Day 9: Caring for Your Dorothy {31 Days of Re-Entry}

Dorothy must have experienced some serious reverse culture shock, in spite of the fact that all she wanted was to leave Oz.  I wonder how Auntie Em and Uncle Henry cared for her?  Did they acknowledge her experience, or just try to urge her to move on with life as usual? 

Maybe you were like Dorothy, clicking your sparkly heels, chanting, “There’s no place like home.”  Or maybe you were like me, kicking and hurling myself on the ground like a toddler throwing a tantrum because I want to STAY!  I have heard that it is easier to return if you were truly ready to do so, but that it is much more difficult if you were thriving abroad and had to come home.  Pretty logical.

But this post is more for the Auntie Em’s and Uncle Henry’s than for us Dorothy’s.

One of the main aspects of re-entry is grieving, so it makes sense that you would care for your Dorothy as you would care for someone who is grieving.

5 Ways to Care for your Dorothy

1. Listen
Listen to our stories, look at our pictures and try and understand what life was like for us.  Listen when we need to talk about how much we miss our old life even if it means the same conversation over and over and over again.  I just kept waiting for the day my then-fiancé would roll his eyes and say, “But we already talked about this a million times!”  But he never did.

2. Ask
Ask us how we’re doing–and keep asking.  Just as a grieving person does not forget the person who died after a day, week, month or year, neither have we forgotten our old life.  Just because we may stop talking about it doesn’t mean we aren’t still thinking about it.  We just think you may be sick of hearing about it (as you may be).  But please keep asking.  When you do, this brings emotional healing and is a salve to our souls.  A simple, “How are you doing with re-entry?” is a good question to ask every few weeks.

3.  Give us time
There is no time limit on re-entry.  Five years later, I STILL struggle from time to time.  It takes much longer than you think it should, but hold on because we WILL reemerge from having our bodies in Kansas and our heads in Oz.  Eventually.

4. Give us grace
We are re-learning how to function in a society that has moved forward while we have been moving in a different direction.  We may not be up on current events, media, technology, and pop culture, so help us out.  Watch our faces carefully to see if we are following and gently enlighten us if we seem confused.  We want to re-engage, we just don’t know how yet.

5. Pray
Pray for us and with us.  Sometimes all we really need and want is for you to say, “Can I pray for you?”  You don’t have to have the magic words or even have a long prayer, but just entering God’s presence together helps remind us that this struggle is temporary, but that we serve an eternal God who transcends time, culture and emotional confusion.


What would you add to this list?  How have your friends and family cared for you as you have negotiated the waves of re-entry?

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This post is day 9 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!



Photo:  By Warner Bros. (1949 re-issue trailer. See: TCM Movie Database) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Day 8: When You Feel like Shutting Down {31 Days of Re-Entry}


Does your cell phone have a “power saving mode”?  One of the features of the phone I use is that it has an “ultra power saving mode,” where you can turn the screen to black and white and only basic calls and texting are functional.  When I think about the first few months after returning to America from China, the best way to describe how I felt is to say that I was in “ultra power saving mode.” I did what I could to stay on, but allowed the rest of myself to shut down.

What caused this?

1. I Couldn’t Relate
Life had gone on without me and I just couldn’t catch up.  I found myself struggling with a sense of superiority as I listened to friends talk about remodeling their kitchens or “pinning” ideas for their kids’ birthday parties (what was “pinning”?).  Instead of entering in, I stood to the side, judging. 

2. I Missed Feeling Like I Had Purpose
Most people who serve God overseas are placed in some kind of team.  I was on several different teams during my time in China and had gotten used to meeting with the same group several times a week for meals, meetings and prayer.  Unlike your usual small group in America, we all had the same job and the same purpose in being there.  According to dictionary.com, the word mission means “any important task or duty that is assigned, allotted or self-imposed.”  Who wants to go from doing an “important” task to doing a “menial” one? 

3. I Didn’t Want Anything to Remind me of China
A couple years ago, my husband and I began to recognize a pattern.  Whenever I would read newsletters from my friends who were still serving in China, I would be depressed for a few days after.  If a missionary spoke in church, I would find myself in a funk.  If someone asked me how I was using my Chinese or if I was keeping in touch with Chinese friends…back in the pit.  When I returned from China, the only way I found to cope was to try and shut myself off from anything reminding me of China, because it only seemed to trigger my sense of loss.

November 17, 2010 (4 months after returning)
“Swimming underwater, I feel the pressure of the water all around me.  My arms push against the force of it.  I am muted, unable to speak and my focus on pushing and physically propelling my body forward inhibits me from thinking, praying or interacting with anyone else.  Everyone else is playing on the shore and I am out in the deep.”

I was depressed.

People often ask how long reverse culture shock lasts.  The answer:  longer than you think it should. 

I do feel my experience was compounded by a succession of major life changes immediately following my return–marriage, changing jobs twice, two children and moving cross country all within five years, so it may be a quicker transition for others. 

But re-entry can still flatten you when you least expect it. 

If you are experiencing any of what I described above, know that you are not alone.  God will carry you, my friend, even when you feel like all you want to do is shut down.  Slowly, He will revive you and bring you back to life. Trust me.

“Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn,
for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek,
for they will inherit the earth.”
Matthew 5: 3-5


If you have gone through re-entry, could you relate to any of these struggles?  How long did it take you to feel like you were back at “100% power”?

Linking up with Velvet Ashes

This post is day 8 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 7: Did I Mishear God? {31 Days of Re-Entry}


Yesterday night I read the following story to my son before bed:

“Once upon a mountaintop, three little trees stood and dreamed of what they wanted to become when they grew up.

The first little tree looked up at the stars twinkling like diamonds above him.  ‘I want to hold treasure,’ he said.  ‘I want to be covered with gold and filled with precious stones.  I will be the most beautiful treasure chest in the world!’

The second little tree looked out at the small stream trickling by on its way to the ocean.  ‘I want to be a strong sailing ship, ‘ he said.  ‘I want to travel mighty waters and carry powerful kings.  I will be the strongest ship in the world!’

The third little tree looked down into the valley below where busy men and busy women worked in a busy town.  ‘I don’t want to leave this mountaintop at all,’ she said.  ‘I want to grow so tall that when people stop to look at me they will raise their eyes to heaven and think of God.  I will be the tallest tree in the world!’

The trees grew and one day three woodcutters came and cut the trees for their own purposes.  [My 3-year-old son was very distraught at this point]. 

The first tree was fashioned into a feed box for animals, the second  into a simple fishing boat, and the third into strong beams which were left in the lumberyard.  ‘What happened?’ the once-tall tree wondered.  ‘All I ever wanted to do was stay on the mountaintop and point to God…'”

Some of the most confusing times of my life have come when I have been convinced that I was doing God’s will, only to have my way blocked.  One time I thought the Lord had told me that I would marry a certain person (I didn’t) and the other was when I thought the Lord had told me to go into missions.  If you have read any of my previous posts, but especially the one about wasted gifts, you know my angst in leaving China.  Since I was 16 years old, I was convinced I would serve the Lord overseas, so when He made it very clear that He wanted me to leave the field, return to America and get married, I couldn’t understand how that could be His will.  

Had I misheard God?

I sometimes wonder if the Apostle Paul felt confused when the Holy Spirit prevented him from going to certain cities to tell them about Jesus (Acts 16). Why wouldn’t God want that? And why would God allow him to be imprisoned, when the word missionary itself means “a person SENT”?  What good could he do from inside a prison? (wink, wink)

[This is an aside:  This will sound melodramatic, but thinking about Paul in prison actually helped me to prepare for motherhood.  Stay with me here.  When I entered motherhood, I felt what my husband and I call The Narrowing happen even more.  Used to being fiercely independent and willing to travel anywhere, I knew that having a child would restrict that in many ways.  To be dramatic, I was being put in Parent Prison.  How was this better than seeing “the nations” come to Christ?  But it was helpful to think of all the ways Paul ministered FROM prison.  Think of all the “prison epistles” we wouldn’t have if Paul had never spent that time in a jail cell…]

In addition to Paul, I can also relate to David and Moses’ passion to serve God in a specific way that didn’t go as planned.  David’s dream was to be the one to build a temple for the Lord, but God chose his son, Solomon, to do it instead (2 Sam. 7). And when Moses finally tried to right the injustices against the Jews (by fighting and killing a man), the timing was all wrong (Exodus 2).  Instead, he fled to Midian for 40 years before he was truly called via burning bush to go back to Egypt and convince Pharaoh to let his people go. 

Lately, I have actually been thinking of my time back in the states as “My Midian.”  I came here to get married, have children and now “tend the flock.”  Moses actually seemed to forget all about the plight of his people, just as many days go by for me now without a thought of China.  But God was the one who “heard the groaning; and God remembered his covenant…God saw…and God took notice of them” (Ex. 2:24).  This doesn’t remove our responsibility, but it certainly assuages my guilt when I remember that God is the one who sees and delivers–not me.  Moses had moved on and was just living his life.  And THEN he was called in a way that was unmistakable. 

Conclusion to The Three Trees:

“Many many days and nights passed.  The three trees nearly forgot their dreams.

But one night golden starlight poured over the first tree as a young woman placed her newborn baby in the feed box…and suddenly the first tree knew he was holding the greatest treasure in the world.

One evening a tired traveler and his friends crowded into the old fishing boat.  The traveler fell asleep…Soon a thundering and thrashing storm arose…He knew he did not have the strength to carry so many passengers safely through the wind and rain.  The tired man awakened.  He stood up, stretched out his hand and said, ‘Peace.’ The storm stopped as quickly as it had begun.  And suddenly the second tree knew he was carrying the King of heaven and earth.

One Friday morning, the third tree was startled when her beams were yanked from the forgotten woodpile.  She flinched as she was carried through any angry, jeering crowd.  She shuddered when soldiers nailed a mans’ hands to her…

But on Sunday morning, when the sun rose and the earth trembled with joy beneath her, the third tree knew that God’s love had changed everything. 

It had made the first tree beautiful.

It had made the second tree strong.

And every time people thought of the third tree, they would think of God.

That was better than being the tallest tree in the world.”

The Tale of Three Trees: A Traditional Folktale.  Retold by Angela Elwell Hunt.  Colorado Springs, CO:  Lion Publishing, 1989.

We never really know how God plans to use us, do we?  Our gifts, dreams and plans for God are never wasted, but sometimes they may be “up-cycled” into something even more beautiful, strong and glorifying to God than we could have ever asked or imagined. 

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
neither are your ways my ways,” declares the Lord.
“As the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts.”
(Is. 55:8-9, NIV)
Have you ever felt you “misheard God”?  Which of your dreams for God have gone unrealized?

This post is day 7 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:

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)

Linking up with Jennifer Dukes Lee  

Day 6: Identity: Through the Looking Glass {31 Days of Re-Entry}

“Who are YOU?” said the Caterpillar.

This was not an encouraging opening for a conversation.  Alice replied, rather shyly, “I-I hardly know, sir, just at present-at least I know who I WAS when I got up this morning, but I think I must have been changed several times since then.”

“What do you mean by that?” said the Caterpillar sternly. “Explain yourself!”

“I can’t explain MYSELF, I’m afraid, sir,” said Alice, “because I’m not myself, you see.”

“I don’t see,” said the Caterpillar.

(Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Chapter 5)


Last week, my husband and I got to see the stage production of Looking Glass Alice and I couldn’t help thinking how much her experience compared to the way I felt in returning to America.  

I was probably overly confident as I stepped off the plane in Chicago.  I had experienced closure of sorts in China, was eagerly anticipating getting engaged and married and felt that I would be able to move forward at the same rate of emotional and spiritual growth that I had the past five years in China.  But, like Alice, my reality was severely altered.  When you come back from being assimilated into another culture, you have changed in ways that you can’t even imagine, much less explain to another person.

As I packed up my apartment at the end of my time in China, I popped the pictures out of their frames, which were too bulky for a suitcase, thinking how much like the pictures I was–staying the same, but just changing frames.  I had no idea that not only was my frame changing, but that I was an entirely different picture than I was when I left five years before.

Two months after returning from China, I wrote:
Sept. 18, 2010
“Had a major meltdown Thursday night.  I think the tiredness and emotions of the past few weeks finally just needed a release.  It seems like I’m in tears every couple weeks and that has never been my pattern.  But I think a lot of it is reverse culture shock.  As expected, it’s strange to work in the exact same place I did before where everyone assumes that I, too, am the same.”

In China, I taught no more than 16 hours a week, leaving the rest of my time open to develop relationships with Chinese people.  An extrovert, this was a dream come true for me.  You mean my JOB is to hang out with people?!  So it was no wonder that when I returned to America and immediately entered into a 50 hour a week teaching job (and was planning a wedding), I felt life was like a rope that I could never quite grasp as it was constantly slipping through my fingers, chafing and burning along the way.

A little over two months after I returned to America, I wrote:
Sept. 30, 2010
“The weeks are flying by.  I can’t believe it’s already the 4th week of school.  Every second has been accounted for, every spare minute claimed for some important task.  I miss being.”

Nov. 13, 2010
“This is such a strange time of my life.  It’s uncomfortable having my time shoved into a vice and compressed down to minutes.  And I’m still missing China…”

Not only had my expectations for amount of time I would have for people and quiet time in a day changed, but many of my simple life routines had altered as well.  With fresh vegetable stands outside my apartment complex year-round, no car, a grocery store a mile away and little access to western food, my eating habits in China had changed drastically. 

Along with that, all the people where I lived would come home from work and school to have lunch as a family and NAP from 11:30 am to 2:30 pm.  I eventually followed suit.  It was glorious.  Even my laundry routines changed.  Five years later, I STILL can’t bear to dry my clothes after having to hang dry them for five years.

My expectations of relationships shifted as well.  In America, I had forgotten that with many people, you have to plan several weeks in advance if you want to hang out.  In China, I would plan in advance in my head, but invite someone to do something the day before or maybe two days beforehand (otherwise, you’d get stood up!). 

As I reflect back on this rocky time of life, I think I should have taken a bit more time to re-adapt to my home culture.  If I could do it again, I wouldn’t have taken such a demanding job at such a time of transition.  As I mentioned in a previous post, I would have sought out counseling to work through some of this change and asked for more help from friends.

But it’s difficult when you are trapped in the looking glass to know exactly how to get yourself out. 

“So you think you’re changed, do you?”

“I’m afraid I am, sir,” said Alice, “I can’t remember things as I used–and I don’t keep the same size for ten minutes together!”

(Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Chapter 5)

A few weeks after returning to Chicago, I wrote:
Aug. 26, 2010
“Lord, please help me to move on from the last chapter and live fully in this one and the one after that.  Prepare my heart.  Give me godly counsel and godly perspective…Help me to recognize that no matter where I am, who I’m with or what I’m doing, that my identity will not change.  I am a daughter of the King.  I am Christ’s beloved, bathed and cleansed from sin and shame and allowed to dance and worship before my Creator.”


How has living overseas changed you?  Have you brought any daily routines back into your passport culture with you?



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This post is day 6 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!

Picture:  Arthur Rackham [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Day 5: I Never Expected…{31 Days of Re-Entry}

The following journal entries are of the cyclical (or “spaghetti brain,” as my husband calls it) variety that I warned you of earlier, but I think even that is a testament to the nature of re-entry.  Questions of identity, grief, doubt and confusion will circle back around daily at first, then weekly and eventually you will be so in the thick of life back “home,” that they will only occasionally tap at your heart. 

My personal struggle came from a place of slowly accepting that my “call to missions” and my call to marriage would have to be a mutually exclusive one. 

This first journal entry was written the week after I flew back to the states, and 4 days after I got engaged.

July 22, 2010
“It feels surreal to be here [in Chicago] and yet so natural at the same time.  I think I just feel like I’m on vacation, though in some ways I do feel like I’m suspended in air and homeless.  God-willing, I’ll be married on January 15, about 6 months from now.  This is amazing and wonderful, but also so much harder than I thought. 

I never expected to have to give up missions. 

I never expected that I would marry someone who wasn’t in ministry. 

I never expected to be living in Chicago again. 

I love this city–the lake, gardens, quaint neighborhoods, diversity, culture and quirks–but I just don’t feel at home here anymore. 

It’s kind of like having an old coat that you loved and wore for years, but eventually decided to give to Goodwill.  You finally allowed yourself to part with it and invest in a new coat, but one day the coat is returned to you and the giver expects you to wear it with the same level of affection you had when it was new.  It is difficult to love a place when your heart has already moved on to somewhere else. 

Jesus, you are my Rock.  People, places and life circumstances may change, but You never do.  You are the same here that you were in China. 

Lord God, thank you for your abundant blessings.  Please forgive me for being like the Israelites, who begged to be delivered out of Egypt, only to spend the next 40 years complaining about the manna and the wandering.  Forgive me Lord, for I’ve been begging for a life partner for half my life and now all I can do is see what I’m giving up.  Please transform my attitude. 

Lord Jesus,
You are my life. 
You give my life meaning and purpose. 
You are my joy, hope and peace. 
You provide for all my needs. 
You never leave, fail or forsake me. 
You cleanse me and forgive my sins. 
You fill all my empty places and give me a firm place to stand. 

Not Adam. 
Not China. 
Not being a teacher or missionary or student.
   
You are my identity and that will never change.”

Feb. 3, 2011 (I was married Jan. 15, 2011)
“My life is so different than what I thought it would be, but it feels so right and good.  I love being married and have no doubt that this is your will.  I’m just not sure how the past 15 years relate to now

Please help me to keep moving forward, keep listening, keep growing.”


Acknowledgement of expectations, acceptance of God’s will, reorienting yourself to the cross and moving forward are all healthy ways to cope with the pain and confusion you may feel in re-entry.  But don’t be surprised if you find yourself journaling about the same struggles again, and again, and again…


How has your life been different from the way you expected?  Was leaving the field confusing to you because you thought that you had been called there for life?  How did you cope with this transition?


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This post is day 5 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 4: Wasted Gifts {31 Days of Re-Entry}

If you read my post yesterday, you know that I struggle with pride, so it will come as no surprise to you that when watching the movie, The Incredibles, I identify with being an undercover super hero.  If you haven’t seen the movie, a super hero couple marries and decides to try and live a “normal” suburban life without using their powers, until, of course evil forces threaten and they are coerced into using their powers once again.  Currently a stay-at-home-mom in America, I sometimes feel like some of my gifts for language, culture and teaching have gone into hiding. I am Elastigirl incognito.

From childhood, we develop gifts that we often use only for a season, or they are latent in us until we have an opportunity to feed and water them once more.  Those who have changed careers, left jobs to stay home with children, immigrants with PhD’s working at McDonald’s in the states, those who were concert pianists, on the varsity team or on the traveling dance team in their childhood can probably relate. 

Missionaries develop a unique skill set that is often less useful if they return to their passport country:  tribal languages, cultural knowledge, bargaining skills, and the ability to live without running water and electricity aren’t skills that are usually in high demand in the western world.   If you return home, are you wasting your gifts?  Will you ever use them again?

I returned to the states to marry an amazing man, an actor who had just begun recording audio books full time, but did theater on the side.  He studied theater in college and has his MFA in acting.  In addition to loving God (and me), His passions in life are books, theater, Frisbee and craft coffee (in changing order depending on the time of day).

Before I met my husband, I got my Masters in Intercultural Studies and spent five years studying Mandarin Chinese, including two years of full time study, fully intending to spend the rest of my life in China.  Weeks before we met, I began applying to PhD programs in cultural studies.  

But God had different plans for us.

It seemed that each of us, in being called to marriage, were being called to lay our most precious gifts on the altar.  Missions and China for me and theater for him.

Upon returning to the states, one of the most painful questions someone could ask me was, “Are you using your Chinese?”  It triggered a sense of shame that I was perhaps squandering a gift I had spent hours in honing.  Likewise, my husband now knows to brace himself for sadness when he attends his friend’s plays or is asked what show he is currently in.

In the past five years of being back in the states, my husband and I have each had some opportunities to use these latent gifts, which I may go into in another post, but for the most part, we have had to leave these talents buried in the ground.

From the world’s perspective, this is “waste,” but God seems to operate by a different economy and at times, His equations just don’t seem to balance.  Living overseas, I was always surprised when the most “qualified” people (fluent in the language, with deep relationships, culturally savvy) were the ones that seemed to leave. How could God want that when they were “doing so much to help the kingdom?” 

Similarly, in Scripture, I have always been baffled by the fact that God called Paul, who seems like he would have been the perfect candidate for ministry to the Jews, to preach to the Gentiles.  Not logical.

Paul must have felt this loss.  It seems to come through in Philippians 3, where he recounts his qualifications as being a Pharisee from the “right” lineage.  He knew what he was capable of by the world’s standards.  And yet.  He counts all these as LOSS for the sake of Christ.  He is willing to lose all–his status, education, gifts and abilities–for the sake of knowing Christ.

This is the kind of man God wanted to use to spread His kingdom in the world. 

Jesus, take my gifts.
I break this valuable alabaster jar and pour it out for you.
You are worthy of my every sacrifice because you already sacrificed your life for mine.
Nothing done for you or for your glory can ever be considered “waste.”
Thank you, Jesus.


Do you feel that you have latent gifts?  What gifts is Christ asking you to lay at His feet until He chooses to use them again?

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This post is day 4 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 3: No One Is Special {31 Days of Re-entry}

This short story is my gift to you.  It’s my favorite.

Before I met my husband, he needed to have his wisdom teeth removed.  As many of us have done, he thought to himself, This anesthetic isn’t going to work on ME.  I’m special.  And then he woke up.  Soon, he began getting tons of text messages from friends he hadn’t heard from in years.  “We think you’re special, Adam!” they said.  Or, “Praying for you!” Confused, he checked back in his sent box on his phone to see if perhaps he may have sent something in his drugged state.  Sure enough, he had sent a message to EVERYONE in his contacts–old professors, clients, acquaintances…everyone:  a picture of himself with puffy, black and blue cheeks and bloody gauze sticking out of his mouth with the caption, “No one is special.”

With the exception of a few places in the world, when you go to live in a non-western culture, you feel special.  Living in the middle of nowhere in northwest China with four foreigners in our entire city, I literally caused fender benders.  

When I visited spots like the Terracotta Warriors or the Great Wall, people would ask to take their picture with me (seriously!  I counted 10 different people once!)  Once I was reading in a noodle shop when I looked up to see a group of Hui (Muslim) men decked out in National Geographic-worthy garb, holding their cell phones up to sneak a picture of me! 

People would jab their friends to look up at us as we walked down the street (even after living on the same street for three years).   We were called foreign “experts.” Ha.  I’m still not sure what I was supposed to be an expert at.  In large meetings at our university, we would always be given the best food, hotel rooms and seats–simply because we were their guests.  I certainly felt special.


It was a bit more tame, but the pedestal effect was present in the U.S. as well.  I mean, I must have been special to have multiple invitations to speak in small groups and in front of churches, right?  People supported me financially, prayerfully and just socially as they prioritized my yearly visits.  Missionaries receive a certain kind of fame within the church that is just hard not to enjoy.  In the eyes of the church, you are a Super Christian.

And then you’re not.

You step down and walk among all the normal, “boring” Christians again.  You go to Target, get a “secular” job and are no longer sought out by people at church who once wanted to meet the “missionary who lives in China.”  As annoying as the attention could be on those days back in the country where you just wanted to be anonymous and buy a tube of toothpaste without everyone commenting on your decision, it somehow sunk into your brain that you should be noticed.  You’re special, after all.

So now I believe that one of God’s greatest gifts to me was to bring me back.  The painful process has reminded me that I am not special.  Am I loved by God?  Yes.  But special?  Jesus Himself, though He was equal with God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but took the nature of a servant (Phil. 2).  My motives in serving overseas had slowly shifted as I had begun to selfishly enjoy that I was “special.”

I love this quote from Amy Young about her return to the states after living in China for over 20 years:
“Was I willing to stay in a story I thought was interesting on the surface so that people would think I am interesting even though I was fading in it? Was I the kind of person who cared so much about others opinions I was willing to prostitute myself to being interesting? Was being interesting my altar?”
(From the post “A Great Fear {As Pertaining to the Story of my Life}”, by Amy Young of The Messy Middle, Dec. 6, 2013.)

After being back in the states for 3 months, I copied this down in my journal from My Utmost for His Highest, by Oswald Chambers (Oct. 16):

“No Christian has a special work to do.  A Christian is called to be Jesus Christ’s own…and someone who does not dictate to Jesus Christ what he intends to do.  Our Lord calls us to no special work–He calls us to Himself.”

Stepping out of the spotlight, we are stripped down to the essence of who we truly are–and that can be terrifying.  This is grace.  He is grace.  And our identity is found through our humble acceptance that we are nothing without Christ, but are complete in Him and Him alone.

Have you ever noticed that you have begun enjoying the feeling of being special just because you live overseas?  Do you think missionaries are somehow more special than others?  If you have returned, how have you dealt with this realization?



Resources:
Jonathan Trotter wrote this article (that I wish I had written!) for the website, A Life Overseas, called “The Idolatry of Missions.”  Such a poignant and true testament to some of what I have experienced.
 

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This post is day 3 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)
 Also linking up with Velvet Ashes. 


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

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


It has been almost exactly five years since I returned from China and I feel like I’m just now benefitting from the big picture view.  Most of my posts this month will include some journal entries from my time of re-entry and, like re-watching a movie with the commentary turned on, I will comment on my thoughts as I share them with you.  In eastern (as opposed to western) fashion, these posts may not be as linear as I would like, but more cyclical, repeating similar themes and thoughts.  (Or maybe that’s just the female brain?)

Journal
One month before leaving China…

June 18, 2010 
“Father God, I give you my grieving over leaving China, my uncertainty about living in Chicago, my fears about transition, identity and purpose, and my hopes and anxieties about marriage.  Please prepare my heart for the next step. 

Yesterday Adam texted me Joshua 1:9 ‘Be strong and courageous!  Do not tremble or be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.’ Joshua was a man in transition (to say the least).  

And I just ‘stumbled’ on this in Isaiah 46: 3-4:  ‘Listen to me, O house of Jacob and all the remnant of the house of Israel.  You who have been borne by me from birth, and have been carried from the womb; even to your old age, I shall be the same, and even to your graying years I shall bear you!  I have done it and I shall carry you; and I shall bear you, and I shall deliver you.'”


After being back in the states several months…

Nov. 11, 2010
Lord God, I have so many emotions and thoughts swirling within me and I don’t know how to make sense of them  But I know I miss you.  You comfort me from the inside.  You don’t change my circumstances, but you change my perspective.  Last night it’s as if you were saying, ‘I never promised that you or your life would never change, but I did promise that I would never change.’  Lord, I just feel this massive sense of loss when I think about how much time I put into learning Chinese and studying culture.  Am I really supposed to just let all that go?”

Dec. 8, 2010
“…Do you want me to do some counseling regarding my reverse culture shock?  Most days I’m fine, but when it hits me, I feel almost like despairing of life.  Is this a sign that I’m out of step with your will, Lord?  Please give me wisdom.”

 Dec. 12, 2010
“Under the circumstances, this can’t be anything but an uncomfortable time.  Not only is everything in my life changing, but the ground I am standing on now feels more like a floating island (where it is constantly raining). 


So Psalm 139 was comforting this morning: ‘Where can I go from Thy Spirit? Or where can I flee from Thy presence?  If I ascend to heaven, Thou art there; if I make my bed in Sheol, Thou art there.  If I take the wings of the dawn, if I dwell in the remotest part of the sea, even there Thy hand will lead me, and Thy right hand will lay hold of me.” (v. 7-10).  Lately, I wonder if the darkness will overwhelm me, but you say ‘even the darkness is not dark to Thee, and the night is as bright as the day’ (v. 12). Thank you, Lord.” 


Reflection
This all sounds so dramatic, but leaving China was very similar to grieving the loss of a loved one.  First, you feel that you are drowning and can’t catch your breath, but slowly the grief begins to come in waves, then ripples, then surprises you as it laps at your feet even years later.  Leaving a place you love and truly felt called to is grief.  But the Lord has been with me each step of this confusing journey.  And it has been such a comfort to know that He is the SAME.  In retrospect, I wish that I had actually found some counseling.  In future posts, I hope to add some resources for those experiencing this that I myself would have appreciated having at the time.

In spite of not getting help (and consequently having weekly meltdowns with my fiancé in the months after the return), one thing I think I did right was turn to Scripture.  I find I used many surging wave/lost at sea/drowning metaphors in my journals at the time and Christ was certainly my rock/anchor/true north in a time of life churning all around me.


Have you felt like leaving a culture was like grieving?  How have you coped?

Resources:
Check out my friend, Kim’s post on Re-Entry on Velvet Ashes. Her description of the grieving process really resonated with me. 

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This post is day 2 of the series “Re-entry: Reflections on Reverse Culture Shock,” a challenge I have taken to write for 31 days. Check out my other posts in the series:

Day 1: Introduction
Day 2: Grieving
Day 3: No One Is Special
Day 4: Wasted Gifts
Day 5: I Never Expected…
Day 6: Identity: Through the Looking Glass
Day 7: Did I mishear God?
Day 8: When You Feel Like Shutting Down
Day 9: Caring for your Dorothy
Day 10: You’re Not the Only One Who’s Changed
Day 11: 12 Race Day Lessons for Serving Overseas
Day 12: Confessions of an Experience Junkie
Day 13: Longing for Home
Day 14: Readjusting: Same Tools, Different Work Space
Day 15: Book Review: The Art of Coming Home
Day 16: The Story of My “Call”
Day 17: Is Missions a “Higher Calling”?
Day 18: And Then I Fell in Love
Day 19: Is God Calling You Overseas?
Day 20: Life Is Not Seasonal
Day 21: What I Took and What I Left Behind
Day 22: Groundless, Weightless, Homeless
Day 23: When the Nations Come to You
Day 24: The Call to Displacement
Day 25: Scripture Anchors for Re-Entry
Day 26: In the Place of Your Exile
Day 27: Resources for Re-entry
Day 28: A Time for Everything: A Prayer of Leaving
Day 29: Journal: 8 Months After Re-Entry
Day 30: 12 Survival Tips for Re-Entry
Day 31: A Blessing
(Day 32: Writing is Narcissistic (And Four Other Reasons Not to Write)–a reflection on this Write 31 Days experience)

Picture from www.canva.com

Day 1: Introduction {31 Days of Re-entry}

Re-entry for me was when life became like a rope that was forever being pulled from my hand–always moving and impossible to grasp.  In the past five years since leaving China and returning to the states, I got engaged and married, had two babies, lost a father-in-law, changed jobs twice and moved across the country. It’s been eleven months since our cross-country move and the rope is still in motion, though I’m beginning to hold it long enough to feel the texture of the coils in my hands.  And it doesn’t burn as much as it once did.

This series will be on the topic of re-entry, or reverse culture shock, but I hope you will find some solace, strength and hope for whatever transition you are experiencing.  Re-entry specifically describes the experience of living abroad or in another culture for any amount of time and then assimilating back into your “passport culture.” 

Re-entry is about being changed by your experience abroad, yet being expected to live the life you once lived in a culture in which you no longer fit. 

Disorienting and confusing, it is no wonder re-entry is analogous to a spaceship returning to earth from space. 

I first experienced reverse culture shock in high school after returning from an amazing summer camp experience in the hills of North Carolina.  I had no idea what was wrong with me.  My other experiences of it spanned 10 years and were after spending 6 months in Uganda, 5 weeks in Tajikistan and 5 years in China.  This series will mainly be about my return from China, including past journal entries about the themes, lessons and resources that have impacted me as I have attempted to process this experience.

I wrote this series in response to a challenge to write during the entire month of October, called Write 31 Days.  The table of contents is below.  Please visit multiple posts and leave comments–I’d love to hear about your experience and get to know you.  So glad you stopped by! 

Day 1: Introduction

Day 2: Grieving

Day 3: No One Is Special

Day 4: Wasted Gifts

Day 5: I Never Expected…

Day 6: Identity: Through the Looking Glass

Day 7: Did I mishear God?

Day 8: When You Feel Like Shutting Down

Day 9: Caring for your Dorothy

Day 10: You’re Not the Only One Who’s Changed

Day 11: 12 Race Day Lessons for Serving Overseas

Day 12: Confessions of an Experience Junkie

Day 13: Longing for Home

Day 14: Readjusting: Same Tools, Different Work Space

Day 15: Book Review: The Art of Coming Home

Day 16: The Story of My “Call”

Day 17: Is Missions a “Higher Calling”?

Day 18: And Then I Fell in Love

Day 19: Is God Calling You Overseas?

Day 20: Life Is Not Seasonal

Day 21: What I Took and What I Left Behind

Day 22: Groundless, Weightless, Homeless

Day 23: When the Nations Come to You

Day 24: The Call to Displacement

Day 25: Scripture Anchors for Re-Entry

Day 26: In the Place of Your Exile

Day 27: Resources for Re-entry

Day 28: A Time for Everything: A Prayer of Leaving

Day 29: Journal: 8 Months After Re-Entry

Day 30: 12 Survival Tips for Re-Entry

Day 31: A Blessing

(Day 32: Writing is Narcissistic (And Four Other Reasons Not to Write)–a reflection on this Write 31 Days experience)

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Linking up with Velvet Ashes

Keeping Your Bearings When Living Cross-Culturally

It is easy to feel lost when you cross cultures.  Really any of the analogies will suffice—lost at sea, stranded in a crowd, wandering in the forest or in a new place in the dark.  A few years ago I learned how to scuba dive and the most terrifying feeling was when you became so disoriented that you lost track of the surface of the water. Living cross culturally can feel just like that (though re-entry can feel much the same)—you are swimming along enjoying the experience when you’re suddenly lost, alone and scared.  Here are some of the ways to keep your bearings when you begin to lose track of who you are, where you are and what you’re even doing there in the first place.

1. Die to yourself, but don’t lose yourself.  You are going to have to die to yourself daily and most of the time you won’t get to choose the crosses.  You may as well accept this.  God will honor your sacrifice.  At the same time, look for ways the Lord is trying to bless you by allowing you to be the person you were before you moved overseas.  For me, it was running and cooking.  In China, I lived near the countryside, so I could run without everyone in town elbowing their neighbor to come out and check out the strange white girl running without being chased, but I know other foreigners who had gym memberships and used that as their outlet.  When I lived in Africa, I laced up and ran through the village in my long skirt at the crack of dawn.  You can make it work.


2. You are not going to change the culture, so you may as well start noticing some of the great parts about it.  Anyone who has visited China knows those aspects of Chinese culture that just grate westerners the wrong way (no lines, pushing in crowds, never actually saying no even when you mean no—to name a few), but what about those aspects of non-western culture that we need to learn from?  Those parts that are actually, possibly MORE biblical, like not being so darn independent and individualistic that we can’t ask for help?


 3. Stay calibrated and keep your bearings. Have you ever had to “calibrate” your printer? According to dummies.com:


 “Calibration refers to the proper alignment of the inkjet cartridge nozzles to the paper and each other; without a properly calibrated printer, your print quality degrades. You’ll want to calibrate your printer when you see lines appearing fuzzy in artwork or when colored areas in printed images start or stop before they should.” 

 If your “print quality” is “degrading” or your lines are appearing “fuzzy,” then it’s back to the cross with you for calibration!  This is often easier said than done, but taking an hour or two out of my day or week to sit at the feet of Jesus can do wonders for my perspective.  Do you need to spend some time being “calibrated” and realigned to Jesus again? 

Most of us are familiar with this verse (though the Message version was new to me):

“Even though I am free of the demands and expectations of everyone, I have voluntarily become a servant to any and all in order to reach a wide range of people:  religious, nonreligious, meticulous moralists, loose-living immoralists, the defeated, the demoralized—whoever.  I didn’t take on their way of life.  I kept my bearings in Christ—but I entered their world and tried to experience things from their point of view.  I’ve become just about every sort of servant there is in my attempts to lead those I meet into a God-saved life.  I did all this because of the Message.  I didn’t just want to talk about it; I wanted to be in on it!”  1 Corinthians 9: 22-23 (MSG) 

We need to keep our bearings in Christ—not our bearings in ourselves, our culture, our expat community or even in the culture we are striving so hard to adjust to, but our bearings in Christ first.  He is our true North in the disorienting confusion of a culture that we start to understand just in time to be eluded by another question.

4. Lastly, enjoy the gift of Kingdom Culture.  Kingdom Culture is that sweet spot of culture sharing made possible by belief in the same Savior; the center of a Venn diagram where insider and outsider culture collide into a central culture of love, sacrifice and humility at the foot of the cross. There is nothing like the cross to serve as the great equalizer.  I finally discovered this through relationships with other brothers and sisters in Christ who just seemed to “get” me even though our cultures collided in so many ways.  This is a special gift of grace made possible by a gracious Father.
 

All that is gold does not glitter,
Not all those who wander are lost;
The old that is strong does not wither,
Deep roots are not reached by the frost.
 
From the ashes a fire shall be woken
A light from the shadows shall spring;
Renewed shall be blade that was broken
The crownless again shall be king.
 

 

What are some of the ways you have creatively been able to retain parts of your identity even though you are living overseas?  Are you staying calibrated to the cross?  What changes to you need to make to be able to do this?  How have you experienced Kingdom Culture?

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Linking up with Velvet Ashes

 

Here are a few related posts that I found interesting:

“The Seven Lies of Living Cross-Culturally,” http://www.thecultureblend.com/?p=2172

“Living Well Where you don’t belong,”   http://www.alifeoverseas.com/living-well-where-you-dont-belong/

“17 Things that Change Forever When you Live Abroad,”  http://masedimburgo.com/2014/06/04/17-things-change-forever-live-abroad/

 

Photo: By Jeremy Harbeck (NASA) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons