On Laughing Without Fear

I sat alone overlooking the city of New Haven on Monday night from my perch among the lilac bushes and watched the sun set over West Rock. And as it went, I asked God to make me a promise. A promise for me, a promise for the city… Any promise.

This is how I always want to live my life: in expectation of God to promise me great things, crazy things – and to know with complete surety that they will come to pass. Every time in my life that God has promised me something, it has happened. Or it is still happening and I’m not done seeing it fulfilled. But either way, I know that His word is good. If He speaks it, it will be. I’ve seen it enough times to know that it never, ever fails.

So I asked. And God gave me a vision that is beyond words. The best I can do to describe it is this: I was reminded in that moment of exactly how I felt as a child in my own backyard. I felt that sense of ownership, that this was my plot of land. And I felt the familiarity that comes from roaming all over that same land day after day for all my life, the way I know my own backyard at my dad’s house, where I was born and raised. I felt the possession of the secret knowledge of all the best hiding places and all the best views and all the cool plants and stumps and boulders in the woods. I felt the same confidence that I’d have walking around my own property, that I was safe there and I belonged there and it was mine.

But I felt it for the whole city and everything beyond it as far as I could see and even for what came after that. It was a real Lion King moment. All the familiarity, all the confidence, all the security I had as a child growing up on four acres in Killingworth, I had it there in New Haven, and for all of New England, too. And God told me that I would be like a child roaming around and exploring and enjoying this land. He told me it was as safe and secure and familiar and as much mine as my own backyard twenty miles to the east of where I sat that night.

It wasn’t some deeply spiritual promise. Or maybe it was. Maybe it will bring Him great joy to watch me confidently and securely explore and enjoy the place He has called me to. Maybe a renewed childlike approach to the everyday will bring me the contentment and peace I need to accomplish all He calls me to without burnout. Maybe God is far more concerned with our joy and awe and childlike wonder than we think He is.

Most importantly, in that moment I felt no fear, I felt no burden, I felt no great responsibility. I felt free to roam and to explore and to enjoy all the things He has given me. I think that’s what God wants me to do – to enjoy this place and all He calls me to, without fear and without guilt. I thoroughly believe He is pleased at our pleasure.

Plan B

I guess you’re supposed to count the cost of following Jesus before you commit your life to Him, but the concept just hadn’t occurred to me. Those Scriptures about losing your life and taking up your cross daily seemed a little overblown. Because for years walking with God, I never had to let go of much.

Sure, I lost respect from family and friends who thought I was an idiot for following Christ. I was ridiculed and laughed at for my faith. I put plans to move away and go to a great college on hold because God told me to stay and help plant a church in Connecticut. I was no stranger to suffering or sacrifice. But these trials didn’t ever scare me because I believed if I was obedient, that Jesus would give me everything I wanted.

I made Jesus my genie. If I was nice and obedient and served Him, I thought, He would grant my wishes. Any sacrifice He asked me to make was worth it because I believed He was going to make all my dreams come true eventually. I heard Psalm 37:4 and felt that it confirmed this prosperity-centered thinking. “Delight yourself also in the Lord and He shall give you the desires of your heart.” So I was going to delight in Him until I had all the things I wanted.

Being the only believer in my family? Easy. Church planting? Piece of cake. Because my eyes were on the prize: the life and the future I imagined He would surely bless me with, complete with hot Christian husband reminiscent of Brad Pitt and beautiful house in the safe Connecticut suburbs. (I was pretty unoriginal back in the day; cut me some slack.) All the fervor I needed was fueled by my confidence that if I ran God’s race I would be blessed. So I kept running.

I came to a point where I thought I could see the finish line. I thought I was about to obtain the life I had always wanted. I thought I’d been good enough for God that He was finally going to give me “the desires of my heart.” Plans were being discussed about the life I’d always dreamed of having. It didn’t look perfect, but it looked good enough and I was tired of waiting.

Almost everyone I knew was convinced I was endlessly happy, but I couldn’t shake the feeling that something was wrong. The spiritual unrest I was experiencing was unexplainable, because outwardly I had everything I wanted. But I would go to sleep at night in tears and I had no idea why. Food stopped tasting good and almost overnight I was down ten pounds. I retreated into the woods, running and walking countless miles every day to distract myself from the unease.

But all of a sudden, God took it all away. I was running in the woods behind my house to reach a place by the lake where I would go in the times when my confusion and heartache would build up. I cried to God, asking Him what was happening and why. He didn’t give me understanding but He did give me peace about letting go of the future I thought I wanted with the person I thought I wanted it with.

Signing up to be a missionary was my Plan B. It was me with my fist in the air, screaming, “Why won’t you just let me be happy, God? Why can’t I just have what I want?” And somehow, leaving the country and traveling the world seemed like it would get me what I wanted faster than staying put. So I packed my bags, and along with the malaria meds and travel shampoo I took with me the unanswered questions, “Why didn’t it work out? I thought it was going so well. Did I do something wrong? How could you let this happen to me, Lord?”

It wasn’t long before I was confronted with the fact that my motivation for going (and the motivation behind everything I was doing for God) was not pleasing to Him. I met a lot of people, some who traveled with me and others along the way, who lived lives completely surrendered to God. They didn’t hope to obtain prosperity or avoid suffering. In fact, they traded the former for the latter and rejoiced anyway. These people were seeing something that I wasn’t, and it scared me.

My entire squad was debriefing at a hostel in Kuala Lumpur after five months overseas. By this point I was officially exhausted. Life was anything but glamorous; I frequently found myself living in my leaky little tent, cockroaches crawling through my belongings, with nothing but terrible food to eat and a stench that wouldn’t leave me no matter how many times a day I showered.

And while I longed for the comforts of home, I also longed for the future I had envisioned for myself all my life. And I felt so confused over how I’d wound up living the farthest thing from it on the other side of the world. For months I would hold it together during the day for ministry, but in my head at night my thoughts were all spent hungering for that opposite-life, the comfortable one I used to live.

We all gathered up on the rooftop one night for worship and I wasn’t feeling too into it. But God met me there in my exhaustion and gave me a vision. I saw myself standing at the edge of this cliff, the unknown before me and the familiar behind. And He was telling me if I jumped that I would see more of Him than I ever had before, but I would be accountable for what I saw. I could never go back to the way things were; there was no way back up this cliff. Jumping would mean complete surrender, trusting God to direct my future.

Sharing this with my team, they obviously encouraged me to take that leap. But I held out for another month or two, not yet ready to really lay all my dreams and desires at His feet. I still thought my plan was better than God’s, and I still desired the comforts of this world over Jesus himself.

But God, in his great mercy, patiently worked on me as I deliberated. He continued to show me His grace and love, slowly convincing me that He is worth losing everything for. He brought me to a place where I heard stories of martyrs and rather than cringe, I envied them. He taught me what a privilege it is to suffer for Him, how imperative it is that I lay down my life – and all the plans I had for it – to gain Him. Jesus is my treasure and nothing in this world can satisfy as He does.

Now I run the race with my eyes fixed on the true prize. I would never want all the blessings of God if He wasn’t in them. When I thought I wanted anything but Him, I was believing a lie. He knew this when He spared me the life I thought I wanted. The familiar was comfortable; it meant keeping up appearances and playing it safe and putting God in a box. But that isn’t how I want to live, and there’s no going back even if I did. Real freedom isn’t when we have complete control over our futures; real freedom is when our desires become aligned with God’s will. Jumping off that cliff was no longer scary, because He made me truly want more of Him. And when we gain Him, we lack no good thing.

He has given me the desires of my heart. He has become the desire of my heart.

Bold and Unashamed

Training Camp took place about a month and a half before my squad launched from Atlanta, Georgia to the mission field. It was a chance for us to meet one another, to be challenged to ask God for big things, and to download vision for what He wanted for us in the year to come. It was my expectation that in becoming a missionary, I would have one opportunity after another to take cool selfies with African babies, thus establishing my reputation as a Good Christian. Needless to say, I had given little thought at this point to what it really meant to take the gospel to the nations. So as I sat and prayed for God to remove my expectations about the year to come, he graciously replaced them with a promise. “I will make you bold and unashamed of me.”

I was afraid. Part of me was honestly hoping this word wouldn’t be fulfilled. See, the thought of being a bold witness for Christ made me cringe. I had attached to the idea of boldness images of hateful men standing on street corners with bullhorns barking condemning words at passersby, thus further cementing the stereotype of Judgmental Soapbox Christian to the masses. Though I wasn’t aware of it at the time, my experience in churches up until this point had been pretty heavily “seeker-sensitive.” The idea that we would worship God was delivered with the disclaimer, “Just don’t do anything that would freak someone out.” Acts of service and the meeting of physical needs in my community were rarely paired with an explicit sharing of the gospel. And this was comfortable for me; I didn’t want to offend anyone after all!

The first four months of the World Race passed me by without God’s delivery on this promise. The vast majority of ministry up until this point was to people who already knew the good news. We were sent to areas that were heavily churched, and I was pretty confident I had this missionary thing figured out.

That is, until God brought us to Malaysia. This was my first experience inside a “closed country,” where we could not explicitly share the gospel for the safety of our hosts and ourselves. If questioned, we were there as English teachers in a cultural immersion program. Our opportunities to worship were solely behind closed doors, and our assignment was simply this: to pray. Although we saw no fruit, we trusted as we prayed over children who came to learn English from us that God was at work.

And for the first time in my life, as I encountered this “untouchable” population, I had inside me a deep longing to share the gospel.

The following month found us in Vietnam, technically closed but not nearly as closely monitored as our previous home. Our host was one of the boldest men I have ever met. He encouraged us to share the gospel with everyone we came in contact with, whether at the cafe where we worked or out in public on the streets. And Ho Chi Minh City was ripe for the harvest. So as God led one person after another into my path, I fumbled over my words in articulating the story of Christ, but grew in confidence with each interaction. This was the most fertile ground for boldness; I had a host who led by example, a team around me to back me up, and the most spiritually hungry audience I’ve witnessed to this day. And to the glory of God, my team and I saw so many people come to know Jesus this month. We left Vietnam exhausted but so full of joy.

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As the months went on, God continued to convince me that the most loving thing to do for someone is to tell them the truth about Jesus. This is a truth I had known in my head for years, but had yet to accept wholeheartedly. I heard a podcast a couple months later which told the story of a formerly muslim girl who converted to Christianity and was brutally killed by her brothers for doing so. When I heard this, God told me, “She is the lucky one. She counted the cost and was not following me to gain earthly reward. Envy her, for she gained me.” I had to listen to it several times for this truth to sink in, but as it took root in my heart, God’s promise to make me bold and unashamed was fulfilled.

The gospel is offensive, and many people will despise me for sharing it. But as I count the cost, I see that it is worth it because I am not more valuable than Christ who gave his life for me. Jesus bore all of my shame so that I no longer have to fear what reaction I will get when I share the gospel. By no means am I an expert; God still works in spite of my weak attempts at articulating his story verbally. But fear is no longer a stumbling block for me. It is my great joy to endure rejection for the sake of Christ, because it is my great joy to share the gospel.

The Ugly Part of Me

Admittance to the World Race came with a suggested packing list. And while it was long, it was hardly exhaustive. It soon became apparent to me that in addition to the thousands of dollars I’d need to raise in order to finish the Race, there would be many other hefty expenses I hadn’t really considered. So I spent the summer before I left slowly accumulating the gear I would need. Among the new items that began to take up residence in the corner of my bedroom was a Nalgene bottle. Blue and white, 32 fluid ounces, with ‘UCONN’ written down the side (a reminder of home, and my life-long loyalty to the UConn Huskies). It cost maybe $15.00. Honestly, I can’t remember.

Fast forward to two months after leaving home and I am in Swaziland living on top of a mountain. The scenery is gorgeous and the weather has surprised us all and turned clear and warm. All I want to do is go for a walk in the mountains with some people I enjoy. Because sunny walks with people you enjoy are pretty effective soul-medicine and I have been traveling just long enough to start to feel homesickness settling in.

So off we go, my friends and I. Our destination is a particular rock with a stunning view of the valley, the river far below us and the fields slowly burning in the distance to keep the grasses from growing too high. I am forgetting homesickness and our fast-approaching travel day to Mozambique as I am again filled with gratitude to be right where I am in this moment. We make an attempt to capture it with a photo, but it does the view no justice.

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We have to return in time for chapel, so we begin to head back. We take off running though the fields, past the carcass of a dead cow, to the dirt road that leads to the gates of the children’s home. We are nearly to the road and are walking to catch our breath when we see a little boy running to catch up with us. We stop and wait for him and when he speaks to us it is in Siswati, the local language. One of the girls with us has lived in Swaziland long enough to piece together what he’s saying. He is saying the word for water and it occurs to us that he is asking for a drink.

The boy is maybe seven. He is wearing well-worn, ill-fitting clothes and is barefoot. But not only am I face to face with this thirsty little boy – I am face to face with the Ugly Part of Me. I am afraid to give this little boy a drink from my Nalgene bottle. My brain is saying, “You can’t let him drink from your bottle. He might have HIV. That’s spread through bodily fluids. So he can’t have your water. You’ll have to throw out your bottle. It won’t be safe.” I hesitate as he continues to ask for a sip, unable to properly form words that express my concern. He repeats his plea again and again and I am frozen.

Finally, after what seems like forever, Amanda opens her bottle, tilts his little head back and pours water into his mouth. And I watch as gratitude sweeps over him; he is clearly incredibly thirsty and I have denied him a drink. He gulps and gulps and catches his breath before leaning back and opening up wide for more. I am full of guilt as I realize how thirsty he was. I missed my opportunity to bless him and all I can do is stand and look on as God provides for him in another way. I have failed to serve this boy and I have failed to serve Jesus.

He downs as much as he can before smiling to thank us and continuing on. We finish our walk back and I have nothing to say; all I feel is regret. “What would Jesus do?” I ask myself. Of course he would give the boy the water. He’d give the boy the whole bottle.

Later I find Amanda at the kitchen sink, liberally applying dish soap and scrubbing her bottle. I feel pretty stupid for not thinking of this. She tells me she was worried, but figures it’ll be fine. I figure it’ll be fine, too. I hear the Ugly Part of Me start to say, “You’re in the country with the highest rate of HIV in the world. Most people would applaud you for saying no.” But the sting of regret is still fresh. And I sit there and resolve not to let fear rob me of another chance to bless someone.

I lost my Nalgene three months later at a hostel in Kuala Lumpur after using it as a vase for some flowers. By that point, it smelled so bad I didn’t even miss it. And Amanda still doesn’t have HIV. And I’d forgotten about that little boy entirely until about a week ago when I was approached by a woman asking for money for a train ticket.

It was 1:30 on a Wednesday in downtown New Haven and I’d just come from lunch with a friend. She had an elaborate story about her boyfriend driving off with her purse in the car after they got into a fight. I’ll never know if it was true or not. But what I could perceive for certain was the great deal of shame she was carrying. Shame for asking a stranger for money and probably for a lot more. As she spoke to me, I prayed and asked God what I should do. He said, “Five dollars.” And as I reached and found the bill in my coat pocket, the Ugly Part of Me was saying something, but I couldn’t really make it out.

After I offered her the money, she threw her arms around me and gave me a huge hug, thanking me profusely. I told her not to be embarrassed. I asked her for her name. She asked me to pray for her. I did. I don’t know what she used the money for, but I do know that fear didn’t rob me of another chance to serve Jesus. And as I walked back to my car, I rejoiced at the realization that the Ugly Part of Me has less influence now that it did last October.

Ten Lonely Years

Having just stepped off the bus in Phnom Penh, I retrieved my pack from the pile of them being unloaded and stacked on the dusty sidewalk. Joining my friends across the street to wait for further directions to our hotel for the night, I was immediately greeted by what would soon become a familiar sight – half-naked street children flocking to us, begging for food. With my team’s permission, I distributed the leftover bananas we’d brought for our ride from Vietnam. The youngest boy in the group wasn’t even old enough to peel his own banana, and as I assisted him, I watched as the others quickly devoured theirs. Like everything we saw in this city, the children were covered from head to toe in dirt. There were no parents in sight, if they even had them, and no telling when they’d last been bathed.

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As was the case with every previous ministry assignment, we had no idea what to expect. Where we would be living, what kind of work we’d be doing and even where we’d lay our heads at night was all a mystery to us. All we knew was that our host was an American woman in her eighties who had spent the last ten years of her life building an English school for Cambodian children. The following day, nine of us crammed into the back of several tuktuks with all our belongings and set off for some unknown corner of the city.

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Our ride took us first through the heart of Phnom Penh and then to a quieter neighborhood on the outskirts. As we rode over innumerable potholes, the traffic stirred up a cloud of dust through which we caught glimpses of cows roaming the streets, people shopping in giant outdoor markets, and children bravely venturing into swampland to retrieve the giant lotus flowers that grew in the muck.

Finally, we arrived at the English school. We were greeted with an elaborate meal and introduced to Doris and her staff of five, all native Khmer people. It became immediately apparent to us that there was something crucial missing from this place. As soon as I’d entered the front doors, I sensed an atmosphere that was heavy with tension. It seemed everyone working there had been robbed of their joy. Each time I introduced myself to one of them, extending a hand and a smile, I found timidity, surprise and only the most brief eye-contact. As we ate, the staff sat in silence as Doris lectured us in her deep southern drawl about the shortcomings of the Khmer people and the ways in which the country’s violent past had left them handicapped. A crowd of children began to grow at the entryway, clearly eyeing our food with hunger. Rather than offer them any, Doris snapped at them to leave us alone.

Finishing our meal in silence, stunned by the demeaning way she spoke of her staff, we were then ushered into a meeting with Doris to learn more about the history of the school and to discuss what we could do to help them. As we assured her that we were perfectly fine with sitting on the floor, she waved away our offer while yelling to her staff to bring us chairs. My team and I exchanged uncomfortable glances, unsure of how to proceed.

While she originally assigned us to help develop her staff, all of whom she perceived to be incompetent, we realized that this really was not why God had us there. We knew from that very first day that our goal was to see improved communication and a mutual respect between Doris and her staff members. And we knew that it was not for no reason that Doris acted this way.

In our meeting and as the month went on, we probed deeper into Doris’ heart to find the root of the anger and hostility she was imposing on her staff. She informed us that she had spent the last ten years in Cambodia, following the death of her abusive husband. Since moving there all by herself, she had interacted almost exclusively with native Khmer people who spoke only fragmented English. Doris still hadn’t learned to speak any Khmer, despite her extended stay. We also learned that she had strained relationships with her children and grandchildren, that they rarely spoke or even visited when she was able to go back to the United States.

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Before I met Doris, I imagined a sweet old lady who had bravely rejected relaxing into a comfortable retirement in favor of fulfilling the great commission. Essentially, I expected a female version of Mister Rogers, purposefully living a meager life in a foreign country for the sake of the gospel, and probably baking cookies for the starving street children, wiping the dirt from their faces. And this truly may have been the case when she first arrived. I really believe that her intentions for moving to the other side of the world, rejecting the familiar comforts of America (including Cracker Barrel, her favorite restaurant) and singlehandedly starting her English school were pure. But somewhere in those ten years of isolation, having no one else around who could truly know her and speak into her life, that sweet old lady got lost.

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One of the greatest gifts we could give Doris during our stay with her was just to listen to her. Given the opportunity to talk, she did not hesitate to share that she felt lonely, unappreciated, and misunderstood. I managed to find much more sympathy for Doris that month, despite how painful it was to watch her put down her staff and blame them for things outside of their control. But my heart broke for her because I could see myself in her. Left virtually alone in a foreign city, separated from all my loved ones who really didn’t make an effort to keep in touch, and reeling from a lifetime spent in an abusive relationship, I could easily be a Doris. Without the refining that only occurs within genuine, transparent community, anyone could be a Doris.

You are worth loving.

I’ve been trying to put this into words for the last two weeks with much difficulty. The day I left Swaziland was the hardest day of my entire trip by far – harder than leaving my family for nearly a year, and harder than saying goodbye to my friends I’d lived and traveled with when we finally reached the end. And to be honest, I never really let myself revisit it until now. Later that same day we jumped right into ministry in Mozambique and other responsibilities became more pressing. But so many nights since I’ve returned, I have been kept awake for hours replaying my time spent in this beautiful country. Swaziland, more than any other place I visited, holds a special place in my heart. If you’d like to hear more, it would be my joy to share it with you face-to-face. Unfortunately, though, it’s proving especially difficult for me to put into writing.

I woke coated in a fine layer of dust. For the few hours I’d been able to sleep, the torrential rain knocked every bit of dirt from the tin roof onto me in the bunk below, while the furious winds blew even more in through the cracks. As soon as I regained consciousness, the heaviness of what was coming flooded back to me. At the foot of the bed, my pack stood leaning against the wall full of everything I had with me. I began this day the same way I had every day this month: wishing I could have more time there on top of the mountain. But my time had run out.

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Three days prior, sitting on a rock overlooking the entire valley below us, I felt my heart breaking. The thought of leaving El Shaddai, the orphanage we’d lived and worked at for our second month, hung over me like a shadow. The stories of the abuses and atrocities committed against each child before he or she was brought to the orphanage replayed through my mind. For weeks I had entertained the idea of refusing to leave, but I knew God would not let me stay. I never expected to learn a lesson in commitment while spending the entire year being shuffled from one country to another. But continuing on with the World Race at that point took all the self-control I could muster.

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I rushed to get out of bed and up to the gate to see the children one last time before they went to school. I walked the same path I had repeatedly taken that month, and recalled all the times I had suddenly felt a pair of soft brown hands covering my eyes from behind and a voice in my ear, “Guess who I am!” (It was always Nozipho.) As the children trickled out of the dormitories in their navy and red school uniforms, I waited outside for my girls, the ones I’d been loving and had been loved by all month. One by one, they emerged into the sunlight and wrapped their arms around me, sure it would be the last time.

What stung the most about these goodbyes was how unaffected the girls seemed to be. I didn’t need them to miss me in order to feel important, neither did I want them to be heartbroken over the inevitable. But it seemed as though each one of them had steeled her heart for this moment, refusing to show emotion or to let herself admit she’d truly miss me. Not a tear was shed that day by any of them, at least not in my presence. The hugs were genuine but quick, and then they were gone. I again recalled some of their stories, the ways in which those they’d loved had left them before. While it made sense why this farewell wasn’t earth-shattering to them, at the same time it wrecked me to witness the ways these beautiful children had already developed callouses on their hearts in subconscious acts of self-preservation.

Finally, out came my Lindo, notoriously on the late side. That month, we’d each been paired with a child to intentionally spend time with each afternoon, and God told me to partner with her. But all month, she’d been running from me, just to see if I was committed enough to chase her. The first time we sat and talked, she asked, “You’re my buddy? When are you leaving me?” She, more than any child I met that month, assumed that I wouldn’t bother to pursue her. Each afternoon in chapel, she refused to sit with me, despite my invitation. Each evening when I had to go eat dinner, she would lie to me, “I’m leaving this weekend. I’m going back with my family. I will not see you again.” She was already skilled in the art of manipulation, but I soon learned this was just a trick to get more of my time and attention. However, to her surprise, I would not abandon the chase, and each extra hour spent with Lindo was one in which I saw the walls she’d constructed fall down as she realized no act of rebellion or indifference could deter me. She held on a little longer than the others that morning, long enough for me to speak over her, “You are smart. You are beautiful. You are worth loving.”

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After reluctantly packing up our chapas to head down the mountain, we said the rest of our goodbyes and crowded inside. We pulled out of the gate and down the dirt road past the school. As we rounded the corner, all the children in the schoolyard began dancing and waving for us as we departed, lined up along the fence. In the back row of seats, I sat and wept more heavily than I ever had, hoping God would eventually bring me back.

They Warned Us

Sitting on a rooftop feeling weary under the burdens of the mission field, the luster having worn off our jet-setting lifestyle, they warned us. “Soon you will wish you had one more day of this life.” I denied it silently while sweat soaked my shirt and the pollution left a film on my skin. Not even halfway through and already I longed for the end, for my own bed, for my family, for the ability to make any decision for myself. Every dream of home was dreamed in rose-colored glasses.

Gathered together on one of our last days, surrounded by warm, salty air and palm trees and clear Caribbean water, they warned us. “Re-entry will not be easy.” Still I refused to agree. What a privilege it was to be living in such a beautiful place with beautiful people. But the gratitude was stolen from me by homesickness. I counted down the months, then the days, then the hours. I took every opportunity not to see what was in front of me. “Nothing will satisfy like home,” I thought.

But along with the ability to drink tap water, the re-learning of how to drive a car, the time spent cuddling with my dog – along with all the things I’d daydreamed about – came the unexpected and the unprepared for.

It began with the language. I could understand what everyone around me was saying at all times. I could overhear any part of any conversation I eavesdropped on. My victims were unaware of my intrusion and unaware of my unrest. The same mouth that would bless one person would immediately curse another. I’d never been so aware of how poorly we speak of each other before I went without hearing it in my language for a year. For lack of a language barrier, I was left stunned and questioning who I could trust.

Then loneliness settled in. I used to break the rules. I’d set off on my own early in the morning in the heart of a foreign city. I’d sit in a coffee shop by myself. I’d relish every minute of my stolen, priceless alone time. But home brought an overabundance. After crawling into bed at night, I’d count how many people I’d spoken to face-to-face that day – on one hand. I’d look around my bedroom and nobody else was there sleeping beside me. This strangeness would leave me sleepless. How could I end my day without first fellowshipping, praying together, knowing and being known?

Add to this the complete inability to articulate what happened to me in the last year. If only each person I spoke with told me what they wanted to hear, I could answer them. I wish I knew how to put into words an entire year of my life in a manner which would please any audience. But everyone is looking for something different and something specific, and I am continually inadequate to provide it to them. As it turns out, stories that brought me to tears make everyone laugh, stories that make me laugh just confuse people, and stories that astound me bore my listeners. So there exists an entire year of my life, a tremendously influential and life-altering year, which nobody around me knows anything about. And I am at fault because I can’t make words make sentences anymore.

Tonight in my unrest, God spoke to me, “You can’t avoid processing forever. And you can’t make it happen any faster.” So here are these thoughts. I am forcing the groaning to become words. I’m sure it will be messy. I’m sure personal failures will far outweigh wisdom and entertainment value. But if you’d like to hear and you have no expectations, here are these thoughts.

Some days are easy, and some days are hard. But God is worth praising all the way through both.