Leaving On A Jet Plane

by Lisa McKay on February 1, 2013

Way back in June of last year, the same weekend that I published my latest book, Love At The Speed Of Email, Mike and I learned that we would be leaving Luang Prabang in April 2013.

Mike’s position is being handed over to a Lao national staff member, which is good. Working yourself out of a job is exactly what you want to do in international development, and Mike’s good at that sort of capacity building.

So this move is a good thing, and we always knew we wouldn’t be here long term.

And, yet.

There’s a difference between knowing you won’t be somewhere long term – that you might be moving in “oh, a year, maybe two” – and suddenly knowing that the clock is ticking.

When we first received the news we had ten months. Now we have less than three.

We’ve spent that seven months alternately thrashing out possible next steps and avoiding discussing the topic because it had gotten all too exhausting. We’ve tried on one possible future after another – holding them up to us mentally and looking them up and down to see how they fit.

The possibilities, and the questions, seem endless. Where will be we most useful? Doing what? Where do we want to be? Doing what?

Australia? The US? Stay in Laos? Move somewhere in Africa? East Timor? How important is it to have access to decent medical care during this season? How much permanent damage am I risking by continuing to live in the tropics with a health condition that’s aggravated by heat? How important is it to my sanity to be able to keep doing some work myself while also being our children’s primary caregiver? Where am I going to have this new baby that’s due to join us in six months? How important is it to Mike’s well-being and the health of the whole family system for him to be doing work he enjoys and believes makes a difference? Does that work have to be in the humanitarian sector? If not, what else is out there? Where do we start looking? Do we want to put down some roots – we who don’t even own a car at the moment, much less a house? Where?

And so it goes. It’s been a long, hard discussion with no easy answers. Mike and I have been forced to acknowledge that as well matched as we are, we are still different people, who want some different things in and from life. We’ve come to realize that some of what first drew us together five years ago has shifted and changed. We’ve had to confront, again, some of the constraints that my health condition and parenthood place upon us. We’ve repeatedly collided with the myth – the hope – that there is an option out there that will be a perfect fit for everyone. That neither of us will really have to forgo some things that we really want.

Ironically, during the six months when people all around the world have been reading the memoir that details the fairytale of our early romance, Mike and have been getting dirty in the trenches of our marriage. We’ve been battling depression, injuries, and some growing and unacknowledged resentments. Failing to communicate well. Trying to come to grips, still, with the earthquake that parenthood has been in our lives. Getting up in the middle of the night again and again and again. Praying for that perfect option (or, failing that, clear guidance) and having neither materialize. Replaying conversations about the future that we’ve already had dozens of times in an exhausting, maddening, spiral of thoughtful decision-making. Waiting.

We’ve been struggling to figure out how to love each other well when it doesn’t come nearly as easily. 

I have moved countries almost a dozen times so far, and these sort of limbo seasons that herald drastic change are my least favourite part of living overseas. There is some excitement at the thought of a brand new adventure, but there is also sadness and a numb sort of exhaustion. Especially when you’re leaving something familiar for the unknown, it’s easy to identify the good in what you’ll be leaving behind and impossible to fully visualize the good that might be lurking just around the next bend in your path. Do this too many times and you risk never really sinking deeply into places or people, never really tasting the good of the present, because part of you is always aware of a looming horizon. Of more coming change. Of yet another inevitable departure.

I don’t know how many more of these transitions my life will hold, but this one, at least, is inevitable. We have fewer than 100 days left in this little town we’ve grown to love and then we’ll be leaving on a jet plane. It’s just … we still don’t know where that plane will be going.

What’s a tough decision you’ve had to make in your own relationship – one where all the pieces didn’t seem to fit neatly? What did you decide to do?

And, what is your least favourite season of living overseas?

Lisa McKayauthor, psychologist, sojourner in Laos

Blog: www.lisamckaywriting.com      Books: Love At The Speed Of Email and My Hands Came Away Red

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About Lisa McKay

Lisa McKay is a psychologist and the award-winning author of the memoir Love At The Speed Of Email, the novel My Hands Came Away Red, and several books on long distance relationships. She lives in Laos with her husband and their two sons.
  • Lisa – I hear you. We’re walking that same road. about 2 years ago, it became unmistakably apparent that our organization was struggling on several fronts. 1.5 years ago, we received a letter that essentially said: “the mission is dissolving. you’ve received your last salary from the mission and you have 1 week to redirect your partners to stop or send your support someplace else.” the funding we thought we had “stored” for plane tickets, kids’ education, etc. had poofed into legalities and questions of approved and unapproved creditors. perhaps some portion of it would later become available to us again contingent upon an approved dissolution plan (we still don’t know… we’re still waiting to find out). so, there we were, family of 10 on the backside of the desert as international workers with no idea when or from where we’d receive our next paycheck and not sufficient money to even fly home to arrange anything. so we’ve also been searching for a good fit for what’s next. my husband has worked himself out of a job here – just as i’m moving beyond the so busy with small children phase of life and i’ve discovered my niche in literacy work, discipleship in the local church and consulting on best teaching methods/practices with a local Christian teachers organization. i’m finally making progress with the local language. and we are leaving in 5 months for we aren’t sure what. we do, at least, know we are flying back to the States – to settle our oldest into university and we do have a year of home assignment to hopefully line something up. Add on top of that – our area of the world is becoming the staging ground for a war, and huge restrictions are now in place for expats in the country. frankly, we’re just trying to hang on, hopefully get our boy graduated and our family out of here in more or less one piece. the rest we’ll deal with later because we don’t have the strength or emotional reserves to do so presently.

    in our marriage, i’m much more the driven one – the ambitious partner who is always pushing. not wanting to get into a whole discussion on marriage roles, but i’ve found that God is pleased with me when i’m willing to lay aside my personal hopes, dreams and aspirations to move towards those ones that my husband and i have together. sometimes they are synchronous, but often times, full hearted pursuit of what I’d like best would interfere with those mutual ones. my husband’s personal hopes, dreams and aspirations, on the other hand, tend to coincide almost exactly with those mutual ones. he supports me totally in pursuing my independent goals, as long at they don’t interfere with the family/mutual ones we’ve both agreed are our priority. and usually, he is a much better judge of whether what i’m doing qualifies as an impediment or not… choosing this is one way that i both honor God and respect my husband. if you will, it is my “isaac” that i lay down. i read somewhere recently that in the story of abraham, God first asked abraham to let go of his past and present in leaving his family to go somewhere that God hadn’t yet shown him; God, much later in his life, asked him to sacrifice Isaac and thus release his plans for the future. i not only feel that we, as a couple, are in that same sort of place… i’m also convinced that is where i’m standing individually as well.

    • Oh, Richelle. What a lot on one large family plate. I’m glad you know
      you’ve got a year in the States, and hopefully that breathing room will
      prove sufficient for engaging and resolving that’s what next question.
      It sounds totally sensible (and necessary) to me to just focus on
      getting on that plane in five months and trusting that the rest will
      shake down next year. Blessings on you as you undertake that hard task
      of disengaging from somewhere you’ve grown to know and love!!!

  • Marla Taviano

    Hi, Lisa. I remember reading about Love at the Speed of E-mail because it came out around the same time I released an e-book called Once Upon the Internet. 🙂 My husband and I have been in the trenches this year too. He had a heart attack (at 34) in October 2011. Six weeks later, our family of 5 was on a plane for Cambodia for 5 weeks. We came back ready to move there for good, and then anxiety hit. 2012 was filled with panic attacks, hospital bills, lots of anger and fear and confusion and uncertainty. I don’t know what’s next, but God is working. I just started a series on my blog today (Real. Hard. Love.). One day I’m just going to link to a bunch of good posts. Yours will be one of them. Thank you for writing the hard stuff.

    • Hi Marla, thanks for commenting. Man! Those things that come out of left field and knock the best laid plans sideways. Hope you are moving out of that season of panic attacks, hospital bills, etc, and that the way forward is becoming clearer!

  • Oh, gosh, transition is so. so. hard.

    When you are in turmoil between places, and when you have one foot in each world, or maybe several.

    Thanks for this honest look into that journey for you guys. I’ll be praying for clarity and peace as you move forward into the currently-unknown.

    Love to you guys . . .

    • Thanks Laura. I know you know this season all too well. Hope you’re enjoying a different sort of season currently. 🙂

  • I am in transition myself. I made the decision to repair and sell my home. I appreciate you sharing your triumphs and struggles.

    • Hey Pete. Hope all the renovations and sales go smoothly. Thanks for chiming in.

  • Kristen Torres-Toro

    Praying for you and for your family, Lisa! And congratulations on the little one to come!

    I hate transition. I’m normally the person who pretends it isn’t coming until it’s actually there.

    • Thanks Kristen!! I do that too. Denial has it’s place, I reckon. It sometimes comes back to bite me though … just ask Mike about the week before our wedding when I suddenly realized I was actually getting married.

  • Alyssa McGrew

    Oh. My. Word. My mouth dropped open when I started reading this post. I just YESTERDAY wished for some perspective on this very topic. This is right where we are. We have 59 days to get out of our (now sold) home, and we just turned down 2 overseas position because they just we not right for us. We’re selling everything we own, because we know we are called to go- but we don’t know where. We have 2 offers, but we are waiting on more details. It’s all just so up in the air, and it is hard. Our kids are feeling the stress, we are feeling the stress, and we are craving some certainty. There is so much to consider, missions board or not, europe or south america, vocational work or fundraising supported. Anyway, thanks for the perspective, and the companionship. It brings tears to my eyes just to hear that we are not alone in this process, in this stage. It’s comforting indeed. 🙂

    • Ugh. I hate this stage. I know I said it in my post, but I’ll say it again. I do. I hate the uncertainty stage. It’s particularly hard when you have firm offers on the table that “just don’t seem right”, but in turning them down you’re stepping into uncertainty and stepping out in faith. Really hope things clarify for you all soon. Chime in again and let us know what and where shapes up. I’d love to know.

      • AlyssaMM

        HI Lisa,

        I was just rereading a few favorite posts and thought I’d update you. We’ve decided that we are headed to Sofia, Bulgaria. We leave in about 6 weeks… AND just today crossed the threshold of funding needed for the first year. Yea! God worked it out in his perfect timing (as usual). How about your family? Any updates?

        • Hi Alyssa, Glad to hear that some clarity has come to light for you!!! For us too. We’re moving to Vientiane, and I’m now 28 weeks pregnant and in Australia to wait out the last trimester of the new baby. Mike’s still in Laos overseeing the move. So (all going well) we know where we’ll be for the next two years. After that, who knows 🙂

  • Oh do I understand! We have one year left in St. Kitts and we originally planned to wait until June/July to look at our options. However… we are already getting SEVERAL offers and each will mean big changes for our family. It’s turning out that our decision about what’s next is going to be bigger than our original decision to leave America and move to St. Kitts. It’s a good problem to have… being wanted in so many places… but it’s a really tough decision trying to discern what is good for our family, what we want to do, and what the Lord wants us to do.

    • Yeah. I’d take several offers over none, but it is really hard to pick discern what’s best between wildly different alternate futures too!! It’s so exhausting trying to weigh up all the important variables in relation to far flung different scenarios. Wishing you all the best as you keep inching forward!

  • What a conundrum!

    After we had spent two years in Santa Cruz, Bolivia serving under another missionary we were asked to continue on for an indefinite amount of time. Only, things would be different. The guy in charge pulled out a list of obligations that we didn’t feel comfortable with. So we resigned. Oh, then *everything* hit the fan! It got so bad they wanted to kick us out of the country, throw up in prison, and shame our names with every person we had ever known.

    Many prayers, many questions, and many tears later we made the decision to stay in Bolivia and set up in another city: Cochabamba. That was 9 and a half years ago. We just learned recently that the missionaries we worked under in Santa Cruz have gone to another country. They spent over 18 years here in Bolivia.

    All the piece STILL do not fit. My stomach STILL turns when I dwell on our first two years as missionaries. I liken it to a bitter drink that left a never ending bad taste in my mouth. That was my least favorite season because of all the unanswered questions. But I can look back and STILL see good that happened. We STILL have very good Bolivian friends from that time. There is STILL an assurance that even though I hated most of it that God has been and will continue to use all those things to work out for the good.

    Please keep us posted on your path. Peace to you, Lisa. Good on ya’ for digging that trench and then getting dirty in it.

    • Oh Angie that sounds so hard. Hard then and still hard now. It’s such a disappointment, isn’t it, when the very people you’re trying to serve alongside end up being an integral part of everything that seems to go wrong in awful and seemingly unnecessary ways. I don’t know if we’ve had many posts here yet on conflict among missionaries and teams, but I think it’s a topic that needs exploring. Not that I’m tasking *you* to do it. Just thinking aloud.

      • Laura and I have talked a little about me doing a post or two about this topic. I really would like to hear a conversation here about missionary relationships on the mission field.

  • Emily

    I hate the in between, limbo stage. The almost there but not yet. For me, it is hardest with relationships. I tend to not want to tell people I am leaving. I have done the vocational thing for years, which makes it easier to not talk about the up-coming move. However, now that I am raising my salary, I am forced to talk about it daily. It makes living in the present very challenging. It makes investing in relationships challenging! I am constantly trying to remind myself to live in the present because I have no idea what the future will hold.

    • True words. It does make living in the present and investing relationships really hard. The temptation is to just disengage and move on, even if you don’t know what that “on” is too. Hope your limbo stage resolves into something more solid soon.

  • LOVE this post. I don’t know where I’ll be going soon either. Kinda gave me tears knowing someone else understand. 🙂

    • Lana, hope the clarity comes soon for you … without too many more tears 🙂

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