Strangers—In a Foreign Land

“My daughter no is playing the trumpet now.  You buy it, yes?”

The lady, probably in her thirties, peered at me almost imploringly.  I wasn’t going to disappoint her.  During this most hectic of times in our music business, used band instruments are at a premium and we take advantage of every opportunity to purchase those which are in good condition.

The woman’s command of the English language was fragile at best.  I would have to be careful in these negotiations to be sure that I communicated clearly what I was willing to pay for the horn.  But first, I needed some background.

“Your daughter quit band?”

“Yes.  He don’t wants to play music anymore.”  (Throughout our conversation, she referred to her daughter as he repeatedly—not yet grasping the usage of English pronouns completely.)

The disappointment in her voice was unequivocal.  The longer we talked, the more clearly she showed her unhappiness.  

“He don’t wants to make music.  He not have interest in band anymore.”

It is a story we hear again and again.  The attrition rate of students who begin band is very high.  Many don’t want to practice; some struggle with the concept of reading music or manipulating the instrument.  Sports may interfere with their rehearsal schedule.  Any number of reasons could explain why so many students drop out of band.

None of those arguments made any difference to this mother.  She wanted her daughter to be a musician.

It wasn’t going to happen.  She was unhappy.  

No. She was distraught.

I made her a fair offer on the instrument, one she wasn’t likely to turn down.  She didn’t turn it down, but as I took care of the necessary details, a light began to dawn.

She stood, right in the spot I had thought she was begging me to buy the trumpet, and she cried.  I paid her the money and she left, still sniffing.

I’m a little slow on the uptake.  I thought perhaps she was unhappy about the amount she had received for the horn.  I couldn’t understand that.  I gave her more than any other music store would have.  

Then it began to sink in.

She didn’t really want me to buy the trumpet.  

It was the end of her dream for her daughter.  The girl would not be a musician.

Oh, this mom understood it was not selling the horn that was the problem.  She knew the decision was already made.  It was just that the act of taking the payment for the horn meant it was final.

The last nail in the coffin.  

Still sniffing back the tears, she left.  She left me standing there to think about reality and unrealized dreams.  And strangers in a foreign land.

I hope there is no one who thinks I am making fun of this dear lady who speaks with a strange accent and jumbles her words.  I am not.  At all.  

I have nothing but respect for folks who leave the homeland of their parents and attempt to make a better life for themselves and their families in a place completely foreign to them.

But, when I think about foreign places, I can’t help but wonder about why it sometimes feels as if I’m already there.  

You too?

Oh, not in the same way as an immigrant family would.  The physical displacement and learning curve are not what I am thinking of now, but in some ways, it is a lot like it.

I don’t speak the same language as many around me.  I don’t spend time in the activities they do.  When I do, I’m uncomfortable, as if that were something my people wouldn’t (or shouldn’t) do.  

You know—where I’m from.  

My people.

I try to fit in—really, I do.  Funny.  I have always tried.  A square peg in a round hole.  Sometimes the square peg can be forced into the round hole.  I’ve seen it done by numerous children with their play sets.  But, then the square peg is stuck.  It’s not a good place to be.

And, the language!

I’ve seen the looks.  Conversations with folks are going great when I suggest that prayer might help.  Or, I talk about God’s provision.  Or worse, I mention the word sin.  Maybe even heaven or hell.

You would think I have just called my daughter a he.  Or used the wrong conjugation for the verb in the sentence.  No one says a thing, but looks are shot back and forth between others in the conversation.  Eyebrows are lifted and heads shaken.

Do I speak with a foreign accent?  Maybe you do too.

As believers, we have a different heritage, a different lineage, and those will be evident to the natives around us.  It’s a good thing, as uncomfortable as it sounds.  The day will come when we’ll be in our native land.  

The square pegs will come to rest in the square holes, as we were always intended to do.

But now, in this foreign land, we also, as my friend today, live with disappointments and shattered dreams.  Family members make poor choices, electing to follow bad advice and go their own way.  Plans don’t work out the way we want them to.

The Teacher spoke to His followers as He warned them of disappointments to come in this foreign land, reassuring them that they could take heart, because even the foreign land was under His control.

If it was true then, could it be any different in this place in which we find ourselves?  

Maybe it’s time to face reality and let go of those mementos of our broken hopes and expectations.  Will there be tears—and fears?  Sure.  A few.  Maybe a lot.

But, we can’t hoard all those reminders of the past.  We must move on through this place—headed for the place we were meant to be.  The place where there will be no more disappointments.

You and I speak the same language, don’t we?  Maybe we could travel that way together.

It might be just over the next hill.  

Time will tell.



Do you know what a foreign accent is?  It’s a sign of bravery.
(Amy Chua ~ American lawyer/writer)


I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace.  In this world you will have trouble.  But take heart!  I have overcome the world.
(John 16:33 ~ NIV)





© Paul Phillips. He’s Taken Leave. 2015. All Rights Reserved. 


One thought on “Strangers—In a Foreign Land

  1. Hi Paul,
    Very well said. Today, even among Christians, I sometimes feel like a square peg in a round hole. Words we could freely express a few years ago no longer receive the same response. And yet, we must continue to underscore what Scripture clearly teaches.

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