Monday, May 30, 2011

I've been home for more than a week now...

A more simple description of my returning-home-reaction that I think will be more widely helpful:

At first everything's as if you never said goodbye.
Because this home that you've returned to is where your roots are.

And then everything starts looking different, shaded by where you actually WERE for the last year.
Because where you were became the home where you grew and bloomed in new ways.

I find that while the pressures of being an SM are no longer on me, I don't want to kick up my feet - emotionally - and go back to the way I lived life before.  It's work to practice unselfishness and extra thoughtfulness, but the payoff of peace from trusting God is preferable to the endless and fruitless work of fending off anxiety that comes from being "justifiably" selfish and trying to once again take control.

I want to keep alive and keep tending what only began to bloom in England.  It may seem tricky to do since now I'm back in the states, but you know how it can happen for me ... and for whichever SM is reading this?

Because it's MY heart I brought back with me from England.  Not someone else's.
Everything changed, but it's my heart I brought back.


The same God who never left me while I was nauseous with nerves flying to England, who never left me while I was scared and stiff learning how to serve correctly, who never left me while I made mistakes, grew, fussed & flailed, was broken down and finally settled down - the same wonderful Jesus is still with me now.

When you eventually fly home, all the changes can be kept.
All the lessons learned preserved.

The pressure that reminded you to turn to God as often as you did isn't there anymore, but while you're still feeling phantom pain of your old restraints' absence, see now as a time to turn to God just as much out of love, not just need.  Out of desire for more, out of hunger for new, out of belief in the miracles God can do.  And how about out of gratitude???

Your journey is still with God, but the challenge ... the opportunity is what's new.

Did you tap into new riches of God while you were gone?  Are you still at your SM post and still in the midst (or last stretches) of this season of service?  When it's over and when you go home, it's not the end.  Not if you ask Jesus to show you how and follow His lead...
I promise.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Afterglow and Aftermath

This blog is for my fellow SMs and for people who've been following along from the States.  To my loved ones in England, take it in stride, please, though I know some of you will have an easier time with it.

While it was happening, my term as a student missionary felt like 10 minutes ... underwater.  Now that it's over and I'm back in Berrien Springs typing this blog from my favorite lounge in Lamson Hall, I cannot believe how fast the time has flown.  The speed at which SO much is now over is surreal to me.

I thought I'd be a mess the day I left.  I did cry a little bit about three times on my last Sabbath morning, but what took over was the gut-wrenching feeling of being locked into a roller coaster about to take off at warp speed = another huge change is coming, I'm locked into it and I'm scared because this is happening too fast.

I got good at swallowing tears this year.  I didn't not cry - heavens no! - but I learned to suppress and swallow emotions that weren't so pressing as to be necessary.  I had to.  And on my last day in England, emotions were definitely swirling, but they weren't willing to be near the surface for some reason.  And so I decided to not encourage them, since the "pre-roller-coaster" feeling was bad enough.

My VERY dear friend Lynette Allcock came with me to the airport; we held hands the whole drive to Heathrow rather than breaking down.  She'd been a student missionary before me and understood what I was going through.  The beginning of my term as an SM was actually right after she'd finally returned to England from her 2 year term in Laos.  She and I both quickly bonded over the feeling of being fish out of water, not to mention a delightfully huge amount of things in common via personalities and ongoing life events.  We hugged for a long time at the airport and decided to not give in to blubbing and to just let it hit us later.  As I began to walk away to exchange my pound bills for dollars and head through security, rather than a wrenching feeling, I began to feel an uncanny peace.  And it only increased...

My flight began at 5:15pm UK time and it landed a little before 8pm Chicago time.  The whole flight was light outside through the windows and it felt like 5 minutes when it was over.  By all means there are relationships tangibly left behind by my recent absence from England, but those relationships aren't over.  They still matter and they haven't died and there's no blockage in the future to bring them to a devastating stop.  What IS over is that "fish out of water" feeling.  As much as I'm adaptable and as much as I learned to love Stanborough Park Church and as much as there is NOTHING that will take its place in my affections, it feels good for this fish to be back in water again.

I thought that going home would feel crazy-different and that Berrien Springs would have new colors and affect me in a shocking way.  But you know what?  It didn't.  The shock was that I felt a way I never thought I'd feel again.  The surprise was that I didn't feel shocked.  Coming back to Berrien Springs felt easy and walking around Andrews University and interacting with familiar faces was effortless.  Unbelievably effortless.

I grew up my whole life in an atmosphere so different from England that my 9 month term there stripped away most of what usually made me feel comfortable.  My retrospect is only beginning to bubble up, let alone be fully processed, but I am clear that life has been strenuous.  Getting used to it and building up emotional muscle didn't make it less so.  It's like having an operation that nearly kills you but if you don't have it you WILL die anyway, for sure.  I know that's drastic, but this year was a personally taxing time and that's not just the best metaphor I have; it's the one I choose.

This year was personally taxing because I also see more clearly now that my job wasn't just to do a job.  It was to have a new life.  To live in a small flat with 3 other people very different from myself, to adapt to them and to embrace it that our flat was smack dab in the middle of where we worked.  I lived with the people I worked with (one of whom = one of my many bosses) every day and I lived in my 24-7 work environment.  It was nifty & efficient at first, but that wore off eventually.  I'll be blunt: the weekends weren't just reversed.  Friday night through Saturday night went from being the most relaxed time of the week to being the time with the most work.  Such is ministry in the 21st century.  That was a hard adjustment.  Going from being a student who was ministered to by worship services, I became a non-student who was supposed to make worship services for teens, several of whom couldn't care less.  There are other cultures to serve in where it's "worldly" but who would have thought that working in a church and being DUNKED in a nasty struggle with secular comforts would go hand in hand!  Who would have thought that my greatest struggle to hold onto my faith would happen in a church, and a productive one at that!  Because a godly-looking cynicism was the easiest and most effective coping mechanism for the busyness required and the brokenness unavoidable...  But like cocaine, feeling the powerful effects of something (like cynicism) doesn't mean you should adopt it in your vitamin regimen.  No, no, no...  Satan's ways don't satisfy in the end but that doesn't mean they can't distract and it also doesn't mean they can't look like the sensible choice on the outset.  When I first started in Watford, few things were more disheartening than the weekend, but by the time I left, small flickers of interest and response from the teens who attended were golden.  Full genuine sentences made me feel alive!

When I first came, I hated Toddler Club.  There, I said it.  I didn't try to "look pretty" or inviting.  Thursdays were about survival and for awhile I used my earphones and iPod to cope with how much I couldn't stand Toddler Club.  For awhile I know my presence was like a dark cloud on the edge of a "cute festival."  By the time I left, I no longer was afraid of my Thursdays.  They were a breeze and I actually enjoyed working alone.  And Toddler Club?  It was a happy, smiling time.  No angst whatsoever; no earphones or iPod either.  A woman I worked with encouraged me to take them off and ask God into my feelings and in the end, I wound up sharing my music with my co-workers during tidy-up time.  We got done in half the time and wished we'd started playing music sooner!  I smile at the memory and feel regretful, too.  But I can't change the past.  While joy might have been known sooner in that situation, at least God made it work for the joy to be heightened in the end to make up for lost time.  Yesterday, my best friend Kayleen said that she could tell I'd been spending lots of time with little kids, and she's an awesome mother & parent, so I was pretty stoked by her off-hand compliment.

Teens & Toddler Club = just 2 examples with a decent dose of vague out of respect.  I know I'm supposed to write a student missionary blog, but I can't bring myself to truly dissect and divulge everything, because I had a life in England and it wasn't some project.  I lived and worked and loved with people.  It was a personal time and the whole experience - unrated - would make one heck of an unbelievable read.  I would have to be very full of myself or sure of myself to make a statement like that.  Since this year has brought me to the end of myself, you can be sure I'm telling you the truth that I've been holding back for good reasons.  

As the afterglow is winding down, the aftermath kicks in and I realize there's an overwhelming amount of things to process.  So much that I just want to shut down and so much that I wish life was simpler.  But this morning I journaled & prayed to God about it and He showed me something like this:

"For so long you've eaten from the fruit of knowledge.  Eat from life instead.  Rest in My love.  Let go.  Remember how I've led you in the past and remember how your human ways have let you down.  You know those roads and where they end.  Just trust that I've got you and I will make sure you know what you need at the right time.  You will be safe in My arms.  You weren't made to know and control everything.  You were made for life and love.  Let Me worry about power and control.  Rest in My love.  For now, it's all over."

At first, this seems like the hardest thing for me to do.  But not really anymore...  The past year - not just this 9 month SM term - has intimately acquainted me with how short my best efforts & ideas fall without Jesus.  Without my Savior God whom I've become desperately needy for.  Some of those ideas and beliefs frankly had no business existing.  It's embarrassing how much I need God.  It's not poetic.  But it's become such a relief to be broken into the reality of my sinful human condition and not just in acknowledgment of one sinful, human mistake.  There's an ocean of difference between the two and it's a life-changing experience...

I don't know what all you, my fellow SMs, have been learning about yourselves and about God as your terms wind down, but I hope this helps.  I know it's more of a personal vs. principle angle, so parts of it might be hard to apply but this year has been deep-tissue personal and since we're all SMs I know all of it's not lost on you as you read.

I think, as we all come back home in our own time, that we need to let God do the leading as we rebuild our lives yet again.

He's got this.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Pre-flight (reprise)

This time around, it's not so flowing & thoughtful as my first blog.

Packing 9 months worth of a life for a flight the next day is like cramming for a test that's gonna happen in a few hours.


Energy drinks.

Some progress.

More stress.

Somehow I will make this happen...!


Monday, May 16, 2011

Am I the only one or...

does anyone else preparing to leave their SM post soon feel nervous about flying back?  Is it on record that ex-SMs felt nervous about the return journey and its aftermath?

I guess some of why I'm scared is because how I've imagined things "at home" from what I've heard is unlikely to be what it actually looks like.

It's just such a big leap...  And the time has come to do it again...

It is absolutely surreal to me that I have less than a week left.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Emotions BAH!!!

Last night the most epic going away SURPRISE part was thrown for meeeeee!!!!!!!!!!!!!

I wanted SO BADLY to have all the emotions that I KNOW were moved come to the SURFACE right THEN so that the day I leave I won't be sick to my stomach and crying like a baby right after church.

Guess what?  Aww shucks, you know what or else I wouldn't be ranting.

Last night there was no crying, just an awareness underneath one of the most amazing nights EVER that I'm going to be a perfect mess the day I leave.

I love everyone here so much!!!!!!!

Coming to Stanborough Park Church was like beginning a whole new life.  It was a job, but that was one small facet.  It's not just a job.  Oh man...  I've begun a whole new life here and my heart has been stretched - genuinely - for tons of new friends who are my age, younger, older, elderly and so young that they're barely using real sentences yet.

But I guess emotions are out of my control - out of everyone's control - because God designed us to work a certain way that would tell us the truth rather than having the messy glory controlled away by our foolish notions.

Still, I'm gonna be a mess on May 21.  I'm going to get rid of all my mascara ahead of time.  Seriously.

Oh dear...


Oh dear...

Thursday, May 12, 2011


I don't know how to start something like this.  I don't know how to sound how I should sound.

My Grammie died this morning.  I found out a little over an hour ago.  It seems it happened in her sleep and she looked peaceful.

When something hurts, people say let the tears come, but I think when someone dies, you have to let the waves come.  It's not about your head, eyes and tears.  It's everywhere.  But it makes you curl up into a ball and just when you think you're done crying is when you need to lay still because the next wave is about to start out of nowhere.

My room is a mess the way a room looks when you're moving out of a place you've lived in for 9 months.  I've pulled my suitcases out in the hallway (small as it is) outside my room and I'm slowly transferring my stuff out of the furniture and onto the floor.  Then I'm going to move my furniture into the hallway and bring my suitcases into my little room.

Earlier I mentioned Grammie was on hospice and wouldn't be with us for very long and I thought that would be one of the many "tears" I was describing.  To say I feel torn is a disrespectful understatement.  I don't know what this is.  The death of someone close to me is a completely new experience.

While I know that I technically had 4 grandparents, my Grammie is the only one I feel I ever knew.

My first memory of meeting her was when my father, 2 sisters and aunt flew to Kenya to where she was working (Mom stayed home) and the first words out of my mouth to her (since she'd been there for 7 years - her husband, my mother's father, had died I don't know how many years before she went to Kenya) were a message from my Mom:

"We're here to bring you home!"  She laughed and got a big kick out of it.  I don't remember her first words to me, though...  I was 6 years old - about to turn 7.

After Grammie's heart surgery on February 5, 2010, everything about her changed.  She'd make some of the same expressions, which delighted me, but I received a huge shock when I saw her after the surgery over my spring break that semester.  I had to leave the room so I could cry.  Then I got my act together and went about adjusting to the new version of Grammie, which was monosyllabic at best and disinterested.

I don't remember my last words to Grammie; they were most likely along the lines of "Goodbye Grammie I love you!" before I flew to England.  But I remember the last real sentence she said to me before her heart surgery.  It was Christmas break 2009.  I had to go back to school.  Before we hired caregivers, I was Grammie's main caregiver as soon as fall semester 2009 was over.  But even before the semester finished, I drove to the hospital to see her whenever I could, to play Scrabble with her, read to her and pray with her.  When I first learned - in November 2009 - that Grammie was going downhill, it nearly ruined me for the rest of my classes.  I described grief back then like a bowling ball inside of me that - if it went off-balance just a little bit - would make me cry uncontrollably.  At the time, I had a close friend who'd recently lost a grandfather and I clung to what he told me: "To cope, I made sure he knew I loved him."  And so I threw myself into it.  In retrospect I'm more grateful than ever for those words of wisdom given to me, because they weren't an unreachable sermon, neither were they emotionless and scientific.  They were the real thing and just what I needed.  While I'd played Scrabble with Grammie a lot since she came to live in our house back in 2008, I'd almost never read to her and I'd definitely never prayed with her.  I didn't have time to feel bad that it took her declining health for me to reach out in these more personal ways.  She loved it when I read to her.  I'd hold the book with one hand and we'd hold hands with my free one.  When I offered to pray with her, she lit up and we held both of our hands.  When we flew to California to complete our move from Michigan, Grammie had an oxygen mask and got around on a wheelchair pushed by another person.  Whenever her mask slipped off, a beeping noise would start and I'd fix it for her.  And whenever she needed to use the restroom, I'd take her and help her.  It wasn't long before I was sleeping in her room at night.  She didn't like the hospital bed, but instead preferred her long-time favorite Lazy-Boy chair, so I slept in her hospital bed to be near her for whatever she needed.  While it was hard and made me want to cry a lot at first - seeing my independent and spunky Grammie that way - I know God helped me and the whole experience stretched me to embrace this part of human life.  It killed me to be so close to Grammie during that time, but it would have been the worst thing ever to not be close to her.  When I left - right before New Year's 2010 - to return to school, she grabbed my hand, pulled me close and said her last full sentences to me:

"What am I going to do when you go away?  Love you Babe."

My Grammie was never one to use the word "love" and she never did kisses.  But in the last 2 months of 2009, she gave both to me frequently.

Fonda Chaffee - my Grammie - hung on for a good year and a half after the crisis began and is now sleeping in Jesus.  The next thing she'll know is Jesus Himself coming to take her the rest of the way home.

As for me, I know Jesus is nearby - especially now that this has happened - but I really don't know what I am.  I loved Grammie so much.  She was far more conservative than I ever have been, but she always loved me, was proud of me, showed me off to her friends at Community Services (and elsewhere) by grabbing my hand, pulling me forward and saying, "This one's my youngest," and she was the go-to lady for spaghettios, ramen noodles and avocado sandwiches with lemon pepper seasoning.  She could never see too far past our differences, but I loved teasing her regardless that we were similar ever since I heard someone say at the dinner table, "Grammie's just like Chloe!"  It made me feel so cool to hear someone (Daddy?) say we were similar since she was so awesome to me.  She was my rockstar.  I never really realized she was "old" until November 2009.  And even then, it seemed like age and illness were foreign invaders.  She always has been and always will be my beloved Grammie and I have no idea how much I'll miss her.  I couldn't have asked for a better Grammie in the whole world.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Bahahaha... oh bookends.

Shortly after I first got here, in one of my first showers taken in our bathroom, the plug decided to plug up while I was the occupant and I was responsible for a small flood in the flat.

This morning, the same thing almost happened again LOL but I caught it in time before it reached as far as the bathroom door & carpet where it would flood Dejan & Deana's room all over again.

Just enough to be a bookend of my stay here, but not so much to make the same mess again, hehe :-)

Monday, May 9, 2011

A short(er) thought about our true home.

On one of my playlists, I have 8 songs in a row about home.

Going Home - Dvorak
Come Home - OneRepublic & Sara Bareilles
Comin' Home - City and Colour
Home - Michael Buble
Coming Home - Diddy
Feels Like Home - Chantal Kreviazuk
Finally Home - Natalie Grant
This Is Home - Switchfoot

Funny how these never came together until the past week or so; I really didn't know that I had all these with the same shared word.  The last song by Switchfoot I knew the least at first when I was clumping all these home songs together.

There's a bit from the lyrics that caught my attention in light of my "light bulb switched on" dilemma:

"I've got my memories
Always inside of me
But I can't go back
Back to how it was
I believe you now
I've come too far
No I can't go back
Back to how it was
Created for a place
I've never known
This is home
Now I'm finally
Where I belong
Yeah, this is home
I've been searching
For a place of my own
Now I've found it..."


I think God's been on my case for awhile now to make me get my eyes on where my true home is.  First we uprooted from Berrien Springs, Michigan to Lakeport.  And from Lakeport I went to Watford.  Now I'm returning to a summer in both places AND others.  I'm returning to complex situations.  It's not the same.  And I'm leaving the scene of the United Kingdom where God loosed me from bondage I didn't know I'd been under for years.  I'm praying that I won't be foolish with this gift...  England is my home now, too.

Well, pray tell, if my home is in so many places then where is my one home?!

In Jesus.

I think that God has been trying to get me to see something for awhile now, and not merely as a rite of passage into adulthood.  While we can rest in oases along the narrow way, if we're really going to follow hard after Jesus, we must embrace that the Son of Man has no place to lay His head, though foxes have holes and birds have nests.  Jesus hasn't come to take us Home to Heaven yet.  Trying to bond or put stock in just one place as home isn't the wisest thing to do these days.  And by the way, foxes' holes can be filled up, forcing them to relocate.  Birds' nests can be destroyed, forcing them to relocate as well.  Our treasures can't be stored on this earth where thieves break in and steal and where moths do their thing.  It's not just a material issue.  It's a heart matter as well.  Just as crime is getting more & more refined these days, Satan is the father of lies and his demons have a deck full of old and new tricks to play on the human race.

In order to win, in order to finally go Home someday, we have to give our hand over to God.  Satan is smarter than we are.  Just because some of us may not put our stock in material things doesn't mean there's no way for Satan to mess with us and diminish or destroy our testimony for Jesus.  Not at all.  We can't fight Satan on our own.  And when we try to boss God around, thinking we're righteous for "involving God" in the struggle, we still can't fight Satan on our own.  We have to give our hand over to God.  We have to maintain a flexibility on earth.  We have to keep fit and keep our lamps lit.

In more simple talk, it's given me peace to realize that while I'm returning to the United States where I was born and raised, it's not the same as going home after a trip.  It's just not.

And that's okay!


It feels like home
In a lot of places on this earth
Because Jesus is everywhere
And we can open our hearts
Anywhere to receive His
Love, truth, forgiveness and grace.

When you feel loved,
When you see truth,
When you've been forgiven,
When grace has rained and washed it all away,
You feel out of this world, but in a kind of limbo.
Because it feels unnatural, we wish it could be forever...

We don't get to feel like that perpetually, but one of the reasons we have those moments is to remind us we're not yet where we belong.  All is not right, but all shall be well.

I take comfort in embracing - though I sometimes tremble - how changeable life will always be before Jesus comes.  I think I'm seeing that it's the only way to be.

Home on this side of heaven is in Jesus.
In Him is the home you can have wherever you are, no matter what happens to you.

I hope if you've read this that it helps you in whatever you're facing.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Light Switched On. Uhoh.

Wednesday night, my DEAR friend Lynette said she was going to come to the airport with me to say a proper goodbye and that Messy Church could do without her.  'See, Messy Church is happening the Sabbath afternoon I leave - I kinda like the thought that while I'm heading out, life will be continuing on.  It's picturesque and desirable to be the center of attention in a goodbye, but somehow I like this just as much: it takes the edge off...

Anyways.  Lynette said she was coming with me.

And then the light switched on, and I saw things clearly.

I'm a creature of delayed reactions - 'don't know why - I just am.
When the light went on, a delayed reaction finally happened.  'See, I've been so thrilled about leaving, because I miss home.  It hadn't occurred to my heart personally - just in principle - that to be reunited with my former home, I'd have to LEAVE my current one.

Dude, I knew that before, but I just never knew it this way until the last 24 hours.

I'm going to cry like a baby.
It is going to break my heart.

I love it here so much...!!!  And I miss home so much!!!  This place has become home and it's been the scene of God breaking me out of a longtime cage.  God introduced me to a relationship with Him and fresh relationships with other people that were UNLIKE anything I'd known before.  At first, everything being so unknown frightened me so much it almost paralyzed me, but eventually it wound up setting me free...

At first, serving was no big deal, because I could get it done and then crash in my room.
Then, serving was an area I started to put my heart into a little more but it was very awkward.
And then, serving sometimes felt like a drag when I finally got comfortable here...
And lately, every sense has been heightened so that nothing feels like a drag at all!  It's all beautiful!
I know, and I praise God that the relationships won't end just because I'm leaving, but parting is such sweet sorrow!!  Sweet, because it draws out love expressed in newer & deeper ways; in the ways only goodbyes can accomplish.  Sorrowful, because - duh! - I won't be able to hug everyone here anymore, talk in person and share experiences and be around as life continues on.

It's true that the heart and soul are so important, but sometimes we minimize the more external realm.  I think God created it and gave it to us to inform us through imagery and feeling about the ways of our hearts.  "Not cut off" isn't bad, but being "close" is SO MUCH BETTER!!  There's got to be a balance of course, and if it's 100% one thing, that thing loses its meaning even if you binge on it in greater amounts.  Just like music loses its meaning without silences and changes in dynamic.

Goodbyes were never meant to happen.

"Every time we say goodbye, I die a little ... I wonder why a little." (Ray Charles)

We were meant to live all together.  In heaven we will.  (Thoughts of heaven are so hard to get your mind turned to, but once you get in the habit, they're comforting and encouraging for the journey)

Goodbyes were never meant to happen.  The pain of going away reminds us of that.  The fact that goodbyes STILL hurt after all these centuries ALSO reminds us that goodbyes STILL are not meant to be and they WILL be abolished one day, when Jesus comes.

Until then, my heart has a big tear coming up.  Luckily, I'm going from one precious environment to another.  It's a blessing that my heart will not be torn to go to one more place that's foreign to me.  It's like a grace that this heart-tear will be touched by the love of family and friends I had to part from for the last year...  But still...

The light switched on.  "Uhoh" is an understatement.

Leaving places and people of EVERY age that you love - especially a place where everything in your life changed forever - is just...  It's serious and it's going to hurt.  It's like heartstrings in every area are going to be seriously yanked.  I see it now.

Stanborough Park Church in Watford, England - I love you all so much!!!!!!!!!!!

I came here to be a student missionary, but God used this place on me and turned the tables...  There is no place like Stanborough Park Church, there never will be, and there is a guarded and special place in my heart for ONLY Stanborough Park Church.

Words fail me.