For the past several months I’ve been preparing a list. It is a list full of things to do, to buy, places to go, people to see. Certainly, the list is at times overwhelming, because to accomplish it all will incur some stress. But mostly, the list is a dream; and it’s a dream that will come true. Yet although the list is looking into the future, the we-will-do’s of our coming home assignment, it is somewhat of a testimony to where we’ve been. For, the list would not exist were we living in America. It exists because we live on a small tropical island on the edge of the Pacific Ocean. It has things on it that we would never need if we didn’t reside in the Philippines. Things like: heavy-duty batteries and battery fans to get us through all-night brown-outs in 98 degree temperatures, plus humidity; or children’s books ranging from toddler through first grade because we live where there is no library for our children, much less a bookstore, and their education is so valuable to us that we will ship out boxes of books if necessary. Or there are the food items, like vast quantities of sauce packets and boxed macaroni and cheese, because, even though thosewill run out someday, they will get us through Sunday evening meals when I’m too tired to cook. And since there is no place from which to order pizza, much less a drive-thru ANYTHING (or fast food anything, for that matter), I am often desperate for any food made fast and easy.
And then there are the things to do, with their price-tag listed next to them. These really are the dream part of the list, since we cannot begin to imagine where the money would come from to do them. Things like a trip to Disneyland, or the San Diego Zoo. We hope we can take Josiah to the USS Midway or the San Diego Safari Park. I looked up the prices recently online. Holy cow, do these things cost a lot! But we’ve listed them, hoping we can save enough to at least do one as a family. In fact, we’ve promised Josiah he’s going to Disneyland, so, we’ll be saving for that one!
The grocery list represents to me the glorious trips I’ll get to make to the grocery store down the street from where we’ll stay. I’m excited about the store, but I’m more excited about the whole experience: I can actually go grocery shopping by myself, with my kids! Since Amalie came along it’s almost impossible for me to do the grocery shopping without Edwin’s help, because we have to stop at so many different places on each trip, most of them without decent parking. Even if I could take Amalie in with me, I’d have to hold her while shopping, which is immensely difficult. Then I’d have to leave the hot store with the super heavy box packed with the stuff we need for the next week (it takes at least 40 minutes each way to get to the town with the groceries). Then there’s a stop to the outdoor market (because the grocery stores are all dry-goods and don’t have a produce section), where it would be impossible for me to buy all the fruits and vegetables we need for the week AND hold my heavy baby, trying to protect her from the blazing tropical sun without smothering her in the heat. Then there’s the stop at the meat store, which I’m glad exists because otherwise we’d be buying meat either from an unsanitary wood block outside (did I mention blazing tropical sun and heat?), where the meat sits all day. But parking at the meat store is non-existent, and to make the trip into the disgusting meat store with my baby, then carry her and a heavy freezer bag out to our car parked streets away, while dodging motorcycles with side-cars, would be a stressful day. And honestly, I could do all that with Amalie, because I’ve done it with Josiah, but it would make for a tiring and stressful day. So a trip where I can pile the kids into a van, plop them in a shopping cart, whisk around an air conditioned grocery store with fresh produce inside!, then cart the groceries back to my car, which is parked in a PARKING LOT!, where my children sit nicely (hopefully) in their carseats while I unload the grocery bags into the van and head home, pull into a nice garage and set the baby down to play on a clean, non-concrete floor while I bring the groceries in to our air conditioned house (AIR CONDITIONED HOUSE!) and put them in a sufficiently-sized freezer…oh, these are the things dreams are made of! And if I want, I can make that trip every day! Out of milk (FRESH MILK!)? Jet to the store. Whipped cream? I don’t need to make it from a box of cream…I can just buy it ready made! Cilantro in the salad? Yes, please! The list of what I’m looking forward to eating and preparing for my family could literally reach from this side of the Pacific to the other.
And then there’s the part of the dream list that makes me warm and fuzzy: the people we’re going to see. A major part of being on home assignment is connecting with those who support us through prayer and finances. They are the backbone to the ministry, making it possible for us to be where we are and do what we do. And we get to see them in person, hug their necks, and visit, really visit. This section of the list means community. Community: connecting with and enjoying the presence of loved ones, being bonded through a common cause and loving one another and the King. Community. We have missed this tremendously where we live. We have a small growing community of believers, but there will always be linguistic and cultural barriers that will keep us from connecting on the deepest of heart levels. But to be home, with people with a common culture, heart language, humor, and memory…it will refresh us like nothing else.
And family. What joy I have knowing that this year, our family will be in the Christmas family photos, not crying on the other side seeing them only through facebook. I get to hear the voices of my niece and nephews calling Josiah’s name because he’s become familiar to them, and see him fall into place as one of the grandkids, unified for a time. Our children will have birthdayparties in the comfortable presence of those who love them most in all the world. And I will watch it all with happy tears in my eyes…storing memories in my heart for the future years we’ll have without such loving abundance.
We have a lot of work ahead of us, but most of it is wrapped up in things we enjoy, and miss. Yes, we have to make a three week road trip up through the Midwest and down the east coast, with small children. But that means we get to travel American highways and eat at American eateries. And see friends and make new ones along the way. Yes, we have to raise more money for the ministry, since a lot of our support has dropped off in the four years we’ve been gone. But that means we get to share our mission and vision with more people, and testify to the goodness of God to us and the people we serve. Yes, we will be living on an uncomfortably tight budget, but we get to do it around friends and family, with lots of free things we never get to take advantage of, like public parks (what!? playground equipment for Josiah!? Yay!), public libraries, and clean and safe roads to walk and run on.
As I write, I face the oft-returning struggle I have between missing so desperately the life I had, and knowing I have to continue the life I am now living. My flesh wants so badly to return to the luxuries of American living (running hot water you can drink from the spout!). But my spirit knows our time here is not over…God has begun something good in Catanduanes that He’s allowed us to be a part of, and he has not released us to move from it yet. So while a part of me wishes we were returning home for good, I am thankful to know we are certain of our call here. So we’ll be home to enjoy some really good things and some really amazing people…for a while. And that will have to be enough…until the next list. ~a