It’s been two months…again.

On this day a year ago, I was two months into my time in Costa Rica.  The days were filled with rock hauling, rain, and mud.  I was just on the tail end of a nasty case of dengue fever, finally feeling human again after days of moaning in bed.  But despite all that, I was still in the ‘new and exciting’ phase, and I was loving life.  I wrote in my blog that day, “Two months into this, and where am I?  Still as overjoyed as the day I got here.  Actually, even more so.  Every day I spend here, every weed I pull and rock I haul and person I speak to makes me love this place more than before.”

Two months can fly by so fast if you don’t keep an eye on them.  As of yesterday I’m two months back in the USA, and when the heck did that happen?  I guess it happened somewhere between packing and unpacking, family vacation, travelling to Uganda, getting to know my friends again, getting myself in order for school, running endless errands, and trying to find my place again.  I really haven’t had the time to sit down, quiet myself, and come to terms with my new-old life.

I still find myself dreaming in Spanish, trying to greet people with a kiss on the cheek, and getting all nostalgic every time it rains.  Sometimes I can’t even believe that that year was real, that I really did that, that it wasn’t all just a beautiful dream.  But it was as real as anything, and still is.

I’ve had quite a few long, tearful conversations with God over the last two months, and he’s very slowly bringing me to peace with my situation, though I still have a long way to go.
I’m not trying to achieve where I was before Costa Rica.  I’m not trying to get that life back, and I’m not trying to get that Shannon back, because those are gone.  I guess now all I’m trying to do is figure out where I’m at now, and where I need to be.

So life is good.  I can make it through the day without bursting into tears.  I still miss Costa Rica as much as ever, but time is taking some of the edge off of it.  And in a week I start nursing school, and then this new reality will finally start to feel real.  I’m excited for what’s next.  Still carrying the past with me, still loving it and missing it, but no longer living in it.  Because my next step has enough excitement of its own!

And I’m already making plans for a visit back to CR over Christmas break, so I’ll have that to look forward to!

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Uganda 2013 – Trip Summary

So we arrived home in Virginia on Thursday night.  We’re at Tuesday morning now and I’m just now getting a blog post up.  I haven’t written yet because I’ve spent all this time trying to decide what to write.  And I still haven’t figured that part out, so I’m just going to wing it.  It’s going to be super long and a little disorganised, so hold on tight.

our tiny little missions team (:

We left the house on Monday morning, flew to Detroit to Amsterdam to Kigali to Entebbe, our destination.  From there we drove two hours to Kampala, where we spent the night before piling into a van for the adventure of a lifetime (or something like that).  So we’re running on about four hours of sleep, on the heels of a night with zero hours of sleep, getting ready to drive across the country.  I guess you could say we hit the ground running.  Sitting in the van bumping over endless hours of dirt roads (if you could call them ‘roads’), the periods of wakefulness and unconsciousness began to run together until I couldn’t tell the difference any more.

We visited three churches that first day (Wednesday), followed by four on Thursday, four on Friday, five on Saturday, and three on Sunday for a grand total of nineteen churches in five days.  Churches in mud huts, churches under tarps, churches under trees, churches in buildings of handmade bricks.  Each one as beautiful as anything.

Church in a thatched roof mud hut. As African as it gets 😉

By the end of those five days of crazy travel, strange places, strange food, and terrible ‘roads’ I was really struggling.  I felt like I had accomplished absolutely nothing.  The biggest things I’d done that whole time were to pray for a woman whose language I couldn’t even speak, and tell the story of Noah’s Ark to a bunch of kids.  Pridefully, selfishly, I thought that those small things weren’t worth all the time and money it had taken me to get to Uganda.
It wasn’t until we were on the plane back to the USA that I realised that what had been small to me was huge to that woman and those children, and they were worth every penny and every moment I spent on them.  Following Jesus isn’t always glamorous, big, or glorious at the moment, but it’s always worth it because he likes to do big things with even the smallest gifts, if they’re given out of love for Him and for others.

Sharing with the children. Shoutout to Tyson for translating!

Anyway, so the plan was that Sunday night we’d cross the border into Kenya, and spend Monday visiting more churches before heading back to Kampala late Monday night.  However, my uncle Bill and I decided that we would really be of more use in Kampala, so we headed back on Sunday night while Dad went with Hummer to Kenya as planned.  And I was very, very glad that we went back when we did, because Monday through Wednesday were what made my trip.

Monday we visited Ray of Hope School and Orphanage, where I was reunited with all my babies that I hadn’t seen in nearly two years.  I also got to see the new school classrooms, and the improvements that were made on the church.  Everything looked so beautiful, and I couldn’t even believe that it was the same place I’d fallen in love with before.  The children were seated on benches, using books, in brick classrooms with chalkboards on the walls and everything.  It really looked like a school.  And they looked so happy and healthy.  It was beautiful to see how far they’ve come since the beginning.

one of the classrooms!

Monday we also visited the widows’ centre, where we discovered a lot of work that has yet to be done and some changes that need to be made if this ministry is going to survive.  I can’t go into a ton of detail here, but while it was discouraging at times, we’re going to keep pressing forward and working to improve.  Just be praying for wisdom and the strength to make some hard changes.

Then–the highlight of my trip–we went over to Uganda School for the Deaf to visit my sponsor child, Jessy!  He’s gotten so big!  He doesn’t look like a child anymore.  He’s thirteen years old and nearly as tall as I am!  He’s slowly but surely learning to read and write, and in English no less!  We were able to communicate by passing a notebook back and forth and writing to each other.  It was very special.

Chatting with Jessy (:

Tuesday we ran errands all morning, purchasing things for the sponsored children using a portion of their sponsor funds, and buying them a little bit of candy which is something they don’t often get to have.  Then Bill treated a bunch of the kids (including my sponsor child Jessy, and my Uganda-best-friend Derrick, whom I was hoping I’d get to see) to a lunch at a restaurant, which was something most of them had never done before and probably wouldn’t get to do again, so it was a big deal.  We ate goat meat, rice, and french fries, played lots of games, painted toenails, and all manner of other tomfoolery.  It was such a blessing to the children, and a blessing to me too, so thanks Bill for doing that!

The lunch date group.

With Derrick and Jessy! And we even got Jessy to smile for the photo 😉

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Wednesday was spent hanging out with the children, blowing bubbles and giggling and marveling over the difference in skin tone and hair texture (well, that part was mostly the children doing the marveling), visiting the widows once more, and sharing a meal with Pastor Hummer and his wife at their new home before heading off to the airport.

Teaching my girls how to strike a pose 😉

So it was a whirlwind of a trip.  It was exhausting.  It was discouraging at times.  We saw a lot of bad doctrine, faced a lot of hard truths, and had to give a little tough love.  It wasn’t the sort of trip you come home from on a high, saying “that was great!”  It was actually a trip I came home from in tears.  It was hard.
But it was a good trip.  I might not feel like shouting to the world how wonderful it was (although I did pick the best parts to write this blog post about), but deep in my heart I know it was a very good thing and I’m glad I went, and I’m thankful that I had the opportunity to go.  So thanks to everyone who helped to give me that opportunity.  It was a good thing.

Sometimes missions sucks.  I learned that during my year in Costa Rica and I learned it again in Uganda this time–that for every high, every celebration, every joy, there are also tears and disappointments and discouragements.  But you can turn that around and say that for every tear and disappointment and discouragement, there are also highs, celebrations, and joys.  You take the easy and the hard, the beautiful and the ugly, you take it all together because that’s the only way it comes.

So this trip was a teaching trip for me.   It was also a trip for talking business, for making future plans, for seeing what work needs to be done.  And we’re moving forward, always moving forward.

Thank you God for your perfect plan.

Ten Hours

until I leave my house 🙂 and about 14 until takeoff, and 48 hours (well, only 41 counting the time difference) until we land in Uganda (!!!) and something like 43 hours until we arrive at our hotel (or mats on the dirt floor of the church, not sure yet) and sleep.

It’s been a year and a half since I’ve been in Uganda.  I’m a little apprehensive after going for so long without.  I hardly remember what it’s like, or the way it smells or the African air or the what the blend of so many different languages sounds like.  It’s sort of like going for the first time all over again.  I’m nervous.

But I’m imagining that first moment when I see Derrick and Mercy and Esther and Barbara and baby Mark and Kelvet and Jessy and Eve and Grace and Christine and Hummer and Michael and Mum Alice and all the many more faces I’ve come to love too much.

It’s going to be good 🙂

I’m packing now, so not much time to make this post super long.  It’ll be my last post till I get back, but I’ll come back with lots of exciting things to write and pictures and stuff, so it’ll be good.

Pray for me, my dad Mark, and my uncle Bill as we head out tomorrow morning.  It’s a small team, just the three of us, so in a way it’ll be easier and more flexible, but having so few people might mean sleeping wherever we end up and eating some interesting things.  It’ll be a super challenging trip, what with all the travel all over Uganda and in Kenya, and all the activities squeezed into such a short time.  But we’re all up for the challenge.

See you on the other side!

Holding baby Mark, big sister Esther looking on. I bet they’ve both gotten so big!

Things I’ve Learned About Re-Entry

It’s time for a list.  I’ve been back from Costa Rica for over a month now, and as I’ve been navigating this particularly difficult time, I’ve been really learning a lot about saying goodbye, saying hello again, and all the emotions and frustrations that are such a big part of the re-entry experience.  Here are a few of the things I’ve gathered over the last month or two, which are good advice for life in general, but specifically for other missionaries and their loved ones at home.

To the returning traveller:

  • When you say goodbye, do it right.  Saying goodbye at the end of my year was one of the most painful things I’ve ever experienced, but one of the most special.  Be extravagant, be lavish with your goodbyes.  Give hugs and gifts and serenades, throw parties and cry lots and lots and lots, and share kind words and write letters and take lots of pictures.  Do it well because it’s the part you’ll remember the clearest and longest.
  • Traveller, be patient with your family.  It’s been a struggle for both parties, and things might be awkward for a while.  You might not know what to say, which questions to ask, or how to answer.  Give a little grace.
  • Re-entry is re-entry, no matter how small.  Whether you were gone a week or a year or ten years, re-entry is a process and it will take time.  Be patient if you don’t just fit right back in where you left off.  You’ll get there.  And “there” might look a bit different than you’d expected, but that’s okay.
  • Unpacking a year of your life is freaking hard.  It took me a whole month to get the stinking suitcase out of my bedroom.  Even if you’re not a sentimental person, it’s hard.
  • Everything will be different.  You’ll feel like while you were gone, everyone turned your world upside down without your permission.  And they did.  But that’s okay and normal.  Just remember that you’ll be different too, so while you’re sitting there bug-eyed and hyperventilating because everything is so different, remember that your family and friends probably feel the same way about you.
  • It’s okay to cry yourself to sleep sometimes.  Let it happen when it needs to.
  • Be more thankful.  Take time to appreciate every person who made your mission possible, from the prayers to the finances and everything else.  Love on some people.
  • It’s okay to rest.  That’s my biggest struggle right now, because I’m not in school yet, I’m still trying to work out the job situation, and I feel like a lazy bum.  Mum keeps reminding me to enjoy this rest time, but it’s driving me insane and I feel so empty without places to go and a tight schedule like I used to have.  She keeps telling me, “it’s okay to rest.”  So while I struggle to take that advice, let me pass it on to you.

To the friends and family back home:

  • Family, be patient with your newly-arrived missionary.  See above.
  • Don’t tell me you “know exactly how I feel.”  You don’t, I promise.  Even if you had the same experience as me, for the same length of time and everything, each person handles it differently.  Thanks for trying to understand, but you can’t.  And that’s okay.
  • “How was your trip?” is the very hardest question to answer.  Because it wasn’t a trip.  It was a year of my life.  I moved myself and my life to Costa Rica, and then I moved it all back.  When you ask me how my trip was, the only thing I know how to say is, “it was great.”  So if that’s the answer you’re looking for, ask away.
  • Know that you’re appreciated.  Even when I don’t give you the thanks that you deserve, know that you mean the world to me and my heart is immensely grateful.
  • Let me revel in my tan while it lasts!  Even though my very darkest tan is about equal in tone to your winter pallor, just smile and nod and let me enjoy it (if you want extra brownie points, you can even make an unforeseen remark about how sun-kissed I look). 😉

So that’s all I’ve got for now.  I’ve been gathering this list for a good while, and decided it’s finally time to write it down and share it.  Maybe nobody will really care, but my hope is that this advice makes the transition just a little bit easier for one person that reads it.

In other news, FIVE DAYS TILL UGANDA, GUYS!

Three Weeks In

Apparently I went for so long using foreign currency that I actually forgot what a quarter looked like.  Seriously.  Picture me getting lunch with a friend, digging frantically through my wallet because my pizza and lemonade cost $3.25 and I can’t remember which shiny silver thing is a quarter, freaking out because I probably look like I’ve totally lost my mind.

I have totally lost my mind.  Oh, the glamourous life of a missionary.

Anyway, so I’m three weeks back in the USA and thoughts of Costa Rica still keep me up at night.  Every night.

One o’clock is creeping up fast and I’m still wide awake, sprawled on my bedroom floor thinking and longing, listening to sad music because it just feels like the right thing to do when I’m feeling like this.

This new old life in Virginia is beginning to feel normal like it did before.  But it’s not there yet, and it’s going to be a long hard process.  The life I left 2,000 miles away in Costa Rica is still clinging to me and I can’t shake it off and I never ever want to.

This week was the first week I went and hung out with friends of my own accord.  It’s the first week I’ve felt ready to get back into my old relationships and do my old activities and drive my old streets in my new old town.  It was weird.  I’d missed my friends so much and it was nice to chat and catch up.  And in a way, it was like we picked right back up where we left off a year ago.  But at the same time, everything felt different.  Which is okay–healthy, even.  I just wasn’t quite ready for the changes.

Tonight my mum asked me if I was beginning to feel like I was “fitting back in here.”  And I guess I am, but not.  What does “fitting in” even mean?
I’ve come back to the same life that seventeen-year-old little girl me left behind, and it was a great life, but it’s not my life anymore.  A year’s worth of time and a lifetime’s worth of experiences have turned me upside down and inside out, and I don’t fit in here like I used to.  I left myself a nice little square box to fit back into, but I’ve come back a hexadecagon.
And don’t get me wrong–it’s not anyone’s fault.  Everyone (especially my family) has been so welcoming and wonderful and understanding and sweet to me since I’ve been back, and I’m immeasurably grateful for everyone who’s loved me through this.  So it’s not that.
It’s just that the impermanence of all this is weighing heavily on me.  I’m just here to study and work and learn and grow more until I’m ready to kick out for real and go.  So maybe the fact that I don’t feel like I “fit in” here is not such a bad thing.

Maybe the life I left behind will never have a place for me again.

I miss the simplicity of the “before,” but deep down I know I could never go back to that.  And that’s okay, because I’m moving forward.  Always forward, eyes on Christ and the glorious finish, never going back.  Looking behind me I am thankful for the before and the old and the wonderful life I’ve always been blessed with, but forward is the way I’m headed.

That being said, my heart is still slightly lost somewhere between here and there.  Moving forward is easier said than done when memories of the past year in CR flood my mind at every turn.
It’s about finding a balance.  Because it’s a very good thing to cherish those memories and treasure them up in my heart.  And it’s a very good thing to continue loving those people even from afar.
But right now I’m so stuck in Costa Rica that I’m not making the most of this day in this country with these people.  I need not to discount the mundane day-to-day school and work and errands, because those are preparing me for the next big exciting thing.  I need to value the small things as well as the big.  Besides, Costa Rica isn’t the only country with a mission field–there’s a whole world out there to love, and it starts with the people I see every single day here.

But that hurts when I only want to go back there and relive it all and dwell there and never ever leave.

But it’s too late for that now.  Now I fix my eyes back on Christ and take this transition period one step at a time.

Step one: finish unpacking. Three weeks is long enough.

It’s freaking hard, though!  I must be a more sentimental person than I thought if unpacking socks and t-shirts from a suitcase is too painful to finish.

I had no idea I’d be such a mess.  Heck, how hard can re-entry even be?  But here I am three weeks later at 1:20 in the morning and my eyes are red and I’m liable to burst into tears at the drop of a hat.  I guess that’s just another part of the glamourous life of a missionary.

An Announcement!

Something big is happening.  So big, in fact, that I’m going to start a whole new post category for it! (It’s kind of a big deal.)

Suffice to say that today my dad bought three plane tickets to Uganda.  One for me, one for him, and one for his brother Bill.  We’re going to fly down to Uganda on 29th July, and stay for about a week and a half.  While there we’ll be travelling all over the whole country visiting new church plants and looking for more ways to come alongside Pastor Hummer and his ministry there.
We’ll also be in Kenya for part of the trip as well, which I’m excited about.  I’ve never actually been to Kenya before, so I’m looking forward to a new adventure.

We’re not yet sure about where we’ll be staying or any of that, but since it’s only three of us rather than a whole team, we’ll be able to stay flexible.  We’ll definitely be roughing it, but we’re up for the challenge.  I for one am thrilled.

It’s been a year and a half since I’ve been in Uganda, so I’m bouncing off the walls with excitement to get back there.  I’m really hoping for the chance to see my sponsor child Jessy again, but I’m not sure what his school schedule will be like or if I’ll get to see him in person.  I’m hoping to at least write a letter to have delivered to him if I don’t get to see him myself.

So that’s coming up fast–it was a bit short-notice and will probably continue to be that way, so I’m just along for the ride.

Unpacking

It’s Monday again.  I’ve been keeping myself plenty busy since I got back to Virginia on Wednesday morning.  So busy, in fact, that I haven’t finished unpacking my suitcase yet.  But that’s okay–I really don’t want to get stuck with too much time on my hands, not when I’m still emotionally wrecked.

It’s not easy.  Not gonna lie.  I don’t even know what to do with myself.  I’ll wake up in the morning and say, “I’m home!” and it feels like such a relief.  But then as I go through the day, little things remind me of before, things like songs and sounds and doing the dishes and the way my clothes still smell like Costa Rica as I slowly but surely work my way through the unpacking process.

Unpacking my suitcase is one thing, but unpacking my heart will take a while.

I had anticipated that I’d want to fill my life with noise and activity, and surround myself with people constantly.  So I’ve been trying to–but I can’t do it right now.  More than once I’ve gone to an event to be with people, and had to leave early because the tears threaten to spill over and not stop.
It’s frustrating.  Because I love these people here, and I do want to be with them.  I do.  But it’s very difficult, and I’m not myself.  I want to go and do everything and see everyone, but my heart isn’t ready for that.  It hurts.
Tomorrow I’m having breakfast with one of my dearest mentors and prayer partners, so I’m looking forward to some one-on-one time with a friend who can help me work through this.

This whole leaving/re-entry thing really is a grieving process.  I thought it sounded kind of silly when I heard people refer to it in that way, but now I’m realising it’s true.  It’s not the same grief as a death or a tragedy, but it’s grief nonetheless and it’s going to take longer than I’d thought to work through it.

However, as difficult as the past few days have been, I’m also happy to be back with my family.  I’ve enjoyed seeing everyone after such a long time away, sharing the gifts and things I brought back from Costa Rica, cooking typical food to share, telling my stories and introducing my friends in both countries.
Last night I had a Skype session with my parents and siblings here and my ‘family’ in Costa Rica too.  I got to use my translating skills again, and I loved introducing everyone.  So that was fun.

Now I’m off to the doctor to get some forms signed to submit to my college in preparation for the start of the Nursing Program.  So much paperwork and homework and errands to run, so little time.

So I’m five days into this crazy thing called “home” and still having wildly mixed emotions.  But here I am, and life is going on, both here and there.