The Power of One Decision {The Grove: The Veteran}

The Power of One Decision

As I write this, my husband is in Djibouti.

My youngest child is in Kenya.

My oldest is in Brisbane, Australia.

My other oldest (twins) is in Eau Claire, Wisconsin.

I am in New Brighton, Minnesota.

We are five Joneses in three continents, four countries, and five cities.

What the heck happened to my family?

There is no trouble in my marriage, the kids are doing well, we love our work.

So, again, what the heck happened to my family?

It is easy to say, “My husband is continuing his work because he has a job that requires his presence. I am launching a book and doing medical tests for my cancer. The twins are in their second year of college and one is studying abroad, and our youngest attends a boarding school.”

This is all true.

But what is also true is that seventeen years ago, we made a choice.

We chose to move to the Horn of Africa. We chose to build a life there, to invest in productive labor, to form community, to learn.

We didn’t know, we couldn’t know, the ripple effects of that choice.

These are some of the painful ripples effects: I look to the future and I feel afraid. It looks lonely. We won’t live here forever and my kids will likely scatter across the planet. I don’t have historic memories or shared histories with people in my home state. I will have to make new friends and new roots, eventually, and that scares me, to be honest, because I’m older and have changed, America has changed. I’m borrowing fear from the future. Silly me. Honest me.

I’ve missed so much of my parents’, siblings’, nieces’ and nephews’, lives. Weddings, funerals, graduations, soccer games, babies, concerts. And now I am missing those in my kids’ lives, too. Someone else had to help them get their driver’s license, drive them to the wisdom teeth surgery, feed them Easter dinner.

I get tired of living here, too, sometimes. It isn’t a big place, there isn’t a lot to do. Sometimes I think we’ve been to every single restaurant (highly possible) or that every other man has harassed me (not even close). I get tired of the heat and dust. I’ve way beyond the honeymoon stage and have to be careful of developing a hard heart, becoming callous to new people or unwilling to expand culture learning.

But these are the beautiful ripple effects: My kids are so brave and they love the world. They know people are fascinating, creative, and unique everywhere. They embrace differences of education, race, class, and religion with curiosity rather than condemnation or fear. Kids like this, who know how to cross bridges, who have been the stranger themselves, who have been welcomed, are gifts to our angry, hurting, and divided world.

Also, my kids are developing relationships with their aunts and uncles, grandparents – those people who feed them and drive them and host them when I can’t.

My husband and I have been able to see the impact of our work. He literally worked himself out of a job in his first place of employment, training and raising up locals who replaced him. We have walked through graduation parties, marriages, births, deaths, and more with the same friends for years. We’ve watched a pre-teen grow from participating in the running club I launched to being the head coach and junior high students who are becoming the patriarchs of their families.

This is both satisfying and inspiring. We know how slow growth is, our own and in our work, but we also know it is possible.

Keeping my eyes on the beautiful ones while allowing myself the time, space, and tears to process the painful ones has been essential.

Have you seen the ripple effects of your choice to move and stay overseas? What are some of the hard or beautiful ones?

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9 Comments

  1. Diane November 7, 2019

    Thank you for this, Rachel – as I am at the cusp of navigating how to do teenagers in our faraway lives (okay….I’m far beyond the cusp since my older two are 16 and 14, but just now struggling more deeply with how sometimes it is hard and they are so much more aware of all the hard now) it is good to be reminded of there being – YES – pain, but also – YES – beauty. As I’ve talked with a couple of my kids about their hoped for futures and brainstorm about how they probably don’t want to live in the States, I have had flashes of that future of everyone being spread out and I DON’T LIKE IT. But who am I kidding?…I haven’t even come to terms with the impending leaving of my oldest in the US in 2 years to start university. I do love the idea of them having, at long last, more daily life relationships with their other relatives. I am so thankful you mentioned that….I want that for them. I’m kind of babbling…in a comment…oops. Going to stop that…just wanted to say thanks. I appreciate your perspective and you being several years ahead of me in this so I can learn in your wake.

    1. Rachel Pieh Jones November 8, 2019

      Thanks for sharing, Diane. It is so much harder than I anticipated and yet…it also seems normal and inevitable and good in many ways and I’m so stinking proud of my kids! I guess they really were never ours to begin with, were they? To hold forever and keep?

  2. Phyllis November 8, 2019

    Rachel, I really enjoyed a recent podcast with you, where you talked more about what you wrote here. The interviewers seemed to think you were some kind of rare unicorn, who had just been on the field SOOO long. I wanted to raise my hand and say that really, there are lots of us out here. 🙂 I’ve been thinking about this a lot this week, with the “veteran” theme. I don’t think of us as veterans, but I guess we are. It’s been 19 years since we moved.

    And, Diane, teens…. Our oldest two are also 14 and 16. Plus, we’ve been watching our friends launch their oldest two into American universities. At this point, ours have no desire for that path. So, we’ve been talking more about ways they can stay here.

    1. Rachel Pieh Jones November 8, 2019

      Yes! Veterans are out there. In my context, there aren’t many and it doesn’t seem to take many years to become one, I’m so thankful for the wisdom I’ve gained from those who have gone and stayed on ahead of me.

  3. Beth Pugh November 8, 2019

    Hi Rachel,
    Thanks for sharing! I will say that your youngest is all those things you have said- brave, curious, open to differences culturally, well rounded, loving and courageous. There have been many beautiful ripple effects from you and your husband’s sacrifice and I am seeing the evidence of those everyday. Our children are not our own but only ours to have for a time. As I have left my own grown daughters and husbands in the States for mission in Kenya and am missing their new milestones and daily lives, I am praying for ripple effects to continue to pour out on them. I am praying that our years of parenting are put to good use here. I am praying that the sacrifice of leaving family and friends and everything I have ever known can make a difference in this world. Love to you Rachel!

  4. Kara November 8, 2019

    I am encouraged to read your words. They resonate with my split mind as to whether we have ruined our kids or given them a precious gift. Next year we launch our firstborn, most likely to university in the states…. And as I hope he chooses a location near extended family, I also feel hypocritical. After all, we are the ones who have chosen to model a transient, global lifestyle. May God have mercy on each on of us and those affected by our decisions!

  5. Marilyn November 8, 2019

    I remember a few years ago waking up and realizing that my kids we’re living in Milan, Cairo, Oxford, Los Angeles, and Chicago while we were in Boston. They weren’t visiting, they were living there. It was this terrifying, proud moment of grief and joy. The foundation was my TCK life, then raising our kids for ten years overseas. It is wonderful, and yes it is also really, really hard. Thank you so much for this.

  6. Lisa Neumann November 10, 2019

    Oh my goodness. How do we do this? How do I do this? We are in year five overseas but I sure don’t feel like a veteran. Our oldest is fourteen, first year of high school, so we’re beginning to look ahead and realize that someday soon, we’ll be launching as well. There are indeed other American friends in our community who will be in our shoes soon, but most of them are a year or two behind us. And our expat community is pretty well set. New folks won’t be coming with junior high or high school kids – usually new arrivals are either pre-kid or have much younger kids. This also means that increasingly my newer friends – the new arrivals – are ten or fifteen years younger than me. Certainly not women my age with kids in the same life stage as us. Does that make sense? What I’m trying to sort through is how do I lead the way? How do I find a way forward with the communty I have in place now? It’s incredibly lonely and not a little terrifying. I’m beginning to reach beyond myself and listen for other voices from other veterans who have also launched kids from a distance. Rachel, I appreciate your words so much!

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