Zooming Out to Find Perspective

Ask someone who has lived their whole life in one place about friendship, and they’ll tell you about their best friend that goes back at least thirty years. They probably still see this dear friend once a week. Ask someone who has lived more than a few places in their life about friendship, and they’ll tell you about their friends all over the world.  Both people are especially blessed, and both have something the other probably wants but doesn’t have. One perhaps longs for a friend who has been there as long as they can remember, the other might wish they knew a few more people someplace else.

Now that I live in a small town, I’m surrounded by people who have been friends for years, and it can tempt me to feel lonely or out of place because I don’t have a friend that goes back years and years here. However, when I zoom out and see the rich friendships I carry with me from my time overseas, I see that I have a lot of great friendships, but they look different than those of the people around me.

A few days ago, a friend responded to a message I sent her and summed it up so perfectly that I have to share her words with you:

“It’s crazy to think how fast time has gone by. I feel like my China days are stuck in this time capsule that is perfectly preserved in memory and goes with me everywhere. It’s so weird to think that it has been years since I’ve seen you!”

I love that friends from the past don’t have to be forgotten, and as I’ve seen by visiting friends from the “China days,” we can pick up exactly where we left off, just like time really did stand still. We were blessed by friendships that went so deep that we still know each other, despite the time that has passed. When we need someone who just understands the things that those friends understand, they are there for us, and we’re there for them.

My family and I recently had the opportunity to meet up with friends, one of whom was a teammate of ours during our first years in China. Any time I get to see someone who knew me on the other side of the ocean, I feel connected with that part of myself that seems to have faded into the back of my brain–the self that speaks Chinese and loves Asian food and loves Chinese people. I need visits with “China friends” just like I needed visits to Texas when we lived in China. They are my connection to a place I love and a time of my life that will always be remembered fondly.

I’ve also been thinking about the difference in the pace of building new relationships, and I’ve decided that friendship years from time spent abroad should be calculated like dog years (multiply by 7 years). If I use that math, I’m able to get a little perspective: 2 years of friendship in China (2 years of doing daily life together and being family to one another while learning to thrive in a foreign environment) equals 14 years of friendship in America.  Once I think of it like that, of course things happen slower here because we’re not all thrown into a stressful situation of being foreigners who need each other to survive in a new country.

When I zoom back in to my little place in the world, I’m feeling more encouraged about the state of my friendships here. There are still plenty of opportunities for relationships to grow, even if it’s at a different pace than I’m used to.

 What’s the pace of friendship in your current situation? Do you find the pace exciting or frustrating? Do you have people in your life that help you feel connected to another time & place?


  1. Grace L November 11, 2018

    Thank you, M’Lynn, for stimulating our thoughts about friendship. We have been in one place in China for 12 years and my closest and best friend is my husband. After that comes a Chinese minority woman that we work closely with, and another local woman. I have never developed really close friendships with the other expats working here. Back in my passport country I have 2 really good friends that I have known a long time, one for more than 50 years and the other for almost 30 years. I have many “friends” who are not so deep, and I value them too. But the friendship that holds me together the most no matter which side of the globe we are on, is the one I have with my husband. And I treasure those women friends who can enjoy being with both of us.

    I found it interesting to hear your comment on moving to a small town back in the US where so many people have people they have been friends with for years. I could easily imagine myself being lonely in a place like that. I pray God will raise up a new friend for you in that place.

    I can also relate to your comment about being able to pick up where you left off early in a friendship. I have found that over the years when I have had a special and significant friendship with someone. When we get together again, even after many years, it is a treasure that we can just pick up again with love and trust and understanding.

    1. M'Lynn November 12, 2018

      Hi, Grace! I love that you pointed out that your best friend is your husband. My first draft of this post had a paragraph about my husband being my best friend, but I couldn’t make it flow with the rest, so it got chopped! Ha! Glad you brought that up anyway! I’m so thankful I get to have him by my side, because he’s the ONLY person who has been through my entire overseas journey with me. What a gift! And…I also must say that I’ve been surprised by some good friendships here who are busting my preconceived notions of small town folks wide open! I’m also blessed by fantastic people at work that I get to see everyday. I’m definitely not lonely (and so thankful!) I had a hard time writing this because comparing friendships here or there is like comparing apples to oranges, and I value BOTH for sure!!!

      1. Grace L November 13, 2018

        Thank you, M’Lynn, for sharing more. As we wonder how many days or months we have left here in this country, it is helping me to treasure the friendships I have here all the more…AND trusting God for the future.

  2. Kirstin Durfey November 11, 2018

    Thank you for sharing this! I’ve been back for a little over a year and found myself saying, “Yes, yes, yes!” out loud when reading your post. All of this is so true!

    1. M'Lynn November 12, 2018

      Once again, so glad I’m not the only one! Like I said to Grace…It was hard to write because I didn’t want to discount the friendships I have here! It’s complicated and I knew my VA crowd would understand.

  3. Laura November 11, 2018

    M’Lynn, I love your “friendship math.” I feel as thought that gives me a great vocabulary for explaining to people the difference between overseas friendships and ones here in the US. Thank you for this as it reminds me, as well, that friendships take time to deepen here.

    1. M'Lynn November 12, 2018

      Thanks, Laura! So glad it makes sense to someone else! The “dog years” thing really hits the nail on the head for me…and it just popped into my mind while writing this…so I, too, am thankful for the new vocabulary!

  4. Michelle Sessoms November 11, 2018

    Oh my goodness, your “friendship math” really does explains it! I’m not back in a small town, but rather a large metropolitan area with tons of churches, which made me think that there would also be tons of opportunities for friendships here. But I have found that even six years later those friendships are lacking. At least lacking in the sense as it was during my China days. But in times of loneliness I am reminded of the richness I had with those friends overseas. And that I DO have friends, even if they aren’t HERE. I’ve come to treasure the friends from far away, that like you said being able to pick up exactly where we left off. I had that kind of interaction with a friend yesterday who is serving in Nepal that I haven’t seen for over a year with no telling how long it will be before I see her again. But it also teaches me to value the friendships I have now here- and even though they may not be as deep, they are still valuable. Not better, just different. Thank you for sharing this perspective.

    1. M'Lynn November 12, 2018

      “Not better, just different.” Yes! That’s it. I was afraid to give this blog post life because I didn’t want any of my “non-overseas” friends to feel discounted. That’s not it at all. The only other way I can think of it is when you hear veterans talk about their fellow soldier buds…they had a brotherhood that you just don’t get outside of the military. It’s kinda like that (minus bootcamp, but there is that whole pre-field training ordeal…)

      1. Abigail November 12, 2018

        Thank you, M’Lynn! The friendship “dog years” makes so much sense. This post reminds me of my dear friend who moved back to the States after our first 4 years in China together. We are opposites but were thrown together as sisters. But when we chat online and when I’m back in her town, it’s always just like we pick up where we left off. I really appreciate this especially when some other expats don’t put forth the effort to continue the relationship just because I moved to another city.? (Btw, if I hadn’t moved to my current city, I would never have met my husband, after 13 years in Asia single.)

  5. Valaerie November 18, 2018

    We are in a place of living part of the year in my passport country…..in texas actually and part in our ministry country……where I’m actually not as involved directly as before…..very involved with family right now as we have 7 adult children and so wanting to spend more time with them. I also like the idea of dog years…..those years in Guatemala have been very intense ones……with friendships that have mostly lasted until this day…..they are a true blessing…..trying to find a church home in texas has been a challenge…..but I persevere.

  6. Aylin November 19, 2018

    I really appreciated this. I like the dog math for overseas friendships. I am thankful for this piece because it really makes me appreciate the richness of having friends all over. Having just recently moved to a new country and starting alloveragain I can at times be discouraged by that, feeling a “friend fatigue” – no energy to invest in new people. But this article helps me see not only the loss and need to start again, but also the richness of what I do have. 🙂

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