Nine months ago, we said goodbye to our life in Cambodia and made the enormous jump back into America. It's had its ups and downs, its moments of culture shock and awkward conversations. The first several months were stressful, especially now looking back on the cold winter months filled with a sick, sleepless, croupy baby, trying to settle into a home while adjusting to a new job, and feeling like strangers at our church and in our neighborhood.
But several months in, I can say I finally feel like I belong here. And that's a feeling I don't take for granted. A life overseas rarely gives you that sense of belonging. I had long stretches of life in Cambodia where I felt like a local - I knew my way around the market, I had local friends, I could speak the language. And then something would happen that flipped my world upside down and reminded me that I really didn't belong there. Maybe it was a Cambodian friend's reaction to a situation that was completely foreign to my own. Or it was dealing with an immigration crisis that would never happen in America. Whatever it was, reminders always existed that I was an outsider in someone else's home.
And I felt that way for a long time here, too. It was difficult to find my footing in friendships again. New people overwhelmed me, and I struggled to reconnect with people I hadn't seen for months. But we kept trying. We committed to a small group at our church a few months back, even though the idea of explaining to strangers what my life had been for the past three years terrified me. When someone asked me to coffee or lunch, I said yes, almost always. We spent countless hours with our families, reconnecting with their lives and joys and struggles and pains in intimate ways that only family can allow.
And all the awkwardness and late nights and juggling of schedules was worth it. God has been so gracious to give us new relationships to grow in and new ways of serving in our community. We've met others who have survived the transition from life overseas to life in KC and can show us how to do it. Our church family has been walking with us, helping us adjust to a family that has grown from about 500 to over 2,000 (which is basically like attending a new church!).
We see people we know in line at the local cafe, or shopping at Aldi, or chasing their kids at the library. Church services find us talking with old friends and meeting new ones. The loneliness that chased us as newly repatriated expats is no more. We don't feel like strangers in our hometown anymore.
If you are in the same boat - struggling with transition - hang in there. That feeling of belonging? It does come eventually. But only if you focus fully on being present right where you are. Moving is always a grieving process of leaving the familiar and comfortable and opening yourself to something new that isn't always the same as what you left behind. And community can be the hardest thing to rebuild.
But stick with it. God sees your loneliness and wants to meet that deep longing for relationships. He may take you through a season where he is all you have - and that is hard and sweet and life changing. And he may challenge you to take the first step towards building new relationships. But he is always faithful and always there for you.
Have you ever felt the same way? What ideas do you have for encouraging someone in the middle of transition?