A Letter to the One Returning Home {for Velvet Ashes}

Seven years ago, with all my earthly belongings bundled into two 50 pound suitcases, I flagged my last taxi to the airport. I dozed on the 13 hour flight arcing over the North Pole to return back to the U.S. after living in China for five years. I was returning home.

If you are preparing to leave or floundering to find your footing back home, then this letter is for you.

To the One Returning Home,

Like a transplanted lilac bush, you are being uprooted. Roots severed, your heart, mind and body are undergoing the silent trauma of displacement. You feel lost, alone and out of sorts. You are a misfit in a place where you should belong. Home is now a wild and unfamiliar landscape.

Like a woman’s body after giving birth, you are forever altered. Even when back to your original weight, your body mass has shifted with the weight of new life, your skin stretched to capacity and back. And yet perhaps only you will notice the difference. Some will never know the life you birthed abroad and how it transformed you. People will want you to wear the same clothes, but they no longer fit.

You carry hidden scars and surprising superpowers. You suffered in large and small ways. But you also celebrated. The first time you were able to tell the shopkeeper exactly what color fabric you wanted to buy, the first time you went across town in a taxi alone or the time you finally detected a spark of something you doubted would ever happen cross-culturally—true friendship. You developed competency in a foreign culture. By the end of year three, you dared say it. You were thriving.

But now your gifts are useless. You no longer need to barter for every item you buy. You don’t need to know where to get your umbrella spokes repaired, your socks darned or how to cook without cheese or butter. Your language skills and cultural expertise are wasted. You cry the first time someone asks you, “So are you using the language you learned?” Because you fear you never will again.

You feel guilty. You believed living abroad was the pinnacle of faith for a person completely “sold out and radical” for Jesus. Even on the hard days, knowing your sacrifice brought a smile to God’s face spurred you on. But now you can’t wave The High Calling Banner everywhere you go. You are just ordinary you.

And you have unspoken questions. Will God love you as much? Will the people who know you admire you? Will you keep loving yourself when you are “just” a teacher, mother, accountant, engineer or computer programmer?

Will your faith survive being transplanted from foreign soil to familiar land?

Garden experts advise you not to prune a lilac bush that is being transplanted. But a person going through re-entry experiences the pain of simultaneously being pruned and replanted. You will survive, but your growth may be stunted for a time. In fact, the garden manuals warn it may take up to five years for a lilac bush to bloom again. This rate of new growth will frustrate you.

But you need to grieve. You may cry every day at first. This is normal. You have mourning to do. You’ve left behind stand-in mothers, fathers, grannies, grandpas, aunties, uncles, sisters and brothers. They adopted you and were the fulfillment of God’s promise to you to “put the lonely in families.”

Perhaps you are leaving spiritual children behind. You bumbled and fumbled with language, but trusted God would speak. And He did. You saw lives transformed by God working in spite of you. A transplanted lilac bush inevitably leaves some roots behind. You will need to mourn the parts of you that will stay in your foreign country. Not every piece of you will return …

Continue reading at Velvet Ashes.

Monthly Mentionables {December}: Books, podcasts, recipes & articles

My family spent Christmas here in Grand Lake, CO with my parents, brothers and their families. It was breathtaking and good for my soul.

Hygge, “woke,” enneagram, writing, submissions, edits, rough drafts, pregnancy, depression, minivan, lament, Jesus, racism, election, baby, church-hopping, twitter and podcast are all words I would use to distill down the essence of 2016 for me. I have written at length about some of these, will write about some others in 2017 and may keep some of these things to myself as I continue to learn and process.

Which words characterized your year?

I’ve been planning posts for the year and will have a series soon called 12 Days of Books where I’ll be sharing all my favorite books. I’d love for you to join me and if you have a blog, you are welcome to share links to your book posts in the comments section! 

Here are some of the books, podcasts, recipes, articles and writing I have been into this month:



Books

On Writing Well: The Classic Guide to Writing Nonfiction, by William Zinsser
The first time I read this was for a writing class in college, so I was due for a refresher. It was just as helpful as I remembered and is a book I will return to in the future.


Blue Horses: Poems, by Mary Oliver
I’m still experimenting with poetry and I read this one in one sitting. A friend of mine advised that poetry be read and enjoyed like a glass of wine, but I don’t always have that luxury these days! I want to pick up some more books by Mary Oliver. I liked this one, but I still feel like an amateur when it comes to poetry, so I’ll refrain from giving too much of my opinion since I don’t feel qualified yet.

Parenting Without Borders: Surprising Lessons Parents Around the World Can Teach Us, by Christine Gross-Loh, Ph.D
I’m adding this to my list of favorite parenting books. As someone who has lived overseas and studied culture in grad school, I love books that explore non-western ways of doing things. This book has provided fodder for interesting conversations about preconceived notions about parenting. 

Several Short Sentences about Writing, by Verlyn Klinkenborg
The first thing you will notice about this book is the structure. Every sentence begins with a new line.  This as well as On Writing Well, both emphasize the need for short, clean sentences. I loved this book and it is on my list of favorite books about writing.



Podcasts
(Check out my favorite podcasts of 2016 here!)

Faith Conversations: Anita Lustrea

Mark Scandrette 
(His wife shared this post on SheLoves last month!)

Esther Emery

Carolyn Custis James

Makoto Fujimura

Lisa Sharon Harper

On Justice and Reconciliation

Faithfully Podcast

Will Christians Ever Get Race Relations Right?

White Christians, the Confederate flag and the Civil War

Black Lives Matter, the Black Church and the Prosperity Gospel

Hopewriters

I binge-watched every single episode of their second season in a week;-) The episode with Ann Voskamp was very powerful, but I would recommend all of these episodes to anyone who is interested in writing or blogging.

Sorta Awesome

The awesome freedom of the DON’T do list

The best in books & reading for 2016 

T.V.

Aside from forcing myself to watch the Gilmore Girl’s reunion on Netflix (I have to), I would highly recommend the much more life-changing, important documentary called 13th, which is also on Netflix right now. It falls right in line with all that I’ve been studying this year and features Bryan Stevenson and Michelle Alexander among others who take a deeper look into the prison system in the U.S. 

Recipes


For a new Christmas morning tradition, I used this cinnamon roll recipe shared by a woman from the Velvet Ashes community. I made them ahead the night before, froze them before the second rise and left them out of the oven 30 minutes before cooking.  They turned out perfectly!


We had two familes over and made Chinese hot pot for New Years Eve. Although I probably had hot pot about 30 times in my five years in China, I used this site as a guide for what to buy in the states. I bought this hot pot from Amazon and found the spice packs at our local Asian market. Though it was a bit tricky trying to feed kids who aren’t the best at waiting, it was such a fun, communal meal and I’ll definitely do it again!

Thought-provoking Articles from the Web:

Favorite Fiction of 2016, by Leigh Kramer on her blog (I’m using this list with my book club to pick out some fiction books this year.)

It’s Not Just a Danish Word that Made Dictionary’s shortlist; It’s a Lifestyle, by NPR (an article on hygge!)

Life After ‘The New Jim Crow,’ by Brentin Mock of Citylab (an interview with Michelle Alexander, author of The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness)

Where Love Abides, by Leah Abraham at SheLoves Magazine (a reflective practice for the new year)

4 Ways White People Can Process Their Emotions Without Bringing the White Tears, by Jennifer Loubriel of Everyday Feminism

10 Reflections on Ten Years of Reentry, by Ruthie at Rockyreentry.com

30 of the Most Important Articles by People of Color in 2016, by Zeba Blay for Huffington Post

55 of the Best Diverse Picture and Board Books of 2016, by Mrs. G at hereweread.com


In Case You Missed it:

6 Things to Do When You Live on White Island 

When You’ve Lost Your Wings {a poem}

Breastfeeding and the Liturgy of the Hours {for SheLoves}

***

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**This post contains affiliate links!  

Linking up with Leigh Kramer

 

When You Feel Like God Misled You {Middle Places}

I am honored to be sharing at the Middle Places online community today.


God misled me and lost my trust. From the time I was 16 I believed that I was created to be a missionary. Once, on a flight with violent turbulence, I actually had the thought God won’t let this plane go down, because He needs me to do His work.

It sounds so arrogant now, but at the time it felt incredibly faith-filled.

It’s been 20 years since my original calling and not only am I not living in a hut leading people to Jesus, I just test drove my first mini-van. I’m “just” a regular old stay-at-home mom with a dishwasher and attached garage.

But living abroad did end up being a significant part of my story. From 2005 to 2010 I lived in northwest China, intending to be there forever–even if it meant being single. But God’s narrative looked much different from what I had planned for myself and He had me fall in love with an actor in Chicago who, while open to God’s leading, was not “called to missions.” But he was God’s pick for me. And it was time to go home.

If you’ve ever lived abroad, then you know that your insides feel about like the innards of a baseball as you try and untangle your values, identity and worth as you readapt to a culture that should feel like home, but doesn’t. Now referred to as re-entry, it is synonymous with an astronaut re-entering Earth after adapting to space.

Imagine Alice returning from the Looking Glass, Peter, Susan, Edmund and Lucy stepping back out of the wardrobe or Dorothy returning from Oz and you have a bit of a picture of how you might feel after adapting to another culture.

But add in falling in love with that country, culture and people and you have another layer to step through.
And it broke me….continue reading at Middle Places 

Next Post: The message on the bathroom stall

Looming Transitions {Book Review}

Looming Transitions {Book Review} Are you either preparing for a transition or already weathering one?  In Looming Transitions: Starting and Finishing Well in Cross-Cultural Service, by Amy Young, you'll feel like a good friend is holding your hand as you ride the waves of change.

Are you either preparing for a transition or already weathering one?  In Looming Transitions: Starting and Finishing Well in Cross-Cultural Service, by Amy Young, you’ll feel like a good friend is holding your hand as you ride the waves of change.  It is specifically written for those preparing to live abroad or those coming home, but many of the truths throughout the book are applicable to any of life’s transitions.

Having spent over 20 years living in China, Amy returned to the states a few years ago.  She writes out of her vast experience interacting with goers, stayers and returners and offers practical and wise advice on staying grounded in Christ, packing, and the messy emotional aspects of cross-cultural transition such as shifts in identity, loneliness, grieving losses and grasping God’s new plan.
Looming Transitions {Book Review} Are you either preparing for a transition or already weathering one?  In Looming Transitions: Starting and Finishing Well in Cross-Cultural Service, by Amy Young, you'll feel like a good friend is holding your hand as you ride the waves of change.
Amy acknowledges the challenges of leaving “home,” and yet offers hope that life will go on in spite of this transition.  Throughout the book, she refers to the long-view the farmer takes of his field and the care given to ensure that it is fertile.  She makes the comparison that we are to keep our souls fertile through our transition, which may require us to “let roles or locations or seasons of life die so there is space for the new to grow” (p. 12).

As someone who personally experienced a rocky re-entry after returning from living in China for five years, I wish a book like this had been available to give me better perspective on the emotions I was feeling at the time. 

Amy Young was actually in leadership in my organization at the time I made the decision to go home and I remember being nervous to tell her that I was leaving China and would most likely get married and not return.  I will never forget her response to me.  “Life is long,”  she said.  “The longer I live, the more I realize that life is long.”  Written concisely and eloquently, this book rings with the grace and peace of that statement.  It is a reminder that while we get wrapped up in the momentary stress of our transition and begin to define our lives by it, God sees the big picture.  His main concern is that our souls remain fertile not just for this season, but for all those to come.

Thank you, Amy, for writing such a poignant and needed book.  I will be returning to it throughout the transitions in my life.  You have blessed many already. 

~~~

Amy Young is currently on the leadership team of Velvet Ashes–an online community for women in cross-cultural service.  She also blogs regularly at The Messy Middle.

Buy Looming Transitions at Amazon here!

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Related Posts:
A Blessing {for those returning}
Book Review:  The Art of Coming Home
Resources for Re-entry
Introduction: 31 Days of Re-entry

Previous Post~ Motherhood & the Big Picture
Next Post~ 10 Quotes for Writers {Thursday Thoughts for Writers}

Looming Transitions {Book Review} Are you either preparing for a transition or already weathering one?  In Looming Transitions: Starting and Finishing Well in Cross-Cultural Service, by Amy Young, you'll feel like a good friend is holding your hand as you ride the waves of change.

Looming Transitions {Book Review} Are you either preparing for a transition or already weathering one?  In Looming Transitions: Starting and Finishing Well in Cross-Cultural Service, by Amy Young, you'll feel like a good friend is holding your hand as you ride the waves of change.

*Graphics courtesy of Amy Young 

Day 31: A Blessing {31 Days of Re-Entry}

For the one who feels grateful and hopeful,
may you rejoice and give thanks for this chapter in your life (Phil. 3:1).
For the one who feels alone,
may you have courage to keep moving forward and to know that God will never leave you or forsake you (Deut. 31:6). 
For the one who feels like a failure,
may you trust that God is the One who accomplishes His purposes and that sometimes we are to wait in faith for Him to bring the harvest (Is. 55:11).
For the one who feels lost,
may you dwell in the shelter of the Most High and abide in the shadow of the Almighty (Ps. 91:1).
For the one who feels uprooted,
may you soon be able to put roots downward and bear fruit upward
(Is. 37:31; Jer. 17:7-8).
For the one who feels powerless and out of control,
may you keep your eyes fixed on Jesus as you walk on the waves (Mat. 14:22-33).
For the one who is leaving under bitter or tragic circumstances,
may God comfort you as a parent comforts their child (Is. 66:13).
For the one who is unsure of the next step,
may God’s Word light your path one step at a time (Ps. 119:105).
For the one who is not sure who they are anymore,
may you accept that you are hidden with Christ in God and that you are a child of the King (Col. 3:3; Jn. 1:12-13).
For the one who is burnt out and weary,
may you transfer your burden to Christ and find rest for your soul (Mat. 11:28-30).
For the one who left behind conflict with teammates or nationals,
may you do what you can to have peace, but then leave the conflict at the altar and move on (2 Cor. 2:1-14).
For the one who needs rest, but must keep serving, giving and working,
may you be given strength (Is. 40:28-31).
For the one who has made great sacrifices,
may you receive the joy of knowing that Christ, our broken bread and poured out wine, loves a cheerful giver (2 Cor. 9:7).
For the one who feels disillusioned, jaded or cynical,
may you find faith even the size of a mustard seed to ask God to help your unbelief (Mat. 17:20; Mk. 9:24).
And for the one who saw miracles, answers to prayer and souls saved,
may you boast in and praise the Lord for all that He has done (Ps. 34:1-3).
May you feel the pleasure and presence of Christ as you walk forward into this next chapter of your life
and experience even more of His fullness and grace. 
Though your place may change, the Person you are planted on never will,
for He is the same yesterday, today and forever (Heb. 13:8).
Amen.

~~~~~~

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This post is day 31 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)

Day 30: 12 Survival Tips for Re-Entry {31 Days of Re-Entry}


As we’ve established, any number of metaphors can aptly illustrate your re-entry experience: trapped underwater, on a boat in raging waters, emerging from another world like Dorothy in Oz or Alice through the Looking Glass or the story behind the word re-entry itself– the feeling that you are re-entering Earth from outer space.  No matter the metaphor, whether you feel a tremor or have your whole world collapse (just to add another metaphor to the mix), I hope that these tips will be useful in getting you stabilized. 

1. Leave Well
Leaving begins months before you actually leave.  Be sure to leave ample time to sort through and give away anything you won’t be bringing back with you (which, if you have truly strived to make your foreign house your home, you may have a ton).  Sort, give away and sell your possessions well before you need to do your final packing and goodbyes.

Make a bucket list of places you want to visit in the last six months of your stay.  Another really insightful blog series called Falling Forward: Thoughts and Tips on Transition, mentions this as well as intentionally meeting with friends to tell them how much they have meant to you.  If you’re like me and have a hard time doing this, I find writing letters or notes to friends meets the same need.  But however much you would like to skip this step, grieving will actually be more difficult if you don’t try and reach some form of closure before you leave.  

2. Prepare
Come back to this blog series!  But seriously, read articles, books and talk to friends BEFORE you leave so that you have a better idea of what to expect.  If you are reading this now before your departure, then you are already on track.  If you can, attend a conference as soon as you return, but be sure to book it well in advance since many of the good ones fill up early.  It’s kind of the idea of reading marriage books before you are engaged because once you are engaged you’ll discuss the wedding more than that actual marriage to follow. 

You may be in too much of a fog when you return to actually crack open the books or seek out the help you need.  Find and read them beforehand (check out my resource page here).  You may also want to prepare your loved ones by telling them that you may need a little extra TLC in the coming weeks and months.

3. Express
Cry, journal, talk, pray, email or text friends–do whatever it takes to work out your emotions.  I had no problem with the crying, praying or journaling thing, but I had a hard time finding people to talk to who could actually relate to what I was going through.  Find someone who understands and if you can’t, the website Velvet Ashes has some connection groups for women to  join online for encouragement and accountability.  

I can’t speak for men, but being married to one, I would imagine that this tip of surviving re-entry would be the most difficult to tackle.  Perhaps find a female friend to listen to you?  We’re usually pretty good listeners:-)

4. Be a Tourist in Your Hometown
Though Chicago had interesting sites galore, because I didn’t have the attitude of a tourist, I didn’t look for opportunities to explore and be an adventurer in my hometown. I think having that mentality would have helped with my transition.  Even if you live in Dixon, IL, population 16,000 (my husband’s hometown), you could find at least one or two new places to explore.  Take on the attitude of an observer and learner just as you did in a foreign country.

5. Do the Next Thing
You may have heard of this poem by an anonymous poet, but quoted by Elisabeth Elliot, titled “Do the Next Thing.”  For a while, this is how you are going to need to live.  You may need to find a new job, housing, buy a car, acquire new stuff and get reacquainted with friends and family.  Just worry about what you need to do today.  Then do the next thing.  And then the next thing after that.  God will show you, lead you and guide you, but, as Amy Carmichael mentioned in  Candles in the Dark in her devotion titled “The Next Step,” the lamp unto our feet may only light our footsteps one step at a time (Ps. 119:105).

6. Give People a Chance
Your loved ones, while they may have read all your newsletters and correspondence, will most likely not have a framework for what you have experienced.  Imagine talking to someone who has literally gone to the moon.  You would be fascinated…until they start boring you with the technicalities of cargo, equipment and heat shields.  Give them grace and give them information over a period of time and not all at once. 

Along with this, it is easy to assume that people you meet have NO idea what you have experienced, and they may surprise you with their own stories.  Just be prepared with a 20 second, five minute and 15 minute answer to the question, “How was your time in X?”  Read their body language carefully to see if they are the slightest bit interested before you launch into the long answer (shifting eyes and a quick excuse to get another drink is a sure sign of “get me out of here”).  You have lovely stories, just save them for those who love you the most.  And be prepared for people to ask you if and when you are going back.

7. Adjust Your Attitude
This is a difficult one because it will actually be difficult to control your attitude at first.  You are going to love being back, but then, much like culture shock, you are going to hate. it.  And depending on where you lived, you will especially hate the materialism, the fact that you have to choose from 247 bottles of salad dressings and have to decode the newest food and diet fads.  I practically had a break down in one of the biggest Whole Foods in America because I just couldn’t choose what to eat in their café section.

But you need to tell yourself the same thing you told yourself when you moved to an entirely new culture: 
“This country is not better or worse, just DIFFERENT.  It’s just different.”  Say it out loud.  “Not better or worse, just DIFFERENT.”

8. Have Patience
I mentioned in an earlier post that you will want to know how long this foggy, drowning, lost feeling will last and I hate to tell you that it will last much longer than you think it should.  Just as grief begins to spread out into slow, lapping waves, like a boat that has gone by and left its wake, your grief over leaving your old life will return months and even years after you have come back.  A big fear I had was that I would forget all that I had experienced, so one positive aspect of this recurring grief is that it forces you to remember.     

9. Take Root and Bear Fruit
If you are a Jesus follower, my advice to you is to cling to Him.  And as you do, He will enable you to begin to put down some roots in the city where you are living, which will lead to bearing fruit (Is. 37:31).  It may take a little while, but eventually you will need to accept that God has led you home and that He has new ways He wants to bless, grow, mature and use you.  Though your world may feel like it’s spinning hypnotically around, God is in control and He is the same at home that He was abroad.  He is your constant and His Word is a great stabilizer.

10. Find an Outlet
Depending on where you live, you may be able to find other cultures right in your town–even if it’s just an ethnic restaurant, a 7-Eleven or a nail salon.  Since coming back, I found a place to tutor Chinese women trying to get their citizenship, volunteered at an ESL class (with my baby, I might add), hosted an international student party, had a Saudi Arabian girl live with us for a year, and taught at a private Christian school in Chinatown (it all sounds a lot more impressive than it is-some of these were only for a short time–just giving you ideas!).  If you live anywhere near a university or even a community college, most of these places have international students who would love to befriend a native speaker. 

11. Go Back
I had the opportunity to go back to Uganda seven years after I first left, and China, a year after I left. It was so helpful to return to those places to remind me of the realities of living in another country when I had begun to romanticize my previous experience.  Going back to China, it was strange to feel so at home at a place, and yet have so much clarity about being back in the states.  If you have the chance, returning to the place where you lived is a helpful way to further bring closure to your experience.

12. Reflect on Your Experience
You have changed.  You have faced challenges, learned new languages, seen God answer prayers in miraculous ways, been used in spite of your weaknesses and been given what you needed exactly when you needed it.  

Or maybe your leaving wasn’t under the best of circumstances and you feel bitter and wounded.  You feel angry at God and doubt whether He even led you there to begin with.  

Don’t just jump back into the rushing current of your hometown busyness, but take the time to reflect and consider where you have come from and where you are going.  Sit quietly.  Listen.  Get away. Have a silent retreat.  If you have kids, then try and spend some time alone as a family for a week or two in a place where you can decompress. 

If you can, don’t start a new job immediately, but take the time to sit and interact with your experience.  Check out the prayer on this post and insert your own story into the lines.

This is not the end of your story.  This is the end of a chapter in the story of your life, but you are ultimately not defined by this isolated experience.  You are deeply loved by a God who gave you the gift of living in a place where you didn’t fit in order to change your perspective forever. 

And this is not the end of the gifts He wants to give you, beloved child of the King.  This is just the beginning.

What tips would you add to this list?  Which ones do you think will be most challenging for you?

~~~~~~

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This post is day 30 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)

Day 29: Journal: 8 Months After Re-Entry {31 Days of Re-Entry}

From my journal:

March 26, 2011
“The L [elevated subway in Chicago] is going by.  The windows catch the sunlight and toss it back into our apartment. The other night the sun was setting on the other side of the train and presented a light show with the beams dancing in through our kitchen as the train slowed to a stop.

Lord, I pray for freedom to live my life fully here.  I still feel major guilt in leaving China and especially in being so bad about keeping up with my good friends there.  My defense mechanism has been to just cut everyone off so I won’t be reminded of China.  But I know that’s not healthy.  Help me Jesus. 

Help me to know how to allow China to stay with me and be a part of my identity and yet still live fully here in America. 

Break my heart for the people all around me and give me chances to speak Truth to them.  Show me how to be a missionary in my own country. 

Help me to listen to your Holy Spirit and give me a greater sensitivity to Him whispering to me on the lake path, in our car on my way to work, through the aisles of the produce store, on our couch in our tiny condo and in the halls of school. 

You have not changed.  You are the same yesterday, today and forever.  And You will be with me until the end of the age.

Lately, I feel like I’m just full of tangled up string or rubber bands–like the inside of a baseball.  My emotions are so tangled that it seems impossible to bring order to them all.

Forgive me for trying to do life on my own.”

If you are in the midst of your re-entry, how would you describe your feelings?  Do any word pictures come to mind?

~~~~~~

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This post is day 29 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)

Photo: By Lewis Ronald (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Day 28: A Time for Everything: A Prayer of Leaving {31 Days of Re-Entry}

There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens:

Jesus, as I leave China, I thank you for this chapter of my life.

a time to be born and a time to die,
Gifts and talents I never realized I had were born, but I have also been forced to die to myself, my “rights,” and my desire for the comforts of home.

a time to plant and a time to uproot,
By your grace, many seeds of Truth have been planted and many of my assumptions and presuppositions have been uprooted.

a time to kill and a time to heal,
You have had to kill the sin of cynicism, prejudice, pride, grumbling, and gossip in me and you have brought healing to many of my broken places.

a time to tear down and a time to build,
At times I have felt like a failure.  I have started work and had to tear it down again.  I feel like I have wasted time and money in the process.  But other times, I have had the chance to see projects succeed and flourish. 

a time to weep and a time to laugh,
I have cried for reasons I could not always explain and laughed at myself and the bizarre aspects of the culture I have lived in.  This laughter has been a healing balm on days when I have just wanted to weep.

a time to mourn and a time to dance,
I have mourned what I have missed back home:  new babies born, being in friend’s weddings, funerals, family holidays, and watching my nieces and nephews grow up.  But I have rejoiced over reaching personal goals in language, understanding the culture and seeing Christ change lives.  I have danced with joy in these moments.

a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,
I have had to let go of dreams by moving abroad.  When I first came, it was the hope of a spouse and children and the longer I stayed, I knew I would also be letting go of the possibility of a successful career back home.  But certain dreams were not meant to remain scattered and God has shown me which ones He wants me to pick back up again.

a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing,
Relationships have surprised me since I moved across the world as I have kept in touch with some and not with others.  God has begun to take away my guilt for not keeping in touch with every friend I ever had and reminded me that sometimes friends are for a season–and that is okay.

a time to search and a time to give up,
I was searching for a spouse, and it is when I finally gave up that I found him.  I was also searching for significance and have been constantly reminded my life is in Christ.

a time to keep and a time to throw away,
I have kept many gifts and treasures I have collected over these years abroad, but as I try to move into and actually thrive in my new home, this has meant throwing away anything that is keeping me tied to my past in unhealthy ways.

a time to tear and a time to mend,
I have had to tear away my fears, doubts and insecurities in order to minister here.  I have needed you to mend my shattered heart, sewing it back together and making it stronger than it was before.

a time to be silent and a time to speak,
My time abroad is constantly on my mind, but I need your help in discerning when people really want to know and when it may be better to keep silent.  You have also taught me that hearing comes from listening and listening comes in silence.

a time to love and a time to hate,
I have loved hard.  It has been a tough love in this place that was so much like an arranged marriage to an incompatible partner at times, but in the end I loved much of what I hated at first.  Now, I mainly hate that I have to leave.

a time for war and a time for peace.
I have done battle in this place–with my sin, through conflict with others, in my mind as I’ve tried so hard to adjust and assimilate, and emotionally as I’ve wrestled with issues of injustice, materialism, poverty and suffering that I never had to consider before.  But you have given me moments of sweet peace that remind me that this world is not my home. 

What do workers gain from their toil?
I have seen the burden God has laid on the human race.
He has made everything beautiful in its time.
He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end…

I know that everything God does will endure forever; nothing can be added to it and nothing taken from it.

God does it so that people will fear him.

Lord, thank you for the opportunity to serve you abroad.  Now help me to serve you back home with the same love, intensity and awareness of You.


Ecclesiastes 3: 1- 11, 14  (in bold)
New International Version (NIV)

If you are leaving soon, try out this exercise and write a prayer for each of the segments of this Scripture passage, praising God for what He has done in your life during your time abroad.

~~~~~~

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This post is day 28 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)


Photo: Juan R. Lascorz [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)], via Wikimedia Commons

Day 27: Resources for Re-Entry {31 Days of Re-Entry}


Helpful Articles on the Web (from both a Christian and secular perspective)

“A Great Fear {As Pertaining to the Story of My Life},” by Amy Young at The Messy Middle.

“Can You Survive Reverse Culture Shock,” by Amanda Kendle, Dec. 26, 2007, at Vagabondish.

“Dealing With Reverse Culture Shock,” by Tas Anjarwalla, August 24, 2010, CNN.

Getting Past Reverse Culture Shock: My Australian Story,” by Amanda Kendle, Aug. 22, 2011, from her blog, Not a Ballerina.

“I Had No Training On How to Return Home,” by Danielle Crouch, May 5, 2015, at Velvet Ashes.

“Rediscovering Your Hometown: How to Enjoy Your Own Backyard Like a Traveler,” by Shannon Bradford, Aug 26, 2015, from Vagabondish.

“Re-Stinkin’ Entry,” by Kim Todd, May 7, 2015, at Velvet Ashes (scroll down to view 8 bloggers that linked up with their personal stories of re-entry).

“Returning Well–Looking Back, Moving Forward,” by Melissa Chaplin, May 6, 2015, at Velvet Ashes.

“7 Signs of Reverse Culture Shock and How to Deal,” by Kristi Fuoco, May 9, 2014, at The Vancouver Sun. (Has a list of books and articles at the bottom).

“You Don’t Need to Suck It Up and Get It Together,” by Michele Perry, May 3, 2015, at Velvet Ashes.


Websites:
www.rockyreentry.com
*Has a whole resources section that I won’t repeat on this page, but is very extensive

www.fixreversecultureshock.com
A site with a few stories of people experiencing reverse culture shock.  It looks like the site hasn’t been updated since 2014, though.

Another 31 Days Series:  Falling Forward: Thoughts and Tips on Transition.

Conferences:
Mission Training International
Some friends of mine attended this one and recommended it.


Books:

The Art of Coming Home, by Craig Storti
Check out my book review for this book here.

Burn-up or Splash Down:  Surviving the Culture Shock of Re-Entry, by Marion Knell

Looming Transitions, by Amy Young

Re-Entry:  Making the Transition from Missions to Life at Home, by Peter Jordan

Could you please leave some recommendations in the comments section with other resources that have been helpful for you in your re-entry?  Thank you!

~~~~~~

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This post is day 27 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)

Day 26: In the Place of Your Exile {31 Days of Re-Entry}

For the purposes of this post, “exile” is wherever you find yourself that does not feel like home.  This could be college in a new state, a move from the city to the suburbs (or the reverse), living in a foreign country or like me, living back in America (which “should” feel like home, but doesn’t) after living abroad.

Christians love Jeremiah 29:11 about God knowing His plans for us–to prosper us and not to harm us, to give us a hope and a future.  Sounds amazing.  But have you ever noticed that this verse is nestled in an entire letter written to Judah, who was in exile?  

Judah was sent away into exile, leaving their homes and their land to spend 70 years in Babylon.

Who sent them away?  God did. 

And I would venture to say that God has sent you as well.  It may not feel like home and you may not even WANT it to feel like home.  At least that’s how I felt when I found myself living back in the states after five very fulfilling years of living in China.  Chicago felt like exile to me.

But God had a message for his precious exiles on how to live in a place they didn’t want to be.  Here’s what God told them:

Build houses and live in them (v. 5).  Don’t just rent, but take the time to build, and then actually LIVE there.  When I first moved to Chicago after college, I had no idea I would live in the same apartment for four years, otherwise I would have painted those walls!  When have you said, “If I had known I’d have been this place this long, I would have done X?”  Build a house and actually live there. Paint the walls, buy house plants, decorate, make it your home, because you really never know if you are going to be somewhere one year or seven. 

Plant gardens and eat their produce (v. 5).  We are currently renting our house and I have found myself resisting putting down roots–literally and figuratively–until I know where we are “settled.”  But God wants me to live wherever I am living as if I were going to live there forever.  I should plant that garden.  Become a joiner in your community.  Sign up for a weekly class or book club, join a volunteer organization, get involved at church.  Commit to something that will force you to be a part of your community on a regular basis–no matter how long you plan to be there. 

Take wives and become fathers of sons and daughters…multiply there and do not decrease (v. 6).  Ask out the girl, my intrepid friend.  Just do it.  Ladies, be open to someone different than what you expect.  Couples, don’t wait until you are “ready to have kids”–that day will never come.  Families, befriend your neighbors.  And to myself–be open to friendships even if they seem temporary because perennials and annuals alike can be breathtaking.  I think God is telling Judah (and us) that they do not need to be isolated, but to live in an ever-expanding community.

Seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile (v. 7).  I’m sure Judah could have cared less about beautifying Babylon or contributing to the economy, but God commanded them to care. Daniel was exiled to Babylon at this time and wasn’t plotting and scheming how he could get away, but was determined to prosper in that place and be a blessing to King Nebuchadnezzar.  It is so easy to build walls around ourselves and live for ourselves or our family without a second thought about our city.  What can you do right now to “seek the welfare” of your city?  Join a committee? Attend a neighborhood meeting?  Volunteer to do community service?  Donate to a cause?  Sometimes we need to first make a physical investment before we become emotionally invested in a place.

Pray to the Lord on its behalf (v. 7).  We are to pray for our city.  I confess that I seldom pray for mine. It can just seem like too large of an order to give to God.  But I forget that prayer has so many side benefits and that in praying for a person or a place, I am the one who often changes.  I grow in compassion and powers of observation.  I start to care.  I feel more rooted because I am invested in where I am on more than just a surface level.

It is after all of these commands, that we finally find our favorite verse, Jeremiah 29:11:

For I know the plans I have for you [for you to learn from this new experience]
Plans to prosper you and not to harm you [this is for your good]
Plans to give you a hope and a future. [this is not the end of your story]

God sent you where you are and wants to see you prosper in THAT place.  You do not always control the where, but you can control your attitude toward that place.

Finally, this is not in Jeremiah, but has been a mantra of mine since moving back to the states that applies to these principles.  Isaiah 37: 31 says that we are to “take root downward and bear fruit upward.”  How long we are allowed to grow those roots downward should have no bearing on our trying to put them down.  That is God’s concern.  Our job is to be faithful to glorify Him wherever He has sent us and bear the fruit of the Spirit in that place for as long as God has us there.

May today there be peace within
May you trust God that you are exactly where you are meant to be
May you not forget the infinite possibilities that are born of faith
May you use those gifts that you have received, and pass on the love that has been given to you.
May you be content knowing you are a child of God…
Let this presence settle into your bones and allow your soul the freedom to sing, dance, praise and love.
It is there for each and every one of us.

~St. Theresa

What is your “place of exile”?  How can you put down roots in that place? Will you commit to praying for your city?

Follow me on Twitter and Facebook

This post is day 26 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)
Photo: I, Danel solabarrieta [CC BY-SA 2.5 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5)], via Wikimedia Commons

Linking up with The Grove at Velvet Ashes and Count My Blessings.
a href=”http://velvetashes.com” title=”Velvet Ashes: encouragement for women serving overseas”>Velvet Ashes: encouragement for women serving overseas

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