Thoughts on What's Next

I've been really struggling with whether or not to post this blog post. I wrote it mostly in January and February of this year, although it has been tweaked and added to and modified many times since then. I've struggled with it because although I believe in openness and generally love to share my processing and decisions openly with my community, this processing has felt a little too big, a little too vulnerable. It's also felt like too many people in my life right now would have too much of there own biases and desires associated with this decision - I didn't want to get some people's hopes up and crush others. But, lately I've been feeling like it's time... It's time to put this out there, it's time for people to know where we are at and what my current processing is. But, let me start by saying that this post is just processing - nothing more, nothing less. This past January marked the four year anniversary of our move to Prague. Since then I have been thinking a lot over the past four years and all that we have experienced in our time overseas.

Looking back over the past four years has actually been a strange experience for me. When I think about the individual experiences I’m overwhelmed by how much has happened in these four years and how many truly wonderful things we’ve experienced. When I think about the friendships we’ve made in the past four years, well, I’m a bit amazed.

But, then I think about the person I was when we moved and I can’t help but get a little sad. That girl was so open, so hopeful, so excited about life. Sure I was still my introverted self, but I remember really enjoying meeting new people and make new friends. The girl I see in the mirror now is far more tainted, closed off and pessimistic. In many ways I feel like I have grown a lot since coming to the Czech Republic, but in other ways I feel like my heart has shrunk instead of expanded.

I also feel like the girl who came was eagerly trying to learn how to listen to God, eagerly anticipating the movement of his Spirit in her life, eagerly seeking him and eagerly excited about the possibilities of his church. I was still my critical, analytical self, but I was excited and open. The girl I see in the mirror now isn’t exactly that way anymore. I feel like my spiritual life has shrunk over the past four years. I am sure that is largely my own fault, but I also feel like it wouldn't quite be the case if we had stayed in the US.

Lately, as I've processed through some of that I’ve been really struggling with wanting to move back to the states. I feel burned out on living in Prague.

Living overseas has a lot of benefits as I’ve written about often before, but it’s also stressful in a way that living in your home country can never be.

  • We have made some really incredible friends here, but we’ve also lost some really great friends due to the transient nature of being an expat – people move regularly.
  • According to the scientists, we have lowered our risk of Alzheimer’s and increased our creative thinking, by living overseas, but we have also put our minds, bodies and hearts through a level of stress that only someone who has applied for a visa, bought a place overseas, sold a place overseas, lost money on a place overseas, looked for a job overseas, and just generally survived the details of daily life (such as going to the post office, paying bills or grocery shopping) in another language can really understand.
  • We have begun the long process of learning a foreign language (or at least Bryan has), but I honestly think we don’t speak English as well as we used to and our English vocabulary has suffered.
  • Our marriage has grown in ways that I don’t think it ever would have if we had not left all that we’d know for an adventure where all we really have is each other, but our marriage has also lacked the growth that could have come from a longstanding mentorship with an older couple who’s been far down the road ahead of us (due to the transient nature of expat life there are not a lot of older couples in the expat community. And, honestly, it would be hard to really be mentored by an older Czech couple due to the difference in culture and language – not impossible, but harder.) I don’t feel that our marriage has really suffered because of this lack, and we have been grateful for the many friends who have walked beside us in our marriage over the past four years and challenged us in many ways, but I do feel ready to learn from those who have been married for 20+ years and can give a deeper insight into what it means to love one another.
  • Living in Prague, we have had opportunities to travel and see places that we may never have seen. We have had amazing experiences that we will always treasure, but we have also missed out on weddings, births, birthdays and other experiences with friends and family in the states.
  • We have met people who we never would have met, and forged friendships with people who we, honestly, may not have been friends with if we had met in the states. These people have showed us a different view on life and taught us to look at things differently too. We love these friendships and will always remember them and cherish them, but our pre-existing friendships with those we love and cherish in the states have suffered over the past four years.
  • Because we are all living in a foreign land, without family, we have made bonds and friendships with expats here that are far deeper than most people make under normal circumstances - friends who, out of necessity and choice, have truly become family for us, but our flesh and blood families have missed out on many of the early stages of our son’s childhood.

In the process of living here for the past 4 years we have stretched and matured and grown as people, but we have also experienced overwhelming stress and some of the deepest heartaches that we have yet endured.

These are just some of the pros and cons of living overseas. I don’t feel like any of the negative sides of these things are alone worth moving back for, and up until now even all of them combined never felt like enough to move back for. But, they exist… and combined with other thoughts and feelings they slowly begin to nudge me in the direction of wanting to move back “home.”

When I wrote before about why we stayed in Prague for 4 years I wrote this:

“We moved because we dreamed about living a different sort of life. We dreamed about living intentionally and distinctively. We dreamed about welcoming adventure instead of fearing it. In moving to Prague we knew we were taking an active step to pursue our dream and become the people we wanted to be, and in that pursuit of ourselves we felt at home. We stayed to continue that pursuit.”

Lately, though, I’m not so sure that staying would be the best way to live intentionally and pursue becoming the people we want to be. Lately, I don’t like who I am in Prague. I feel like staying would in many ways be the easy thing to do. It’s moving, going back, starting over again, that seems the bigger adventure. And although moving back feels like it would be a relief in many ways, it also feels scary. I know things will be different then they were when we left. We would want them to be. We are different people now then we were when we left.

I also think that as I contemplate why we moved here, I realize that our reasons were fairly selfish. One of our main reasons for moving was to “better ourselves”. I don’t think there’s really anything wrong with that, but I do think that I’m not quite in that same place now. I can’t just think about what’s best for me, I have to think now about what will be best for my children as well. I can’t just think about who I want to become, but instead about the people I want them to become. I think staying could be good for my children in many ways, and I trust that if we stayed we would make it good for them, but at the moment I think that the states could better fill both the needs that I see in myself and the needs that I see in my son and his soon-to-be sibling.

I honestly don’t know what this year will hold. We have decided and committed to being back in the stages until the end of the year. Maybe after that we’ll be ready for a fresh start in Prague, maybe we’ll have such bad reverse culture shock that we’ll be desperate to get back on a plane to Prague. But, at least for right now I feel ready to say goodbye to Prague, ready to close the door on this chapter of our lives. Ready for a new stage of life and a new adventure.

I wrote before that:

“Staying in Prague has always been a very clear decision. The reasons [I wrote about] are good, true, reasons for why we have stayed, but beyond them there has always been a less tangible more unofficial reason why we have stayed – something that can only be explained as a feeling or a still small voice saying, ‘Stay’.”

I no longer hear that “Stay.” In fact instead lately, if I’ve heard anything it’s been a quiet “Go.” For the first time since we moved here four years ago I feel completely free to leave. My spirit seems to say, “it’s finished.” There is definitely a part of me that feels really saddened by that. Sad that I might not be living life with friends here, sad that we might not be moving out to Zelivka and living in that community, sad to say goodbye. But, there is no part of me that wants to fight it. It feels right to leave. It feels like now is the time.

I feel very unsure about what the future will hold, but for the first time in a while I feel ready to truly welcome whatever comes.

Rejoicing in the journey -

Bethany Stedman