Sunday, June 7, 2015

6 Month Mark - Taking Stock

I've been sorting through some of my old sent emails from a year ago.  I've been reading words that tried to capture all the tumultuous emotions I had as we prepared to leave on this mission.  It's interesting to take stock of where I was then and compare it to how I feel about things now.

We just hit our six month mark of this experience.  We have weathered the wrenching heartache of leaving behind all that we knew and loved.  We endured the strangeness of our first arrival and the overwhelming waves of homesickness that assailed us those first months.   We've faced adjustment stress, travel exhaustion, and a few down right bleak days when nothing seemed to go right.  It's interesting to read over various letters I wrote during those experiences.

There is no doubt that at times it has been incredibly difficult to be here when so much of our hearts are with those we love back in the States.  Yet  through it all, we have had wonderful, amazing, soul lifting experiences.  Time and time again we have seen that when we face our fears and move forward, God will see us through.   Now that we are feeling stronger in this mission, sometimes it does me good to look back and reflect on how far I've come.

The following is from an email I sent back in June 2014 to a long time friend who knows me well, someone I trusted I could pour my heart out to.   I've edited it just a bit for clarity and omitted pieces here and there for confidentiality reasons.  But overall this is what I said one year ago:

I am so excited about this mission.  I feel certain this path I have chosen will bring a deep sense of purpose, not to mention some amazing adventure.

And yet...

I have fear.  As ready as I am for this, I can not help but feel a creeping dread, my heart shuddering in anticipation of the inevitable pain and aching sense of loss in the face of all I will willingly be giving up.  While I don't expect I will be utterly forgotten by those I love here, I know well enough from all my many moves in the past that absence does not truly make the heart grow fonder.  Without the intricate weave of shared experience, too often the spark of shared caring shifts, changing it to glittering reminiscence of what was rather that substantive bonds of the here and now.  I know that.  I accept it.  Still, it makes me sad.

During the years we were chasing my husbands career, we moved often.  At every place we lived there were people who were very dear to me.  When it came time to pack up and move again at each corporate transfer, I always hoped I might be able to stay in touch with the people I'd grown attached to.  Long before email, I was a proliferate letter writer.  I sent post cards, holiday greetings and out-of-the-blue notes for no reason other than to let my friends know they were still very much in my heart and on my mind. I wrote long rambling letters. But every time I moved--whether across town or across the country--the people I left behind carried on with their lives just fine without me.  Sure, some kept sweet memories of the friendship we once shared.  Many welcomed me with a smile and a hug anytime I would go back for a visit.  But it wasn't the same as ongoing, reciprocal sharing of lives.  It couldn't be.  And sadly, letter writing is a dying art.  Very few folks these days genuinely savor carrying on a correspondence.  Most of the friends I had simply didn't write or call.  So, over time - even my very best friends often felt lost to me.

I no longer blame or resent folks for not having the willingness to continue on in correspondence when I move away. I really do get it now that the measure of our bond does not equate to ongoing postage stamps or frequency of emails.  While I admittedly would like to hear from distant friends more than I do, part of the wisdom of growing older is getting past being so emotionally clingy.  I truly have learned to accept goodbyes and separations far more gracefully than I ever could in the past.

Yet still, there is a wistfulness, a longing, as I miss the people I love and leave.

So as we prepare for this mission, it's really hard to face up to the fact that I am going to willingly walk away from all my family, all my friends.   I will miss out on special celebrations and no doubt more than a few funerals.  There will be some I will never see again in this life.  Of that I am sure.  So it pains me to let go, no matter how certain I am that leaving on this mission is absolutely the right thing to do.

I have been thinking a lot about not just leaving behind friends and family, but leaving behind this whole season of my life - my career, my sense of place in the community.  I've been teaching college for 20 years.  That has been such a hugely significant part of my identity, even though I always did it part time as an adjunct in tandem with other work.  The day I went to the college here with two huge boxes of books I was donating made it all too real that I wasn't coming back.  Although I will return to Boise at the end of two years, I don't expect I'll ever  work for a college again.  I  suppose it is remotely possible that I might find a job in education again of one sort or another somewhere down the line, but I truly don't expect to.  This honestly feels like I'm done with that season of my life.  I wept as I walked through the halls where I had talked with so many students, where I had felt so honored and privileged to be part of their journey.  

Giving up the telehealth work I've been doing is huge.  This has been the most gratifying professional work I've ever had.  I have loved this job and really do believe I'm making a difference.  No telling what sort of work I will find when I get back, but somehow I suspect I will always look back at the past couple years as the peak of my professional life and will always sort of wonder what I might have accomplished had I stayed to see it through.  I've been doing work that has the potential to significantly impact a lot of people's lives in the years to come in terms of what health care is available in rural areas.  I'm good at this.  And now I am leaving all that behind.

Then of course there is my family.  I will  especially miss the grandkids that live here in Idaho.   I will be walking out on the caboose of the their childhood. Right now, while they are young, we share a deliciously affectionate camaraderie. The younger two, in particular, have become my special buddies. Even their older brother, who in his teen years has gotten too cool for much hanging out with Grammy, still is a delight to me on those few occasions when we have special talks.   After so many years of being a long-distance grandparent, I finally have these three here close so I get a  chance to be a special part of their lives.  Leaving that cuts deeper than I can say.  When I get back I will have missed out on so much, and there will be no recapturing it.  There are times when I cringe at giving them up just yet, wonder if we might not ought to wait for one more year.

But here is the thing...there will never be a perfect time to go.  There would always be reasons to stay.   My sweet husband will turn 69 this year.   And I too am growing older. If we don't go soon,  it becomes increasingly likely one or both of us will not have the health and stamina we need to do the extensive travel this mission will require.  We've talked about it a lot, and have prayed fervently to know if  this is the season for us to serve or if we should wait .   Both of us are sure the time is now.
I have no doubts abut that.   But it doesn't make it easy.  There is a heaviness in my heart for all I am giving up.  I get a lump in my throat and a burning in my stomach when I think of saying goodbye.

And then it shifts, as if my spirit flies separate from my mind and body, transcending upward - seeing who I am as an eternal being.  I see this mortal life of 80 years or so for the very fleeting thing that it truly is.  I recognize myself as a part of the universe that was present before I was born to this flesh and a spirit that will continue long after this life ends.  I get a glimpse of all the many letting go experiences I have yet to come....with or without this mission.   I begin to understand at a visceral level how transitory everything of this life is.   People come in.  People go.   Health, youth, beauty, strength all fade.   Right now I am experiencing pain of a broken hand.  I am experiencing physical limitation.  This is merely dress rehearsal for future times when my body is in decline which will be exponentially more difficult.   I may as well learn the lessons of grace  in adversity now as I am absolutely sure I will need those skills in days to come down the road.

I think of the journey you have had with your mother during her health decline.  I do wonder who will care for me when I am old and infirm, if I should live that long.   I think about the meaning I have had in my life over the years.  Right now I am mostly confidant and happy.   I have so much good in my world.     I have reached a point where even my biggest sorrows and betrayals of the past no longer  haunt me.  They simply inform me.  They have taught me how precious life is.   They have taught me the importance of  mindfully choosing  to reflect truth and good which are every bit as real and possible as harm and depravity.   Both exist in this world at all times.  Every day, every moment, I CHOOSE which will be my focus.  As we have so often talked about, I choose which wolf I will feed. So I no longer dwell on the pains of the past.   I think of kaleidoscopes - creating beauty out of both dark colors and light.   I think of healing.   I think of possibility.

All of these things tumble through my mind as I prepare for my leave taking , like the shards of colored glass in your fancy brass tube of mirrors, the kaleidoscope you keep in your office.   With each shift the picture changes, showing me a new perspective.

As I consider what it means to go on a "Senior Mission" it makes me think all that much more about what it is to qualify as "Senior" and confront my own aging, to acknowledge the inevitable seeping away of my younger self.  In my body right now I feel a stiffness of joints that need to stretch and a settling in my frame of  a post-menopausal woman who has left behind forever her days of youthful vigor.  I have exchanged taunt skin and fluid, swift movement for levels of insight, self acceptance and appreciation for beauty that I never would have held when I was 25.  All of that makes me understand well why it is so important that people in my position be willing to go on Senior Missions. Granted, at this point in our lives we have so much enmeshment with LIFE that is hard to break free from.  But it is that very depth of relationships and  life long experiences - decades of learning about loving and letting go - that are the very qualities that will make us effective in the mission field meaningful ways.

So yes there is fear.  Yes, I am going through a period of deep mourning as I come to terms with all that I will be leaving behind.  I have nights when I lie awake and wonder how I will manage to get past this mind-racing anxiety of having turned my whole life upside down.  But I can honestly say I have no doubt this is the right thing for me to be doing.  

You know the physical sense of apprehension you get on a roller coaster as the cars chug up and up and up to the top of a high point?.... I feel some of  that tension as I prepare for this experience.   Yet at the very same time I get a freeing sense of weightless letting go.   I feel ready for the exhilarating rush of zooming decent as we embrace the experience coming soon.  I want to throw my arms in the air and yell WHEEEEE!

For all its difficulty and sacrifice, this opportunity is going to be one amazing ride.

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