Furlough (for the uninitiated)

by Anisha Hopkinson on August 14, 2017

After three years serving overseas, our agency asks personnel to take a 6 month furlough to reconnect with supporters, spend time with loved ones, and decompress. As we geared up for spending half a year jobless and living out of suitcases in other peoples’ houses I wondered: Will we even survive?

Yes, change and transition are difficult, but I fear boredom above all else. For my family, boredom is bad. We are the kind that thrive on somewhat predictable days and gain a good sense of fulfillment from having a job to do. We just aren’t very good at being bored and still being nice to each other.

Five months in and I have no idea where the time went. Visiting supporters and sharing about our overseas work definitely takes up time, but it doesn’t come close to filling up all our days.

Furlough, it turns out, is for much more than I initially imagined it would be…

Furlough is for rest. It’s for emotionally and mentally unpacking all the good and bad of the previous term and starting to make some sense of it – maybe with the help of a counselor. It’s time for finally getting a full night’s sleep. It’s time for creative rest by indulging in the hobbies you neglected overseas. Your fingers still remember how to work a paint brush even if you haven’t touched one in years.

Furlough is for food. It’s recovering hours you’d normally spend disinfecting and peeling and slicing. It’s having all ingredients on hand. It’s the absence of typhoid and dysentery. Furlough is all the meals you grew up with and love. It’s for all things dairy, especially cheese.

Furlough is for connection. It’s realising that although many won’t have the time or interest to hear your stories, some will. Furlough is for thankfulness that grandparents are still around to spend time with. It’s family reunions and weddings and new nieces and nephews. Furlough is treasuring those special friendships that neither time nor distance can fade.

Furlough is many little jobs instead of one big one. It’s pressure washing great grandma’s house, clearing out garages, mowing, weeding, and chopping down trees.

Furlough is for medical appointments. It’s for doctors and procedures and really hoping all that insisting, “Brush your teeth!” to your child has paid off with no cavities.

Furlough is for sharing cultural experiences with your third culture kid. It’s public swimming pools, church in English, regionally popular sports, movie theatres, and theme parks. It’s whispering cultural cues like, “This song is called the national anthem. Stand up and put your hand over your heart while we sing.”

Furlough is for missing your overseas home. It’s wondering about your house, your friends, your animals. It’s listening in on every Asian speaker to see if they are speaking ‘your’ language. Furlough is for finding an international fellowship to help you feel more at home.

Furlough is for education. It’s enrolling in courses to better equip you in serving. It’s books and school supplies. It’s library days and internet fast enough to enroll in an online class.

Furlough is for shopping. So. Much. Shopping. It’s spice packets, kitchen appliances, insecticides, clothes, books, sunscreen, Christmas and birthday presents, water purification systems, electronics, nerf guns, and Lego. It’s making purchasing decisions based on suitcase weight.

But there’s no denying – for everything that furlough is, it’s also for boredom. Some days all the jobs are done and you just want to go home. Some days you’re tired of suitcases and other peoples’ houses.

Although there are frustratingly boring days, thankfully most are the good kind. The kind of boredom that’s for naps, walks in the woods, novels, and bike rides.

You’ll be busy again soon enough. For now, it’s ok to be a little bored.

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About Anisha Hopkinson

Anisha was born to Chilean and Texan parents, first tasted missions in Mexico, fell in love with an Englishman in Africa, and now lives in Indonesia. She journals about cross-cultural life, helping people, and loving Jesus on www.namasayamommy.blogspot.com
  • Elizabeth Trotter

    This is beautiful, Anisha.

  • Adam Willard

    Wow, I wish that was our furlough! A little boredom and hobbying would be great! We were away for almost 4 years so we took 9 months back thinking we’d have a chance to do more of the things you mentioned here. Thankfully we’ve had a good bit of time with family (though still not as much as we somehow expected)… but man, not a single day of boredom! We’ve spent all our time arranging for travel/speaking, travelling, and speaking! Sure we’ve seen a lot of good friends and had good times with churches, but not an ounce of boredom, not a single day we were wondering what we’d do with it. Instead, we’ve had most our days wondering how we’re going to squeeze in everything we need to do in the 1-2 days in-between traveling here or there for weeks at a time. Now that we’re the end of our furlough (just a few weeks left), we wish we had planned our time to rest instead of just assuming we’d have plenty of days in-between obligations. Going forward we’re going to plan at least a solid month off, knowing that sure, we’ll have plenty of friends and family to see during that month, but that if we don’t actually schedule anything at all (instead, say “no” to everyone who’s not urgent), then *maybe* we’ll get some rest and even some good, old-fashioned, barely-remembered taste of boredom.

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