One year. This Friday (Seva’s birthday, ironically) marks one year since she and I left Azerbaijan. Jason and the big kids left one month later. So much was a mess at that time – her skin (which is still a daily battle), my hormones, and all of our emotions.
I’ve been trying to determine over the last several weeks why I’ve felt so down. We’re back in the U.S…isn’t that what I wanted? We got to see the leaves change varying colors after missing it the last two falls…and though beautiful…there was still a deep void. Should I adjust my Zoloft? Maybe, but probably not. Breastfeeding hormones? Maybe. PMS? Always a contributor. Exhaustion? Of course – but what parent isn’t exhausted?? Ha.
Then last week while I was driving alone I realized, as I saw the last of the colorful leaves falling, I was still grieving. November has always been a somewhat difficult month – remembering two miscarriages that happened the week before Thanksgiving several years apart. But now there is more. November was the time I failed at overseas living a second time. Not only failed as a missionary (I had done that long ago), but failed as a Christian. November marks the time when fear took over and I threw in the towel. I fully acknowledged that faith had left my soul, and I had no confidence in God being in control, I needed to leave. I was terrified that if I gave birth there my baby would die. Because God is not always good. And I was tired of seeing my three year old itch non-stop and hate being in her own skin. Skin that I gave her. Skin that my body and my husband made, or God made, either way the feelings were/are negative.
After my last post, I received a few messages from people inquiring what I meant by spiritual abuse. Once again, I am horrible at responding (I’m sorry)…mostly because re-surfacing the wounds are too painful, so I shove them down further and further hoping that one day I will forget. Forget the way my godly leaders made me feel. The other day I saw the word “crisis” written in a letter to my husband from someone above him in ministry. I instantly had a knee-jerk reaction, heart racing, hearing the heavy accented voice in my head from years back… “You sure do have a lot of crises out there.”
Yes. As a twenty-something American mom of a two and three and a half year old living out in the village with no mom friends who spoke English we had some crises. Every time my kids were sick I was terrified. Sure, I was being ridiculous. Any other Christian mom would have handled it just fine. God brought you there, of course He will keep you safe. And if your kids get a mysterious village illness and don’t make it – it’s all for the gospel – it’s all worth it. And by the way, put your kids in child care all day so you can perfect the language and check all the boxes on the “perfect organized missionary” list, ok? You should know how to make the local dishes by now. You should know the ins and outs of the bazaar by now. You should be at this spot on the cultural adaptation curve. You should be managing your time better. It’s a shame that your husband has to help with the dishes because you don’t have it all together.
Oh, it was all a damn shame to them. The godly leaders (that our former church always praised) didn’t approve of me from the start, and I get it. I don’t have the best filter and I say things that make people uncomfortable. But if I were to list all the hurtful things they said to me, and about me, this blog would be too long to read. And as a young woman who looked up to them, I interpreted their words as words from God, because clearly they were really close to Him. As the wounds got deeper and affected my daily mindset, we still “just didn’t get it” and all problems were clearly with me. It didn’t matter that I had a heart for women in that country, I didn’t have my $hit together, and that affected the team and ultimately the leader’s success.
One would think that after a three year hiatus, returning again in the absence of those leaders would be no problem. After all, we won’t live in the village this time. We will have community with other English speaking families. We will have access to more “comforts.” We can do this if we just try again. Jason will thrive, I will exist day to day.
But it was too late. My faith had dwindled, and the fear became too much. I believed that if there was a God I was afraid of Him, and He was through with me so He would let anything happen. The more I read of the Bible the more upset I became, so I had to put it away. A Christian family living in a Muslim country and the wife has to hide her Bible because the contents are too disturbing, great. There were so many days I was hanging the laundry out on the balcony and I imagined that if I would just accidentally fall over this could all be over-with…my husband could get one of those amazing faithful Christian wives and everyone would be happy and fulfill their calling.
One year. One year of grieving the loss of a relationship with my Savior. Though truthfully it had been longer. “You just need to come back to Jesus,” those with good intentions say. Oh, if only. I have seen the behind-the-scenes strategies of “Don’t follow your heart, follow this model” for winning the lost to Christ, both during college and as a career. The emptiness and loneliness started so long ago that it has taken over my heart.
I think that when expats return to their home country they have these visions of good times with old friends, re-connecting with old relationships and picking up where you left off. After our first return this was the case, but after the second return my identity was too changed for old relationships to resume. Loneliness follows me everywhere, and when you go through a faith shift you lose community. I have accepted the words that those leaders spoke to me long ago, that I “just don’t understand how I make people feel”, and that explains my lack of relationship.
Never would I have imagined that I’d be at this point. No one ever hopes that their spiritual life will go from healthy and thriving to “gone.” I carry the guilt everywhere, and hope that my kids will have a good life in spite of the 10 moves they’ve had. The baby has no concept of where we lived before he was here, and has been spared from seeing his mom have panic attacks about x,y, and z overseas. But now he is stuck with a faith-less mom. He will know that there is more to this world than white picket fences and VBS with treats because the kids will tell him stories of Azerbaijan, for that I am thankful.
One year out. My schedule is full with work and helping others, because I don’t ever want to be a burden again. I take each day as it comes and struggle to make concrete plans. I went to counseling for a time, but life is currently too busy and during this season the wounds are too painful.
Yesterday I went to an Azeri friend’s house to celebrate her birthday. It was a good time of mom community, and I empathized with the ladies struggling with our language. I hope that I can love the immigrants (legal or otherwise) that are here, in the same way that local Azerbaijanis and other expats loved and accepted me. I hope that I can be Christ to them, even though this whole Christianity thing has brought be to the lowest point in my life. Because Jesus was a pretty great guy, who didn’t exclude people because they didn’t have their $hit together. In fact, I think it was the perfectly religious people he had issues with. He came for the sick, not the healthy. And boy are we all sick.
Last fall, having “my drink” there. A gift from another expat friend…good memories of bonding with expats over coffee.
This fall, having “their drink” here. New memories of bonding with foreigners here. Life is a paradox.