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.