Or remember the feeling you have as you're standing in line for your favorite roller coaster? As the line shortens and you creep closer and closer to this monster ride, your stomach is sinking. Yet you maintain conversation with the people next to you, maybe because you need a distraction or perhaps you want to hide your nerves. In the back of your mind you keep telling yourself that it's going to be worth it. So you buckle up.
I remember feeling these exact emotions the day I left for Niger, West Africa. Feelings of incredible anticipation and adventure mixed with curious fear and caution. In some ways, I had an idea of what I was getting into. But mostly, it was a leap I had never taken before. It was simultaneously thrilling and terrifying.
It has been almost 18 months since I took that leap. And God has been with me every step. I have been reflecting this Christmas season on who God is through Jesus' birth. He is Emmanuel. God With Us. Looking back on my time so far, Jesus has proven this part of his name to me over and again.
And now I am returning to the place where I spent 22 and a half years of my life. To the place of early familiarity and family. Where I made friends, went to school, and attended church. I am going "home." You'd think that I would be at complete ease, returning to such a familiar place. But I find myself experiencing the same emotions as when I first came to Niger.
The other day, I was having a conversation with my dad about being in Niger. I've heard this analogy before, but it seems to fit. I told him I feel like a child feels when they are being tossed into the air by their father - stomach in your throat and a quick moment of fear, until you realize you're falling and it's actually fun. Because you know dad is going to catch you.
That's how I feel.
My heart is full of eager anticipation as I think of the family I will see and the friends I get to hang out with again. And yet there is something scary about reentering my home culture.
My most recent memories are here in Niger. I have poured into students, neighbors, housemates, friends and coworkers. I have spent the last year and a half building beautiful friendships with some great people. I have grown to love and care about them and it's almost painful to leave them during such a wonderful and celebratory time of the year. I've become part of a family here in Niamey. It's hard to leave family during this season.
While I'm eager to perhaps see snow again, Christmas in Niger is beautiful. The weather is cool and crisp in the mornings and sunny with blue skies in the afternoon. People enjoy a slower pace of life as they take off work and relax. Niger doesn't have the commercialism surrounding Christmas that I experienced growing up in Pennsylvania. As a Christian, the materialism surrounding such a sacred holiday is almost upsetting. Getting away from that allows one to really focus and reflect on Christmas' true meaning. Even everyday life here, the dust and animals, seems to help paint a more realistic picture of the manger scene; the humble way in which our Lord entered this world.
What has been hard for me to realize and even admit is that although I know I'm coming back, leaving Niamey is hard. I now know two homes. I am a part of two worlds. And I truly believe that two is better than one. But that doesn't make it any easier. The people in the States don't know the part of me that is from Niger, aside from what I can share via pictures or email. And when I return to Niger in January, the people I know and love in Niamey won't know the part of me that comes from Pennsylvania.
Despite this tricky balance of worlds and relationships, I serve a God who never changes. He was rock solid for me when I came to Niger, and I know I can depend on Him as I transition back to my home culture. The worlds around me can shift and change, but the truth of my soul's security in Christ is firm. Because of my relationship with God, my soul can be at rest while my outward circumstances look more like chaos.
A word of advice from an MK (missionary kid): focus on the positive of both worlds. It's easy to think about all the things that I would be missing in one place or another. It would be easier to harden my heart to one place, just to make goodbyes less painful. But one place is not "wrong," while the other is "right." They are different and have there own unique joys. God desires us to live fully, and I think that's going to require some vulnerability. (I'm not crazy about the idea, but I'm getting used to it.)
I am so grateful for the opportunity to return to family and friends in the States. I can't wait to hug my brothers again, to see my pregnant sister-in-law, to curl up in front of the fire with hot chocolate, to cuddle with my cat, to sing carols in church at the candlelight service, and to make new memories with my family.
And I am ever so grateful for the family that I have in Niger, too. The same family that threw me an amazing surprise birthday party a month early because I'll be away on my actual birthday. The family that has shared hippo rides, cheesecake, movie nights, and prayer.
I choose to praise God for my two worlds and all the people in them. Thank you for being a part of this journey, whether you are Stateside or in Niger. I am truly blessed to have you in my life.