It could very well be the opening line of my memoir. It’s certainly the main theme of my life. Learning this thing called belonging.
I have never really belonged anywhere. Or at least felt like I did. This may be the cruel fate of every third culture kid. You don’t fit in where you lived and you don’t fit in where you’re from. You sort of float in another realm.
I don’t fit into a culture or an ethnicity. I am not white. I am not Asian. I am both and neither. Maybe a small part of everyone feels this way. Or maybe they don’t.
Growing up in America, I remembered the red dust earth of my village in Nepal. I remember playing with the village children rolling an old tattered wheel down the dusty hill hitting it with a stick, trying to make it stand. I remember scooping dahl and rice into my mouth with my fingers, the hot lentils squishing into small handfuls, and taking baths in the giant plastic basin, water warmed by the sun, my mom lathering my hair right there beneath the bluest sky in the shadow of the Himalayas.
But we had to leave Nepal.
Had to come home.
And I never really found the right way to stand when we all gathered in youth group. Never knew where to put my hands or what to say.
So I watched.
And I was blessed with the ability to replicate and reproduce what I saw. I was the best kind of character actress, fully immersed and taking notes.
I learned to giggle at the right things and crease my brows together at the right times and look sufficiently concerned over the grave issues of sin and the wages of death. I learned to scribble notes in the margins of my NIV Youth Study Bible and highlight portions at home so when the pastor called us to turn to a passage my fingers would skim the feathery pages while yellow flashed out like a sign that I was doing it right. I held my bible down low on my lap so others could see that I was one of them. And I learned to pray hard and earnestly for the lost kids of which I was never sure if I might be one and the same.
And I learned to cry, heavy weighty sobs at the altar. So grieved by my sin and sure that God would never find me anything but dirty. Because He knew the truth about me. And God hates sin.
And I must have gotten saved a hundred times that year because I could never be sure if I was really doing it. If God was really there or if I had just learned to imitate those around me.
And those around me always did it better. They had the white blonde American good looks and their daddy’s drove fancy cars and had important jobs and their moms stayed home and baked cookies and made them after school snacks and their clothes had name brand labels sized much too small for me.
I was ever grasping to be smaller, packaged and tidy, so I could fit easily into the life I craved. They made it look so easy.
I fell clumsily into this role of project. My parents weren’t going to church anymore, burnt out and bitter about this homogenized placid American christianity, they pledged love to God but couldn’t find it for the church. But I wasn’t deterred.
I was the perfect candidate for my friend’s good Christian mama. She drove across town every Wednesday night and picked me up in her shiny SUV. And sometimes she’d take us out for ice cream afterwards and she’d always treat me because I never had any money. And I was so grateful. Because here I might be forgiven for being born so wrong, so awkward and empty, so hopeless at faith and manners and eye makeup that complemented my squinty slanted eyes.
And I held on so tight. Until it started to unravel.
“I really don’t think I even want to go.” Beth said.
“I’m not going if you don’t go.”
Our team had won a weekend trip to a water park in Texas for our hard work memorizing scripture, marking down every quiet time we had, always bringing our bibles, gathering and dragging along the most unbelieving friends to our events, and competing in the kind of youth events that leave you wet or covered in marshmallow cream and Cheeto crumbs.
I had never been on a vacation like that. Never stayed in a fancy hotel or traveled to a huge water park. I wanted desperately to go and had worked so hard to win. But I didn’t want to go without my best friend. It wouldn’t be the same and things were tense. Some weeks she said her mom was running late and couldn’t come all the way over to pick me up. One week, she forgot me completely and I sat on my front porch with my bible on my lap, scanning each car that passed until the sun started to set.
And there was the slumber party lock in at the church where she had rolled out her sleeping bag in a corner of the room with some other girls and told me that there wasn’t room for mine. I had locked myself in the bathroom and cried until one of the counselors found me there. She was young, early twenties, her family and Beth’s had been in church together for years, she was good friends with Beth’s older brother. I must have seemed so out-of-place to her since I came alone like some youth group orphan.
I told her how they said I couldn’t be there with them and she assured me that I was being oversensitive and escorted me back to the mix like a naughty child. The girls looked on with wide-eyed innocence when I was marched back and paraded in front of the group as someone who might be feeling a bit sensitive and could everyone just love on me for a bit?
Then she flounced away happy that she had made things right. The girls cooed that they didn’t mean anything by it and I was free to sleep wherever I wanted. Then they turned back to their conversation and I rolled my sleeping bag out on the periphery, squeezed next to a row of chairs and the bottom of the pulpit. They didn’t speak to me all night.
Beth apologized the next morning and said she was just in a mood. And I thought we patched things up. She said she just wasn’t feeling into youth group anymore and the whole trip to Texas just wasn’t her thing. I didn’t go. When the permission slip for the trip got sent home with me, I crumpled it up and threw it away along with my first vacation.
I found out after that she had gone anyway. Without me.
That is when it became them vs. me. The church girls and the mean girls, one and the same. This is the before, and the after is another story altogether. A long journey of years and broken-hearted longing. A trail of tears and a journey of a thousand steps back to the God I never really knew.
Ok, so I didn’t make the link up for the syncroblog because I got sick and couldn’t write with a head full of snot. I took some decongestant and forced this out with 29 minutes to go until the link closed and just missed it. So I’m adding the link back to where the other posts are anyway because it’s good stuff. I am reading Addie’s book When We Were on Fire: A Memoir of Consuming Faith, Tangled Love, and Starting Over
and it is so much of my story and so opposite my story at the same time. I love that. And can I just say, some of the posts linked up with this syncroblog will blow you away with their beauty and depth and profound honesty. So check them out. Just click on the picture below.
This post contains an affiliate link so if you purchase through the link it helps support this blog. Thanks!