|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 21, 2015 at 12:55 AM||comments (1)|
It seems as though everything has gone completely wrong.
Round two of my FBI background check took two more days than expressed. I checked the tracking number on the package so many times that I was able to type it in from memory. (For those of you who know my relationship with numbers, this statement means quite a bit.)
Every time I typed that number and it came back as “not found” my heart sank. All we could do was wait, push back plans, wait, push back plans again.
It finally arrived Wednesday afternoon and we could head to Chicago the next day.
The South African Consulate in Chicago says that visa’s take five business days to process. What was our time frame? Two business days. Yeah, it wasn’t looking good but I knew that if God wanted me to leave on the 19th then He would make it happen.
That was not His plan.
I was sad, angry at myself for all my mistakes (and the office lady’s angry, defensive disposition did not brighten this reality).
I felt shot down, confused as to why God would allow all of this.
When we got back to the hotel I went to work changing my flight. I was stressed but so thankful I had purchased flight insurance. That is, until I learned it did not cover visa issues.
Breath completely left my body and was replaced by intense anger. At God.
I have a tendency to keep things bottled up deep inside where they are “safe”. I knew I needed to vent. And I did.
The anger that poured out scared me. And I was holding back.
I felt completely discarded by God, like He had played me.
Between a night of much needed sleep and prayers from just about everyone we’ve ever met, I woke up on Friday relatively calm. Whether by God’s grace or the power of the vent, I was no longer angry at God. (Sometimes it takes a day to realize how completely misplaced our emotions can be.)
It took most of the day— between differing time zones, phone calls, emails, faxes, and prayer— but it was finally resolved.
New departure date: Tuesday, February 3rd.
God is in absolute control. I can’t say with certainty why God decided to put my family and me through this but I have at least one idea.
The JAM year officially starts on February 3rd. I was going early because I had been invited to help out with the first two camps as well as to spend a little extra time with some of my best friends.
I had wanted extra time with them before the craziness of the program started but I had never told them. When I received the email inviting me to come early I was elated. God is good.
I love figuring out the reasons God may have allowed or prevented something in my life.
I struggle with insecurity in relationships, always have. My struggle is intensified by distance.
Through all the stress and anger and dejection of this whole process I believe God was trying to communicate with me: You are loved, even wanted.
Wow. What a perfect way to start a ministry.
Could this message have been accomplished in a less disastrous way? Apparently not.
God is all knowing after all.
|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 November 13, 2014 at 2:00 PM||comments (2)|
This is a prose poetry piece I recently wrote for my Writers and Styles class about my conflicting feelings toward moving to South Africa in January. I hope you enjoy this change of pace.
I Could, Except
I could not be more excited to go to South Africa,
except that I’m terrified.
I could not be more ready,
except that I’m not prepared at all.
I could not be more anxious to pack,
except that I have no idea what to leave behind.
I could not be more enthusiastic to spend a year in South Africa,
except that I will spend a year away from home.
I could not be more delighted to see my friends,
except for the ones I’ll leave behind.
I could not be content anywhere else,
except that I fear I will be content nowhere.
I could not be more relieved to have a departure date,
except that I have a departure date.
I could not be more eager to finally live my passion,
except that my passion is frightening.
I could not be more wired to write,
except that there is too much to write.
I could not be more useful with my talents,
except that my talents are drenched in culture.
I could not be happier to be stretched,
except for the excruciating pains.
I could not be more at peace with my decision,
except that I doubt it every day.
I could not be more blessed to be going to South Africa,
except that I’m equally blessed at home.
|Posted by Alyssa on November 4, 2014 at 12:10 AM||comments (0)|
You see this circle around me? I call it my comfort zone.
Everyone has one; the place without fear, the space where we feel most like ourselves.
I would say that my comfort zone is rather small. I can feel uncomfortable in just about any situation if I let myself over think (and I often do).
When I picture my comfort zone I imagine a circle that extends just a few feet from my body…with the outer ring three feet deep.
There is no “stepping” outside of my comfort zone. No. If I want to leave (and I rarely ever do) I have to drill my way out. It’s hard work.
I feel that I must point out that my circle has loosened, expanded, (even if just a little) over the past few years. (College will do that to an introvert.) I’m getting better at smashing through the circle, adding to my comfort zone (and making note of where I’ll NEVER go again. It’s a process, okay?).
When talking to people about what I consider awkward situations I often hear, “You’ll get over it.”
Okay, this is probably true. But how long until I’m over it? How many tears will I shed before I’m over it?
I don’t want to live my life trapped in this tiny circle. I want room to breathe. I don’t want to be in constant fear of what awkward situation will present itself that day.
I don’t want to be extraverted (that would mean changing who God made me to be) but I do want to live a life that is completely open to and wholly trusting of God’s plan.
If the last few years of college have served as an expander for my comfort zone then Africa must be the Jaws of Life.
I know that this next year is going to knock me out of my circle, there’s no doubt; but that doesn’t mean I’m not terrified of the prospect.
Where’s the uplifting, encouraging, Christian final thought? Sorry, there isn’t one.
Do I know God will be with me and will give me the strength to make it through? Yes, of course; but knowing won’t take away the emotional and physical pain of being stretched.
Why am I most afraid to lose control over my comfort zone? Because inside it’s warm and worry free.
|Posted by Alyssa on September 17, 2014 at 1:35 PM||comments (0)|
Over the past month life has gone into overdrive.
Update: I made it to Cornerstone. The first couple weeks of classes were good. My roommates are great.
It’s good to be back, and, at the same time, it’s been completely overwhelming.
This semester looks a bit different from any of my previous semesters here. I will only be taking four classes (12 credits), I will be working part-time, and I will be continuing my fundraising/preparation for South Africa.
Seems simple, right? Well, I think that’s the problem.
I’m so conditioned to a full schedule of classes that I don’t know how to manage my time. I’m a planner. You can’t plan for the unexpected.
That’s why they call it unexpected.
I also struggle doing many things at one time. Now I will be a student, an employee, and a missionary. I can’t put anything aside this semester as I’ve done in the past. My support for South Africa has come a long way but it has just as far to go in the next four months.
I’m not worried about the money, I know it will come in, but I do stress about my involvement in the process. Am I doing the fundraising techniques God wants me to use? Am I doing enough? Should I have done more? I don’t want to slack on my part. I don’t want to let Him down.
I desire to do well in my classes, work hard at my job, engage in good discussion, and connect with my community.
This semester (Lord willing) will be my last at Cornerstone and I want to be able to do all the things I’ve always wanted to do but never had the time or the guts.
I have fears of being overwhelmed—fears of missing out.
School is a constant battle of priorities; offering countless events to attend, involvement opportunities, chances to connect, classes to attend, requirements to fill, homework to be completed…
I want this semester to be different than all the last. I want to choose wisely. I want to stay on top of my work. I want to avoid stress. I want to meet new people. I want to grow in Christ. I want to enjoy my time left here.
I’m overwhelmed by the possibilities—overwhelmed by the separation between my wants and God’s plans.
I don’t know what this semester will hold. I don’t know why God has put me in this place at this specific time. But He does. Nothing in this life happens without His approval.
|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 July 15, 2014 at 6:35 PM||comments (0)|
I want to be real. I want you to know how to pray for and encourage me. I want you to know that I’m not perfect—I never will be.
I want to be authentic.
So I’m going to stop leaving you in the dark.
I’ve been struggling with depression for quite a while now. It’s a culmination of many things but much of it stems from my mixed feelings about South Africa. Every second, of every day, my emotions are in constant conflict.
South Africa. Ready? I can’t wait. I’m ready to go. God has been preparing me for this my entire life. Really. I couldn’t imagine anything better. South Africa is gorgeous. I’m in love with the people. They are friendly and open. They welcome me with smiles that make me feel at home. I love the kids. They are so eager to learn, so ready to love, so ready to be loved.
Leaving home. Ready? Really? I might not be. (Deep breath.) This is my family, my friends, my life. I’m going to miss birthdays and holidays, weddings and births, moments of pure joy and times of tragedy. I will be out of the loop, maybe even forgotten. I won’t be readily accessible. And in a culture where instant gratification is the status quo, relationships will be lost.
These thoughts play on a constant, simultaneous loop.
One of the major lessons God has been continually teaching me this past year is that I AM WEAK. Going into my last trip to South Africa I was battling intense migraines with no apparent source. I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to go on the trip let alone handle ministry life. For those of you that know me, I have been riding this particular roller coaster for 8 ½ years.
But God keeps telling me, “I choose the weak. Read my book, I’ve always chosen the weak.”
While in South Africa I had one of the most memorable conversations of my life with my friend Lisa. While catching her up to date on my latest doubts and fears about South Africa she said, “All these things that you’ve gone through, all these things that make you you, make you the perfect candidate for JAM.” That still brings tears to my eyes. God has shaped me into who He wants me to be—into the person that can fulfill His will.
I AM WEAK. I am broken. I don’t have it all together. I don’t feel like everything I’ve been through has made me stronger. Instead, I feel exhausted. I have a lot to work on and God’s not pulling any punches. I’m not ready for this JAM year. I don’t want to live a life of constant conflicting emotions.
But I’m not doing it for me. I’ve chosen to become a bond-servant of Christ—to serve Him because life with Him is good; even if He asks me to give up my world.
I’m ready to go but not ready to leave.
|Posted by Alyssa on August 14, 2013 at 12:20 AM||comments (0)|
I recently finished reading the book "Friend Raising" by Betty Barnett and am now in the middle of reading "Funding Your Ministry" by Scott Morton. I have already learned much and the task of fundraising seems more daunting than ever. I love sharing my heart for South Africa and the work God is doing there through Jabulani Africa Ministries but I am not looking forward to fundraising. In "Funding Your Ministry", Morton said that God has already chosen my supporters. This is very comforting to me. It doesn't mean that I do nothing in the area of fundraising but that all the hard work has already been done!
These last couple days I've found myself feeling down. It may be attacks from Satan due to my extra time in the Word lately or it may be because I feel completely overwhelmed by...well, everything. (School coming up in a couple weeks, fundraising, ministry decisions, practical errands...the list just continues.) I am in need of extra prayer. Prayer that I would use my time wisely and prayer that I would learn to relax and take life one task at a time.