Every person who moves to another country faces it, and it's practically a rite of passage. The first two months are exciting, adventurous and new. But in Oman, by the end of the third month it's no longer funny that all the streets remain unnamed and never connect to one another - it's a nightmare trying to navigate it from one appointment to another. It's no longer interesting how stores don't sell certain ingredients that can be necessary to cooking - it makes you want to give up trying to cook all together. Those old hobbies you took for granted stateside that you can't do here are suddenly coveted. The ice everyone complains about on the roads and windshields make you cry because you'd give anything to slip on the ice and get a freezing bum on your way to work. A "nice day" everyone loves back home is now resented by you because it's so bloody hot, ALL the time.
By the end of the third month you've forgotten all the reasons why you moved here and going back home looks like the wisest idea you've ever come up with. Conveniently forgetting that you've made yourself a home here already. Add homesickness to that, depression and anxiety, and even more vulnerability trying to build a relationship you desperately want to see work.... I'd reached my threshold.
I'll admit it, in hitting the Third Month Wall I started to seriously look at moving back to the States. I was looking at jobs, what kind of car I could get, and how I'd manage to build up enough of a savings to financially survive the first few months of being back. I built a budget and when everything was practically put together, I sat back and looked at my life.
Depression is a scary thing to deal with when it surfaces. The chemical imbalance in the brain make it impossible to simply "choose happiness." Your body feels weighed down with bricks as you go about your day. Headaches are a constant companion and the fatigue is just unbelievable. It's not uncommon for me to sleep 12+ hours in a day a couple of days a week. My dog has been an amazing source of joy. More often than not the past few weeks my first and only smile of the day came when I arrived home from work and she ran up, happy to see me. To face constant grief with no light at the end of the tunnel is a scary place I've been before, and I had no desire to return to it. Finding myself in it again was a huge red flag to get out of this country and go back to my safe corner in the States.
When I shared where I was at with my boyfriend, he was rightfully surprised and upset. After everything he sacrificed and went through to help me get here, to hear that I was seriously thinking of leaving again came as an enormous shock and scare. Was it even possible to be in a relationship long distance? Not knowing when we'd see each other again? I told him I'd fast about it once a week for a month to help decide if I needed to stay here or go back to the States.
I reached out to a handful of women I trust and through Skype asked for their prayers, received that and their advice. There's a very good reason scripture says, "The way of fools seems right to them, but the wise listen to advice," and "Plans fail for lack of counsel, but with many advisers they succeed."
All of the women I got advice from know me. They know my medical history and they know my character. They've seen me in my darkest times and have helped me through good times and bad. They have the ability to empathize and validate, and yet will call me out and call me higher. These are women who seek God and his Word for guidance rather than popular opinion. They are women who want to see me succeed and grow in my relationship with Christ, rather than wish to see me fail. They're women I trust. And because I trust them, I was able to trust their guidance, though it was painful to hear.
I was reminded that though the depression I'm facing now is similar to what I faced 2 years ago, I am not that same person. That woman couldn't possibly be in a healthy relationship, much less move to the Middle East to pursue it. While the red flags are still red flags, I've learned how to cope and recover from the cause. My tolerance for certain things may be much lower than usual, but I am actually in tune with what my mind and body needs in order to provide self-care. My level of trust in God is far more deeply rooted now than it was 2 years ago, which means I can handle more now than I could back then because I've placed my trust in a God whose strength is made perfect in my weakness. His grace is sufficient for me.
"Give yourself more credit, Sam," one friend advised. "You've moved to an entirely new country, a Muslim country no less, an entirely different world compared to where you used to live. You got a job in something you've never done before and are expected to lead employees in a country where women aren't supposed to lead, but follow. You're in a relationship with a man you love but that means being vulnerable and sharing your heart all the time. You've left your entire support system and resources here, only to have to build new ones there from nothing. Have patience, give yourself more credit. You're doing great considering the circumstances."
My best friend just got engaged over Thanksgiving and it's been a very difficult thing to not be there for her through the wedding planning process. We make do with Voxer and Skype, and that's the best we can do with the distance. And we're making it work. The holidays are always brutal, and I cry at the drop of a hat when I remember going sledding with my kid brothers, or snowboarding with my dad, or even just walking in the snow as it falls quietly at night. Christmas tree lots are on every street corner where I lived, and here you're lucky to get a fake tree that's 6 feet tall from the store. The differences are painful, but there are many good things too.
My boyfriend shows up with more and more decorations to make things festive in my home. He got me a lovely little tree and all the trappings for it. He even put 200 Christmas songs on a USB drive for me to listen to in my car, and printed off a dozen Christmas themed cutouts to hang around my house. He's been so patient and persevered with me in my emotional roller coaster and has never once raised his voice to me or spoken harshly to me as my moods have traversed the entire latitude and longitude of the planet. He holds my hand and shows more affection than anyone else would with a moody girlfriend, and he continues to call me higher as he helps me figure out what to study in my quiet times and how to reconnect with God. He continues to pray for us and for me specifically. As I share my needs we work on our communication and definition of things like "quality time" more clearly and then he's been great about doing what he can to meet the needs he's supposed to meet, while helping me get help from others as well.
Another friend told me, "Sam, God has you there for a reason. There's a purpose in your being there. Consider Moses and everything he went through before God called him out of a burning bush. You're like Moses, going to a foreign land and learning how to live and work and start a relationship like he did with Zapporah in Midian."
I told her, "I don't want to be Moses. I want to live a quiet life, raise a family, work and lead a simple life."
"I hate to break it to you Sam, but you're Moses. It is what it is."
I still don't want to be Moses, but she's right. My circumstances are what they are and I can either choose to submit to God, trusting him, or I can resist Him and the path he's laid out for me. Either way God will be with me, but only one path was specifically approved and even made possible by God. Being here isn't easy, but it is what it is.
Instead of fasting once a week for a month about whether I should stay here or go back to the States, I decided I'm going to fast about having God's strength in this time I feel so weak. He has promised to be with me until the very end of the age. He's promised to guide me with his counsel, he's given me everything I need in order to live a godly life, and that he'll never leave me or forsake me. He will comfort me, and he will give me everything I need if I simply seek his kingdom first.
This isn't easy. I'll be the first to admit it. However, Christ left heaven to come to a fallen land, and entirely different world. He left a place of love and freedom and compassion where all his needs were met in his perfect union with God the Father and the Holy Spirit... only to come to the earth drowning in sin and evil. The more I share in his sufferings, I feel closer to him. It's not easy, but it was never meant to be. We're meant to simply take heart, and draw nearer to Christ in the process.