I think I’ve always felt a little alien. I mean actually like a little alien. I wonder if everyone feels like that or if it is just particularly me.
When I was a child, my family experienced a terrible tragedy. From the age of 5, I knew that truly terrible things – irrevocable things – can happen. So when people jollied me along about not taking everything so much to heart or about not worrying so much “because it’ll probably never happen!”, for me it already had.
So I grew up a rather sober little girl. Which is ironic because grief made me ditch my shy self (she would have been totally lost) and pull out every bit of extroversion I could find. I danced faster, laughed louder, tried harder to save everyone’s world. But inside, I was sober. Looking out and recognising what was what, and what was not.
Then when I was 21, I stared death straight in the face. And I felt I knew that death had won. Except he hadn’t and here I still am. But that experience really changes you. It takes you into a different room of existence. You’ve been let in on a giant secret. It can all change. Super quick. Just like that. And there’s nothing you can do about any of it.
So while everyone else at University chatted in the coffee bar about which party they should start with at the weekend and who they fancied snogging, I laughed and danced and tried. But inside I was thinking, “Any minute now. Any minute now this could all completely change.” And it alienates you from the lightheartedness of those who don’t know that room of existence. Who don’t know that truth.
Then when I was 26, I moved across the world. Now I actually was alien. I was British in America. You would think these two countries are basically the same, but they are so totally totally not.
I liked the bigness of America. I liked that no one could pigeonhole me any longer. Which school I’d been to, who I knew. America is just one great big smorgasbord of choice. Every background, every race, every religion. It was brilliant. But being foreign – as in not being from there – is an alienating experience.
Over 24 years, I grew into tremendously close, rich community. And yet I never lost that sense of foreignness. I never quite – in my own mind – “fit in.” Which had nothing to do with my friends, but everything to do with me.
In my marriage, I felt alien. How bizarre is that?? That sense of not being on the same page. Of not quite seeing things the same way, and rationalising that reality away. Until finally it splits you apart like a peach stone, and you have to face what you had hoped against/denied all along.
And now I’m back where I’m from. Britain. And wouldn’t you know, I feel alien here too. I’m neither fish nor fowl any more. I’m not British any longer, and I’m not American either. I’m not married yet I’m not single, I’m a mother. I’m independent, yet I’m living under my parents roof.
I’ve joined a new church which is thrumming with life. And today someone I know from my old life in America visited the service and completely cut me dead. Couldn’t wait to get away. This hurt more than I expected. “Bloody hell,” I thought, “I don’t even fit in here.”
I’ve been trying too hard to connect here. To fit in. To make this monumental move back across the world with two children make some kind of sense. “Well, if I get involved with this then…” “Ohh, I get it, God wants me to…”
But the truth is, I really don’t have a bloody clue why I’m here or what I’m meant to do. I can see I had to move. I can see provision and favour in us finding housing and schooling here. I can see blessing in landing in such a vibrant and active church.
But what now?
I do recognise something really useful about feeling alien. It means that I’m always ready to move. I have never fully “settled” anywhere. And in that, perhaps, is God’s redemptive purpose for my life.
Because of my experiences, I know I’m just passing through. I know that those things most precious to you, you can’t hold onto. You must just love them while you can. I know that everything you have can be taken away from you, and you’ll still make it. God will still be there. I know that as sharp and twisted as the road may be, God’s the road and I can’t fall off.
So that old friend who ignored me today, really did me a huge favour. He made me realise that perhaps it’s a gift to feel like an alien. It’s a gift not to feel too cosy, or feel like you “completely belong.” Because surely then I would resist all change. I would think “Hallelujah, at last I’ve arrived!” And there would be nothing else I felt called to do.
Instead, throughout my life, God has kept me moving. God has kept me looking. God has kept me seeking. And every every time, He has done it so that I find Him. I run straight into Him. Because I’m not sufficient, and He so totally totally is.
So – actually – hallelujah for feeling like an alien life form. I am an alien and stranger on this earth. And I do yearn for a better country.
A country I can call my own.