4 Lessons Learned After 1 Year of Life as an American Again

At our neighborhood park enjoying a cool evening @mextures #mextures

Anniversaries are kind of like stepping on the scale and seeing a number that you never thought you would see…for good or bad. In this moment you look back and ask, “How did I get here?”

Yesterday was our one year anniversary of moving back to the States after nearly a decade spent pursuing life and work in Europe. It was one of those moments where I often stopped to soak in how life was different for me now than it was a year ago and reflect on the process to getting here. Here are four lessons I’ve learned about myself over the past year…

1. Anxiety and trust both have passports and are allowed in any country

When we first moved to Barcelona, we experienced a number of things that rocked our boat. I experienced significant anxiety for the first time in my life. The no eating, always nauseous, easily irritated kind of anxiety. I was really hoping that my anxiety would stay within the borders of Spain, but it hasn’t. I didn’t think it had a visa to live with me in the United States, but it snuck past the border patrol. What happened in Barcelona didn’t stay in Barcelona for me emotionally. Even though I’ve changed cultures again, even to a culture of ‘my own’, I am still as susceptible to choosing anxiety over trust here. While that’s clearly disappointing, it is still a gift to have a physical reminder every now and then that I’m not trusting like I could be.

2. Working a lot makes it easy to not think about my life

I haven’t worked a real ‘9-5’ job in my life…as in ever. And even my role now doesn’t lend to me to ‘clocking off.’ My week is fast paced with many decisions to be made, deliverables to be accomplished, meetings to prepare for, and conversations to be had. I’ve noticed that work can be like a drug that takes me to another place where I don’t think about the past or the future of who I am.

3. Never say you ‘won’t do something’ because things change

We drive a minivan and have a double jog stroller that is as big as many European cars. Do I need to elaborate any more on this? Probably not, but I will.

Different places, times, seasons, environments, and cultures have an impact on what ‘tools’ make life easier. When we first moved back we bought a station wagon exactly like my best friend’s in Barcelona. I thought, “This was a huge car in Europe, we won’t need anything bigger than this because Europeans don’t either.” I was wrong. As soon as we added baby #3 and were dropping kids off at school, relying on our car to get us everywhere and not our feet, and saw how much time our kids spent in the car, I realized just how wrong I was. Car seats were installed at angles. Seat belt buckles were covered by other cars seats. Passenger seat was almost all the way forward to make room for a quickly growing kid in the back. The backs of the seats looked like we had removed them and used them as a ramp to help barnyard creatures get out of the back of a truck because our kids had nowhere else to put their feet. So we have to eat a slice or two of humble pie after saying, “We’ll never drive a huge car…much less a minivan!”

In the past year we’ve changed cultures, had a 3rd baby, started a new career, moved into the ‘burbs, re-entered a relational network from the past, had a child start full-time school, and we’ve had to redefine our husband/wife roles because of all of this. We said a lot of ‘We’ll never do ‘xyz’…” before we got here. But you don’t know what you don’t know. And we did a lot of ‘xyz’..and that’s fine with me.

4. Life and people are great all around the world

The list of things that are different between life in the States and Europe goes way beyond minivans and sizes of strollers. But one thing is the same: People are great and my family is amazing.

Even though Americans and Europeans are very different in culture, history, and thought (worldview), both cultures have things that we are gifted to learn from and experience. Once we get past the ‘compare and analyze’ stage of things, we see how beautiful people are in their own right. People around the world are doing the best they can to have a full life given the cultures they are in and the stories they’ve been told. It’s fun to learn to love life from within an array of stories.

I have to go to work now…so this list will stay at 4 with nothing more. A year comes and goes very quickly, but it’s experiences and lessons learned will last a lifetime. I’m grateful for the ways that change has been a crucible and time has been my teacher.


  1. Troy on February 13, 2014 at 4:14 pm

    Good words, Justin. Thank you for giving us this window into your world. Grace upon grace be yours–and joy.

    • Justin on February 13, 2014 at 4:29 pm

      Thanks Troy!

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