Many Nigerians tell us that Judah and Jovelle are more African than we are – which is, of course, understandable since they have spent a larger portion of their lives here. Still, though Nigeria is home to them (although at the end of the day, I suspect that wherever Daddy and Mommy are would be home….), there is an awareness – even with Jovelle, I think, who has spent more than a year and a half of her two years in Nigeria – that we also have Another Life Somewhere Else.
For Judah, America is This Place Over There that we take loooooong plane trips to get to… a place where packages and Skype calls come from… somewhere we go to restock our supply of cranberries and band-aids, as whenever we are running low on something, Judah just declares, “It’s okay, Mommy, we’ll just get more from the States” or “We can just ask Grandma to send us some,” as if it’s as simple as a quick trip to the grocery store. It’s where people are usually sleeping when Judah is wide awake and longing to talk to them, where they have grandparents, cousins, snow, library story times and Disney World. On one of the planes back to the U.S., Jovelle was tired of the travel and began whining, “I want to go home!” I heard Judah explaining in his best big brother voice, “Jovelle, we have TWO HOMES! One is in the States, and one is in Nigeria. We’re going to our other home.”
Judah has memories of this other place, of the people there – sometimes strong memories from many trips ago that surprise me since he is only four and a half – but some of his perceptions are also based on the comments Chris and I make in passing, the stories we tell, the pictures we show so he and Jovelle don’t forget the people we love or the place we’re from….
But Chris and I are learning that in some ways it’s hard to be deliberate about both helping them to understand the place we come from and still completely embracing the place that we ARE; it’s a balance we haven’t quite achieved and probably never REALLY will. I often think of the Bible verse in Jeremiah 29 when God tells His people who have been exiled into Babylon to build homes there and settle down, to plant fields where they are – rather akin to the “Bloom where you’re planted” adage. But how does one live in one culture while also – knowing that we probably will not be in Nigeria forever – preparing our children to live in another culture someday?
I know many people who grew up on the mission field who have told us that they don’t believe they were adequately prepared for life in the culture they eventually went back to (Some missionary kids – or MK’s – call it their “passport country” or “sending country,” as they don’t necessarily see the place their parents lived and grew up as their home country.). Even in my brief time here in Nigeria, I can understand some how difficult that transition can be – often the culture you go back to is so different from the culture you’re coming from. When we went back to the States in March for a brief six weeks, I had only been out of the States for a year and a half before our previous time there, and yet the first time I went to the grocery store, I stood in the aisle almost paralyzed and crying, and I left without buying anything because the choices were so overwhelming – and I grew up with grocery stores! (I got over that pretty quickly, though, as evidenced by the amount of food I later bought!)
For some MK’s, the adjustments to life in a country they spent just a few months out of the year in (or even less for some) resulted in somewhat comical things that can be laughed at after the sting and embarrassment of the incident passed – panicking when seeing the menu at McDonald’s and not knowing what most of the items were… going to a hotel and commenting that the room was awfully small to sleep four people – only to learn about this thing called an elevator… surprisingly – and loudly -exclaiming in the airport, “Look at all the WHITE people!”… squatting on the floor in the middle of Wal-Mart and using the bathroom, only to be quickly escorted out by parents who were so embarrassed that they abandoned their full shopping cart, and what’s the big deal anyway because we do this at “home” all the time….
For some people, though, the effects are much more damaging. I know people who struggled so intensely with adjusting to their parents’ culture that the struggling resulted in eating disorders, rebellion, financial disaster, depression and other problems that are harder to recover from, much less laugh at.
Don’t get me wrong – we love living here, and we love the experiences and perspectives on the world and God’s people that Judah and Jovelle – and the two of us! – are getting. We don’t know how long God will have us here, when He will call us back to the States, but we don’t feel like we will be here forever….
…And so we struggle with this balance, with sometimes feeling like we are living in between places. And we can’t help but wonder how this will affect our children – especially since it affects even us, who grew up in the States and consider it our home… mostly. Maybe some of that would change if we had a house to go back to. Still, it feels like a trick question now when people ask where I live (Do you mean my mailing address, or where I’m from, or where I’m staying right now, or where our house is?). I don’t know what to fill out for forms when I am at a doctor’s office – do they want a place to send the bill or a local address where I’ll be staying so they can send information? I actually feel pretty dumb when I get caught up on this – after all, the questions probably aren’t going to get much easier than that! I feel torn between these two places that I love (sometimes more than others….), sometimes filled with an intense longing to be near my family and friends, desperate to shop in a regular grocery store and just be back in the U.S., and sometimes filled with a sense of sadness that we probably WILL be back there someday soon.
So why am I sharing all this? I don’t really know- actually, I started writing this a while ago about something different, but somehow it turned to this. A long this. ;) But maybe some of you have some insights? Your own experiences to share? Our children are young now, so maybe it won’t even matter that much if we return to the States to live within the next couple years.
…And yet no matter where we live, as believers we are all divided between homes as we struggle and strive to live in this foreign land that God has placed us in, aware – sometimes keenly, sometimes only vaguely – that our true citizenship is in heaven.