If you visit our home these days, you will no longer see many unpacked boxes (let’s not talk about visiting our garage, ok?). You may see a few pictures on the walls and you might get the impression, if you don’t know our story, that we’ve been here for a while. Rees goes to work in the morning and comes home in the evening. I home school the kids and get them to their activities and generally keep everyone fed, clothed and cared for. We look pretty “normal” (I think). But my insides are taking a while to settle down.
I still have a bit of buzzing going on inside me. I’m doing the things that I know I need to do calm down, be present, be aware: focusing prayer, breath prayer, meditating on the scriptures, yoga, a healthy diet, stopping to notice things, not over-planning life, leaving margins in our days. But I find I can’t sit down for long. I still feel the need to do something productive, to build something, to be ready for something. But I don’t know what that is.
It seems that I became conditioned to being unsettled in our life overseas. First of all, there was the reality of living in Tajikistan via a visa that had to get approved each time we applied. During the “good visa years” that was an annual thing, during the “bad visa years” that was an every 45 days thing. Obviously unlike our passport country – the thought never enters my mind here that I would be forced to leave my country. Our staying in Tajikistan was really out of our control so we just had to trust that we would be there for as long as was helpful in God’s big story.
Life, in general, in Tajikistan was also fairly unsettled. At least for a methodical, planner person like me. It was and is the norm in Tajikistan (and many other developing countries) to do things what seems to be last-minute. Even weddings. Hard to conceive of coming from the west where you often have to reserve a wedding or reception venue a year in advance. Those “save the date” cards would be absolutely foreign for most Tajiks. I can’t even tell you how normal it was to be told by someone that, God willing, the wedding would be in the fall/spring/summer only to have a knock at my door at 8pm a week later asking, aren’t I coming to sit with all the ladies to celebrate the wedding? Like a typical westerner, I would ask, “when?” Ha! the answer was always, “right now!”
We were so warmly received by our Tajik neighbors and friends. We always lived (like the other ex-pats in our town) right in the midst of everything. No compound. No watchman. No driver. Frankly, we really didn’t need any of those things. It is a pretty peaceful country. Still worn out from a devastating civil war throughout the 1990s. But since we lived right in the thick of things, with hearts of learners – wanting to learn language, understand culture, be respectful, wrap our minds around worldview – we were pulled right into all the things. Weddings, baby births, funerals, holidays, anniversaries of people’s death, circumcisions, even special gatherings that were meant to “break open difficulty” when a person or family had experienced a long string of unfortunate events. I have a friend who had a celebration and called all friends and neighbors over to celebrate the time that her six-year-old daughter fell out a second story window and survived with only a few bumps and bruises. Certainly worth celebrating. Just a side – it makes so much more sense of the parable of the kingdom of God that Jesus talks about in Luke 15:8-10 about the woman who lost a valuable coin and upon finding it, throws a celebration. So there were lots of events that we were called to “last-minute.” That kind of conditioned us to approach any given weekend or evening with a sense of “who knows what’s going on tonight.”
The other way of life that I’m realizing conditioned me to be more on the “unsettled” side of things was just the reality of truly being part of community. It turns out community has both a great deal of privilege attached to it but also a lot of responsibility. It’s not a “schedule something in to help out that works for me” kind of set up. It’s more like relentless knocking on your door at 6am on a Saturday because some guests are coming and someone needs to borrow all your spoons and bowls or there’s a gathering happening and everyone is contributing something homemade to it so can you bake a cake and send it over? Our personal contribution on a number of occasions was having a very ill child who we needed to drive up to the more reliable doctor in the capital, Dushanbe (two hours away) and the sudden dropping off of our other two kids with friends who didn’t know if they were keeping them for the evening or for a few days (thank you friends – you know who you are). On any given day, there were endless knocks and needs (on our part as well) that required dropping what we were doing to help with. The amazing part of this was that, I began to feel comfortable running to a neighbor’s house if guests came and I didn’t have much to offer them and asking for help – be it some fruit, an older kid to run to the store for me, onions, plates, you name it. There was give but there was take too. But that whole community machine conditioned me to be ready to jump and respond to the need.
There is also the phase of life that we were in throughout our eight years in Tajikistan. The phase of raising little kids. Those little people need lots of stuff a lot of the time too. The combo of motherhood and cross-cultural living slowly caused me to let go of expectations of productivity as I knew it and caused me to slowly shape life around the expectation that I would probably be interrupted. I started realizing how much happier I was if I didn’t bite off a huge project that required uninterrupted focus. I also stopped trying to get a rest in the afternoon because I was more irritated if I tried to lay down and was needed right away than if I just kind of remained looking available, even if I was tired (which was pretty much every single day – and all the moms of littles said “amen!”).
There is another nuanced aspect to being a “goer” (insert ‘m’ word if you want) that infiltrates every part of your day. The reality that you move overseas because you want to be a light to a people who have not had a chance to know Jesus yet. So you are always juggling the day-to-day realities of home, work, team and community with why you are there. Every day, every decision gets filtered through the desire to be faithful to what brought you there. You don’t just go grocery shopping – you ask God to glorify himself through you while you shop and give you opportunities to “leak Jesus.” It helps that you end up interacting with so many people when you shop. You end up with a carrot, onions and potatoes lady, a fruit guy, a meat guy, a bread lady, a nut guy, a yogurt lady, a bag kid, etc, etc. And the cultural expectation is that you greet each one, ask how their family is, how their health is and all that. It’s quite an outing just to do your grocery shopping and, when you are home with kids a lot like I was, you want to “make it count.”
That is just a bit of an idea of what has contributed to my sense of being unsettled inside and having that internal buzzing that makes me feel like I need to be at the ready or try to get ahead on something.
My focus now is making our home and family a “secure base.” As I was initially imagining what that might entail, I was mainly thinking about the kids and the place where Rees would come home to in the evenings. But I’m realizing that my soul is in need of settling and a “secure base.” I certainly treasure the life-on-life lessons we learned about community and being flexible. I trust that those things will continue to show up in our lives for however long we live in the U.S. But community life is quieter here and I feel like this is a soul recovery time for me. Time to let that ready-to-jump impulse settle down a bit. It’s challenging for me but it’s so good.