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, 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.