I sat in the car and watched the people walk in and out of the gas station while my husband filled the tank. I love to people-watch. I love to imagine what their stories are. I love to give them the dignity of a story.
But this day I didn't see their stories as they hurried by bracing themselves against the frigid winter air. I was preoccupied with my own story. It had just occurred to me that I was a Third-Culture Kid. Seventeen years after I had lived overseas, I finally admitted to myself that I felt like I didn't belong here or there or anywhere.
The catalyst for my identity crisis was a trip that I had just taken with my mom. For my 35th birthday she offered to take me to Germany to visit my sister, who was teaching at my alma mater, Black Forest Academy.
While I was waiting, with my three kids in the back seat, for my husband to pump the gas, I was happy to be home. Nevertheless I was overwhelmed by a sense of sadness.
I was grieving for something I couldn't explain. A hole that couldn't be filled. Homelessness even at home. A wanderlust that couldn't be satisfied. I didn't fit in here - not completely - because a part of me was over there. The recent visit back there only made me miss it again. I loved it there.
But I didn't fit in there either because I am from here. My life is here with my husband and my kids. Drive through fast food is here. Twenty-four hour grocery stores are here. I love it here, too.
I exist somewhere between the two places, in that third culture.
When I was a senior, the staff at Black Forest Academy talked to us about issues unique to third-culture kids. I thought they were helping us prepare for re-entering our home countries. I dismissed it as not applicable to me. I figured it was meant instead for my classmates who lived most of their lives in a country other than the one on the cover of their passport. Since I had lived in America until I was fourteen, I did not think I would have any problem blending back into the American culture. Sitting in the car at the gas station I finally understood that it wasn't about blending, it was about belonging.
That gas station revelation was six years ago now. The other day I had another revelation. I was thinking about my kids going back to school this fall. I was thinking about the whole "in the world, not of it" thing. When Jesus prayed for his disciples right before he was betrayed, he didn't ask for God to take us out of the world, he asked for our protection while we are in it (Jn.17:15). I pray that for my own children, especially as they go back to school.
As I was thinking about that, it occurred to me that we are all third-culture kids in a way, all of us who call Jesus Lord. We live in this world, but our citizenship is in heaven. We don't belong here. Our souls were made for eternity. Our hearts were made for a relationship with our heavenly Father. There is a hole that can't be filled with anything but Him.
We participate and engage with our culture. We learn the language of our culture so that we can understand and be understood. We observe some customs and traditions. But we are also set apart. We long for the day when we can walk with Jesus on streets of gold with evil far from us. Until then we have cement under our feet and God's word in our hearts. We're third-culture kids, Christians who are not of this world, but not yet in heaven.
They say that third-culture kids feel a sense of belonging with other like minded people who share similar experiences of living between cultures. I think that must be similar to belonging in an authentic community of believers, sharing values and struggles, being one in spirit and purpose. That's the unity that Jesus referred to in that same prayer recorded in John 17 when he prayed, "May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me."
We're not of the world, but we are in the world. Belonging together, loving each other