I didn’t know that the fairy tale would be so hard. After all, my dreams had come true – I had finally found my prince, a man who loved the Lord and loved me. The courtship and engagement whirled past in a rush of plans and excitement. I knew I’d have to quit my job and leave America to join him in his native Britain where he was studying to become a minister, but I figured, how hard would that be?
Turns out, harder than I could have guessed. After the flight and drive from Heathrow, with me recovering from the flattening case of flu I caught while on honeymoon, we made it to our tiny student accommodation in Cambridge (called “The White House,” no less). I excitedly unpacked my bulky desktop computer, wanting to connect with people back in the States (this was before the ubiquity of smartphones or even wireless internet). But after I pressed the power button, I heard a whoosh. In an instant, my Macintosh died, the victim of different power supplies and me not switching a button at the back between 110 and 220 voltage. I collapsed into floods of tears.
Losing my computer started me off on a tough transition into my life in the UK. I was with the man I loved, living in a charming part of England with the boats floating down the River Cam, evensong at King’s College under the famous fan-vaulting ceiling, and a daily market with the fruit-and-veg sellers calling me “love.” But I felt rocked at the center of my being.
Although I knew I was God’s beloved daughter, I still wondered who I was now that I was this “Mrs. Pye.” And although I had pondered previously about my calling in life, having just left my work with the eminent thinker Os Guinness, who had written a seminal book on the subject (The Call), yet I was without work and feeling anchorless, without purpose. I wandered around the streets of Cambridge, not wanting to speak to anyone lest they knew I was different.
Somewhat prone to drama, I felt at my lowest point like I had lost everything – family, friends, work, confidence, and good plumbing (the power shower in the White House was the best I have ever encountered in the UK, although I didn’t know it at the time). My confidence took an almighty knock as I reeked of self-consciousness as a transplanted American. I felt my ways were being questioned by those around me, or that I was fitting their image of a Yank. Who was I? I knew I was made and loved by God, but how I lived out that identity in this new country I wasn’t so sure.
It took years to overcome the pain of walking alongside myself, as I observed my words, accent, and actions from the point of view of my new countrypeople. At first I didn’t realize I was living this split existence, but slowly I saw the error of my ways and sought God’s help to turn from this habitual practice. Living in the present – indeed, “practicing God’s presence” in Brother Lawrence’s memorable phrase – helps me to remember who I am and Who lives in me. It helps me shed a dual approach to life.
I found myself in Britain. And yes, I mean that in both senses of the word – like the beginning of Dante Alighieri’s Divine Comedy, “I found myself within a forest dark…” And also in finding who I am; landing on my identity in Christ. For in losing ourselves, we can find our true selves. My years in England – rapidly approaching 20 – have revealed to me the truth that we’re all strangers in a foreign land, longing for our true home. We’re pilgrims on this journey of life, and often we face roadblocks and yearnings and pain and separation. But we also experience joy and hope, and we can do so even in the midst of the challenges we face.
We don’t have to be a foreigner in a strange land to live without living; to pick apart our experiences and conversations; to feel unaccepted or not at home. We all long for love, and we all yearn for community and being known and understood. And this is what I have found in these isles.
Finding myself in Britain has surprised me, for this experience shows me how God’s foundational love sets me up to love His people and His world: How He helps me look outside of myself to others as I seek to share His love. How to serve, making a cup of tea for my son when I’d rather stare at my device or fetching a set of church keys when I’d value a few more minutes in bed. How to love as I am loved.
Over the years I’ve journeyed from seeing myself as a stranger to a friend as I’ve found myself in Britain, realizing that my stance of being a foreigner was rooted in fear, not love. When I started to peel back the layers of self-consciousness, breaking through the barriers of accent, class, or preconceptions, I began to see these so-called foreign people instead as individuals with hearts that love, hands that serve, and words that affirm. People to love; people to love me. Instead of taking a defensive stance, anticipating rejection, I can lower the dividing walls and welcome a conversation. I can hope to move past stereotypes and expectations to understanding and communion.
Such as what happened one day on a train from Coventry to London. Many times on such a journey I prefer to keep to myself, introverted preferences winning out over breaking social convention and chatting with my neighbor. I had been in Coventry speaking on the adventures of prayer, and the day had been a special one of us sensing God’s presence and love. Maybe I was buoyed up by how He had revealed Himself to us in the sessions.
I couldn’t help but overhear the young woman next to me on her mobile phone as we approached London. She was going to Marylebone but didn’t know how to pronounce it, nervousness radiating from her.
When she hung up, I said, “It’s Marylebone; is that where you’re going?”
Surprised that I would initiate a conversation, she said, “Oh, is that how you pronounce it?”
We chatted, and I reassured her about where she was heading and how to get there on the Tube from Euston Station, where our train was terminating. I don’t remember how the conversation became so deep so quickly, but she shared that her mother had died recently, and although she had tried to reach her through a séance, she had also gone to a church, seeking peace. I tried to gently warn her against the stuff of the occult, and she said that actually she had been thoroughly creeped out by the experience. We chatted about church and God, and amazingly, her name was Amy, so I said that was mine was too and did she know the meaning was “beloved?” I said I would pray for her, certainly remembering her name.
After bidding her farewell, I marveled at the encounter and the depth of our sharing. I prayed as I traveled home on the Tube for this Amy, that she would find comfort and meaning through the true and living God.
Ultimately, finding myself in Britain has been a journey of finding home. The home we make on earth that hearkens to the Home we long for in heaven. And supremely, the Master Homemaker, who formed us and loves us, and in Whom we find meaning, joy, rest, and peace. With Him we are at home – in whatever country we reside.