AUTHOR: Heather Velvet Johnson
When I first started working at my current job, I would frequently get asked where I am from or the occasional bold statement saying, “You’re not from here.”
I would tell them that I was from Illinois or near Chicago, and they would respond with,
“No, where are you from?”
They didn’t believe that I was a born and raised American.
Even now, though I know almost everyone I serve, I’ll get an occasional visitor who asks me the same question.
They are somewhat satisfied after I tell them that one side of my family is of Scandinavian descent. However, I’m still left puzzled as to why they don’t think I’m American. My best guess was that it had to do with the hat I wear at work (a food service requirement), which gives off a European flare. I’m also in uniform, so I’m not able to show any distinctive style of dress.
I thought this was limited to my work setting until several weeks ago when I was driving to Chattanooga for a weekend class.
I stopped at a gas station and was in the aisle looking for something. It wasn’t yet 7AM, and a man came around the corner, spotted me, and said, “Don’t say anything, but I gotta know. Are you from America?” (He told me afterward that he didn’t want me to say anything because when I talked, he would know whether I had an accent or not.)
I smiled, amused, and told him that I was entirely American. He was slightly disappointed because, apparently, this man took pride in the fact that he could often recognize foreigners from afar. I reassured him that he shouldn’t feel too bad because apparently everyone else also thinks I’m foreign.
I drove away baffled.
Before Mongolia, I never had anyone question whether I was American.
As much as I have felt like I’ve adjusted and transitioned in the past year, apparently, I haven’t on the outside looking in and give off some “I’m new here” signal.
I was used to being a foreigner in a foreign country where I clearly looked different and clearly was different. So it’s bizarre to be seen as a foreigner in my own country.
I’ve been in Atlanta now a year and a few months. I feel settled, but it doesn’t feel like home yet. Truthfully I don’t think there is any place that feels like home anymore.
I don’t feel too sad about it, it just is what it is. I was traveling a lot over the summer, and whenever someone would ask me where I was from, I always hesitated. Yes, I was living in Georgia, but I’m not from Georgia. I’m from Illinois, but that’s not home anymore either. If I threw Mongolia into the mix, it would open up a whole series of questions and confusion.
Not only do I sometimes feel like I’m the new kid on the block, but sometimes it feels like God is the confusing foreigner with strange cultural norms.
I don’t understand Him, and why He does the things He does.
More and more, I realize I’m baffled by how He works. When things are going well or seemingly stable, it’s easy to rest in the mystery. It’s not so easy when things are falling apart in your life. It’s not easy to be baffled then.
Today I went on a drive through north Georgia to meet a friend for a hike, and I decided to listen to one of my favorite artist’s Christmas album. It's mid November, and usually, I wait until after Thanksgiving, and I’m very strict about this self-imposed rule.
But it’s been a week of feeling God’s foreignness, and I needed something with real hope that I could hold onto. I needed the reminder that God, too, was a foreigner when He came down as Emmanuel.
So when I feel like a foreigner, when everything in life seems like a mystery or an unwelcome plot twist, I have Him to cling to. And I have Him, who knows what it feels like to experience life in all its pain, mystery, and foreignness, even when it is bewildering.
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