Back to the Shire

Back to the Shire

In the busy chatter of the pub, it would be easy to overlook the powerful transition taking place over a pint. After a long and arduous journey, four friends—bonded forever by their trials and triumphs—quietly ponder their return to the Shire. Mugs clang in the background, the familiar smell of a home-cooked meal floats through the air, while people laugh and share local news.

Perhaps relieved to be home, free from the demands of their superhobbit journey, they realize no one else could even come close to understanding what they had experienced or how they had changed. In this short but powerful scene from the end of the Lord of the Rings Trilogy, the hobbits share a momentary exchange– a simple glance that wears all the heaviness of their journey and return. It’s a look of bitter relief, otherness, and transformation. It’s the same look I’ve shared with my husband, or a friend who has been there too. You don’t have to say anything about how it feels to return, the look says it all.

Do you know that look? Have you felt it too?

When we returned from Asia, I was devastated. It was hard to leave, even harder to “come home.” So much explaining to do, so much grief and heartache. The guilt I felt for leaving the work behind was so heavy at times I thought I’d never recover. No amount of processing and preparation for the transition home could have soothed the loss and disorientating heartbreak I experienced as we boarded the plane and said our final goodbye to the last ten years of our life.

I was raised to believe that a return was unacceptable: a failure to be faithful to the call. I never imagined returning and staying in the States, because it was never an option to me. I was completely closed off to the idea that God’s plan for my life might actually include returning to my home country for very specific reasons. So, when we did finally “come home for good,” I not only had to work through grief and loss, but also my understanding of God’s kindness and love toward me. I would often find myself staring off into space while I strolled down a grocery aisle or sipped on coffee in a bustling church foyer. I was “other.” But God was glancing at me, knowingly, lovingly. He understood. (You can read more about that transition here & here.)

Let’s skip ahead… it’s been exactly five years since we made the decision to return home and I’ve learned a thing or two that I’d like to share with you about “coming back to the Shire.”

Don’t compare yourself with others who have or haven’t returned- this is YOUR story, not anyone else’s. Nothing good comes from looking up and down a measuring stick to see where you fall in line. If you are paying attention to the Lord, and following His leading, you’re gonna be okay. Remember Psalm 121:7-8: The Lord will keep you from all harm—he will watch over your life; the Lord will watch over your coming and going both now and forevermore.

Don’t be hard on yourself for feeling all sorts of things. Maybe you’re THRILLED to be back- you are relieved, excited, content, ready for what’s next. Maybe you are DEVASTATED- feeling lost, confused, angry, resentful, resigned, indifferent. Maybe you feel ALL these things, and that’s ok. Be honest with yourself and share with people you trust about your emotions; don’t feel ashamed either way. Be kind to yourself.

Which leads me to: don’t hide yourself away. Engage with people who you love and trust (from both worlds) to create a safe talking space, crying space, and laughing-at-memories space. Like the Hobbits, you were on an intense journey that demanded all your heart and mind: you engaged with different languages and cultures, developed deep bonds, and experienced things no one could ever understand. So, find the people who “get it.” Make use of various resources to help guide you through the return. There are all sorts of books, workshops, debriefing and counseling programs out there to help overseas workers “return well.”  And of course, there is Velvet Ashes—we can share lots of resources with you, and even have special Connection Groups for those coming home.

Don’t judge others for “not getting it.” This can be hard for some of us but getting annoyed at people for not understanding the intricacies of a life overseas isn’t really fair. Be gracious with others (including those you’ve left behind), and don’t feel like you have to explain everything either. Depending on the people I’m talking to, it can be challenging for me to describe our life overseas and our return to the States. For the most part I’ve found people to be very compassionate, interested in my life and affirming of my journey. You might be surprised too!

Finally, acknowledge how much you’ve changed, stretched, and grown. It’s okay and normal to grieve what is lost, but hold tight to all the wonderful ways in which your heart has expanded. Look at you! You know another language! You’ve developed some awesome skills and made some good friends! Even the hard stuff has grown you. Take those experiences, those challenges you faced, those life-changing discoveries, and bring them home. Share your changed self with others, and let God open your eyes to new beginnings that integrate aspects of the life you said goodbye to.

It takes time, but as you grieve or jump for joy about your return home, I would encourage you to lean into the transition, instead of hold back. Share your burdens with Jesus and let Him help you along the way. Even if others will never see your hidden scars or superpowers…Jesus does. He loves you in the going AND in the return!

In May of 2017, Velvet Ashes released a series of posts on Returning Home that couldn’t have been better timing for me personally. I was still in transition, missing China, and struggling to find my place “back home.”  I felt out of place, misunderstood, and lonely at times. The following posts spoke to my heart in amazing ways, and they might do the same for you. Please check them out!

A Letter to the One Returning Home

Losing Identity in the Return

Who Said Returning Would Be Easy

The Happy/Sad Truth About Returning

How do we process all the loss of this season? So many of us have lost plans, hope, structure, community, and even life of those around us or loved ones. This webinar, presented by licensed counselor Theresa Bonesteel of GRC, will help equip us with tools to process our grief and disappointment. Click on the button above to learn more and to register.

Photo by oliver spicer on Unsplash


  1. Theresa June 22, 2020

    Monica, I’ve found that God has been using the timing of Velvet Ashes posts in meaningful ways for me, too. Your writing from February that you link here was exactly that! So grateful that you’ve contributed your stories to this community—the impact is both wide and deep. Thanks.

    1. Monica F June 25, 2020

      Oh thank you so much Theresa, your words are a great encouragement to me! God bless you!

  2. Sarah Hilkemann June 22, 2020

    I love the scene from Lord of the Rings that you shared, as well as your points here. Even after a year and a half of being back, I still needed these reminders! 🙂 I was not very gracious with myself in the beginning of re-entry, and felt terrible because I was relieved to be back in my passport country. I’ve come a long way in the journey of realizing I can be happy with where the Father has me now- and thankful for where He has allowed me to be in the past. I can acknowledge how hard re-entry has been and the pain that still needs healing, and I can find joy in the right-here-and-now. Thank you so much for sharing this, Monica!

    1. Monica F June 25, 2020

      Thanks Sarah, it’s so easy to feel guilty about returning home (whether relieved, happy, sad). We need to cut ourselves some slack, acknowledging the difficulty while embracing the hear-and-now, as you say. I think just being aware, and being willing to let the emotions flow is an important step to healing and moving forward in the journey. One little step at a time! Having others to share the journey with is helpful too, that’s why I’m so thankful for VA!

  3. Grace L June 25, 2020

    Hi Monica. Thank you for this post. It is so timely. We have just found out that we have to leave this country (same as the one you were in) quite suddenly and will not be allowed to return. The packing and goodbyes are happening now and the more challenging part of the transition will come next week and in the many months ahead.

    1. Monica F August 11, 2020

      I’ve been thinking of you Grace. How are you doing? Praying for you today.

  4. Monica F June 25, 2020

    Grace, my heart goes out to you. I can only imagine the number of emotions you are experiencing right now, in this moment. You have been so faithful, may the Lord give you strength in this challenging time. I will pray for you now. Safe travels and may you feel blessed in the goodbyes.

  5. Priscilla August 9, 2020

    Monica, I love this post and was reminded yesterday about Velvet Ashes. God put it in my mind at the right time because it has opened up so much emotions that I haven’t dealt with. Especially during this pandemic, I lived in China and we went on holiday for the Chinese New Year expecting to go back and I haven’t been back since January. My heart is filled with so many emotions as I try to figure this new life in the States looks like during this time. I appreciate your story and encouragement and what you went through. Blessings.

    1. Grace L August 9, 2020

      Hi Priscilla. My heart goes out to you. We too are missing China after having been asked to leave in June. We are still trying to adjust to life back in the US again after 14 years of living in China among a people we loved. I pray for God’s grace for you as you continue to adjust to life here and seek Him for what direction He will take you in. I think there are many of us who have left China this year for a variety of reasons. Perhaps we can help support one another in some way.

      1. Monica F August 11, 2020

        I so hurt for you Grace. What a heartache as you move through the grief in the transition. I agree, many have had to leave China this year. Yes, perhaps we could put together a support group through Velvet Ashes. I’ll be praying for you!

        1. Grace L August 11, 2020

          Hi Monica. Thanks for your prayers for us. We have been back in Maine for 6 weeks and are doing reasonably well, all things considered. One thing we are doing is to process with others who have also had to leave, or who left and can no longer go back. Yes, a support group for those who have left could be very helpful. It has been helpful to do video calls with others who are going through the same situation as we are.

          We have been blessed to be in a good housing situation for the summer, and will be renting a fully furnished house from September through May. We are hoping to take some of that time to do a much-needed sabbatical. And with the affects of Covid, it’s hard to know whether we are experiencing so many changes because of that, or just because of normal reentry.

          If you know how to put together a support group for us Sinophiles in exile, that would be very much welcomed. Thank you for remembering us in prayer and for caring.

    2. Monica F August 11, 2020

      Oh Priscilla, thank you for sharing this with me, and I’m glad my story encouraged you. We do not walk this journey alone, although we experience the events and heartache differently. I’m praying for you today, that they Lord will surround you with loving support, and even friend who understand aspects of your departure. Many of my former colleagues and friends who worked in China have not been able to return. I grieve this with you as well. Do take care.

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