20/20 Vision

I am an adult third culture kid. My first memories come from early mornings on a rooftop in the southern part of Pakistan. We would sleep on the high flat roof, mosques on all four sides of our home. Mosquito netting covered our beds, shielding our bodies from the harm that one small bite of these insects could bring. During this hot season the sound of the call to prayer, calling all faithful Muslims to pray, was the sound that woke me every day.

To look back is to visit those early memories and think of what I wish I had done – not what I wish my life had been like, but rather as a third culture kid asking a reflective question: what would I have done differently? If I had 20/20 vision how would I have lived?

In this spirit of self-reflection here is a letter to my 18-year-old self.

You are leaving Pakistan tomorrow. You don’t yet know that you will have one of the worst fights of your teen years with your parents in the morning; that the reason it will stop will be less about resolution and more about the fact that your boyfriend and his father are coming to pick all of you up in a van and take you down the mountain to the airport. You don’t yet know that as you leave the soil of Pakistan your heart will hurt so deeply that you won’t even be able to cry.

And here is what you will wish about your life in Pakistan, a life lived between worlds, between East and West, between Christian and Muslim, between Pakistan and America; wishes that you have grown into based on greater understanding and maturity.

You will wish that you had taken Urdu seriously. You had such a good ear for this language and a strong foundation. You will wish that you took advantage of this and gained the fluency at an early age that was a possibility.

You will wish that you learned more about the music of Pakistan, that you understood the ghazals written with beautiful poetry.

You will long to relive some of your friendships with Pakistanis, recognizing in the future the arrogance of your childhood as a little white girl growing up in the East.

You will ache to go back and apologize – to houseparents who you were rude to, to classmates who have left the faith, to others hurt by your choices.

You will wish you had spent more time in the inner courtyards of your Muslim friends, chatting, cooking, learning, learning, learning.

Later on you will move to Egypt and raise your own third culture kids, responsible now for creating home in the midst of transience. Your background will uniquely prepare you for life in this massive, chaotic city of 18 million people. You will grow to love Egypt. While Pakistan will remain your childhood love, Egypt will become your adult love. And yet again when you leave there will be wishes and regrets.

You will wish many things, you will regret other things.

But there are some things that you will never regret.  You won’t regret that early in life you learned of a God who laces your memories with grace, who takes boarding school tears and turns them into joy in the morning. You won’t regret that you learned of this God through your parents, through your houseparents, through your adopted aunties and uncles, through Pakistan itself.

You will understand that though you were short-sighted, you know the God who delights in healing our eyesight, in restoring poor vision.

With all you now know, can now see, you won’t regret that you are a third culture kid, with all the complexity and joy that goes with it.  And you’ll realize that 20/20 vision is reserved for God alone.

What would you say to your 18 year old self?

Check out Marilyn’s recently published book Between Worlds, a memoir about growing up as a TCK!

Photo Credit: Justin Wolfe via Compfight cc


  1. Melissa July 30, 2014

    I wish I could tell my 18-year-old self to take time to prepare. I was a go-getter, ready to change the world at 18. School was an annoyance that got in the way of my “real calling”. I was in such a hurry to get on with life and be doing something important. Now I would tell myself, “Take a deep breath, enjoy life where you’re at, and do everything you can to prepare for the calling God placed on your life. You will not regret being prepared. You will regret rushing and hurrying to get somewhere and then realizing you don’t know how to live once you get there!”

    1. ErinMP July 30, 2014

      Melissa–loved this! I was the same way at 18 when it came to school etc.. I loved the way you worded it. How did you eventually learn to live where you were in your calling, if I can ask?

      1. Melissa August 1, 2014

        Sorry, just getting back to this after hosting visitors yesterday . . .

        Sadly, it took me a long time!  I rushed all through my twenties, always reaching for the next big, exciting thing.  It was after I “finally” made it to a “real” overseas field and fell flat on my face that God slowed me down and taught me to live in the present.  The lesson hasn’t been easy – nothing has worked the way we thought it would and we are not the people we thought we were – but we are so thankful for God’s patience and faithfulness!

    2. Marilyn July 31, 2014

      I loved this as well. And when I think about it – that’s what I was like to get back overseas. I was desperate to get back “home.” And I got there…..but after that time my husband and I looked at each other and said “never again will we rush God like that” We didn’t know how to live as a married couple with a child – and suddenly there were all these other responsibilities on us. Thanks for sharing Melissa.

      1. Melissa August 1, 2014

        “We didn’t know how to live as a married couple with a child” – yes, I can relate!!  We had been married for 20 months and had a 3-month-old baby when we moved to Ghana.  We had major adjustments to our new life as a family, let alone the adjustments and responsibilities of life on the overseas field!

  2. Danielle Wheeler July 30, 2014

    Marilyn, I love the spirit with which you self-reflect.  The spirit that acknowledges the regrets, laments them even, but in the end is at peace, because you are not God.  And then you turn and delight in the healing God brings.  This is all so very healthy.  I pray the same spirit for myself, and also for my children when they look back on their TCK experience.

    So thankful to have you sharing here today!

    1. Marilyn July 31, 2014

      Thanks so much for inviting me to share this space Danielle. It was a really good exercise – all be it somewhat painful initially. I’ve done some of this same reflecting with our kids and it always ends up the same, God is truly the only one with hindsight/foresight/ and 20/20 vision.

  3. Michele Call July 30, 2014

    I was not a TCK, but an American child who grew up around mostly immigrants. I too regret that I didn’t take a deeper interest in the culture and the language of my friends. And I wonder if I ever made my friends feel bad by my complete lack of interest in their culture and their unique struggles.

    1. Marilyn July 31, 2014

      Oh Michelle – I blush thinking of some of my childhood arrogance. It was in high school that this changed for me. Maybe I suddenly realized that I was leaving the place I loved but my junior and senior years couldn’t have been better. Thankful for a God who gives second (and third, and fourth, and…) chances.

  4. Elizabeth July 30, 2014

    “20/20 vision is reserved for God alone.” Oh Marilyn, how true — and sometimes how sad I am that it’s true. Things I wish had gone down differently, choices I wish I had made differently, it took me a long time to realize that if I had known what I know now (which I usually learned only through that painful experience), that I might have made different choices. But I didn’t do things differently, because I didn’t see everything clearly, I am only human after all. That was the only way I found to release myself from the guilt and the regret.


    1. ErinMP July 30, 2014

      Elizabeth-thank you for sharing. Amen to that thought!

    2. Marilyn July 31, 2014

      Exactly! Because living in the guilt and regret is just as harmful as the other. And to know grace – that’s what I am so grateful for every day. That in the midst of these stupid choices, the arrogance, the pure selfishness, God knows my frame and offers me grace. Thank you so much!

  5. Beth July 30, 2014

    “20/20 vision is reserved for God alone”
    So true! And so good to remember as we reflect and look forward. Our vision is almost always a little out of focus (sometimes more than other times!). On this side of eternity there will always be regrets and wishes unmet. I am thankful for God’s grace, mercy and healing in the journey.

    1. Marilyn July 31, 2014

      Your last sentence says it all Beth!

      I am thankful for God’s grace, mercy and healing in the journey.

      Thank you!

  6. ErinMP July 30, 2014

    I love this idea. I hope you don’t mind me sharing…although at 18 I wasn’t (and never was) a tck.

    Dear 18 year old self,

    Stop being so hard on yourself. This is a trait you will carry into adulthood and God will slowly be working out of you. Get a head start. Let go and let God.

    Your parents are…your parents! But stop focusing on all the things making you angry right now. Focus on the fact that your dad understands deep emotion and the sound of music (how many bikers can really do that?) and is willing to sit down and talk with you about life. Ignore the parts that are rough around the edges. When you get older you’ll realize the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, and you’ll wish you had spent more time forgiving and talking and less time holding onto hurt feelings. Focus on the fact that he hugs, loves, and discusses movies and books with you. And your mother is just being a mom. The minute you hit your 20s and start working with teenagers–that scary age where they think their little hearts and bodies are immune to the ravishing dangers of the world–you’re going to feel the same overwhelming fear and need to sequester them away in safe, soft little nests. Stop being so annoyed and realize you’ll use the same phrases she uses when a snarky 12 year old steps into the middle of traffic laughingly, or doesn’t study for a test, or is just setting themselves up for heartbreak, and when you sound old to them you’ll think–is this the fear I put my mother through all those years?? Focus on the fact that she loves you and takes care of you when you’re sad or heart broken and sick much more than any other person out in a cold and often alarmingly indifferent world, and focus more on hugging her back and forgiving than holding onto grudges and misunderstandings.

    And don’t date that guy. You know it’s not going to work, you know you’re supposed to just be friends, and you know already you’re called to two different worlds. That’s partly why you’re drawn to him. But trust me, friend, both your broken hearts years down the line won’t make it worth it. Hold onto the friendship and let him ease slowly away into his own world–turning him down now will hurt you both, but in the long run it’ll be so much better than what old Erin knows is to come.

    You’re about to go to Japan. Enjoy every moment of it. But realize not all friendships forged abroad last forever. Not all friendships forged at home last forever. Not everyone is meant to be with us in every stage of life. That’s okay; be prepared and don’t be hurt over it. God knows who should be there and who shouldn’t. All you can do is love the best you can, and guard your heart. Don’t trust so freely, but don’t get angry or suspicious so easily either. Learn to let people fade out if they need to…and let the ones who try to come back come back without reproof.

    But be grateful for the friends who stick around, and the cousin you’ll still be close to years later. I know who they are now, but I know 18 year old self–you will be greatly, greatly surprised by who is still there and who is gone 6 years later. God isn’t surprised though.

    Stop caring about what you look like. Be healthy, have fun, live balanced. Give up chasing the carrot on a stick. Don’t try to be a stick…that’s no fun for you anyway!

    Study languages more. You’ll be surprised at how helpful they are, and how you pronounce things a little better than you think, so stop giving up when you get frustrated. And when you can’t pronounce things–who cares? You’re obviously an American when you travel, people don’t expect you to be a world class linguist.

    You finally learn commitment to hobbies when you learn to crochet. Don’t laugh, you’ll really do this. You’ll also stop wearing black constantly, lose some of that gothic eye makeup, learn to bake again, wear dresses (yes, you’ll actually look like a woman, wow), and stop being so mean to men. Why don’t you just relax a little and start doing that now? You find, 6 years later, you like this version of yourself you used to scoff at. You like this side of being a woman (but can still accept any version of womanhood in others). Stop being so hard on yourself and others. Let yourself be a little girly, a little soft, and less…dark. You can keep that side and still be feminine.

    And finally, why are you hanging out with those people who are living the party scene, who are upset that you don’t do dangerous things with them, who often mistreat you? They aren’t going to change, and their negativity is dragging you down. You know who they are. Spend more time on the positive people in your life who are wise company, and just be kind and pray for the others. They shouldn’t be your best friends. 18 year old self thinks this is judgmental. 24 year old self knows there is a difference between being wise and being judgmental. Good company corrupts your character–if the Bible said it, stop running from it! Here’s a hint; you’ll keep changing and growing away from them anyway. Make it easier on yourself.

    Oh, no, this is final. Trust God. Believe in His word and promises. Focus on Him. You will regret parties, you will regret some relationships and friendships, you will regret not loving and forgiving enough (especially the good people in your life), you will regret a lot. You will need to learn to let go of this. But you will never regret the time you spend with your heavenly Daddy, listening at His feet. Don’t ever leave there.



    1. Amy Young July 31, 2014

      Erin, I laughed at that line too 🙂 (the one about the boy. How often at that age was it about a boy?!). Loved getting to know you a bit more! thanks for the gift!

    2. ErinMP July 31, 2014

      Thank you!! 🙂

  7. Marilyn July 31, 2014

    I LOVE this Erin – loved this line “And don’t date that guy. You know it’s not going to work, you know you’re supposed to just be friends, and you know already you’re called to two different worlds. ” 

    Made me laugh! I had one of those but thankfully he broke it off! I am so glad you wrote this.

  8. Amy Young July 31, 2014

    Marilyn, what I joy that we *finally!* got to meet in person last week! And to everyone else … buy Marilyn’s book! It’s good 🙂

    1. Marilyn July 31, 2014

      Amy – I’m still smiling that we got to meet! And so glad you came to the TCK panel. I’ll be in touch with you about writing at ALOS!

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