Day 2: Grieving {31 Days of Re-entry}

Sipping wine out of plastic cups, chatting and laughing about our attempts at painting, my mom and I got to be “creative” (aka paint the same picture as 30 other women in the room) at Studio Vino a few weeks ago.  The teacher kept reminding us to take a break from our painting, back up and look from a few steps back.  From far away, our paintings actually looked halfway decent! 

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. 

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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)

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11 Replies to “Day 2: Grieving {31 Days of Re-entry}”

  1. It must be a female thing, because I got every bit of it! 😉
    I have felt this way every single time I have had to return to the US from China. Every. single. time.
    I found it helps me cope upon re-entering to find people who truly care and will listen to me share my stories, my heart, and my hurt over not being there.

  2. Glad you could follow! (And fortunately it seems like most of the bloggers participating in this are female, so maybe they will, too!) And, like you, I definitely felt so thankful when I could find someone who understood a bit of what I was going through, because I didn't really understand it myself. I do wish I had had the time to seek out a broader community. Now, there are websites like that at least offer a virtual community that I didn't have access to at the time. Thanks for reading!

  3. Leslie, it is such a joy to read your words here, and I echo so many yes' to it as well. I traveled around the world for a year and met the man who became my hubby on the trip. When I went back to Australia (my home base then) after the trip, I now realize I had a major case of reverse culture shock.. I wish there had been someone to walk with me in that time, but there really wasn't anyone, and I didn't have the understanding then of what I know now.. all that to say, so much YES to what you've written here.. and YES to grief and grieving.. It took me years to realize how important it is.

  4. Devi, So glad you could relate! Sometimes I find it's hard to find people that do, so I'm grateful to meet a kindred spirit! Have you visited before? It is a community dedicated to encouraging women who are serving overseas. I really wish I had found it when I was still living in China, but it has been so helpful to find a group that understands what it feels like to not really "fit" in my home culture even though I am now back in the states. Thanks so much for reading! Blessings on you as you write!:-)

  5. I recently stumbled on this series and I'm looking forward to reading more of your thoughts. Last July I moved back to the U.S. after 5 years in Beijing. I jumped into a new job in a new state and a new ministry with a new team after a month at home and it has been harder than I thought it would be. You are right on with your analogy of leaving being like grieving a loved one. It comes at the most inconvenient times and things I never thought about have been difficult in the transition. It's nice to hear from someone who actually understands what it's like to have your heart torn between two home countries.

  6. Elizabeth, Your story sounds very familiar for sure. I can definitely relate to how you must be feeling. I think finally acknowledging it as "grief" helped me to start accepting and working through what I was feeling. Welcome to my journey on this blog-hope it at least helps you to know you're not alone!

  7. Thank you for your honesty and transparency in this post. It helps drastically to know that I am not the only one feeling this way. God called me out of my “heart home” in South America where I had served Him for over five years, without leading me to a new “home”. Within a year of moving stateside, which was spent mostly traveling and training with my new ministry, I met and married a wonderful missionary and I now find myself in a new place, with a new name, in a new home, in a new culture, with a new best friend, with new church, with a new job, in a new climate, in a new family, and living a new lifestyle. I have struggled with what feels like an identity crisis and grieving my old self all at the same time. So much of what you shared in this post is exactly how I have felt over the past two years since moving back to the States. My last week in my foreign home truly felt like I was grieving the death of part of myself and no one else understood (or even seemed to care). I am encouraged to know that I am not the only one who felt like that. I still struggle in many ways, but am thankful for a very patient, understanding husband who has dealt with so many tears. Thank you very much for your encouragement and I look forward to reading the remainder of the series.

    1. April, Thanks for sharing. Praying for you this morning, that God anchors you in him. It’s so normal for you to feel the way you are feeling.

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