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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New Lives and Portable Memories


Every time I leave home, I’m struck by the fact that I have that choice. I’m not being forced out by violence, persecution, or a crooked landlord. 

I choose when to go. I choose how to go.  I choose what to take. 

An article in the NY Times called “In a Refugee’s Bags, Memories of Home”* paints  a poignant picture of things left behind when refugees and displaced people have to leave their homes and possessions. But the picture is juxtaposed with creative ways that refugees bring pieces of their homes and places with them. For one woman it’s a dress that holds the landscape of her beloved city in Iraq. For a musician it’s the melody of a song sung in his native Syriac; for another it’s a wooden string instrument. All of these are reminders of who they are and where they come from. 

More so, they are a picture of their resiliency and willingness to keep on living, to not believe that all is lost. 

… their stories….reveal not only what they have lost, but also the beautiful things they have saved, or remade.

I am far from home today, and I write this while sitting in an airport, surrounded by other travelers. I carry these stories with me, treasuring them for what they teach me about hope, about resiliency, about keeping on living even when it seems all is lost. 

Take a look at the story today by clicking here. You won’t be disappointed! 

*by STEPHANIE SALDAÑA

The Grand Unraveling

For several months I had been calling Trump’s impending presidency The Grand Unraveling. He made campaign promises that seemed horrifying to me, he boldly made declarations of things he would do, things he would undo. During those campaigning days things seemed bleak, ominous even, but most of the time I assumed he was using loud words that would surely prove hollow.

And now here we are. President Trump has been in the White House for just over a month and The Grand Unraveling has begun in earnest. Or at least that’s how I’ve felt over the past two weeks. To make matters worse I’ve also felt powerless to prevent it. Yes, we’ve prayed persistently, our family has participated in peaceful protests, I’ve made calls to Representatives and Senators. Still it has felt like I’ve been helpless to do anything. Things have been coming undone and the world has seemed scary and unstable.

Thinking about unraveling however, made me remember a story from my childhood which has given me cause for pause.

When I was a girl we used to go to the Lundah Bazaar on the main street of Layyah, the town where I grew up. Lundah Bazaar was a wonderful prequel to Good Will and other secondhand stores I’ve come to love. There were piles of used clothes laid out on plastic sheets on the ground. Rumour had it that these were clothes sent into Pakistan as foreign aid but sold instead to retailers who in turn sold it to eager customers. Auntie Helen, Mom and I were some of those eager customers. We loved to go and rummage. If we saw something in the stack, we’d reach in and grab it, hold it up, inspect it, and either toss it back on top of the cloth hill or hand it to the shopkeeper to add to our own growing pile of things to buy.

Auntie Helen always bought sweaters. She’d inspect them carefully before purchasing them. These sweaters weren’t examined for being fashionable or trendy, but for the quality of the wool or yarn that was used. Auntie Helen would take them back to her friends in the villages, who would unravel the sweaters carefully. Younger women would roll the recently undone sweaters into skeins to be later used in the making of something new.  Auntie Helen was always very generous with my brother and me. If she thought we might like something she went out of her way to make it happen. She doted on us with treats and new books; with silly games and impromptu parties. More than anything, Auntie Helen wanted us to have a happy Pakistani childhood. But, having said that, she was quite protective of the sweaters she chose that had potential to be remade. I remember a fuzzy pink sweater with wonderful buttons that I noticed almost at the same moment Auntie Helen did. I hoped against hope that it wouldn’t pass her inspection. I groaned inwardly when she added it to her pile. When I sighed a little and maybe suggested that I might like that sweater to wear myself, she simply smiled and picked up the next woolen garment.

Auntie Helen had bigger things in mind. She knew the procedure and normally I loved to see the process unfold as the sweaters were unraveled, rolled and reworked into booties, and baby hats, sweaters and sweater vests. It felt like redemption. Auntie Helen was careful in her selection. The women were gentle in the undoing of the sweaters she brought them. The rollers did so with precision. The new knitters took pride in their creations. The old was gone; the new had come.

The unravelling wasn’t in vain. Even the pink sweater I loved, lost, and grieved had a higher purpose. Eventually somebody’s grandbaby would be decked out in a matching layette with a bonnet, a sweater, and drawstring booties with lovely large tassels of the same bright pink.

If Auntie Helen were still alive I think she’d have us pick up the frayed bits and start rolling them up, start making skeins, start twisting what we have into some sort of coiled ball. I suspect she’d refuse to think this was the end. She’d insist that this ratty remnant of what used to be a stable country might be put to good use. She’d see potential and hope. She’d examine it and imagine new things made from the old.

It takes energy to stand ready to collect what’s falling apart, what’s falling off, what’s fraying away. It takes discernment to see which parts are worth salvaging. It takes strength and stamina to roll, and wind, twist and coil the strands of an unwound country onto a reel. It takes courage and creativity to see what might yet be. It takes a prophetic imagination to see the Kingdom beyond and past and outside the borders of the country. It takes a sacred vision to imagine a country so radically different that we wouldn’t recognize if but for the scant shades of blue, white and red worked under the tapestry of red and yellow; black and white. It takes hope to see past the present desolation to the promise of full redemption and restoration.

God bless us all as we do the work of collecting, rolling, sharing, knitting and recreating.

 

(*Photo credit: Kari Patterson)

 

 

 

The Travelers


“Time was passing like a hand waving from a train I wanted to be on.
I hope you never have to think about anything as much as I think about you.”
― Jonathan Safran Foer

The picture of the sculpture is so remarkable I think that it cannot be real. It must be a photograph, digitally altered by a master.

But it is real. The sculpture is just one of several in a display called “Les Voyageurs” by a man named Bruno Catalano. They are sculptures that show men and women travelers. Each has some sort of bag or suitcase with them and it is clear they are on a journey. More significantly, each of them has a prominent piece missing from the center of their bodies. As though they are leaving a part of themselves behind or as though they are leaving to search for the part of their bodies that is incomplete.

They are works of art, sculptures that resonate with the modern-day soul. These sculptures tell the story of the nomad, the pilgrim, the traveler, the refugee, the immigrant.

As I searched to find out a bit more about the artist I discovered Catalano is a third culture kid, a global nomad. He was born in Casablanca but moved to France at 12 years old, settling in Marseille. He went on to become a sailor, and it was both of these things that inspired his sculptures.

“I have traveled a lot and I left Morocco when I was 12 years old. I felt that a part of me was gone and will never come back.

From years of being a sailor, I was always leaving different countries and places each time and it’s a process that we all go through. I feel like this occurs several times during life and of course everyone has missing pieces in his or her life that he won’t find again. So the meaning can be different for everyone, but to me the sculptures represent a world citizen.”*

Our world is full of people who journey with important pieces of their lives missing. The pieces are places, people, and communities.

Many people have a catalogue of pieces missing, and so when they grieve, they are never quite sure exactly what they are grieving for.

Are they grieving for the pieces of their life that disappeared a year ago, or does their grief come from places and people they left long ago in their childhood. These pieces can accumulate and, like the sculptures, leave visible and invisible gaps in our hearts and souls. Cute sayings that abound on social media leave out the hard parts of travel and of moving. These memes rarely mention the gaps that are a part of the journey.

Even those who never travel or move are travelers in a life journey that includes a million small losses and several large ones. The deaths of those we love is part of the human journey and we will all face it sooner or later. We are all like these sculptures:Travelers with pieces missing, somehow glued together.

Often we see these missing pieces as flaws or as wounds that cannot be healed. But as I look at the sculptures, I see them as extraordinary pieces of art. They are beautifully crafted, broken yet whole.

At a deep spiritual level I believe that what Catalano does with these sculptures, God longs to do with us as living, breathing beings. He wants to take us, human travelers with our missing parts, and put them together so that though we have missing pieces, we are still strong, still intact. He wants to take the broken, lost pieces of our souls, and put them together, welded stronger than steel. He wants to make of us not sculptures, but living, breathing beings that are broken but whole. 

Note-this post was adapted from a post originally written in May of 2014.

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.

 

Get a Life

“Oh, for God’s sake…get a life, will you?”–William Shatner

 

Connor left nearly a month ago to return to the University of British Columbia. As he and Lowell pulled away from the house I felt the bottle of grief shaken within me lose its scarcely screwed on lid. Before I knew it I was drenched, inside and out, with sadness. I came into the house, sat in my chair, gently held my coffee cup and cried.

In my sad spot I remembered that this is our Adelaide’s last year of high school too and a fresh wave of grief dragged me under. It felt like my heart would break.

I wondered at the strangeness of parenting. We wrap our lives and our hearts around these miniature people. We tend, nurture, guide, direct. We attend concerts and games, plays and competitions. We give up our rights to complete thoughts, finished sentences, sleeping in on Saturdays, uninterrupted conversations, Sunday afternoon naps, free time, long showers, the late show. We trade it all in for diapers, runny noses, giggles, knock knock jokes, princesses, pirate ships, play dough, lego towers, swing pushing, nail painting, homework helping, eye rolling, door slamming, curfew pushing kids! And if we get a minute we’d admit that it was a fair trade. For the most part we’ve loved it—!

In that sad moment in my chair I wanted those days back again. I wanted another turn at it all. I wanted to hold fiercely on to the childhood of my children. They said it would go fast and for the longest time I thought they were mocking me…but now I realized with horror at how right they had been. It was over with my kids before it had really begun in me.

As I sat sipping my coffee, which now oddly tasted like nostalgia and sorrow, I thought to myself, “Robynn, You need to get a life”! I suppose it was a mild rebuke from my more sensible self to my emoting sobbing self. Even as I thought it another thought quickly jumped up in defense of me. Wait a minute…I do have a life!

I do. I have purpose. I’m a spiritual director in training. My brain is being stretched and stimulated by the program I’m enrolled in. I have a broad worldview. I’ve had the humbling privilege of travel and crossing cultures in varying places around the globe. I’m a part of an Environmental Missions effort. I’m passionate about climate change and its effects on the world. I care deeply about the oppressed and long for justice. I have deep friendships with interesting people who expand my world in significant ways. My thoughts are often outside of my inside domestic duties. I read books, I engage in conversation, I watch the occasional documentary, I listen to intellectually stimulating podcasts.

Honestly I think that’s one of the best gifts I’ve given my children. They’ve seen my heart for others. They know I have a wide circle. They’ve heard me rant about racial injustice, about welcoming the immigrant, about caring for the poor. They’ve seen my eyes fill with tears with concern for friends that are hurting. They know I have dreams and goals and longings outside of our home.

I attended an international boarding school in the Himalayan foothills of Pakistan. Multiple times a year we’d have to say goodbye to our parents. It was devastatingly difficult. But I’m convinced it was made marginally easier because we knew my parents had purpose. We knew they loved each other well. Their marriage was solid. We knew they’d be ok without us.

Kids need to know that their parents are going to be all right when they’re not around. It’s too much pressure for a child to believe that his mother’s or his father’s emotional well-being is connected to him. He needs to know they have a life without him.

There are ways we interpret our obsession with our kids that sound noble and self-sacrificing. But I wonder if we scraped those notions back down to the frame if we’d find something more self-serving than we originally thought? Does it give us a sense of importance? Are we tethering our identity solely to our role as caregiver?

I’m not saying that being a parent is not an important vital job. By all means it is! But the goal is to work yourself out of a job. We want to raise adults that are independent, that no longer need us for their daily cares. We want to train up people that know what it means to contribute in valuable ways to the world around them. They will not know about that unless we show them. It will be important to your health and the health of your progeny that you have some other meaningful thing to give yourself to.

I suppose there’s no real easy way to say this….but moms and dads –you have got to get a life! I don’t care what age your kids are now, begin, even today to imagine a little life outside of your children. Start researching ideas of what you might want to do. Pray it through. Take up a hobby that energizes you. Are there distance education classes you could enroll in even now? Are there places you could meaningfully volunteer? Are there courses offered in your community that might spark your imagination? Do you have dormant dreams that you used to think about? What would it look like to fan some of those back into flame? The little people won’t be little for long. Start now and get a life!

 

 

This is my Body–A Repost

I’ve been thinking about the aging process and how it plays out in my body. And then I remembered this piece I wrote three years ago. I think it relates. It seems like we need to do the work of coming to grips with our limited capacities, our weariness, our weakness. This is (still) my body, breaking and broken. 

Though they may be out there, I have never met a woman who is not consumed with food, and body image.There are those who are clinically diagnosed with eating disorders but all of us are to some degree disordered in our relationship to food and to our bodies. It started, of course, in the garden with Eve and the fruit. It was food and it spoke to her. Granted the fruit didn’t actually talk, but her soul’s enemy spoke to her and the message was mixed in with the food. Temptation with a spiritual marinade, a dipping sauce, a glaze.  Ever since then we’ve battled burgers and burritos; biscuits and beans. Our fight with food has been handed down to us through a long line of mothers.

I am no exception. I’ve wrestled food since I hit puberty. It’s a love-hate relationship. I love to eat. I hate how food gathers and stays on my body. I love the taste and smells of food; the texture, the flavours. I hate the pull and power of food. My history with food includes unseemly weight gain with entering and reentering cultures, with culture shock and stress.

Lately my body has been out of whack. My metabolism is on strike. My ability to burn calories seems to be deterred by fatigue and hormonal changes. I’ve never loved exercising. I love people. I’ll go for a walk if a friend will go with me. But a walk just for a walk’s sake seems like a waste of time. I don’t enjoy it. Now I can hardly eat anything and the weight still seems to creep on. It’s depressing. It’s disheartening.

Last week I was praying again for grace in this…. I don’t want to obsess about it. I don’t want to become consumed with myself, with food, with my body or with my feelings about my body. I was trying to release all that again up to Jesus who understands about bodies. He chose to be bodied, to take on flesh, to become a person. He came for our souls and for our bodies. He healed the lame, gave sight to the blind and hearing to the deaf. Jesus healed diseased bodies, broken bodies, bleeding bodies. He touched bodies that no one else would touch. He associated with bodies that others avoided.

As I was praying for my body and my emotions about it…these words came to mind. “This is your body.” It seemed a divine pronouncement over me, over my agonies, over my physical frame. I repeated it slowly, out loud, “This is my body. This is my body.” I felt somehow it was a remedy for my conflicted distorted soul stuck in this conflicted distorted body. This is my body. I’ve been chewing this over and over. It keeps coming to mind. As the negative thoughts come, this thought has dropped like a sweet warm blanket to cover the ugliness of my beliefs. This is my body.

At the last meal that Jesus shared with his friends he tried again to explain to them that he was about to be executed, that he would die, that he would come back to life. It was a mystery to them. They couldn’t understand it. Using what was right in front of him (the food!), Jesus, picked up the bread, and he broke off a chunk. This was a metaphor they could figure out. It was the language of survival and comfort. It was memory and mystery. It was bread. “This is my body,” he said, “Broken for you. Take it. Eat it.”

Jesus wasn’t just giving them a cute expression, a fun phrase, or a clever speech. When Jesus says, “This is my body, broken for you,” it’s significant. His broken body—his sacrifice—has the capacity to redeem me. All of me. My body. My relationship with food. All of it. His body restores my body. He offers us his broken body for our consumption. We are invited to, “take and eat”. We consume Jesus and we are satisfied. That alone means something for my food issues and my body issues and my brokenness.

In that moment at that last meal when Jesus proclaimed, “This is my body, broken for you,” it makes me wonder if in some sense Jesus himself had to come to grips with his own body and its impending brokenness. He was about to endure the profound breaking of his own body. He leans into it and he accepts it. That has implications for me accepting my own body and my own brokenness.

This holy truth, with its layers and layers of implication and revelation, has been slowly seeping into my soul this week. This IS my body. It’s the body I’ve been given. It’s no surprise to my Creator that my metabolism is malfunctioning. He’s not shocked by my disdain for exercise. He’s not horrified by longings for a piece of cake or a handful of snack mix. He actually loves me completely. From the freckles on my arms to the hair that’s coming in grey and wiry; from my ingrown toenails to my one short thumb; from the ski-sloped nose to my varicose veins…all of it designed and delighted in by my Potter, my Maker.

And it’s broken. Broken because of the Fall. Broken in childbirth for my children. Broken in India for the sake of my calling. Broken in aging. Broken in natural deterioration. Broken here for my holy now. Broken for Jesus.

We follow in his example. We mimic our model. We saw him lay down his body for the sake of his friends and so we lay down our lives for the sake of ours. It’s our way of participating in the redemption of others. We give ourselves up. We give ourselves over. And we experience that brokenness for the sake of others. Our bodies become a type of sacrifice, living and holy.

Part of the mystery includes offering to Jesus our brokenness. Our Catholic brothers and sisters understand this. When they write about suffering some of the first words out of their mouth are almost always that we get to give our suffering as an offering to Jesus. There’s certainly no sense that Jesus takes and eats us. He doesn’t consume us or use us up.  But we do get to offer up our broken bodies to him, our broken and stale bread, our broken and moldy connection to food.

That is a spiritual reality made present and tangible in our physicality. Hurting, aching, bearing, enduring, suffering. All in our bodies. St Paul wrote that he was glad to suffer, for his friends, in his body…somehow he knew he was participating in the sufferings of Christ that continue for Jesus’ body, the church. Paul understood that suffering bears fruit. He was “willing to endure anything” –and as preposterous as it sounds–he even considered it a privilege, a divine opportunity, if it would result in the rescue of another or in glory going to God.

This is my body, a holy temple filled with his Holy Spirit presence. Broken it may be. Damaged. Wounded. Lumpy. Chicken pock-marked. But there is a mystery at work in my members. And I give myself up to be consumed by others. I get to participate in that redemption-rescue mission work, where bread is broken and wine is poured.

And so, dear brothers and sisters, I plead with you to give your bodies to God because of all he has done for you. Let them be a living and holy sacrifice—the kind he will find acceptable. This is truly the way to worship him.  Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect. (Rom 12:1-2)

(Col 1:24, 2 Tim 2:10, Phil 1:29)

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.

 

 

The Cup of Mediocrity

mediocrity

“I would rather die of thirst than drink from the cup of mediocrity”

A number of years ago, this slogan from Stella Artois brewing company hung on our kitchen cupboard. It stayed there for at least four years. It captured the essence of what we felt life should be – a striving for adventure, discovery, excellence, and God. No matter that it was from a beer company — we adopted it as our own. That along with “Seize the day” and “Be a Critical Thinker.”

The signs were outer symbols of an inner fear — how could we raise children in a small town to think bigger than the town where we lived at the time? How could we ensure that they would understand the world as bigger than where they were — as bigger than a small school and a smaller library?

While living in Pakistan and Cairo this was not a fear. Their passports held stamps from around the world and they were already familiar interacting with those around them.They knew kids from many different countries and their diet ranged from Middle Eastern to Pakistani to street food. They could order items from a menu in Arabic and English, and their babysitter did not speak a word of English. They knew and interacted with people from different cultures, different belief systems, and different family dynamics.They had grown up under the shadow of minarets, just as I had, and the call to prayer was one of the only constants in their lives.

But that had all changed. We now lived in a lovely Victorian home on Main Street, U.S.A. They walked to an elementary school up a hill and played soccer on a field near by. We now had a television — although thankfully we had not yet discovered cable. We were living someone else’s dream. We had exchanged the extraordinary for the mundane; the exceptional for the mediocre – or so I thought.

Had we abandoned a life of change and growth for a mere existence of mediocrity? 

But mediocrity is like stability: It’s not about where you live, it’s about how you live. I have met plenty of people in my life who live fully and well in small towns; I have met others who lived life afraid and sheltered overseas. I have met families who, in the midst of suburbia, gave their kids a deep love for the world and the one who is different and I have met families in the midst of the developing world who despised those around them.

It’s not about where you live – it’s about how you live.

It’s about not swallowing the koolaid that gives us a formula for a successful life.

It’s about being aware and humble toward those around us.

It’s about making big and small choices that move us outside our comfort zones.

It’s about loving God and his world, no matter where our feet are planted.

I still hold to the slogan – I would still rather die of thirst than drink from the cup of mediocrity. But my definiton of mediocrity has changed, and that makes all the difference. 

Live Slowly; Enter in Gently

I find it impossibly difficult to return to writing after summer time. It’s so maddening. I finally have the space and the quiet I need to write and … nothing. Brick walls. Dead ends. The words refuse to come. I have nothing to say. I have nothing more to write about.

Perhaps you haven’t noticed, but I really don’t write much during the summer. Like many I greet every summer with joy at the longer lazy days. Summer in Kansas smells like fresh cut grass and barbecues, sunscreen and chlorine. I enjoy my kids streaming in the front door and heading out the back. The youngest teenager still needs shuttling around and it pleases me to drop her off at the pool or at a friend’s house. One would think that with flexible scheduling would come serendipitous wide-open moments to write. However in my experience those moments never seem to materialize. I end up frustrated and greatly peeved at the people and perturbances that seem to conspire to keep me from picking up my proverbial pen! The problem perplexes me every year and then I’m perpetually surprised at my perennial seasonal shock!

The summer is now over. At least here in Kansas it seems that way. University students are pouring back into town and settling in on campus. Our local school district officially welcomed back elementary and secondary school students on Tuesday. The air is cooling off a little at night now. The fall football schedule is published. Summer is over.

I sat down to write yesterday morning. Granted, I did have some technical problems with my aging Macintosh computer, but that didn’t fully explain why I had the hardest time writing. Nothing would come. I started several attempts, bits of words, bobs of ideas, but nothing stuck. I couldn’t write. I contemplated messaging Marilyn that I’m done. I can no longer write. I really do have nothing to say.

I suppose it’s similar to how I felt when we got back from our family vacation on August 10th. August 11th I woke up completely overwhelmed. I sat in my chair with my morning cup of coffee and quietly contemplated the day and the daunting list of things to do. The amount of things on that list left me paralyzed. I wasn’t sure how to proceed. Lowell joined me on the other side of the room, in his chair, and he enquired after me. I took a deep breath and said, unbeknownst even to myself, “I’m determined to live slowly today.” I’m not sure where that bubble of wisdom broke loose from but it rose quietly to the surface in response to my own panic and Lowell’s question and it seems to apply to the writing thing too.

More wisdom came today when I finally prayed about my writing woes. I brought my stubborn fingers to the Father; I laid bare my broken word bank to his scrutiny. Any purpose in me that points to writing comes only from him. I’m created to bear the Divine’s image to the world…part of how I do that is through my words, my writing. Of course it makes sense to pray about it. And as I did another quiet thought floated to the top, “Enter in Gently, Robynn”.

It was balm and bandage. It was consolation and (hopefully) a quiet cure. I will live slowly. I will breath in and out the creative courage that comes from the very Spirit of God. I will enter in gently.

I know the application is broader than returning from a holiday or coming back to writing. We are given many opportunities to live slowly and enter gently. Oftentimes it seems more efficient to rush through our panic, to push past our own obstinacies or hesitations. But I think more often than not, even if the to-do is accomplished, we’ve only served to muddy the waters and stir up our spirits to greater anxieties. Living slowly and with gentle rhythms works against that frenzy and mysteriously frees us up to be more present, more whole hearted.

There’s an old song we used to sing at boarding school. I think the words went something like this: I want to be the pen of a ready writer; and what the Father gives to me I’ll bring. I only want to do his will. I only want to glorify my king. I knew it was from a psalm but for the life of me I couldn’t remember it well enough to find it. Until today. Psalms 45:1 is a writer’s holy mandate and when read gently reads like this (in a modern slightly me-modified version):

My heart bursts its banks,
spilling beauty and goodness.
I pour it out in a poem to the king,
shaping the river into words….slowly and gently!

 

 

Podcast at Tandem Nomads

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I knew as soon as I met Amel Derragui that, despite the age difference, she was a kindred spirit.  Amel was born in India of Algerian parents. Since childhood, she has lived  in 8 countries and 13 cities, giving her a perspective and broad view of the world. Between birth and age 5, Amel switched between 3 languages (English, Arabic, French) in 5 different school systems and 3 different countries. (India, Serbia, and Algeria.) She is truly a global nomad with a unique perspective on the world.

Amel has done everything from selling encyclopedias door to door, to packing up and moving to Iran to join her husband Michael, who was living there.  Through the years, she has learned to pack up her career into a suitcase, and she works hard to help others discover their niche in the places where they find themselves. Her particular passion is helping  those who follow their partners to various parts of the world find a place.

Tandem Nomads is a weekly podcast show (online radio) and an online platform providing you with great inspiration and free resources to help you turn the challenges of relocation into great opportunities for you and for your career!*

I was honored when Amel asked to interview me and, for me, it turned into a great time of learning. Sometimes when you are asked to share your story, you sit back and realize all of what has happened, how the puzzle pieces fit and you are amazed. That’s what happened during our conversation.

So I’m sending you to Amel’s site today to hear the podcast, but also, to get aquainted with Amel and what she does. Her story is far more fascinating than mine!

Head here to listen to the podcast and take a look at Tandem Nomads.

Part 1: Blending your skills to find your zone of genius.

*From website

On Making Recent History

I leave my Cambridge apartment mid-morning on a Friday. Usually I would be walking, but I am going to a store that is too far so I pull out of my driveway in our small, city car.

The first person I see is our neighbor, Christopher. I wave and he waves back, a smile on his face. Just steps away, So is walking toward her apartment that sits across from ours. She too smiles and waves. I stop and roll down the window. “Can I steal your mint again this summer?” She laughs. “Come anytime! You not stealing.”

On my right, John is watching as little Peter draws in chalk on the sidewalk. We have seen him grow from newborn baby to a seven year old. This week is school vacation and the weather is fully cooperating, enabling this city kid to enjoy the outdoors.

I drive slowly, marveling that I know my neighbors. But I need to move on – in the afternoon we will host a rehearsal dinner for a friend who will be married on Saturday, a dear friend I met when we moved to the area seven years ago.

I realize something. Our history is no longer just with people from “there,” no longer just with people from our past homes and lives. We have made history with people here.

Cecily Paterson’s excellent post Seven Stages of Reentry Grief takes the reader through the stages that Cecily has identified in order to survive and thrive in our passport countries.

Stage Four of Cecily’s post is called “Making Recent History.” She says this: “….I found that memories from 10 years ago appear more faded than memories from say, two years ago. ….” 

It is liberating and wonderful to realize that we’ve made recent history; that we can now look at people who we regularly see and say “Remember that time? Remember that Christmas Eve? Remember that holiday? Remember that small group?”  Photographs and stories have not only captured the old memories, but they are capturing the new. The album of our life story continues to fill, new pages added, recent history recorded.

My thoughts echo Cecily’s words: “Just by continuing to breathe and eat and live, I’d been able to make my own ‘recent history’.”

I smile and I drive on. Staying in one place for eight years has had its challenges. There are times when I have climbed the walls, and then rearranged the furniture; times when I couldn’t wait to head to Terminal E. But this day? This day I delight in recent history and in knowing the names of my neighbors. This is what it is to live in the present and I am grateful.

“I Knew Flags, I didn’t Know Allegiance”

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Last month, I found my son Micah’s college essay. I was sorting through some papers in a desperate attempt to find a medical document. As often happens when you begin sorting, you find papers and letters from long ago and you end up lost in a past time and place.

Micah’s essay focused on our first year in the United States. He was eight going on nine , a free-spirited active boy who had spent his entire life in Cairo, Egypt. The essay was a window into his memories, a window into the way his memories differed from mine. He talked about his first day at an American school, how he did not take his precious baseball hat off, because he didn’t know that this was a sign of respect to the flag and the pledge.  He wrote about being made fun of because he didn’t know the Pledge of Allegiance. “I knew flags,” he said “but I didn’t know allegiance.”

He described the contrast between his small, one-room school house in Cairo and the seemingly huge elementary school where he was the new kid. In reality, the school was small by American standards, but to Micah and his siblings, it was huge.

Mostly he wrote about the solace that he found in a pond in back of our house that year. We rented a ranch-style house, nothing special. It had four small bedrooms and a bright orange kitchen that the advertisement had described as “large and country.” It sat just off a busy street in a small, New England town. A wooden jungle gym in the back was perfect for a family with five children. We were used to renting apartments in a large city – this house, while not large, had both the jungle gym and land in the back with a stream that widened into a small pond in the woods.

The year that we returned was chaotic and filled with transition and grief. After carefully preparing for months, everything that could go wrong did. We arrived in Massachusetts tired and wounded.

It was at the pond where adventure abounded and joy could not be squelched. “At the pond I could be anything I wanted to be.” he said. “One day I could be a pirate sailing the Seven Seas, the next an explorer discovering a new land.” Every day, whether rain or sun, whether cold or hot, my children played in and around that pond. It was a place that was safe from the do’s and don’ts of adults, open to all the possibilities that a child needs to grow. The pond brought extraordinary comfort and escape from family and parental turmoil by providing room for imagination and adventure.

The expat parent and the third culture kid have vastly different memories of the same events. Children see events through the lens of childhood; they don’t know everything that goes into a decision or a move.  Parents decide what and how to communicate. Children are left with half the details and in their minds they fill in the rest of the story. They interpret events through the often limited details they know and it can be many years later that they understand the entire story. Children are excellent recorders of events, but not always reliable interpreters. In the words of my son, they “know flags, but they don’t know allegiance.”

Until I read the essay, I didn’t realize the significance of the pond. I didn’t know that this small body of water, secluded from the world of transition, was a place of imagination and solace. The year that my son looks back on as full of possibility, I remember as incredibly difficult. Unbeknownst to me, a pond and children were creating their own alternate memories that would serve them well through the years, well enough to make a difficult transition bearable. A pond became a balm and comfort, nature doing what it does so well – providing healing and fostering resilience.

The Language of Transition

 

Cairo View 2 Sarah Groves quote

“I do want to make sure we have a language for transition and crossing cultures and homesickness and living in a state of between-ness. I did not have that growing up and have found the TCK vocabulary helpful as an adult.” Elizabeth Trotter as quoted from A Life Overseas

Like Elizabeth, I did not grow up with a language of transition. My husband, who, much like Elizabeth, grew up as a military kid, did not have a language of transition either. Whether you buy into the term third culture kid or not, whether you use the term cross-cultural kid or not, it strikes me that having a language of transition is critically important.

Though I’m still in process when it comes to a language of transition, I want to use this space to write about what I think it means.

The language of transition means know the importance of goodbyes. We honor the goodbyes. That may look different for every member of the family, and that’s where it gets tricky. Honoring the goodbyes means we won’t make our kids get rid of all their treasures. Yes, I get the problem of space. But that stuffed lamb means more to your little girl than you can possibly understand during the chaos of moving. The doll house? Do NOT give it away! I repeat: Do Not! Honoring the goodbyes means making space for different members of your family to grieve their “lasts.” Their last trip to that favorite restaurant; the last trip to school, to church, to the playground. Honoring the goodbyes means making sure that final meal is with people you love deeply.

The language of transition means knowing the word “Saudade.” That 12th Century word from Portugal, thought up by the diaspora who longed for the soil of Portugal, but had no vocabulary, no language of transition to express it.

The famous saudade of the Portuguese is a vague and constant desire for something that does not and probably cannot exist, for something other than the present, a turning towards the past or towards the future; not an active discontent or poignant sadness but an indolent dreaming wistfulness. A. F. G. Bell In Portugal of 1912

These are feelings so deep that you can scarcely give words to them. Your throat catches. You experience an intense, but wordless, longing and desire. How do I know this? Because I have experienced it, first hand. What we long to describe is Saudade. It also means we know how to “kill the saudade;” how to find ways to contain the longing so it doesn’t destroy us. Finding the restaurants or the people who know the world that we came from, getting together for an evening of food and talk. Killing the saudade is a sweet and necessary activity in transition.

The language of transition includes building a RAFT. Knowing the importance of reconciliation, affirmation, farewell, think destination. This was an acronym developed by Ruth Van Reken and Dave Pollock in a chapter of Third Culture Kids: Growing Up Among World. The entire chapter is devoted to transition and dealing with leaving one place and starting in a new one. It is a constructive and practical look at leaving well, at closure, at saying our goodbyes in peace. You can read a summary of what it means to build a RAFT here.

The language of transition means having a vocabulary for cross-cultural adjustment. For a child, much of the art of crossing cultures is learned from the parents. So if the parents are struggling and resisting the host culture, the kids will pick that up and internalize it. The language of transition means that as adults we will educate ourselves on culture shock and cultural adjustment and work to pass that on to our kids. It’s a verb, not a noun. It takes action on our part. Rudyard Kipling’s famous lines from a poem come to mind as I write this:

And the end of the fight is a tombstone white with the name of the late deceased, And the epitaph drear: “A Fool lies here who tried to hustle the East.”

While that may seem like a harsh ending to a life, the meaning could not be clearer. Cross-cultural adjustment is imperative and having words and understanding of it is part of the language of transition. I would also add that cultural humility is a necessary ingredient to the work of cross-cultural adjustment.

Finally, the language of transition means  learning to understand the idea of living between worlds. “Every good story has a conflict. Never being fully part of any world is ours. This is what makes our stories and memories rich and worth hearing. We live between worlds, sometimes comfortable in one, sometimes in the other, but only truly comfortable in the space between. This is our conflict and the heart of our story.”* Learning to be comfortable in the space between is part of the language of transition.

Like learning any language, the language of transition is not mastered overnight. Rather, it takes time, effort, laughter, and tears. We make mistakes, we get up, and we move on. But developing a vocabulary of transition is an important step along the way.

*From Between Worlds: Essays on Culture & Belonging

A Moment Between Worlds

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I’m sitting in a Pakistani Restaurant in Los Angeles, just two miles from the airport – because that’s what we do when we are global nomads. We find comfort foods and places wherever we go, places where we can kill the saudade.

I arrived just a couple of hours ago from New Zealand and knew I had too much time to stay at the airport, but too little time to go very far. So I looked up restaurants near the LA airport and found Bihar Halal, described as an authentic Pakistani restaurant a short ride away. It is indeed only a short ride from the airport and I walk into the smell of naan and curry. There are mostly Pakistanis in the restaurant, a sure sign of its authenticity. I sit down and order a chicken curry, raita, and tandoorki roti. No fancy Americanization of this delicious food – just authentic curry.

I eat with my fingers and soon my nose is running, the spicy taste delighting my palate and forcing me to wipe my nose. The TV is set to a station in Faisalabad, Pakistan. Periodically an advertisement comes on and the Pakistani National Anthem plays in the background. I hum along with it. My Urdu is challenged as I try to follow the plot line of a crime show.

Suddenly my situation strikes me as absurdly surreal – I just arrived from New Zealand, I’m sitting in a Pakistani restaurant, and I’m watching a crime show on Pakistani TV in the middle of Los Angeles. Just yesterday I was sitting in my friend’s garden in Christchurch, New Zealand eating breakfast. Sometimes my worlds change too fast and I am left spinning, like a top spun over and over again by a child who won’t give the toy a rest.

When my mom and dad first moved overseas they would travel by ship. Instead of frenzied airport arrivals and departures, they would wave from the balcony of a ship. They would wave until those they loved faded out of sight, and all that was left were tears on their faces and a wide ocean that would be their landscape for the next six weeks. They left slowly, and they entered slowly. Those long days and nights at sea prepared them for their next steps on land. It was a good way to travel. For six weeks you were literally between worlds, without expectations from either.

Sometimes I wish it were still that way. We move so quickly between countries that it is hard to breathe. Currency, language, food, and customs change in a short plane ride. The cultural lines get blurred and we have high expectations of how quickly we will adjust to whatever culture we find ourselves. No wonder we find ourselves exhausted, collapsed on beds with tears on our pillows. It’s all a bit much.

As light fades outside the restaurant, I realize I have been traveling hard and fast.  The crime show has finished and I am now watching recaps of the Pakistan/India cricket game. I am alone, but not lonely. Instead, I am content in this world I live in. In his book, The Art of Stillness, Pico Iyer says this: “In an age of movement, nothing is more critical than stillness. In an age of distraction, nothing can feel more luxurious than paying attention.” A busy restaurant may be an unlikely place of stillness, but for me that is just what it is.

I paid the bill a long time ago and it is the goodness of the restaurant owner that he has allowed me to rest without distraction. I sigh and pack up my things, reluctant to give up this moment between worlds.

But it is time for the next journey, one that will take me back to an apartment building in Cambridge.

The top is still spinning, but curry and naan have slowed it down and eased me into reentry. I am content.

At least for now.

___________

Note: Tomorrow I will be announcing the two winners of the Meditations coloring book! Stay tuned!

Also, please continue your thoughts and prayers for the people of Pakistan as the country mourns for those who died and hopes that those who are wounded will heal.

  • Evil in Not the Final Word ““Has not Pakistan suffered enough?” I shout the words inside, knowing that few would understand my reactions. Yet, the Pakistani flag lights up my newsfeed and I am grateful for friends who do understand, who know and love this place that so many of us called home.”
  • I am Pakistan? “Our humanity has constraints; limitation is after all a characteristic common to all people. We do not therefore have the emotional capacity to mourn all who die in this world and to scream at all the wickedness that weaves so deeply through every culture. But while  our tears are reserved for Western nations, the rest of the world is right to be suspicious of us.”
  • Keen Pain in Pakistan over “Lives Shattered into Pieces”  “Shock and grief enveloped Pakistan on Monday as the official death toll from the attack in Lahore a day earlier rose to at least 72, with 341 people reported wounded by officials.”

Parenting and the Power of Place

Doors 2 with quote on home

“It was the landscape, in other words, of unfiltered experience, of things felt rather than thought through, of the world in its beauty absorbed before it is understood, of patterns and sounds that lodge themselves in some indelible place in the psyche and call out across the years.”*

Wherever we moved in the world I knew three things: We would always drink tea, my mom’s small painting of a New England winter scene would be on the wall, and mom would read to us every night. In moving from Massachusetts to the Sindh desert of Pakistan, my mom was faced with the daunting task of creating ‘home’ and ‘place’ for children who would be at boarding school six months of the year, in a borrowed space for three months in the summer, and ‘home’ for three winter months.

Mom did an amazing job. Some of the things that lodged in my memory were boiling hot cups of chai made with full cream buffalo milk and poured from china cups into saucers to cool off; the smell and taste of hot curry or dahl and rice, making my eyes water and bringing a tingling to my tongue; the sound of my mom’s voice reading books of all sorts to us during winter break; the sound of the call to prayer, echoing in the evening hours. For me these sounds and experiences formed the landscape of my unfiltered experience, my “world in its beauty absorbed before it [was] understood.”

Paul Tournier, a well-known Swiss Psychologist, has some profound insights on place and home in his book A Place for You. He says that to be human is to need a place, to be rooted and attached to that place. We are “incarnate beings” and so when those places are taken away, we suffer from a “disruption” of place. If the disruption goes beyond our ability to adapt it becomes a pathology – Tournier calls this a “deprivation of place.”

In Robynn’s excellent series, I Love Where I Live, she quotes Alicia Paddock, a woman who is studying the idea of sacred space: “Space is an abstract concept and needs an identity, memories and certain behaviors attached to the space in order to change it to ‘place’. “

I think one of the tasks of a parent is to create place out of space.  It is a particular challenge for the global parent. Through traditions that are not confined to geographic location, through family memories and jokes, through special items that will always be there, whether they be framed pictures, candle holders, or books, we can create ‘place’. My parents have lived in more homes than I can count, but when I walk into their space, whether it be a 4-bedroom home in the woods of New England or a house with stained glass windows and a 30 foot high ceiling in Pakistan, there are certain things that speak to me of ‘home’, of ‘place’. A small painting of a New England winter, Daily Bread on the side of their table with all their mail, my dad’s desk, filled with books and papers with his characteristic hand-writing — all of this embodies ‘place’, creates a feeling of ‘home’.

Physical space may change more than we might like, but the ability to create place and home is a gift we are given as parents. The gift is given to us so that we in turn may teach our own children how to create place. I have come to believe that it is not the failure of a parent that makes their children want to leave home and create a home of their own, but rather their success. For if we have accepted creating place as a gift, we can exercise it and pass it on to our children. Their homes may look completely different than ours, but it is because of us that they have the freedom to move and create homes of their own.

If we show our children that the world is a mansion, they may well want to explore the many rooms in that mansion before they claim one as their own. Though they may occasionally feel as though they are in exile, people who are stateless and without a home, we can remind them that home can and does move. While a country may be left behind forever, home can be recreated in another land. We have the power to create ‘place’ from ‘space’ and as we do so, it becomes home.

These are some of the thoughts that I have had as I once again explore the notion of home and place. Even as I write, I wonder what memories my own children may have of the many places and spaces that they have called home and realize that with all my heart, I long for those memories to be good.

*In Search of Home

A Life Overseas – To the Displaced and the Exiled

Old city quote

Readers – I am at A Life Overseas today sharing an essay from Between Worlds: Essays on Culture and Belonging. I hope you’ll join me!

To the Displaced and the Exiled

I get it.

You sit in a crowd of people and you feel your mouth go dry, the bite you just took from your scone chokes your throat. How can you be this lonely in a crowd of people? How is it possible that your passport country feels so alien?

You were excited to return, there were many things you were sick of in your adopted country. You were tired of the dirt. You had enough of the chaos. You had to boil water one time too many and you had forgotten to soak the vegetables in iodine solution resulting in a visiting guest getting dysentery.

Your household help, who you love, was complaining and asking for more money and you simultaneously felt angry and guilty. You have so much. She has so little. But it’s not that simple.

And you were feeling so alien in your other world. The last few weeks have been chaotic and hot. So many people to see, so many projects to finish, children to prepare, suitcases to pack. You could hardly wait to go to a coffee shop and order coffee in your own language, not tripping over verbs and adjectives. You read an article on burn out and knew immediately that the article described you.

But as you look around , you let out a soul-deep sigh. You pictured all this so differently. You thought it would be so good, such a rest, such a time of peace.

Read the rest here at A Life Overseas!