I was riding home from church with my dad on Sunday afternoon, just after Erin and I had two hours sharing about our year in France with the congregation of Burlington First Church of the Nazarene (the church where I grew up) when I made the startled comment to my dad, “that house has a French flag flying from the front porch.” The house was off the highway and part of the flag was covered, but I could clearly see the blue, white and red of the French tri-couleur. I had no idea why that flag was flying, but it made me a bit homesick France sick and left me wondering whether there was another Francophone in rural Iowa.
That evening we passed by the same house and I pointed it out to Erin, who saw the three colors but wondered why the white stripe in the middle was bigger than the other two stripes. That’s when it dawned on me that the flag I was seeing was actually the Iowa state flag. But due to the distance from the highway and the trees covering part of the flag, I hadn’t been able to see the eagle in the middle of the state flag. The fact that I would mistake the Iowa state flag for the French flag shows that while I’m physically back in the Midwest, some part of me is back in France.
I’m working to embrace being back in the Midwest, though but I keep being reminded of the place we’ve left and still miss. There are several things I’ve missed that I’m glad to be able to experience again. For example, last Friday night, after arriving back in Kansas City after spending about 9 days at my parents’ in southeast Iowa, I was enjoying being able to listen to my favorite radio station 96.5 The Buzz when I noticed a new band the station was premiering is named “The Bastille.” I unexpectedly became a little France-sick again.
The next night, I was sitting at my sister-in-laws, thinking about how nice it is to be in KC and to be able to watch the Royals (I really missed watching Baseball while in France) when an updated leaders list for Le Tour de France scrolled across the bottom of the screen. Another reminder of a place we’re currently missing. The next night, we watched coverage of Le Tour and saw the racers go through several places in Provence, the pictures of which can be found in the “Provence 14” blog post.
We are home, and we’re very glad to be home, but we’re missing the place and people we’ve just left. We miss the country because, to be honest, it’s a much more ascetically pleasing place than the Midwest – for various reasons. We also miss the people we left behind because we realize that we may never again be a part of the Versailles Church and the Palaiseau community. We will be able to visit both places in October while we are working for MNU Europe in Switzerland, but we’re not sure whether we’ll ever actually live there again. It’s hard to say goodbye to friends, especially when you’re not sure when you will see them again.
The fact that we say “goodbye” to friends demonstrates the difference between friends and family. While we did say “goodbye” to family last summer, it was really just a “see you later” because we will always be family and we will always make being together a priority. Friends however, come in and out of your lives during different seasons of your life. Maybe we will share life with them again someday or maybe this past year was the only season in which we’ll be together. The unknown of the future makes the loss a bit more acute.
For a great description of what it’s like to return home, check out this post by a friend of mine who writes a travel blog about her experiences living in New Zealand. Denise’s post is also called “Home,” which I just realized after finding the link to share.
Moving onto the positive now, it’s wonderful to be around family and friends. My dad and a good friend from the church picked us up at the Chicago airport two weeks ago and drove us the four hours to my parents’ farm. A few days later, we were surrounded by the church family of my home church. Burlington First is not an exceptionally large church nor is it a wealthy church, but that congregation provided a third of the support for the past year and even surprised us by taking an offering for us last Sunday. I didn’t expect the offering, but I wasn’t really surprised, that congregation (as they do with all of their “kids”, continues to shower us with love and support. The offering was quite timely, too as we won’t get paid until September and are starting to run out of money. I also was able to spend a few days helping with the sweet corn harvest, the sales of which they invest into missions projects all over the world – including our past year in France. Those few days picking sweetcorn was a highlight, so far, of our brief stay back home.
Last Sunday we were with our home church in Gardner, Indian Creek Gardner and again, we were overwhelmed by their gracious welcoming. While it was wonderful to hug family and see them in person, it was a different experience than seeing friends we haven’t talked to for the past year. We stayed in touch with immediate family and knew what was going on in each other’s lives and we were even more aware of missing family. When you reconnect with friends however, you realize just how much you missed them, even though you hadn’t been consciously aware of how much you’ve missed them. For this reason, we were giving a lot of hugs last Sunday. We were also able to participate in the dedication of our godson, whose family is a part of that church. I have to say though, that even though we basically stayed in touch with immediate family, nothing can beat physically being with them. Watching the joy and comfort on Dawson’s face while he has been playing with his cousins is a wonderful experience.
Speaking of Dawson, he had a meltdown on Saturday morning. It seems that all the transitions finally got to him. We were heading up to Independence Avenue to meet some people with whom we might be ministering when we return (for good?) to the US in December, Dawson kept asking when he would see the Ketchum kids again, why his Palaiseau friends couldn’t come to the “dance party” he wanted to throw and why we had to talk with some kids he didn’t know before we finally saw the Garcia cousins he hadn’t seen for the past year. When we got to the house in KC, it took about an hour from Dawson to go from being violently angry to playing with the other kids in his usual out-going manner. The fact that we’ve been sleeping in various different houses the past two weeks hasn’t helped, either. Yet one more example of Dawson’s minor experience as a “third culture kid.”
There is a saying that has been attributed to Thomas Jefferson but he never actually said, though he certainly loved France, “Every man has two countries: his own and France.” The saying actually comes from a French play in the 19th century, of which the French translation is, “Tout homme a deux pays, le sien et puis la France.” Jefferson did write this, however: “So ask the travelled inhabitant of any nation, In what country on earth would you rather live? Certainly in my own, where are all my friends, my relations, and the earliest & sweetest affections and recollections of my life. Which would be your second choice? France.” I have to say that I understand where Jefferson was coming from. While there is certainly no place like home (especially when home is Kansas) it’s also true that you can never really return home, because while you may be returning to the same place you’re not coming back as the same person. What doesn’t change though is the affection you have for family and close friends. No matter where you are physically, I think home is defined by the closeness of those relationships. In that way, we are truly home.
As a fun side note, we had a 22 hour layover in Dublin, so we were able to walk around the city and even have a meal in an irish pub. All the pubs there have traditional Irish music every night, well except for nights where they are showing a world cup match. The food was great, though and even though we weren’t there for long, my wife had a huge glow about her because the “Irish Girl” (which is what the name Erin actually means) was able to touch the same soil from which her great-Grandfather immigrated during the Potato Famine. Here are some pictures from Dublin, followed by some pictures of us picking and selling sweet corn with Burlington First