I landed back on American soil exactly 16 days ago: a little over two weeks. I expected the disorientation normal for a return back ‘home’ after two years away, reverse culture shock, but I didn’t realize it would still be an ever-present part of my life two weeks after I was back. I expected to be well on my way to mentally processing through the change, journaling things I had learned little by little, writing blog posts about Frodo picking up the threads of his old life after he returned from his quest through Middle earth. But I haven’t done any of that.
I haven’t journaled or blogged one word. To be honest, the connectivity of our digital age has kind of overwhelmed me. There are so many people to talk to and catch up with, but I don’t even know what I would say. And if I use Tolkien’s analogy of the tapestry, picking up the threads of an old life to begin weaving them again, it would be more accurate to say I feel like someone picked up my life-tapestry, ran it through an airplane propeller, and handed it back to me to try to stop the threads from unravelling. Everything feels tangled, knotted, confused, and maybe a little broken.
Since I’ve been back, the range of my emotions and thoughts has been astounding. I race through the gamut quicker than I can even identify what I’m feeling or thinking. These emotions come from separation from a place and people I was constantly with for the last two years. They come from the fact that all the cultural habits I developed over the past two years have no context where I am now. They come from a changed schedule, home, way-of-life, and language. And they’re from being reunited with family and friends and places I’ve missed for 2 years.
In just a normal day here, I feel and think all sorts of things that my brain and my heart just can’t handle all at once. And living by myself for the past year with limited opportunity to speak English means I’ve gotten out of the habit of expressing thoughts or emotions like I used to, even IF I could remember the English words I need all the time, and even IF I knew well enough what I was thinking to express it. The overabundance of emotions just won’t compute, so they feel more like flashes in peripheral vision—too fleeting and too undefined to have meaning or form.
I am getting better at slowing things down and trying to experience emotions and think thought one at a time. But in a normal day, all of these emotions are frequent visitors:
And the list goes on.
It’s a lot, and sometimes I do feel like I’m going to explode, but I’ve been surrounded by loving friends and family who have helped and encouraged me enormously. And there’s been lots of prayer. LOTS of prayer. 😉 It also helps that I’m in the South. People in the grocery store are kind enough to offer me help when I’m standing dumbstruck in the middle of the aisle for minutes at a time. The lady at the post office pretends there’s nothing wrong to save my pride when I get so confused at paying for a package that I almost cry. I take nighttime walks with my Dad, and he never gets impatient when I break off mid-sentence because I’m staring in wonder at the stars I’ve missed. My mom helps me pick deodorant and shampoo when I’m overwhelmed at all the options. And my whole family is helping me with encouragement, prayers, extra hugs, and noticing when I get that look in my eyes that tells them I’m not there at the moment.
So I guess my purpose for this post is to explain to you why I may not be as communicative as when I left, or why I act different, or trail off mid-sentence. And also, I want you to know what others are likely going through as they return home as well. If you know someone coming home from the mission field—if they’ve been there for one year or 50—this is a little glimpse of what’s more than likely going on inside their heads. So give them extra hugs. Sit with them in silence while they think extra hard to come up with words to say. Hold their hand or help them make choices when they get that faraway look in their eyes. Believe them when they say they don’t know why they’re crying. Distract them when they need to be distracted, and listen to them when things need to tumble out of their hearts all jumbled and in pieces. It’ll do their heart good, and they’ll never forget the gift you’re giving them.