A Note from an Impostor

by Marilyn on May 18, 2015


On Wednesday of last week, Laura Parker announced changes and new leadership here at A Life Overseas. Later that day I received a lovely note on Twitter from Denise James, co-author of the amazing blog Taking Route. Two days later, I received another encouraging note from Jillian Rogers, another woman from this community.

And with that encouragement and love from afar, I write this honest response to this community.

As a missionary kid/TCK I never wanted to be a missionary. When good folk at the Baptist churches that gave sacrificially of their time and money, not to mention a good part of their prayer lives, asked me if I wanted to be a missionary when I “grew up,” I would look at them and pray they didn’t see the panic under my response. No. No. NO. I did not want that. My best friend and I — we were heading off to Emory University to wear mini skirts and smoke cigarettes. Oh yes we were. Nancy was from Macon, Georgia, and I had fallen in love with Macon through her, though I had never been there.

And yet, a few years later I did not go to Emory. Instead, I headed to Chicago and chose nursing as a career — largely because I knew I could use this skill overseas. I knew just one thing: there was no way I was raising my family in my passport country. I couldn’t fathom living in the Western Hemisphere, more specifically the United States. So as soon as I became a nurse, I began making plans to go back to Pakistan and work.

The year following my graduation into the real adult world of patients, supervisors, night shifts, and more was one of the most difficult of my life. While God’s voice was whispering into my heart, I wanted no part of it. Though on the surface I taught Sunday School to junior high students, and sang “special music” during services, I was dead inside. My days were spent with patients, my evenings at punk rock bars in Chicago. And so I decided I needed to go home. The easiest way for me to go home was to get other people (you know, the ones who give sacrificially) to pay for it.

So I joined a short-term mission. The impostor act was in full swing at this point. I think I made the interview committee cry – I was that good at playing a part. Oh yes – it was going to be difficult. Oh yes – I was a lovely, young, single woman, and was that going to be hard? Oh yes – but I? I had counted the cost, and if the Lord wanted to use this lovely young woman – well then, that was a small price to pay for the sacrifice of the cross. I walked out with their seal of approval and began raising funds to return home to Pakistan.

When I think back on it, I was nauseating. I was an impostor.

But it worked. I received the money and so in September I packed my bags and headed for Pakistan. My mom tells me that when she met me at the airport in Karachi, she was shocked. I was at a stage when I ate my way through misery. She knew I had been miserable and expected to find me a good forty pounds heavier than when she last saw me. Instead, I was thinner than I’d ever been. I was a mess.

I slowly healed in the land I called home. I began loving God and man again. I began caring about what God would have me do. And then I got deported. It would take too long to tell that story here, but I ended up back in Chicago in early January, having only been in Pakistan four months. I often look back at that period as a time when I learned what it was for every waking breath to be a gift of grace from my Creator. I was aware of the presence of God in my life in a way I had never experienced. It was a gift.

Two weeks after I arrived back in the United States, while eating a curry in an Indian restaurant, I met the man who has been my husband for 30 years.  A year later we were back in Pakistan celebrating our engagement with 200 people – Muslims, Hindus, Christians – all come together for a huge celebration.

We got married and immediately began making plans to go overseas. That was our heart beat, one of the things that had attracted us to each other. We decided we would take the easiest route possible and go as short-term missionaries to the boarding school where I was raised.

It was a complete disaster. We were young, immature, had only been married a bit over a year – and we were in charge of 24 junior high boys. We fought with the other staff, we had favorites instead of loving each boy well, we called people names that I can’t write here, but if we were in person I’d tell you. We left the position two years earlier than we planned. We were hurting and bruised. At one point when someone in leadership asked if we had prayed about leaving, I looked at him and said “Maybe the better question is – have we prayed at all? And the answer is no. We haven’t prayed in three months.”

We headed to the capital and my husband began a job with US AID. We were tired, we were angry, we were hurt. And we wanted nothing to do with missionaries ever again.

We found out that God cared far more about our hearts than He did about us being missionaries. He cared far more about obedience than He did about titles. He cared far more about healing our souls than healing our reputation in the missionary community. So we slowly moved forward. Our journey would never have us wear the title ‘missionary’ again, and we struggled mightily with that. Instead, we ended up living as expatriates, first in Islamabad and then in Egypt. My husband worked for a university, and I stayed at home, raising a family and occasionally consulting around nursing and maternal/child health. We struggled in our spare time to learn Arabic and we learned to love the Middle East with a passion.

There were times when we longed to wear that title again. Where we wanted to be in that community. Sometimes it left us angry and cut off from connection with like-minded people. Other times it was a relief. Our best friends still bore those titles. Our tithe went almost exclusively to missionaries. But God in His gracious big picture view knew that it wasn’t the title or the place for us.

And that brings me to this community. At so many levels, I feel like an impostor. I haven’t raised support for years – and in fact, I hated raising support. I hated it. I haven’t had to answer to a mission agency, to struggle with some of the things you all struggle with, for a long time.

You have an impostor as a chief editor! Wow – that must be encouraging. And so I take this on for a season with complete humility. Believe me, you all will never fail like I’ve failed. But I’ve learned something important – all of us outside of God’s grace are impostors. If we think we can go one minute without His grace, we are impostors, pretending to be something we aren’t. If we think we can do any of the work we do, if we think it’s our personalities or our good looks or our education or our brains or our writing skills that get us places and keep us there, then we are impostors. We are people who pretend to be something we are not. 

We are here on a journey as sinners in great need of God’s grace and love. We are here as people who desperately want to shine the love of God in our broken world, and be true to that. We are here with our own stuff, and God raises us up, like He could the rocks or trees, to praise his name in the hard places.

So I offer you my love, my heart, my words – as an offering for a season. Thank you for accepting them.

And now I’d love to hear, have you ever felt like an impostor in your work? How did God meet you in that place? 

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About Marilyn

An adult third culture kid, Marilyn grew up in Pakistan and then raised her own 5 third culture kids in Pakistan and Egypt. She currently lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts 15 minutes from the international terminal. She works with underserved, minority communities as a public health nurse and flies to the Middle East & Pakistan as often as possible. She is the author of Between Worlds: Essays on Culture and Belonging and you can find her blogging at Communicating Across Boundaries.

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