They Don’t Understand

Posted on: February 14, 2012 Written by
They Don’t Understand
      Photography by: Brian Jackson from iStock    

[I say “Don’t Understand”  instead of “Disagree” because, obviously, I choose to operate in the realm of: If they understood, then they would agree… but I know that’s not always the case.]

Another aspect of loneliness “out here” is when your loved ones don’t understand the Call you’ve answered. Sometimes it’s funny and sometimes it’s sad and maybe you’ve cried. For the most part, my family’s pretty rockstar about this whole thing—I’m blessed to have a family who knows our Father and they keep trusting Him with me, or at least try to. But I know others here, many who have raised their whole families and planted their whole lives here for the sake of their One, True Love, and their loved ones, even after a decade or two, don’t understand.

Living in this region , many people think we’re walking into the face of danger. That we’ve gone to some office, signed a release for our lives and have essentially given up on living. Dramatic? MaybeMostly realistic? For many, yes. I get a lot of “WHY”s and shakes of the head and comments saying, “Oh, I could NEVER do that.” or “Wow… you’re so… brave…” or my personal favorite:  “Aren’t you just SO scaaaarreedd???” [And this is from people that we love—I’m not gonna even touch how the people we don’t love so much react.]

There’s a difference to be expected based on the like-mindedness of your loved ones. If they aren’t like-minded with you, then… ok. It’s only grace that you can give them. They don’t share your heart or your Love, so it makes sense that maybe they’re not supportive [sometimes, though, these are the most supportive…]. But if they do know your Love personally, and they don’t encourage you, celebrate with you through the struggles and triumphs and “things you do for Love,” then… it’s hard.

And I think it’s totally ok to grieve these things. I think it’s ok to be sad for this loss. Some people’s families, especially my peers’, border on the “OK, I think he’s got that almost all out of his system,”  mentality. They expect us young, singles to go away for a year, maybe two, and then come back to our “senses” and settle down “at home.”

Well… if “home is where the heart is,” and your heart is given to a Relocater named “I AM,” then you’re kinda up a creek. [Or out in a desert under a bazillion twinkling stars conserving water.] Either way, your heart is changed and “home” no longer means the same thing it did just 1,000 days ago or maybe even 100. When friends are distraught that they’re not living up to the [earthly] familial pressures to have a 9-5 job, get married and raise their kids in the suburbs, I tell them, with a gentle smile on my face and a fire in my eyes that, “We. Are. Ruined.”

We’re ruined.

We’re ruined for the ordinary. Please don’t hear me wrong—there’s nothing wrong with 9-5 jobs, getting married or living in the suburbs. I dig all those things—they’re actually my roots. But I can’t do it. Not right now. So please don’t try to make me. Because this should be ok, too. They say that some “Stay, Pay and Pray” while others “Go, Sow and Grow.” We’re just different parts of the same body—and that’s fantastic. What kills me is when families, couples, singles, humans, are out here, doing their thing for Love and they’re not backed up by the very people they hold dear.

And maybe that’s you today. Maybe your loved ones don’t understand your 3-week stint in the jungle or your 25 years in the city. And I’m here to say: “Ugh. I’m sorry.” Because I am.

Or maybe you’re that person who has a loved one “out there,” and you’re missing each other’s livesI know that hurts, too. To be left and to be the leaver—they’re both difficult roles to play. I feel those aches. I know what it’s like to have your favorite person/people gone from your everyday life—to be missing from around your table at the holidays, to not see babies grow, to not watch all the Packer games together… and I know what it’s like to be the missing one.

But I also find that it’s in these hurts that there is much beauty. And I think each person needs to come to terms with that themselves. I can’t make anyone understand or agree with my Call. But I do know that my God is strong. I ask Him, for my friends and sometimes for myself, to place a peace and an understanding in our loved ones.

Would you do that today?
And please comment—
you never know who is reading
and who needs your words.

My parents and youngest brother showin’ a girl in a yellow dress
some love over Skype.
They’re so funny. 🙂 I adore them.
[And I miss them.]

©2012 Thrive.



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  • Kristy

    Thanks Sarah! I’m going to send this to a friend who has been on the field for 20+ years. Her mom still asks her on a regular basis “when is your husband going to come back to the US and get a ‘real’ job.” I know your words will encourage her 🙂

    • Hi Kristy!

      Thanks for passing it along! It’s my prayer that my words can offer some light on as many women’s worlds as possible–thanks for being part of the process. 🙂 Real jobs are overrated…. unless they’re totally for our Real Father. 🙂

      Love, Sarah.

    • Kenyon Powers

      I remember my mom saying the same thing, “When is he going to get a real job?”and this was while we ministering in in America. So you can imagine what she thought when we moved to Ukraine with her 3 grandkids. Well, she came to visit four months after we got here. We just happen to have Elizabeth Elliot for a women’s conference. I took my mother. There she saw another 120 women that were doing what I was doing, and heard a Ukrainian women in tears, thanking all of us for coming to Ukraine. After my mom returned to America, I got an email from her. She said, “Now I see why you moved to Ukraine. God really spoke to her about our ministry and she was touched by those she met. We’ve been here 14 yrs. now and she has been several more times and seen even more reasons why God has us here.

      • What a great testimony, Kenyon! Making a visit sure is worth it!! Thanks for sharing your story and posting it here for more women to read it. I’ll look forward to one day, inshallah, visiting Ukraine. Rock on!
        Love, Sarah.

  • Kathleen Wintter

    Dear Sarah,

    Thanks for the understanding article… you touched on several very relevant issues. i’ve been in eastern Europe for 17+ years, and my mother has never understood why I needed to come. She tried to talk me out of it. My mother is a believer, but she doesn’t “get it”. My father was a believer also, and he didn’t “get it” either, but when I asked him if he would allow me to go, he told me I knew God’s will for myself better than he did. He explained that he didn’t want me to go, but he wanted me to do what i thought I should do according to God’s will.

    I have an idea – would you feel comfortable writing an article actually with the family/friends who “don’t get it” as the audience? I was going to copy this for my mother, but it has sympathy for the “leavers” and might be a bit awkward. I hope you understand what i mean.

    Just so you know – I couldn’t figure out the picture of your parents for a while. It took looking at it several times before I could figure out that your mother’s head covering was not part of your father’s shirt. Your mother’s eyes are not clearly visible, and for someone who doesn’t know that the burka (sp.?) can almost completely cover a woman’s face, it might be difficult to discern. I don’t mean this critically – just trying to be helpful!!

    Sincerely, Kathleen

    • Hi Kathleen!!

      I think it’s the HARDEST when they’re believers and they… disagree!!! But it’s okay. Because He’s bigger than those comments and hardships. But still it stings and eats at our hearts. I think it’s really interesting about your dad–that’s he’s taken that role with it all. It shows that Father is working on him–I can’t imagine what it’s like to be parents and have your kids mess up your dreams for them. 😉

      I might be able to write the article you suggested–it might just take some time. Email my sweet and totally amazing editor, Cindy at WOTH. She’ll get me your email and get us in touch. I’d be delighted to do something like that with you or for you.

      And yes, that “niqab” is a tricky piece to figure out–but once I leave the desert I only have the pictures I have. 😉 Sorry it was a little confusing. But it’s an amazing picture nonetheless–one that sends my heart singing because 1. my family received their presents in time for the holiday and 2. they were rockin’ out and having fun with somethings that make them uncomfortable. It really is the little things that make the big difference–I’m sure you know this. 😉

      Love, Sarah.

  • LeAnn

    Your words express my experience so well, as my family is much like Kathleen’ s (above). Again last week, an email came from my Mother, “Don’t they know that you have family at home who miss you very much….and when are you finally going to move back home?” I suppose I have three homes, and the one that draws me most is where our Father God is. He has called me to leave my birth home (for an unspecified period) to take up residence in my adopted home for His Kingdom purposes. It’s emotionally trying when my mother sends messages that infer I am here for my own pleasure, not willing to make a change for her benefit… that draws tears and I have to keep going back to Abba’s embrace. I’m sure that affects others similarly, and it’s not as heavy a cross as many have to bear, but it’s a continual tug.

    • Hey LeAnn!
      Thanks for your comment! It’s such a weird and sometimes uncomfortable dynamic, isn’t it?! But our Book speaks clearly about this–that we’re to leave our loved ones for the sake of His Call. So, anytime you need it, stop by The Yellow Dress and I’ll stand and applaud you for being far from “home.” And I totally get that about moms–I mean, I feel like I’m mean to my own parents: Even when I live in the States, I’m two time zones away. Maybe I can give your mom MY mom’s number and they can be friends and commiserate about their wanderlust daughters?! 😉 Keep on going. He doesn’t waste these hurts or sacrifices that are completely and utterly for His heart and His purpose. He’s a Good God and He can only be loving, steadfast, kind and redemptive. He’s working on “them” just as much as He is on you.
      Love, Sarah.

  • Carol

    Thanks for the article Sarah,

    The bottom line for me is that, it is okay to grieve the losses of being far from loved ones and the familiar camraderie and in that I have to trust that He is just as able to place people and relationships in my life on this side of the world as He is on the other. Not only for me, but for my kids… I am blessed to have relationships cross-culturally.

    I have the joy of having a supportive family and loved ones, but have struggled with the allowing Him to sustain my desires to maintain the connection with my loved ones on the other side of the world. I have to trust that He really does know my needs and facilitates the logistics of those relationships, with some cooperation from me:) He is so good and faithful to do this and part of that process in my life has been allowing Him to work in my heart and being willing to invest in folks right here where I am living (in a capacity that I might never have considered investing if I was in closer proximity to those at “home”).

    And…yes, it is hard to explain a ‘call’, not only to those we love who may or may not be trying to understand, but in my case to also try to explain it to my friends and peers in the country in which I live. I am glad that one has asked me questions like “Why do you guys need to be here? Aren’t there people here who can do that work?’ These are good questions for us to think about and respond to. It has made me be very aware of who I am in Him, how I interact with others here, and caused me to stand on His promises and affirmations based on what I know He has called/given me to do. (Right now that is living a life, in Him, as I support my husband in ministry, maintain a hopefully peaceful home, and raise my kids in a culture that is more theirs than mine, but has also become mine).

    Thanks again.
    Carol

    (I grew up overseas and have lived in S.Africa for the past 12+ years. Each country presents challenges of its’ own. We work for a radio ministry here. If you want more detail you can email me and ask 🙂 )

    • Hi Carol! Thanks so much for your comment!! You’re so thoughtful and kind to share your journey with us. 🙂 I’m pumped to hear that your loved ones are supportive of you–praise God! And I also thank you for saying that their support isn’t the end all for your aches, questions and longings. I always think that God brings your “_____-equivalent” to you–that He provides you with a heart friend who just takes your hand and helps you make the plunge into her culture, language and life. I have an Arab-equivalent and I now so desperately miss her from my everyday. We Skype regularly and write messages to each other weekly. No matter where you are, you’re always away from someone!! Gosh! We just can’t win! 😉 Rock on, doing LIFE in SA. Thanks for reading!!
      Love, Sarah.

  • Kaye Baldridge

    Sarah,
    I read your article because my niece who is in Africa with her husband and child sent the articles to me. Your article touched my heart, not because I don’t understand the call she and her husband felt, but because sometimes the lonliness for these young people is almost tomuch to bear. Yet, when those times come the Lord always gives me the words or devotional to get me through.
    But it is hard, not to hear first words or see first steps or jus tthe week to week growth of a little one or to not be there if one of them is ill. My heart and the rest of my family’s hearts long for those times and yet, as Christians we rejoice in their walk with the Lord.
    I pray for several missionaries daily and I realize I need to pray for their families at home also. Thanks for bringing that to my mind.

    • Kaye! You’re totally precious! THANK YOU for commenting. Have you visited them yet? Please do. I’ll go with you. 🙂 Visiting and Skype are the two amazing things we have at our fingertips that were not so just a few decades ago. You don’t know what it’d do for you and them to visit. Really. Thanks for praying and for sharing the aches of your heart as you’re far from them.
      Love, Sarah.

  • Sherry

    Thanks Sarah, you have laid out what is in my heart! My husband and I spent 26 months in the Central Asia region. And our family still doesn’t get it. Four out of five adult sons still feel abandoned. The people who were the most unsupported were some of our church family. It amazed me and saddens me.

    We are back now for a season however we still hear His call to return. We will go again and I’m praying that our children will step out on faith. This side of the world just doesn’t feel like home anymore. My heart is still over there.

    God bless you

    • Laura

      Hi Sherry,

      As a young adult MK myself, I have greatly appreciated the series of short articles “Lies MKs Believe” by Michele Phoenix. (See below for url.) She puts into words the tensions that so many of us feel but cannot articulate clearly. And a thread of sure hope for healing and wholeness runs through all the articles. You might consider reading them as a parent, then perhaps share them with your sons. I’m sure that some healthy conversations will ensue.

      Lies MKs Believe: http://michelephoenix.com/mk-tck-resources/videos-articles-novels/

      • Thanks for this, Laura! I’m sending it on to many, MANY friends. 🙂
        Love, Sarah.

    • Hi Sherry!
      About two years ago I was “home” in my dad’s Sunday School class. And, of course, the one Sunday I’m there, the lesson is about missions. haha. And I won’t ever forget how my dad told the group, in closing, that “we can say that we support missions and we can say that we want God’s Kingdom furthered, no matter the cost, but the real test comes when one of your own goes to do just that. That’s when the real test comes to you and you’re forced to show that you believe that–not just say it with your lips.” And that’s touched me and I’m carrying that with me, even today. [It also made a lot of people in the room uncomfortable and sometimes I delight in awkward social settings….] I was and am so proud of my dad and grateful for him “letting” me go. It’s a big thing–as you know. Also: Congratulations. “You’re ruined.” And I think–no, I KNOW that that’s wonderful. You’ve been changed by His great love for something outside yourself. Keep on, sweet lady.
      Love, Sarah.

  • Tasha

    Thanks Sarah for sharing. I’m Sherry’s daughter-in-law of the son who didn’t feel abandoned. We too feel called to serve, but the process is a long one. I’d say that most of my side of the family doesn’t “get it” either, so I appreciate your honesty.

    • Hi Tasha!
      Thanks for reading and thanks for “getting it.” Now we ALL know that it’s so momentous to them that you’re supportive. 🙂 Knowing that you’re called is so special and so strong. My heart breaks because if we’re His, then we’re called… but many of His children leave His calling for others to carry out. I hope you and your family are doing all you can with those He’s put you with right now. He doesn’t waste our days or relationships–get after it wherever you might be. 🙂
      Love, Sarah.

  • Very timely article. Families back home do not realize the added pressure they put on missionaries when they do not “get it”.

    When I saw all the mentions to “when you come back home” and it made me think “this world is not our home”. Our home isn’t here at all.

    I hope this article reaches and touches the right people. Those who do not understand “the call”.

    • So sweet of you, Janet! Thanks for your comment! I totally agree. And at the same time, I always think: “It’s so hard to be loved.” haha. I can’t blame them. It’s a good reminder that our lives are not our own–we’re connected to so many, wherever we are–and yes, PRAISE GOD this is not our home. I love that part of this life–we’ve got a lot to hope for and anticipate!! He is good. Thanks for reading.
      Love, Sarah.

  • Elisabeth Zuelsdorf

    Thanks Sara,
    I really liked the different points you presented in your article! I am also in ME for 10 years now and was in Africa before that, always single. I hate the feeling to be percieved by supporters and “non-understanders” to be weird, especially when I’m home! But there I have often heard: I had a call too, but I never went! I think that is the sadest thing to hear!

    • Hey Elisabeth!
      Ah. Being “weird” is the best–you know you’re different from the rest!! And yes–those regretful hearts. It’s funny… now that I’m thinking about it, I don’t think I know one person who ever regretted living and engaging with the Middle East in our capacity… something to think about, huh? And go on, with your bad self, girl. Sooo glad you’re there. Eat some hummus and wear big sunglasses for me!!
      Love, Sarah.

  • Thanks for this article, Sarah. I think we can ALL relate! My dear mother has never been terribly happy about our being in the Middle East, but she keeps quiet about it. Four years ago, three brothers in our country were horribly tortured and killed, and my Mom about lost it. She was so afraid for us. She said, “I understand if you want to take the risk, but what about the kids? How can you subject them to this?”

    It has been much harder for her to see her grandchildren here than to see me here. I totally understand her human logic.

    I just keep my focus on God, accept what I cannot change, and trust Him to change what He wants to.

    • Kathy

      This comment about the kids reminded me of Naomi Reed’s book My Seventh Monsoon (highly recommended read!). Her and her husband Darren spent a number of years in Nepal – during the war years. Here’s a quote:
      Naomi: “…what would it say to our kids if they knew we had taken a deliberate risk, and died?”
      Darren: “It would say to my kids that more than anything else, I’m on this earth to follow Jesus. If following Jesus means taking the hard calls, then that’s what I want to do. I want my kids to know I took risks.”

      • Hi Betsy! Ya know, I’ve never really seen people have such a reaction as they do to “The Middle East.” I think the best thing for someone who has much to say is to… visit you. 🙂 It changes people–to see you in your HOME and watch your life and just observe and participate in how you live. I want her to visit–will she? And if your kids are like any of those that I know living outside of the States… I bet they love it. I think it’s hard for grandparents to find that their kids and grandkids want anything else than their own homes and shared lives. It is, indeed, so hard to be away–to be the leaver and to be the left.
        Kathy–What a GREAT quote. I don’t have kids, so I don’t know what I’d do, but this book sounds super. Thanks for using it to encourage us. Risk taking is worth it. Especially when it’s for Him. 🙂
        Love, Sarah.

  • Sheri

    We lived for 3 years in Asia. Our biggest “hurt” was our granddaughter’s response. She was 14 when we left and and reminded us of all the things we would be missing. Her prom, getting her license, etc. She ignored our emails, rarely even acknowledged us, even saying hurtful things on FB though we had a very close relationship with her before leaving. It tore our hearts apart. After returning home nearly one year ago she (18 years old now) continued this behavior. About one month ago something changed, we have no idea what but now she is calling us to meet her for lunch, answering texts and message. This week we discovered that when we left she had been told that we were going to an extremely dangerous country and what we were doing was illegal! This was in no way true but she had been mislead and instead of asking us about it she reacted in another way.
    I am so sorry for the time she spent thinking these things. Please let your family know as much as you possibly can. Encourage them to please ask questions. It may save you a lot of heartache.

    • Thanks for sharing, Sheri! I’m so sorry for your hurt in this way. What a lesson in communication and sharing, and just going to someone yourself. I’m glad to say that I entertained every person who wanted to “sit me down” before I went and heard them out. Of course, I didn’t follow their wishes, but I still listened. Even now, being “back,” many close friends are so glad I’m here and not “there” and vocally hope I’ll never go back… but I hope I do. I will ever so joyfully. 🙂
      Love, Sarah.

  • Is it okay to post some of this on my blog if I include a link to this site?

    • Sure thing! And post your blog here! I’d love to take a look! 🙂
      Thanks! Sarah.

  • Thanks so much Sarah, for this!

    I ive in Ukraine (and yes, I know Kenyon! ha! And yes, you should come to Ukraine! I have a guest house, you can stay!)

    I think what is hardest for me is not so much whether they “want you home” or not but the fact that they either cannot or will not accept that 13 years immersed in another country, language and culture has changed you. There is NO WAY you can live outside of America for any length of time and not gain a different perspective on your country.

    I am blessed and priviliged to have been born in America. But I am no longer as naive as I was. Where once I had a cynicism and critical attitude about our country, now I am more thankful than ever to have been born there and see how many great things we have in America. But also where once I thought only of the struggles in my life and my friends now I see that for most of the world to have even our day to day struggles would be a HUGE step up in life (meaning looking for work while living somewhere that has running water, a police and legal system you more or less trust, etc.).

    It doesn’t mean I am against America, I just have – I think – a more wholistic opinion of life in America in relation to the whole world. Make sense? Anyway…I am rambling a little off your point, and maybe my point is a different article :} but basically…yes, all the things you talked about can be very hard to deal with, and even more so (in my opinion) when the reason you should “come home and get a real job” is because “home” is the only good place to live in the world, and good means what makes me comfortable (family close, creature comforts, etc.) rather than doing the will of God. But for me, that makes me estatic! 🙂 “I delight to do your will, oh God!”

    Anyway…grace, grace, grace…communication, love, forgiveness and being willing to let go of those who just can’t/won’t change with you and don’t want you to either. Sigh….

    Come to Ukraine! 🙂

  • Rae

    Thanks for sharing because its so true–especially the Packer game part. Most people who love us and love Him don’t seem to understand, but there are some who do and I am deeply grateful for them. But those of us who go need to know beyond ALL doubt that we are being exactly who God has called us to be, doing exactly what God has called us to do, exactly where He has called us because when no one else understands or shows up in our section to cheer us on we need to know that He is there cheering.