How do you like it here?
They ask this at the chocolate shop.
They ask this at the grocery store.
The furniture salesman, the furnace technician, my hairdresser, and the priest I met at the official New Year’s celebration, they all want to know what the American living down the street thinks of their country.
I smile. I list all the wonders I am privileged to see and experience, how lovely the people are, how much I enjoy the emphasis on quality living that includes margin and ample time to enjoy family and friends. I tell them their country is beautiful, their language impossible, and really and truly the chocolate is the best.
I say what is polite. What everyone really has time to hear, and it’s hard for me not to be honest. I feel like a little girl caught cheating on her test, as though if they look long enough they’ll read the hesitancy of my smile and misunderstand the conflict in my eyes.
It’s not that my list isn’t honest. It’s just that numbering lists of gratitude does not always shorten a desert season, and in this Belgian land where the skies rarely cease to pour down rain, it is often so very, very dry.
We are nomadic, preparing for our next move. Over the last seven years we have left lands and countries and friends and love and encouragers and those who celebrate living with us, we have left these behind four times in less than a decade. And unless you know this life you can never imagine what it is to pack memories and grief never fully resolved into your household goods right beside the God-fashioned longing to be in real, affirming community with others.
Why haven’t your boys tried to find friends in the community?
Yes, why haven’t my teenaged sons who have now lived in both Germany and Belgium, with Washington DC tours on either side and once between, had a chance to conquer cultural and language divides and make friends during these awkward high school years?
As a family, we’ve worked hard these past two years. We’ve grown up and together in so many ways beyond my understanding. I believe all the things I preach to myself and others, all the Words about purpose and pruning and cleansing and perfecting and everything good being made in me.
But when asked how do I like it here?
I want to go home.
I want to be with my people in my culture and be able to problem-solve a broken furnace.
I want to wake up and embrace each day.
I want to feel normal again, and stop micro-managing my thoughts about not being allowed to want to go home because that.is.not.how.I.do.this.life.
I want to have someone other than my husband to talk to, to revel in good girl-talk and commiserate about coming to terms with the aging process without adding a pound on my husband’s shoulders for every pound added to my thighs.
I want to not struggle at times with anger, with sadness, with blame and discouragement and it’s time to pack again OCD tendencies that I’m just controlling enough to keep pictures hanging on the wall for 11 more weeks.
Every once in awhile, Crazy breaks out here. We’re not depressed, but there are moments that threaten to hold our heads under in the deep end too long, a typical jerk move from the bully named Isolation. When we get our heads above the water we wonder what happened. Regret. Sorrow. Shame. Embarrassment. Fear. BIG FEELINGS and vomited words.
And just maybe I’m a little afraid I don’t know how to make friends anymore. I mean, we’ve been uprooted so many times, this last place filled with people we could have fallen in love with if it weren’t that they all worked for my husband. I know. It seems unreasonable. Illogical. Even more, unfaithful.
Today is Ash Wednesday. The beginning of the journey towards the cross, the death, the burial, and the resurrection of Jesus. We are dust made flesh, moving from God’s love towards his redemption, dust animated by the breath of his Spirit. Dust and desert and sackcloth. Holy weakness.
I am okay. Because I do believe I stepped on a path of righteousness years ago, that all my longings lie open before the One who walked dusty roads, knew loneliness and the heartache of living very far from home, who missed his Father and true love and encouragement and the pure celebration of life. I do believe in pruning and perfection and laying honestly and bare before God. And to do this without distraction I need the desert.
Everything is going along fine: we’ve learned the language of the country, gotten a job, decorated the house, signed up for car payments, made out a schedule that imposes some order on the chaos of time, accepted responsibilities that define our significance, heard people speak our name and determined that we’re identifiable.
And then suddenly we’re beside ourselves: we don’t know what’s going on within us or in another who is important to us; feelings erupt in us that call into question what we’ve never questioned before. There’s a radical change in our bodies, or our emotions, or our thinking, or our friends, or our job. We’re out of control. We’re in the wilderness.*
I don’t want pat answers, life all wrapped up and tied with a pretty bow. Because life more times than not isn’t pretty. I only want to journey with Jesus. To learn the secret of contentment, like Paul.
Because I do know what it is to be in need. Mostly emotionally, but oh how many needs of the heart we have.
And I do know what it is to have plenty. Because, oh my heart, how loved I am.
I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.
I can do everything through him who gives me strength. Phil 4:12-13
I am learning the contentment of Christ-sufficiency, and for that I will add Belgium and this desert season to my list of gratitudes.
*excerpt from Eugene Peterson, Leap Over the Wall, p.74.