On Returning

Dear friends,

We are back.
My feet are here in America, no longer in Africa. My heart is tiptoeing along a trapeze balanced somewhere over the Atlantic, trying to navigate it’s way “home” (please hold while I work on defining this term).
I am back in the place I am from, yet I no longer fit in it.
I am not the girl that boarded a plane with her husband and big ideas three years ago.

I hold more loosely to things. I hold more tightly to my word. I think longer before speaking. I am more introverted, craving time all by myself in the quiet.
I am a mother. My hips are a little wider. My hair has more gray. I have a scar etched on my side from a gnarly spider bite. The heels of my feet are still cracked from being barefoot on concrete floors.
I take God more seriously at His word than I did. I realize how not-together I am and how much work God has left to do with me. 
I am more thankful for my husband. I am more in-awe of the kind of person He is.
I am less particular… about some things. Okay, I am still sort of particular. Just less so. Progress, people.
I do things different than I did. I cook everything from scratch. I wash out Ziplocs to reuse them.
I’m not as quick to make friends because I’m tired of leaving people. I sometimes have trouble relating to people that I never had before. 

In this process I thought perhaps it would be useful to communicate to you, our friend, what would be helpful to us in this process. These are thoughts I’ve collected over the last months as we prepared for this move.

Please be gracious in our conversations as I come back to the place where I'm from as a very different person than when I left.
Please remember I am coming from a different world, and while I want to connect with you, sometimes it's difficult to know how. Know that I value you. 
Please know that being near our family and spiritual community was the main reason we moved back. You are part of that.
Please ask me about our life in Africa. Try to remember the name of someone from our life there and ask me about them from time to time.

Please don't give me a hard time when strange words slip out. Its not for the sake of being pretentious and trying to speak a foreign language, its muscle memory.  I still say “Hodi” when I walk into someone’s home and I feel like I should slip off my shoes at the front door. I have to fight my instinct to ask someone to pass me a “serviette”. If you drop something or bump your elbow, I am saying “pole” in my head and biting my tongue from keeping it from slipping out. 

Please don’t say “You must be so happy to be back!”  or “I can imagine you’re relieved to be back home again”. I have heard this from well-meaning people time and again. I throw on my best “smile so you don’t cry” face and manage to nod my head to eek out “its bittersweet” so as not to make them uncomfortable with a “not really". I wish I could hide.
I know we were supposed to come back. It was right. But it was not easy. Returning is not an answered prayer to the end of some punishment. I waited 11 years to live in Africa, and thought it was going to be for a long time. So the end felt as abrupt as a cliffhanger in a series finale. “BUT WHAT HAPPENS NEXT?” God must be a lot like JJ Abrams. 

Please know I realize we are where we are supposed to be. The joy of living overseas is balanced by the sacrifice of  embracing the fact that for the rest of your life you will feel as though a piece of you is always somewhere else. While there, we missed here. And now some of “our people” will forever be scattered in different parts of the world. Its part of the great gift and heartache of this life.

Please remember our life there was simple and complicated.
Please remember our son was born there and there are so many aspects of raising a child in Africa I longed for and am mourning losing. unplugged. uncomplicated. a little wild. a lot more simple. 

Please help me remember that we spent nearly a year with a close to empty home. Most of our kitchen cupboards lay bare. We had empty bookshelves and two empty bedrooms. We only had a few possessions. But we had a garden full of flowers and plants and birds. We had conversations rich with learning a new place. We asked about peoples’ families, visited their homes, and spent a lot of time doing daily tasks that are no consideration here.
We adjusted to little. We grew comfortable in a life with less things spread wide, and a few things dug deep.

Please know we move slower now. Everyday life required much more time, and we adjusted to a pace that moved much slower. There is a richness we don't want to lose in that. We just cannot sacrifice it on the altar of "busy”. It may take us awhile to discover what this means for our lives here.
I realize we may have to create space to bump our heads. I am learning from Elias walking. You have to intentionally create space free of danger and sharp objects. He won’t be popping up and strutting across the carpet immediately. If I can create a space where he is comfortable to try, he will learn well. We need the same space to figure out how “now” looks.

Please know that although everyday life is “easier” in America, there is a lot that will be more difficult.

I already miss things about Africa deeply. I miss bumpy roads and slowed conversations. 
I miss the simplicity of life and the difficulties that kept us on our toes. I miss sitting at the large table God told us to build with all of our doors and windows open on a hot day, feeling the warm breeze give a brief respite from the heat. I miss the sound of the nearby mosque blaring the call to prayer. I miss the local club pumping with reggae music at night competing with the barking of the neighborhood dogs- seeing who can more effectively distract us from the heat and mosquitos.
I miss the Jeles, the Wilsons, Basil, Blanche, Paul, Pastor Richard, The Kariukis and our friends at Nelspruit Lighthouse Church. I miss Edith and all the Bomake at Dayizenza. I even miss the Bomake at Mganduzweni.  I miss being able to drive a few hours to Swaziland and see all of our Children’s Cup and HPC family. I miss hearing the stories people shared about Patrick from his time in Swaziland before we were married. Swaziland will always feel like visiting my in-laws, the other side of our family.  I miss the Global Effect team and the missionary and expat community in Moshi. I miss the daily conversations with Casmir, I miss Jennifer and Jackson. I even miss Baba Ringo and Baba Michael.
I miss waking up early to drive to Kruger, coffee in hand and snacks packed, Ready for a day disappearing into the wilderness to spot animals and feel escaped in nature. Literally being in the middle of nowhere. 
I’ll miss rubbing my ears because of loud music pumping through blown out speakers at a church. I already miss Church. Church in a tent, church in a half-built brick building, church in a living room, church built from wood off-cuts with newspaper carefully covering the walls. Church in so many different contexts. Church free of the constructs I was so used to experiencing God in.
I miss having a craving and having to creatively discover “how can I make this?!”. I miss learning new recipes because I had to make everything from scratch.  I miss how creative this forced me to be.  

I miss the bananas ladies who sold us bunches of bananas fresh from the mountain. I will forever claim that the world's best bananas are grown in Moshi, Tanzania. I miss bargaining in Swahili at the market. I miss having fresh eggs and vegetables delivered to our door weekly from my friend Gelske's farm.
I even miss the things I hated. The heat, the sweat, the dust. The way the dust caked on my skin and covered every possible service and corner in our house. Oh the dust. How can I even miss it? But somehow I do. 
I miss the geckos on the wall that I befriended as my co-laborers in ridding our house of pesky insects.

I miss all of that, but when I was there, I missed you. 
I missed you deeply. 
I missed your birthday. I missed visiting you when your babies were born. I missed weddings of dear friends and funerals of family. I missed Christmas. I missed being there with you on hard days to bring you dinner or cry with you. I missed celebrating the big things in your life. I missed the births of our nieces' and the babies of my dearest friends. I missed dinner with friends. I missed picking up my phone to call you.
I missed worshipping with our church family.

And yet again, I am faced with the dichotomy of a piece of me always being just a few plane rides and half a world away.
And so we are back. And we are thankful.
Thank you, dear ones, for your excessive grace. Your unwavering support. We are incredibly loved and forever thankful.