Lost in the Land of Plenty

A lot has happened since I posted the beautiful piece from my daughter about falling in love with your neighborhood. We moved. Those two words are loaded with weeks of uncertainty, days of planning, and hours of conversation. We took all our earthly belongings out of a seven by ten foot storage unit and began to unpack in our little red house. We unpacked books and set up a kitchen. We made sure we had electricity, gas, and a parking permit so that the difficult Boston parking could be a fraction easier. We carried boxes upstairs and downstairs, unrolled rugs, and filled out a damage claim for a moving company, ruefully shaking our heads at broken glass from a favorite picture and favorite piece of furniture.

We took walks in our neighborhood, marveling at the old gas lamp posts that light our way at night and the church bells that ring on the hour. We hid boxes and hosted our first guests – and all of this in our first week. When you move a lot you know you have to plant quickly and pray that the transplanted roots take in the new soil. In our case, we wanted to make sure we started in the strong soil of hospitality.

The words and recall sound easy and pleasant, but along with that, every day this week I have gotten lost. Every day.

Last week I didn’t get lost. Last week my husband, who has an uncanny sense of direction, was around. If you take him to a city anywhere in the world and allow him to explore for half an hour, you can then blindfold him, turn him around three times, and tell him to find all the land marks within a 10-mile radius. He will be able to take you to said landmarks, even if he doesn’t speak a word of whatever language is spoken in the area. It’s remarkable.

I am not him. If you take me to a place I should know (like Boston) and you turn me around three times with my eyes wide open I will get lost.

So every day this week I got lost. I got lost in a land with English signs posted everywhere. I got lost on street corners and highways, around rotaries, and in grocery stores. I made traffic mistakes and wandered dazed through stores. I even got lost after I asked for directions!

It is uncanny how easily I become lost in the country that holds a legal claim on my life.

It was (of course) in the grocery store where the “lostness” manifest itself most profoundly. I wandered around for many minutes, only to get stuck between pasta and tomato paste. The cereal aisle I would understand. Many of us understand paralysis in the cereal aisle. But pasta? Tomato paste? You can find those things in almost any little grocery store in the world. We have found it in tiny shops in Egypt and tinier shops in Kurdistan. It’s everywhere. So how did I get lost?

Eventually I found my way out, only to get lost going home. To understand the severity of my ‘lost’ syndrome, you need to know that my new home is only a ten minute walk from the grocery store.

Here’s the thing: I did not only get lost – I AM lost. I am lost physically and I am lost metaphorically.

I feel lost in the land of plenty. Lost in choice and direction; lost of ideas and dreams; lost of context and future.

I am lost in grocery stores and I am lost in the online search for meaningful work. I am lost in job descriptions and legalese. I am lost in questions.

As I look for the next right thing, I am achingly, painfully, humorously lost.

I have been in this place before, and I know it can’t be rushed. I know that I need to stop, pull over, and breathe.

So that’s what I’ve done. At one point I pulled over to the side of the road and I took a deep breath. I looked at my phone to determine directions. At the grocery store I headed towards the floral section. There in the midst of the beauty of bouquets and greenery, I took a minute to breathe. Again, as I found myself going around a rotary when I should have been heading to the highway, I had to pull over. Only after I pulled over and took a moment to breathe could I move forward.

This physical, mental, and emotional sense of being lost? It’s going to take some time so I’d best stop and breathe.

As my friend Neil says so well:

home’s the skin we live
in, moving its shedding; you
now new and tender

they say you leave your
heart, i say your lungs; it may
take some time to breathe

From Haiku on Moving – For Friends Newly Moved by Neil Das

Fall in Love with Your Neighborhood

On Sunday, we are moving to a new neighborhood. We found a little house to rent in a historic area of Boston. It is painted a deep red and has a postage-stamp yard where we anticipate hanging up white lights and sitting on patio chairs during late summer nights in September.

This house has come at a high cost – not money wise, although rents in Boston are high – but emotionally. It is the cost of leaving too soon, the cost of transition, the cost of not knowing what is next. This house is also priceless – it means we have an address, it means we have a neighborhood, it means that we can create a home. The juxtaposition of those two truths has been present throughout the process of finding this place.

As I anticipate moving and creating space and home, I also think about this new neighborhood that we will be exploring. A year ago it was Kurdistan, and a government-issued apartment. Now it’s Boston, and a little, red house. Both take courage, adventure, and being willing to fall in love with place.

Last week my daughter wrote a short piece about her neighborhood, accompanied by a picture. I loved it. I loved the word pictures, I loved the message, and I loved the challenge. I share it today, because it may be just what all of us need.


If you ever feel sad, fall in love with your neighborhood. If you ever feel lonely, walk down the streets and notice what you never do because you’re in a rush or you’re tired or your brain is too full to notice.

Notice the gardens overflowing from the second floor balconies. Notice the kids bikes with training wheels leaning against fences, telly you stories of people trying and falling and still trying agian. Notice the kitschy garden decor, always in season and telling you that someone who has made a home lives behind that fence. Notice the hammock on the porch, begging to be swung in and telly you to hang a lil more. Notice the bees buzzing in the lavender, telling you that nature isn’t some distant thing, but it’s two steps from your front door.

If you ever need to feel anything, to feel connected, to feel less like a stranger, fall in love with your neighborhood.

Talk to the lamp store guy and he’ll give you a free cushion for the rocking chair you bought from him last week and show you how to fix an old lamp. Talk to the cashier and she’ll tell you how to take care of your Pixie Peperomia. Smile at the dog who lays over for a belly rub and give him the best belly rub ever.

Just fall in love with your neighborhood and remember that it needs people to love it so that it always remains as magical as it’s always been.

If you feel sad, fall in love with your neighborhood.

S.S. Gardner

Low Tide at Wingaersheek

Low Tide at Wingaersheek

Wingaersheek Beach is a beach in Gloucester, Massachusetts. A winding road off Route 128 takes you up hills and around curves, like you’re traveling to nowhere. But beyond the winding roads and heavily wooded area you realize there is an extraordinary beach, hidden from the unaware traveler.

Wingaersheek beach is unique among beaches. Massive rocks in the middle of the sand create a natural playground for children or seating spaces for adults to lounge. High tide pushes everyone toward the marshes and soft, white sand while low tide transforms the area into sand bars in the ocean and empty beach to roam and play.

For us the real magic of Wingaersheek comes after 5, when tired beach goers walk toward their cars, sand and sun covering their bodies, and we arrive. The real magic is low tide at sunset.

Our love of Wingaersheek began many years ago, during another tumultuous time of transition. We had been living in the mega city of Cairo, Egypt for seven years but circumstances urged us to return to the United States. We landed in Dulles Airport in Washington, D.C. with five kids, 26 suitcases, and an Egyptian Siamese cat named Pharaoh. Two of our kids had been born in Egypt, and none of them knew much about living in America. In fact, none of us did. In total we had lived in the United States for 12 months in 11 years. The best way to describe us was as hidden immigrants with good English skills.

We thought we would make our home in the suburban landscape of Washington D.C., where politicians, lobbyists, and power brokers hide behind expensively unassuming brick homes and everyone has to know someone to get anywhere. It turns out that this was the wrong place for us, and six weeks after arriving we found ourselves on the Northshore of Boston.

We were jobless and initially homeless, with an extended family that was praying hard.

I remember the palpable fear of a new beginning in the United States. I remember 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 found a ranch style house in the small town of Essex with a bright orange kitchen. It was an unimaginative house, but the pond behind the house provided hours of joy for our kids. We enrolled our three oldest in school, and we began to look for jobs.

It was now September and Massachusetts was at its finest. Each day dawned bright and golden, temperatures in the low seventies, blue sky that artists and lovers dream about.

We would wake up in the morning and get the three older kids off to school, comforting them as they bravely set out to make their own way in an American school in a small town. After the three older ones were off, we would sit down and look for jobs, scanning newspaper want ads and filling out job applications, all the while praying silently.

And then, we would go to Wingaersheek Beach. The two youngest were one and four years old, and we would pack them into car seats in our red mini van and ride the winding road to the ocean.

The ocean never disappointed. Laying a picnic blanket on the sand, we would sit and munch on sandwiches and fruit. One year old Jonathan was not yet walking and was content with a shovel and bucket. Four-year-old Stefanie would prance all over the sand in a polka dot bikini, her whole being alive with the joy of sand, sun, and ocean.

And we would rest. There was nothing else we could do. We couldn’t make people call us back to interview us, we couldn’t beg people for jobs, we couldn’t do anything to speed up the process. We did all we could do in the morning, and then we went to Wingaersheek Beach.

It was a gift during transition. A healing gift that filled our souls with hope when so much else felt hopeless. Allowing the gift of creation to do its solid work, we rested and we drank in the beauty all around us.

I never knew so many years ago that Wingaersheek would again become a solace during transition, but this August it has. With our unexpected early return from Kurdistan, we have done much the same as we did so many years ago. We have looked for jobs, contacted people, gone for interviews – and then we have gone to Wingaersheek Beach, where low tide and sunsets have wrapped us in hope.

So many years ago, a pond became a solace to my children while an ocean became a solace to my husband and me, making a difficult transition bearable. And so it is this time, nature doing what it does so well if we allow it – providing healing and fostering resilience.

I will always love low tide at Wingaersheek Beach, where heaven meets earth in ocean waves, sand, and sunsets, a tribute to a Creator who calls it ‘Good.’

Low tide at Wingaersheek, where Heaven meets earth in ocean waves, sand, and sunsets.

Waking to Hope

Waking to Hope

Yesterday I cried all day. If I wasn’t crying visibly, I was crying internally.

I cried for dreams found and then lost and plans redirected. I cried for all of us third culture kids and our wonderful, complicated, joy and grief filled lives. I cried for missed opportunities and wasted time.

I cried because starting over is hard, hard work and – like many of you – I have done it many, many times. Sometimes because of my own decisions, other times because of the decisions of others.

I cried about the many idols in my life, and the surgical pain of letting them go. Idols, after all, do serve some purpose otherwise why would we hold on to them for so long?

Most of all, I cried because sometimes the world feels more broken then it feels whole, and though there are so many that work in the broken, fractured places, repairing and healing in the hidden spaces, there are just days when the broken feels bigger and harder.

My monologue and the internal tears continued for what felt like a long time.

Today I woke up to a room where light moved in beautiful shifting patterns, the sun reflecting off whatever it found. I woke to coffee and sunflowers. I woke to hope.

There will be more days like yesterday. Watching dreams die is a slow, painful process. Self evaluation and revelation are not easy. Starting over holds both pain and possibility. But today the monologue became a dialogue – a dialogue of hope and comfort.

In recent weeks I have discovered a poet named Tanner Olson. His words have become a beautiful comfort to me – I hope they will also be a comfort to you.

HOLD ON

AND DON’T

LET GO

TO THIS GRACE

THAT IS

BRINGING US HOME.

Tanner Olson from Written to Speak

Note: This post was written last week during a hard week of decision making. More to come on what’s ahead! There is hope and there is peace.

On Soft Landings and Waiting

We shake with joy, we shake with grief.

What a time they have, these two

housed as they are in the same body.

Mary Oliver

We arrived yesterday on a flight from Doha, Qatar. It was a long flight full of people and movies. We were greeted so well by our dear friends – friends who have walked us through several centuries of joys, sorrows, moves, and changes. They are our people. They brought a truck to transport our many and heavy bags. They fixed dinner and gave us Moscow Mules as we waited. They took us on a walk and they stocked our fridge with food. They are our soft landing after a long six weeks of up and down emotions and decision-making.

I woke to unfiltered sunshine bathing our cottage in light and joy. A bird outside sang an endless song of contentment, begging me to do the same. The joy and grief that have been entwined in my body for weeks have reached a pinnacle – so much joy at being back, joy of Rockport, joy of reunited friendships, joy of return. And so much grief – grief of missing our friends, grief at being away from our beloved Kathy, grief at missing the call to prayer and the Kurdish sun, grief that the Middle East – where my body and soul feel connected in indescribable ways is again no longer home. The poem I quoted at the top of the page is my heart and I am grateful to a friend for reminding me of it.

I wrote this on social media, and I rewrite it here – more as a reminder to me than anything else.


It’s been a long journey. From the time we heard about the edict from the ministry of finance, to the fight to stay, to the realization that we had to leave, to the bag packing and apartment cleaning, to the getting rid of stuff, to the trip to Turkey, to the inevitable trip back to Kurdistan, to the hours of movie watching in a plane, to the hugs of dear friends on arrival at Boston’s Logan Airport, to the full truck of our luggage, to walking in the front door of our beloved cottage in Rockport. ⠀

We took a risk when we bought this cottage 11 years ago, and every year we look at each other and say “It was worth the risk!” Never have I felt this more than today, as I wake up. ⠀

The sun shines in and it is perfectly quiet. A bird outside is joyfully responding to its surroundings. Our favorite books and pieces of home surround us, and dear friends have given us a soft place to land. ⠀

There is pain – it is inevitable when you say goodbye. There is anger and a desire for revenge for a situation poorly handled. There is the sting of unemployment in a culture where your identity comes from what you do. But those will be put on the table and dealt with in time and through counsel and prayer. ⠀

Right now there is sunshine and peace, and a bird whose joy is contagious. ⠀

All is well as I wait.


A few years ago I wrote about waiting in an essay that ended up in my first book. In this new season of waiting, I reread the words and I rest.

Above all, we wait for God. We move forward in faith, only to be stopped in transit. So we wait. It’s not time. We sit tight. There are dozens of ways that God moves in and orchestrates our plans, our movements.We may never know the reason for the waiting. It may elude us until the day we die and we’re on the other side of eternity.

For waiting is nothing new to the work of God. In waiting we join hundreds of others who waited before us. Joseph, sold into slavery, waited years to be able to say the words “You meant it to harm me, but God used it for good.” Abraham and Sarah, waited for so many years to have a child that Sarah laughed cynically at the idea. Noah waited aboard a boat full of antsy animals, with no land in sight. Those are only a few in a long list of ‘waiters’

And so I wait in Rockport thinking of this God who reaches through time and place and asks us to be okay in the in-between, to trust his character and his love. Giving thanks to a God who is utterly trustworthy and completely unpredictable, a God who knows all about waiting as he daily waits for his children to finally get it.”

The View Becomes More Precious

Days are passing by quickly, and in every situation I am keenly aware that life as we know it is ending.

The other day I sat on my porch in early morning. It has been hot and sticky, with little relief. The small air conditioner in our living room window combined with multiple fans on in full force are no match for the heat wave that has people lolling in lethargy. I looked across at the apartments and houses of our neighbors. So, Christopher, Maria, John, Peter, and the guy that owns the Comedy Club at Harvard Square. It all feels incredibly precious.

I have lived in this condo longer than I have lived anywhere. Ten years ago we traded a house with designer paint and a sparkling pool for a rented condominium in a city. We tried to fit big furniture into small spaces, and laughed hard as we realized it couldn’t be done. We moved from perpetual summer to four seasons; from having to drive everywhere we went to a space where everything is in walking distance; and from not knowing neighbors to using our upstairs neighbor’s space every time we had our family visit.

Each day we have lived here our view has become more precious. And as transition closes in, our view becomes even more precious. I watch the morning light, ever-moving as the shadows and sun dance in perfect harmony. I peek out the window and observe a morning conversation. I hear the sounds of the two little boys next door. I watch, I wait, I observe and I shake my head at the beauty of all of it.

The view has become so precious; the sounds are sounds of Home.

Life has taught me that loss and her accompanying grief are constants. It has also taught me that beauty and daily grace walk beside the loss, pausing to pick me up, always there to comfort and hold the tears that come when I least expect.

I have shared before in this space one of my favorite C.S. Lewis quotes, but it is worthy of repeated sharing:

“The settled happiness and security which we all desire, God withholds from us by the very nature of the world: but joy, pleasure, and merriment He has scattered broadcast.  We are never safe, but we have plenty of fun, and some ecstasy.  It is not hard to see why.  The security we crave would teach us to rest our hearts in this world and oppose an obstacle to our return to God: a few moments of happy love, a landscape, a symphony, a merry meeting with friends, a bathe or a football match, have no such tendency.  Our Father refreshes us on the journey with some pleasant inns, but will not encourage us to mistake them for home.” CS Lewis The Problem of Pain

I am so aware that the calm and grateful heart, the precious view I have now are a temporary gift, a respite from transition chaos. Like a child, I will take this gift with joy and abandon. The yearning for permanence will come soon enough, the moving boxes downstairs are multiplying like baby rabbits and the walls will soon close in on me.

But today? Today the view is so precious.

Mountains of Transition

I’m on a balcony in South Carolina looking across at a lake and then mountains. There are mountains, and then more mountains, and beyond that, there are even more mountains.

My view is stunning and soul-quieting; soul-quieting during a time where my soul deeply needs rest and my heart is beginning to feel the deep loneliness of transition. I feel it most when I wake up. A feeling of disorientation surrounds me and I am lost. It’s as though something or someone has died. I lie quiet for a moment, breathing through the panic. And then, it’s gone. I sigh and hold out my hands, the Jesus Prayer on my lips.

A Haitian proverb says “Deye mon, gen mon” – “beyond mountains, there are mountains.” This afternoon, as I quiet my soul and look out towards the horizon, I realize that transition is like this. One mountain after another to be climbed and conquered, or at least climbed. Mountains of change and mountains of moving; mountains of decisions; mountains of goodbyes and ‘see you laters’; mountains of letting go of what I hold so tightly and don’t even realize. Mountains of explaining and re-explaining; of prayers and laying all at the mercy of God.

And that mountain of loneliness? For me, this is the biggest mountain of all. There are both universal and uniquely individual components to this loneliness. I am humbled as I recognize those attributes. I realize that many in our world understand these feelings, yet they are still deeply personal, still difficult to articulate.

In a recent piece on “Going Home“, Tanya Crossman ends with these words:

Right now the best I can manage most days is just getting by. Take small steps toward building a life here. Celebrate tiny achievements. Look for little moments that encourage me, that tell me it’s going to work out and one day I’m going to find my feet here, in this new life. Transition is hard. It’s exhausting. But it’s also worth it.”

Small steps.

Tiny achievements.

Little moments.

It’s going to work out.

Yes, beyond the mountains are more mountains. Taken all together, the view is beautiful, but the steps are overwhelming. But taken one by one, reaching out to others in the journey, I just might make it.

What about you?

Like the Seasons….

normalized departure

Like seasons and birthdays, our comings and goings were a normal part of our lives. When we reached adulthood, we would meet others who had never moved and we would be amazed. On the surface, we felt arrogant – “look at us, we’ve been everywhere” was our silent thought that shouted loudly in our attitudes.

But just below the surface, we longed for weekly family dinners and shopping trips with moms or sisters; for fights that were resolved because they had to be; and for tight family units that stuck together through the years.

While we were roaming the globe collecting stories through the stamps on our passports, others were creating homes and building lives. Each choice came with both joys and challenges.

When your identity is semi-rooted in movement, then you face a crisis when you stay put, when you plant roots, when you’re ‘stable.’

And then if we did settle down, we felt the guilt of stability and wondered how our lives had become so predictable and so mundane. We made the mistake of equating stability with stagnancy.

Stability – strong, secure, safe, steady, firm. Those are adjectives with substance. They mean something. They are foundational to living well. Stability can be present in a life of movement or in a life where you are rooted in one place. Stability is not about where you live, it’s about how you live.*

And in all this, the seasons still came and left, and in between we continued to live.  


*from the Guilt of Stability

Quote on photograph from Worlds Apart: A Third Culture Kid’s Journey

Normalizing Departure

train-2663056_1280

“…but we also knew what it was like to feel temporary, to keep your eye on the clock, to normalise the inevitability of departure so completely that you didn’t think about it, even though you always thought about it.”

It was six years ago when my mom told me that from age 6 through age 18 I never slept in the same bed more than three months at a time. I don’t even remember what we were talking about, but I do remember the moment she told me. It was like all the fuzzy fog of self accusation that had enveloped me suddenly changed into clear and complete understanding.

It always felt like it was my fault that I didn’t feel like I belonged. If only I tried harder. If only I reached out more. If only I wasn’t so sensitive.

If only….

But with my mom’s revelation, the “if only” suddenly became a “no wonder!” complete with all the emphasis an exclamation mark can give.

No wonder I always felt temporary.

No wonder I got restless every few months, rearranging furniture, changing pictures on the wall, looking for a new job.

No wonder I thought I could feel my inner scream of rebellion when people around me were unwilling to face change.

Our life as third culture kids had rhythms of movement. You never questioned those rhythms, they were like the seasons of the year, and you don’t question seasons of the year. Instead, you meet them and embrace them. Then, just when you’ve grown tired and have had enough of winter, you see the burst of spring through forsythia and daffodils poking through old, grey snow.

Like the seasons, arrivals and departures were normalized. We came, we left, and in between we lived. Our resilience was amazing but along the way we didn’t always face the grief that had collected, didn’t always realize that there were some coping mechanisms that would need to be confronted, things that prevented us from fully engaging in life and people around us.

Deepak Unnikrishnan, an Abu Dhabi based writer, recently wrote an article called “Abu Dhabi: the city where citizenship is not an option.” Other than airport layovers on the way to Pakistan, I’ve never been to Abu Dhabi, yet it’s been a long time since I read an article that so completely described the third culture kid experience; the normalization of movement that others find so difficult to relate to.

Like me, Deepak grew up in a place that was not his ‘passport’ country. There are no long-term options for citizenship in the United Arab Emirates, and so children like Deepak, who then become adults, know that at some point they will leave. They had to have a reason to stay.

“…at 20, with the help of a loan from my parents, I found myself leaving for the US. I don’t recall having a conversation with anyone about how I felt. My parents, like others of their generation, normalised departure. But they didn’t tell us what to do with the memories, or how to archive them.”

Deepak questions the words that are available to those of us who are trained to leave our homes behind. “Expatriate isn’t right. Neither is migrant. And guest worker just feels cold, almost euphemistic” he says.

As I think about this I realize why I continue to hold on to the identity and importance of the term “third culture kid”. Because that is the identity I believe the author is looking for. It is we who are trained to leave our homes behind. It is we who know we won’t stay, we who know we can’t stay. It is we whose memories matter so deeply, whose memories need to be archived so that we can hold on to pieces of place. It is we who continue to embrace this identity, even as we move into more permanent seasons and places in our lives.

As kids we are involuntary transients; as adults sometimes the easiest path to take is to become voluntary transients, procreating involuntary transients along the way. We continue patterns of normalizing arrivals and departures; understanding the sweetness of arrivals and the bitterness of goodbyes. We are expert packers and planners, holding our arrival and departure manifestos in our hearts and heads.

But sometimes, we need to plant our feet solidly into the soil around us and stay a little longer. Sometimes we need to realize it’s okay to write our names in the land of our passport countries, even as we hold on to archived memories to give us strength.

“For most of us, being raised as foreigners meant our stay in [insert country] was free of permanence. For some, a temporary stay meant a year or two; for others, time dragged on indefinitely, but always, always, the time would come to say goodbye. Our parents may have chosen to remain, but we would leave. We were raised to be different, we were raised knowing we wouldn’t stay, knowing that as soon as we finished school we would leave and probably not come back.” Nina Sichel in Unrooted Childhoods

Where Our Experiences Find Life

My nephew, Tim, and his wife and baby are moving. They have been living in Mexico for the past two years, and their  time has come to an end. 

When they joined the Foreign Service, they knew that theirs would be a life of hellos and goodbyes; that boxes and moving trucks would periodically turn homes back into houses; and that they would ever after categorize their life as a life lived Between Worlds. 

But even though they knew that, living out that reality is different then anticipating it. In a beautiful blog post, my nephew describes the experience of watching their home become a house. You can read it by clicking here

I’ll end with these words taken from the blog post:

Watching the physical symbols of home go into boxes is a melancholy experience. It means we are leaving soon. But we also know that home is not our stuff. 

Home, for our family, is finding love and belonging in all of the new places that we are blessed to experience.*

*You can follow Tim and Kim’s journey at Far and Away, With T, K, & J

Moving Manifesto

Note: This essay is from Between Worlds: Essays on Culture and Belonging available here.

April is the time when it hits many people that their reality is changing and a move is inevitable. This post is dedicated to all those who will be moving in the next 3 months.

  • Be ruthless – check
  • Don’t go into memory mode – check
  • Keep on telling yourself  “it’s just a ___________(fill in the blank), I don’t need to feel that attached to it”- check
  • Bite back your tears – check
  • Remind yourself that your life is exciting, that others should be as lucky as you – check
  • Try not to listen when friends begin talking about an event that is coming in the future, after you’re gone – check
  • Tell your kids numerous times that they will get to have a ‘new room’ and ‘new friends’ where you’re going “Isn’t that so exciting?!” – check

This is the Moving Manifesto. As days fill with parties and packing, numerous goodbyes, short tempers, unexpected tears in public and private places, we who have traveled this road many times must remember this manifesto. We are comrades of sorts, travelling a path not everybody travels, loyal to each other and to change, unable to explain to people that though we cry now, we really wouldn’t trade our lives. But we need to express those deep feelings of loss and grief in order to do what we do, and do it well.

We go into auto-mode once it becomes inevitable that the packing must be done. Until then, there is a part of us that pretends life will always be as it is ‘right now’. Occasionally doing things like purchasing items for our current reality, almost as a talisman against what’s coming, or a nesting despite knowing that very soon the nest will be knocked from the tree and it will take a while to rebuild. We are well aware that some of our current relationships will survive the move, and others won’t – everybody doesn’t have the capacity to withstand distance and change in friendship. We won’t hold that against people in any way, but part of the manifesto is that we are allowed to feel sad.

We are well aware that some of our current relationships will survive the move, and others won’t – everybody doesn’t have the capacity to withstand distance and change in friendship.

And all too soon, that final party will come. We will be the life of that party as we retell stories with our old friends. We won’t admit to ourselves that they were not part of our lives 3, 4, or 5 years before – because that would give in to the idea that it’s ok that we are moving, and right now it’s not ok.

As the day arrives, the manifesto becomes more important for part of this process is frustration with our current situation. If we can be mad at ‘right now’ our future looks much easier and brighter. So everything that can possibly go wrong often does just that. The moving truck doesn’t have a permit, the moving people break your favorite clock, your best friend has an emergency and is not there to help, your other friends show up like Jobs friends, telling you everything you’re doing wrong, and your kids? They realize this is a reality, suddenly recognizing they are displaced people, and the tears are unstoppable. Hours later, final goodbyes are said with sinking a feeling in your chest, and a catch in your voice. As you drive away – you don’t look back. You fear you will, like Lot’s wife in the Biblical account, turn to stone and you don’t want that.

Despite this, you survive.

Two days and hours of jet lag later you’re in your new location, figuring out how to make it a home. It all feels like a whirlwind and dream – neighbors or other expatriates have looked curiously at your family, trying to assess your kids ages, and one conversation has already felt promising.

Time to bring out “Settling and Surviving: The Arrival Manifesto”.

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A Life Overseas – To the One Who is Left Behind

Hi Readers! I was at A Life Overseas yesterday writing to those who are left behind. You may have already seen a first version of this post a couple of years ago, but if not I would love it if you joined me!

Airport Check-in

“You can kiss your family and friends good-bye and put miles between you, but at the same time you carry them with you in your heart, your mind, your stomach, because you do not just live in a world but a world lives in you.”
― Frederick Buechner

I watched with a sinking heart as my son walked through security and down the hallway to his gate. He was leaving from Logan International Airport in Boston, Massachusetts for a gap semester in Oxford, England.

This was my youngest, my baby. The entire process of getting him ready and off was an event. I have said goodbye to many before — other family members, dear friends, other children — it was never easy, but this one felt different. It was the end of an era: An era of parenting that was finishing, a new stage beginning.

My husband and I had reversed the roles we had for so long; the roles where we were the ones leaving. Now it was our children and we were the ones left behind.

It’s always the same. I stand at the airport or in the driveway and the word ‘grief’ feels too shallow for what I feel, all the emotions that flow through my heart and mind. I watch as my life changes in slow motion as the people I love drive away or go through airport security.

“You sob like you will never stop. There is no one to hold you. There is no one to offer tangible, concrete comfort. Slowly the sobs swallow you up. You begin to feel such relief, the relief that comes only from a cry so deep you can’t explain it. And somehow you know that God is there.”*

I know with each parting, that life will never be the same and I’m never quite sure I will be able to handle it. I’m never sure whether this time might be the time where I become undone, where I can no longer pick up the pieces and move forward accepting that those I love are gone. But each time I do. Each time I survive, and I smile and laugh again, and though it hurts, somehow it’s okay. 

So this piece is for the one who is left behind.

I don’t know your exact situation, but I surely know this ‘deeper than grief’ feeling, I know what it is to leave, but I also know what it is to be left behind. Here are some thoughts for those who are left behind:

Read the rest at A Life Overseas.

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.

 

Sacred Mobility

tethered

Researchers Jeffrey Keuss and Rob Willett describe the TCK experience from a theological perspective, using the phrase “sacredly mobile.” When seen in this light, they describe the experience of the sacredly mobile adolescent as a journey in following God’s vocational call. More importantly, the sacredly mobile adolescent reminds the rest of the Christian community that our identity and vocation in Christ are not physically located in a “home” but can be anywhere in the world.”*

I read the quote above two years ago. For two years I have mulled over and thought about sacred mobility. Mobility has been a part of my life from birth. At three months old, I was diapered and swaddled and left New York Harbor in the arms of my mom. I spent the next six weeks, six weeks that I would never remember, on a massive ship in a sea so big that you could not see land. This mobility continued throughout my childhood, living in different houses in the southern part of Pakistan and going back and forth between boarding school and home.

So I knew mobility – but what about sacred mobility? 

From my faith perspective there are a number of examples of sacred mobility.

The examples begin in Genesis and are woven through both Old and New Testaments. Consider Abraham who was called to leave everything and move to a new land, given promises that took years to fulfill; some never fulfilled in his lifetime. Then there is Jacob who ended up fleeing home after stealing the birthright of his brother. His son Joseph, whose brothers, jealous of his favored status, sold him into slavery in Egypt. There’s Ruth, who left home and traveled with her mother-in-law, speaking words made famous throughout generations for their love and commitment. Words that are still spoken at weddings today “Don’t urge me to leave you or to turn back from you. Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God.” 

There is the Jewish diaspora in Babylon, where the prophet Daniel became a trusted friend of the king. Those examples are a few of many.

Sacred mobility. What does it mean? In an increasingly mobile world, it feels like an important concept to understand. Can we see the movement of people as something sacred? Something that God has continually used for good? Can I see my own movement, my own going from place to place as sacred?

Sacred mobility – what does it mean for the immigrant? What does it mean for the migrant worker? What does it mean for the refugee? What does it mean for the expat? What does it mean for the TCK?

And is there a downside to describing the TCK experience in these terms? While I agree that the sacredly mobile adolescent reminds us that “our identity and vocation in Christ are not physically located in a “home” but can be anywhere in the world,” is it too much of a burden to place on them? Can a vocational call be imposed on a child? 

I’m not sure about the burden piece – I’m not sure about the vocational call for a child, but I can certainly say that at some point in my TCK journey, when I was quite young, I knew that God was using ‘place’ in my story. That he uses ‘place’ in all of our stories. This theme continued on through my adult years, as long as I was overseas. It came as a shock to realize that I could believe in sacred mobility when I was overseas, but had a difficult time when that mobility meant I was back in my passport country.

I’m pondering these things as I sit in a hotel in Idaho. I’ve been traveling for a work job and the people I am working with have welcomed me with their hearts. So has the wide, open land and clear blue sky. I’ve had little time for contemplative thought, but when I woke up today, in a hotel room far from home, I began thinking once again about this idea of sacred mobility.

I still have a lot to think about when it comes to this concept. Can I believe for the refugee who has lost everything, that somehow their journey is sacred in the redemptive story that God is writing? It’s a big ask.

But this I do know: As humans, we are tethered to earth with hearts made for eternity. When we acknowledge God’s loving orchestration of our journey, our mobility does indeed become sacred. And sometimes that takes a lifetime.

The Guilt of Stability

stability with quote

We have lived longer in the condo where we’re currently living than any other place we’ve ever lived. This hit me recently. Hard.

“No wonder I feel restless!” I said to someone who would listen. “I’ve never worked at a job as long as I have this one, I’ve never gone so long without rearranging the furniture, without looking at places to move”

But I don’t only feel restless — I feel almost guilty that we’re ‘stable’. It caught me like a steel trap, vice-like in its intensity. I felt guilty for being stable, for not having tickets purchased, a move on the calendar. I felt the guilt of stability.

Because too often I make the third culture kid mistake of equating stability with stagnancy. If I am stable it must mean my life is unexciting, boring. If I am stable I must be doing something wrong. If I buy a house then I am settling for mediocrity. If I suddenly realize that I am content, that I no longer struggle with TCK envy then something is out of place.

When your identity is semi-rooted in movement, then you face a crisis when you stay put, when you plant roots, when you’re ‘stable.’

But stagnancy and stability are not the same thing.

I know people who have lived their entire lives in the same town but are not stagnant. Their lives are vibrant and full — they are part of their communities and give of what they have, both physically and emotionally. They use their rootedness to help others root.

I know others who have traveled the world — yet in a sense are stagnant. They live for self and self-indulgence. Their pictures are of exotic places and more exotic drinks. Yet I don’t see them using what they have to give, to help others.

Stability – strong, secure, safe, steady, firm. Those are adjectives with substance. They mean something. They are foundational to living well. Stability can be present in a life of movement or in a life where you are rooted in one place. Stability is not about where you live, it’s about how you live.

I don’t know what this next year will hold — will there be a move on the horizon and will our seven years in the same place end? Or will we continue to live here, seeking to be rooted and stable but not stagnant.

What about you? Have you been rooted for a long time or are you newly planted somewhere? Would love to hear from you through the comments! 

Photo credit: http://pixabay.com/en/arrangement-balance-group-nature-21530/ word art by Marilyn R. Gardner

First Day of K – A Guest Post

One of the things I have loved about writing is getting into conversations with people who don’t have my background but know what it is to live between worlds. Today’s post comes from someone like that. I met Thea online when she began to read Communicating Across Boundaries. Since that time we have had some short but wonderful conversations about living between worlds. Today she takes you into her world of living between. You’ll want to grab a hot drink for this one! Read more about Thea at the end of the post and head over to her blog!

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Earlier this fall, I dropped my firstborn child off for her first day of kindergarten. I had been dreading the day since March, feeling it’s cold shadow over her last days of preschool, sensing a little worm of panic squiggling under the surface of long, lazy afternoons, finding a new urgency in my perennial wish that summer would never end. But I was calm that day as I took her to school. I helped her find a hook for her things, gave her a kiss, and walked out without a tear.

It is never easy, I am sure, to send a much beloved child to school for the first time. I share worries that are common to most parents. I want my child to be successful, to be liked, to behave. But at the same time, I have fears that I imagine are more common among immigrants and refugees than white, middle class, suburban moms like me. “What if she thinks she belongs here? How will she know she is different? What if she wants to fit in?’” Anyone who knows my red-haired, left-handed little girl with her imaginary fire angel sisters is probably laughing by now. But bear with me. Being quirky and self-confident at five is no guarantee that one will have the strength of character to make it to adulthood in one piece.

My early childhood was quite different from my daughter’s, but it was magical. More than forty years ago my parents answered a call to follow Jesus in a radical, apostolic way. They joined a brotherhood of like-minded believers, took vows of poverty and obedience, and left their former lives behind. For them, following that call has meant being willing to uproot themselves at a moments notice. It has led them from coast to coast and back again. It meant foregoing (or delaying, in some cases) choices that might have guaranteed material security and stability in favor of opportunities to serve God and neighbor. Eventually it led them into the Orthodox Church, in which my father now serves as a priest.

For me, their calling meant a childhood lived between worlds. While living between worlds can be confusing or alienating, it can also be richer and more fun than sticking to only one. When I was quite small we belonged to a large community, where adults called one another “Brother” and “Sister” and children, though we were far from angels, were never cruel in the ways (as I was later to learn) children in the “real world” often are. We believed in fairies and celebrated the changing of the seasons. We believed in angels and worshiped by candlelight. We were homeschooled, but so were our friends, so a few hours of morning study were followed by long afternoons of unstructured play.

When I was six or seven things began to change drastically. We became Orthodox and the common life ended. I went to public school and my mother went to work. Certainly I felt a sense of loss, and was aware at some level (as children always are) of the stress that such major changes placed upon the adults around me. But for the most part, living through major changes was an asset for me. I went to the first day of third grade never having watched Sesame Street, listened to popular music, or owned a Cabbage Patch Kid (yes, you should be able to guess my age now). I quickly learned to observe, to pick up social cues, to adapt just enough, if not to fit in, then at least not to stick out. These skills served me well through many changes.

When I was a freshman in high school my family moved 3000 miles, from Atlanta to San Francisco, and I left home to complete high school at a nearby women’s monastery. My chameleon-like ability to adapt helped me through college, and again as an adult when I moved back to Atlanta and taught at an inner city school where almost no one looked or talked like me.

Living between worlds meant knowing how to adapt to new circumstances, but it also meant always having a fall-back. Never being able to completely fit in meant never having to commit 100%, never having to fully belong. There was safety in knowing that I had secrets, that there was more to me than met the eye.

My daughter is going to the same elementary school that my husband attended thirty years ago. Her kindergarten teacher is married to one of his favorite high school teachers. The principal, school counselor, and a few of the teachers remember my mother-in-law from her years as a teacher’s assistant. When we toured the school with my daughter’s Pre-K class I showed her where, if she was ever sad or lonely, she could stand at the edge of the playground and look over to the spot where her grandfather lies on the green hillside beyond the schoolyard fence.

This kind of rootedness, this deep sense of belonging to an incidental community based on bloodlines and shared geography rather than an intentional one based on shared principles and beliefs, is new territory for me. It lends a different magic to my daughter’s childhood, and will have its own hidden dangers, its own kinds of safety to bestow.

If you had asked me a year ago what I could contribute to a conversation about identity and living between cultures, I would have been at a loss for what to say. I have done my share of thinking, writing, and soul searching on the topic, but it seems far away to me now, like so much adolescent introspection with very little immediate relevance. I know who I am, where and to Whom I belong, and I have no desire to get sucked back into the vortex of self-reflection. But then, back in April, I had to decide whether or not to register my first baby for Kindergarten. The idea that my choice would become a fundamental building block in someone else’s identity, a chapter in someone else’s life story, written in indelible ink, was terrifying. So many voices within me wanted their say, born of my own varied past. Part of me longs to give my daughter a childhood like my own, colored with starlight, fairy dust, and sweet summer mornings. Then again, I want her to have a chance to make friends with people who do not look or talk like her, to begin the hard lessons of tolerance and respect. After much deliberation I decided that for this child and this family at this moment in time, our local school was the best option, but I am sure I will question that decision many times before the year is over.

Despite my misgivings, I walked away from the school on that August morning at peace. There are still many experiences from my own past that I want to share with my child, and so many questions about who she will become. But when I think back over the path that has led me here, it is as if a strange wind has been blowing through my life, taking me places I never knew I needed to go, teaching me things I couldn’t have guessed I would need to learn. To be sure, I have made choices that have shaped my life, but only as a bird leaning into or away from the wind, not as the wind itself, which blows where it will.

So when I look at my sweet child I know that, while it is my job to guide and care for her the best I can, truly the safest place for my little fledgling is not in an insulated nest of my own imperfect making, but out there, following the wind. And to hear her tell it, fire angels are very good at flying.

Thea WallaceThea Wallace doesn’t have a passport and has never crossed an international border, but has lived in many diverse communities and reached across all kinds of boundaries within her home country. Her latest adventure involves raising her two children in a small Mississippi town. She blogs at www.ariseandeat.com.

Moving is Hard or This too is India

Moving is hard or This too is India by Robynn. Today’s piece is longform – and you will be glad you read it. Especially if you are in a move or frequently support those that move. You can follow Robynn every Friday in Fridays with Robynn. You can also follow her on Twitter at @RobynnBliss

 moving is hard 2

Our family is moving this summer. It’s the shortest move we’ve ever made but in someways it feels the most daunting. We’re simply moving four blocks away and yet the process of packing and sorting isn’t greatly diminished. I wonder if moving will be hard this time too? Since we’re not really leaving the neighbourhood I wonder if much will change? I wrote this for others whose move involves actually leaving the city, or the state, or the country but perhaps I’ll need to re-read it in a couple of months time.

When we moved from India to the United States, 7 years ago, we were astounded by how difficult it was. Packing up a family of five had been stressful. Leaving one beloved country, travelling through two more en route before unpacking in a fourth was tiring. However, settling in was shockingly hard. I wasn’t expecting it to be like that. This was America. Things were supposed to run a little easier.

Part of our job in India was to welcome new expatriates and help them settle into the chaos of our North Indian city. We answered thousands of important questions, we walked people through hundreds of frustrations, we held their hands, we cried with them as they grieved their losses, we laughed at their surprises and delights and celebrated each of their new discoveries. It was an intense part of our lives there.  During that time we heard repeatedly of their frustrations with the Indian systems. Bureaucracy was a nightmare. Systems didn’t work. Loopholes were deeper, thicker, higher, and impossible to jump through.  Simple errands were complex. Nothing made any sense. The newly arrived were often angry, frustrated and exasperated. India was blamed for most of their troubles.

I’m not denying how agonizing it can be. Original copies of this certificate. Photocopies of that form. Four copies of passport-sized photos. Notarized copies of this application. Signed duplicates of that original. Go there. Get that. Return there. You still need this. The office is closed on Tuesdays. Office hours on Fridays are limited. It was often ridiculous and relentless. But I’ve come to see that very little of it was actually India’s fault.

Those first few months of life here in the US were (equally?) maddening. To apply for a phone we needed an address and a phone number. To sign up for gas and electricity we needed a phone number. We couldn’t get the phone number until we had a phone number. There were, nearly hilarious, systemic loops that we fell into. We couldn’t get internet service until we had a phone number. We couldn’t get a phone until we had an address. We couldn’t get our address until we could meet with the previous owner for him to sign over the deed. But we couldn’t fill out the deed until we had a phone number. Often Lowell and I would look at each other, remembering the angst that our newly arrived friends would experience upon arriving in India, and we’d say, “This too is India”!

Enrolling our children in school was also confusing. We had to have copies of their birth certificates (which birth certificate? Two of our three children have three birth certificates each!) and copies of their immunization records (which were unreadable and confusing and had to be redone by the local pediatrician’s office).  I didn’t have an American social security number at that time. My Canadian social insurance number confused everyone as it didn’t fit into the prescribed number of boxes. It was awkward and embarrassing. It wasn’t just my identifying number that didn’t fit into their boxes….our whole family seemed to be out of place.

I recently read a well written piece by a woman who was reflecting back on moving with her young family to a foreign country. I found the article a little annoying, if I’m being honest. Somehow it felt like the new country, let’s call it Papua New Guinea, was blamed for all their struggles. Her children struggled at settling in. Papua New Guinea was blamed. She and her husband struggled with the guilt of bringing their kids to this new and strange place. Papua New Guinea was blamed. As I was processing it with my friend Marilyn, I wrote, “It’s really an unfortunate piece. The fact of the matter is any move is hard on every member of the family. Just ask Jill about moving their 10-year-old and 6-year-old from Kansas to New Mexico. It’s hard to move. Period. It is a really narrow perspective to blame a cross cultural move for all the troubles you and your kids will have. Life is hard. Parenting is hard. Moving is hard”.

Two years ago, my good friend Jill and her family moved from Kansas to a nearby state, New Mexico. They transplanted their two young children and all their earthly goods to that new place. Both Jill and her husband were familiar with the city they moved to and yet it’s been a very difficult transition for them. They didn’t leave the country. They didn’t need to learn a new language. And yet…nothing is the same there. They’ve struggled to find a new church. The school system seems strange. New doctors, new hair stylists, new rules, new systems, new neighbourhoods, new friends. It’s been hard.

moving is hard

In a major move it’s easy to idyllically reinterpret your past. It was so much easier when we were there. Remember how fun that was? Remember how tasty that treat was at that restaurant we loved? It’s much harder to be present where you are, especially when where you are is new and strange and your responses to it are less than perfect. You aren’t the same person you were there. Your marriage looks different. Your parenting changes. But it’s also true that had you stayed where you were you still wouldn’t be the person you had been. You’d be older. Your marriage would have taken new turns. Your children move into the next developmental stage. They have new growth spurts and hormones and rebellions, new friends, and new circumstances. Everything is constantly changing. Resisting the temptation to blame the new location for the new you, the new (and strange) struggles your children experience, the new pains in your relationships, the new sins that surface in your soul is difficult but necessary.

This new place where you find yourself is a new opportunity to grow. There are fresh beginnings and unfamiliar experiences ahead. Train yourself and your children to be here now. Present and stable. Certainly there is value in remembering….but focus on remembering how faithful God was in that old place. Recall some of the hard things from that last chapter. Call to mind how you managed to get through it. Remember circumstances that were foreign and frantic. Remember how the Peace that few understand melted over your family then. And then be assured that it will sustain you in this new place too. That hasn’t changed.  The mercies of God, which were new every morning there, will also be new every morning here.

I’m not for a minute trying to minimize the pain of a move. It is painful.

There are a thousand losses. Nothing remains the same. None of your previous routines and systems seem to translate. Everything must be relearned. It’s very very hard. And it takes far longer than you think it will to truly settle in and be at home. But there is little to be gained for blaming the place for the heartache and dis-ease you feel. Pain is always an invitation to grow deeper. Jesus meets us in our pain and offers to lead us through it. Through to the other side of settled. Through to a new normal. Through to a new sense of home and being settled.

And who are we kidding….

Through to a whole new series of change and loss and opportunity and joy…through to a whole new invitation to go deeper.

This too is India! 

Photo Credits: http://pixabay.com/en/delhi-road-india-chaos-282933/ and http://pixabay.com/en/bellman-luggage-cart-baggage-104031/

Transition – Building a RAFT

RAFT Reconciliation  •  Affirmation  •  Farewell  •  Think Destination

In their landmark book Third Culture Kids: Growing Up Among Worlds, the authors Dave Pollock and Ruth Van Reken have a chapter devoted to transition and dealing with leaving one place and starting in a new one. The chapter is a constructive and practical look at leaving well, at closure, at saying our goodbyes in peace. While transitions are never easy there are concrete steps we can take to make them as smooth as possible, always bearing in mind that no matter how well we prepare some situations will arise that are completely out of our control. The authors suggest four steps that make up the acronym RAFT. They are these:  reconciliation, affirmation, farewell, think destination. 

Reconciliation is the first step in building a RAFT. I’ve written before that I believe it is important to leave in peace, that when we leave in peace we can begin in peace. By contrast when we leave with unresolved conflict we carry that with us to the next place we go to. That’s exactly what reconciliation is — it means leaving in peace as far as is possible. When we’ve struggled mightily in a place this is difficult. I remember leaving Massachusetts and the small town on the North Shore of Boston where we lived. We loved our house and throughout our time there we had laughed hard, cried some, partied much, and grown in extraordinary ways. But we struggled with choking provincialism of the area and felt good eyes upon us, criticizing at every turn. It was not easy to leave that town in peace, and so I didn’t. Thanks to some beloved friends in a nearby town we were able to return and create new memories, but I still wish I had been able to leave with greater peace. It’s this move I think about when I think about the advice to have the first log of the raft be reconciliation. It’s an obvious first step — if we are able to do that well then we can better move on to the other three logs.

Affirmation moves us into acknowledging and letting those we love, those who have become our dear friends know how much we love them, how much we will miss them. Affirmation is about talking to a teacher and saying “Thank you! Thank you for your role in my kid’s development.” Affirmation is about saying thank you to coffee shop baristas and favorite bakery vendors, people who worked in church nurseries and pastoral staff. It’s about affirming the time we had in a place and the people who knowingly or unknowingly helped us create a home.

Farewells – Honor the goodbye. Those goodbyes are critically important. As I wrote last week “We grieve as we say goodbye because we are losing places and people that we love. Each goodbye is a little like death, it’s saying goodbye to permanence and the relationships as we know them. They will change, they have to change. Comfort and hope will have their place, and they are part of the process, but sometimes we need to just sit with the grief before being forced to move on. The global transnational family has developed an amazing capacity to adapt, to move forward, but sometimes we need to just stop where we are and honor that moment.”

Think Destination is the last log that the authors recommend. This can be either tremendously difficult or really easy. When our family left Cairo we thought our hearts would break, the collective grief in our family was palpable and as long as we live I don’t think any of us will forget our last night in that city of 18 million people.  A last meal eaten with laughter and joy; saying goodbye to dear friends Jenny, Len, Yasmine, Neelam, and Tariq as they sang to us a hymn of blessing; hugging tight, not knowing when or if we would ever see each other again – these friend who knew our lives in Pakistan and Egypt; and then finally walking down the road toward our home just steps from the Nile River with the smell of jasmine in the air. How could we think destination? How could we think ahead when we were leaving so much? And yet we did. We thought destination as we sorted and packed and began reestablishing connections back in our passport country. We thought destination as we sent out emails asking people advice on housing, schools, churches. We thought destination as we prayed and planned, even while tears formed at every thought and our hearts began to bleed in anticipation of that final goodbye when we would look out the plane window and feel grief too deep for words, too heavy for tears. At the time I didn’t know the acronym RAFT. The first edition of Third Culture Kids: Growing Up Among Worlds was not released until three years later. The research was still being conducted, interviews with third culture kids and adult third culture kids were not yet complete. A few years later when we left Massachusetts for Phoenix this last step ‘thinking destination’ was easy – I could not wait to exchange ice and snow, the dog days of New England winters for the desert sun and vast blue sky. During that move other logs on the RAFT were more difficult.

Each move we make varies. Intuitively I think many of us know this RAFT, we know that this RAFT is critical to take us over the sometimes calm, sometimes rocky, always unpredictable thing called ‘transition’. But to see it in print, validated and researched, gives many of us a life line to draw from, a method to keep us afloat.

How about you? Are you familiar with the acronym RAFT? How have you used it in the past? Are you in the middle of a move? How has it helped you transition? Join the conversation through the comments! 

Blogger’s Note: If you’ve not yet read the book Third Culture Kids: Growing Up Among Worlds I highly recommend it. Full of practical information and both qualitative and quantitative research it is a tremendous resource for the transnational family.