I thought I’d have words of wisdom about re-entry after two years back stateside. It’s a surprise and a disappointment to me that I am still struggling to find my footing again. I still feel disconnected, uprooted, confused, longing for stability. I am discouraged each day that I realize we are starting from scratch all over again. Our job history is a mess, our savings are shot and the house we once owned is long sold.
I struggle with resentment, not only from a childhood overseas but also for the years we spent serving and all that was lost in the process. I’ve heard that God works all things out for good but I don’t know what the good has been.
Last week I was sitting outside, sipping coffee, chatting with my husband in the cool of the morning when I asked him what he thought about re-entry. Was he as distraught and confused as I was?
He said, “I think re-entry is a lot like Apollo 13.”
I immediately recalled the crew as they plummeted to earth, the friction causing such intense heat that their faces were sweating and they looked highly uncomfortable.
Hmmm, it did sound a lot like re-entry now that I thought about it, but I was curious to see what his perspective was.
First, he mentioned that the weight of the re-entry pod was expected to hold the extra weight of moon rocks. However, because of the unexpected chaos they did not have the expected baggage. This made the known calculation for re-entry moot. Without the rocks, if they used their earlier plan, they would bounce off the atmosphere and back into space.
Secondly, he mentioned that because their calculations were no longer accurate, it was necessary for the crew to be in constant contact with the crew on the ground. Impromptu calculations would have to be made in real time to get their pod through the atmosphere and onto the water safely.
We anticipated the end of our first term and the beginning of our first home assignment to be a celebration. We’d have these rad stories about how God moved and we’d have a plan for what we would be pursuing next. But unexpected chaos brought us back to the States with a load of baggage we did not expect. The baggage we did expect to tote was left in the void, somewhere in our imagination and dreams.
We were flying blind.
It took time and conversations with trusted friends and family for us to sort through all that we had experienced. It was through their similar and repeated messages that we began to see clearer and find rest from the internal struggle with disappointment and loss. Telling our story allowed us to view our experiences more truthfully and gave us freedom to find healing as well as purpose and new faith in God.
But I’ve seen the loss of a dream bring new life.
I have been plodding through The Gulag Archipelago by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn and I have found it to be an incredible book, full of insight and truth. Solzhenitsyn tells a story about meeting a man named Susi, once a lawyer in Estonia, who also found himself imprisoned within the gulag system. Solzhenitsyn was drawn to this man and sought him out during their brief outdoor walks where they could speak openly to each other. Susi, he says, taught him “to accept patiently and purposefully things that had never had any place in his own plans and had, it seemed, no connection at all with the clearly outlined direction of his life.”
When I read that statement I felt a connection between Solzhenitsyn and myself. While he was reimagining a life in which Marxism was losing its hold, my life was also being reimagined. As Susi ‘breathed a completely different sort of air’ and was exposing Solzhenitsyn to a conflicting point of view, so I was being renewed as my ideals were being questioned by those around me.
This is why re-entry isn’t as simple as a returning. It is, instead, a jumbled, chaotic mess that takes time, intention and energy to sort through. None of us are the same after an overseas stint any more than the Apollo 13 crew would be the same after their experience in space or Solzhenitsyn after years in prison.
We’ve been broken, bruised, and disenchanted as our faith, dogma and ideals have been tested. This can make us stronger, braver and more courageous, knowing now that the world and God are not as simplistic as we’d thought. Yet, even in growth there is loss, because what once brought us peace no longer satisfies. We can’t unsee what has been seen and we can’t un-feel what has been felt, we are forever split.
It isn’t easy to put a dream and ideology to rest. I wonder how many times the Apollo 13 crew looked up at the moon and longed for the dream that wasn’t. I know that I still think about Indonesia every day, grieved by what never was and yet I can see a glimmer of hope as well. Hope in healing. Hope in safety. Hope in truth. Hope in God. Hope that in patience, with purpose I can take what never was my plan and reimagine a vision honoring to God and myself. Joining Solzhenitsyn in breathing a fresher air, and in so doing, I can take the truth of what was, setting one dream aside to embrace another.
What has your re-entry experience been? How have you found clarity in the midst of the transition and loss?
How do we process all the loss of this season? So many of us have lost plans, hope, structure, community, and even life of those around us or loved ones. This webinar, presented by licensed counselor Theresa Bonesteel of GRC, will help equip us with tools to process our grief and disappointment. Click on the button above to learn more and to register.