Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Transitions and Stress

It began one day at the Farm when Caleb suddenly said, "I don't want to go to the Farm anymore."  I was confused since we were already living at the Farm and since there was no context for his comment.  I reminded him where we were and that in a couple weeks we'd be moving to Michigan.  "No!" he wailed.  "I don't want to go to the Farm!  I don't want to go to Michigan!  I want to go to the real house!"

He meant our house in Duluth.  The one we'd just moved out of.  The one we'd never go back to again.  The one that was completely comfortable and familiar to him.  The one that was home.

on the day we moved out of our house in Duluth

It broke my heart because our 3-year old son couldn't understand what was going on or why it was happening.  Caleb can't understand that we moved because we're in the midst of transition, and he can't understand that we're in the midst of transition because we're headed to Africa, and he can't understand that we're headed to Africa because God has called us to go there.

To be fair, all of our moving around has been very confusing.  And sometimes it has been quite stressful.  Living out of suitcases while living in a few different places can take its toll.  I think Caleb's comment at the Farm was an indication of his stress and sadness over our current situation, and that was just the beginning.  And I resonated with him.

After spending two weeks at the Farm in Minnesota, we moved to Michigan where we spent one week at my parents' lakehouse before getting on a plane to Colorado.  We spent four weeks there (for the Compass training program at Mission Training International) and just returned to Michigan this past weekend to attempt to settle at the lakehouse, Round 2, for the immediate future.  In the midst of all this craziness, Caleb has made comments off and on regarding the transitions we're in, including, but not limited to:

"I don't want to move to Michigan."
"After Colorado we're going to Grandma and Grandpa's house."
"I don't want to go to the lakehouse!"
"After Colorado we're going to a new place."
"No!  I don't want to go there!" [meaning Africa]
"I want to go to Grandma and Grandpa's house."
"I want to see hippos and lions and lemurs." [when we get to Africa]
"We're going on an airplane to Michigan!"

His seemingly arbitrary joys and sorrows are completely normal for someone in transition.  There are many paradoxical emotions associated with major life transitions and Caleb has been learning how to express those emotions during the past few months.  This became apparent yet again when his class at MTI did a particular craft.  They made a fabulous diagram of Noah's Ark which had a picture of our family on the ark to depict us going from "home" and finding ourselves passing through the rains before returning to dry ground at "a new place" on the other side.  Caleb was so excited to show it to us...until we asked him if he knew where the "new place" was.  "Where?" he asked.  "Kenya!  In Africa!" we exclaimed excitedly.  And then he melted to the floor in tears and wailed, "No!!!  I don't want to go there!"  Our hearts broke because we hadn't realized it was one of the days he doesn't want to go to Kenya.  Sometimes he does, sometimes he doesn't, and it's hard to know how he's feeling on any given day.

Here's the reality: there are days when Eli and I want to move to Kenya too, and days when we don't.  There are days when the reality that we're almost, finally, about to move overseas gives us inexpressible joy.  And there are days when the reality that we're almost, finally, about to move overseas gives us unfathomable anxiety.  It's going to be a big transition, and even though we trust that it will be good overall, it will not be a cakewalk.  And so we experience a paradox of emotions like our 3-year old son.

We discussed the stages of transition while we were at training in Colorado: Settled, Unsettling, Chaos, Re-Settling, and New Settled.

I think we currently feel "unsettled" overall but we've already had some moments of chaos and some attempts at resettling too.  The bridge diagram in the picture above shows the path from being settled on one side to experiencing the peak of major chaos and then towards being settled again but in a new place.  We wrote both positive and negative emotions attached to each phase of transition, and then I realized that my strongest emotions are directly tied to how our kids are handling transition.  When Caleb says that we're going back to our house, it hurts my heart because he's confused despite my best efforts to explain that we're not going back there.  When he loves being in Michigan because he loves playing with his friends here, my heart swells because he's happy.  When Kai has yet another night without enough sleep, I long for our house in Duluth because he slept really well there, in a room by himself with routine and without the interruptions of his older brother.  When he goes with the flow, it makes me glad that we're doing these transitions now while he's still this young and flexible.  There are many emotions, ping-ponging back and forth with each passing day.

One of the greatest encouragements we have as we continue on the road to Africa is the fact that Jesus Himself experienced many of the transitions and stressors we are facing right now.  Jesus moved around a lot, lived out of other people's homes, lived on financial support from others, and had people question what He was doing.  He may not have had three little kids in tow, but He had twelve confused (and sometimes cranky) disciples.  Jesus lived a life in transition and with stress.  Thanks be to God that He provided us with an example of how to live through all of this!  He was patient, He was thankful, He was kind.  He was frustrated, He was weary, He was honest.  He was faithful through it all.  And that is our prayer: that God would keep us faithful even as we're stressed and tired and thankful at the same time, that He would sustain us when our kids are confused and crying on the floor, that He would encourage us when our kids are flourishing and laughing with joy, and that He'd guide our every step as we continue the transition from being settled to unsettled to chaos to resettling and eventually to a new settled in Africa next year.