10 Ways to Reconnect with Family When You’re Back in the States

As I write this I’m flying over the big blue ocean, a 4-year-old contentedly playing a LeapPad game next to me, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty showing on the tiniest airplane screen you’ve ever seen. My little sister is getting married, so I’m headed back to the US, more than ready for three weeks filled with celebration and copious amounts of Kansas City barbeque.

Even as I can barely contain the excitement, I’m preparing myself for the balancing routine. It can be an out-of-sync dance: this return to roots, to the people who so lovingly – and also sacrificially – sent us out into the world, to fill up all the time with everything we can cram in. And in the rare downtime, we find ourselves fumbling through awkward pauses no amount of questions or good intentions can fill. Where do we even begin to tell the stories, the joys and the heartaches? And how do we enter their world (our old one) when we know we’ll soon be gone again?

Well, up in the air with nothing but time to wonder (and occasionally top up my son’s Pringles stash), I’m working through a few ideas on how to reconnect with family while you’re back in the States, especially when time is running short.

1) One-by-one. We’re tempted to throw the whole crew together for a once-off shebang. In fairness, this is exactly what I’m planning during our current trip back home. But these get-togethers often bring unneeded noise, overstimulation and missed connections. Take time for one-on-one discussions, where someone has your full attention and you have theirs.

2) Get comfy. Settle in on the sofa, around the dining room table, or even in a bed filled with sisters. There’s no need to go anywhere or say anything. Put your feet up and stay awhile with the people who just long to have you near.

3) Make a play for it. Break the ice of cultural whiplash with a board game, puzzle or pick-up game. Play with one another. Laughs and butt smacks are sure to follow.

4) Rise and shine. Get up for breakfast and eat together. Start the day with your mom while you’re sporting fuzzy socks and bed head. Think of it as going retro and becoming a daughter again.

5) Picture it. Bring photos, but not just of the sights in your city. Share photographs of your house, your garden, the people you see every Tuesday morning, or your favorite reading chair. Show them the life you’ve made and what (or who) feeds you.

6) Off to school. Staying with cousins? Inquire if your children can tag along for the day. It’s sure to be more fun without the threat of homework and your kiddo will enjoy learning from his or her cousin’s perspective.

7) Walk it out. Grab a sibling, friend or parent and walk around their neighborhood. Often we tap out early sharing all of our seemingly mundane adventures. See their world through their eyes and get to know the place Jesus has called them to be.

8) Reading rainbow. Break out the book list. Share what you’ve been reading and the authors who are currently influencing you. Ask for recommendations and swap books. This is one of my favorite things to do with my long-distance girlfriends. More often than not, we’re on the same page (pun intended).

9) Hold the phone. Stay off social media and try to set aside impending work and service responsibilities. Put your phone on silent (if you even bring one) and engage in the here and now. No matter how long you’re with them for, it will always feel too short. Make the most of your time and be all there.

10) Play church hooky. I know it seems counterintuitive; we are cross-cultural servants after all. But if it all possible, if you can skip the Sunday school presentation and instead enjoy a luxurious brunch with your family, do it. Church doesn’t always have to be about work, but even when we don’t intend it to be, we can find ourselves giving impromptu lessons or ministry summaries. Save the partner development for a trip when you can devote yourselves to it and don’t feel bad for making your family a priority.

Now it’s you’re turn! Tell me: what is the thing you always try to do when you return to your roots? How do you make the most of your time with your family? Or what do you wish you could do if given the opportunity?

Photo Credit: Cayusa via Compfight cc


  1. Ali June 1, 2014

    All good ideas, thanks! I often meet up with friends who are now married with kids. They don’t have much time to leave it all behind and go out for a coffee, so I ask if I can tag along with them for a day. I’ve done school drop offs and pick ups, met their friends who are waiting for their kids, met a few teachers, seen the kids in their context, went to a judo lesson, joined in a choir practice with a friend, been around quite a few supermarkets… and generally seen a bit about their life. Sometimes we compare lives… I tell them what you can and can’t buy in a supermarket where I usually live!

    But why the title “…when you’re back in the States”? I thought this was an international community?! These things could equally be valid in Australia, or the UK, or…. “when you are back in your home country”.

    1. Danielle Wheeler June 2, 2014

      True, Ali!  Yes, we should have made it “home country” or “passport country.” Thanks for the reminder!

      1. karen June 2, 2014

        Exactly, Danielle. I also struggle when thinking of “home.” Which home am I talking about? Original one? Current one? “Back in the States” is a good qualifier for me, but certainly not for everyone. 🙂

    2. karen June 2, 2014

      I completely agree, Ali! My original title was “…when time is running short” because I think these things can be applied when cross-cultural women also host their families. This is totally an international community, so hope you weren’t put off. 🙂 And I love how you tag along with your friends and their families. It’s such a great way to invest a little bit of time and effort with huge relational bonuses! Thanks for commenting!

  2. Ashley Felder June 2, 2014

    We’re from KC, too! BBQ is most definitely on the top of our list to dive into!!

    1. karen June 2, 2014

      Woot! I’m ashamed to say I indulged only once or twice in my three weeks back home, but it was soooo good. Out of curiosity, what’s your favourite KC bbq place? Mine: Zarda! 🙂 Thanks for commenting!

      1. Ashley Felder June 3, 2014

        Oklahoma Joe’s is definitely #1 for me, and Arthur Bryant’s is a close 2nd. 🙂

        1. Karen Huber June 3, 2014

          Yes! Would you believe I’ve never been to Oklahoma Joe’s? I’m the worst Kansas Citian ever. On the other hand, we did bring ourselves a bottle of Arthur Bryant back (and my sister’s wedding rehearsal dinner was catered by Gates. Nomnom)!

  3. Laura June 2, 2014

    Karen, enjoyed your list! I just got back from a month in the States, and I found what helped me make the most of my time at home was just diving right back into life there — helping out around the house, attending events for friends, meeting up at the “usual” spots for coffee with friends, etc. I was busy, but it helped me reconnect with more people in more natural settings. Plus, I felt like less of a guest and more like someone who belongs/is always around.

    1. karen June 2, 2014

      Yes! Those are great additions. Normal, natural life rhythms. Also, I probably could’ve helped my stepmom load/unload the dishwasher more than I did. 😉

  4. Jill June 2, 2014

    Oh how I agree with each of these suggestions!  Especially the one about church.  After living overseas for three years honestly it took me some time (as well as my children) to be comfortable being back in our big Southern Baptist home church in MS.  I am not sure I really ever felt completely comfortable.  I wish I’d come across your article before our recent furlough.  Thank you for your honesty and words of inspiration.

    1. karen June 2, 2014


      Jill, I know exactly how you feel and we struggled similarly during our extended home assignments when we needed to visit my husband’s (much larger, wealthier) denominational home church. This last trip we skipped our supporting churches (mainly due to us only having one sunday all together, post wedding crash!) knowing we simply couldn’t give them the time we would all need to connect and share. I’m looking forward to saving that for whatever work trips/support raising visits are in our future! I’m so glad I could share something that spoke to you. Thank you for commenting!

  5. Elisa June 2, 2014


    Thank you for sharing your list with us.  It’s a good one. I especially liked what you said about playing church hooky. I think this is one that many of us feel we “can’t afford to do.”  Whether it’s because we feel obligated to go and share about life in our host culture or whether we covet time at our fellowships because we miss the experience of corporate fellowships and p&w (I cry almost every time). When relationships are so much a part of what we do for work on both sides of the ocean it’s hard to separate work from play and vise versa.

    I tend to do more of what Ali was talking about in the first comment and  insert myself into their lives when and where I can.  I’ve found that this is mutually encouraging for me and for them.

    I think the hardest thing for me is finding a balance and being realistic with my limits of who I can see in any given time in my passport country.  I tend to try to fit EVERYONE in to be “fair” which normally leads to me running myself into the ground every time I’m “home”.  It can easily turn into me accommodating everyone else and setting myself aside in an unhealthy fashion.  With so many dear friends and family spread out all over the U.S. I’ve discovered I need to come up with a new way of tackling passport country time.  One that won’t wear me out in time to return to my host culture.

    Any one have any more thoughts on this problem?  What has worked for you?  How did you lay down the expectations of seeing everyone?  I know for me a lot of this is rooted in people pleasing mixed with a  hunger to meet and connect with those I’ve left behind in my passport country.


    1. Meagan Stolk June 2, 2014

      Personally I make a calendar for my time back in my passport country and email people, that are a priority to see, in advance to set aside at least 1 time slot for them. Being an introvert I make sure I leave space free for quiet times and just enjoying the aspects that I have missed of home without feeling rushed and drained by fitting in as many people as possible. I am travelling between three states this trip and even with my current plans I can’t see everyone – it is a difficult thing as I long to squeeze everyone in – but I need to also consider my own wellbeing. I usually will send an email, postcard or call friends/family that I can’t visit to let them know I still care and consider making a visit to them the next time I’m back.

      Lastly let go of the guilt that can come from not being able to squeeze everyone in – that is not healthy and if they truly care for you they would not want you to feel this way. One friend shared with me that she feels she owes everyone because she hasn’t seen them for so long and/or they have been supporting her financially and if she doesn’t repay them they will feel slighted by her being inconsiderate. My heart broke with hers as she shared this burden with me and her inadequacy to do it all. There is so make guilt and forced obligation in this way of thinking than the joy of true fellowship with others.

      I find it is important to check my motives and priorities for when I’m in my passport country – why am I there and how can I use that time best to glorify God, love others and also look after myself? Honestly I can quickly fall into the trap of people pleasing by making others feel accommodated for by me, leading me to feel drained. I have slowly realised that this is not God honouring nor healthy. It is a priority for me to return to the place God has called me fully recharged and refreshed, ready for what is ahead. Each of us have our purposes for our time home and personal struggles that can distract us along the way. Recognising what could be a healthy balance for you (realising that that could mean not seeing everyone) could be a good step into having a more refreshing time in your passport country.

      1. Karen Huber June 3, 2014

        Ooh, a calendar! Why didn’t I think of that? Also great tips regarding guilt and motives. Thanks for commenting and adding to the list! 🙂

    2. Karen Huber June 3, 2014

      Thanks for the comment, Elisa. I so struggled with feeling fair to everyone… staying with my dad but missing my mom, seeing this person and never getting to connect with another. It’s certainly a struggle for me. Thank you for adding to the discussion!

  6. Meagan Stolk June 2, 2014

    This is very timely as I just landed in Australia yesterday for a 7 week break. I am exhausted but know that there is a need to be intentional with spending quality time with the people I haven’t seen for so long. I like to ease my way into it – and since my parents live so far away for where used to call home it is always nice to start there. I usually do the “tag along for a day” idea. It is necessary to do smaller groups than gather on mass because it quickly becomes too overwhelming or I suddenly realise I am an alien amongst this group with nothing to say. I have found it necessary to prepare a few versions of a “summary” of my time away for different people I may need to talk to. There is the 30 second positive sentence “It’s great, filled will challenges but God is good”. Then there is the 3-5 minute summary where I can be a little more open about 1 or 2 ups and downs yet not overwhelm the listener. Finally there is that safe friends or family members who really does want to hear those joys and pains and for me to pour out my heart. However, I enjoy most hearing about them and their lives as I try to discover what “normal” is again and adjust to the customs and sounds of my passport country.

    1. Karen Huber June 3, 2014

      These are great tips, Meagan! Especially easing into it… My first week back, I slept in, drank coffee on the porch and just sat with my family while we watched my kiddo play. And yes, praise God for those “safe people” who can and will hear the pourings of our hearts. Love that. Thanks for commenting!

  7. Kayla June 4, 2014

    I am so grateful for this list! I’m going back to the States to surprise my mom next week. My dad knows I’m coming home but my mom is still clueless. 🙂 My mom has missed me a lot this year (I’m the oldest of three and the only girl) and my brother just graduated from high school (missed his graduation and apparently he almost cried because I wasn’t there). As I’ve been getting ready to go, the thought of how much I need to do and who I need to see was almost completely and utterly overwhelming. This list will definitely help as I look ahead to the whirlwind two weeks in America. 🙂

    1. karen June 6, 2014

      What a great surprise! Hope it’s a fun-filled, restorative trip for you! And I’m so glad you could glean something from my off-the-cuff-and-slightly-jet-lagged wisdom. 😉

  8. Kayla June 4, 2014

    Holy moly… to the moderators of this website, PLEASE remove the ginormous picture above. Ha. Linked the wrong photo. Fail.

    1. karen June 6, 2014

      I don’t know about the other moderators, but I think it’s lovely and think we should keep it! 🙂

  9. Ruth June 5, 2014

    Karen, I really enjoyed reading your blog several years ago and often thought, “I bet I’d really like getting to know her!”  I lost track of it though and had completely forgotten about it until I saw your post here and realized, “Oh hey!  I know who that is!”  So, it’s nice to see you again and I’ll have to remember to check out your blog again too!

    1. karen June 6, 2014

      Hi Ruth! Thanks for the really sweet comment! I appreciate you keeping tabs on me. Ha! 😉

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