I noticed it this summer. I was teaching a week long intensive TEFL class to teachers preparing to move to various countries around Asia. I’m sure I’ve been asked it before, but when I’m asked something again and again in a short period of time, I tune in to the question below the question.

I faced the same question during my trip to China.

Will you ever live abroad again?

China road

It surprised me this summer because there was an accompanying look. The look seemed to say, “Please say yes because if you say yes, it validates my choice to follow this calling.”  The look conveyed the question below the question. “If you are in the U.S. do you think I’ve made a big mistake?”

Instead they asked, “Will you ever live abroad again?”

A life transition known for being fraught with internal danger is to return to your home culture after a significant time outside it. Those in my situation where I only lived in one country and made it my home with deep roots might have different experiences from people who spend only a few years in a country and then move on to another. I enjoyed a stable life and community and calling.

Will you ever live abroad again?

I don’t know how to answer this question.  Three years ago I thought I’d retire in China with the organization I’d been with for years. Having not called that one correctly, why would my answer now be any more accurate :)?

I’m mid-40’s, not late 60’s. I’ve made a major transition only a year ago and then experienced the death of a parent. Will I ever live abroad again? How do I know?! Will the Denver Broncos win the Super Bowl? I don’t know. But I hope so.

Often with the question I don’t sense it’s about me. Instead, there is a hint of fear and value attached to it. If our paths aren’t the same, if I stay “gone” from abroad this threatens those who live overseas. Such pressure exists to be the same. I know it probably does in your categories too. She has how many children?! If the number you have is considered high or low. He won’t work late?  If you buck the norms of your job and leave to be home for dinner with the family.

Same is comforting, different threatening.

If you’re an “abroad” person, you need to stay an abroad person. I’ve broken an unspoken rule and gone rogue.

I didn’t mean to.

And we’re back to one of my small pet peeves. American propensity for dichotomistic thinking. I will give us points for consistency.

Unfortunately I have to take away the points for knowing better, but not doing better. Sorry America. Will you ever live abroad again?  Apparently only two types of people exist: those who live abroad and those who don’t.

What about people who have lived abroad but are now in their home country and later will live abroad again. I know, sounds like a bad riddle. But you get my point. Much of life doesn’t fit into a simple category.

And we will ignore the category of people who live abroad but shouldn’t :).

Will you ever live abroad again? 

I do not know how to answer this question. I’m on a mini soap box advocating for a change in thinking. You know how I get when I get riled up. I’m a bit excitable. Sorry for that. If you’re American, instead of following our dichotomistic heritage and either being this or that kind of person, can we create more choices?

So I answer the question I wish they’d asked. How’s it going leaning into this season of life? 

Ah, now that one I can answer :)!

 

So I ask you, how’s it going leaning into this season of life?

This is day 5 of A Trip In Review Week: what it’s like to revisit your old life.  You can see the full series here. 

 

Amy

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  1. Kristi November 7, 2014 at 6:11 am - Reply

    Well said! This made me think of a quote I once heard, “It’s better to burn out than rust out.” My question is why does it have to be either or? As children of the Living God shouldn’t we be able to live an abundant life without burning out? As His children shouldn’t we desire to be used and useful? If we lean on Him in all the seasons into which we follow Him He will receive glory and we will be enveloped by His GOODNESS.

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      Amy November 10, 2014 at 8:17 am - Reply

      Smiling B-I-G reading this. Such poor thinking in the “rust out or burn out” line — seems to disregard the pattern of work and sabbath, doesn’t it :)?!

  2. Mark Allman November 7, 2014 at 7:14 am - Reply

    Amy,

    It is often interesting to try to figure out the real question behind the question. Our response should be measured if we do. We don’t need to call out their fear and slap them with it. We need to be gracious and try to direct their question to where we think they may need discussion.

    Sometimes with people close to us we get those type of questions. We should ask the ones we love and love us when this happens what it is they fear. I know they will hesitate to tell us if we never share our fears. I have lots of fears Amy. I don’t share them hardly ever. To have people who you are close enough with to be able to share deep seated fears is a blessing.

    How often have you had a friend say “what is it that you fear”. Fears never discussed often remain. Fears dealt with may never raise their head again. People need journey mates as they face their fears. I wonder how much of what we do is so that we can avoid the things we fear. Our lives should not be driven by the things we fear but by the things we love.

    A bit off your course here but what do you think Amy?

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      Amy November 10, 2014 at 8:22 am - Reply

      I’m all for off course! I love the ways words written can lead people in various directions. It’s beautiful and powerful, isn’t it. “Fears never discussed often remain.” Wow. That right there could be a whole book. Even in just the last day, I’ve seen this play out. One of my sisters was visiting someone and it was a distressful visit — as Mom talked with her it was the heart of what you are saying, my sister had a bunch of fears (though on the surface, that’s probably not how she or others would label them, and that’s OK!) but talking with mom helped to dissipate them and bear them and by the end of the conversation the fears seemed smaller and the hope/love greater. Thanks Mark! You often see the question below the question (or the deeper thought below the post :))

  3. LeAnne November 7, 2014 at 7:43 am - Reply

    I’m so glad you taught the course. So very glad that this year’s new teachers had the opportunity to learn from you. Your way of sharing insight coupled with your experience made such a huge impact on our entrance into living in China.

    I’m sure it’s an innocent question, but I’m also sure it’s one that isn’t so easy to answer. Six years ago I never thought I’d be living in China. Then we thought we might be here long term. Now we’re having to contemplate returning home. His plans are always bigger than our plans, so how can we even try to say what our plans ten years from now will be if we’re truly following Him? That was jarbled, but you know? Besides, I think it sounds like you are one of those who actually don’t fit into either “live abroad” or “don’t” category. You work so closely with the abroad scope that I think at least a big toe of yours is always international. It’s flavored so much of you that I think you blow the this or that requirement wide open – and that’s a beautiful thing.

    It’s really too late at night for me to try to be deep, so I’ll just say I love you, think you are amazing and know you will touch the lives of those who cross your path wherever that happens to be.

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      Amy November 10, 2014 at 8:25 am - Reply

      Oh LeAnne, I love you too. Wish we lived closer and could hang out! And as I’ve thought more about this question — I think it really is the look that makes all the difference. And the use of the word “ever” — somehow there is a difference between “Do you ever plan to live abroad” and “Do you think the future may hold a return abroad?” One sounds absolute to my heart and one sounds open to the journey. Also, when asked by someone from my China days and they still live in China — versus someone who doesn’t really know me. Ah, context :). Maybe I’m over thinking this. Ya think? I don’t even have the excuse of it being late at night! Hahaha.

  4. Amy L. November 7, 2014 at 10:19 am - Reply

    Amy, you KNOW this question/issue resonates deep with me as well. I don’t have time to write much now but I thank you for putting it out there (as you do many topics that people hesitate but need to touch on) and being so open, thoughtful and responsive. And I second LeAnne’s final paragraph (except for the “it’s really to late at night” part). ^_^

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      Amy November 10, 2014 at 8:28 am - Reply

      Amy L, happy to hear from you :)! I think this is a question that rings deep for many of us who have left big parts of ourselves scattered round this world :).

  5. linda November 7, 2014 at 10:52 am - Reply

    Often that question implies you are done if you don’t. We are second career and still working from our computers mostly in our US home and are comfortable in saying, don’t think so but you never know (or If God makes that clear). I don’t try to explain, be snarky like asking No, how about you? When do you plan to go?
    Living overseas as a military family in the first career, no one ever ever asked us that!
    Sadly, it implies dome type of failure and as we all know is plain not true!

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      Amy November 10, 2014 at 8:31 am - Reply

      Linda, I think you’re on to something! It’s funny, when it’s someone in the US who has never lived overseas, there seems to be a different look in their eyes (or question below the question). But I don’t get the question that often from folks who have never lived overseas. I mostly get it from people in my China world and I want to smile and say, “Of all people, you know how the spirit can move and you have to go! And how we don’t know when or if the spirit will move.” (I also think there’s more to it, but in such a public forum, I’m not comfortable saying :))

  6. Erin November 7, 2014 at 12:11 pm - Reply

    Most often when I finish reading your blogs, I’m left with a sense of frustration and disappointment.

    Bet you didn’t see those descriptions coming, eh? Allow me to expound.

    These days, I do most email, etc. via my phone like so many others. Most of your blogs stir up reflections within that I wish I could type out essay-style or, preferably, sit down over a kettle of hot water and share the laughter, memories and learning with you in person instead of tapping a tiny a screen with my thumbs.

    In response to today’s entry, here’s my brief summary of, “Will you ever live abroad again?”

    It’s been 11 years since I returned, unmarried, from living overseas in various nations. It’s been 7 since I returned with my spouse and family from living in his home nation for a year. At one point around the time we married, I would have answered without a hesitation, “Yes, as soon as all this immigration process is over!”

    Then again, although for years I’d grown to assume that I’d live my adult life out in an expat location, I would have pointedly told you I would not marry a foreigner because international marriage union just seemed “too big of a gap to bridge.” Ha! Jesus was laughing, I’m quite sure.

    So when I VERY quickly went from being the “abroad gal” in my community, youth and college days to the (within a few months) “married, pregnant, 9-5 job and living back in my childhood rural setting gal”…well, I became very confused about what my place was suppose to be. And mostly I felt guilt. Guilt for having abandoned my humanitarian abroad plans abruptly when I met my husband. Guilt for now having to repay a small student loan that had been awarded as a scholarship based on my continued abroad plans. Guilt for having a husband. Guilt for choosing to have a husband over the “obviously higher road” living abroad unmarried. Guilt for telling my supporters where the Holy Spirit was urging me to go, and for following a different path. And confused each time I had to try to verbalize these thoughts to nonchalant, regular people who now surrounded me and had no connection to my former life.

    And then the hardest part: People stopped asking if I would return abroad.

    Over the years, questions morphed into child-rearing or my husband’s career. And let’s face it, beginning my family stateside instead of abroad stirred up a protective-mother-cub-nationalistic-side in me that I sorta despised. How could I move these children overseas now? And that utter sense of identity loss didn’t just creep in – it burst through the door and locked the former clarity out behind it.

    There’s so much I don’t have figured out about the future. And I never will. Which is a much more humble place to be than where I was 11+ years ago. This state of humble uncertainty may be more pliable clay for the Father to mold than the cookie cutter abroad shape I wanted to head towards.

    Will we ever move overseas as a family unit? After the kids are gone? Will we still adopt now that we have a brood of our own? I’m not sure.

    But I never, never fathomed I’d be living in rural America, with a husband from overseas, and find myself surrounded by middle-class soccer moms.

    6 years ago when we briefly moved to Colorado, we loved it. We were excited about settling into a life there. And then 2 weeks after arriving, my husband got a job offer close to grandparents in the midwest & he felt strongly he should accept. So again, life perspective and priorities changed.

    And I guess, isn’t it ok that priorities change? I mean, after all, what would it say if our priorities and life-course were rigidly the same as when we were in college? If priorities don’t change, it wreaks of an inability to sway with life.

    I find myself regularly in contact with “abroad” in my backyard. I translate into Spanish for the court system just a few blocks away. My children have Spanish, Hindi, Russian, Arabic & Chinese native speakers in their classrooms at public school. I go to private women’s gatherings where the Muslim foreign women from around town can remove their full garb & share foods from their home countries. There is new Chinese market 3 blocks from my home, and I rarely go into a large store without hearing Spanish or Chinese. And I’m proud when I see the multicultural, multilingual, and multi-social-ladder staff of 30 which my husband has compiled – thanks in no small part to our own multicultural family. THIS IS NOT THE SAME RURAL MONO-RACIAL CULTURE I GREW UP WITH A GENERATION AGO – DESPITE BEING THE SAME AREA.

    And as for “wasting” my time abroad? I learned other languages; now I can teach that to my children and others in the community. My skills honed about bridging diversity, social classes and interests for the sake of the Gospel? Well, I find I must reach out past my own “zone” if I ever hope to get close enough to share my hope with those around me.

    When we were contemplating leaving our newfound Colorado 6 years ago, with its diversity, culture, environmental focus & broad perspectives…I inwardly moaned at the thought of raising my children in a restricted rural environment. I liked being surrounded by people who, if not similar to me, were at least open to embracing different viewpoints. It was like a middle ground between living overseas and where I had grown up. Until one evening a cousin challenged my husband & I. He said, “It’s easy to be “different” when everyone around you is also diverse. It’s a much harder road to return to where you came from and BE THAT VOICE that stands out and moves others.”

    We haven’t “settled” by returning from abroad, we’ve stepped up to a challenge that we were previously unequipped to tackle.

    And one final piece of humor: Remember I thought I’d live abroad, but not marry a foreigner? My graduate degree was in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages AND Intercultural Studies. How blind I was. I married a man who didn’t speak English, to raise children that unite two families in different nations, with different languages, faiths, educations and backgrounds. All marriages are tough work, but I believe international marriages take it to a new level of challenges. It has been beautiful in retrospect to see how all those case studies I did BECAME my life, my family. I’m pretty sure my Jesus was chuckling, “Really? Like, do you really not see how I’m preparing you?” Wink, wink.

    So that’s how it’s been going leaning into this season of life. And I’ll keep listening to the Spirit in case he nudges us abroad. In the meantime, I spent last weekend organizing an artisan craft show that raised funds to battle global sex trafficking. I got to educate soccer moms & open their eyes, be resourceful with their money, pray for victims and give a respectable source of income to women at risk overseas. Hmmm…pretty much where my heart was a decade ago.

    So some perspectives are exactly the same now. Just deeper. And closer to my heart now despite the distance in miles.

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      Amy November 10, 2014 at 8:46 am - Reply

      Erin, I cannot thank you enough for taking the time to use all of your fingers in response :)! Just kidding. At least I hope this wasn’t written with thumbs. If so, thank you for giving half of your day to us!

      So many thoughts in response:

      1. First of all, I get the frustration in responding — I read lots of stuff on my phone too and think, “Man, I love to comment” and sometimes I’ll forward it to my email so when i’m on a computer I can respond. But half the time I do that, I end up deleting the email.

      2. Just last Thursday I talked with Carrie after 12 years! So I was thinking of you :)! And how we who look like sisters have scattered far and wide.

      3. You have gotten on one of my soap boxes and now I will join you! One of my great frustrations (and this was even before I moved back to the US) was that “interesting living happens OVER THERE” and “America is too white.” I’ve heard some people say they could never live in Colorado because it is too white. First of all, seriously, is that what makes someone interesting is the color of their skin? And secondly, do you go through life with your eyes closed? Like you said, rural American is no longer the rural American you grew up in. Just last week in an exercise class at the gym I looked around and realized a decent percentage of the class was born outside of the U.S. — we had Poland, West Africa, Russia, and Northern Ireland represented. “Abroad in my backyard.” I love it! I think you embody what we are talking about. Jesus talked about “if they have eyes, let them see.” I am growing more and more convinced that “abroad” is not as much about a location as a mindset. We have all known people who were “abroad” who were not, in fact really that “abroad.” One of the things I have enjoyed experiencing returning to the States is to see how these principles and ways of doing life I thought I’d only use in China, are really now my life. Part of the reason I left China was because i knew I was starting to die on the inside. But I will say I was afraid to leave because China looks more interesting on the surface than America does. OK, I can sense myself getting cranked up, so will stop here and move on to point 4 :)

      4. Ah, yes, cross cultural marriages can be challenging on new levels :). But I love the ways God prepared you and others for them!

      Wish I had a road trip across Kansas. This comment reminds me of how many wonderful people I know and how I wish I could spend time in person with all of you!!! much love to you, Erin, shining in Kansas. Living larger in a small place than you ever imagined. You inspire me.

  7. Erin November 7, 2014 at 12:18 pm - Reply

    Ok. So that should not have been described as “brief” initially.

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      Amy November 10, 2014 at 8:47 am - Reply

      I love that kind of brevity :)!

  8. Bethany November 7, 2014 at 12:29 pm - Reply

    Thank you for all your posts, but especially this one. I moved home recently, quitting an agency I thought I’d be with for life, to get married. Like you, I was 100% sure I’d live abroad until retirement, but came away in my mid-30s. I’ve wrestled the last 10 months with calling and identity and whether I heard wrong and whether the future includes being an “abroad-girl” again, rather than a “home girl.”

    I don’t have many answers yet, but I am astounded at the goodness of God and thankful for people like you who live this messiness out loud. I treasure the gems of truth that gleam in your writing, and I appreciate you.

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      Amy November 10, 2014 at 8:49 am - Reply

      BEthany, I raise my metaphorical glass and clink it with yours. These questions of calling and identity are important and I’m thankful for sojourners like you to ask them with. Clink!

  9. Susan Gaines November 7, 2014 at 10:40 pm - Reply

    What an interesting discussion. I would be the epitome of the person who would innocently ask, “So, do you think you’ll live overseas again?” Completely oblivious that it was a hot topic. I’d never before heard of Dichotomist Thinking, but I’m sure I do it. It took me years to grasp ‘anal retentive’ and the only reason I finally understood what it meant was when I realized I was one. LOL So, why would I even ask the question? Curiosity. I think it takes a pretty adventurous and brave person to live overseas in a different culture or multiple cultures. I think the real question underneath for me is, “Won’t you be bored living here?” What makes me sad is the guilt that accompanies change. I used to feel miffed whenever a pastor would ask the missionaries in the congregation to stand. Why? Because I always considered myself a missionary here in America, where ever I worked, or was involved with other humans. Am I only a half-baked missionary because I live in America? I’ve always been a little uncomfortable with the term “called”. Yes, of course it can and probably does happen but is it necessary in order to honor God with all you are and have, that’s the real calling, isn’t it? One of the reasons I’ve never liked the term “called” is the way it is typically used in American churches (the only kind I know ) and it is when one or more pastors leave one church to go to another for multiple logical reasons that have nothing to do with God dialing their cell phone. They’re unhappy where they’re at, the grass looks greener elsewhere, better pay and lifestyle – any myriad of reasons lie beneath, “Called.” Is it okay for me to change jobs in the secular workplace? Sure! Is it okay for me to move to another home? Sure. Is it okay for me to marry even though I’ve so enjoyed a wonderful single life? Of course. I have learned to tell my stories with this qualifier: This is how God worked in my life regarding this issue. It isn’t prescriptive for how He will work in your life; it is just descriptive of how He has worked in mine. God bless you all so much! It really saddens me to feel your burdens surrounding this issue of how, where, with whom you live, love and serve God. Most warmly and respectfully.

  10. Tom November 11, 2014 at 5:58 am - Reply

    Hi Amy. I wonder if the person who asks that is wondering if it was a mistake to live abroad? “Do you still think it was the right thing? Do you have regrets? Am I doing the right thing? Will I ever recover/make up for lost time/find my purpose after all, etc.?” Keep up the good work.

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