|Posted by Alyssa on February 8, 2016 at 5:25 PM||comments (0)|
I’ve been struggling with my re-entry into the States. And I’ve struggled to put those struggles into words. So I’m going to write you a letter modeled after one I read on this fantastic blog. I didn’t just want to post a link to her blog because I wanted it to be personal—I wanted it to be directly from me, edited to fit me personally—but if you read hers you might find that much of it is similar because she helped put words to my struggle. Thank you, Ruthie.
Dear Friends and Family,
I have changed; I am not the same as I used to be and I’m still trying to figure out who that is. Am I an American who’s finally home? Am I a missionary who can’t wait to get back to the field? Am I happy to be home? Am I sad? Can I be all of these things? Who am I anymore? One of my biggest struggles right now is with my identity and it might take me a long time to figure out who I am (like months… or years).
Home is a word that no longer refers to a single solitary place. You can never know how much I missed you. Homesickness became a way of life and I had to learn to live with the devastation of all I was missing back home. But I don’t want you to misunderstand, I loved where I was at—what I was doing, the people I lived and worked alongside—LOVED it. I experienced intense moments of complete contentment—one of the only times I’ve ever cried out of pure joy and satisfaction—driving on the road to an outreach in the Transkei. I can’t explain the complication of feelings that come with a heart that desperately wants to exist simultaneously in two very different places.
Rediscovering life in the States is harder than discovering life abroad. This may be an odd and confusing statement but for reasons I don’t fully understand, it’s completely true. I’ve gotten used to the way of life, job, and family I had while living in South Africa and losing all of that hasn’t been easy. I’ve lost friendships, purpose, routine. I’m grieving. (Wow, that’s weird to say.) It’s true; I’m grieving the life I had but that doesn’t mean I don’t want to be here, with you, it’s just…complicated. I don’t expect you to understand (how can I when I don’t fully understand myself). All I want is for you to listen, it might not make sense to you but I am a verbal processor so your simple act of listening can help me process in a huge way. All of these feelings are awkward and I don’t want to hurt you so chances are I’m not going to come right out and share my struggles but don’t feel like you can’t ask. I may not know what to say or I might start crying but the simple fact that you cared enough to ask will make a huge difference.
Energy eludes me. These days I struggle to stay energized. My sleep is still off, I’m emotional, I’m unmotivated, I’m confused, and I’m just exhausted…like all the time. Everything takes more energy than it used to. This could be due to a million reasons but the important thing to know is that it’s happening and I’m struggling to embrace it and not hate myself for being so unproductive. Little decisions seem to befuddle my brain. I forget what I’m doing easily and sometimes I feel like I can’t even lift my eyes to watch yet another episode of Criminal Minds. Everything in my life has shifted—everything—and I’m not even sure where it has all gone. I feel like I’m walking around in the dark with no directions and no matter how badly I want to keep going to find some light all I want to do is lay down on the cold, hard cement and take a nap…a really long nap. What I’m saying is that I don’t have energy right now for much, and that is okay. Sometimes I won’t be able to have multiple meetings in one day…or one week but my energy level does not match my love for you. If I’m overwhelmed I’m not overwhelmed by you but by this whole new situation I’m trying to figure out. Be patient with me; I love you.
Life for me is now a paradox. I love being home; I desperately want to be back in South Africa. Living in South Africa was fantastic; living in South Africa was extremely hard. Unlike when we were kids, as adults we now realize that not all situations and circumstances are all good or all bad. There is moderation to everything and with that can come muddled feelings. You can help me find the balance between my paradoxes. Ask questions but please make sure your questions are balanced across the good and bad scale. I want to share the victories AND the defeats and I want to be careful not to distort my memory of this time in my life. I apologize now if this makes life with me a challenge but knowing you’re with me in the challenge will help fight my feelings of loneliness.
Yes, I’m lonely. In many ways, you don’t know me anymore. That’s not an entirely bad thing and it’s certainly not your fault. It’s reality and that reality often finds me feeling alone. You may know some of my stories, you may have seen some changes in me, but the only people who truly know what this year has been like for me—the things I’ve experienced, the ways I’ve grown, the places I’ve been—are all halfway around the world…and only awake for about six of the same hours I am. I feel like I’m the only one of my kind—outnumbered and misunderstood.
This is all normal. I’ve learned that these things I’m feeling aren’t necessarily special to just me. Many people in re-entry find themselves struggling with anxiety, depression, even some symptoms of PTSD. I know, sounds a bit far-fetched but it’s all completely normal. This doesn’t mean something happened in the field, or that you or I are doing something wrong. Living overseas is highly stressful and it’s near impossible to avoid the effects it can have on our mental, emotional, and physical heath. I won’t struggle with these feelings forever but don’t be surprised if it’s a long and messy journey.
I’m maddingly confused! (Yes, I may have just invented that word but it fits, right?) My identity has been challenged and confused and I don’t even know where to begin. Some of the old me still remains (my love for soul touching music and good popcorn) but some new parts have been added as well (confidence in my abilities and an intense love of the beach). I’m not who I was when I last lived in the States but I’m not who I was when I lived in South Africa either…and I’m going to need time to make sense of it all. I may change my mind from day to day or hour to hour. I don’t know what I want! I don’t know which church I will attend, or if I should get involved or take a break. One day I might want to talk about my experiences and the next I may want to talk about anything but or nothing at all. Please be patient as I figure out (again) who I am. Speak into my life—the things you see that I do well, my passions. This will help me figure out who I am and what I’m supposed to do. I have to figure this out on my own but I need you to help get me there. Encourage me to do new things and invite me in on your own new endeavors.
You mean so much to me, you really do. You can never know (I can never really know) how much your prayers and support aided me in my ministry this past year. Without you it would not have been possible. (Yes, God can do all things but He chooses not to do it alone. He chooses to use us and He chose to use you in my life and in my ministry this past year.) Dankie, enkosi, thank you for the part you shared in all that took place this past year and for your friendship and patience as I learn what it means to be me again. Thank you for not letting me walk this journey alone.
|Posted by Alyssa on January 9, 2015 at 1:40 PM||comments (3)|
10 days left to go. No visa.
I’m stressed. I’m confused.
Didn’t God just provide me with over 100% of my support? Didn’t He give me peace when I booked my flight for January 19th? Didn’t He provide me with the perfect first solo international flight itinerary?
Doesn’t He know I already have enough to deal with just preparing to leave my life?!
I don’t know what God is doing; I don’t know what He’s trying to teach me. I don’t feel as though He has turned His back on me—quite the opposite. I feel Him here, always at my side.
We live in a culture that’s hell-bent on self-helps and independent living. Accepting help is often seen as weakness.
I’ve always been pretty independent but when God told me He was moving me to South Africa I decided that if I didn’t do everything by myself then once I was on my own, in a foreign country, I would crash and burn.
So I did.
I think I had good reason (after all, my parents won’t be able to make all my calls and fix all my problems once we live on opposite sides of the world) but maybe through all of the struggles of the past few months God is trying to show me that I was wrong.
I live with an acceptance/denial of the value of independent living. I want to show that I’m strong enough—smart enough—to take care of myself, not putting the burden of my problems on anyone but myself. I also don’t want to live this life alone on Independent Island.
It seems as though God may be trying to teach me to rely on other people. Although—ironically—my faith in the expertise of others is exactly the reason why everything has seemingly begun to fall apart.
If He is trying to teach me to trust then why did He use situations that have taught me to verify, verify, verify…and take a shot in the dark because it still may be wrong? It doesn’t make sense.
Where is the happy turn around?
Yeah, it’s not coming.
I absolutely believe that I will be in South Africa when God has planned. He told me 2015 and He is the only being whose word I can fully trust.
I believe everything happens for a reason, even if it doesn't affect us directly.
But knowledge alone cannot change emotion. I’m still confused. I’m still stressed.
God give me strength.
|Posted by Alyssa on December 30, 2014 at 12:05 AM||comments (1)|
I love questions. I want people to fall in love with South Africa the way I have. But not all questions are constructive; in fact, they can be very damaging.
Questions like: “What about your health?” “What if there is unrest in South Africa?” “What if you don't reach full support?” “What about Ebola?"
What do these seemingly harmless questions have in common? They all focus on one thing: the negative.
If you're interested in reading my answers, click here.
Do you remember that blog post from a little while ago where I shared my struggle with negative thoughts that led to my depression? If you missed it the first time, read it here.
I can come up with a million reasons not to go (and I have) all by myself. There aren’t many questions you could ask that my over analyzing brain or my mother hasn’t already considered.
I’ve been down this road and I will not go back willingly. Negative thoughts derailed my college graduation, alienated my friends, and gave me some pretty intense anger toward God.
Please don't force me back. Help me fight.
I read a blog post about a year ago (couldn’t find the link. Seriously, I spent like an hour…) written by a missionary who had experienced the pain of a thoughtless comment. After explaining the situation and why it was so hurtful she began to describe what it’s like to live a life divided between two countries.
That post gave me the first real look into the ups and downs of missionary life, preparing me for unexpected bouts of homesickness and senseless comments.
I believe a writer’s purpose is to speak truth— especially hard truth. This post is my attempt to speak truth. Not only to protect myself or cause you to stop and think about the questions you ask other missionaries but, most importantly, to call attention to the meaning behind your questions. What are you conveying about our God?
These questions grieve my heart. I believe they reveal a belief that God’s power can be limited.
I honestly believe that most of the people who have asked me these questions are Believers. And that’s what terrifies me.
Do you really trust God? Do I?
I know how easy it is to believe I trust God without actually trusting Him. When I said “yes” to South Africa I felt like I had made it to the Olympics of the Christian walk.
I was going to be a missionary—the occupation of the “Super Christian.” Ha! God said, “Nope! You’re wrong.”
I’m still learning to trust and it’s a constant battle. Please don’t encourage the fight.
Should I be realistic about the dangers and potential obstachles? Yes. But I want be able to face those issues in a way that’s pleasing to God.
I want to say, “Okay, God, You’ve got this under control. Bring it on.”
|Posted by Alyssa on December 19, 2014 at 10:40 PM||comments (2)|
I have an overwhelming amount to be thankful for this year. Ready?
Second trip to South Africa, God’s continual and ever-present teaching in trust, the end of months of migraines, a spring semester not completely lost, God’s grace through depression, first publication rejection, a manual car, a job close to home, the blessing of fundraising, time with family, renewed excitement for JAM year, the protection of my sister, a car for when I return from South Africa, spiritual vacation to Nehemiah House, the improvement of my health, my return to Cornerstone, strength through the struggle, a job near school, fantastic roommates and friends, an amazing flight itinerary to South Africa, speaking engagements, my parents trip to Cancun, the love of a God whom I often treat like dirt, passed my German class, didn’t have to make a trip to Chicago during finals week, stamina during finals week, my father’s help throughout this visa process, 97% of my support…
Yes, that was a bit exhaustive and, yet, not nearly exhaustive enough. God has been overwhelmingly good to me this past year. I am thankful to Him for all His goodness and I am also thankful to all of you for all your prayers and support. I can’t believe God has brought in almost 100% of my support with a month still left to go! I am so thankful to each of you for your obedience and faithfulness in prayer and financial support that has helped me reach this level of support. I have seen your prayers answered time after time this year. Please don’t stop! I will need them all the more once I am finally on the field.
I can’t believe I will be getting on a plane in thirty days. It just doesn’t seem real.
Not too long ago, the thought terrified me; literally. I was so focused on what I would be leaving behind, loosing, that I lost sight of my purpose for this coming year. But God is faithful. During a chapel service at my school the worship team asked us to take time to talk to God. I used my time to ask Him to renew my excitement for South Africa—to show me what I would be gaining. And He did. Of course He did. He holds nothing back from us that would be for our benefit. He is good.
This year has been hectic, painful, rewarding, a blessing, and a time of learning for me. I can’t honestly say that I am thankful for every minute but I can honestly say that I am thankful for the place each of those minutes has brought me to as I prepare to leave my home for a year working in my beloved South Africa.
There is always much to be thankful for, no matter how bad it gets.
|Posted by Alyssa on August 5, 2014 at 3:05 PM||comments (0)|
I live in a rather small town with a moderately busy main street. When I was in young I viewed this street as a barrier between my house and the school playground. My friends and I (for good reason) were not allowed to cross this street without an adult.
I was an especially observant child and I noticed that when the crossing guard helped us cross the street after school all she had to do was walk out into the middle of the street and hold up both of her hands. (However, I did not account for her bright colored vest or hand-held stop sign.) Noticing this simple solution, I decided to implement her tactics. When I wanted to cross the street I walked out into the middle of traffic, held out my little hands, and trusted that the vehicles would stop to let me pass.
As I think back I find myself asking, “What happened to that little girl?” When did she first begin to loose trust?
After God first called me to South Africa, and I said yes, I felt like I had arrived spiritually. I was going to be a missionary— in Africa. How much more trusting could I be, right?
But God quickly showed me that I was wrong. Yes, I was following His lead but there were so many little details that I wasn’t letting Him control.
As I learned to trust Him, really trust Him, I began slipping into a dark place. I was finally giving in and Satan was determined to remind me of all I would be giving up in the process.
Along the way I had lost some of my excitement—forgotten what God is doing in South Africa and my important role in His plan. I focused on what/who I was leaving behind and almost forgot why I fell in love with South Africa and JAM in the first place.
Last night it all came back.
A friend of the family threw a Thirty-One fundraising party for me where I was able to share my “South Africa” story. I talked about how God started to direct me during my first trip to South Africa, what made me fall in love with the country, and what made me fall in love with Jabulani Africa Ministries.
I shared a little about JAM—their purpose and the huge impact Christ has made through them. I was reminded of how badly I want to be a part of what God is doing through JAM in South Africa.
I’m still scared—scared to leave, scared I’m not ready, scared He’ll take down my walls all at once. But it wouldn’t be faith if I wasn’t scared. There would be no need for trust if I had it all together.
God can use me no matter what I’m going through. I’m never going to be ready, there’s never going to be a perfect time.
JAM Year 2015.
Ready or not.
|Posted by Alyssa on January 31, 2014 at 9:55 AM||comments (0)|
I’ve stared at the blank page for far too long, but what can I say? How can one define an experience such as I’ve had? “It was amazing; It was refreshing; It was as if I’d never left.” No, they’re all too cliché. I hate being cliché.
Let me start from the beginning.
During the first week of the past fall semester, I saw Professor Bonzo (who led the trip last year) in the hallway outside his office.
“Hey, are you going to come with us again this year?”
I froze, calculated his seriousness. The last time he asked me this very question it resulted with the belief that a second trip would not be possible. His expression remained, expectant.
“I thought you were teaching the same course?” I asked with hesitancy as I told my heart to slow down.
“It’s going to be a little different.”
This was new information.
“You’re freaking me out.”
“Don’t freak out, not yet. Talk to the registrar. I’ll make sure the course is different enough so you will receive credit.”
As I left the building I pulled out my phone. “Mom? I might get another chance to go to South Africa for J-term.”
I wore the pattern of my Vans tennis shoes onto Cornerstone’s campus as I traveled from office to office, gathering information, checking and rechecking, and rechecking again. I wanted to be sure before I said the words out loud. During the summer, God revealed to me a significant deficit in my understanding of what it means to trust Him and it was showing through once again.
I felt Him leading me to take the class in South Africa but in my desperation to be sure it wasn’t just wishful thinking, I didn’t realize He had already given me the answer to my prayers.
One morning, while praying about whether I should go on the trip again, He finally broke through.
“STOP, STOP, STOP, STOP! I already told you I want you to go. Stop questioning and TRUST ME.”
That day I spoke the words for the first time. “I’m going back to South Africa for J-term.”
My stomach instantly churned. What if I’m wrong? “Trust me.”
I filled out the application, I paid the deposit, I registered for the class. It was happening. And then the migraines came. And they didn’t go away.
I had had a migraine every single day during the two months leading up to the trip. I began to stress. I was confused, once again, and my trust faltered.
Two days before we were scheduled to fly out, my migraines put me in the ER. The doctor was pretty confident that they weren’t being caused by anything life threatening but advised me to cancel the trip. Not only would cancelling the trip have crushed my spirit, it would have also sent my entire spring semester into disarray, no longer allowing me to graduate on time. But if I continued with the trip and my health suffered, it would have produced the same result.
I agonized. Should I risk my health—threaten my carefully micro-managed life?