Tuesday, January 12, 2016

"Whaddayamean it's CRAZY?"

"Crazy!" seems to be the the automatic response that proceeds from my mouth lately any time someone asks, "How's it going?" or "How has your furlough been?" or "How are you guys doing?"  Some people take it in stride.  Many respond with an expression of confusion or disbelief.  A few ask, "What do you mean by that?"

After all, isn't furlough supposed to be a time of rest?  Of spending time with people? Of root beer and pizza and hamburgers?  Well, yeah, it is, particularly the last bit. But that doesn't mean it's all fun and fluffy.

Please understand, this is not a complaint.  We are enjoying this time!  It just happens to be (like SO many things in the missionary life) a love-hate relationship.  I hope that this woefully inadequate explanation helps you understand us and your other missionary friends, and to know better how to pray for us.

The best way I can think of to describe "crazy" is this:  you know the way you feel at the end of vacation? No matter how good it was, or how much fun, there is that point near the end when the worn out, stressed, I-just-can't-wait-to-be-home feeling hits you.

We have had that feeling non-stop for about 7 months, now.  Here are some reasons why:

1.  Not a vacation

I know, I know.  I am apparently bumming around for 8 months without a job.  I travel, I meet people for coffee, I hang out.  If you look at my Facebook feed or previous blog posts, it appears that most of my time is spent taking photos of Montana scenery and doing fun things with my kids.  What do I have to complain about, really?

Gratuitous photo of aforementioned Montana scenery (Bridger Mountains, Bozeman)
I admit, I have spent a lot of time doing fun things with my kids.  We have gone fishing, investigated ghost towns, carved pumpkins, walked in the park, visited the library, gone sledding, and wandered aimlessly through the mountains, to name just a few.  The reason that we have done these things (and made a big deal of them!) is that they are not things that we can do in Bolivia.

Even so, we are still at work.

Kaylee carries her responsibilities wherever we go. Naturally, she has all of the same household duties here as in Bolivia.  She continues to homeschool the kids, in spite of the constant upheaval and weird schedules. Her social/hospitality role also remains largely unchanged.

My work, on the other hand, has changed drastically.  Instead of doing ministry at Etnos, I now get to talk about ministry at Etnos.  The majority of the travel that we have done in the past 7 months has been work related -- conferences, meetings, and presentations.  When not travelling, I am preparing for those events and working to get my materials ready for this year's classes at Etnos.  Even much of our social time ends up revolving around our life in Bolivia, as curious friends ask questions.

2. Missionary Marketing

Marketing: that is a missionary's basic job while on furlough.

It sounds rather pathetic, but when you boil it all down, the presentations and meetings that I just described pretty much amount to good advertising.  At least, that is often how we feel.

For better or for worse, the economic model under which we work requires us to seek out people who are willing to invest in our ministry.  We appreciate the personal nature it gives to our financial support, but we hate the self-promotion that is necessary (or expected) to sustain it.  We get tired of talking about ourselves. We feel self-conscious introducing ourselves to people, afraid they will think we're just after a donation.  Even with family and old friends who support us, we sometimes feel as though the $$$ were hanging over our heads.
Missionary Marketing 101
We want our supporters to be well-informed and engaged in what we are doing!  We want them to be able to see a return on their investment!  That requires a lot of writing while on the field (newsletters, blog, etc) and a lot of visits when on furlough. Usually, this is a joyful process of reporting "home," but we get tired of feeling like a couple of narcissists.

2.  Travel Fatigue

I used to enjoy travelling.  I still do, sometimes.  It can be a nice break when it is occasional -- as in, once or twice a year.

On the other hand, we have basically been "on a trip" for six months and counting. Within this trip, we have taken other trips.  In other words, we feel completely unstable, without the comforting structure of a routine.

Add to that the actual stresses of travel.  Long hours in the car.  Another drive thru. How much is this going to cost?  Unpack the car, carry it all up the stairs, sleep, pack up, haul down, leave.  So. Many. Times.

If it were just Kaylee and I, it would be a lot more manageable, but we have three daughters in the backseat.  Three little girls that are completely worn out and don't (and don't care to) understand why we're still on the road and just want to be home.

3.  Home?

Think about the last time you moved.  Was it an enjoyable experience?  Will it remain in your memory as something to cherish and memorialize?  I doubt it.

In our 11 few years of marriage, Kaylee and I have moved 23 times, counting only places we have lived for a month or longer.  An average of more than 2 per year.


Just by going on furlough, we move twice, and internationally to boot.  We pack up and store our Bolivia house, haul a little bit of it with us as we travel, and arrive in a Montana house. We unpack what we have in our storage shed, purchase or borrow whatever is lacking, and live a few months.  Then pack it all up again, haul some of it with us, and go back to unpack the first house.

Moving is one of the most traumatic experiences in a child's life.  We have taught our girls that wherever the 5 of us are, that is home.  That is the best earthly stability we can give them.  Yes, this instability carries the benefit of grounding our hope in an eternal home with Jesus, but that is tough enough for me to hold on to and almost impossible to pass on to my kids.

4.  Hurray for Friends!

Without a doubt, the best part of furlough is being with family and friends. We have been blessed by many opportunities to spend time with people we love.  It is so good to be able to sit with old friends (and new ones) and comment about life without thinking about which grammar structure is best suited to express it. Or wondering how to respond culturally.

We need the encouragement that these relationships provide.  Strange as it may seem, life on the mission field is often very lonely.  We are surrounded by people, yet good relationships that offer a deep give-and-take intimacy are very hard to come by.  So we want to spend as much time as possible with the people we love here.

Unfortunately, this, too, carries its share of stresses and craziness.  We know that we have limited time, so we tend to over-book our social calendar.  We want to spend as much time with people as we can in the time we have, but it seems like there is never enough.  More than once we have had to clear our calendar for the week, simply because our girls were worn out (not to mention Kaylee and I!).
Catching minnows with cousins

5. Protecting our kids

You may have noticed in the previous four points that "The Girls" have been a significant factor in making this furlough crazy.  To be honest, the hardest thing for me has been trying to gauge the needs of my children.  Too many late nights, too many hours in the car, too many new experiences, hellos, goodbyes, etc.

We are eager to show our daughters all of the things we love about life here: partly because it is important to us and partly because they are not Americans, but (to coin a word) AmeroBolivians.  Before this trip, they knew very little about life in the United States, yet this will most likely be their home once they leave ours, at least for a time.  We want them to be prepared for what they are going to experience, and furlough is the only opportunity we get.

But they have limits.  They are still little people that crave stability, sleep, and sanity, none of which are gained by hanging out with people 4+ nights a week or travelling cross-country.  They are tired of transitions and changes.  They are ready to go back to Bolivia.

In fact, I think we are all ready to go back.  We love Montana.  We love so many people here.  We love the freedom we feel.  We love the weather, the mountains, the trees!  This time has been such a blessing to us, in spite of the craziness.  We will be sad to leave, yet we are ready to get back to Etnos, if only for the stability and routine that returning will bring for our family.  And that's a good thing.

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