Blessed is the one who trusts in the LORD… (Psalm 40:4)

Archive for the ‘Cross-Cultural Experience’ Category

Just the Same but Never the Same

It was only a suitcase – just a case holding 40 pounds of my earthly possessions. I held it there, balanced against my knee, waiting pensively for an opening to get out of the crowd and make my way through those swinging double doors, trying to figure out how to move both of my cases all the way to those doors when I could only lift one at a time. Somehow I had gotten them through customs and into the waiting crowd, but the walk to the door, and through it to my domestic flight, suddenly seemed insurmountable.

He never even knew it – that man who brushed by, bumping into my suitcase, knocking me off balance. He never turned around to say, “Koh toht. I’m sorry. Are you okay?”

Whew! Nothing broken, not even my pride since it was too crowded to fall. Nothing broken indeed – nothing except my heart.

What am I doing here? I don’t belong!” cried my heart.

Focus,” I told it. “There’s work to do.

Unable to catch the attention of a passing luggage cart – all too full to add my cases anyway, unwilling to stand and wait until I missed my connecting flight, off I started on my own. Jaw set, determination in my eyes, moving one case forward a few feet, then reaching back for the other. Like an inchworm, moving forward, pulling together, on I trudged toward those double doors that promised the last leg of my journey home.

Home! Family waiting at the other end of my next flight. How glad I would be to see them again after so long!

Home?” cried my heart. “Home is there, back across the sea, back where others are waiting for me, back where I fit in like a long-lost piece of some vast puzzle – different but somehow finally the same.

How?” cried my heart. “How can this be home – this place where people practically knock you over and move right along, with never so much as a backward glance, a ‘Sia chai,’ a ‘Pardon me’? How can such a place be my home?

I slept then, finally at the gate for that final flight that would take me home to the arms of my loving family.

“Wake up, lady! Your flight’s boarding.”

“Thank you so much!”

I slept then, for days, for weeks. Jet lag … “She worked so hard over there.” … “Is something wrong with her?”

Two years,” I had told myself. “It’s time to go back home. I know that’s what God wants me to do right now. But two years… I’ll pay off my student loans and then I’ll come back. Jobs back home pay well. It won’t take more than two years.


“But what work have you done here in the U.S.?” asked employer after employer.

“I kept financial records for a project with a budget in the hundreds of thousands,” I said.

“But not here,” they replied.

“We’ll call you if we need you,” they lied.

A temporary agency? Receptionist for a crew of land surveyors? Secretary in a law office? What happened to those high-paying jobs I thought were here?

I don’t belong!” cried my heart. I look just the same, yet I’ll never be the same.


“How exciting that you lived in Thailand!” my friend gushed. “Can I see your pictures?”

“Of course,” my heart sang. “Look, this is Suk. She works in our office in Bangkok. She’s so sweet! Once we… Oh, and this is the Mekong River, the view from my bedroom balcony. And this is…”

“Oh, look at the time! So sorry. Got to go! Maybe I’ll look at more another time…”

I don’t belong here!” cried my heart. “Lord, why am I here? My friends are the same, yet never really the same.

God,” cried my heart. “I don’t know if I can take this! My plans are falling apart! It will take forever to pay off these loans at this rate of salary. … Maybe I should just go back. If I work for a development agency, they’ll delay my loan payments again. Maybe I’ll just go back.

And so I tried.

And so I was there – there when they played the film about culture shock, there when I heard that still small voice. “Cheryl, this is not from Me. You’re hurting, I know, but this is not the answer. It’s always harder coming home, but I’ll walk through it with you.

And so I stayed. And so I learned to trust Him more, to become a part again of the puzzle from which I came. Just the same … yet never the same again.


(c) 2014 Cheryl Tarr