Always a Foreigner
It’s the longest I’ve ever lived in one house.
Our townhouse is filling with cardboard boxes. The walls are naked and cold. When I lay the boys down for naps, I rush to fill as many boxes as I can while they sleep. I’m so sick of moving, but I’ve also been trained to be so sick of staying here after only 9 months.
We leave tomorrow for a week of interviews and seminars, where they may tell us that we’re leaving the country in two years under their guidance and partnership. For now, we move deeper into the city.
In ninth grade, a friend of mine told me, “When you came here in 7th grade, you were pretty weird. You didn’t know how to act. You figured it out, and you’re actually pretty cool now.” It was just the kind of backhanded compliment that junior high girls often exchange.
But I hear her words every time I move.
For a year, I was the weird American in Australia who freaked out at kangaroo crossing signs and got teased when I said words like “trash” or “y’all.” So I learned to say “rubbish” and “you’s” and developed what was perhaps the weirdest accent on the planet (Southern U.S. + a hint of Aussie). I couldn’t pronounce my own name correctly for months and I had lost some “r’s” in my words. But I didn’t feel like a foreigner when I left – I felt like I had a new family.
During college, I was the unsocial nerd swimming in Organic Chemistry homework 40 hours a week. I was a closed-off loner on a campus full of people sharing their feelings and spiritual journeys, saying words like “community” and “authentic.” But I learned it – the language and the culture. I even managed to set aside my tasks and make some friends (and a husband, and shoot, even a baby before we left).
I never figured Texas out.
And I find it so hard to get used to North Carolina. I pass strangers and they don’t smile back. Old ladies see my babies and they don’t make themselves silly to get smiles. It’s urban, mobile, fleeting. No one wants to know their neighbors because those neighbors might be gone in 6 months. Everyone is busy, so busy. I don’t know how to act, or if inviting people to dinner is something people still do, or if I’m inadverently pushing people away. So I push down my mild Arkansas twang. I stop trying to know my neighbors after ten awkward conversations that they clearly weren’t interested in having, mostly to protect myself from further hurt.
I want roots, deep and wide. I want to stay in one place long enough to know my place, know my role, know the people around me. I want to stop being the weird foreigner who doesn’t know how things are done or not done, what things are said or not said.
And I realize that much of my struggle is for security and stability – things I’ve always craved but sought in the wrong places. A house does not provide it. Family can only go so far. Others seek it in money and possessions they carefully pile up. And it’s all misplaced. I can only find true, lasting stability in Jesus – who, I am careful to remember, gave up His home and clothed himself in a frail human body.
What do you trust in for stability and security?
Has it ever been enough?