How do you start over in a new country? You don’t know the language, culture, food or norms. Even if you move with your family, you have no social connections. Starting over is one of life’s most stressful events, filled with moments of loneliness, isolation, and even despair.
My two biggest experiences with starting over involved Africa. The first was the day I moved to Kenya to teach for three years. The second was the day I moved back to Canada after my teaching contract was over.
In Growing Forward When You Can’t Go Back I share snippets of what it was like to move to Africa as a single 30 year old woman. This article—Starting Fresh With Ruth—goes hand-in-hand with the fifth chapter of my book. In 10 Things You Need to Know About Moving to Africa, I offer practical tips for moving to Kenya. If you’re thinking about relocating overseas, remember that you can only learn so much by reading about other people’s experiences! The best way to learn what it’s like to move to a new country is to actually move there. 🙂
Trust that you’re moving in the right direction. If you have a personal relationship with God, you can be bold and confident that He’s leading the way. You’re being called to start over—just like Ruth was.
A Peek Into Ruth’s Life
Ruth is my favorite woman in the Bible, and I loved writing about her in Growing Forward When You Can’t Go Back! She and Naomi leaned on each other when they started over in Israel. Ruth left her home, family, friends, culture, and life in Moab to move with Naomi. And Naomi was a bitter old widow who didn’t want Ruth around! But Ruth was as loyal and loving as Jesus Himself. In fact, she is in Jesus’ lineage.
After moving to Israel, Ruth and Naomi struggled to survive. Fortunately, barley harvest had begun, and the fields were thick with grain. Ruth asked for permission to glean, which involved collecting grain scattered along the field’s edge, left by the workers.
Gleaning, it seems to me, would have been humbling and socially stigmatizing. In Leviticus 23:22, the Lord commanded farmers to leave extra grain at the edges of the field for the poor and the foreigners.
People who needed to glean were struggling to survive. Perhaps gleaning felt like asking for spare change or applying for public assistance today.
Here’s what many of us have in common with Ruth: a low self-image. Ruth didn’t know how valuable, worthy, and lovable she was. She was a treasure! She worked so hard, and had no idea how important she was.
Do you struggle with low self-worth and insecurity? I suspect you do. I know I do! Feelings of worthlessness, guilt and even self-loathing are common to all women. The deceiver loves to remind us of our mistakes and bad choices. We make the mistake of getting caught up in a downward spiral of shame.
We need to learn how to remember the past without feeling guilty.
More Valuable Than I Realized – Laurie’s Story
In Growing Forward When You Can’t Go Back I share snippets of how hard it was for me to live in Africa. Starting over wasn’t as big a problem as accepting myself for who I was. I hated myself! I didn’t recognize my own value and self-worth.
When I wrote about Ruth in my own book, I realized that few (if any) Bible commentators or preachers highlighted how amazing Ruth was. Her Biblical book is all about Boaz redeeming her, and what a hero he was. But what about Ruth? She was amazing!
Ruth’s story of starting over in Israel reminded me of living in Africa. It was both the best and worst time of my whole life. It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done and the richest season I ever experienced. Teaching a class of boisterous thirteen-year-olds in an unpredictable and sometimes violent country was difficult—even though the students were well-behaved, bright, and motivated. I felt overwhelmed and exhausted most of the time. I made so many mistakes. I wasn’t the teacher I wanted to be.
But despite my shortcomings God was at work. He is at work in your life, too—even when you don’t feel or sense Him. And God brought you here! You are reading these words for a reason. You are not here by accident. You are not an accident.
Recently, I received this email:
Dear Miss Pawlik,
My name is Nick, I was one of your students at Rosslyn Academy in Africa! Long story short, my wife and I found some old ‘keepsakes’ from Africa. One was the Language Arts journal I wrote in while I was in your class! It was awesome! We spent the morning reading old entries and laughing about how sassy and ridiculous I was!!
Of note, I couldn’t stop writing about airplanes and becoming a pilot. It turns out that I DID become a pilot—I’m flying the MV-22 Osprey for the Marine Corps and completed two deployments.
You taught me to write better—and that opened up numerous doors, including the US Naval Academy, and living my childhood dream as a pilot! Thank you for investing in my life!!!
I felt like I was a mess in Africa, yet God used me. I showed up with my fragile little offering, and He created something of value that still echoes today.
How do you cope when you feel like you’re not good enough? Maybe you feel worthless, stupid, or worse. Share your big or little thoughts in the comments section below. Writing is healthy, especially if you feel confused, sad, scared or lost. It can help you make sense of your experiences and untangle your emotions.
Questions From Growing Forward When You Can’t Go Back
At the end of every chapter are Questions for Journaling and Discussion that are directly related to that chapter’s Blossom Tips. Readers are invited to come here and share their thoughts.
The questions in Ruth’s chapter:
- The Next Step: Do you spend more time searching for God’s perfect will than taking small steps forward? What do you think about the idea that your commonsense decisions are God’s will for your life?
- Open Doors: What door has God slammed shut in your life? Where do you see opportunities for a change in direction or attitude?
- Interdependence: Are you dependent on someone or something (e.g., social approval, your appearance, money)? What healthy interdependent relationships do you enjoy?
- The 80/20 Rule: What is one unhealthy habit you’re planning to change? How does it feel to commit to something—such as a healthy eating or lifestyle habit—80 percent of the time?
- Write Back: In what community might you lead this back-writing exercise? Consider your family, small group, or even workplace. Two people is all you need! If you participated in this activity, what surprised you?
Feel free to answer these questions in the comments section below. Or, share anything that’s on your mind, about anything you’d like! It’s your space.
About Growing Forward…
Growing Forward When You Can’t Go Back offers a fresh, practical perspective on moving through loss. I share stories of contemporary and biblical women who transcended extraordinary pain and grief. I weave in my own experiences of growing up with a single schizophrenic mother, living in foster care, and then coping with infertility.
- Accept—and even embrace—a new season of life.
- Take small steps forward in practical, creative, delightful ways.
- Weave faith, trust, and hope into your heart, thoughts, and daily lives.
At the end you’ll have 50 Blossom Tips for moving forward after a loss. Each activity highlights a different aspect of who we are: spirit, heart, soul, body, and brain. This holistic approach ensures the whole self is addressed by incorporating spiritual, emotional, creative, physical, and intellectual growth.
Growing Forward When You Can’t Go Back is a comforting, encouraging book for women walking into a new season of life…which also makes it a great gift for women coping with death, divorce, or a difficult diagnosis.
In peace and passion,
P.S. Here’s the full list of Growing Forward articles here on “She Blossoms.” These aren’t the actual chapters of the book, they’re just our meeting places.
- Recreating and Replanting With Eve
- Sprouting With Sarah
- Digging Deeper With Hagar
- Uprooting With Naomi
- Starting Fresh With Ruth
- Growing Roots With Martha and Mary
- Reviving Your Heart With Hannah
- Renewing Your Purpose With Esther
- Growing Forward With Mary Magdalene
- Blossoming Into Life With Mary