One of the things I’ve observed after being home for six months now is how much more concerned I suddenly feel about my appearance or behavior in just about any given situation. They say that when you move to a new place where no one knows you, you can choose to be whoever you want to be. I think there’s a lot of truth to that statement.

In Scotland and in South Africa, I used my ‘differentness’ or ‘foreignness’ or even my ‘Americanness’ as an excuse to do what I wanted to do and say what I wanted to say. I often asked bold questions or wasn’t afraid to step out and do something different (perhaps even unusual?) because I trusted that for the most part people would chalk my quirks and eccentricities up to me being a foreigner.

Being a foreigner becomes the element of your identity that seems to ground the rest of who you are — why you choose the words you choose when you speak, why the words sound the way they do coming out of your mouth, why you eat the food you eat or behave the way you do — so much of your identity is marked by different.

I suppose after growing up in a small town with lots of other people with similar histories, I relished the opportunity to be unabashedly different. I embraced being different because it seemed to give me a leniency with people — “well it’s okay that she isn’t doing that the way we would normally do it — she’s not from around here.”

At the same time, I found myself to be a bit of a chameleon. In conversations with Scottish people, I began choosing words that were more commonly used in ‘Scottish English’ and I adapted my accent to be better understood. In conversations with Afrikaans-speaking South Africans, I sometimes found myself speaking English in the unique way that native speakers of Afrikaans speak it. And now, back in North Carolina, I feel like I’ve heard about thirty-seven different manners of speech come out of my mouth.


{Edinburgh, 2009: Embracing Scottish culture in my friend Rory’s kilt. Can you believe how tall he is? Or how short I am?}

What was initially a pretty thick southern accent toned down a few notches while I studied Communications for my undergraduate degree. Four years in Scotland toned it down even more, as I began to recognize that I wanted to speak in such a way that people might spend less time thinking about how I’d said something and more time thinking about what I’d said. Being married to a South African certainly changed my attempts at ‘Briticizing’ my American English into some kind of South African-British-American-hybrid speak.

And now, back here, six months on, I am not sure I know what normal speech is for me — it often depends on who I’m talking to. I listen to locals repeat things I say because they are different — and I feel awkward. But as an old friend with a very southern drawl said goodbye and left the treadmill beside mine at the gym this morning, I heard the thickest, southernest tawk to yew late-ur come out of my mouth. I stared at my reflection in the video screen for a moment with a furrowed brow, thinking, what was that?

For six years, I found my identity overseas in being a student, a wife, a mother, a church planter, and perhaps more than anything else, in being a foreigner. And whenever I came home, my identity felt wrapped up in the fact that I was living overseas — I wasn’t ‘a local’ anymore. But now, enjoying the grace to say things differently and do things differently feels like it’s no longer a part of my life, and I regret it. I’m from here, I should know what to do… right?

Last week I went to a ladies’ luncheon at my Mom’s church and sat uncomfortably in my seat for those two hours — perhaps out of a couple hundred women there, I was the only one (besides the team with aprons serving the meal) who was wearing jeans. I almost felt like I could actually feel people feeling sorry for me as I walked up — Shame, she didn’t know she should’ve worn a skirt or a dress to this.

I no longer have my foreign identity to blame when I make a mistake — and I feel kind of naked without it.

As I’ve processed this change — and even a little bit grieved the loss of that identity these last six months, I’ve been reminded that my identity has to be found in Christ. Everything else is secondary to who I am because of who He is. As Paul put it in his letter to the Colossians:

If then, you were raised with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ is, sitting at the right hand of God. Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth. For you died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. {Col. 3:1-3}

The truth is, every earthly identity I ever cart around this earth — being a runner or a mother or a swimmer or a crafter or a baker, even a writer or an ethicist — will no longer matter in heaven. We will all be worshipers of God — His beloved children — when we get there.

I consistently sense myself internally resisting re-assimilation. For all its beauty, my culture — and every other culture — does not lend itself to fully living out the Gospel. Jesus was so incredibly counter-cultural. And His followers — selling their possessions and giving to their brothers as they had need — they were counter-cultural, too. Our culture might try to label that way of living Communist — but what if there are aspects of it we should be living out as the body of Christ — regardless of what our culture says?

How should we handle the foreigners and immigrants among us based on a Biblical worldview?

What about the poor, or people with disabilities?

The challenge, I find, is to continue to look for my life in Christ, so that His example — and not my culture (or ‘the norm’ in my current locale) is what tells me how to live out the Gospel.

Have you ever experienced the need to reject some aspect of your culture in order to embrace the Gospel?