by James Early
Sorrow and Joy
Our first year back in the states was filled with many sorrows. First of all, we suffered from reverse culture shock, greatly missing the job, the city, and the people that we loved. Often we longed to go back to our former lives, but of course that was impossible for many reasons.
Also, teaching junior high school math turned out to be one of the hardest things I had ever attempted. My only previous teaching experience had been at a non-denominational Christian school, where all the kids came from stable, devout Christian families.
They were not all greatly motivated, but all were well-behaved. But in the public school where I taught, many of my students would regularly say and do things that neither I nor my students at the Christian school would have even dreamed of. I found the amount of disrespect that I received on a daily basis to be simply unbelievable, and the majority of my students had no semblance of a work ethic whatsoever.
Still, things gradually improved as I built relationships with my students, and some even actually seemed to like me by the end of the first semester. Nevertheless, this did not stop me from applying for a transfer to high school in January!
Another sorrow we experienced involved our second daughter Courtney. While still in Banja Luka, we noticed that Courtney had been slow to start talking. We assumed that she was merely confused because she was hearing two languages on a regular basis, and that soon after we were in the U.S., her speaking ability would mushroom. However, this did not happen, and we soon had her evaluated for possible developmental problems.
We were devastated when we received the news that our beautiful, beloved little girl had autism. We soon had her enrolled in a special program for autistic children in our school district, and we also obtained other types of help for her. Although she has learned much and developed somewhat, raising her has been a great challenge, filled with frustration but also with occasional joy.
To this day, Courtney, at age nine, still cannot talk beyond a few simple words, nor can she read or write. Although we have prayed for her healing, and that she might live a “normal” life, Jennifer and I have also learned much from Courtney. Perhaps the greatest lesson of all has been to love and accept Courtney for who she is (a beautiful gift from God) and not for what we want her to be.
Meanwhile, my parents’ health continued to decline. After my mother was released from the hospital, my brother, sister, and I had to put both her and my father into assisted living. Fortunately, we found a place near where my brother and sister were living at the time. This facility had a regular assisted living section, where my mother would live, and a separate wing for Alzheimer’s patients. This made visiting my parents much easier, since they were under the same roof. Also, they were able to have most of their meals together. Still, my mother was severely depressed. We visited them at least every other week.
We wanted to do so more often, but they lived 40 miles away.
One day near the end of the school year, while I was proctoring the state exam, there was a knock on my classroom door. One of our office staff opened the door and told me,
“Mr. Early, there’s a phone call for you. You really need to answer it in the office.”
It was my brother. He told me that my mother had died. I didn’t know what to do or say. I told the office worker, and she agreed to arrange for my class to be covered. I ran to my car and drove straight to the hospital where she had died. She had suffered a heart attack. I was devastated. Even though she had lived a good, long life of 80 years, I still had so many things that I wanted to do with her and tell her. The following Sunday was to be our Chrismation, and she had been planning to attend it. Although she was not Orthodox, she had grown to love the Lord in her later years, and I firmly believe that she is now with the Lord Jesus, awaiting me. To this day, I miss her greatly.
Despite all the sorrow we experienced, our first year back from Bosnia ended with a joyful experience: our Chrismation, our children’s baptism, and our first Holy Communion. We were finally full-fledged Orthodox Christians. The process that had begun a year and half ago was finally complete.
In one sense, I feel like I have finally “arrived.” But I know that in reality, this is just the beginning. I am certain that God has even more planned for me in the future, possibly including my own parish. Until then, I plan to serve him with fear and trembling, but also with joy.
My life up to this point has been a wild ride, but I wouldn’t trade it for anything.
To God be the glory forever! Amen!