Reflections after the first year back in the field

A clear, wide horizon sits on the other side of our bay window. I can see the last sliver of sun peek behind a narrow strip of grey cloud. It streaks beyond, from one window to the next, glowing bright amber, to peach, then pink and pale. Straight ahead sits the top of a mountain; ok, tall hill, really. It’s a slate blue where more clouds rest, rising higher than their ribbon brothers, moving eastward towards the sea. All the sky above is blue and just one plane leaves its mark in chalky white contrails. This winter sky is so fresh and the only time, the only way I get a peek at that gentle slope of mountain is when the trees are bare. Dark and bare and waiting for spring. We still have a couple months left, till green buds come. So I get a couple more months of mountain, a couple more months of late afternoon sunsets, a couple more months of winter clouds eeking by my window.

One year ago today we shuffled three exhausted children and 18 suitcases through customs and past the sliding doors of arrivals. We were met by a gaggle of our new/old team, friends and peers and leaders, waiting for us with coffee and breakfast. They were good to not mind the wild ones, the blank stares, the just barely hidden fears and tears. We’d been gone so long, I felt. Two and a half years was just so long. Leaving after our first term was hard, brutal, painful. The waiting to return even more so. Resting and patience came only in the months and months of God gently calling us home. Not the home here, not the home there, but the home far away and above and past this blue-grey sky hovering overhead. I’m still thinking of this home even now. But now it’s just a part of living, of life with Him in the recesses of action and busyness, where doubt and wonderings and prayers are met. More wander than wonder, maybe.

I don’t know it all, haven’t arrived, not yet taken hold. Isn’t that what Paul says? That all this – in the growth and the waiting, the pruning and the shaping – He’s given and taught so much, and still we cling and grasp. Still we fumble and tear. Still we wait, forever wait, to be made strong, to be perfectly weak, and to take hold of Him like He took hold of us.

We had to take a homework break, just now. The onions from the soup were too pungent and stinging for young, watering eyes to remain in the kitchen. They gather at the telly in the sitting room and I sneak up to my room with a view to write. To remember. To ask, Jesus, don’t give up on me. Even with all You’ve already done, all we testify to in Your goodness and our path every which way around and towards You.

I know You won’t, but still I ask. Don’t give up. And don’t let me give up on You.

What’s your experience been with transitioning back to the field? Or to a new field?

11 Comments

  1. Danielle Wheeler February 17, 2014

    It’s ironic that today is our 6 month anniversary of returning to the field.  And the memories of 3 exhausted children and all those suitcases are still so fresh.  I came back expecting to know how to do things.  After all, we’d been the ones to orientate people in the past.  Suddenly we were the ones needing orientating.  And oh, my language was rusty!  We’d been gone two years.

    I love your phrase “to be perfectly weak.”  For me, I felt my weakness so acutely upon returning.  Weak and vulnerable in so many areas.  And yet it was in those days when I felt Him take hold of me, breathe his promises afresh on me.  Thanks for that reminder today.

    1. karen February 17, 2014

      Thanks for the comment Danielle… maybe it’s the three children and the time past that really throws us for a loop. At least I didn’t have to remember much of our “new” language. 😉 I’m not sure I’ll ever get used to allowing myself to embrace weakness, I feel so stumbled by it. But thankful He does take hold!

      1. Danielle Wheeler February 17, 2014

        So I read your comment immediately after I just finished the chapter on perfectionism in “The Gift of Imperfection” (our book for book club!).  Are you reading it?  I think I need to read that chapter alone about five times.  Really looking forward to talking it through with everyone.  I am right there with you on the huge struggle to embrace my weaknesses!  And “embrace” is my One Word…

  2. Laura February 17, 2014

    Karen, I loved what you wrote about waiting for spring. I’m in Ireland as well, and for this California girl waiting for spring seems like a very long wait here. I found your last sentences, “I know You won’t, but still I ask. Don’t give up. And don’t let me give up on You,” summarized my thoughts on my first 11 months here. I’m not new to culture shock or life far from home, but this transition has been a difficult one. And I can relate so well to those words. Thank you for sharing!

    1. karen February 17, 2014

      Hi Laura! How fun you’re in Ireland, too! It’s certainly been wet and windy, hasn’t it? 🙂 I’m so glad you can relate and understand how frustrating it is to find ourselves in difficult transitions even when we feel we should be well-used to them. Maybe there will be an early Spring, in more ways than one!

  3. Brittany February 19, 2014

    Oh my goodness.  I’ve been following this blog for a couple of weeks now, just lurking, really.  I don’t know how to jump in to an online community.  Can anyone know me through a blog??  But I have to comment on this.  I’m new to the field.  My husband and two boys (2 and under) arrived in Romania 4 months ago.  I’m exhausted.  So weary.  We have no team here with our organization…we are the team.  We are opening the field as God has instructed.  God has been faithful to provide a few other serving families nearby which has been beautiful, because really, we are all on THE team together.  The Bride of Christ.  Yet I feel like I am alone.  Like I am failing in this.  Like I should be much better adjusted, after all, it’s been 4 months! (haha) Can one ever be prepared for a transition like this?  Same as Laura, I’m encouraged and crying out to the Father, please don’t give up on me!

    1. Cecily February 20, 2014

      Hi, Brittany!  I’m glad you chimed in here.  I am new to this online community, too.

      I am not too far from you, though not actually in Romania.  But when I came to the field, I didn’t know any other people serving here (or other foreigners, for that matter) and was alone without a team.  But, I am so grateful to the Lord that He gave me a local church which has embraced me from the beginning.

      There are several serving groups in Romania, so you might check to see if any are near you.

    2. karen February 20, 2014

      Thank you so much for the comment, Brittany! I can relate to the isolation, the weariness, even when we think we should be adjusted, should be embracing it, should be comfortable with the people and the resources we have. 4 months is both long and short, and I’d say you’re still neck deep in the trenches of transition. Don’t give up on yourself! 🙂 I once defined transition as up to a year before and after a time of significant change. And I think as cross-cultural workers, we’re always in that transitional year because things so often change! I’ll be praying for you in these early months, for surprise times of renewal, for a deep refreshment, for rest. xo

    3. Laura February 21, 2014

      Brittany, I don’t think that we can ever be prepared for transition, but it’s amazing to look back and see how God gives grace when we need it most and how He helps us through all of the difficult moments. And how He provides moments of joy exactly when we need them. I have been praying for you the last few days…that God would give you small victories in adjusting to everyday life and a sense of belonging in a new place. 

  4. Cecily February 20, 2014

    Karen, you speak about God “calling us home” to His home.  This is the place where He wants our focus.  We are to always be ready for His return, and to look up, for our redemption draws near.

    That is not to say, of course, that we don’t diligently work at the task He has given us here, but we are to do so with our eye on the prize.

    The hardest transition for me is when I return to the USA for little breaks.  I’ve never been back to the USA for more than two months at a time, but it is always such a shock to be back there.  I feel like such a foreigner, like I don’t belong, that there are few who understand me.

    1. karen February 20, 2014

      You’re so right, Cecily. We have to be a “both/and” or an “already/not yet” type of people, don’t we? I struggle with that so, especially during home assignments or times of transition. I think of going back to the States like an extended form of whiplash, those first few weeks and months a continual, achey blur. And I definitely relate to feeling like a foreigner, even in the comfort of our old home.

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