“Can I flush the toilet paper?”…some thoughts, fears, and hopes about coming “home”.

The other night my youngest crawled in bed with me. He had a lot going on inside his little head. We all do right now. “Mommy, I am sad to leave Haiti because I am really going to miss my friends at school. I will miss Daly and Brownie too. I’m scared. What if my friends don’t remember me when I come back? What if our dogs don’t remember us?”

I say, “They will remember you. You are one hard boy to forget!”

“But mommy, my friend Z didn’t remember me when I saw him at the beach. I spent all of Kindergarten and some of first grade with him and he didn’t even know me!”

I reminded Evan that Ethan didn’t remember most of his first grade class when we went back to visit the U.S. sixteen months later. I reminded him that a lot of people come to visit us in Haiti and we sometimes have a hard time remembering their names too. This didn’t make reassurances any better. This is the bittersweet reality that generally plays out when you live and have friends all over the world. Having friends all over the world is awesome. Wondering where you fit in when you re-enter your friend’s world can sometimes be sad and scary. Your old spots have been taken and many things have changed. We want to feel the welcome in “welcome home” but to be honest the home part seems really awkward. We probably won’t feel “home”. The reality is that we will be living out of suitcases for the next five months, away from our norm, away from our home. We believe it will be good. But it will be weird. Our girls have spent very little (as in only five weeks) to zero time in their entire lives away from our Haiti home. Our boys don’t remember as much as one might expect them to and certainly aren’t up to speed with all the changes that have happened since they left.

“Friendship is a place where we go to grow
where it is safe to sprout wings,
and shed old skins,
and try our voices
in new, uncertain notes.”

People change. We spent a lot of time with my sister Erin and her husband Jesse before we move to Haiti. There are many memories still fresh and frozen in our minds exactly as we left them. Auntie Erin and Uncle Jesse have moved twice and have had a baby since then. Jesse also recently lost two of his fingers in an accident at work so he is unable to do some of the things (like play guitar with Evan) that the boys remember fondly. As much as we have talked about the miracle of baby Hannah and that now we can help Auntie Erin and not just let her cater to our every whim, it is hard to imagine things different than they were before. I am thinking of many others whose families and lives have changed quite a bit as well. We tend to freeze frame the people and places that are super special to us at the time we leave them. I remind the boys they also have added two sisters and that most of our friends and family have never witnessed us in our dramatic life changes either. I think part of the scary is the anticipation that we are coming “home” after waiting so long to do so with both of our girls. It isn’t how we first imagined it and we don’t know exactly how it will be. But we know it will be so great to all be together…finally!

Places change. The last time I was home with three of the kids we traveled through several states. We got lost in DFW, Texas looking for the dentist that should have been right where I left it when we moved from there eight years ago. It was. I just didn’t recognize any of the roads. They had all changed so much! Elita Marguerite remarked, “But mom, I thought you knew Texas!” I felt like saying, “Do you know every road in Haiti??? Well, Haiti is just a speck on the map compared to Texas!”

Our current little corner of the world is so…little. We are used to little. We are certain to feel like specks in America, especially since we plan to take the road trip a great deal farther this time around. We are currently scheduling travels in not only the giant state of TX, but then VA, IL, KY, FL, GA, TN, OH, NY, and Canada. The majority of us have been to less than half or none of all these places. Think fish out of water. That will be us.

“Friendship is a ship
where we may search together
the same horizons;
one seeing sky,
the other water,
where they meet.”

Think about if you were to come to Haiti. Almost everything looks and feels different. But it is pretty normal to us now. So you may hear us ask silly things like all of the following that have actually been asked by us (so I’m suspecting it could happen again).

“Oh you are from Oregon?(Long pause after a “yes” response.) What country is that?”, “Do you have a shower?”, “Is there hot water here?”, “Can I flush the toilet paper?”, “Is it ok to use the microwave?”, “Is it ok to use the hair dryer?”, “You know how to pump gas?”

We all might do things you might think are really weird or even possibly rude.

For example, in America we always took our shoes off inside our house and many friends houses. In Haiti we almost always leave our shoes on inside the house. In America we always flushed the toilet after use. In Haiti we only flush the toilet when we can no longer stomach the smell. In Haiti kids are on the rougher side. They have to be to survive. Our kids live around and go to school with rough kids. Sometimes our kids are overly rough too. Haiti is really loud. So are we. Our kids have been conditioned (against their parents will) to believe that in the event we are blessed with electricity, video games and movies should be taken advantage of during the entirely of this blessed time. Therefore they are very much looking forward to 24/7 electricity. I greatly fear their minds have concocted the notion that they will be electronically stimulated 24/7 when we enter America for the entirety of our stay. This is a completely normal notion and response for a Haitian. Whenever the electricity comes on, everyone who was outside sitting, selling or just yelling goes inside to watch television and movies and do nothing else (other than maybe some ironing or hair straightening/curling while watching television). I kid you not. Don’t think that because Haiti is poor that almost everyone doesn’t own a television. They do. Or they are at their neighbors watching.

Different sometimes scares us. I remember dealing with this when Elita Marguerite arrived stateside and both girls asking questions when they were alarmed at seeing their grandparents fenceless four acre yard on Skype. Although you might not feel safe if you come to Haiti, our kids may not feel safe at your house if you have neither a tall concrete wall with barbed wire or broken bottles patrolling the top or a security guard with a machete and gun (or at least a dog that growls and barks a lot like we do).

Our kids might refer to money as “one dollar Ameriken?, Haitian dolla?, or gourde. They might be freezing in air conditioning in July in Texas. Our girls have little to zero experience with machines that do the work of people for things like laundry or dishes. I’m sure that none of these things will be an overly obvious big deal. But we will be adapting and processing them all, just like you would be adapting to the cold water cup bath in December if you came to Haiti then. It’s still a shock to your system no matter how much you think you are prepared for it. I’m imagining that we will all be in a similar state of shock that will be prolonged by five months. Five months is about as long as it took me to begin getting used to Haiti. Though I think the U.S. and Canada will probably afford much softer blows, it will be hard to adjust to each new place and then readjust to Haiti all over again. Giant prayer request that we will all do well with this.

“Friendship is a place to hide in,
to abide in-
not to escape the world,
but to face it well.”

I know we will be tired. Traveling is tiring. Plus we are not used to leading the busy American life. We are busy in Haiti but it is different. There is an end at the end of the day. We hardly ever go out at night. We simply can’t do some things or get anything else accomplished due to a blocked road, a closed shop, a limited supply of water or gasoline, a political manifestation, and not having electricity to run anything. We don’t have 10-10,000 options like 24 hour Wal-Mart. I can’t even think of a single place in our town to go plug in my computer to charge. As I write this I have traveled to the next town over and have plugged in at a beach resort (lucky me to have such an excuse as consecutive days without electricity). While this is super frustrating at times it is also very freeing. We sit and read nearly every night with our family by flashlight or candles. We go to bed early. There is nothing more we can do and little pressure to do the impossible that very moment. I know we won’t have these “freedoms” in the states in the same way. A lot of effort goes into “finding time”. We are already feeling this pressure begin to creep in while just penciling out our tentative summer schedule. There is the tendency to leave almost no margin. We know we are going to have to push through to accomplish our goals and be able to come back to Haiti by September. We believe it is ok to have seasons of push and pressure. We are looking forward to having a ton of fun too but the truth is, when I look back at the intensely pressure yet productively filled seasons in my life, those get-you-to-the-next-thing times, I don’t wish to come home to them. I’m thankful for those times but more thankful that I survived them and that they are over. I am trying really hard to be more excited about this trip than that. I just don’t have much of a reference point (other than focusing on the faces I desperately long to see again). So we shall see. The scary part for me stems from my warped childhood observances of many a missionary family that came to stay with our family. All I could see was that the parents looked incredibly exhausted. The mom’s looked unraveled and homely. Their tyrant children were climbing the walls, breaking our toys, abusing our pets, and constantly asking if there was more food or turning their noses up at what was served. I remember staring at the floor and seeing the toenails of one missionary man. The few that remained were hideously long and so thick I gathered they refused to be cut. These are the memories that stuck in my head of missionary families. If there was anything I didn’t want to be it was a missionary. My childhood perceptions of missionaries were critically warped and not based on anything they did on the mission field. I was only judging what I saw in my own home, in my own comfort zone, with no compassion to the fact that they were not in theirs. In hindsight I understand why parents were tired, children went crazy at our house that had five children, lots of toys, and was a place they could let loose after traveling for days, weeks, or months by the point they reached us.

And now I know this could easily be us.

Whether it is out of my own insecurities of what others might think due to potential weird and wild behavior by our tribe, or the simple desire to not turn others off to missions and therefore the Great Commission, I just really don’t want that to be us. It is probably one of my worst fears because since childhood I have dreaded becoming “one of those”. But here I am. Here we come. Heaven help us!

Change is hard anywhere. Whether we feel ready or not, we are about to embrace it head on! We are way more excited than scared but please bear with us in the process and love us even if we are really weird in all your homes away from home. We are all most excited about seeing dear friends and family…especially those who have helped keep us going through many encouragements these past years as Haiti became our home. We are excited to visit your homes and lives and learn from you. We hope to encourage you too.

In all honesty, while Haiti is our current home, we don’t always feel at home here either. Our family looks different than others. We act different from our neighbors. Expats are spread out. Even those friends that we relate to most we don’t get to see often, if ever, in Haiti. We are almost always odd man out. The other day my daughter came home from school and said, “I don’t feel like I belong anywhere anymore.” I told her I knew how she felt. She believed me. We talked about how Jesus traveled around and how he didn’t feel welcome when he visited his home town of Nazareth. If the One who made the whole earth felt that way then we should expect to feel this way too. Our journey is not about us. It is about Him. Our ambition is that we will bring honor and glory to our Savior wherever we are. Thank you for being part of our journey until the day we can say we are truly finally home…”for our citizenship is in heaven” (Philippians 3:20). We eagerly await being present with you all soon!

“Therefore we make it our aim,
whether present or absent, to be well pleasing to Him.”
2 Corinthians 5:9

*Quotes are taken from the book Friend Raising, by Betty Barnett

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