RETURNING TO WILLARD AVE…The way back to me (Part 3)

As I write today, we have been stateside for two and a half years. How would I describe this past year and what lessons have I learned? The big lesson seems to be that I am learning to trade unsettled for surrendered. I’ll come back to that.

I am struck by how many people have reached out to us, to include us in their community. When people asked how we were doing, Dave would respond, “Well, we are just trying to find our way.” That described it well. I would find myself sharing with close friends that I wanted to be “integrated,” for God to show me how all my life fits together in His perfect plan.  I don’t want to think of my life in independent pieces—the DR life and the US life.  I hope to be able to see the flow of it all and be at peace with that.  Lately, I am seeing how blogging connects my worlds.  Another surprise and gift.

I love that my husband and I pray together.  The sound of his voice, strong yet soft, during prayer always calms me and brings joy to my heart. I wrote in my journal of a prayer time with Dave where he prayed, “God, I love Cherry and want this to be the best time of our life.  We want to do ministry together, to serve you Lord.  Take away anything hindering that.”  I join my husband in that prayer and trust that God is answering it.

I continue to meet with my recovery sponsor as we each live out the twelve steps.  As I’ve mentioned, the steps are powerful spiritual disciplines, especially the 4th and 5th steps where one takes a thorough moral inventory and then shares that with a trusted other and steps 8 and 9 where one makes amends to those who have been harmed.  I made amends to my husband and he made amends to me.  I was also able to reconcile with extended family members.  Each of those were powerful encounters. A sincere apology and desire to restore a relationship can bring healing to all involved.  It opens us to God’s love and frees us to be fully alive.  What a gift it was to us and many others to be able to do this. Another step in feeling more “integrated” and “whole”.  Faith, like sobriety, is worked out in community.

Our visits back to the Dominican Republic have also been times of asking forgiveness and making amends.  A wise missionary friend described us now as “apostles” coming back to visit those to whom we had ministered. He said this would be both a significant and enjoyable role.  His words encouraged me when we left the island and filled me with hope when we returned.  I can gratefully say that his words came to pass.  Dave and I both planned on making amends to a number of people, and God faithfully brought them to us. It set a wonderful tone to our visits. Many also came to us seeking counsel, and we felt God’s love and wisdom flow through us to them.  To be used by God in a very natural way. Some call this the “ministry of presence”.  Having lived on the mission field, we know firsthand how valuable a sincere visit can be.  One of our missionary friends shared how we had refreshed and revived him; he had a fresh desire for God, his marriage and ministry.  Oh, that we could each do that for the other!!

“Show me the way you would have me go Lord” is a constant prayer of mine. I keep asking the question, “What is a good use of my time now?”  What am I uniquely qualified to do?  I am aware that as I follow God’s leading, He is giving me opportunities to do the things I truly love and feel He has designed me to do.  I am regularly asked to write small articles, and I am now finishing my reentry piece. I was asked to write (in Spanish) for a women’s conference in the DR. My days are filled with meeting with women I love and feel honored to walk alongside in their spiritual journeys. I sense that Dave and I bless and are blessed by our local recovery community.

So, what am I learning?

  1. To exchange “unsettled” for “surrendered”. A favorite Advent meditation reads “Mary sang her Magnificat from the very first moment she yielded her life to God. She didn’t wait until God’s plan was complete before she rejoiced” —“From the moment you agree to yield your life, the Glory will begin to flow.” I want to live in sweet surrender and joyful anticipation of what God is doing and will do in my life—living fully in the now, hopeful of the future. I want to live out the passage Luke 1:45, “Blessed is she who has believed that the Lord would fulfill his promises to her.” That translates in recovery language as “Life on Life’s Terms” (or God’s terms) taking “First Things First.”

 

  1. To pay attention to what I feel drawn to. We were counseled to “Find our people” and “Catch the scent and follow.” This takes time and patience. My routine now includes group times of Centering Prayer, Lectio Divina, and monthly meetings with a spiritual director.  And we have decided to make St. Mary’s our church home. (That process may be the topic of another blog post.) So, these are some of “my people”. And my husband has become more precious to me because only the two of us truly understand the road we have been on.  It’s not just my story, it’s our story. And…

 

  1. To ask for help and keep asking. God and others. God is mystery and God is community. We were not created to walk this journey alone. Connection happens when we reach out for help. We are held by God’s love and surrounded by the Divine.

 

 

“Each man’s life represents a road to Himself.” Herman Hesse

 “We are not in control of this journey but Jesus says ‘BE NOT AFRAID.’” Father Bob

RETURNING TO WILLARD AVENUE…The way back to me (PART 2)

In December, 2015 we returned to the DR after our stateside furlough to say our goodbyes and hopefully finish well.  We had seen many missionaries leave the field very wounded and we didn’t want that type of ending. God was faithful to grant us a good ending, affirming again and again that our work there was done—that it could be the end of something good. Many people told us how grateful they were to us, how what we did mattered, how God had used us.  Our hearts were softer allowing us to hear those healing words.  So often when our plan doesn’t seem to be succeeding we lose sight of God’s plan and our place in it.  Walking my favorite beach one last time before moving back, Isaiah 30:15 came to mind— “In quietness and trust shall be your strength.”

March 2, 2016—Dave and I and our sweet dachshund Tinker Bell left Santiago, DR en route to our new stateside home at 207 Willard Avenue, the street I lived on over 35 years ago; the street where our oldest son was born! What a full circle we had come! I asked my husband to carry me over the threshold and he did.  That mattered a lot to me. A new beginning, a fresh start.

Our friends, family and church had all worked with so much love to have the home ready for us. I was overwhelmed by the lavish love I saw everywhere I looked in our new home.  All the furniture was in place, lots of sweet things donated, the kitchen and bathrooms were completely furnished with everything we would need to live comfortably.  Friends had come in and cleaned and organized everything. For at least the first month, I would find more things that they had done for us.  I was left feeling that I wanted to do the same thing for others—to lavishly love!

When preparing for the mission field, we were cautioned that culture shock was real and tough. I didn’t feel that would apply to me.  I was wrong.  When our daughter began college back in the states, I was also cautioned that adjustment to life in the states is hard for third culture kids but I didn’t think that would apply to our daughter.  Again, I was wrong.  So, this time when we were advised that reentry and reverse culture shock is usually worse than the original culture shock, I believed them!!! And I’m so grateful that I did.  I was more prepared.  I had less expectations.  I was more dependent on God trusting that He had a plan for me and for our family.  I could rest in that knowledge and wait expectantly to see what He had in mind.  I also was aware that my husband’s process would be different from mine and that we could be gentle with ourselves, gentle with each other and allow God to work His way in each of us individually and as a couple.

So how did we begin again?  We allowed ourselves time.  We were advised not to make any major decisions the first year.  So that took the pressure off deciding on a church home or a new ministry opportunity.  In my mind, I felt I had at least a year to make these decisions.  I reminded myself and my husband of this often.  In the meantime, I settled us into our new home.  I wanted to bond with my home and my new community.  I love our home here and it has been a great comfort to me and a sanctuary, a sacred place for me, my family and our guests.  I also went back to the basics as far as care of my soul.  I am a recovering alcoholic with 29 years of sobriety.  So, our first day in Bloomington I went to a recovery meeting at noon.  It is held at the same time and place that it was held when I left and I saw many of the same people.  What a comfort to my soul.  The honesty, transparency and acceptance at the meetings were also very important to my reentry.  It was a community where I felt that I belonged.  And because of the length of my own sobriety I could be of help to others.  A way to serve but with a small commitment to start.  It felt perfect and so of God. A sweet surprise.

Dave is also a recovering alcoholic and he too felt the need to go back to the basics and become part of the recovery community.  So, we have that in common which has been so good for our marriage as we reenter. We both sought out sponsors to guide us through the 12 steps which has proved a good way to keep ourselves in check emotionally and spiritually.  The steps are rich and effective spiritual disciplines which helped to process our experience in the DR.  We did go back to our home church and even though it felt awkward, we committed to go on Sundays and pray for God’s plan for us.  When our daughter Rachael returned to the states to attend college and was struggling with the adjustment, she often described what she was feeling as “unsettled”.  Now I too was feeling unsettled, like my system was in shock. That was hard to explain to people. Over time this feeling is lessening and when it springs up I recognize it and can be gentler with myself in the process.

My husband and I are both social people and friendships are very important to us. I felt God leading me to not place any expectations on my friendships and rather pay attention to the people He would put in my life. Now two and a half years later, I have a small circle of close girlfriends.  I like the term “sacred companions” as it applies to friendships of the soul.  As I look at these friends, some are new and some I had before but our relationship has deepened.  And there are some old friends who are not a part of my friend group now.  I am so grateful that I let God lead on this as I love what He has given me.  If I would have had expectations or made assumptions of who would be in my life now, I could have been disappointed or resentful and I would have missed out on some sweet friendships.  God’s way is best.  And this openness to God’s way applies to all areas of my life.

God was with me. His plan was at work. I was reminded that although we had never been this way before, God had. He would answer my question “¿Y ahora, qué?” which means “And now, what?”  An old friend invited me to a women’s event. The main speaker posed the question, “Who are you at your core—when all is stripped away?” and “Where are you going?” Great questions to ponder. I felt God was surrounding me with His love through good friends who have loved me for so long. I didn’t know the answer to those questions but I felt at peace thinking that I could begin the process by asking God the questions.  Seneca said “As long as you live, keep learning how to live.”  I want to live like that! Living dependent on God moment by moment, trusting and expecting surprises from God.

My two sisters and I now share caring for our mother and she lives with me from August till December.  Spending my days with my almost 97-year-old mother in the last season of her life has greatly impacted me and my husband.  I began taking her to mass on Sunday mornings.  We chose a beautiful old church on the west side, St Mary’s, which has a large Latino membership.  I was raised Catholic and have always loved the majesty of the mass so re-connecting to my roots that way was soothing to my soul.  At that time, I sensed that the two places where I felt at home and not unsettled were at the recovery meetings and at mass.  I would reflect more on this with the Lord as time went on.  But for the moment, I was content to just receive this as a gift from God, a Divine repose.

I want to let God shape the rhythm of my life now. I know that includes taking good care for myself—regular, consistent prayer and exercise and healthy eating. Life with mom goes at a slower pace allowing me to think about and enjoy life and what really matters. A recovery slogan that resonates with me is “To thine own self be true.” To get to know oneself and one’s God. Our home has a beautiful brick front porch with a swing and rocking chair.  I have spent much time there with my mother as well as the women in my life that I mentor or who mentor me. Our porch has become a place to discuss and reflect upon spiritual questions.  When we were house hunting I knew I wanted a front porch but only God knew His purposes for that porch. Our porch is just one symbol and reminder of God’s intimate and constant care for me and my family.

We have been able to return to the DR to visit which is such a gift and helps to integrate both parts of my life. I continue to let God lead me in setting priorities on friendships in both of my “homes”. I am grateful that God has made a way for me to stay connected with my closest relationships in the DR.  When I listen to Him, He leads me to reach out at just the right time. Again, I am coming to appreciate “less but deep” in my relationships and my day to day activities. It feels like we can live in both places and that is a very special gift!

Returning is a process and so is healing of the heart—I’m grateful that the 12 steps focus on forgiveness and reconciliation. I pray for the perseverance to stay committed to both.  I have a vivid memory of walking the long, luscious beach in Cabarete, DR by myself, saying my goodbye as we were getting ready to return to the States. I felt God say to me, “Cherry, just put your hand in my hand and I will lead you home”.  While we are most likely not done with this reentry process, I want to hold on to that memory. To “Carpe Diem”, seize the day, each day, knowing that the God of peace will be with me till the end.

To be continued…Stay tuned for year 2 and lessons learned.

RETURNING TO WILLARD AVENUE… The way back to me (Part 1)

December 30, 2006—-Flew to language school in Costa Rica.

August 20, 2007—Flew to Santiago, Dominican Republic to work as missionaries.

March 2, 2016—Moved back to Bloomington, Illinois to the same street I had lived on 35 years before.

These dates all carry significant meaning for me and my family.  As time goes on, we all experience how much these events have marked our lives, shaping the people we are now and will become. We have been back in the States now over two years after spending almost a decade of our lives in a very different culture. My returning story starts with the year prior to us making the decision to return— 2015.  How one is able to return and re-integrate into their home country is greatly affected by their condition before they hit US soil.

In January 2015, I wrote in my journal that I was “sensing something changing or ending here.” That was followed by a heart-to-heart exchange with my husband Dave where he confessed that he “had lost his way” and that “he felt done” with the ministry work there.  Oddly, this seemed to me like a holy ground moment.  Another moment that would mark us. A wise woman once shared with me that seeing truth is always a good thing.

In the weeks that followed, I also began to experience the feeling of being done.  I had nothing more in my bag of tricks.  I felt impotent, discouraged, and afraid for my husband.  In February, our home church sent a “rescue squad” to spend a week with us.  It rained day and night, which allowed us to simply stop, sit, and share honestly.  Tropical rains are powerful in that they drench everything. The world comes to a stop for a bit. Those rains felt like tears shed by us and by God. That began our coming home journey.

Initially that meant getting rigorously honest with ourselves about the state of our hearts and souls.  We prayed and shared with loving mentors and longtime friends.  Dave admitted, “My heart is bad.” Our hearts had been wounded and they had darkened.  God’s love could not flow freely from us yet we experienced His love flowing to us through many of his people. We made the decision to come back to the States for a longer furlough—six months.  Something we had never done due to our girls’ school schedule.  God gave us the assurance that seeds had been planted and it was time to let our disciples fly on their own. So after our youngest graduated high school in June 2015, and we all came stateside.

Our visit started with a Debrief and Renewal workshop, which focused on helping returning missionaries begin to process their mission experience.  We were prompted to look honestly at what had happened on the mission field— our losses, our disappointments. Then we asked lots of questions like Where do I thrive?, What is my soul desiring?, Who needs us now?, and What do we need now?.  As the summer progressed, we started hearing things like “Well done, good and faithful servants,” and “It’s fine to say this chapter has ended and move on to something else.”  It felt like God was gently leading us.

The questions continued, Where are your green pastures?, What are you uniquely qualified to do? We still ask ourselves those questions, but the summer of 2015 was the beginning of this soul searching.  Next came circumstances that got our attention.  We were now empty nesters with all four of our children either working or attending college in the States.  My 95-year-old mother had become frailer and needed more care.  I had a strong desire to be there for her during her life’s last season.  Dave’s boss offered him his old job back with the flexibility to set his own hours around ministry and family.  A huge blessing that definitely got our attention.

We took a month road trip out west to relax, visit friends and family and continue seeking God’s plan for us. Looking back, this trip was when I sensed that we were coming back to life. Dave shared that he felt happy.  I was struck by how much better he was and better we were as a couple.  We were having fun—laughing together, being kind and loving to each other.  I remember a time we were in a store looking for winter boots for me—something I hadn’t needed in the DR!! Dave was being sweet helping me pick out a pair and I realized that we used to do this type of thing all the time in the past, but it had been a long time.  It felt like we were thawing out. Our hearts were softening.  I also had moments of sadness, aware of how much my husband, myself and our marriage had deteriorated in the DR.  I still have those moments.

By fall, my husband announced that his hunger for God was back. It was clear to our family that Dave was thriving in the States.  In my reading, I ran across phrases like “redemptive suffering” and “starting over with a new heart” that seemed to describe what God was doing in our life. Fall also meant visits to see our two youngest daughters at college.  They were having their own reentry challenges, and being with them allowed us to enter into that struggle with them. Visits to our two older children gave us the sense that all four of our children would benefit by us living back in the States. When our road trip came to an end, we felt we knew at least some of God’s plan for our next season—to move back to the states. Dave would go back to insurance sales to financially provide for us and I would be close to my mother and children.

The peace that we felt with this decision was reinforced by the very positive reactions we received from family and friends.  A theme we were experiencing repeatedly was how much we were supported, encouraged, and loved.  We were with our people. Bloomington, Illinois may not be the most exciting, cultural, or scenic location, but its people love us well and we love them.

So…will I find a place to belong, to be known and to make a difference?

To be continued…next week.

A TIME TO WRITE…AGAIN

Writing a monthly blog was a part of my life while living and ministering in the Dominican Republic for almost ten years. Since our return to the States over two years ago I have continued to write out my thoughts as a way of processing life, but only sharing them with a few selected friends and family. My thinking was “there are just so many WORDS out there now— I don’t want to simply add more”.

Recently I read Pope Francis” apostolic exhortation “On the Call to Holiness in Today’s World”.  His words “Each saint is a mission, planned by the Father to reflect and embody, at a specific moment in history, a certain aspect of the Gospel” grabbed me. What an appealing and hopeful thought.  I am here at this exact moment in time to live out a unique part of the Gospel, God’s divine plan.  I am not to copy anyone else or strive to be something I am not. I am simply to trust that I am a one of a kind work of the Creator who has something unique to say and do through my life.

Thinking that my life can be God’s divine word living in and through me was the final nudge I needed to begin to write online again. If my life can be a message that God wants to speak to the world, then sharing it would be good. And it motivates me to stay faithful to my deepest self so that I become what the Father had in mind when He created me.

I would describe myself as a “seeker” who enjoys sharing what she has learned as a way to encourage others. I see that pattern throughout my life. I am grateful to God for all the experiences that He has allowed me to live. I want to share some of those as they reflect His goodness, power, faithfulness, and extreme love for humanity.

I plan to start this blog with a series about my returning to the United States. I pray that everything I write reflects how I am held by Divine Love , how we ALL are. May we be aware of that Divine in our day to day.

STAY TUNED…

For today I’ll end with a few words that give me hope—

“Do not be afraid to set your sights higher, to allow yourself to be loved and liberated by God…Holiness is an encounter between your weakness and the power of God’s grace.”  Pope Francis