“We act as though comfort and luxury were the chief requirements of life, when all that we need to make us happy is something to be enthusiastic about.” C. Kingsley
I used to think that change was exciting. I welcomed the idea of getting on an airplane and traveling thousands of miles to an unknown land. Meeting new people excited me and although I found some things hard, I remember feeling invigorated by all of the adjustments I had to make.
Now that I’m only a couple of years away from 40, change and transition are different for me. I like being in one place for months at a time. I like being able to put up curtains and pictures on the wall. Although I crave stability, I also have a itching to travel occasionally…as long as I can get back ‘home’. Growing up as a missionary kid, I learned that being numb whenever there was a transition or goodbye kept me from experiencing the pain of it. Now that I’m an adult I see how destructive denying feelings can be, not just to myself but to others I live with.
As I pondered the emotional moments I had today, I came up with a few things that I’ve gleaned along the way. It’s not rocket science…more so common sense and perhaps obvious to the rest of the world…but since I come back to it over and over I guess it’s worth writing down.
- Transition is exhausting. Before we got to the village, there’s a flurry of packing and sleep deprivation. The most common thoughts are, “what do I need for the next 6 weeks?” and “did I bring enough food?” I realize that for me, once I arrive, I need to build in time to nap and go to bed early even though there’s food to be unpacked, school to start and a house to clean. Also if I can keep my meal preparation easy and expectations low for a few days, I do much better.
- Transition is ‘letting go’ I have to grieve the things or people I’ve left behind. On Sunday I said goodbye to several friends who will not be in Ukarumpa when I get back. My daughter said goodbye to her best friend, and it was heartbreaking. I tell my kids, it’s ok to be sad—that is how we can move through it. Acknowledging our feelings is the first step. Additionally, there’s the other ‘little’ things to let go of: using a microwave, going to the store, and being able to talk to people in my own language. (the last one is silly because I can call anyone I like on Skype out here, but it’s not the same as seeing them in person!) Even though they are seemingly inconsequential, it does help to acknowledge that I miss them. On the other hand, if I start obsessing about missing something then it’s a short jump away from self pity, not a fun state for me to be in!
- Transition is disorienting. After 13 years of parenting kids in constant transition, I know enough now that a two year old who cries a lot during the first week of a village stay is behaving normally. Shoot, I cry a lot during the first few days of arriving, especially on the first day of homeschooling! I try to give my kids extra grace and work on explaining how transition is affecting all of us. The older kids tend to bicker a lot because they aren’t used to being around each other 24-7. They just need time to adjust to each other.
- Transition is a chance to be honest. I have learned a lot about myself in the middle of transition. Perhaps the strong feelings that transition brings on makes me more vulnerable, but it also makes me want God in my life more. It makes me want to love my husband and kids better. The selfish bits tend to hang out, don’t they, in transition?
- Transition can be an opportunity to start a new thing. I decided that I was going to do more fun things with my kids this time in the village. Normally I work really hard all day and crash in the evening. Tonight I had finished almost everything I wanted to do and sat down to play Bananagrams with Noah and Ellie. I surprised myself by enjoying it! Sometimes I just need to nudge myself past the exhaustion and expectations.
- Transition is an opportunity to practice good self care. I tend to get caught up in the ‘doing’ for everyone else…wiping bottoms, fixing meals, negotiating arguments, etc., but I can easily forget to eat or take a few minutes break for myself with a cup of coffee.
- Transition is a chance to invite God into all of the above. He knows better than I do what I am feeling and what I need. He can help me navigate all of the exhaustion, disorientation and grief of letting go.
I think the best advice that I’ve ever heard about transition when I took a course a few years back from Russ Rogers was to ‘pay attention’. He emphasized noticing what is going on around you. I’m trying to do that and to help my kids navigate what’s going on for them too.
“The last of the human freedoms–to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.” V. Frankl
I like this quote because I need to be reminded that I am not helpless. I can choose God. I can choose to have a good attitude. And I can choose to make the best of my circumstances. It does help that the job we have here has purpose–we’ve invested in this Bible translation work–this makes everything worthwhile. It doesn’t mean that I pretend I’m doing great when I’m really not…but I have the chance within myself to make good choices and to trust Ben with all of those negative feelings. Down through the years he has been good about letting me debrief without having to ‘fix’ me.
and one more final quote from Roger’s transition class..
“Here is the test to find out whether your mission on earth is finished: If you’re alive, it isn’t” R. Bach