When my parents moved a couple of years ago, they gave my youngest son a painting. The painting is of a Pakistani shepherd. He is holding a lamb on his shoulders, and his expression is one of gentle love.
It was my first day in Iraq and I was at the offices of our Iraqi hosts. While sitting there, a young couple from the United States walked into the room. They had two blonde little boys, toddler and pre-school age. As the dad went to a meeting, I talked a bit to the mom. They have been living and working in Iraq for a couple of years. Their children ate a lot of cookies and actively engaged with those of us in the office. They talked excitedly about going to a restaurant in the city, a place where you could get hamburgers.
My mind went back to when my husband and I first went overseas. We had been married for a year and a half and had a four-month-old baby. Other children followed, and soon we were raising a flock of third culture kids. Our kids traveled the globe with us, learned how to bargain in Arabic, and negotiated friendships with kids from all over the world. My parents had done the same with me. My earliest memories included eating spicy curry with my hands, hearing the call to prayer every morning as I woke, and bazaars full of spice and flavor.
In those moments of watching those kids and thinking about my own life, I thought many things. And one of them was this: “This TCK thing is real. I don’t care what any naysayer says – these kids are not growing up like their peers in their passport country. This is real, and we need to honor it.”
And the next thing I thought is that one way to honor the kids is to honor their parents.
You are living a different life. It is not more special, or godlier, but it is different. You are raising your kids overseas, counter-culture to what many of your peers are doing in your home countries. Your daily life does not look the same as those of your friends in the United States, the UK, New Zealand, Australia, Germany or any number of places that you call home. The experiences of your kids will include exposure to languages, foods, people, and events that you did not experience until you moved overseas. God authored a call on your life and you responded, even though that call includes many things that you could never have anticipated.
As I think about honoring parents in their journey, I remember the painting of the shepherd and the words of Isaiah come to my mind: “He shall feed His flock like a Shepherd, He shall gather the lambs in His arms, and carry them, in His bosom, and shall gently lead those that are with young.”
So on this day, this is my prayer for you, for you who are with young, for you who are raising young in a life overseas.
God sees those dark-haired or tow-headed kids of yours, and he calls them ‘good.’ He sees your marriage and it has his stamp of approval, his seal of protection on it. He sees your family, and he hears your prayers. He hears the echoes of joy and the screams of pain in your home. He knows universal heartache and pain, and he knows your personal heartache and pain. He authored your call, and he sustains you with grace. He won’t give you grace for your imagination, that’s not what he is about. Our God will give you grace for the real thing, what we call reality. He knows the fellow workers who you can’t stand, and those who you love, and he loves and cares for all of them. He has begun a good work, and he will be faithful to complete it. He, the good shepherd, will gently lead you. He is “utterly trustworthy and completely unpredictable.”
Today, wherever you are in the world, may you feel the presence of the God who gently leads those who are with young. Amen and Amen.
Author’s note: To hear the words from Isaiah as a song click here.