This past January 1, 2016, I started our 90-day count down in leaving Africa to return to the States. I’m not much of a last-minute-person and I like to avoid as much stress as possible. So I started my 90-day count down of what I would pack and when; when I needed to make certain arrangements in the States; and when I would start saying goodbye to whom.
We have been through a lot of cross-cultural trainings and one phrase I’ve heard over and over is,
“In order to arrive well, you need to leave well.”
And I wanted to do BOTH well, so I put a lot of deep thought into how we could “leave well.” I thought about our family’s needs: My Love’s need for a low-stress environment; my need for deep relationship-connectedness; and our kids’ needs for expressing their emotions during transition.
After evaluating those needs I decided (1) I would slowing start downsizing our possessions, but not start packing essentials till the very end as to keep our environment low-stress for My Love. (2) I would make sure that as we downsized, our kids would be a part of deciding what toys to get rid of each week and where they would go. (3) We would intentionally spend weekly times with friends and then keep our last two weeks free to be with our best friends.
A couple practical ways we practiced “leaving well” were by giving things away, last meals, and writing letters.
Giving things Away–
So…it is amazing what you collect over a year of life even with a minimalist mentality. And it is amazing what wont fit into just 5 check bags and 2 carry ons. We had a lot of possessions to go through: clothes we brought in the beginning that we never worn or didn’t fit anymore; replacement clothes; kitchen items; toys; random electronics; and ‘office supply’ types of things. So I divided my apartment into categories, and week by week went through that ‘area of the apartment’ to downsize–keeping all essentials till the last week.
I had a basket in our bedroom I would toss ‘give away’ items in, then once it was full I would give to a friend. (The community aspect of African culture is amazing. And what they didn’t use from me, they passed on to the next person till it all found a home.)
With our kids’ possessions, week by week I would ask them what toys they wanted to give away or were all done playing with. Some weeks it would be two toys, others it would be 10 toys–it was their decision. I wanted them to practice making the choices to downsize to experience the feelings in leaving, and to help them realize the reality of, “We are leaving Africa.”
The second step we took with our kids was prompting them to give their toys aways to their friends and people of choice. This also helped them ‘leave’ and created for them relational connections. So Bub chose specific toys to give to specific friends. He gave his TiLung leopard to Z to ‘take care of for him’ while he was in America. This was a special toy to Bub, but for some reason he didn’t want to take it to America so we gave it to an older girl friend to ‘take care of’ while we are gone.
He gave his Noah’s Ark boat and animal set to his class on his last day of school. He did it so they could remember him when they played with it. 🙂 It amazed this momma’s heart how thought full and deep children’s hearts can be at such a young age–Bub is 3! Though he struggled with saying the word, “goodbye,” this helped him. His friends were happy with the new toys, so goodbye wasn’t a sad thing any more. Honey-Bear was great at speaking goodbyes and did her own give aways with a bit more direction from us.
Having family meals is such an important part of African culture: a great to way to love, respect, and honor to the people you eat with. We came to love meal times with other families and value them! So tried to have last meals with our closest friends and their families.
Of course, our friends wanted to host and give us their best recipes, so we enjoyed ourselves. The honor they showed us was humbling. The conversations we shared we so rich and meaningful. These times were so precious and moments I hold dear in my heart. And after 5-10 minutes of hugs, tears and goodbyes, we walked away sad but with a feeling of wholeness. I found myself thinking, “If leaving people we’ve known for less than a year is this hard…we did something right!”
And though leaving them was hard and heart-breaking, the wholeness feeling we felt was from saying goodbye really well. And each time after leaving their homes, we felt our hearts emotionally closing that door behind us, which made us ready to open the doors that were before us in arriving.
Writing letters is a practice I used when we left the States in 2014. I’m a letter girl! I love to receive a letter that I can read over and over again–it helps the love ‘last’ longer–and it is deeply personal and intimate. I’m also not a quick thinker and usually I leave a conversations and remember 10 minutes later, “Oh, that’s what I wanted to say.” So…I again decided to write letters to my Africa friends I was leaving to say my goodbyes.
Through my letters, I was able to pour out my heart and say all the things I wanted to say. I asked my language teacher to help me in this process. So I ended up writing my letters in English, then she would re-write them in the national language. With her help (because there are still many things I couldn’t say in their language), I was able to express my heart 100% to my friends. And my heart felt closure from that.
Since then, each friend I wrote to has messaged me saying how personally touched they were by my words. And though I wasn’t looking for responses, it was an even deeper, more whole feeling to know they understood my heart, it blessed their hearts, and it made our relationships deeper.
So if you haven’t heard it yet, let me say it again,
“In order to arrive well, you need to leave well.”