mourning the life you could've lived

Mourning the Life you Could’ve Lived

Can I be honest with you? This episode topic request has been sitting in front of me for weeks, and every time I open it, it’s so scary and painful to think about, so I put it down. At this point, for context, I’m on my recording retreat for season 3, and I’ve written and recorded every other episode except for this one. Most have been written for weeks. This is the one that felt the hardest, so I’ve just been putting it off. 

A few months ago, I attended an online conference for female cross-cultural workers put on by Thrive Ministries. The most impactful session by far (for me at least) was the one by Sue Eenigenburg, author of Expectations and Burnout. In her session, she talked about having a funeral for our expectations. I honestly was blown away by this idea. 

We’ve talked a lot on this podcast about how we often need to let go of our expectations of what life was going to look like on the field, and let go of the GUILT that we carry when our life doesn’t meet those expectations. Sue encourages us to take a step further, and actually have a ceremony of sorts to let those things go. While that idea may or may not resonate with you, the intentionality of it is both healthy and inspiring. 

When we moved to Rwanda, we verbally agreed on a 2 year commitment, with the knowledge that we would like to extend if living and working here felt right for our family. Of course, our family and friends hung onto this 2 year commitment as the time we would come home, many never really grasping that that wasn’t our intention. 

But in the same train of thought- I think I also held onto this idea of temporality. That someday, we would come back, and our lives would be “normal” again. 

Now- hear me when I say, this is no longer what I desire. The Lord has radically changed my heart and given me a love and comfort in where we live, to the point where returning to the US for visits is actually very stressful and hard for me. I don’t desire to go back, at least not at this point in our journey.

But what comes with that leaning in, that acceptance of semi-permanence is a lot of grief. 

It comes in waves for me-

The events and milestones I miss in the lives of family and friends

The opportunities I know my kids won’t have

The opportunities I know I might not get, too

The community that moves on without us

The parents that age while we are away

The resources we could have access to

Often, the lack of assets we are building towards our future

The friends my kids could’ve had

The family pet that passes in our absence

The vibrant church community we are missing

The celebrations we could’ve had and vacations we could’ve taken

The friends we could’ve done life with 

The memories and trips we weren’t around for

Friends, it’s heavy. There’s no way around it. Saying yes to a life overseas means knowing that there’s a life we could’ve had, that we are missing out on. 

I want to be really careful here to not just share the bright side of expat life and tell you about all the things you DO get to experience and tell you to be grateful for them. Because, while there’s some truth to that, I also think that you don’t need to hear that right now.

I think that maybe, even if just for today, for these few minutes, you need permission to mourn. To have a funeral.

To feel the weight of the things you’ve missed, and will miss in the future. To be sad about how people have changed in your absence. To feel the loss of what your kids could’ve experienced if they lived in your passport country. To mourn how you only see family every few years, and the closeness that can rob from you. Mourn the opportunities, the meals, the milestones, the good stuff. 

But then, I want you to do one thing:

I want to you make the choice. The choice to stay anyway.

I think, often, we get caught up in the excitement of going, the appeal of our new lives, that we forget to consider the cost. We might know it in our heads, “yes I’m only going to see my parents once a year for a week”, but we don’t fully understand what that means in our hearts. 

And then, down the road a few years, when we find ourselves in the thick of cultural stress, we aren’t sure it’s worth it anymore. It’s like the reality of our choices finally sets in. Or maybe you’re like me, and you have a moment where it all becomes clear: you find out a close friend is pregnant from Facebook like the rest of the world, or someone gets engaged to a boyfriend you’ve never met, and suddenly you realized how much time has passed, how much you’ve missed, and the grief floods in from all sides. 

This is the crux of our journeys, friends. The hardest move. This point, where we feel the crushing weight of what could’ve been, and we decide to stay anyway? This is where the healing begins.

So I’m not going to tell you to count the blessings of overseas life and look at all the things you’ll get to experience because you’re here. There are enough voices that tell you that, and yes, I can be one of them sometimes. But right now, in the midst of your struggle and grief, I’m going to tell you the opposite.

Slow down and feel it. Have your funeral. Whatever you need.

And then, stay anyway. Choose it, even though you know the cost.

The grief doesn’t ever leave. It will always come in waves. But this choice is where your host country starts to become home. In the grieving, and the deciding, and the staying. 

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