On the Best of Times and the Worst of Times and Year One

It’s been a year.  And then some, but still.  A year since we packed up our lives in America to replant ourselves in a country and culture and general life rhythm so vastly different than anything we had ever before known.  It’s been such a whirlwind that, honestly, I think I’m still processing it all and probably will be for the rest of my days.  WE MOVED OUR FAMILY OF FIVE TO AFRICA, PEOPLE.  I could (maybe should?) probably sit in a therapist’s chair for ages to rehash all that this has entailed.  

But as we slowly emerge from the whirlwind of the past year, only a little worse for the wear and FOR SURE no longer able to stay up past 9pm (trust me when I say there ain’t no tired like Africa tired), I can honestly report back that year one was better than I ever imagined.  Maybe it’s because I had entered into the year with super low expectations.  We had known enough missionaries and heard enough stories to know that the first year can be ROUGH, and so we girded our loins and prepared for the worst.  I don’t know.  I also don’t know what it says about me that I feel almost guilty to “admit” that I legit love. it. here.  I love the culture.  (Most days.)  I love the laughs and cheers I get when I speak (and often slaughter) the language.  I love the sun and tropical climate.  I love my friends and the ease of relationship here and the vibrancy of the Malawian church.  I love watching my kids flex and adapt to life here as their worldview becomes so beautifully global and rich. Gosh I’m such a fan.

Here’s the thing.  We missionary types love our war stories.  We read those compelling biographies of grass-hut-dwellers and famous martyrs with wide eyes and may inadvertently start believing that the more we suffer, the better the missionary.  But y’all, it’s not just war stories out here on the field.  Let’s take a hot second to celebrate the good.  The Allison fam?  We’re doing just fine.  In fact, we kind of love it here.

THAT SAID. I gotta be REAL real with you guys. This past year did indeed feel like a battle of epic proportions at times.  Because as soon we landed in Malawi, we looked around and realized that we no longer knew how to do, oh you know, ANYTHING here in our new context.  Our new home.  Where we now lived.  With three small humans we were still in charge of despite our general life cluelessness.  We felt real dumb for a REAL long time while we fought to relearn how to drive, cook, plug things into sockets, and speak a language that requires our tongues move in ways that they’ve never moved before. We fought harder in our marriage than we ever have before.  And we threw a few not-so-pretty tantrums about the deep losses we felt in leaving behind a community of people with whom we had so much shared history. 

I know, I know.  I’m contradicting myself in every way.  “It’s not all a war story!”  “It was a total war story!”  “I love it here!”  “It’s so hard here!”  But that’s just the thing.  I think we church people sometimes feel the need to tie everything up in tidy little sensical bows punctuated by the pithy Christian-y things we’re supposed to say. 

But what if the truest thing we can say after the year we just lived is, “DUDE THAT WAS SO CRAZY.” 

Speaking of crazy. There was this one experience this past year that will be forever seared in my mind.  I was sitting in a freezing, sterile MRI room in South Africa just a few months ago watching my baby girl’s brain be scanned. Quick medical lesson: kid brains don’t typically get scanned unless there are scary, bad things doctors are looking for. And so, as I sat and waited and worried about all the things I know about brains and pediatrics, I had this moment of utter loneliness.  The realization that I was in a country away from my immediate family and an ocean away from everyone else who really KNEW US and the feeling of being truly, completely alone—it all hit me at once and hit me hard.  I sat there for some very long moments and just as abruptly as those thoughts had overcome my mind, an even truer Truth overcame those thoughts: that God was with me.  And maybe this sounds like one of those pithy Christian-y things of which I just spoke a few sentences ago.  But in that moment and in that hospital room, I felt completely overwhelmed by it all in a new, unexpected, almost-strangely-close way.

The reality is that I don’t have a neat and tidy bow to wrap around the package that was Year #1.  Mine is pretty janky and stained in that Malawi-mud-orange hue that I’ve come to know so, so well.   But what’s inside- all of the good and all of the hard and all of the mundane-in-between that the bulk of our days seemed to consist of- it all reminds me of the God who is with us and who has been with us.  When we didn’t perceive Him.  AND when His presence was almost bizarrely real.  On the days culture was fun and endearing and on the days we (okay, IT WAS ME) claimed the million stupid roundabouts in our city would be the literal, imminent death of me.

So, here’s to Year #1.  It was the best of times and it was the worst of times. Incidentally, as I wrapped this post up, my phone buzzed with a WhatsApp notification:

“Mukufuna ndikupempherereni chani?”

A middle of the day text from my dearest Malawian friend asking, “How can I be praying for you?”

Give me the janky bows on the tattered packages any day. Because this?  THIS Y’ALL.  I’m telling you.  Best. Of. Times.

2019, you were so cray.  2020, I’m sure you will be too.  Bring it.

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