We are constantly perplexed by the question, “What does your life look like? What is a typical day or week for you?” The truth of the matter is, there is no typical work schedule or work day or work week. The most typical thing about our lives is that we wake up every morning and we amble downstairs to get a cup of coffee. And that is where typical stops and ‘real life’ begins. Here are just a few pieces of what ‘typical’ has looked like for us over the past month.
Sarah - school / languages / challenges of travel schedules… Sarah entered middle school this year (hard to believe!). She has a tough course load of 11 classes in a block schedule. She is in the top class in her school. This class has a bilingual curriculum. Students study 3 languages concurrently = Spanish, English, and French. Spanish and English are both considered Sarah’s ‘first languages’, and French is her second/third language. All sciences are taught in 50% English, 50% Spanish. Sarah’s biggest challenge right now is our travel schedule. She must keep up with her studies and take exams upon return. While we are in Texas in November and December, she will have all assignments given to her and she will be responsible for doing them and testing in January. While in Albania this month, Sarah participated in cross-cultural training with her peers in mission, as well as doing her classwork for her courses after hours.
Discipling / mentoring / leadership development… Each week brings an array of discipleship activities, mentoring opportunities, and leadership development. Some of our local friends are in constant disciple relationship with us. We are both active in several study groups and community outreach groups. Via video conferencing, we mentor and work with new missionaries who are preparing and training for their positions overseas. We also meet regularly with leaders in ministry (both local and international) for on-going development and discipleship. The venues are varied - sometimes we meet in private homes, sometimes in coffee shops, sometimes in a church, sometimes in someone’s office, and sometimes via Skype.
Hosting… During this calendar year to date, we have hosted people (overnight guests) in our home for a total of 159 days! That’s a lot of meals, a lot of clean sheets, a lot of sharing about life and ministry! Those include, to name a few, an intern that stayed with us, our mission agency field director coming to learn more about the work in Spain, a couple who came to lead puppet ministry workshops, a family from the USA on a visit in Europe, a family coming to see if they might join our team and serve in Spain, a missionary family in need of rest and retreat and coaching/counseling care… we host all kinds in all seasons for all reasons!
Training / teaching / travel… We traveled to Albania to attend a conference of our missionary peers working in Africa, Europe, Middle East, Balkans, and Asia. It was a time of teaching and training. Laurie taught a 3-day course on Basic Coaching Skills in Ministry. Billy attended a special 3-day course on Leadership and Team Development. Both of us taught 2 classes on Best Practices in Disciple-Making. We also attended several other workshops and training classes for our own development. And we spent several hours using our coaching and counseling skills to serve other missionaries.
Coaching / counseling...While in Albania, we were able to coach and counsel several missionaries from around the globe as they sought help in dealing with issues. We also do this in Spain—Billy has several standing appointments with people whom he coaches or counsels each week. Some of these folks are other mission works, and some are locals from our area on Spain. Some of this work is done face-to-face in-person, and some is done via Skype or video conferencing.
“So, I had this weird dream last night.” My husband and I were walking down the street this morning, taking a short stroll together before a coffee meeting with our local Spanish pastor. I began to recount the dream to Billy:
You know those dreams that seem so real that they don’t feel like dreams? Yet, they seem so confusing and you can’t figure them out?
I was waiting to pick up Sarah from school. I was waiting on the street outside the gym. It was twilight, which is weird since she usually gets out of school at 3:00. Anyway, I was getting anxious because lots of other children were coming out of the building and streaming down the street to meet their parents, but Sarah wasn’t coming out. You know that moment when your mom-sense kicks in and you just know that the worst has happened and your kid has somehow been kidnapped or disappeared in to thin air. You’re already in crisis mode and your head is already going through your crisis response plan. Call the local police. Call the embassy. Call the agency. Pray. Freak out. It happens in a split second. One second you’re just standing there waiting for your kid, and in a fraction of a second you are crazy with fear that the worst has happened, which 99.9% of the time is NOT true. So, I get that awful fear that this is that moment. But then, of course, she walks out of the building and she’s ready to go home. Crisis averted. Move along.
I give her a hug and remind her that we are in a hurry because I don’t have a car today, so we have to take a boat home. (What on earth? When have we ever taken a boat home?) So we run down to the pier only to find that the boat is already gone. And, of course, it was the last one today. Now what?
We start to try to find a taxi to get us home. When we finally find one and get in to the car, the taxi driver turns around and says, “Where to?”
That’s a problem, because I can’t figure out how to tell him where my home is. I can see it in my mind. And I can picture the general area. But I can’t remember the name of the town or the streets or even how to get there. It is just a weird memory that seems like it is only half-real. When I try to picture the inside of the house, it is empty. When I try to picture the street signs, they are blurry. Mostly, I can only see houses and big trees and nice yards in my mind. But I have no words to describe it or to explain where home is. I don’t know any phone numbers. I don’t have any familiar landmarks or names. It’s just all a strange out-of-focus image in my head. I know it’s real, but I know I can’t find it.
So now, I’m just sitting in the taxi and feeling confused and realizing that I don’t know how to go home.
It was a dream. I woke up stressed and confused. But as I was retelling it this morning, I realized how it was also true.
I am confused and stressed. I can’t picture home. I don’t know where home is anymore. I want to know it, but I don’t. It all seems strangely out of focus. I know it is supposed to be Texas, but it feels like it is also Peru, and it is also Spain. It has all changed since we left the Brazos Valley many years ago. I no longer have a house. The last time I saw my Texas house, it was empty. And to some extent, I haven’t ever really grieved the loss of my beautiful Victorian farmhome. When I try to remember street names, they are sadly a blur in my mind. When I try to remember where friends live, I can see their faces and their houses, but I can’t remember what street they live on. Add to that the fact that new things have been built and new roads made, and some people have actually moved. I feel lost, and I’m not even there yet.
I know that our upcoming homeland assignment / furlough is causing this confusion and stress. I don’t so much ‘feel’ the confusion during my waking hours, but I know it is there. It is coming out in my physical health and in my dreams.
I am worried about how to dress. Missionaries are notorious for being out of style when they return home. I fear getting home and looking like a character from Little House on the Prairie in a sea of Barbie dolls and perfect hair.
I’m worried about how to interact. My daily cultural norms have changed often depending on the culture I have been living in. Just last week, I gave the traditional Spanish greeting of two kisses to a woman I was introduced to from Kosovo. It was just my instinct, but she looked at me like I was nuts. The week before, I greeted a South American woman with one kiss (traditional to Peru and to her native Brazil), but we were in Spain so she went for the double kiss… which ended in an awkward nose smash. And when I was introduced to a new colleague in our mission agency during a conference this month, I was momentarily stunned by the coldness and distance that comes in the traditional USA handshake greeting. I wanted to grab him and give him a cheek kiss and a hug, because that feels right to me now.
I’m afraid I don’t know how to relate to my own children. I haven’t seen my adult sons in over two years. I feel lost as a mother and I feel like I’m walking in to a self-confrontation of my own inadequacy as a mom. I fear this will not go well, since I know that the greatest determination of stress in a situation is the difference between expectations and reality. What I want and hope for is a family that is reunited and who can spend some happy holidays together, maybe take a family photo or two. What I fear is that our reality will be a family that has grown so distant that we are just awkward and confused as to how to be family anymore, that physical distance is now intertwined with emotional distance, and that connection will be difficult, at best.
I want to enjoy my short time in the States and reconnect with family and friends, but I also know that there is much planned for us and there are many people to see and the schedule is already looking stressful to me. My daydreams of cooking Thanksgiving dishes and making Christmas crafts and going to see Christmas lights, of evenings curled up with family watching Christmas movies and drinking hot chocolate… is it even possible? Does anyone else even care to do those things? How will I carve out time and set boundaries so I can make the necessary meetings and speak in places I need to speak, but also have some enjoyable holiday times that I have missed over the years?
In many ways, I feel out of control and confused by all of the unknowns. I don’t even know how to have realistic expectations because I can’t seem to put my head around what is real.
In many ways, my dreams of being lost and not being able to figure out how to get home are very real. I’m excited and looking forward to this time in The States, and I’m also daunted by the journey and what awaits me ’back home’.
Who am I? In my USA life, I was a teacher in Texas for 15 years. I was also a professional photographer, a Southern Living / Martha Stewart wannabe, a soccer mom, and a short term mission team coordinator / intern director for missions in Mexico... you name it, I probably tried it!
In 2006, my husband Billy and I became cross-cultural workers (CCWs) with TMS Global. For five years, we served in three rural Quechua Wanca villages in the Andes of Peru. And when I say rural, I mean RURAL - like no potty! We have three incredible children... two adult boys who live in Texas, and the Sarah (14) lives with us in whatever country we are serving. I'm still teaching, still taking photos, still leading teams and mentoring, I just do it all in full-time service now! And I'm working hard at giving Southern Living and Martha Stewart a run for their money! I spent my days in Peru learning to live a Quechua lifestyle in a rustic adobe house - cooking Peruvian foods, sewing with Quechua women, raising my chickens and goats and pigs, and planting my gardens. Now I live my life in small town Spain, serving other cross-cultural workers and immigrant peoples, writing, and trying to figure out what life looks like for a Texas girl serving Christ in Southern Europe. Life in His service is AWESOME! I'm happy to share it with you here... Enjoy!