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Friday, July 14, 2017

The Feeling Comes Only Once

The feeling came again. That one of being content, knowing that this is where I'm meant to be. Perhaps I'm a little of an idealist but I like to see life through that lens--it makes those moments glaringly beautiful when they happen.

I had another job offer yesterday. Was sitting in the court watching our team play an outside university, cheering on the spikes and clapping for the clever plays, when my phone vibrated. I knew it wasn't a WhatsApp or Line message, since those light up my screen, so curious, I turned on my phone to see. There was a short succinct message from my previous boss. Would you consider ever coming back? Pray about it and let me know. 

Uncharacteristically, I replied right away, asking for more details though I already knew I would be saying no. They were looking for more employees who believed in the organization's mission as they neared an accreditation phase and my name came to mind. I thanked him for the offer but simply said I knew I was where God wanted me to be. And I'm happy here I ended my message with.

In all honesty, I wasn't happy. I felt like the peace that had pervaded my soul in the past year had dissipated in the face of personal challenges and I was questioning my long-term plan to stay. I was struggling with the When I'm here, I want to be there and when I'm there I want to be here dichotomy all TCKs grown up seem to face.

In the first year, life had been a mad whirlwind of activity and adapting, affirming accomplishments as small as refilling my phone balance when it ran out. Then suddenly the mundane kicked in. The world became a whole lot smaller as I realized I didn't have enough money to buy a car and I wasn't brave enough to take taxis or Uber on my own on a regular basis. Grateful for friends who let me borrow their car, yet frustrated that there was a myriad of things happening without me that I couldn't be a part of, I began to resent planting myself in a land where once again I seemed to be isolated in space.

Life moved on without me, it seemed. And then I realized why I was so restless. I needed a challenge. I needed to have some goal to pursue. Ever since I left college, I had pushed myself to continue learning. Every year, I would do something that stretched me, whether I traveled internationally, took a course in disaster training, published an article in Adventist World, volunteered with an organization fighting human trafficking, or enrolled in a graduate degree in chaplaincy. After completing my graduate degree in leadership in two years, while doing full-time work in part-time hours, God sent me on my next adventure.

Now the adventure seems to have settled into the routine. Now I'm facing the difficult, such as finding a dentist and a family physician, thinking about retirement and do I really want to ship all my stuff over here? Am I ready to commit to that long? Or should I scan all my photos and important documents, throw a huge yard sale, and then pack two suitcases and head to Europe as I country-hop for the next 5 years or so? I always wanted to settle down but suddenly somehow facing the reality of really settling seems to be more than I can handle.

My boss wasn't here so the honours of welcoming and celebrating the July birthdays fell to me as my usually Type-A coworker and friend was occupied on her phone. Though not naturally one to enjoy being up front, I went to the front of the room and warmly welcomed everyone, then gave each birthday celebrant a chance to say a few words. As they were speaking, I realized in that moment that the feeling had returned. It was a simple flash, not the deep abiding that I had been missing for some time, but perhaps, like a car whose starter has died and just been recharged, the peace will eventually return to stay.

Later in the day, I stood in Haber Freres, the fruit and vegetable market at the bottom of the hill, picking through the apricots to find a few good ones to buy. In that moment I realized, I'm doing this. I am living life here and I'm succeeding. After my college years, having been raised in Adventist bubbles, I was terrified of doing life on my own so I did the easy thing and, using my legal status as an excuse, stayed home. Granted, I'm still in a bubble but this time there's a whole lot more I'm responsible for since I'm the adult and thousands of miles away from my mom.

Life begins at the end of your comfort zone, said Neale Donald Walsch. It's true. I try to challenge myself to do one thing every day, as far as possible, that pushes against what makes me comfortable, whether it's a household chore I'd rather not do, saying hello to a stranger and starting a conversation with them, or traveling to a country I've never been. Then it's those moments that I remember later as being the ones where I really lived.

So here I am, a young woman in my late 30s, questioning the grand scheme of life while learning to find peace in the small.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

We Buy Kleenex

Remember? We didn't buy paper towels, we used cloth towels instead. We were really frugal in those years, my mom said as we sat in Souplantation, enjoying the 10th meal out since our holiday had begun two weeks earlier. Yeah, and we didn't buy tissues either, we used toilet paper, my sister chimed in. I buy Kleenex now, I confessed. Me too!, my sister exclaimed.

As a single working woman in her late 30s, I felt it was only appropriate to treat my sore nose with a little tender care so I bought tissues without a second thought. I even stock-piled them so I wouldn't run out. I used them to wipe up spills, dry dishes, clean my mirrors, or any other little task that needed to be done around my spacious ensuite dorm room. Where I lived, tissues were actually cheaper than toilet paper so, yes, while I was continuing the habit of living frugally, I was doing so with balance.

It's funny, the things we change as we grow up, become adults, step outside of one identity and into another, and figure out what's important to us. As a former MK (missionary's kid) who has chosen to continue that lifestyle and live overseas, I find it fascinating to see which habits I've continued and which I've discarded.

Growing up, we never drank Coke or Pepsi or Mountain Dew. Fanta was the soda or fizzy drink of choice until my mother read the ingredients and switched us to Sprite for special occasions only. Several months ago, I had a sip of a friend's Pepsi and realized why it was his beverage of choice whenever we went out. I liked its bittersweet hint of root beer flavour. The next time a friend invited me for lunch, I chose Pepsi when offered a drink and relished the full serving. Surprisingly, I wasn't on a caffeine buzz and decided that its caffeine content, similar to a cup of green tea, didn't affect me like I'd always been told it would. While I'm still hesitant to drink Pepsi, since its sugar content is exorbitantly high, I now know I won't be struck by lightning if I made the choice to drink it.

My mother says we never ate out during those lean money years after the separation when our extra pennies went towards schoolbooks, clothes, and other necessary items. From the moment we started working for our tuition, she made us responsible for our personal expenses including toothpaste and toilet paper, so we couldn't afford to waste money on meals that we could cook for a fraction of the cost at home. Which meant, of course, that we never ordered appetizers. I order appetizers now. I know they are exorbitantly priced for their size but somehow the luxury of being able to afford an appetizer overrides my frugal upbringing in this scenario. I still cringe when the 4 pieces of fake chicken nuggets arrive, as I think about how each 2-inch nugget cost $2 but then I relax and enjoy the previously forbidden treat.

I go to the movies now. When I was 17, the Titanic was released and all my friends were going to watch it. Me, being the daughter of highest authority in the church in the country we were missionaries in at the time, was forbidden from joining my friends to see the PG-13 rated movie. It was not appropriate for a pastor's daughter to go to to the movies, I was told. However, that summer my father told my sister and I, when we were visiting family in England, that he would take us to see the movie as long as we didn't tell our friends back in the mission field. We refused based on principle. In my late 20s I began going to the movies, first to see cartoons such as Ice Age in 3D. Now I go with friends to watch dramas, comedies, true stories, and I no longer enter the screening room with the absurd worry that God will punish me for being in such a place.

It's not that I don't appreciate the principles learned from my experiences in the mission field and after. I've learned to be careful with my money in a healthy way, to practice a healthy lifestyle, to value the important things in life, and to be open to other ways of life. It's just that sometimes I realize that the way things were done before weren't always necessarily the only way. So I buy Kleenex.

Thursday, June 1, 2017

The Leaving

I have a difficult time with saying goodbye. 18 years ago, I had an evening to say goodbye to my closest friends. It was one of the hardest days of my life. Lebanon had come to take a very special place in my heart and the sudden uprooting due to family circumstances created a fear of leaving that stayed with me through the years.

Tonight, a dear friend texted me from the airport. About to board a last-minute flight, they were saying goodbye. I'd been expecting to see them before they'd left as I too was about to take to the skies, though for much longer as they would be returning next week and I was leaving for a month. In January, when I'd left, I'd made sure to say goodbye to those who were close to me. It was part of the leaving ritual, I realized. Even though I was only gone for 10 days that time, I still had to see each person. I had to reassure my heart that if I didn't return, I would have said goodbye in a way that would allow closure.

As I realized I wouldn't have the chance to give them a hug goodbye, mumble all the usual Take care of yourself while I'm gone, Keep in touch, Yes I have my passport, that were usually exchanged on a sidewalk or at curbside drop off, or pray together for safe travels, the panic returned. A whole month was a very long time. Nearly five weeks. It seemed like a lifetime. Or like a lifetime ago.

I still have to remind myself that this is home now. When I leave, it's just for a short while, and then I will return. It's not half a lifetime ago, I'm not leaving behind everything that meant something to me to try and adapt in a world that often didn't make sense. I'm here.

They say home is about who you share life with more than a physical place. The more places I go and the older I become, the more I see value in this concept. Perhaps each goodbye has represented a leaving of someone who defined a piece of my home and to see them go meant I was now living in what was less than completeness.

Maybe this is the answer then. . .to the leaving or the staying.

Sunday, May 28, 2017

The Returning Comes Twice

Maybe this is part of the integration process on my journey, I explained to my mother after midnight on a Saturday evening, relying on the verbal cues to communicate as best I could as the frustratingly limited internet forbade me from seeing her face through a video chat. I'd been sharing a little of the emotions that had been coming to the surface in the past week or two, initiated by sparks of sudden memories which were oddly enough, not from here or from my past BC (before California). These memories were from the country I'd simultaneously despised and struggled to adapt to for nearly half my life. These were memories from California.

I'd spent 17 years in California resigning myself to unfulfilled yearnings when the sensory flashbacks would come. A smell of ketchup on kebab, a misplaced call to prayer, dancing lights on a runway, all evoked memories that no longer had a home to attach to so they floated in my mind, pulling me while even then knowing that I could no longer return. At least that is what I thought. Until I found myself on a plane heading for home.

Yes, I struggled with culture shock and adapting and proving wrong the assumption that just because I'd lived here before, it would be easy to fit back into the fabric of people's lives who had continued to thread colours into the empty spaces after I'd left and would now to have to find a place for me in whichever way felt most comfortable for them. At last the flashbacks would end, I assumed. After all, I was now home where the majority of these memories had been created.

I walked the campus I'd been as a teenager, solaced my heart with the reassurance that I wish I'd known all those years ago that I would be able to return, and began creating new memories. I spoke at a conference, sharing my life story in 6 minutes and 40 seconds, a coalescence of a lifetime of loss and love that made me who I was today. I blogged, I processed, and I decided that I was ready to leave behind my TCK label as the sole definition of who I was and assume a new identity that I was yet to completely unfold.

Then these memories began to come. I found myself emotional once more, wanting to visit such idiosyncratic places as the mall, favourite restaurants, or the local public library. The missing was not for the campus where we had lived for so long, but it was for the life I had created outside of that campus, escaping at least once a week for retail or food therapy, and through the repetitive finding the familiar. Now I was listening to Sara Groves Painting Pictures of Egypt and realizing she described my journey exactly.

Remember, you lived this life for 17 years, it is part of who you were, my mother gently reminded me. She understood the angst I felt at having to fold into who I was today the difficult years where we lived in fear of my father popping up unexpectedly or attempting to kidnap my baby brother, where we fought to keep a semblance of normality on a campus where spirituality had been twisted into a false religion, where our accents and ways of relating to life were just different enough to make us stand out but not enough to make us interesting.

As I listened to my mother, I realized that this too was part of my integration journey. Perhaps for the TCK, integration necessarily becomes the lifelong journey. Perhaps we can never completely leave behind who we are, or believe that the process of bringing together all the pieces is ever finished.  

And the places I long for the most are the places I have been. . .But the places that used to fit me cannot hold the things I've learned, those roads were closed off to me while my back was turned. . .

Friday, May 26, 2017

Come Thou Fount

It was one of those days. A day when you just barely caught up to your breath and there was no time for thinking. Processing. A day when you smiled but the smile didn't reach the crinkles in the corner of your eye. A day when you were thankful for the small things because suddenly they became the big things. A day when you asked for that little bit extra grace to help you walk those extra five miles in aching feet. A day when you shook your heart's fist at a Father Who lived in the invisible. A day when you dug your finger deep into your palm to keep the tears still, frustrated that the pain from too-short nails wasn't stronger than the silent keening.

It was one of those nights. Except this night was a little more intense than the others. He'd had nights like this before. When He'd escaped the crowds that had pushed around Him, jostling for a chance to be close but not knowing why, though they felt the inescapable attraction that drew them near. He loved each person dearly, whether they knew Who He was or simply saw Him as another novelty to gawk at. Yet He needed to find strength to meet their needs and having limited His power by choice, He retreated in the blackness to reconnect with the One Who freely filled His heart. 

His friends didn't understand why He chose to spend a night praying instead of sleeping. "Don't You feel tired in the morning?" they queried, confused as to His priorities. Long trudges through village after village, or standing in the desert heat, wearied them physically and at night their eyes often closed before their bodies relaxed in sleep. Yet He treasured those quiet hours when He would pour out His heart and feel the power revive His body that was not wearied physically as much as emotionally. 

See, He was an emotional Person. That was another part of His being that His friends couldn't quite connect with. Most of them were simple fishermen whose experiences were set in a night on a boat. Sure, they felt emotion, but they weren't emotional. He cried when Lazarus was in the tomb. He cried when He saw Jerusalem and envisioned its destruction. Now He cried again. Yet this grief was of such intensity it was almost hard to breathe. And as He cried, His friends slept. 

It didn't matter as much the other nights. He preferred to be alone with His Father so, as His friends snored deeply, He knelt under the stars and lifted His hands and eyes up to heaven in a gesture to connect closer to the One He desperately needed and quietly missed. Tonight, though. Tonight He felt a deep need for their prayers. For their presence. Yes, He was God but He was also Man. Vulnerable in sorrow. Aching in grief. Questioning in loneliness. He knew rationally that His Father was close by but in this moment He could not see and longed for reassurance through those who knew Him best here on this earth. 

Even His three closest friends were oblivious to His pain. The three He'd brought into more confidences, spent more time counseling with, and entrusted with responsibility succumbed to sleep not once but twice. He faced the future-altering decision alone. Anguish, distress, and grief pressed down heavily on One Who had done no wrong but now must assume all the wrongs every committed or still to tear His Father's heart through thousands of years. 

In His time of deepest need, Jesus turned to find all had failed Him. When He looked for support, there was none. Though we know the end of the story, and that an angel came from heaven to give Him strength, this part of the story is one that isn't often spoken of. Jesus needed community. He needed to be close to those who could speak encouragement to His heart.

Somehow this is encouraging to me, particularly on days like today. I am finding myself in that limbo-land once again as I prepare emotionally for my soon-departure. Unlike the four we had a farewell for today, I plan to return within the month so it is not a goodbye of finality. Yet each time I step onto a plane that takes me from my heart-home, I shiver inside at the thought that something unexpected could happen and I would not be able to return. Just like before. Except before it was planned and I was supposed to be happy about it.

As I process the tension of emotions, from grief that I must leave to relief that I can have a long vacation to longing for my family to unresolved bitterness with the place my mother still lives at, I think about how very much I identify with Jesus' experience in those oppressive hours. I don't mean the decision to take our place. I mean the very real need to be with loved ones who He could see.

I sat alone in vespers tonight. The closing song, #626, brought a flood of memories back as the congregation sang In a Little While We're Going Home. I was back in my Opa and Oma's previous apartment, my Opa jubilantly pedaling away on the organ as he played and sang while we provided the accompaniment to his enthusiastic singing. It was 2004 and we didn't know if we'd be going back home, to the home we now knew in the US. Ironic, then, that now I was singing it and preparing to return to the US for holiday whilst once again pleading silently with my Father to let me come back again. Same song, different stanza.

My friends left after vespers, their little ones ready to go to sleep, and I texted them saying I was going to bed early. I was tired and it had been a long day. It was true but I was missing out on Friday evening tea with snacks, laughing around the dining room table. Instead I retreated to my room, then slipped into comfortable clothes, black suede flip flops that exposed my freshly painted black-red toenails, and headed to the parking lot to walk.

I was texting a friend, having a casual conversation about the day, when I invited them to join me walking. They fell silent and I didn't ask again. Pushing the ear buds further into my ears, I listened to a favourite mix from Women of Faith even as I wondered whether I would always feel this way. Then a young man walking by stopped me.

He was one of the students on campus, a quiet guy, who faithfully did his work and went to classes but didn't draw much attention to himself. He'd asked me to pray for him several months ago, and I had for that week, but figuring his prayer was answered, I'd moved on to pray for other items on my list. Tonight, though, after small talk, he asked again for prayer. With some emotion, he shared his need for daily prayer as he tried his best to follow God. I reassured him I would keep him in my prayers and then I asked if I could pray for him right there. He quickly agreed.

I never thought of myself as much of a praying type of person. Yes, I pray privately, but whenever I was asked to pray in public or with a friend or two, my prayers tended to feel canned and lifeless, as if I was reciting one from a prayer book. I hated being second or even last in a prayer group because by the time it got to me, the others would have already covered all the highlights and I would be fumbling to find something of substance to pray for. Yet in the last couple of weeks, God has been drawing me into prayer as, whether praying for friends or being prayed for, I am beginning to see the community found in prayer is as precious as the community in every day connection.

After I finished praying for my friend and he carried on his way, I realized that God had answered a previous prayer in a very meaningful way. I had asked Him to clearly show me that He had a long-term plan for me here. I needed some sort of indication that my life had purpose, meaning, and a mission. Otherwise, I figured, I might as well return to the US and sink into a life devoid of joy but following the responsible career path that a single woman as the eldest daughter of a single parent should do.

In asking for prayer, my friend showed me that I was someone he trusted enough that he could ask for prayer from. And in those couple of minutes, as our heads were bowed and we earnestly approached God, I realized that prayer was a ministry I could embrace and engage in with my whole heart. I had a purpose--to be available when someone needed prayer. I had meaning--to intercede with sincerity and conviction. I had a mission--to pray.

Yes, it was one of those days. A day when God hid behind the thick fog of the morning, peeking out in a stunning sunset, then withdrawing once more as the melancholy of solitude swept in. Yet it was also a day when God turned all my expectations upside down and replaced them with a knowing that surpasses man's greatest intellect of today. He brought someone to me who was struggling to see Him, and in prayer we both saw the heart of One who cares immeasurably for us. Thank God for one of those days.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

And I Am Not Lost Anymore

How are you doing? Do you need a job? There's openings for academic records personnel, graduate enrollment coordinators, etc. 

I stared at my phone's screen, the email from my graduate program's advisor staring back at me. It was a face-off and I wasn't sure who was going to win. Sure, he'd sent me links to apply to before, he'd recommended me for positions within the department, or departments he had connections with. I'd even been flown in and put up for the weekend when short-listed for assistant registrar three years ago and then put back on the short-list for a similar position in distance education just before I came out here.

Now I was settling in to life in Beirut, Lebanon. I had a good job with a variety of tasks so I was never bored, an excellent boss who valued my work and my opinions, dear friends who brought such joy to my life, a wonderful church family where I felt like I fit in, a cozy little room that had just enough room for all my things, and the most stunning view of the Mediterranean Sea just out my front door. Life was good. Not perfect, but good.

Then the email came.

In the past, I would have sent back a quick Thank you for thinking of me but I'm happily settled here email as I had done a couple of times before. Now, like that second thought of an old boyfriend who was never right but you couldn't quite shake, or that second glance that leads to the second slice of cake you know you shouldn't be eating at midnight, the doubt began to creep in. Maybe this was a sign. Maybe I should apply and see if doors opened. True, I had a life I was happy with here but there were still some things missing and maybe if I moved back to the US I would find those.

Every time I closed and locked the door to my studio-apartment-sized bedroom with ensuite bathroom in the past 15 months, I sent up a silent prayer. Please God, let me come back. Each time the plane lowered itself down to touch Lebanese soil just after gliding over the sea, I breathed a sigh of relief. I was home again. So why the angst at a suggestion, a hint, that is entirely my choice to ignore, delete, pretend it never existed?

Perhaps it's because I still feel that weight of responsibility weighing heavily on my shoulders. True, here I am serving on sacrificial wages, particularly when compared to what I could make if I were to work in the US in a position comparable to my level of education. Yet I don't think about that. For me, being here is being home, so I'm just happy to have a job that allows me to stay and pay for my expenses while saving up a little for the future. The question still nags though. Am I being responsible enough? Should I be working a job where I could save five times as much so I could buy a house for my mother far sooner?

A job in the US would mean financial stability, a hefty retirement package, being closer to my mother, the increased possibility to marry an American, and a recognized job within the SDA system at my alma mater. The campus has a large international body, the employees are kind and intellectual, and I could start working on my doctoral degree, taking one free class every semester. But would this bring my heart joy?

I'll admit, there have been many days recently where life hasn't been as easy as it was in the fall. I've started to see the cracks in the makeup, started to see my days slip into weeks too full of administrative responsibilities and too few chances for service, started to realize that life is mostly made up of the mundane and it's not possible to keep up a constant round of activities and excitement. The joy seems to have shrunk, like a teenage boy's polyester t-shirt accidentally mixed in with the hot wash.

Even in the swirl of this, though, there is still hope. There has to be. Hope that the deep joy will once more fill my heart so that I cannot even breathe in anticipation of tomorrows. I catch glimpses of it and for now, that is enough to keep me going.

Should I apply? I picture myself, trudging through snowfall up to my waist, sitting in an office where day after day I must look at the same paperwork, then returning home to a small apartment filled with books but devoid of memories. Suddenly I know why I must stay. This country is the keeper of my memories, the sacred trust of who I was, and for the past 15 months, who I am today. Lebanon is slowly bringing together my two identities, while helping me forgive the years lost between. I cannot pick up and move now. It would be disrespectful to the process, shattering the puzzle before I had even built the border around it.

Tomorrow I'll send a little email to my advisor. I'll thank him for his consideration and remind him that I've accepted a position here. But I won't say what's really the reason I'm still here. I need to be here to feel fully alive, fully at home, and fully at peace. This is why I stay.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Wings of the Morning

I woke up this morning with the words of the song God Hears My Prayer in my head. It was a song that Rachel had taught us one summer when we had a little choir and ever after, the tune had drifted into a corner of my mind and refused to leave, just like the other encouraging choir songs we'd learned in college. I left for work rather hurriedly, trying my best to make it in time for worship. I arrived just before 8 but after I unlocked my door, my boss had a couple of things to share so I managed to slip in to the conference room just in time to hear the last part of the devotional thought. Then, because I rarely joined them, my colleagues asked me to pray, so I did.

I returned to my office, flipped open my laptop, and quickly typed in my password. My mind began to scramble as I reached for a bottle of water. There were too many deadlines looming all at once and I was worried about getting everything done on time. Someone came asking for a letter they'd emailed me about the day before. I hadn't managed to type it up yet, as I had to wait for verification from another person first. My boss promised I would get it to them before noon. Someone else emailed me with a project that needed to be done that afternoon and when I replied, saying I wouldn't be able to get to it before the next day, they insisted, saying it had already been delegated to me. This was how the first hour went, until the office was quiet.

I hurried downstairs to the women's restroom, locked myself in the farthest stall, closed the toilet lid, sat down on top of it, and cried. I couldn't handle all of this. It was too much.

When you first get to know me, you may assume that I'm an open person who easily shares her burdens and joys with others. While I will get into debates about hot topics, or gripe about how I haven't had a chance to do my laundry because the washing machines have been full every time I passed by them, I don't as easily share personal things. I will talk about things that others can relate to, that are disconnected from my deepest heart, but I will not be vulnerable. I have to know that I can trust you first and that trust can take years to earn.

I hate getting emotional in public because as a woman, I am automatically stigmatized and any words that may accompany the tears are dismissively seen as PMSing or not based in logic. So I keep my emotions to myself, try really hard to be positive and kind, and if I have nothing nice to say then I try not to say anything at all in order to avoid conflict.

I realized, sitting there in that bathroom stall, that I needed prayer. I looked through my phone contacts, wondering who I could ask. My family was fast asleep in another time zone, my sister busy at work. I sent them a message but knew they likely wouldn't read it for several hours and I needed prayer now. Finally, I settled on one name. I knew he prayed, it was part of his vocation after all, so I sent him a couple of lines, saying I was feeling a bit overwhelmed at work and would appreciate a prayer if he thought of it. Then I promised to pray for him in his work that day. He replied right away, which was somewhat unusual for him as he often wouldn't see my texts for some time, and said he would pray.

I left the bathroom and returned to my office. Less than 10 minutes later, I realized that I no longer felt like bursting into tears but felt calm and at peace. Did prayer really work that fast? I wondered. Later that morning, after a chat with a good friend and colleague, I asked if I could pray for her in an upcoming transition and she agreed. When the prayer was over, my heart felt full.

In the afternoon committee, I was asked to pray. Being the recording secretary, I don't usually speak, but I had yet another opportunity to pray. Miraculously, the committee finished early and I had just enough time to do two loads of laundry before hopping in my friends' car to head down the hill to our Arabic church for Week of Prayer. My family sent me encouraging text messages as they started their day and then an email came through from AVS. I stopped and looked at my screen, amazed at how perfect God's timing was. The email was titled Praying for you today.

The last time Andrea had sent me a little email reminding me that the AVS staff were praying for me was February 28 so it had been nearly 3 months since my name was on the rotation for prayer. Andrea said they were praying for me and then said May this be a reminder that His love is constant, and He is always with you as you serve Him in Lebanon. She included Psalm 139:9-10 and Hosea 12:6 in the email and closed as she always did by asking me to let her know if I had any specific prayer requests.

Live as if your prayers are already answered. I struggle a lot with believing God answers prayer. It's really quite ridiculous, because I have some very tangible examples of how God has answered my specific prayers. I can say with certainty that every day I've been here in Lebanon, God has been close to me and pursued my heart by personalizing special moments just for me. His heart's intent towards me is only good--I know this logically but am struggling to feel it emotionally.

There are glimpses, though, like today when I feel His love especially close. Today, I had seven different encounters with prayer. I prayed for worship, my friend prayed for me, I prayed with another friend, I prayed for the committee, I went to week of prayer, my family prayed for me, and AVS prayed for me. Truly, God was sustaining me and holding me up through those prayers today.

If I ride the wings of the morning, if I dwell by the farthest oceans, even there Your hand will guide me, and Your strength will support me. . .Wait for your God, and don't give up on Him--ever!

I'm not a front-lines missionary, I'm not giving evangelistic meetings to thousands, and I'm not running a school for refugee children. I'm leading out in song service during Sabbath School, when only 10 people show up. I'm bouncing a 15-month old on my lap to give a pregnant mother a few moments rest. I'm sitting through an hour-long sermon in Arabic and smiling and nodding at the visitors afterwards because it's all I can do to communicate in a language I don't understand. I'm staying up late to edit a student's paper so they can do well in their class. I'm sending an encouraging email to someone I've never met, thanking them for their prayers and reminding them of how important their work is to strengthen and support others. But these are just simple offerings. They are not grand, they are only a widow's mite. Yet somehow I hope God will bless these efforts just as the prayers multiplied to wrap me in comfort today.

The Lord your God is with you, the Mighty Warrior who saves. He will take great delight in you; in his love he will no longer rebuke you, but will rejoice over you with singing. ~Zephaniah 3:17

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

To Find Home In

I didn't get a chance to call home this weekend. I think in a way, that is the hardest part about being away from home. It's knowing that I can connect but finding that the reality is I can't connect as much as I would like. Sure, we have a family chat where we share photos and jokes, ask questions, plan family vacations between three continents, or just keep each other updated throughout the day. But it's not the same as being in the same room as each other. A video call is a poor substitute but at least I can hear voices and see facial expressions. When I can't have even that, I struggle.

The streaming quality here somehow manages to let me watch episode after episode of Masterchef but can't handle a video call properly. Usually I'm left peering at a screen where my mother's face has frozen in a strange position, or I'm trying to decipher a sentence out of the disjointed syllables and partial words that have jerkily filtered across the airwaves. Occasionally, and then often only briefly, I will see them crystal clear and it's then that I study their faces intently, memorizing, and wishing they were closer so I could feel happy that I was with them.

My sister had other priorities on Sunday and my mother's laptop was on silent, as usual, so she missed my messages til it was too late and I had given up and gone to bed. Last week I'd talked to my mom and brother and it had been two and a half weeks since I'd spoken to my sister. I realized that perhaps this was part of life, the slow separation as we each lived our lives, but I wasn't ready for it. I needed to stay connected.

I know why the ache is so strong. It's because my mother, my brother, and my sister are still the world to me. No one has taken a parallel place in my heart until now so I find my home in them.

Sunday, April 30, 2017

To Be Home

5 weeks till I go home. I use the term rather loosely, when asked the other day where home was, I said it was here, because I was here. I've called my best friend's house home, even though I don't live there, but I spend more time there than in my little room. Home is my aunt and uncle's place in Apeldoorn, if I'm visiting them. Home is a very fluid term, usually tied to where I and my passport reside.

Yet as I look forward to going home, or the place where my mother and brother live, I am also struggling not to focus on 9 weeks from now. It is then that I'll be leaving home. Leaving to return home, paradoxical as that may seem. I can almost anticipate what it will be like, a short night, all my souvenirs carefully packed and ready to go, rushing out the front door of North Hall, and then driving the empty early morning streets to the airport whilst praying earnestly, Please let me come back home. It's a prayer I pray every time I leave. Somehow the memory of 18 years ago still hasn't resolved itself with the reality that I am here and here is home now.

I watched a short CBC clip the other day. I don't often watch 5+ minute clips all the way through when I'm scrolling through Facebook, as my attention and patience span are limited. This one, though, had me in tears. The one phrase I heard held my heart. She's my home. A young couple, deeply in love, from opposite sides of the continent. He had found his home in her.

It's something I dream of, when I find myself restless, rootless, and uncertain whether I can stay in this country or that. The worlds where I am permitted to reside without question or visas are foreign to me. The places I find myself feeling at home query why I should feel such a strong attachment to them when they never claimed me as their own. It's the conundrum the TCK-grown-up must always face. Yet perhaps one day I too, will be able to find my home in the heart of one who understands I no longer need to travel to be home.

Friday, April 28, 2017

I Am Willing

Someone asked me today, Did you lose your job in the job axing? I looked at the email in disbelief, shocked that someone I considered a good friend would ask me that question. I tried to attribute it to their concern for my well-being but failed to convince myself. It felt more like an implication that I wasn't able to perform well enough therefore my position had been eliminated.

There have been some cuts that were recently announced but they were primarily due to financial reasons as the institution where I work is struggling with enrollment being down, which leads to reduced tuition income. It's not surprising, considering enrollment is down nationwide by 20% and even the larger universities that are well established are feeling the financial pinch. The responsibilities will be distributed among the current employees and I too will be adding to my work load. I worry sometimes whether I will be able to handle it all, as my days are already full and sometimes it feels like I am just treading to catch a breath of air, but I prefer to be busy than bored and I have confidence that God will help me to handle it.

A new employee to the campus looked at me the other day, when they were visiting a mutual friend whose house I was at also, and evaluated me as conservative and highly sensitive. I laughed, as they had arrived at a precise description of who I was--and without knowing me that well either. I've been sensitive since I was a child, often being reprimanded by a parent for being too sensitive and bursting into tears at perceived slights. Perhaps this sensitivity is what I carry into innocuous questions such as the one that was asked.

I've been officially in the workplace for a little over 11 years now though I began working as a student 18 years ago, so I bring a number of years of experience. During this time, I was never let go. As a student, I quickly became a highly valued worker who could choose where to work, running the library by myself in the summer when the head librarian was on holiday, and receiving certificates of achievement in the workplace that also included cash awards.

When I began to work as a full-time employee, I was diligent and conscientious. Only once did I face the threat of losing my job, when an incoming new supervisor re-interviewed me for my position. While none of the other continuing employees were re-interviewed, I realized that I was due to a clash of personalities. It led to me later resigning from that position, being the first but not the last as a new face filled that position every year for the next 5 years. God kept me in that position when I needed it for my visa's sake and then He found me another position at the right time.

Arriving here, I began by volunteering in a department doing a job that, had my college professor known about, would have made her laugh as I had gotten a C in my Journalism class and now I was reporting on events. Several months later, though, I transitioned into a role that allowed me to keep writing on the side but better suited my abilities, background, and academic training. I began to see a long-term future and asked if there was employment available.

Once again, God worked out the logistics, as the approval for full-time employment upon completion of my volunteer contract was given four months prior to the contract ending. This came three months before there was a hiring freeze. Then my application for some legal paperwork to facilitate staying as a missionary long-term was approved in 3 months instead of 6--yet another clear indicator that God had a serious plan for me here.

This is what I return to when I face uncertainty and insecurities of whether I made the right decision to stay. I know in my heart I did, but there have been several weeks of questioning my purpose and goals in life. I have a difficult time living in the US, as the culture evades me, but I keep returning to the question of whether I should be working there in a high-salaried job so I can earn money for a house to stabilize my future. Then the idea comes of moving back to Europe where I was rooted through citizenship, though I do not speak the language and haven't adopted the cultural traditions.

My mother used to tell me, I'll move on from here when God clearly shows me that it's time to move. She's been working for the same company for 18+ years now so God hasn't show her yet that it is time to move. Each time I shifted position within the institution I worked at for 17 years, I knew without a doubt that God was taking me there. Coming here, once again I felt that peace of certainty that I was in God's will.

So why the restlessness? Why the worry that if this person was asking such a question, there could possibly be some basis to it? How do I ground my feet so they don't pick up and go without me? Perhaps I'm coming to the crucial stage that every TCK fears when they move somewhere. Perhaps this is the rooting time. Perhaps now those roots are beginning to ground themselves firmly in the soil of everyday life, the mundane, while simultaneously spreading into others' hearts so we become interconnected.

This thing, this rootedness, is what will change me and I need to be ready for that reality. And I need to do so in the knowledge that regardless of what other people may assume, I am exactly where God wants me to be and doing what He has asked me to do. This is my life and this will be my reality until He clearly shows me otherwise.

Sunday, April 16, 2017


I knew there was culture shock going from country to country when it was a significant move. I didn't think it would hit this strong, though, after visiting a country I'd never lived in for just 5 short days. I'd like to blame it on a bad cold, my friends gone because it's Easter vacation, and too much to do, but I think I cannot. I think I really am experiencing a good old fashioned case of culture shock and I'm not happy about it one bit.

I booked a ticket to Austria a couple of months ago when fares were cheap and I knew my cousin and family were going to be around (the last time they were headed off for a weekend camping and hiking in the mountains with their church and that wasn't my idea of a holiday so I'd ended up not going). Splurging a little, I also booked tickets to a concert in Vienna and a Bavarian Salt Mines/Sound of Music combo tour in Salzburg, along with booking a nice little hotel in Lengfelden just outside Salzburg for the two days I would be staying there before heading back to Lebanon.

Bright and early on a Friday morning, after just two hours of sleep, I stepped into a shared cab, my arms filled with a stiff package that contained a wedding dress. Not mine, but for a Syrian woman who lived in Vienna. I was the courier, bringing it from her relatives, along with all the accoutrements that accompanied such a beautiful dress that was resplendent with tulle. I managed to get all said items through the various check points until the final security screening just before the gates.

It was then that some alert young fellow, awake so early in the morning, decided that the 6 feet of wiring that was carefully wrapped between the folds of the stiff skirt was not allowed on board. Perhaps it was seen as some sort of weapon, I don't know, but the poor young man's minimal English and my non-existent Arabic didn't help to resolve the problem.He went first to one colleague and then another, asking their opinion. I hastily brought up a picture of a wedding dress hoop skirt to show them what the wiring was for, to which they glanced at uncomfortably and resumed their discussion. A woman, re-dressing after security, shrugged her shoulders and wished me good luck.

Finally, the young man told me I would have to go all the way back through the 4 security and immigration check points to the front of the airport and check in the offending wire. He suggested I check the entire wedding dress, which was stuffed into an oversized khaki garment bag, but I decided to put it inside my backpack and check that instead. Then I looked at my ticket. Boarding time was in 5 minutes and there was no way I was going to make my flight if I had to go through all that hoopla. Plus, I'd already checked a bag and it was on my flight. I showed him my ticket. A more senior officer showed up just then and when asked what to do, shrugged nonchalantly, giving the okay for me to proceed to my gate, wire and all. I thanked the young man profusely.

Several hours later, the pastor of one of the Viennese churches was collecting the wedding dress from me at my cousin's house. I spent the first three days of my holiday with my cousin and family, thoroughly enjoying the culture, getting to know their vivacious kids, and drinking in the Viennese countryside. I was disappointed that the Danube wasn't really blue or beautiful, for that matter, and Vienna's industrialization was a bit much, but downtown more than made up for it with its opulence of architecture.

All too soon, I'd boarded a train for my second destination and slept most of the way to Salzburg. There I slid down wooden chutes, sang How do you solve a problem like Maria, dutifully ate the requisite apple strudel, and lost myself for a few blissful moments among storefronts that belonged in a museum. Reality had to catch up with me, though, and Tuesday morning found me on a train back to Vienna to catch my flights to Istanbul and beyond. Austria had been wonderful but it was time to go back home. At least that is what I thought.

I was at the beginning of a horrid cold so my trip was split between drinking green tea and sleeping, as I stumbled between gates and tried to find something reasonable to eat in the airports. As the plane descended over Beirut's night lights, I felt anticipation at my return. The drive home on now-familiar streets brought a huge smile to my face and I didn't even mind lugging my bags up the two flights of stairs to my room. I was happy to be home. I thought.

I'm on the tail end of the cold now, so just about back to feeling normal physically. Yet I find myself strangely unbalanced emotionally. I'm not sure why and it's somewhat discombobulating. It's strange to find myself wishing to return to Austria, Salzburg in particular, or even California, which I never wanted to feel homesick for. I can't place the reason, or even quite the feeling.

I'm tired of dusty grocery stores where I can't find what I need. I'm tired of driving down streets so congested, I can't find a place to park or turn where I need to. I'm tired of picking through a bin of aubergines to find just one that isn't soft and then being charged the wrong price when it's being weighed. I'm tired of cooking at a friend's house and trying to gauge how much I'll need for the coming week, though I'm thankful they let me cook there. I'm tired of waiting for the washing machines to be free so I can do my laundry, while making sure I have enough pegs and it isn't a wet rainy day so my laundry will dry properly. I'm tired of feeling stuck on a campus, but not sure where to do, who to go with, or how to get there if I were to find something interesting to do. I want a car, or easy public transportation that's cheap and clean. I want a grocery store that has everything in one place and in English, so I know what I'm buying. I want a washing machine that isn't full of someone else's balls of hair or lint.

I feel somewhat guilty writing this. After all, there are people who can't see colour, so they've never seen a beautiful sunset. There are people who can't hear, so they've never heard the voice of their loved ones. There are people who die every day from starvation, who struggle to get ahead because they were born into poverty, who live in war-marked countries and never know if the next bomb will be their last breath. I don't have any of those problems. I just have a bad case of culture shock and home sickness, though for what home I am completely uncertain. Perhaps for now, it's simply not this home. Though I thought, when I came, it would be forever, now that pronouncement is not quite as solemn as it was then.

I'm not exactly sure what to do. I guess I'll call home, eat some comfort foods, hold my friends' twin baby boys close, and remind myself that when I was there, wherever there happened to be, I wasn't happy either. When I tally the total marks, here is still ahead. Perhaps for now, that will have to be enough. I hope so.

Monday, April 3, 2017

Arms Full of Hope

I'm feeling homesick tonight. It's a strange feeling, one I haven't noticed for more than 6 months now. It began this afternoon, as I was at Karen's house. When she and Dilip knelt with their little twin one-year olds for family prayer, a sudden nostalgia came over me. Later, I sat and drank tea while she tidied up the kitchen and we chatted comfortably about life. It felt like home even as I missed a home I'd chosen to leave. Perhaps, though, it wasn't the physical building I missed as much as the memories tugging at my heart to be with the ones I love.

There are days when I light up with joy inside and can't contain the excitement bubbling over. Then there are days like today when I'm a little more subdued. When the thought of maneuvering the bumper-to-bumper traffic to pick through soft onions and try to gauge if an avocado will last two or three days is just too much for me to handle. When the thought of finding a friendly dentist whom I can trust to take care of my teeth without yanking out ones I need or getting trigger-happy with the filling gun is more than I can face.

So I put on Yiruma and eat a chocolate Easter egg. And I smile because I know that this too won't last. Maybe tomorrow, or maybe it will be a week from now, and I'll be ready to step into this crazy big big world I live in and embrace the adventure. I'll hop into a service taxi, use my three words of Arabic, and sally forth to the unknown. This is why I came and why I continue to challenge myself beyond the comfortable. To breathe, I have to keep living life bigger than I can imagine. It is only then that I know. . .homesickness is merely a glimpse in the past but as I turn my face forward I see only light. 

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Keep Speaking

What's your last name? the exuberant distinctly-accented South African said as she reached for my name tag. I flipped it around, simultaneously telling her. Did you write a book? I looked in the bookstore and I couldn't find it. Startled, I shook my head. No, I hadn't written a book, I said. Well, you should write one then, she insisted. I thanked her for the kind words as she left to speak to another attendee.
A book. It was something I had thought about before, but had never known exactly how to focus my writing. Sure, I blogged about my feelings, reflecting on how my TCK experience had coloured my adult life and how I approached life. I wasn't so sure I had enough material to write an entire book about a specific part of my TCKness or whether I should write until I had integrated all my identities or perhaps until I got married. It would be good to have a well-written conclusion already figured out before I wrote.

Loss is something we all deal with, regardless of whether we move countries, cities, or cultural contexts. As the world becomes increasingly more accessible, chosen migration becomes the norm. This affects us all to some extent, whether we recognize it or not. When we feel we must bury those losses, we struggle even more to validate our experience.

As I walked out of the conference venue today, I nodded my head. This would be the next step. A book. So the next time someone asked me, Do you have a book? I could smile and say Yes.

To Belong

Just finished 3 days at FIGT, a conference that I had the privilege to go to for the first time in my life. It sounds like it's been around for quite a while, at least 10 years, from what I heard some of the other attendees saying. Just like any other experience in life, I started out feeling excited yet somewhat nervous about what it would be like. I came in quietly, observing, and dreading the many tea breaks when the mostly-female group would converge on snacks and hot drinks, chatting to old friends and meeting new. A "New Attendee" sticker on my name tag made me stick out even more.

My initial impression was that there wasn't as much TCKness as I had been expecting. I hadn't spent too much time studying FIGTs target audience, so while I was indeed one of them, being a TCK, there were many more who fell into their group, including expat spouses, global nomads, or families preparing to go overseas for the first time who had perhaps been involved in international work of some sort, such as my friend Lisa who had been directing a sports program geared towards international school children.

The first morning, after managing to get on the wrong tram and having to backtrack at the next station, I found myself in a large very empty hall, waiting to go through a full dress rehearsal for our IGNITE! session the following day. Lisa F, our very cheerful coordinator, was busily rounding up everyone and going over last minute microphone adjustments with the AV guys. I sat quietly in the back of the room, nervously going over my speech one last time while studying the five other female presenters at the front of the room. They were either older and more mature or more charismatic than me and I felt somewhat intimidated. I tried to remind myself that my message was equally as important as theirs but wasn't convinced.

Soon Lisa called us up and went over the basics. Then we went right into the rehearsal. I hadn't paid attention to the order of speakers so was blissfully unaware of when I was presenting. Suddenly, my name appeared on the what-seemed-like 50-foot high screen. I stepped onto the stage and began my talk. It was disastrous.

Okay, not completely disastrous but I stumbled through the end feeling even more nervous than before. The 6-person audience smiled encouragingly at me, while Lisa said to be sure to speak up a little louder on the day as my voice was too soft in certain parts. I'd been memorizing my speech the past week or so, but wasn't prepared for a screen prompter, which distracted me as I ended up looking at the floor while reading the slides instead of looking at the audience and reciting my speech. That, combined with my attempt to hold a cordless microphone in my right hand and flip my miniature index cards with my left, while scanning the audience and trying to remember to emotively deliver the words was too much multi-tasking for me.

I spent the rest of the day memorizing my speech, using a technique my former choir director, Seth, had used to help us with the tricky bits of songs. I went over and over the cards I was struggling with, worked on linking them to previous cards, and then began to string together the speech back to front. I sat for an hour on a rustic hand-carved wooden bench for two in a secluded part of the famous Keukenhof and went over my 6.5 minute speech over and over. I'd realized that when I had a brain freeze, I couldn't carry on, so I worked on saying the entire speech even with mistakes, rather than stopping to correct myself. There was no time to repeat or hunt for words--the slides auto advanced every 20 seconds so it was a case of make it or break it.

In my room that night and the next morning, I practiced using my laptop, the kitchen counter, and my hairbrush as props. I placed the laptop on the floor as a makeshift screen prompter, placed my index cards on the counter so I could flip them over one by one rather than use one hand to move them behind each other, and held the hairbrush to my mouth as a pretend microphone. After three successful trial runs of the entire speech, I knew I was ready. It was then that I cried.

As I'd worked on my speech for the past month, while I was writing from my heart and my experience, I hadn't really allowed myself to feel the emotion that accompanied the charged words, such as intangible loss, reinventing identity, living between worlds, telling our story, and so on. I knew it would make a difference in how I spoke, but I also knew I couldn't afford to get emotional on the stage and risk losing time as I presented my important message.

When I realized that God had helped me to reach the point that I felt I had done all I could to prepare and had given me the ability to successfully memorize the speech, I got emotional. I got emotional as I realized I was about to deliver in just a few short minutes a distilling of my 36 years of life. This was my story. A story of loss, of identity, of reconciling, of integrating, of acceptance and relief in finding myself.

After we'd finished our presentations, Killian asked a question. How do you find returning has helped you find a place of belonging in yourself? I'd hoped I wouldn't get asked a question but this one I knew the answer to. I stepped confidently to the microphone, smiled, and said, That's a really good question. I then told him how returning, for me, validated who I was before. I found the touchstones of my past and they were now in my present, tangible and visible. Seeing them helped me relinquish the regret of leaving, so many years ago, when I didn't have the choice. This time I had the choice. . .to return. And so I did.

I ended my Ignite! by telling the audience I now live in Lebanon, which has been significant in integrating for me as I've been able to return to a place I found peace and joy and now call home. I encouraged them to return and I hope that Killian, Marilyn, and I won't be the only ones. I hope it won't take others more than 15 years to gather the courage, the money, or the motivation to go back. I don't know if it would have helped in my personal journey to return sooner. I don't know if I had to go through the fires of difficulty for that long so I could really appreciate the treasure of returning when I did.

When I lived in the US, I always looked forward to traveling back to familiar homes, and the Netherlands was no different, though I hadn't ever lived here for more than a couple of months at a time, usually during the summer when we came on furlough. This time, I found myself strangely surprised at the emotions that were tugging insistently. I didn't feel the same sense of coming home I had felt before. I missed my other home.

I missed two foot-high twin boys, my best friend's little tykes, with their infectious smiles and reaching baby arms wrapping around my legs so they could stand up or pulling me close so they could chew on my sweater's zipper. I missed sitting comfortably on the black faux leather armchair in my boss's office as we discussed how to solve the latest petty argument among colleagues or he told me stories about life. I missed stumbling through song service during Sabbath School, as I plonked away on the piano and prayed my tendency to go into autopilot while I played wouldn't lead to me making too many mistakes. I missed turning off all the lights in my room in the evening, leaving just the soft glow of the bedside table lamp on, and settling comfortably with a favourite book just before going to sleep. I missed sitting around the table at night, after the twins had gone to bed and my best friend's husband took a break from studies to join her and me for a cup of tea and a snack. I missed rushing into my classroom two minutes past the hour, still rubbing sleep from my eyes as four pairs of bright eyes looked back at me, ready to learn how to write. I missed the bitter taste of zaatar, the saltiness of jebne manaeesh, the crunch of sweet and sour tofu I adapted from a recipe I found online, and the plush taste of fresh mango juice. I missed waking up in the morning, excited for the adventure the day would bring, and going to sleep at night with a smile on my face.

Lisa did my quick intro, preparing the audience by letting them know we would be doing a switch emotionally to something a little more sober as the previous presenter had been quite engaging with good energy. Then Lisa was stepping down and I was stepping up onto the gray carpeted stage, several spotlights shining on me, the room filled with people dimly lit, I looked down at the screen prompter, saw my slide, and in that moment all 36 years coalesced into one aha moment.  

My Opa stood by the train tracks, huddled deep into his jacket in the cold Dutch winter. We'd snapped a quick photo together, I'd climbed on the train, and waved goodbye. I didn't realize it would be the last time I would see him. As we grow up, we learn quickly that to say goodbye is an expected part of life. We leave without a tear because we know, there will be many more goodbyes ahead.

I left FIGT just as I came. Quietly and without saying gooodbye. Yet I knew I wasn't leaving this time, as I had so many times before, without leaving a tangible imprint in the hearts of those who had heard my simple message, knit together through time. As I sat on the train, hurrying me through the Dutch countryside to the next part of my adventure, I smiled inside. Indeed, as I had told a crowd of people seeking to understand the TCK experience, I had found a place of belonging. It is in my heart.

Saturday, February 25, 2017

The Heart Still Feels

I just finished watching Lion, a movie about Saroo, an Indian young man who returns to India to find his birth mother after being adopted by an Australian couple when he was just a child. While the movie was rather slow-moving, I resonated with two thoughts. One, when he told his girlfriend, I've found home.

The other was that he kept returning to reconnect with his girlfriend, even though he kept pushing her away out of confusion. The story in his heart seemed too painful and too big to share with someone who came from a monocultural worldview but she had a deep desire to try to understand. I know these feelings. When Professor Baer tells Jo, as they sit in the rafters watching an Italian opera, your heart understood mine, the words echo in my heart.

This is what I search for. I'm looking for home not just in a country, where the smells of open market, people carrying you along in the push of the evening, crunching grilled fresh corn on the cob, or crickets accompanying the imam for evening prayers are as familiar as the detergent aisle in Walmart. I'm looking for home in a person. Familiarity. Solidarity. Continuity. Above all--loyalty.

I just finished putting together a 6-minute presentation for a conference in the Netherlands next month. I'll be speaking to professionals and families about how loss impacts TCKs and how as adults we search to reconcile our identities that have been seriously influenced by the continual loss. Saroo lost his language, comfort in eating with his fingers, his older brother, and the connection with his mother and sister. When he began to search for his past, he knew that it had affected who he was today. His identity was incomplete with those missing pieces.

I understand. This is why I look for someone who will take the time to sit and listen. Who will ask me questions about who I am and why I think the way I do. Who will be fascinated by my past and discover ways I view the world that I didn't even realize. And above all, who will look into my heart, see the missing pieces, and reassure me that even though he can never fill those empty places, he will cover them with love and understanding. Those places will always be empty but now I will be able to see them through a covering woven with the tears of someone who sat with me and understood my pain.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

I Am Free to Dance

Sometimes we come to the realization of things much later than we imagined and when we do, we wonder why we chose not to see reality. Stubborn, that is what I am. I easily fall into situations that I then have to try to extricate myself from. I insist that I'm aware and yet I really am lying to myself. I am good at that. It's born of years spent in a culture that insisted forgiveness equated minimizing lies, winking at poor behavior, and ignoring broken standards.

Perhaps what really counts in the end then is honesty to the core. This is best blended with respect, humility, and kindness and while I'm not saying one can be perfect, because I know we all fail, I am beginning to believe that just being nice isn't enough. It isn't too much to ask for total commitment that extends beyond the fairytale story of glass slippers and princesses.

We all fall. We all stumble. We all mess up on the way, sometimes because we're tired of living up to outside expectations and sometimes because we really don't know. Yet the real heroes are the ones who quietly get back up and keep going, even if it means crawling for a while until they have the energy to stand. They recognize their deep need of a Saviour and have learned to relinquish their attempts to be their own law.

There's a phrase from a song that keeps playing in my head. What do I know of Holy?

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Goes By

The seasons change pretty clearly here. Summer's humid air so thick you can set a spoon upright in it gives way to the relief of autumn's cool breezes that blow away the layer of smog always hovering over the city. Winter's damp cold shivers into spring with the scent of fresh cut grass and itch of mutant ninja mosquitoes. Each season has its signature, its moments where I breathe in deep and smile, and its idiosyncrasies that make me long for the next one to arrive.

In the same way, I have clearly seen the seasons of my life change in the short year I've been here. When I first came, my heart was open to every friendly person and I enjoyed getting to know people from different cultures and learning how they saw life. Then I found a best friend and we did everything together, from eating in the cafeteria to going to church to singing in choir. As summertime came, tiny twin boys stole my heart and I began to spend most of my time with them and their parents. Soon I was part of a group that went out to eat and watch movies but even that group dissolved and I was spending most of my free time with the twins again.

Today I find myself somewhat stingy with my availability. Perhaps it comes with settling into routine and realizing that it simply isn't possible to befriend everyone. I'm realizing that it's okay to have just a handful of close friends with whom I invest my time and then to be friendly to everyone else. This is part of life and as the dynamics shift and seasons change, the faces change also. For me, though, I have a difficult time letting go.

I know realistically that, just as I choose whom to spend my time with, others will choose whether or not to invest in my life. It fills my heart with joy when I know that someone has chosen me; but it's elementary school all over again when someone I know I'd never forget allows me to slip easily out of their life. As a TCK, I live with the insecurity that I will never fully fit in therefore I will never be fully chosen by someone else because I don't belong. I'm not exotic enough to stand out but my ability to blend in is limited to how I look and not what I say or think.

I've been playing a song on repeat for several weeks now. It's a song by Lonestar that perfectly describes those I've seen standing on the tracks, their face turned away as the train I'm on begins to pick up speed while it heads away. Seasons change and I'm helpless to change the inevitable--one of us will leave. The only thing is. . .this time, I'm staying.

Friday, February 3, 2017

Do You Swear?

Things are changing very quickly in the world I thought I once knew. I guess that is how it is, the world is constantly changing, but it had never been a threat to me before. Now it is. Even as refugees struggle to make sense of their new reality that won't allow them entry into the US for at least 3-4 months, I face the possibility of also having what I thought was stable be in jeopardy.

I hold European passports but I live currently in the Middle East. Though my country is not one of the banned ones, it is close enough that should the travel ban expand to include others, rumour speculates that it will be on that list. I just read an article that talked about the former Norwegian PM who was questioned at a US airport because he had been on a trip to Iran two years ago. While I thought my perceived elite citizenships would allow me to continue to travel in and out of the US without challenges, now I'm becoming very concerned about the future.

What amazes me is that people are able to defend the executive order with a straight face. Perhaps they never stood in line in the cold outside a tall metal barred gate, waiting to be let in only to face the sternest of faces behind a glass window, barking out questions without empathy as they were interviewed for a visa that would change their destiny. Perhaps they never stepped outside their small town in the Midwest or the South, never ate a meal with someone who spoke a different language than them, or cried when the latest shooting happened in a city they'd never been but was in a country close to their heart. Perhaps they did not understand that the black and white strokes on a paper, seemingly to protect the innocent was actually destroying the hopes and dreams of countless children. Perhaps their rational logic kept them warm at night and able to callously negate the stories of humanity, citing it as an emotional reaction.

I wonder if I'm the only person who feels somewhat helpless against this tidal wave of prejudice coming from a country that prides itself on being built by immigrants. The Statue of Liberty should hide her face in shame for no longer can she welcome the tired huddled masses. Yet in the midst of this tyranny, there is still a flicker of hope. The thousands of US citizens who are outraged whether those who were ready to welcome refugee families or those who could not place the banned languages on a map. Each one who stands up for justice and demands that, while the borders are protected, equal representation is given to bring in those families who have struggled for years to immigrate to freedom is a beacon of light in the abyss of night.

As for me, I watch the news and I wait. I do not know if the next time I step up to the bullet-proof window and hand my passport over for inspection, if it will be the last time I step on US soil. I do not know if he will smile and say Welcome to the United States or Right this way, ma'am, we have some questions to ask you. I have to trust that my God is bigger than a world leader and can overrule and direct even in the midst of chaos. But the uncertainty isn't easy.

Friday, January 27, 2017

To Relinquish

Sitting in my room that refuses to heat above 62 even though I've set the thermostat to 80, after a somewhat consoling breakfast of dried out khabaz (thin pita-like Arabic bread) and hummus, I was scrolling through my FB friends' feed when I came across a link for God Bless the USA. My all-time favourite song, I hit the link so I could hear Lee Greenwood sing the familiar tune. Until the phrases started to sink in. cuz the flag still stands for freedom and they can't take that away. . .where at least I know I'm free. . .

The debate that's swirling around Trump's latest executive order to halt processing of immigrants from specific countries is one that is tempered by emotion, the new president of the USA not-withstanding. Opinion pieces, statistics, and the voices of those who will be affected by it are everywhere I look. I am an immigrant and I understand the anxiety of those who were expecting to experience freedom, from war, from fear, from uncertainty and more. I battle against the unfairness that a few radicals can influence the fate of thousands of innocent ones. The ignorant often seem to control the future and it's hard to hold on to hope or believe God really is orchestrating events behind what we can see.

I am an immigrant, yes, but I am one who has the dual privilege of standing between countries. I already hold citizenship in two European countries where, though I have not lived since a child, I can return to easily should I desire to pick up my life and leave. Presently, I live in the Middle East where my heart has found its home but simultaneously I struggle to reconcile a possible need to acquire citizenship of the country that symbolizes freedom to some but not all. If I want to stay here, ironically in a country that is close enough to the ones on the current blacklist, I have to either give up my rights to a long-term future in the US or become a citizen that promises to uphold values that stand diametrically opposed to mine in regards to family, social justice, moral ethics, and more.

The person who wrote God Bless the USA had likely never stepped outside its borders and I do not blame them for their perception of freedom. We each understand the concept based on our personal experience and I lack another layer of perception because my passports have allowed me to enter many countries with little hassle. But to choose that song, iconic though it is, to celebrate the new presidential reign is one that raises every hackle and rallies every cell of determination to ensure that people know this is not so. Yes, America was built by immigrants but whether they will be denied entry, as doubtless many will be in the coming years, or whether they will choose to relinquish their rights because they cannot uphold its insistent ignorance, the immigrants may soon be realizing that it is no longer the land of the free or the home of the brave.

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Living in Joy

I paused to rest my head against the wall and smiled. The joy has returned, I thought.

It had been a few weeks of emotional questioning for me. When I first arrived, nearly 11 months ago, I didn't expect to encounter the traditional culture shock. I was convinced that since I'd already lived here, it would be easy to slip back into the routine of life, never mind that 18 years had passed and I was now an adult. Then I hit several walls, at the 2.5 and 3 and 6-month mark. After processing the unfamiliar and at times uncomfortable emotions, the joy came.

I remembered this joy. It was a joy that I'd had before coming to America, when life was simple and I woke up each morning eager for the adventure the day would bring. Then I'd lost myself in dark places for far too long and wondered if I'd imagined the joy or if it was even possible to find it again. Coming back home I found it. I fell in love with my adopted country. The changes in weather, the flavours I'd missed for too long, the crisp line between sea and sky, getting lost in its many moods and experiences deepened my joy at being able to live here. I never thought it was possible to feel this happy. I assumed the sadness was gone.

Then my sister came to visit and while she was here she asked me Are you happy here? She genuinely wanted to know--she had left America 5 years before me, even though she was younger than me, to seek her own joy. She had found it, in a tiny island in Asia, where she now taught squirming 11-year olds during the day and delighted in the tastes and sights of her new country at night and on weekends. She embraced life and wanted to be sure I was doing so too.

I'd thought I was happy. But suddenly I found myself questioning the joy. Was it genuine or was it tied to people or particular experiences? What if my friends moved on, would I still be happy in my job? What if my job changed, would I still look forward to each day's adventures? For several weeks the joy was shrouded in silence. I was shaken by the feelings of uncertainty. I was scared that my short upcoming trip to the US would lure me back with promises of monetary security even if the joy-level was minimal to non-existent there.

I'd been sure that I was ready to settle down here. I spoke about slipping into the fabric of everyday life and longed deeply to be the one who came and stayed, instead of being lumped with all those who came and then left. I felt what I thought was a calling--one that seemed almost too easy to answer because it was one my heart had yearned towards for years.

Then I thought, it doesn't matter. I can leave. Life will go on. Maybe I'm really not as happy here as I thought I was. It made me sad, to think that I had lost that joy so easily. I'd thought it was forever but now, like a celebrity marriage, it seemed to have dissolved with no reason why.

Til today. It started like any other day, simply enough, and yet by the evening when I stopped to take a moment and reflect within, I realized the joy had returned. This joy seems more mature, somehow, like aged cheese, and more knowing, like an elderly couple who's shared a lifetime together. It is as deep as ever but it sparkles brighter than before.

My favourite little people, 9-month old twin baby boys, know the meaning of pure joy. They giggle and laugh from a place of innocence when they experience joy. This is how I want to walk through life--living in expectation of joy. Then I will have peace within.

 May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in Him. . . ~Romans 15:13