I was a grown adult squeezed into a child’s school desk. (You know, those desks with the table part attached to an arm attached to the seat?) I pretended to examine the names carved into the desk top while I listened uncomfortably to the couple sitting next to me. We were all there to be “debriefed” upon our reentry into America after serving as missionaries in far off countries. The couple next to me was serving in China. As I listened to the husband speak, I felt them shutting down and closing off and retreating into themselves. His voice crackled with hostility, “I don’t know why we have to reconnect with our friends and family. We’ve just going to be leaving them again once our budget is raised. Why go through all that work if it’s just going to be temporary?” I understood what he was saying- it’s going to hurt to say good bye all over again. I understood.
In our missions organization, the majority of us are on a 4-year-out-1-year-home cycle. After a while, it’s easy to forget where your home really is. That year back in the states is mainly for fund raising for the next 4 years, but nearly everyone comes “home” beaten and battered, worn out and raw emotionally and spiritually. And no one wants to admit it to anyone outside of our circle of co-workers. It might look bad to our supporting churches. We might look weak. “Doctor, heal thyself,” we fear someone might say to us.
I saw this weakness in me, and I listened to the recommendation of the counselors in the debriefing sessions. I knew I needed to do the work of reconnecting with my friends and family while I was back home. But I also knew there was a painful parting up ahead. I took the plunge anyways. And I’m glad I did.
During our year (and a half thanks to medical issues) home I made several decisions that would guard and heal and refortify my family to let us put down roots again. First of all, we chose to live close to our relatives (more about that in a minute). Second of all, we chose to put our kids in the same private school that their cousins went to. This was an out-of-pocket expense for us, but we felt it was important for our kids to be close to their cousins again. Frankly, this turned out to be the best decision we could have made for them. Third of all, I chose not to travel with my husband so much during this fund raising cycle. In the past, we had traveled as a family all over the Midwest, home schooling along the way. I decided that we would only travel on the weekends, and only if we could be home for the kids to go to school on Monday mornings. We did not travel midweek at all. This decision meant that our kids could be involved in age appropriate activities at a home church during the week. My son got involved in a youth group, my middle daughter joined a Bible Quiz team, and my baby girl made nursery friends at a Mom’s group on Wednesday mornings. We put down roots, even though we knew they would be pulled up again.
In addition to these roots, I made a concerted effort to “carpe diem” every coffee date and luncheon I could arrange with my old friends. Knowing the time was short made it all the more urgent and important to get something on the calendar with all the people I love from my past. Knowing that I was leaving again made it all the more precious to me. I wanted to listen to their stories of their kids growing up. I wanted to hear about the changes that have occurred in the last 4 years in my circle of friends. I wanted to feel a part of a group again. In turn, they listened to some of my stories, reaffirmed their love towards me, and reconfirmed that I still have a place in their hearts. Those were some of the healing elements that needed to be applied to my dry, thirsty soul. My roots could once again draw up life into my soul.
The last rooting measure I took was to fortify my tap root- to reconnect with my family. I am so glad that we chose to live close by and to get involved in their church because it meant that I saw my parents (and the kids saw their grandparents) weekly. I remember once my dad mentioned that he was craving baklava. I went home and whipped up a pan of the heavenly dessert. I got in the car and drove the 10 minutes to my parents’ house to surprise my dad with a pan of baklava… just because I love him. It was so worth it to me to live close to them so I could do the little acts of love that we had missed during the last 4 years. To be able celebrate birthdays and holidays together, to drop in unannounced, and to sit in the back yard together was more soul-nurishing than I would have imagined when we were sitting in those desks back in the reentry debriefing session. The counselor was right, we ALL needed this. We all needed to put our roots back into our native soul even though it was just for a season. We all needed to be healed.