The Far Side of Somewhere

by Elizabeth Trotter on September 21, 2015

I remember my first home service. All those awkward experiences like drinking water from the tap and flushing the toilet with potable water again. Or feeling naked and exposed with no metal security bars on the windows. Or handing payment to cashiers with two hands (like I do in Cambodia) and then being embarrassed, because normal people don’t do that here.

What was up with the laundry smelling nice, all the time? (Come to think of it, what was up with everything smelling nice, all the time?) Could a load of laundry really take a mere two hours to complete, all the way from wash to wear, without having to hang on the line for two or three days in rainy season and still be damp — and smelling of fire and whatever dish the neighbors last cooked over said fire??

I wanted someone to explain to me why Americans felt the need to store hot water in a tank. Seemed like such a waste of energy when you could use a tankless water heater instead, thereby providing a never-ending source of hot water for yourself. (Running out of hot water in the winter is a big problem for me.)

Today I’m facing another home service. I’ll click publish on this blog post and leave my Cambodia home. I’ll board a plane and begin the process of temporarily re-entering my American home. I need to go. It’s time. After a second two-year stint in this country, culture fatigue has hit me hard. I’m worn out from the collective sin patterns of this culture, and I need a break. I love Cambodia, and I sometimes need a break from Cambodia.

Still, there’s nothing like preparing to go on home service for bringing on an identity crisis. Who am I, and where do I belong? I live in this city and traverse its Asian streets, all without quite belonging to them. Yet I don’t quite belong to the immaculately clean American streets I’ll soon be walking, either. Belonging is a slippery feeling for a global nomad. It can be everywhere, and it can be nowhere, all at the same time.

Nevertheless, when I walk in the door of my parents’ house tomorrow, I know I will once more experience the words of Bernard Cook, words that hung on the walls of every one of my childhood homes: “We need to have people who mean something to us; people to whom we can turn, knowing that being with them is coming home.” Growing up in a military family, I always knew Home was with my family. Home is with the people I love.

And as a Christian, I know Home is with God Himself. I love these words from Christine Hoover’s book From Good to Grace: “With Christ as my city, I can traipse all over the globe and never once not be at home. Because I dwell in His grace.” Christine knows a bit about this unmoored feeling of mine. She and her husband didn’t cross country borders when they moved to Virginia to church plant, but in leaving their home state of Texas to follow God’s leading, they certainly crossed the kind of deep cultural divide that make you wonder where in the world you belong.

I want Christ to be my city. I want to dwell in Him. The best part about finding home and belonging in Him is that He goes with me wherever I go. Psalm 139 is a gift to us global nomads in this regard. In verses 7 through 10, the Psalmist asks:

Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence?

If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.

If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast.

When I moved to Cambodia nearly four years ago, I traveled west across the ocean on a morning flight, literally rising on the wings of the dawn. And when I stepped off the plane in Phnom Penh, I found that not only had God flown the skies with me, but that He was already here in this place — for I cannot flee from His presence. Even on the far side of the sea, He holds me fast. And no matter how deep the depths of my life, I know He is with me.

From now on, wherever I go and no matter which side of the sea I settle on, I will always be on the far side of somewhere I love. There is just no getting around that. But how precious of God to include David’s words in His Word. David could not have known about jet propulsion when he penned Psalm 139, but thousands of years later, his words are a balm to the global nomad’s soul. For we rise on the wings of the dawn, and we settle on the far side of the sea, and because God lives in us, we can find Home in every place He has made.

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About Elizabeth Trotter

Elizabeth loves life in Southeast Asia, something she never imagined was possible. Before moving to Asia with her husband and four children in 2012, Elizabeth worked in youth ministry for ten years. She loves math, science, all things Jane Austen, and eating hummus by the spoonful. Find her on the web at www.trotters41.com and on Facebook at trotters41.
  • Thank you for this, Elizabeth. It’s very timely for me since we will be leaving for home leave next week! Our first one and I am pretty nervous about culture shock for all the reasons you mentioned. (except the money in two hands thing…we don’t do that in Laos. :)) Also, will people think I am weird when I want to take my shoes off before going into anyone’s house or when I am staring in fascination at all the pre-packaged chicken and pork at Kroger with no flies in sight!!
    I expect to feel at home there but I know I won’t. And that’s OK. We are always longing and homesick for heaven and this world will never satisfy that. One of the biggest lessons I’ve learned this year. Dwelling in Him is the only way to truly feel at home. So funny that you quoted Christine-she was one of my friends in college. Her words are so wise.
    Very glad you will be getting the time and rest you and your family need and I hope we are both able to come back to Asia refreshed!
    Lindsey

    • Elizabeth Trotter

      Lindsey — the shoes inside thing is weird at first!! Not having bugs eating everything, too!

      “I expect to feel at home there but I know I won’t.” Yes. And you’ll probably be surprised by what specifically makes you feel not at home, and what doesn’t. There’s just no way to predict it!

      It did feel good to walk into my parents’ home, though. Now it’s the middle of the night here and I can’t sleep. So I’m replying to you instead of sleeping. . .

      And so cool that you know Christine! I’ve raved about her book on my personal blog. If you ever see her again in real life, please pass on my love and appreciation 🙂

      Much love to you, and hopes for a good, restful home visit as well.

  • Elizabeth, you and your husband both have been filling my heart and soul these last few weeks. I always leave your posts encouraged, inspired, and challenged. Thank you for your faithfulness and commitment where you are, and also to those of us also displaced and pursuing the “global nomad” life. I have been blessed every time I visit your site! love and prayers . . .

    • Elizabeth Trotter

      Thank you so much for these encouraging words, Kylie!

  • Denise Tolbert

    Lifting you up from Emerald Hills! You have been on my heart, too. Beautiful words that can speak to anyone – even those who live in their native country – if they begin to grasp the Citizenship of the Kingdom. Thank you for making me the right kind of Homesick.

    • Elizabeth Trotter

      Thank you for the prayers Denise! Looking forward to meeting you soon 🙂

  • Beth Meyerdirk

    Thank you. We just returned from our first “home service” this summer. My 15 year old daughter summed it up best on a FB post: “I’m homesick for a place I’m not even sure exists.” She knows the “right” answer, that her Home is in Heaven and that is the place for which she is longing. But on the human side, she is spot on for those of us living in a culture not our own. We have struggled with where home is and the feelings of being in our adopted culture and “home” culture. I don’t know if these feelings go away, diminish, or just deepen. I guess I’ll find out next home service!

    • Elizabeth Trotter

      “I’m homesick for a place I’m not even sure exists.” Doesn’t that sum it up well?! There are just so many strange experiences in living in two worlds. In each place, there are things that jar the soul, and you wonder why and where you belong. And like Frodo and Sam returning from their journey, you know you can’t go back to the way life was before. Now wasn’t that encouraging of me?! The reassuring truth, though, is that whenever we feel out of place, we can go back to our home in Christ, even as we wait for our final Home.

      Many blessings to you and your family as you continue to re-root yourselves in your adopted country in the coming days and weeks. . .

    • I love your daughter’s capture, for that is just how it is, isn’t it? Frodo never could settle back into the Shire, could he? I wonder about that for myself. Thanks, Elizabeth, for this encouraging meditation.

  • Marilyn Gardner

    I said this already, but I’ll repeat it – I love, love, love this piece. It resonates at so many levels. Not least because my parents woke the other side of the world today. Thank you my friend!

    • Elizabeth Trotter

      Thank you so much for your kind, loving words Marilyn!

  • Ugh, can you guys at A Life Overseas stop making me cry now?! I need to unsubscribe on Facebook (obvious JK here). Seriously though, thank you Elizabeth for this encouraging message! They are happy “Amen, Sister!” tears! I was just lamenting with a friend that I some how missed that being a missionary would mean never having all the people you love in the same place. It’s hardest realizing that you will always be on the far side of someone you love.

    • Elizabeth Trotter

      “I somehow missed that being a missionary would mean never having all the people you love in the same place.” Um, YES. The conscious mind sort of skips over that fact when deciding and preparing to go, doesn’t it??

      And I’m so glad to hear that A Life Overseas has been so encouraging to you! That is exactly the heart behind our team of writers, and we appreciate your telling us! Blessings as you continue to serve overseas, and as you return to this site from time to time to be filled and refreshed.

  • Nitika Ennion

    What a gem of a post. Thank you Elizabeth! We just got here not long ago, but I will be definitely coming back to this post when it is time for our first trip back. I love the quote about traipsing about the globe and always being at home because Christ is my city. It makes the thought of going anywhere so much more enticing knowing I am there with Christ. Obviously I know this, but you have articulated it superbly so that it has actually got into my brain and heart. Have a wonderful time with your family and friends!

    • Elizabeth Trotter

      Yes I love that quote too! And the assurance of God’s presence from the Psalm. You’re right — life is much more enticing knowing we’re not alone. 🙂 May that truth keep you company both on the field and off.

      And thank you for the good wishes — we are enjoying people here already, though still tired from jet lag!

  • Anna Wegner

    I can relate to so many of those. This is my 2nd time coming back to the US from Congo, and I find myself thinking things such as, “Why do Americans…” about various things. But at the same time, I can’t really say I identify with Congo culture either- I’m somewhere in-between, and I see the same in my kids.
    And it is hard to know that wherever I go, I’m leaving people behind. Sometimes I want to have all “my people” together in one place, instead of scattered throughout the US and the rest of the world. 🙂
    Ps 139 has always been my favorite psalm. So good to think about!

    • Elizabeth Trotter

      Yes — to all this! When I’m in Cambodia, I think I’m an American. Then I come back here and realize I’m not exactly Americanized in my thinking any more! Yet I’m still not Cambodian in my worldview, either. Same with my kids — they’re proud to be American when we’re over there, but in conversations back here, I realize they’re not like their peers who’ve never moved, while at the same time they’re NOT Cambodian. That is the definition of the third culture, though, right??

      I find myself asking a lot of “why” questions too. Did you see that funny post from M’Lynn at Velvet Ashes on “Adjustment”? She cracked me up with all her Whys. http://velvetashes.com/somewhere-in-the-midst-of-the-insanity/

      And so happy I found a fellow Psalm 139 lover 🙂

  • Psalm 90 became my furlough verse as we transitioned back and forth between our home country and serving country. I wish I could say I master the transition…still working on it. I try to keep my focus heavenly instead of the country I am currently in or even the people I am around. The sweetness that comes from being with those who are of the same mind gives me a glimpses of what heaven will be like. I have never been homesick for a place but have for the people in a place. There are some things I still miss from the two countries we served in but they only cross my mind when we connect with a missionary we served with in that country. For me coming back to our home country was harder then going over seas. Facing the reality of my world view would not fit much with who have not experienced what we have was the hardest. I wanted so badly for them to see what my eyes had seen, to share the smell, sound, feelings that come from that. So many times I wanted someone to ask me, how are you doing spiritually instead how big are the snakes there? I kept looking for that common ground to relate on…mostly I found I had to go to theirs, occasionally someone came to mine. I found being a surface Christian was too empty for me…I needed more. I know my Lord relates to that because He tried to bring heaven to all He touched knowing they could not fully understand till they got to heaven. He carried the biggest world view of all yet He continued to give fully to all. He came into their world, not them coming into His…in that I found how to make home assignment more about others instead of myself. . And God always, no matter where I was, gave me what I needed, not what I thought I needed but what He knew I needed. The feeling uncomfortable was needed even back in my home country. My husband always say, do not drive your tent stakes too deep, we are sojourners. Elizabeth this is a great post, very insightful and full of honestly so it’s helpful for those of us who read it. Blessings.

    • Elizabeth Trotter

      “Do not drive your tent stakes too deep, we are sojourners.” WOW. What wisdom in that statement. So much in this comment that I relate to, Betty. Homesick not for the place but for the people in that place. Jonathan and I have a friend who worked with TCKs in China for 10 years, and she’s finishing a book on what it’s like to be a TCK in this century. One of the things she told me closely correlates to your people/place distinction. She says that what TCKs are really homesick for is not a place but a TIME. It’s the particular time in that particular place with those particular people. But those people have moved on, too, and TCKs can NEVER get that time back. It’s only in their memories. It’s painful even to type out these words, because I know they are true.

      I was really struck by your imitation of Jesus in reaching out to others for common ground. The fact that He had the biggest worldview of all (I’m thankful for that!) yet continuously gave himself fully for others. That is a really helpful idea. I find, too, that I need to give and pour out during home assignment, and this puts a positive spin on that. Not just a positive spin, but Some One to look to in this time, and almost a mandate to keep pouring out!

      At the same time, I’ve found that home assignment merely magnifies or intensifies previous relationships. The people I was close to before, I can still feel close to now. I can slip right into a deep conversation that refreshes me (and them). People I wasn’t close to, it’s still surface-y, though now it’s more obvious (to me) and awkward (for me at least) that the relationship never went deep. I am so THANKFUL that true, deep friendships can span the miles and endure the test of time. That is something I didn’t expect but am so thankful for. Those relationships make the awkward, pouring-out relationships worth it — or at least more endurable!

  • Beautifully written. “From now on, wherever I go and no matter which side of the sea I settle on, I will always be on the far side of somewhere I love.” I love this phrase and how true it is in my own heart right now. Thanks Elizabeth!

    • Elizabeth Trotter

      Thank you, Kim. I’m glad to hear it met you where you are right now. Peace and love to you this day, and in the days to come.

  • Marilyn Gardner

    I remember how much I love this one!

    • Elizabeth Trotter

      Thanks! (Again!)

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