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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