Although all the names were printed in bold letters and striking colors, they grew bleary as my eyes filled with tears. Golden Grahams. Fruit Loops. Shredded Wheat. Corn Flakes. How many types of cereal did one store need anyway? As I stood in the grocery store aisle, overwhelmed by the myriad of choices I saw looming endlessly in front of me, my mind wandered to a similar event two years before. I thought back to another cereal aisle, much like this one, but half a world away.
Corn Flakes and Wheat Flakes. Wheat Flakes and Corn Flakes. No matter how many times I rearranged the wording nothing could change the fact that those were my only two choices. And although I told myself that I was resigned to these two choices I could not help but allow myself to hope a little bit each month that just one other kind of my dearly beloved and sorely missed American cereals would manage to sneak its way into this tiny shop in Hosur, India.
I even managed to make it to the halfway point of my first year in India before it hit me how very much I missed home and the many options available to me there. I stood staring at those two kinds of cereal one cool November evening and began to sob. “Miss…why you cry?” The ever-present clerks at my favorite grocery store appeared by my side looking rather unsure of what to do. “I miss cereal!” I moaned! “Miss, you got cereal right here, Miss. See two kind. Good cereal. American cereal.” How ashamed I felt during those early days in India when even one of the few American comforts I allowed myself could bring me to my knees in frustration.
I had anticipated that the adjustment of shifting from life in a mid-sized American city to life in a small Indian village would be drastic and difficult. However, it was a different adjustment that proved to be most challenging because I was blindsided as I tried to adjust again. That adjustment was my homecoming.
Although my anticipation of difficulty had been my ally when moving to India, my adjustment to living in America again was made even more difficult because of the opposite expectation, “I’m going home after all… how hard could going home possibly be?” Little did I know how much I had changed during the time I was overseas. I was soon to learn, that many things had changed from relationships to my perception of choices to my level of sensitivity.
The area where I most immediately and keenly sensed how I had changed was that of relationships. I struggled overseas with feeling forgotten by a number of people but I hoped that once I returned to North America we would be able to renew relationships and grow deeper in our friendships. Upon returning home, I realized afresh how much everyone else’s life had changed in the same interval of time. Careers had changed, marriages had begun, babies had been born. “Where do I fit into my friends’ and family members’ lives now?” I struggled to find a new equilibrium and to help others feel comfortable with me again. Many people seemed to believe that I had miraculously become a super-Christian because of my time spent overseas and were perplexed as I attempted to share my struggles with them.
While living in India, it became clear that the peculiarities of American daily life had no resemblance to most other parts of the world. In India, although it took much time and grace, I eventually learned to enjoy the lack of modern conveniences, limited options while shopping and slower pace of life. Upon returning to America, I found myself bombarded with the cornucopia of options and found it difficult not to become overwhelmed. From the many dozen varieties of cereal to our constant accessibility via phone, e-mail, cell phones, pagers, faxes to the fact that on any given day I could easily have access to dozens of forms of entertainment, I was awed by what we call “normal life” in America. People wondered at how a woman who could manage life on the other side of the world, something many of them could only shake their heads at, could be brought to her knees in the process of making the most basic daily decisions once she was back in America.
Finally, I struggled with an increased sensitivity to the sins that are rampant in America. Although sin permeates every culture, it often takes on a local color as people struggle with different weaknesses. I found it difficult to watch the disrespect toward elders here in the U.S. along with the immodesty and ease with which sexual matters were discussed in the media and amongst perfect strangers. I found myself marveling at the irony that I missed being around the sins of India.
Even as I struggled in these areas, God granted me grace day by day and graciously gave to me of His wisdom. As I share with you the ideas that God granted me to help me make this adjustment, it is my prayer that He will also use them to grant you strength for your own journey home.
- Find one or two friends with whom you can be honest about your struggles in readjusting to life in America and ask them to commit to praying for you daily during your first year back in the U.S. This can be a double blessing if you are able to team up with an older global woman who can sympathize with your unique struggles. Ask the pastor of your local church if he knows of any other furloughed or retired global workers in your area.
- Commit to making one decision about your purchases. The number of options available in the U.S. can overwhelm even the hardiest of souls, so do not ask yourself to sort through the multitude of options each time you go to the store. Decide that each time you shop, you will buy a certain type of toothpaste or a certain type of cereal. Refer to The Overload Syndrome by Dr. Richard Swenson for more help with this issue.
- Learn the freedom of saying “No.” You will likely be inundated by requests from interested people asking you to speak, share meals, organize, volunteer, etc. Recognize that making the transition from culture to culture is a tremendous stress in itself and give yourself the freedom to say no to what you do not feel you are able to handle.
- Do whatever is necessary to maintain your regular time with God. It is easy to be picked up and swept along by the hustle and bustle of life in your home culture so you must be vigilant about consistent time with God. Just as this was your source of strength and refreshment on the field, so it is at home and no amount of visiting or work should be allowed to replace it.
- Finally, hang in there! You will have difficult days when you feel like nothing would make you happier than to escape from one home to another. Be encouraged that many people have made the same journey that you are now making and that God’s grace was found to be sufficient for each one of them just as it will be for you.
“His grace is sufficient for me, for His power is made perfect in weakness,” ran through my mind and I inwardly groaned. I found myself overwhelmed again over a small thing that was small regardless of what continent I was on. “Oh, Lord, how will I ever learn to live here again if I am reaching this point of despair over cereal?” As my tears began to slow and my spirit became calm again, I realized I was standing right in front of a box of Corn Flakes. In exactly the same spot I had been standing for the past two years. Just half a world away.