"You'll have a tale or two to tell of your own when you come back."
Bilbo pauses. Then asks, "Can you promise that I will come back?"
With honesty, Gandalf replies, "No. And if you do, you will not be the same."
You will not be the same. A simple but powerful truth. You will be changed after undertaking an adventure of this nature. It was said with a particular adventure in mind - of returning to the dwarves' mountain home and reclaiming their ancestral treasure from the villainous dragon Smaug. But it could also be said of your first sleepover as a kid, of going off to college, of getting married, of becoming a parent, of moving overseas to become a missionary.
You will not be the same.
Because after such an adventure, you will be stretched. You will be humbled. You will see the world with new lenses. You will understand God in different ways. You will understand yourself in different ways too.
And sometimes, after becoming not the same as before, you will journey home again and meet the past with the present head-on.
Sometimes they are friends.
Sometimes the past says to the present, "Welcome back! You remember Cherry Coke? It tastes just as good as you remember." And the present takes a sip and says, "Mmm... Yes, you are right. How I've missed Cherry Coke!" Or perhaps the present says to the past, "Did you know how contented I've been with just two hoodies for the past two years?" And the past says, "How wonderful! Perhaps we should get rid of all those extra hoodies in the bin downstairs that you're content without." And they smile at one another and agree that life together is good.
But sometimes the past and the present are enemies and do battle against each other.
Sometimes the past says to the present, "Isn't it wonderful to have access to Amazon again and order anything you want anytime you want?" And the present objects with the past, saying, "Well, yes, but you must know the freedom I felt not thinking of all the things I wanted and being content with what I had. Stop talking about Amazon!" Or perhaps the present complains to the past, "It's rather exhausting to run around again like I used to, in and out of the car all the time. I think my new norm of staying home most of the time was much simpler." And the past rebuffs the present with, "Listen to you! You, who longed to get out of the house every day with those little rascals of yours! But now you complain of the effort it takes. Make up your mind, why don't you???"
The back-and-forth harmony and tension of the past and present is all because of this: we have gone on an adventure and returned not the same. There and back again, but not the same as before.
No one says transitions are easy. At the most, we can concede that some transitions are easier than others. For us, we can say that this transition back to the States for Home Assignment has been easier than the transition to living in Africa. But it is still a transition and has required many thoughts and emotions from us.
The truth is, we love America. We love the smooth roads and easy meals and playgrounds and reliable wifi. But the truth is, we miss Kenya. We miss the routine and structure we had there, and the friends next door, and chai time, and help with homeschooling.
We love two places and have been shaped by two places. And unlike Bilbo Baggins, we plan to go back and forth several times. And undoubtedly we will be shaped even more by both places in the future.
But for now we wrestle with and embrace the transition from one place to the other and are processing how we are not the same.
And we have tales to tell of our own, just as Gandalf said. Tales of the adventure itself and tales of our homecoming, and tales of the two intertwined.
And we love to do the telling. Thank you to everyone who has asked us about Kenya, especially when you ask how we are not the same because of it.
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Here are some small tales from our beloved sons since returning:
Kai: "This is why America is so great: when you come to America you get Lucky Charms!"
Mama: "Who can tell me why it's so important to wear seat belts all the time in the car?"
Caleb: "Because if there's a cow in the middle of the road and we hit it, we could go flying."
Kai: "There are so many potties in America!"
Caleb: "Why are we going to bed already? The sun is still up."
Mama: "I know it was always dark at bedtime in Kenya but it doesn't work that way here all the time." [Confusion on Caleb's face.] "Okay, let me tell you about the equator..."
Asa: "Ants! Ants! Ants!"
Mama: "It's okay! There are no pincher ants here. They won't bite you."
our boys at WGM headquarters