The “F” Word

by Julie Martinez

Freaked out. Frustrated. Fear. Failure. These are some of the F words that we have been slinging around the house lately. We have also been slinging around the F word Frittata, but that is a different story. We are in the process of transition, and it is creating moments of drama and tension. My son, who was born in Honduras and has lived in five different countries, is now returning to America to attend university and emotions are running high.

This is a boy who has grown up in airports. He can navigate any airport anywhere. From the time that he was three months old he has been flying across the world. I am afraid that when he remembers his childhood, he will tell stories of terrible airplane food and rushing through airport gates laden with carry-ons. Or will he talk about a lifetime of good-byes? Of constantly downsizing our lives to fit into two suitcases?

This is a boy who has lived an unconventional life. He knows how to barter in local markets like an Arab trader. He can hop on a motorcycle fearlessly and navigate unknown roads in third world countries. He is unique. He has been chased by elephants; he has climbed volcanoes; and he has stood where the Indian Ocean meets the Atlantic. He has seen the world and much of it on the road less traveled and all before he was 18.

So, how does he transition to the USA? How does he navigate the world of fraternities, finals, football, fast food, and other Americanisms? My son is a third culture kid, which means he is not fully American, nor has he taken on the culture of his host country. He has created a third culture—a culture unique to him. He travels to America as a hidden immigrant. As one who speaks the language and looks the part but is missing social cues and cultural meanings.

He knows this and he is fearful — fearful of failure — and is freaked out. His F word is Fear. Fear is paralyzing, sends people into tailspins. Fear is seemingly depriving him of oxygen and causing him to make questionable decisions. My F word, on the other hand, is frustration. I am frustrated because I can’t help him and truthfully, he won’t let me, which also frustrates me. He will be 18 soon and naturally wants to navigate life on his own. And the reality is, I can’t fully help him—he sees the world through a different lens than I do and he is going to have to figure it out.

Living overseas is wonderful, but there are prices to be paid, and they are paid by all. God calls us and He equips us . . . but there are aspects of this cross-cultural life that aren’t easy nor are there easy answers. I wish I could wrap up this story with a three-fold solution. There isn’t one. The only thing that I can offer is that maybe it is time for a different word. Not an F word, but a G word, and that is grace. I pray for this G word in my son’s life — that God will cover him in His grace and that God in His grace and mercy will lead him and that His grace will carry him in the hard places and through the mistakes and the hard times that are inevitable.

What about you? What carries you through your F seasons? How does grace meet you in weakness and uncertainty?

Originally published June 21, 2013

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Julie Martinez has served on the field for 25 years where she raised her two children. She has lived in Honduras, Chile, Zambia, and Cambodia. She currently works at Lee University where she is an Assistant Professor and the Director of the Intercultural Studies Program.

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A Life Overseas is a collective blog centered around the realities, ethics, spiritual struggles, and strategies of living overseas. Elizabeth Trotter is the editor-in-chief.

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