Reflections of a new missionary v 2.0
We’ve been in Papua New Guinea now for three months. ¼ of a year. Until last weekend, I don’t think I realized the depth of my woundedness in the transition. Justin has been sick once, then last weekend, it was my turn. There’s something about being sick that literally and figuratively knocks you off your feet. I felt horrible and, on top of that, I was just plan mad. My homesickness reached a new level and my body was betraying me. It was a rough combination. I went from feeling like I might be getting better for an hour or two, and then falling back on my face anytime I tried to do anything but rest. I didn’t get anything marked off my weekend ‘to do’ list and all I managed was sleep.
My outsides began to mirror my insides. I was grumpy with my family (though I’ve gotten good at putting on the missionary happy face around my peers) and I just wanted to stay crawled up in my hole, angry about everything…wondering if we made the right decision, this place, my job, and the fact that contentment still eluded me. We felt God leading us here so strongly and now I was wondering if I had heard wrong. I told a friend that it reminds me a little of how I felt after the adoption. God’s leading and hand were so evident during the process of ‘getting there,’ but then we felt very alone and unsure afterwards. I think at some level, I knew before coming, that this move was certainly not going to solve all the things I wrestle with. I read a blog recently that said, “your sins don’t disappear when you get to the mission field. In fact, they tend to be magnified.” We’re certainly experiencing that. The things that were hard at home have become somewhat easier, but the things that were taken for granted at home are the biggest challenges here.
Then, all at once, it hit me. I was sitting in the living room, curtains drawn, drowning in a Downton Abbey binge watch while Justin and AJ were at a potluck. I thought, “What are you doing? You’re missing it. It hurts to breathe. You’re fighting all of it. All the hard, all the stuff you didn’t expect, and you’re even fighting the blessings. If you don’t learn to embrace this, it will be time wasted.” Recently, we had some coaching on our strengths finder results. Without going too far in depth, the strengths finder is more than a personality test…it identifies your top five talents and it’s believed that, for most of us, we operate out of our top five most of the time. You can read more and take the assessment here: https://www.gallupstrengthscenter.com/home/en-us/strengthsfinder.
My strengths are (in order) empathy, developer, connectedness, positivity, and belief. Four of my top five are in the “relationship” category. Big shocker for those of you who know me, right? Some of the hard has been my reluctance to enter into new relationships, both with the other missionaries as well as the PNG nationals. I’m holding back, partially because of the grief. I’ve been trying to live in both worlds…stay connected to all that I knew and all the friends and family left behind, while trying to be fully present where I am. It’s quickly becoming evident that it’s not possible. Yes, some connections will be maintained, but if I don’t begin to embrace fully where I am, hard and all, I will miss out on the discovery of the whole reason we came here in the first place: to see where God is at work and join Him.
So, after last Sunday, I gave myself permission NOT to be head over heels in love with PNG. And it was freeing. I also began making a list of my blessings, big and small, and started looking around instead of just looking back. I had the best week of our entire three months. But God wasn’t (isn’t) done.
Today, a week later, I was talking with the Lord. I told him how grateful I was that I didn’t have to love PNG in order to live fully present while we’re here. I could make it. And I could learn lots about myself and my family and how to live less ordinary. I could learn how to be a servant and it would all be worth it. And as soon as the words were out of my mouth, I heard that still small voice whisper, “but if you sacrifice everything and do not love, you are nothing.” All the years of scripture memory can be both a blessing and a curse. I thought I had come to a place where I could ‘make it’ and even grow, but God has more in mind. Just like parenting or marriage or any other important commitment we make, the more authenticity and love that is given, the deeper the experience of God. In other words, God is love. The lesson that He’s teaching me as I open myself to see more of Him here absolutely MUST involve love: for Him, for the people with whom I serve, and for the country I now refer to as ‘home.’
This is going to be a process. I’m human and it won’t happen overnight. It’s called grace. For now, I’m praying for God in me to grow into a deep, genuine love for Him, for what He’s doing here, and for the people and places of His creation to which He’s called me and my family.