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?