Don’t Forget the Things You Know Are True

by Rachel Pieh Jones on February 21, 2018

(This is going out to all the new expatriates in my life, you know who you are, and all who are newly arrived in your host countries.)

All the training, preparing, packing, and planning has left you utterly exhausted, unprepared for reality, insufficiently packed, and carrying plans that will be chucked out the window upon arrival. Those who sent you and those you received you have done their best, but they haven’t been perfect or complete, and I want to remind you of some important things.

There are some things you know to be true. These things will be challenged to their very deepest core in your first few months abroad. You’ll forget them. You’ll call people liars (even if just in your head) when they remind you of them. You’ll wonder how you ever could have been foolish enough to believe them. That’s part of the process. That does not change the fact that these things are things you know. They are true. They have not changed, even while life is only wild, chaotic, and stressful.

This is what you know:

Your spouse loves you.

You love your spouse.

You are a good mother.

You are a good father.

Your children are not little beasts.

Other people do not think your children are little beasts.

You do know how to be a good friend.

You are competent and capable.

You are creative and caring.

You are already fluent (in at least one language).

You really do know how put together an appropriate outfit for certain occasions.

You do know how to drive, cook, shop, pay bills, clean house, work. Maybe not here, maybe not yet. But you do know how to do them somewhere.

God knows you,

knows where you live now,

He knows what you left behind,

knows all the good things about you,

knows all the bad things about you,

came here with you,

has good things in store for you.

Right now. With the kids crying for that one toy you left behind, when you bungle things at work, when you’ve just yelled at your spouse, when you accidentally swore at the taxi driver instead of saying thank you, when you awkwardly looked away from the beggar, when you want to curl into a ball and weep, when this move and transition is way way way harder than you imagined.

Hold on to these truths, through the wind and storm, through the tears and fighting. These moments, the ones you only see as trials and trauma right now, will be forged into family legend over time.

You’ll sit together and laugh about how one of you fell off the roof and (probably) broke her collarbone your first day in Somaliland. You’ll corporately gag when you remember how awful mom’s homemade meals were the entire first year. You’ll wonder how the story of dad telling everyone Santa’s reindeer got skinned by the neighbors transformed into a funny story. You’ll bond over memories no other family will ever be able to share. This move is making you into your very own family.

And as you hold on to these truths – of being loved and competent, of being you even as you discover a new you beneath the old one and forged by this new place, hold the tightest to this truth:

You are loved.

It is so simple.

Borderline cliché.

Like there should be a cute cat picture to accompany the words, or they belong on a calendar.

It feels silly to write them out. They look kind of childish and naked sitting there.

Three short words.

Too simple, almost, to believe. But that’s the point. There is no complication, no caveat, no qualifier. It just is. You know this. This has not changed and will not change.

This is the truth that will be battered and attacked the most. But it is also the one that will sustain you and that will undergird all the others. Don’t add anything to it, don’t take anything away from it. Let it be, now and forever, enough.

You are loved.

What are some truths you have found it hard to believe in the early years abroad?

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About Rachel Pieh Jones

Rachel was raised in the Christian west and said, ‘you betcha’ and ate Jell-O salads, she now lives in the Muslim east, says ‘insha Allah,’ and eats samosas. Her work has appeared in the New York Times, Family Fun, Running Times, and more, and she blogs for Brain Child and Babble.

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