Finding Your Niche at #FIGT17NL

In 2014, I hosted a blog series called “Finding Your Niche: Using a Multicultural Past to Create a Meaningful Present.” The result was a set of essays from adult third culture kids, each different and each exploring what it was to find a niche as an adult. Writers talked about the jobs and communities they had found that complemented their multicultural past.

The series ended up being the inspiration for a panel discussion that will be held during the Families in Global Transition Conference in The Hague this March. I am excited to be facilitating this panel, featuring other adult third culture kids who will speak to the journey, joys, and challenges of finding a niche that connects their multicultural past to a meaningful present.

If you are an expat, a global nomad, a third culture kid, an adult third culture kid, or someone who loves and works with all of the above, then this is the conference for you! It’s not too late to register for FIGT17NL! Just click here and it will take you to the registration page. You will be so glad you came!

In the meantime, I am reposting one of the submissions from the series. Cindy Brandt has written for Communicating Across Boundaries before and I’m so happy to welcome her again with this repost of her essay for the “Finding Your Niche” series.

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TCKs and “finding your niche” seems to be an oxymoron.

 After all, we are TCKs, Third Culture Kids, as in, they couldn’t fit us in any category so they created an extra option just to throw us all in there.

 We are the miscellaneous crowd. We are the ones who can thoroughly enjoy the company of whoever it is we keep during the day, but when the sun sets, we look in the mirror and see a different color skin, or go home to speak a different language; we don’t ever fully belong anywhere. No matter which group of people we are with, there always seems to be a slice of insider information we can’t access. We scramble to uncover that knowledge, but feels a bit like flailing awkwardly at the fringes of each particular culture.

 I am reminded of my favorite children’s book, Giraffes Can’t Dance by Giles Andreae and Guy Parker-Rees. It’s a story of a giraffe named Gerald,

“whose neck was long and slim. His knees were awfully crooked and his legs were rather thin.” 

Each year at the Africa Jungle Dance, he freezes at the thought of dancing in front of his peers with his gangly limbs. Like Gerald, TCKs know intimately the feeling of crippling self-consciousness, and the fear of being found out we are not really one of them.

Of course, there are ways that TCKs are just like other people. We go through normal developmental phases in which we discover our own likes and dislikes; our skills and assets. We have different passions and desire to live into them. It’s just challenging to simultaneously walk this journey of self discovery while skittering on the outskirts of cultural worlds. It’s too difficult to hear the true calling inside of us over the noise of banging cymbals keeping us away from the mainstream.

In order to find our niche, we must cut through the noise and stop being led by fears of exclusion. TCKs are rich with benefits. We make the best spouses, friends, neighbors, and employees by bringing our dynamic stories and a myriad of experiences. We are strong from having endured difficult life transitions, yet sensitive from having been conditioned by a diversity of worldview. We are flexible from years of shifting from one culture to another, yet firm in our convictions having learned to hold on to core values while physically moving to and from. We are not either/or, we are both/and. We may not belong one hundred percent; but we can be one hundred percent present when we show up.

When we dart from one place to another, distracted by finding a place to belong, we miss investing the whole of ourselves in any one single space. In order to find our niche, we must bravely claim the life we’re in and start acting like we have already arrived. We don’t apologize for being different, instead, we bring our divergent ideas to sharpen the existing ones. We don’t dismiss monoculturals around us, instead we listen and learn from them, insistent upon building meaningful relationships. We vehemently find common ground until the fears and lies and insecurities of being excluded melt away by shared passion.

Gerald the giraffe was booed off the dance floor competition because he listened to the voices telling him there is no way he can dance. He retreated into a quiet clearing, lamenting his situation beneath the gleaming moon, when a small cricket coaxed him to cut through the noises of the jungle and listen to the music only he can hear. Slowly, he began moving his body to the rhythm of that music and by the end of the story, every animal stood in awe of his beautiful movements.

We don’t have to flail awkwardly on cultural perimeters. We need not continuously seek approval for being the unique persons we are. We can walk confidently onto the dance floor, clothed in the many colors of our background, take a deep breath, and just begin to dance.

It’s like what Gerald learns by the end of the story:

“We all can dance, if we find music that we love.”

You can find Cindy at http://cindywords.com/

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A Short Correspondence on the Issue of Feeling Trapped

Dear Robynn,

I enjoyed your “Friday’s with Robynn” post (A Hidden Pearl. January 29,2016). It really resonated with me, so thank you for posting it. It was very thought provoking for me.

Earlier this year I experienced a very similar feeling to the one you had having returned from Thailand. My friends and I arrived back from India on January 5th. But my first day of work felt so meaningless. I sat behind my desk and stared at my computer thinking, “who care’s about organizing this stuff….!?!” It felt so pointless and so mundane. And it took me a long time to get back into the swing of things and be motivated again.

It brings back fears I have of being trapped and not being able to move and travel or something. But at the same time I wonder what is it that I hope to find overseas that I cannot find here? Being in India this Christmas was fantastic, but it showed me that even if I was to move back it would not be the same as all the memories I cherish and the experiences I wish to recreate there. As a TCK am I cursed to always be discontent where I am living? Am I always going to be trying to re-establish what I lost? It scares me.

I found that book you lent me very challenging; The Wisdom of Stability, by Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove. I love the idea of building that strong community with the people around me and knowing a place and its people intimately, but putting down roots and making that decision that this is where I will live and work and help to build the Lord’s kingdom is terrifying.

Thinking of the Pearl of Great Price is comforting in the midst of all this going on in my head and in my heart. Jesus is here in America just as much as He is in India and Pakistan or anywhere else for that matter. I feel a level of guilt for not allowing Jesus to be my stability and the center of my affection and the source of my contentment. I need to move away from this idea that I will find peace in any country of this world and move toward knowing I will find peace in the One who created this world.

I think its high time I started to search for this Pearl! And like you said, that hunt for Him will never disappoint!

Dear Young Third Culture Adult,

Thank you again for reading what I write! And thanks for so honestly interacting with it too. I love your heart.

I can so relate to the fears you’ve articulated. I still fear being stuck more than anything. Sometimes when I think about the decision we made to stay here in Kansas I feel a sense of panic begin to creep up from my toes. The idea that we are trapped here, in this house, in this city, in this country freaks me out. I have to constantly present my heart to Jesus asking for daily grace and new mercies.

I think I probably told you this story already…but when my husband Lowell and I decided to buy the little blue house on Colorado Street I resisted. I was anxious to move out of the trailer court only because I really wanted a basement here in Tornado Town. But the idea of BUYING felt so permanent and so forever and so stocks and barrels like. I felt claustrophobic. It stirred up anxiety in me. After we had put our signature on hundreds of papers, initialed countless more and signed our souls over to the bank Lowell and I went out for lunch. Most couples, I imagine, celebrate the purchase of their first home. For me it was a bittersweet time. I cried, wet, salty tears. I’ll never forget Lowell’s response. He put his hand across the table and gently took up my shaky hand. He looked me in the eyes and said what I longed to hear. This doesn’t mean anything. We are not stuck here. If Jesus calls us to Mongolia tomorrow we’ll sell the house. This is not a big deal. There was such reassurance in those words. I felt such relief.

You are not trapped. You are not stuck. I think the enemy of our souls piggybacks on this issue for the Adult TCK. He wants you to think you are stuck. He wants you to feel that a life in your passport country is a purposeless life. Whatever he can do to undermine your sense of worth and calling and purpose He will do. He comes to steal and kill and destroy. Jesus comes to give us life abundant—“a rich and satisfying life!” (John 10:10)

Returning from Thailand in January was difficult at first. But then out of the blue I started reading a book about prayer. It struck me that our purpose is sure in Christ. We are here for the Kingdom of God. We are here for His Glory. We are here to make Jesus famous. Those things have not changed—no matter where we live. But our enemy likes to erode our sense of who we are. He likes to confuse. He steals our purpose. He makes us feel like we have nothing to offer, that we are meant to live somewhere else. It’s the same argument he used in the Garden of Eden with Adam and Eve. The enemy tries to tell us that God is cheating us, that God knows we thrive somewhere else but he’s stuck us here forever to rot away.

It’s changed the way I’m praying. I’m now asking God to protect my sense of purpose. I’m asking him to give me a divine satisfaction with the space he has for me. I’m asking for contentment and joy. And then I’m asking for protection over that satisfaction, over that contentment, over that sense of purpose. Understanding my sense of purpose as something the enemy is opposed to is a new thought for me but I’m trying this out and seeing Jesus victorious in it. To be honest, and this is surprising me even as I write it, I haven’t thought much about my purpose for the last couple of months since I started to pray that way. I think Jesus really is protecting that….declaring it off limits to the enemy of my soul who has tortured me there for so very many years.

Resist the guilt my friend. You wrote, “I feel a level of guilt for not allowing Jesus to be my stability and the center of my affection and the source of my contentment.”  What might feel like guilt is really an invitation. Jesus is inviting you into deeper places of stability and affection and contentment. He longs for you to find those things in him…

We are so in this together. I wish I could tell you that these things go away. I’m afraid this is your opportunity to find Jesus faithful for many years to come. This is your place of need. This is your thorn in the flesh. But I can also say with great rigor that Jesus WILL BE faithful at every turn. I’ve battled these things over and over again. I can see how Jesus has used this in my story to push me deeper into Who He Is! My faith has grown. I’ve learned that in this suffering He has been kind to me.

 

Hospitable Me

One of the sweet daily habits of our marriage is that Lowell makes the bed. When we first got married and he was still dew eyed and love drunk he asked me what the one household task that I least liked was. I didn’t hesitate. I hate making the bed. I love a made bed but I really begrudge making it. From that day forward he has made our bed.

Not long ago as he was pulling up sheets, smoothing the bedcover and piling on pillows, he mentioned that he had once heard that making your bed is like extending hospitality to yourself. That captured my imagination and all summer long I’ve been thinking about the idea of being hospitable to myself. What does that look like? What would it mean if I greeted my weaknesses with grace, my strengths with kindness? What would change if I embraced my past and invited it into my presence? How might that level of acceptance of who I am—including my whole story—change the way I respond to me?

You see I’m very good at slamming the door in my own face. I’ve been known to shake my head and say, I Don’t Think So or No Thank You to myself! I’ve been known to meet myself at the door with shame and contempt: You don’t belong here. You’re not welcome. Some of me that has snuck past has been quickly boxed up and stored in the deep basement of my soul. There’s no place for that me here.

It still feels like there are large chunks of me that seem to be at odds with the world I live in. I’m very aware that I’m a foreigner. It seems that I should be more settled by now—I’m mean good golly we’ve lived here nine years—and yet somehow that hasn’t been my experience. There are so many things about living here that I don’t know. I’m often clueless and unsure of myself.

On the other hand there are lots of things I know that no longer are necessary in this current context. I know how to get around South Asia. I’m really good in airports. I know how to speak Urdu and Hindi. I know how to bargain and barter with joy. I know how to think in Celsius and kilograms. I know how to take a bath in a dipper of water. I know how to use a pressure cooker. But none of that matters any more.

A good friend invited me to read Leanna Tankersley’s book, Brazen (with the fabulous subtitle: The Courage to Find the You That’s Been Hiding) this summer. One of the chapters in this rich volume, Allow for Expansion, invited me to begin to open the door to myself with some degree of welcome. Please permit me to quote her extensively. This is good stuff!

            …there are so many different aspects to me. Like you, I’m not one self. I am a strange amalgamation of different, sometimes seemingly contradictory selves: athlete, creator, nurturer, ideator, homemaker, extrovert, introvert, football fan, poetry lover. I’ve often erroneously believed I must trade each of these in for the next, instead of learning the fine art of embracing all these different aspects of my identity, letting each of them inform the collective me that is becoming.

            …The temptation for me is to say, “That is no longer me; this is now me” and abandon parts of myself as irrelevant or no longer….In fact, the Hebrew word of life—hayim—is actually plural … we are a dynamic unfolding of many selves.

            If I would have known then what I know now, I would have realized I was expanding, not necessarily losing. Expansions can be so drastic that they feel disorienting. A new facet of me was arriving. One I had to meet and embrace and get to know. I was going through an incredible change, but that didn’t mean other parts of me were being replaced.

            Allow yourself to become, to expand. Don’t feed the temptation to replace your selves. Expand your self. Don’t be afraid of all these parts of you. Welcome the mother in you even as you are overwhelmed by her responsibilities. Welcome the achiever in you instead of rejecting her as soulless. Welcome the sensual in you instead of demonizing pleasure. Welcome the artist in you instead of believing she must be defunct now that you are running a household. We are both complete and becoming. Let yourself expand. (Leanna Tankersley, Brazen, 2016. Pgs 83-85).

I’m slowly changing how I greet myself. I’m giving me permission to be fully me. I’m learning to accept my whole story—including the pieces that I’ve previously poured shame on. I think I’m learning to welcome Robynn; to embrace her as God made her, with the story He gave her and for what she has to offer.

This is who I am—Robynn Joy Bliss—a combination of vast assortments of me! I choose to accept all those versions of me. I’ve been a foreigner most of my life. I often feel like I don’t belong or I don’t fit in. I choose to accept that piece of me too. I can be kind to the foreigner immigrant me, I can, because Jesus is. There are gaps in my knowledge but that’s ok. I am human. No one knows everything. Everybody has something they don’t know. I can be gentle to that me. I can ask for help. I can choose to humbly admit my ignorance and naiveté. There is no shame in that.

If I pigeon-holed myself, I, my family and friends and the world would miss out on the fascinating fullness that is Robynn Bliss (slightly paraphrased Brazen p84).

Admittedly looking up the word ‘hospitality’ in the dictionary did very little to satisfy my sudden longing to explore what it would mean to be hospitable to me. Hospitality is the, “generous and friendly treatment of visitors and guests.” But I was struck deeply by the example of hospitality that Merriam-Webster used in a sentence. “It was refreshing to be met with such hospitality after our long journey.”

Merriam-Webster is on to something. It would be refreshing to be met with such hospitality after this long journey. I’m determined to learn to extend this to myself with acceptance and joy; with generosity and warmth.

Welcome Robynn. It’s been a long journey. Have a seat. Can I get you anything? Please make yourself at home. Unpack your things. Take as long as you need. You are welcome here.

 

 

Imagine for a Moment…

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“Rootlessness — the implied weakness of it — is treated as a failure. That is plainly schizophrenic: In a world where one in seven people is displaced, the failure must be of planetary scale. It belongs to all of us. This is a century of dislocation not merely of body and home, but also of empathy, dignity, compassion.” [Refugees Don’t Need Your Pity by Anna Badkhen]

Imagine with me for a moment. 

Imagine that you have spent the last seven years in a refugee camp. You live in a tent with nine other family members. A water truck comes by twice a day and you make sure you and your family are there with your water containers, because water is life. Food bags are distributed once a month and give you lentils, oil, powdered milk, rice, sugar, and tea. At the same time you are given a bag with soap and detergent.

You registered your family with UNHCR when you first arrived, and the last two years you have been to so many interviews that you have lost count. You have been asked if you have ever trained child soldiers; if you’ve ever sold your body for sex; if you have ever communicated with a terrorist–so many questions, questions that embarass you. You have gone through medical exams where you were probed and prodded, where blood was taken over and over for laboratory tests, where you comforted your screaming three year-old with a soft “shh,shh,shh” desperately trying to hold down their tiny arm so blood could be taken from an almost absent vein.

And then one day, the word came. Your papers have been approved. You are going to America. You, your parents, your spouse, and your five children– nine of you in total. The next weeks are a blur. The camp has been your home for seven years. Your youngest two children were born here. You know everything about the residents, you have lived in close quarters for a long time. You can hardly believe that this is happening.

Stories periodically circulate around the camp about America. “My Uncle lives in Detroit,” says one of your neighbors. “Please say ‘hello’ to him.” “My cousin says that children don’t respect their parents,” says another. “Children run off and do all sorts of things.” You are quite sure that they are simply envious of your lot.

The day comes. You’ve never been on an airplane, and it smells funny and feels slightly claustrophobic. You feel like you are in a dream. Can this really be true?

“Everything is held together with stories,” the writer Barry Lopez once said. “That is all that is holding us together, stories and compassion.” But for all of our new accessibility, we know each other’s stories no better than before.

Hours later, you arrive, exhausted and beyond emotion. But there is more to come.

Your family waits for a long time in an immigration line, and you are grateful that there is someone who is helping you who speaks English. There are other refugees with you, but they are not from your camp. You don’t know them, but conversation comes easy when there is shared experience.

25 of you pile into a bus. The noises of crying babies, confused adults, and talkative children mix together – an orchestra of humanity.

You arrive at a brown building. There is a door that moves around and around, but you’re not sure how it actually works. So you go for the safer option–a double door to the side.

It feels like hours before you get to your room – a ‘suite’ they call it.  The space looks huge. There are beds and a table and chairs. You’re told you will be staying there for a few days, just until an apartment is arranged.

But as you look around, the confusion only continues. There is shiny silver and ceramic and a bright flourescent light. The person in charge has been joined by others. They are all friendly, but so loud.

“This is a machine that takes your bread and cooks it.” You are dumbfounded. You learn later that it is called a toaster.

“This is a bathtub.” “This is a refrigerator.” “This is how you turn the lights on and off.” “This is an electric stove – DON’T let your children put their hands on these round things! They get very hot. Your children will burn their hands.”

You want to cry, but you don’t want to seem ungrateful. Finally, they all leave.  All of them. They have left a cell phone with a number on it. You can call if you need anything, anything, they insist. “Welcome to America!” Their smiles are genuine, their voices are still loud.

Your youngest two children have fallen asleep on the floor, your older ones are rushing through the rooms. To them, it’s all new. it’s all exciting. Your mom and dad are rapidly fingering their prayer beads, dazed looks in their eyes. Your husband has the loud voice he gets when he feels out of control.

It takes another hour to get everyone settled, and when you go to look at your sleeping children, you see that they have taken blankets off the bed and all five are huddled together on the floor, a tangle of legs and arms.

You feel strangely comforted by this. Somehow, you know that if you stick together, a tangle of arms and legs, heads and bodies, you will somehow make it.

In fact, it might be the only way to survive. 

“Unless the world finds compassion for this new communality, learns to make sense of one another’s voices, its humanity will perish.”

Note: All quotes are from Refugees Don’t Need Your Pity by Anna Badkhen

http://lens.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/11/12/checking-in-to-a-new-life-in-america/?_r=0

Note: This piece was inspired by the Checking in to a New Life in America as well as by conversations with refugees and resettlement organizations.

Belonging & Fitting In

I was in the middle of writing a blog post when Lowell showed me this section in Brene Brown’s book Daring Greatly. The quote shot straight to a deep place in my soul. Brown had identified and articulated so clearly the struggle I was trying to capture in the post I was agonizing over. I’m abandoning my efforts this morning. Receive rather this from Brene Brown:

“One of the biggest surprises in this research was learning that fitting in and belonging are not the same thing. In fact, fitting in is one of the greatest barriers to belonging. Fitting is is about assessing a situation and becoming who you need to be in order to be accepted. Belonging, on the other hand, doesn’t require us to change who we are; it requires us to be who we are.”

She goes on to explain how she asked a large group of eighth graders to break into small groups and brainstorm the differences between fitting in and belonging. Their insightful answers were spot on.

“Belonging is being somewhere where you want to be, and they want you. Fitting in is being somewhere where you really want to be, but they don’t care one way or the other.

Belonging is being accepted for you. Fitting in is being accepted for being like everyone else.

I get to be me if I belong. I have to be like you to fit in.” *

Brown’s quote is tucked into a chapter on parenting. She emphasizes the importance of children having a sense that they belong in their own family. For me the issue is broader than parenting or family structure. Belonging and fitting in have been a part of my struggle to settle as an adult wherever I’ve landed.

I’ve been mulling these themes over in my head this week. I’ve been trying to come to a deeper place of acceptance of who I am –even trying to embrace those spaces that still don’t seem to fit in, or those times where I’m still not convinced I belong. I’m afraid I have yet to land on firm conclusions but I invite you into the process. I’m praying for insight. I’m asking Jesus for his opinion on these things. I’m telling my struggle’s story to a few close friends. I’ve met with my soul care provider and mentor, Diann. Certainly the struggle has served as an invitation to trust God in deeper ways and for that I can be grateful.

Brene Brown asked eighth graders, let me ask you. What has been your experience in the difference between fitting in and belonging?

*Brene Brown, Daring Greatly (New York: Avery, 2012), 232.

Faith, Doubt and Ames Street

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Ames Street is a short street that goes from the main road down to the ocean in the Lanesville area of Gloucester. I wouldn’t ever have known about Ames Street if it weren’t for a memory from long ago.

It was a grey August day many years ago. The ocean was stormy, waves rising high and falling hard, their spray reaching far above their peak. The sky was deep grey, only a couple of shades lighter than the rocky coast. The Autumn season was beginning to invade the air and we smelled it, a fact that was strange because we hadn’t lived in a place where there was Autumn in over eleven years.

My husband and I had never been on Ames Street before. We knew the area only as occasional tourists. This time we weren’t tourists, instead we were there looking for a house to rent. We had arrived from Cairo, Egypt with five kids, 26 suitcases, and a cat, and we needed a place to settle all of these. The ad in the paper said that there was a cottage on Ames Street –a seasonal rental that was completely furnished so we wouldn’t have the extra expenses of purchasing beds, dressers, chairs, and tables.

The unpaved driveway was long and bumpy. We reached the main house first; a mansion with many doors and windows. To the right was the cottage, clearly built for the servants of days gone by. We parked our bright red van and slowly walked toward the door. Both of us were lost in our own thoughts. It had been two months since we left Cairo and our lives had been in chaos for those two months. Jobs, housing, schooling – nothing had worked out as we planned. It was all up in the air.

A woman met us at the door and explained the situation. It was a nine month rental, from September through May. The cottage was small and I immediately tensed up, wondering how we could all fit and live cohesively together for the next nine months. Still, it was on the ocean and that would be a gift. But as I looked through the cottage, an acute sense of loss and loneliness filled my heart. I couldn’t believe we were actually in the United States. I couldn’t believe that I would be settling a family of five children into life in the western world. I was scared beyond believability.  We went through the house quickly, asking questions as we walked through the four rooms.

We exchanged phone numbers and then left. As we drove away we were each lost in our thoughts. What had we done? Why had we left Egypt? How was this all going to work out?

We didn’t end up renting the house and I wouldn’t have even remembered this day, except that a couple of months ago we drove past Ames Street.

All these memories emerged from a street sign.

I remembered the deep sense of loss and longing for our old life. I remembered the palpable fear of a new beginning in the United States. I remembered the unknown, the newness of everything, the anxiety about the future. I remember the sense of being on shaky ground; like an earthquake where you don’t remember where to go, and instead stand paralyzed, wondering when the tremors will stop.

Our hopes and plans for the future were all focused on living overseas. We never imagined that this would change, never imagined that our dreams would have to change, that our plans would have to shift. It was a death of expectations. It was the death of our life as we knew it. It was the death of a dream.

If someone had asked us what we had left behind, we would have said “Everything. We left everything behind.”

We left in faith and obedience. We knew that this was right — the right thing to do and the right time to do it. But that didn’t make it easy. Until that time we honestly and naïvely believed that when you do things in obedience, for the right reasons, there are immediate rewards. We thought that everything would quickly fall into place, that we would quickly be settling into, and dare I say enjoying, our new life. All because of obedience. But faith and obedience don’t work that way. The fine print in most Biblical accounts tells a story of faith, in spite of uncertainty; of faith even when the way is cloudy and foggy. I tended to stop reading Hebrews 11 at verse 12, because if I read the next verse, it would take me to a place I’d rather not go: “All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance, admitting that they were foreigners and strangers on earth.”

Years ago, Fyodor Dostoevsky wrote this about his faith: “It is not as a child that I believe and confess Jesus Christ. My hosanna is born of a furnace of doubt.”

I used to think that faith and obedience would lead to immediate rewards; but now I think that faith and obedience are a long walk in the dark.

I lived in a furnace of doubt during that time of my life; what I didn’t know was that  my hosanna would be raised strong and loud because of it. And of this I am sure: I would not have the faith I have today, had I not experienced the doubt of yesterday. 

Faith doesn’t grow through predictability; faith doesn’t blossom in the known. Faith grows when you continue walking in the dark, certain of nothing, full of doubt, but walking anyway.

“But clarity and certainty are not the soil in which faith grows, and had Abraham had more advance notice from God, he may never have become the man whose faith was credited to him as righteousness, a faith that was honest enough to admit to God his doubts, yet a faith resilient enough to wait on divine timing. “And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him” (Hebrews 11:6). We please God, not by gymnastic feats of pious religion: we please him as we begin actively trusting, in the midst of our struggle, that he is good.“*

As we drove past Ames Street, the memory twisted and turned in my mind like the road we were driving on. Ames Street feels like a lifetime ago – a different time, a different place. But with a surety that I didn’t think possible I can declare that God was faithful. God is faithful. Those words are so big, so strong, so hard to say – because sometimes I’d like to believe that he isn’t. Sometimes I’d like to blame him, forget him, or walk away. But I find that would be as impossible as it would be to walk away from the air that I breathe.

Madeleine L’Engle in a Circle of Quiet wrote this “A winter ago I had an after-school seminar for high-school students and in one of the early sessions Una, a brilliant fifteen-year-old, a born writer who came to Harlem from Panama five years ago, and only then discovered the conflict between races, asked me, ‘Mrs. Franklin, do you really and truly believe in God with no doubts at all?’ ‘Oh, Una, I really and truly believe in God with all kinds of doubts.’ But I base my life on this belief.”

Indeed. 

Note- This blog post is linked up with Sarah Bessey’s Out of Sorts synchroblog: I used to think _____, but now I think ________.  Thank you Elizabeth Trotter, for encouraging me to do this .

*Excerpt from Excerpt from Teach Us to Want: Longing, Ambition and the Life of Faith, by Jen Pollock Michel. See more at: http://www.judydouglass.com/2014/05/struggle-surrender-guest-post-jen-pollock-michel/#sthash.N3Sc5ZLT.dpuf

She Lived a Large Life


The best thing I did all week was attend the funeral of Chong Wright. Chong and her husband, Wilbur, attended our church. Wilbur, a once tall soldier in the US army is now slightly stooped, his shoulders humbly sloping toward the earth. His Korean bride of fifty-one years, Chong, was tiny. Her legs were slightly bowed. Her sweaters, hand knitted and pastel pink, always bunched up on her small frame. The two of them would hold hands and hobble along.

Whenever Chong saw me, her eyes would light up. We would greet each other and have a short little conversations. English wasn’t the language of her heart but she made such an effort, in tiny sound bites, to communicate. What she couldn’t speak with her mouth she shouted with her eyes. They were always bright and welcoming. She looked into you and you knew she was happy to see you.

On Monday morning I read the notice of her death and the announcement that a memorial service would be held that very afternoon at a funeral home just around the corner from us. I wanted to go to tell her husband and their one child, Mary, what a bright spot their loved one was. I wanted them to know she would be missed.

Maybe thirty people gathered in the funeral home’s chapel. The strains of a recorded piano playing, Edelweiss, wafted over the group as we waited quietly in the pews. There were several pictures of Chong on the front table framing a large bouquet of pink and white flowers. Chong and Wilbur—at their wedding, while stationed in Germany, with their daughter, with their grandsons.

During the service I learned more about Chong than I had ever known. Chong Wright was born in Sinuichu, Korea on December 26th, 1940. When she was still quite young both her parents died. She then went to live with her grandmother. At the start of the Korean War, when she was ten years old, they fled, as refugees from North Korea to the safer South. Her grandmother died when Chong was thirteen years old and she went to live with an uncle and his family. Three years later, when she was sixteen, she enrolled in beauty school. Using her own resources she trained to become a beautician.

On September 8, 1964 Chong and Wilbur were married. Not all of Chong’s family was supportive of her marrying an American soldier. One family member told her that if she married Mr Wright, she’d be so poor they wouldn’t even be able to afford toilet paper. This began a personal commitment to paper products! Chong’s daughter, Mary, said that they always had great stockpiles of toilet paper, paper towels, and paper napkins. Long after Mary had married and had children of her own, Chong continued to supply them with paper products!

Wilbur and Chong were stationed in many places before coming to Fort Riley, Kansas. That’s where they were stationed when Wilbur retired from the Army life.

Whatever Chong did she worked hard at it. She was frugal and managed to pay off two homes and two cars. She was generous and good hearted. She was a good mother and a devoted grandmother. Both grandsons spoke of her generosity to them. On Thursdays she gave them money. They played games with the boys. They attended every band concert, school play, choir concert, musical. If the boys were there, so were Wilbur and Chong.

Last December there was a band concert at the mall. The seating was insufficient. I had gone early to save seats for our family. Just in front of me I saw Chong and Wilbur saving seats for their family too. At one point Chong turned and saw me. Her entire face lit up in recognition. She bobbed her head in greeting, her eyes beaming.

Chong Wright’s circle was small. There weren’t a lot of people at the funeral and many that were there came because of love and friendship with her daughter, Mary and her family. It might be easy to dismiss the significance of a person like Chong Wright—unknown, an immigrant, she couldn’t speak English very well. But Chong made a difference in the lives she touched. Her life mattered. Her circle wasn’t large but it was deep. She lived with integrity. She loved well. She made an effort to connect in the ways she knew how—playing with a baby, greeting those she knew, giving to her family. She was loyal and faithful until the very end.

It was such a profound moment for me. I have this relentless longing for a larger world. I want to go places, meet people. I want to make a difference. I want to have a global impact. But here was Chong– Her world, at the end, might have been little and yet her impact was undeniable. She will leave a large hole in the stories of her grandsons, her daughter, her son-in-law, the few at church she smiled at. Her life mattered. The breadth of her experiences, the suffering she had endured, the places she had traveled–for being a person of small stature she lived a large life and then settled into a small space. And she did so with grace.

I would do well to live…and die…..like Chong Wright.

Dear Linda

rose-676760_1920In the middle of the night I got a message from my friend Linda that lives on the other side of the world. She is hurting. They left South Asia several years after we did. Her husband took a position that he finds fulfilling and satisfying. She however has struggled to find her place. She is lonely. The friendships she does have she holds onto tightly for fear that those friends will abandon her. She no longer knows who she is or what she has to offer.

It’s not the first such letter I’ve received. There was one eight or nine months ago from Lisa. Her family’s lease had been suddenly revoked. They were asked by their landlord to leave the acreage they (and others with them) had restored from a weed choked, overgrown plot of ruin to a luscious garden retreat space. Her heart was breaking too. How would she get passed the sense of loss? How would she find herself again…when so much of her was planted in the ground they had cultivated?

Still another email came in August. This particular friend, Susan, knows they are planning on leaving the city they’ve adopted as their own in Asia. All the signs are pointing in that direction but she is beginning to sense even now unintended sorrows and sadness. She wondered if there was a way to manage such a transition while mitigating some of the heartache. Is there a “how to” book for making such a earth-shaking, globe traversing change?

My heart connects so thoroughly with these women. They are my friends it’s true. But they are also travelling along some of the same roads that I’ve been on. I’ve walked down those pathways and they were not so easy. The journey from there to here is long and mostly uphill and it’s ever so painful. I want to protect them from the pain they are in or the pain they have yet to face. I want to make all their endings happy ones. I want to cocoon them with some mythical protective wrap that ensures they will get through the transitions without agony, with their souls intact, with their hearts unscarred.

I suspect Linda doesn’t just grieve for the place she left behind. She grieves for everything else that got left there too: her memories, her place in the community, the meaning-infused ministry she was a part of, her friendships –made deeper there by shared suffering over time. Her marriage looked different there. She parented differently there. Her children were younger then and responded differently to her. And while parenting and being a spouse have not changed–she is still a wife and a mother–it looks wildly different than it used to.

I’m guessing she also left huge pieces of her self somewhere in South Asia. Linda wasn’t being careless, she didn’t mean to forget to pack her personality and sense of self, but in all the chaos and change, she inadvertently forgot to bring Linda. At least that was my experience… When we returned I realized I had forgotten to bring me!

I know that sounds ridiculous! Of course I came back too….but really so much of me didn’t. Huge parts of my personality didn’t make the journey. There was no use for most of my knowledge or experience. It was no longer relevant. No one needs to know how long to pressure cook beans on this side of the ocean! And if that’s what I had to offer—suddenly I wasn’t offering much at all. The humour on that side, certain silly situations, daily living, prompted certain responses from me. With those prompts all gone or vastly changed I found myself responding in ways I didn’t recognize. I missed the old me. It took me awhile to get to know the new me.

Dear dear Linda (and Lisa and Susan too) –I want you to know that this time will end. There is a beginning, a middle and an end to every transition. I suspect, from what you’ve told me, that you are right smack in the middle. A kind lady, a momentary mentor of sorts, once told me that it would likely take me ten years to adjust to life here in the United States. My husband, Lowell, was shocked when he heard that! Ten years?! But for me it was very helpful. It would end. I would settle. I would get through this. And Linda, you will too. The heartache and the intense sadnesses will pass. You will find yourself again. The time of transition will end.

Time will generously give you new experiences. You are beginning to collect new memories and new stories. God is showing his new mercies for each new day.

Discovering who you are and what you have to offer in this ‘new’ place is perhaps the hardest part of this. It’s frightful and unsettling. I wasn’t brave enough to step out and try new things for a very long time. Even when I did I felt like I was mostly faking it. It didn’t feel right. It took a very long time to get past that. It’s only been the past year or so—and even the past few months—where I’ve begun to experience brief moments of a fully soul satisfied Robynn again.

Give yourself lots of time. Extend lots of grace to yourself. Cry when you need to cry. Drink lots of hot tea and bring to mind the presence of God. He is with you in this. He has not abandoned you. He knows who you are—there in that old life, and here in this new life. He’s not surprised by how you are doing. He’s not disappointed in you. His patience and tender care are enduring. He’s the only one that can fully relate to the amount of loss and change you’ve been through. God understands. He cares for you in your loneliness too. He is with you even in that place. When it feels terribly dark and you wonder if you really are going crazy–He brings a little bit of light and hope. Hold onto Jesus, sweet Linda. He has not changed.

You may always be a little lonely. That chapter in your life was rich with deep friendships and meaningful connections with your team, your international church, your community. Most friends now will likely not fully understand that. But God will give you others that, while not completely identifying with your past, will be able to meet you in your present. I suspect the ache for the “good ole’ days” will always be there but grief will be gently replaced with nostalgia. You will always miss the way it was, the way you were, but those longings will no longer paralyze you.

Linda, I’m so sorry. I wish I could make it better for you and easier. I will pray earnestly for restored joy, for the end to come when it needs to come (hopefully sooner rather than later), for new friends, for a new sense of purpose. All will be well….eventually….all manner of things shall be well.

On Welcoming the Third Culture Kid

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The last week in August is upon us, and lamentations of “how quickly the summer has gone” can be heard all around.

It’s the time of year when college towns begin to see old students return and many new ones come in. Among those old and new are those who have lived as third culture kids, those who blend in with the crowd, even as their insides scream “other”.

Once I was one of them. I entered into my college years with hidden fears and insecurities, many of them because my insides and outsides were at odds.

Here are some things I want to say to those who are welcoming and working with third culture kids who are entering their university years:

DOs

  • Let them talk about their past. They have left so much, let them talk about what they have left.
  • Ask probing questions
  • Take them out to a restaurant that may serve foods from the country(ies) they called home
  • Seek to understand through the lens of cross-cultural adjustment. Don’t assume that they identify with their passport countries.
  • Offer space for them to process their grief
  • Encourage them to connect and find their safe spaces
  • Seek to understand some of the losses that they have experienced
  • Help them to do it afraid. What do I mean by that? Tara Livesay in a blog post called Do it Afraid talks about feeling afraid, but doing things anyway. She gives the illustration of her son Isaac learning to walk, how even when he’d left his “wall of safety” and walked into her arms, he would still get afraid. But he did it anyway. Tara says this: “Practicing doing scary things doesn’t really make me perfect at it. I’m still afraid sometimes. I don’t know how to stop being afraid completely and consistently. I’m not finding ‘perfection’ as I continually practice facing both my rational and irrational fears.I only know that sometimes – I have to do it afraid.” So help them to do it afraid.
  • Help them “remember rightly.” We TCKs tend to go two ways with our memories and stories – either we remember them as perfect, or we dismiss them as absolutely horrible. It can be difficult for us to remember rightly. In my recent trip to Iraq, I was speaking to the art therapist about stories, and remembering our stories correctly. She said that as we tell our stories over and over, we have a tendency to embellish. Either we make them better than they were, or worse. The important thing is to remember them rightly; seeing our past with clear vision so that we can move forward in peace.
  • Challenge them on any visible or invisible bigotry. Yes, TCKs can be bigots. See Exploring TCK Bigotry for more on this.
  • Learn to speak the language of ‘elsewhere.’ It’s not that hard. There’s no grammar or syntax involved and there is no morphology. Prefixes, suffixes, or infixes are absent. You don’t have to worry about past tense, or present perfect or superlatives. All of us have spoken the language of elsewhere at some point – whether as a tourist or as a resident. This is the language that reaches across the divide and attempts to understand the one who is “other.”

DON’Ts

  • Tell them to “get over it already!” Instead pose honest challenges to them like: “What would it take for you to live more effectively in your passport country?” or “Western countries are experiencing more and more diversity. What might your TCK background offer to the community?”
  • Deny their experiences by saying “Everyone feels insecure in college. Everyone misses home.” Denying the experience of the TCK denies their life.
  • Let them wallow. There is a difference between honest grieving and wallowing in self-pity. The one heals, the other destroys.
  • Put a time limit on their adjustment and their grieving. We are all different. We grow and adjust at different rates. So don’t put time limits on the TCK. Allow them room even as you continue to love and challenge them.

I’ll close with this thought from Nina Sichel, author and adult TCK:

“So when she comes to you, don’t ask her where she’s from, or what’s troubling her.  Ask her where she’s lived.  Ask her what she’s left behind.  Open doors.  And just listen.  Give her the time and space and permission she needs to remember and to mourn.  She has a story — many stories.  And she needs and deserves to be heard, and to be healed, and to be whole.” from The Morning Zen: The Trouble with Third Culture Kids

Readers – what would you add to this list of dos and don’ts? 

Blogger’s Note: Elizabeth Trotter writes an excellent article using Physics to explain Third Culture Kids. Take a look at it below!

For more essays on third culture kids, take a look at Between Worlds: Essays on Culture & Belonging as well as the newly released Passages Through Pakistan – An American Girl’s Journey of Faith. 

A Life Overseas – Offending and Mending

Readers, would you join me today at A Life Overseas? I’ve retooled an old piece!

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Of all the difficult things we do in cross-cultural moves, finding places to live is near the top. We want to create space and place – we want to create home. And often our expectations are a planet away from our reality.

At one point while living in Cairo, we were hunting for a flat (apartment) on the island of Zamalek. After a day of searching in the heat and walking endlessly down dusty streets and alley ways, we were tired and had seen some of the ugliest apartments imaginable.

My husband and I were getting increasingly frustrated, feeling the cross-cultural disconnect of trying to communicate what we were looking for in a flat to what we were being shown. Precisely at this point we walked up 8 flights of stairs and, on a scale of ugly to uglier to ugliest we were shown the ugliest flat we had seen. Ever. Anywhere. When the man showing us this particular flat asked us if we liked it, my husband looked at him and said clearly “No. This flat is the ugliest flat we have ever seen.” With a toilet seat cover made of a deck of cards, a kitchen that resembled a tiny sauna, and mirrors all over the gaudy red bedroom, it was hideous.

In that moment, by the look on the man’s face, we realized he had insulted the landlord, mistaking him for the bowab, a man who guards the front door and asks for baksheesh (a tip) once a month. “You don’t like my flat?” He said in a loud and puzzled voice. We had the grace to pause and look at each other, suddenly realizing that we had committed a no-no in apartment hunting in Cairo – insulting the landlord. But we were tired and defeated, so my husband said emphatically “No – we don’t like your flat. At all. We would never live here. It’s ugly,” and off we went. Once back on the street we took one look at each other, and in the exhaustion of the day, burst into laughter. It was completely inappropriate given we had just insulted our host, but we couldn’t stop. The incident was only one of many times when we realized we had a lot to learn about living cross-culturally.

Read the rest here at A Life Overseas!

Cultural Competency – Tools for the Trade

If you have not read the previous posts on Cultural Competency, you are welcome to take a look! Today is the last in my 3-part series on Cultural Competency.

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Building Bridges city

“It’s easy! All it takes is caring!” 

“All you have to do is be sensitive!”

“I don’t know why this is such a big deal! In our [insert company name] we treat everyone the same!” 

These are a few of the things a colleague and I have heard when we talk about cultural competency, specifically when we conduct workshops on cultural competency.

We always breathe deeply and slowly before we respond. 

As normal as those phrases may sound, they are exactly the sort of phrases that create barriers to achieving cultural competency.

  • “It’s easy! All it takes is caring!” First off, let me say this: caring is good! Caring is essential. Caring is a great start. But, and this is a big but, it doesn’t give us what we need to communicate and function effectively across cultural boundaries. It’s a great and necessary first step but it is important to move beyond caring to offer culturally competent care and services. Here’s an example: For a long time I worked as a home care nurse. I would go to the homes of patients who had come out of the hospital but still needed nursing care. My patients ranged from new moms who were struggling postpartum, to oncology patients who were struggling with chemotherapy. The range of reasons for going to see patients was huge. The agency I worked with would always give me the “foreign” patients. It didn’t matter where they were from, it was assumed that because I had grown up overseas and then lived overseas as an adult with a lot of experience working across cultures that I would be the best one for the job. And sometimes I was, but not always. I remember a Japanese patient that I was caring for. I cared deeply for her, but I found it impossible to communicate. I felt loud and big in contrast to a woman who was quiet and small and lovely. One day with a shock I realized I would always put this patient at the end of the day, a time when I was busiest and had the least amount of time or energy. If I saw her then, I had a good excuse for a quick visit. I was not giving her good care. I was not communicating adequately and I didn’t know what was really going on with this patient. I cared – but caring wasn’t enough.
  • “All you have to do is be sensitive!” This is similar to caring. Sensitivity does not a culturally competent person make. Sensitivity means that an individual or organization responds to cultural differences and attempts to take them into consideration in their line of work. But if I don’t know what those cultural differences are, how can I take them into consideration? If I am unaware of the beliefs, values, and behavior of those I work with or serve, then sensitivity won’t take me very far. Again an example: Western biomedicine places high value on something called evidence-based medicine. Evidence-based medicine is a way of taking the best scientific evidence and linking it with a physician’s clinical expertise to better treat patients. What evidence-based medicine doesn’t do is recognize dual causality – the idea that the mind and body interact with each other and patients from different cultures and backgrounds believe there is both a scientific and a spiritual reason for their disease or ailment. A doctor needs to know their patients well enough to know if they believe in dual causality in order to give them the best care possible. They need to know that their patient believes that both chemotherapy and snake oil will cure their cancer. One of the best examples of collision of cultures when it comes to medicine is in the book The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down by Anne Fadiman. I write about it here and highly recommend reading the book.
  • “I don’t know why this is such a big deal! In our [insert company name] we treat everyone the same!”  There is so much wrong with this I don’t know where to begin. First off, it’s a huge deal. We wear culture like our skin – we don’t even think about it until it is bruised or torn or burned. We don’t realize that everything we do is based on our cultural beliefs, until we encounter someone with behaviour and beliefs completely different from our own. And it’s all very well to say we treat everyone the same, but the reality is that they might not want to be treated the same. Their cultural norm could be completely different, whether it’s around greeting people or modesty or any other number of things.

So what are tools for the trade? We looked at some of these in the story about the FBI. Here are others that I think are excellent. I originally posted them in this piece: Tips for Working Cross-culturally in Healthcare Settings and Beyond. 

  • Be aware of your cultural values and the beliefs you hold. This is a first and critical step to being able to effectively communicate across cultures. If you don’t understand the importance of culture — why you value what you do, how you make decisions, essentially how you live all of life, then it will be difficult for you to understand how culture affects others.
  • Become a student of the culture and the community. Even if you’re an expert in a certain area it’s important to rethink your role and be willing to learn as a student.
  • Recognize differences in narrative styles and practical behaviors across cultures. Be willing to research these differences and ask questions.
  • Understand that  limited language proficiency (whether your’s or another’s) does not mean limited intellectual ability. People with limited language skills are usually capable of communicating clearly and effectively in their native language.
  • Have a high tolerance of ambiguity.
  • Seek help from bilingual/bicultural co-workers and individuals – find those who can help explain cultural nuances, the complexity of culture, dual causality and more.
  • Know the role of interpreters and learn to use interpreters effectively.
  • Allow the use of story-telling and props when speaking with others – we learn so much more in a story than in a list of facts. For healthcare providers, realize the symptoms are often in the story.
  • Recognize the primary person you are working with may not be the decision maker in the family.
  • Use empathy, curiosity, and respect as you work across cultural boundaries. Empathic listening, curious questioning, respectful observing.
  • Learn to be capable of complexity.
  • Be able to laugh at yourself and potential mistakes — if you don’t laugh you’ll find yourself crying way too much.
  • Build bridges – just as a bridge connects two bodies of land together over a vast chasm or river, so it is with us. The chasm of cultural disconnect and misunderstanding can be bridged, but it takes humans to bridge it.

I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again and again and again. None of this is easy. It’s not easy to listen. It’s not easy to be reflective of our own cultural values and see where bias, both conscious and unconscious, is present. It takes time and effort. It means putting some, not all, but definitely some of our values temporarily to the side while we focus on what is important to those around us. But it can make a huge impact and change outcomes no matter what sphere we find ourselves.

“Building bridges means moving beyond my enclave of cultural comfort, moving to a place of cultural humility and willingness to learn”Between Worlds, Essays on Culture and Belonging 

“Ignorance of cultural differences is one of the chief causes of misunderstanding in a world that is getting more and more interdependent on the one hand and increasingly torn with strife on the other.” – Fali Chothia

I would love to hear from you through the comments! What would you add to this list? 

Blogger’s note: Just this morning a friend of mine from Families in Global Transition wrote this piece: How to Build a Bridge for Mental Migration. I love how well it complements this series and wanted to link to it.

Cultural Competency – How Does it Help?

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Four years ago, the FBI (Federal Bureau of Investigation) conducted a raid on a mosque in Miami, Florida. What could have been a disastrous, public relations nightmare for both the Muslim community and the FBI was carried out so well and so carefully that most of us had no idea the raid took place. I wrote about it then, but I bring it up again now.

I believe this story has good insight into how cultural competency helps in any area of work.

I am not one to praise the FBI or government in general, but it is important to give credit and recognition where it is deserved. I was amazed with the thoughtfulness and cultural awareness with which the raid was carried out. All the evidence points to actions that took into account the larger Muslim community and efforts that were taken to inform and involve this community.

First: The story goes that the activity of the imams had been watched for some time so when the decision was made to arrest and question these men, the FBI consulted with a cultural broker about the best time to carry out the raid. It is a large and active mosque with prayers going on five times a day and activities in between. It was decided that a Saturday morning at 6am would be the ideal time. This ensured the fewest number of people and the least amount of chaos.

Second: The officers took off their shoes before going into the mosque. They took the effort, despite the obvious seriousness of the situation, to display sensitivity that this was a place of worship and it was important to abide by the rules of the mosque.

Third: They spoke to the imams in Pashto, through an interpreter. It was their native language so there was no ambiguity about the arrest and no miscommunication because of limited English. The Pashto was clear and precise.

Fourth: They did not interrupt morning prayers, but waited until the prayers had finished before they entered the mosque.

Last:  Before the media had any idea that this had occurred, the spokesperson for the FBI contacted leaders in the Muslim community. The neighborhood surrounding the mosque is heavily populated with Muslims and, while an arrest of a religious leader within any religious community would be difficult, given the current attitudes toward Muslims this is one of most difficult and potentially explosive things that can happen. They wanted the community to have an opportunity to frame a response before a media frenzy began inciting fear,  indicting all Muslims as well as spouting assumptions that everyone in this community was involved in suspicious activities linked to terrorism.

In a climate of police violence, FBI gaffes, and abuse of power by people in the role of law enforcement, the FBI used principles of cultural competency in carrying out this raid. Just days before the operation many of the officers had attended a training program that gave tools on working in a culturally sensitive way with Arab and Muslim communities.

What did the FBI do right?

They asked and they listened! Sometimes it’s as simple as just asking. They asked a cultural broker because they knew they were interacting with a culture and community they knew little about. But if we ask, we must also be willing to listen to the answer, to not impose what we think we know on a situation.

They adjusted their behavior. Not only did they ask and listen, but they adjusted their behavior based on what they learned.

They understood the importance of language and didn’t take any chances with misunderstanding. Cultural competency always takes language into consideration.

They respected the larger Muslim community. Respect is imperative in culturally competent interactions. We don’t have to agree with people, we don’t have to believe what they believe or adhere to their values, but respect is important. The people involved in this operation understood that these Imams did not represent the broader Muslim community. They didn’t stereotype and see a single story, instead they focused on the problem and actions of a couple of individuals. “The problem with stereotypes,” says Chimamanda Adichie “is not that they are untrue, but that they are incomplete.”

Cultural competency can change outcomes, can make a terrible situation a bit easier on a community. Whether it be health care, education, law enforcement, counseling, social work, faith, or any other area, taking into account the cultural beliefs and values of a community gives us better outcomes. 

As you think about the way the FBI handled this situation, how do you think your work place handles sensitive situations? Do they practice cultural competency through asking, listening, adjusting, understanding the importance of language, and respect? 

There’s another question I ask myself — and that is this: What lessons could law enforcement in Ferguson, Missouri learn from the way another law enforcement agency handled a difficult situation? 

Photo Credit: http://pixabay.com/en/police-search-block-security-171454/

You Know You Married a TCK When…..

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All of you long suffering spouses and partners of TCK’s – this one’s for you:

You know you married a TCK when…..

  1. You’re listening to National Public Radio (NPR)  and she shouts – “I know that reporter”.
  2. You’re playing Trivial Pursuit and she gets stuck on pop culture but gets every country question correct.

  3. You have to teach her idioms. Again. And again. And again.

  4. Every three months she has to either get across an international border or rearrange the furniture.

  5. You try to convince her that she cannot bargain for fresh produce at the fixed price grocery store.

  6. She nods and laughs at a joke, but you know by the look on her face that she does not understand a word of it.

  7. You find her in tears after trying to order coffee in her passport country.

  8. She gets ragingly envious when you have an overseas trip — and she doesn’t get to go.

  9. You know that the only restaurants she will want to go to on Valentine’s Day are ethnic restaurants.

  10. One of her favorite places is the international terminal at the nearest airport.

  11. Every immigrant she meets becomes her best friend.

  12. She dissolves in tears when she hears news reports of tragedies from her adopted country/countries.

  13. Her decorating style mixes samovars with reindeer, white lights with Egyptian perfume bottles, and Turkish bowls with books.

  14. She is fiercely protective of her TCK “tribe.” You criticize her tribe – you criticize her!

  15. She has no problem sending her kids across the ocean to countries with uprisings and revolutions but sits up half the night worrying about them driving your car down the street to a friend’s house.

  16. She gets completely paralyzed in the cereal aisle of a grocery store. Or the bread aisle. Or the chips aisle. Or the….

What would you add? Spouses or TCKs are welcome to contribute!

Readers – today is the last day to purchase Between Worlds and have the royalties go to toward refugees in Turkey! Read reviews below!

Reviews of Between Worlds: 

 

A Displaced Decorating Style

I love this piece by Robynn! I will explain more fully in the comments but if you are one that mixes samovars with reindeer, white lights with Egyptian perfume bottles, and Turkish bowls with books — in other words, if you mix all the cultures you love and feel a part of in the decorating of your home –  then this post is for you! Enjoy!

A couple of weeks ago a new friend was over for a visit. She didn’t drink tea or coffee. She sipped from a glass of water while I snuggled with my tea-cup. It was distracting to me that she didn’t want a hot drink. All my true friends drink coffee or tea. How can the soul be properly steeped and infused with hope without the assistance of a hot beverage, a mug or a tea-cup, a smidgen of sugar, a drop of milk? Our time together came to an abrupt ending when she looked at the time and realized she needed to dash. Her son had an appointment and she was going to be late to go get him from school. As she stood and zipped up her coat, she looked around at my  walls and shelves, and she said something that immediately erased my concerns about her beverage-lessness.

Some day I want to come and walk around your house and hear the stories of all your things.

She pointed at a painting from Pakistan on the wall, a wooden couple racing off into the night on a wooden camel, and an interesting mirror. Tears sprang to my eyes. It’s true. Each thing in my space has a story and rarely do I ever get to remember and bring to mind those memories. Very few people even ask. Knowing the stories of some of my stuff is knowing parts of my story, often the parts that are no longer seen or viable or relevant in the world I currently inhabit.

In the middle of a seemingly superficial Christmas novel, Nora Bonesteel’s Christmas Past, by Sharyn McCrumb, I happened upon this poignant bit–The main character, Nora, has gone to see a house she used to frequent when she was young.

“Nora expected many changes and modernizations inside, and that was fine. The past was no place to live in. She just hoped the Havertys were not like some of the new people, the ones she thought of as displaced persons: people who had moved to the mountains of east Tennessee but seemed to think there were in New Mexico.

These confused newcomers decorated their houses in desert hues: sand colour, orange and turquoise. Navajo flute music played on the stereo, and desert scene artwork hung on the walls. Little bitty potted cacti passed for houseplants. Nora didn’t think that there was anything wrong with admiring New Mexico—…She did wonder why the folks who apparently loved the western desert country so much had tried to drag it all the way to Tennessee. Why didn’t they just move there, instead of sitting on a forested mountain in east Tennessee, pretending that they were out West. Nora really wanted to know why they did this, but she doubted that she ever would, being too polite to bring up the matter with the displaced people she hardly knew. Still, she supposed that their decor was none of her business; after all, the houses were theirs, not hers.”

It’s time for a true confession. I used to roll my eyes when I was a kid, at the missionaries who insisted on decorating their homes in a Better Homes and Gardens style with no reference to the country in which they had chosen to settle. There was no Pakistan within their walls. You could have walked into some of those homes and wondered if you were in Illinois or in Mongolia. There was nothing to connect you with the region. Those homes felt odd to me. It was like they were floating, strange sky islands, ungrounded. What was even more disconcerting to my young adolescent mind was the number of other expatriate women who would walk into those homes and ooh and aah. Those houses, which seemed so ridiculously out of place, meant something to these other women. They reminded them of other places, other times. Nostalgia and memory greeted them as they arrived into these homes.

In contrast, my favourite houses were the ones that blended the beauties of Pakistan and the beauties of Canada or the UK, the United States or Australia. Those home-makers had, at a heart level, come to appreciate their new country of residence. Pastel greens and lavenders were juxto positioned next to rich reds, deep blues and turquoises. Arm chairs sat next to mordahs (low level stools). Kashmiri carpets graced the floor. These homes reflected homemakers who had decided to settle. They chose to make themselves at home.

But now here I am–a foreigner choosing to put roots down, determining to live in this place, purposing to be at home here. I look around at my home and I realize I’ve brought other places with me too. I am afraid I’m one of those displaced persons and my decorating style reflects that. My things come from other parts.

I regret the strength of my cynicism when I was a kid. I had no idea what those women, young and middle-aged, were up against. In those days I had no clue what it meant to be uprooted. I was just a kid living out her childhood. Now I know better. Now I know how hard it is. It takes a long time to integrate your old self into your new space. And really, if we’re honest, some of us find it harder than others. I may never switch out my Pakistani things for Pier One Import’s equivalent. I doubt I’ll trade in my beloved Indian treasures for very many pretties from Hobby Lobby.

When we were first moving in to this new home I spent a great deal of time setting out knick knacks and trinkets and moving them around. I couldn’t decide how I wanted things. At one point my mother in law came into the room to appreciate my efforts. She looked around the room slowly, and she observed warmly, “You have a lot of things from Pakistan and India.” She was right. I do. This is me–a displaced person with an odd assortment of trinkets from misplaced parts of me.

You’re welcome to come over any time. I’ll make you a hot drink (or you can have water!) and if we have time we can talk about that painting from Pakistan.

What about you? How have you incorporated your old self into your new space? Would love to hear from you in the comments – stories of displaced decorating! 

When You’re Told to Pull up Your Bootstraps, and You’re Not Wearing Any Shoes

rubber-boots-

It’s not often our expertise but the exploration of our own suffering that enables us to be of real assistance.That’s what allows us to touch another human being’s pain with compassion instead of with fear and pity.We have to invite it all. It is an intimacy with our own inner life that enables us to form an empathetic bridge to the other person.” (Ostaseski, 2008)

The words stung. “You need to just pull up your boot straps and get on with life. I mean how long is it going to take you to be okay living here?”

A hard slap across my tender face would have been more welcome. We had moved from Egypt three years before, a difficult move by any standards.  I thought I was doing well. I had landed a job; my children were doing well in school, and top of their classes. They were acting in school plays and had friends and confidantes. We were involved in the school and the community.

In a matter of seconds, none of that was enough.

I needed to do more. Be more.

But I couldn’t. There was nothing more I could do. I was at the end of my resources. We lived in a small town that was 10 minutes from the ocean. Our house was a magical 165 year old Victorian home with over 26 windows and enough space for 5 kids to sprawl. On the surface we were living the American dream.

The problem was that we never wanted to live the American dream. We never thought we would buy a house. We never thought my husband would work at Harvard University. We never anticipated the quintessential small town Main street address.

And so every day was learning to live with what was, not what I wanted. The script had been re-written by a Master Author, yet I as one of the characters was not playing my part very well. My resources had failed.

I had no shoes, let alone boots. I couldn’t pull up anything. But I was told to pull up my bootstraps and get on with life.

There are times when being told to pull up your bootstraps helps – but usually you have to be wearing boots for that to work. There are other times when you wish people would look beyond the surface, would see your lack of shoes, and walk beside you – holding your hand, warning you of the rocks and pebbles that are inevitably a part of the journey.

There are times when instead of telling people to pull up their bootstraps we need to buy them shoes; other times when we need to take off our own shoes and walk with them barefoot.

It’s called empathy. 

Leslie Jamison, author of The Empathy Exams puts it this way: ”

“Empathy isn’t just remembering to say That must really be hard, it’s figuring out how to bring difficulty into the light so it can be seen at all. Empathy isn’t just listening, it’s asking the questions whose answers need to be listened to. Empathy requires inquiry as much as imagination. Empathy requires knowing you know nothing. Empathy means acknowledging a horizon of context that extends perpetually beyond what you can see….”

I’ve thought about the above encounter many times. It no longer hurts to think about it, instead it is from a past that is covered with grace. But I don’t forget it – because hurts in the past when healed can inform our future, can change the way we relate with others. How often have I looked at others and, instead of entering their pain and asking them their story, expected them to just try harder? How often have I acted as though they needed to pull up their bootstraps and get on with life instead of looking to see if they had any boots?

Every day there are people around us with a story, a life narrative. How we choose to meet them can make all the difference. Will we enter with empathy or with judgment?

*The Empathy Exams” published February 2014 in The Believer

Readers – purchase Between Worlds before December 15 and all proceeds go toward refugees in Turkey! Read reviews below!

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Picture Source: http://pixabay.com/en/rubber-boots-shoe-old-broken-509967/

A Word About the Weather…

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A Word on the Weather by Robynn

Nothing serves to highlight the differences between where I used to live and where I now live more poignantly than the weather.

In South Asia the weather is a static reality. It rarely changes. For ten months of the year it’s hot. Overlay two months of monsoon rains midway through those ten months and it’s now wet and still hot. Two months of the year are noticeably different. December and January are cold (not cold cold but certainly colder than hot). Sweaters, shawls, socks all come out smelling like mothballs from their hot hiding places and are worn out of pure necessity. The cold demands fashions accommodate a sweater-vest, or an accompanying shawl.

Imagine my shock at the weather here in Kansas! It remains a source of constant surprise. Locals like to joke, “If you don’t like the weather– stick around…” It’ll change, sometimes dramatically in one day! We’ve even experienced three different seasons in one single day!  I’m amused by Kansans and their fixation with the weather. Everyone always knows what the weather will be today and for the remainder of the week. They listen to the weather forecast religiously. They check it on the internet. The weather app is a part of every smart Kansans smart phone repertoire. Most Kansans have emergency weather alarms, weather accommodating houses. Kansans keep t-shirts and shorts; sweaters and jeans out all year long! To be Kansan is to be weather savvy.

Weather serves as a memory maker and life marker for a community. Here in Manhattan, KS they remember the Great Flood of 1983. Some still talk about the Great Flood of 1951. People drinking hot cocoa in warm houses with the glow of lamps lit and overhead lights on still reminisce about the ice storm of 2007 where the electricity was off for two weeks in the middle of December. No one here will ever forget the recent tornado of 2008. These things serve to bind a community together. Neighbours reach out to neighbours. People help one another. Sleeves are rolled up, debris is sorted through, extra soup is made, access to hot showers is shared. In the face of the wild side effects of weather, humanity remembers her heart and reaches out with kindness to those around her.

There is a rhythm to the weather’s seasons here in North America: spring, summer, autumn, winter. A whole collection of winters and summers, springs and autumns all joined together like beads on a rosary. Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit. As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end. Amen. Day in, day out. Month in, month out. Year after year the weather marches on across the continent.

However, the newly arrived, the foreigner, the immigrant may not immediately connect to these predictable patterns. They can’t necessarily relate to the seasonal cadences. To them the weather serves to isolate.

Severe winter storms make for lonely cold people. Spring winds taunt the memories of warmer breezes. Hot summers set off sparks of wild homesick fires. An autumn that bids trees, all the trees at once, to fall their leaves is unsettling to the uninitiated.  A friend teaches in the ESL program here at Kansas State University. On a day when the thermometer reached 50* F (10*C), a shivering student asked her, “Does it get much colder than this?” Last week on a day when the warmest it got was 14*F (-10*C) I wondered after that poor student.

I will never forget that first winter back in North America, years ago, when I had returned to college on the Canadian Prairie. That first winter took my breath away. It sucked all the life out of me. I remember one forlorn day in the middle of January, that year, looking out the window, to more snow, more cold, more wind. The tears were falling down my face faster than the flakes were flailing from the chilly heavens to the frigid earth below. I closed the curtains and crawled back into bed—where I stayed for nearly a week. Winter sealed in my despair. Any morsel of remaining hope I had was piled under the shifting snow drifts outside my Saskatchewan window.

At boarding school our life was mostly climate controlled. When the winter snows began to fall in the Himalayan foothills, they broke up the school year to allow us to winter in a more temperate region. Kids and chaperones, bedrolls and trunks, suitcases and footlockers were dispersed by train or plain or jeep or bus to the far flung corners of Pakistan, where a more mild winter had settled. In the spring when the sun had regained her heat, we were allowed to escape back up to the cooler mountains, where, hopefully the snows were beginning to melt. We never had to endure the severe extremes of Pakistan’s weather. It was one thing that they tried to protect us from.

Winter has already arrived with stamina and severity to Kansas. The weather viciously turned on us a couple of weeks ago. The skies are bright and the sun is deceptively chipper and yet one step out the front door and your breath is plucked from your lungs and your extremities immediately begin to question your rational decision making abilities. It’s hard for me to maintain my emotional equilibrium in the face of such cold. I battle bitterness and bitchiness. I struggle to find joy and hope during the endless winters here. I find myself longing for other places, more temperate spaces.

I know my war on winter is petty in light of huge global issues. But it’s my honest struggle these days. Faith, hope and love are not dependant on the weather. The Holy One and the fruit he bears out in our souls (love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness) is not thermostat controlled. His power can permeate frozen hearts of stone. He alone can transform those frigid heart-blocks into warm beating; life pulsing hearts of soft flesh.

I’m asking him to melt my icy attitude to the world outside. I’m asking for the courage to try on cheerfulness.

I’m asking him to make me aware to where life and warmth thrive, to where he is busy melting and moving, to those sacred hearths where he invites me to join him.

 

Velvet Ashes – 7 Things to Know about Culture Shock

It’s Saturday and I’m sending you over to Velvet Ashes for a fantastic post by my friend Joann on culture shock. Joann wrote Living Well Where You Don’t Belong for Communicating Across Boundaries. She’s done it again with this post! I’ve posted the first couple paragraphs to give you a trailer! Then head to the link for the full read.

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Culture Shock

The first time I crossed a cultural boundary; I was but 1-year-old! And no, it wasn’t my parents whisking me off to some far-off tropical land; it was my family returning to the US after a term of service in Pakistan.

My mother says that my older sister and some of the children travelling with her (you should hear THAT story sometime) spent hours in the London hotel bathroom flushing the toilet because they had never seen such a thing before. Obviously, I have no memories of that experience.

My second cross-cultural experience, and the first one that I remember, was 6 years later, when, once again, my family decamped from Pakistan back to the US for a year. I remember that things in the US were different, but don’t remember much ‘culture shock,’ because at that age, so long as your parents are nearby and you’ve got other kids to play with, that’s all that matters. I do remember the easy access to candy, though!

After that home leave, we returned to Pakistan for another two years, before returning to the US permanently. I was 14, straddling 8th and 9th grades (a confused age anyway), so I have vivid memories of the culture shock I experienced then. I’ll spare you the details, but what I remember most clearly is the feeling of alienation, of being different. Read the rest here.

I hope your Saturday is filled with hope, joy, and perhaps blueberry muffins or scones and clotted cream

For more on culture and belonging take a look at Between Worlds – Essays on Culture and Belonging.

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