Re-entry in the Cereal Aisle

I made one terribly wrong turn.

I steered the grocery cart into the cereal aisle at our local grocery store in the States when we had only been back on U.S. soil for less than a week.

My heart leapt for joy at the sight of all those beautiful boxes. Ah, CHOICE! Glorious choice! CEREAL!

I should’ve known better than to try to face that aisle on jet lag…and with small children on jet lag.

One of my boys was confined (thankfully) to the shopping cart, so he was (mercifully) unable to sprint towards the shelves. However, the other brother bolted to the nearest shelf, yanked off a box of Fruit Loops, hugging it to his chest like a long-lost friend. “I want this one!” But, then his eyes darted to the left. Lucky Charms. “No, I want this one!” Then, there were boxes of Waffle Crisp, Cocoa Krispies, Cheerios, and Corn Pops. My boys, who at this point had not tasted cereal the whole time we were in Asia, were suddenly bombarded by this terrible monstrous aisle of CHOICE.

I think you can guess how this story played itself out – how this very quickly dissolved into a horrific, re-entry mess: a mountain of cereal boxes on the floor of the grocery store, 2 children wailing about how they NEEDED every single one of those boxes, and finally all of us fleeing the store in tears. Without a single cereal box in the cart.

Such great joy in the cereal aisle…and then, only moments later, unstoppable tears.

Re-entry is HARD. And, of course, the hard parts run much deeper than cereal boxes.

After living overseas for 18 years, we are almost one year into our own re-entry in America. Re-entry is a crazy ride. It fills your heart with laughter one day and weariness the next. I love what Kim Todd once called it: “re-stinkin entry.” Re-entry explodes with paradox – how can I feel so excited and so overwhelmed with grief at the same time?

It is a process that can rip your heart apart, and you wonder if you lost an irretrievable part of yourself. It’s true. Most certainly one of the toughest seasons I’ve walked. Sometimes I feel like I’m wearing someone else’s ill-fitting, scratchy clothes, and all I long for is my own old, soft, grey hoodie.

However, re-entry also places you in a unique place unlike any other. It can be a place where the curtains are peeled back and you catch this amazing glimpse of the grand picture God is drawing in your life.

So when it’s hard:

Allow yourself space to grieve.

About 5 months after we had returned to the States, I glanced across the produce at the store and saw some very sad looking mangoes for sale. Suddenly my heart was in my throat. My heart had instantly transported to Thailand (and to GREAT mangoes!) and the countless mango shakes we’ve shared with dear friends there. And the loss hit me like a truck. Such a lightning bolt of pain…brought on by the sight of mangoes?!

One thing I know to be true about re-entry: a myriad of losses will park themselves in your heart like unwanted tenants, and you never know what will cause one of them to leap to their feet, and send your soul to deep places.

Please, please allow your heart the space to grieve that.

A good mentor told me that in the first 6-9 months of re-entry, I needed to remember that there would be days that I needed to leave open on my calendar for my tears.

Name those losses. That same wise mentor told me that one of the best ways to navigate the grief that comes with re-entry is to actually name the losses. Make lists. When the lump rises in your throat, instead of stuffing it down, name what is causing it, and let the tears come. It helps your heart to mourn them.

Re-entry is not a moment – it is a season. Somehow the very word itself “re-entry” seems to imply that it is a short-lived moment – you enter. But, re-entry takes a long time. Much longer than you think. Give yourself lots of grace and lots of time to go through this process.

And then, look for the curtain to be pulled back.

You are in a unique place when you are smack dab in the middle of re-entry. No matter what the circumstances of your departure from the field and your arrival in your passport country, there is an identity loss, a shift of your roles, a change in how you do things. Let it be a time where you tuck in deeply to the Shepherd. Let it be a time where God shows you who you really are in the light of Christ. Watch God pull back the curtain and give you a glimpse of what He is up to in you.

Step back and ponder the great call He has on your life – the call that is not determined by context, the call that is unchanging and unshakeable, the call that He is faithfully weaving through your entire story. Soak in the truth of the Gospel: that you are deeply loved, forgiven, and free. Remember, that God loves you too much to lead you down a wrong path. He is for you.

Spend lots and lots of time sitting with Jesus.

He is the same Good Shepherd who has led you all this time. He will be faithful to the end. Be still with Him. Hear Him remind you that He is the God of the WHOLE world – even your passport country.

And maybe choose wisely when you take your kids down the cereal aisle.


Do you have any cereal aisle experiences of your own?

Have you been able to identify intentional ways to mourn your significant life changes?



  1. Momma May 25, 2016

    When we came back in the fall I remember my mother-in-law introducing me to someone in the middle of the cereal aisle. All I could think was, “I just need to get out of THIS aisle so I can concentrate on this introduction.” We didn’t budge and I have no other memory except that!

    I’ve decided that all future re-entry or furlough times will begin with only buying cereal for at least the first week. We will go nuts on cereal to prevent this hehehe.

    Also related, our re-entry was due to horrible circumstances and our time back in the states was focused on the death of a loved one. I think that delayed the process of sitting with, naming and accepting our transition back to the states. And we are just beginning to work through it all. This article has helped me identify that I still need that time.

    1. Renee May 25, 2016

      I love the story you shared of trying to actually concentrate on an introduction in the cereal aisle.   Too funny.   And, yes, please, please give yourself time, space, and grace to process all that you have experienced, including the loss of a loved one.  What a road you are walking, friend.   Thanks so much for sharing.


  2. Joyce Stauffer May 25, 2016

    Yes, so well said, Renee! Into my 2nd year of re-entry and I can handle Walmart shopping much better now. But grief over so many losses is still part of my life including the loss of my identity as an overseas worker. Yet God is showing me so much through this season– more of Him and my relationship with Him…and how it’s based on who I am through Him and not what I do.

    1. Renee May 25, 2016

      Amen, Joyce!   Your identity is rock-solid in Christ — not on anything you can produce for Him…or any role you have in His Kingdom.  What Christ longs for is you — a deep, abiding relationship with you.   He is inviting you to such sweet communion with Him — and maybe releasing this part of your identity will bring that truth home to you afresh.  May you be filled with courage to continue to walk this road of transition and processing your losses, leaning deeply into the Shepherd all the way.

  3. Randy Vaughn May 25, 2016

    Well said! We are coming up on our 9th anniversary since returning to the States from our 9 years in Benin, West Africa. Talking about grief with like-minded people is so good – but very few other people get it. It’s OK that they do not, but you do have to make space and time to grieve with others with shared experiences. Great post!

    1. Randy Vaughn May 25, 2016

      Sorry for the huge picture – misunderstood what I was submitting! 🙂

      1. Renee May 25, 2016

        Thanks for the encouragement, Randy!   I totally agree with you — those like-minded people who “get” our life and help us process grief — what an absolute treasure they are!  Would love to hear what life looks like for someone 9 years after transitioning! Thanks so much for posting.

  4. M'Lynn May 25, 2016

    After our first “one year assignment” in China we (my husband and I) were back and getting set up to begin careers and such. Not too many weeks after we got back to Texas, my family (parents, siblings, us) went on a cruise to celebrate my parents’ big anniversary. Oh my goodness. I’m not saying you shouldn’t go on a cruise, but after living simply in China and sharing most meals in a Chinese University cafeteria with teachers and students…well the food options on the cruise overwhelmed me. I remember sitting there as others were chowing down on hamburgers at midnight because the buffet was open and it all just hit me! It was bewildering because hadn’t I daydreamed of chowing down on a hamburger like this while I was in China and all I had was bowls and bowls of hairy pork scraps, tofu, cabbage and rice?!?!?! A definite “cereal aisle” experience.

    1. T May 26, 2016

      umm.  I don’t live anywhere near Asia.  Are hairy pork scraps really bits of pork with the hair still on?

      1. M'Lynn May 26, 2016

        Yes! I’ve never actually brought myself to eat them, but the vivid memories of them in other people’s bowls during our Chinese cafeteria days are burned in my mind…

    2. Renee May 26, 2016

      Oh  my word, M’Lynn!  Yes!  I totally get that!  We had a similar experience one year when we came home for Christmas and my parents took all of our extended family on a cruise.  The absolute over- abundance of it all — chocolate buffets at midnight…it is shocking to the system to say the least.   And I love your description of the school cafeteria.   My boys always dared each other to eat the “meat floss” bakery items.

  5. Rebecca May 26, 2016

    My story comes in the form of a Christian bookstore.  My husband and I walked in and saw SO many Christian books that it was overwhelming.  Then it really hit me how amazing America is that so many people would shop for Christian books and music!  At that moment I had a “little Holy Spirit” moment as I was emotionally overwhelmed at how good God really is. Nothing like crying in a bookstore!!!

    1. T May 26, 2016

      I had a kind of opposite Christian bookstore experience…I cried and my husband was extremely, yet quietly furious as we saw a main display table that was (in our perspective) extremely racist and hateful toward the people group that we love.  (yep, we’re not supporters of the government with the white and blue flag with a star on it…as someone else wrote this week, we are “ruined for our home country”!)  🙂

      1. Renee May 26, 2016

        T, I know for me, being away from my passport country for so long has most certainly completely changed how I view my own culture, including the church.   We return to North America with a new set of glasses — and it’s like our senses have been heightened –we see things like what you just mentioned at the bookstore, and our hearts ache (and sometimes become infuriated!).   In those moments, I have been trying to ask the Lord to make my heart soft towards the people of my own passport nation…to see how desperately they, too, need the heart of God.  It is so hard sometimes, though!  As you said, we are now somehow forever changed.  But, what a gift that God allowed us to have those new glasses — and that He has grown our hearts for the world!  Thanks for sharing!

    2. Renee May 26, 2016

      Rebecca, yes, I agree with you — the abundance of Christian resources in North America is staggering!   There is so, so  much right at people’s fingertips.   Crying in a bookstore sounds just about right — the list of places where tears have sprung into my eyes is never-ending.  Thanks for sharing!

  6. Ashley Felder May 26, 2016

    Lovely post, Renee. Makes me miss you all over again! My cereal aisle moment was nearly 2 years ago shortly after we had landed in the States. We were in a fast food restaurant and I walked over to get myself a soda. I was so excited to drink some–I don’t do Sprite and Coke here. Little did I know just how many choices I had. It was one of those futuristic-looking machines that has a digital screen that lets you choose from what seemed like thousands of options! I literally walked back to my chair, processed what I was going to have to do, and went back again. Those machines still overwhelm me!

    1. M'Lynn May 26, 2016

      I know exactly what you’re talking about! Those things blew my mind. ha! I’m excited over a can of Dr. Pepper, much less a fully customized one-liter jug of “cherry vanilla dr. pepper with a touch of Sprite.”

    2. Renee May 26, 2016

      YES!  Those crazy futuristic pop machines are all over the place now.  We went into a Burger King at one point this fall…and I watched my boys approach it, paper cups in their hands, and they just stood there, frozen, staring at that machine in both awe and fear.   It is crazy.

    3. Karen July 31, 2016

      I saw that machine for the first time when I went back to the US for a week in December. Everyone in the fast food restaurant was laughing while they watched my mom try to explain the thing to me. Fortunately, it was friendly, good-natured laughter … I get to entertain people on both sides of the globe just by being myself …

  7. Dave Grissen May 28, 2016

    Ah, yes.  Cereal aisles.  We came back from Austria for a home leave in 1978.  We did have corn flakes there, but then hit the American cereal aisle — with 4 kids!  Overwhelming.  Actually we were more burned out than we thought and we had a great life in Austria!  Loving friends and family, a place of retreat, time, and the Lord’s hand all bring us through!  Keep at it friends, the world needs you!

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