Failing at Fatherhood (how moving abroad ruined my parenting)

I sat on the floor, weeping.

I was two whole days into living abroad, and I was already losing it.

Those tears portended more, and in our first year overseas, the thing that knocked me down the most, the thing that discouraged and distracted and depressed me the most, was the sense that I was failing at fatherhood.

I loved being a dad. It was a very core part of my identity, and something I really cherished. Moving to Cambodia, I had expected cross-cultural stress. I had expected transition tension and unmet expectations. I had even expected conflict with other missionaries and nationals. But I never thought I’d feel like my identity as a father was being shredded up and burned in the furnace of a cross-cultural move. That was a surprise.

Have you ever felt that? Like living abroad was changing your parenting in a not-so-positive way?

faf2

We moved overseas when our boys were six and seven and our girls were one and three.

I suppose my fathering style could have been characterized as, um, B I G. I loved playing with our kids in wide open spaces, throwing things, kicking things, climbing things. We played loud and we took up a lot of space, and that’s how we liked it.

And then we moved to a concrete box with bars on the windows in an urban capital of a developing country. No grass. No yard. No large spaces.

For me, the shift from wide open spaces to urban jungle was rough. I had to adjust, but first I got depressed. Often, it’d happen on a Saturday; I’d wake up just wanting to go outside and throw a football with my kids.

And with the clarity of thought that overwhelms at times like this, I felt like I had moved from a garden to a prison. A prison that was 95 degrees and thick with humidity!

I had traded acres of green for walls of grey. En Gedi for Sheol.

I watched my kids hang from metal bars on windows when they used to hang from giant limbs on oaks. They were happy, but I was dying.

I missed being able to step outside and kick a soccer ball. I missed our fire pit on cold autumn nights. I missed our porch swing. I missed our yard. I missed the way I used to father.

But thank God the story doesn’t end there, with a depressed dad missing what once was. No, the story definitely doesn’t end there…

 

The Dawn
Slowly, I began to realize a few things. First, I still needed to play with my kids, and second, I could still play with my kids. That sounds silly, I know, but in the haze of transition, this realization wasn’t a given.

I knew things had changed; I knew I had lost some stuff. I needed to grieve that loss well and figure out how to adjust and bend and change too. Basically, what I needed was some creativity, a little bit-o-crazy, and the willingness to spend cash.

And so it began.

I penciled in a “man trip” to a national park an hour outside of the city. I took the boys and we hiked and wrestled and joked and ate junk food. It was glorious.

I was invited to speak in Beijing. The boys tagged along (thanks in part to the honorarium), and we walked Tiananmen Square and the Great Wall. We ate at McDonald’s. A lot. The younger one navigated the subway system, and “a clear day” took on a whole new meaning.

I took the girls on a staycation. We got a hotel outside of town, stayed up late, and swam a lot. Of course, we also ate junk food. (Don’t tell mom.)

We started Nerf wars, using multiple levels of our row house, with intense battles taking place over the “eagle’s nest” position on the top floor. Best vantage point and all.

I bought a ping-pong table and crammed it in a corner. One side has two feet of clearance, so we use the walls and ceilings as extensions of the table. That table provides lots of “play time” that my kids enjoy and I need. Does that sound weird? It’s true. I need to play with my kids.

Rainy season hit our town, flooding the streets up to our knees. I yelled at the kids to get on the moto and we plowed through the water, making a giant wake with our urban jet ski. Neighbors laughed at the crazy white guy with three little kids screeching with delight in monsoon rains.  In America, we’d find a snow-filled parking lot and drift in our van. Here, we find a flooded street and pretend we’re on a lake! Same Same (but different).

We play “air hockey” on the tile floors, using wooden blocks as pucks and plastic cups as the hand-held hitter things. We use Lego men to play table football. We put a badminton set on the flat roof, supposing that a birdie falling from forty feet would do less damage than a volleyball.

We rent a soccer field for $7/hour to throw a Frisbee or a football. I don’t feel guilty spending the money. In America, we didn’t have to rent the park.

We go “cliff jumping” at the Olympic Stadium pool. My six-year-old actually chipped her tooth jumping from the five meter platform. I was so proud of her. (Don’t tell grandma.)

My youngest daughter loves motorcycles. She wraps her little five-year-old fingers around the handlebar and yells “Faster, Papa! Faster!”

We have disco lights in the bathroom. Long story.

 

Practically Speaking
So, here’s what helped me through this particular parenting crisis. Maybe these will help you too.

1. Be Creative. Early on in transition, creativity is very hard to come by. You’re exhausted and on the edge already. So ask around. Ask other parents, “What do you do for family time here? Where?” Just remember, what works for one family might not work for your family. That’s OK. Find the things that work for your family, and then do those things. Boldly.

2. Be Crazy. The Cambodians think we’re crazy, and maybe they’re right. Maybe I am crazy, but I’m also not depressed. Are you willing to look a bit weird? (Wait, you’re a missionary, what am I saying?!) But seriously, are you? Your survival might depend on it.

3. Spend Cash. If you need to spend some money to share a fun experience with your family, spend it. And don’t feel guilty about it. Now, if you feel like God doesn’t want you to spend it, then don’t. But if you’re afraid of spending money because of what your donors might think, that’s a pretty good reason to go ahead and spend it. Don’t let your kids grow up thinking that the most important question when discussing a family activity is, “What will our supporters think?” That question has killed many missionaries, and their children.

 

One Day
My kids still make fun of me for crying in those early days. Thing is, I don’t think they realize I was crying for them; I thought I had lost them. I thought I had lost me. One day they’ll know.

One day they’ll grow up and read this, and when they do, I hope they know how very much I loved being their dad.

In America,
In Asia, and
Anywhere else in
This whole wide world.

fafd1

 

Resources for Parenting Abroad

3 Ways to Care for the Heart of Your Third Culture Kid

To the Parents of Third Culture Kids

One Down, Three to Go

Five Longings of a TCK’s Heart

 

Have you ever felt this? Like living abroad was changing your parenting in a not-so-positive way?

How did you deal with it? How are you dealing with it?

What would you add to the “Practically Speaking” section? It doesn’t have to start with a C (but extra points if it does).

Gently Lead Those That are With Young

shepherd-60657_1280

When my parents moved a couple of years ago, they gave my youngest son a painting. The painting is of a Pakistani shepherd. He is holding a lamb on his shoulders, and his expression is one of gentle love. 

*********

It was my first day in Iraq and I was at the offices of our Iraqi hosts. While sitting there, a young couple from the United States walked into the room. They had two blonde little boys, toddler and pre-school age. As the dad went to a meeting, I talked a bit to the mom. They have been living and working in Iraq for a couple of years. Their children ate a lot of cookies and actively engaged with those of us in the office. They talked excitedly about going to a restaurant in the city, a place where you could get hamburgers.

My mind went back to when my husband and I first went overseas. We had been married for a year and a half and had a four-month-old baby.  Other children followed, and soon we were raising a flock of third culture kids.  Our kids traveled the globe with us, learned how to bargain in Arabic, and negotiated friendships with kids from all over the world. My parents had done the same with me. My earliest memories included eating spicy curry with my hands, hearing the call to prayer every morning as I woke, and bazaars full of spice and flavor.

In those moments of watching those kids and thinking about my own life, I thought many things. And one of them was this:  “This TCK thing is real. I don’t care what any naysayer says – these kids are not growing up like their peers in their passport country. This is real, and we need to honor it.”

And the next thing I thought is that one way to honor the kids is to honor their parents.

You are living a different life. It is not more special, or godlier, but it is different. You are raising your kids overseas, counter-culture to what many of your peers are doing in your home countries. Your daily life does not look the same as those of your friends in the United States, the UK, New Zealand, Australia, Germany or any number of places that you call home. The experiences of your kids will include exposure to languages, foods, people, and events that you did not experience until you moved overseas. God authored a call on your life and you responded, even though that call includes many things that you could never have anticipated.

As I think about honoring parents in their journey, I remember the painting of the shepherd and the words of Isaiah come to my mind: “He shall feed His flock like a Shepherd, He shall gather the lambs in His arms, and carry them, in His bosom, and shall gently lead those that are with young.”

So on this day, this is my prayer for you, for you who are with young, for you who are raising young in a life overseas.

God sees those dark-haired or tow-headed kids of yours, and he calls them ‘good.’ He sees your marriage and it has his stamp of approval, his seal of protection on it. He sees your family, and he hears your prayers. He hears the echoes of joy and the screams of pain in your home. He knows universal heartache and pain, and he knows your personal heartache and pain. He authored your call, and he sustains you with grace. He won’t give you grace for your imagination, that’s not what he is about. Our God will give you grace for the real thing, what we call reality. He knows the fellow workers who you can’t stand, and those who you love, and he loves and cares for all of them. He has begun a good work, and he will be faithful to complete it. He, the good shepherd, will gently lead you. He is “utterly trustworthy and completely unpredictable.” 

Today, wherever you are in the world, may you feel the presence of the God who gently leads those who are with young.  Amen and Amen.

Author’s note: To hear the words from Isaiah as a song click here. 

One Down, Three to Go

I can remember when my wings sprouted and I longed to fly the coop. All I wanted was to be on my own and what I perceived to be free. I took any and every opportunity to do my own thing (for better or worse) and I’m not sure I even blinked when it was actually time to move out of the house and into the dorm.

I don’t remember my mom being sad. Maybe she was ready for me to go! Or maybe she is a more mature person than I and managed to hide herself in the bathroom and cry her eyes out when I couldn’t see. I’ll go for the latter.

Here I am sitting in Kijabe, Kenya, visiting the 3 boys and applying for school for my daughter, and I can’t get it out of my mind; the fact that this is my oldest son’s last mid-term break.

Ever.

I find myself staring at him, hanging on his words, making up stupid things to talk about just to keep the conversation going, fussing over him and desperate to hug and kiss him and say sweet things that only a mother can say to a son, all the while trying not to embarrass him too much.

Does he even know what it means for him to go? No.

But it is time and he is ready.

I’m pretty sure he will make some stupid mistakes along the way and may or may not tell me about them. He may even meet a girl and fall in love.

There goes my position as the most important woman in his life.

It’s just around the corner. The day I give him a kiss and a hug, say goodbye, tell him to be a good friend and work hard, and a zillion other bits of sage advice which I will try to cram into the last 30 seconds of seeing him. I’m pretty sure I will succeed in teaching him all of life’s lessons in the final minutes of my goodbye. It is a parent’s duty.

I watched him run off to class today and noticed that he is a breathtakingly beautiful man. I like who he has become. He is ready. It is time.

I can imagine drop-off day at the school. In my mind it’s an endless sea of moms sobbing through their goodbyes, heartbroken that their kids did the unexpected thing and grew up. It was kind of like that when we all deposited our children at boarding school. I have history with this.

During the bus ride home the sobbing moms will be acutely aware that they are in the same boat yet fully married to the attitude that no one understands. This is when I’ll stand up and say, “What are you all crying for? You’ll see your kid next weekend.”  (I’ve got a bit of pent up jealous anger for crying sad moms who will be living within driving distance of their college aged kids.)

And this is the true and honest question of mine; can I cope? Can I say goodbye to him full well knowing it could be a year… or more… until I see him again?

159687main_launch-l&l-lg

When I signed up to be a missionary, I did not sign up for this. I did not count the cost of children growing up and attending university. I did not foresee my son living on a different continent. I was sure that they would remain 10 years old forever, but here we are, just weeks from the day when he first sets foot onto the soil of adulthood, and we’ll be down one with three to go. Praying this thing gets easier before we send off the last, but just as soon as I say that, I remind myself that I never want it to be easy to release our children into adulthood.

I am worried. Worried that he’ll not just do stupid stuff, but do really, really stupid stuff. I’m worried that I’m wrong; that he’s not ready and he will need to come home with a failure ripping big holes into his heart. I’m worried that he’ll forget to call home and leave us desperate to know if he is dead or alive, happy or sad, thriving or … not.

Yah… I know. My spirituality and maturity rating just fell to zero, but there’s nothing rational about a mother’s love for her children. I guess I am no exception.

If you are on the same bus as me, sending your kids off this year, let’s make a deal. I won’t tell you I’ve got it much, much worse because I live in Africa and my son is moving to the U.S., but please, please don’t tell me how rough you have it when yours doesn’t want to come home until Thanksgiving.  I am insanely jealous.  In my better moments, I know this is irrational and surely there are moms who have it unspeakably worse than me, but honestly, it is where I am.

Instead, in a move toward motherhood solidarity, I’ll bring a box of tissues and we’ll share the common thread of missing mommy-hood and all the joys that having our kids at home brought us. We might even come to our senses and remember the countless ways our kids challenged us. (Err… made us seriously consider pediatric tranquilizers as a long-term solution.) We’ll replace the tears with laughter; the kind that makes your cheeks hurt and your sides ache. We’ll have a great old time with a glass of wine and celebrate each other for a job well done… children who not only want to fly the coop, but can FLY.

One down with three to go!

 

Previously published here.

photo credit

 

IMG_5505Jennifer Taylor is a married mother of four serving her second missionary assignment in Zambia.  She and her husband work with a local pastor and his wife in a community building effort in an under-served, semi-rural area.  She loves to write, learn, and teach and is a strong advocate for sustainable living.  To learn more about the Taylors, please visit, robandjennifer.wordpress.com.

Creating Traditions Abroad

1917470_374541875602_974721_n

It may not be true for everyone reading, but many of us grew up celebrating Christmas in a certain way.  Part of the anticipation of the holiday season was wrapped up in the excitement of the traditions of the season.

Growing up, my little nuclear family of four used to get the fondue pot out every Christmas Eve. We would make an event of it and after dinner we cleaned up and headed to a candlelight service.  After church we were allowed to open one gift, saving the rest for the big-show Christmas morning.  Each year we went around the circle opening one gift at a time starting with the oldest family member and going around to the youngest.

Now a mom to seven children, I have not done as well as my parents did at creating traditions for my kids.  The main obstacle to creating tradition?  Living far from family and the places we learned and practiced our traditions.  Our family has been in Haiti for five of the eight celebrations that have happened since we moved, making it difficult to get any sort of traction on tradition making.

Each year we celebrate Christmas with different visitors to Haiti, we find ourselves facing unpredictable work schedules at the Maternity Center.  Traffic and uncertain political situations in the country change what we choose to do for Christmas Eve. All that to say, it can be fairly challenging to make a tradition in this environment.

We have succeeded at one singular new tradition, no matter where we find ourselves in the month of December.

The one thing we have done every year for eight years is create a little video production with our kids to give as a gift to our family and friends far away.  It started as a last minute idea in 2007, the year we were back in the USA having our last child. It has now become an annual tradition and we have the joy of seeing the kids change year to year in the  “Annual Christams Extravaganza”.  Our kids love watching the old ones and seeing how their voices and faces have changed.

Today I am curious what things you and yours have done to try to create traditions abroad in your new homes.

Have you come up with things that make it feel like Christmas even though you are far from those you typically celebrated with in the past?  

What new traditions have you created?

 

1917470_378019435602_5063213_n

1917470_374541885602_7406782_n

(The three photos in this post are from the 2009 Christmas production. Live animals for a nativity scene. Chocolate for bribing children.)

Find the Christmas rap of 2011 here. (Grown kids in Texas made an appearance too.)

Find 2012 here.

Set Them On a Path

A friend recently wrote and shared this from Barbara Kingsolver, the author of the Poisonwood Bible:

There was a quote in the author’s notes at the beginning that blew my doors off.  Barbara is thanking her parents for being good ones and lists a few traits she particularly values. She states the final thing she is grateful they did for her  “…set me early on a path of exploring the great, shifting terrain between righteousness and what’s right”. 

 *         *          *

A quick google search brings up the top parenting books available on the market today. Further investigation tells me which ones are “Christians” and which ones are “secular”.

Most of us that have been parenting for a while have come to realize that the books don’t necessarily tell us the things we need to know and do the most.  

Books cannot make us humble or gracious or merciful and those are some of the most important things a parent can be.  Only God does that for us, and sometimes we forget to even ask Him because we are too busy reading parenting books.

Choosing to raise kids abroad does not make us better parents, worse parents, more faithful parents, or less caring and loving parents.  We are not idiots for doing it. We are not super heroes, either. We are just parents trying to do the best we can while we happen to be living outside of our ‘home’ culture.

11808901924_10ce46b155_o

When our kids grow up and go away we grieve like every loving and involved parent that releases their child into the world. It is possible that it is a little bit harder or slightly more complicated because we are an international flight away, but hard is hard, and even a kid down the street can feel an awfully long way away to a grieving momma.

We moved our daughter last year, kissing her goodbye at the Dallas Ft.Worth airport at the start of this year. She was the second to leave the nest, and for reasons  too complicated to go into, it felt a bit scarier to us than launching the first one did. Five younger siblings and two parents felt the weight of a new separation as we boarded our first flight that day.

Not too many weeks later that daughter shared with us that she was newly pregnant.  (We wrote about it a couple of months later in May and June.)

One friend said, “Oh my, this is complicated for you being in full-time ministry and donor supported. How do you think this will affect you?”

Another friend said, “Will you try to keep this quiet?”

We knew that this (and other common things like it) were once a very hush-hush thing in Christian circles.  We were surprised to learn that even today some prefer the hush-hush approach.  Hiding was something we felt we could not and should not do. My reaction to those questions was one of unbelief.  Certainly we don’t sweep things under the rug in 2014, do we?  That thought was followed up with, anyone that would stop supporting us due to this are not really “our people” anyway.

Much happened in us and in our daughter in those first months of processing and adjusting. There were really good friends on the listening end of multiple conversations. There were hard conversations and many tears shed.

Once we had an appropriate amount of time work through some grief and move into love and forgiveness we openly shared the news with the folks that support us either financially or in prayer.

We landed in a place of great anticipation and we began to hand our fears over to God. We decided it was okay to say we were excited. We were told by a good friend that anything short of celebrating our new grandchild was not fair to our daughter or our future grandson. We believed her. We decided that hush-hush and half-truths and hiding is an old-school  way to live – and what God knows is happening, donors may as well know too.

We have mainly felt supported and encouraged by the responses.  Many and most people have been so kind. There will always be those that just don’t talk about these things. The sprinkling of “you ought to be ashamed” responses was tiny enough to ignore.

We have focused our attention on watchful anticipation of God’s continued mercy and healing in all of our lives.

Raising kids on the support money provided by churches, foundations, and friends never meant raising perfect kids in the first place.

AmIright?

Certainly we can all agree that a donor that expects perfect children is delusional to begin with. No matter what their parents do as a vocation in the world, all kids claim equal rights to grow up disbelieving  or disenfranchised. I understand why pastors and missionaries feel like it is a big deal when their kids go off the rails in one way or another, but I won’t ever understand hiding it or being ashamed to share it with our support-team.  We are real people with real needs, not super-spiritual giants or heroes of the faith.  We sin. Our kids mess up.  We need help sometimes.

*          *           *

We want to be people of love.  When we are disappointed, love.  When we are angry, love.  When we have been lied to or cheated, love.  When we are exhausted or burning out, a tired love – but still, love.

We desperately want the love we show the people of the country we serve to be a love that has been perfected in our own home. We want our hearts to be hearts of forgiveness and grace and true love. When we get a chance to practice at home, let us practice like champions.

Oswald Chambers wisely noted,  “If what we call love doesn’t take us beyond ourselves, it is not really love. If we have the idea that love is characterized as cautious, wise, sensible, shrewd, and never taken to extremes, we have missed the true meaning. This may describe affection and it may bring us a warm feeling, but it is not a true and accurate description of love.”

We will welcome our grandson in 11 short weeks.  The excitement and anticipation are growing by the week. We are not ashamed. We will celebrate his life. As always, we will continue to ask God’s restoration of our broken places.

Tonight we want to encourage our friends abroad and in domestic ministry with kids using drugs, running from God, or making otherwise questionable decisions to know that our love and support of them is not based on perfect performance by their kids OR by them.  We also want to encourage donors to remember that your friends in ministry don’t promise you perfection, (if they do – RED FLAG) but they would really like to trust you with openness and honesty.

*           *           *

Have you ever felt it necessary to keep secrets from those that support you?

What other ways can we encourage one another to be vulnerable and honest about these things?

 

It Takes a Village to Raise a Child, So Make Sure You’re a Part of One

Some of you are packing your bags, and with that, packing up a life overseas. There is so much that goes into this – from the practical, like tickets and packing, to the reflecting and the goodbyes. Today we hear from a blogger/writer Becca Garber who has been overseas with the military. As she packs up her bags she lets us get a glimpse into her life and raising small children overseas. You can read more about Becca at the end of the post. 

becca-garber-building-community.jpg-1024x629

I live in a little town in Sicily, Italy, because my husband is stationed here with the U.S. military. There are about 5,000 Americans here, and most are here for about three years. You would think that a military base overseas would be a close-knit community, and for many individuals it is exactly that.

However, one of the confessions I hear most often from friends and acquaintances is that they – or someone they know – feel very isolated. The list of reasons for their isolation is as varied and complicated as they individual. They miss the community they left, they didn’t chose to move here, or they feel like they are living in a fishbowl in base housing. For those of us that live in the surrounding Sicilian towns, we face further barriers because of language and cultural barriers with our neighbors and a lack of public community spaces.

Becoming comfortable with an isolated, insulated life is not how we were meant to live. I believe strongly that we should live in community, that we should go outside frequently, that we should know our neighbors, that we should welcome them into our homes (a lot! all the time! standing invitation!), that we should cook for them, that we should accept their food, that we should be open and nonjudgmental and communicative and truthful even if we don’t like them.

Even if we can’t speak their language.

The person I’m aspiring to emulate in all of this is, of course, Jesus, who hung out with everyone (saints and sinners) everywhere (temples and wells, open fields and street corners). He came to love and live with people, and I think we are hardwired as humans to need and love and crave human interaction, support, and community.

If you feel isolated, if you want to live in community, the only person who is going to change that is you.

When my young family and I moved to Sicily three years ago, we were warmly welcomed into a wonderful community of Christians, and that helped us to turn around and return the favor to other newcomers. Here are a few things I am glad we did to build our community and avoid isolation in Sicily. (And then I’ll share some things I wish I’d done.)

Things I am glad we did

  • We invited people into our home regularly for meals, Bible study, game nights, book club, play dates, birthday parties, holidays, and anything we could think of. As a general goal, we had someone in our home at least once a week for at least one of these reasons. People love to see inside other people’s homes. People don’t mind the scattered toys and dirty floors. If they do, they are probably learning — just like I am — to get over it and to enjoy the real, honest person who was brave enough to invite them in.
  • We attended religious services (in our case, the base chapel) regularly, even though we didn’t always like it. If we were in town, we went to chapel, even with visitors. What we didn’t like — the music, the nursery — we tried to quietly contribute to and improve, at least for a season.
  • I got very involved in a women’s Bible study; that became “my thing.” Maybe because they offered free childcare? I’m not ashamed to admit it! Either way, those women became my best friends during our time overseas.
  • We vacationed with another family. The first time, they invited us to join them on a trip to northern Italy; the second time we invited them to rent a house on the beach with us. Both of these trips were messy at times, but ultimately so much more fun than going by ourselves.
  • I met up at the market each week with a friend. We had a standing agreement to buy our vegetables together at 9am on Wednesdays. This kept us both accountable to go to the market in our town, a key part of Sicilian life.
  • I invited other moms to go on adventures with me for the day, like to a nearby town, or to ride a tour train with our kids. Or to go on a hike with their dog if they don’t have kids!
  • I invited myself over. A LOT.

Things I wish we’d done 

  • I wish I had gotten my kids involved in the local culture in some way (preschool, sports, even a regular Italian babysitter). That contact is more for me than for my children, because they will be too young to remember any Italian or maybe anything about Sicily. But those contacts with Italy would have helped me so much. I would have had more Italian acquaintances, and I might even have had some real Italian friends. I would also have learned more about holidays, family structure, and food.
  • I wish I had taken Italian lessons. I got books but barely studied them. I knew I needed to just bite the bullet, spend the money, and get a tutor for a few months to launch my understanding. But I never did.
  • I wish we had sought counseling when we needed it for our marriage or our parenting. There were resources through our church, but we never took advantage of them. Sometimes you just need an outside perspective.
  • Lastly and most importantly, I wish I had invited people over sooner, not just after I got to know them pretty well. The best place to get to know someone is usually over a meal, even if the meal is peanut butter and jelly with both of your kids in a messy kitchen.

Think about the place where you live right now. What will you regret not doing after you leave? What were your expectations when you arrived? How can you make them happen?

Parenting and marriage are hard work, especially so far from home. You need people and you were designed for community.

Read more on Becca’s blog, where she writes about living in the shadow of a Sicilian medieval castle with her husband (a veterinarian in the military) and two young children. Becca loves living in Italy, reading with her children, blood oranges, bluegrass concerts, ICU nursing, knitting, and that all-too-brief period of time every night between her kids’ bedtime and her own.   One day she hopes to write a novel, live on a farm, work as a nurse in another culture, and maybe – if she’s really brave – have more kids.

This post originally appeared in Becca’s personal blog and has been adapted for ALOS. Picture credit http://beccagarber.com/

 

 

3 Ways to Care for the Heart of Your Missionary Kid

Yesterday, we talked broadly about caring for the heart of your TCK. If you missed it, you can find it here. Today, we’re looking at the unique subset of TCKs known as Missionary Kids.

I thought I was done with youth ministry. I thought I’d move to Cambodia, be a “real missionary” (whatever that is) and never attend another youth camp or weekend retreat. I thought I’d never smell “junior high” ever again, or play those stupid messy games created by someone who’s never had clean-up duty. But I’ve never been so happy about being so wrong, because the missionary kids with whom I’ve had the privilege of interfacing over the past few years have encouraged and challenged and taught me so much.

They’ve also broken my heart.

As I’ve seen them say goodbye to home. Again.

As I’ve heard them describe the pain of being misunderstood.

As I’ve watched them hug good friends whom they know they will most likely never see again. Ever.

This post is dedicated to those students. To the ones who’ve let me in their lives, even just a little bit. To those who’ve laughed with me (and at me), to those who’ve answered my questions (even the stupid ones). Thank you.

And for the record, I tremble as I write these words, acutely aware of the multitudes of godly parents who are too busy caring for the hearts of their missionary kids to write an article like this. When I grow up, I want to be like them.

OK, here goes…

 

1. Don’t call them “Little Missionaries.”

They’re not. They’re kids, with unique temperaments, callings, and gifting. If they’ve decided to follow Jesus, then of course, they should be encouraged to do the things that Christians do (invite people to follow Jesus, love people, serve people, etc.), But God may not call them to the same cross-cultural work as you. Or cross-cultural work at all. And.That.Is.OK. Let them follow God where he leads them, and please don’t be offended if it’s not into full-time ministry.Processed with VSCOcam with k2 preset

There’s absolutely nothing wrong with sending our kids to local schools, or out with local friends, but if we have the idea that our kids are little “soldiers for Jesus,” we’re playing a dangerous game. Kids aren’t soldiers, and they’re not missionaries. They’re children, and we should give them the space to develop as such.

My dad was a dentist, but I didn’t’ grow up among whirring drills and nitrous oxide (bummer). But that’s the point, isn’t it? I was allowed to grow up. And although I’m sure my dad used the phrase, “You’re going to feel some pressure,” he didn’t use it on me.

 

2. Be purposeful and strategic.

In Missionary Land, there’s a book/seminar/website for everything. We study how to cross cultures and what to do once we’ve crossed. We study how to help the poor without hurting them. We talk about planting churches without building them, developing disciples without dependence. We’re purpose-driven, strategizing, apostolic, visionary, pioneering, missional, culturally-sensitive, community developing, social justice flag-waving, chain-breaking, tired people.

But are we as purposeful and strategic in our God-given, God-ordained, role as parents? Do we ponder how to disciple other people’s kids more than our own? We are the first representatives to our kids of what a Christ-follower looks like. It’s an amazing privilege, and it is deserving of attention.

You’ve sacrificed a lot to be with the people in your host country. In loving them, listening to them, serving among them, you are aiming to show Christ. Make sure you do the same with your kids.

 

3. Remember that your MK’s good behavior does not validate your life or ministry, and his or her bad behavior does not invalidate it.

This one’s insidious. And devastating. But tying your validation to your child’s behavior (good or bad) is a socially acceptable form of idolatry. It has nothing to do with walking in obedience, and everything to do with looking outside of the Father for approval and validation.

All of us are on a spiritual journey. We mess up, find grace, keep walking. But this natural process often gets bypassed for MKs. They show up in churches and are expected to have it all together. No struggles, no sin, DEFINITELY no doubts. Maybe their parents expect this, afraid that a misbehaving or doubting child will threaten their support base. Maybe it’s church people.

In many ways, MKs live publicly, whether they want to or not. I mean, how many families in your passport country send monthly or quarterly newsletters to each other? One missionary kid confessed, “I had to be perfect so I wouldn’t mess up my dad’s ministry.” Another girl said, “Everyone thinks I’m better than them.” I asked her to clarify. She said, “They think because I’m an MK I’m more spiritual than them. They also think that I’m arrogant because they think I think I’m better than them.” It’s confusing, I know.

The pressure to validate a parent’s life choices is too heavy, and the risk of invalidating a parent’s life choices or ministry is too damning. Missionary kids should not have to carry either burden.

Resources:

If this point resonates with you, I highly recommend the book, I Have to be Perfect, and other Parsonage Heresies. It was written by an MK.

———————-

May our children know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that our love for them is immense, never-ending, and flows straight from the heart of the Father. And when they feel our love, may they feel Him.

———————-

Have you ever felt the pressure to be perfect? What did that do to your heart?

Is there any danger in expecting children to be “little missionaries” or “soldiers for Jesus”?

A Cautionary Tale: Expats & Expets (What not to do)

This month I’m writing in the air while I fly away from my island home. My feet will touch the ground in five cities today before I arrive at my final destination. Leaving the kids and the work behind, of course my mind is filled with all sorts of ‘A Life Overseas’ things, but I cannot bring myself to write about anything serious. Instead I’ve chosen a completely inconsequential topic for your Monday.

Waco 003

~          ~          ~

I think we are all familiar with the term “expat”.  By dictionary definition, an expat(riate) is “a person who lives outside of their native country.”

Today I’m discussing the lesser known term, ‘expets’.

An expet is a pet that lives under the care and protection of a family/couple/individual that carry a passport from one country, but live with, enjoy, and raise their pet in a different country. An expet can be acquired in the passport OR host country. (TCP – Third Culture Pet – and all the challenges apply here as well.)

I will stop here to say, the animal haters need not read any further.  This post isn’t for you.  I, too, was a hater until recently. I understand you, even if I can no longer support you or your shriveled up little heart.

Owning a pet simply for the sake of owning a pet is a thing in many parts of the world.  Owning a pet is NOT a thing in many parts of the world.  I submit to you that if you owned a pet, once you move to a new land where pets are not so common, you may really miss owning a pet.

Most expats with an expet have a dilemma when it comes time to travel to fundraise, rest, or take care of any other personal business.

It feels a little bit inconsiderate to ask a friend to take our pets for many weeks or a number of months.  These friends have their own pets and are staying behind to carry an extra workload, that you leave  them, as it is.  On the flip side, it feels weird to travel with our expets.  How exactly does one justify flying a dog through the air?

(Just wait, I will tell you.)

Left without any great options; we choose the lesser evil.

~            ~            ~

Many years back, our youngest daughter was due to be born at the same time our first-born daughter was heading to the USA to begin university.  Because two such major life-events were happening in the same time period, we planned a four-month furlough.

The kids’ masterful and spectacularly executed campaign began early in the furlough planning.

“Mom, we cannot leave Peanut here. Haitian culture doesn’t ‘do’ pets. Nobody will feed her or take care of her. She might get sick or die while we are away.”

That sounded dramatic, but not impossible.

“You guys, she will be okay. We’ll ask a few people to watch her in case one of them forgets – there will be a back-up plan.”

It was easy to tell they’d done some role-playing; the college bound child was more than ready for our response. “Mom and Dad, this is the last time I will live with Peanut in Haiti, I am already leaving my Haiti home. Having Peanut with us would help me with the transition time.”

(Enter unhealthy and debilitating parental guilt.)

And so began the dumbest decision  – that created a domino effect of dumb decisions that we have yet to put to an end when it comes to our expets.

It was late August in Haiti. The average temperature is 100 degrees by noon.  In order to check a dog on a commercial flight the forecasted temperature on both ends and any stops during the itinerary must not be warmer than 85 degrees.

Paralyzed by the parental guilt mentioned above, we looked for plan B.

We arranged for our two oldest girls to fly on a private missionary mail service plane with the dog to Florida.  Once in Florida the temperatures didn’t allow a commercial flight to our destination.  That obstacle was also taken in stride; I would fly commercial to Florida and rent a mini-van.  So began the cross-country trek toward Minnesota.  A very pregnant mom, five kids, and a giant slobbering expet named Peanut. My better half remained in Haiti, where he probably felt quite smug watching this all unfold.

~          ~           ~

Soon after my husband joined us, we welcomed our last daughter to the world the same week we bought bedding for our first to take to her dorm room.  It was a wild time in our lives. Three months of utter chaos that included meningitis, MRSA, scabies, a C-Section, multiple stomach flus, losing our house-renter and therefore putting a house on the market, strained relationships, postpartum hormones, moving a kid to College and packing up a large tribe to return to Haiti with the frazzled nerves and sleep deprivation caused by all of the aforementioned items.

Good news though. Our Haitian born Mastiff, Peanut, was introduced to snow and ice that Christmas. That is super important, obviously.

The time came to head home to the Caribbean. Troy found out that flights out of MSP when it was too cold would not allow a dog to be checked. Minnesota temperatures, do you follow them?  It is utter insanity.  In our defense, it was hard to think ahead.  Mostly because we don’t do that.  Who knew in late August in Haiti that a flight in early January out of Minnesota would be cold?  Certainly not us.

We booked flights for Troy and five of the kids. I was to stay back with the newborn and get our oldest moved into her dorm before returning to Haiti a week later. We pleaded with the arctic weather systems, Mother Nature, God, and anyone that seemed slightly powerful  – to please make the day that Troy and the kids left Minneapolis be a warmish one. Peanut needed to go home to Haiti.

(See my shocked face.)  You guessed it, the dog could not return on the flight we booked. It just so happened to be the coldest day yet that winter.  I waved goodbye from the truck as I turned to look at my newborn and my 100-pound Mastiff.  The kids yelled, “Bye Mom, we can’t wait to see Peanut when she gets home… Oh, and you!”

A  NEW plan was hatched. My Dad would drive Peanut to Texas. I would fly with the oldest and the newborn to Texas to get settled in at University and sob my eyes out and all that.  If the dog cannot fly out of Minnesota, we will drive the dog to a different city that has more favorable temperatures for dog-flights.

The day my Dad pulled up to the hotel  (photo above, dog did some of the driving) just next door to the Baylor University campus, it finally hit me.

We brought that dog to the USA because we are idiots, not because we are such loving and considerate parents.

Sneaking a Mastiff into a hotel is not a thing.  That, my friends, is a fact.

After a couple of days I hugged my oldest goodbye in the middle of campus, strapped the car seat tightly in its rear facing position and asked the dog to poop before we headed toward DFW area.  I cried the entire 90-mile drive.  I’d like to say it was grief of leaving my daughter behind. Truth-be-told, it was mainly dread over returning a rental car, getting the dog and her enormous kennel, the baby with stroller and car seat, and lots of luggage in and out of a shuttle and  hotel and then out of the hotel and into the airport at an hour we all abhor.

4am arrived. The dog, the baby, the luggage – all painstakingly loaded into a hotel van while sharply dressed business women and men looked at their watches and gave me the side-eye.  What? You don’t travel like this?  Whatever man, you don’t know my life.

With nursing baby, frightened dog, and precisely weighed fifty-two pound bags ready to go, I waited in line for my turn to greet some of the world’s most helpful and kind customer service agents.

“All of that is yours?”  – was the greeting that morning. I answered apologetically and bounced up and down to keep the baby happy. The agent began our check-in and placing our bags on the scale.  “All your bags are two pounds over.”

I needed a friend so I pretended not to know that. “Oh dear, I’m SO sorry. Lots of stuff to get home”, Ha ha ha light frivolous laughter – we are so happy to be here together at this counter this morning ha ha ha. Good times.

The agent wasn’t amused.  She looked at the giant dog in the kennel behind me and asked to see the papers.  I proudly produced them.  Her brow furrowed as she looked down at them.  Lydia fussed in my arms, Peanut whined in her kennel. The entire American Airlines waiting area looked on with disdain as the agent pounded on her keyboard looking up the reasons I should perish.

“Your veterinarian letter is supposed to be within seven days and it is dated 9 days ago.”

I wish there had been a record button inside my head at that moment. The gymnastics happening and the panic that ensued was life altering.  I explained that I was car-less, home less, friend-less.  I explained that what I did have was a dog and a newborn baby and a bunch of kids in Haiti waiting on me.  She didn’t budge.

I called both my Father and Mother, who were many hours away. “Good Morning, sorry to wake you – PRAY FOR ME and find a vet that will call me right away.”  Without context and half asleep, you can understand how confusing that was.

I explained to the agent that Haiti would never even ask to see my dumb Veterinarian letter, it was a formality and if they arrested me in Haiti I would be okay with that.  I mean really, how long can they hold a lactating half-crazed American woman, anyway? I begged her not to make rule enforcement her job. I assured her that I would take the risk and never blame her if it backfired.

She dug in. I dug in.  It wasn’t hard to cry.  So I did that.  For ten or fifteen minutes we waited one another out.  I pointed out that I had no way to move all the stuff and the kid and the kenneled up dog so she’d have to look at my sorry face all the live long day if she didn’t let us go. I planned my sit-in.

A supervisor was called.  The negotiations began all over again. The baby started wailing due to feeling the tension.

In the end it was Lydia’s loud crying, my insistence that nobody in Haiti would care, and my Mom’s prayers that seemed to set us free with boarding passes in hand.  The dog was taken by someone to go to the special loading area for dogs that don’t understand the rules.

As expected, in Haiti, the letter for the dog was accepted – no questions asked – and for a few moments I was everyone’s hero.

This brings me to the end of my tale. You might think, what’s the point, Tara?

The point is: don’t be stupid.

Let your friends take care of your pets. They’ll live.

 What about you?  Do you travel across international borders with your pet?

 Or  leave your pet behind?  If you have children, has the pet thing been complicated?

I wish I could tell you the questionable decisions surrounding TCPs stopped with Peanut.  Nope. Two other expets have joined the family. Meet Hazelnut and Chestnut, one of them just recently traveled by plane with us with a properly dated vet letter that nobody ever saw. He left a little parting gift at DFW gate A27.

1485086_10153707255815603_1700837442_n

Tara Livesay works and lives in Port-au-Prince, Haiti
blog: livesayhaiti.com | twitter (sharing with her better half): @troylivesay

Consumer or Consumed?

photo copy

Like many of you, we are raising our children outside of their passport country.

Our two oldest daughters have returned to life in the United States. We are currently in Texas for a few months to be near our second-born as she navigates the transition and finds her place in a world that she hasn’t lived in for seven years.  As you can imagine, there are plenty of challenges and painful things to process. 

Our youngest five children have lived almost their entire lives outside of the Unites States of America, their passport country. Our Haitian born children identify themselves as Haitian-Americans without feeling that either country is their home. Our American born children identify themselves as American-Haitians without feeling that either country is their home.

Last weekend we needed to take our two sons shopping for shoes.  They only own sandals and we needed to go buy tennis-shoes for their first practice. For the first time in their lives they are playing on an organized YMCA soccer team. The excitement is palpable, although we figured out that they thought they were playing in a big lit-up stadium with thousands of fans, like on television. The reality of it being at a cruddy junior-high field without lights and only a dozen or so bored parents watching made it a little less epic than they originally thought it might be. How awesome would it be to live inside of the mind and reality of a kid that sees himself as David Beckham before he even walks onto a soccer field for the first time?  (Very.Awesome.Indeed.) Excuse me while I digress.

We entered the shoe store with our sons, ages 9 and 12, and began to search for the perfect shoe in their sizes. Our younger son spotted a pair he liked. He picked up the display shoe and said, “Oh this is a size 3. Do they have other sizes, Mom?” Behind the display there were dozens of boxes of shoes, but having never shopped for shoes in a bona-fide shoe store, he didn’t know the system.  “Yes buddy, these shoes behind the display are all different sizes, see here?” I replied.

We began trying shoes on together.  Our older son said, “Oh, they let you untie them? That’s so nice.”   A bit later our sons said, “Mom and Dad, these shoes cost so much!”  We said, “Well guys, these are pretty average prices for new shoes.”  They continued to marvel at the expense of shoes. Finally Noah picked up the display shoe of a pair of baby-size shoes. “Mom, you’re telling me that $84 for a pair of baby shoes is a normal price?!?”  That is when we realized they thought the prices on the signs were for one shoe.  “No guys, the price is for a pair of shoes.” – we explained.

1173704_10153222234590603_1418293792_n

My husband and I made eye contact and engaged in long conversations that silently said, “Oh dear Lord, we are entertained and horrified by this all at once. What have we done?!?”

A few minutes later, our almost always-joyful older son began to act odd. “What is wrong buddy?” He couldn’t answer. He didn’t have the ability to identify what was wrong right then.  Later, when pressed, he said, “I don’t usually choose my shoes. They just come to Haiti.”  We realized he had a valid point. He is 12 years old but for the last 7 years I have been buying one pair of sturdy sandals on-line each year and they usually appear to him without much discussion at all, and certainly without entering a store. He was stressed out by the multiple choices and was shutting down, not able to make a decision anymore.

We love raising our kids in Haiti. There are so many things we can shield them from, not least of which is advertising and marketing aimed directly at them. There are huge benefits to them, but as parents we realize that we’ve not done enough to prepare our kids for the future.  If they are going to grow up (it seems like they insist upon this – which is a very large bummer) and leave our home they are going to need to be able to face choices, make decisions, participate in commerce, and understand a shoe store. We find it a tricky balance, teaching kids how to be wise and careful consumers, without teaching them to be overtly consumeristic. They need shoes. They don’t need to be sucked into the advertising vortex that sells them the “shoes will make you happy and more shoes will make you more happy” idea.

The shoe store is just the beginning of the  adapting and practicing they all need to do. We don’t think it is the biggest deal ever that they don’t know these things automatically, but we think it is important that we try to help them learn. Luckily, we have a few months in the USA to work on some of these things.

If you need us we’ll be at Famous Footwear, learning.

How do you strike the balance?  How do you teach a child that is exposed to one or two choices to be able to make a decision when hundreds of choices are offered? How do you teach your kids to shop while raising them in places where there aren’t many shopping options?  How important do you think this is? 

 

 

Tara Livesay works as a midwife apprentice in Port-au-Prince, Haiti 

blog:  livesayhaiti.com  |  twitter (sharing with her better half): @troylivesay

 

Brave or Dependent?

depend2Some people tell me it is brave to raise my kids in Africa. They could get malaria or be bitten by a poisonous snake. They don’t have a Sunday School class. They can’t eat gluten-free foods. Their friends are Muslims. They live far away from cousins, aunts and uncles, and grandparents.

My initial reaction is to to say, “Well, I think it is brave to raise kids in America.” I know my heart, my soul-shriveling tendency to love the world. I know my kids, how quickly they could be sucked into the idolatry of a nation whose church is the shopping mall and whose God is the latest iPhone.

But this kneejerk reaction is wrong because it assumes brave is the right word to use to describe parenting, on any continent.

Brave is the wrong word.

Life As Fasting

Living overseas is a form of fasting. Fasting from the comforts of a would-be heaven on earth where there are hot showers, dishwashers and clothes dryers, fully-stocked grocery stores and someone else to teach piano lessons. Living overseas is fasting that says, “this much, O God, this much, I want to know you.” And, “this much, O God, this much, I want you to be known” (Michael Oh).

I want to know God deeply and I want him to be known so much that I will risk scary diseases, fast from my beloved family and worldly comforts, and teach my children to engage with neighbors of differing faiths. But to live and fast like that, to raise my children like that, isn’t brave. And I know people who don’t live overseas who want to know God deeply and want him to be known so much that they live in inner city neighborhoods and they live in the suburbs and they choose to love like Jesus. They don’t feel brave.

When I think about mothering my three children who love this steamy, desert nation, I don’t feel brave. I feel dependent. Helplessly, desperately, breathlessly, clingingly dependent.

Last week the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan began. Fasting from food and water is hard. Fasting from food and water in the hottest country on earth is dang hard. Fasting from food and water in the hottest country on earth in the hottest month of the year is dang stinking hard.

djibouti market

And the strain will begin to show because fasting (Muslim, Christian, or otherwise) emphasizes our weaknesses, reveals the longings of our taste buds and stomachs and exposes the very real, carnal needs of our bodies. Fasting reminds us that we are helpless and desperate, utterly dependent on food and water, and when undertaken as a spiritual discipline, fasting reminds us that we are helpless and desperate, utterly dependent on God.

He is the sustainer and the giver of comfort. He forgives and provides. He has prepared a place for us. He sends hope and perfects joy. He encourages the weary and heals the broken.

Some people tell me I’m brave for raising my kids here. Some people tell Muslims they are brave for committing to a challenging fast. Sometimes I think my friends in the US are brave. But I also think the point of any fast is to reveal how truly unbrave we are. And one of the things I’ve learned through raising kids (both in Minnesota and in Djibouti) is how truly unbrave I am.

Because brave is not the right word for people seeking God.

Dependent is.

How has living overseas revealed your dependency? I have learned many things while surrounded by the Ramadan fast, has God used the spiritual discipline of another religious system to encourage you?

*Part of this post is taken from Desperate, Breathless, Dependent Parenting by Rachel Pieh Jones on the Desiring God blog. Click the link to read the original and complete post.

-Rachel Pieh Jones, development worker, Djibouti

                         Blog: Djibouti Jones, Twitter: @RachelPiehJones, Facebook: Rachel Pieh Jones

My Kid Can Cuss in Two Languages

When the new normal cuts against your soul like a cheese grater on your knuckles, what do you do? Do you lift those bloody knuckles and fight back? Or do you woefully bandage them, let them heal, and wait for the next time the scraping starts again?

We live in Bolivia. We are a bi-lingual family: Spanish and English. Eleven years in a place gives you cool skills like that. Did you know that part of language acquisition means learning naughty words? Bi-lingual means double the fun in this area.

My child comes to me with tears brimming. A foul name from a sibling caused the tears. We do the parent thing. We discuss it. We know our child, the one with the silver tongue, has struggled, been bullied, been picked on. We know the defenses have gone up and one survival technique has been to learn rough speech.

It’s only fair to blame Bolivia for this child’s special knack, right? The romantic tongue of this Latin people makes allowances for explicit descriptions and colorful expletives. I should expect complete cultural assimilation from my children, right? Oh that blessed blame game… like those songs that never end, they just go on and on my friend…

My kid can cuss in two languages. Not an ideal bumper sticker. Although, it could be plastered right next to the one about honor roll. My kid is on the honor roll, too. Somehow that balance doesn’t soothe me, though.

Can I be grateful that our children face real issues under our care? Grateful for the cheese grater? It shall not be said they lived a sheltered life. No indeed.

I was about 11 years old when I had to get stitches because I sliced my finger cutting a head of cabbage. I remember my mom had to drag my younger brothers and sisters with us to Doctor Brown’s office. I sat on the tall bench and screamed as the little ones looked on with wide eyes. Plastered stiff against the wall in that tiny room the whole lot of them maintained perfect silence as the needle went in and out of my tiny index finger. Still have the scar. Still one of my favorite childhood memories. No joke.

Even though blood was everywhere, I was in pain, and the numbing shots did not help, I felt a goodness about me. With all those kids around me I knew I was not alone. I knew I would make it through. And it did.

So my kids fight the habits, and sometimes scrape their knuckles. Oh sure, the guilt still drives me to grind my teeth and bite my nails. Questions buzz around like a mosquitoes in my ear when I am trying to sleep. The prayers turn accusatory with a hint of pitiful begging.

Then the scars on the knuckles of my own soul remind me that our humanity is one of our most becoming features. I dare to hope that amidst the pain, goodness can be felt surrounding us.

———————————————-

You can share your cheese grater story below.  Please know, you are not alone.

What compromises do you feel you have had to make for the sake of “the call”?

When faced with a moral conflict how do you decide your response?

Who surrounds you, reminding you of the good in life, when things get rough?

– Angie Washington, missionary living in Bolivia, South America

blog: angiewashington.com twitter: @atangie  facebook: atangie

The F Word

The end of the school year brings loads of changes, some nearly universal and some unique to people with international identities. Julie Martinez, working and writing in Cambodia shares a personal story and the hopes of a family and a son in transition.

Freaked out.  Frustrated.  Fear.  Failure.  These are some of the F words that we have been slinging around the house lately.  We have also been slinging around the F word Frittata, but that is a different story.  We are in the process of transition and it is creating moments of drama and tension.  My son who was born in Honduras and has lived in five different countries is now returning to America to attend university and emotions are running high.

This is a boy who has grown up in airports.  He can navigate any airport anywhere.  From the time that he was 3 months old he has been a flying across the world. I am afraid that when he remembers his childhood he will tell stories of terrible airplane food and rushing through airport gates laden with carry-ons.  Or will he talk about a lifetime of good-byes?  Of constantly downsizing our lives to fit into two suitcases?

This is a boy who has lived an unconventional life.

Tanzania 01-2005 057He knows how to barter in local markets like an Arab trader.  He can hop on a motorcycle fearlessly and navigate unknown roads in third world countries.  He is unique.  He has been chased by elephants; climbed volcanoes; and has stood where the Indian Ocean meets the Atlantic.  He has seen the world and much of it on the road less traveled and all before he was 18.

 

So, how does he transition to the USA?  How does he navigate the world of fraternities, finals, football, fast food, and other Americanisms?  My son is a third culture kid which means he is not fully American nor has he taken on the culture of his host country.  He has created a third culture—a culture unique to him.  He travels to America as a hidden immigrant.  One who speaks the language – looks the part – but is missing social cues and cultural meanings.

He knows this and he is fearful—fearful of failure and is freaked out.  His F word is Fear.  Fear is paralyzing, sends people into tailspins.  Fear is seemingly depriving him of oxygen and causing him to make questionable decisions.  My F word, on the other hand, is frustration.  I am frustrated because I can’t help him and truthfully, he won’t let me which also frustrates me.  He will be 18 soon and naturally wants to navigate life on his own.  And the reality is I can’t fully help him—he sees the world through a different lens than I do and he is going to have to figure it out. IMG_1799

Living overseas is wonderful, but there are prices to be paid and they are paid by all.  God calls us and He equips us . . . but there are aspects of this cross-cultural life that aren’t easy nor are there easy answers.  I wish I could wrap up this post with a three-fold solution.  There isn’t one.  The only thing that I can offer is that maybe it is time for a different word.  Not an F word, but a G word and that is grace.  That God will cover my son in His grace and that God in His grace and mercy will lead him and that His grace will carry him in the hard places and through the mistakes and the hard-times that are inevitable.

What kinds of G words carry you through your F seasons? In other words, we would love to hear how grace meets you in weakness and uncertainty.

Julie T. Martinez, Development Director N. Cambodia

People For Care & Learning, follow her blog at People for Care