When Cheese Sandwiches Make You Cry

Posted on: April 28, 2015 Written by
When Cheese Sandwiches Make You Cry
Photography by: juliedeshaies Photo: 8 from iStock          

I wrapped up homeschool and prepared lunch as the kids got things ready to head over to the MAF school to join classes for the afternoon. My daughter asked what was on the lunch menu, and I answered, “Cheese sandwiches, apples, and Pringles.”

She gasped, “With sliced bread, real mayonnaise, and real cheese?” I nodded yes, and the room erupted with whoops and hollers.

I burst into tears.

What for me, as a child, was a mundane, boring lunch, was for my children the equivalent to a trip to Disneyland. Really. On our island, it is rare to have real cheese, good-tasting mayonnaise, sliced bread, and the right flavor of Pringles—all on the same day. It did not matter that the electricity had been off for the last four hours, or that it would be off for another four. They were thrilled and thought a cheese sandwich was the greatest thing, well, since sliced bread.

I looked at their faces, my precious ones, and saw so many things. I am so thankful for these precious souls that are grateful for the little things. But there is something else too.

Pain. Mine, not theirs.

They do not know what they are missing. They do not know most American kids think cheese sandwiches are mundane at best. They do not know their own culture. So my heart breaks. What about all the little things they will never know?

My mind drifted to the story my MK hubby told of returning to the United States on furlough from Brazil and beginning first grade. He had been given a test of pictures of men who were dressed up. He stared at the paper, confused. He had no idea what they were. The teacher collected the papers, laughed, and said incredulously, “You did not answer the questions. Don’t you know this is a fireman, a policeman, and a baker?” He was crushed and embarrassed, and the memory still stings.

So my sobs began again, for that little boy, and for my own.

They call them “Third-Culture Kids” because they will never fully fit into their home culture and will never fully fit into the country where they live. They are an in-between species, a category unto themselves. What have I done to them?

Sure, there are lots of things they get to do and have seen that others never will. My mind searches as I think through all the blessings of their life: jungle treks, ministry trips, exciting places and foods. Nevertheless, what of the struggles they have had to face and are facing: living away from grandparents, being the entertainment and focus wherever they go, waking up every morning to the sound of the mosque, having so few American friends that really understand, and the constant struggle of communicating in another language? The list goes on and on.

My mama heart cries for what they miss.

The glass as half full, some will say. Yes, I know. On a good day, one without physical pain and with electricity, I could say that too. Today, however, I am stripped bare, and all I can do is cling.

Cling desperately to Him.

Life here, my third-culture life, is a constant cycle: stripping of myself, choosing to cling to Him, rinse, and repeat. The fact is, in reality, I have no other choice—and I am thankful.

Some days, choosing to cling means that all I can do is see the cup that is placed before me. Not the one that could have been, not the one I think I want, but the one that is there, right there, that has been lovingly given to me to drink.

My cup.

I see the cup that has been placed before me, and I drink. I cling—and, I will bring praise.

My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.

Psalm 73:25–26

You will keep in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on You, because he trusts in You. Trust in the Lord forever, for the Lord God is an everlasting Rock.

Isaiah 26:3–4

Additional Scripture:
Psalm 103:1; Ephesians 3:20; Psalm 77:13–14; John 15:4; Philippians 4:6

This is my battle song, doing battle with fear and self-pity. Will you join me?

This is my prayer in the desert
When all that’s within me feels dry
This is my prayer in my hunger and need
My God is the God who provides

This is my prayer in the fire
In weakness or trial or pain
There is faith proved of more worth than gold,
So refine me Lord through the flame

I will bring praise
I will bring praise
No weapon formed against me shall remain
I will rejoice
I will declare
God is my victory and He is here

This is my prayer in the battle
When triumph is still on its way
I am a conqueror and co-heir with Christ
So firm on His promise I’ll stand

All of my life
In every season
You are still God
I have reason to sing
I have a reason to worship

This is my prayer in the harvest
When favor and providence flow
I know I’m filled to be emptied again
The seed I’ve received I will sow

from Desert Song, Hillsong United


Questions to consider: What is your cheese-sandwich moment? What is your cup, the one before you?

©2015 Thrive.

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  • Kara

    I was a missionary kid, and I do not feel like I missed anything because of it ( I am now 22, married, a college graduate, and a business professional). My life would not be the same were it not for the time I spent in Guatemala. I learned a whole other language and discovered that I have a knack for it; I am now learning my 4th language. I went to college to study International Business with a focus on issues that affect developing nations. I remember similar enthusiasm when we had Vlassic pickles in the house or even something “mundane” like Kraft Mac & Cheese. You should not feel pain, because you children are appreciative of something that the average American sees as simple. It is a mentality that will serve them well in life. Yeah, there will be some bumps when they go back to the US, “Mom, why are the firetrucks here red instead of green?” but as one of these “third-culture kids” that you talk about, I can tell you that it is worth it. The experience that you are giving your children is one that with shape them, and the world, for years to come…and that is a GOOD thing.

    • Jenny

      Walmart vs. wet market
      MacDonald’s vs. campfire
      Disneyland vs. helicopter trip or canoe trip “home”
      TV vs. stars in the night-sky
      Pre-packaged church programs vs. real-life testimonies
      Too-busy lifestyles vs. hungry hearts
      Non-stop sports vs. seasonal celebrations
      Brand names vs. basic necessities
      Shallowness vs. character
      Luxury vs. suffering
      Waste vs. Value
      Following the herd vs. reflection
      What do I want for my children? The pain that leads to trust, the need that leads to dependence on God, the experiences that lead to appreciating others and seeing them as better than ourselves.
      Every TCK has different challenges, and some are huge. It’s okay to yearn at times for special things that our kids may miss, but often the wealth they gain through their unique lives can hardly be measured.
      I’m thankful for what our family has gained though we’ve be remote, less affluent, and – yes – weird!

  • Anna McShane

    As a mom and now grandmother of TCKs, I understand the tears. I hear the hearts of the women above, but also hear YOUR heart because as “mom” you see both sides. You know the richness your children will inherit, but you also know the pitfalls they will find when they finally return to their “home” culture and feel like aliens. I am reminded of a little Sikh boy who was deskmate to my eldest daughter when she first returned to the USA. He told her quietly, “I will take care of you. These children aren’t bad, but they can be cruel because they don’t understand us who have lived somewhere else.” And take care of her he did, through high school. God’s blessing dressed in a little turban. In all, I am daily reminded that we look for a city whose builder and maker is God – and we will never be “at home” in this world. That alone is worth my thanksgiving, even if it is hard and painful at times.

  • Susan W

    My heart resonated with Joy’s article. And with all of the comments above. I am a TCK. I am raising TCK’s. I’ve seen both sides, more than once actually. And right now I am busy packing like crazy to return to our ‘passport country’ after 8 1/2 years of being away, just over half of my youngest daughter’s life. She is struggling with this move and I can relate having left my ‘home’ of 13 years as a 14 year old returning to a continent I’d only lived on for one year prior to that. There are many joys and sorrows, many pluses and minuses on both sides of the spectrum. Having grown up overseas, though I had a difficult time for several years adjusting to N. America, I wouldn’t trade my childhood experience in Asia for anything. In fact I wished for my children to have a similar experience and worldview. My husband and I have three times now lived and served ‘overseas’ with our family. You’d think this would get easier, but I don’t know that it really does. Each time we plant our hearts and attempt to bloom where the Lord has placed us (wherever in the world that may be), we form attachments; goodbyes are difficult. New changes and challenges face us. We wonder where we may truly feel at home, than realize that our heavenly home will be that spot! 🙂 My greatest ‘cup’ to bear these past eight years was separation from our children at times, mostly the older two, one whom we left behind in college on first leaving for this appointment in Africa, and the other one who had to leave for education with her parents thousands of miles away. Phone calls, emails, and even FaceTime, Facebook, or Skype chat didn’t always meet those needs felt or help the loneliness or depression struggled with. It hasn’t ever been easy; some days were filled with tears on both sides of the globe. But I have to tell you that God is faithful. Our heavenly Father provided friends who filled in as family. He encouraged all of us, and helped us through those difficult times. We aren’t over them yet. There are new challenges ahead as we move yet again. But looking back I see God’s loving hand on our lives, each one of us. We’ve missed many things. And I know we’ll miss many things left here when living on the other side of the planet. But we can walk confidently forward knowing Jesus is walking this road with us. Thank you for sharing and allowing me to shed tears I needed to today, as I look back and look ahead. God bless your families incredibly! I am confident He will!

  • Sarah

    I am a TCK, raising TCKs, now relocated back into our passport culture for 3 years. What struck me while I was reading your article was when you wrote that it was YOUR pain, not theirs. That resonates with me; as a TCK, I did not feel deprived, until I returned to my passport culture for college — then I felt deprived for what I missed from the culture I grew up in. But as a mom on the mission field with my children I felt deprived for them — for playgrounds, for peanut butter, for libraries in English. Now that we are back, we have tried to help them adjust to their passport culture just as we adjusted to the culture on the field. It has helped to see where we live now as another country where the people need to hear about Jesus, and not “home”.

  • Esther

    Great article!!! The responses are real. I am now raising a TCK in her own culture. Thanks for your article and thanks for the responses that all kids do not suffer from the differences. Pray as mom we thrive also. Blessings

  • Janet P

    As a Mom i fully understand. I asked my son after four years in college in the US without us if he felt we had handicapped by our absence from his life,and he responded that he was proud of us. He left for college at a run while our daughter felt that WE left her when she began college.
    Now we have a new grandbaby whom.we feel so far from. I definitely the pain of not being there for them. Leaving them is difficult even if you know that is where you are supposed to be.
    I do agree that that the pain is more ours than our children’s, but some of the re entry is definitely theirs. May God continue to bless them.

  • virginia agosto

    Thank you for your sweet words of comfort. I am 59 and now not just hearing, knowing, and many times singing about a surrendered life but walking in it as I serve alongside my husband here in Uganda. This is my second year learning painful lessons all allowed by our Heavenly Father. I will certainly join you singing the desert song.