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Always a Foreigner

May 18, 2012

3.5 years.

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?

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8 Comments leave one →
  1. May 18, 2012 8:34 am

    Like you, I’ve moved too many times to put down roots anywhere. Due to job instability, it looks like we’ll be on the move again before the end of the year. Jesus is the only thing I’ve ever been able to put strong roots in. He’s the only permanent fixture in my life, as I’ve found that even marriage can have its scary, undependable moments. One thing I’ve learned about moving around a lot, is that for me, the roots aren’t that important as long as I’m grounded in the Word. When you have that oozing out of you, God will use that to connect you to someone who needs what you have to offer. Maybe you’re not the plant that gets deeply rooted in one location. Maybe you’re God’s planter, or his watering can, helping others to become deeply rooted in him. Roots on this side of eternity are a gift. Roots in God are the only ones that matter for eternity.

  2. May 18, 2012 9:04 am

    Yeah, since leaving for college, 2 years has been the most amount of time I’ve spent somewhere. Now that I’m finally learning people in the area and am beginning to make some friends here, we’re thinking of moving 2 hours away to start all over again. It’s a tough decision to make on whether to move where you want to be, or stay where you are starting to have something more.

  3. Ashley permalink
    May 18, 2012 9:36 am

    This was the story of my life through college. The American who Didn’t quite fit in in Portugal. And here, the awkward mk… These past 10 years of being here in Raleigh have been sooo good being in same city. Being married has settled me too. You are going to have an understanding of your mk children that most parents don’t.

  4. Corey Wallis permalink
    May 18, 2012 9:39 am

    Girl! I wish I was there with you. I know those feelings all too well. But I must confess, when I read this article, it made me think of Government Documents and Interlibrary Loans freshman year with T-Bong. Those were tough, beautiful days. All three of us were trying to get our bearings in such a different environment. I don’t know how we did it, but I’m sure glad to get you as a friend out of it. MISS YOU!

  5. May 18, 2012 10:55 am

    I felt like a foreigner in my own home for several years. I was the one with a different dad (who happened to be a pretty awful person). I’m the chunky one because his genes gave me a crappy metabolism. I had to leave my family on Sundays to go visit with the “other” family. Honestly when I got to Arkansas for college I thought, “Great, most of these kids have lived charmed lives and I’m the yankee with a messed up past.” When you and I decided to room together, I wasn’t sure if we had anything in common. But in the end, we both had stories from our pasts and being your roommate helped me feel more comfortable in that environment. So what have I learned from a lifetime of being the different one? There’s always someone else who feels that way…and Jesus is the only constant in life. Love you, roomie!

  6. Tim permalink
    May 18, 2012 12:30 pm

    Great job getting us thinking about our longings and how Jesus fulfills them, Aubry. I’ve experienced those feelings of being on the outside when finding myself living somewhere new. The awesome thing is that I actually became a Christian when living in England for a year studying at a University there. So God used my feeling out of place to get me into the one place where I truly belong: with him!


    P.S. I have a new guest piece up at Nick McDonald’s place. Hope you get a chance to check it out:

  7. James Sparks permalink
    May 19, 2012 7:01 am

    I think I understand where you’re coming from. I don’t think God intended us to be permanant nomads. In the OT it seems that the people that were constantly on the move were either Jews wondering in the wilderness or people running from something. And then in the NT it seems that the apostles were the ones on the move all the time, but I’m not so sure how much they really moved(except Paul).

    I think that we were created to have community(watch out a buzz word) with God and with each other, and that’s hard to do when your on the move all the time, and it’s like something internally tells me when I move that I should understand that I’m sacrificing some important things when I leave one group for another.

    I also think that when you have kids that this multiplies my internal frustation on this subject. It’s because I know the good and the bad in this process called moving and I fear that this is not going to help but hurt them.

    miss you guys

  8. gdthrasher permalink
    July 19, 2012 2:38 am

    One of the passages I used in my grandmother’s funeral service was the one where Paul describes our earthly bodies as tents and our heavenly bodies as buildings. Thinking about that illustration helps me to avoid the stability myth that so many chase after.

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