To the Displaced and the Exiled

Old city quote

To the Displaced and the Exile

I get it.

You sit in a crowd of people and you feel your mouth go dry, the bite you just took from your scone chokes your throat. How can you be this lonely in a crowd of people? How is it possible that your passport country feels so alien?

You were excited to return, there were many things you were sick of in your adopted country. You were tired of the dirt. You had had enough of the chaos. You had to boil water one time too many and you had forgotten to soak the vegetables in iodine solution resulting in a visiting guest getting dysentery.

Your household help, who you love, was complaining and asking for more money and you simultaneously felt angry and guilty. You have so much. She has so little. But it’s not that simple.

And you were feeling so alien in your other world. The last few weeks have been chaotic and hot. So many people to see, so many projects to finish, children to prepare, suitcases to pack. You read an article on burn out and knew that was you. You could hardly wait to go to a coffee shop and order coffee in your own language, not tripping over verbs and adjectives.

But as you look around , you let out a soul-deep sigh. You pictured all this so differently. You thought it would be so good, such a rest, such a time of peace.

But you had barely arrived when you realized that life had gone on in this, your passport country. You call your best friend. She squeals with delight and then says “I’m so sorry. Can’t talk now! Heading to a work party. Gotta get the kids ready for the baby sitter. And next week we’re swamped! Kids are getting ready for camp, we’ve got church stuff. Can’t wait to catch up”.

Oh.

And your siblings. Oh. Your. Siblings. You so want to be able to sit down with them, to share life. But two of your brother’s have wives that are not speaking to each other and the idea of a fun family dinner is just that – an idea.

So there you sit. All of this going through your mind. And you feel one hot tear trickle down your face. You brush it away impatiently. But there’s another. How can you escape and just let all the preceding weeks and the now fill up your tear ducts and fall freely, a red sniffley nose and all?

You are displaced. You feel you are in exile.

You’ve no home to go to. You’re not fully at home there, but neither are you here.

You make it to the car and sit. It’s begun to rain and the rain blocks the windows, sending streams of water down and hiding you from the world. It has been a long time since you’ve seen rain. Your tears fall like the heavy raindrops. You sob like you will never stop.

There is no one to hold you. There is no one to offer tangible, concrete comfort.

Slowly the sobs swallow you up. You begin to feel such relief, the relief that comes only from a cry so deep you can’t explain it.

And somehow you know that God is there. The God you cried to for weeks before making the move, late at night when all were sleeping so as to upset no one.The God who was with you when you held your 2-year-old in a steamy bathroom, far from good medical care, praying that the croup would go. The God who was with you when you first arrived on the soil of another country, looking out-of-place and oh so tired. The God who you prayed to when you went off the road in a car accident in the middle of nowhere and suddenly help was available.

The God of the Displaced and the Exiled is with you. Here and Now.

You recall the verse given to you by an older woman, one who knew what this nomadic life would hold – knew the good and knew the hard. You breathe. Slowly.

You say the verse aloud, your voice raspy,knowing you are at the end of your human strength. “Blessed are those whose strength is in you; whose hearts are set on pilgrimage. As they pass through the Valley of Baka, they make it a place of springs; the autumn rains also cover it with pools. They go from strength to strength, until each appears before God in Zion.*”

Softly you repeat the words “Strength to strength” and you start the car.

*Psalm 84:5-7

This article appears in the Goodbye section of Between Worlds: Essays on Culture and Belonging

17 thoughts on “To the Displaced and the Exiled

  1. Marilyn, thanks for expressing the feelings so honestly. When you wrote this in July, we were in transition again, finding a new home in Michigan after 11 months of transition, in two houses, after 9 years in China. – I’m a TCK from US and Kenya, and the process was eerily similar to my childhood repatriation when people would say, “You must be so glad to be home.” And you smile crookedly bc. you are neither glad nor home.- The July process included staying with strangers, dog sitting, staying with family while helping parents move, house sitting a farm and a week of trailer camping. And settling into our new home began the process all over. I have been trusting that all of this chaos is God’s purifying plan, his preparation for greater capacity in me and my family. And i find myself pleading that this is so, that our experiences will be used to bless and encourage others. I appreciate the way you use your experience to share, affirm and comfort others in the process.
    -From strength to strength- Even that linguistic construct reminds me of Paul writing to the Corinthians that as we look to Christ we will be transformed, ‘from glory to glory’. Thanks for sharing the journey.

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    1. Your words actually comforted me today – Particularly these ones “I have been trusting that all of this chaos is God’s purifying plan, his preparation for greater capacity in me and my family. And i find myself pleading that this is so, that our experiences will be used to bless and encourage others” Underlying and saving these words — they have been mine so much. God – let this not go to waste. God – show me how this can be used. I sometimes whisper it, other times scream it but always think it. So the thanks is all mine – I feel like when readers like you come by we share in this journey that is hard to explain. Comments like this only make my feeble attempts at explanation far better and clearer. Blessings and strength to you today.

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  2. Thank you. I spent 6 weeks in the US this summer after our first year in a developing country, and I was shocked at how uncomfortable it was… how different from what I expected. Thank you for reminding me I’m not alone :)

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  3. So know what you are talking about. I have been there done that, decided to return ‘home’ to a country which will never give us a passport yet we have more friends here , can find our way around and feel more at home that back home.
    Always need that reminder that God is there. Its not that I stop thinking about Him ever or feeling His presence yet sometimes life can get you so down that you need to hear that from somewhere near of far, or even from over the oceans and continents separating you from that voice, whose message has reached you when you wanted it most “God is there”! and you realise that it was His Hand that gently prodded you into clicking on the post and receiving the message.

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    1. I love this Pari! Love it. Love your description on the Hand of God gently guiding us, even when it comes to reading posts from amateur bloggers! So glad his hand led you to me.

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  4. Wow! Exactly how I felt after 8 years in Europe, sitting in the parking lot of a mall in suburban Atlanta, Georgia with a touch of agoraphobia (it was so big and there were so many people!!) and feeling like I’d landed on another planet. That hit me like a sledgehammer…..no one told me I’d have culture shock in my own country! Wow…this brings back memories & feelings and tears!

    Great post, Marilyn! Thanks!

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    1. yes! You feel like you’re on Mars and everyone else is on Earth. So glad you read it, and while I’m sorry to bring on tears, sometimes they are so cathartic!

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  5. Oh, Marilyn, this brings so many memories – the time Stan had croup and we took him into bed with us and listened to his croaky breathing all that cold night; when I nearly rolled the Landrover down into the valley, and we found out later that only a single strand of barbed wire (and angels!) kept us, you and me, from almost certain death; the malaria, the dysentery, the pinworms, the head lice! And Almighty God, our Heavenly Father was there giving His strength. I could go on and on – and I need to start writing my next book! Thank you, and blessings on your day!

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    1. I just wrote about our car accident in my book manuscript! I would love to hear your pieces! So many memories. I’d love to hear more of the thoughts that went through your head as you were on furlough as well.

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