I am 5 years old, and the only home I have ever known is in a tiny town in Tennessee. On weekdays, I play with my best friend Jojo at my kindergarten. Every Sunday, my family attends the church in our small town. My favorite store is Fred’s because I can use my allowance — two quarters a week — to buy candy. Once a month, we visit my grandparents in Alabama.
One day, my parents tell my sister, brother and me we’re moving to East Asia. I ask how far of a drive it is, and can Gran and Pop come too? They laugh and tell me, no. East Asia is much too far to drive. My dad describes a country where more people ride bikes than drive cars, and nearly every meal includes rice. My mom tells us that millions of people live in East Asia, and most have never heard about who Jesus is.
Later that night, my dad tells me I should write a goodbye letter to Jojo. That’s when it hits me. I have to leave all the people I love.
I throw myself on my bed, sobbing and kicking my legs. For the first time, but not the last, this thought enters my mind: God loves the millions of people in East Asia more than me. I’m just one person.
I am 10 years old, and I have lived four years as “other.” One of the only foreigners in my city and school, I attract attention wherever I go. My body is lumpy-fat and graceless, not petite and elegant like other girls. My grasp of the local language is passable — for a kindergartner. The difference between basic conversational skills and fluency is the difference between saying, “I have brown hair” and “I really could use a friend right now, and I’m hoping you’d be her.”
My parents tell people that when God calls you to serve Him overseas, He calls your whole family. I disagree. I didn’t choose to move to East Asia. I didn’t want to leave everything I’d ever known in the States.
Yet here we are.
I am 12 and my family uproots again from our small town to a sprawling metropolis. It’s a wild city, packed with people and buildings scraping the skyline. Hundreds of cultures collide, and the busyness invigorates me. This city is alive!
I start attending an international youth group where I sit through boring sermons about God in order to hang out with everyone afterward. Finally, I have friends who speak my language. I don’t discriminate when making friends; guy or girl, young or old, I’ll be nice to all of them.
I am 13 and one of the most popular girls in my co-op and youth group. My body is now sleek and confident. Even though my parents are missionaries, I wouldn’t consider myself one. I could care less about helping them with their ministry efforts.
I am a gossip. I spread exaggerations of the truth like butter. My friends are envious of my boyfriend; he’s a 16-year-old skateboarder who sends me sweet texts every morning.
They don’t know he’s not real.
What makes me lie? I’m not sure. I finally have everything I could want. Friends, popularity, nice clothes, a nice body. But I also have a nagging fear that everyone will see through me.
I am 14, and my new friends have all turned against me. They learned the truth from my former best friend. I stuff my body with snacks and Coca-Colas from the tiny bodega outside my complex. I stuff my mind with episode after episode of TV shows and wish I could be as happy and pretty as the actresses I watch. When I take the subway, I have to make sure not to get too close to the platform, or I may obey the voice saying, “Jump. Jump. JUMP. No one will miss you anyway.”
I stand on the balcony of our apartment on the eighth floor and try not to imagine my body sprawled across the pavement down below.
It is past midnight on a night in January, and I am drowning in hopelessness. I consider ending everything. I don’t want to die. But living is just so hard. Finally, at the depths of brokenness, I call out to God. My tone is half challenge and half doubt.
“God, if You’re really there, and if You really love me, You better show it.”
I grab my Bible off my desk, dust it off and flip to a random chapter.
“The LORD is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer,” the psalmist says. “The cords of death entangled me. … In my distress, I called upon the LORD” (Psalm 18:2-6).
The similarity of this situation to mine pierces my heart. Then I see these words: “And my cry to Him reached His ear.”
My tears soak the page. God hears me. He is here. And He will save me. I begin to read page after page, my sudden thirst for God’s words to me almost unquenchable. For the next six months, I read chapter after chapter until I finish this love letter.
I am 15. For the first time, I see the God my parents loved enough to sacrifice family and the familiar. And I finally see how much God loves me. I had to lose everything to realize He’s all I need. I had to realize I don’t always know what’s best for me.
But God does.
He knew growing up overseas would give me adaptability to change. He knew I would be forced to spend time with Him as friend after friend moved on to other continents. And He knew I would be able to celebrate the differences of others while finding our similarities.
I guess there’s a reason why He’s God and I’m not.
In just a few days, I will be 22. And I thank God for each of the moments that made me the woman I am today.