Most of my blog posts up to this point have been sharing about my day-to-day life in Zambia with a few “thoughts” and “lessons learned” thrown in. But I’ve been thinking lately about perhaps writing out my journey coming to the mission field; the easy and the hard, the good and the bad.
Well, I’ve decided to go for it…and here’s the end result.
My goal in sharing this is to hopefully encourage others who may be going through the same things I’ve been through… Foreign missionary or not, I hope this post encourages you.
It was early 2011. My family and I were sitting in our living room in small-town Missouri. My dad had just returned from a short trip to Zambia and the news that wasn’t altogether unexpected was told us by my parents: We’re moving to Zambia.
I remember feeling a rush of emotions. As I said, the news wasn’t entirely unexpected. Zambia had been a big point on conversation in our home for about a year at this point and I knew my parents had a heart for Africa.
Even still, my emotions were everywhere. I didn’t want to go…but I did want to go….I didn’t want to leave my friends…but I wanted to live in Zambia. I’d always DREAMED of jumping back in time and living when things like electricity, running water, and technology weren’t so readily available; and I knew Zambia would likely fulfill that dream to some degree…but I didn’t want to give up the luxury and comforts of the U.S..
Nearly every thought I had was contradictory to another. I wanted something, but I didn’t want it…My feelings didn’t make sense; and quite frankly, neither did this decision.
Even though 2011 was when we were told this news and when my emotions first went crazy, the emotions quickly subsided and life went on as normal. Zambia was something in the distant future…so distant, in my mind, it would never really happen.
It was nearly four years from when my parents first knew God was calling us to Zambia to when we stepped foot on Zambian soil as an entire family for the first time.
During these four years, my parents prayed diligently. They asked God for the right timing for us to move. They asked God for the resources. They made strides toward making us getting to Zambia possible.
During these four years, I was telling people I was moving to Zambia when it became appropriate in conversation; but I still didn’t really believe it.
It all became real sometime in 2014. My parents began talking about purchasing tickets. We started going through and selling things in our house. Our shop building began to fill up with items to either sell or store.
It began to feel like we were moving. Somehow, Zambia didn’t seem so distant anymore…it didn’t seem so unlikely. It was actually happening…
I turned 16 in October of 2014; just 6 months before we left for Zambia. As my birthday approached and the the freedom I’d have with a driver’s license became more exciting, my excitement for Zambia steadily decreased.
Just before my 16th birthday, I started falling into serious resentment regarding Zambia. I was placing my identity in friendships and people. I also dealt with anxiety and some mild depression. I cried myself to sleep multiple times with bitter thoughts about Zambia, already missing relationships, and being afraid of the future. I didn’t want to go. No matter what, I just wanted to stay in Missouri.
I had (in my mind) controlled my life just fine for the past couple years. I felt like I was right where God wanted me! I was mentoring a friend, my two best friends and I had a relationship anyone would dream of. My church held me accountable and I was fed every week by God’s word. I would soon have the freedom to drive and go places alone. Life in Missouri was fantastic!! This move didn’t make any sense!! …I was comfortable….So WHY WAS I LEAVING!?!?!?
Have you noticed a pattern at all here?? I’ve hardly mentioned me calling on God for strength at all…I was living in my own strength during this time. I was trying SO hard to control my life even though I knew it was out of my control…. I was brokenhearted and an emotional wreck because I was seeking answers and placing my identity in all the wrong places….I thought I knew the right answers; but God is the only one who truly possessed those.
At this same time, I lost some valuable relationships; relationships I’d been idolizing and putting before God. When God removed these relationships, my eyes were opened to see how much I’d neglected Him.
I cried and cried telling my parents how much I knew I’d failed and how much I knew I needed to change. Instead of judging me or being upset, they only encouraged me. They simply told me how proud they were of me for recognizing my failure and doing something to fix it.
I began really seeing my need for the Lord more as these last 6 months in the U.S. progressed. I began praying more, reading my Bible more, and even thinking about God more. While I was still sad, I found I wasn’t trying to live in my own strength in as many areas anymore. Zambia seemed a little less of a grim fate and my excitement was increasing…but I was still conflicted.
However, there was one area of my life I still didn’t give over fully to the Lord:
I was broken one the inside. My life was out of my control and I KNEW I needed to surrender everything to the Lord; but I still didn’t surrender my friendships. I was still placing a huge portion of my identity in them and used them as an escape mechanism from reality.
I was finally at a place where I could say, “Okay God, I’ll go…” but it was still hard. Instead of calling on the Lord first in my time of difficulty, then my family second, my first “go to” was my friends.
I spent SO MUCH time with my friends the last few months in the U.S.. There’s not anything wrong with this per-se. I mean, everyone wanted their last minute time with friends; but for me I was using it as an escape.
I was escaping from my house which felt FILLED with Zambia: bags laying here, piles of papers to organize there, no furniture in this room, all our clothes in that room…everything just SCREAMED Zambia and some days it was more than I could bear.
I was escaping from thoughts of leaving my friends. I thought spending more time with them would somehow take away the reality of leaving them. It didn’t…
Then, I went through a time where I believed the lie if I’m sad at ALL about moving to Zambia it meant I was not submitted to the Lord. I beat myself up over being sad. I told myself I couldn’t struggle since it was what God was calling me to do. Therefore, I tried to suppress and hide my emotions.
This didn’t go very well for me. Thankfully God showed me the truth quickly. I read the story of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane where He cried out to the Father and God used that story to show me the truth. It’s okay for what God is calling me to do to be hard. It’s okay for me to cry! It’s okay to be sad! However, “not my will but Thine” should be my resounding heartbeat even in the midst of difficulty. As long as I am willing despite the pain, that’s what matters.
God calls us to do hard things. God doesn’t promise us an easy life. In fact, the Bible talks a lot about suffering, rejoicing in suffering, and glorifying God in suffering. It’s not a sin to suffer…it’s how we deal with that suffering that can be sinful if we’re not careful.
In fact, I’ll never forget: I shared what I had just learned regarding suffering with my church family one Sunday through tears. One of the men spoke up, laughing a little, and said, “Well quite honestly, if you weren’t at least a little sad I might think there was something wrong with you!” HAHA!
I learned it was okay to cry.
It was okay to miss my friends.
It was okay to spend time with friends.
It was okay to ask God “why?”.
It was okay to be confused and not understand…
What wasn’t okay was placing my identity in other people…giving into fear and anxiety about the future …thinking it was right to look to myself for strength…thinking it was WRONG to be sad. Those things were wrong.
I’d learned a LOT of lessons. I’d taken a lot of hard knocks emotionally. But now, two months before I moved, God brought me to a place of full acceptance and revealing Himself and His truths to me…
So the last two months must’ve been easy right?? WRONG! Remember what I said about suffering?? Those two months weren’t easy at all. In fact, the intense conflict of emotions progressed to an even greater degree.
THIS time, however, I was prepared: I had the Lord on my side. I called on Him and He helped me combat the lies and not give into depression or fear. In dealing with stronger emotions than before, I can only imagine how hard those last weeks would’ve been if I hadn’t been seeking the Lord.
I’m not saying I was perfect those last couple months. There were days I failed miserably and gave into the lies. The area where I failed most was continuing to seek answers in friends.
I most certainly had days where I struggled.
I even remember crying in a parking lot and venting to my best friend’s mom just days before I left. I repeated much of what I said above about not understanding why God would take me away and feeling like it was all wrong and this wasn’t for the best. I definitely had hard days!!
Generally speaking though, the last couple months were far better because I was more actively seeking the Lord. I didn’t wallow in self-pity as much or give into depression as long. I started looking to God and my parents first instead of friends first.
I had many late-night conversations with my parents in my room where I shared my struggles. They were so good to listen and comfort me!
As the time came closer and closer, my emotions, as I said, became even more conflicted. One day, I was giddy with excitement and chatting with a missionary girl in Zambia about how I couldn’t wait to be there. Then the next day, I cried all day and couldn’t stand being at my house….
Everything about my life was changing.
It was anything but easy.
As the weeks dwindled down to days, our house became abuzz with people coming to help us clean, pack, haul things to storage, say their goodbyes, etc.
Those final days all run together in my mind and are a humungous blur. I remember waking up in the middle of our living room floor one morning to the sound of my friend and her mom’s voices. I guess I’d fallen asleep sometime in the middle of the night. HAHA! My friend looked quite shocked to see me lying in the middle of the floor.
I also remember getting very little sleep. I know my parents slept even less than I did. I don’t know how they functioned!
I spent many nights at my grandma’s, but it was always well after midnight when I drove there and long before 9am when I was back at our house helping pack, go through items, or clean. There were a few nights in there when I didn’t even sleep until 3-4am. The morning my friend found me on the floor was probably after one of those nights. 😉
I also remember, very vividly, the amazing amount of help and support we had from our church and other friends and family. People came and spent full days working with us. My friend’s mom honestly knew where things were in our house better than we did the last few days and I actually had to ask her where anything I needed was! The amount of love everyone poured out to us was absolutely astounding! I will never be able to thank them enough.
I also know for a fact every one of my close friends saw me cry during those few days. Many literally let me cry on their shoulders. I even had a two hour conversation with one of my friends where I called her, said “talk about anything but Zambia”, and she kept me laughing and smiling for the next two hours. My friends are so wonderful! The things they’ve put up with from me show what true, genuine friends they are. I don’t know what I would’ve done without them then or what I’d do without them now or in the future.
We were spending a great amount of last-minute time with family members during these final days as well.
As I said goodbye to my great-grandparents, it began to sink in I may never see them again, and would likely never have the same experiences on their grand farm I had in the past: I said “goodbye” to my great-grandfather for the last time on this earth just 2 days before we left for Zambia…
I spent many of our last nights at my other grandparents’ house (since ours was void of any beds) and it began to resonate that I wouldn’t have this opportunity again for a very long time…My grandma would no longer be minutes away to call for a SONIC happy hour run…I wouldn’t be able to ask my grandpa the answer to a difficult crossword puzzle clue and then hear his long explanations that followed….
Saying goodbye to everyone was the hardest thing I’d ever done.
Because so many people were coming day in and day out to help us, in some cases I ended up saying goodbye to the same person multiple times which was excruciating!
Saying all the goodbyes made everything official…I don’t know how many people I watched walk out our front door as I cried wishing beyond anything I could stay in MO with them…
Our last Sunday with our church was not an easy day either. Many people had written something for us or stood up and spoke about our family. Oh the tears that day!!
We were leaving…it was actually happening!
Our final night in Missouri, I don’t think anyone besides my youngest brothers slept. Packing all our family’s livelihood in bags is far more time-consuming than we expected! My mom diligently worked ALL night packing as my dad, 2 oldest boys, and I helped where we could.
At this point, I didn’t really have any emotions. I was so tired I was literally on zombie mode and nothing seemed real…
(to be continued…)