My Story of Ending Well

“Ending well means intentionally setting aside time for reflection and acknowledgment, time to name the cost, the enormity of the work and everything that has gone into it, and name the moments of grace and beauty that helped carry us through.” Dr. Dan B. Allender



I would never want to speak for your experiences, unexpected struggles and deep joys from your months and year working internationally. Your investment working with vulnerable populations and decision to embark on adventures are yours alone to hold and remember. What we do collectively embrace, though, is a deep care for those who are hurting and have been dismissed from society. This beautiful ache and courage to be present with the abused speaks to the vulnerable parts of ourselves that we often dismiss or negate as we place another’s weight upon ourselves. Because of this yearning to live with intentionality, I have experienced painful wounds by dismissing my needs for restoration, specifically when returning from working overseas. I would like to share with you my personal experience working in Pampanga, Philippines and the journey of transitioning to a place called home.

When I returned to Seattle, Washington after nine months of working with sex trafficking victims and survivors in the Philippines, I naively believed coming home was going to be filled with ease and simplicity. I knew the months in Pampanga had been emotionally taxing filled with second-degree traumas and sorrow filled moments, but by returning to a sense of normalcy, those experiences would be quieted, yes? In fact, I had told several friends and family members that I was not going to any debriefing sessions, because I was “just fine and definitely did not need to see a counselor”.

Home was, in fact, blissful in several ways: adventuring with family, drinking wine with dear friends and settling into a job that provided a sense of normalcy. Underneath the sweet moments though, was an inability to marry the former life in the Philippines with the current life in the United States. I found myself unexcited about day to day living. I could not relate to once beloved friendships, and most importantly, my purpose of living had been taken when I boarded the plane to come home.

Anxiety began creeping into my spirit and depression laid its heavy blanket on my tired body. I was wandering in a wilderness blinded and unaware of who I had become and what I was experiencing.

About four months after my plane landed in the United States, I was on the phone asking Dr. Neal Salzman for help while exhausted tears fell down my face. One month later, I was back on a plane to Orlando, Florida to meet with Neal and debrief my time with International Justice Mission (oh, the irony of the things we say we will never do, eh?).

I had not grieved. I had not celebrated. I had not marked my time. I had said goodbye to dear friends and the beautiful country of the Philippines at the Manila airport, but this farewell did not include sitting in my personal transformations, lingering in the mess and celebrating explorations.

The time debriefing allowed the space to speak freely of my months overseas, knowing that I was understood and in a safe place to share. I was given time to verbalize unanticipated confusions and misconceptions. The therapeutic sessions and restful spaces offered clarity in the fog and dedicated an empathetic supportive environment.

I was gracefully shown how and why to care for myself in the seasons of transition from a counselor who understands international work and the universal weight it brings. There is great significance in working internationally and as a consequence, traumas and impactful moments are produced. By finally verbalizing the sufferings along with the celebrations, I was able to begin integrating the year of experiences with my present day living.

Since the weekend intensive and marking the close of my internship in Pampanga, Philippines, I have learned that we are not made to travel throughout life without intentionally ending a time well. This marker must be made in order to move into the next adventure life holds. It has been a year since I returned to Seattle, and as I look back on the previous twelve months, I can honestly say that taking the time and resources to care for my emotional and mental health has been the greatest act of love I have given to myself. Without engaging with my experiences in the Philippines, I would not have received the brightness of restoration and stepped into the beauty of transformation by knowing my story.


Bethany Foelber

International Justice Mission Intern


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