Living Between Worlds – A Post on TCKs

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For as long as I can remember I have lived between worlds.

My first memories of life are from a rooftop in the southern area of Pakistan. The high, flat roof surrounded by walls was a perfect place to keep cool when the hot months came in early May. We slept on rope beds covered in mosquito netting able to feel an almost cool breeze after sundown.

Mosques surrounded our house on all four sides, their minarets stately and tall against the desert sky. While on the inside prayer times and Bibles sustained us, on the outside we were minorities in a Muslim world where the call to prayer echoed out over the city five times a day and ordered the lives of all those around us.

When you grow up between worlds the research on identity formation does not apply in quite the same way. Instead, you move back and forth as one whose identity is being forged and shaped between two, often conflicting, cultures. “A British child taking toddling steps on foreign soil or speaking his or her first words in Chinese with an amah (nanny) has no idea of what it means to be human yet, let alone “British.” He or she simply responds to what is happening in the moment” (Pollock and Van Reken, 2001).

 There is now documented research that identifies some of the strengths and weaknesses that are part of growing up between worlds.

Here are some of the strengths that the third culture kid develops through living between worlds:

Cross-cultural skills

From their early years, third culture kids interact and enjoy ‘difference.’  They often take on various characteristics from the cultures where they have lived. They don’t see difference as good or bad – just different. This gives them a huge advantage in our global world. To be able to interact across cultural values and differences is a gift that is inherent to who they are.

Adaptability

Third culture kids show amazing ability to adapt across cultures. They are as comfortable in a crowded bazaar in a large city in Asia as they are in a pub in England. They blend with seeming ease into whatever setting they are thrown into – as long as it is outside their passport country!

Maturity

Often third culture kids are seen as more mature than their counterparts in their passport countries. They easily interact with adults two and three times their age and can see things from a more mature perspective.

Global view of the world

The worldview of the third culture kid is broad and wide. They often look around a room and think – “am I the only one who sees things this way?” People, governments, cultures, and countries all over the world have shaped them and it is impossible for them to have a one-dimensional worldview.

 Flexibility

The third culture kid has learned how to be flexible and adjust their behavior to fit the situation. This flexibility can be a tremendous gift, particularly in rapidly changing situations.

Bridge-builders

Third culture kids are natural bridge builders. They are often able to see both sides of a situation and help to negotiate a successful outcome or interaction. This is an invaluable skill set and they often look for jobs that will allow them to function in this role.

With every strength comes a weakness and the successful third culture kid learns to recognize their weaknesses.

Some of those include: 

Insecurity

There can be profound feelings of insecurity related to one’s passport culture. The sense of not belonging can come in unexpected places and spaces and result in precarious footing – like you’re on a cliff and one step in the wrong direction could send you hurtling into a place where you will get badly injured. Food, dress, cultural do’s and don’ts can all feel foreign, and with that cause a distrust of one’s ability to navigate

Unresolved grief and loss           

Dave Pollock articulated the profound grief and loss piece of a third culture upbringing in this statement: “Most TCKs go through more grief experiences by the time they are 20 than monocultural individuals do in a lifetime.”There is so much more to say about this, but just know that this grief is real, the losses are real, and with real grief and loss comes the need for real healing.

Arrogance

Arrogance is often insecurity by another name. When the third culture kid feels ‘other’ they resort to coping mechanisms. This can come off as profound arrogance and result in exactly the opposite of what they really want – cause further alienation and feelings of being ‘other’ when what is longed for is connection and understanding.This can turn into a vicious cycle for the TCK and needs to be addressed for what it is – a deep insecurity with who they are within the context of their passport culture.

Difficulty planting roots

When your roots are everywhere, they can feel like they are nowhere. When the third culture kid tries to transition from a global background to a life of less movement it can be unsettling. As much as they may say they want roots, the tug of the airport, the feel of the airplane, the sense of hopeful expectation that comes from travel has been a part of their lives for as long as they can remember. Releasing this and exchanging it for roots is a huge step, and not one that is made easily.

While this is in no way an exhaustive list, it is a good start to recognizing strengths and weaknesses. When we name something, we have more power over it. When I name insecurity, I can address it for what it is. When I admit to grief and loss, I can begin to heal.

So how can you help your third culture kid as they live between worlds? The one you love more than life itself, the one who you’ve heard crying into the night, even as you face your own losses? Much has been written on this and there are some excellent resources available. But here are a couple of thoughts that have recently come up in conversation with other third culture kids. 

Here is what helped us – perhaps it will help the kids you know who are living between worlds. 

Name the losses

Naming the losses, identifying those things they long and grieve for legitimizes their grief. They no longer have to keep these feelings bottled up, dismissing them as unimportant. Naming their losses helps them face and deal with those losses. Naming them begins the important process of healing. Naming the losses can feel disloyal for a third culture kid, particularly if they have a good relationship with their parents. They don’t want to appear ungrateful or hurt their mom and dad. Because of this, it is often best done with a neutral person, one who will not feel hurt by this process.

Express feelings of restlessness

The third culture kid needs to be able to express their restlessness without parents or other loved ones becoming defensive and telling them how lucky they are to be where they are, to have the background they have had. The TCK experience is best captured by the word “Saudade”, a Portuguese word that has no English equivalent. It is an indolent wistfulness for what no longer exists.  “Killing the Saudade” (Another Portuguese phrase) happens when they can get together with like-minded friends and express their restlessness, talk about home or the last place they lived, eat familiar foods, and reconnect with those from their past. Killing the saudade really works. It is an effective tool to address the restlessness and move forward in the places where we are planted.

Journal life events

Some of the fears of the third culture kid is that they will forget; that these places that hold such a big part of their heart and soul will be relegated to distant memories, and soon be gone. Journaling these events, even if they happened long ago, helps to remind the TCK of the gift of a global upbringing. Journaling can help the TCK process thoughts and memories.

Tell their story

As parents, it is easy for us to want to tell the story – but our kids have a story as well, and it is vital that they learn to tell it, that they own their story. If we are the ones hijacking the story, they never learn to take hold of it as their own. Part of their story is connecting their multicultural past to a meaningful present. We can’t do it for them, but we can encourage them along the way, encourage them to develop their own voices, separate from those of parents and siblings, remind them of who they are through their story. When they learn to tell their stories, they are better able to hear the stories of others, to recognize that everyone has a story. 

It is these things that have led me to tell my own story, to write, to reflect, to describe – “my memory may be biased, or relayed in a way that my mom would say ‘that’s not quite the way it happened,’ but it is inalienably mine.”*

This past year I took one more step forward in my journey toward living whole and healthy, one more step in remembering my story. I released a book called Between Worlds: Essays on Culture and Belonging. The book is a set of essays on living between and is divided into 7 sections: Home, Identity, Belonging, Airports, Grief & Loss, Culture Clash, and Goodbyes set the stage for individual essays within each section.

My deepest prayer is that somehow, by the grace of God, the book will resonate with others who are living a life between worlds,  so that others can remember their story and know it was worth it.

*From Kebabs in Jalalabad in Between Worlds – Essays on Culture and Belonging

How do you help your children live between worlds? What have you found to help them in this process? How do you help them learn to tell their story? Join us through the comments and the suggestions will be compiled into a future post! 

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Between Worlds on Amazon“In Exodus God repeatedly tells the people of Israel to remember their story, to remember their beginning, to remember who they are. Later, exiled in Babylon, unable to return home, they were to remember their stories – stories of wonder and deliverance, of the power of God and His provision. They were to remember their beginnings.” from Between Worlds: Essays on Culture and Belonging, July 1st, 2014 Doorlight Publications.

 

 

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”. 

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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?

 

Moving Abroad with Older Kids: Where’s the Road Map?

We welcome my “neighbor” Sarah Goodfellow, who lives in Peru (I am in Bolivia), as our contributor today. I am so very excited that there are now two regular writers from South America on the team for A Life Overseas. Yeah! Learn more about Sarah on the Writers Page. Even if you do not have older kids yourself it is most likely you know someone who does. This piece will give you a look at some of the things families live out when they make a cross cultural move. Please add your thoughts in the comment section below. Thanks!    – Angie Washington

Sarah Goodfellow

When we moved to Peru over 3 years ago, our kids ranged in age from 2 to 9 years old. We only knew one other family that lived abroad with older kids, so we had no instruction guide for how to do this with older kids. We were clueless. We knew it would be hard for them to leave the only home they had really ever known, their school and neighborhood friends, their soccer teams and Brownie troop. We just didn’t know how hard it would really be and that, over 3 years later, it would still be hard.

Our youngest knows Peru as home. There was no transition period for her when we moved because she had all that she needed at the time- her mom and dad. For her older sister, Riley, almost everything changed with one plane flight. She arrived in a new country and was thrown into a new school where everyone spoke a new language. She went from doing life with friends she had known for 5 years to spending her days with kids that she couldn’t even communicate with. That first year was rough to say the least.

What I didn’t expect was how hard I would take it all as the parent. We had prayed and talked through everything about our move and decided that putting our kids into a Peruvian school was important to us. We just didn’t realize what we were asking of our kids. The day I rode in a taxi and dropped my 5 year old off for his first day of kindergarten in a language he didn’t understand at all about broke my heart. This wasn’t the kindergarten experience that I had dreamed of for him.

Watching Riley navigate 4th grade and fitting in and feeling awkward and being the only one in her class with a different culture, language, and skin color almost made us throw in the towel on the whole living abroad thing. She changed that first year. She went from being loving and kind to being angry and rude. We knew it was because she was in so much pain and we knew we had caused it by making her move. Riley had a very strong faith before we moved, but that also changed. She questioned how a God that loved her would take away everything she loved and make her live in such a hard place. She wondered if the point of being a Christ follower was to be miserable.

Oh, how my husband and I questioned ourselves that year. What were we doing to our children? There was no joy in serving the Lord. Only lots and lots of pain. It’s one thing to choose for yourself to follow God into the hard places, but to choose to put your kids in the hard places? That’s a heavy burden to carry.

Thankfully we are now further down the road and finally in a place where we can say that it was worth it. I can give you the practical reasons:

  • our kids are fluent Spanish speakers
  • they appreciate and know Peruvian culture
  • they are more confident in themselves

But, more importantly, we have grown closer as a family and each of us has grown in our faith. Riley’s doubts were valid and real. And in the end she chose to trust, rather than turn away. We all did and continue to each day. Living abroad can make even the most faithful adult doubt in a loving God. Asking a child to deal with the intricacies, contradictions, and alienation of overseas life almost seems cruel. Some days I still worry that it is. But we continue to trust that God has not only called us here, but also our kids.

Do you have older kids in the field? What have you done to help them with the transition and difficulties of living abroad?

Or were you the older kid who had to move overseas? What advice do you have for us parents?

Sarah Goodfellow, NGO worker in Lima, Peru

 blog: But Now To Life the Life       NGO: Krochet Kids Intl

Book Giveaway: My Hands Came Away Red

This month, Moody Publishers has offered to give away three copies of my Christy-award-nominated first novel, My Hands Came Away Red. Below  is a little about how I came to write this novel and what I learned during the process. You can find out how to enter to win a copy of the book at the end of the post.

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Cori signs up to take a mission trip to Indonesia during the summer after her senior year of high school.  Inspired by happy visions of building churches and seeing beautiful beaches, she gladly escapes her complicated love life back home. 

Five weeks after their arrival, a sectarian and religious conflict that has been simmering for years flames to life with deadly results on the nearby island of Ambon.  Within days, the church building the team had constructed is in ashes, its pastor and fifty villagers are dead, and the six terrified teenagers are stranded in the mountainous jungle with only the pastor’s teenage son to guide them to safety.  Ultimately, Cori’s emotional quest to rediscover hope proves as arduous as the physical journey home.

 

 


The Story Behind My Hands Came Away Red

When I was eighteen years old, I went on a ten-week short-term mission trip to the remote island of Camotes in the Philippines.

My motivations for signing up were complicated. I was looking to “do some good”, sure. But I was also looking for a grand adventure. And I chose the backpack team mostly because I figured it would be less work than a construction team.

Boy, was I ever wrong.

I’d envisioned acting out gospel stories for eager kids, hiking along gorgeous beaches, and bonding with new friends around a campfire. To be fair, there was some of that. But right along with it came no shower, and no toilet. We washed clothes in buckets and slept in tents. We pumped our drinking water through hand-held filters. We hiked up to 15 miles a day. There was an absolute epidemic of blisters. And there was heatstroke.

I didn’t have the gracious fortitude to be thankful for it at the time, but all of this roughing it did come in handy later when I buckled down to a task I’d set myself before I even left on the trip…

Someone should really write an honest story about a mission team that collides with some of the worst this world offers, I’d thought after reading an article about piracy in south east Asia one morning, months before leaving on the trip.

Somehow, during the following weeks that thought slowly became a conviction.

I should do that.

Then it morphed into a promise.

I will do that. After all, how hard could it be?

I never dreamed at eighteen that it would take me eleven years to fulfill this promise, or that the story would be so profoundly influenced by my own life in the decade following my mission trip. I never dreamed that I would learn so much about writing and life along the way.

When I started writing the book I knew some of what would happen to my characters. What I didn’t really know was how they would react and cope when the world they thought they understood was rocked so violently. How they would begin to find hope again. How hope would have changed.

During the years it took me to write the book, the story wasn’t the only place I encountered these issues. In various jobs as a young psychologist I counseled murderers, debriefed police officers after traumatic incidents, reviewed hundreds of case files on children’s deaths, conducted risk assessments of child sex offenders, and ran workshops on stress and trauma for humanitarian workers on the front-lines of disaster and conflict all over the world. Among other things, my career has been a whirlwind tour of some of the worst experiences life has to offer.

People often say that you should write what you know, but I felt driven to write this novel more by what I didn’t know than by what I did. Writing my way into this story when I couldn’t see the way out was sometimes exhilarating, sometimes terrifying, and always difficult. I often wondered whether my personal sanity would have been better served by writing a romance novel instead of a book set in the middle of a civil conflict in Indonesia. But as I labored to write this novel while also working to try to help people profoundly challenged by their own witnessed and experienced traumas, several life lessons were being ingrained.

I learned, for example, that when I hear myself asking the question “how hard can it be?” the answer is almost always “much harder than you think is possible.”

On a more serious note…

I learned some about sitting with tough questions in life, staring them down honestly, and respecting the fact that there are no easy answers that satisfy, and sometimes no answers at all that satisfy completely.

I learned a lot about the temptation to let the magnitude of suffering and evil apparent in this world overwhelm, and ultimately paralyze.

And I learned a little about the responsibility we have to choose hope in the face of all that – even when it doesn’t seem to make any earthly sense.

OK, now that I’ve talked about some of what I learned through writing, I’d love to hear from you about reading.
To enter to win a paper or electronic copy of My Hands Came Away Red answer one or more of these questions by leaving a comment on the facebook page of A Life Overseas or here on the blog:

  1. What is a book you really loved, one that stuck with you long after you finished it?
  2. Has a book ever changed your life? How?
  3. What is one thing you’ve learned from reading?

Thanks for entering! I’ll randomly select the three winners on May the 16th and email you shortly after that.

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

on launching kids from great distances

photo“You’ve given her roots, now give her wings.”

That is what they all say.

“God loves her more than you, trust Him with her.”

That is what the spiritual and wise will advise.

As mothers and fathers choosing to live and work far from our passport countries and most of the institutions of higher learning, the day of sending a child out of the nest to college can feel even more daunting for us.

I think we can all agree, it starts out quite daunting enough.

While those words of advice can sound cliché, we need the people who remind us that this is the nature of the beast. We don’t have these children in order to keep them under our roofs and thumbs for a lifetime. We can usually be rational enough to agree that we raise our children fully intending to launch them; we want to produce self-sustaining, responsible, grownup-ish  individuals.

When I am not so rational I believe I have been tricked, like someone sped up time and I wasn’t given my full 18 year allotment. In those irrational moments I think about destroying the passport, bolting the doors, refusing to buy an airline ticket, sobbing until my blood vessels burst, or thrashing on the ground with my arms gripping her ankles like a vice.  I’ve heard things like this happen from time to time. (Ahem.)

In my own upbringing I was given two “free backs”.  That to say, the first two launch missions were aborted and I returned tail between my legs, begging for mercy and access to Mom and Dad’s refrigerator.  It was the third try that finally stuck, when I was 25 years old.

I remember my parents not seeming to terribly annoyed at having me back.  In many ways they seemed happy to have me.  As we are launching our second almost fully functional adult right now, I am understanding the patience my parents exhibited upon my return(s).  Our kids grow up too quickly, and it never feels very comfortable to transition to the next phase. Change is hard. Letting go is harder. Drastically changing our long-held role, a role that can be a part of our very identity, is difficult albeit necessary.

Many years ago when my daughter was little, I was explaining to her that my new job required me to travel and I’d be gone more often.  She listened without comment. I finally said, “Change is really hard, honey.”  She thought about that a moment and said, “I agree. I hate change.  I like dollars.”  Even though our conversation never connected in any meaningful way, we found agreement.

Change stinks. 

This stuff is painful.  The idea that I will be 3,000 miles away without any knowledge of her comings and goings strikes panic in my Momma heart. It seems I’ve been telling myself that knowing where she is all the time – is what keeps her safe.  Now, I know that is ridiculous, but it is true nonetheless.   I thought it might get easier with the second child. My husband and I are finding it just as daunting the second time around.

In a letter I wrote to her earlier this year, I said,

“When they hand you a baby after you have performed miraculous feats of superhuman proportions to bring that little person into the world, they don’t tell you about what is coming; the greater pain of letting them go. They don’t tell you that those hours and hours of contractions and pushing are just the warm-up, eighteen years early, for the real pain.”

Our job as parents doesn’t end here, but it changes drastically.  We hope to take the advice of our friends and give our girl wings as we look to God, who loves her even more than we do, and trust Him with her future and ours.

~           ~           ~

For those of you that have launched your children from the mission field, what things have you found to be helpful, especially in the first year or two?  

Do you think being in a different country than your child makes the transition more difficult?

 

Tara Livesay  works in Port-au-Prince, Haiti with Heartline Ministries.

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

Consumer or Consumed?

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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.

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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

 

Helping your children stay in touch with family and friends when living abroad

Welcome back to Part III in our series on long distance relationships. If you missed them, here are links to Part I (Staying connected with your family and friends when you live overseas) and Part II (Long distance relationships: Part and parcel of international living

If you are raising children in a country other than the one you grew up in, you’ve probably wrestled with this question of how to best help your children stay in touch with your family and friends back in your home country.

I know my own parents grappled with this as they country-hopped around the world for 21 years while my siblings and I were growing up. And now that I’m the parent of (soon to be two) “third culture kids” myself, it’s something my husband and I are increasingly puzzling over. In our case the picture gets even more complicated than it was for my own parents. Mike and I currently live in Laos, but because he is American and I am Australian our children are dual citizens and we have two sets of grandparents located on opposite sides of the world. Our children are still very young, but I’m already worried that they’ll struggle even more than I did to define where home is and what it means to them.

Much more so than adults who were raised in one place and then choose to move abroad later in life, children raised outside their passport culture tend to feel split between two worlds, or more. During adolescence and early adulthood (and sometimes later) these third culture kids can struggle mightily to figure out who they really are and where they belong.

If children raised abroad are going to struggle with identity issues at some point (and in my experience, most do) you will not be able to forestall that completely no matter what actions you take to help them stay connected with family and friends “back home”. However, helping children build these important relationships and stay connected to their home culture in other ways can help make such identity struggles less acute and prolonged. If you’re parenting children raised abroad, helping them stay connected to a passport country “home base” is an important thing to spend time and money doing.

I’m going to leave aside the broader issue of connecting with a home culture for now and just focus on some tips for helping children stay connected with important people back home. I’ll be talking mostly about grandparents and immediate family here, but this also applies to key friendship figures in your life and in the life of your children.

Again, I don’t present these tips as a “how to” manual. I also recognize that some of them could prove financially prohibitive for some families. Instead, I’m sharing a list of ideas that I hope will prove to be food for thought and will spark discussion in your own family. As you read through them, be thinking about which of these you’re already doing, what else might work for you, and what you could add to this list.

2b1.     Visit when you can: This goes both ways. It’s nearly as important for grandparents etc to visit the field as it is for grandchildren to visit relatives “at home”. This helps grandkids feel that their grandparents have seen and understand “their” world. It also allows you to spend time together while the children are relaxed and at home, rather than when they are out of their element and busy meeting the myriad demands that come with holidays or home leave. Of course, it’s important for children to visit their “home” country and everyone there as well. We visited Australia either annually or every two years while I was growing up, and that did a lot to help us feel connected to places and people there.

 2.     Help contribute to the cost of travel: My parents have a policy that’s still in effect that they’ll pay half of a return air-ticket to Australia for all of us (children, spouses, grandchildren) every year.  This has helped us travel to spend time in Australia at times when we would have decided against it for financial reasons. This could go the other way, too. If you have parents or relatives that would love to visit but can’t afford to, consider whether you could contribute to the cost of their travel. Encourage other friends and family members to help subsidize travel instead of buying other birthday or Christmas presents.

 2h3.     Blog: If you live far away from friends and family, think about keeping a family blog on which you post pictures of yourself and the children and share little stories about your lives. If you’re worried about privacy you can easily set it up so that only approved people can log in and view it. This allows grandparents and extended family to easily keep up with photos and the like.

 4.     Send paper copies of photographs in both directions: If you have grandchildren overseas, send their parents photographs of yourself (especially photos of you with your grandchild). Ask the parents to show these photos to the children, or even display them where children can see them. When your grandchildren visit (or you visit them) think about making a scrapbook or photo-book full of pictures of things you’ve done together during the visit. This will help the children remember all the fun you’ve had. If you’re the one raising children overseas send photos and videos home as you can, especially if you don’t blog. There are few things that mean more to grandparents and siblings than photos of their grandchildren or nieces/nephews.

 5.     Send letter, postcards, cards, or packages: Children love to get mail of their own – send your grandkids letters, cards, photos, or packages addressed to them by post occasionally. Packages are especially exciting, and several small items usually go over better than packages containing one big item. Also consider sending some of your favorite children’s books. If you have a copy of the same book on your end, you might even be able to read it to them via Skype at some point. You can also take a photo (of yourself or something they love) and have it made into a puzzle. Send them the puzzle to put together. Finally, if they’re old enough to have their own email account, you can email them as well. From the other side, if you’re the parent of children living overseas, help your kids draw pictures or write short letters or post-cards to send to their grandparents.

 6.     Involve children in some Skype calls: Make sure you involve your children in some (but not all) of your Skype or phone calls home. Schedule these “all family” calls for times when your kids are not likely to be too tired or hungry. Resist any temptation to make the calls extra long to make up for preceding weeks of no contact (you don’t want to turn these calls into infrequent extended chores that children learn to dread). Use a webcam whenever internet bandwidth allows. Even if your computer doesn’t have one build in, external webcams are cheap, easy to set up, and add enormously to the quality of the contact (if grandparents don’t have webcams on their end, buy them one for Christmas and install it during a home visit). Consider making these calls a regular part of your routine (e.g., every second Saturday morning).

2jFor those on the home front, recognize that children often freeze up or struggle to talk via telephone or computer. Help them by asking a couple (not dozens) of open-ended questions that require the children to give more than a simple yes or no answer. Give children time to come up with those answers after you ask a question – don’t rush in too fast to fill pauses or silence, children may just be struggling to find some words. And try not to take it personally if your grandchild doesn’t seem interested in talking to you on a particular call. Kids are going to be kids at times, whether they’re on a special bi-monthly call with you or not.

Again, I know we’re just scratching the surface of this topic. But, again, this post is already plenty long enough.

Help us out by leaving a comment and adding to this list.
We’d love to hear more ideas about what works for you and your family!

That’s the end of our series on long distance relationships (for now, anyway). Thanks for reading along! If you’re in a dating or marriage long distance relationship, don’t forget to hop on over to Modern Love Long Distance and check us out.

Lisa McKayauthor, psychologist, sojourner in Laos

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

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

Fourteen Things Expat Dads Want To Tell Expat Dads

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Last week my husband changed the oil on our car. Then he helped our seven-year old daughter sew a dress because I am worthless with anything remotely craft related. Then the two of them went outside and shot water bottles with a BB gun. This is one seriously rockin’ dad.

Over the years I have met other seriously rockin’ dads and for Father’s Day, I wanted to write about being a father overseas. Alas…I’m not one. So I enlisted the words and wisdom of wise, fun, creative, deep, spiritual dads, men I admire for even more than their dad-ing. These are men committed to serving God and their local communities but I am convinced that one of the greatest gifts they are giving the world is their children, because of how they have lived and loved and parented.

They have over 50 years cumulative experience in Africa, the Middle East, and Asia. In honor and celebration of these dads and with the aim of encouraging and inspiring other dads, here are fourteen things expatriate dads do well, in their own words (condensed and combined by me).

 

  1. Raising kids well and spending time with them is more important than ministry and work. One dad phrased it like this, “We were committed to never sacrifice our kids on some ‘altar’ of the ‘great work’ or ‘high calling’ that we were pursuing.”
  2. If possible, don’t work too much. And when the work is done, it is done, time to play.
  3. Commit to taking time off. One dad took his family on a day trip every two weeks to get out of the crushing cement city life.
  4. Enjoy and explore the country together. For one dad this means the beach and hiking in volcanoes and trying new restaurants, crawling around caves.
  5. If something is lacking, create what you can. Be the football coach, or start the team. Pay a little extra for access to a swimming pool. Build a bunny cage. One dad spoke of the lack of outdoor spaces for bikes and play in the city. He makes sure to get his family to grass and trees on a regular basis.
  6. Build habits and memories that transport well. Pancake Fridays. A prayer box filled with photos of family and friends from across the world, prayed through at every lunch. Family scripture memory. One dad is a ‘Tree.’ He forms a shape with his body and the kids scramble up like moneys. He claims this is possible in any country on the planet, even in airports.dad3
  7. Be honest about struggles. One dad shared how valuable it is to share burdens vulnerably with his kids so they can learn and grow as well. Let them know about dad’s work and calling and as possible, help them enter it.
  8. Know each child individually. Their friends, their experiences, their reactions. And respond accordingly.
  9. Celebrate and encourage the unique gifts of your kids and the place you live. One dad takes his son big game hunting and encourages his archery skills (2nd place at the Africa Regional Field Archery Championships!)
  10. Help kids process being a Third Culture Kid. Talk about where they come from and where they are, both the positives and negatives (with emphasis on the positives).
  11. Be wise about immersing them in the local culture and wise about when it is time for distance. One dad spoke of his children’s fluency in the local language. Another spoke of realizing, when his daughter was about to hurl a rock at kids who were teasing her, how much emotional pain she was experiencing and that he needed to step in.
  12. Be flexible about education options. Within one family, four children utilized four different educational opportunities.
  13. Encourage courage. One dad taught his children to use local buses by 10-12 years old. But also draw appropriate boundaries for your context. This same dad said no taxi rides without at least one male teenager or an adult.
  14. Be willing to make hard choices, and to stand by them with faith and joy. One dad said, “We gave up much and our kids gave up much to serve as we did in Central Asia. But we gave up Central Asia rather than leave our kids resentful when that became necessary.”
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sometimes dad scares us

Dads, what have you learned over your years? Moms and kids, how are you going to celebrate the dads among you this Father’s Day?

-Rachel Pieh Jones, development worker, Djibouti

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

Bruising Seasons

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there they go

I stand at the entrance to the airport with my arm around her. Four of our children slide backpacks and trunks through scanners, turn for a last wave goodbye. One, for the last time. He’s graduating from their boarding school this year. Mine won’t get that old, will they? I counted, on the drive to the airport. We do this three times a year. We have five more years of school. That makes fifteen times.

Fifteen times I will drive to the airport with my forehead pressed against the glass. Fifteen times I will try not to lose my temper all morning because that’s how I feel about people I love leaving. Fifteen times we will make double batches of peanut butter chocolate chunk cookies and cram extra toothbrushes into carry-on bags and remind them to call home on Sunday.

Her shoulders shake and she lists off the things in his trunk. The old medals and the school projects. Special toys and gifts from friends. Photographs and volcanic rock and broken pieces of coral. It’s a list of a life lived well and stretched out and moving beyond. The next time she sees him, he will wear a graduation robe and an Honor’s medallion. One more miracle. Like the time one child survived licking bleach on a challenge from his brothers. Like the time another child fell from the roof and walked away with a bruise. Like the time another whispered he was ready for Jesus.

Knowing the miracles, listing them and putting them in the trunks of our mother-memories, strengthens us to turn from the airport and go back home to only three plates around the kitchen table, only three pairs of shoes to trip over in the doorway. Back home to candy wrappers stuffed beneath mattresses and Legos, forgotten in dusty corners.

This is what it feels like to say goodbye to kids going back to boarding school.

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there they go again

Is this what it feels like to say goodbye to children and grandchildren moving to the Horn of Africa? Is this what I’ve been doing to my parents and in-laws all these years? Leaving them to count the airport runs, the passing years, the forgotten toys? Leaving them to count the miracles and to lean in hard, trusting for more?

It’s a bruising feeling. Deflating and depleting. And I want to say, to the men who tell us the kids have passed the visa checks and are out of sight, to our guard when we return from the airport, to the woman who taps on our window and asks for water, to my husband, can you let me be bruised for a little while?

There’s a bruised reed in Isaiah 42:3 and God does not order it to stand upright. He does not force it into a strong pose. He does not cut it down. He does not stomp on it or grind it into the dirt. He doesn’t laugh at it and he doesn’t demand it try really hard to be unbruised, or to turn away and mask the bruise.

He makes a promise. His Servant will not break it. A bruised reed he will not break. A bruised reed bends and hangs limp, folds in on itself and braces against even the slightest wind. It shrinks down heavy among other, stronger reeds.

And here comes a gentle hand, cupping the swaying reed. Fingers circle the bruised part and share the weighty burden of trying to stand while bruised. A voice whispers promises.

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I will never leave or forsake.

When you walk through the fire, I will be there.

Nothing can separate you from my love.

I heal the brokenhearted and bind up their wounds.

Darkness is as light to me.

Those who sow in tears will reap with songs of joy.

I am El Roi, the God who sees.

I am your refuge and strength.

You are mine.

I will hold and strengthen.

Even on the far side of the sea…

 

Have you experienced a recent bruising season? In your bruising seasons, what promises sustain?

-Rachel Pieh Jones, development worker, Djibouti

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

Tombstones

She sits in my office, crying.  “Why am I so depressed?  Nothing terrible happened to me.  I love my parents.  I loved living overseas.  I can’t wait to go back.  But why do I get so depressed?”

I get out a stack of paper, and draw a tombstone on each sheet.  On each tombstone, I write one of the losses she’s mentioned in passing.  As I write, she remembers others.

And on the floor of my office, we memorialize a life of subterranean loss.  We realize that every time there’s a major life transition—graduation, marriage, moves, births—there’s been an episode of major depression, as this mass of grief wells toward the surface.

So we sit with it.  We weep, we mourn.  We write, we talk, we pray.  And God heals.  He really does.

Some thoughts about TCK wounds:

  1.  To be human is to be wounded.  It’s part of the deal.  We didn’t choose this gig, but here we are.  And we’re not getting out of here without getting hurt–TCK, civilian, whatever.
  2.  TCK wounds of loss and grief are a particular subset of the human condition of woundedness.  There’s good research on this.  (See Third Culture Kids, by David C. Pollock and Ruth Van Reken.)  We might not like it, but there it is:  our deal to deal with.
  3.  Our TCK’s are losing their whole lives, every time we put our families on a plane.  And sometimes none of us recognize it until years later, right about the time parents are thinking, “My work here is done.”

Some things that can help:

  1. Fix our own junk.  Our kids have enough stuff.  They don’t need to be worrying about mom and dad’s issues, too. Go first.  Make it OK to be sad.  To be mad.  To be scared. To trust that God meets us in all those places, too.
  2. Let them have their own voice about their own story.  It is way too easy for the Adult Standard Version to be the only version.  Let the kids tell their side, even if it’s not how you remember it.
  3. Do it right.  Take all the vacations.  Have the family fun nights.  Break “the rules” if it means your kids will be happier and healthier.
  4. If you think something is wrong, you’re right.  Get help.

 

On our first furlough, we asked our kids to write something for our newsletter, and this is what we got.  Our 5-year-old drew a picture of a boat.  (Read, constant transition?)  And our extroverted 7-year-old couldn’t figure out why people in America were inside their houses all the time.

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What emotions are you feeling right now, as you read this blog?

Sad, glad, mad or scared?

What emotions or behaviors are you seeing in your children that might indicate pain and grief?

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This guest post offered by Kay Bruner– MA, LPC-intern, former missionary to the South Pacific.

Please check out her insightful blog, where she talks often about Third Culture Kids and their unique struggles: Kay Bruner