The Hidden Pearl

Ages ago, when we still lived in South Asia, Lowell stole one of my pearls from a pearl necklace I had. He took it out into the city and he deliberately “lost” it. As momentarily annoying as that was, Lowell wanted us to always be on the look out for a pearl in what often felt like a dark and oppressive town. Somewhere in the crowds of people, in the open sewers, on the polluted banks of the Ganges river, in the monsoon muds…somewhere there was a hidden a pearl. The hunt for it gave us a sense of anticipation and expectation. The pearl was out there! Would we find it?

Jesus told this tiny little story to his followers: God’s kingdom is like a jewel merchant on the hunt for excellent pearls. Finding one that is flawless, he immediately sells everything and buys it.

I’ve been thinking about that jewel merchant these days. I’ve been thinking about the search for something more. I’ve been keeping my eyes open for that ‘excellent pearl’.

I recently returned from a trip to Thailand. A group of expats, that normally live scattered across South Asia, had gathered at a resort on the edge of the ocean for a retreat. I was one of four invited in to offer soul care to those who might sign up. Over the course of 5 days I met with 21 people –some of the conversations were more intense than others. A few were reunions with old friends and were held over iced lattes looking over the ocean and the palm trees and the beach. But all of it….all week long….all of it felt so incredibly purposeful.

To be honest, it’s been hard to come home from that meaning drenched week and the joys of international air travel to laundry and lunch making. I’ve felt my sense of self being swallowed again by the mundane, by the endless question of who I am and what am I doing here. I’ve wondered again at my purpose.

I know my life has meaning here. I firmly believe we are here on purpose. I just need to find it again.…I need to uncover it. Sometimes it seems to be more hidden for me than for others. And often it seems illusive. Just when I stop looking and settle into my routines I find it in between spiritual direction clients or under a pile of clean clothes. The moment, however, I go to grab it always seems to disappear.

Before we left Asia in 2007 my dear friend and I went down to our favourite silver smith shop, Sunita Jewelers. There in a shop the size of a small walk-in closet we chose matching silver rings. Set into each simple band was a stunning creamy white pearl. It symbolized to us both that we live our lives in deference to the Pearl of Great Price. Our friendship was important to us. Raising our children together was something we treasured. Doing life and meaningful work together was of value to both of us. But Jesus seemed to be leading Lowell and I away from that…and my friend and I needed to remember that the Flawless one, the Pearl of Great Price, was worth whatever sacrifice he was asking us to make. We needed to be like the jewel merchant…we needed to do whatever it took to follow that Pearl!

Last October the pearl fell out of my ring. I noticed it at supper time on a Thursday evening. I was devastated. Errands and cleaning the house had taken me all over the town that day and all over the house. How would I ever find it? I was so sad and so disappointed. Suddenly I ached for my friend, for our old town, for my former life, for all that was. That ring, a generous gift from a precious friend, had been a companion in my adjustments to life in the US. It had served as marker of God’s faithfulness, a token reminder that he is near. I had worn that ring for over 8 years!

And although we searched fervently we never found it.

That pearl is still here somewhere. Probably it’s rolled under a piece of furniture. Perhaps it’s tucked under a cushion. Maybe I lost it in the grocery story. Maybe it’s at the post office. I’m still looking. When I vacuum the front room or sweep the kitchen, I find myself still searching, under and around and behind things. The metaphor isn’t lost on me–especially during these reentering, resettling days. I think I may have been looking for the wrong things –my purpose, my calling, my sense of significance and belonging–surely Jesus’ tiny story taught me to search out the most important thing. I’m joining the jewel merchant. I’m looking for the Excellent Pearl, the Flawless One, the Pearl of Great Price. He is here and I know the hunt for Him will never disappoint.

   
  

(*Matt 13:44-46)

Mothering Matters

  

Mothering Matters by Robynn 

 

We have this precious picture that sits on Lowell’s dresser upstairs in our bedroom. It’s one of the rare professional pictures we had taken of our children when they were younger. I love it for how it captures their personalities. Each of them: Connor, Adelaide and Bronwynn are present and the photographer caught their essence. I also love it because it brings back memories of one of the best days I ever had in India.

 

For whatever reason the children had the day off school.  I remember agonizing over how we would spend that day. There were obligations that I could have attended to. There were certainly things that needed doing. But there was also list of things that I had been wanting to do with the kids. Things we had talked about for a long time but never done. We decided that would be day!  

 

Adelaide needed new shoes for school. We stopped at the Bata shoe store and found a pair of black Mary Jane shoes with shiny buckles. We met my friend Ellen and her two girls for lunch at one of our favourite restaurants. I can’t remember what we ate but I can imagine it—all spicy and gravy yumminess with fresh roti to scoop it up. I’m sure the kids had sweet lassis. I’m sure I had chai.  After lunch we popped into an “Archies” store-–India’s Hallmark equivalent and then into a neighbouring bookstore. We browsed the toys and booksPerhaps Connor got a new Tintin book to add to his collection. I can’t remember.

 

We hopped on to a cycle rickshaw and continued into our beautiful day. Just as we were passing a large cinema, the kids squealed let’s go see Lage Raho Munna Bhai and I said, shockingly, sure! The kids ran ahead, as I paid the cycle wallah. I met them at the ticket counter. We hurried into the darkening theater and found seats. It was a great movie—full of silly slapstick, occasional dance scenes, blinged up saris and lehengas. There was colour and music, laughter and tears. At intermission the men came around with crates of pop on their shoulders. We indulged and had pop and maybe some numkeen.

 

From the cinema we made our way, again by cycle rickshaw, to the photographers studio. This had been my one thing I really wanted to have done. We arrived a little hurriedly, afraid we were running out of time. The kids, all three, were glistening with sweat dulled only by a little grime and left over movie giggles. I spit-shone an orange Fanta mustache off Connor. I tried to smooth Bronzi’s sweaty bangs to the side. Adelaide attempted to rub some dirt off her capris pants. The three of them bounced on to the bench. The photographer giving them instructions in Hindi, they scooted closer to each other, tilted their heads according to his demands, sat up straight as he indicated. And then it was over. I admit, I was hoping for a little more session and a little more photo from our photo-session. But the photographer just tilted his head to the side and nodded that he had what he needed. We could come back in a week to collect his masterpiece!

 

Next to the photographer’s studio was a small corner store. I ran in and got cold mango “Frootie” juice boxes to keep the kids hydrated. Humidity and heat were part of the day’s adventure.

 

The sun was beginning to dip low on the horizon but there was still one more promise to be fulfilled. We took an auto rickshaw halfway across town so that the girls could get their ears pierced. The beauty salon was clean and cool. They were pleased with their pale faced clients. Bronwynn opted to go first. She sat, brave and four, tiny and focused in the big chair. Holding my hands tightly in her little fists she didn’t breath. Her little nose squinched up into her forehead as the pain registered. Adelaide, watching it all, decided she didn’t quite want her ears pierced anymore. She would wait. We stopped for ice cream and a few groceries on the way home.

 

As we tumbled into the courtyard, spilling our stories all over daddy who sat waiting for us under the mango tree, there was so much joy. We had had a good day.  I couldn’t stop smiling. I had been a mom that day. I hadn’t tried to juggle ministry responsibilities or team expectations. I had shaken off all guilt and had immersed myself in the day with my children. It felt like a dream day.

 

Even now the kids all remember bits and pieces of that wonder-day. Adelaide, then 7, remembers ice cream and how Bronzi didn’t wear the matching outfit to hers (I think Bronwynn probably had it dirty before we left the house)!Bronzi was only four but she remembers the juice boxes and the ride to the beauty salon. She remembers the auto rickshaw and seems to think the auto walla drove past the salon and had to turn around. Nine year old Connor remembers how much fun we had that day. He remembers the movie: it was a comedy, set in Bombay, with music. He remembers going to the studio for pictures. His face lit up as I asked him about it.

 

During those years in North India I battled seemingly conflicted roles. I never felt I had the freedom to just be a mom. To be fair, it was my own agonies that made this an issue for me. No one else was demanding anything else of me. I was determined to mesh my mothering with my other passions and responsibilities. In the end I fear I downplayed my maternity. My children got the brunt of this “philosophy”; they were the ones that suffered. They endured my leftover bits of energy at the end of full days with other people. When my best was given to those who came to my gate, or those who called on the phone, it was my little people, my tiny loves, that saw the grumpy side, the impatience, the inconsistent temperament. I regret that so keenly now. I wish I had known so many things back then, most importantly, I wish I had known how very much mothering matters. Those other things–teammates and ministries, work responsibilities—those matter too. But I really wish I had known how much mothering matters.

 

And so this picture reminds me of an immensely happy mom-day. I’m pleased the kids remember the day too. That matters to me somehow. We’ve had other good days too. We’ve laughed lots. We’ve had other ice creams and countless juice boxes. We’ve shared lunches with other friends and we’ve been to other cinemas to watch other films. But I’m grateful for the sticky sweet memory of this mothering day in September some time back in 2006.

Hospitality—a changed fuse, a restored gift

Ganges

Hospitality—a changed fuse, a restored gift by Robynn. Follow Robynn on Twitter @RobynnBliss and read the rest of her posts here! 

Hospitality is a dying art here in the West. Martha Stewart and Pinterest have made simple gatherings with friends seem too small or insignificant. There is some invisible pressuring force that perfection is a prerequisite to hospitality. If our homes aren’t impeccably decorated, if our housecleaning isn’t at a professional level, if our cooking isn’t gourmet we dare not invite someone in. This says nothing of the personal pressure we feel. Our children must be great conversationalists, extreme servers, polite passers. Our spouses must be engaging. Our marriages should seem as flawless as the table center, as wrinkle-free as the tablecloth.

When we lived in South Asia we continuously had people in and out of our home. There were those who popped in for a cup of coffee and a conversation. There were others who came and settled into our guest room for weeks at a time. If Lowell met travellers out in the city who seemed to need a place to unwind, or the comfort of a home cooked meal, he didn’t hesitate to issue them an invitation.  Colleagues, teammates, friends often joined us around our supper table. A tray of tea, a plate of biscuits or cookies, a bowl of spicy numkeen snacks, cane chairs under the mango tree were all the ingredients for many an impromptu tea party! We had this wonderful roof with a broad expansive view of the Ganges river. That was also the perfect spot for coffee, or later in the evening, with the sky darkened and the stars out, for drinks with friends under the Indian moon.

Somehow in the move back to North America I lost my capacity for hospitality. As I think on it now, I wonder if it wasn’t a combination of burn out, deep weariness and culture shock. At the beginning I was simply too tired. And then I was too intimidated. I had no clue what the rules were here. How did you invite someone over? What needed to happen for it to be a successful moment? What food should be served? On what plates? What time? What date? It seemed too high of a mountain to climb. It seemed to risky. I couldn’t manage it. My years of hosting seemed over. My hospitality fuse seemed blown.

In the first seven years we’ve been back I can count on one hand the number of people we had into our home—and those mostly family and friends from our India days. I knew what the expectations were for those friends. I knew how to do that type of hospitality.

I’m not sure what changed. Suddenly last Fall I had the random idea that I might like to have some people over for dinner. There’s a man in our community, a teacher, a father of two sons—one grown, one yet at home, a kind-hearted man, with whom Lowell and I have both enjoyed conversation. Bless his heart; unbeknownst to him, he became our first victim! I sent him an email and asked if he and his son would like to join us for dinner. He seemed pleased by the invitation. That felt like a good sign. I forged ahead. I planned a simple menu that I thought his son would appreciate. I cooked the food and set the table. It didn’t seem terribly different from a normal night. I was doing what I knew to do. When Roger and his son showed up they brought flowers. My stomach betrayed the confidence I feigned. I pretended we did this all the time.

At the end of the evening I felt such joy. It had gone well. We had enjoyed stimulating conversation and wholesome food. The guests seemed to feel welcomed and valued. I had done it! And it hadn’t destroyed me! My unease and discomfort were made smaller. I had a growing sense of accomplishment and pleasure.

In December we had our youth pastor’s family of six for dinner. As the pasta bowl was passed around I couldn’t stop smiling. There was community for supper and happiness for dessert. It felt right and good. Not long afterwards we hosted a couple from Chicago, with their two young children, his sister and their sixteen year old Pakistani exchange student! That was an incredible evening. Less than a week after that we had dear friends from Louisiana and New York join us for supper. Our friend Roger and his son came too. Looking back on that evening still brings me joy! We laughed and told stories. We talked about books and good movies. We shared thoughts on politics and Kansas, on spiritual direction and liturgical services. It was a wonderful night.

Last Saturday evening we hosted our first party since leaving India. For those who knew us there these admissions will likely seem fictional and untrue! Those years in India were punctuated by many a celebration and party: birthdays and Thanksgivings and Christmas. We hosted many such events and we did it with joy! But none since we returned to this side of the sea. Last Saturday I felt extremely nervous! We were hosting a Corner Gas party for a small group of friends that have come to enjoy the Canadian sit-com set at a small gas station and restaurant at the heart of a small town, Dog River, in the vast Saskatchewan prairie. The show hasn’t run for several years, but they recently released a movie! We ordered it on line! It seemed like the perfect excuse for a party.

I made my to do list several days before the party. Clean the bathrooms, sweep the kitchen, move the TV, change the kitty litter, vacuum the living room. Make brownies, make layered dip, set out carrot sticks and chips. On Saturday morning Lowell suggested we should have chili cheese dogs (it’s the food of choice of one of the main characters on the show). I nearly panicked. I didn’t know how to make those. And they weren’t on my lists. Lowell slowly talked me through the “recipe”. But how much chili for each sausage? How much cheese? What were the ratios? Lowell calmly offered to be in charge of this last minute addition to the menu.

Our friends all came—good people with years of shared stories and shared snacks! We loaded up our plates, crowded around the tv and watched our movie. It was an enjoyable evening sprinkled with laughter. It was a good time.

Later I confessed to my mother in law how very nervous I felt hosting this party. She was surprised. She reminded me of the dinner parties and the gatherings of people I’ve recently hosted. Some how the party felt different to me. But she was right, really it was an extension of this recovered gift, this restored grace.

To me December’s gatherings and January’s party seem like marks of healing. I’ve unpacked another piece of me. I’ve found again, a part of my true self, the other self, that lived far away, and I’ve brought her here. I’ve dusted her off, and I’ve found, much to my delight, that she still fits. It feels right and good and whole. It brings me joy.

Kindle edition of Between Worlds is available now and FREE for the next 2 days! Get your copy downloaded today! Includes bonus material of a discussion guide. Click HERE NOW!

Picture Credit: http://pixabay.com/en/steps-river-side-ganges-ganga-bank-314190/

The Good Ole’ Days: Remembering Thanksgiving in the “old” country!

We (Robynn & I) wish you a Happy Thanksgiving from the United States! Enjoy this post by Robynn about the “Old Country.”

thank-you

Those were Thanksgivings where kimchee lay down next to the roast chicken and we celebrated with true gratitude the extraordinary community we got to be a part of.

One of my favourite days of the year when we lived in India was always Thanksgiving Day. I’m referring to American Thanksgiving with sincere apologies to Canada and other nations who have similarly marked days for thankfulness or to celebrate a successful harvest:  The Netherlands, Grenada, Australia’s Norfolk Island, Liberia, Germany’s Erntedankfest or Japan’s Labor Thanksgiving Day. Thanksgiving Day isn’t celebrated in India, except of course among expatriate communities of Americans tucked around the country. On the second Monday of October, Thankgiving in Canada, it was always far too hot to celebrate with any vigor! But by the end of November, the temperatures were favorable. The hot summer was over, the messy monsoons after-mud was all dried up and there was nearly, if you used your imagination, a Fall-like atmosphere in the air! It was time to party! We took that celebration to a whole new level in the way we honoured American Thanksgiving. In fact the day became affectionately known as, the International American Thanksgiving Hosted by a Canadian! (And I was that Canadian!)

Our house was perfectly situated for such an event. We lived in an ancient stone house built right next to the Ganges River. Our house was built around a central courtyard with a massive mango tree growing out of the center. There was a staircase up to the roof with a glorious view of the river on the eastern side, a view of the city from the other three sides. From the roof top you could also look down into the open courtyard in the center of our home. While the house was actually quite small, the courtyard was large and hospitable. The last year we were there 111 people attended our Thanksgiving day and all managed to find a place to sit down: on chairs , on mats, on cushions, on the roof, in the living room, in the tree house!

With no turkeys available and no pumpkins in the market we had to improvise. We hosted a potluck. People from all over the world find themselves living along the banks of the Ganges river in the vibrant little city of Varanasi. Those same people are often nostalgic for their favourite foods. Once a year, at our International American Thanksgiving, they’d give into their memories of home and food and family, creatively substituting ingredients where necessary, they’d bring amazing dishes to share at our table. Typically we’d have mountains of mashed potatoes and gravy with roasted chickens and stuffing piled high. But we’d also have kimchee salad and fruit platters and sushi and tandoori chicken. There was often rice pulau with chunks of lamb and oodles of raisins. There was cabbage salad and sweet glazed carrots and green beans cooked up with onions and garlic. If the season cooperated, and we were lucky, someone might have found sweet potatoes in the bazaar. Those were smothered in a syrup made from coarse sugar and raw molasses to make a tasty vegetable side dish. Often we had curried dishes next to more traditional thanksgiving fare. Aloo Gobi. Muttar Paneer. And one of my favourite eggplant dishes: Baingan Bharta. Usually someone’s mother had sent a tin or two of cranberry sauce to complete our meal. Those were shared with joy and rationed out by the teaspoon! The dessert table was always divine. It held squash and carrot pies, apple pies, banana cream pies, lemon or key lime pie without the key limes. There was milk tart, dumplings, spice cakes, lamington and Ute’s special tiramisu. It was an international feast of international treats lovingly prepared by international cooks with whatever ingredients they could find, or had saved especially for the day.

After everyone had eaten their full and the coffee and tea had been served, we cleared the plates and got ready for the afternoon’s entertainment. With no football game to distract us, we found our own fun! A stage was created to the west side of our courtyard. Everyone turned their chairs, or their cushions on the courtyard floor to face the stage. People sat on the roof and watched down below. Babies crawled through and around and over the legs and laps of aunties and uncles. Toddlers toppled and played with leaves fallen from the mango tree in the center of our courtyard. Every year we had a talent show as part of our unique Thanksgiving Day celebrations. There were classical Indian dances from our little girls in dance class, there were silly songs and sad songs, there were painful magic shows, my husband Lowell would demonstrate our dog, Koyla’s, ability to understand 5 or 6 languages, someone would tell a story, another would have a series of jokes. And then the afternoon would be over. We’d linger long over another piece of leftover pie, another cup of hot chai. Slowly people would trickle out, no one really wanting the day to be over.

Our first Thanksgiving back in the US was in 2007. As we were making plans for it, our kids asked what we were doing for the talent show. Lowell laughed gently and then told them that the talent show wasn’t really a part of a traditional Bliss family thanksgiving in Kansas. Our children were aghast. How could you have thanksgiving without the talent show?

Making plans for a different type of Thanksgiving this year, with Lowell’s mom now living with us, and Lowell’s brother’s family now out at the farm, I wonder what changes we’ll see. It makes me remember those other Thanksgivings, a world away, on the banks of the Ganges. Those were Thanksgivings where kimchee lay down next to the roast chicken and we celebrated with true gratitude the extraordinary community we got to be a part of. Those were, in my mind, the good ole days.

(Although, truth be told, I don’t miss the annual awkward moment in the talent show where Lowell played his tin whistle with his nose….!)

Picture Credit: http://pixabay.com/en/thank-you-gratitude-appreciation-490607/ adapted by Marilyn Gardner

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/

On Graduation an Open Letter to a Young TCK

writing letters

A bit under a year ago Robynn wrote An Open Letter to a Young TCK. With graduation either just past or approaching we wanted to repost this one today. It’s a good one, full of wisdom and honesty so grab a cup of tea and enjoy. 

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I recently wrote this to a young Third Culture Kid. She’s been struggling to settle in and my heart has nearly broken several times as I’ve watched her trying to find who she is and where she’s from in the midst of her agony. This is a letter I wrote to her. I open it up for you to read too.

“There is no doubt in my mind that God has a very important, unique, purpose for you. He chose you well before the beginning of time to grow up in your family…. And then he gave you the experiences he did with the first chapter of your life in India, and the second chapter in the Europe and the third chapter at College…all for a very specific purpose. No one else has your history, your collection of memories, your experiences, your family, together with the amazing ways you’ve been gifted, your talents, your passions, your convictions! Your Father God is thrilled with you. He’s crazy about you! He loves watching you! And he has great and grand plans for you! I firmly believe this!

As your “auntie” I want to give you some advice. Like all advice, you can take it or leave it! But there are so many ways that I relate to you. So many things we share in common. I speak this advice from that place, but also from the place of age and a little more maturity (although certainly not always!). I’ve watched you. I’ve prayed for you. I have come to deeply love you. These are the things I’d like to say. They aren’t in any particular order but here you go (you might want to make yourself a cup of tea! This got kind of long!):

1. Live here and now. You are too young to live in the past. Connect with life in the present tense. You no longer live in India. You no longer live in the UK. I know this is not necessarily where you would choose to live (it’s not where I would choose to live either!) But God calls us to live where He has placed us.

There is something holy about those two words: Here and Now.

He has gifts for you each day…but unless you begin to live NOW you’ll miss them because you’ll be remembering gifts from yesterday, gifts from the UK, gifts from India. Those yesterday gifts were precious, no doubt about that, but I don’t want you to miss out on what God has in store for you today! Jesus really convicted me of this about three years ago. I was still living in Varanasi. He was asking me to live here in Manhattan. I read a great book called “The Wisdom of Stability” by Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove and it  changed my perspective on this issue. I highly recommend that book to you.

2. Get involved. Connect. Engage with what’s happening around you! This is similar to “Live here and now”– maybe it’s even the application of living here and now. One of the ways you can stop living in the past or in the future is to make an effort to consciously connect with the place and the community you are placed in. Get involved! You have so much to offer! Find a local community orchestra. Join it. You’ve talked about theater….is that something you’d be interested in again? If so, track one down. Audition. Get involved. I know you’re scared and nervous…but EVERYONE is!

Not just you, not just other TCKS—every single person enters the world afraid. Some people fake it better than others! you can do this! But it takes effort and initiative. Do it afraid!

Ask God to help you and then walk into things. The reward far outweighs the risk. Remember Bronwynn going to camp, in spite of her terrific fears and worries. She did it! She did it afraid…but she did it! And you and I both know she had the time of her life. If she can…so can you!

3. Say thank you. I’ve ranted about this before. You’ve heard this speech…but it’s a really important one. Say thank you A LOT. For everything. This will make life in this next chapter much easier too. Tell your mom thank you for everything….tell your dad thank you! No one likes to be taken advantage of, or used…. remember the day we picked up Blake from IHOP? He used me that day and it wasn’t pleasant! Remember how much I went on and on about saying thank you?

4. Clean up your messes. When you’re a kid you learn to clean up your own mess but when you are an adult you learn to clean up community messes. Jump in! Learn to see the “messes” around you and pitch in. Clean up. Take care of your things…but not just your things, the things of others. Don’t leave it for later. Don’t ignore what you see. Clean. Wash up. Scrub. Fold. It  is part of being an adult.

5. Make choices. That’s a vague way to say this….but what I mean is, it’s time to start acting and living like an adult. You get to decide how to spend your money. You get to choose your own phone plan. You get to choose where you go and how you get there. You have so much freedom now! It’s exciting! You want to go visit a friend, you can! Buy a ticket and Go! You want to buy some special software for your computer? You can! Go for it! Being an adult is actually fun!

Of course – there are other choices, the not so fun ones. You also get to decide where you’ll apply for a job, how you’ll get to that job. But you can do this. And you’ll discover joy along the way. Your relationship with your parents is different now too. You no longer need their permission. I know you still want their approval and their blessing (that’s perfectly normal….) but you get to make your own decisions. And surely you know that if they don’t approve of what choices you make they will still love you forever and ever. NOTHING will ever change that!

6. Listen to God. He has so much he wants to give you….so many adventures he wants to take you on. Ask him. Listen to his responses. Step out in faith. Take some time even this summer to inquire of him. What contribution does he want you to make to the world around you? Who are the people he’s given you to love? Reach out in faith. Think about the things you love, the things that bring you joy…lay those things out before God. Does he want to use you in some way connected to those things? Think about the things you are good at, the skills you have,the experiences you’ve had…lay those things out before God too. Does he want to use you in some way connected to those things? Talk it out with him. Listen to his answers.

He’s not playing hide and seek. He is here. Ready and excited. He loves you so very much.

7. Take your eyes off yourself.

a) I know your pain has been so big. I know it must feel like it’s going to consume you. I know life here in the US hasn’t turned out quite like you thought it would. And I know that’s very very hard.

Pain is the one thing we share in common with every other person on the globe! Everyone is hurting. Everyone has a story of sadness and great grief.

Everyone has been affected by sin. And while it’s true no one person can completely understand another’s pain, and it’s also true that pain has the capacity to isolate people because of that. It’s a lonely place. Having said that, if we take our eyes off ourselves and place them on Jesus, he begins to point out people around us who are also in pain that we can minister to. When we do that we begin to see how pain connects people. You can better comfort and reach out because of your own pain (not that it’s the same as someone else’s but that you both share a story of pain). There are so many people who need comfort and connection. You can do that….if you see who those people are. The wonder of it all is that when you do that…when you reach out to someone else in pain…. your own pain begins to diminish just a little. It doesn’t go away but it doesn’t consume you in the same way either.

b) Along the same lines…but a little different…. The people around you have lives too. I don’t mean this to sound harsh, I’ve said it many times to my own children too, but you are not the center of the universe. Life does not revolve around you.

Part of growing up is trying to understand life from another’s point of view.

You are uniquely qualified to know what it must be like to move cultures and countries…. You’ve experienced grief in leaving people behind. You can sympathize with others in that way. Ask them how they are.  Ask them if they’re doing ok.

There…you’re done! You made it through Auntie Robynn’s Rants and Raves!

Above all, I want you to know this one thing: There is nothing you can do that will change God’s love for you. He is with you. He walks with you into this next stage. You can fully lean on him. He is pleased with you. It doesn’t ultimately matter what anyone else thinks… God is pleased with you. Deeply. Completely. You can rest in that sweet sweet reality.

Are you an Adult TCK? What would you add? Have you spent time with third culture kids? What do you have to say to TCKs on their transition? 

Picture Credit: http://pixabay.com/en/home-office-workstation-office-336378/

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It’s a Question of Identity

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It’s a Question of Identity by Robynn. Today’s piece is long form so sit back with a cup of tea or coffee. What are you tethered to? Where is your identity anchored?

I distinctly remember the feeling I had when my parents moved away from Pakistan.  It was a powerful sense of being untethered. Suddenly I felt disconnected, unmoored. The feeling I felt when they moved from my childhood home hidden in the dusty lanes of Layyah to a different house a mile or two down the road wasn’t nearly as poignant as the feeling I had when they actually left Pakistan.

I no longer had a reason to return. I no longer had an excuse.  As long as they were there, part of me was explained. With their departure, that explanation no longer made sense.

I’ve just had a relapse of that emotion. Only this time it feels stronger and more alienating.

We’ve just had word that the landlords of our house in India where we spent our last 6 years have asked the current tenants to vacate the property. It’s not just a house. When Lowell first happened upon the land it was an overgrown green mass with ruins and a suspicious looking snake pit. Tucked in that was a temple, a bungalow and an ancient little haveli house.  The ancient little haveli house was where we eventually made ourselves at home. It was built right on the banks of the Ganges river. Originally it had no kitchen but we had one made in a former storage room. There was a lovely old mango tree in the center of the courtyard. On the other side of the courtyard we renovated another old storage space into a proper guest room with an attached sitting room. The dilapidated rock structure with the snake pit we helped to cultivate and transform from a place of ruin to a vibrant spot for rest and recovery. Together with a small team of friends who had a heart for it we started an Ashram there—a place of beauty where people could come and meet God.

It’s the only place our kids remember as home in that ancient city. It’s where we went back to on our return trip in December. We were thrilled to see it going on. The couple from Australia who took it over after we made the decision to not return to India have really seen it reach its potential. They’ve had guests come by the hundreds into that space. Travelers from around the globe have found hospitality and beauty there. They’ve found welcome, food, art. Many of them have encountered a Deeper Reality. Some of them have found Jesus.

When I heard they were being asked to leave I felt so very sad. And strangely, I felt again, my soul untethered. My ties to that country that I grew to love have been cut. The explanation of our connection to that place no longer makes sense.

There are so many places we can tie our identities to. Clearly, I’ve anchored part of mine to faraway places where I’ve lived. But if I was completely honest I’d have to admit I’m also tied to my marriage, to my passport, to my sense of humour, to my love of coffee and conversation, to my children. Others might say they’re tied to their work, their calling, their sexual orientation, their politics, their cause, their style, their wardrobe. These alliances are all so fragile. One phone call can sever those connections. One confrontation and your identity is challenged. One piece of bad news, one email, one knock on the door and suddenly you find yourself, as I found myself earlier this week, untethered. Unfastened. Insecure.

It’s like I’m having this odd out-of-body experience and I see myself floating. It doesn’t make me feel free or bouyant….it feels scary, unsettling, disconcerting.

I remember a conversation I had with a young TCK. She was adopted when she was tiny. Indian by birth, American by adoption, she was raised in part in India but then her family moved mid-childhood to Europe where she spent the rest of her growing up years. When we talked she was thinking about having a DNA test done. She wanted to know where in India she was from.  I felt so sad for her. A DNA test wasn’t going to give her the answers she longed for. She wanted to know who she was. She wanted to know where to tie her identity threads to. Where should she tether herself? A DNA test couldn’t give her those answers. The DNA test wouldn’t know her story.

On Sunday at church a woman, who we love, approached Lowell to ask him a question. She had just read Frank Schaeffer’s book, “Sex, Mom and God”. Deeply troubled, she wanted Lowell’s help in understanding how Schaeffer, the son of missionary Francis and Edith Schaeffer, could deviate so from the God of his childhood. While I’ve never read the book, Lowell’s comment to me as we talked about it, intrigued me, “It seems to me Frank Schaeffer never identified himself with Christ. He identified himself with radical thinking or with a type of evangelicalism perhaps.” – In Lowell’s mind, the younger Schaeffer, never seemed to tether his identity to Jesus.

It is certainly okay for me to grieve the loss of those places: my childhood Layyah; my adulthood home on the banks of the Ganges. The places mattered to me. They were part of my formation. I grew up in Layyah. I grew up more in Varanasi. Pieces of me are left buried in the soil in the both of those precious terrains. Grieve it, I have. Grieve it, I must.

But I suppose it’s a case of identity. I think I need to reevaluate where I have tethered my identity. It is true that I’m married, I have three children, I have a great sense of humour (at least I crack myself up at regular intervals!). I love to travel. I’ve lived longer abroad than I have in my passport country. But when I completely identify myself by those things I flounder.As hard as it is, as nebulous as it seems, I firmly believe I need to connect and reconnect myself daily to the One Firm Place, the Changeless Christ, to Jesus my Rock and Redeemer. Knowing who I am to him and in him anchors me. That truth connects me firmly, fiercely to what is true. It’s really the only thing I know for certain.

On December 27, 2013, two Russian cosmonauts left the safety of the International Space Station. Their mission was to attach two cameras to the outside of the Space Station. That particular amble outside broke the record for the Russian’s longest spacewalk. Watching it on the TV, with our bottoms firmly in our seats and our feet on the planet, was an agonizing experience. They moved slowly, carefully. They had large hooks that they moved to secure metal loops to keep themselves attached to the space station. Becoming detached was a life or death reality for them. Both Oleg Kotov and Sergey Ryazansky had experience at these things. They didn’t lose their sense of humour as they worked. Methodically they connected their hooks to the loops. They worked. They detached the hooks, one at a time, carefully reattaching each one before moving on. It was painfully slow but they knew who they were in the moment. They knew what their purpose was. They knew what they were connected to.

Down to earth, practically, it still feels so fragile and so uncertain. I have to make this choice, while seemingly afloat, by faith, to reattach my sense of self, my core, my soul, to what is unchanging, to what is certain, to what is true.  Jesus said it himself in the gospel according to St John, “Yes, I am the vine; you are the branches. Those who remain in me, and I in them, will produce much fruit. For apart from me you can do nothing.” Many read this as a recipe for fruit. How do I make fruit? I remain in the vine.  In my mind, it’s not about the fruit, it’s about the attachment. We are connected. We belong. We are stuck to something eternal, permanent, fixed.

Apart from him we can do nothing.

Nothing but falter and float– flailing and unfastened.

So by faith I move, ever-so-slowly, through my grief, one hook at a time—attached, connected, harnassed–praying to feel more tethered than I do. Apart from him I can do nothing. Even in him I can’t do much but grieve very slowly.

So we ask again – what are you tethered to? When have you felt untethered? 

 

 

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