Yesterday, we spent our afternoon at our church’s all church picnic. It might have been in the top 5 of lowest low points for me since moving here. It highlighted so many of the struggles I’ve had since moving here, and it left me feeling isolated and beyond discouraged. And it also brought things to a head for me, which is why I’m writing now as I want to be very real and share what it’s like to do missions . . . from my vantage point.
As many of you know, I’ve wanted to be a missionary since I was a small girl. I have taken loads of classes, gone on numerous trips, done everything possible to be prepared for where I am now. I’ve taught multiple classes on missions, culture shock, sticking through for the long term, and blah, blah, blah. Ha! Easier said than done. My point is though that I was prepared for what I thought I would encounter. And I have encountered a lot of what I prepared for, but I’ve also encountered trying to do missions while being a wife and a mom. I’ve had to learn leadership and pioneering as I go; I’ve had to learn to parent my children through a massive adjustment and their own culture shock. And I’ve had to adjust to a culture that is different than the other cultures that make up the UK. We can prepare as much as we want to, but we can never be prepared for everything.
I was not prepared for the finality of saying goodbye to my home. (We have not renewed Mark’s greencard, so we are here as long as the UK government continues to allow me to be.) There’s no plan B of just returning to Colorado if the Bible school doesn’t work. There’s no plan B at all. Scotland is it for us. Yet my income relies on the giving of those in Colorado. My income is dependent on getting the Bible school up and running. My husband can only stretch himself and his income so far, and let’s be 100% honest. Next month, Mark will be searching for a new job and starting over completely in a new career right as he turns 40 years old. That is not easy. We cannot buy a house until he has a job here. My visa depends on his income. That’s no small amount of pressure on him. When we tell others that we sold our house, sold our belongings, and relocated ourselves for good, we get blank looks in return. Like “you did what?!” You chose Scotland? An extremely liberal, socialist, unfriendly to Americans and their English neighbors nation where you won’t enroll your children into school, and you chose this place?! Yes, and that reality is kicking in . . . it’s felt like a punch to my gut on most days.
I was not prepared for the mix of emotions that I would feel as I attempt to raise my children in a culture that so completely teaches the opposite of what we teach them.
I was not prepared to live in a place whose government opposes so much of what we believe and value.
I was not prepared for the really hard days when I can’t get our groceries to fit in the fridge and everything falls out, because our fridge is half the size of what I’m used to. And the laundry has piled to the sky because it has rained every day and it’s not been warm enough to dry the clothing inside or outside. So our clothes stink because they have hung in the house for 3 days, and the boys have no clean socks or underwear. The days when I miss the modern conveniences of a dryer, a big fridge, a decent size freezer, and being able to drive and just freely hop in the car to go run an errand. I have felt very un-normal for a long time. And most who read this will think what on earth is she complaining about? She lives in an idyllic place where laundry and fridge size are no big deal. Yeah, no big deal for you who doesn’t have three small children (two of who are extremely messy), aren’t in the middle of potty training, and don’t have two kids who go through milk like there is no tomorrow. No big deal for you who doesn’t live here. Yes, it’s better than Africa or India. But it’s still my adjustment. Yet I have no freedom to share that, because we live in a world where you must be positive about everything. You’re not allowed to say what you’re going through, because it’s not positive. . .
11 months in, I wasn’t prepared to still be adjusting to my American worldview and the realization that it doesn’t fit into the Scottish worldview . . .
I wasn’t prepared to be lonely, to miss the sun as much as I do, to realize that I’m a major comfort eater, or to realize that I tend to isolate myself when struggling.
I wasn’t prepared to realize that time would go so quickly and that our team’s two years here would fly by, and we’d still be here . . .
I wasn’t prepared to just leave behind my worldview and who I’ve always been so that I can be who I need to be here; I’m still figuring that out.
And YET . . . . THE GOD WHO CALLED US IS AND WAS PREPARED. He knew that we would go through all that we have.
And because I have studied culture shock and missions as much as I have, I know this: it is so normal to go through what I’m going through. It is so normal to prepare, plan, do the big move, settle in, finally slow down to breathe, fall in love with the place, then hate the place, and then get into a balanced normal mindset. I’m almost to that last phase. Almost.
Starting a ministry in a new country is very difficult. Moving a family to a new culture is very difficult. Getting to know a team and building team unity takes work. Getting to know a city takes work. Building relationships takes tons of work. And Edinburgh is famous for being the missionary’s graveyard due to the Scottish resistance of outsiders. In order to build these relationships we have to be committed to staying here a while. We have to slowly and diligently build, and that is not easy. Some days, I want to quit and have a good cry because I don’t care how beautiful this place is. I miss the sun! I miss my family and need my friends who get me!! Who cares about visiting an expensive old castle or the freezing beach when I’ve just sat through a meeting with a pastor and have been told that we’re not welcome! Who cares?!
And then I remember that Jesus cares. He gets it; He went through it. And then He brings us other families in ministry who left their home nations, have been here longer than we have, and know how to help us adjust. He brings us random gifts of small conversations with strangers who feel like instant friends. He brings us the sun for a day. He blesses us with small moments that somehow make us feel normal. He keeps His Word of restoring our soul, listening to our hearts’ cries, and reminding us of His unending care.
So today, I’m thankful that the sun came out long enough for us to quickly run the kids to the beach to feel the water. I’m thankful that I’m slowly getting to meet some other moms who homeschool and who patiently answer my parenting and culture questions. I’m thankful for the ministry friends who have driven very far to come to our house for dinner so that we can feel known. I’m thankful for the pastors who have invited us into their offices to just pray with us and listen. I’m thankful that we have our team here for two years while we transition and get this school off the ground. They are priceless and worth gold. They have been stretched and keep on stretching. I’m thankful for the Scottish ladies who tell me that they also get extremely frustrated with their small refrigerators/freezers and lack of dryers. I’m thankful to know that I am not the only mama who HATES potty training. I’m thankful for the men at our church who allowed our boys to join them in a football match at the picnic yesterday. I’m thankful that I’m married to such a patient and supporting husband who is BRAVE enough and DILIGENT enough to pursue a career change in order to allow us to buy a house. I’m thankful that God blessed us with allowing our dog to come and live with us. She has provided so many moments of comfort to us. I’m thankful that God doesn’t hear my hard stuff and put His hands over His ears and say “NOTHING NEGATIVE; I can’t listen to anything negative!” He just leads me to still waters, gives me rest, allows me to pour my heart out, and then He reminds me of His Word and the truth that is reality. He renews my perspective and enlarges my worldview. He renews my strength so that I can get up and keep going.
I am so thankful for Jesus. And I’m beyond blessed that we get to live our lives to share Him with others – whether they even know that they need Him or not! 😉 I would be lost and hurting without Jesus, and I am thankful that He loves me enough to encourage me to not stay where I am but to get up and press in. He doesn’t call perfect missionaries. He calls imperfect people to follow Him and to continue following Him even when it gets tough. He perfects us in the tough stuff. He truly is worth it all.