Dear Linda

rose-676760_1920In the middle of the night I got a message from my friend Linda that lives on the other side of the world. She is hurting. They left South Asia several years after we did. Her husband took a position that he finds fulfilling and satisfying. She however has struggled to find her place. She is lonely. The friendships she does have she holds onto tightly for fear that those friends will abandon her. She no longer knows who she is or what she has to offer.

It’s not the first such letter I’ve received. There was one eight or nine months ago from Lisa. Her family’s lease had been suddenly revoked. They were asked by their landlord to leave the acreage they (and others with them) had restored from a weed choked, overgrown plot of ruin to a luscious garden retreat space. Her heart was breaking too. How would she get passed the sense of loss? How would she find herself again…when so much of her was planted in the ground they had cultivated?

Still another email came in August. This particular friend, Susan, knows they are planning on leaving the city they’ve adopted as their own in Asia. All the signs are pointing in that direction but she is beginning to sense even now unintended sorrows and sadness. She wondered if there was a way to manage such a transition while mitigating some of the heartache. Is there a “how to” book for making such a earth-shaking, globe traversing change?

My heart connects so thoroughly with these women. They are my friends it’s true. But they are also travelling along some of the same roads that I’ve been on. I’ve walked down those pathways and they were not so easy. The journey from there to here is long and mostly uphill and it’s ever so painful. I want to protect them from the pain they are in or the pain they have yet to face. I want to make all their endings happy ones. I want to cocoon them with some mythical protective wrap that ensures they will get through the transitions without agony, with their souls intact, with their hearts unscarred.

I suspect Linda doesn’t just grieve for the place she left behind. She grieves for everything else that got left there too: her memories, her place in the community, the meaning-infused ministry she was a part of, her friendships –made deeper there by shared suffering over time. Her marriage looked different there. She parented differently there. Her children were younger then and responded differently to her. And while parenting and being a spouse have not changed–she is still a wife and a mother–it looks wildly different than it used to.

I’m guessing she also left huge pieces of her self somewhere in South Asia. Linda wasn’t being careless, she didn’t mean to forget to pack her personality and sense of self, but in all the chaos and change, she inadvertently forgot to bring Linda. At least that was my experience… When we returned I realized I had forgotten to bring me!

I know that sounds ridiculous! Of course I came back too….but really so much of me didn’t. Huge parts of my personality didn’t make the journey. There was no use for most of my knowledge or experience. It was no longer relevant. No one needs to know how long to pressure cook beans on this side of the ocean! And if that’s what I had to offer—suddenly I wasn’t offering much at all. The humour on that side, certain silly situations, daily living, prompted certain responses from me. With those prompts all gone or vastly changed I found myself responding in ways I didn’t recognize. I missed the old me. It took me awhile to get to know the new me.

Dear dear Linda (and Lisa and Susan too) –I want you to know that this time will end. There is a beginning, a middle and an end to every transition. I suspect, from what you’ve told me, that you are right smack in the middle. A kind lady, a momentary mentor of sorts, once told me that it would likely take me ten years to adjust to life here in the United States. My husband, Lowell, was shocked when he heard that! Ten years?! But for me it was very helpful. It would end. I would settle. I would get through this. And Linda, you will too. The heartache and the intense sadnesses will pass. You will find yourself again. The time of transition will end.

Time will generously give you new experiences. You are beginning to collect new memories and new stories. God is showing his new mercies for each new day.

Discovering who you are and what you have to offer in this ‘new’ place is perhaps the hardest part of this. It’s frightful and unsettling. I wasn’t brave enough to step out and try new things for a very long time. Even when I did I felt like I was mostly faking it. It didn’t feel right. It took a very long time to get past that. It’s only been the past year or so—and even the past few months—where I’ve begun to experience brief moments of a fully soul satisfied Robynn again.

Give yourself lots of time. Extend lots of grace to yourself. Cry when you need to cry. Drink lots of hot tea and bring to mind the presence of God. He is with you in this. He has not abandoned you. He knows who you are—there in that old life, and here in this new life. He’s not surprised by how you are doing. He’s not disappointed in you. His patience and tender care are enduring. He’s the only one that can fully relate to the amount of loss and change you’ve been through. God understands. He cares for you in your loneliness too. He is with you even in that place. When it feels terribly dark and you wonder if you really are going crazy–He brings a little bit of light and hope. Hold onto Jesus, sweet Linda. He has not changed.

You may always be a little lonely. That chapter in your life was rich with deep friendships and meaningful connections with your team, your international church, your community. Most friends now will likely not fully understand that. But God will give you others that, while not completely identifying with your past, will be able to meet you in your present. I suspect the ache for the “good ole’ days” will always be there but grief will be gently replaced with nostalgia. You will always miss the way it was, the way you were, but those longings will no longer paralyze you.

Linda, I’m so sorry. I wish I could make it better for you and easier. I will pray earnestly for restored joy, for the end to come when it needs to come (hopefully sooner rather than later), for new friends, for a new sense of purpose. All will be well….eventually….all manner of things shall be well.

10 thoughts on “Dear Linda

  1. Thanks for this article. It resonates. I wish I’d had a friend to text in the middle of the night who would get it because she also has done it. “There was no use for most of my knowledge or experience.” Oh, that. Ouch. Along with all the changes and loss of community and relationships.

    You don’t draw it out, and the other comments don’t either. Not directly, anyway. That “trailing spouse” thing lurks in what you and others here share. Husband/wife has moved on to a new work. It suits him. He chose the change. The new group welcomed him, gave him credibility and instant place. The trailing spouse may fully agree with and delight in supporting the choice and the move, but for her all of life must be reinvented, and in new directions she may not be able to imagine at the outset.

    I’ve gone from: lawyer, to stay-at-home mom/community volunteer, to leader of a substantial Bible training organization, to NGO mentor, to singles ministry originator, to house renovator, to contemplative retreat center director/owner. All in the midst of elder care, death of parents, empty nest, boomerang kids returning, empty next again, life as a married single while husband worked on another continent, and now wife of a retiree and full-time companion as we host the world together. All with the same man. On four continents.

    I wouldn’t trade it, but it is painful and there are some things for which I can’t say I’ve ever stopped grieving. Always there has been rich new work and place, but the trailing spouse is the one who follows along and picks up the pieces and makes a home of the new place for the whole family. It is a very different role, and transition and loss drive much deeper into the soul. Finally in this last transition my resilience and energy, my drive and stamina, got left behind somewhere. An entirely new season of life? We wonder, after three years of waiting for the rebound.

    Seasons. Prayer. Dependence. Equanimity. The choice to love, and our faithful Father to fill us with Spirit-endowed riches of patience, humility, perseverance, and permanence of place in His embrace.

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    1. Jeri, Thank you for sharing your heart and pain here. I’m so sorry.
      I’ve never thought much about the “trailing spouse” in those terms….but I was that spouse. You’ve nailed the struggle. It’s such a raw horrible place to be….I want to think more about that and maybe write on it too. I’m looking back on my own story now with curiosity… I wonder when I stopped being that?
      Thanks again for reading and responding.

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  2. It’s been two years now for us since moving back from central America. I still have a lot of sad days. My husband is now a children’s pastor and is definitely in the rule Good placed him. It’s his calling for sure! I’m still just struggling with mine. Sort of left out here to wander around aimlessly while missing my orphanage kiddos and simple lifestyle. There are some good days. But I’m praying this season passes quickly. It’s not fun. Thank you for this lovely article! It’s going in my SAVED file!

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  3. Reblogged this on From 823 C.E. to 2520 c.e. and commented:
    I’ve been in China the last three weeks and will have some blog posts related to that time soon. Until then, I wanted to share a post on transition that touched me. My family and I have walked deeply though this in the past years, and several friends are presently going through it. Even if you are not going through a transition as this writer describes, some of the thoughts may still speak to you.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. That is just really lovely. Although…for those of us who happen to be atheists, perhaps not quite 100% relevant.

    But I am 5 months out of a very sad relationship breakup, and it’s comforting to me, too.

    Do you accept guest blogs?

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  5. Returning to the US was the hardest move I ever made.(it has been over 30 in our marriage of 35 years) I still feel I haven’t quite found my way. Maybe I am jsut overthinking it! Over the last 6 years here we have had lots of changes between adult kids returning home, health problems, our youngest ones becoming teens and other life changing events like an end ot most active ministry. Too many changes and I don’t talk about it much any more because well. its been a long time and I still feel out of place but no there is no oither place to go, Relying on God though tht is even hard sometimes. I’m not as sad as I sound; this post just got me!

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  6. I think this is an amazing piece and one that applies in many situations.

    When I was in 9th grade, my parents bought a motel with a house attached to it. Sound fun? I’m sure it could have been – except that there was no bedroom for me. I moved into room 101 just as I finished the most self-divisive age.

    Over the past 26 years, I’ve had to make many mental trips back into that room to find pieces of me.

    I get it.

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  7. Thank you, Robynn, this was helpful for any of us who find ourselves in one transition or another, even seasons of life. This appears more evident when one moves from a closer community with open doors (maybe literally no doors) to an independent and isolated lifestyle seen in many cities across America and Europe. I also appreciate Wilma’s examples of changing role or identity. Maybe you were a wife who now seems to become more of a caregiver, a mother whose children are grown and scattered across the globe, etc. And Wilms’s comment “if only one were asked” was rich with emotion and understanding of the need for belonging. When speaking to new or young moms about some of the things we did as parents I tell them I did not come up with these ideas on my own but would watch and ask other moms older or with more experience and learned from them. I am not sure that is done so much anymore. Now that I am one of those older women and grandmother I see that the help I received back in those young years may have actually been a blessing to the older women merely in my asking and seeking.

    May your dear friends find a sense of belonging and a soil to grow and flourish in the days ahead. You are a dear friend to them.

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  8. Your pieces are always so encouraging to me. Thank you for writing.

    We just moved again within my husband’s home country and, like Lowell, he doesn’t relate to the length of time it takes for me to adjust to change. Maybe it’s partially a guy thing. It’s of course theoretically not such a bad thing to be periodically forced to examine what exactly forms my identity; however, I could sure do without the pain, sorrow and loneliness part.

    I try and visualize meaningful memories – complete with sounds and smells and feelings – and then thank God for His gifts for that time in life. Often it helps me keep perspective. And sometimes I just feel low anyway.

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  9. I love the part about knowing how to pressure cook beans: it is really hard when noone needs your skills, or noone wants them although they are still needed, and one sees how one could contribute if only one were asked and not assumed to be too old or irrelevant.

    I have made no movement of place for 35 years, but I have made huge moves of status – I am now an orphan and a widow, both areas I find heard, but I am also a fairly new great grandma, although I have no blood tie to the three wonderful little people who can call me “Oma”.

    God never sells us short. I pray these women who are finding things tough will hold on to that. Thanks for your thoughtful writing.

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