15 years! I can't believe it. When we left the US to stay here for the first time...I wondered if I could last 15 days! 15 months sounded like a stretch....15 years...eternity........We had no idea, when we said goodbye and boarded that plane in Philadelphia August 2001, what our life would become. We had no idea of the trials and triumphs that awaited us. We had no idea if we'd survive long enough to be considered veteran missionaries, but we knew one thing for certain...nothing would ever be the same. And in that, we were totally right, and the biggest change would be within ourselves. So many thoughts are running through my mind as I think about this milestone, so many events, so many faces, so many days, so many nights...That young couple with a toddler and baby, with tears in their eyes in Philadelphia (ok I admit I was sobbing) have become this couple with 5 children who can't imagine what their life would have been, if they'd never boarded that plane. I can't find an adequate way to sum it up, so I'll just attempt by giving 15 lessons that I've learned living this strangers life.
1. A strange place can become home. When I first arrived here, I didn't believe I could ever feel "at home". When I heard people say that about their field, I thought they were a lot better than me..or they were lying. And, admittedly, it took years (yes,years!) and I didn't think it would happen to me. But somehow I can now say, I feel at home in this place.
2. Things that once made you stare, seem normal. A family of 5 riding a motorcycle, oh well...10 or 12 policemen blocking the road..what now? It wasn't us, let us pass so we're not late to our meeting...and we'd rather not pay for the privilege either!
3. You will be misunderstood. By those in your new country, by those in your home country, by old friends, by family..by those you thought would always "get you". Because you've lived and experienced things that have changed your mindset, your manners, and your the whole structure of your life.
4. You'll make mistakes and still survive to make more. Mistakes in language, culture, saying too much, or not enough, giving up when you should have pressed on, judging harshly, getting a chip on your shoulder, attitude, anger........should I go on? You're human, never forget that. And also don't forget that we serve the God of all grace.
5. God's will is always right, but it's not always easy. You'll want to quit, don't. You'll want to cry, go ahead. Just keep moving forward in the path God has laid out for you. Not all of us get to cruise down the interstate at 75 mph..some of us hit the potholes and frost heaves (Maine girl speaking).
6. You can't live up to anyone's expectations. Not your husbands, not your church's, not your family's, not supporting pastors, not coworkers, not your own. Stop trying, it'll make you crazy. But thankfully, God has not set out a list of expectations, He has called us to be faithful. Let's be that.
7. It won't be what you imagined it to be. If you imagine it to be a paradise where you fall in love with every aspect of the country and culture and sinners are begging you to share the Gospel, it won't be that..if you imagine it to be a life sentence of extreme living conditions and daily heart break, it won't be that either. It'll be both and sometimes in the middle. It'll be life.
8. Homesickness hurts. A lot. Still now sometimes. But it gets easier, bearable, and home is always there as a beacon, the promise that there's still normal life in this crazy world somewhere.
9. You can still be you. Your sarcasm may not be as much appreciated but...hey...life goes on. You will change, but the shy, kinda quiet, quirky, fun loving, sarcastic person you once were, can still live on.
10. You don't have to forget your country. We were once told, unwisely in my opinion, by a missionary no less, that we should forget America when we moved abroad. That bothered me, it bothered me for a long time. Because I couldn't forget, and I didn't want to. And I learned that it wasn't necessary. We met Indians in the US who were still very attached to their country and culture, and no one here expected us to become un-American. It's possible to love you country and culture, without hating another. Just be careful of the comparison game...in America we...because it can fuel discontent.
11. There will be highs and lows. Don't let the highs spoil you, and don't let the lows discourage you. There have been times when we've seen so much fruit, and God working in a unique way, and other times that we've wondered why we were here at all. Hold on, just hold on.
12. There's a job to be done, and no matter how inadequate we may feel, this is what we've been chosen for. Don't trust in your feelings, trust in the God who has chosen you.
13. There will be those that help you in ways you could never imagine, and those who will hurt you far deeper than you could ever imagine. When you minister you give your heart and labor to people, people who may fail you, and for reasons unknown, people who may someday turn on you. You'll learn the meaning of forgiveness, even forgiving those who are not sorry, and will blame you for their betrayal. "...as Christ forgave you." And it's not easy.
14. There's no life like it. You are privileged to have this opportunity that is not given to everyone.
15. You are blessed always, by the God who stands with you, and carries you on the good days, and on the hardest days of your life, because you will face both.