This is a question that is often asked of us when we are in the States either for furlough or for a missions conference, or some other reason that takes us there. It's an interesting question, and a good one. It really helps me evaluate where I've come from and what my priorities are.
If you asked me the first year in Honduras my response would have been:
Double-stuffed Oreos, salt-and vinegar chips, Round Table pizza, Dolby-stereo movie theaters, steak, 24-hour convenience stores, friends, family
If you asked the same questions 5 years into being in Honduras, things would have changed just a bit. My focus is less about food, and more about cultural things and people:
24-hour convenience stores, constant electricity, dish washer, friends, family
Now, having been out of country for almost 10 years, here is where I stand, and the way I look at things. My focus has dramatically changed as to what I truly "miss":
Miss: Family. First and foremost. Both my parents passed away while I was on the mission field. I feel like I am too young to be an orphan. My parents were what helped make me into the woman I am today. I still find myself wondering something, and want to pick up the phone to call one of them...and yet I can't. My little family has become even smaller. It's pretty much my brother and myself. The majority of the rest of my family that I had any relationship with have passed away. My kid. Man do I miss her. I KNOW every mom goes through the same thing I am, but it doesn't help this hurting mother's heart - we are a continent away and many time zones away. So there's no just "dropping" in to see her, or her us, or a phone call whenever...
New: New family. People have come into my life that wouldn't otherwise have been there if I hadn't experienced the things I have. I can "speak" to others from a place of understanding when they are mourning for people they have lost - there is a connection that there otherwise wouldn't have been. I hate the reason I understand them better, but I know that I can use my hurt to help others who are hurting. My kid - what is our job as parents? To raise our kids, and send them off into the world to become productive citizens, God-fearing, and independent - then we know we've done a good job. So I rest in that, knowing that she loves God, and is figuring out what it is to be an adult - I call that success.
Miss: People. This is the all-encompassing. This includes my BFF's - the people who I could show up at their door, know where their spare key is, let myself in, grab a beer out of the frig, sit on the couch, and they would come back home, see me on the couch, and grab a beer and join me on the couch, and think nothing of me "invading" their home. Where my deepest thoughts, my hurts, my desires, my anguish, my times to rejoice are spent with them - where I know I am loved unconditionally - that I won't be rejected or turned away because I did something stupid, that they will forgive me, and move on. If my tongue says something unkind, they call me on it, and we move on. There have been other "friends" in my life that were not so kind, that turned away if offended, who lashed out - those people I don't miss so much - but the ones that see me through the thick and the thin...yeah...I miss them. Calling on Skype, a quick chat on Facebook just doesn't take the place of the couch time....yeah...I miss that.
New: new people, new relationships. Some are good, some are hard, some just don't work out. But I am meeting people and cultures I would NEVER have met/experienced if I wasn't somewhere else, in a new place, and hopefully touching lives.
Miss: English worship. The more and more time we spend on the mission field, serving in areas where Spanish, or a tribal language is the heart language of the people we serve. We truly have come to understand the importance of worship in your heart language. It's the language you dream in, you sing in, you read in that speaks to your heart. I'm not saying I don't dream in Spanish, sing in Spanish, or read in Spanish - but English is what speaks to my heart. When I go back to the States and hear worship music or a sermon in English for the first time in a long time - don't look my way. I will be sitting on the chair, in the pew - whatever - and you will see tears in my eyes...because it is so refreshing to my soul.
New: Hearing God being worshiped in a different tongue, in a different culture, in a different country is an incredible experience! Knowing that I love a God who knows all tongues, who loves all people - and hearing those people rejoice and sing to Him gives me chills. I kind of laughed when I was singing Spanish worship songs, and went back to the States for some reason, and heard the same song in an English church - and I realized I didn't know the song in English - so I sang it in Spanish.
Miss: Conveniences. This is everything from having a car, stores open all the time (not closed in the middle of the day for 3 hours for siesta, on Sundays, etc), dishwasher (my hands are scrubbed clean from hand washing dishes for almost 10 years), washing machine (hauling water, pouring it into my washer, switching to the spin, hanging clothes) - it's an all day chore. Potable water. Collecting rain water, filtering contaminated well-water, running out, conserving, bucket flushing my toilet, camp shower, etc. I have never thought about water like I have since living in Africa where every drop is a precious commodity. Our "joke" in our family is - if Madison needed something for school we would say - "OH! I know..we can just run down to Target...or Wal Mart...or the 24-hour store...or Hobby Lobby...or Michael's...or __________ - then laugh...Or NOT! HA!" A car...having a car here is simply logistically difficult. So we take public transportation.
New: Meeting people at the well - other women who are collecting water as I am - conversations, just "living life" like everyone else. Giving out our preciously stored water to those without; NEVER taking for granted what I have; walking down to the tiny stand at the end of the street and getting the tomatoes that have come from Cameroon, and the woman selling them is anxious to make the 20cents on the 5 tomatoes she will sell. Putting my precious cargo in my little hand-held basket and making the 1/2 mile trek back home...stopping along the way and picking up some bread from the 9 year old who is working to bring home money to her family...then grabbing some sugar from the shack that is selling items. While there I see the mouse scampering across the food, trying to grab a snack along the way...talking to the little boy who has a basket of sweets he is carrying on his head - passing along the coins to buy a few...these things are precious moments I wouldn't have if I "just" ran into the 24-hour grocery store. Taxi rides - again - "living life" like everyone else, talking to the children who are getting from place to place, loving the stares of babies and little ones alike as they take in this "blanca" - possibly the first white person they've ever seen, comparing prices and the best places to get vegetables with the other women in the taxi.
Miss: Steak, fruit, vegetables. I have to admit it - I never realized what I had when I had it. In the U.S. you can buy almost anything you want, and if you can't find it, you just order it. In Costa Rica, we had an amazing local market where you could find lots of yummy things to compliment your food. Honduras even had a lot of choices - most fruits and vegetables were available - I even got cherries and black berries. Africa...where we live...get the majority of their fruit and vegetables from their neighbor Cameroon. So, we get what transports and keeps well - so what that means is typically we find tomatoes, onions, yucca, okra, and a green leafy vegetable, and the one thing they do grow here - lettuce. Avocados are not as available as I would think, but we can typically find them if you go looking for them, as well as papaya - I'm not a huge fan, but I eat it because it's a fruit that we can occasionally find. We do occasionally find the random thing like cucumbers, and carrots - but that's a rarity indeed. Steak - man...do I miss a good, juicy, beefy steak! I'm a steak and potatoes kind of girl...
New: We have a mango tree on the property, so when they are in season - we can go collect them off the tree. Bananas/plantains - not as easily available as in Honduras - but we do have a local "guy" that has them and brings them by once in awhile. So, being creative in a country where fresh fruit and vegetables are not nearly as plentiful as anywhere else I've lived has required me to be way more creative then I've ever been when it comes to cooking. Steak? - no...cebu? Yes...or "fresh meat" (bush meat) - yes, I've experienced bush meat, I don't know what I ate, I don't WANT to know what I ate, but it's an experience indeed.
Miss: Growing things. For my entire life I've always had a garden. Growing up my parents had a small garden in the back yard, and our job was to pull off the tomato worms that tried to overtake it. When I got married, Mike and I always had a HUGE garden in our back yard wherever we lived. In Honduras I grew many things from tomatoes, herbs, plantains, flowers, papaya, etc. Here...the dirt is clay. It's solid. There is no aerated soil. There are also no nurseries to go buy dirt from...I've tried totally unsuccessfully to grow all sorts of things. I've tried aerating my own soil, have been able to sprout some plants from the seeds I brought, but as soon as I transplant them, they have all died.
New: Taking satisfaction and enjoyment in what is growing around me. Knowing that these are some seriously hardy plants that can live in this environment - living on the equator the sun is fierce, and the rains are torrential. Enjoying the wildlife that teems on our property - yes, even the black cobra and green mamba that have graced us with their presence. I've set up a seed feeding station, and am graced every morning with the sweet song birds that come and get seed. I see so many different colorful birds that I have never seen before, and will never see again.
Miss: Safety. After living 8 years in the murder-capitol of the world (gratefully that banner has been passed on to another country now...but it's still not "safe"), and now in Africa where we must always be cautious of our surroundings, I miss the ability of walking around without always looking over my shoulder, not having to use 5 keys to get into my house past the high fences, metal door, security door and the primary door, looking through windows encased in bars, walking along the beach at night, hiking through the national forest, taking a break and going "somewhere" to get away - not really any options for those things here.
New: This isn't really new, but makes it even more "obvious" - my reliance on God. Living in a state of fear is no way to live - so I live in the knowledge that I am a child of God, and He will never leave me nor forsake me.
So that's it. That's a collection of the things that I "miss". Do I still miss double-stuffed Oreos, Dolby stereo theaters, electricity? Of course. But pining away for those things is a waste of my emotional energy, so they have become a "fun" thing to experience again when we make trips to the States. And the things that I do "miss", I have learned how to focus on the things that are new experiences in place of what I had focused on. It helps me never take things for granted, be content with what I have, live in the here and now, not on the "what if" moments.
So next time I'm in the States, going out for a steak dinner, a movie afterwards, hanging out with friends - yeah - that's on my list...soaking in a sermon in English, and lifting my hands while singing an English song is great...but don't worry about the other things - God's got me...He's given me things to fill my heart, to learn to love the culture I am in, to find the joys of serving Him wherever I am. To cling to Him and be present in the here and now, not pining away for those things I "miss."