A letter, for when home doesn't feel like home

Dear friend across the world,

This morning I made my summer morning “commute” to Common Grounds, but instead of writing, I peeled away my resistance and opened iPhoto, determined to make the first of our photo albums from Germany as a Father’s Day surprise for Cody. I haven’t been able to look at those pictures for two years, because even just a few minutes of seeing snippets of those memories and that life have every single time made me terribly, truly, sad deep into my core. I was particularly struck today as I spent an hour looking through just the photos from our first month. That month was so so hard, but what I saw looking back at those pictures was only how terribly terribly beautiful it was. I now cherish those blurry pictures on our horrid looking blue couch, how comically bare our shelves were, or how the only toys our children had were a few measly blocks and a couple animal figurines we had brought with us from the states. Our kids outfits were a mishmash of random things, as we tried to accustom ourselves to a different lifestyle, and the photos were evidence of the newness of it all.

That first month was filled with so many... firsts. Later, we would forget those tip-toed, hesitant wanderings, but they were all too real and raw in those early photos to be covered up. Some of my pictures were of things like the washing machine dials, so I could reference the photo later and look up the words I didn’t know so as not to ruin our clothes. It didn’t entirely work, as I accidentally used high heat and destroyed one of Bruno’s blankies. Other photos were screenshots of european sizing charts for children, so I would know what size clothes and shoes the boys would be able to wear. Truly, those photos do not hide the discomfort, the newness, the aches of those first weeks. But they also do not hide the way Bruno’s cheeks were impossibly chubby and the way his eyes would squint so deep when he was laughing. He was completely unaware of the new world in which we found ourselves, but plunged right into exploring everything just as if we had still been snug in Ohio. Seb didn’t know that when he would get his clothes especially dirty at the park that after his bedtime I would be using a plunger and laundry basket in the shower to get them clean. Not to worry, I didn’t stick with this laundering method for long, but money was tight and I was trying to see what I could do to save.

There was so much fumbling, and grasping at straws, and I know that my heart was often heavy. At the end of our first month was my mom’s birthday. Cody’s parents had returned to the states after helping us get settled, and I remember feeling so sad that morning. (We had lived that summer in an apartment just across the driveway from my parents and younger siblings in my childhood home.) I took a photo early that misty September 24th morning as I headed somewhere with the boys. I think it was our maiden voyage to the library, but no matter, that photo is so lovely to me now. At the time, it was a symbol of loneliness, but now I see the rich colors, the sleepy faces, and the unutterable beauty of that sweet German street we learned to call our home. They were babies, I was a baby, embarking into an unknown world.

I survived that hour of culling pictures, but as I left our little Waco coffee shop and walked home in the sunshine, I still felt so near to tears. It wasn’t a sad feeling, but a feeling of great weight. A deep deep weight of understanding of what that year of difficulty meant to me. It meant such growth, such stretching until I thought I might snap like a rubber band. It meant confusion, loneliness, questioning my mothering, my ability as a wife, my worth as a person. But it also meant the weight of beauty, of God revealing his faithfulness and showering the most delightful gifts upon us. It meant so much learning, and savoring the root of our joy. It meant Brezeln and Eine Tasse Kaffee, and hearing Bruno speak his first words in a not-so-foreign-anymore tongue, as we walked our streets and settled into our home sweet home a million miles away from normal.

Originally written to a friend who recently moved to Africa. All the love to you, dear one.