In the middle of the night I got a message from my friend Linda that lives on the other side of the world. She is hurting. They left South Asia several years after we did. Her husband took a position that he finds fulfilling and satisfying. She however has struggled to find her place. She is lonely. The friendships she does have she holds onto tightly for fear that those friends will abandon her. She no longer knows who she is or what she has to offer.
It’s not the first such letter I’ve received. There was one eight or nine months ago from Lisa. Her family’s lease had been suddenly revoked. They were asked by their landlord to leave the acreage they (and others with them) had restored from a weed choked, overgrown plot of ruin to a luscious garden retreat space. Her heart was breaking too. How would she get passed the sense of loss? How would she find herself again…when so much of her was planted in the ground they had cultivated?
Still another email came in August. This particular friend, Susan, knows they are planning on leaving the city they’ve adopted as their own in Asia. All the signs are pointing in that direction but she is beginning to sense even now unintended sorrows and sadness. She wondered if there was a way to manage such a transition while mitigating some of the heartache. Is there a “how to” book for making such a earth-shaking, globe traversing change?
My heart connects so thoroughly with these women. They are my friends it’s true. But they are also travelling along some of the same roads that I’ve been on. I’ve walked down those pathways and they were not so easy. The journey from there to here is long and mostly uphill and it’s ever so painful. I want to protect them from the pain they are in or the pain they have yet to face. I want to make all their endings happy ones. I want to cocoon them with some mythical protective wrap that ensures they will get through the transitions without agony, with their souls intact, with their hearts unscarred.
I suspect Linda doesn’t just grieve for the place she left behind. She grieves for everything else that got left there too: her memories, her place in the community, the meaning-infused ministry she was a part of, her friendships –made deeper there by shared suffering over time. Her marriage looked different there. She parented differently there. Her children were younger then and responded differently to her. And while parenting and being a spouse have not changed–she is still a wife and a mother–it looks wildly different than it used to.
I’m guessing she also left huge pieces of her self somewhere in South Asia. Linda wasn’t being careless, she didn’t mean to forget to pack her personality and sense of self, but in all the chaos and change, she inadvertently forgot to bring Linda. At least that was my experience… When we returned I realized I had forgotten to bring me!
I know that sounds ridiculous! Of course I came back too….but really so much of me didn’t. Huge parts of my personality didn’t make the journey. There was no use for most of my knowledge or experience. It was no longer relevant. No one needs to know how long to pressure cook beans on this side of the ocean! And if that’s what I had to offer—suddenly I wasn’t offering much at all. The humour on that side, certain silly situations, daily living, prompted certain responses from me. With those prompts all gone or vastly changed I found myself responding in ways I didn’t recognize. I missed the old me. It took me awhile to get to know the new me.
Dear dear Linda (and Lisa and Susan too) –I want you to know that this time will end. There is a beginning, a middle and an end to every transition. I suspect, from what you’ve told me, that you are right smack in the middle. A kind lady, a momentary mentor of sorts, once told me that it would likely take me ten years to adjust to life here in the United States. My husband, Lowell, was shocked when he heard that! Ten years?! But for me it was very helpful. It would end. I would settle. I would get through this. And Linda, you will too. The heartache and the intense sadnesses will pass. You will find yourself again. The time of transition will end.
Time will generously give you new experiences. You are beginning to collect new memories and new stories. God is showing his new mercies for each new day.
Discovering who you are and what you have to offer in this ‘new’ place is perhaps the hardest part of this. It’s frightful and unsettling. I wasn’t brave enough to step out and try new things for a very long time. Even when I did I felt like I was mostly faking it. It didn’t feel right. It took a very long time to get past that. It’s only been the past year or so—and even the past few months—where I’ve begun to experience brief moments of a fully soul satisfied Robynn again.
Give yourself lots of time. Extend lots of grace to yourself. Cry when you need to cry. Drink lots of hot tea and bring to mind the presence of God. He is with you in this. He has not abandoned you. He knows who you are—there in that old life, and here in this new life. He’s not surprised by how you are doing. He’s not disappointed in you. His patience and tender care are enduring. He’s the only one that can fully relate to the amount of loss and change you’ve been through. God understands. He cares for you in your loneliness too. He is with you even in that place. When it feels terribly dark and you wonder if you really are going crazy–He brings a little bit of light and hope. Hold onto Jesus, sweet Linda. He has not changed.
You may always be a little lonely. That chapter in your life was rich with deep friendships and meaningful connections with your team, your international church, your community. Most friends now will likely not fully understand that. But God will give you others that, while not completely identifying with your past, will be able to meet you in your present. I suspect the ache for the “good ole’ days” will always be there but grief will be gently replaced with nostalgia. You will always miss the way it was, the way you were, but those longings will no longer paralyze you.
Linda, I’m so sorry. I wish I could make it better for you and easier. I will pray earnestly for restored joy, for the end to come when it needs to come (hopefully sooner rather than later), for new friends, for a new sense of purpose. All will be well….eventually….all manner of things shall be well.