The Grove – Hindsight

My husband and I stood in front of a filmy window looking out at Beijing.  Our arms wrapped round each other, a small comfort for the sinking sensation in the pits of our stomachs.

We had just arrived in China a few days before, having never visited the country before.  We had made a three year commitment to this place, and one thought that was now playing on repeat in our heads was, “What have we done?  What have we done?”

There had been so much anticipation building up to this move, so much wonder and joy we subconsciously expected when we stepped off the plane.  But from that first step, the differences of this culture seemed to bombard us with a harshness that left us stunned.  We felt lost and helpless, the waves of doubt pounding hard.

If I could peel back through the layers of time and step into that room, if I could come as some sort of future vision of myself,  here’s what I would do.  I would pull younger me away from the window, sit down on that rock hard bed and say this:

“It’s okay.  Really.”

I know that the books say you will go through an initial ‘honeymoon’ phase of cultural adjustment.  But guess what, not everyone does.  I know that when you’ve been in other countries, you felt those gushing feelings of amazement that had you saying, ‘I love this place!’  It’s okay that you’re not feeling that right now.  In fact, it’s okay that you’re feeling the opposite of that.  Lots of people skip straight over the honeymoon phase.  That doesn’t mean you misheard God and somehow ended up in the wrong corner of the globe.

This country, this culture, and these people, they will slowly, over time, work their way into your heart and affection. You will crack through the rough coconut shell and discover the milky sweetness of this place.  The harsh edges and the bitter bits will always be there, but so will the goodness.

So take heart.

Believe it or not, you will be here long beyond your three-year commitment.  In fact, you’ll start and grow a family here.  This massive city and these streets that make you feel so lost right now will one day hold precious memories for you.

You’ll ride by a store and remember the day you bought a pregnancy test there.  You’ll drive in a taxi across the city and remember the day you nearly gave birth in the back seat.  You’ll see the park where your favorite students took you paddle boating on a golden afternoon.  You’ll pass by restaurants that make you salivate at the sight of them.

These streets will one day feel familiar.  This place that is completely overwhelming to you right now, will one day be  dear to you.  You’ll find your way.

So fear not.  You heard God right.  He’s got you here for a reason.

Then I’d take a deep breath, and say, “There’s something else I need to tell you…  

As much as I’d like to end on that note, I can’t have you thinking it’s going to be all happily ever after.  Because … it’s not.

There will be days, many in fact, where you’ll feel drained and dried up, where you’ll wonder how you can keep doing life in this place.  You’ll want to blame the cultural stresses for giving you headaches.

But listen closely, because I want you to hear what’s actually at the root of it all.

You’re going to do too much.

You’re going to try to meet all the needs and expectations, trying to live up to this image of who you think you should be, of who you think God and your supporters expect you to be, and that will leave you running on nothing but fumes.

You need to learn a very important word.  It’s spelled N-O.  So let’s practice.  Repeat after me:

‘No. I see that this important, but it’s just not something I can do right now. I cannot be the one to meet this need.’

Hard isn’t it?  But if you don’t learn, here’s what will happen.

You’ll wear yourself out doing good, and then you’ll be good for nothing.

The crazy thing is that in doing too much, you’re only going to feel like it’s not enough, like there’s always more you should be doing.

Remember that there are many, many things you could do, but not many you should do.  Because when you say ‘yes’ to something, you’re saying ‘no’ to something else.  Think about what you’re saying ‘no’ to before you say another ‘yes.’  Because you could be saying ‘no’ to your personal spiritual well-being, or to the health of your marriage, or to the fleeting childhood of your children, and then you will probably see your ‘yes’ becoming much less.

How will you able to lead the lost into wholeness and thriving if you’re not living it yourself?

You need to find that wholeness, and here’s how.  Know that God is completely satisfied in you, right now, today, before you’ve done a darn thing for this country.  Know that you and grace are enough.

That’s what you need to know to survive. That’s what you’ll need to know to thrive in this place.

I’m telling you this now, but know that it will take a long slow journey for these truths to seep into your soul and flow out in your life.  And that’s ok…  Remember grace.

Now go back to that window and look out again, this time with hope.”

 

In hindsight, that’s what I’d tell my fresh-off the plane self.  What would you tell yours?

*****

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31 Comments

  1. Anisha August 1, 2014

    You stopped me right in my tracks with, “How will you able to lead the lost into wholeness and thriving if you’re not living it yourself?”  Yes. Just a few days ago I realized that I was so overtired from ‘doing’ that I had  started sleeping in just that little bit more and skipping a quiet time. Whoa, Anisha. Slow down, girl. I know better, I really do, and had to make some changes. It left me wondering how, since I know better, all that desire to do more still managed to get the better of me. Thanks for another great reminder!

    1. Danielle Wheeler August 1, 2014

      I write the reminders I need for myself, and then just hope I’m not the only one. 🙂  Glad this was for you too.  Praying rest for your weariness.  

  2. Laura August 1, 2014

    Danielle,

    Your paragraph about the honeymoon phase of culture shock was me when I arrived here in Ireland. It’s encouraging to know I’m not the only one who has completely skipped that part of adjusting to a new place. 🙂

    1. Danielle Wheeler August 1, 2014

      No, you are not alone!  It’s good to know it happens in Ireland too.  🙂  

  3. Anisha August 1, 2014

    The add your link button isn’t showing up for me for some reason so I’ll add my link here instead. 🙂

    Hindsight: Stop freaking out. Sticks and rocks are awesome.

    “I’ve read the parenting books and blogs for crying out loud. My preschooler needs a sensory bin. His neural pathways are at risk without one.

    Since a sensory bin didn’t fit in my suitecase and clinging to the hope I can pull one together and figure out the rest in our new country, we moved overseas.”

    http://namasayamommy.blogspot.com/2014/07/stop-freaking-out-sticks-and-rocks-are.html

    1. Danielle Wheeler August 1, 2014

      Oops!  Sorrt about that.  Not sure what happened there.  It’s fixed now. 

  4. Polly August 1, 2014

    Well said Danielle.  A much need message for all of us.  We so often want to still live on Old Covenant terms don’t we?  Because it’s just so durn hard (and extremely humbling) to fully receive that God has taken care of everything on our behalf.  The need to work for approval and acceptance and value is so deeply engrained.  Oh that those roots of “striving” would be ripped out by the Master Gardner and replaced with seeds of “trust” and “rest.”

  5. K W Freeman August 1, 2014

    I understand every word of this post. I skipped the honeymoon phase completely and felt guilty about it for a long time. Four years into life in SE Asia and I’m in the middle of trying to figure out what needs to go and what needs to stay so I can get back to a better place emotionally and physically. Thanks for your words!

    1. Danielle Wheeler August 1, 2014

      I’m in the middle of that same process, K.  Writing this was part of that process for me.  Praying wisdom and strength for both of us for the “no’s” we need to say.  

      1. K W Freeman August 1, 2014

        No’s are hard… especially when there’s so much “good” we can do. Thanks for prayers. Prayers for you also as you journey through this season.

  6. Laura August 1, 2014

    The add your link button didn’t show up for me either. So here’s the link to my post.

    The advantages of moving from my first culture, to a second culture, to a third culture, and finally to a fourth culture are seeing how God brings me through the culture stress each time and getting a “redo” (or two) in adjusting to a new culture. (The disadvantage is excessive cultural confusion.) 

    http://chattingaboutlife.wordpress.com/2014/08/01/five-ways-to-adjust-well/

      1. Laura August 1, 2014

        No worries. Thanks for fixing it! I was afraid it was just my computer being annoying. 😉

  7. Tammy August 1, 2014

    Whenever I read one of Danielle’s posts, I take a deep breath. I know the words will touch my heart, be convicting, and lead me to truth. So again I read this post and cried. again. It so resonated with me. I clearly remember traveling in a sleeper train with my 3 month old and my 3 year old from Beijing to Siping. Siping would be my new “home” but all I could think of was, “I’m traveling with a group of strangers, in a dark train, in a very strange country, to a city I’ve never been, to a “home” I’ve never seen.” I had those exact words running through my head, “What have we done?” That was a very scary, panic moment for me. We have just now finished our 3rd year here, and I don’t feel that I’m as far along as you, Danielle, in the process of enjoying this place. I’m beginning to see some goodness, but a lot is just still bitter and rough. What I’m definitely learning is “Trust more; worry less.” That’s my motto for the next 3 years. I can see God’s faithful hand, every step of this journey. With Him– makes all the difference. I could never live here in this place without Him, and I was never supposed to. Trusting Him…more.

    1. Danielle Wheeler August 1, 2014

      Oh, Tammy… what train ride that must have been.  “I could never live here in this place without Him, and I was never supposed to.”  Exactly.  Love how you put this.  And please don’t pressure yourself for not enjoying it.  I certainly don’t enjoy it every day, even now.  But there’s grace in the journey, right?  I’m right there with you in learning to trust.    

  8. ErinMP August 1, 2014

    Oh my goodness, this spoke right to where I am right now (I am writing bible studies for Thai/Korean students soon, which is why still on computer)…I felt all those feelings, and thought I was being a horrible person for skipping right over the honeymoon phase, so thank you for posting all of this. All. of. it. hit me right where I am, and I needed the reassurance. I’m glad God put that in your heart to put on here for us. And I’m so blessed you all chose this theme to be for newbs like me. 🙂 really needed to hear it would be okay, and it’s normal to be in phase2 already, and for the commitment to feel…wow overwhelming sometimes. Thank you thank you. Learning so much with this discussion group, and glad you are mentoring the younger women (that’s in timothy somewhere lol I’m too lazy to look it up right now, but you know what I mean!)…. and so wonderful to hear of your adventures on the field (and the other writers here). God is a great story teller…and every story has some ups, downs, and suspense! I have to keep reminding myself of that–and to trust His writing, and enjoy the quirky cast of characters and chapters devoted to odd adventures and experiences!

    1. Danielle Wheeler August 2, 2014

      Love the visual, and I laughed out loud at “quirky cast of characters.”  🙂  God IS the great storyteller.  Such a good reminder to trust His writing.  Thrilled that you’ve found us here at VA, and so glad it’s been normalizing for you.

  9. Jennifer August 1, 2014

    Five years… sometimes unbelievable it has been so long and yet it has. What to say in hindsight?

    Yes, some of it will be tough, really tough, but all that you need to do is to simply take one small step at a time, and do whatever it takes to keep your relationship with God strong. There will be times when it will seem overwhelming and other things may seem more important but never lose sight of the truly important. You are strong and able to do so many things, and yet you really are not called to do it, any of it, in your own strength, however good you may be. You will try to do it, and even succeed some of the time, and yet one of the greatest lessons you will begin to learn is that building your relationship with God, and listening to him, and walking in what he calls you to, and enables you to do, really is the most important thing for you to do.

    Even though it will hurt, do not be afraid to build relationships and give other people the support and encouragement that they need to do what they are called to do. Learn when to say yes and when to say no, not because of what other people will say about it, but because of what God is saying to you. Do not say either yes or no out of fear of what other people will think or say. Over the years to come, you will face this many times, and yet you will begin to learn the difference which comes when you listen to what God is saying rather than anyone or anything else. It will not be easy, you will be hurt, at times you really will be alone, and yet God will continue to be with you, each and every step along the way. Lean on him, learn from him, listen to him. The challenging times which will come will prepare you for what he wants you to do and help to transform you to who he made you to be. Never let go of his hand!

  10. Kelly August 1, 2014

    Ok, loved this.  And crazy because I’m the opposite.  I have NO trouble saying “no”.  Which is my hindsight lesson.  Say yes- take risks 🙂  Thanks for this prompt.  Spurred a great conversation between me and my husband.

    1. Laura August 1, 2014

      Kelly,

      I’m the same way with saying “no.” 🙂 I regularly make myself say yes, even when I don’t want to. Not easy to do, especially when in a new culture.

    2. Danielle Wheeler August 2, 2014

      Haha, yes, it’s good to be reminded there are both extremes.  Let’s meet in the middle, K?  🙂

  11. HisFireFly August 1, 2014

    hindsight gives us 20/20 vision

    what we don’t possess in real time

    but that leaves us leaning on Him

    right where He wants us, yes?

  12. Ginny August 2, 2014

    Whoa, straight to my heart! I’m right in the middle of “been there” and “AM there”!!! After 5 years overseas and 2 years back in the states, I just moved back overseas to a big, new city in a new country! So, both from hindsight and right-now-sight, I resonate with the part about feeling lost in a big, new city! Yet I know that one day I will drive by all these currently unfamiliar places and smile, laugh, and salivate! I know that all the new faces will one day be the sweetest of friendships. And I know that I am in the right place.

    I also JUST found this website and all this hindsight talk is just what I needed (that I didn’t even know I needed)!

    Thanks for sharing!

    1. Danielle Wheeler August 2, 2014

      So glad Velvet Ashes has been just what you didn’t know you needed. 🙂  In a few weeks, our theme will be “Settle.”  I think you’ll find so much that you’ll connect with then too!

  13. Elizabeth August 2, 2014

    I also completely skipped the honeymoon period. So good to know I’m not the only one! And I so relate to doing too much, too. Seems I am constantly battling that.

    I would go back and tell my fresh-off-the-plane self that culture shock doesn’t last forever, that you will survive and even thrive, eventually. I would probably tell her that she skipped the honeymoon so don’t be too freaked out — it’s not like it’s going to get a whole lot worse after the first month. I would tell her that it won’t always be so stressful running after babies and keeping them away from the steep, concrete stairs, or keeping them from slipping in the wet tile bathrooms. I would also tell her all those fears of germs would lessen overtime, and she wouldn’t be so obsessively afraid of germs and wounds and diseases (which I am quite sure she would not believe). And mostly, I would tell her not to agonize too much over her problems, that the single most stressful part about the first 6 months overseas would not last forever, and that life would not feel so oppressive forever (and I’m quite sure she would not believe that either).

    1. Danielle Wheeler August 2, 2014

      Yes, I think that’s why we can’t talk to our former selves.  We wouldn’t be believed!  That and it would take trust out of the equation…  And yes, it is very reassuring to not be the only one skipping the “honeymoon.”

  14. Kristi August 14, 2014

    I have read the first half of this post every day since it was posted on the 1st.  It has been very reassuring to know that I am “OK” to not love it here and that I did not experience the “honeymoon” stage. Thank you for being honest.

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