“Re-Entry.” It’s the term missionaries use to describe their coming home process, comparing it to the part of the rocket ship landing where the rocket re-enters the earth’s atmosphere. While the astronaut is glad to be back in a familiar place on earth, re-entry is rough. It’s fiery, painful, disorienting, and a full bag of mixed emotions. I’ve been home a full month now, and I’m only just now understanding the full extent of the term.
On one hand, I love being home. I’ve had a lot of fun in the past few weeks making up for lost time. My sister and I went to a friend’s wedding and got to swing dance. I took my youngest brother to the zoo. I introduced my other brother to Back to the Future trilogy in one mega-movie-marathon. I’ve read 3 new books and finally finished watching Gilmore Girls. I went to college orientation, got to hang out with my awesome future roommate, and start buying things for our dorm. I’ve taken our dog out for a few walks and gave him a bath (he was appreciative of the former, less of the latter). I went on two out of town trips to visit two sets of cousins. A few of my friends have been able to come over for a sleepover that resulted in some good late night talks, mostly me sharing about Ukraine. I’ve seen almost all of my good friends at church, including almost all the kids I know from helping in the children’s ministry. I’ve seen three kids/teens musicals put on by my friends. I got to babysit some awesome kids the other night. And our family had two awesome 4th of July parties over the weekend.
I’ve kept myself busy. My dad complains that he’s hardly seen me since I’ve gotten back. I’ve had fun and am counting my blessings. For the most part, I’ve maintained a pretty good balance of keeping busy, getting things done, but not over-doing it without any fun time to relax or spend time with my family. I missed Ukraine but on a low-level frequency. It was there, but not crippling. It wasn’t like when I come home from theater camp and get really depressed for a week and then move on. It looks different, in fact, it looks like I’m handling it better, but it’s actually so much harder than I thought. It hit me on Saturday. I took the day off and decided to get in one day of relaxing before work started this week. And that’s when it hit me. When my mind was finally still and I wasn’t looking forward to the future, I looked back. And I really, really started missing my Ukrainian home.
I miss getting on the (sometimes claustrophobic) trams and heading downtown to the mall. I miss going to First Love Church and all my lovely friends there. I miss going to the orphanages every week and playing with those beautiful kids. I miss my friends in Paris, who taught me so much Russian in 3 weeks that, for the most part, I could understand what they were saying. I miss all my friends in Poland. I miss playing with David and Camilla. I miss going to the cafes with Marjolein and just talking for hours on end, knowing that nobody around us understood what we were saying. I miss laughing with Sasha and Tamara as we tried to understand what the other one was saying. I miss the little moments, the big adventures, and everything in between. I miss all of my YWAM family.
For the most part, the memories are more like a dream. Ask me about something, and I have the answer clearly, but it’s more like lines from a play. My brain pulls the files from somewhere inside me and I answer truthfully with all the emotion in the world because yes I remember, and yes I miss it, but it’s surreal. It’s weird being back home because suddenly YWAM and Ukraine is a memory and sometimes it doesn’t feel like I lived it. Then I have little triggers that bring everything into sharp reality. The way someone moves, a certain word or phrase, a stray cat on the street or any object I associate with a person reminds me of them so much it hurts. Today on the radio the Christian radio station played “How Great Is Our God,” in multiple languages. I turned it on during the Russian bit, recognizing every. single. word. Наш Бог так велек. And I stopped the car and just cried. I wanted to go back right then and there.
Right now it’s a lot of processing and trying to find a new routine. I’ve talked with three of my spiritual leaders and fellow missionaries about my journey. It’s been nice to talk about it with people who’ve walked a similar path and understand exactly what I’m talking about and can help me along the way. Cheryl Tolbert, our missions pastor, reminded me that during this time I’ll need to give myself grace. Because I have changed, I can’t fit back into my old life the exact same way. The puzzle pieces have shifted. Things have moved on while I was gone. Life has changed. I’m different.
I have my good days and my down days. For the most part, it’s been really good days. But this weekend was one rough day after another. And that’s ok. It’s ok to grieve and miss my friends and dream about going back. It’s ok to have days where I don’t think about it at all because I’m too busy with other things. It’s ok that I talk to my dog in Russian to practice and the neighbors might think I’m crazy. Friends, be warned. During the next few weeks, I might inexplicably laugh at something you said or did and instantly start relaying a story from my adventures. I’ll probably talk about it a lot. Or I might be unusually silent and sad. You might hear a few foreign words that slip out automatically. I might randomly sigh when a song comes on the radio or I see a cat. These are things that may not make sense to you, but for me, they bring back memories. Go ahead, ask me about it, I don’t mind. Talking helps me process all these emotions.
My favorite song right now is “Home,” by Chris Tomlin. Please listen to it, if you haven’t heard it already. They keep playing it on the Christian radio stations and I’m so glad. This is the concept I’m clinging to right now, that Earth is not where we belong, that we have a home in Heaven, in Jesus’ perfect loving arms. Like I’ve said before, God is my only constant, the only One I have in both places, and the only One who will one day unite my two homes in Heaven. Right now, my Ukrainian home and my Nashville home are painfully far apart. I can only be in one place at a time, and no matter where I am, I always miss the other. In time, it will be easier. I will always have days when I miss Ukraine, but currently, those hard days will come more frequently. I ask that you please continue to pray for me during this time of transition. Right now, I need a lot of prayers, a lot of grace, and a lot of love and hugs. I know this post has been long and emotional, so thanks for sticking it out to the end. Thank you again, dear friends, for being so incredibly supportive of me.