Turning Sorrow Into Dancing: God Can Redeem Your TCK Grief

“It is a bitter-sweet thing, knowing two cultures. Once you leave your birthplace nothing is ever the same.” – Sarah Turnbull

We all have different stories and experiences. But one common thread that unites TCKs is a feeling of belonging, or a lack thereof.

I lived overseas from when I was born until I was eight years old. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve been asked, “Do you miss living there?” This question is hard for me to answer. I feel guilty for saying that I do because it’s been a while since we moved. Because my family has lived in the same place for more than half my life now, I should feel firmly rooted, right? Instead, sometimes I still feel like an outsider because of my upbringing and my love for another culture.

You Can’t Put a Timeline on Grief

When we first moved from overseas to the States, I missed my old life so much. I don’t remember much from that time, but I remember being at my grandparents’ church and weeping during the church service. I wasn’t around my church family, all my friends were an ocean away, and the routines and habits that I was used to were no longer a part of my life.

Everything felt so different. How was I to move on? 

Since that time, I’ve learned more about TCK grief and reconciliation. I definitely went through a period of grief and adjustment. That is totally normal.

Everyone walks through different things and has different stories to tell. You may be older and remember more about your first home than I do. You may have left your birth country when you were young, and you don’t remember much of it but still feel like you don’t fit in. You may still be living in a different country to the one your passport is from. Grief can take many different forms and takes years to heal from.

I remember, years down the road, realizing that I forgot one detail out of one of my memories. That led to several nights of recounting everything that I remembered about my experiences there. I was so afraid to lose those memories. I was afraid to lose my culture and upbringing; I loved it and I never wanted to forget. That was a part of loss for me too. I have felt deep homesickness and pain, but sometimes grief looked more like fear and trying to remember every detail – from the starfruit trees, to the people at our church, to the fiestas we would have. 

Grief looks different for everyone. I’ve since walked through several hard things, experiencing both personal losses and walking with my friends through their grief. Life happens. We can lose people, we can move away from a place we love, we can lose the life we thought we’d have. It’s okay to grieve your losses, however that looks for you and however long it takes. You can’t put a timeline on grief or healing. Realizing that is incredibly freeing.  

Adjusting to the New

Adjustment. Ugh. Sometimes we just don’t like to think about it, but often for the TCK, there are adjustments that have to be made after we move places. You may have to learn a different name for something (I miss red rice and zories). Or maybe you just have to adjust to a different school or church culture. I came from island culture to New England, and while both are mostly American cultures, the influences and attitudes can feel very different.

Whenever there’s any major life change, there are adjustments that have to be made, both emotional and practical as you navigate your situation or surroundings. Some of these changes may be easier than others. Give yourself grace. Give yourself the kindness you’d extend to others in this situation. Give yourself time to grieve the changes. And don’t be embarrassed to ask for help or guidance from friends.

But … Where do I Belong?

“You will never be completely at home again, because part of your heart always will be elsewhere. That is the price you pay for the richness of loving and knowing people in more than one place.” – Miriam Adeney

Here’s the thing. You may never feel right at home in just one place or in just one culture. Several weeks ago, I was in a class and my youth pastor asked us to name some things from our culture. He was trying to make us think about all the messages and ideas surrounding us every day, but all I could think of was, Which culture? Do you mean my childhood culture or this culture, where I’ve lived now for eight years?

It was hard seeing the others answer so confidently, while I felt like I didn’t know quite where I belonged. And you know what? That is normal for TCKs. It’s hard to come to terms with this sometimes, but truly, we are Third Culture Kids. We’re a mix of cultures.

Our home is not bound to a place here on earth. I know that may sound very cliché to you. But it’s the truth. And whether or not we feel “at home,” we know our God is bigger than the boundaries of countries or our feelings, and He is always with us. No matter what, we have Him to guide us and comfort us. We can be at home with Him.

When you pass through the waters,
    I will be with you; 
and when you pass through the rivers,
   they will not sweep over you.
When you walk through the fire,
    you will not be burned;
    the flames will not set you ablaze.
Isaiah 43:2 NIV

God Meant it for Good

Throughout all the struggles that I have faced because of my family’s move, God has been with me. Although I don’t know if I will ever fully heal from the grief, I know that it’s possible and that God has worked mightily in my life through trials and change. I know He can work in your life too.

One of the ways that living overseas shaped me is that I am able to relate to people who are in a time of transition themselves, either through a move or because they are experiencing a change in their normal routines. From my upbringing as a TCK, I’m able to bring a unique perspective and understanding into my relationships and daily life.

You have amazing insights to offer as a TCK. God has a purpose for you and for the events in your life. Everything is a part of God’s divine plan. Often, the struggles we go through help us to become more aware of other people’s difficulties. Our experiences – whether positive or negative – can help us reach out to them in a loving and supportive way. This could include missionaries, people from a culture you’re familiar with, or that girl at youth group who looks sad.

From Scripture, we see that nothing happens that is outside of God’s divine sovereignty. And He is an amazing redeemer. He can redeem the grief of your past as a TCK. He can turn our sorrows into dancing, our tears into a melody of praise. He can use the cultures, the joyous experiences and the pain in your life, weaving them into a beautiful tapestry. A masterpiece of worship to Him.


Reference:
Turnbull, Sarah. 2004. Almost French: Love and a New Life in Paris. Avery.

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