All the things you never noticed about yourself, about how you function and what you prefer and how you understand the world, all those things that you never have to look in the eye, well they pretty much stand up and punch you in the face when you step off the plane.
Falling on the tarmac of the runway.
Well, it's not quite that soon. That's just every time you come home from going home, continually confused flying back and forth from who you were and who you're turning into. Planes between worlds, connected by the internet, nothing making any sense.
Nope, the first time your identity crisis slaps you about is when you've been in the new country for a few months or so. When your subconscious - sluggish as it tends to be - finally grasps that you're
That what you thought of as home is a box of memories, punctuated by awkward skype conversations with people you can't touch. And if you try to, you look mental. That home has passed, gone, you committed to a new life in a place that is drowning you and you
You can pop back, and Lord knows we have, for operations and weddings and holidays and awareness raising and thankfully the reasons don't go away, so the journeys don't stop and there's always a future visit to look to. But it's not going home. When you're here you call there 'home' but also vice versa, seeing loved one's faces cringe a little when you call some far off location where they don't live 'home'. Calling everywhere home because nowhere is. Not sure where you belong and so you don't belong anywhere. Lost.
And suddenly you are aware that you're not, really, in England anymore. Ever.
You're in Ukraine.
But, your tiny brain rails, you are English! Not Ukrainian! YOU DON'T FIT HERE. EVERYTHING IS WRONG.
So you obsess, constantly, without meaning to, without trying to, while trying not to, on the differences, on the wrongness, on how you don't fit. But because you are up yourself, this gets projected onto the new home - you obsess over how actually they don't fit. Everyone else is wrong.
Everyone else is unfriendly. Or rude. Or judgemental. Or ignorant.
Ridiculous, stupid xenophobic reactions but these ideas have stamina and they will gather traction and they will hold you in their grip, trapped by hurt masking itself as superiority.
When we went home for Clare's wedding last month we chatted to our taxi driver about how he found the move from Pakistan to England. He was angry with England, he said 'everyone here pretends to be family orientated but they're not, they don't care about you'.
It was like an echo of my thoughts, but dumped on the country I've been longing for, my England. And he was so certain.
Like I've been so certain. Of so many opinions.
Horrible opinions, about how different people are here, navigating life through massive generalizations, and it is terrifying to be so certain about things that are so wrong.
Moved here, got scared and confused because it all feels so different and because I don't have England as a home anymore. So I let my brain go all defensive and accusatory. Found flaws in an entire culture. Idolised my own.
Took nationality as an identity - when you realise your national identity is different, you burrow deeper into 'I am British'. And your days, hours and minutes are spent noticing how British you are compared to the Ukrainians around you. Laminating badges in your mind and pinning them to everybody. Labels. Nationalism. Culture.
And you don't notice the cage you've built around yourself til you try to grow, but you can't because you built the cage too small. So all the fruit, all the beauty that could come from this missionary life is choked to death - never stood a chance - because you're in a tiny box with no room to grow. So you just get tangled and bitter and you say absurd things and wish ridiculous things. And the cage says ENGLISH on the door that you never open.
When you could have been turning into something gorgeous. When God has been holding you, meeting you, providing for you, gloriously and enthusiastically present this whole time but you never looked up cos you were fiddling with the dirt on the bottom of the cage. New branches all stuck in the bars.
But he's bigger than my silliness. And he can teach me, on a bus journey to Zhmerinka orphanage, through my headphones and the kindness of my team who let me sit in the back savouring the toddler-less peace that is a minivan drive through the frost, headphones in and ignoring everyone. He can grab me. I gave him that permission with every worship song I tried to mean, with every prayer week and Bible verse and journal entry. We go way back. So that cage, that nationalism? Like dust, mate. He's got me and he's not going to let me be lied to indefinitely.
He can gently, quietly remind me of who I actually am.
I'm not British.
Sorry, family and friends and your majesty the Queen, but I'm not yours.
I'm also not Ukrainian. Sorry, orphans. I know, what a loss.
I'm in Him.
He's in me.
It's called the cross, it's called looking at God come to die, God's blood on the dirt, His body in the dirt. His tomb empty. His hands, scarred so you can see through the holes, still healing women and children and men bewildered by their own powerlessness. Still overflowing His Spirit all over this world of us, in so many levels of denial but still needing that healing and it's called saying YES.
It's called walking after Him, with Him, carried by Him.
It's called the last ten years of painting with Him,
dancing with Him,
listening to Him at 3am,
writing awful poetry for Him,
wrestling with the HOW COULD YOU and WHY DON'T YOU and
falling in love with the world he is making,
being a mini Jesus
being a Christian.
Not British. My friends here on the team aren't Ukrainian, or American, or Russian or whatevs.
They are Jesus'.
It's bigger than anything, this is the truth that the enemy was desperately jumping up and down in front of, trying to stop me from seeing. No! Look! They eat weird jelly! What a terrible country! You will never have friends here! You are too different! You should abandon the orphans! They're so ungrateful!
And behind him, bigger than him, bigger like the sun is bigger than my hands, stands Jesus. My Jesus.
He doesn't have to say a lot.
And I know I can be here. I can live here and I can be ridiculously happy. I can grow. We can all be here, this bunch of nut bags, this motley crew (not cru) of sons and daughters. Together, the same, loving the children who haven't ever been loved, loving each other with cookies and can-I-pray-for-you and let-me-babysit-for-you and let's go for lunch after church. And the grace of a community that have seen me sulking in my cage and instead of slapping me out of it, have stood and waited, have trusted me with their ministries and dreams and tasks. We're all the same, we're family, and nationalism is just this stupid Babel babble that makes wars.
We're His. I'm His.
And maybe when I grow up I can be a tree.