I am an overseas worker.
I have a unique, interesting life.
I am the one others say is brave.
I am in a specific ministry context.
I enjoy the work I’m called to, even as I would also enjoy being married or having children.
Then I returned to my passport country. And just like that, it all changed. Granted, the circumstances of my re-entry were not ideal. I didn’t know that when I left my host country for a six-week trip that it would turn out to be a long-term decision complicated by COVID travel restrictions. By the time the final decision had been made, COVID had shut things down in my passport country.
Suddenly, I was not an overseas worker. I was unemployed. I was living with my parents surrounded by Midwestern cornfields instead of in my own cozy apartment in one of the world’s largest cities. I don’t even know what people thought of me, because options to connect with supporters or friends were limited due to COVID restrictions.
What I thought I’d be doing for a few more years had quickly come to end. I didn’t have a next step in my life lined up. My search for a pastoral position in a denomination that only has a few female pastors has been hard. I’m still not married and don’t have children to care for; not having a job feels like it would be easier if I at least had kids to care for. My world shrank. I felt invisible. And as the months went on, it felt like everything that my society uses to mark identity was getting stripped away from me. What might be left? Who am I without all of this?
I’m still in this long season. The months and months and months keep stripping away layers of things I based my identity on. I don’t know what the next chapter of my life will look like.
What I do know is how gently God has held me in this season. As so much has been stripped away, God never left me alone. Last summer I often ate breakfast on my parents’ deck, breathing in clean air, admiring the cobalt blue sky and puffy clouds floating over the cornfields. After eating, as I quieted my heart to listen for God, I heard the whisper, “Trust me. Trust me. Trust me.”
Hiking through the dunes to sit along Lake Michigan brought peace to my battered soul. Engaging in debriefing with a group and on my own helped me to start to name the identity shifts. Pastors—both male and female—listened to my story and heart and encouraged me to keep going. Going deeper with the Enneagram helped me identify more of how my self has adapted to life in ways that aren’t always helpful (like trying to control everything and be the best at things).
And in the presence of God, the word beloved has come up again and again. I am God’s beloved. I don’t earn that status. It isn’t because I was wildly effective on the field. It isn’t because I’m brave. It isn’t because I have a great marriage. It isn’t because I’m a Pinterest worthy mother. It isn’t because I had a well-planned re-entry. It isn’t because I got the first job I applied for or because I’ve kept persevering and trusting even though I can’t see the way forward. My achievements are not why God calls me beloved. And my failures don’t keep God from calling me beloved.
I am beloved because of the Father’s great love. I am beloved because in baptism Christ marked me as his own. I am beloved because the Spirit dwells within me. I am beloved.
And from the middle of this story, unable to see the path forward, I hope and pray that I will rest in being God’s beloved daughter and let that be my most important identity. Beloved.
Resources I’ve Found Helpful in Re-entry:
- Debriefing in a group and with Returning Well
- Spiritual Practices of lectio divina, praying with a labyrinth, journaling, and meeting with a spiritual director
- The Enneagram—I’ve enjoyed learning from The Road Back to You and Self to Lose, Self to Find
What forces are shaping your identity on the field or during re-entry? What practices have helped ground your identity in Christ?