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.