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

countingmyblessings

Day 25: Scripture Anchors for Re-Entry {31 Days of Re-Entry}

If you do a little research, you’ll find that there are many kinds of anchors.  Life is rarely placid waters, and re-entry can feel like you are being tossed about in an uncontrollable sea where you are left fighting to not only stay afloat, but to even discern where the surface of the water is.  An anchor will not stop your boat, but if you use something called a sea anchor, which is mainly used in storms, it can slow you down enough to gain your bearings in the storm.  According to Wikipedia: “When attached to the stern of a vessel, a sea anchor can prevent the vessel from turning broadside to the waves and being overwhelmed by them.”

The Scriptures below are some of the sea anchors I have found to stabilize me in the winds of re-entry.  I hope they will be of help to you.

God Is Your Home
Psalm 90: 1
Lord, you have been our dwelling place in all generations.

Acts 17:28
“‘In him we live and move and have our being’; as even some of your own poets have said,

“‘For we are indeed his offspring.’


 
Psalm 91: 1-4; 9-16 
He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High
    will abide in the shadow of the Almighty.
I will say to the Lord, “My refuge and my fortress,
    my God, in whom I trust.”

For he will deliver you from the snare of the fowler
    and from the deadly pestilence.
He will cover you with his pinions,
    and under his wings you will find refuge;
    his faithfulness is a shield and buckler.

Because you have made the Lord your dwelling place—
    the Most High, who is my refuge—
10 no evil shall be allowed to befall you,
    no plague come near your tent.

11 For he will command his angels concerning you
    to guard you in all your ways.
12 On their hands they will bear you up,
    lest you strike your foot against a stone.
13 You will tread on the lion and the adder;
    the young lion and the serpent you will trample underfoot.

14 “Because he holds fast to me in love, I will deliver him;
    I will protect him, because he knows my name.
15 When he calls to me, I will answer him;
    I will be with him in trouble;
    I will rescue him and honor him.
16 With long life I will satisfy him
    and show him my salvation.”

Jer. 17: 7-8
“Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord,
    whose trust is the Lord.
He is like a tree planted by water,
    that sends out its roots by the stream,
and does not fear when heat comes,
    for its leaves remain green,
and is not anxious in the year of drought,
    for it does not cease to bear fruit.”


2 Cor. 5:1-10
For we know that if the tent that is our earthly home is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For in this tent we groan, longing to put on our heavenly dwelling, if indeed by putting it on[a] we may not be found naked. For while we are still in this tent, we groan, being burdened—not that we would be unclothed, but that we would be further clothed, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who has given us the Spirit as a guarantee.
So we are always of good courage. We know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord, for we walk by faith, not by sight. Yes, we are of good courage, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord. So whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to please him. 10 For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil.


God is Your Rock

1 Samuel 2:2
“There is none holy like the Lord:
    for there is none besides you;
    there is no rock like our God.


2 Samuel 22:3     
my God, my rock, in whom I take refuge,
my shield, and the horn of my salvation,
    my stronghold and my refuge,
    my savior; you save me from violence.


Psalm 18:2
The Lord is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer,
    my God, my rock, in whom I take refuge,
    my shield, and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.


Psalm 71:3
Be to me a rock of refuge,
    to which I may continually come;
you have given the command to save me,
    for you are my rock and my fortress.

God is the Same Wherever You Are

Heb. 13:8
Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.
 
Malachi 3:6
“For I the Lord do not change; therefore you, O children of Jacob, are not consumed.
 
Deut. 33:27a
The eternal God is your dwelling place,
    and underneath are the everlasting arms.
 

 
God is With You Wherever You Go
Deut. 31:6  
Be strong and courageous. Do not fear or be in dread of them, for it is the Lord your God who goes with you. He will not leave you or forsake you.”
 
Deut. 31:8
It is the Lord who goes before you. He will be with you; he will not leave you or forsake you. Do not fear or be dismayed.”
 
Joshua 1:9
Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”
 
Mat. 28: 20
teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
 
Hebrews 13: 5-6  
Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” So we can confidently say,

“The Lord is my helper;
    I will not fear;
what can man do to me?”

 
When You Feel Confused About Your Calling/Return
 
Proverbs 16:1
The plans of the heart belong to man,
    but the answer of the tongue is from the Lord.


Isaiah 55:8-11
For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
    neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord.
For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
    so are my ways higher than your ways
    and my thoughts than your thoughts.

10 “For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven
    and do not return there but water the earth,
making it bring forth and sprout,
    giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater,
11 so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth;
    it shall not return to me empty,
but it shall accomplish that which I purpose,
    and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.

Jeremiah 29:11-13  
For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope. 12 Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will hear you. 13 You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart.

Mat. 16:24
Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.

All of Acts–read about the life of Paul, especially and all the twists and turns the Lord led Him on.

Acts 20:24
24 But I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God.


Heb. 12: 1-2

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.

Your Identity Is In Christ
Psalm 139 (all)
 
2 Cor. 4: 7-12
But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; 10 always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. 11 For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. 12 So death is at work in us, but life in you.
 
2 Cor. 5: 17
Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation.[a] The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.

Philippians 2: 1-11
So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

What verses or categories would you add to this list?  (It is very easy for me to add them, so please share!)

~~~~~~

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This post is day 25 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)

All Scriptures are ESV from Bible Gateway
Photo: By Latyip (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Day 24: The Call to Displacement {31 Days of Re-Entry}


I just don’t fit in here.  Will I ever belong?  Will I always feel like an outsider? Will I make a difference?

These are questions I asked myself after moving across the globe to live in rural China, but this was certainly not the first time I had asked them.  I thought this after changing schools multiple times during elementary and middle school, beginning high school and college, and moving to Chicago to begin teaching in the inner city.  I have asked them for the past five years since returning from China and over the last six months after moving to a new city in the U.S..  Life thus far has been a series of shifts and faults in the earth that I have falsely assumed should be stable ground, leaving me scrambling for stability and significance.

I first read the book Compassion, written by Henri Nouwen, Donald McNeill and Douglas Morrison, sitting on a straw mat on the front porch of a house in a village on the outskirts of Kampala, Uganda.  I was 21 and just learning what it meant to feel “displaced.”  I have come back to a particular chapter in the book several times over the past 15 years, called “Displacement,” through multiple moves and job changes, to be reminded of God’s view of my shifting world.  It is a bit abstract, but I have found it to be so helpful in putting the transitions in my life into perspective that I am sharing many of the parts of the chapter that I have starred and underlined over the years with you.     

Moving from the Ordinary and Proper Place
Christians love to talk about community.  This book mentions that the “desire for community is most often a desire for a sense of unity, a feeling of being accepted, and an experience of at-homeness” (62).  But the authors challenge that  “the paradox of the Christian community is that people are gathered together in voluntary displacement.  The togetherness of those who form a Christian community is a being-gathered-in-displacement. 

According to Webster’s dictionary, displacement means, to move or to shift from the ordinary or proper place.  This becomes a telling definition when we realize the extent to which we are preoccupied with adapting ourselves to the prevalent norms and values of our milieu” (63).

The authors suggest that “The call to community as we hear it from our Lord is the call to move away from the ordinary and proper places.  Leave your father and mother.  Let the dead bury the dead.  Keep your hand on the plow…The Gospels confront us with this persistent voice inviting us to move from where it is comfortable, from where we want to stay, from where we feel at home” (63).

“Why is this so central?  It is central because in voluntary displacement, we cast off the illusion of ‘having it together’ and thus begin to experience our true condition, which is that we, like everyone else, are pilgrims on the way, sinners in need of grace…Voluntary displacement leads us to the existential recognition of our inner brokenness and thus brings us to a deeper solidarity with the brokenness of our fellow human beings” (64).

The authors illustrate Jesus as the ultimate reason why we should move towards displacement through the examples of His birth in Bethlehem, being taken to Egypt to escape King Herod, leaving His parents to be in the Temple, going to the desert to be tempted for 40 days and continually moving “away from power, success and popularity in order to remain faithful to His divine call…Jesus’ displacement…finds its fullest expression in His death on a cross outside the walls of Jerusalem” (65). 

To Disappear as an Object of Interest
The authors do warn against romanticizing displacement, as many who have been displaced for tragic reasons are broken and feel that they have suffered irreparable damage.  But in this, followers of Christ are called “to solidarity with the millions who live disrupted lives” (66). 

“Voluntary displacement leads to compassionate living precisely because it moves us from positions of distinction to positions of sameness, from being in special places to being everywhere…To disappear from the world as an object of interest in order to be everywhere in it by hiddenness and compassion is the basic movement of the Christian life.  It is the movement that leads to community as well as to compassion.  It leads us to see with others what we could not see before, to feel with others what we could not feel before, to hear with others what we could not hear before” (67).

Struggling with the desire to be distinctive, significant and extraordinary, some of my biggest hurdles in life have come when I have not felt useful.  I first experienced this in Uganda when I found that my presence was often more of a detriment and burden than an asset because I could not speak the language and was just learning about the culture.  I lived with an African family and their maid who cooked for me, carried up my water from the river, cleaned my room and washed my clothes.  When I offered to help with the dishes, my host mom told me she didn’t think I could get them clean enough.  Proud and indignant, I set my alarm for 5 am the next morning and quietly took my place in the yard next the maid to scrub pots and pans. 

Now, I am currently wrestling with not only not living overseas, but being a stay-at-home mom in a very homogeneous neighborhood in America.  I have certainly “disappeared from the world as an object of interest” and struggle with guilt over not living the radical life I once thought I would live.  But the chapter addresses my current struggles in the following ways:

“The implications for each of us individually vary according to the specific milieus in which we live and our concrete understandings of God’s call for us…for many people it does not even mean physical movement, but a new attitude toward their factual displacement and a faithful perseverance in their unspectacular lives…Therefore, the movement toward compassion always starts by gaining distance from the world that wants to make us objects of interest” (67).

Recognizing Our Displacement
“What does this mean for us in terms of voluntary displacement?  If voluntary displacement is such a central theme in the life of Christ and His followers, must we not begin by displacing ourselves?  Probably not.  Rather, we must begin to identify in our own lives where displacement is already occurring.  We may be dreaming of great acts of displacement while failing to notice in the displacements of our own lives the first indications of God’s presence” (71).

“In our modern society with its increasing mobility and pluriformity, we have become the subjects and often the victims of so many displacements that it is very hard to keep a sense of rootedness, and we are constantly tempted to become bitter and resentful.  Our first and often most difficult task, therefore, is to allow these actual displacements to become places where we can hear God’s call” (72).

“It often seems easier to initiate a displacement that we ourselves can control than freely to accept and affirm a displacement that is totally out of our hands.  The main question is, ‘How can I come to understand and experience God’s caring actions in the concrete situation in which I find myself?’…God is always active in our lives.  He always calls, He always asks us to take up our crosses and follow Him” (72-73).

Displacement is not primarily something to do or to accomplish, but something to recognize…We do not have to go after crosses, but we have to take up the crosses that have been ours all along.  To follow Jesus, therefore, means first and foremost to discover in our daily lives God’s unique vocation for us” (73).

“The more we are able to discern God’s voice in the midst of our daily lives, the more we will be able to hear Him when He calls us to more drastic forms of displacement…But everyone must live with the deep conviction that God acts in her or his life an equally unique way…when we have learned to see Him in the small displacements of our daily lives, the greater call will not seem so great after all” (74).


How has moving away from the “ordinary and proper places” helped you to be more compassionate towards others? Where in your life is displacement already occurring?  How have you heard from God in this? 

~~~~~~

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This post is day 24 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 23: When the Nations Come to You {31 Days of Re-Entry}

At thirty-six weeks pregnant, I lived with my husband and two-year-old son on the third floor of a three-ish bedroom, one bath “vintage” (a.k.a. old and falling apart, but with “character”) apartment in Chicago.  And I had five Saudi Arabians sleeping on my living room floor.

Fortunately, living in China for five years had prepared me for living with ambiguity, so I wasn’t surprised when all my plans for the Saudi Arabian family of seven to stay either in a hotel or with friends changed abruptly and they needed a place to stay.  It ended up only being for the night, but I actually loved every minute, because I am addicted to absurd experiences and this combined my two loves of hospitality and other cultures.  Or I’m just crazy.

How did this happen? you ask.  Well…

When I returned from China, I had every intention of getting involved with Chinese people, but jumping back into wedding planning, a new job and my first year of marriage limited my time so much that most of my attempts fizzled.  Fortunately we lived in Chicago, right next to the most diverse zip code in the entire country, so I knew opportunities were there if I could find the time (and motivation) to seize them.

It wasn’t until I had been back for about three years and had an 8 month old baby at home that I finally decided to contact the ESL program at the nearby university to see if they needed any volunteers for their international students.  I noticed that one of the teachers had gone to the same college as me, so I contacted her first.  She said she didn’t need help, but that another teacher was looking for volunteers to practice English with her oral English class.  The teacher was very enthusiastic about my helping and even agreed to let me bring my 8 month old along!  The class turned out to be made up of ALL Saudi Arabian students.  The women wore head coverings and were very shy, but seemed to really open up when they met my baby. 

After volunteering a month, one of the students approached the teacher and asked her to ask me (in true eastern indirect culture) if she could LIVE with us.  Her housing situation wasn’t working out and she wanted to live with a “native” family.  I assumed my husband would think I was crazy when I told him, but he shocked me as he often does by agreeing.  Shirin, from Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, moved in with us a month later. 

The plan was for her to live with us for four months, which of course turned in to nearly a year, culminating with her parents and four siblings (minus one) sleeping on our living room floor when they came to the states for a visit.

She ate meals with us, came on family vacations, celebrated our holidays, babysat for our kids and generally just integrated into our family.  We had many fascinating discussions about our different cultures, religions and customs and our kids loved playing with her and meeting her friends.


She spent a year after that in Delaware, but is now in Colorado as well, studying just an hour away from us (we moved here six months ago).  I was able to visit her with my kids a few weeks ago, which was my first time being hosted by her.  I loved having my kids exposed to eating on the floor around a cloth, passing dates, fruit, cookies and tasting Arabic tea.  Though my heart longs to go, God is gracious to bring the nations to me as I am obedient in my staying. 

********************
If you are currently back in the states and missing living abroad, I would encourage you to observe and take note of the nations that God might have brought nearly to your door, but may just be awaiting your invitation.  Not everyone has to actually have an international student live with them, but for me, this has been the next-best thing to living abroad.  Do you have a university nearby–or even a community college?  Do you have a spare room?  Could your children share a room to open up a room?  We did charge Shirin rent, so our story is not completely altruistic, so you could consider this extra income as well as the ways your family would benefit from learning from someone from another culture.

Or if you’re not up for having someone live with you, do you know any international families or students who are new to the area that you could invite over for a meal? (be sure to research dietary restrictions before they come.)  I was shocked to hear that most of Shirin’s classmates had NEVER been in an American’s home, even though they had been studying here nearly a year.

We are all called to the nations–not just some.  And though you may be called to stay, you can do your part in reaching all the families of the earth from right where you are if you are willing to be stretched and surprised by how God wants to use you.

~~~~~~

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This post is day 23 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 22: Groundless, Weightless, Homeless {31 Days of Re-Entry}

It turns out that space travel is a perfect metaphor for living in another country. (Though you may feel more like the alien than the astronaut). You adjust to giving up control, eat strange food and do daily tasks in new and awkward ways.  Even common routines like using the bathroom require adjustments.  But adjust you must if you want to thrive in this new atmosphere.

Suddenly being weightless is your new normal.  But soon, whether it was scheduled or an emergency landing, your term is up and you are braving the dangers of re-entry to a planet that is no longer home. 

So why don’t you feel grounded now that you have gravity?

These are a couple journal entries written after I returned to America from spending five years in China.  They are a glimpse into how disoriented I still felt even nine months after my initial re-entry.


April 9, 2011
“I feel like I was driving at full speed in one direction and the Lord yanked the wheel and u-turned me back the other way.  It’s hard to adjust when you had one destination in mind all along and suddenly the Lord brings you back to the point of origin–only five years have elapsed since you left. 

Lord, please show me how to pour myself out for you here and now.  I still feel awkward at church and around new people because I’m not quite sure of who I am anymore and struggle to relate.  Help me, Lord.  I give you my pride, negativity, sense of guilt, heaviness and apathy.  Revive my spirit, Lord.  Remind me who I am in You.”

April 27, 2011
“Upset, though I’m not sure of the exact cause–just feeling groundless, weightless, homeless…unsure of the future and of my role or purpose in the present.  Confused.  Not just lost, but lost without a map, lost without a compass.  Unsure of my footing.  Not fear of going the wrong direction, but the existential fear that all this traveling will bring me no where.  That it is all futile.  Trying to hold on to the promises of Psalm 16: 8-11.  Trying to be in His presence.”


“I have set the Lord continually before me; because He is at my right hand, 
I will not be shaken.
Therefore my heart is glad, and my glory rejoices; My flesh also will 
dwell securely.
For You will not abandon my soul to Sheol;
Neither will you allow your Holy One to undergo decay.
You will make known to me the path of life;
In Your presence is fullness of joy;
In Your right hand there are pleasures forever.”
Over four years after writing this–even including two job changes, a cross-country move and the addition of two children–I can say that the Lord has not allowed me to be shaken.  When my house is built on Him as my rock instead of on the sand of my idols, I can dwell securely.  Though I still struggle with my foothold at times, He has helped me to reorient back to this country, though I struggle day by day to stay firmly planted on Him first, and on people and places second.  
~~~~~~

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This post is day 22 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 21: What I Took and What I Left Behind {31 Days of Re-Entry}

“We came, we saw, we took away and we left behind, we must be allowed our anguish and our regrets.”  
Adah in The Poisonwood Bible, p. 483

What have I taken away from China? 

I have taken some seedlings of customs and routines from China and attempted to transplant them into the soil of my life in America.  Some have taken root and some have shriveled because the soil is just not conducive to that sort of seed. 

I had grown accustomed to cooking Chinese food at every meal when I lived in China just because it was so inconvenient to make western food.  Now that I don’t have easy access to Chinese ingredients, I have gone back to more predictable culinary exploits such as meatloaf and spaghetti.

I have carried back a respect for rest and family.  I feel less guilty sitting down with a book and cup of tea for 20 minutes a day than I did before going to China.  I also now value proximity to family more than I once did, not having had that for five years and seeing how much my Chinese friends valued their family relationships. 

I am better with ambiguity than I once was.  Being on buses that would stop for hours at a time with no explanation, having classes cancelled last minute for tree planting and being essentially illiterate my first three years in China, I grew accustomed to living with less information.  I value this new-found flexibility and ability to find humor in the absurd.
 

What did I leave behind in China?

As it turned out, China was the conclusion to my Singleness Chapter in life, so I left behind long runs in the wilderness, staying up until 3 am binge-watching TV, two hour long quiet times with Jesus, having visitors stop by at the last minute and staying through dinner and traveling all over China during school holidays.

I left behind my pre-marriage, pre-children self that sometimes seems more confident, adventurous and faithful than I am now.

But what I mourn the most are the friends-become-family I left behind–the ones who became my sisters, brothers, mothers, fathers and grandparents because I was alone and needed family.  In their great value for family, they pitied the foreigner and, like Jesus, invited me in (to share their home), gave me something to eat (homemade noodles and dumplings), something to drink (tea) and something to wear (appropriate long underwear).  Even though most of them didn’t know Him, they were Jesus to me.  They were His hands and feet.  They were my family. 

“…we must be allowed our anguish and our regrets.”

If I allow it, the anguish I feel about leaving these relationships can be debilitating and the regrets I have about not keeping in touch with them can overtake me.  But, unlike Adah, I trust in a God with a grander story.  He is not disappointed in me for not keeping in touch with friends 10,000 miles away, nor is He dependent on me to keep watering the seeds that were sown in the hearts of friends who did not yet know Christ.  He allowed me a glimpse of what it will be like to worship with the nations, which is something I will carry with me until I see many of them again in eternity.  And that can never be left behind.


If you have moved, what have you taken with you and what have you left behind?  

~~~~~~

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This post is day 21 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: Linda Bailey [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Day 20: Life Is Not Seasonal {31 Days of Re-Entry}

We like to say life is “seasonal,” but sometimes I wonder if this is an accurate description.  Much of the world has four seasons, though some places have only one or two, but I think we can all agree that these seasons repeat.  In life, our seasons will never repeat themselves.  We have one chance at the season we are in before the next one begins, never to be repeated again.

Life is more like a book with chapters, complete with plot twists and complex characters, though it may have repeating themes and recurring symbols.

I am currently in a chapter I’d title “The Narrowing.”  When we first got married, my husband and I coined this term because we suddenly had less than half the amount of time we used to have for personal pursuits and other relationships.  We felt squeezed.  And then we had kids.  Now we wonder who we are and if we’ll ever see our old selves again.  Life in this chapter can feel like an open pasture that is suddenly fenced.  Beautiful and green at times, but limited. 

When I returned from China, I had every intention of “using my Chinese” and staying in close contact with Chinese friends, but as I practically crash landed while hitting the pavement running on re-entry, those desires and expectations just became places of immense guilt and regret. 

I have already written about feeling like I have latent gifts, but I do wonder sometimes if China was just a stand-alone chapter.  Was it like the older TV shows that wrapped up neatly in every episode, or was it a show with a long story arc, spanning multiple episodes?  Will I see the character of China again (or perhaps just eavesdrop on her doppleganger in America?)? 

I had never lived in the mountains until six months ago, though it was always my dream.  In Florida where I grew up, and Chicago where I lived as an adult, I would sometimes pretend the clouds on the low horizon were mountains in the distance.  Now I am blessed to see mountains as I leave the grocery store.  As novice mountain dwellers, we made the mistake of thinking we needed to live as close to the mountains as possible.  I love knowing they’re there, but am overwhelmed with awe when we drive several miles away and look back at the majestic horizon. 

I look forward to the day when I am not so close to the mountains in my story.  One day I will have perspective.  One day I will flip back through the story of my life and muse over the recurring themes and characters and perhaps be able to answer some of the “why’s and what?!’s” that I have scribbled in the margins.

When I decided to leave China, I had a conversation with a leader in our organization, Amy Young.  I apologetically told her about my decision to return to America and that I was most likely going to get married.  Expecting to hear disappointment in her response, she surprised me with, “Life is long.”  God willing, life is long.  I will have other chances to go.  “In sha allah,” as my Saudi Arabian friend says, “As God wills.”

My husband and I went back to China after I had been in the states for a year to lead a summer trip for college students to teach English.  On the trip, we met an American couple in their 70’s that was leading a separate trip for adults.  They had been travelling to China every summer for 20 years.  I was relieved to discover that they hadn’t even begun serving the Lord overseas until they were in their 50’s.  It gave me hope that China might be a recurring character in my story.    

As I begin to advance into the “not as young” group of life-livers, I am grateful for stories of goers who go much later in life.  Young people have such a hard time imagining themselves past age 30 or 40, so it can be shocking when you realize that there can be so many more chapters yet to be written. 

The following quote is my life motto of sorts.  It gets recopied into my journals each time I get a new one and it helps me to center my prayers as I approach Jesus.  It reminds me to live in my chapter and trust that God will begin the next one in His perfect timing.  I hope it can lead you to the throne today as well:

“To follow the Lord to the cross means this:
Every day you must surrender yourself–body and soul–and obediently do the work of your Father.
Wherever He leads you and whatever it costs you. 
I am speaking of the surrender to God of your whole life, each day, from now on. 
And each day God will lay out the work you must do. 
That is His part. 
Your part is to forsake the life you would choose for yourself and follow him to do what He shows you to do.” 
(Bernard of Clairvaux, Your Angels Guard My Steps, p. 16)


If you are over the age of 50 and reading this, what have you been able to accomplish or experience in your 50’s and beyond that you never would have imaged while you were younger?  If you are in the “younger” camp, which themes and characters do you hope you will see again in a later chapter?

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This post is day 20 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)

Find many other great 31 day blogs here!

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Linking up with Velvet Ashes


Velvet Ashes: encouragement for women serving overseas