Not a stranger

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It’s so easy to feel like a stranger.

I counted, and I’ve lived in 9 different towns in my 28 years. It’s not just the moving, though. I think that “new kid” feeling resonates with all of us, whether you’ve bounced from place to place all your life or still reside in the house your parents brought you home to as a newborn.

There is a vulnerability that comes from being the only one who has ever lived in your own head, the only person who understands the staggering depth of your need to be known and accepted. Some of us go to great lengths to find a way to answer that need and others move mountains trying to deny it.

Halfway through my seventh grade year, my family moved south from the Texas panhandle to a town called Levelland. If I have a hometown, Levelland is probably it. I learned to drive, graduated from high school, and got married–all in this small college town, where you don’t know everyone but you can’t go to “the Walmart” without bumping into someone you do know. I showed up for my first day of school in January 2001, fortunately having survived the perils of Y2K. Decked out in a Fubu shirt, fleece vest, and pants that were entirely too baggy for my thin frame, I walked through the front door of the local Jr. High school, hoping that I looked cool. For weeks I dreamt I was walking down those halls naked, or sometimes in my leotard (only a former gymnast can understand), and it took months, years even, before I felt at all comfortable in my own skin.

The sensation comes back to me now and then. It’s been 15 years, but every once in a while I:

–Walk into a room full of people I don’t know well and wonder where to sit

–Finally find myself one-on-one with another female adult and nearly explode with the longing to pour my heart out, only to be halted by, “What will she think?”

–Realize that walls I didn’t know I’d built are being slowly torn down by the unassuming questions only little girls can ask

–Brace myself for the internal tug of war that comes from being afraid to let anyone–even the people who I know love and accept me–see what’s really going on

–Battle with conflicting emotions anytime I step into a new situation with Olivia: It’s crazy, this combination of motherly pride and insecurity, then unabashed hope together with the fear of pain caused by misplaced words and glances. I often wonder if there is anyone else in the whole world who can identify with the emotional coctail that overwhelms me in the moments when I feel most exposed.

I’m thirteen and scared again, but this time I’m a grown woman, dressed in skinny jeans, an oversized coral sweater, and gray slouch boots.

Why is it so easy to feel like a foreigner?

Living and working at a school that serves international students lends new meaning to the term “foreigner.” At times, I wonder what it feels like to pick up and leave everything you know to move, not across Texas, but across the world. The definition of the word foreigner is literally, “a person not belonging to a particular place or group.” I can’t imagine the sheer terror that would come with landing in a new place, only to find out that everything about you–your appearance, clothing, language, the food you eat–everything stands in stark contrast to those around you. Put those realities into the framework of daily life, and there is definitely a need for a translator.

One of the little girls who lives in our residence is from China. After nearly two years here, the need for translation is slowly disappearing, but the markers of her first months in the United States are still everywhere: labels on the bookcase and other household items, scripture verses printed out in Mandarin, and the Amelia Bedeliaisms that will inevitably escape the mouths of those who must learn the idiosyncrasies of the English language later in life. A few days ago, she responded to her housemate’s declaration that “Africa has two Is” with an endearing, “Come on! Everyone has two eyes!” (Nevermind that Africa, in fact, has only one I.)

It occurs to me that even though I’ve loved Jesus and called myself a Christian for most of my life, I sometimes find myself a foreigner in His kindgdom.

The reason for this has to do with the Biblical paradox that is living in the world but remaining “not of the world (John 17:14-16).” From this passage, I understand that I cannot fulfill any of God’s purpose for my life without living in the world. The essence of Jesus’ teaching is to love God and love people, and this isn’t possible unless I am physically present in the world and fully invested in its people.

Would God have me plucked out of the very context where He chose to put His love on display, the place where Jesus died so that we could live? No! But the distinction is that I must engage with the world without succumbing to the deception propagated by the god of this world–the one who “blinds the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ … (II Corinthians 4:4).

I have seen the light of the gospel and am drenched in its rays; so, I cannot be made a foreigner in God’s kingdom. But so many times I live as if I am a stranger, viewing my circumstances through eyes that have been swindled by the illusion that I do not belong.

To this fallen world at war with God, I no longer belong. But to the kingdom of God coming “on earth as it is in Heaven,” the creation that is “groaning as in pains of childbirth” for its Creator–to that kingdom, I do belong (Matthew 6:10; Romans 8:22).

I just need a Translator.

“… giving thanks unto the Father, who has made us worthy to participate in the inheritance of the saints in light, who has delivered us from the power of darkness, and has translated us into the kingdom of his dear Son, in whom we have redemption through his blood, even the remission of sins …”–Colossians 1:10-14

Jesus is the Way to the Father, the Key to the kingdom of God and the Door too. It is because of Him that I can be part of God’s family, and in Him I have the right to belong. Jesus is the only One who could rescue me from the darkness of the world around me and bring me into the light of His truth. And Jesus gave His Spirit to translate for my heart the wonder of His ways, the culture of His Kingdom, and the ettiquette of His people.

If I feel like a stranger, it is because I have forgotten to Whom I belong.

One of the greatest pictures of our security and acceptance in the love of God is found in John 15 where we see Jesus as the Vine and those who would follow Him as the branches. Here, Jesus tells us to remain in Him. So, there is no need for me to anxiously search for a place to belong, nor do I need to jump through hoops to become part of something.

I am part of something. I already belong. Jesus is the Vine. He is the source and giver of life, and as a branch, I am just an extension and carrier of that life. There is great humility to be found in being a branch and perhaps even greater comfort in realizing that I cannot be a foreigner if the King has made me one of His own limbs.

“Remain in Me.”

“Remain in my love.”

To remain is to abide or to continue to exist.

The stranger thing would be for a branch to leave–to depart, or cease to exist.

But I am not a stranger, I am a branch. There is confidence that comes from knowing that I am not the only one who has ever lived in my own head. Jesus understands the staggering depth of my need to be known and accepted. He has gone to great lengths to answer that need, and I will no longer live in denial of the truth.

I am His own.

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