May 31, 2021
May marks the third month of round two of coronavirus in Mauritius, and our lives have continued largely unchanged. We remain at home most of the time, busy with online schooling and daily routines, although we have had the opportunity to go out on a few family excursions (photos below). Still, we remain mostly isolated from the new friends and acquaintances that we have made here due to coronavirus restrictions keeping schools, churches, and beaches closed. In this period of extended separation, I have felt prompted to look inward—as if I’ve been granted a carefully planned pause to assess the well-being of myself and our family.
As I reflect on our family, I recognize that although the time spent with our children during home learning has been challenging, it has also been truly a blessing to be able to interact more closely with them and to watch them grow and learn. Both of the younger two have started reading in the past few months. Kyler, being a grade ahead, is a bit more advanced in the words and sounds he is able to read than Eden, but it has been a joy to see both of them develop as beginning readers and writers. Meanwhile, Ezra has been blossoming in her French language skills as she absorbs French vocabulary and phrases with ease. I admire her courage and determination to learn, and I often overhear her challenging herself to respond to the teacher’s questions on Zoom only in French, rather than in English like many of her fellow foreign language learners. Getting to spend time with our children and to truly see their strengths and personalities has reminded me of the importance of paying attention to who our children are instead of who I imagine them to be. And although this phase of confinement has in some ways limited our external experiences, I am grateful for the ways in which it has reminded me to look more closely inward at our family and to see the beauty that surrounds me every day.
This time of reflection has also made me more aware of my own thoughts and feelings—one of which is an old familiar feeling bubbling to the surface. The feeling has come on gradually and has been precipitated by several recent events that have served as reminders of how sadness and impermanence are an inevitable part of life. One such reminder came in a casual conversation with Mauritian friends as they talked about upcoming birthday and anniversary celebrations with their extended families. As they spoke, I smiled politely and listened, but in my core I felt it—the loss. While choosing to follow the road less traveled and pursue a calling to serve halfway around the world has many benefits and blessings, it also comes at a price. Part of that price is sacrificing time with family and loved ones who are not here with us. There are no holidays with extended family or birthday and anniversary celebrations with grandparents, aunts, and uncles. There are no spontaneous visits or traditional home-cooked meals (unless we make them ourselves). And while we certainly do our best to keep traditions in our immediate family and to develop new ones, sometimes it’s just not the same.
I can remember vividly how this feeling of loss hit me many years ago while serving as a Peace Corps volunteer in Chad. It was our second Thanksgiving away from the US. For our first, we were invited to the US Ambassador’s residence as newly sworn-in Peace Corps volunteers to celebrate the holiday. As you can imagine, the ambassador had a personal chef and access to most of the necessary ingredients to make a proper Thanksgiving dinner. We feasted, swam in the ambassador’s pool, and were invigorated by the excitement of the experience. The second Thanksgiving, a year into our service was a vastly different story. We were not granted permission to travel into the capital for the Thanksgiving celebration with the ambassador, and thus, we were left to spend the holiday on our own. With no electricity, cooking over a charcoal fire or a single propane burner was a process, so we certainly would not be having a proper Thanksgiving dinner or anything close to it. In fact, we rarely even ate meat unless we bought it already cooked from a market vendor. And rarest of all were potatoes. We could buy a variety of white sweet potatoes in Chad, but regular potatoes were hard to come by. So that Thanksgiving, as the weight of it all hit me and the loss washed over me, I remember lying on the cement floor of our mud brick house and sobbing as I moaned, “I just want mashed potatoes!”
It seems comical now to recall that story and to picture myself crying over mashed potatoes, but of course, it wasn’t just about potatoes. It was about everything those potatoes represented for me. It was about the loss of tradition, the loss of family, the loss of comfort, of normalcy. (Perhaps some of you have experienced similar emotions during the year-long pandemic.) While I haven’t had my mashed potatoes moment here yet, I recognize that familiar feeling stirring inside me as time ticks on. It’s like an old friend that is inextricably part of this experience. The irony is that when the time comes to leave this place, I will also mourn the loss of all that I have come to love about being in Mauritius.
Another reminder of loss has come in a more unexpected form. Our friend and landlord contacted us about a week ago and told us that even though he has not had the house we are living in on the market since we moved in, a persistent potential buyer contacted him about possibly purchasing it. In the course of our conversation, our landlord made it clear that he did not feel comfortable considering the sale without speaking to us first, and he assured us that he would not sell unless the buyer agreed to let us continue renting if we wanted to stay. Because he has become such a good friend to us, we were happy for him and the blessing a potential sale of the house could be for him. So, we offered our support and made sure we thoroughly cleaned and tidied the house for the best possible showing when the buyer came to look at it. But as people who just recently sold the only house our children have ever known and said goodbye to almost everything including our pets to move to the other side of the world, the thought of possibly having to move out of the house that has become our home and refuge in this foreign land was overwhelming. It was an unanticipated reminder of everything we had to leave behind to take this step forward. Ultimately, it was a reminder that growth and grief are undeniably intertwined. As of now, it is too early to know what the future will hold, but we remain prayerful that God will grant whatever is best for our landlord and his family and that we may find peace in whatever comes.
In the last week, we also learned that one of the TeachBeyond families who recently moved to Mauritius to serve at Lighthouse has decided to leave at the end of this school year in November or December. Their decision to go is personal and has nothing to do with the school, but it was yet another reminder of the impermanence of all things. In all of this, I have been reminded that things are just things and that all of life is temporary. Furthermore, as many of us have come to realize over the past year, it is easy to live under the illusion of permanence when our lives and relationships remain consistent and familiar. But when that consistency or familiarity is lost, whether to a pandemic or a move or anything else, we start to realize how much we rely on this illusion to help us feel safe and secure. It is only after the illusion is stripped away that we are forced to question—what do I cling to? And why?
These are tough questions that we must all face at some point in our lives. Letting go is hard, but if we never let go, we can never fully live. As I have pondered these questions over the past month, a few verses have come to mind. I have included them below, but the summary is this: May the peace of Christ be with you to assuage your fears, comfort your sorrows, and compel you to live a life of love, humility, and kindness. Until next time…
“Do not fear, for I have redeemed you;
I have summoned you by name; you are mine.
2 When you pass through the waters,
I will be with you;
and when you pass through the rivers,
they will not sweep over you.
When you walk through the fire,
you will not be burned;
the flames will not set you ablaze. […]
18 Forget the former things;
do not dwell on the past.
19 See, I am doing a new thing!
Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?
I am making a way in the wilderness
and streams in the wasteland.”
-Isaiah 43:1-2, 18-19
27 Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid. – John 14:27
5 Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. 6 Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. 7 And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. 8 Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.” Philippians 4:5-8
7 For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind. – 2 Timothy 1:7 (NKJV)
8 Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins. 9 Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling. 10 Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms. 1 Peter 4: 8-10
28 Then they cried out to the Lord in their trouble,
and he brought them out of their distress.
29 He stilled the storm to a whisper;
the waves of the sea were hushed.
30 They were glad when it grew calm,
and he guided them to their desired haven.
– Psalm 107:28-30