For this last post of 2017 here on A Life Overseas I thought I’d take a look back over my almost 40 posts here in the last five years and see if there was one that I felt nudged to re-vamp or rerun.
Why a rerun?
Well, the kids and I have been sick here in Vanuatu for almost 10 days now—some sort of vicious flu bug that just. won’t. quit. And I have had zero energy or desire to write… well, anything.
But there can be a silver lining to being this sort of sick—the kind that forces you to lay down and let go of all your plans (“Oh, you were launching a new book this week and had a to-do list with 72 things on it? Sorry about that, hey.”)
I’ll be honest. I loathe having to let go of my to-do lists and accept a season of being more than doing. However, once I do surrender to it, I often find it opens up space to think about life and work and love from a different angle, to sift and sort my priorities, and to notice things that aren’t obvious during busier seasons.
So here I am, embracing the rerun and a season of reflection and hoping it can help you take a little time, too–time to reflect on where you’ve been this year, what you’ve been learning, how you are changing, and what you think about those changes.
As I started to comb through my posts looking for one worth re-running, I remembered a piece I wrote on how being sick overseas makes me miss the promise and illusion of safety. I enjoyed the walk down memory lane (gosh, I really miss that house in Laos and Lao food) but it wasn’t really the one I felt prompted to point you towards.
Then I thought it might be this post on my search to understand what “home” means—an issue I know remains a perennial “thorn in the heart” for many third culture kids long into adulthood.
It wasn’t this one, either—my most commented-upon-ever post, This I Used To Believe, on how living overseas has changed some of my core beliefs during this last decade.
Or this one, on when you second-guess your life.
Or even this one (which I think is probably be the best essay I’ve ever written): Good Will Come: How Living Overseas Has Changed My Views On Suffering.
No. The post I felt drawn to point you back towards this month is this: Do You Need A Year Of Awesome?
I declared a “year of awesome” for our family a couple of years ago, after an extended season of paddling hard just to keep our heads above water.
The concept was simple… I set us the challenge of finding something extraordinary to do each month for the entire year. Something fun. Something adventurous. Something delicious or out of the ordinary. Something magical.
Or, at least, something that had the potential to be magical. Points were awarded for trying.
Our family took this challenge on and it was good for us. It helped us play together, and relax, and enjoy each other. It helped us live into that which I long to believe–that the lovely, the fun, and the wondrous carry just as much power to shape our stories and our spirits as the hardships.
There are a lot of amazing resources on this site about the hardships that come with living overseas, managing stress, and understanding and coping with change. But, today, I want you to look towards 2018 feeling encouraged to stretch a little next year to experience some of the wonderful things where you are.
Because if you live overseas (particularly if you’re a missionary or an aid worker) you may almost feel like you shouldn’t do this sort of stuff. Or, at least, like you shouldn’t be seen to be doing too much of this sort of stuff. You know that the primary reason you’re in Vanuatu (or Egypt, or Mozambique, or wherever) is not to go camping with baby turtles and enjoy beautiful beaches. And if you do that and share the photos on facebook or your blog, you might feel a bit worried that people will get the wrong idea.
I don’t want to downplay that tension, but I do want to say this: Most people can handle nuance, particularly if you’re good at telling your stories. So practice trusting people. And practice telling your stories. All of your stories. Living overseas brings with it some unusual stressors. It also brings with it some unusual joys. So tell them about your work, and about the frustrations and other hard things that are happening. And tell them about the beautiful and the fun. Give them a chance to celebrate the good in life with you.
This will help them get to know you better. And it will help kill that destructive, still-pervasive, myth that being a missionary or an aid worker is all about sacrifice and struggle and pain, and if you’re not hurting on some level most of the time, you’re not doing it right.
So as we look towards 2018, do your part to kill that myth. And have a think about where you and your precious ones are at, and what you might need most next year.
Should you embrace a year of awesome with its mandate to find the extraordinary fun and adventure where you live? (Hello hot air balloon rides, zip-lining, and visiting a local bean to bar chocolate factory.)
Or should you aim for more Familiar-Family-Fun? If your family is already a bit overdosed on novelty and challenge, perhaps what you really need is less extraordinary fun than it is “ordinary fun”—“creative time” or “simple pleasures time” or family game and movie nights. What does your family enjoy doing together? What helps build strong bonds and positive memories?
Wherever you’re at, can I encourage you to plan to make something positive, fun, and enjoyable a part of your family life once a month next year? Because if you start thinking about it and planning for it now, it’s more likely to actually happen.
Thanks for sticking with me through this re-run. I hope wherever you’re at in the world you are feeling a deep sense of peace, joy, and gratitude. And that those feelings are spilling over in how you treat and talk to those closest to your heart and your days.
May it be a merry Christmas and a happy new year indeed,