Coming back to America was hard this time. I knew it would be, yet the specific things that have been hard have surprised me.
I was prepared for the gaping hole that my heart would have from leaving dear friends. I was also prepared for the loneliness that would come from not making new ones. I was somewhat prepared for the tears my kids would shed the first week of school. However, I also knew there were good things to look forward to: connecting with old friends, being with our supporting churches, the grocery store, having a yard, holidays with family, English church, and the public library, to name just a few!
My husband and I are planners. Living as expatriates for 15 years, we know we have to be. Imagine my surprise when God did not feel the necessity to help us keep those plans! Exactly six days after landing on US soil my husband began the bout-with-kidney-stones-that- never-ends. Seven months in, we are still making regular trips to the emergency room, doctor’s office, surgical ward, and pharmacy. Managing his health has left us little time to do much else. Instead of furlough being the twelve months of beautifully-planned reconnection with supporters, friends, and family, it has been a difficult year of cancelled meetings, missed appointments, and regret.
I was not prepared for that—and that is just the beginning of the things for which I was not prepared during this year of furlough. I was not prepared for the tears my kids would shed every week of school. I was not prepared for the sticker shock of the grocery store or the resentment I would start to feel over the fact that this was my kids’ first yard ever and that they would only have it for a few short months of their entire childhood. I was not prepared for the letdown of the holidays, of people not showing up and not making it a priority because we were home. I was not prepared for the hurt that this realization inflicted: they had traditions that had continued for a decade without us, and I was not prepared for feeling like I was in the way.
Above all of those unmet expectations, I was not fully prepared for just how out-of-place I am here. I am a hidden immigrant. Sure, I know enough of the culture to fake it; I realize that this is true when my precious Third Culture Kids ask me “How did you know what to do?” or look to me to help interpret American behavior. I have changed, and I feel it almost constantly. It is like the feeling I get when I forget my sunglasses, but it is much deeper. Here I am—missing a part of myself. It surprises me how much this makes me sad.
And how happy!
I am happy because I have begun to realize some of my first-term dreams of living incarnationally. I love my host culture and the life and ministry God has given our family. Yes, there are things that drive me crazy (no one lines up, everyone stares at me, people spit on the streets), but I truly feel at home and love it. I am also happy because I have people to miss. I have people there who know me, understand me, and love me. I did not have that when I first stepped off the plane 15 years ago. Most importantly, I have people I will be with in eternity.
At the same time, I am sad because I will NEVER fully fit into my home country again. I will NEVER feel fully known by people on this side of the ocean who do not share my Asian side. I am also sad because the realization that I want to go back “home” makes me feel guilty. It is hard to look in the faces of your loved ones and know that this is not your home no matter how much they want it to be so for you.
So furlough did not turn out the way I thought. Instead of a calendar full of connections, we had cancellations. Instead of memories with people, we have memories of waiting rooms. We had disappointment and regret, but we also got something we had not put on the schedule—we have clarity.
Yes, we still have a list of unanswered questions, and the disappointment of unmet expectations is real. Our trials, however, have stripped away the veneer of the American dream and given us clarity in our call; they have challenged us to a renewed faith in God’s sovereign will over our lives.
Proverbs 16:1 says “Mortals make elaborate plans, but God has the last word.”
That is clarity for me. What is God’s word for you?
Question to consider: What is God’s word for you?