pulling out my planks.

    1. i totally understand, april. it is such a fine line to walk - remaining true to the changes God has wrought in my heart/life as i've been away yet not slipping into a Pharisaical and judgmental attitude towards others who don't have my same perspective... and even if avoid judging, i can still come across as holier than though and more spiritual because of where I am now and the stands i am willing to take.

      somehow none of that fits under the description of the winsome ambassador for Jesus that i want to be...

  3. You expressed this so well. The grief, the joy, the confusion, the adjustments. Not knowing if friends will still feel like friends or merely polite dinner guests enduring our shortened stories of field life. Trying to balance all those emotions enough that they don't end up in judgmentalism (Is that a word? ;0) And then hoping somewhere in that, I can find much-needed rest, peace, and refreshment. Our stateside time is quick (only a couple of months), so it feels like a whirlwind tour of trying to catch as many churches and supporters and friends and family as possible and remember what stories I've already told to whom. And fill the list of things to stock up on at the best price possible, while being a good steward and raising funds for ministry stuff. I ended up the last time exhausted by the time the first month was up, ready to get back to the "normalcy" of life on the field.

    1. Thanks, Christie. It certainly seems like our expat life is a life full of extremes and oxymora...

      we found with our family those short furlough/home assignments were just too exhausting. the grandparents sure would've loved if we'd kept up that schedule, though.

  4. I feel your pain... we've been Stateside for 9 and a half months... in some ways I feel like we have adapted... In other ways it seems I never will (the waste still bothers me, and I'm glad!) The kids are little, taking in visits with extended family in stride, but are still counting the days until we get back to Niger (94)... I wish we could see you before we leave, but recognize that may be just a dream. Tim still says that it will be good to get back to being "normal" in the life we feel called to. Watching you all go through the trauma of the flood and moving and loss has been weird, like an out of body experience. We empathize, but know we can never be a part of it. I wish I could sit down with you face to face. I have tears in my throat that I know only a few (like you) understand... Praying for the peace that passes understanding... that you and your children will not only survive, but thrive! Love you!

    1. does this mean you won't be at the wedding???

      elsie mae is gonna miss that little guy of yours and rebekah joy is gonna go crazy without her uncle tim around to pat her on the back and tell her how beautiful she is :-).

      would love to sit down and visit with y'all every bit as much as you, my friend!