It has been almost exactly five years since I returned from China and I feel like I’m just now benefitting from the big picture view. Most of my posts this month will include some journal entries from my time of re-entry and, like re-watching a movie with the commentary turned on, I will comment on my thoughts as I share them with you. In eastern (as opposed to western) fashion, these posts may not be as linear as I would like, but more cyclical, repeating similar themes and thoughts. (Or maybe that’s just the female brain?)
One month before leaving China…
June 18, 2010
“Father God, I give you my grieving over leaving China, my uncertainty about living in Chicago, my fears about transition, identity and purpose, and my hopes and anxieties about marriage. Please prepare my heart for the next step.
Yesterday Adam texted me Joshua 1:9 ‘Be strong and courageous! Do not tremble or be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.’ Joshua was a man in transition (to say the least).
And I just ‘stumbled’ on this in Isaiah 46: 3-4: ‘Listen to me, O house of Jacob and all the remnant of the house of Israel. You who have been borne by me from birth, and have been carried from the womb; even to your old age, I shall be the same, and even to your graying years I shall bear you! I have done it and I shall carry you; and I shall bear you, and I shall deliver you.'”
After being back in the states several months…
Nov. 11, 2010
Lord God, I have so many emotions and thoughts swirling within me and I don’t know how to make sense of them But I know I miss you. You comfort me from the inside. You don’t change my circumstances, but you change my perspective. Last night it’s as if you were saying, ‘I never promised that you or your life would never change, but I did promise that I would never change.’ Lord, I just feel this massive sense of loss when I think about how much time I put into learning Chinese and studying culture. Am I really supposed to just let all that go?”
Dec. 8, 2010
“…Do you want me to do some counseling regarding my reverse culture shock? Most days I’m fine, but when it hits me, I feel almost like despairing of life. Is this a sign that I’m out of step with your will, Lord? Please give me wisdom.”
Dec. 12, 2010
“Under the circumstances, this can’t be anything but an uncomfortable time. Not only is everything in my life changing, but the ground I am standing on now feels more like a floating island (where it is constantly raining).
So Psalm 139 was comforting this morning: ‘Where can I go from Thy Spirit? Or where can I flee from Thy presence? If I ascend to heaven, Thou art there; if I make my bed in Sheol, Thou art there. If I take the wings of the dawn, if I dwell in the remotest part of the sea, even there Thy hand will lead me, and Thy right hand will lay hold of me.” (v. 7-10). Lately, I wonder if the darkness will overwhelm me, but you say ‘even the darkness is not dark to Thee, and the night is as bright as the day’ (v. 12). Thank you, Lord.”
This all sounds so dramatic, but leaving China was very similar to grieving the loss of a loved one. First, you feel that you are drowning and can’t catch your breath, but slowly the grief begins to come in waves, then ripples, then surprises you as it laps at your feet even years later. Leaving a place you love and truly felt called to is grief. But the Lord has been with me each step of this confusing journey. And it has been such a comfort to know that He is the SAME. In retrospect, I wish that I had actually found some counseling. In future posts, I hope to add some resources for those experiencing this that I myself would have appreciated having at the time.
In spite of not getting help (and consequently having weekly meltdowns with my fiancé in the months after the return), one thing I think I did right was turn to Scripture. I find I used many surging wave/lost at sea/drowning metaphors in my journals at the time and Christ was certainly my rock/anchor/true north in a time of life churning all around me.
Have you felt like leaving a culture was like grieving? How have you coped?
Check out my friend, Kim’s post on Re-Entry on Velvet Ashes. Her description of the grieving process really resonated with me.
This post is day 2 of the series “Re-entry: Reflections on Reverse Culture Shock,” a challenge I have taken to write for 31 days. Check out my other posts in the series:
Day 1: Introduction
Day 2: Grieving
Day 3: No One Is Special
Day 4: Wasted Gifts
Day 5: I Never Expected…
Day 6: Identity: Through the Looking Glass
Day 7: Did I mishear God?
Day 8: When You Feel Like Shutting Down
Day 9: Caring for your Dorothy
Day 10: You’re Not the Only One Who’s Changed
Day 11: 12 Race Day Lessons for Serving Overseas
Day 12: Confessions of an Experience Junkie
Day 13: Longing for Home
Day 14: Readjusting: Same Tools, Different Work Space
Day 15: Book Review: The Art of Coming Home
Day 16: The Story of My “Call”
Day 17: Is Missions a “Higher Calling”?
Day 18: And Then I Fell in Love
Day 19: Is God Calling You Overseas?
Day 20: Life Is Not Seasonal
Day 21: What I Took and What I Left Behind
Day 22: Groundless, Weightless, Homeless
Day 23: When the Nations Come to You
Day 24: The Call to Displacement
Day 25: Scripture Anchors for Re-Entry
Day 26: In the Place of Your Exile
Day 27: Resources for Re-entry
Day 28: A Time for Everything: A Prayer of Leaving
Day 29: Journal: 8 Months After Re-Entry
Day 30: 12 Survival Tips for Re-Entry
Day 31: A Blessing
(Day 32: Writing is Narcissistic (And Four Other Reasons Not to Write)–a reflection on this Write 31 Days experience)
Picture from www.canva.com