Dear mom on furlough,
You did it. You packed up your life overseas for a short season to head back home for a few months or a year or more.
Whether you call it home assignment or furlough or itineration, you landed in your passport country. You are back where you started your missions journey.
Back with family, friends, supporters and flavored coffee creamers.
The fast food is faster, the bathrooms are cleaner and the grass looks greener than what you remembered in your “almost to furlough” dreams.
You survived a term in another land and only you really know how hard you had to work to get to where you sit right now.
You are stronger, more aware and so much deeper than you were before you left.
You are bruised, weaker and more fragile than you ever thought you’d be or know how to express.
You walk a tightrope between worlds for you, your husband and your kids.
I know. I understand the pressure you feel and the breaking points you hit each day.
The first time in the American carpool line and thinking you aren’t like these other moms.
The first time at church. Marveling at the English language being spoken while wondering where did these songs come from, when did jeans make the platform and why does the pastor do that?
The tears of your kids starting another new school, sitting alone at lunch or being laughed at for calling gym class by the British word – sport.
The packing. The travel. The appointments and financial discussions and paperwork.
The weird “I know part of a second language” words that fly out of your mouth making your kids smile and your friends look at you funny.
The exciting Walmart “I found shredded cheese for $2!!!” moments.
You see things through totally new eyes and that is kind of scary.
Who are you and will you ever fit in this world again?
Why doesn’t home feel fully like home?
Why do pictures of your home across the sea bring tears to your eyes and an ache to your heart?
You find out via email that your dog overseas got spit in the eye by a cobra. Thankfully, he is fine but that isn’t news you get every day.
Oh, dear missionary mom on furlough… you are incredibly special, greatly changed and yet fully the same.
You might have bright, West African waxprint clothes in your wardrobe.
You might even wear them to your first work conference because truly, you have know idea what American business casual looks like these days, nor do you own any.
All while you are trying to feel comfortable in your American mom jeans borrowed from your sister while carrying a waxprint purse.
You are overwhelmed with sorting the goodwill finds and the donated bags of clothing. Thankful, so very thankful… but overwhelmed. All the seasons and styles in America. Shoes for church, snow, school and everything in between. Coats, sweaters, dress clothes and socks all colliding to create a stress you didn’t even know clothing could make.
Seriously, in what suitcase, rental house or hotel room will you fit all these things?? And they all have to match???
You feel the needs of your family. Needs for so many things… physical, emotional and spiritual.
You feel those things for yourself too and long for time to sort through the crazy emotions of transition.
It does help to make silly faces and laugh with your kids. I know. We did.
You are getting back in the groove of packing suitcases and making the minivan a home.
You are loving fast internet and unlimited data. That is an American miracle.
Parenting your MKs through reverse culture shock, meeting tons of new people, feeling lonely and teaching them how to small talk with the hair stylist or the lady in front of you at the grocery store.
When you aren’t really sure how to do that yourself anymore.
After three years in a village church, you find yourself center stage holding a microphone not even sure you will remember what to say and how to say it.
The whole experience feeling foreign yet amazing as you remember a part of yourself seemingly long gone.
You walk into big events and immediately cry inside because of all the people you are supposed to know by name, feeling terribly inadequate for the task. Surely I’ll recognize their face from their profile picture? Or not…
You carry expectations from family and friends, supporters and churches. You know you can’t possibly please them all and yet your job requires that you try.
You reengage with longtime friends and sometimes mourn the way life has moved on without you. You feel so happy for them and yet wonder where you fit in the scheme of life in your own country.
Also, wondering what it will be like on the next furlough after you are gone another 4 years.
You feel weak and wonder if other moms feel the same.
It isn’t easy. Every day challenges you more than the last.
Then, you realize that the furlough clock has switched from a “countdown to furlough” to a “countdown to going back overseas.”
And you aren’t sure you can do it. In the deepest core of you, you know you will do it. With God’s help you will get back on that plane. But now you know first hand how hard it is to live overseas and you know what you are walking in to. You miss your life overseas yet you aren’t sure you are strong enough to live it again.
You long for a country you didn’t know you would miss. You long for a home that isn’t the same.
All of those feelings are a jumble of crazy inside your heart… how it unfolds you don’t yet know.
You feel the fast-paced, never stopping, constant busy of American life and sometimes, that pace chokes the joy of being back home. A pace that makes time fly so fast.
When you do slow down, you have the challenge of vacation, knowing everything you do is under a microscope.
Thankful for people in your life who cheer you on, encourage your heart and help you keep going. The family of God stepping in to make that vacation happen.
You muddle through dentist appointments, eye checks, much needed physicals and some tests that you don’t want to face. You carry medical records from three continents, immunizations in French and have to translate your last MRI because it is written in Afrikaans.
Your kids’ wisdom teeth are checked early because when they would normally come out, your teen will be overseas. Thinking ahead, like way ahead, is a new norm.
A mom balancing school and travel, the call and family. How far do you push your kids who have already come so far? When is it ok to say enough or when is perseverance necessary? For you and for your kids?
You drink more coffee than ever.
Partly because you can drive through somewhere and get a HUGE coffee unlike anything you can get overseas.
And you want to enjoy not only the coffee and the drive through, but driving itself.
You have lists to do while you are stateside. Lists of things to bring back with you, lists for shopping, lists for storage bins, lists for everything. Lists, lists, lists.
Yet, you are sure you are forgetting something.
Passport renewal dates, updated driver’s license, translated immunizations, and high school transcripts wake you up in the night.
You, missionary mom, are a warrior of the most epic proportions.
You never feel like it because you see every mistake, every tear, every forgotten appointment and name.
You experience your own grief and bravely walk through your kids’ grief with them as well.
You are adjusting to a changing marriage as you grow into your overseas selves. You aren’t sure what to do with each other as you transition once again to American life, knowing it won’t last long and you’ll be back in your overseas context again soon. Marriage overseas is hard and now you know how hard.
You are desperate for connection in a world with way too much connection. Desperate for real conversations that go past the same ten missionary questions you get asked each day. Desperate for privacy, quiet and space to process without having any connections at all.
You work through incredibly big circumstances, stresses and questions.
When someone looks you in the eye and says, “How was it over there? Are you excited to go back?”, you grasp for everything strong inside of you, say a prayer and whisper, “Yes. Yes, we are going back.”
To those around you, they don’t hear the whisper. They see a competent, ready missionary mom who quickly answers, “Yes!”
But you know. You hear the whisper in your voice and the hesitancy in your words.
You are a missionary mom who daily walks through blank space.
You know how quickly things change and how ready for change you must be to live this missions life.
You make decisions without information, plan for things you don’t know and prepare for what might not happen.
You are amazing, missionary mom. You really are.
Even when the kids are crying because they can’t do another new church or another new class today.
Even when you haven’t cooked a fresh meal for your family in weeks.
Even when you are packing for another 3 state trip where you will stay in 5 different places over an 11 day time period going from cold to hot and dressy to casual for 5 people.
Even when you arrive home at midnight from a long 7 hour trip in the rain and you all have school and appointments bright and early in the morning.
Even when your husband has been gone and you’ve been holding down the fort.
Even when you sense the clock ticking and you are sure you’ll never have that budget done.
Even when you are missing people from all over the world, knowing the need for Hope and the reason you go.
Even when the car breaks down for the 4th time.
Even then. Even then.
You aren’t alone.
The secret missionary mom conversations, emails, messages and texts remind you that you are not alone. There is a network of missionary moms doing this furlough thing too.
A network of moms traveling with sick kids, visiting doctors in a town you don’t live in, trying to explain world insurance, having a driver’s license from one state but a mailing address in another state. A network of moms doing hundreds of other hard things with you, cheering you on.
You are not alone.
You are going to make it.
You are rocking this furlough missionary mom thing even if you can’t see it right now.
Be encouraged, missionary mom on furlough.
But now, this is what the Lord says—
he who created you, Jacob,
he who formed you, Israel:
“Do not fear, for I have redeemed you;
I have summoned you by name; you are mine.
When you pass through the waters,
I will be with you;
and when you pass through the rivers,
they will not sweep over you.
When you walk through the fire,
you will not be burned;
the flames will not set you ablaze.
For I am the Lord your God,
the Holy One of Israel, your Savior;