I have to admit that for the first time in my middle-aged life I stood on the threshold of this new year with trepidation and anxiety. I felt nervous. We entered 2014 so naively. That naivety was unfounded and ridiculous. It taunts me now. What might happen in 2015? What plot twists? What challenges? Who might move? Who might die suddenly? What betrayals and emotional terrorists might cross my path? On New Year’s eve I could feel the anxiety well up like bile in the back of my throat.
January and I have never really gotten along. I’m usually tired and a little worn thin by the time the month begins. The grey skies and cold temperatures do little to warm me to her. It’s hard for me to see past the gloomies and the glumsters. It’s hard for me to find joy.
This afternoon I sketched out a plan. I’m going on a hunt for joy. I’m determined to try. Here’s what I’m working with:
- Cook “foreign” food. Perhaps it’s a dish you recognize from another place you used to live. Maybe it’s entrée completely strange to you too…but you know someone somewhere calls this comfort food. Try it out! Of course this involves tracking down interesting ingredients from tiny little aisles in odd little shops. You’ll likely meet interesting people who can help you properly pronounce the words on the bottles in front of you! The smells will spark memories (or if all else fails, make memories for the others in your house!). The tastes will stimulate conversation. And along the way you’ll happen upon some joy.
- Watch a foreign film—preferably one with subtitles! Make yourself a cup of hot chocolate. Snuggle up in a blanket. Enter into these foreign spaces and let your imagination run wild! Different countries produce different values and those different values are reflected in different styles of cinema. Without the hassle of packing and stress of updating your passport you can suddenly find yourself in a new and wonderful place with friends who speak with a different rhythm and tone. It’s not as dynamic as true travel but it does leave you feeling, for a little bit, that you’ve been somewhere else. (Here’s a place to start: http://www.indiewire.com/article/the-best-foreign-language-films-of-2014-according-to-criticwire-20141022)
- Planes, Trains and Automobiles Your Way—Remember a crazy trip you made in a strange place. Phone someone that was with you then: a sibling or a parent or a friend. Recall all the unbelievable details, the missed connections, the armed guards, the cow on the railroad tracks, how you got to the airport five hours before your flight. Remember out loud together. And laugh. Laugh long and laugh hard.
- Live now. Are there cultures close at hand that you might cross? Are there sub-cultures you suspect that you might bravely enter? My youngest daughter is learning sign language. In a couple of Sundays she and her teacher are going to a church that has a deaf population. A while ago I walked into a gaming store. There were grown men standing around tall tables. It seemed like they were playing with toy guns and little soldiers that were spread out on the tables. My son Connor tried explaining some of what he knew. We asked the proprietor a few questions. I wish I had approached the table and been more curious. I wish I had made more of an effort to enter a world that is completely foreign to me. I might have made some new friends. I certainly would have learned some things. As Third Culture Individuals we have culture-crossing prowess…we need to use it to actively live now as human bridges between communities. We know instinctively how to do that.
- Live later. Why not plan a trip? If resources and responsibilities don’t allow for international air travel, plan a road trip. Drive across the state. Venture into the biggest city near you. Drive to a new neighbourhood. Explore it. Eat food in a local eatery. Avoid chain restaurants or stores. Come to Kansas—for many of you that’s crossing cultures! (It certainly was for me!) Trip advisor has kindly created lists for nearly everywhere…including, as it turns out, Kansas! (http://www.tripadvisor.com/Attractions-g28937-Activities-Kansas.html).
- Celebrate your unique story. Pour yourself a glass of warmed spiced Pimms, or a fragrant mug of hot chai. Make a strong espresso or a cup of pink tea. Whatever beverage you choose, fill your cup to the brim and raise it high. Drink to life…your life! It’s true that very few people in your community share your exact same story. It’s also true that on occasion that feels lonely and isolating. But it’s also true that you are unique. You bring something to the table that very few people do. Enjoy that. Celebrate it!
- Write a Psalm to God. Document His faithfulness. The poets and song writers who penned the psalms were honest with their fears and their doubts. They openly admitted their weaknesses. They also knew God’s presence and strength. They were mobile people, always in transition. They wrote about the permanence they found in God, the home they discovered in Him. Try it out: write a psalm. Lord, through all the generations you have been our home! (Ps 90:1). Those who live in the shelter of the Most High will find rest in the shadow or the Almighty. This I declare about the Lord: He alone is my refuge, my place of safety (Ps 91:1-2). Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good! His faithful love endures forever. Who can list the glorious miracles of the Lord? Who can ever praise him enough? (Ps 106:1-2)
- Take a deep breath! Be present to your current Now. Resist the temptations to dull the restlessness and the accompanying loneliness. Remember who you are and where you live. You’ve been placed here for a purpose. Look around. Notice the beauties and the blessings. Begin to write them down. Turn around and say thank you. Joy and Gratitude are cousins. They often hang out together. Invite Gratitude for coffee and Joy often shows up!
- Look around. Take your eyes off of you. See someone else in gloomiville. January is notorious for the effect she has on people. It won’t take you long to find another who is hurting. Take the initiative. Make eye contact. Strike up a conversation. Point out something amusing. Laugh together. Whatever little joy you brought for lunch, pull it out and share it. Jesus will make it stretch. There will be enough joy to go round….and there may even be some leftover for you both to take home and nibble on later.
I have no idea if this stuff will work. I’ve been feeling pretty bleak. But I dare me to step out and give it a shot! I really wrote this one mostly for me. I made vegetable curry and dhal and rice last night for supper. There was Punjabi Pachranga Pickle and plain curd on the table. I found naan at the Asian Food Store. We ate with our fingers and it made us warm and happy. And I think tonight we’ll watch a movie…..
Here’s to success in the hunt! Joy will be found!
Picture Credit: http://pixabay.com/en/carlsbad-california-beach-seaside-351318/ word art by Marilyn R. Gardner