Yet when we brainstorm lists of what causes stress in our lives, the responses are all very familiar. We filled a whole page, for instance, under the topic "daily hassles", things like power and water shortages, inaccessible supplies, stares and comments on the streets, insects in the food, cars that break down, requests that exceed our capacity to respond. Things that form the normal background of life overseas, so normal that they don't even come to mind under the category of "stress" when we're mentioning wars breaking out, gunfire close by, epidemic diseases, being held up at knife point, etc. Yet the chronic daily background of life can take a hidden toll, year after year. Our facilitators look at us and say, people, do you realize, that this is not normal.
But is it? Part of me wants to say that "normal" for most of the world DOES include poverty and insecurity and unclean water and buggy food and mediocre school choices. And in spite of the amazing diversity of our group, our lives are pretty similar, so one could call that "normal" for missionaries. But I think I get what they are trying to tell us: that our "normal" is set in our formative years, and in spite of living decades in hard places, or in spite of the fact that we KNOW that most of the world endures worse, there is a constant push on our hearts that tells us that our life is not "normal" compared to our childhood peers.
So we can reach our limit and leave, seeking a more "normal" life. Or we can build capacity, learn to "live artfully". Which is the purpose of this time I think. To name losses and grieve, to examine our responses and anticipate where we will struggle, to seek life rhythms that promote healthy growth through all this stress. We've looked at Jesus in the Garden (crushed, anguished, stressed) to acknowledge that encountering stress does not mean we have missed God's will, there will be times when we just have to walk through it. Praying we can learn to do that with more grace, to carry the cross as a light yoke, able to love others as we go, even if we'll never again be normal.