Monday, May 23, 2011

Beware the Freak

Reverse culture shock.  I've heard the phrase.  I admit.  I thought it was probably a bunch of malarkey.  I've yet to even google it.

I lived in the US for 33 years.  Surely leaving America for 10 months would not turn me into a basket case weirdo.

Think again.

Thankfully I'm on the farm, far away from lots of people and big-city suburban life.  This farm makes sense to me.  This way of life...simple...staying is a source of comfort...a soft landing back into this country that I love and yet don't feel like I understand anymore.

I went into College Station yesterday for the first time.  First stop:  Target.  Second stop:  Church. Hello America.  Why don't I just crawl right up on your lap, suck my thumb, twirl your hair, and sit for awhile?

Half way through church I felt the sudden, intense desire to disappear.  "This was a bad idea."  I wanted to close my eyes, wiggle my nose, and be back on the farm sitting cross-legged in the middle of a pasture so I could think....alone.  A trip to Target and 20 minutes of church.  I'm thinking re-entry into America should be approached like a crossfit workout.  You need intervals.  Jump in for a few minutes.  Grab some water (or something stronger), sit down, and think.

I need to think.

At this point, I don't really trust much of what I'm feeling and am certainly not in a spot to process my thoughts out loud.  I'm afraid my musings would come out in a giant, jumbled mess, and make me sound like those people that used to drive me nuts...the America haters. 

I'm not an America hater.  I'm in love with all this hot water and never-ending electricity.  I love ice cream, smooth roads, the smell of clean air as I run.  Something about the beauty around me has brought me to tears every single day since I've been home.  I love this place.  Particularly this farm.  Particularly Texas.  Most importantly, these people.

I don't want to come across like a judgmental jerk or a sad...oh. so. sad...person.  So I think I have to be honest with myself, and all of you who are in this with us and say that I'll need some time to process.  I need time to think about church, the messages I'll hear, and the things that are important here while this other big thing called Haiti...the people...the images...the injustice...the joy...simultaneously run through my mind.

This place is very different from the one I left behind.  The God I love and yell at is not the God I knew when I lived here.  This world is a lot more broken than I thought 10 months ago.  The needs so much more real.  Quick, easy answers are laughable to me.  I feel unsure and every single thing about life seems extremely complex.  Everything I see and hear is now running through this other enormous filter called Haiti.  It makes my brain very tired and my soul heavy.  It makes me thankful, content, and yet angry and frustrated.  I'm sure somewhere in the mix of all those emotions I'll find truth. 

Bear with me.

There is so much beauty around me.  God truly uses this farm with its wide open fields and buffet of all that is beautiful to heal me.  Our family and friends are a true place of safety and love for us.  I feel God's hands on me.  It brings me joy to post pictures of smiling cousins, belly-laughing children all wide-eyed and wild as they wrap themselves up tight in swim towels and creation.  But behind the scenes, know that I'm asking God to bring clarity to my thoughts and speak peace over my troubled heart.  I'm a mess.  Perhaps I'm supposed to write about those feelings.  Maybe one day.  But not until I understand my own heart better and not until my thoughts are iced with grace.  Maybe God will sort out some of these feelings, and whisper gently for me to keep them to myself, fold them up tight and stick them in my pocket.  I guess we will wait and see.

For now I'm going to keep it light on the blog.  Life is odd, isn't it.  In the midst of feeling like a wreck, my days are also full of love, laughter, doing Insanity workouts with my sister-in-law, hanging with my dad, watching my boys find adventure after adventure, and holding my adorable nieces.  I'm going to post about that stuff while I think the deep, down, possibly crazy thoughts.

I offer a retroactive apology to everyone I thought was ridiculous for claiming to have reverse culture shock.  Will there ever come an end to my pride and stupidity?  It's doubtful.


a la carte/a little water said...

I remember feeling the exact same way when I returned after 2 years in India. It's alot to process and talk through with the Lord. Even now, I'm still totally a weirdo although I function like a normal human being. It's crazy how God changes you so much through experiencing life in a different place.

You will feel semi-normal again but you'll always be a changed person! But it's a good thing.

mother2seven said...

I've never posted before but I have been following your blog for a few months now. Oh, how I love your honesty. Thank you for sharing your heart with us. I'm not really sure what God is up to in my (and my husband's)life but one thing is certain...He's using your blog to speak to me and my heart. Please keep sharing and being completely honest even if it's hard for us to hear.

debra said...

Can't imagine. Visits and a son from Haiti have changed life for me and erupted many thoughts. It is hard for me and I don't even live in the two worlds.

Walking to China said...

We are about to return to the US from two years in China. I am trying to prepare myself but how? We have had lots of good advice esp. in dealing with people who have no idea what our experience has been and how it has changed us. We are trying to tell our teen daughter that her friends will have changed in two years and not too expect too much.
I think you can only prepare yourself so much and then hang on to the Lord to process it all.

Bob & Judy said...

I know - but not really. You know how civilized our life in Mexico is. And yet....

Beth said...

God's brought you to mind a lot today; I'm praying for you.

And, I really meant what I said last night; let me know if you want to talk (I can listen, and I always looooove talking/hearing about Haiti)...or pratike kreyol (m'ap kontan pou sa!)...or have a crazy konpa dance party (though I have no rhythm. be warned.)...or whatever else :) If you want. Whenever you're ready. My number's on lifeline.

Thankful for you, and thankful for the many, many ways God is revealing Himself and being glorified through your family's ministry.

Kait said...

After being in Haiti as a teenager, I came back to the States and thought I'd feel relieved. Air conditioning! Hot showers!

Instead, I stood in a grocery store and sobbed as my mom held me and I sputtered "How can there be SO MANY CHOICES?! How can I decide which one!?" I was talking about toilet papers. I couldn't decide which toilet paper to buy. And it was devastating.

Take your time. Haiti is a hard place to live and a harder place to leave.

JB said...

I'm experiencing just a taste of what you are surely going through. I led a team to Cap Haitien a few weeks ago and it's been so hard to not be THAT girl that's not always comparing the average daily wages of a Haitian family to the cost of a Starbucks drink. How's this - I'll pray for you and we can be a little weird together.

Carla said...

I can totally relate to that strange re-entry process into a world that once was familiar and now seems to foreign and strange. We spent several months as a family working in rural Mexico and our drive back to Canada was overwhelming. I think it's good for anybody to have their perspective shaken by living somewhere else...the disturbing part is how quickly we can mesh right back into the ungrateful, materialistic culture here.

Rebecca McDonald said...

Hey Freak
We miss you down here. Church was not the same without your smiling face and hugs from your boys. Take it easy on yourself you don't have to figure it all out straight away. Love you please tell the boys we said hi.
Bec and Barry

Ang said...

Oh, Heather - you aren't a freak. While I was in China, colored ketchup came on the market in the U.S. I couldn't often find ketchup in the market where I lived, much less multiple brands ... and certainly not purple or green! Blech.

I remember standing wide-eyed in the grocery store back in the U.S. several months later, staring at a half-aisle full of ketchup and trying my darndest not to have a nervous breakdown. Reverse culture shock isn't all in your head. You'll be ok. :)

Zoanna said...

I was "that" girl after returning to America from Russia on just a ten-DAY mission trip. I cannot imagine how I might've ripped into my fellow=Americans-spoiled-brats after ten months. But I, for one, probably need an adjustment of perspective. I'm sure you'll blend with truth with grace. Most of us welcome the raw honesty.

Carol said...

I am still going through this and I was only there a week! But I have been on other STM trips over the last 6 years. I can only attribute it to God working in my life and changing my heart but it is so mind boggling and confusing. I can hardly stand to go shopping, I get in Target and almost start hyperventilating, the mall sends me over the the edge totally. I find myself seeking solace to escape. I floated in the pool at six in the morning (told the lifeguards I wasn't having a heart attack first) in the deep end with my jog belt on just was awesome! Enjoy the family, give yourself some time...quiet your will come.

Lib said...


When I was in middle school I lived in England for four years. That experience changed me forever. I thought the transition to life there was difficult until we came back to the US. I suddenly didn't feel like an American anymore. I didn't know how to make sense of my own country. I didn't really know where I belonged anymore. And that was Europe, where compared with Haiti, life is relatively similar to life in the States.

So, that said, my heart goes out to you. I can begin to imagine how shocking your re-entry has been thus far, and will no doubt continue to be.

I hope your time at home will be a time of great rest and reflection. Look forward to hearing more thoughts as they come. Thanks for sharing your story with us.


Marla Taviano said...

Pleeeeeease don't stop thinking out loud altogether. I looooooooooooved this post. LOVED. LOVE. LOVE it.

Praying for you, friend. My head and heart hurt just thinking about all those swirling emotions.


deana in taiwan said...

oh, I so understand!!! We only get back every 4-5 years, so you can imagine the change. Last time, we went to Walmart for the first time and my boys were quiet...they had deer in the headlight look when I said each could pick a cereal...WHERE TO START?? American have so many conveinences and choices....enjoy it now, and continue to be thankful for the changes God has and is making in your families life. Try to relax and enjoy your stay in America.

brooke r. said...

I came over here from the Livesay's blog, that I found through.. blog hopping, awhile ago. You've been changed forever and I am insanely jealous that you've been so changed and that you get to go back.

Sorry, I hope you don't mind such a thought from a total stranger.

Gretchen said...

After our first year in China, when we came home I felt just like that. I loved seeing my friends and family, but the materialism and complacency made me want to scream outloud ALL THE TIME. I felt like a split in half crazy person; on one hand, I loved being in the states so much, and on the other hand I hated it so much. I had to constantly ask God to hold my tongue and to keep my heart humbly in check. In the end I just had to thank Him that He had not left me where I had been and had allowed us to move and see the world from a new perspective. I know I was in the same boat as all of those people I wanted to scream at just a short time ago. I am blessed that He is giving me a chance to see His hand in the world in a much bigger way. It's not because I am anything special that I get to see the world with fresh eyes. For some reason He is blessing us with this experience. Other people haven't had that chance so I have to treat them with love and not expect them to see what I see. We are now finishing our 2nd year in China and are getting ready to go home again for a summer visit. I am already asking Him to guard my heart and save me from myself and to teach me how to share what I am learning with grace and compassion. You are not alone. He will give you the clarity you need to live between two worlds because your home isn't in either one of those worlds. What you really are longing for is heaven. You are always a blessing and encouragement and you are already helping to open people's eyes with what you write. Hope your summer is wonderful.

Charity Hildebrand said...

Loved this post! You are not alone, or a freak :) We just spent about four months in the US after being in Turkey for two years. It was hard adjusting to America and all the STUFF! But now that we're back in Turkey it's hard to adjust to everything here again.

I've been following your blog for awhile but haven't commented much. I love you blog and your writing. I love your heart!

I was also shocked when I saw pictures of Ben Saylor on your blog. We grew up in the same part of PA. Small world!

Love and hugs from Turkey,


Megan@SortaCrunchy said...

I want to echo Marla in affirming that so many of us want to hear your thoughts as you process . . . as much as you feel comfortable sharing.

Your voice adds to the chorus of the Kingdom. There are things we need to hear, no matter how unpolished you may feel it is.

In the meantime, may the ministry of Blue Bell be good to you. :)

Singing Pilgrim said...

I would love if, after you've processed and thought, you would write on this again. I know nothing about reverse culture shock.

I'm going to India in a few months for a several week visit with my Indian boyfriend... who will ultimately be my husband. That will be my first trip out of the states. And we're going to start our marriage living in India, and after the first years of our marriage, we expect to move to the USA. (These are, of course, all tentative plans that are given to the Lord and may change.)

But this is the first time I've ever heard of reverse culture shock, though from your description I am sure I have seen it in people who have come back from mission trips or something. I have expected something like that will probably happen with me.. but I had never heard the phrase before, and I have no idea what it's like.

So I'd be very grateful if, when you've able to process this, you'll share with us what reverse culture shock is to someone going through it. Your processing might take days or it might take months, but I'd be interested in your sharing no matter when it comes.

T & T Livesay said...

I write this post every time I return to the USA. No matter how many years or visits. Broken. record.

Good news:
There are lots of freaks to unite with and you aren't alone.

Sharon said...

Dear Heather,

Thank you so much for sharing your heart. I just recently returned from serving over a year in Haiti. Your blog encourages me.

Struggling too said...

You are wise to wait and give it some time before you express your thoughts. Though I do not know how you feel, I do understand (though in a limited measure). I have only taken short term trips and lately I have been growing so disillusioned with all this excess which is only magnified by the overwhelming sense of need as I learn of and pray through the nations.

A couple things that may help you as you process and eventually express your thoughts, frustrations, burdens, and insights:
(1) Remember that God has chosen you to have the experiences of the past ten months (and even before) in order to first and foremost sanctify you as He reveals Himself to you. It is from this center that you move out to encourage (even chastisement must be an attempt to encourage) those whom the Lord has placed around you.

(2) There are many who want to understand, and even want to have those experiences but have not been blessed (yet) to do so. I myself would love to go and minister in another land but have not yet been given that opportunity. I did not have a friend who called me about a position that... well you know. Again, remember #1 above, you have been given your talents, gifts, opportunities, and experiences and are responsible to God for how you use them to build up others and his kingdom.

(3) You cannot change everyone and those who are changed will not change immediately or have immediate opportunity to act fully on that change. But, by God's grace, you will influence many and that change (though slow) will be substantial. So, resist the temptation to be overwhelmed by the enormity of the need before you and instead graciously labor at the opportunity given to you (and even that is with the strength He provides).

Anthony & Sharon said...

I getcha and the inability to put it into words just yet. My FAVORITE question to get in the midst of "re-entry" culture shock is,

"Hey! So how was your trip?"

My first answer was usually, "Well. I had a baby."

The oddest part about feeling uncomfortable in the place I grew up is how much it helps again show me all the reasons I view my new home in my new country the way I do. Not sure if that makes sense. But I'll be praying for you as you tell people about your "trip" to Haiti.

SarahBeth said...

Just another person to tell you that what you are feeling IS totally normal. When my husband and I moved back after 2 years overseas the culture shock coming "home" was much, much worse than when we moved there! I described it as kind of like living in two parallel universes simultaneously. There is no way to make that not weird! My favorite description though was from someone who was moving back to the states around the time we were arriving. She was trying to help prepare us for what was to come and said, "I'm permanently screwed up! But I wouldn't have it any other way." It's so, so true.

Brandon and April said...

Our first time back in the states after 2 years in China, we went to church and it happened to be near July 4th. When they played the National Anthem and people cried and took pictures of the flag, I thought I was literally going to barf on myself.
I managed to hopefully not be too critical of my home country during our three year stay.
We're back overseas now, and eagerly anticipating how freakish I'll be when I return to the states in a few years!
Welcome to the freak show, Heather! And keep the thoughts coming...LOVE it!

Tasha Via said...

I feel that struggle every time I come back from Africa. The nausea, the need to disappear...

It's a good thing, though. That means the Lord moved in your heart and you have been changed. It means that you have a fresh perspective on what really matters...on eternal significance.

cecemac said...

Heather and family, this is my first time to post. my friend, also from college station, found your blog and told me about it. This is my first blog ever to read or follow. I was in a dark and empty place and hearing your words literally helped me through two years of battles with my flesh and the Lord.
I have always believed in living life in community with other believers and reading about your family has helped me feel like i was a part of community of believers all over the world! Your honestly about simple family struggles each day to the burden of caring for the oppressed in Haiti all relate to us all. In fact, this hard time for my husband and I he refers to as "our haiti". Encouraging me to press on as you do, funny how connected we all become in the NEED FOR CHRIST! Keep the honestly coming girl. I prayed a robbie seay song lyrics over you today from his song "new day" it is a beautiful day for you today. enjoy the 'gift' of each beautiful moment texas and family offer you. Thanks