Re-entry, culture shock, the business of moving between countries and cultures… I should have these things “figured out” by now. Since high school graduation, I have lived in 3 countries, worked 9 different jobs, and resided in 7 different houses, trailers, or apartments (not counting short moves like Bible School, temporary living in my friends’ apartment for a few weeks, and the month we slept on the second floor of a cafe in Thailand). I don’t say that as some sort of bragging right. It’s just a reiteration of the facts that my life seems to scream I’m an expert in change, yet I feel like a novice every time.
Despite the novice feelings, I’ve become accustomed to a pattern for how I deal with change. Months before a big move happens, I begin to get pensive and moody. This is when I sit and gaze out of windows and ponder my life in heavy detail. How did I get here? What did I learn? When will the inevitable goodbyes happen? And most prominently, why am I leaving? Each change is a different set of circumstances, hence different emotions ride alongside said circumstances. Sometimes there is relief and gratitude, sometimes there is pure excitement and anticipation. But there is always, always the unavoidable reality that each time I move, I am exchanging one life for another. I am giving up something to gain something else. Sometimes it looks freeing and certain. Other times it looks terrifying and unknown. If I’m honest, it’s typically a mash-up of all the above.
I’ve written about Third Culture stuff in the past. Maybe this somehow connects to the whole grander scheme of things. Maybe this is just a Third Culture Kid (TCK) struggle. But I beg to differ. A wise friend of mine, quoting a podcast, told me the other day that, “We don’t fear change, we fear loss.” That doesn’t sound like an idea that’s limited to a specific set of people. That sounds like a human thing- like we’re all blaming change for being so evil, when it’s really the loss that is at fault. Losing one thing to gain another.
It would seem easier if the thing I’m losing were something negative. I’d be okay with “losing my life to find it” if that meant giving up parking tickets or rainy beach days. But I know that’s not how it works. Sometimes I lose really good things, in exchange for really good things. But the process of the loss/gain thing doesn’t feel good. It feels messy, chaotic in my head, prone to come out as frustration, sadness, or overt silence.
I know each change that has happened was worth it. I know this in my head, at least. I look back and I see the loss and the gain. Some things are “Aha!’ moments where His orchestration of events makes sense to my finite human mind. Others still have big question marks on them, the ones where I sit alone in a parked car, voicing the questions in loud, frustrated tones to the Almighty because I just.don’t.understand.
I don’t mean to make this a dialogue of my emotionally turbulent state. I guess maybe what I’m trying to say is that so often I have a tendency to think there is some sort of “magic” way to “do” change. Perhaps a manual or book with a 10-step plan for guaranteed success of each upheaval that arises.
I was pouring out my frustrations to another wise friend a few months back about what moving does to me. I don’t see myself as an expert on the process, but I know my tendencies and limitations. She sweetly listened for a while, then responded, “Sounds like you’re really hard on yourself to get it right, Alicia.”
Her simple statement slowed my rant down to a crawl. Hard on myself. Like a graceless taskmaster adding more weight than what a person can carry, I know it’s true. I am hard on myself to get it right this time. Hard on myself to not feel so sad, to not dwell on negativity. Hard on myself to not feel the loss so much, because smoothing it over looks easier and less painful. Hard on myself…
Aren’t we all? Aren’t we all eager to move through the unpleasant feelings of loss or change or whatever it is that makes us cringe inside? Don’t we all wish for resolution and the part of the story where “…they lived happily ever after”?
My wise friend wasn’t done talking. “What would it look like to give yourself grace?” She asks. Grace. It seems mushy and soft, not meant for the tough, weather beaten skin of stuff like death and sickness and moving and saying goodbye and hello in the same breath.
The word sounds sweet and smooth like honey, not like a word that can carry gray skies and car accidents. But I know that’s not how it works. He wouldn’t offer grace to “help us in our time of need” (see Hebrews 4) if it wouldn’t actually help us. He isn’t going to leave us hanging just because we feel like we’re left hanging. There is a strange paradox going on here that is bigger than me. First of all, that loss is never the end of the story but because it is a part of the story, I cannot rush through its chapters. Second, that grace is a much stronger word than I give it credit for. They go together quite well, actually. The deeper I know loss, the more I know grace.
This isn’t about simply moving from one country to another now. It suddenly got bigger than that. I guess this is about the power of what it is to feel both the joy of life alongside the change- the loss. It’s a messy, vulnerable place.
But I wonder.
I wonder what would happen if we brought those big question marks to God more often. I wonder what would happen if we weren’t working so hard to “get it right” all the time. I wonder how we would treat each other differently if we knew grace more deeply. Maybe we would all be a little messier, but we’d all be messy so it would be okay.
With all that said, I’m still trying to figure this whole moving thing out. Some days I wake up with clarity and excitement. Some days that little blue girl with the pigtails from the movie Inside Out takes center stage and tinges everything with sadness. I’m pretty sure I’ll never feel like an expert in the art of saying goodbye. But this time around is different. For the first time in my life, I don’t feel like I need to be an expert. Grace.
Grace for the change, for the loss, for whatever it is that you feel like you need to “get right.” You are free to let go, friend.