We started counseling last night.
I’m not sure how that sort of thing flies in an update post from a missionary-type like me. But if there’s anything you should know about me, it’s that I’m pretty terrible at putting up pretenses. So, if you’re looking for glowing stories of shiny people who are kickin butt and taking names with nary care in the world, sincere condolences from freshly-therapized me. I fell off that pedestal a long time ago.
(Again. Can I say “butt” in a missionary update? I DO NOT KNOW THESE THINGS.)
Honestly, I feel like a complete cliché even writing this post. “It was the best of times, and it was the worst of times.” IT IS 2020, CATHERINE, OF COURSE IT WAS.
Here’s the thing. We’re not martyrs, nor does our day-to-day typically feel like some grueling, grandiose act of sacrifice. No. I know this doesn’t sound as romantic and exotic as some might desire, but our day-to-day feels pretty… normal. In fact, one of the of the truest truths that I’d like to launch all of this with is simply this:
This whole pandemic situation? We’ve made out PRETTY EASY over here in Malawi. In fact, I’d argue that we’ve had it better than much of the rest of the world. Numbers have been down. Anxiety has been relatively low. Life has marched on. I’m grateful. We, quite honestly, have pitied all of you in America far more than we’ve pitied ourselves. We’re okay.
We’re okay. And life has been sometimes hard. And life has been insanely rich and full and good. All of this is exactly true in the very same moment.
This year has brought ministries and opportunities that are so much different- and way, way cooler- than I ever dreamed for us.
And, some days, it’s brought confusion and disappointment and questions of “what the heck are we even doing here?”
It’s brought prayer. And people who have taught me to pray with urgency and immediacy and conviction. And it’s brought people WITH WHOM I can pray. Oh, the prayer.
And also. Oh the people. Man, has this year brought people. It has brought some of the most unexpected relationships, friendships, family that I could have ever anticipated. I’m still processing all of this, but all I can land on at present is simply this:
GOD IS SO KIND TO US.
In his kindness, we’ve said hellos. And because of his kindness, we’ve had to say some excruciatingly difficult goodbyes. The hellos were awesome, but the goodbyes still sting. Hard. They say you have to have a tender heart and tough skin to make it as an expat. Sometimes, I want to take whoever “them” is and give them a piece of my mind. Because this skin of mine? It’s pale and freckle-y and for sure not tough. And these goodbyes? I don’t anticipate them getting easier any time soon.
This year has brought kids who say things like “rubbish bins” and who make Malawian adults laugh at the fervor and delight with which they can pound a plate of hot nsima and pumpkin leaves. Kids who are learning and growing and generally just nailing it. And kids who are still kids and can be little punks ON THE DAILY as well.
This year has brought tears as we watch yet another wedding of yet another person we love online. As we watch grandparents get sicker. And sicker. Watching these things from afar as we think, “We should be there… should we be there??”
We’ve mourned. Hard. Heck, my twelve year old has a picture of our guard who passed away a few months ago hastily taped to his bedroom wall. Next to Minecraft posters and Zelda maps. THIS IS NOT NORMAL, PEOPLE. And yet it is so very normal.
That AND, we’ve celebrated any occasion we could possibly think to celebrate. Oh my gosh, we have eaten so many celebratory cakes and burritos. And celebratory beef bulgogi. And celebratory butter naan. Remember, my kid has started a collection of pictures of NOW-DECEASED FRIENDS ON HIS WALL… sometimes we just like to celebrate up in here, okay?? (Pass the imported Twizzlers please.)
Speaking of Twizzlers. We’ve popped Albendazole like it’s candy because, I’m trying to keep this PG over here and won’t get into specifics, but worms are a WHOLE THING YOU GUYS.
And we’ve sent hours of ramble-y voice notes to friends both here and abroad, just desperately trying to convey this strange but normal life we’re living over here in Lilongwe.
One of my most recent rambly messages went a lot like this…
“Uh. So. I’m feeling this thing. And I don’t know what it is. And I’m looking for a word that doesn’t exist. It’s like homesickness but it’s not. I’m not sick for home because home is HERE. But it’s also THERE. And I know I’m made for heaven and not this world and all that. But. Like. Help?”
Have I mentioned that God’s given me some really, really great friends?
Yeah, we’ve loved hard. But man, have we been loved really ridiculously well, too.
We’ve opened our Bibles and tackled hard questions in coffee shops and on dirt floors and around kitchen tables and WhatsApp groups. I have said the words, “I don’t know.” A lot.
But you know what I do know? Now more than ever?
That God legit does what he says he’s going to do. And he’s all the things he says he is.
That when we have nothing left to give, he keeps right on giving us himself.
That when we find ourselves overwhelmed with the injustices of this jacked-up world, God’s justice can be trusted.
And that it’s when we feel most misunderstood and unseen and unknown, God draws us all the closer in to himself.
So yeah, we started counseling last night.
And before you start blessing our hearts, allow me to assure you that this life we live over here is far better and so, so much richer than I ever dreamed possible. And maybe the life that is to be pitied the most of all is the one devoid of all this pain. And goodbyes. And not-really-homesickness-but-something-kinda-like-it-maybe. All of this mixed bag of joy and pain, highs and lows.
For it’s precisely there that I’ve found God. Again. And again. It’s there that he’s reminded me repeatedly, patiently of his grace and his mercy and his steadfast love. So, if anything, I hope that leaves you with eyes on HIM. Because, yeah, it’s been a crazy year, but if I have one story to tell when it’s all said and done, it’s that I have seen some things in 2020, and that God of mine? He’s still so good you guys.