I finally have tentative return dates!
I haven't booked my tickets yet - I'm still talking with my travel agent. That sounds all rich and expensive, doesn't it? Well, it's not! Golden Rule Travel is a great missions travel agency that gets me good deals on flights, handles searches/transfers/cancellations and all the headaches involved, and gets me extra "missionary" baggage! I highly recommend them - they save me money and are so easy to work with. I can just pop off an email saying "I want these dates with a layover in this city for this long" and not have to go through all the trouble of searching 50 websites, trying to figure out if purchasing on a Tuesday is cheaper, etc, and rest assured that I'm paying a comparable if not better price. I don't have to call airports and wait through phone trees and be put on hold if I have questions or issues. I love it!
Anyway, I'm planning on returning to South Africa the end of this month. I will hopefully be able to have a layover in Dubai again and spend the day with my lovely former roommate, Joy! I'm excited about that. Layovers are always a bit of a whirlwind trip but a great way to see a bit of the world on the cheap. I want to be back in South Africa for the big five-year celebration of Muphamuzi Baby Home! That's what really made me decide this was the time to get going. I haven't reached my monthly donation goal yet, but I am over 75% (see the sidebar) and I have had some one-time gifts that will help. I need to return end of next April to renew my visa but that shouldn't be as long of a trip!
Naturally, with any overseas transition comes a lot of preparation. You would think it gets easier, and it sort of does, but there are always about fifty things to do. Thankfully I am not dealing with visa paperwork right now (although that sure would have been easier than coming home again next year...) but I have so many things I want to finish/need to sort out/etc. I have been preparing to leave ever since I came home last August, getting rid of things, cleaning out, sort-of-moving-out-but-only-kind-of because I still have a fair amount of stuff here in Ohio.
So many of my possessions are in limbo - I don't want to get rid of them but they pose transportation issues. What do I do with my treasured childhood book collection? My multiple, very heavy boxes of Currier and Ives that I have lovingly collected over the years? My spinning wheel? All these things that are difficult to move and that I don't have space for in my tiny room, but that I want to save for someday when I have children/a house/a family? Well, for right now, they will have to stay in storage out in my parents' garage! I have gotten rid of a lot of things, but some I'm just not ready to part with. Hopefully someday they can make it across the ocean if I get an apartment...probably piece by piece! I will confess to setting aside one place setting of my dishes to try to fit in because SINGLE GIRLS CAN HAVE NICE DISHES TOO. (Added bonus if they came from a garage sale ;) ) I guess packing all my stuff up for storage will make it easier to see if I've forgotten anything I wanted to pack to take with me...I hope?
In addition to all the packing, there is all the "Oh, but I bought all the stuff for this project/that project/the other project and I need to finish them all before I go because I won't have time there!" I doubt sewing projects are on very many people's last-minute to-do lists but they are on mine! And I need to visit people! All the people! And check my "need to buy while in the US" shopping list that never seems to end. I need to find suitable luggage (probably large cardboard moving boxes from Home Depot - they are the cheapest - but possibly a plastic trunk as well). We do have suitcases, but I don't need to take four or five of them...I have to book tickets, arrange rides, and say goodbye to everyone yet again. I have to deal with the chaos that is nine fundraiser checks lost in the mail. (Yes, I learned my lesson. Certify them. Track them. Do SOMETHING besides just popping them in an envelope and mailing them in, like everyone else does.)
Usually, the moment when I have EVERYTHING packed up, checked in, and I'm heading for my flight is the greatest feeling ever! (Besides goodbyes. Goodbyes stink for any trip that spans a year-indefinitely.) And I'm super excited about going back, don't get me wrong. But I think I'll be happier after a week or so there when I have dealt with ALL THE THINGS on that side....
I did my best to get everything ready for smooth re-entry, but that may have disintegrated. The chickens had to unexpectedly move back in, and I hear they have "fowled" the place up and are putting on bi-weekly reenactments of Chicken Run like it's their job, so extensive fence repairs will be high on the list. This will include digging a trench with a pickax, a totally fun activity while recovering from jet lag, but essential if I don't want to gift all the street dwellers with free chicken dinners. There was that one time I ended up with my chicken locked in the back yard of a retiree who appeared to have early-onset Alzheimer's and be rather fond of the bird... I have food, but it's in the deep freeze and I strongly doubt I labeled much of it so mystery dinners may be the order of the day until I can get to the grocery store! I have a very large woodworking project stored in my room that needs to be carefully moved OUT of my room before I can move any luggage in. And I packed up all the winter things, but now it's getting cold again!
But really, I'm not complaining. I'm super excited to see everyone again and to celebrate a VERY belated Christmas with the ladies. I probably have stuff to make pizza in my freezer, if I can identify it. I have clean sheets on my bed (although I might need to dig out a blanket or two). I share all this exciting insanity so you can get a picture of what my life looks like (and so that you can pray for me!) I just have to keep taking deep breaths and reminding myself that I will, in fact, make it through this, with the aid of God, my friends, and the world traveler's lifeline, Nyquil. Really. I'm not into sleeping pills, but Nyquil for a few nights after TWO overnight flights back to back, is what gets me through. Also, my friend told me today they set up my internet, so I'm very happy about that!
So as you can see, there are a lot of physical things to pack. And organize. And accomplish. But my transitions overseas always seem to bring up emotional/spiritual issues too, and I'm reminded that although I have a lot of things to pack, I have a fair amount of intangible issues I need to unpack , deal with, and dispose of. There simply isn't space in my head or my heart to take these things with me.
I always tend to struggle somewhat with nervousness and dread before a return trip - even though I love my calling and am happy and even excited to go back.
This is a little hard to admit as a missionary, because although we aren't supposed to be perfect, I can't help thinking I'm supposed to struggle a little less, and people don't always understand. Like that time I was sharing with a friend how discouraged I was with how slowly fundraising was going, and they asked, "Well, how long do you think you'll wait before you decide God doesn't want you to go back?" or something similar. I'm not questioning my calling when I struggle, and when I let you know...I'm just...dealing with things.
But as I get ready to hop on a plane yet again, the issues from the last several years, resolved and unresolved, tend to pop up in my mind, trying to stow away like unwelcome luggage.
"What about that one person? Or the other one? You've had issues getting along with them before. What if it happens again?"
"You're never going to fully make it through cultural barriers with many of your friends."
"It's going to be so hard transitioning back into shared living."
"You've been leading a very laid-back life for the last eight months. How are you going to manage being thrown into the craziness again?"
"For the love of Pete, when will people stop nagging you about marriage?"
"You're really going to miss your American comforts like TV and Taco Bell!"
"Sure, your OCD-style anxiety about certain issues has laid low for a while, but it's only a matter of time before it pops up again. What if this cripples your ministry?"
"You have about 500 things to do. What if you forget one?"
"Your grandma is getting old. Will this be the last time you see her?"
"You're going to have to say goodbye to people...again. You're probably going to cry in the airport...again."
"Everything's going to be different and weird and hard to get used to after eight months away."
And on and on they go, until this unpaid suitcase has definitely exceeded the weight limit. For a long time, I dreaded these feelings. Everything is generally fine once I get settled. I'm just like a child who struggles with transitioning, even between two activities they may love. Then one day recently I realized these transitional weeks were an excellent time to do some unpacking as well as packing...to trust in God and unwind my tight-as-a-spring self. After all, you can't deal with stuff if you can't see it, right? Here all my issues are lining up to present themselves to me!
So I can remind myself I love what I do more than I love never taking a risk.
I remind myself that I have years ahead of me to work out conflict and cross-cultural issues with my family in Christ.
I take some comfort in the fact that if I don't see my grandma alive again, I know where she is going, and my last memory of her isn't a funeral.
I remind myself how much I love the friends that I live with, even if we don't have much personal space.
I remind myself that I have handled the craziness before, I can do it again, and I'm going to stop being stupid about not getting enough sleep before I handle said craziness.
I remind myself that I can survive without TV and Taco Bell (or at the very least, that I can order seasons on eBay/learn to make Taco Bell knockoffs/binge on both next year when I come to renew my visa...haha). Also, that I'm too busy to watch TV and should be using my free time to learn a language, or read books from the amazing Kindle selection in our Ohio library...
I remind myself that if anxiety cripples me, I have friends who are my crutches to take me to the Great Physician.
I remind myself that I should probably make some kind of master list, but the fate of the free world doesn't depend on me remembering to pack Tide stain removal pens or some other such object.
I roll my eyes and remind myself that the some things will NEVER end, like the questions about marriage and the offers to set me up with someone's brother, so I just need to make my peace with that. Yes, you know who you are, the lot of you, and if you're reading this, you deserve it for all your teasing/attempts at facilitating matrimony - so there!
I remind myself that even if goodbyes sting, I'm kind of used to them by now, and they generally aren't forever, even here on Earth. And I remind myself that I have close friends in both places, so I'm never lonely.
I remind myself that God is my dwelling place, and no matter how far I travel, I am always home.