What I’d Go Back and Say to My Culturally Stressed Out Self

Dear 2008 Self,

Hey girl!  Just want you to know you’re my favorite! How’s it going?  Oh wait.  I remember.  Not super.

squatty potty

You’re smiling here but I know what’s really going on. I know you’re struggling with where you’re living.  Life overseas is tricky.

You’re wondering why they are spraying canned “snow” for flocking trees in your hair during the Christmas Eve church service.  I gotta say, that one still confuses me.  You don’t know when you’re going to get the “snow” out of your hair because they water is only sometimes on in your building.  You haven’t had a shower in a week because of it.  An irritation for sure.  You’re concerned about the flames shooting out of the outlets in your living room.  A valid concern indeed.

You’re longing to have a properly made latte and chat over it at a coffee shop with a girlfriend.  You’d punch a stranger if you thought it would get you an avocado or some blueberries.  But mostly, you’re aching to start your family.  You’re weary of the heartbreak of not being pregnant over and over again.  So deeply painful.  I still cry sometimes when I think of it.  Right now, in fact.  Thanks for that, 2008 self.

Well, I’m here to tell you that you’re leaving that place and you’re getting those kids. Here’s a picture so you’ll believe me.  I know you don’t think it will ever happen.

kids at table

Yes they are fantastic-to-the-max but not so fast…all is not resolved. I have to tell you that you’re still struggling, you’re still chronically wishing and you’re weary to the bone on some days.

Now we both know you’re a focused individual.  You attended three different colleges and changed majors multiple times and STILL managed to graduate with your degree in 4 years.  You’re in your element when you’re completing tasks and everything is going “right.”

That’s all well and good…but that’s not always how life works.  You need to know that sometimes your focus is off.  Like waaaaaaay off.

No offense, of course.  You know you’re my favorite, right?

What I’d like you to consider, what I’m percolating in right now as well, is how to be thankful in this very moment.  I have a strategy I’d like to share.

Wait for it…


Be thankful.   Just do.  Stop struggling and wishing and start thanking.  Allow me to help:

So you don’t have children.  You’re the wife of an amazing man living in a fascinating country. That’s pretty rad.  You visit the Great Wall of China on a regular basis for heaven’s sake.  You got to go to the temple where Kung Fu originated.  You have eaten scorpions.  It’s disgusting, but it’s a cool story.  You vacation in Thailand every. single. winter.  Ugh.

In fact, here you are at a beach resort having Thai food made by real-live Thai people.


And here you are up so far north you’re practically in Russia.  At a castle made entirely of ice.  I’m sorry, but that’s pretty awesome.


These days, I drive to a small Louisiana town for vacation.  Does that make you feel better?

You know all that free time you have?  Enjoy that because it’s basically gone in 2014.  You’re an expert on Dora and Spiderman now, friend. And, just so you know, they are precisely as uninteresting to you now as they seemed in 2008.

And the 5 pounds you wish you could lose?  Well, it’s more like 25 now.  Your kids are happy to let you exercise, they are not the reason you are expanding.  You’re just kinda getting old in 2014 and more than a little lazy.  And there is so much bread in the States!  You’re no match for it all.

So with all due respect, wrinkle-laden 2014 me with no free-time or pants that fit would like to tell thin, well-rested me to kindly, get over it.  Be grateful for what you have.  Like right now.  Give thanks in all circumstances.  God’s got this, friend.

And, because I’m you, I know that thin, well-rested me would like to throw the same charming sentiments right back at my  now “big-boned,” over-the-hill 2014 self.  You’d say, “You have the kids I want.  Enjoy them and quit complaining about things I would kill for in 2008.”

And once again, because I’m you, I couldn’t agree more.

We are so smart.  Here’s to a thankful 2008 and 2014.

Your favorite person ever,



So… is any of this relatable to anyone?  Do tell.


  1. Elizabeth July 28, 2014

    Oh my goodness, yes! I was just thinking this last week, because in high school I was an anorexic, and I thought I would die before I would gain weight. I thought I couldn’t be happy over 100 pounds. And here I am, much larger than that, and it’s not the end of the world. I would say to that girl, someday you will be much larger than this, and it will not bother you (much) because you have so many other things in your life that you care about.

    1. Elizabeth July 28, 2014

      Also, cried at the picture of your kids. So amazing God gave them to you 🙂

    2. Emily Thomas July 28, 2014

      I love this story!  I am so glad for all that you have learned!  Writing letters to yourself was something I had never tried before but I was amazed at how much I learned through the process!

  2. Kristina Krauss July 28, 2014

    Wow. What a fun thought. I could totally go back and tell my younger self to just chill out. I remember longing for the day God would use me. I remember being tired of serving others in ministry, and wanted to be able to dream up something and do it. I begged God to see me there waiting. Hoping. Dreaming. Now I beg God to take it easy on me. I have an exciting ministry and it is mine. But ooooo how painful it is to be the boss, to be responsible, to have the buck stop here. If only I could take a break from it all. I wish I could have enjoyed more the easier life when I had it. I’m sure a future self could also look at me now and tell me to chill and enjoy the ride. God is the boss, so just hang on tight!

    1. ErinMP July 29, 2014

      Since I’m in the first season….

      thank you! I’ll listen to your present-self advice! 🙂

      1. Amy Young July 31, 2014

        What a great image for my soul Erin MP!

    2. Emily Thomas July 29, 2014

      Love this, Kristina!  I love that you are thinking ahead to what a future self would say.  What a way to gain perspective.

  3. ErinMP July 29, 2014

    What I’d Go Back and Say to My Culturally Stressed Out Self
    is so helpful to me right now. 🙂 In Thailand (as I mentioned on another board) for first week… Why do they put corn on ice cream? Why are there no sidewalks? Why do mosquitos want to eat me ALL DAY LONG? Why is there so much free time before school starts, and how do I not come across as the pushy list-oriented direct (read: obnoxious) overly independent American that I really am? And why did I not ask for a dress code before I left? (note: Thai and Korean cultures are much more conservative than USA Christians, at least in CA. I passed for modest and sometimes uptight in CA. Here, I’m breaking dress code every day and I think embarrassing my bosses. But maybe that’s in my head. The embarrassment part, not the dress code part).

    Oh, and whoever said it was easy to change donla into baht was mistaken. Or, as we say here in Thailand, gohoht! (my Americanized accented version of “you lie”).

    But this reminds me of the things I am thankful for (besides skype and email!). A good, safe school, interesting cultural experiences like rooserters in car shops and motorcycle taxi rides and the khlong at night. And while I long for a family, too, I realize now both seasons have their good, too. Including this one. As difficult as moving to another country alone is!

    Included one of my favorite c.s. lewis quotes. Thanks for this community guys, I’m haphazard at best but I love it!

    1. Emily Thomas July 29, 2014

      Erin- It sounds like you have experienced a TON in one week!! I don’t know about the corn in the ice cream thing.  I remember green tea cheesecake at the Starbucks that was (and still is) baffling.  🙂 I love that C.S. Lewis quote too!  So glad you have found this community.

      1. ErinMP July 29, 2014

        Thank you! I think I will have to try that once I get more baht! There seems to be 7-11 and Starbucks (with a very–no,not a Thai twist, just plain Thai!) everywhere! I like it here a lot, despite the hard lessons! How long were you in the area of SEAsia/Thailand??

        1. Emily July 30, 2014

          I was there for three years. It really was a remarkable experience. ☺️

  4. ErinMP July 29, 2014

    And what I would say to my off the plane self…

    Let yourself adjust. You don’t need to figure everything out in a week.

    If someone wants to trade mattresses with you immediately, be suspicious of bedbugs.

    Find the mosquito ointment and preventive spray (that the stewardess took away from you) IMMEDIATELY. Don’t wait until you look like a chicken pox patient.

    Memorize the coin system before you’re standing in the 7-11 lines. (they are everywhere in Bangkok, love it!).

    While you’re eager to practice your language skills, do it with the Thai natives who will think it’s hilarious and fun, not the other overseas workers. Jealousy and insecurity exists even in the field.

    But I’m hoping with all these lessons (in less than a week!) I can still be idealistic!

    1. Kristina Krauss July 31, 2014

      Wow! Fun stuff for the first week. Yes. Yes. Yes. Thanks for sharing ErinMP.

      Mine for the week would be:

      You don’t have to tell this guy it wont happen, just pretend it might. This culture doesn’t like firm “no’s”.

      It doesn’t matter how fluent you are; Spanish will never be your first language. Just have fun and be humble. Laugh at yourself with everyone around you.

      The need will always be there. Don’t panic with the new information about the website being WAY too slow. Just figure out what needs to be done, choose the staff to do it, and put it on the calendar. We can keep working 9-6, Monday thru Friday, and the problems will get solved. Just. don’t. panic.

      Keep learning. It doesn’t matter that you already had this figured out. Technology just wont quit moving. Pick up that new Adobe Suite CS6 and get to learning. It wont take you long to learn Encore and Dreamweaver. You have InDesign and Premier figured out, just add a couple more programs.

      Don’t worry about that huge billing mistake from FedEx. Just slowly get to the bottom of the problem, prevent future mistakes and try to get the ministry’s money back. Mistakes will always happen. We all get at least one big one per year. Don’t even try to figure out whose fault it was.

      Morale amongst the staff matters. Take the time to plan the outing, and get everyone involved. Its not all about work. work. work.

      Its ok that you are working above your head. Jesus is in charge. Stay connected to Him, and all will be ok!


      1. ErinMP July 31, 2014

        I love the language and not panicking/keep moving advice!

  5. Jan Morrison July 29, 2014

    Emily! Your conversation has inspired me– for my 58 year old self to have a conversation with my 35 year old self when I first came to Africa with 5 kids on 3 months notice… Thank you for sharing your inner conversation

    1. Emily Thomas July 29, 2014

      It’s my pleasure, Jan.  Thank you for taking the time to read and respond. And by the way it sounds like that was QUITE the journey!  Will you be writing about it at the Grove this week?  I’d love to hear it.

  6. Alex K July 29, 2014

    Love love love this! I’ve been working on a letter to myself a year ago, I.e right before we left for India and this will be the perfect week to get it blog ready for The Grove. It’s always so astounding in the midst of a hard season to look back and remember all the ways that The Lord has proven himself faithful over and over again. I so needed to hear this and remember this morning!

    1. Emily Thomas July 29, 2014

      Hey Alex~

      I’m so happy to hear this!  Can’t wait to read your letter. 🙂

  7. Jessica July 29, 2014

    The tears are flowing.  For good and bad reasons.  Thank you.  I needed this.

    1. Emily Thomas July 29, 2014

      I’m so glad.  Hang in there.  Stopping this moment to pray for comfort.


  8. Michele Call July 29, 2014

    Thank you for this important reminder. I have 2 months left of what has been a long furlough with a change of country. I often find myself wanting this time to pass and finally be on the the field again, in ministry again. Your post reminds me of how last time we arrived on the field after the grueling support raising (full of complaining) I told myself I should have enjoyed the process of support raising more, because at least I was still in my home culture. I want to savor each moment of my life right here where I am at. Sure there are certain trials here. But the future holds different trials so I might as well enjoy where I am now, with both the good and the bad.

  9. Emily Thomas July 29, 2014

    The grass truly is always greener, right?! Praying the rest of your “break” (ha!) is enjoyable and that you can be fully present in it.  But also be kind to yourself – raising support can be really tough!

  10. Hannah July 29, 2014

    Emily! I really needed to read this post today. Thank you so much for your words of wisdom. I needed to read such words that reminded me of a lesson I have painfully learned but often easily forget. As you write about, it is so easy to be ungrateful in the moment, and then find yourself looking back and wishing you had what you no longer do, and that you’d enjoyed it. Thank you for reminding me today to be grateful in every moment, every day, every season of life, no matter what the circumstances.

    1. Emily July 30, 2014

      That is why this community is so important because I am going to need to be reminded tomorrow most likely!! I’m glad you could be encouraged.

  11. Kelly July 30, 2014

    Thanks so much for taking the time to share this Emily. It was sort of like reading my diary for a moment, and when I went to read your short bio at the end of the page I was amazed to see you taught juveniles in the prison system. That was my first position as well after college. One of the hardest years of my life, but I loved it for all that it taught me. I too am struggling with infertility in a foreign country and it has been one heck of a roller coaster. You just never expect to go through it, so when it becomes your story and not someone else’s story, things hit you pretty hard. I was just in New Orleans with my husband on our way back down to Mexico, and in a moment of trying to get perspective I told him  I was grateful to be experiencing New Orleans , not pregnant, and not with children because we wouldn’t have been able to do all that we did. It was hard to say those words, but I know that this season has its purpose and I rather struggle through the thanksgiving than regret time wasted.  Love seeing the picture of your kids, and can only continue to trust and pray I will have a picture just like that one day.

    1. Kristina Krauss July 30, 2014

      Wow Kelly. Thanks for sharing! Emily too. I’m a M in Mexico who is also struggling with infertility. I couldn’t do the work I do if I had children, but it is still difficult to accept and be grateful. I’m an adult TCK with 14 years married, and 9 1/2 years in Mexico with my husband. Tomorrow I turn 41, so it is difficult to see the clock ticking while I have been unable to have children. But I have accepted that God is in charge of my life, and has asked me to sacrifice having a family in order to do a job assignment for Him. I write children’s ministry curriculum and we produce it in Spanish. We put it online for free. I honestly do not see how I could work in the office like I do if I had children. I know God doesn’t ask this of many people. But just listening to the different stories of women overseas workers around the world on this site, I can see that God asks much of every one of these ladies. Cross-cultural work has never been easy, but I believe it is worth it.

      1. Emily July 30, 2014

        You are right, it is so worth it. Thank you for your honest and kind words. ☺️

    2. Emily July 30, 2014

      I can’t believe the similarities!! Wow Kelly. Praying for you right now during this roller coaster. Remember you are absolutely NOT forgotten and there is a plan for you that is far beyond what you could ask or imagine. I know you know these things. It’s just so good to be reminded.

  12. Miah July 30, 2014

    This is beautiful Emily. I wish I could write such a message to my 2006 self in China. I was so afraid of what people thought of me, and scared that all the feelings of failure would carry over into the rest of my life.

    1. Emily July 30, 2014

      Thank you, Miah! I can’t see your full name but if you’re the Miah I know personally, I am rejoicing with you that those “failures” did NOT in fact carry through to the rest of your days!! God is so faithful to us.

  13. Amy Young July 31, 2014

    Emily, what I love about 2008 and 2014 YOU is that there are themes that show we will still be US in the future, but US with growth. I also want to write to 2019 me with some hopes of the person she’ll become and the ways I’m still growing even though I’m no longer in the early stages of the journey 🙂

    1. Emily Thomas July 31, 2014

      I like the idea of writing a letter to your future self!  That might be more hopeful.  I kinda felt like writing to the past was a downer.  At least mine was.  🙂

  14. Emily Thomas (a different one ;D) August 2, 2014

    My 2008 self had no idea she’d spend the next summer in China, or the next one, or the one after that, or the 3+ years after that.

    I found this website that will send an email to your future self (unfortunately sending one to your past self would require time travel) anyways, you can set the date and say whatever you want. Just use an email you’ll still have at the time http://www.futureme.org/

    I love doing this kind of thing because almost inevitably the things I wish for the future end up being way better than my hopes could imagine.

  15. Emily Thomas August 3, 2014

    Hold it.  Your name is Emily Thomas too?  What?!  Well I like you already!

    I love the idea of this website!  Thanks so much for sharing it!  I will look into that for sure.  🙂

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