My Two Greatest Fears In Moving Abroad (And Why Vulnerability Is Hard For Me)

Vulnerability is not my strong point. I appreciate and admire it in others but me getting vulnerable? Woah – not gonna happen.

I’m an encourager, a support person, a biggest fan. That means I listen to other people and I affirm them. I love telling others I think they can do it, that they’re great and that they matter (at least I try to do this — I’m still learning).  But I don’t like when the tables are turned I have to share and be the one whom attention is given to. And I’m also terrified that if I let people really see me, they won’t like me. That they’ll see that I’m nothing special, kind of boring and there are boatloads of people more worth their time. I don’t pretend to be someone I’m not but I definitely am selective with what parts of me I share. And because I really want to encourage others I don’t mention the areas I’m struggling in or the challenges I’m facing. In my mind it’s just better for the other person if I don’t burden them with my own messiness.

I think to many people this makes me come across as very confident (and in some ways I am) but deep down I’m insecure.

Lately it’s become more and more clear to me that vulnerability is what lies at the heart of relationships. It’s only when we’re vulnerable and share ourselves and our stories that true friendship and community emerges. And that’s what I want: meaningful friendships and community.

So here’s my attempt at vulnerability. I’m sharing my two greatest fears in moving abroad. I planned to write this post at some point but only after I shared about the brighter side of our move to Macedonia. I don’t want to be a downer and I don’t want to give a wrong impression about what life has been like for the four weeks we’ve been here. But right now this is what God has on my heart.

So here goes.

Fear #1: I can’t do it

I think most people feel this way when they start something new and different: they worry that they don’t have what it takes to see things to completion.

Right now I’m terrified I’m not good enough, strong enough or resilient enough to live in the Balkans long-term with young children.

I’ve wanted to live in the Balkans since my first year of university. I’ve been asked many times what’s our ideal country to live in and the answer has always been Bosnia. Both Ryan and I have a heart for the people there and neither of us have a strong desire to live in the States so our plan since before we were married was to move to Bosnia, or at least as close as we could get, and do some form of humanitarian work on a long-term basis.

Now here we are in Macedonia, the region of the world I’ve wanted to live in for almost a decade and my heart almost stops at the thought of being here beyond June. I have come a long way since we first touched ground here (that thought gave me heart attacks the first week) but I am deeply terrified that I just can’t do it.

Macedonia is a  second-world country and it wears on me. I fight to get our stroller off and on the sidewalks and the playground outside our apartment building is neither safe nor clean (though it doesn’t stop the kids from enjoying it). I’ve wanted to move to Western Europe since the day we arrived and that makes me feel selfish and entitled. I’m struggling through these feelings and trying to understand where the line between selfless giving and being a martyr falls. Because right now I feel more like a martyr. (I wholeheartedly recognize that Macedonia is far better off than many countries in the world and the ‘sacrifices’ I make in living here are pretty minor. I know I don’t have what it takes to live in a third-world country and I greatly admire people who do).

Ryan and I have always chosen jobs that provide meaningful experiences over jobs that pay well (okay, we’ve never been offered jobs that pay well but we’ve always pursued the meaningful ones). So we’ve always been on a tight budget and we’ve learned to live with that. But now because Ryan’s volunteering and we’re living off money our friends and family have given us, we’re on a really tight budget, like I don’t think it’s even a rice-and-beans-budget, it’s more of a ramen-budget. I’m not complaining and it could change in the coming months but looking at the funds we have at this very moment and the amount of time we have here, there’s not much wiggle room. We are confident in God’s faithfulness and provision but it’s hard, particularly for me. I want to feed our family highly nutritious meals made with the best ingredients possible. Those ingredients are either unavailable or so expensive we can’t afford them (as in whole wheat flour is $1 per cup so forget about anything like einkorn even being available – on the plus side most of the produce at the market is organic). Every day I struggle as I try to prepare healthy meals on a very slim budget. It’s something I’m getting figured out as I pull out the know-how that got us through three months of no income in Ottawa and adapt it to what’s available here. I’m just on a very steep learning curve with no room for error. If anything’s going to break me here, it’s lack of access to the types of food I want to feed my family.

Living abroad has become part of my identity and I feel it’s the one thing that makes me stand out in a crowd so not knowing if I truly have what it takes to make a good life for my family and I here cuts to the very depth of my being. And even if we did move back to the States neither Ryan nor I know what we would do there. In my darkest moments I feel stuck between a rock and a hard place: pour myself into making this less-than-ideal place home or go ‘home’ and create an entirely new vision for my life from scratch. So I pray that my heart will become more and more like Christ’s and that I will surrender all my ideals, thoughts and desires to him and that I will trust that he is doing good work in me and through me.

Fear #2: Relationships

My fear isn’t that I won’t make friends here; I’ve lived enough places to be confident in my ability to meet people (though it is more challenging here since Ryan has two coworkers, I have none and because we’re in a city people are less likely to reach out to us as they did in our small town in Hungary).

No, my fear is that I won’t have many (if any) meaningful friendships. I’ve lived in four states and four countries in my 29 years, which averages a move every 3.6 years (since getting married we’ve moved every 1.5 years). That doesn’t leave much time for relationships to really develop and right now all of my friendships are long distance. Because of my difficulty with vulnerability it takes me a while for my friendships to take root and usually by that point I’m moving. Again. And while I do try to take advantage of Skype, Facebook and email I struggle to find the time to invest in friendships and, honestly, I find most forms of correspondence exhausting.

I’m so thankful for my friends and family who are willing to put in the effort to stay in touch but I’m seeing old friendships slip through my fingers and I’m not able to replace them with new ones quickly enough. This leaves me feeling isolated much of the time.

I know that eventually we will settle somewhere and I will have the time to take friendships to an intimate level. But for now I feel separate from most of the people I know and love.

If you’re my real-life friend and you’re reading this, thank you. The last thing I would want is to sound like I don’t appreciate the people I have known and loved and left behind. The hardest thing about my transient life is I have met so many amazing people and then just as soon as I’m getting to know them I’m saying goodbye. I wish I could just pick you all up and move you here!

This is the point where my ‘encourager’ voice pipes up and says, ‘Make sure they know everything is fine! Let them know what God is teaching you and how even though it’s hard, you see the beauty in all of it! Don’t be a downer!’

Yes, things are going well. We feel more and more settled all the time and we’re meeting people who might become friends. Ryan’s work is going well, we love our apartment and even with the difficult sidewalks I love not driving a car.

All of us, expect for Edward, are going through culture shock but we know it’s a normal part of moving abroad and it will pass. I’m praying Eleanor’s passes quickly because her response is to be wound tight and she screams. A lot. And that makes me want to scream. A lot. (And Edward has always screamed. A lot). I do attribute much of what I’m struggling with right now to culture shock and that keeps everything in perspective. I didn’t have a honeymoon period here so I dove straight into culture shock but I hope this means I will come out of it more quickly. I am confident we will all adjust well, it just takes time and we haven’t been here long.

Through all this I feel God inviting me to himself, to turn to him for the strength I know I lack and the affirmation I need. I’m slowly turning more to him but not like I should (could you pray that I will?). Often I just look at him, scratch my head and wonder what he plans to accomplish through all this, what it’s supposed to be preparing us for and hoping I’m not screwing things up. I know God has good plans for us (Jeremiah 29:11) but they’re hard to conceptualize right now.

Okay, so maybe that wasn’t actually all that encouraging but I do promise we are doing well. We’re just in process. And that’s okay.

Now comes the point when I need to hit ‘publish’. I’ve not edited this much so my thoughts probably aren’t 100% clear but I feel that for vulnerability’s sake, it’s better this way.

I do hope this encourages you to be vulnerable with those around you. We all want to be known and loved, to know and to love and the only way that happens is when we take the risk and share ourselves with others. It’s scary but I’m being convinced it’s worth it.