You’re probably going to leave the field.
Someday, somehow, the vast majority of us will say goodbye, pack up, cry tears of joy or sorrow or both, and depart.
How will that work out for you?
Well, frankly, I have no idea. But I do know that there are some things you can do to prepare to leave and some things you can do to prepare to arrive. And while a cross-cultural move is stressful no matter which direction you’re going, knowing some of what to expect and how to prepare really can help.
The first part of this article deals with Leaving Well, while the second part deals with the oft-overlooked importance of Arriving Well.
In Arriving Well, we’ll look at
– Embracing your inner tourist,
– Making movie magic,
– Identifying your needs, and of course,
We’ll wrap up with an Arrival Benediction, which is a prayer for you, the transitioner, from the bottom of my heart.
Preparing to Leave Well – How do I debrief all of this?
Maybe it was nine months or maybe it was 19 years. In any case, debriefing is your friend.
For starters, find someone to talk with. A safe person who will value your thoughts and feelings about the whole range of your experience. They don’t have to understand missions or life on the field; they just have to be willing to listen, empathize, and listen. (And yes, I said that on purpose.)
Try making two lists: one of what you’ve gained and one of what you’ve lost. And remember, this isn’t algebra; you’re not trying to balance an equation, and the sides don’t have to balance each other out. In fact, they won’t.
Some folks more easily list what they’ve gained. If that’s you, it’s important for you to wrestle with identifying and grappling with losses.
For some, the losses are the prime (or only) thing. If that’s you, it’s important to wrestle with the truth that there is some good in all of it, even if the only good is God.
There is tremendous power in making room for the paradoxical truths that there was good and there was bad and there IS God.
Preparing to Leave Well – Am I a Failure?
Maybe some things failed. Maybe things really did hit the fan. But there is a world of difference between stepping back and saying, “Wow, that thing failed,” or even, “I failed to accomplish that goal,” and “I AM A FAILURE!” If you find yourself lurching towards the “I am a failure” side of things, heads up, ‘cause that’ll destroy you.
You’ll need to deal with that sense of being a failure; if you don’t put that to rest right here and now, it will rise from the dead like Taylor, all the time.
It will blind you to whatever God is calling you to next. Please don’t let it.
Further reading: To the ones who think they’ve failed
Preparing to Leave Well – What should I read?
Well, for starters, here are two articles from A Life Overseas writers…
Leaving Happy or Leaving Well? (by Jerry Jones)
“Everyone wants to leave happy but not everyone wants to leave well. In fact, some people are so committed to leaving happy that they absolutely refuse to leave well.”
Transition – Building a RAFT (by Marilyn Gardner)
This one is my go-to when I’m meeting with a client who’s preparing to transition. Do yourself a favor and read Marilyn’s thoughts about building a RAFT.
If you’re willing to invest in a book or two, these are highly recommended…
Returning Well: your guide to thriving back “home” after serving cross-culturally
Perry Bradford, President of Barnabas International, says this about Returning Well: “Thousands transition back to their home cultures each year without any formal debrief to assist them. Returning Well will guide the reader into an in‐depth look at their transition and lead them to discover how to manage the re‐entry process with spiritual and emotional health.”
Looming Transitions: starting and finishing well in cross-cultural service
This one’s from A Life Overseas writer Amy Young, and it’s excellent. Also check out the companion book, Twenty-Two Activities for Families in Transition
Preparing to Arrive Well – Embrace your inner tourist
Many of us want to hit the ground running. We’ve got a bazillion things to do and people to see and contracts and license renewals and logistics and ieoafioefoaeifnaeoifneoiafjeio…
But you know, much less has to be done immediately than you think. Really.
Instead, what I’d like for you to do, for a time, is just pretend to be a tourist. Let jet lag have its day, and then be a tourist. Maybe forgo the tourist pants and camera straps, but if you want to go all in, go for it.
A tourist is one who “is travelling or visiting a place for pleasure.”
Let yourself enjoy your new place, even if it’s your old place; it is your new place now. Go to the parks and museums and restaurants. Go where tourists go, and go with tourist eyes. The place has changed, and so has your vision.
Enjoy the place. Enjoy the people. Give your soul time to breathe.
I always ask clients to list out the stuff that absolutely HAS to be done in the first two weeks. Ask yourself, “Will I die if this doesn’t happen RIGHT AWAY?”
Remember, God’s where you’re at. You didn’t leave him on the field. The Creator’s not stranded in customs. Ask him to show himself in this new-to-you part of his creation, and then give yourself time and space to hear his reply.
Preparing to Arrive Well – Make movie magic
Some people will care about your stories. Some won’t. Some will act like they care and then their eyes will glaze over like a warm Krispy Kreme donut.
Which is where the movie magic comes in.
I want you to create a movie poster. Come up with a few sentence snapshot of your experience (whether it was 6 months or 6 years). I want you to have something that’s quick and that you can say without having to use a lot of computing power.
This “movie poster” is for the well-meaning folks who pass you in the church lobby and say, “How was your trip?” I want you to have something to say to them besides, “YOU MEAN MY LIFE?!! YOU MEAN HOW WAS THE LAST DECADE OF MY LIFE?!!!”
For those folks, give them the movie poster. Maybe it’ll intrigue them and maybe at some point they’ll want to hear more of the story. But if they don’t, whatever.
Then, I want you to create a movie trailer. Create a two or three minute synopsis of some of the important points. Tell some of the story, but don’t reveal it all. Keep in mind that a movie trailer isn’t designed to tell the whole story, but to help people decide whether or not they want to invest in the full-length feature film.
Some will watch the trailer, they’ll hear your three-minute story, and be satisfied. They’ll say, “Wow, that looks cool. I’m never going to see that.” And of course, some will say, “Hmm, that actually looks really interesting. When is it showing?”
And then create the feature film. The movie.
This is your story, shared with the folks who really want to hear it. These are your people.
Not everyone will want to see your movie. And that’s ok.
Not everyone will like your movie. That’s ok too.
You weren’t making it for them anyways.
Preparing to Arrive Well – Grieve again (and again and again)
Grieving big losses is measured more in years than months. So when you’ve been back for 5 weeks and hit a speed bump, please don’t be mad at yourself and don’t you dare think, “I should be over this by now!” Um, just no. Even if you move back to the same town where you grew up, you’ve changed and the town’s changed and this isn’t Kansas anymore.
Big losses take more like two years to grieve, not two months.
Further reading: How do we process loss and grief?
Preparing to Arrive Well – Identify your needs
This was originally written about cross-cultural living, but it applies here too:
We’ve got to start asking our cross-culturally-working-selves, “In an ideal world, what is it that I really need to make it? To thrive? To be ok? To survive where God’s called me? What is it that I really need?”
Can I mitigate it, or do I need to sacrifice it? These concepts continue to ring off the walls of my counseling room, and I think transitioners need them too.
Read more here: The One Question We Must Ask
An Arrival Benediction
Here’s my prayer for you, a prayer for the middle spaces:
May you arrive more whole than when you departed, though the intervening time may have been splintering and hard.
May you arrive with more hope than when you left, though you’ve been in hopeless situations more often than you thought possible.
Perhaps you’ll arrive empty, but may those you’ve left behind (there and here), fill you with the love of the Father, aged and distilled through time and perhaps darkness.
May you arrive with peace, knowing in your gut that he is Good, that he is Faithful, and that he isn’t finished with you (or with them).
May you find rest, safe in the arms of love, behind the Captain of the Lord of Hosts, your Healer.
And may you hear him ask you the same question he asked a confused and lonely and traveling Hagar, “Where have you come from?” and “Where are you going?” At the end of the day, may you proclaim along with Hagar, “You are the God who sees me.”
And after your arrival,
May you keep your eyes fixed on the horizon,
Awaiting the day of all days,
When the sky will split,
The darkness flee, and
He will, finally and irrevocably,