Thursday, October 29, 2015


I wrote this post recently on one of the days I describe toward the end of it. It was a difficult day. It got better. The difficult days always get better, or at least give way eventually to better days. I considered not publishing this post. I decided to publish it despite my misgivings because if I don’t, I will be hiding one very important part of my life. I do prefer to focus on the positive. I do not want to pretend like the negative doesn’t exist.

Yesterday we—once again—took steps to ensure that we’re prepared in case a country falls apart around us. No, we aren’t expecting anything to happen. But the life that we have chosen is full of uncertainties, of possibilities both good and bad. One possibility for which we must prepare is that of finding ourselves in the middle of a disaster, natural or man-made.

Our drill yesterday was a familiarization exercise. We were asked to meet at our Neighborhood Assembly Point in order to ensure that we all know where it is. While there, we were given a handout with a list of items to have in our go bags and in our 3-day survival kits at home (in case it takes a while for assistance to reach us in the aftermath of a disaster, which here, most likely would be an earthquake). Finally, we were led to a nearby house where some emergency supplies are stored. We were taken in through the front gate, but not until after we were shown the easiest place to hop the fence. After all, we don’t have keys, and we won’t be able to wait around for someone to bring them if we need them. It was just another reminder that, if a situation develops, we’ll need to be creative and proactive to take care of ourselves, our families, and our neighbors until help can get to us.

Jeff came to the assembly point straight from work, so Alexa and I walked there on our own. On the way, Alexa asked where we were going and why. Jeff and I believe that it’s important to be honest with her, even as we try to shelter her from the worst of what life has to offer, so I told her the truth: We were making sure that we knew how to get to the assembly point, because if there was a problem and we needed to leave the country, we may need to get to the assembly point on our own. Of course she wanted to know what could possibly happen to make us have to leave. So I told her that we may have to leave if there was a big earthquake. She accepted that answer easily enough, after I explained what an earthquake is and gave her a sanitized version of the damage it could do.

Then I did something stupid. I told her that she and I already had been evacuated once, from Egypt. Of course she wanted to know why—why didn’t I think about the fact that she’d want to know why? So then I had to explain the concepts of “revolution” and “too dangerous to stay.” Smart little girl that she is, she picked up on the fact that I hadn’t said that Daddy was evacuated, because he wasn’t, so she wanted to know why he stayed and whether he was safe and why it was safe enough for Daddy but not for us. So we got to discuss the fact that Daddy’s job is critical enough (“Mama, what’s ‘critical?’”) that he stays even when it isn’t safe, and that they make it as safe as they can, but that they can’t protect everyone, so they send away everyone who isn’t critical. (“Mama, how do they protect Daddy?”) And one of the ways they protect the critical people is by bringing in extra Marines. (“Mama, what fighting tools do the Marines use?”) Well, they prefer guns, but they also use knives, and in a pinch, they can use their feet and hands, and there’s no one better at fighting than the Marines—I didn’t feel the need to explain Special Forces just yet—so Daddy was very well protected. (“Do the Marines kill bad guys?”) Well, yes, they do, when they have to. (“So the Marines killed any bad guy who tried to hurt Daddy?”) They would have if they’d needed to. And thus it was settled that Daddy was safe. (I also didn’t feel the need to tell her that the Marines actually are there to protect the classified information and systems, and they’ll do that first, but they’ll protect the people too, if they can.) Then we moved on to where Daddy slept at the embassy, and if they had beds, and where the people slept if there weren’t enough beds …

This conversation, followed by the assembly point meeting, reminded me again of the sacrifices we make to live this life. I don’t often dwell on them, and it’s even less often that I mention them. Quite frankly, that’s not what people want to hear about—I’ve even been told that I don’t sacrifice anything, because I chose this life, as if somehow that makes it impossible for it to involve any sacrifice*—and it also isn’t what I want to dwell on. I prefer to think about, and others prefer to hear about, the adventure, the humor, the lessons learned, the exotic locations visited … but not about the sacrifices that are required in exchange for the opportunities.

I don’t like to think or talk about, and others don’t like to hear about, the difficulty of packing up and moving every two or three years. The heart-wrenching goodbyes. The tears cried by a little girl who didn’t fully understand when she said goodbye that it most likely was forever. The ever-present doubts and fears about whether and how this lifestyle will scar the tender heart of a child who knows no other way. The frustration of, once again, having to apologize to every other person you meet because you’re a guest in their country, but you don’t get language training and therefore can’t even say “hello” in their language.

I don’t talk about the days when I’m just done. Done adjusting to another culture. Done with struggling through another trip to a supermarket that may or may not have what I’m looking for, and even if they do, I may not recognize it because the packaging is so different and the label isn’t in English. Done trying to organize and decorate and turn into home another new-to-me house that I didn’t choose. Done searching out people who can become friends, if I can find the time and energy in the midst of all my other adjustments to put in the work to make it happen before the novelty wears off and I’m no longer new and perceived as someone who needs friends. Done saying goodbye to those friends I worked so hard for and who I may or may not ever see again (embassy friends, possibly or even probably; missionary friends, probably not). Done thinking about evacuations and go bags and shelter-in-place kits and dig-out kits and how much and how to explain any of that to an innocent child who simply trusts me to take care of her. Done putting on a happy face because I’m not supposed to struggle with any of this. There are days when I’m just done with all of it, with this whole lifestyle; days when I think it would be easier to give up and move back home to America**.

I’ve had a lot of those days lately. I always do, during the transitions—when I’m leaving a post, when I’ve just arrived at post. I’m keenly aware of the sacrifices during these times … and especially on the days when I get handouts about go bags and shelter-in-place kits. But I don’t want to think about that, much less write about it.

Much better to talk about the adventure, and the funny stories, and the exotic locations. Much better to talk about the adjustments after the fact, when I can talk about lessons learned, skills developed, and strength revealed. Much better to talk about anything.

Anything but the sacrifices.

*The Free Dictionary has several definitions of the verb “sacrifice,” but the most appropriate in this context is the second: “to give up (one thing) for another thing considered to be of greater value.” This definition does not say that one thing is taken by force. It says that one thing is given up, which implies that sacrifices are voluntary; they are choices. So I’m well aware that the person who told me that I don’t make sacrifices because I chose this life doesn’t understand the literal meaning of the word “sacrifice.” I’m also well aware that I did choose this life, including these sacrifices, which is why I don’t often talk much about them.

**On my rational days, I recognize that moving back to America would be easier in some ways, but not in all, and that I would have to give up the things about this life that I love. I’m really not willing to do that just yet … but there are some days when I forget.


  1. Yes, it most certainly IS a sacrifice, and I'm glad you included the definition in here just to bring home the meaning to us. Sacrifice does not mean taken by force! Seems like that would be more akin to theft. But sacrifice, it IS willing. We need only to look to Jesus to know this. So glad you could see through that hurtful comment, and just want to affirm you here that yes, you chose this life, and yes, it's a sacrifice, and yes, most days it feels worth it, but also yes, some days it doesn't.

    I'm SO glad you are being honest about the difficult, scary parts here. I'm with you -- I prefer to dwell on the positive too, but I also know we must acknowledge these darker, though also true, parts of our lives. And I think especially BECAUSE you tend to focus on the positive aspects of your life, we need to pay very close attention whenever you actually come out and say certain things are hard.

    And I'm proud of you for sharing the age-appropriate truth with your daughter. BRAVO. Well done. We all need to take your example in this.

  2. Sadly, "ejected" is a word even my 2 year-old knows. ("That was last year ... before we were ejected from ...") It is a sacrifice. But it's also a gift. The awareness that our children -- and by "our children" I mean yours as well-- have is, I think, a sensitivity that will serve them well.

    The transition is awful. No two ways about that. But the life that happens in between ... that's the real meat of the matter.


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