My third child was 3 years old during one of our furloughs, a summer spent in a house provided by my husband’s parents’ church.
We were out running errands and I began talking over the schedule with the kids. I said, “Then we will go back home.”
My 3-year-old blurted out, “What do you mean home? Our Egypt home? Our [current town] home? What HOME?!?”
He was right. I was using the word “home” a bit too generally.
Of course I had read about Third Culture Kids being at home everywhere and nowhere. And yes, I knew my kids’ home was in Egypt where they were growing up. It made sense the way I experienced being in the States was different from how they experienced it.
What I didn’t know was how freely I used the word home and how complex of a word it could potentially be.
“Are you glad to be home?”
Often when I return to the States, I’m asked whether I’m glad to be home–by other Americans, by my Egyptian friends when they text to check on me.
A simple question to ask. A very difficult question to process.
Am I home? How do I define home?
A google search of “home is…” produces an abundance of ideas about what home is. Lovely ideas, rosy ideas, romantic ideas, introverted ideas, wanderer ideas. Some I resonate with, some I chuckle with.
“Home” has become less specific about a place and more specific about a concept.
These days I consider two places home. America is home because my family of origin is there, because I grew up there, and because there are certain aspects of the culture that I inherently understand and appreciate.
Egypt is home because we live life there now, my children are growing up there, the community in which we live life is there, and because we have actively made it our home.
I think it is possible to live somewhere and not make it home to you. There are several ways in which I feel like a “fish out of water” in each place.
In Egypt I usually stand out as a foreigner. I am not fluent in the language. And there are cultural norms that are not natural to me.
In America, especially as cultural norms shift, there are aspects that I don’t understand or know quite how to navigate. Sometimes that is more difficult to process because I am American, I look American, I speak American, and yet I don’t always think American anymore.
So, am I glad to be “home?”
Well, if you mean “Am I glad to be back in the country in which I grew up?”
Sure, it’s nice to be back for a visit. I enjoy wearing shorts, riding bikes, and getting outside in nature. I appreciate that traffic is organized, streets and sidewalks are clean, and store hours are posted and regular.
Am I glad to be back to see my family and friends we’ve kept up with?
Yes, absolutely! One of the hardest things about living overseas for me is missing family and missing out on celebrations and time together.
“Are you glad to be in a place where You fit in?”
Hmm, I don’t know that I fit in. I’m a little bit weird for an American now.
Some days I can’t remember if I should call it a grocery store or a supermarket. Outside of my normal desert climate, rainbows fascinate me. I take my kids outside in the rain. I listen more than I talk about politics. Temperatures below 79 F (…26 C) make me shiver. I don’t think in terms of America first but in terms of America in the global picture.
Someday, I imagine, we will live in America again someday. I hope we will. When we do move back, I will intentionally make it our home.
This will not happen by default just by getting an address here. I think that home is where you intentionally put down roots and find how to thrive.
I think sometimes we can try to make somewhere our home and we can put down roots and do everything we can to try to make it home, but then we find we cannot thrive. That was not intended to be your home. You must grieve and move on, knowing that we cannot always make a home, even with the best of intentions.
Home is where…
There are challenges to figuring out what home means to each of us.
There certainly are hard days and great sadness when nowhere feels like home for a season. I’ve walked through those days in different seasons.
Sometimes the glass has seemed half-empty and sometimes it has seemed half-full. And when the Lord reminds me of the people I love and the unique privilege of being able to invest deeply wherever I physically am located, my glass overflows.
Four years ago we left Egypt to come to America for a 6-month furlough. We said goodbye to friends in Egypt, made lists of things we needed to buy in America, put our commitments and our life in Egypt on hold until we would come back. We cleaned out the fridge and the pantry, we donated clothes to our church’s collection, we made plans of what we would do when we returned.
Finally, the morning of our departure dawned. I still remember very clearly walking up the steps to the airplane out on the tarmac. I looked at the early morning sky.
The carry-on bag on my shoulder was incredibly full, but my heart was fuller still. Full of emotion about leaving the place I had made a home, full of excitement about what was coming over the next few months, full of gratitude to be able to love two places so thoroughly.
And I was humbled by the opportunity to live this two-home life.
Sarah serves in Egypt with her husband and four children. You can catch her blog here.
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