The Extraordinary Childhood of a Third Culture Kid

Gina Butz culture, kids Leave a Comment


Watching the jungle fly by on a train in Thailand

I grew up on a corner lot with a huge backyard across the street from a giant park. The world was our plush, Kentucky bluegrass playground.

Our kids grew up surrounded by concrete. The nearest decent patch of grass was a solid mile away across a busy street.

One day, when they were littles, I lamented this fact to God. I felt like our kids were missing out on a “normal” childhood by being Third Culture Kids (TCKs). His clear response to me was, “Really, Gina? Your kids have ridden elephants in Thailand and climbed the Great Wall. They have been exposed to cultures and languages most people don’t see in their lifetimes. Is this not good enough?”

He made a strong argument.

Our kids never ate Cheerios or played little league or rode in car seats (yeehaw!). I always feared that their strange upbringing would be a source of distancing from friends here in the States. Instead, it seems to have given them some street cred.

IMG_1471Megan jumpinglarge

jumping in the Andaman Sea off the black sand beaches of Langkawi

Lately, our kids and their friends have shared more stories about this sad, grassless childhood with other kids  school which has led to one girl declaring that she wants to be adopted into our family so she can travel with us (perhaps she doesn’t know she could go on her own?). As the stories come out about exotic places they’ve been and lived, the admiration climbs. It led Ethan’s friend and fellow TCK to say to me one day, “I think I’m realizing I have lived a good life.” Yes, yes you have.

In lamenting the fact that I couldn’t give our children a “normal” childhood, in some ways I missed the fact that we were giving them an extraordinary one. No, they don’t exactly know what to do with a backyard, but they can navigate an airport on their own. They can’t tell you how an American baseball game is played but they have road tripped between countries.

Being a Third Culture Kid comes with its gaps in experience, but the experiences they have are so incredibly rich that I wouldn’t trade them. I’m thankful that our kids spent their formative years in other cultures. More than that, I’m so thankful that they consider it a blessing as well.



You Got That Kid Americanized Yet?

A Different Childhood

When Falling Is Good

Gina Butz faith, family, kids, life lessons 2 Comments

IMG_5915“I don’t want to fall.”
“I did it without falling!”
“I can’t end the day on a fall!”

These are the kinds of phrases that frequently came out of our kids’ mouths last week as we braved the ski hills of Vermont. To them, the goal is not to fall. In fact, a fall in their minds negates anything that came before it. Falling is ruinous.

I confess, that’s often my main objective too. At the very least, I don’t want to fall when small children are deftly skiing past me. Or watching me from the chair lift. So I happily stay on the hills that boast “Slow. Ski Learning Area” signs. No shame.

But when our focus is only on not falling, something happens to us mentally. Fear increases. Enjoyment decreases. We take fewer risks. We stick to the smaller hills. We miss out. Our falls begin to define how we view the day, rather than being blips in an otherwise fun time. They tell us we have failed, rather than informing a better way to ski.

I wish I could say this problem stuck to the ski hills. The reality is I too often take this stance in life. My fear of falling can give me tunnel vision. I don’t want people to look, laugh, judge. I want to do it well every time. I look at the risk and let fear pull me back. I forget that I’m still learning to do life, and that with bigger challenges comes bigger potential for mistakes, failure, stumbling. Most of all, I forget that falling is actually a good sign.

Falling means we’re trying. It means we’re going out of our comfort zones. We’re braving the harder paths, the new places where we’re not sure. Falling is a natural part of learning to do anything – walking, running, biking, skiing, parenting, loving, writing, friendship, life. Falling is good because it is proof that we are living openly.

So where do I need to risk falling today? Where do you?

“Dear, dear Corinthians, I can’t tell you how much I long for you to enter this wide-open, spacious life. We didn’t fence you in. The smallness you feel comes from within you. Your lives aren’t small, but you’re living them in a small way. I’m speaking as plainly as I can and with great affection. Open up your lives. Live openly and expansively!2 Corinthians 6:11, The Message 



Do It Scared

The Soul Needs Comfy Pants

Gina Butz word of the year Leave a Comment

Ethan in hammockI’m sitting in front of a fire at a ski resort in Vermont, wearing a giant scarf, an oversized sweater, two pairs of socks, and my favorite Lucky Brand jeans. They’re my go to pants, the ones I’d wear every day if it were socially acceptable.

It’s these or my yoga pants that I look to for days when I just want to be comfortable. We all need comfy pants – the ones we slip on when we just want to relax, let it all hang out, be ourselves.

Our souls need comfy pants.

Last week I spent time working with a group of five other coaches, all of us involved in a week long intensive leadership coaching program. It was emotional work, rewarding but draining. The best part of it for me was being with people who know the real me and welcome it. In short, my soul was comfortable.

Sometimes it’s people like that, or like our new small group with three other couples. There, we all show up with our doubts and questions and struggles and we wrestle together about issues of faith, and everyone’s ok with whatever is brought. Or it’s the friends who sit down with me and look me in the eye and ask, “How are you?” and really mean it, and my soul breathes a deep sigh.

Or it’s the long walk in the woods with my dog, or the book of quotes I have that remind me who I truly am, or the new playlist on my phone filled with songs that restore me. These are places where my soul finds comfort.

In a world that so often raises the bar too high, then judges us for failing it, we need comfy pants for our souls. We need to be able to relax, breathe, let down our barriers, settle in to who we really are and be received. We need a place to curl up by a fire away from the bitter cold. We need comfort.

Where does your soul find comfort?



The Soul Needs Gentleness

The Soul Needs Space

Rejoicing in New Life

Gina Butz transition 1 Comment


This week I fed our kids brown, free range eggs I bought from a neighbor, the first batch of regular eggs we plan to buy from her. Nothing wildly amazing about that on the surface (except oh sweet mama are they good!) but to me it is a victory. Why? Because it is one more small way I feel like I can see a good future here.

I have never witnessed the aftermath of a major storm, but I imagine that the first focus must be pragmatic – get the electricity running, the houses back together, the cracks filled. Do the things that must be done for life to function. What often cannot be rushed is for it to feel normal again, and for life to return. I’m talking about the animals rebuilding nests and the foliage coming back. It take time for a place to feel life-giving again.

Lately, I feel like I can look around and see the buds appearing. I see places where I can see a future. Our son started a new sport at school that he hopes to do all four years until he graduates. He came home from the first practice and said, “Mom, I finally feel like part of a group again.” And the people rejoiced. I walk into church and I know the majority of the people. How did that happen? The straw bales are in place for our garden and have decided to start growing grass without my permission or encouragement. Hey, at least they can grow something! I’m in a project at work I hope will continue long term. It feels like everything is coming up green.

The best part of losing something is that when you get it again, it tastes sweeter. That’s how this feels. I am doubly thankful because I know what it’s like to have been without. There’s new life all around.


Related posts:

Absence Makes the Heart Grateful 


What Parents Really Need to Hear

Gina Butz family 5 Comments

Erik and I were in a baffling parenting moment recently. We struggle to find activities that all four family members enjoy together. It’s not surprising to us – for the 13 years we lived overseas, we lived in such a tight community with an abundance of like minded people that we were almost never alone as a family. Vacations, meals, you name it – we had company. Now we’re in the states looking at each other thinking, “So now what do we do?” It’s hard to know how to fill the space sometimes.

IMG_7008We were pondering this issue as we drove to have dinner with friends one night. We decided to take advantage of the wisdom of other couples and ask them what they thought we should do about this.

They listened. They asked good questions. They gave a few suggestions. But what they seemed to realize, and we quickly did too, is that what we needed wasn’t a solution. We needed to hear two things: “You are not alone in your struggle,” and “you are doing a good job.”

Google “parenting advice” and you’ll get “about 106,000,000″ hits. Hope you have a lot of time to read every opinion under the sun. Do this. Don’t do that. You can read opinions that vary so widely it will make your head spin. We all want to do it well. Some of us like to think we’ve found the answers, and can be dogmatic or defensive about them, depending on the day. Or we hide in the shadows, afraid to ask our questions, thinking we’re the only ones who just can’t seem to figure this parenting gig out. We forget that our situations and our children and the way we are individually wired means that there are so few methods that universally apply.

But what we can say to one another is this: You are not alone. You are doing a good job. God is on your side. He will help you. Keep trusting Him.

Let’s say that to each other, and I think we’ll all find it’s true.


Related posts:

Promises to My Children

It’s Worth It

The Soul Needs Gentleness

Gina Butz faith, life lessons, personal Leave a Comment

I have been accused, more than once in my life, of being “too hard on myself.” I will not deny this. However, speaking on behalf of all the people in the world who tend to be hard on themselves, it isn’t helpful. What we generally hear when people say that is, “You’re too hard on yourself. You shouldn’t be too hard on yourself. Stop doing that,” which we will add to the long list of activities we are already should-ing ourselves about.

gentleI know, it’s messed up.

I can be hard on my soul. And while pushing myself might help me accomplish more, it’s not life-giving.

My soul needs gentleness.

This is what God has been whispering to me the last few weeks, “Be gentle with yourself” and I say, “that sound like a great idea, God. What does that look like?”

I think being gentle with my soul looks like grace. It looks like taking a deep breath and enjoying the moment. It looks like letting go of the should’s and ought’s and could have’s. It looks like smiling at the mistakes and moving on. It looks like compassion for ourselves.

This week, for me, it’s looked like seeing the to do list still undone at the end of the day and saying, “It’s ok.” It’s looked like turning around and apologizing for a quick word and forgiving myself in the process. It’s looked like saying, “You’re enough.”

So what could you say that would be helpful to the “too hard” crowd? Maybe the question, “I wonder what it would look like for you to be gentle with yourself right now?” However you say it, do it gently. Our souls need it.

What does gentle look like for you?


related posts:

The Soul Needs Space

The Soul Needs to Be Seen

Seeing the Growth

Gina Butz life lessons, personal, word of the year Leave a Comment

Have you been wondering how my mint plant is doing? I’m sure you have. I’m sure that question occupies much your time.

Well, it does come to my mind often. If you’re new here, you might be thinking, “Are these the rantings of a crazy woman?” No, they are the follow up to this post about keeping our souls well, which were inspired by this plant coming back to life:


Since this time, I have been diligent about keeping this plant (and my soul) well. I have an app that reminds me every few days to make sure this baby is watered and thriving.





This morning, this is what it looks like:


Actually, it’s looked like this for awhile. I’m happy these two stems have grown so much. Their leaves are bigger than they ever were during the Time of Negligence it endured through the summer and fall. I confess, though, when I looked at the earlier photo, I thought, “Wait, where did the rest of the green go? And why only two stems? Why isn’t the pot full?” I want more. I want it faster. Grow faster, plant! Be more impressive!

I feel a lot like my plant these days – I feel like saying, “God, I can do more than this. I could be more significant, more influential.” And He says, “This is enough. Do this much well.” Ok, I say. I will do this well.


But can I tell you? This is coming:


Do you see it? That little green bud in the midst of those dead sticks? There’s more life to be had from this plant. This gives me hope, makes me want to be faithful, makes me want to keep being diligent about doing what it takes to keep this plant (and my soul) well.

“I would have despaired unless I had believed that I would see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.” Psalm 27:13






The Soul Needs to Be Seen

Starve the Ego, Feed the Soul

Stop Telling Me to be Amazing

Gina Butz life lessons, personal 4 Comments

be-amazingI saw a shirt at Old Navy during the holidays that said, “Be Amazing.”

It felt like way too much pressure.

It might have felt that way because I was in the middle of power Christmas shopping that should have been spread out reasonably over 5 days, but had been crammed into one due to sickness. That same sickness forced me to bow out of a speaking engagement and left my house a bit of a disaster (tip: if you keep wearing shoes in the house, you don’t feel all the stuff you haven’t swept off the floors). I was just proud to be upright and not in yoga pants.

It feels like that again today, on day 15 of my husband’s 16 day trip around the world (Lord, have mercy) when I’m just happy that I am awake and communicative without the help of legal stimulants.  We’ve only eaten 2 frozen pizzas and a deli chicken. This I call victory.

It seems everywhere we look, we’re being told we can do it. We can be amazing, and awesome, and over the top sparkling, beautiful, jaw dropping. Ordinary is for suckers. Lazy people. Those who don’t really care, who don’t want their lives to count. I shouldn’t just be surviving while my husband is gone; I should be thriving. 

And true, we have our moments – all of us do. We have shining moments when we reflect the glory of God in exhibiting the beauty He’s created in us. We have red letter days. We do.

But living there? Gosh it’s exhausting. And truthfully, I don’t think it’s what the world needs.

What the world needs is not more amazing. It needs people who are living and loving faithfully, authentically, with hope and perseverance and grace. People who have shining moments and messy moments and are ok with all of them. I think this is what our souls need too – we need the freedom to be who we are.

The world needs people who get up each day and choose to live the ordinary moments with trust that even this is significant. We need people who accept who they are, with all their good and bad, beautiful and messy, all together. People who believe it’s all worth offering, and then offer it.

We are people who were created for great works, but also for ordinary ones. We are meant to have places where we amaze and other places where we can’t. There’s nothing wrong with not being incredible at every moment. It’s called being human.

So please. Stop telling me to be amazing. Tell me just to be me, and I will gladly oblige.


If you like this post, here are similar thoughts I’ve written in the past:

Being Human

Can We Be Both? 

The Soul Needs Space

Gina Butz Uncategorized 2 Comments

IMG_0477I knew a girl in high school who had a fish tank shaped like a giant bubble gum machine. It had the added feature of bubbles which rose from the bottom. She was not in the habit of cleaning the tank, so over time the water got murkier and murkier. As it did, her fish started to do an amazing trick – it could do flips! This entertained her until the water became so dark she couldn’t see him, so she unplugged the tank in order to clean it. When she did, the fish floated to the surface. He hadn’t been doing tricks – his dead body had been hitting air bubbles.

Sometimes my soul feels like that fish.

In my quest to keep my soul well, I have become aware of the days when I surround my soul in activity and noise. I do too much, and when I take a moment to rest, I gravitate toward a screen – Facebook, TV, something to occupy me. Sometimes I do the screens while I’m doing other things (multi-tasking at its best! worst!). For a time, it’s ok. I can keep swimming. But if I live too often like that, the constant movement will drown my soul.

Our souls need space. Space in the form of silence, solitude, rest. Space to breathe and stretch and feel.

I know why I avoid it. Sometimes I don’t want to hear what my soul is saying. Sometimes it feels empty. Sometimes it feels dissatisfied, lonely, confused, lost. But like I said in my last post, the soul needs to be seen. How can I show my soul to others if I can’t even see it myself? The water is just too murky.

I have some habits I am trying to hold to in my soul keeping endeavor. Less television. Shutting down the computer. Quiet walks with no phone, no music, just me and the pup. Sitting when I could be doing. It’s hard to not move toward the distractions, to just sit in the space, but I’m finding it’s good.

Wide open space. It’s what my soul needs.

Does your soul have space? 


The Soul Needs to Be Seen

Gina Butz emotions, faith, word of the year 4 Comments

He saw my soul.

One comment was all it took, “And underneath, I can hear the emotion.” It was an astute observation from a teammate, summarizing what I had shared with our team about my experiences in 2014. He’s a tender hearted guy, this one, and he always manages to look underneath the surface. I teared up in response (I tear up at car commercials and national cheerleading competitions and – oh, you name it, I get verklempt) and my emotions kept bubbling to the surface as we went around the room and others shared how they had heard me. Just when I thought maybe I had pulled it together I would leak again.

I confess, it’s unnerving, being seen like that. I felt exposed. Undone. But the tears were happy ones. They were “you see me” tears.megan2

It’s a powerful thing, for a soul to be seen.

Our souls, I believe, are the truest parts of us, and they long to be seen. We want people to know who we really are, but so often we hide behind masks and false selves that we feel are more acceptable to the world. We aren’t invited to share from the deeper, truer places in ourselves.  There’s no space. No time. But sometimes the soul makes itself known, and if we’re fortunate the person who witnesses it says, “I see who you are, and I welcome it.” And our souls are blessed.

I don’t feel like that as often as I need. In the busyness of being a mama, it’s easy to miss those places where I could be seen by others. It takes intentionality of time and vulnerability – hard to find in carpool pass offs and hallway greetings and church meet and greets. This time with the team reminded me how important it is for me to seek out time with the dear people in my life who see, hear, understand, know, and love me.

I am also reminded of my favorite name for God, found in Genesis 16, when Hagar has been sent away from Sarai and Abram. God meets her there in her sadness and pain, and blesses her. “So she called the name of the Lord who spoke to her, “You are a God of seeing,” for she said, “Truly here I have seen him who looks after me.” Therefore the well was called Beer-lahai-roi (which means “well of the Living One who sees me”). He is El Roi, the God who sees our souls.

It does our souls good to be seen – by God and by others. In the absence of the times when I can be with others who see my soul, I can remember that there is always One who does. I want to sit at that well of the Living One who sees me and let my soul be refreshed.

Who sees your soul?