Saturday, December 13, 2014

Compassion Fatigue and the Furlough

Compassion Fatigue: a gradual numbing to the needs and hurt of others facilitated by being continually inundated with images and stories of extreme poverty and hardship while not experiencing those events firsthand.

For the first time in almost a year and a half, since packing up our willing-ish family and letting go of our place in the United States, I was blessed to return there just a few weeks ago.

I left with a considerable level of  fear. 
There you have it. 
Not the confidence of a child of the King but plain old worry and fear. 
Common and Sinful.

I don't think it's any secret to anyone who knows me in "real life" that I'm afraid of flying. The irony of my Heavenly Father is that he would send me almost as far as possible in the opposite direction of people I treasure and then to require that I get on an unfathomably heavy piece of machinery for about 20 hours of prayerful uncertainty.  I was uncertain. Not Him.  The flights were fine and actually enjoyable in spots.  The variety of movies blew my mind and I watched SIX of them between Japan and Atlanta.  I ate my meal in peace with not one miniature person asking me for a bite or needing a napkin. Just me, my movies and a tray of beef and noodles. Okay. And saki. I tried saki for the first time because I could.  Meh.

Of course, I arrived safely and every minute hurtling 38,000 feet above the Earth was worth it to spend time with the people that live deep in my heart and kept a part of it in America with them when I left.
Taco Bell with my Bio babies
Hanging with my handsome Daddy

Cook Out and shopping with Mom

As if these weren't enough good gifts, my sister surprised me at the airport, my brother and his family came to see me as well as some unexpected friends who drove hours to hear me talk about the work of Mercy House and give out some hugs.   I am blessed.  And I am fearful.

The fear I harbored in coming to the US again was so little about the flight or any changes in the country I left. I was not afraid of ISIS or a mall shooting or even of changed relationships between me and the people I love.  Not much.

I was afraid I would get "Compassion Fatigue" and not want to come back to The Philippines.   I was gripped with fear that seeing my loved ones,  living in a home with no geckos or bugs, having the freedom to go anywhere and never be stared at even once would over ride my desire to come back to the ministry.  I was unfettered for the first time in more than a year. I stayed up late. I slept in. I had full and uninterrupted conversations with other English-fluent adults who understood even the jokes and sarcasm specific to my first culture. I basked in "me time".  It went from feeling odd to feeling freakin' awesome in a matter of a day!

This furlough was an experiment of sorts.

Upon arrival, I just could not get enough of American life.  Everything smells good in the states.  You can drive for miles without a single urge to cover your nose (unless you're in the car with teenage boys - ha ha).  I immediately noticed how CLEAN it was. I never gave any thought to how clean my home country is before. It just was.  I noticed there were no children roaming on busy streets - or any streets- who were not safely in strollers or held by adults.  And where were all the stray dogs with obvious signs of nursing pups nearby? I didn't see even one.   Drinks have free refills in the states and food portions are immense.  There is too much of the good things and none of the heart-wrenching scenery I take in daily in Asia. At least not where my people live.

These observations made me feel guilty.  I love The Philippines.  And it's not fair to compare her to an already-developed nation.  She can't stand against that kind of scrutiny.  I knew when I was doing it that it was wrong.  But I was playing a mental game of "will I still love you when this is over?" with my two countries.

I was honored to speak at several gatherings about our work with street children and orphans. Every time I spoke, my heart pricked. Every time I showed our ministry slideshow, I tried to hold back tears.
Most of the time I couldn't.  They just came. 

I saw their faces and thought of the feeling of their hugs.  One of them always puts his face on my neck in the morning.  I know that warm hug as well as any. It's like my morning coffee. Just a part of the day.  One of the nice parts.

And as good as life in America is.   And as much as I ache for my big kids, family and loved ones when we are apart, it was apparent that no trappings of good smells, big drinks or clean streets could rob me of that magnetic draw to The Philippines.  It may be going too far to say I was made for this country but I often think that way.   Does God make people for countries other than those of their birth?   Does he place people in one country for many years while preparing them for another? It feels like "yes".

After a wonderful visit with my North Carolina people, I headed to California for the wedding of my husband's youngest brother.  He's adding yet another "white chick" to the Filipino family. I knew he would.  I could tell from his teen years.  Welcome to the family! 
And my furlough wrapped up with some precious time spent with my husband's side of the family.
This time solidified what I knew to be true.  I did not have "compassion fatigue".  I was not tired of the ministry or the country I now call home.  Just hearing so much Tagalog spoken and eating the familiar foods again confirmed it.   I was starting to feel excited about going back - not fearful and certainly no sense of dread.
With the California family
 So it's confirmed. I don't have compassion fatigue at this point.  I pray I never get it.  I pray YOU don't get it either.   This visit to my first home washed me over with gratefulness.  The number of friends, new and old, who came to find out what is happening at Mercy House or just to catch up and have a meal together  was more than I even would have hoped for.  Thank you, my friends and family for caring about me, my family, the street kids of Cavite, Philippines and the fatherless.   Thank you for the way you give and pray and encourage.  And for those who opened their homes and just wanted to talk about "regular life" thank you for reminding me what it felt like to be a mom talking to another mom - not a missionary - for just a few minutes.  It's grounding to have those reminders.  It was sweet and of much more value than it may have seemed as we stood in your  kitchen and talked about our kids.   Thank you.  And again . . .

 I thank my God upon every remembrance of you.
Philippians 1:3 

Thank you for loving, bearing with and understanding.  I pray I can be even a fraction of the friend to you all that you have been to me.  You friends and family members will be the benchmark of what a furlough should encompass.  And you have made it very hard for the next furlough. It couldn't have been much better.