The most elusive word to most expats is probably the word “home”. I actually put quite a bit of thought into my use of that word. It’s not one I throw around lightly. When you up and move 6,000 miles away from your home, and suddenly every single thing is unfamiliar and difficult, you wonder if you will ever feel “at home” again, and the word takes on a power and meaning all its own.
For several years after we moved to Ukraine I considered Oregon my home. Oregon represented comfort and familiarity and friendship and family. Ukraine represented frustration and difficulty and loneliness and hard hard hard. Ukraine was where we lived, but it was not my home. I never let our kids know that though. Even though Jed and I didn’t feel the feels, we were always super careful how we used the word “home” with our kids. Right away, after moving to Ukraine, we called it our home. We wanted the kids to recognize that we were in Ukraine to stay and we wanted them to start to put down roots there- physically and emotionally. We may have longed for the US and all its familiarities, but we didn’t want our kids to do the same. We didn’t want them pining for their old life. We wanted them to jump into their new life- and we tried our best to do the same. When it was time to visit the US we told the kids just that- that we were going to visit the US. We never referred to those visits as “going home”. In hindsight, I’m really glad we did that because it helped all of us in keeping a perspective of permanency, regardless of our feelings.
Words are powerful, but they are still just words. The heart feels what it will feel, and no matter which words I used, it still took a loooong time for me to feel like Ukraine was my home. For several years I would just about die of excitement when it was time to leave Ukraine and cry allllll the tears when it was time to return to her again. I knew that I knew Ukraine was where we were supposed to be. I had zero doubt of our purpose and calling there, but that didn’t make the reality easier. I was dying of loneliness and life was just so.dang.hard. Yes, there were many beautiful moments, but it still just felt super foreign.
But, sometime over the past couple of years, those feelings changed. I’ll be honest and tell you that this trip is the first one when I really felt sad to leave Ukraine. As much as I was excited to see our family here in the US, I still cried saying goodbye to our boys, our team, our neighbors, our house, and our pets. I felt a sense of loss that life there will go on and we won’t be a part of it for a few weeks. I felt a sadness of leaving my home, my people. And I as sat back and recognized those feelings I felt so much thankfulness and joy. We’ve crossed into a new season, a new reality. My people-pleaser self wanted to immediately feel guilt over that and my “disloyalty” to the US, but I decided not to go there. I think it’s good and right to feel at home in the place where you live. I see this new feeling of belonging as God’s gift and I’m only thankful for it. During these past 7 years, I’ve learned that it’s okay to have your heart on both sides of the ocean. It’s okay to miss my family in the US, while also being content with our family in Ukraine. It’s okay to be excited to visit the US, but also sad to leave Ukraine. As an expat, that tug on my heart that stretches it across the sea will always be my reality. Like I tell our kids when they cry over leaving someone they love, “We are the most blessed, to be loved by so many people all over the world.”