A lot has gone down over the past few months, huh? You packed and repacked bags, crated your bikes and baby dolls, and sold whatever was left. You said goodbye to that backyard fort you worked so hard to construct, to the school that was such a great fit for our family, to a life that seemed to work just fine. You said goodbye to consistency. To “normal.” To dance. To the only church you’ve ever known. To our dog. Oh my word, our dog. You have done some really hard things, kids.
I’m so, so proud of you.
But let me shoot straight with you for a second, okay?
Things are about to get even more crazy.
In just a few months, you’ll board a plane here in America only to land on African soil with all of its foreign smells and language and customs and just about everything. And there you’ll stand, a stranger in a foreign land, expected to assimilate and adjust and find home in all of the strangeness.
In just a few months, junk is about to get real. FAST. And, if I’m straight up with you, I have no clue how all of this is going to go down. How will your first day of school go? How will that first holiday away from cousins and grandparents and normal be? Will we catch on to the language? There’s no telling.
But here’s the thing, you guys. I know life seems to be shifting in seismic ways right now- and I recognize that it can be alarming that your parents don’t have all of the answers (SHOCKING, I know)- but in this season of unknowns and drastic change and more-questions-than-answers, I want to assure you of a few things that I know for sure and forever.
1. You’re not God’s ultimate gift to this world.
People are people. And kids are kids. Sin is sin. And we all need rescuing. Including you.
We do not love others- and we will not serve and love our Malawian neighbors and friends- from a pedestal. We’re not moving halfway across the world to swoop in as Americans who know better. No, guys. We’re going to link arms with our brothers and sisters in Malawi. To learn from them. To be the church. Together.
There is no us versus them. There’s just a we. A “we” who might do things differently at times. Who might speak different dialects and who might prefer varying cuisines. Who might do school and sports and free-time differently. But nonetheless, a humanity-wide “we” navigating this broken world together.
So, open your eyes wide, kids. There’s a beautiful and messy world out there waiting for you. A world filled with people who are more like you than different. So, love big. Serve extravagantly. And as you do so, just remember that you’re not God’s greatest gift to this world. Jesus is.
2. God’s presence will always go with you.
Jen Wilkin aptly says, “When we trust [God] as fully present everywhere, we are finally free to be fully present wherever he has placed us.”
You guys, there will surely be times when life just kind of stinks. You might be lonely. Afraid. Sad. You might feel like throwing a fit and slamming every door and screaming, “How and why did I end up here?”
And that’s okay. You can feel these things and have these days and still know that God is right there with you in the mess. You will never, ever be alone.
You can go in confidence because God himself goes with you. You can do hard things- things like moving and selling and saying endless goodbyes- because God is with you. And when you walk into that new school in a new country for the very first time, you can walk in knowing that he is right there with you. WITHIN you. Comforting you. Guiding you. Strengthening you.
Kids, you have been jostled around enough to make anyone dizzy over the past few months, and honestly? The jostling is only about to pick up more speed. But I pray- man I pray- that God’s constant presence and unshifting goodness can provide the stability that your dad and I can’t promise right now. We can be fully present anywhere he places us because he is always and forever fully present with us.
3. God’s glory is always worth it.
If I sit down and think about it, I could come up with one heck of a laundry list of reasons why we shouldn’t pick up and move to Africa. Kids, I know you could too. I’ve heard plenty of them already anywhere.
But pitted against a thousand and more reasons not to go, declaring and spreading God’s glory is going to win out every. single. time.
If we believe- like REALLY BELIEVE- that “from him and to him and through him are all things. To him be glory forever” (Romans 11:36), we’ve gotta live like it. We have to live like “all things” means all things. And when things that fall under this umbrella of “all things” happen- language faux pas, difficult relationships, lonely holidays- we can remember that he’s in complete control, and his ultimate aim is to be worshipped. For his name to be made great.
Ultimately, he’s going to get his glory, guys. There WILL be a day every nation, tribe, and tongue is around his throne worshipping. The cool thing is that he lets us be part of this. And man is he is worth it.
4. You are not mine.
Alright, you guys. This one is harder for me than you. Here we go:
Carson, Mary Grace, and Elizabeth- ultimately, you are not mine. You’re not mine to have and hold and keep forever. You’re not mine to coddle and place in an iron fortress of protection. You are gifts- some of the greatest, most precious gifts imaginable- given by God above.
A while back, our pastor, JD, got all up in my business when he said, “When God designs a child to be shot out like an arrow—and instead we treat that child like a piece of furniture that we plan to keep in the house—we not only stunt their development, we also discourage them from finding God altogether. In protecting them from all of life’s challenges, we show them a picture of our faith that is dismally boring. And where your depiction of faith is boring, they will drift toward more interesting things.”
You guys, there is nothing- not one single thing- that is more exciting than following God. Hear me, though- exciting does not always mean safe. It certainly doesn’t always translate to comfortable or easy, and as a mama, this is sometimes difficult for me to stomach. But, at the end of the day, God created you for to be shot out as arrows into this broken world. I love you something fierce, but God’s love is unimaginably fiercer. You’re some of my greatest earthly blessings, but earth is not your home. Heaven is.
So, dear kids, this is all exciting and challenging and beyond anything any of us are capable of. YOU DON’T GOT THIS. Nor do I. Be encouraged.
I love you guys. Let’s do this.
It was a rare child-free afternoon a week or so ago. Somehow, Matt and I wound up at the mall, and SOMEHOW my legs navigated us straight to the mecca of all things ridiculously cute and entirely-too-expensive-for-me: Anthropologie. Funny how that happens. As I ambled aimlessly through the flowy dresses and funky home decor, I glanced at Matt and broke out in laughter.
“Welllll, here I am. Walking around the mall with no house to decorate. No space in luggage for extra clothes. Hey Matt, check this out. We’re JOBLESS 35 year olds living with PARENTS! What even is our life?”
Clearly, we’re the precise demographic Anthropologie is aiming for.
A week and some change later, I’m happy to report that, while we are indeed still 35 year olds living with parents- down to one car, no house, and nary an Anthro knob- we are once again gainfully employed. Yes, my friends, after a LONG application process, millions of pieces of paperwork, hours of interviews, so. many. medical. appointments., and bidding an impossibly difficult adieu to our lives in North Carolina, we were officially appointed last week as missionaries with the International Mission Board.
Last week was just another reminder of God’s faithfulness in bringing us to this point. Talking with trustees- many who are seasoned missionaries themselves- who care deeply for us and are praying for our kids by name. Sharing meals with other new missionaries who get it – who have an actual framework for the nutty up-and-down rollercoaster we’ve been on. Looking out into the packed-out appointment service and catching glimpses of so many people who have loved and prayed us to the point where we find ourselves today. Such gifts. We are insanely grateful.
So now? Now we rest. Ish. We carry on with normal(ish) life in Richmond for the next two and a half weeks until we move just down the road for a six week intensive training with over 120 other people soon to be spread to all corners of the globe. We’ve consistently heard that, while these weeks will be crammed with learning and doing, FPO (“field personnel orientation”) is a highlight for many… particularly for the kids who are convinced that they’re at a six week long summer camp. WITH a cafeteria boasting all-you-can-eat Lucky Charms and lemonade on-tap. And all the Allison kids shouted a resounding “AMEN.”
If you’ve been praying for us, thank you. Just the other day, I was telling Matt that never have I ever felt more prayed for in my life. It’s true. Thank you. And, at the risk of sounding all bossy and everything, keep those prayers coming.
A part of me worries that I’m feeling all wrong. Last week, I had an impromptu phone therapy sesh with a sweet, unsuspecting customer service lady at overstock.com. She THOUGHT she was on the line to help process my order for an area rug. Silly her. Little did she know, with one push of a button, she’d be the recipient of all my tears and emotions that Tuesday afternoon.
For what it’s worth, I ended up purchasing two rugs instead of one. Hey thanks, overstock. Your customer service people are VERY PATIENT AND KIND GEMS OF HUMANS.
The emotions that are tangled up in this process of going and coming are just that: tangled. Messy. Unpredictable. Here I am, weeping over discount carpets while my eyes stay dry in the moments that are actually significant. My daughter’s baptism. Our commissioning. Goodbye parties. And I think that’s okay. Or so I’m telling myself.
At the very least, I am remembering anew that my emotions simply cannot dictate my obedience. Nor can I rely on my feelings as foolproof guideposts to life. Because y’all wanna know what my precious feelings are speaking over me these days?
“GIRL, YOU SO CRAZY.”
“What are you even doing? You love that dog! Don’t give her up! And your DREAM HOUSE, CATHERINE. You’ll never get a chance at owning something like that again. Kiss. It. Goodbye.”
Words creep in. Words like irresponsible, reckless, naive, unworthy. I try to shut them down- tune them out- but somehow I start to internalize and make them personal. My heart- this heart the world says I’m to follow– spots risk and wants to hightail it outta there.
And then, sometimes? Sometimes my heart soars and leaps. It beats in a carefree, fanciful rhythm, prepped and ready for this next season. I hear people refer to our move as a “great adventure” and feel all kinds of warm and happy emotions rise up within.
“YASSS! An adventure! We got Jesus. We got each other. Saddle up your horses, y’all… we got a trail to blaze.” (Those of you who were not raised on 1990s Christian contemporary music just missed that reference, and I’m a tiny bit sad for you. Those of you who were, it’s stuck in my head too. So. You’re welcome for that.)
Adventure or not, those feelings, too, are fleeting. And they simply will not sustain.
Basically, here’s the deal. The pace is picking up. The boxes are getting packed. We are now approaching those important, in-bold-and-italics dates that have been looming for so long. This is happening. But you know what’s not happening? I’m not riding the wave of every emotion that comes in, and I’m certainly not following my heart. Because clearly- CLEARLY- my heart is all over the flippin place, and no one knows where it’s gonna land any given day. But I’ve got truth that will not budge. I’ve got a God who will never change. And I’ve got his guidance that beats the pants off of any overstock.com employee-turned-therapist.
I’d be completely remiss if I didn’t ask for prayers over the coming days. In the next 10 days, we will be saying goodbye to Lucy… we’ll be crating most of our remaining belongings…. we’ll be saying goodbye to the bulk of everything else… and we’ll be moving out of the house we love so much here in Wake Forest. It’s a lot. A lot a lot. So, we’d love prayers for our peace. For comfort. For TRUTH to trump fear and lies in our hearts and minds. For sleep. For our kids’ hearts in the midst of all of these goodbyes and transitions. And for all these dang logistics to play out as smoothly and easily as anything like this can play out. We appreciate it more than you know.
Wellll. It has BEEN A MINUTE since I last made it over to this blog. But here’s the deal, y’all. We have had a thing or two going on up in here. And it appears as though it’s going to stay that way for a while. So, I thought I’d grab ahold of a few blessed kid-free moments today to give some mass updates for those of you who might be interested in our journey overseas. And, let’s be real, to Future Me who will surely scroll back to read this years down the road and think, “Oh, sweet 35 year old Catherine. You didn’t even know what was a’coming.”
So. Here’s what’s been going down:
The kids wrapped up their school years and their time in American schools for the foreseeable future. (And yes, my friends. Elizabeth commemorated the occasion by donning a gold sequin dress. I mean. Whatever.) They’ll be attending an international school in Lilongwe (with uniforms that are completely void of any semblance of sequins or shine… RIP Gold Sequin Dress), but since we’re in complete and total limbo ’till then… school’s out for the LONGEST SUMMER EVERRR!!
Kind of. I’ve been playing teacher this summer on a very itsy bitsy tiny scale in a desperate Type A effort to keep them up to speed with school stuff, and… I cannot even believe I’m about to utter these words, but… our very itsy bitsy tiny dip into the homeschooling world has been enjoyable. I know. I don’t even know what’s happening to me.
Because we Allisons like to go big or go home, I also happened to schedule my last day of work on the same day as their last day of school. I managed to hold myself together until the bitter end. And then, the tears started rolling. Because this. For those of you who might not know the culture of our church, we are constantly- incessantly- reminded that we are “sent.” Every service concludes with these words. Nearly every gathering. And as I walked out of my no-longer-workplace on that last day and saw these words, Y’ALL. I was about to re-employ myself right then and there.
In all seriousness, while the tears have fallen plenty in recent months and the INSANE logistics can sometimes be, well, INSANE… God’s been so kind.
Like how ’bout the fact that we sold our house. (BEFORE EVEN PUTTING IT ON THE MARKET. HOLLAAA NO SHOWINGS WITH THREE KIDS. I WILL TYPE THIS IN CAPS FOR THIS REST OF MY DAYS.) Yes. We sold our house to a family we know. Another staff family from church. A family who will love this house as much as we have. WITHOUT HAVING TO KEEP MY HOME SPOTLESS AND SHINING FOR DAYS ON END WHILE IT WAS ON THE MARKET. God’s kindness.
Or how ’bout the fact that, after so, so many tears and hours of fretting, we found a family for Lucy. And, once again, this family happens to also be on staff at church and are sweet, sweet friends of ours. She’s truly the weirdest, best dog in the history of dogs, and if I had to give her up to anyone, I’m so glad it’s them. God’s kindness.
While we haven’t been selling our house and re-homing our dog, we’ve been selling a ridiculous amount of randomness, and my kids have made BANK off of their old toys. I’ve dropped hints that surely I should get a cut of their profits for the amount of time I’ve spent on the Facebook Marketplace selling their junk. But, alas, all I get are rapidly emptying toy boxes and bookshelves. I’ll take it. Because we can take some of their toys to Malawi, sure. But that random janky Barbie doll that should’ve been tossed before we bought it? Nah. Peace, Barbs
Truly, though. These kids of ours- as imperfect as they might be- have been absolute ROCKSTARS during this process. One year ago, they were all “no way, no how, not going” about this whole deal. Last night, we sat around the dinner table while the kids- completely unprompted- rattled off reasons they’re excited about moving. WHAT. Again, God’s kindness.
So, yes. We’ve sold a boatload of everything and have another boatload to unload in the coming weeks. But we’ve also spent surely trillions of dollars on All The Things for Malawi. Three years of shoes and clothes for three kids. Embarrassing volumes of taco seasoning and ranch seasoning packets. Deodorant to last for, basically, ever. New bikes all around to be crated to Africa. Like I said. Trillions of dollars. In the midst of all of this, our cars broke. Both of them in one week. One was fixed. One was fixed(ish) and (just) needs a new transmission. Awesome.
But, once again- jacked transmission and everything- it’s still totally drivable. We can get where we need to go. And, if we can’t- heeeey new bikes! God’s kindness.
I’ve told so many friends recently that if I had to describe this season in two words, it would be “God’s kindness.” Also perhaps “sheer crazy” or “I’m tired” or “send help.” But mostly? God’s kind. Over and over and over again. We feel seen and known and cared for and loved by the One who is sending us. And we continue to stand with mouths agape at his provision for and kindness toward our family.
So, seven weeks left in RDU. Three months in RVA. (Half of which will be spent living with my ‘rents. #prayforchrisandsusan) And then, Malawi or Bust.
This is happening. Not sure if Malawi is ready for this crazy crew. But it’s happening.