The Bitter and the Sweet
We’ve been back in the United States for a little over two months and I must say the way I feel about that is a whole lot of complicated. Most of the time I don’t really know how to respond when people ask me how it feels to be back. I confess I like positive emotions. I mean who doesn’t right? My mode of operation tends to be hurry up and sort through the bad so you can get back to feeling happy. (I probably need to watch Inside Out again.) That aside, these past few months it’s been impossible to hurry up and get back to happy. The only word that adequately describes these past months and the weeks leading up to us leaving Cote d'Ivoire is bittersweet. Now I don’t really like that. Bittersweet isn’t one thing or the other. It’s both/and. It’s messy and complicated and confusing. Perhaps most people would assume that we are thrilled to be back: out of the heat and the culture and language barriers and back to what’s “normal.” We are thrilled. It’s been wonderful. But it’s also been sad and weird and hard. Hopefully attempting to put this into words will help shed some light on our transitions. Take family for instance. It’s been amazing to see our families. I’m overjoyed to be closer to them, but I’ve also cried because we left some “framily” behind. No, that’s not a typo. Framily is friends that have become like family. And man oh man, did we have good framily. Friends became like family to us as we've celebrated holidays, walked through suffering, rejoiced in new life, and stumbled through figuring out a different culture. It’s a dagger to the heart every time Aiden asks to go to Craig and Bryn’s house or asks to pray for their kids every night. How do I explain to my three year old that their house is an ocean away and we won’t get to go there anytime soon? God’s sweetest gift to us was the friends he blessed us with overseas, but it also has been the hardest part about coming back. Or take American amenities. On one hand I like that I can get a Starbucks any time I want... but there’s also something really nice about not having that option. Like actually looking forward to it because I know I’ll only get it once a year. Or knowing that a suitcase is arriving for you with a visitor and inside is salsa verde. Only 20 precious ounces and you’ll have to ration it and savor it... not that I had the self control to do that. As weird as it sounds those moments are something I’m going to miss. There’s something strangely wonderful about going without. It makes having those things something special; which in a country of "whatever I want whenever I want" is rare. Or even American culture. In some ways coming back was a sigh of relief. I get to speak English! And for the most part I understand the way things work here. My brain isn’t constantly spinning in order to process what’s going on around me and why. It feels kind of natural, but there are some things about American culture that I wish didn’t feel natural. I wish we prioritized relationships the way they did over there. As infuriating as a loose sense of time and schedule can be, I love that people come first. I miss the way a different culture challenged me to think about and reassess my priorities and my values. We've had to say goodbye to some really good things: some really deeply significant things and some good gifts that are simple and sweet, like mangos or avocados the size of your face. I’m going to miss the fabric stores and the bold, bright clothing. I’m going to miss our roof: the breeze and the view of the city. I’m going to miss our friends there that have selflessly loved and served our family since the day we arrived in Cote d’Ivoire. I’m going to miss Ange who cleaned my house twice a week (God BLESS that man). I’m going to miss women carrying things on their heads and people walking in between the lines of cars selling the weirdest stuff. I’m going to miss the excitement and novelty of treats from the states. I’m going to miss the sun rising and setting every day at 6:30 AM/PM. I’m going to miss our neighborhood and feeling a part of a community; a part of the "it takes a village." I’m going to miss the intensity of the rain. I’m going to miss how refreshing cold showers can be after a long day of nonstop sweating. I’m going to miss our apartment, living across the hall from people that pop in just to say "hey." I’m going to miss movie nights where popcorn and air conditioning are always guaranteed. I’m going to miss the sounds of the city, the hustle and bustle of the colorful chaos we called home for two years. Don’t get me wrong, if I never find another cockroach lurking in my kitchen drawers again, I’ll die a happy woman. And I’m happy to say “au revoir” to the smell of burning trash, but what I really hope people can understand is that leaving Cote d’Ivoire is maybe the hardest thing we have ever done. Yes, I’m excited to be “home.” But home was there too. We’ve lived and loved in that place. We’ve built friendships and connections there that have been and will continue to be excruciating to leave behind. We left behind a beautiful life. There is great rejoicing in being back, but also much mourning. So as your friends come home from living overseas, give them grace. I can say from experience coming and going is a whole lot of complicated. I love it here, but there’s so much I’m going to miss. And if I’ve learned anything this year, I've learned that it just takes time to grieve. As much I don’t like it, as much as I want to stick Sadness back in her circle, I know there is a purpose to her presence. Right now we’re living in the both/and, in the bittersweet and I’m learning to be ok with that.