A few days ago, my new friend grabbed my hand to lead me on a tour of her work place.
The familiarity of this gesture recalled several memories of holding hands with friends in South Asia. Occasionally the sights, smells, and sounds here come close to what I knew in South Asia, but with the added dimensions of a new culture. A little the same, but mostly different. Letting go of the Asia I knew and appreciating the country I live in now can leave me feeling empty sometimes. But I think that is to be expected in such a transition. Especially since I spent over seven years in South Asia.
The language was tough, but I learned it. I poured years of life into my family and the community around me. I loved people and they loved me. I unintentionally caused hurt and was also hurt by others. I was surrounded by a community of wonderful South Asian friends, work partners, and expats. The country’s culture, food, and beautiful way of connecting with God and people, became home. It will always be part of me.
Daniel and I spent very formative years during our late twenties and early thirties there: enjoying our first pregnancy, becoming parents to our daughter, going through miscarriages, and growing in our career and life. Blessings and suffering. Having unnecessary things stripped away, all the while becoming more free and joyful for it. Learning to embrace the core of who we are and cling to what really matters in life. Seven years of marveling at God’s limitless work in a place that sometimes felt impossible to us.
Then it was over.
We can never go back to that place or time of life again. At least not in the same way. Because things moved forward like they always do. And while it was difficult, it was for our family’s good.
We were in transition in our passport country for one and a half years, then returned to Asia. To a new country. A third one. For around nine months, we’ve been in the process of learning to do life in a new place. Again.
Our bodies have made the transition much faster than our hearts and minds, but they are catching up.
During the first months, I simply could not wrap my mind around the idea of a third country. It was exciting, but there were many mornings when I thought of the song lyrics, “drag your heart up to the starting line” (Keane). I began those days thinking, “Can I really do this again? I’ve already done the hard work of learning languages & adjusting to a second country. What if I don’t have what it takes for a third?”
(In my honesty with God and in conversations with trusted mentors, I realized that was actually a good place to be, but more about that in future posts 🙂 )
Since our arrival last Autumn, I’ve learned there are many people like us. We’re not alone in the experience of—for the third time (or more)—engaging life in a new country. Last week I had lunch with another mom while our kids played together. This is her family’s third country as well and we found some aspects of life in common. It felt great.
I was so altered by my years in South Asia, I was afraid I would never be able to develop a heart that could engage another country and culture. For a while during our transition time in the USA, I was simply done. But after a few months of living here, I see God developing what is needed in me through time and shared experiences with people in our community. It’s slow, but that’s okay. It can’t be rushed. It’s easy to forget that the familiarity with language, culture, and friends in South Asia I enjoyed were not microwaved. They gradually came together in the ways God chose.
My experiences in the past are valuable, but there will be more chapters in my life.
While I’ve been learning how to open up to God and others again in my new context, it’s been encouraging to observe the lives of other “third country or more” families who’ve been through this. It’s a beautiful thing to watch— people bringing everything they are into a new situation, growing, learning, and inviting God to use them to enrich others.
“Third country or more” people remind me of blooming tea flowers. Have you seen them? I remember the first time I did. The tea starts out as a small, hard ball of dry leaves. When it’s first dropped into hot water, you wonder what on earth is going to happen. But if you wait patiently, it slowly softens and blooms, infusing the water around it with sweet flavors.
It’s hard to put your heart out there again when you’ve been through so many things. I often want to hide, but know I’m meant to engage people. God has a way of putting me into life circumstances where I can’t hide. Thankfully He is always ready to give me strength for just one day. I don’t have to take them all at once. This new season is softening my heart, even though sometimes it can be uncomfortable to lean into the changes. As I open up to experience God’s love in new ways, the overflow of His work in my life engages people around me effectively. I felt hopeful on the day my new friend hugged me, held my hand, and actually used the word “friend” out loud. Because I could see Him at work in the relationship, even though I have a long way to go in learning the language. It feels great to be a small part of what He is doing here. This is not home yet, but I’m getting my bearings.
I’ve always wanted to share my “third country or more” experiences, but I assumed I’d be writing to a specific, small audience. I was wrong. Though unique, our situation is not uncommon. We’re a much bigger crowd than I realized. It’s comforting and delightful to continue meeting more of you and to hear your stories!
Whether you’re on your third or fourth country, or beyond, I pray you continue opening yourself to God and the people He brings to you. I hope the experiences in your new context are filled with grace and love. Even when they aren’t, I hope you will continue to entrust your life to Him. I want that for my own family as well.
I’ll share more in the coming weeks.
Thanks for reading!
©2018Chrissy Winslow – All Rights Reserved
-Short Clip of Blooming Tea Ball:
-How Blooming Tea is made:
Everyone experiences transition, but this week I wanted to write specifically for people who have called a second county home for a significant period of time, before moving to a third (or more). Probably because that’s my current situation and I’m learning to trust God in it.