out my bedroom window
Over the past few months, I’ve gotten some thought-provoking questions that I’ve never taken the time to answer...until now. Let’s jump right in, shall we?
Question #1: I'm curious to know more about what narrative you use to prop yourself up when the "what in the world are we doing??!!" spiral begins. When the kids are grouchy and sad about leaving friends, snow, familiar places and routines, when you are weary of sorting and packing and planning, when you feel anxious about rain and darkness and being loud and tall, what do you tell yourself (and the children) to find some peace in it? Perhaps it is such a deeply personal experience that putting it into words is impossible, or maybe it is such a step of faith of some kind that explanation is inadequate. But those of us who shrink from the weight of "calling" still would like a reason to turn our lives upside down, if only for a season.
(This question came while we were still in the states. In a coffee shop one afternoon, I wrote a windy answer that went on for pages and didn’t make much sense. So I dropped it. But I didn’t stop thinking about it. Probably because I’ve been wrestling with these questions for years, and now, in the midst of an assignment, all the more so.)
We all turn our lives upside down, in big ways and little, for the things we think are important. We do hard things because we trust we will become better people for doing so. We go to med school, have babies, see counselors, invite the new family at church over for supper, care for aging parents, ride bike to work, and smile at strangers. Also, when we commit to something (marriage, parenthood, a new job, a move), it's natural to grieve what we are giving up. It's always the hope that the new venture, while risky and unknown, will provide benefits that will compensate for what is being left behind. This is life.
My husband and I volunteered with MCC because we wanted to. It wasn’t because we felt a calling or a push or felt a heavy weight pressing us down. It was because I spied a golden opportunity dangling in front of my very nose, so I informed my husband that I was going to go for it and he best come along, too.
Yes, we are giving something to this little school in the Guatemalan mountains, but it’s peanuts in comparison to what we’re receiving. This doesn’t de-value what we are giving—our time, our skills, our best efforts—but simply states the truth. This is just how it is.
Question #2: How could you possibly eat store bought tortillas when you have the best homemade tortilla recipe in the world?
Because making tortillas takes time.
For some reason I can’t yet put my finger on, cooking and food prep takes way more mental energy than it did in the states. Maybe because I’m working in a less-than-perfect set-up: one small worktable, few tools, small fridge, etc. In the states, I can bop around the kitchen while talking on the phone, checking email, and keeping one eye on the kids. Here, each thing takes my full attention. It’s easier to buy a pack of chemical laden flour tortillas, or stop by one of the corn tortilla vendors lining the market entrance. If I take the time to make flour tortillas, or any other non-essential food like bread, cookies, or meat, it’s a special treat.
Question #3: I am wondering why the mission organization accepts families with multiple kids, knowing these underlying difficulties.
(This question came after I wrote about how much the kids were struggling with our move. I can’t answer for Mennonite Central Committee, but I can tell you what I’ve experienced from working with this agency for going-on-four years.)
1. Moving to another culture is hard. Period. It’s challenging for singles, couples, and families.
2. Working in foreign countries is all about The Relationships. Having children helps to speed up the relationship-building process.
3. MCC is mostly made up of singles and couples. There are families, but they aren’t quite as common, probably because most parents are smarter than us. Also, it’s more expensive to relocate families.
4. MCC is aware, as are we, that children are the future leaders of our families, communities, churches, and country. We are exposing our children to experiences and concepts that will help shape their views of the world, hopefully in ways that will make them more compassionate, generous, and confident.
5. Children are considered a part of the MCC team. While not expected to “work,” their needs and interests are taken seriously.
6. Stretching experiences, although difficult and sometimes quite painful, are not bad. MCC acknowledges this and does a good job of preparing children for what they might experience. But being prepared doesn’t mean they will be able to avoid the painful experiences.
Question #4: What insects are you encountering? (Thinking of all the cracks and crevices in the houses.)
Flies! Flies are everywhere now that it’s warming up. Crickets. Moths. June bugs. Unidentifiable flying insects that crash into my head while I’m in bed at night trying to read by the glare of the single lightbulb. Spiders. We have to shake out our clothes before wearing them because unworn clothes make fabulous spider houses.
Questions #5: Sometimes I feel like you think you should be able to live in these conditions and not mind the cold, etc. because the natives are acclimated. Is that true? Because, I just want you to know that it sounds perfectly miserable. I like the buffer. I want the buffer. I must have the buffer. Why is it that Mennonites think they have to suffer in order to do good for the world?
1. I don’t like to suffer.
2. I don’t think anyone should have to suffer.
3. We aren’t suffering here—on the contrary, it’s an honor to experience something so different from our norm. But! This doesn’t mean it’s all roses and coffee in bed.
4. The pleasure and wisdom we gain from life is in direct correlation to the hard stuff we experience. I’m not sure this is always true, but I think it's true much of the time.
5. I think I did as much, if not more, good stuff for the world in my comfy home in Virginia.
Question #6: Are you feeling okay about being there now, enjoying the experience and feeling like it's a worthwhile endeavor . . . or are you quietly counting the days until you're heading back home?
I am feeling extremely okay about being here. There are things I miss about home, and if I let myself think about them—soft sofas! Netflix! my own van! family! fresh sourdough bread!—then I feel all sorts of forlorn, so I don’t let myself think about them.
It’s an incredible gift to be able to experience another culture as a family. Most days, I feel like I hit the jackpot. I revel in this amazing experience that I dreamed of but thought we’d never have. And now we do!
The children, on the other hand, miss home. They’ve accepted their lot in life, even embraced it, but there is definitely a countdown going on. While my husband and I could probably stay longer, I think the kids—at least at this point—would be crushed. So we’re taking this time for the gift it is and living it to the max.
Questions # 7: How does Luvia tie off the braids without the help of a hair band?
(I can’t track down this exact question—maybe it came in an email?—but I do know someone was wondering...)
I never saw her do it, but I did take a photo of the end product.
Maybe you can figure out how just by looking?
More questions, observations, challenges? All are welcome, so ask away to your heart's content!