It was a bright, clear(ish) China morning and I was watching my girls do the morning activities at their preschool. I joined the parents at the gate in watching a few perfectly choreographed dances, some stretches, and then IT happened. I swear, I actually heard the screeching sound effect in movies that cues an unexpected event. Nothing could prepare my heart for what I saw. As the flag-raising ceremony started, I watched my girls innocently mimic those around them and salute THAT flag while the national anthem cheerfully played in the background. I felt the color drain from my face and I caught myself right before I blurted out, “Wait, WHAT?”.
On the walk home, with my spinning head, my conversation with myself went something like this, “It’s okay, they don’t understand. I will explain to them that they are Americans when they get home. It’s okay…oh, man, it is not okay. We are seriously messing up our kids. Do they even know our national anthem?…Does it matter?…But THAT flag. To some it represents persecution of Christians, and mandatory Atheism, and censorship of everything…”
Suddenly, I knew. I knew that this feeling has resided in the heart of every mother of a relocated family. Even ones who bring their family to new shores to escape tyranny feel pain in their hearts when they see their kids willingly accept the country they live in and seemingly abandon the country of their passport.
As much as we try to teach our children who they are in regard to their passport country, every day there are reminders that our kids are destined to be weirdos in both places.
Homeschooling: “So the diamonds (dimes) are the one worth five percents (cents), right, Mom?”
At the store: “My favorite ice cream is the corn flavored one!”
At home: “No, Mom, you have to turn the VPN off to watch a movie.”
In America: “What’s Mac-and-Cheese?”
Everywhere: “They are taking our picture again!”
Then there is the complicated matter of us feeling like we are slowly becoming more and more strange ourselves each time we make it back to the U.S. for the summer. Run-ins with acquaintances are strange. “So…China is like a Thing for you guys now, huh?” Road trips are strange, “Dude, they sell cheese at gas stations!” Outings are strange, “Girls! No! You can’t squat in the park! *sigh*” Even church seems strange, so…clean and shiny.
And yet, somehow, in some miraculous way, we always find ourselves home. In a strange and astounding way, my husband and I are home for our two girls, and HE is home for us. When we are overseas, we find ourselves in an amazing family of believers, both foreign and local, and when we are in the U.S., we can connect even deeper and strengthen bonds with our family members that are friends as well as those blessed friends who feel like family.
In those times that we feel like we belong everywhere and nowhere at the same time, we remember his promises, his calling, and his provisions. Those dew on the fleece moments that remind us in tangible ways that we are doing the things that he has called us to. That no matter what people in our home country are doing, and no matter what other cross-cultural workers in our host county are doing, he has a specific story for us to live out, and our walk with his Spirit and his Word is what will enable us to live it out and to find joy in the process. Because after all, no matter where we are, or whichever country we align with more at the moment, we can always sing, “This is my story, this is my song, praising my Savior all the day long.”
So, when we sort of phone-in Valentine’s Day and maybe forget St. Patty’s Day altogether, and when our girls don’t EXACTLY know the word for bagel, or any American presidents, we can rest assured in the fact that this adventure of following and obeying will yield in our family a heart for THE kingdom. His kingdom. The one that knows no language and no denominations. It knows no races and no generations. This glorious kingdom that we will belong to forever and ever, Amen.
How has your sense of belonging changed since living overseas? How have you found peace in the process of assimilation?