I was watching them play from the window, wiping (licking) my fingers from the frosting I had just finished putting on my 8-year-old’s birthday cake. It was the first time he could celebrate with friends in 3 years and my heart was so happy for him. We were back in our passport country for a visit. As I leaned to get a better look, I was smiling at my foresight to invite 4 of his closest friends from before we left to his party today.
But as I saw what was happening, I felt the years we had been gone impact me all at once. The four boys I had invited had in the last set of years become 2 sets of best friends. And my son was the 5th wheel at his own birthday party. He stood to the side and watched them play. He glanced up at me and through the lump in my throat I smiled and waved.
Friendships while serving cross-culturally are complicated.
I stood there and allowed myself a moment to process. I realized I had been putting on a good front but I felt it too. The coffee dates and connections with my old friends were lonely…sometimes. I had to reach to come up with our common points of reference and I remember feeling a little cold when I buckled my seat belt and drove away. I felt like it was my fault! If I was better at this and more outgoing and more funny then this would have still felt warm and cozy.
In preparing for this month’s content, it hit me. I was this many years old when I realized that as cross-cultural workers we don’t just have one box of friendships. We have boxes of friendships. And these boxes have names and purposes. And if I had known that earlier, I would have known what to expect when I opened each box. I would have known what box needed from me to feel loved and seen. And I would have known that how I interact with each box is different. I could have been a better friend. And I could have had better friendships.
These boxes are named:
- Team Friendships
- Old Passport Country Friendships
- National Friendships
- Expat Friendships
- New Passport Country Friendships
When my mind got on this train there was no going back. I realized that there are so many things Satan has pitted against cross-cultural workers and deep friendships. Maybe because he knows that it’s what our hearts need in those hard times and places. And that without them we sometimes just give up.
Again, friendships while serving cross-culturally are complicated, but are they worth it? This memory says they are.
She showed up at my house in Sub-Saharan Africa that day with an iced mocha. She picked my kids up because I was doing online courses and it was finals week. She kept them all day. When I was getting ready to fall apart, she drove a van of 9 children away from my house. I needed her in that moment. In that moment I felt seen: by her and by God. In that moment I took a deep breath. And after that moment, my heart was full and I wasn’t thinking, “I can’t do this anymore”.
YES. Friendship for us will be hard. Friendship for our kids will be complicated. But the more we invest in knowing how to navigate this hard thing, the more we will have moments of iced mochas and deep breaths and less moments of staring out the window, crying while we lick icing off our fingers.
This month in the membership community we have created “The Expat Guide to Friendship” to go deeper into the complicated relationship we have with “Friendships”. We hope to see you there as we dive into more content. Be looking for that in the days to come!
What’s been hard about friendship? What’s been great? Tag your friend that has made a difference and let’s be there for each other in the comments.