Searching for a Sense of Home

by Beth Barthelemy

“The word home summons up a place—more specifically a house within that place—which you have rich and complex feelings about, a place where you feel, or did feel once, uniquely at home, which is to say a place where you feel you belong and which in some sense belongs to you, a place where you feel that all is somehow ultimately well even if things aren’t going all that well at any given moment.”  –Frederick Buechner, Longing for Home

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I sat around our school table, looking into the mostly eager faces of my daughters, though one face was less eager than the rest this morning. A single candlestick flickered in the middle of the table. My hands rested around my coffee mug as I sat back from our morning’s Bible reading, once again having veered off topic.

“South Africa is our home. We barely even remember living in America. This is where I have mostly grown up and where the cats are,” simply stated the black-and-white-thinking, animal-loving child.

“I just don’t know where my home is,” stated the more pensive daughter. “I mean, I love America, that’s where I was born. I think that’s my home.”

The third-born just snuggled on my lap, listening carefully as she always does but saying nothing this time. The youngest was singing in a loud voice on the carpet beside us.

Inwardly, I sighed. I did not feel up to having this conversation this morning, to steering their hearts toward the truth that I myself was desperately seeking. I knew well the significance of this conversation for my children, who live an ocean away from where they were born. My heart was fragile, had been fragile for some time after a devastating family tragedy a few months earlier. I resonated deeply with my daughters’ rationalizations about home. Our life and ministry was here in the deep south of the African continent, yet my hurting family and missing loved one was across an ocean, back in the place where I had grown up. Even in the move five years before, I felt the sore splitting of my heart; it had not healed over time, no. In fact, that splitting was deeper and sorer than ever.

I took a deep breath. I shared that I too struggle with this question of home, and that isn’t home where we are all together? We reflected on the little farmhouse where we had briefly stayed years ago, and how that indeed felt like home, if only for that single month. “And,” I added, “I think there is a part of us that will never feel completely at home anywhere in this world. We will always feel a bit split between the people and things we love here, and the people and things we love in America, because neither of these is our true, forever home.”

The girls sat silently nodding, knowing enough to understand the true, forever home to which I was referring. That seemed to satisfy them well enough, for just then they were off to another subject. I still stared out the window, however, trying once more to imagine a home where I would never again feel this splitting, this longing. A home where the shadows of this world would never darken.

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Buechner has similar conflicted feelings about home, though unique to his own life just as my feelings are unique to mine. As he does in many of his works, he connects his own story with many of ours; he has weathered his fair share of storms and is well acquainted with the dark shadows which follow for the rest of our earthly lives.

“I believe that home is Christ’s kingdom,” Buechner writes in The Longing for Home, “which exists both within us and among us as we wind our prodigal ways through the world in search of it.”

Both within us and among us. This is the beauty of the gospel breaking into this broken world; it is transforming our individual sinful hearts and the larger world in which we live. We see our need for home met in the coming of Christ’s kingdom, in that “here but not yet” reality. Yes, Jesus, you are here in my heart and life, and I long for that day when I will be fully at home with you. And, yes, Jesus, you are alive and at work in this dark world, and I am looking for the ways your kingdom is breaking through. I want to see.

As the years fly by in my life — I’m now in my mid-thirties — I am learning that much of my daily work is to see properly. Many days, the shadows of the world threaten to overcome the good and the inherent light. As those of us old enough know, we have little control over the shadows. And if it’s not the shadows, the distractions are endless, the worldly pulls ever strengthening their grip. What I can do, and what I can help my children to do, is to look for the light, choose to see the good, and foster our imaginations for our true home. This is the work of living as children of God in this world, wherever we may find ourselves.

And even as the shadows lengthen, even as we feel the splitting in our hearts, we keep looking for the places the kingdom is breaking in, we keep longing for home. It’s coming.

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Beth Barthelemy is a wife, mother to four young children, and cross cultural worker. She and her husband, Ben, have lived and worked in Pietermaritzburg, South Africa, for the past five years. She has an MA in Christian Studies from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. You can find her online at bethbarthelemy.com and on Instagram as bethbarthelemy.

“I am a Professional Pretender” (MKs and Their Parents’ Ministries Part 1)

I was nine when my family moved overseas.

I still remember my last ice-skating lesson. I remember the moment my bedspread was sold at our garage sale to a lady with spiky hair. I still remember hugging my grandmother goodbye at the airport.

I also remember comments from friends and church members during that time. Everyone kept telling me how excited I must be, and how much we were honoring God by our commitment. A tension began to build in me, coupled with a growing sense of shame.

Was it silly to be sad about toys and bedspreads and ice-skating lessons when more important things (like gospel proclamation) were at stake?

Over the next ten years, the missionary call on my family’s life was often spiritually idolized by others. I felt responsible to be the uber-spiritual, always-perfect, super-mature version of myself that seemed to align with the perceptions of others. Like many MKs, I often wrestled with feeling responsible for the success of my parents’ ministry. Unbeknownst to me then, I was also grappling with another loss.

The loss of being nine.

You see, I was an MK, but I was still sad and scared and angry. I complained and cried and argued with my sister. I secretly dreaded going to local church and never really wanted to babysit our teammates’ kids. Why did it often feel like these two realities were directly opposed to each other? Slowly, as many MKs do, I began to master the art of pretending.

According to the dictionary, pretend is defined as “to speak and act so as to make it appear that something is the case when in fact it is not.”

MKs are professional pretenders.

I often felt like I was living in a glass house. I smiled to everyone looking at my life from the outside. I tried to live up to the expectations and personal assumptions of how MKs are supposed to act. I assured everyone that I was completely, totally, one hundred percent fine. I was not fine.

Ironically? Within my glass house, I rarely felt seen.

A variety of expectations can cause MKs to hide inside their own glass houses. Here are six outer and inner expectations that can contribute heavily to the pressure we feel to pretend.

 

Outer Expectation #1: Decades-Old Mission Theology

Heroes of the faith. Spiritual superheroes. Simply extraordinary people. Aren’t those the kind of people that God calls to the mission field? No. Missionaries are normal, everyday people.

Although mission theology around these perceptions has slowly changed over recent years, echoes of this thinking can still seep into the community of Christ. Aren’t missionary families supposed to be the super-spiritual, cream of the crop Christians? This theology can seem sensible, but we can forget that the nine-year-olds in the family are also the ones living it out.

 

Outer Expectation #2: Parents or Other Authority Figures

An adult MK recently told me that she still can hear the parental comment in her head, “If you hang out with those kids and get into trouble, we could lose our positions on the field and have to move back to the States.”

While this comment may have been true, its underlying meaning can cause MKs to feel terrified of messing up or making mistakes. Because isn’t my parents’ job at stake? The following beliefs can often be vocally or silently communicated to MKs:

“I am responsible to keep my parents on the field.”

“I can ruin my parents’ ministry.”

That’s a crushing amount of pressure.

 

Outer Expectation #3: The Complexity of Fundraising

Fundraising is a complex topic. First, missionaries need financial support. Second, the most logical means to accomplish this goal is for missionaries to visit churches on home assignment. And third, who would feel especially stirred to donate money to a family of rude, misbehaved children?

No one.

But the pressure of church visits and fundraising can often feel awkward and uncomfortable for MKs. The appropriate expectation to behave can often be skewed into acting a certain way or making a good impression because financial consequences are at stake. “People are watching what you do—behave accordingly” is what one MK I talked to was often told.

 

Inner Expectation #1: The Stress of Cross-Cultural Living

I remember perceiving a stark shift in my parents when my family first moved overseas. Stress levels remained sky-high as we attempted to transition to our new home and culture.

Kids are intuitive. I noticed the intense expectation that my parents felt to learn a new language and begin ministry right away. I resolved internally not to add to their stress. One adult MK similarly described, “I was just trying so hard to be brave and not be a problem for my parents. I didn’t want to stand in their way. I felt pressure to go with it and accept it as the way it had to be.”

 

Inner Expectation #2: A Skewed Understanding of What “Makes God Happy”

Being happy all the time is what it means to honor God.

If I’m happy, then God’s happy.

Cognitively, I know those phrases are not true. But for a significant part of my MK life, that was the theology I lived out. I believed that honoring God meant following all the rules, always doing right, and making sure I never failed Him. I mistakenly perceived my ability to “play my MK part” as my contribution to my parents’ call to ministry. I believed that showing up to play my role was my part in their service.

 

Inner Expectation #3: The Fear of Being “Found Out”

I recently talked with a group of college-aged MKs who told me that they had often been afraid of being “found out” during their childhoods. Do you know what they were afraid of being “found out” for?

Struggling.

“I often thought that MKs were expected to be spiritual enough not to struggle. When I was struggling with something, I often felt pressure to hide it,” one MK said. This deep-seated fear of being discovered is common among MKs, undergirded by an inner pressure of perfection that manifests in a variety of ways.

******

If I could go back and talk to little-girl Taylor, I’d encourage her to voice her hurts and concerns. I’d assure her that honesty was needed, that struggling was normal, and that it was okay to feel all of her emotions.

But more than anything, do you know what little-girl Taylor and many other MKs today need to hear?

More than praise, they need permission.

They need someone to lean in and gently tell them that it’s okay to be nine.

 

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Taylor Murray is an MK and the author of two books on cross-cultural issues. Her upcoming book Stop Saying I’m Fine: Finding Stillness When Anxiety Screams will be releasing this fall. She is a familiar writer and speaker in the missions world and has served hundreds of young adults in the areas of soul care, pastoral counseling, and spiritual formation. Taylor is passionate about seeing her generation come awake to the love, presence, and action of God in their lives. Connect with her on Instagram here or visit her website at www.taylorjoyinwords.com.

I Too Am a Foreigner

by Ivy Cheeseman

I’ve been contemplating these thoughts for years, but I’ve been hesitant to share them. Most importantly, I didn’t want to make any unfair comparisons. Unlike some of my foreign friends from other nations, I’ve never fled a house being burned by soldiers. They’ve endured so much trauma, and they can’t return. I, on the other hand, can go back “home” anytime I want.

Neither did I want to be misconstrued as being political. I’m not here to offer political commentary on complex issues such as immigration. As a Christ follower, I live in this place in order to serve others.

And lastly, I have a wonderful network of local friends who have helped me navigate life in Thailand. By highlighting my inner struggles, I didn’t want to discredit the kindness of my Thai neighbors.

But despite all those things, I still feel a connection to other global nomads who are wandering far away from the country of their birth. Some of us have “figured out” life in our host country; most of us are still working on the lifelong process. When I meet a stranger in Thailand who stares at me with a mixture of confusion and suspicion, these are the things I wish I could tell them.

1. In my country, I was once a competent adult.

I don’t know how many times (especially in my first year here) that I’ve stood in the grocery store attempting to read the tiny Thai script on the back of a product. I want desperately to explain to the person next to me that I’m really not stupid. I once understood chemistry and calculus. But right now I need help telling the difference between a bag of flour and powdered sugar. My breakfast of pancakes with maple-flavored syrup (which Thais think reeks of urine) depends on it.

2. My odd habits are shared by millions of unseen others.

I’ve tried to adopt Thai customs that do not conflict with my own religious or personal convictions. But it’s hard to kick the bizarre American within. My Thai friends may never understand why I have a little round machine on my kitchen ceiling whose sole purpose seems to be alerting the neighbors that I burned another batch of popcorn. Once, my husband went outside to explain the beeping sound to a concerned neighbor. He used the wrong tone/verb when explaining the pot of burnt beans, and essentially explained that the reason smoke was billowing out of the kitchen was that he had just lost his virginity. Which leads me to the next point.

3. I’m trying harder than you think to learn your language and culture.

But “picking up” a language as an adult is not as intuitive as I once thought. When I make mistakes and sound like a child, please know I’m trying my best. If you speak clearly and simply, I can probably figure it out. When I revert to hanging out with my English-speaking friends, it’s not because I don’t love your culture. It’s just nice to occasionally have a conversation where I understand 100% of the words. Or to have a listener understand what I mean when I talk about a “Thanksgiving dinner” or “living on a farm” or . . . “a pot of burnt beans.”

4. Not all foreigners are alike.

Southeast Asia attracts many backpackers and long-term residents. Some are lovely. Others get drunk and do extremely offensive and illegal things like taking selfies on top of ancient, sacred structures. I’m terribly sorry for the way foreigners have mistreated this culture and its people. I know I will make many of my own mistakes, but please give me a chance to learn through relationship. I am extremely grateful for my many Thai friends and neighbors who have taken that risk.

Perhaps some of the residents where you live can relate to these sentiments. Foreigners around the globe, regardless of why they live in a land not their own, are real people. When you meet a struggling immigrant face-to-face in Walmart, I see only one Biblical way to respond—with love. If you’re not sure what that looks like, a smile is a good place to start.

So the next time you see a foreigner grappling with your language or culture, think of me, and have compassion for them. With smelly foods, weird customs, and a thick accent to boot, I, too, am a foreigner.

 

For I was hungry, and you fed me. I was thirsty, and you gave me a drink. I was a stranger, and you invited me into your home. I was naked, and you gave me clothing. I was sick, and you cared for me. I was in prison, and you visited me. . . . I tell you the truth, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to me.

Matthew 25:35-36, 40

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Ivy and her family have served with Wycliffe Bible Translators in Southeast Asia for the last 10 years. She enjoys hiking, writing, and seeing God’s grace and power shine through the local church.

Between Christmases

by Katherine Seat

Streams of uniformed children walked into school, trampling on the scattered grey snow. As I watched from my window, I couldn’t believe my eyes; it was all wrong and weird.

I knew well ahead of time that Christmas is not a public holiday in China, but I still felt surprised. School and cold weather should not be present on December 25th.

Christmas to me meant the end of the school year and the beginning of summer holidays. That was all I’d known, my entire Australian childhood. It was for family, church, and water fights.

“We live between worlds, sometimes comfortable in one, sometimes in the other, but only truly comfortable in the space between.” –Marilyn Gardner, Between Worlds

The author was writing about her experience as a child growing up overseas.  She spent her formative years outside her passport county. I can also relate to it as an adult living overseas. I spent my formative years in my passport country, but most of my adult life I’ve lived outside it.

Before I visited China and then moved to Cambodia in my 20s, I was comfortable in Australia at Christmas. That was all I knew growing up. It surprised me that banks were open on December 25th, even though I had known that would be so.

But I would not be comfortable in Australia now, as most of my adult life I have been in Asia. I don’t think I know how to be an adult in Australia or what one would be expected to do at Christmas. But I know there are expectations as people plan weeks or even months ahead.

I was uncomfortable in Asia, but now I’m a lot more comfortable. The feeling of school and cool weather being wrong is long gone. In fact, I appreciate the cooler weather.

At first it didn’t feel like Christmas without Christmas trees and gift exchanges. But now I don’t feel that way. Some years if I have energy, I do trees and gifts — but if not that’s fine.

Christmas trees and Santa Clauses are now visible and available where I live. This wasn’t the case in northern China 20 years ago when I had my first overseas Christmas. Both Asia and I have changed.

Now I’m most comfortable between worlds. Not in Australia where Christmas is such a big deal, and yet also not going about my usual work day in Asia either.

So what are my Christmases like in this season of life? I still think of December 25th as a holiday. I feel like it is the right day to celebrate Christmas, even though I don’t believe there is anything spiritual about that date.

We join the local church to celebrate Christmas. It never feels like a proper Christmas to me because they have it on a Sunday. Local churches choose any Sunday in December or January to celebrate Christmas. It’s usually a big, noisy affair and includes a nativity play and meal. It’s an amazing display of God’s gift to us, the biggest time of the year for the young church in a Buddhist nation.

In Australia we have a church service on December 25th no matter what day of the week Christmas falls on.

So far I have been able to take December 25th off every year; I know this is not the case for many. There was one close call when I was helping at a school, but luckily I had dengue fever so I stayed home anyway.

My husband and I didn’t have a tradition of doing presents. Since our children have been old enough to know what’s going on, they have decided they need presents!

Our favourite way to spend December 25th is having a quiet day at home. I usually buy special food. Something delicious that is easy to prepare, often something foreign that we don’t eat on a normal day.

Some years we get together with other expats for a meal, sometimes not. I love that we can make a big deal of it if we want to, but if we are feeling like a low-key day, we have freedom to do that too.

What about you, O fellow expat or repat? What are your Christmases like? And how are you feeling about this Christmas?

Are you excited to be able to choose your favourite Christmas traditions and adapt? It could be an opportunity to create your own Jesus-focused fusion of cultures.

Or maybe you are dreading being in a place where you’re away from family and there are no signs of Christmas? It might not even feel like Christmas at all.

Or are you missing that expat friend whom you used to do Christmas with? Life hasn’t been the same since they moved back to their passport country.

And if you are back in your passport country, you might also have mixed emotions.

Maybe you are looking forward to finally having a proper Christmas? You’ll have it with the right people and the right weather.

Or are you dreading the first in-person family Christmas since the death of a loved one?

Or perhaps feeling overwhelmed at the commercialism and obligations?

Maybe the church in your passport country seems so different to how you remember it? Perhaps it feels Christmas time would be more meaningful with people from around the world?

I don’t know if you will be in a world that is comfortable to you or not this Christmas. Whichever it is, I hope you can still celebrate that the maker of the universe entered our world.

The light of life among us dwells
Oh, hear the darkness quake
as angels all proclaim
The glory of Immanuel!

 

(Lyrics from “Maker, Made A Child,” by Abi Marthinet-Glover, Alanna Glover, and Jake Marthinet-Glover. Emu Music, copyright 2020.)

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Katherine’s childhood church in Australia launched her on a trajectory to Asia. After a decade of preparation she landed in Cambodia and married a local Bible teacher.

I Never Signed Up For This

by Ann Bowman

For every missionary who takes up their cross and follows Christ to the ends of the earth, there are parents and family members whose lives are affected by the calling. This group never chooses to offer themselves, to share in the sacrifice, and yet they must. Will the pain result in bitterness or healing? This was a decision I was forced to make when my family heard the call.

When my oldest daughter left for a third world country with a six-month-old baby on her hip, I began a journey of sorrow that I didn’t choose. I thought I supported missions — until it was my own child leaving for full-time overseas work. It was then that missions became more than just the information booth in the church lobby, the glossy support letters in my mailbox, or the fascinating guest speaker at church. It became personal, and the hardships and dangers that missionaries experience now touched my life and my emotions daily.

I was always proud of my children’s interest in missions. During their teen years, they eagerly joined in summer service trips to exotic places, always with a bit of danger involved. I envisioned that they would continue their involvement as adults, possibly serving on the missions task force at church or leading short-term mission trips. I never expected any of them to take my grandchildren and plunge into full-time work in a poverty-stricken area of the world. I want to say I handled the challenge with grace and faith — but I didn’t.

Throughout the weeks leading up to departure, I thought I was adjusting and holding it together. My daughter, son-in-law, and three grandchildren moved into our house after divesting of most of their worldly goods and leaving their apartment. They bought one-way tickets and sold all that was left of their belongings — everything that didn’t fit into the three bags allowed per traveler. It stung that much of what they sold off had been gifts from my husband and myself.

The day of departure came, and the airport trip was brutal. I pasted a smile on my face and locked my tears up tight. I wanted my grandchildren to remember a joyful Nonna; I wanted my daughter and son-in-law to feel the support I was trying to fake. I waved until the little family I loved turned the corner in the security line and I could no longer see them.

My daughter had asked a friend to walk me to my car in the airport parking garage and make sure I was emotionally ready before starting the four-hour drive home. My false bravado lasted only a few miles down the highway, at which point I pulled over and wept. When I was finally alone in God’s presence, I was honest with Him. I was angry and hurt. This was not how I had planned my life.

The Psalmist proclaims, “Those who sow in tears will reap with shouts of joy” (Psalm 126:5 HCSB). I have learned much in the past seven years about sowing in tears. I have leaned into God, bringing Him my grief and the deep shame I felt. Grief arose when my dreams of life with grandchildren and family living near me were shattered. I felt shame when I could not readily rejoice that my children were sacrificing so much for the gospel and doing what God called them to do — the holy mindset I was supposed to have.

In turning to the Lord in honesty, I was met with tenderness and compassion, not condemnation. He understands the mother’s heart He created in me that must balance the desire to protect with the command to release my children to do all that God calls them to do. My season of dying to my dreams was like being crushed in an olive press. It was painful, and some days felt like hand-to-hand combat with my emotions.

Being an artist, I poured myself into prayer-painting. The enemy was not silent during my time of wrestling with God. When I heard cruel whispers giving me dread and sorrow, I chose to create and lift every concern to God. I painted rural scenes from their beautiful adopted country. My heart shifted as I began to pray for the people my daughter’s family encountered and for increasing boldness as they shared the good news. Bitterness loosened its grip as I chose not to listen to fear and self-pity.

Hebrews promises us that, “For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it” (Hebrews 12:11 ESV). In these years of separation, I live out the words of Hebrews. I did not reach a permanent peace-filled plateau. Because my daughter lives in a country with political upheaval, I often cycle through times when sudden dread will seize me after reading world news headlines and all contact with my daughter gets cut off. I choke out my prayers by sheer obedience. Peace returns when I once again focus on God’s purposes.

One of the greatest sources of discouragement for global workers is often from their own families back home, yet many of these relatives are committed church members. I don’t want to be part of that statistic. I never want to be the one to dissuade my children from obeying where the Holy Spirit is leading them.

Over the years, my daughter has sometimes called home discouraged. She shares wounds and disappointments. I pray for her and encourage her with scripture. She told me once that of all the team members in their area, her parents were the only parents who didn’t offer tickets home and encourage them to give up. I count that as God’s victory; I have been changed from grief-filled to poured out and finally to finding purpose as I support my missionary family’s work.

I have traveled to their country several times. I now see the wisdom of God and how well-suited my daughter and son-in-law are for their work. I’m amazed by the spiritual fruit from their ministry. They witness miracles rarely seen in the States. When I see my grandchildren share their faith with neighborhood children in their adopted tongue, I am humbled. How could I ever have wished them anywhere else? My grandchildren’s deep faith is worth far more to me than having them live nearby.

So, I visit with my grandchildren mostly by video chat. I do not participate in their lives the way most of the world enjoys their family. That is not my lot in this world and not mine to question. Nonna’s gifts are not cute clothes or countless stuffed animals, but instead, Kindle books, crocs for the rainy season, and jars of peanut butter. I choose to let go of anger and my own empty dreams to receive so much more: a deeper prayer life and a much closer relationship to my daughter’s family, although we live far apart.

Jim Elliot, slain missionary to Ecuador, once said, “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose.” As I love and support my family from afar, I think about his words. The loss felt so great in the beginning, but I can truly say that what I’ve gained is of greater worth. And those gains are eternal — in the lives of my children and grandchildren and the people they serve. One day we will all be partying together in heaven, forever, no more separation and no more tears. That hope lives in me and gives me strength for the journey.

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Ann Bowman (not her real name) is a mentor to young women serving overseas. Having two grown daughters in missions, she has walked with them through the joys of living abroad and the trials. Ann is an artist, writer, teacher, and Nonna to four grandchildren who live in Southeast Asia. She and her husband reside in Texas and spend as much time with their family on video chat as they can.

Mostly Belonging: Hope for the MK

by Michèle Phoenix

When I was little, I’d snuggle up to my mom in the evenings and listen to her reading Are You My Mother?, attracted to the plight of the children’s book’s melancholy protagonist in a way I couldn’t fully comprehend. In the story, the baby bird falls out of her nest and wanders from cat to tractor to cow and car, repeating her increasingly urgent question: “Are you my mother?

Without realizing it, I identified with her pain. The sensation of lostness was all too familiar to me, even at that age.

When I saw a copy of the book in a store a few weeks ago, my instant reaction was an urge to reach through the glossy cover and comfort the hapless hero. I saw a bit of me in her—a lifetime spent wondering if new places and people groups would be my “mother,” my place of belonging and sameness.

In many respects, MKs are not much different from this feathered fellow. We hover between clusters of those who know their place and fit their social contexts, hoping that someone will want us or include us despite our difference. We try to act like it doesn’t really matter. Or we try to be tough and endure it. But we still live our lives in a more or less conscious pursuit of belonging.

“I will never belong” is a sentiment I’ve heard expressed with varying degrees of rancor and drama in my thirty years of MK ministry. Of all the traits Third Culture Kids and Missionaries’ Kids share, I think this one is among the most powerful.

It is born of multi-cultural, multi-national, multi-experiential and multi-identificational backgrounds that both expand our worlds and limit our full adaptation to any of them.

One of my first conscious thoughts about my TCK identity came at a young age, when I realized while on furlough that I’d never be fully American, and that the French would never consider me fully French, either. There seemed to be no place on earth where I could feel that I fully belonged. Is it any wonder that MK communities like schools and mission conferences become such a haven of sameness to MKs?

Unfortunately, having experienced that level of identification can also set us up for a lifetime of discontent, because—and I don’t want to sound pessimistic—it is a sense of wholeness we may never know again.

Multi-cultural dwellers face three distinct options in their quest for belonging.

The first is to conform.
The second is to intentionally unconform.
The third is to straddle the cultural divide.

Let’s start with conforming. In some ways it’s the easiest option, and MKs are fairly good at it, at least on a surface level. We’re observers by nature. Whether it be trying out a new fast-food restaurant or voting in elections for the first time, I still live by the old motto: watch first, act second. I’ll relinquish my place in line as often as I need to until I’ve figured out how “normal” people do it and can proceed as they do.

That’s really just cultural savvy—or practical conformity. The kind that spares us public embarrassment and the kind of social faux-pas we desperately try to avoid. A complete conformity is a more dangerous version of the classic MK ability to adapt. In this case, we’ll either consciously or subconsciously discard those parts of ourselves that link us to other cultures and modes of life in order to be fully American, fully European, or fully Asian.

The danger in full conformity is in what we have to relinquish to achieve it.

You’ll see this in the MK from Rwanda who moves to Canada and wears nothing but Rwandan garb as an outward sign of her allegiance to her heart-home. You’ll see it in the Turkish MK who refuses to return to his passport culture and stops using English—thereby losing contact with the North American branch of his family and identity. Or the TCK in her passport country who never refers to the foreign places that framed her worldview and shaped her personality.

In order for me to have fully adapted to my French culture or to my Canadian passport culture, for instance, I would have had to alter my appearance, my political views, my gender-role opinions, my culinary tastes, and some of my social behaviors to achieve what that culture expected of me.

Once I was finished erasing the old and embracing the new, there would have been very little left of the richness of a multi-cultural upbringing: the broadened understanding and artistic/social/political palette that is so unique and so prized in TCKs.

Conformity would have cost me every bit of the beautiful complexity that can come from being an MK, but it would also have earned me a sense of belonging and sameness. For that sense, MKs can be willing to sacrifice an awful lot.

The second response to unbelonging is unconforming. It’s a fascinating phenomenon to me and it goes something like this: “There’s no way I’m ever going to fit in. People on both continents tell me I’m weird. Weird in Brazil. Weird in Korea. Well, let me show you weird.” And the MK sets out to be as odd as he or she can possibly be.

It’s a self-defense mechanism that has serious back-firing potential, but I can see its appeal. Whereas being the victim of our difference feels painful and unpredictable, being the architect of the difference gives us a sense of control.

So we exaggerate our weirdness in order to call it a choice, not an affliction.

Sometimes it’s strange clothes, sometimes it’s eccentric behavior, sometimes it’s threatening attitudes, weird tastes or social misconduct. On some, it’s endearing. On others, it’s off-putting. But to MKs whose identities have been shattered and rearranged without their volition, it’s a sense of finally being in control of how the world perceives them.

So when someone’s expression says, “You’re weird,” they can pat themselves on the backs and consider it mission accomplished, because they’ve made “difference” a choice, not an painful condition.

But…they’ve also made that elusive “belonging” even more impossible to achieve.

The final response to unbelonging is straddling. It’s probably the healthiest of the three belonging options, though it is certainly not the easiest.

It requires that we celebrate “mostly-belonging.” It keeps us intentionally connected to the cultures and subcultures that have shaped us while investing and implanting in the one in which we live.

Straddling allows us to retain all those facets that lend depth and breadth to our identities while mostly adapting to the new places life takes us. In order to successfully straddle cultures, we’ll have to understand and value each of them, retaining those other-culture quirks that are acceptable in the place where we currently are and disengaging those that might be jarring or misunderstood by the locals around us—at least initially.

Straddling requires that we add new facets to our panoply, not as a rejection of what we’ve known before, but an expansion of our cultural arsenal. It is also a means of honoring the culture in which we’ve been planted. For instance, moving to Germany and not alienating our neighbors may require that we regularly sweep sidewalks that don’t need sweeping. Living in other places may require more modest dress for women. And yet others may require a “bribe” column in our budgeting. These are adjustments we can make without releasing the influences that made us who we are.

Mostly-belonging isn’t a repudiation of the multi-cultural aspects of our identities—it’s a thoughtful, intentional choice to embed in the culture we now live in, and an equally intentional choice to stay connected with the other cultures we carry within us.

An initial carefulness and adherence to social norms will usually yield a more successful integration than, say, waving a Greek flag and refusing to eat anything but olives and feta! As relationships deepen and our friends know us better, we’ll be able to broaden our expressions of multi-culturalism without alienating others.

Straddling or mostly-belonging requires that we relinquish the baby bird’s dream of full, uncompromising sameness. As MKs, we’re actually healthier when we accept that we won’t ever be completely one or the other of our natures, when we acknowledge and celebrate those ways in which we can fit in, and when we set out to live enthusiastically in that space between belongings. That’s what makes us unique, broad-minded, tolerant, chameleon-like and prized bridge-builders in whatever society we embrace. That’s what allows us to thrive as TCKs.

With that attitude—with that self-awareness, intentionality and openness—true connection becomes possible, and a new, richer and healthier form of belonging can be ours.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Raised in France by a Canadian father and an American mother, Michèle is a mentor, writer and speaker with a heart for MKs. She taught for 20 years at Black Forest Academy (Germany) before launching her own ministry advocating for TCKs. She now travels globally to consult and teach on topics related to this unique people group, and she has recently launched the podcast Pondering Purple. She loves good conversations, French pastries, mischievous students and Marvel movies.

Life as a Christian Business Kid

by Clarissa Choo

I grew up as a business kid living first in Singapore and South Korea and later in a closed country and the Czech Republic. I’m an adult TCK now, but first and foremost I am a child of God.

Although Singapore is my passport country, my parents were not “typical” Singaporean parents. They never expected my sister and me to achieve perfect grades. Instead, they desired that we come to know Christ as our Savior and dedicate our lives to Him.

Their initial plan to avoid the stressful education system in Singapore was to immigrate to Canada. My dad had spent a significant number of years in Canada studying higher education and interacting with the culture there. But God’s plans were different from my parents’ plans.

God re-directed our path to South Korea through my dad’s work. I was five years old at the time. The Canadian embassy eventually approved our visas, but Dad had already accepted his job contract, and we had already moved to South Korea. We stayed in South Korea, where Christ saved me when I was seven years old.

Later in my teen years I searched for Christian TCK communities and found that the majority were intended for missionary kids. At the time it seemed that Christian BKs like me were quite rare. So if you’re a missionary or a missionary kid, you might not know what the life of a Christian BK looks like.

I’ll let you in on a little “secret”: although the paths of a missionary kid and a Christian business kid may seem different, they share similarities. Because as saved children of the King, we have one common goal – reaching the unsaved with the gospel no matter which country we live in.

As a former BK, I am perceived by some people as “pampered” or a “brat,” and I’m sure some MKs view my path as a fancier and less difficult route than theirs. In terms of finances, it may seem that way because many companies paid the bulk of living expenses for expatriates.

But people’s assumptions aren’t always accurate. While my family was outside of Singapore, my dad was diagnosed with a rare, chronic auto-immune disease called CIDP. His monthly treatments for life were so expensive that there were times when we were concerned about how the bills would be cleared. But God met our needs every time. 

And here’s another “secret” of mine: I used to envy missionary kids. Many MKs I knew could stay in their host country longer than I could. They could speak two languages fluently while I lacked sufficient time to be multilingual due to another move on the horizon. Having two “homes” appeared better than having many, as I’d have to say goodbye again. And again and again … and again.

Later as an adult I went through complex PTSD, partly due to stifling my emotions without processing them properly during transitions as a young child. I’m sure many of you can relate to that.

I can talk about so many blessings though — the main ones being experiences. Some of the experiences came from attending private schools filled with international students and from immersing myself in the local culture. Other experiences came from distributing gospel tracts and witnessing individuals place their trust in Jesus. In fact, my most precious memories involve local churches and mission work.

Just like we weren’t “typical” Singaporeans, we weren’t “typical” expatriates either. What I mean by that is that when we were overseas, we weren’t heavily involved in expat communities (although we did participate a couple of times). Instead, our main communities stemmed from local churches.

One Sunday at our church in South Korea, the pastor preached about missions. While he prayed the ending prayer, my dad took my tiny hand and brought me to the stage (my mom and sister were in other ministry rooms). I watched as he knelt and dedicated his heart to support mission work. Although my family didn’t carry the title of missionary, as saved children of God we were still missionaries. Throughout my life, I’ve seen my parents support mission work in various ways, whether through finances, prayers, simple actions of servitude, or sharing the gospel.

When we were in the closed country, I felt as though I was living a “double” life due to the government’s restrictions on Christians sharing the gospel message. During the weekdays I was a uniformed student, and over the weekends I attended an illegal house church with my Sunday clothes on. My parents could have brought us to a legal church as that was seen as the “safe” option, but legal churches were prohibited from openly sharing the gospel. Thus, we attended a house church – a decision we never regretted.

My parents even opened our house on Wednesday nights for the church’s mid-week Bible studies. We stayed in a private compound, which contained many expatriates like us. One action led to another as workers from the compound came to our house on Wednesdays to hear the Word of God. Back then, I didn’t realize how dangerous that was, but we didn’t regret that decision either.

That’s because salvation is priceless, and we shouldn’t keep the gospel to ourselves. Everywhere is a mission field.

In the Czech Republic, my family spent a lot of time serving a small church. I played the piano, watched after the kids, passed snacks around, and cleaned. My family served in their own ways too. We gave gospel tracts to individuals who crossed our paths and brought one of them to the church.

God has used local churches across the globe to shape my TCK life and perspectives over time. Each time God brought us to a new country, I would wonder about the church He was leading us to and about the unsaved who would cross our paths.

Furthermore, my TCK experiences with missions in various countries instilled in me a desire to support and be involved in both overseas and local missions. And no matter the path or country God places me in, I believe He wants to use that desire to further His kingdom.

~~~~~~~~~~

Clarissa Choo is an ATCK and a former business kid. Although she has lived in four countries, Heaven is her only home. She’s the administrator of the newly launched website ministry, TCKs for Christ. The platform seeks to serve, encourage, and challenge Christian TCKs to use their gifts and live victoriously with a firm identity in Jesus Christ. You can connect with Clarissa at ClarissaChoo.com or her Instagram, @ClarissaChoowriter.

Broken Blenders

by Katherine

See the blade twist to a stop
See the smoke rise after the pop
And I’ve broken another blender

Blenders keep breaking; I can’t bear to get another one. Is it that I keep buying low-quality blenders? Or is it the power surges and dusty, tropical environment? I can’t remember how many blenders I’ve been through in my years living in SE Asia. I don’t have one at the moment; I can’t bring myself to buy another one. I know it’s going to break.

Friends keep leaving; I can’t bear to get to know new people. Every new friend is an embryo of a goodbye. The expat community has such a high turnover. As an Australian living in Asia, I’m in a community with people from many countries. We all live here together as foreigners. Some stay for a few months, some for a few years, and some for a few decades. At any given time, I know of someone who is gearing up to move back to their passport country.

I was finally getting to know them
Maybe enough to be a regular confidant
Then they announce they are leaving
And they give their stuff away
 

I was finally getting to know them
Maybe enough to tell them where we keep the passports
Then they announce they are leaving
And they give their stuff away

I was finally getting to know them
Maybe our children will grow up together
Then they announce they are leaving
And they give their stuff away

We are a mosaic of everyone we’ve ever met, so they say. A mosaic is composed of pieces of different colours and shapes arranged together to form beauty. Well, I say the content of our house is a hodgepodge of many of the people we have farewelled. Our things are a jumbled, messy mixture of exited expats’ former items.

When an expat leaves, they need to get, say, 6 years of belongings down to a 20-kg bag. They sell, they gift, and they throw away.

I have a shelf from a friend who left 15 years ago,
a saucepan from a friend who left 8 years ago,
toys from friends who left 5 years ago,
many books from a friend who left 3 years ago,
a bed from a friend who left 2 years ago,
and a jar of sprinkles from a friend who left a year ago,
just to name a few.

Each piece of the mosaic is part time machine and part airplane. The jar of sprinkles connects us to those years we spent with the former owner. Memories of decorating Christmas cookies at her place pop up when I see the tall glass jar full of coloured balls.

It also connects us to that same friend in the present day. A reminder she is not here, but on the other side of the world. Her children probably don’t remember the sugary mess we made at their place. And they won’t be hosting cookie decorating here again.

I need to grow the mosaic. Although I can’t bear the thought of getting to know more people, I also cannot live without expat friends. I have local friends and friends in my passport country, but there are some things only fellow expats will get.

Locals know nothing other than crazy traffic, so they don’t see it as crazy. Passport country friends don’t know what it is like to fear every trip around town in your first year of a new country — but then to also fear the traffic in your passport country every visit.

So I will continue to welcome new friends. It’s better to have friends and say goodbye than to never have friends. And next time I am saying goodbye, maybe I will take the plunge and ask if my departing friends are looking to re-home their blender.

~~~~~~~~~~~

Katherine’s childhood church in Australia launched her on a trajectory to Asia. After a decade of preparation she landed in Cambodia and married a local Bible teacher.

A Childhood Erased

MCS School South

In June, the boarding school in Pakistan where I spent my childhood closed her doors. No longer will children respond to the gong of a bell that goes off for meal times. No longer will high schoolers gather outside the hostel, shyly sitting with The Boy that one has liked for so long, hands brushing against each other through the conversation and laughter of their classmates. No longer will staff and students alike have to shout over the roar of monsoon rains on tin roofs. The pine trees will no longer hear the whispered joys, sorrows, and prayers of students. Steel bunkbeds will no longer capture early morning tears of homesickness. There will be no more chapel, no more tea time, no more study halls, and no more graduations. Never again will the school song, so long ago penned by my father, be sung in that setting.

An era will be over, and with it – part of my life will seem erased.

Last night I watched memories of Murree, put together by my dear friend, Paul. With my husband and younger daughter by my side I was able to experience again the thick fog of Jhika Gali and the hairpin turns of roads. I heard one last gong of the bell and laughed as a monkey, captured perfectly on film, ran toward me and then away.

I have known about this closing for some time. The school was founded in 1956, a wonderful and admittedly rare happening where missionaries of every denomination got together and worked to build a school for the children of missionaries and nationals who were serving in Pakistan and neighboring countries. This year, after 65 years of service, the doors to the school will close. The last class has now graduated. Murree Christian School will no longer be a concrete place with walls and windows, students and administrators. Instead it will be relegated to memories in people around the world and, surprisingly, a wikipedia page of its own.

My friend Robynn and I occassionally text back and forth about our school closing. Ten years apart, we had similar experiences at MCS. Times of sorrow and sadness to be sure – but that is not the only story. Our stories are stories of much laughter and learning, of grace and growth, of the pure joy of youth. About two months ago I texted to Robynn “Our childhood is slowly being erased.”

A closing ceremony that brought hundreds of us together on ZOOM was planned for July. As it grew closer to the time of the ceremony, the more I felt an urgent sadness that needed to be voiced. MCS holds so many stories. I somehow never thought that the day it closed would really come. As my dear friend Robynn says so well:

Deep relationships were formed. Faith was nurtured. It’s difficult to capture in words what this hidden place has meant to many now literally scattered the world over.

Robynn Bliss

To be sure, we live in a different era. The school had dropped in size to a miniscule number. Staff are hard to come by and finances more so. Schools cannot stay open simply to be receptacles for childhood memories. In fact, the beauty of the times I visited back after graduation lay in the fact that it was still a living, vibrant place. New students and staff that (shockingly) did not know me had their own memories and events, their own life stories. A terrorist attack shortly after 9/11 changed the school in unimaginable ways, taking away the freedom that we students from the seventies had. Dwindling class sizes made it the more difficult to justify the cost of keeping up the buildings and grounds. Less people were comfortable sending their children to boarding school. There are many reasons to close and the decision to close was more difficult than I can imagine.

What does an adult do when they feel their childhood is slowly being erased? The tendency would be to grasp at whatever I can to keep the picture of what I had.

Instead, I open my hands and I give the pencil back to God. From the beginning it is he that wrote the story of MCS. It is God who gave the vision, God who sustained the decades of life, God who loves the people who entered and left the large, stone building to forge their way in a world beyond.

As I have thought more about MCS closing, I have released the idea of my childhood erased. That is giving the closing of a man-made, though wonderful, institution too much power. Instead I’ve thought about the stones of remembrance that I take with me from my childhood and this place that shaped me.

The idea of stones of remembrance comes from the Old Testament book of Joshua. The Lord tells Joshua to choose 12 men, one from each tribe. They are to go and pick up a stone from the middle of the Jordan River, at the spot where the priests were carrying the Ark of the Covenant. They were to carry the stones to the place where the people would spend the night. There they would put them down to serve as a sign. These were stones of remembrance. They served as a sign to the people present and to future generations that God was there, that he was faithful, that he did not leave his people.

What are the stones of remembrance in my life that connect to MCS? What rocks can I point to, stones of surety that declare “God was here.” What can I list that point to a life of faith, built on a stone foundation?

My stones of remembrance are imperfect people who taught me how to forgive and fellow students and dear friends who taught me what it was to press on. My stones of remembrance are the laughter that drowns out the memories of homesickness and the growth that leans into discomfort. My stones of remembrance are brothers who share blood and friends who share memories. My stones of remembrance are rocks of trust and knowing that somehow, all would be well.

I am gathering the stones, I am putting them down in writing, so that I too can tell future generations “This is what shaped me, this is why I am here.” Because it’s good to remember.


At every graduation and important event, we sang our school hymn, voices raised to the rafters of the old church building turned school. Some of us sang with immense talent, others just sang. Though all were lost in those moments in their own thoughts, never knowing that most would look back on these times and the song itself with deep longing. I leave you the final verse here – a reminder that no closing of anything is powerful enough to erase childhood.

Lord with thanks and praise we honor Murree Christian School
May her life and fame and service for thee ever rule

Built upon a firm foundation, in God's hands a tool,
Shaping lives of dedication, Murree Christian School

In all our lives we go through times where places and people we love change, where we recognize that life will never be quite the same. What are your stones of remembrance for those times? Where can you point to rocks of trust and a foundation that holds even when the building changes?

Note: This post was originally published at Communicating Across Boundaries.

Please Pray for My Alex, and I’ll Pray for Yours: When Our Children Don’t Believe

by Anonymous

Will you pray for my Alex?

That’s not my child’s real name, but that doesn’t matter. It also doesn’t matter whether Alex is my daughter or son. What matters is that Alex has decided not to follow Jesus.

It shouldn’t really matter that Alex is an MK, either, but it does to us, Alex’s mom and dad. I know that a parent is a parent and a child is a child, but when we went overseas to take the gospel to the lost, we didn’t plan on losing one of our own.

While Alex was growing up, we were trying to help the people in our new country taste and see that the Lord is good, but somewhere along the way the taste our Alex ended up with was bitter or, at best, bland.

Were we too strict as parents? Were we too lax? Did we spend too much time working with others at the expense of our child? Did our move and ministry overseas have anything to do with Alex’s choice?

There’s a voice inside me that can easily quote the verse “Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it.” I’ve learned how to explain that verse away, but that doesn’t make it go away. When I open up Proverbs, there it is.

Another voice says, Now you know what it feels like to have a child leave the family faith, and there are days when wrestling with Alex’s lack of a foundation shakes my own.

We hear others say that their greatest joy is that all their children are faithful believers, and we want that joy, too. Sometimes we feel so alone.

But I know we’re not.

I know that some of you, too, have an Alex. I’ve read your hesitant emails and listened to your hushed words.

You grieve, as we do, but you haven’t given up.

So we pray for our Alexes to hear God, in whatever way he chooses to speak, we pray for them to return to his eager embrace, and we pray for them to be given the time to do so.

We love them and want them to know the blessings of Christ, in this life and the life to come.

We pray and we hope, even when we’re hoping against hope.

Please pray for my Alex. I’ll pray for yours.

Permission to Prioritize Your Birth Abroad

by Chandler Gilow

Birth is important. It’s one of the most human experiences, shared by women and families in every culture on earth. It is both universal and highly personal. The experience is also completely unique, no matter how many births you have. Birth is life changing every time, and your experience, whether good or bad, will impact your life for years to come. 

As a labor and delivery nurse, I have seen a few key components that set up families to navigate this season well no matter the outcome: planning, education, advocacy, and support. If moms and dads set aside the time to research their options, learn about the birth process, and gameplan for potential outcomes, they can advocate with confidence in almost any situation. Likewise, families who are intentional about lining up the support they need can better handle deviations from their plans. 

This transitional season always brings stress, albeit happy stress, into the family unit as you make decisions about your healthcare team and parenting. However, these potential stressors can be compounded for those living abroad.  

A lot of my expat friends had a baby in their first 3 years abroad, and from what I’ve gathered, this is a pretty common story. In the first 3 years you are still transitioning to your new culture, learning a new language, healthcare system, and community. Not to mention potentially helping older TCKs adjust, working with visa restrictions, possibly relocating for birth, and don’t forget ALL the paperwork.  

This season was meant to be filled with joy and excited anticipation, not overwhelming stress. The great news is that it can be fun and wonderful if you allow yourself to invest the time and energy.  

When we found out we were expecting our second baby, we were about a year into language learning in the Middle East. We were excited and overwhelmed all at the same time. Our first birth in the U.S had not gone as planned. The calm birth I’d hoped for ended in an emergency cesarean with a long healing time. 

We had not prepared well. I thought that because I was a nurse I could get by with halfheartedly focusing on a childbirth education class. In the end we had a beautiful little girl, but also some residual trauma. I decided for my second that I would unapologetically devote my time to preparing mentally, spiritually, and emotionally. All the hours of research, preparation, and relocation to a city to get the birth team I needed, ended in a very healing VBAC abroad. All that time was worth it to me because we came back healthier than before the birth.  

Since then, I have talked to so many families who feel guilt for investing time and resources into preparing for their birth. They feel like they are taking time away from language learning, ministry, or their job. They struggle to justify spending money on classes or a doula because they raise money and do not feel like they can make a case to supporters. I have also seen families with older children approach birth abroad without thinking through the nuances that could impact their experience.  

The truth is, birth abroad is amazing and beautiful, and it can be a great way to connect with your local culture. However, it also comes with a lot of nuance that needs to be considered. Every family is different and needs to be respected. They need to prioritize different decisions in their pregnancy/birth/postpartum experience to thrive.

You may need to hire a doula, pay for a birth class, change healthcare providers, travel to another city/country to get a level of healthcare you feel comfortable with. It could mean not feeling guilty reading birth books at night instead of running though your language flashcards one more time, taking time away from your typical day to interview multiple care providers, or paying a little extra to get a private postpartum room. 

Whatever you choose to prioritize should not be done with guilt or seen as an indulgence. It should be seen as an investment to keep your family resilient and to increase longevity on the field. After all, there are no do-overs in birth. I would much rather see families thrive through this season with adequate education, resources, and community instead of simply thriving or needing healing postpartum.  

 ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ 

Chandler is a wife, mom of two, RN, and Lactation Specialist who started The Global Birth Coach after seeing a hole in expat care during her birth abroad. She is now stateside with her family while her husband finishes his PhD. She is passionate about empowering families to thrive in the perinatal period. You can find her @theglobalbirthcoach on Facebook, Instagram, and PinterestThe Expat Birth Podcast is a podcast devoted to sharing birth stories from abroad. It is released monthly on all major platforms. Contact her through her website or email: info@theglobalbirthcoach.com. 

 

Oops, I Forgot Myself: How to Reclaim Your Identity in a Massive Transition

You know that feeling? It’s a sick one. In your gut. Sometimes you catch it early. Two minutes down the road on the way to the airport.

“Did you pack the swimsuits?”

“Yes.”

“Socks?”

“Yes”

“Underwear?”

“Yep.”

“Boarding passes?”

“YES! I got everything ok?!”

“Sorry . . . (long pause) . . . passports?

“Shoot! Turn around.”

It’s nice when the light bulb goes on in time. Nothing hurt. We can still make it.

It’s not so nice when you’re sitting on the airplane, or unpacking your boxes, and it hits like a lightning bolt. That thing you really need in your new place is the thing you left in the old place.

But there is a whole other layer. A deeper one.

The one thing that almost all of us (at some level) forget to take with us in a massive life transition is . . . ourselves.

Who we were in the last place gets washed out in the new place. Our new life demands our attention. So we give it. The new people don’t know us yet. So we show them the surface. There is a language that we don’t speak (even if we’re “returning home”). So we get by. The systems, the patterns, the customs, the culture, the way of life are all radically different. So we scramble. We make do. We figure it out.

And then we wake up . . . weeks later — sometimes months — occasionally years — and the light bulb goes on . . . I forgot myself.

And it feels too late to turn around.

Transition challenges personality.

It attacks normalcy.

It assaults identity.

So if you’re waking up in the middle of a massive life transition, take heart, you’re not the only one who doesn’t feel like yourself.

But that helps nothing right?

“Great, everyone is screwed up but I DON’T KNOW WHO I AM!”

That’s fair.

Here are a few thoughts on reclaiming your identity when you wake up and realize you left it sitting on the kitchen table in a place you can’t get back to.

1. Learn the difference between inside and outside.
When you move from one place to another, you immediately start responding to outside things — the external forces that are pressing against your daily existence.

You have to. You’re supposed to. You’re not doing it wrong.

But.

In your core, there is a pile of values that didn’t change when everything on the outside did. There are beliefs, passions, habits, dreams, joys, frustrations, and pet peeves that define who you really are.

You should know those.

Like really — know them.

Not just in response to a question but intimately — KNOW THEM.

List them out.

Spend time with them.

Pick them apart.

Deconstruct them.

Put them to the test.

See what gets cut — and what doesn’t.

You should be the top scholar of your own core — but maybe you never had to be until now. Maybe your inside has always been supported by the outside so that you didn’t have to think about it.

Now you do.

When you KNOW who you are in your core you can go ANYWHERE with confidence.

When you DON’T, you’ll be stuck in the anxiety of a missing identity because you’re relying on the outside stuff to define you.

 

2. Know what makes you, YOU.
Little y, big Y.

Just because you have moved doesn’t mean YOU have arrived. Not all of YOU.

What did you give up, for the sake of the move, that feels like it was actually a part of you?

What did you DO back there that you don’t do anymore?

What did you leave behind that feeds your soul?

This one might sting a bit . . . who are you blaming that on?

Here’s the kicker — it’s a REAL challenge to do life (as you know it) in a new place. It doesn’t look the same. It doesn’t feel the same. It doesn’t even smell the same.

I’ve known marathon runners who threw up on their first run in China because of air pollution.

I’ve known musicians who couldn’t find an outlet for their music in their new spot.

Chefs who can’t get baking powder.

Artists who can’t find art stores.

More often than not though, it comes down to the fact that their motivation just got kicked in the gut. They had to spend so much of their energy re-learning how to do regular life stuff that they really struggle to find the space for the things they love.

Again. Fair.

But.

Transition is the process of becoming YOU again. Did you catch that? It’s a process. Movement from one highly functional place to another with a completely dysfunctional dip in the middle.

So.

When the time is right, remember who YOU ARE.

Finish the sentence. I AM ___________________.

A runner?

An artist?

A writer?

An entrepreneur?

A designer?

A people person?

An introvert?

An encourager?

A party animal?

A reader?

A hiker?

A dreamer?

Then dig into the HEART of why YOU are who YOU are. What is it about that thing that makes you come alive? Maybe you can’t do it in the same way but maybe . . . just maybe . . . you can. Or you can find a substitute that recaptures some of it. Or you can create a space that hits the same mark in a different way. Or you might just discover something new about yourself while you’re digging around.

The point is that if a piece of YOU is missing in your new place, you don’t have to settle for it.

But we do.

We run the “I used to be so good at” or “I gave up so much to” or “I just can’t anymore” narratives in our head until we believe that there is no way around it.

Don’t give up that easily. This is YOU we’re talking about.

 

3. Postpone your expectations. Don’t forget them.
I HATE the phrase “lower your expectations.”

I get it. I understand the heart behind it. Going in expecting to be able to function at the same level as you did in the last place is a recipe for a letdown.

“So just expect it to be horrible. Then you won’t be disappointed.”

No. Just no. Stop saying that.

Expect delays. Expect challenges. Expect frustration. Expect hiccups, and speed bumps, and problems (big and small) ALONG THE WAY to a fully functional, thriving life where you are not only enjoying the best bits of who YOU are but you are pouring them out on the people around you.

Write this down – it’s important.

You should NEVER compare the beginning of the new thing to the end of the last thing.

That’s not fair.

That’s like a farmer planting seeds and coming back to harvest the next day.

“Why is there no corn here?! I PLANTED CORN YESTERDAY!!”

I’m not a farmer but even I know the answer to that. “Because you chopped it all down a few months ago.”

It took time in the last place. You had to figure it out. You had to meet the people. You had to build the relationships. You had to learn the systems. You had to set things in motion and find the rhythm.

None of that is in place when you move into a new thing.

None of it.

You chopped it down.

So plant the seed. Set the right environment. Put the right things in. Keep the wrong things out. Start with some tiny roots. Then give yourself the space and the grace to emerge in due time.

You’ll get there — even if you can’t get there yet.

If you are in the middle of a big move or a massive life transition, there is so much hope. There is hope in the collective groanings of “I am not alone.” There is hope in the process of transition. There is hope in the core of who YOU are.

If you have forgotten yourself — go get yourself back.

Originally published at The Culture Blend