One of my favorite sessions at MTI last year was one on grief and loss. We discussed 6 areas of guaranteed loss that we would face when living and working in a new culture. As I begin the process of reflecting on my first year here in Kenya, I continue to be drawn back to that session and it has become the filter through which I have been thinking about the last 10 months. I will be sharing about these losses and some related gains in each area over the next couple of months.
One of the two most significant areas of loss here has been identity. We all have a perception of who we think we are – good and bad. When you are virtually unknown in a place, it takes time to understand who you are again. For me this has been a hard and good (really good) process.
In Dallas, I am Stephanie: Believer, audiologist, traveler, resident of the Gooding House, Tim and Pam’s daughter, Brandon’s sister, friend, member of The Village, auntie to too many littles to count, 1st grade small group leader, hostess of epic Sunday lunches, quirky, sarcastic, independent, intuitive, lover of office supplies (seriously. I like them so much that Office Max would be an acceptable date destination for me), member of the best home group of all time and a thousand other identifiers that make me who I am.
Much of my identity has been rooted in my community. I feel confident and covered when I am with my people. I am comfortable and I know where I fit. There are families all over Dallas who feel like home to me – where I could never wear out my welcome. It is that community that has made the homesick days so much harder, but have also been the best support for me coming – and staying – here.
My first 5 months in Kenya were some of the hardest of my life. I was learning a new language and I am convinced there are few activities in the world that can make you feel dumber than that. For a girl who likes to be seen as capable and smart, this was hard. All of my confidence evaporated and with little knowledge of a local language, independence followed closely behind. As friends began having babies, birthdays and weddings with me on this side of the world, I wasn’t there to plan showers and parties, bake cakes, cook meals and kiss new little cheeks. I grieved as much as I rejoiced in those moments, finding myself profoundly grateful for technology and the ability to be even small part of the celebrations. At the same time, I have had to repent of some of the lies I have believed about where my value lies as all of those things I feel like I bring to the table have been stripped from me. It has been painful (dying to self always is) and really, really good.
In Kenya, I am Stephanie…or sometimes Jefanie because my name is hard to say…that’s it. As I start to feel out where I fit here, some of those other pieces are showing up, but in different forms than at home (well, in my other home….but that’s a different post). I don’t feel quite like myself here yet, but part of this process is letting this place and season shape me.
In this season of being unknown, something really cool has happened – instead of feeling lost and alone, I have become profoundly more comfortable in my own skin. I am getting a clearer view of why the Lord has gifted me and wired me the way He has. All of my boring traits like being a detail-oriented, analytical person are really coming in handy as I am responsible for opening a new ENT building where every detail down to making sure gases are piped into the building and deciding on curtains for the windows is up to me. I discovered a couple of years ago that at some point I shifted from being task-oriented to a people-oriented. During my last year of graduate school, I was living in a city where I didn’t know many people and I was perfectly happy to stay at work late rather than make the effort to get out and meet people. I am grateful to see how the Lord has changed me because that kind of work ethic here will crush a person and send her home after a year burned out and broken. I am learning that my weaknesses can be used as well as I delight to see how God has gifted others around me in complementary ways. Those of you who know me well know that this is no small thing. It may be one of my favorite things that God has been doing over the last few years.
These are just a couple of examples of where I see God at work, but the bottom line has been that I have felt more loved by Him and felt His companionship in greater measure than I ever have in my life. I have known the love of my Father in the loss of all the identifiers I relied on to tell me who I am – it has left room for Him to tell me who He has made me to be, showing me how His design for me and who I am has been given to me as a way that my life can be used to glorify Him alone.
The last 10 months have been a time of great loss where my identity is concerned, but it has also been a time where I have had a deeper understanding of what it means to be my Heavenly Father’s daughter – loved, secure, completely covered and created very intentionally for the purpose of pointing to Him as the source of all that is good in me and the redeemer of all that has been broken by sin. So grateful.
Other posts in this series: