rotating header

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

What is Normal??

Here we are in Colorado, staying in a semi-hotelish place surrounded by pine trees, with a view of Pike's peak to the west, to be "debriefed".  That means we spend our mornings in sessions with a seasoned missionary counselor couple and a dozen returning missionaries, then our afternoons journaling, reading, talking, walking, or resting.  And it means that our kids are in programs with a handful of age-mate third-culture-kids too, discussing similar topics of culture, values, stress, and paradox.  The best and worst of times, often too intertwined to distinguish.  In our group there are people who served two or three years overseas, 8 or 10 years, 17 or so like us, and one delightful woman retiring to North Dakota after 38 years in a single mission hospital in West Africa.  People who are coming from China, Thailand, Albania, Jerusalem, Jamaica, Nicaragua, Cameroon, Ghana, and Uganda.  Half male and half female, singles and married, and ranging in age I'm guessing from about 24 or 25 to 65.  In short, a very diverse group.  

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.


Walking to China said...

I've read your blog for a number of years and come away each time impressed by your honesty and families commitment to serve the Father where he has called you.
We live and serve in East Asia.
I agree-normal for most of the world is lack of choices and resources. Our daughter has commented that while her friends in the US deal with boyfriends and proms, she is dealing with the fact that we are fostering a baby that was nearly starved to death in an orphanage. Seeing people beg, seeing teenagers who should be in school working in restaurants or in construction, dealing with lack of water or electricity- these are all
normal as in usual. Normal will serve our daughter well in her future as she develops a heart of compassion for the world.

Anonymous said...

THAT was normal. this, where i am now... is not and never will be.