Ah expectations. No matter what you do you can’t avoid forming some kind of expectations for any situation you are entering into. Our time of being back in the states is no different. Even though I tried to prepare for the reverse culture shock, there have been several things that have taken me by surprise. So, here are some of my expectations (I thought they were realistic, but who was I kidding) and some of my harsher realities.
Expectation #1: I’m going Home.
Reality #1: Within a matter of days it became painfully obvious that I was not at home in the United States anymore and unfortunately Uganda doesn’t completely feel like home either. If I’m in Uganda I refer to America a home, if I’m in America I refer to Uganda as home. I am now “between”. Living life somewhere in the middle, observing everyone (no matter what country they are from) as an outsider.
Expectation #2: I’ll finally be able to worship with my home church.
Reality #2: Going back to your home church kind of feels like visiting your childhood home that someone else now lives in. It feels like yours, but its not yours anymore. There are echos of the fond memories you once had but now everything feels a bit off. It’s all still there but the rhythm is different than you once knew. Somebody greeted me and asked if it was my first time there… me… first time… I was a small group leader, I served coffee every Sunday and worked with the children…. but not anymore, now I’m both very much a part of this church and a visitor all over again.
Expectation #3: Everyone is going to want to talk to me.
Reality #3: In some part of my mind, where I keep all my vanity and selfishness that God hasn’t worked out of me yet, I was kind of hoping to return to church with some fanfare. In reality, I was either recognized by a bunch of people who bombard me all at once with too many questions that I felt too slow to answer OR everyone avoids me, since they don’t want to bother me, leaving me to wonder if anyone is actually interested in what I’m doing here.
Expectations #4: I’m going to get to hang out with all my friends.
Reality #4: Americans are busy and I forgot all about it. I’ve been living in a country with fluid timelines, where the relationship is the priority, where promptness is secondary and now I’m back to the business of the American life. I know that people want to hang out, but it takes a huge amount of effort on my part to get on people’s calanders and get time carved out. My first hang out with a friend back in America was 1 hour long. One Hour! I’ve become used to a 2-4 hour hang out time, where coffee goes into lunch and everyone has time… but not in America. You’d better get down to business before your time is up!
Expectation #5: I’m going to get to talk with all my friends, family and meet new people.
Reality #5: I’m so awkward now. I used to be able to fill any awkward silence with conversation and make chit-chat in an elevator. Now I draw a complete blank…. what are you supposed to say to people after living somewhere else for so long? “So… whatcha been up to the last 2.5 years?” If people aren’t asking me about my life and Uganda then I have no idea how to fill the conversational space.
Expectation #6: I will get to eat all my favorite foods.
Reality #6: Turns out, I have new favorites now. I totally didn’t realize that I had formed attachments to foods in Uganda and now that I can’t have them I am really missing them. I found some fresh okra in the grocery store and almost cried the other day because it was finally a familiar food from Uganda.
Expectation #7: I will continue to do ministry like I did in Uganda.
Reality #7: Oh yeah, I’ll reach out to my neighbors, consistently join a small group, probably start up a discipling relationship with a new believer, and throw in starting up a bible study with my neighbors. My much lower capacity has smacked me square in the face. Between connecting with family, re-meeting all of our friends and supporters and simply trying to do life in America the idea of trying to reach out to our neighbors like we did in Uganda seems laughable.
Well, all I can say is thankfully God is full of grace and he loves me even with my ridiculous expectations. I am praying that despite the strangeness of being back in America, God will use it as a time of refreshment and renewed vision for what his plans are for our next season in Uganda.