For a moment, as the sunlight filters through our red paisley curtains casting a warm glow across the tile floor, I forget. It’s just a split second though before the sounds of the city pierce the morning and I am plunged into the day ahead. I remember that I am simultaneously home and 8000 miles from home.
We’ve lived in South Asia four months now and our flat has a warmth to it that feels like a haven when we walk in from the crowded streets. It is home. But the teeming masses outside our door, the culture that surrounds us, and the language that engulfs us—it all still feels so far away. Our brains live on overdrive, trying to process all the newness and the words we know we have heard before but can’t place. Studying a complex and hauntingly beautiful language simply makes me tired…all the time.
For the first few months, I held onto everything I could because I’d let go of so much already—frequent calls to family and friends, TV, anything familiar. And I especially wanted to keep up my blog and writing commitments. It was my tie to home, to who I had been and wanted to still be. A couple months into full-time school there was a tugging at the back of my heart that I didn’t want to face. I was stress and overwhelmed. Instead of finding joy in what awaited me in the day ahead just managing normal life felt daunting. Writing deadlines on top of that felt like torture.
The tug wouldn’t go away. I knew what I needed to do. I needed to let go of something tethering me to a place that I wanted to be but was no longer. But I couldn’t bring myself to do it. I spent the last three years building my passion for writing into something that defined me. For a long time, I didn’t dare call myself a “real writer.” Each published piece gave me more confidence. Seeing my name on essays published in several books, I finally boldly claimed the title author, writer, editor. It is my writing that opened the doors for us to move to this particular job overseas and I will be working in communications down the road once we get some grasp on language. But it’s my personal writing, the places I show up every month and the communities I love (Mudroom, SheLoves, Ready Magazine, Redbud Writer’s Guild) that I didn’t want to loosen my grasp on.
In the middle of a particularly low week when I could barely lift my eyes to heaven, one of those online communities I love posted this blessing by Jan Richardson:
That each step
may be a shedding.
That you will let yourself
That when it looks
like you’re going backwards
you may be making progress.
That progress is not the goal anyway,
to the feel of the path on your skin,
to the way it reshapes you
in each place it makes contact,
to the way you cannot see it
until the moment you have stepped out.
Each word was a knife to my heart and a salve to the same wound. Through the tears I typed an email to all my editors and told them I need to take a step back for right now. It feels like a little death, letting go of my writing even for a time. It may be for a couple months. It may need to be longer. It’s another thing that I worked hard to build that I am tearing back down, like the home we sold, the people we left behind. It makes me feel so lost.
But maybe being lost isn’t such a bad thing. Perhaps this shedding of parts of myself is exactly what I need right now, to be fully dependant on God for who I am and what gives me worth. Not deadlines. Not readers. Not even the joy I get from telling stories. For right now, I need to just be present where I am and being obedient to just this one day. Maybe I need to live the story for a while before I have the space to write it.
You may not see my words in the usual places over the next few months. It feels like going backward. I have to believe it isn’t though, that it is progress to wherever it is God wants to take me…and you next. So thank you for showing up, for reading my words. I hope you will stick around and this conversation will continue soon. It will shift and change. Life always does.
But when you are feeling lost, maybe these words that spoke to me will be a comfort to you too. Know that you may not feel like you are accomplishing anything. But if presence is the goal, then be where you are. Be fully there and believe that someday…maybe not soon, maybe not when you expect it…but someday, you’ll step out into something new to realize God was accomplishing something great in you.
It’s no secret that I am a restless soul. I love new experiences and get bored if I am in the same place too long. I always have a project I am working on, like to read several books at once so I can pick one up if I get too tired of the other.
International trips simply light me up! There is nothing I don’t love from the flight to trying exotic foods, meeting new friends and experiencing the local culture to seeing the sights.
When we lived in the Middle East every day felt like an adventure. After six short months we returned to the States, to the same house, the same jobs. Such a big part of me grieved the season we had just left behind. Life back home felt mundane and for a long time I looked back.
It was five years before I stepped foot out of the States again and I needed that time to learn a valuable lesson.
So much of our lives can be spent looking anywhere but where we are - looking back at what we left behind, dreaming about that change ahead that will make everything okay again.
We often jump to the famous verse of Jeremiah 29:11 as we struggle with some unknown in our lives, when our purpose doesn’t feel clear, when life feels hard. It is wonderful to know God has plans and a purpose for us, plans for good.
But more often, I need to dwell on the earlier part of that chapter of Scripture. Jeremiah is speaking God’s people in exile in Babylon. I am sure they spent much of their time looking back at the Promised Land, on the plans God had for them in the Holy City and how good it was there.
When Jeremiah’s words came to them, I believe they probably turned an eager ear to his prophecies, just waiting for the day when he would tell them God was going to rescue them, allow them a new start and a bright future.
The words he delivered weren’t about Jerusalem, as it would be 70 years before their return. He came to them with a command from God to flourish in Babylon.
Build houses. Plant gardens. Get married and raise families. Seek the welfare of the city you are in. Pray to the Lord for the place where you find yourself. Bloom where I have planted you.
Sometimes this is the last thing we want to hear but for me, it was exactly the lesson God needed to teach me and is teaching me still.
In the five years after our time overseas, we started a family, served in some amazing ways, found life in community like never before, and saw our extended families through some really difficult times. Each new turn was evidence that we belonged exactly where God had placed us, that this was our assignment for this season.
“Every assignment is measured and controlled for my eternal good,” says Elisabeth Elliot, who certainly knew a thing or two about difficult seasons of life. “As I accept the given portion other options are cancelled. Decisions become much easier, directions clearer, and hence my heart becomes inexpressibly quieter.”
A quiet heart isn’t gazing back longingly for what is behind, isn’t worried about what is ahead. It is blooming right where God has planted it.
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