Today, I went about my normal routine (or as normal as it gets with a toddler in the house) - making breakfast, washing dishes, changing diapers, driving to work. Yet the entire day, a reel of memories played in the background of my mind. Because today marks the one year anniversary of our homecoming.
One year ago, we said goodbye to our lives in Cambodia (and hello to the most stressful luggage situation we've ever experienced). Somehow we made it flying across the Pacific with a seven-month-old during 30 hours of travel, and only lost a bit of our sanity along the way. We were embraced by our families, most of whom were meeting Declan for the first time. And we went through thirty days of American culture shock (let's be honest, it was quite a bit more than that, but that was at least the worst of it).
Our present lives look very different than what they were a year ago. In 2014, we gave birth to our first baby, and I spent 90% of my time at our home, caring for Declan and Andrew. We traveled to Thailand and Vietnam, improvising our baby bathing techniques for hotel living and learning not to stress too much about traveling in taxis without car seats. I spoke Cambodian almost as much as English, and my nearest neighbors were Khmer and Australians. We sweat a lot more and listened to torrential rain nearly every day during rainy season, praying it didn't flood our front yard. We worshipped with other believers in a different language and learned from their faith in deep ways.
The lives we now lead hold almost no comparison. I work 32 hours a week at a teen clinic, most of that time spent at the outreach location at a homeless youth shelter. I deal with mature themes and situations that I knew existed, yet had had very little personal experience with in the United States. I've learned firsthand that trafficking is not just an international problem, but happens in my backyard, too. Declan spends time playing and learning at daycare (an institution unheard of in Cambodia), and Andrew improves water and wastewater systems in the city in which we live. Our church community has many people that look very similar to us and speak the same language. We have two cars, own our own home, and (for the first time in almost ten years) haven't left the country once. All my friends are American, which means no one has a cool accent for me to mimic.
It is difficult for me to reconcile those two lives, and the woman who has lived both of them. I still struggle with recovering expat guilt - that feeling that I am somehow less-than, or weak, for returning to my home country. International incidences, like the recent deadly bombing in Bangkok, break my heart and shake my security, because I had walked countless times in that exact location. Countries, cities, and languages are not just abstract words to me. They bring to mind faces and names, direct and indirect connections I have with those places.
Living overseas changes you in deep, core-bending ways. Whether it's a few months or three years, the people and cultures you live among imprint themselves upon your soul.
Time spent abroad is never a waste - and neither is coming home. After a year back in Kansas City, I'm certain more than ever that moving home was the right choice for us. God has mended broken parts of our souls and caused new life to blossom within our spirits. It's easy for me to think that the most exciting time of our lives is behind us. But God keeps whispering, "Your best days are still ahead. Don't stop dreaming."
People ask whether or when we'll move overseas again. I have no idea. We loved our time abroad, but we don't know if God wants us to return, or when, or where. But we're learning what it means to live out the words of Jim Elliot, a missionary who lost his life taking the Gospel to dark places -
And that can be true for you, whether you spend the rest of your life in Africa or you never move from your hometown. Be all there.