Identity Crisis

“So what’s it like moving to another country?!” I get that question a lot…

Well, it’s sort of like you’re standing with a friend having a casual conversation, then all of a sudden the carpet gets ripped out from under your feet while your hands are tied behind your back. At least it was for me.

At the same time, though, it was the most exhilarating, wild, faith-filled adventure of my life. Everything in me that was craving something new, something exciting and adventurous, something so different from a typical life, was exploding with curiosity and eager anticipation for what was to come. I got a thrill from selling all of my things and felt this reckless abandonment and freedom from it—like that feeling you get from the free fall amusement park ride that takes you hundreds of feet up and drops you on the count of 2 instead of 3.

I remember landing in Mexico with my hubby and a few suitcases. We were riding in a car with people we barely knew, but that we would eventually come to know and do life with more than anyone else. We drove down the windy mountain road towards our new home, almost numb and not really knowing what to expect. When we arrived in Puerto, where I would be spending the next few years of my life, I still couldn’t wrap my brain around it. It was evening now, and the unfamiliar city had been cloaked in darkness, which made it even more mysterious. Daniel and I walked into our new home for the first time, which was bare and quiet—empty rooms with walls that echoed distance dog barks and voices of an unfamiliar language. I remember thinking, “Ok, this is it.”

The next morning, I woke up to the most incredible sunrise bursting over the mountains and through my window!

I was in a new country, a new town, a new house, with all new people and new community. I was learning a new language and I was starting my first adult job after college. As we explored our new home, everything was new and exciting, worthy of being pointed out and documented on my phone or in my journal. I was filled with constant awe by the breathtaking beaches and the beauty of Mexican culture! There was always a celebration and dancing, music and food. (Our neighbors really know how to party).

And as the days became weeks and the weeks became months of taking in so much newness, I felt sort of like I was standing frozen on a moving sidewalk while life was zooming and buzzing all around me… like I was on autopilot or had become a mindless robot.

I had become so apathetic in my love and feeble in my attempt at relationships. I hid in new situations and pulled away when I felt uncomfortable, like a hermit crab retreating into its shell.

I came to realize that the root of all of this was my own insecurities that were being brought to the surface by the unfamiliar. I had become so reserved and nervous. I became another person and felt like I had lost a lot of who I was… or who I thought I was. I see now how my identity was tied so tightly to so many things; in what people knew of me, in my hobbies and passions, in my status or title, in silly things like ultimate Frisbee or my dog, Nala, in hammocking in parks, or drinking coffee because those things were familiar and known. And I had stepped completely away from all of those things into the unknown. I thought, “If I’m not these things, then what am I? Who am I?”

I had placed my identity in things that categorized my life instead of the one who gave me life. My confidence came in being known by others instead of resting in the One who has known me with infinite depth and intimacy that can’t be found elsewhere. When my confidence is in Christ alone, then I can walk in freedom with others—to be myself, to love unconditionally, to serve selflessly, to think outwardly.

I have been shown an extravagant love and fiercely pursued without reservation or hesitance. This is where I find my identity. This is where I’m flat on my face asking, “Who am I?” to the One who knit me together and placed within me each desire and gift, and who knows each fault and failure. He’s the one who has called me to this place where my foundation is shaken in order to lean solely into the person and work of Jesus Christ.

So, friend, ask Him. Ask Him to rip the carpet from under your feet that you may lay at his feet and have the question answered, “Who am I?”

Kristen McDonald, GEM missionary