I bit down on my tongue to stop the words I was thinking from flying out of my mouth. Staring across the table at my coffee date, I wondered how I had once been close friends with this woman? I laughed out of obligation, not because I thought her pop-culture reference was funny.
While others in the coffee shop fanned themselves and complained of the summer humidity and high temperatures outside, I fought the urge to shiver under the blasting air conditioner. The sharp noise of conversations I couldn’t block out bounced off the walls of the small space. My feet shuffled uncomfortably in my shoes, confused as to why they were confined –– they were used to being freed the moment I walked into a restaurant.
My favorite hometown coffee house had been a popular place to meet friends. But instead of enjoying the reunion with my cinnamon dolce latte, I found myself longing for the quiet, peace and structure of the other home I had just returned from –– Japan. I couldn’t understand why the coffee shop’s atmosphere left me feeling agitated. I couldn’t understand why I felt so disconnected with my close friend. And I couldn’t understand why hearing English spoken everywhere I went grated on my nerves.
Not understanding why left me feeling only more agitated, isolated and confused. And it led me to question why God called my husband and I away from the Asian host-country we loved?
Coming home, I did not expect to face so many challenges. After all, it was home.
I didn’t anticipate having a hard time returning to air conditioned buildings, or adjusting to wearing shoes inside. After being without a television while overseas, I was looking forward to catching up on favorite shows. I didn’t anticipate how jarring the sound of the television would be, and how anxious I would feel to shut it off. I was excited to speak English again, instead of stumble through my fragmented Japanese vocabulary as I bumbled around in attempt to run errands. I didn’t expect to be annoyed that I couldn’t block out conversations when out in public.
Instead, I anticipated a comforting welcome from family and direction from God as to why He called us home and what we were supposed to do next.
It was not so easy. Because I had not anticipated the challenges I faced upon return, I struggled for months. I found it difficult to talk to those at home because my world view no longer matched theirs after living overseas. My family, who was grateful and excited to have us back, did not understand why it was difficult for us to be home. It hurt them that I was struggling after the return, which caused me to internalize the roller coaster of emotions and process them on my own.
Beyond the difficulties I faced with relationships, I struggled with my own identity. Instead of placing it in Christ, I let my work define my self-worth. I critiqued myself through a vicious pair of condemned lenses, where I saw myself as a failure. In Japan, I thought I was living out God’s design for my life. Back at home, I felt my gifts and experiences were being squandered as I sat chained behind a desk.
Rebelling against God’s plan to bring us home, I believed there must have been a mistake or miscommunication. Had I heard Him correctly? At times I doubted.
I was miserable for months after returning because I failed to look at the return through God’s eyes: He had given me a gift by bringing us home, and I was refusing to accept it.
Within weeks of returning, my grandfather –– a man I loved dearly and was very close to –– was diagnosed with cancer. Because we were home, I was able to spend his last months by his side. Because we were home, we were present for the celebration of our second nephew’s birth (we missed his older brother’s appearance while overseas). And because we were home, we were able to support a close family member who was struggling with addiction and we were able to watch him take his first steps towards healing.
Eventually, although at times I still felt chained to my desk, I recognized that God blessed me with a great job and placed me in an environment that did not welcome Him but sorely needed to see His light. Returning home did not mean He was finished working through me –– how I served Him Stateside did not look the same as it did in Japan, but He still had a purpose for me where I was.
Most importantly, I learned that God’s plan is always perfect. At times it’s still difficult to hand over control and completely trust Him, but I’ve learned to question who am I to doubt the creator of the universe’s plan for my life? Looking back, I see His fingerprints on everything.
In their hearts humans plan their course, but the Lord establishes their steps. For there is no wisdom, no insight, no plan that can succeed against the Lord. (Proverbs 16:9; Proverbs 21:30)
Why are you being called to return? Are you excited about the return, or do you have doubts about if it really is God’s plan for your life?
Each of us has a different story and God has placed a different calling on each of our lives. I continue to be amazed at how He masterfully orchestrates each of our paths. While He promises to be with us, that doesn’t mean there won’t be challenges ahead. What do you think will be the most difficult challenges you face?