A Rubber Duck Lesson on Leaving {The Grove: Leaving}

I have forgotten many things from pre-field training, but there’s one image that is seared onto my brain. It’s a picture of two rubber ducks.

Let me explain. These two rubber ducks represent the paradox of transition and life overseas. Pair ‘o ducks… paradox. Get it? Silly, I know, but stick with me. Packing up, leaving everything we’ve ever known, landing in a completely new place, finding new rhythms when we can’t even speak the language- all these things come with both joy and sorrow. It’s not just one, but both of these contrasting emotions (and a whole slew of others) can reside in our hearts at the same time. This is the paradox.

Pre-field training was five years ago. I’ve survived language school, multiple moves across the country of Cambodia, houses with great showers and others with no running water, and every critter you could possibly imagine that resides in Southeast Asia. I’ve crossed the ocean and come back again a couple of times for short visits, but now I’m preparing for a longer home assignment. These pair o’ ducks have been stuck in my mind.

I’m scared to admit that at the moment the sorrow duck is winning as I look back at this last term. I’m so ready for a break. I’m tired of how hot season dehydrates my soul and my body, and how our neighbor lady wants to know every detail of our lives. I would love a day without losing our electricity, having to find the mouse that has been getting into our cupboard, or swerving around the motorcycles going against the flow of traffic. I’m sad that my weary mind and body can’t just let all these go, that I get angry and frustrated or lack grace in my interactions.

Leaving feels like defeat when I’m ready to say, “Goodbye and good riddance.” What kind of overseas worker am I? There are challenges even in the “Promised Land” of my passport country, and I have yet to discover a place that is perfect. I know these things and yet I’m ready for spring weather and clean sidewalks and tidy traffic.

But there’s grace for the paradox and there’s space for God to gently cup my face in His hands and soothe the ache of transition. He allows us to grieve unmet expectations, hurt, and mistakes we sure wish we could change. Then He starts to wash away the grime and reveal the joy as we allow Him to heal our hearts.

He is slowly revealing the other rubber duck—the joys of my life overseas and the past few months. Our neighbor never ceases to ply us with questions, but she is also ready to keep an eye on our home and makes sure we are stocked up on sweetened condensed milk from her little road-side shop. There is nothing quite like the joy of restored electricity after several-hour outages, and I wouldn’t know this excitement if it were not for the frequent cuts.

When the plane lands in Nebraska, the joys and sorrows will follow me through the cornfields and country roads too. The heart of this overseas worker will never quite feel at home anywhere anymore as the farmer’s daughter mixes with all the parts of Cambodia that have rubbed off on my soul. I will celebrate and cry as I re-enter America for a season, and wrestle with this paradox again when these months of home assignment are over.

God is in the paradox, friends, and I’m preaching that to myself right now. He does not reside only in Cambodia, or only in my passport country. He is my constant through this transition, and He is my home.

How have you walked through the paradox of joy and sorrow through transition? What have you learned about leaving well?

This is The Grove and we want to hear from you! You can link up your blog post, or share your practices, ponderings, wisdom, questions, ideas, and creative expressions with us in the comments below.

Share your images on this week’s theme with #VelvetAshesLeaving. You can add yours!


  1. Casual Friday Resources | Paracletos May 25, 2018

    […] Yeah ducks and yuck ducks. A bit corny, perhaps, but oh so memorable. Sarah Hilkemann is thankful that she remembered what she was taught at MTI before leaving for the field. Now that she’s returning, this advice has been very helpful. […]

  2. IstanJules June 13, 2018

    I hear you! My kids also have their Pair-o-ducks sitting on a shelf. 🙂
    I had just begun gearing myself up for the possibility of a visa-denial induced return when we signed up for a two year project. Suddenly, I had to switch back into staying mode. Even though only a week or two of mentally planning had passed, I feel the weight of both those yay/yuck emotions. I surprised myself with how sad I felt about the possibility of going, then immediately surprised myself at how sad I felt about NOT going. For all the traffic, pollution, election craziness, spiritual darkness, and general annoyance, spending 11 years in a place makes it home. My home for all but 4 years of my adult life, and all of my married years. All of my children’s years. Now I’m trying to figure out how to get a limitless visa without being Beyonce! Because I don’t want to leave. But a lot of days I don’t want to stay. Such is expat life.

What do you think?

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.