Ever since having children, I have wanted to stay at home with them. I highly value being a stay-at-home mother, and I would be dishonest if I didn't recognize my ability to stay at home with my kids as a big "perk" to moving overseas. I have looked forward to this time, especially after the chaos - and frankly unhealthy dynamics - of the past two years of full-time work, full-time support raising, and full-time parenting. And yet, despite my desire, I knew that transitioning to being at home with my kids all the time would be more difficult than I could even imagine at the time. Yet, knowledge is very different from experience, and in just the two weeks that we've now been in Belgium, I can tell that my experience is vastly more difficult than my knowledge recognized.
These difficulties have been amplified by being overseas. Nothing is familiar and everything takes more effort, including going to the grocery store and figuring out the washing machine at the laundromat. So I'm even more exhausted than normal. There are no grandparents or church community around to babysit so that I can go out. I'm not able to compartmentalize work-time and kid-time, as we're being forced into flexibly arranging our kids' nap schedules to be in the stroller as we travel Brussels for our assignments. And most of these things aren't going to get any better when we settle in Romania. Some things will be better - like having our own space and being able to set up our own routine. But the exhaustion and lack of community will still be there. And there will be very little - if any - compartmentalization in our lives.
And then there are the many personality and learning-style surveys we've taken that have shown me surprising results: did I really lose my "cultural drive" quotient to learn about new cultures? when did I become so introverted? how did I become more interested in discipline and organization of life than delving into relationships? After we got each new data set, Derek and I would look at each other in puzzlement over my results. I knew I was the one who actually took these surveys, yet the results seemed too foreign.
Who is this new person? I can easily remember who I was just three years ago before having kids. I was flexible, adventurous, highly motivated to learn languages and new cultures, invested in relationships with others, confident, unperturbed by awkward cross-cultural experiences, and a leader. Yet every experience and every survey result here has painted a new picture: in the background, quieter, not as engaged with others, too exhausted to dive into language and cultural study, impatient, frazzled, introverted, disciplined, eager for strict routine, and nervous. So the two weeks haven't really been about the difficulties of having the kids with us 24/7. Because, honestly, I've loved the two weeks of being with them so much. I am finding so much joy in being with them constantly and caring for them so much. And we've seen real benefits because their attitudes are better and we aren't getting the same type of acting-out and tantrums as we used to get when we weren't around them enough. There is nothing greater than picking them up from their own classes during the day to see them sprinting toward me with arms wide open and yelling "MAMA" with huge smiles on their little faces. I adore being around them and am so blessed to have the opportunity to do it so much more. It's what I've been wanting for a long time!
So the real difficulty has come with how it seems that I've lost my identity and role. Who am I? What do I have to offer a missionary team? What should I even be doing?
I shared my struggles with the women during prayer time here last week. The other moms seemed to totally understand how I felt like I've been "losing myself" as a mother. And that felt good to have that empathy. But my perspective really changed when one lady put her hands on me and prayed for me. I don't remember what else was prayed over me, but I do remember her saying something about me "getting a new name." And that's all I could think about.
Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who is victorious, I will give some of the hidden manna. I will also give that person a white stone with a new name written on it, known only to the one who receives it.
There were several people in the Bible who were given new names by God Himself: Abraham, Sarah, Israel, Peter, and Paul - and there may be more that I'm forgetting. They received these new names because the Lord had changed them into His own works of art that glorified Him. They were given special honor with their new names, and God renamed them for a purpose to demonstrate a different characteristic of His holy person. And Revelation assures us that each of us will be getting a new name one day if we are victorious in Christ and trust in Him.
It would be dishonest to say that I won't still struggle - a lot! - with figuring out who I am now. It's going to be painful as I get used to a new normal of being a stay-at-home mom in a brand new culture and on a brand new missionary assignment. I know I will complain. I know I will cry. I know I will be disheartened and frustrated and impatient more than sometimes. I know I will long for the days before when I knew what my role was; when I knew that I was good at my job of being a teacher; when I could easily be filled up by my relationships with others. But in the midst of the difficulty, there is a new excitement to see who God is shaping me into. He is giving me a new identity and a new name. Just like for the other Biblical characters, I believe my new identity is for a purpose that will bring special honor - even if only known between me and God - and will bring glory to Him if I'm willing to submit to His molding.
So as I face a new home, a new language, a new job, a new community, a new team role, and a new daily routine with my kids 24/7, I can rest assured that, though it will certainly be painful, all of it comes with a promise: I will be receiving a white stone with a special name that the Lord is saving especially for me.