We all know that hindsight is 20/20. God doesn’t give us a script for each stage of life. John Flavel famously quoted: “The providence of God is like Hebrew words—it can be read only backwards.” We had traveled back and forth between countries for nearly 10 years, and even experienced reverse culture shock, but
I knew moving back to America was going to be unlike anything I had ever experienced. I read many books and articles about re-entry and re-acclimation, but my future was foggy.
So if I could get into a DeLorean with Michael J. Fox, flip the flux capacitor, and travel back one year, here are 7 things I would tell myself:
- The first several months is survival mode. Allen, moving your family back to the States will be chaotic (see previous post). From the time you purchase your one-way plane ticket until several months after you land, you will be in for a ride. So don’t have high expectations for your wife and kids. Your only goal is not to kill anybody. If you do that, you’ll be doing great! So don’t make any long term plans. Don’t make a lot a new rules for your kids. Just breathe in. Now, breath out.
- Transition back to the States takes much longer than you’ll expected. Allen, you are not going to want to hear this, but you will not be settled for two to three years. Finding a new job and a new home takes time. And even after that, it takes several cycles of going through re-occuring calendar events for it to feel normal again.
- Waiting is the name of the game. This is similar to #2, but a bit more spiritual. While you wait, God will reveal many of your idols that you presently cannot see. You will be in a holding pattern until you repent of your idols. Be encouraged for you will literally learn Psalm 23:2 – God will make you rest and lie down in green pastures.
- Give lots of grace. Allen, give grace to your extended family and friends, for they have no idea what you are going through. Give grace to your immediate family, for none of them have ever gone through anything like this, and they will struggle just like you. And give grace to yourself, for you will walk through a dark valley and hit many walls. What I’m about to tell you is completely un-American: it’s OK to be down and even depressed for a season. It’s a normal part of the transition process.
- It’s OK to feel invisible and out of place. When you left for Peru, you were a square. When you lived in Peru, you became a circle. When you move back, you will changed again; you will become a triangle. Because you’ve changed so many times, you’ll face two identity problems: (1) All your American family and friends still think you are a square, and treat you like a square. That’s why they will say things like, “Are you glad to be home?!” You will struggle to answer that question. (2) There is another problem: when you move back, you will still think of yourself as a circle. You will still see yourself as a Peru missionary, but that too will change. You will no longer be a square or a circle; you will become a triangle! In short, everyone will be confused. And that’s completely OK. More than anything, you will rediscover that your true identity is in Christ. This will stabilize you in the midst of your identity crisis.
- You will not pick right back up with your former colleagues. This will throw you for a loop. You are tempted to falsely think you can jump right back into relationships that you once had. They will be nice to you, but they honestly will not know what to do with you. You’re no longer working overseas somewhere, but now you’ll be on their turf. Some might even see you as a threat. So slow down, re-learn the terrain, re-build your networks, and don’t over assume good graces with your former peers & colleagues.
- Pray for advocates. This is a direct overflow of #5 & 6: because you feel invisible and cannot jump right back into the game, what you need more than ever are advocates. This will become essential for your job search. Most hire people with whom they have a relational connection. So begin to pray that God will rise up advocates who connect you to the right people and the right job.
If you have lived in another country, what would you say to yourself if you could travel back in time? I’d love to know your thoughts!