When Death Leads to Life

Transition, re-entry, cultural adjustment—no matter what the label, cross-cultural living involves parts of ourselves dying on a regular basis. When I first moved overseas, I didn’t fully comprehend all of me that was dying when I boarded the plane. The same held true three years ago when I boarded a flight home from Ireland. From vocabulary to favorite foods to friendships—loss came each time the plane left the runway.

I assumed I was prepared for reentry; I was anticipating tears and confusion and unknowns. What I didn’t entirely understand was the death that came with the loss of life abroad, of a career, of a part of my identity.

For all of the crazy that my years overseas entailed, I loved living in a foreign country. The challenge of learning a new culture, the sense of accomplishment when I finally completed an ordinary task without feeling exhausted—I learned to thrive on these moments, to succeed and adapt in a new place. Now I have roots, which feels comforting and odd at the same time.

Occasionally I ponder my current life as I commute to work. How long have I lived in this part of Southern California? How easy is it for me to find my way to various places here? What have I explored recently? I analyze my adjustment to a new place in my passport country the same way I did when I lived in a foreign country. I know how to navigate to most places. I feel less out of place and more at home. Slowly but surely my new life grows and flourishes, even though my life abroad has “died.”

When I boarded the plane in Dublin that March morning, I knew I was saying goodbye to my career. Now I’ve been home long enough that I no longer refer to myself as a “former” cross-cultural worker. Currently I’m a “customer service representative,” which doesn’t sound nearly as glamorous or exciting. My stories from work revolve around shipping issues and inputting data, instead of language barriers and lost luggage. A cross-cultural team certainly doesn’t function quite the same way as an office team, even one at a small company; however, I’m still part of a team, still working with others to accomplish a goal. My skills are needed, and my knowledge is put to use. While the days of preparing for small group studies and organizing a kids club seem distant, the Father is gracious, and I see Him using my work to stretch me, to grow me in new areas.

Perhaps what I understood the least was how deeply my identity was connected to what I did while living overseas. The death of who I was and what I did have allowed for growth, for new life to flourish. More than ever I understand the crazy which is life in the US. I see and experience first-hand the pressure to be all things to all people. To live a certain way. To meet all the expectations all of the time. I certainly fail to meet these cultural expectations; however, I understand my home culture more. The busyness of my life now has given me grace for all who say, “No, I can’t make it tonight.” Because now I say that too as I learn to give grace to myself. My empathy for my co-workers who work full-time and take care of families has increased as I have found myself struggling to keep up with work and home and any sort of social life.

But where I have grown the most is in trusting the Father. I thought my trust in Him was deep and strong, and it was. However, as I have walked this road of reentry, I have learned to trust the Father in new ways. To trust Him to give me patience when the work day is long and the phone call is difficult. To trust Him to provide comfort when I don’t understand what is happening in my life. To trust Him to help me when daily life begins to overwhelm me. Learning to daily trust Him no matter where I am, no matter what I am doing, has been humbling, yet I’m thankful for the growth He has given as I have trusted Him with “normal” life in my passport country.

In what areas of your life did you experience “death” as you transitioned to a different phase in your cross-cultural journey? How did you see new “life” come through the transition?

 

Photo by Kace Rodriguez on Unsplash

12 Comments

  1. Amanda Batterson March 18, 2018

    So well-said! Struggling with this myself as we find ourselves on home assignment after 4.5 years on the field. I feel so lost and without purpose just doing the “american life” … and certainly not ‘home’ though it’s our passport country. It is certainly an exercise in trusting the Father completely with the plans He has for us, rather than trying to make our own. Thanks for your words!

    1. Laura March 23, 2018

      Amanda, praying for you to find a sense of purpose during your home assignment.

  2. Joyce March 18, 2018

    I can so relate, Laura! Thanks for sharing!! “To trust Him…” living now in the USA, seems so different and so difficult than when living overseas. And after all those years “trusting Him” while living in another country, should make it “easier” to trust God here, but it doesn’t seem to be. Yet, I want it to be. So, yes, I continue to learn and grow and cry out to Him!

    1. Laura March 23, 2018

      Joyce, praying for you to continue to trust God here in the States as well.

  3. Monica March 19, 2018

    So spot-on to what I am continuing to go through being ‘back home’ for 3 years now. This post really ministered to me, and reminded me that I’m not alone.

    1. Laura March 23, 2018

      Monica, it’s always nice to know we aren’t alone in this journey!

  4. Kirstin Durfey March 19, 2018

    Thank you for this. I, too, am learning this very thing. I found the ache and ponderings of my heart echoed in your words.

    1. Laura March 23, 2018

      Kirstin, glad to know I’m not the only one learning this lesson.

  5. Spring March 21, 2018

    Laura I love your insight. I think my husband experienced this the most our last time in the US.Since we had no official leave date or guarantee that we were going back to missions it was a time of uncertainty. He thrived and was important in Belize, in the US he had a job where diapers needed to be changed. It felt like a downgrade to him. Back in Belize means that my job lacks glamour. I work hard at not identifying myself with what I do but who I am created. to be. This doesn’t mean there aren’t times I struggle with what I do or feel like that part of me is dying (right now the part that is a nurse feels like it’s experiencing a slow death) I am thankful that He walks with us through the process.

    1. Laura March 23, 2018

      Spring, I love what you said about identifying yourself as who you are created to be – definitely an important perspective to have and a great reminder for all of us!

  6. Dmmsfrontiermissions March 21, 2018

    Transition is difficult but also full of new opportunities. I try to make space in my life by taking a short sabbatical when approaching major transitions. This has really helped me.

    1. Laura March 23, 2018

      A short sabbatical is such a good plan before transitions; thanks for sharing this tip with us!

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