Living in the overseas bubble that I do, I am rarely in the loop of new movies, tv shows, fashion, or music. Granted, I'm not the hippest or trendiest of people even when I'm in America: I don't listen to Top 40 pop radio, I don't read US Weekly, and I can't remember the last time I watched Entertainment Tonight or MTV. But when I live in the US of A, I manage to at least be aware of most things.
But not here. I came to the realization watching the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade just how behind the times I have become. Something like 85% of the musical artists and celebrities that were shown, I hadn't even heard of before! Neon Trees?! What in the world is Neon Trees? Anyway, it was another sobering reminder that repatriation is coming up soon (T-minus 60 days) and I will be heading back and trying to fit in to an America where I never particularly felt like I fit before- but now I will be bringing along two years of Latin culture and M life.
It's honestly something I've worried about in the back of my mind since leaving the states more than a year and a half ago. I remember being a freshman in Paris and being warned of the horrors of reverse culture-shock! Our program director made it sound like this horrible stressful psychological thing and I worried what it would look like for me, only to not have a problem with it at all. I was returning home after a semester abroad, at the same time as all of my friends coming home from college for the summer. We picked up where we would have if I had spent that semester in Gainesville, and I had an internship and a part-time job, and all of my activities, and it was a great summer. America seemed a bit odd and exciting for the first week or so, but aside from people getting sick of stories beginning with "In Paris..." there really were no ill-affects.
So when I went abroad again for my senior year of college and then came home two days before graduation, I wasn't prepared for the terrible reverse culture-shock that nearly strangled me when I got back to the States. It was completely different. I was gone for longer that time, of course, and then came back to America and went from being a productive hard-working student at an elite school in Paris to an unemployed college graduate living in my childhood bedroom, all before I even overcame the jet-lag. All of my friends were moving on to internships, jobs or grad-school, and I was still trying to figure out what I even wanted to pursue. It was reverse culture-shock mixed with a large dose of what I call life-shock, and it was ugly.
I remember walking into Panera one day (it was my office when I first moved home because my house still had dial-up internet) trying to stay positive about my hopes for finding a job in my field (this was 2008 and prospects were not great) and seeing a lovely pan au chocolat (which they had gauchely labelled "chocolate pastry") in the pastry window. Ah! I thought, at least I can have a little taste of the Paris I am missing so badly! I took my pastry and coffee and sat down to work. I took one bite...and cried. I literally sat in Panera blinking away tears because that thing was not a pan au chocolat. It might look similar, but it was not the same as my beloved Parisian treat. (Some of you may be familiar with my "I don't eat french pastries outside of France" rule. This -and several other terrible disappointments- is where it comes from!)
Here's a tip for those of you who have never experienced this before and may be facing similar transitions: if at any point you find yourself crying over a bad pastry (or insert your country's signature food) you *may* be experiencing reverse culture-shock! For me, that terrible pan au chocolat at Panera was a final sign that reminded me that, like it or not, I was living in America again, and I was not the same person I was when I left. I was a cultural mutant now. Someone who loved barbecue and Dr. Pepper as much as Nutella crepes and Orangina. And it was weird. And it was hard. And, for lack of a better term, it pretty much sucked. It was quite a while before I got to a new normal and was really okay.
Now don't get me wrong, I know God had a purpose in that season of life. I kicked and screamed, and cried over my 50,000th job application, and begged God to open a door to go somewhere other than Daytona. And instead, there I sat for more than 2 years, and for a long time it felt like the hits just kept on coming -until God started to reveal to me more about Himself than ever before. Like Jacob wrestling with the angel, I felt beaten up and exhausted, and I did the only thing that I could do: I held on until the blessing came. In retrospect I am so thankful that God didn't lift His hand when I fought the means by which He was instructing me. I came to appreciate that God needed to break me in certain places in order to shape me more into His image. He brought me to a point where I was seeking Him fervently and crying out to know Him better. And the growth that resulted from that season, I still see impacting my life today. It was not the path I would have chosen, but I would not take back the hard times if it meant also giving up the growth in my relationship with Christ.
So with that background, probably more than you needed to know, you can kind of understand why the realization that I am going back to the US in 2 months isn't a completely happy one. Call it self-preservational instinct, but most humans don't like to put themselves back in the same situation in which they were previously hurt. If you've been hit in the stomach by a 4-year-old with a baseball bat before, next time you stand farther away from the piñata. Unfortunately, there's no avoiding this one. I have to go back to America, and I have to find a job, and I have to find a place to live, and I have to figure out what life is going to look like now. And I really hope that I don't get clobbered once again.
Some days I am handling it better than others. I'm thankful for patient friends who have calmly listened to my freak-outs and put up with my stress-induced meltdowns. And I'm even more thankful for them not asking me if I know what I'm going to do when I get home. ;-) The truth is that I feel a bit confused and lost and completely unsure about what's next, and that in turn stresses me out because I'm supposed to figure it out at some point but I don't have any idea of how I'm going to figure it out. So I am daily needing a reminder that no matter how dark the road ahead may appear, no matter what the battle looks like or how incapable I feel... no matter what...I never walk alone. My God is faithful. It was true in 2005, and in 2008, and it'll be true in 2013. It isn't always easy to keep that in perspective, but the Lord, my God, is faithful. And nothing is too hard for Him. He is not constrained by a cruddy economy or my personal limitations. Like Beth Moore says, "The weaknesses of God's children do not strain the strength of God." I've loved this song since I first heard it, but I listened to it for the first time in a while this week and it hit home once again:
The chorus echos my heart's cry right now: "Scars and struggles on the way, but with joy our hearts can say, yes, our hearts can say- Never once did we ever walk alone, never once did You leave us on our own. You are faithful, God, You are faithful!" He is faithful when I'm swamped with work in Lima, Peru, and He will be faithful when I am trying to figure out life in America again. I will never walk alone.