I Am a Triangle

Posted on: March 18, 2014 Written by
I Am a Triangle
    Photography by: Elisabetta Foco @ http://unsplash.com/      

The following is a simple parable and yet, at the same time, it is quite enlightening. When a shorter version was originally shared at a debriefing through Mission Training International (MTI), I thought it to be very profound. As global women, I believe you will also connect with it.



If Circle Sally gets on a plane and flies to Square Country to live, she will land in the midst of Square people. All of these Squares function entirely, according to their Square Culture. Just like the Circle Culture influences all Circles, so the Square Culture influences all Squares, beginning at birth.

These two cultures are vastly different from one another. Simply stated, one is a Circle Culture and the other is a Square Culture. In one, all the people are yellow. In the other, all the people are blue.

While Circle Sally lives in the midst of Square people, some things will inevitably rub off on her. Sally may come to value and admire some of the practices and attitudes of the Squares and, to a certain degree, she will adapt to the ways of Square Culture. Circle Sally may experience a certain level of comfort living in Square Country, but Sally will not ever quite absorb the Square Culture. As much as Circle Sally may eventually feel like she fits in, she will never truly belong. Sally will never truly be a Square. She is, after all, a Circle.

However, by living within Square Country and while surrounded and influenced by Squares, Circle Sally will also lose a bit of being a Circle. It happens subtly and over a period of time, as Sally embraces some of Square Culture. It is very imperceptible, but in her heart, Sally realizes more and more that she is not as yellow and circle-shaped as she used to be.

Now no longer 100% a Circle, and certainly not a Square, Sally will live life in the “in-between.” It will be as if she has, instead, transformed into a Triangle person. Sally has undergone a metamorphosis, deep down inside. Her shape and her color have evolved into a different shape and color. Sally has the tints of her two life experiences and cultural norms—yellow and blue—but they have now merged and become green.

She is different. Without knowing it, Sally slowly and unconsciously changed by living in that different country, Square Country. By being surrounded by different kinds of people with a different culture—Square Culture—she slowly realizes she has a mixture of the two cultural distinctions. Sally has shared many life experiences with Squares. She has created a history within Square Country.

This awareness of having changed is not a bad thing. It actually seems very natural and okay to Sally. She welcomes it. After all, she was sent to Square Country by God, and His desire is that she love Square people.

Now if Sally—a newly-developed Triangle—gets on another plane and returns to her original Circle Country, she boards the plane as a Triangle.

Once arriving back in Circle Country, she is vaguely aware that she does not quite fit in any more. The vast majority of Circles have never lived outside of Circle Country. Sally realizes and accepts that it is not their fault; Circle people simply have no point of reference to relate to their friend, Sally, who was off living far away. They are also likely confused about this seeming transformation in Sally.

Sally realizes she will remain a Triangle, even when she is home in Circle Country. She begins to realize that she will always be a little bit of Circle and a little bit of Square. Sally will never quite fit in like she used to in her own country and in her own culture.

Before she left Circle Country it was so comfortable and easy, interacting with other Circles. Nothing seemed to require any effort. Back then, it was all she knew. Now, because Sally is different, things are awkward. She sometimes finds it to be hard to be a Triangle.

Sally was not expecting this. It is, however, inevitable—it is simply the nature of the beast. Now Sally is somewhere in the middle, not fully a Circle and not a Square either. Sally lives and exists in the “in-between.”

She realizes and comes to accept that she is—and will always be—a Triangle, living in-between two countries, two cultures, and two shapes of people.


When I am in Square Country, during field-stays, I am a Triangle.

When I am in Circle Country, for home-stays or to permanently repatriate, I am also a Triangle.

No matter where I am, I will always feel like I am different than those around me. I will always feel like there is some sort of dis-connect. It is what it is, and it is okay. I have accepted it. In fact, I feel I am better for it.


©2014 Thrive.


Question to consider:  As a global woman, have you also become a Triangle?

About the author

When God called me to Kenya, he revealed a simple assignment: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ He then connected me to a handful of single parents and their children, orphans, and refugees in urban slums and rural villages. I have come alongside these friends in long-lasting, one-on-one relationships since 2001. We share meals, we laugh and we cry together, we go on picnics. Sometimes it includes a financial hand-up and other times it includes balloons and a birthday cake. I am currently learning how to better do cross-cultural ministry through a balanced lifestyle that includes contemplative practices.

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  • Deb

    The missionary debriefing where I first heard the illustration was put on by MTI – Mission Training International.

  • And then there are our TCKs, who were born Triangles and don’t ever remember being a Circle (because they never were). Nor do they remember when they began being impacted by Squares (because they’ve always been).

    • Deb

      You are quite correct, Melody. In fact, my daughter included the issue of TCK’s in her blog post on the same subject:

      “Interestingly enough, there is a fourth shape that enters this discussion. If a child (in their developmental years such as our two youngest were), follows his or her parents from Circle Country to Square Society, he or she will become – not a Triangle Tenant, like the adult parent, but a Star. They will be a Star with multiple points of reference when considering where they are from, what they believe in, what foods they like, and how they see the world.
      They will always be Stars.”

      • Angela

        This was very helpful! In fact, after reading your comment about Stars, I realized I am a Star — with multiple points of reference. I can adapt and relate to people in many different settings/cultures but I don’t fit completely into any of them. Sometimes that can make me feel lonely and disconnected, but mostly I try to see this as a strength.

        • Deb

          Angela, I’m glad you found the illustration helpful! I also see my being a ‘triangle’ as a strength.

      • Susan W

        As I read your article I was thinking the same thing Melody mentioned above. When I was just one year old my parents moved away from our ‘circle’ country and stayed away for 13 years. As a TCK who has lived in several different countries and is serving in yet another one, I love the star illustration. It helps in understanding my own children who have all become at least triangles on their way to becoming stars too (our eldest, a 25 year old son, has already traveled and worked in differing locales). I only wish I had been more aware of concepts such as these when I returned to my ‘circle’ country as a teenager and struggled with ‘reverse culture shock’, and later as a young adult wondered why I always felt ‘different’ from most everyone I knew in the ‘circle’ country. I found myself quite adaptable anywhere, yet also realized most people didn’t really understand where I was coming from. Many lonely moments have occurred along the way, but as you and others have mentioned, I feel I am richer with this world perspective I’ve gained throughout my life. Thank you for sharing this valuable word picture for folks like us.

        • Deb

          Susan, I’m glad you found the illustration valuable! I totally agree with this comment of yours – “I found myself quite adaptable anywhere, yet also realized most people didn’t really understand where I was coming from.” And, like you, I also feel richer with my new-found world perspective after 12+ years in Kenya.

  • Liz

    What of those of us us who never get to stay long enough in one place to become a new color/shape? Are we then more like the TCK stars or some other odd shape?

    I like best:
    “No matter where I am, I will always feel like I am different than those around me. I will always feel like there is some sort of dis-connect. It is what it is, and it is okay. I have accepted it. In fact, I feel I am better for it.”
    Doesn’t matter what color – shape – mix we are, this must be true to live full and free.

    • Deb

      Liz, I’m not sure what shape or color you would be 🙂 But I dare to say, it would be an attractive one. What I liked best in your response was this – “Doesn’t matter what color – shape – mix we are, this must be true to live full and free.” Indeed!

  • Linda

    Great article. It helped me call to mind some of the principles in Lingenfelter’s great book Teaching Cross-Culturally: An Incarnational Model for Learning and Teaching. I love that we are changed and that we can come to welcome change.

    • Deb

      Linda, I also love that I “have been changed and have come to welcome that change”, as you stated so well.

      I only know of Lingenfelter’s book ‘Ministering Cross-Culturally: An Incarnational Model for Personal Relationships’. Lots of good stuff in it. I’ll have to look for this other one of his.

  • Christian

    I greatly appreciate this article. For the last 6 years I have known where God intends to take me abroad; having to wait has been heart-wrenching at times. I’ve had the opportunity to minister to the people that have my heart; and though I’ve not yet had the opportunity to spend an extended period of time in the place I know I will very soon inhabit, this article is extremely relevant. It’s amazing to see how even just a number of months out of your life can so drastically change your person. As stated, not having been able to leave for my place just yet; I can’t pretend to be anywhere close to a triangle.

    But I would wager that I’m something between that still isn’t quite either. No longer belonging to your home nor belonging to any place you may go. It’s beautiful really and quite extraordinary. I have the pleasure of looking ahead to a time when I know that this article will be exactly my own feeling. Both the hardships and the joys of it. We don’t belong to these cultures anyway really do we? We do belong to the one of the Father, and that one can connect us all.

    Thank you for the post!

    • Deb

      Christian, you have a unique perspective since you haven’t yet lived in your ‘triangle country’. I suspect, though, that you are very well on your way to being a fully-fledged triangle!

      I like that you say “it’s beautiful really and quite extraordinary”. That is so true!

      And you are very correct… we are citizens of God’s Kingdom – another culture all together!

  • Lynette Cottam

    This is an excellent article, Deb. Thank you for it. I am very aware after spending 29 years in Papua New Guinea and now having returned to Australia for our re-tyre-ment that I am different from both my country of citizenship and my host country for so many years. It does make me feel awkward at times here in Australia but overall my life is so enriched by the privilege God gave us by placing us in a cross-cultural life. Your parable is a very helpful way to explain it to others. Some “blue squares” do not understand at all.

    • Deb

      Lynette, sorry about your occasional awkwardness. I understand completely. I try my best to give my ‘square’ friends some slack. I think they just don’t have any reference point to relate to ‘triangles’.

      I love this comment of yours: “Overall my life is so enriched by the privilege God gave us by placing us in a cross-cultural life”.

  • Donna M. Brown

    Deb, this article was very timely for me as a missionary mother of two teenagers (who may be irregularly shaped stars?), who are soon to be launched off into their parent’s Circle country to finish high school and begin their college years. Thank you for sharing your thoughts and perspective, as I appreciate all the wisdom and insight I can get to help our son and daughter not only do well in life, but to thrive. From one Triangle to another, many blessings to you in your continued ministry in Kenya!

    • Deb

      Donna, are you aware there’s a lot of material available for TCKs (third-culture kids)? Thanks for your blessings on my ministry 🙂

  • So glad to see your piece featured here, mom! It has been fascinating to watch our children (TCKs) re-adapt to their passport country, even though one of them only had very foggy memories of the United States because of her age when we left. The stars definition does seem to help, and I think that those who continue adding on experiences simply become multi-faceted, and multi-pronged, in a good way!

    • Deb

      Thanks, Naomi!

  • C. Williams

    I was truly surprised to find that when put in a new (to me) culture of circles (similar to my parents’ culture) the thing that defined me most was that I was bi-cultural or multi-cultural. I did not realize how life-changing that had been until I was suddenly in a culture of mono-cultural people! I found that I only “clicked” with a handful of people. I asked myself – what is it about these people that they have in common with each other?? They were a very eclectic, assorted group! I did not immediately realize that the thing they had in common with each other was experience in more than one cultural setting. That was what we had in common and that is what drew us together. We could not understand the one-track understanding of the world that the people around us had. They came across to us as very judgmental and narrow-minded but it was simply because they had never seen things done in a different way from themselves for a right reason! To them, if you were different in outlook or practice, you were suspect – and probably a rebel!! 😀 It was not their fault. It was simply their lack of experience. To me, they were boring. Understanding this definition of “triangle” allows me to allow them to be inexperienced and allow me to be myself without having to choose who is right or wrong or better or worse. It is simply who we are, whether anyone likes it or not! And…it makes finding good friends less painful because mono-cultural people, no matter how “nice” they are – will only follow so far out of their realm of understanding before they get “spooked”. 😀

    • Deb

      C. Williams, I like your various descriptions of circles: mono-culture, one-track understanding, not their fault, lack of experience, boring, etc.

      And I especially love this – “Understanding this definition of ‘triangle’ allows me to allow them to be inexperienced and allow me to be myself without having to choose who is right or wrong or better or worse. It is simply who we are, whether anyone likes it or not!”

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

  • KHick

    As a TCK myself, and now an adult trying to re-adapt to my Circle Country (and now in a different region of my Circle Country which might be more categorized as Oval?) I find one of my biggest struggles to be maintaining compassion for the Circles around me. I am “proud” of being a Triangle/Star and often am so very aware that I am not the same shape as those around me. I find it very tempting to look on the Circles with condescension. Instead of allowing myself to “judge” them as judgmental and narrow-minded or “pity” them for their lack of experience or mono-culturalism, I’ve found I am better able to relate and adapt if I choose compassion.

    • Deb

      Compassion instead of condescension! What a great response… and so Christ-like!

      Thanks for that insight.

  • As a TCK and a returning MK to the field in Europe where I grew up to raise three more TCK/MK’s I can identify totally with this good article. I am not sure what shape or color I am or our sons are, but a like your conclusion: I am better for it. I have spoken to other MK’s (TCK), and asked them if they would trade growing up as an MK, I have gotten vehement and heart-felt “NO’s!” nearly all the time.
    If I can make one editing suggestion? Either retake the picture of the triangle, square, circle, with the colors you used in your article (green, blue, yellow) or have somebody with a really good graphics program color the triangle purple and change the colors in the article. 🙂


    • Kevin Verrone

      Great feedback David! We made the graphic changes 😉

      • Deb

        David, I submitted great illustrations with my article (if I do say so myself). Plus… the shapes and colors all matched the article.

        Kevin, is it possible to use at least one of the illustrations I created? I was originally told they weren’t high enough resolution. Can you check on this and email me?

        • Deb

          Thanks, Kevin, for using my illustrations!

          • David

            Yep, that looks a lot more logical! 🙂

  • Amanda Sewell

    Hi Deb,
    I was wondering if it possible to use this article or parts of this article in our personal newsletter we send to our support base. It is very helpful to explain what our family experiences.
    Thanks so much for sharing.

    • Deb

      Amanda, I think it’s fine for you to share it. Just be sure to credit MTI (Mission Training International).

  • Rachel Tan

    For everyone who relates to this article there’s a great facebook group started by the author’s daughter here: https://www.facebook.com/groups/IAmATriangle/ You should check it out! 🙂