Is It Time to Go Home? (And How Do I Know?)

Last week while sitting at Starbucks unsuccessfully trying to connect to their internet, a thought came to me, “Is it time to go home?”

It had been a particularly stressful day that started with heading to the airport at 6:20 am for a “quick” turn around trip to immigration on another island.  After explosive diarrhea from my 1-year-old (an unexplained issue we have been having with him for months) all over my husband’s lap…twice, a mistake by immigration that kept me and our 3-year-old from extending our visa in a timely manner, I was trying to book a hotel for my family of eight for the night.  This probably wasn’t the time to be answering a question that involves a cross-the-world move and demanding life changes, but still, the thought that sometimes quietly lingers in the back of my mind was banging around my skull at a frightening speed.


But who am I kidding?  This year, not just this day, has been particularly challenging.  Sickness has riddled my family like no other, visa issues, house issues, organizational changes that involved ¼ of our friends/family/co-workers going home.  Not to mention our own personal struggles with sin, discipline, and selfishness.  I am also more and more convinced that this life abroad is not a great fit for large families.  Our rhythms that require super-sized flexibility and the need for extra large everything burdens both foreigners and locals alike.  I yearn for “normal” patterns, 12 passenger vans, and for anything that remotely makes sense to my western brain.

“Is it time to go home?” is a thought that I would like to think we all have wrestled with from time to time.  I have come far from the early days where I wished for a strange tropical disease that would only be cured in America, therefore allowing me to go home but not be considered a quitter.  But other questions still pop up. Is this worth it?  Are we making a difference?  Why does everything have to be so hard?

My wise beyond belief two-decade friend was visiting from the States this week and she brought to my attention that we are in our eighth year.  The year after the average “career” folks go home (as I have heard over the years from various sources).  We aren’t newbies anymore and the newness of the work and the excitement of life abroad has long worn off.  This is just life and sometimes the challenges of life overseas outweigh the benefits.  But I can’t just phone it in.  Or can I?

I wanted a litmus test for my life, so I came up with a few healthy questions to help me navigate the emotion of an exceptionally hard year.  I am self-aware enough to know that I have an aversion to difficult things and often feel like quitting is the answer.  Questions are good, but the wrong questions that usually start with “why” and end in self-pity can be debilitating. And because I believe honesty is the best policy, a few of these questions make me squirm just thinking about them.   But the truth shall set me free and in the long run, processing is always better than stuffing. 

(Hopefully, they can help you if you find yourself in a difficult season…or more likely, when you find yourself in a difficult season.)

Do I believe in the vision/direction of my work?  
Do I believe in the vision/direction of my company?
Is there a consistent pattern of my company that goes against my convictions?
Is there an organization or different avenue for living overseas that is a better fit?
Do I need a nap?
When was my last vacation?
Am I financially stressed?
What family stresses are in my life right now that may be affecting a clear head?
Am I giving enough attention to my marriage?
Do I have emotional, spiritual and physical support for my family?
Have we been sick?
Is there unconfessed sin in my life?
Is there anything/anyone I need to lovingly confront?
Are conflicts being solved in a healthy manner?
Are the issues that I am having only temporary?
Is the Lord calling me to something different?

 And for me as a believer, the No. 1 questions I have to answer: Has God told me to “go?” 

 As I look at the answers to my questions I am (mostly) convinced I need to stay where I am.   There are things that really need to change in our lives and maybe in the lives of others, but I am confident that we are moving in a forward direction that leads to healing, wholeness and better productivity that will lead us to concentrate our efforts on the things that matter and not all the other stuff that bogs us down.  Until everything is perfect (that won’t happen until heaven, right?), I am calling down some ‘holy grit’ from heaven.  Things may get bumpier before they get better, but who knows, there may be a fantastic season right around the corner if I choose to stay the course.

How about you?  Are you navigating a particularly difficult season?  What if you answered these questions and the answer is “go”?  What does that look like for you? 

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Denise James

Denise is an Army Brat whose family finally settled in Georgia. Denise is a woman of many phases which currently include reading cookbooks, planning sewing projects that never get done, drinking coffee and watching Netflix. She homeschools her 6 kids with an "organic laid back approach" and is thankful they seem to actually be learning something. Denise, along with her husband of 12 years and her children, reside in Southeast Asia.

23 thoughts on “Is It Time to Go Home? (And How Do I Know?)

  1. It’s my fifth year in Africa and I have definitely had these feelings too! You are not alone. I always go back to that moment when my husband and I knew, without a shadow of a doubt, that we were to come here…and I just beg the Lord all the time to give me that same conviction when it’s time to go. I also pray that it comes to both me and my husband, just as the word “go” came to us together so many years ago. Praying for you today!

    • Thanks so much for your prayers! I know I am not alone with these thoughts but sometimes I think we don’t voice them. Maybe there is a stigma…like we feel it makes us weak. I don’t know?

  2. I love your list of questions. <3

    And you have my sympathies in traveling with multiple small children on visa runs. In our case, someone always threw up.

    • Bodily fluids always happen in excess when traveling! The worst. I am just lucky that my husband was holding the baby. You better believe I refused to hold him for the rest of the plane ride. Why should we both be covered in poop?

  3. For a second, I thought you plagiarized my blog post from a few years ago- mine went like, “Once, in a four month period where I was pretty much crazy, I even prayed for a disease that would let us leave the field without being branded with the “quitter” label. A curable but completely-untreatable-in Asia-disease.” I’m glad to know I’m not alone 🙂

    • HaHa! I think I vaguely remember your post and laughing. Of course, it didn’t help that we actually had folks on our island actually move to England because of his strange tropical disease. Why couldn’t we have been so lucky?

  4. Denise,

    I love this post so much! I laughed out loud a few times. I remember the first time we took our baby to Church in Peru. We had to take two taxis to get there and then she had explosive diarrhea all over us! I threw all of her clothes in the trashcan and left early crying! I think that everyone (or should I say every Mom of young kids?) feels what you are feeling right now and I just want to say thank you for being brave enough to share it!

    Love and prayers!!


    • I’m guessing that every expat mom has one (or 100) diarrhea stories. Par for the course. Thanks for praying for us, Ellyn! Love to you and your growing little family.

  5. “but not be considered a quitter” — yes!! Why, oh why! are we so prideful?! Like going “home” lacks courage or strength or that it’s somehow giving in to something less?! I’m right there with you. Thanks for the honesty. And your list…brilliant!

    • Pride is so ugly. I have seen it rear it’s head many times in my life very unexpectedly. Sometimes “leaving” involves more courage, I totally agree. Thanks for the comment, April! It feels great just to realize that I am not alone in my struggles.

  6. Great post, Denise. The list of questions is really useful. (“Do I need a nap?” made me laugh! But it’s so true.) I have also had times where I was hoping something would happen, like the government denying visas, or some non-life-threatening but serious disease, etc. that would leave us no choice but to go back home. For me, those were indications that we really needed a break.

    • Seems like many of us have dreamed about non-life-threatening but serious disease. How warped are we, Emily?? Ha! Oh naps…wasted on the young!

  7. I really appreciated this post and the list of questions! I am wrapping up a couple of months in my passport country that has brought healing and refreshment after a particularly tough season. I’m having a hard time thinking about going back to SE Asia, but I think praying through these questions will help bring focus as I continue to ask for discernment about what is next.

    • I am so sorry to hear about your tough season but I am thankful that is sounds like you have had some support while back in your passport country. I pray for continued discernment as you sift through the emotions and get to what the Lord is saying! I’m right there with you!

  8. This is a great, helpful post; thanks! Having a list of objective-leaning questions helps separate distorted emotion from clear thinking. For myself and other single workers, I would add questions related to singleness. Am I lonely? Is the possibility of marriage (real or hoped for) occupying my thoughts often? Etc.
    Thanks much!

  9. What a timely post! I’ve been really struggling this whole year with all those same thoughts running around my brain. One thing I cling to is that God called me here in a very undeniable way and He will have to do the same to get me to leave. Prayers for you sweet friend as you have those days.

    • He will for sure call us home and make it unmistakable. At least that is my prayer also. It is nice to know that I am not alone in some of these emotions. I love the quote, though I can’t remember who it is by “Never forget in the dark what God has shown you in the light.” I probably butchered it…but you get the gist.

  10. Thank you for this! For the first few years I really wanted a good reason to go home. Now we are in our 12th year and while I really don’t *want* to leave, for the most part, there are a lot of times when I ask questions about, “Is this really worth it?” and “Are we being useful enough?”
    My first explosive diarrhea experience was during my first year – with someone else’s baby! It was good preparation for my own kids (who are now in the middle of a stomach bug). Those are really good questions. This year has been a hard one, but it is more children, health and life stuff than living here. Also the thought of packing and moving reaaaaaaally quells my natural “flight” response when things get hard.

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