Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Winds of Change

Martha Ritchie, Missionary, Kenya

April-June 2016
Tips for coping with transition

Winds in the east,
Mist comin’ in
Like something is brewin’
About to begin,
Can’t put me finger on what lies in store,
But I feel what’s to ’appen, all ’appened before.

~Burt from Mary Poppins

I hope you have a picture in your mind of Mary Poppins gently blowing in. When she lands, things start happening.

So it is with transitions: Moving, moving to a new culture, children going to college, children graduating from college, children changing colleges and majors, children getting engaged, learning a new language, children going to boarding school, parents missing us, grandparents missing grandchildren, us missing everyone, a completely different church or no church, retirement, empty nesting, first-time missionary, support raising, new systems, new job, and on and on. 

When we land in a new culture with all those transitions, we don’t come with a track record. We just show up, and we are about as strange as Mary Poppins. Where did she come from? Who is she? She is quite odd. What is she good at? Why is she here? What’s in that magic bag she carries? People stare at us as if we just floated in on an umbrella. They have no idea what we are going through. We arrive having lost our place and trying to find out who we are.When you feel as if you’re getting a master’s degree in the school of transition, what are some helps? How can we get comfortable again in our own skin? How can we find ourselves anew?

These are things that have helped me navigate all of the above transitions.
  1. Grieve. Cry. I come from a long line of stoics, pioneer stock and all that. Crying was new for me, just like everything else. It would just be wrong not to grieve the losses. Stoicism isn’t holy. God keeps our tears in a bottle. They matter to Him. And when you have suffered for a while, then you will be able to comfort others with the comfort you have been given.
  2. Pray. The Lord is present. He is alive. He is powerful. He knows us—past, present, and future. He absolutely delights in us, even when our head is spinning. What a relief! He isn’t going to leave us. I often picture looking up at His face and His big hand holding my little hand. 
  3. Everyone says to journal. I journal when something major hits me and not much in between. I like to go back and look and be reminded of how God has met my every need in crisis. 
  4. Ask for prayer from people with whom you can be real and other missionaries. It is powerful. And it is a window for those who have no idea what you are going through. They don’t know if you don’t tell them.
  5. Play. Find cool things to do in your new spot. Go and do it. When I wanted to withdraw, I made a rule for myself to have a cultural experience five days a week. That could be going to the market or chatting with a gate guard. Do anything, but do not retreat. It builds confidence and comfort eventually. 
  6. Ask God to give you a local friend. Be hospitable to those around you. Make pizza. Play games. Ask questions about the new culture. Start a Bible study.  Learn. Just do the next thing. 
  7. Exercise. I bought a second-hand treadmill that lives in my living room. It would just be too weird for me to exercise outside with an audience. I plug in my earphones and listen to praise music and sweat. Afterward I always feel better than when I started, even if I didn’t particularly want to start. It lifts me up spiritually, and everyone knows that stress is relieved by renewing one’s mind and physical exertion. 
  8. Laugh. I like to picture myself like Mary Poppins, only with crazy hair whipped by the wind, trying to keep this new skirt down, wearing flip-flops and a back pack, tossed about in a mad whirlwind with my kids twirling with me, and me trying to corral them is a slightly more accurate picture. Laugh at yourself. Laugh at your situation. Laugh at your mistakes. Don’t take yourself too seriously. It really isn’t that serious (it just feels that way) and you will settle in, in time. 
  9. If you have a spouse, share your burdens with each other. If you don’t, then find a friend or continue to pray with and talk to one back home. 
  10. Remember that God blows the winds of change. He is good and He will be with us where He sends us. He has a good plan for us and every life that is touched by our winds of change. Like Mary Poppins, she had a good effect on the few around her. It didn’t have to be many. But it was huge.
Use these tips to cope with transition.
ACT: Can you relate to Martha’s story? What’s the one thing you can do this week to help you take the next step in transition?
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