Tearing Down The Fence
by Hallie Ziebart
Oh, have I learned how to mourn! My life became not what I expected, or hoped for, or thought I was promised.
Life unfolded, joys and sorrows have come and gone.
Sometimes I feel bewildered. Sometimes angry. Sometimes thankful. And sometimes I feel nothing at all.
Sometimes I want to scream.
Occasionally, a deep, full wail rips out of my gut into the feathers of my pillow. Often, I don’t even know what those wails are for. Sometimes I figure it out right away, and other times, I know it will take time before I’m able to understand.
All this makes me think about the fence. My husband and I just spent 2 weeks building a back-yard fence – nothing extraordinary, I know, but if I take us just a few steps back, you will see why this was such a big, stinkin’ deal.
8 years ago I moved to a developing country with a heart that was full, open, ready, willing and EAGER. There were no walls between me and the world. I was ready to make a difference. I thought, as many others have, that I would just GO and somehow God would make it all work out. I counted the cost, I left my family, and my faithful-to-the-end friends. I left everything I knew about how relationships should work. I left the food I loved, the doctors who spoke my language, the politicians we love to hate, and the right to vote. I left Christmas dinner, and I left dropping by to see my sisters at work.
My heart half-way broke and half-way mended, a million times.
I was strong and courageous, and I kept a smile on my face. I counted my blessings, and was thankful. I gave birth to 3 miraculous girls, and adopted a miracle of a boy. I made beautiful birthday cakes from scratch, I fought for my marriage, and I tried with all my heart to be real – real with the locals, real with other expatriates, real with myself, and real with God.
But eventually, “real” got lost in all the trying. My heart broke, completely. It couldn’t even be half-way mended.
I lived in a city of 8 million people in an area of 5 square miles.
I lived on top of people, below people, beside people. I saw 100 different faces from my front room window every day without ever leaving the house. If I went to the market, I’d pass by 500 people on the 10 minute walk. I would be stared at, talked about, or ignored – but never befriended, never known. And while the sheer magnitude of people once had been ok, maybe even magical, one day it just wasn’t anymore. The wall in my heart between me and all these people was getting higher, and thicker, and darker, and darker still. The wall looked like fear, language gap, and white skin; the wall looked like rejection, isolation and misunderstanding. The wall became one great, big, towering fence of relational loss.
Ah, the fence.
I am in the USA for a time.
We moved our four little miracle kids into a real, American neighborhood, and a real, American house. You know, the kind with a front porch, a 2 car garage, old toilets that overflow, and a tall, wood fence. I never thought I had wanted this, but now I did.
One of our first necessary projects was to rip down the old, half-rotten fence that separated our yard from the park – and people – behind us. My husband and I used a mallet, a crowbar, sweat, blood, and maybe a few choice words to rip out that fence. It was grueling –
But we did it. Together.
And then there it was, our backyard, naked and exposed to the whole neighborhood, and to all the faces who happened to walk by.
The first night of our fence demolition, a couple from across the street came over as we were working. Sweet as can be, they asked if we needed pots and pans for our kitchen. We did, we had none. The next day, the wife returned with a huge, brand new set of pans for me.
The following afternoon two uber-relaxed 20 year olds from the house next door came over to help dig out the post holes. Another neighbor stopped by with a check to help with fence costs – a free, spontaneous gift. As the days came and went, about 15 different neighbors paused at our house (crossed into our fence-less yard) with gifts, questions, handshakes, hellos and enthusiastic offers of friendship. Each night we carried our dinner into the park, eating alongside the park-dwellers in the fading days of summer. We shared our drinks; we shared our chips and salsa. We shared our meals.
It was impossible not to see what was going on.
My wall was coming down, as surely as that old fence in our new backyard.
I couldn’t believe my emotional responses to these people of our new neighborhood: joy, FEAR, doubt. I questioned motives: “what do they want?” I couldn’t stop crying. I wanted to hug the total stranger who dropped by with applesauce. All the grief I had carried for so many years over relational losses exploded in waves of sorrow and pain. I hadn’t known how much that wall was hurting me. I didn’t know how much I wanted it to come down.
I was so very, very sick and tired of carrying a fence in my heart.
Probably here is where I wrap this up and tell you I’m all good now.
But – I’m not. Panic threatens me when I see a neighbor lifting an arm to wave, and I have to breath deeply, slowly. In and out. Yesterday I was barely out of the drop-off line at school before that old, familiar wail tore up and out of my heart.
But this I will say:
However grueling, however scary, however exposing – I am GLAD this fence is coming down.
I don’t ever want to see it again.
Do you connect with this story? Hallie has found encouragement and solidarity through the Velvet Ashes Community both at their blog and on Facebook. Check it this amazing resource. From their website:
“Come Belong at Velvet Ashes – gather, connect, share, and flourish!
an online community to encourage and breathe hope into the lives of women serving overseas.”
About The Author
Hallie Ziebart is an ex-expat who is currently reacclimating to life in the USA after nearly a decade abroad. She is the wife to Matt and the mother of four miracle kids, and recently completed the heart-rending process of adoption.
I (Harmony) am taking the liberty of posting the adoption story below, because I know you want to read it! 🙂
This post is part of Survivor Songs, a 31-Day series. A full list of posts is found here.