When we came home for furlough last spring, we came with a lot of advice, thoughts, ideas, hopes and plans.
The moment of landing stateside was well thought out, happily anticipated and we were ready.
Yet, even in our happiness, we were praying for strength, courage and hope.
We knew that returning for furlough would be no easy feat.
We knew it was not a vacation.
We knew that seeing family and friends and supporters would not always be a beautiful reunion like we’d pictured in our minds leading up to flying home.
More often, furlough is hard. It means seeing the life we knew through a deeper lens and wiser eyes. It means realizing how fast things change and how life moves on without us.
We knew that furlough would be busy, full of travel, meeting new people, and budget-raising.
We would feel the stress of transition while processing crazy emotions.
Having completed our first term, we carried with us real life experiences, challenges and stories of life on the field. Through furlough, we were trying to put those things into words for churches and supporters.
We now stand at the end of this home assignment about to head back over the ocean.
We are a bit feistier and more prepared than we were before we left the first time.
We’ve processed, prayed and played while driving hundreds and hundreds of miles around the country.
We’ve also learned, grown and developed skills that will move us forward in the coming years.
Looking back over this last year, there are a few things I want to remember for our next furlough.
1} Your story matters. It does. The story of your vegetable stand friend, the moment you first greeted someone in a new language, the last prayer with a neighbor before you flew out, the house crawling with geckos and your fears that ants will take over while you are on furlough… those stories matter. The hot days in the sun, the long hours sitting without understanding, the culture battles, the paperwork… those stories matter too. Even if no one asks about them or seems to care one way or the other, your story matters.
2} Culture shock happens at home and abroad. Just because you’ve lived in your home country before does not mean you are going to just fit right in. All of the sudden, you are going to realize in bright neon colors all the ways you’ve changed while living overseas. You are going to feel different. You will see the world through a completely different lens. That will cause culture shock in unexpected ways during the most surprising moments of your day.
3} Processing is important. Looking back is not weak. It doesn’t mean you can’t move forward. Remember that looking back is a huge part of coming home. Look back. Process. Heal. Learn. Let your heart sort emotions, feel and cry. Process it all. Then, ask Jesus to help you move forward in strength and health.
4} Savor the moments. A friend recently told us to enjoy, splurge, refresh and take advantage of each opportunity to have fun. He was right. Find all the things you love about your home country and do them. Savor them. Take it in. Rejuvenate your soul in the things you love.
5} Transition stress is very, very real.Find ways to strengthen your family through each transition. Moving, traveling, changing and learning are all huge parts of furlough. You aren’t going crazy if it is bothering you more than it ever did before. You’ve been through a lot and it isn’t stopping any time soon.
6} Your faith looks different. You’ve experienced church in new places, new countries, new cultures. You’ve seen extreme poverty. You’ve witnessed real persecution. You’ve seen people who’ve never heard the gospel. You haven’t listened to Christian radio in years. You rarely walk into another believer. Your faith has been tested, tried and refined and you aren’t even sure how to put your experience into words. Jesus is so real now. It’s ok to have more questions than answers. It’s ok to feel like your faith is deeper than before, stronger than you knew and more raw than you’d like it to be.
7} You might be feeling a bit crazy. Did we really just fly back from living overseas? Are we really preparing to go back there? Why are we putting our kids through this? Why does no one seem to care that we live in another country? Why do I have to have this same conversation again and again and again? If I have to stay in one more hotel room… yes. Crazy. You’ll feel it. And mixed into the crazy is the excitement of knowing this life is actually pretty awesome, amazing and full. The craziest part is that you wouldn’t change a thing.
8} Don’t wait to prepare for returning to the field.In the excitement of being back on furlough, it is very easy to dive in and forget how fast time will fly by. Before you know it, it will be just weeks until you go back overseas. Start thinking ahead from day 1. Make lists. Buy things you’ll need and stock pile them somewhere. Slowly purchase clothes and shoes as you see them on sale. Put the whole “moving back overseas” thing into small, doable chunks so it doesn’t seem so daunting at the end. You won’t regret preparing a little bit at a time!
9} Be sure to prepare spiritually and emotionally. Soak yourself in church life, good conversation, friendship, small groups, conferences, and retreats. Soak in as much as you possibly can. Leave healthy, strong and ready. Refreshed in your calling, full of Jesus and excited to be sent out for the next term.
10} Yes, you hate goodbyes but say them well. I told a friend recently that I don’t even know what it will feel like to board this next plane to fly back across the ocean. But I want to board the plane knowing that I said goodbye well. Saying goodbye to myself as I am here in my home country. Saying goodbye to family and friends as I leave them. Saying goodbye to my minivan, drive-throughs, ice makers and air conditioning. I want to say goodbye well so I can say hello to our second term with joy. As William Borden wrote in his Bible, “No reserves. No retreats. No regrets.”
I write this list just days from the end of our first furlough.
These are the ten things on my mind as I pack, sort, sell, buy and prepare.
What things are on your mind about furlough? What do you want to remember?