Third Culture Kid

On Friday this week, I'll be guest posting over at A Life Overseas.  This happened because I commented on another blogger's post, called "What if my kids start resenting 'the work'?" I guess they could tell from my comments that I have an opinion or two about healthy living for missionary families, and they invited me to expound.  Which I am very happy to do.

Because, if you've been reading here for a while, you've probably picked up on the fact that our family lived overseas for a number of years before getting crazy, getting better, and relocating to Dallas.

Another plane, another country, Solomon Islands, January 2003

So my kids are Third Culture Kids.

"A Third Culture Kid (TCK) is a person who has spent a significant part of his or her developmental years outside the parents' culture.  The TCK builds relationships to all of the cultures, while not having full ownership in any.  Although elements from each culture are assimilated into the TCK's life experience, the sense of belonging is in relationship to others of similar background."  (From Third Culture Kids by David C. Pollock and Ruth Van Reken.)

And as if my own four children weren't enough to get me really invested in all things TCK, I am a TCK myself.  I grew up in Brazil, Nigeria, and the wilds of Kentucky.  And my husband is a TCK who spent time in Nepal, Papua New Guinea, and North Carolina.

So we've got TCK issues at our house.

Now.  All God's little children have got their issues.  But TCK's have got particular, prevalent issues.  And there's good research on this (Third Culture Kids is the master work).  I'm not making it up.

My own personal TCK stuff revolves around the two most common issues for TCK's:  personal identity, and loss and grief.

My most prevalent feeling as a child was alienation.  I just had this overwhelming sense of "I am not like you."  I was only 10 when we moved back to the States (but trust me when I tell you, this is plenty old enough for your TCK stuff to stick!).  Developmentally, at that point, I was still pretty narcissistic (totally normal for that age), so my explanation for this feeling of "I am not like you," became "Nobody likes me."  And this feeling of being unlikeable became an entrenched and painful part of my personal identity.

Loss and grief are just part of the package when you're a TCK.  You get on a plane, you leave everything behind.  And life goes on without you in that place you left behind.  Especially in the days before social media.  I hardly know anybody in my extended family, and my younger siblings grew up without me.  I have often said in jest, but it's the truth, that my kids know The Gilmore Girls better than they know their own blood kin.

A few weeks ago, a friend of mine (who also happens to be a TCK raising her TCK's overseas) wrote and asked me if I regret living life this way.

And the answer is no.  I don't regret it.  

These days, I really like who I am.  And I've learned that other people can like me, too.  Even ones who aren't TCK's.  We're all a little quirky, for whatever reasons, and it's all good.

And I'm coming to terms with the fact that I may never feel completely at home in any particular geographic place on the planet, and that's OK.  It means I can feel at home in lots of different places, which is pretty cool.

Also, we have God's gift of social media and airline reward points these days, which help make the connections easier.

But I'm 47 years old.  I've had a while to work on it.  I've had a while to learn how to be more honest about what I love, and about what still hurts.  And I've had a while to watch God heal and redeem.  And the way that God works with every single thing, along the way that leads Home, is a miracle and a wonder.

When we moved back to Dallas, and planted ourselves for the foreseeable future, I was going through old photos.  I found pictures of each of the places I lived as a child, and put them together in a scrapbook.  And somehow, at that time, I came across Psalm 90:1:

"Lord, through all the generations, you have been our home."

And that's pretty much my lodestone, my True North.

I've lived in a storage shed in the Amazon, a dining room in Nigeria, a leaf hut in the South Pacific, and a suburban brick in Dallas.

In every one of those places, God has been my home, my refuge, my strong tower, my place of safety.  Even when I didn't see it or feel it or know it, it was still true.

Mostly He has been, and always will be, the Lover of my twisted little TCK soul.

And it's good.

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