In 2019, after living in China for six years, my husband Joe and I returned to the US. Returning was not easy but God has been faithful. This is our story of returning to the US.
First, how did we get there?
We moved to China after Joe’s first career—30 years in the commercial construction industry. Along the way of constructing buildings that don’t last forever, Joe realized that he would rather spend his time investing eternally in the lives of people. As I homeschooled our four teenagers, Joe attended seminary for six years while still managing his construction company.
After his graduation in 2011, we considered what God would have us do with Joe’s learning and our empty-nesting lives. Because we were both over 50, we focused on English-speaking opportunities overseas. So, in August 2013, we moved to a city in China, and Joe began pastoring an international, English-speaking church for expats.
We went with the intention of serving for two years until the church found a permanent pastor. We loved the work and loved helping people grow in their faith in Christ. We stayed for six years and only returned “home” because of my declining lung health. In those six years, two of our children married and one of those couples gave us our first grandchild.
And now the story of our return.
We’ve been back in the US for almost a year and a half. It’s hard to believe. The time has gone by fast, and it’s beginning to feel like home again. Some say “home is where the heart is.” I think a better point of view might be “home is where God has us at this point in time.”
It took us a long while to adjust back to life in America. Some people call it reverse culture shock; maybe a more accurate term is reverse culture adjustment. I expected a rocky re-entry. I had read about it and tried to prepare for it. Maybe that’s why I expected the reactions and feelings that we encountered. We just didn’t know what to do with them.
We landed back in the US at the beginning of July and took that whole month to try to readjust. We reconnected with our adult children and their families by vacationing together at a beautiful lake in Virginia, but Joe was anxious to get on with a new life at our home church of many years. However, six weeks in, he realized he dove in too deep, too fast.
We pulled back and scheduled re-entry counseling and a road trip to see friends that we had known in China. The counseling helped us gain perspective, clear our heads and hearts, and see the parts of readjustment that had to take place. We had to grieve the loss of our overseas life. We had to go through the chaos of figuring out how to live in the US again. We had to develop new skills. We had to figure out where we belonged. Visiting our friends who had re-entered the US before us helped us talk through all those things with people who understood and “got it.”
The adjustment back really hit hard at times—like eating at Panera Bread or going to Walmart. I couldn’t figure out how to order at Panera. Fast food restaurant choices and menus confused us. In Walmart, I wandered around as if I were lost. I was!
During our first Easter back home, some friends who were staying with us asked how we normally celebrated Easter. I didn’t know anymore. All my props were gone. I had given away our 12 Days of Easter (aka Resurrection Eggs) supplies; I had no Easter baskets or visual reminders of Jesus’ death and resurrection. I floundered but cooked a new menu that didn’t really reflect who we were. I was lost—again.
Joe and I often talked about the things we missed from China that are so foreign to life in the US. Like the two produce shops in our apartment complex where we could buy so many varieties of fruits and vegetables. Like the convenient and efficient city-wide public transportation system. Like the ability to walk to a grocery store or a restaurant or a park. Like the constant stream of people on the sidewalks and in the subway. Like the couples dancing in the parks. Here in our town, we don’t have any of those things. We felt lost—again.
As I talked with people and re-built friendships here, I often exclaimed “I’m a mess.” No one understood what I meant. They all said, “No, you’re not. You’re fine.” Neither Joe nor I were fine; we were lost in a familiar but unfamiliar place.
But the grace of God and time have smoothed out adjustment wrinkles. During that time, I often reflected on God’s never-ending, steadfast, covenantal love, and faithfulness. He never leaves his people, and he wouldn’t leave us floundering. He was (and is) the sure and steady anchor for our souls.
We feel like we are beginning to find our US “sea legs.” When God unexpectedly took us out of a place and work that He sent us to and that we loved, He opened other doors of work and ministry here. Because of our experience living overseas, God has broadened our vision and perspective. We now see internationals and other cultures all around us. We make international friends at the YMCA. We cross cultures with our local neighbors, and we journey across oceans to train Christian leaders.
Just before we left our city in China, we met an incoming university freshman who planned to come to our town in the US. When she came, she introduced us to many of her international friends. That one introduction opened up a whole new opportunity for us. God has allowed us to use our home in ways we never imagined.
Hospitality has always been a part of our life, but this new opportunity led to long-term hospitality. We have had the privilege of hosting several international students when they needed off-campus housing. These students have blessed us with their lives and conversations. We have great conversations at the dinner table and just by living life together. The Lord has also had to teach us to grow in patience and understanding in ways we didn’t expect. Our hearts and home are full again for which we are thankful to the Lord!
Although we didn’t know it at the time, we see and appreciate God’s sovereignty in the timing of his bringing us back to the US. Through some aggressive treatments, my lung health is back to normal. Just in time to be healthy in the COVID environment. We thank the Lord often for that provision. It’s a reminder that God knows what he is doing even when we don’t.
Recently Joe and I traveled to the coast to see friends who lived across the street from us in our city in China. How good it was to be with them, reminisce, reflect, and hear how God is still at work. We will always share a special bond with our China friends, no matter where in the world we all are.
As I reflect on the past year and a half, I thank the Lord for his kindness, faithfulness, and wisdom. It makes me worship him more fully. I need him. We need him. He gives us eternal hope.
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