Finding Hope to Dream Again

I read books, talked to other international teachers, and knew re-entry would be a bumpy ride but I was not prepared for the loneliness, waves of sadness, and months of feeling weary and adrift that would follow. The feelings of loneliness are what led me to take a chance and sign up for a Velvet Ashes (VA) Connection group.

Our journey abroad began with home stays through a local Japanese university. I was nervous about moving our family overseas when my husband started looking at teaching jobs in Japan. We were home group leaders, not international teachers. However, after two years of hosting, our family was all in and my husband and I both landed teaching jobs at an international Christian school in Japan.

I was teaching high school English, making friends with the locals, and navigating the challenges of living in a foreign country. Unexpectedly, I absolutely fell in LOVE with Japan, our school and community. Our second year abroad, my husband was promoted to principal and we both expanded our roles as is often the case when working at a small school. I knew we would eventually move back to America, but each year when our contracts came due, I voted to push the decision out one more year.

Our fourth year abroad —due to my mother’s health and a variety of other reasons—we decided it was time to return to America. Prior to departing, I read Amy Young’s book Looming Transitions. The book is wonderful and undoubtedly set us up for a successful departure. Because of her book, we were very intentional about saying goodbyes, leaving well, taking the family to see famous Japanese historical sites and visiting our favorite ramen shop one last time. We handed out gifts and postcards to friends and neighbors with our contact information explaining we would be moving back to America.

The piece we did not anticipate were the numerous tearful and heart-wrenching goodbyes that followed. They proved to be both incredibly meaningful yet utterly exhausting. I had known we were leaving Japan; I also knew it was the right thing to do. But unlike moving to Japan, our departure left a huge hole and many unknowns. I did not know when I would return or if I would ever live in Japan again. It was this reality that brought overwhelming grief and a deep sense of loss.

We moved back into our home and started rebuilding our life in what were familiar surroundings but felt strangely foreign. I was part of a women’s small group before moving abroad and had longed for and anticipated time with these women. Being a principal’s wife is much like being a pastor’s wife, and I found myself guarded with very few to confide in about my own personal struggles while abroad. United with my small group I still felt lonely, weary, and adrift.

It wasn’t long until feelings of resentment and a deep sense of longing for Japan were common. I realize now I was extremely weary leaving Japan and pretty beat up for a variety of reasons. How to navigate the sense of loss, loneliness, and feeling insignificant after having felt so valued and appreciated at the school and in our community escaped me.

Re-entry is tough, and I prayed for a mentor with whom to process my experiences for months. I attended a couple of VA online retreats in Osaka and they were wonderful, so I often visited the VA website upon returning. I signed up for the Returning Home e-mail series and read accounts of women who had gone through re-entry seeking hope during this challenging season of reverse culture shock. The re-entry resources spoke to my desire to feel understood, to know I would get through this, and things would in fact return to a new normal.

I saw the Connection Groups and desperately wanted to find a group who would “get me”, know what I was feeling, grieving, and longing for without having to explain. I was skeptical an online connection group was the answer. I had been in the U.S. for nine months and was still struggling to find someone who “got it”. I read through the re-entry groups, prayed and waited another day. Honestly, I was questioning how a Facebook texting group could possibly provide a true sense of connection and thought I would just skip it. However, when I logged in the next day the groups had filled quickly and I feared if I waited, my hesitation would be my decision.

So, I signed up doubting but hopeful. All I can say is what an answer to prayer. I did find my people and they were in fact what I had longed for the past nine months. The prompts were great and caused heartfelt, deep, and thought-provoking exchanges. It was so comforting, encouraging and healing to hear other women say, “YES!” it is just like that. You get it, you know what it is like! We prayed for one another, shared hurts, victories and struggles relating to our re-entry journey. It was wonderful and a huge blessing, way more than I expected. I am so glad I took the chance to meet these women, hear their stories and be a part of their journey back into their home country.  


  1. Sarah Hilkemann September 2, 2020

    Kelly, I love how the Father met you and provided for you through Connection Groups! So many parts of overseas life can be lonely, but re-entry is hard because the people around you might not understand what you experienced or are going through. Thank you so much for sharing your story!

    1. Kelly September 4, 2020

      Sarah, Thank you for your kind words. I just finished “Returning Well” with my mentor and it was wonderful. So much clarity, healing and freedom found on the other side of that re-entry study. Thank you for the privilege of sharing my re-entry journey. I hope others will realize re-entry can be tough but we do not have to go it alone regardless of where we find ourselves around the world. Online community groups allow us to connect truly all around the globe.

  2. Bayta Schwarz September 2, 2020

    Thanks so much for sharing so vulnerably, Kelly! Your experience reminds me so much of my own re-entry journey. And likewise, a Velvet Ashes re-entry group was a huge blessing and a real lifesaver!

    1. Kelly September 4, 2020

      Bayta , thank you for reaching out. I am learning re-entry can be a challenging time for many and I am grateful the Velvet Ashes community was there for me in so many tangible and meaningful ways.

  3. bigblueseaservices September 11, 2020

    Regardless of the scenario, the loss of hopes and dreams can be incredibly hard to accept and cope with. These losses aren’t just felt at one time in a person’s life; true to grief-form, they pop up as milestones, reminders, birthdays, important events, regrets, and emptiness forever. I think the magnitude of this can be hard to recognize when looking at it from the outside in and I think those who experience the losses are often surprised by how hard “acceptance” is. When we care deeply about something, it can be difficult to know when to let go. Sometimes our hopes are all we have to keep us getting out of bed in the morning. People always like to say things like, “It’s never too late to follow your dreams” and many times this is true. When there’s a chance to see your dreams through or there is still joy in the journey, by all means, keep going. The reality is, though, that some dreams will eventually be impossible and when our hopes for the future are truly futile, we have choices to make. We could hold on tight and keep carrying our hopes and dreams forward, but such a heavy and hollow load limits our capacity to find other more fulfilling alternatives. We could drop everything and walk around angry and bitter, but this distracts us from finding joy in the things we do have and leaves our arms empty. Or finally, we could find ways to grieve our losses and someday, if we’re lucky, we’ll gain enough peace and acceptance to embrace our option B.

  4. Kelly September 12, 2020


    It sounds as if you are speaking from a place of experience. Thank you for sharing such a heartfelt and personal response. This year I worked through a lot of the loneliness, pain, and brokenness as you mentioned. I also grieved over parts our our experience in the field. However, rather than remaining angry and bitter, I have continued to press for healing, freedom and to see God’s faithfulness and friendship in the midst of the pain and struggle. I hope you are able to readily find Christ in the midst of the loss as well as renewed hope to dream again.

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