As I write this I’m flying over the big blue ocean, a 4-year-old contentedly playing a LeapPad game next to me, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty showing on the tiniest airplane screen you’ve ever seen. My little sister is getting married, so I’m headed back to the US, more than ready for three weeks filled with celebration and copious amounts of Kansas City barbeque.
Even as I can barely contain the excitement, I’m preparing myself for the balancing routine. It can be an out-of-sync dance: this return to roots, to the people who so lovingly – and also sacrificially – sent us out into the world, to fill up all the time with everything we can cram in. And in the rare downtime, we find ourselves fumbling through awkward pauses no amount of questions or good intentions can fill. Where do we even begin to tell the stories, the joys and the heartaches? And how do we enter their world (our old one) when we know we’ll soon be gone again?
Well, up in the air with nothing but time to wonder (and occasionally top up my son’s Pringles stash), I’m working through a few ideas on how to reconnect with family while you’re back in the States, especially when time is running short.
1) One-by-one. We’re tempted to throw the whole crew together for a once-off shebang. In fairness, this is exactly what I’m planning during our current trip back home. But these get-togethers often bring unneeded noise, overstimulation and missed connections. Take time for one-on-one discussions, where someone has your full attention and you have theirs.
2) Get comfy. Settle in on the sofa, around the dining room table, or even in a bed filled with sisters. There’s no need to go anywhere or say anything. Put your feet up and stay awhile with the people who just long to have you near.
3) Make a play for it. Break the ice of cultural whiplash with a board game, puzzle or pick-up game. Play with one another. Laughs and butt smacks are sure to follow.
4) Rise and shine. Get up for breakfast and eat together. Start the day with your mom while you’re sporting fuzzy socks and bed head. Think of it as going retro and becoming a daughter again.
5) Picture it. Bring photos, but not just of the sights in your city. Share photographs of your house, your garden, the people you see every Tuesday morning, or your favorite reading chair. Show them the life you’ve made and what (or who) feeds you.
6) Off to school. Staying with cousins? Inquire if your children can tag along for the day. It’s sure to be more fun without the threat of homework and your kiddo will enjoy learning from his or her cousin’s perspective.
7) Walk it out. Grab a sibling, friend or parent and walk around their neighborhood. Often we tap out early sharing all of our seemingly mundane adventures. See their world through their eyes and get to know the place Jesus has called them to be.
8) Reading rainbow. Break out the book list. Share what you’ve been reading and the authors who are currently influencing you. Ask for recommendations and swap books. This is one of my favorite things to do with my long-distance girlfriends. More often than not, we’re on the same page (pun intended).
9) Hold the phone. Stay off social media and try to set aside impending work and service responsibilities. Put your phone on silent (if you even bring one) and engage in the here and now. No matter how long you’re with them for, it will always feel too short. Make the most of your time and be all there.
10) Play church hooky. I know it seems counterintuitive; we are cross-cultural servants after all. But if it all possible, if you can skip the Sunday school presentation and instead enjoy a luxurious brunch with your family, do it. Church doesn’t always have to be about work, but even when we don’t intend it to be, we can find ourselves giving impromptu lessons or ministry summaries. Save the partner development for a trip when you can devote yourselves to it and don’t feel bad for making your family a priority.
Now it’s you’re turn! Tell me: what is the thing you always try to do when you return to your roots? How do you make the most of your time with your family? Or what do you wish you could do if given the opportunity?