Re-stinkin’-entry {The Grove: ReEntry}

Gregorian monks chant in my kitchen and I tuck into a pot of fine English Breakfast tea. My electric mixer kneads a mound of pizza dough and I savor the earthy yeastiness. This is Soul Care. I had to care for her before I could tap out this post on Reentry because I’m in the fog of it.

That has surprised me. For fog to be the dominant atmosphere still ten months after the actual point of reentry into my home culture has surprised me.

Apparently it shouldn’t have. A dear friend who precedes me tells me things start to look up at the year marker. At a reentry conference my family attended, they gave us an 18-36 month window for transition tremors. You would think that information would be discouraging, but it was, in fact, liberating because it meant that I didn’t have to pull it together yesterday, today, or tomorrow. What a relief because I am failing that expectation spectacularly.

On the first day of the reentry debriefing, they asked us what we hoped to get out of the week. I said that I want to know if what we’re experiencing – the unrelenting tension, the angst, confusion, loss of confidence, anger, throbbing ache, agitation and anxiety – is par for the course or if we need to be seeking out some more help, or both.

What I experienced and discovered that week became a companion to me in the fog. On the better days, this is what I remember. On the others, this is the direction I squint:


Shepherd, my six-year-old, lost his first tooth. We whooped and hollered, hugged and congratulated. “Let’s celebrate! Shep where do you want to go for dinner tonight?” A dark cloud passed over his face and his bottom lip came out. “Uncle Robin’s Pizza.” We all sat down on the black-and-white checkered tile floor of the kitchen and cried.

Uncle Robin’s is a business we frequented from the first day it opened its doors in our city in China.  There was an item on the menu named after Shepherd. It was where we did all our celebrating. Now on the other side of the world, there was a hole in Shepherd’s gum and our habits.

We didn’t stay on the floor. We had our cry and then brainstormed a list of spots we thought might make good celebration destinations. Lighter for having acknowledged and shared the loss, we went to celebrate the lost tooth.

Call it Grief

Minimizing the emotions (see list above) compounds them, and when I stuff them, they morph ugly and come out sideways. The simple act of naming “it” grief has helped enormously. That led me to a new favorite writer, Paula D’Arcy, who writes grief redemptively.

Can I go home again?

A lot of the reentry process happens internally, and that’s a big part of why I’ve found it so slippery. Grief took a toll on my intuition, which shook my confidence. I feel timid and uncertain in my home culture. When I acknowledge my shame about that, I discover this…

I can approach my home culture as I would a foreign one. I can suspend judgment, and engage the culture as a learner with an open heart, open eyes, and open ears. I can synthesize the information I gather and the experiences I have, and check my understanding with a cultural informant. A good cultural informant will help me discover why the librarian snapped at me when I thought I was standing in line, and will tell me how much to pay the babysitter.

That process develops intuition, which builds confidence. I’m on my way back home.

Practice Soul Care

My connection group (shout-out!) is made of re-enterers. Sharing pictures of the ways we care for our souls was soul care itself – flower gardening, sewing, reading, cooking, barre, and coffee dates with friends.

Notice the things that make you feel like yourself, and return to them often. And when you emerge from the reentry fog, celebrate. I’ll meet you there.

Have you reentered your home culture for a season or for good? Are you preparing to reenter? What have you experienced or discovered?

P.S. I can’t recommend attending a reentry/debriefing conference highly enough. There are a lot of things to let slide during reentry. This is not one of them. Please, go. This is the one we attended. Seven thumbs up: two from three of our family members, and one from the littlest. He didn’t care for the separation; though his teacher was so fabulous she nearly had him.


This is what we call The Grove.  It’s where we all gather to share our thoughts, our words, and our art on our weekly prompt.  So join us in the comments.  Show us your art work by adding an image. And link up your own blog posts on this week’s prompt.  Click here for details and instructions.


  1. Beth Everett May 7, 2015

    I’ve been so thankful for all various resources being made available. I won’t be in a situation to take advantage of a debriefing/reentry conference, so I’m trying to find other things to help with the process. While I will be re-entering my home country, my husband and kids are entering as foreigners. It’s comforting to know that so many others are on this crazy journey. Thankful once again for places like Velvet Ashes to affirm, encourage, process.

    1. Kimberly Todd May 9, 2015

      Beth, the reentry conference is just one way that God provides for the many that are on this crazy journey. I’m so glad that you are searching out the resources through which He will care for you and your family on yours. And I’m so thankful for your presence and voice at Velvet Ashes.

  2. Danielle Wheeler May 7, 2015

    So grateful for your words, Kim.  You’re right, I think there is power in naming it grief.  And I think the grief in re-entry comes in many forms.  For many, there is the loss of a place they love and a role that defines their identity.

    There is another group, and I’ve been thinking about them this week.  They are the ones that feel relief as they re-enter.  They are glad to be back, glad to be out from under the stress, glad to be back where they know who they are, glad for the ease of living, the glories of home.  And maybe… this feeling of relief causes guilt.  That maybe all this relief means that they didn’t really invest and connect with their foreign culture like they should have.  That perhaps a “well done, good and faithful servant” isn’t for them.

    Guilt and regrets cause a whole other form of grief.

    I guess I just want to say to them, “Your story isn’t over.  Your Father’s heart for you is full of tenderness and grace.  And your address doesn’t define your worthiness.”  And I second what Kim said, go to a debriefing for help in processing all this!!


    1. T May 8, 2015

      Yes, Danielle!  Thanks for the shout out to relieved re-enterers!  Even when we just go back for a summer, I’m the relieved one–ready to throw that bag of frozen brocolli into the microwave for such an easy, healthy, much-loved side dish; see my shy daughter thrive in English, enjoy pizza hut; relish time with friends and family, send my kids to fun day-camps and vbs!  My husband is the opposite, chafing most of the time!  I wonder how many couples are opposites in their re-entry, some spouses looking forward to it and settling quickly, others foggy…probably switching from one to the other day-by-day even!

    2. Kimberly Todd May 9, 2015

      Thank you, Danielle, for swinging the door open wider. Amen.

  3. Charlene Campbell May 7, 2015

    Ache, fog, grief . . . these words used in your post are the most appropriate descriptions of what I am going through. I have lost loved ones before in my life, a father, a brother, and somehow re-entry feels just as painful if not more.

    My husband and I are “home” for a six-month sabbatical following almost seven years in India. We are two and a half months in, and I can’t yet imagine being on the other side of this, though I expect the Lord to move me there one day. We are also in the process of deciding whether or not we will return to the field, which makes the grief part even more unbearable to me. My heart is so firmly planted in my other home.

    I am truly grateful to have found this blog and especially thankful for this week’s theme. It helps to hear from the hearts of other women who are facing such similar emotions. Thank you for sharing.

    1. Kimberly Todd May 9, 2015

      Charlene, I’m glad you discovered words here that help name your experience. May your awareness of Presence be keen as you wait and hope. Thank you for engaging here. It’s good to have names for the hearts that are facing this pain.

  4. Peggy Pottenger May 8, 2015

    Thank you for this beautiful post! We were just at the same debriefing place last week and I agree with you SO much! It’s so important to attend one if you can do it! We gleaned so many tools and it was such a safe place to process the craziness of our lives and adventure! We also loved the people we met and can pray for who are on this same  journey! 🙂 My soul care currently includes farmers markets, fresh berries, and sweet pea flowers. I’m trying to walk everyday and just talk with The Lord during these times. There is no skipping the Word for me to start my day as I easily become a crazy mommy and wife. I’m also learning that currently in this time of grief which even our closest friends don’t totally get, my life plate is incredibly small, like doll tea set saucer small and that’s ok. Lastly, I’m watching my two precious girls process in their own way. My oldest begged for a home day where we just stayed in and my youngest freaked out at dinner tonight because the lentils where flat and not round and she refused to eat them. ;0 We are clinging to The Lord like a belt and so grateful for all the wonderful resources out there including this site and wonderful authors. From 6 years in Kenya to D.C. Trusting The Lord, dwelling in the land and feeding on His faithfulness!

    1. T May 8, 2015

      I love how you put that your plate is incredibly small like a doll tea set saucer!!!  Wow.  That is how I had to be when grieving my mom’s death.  I didn’t have words to explain it, though.  I’m tucking that away…thanks!

    2. Kimberly Todd May 9, 2015

      Peggy, I agree with T, that’s a fantastic image. And it sounds like you’ve chosen wisely what to put on that saucer. Thank you for sharing! It moves me to examine what I’ve let creep and crowd me.

  5. Peggy Pottenger May 8, 2015

    I was thinking it might be cool to share (especially for any care team members) that our church put on a special event for our return that celebrated all God had done in our time in Kenya. It really honored everyone who was involved and gave us an opportunity to celebrate which is so important! It was really an awesome day and special celebration! Another thought I had was that we do have some friends who understand what we are going through and loving us and greatly supporting us and others are committed to walking with us, loving us and supporting us even if they don’t totally get it. It’s a blessing and we feel so loved!

    1. Kimberly Todd May 9, 2015

      Thanks, Peggy, for sharing this, too.

    2. NT May 9, 2015

      As a minister that is a great idea, Peggy. I’ll do my best to make the space for those we have sent, that when they return they have the opportunity to share their story more formally.

  6. Michele Womble May 8, 2015

    Can I just say how much I love the title you chose for this post! 😉

    I love your idea to approach your home culture as a foreign one – and, to get a cultural informant!  Someone to fill us in on what is normal – because we don’t know normal anymore in our home countries.  We’re heading toward an extended time in our home culture – the first one that the kids will remember.  We’ve been back, but for short periods of time, when we knew that in just  a few weeks we’d be back in our “own beds” – this time will be different.

    I’m thankful for the theme this week and some ideas about what to expect…


    1. Kimberly Todd May 9, 2015

      Thanks, Michele. I usually agonize over the title. This one came easy. =) I’m so glad there were some tools here this week for you as you approach reentry!

  7. Kate Motaung May 8, 2015

    Such a helpful post, Kimberly! Thank you! Can relate to so much of what you say, and it helps me know how to better care for friends of mine experiencing similar transitions.

    1. Kimberly Todd May 9, 2015

      Thanks, Kate! I’m so glad to have connected with you here and on twitter this week.

  8. Wendy Allaman May 8, 2015

    Thank you for your posts. I’m an imposter here~ my longest overseas trip has been one month. My family (and sometimes just myself, alone) goes back and forth to different overseas locations to oversee orphan feeding programs and women’s safe houses. We are not part of an overseas organization. It is only us.
    Although they are short, each trip impacts me profoundly. On each trip I meet people whose hearts are melded to my own in supernatural ways that only the Lord can do. Thanks to technology, they are part of my life forever. My world/life/faith view has changed so tremendously that I don’t even recognize myself, and have trouble with re-entry after every trip. I don’t belong there and I don’t belong here. I have a definite feeling of isolation and a profound confusion over how to adapt. My biggest consistent struggle (and one that robs me of my joy and diminishes my love) is a judgemental attitude at home. I walk into churches that could empower an entire village with the funds they put into their coffee bar… and wonder how we can be so far off-track. Does anyone have any insight into how to reconcile these feelings? I confess and repent of this spirit of judgement but the great divide of wealth and prosperity is still an ongoing issue that I can’t seem to completely overcome. I know that only by God’s grace could my eyes be opened and my heart and mind be changed, yet I want to take others and shake them and say ‘wake up!’ There is more to life than the font on your ladies event invitations!!!
    Your posts are real. And helpful. I just discovered velvet ashes. Since I haven’t had anyone to process things with before and I’m praying for insight and healing (and also a better understanding of my need to pursue soulcare). If you can relate and/or have advice, please share. God bless you. I am praying for your healing and wholeness in Jesus’ name.

    1. Ellie May 8, 2015

      Hiya Wendy, I think what you are describing is normal for those kinds of sudden transitions between a very “money-rich” culture and “other-things-rich” culture.

      Long term overseas workers recognise (sometimes more successfully than others!) that we will take months or years to adapt to even a certain level in a new culture. If you are immersed in a culture and required to assimilate a lot of information short term and then required to re-immerse back into your “home” culture that’s a lot of stress.

      A friend of mine who went to work short term in Nepal some years ago said that the abrupt transition from working in a hut with so few resources and people in deep need, back to developed world was incredibly challenging and that to start with she couldn’t cross the threshold of her parents’ house because the carpet seemed so sinfully excessive, she couldn’t stop crying.

      Another friend transitioning between a small African town and her home in the UK said she found it really hard working out prices in her head and thinking “you spend “THAT MUCH” on a haircut!” and would walk out of the shop in disgust.

      The only thing I’ve heard about that helps with that is to try to keep things in their cultural boxes. That each country has its own prices, things that are valued etc. There is sin in each context and when we return from another country we may see the sin in our “own” culture more clearly, or wish people had different priorities. But God loves each culture.

      My suggestion would be to try to find some like minded people who can share the pain with you and the challenges each time you ” re-enter” – be it a few close friends locally or an online group like this one (as a side-note I had a strong reaction against you calling yourself an “impostor”.. – I hope I’m speaking pastorally when I say my gut reaction is there’s no hierarchy here (Not part of the leadership team but I’m fairly sure they’re gonna say the same. ;))

      And also to try to build in a day between each trip and fully re-entering life in the States, and perhaps there is a good debriefing organisation that could help you?

      Also I wonder if you have come across the “Boundaries” books by Cloud and Townsend? I read them as part of a Pastoral studies module a few years back and I foudn them life changingly helpful. I think almost anyone working in any kind of ministry could get a lot out of them, but perhaps particularly as women working in any kind of “caring” ministry we really need help with this issue.


      1. Kimberly Todd May 9, 2015

        Ellie, thank you for your counsel!

      2. Wendy Allaman May 10, 2015

        Ellie, thank you for your gracious (and insightful) words.  The book Boundaries has made a tremendous impact on me but it may be time for a refresher course!

        I am invited to return to Africa in a few months, but I find I’m dragging my feet.  I really need to figure out ways to deal with adapting to these cultural transitions better.  The pain, suffering, and hopelessness that I’ve witnessed make me feel a tad like I’m going through a tiny version of PTSD myself.

        I’ve never heard of a debriefing organization before~ can you recommend anything?  Sorry if it’s been addressed on here previously~ I’m new here. 🙂


        1. Ellie May 10, 2015

          Wendy I’m from the UK so I’m afraid if you’re looking in the States I’m not sure which organisations might be good for debriefing, but I’m sure somebody on here will have some good suggestions!

    2. Kimberly Todd May 9, 2015

      Dear Wendy, Ellie is right. The first thing to say is come on in, there’s a seat right here by me. I’m so glad you’re here.

      You are not alone in your struggle to reconcile the gaps you see. I love what Ellie had to say, and I hope others will chime in. I’m thinking we may want to address this in a future theme… Thank you, Wendy, for bringing it to the table.

      1. Wendy Allaman May 10, 2015

        Kimberly, thank you for the welcome and encouragement.  God bless you!

  9. laura r May 8, 2015

    Yes! Yes! Yes!

    My mom, who re-entered herself many moons ago, often reminds me of the fact that her friend remarked that the fog lasted a year or so for them… So thankful for those who have gone before who continue to shed light on our experiences and help us see them as normal, messy and beautiful and help us to live in the paradox of it all.

    For me, there is paradox in the relief I feel for being on this side of a lot of pain, hurt, trauma and turmoil and in the grief that I feel over loosing my home, my friends, my life in a far away land.  Carving out space to feel the profound gains and losses is difficult and…  often surprising.

    I find the ‘whens’ and the ‘whats’ of reentry tremors so surprising.  When they hit and what hits me.

    Thankful for this reminder that we do not walk alone.

    1. Kimberly Todd May 9, 2015

      Laura, it is a paradox. Life overseas is strenuous, and I feel relief mingled with my grief, too. Thanks for deepening this conversation.

      I’m so thankful to be walking with you.

  10. Laurie May 8, 2015

    I am still befuddled and bemused after 8-9 months after nearly a decade abroad. I am glad to hear that one can expect a long transition period. I don’t feel alone in my journey knowing that the process is slow.

    1. Kimberly Todd May 9, 2015

      “Slow” is my OneWord this year. =) Thanks for handing it back to me in your comment, Laurie. I’m so glad this has created companionship for you on your journey.

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