Buying In

by Laura on April 14, 2011

Every ninety days, we have to prove it, and every 365 we have to pay for it. We have to photocopy stacks of paperwork and hand over stacks of cash.  We have to assemble reports and meet with accountants and hope-like-mad for that stamp in five passports that says we can stay legally in the country.  And all of this, all of this, is because,

we don’t belong here.

Not really, not naturally.  SE Asia is not our home country.  We weren’t born into citizenship here, and, thus, we have to pay for work permits and apply for visas to cross borders–

every year, every three months, every time we want to get on a plane to visit another country.

And it’s a common facet of expat-living {that probably in some countries is a much harder process than in others}, but here’s a little snapshot of our four hours at the immigration office last week:

And, between paper-rock-scissors and bathroom-trips-from-boredom, Matt and I were reminded of the reality of not belonging, knee-dip as we were in keeping kids occupied sans the dvd player I so brilliantly left in the car. We talked about what not belonging inevitably produces. . .

When you know you don’t belong, or even when you think you might not, it can lead to

tension, insecurity, fake-smiles, and pit-of-stomach-anxiety.

When you know there is a chance that you might get kicked out of the in, it can produce

stern words to children who won’t sit quietly, and the necessary playing of a game— with far-reaching personal consequences.

And, I wonder, if our hoop-jumping at the immigration office this last week is reminiscent of other places we all may, or may not, feel like we belong–

a Church, a Crowd, a Family, a Faith, a Social-Club of People-Everyone-Thinks-Are-Really-Cool, the Girls-Invited.

And when we have doubt that we could actually be– fully, completely and irrevocably in— we start naturally fake-smiling and playing games, battling stress headaches and insecure wall-flowering.  We start clawing to prove we belong– by talking-big or raising our hand first or volunteering for that when we so don’t have the time or not doing whatever the in list says not to. And, eventually, we become exhausted.

But, tired as we may become, we generally keep trying to prove it anyway–

The drive to belong is a strong one in our human experience, I believe.


And so, we gathered our disheveled, talked-too-loudly and complained-too-much children.  We nodded politely to the official rattling off a language too fast for us to understand, and we tucked our newly-stamped passports into Matt’s backpack.  We climbed into the hot car and headed to lunch, to celebrate– with American food.

A stamp and a report and five hundred dollars bought us belonging for another year.

But, as I drove away and the immigration office shrunk smaller and smaller in the rear view, I breathed thanks for the belongings I’m fortunate enough not to have to buy–

family and childhood friends and my national citizenship,

relationships that have stood through fires

and being called His,

to name a few–

to name a-plenty, really.

{And, really, how awesome is this picture of Kelty?  Seriously, that girl is, like,  funny.}

Where do you feel a sense of belonging the most? Have any embarrassing adolescent stories of trying to fit in too hard?

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  • idelette

    Love your post …

    I remember expat living all too well … I remember trips to Hong Kong and Manila just to have my passport stamped and get a new visa. I remember very well not belonging.

    I also remember immigrating to a country where I had to apply to belong. I also know what it feels like to be from a country where I lost my belonging.

    I am thankful for citizenship of a heavenly place, the hunger for our home that is not yet. I am thankful for these experiences that help me appreciate my citizenship, birthright and belonging here very deeply.

    Thank you for the reminder.

    • Laura

      Idelette- yes, totally, I relate to resting in spiritual belonging– which lasts much longer, anyway.

      Sounds like you have tasted this reality from a host of different angles, friend!

      Thanks for visiting here– love your words, as always.

  • Tamara

    Great post, once again!
    I have and do struggle with the belonging . . . wish it weren’t so at 54!
    However, the TRUTH of belonging to the Family of Christ encourages me! Scripture (no, I couldn’t find the exact verses!) tells us that we should not feel like we belong – have citizenship – in this world. Our true citizenship is with Him.
    But here’s the rub: we do live here for now.
    The most powerful sense of belonging comes when I am actively in the Word. Secondly, when I am in active service to the Lord.
    Yes, embarrassing story of adolescence: stuffing my bra to “belong” to the group who already had breasts and so were somehow “better”! Bwaahaha!

  • Ang

    So fun to find your blog. My husband in 3 kids were missionaries in Thailand for almost a year, and I miss it so much. We hope to get back there someday. We did spend lots of time at immigration offices…don’t miss that so much. Thanks for all of your encouraging posts!

    • Laura

      Thanks, Ang– where do ya’ll live now? What were ya’ll doing here? So cool that we probably went to lots of the same places!!! Glad we “found” each other.

  • Laura

    Oh, yes– loved all your thoughts, Tamara– and totally giggled at the stuff of the bra! I remember doing that at home one day and not being able to get that smooth, natural look– ha ha.

    I also remember always clamoring to sit at the cool girls table at lunch in highschool and always sitting on the edge of the table, the very end seat. Always having to lean in and try to be a part of their conversation. It wasn’t until senior year that I finally found my own table and didn’t worry about it . . .

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