Friday, June 22, 2012

Dear Student Missionary...

Dear Student Missionary,

You've returned. You've been called, you've gone, you've served, and now it's done. You've come back changed, whether you feel like it or not. Now you run through WalMart with the glee of a child at Christmas. Applesauce and peanut butter and ice cream and Taco Bell have never tasted so good. Toilet paper is exciting. Friends and family hail your return. 

But you're back to real life. And perhaps, if you're like me, life's purpose eludes you. 

Reverse culture shock is real. Trying to fit back in with the lifestyle that once was yours is hard to do. In fact, it's impossible. You can never fit back in exactly as you did before. Everyone tells you it's because you've changed, and they're right. 

Please, learn a lesson from me: You don't have to fit in. You tried so hard to blend with your host country or state or school, spending months learning the nuances that determined visitors and foreigners from those who belonged. You found a niche and did your job there. But when you come home, don't do it again. Don't try to learn all the new habits and behaviors that make one a part of your home culture. Don't struggle to fit in.

I came home from my year away and tried so very hard to reacclimate. To become the epitome of perfect PT student, to engage with others as any 23 year old college student should, to wear my hair and my clothes and my makeup just so. To fit in with the crowd. To blend in where I've been placed.

It's taken me a year to remember that I left a home culture that I didn't blend in with. I've never been "typical". I'm not an average American. I never was very good at being the cool kid. I don't often resonate with the characters portrayed in films and shows that are supposed to be just like me.  I've never fit in… but it's never bothered me.

I always enjoyed life. I enjoyed it until I decided that I should care what others think of me. That I should find out what the social norm was and adhere to it. To fit in. To become average. To do the things that others did, because that was how life was supposed to work. But in becoming average, I've lost things. I've lost the freedom to go crazy, to cast off inhibitions in favor of embracing propriety. The ability to express myself as I know how, trying instead to shove my thoughts and emotions into neat Rubbermaid organizers, labeling each with a narrow assortment of emoticons. I've lost highs and lows – dynamics. My life feels stationary. I don't feel like anything's moving; I don't dare believe I'm growing.

So, Student Missionary: Remember what you were before you left, too. Don't try to become someone you never were. Embrace who you became in your time as a missionary, but don't cast away the foundation that led to your transformation. Remember who you were, and allow that person to be influenced by the place and the people with whom you served, but never forget who you were to begin with. You've spent a lifetime shaping your character, a character that God bestowed upon you so that you'd be ready to answer the call; don't give it up.

Student missions gave you purpose – it gave you a place to live and a people to serve and a job to do. It became your life. When you come home, it's easy to lose that purpose. Remember who you were. Embrace your former role and let it be changed by what you did last year. 

I am Jessica. I am a sister, a daughter, a classmate, a friend. I was a student missionary teacher. When I came home, I focused so intently on showing others how well I fit in that I lost sight of what makes me different, what makes me who I am. But now, I cast off every weight, pursuing a life beyond the cultural norm and living a crazy life for the One who set me apart from the beginning.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Moving Forward

It's been a journey. I'm not sure exactly where it began, and I'm not sure precisely where it will end, but I've changed chapters. I can't post truly current events on this "jess in kenya!" blog, because well, Jess isn't in Kenya. But I still have stories. Plenty of stories. If you still like hearing stories - bedtime stories, happy stories, funny stories, sad stories - maybe you'll find some here. Your responses and comments and simple act of keeping up with my stories makes me feel worthwhile and special. Thank you for your personal, diligent, and above-and-beyond support. You are missionaries. Brighten the corner where you are.

May God
bless you
keep you
shine upon you
be gracious to you
smile upon you
and give you

(Stotz Up! blog)

Thursday, August 25, 2011


I miss Kenya every day. Some days, I miss it more. Like now. This week. This month. As I finish my second day of school, my students are tucked in their beds, sleeping in preparation for their third day. I won't be there. And to understate it, that's a real bummer. But when I miss Maxwell the most, I sit back with a bagel and strawberry cream cheese and smile at the dinner in the cafe I had with a good friend I hadn't seen for 16 months. And I think: I've missed things everywhere. I really hope - and faith is the substance of things hoped for - that Heaven is a sort of Pangaea for cultures and people and foods. I can hang out with Kemmy and Stacia and Kyle and Josh at the same time. They'll meet one another. We can share chapati and mashed potatoes and, well, something even better than Taco Bell (who can believe it?!?). And it will be very, very good.

Heaven is a wonderful place.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

The Re-Entry

Signs flash the familiar names of familiar places... Bridgman... John Beers... Warren Dunes...
My anxiety mounts. I'm nervous. I'm strapped into the ride, and can't extricate myself from its hurtle toward Berrien Springs, MI. The vehicle seems to be accelerating, faster and faster and faster; warp speed. My breathing grows shallower and more rapid. I feel hot and cold all at once. No escape. No turning back. I want to reach out and push on the dash with all my might, willing the car to a halt. Leaning back in my seat doesn't push it farther away. Collision: inevitable.

I'm nervous. I'm anxious. I'm scared.

If I were a jug of emotions, my eyeballs would be floating in fear.

When the space shuttle comes plummeting back to Earth, are the astronauts excited about home, or anxious, fearful about the 3000ºF re-entry into the atmosphere? Maybe it's a little more enticing to remain in space, floating, with no particular goal or particular place. No gravity to hold them down, no weather to dampen their days.
No trees. No summer breezes. No winter gales. No sunrises, sunsets, daytime or nighttime.

I'm scared. I'm scared that my re-entry into the AUtmosphere will result in crash-and-burn. Or crash. Or burn. Tragedy. Disaster. Unknown. Unexpected. But I'm more scared of life in limbo.

Tuesday, August 02, 2011

Squeeze Play

Bob Barker.

One of the simplest, no glitz, no glam, down-to-earth names you might ever encounter, and one that readily brings vivid visions of prizes and bidding and dollar amounts and games.
One of those games is simply known as "Squeeze Play". A glittering, enticing prize was given a showy advertisement by the personless voice of Rod Roddy and voiceless person of one of Barker's Beauties, then given a price with one too many digits. The contestant's job was to choose which number didn't belong, pluck it out, and allow the remaining digits to squeeze together to make the final price. Once that number was pulled out, there was no time to put it back; the beginning and ending numbers began to move toward each other with a whirring, wrenching, clicking impetus, threatening to crush anything placed in between. If the contestant's price matched the manufacturer's suggested retail price, they walked home (or drove home) with their prize. If not, do-doot-do-do, wahhhhhh; it was game over.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Update #36: The End of the World as I Know It

To my family:

I've arrived! Safe at home... Maybe. Considering I've not spent more than 4 nights in any bed since I arrived Stateside, I guess it's hard to say. Hugs and greetings and unbidden weeping at Wisconsin Campmeeting in Oxford; a few uneventful nights in my house in Frederic; an exploding tire, a southern-born trucker in steel-toed cowboy boots, a state trooper, and a hotel in the rural flats of central Illinois; pool parties and family in southern (heat- and humidity-stricken) Tennessee; more family and a soot-spewing water heater in the U.P.; and long, lazy days in a basement apartment in southern Wisconsin. Now you understand why it's taken me three weeks to let you all know that I've arrived safely in my home country. Of course, I never did inform you what method of transportation I'd be utilizing to make the transoceanic trek; some of you may be surprised at the thought that my steamer crossed the ocean so quickly. But, you know, volcanic ash in the atmosphere only affects air travel these days, not travel by sea. But airline food is quite a bit better than the stuff you find on those paddlewheels.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Journal Entry

I've decided that everyone is inherently decent, and i'm going to be bold enough to test that theory.

I finally allowed myself (or maybe myself allowed I) to get excited when I boarded the flight to Chicago. I guess I was trying to play it safe? :)

I hear people in the line speaking of their African exploints, and see their shirts: "Stop F.G.M." and "Don't trade girls for cows; give them an education", then see them try to cut in front in line... I cringe and find myself quietly accusing them of doing a "feel-good" mission trip: "I'll go save Africa..."
How wrong of me! What have I done that makes me any different? Am I becoming haughty simply because I had opportunity to live away from home longer? Have the differences we've made (or not made) really been measurably different?
Stop your judging, Jessica Mae.

Even seeing the on/off ramps and gree highway signs make me a bit giddy.
The lake! the lake!
Look! Driver in the left side of the vehicle!'s like gawking at a foreign country. :)

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Journal Entry

Good Grief.

We're pulling away from the gate. I'm experiencing the buckled-into-the-ride, no-turning-back, do-not-pass-GO feeling. I've spent the whole day feeling my chest get tigher and tighter. No emotions, no organized thoughts; just anxiety. It's as if I've gone through the "grieving" process already, and I've finally come to terms with the fact that life's moving on, no matter what I do about it.
I worry, though, that I haven't quite realized that I've said goodbye. I won't be seeing the Raymonds, or Charmaine, or Yuot, or Inah, or Joy, or Bob, or ... anything. It seems as though this is a short sojourn away from Kenya, yet I don't feel as though I'm returning, either. Perhaps I've gone through the worst of the missing stage; perhaps the next (first) 2 weeks will be the hardest. Maybe it's like drowning; near-drowning feels just as bad as actual drowing. The 2 weeks I've spent away from the rAymonds, etc. before is as bad as it gets. Perhaps.

The plane's wheels left the ground... my first thought? "And that's how it ended."
No. It can't be over. No way. As if it never happened; back to life-before.
When I land, it will be: "And that is how it resumed." I'm in limbo. Over the ocean, in no man's land. I suppose that's how I feel overall; in limbo. I'm just not sure how long this flight is, or its final destination, or even how long the layover is. Hmm.

Update #35: The Great Migration

1.8 million.

That's the estimated number of wildebeest that pack up their homely selves each year and trek hundreds of miles from Ngorongoro Crater of Tanzania, over the plains of the Serengeti, and to the plentiful waves of grass of the Masai Mara, Kenya.
Sometime in May-June, these nearly innumerable implausibilities - yes, that really is the name for a group of gnus/wildebeest - simply turn tail south and start plodding north toward the equator. The way I figure it, there must be a wildebeest angel out there that gets to give each member of my favorite African species a little nudge and the migratory go-ahead nod.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Check the Microwave

Have you looked in your microwave? You should look in your microwave.

I woke up early to bid adieu to a few departing juniors. Note to readers: the junior class is in my top four favorite classes. Really really. However, in this group of a few departing juniors was an apartment raiding, chalkboard graffiti-ing, water bottle "thieving" girl who taught me Tagalog. I went to bed last night, dreading the goodbye this morning, but this morning was simply a sleepy hug and a few final words:

You should look in your microwave.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

The final Sabbath. The sun's finally decided to come out, and with it, my white shorts and even whiter legs. Dale's guitar is joining the birds' songs on a warm afternoon.

I've toted my camera about all day, just ready for... well, I don't know. It's the last Sabbath! There's got to be something to capture. The last something. The last story. The last song. The last giggle. The last random outburst.
I'm bidding adieu to so many. Goodbyes are supposed to be an event; something final. Something that makes putting an ocean between us bearable. A quick and painless extraction from the web of relationships.

I've got my camera and journal ready, but I know I'm going to miss something.

I'm going to miss nearly everything, in fact.

Thursday, June 09, 2011

Journal Entry

I'm still having an identity crisis. But I've learned something.

Why am I here?
Meeting people.
Helping people.
Serving people.

Wednesday, June 08, 2011

Journal Entry

What gives me the right to traipse into someone else's home with pomp and Land Rover circumstance, dump off goods that were bought with surplus, then drive off, feeling good about myself? What good am I doing, except for my level of feel-good? I feel guilty as we load up multiple tables in the dining hall with more clothing, toys, craft supplies, and medicines than I could shake a rungu at. How is this not selfish?


Graduation. Oi.
Talk about Jessica as an emotional wreck.
Combine the arrival of three family members (whom I have not seen for 294 days); the departure of a couple dozen freshmen (whom I will likely not see again this side of heaven); some of the most difficult piano pieces I've ever attempted to learn (as I am a pianist for the weekend's programs); and the thought that the entire senior class will march into the church, grab faux black leather bound folders, and march out of my life forever... yep. Jessica Stotz = emotional basket case.

Sunday, June 05, 2011

Journal Entry

I know who I am by the way I act.
I act the way I act according to the people around me.
The people around me just graduated and left.
I'm feeling a bit lost.
I'm feeling a bit less "myself".
I'm feeling quite uncertain about my future.

Will I be smiling?

Why is the grass always greener on the other side of the ocean???