In case you missed the memo, on January 24th I boarded a plane in Lima, Peru at 1:30 in the morning, walking through security waving goodbye to my supervisors and another friend who had been sweet enough to accompany me to the airport in the middle of the night. Two flights, and twelve hours later I walked off the plane in Daytona Beach, FL and out through security to a surprise welcoming committee of family and friends waving hello. It's been more than a week and in many ways I feel like I'm still in transit, stuck somewhere between Peru and the US.
Physical life in the States is gradually starting to feel less awkward (It no longer takes me 6 tries to figure out how to flip a light switch, and my stomach is handling American food better.) but being back here still feels a little like, to use a family expression from a colleague in Peru, socks on a rooster. It doesn't quite fit right, and is a bit unnatural. Feeling out of place is a hard thing to process when so much is the same as when you left it. It's difficult to explain to yourself, and next to impossible to explain to anyone who hasn't been through it themselves. This leads to a lot of really awkward conversations where someone asks the question that everyone asks: "How does it feel to be home?" -or- "Are you excited to be back?" Apparently a blank stare and muttering isn't a sufficient answer for most people!
Having returned from living overseas twice before, I knew what questions to expect. "How was Peru?" "What was your favorite thing about Peru?" "What do you miss most?" "How was the food?" "What was Peru like?" "Did you like it?" "So you must speak really good spanish now?" "Did you get homesick?" "What was the coolest thing you saw?" "Do you have any Peruvian friends?" "What are you most excited about now that you're home?" and the most dreaded of all... "What are you going to do now?" "Do you have any plans?"
My last weeks in Peru I even tried to sit down and prepare succinct answers to all of the typical questions so that I would be able to answer easily. But it didn't really happen. Some are easy to answer, but most are asking you to sum up two years of life in a different culture with a few words, or maybe a funny anecdote, and that's not easy at all.
But none are as difficult as the "how are you feeling" vein of questions. And the best I can do right now is say, "I don't know." Yes, I am happy to see my family and friends. Yes, it's nice to be able to drive, go to the beach, and not have to think through the vocabulary for every conversation before I go do something. Yes, it is fun to eat favorite foods and wear different clothes. Yes, there are many things that are nice and enjoyable about being back in the US.
There is always a melancholy that comes with change, always something that you are giving up in the transaction, a chapter in your life for which you are trying to write the last sentence. And it is rarely easy and tidy. When we are confronted with others who genuinely care about us, and want to know about our experience, we can feel a pressure to neatly wrap up our life and put a bow on it. To make something orderly and presentable out of years of work, and growth, and experiences, and relationships, and learning, and changing, and emotions. Years of life. But as we all know, life isn't orderly and presentable. It's messy. We as people are messy. And trying to share a complicated season of your life is a bit like trying to gift-wrap a live octopus.
So, no, I don't have the answers. No, I can't sum up two years in two sentences. And no, I can't even fully tell you how I feel about being back. And I think that's okay right now.
My first Sunday back at my church was much anticipated and it was great to see friends after so long. But it was also profoundly difficult. Several times during Sunday School and the worship service I got so overwhelmed that I almost had to leave. And for the life of me I couldn't pinpoint why. And then the praise team sang a familiar song by Building 429:
"Sometimes it feels like I'm watching from the outside, Sometimes it feels like I'm breathing but am I alive? I won't keep searching for answers that aren't here to find. All I know is I'm not home yet, This is not where I belong, Take this world and give me Jesus, This is not where I belong."
Never had that song hit home (pardon the pun) so much before! I think that has come closer than anything to explaining my feelings right now. People keep asking about how I feel now that I am "home", and how I feel is that I'm not. I'm not home. Not yet. And that is a comforting thought, because if heaven is the home I'm headed to, then it's okay that Daytona Beach doesn't quite feel like home right now. As C.S. Lewis put it, "If we find ourselves with a desire that nothing in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that we were made for another world.”
What a home that will be! And what a great hope that is! It is a main comfort of the transient M life, that while we say farewell in this world, we have the promise of eternity with Jesus worshipping with believers from every tribe and nation. I hope that you have placed your faith in Christ and will spend eternity with the Lord, and if you do, I hope that one day I can introduce you to some of the incredibly faithful believers that I have had the privilege to meet and work with across Latin America for the last 2 years, and they can meet the people who prayed for and supported them from the US.
I'm sure I'll eventually get comfortable again once the culture shock wears off, and the feelings of being strangely far from home will dim. But, I hope that I will carry with me the awareness that I'm still not home yet. This is not where I belong.