Saturday, September 26, 2015

This season will end...eventually

I'm cranky. I'm irritable. I'm tired. I can't seem to get ahead. It feels like an endless season. It's like the movie, Groundhog Day, but not as entertaining.

When we decided that I would go back to work full-time so that we could afford for our kids to go to an International School here on the field, we knew it would be tough and tiring. What we didn't expect was that we would also be experiencing missionary burnout at the same time. Burnout is serious, you guys. It's debilitating and crippling because it doesn't allow for clarity or focus. Trust me, you cannot make good decisions in the midst of burnout.

We began feeling burned out last year, around January, it started as an extreme fatigue which led to a serious lack of motivation and irritability about even the little things. The crazy thing is that Jeff and I both began experiencing it at the same time...blessing or curse in itself, depending on the day. We began talking through how tired we felt, how unmotivated we felt,  and our basically "sick of everything" attitude. We prayed. We cried. We kept moving forward.  We asked friends to pray for us, and while we received much encouragement and positive thoughts from friends, the symptoms lessened, but the underlying issue still remained.  We were nearing the end of the school year, which for a teacher can be crazy, and while this certainly didn't help my fatigue, I knew we were heading to the States for our summer break to connect with family, friends, and supporting churches. I wanted the light at the end of the tunnel.  I wanted this season of stress to end. I don't know how you get through burnout other than leaving the field and seeking rest.

Unfortunately, we had already made commitments for this school year that wouldn't allow us to leave the field for an extended period of time or find true rest. We had just 5 weeks in the U.S. for our "furlough" and we knew going into it that we would not be rested when we came back to the field. If I can stop for a minute and plead with you to understand that furlough does not equal rest. Furlough is not a vacation. A short, 5-week furlough while traveling in the car for 5 weeks straight across the U.S. with 4 kids is not rest.  Is it fun? Yes, some of the time. Do we get to see more of the U.S. than other families? Yes, most of the time.  We catch up briefly (too briefly) with friends and family, but we stay in multiple houses and sleep in multiple beds. We pack and unpack multiple times, we stop at multiple rest stops and gas stations. We might laugh, read, listen to English radio stations, and soak in the beautiful country that we love and miss, but life decisions cannot be made in this inconsistent environment.  We are usually on a schedule that only allows for 1 flat tire, a few quick meals in the car, and checking into hotels after midnight, only to have to be on the road again by 6:30am.  I haven't even mentioned the financial implications of furlough. Woof.

Cue the end of the 5-week furlough and beginning of a new school year. We are not rested. I am still tired. I'm still irritable. I'm not in a healthy place and I'm struggling. I'm teaching nine K-8 Computer classes and two 6th and 7th grade English classes this year, and no, I can't seem to get ahead. This season of fatigue and fogginess has resurfaced, and I want to throw the towel in. I don't want to be in this season. It's kind of sucky.

I know there are people praying for us. Praying for me. I know that in my weakness, He is strong. I know in my heart what I don't feel in my body. I know that "God will make this happen for he who calls you is faithful." (I Thes. 5:24)  We've been on the field for 13.5 years; we are not newbies, we are not unfamiliar with burnout. I also know we are not in a healthy place and since something needs to change, we have decided, after speaking with our mission, that we need to return home (to the U.S.) for a year in what will be an attempt for Jeff to finish his Ph.D and for me to seek some physical, emotional, and spiritual renewal. I can promise you, this has not been an easy decision for us to make.  We have a high-schooler, two middle-schoolers, and one in elementary...they are not thrilled to be leaving their home, school, and friends for a year.  Life overseas can be fickle. It's a tricky place to be...needing a break, not getting a break, trying to make life-impacting decisions without having the mental capacity to even decide what to make for dinner after a 13-hour day. Are we coming back to Peru after our year in the States next year? We don't know. We can't make that decision right now.

So I ask myself, how can I find that place of hope here and now and keep moving forward? How can I finish strong? I'm trying to dig down into those deep places of my heart, the solid places that remind me WHO I belong to, and how much I'm loved.  The places that remind me that I do love my husband. Those places that remind me I do love to teach, and I do love Peru and the people I serve. The places my kids have touched with their laughter and love. That deep place where my soul sisters live...the friendships that encourage me, love on me, lift me up, and help me set one foot in front of the other and keep walking. I've appreciated reading about fellow soul sisters who are living and raising families overseas at I am not alone and I find deep comfort in that. I am not my emotions. I may be exhausted and want to throw the towel in, but there is a light at the end of the tunnel.  I am brave and strong. I am loved. I will cling to the hope that this season will end...eventually.

Are you in what seems to be a hopeless and endlessly long season of life? What are you clinging to? Who are you seeking out to walk this journey with you?

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

A friendship overseas--it's worth the risk.

Bethany and I weren't best friends.  We didn't call each other everyday, we didn't share clothes, we didn't even swap recipes. I hadn't even known her very long, not long enough to even know what her favorite color was.  What Bethany and I did do was go antiquing in the too-expensive and too crowded antique markets of Lima.  We bonded over a good cup of coffee in the German cafe.  We laughed about funny things at the Peruvian markets, and most of all we mutually encouraged each other in our quest to be better wives and the occasional times we got to see each other.

You see, friendship on the mission field has its own definition. You leave behind what is familiar and enter into a world that is not your own.  Where your besties are worrying about mortgages and waiting lists for daycare, where you can get any grocery item your heart desires at almost any hour of the day, you are trying to embrace the fact that to put beans into a recipe, you have to soak them overnight and then cook them all day.  Gone are the days of quick meals.  You leave behind people who you grew up with and perhaps know your inner most fears and joys.  You try to embrace a new community where you have to introduce yourself a hundred times and decide if you want to love hard, knowing that you will probably have to say goodbye when that person leaves the field and moves to another location.

I met Bethany at a baby shower for the PE teacher's wife.  We instantly clicked and sat together.  We laughed about having 3 kids under the age of 4--laughed because we knew at any moment we could cry. We talked about how her oldest and my youngest would be in Kindergarten together and "why don't we go ahead and just arrange the marriage now". Crazy enough, on this day we even had the conversation about meeting new people and whether it was worth the effort to make friends in the ever changing mission/expat community where goodbyes happen every day.  We both decided it was worth the risk.

When Jeff and I sat with Dave & Bethany at our staff Christmas party last month, we were at a small, wobbly table for 2...and there were 6 of us.  We laughed that we were all crowded together having to hold our plates in our hands.  When we said goodbye that night, I was so excited that Bethany and Dave would get to head home for Christmas to see friends and family, what I didn't know was that they would never come back.  Dave wrote an email to our staff after Christmas, the contents of which turned our world upside down.  Bethany had been diagnosed with breast cancer, and we should pray.  There were few details about the diagnosis, and even fewer about the prognosis.  I immediately sent Bethany a message on FB telling her how sorry I was and that our family would be praying.  She wrote back and asked me to "keep praying that I will stay positive and closer to God and fight this physically, spiritually, and emotionally."  That was on December 31st at 6:43am.  I wrote her again on January 2nd and never heard back from her.  I had no idea she was literally fighting for her life as the cancer had aggressively spread throughout her body.  I had no idea our Lord, in his Sovereignty would call her home just days later.

There are so many things I wish I had said and done while I had the chance.  I would have made more of an effort to get together. I would have recorded so many things that Sophia (my youngest) and Isaac (her oldest) talked about at school for us to laugh about.  I would have told her that I would train to run a race with her.  I would have swapped recipes.  I would have made those darn chicken enchiladas that Bethany had to make when I only had to bring chips.   I would have hugged her a gazillion times and thanked her for being faithful to the Call.

One of the funniest things that I will hold close to my heart is a conversation about how girls are stronger than boys. The simple story goes something like this...
Dave to me: "Isaac came home yesterday and told Bethany that Sophia had said that 'boys are stronger than girls'. Bethany was so fired up and told Isaac that 'absolutely not--girls are definitely stronger or as strong as boys'!!
Me: "What--we've never taught Sophia that--she has 3 older brothers though, so she probably just assumes that boys are stronger than girls. Don't worry--tell Bethany that I'll set Sophia straight!"

As I wrote to Dave on FB a few days ago, I've made him the promise that Sophia will grow up knowing that girls are stronger than boys.  She will know that Bethany was strong.  She will never let being a girl set her back--we will make sure Bethany's strength will not be forgotten.  It takes guts to live life overseas, it takes purpose, and strength, and it's a risk to love hard and fast.  As I look at Bethany's FB page and see the many pictures and memories people are posting, pictures from high school and college, pictures from Indonesia...I know that while we didn't have a long friendship, I would take that risk of investing in our friendship again and again.  A week of friendship on the mission field is really like 100 years of friendship.  I will always take the risk.  I hope our kids will too.