Questions Third Culture Kids (and Their Parents) Need to Ask

I wrote a couple of posts about questions that Third Culture Kids are often asked. Some they dread, some they love. Same for their parents. There is a problem inherent in these posts and these types of posts. They center the TCK and the expatriate adult. They make us the most important person in conversations we have in our passport countries. They give the impression and create the expectation that everyone should conform to our needs, should be sensitive to our struggles, should care about our joys. 

What about the people we are talking to? The people we “left behind”? The people who lived a full life while we were away? What about our own need to be curious, interested in others, to ask good questions, and to move away from being the center of the experience and story?

What are some questions people would love for the TCK or expatriate to ask them when we’re back in our passport countries?

*note: be sensitive to your level of intimacy with people. These are randomly presented and range from light to personal.

What’s the latest news in your hometown? 

How has Covid impacted you, your family, your job?

What has been the most exciting thing you’d done this past year? The most unexpected? The hardest to accomplish? The most personally transformative?

What’s your favorite restaurant lately? What do you love about it?

Have you gotten any new pets? 

Where should I shop for school clothes this year? What are the current styles in this part of the country/world?

Been on any bad dates? Good dates?

While I am in town where is the one place I absolutely must visit? Why? Will you come with me?

Tell me about your favorite books/movies/music/art.

Who was your best teacher or coach last year?

How have you been talking with your kids about George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and police violence in general? 

Have you participated in any protests? Why or why not? How have you experienced them?

What can I learn from your perspective on the USA right now? What is important for me to understand, as a newly returned person?

How can I pray for you?

The conclusion of these past three posts is simply this: ask questions. Ask good, thoughtful, sincere questions. Be curious. Be kind. Be generous.

One Simple Way to Bless TCKs

“My book is called Misunderstood because that is how many young TCKs feel.” – Tanya Crossman

It’s true. Many kids grow up among worlds and end up feeling completely and totally misunderstood. They may feel misunderstood by the societies they’ve grown up in and the societies they’ve returned too. They may feel misunderstood by the nuclear families they’ve grown up in and the extended families they’ve returned to.

So what do we do?

What can parents do? Parents who know they don’t understand all the ins and outs of growing up globally?

Well, what do we do when we interact with anyone we want to get to know better? Read a book? Google them? Ask other people? Read an article? Maybe.

But typically the best solution is just to treat them like the unique human beings they are and start asking questions.

I think that one of the simplest things we could do to help the TCKs in our life to feel more seen, more loved, and less misunderstood, is to get better at asking questions.

And of course we have to care about their answers.

 

“Smart parents give their kids lots of answers, but wise parents ask their kids lots of questions.” – Unknown

 

Questions give value and open the door to deeper intimacy. Questions are Christ-like, with one scholar identifying 307 individual questions that Jesus asked during his earthly ministry.

It’s hard to ask questions, though, because I have to shut up long enough to listen to the answers. Most of us simply prefer giving answers to asking questions.

Oh that we would excel in question-asking! And not because we’re trying to control or manipulate, but because we’re genuinely interested in what people have to say.

Like TCKs.

One teenager who grew up overseas said that she would love to be asked “any meaningful question by someone who was truly interested in knowing the answer.”

No two stories are the same. I’ve had teenagers here in Cambodia thank me for NOT being a TCK. I was a bit confused until they explained: “Sometimes, adult TCKs come in here and think they know everything about us because they grew up abroad too. But they have no idea!” Apparently, I earned points for knowing what it was that I didn’t know, which caused me to keep asking questions.

May we all know what it is that we don’t know. And may that knowledge lead us to ask questions.

May we echo the angel of the Lord in Genesis 16 when he asked Hagar, “Where have you come from?” and “Where are you going?”

May we communicate to the TCKs in our life that we care about where they’ve come from. That we care about their stories; the good stuff and the hard stuff. May we communicate to the TCKs in our life that we ALSO care about where they’re going. That we care about their hopes and their dreams. And their fears.

And at the end of the day, may they feel, as Hagar did, seen.

Understood.

Of course, we can’t fully know or understand anyone, but we can keep asking questions, we can keep being interested.

We can keep reading their book, even if it’s as small as a passport.

 

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Tools & Resources

The Key Jar: A fantastic list of questions in PDF format. I screen captured this thing and then just keep it on my phone. Occasionally, when I’m out with one of my kids, I just pull it out and say, “Hey, do you want to do the questions?” Some of my kids like it more than others, but I can tell you that it’s generated TONS of fascinating conversations that we wouldn’t have had otherwise.

Gottman Card Deck: Although it’s designed for couples (you can easily see why), there are some great questions on here that are totally appropriate for kiddos. If you’re like me, new or unique questions are hard to self-generate. I can do, “How was your day?” but it’s a bit harder to just come up with more involved questions. So I use an app. Not all the time, but sometimes. This app is free, so try it out and see what happens.

If you’re interested in more of the story about Hagar and how asking questions is Christ-like, here’s a link  to a message I preached at an international church this year: The Questions of God, Hagar, and Genesis 16. [Links to the podcast on iTunes and mp3 download.]

Tanya Crossman’s article on A Life Overseas: Parallel Lives: TCKs, Parents, and the Culture Gap

A popular list of questions MKs would love to be asked, by Taylor Murray. [MKs and TCKs are not the same, but the majority of these questions seem to apply to both.]

 

Photo by Mitch Harris on Unsplash

The One Question We Must Ask

It’s a simple question, carrying with it the power to clarify purpose and extend longevity. It’s a question that buttresses against the nasty cousins of burnout and bitterness. It’s a question we need to ask more often.

It’s simply this: “What is it that I really need?”

We’ve got to start asking our cross-culturally-working-selves, “In an ideal world, what is it that I really need to make it? To thrive? To be ok? To survive where God’s called me? What is it that I really need?”

Before you crucify me for turning the Gospel inside out and hamstringing it with a message about me and my needs, hear me out.

I’m not at all advocating a life without obedient sacrifice; I am expressly advocating a life of eyes-open sacrifice. You might not get what you need. In fact, I’m pretty sure you won’t. There are a lot of things you need that a life of cross-cultural service just won’t be able to provide. I’m talking about the full spectrum here, from a Starbucks latte all the way to the absence of gunfire.

And that’s where this gets real.

When you realize that some legitimate needs won’t get met, when you realize that safety and functioning utilities and access to public libraries and date night just aren’t as much a thing where you live, you can do two things. You can seek to mitigate, or you can choose to sacrifice. In reality, I actually recommend both.

Mitigate it: Consider whether there are any creative workarounds that might meet the need, in whole or in part.

Sacrifice it: Obediently, with a full heart and open eyes, sacrifice the thing as a holy act of worship.

When we moved overseas, I thought I’d lost my ability to be a good father. All the things I used to do with my kiddos I couldn’t do anymore. My article, Failing at Fatherhood is basically my journey of learning what (and how) to mitigate, and what needed to be sacrificed. As it turns out, less needed to be sacrificed than I had originally supposed.

 

The Importance of Knowing Your Sacrifice
It can appear holy to deny that there even is a sacrifice. Rachel Pieh Jones wrote of this when she responded to some missionary heroes who claimed they “never made a sacrifice.” She writes: “While I understand the sentiment and the faith-filled valor behind it, I respectfully disagree.”

So do I.

Denial and Acceptance are identical twins; that is, they look pretty similar, but they’re not at all the same. In fact, Denial and Acceptance have extremely different personalities and life goals.

Denial claims to honor God by minimizing the sacrifice; Acceptance actually honors God by embracing the sacrifice and still considering Him worth it.

Denial shrinks the story, collapsing grief and trauma and fear and loss into a singularity; Acceptances explodes the story, showcasing the magnificent power of God through the grief and trauma and fear and loss.

Acceptance leads to deep emotional health, grace, contentment, processed grief, and a willingness to see the long view, both forwards and backwards. Denial leads to, well, nothing.

Denial is a full stop, halting maturation and ongoing discipleship.

Acceptance is a grand “to be continued,” allowing for what was while simultaneously looking forward to what will be.

 

What is it that I really need?
Before deciding whether to mitigate or sacrifice, we must seek to know our sacrifice. How do we do that? Ask the question, “What is it that I really need?”

Many of us never do this. We have a strong aversion to saying “I need,” which is ironic, because the Jesus we serve often responded really well to folks who led with their needs.

Our needs must be named, if only to be offered up willingly. Abraham’s boy who carried wood and fire had a name.

Paul sought to mitigate his Thorn, and then ended up gloriously sacrificing his need to have it extracted.

Jesus saw and comprehended skull-hill, attempted to mitigate it, and then climbed it.

Sometimes the cup doesn’t pass.

 

Mitigate and Sacrifice
To mitigate is to make something less severe, less painful, less onerous. So, can I please encourage you? If there’s something severe, painful, and onerous about life and ministry abroad, and if that hard thing can be lessened, for goodness sake, lessen it.

But if it cannot be lessened (and this will often be the case), then it must be sacrificed with eyes and hearts open. At those times, we must remember, over and over and over again, why we’re here.

free web hostingAnd when a sacrifice is required, we rest in God’s ultimate goodness. We obediently make the sacrifice, casting ourselves on the grace and mercy of our King.

We believe that there are indeed sacrifices to be made.

We believe that those sacrifices do in fact cost something.

AND

We believe that eternity will bear witness:

The cost was not too high,

The cross remains enough,

The Christ, once seen face to face, will make it all imminently worth it,

Forever.

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What is it that you really need right now?

Is there anything you can do to mitigate it?

Is it time to obediently place the cherished, needed thing on the altar, and worship the King?

Please Ask Me the Non-Spiritual Questions

When we’re on furlough and giving presentations about our ministry as missionaries, we always end with, “Does anyone have any questions?”

A hand goes up.  And the question is inevitable.

“How can we pray for you?”  Every. Single. Time.

Sometimes someone will ask to know more about our ministry.  Or a person we are investing in.  Or maybe, “What has God been teaching you?”

The questions, almost always, are spiritual. 

This is not a bad thing.  Of course, we’re thrilled people want to pray for us.  We are excited if they are excited about our ministry.  But do you know what we long to be asked?

The non-spiritual questions.

Sure, our ministry is extremely important to us.  But that’s only part of the picture of our lives overseas.  We moved to the other side of the world.  We landed in a country that most people only see on the news.  We had to learn new ways of shopping, cooking, eating, sleeping, educating, traveling, parenting, and talking.  It was not easy.  In fact, it was the hardest thing we’ve ever done.

We are different people now. And it is bursting out of us.  We might look the same on the outside, but we are totally different on the inside.  And you know what?  We long to talk about it with you.  We desperately want you to be interested in all of our other life, not just the spiritual parts. 

My husband and I have been missionaries for 13 years now.  And I must admit:  The people back home who ask us the non-spiritual questions are few and far between.  In fact, they are so rare that they stand out in my memory by name.

I’m not sure why there are so few people who ask the non-spiritual questions.  I think that sometimes, folks just don’t know where to start.  Or maybe they think that they already should know all those things and they don’t want to look stupid.  Or maybe they just assume that we don’t really want to talk about such mundane things.  (After all, we’re super spiritual…right?)

So let me just re-iterate:  Please, ask us the non-spiritual questions.  We missionaries would love to answer them.

Not sure where to start?

That’s easy.  Start with what you are interested in.

Are you into technology? Then ask about the part that technology plays in your missionary’s country.  Ask about internet speed.  Ask about cell phones.  Ask how technology is shaping the culture.

Are you into fashion?  Then ask about styles and fabric and cultural modesty standards in your missionary’s country.  Ask how your missionary manages to blend her own sense of fashion into her new culture.

Are you a foodie?  Then ask about grocery shopping and cooking.  Ask about whole food options, if you are into that.  Ask about the struggles your missionary has faced in adapting to a new diet.

Are you a mom?  Then ask your (mom) missionary about what it’s like to raise kids overseas.  Ask about what her kids have struggled with and how this new life has changed them.

Are you fascinated by politics?  Then ask about the government of your missionary’s country.  Ask how America’s politics (or your home country) has affected your missionary’s country.

I think you get the idea.  How about health care?  Transportation?  Housing?  Architecture?  Language?  The sky is the limit.  You will learn something new, and you will make your missionary friend’s day just by being interested.

Now, it is true that not all these questions will be appropriate during a group presentation.  But when you are one-on-one with your friend, or you have her family over for dinner, or when you are responding by email to their newsletters, please, ask the non-spiritual questions!

And if you know your particular missionary really well?  Then don’t be afraid to go deeper.  All missionaries need someone in their lives who is asking them about their marriage, their emotional state, the needs of their kids, and their walk with God.  Just keep in mind:  Don’t ask the deep questions if you are not ready to be a safe place.  Don’t ask these questions unless you are prepared to be entirely confidential.  Most people don’t have their job on the line if they confess to marriage problems or depression—but missionaries often do.  This makes them terrified to share openly about the hard issues.  Be a safe place—and work together with your friend if you think someone else needs to be brought into the conversation.

So yes—if it’s the right time and place and you are the right person—then go deep.  But asking about the everyday stuff can be just as important.  Being interested in your friend’s life overseas is one of the absolute best ways of showing your love.

You know who are our favorite groups to talk to back home?  Children.  They have no inhibitions!  We get asked:  “Do you ride elephants?  Do you eat bugs?”  We absolutely love it.  Sometimes we wonder, Do the adults think these things too, but are too afraid to ask?  If that’s the case, then today I give you full permission:  Ask about elephants and bugs.  You will make your missionary friend’s day.

15 Questions To Help You Set “Relationship Resolutions” In The New Year

After we got married and moved overseas five years ago, my husband, Mike, introduced a concept that initially horrified me. He suggested that every year around New Years we name one thing we’d like each other to work on in the upcoming year. In essence, he proposed that we assign each other a New Years resolution.

I spent weeks trying to decide what I would say to Mike that first year. I felt like I had to pick something serious. Momentous. Life changing. And I fretted about what he was going to say to me. What awful, embarrassing, character flaw was he going to spotlight and ask me to work on?

When the night finally came, this is what he said: “I would like you to please pay more attention to not scattering your stuff all over the place the minute you walk in the door.”

I was so relieved that this was what he picked, I laughed at him. But I now think his choice that first year was wise. He started small—a pet peeve that annoyed him out of all proportion to the actual offense, but something easy for me to agree to work on. And ever since then I have tried (with varying degrees of success) to be more mindful of keeping my clutter out of common areas.

Now that we’re several years down the track of our relationship, this little tradition has begun to serve an additional purpose—it reminds me that New Years resolutions shouldn’t just be about what I want to do (or not do) as an individual. As I take stock of my year in December, I should also be thinking about how my relationship with Mike is going and how we could improve it.

There are all sorts of things we can aim to do to build happier, healthier relationships. Here are just a couple:

  • Practice kindness
  • Laugh together more
  • Say what’s on your mind
  • Tell your partner what you want and need
  • Ask questions
  • Play together more
  • Practice really listening
  • Spend more time together
  • Talk about tension points (like money, or sex)
  • Give each other undivided attention (with no cell phones lying handy nearby!)
  • Be quicker to apologize
  • Practice forgiveness

The trick with setting resolutions, however, is to focus. If you try to do everything on this list you’ll probably end up accomplishing nothing new in the long run. So be strategic. Take stock of your year and your relationship, and then pick one or two things you really want to work on. Add this to the one thing your partner has asked of you and craft your New Year intentions around this trio of aspirations.

Ready to get started? Great. Here are some questions for you to think about and discuss this month in the lead up to Christmas and New Years.

questions-and-answers

Answer yourself

Answer these questions for yourself, and then set aside some time to share some of your answers together.

  1. Pick three words that describe this year.
  2. What are four things from this year that you are grateful for?
  3. What is the habit you would most like to stop next year?
  4. What is one habit you would really like to start next year?
  5. What are two things you and your partner “did well” in your relationship this year?
  6. What is one thing you would like to do with your partner to improve your relationship next year?
  7. Pick three words you would like to describe next year.

Ask each other

Now, take some time to ask each other these questions and discuss the answers.

  1. What were some of your favorite moments this year?
  2. What is something you have really appreciated about me this year?
  3. What is something I could do to support you well in this upcoming year?
  4. What is one thing you would like me to work on this year?
  5. What is something you’d like us to work on together to improve our relationship?

Setting relationship resolutions

Congratulations!! If you’ve asked and answered all of the questions above, you’re ready to set some relationship resolutions for next year. Use these questions to help you:

  1. What are one or two things (not more!!) that I really want to work on this year in my relationship?
  2. What is one thing my partner would like me to work on?
  3. What might these things look like in action (e.g., if you want to practice kindness, what might that actually look like on a daily basis)?

Your turn…

Do you set New Years Resolutions? If not, what do you do to mark the turning of a new page in January?
Leave a comment and let us know, or share some of your answers to the questions above.

blank list of resolutions on blackboard

Let’s Talk About Love

Happy Valentine’s Day!! Before I jump into all things love (because, really, what else could I write about today), I just want to say thank you for the lovely comments and notes I received after my last post about my husband’s cancer diagnosis and our sudden (hopefully temporary) departure from Laos. We’re still in Australia. Mike’s at the oncology unit today, almost half way through his second cycle of chemotherapy. We celebrated our 5th anniversary in style, in our wedding clothes, at the hospital :). We hope to be all done with chemo and able to return to Laos by May 1. We will see.

Now, love.

If you had told me a decade ago while I was working full time as a stress and trauma specialist for humanitarian workers that I’d now be fashioning a new “career” as an authority on long distance relationships, I would have been both bemused and amused. But there you have it. In the last year I’ve published two books for people in romantic relationships with plans for more to come.

So, to celebrate Valentine’s Day, I’ve pulled something out of each of my recent books that I thought might help you “grow love” in your life.

Whether you’re dating, married, or single, I hope these discussion questions and activities provide you with fodder for thought and conversation with others in your “inner circle”. I hope that in some small way they help you deepen and broaden important relationships in your life. And, wherever you are today and whomever you are with, I hope you feel that you are well loved and that you are loving well.

201_comps_72dpiSome things to talk about from 201 Questions

  1. Think of someone you greatly respect. What are three things you admire about that person?
  2. What are some of the best gifts you’ve received? Why were they so special?
  3. When you feel stressed, how does that show up in how you interact with other people?
  4. What would you like to do more of in life, but don’t? Why not?
  5. How does your job allow you to express or “live out” what you value?
  6. What is something you’ve achieved that you’re really proud of?
  7. Tell me about a time you overcame a fear.
  8. What are two issues or themes around which you most frequently feel as if you struggle to find balance in your life?
  9. How have your beliefs been challenged and/or changed recently?
  10. What are things that refresh you, inspire you, and remind you of what’s most important to you?

kindle_cover_borderSomething to do from Dating Smart

The VIA Survey of Character Strengths is a psychological assessment measure designed to identify an individual’s profile of character strengths.

The version on the Authentic Happiness website is free. It has 240 multiple-choice questions and takes about 20-30 minutes to complete. After you answer all the questions, you’re presented with a personal profile rank-ordering the 24 character strengths. Your top 5 strengths are considered your “signature strengths”.

This is such an interesting test that I often recommend it to friends as a personal growth exercise. However, it becomes even more fascinating if your partner or a close friend also takes the inventory. Then you can compare your results and discuss the implications.

Want to play? Here’s what I suggest …

1.  Go to http://www.authentichappiness.sas.upenn.edu.
2.  Register so that you can access the Authentic Happiness Testing Center.
3.  Take the VIA Survey of Character Strengths.
4.  Then, think about the following questions and discuss them with your partner, family member, or friend.

Your strengths:

1.  Do you agree with the results, or not?
2.  What does the test suggest are your top five “signature” strengths?
3.  List at least one way each of your top five strengths is evident in your life.
4.  Which two of your top eight strengths do you feel you use most frequently?
5.  Which two of your top eight strengths do you feel you use the least frequently?

 Your partner, family member, or friend’s strengths:

1.  What are your partner’s signature strengths?
2.  Do you agree that those five strengths are “signature” strengths for your partner or would you have guessed that other strengths would show up more strongly in their profile?
3.  What are ways that you see these signature strengths show up in your partner’s life?
4.  What are ways that you and your partner have different strengths?
5.  How can these differences be complementary?
6.  How might these differences cause friction?

Leave a comment and add to the Valentine’s Day “fun and games” ideas!

Do you celebrate Valentine’s Day? How?

What’s a question you’ve recently discussed (or something that you’ve done) that led to growth in a relationship?

Lisa McKayauthor, psychologist, sojourner in Laos
Blog: www.lisamckaywriting.com      Books: Love At The Speed Of Email and My Hands Came Away Red

Looking Forward and Looking Back: Planning for 2014

It’s almost the New Year, folks! I’m in Udon Thani, Thailand right now, on a three-day holiday away from Laos. My last life lesson of 2013 might just be that 4 people sharing one hotel room when two of them are under three = ¼ the sleep. My two year old just refused to eat breakfast, lay down on the floor of the hotel dining room and started screaming for his crib at 9am.

Man, days when I’m this tired are the days when I find myself looking at my own child with something close to envy. I wish someone would pick me up, make sure I’m warm and dry, and put me to bed to let me sleep as long as I wanted.

But, since I can’t sleep because the baby will soon need to be fed, let’s talk about 2014.

Have you done any planning for 2014 yet? Have you thought about the important life lessons that 2013 had to offer you? Have you made any New Years Resolutions?

I think some Christians, sometimes, neglect to do things like set goals and make plans because they feel that they need to stay open to God’s will. Sure, I think we always need to be open to changing our plans if we feel led (or prodded) in that direction. However, I also think that not thinking about the future and not setting goals means that you’re probably not being as proactive and intentional as you could be about how you’d like to “grow and use your talents.”

When I talk about goals I’m not just talking about them in the corporate sense of tangible achievements. To borrow language from Mary Oliver, I’m talking about the whole range of our desires and intentions related to this one wild and precious life that we’ve been granted.

Goals, for me, aren’t just about how many books I want to publish this year. They are also about the qualities I would like to develop more (or less) of. They are about personal disciplines I’d like to cultivate, relationships I would love to see grow, and how I want to get ever-better at living fully present. They’re about growing towards the sort of person that I want to become.

Being thoughtful in setting your goals (and taking some time before the New Year really picks up steam to think about how you might actually achieve them) makes it more likely that you’ll follow through and accomplish your goals next year.

So as we all look forward to celebrating the dawn of another year, I’ve got two lists of questions for you to answer this month. One list will help you reflect on 2013. The other will help you plan for 2014.

LOOKING BACK: 2013 IN REVIEW

Before planning for the future it’s always wise to pause and consider the past. If you don’t take time to consider where you’ve been, setting smart goals related to where you want to go becomes much harder. It also becomes harder to identify your progress and celebrate real achievements. The whole exercise can leave you feeling rather empty.

Take some time to answer these questions about the year that’s just ending before you start thinking in detail about the year to come.

  1. Pick three words to describe 2013
  2. What was the best thing that happened this year?
  3. What was the most challenging thing that happened this year?
  4. What were the two biggest areas of stress in your life this year?
  5. What were the two biggest sources of joy and refreshment in your life this year?
  6. If you’re in a relationship, what is one thing you and your partner “did well” in your relationship this year? What is one way you and your partner could have “done better” in your relationship this year?
  7. In what ways were you able to contribute something meaningful to others this year?
  8. What are two things you achieved this year that you’re proud of?
  9. What is one thing you would have liked to achieve this year but didn’t?
  10. What are some ways you disappointed yourself this year?
  11. What books did you read or experiences did you have this year that helped you become a better version of yourself?
  12. What were five of your favorite moments this year?
  13. What are five things from this year that you’re grateful for?
  14. What are two important lessons you learned/relearned this year?
  15. How did you see God at work this year?

LOOKING FORWARD: 2014 TO COME

  1. Pick three words you would like to describe 2014
  2. Given what you experienced and learned in 2013, what are two things you could do (or do differently) to reduce stress and increase your own resilience?
  3. What is the one habit you would most like to stop this year?
  4. What is the one habit you would most like to start this year?
  5. What are two ways “character strengths” you’d like to grow in this year? What specific steps could you take to develop these strengths?
  6. How would you like to “live out your faith” this year?
  7. If you could only ask one thing of God for this upcoming year, what would it be?
  8. If you could only “do” one thing for God this upcoming year, what would that be?
  9. What is one thing you’d like to learn this year?
  10. What is one thing you’d like to do more of (or do better) to take care of your physical health?
  11. What is one thing you’d like to do more of (or do better) to strengthen your relationship with your partner this year?
  12. What is one way you could better support a friend(s) or be of service to your community?
  13. If you could only do one big thing this year, what would it be?
  14. How will you keep yourself accountable and track your progress on these goals and aspirations?

Phew! If you’ve answered all of those questions then you’ve probably crystallized some important experiences and lessons that 2013 had to offer and outlined some hopes and dreams for 2014.

I don’t know where the dawning of the New Year will find you, but I know how I hope it finds you – feeling well-loved and loving well, and excited about the new adventures and wondrous mysteries headed your way in the next 365 days.

Happy New Year!!

Will you join me in reviewing this year and planning for the next?

Leave a comment with your favorite “reviewing and planning” question, or share with us an insight or goal from your own planning.

2014-happy-new-year

Lisa McKayauthor, psychologist, sojourner in Laos
Blog: www.lisamckaywriting.com      Books: Love At The Speed Of Email and My Hands Came Away Red

Leaving On A Jet Plane

Way back in June of last year, the same weekend that I published my latest book, Love At The Speed Of Email, Mike and I learned that we would be leaving Luang Prabang in April 2013.

Mike’s position is being handed over to a Lao national staff member, which is good. Working yourself out of a job is exactly what you want to do in international development, and Mike’s good at that sort of capacity building.

So this move is a good thing, and we always knew we wouldn’t be here long term.

And, yet.

There’s a difference between knowing you won’t be somewhere long term – that you might be moving in “oh, a year, maybe two” – and suddenly knowing that the clock is ticking.

When we first received the news we had ten months. Now we have less than three.

We’ve spent that seven months alternately thrashing out possible next steps and avoiding discussing the topic because it had gotten all too exhausting. We’ve tried on one possible future after another – holding them up to us mentally and looking them up and down to see how they fit.

The possibilities, and the questions, seem endless. Where will be we most useful? Doing what? Where do we want to be? Doing what?

Australia? The US? Stay in Laos? Move somewhere in Africa? East Timor? How important is it to have access to decent medical care during this season? How much permanent damage am I risking by continuing to live in the tropics with a health condition that’s aggravated by heat? How important is it to my sanity to be able to keep doing some work myself while also being our children’s primary caregiver? Where am I going to have this new baby that’s due to join us in six months? How important is it to Mike’s well-being and the health of the whole family system for him to be doing work he enjoys and believes makes a difference? Does that work have to be in the humanitarian sector? If not, what else is out there? Where do we start looking? Do we want to put down some roots – we who don’t even own a car at the moment, much less a house? Where?

And so it goes. It’s been a long, hard discussion with no easy answers. Mike and I have been forced to acknowledge that as well matched as we are, we are still different people, who want some different things in and from life. We’ve come to realize that some of what first drew us together five years ago has shifted and changed. We’ve had to confront, again, some of the constraints that my health condition and parenthood place upon us. We’ve repeatedly collided with the myth – the hope – that there is an option out there that will be a perfect fit for everyone. That neither of us will really have to forgo some things that we really want.

Ironically, during the six months when people all around the world have been reading the memoir that details the fairytale of our early romance, Mike and have been getting dirty in the trenches of our marriage. We’ve been battling depression, injuries, and some growing and unacknowledged resentments. Failing to communicate well. Trying to come to grips, still, with the earthquake that parenthood has been in our lives. Getting up in the middle of the night again and again and again. Praying for that perfect option (or, failing that, clear guidance) and having neither materialize. Replaying conversations about the future that we’ve already had dozens of times in an exhausting, maddening, spiral of thoughtful decision-making. Waiting.

We’ve been struggling to figure out how to love each other well when it doesn’t come nearly as easily. 

I have moved countries almost a dozen times so far, and these sort of limbo seasons that herald drastic change are my least favourite part of living overseas. There is some excitement at the thought of a brand new adventure, but there is also sadness and a numb sort of exhaustion. Especially when you’re leaving something familiar for the unknown, it’s easy to identify the good in what you’ll be leaving behind and impossible to fully visualize the good that might be lurking just around the next bend in your path. Do this too many times and you risk never really sinking deeply into places or people, never really tasting the good of the present, because part of you is always aware of a looming horizon. Of more coming change. Of yet another inevitable departure.

I don’t know how many more of these transitions my life will hold, but this one, at least, is inevitable. We have fewer than 100 days left in this little town we’ve grown to love and then we’ll be leaving on a jet plane. It’s just … we still don’t know where that plane will be going.

What’s a tough decision you’ve had to make in your own relationship – one where all the pieces didn’t seem to fit neatly? What did you decide to do?

And, what is your least favourite season of living overseas?

Lisa McKayauthor, psychologist, sojourner in Laos

Blog: www.lisamckaywriting.com      Books: Love At The Speed Of Email and My Hands Came Away Red