I must have seen the Chicago skyline hundreds of times in my life. But Saturday morning, the sky was clear, the plane came in right over the lake, and I glimpsed the most beautiful sight of the city I have seen in my life. Coming home after being gone for nearly a year probably just made it that much more beautiful. Landing in Chicago was surreal, meeting up with my family, driving through the streets of Naperville. It all seemed very normal, like I had never left but at the same time it didn’t really seem very real, like I wasn’t really home or like I was just here for a short visit before I leave again.
It is good to be home, I have spent the past week trying to adjust to life back in the United States, learning about the latest trends such as silly bands and the new fascination in the stores with leggings. I have managed to enter a grocery store without being totally overwhelmed by the selection (a common problem for returned missionaries), I have been shocked by a kitchen with an overstocked fridge and pantry, and I have definitely enjoyed the freedom of being able to drive again (and so far have not driven on the wrong side of the road). My schedule this week has been packed with appointments, catching up with people, even the occasional engagement party! It has been a whirlwind, trying to see everyone but also frantically trying to get ready to move into my new place in South Bend, IN.
Reflecting on my past year in South Africa has been forefront in my mind. Answering questions like, “How was South Africa?” or “How was the experience?” is extremely difficult. I am still processing everything that happened and figuring out who I am and what a difference this experience has made in my life. I know that I am a changed person, I have learned so much about myself, about the world, about others, and of course about ministry. I have grown a great deal in the past year. But I think that overall it will take me years to fully understand the impact that this experience has had on my life.
I miss South Africa, it’s beautiful skies, its diverse cultures and races. I realize now even more than before what a white world I live in. For the first time yesterday, I actually saw a black person here at home, and was absolutely shocked by the accent that came out of their mouths. I catch myself now saying weird things like “half past eight” instead of “eight thirty.” My mom keeps pointing out strange things that I do which seem absolutely normal and logical for my living situation in South Africa but here seems strange or counter intuitive. It’s frustrating to feel at home and yet so lost at the same time. Even going to mass at home is not the same, since I am back to the old language (since SA has switched to the new language already). It is like I don’t really belong in either world at the moment. It is hard to go from having so much purpose in the lives of the children I worked with at Bosco, to coming home to a transition phase, unsure of what is really happening next and not feeling that strong sense of purpose in my life, at least not the way that I did when I was in South Africa.
The one thing I can say about my time as a missionary, was that I seized the moment, I lived life to the fullest while I was down there. I laughed, I cried, I made mistakes and had great successes. I made great friends which I will never forget. I found it hard to leave the place that I called home for so long and yet, I was glad to come home.
I think that looking back on it all, it would be hard for me to pick just one person or thing that had the most profound impact on my life. It was a difficult journey, perhaps the most difficult thing I have ever done in my life. But I overcame the obstacles and am glad that I had the experience. People ask if given the opportunity, would I do it again and my answer is absolutely yes. Even though it was a struggle at times, I would do it again in a heartbeat and recommend that others take that chance if it is ever presented. Go, live outside of the country, or at least spend time giving back as a volunteer. It will absolutely change your life.
I will close my final email with one last reflection. There is a song that I have been reflecting on for the past month or so. It is “The One Thing” by Paul Colman. Some of the lyrics are as follows:
“Here I am
In a river of questions
Can I pour my heart out to a listening ear?
I see this life
Its valley’s and mountains
And I think of all the roads that brought me here
I’ve questioned my reasons
The life I’m living
I’ve questioned my ability
To judge wrong from right
I’ve questioned all the things that I’ve ever called certain
My race, my religion, my country, my mind
But the one thing I don’t question is you
You really love me like you say you do”
After going on mission, you can’t help but question everything, your race, your religion, your country, your mind, your life. Everything changes, your life changes. Sometimes you don’t even know which way is up anymore. But the only thing I don’t question is God, and that he loves me the way he says he does. And he is the only thing that doesn’t change, Africa or USA, God is the same God. Even when life was turbulent, I knew that God’s love was the one thing I could count on never changing. My faith has been deepened so much by this experience, I was transformed and uplifted by this experience and am glad to say that I did it, that I took this risk, that I followed this call and that God helped me pull through it all. I am who I am now because of my experiences in South Africa, because of the people I encountered, the things I saw, and the work I did.
This brings me to the end. It seems strange, knowing that these updates are over. I thank you all for joining me on this journey and hope that you got something from these emails. They have given me a chance to reflect and share my experiences, in hopes that I could bring a piece of Africa and everything I was learning to all of you. I hope that perhaps they have inspired and uplifted you in some way.
So this is me, signing off. Though my journey does not end here and I will continue to learn and grow from this experience, these emails do. And so thanks for following me on this fantastic journey.