Our feet are on the ground. After 2 months in the US, we find ourselves back in Tanzania. The change was instant. Our final flight left a snowy runway in Turkey and landed in the heavy, wet, 3am heat of Dar Es Salaam. Waking up a few hours later in our guesthouse, feeling rushed to start our day and fight off jet lag, it all felt like a dream. But was our time in America the dream, or were we now in the dream? Neither felt totally real.
In Tanzania once again, we are now faced with the difficult and continuing task of processing our furlough (or “home assignment,” as we may also call it). It is difficult to process for three reasons:
First, our thoughts and emotions during our time in The States were discombobulatingly (is that a word?) all over the place as we tried to soak in every wonderful moment while simultaneously trying to process everything we had felt and experienced in our first two years in Tanzania. It was overwhelming to say the least.
Secondly, it all happened so fast! We had heard from many people that “furlough” is not always relaxing and that sometimes it is almost as exhausting as it is wonderful. For us this was definitely a reality as we pushed ourselves hard to see and visit everyone we could (and still weren’t able to visit with everyone we would have liked!). We know we didn’t “have” to see everyone that we did, but we wanted to so badly, and who knows when our next chance to see each other may be! And truly, every single visit and interaction we had was more than worth the speed and energy it took to make it happen.
Thirdly, and most potently, it feels impossible to process all the overwhelming love and care we felt during our time there. So many people blessed us beyond what they know. We just wish we could express our thanks to everyone who hugged us, hosted us, listened to us, asked us questions, encouraged us, advised us, and everything else. We felt so loved and cared for, which is exactly what we needed to feel during that time.
In attempting to process the above three aspects of our “home assignment,” I have a few short reflections about our time in the US.
First, our overwhelming emotions. The joy of being home was matched by the horror of how soon we’d be leaving again, repeating the unending, tear-filled goodbyes. The pleasure of so many friendly faces, a needed joy after two years of being away, was attacked by the overwhelming shock of trying to catch up with so many friends in such a short time. Our excited desire to spend every wonderful moment with as many people as possible, soaking it all in and seizing every opportunity, was balanced by our intense exhaustion and need for a break.
We found ourselves in a unique position of occupying two worlds — and found that learning to live fully, contentedly, and unswervingly in each world at the appropriate time is a difficult task to learn and is a lesson that tests the mind and spirit regularly. But we find ourselves continually thankful for both worlds, and are blessed by occupiers of each.
Second, a summary of our schedule with some interesting facts:
2 weeks: Searcy, AR
— 24 meals with wonderful supporters
— 15 hours of official visiting time at Midnight Oil, and who knows how many delicious MO cups of coffee!!
— 9 speaking or question/answer events with groups
— 8+ other meetings that don’t fall into a category above
— 2 afternoons with our siblings who live in Arkansas
3 weeks travel time to see supporters/friends, grandparents, and counselors
— 4,547 miles driven by car
— 1 deer hit
— 3 car mechanic visits (window, thermostat, deer)
— 7 States Visited
— 5 additional States passed through by car
— 3 domestic flights
— 13 different homes slept in
2 weeks with Lauren’s family
2 weeks with Travis’s family
And so much more!
Third, and finally, as exhausting and rushed as our time together was, it was a wonderful and incredible experience in which each person we spent time with, however brief, blessed us beyond what they could ever realize. The love, encouragement, and support we felt continually blew us away. On leaving each interaction, Lauren and I continually found ourselves in silent awe, looking at each other and shaking our heads, unable to comprehend such love, support, kindness, and generosity from such amazing giants. We wish we knew how to thank each of you individually. Just know we think of each of you often, and are so honored to know you and to call you friends. We love you. And we thank you.
Grace and peace be with each one of you.
** For my own sake, I would like to make special mention of Dr. Neller, one of our most avid encouragers, whose voice was always near and whose love was always felt. In 2008, when I was graduating from Harding, he sent me onward with a formal blessing, offering words of wisdom and of encouragement, expressing faith in me and belief in my future. There are few gifts greater than to tell someone that you believe in them and trust that great things are in store for them. And to hear a great man, who you respect and admire, say those words to you… that will drop you to your knees. It will humble you as well as inspire you to live up to the challenging vision of who you might be. 4 years later, in November of this year, I sat in his kitchen, sitting across the table from a couple I’ve only grown to know more closely, and I expressed my tear-filled self-doubt, and lack of clarity about who I am and who I’m meant to be. Had I failed to live up to his vision of my potential? Yet again, in honest, heartfelt faith in who I am, he said that he believes in me and is proud of me, and that I should trust in the person that God made me to be, and push onward in humble trust in who I am. I am sad that his voice of encouragement will no longer be heard on our blog or across his kitchen table, but the things he has said, the things he taught us, and the people he made us want to be will transcend time and echo forward through the lives of our children and their children beyond them. I am thankful to have known Ken Neller, and my prayers are with us all as we try to find our way forward in his physical absence. But may his spiritual presence in our lives continue to transform us, to encourage us, and to give us faith.
Here is an article from 2008 in the Harding Alumni Magazine about the blessing ceremony at my graduation. At the bottom you can read the brief section on my own experience of the ceremony.