On Depression & Coffee

Friend, 

I heard you. 

In the depths of my grief.

Your voice reached the furrows of my curled heart. 

I heard you

In the coils of my foggy sorrow

I heard your voice, breaking, waiting for me

Please. Don’t stop talking. 

I’ll find my way back. 

– Sidney Hughes 

Today, there seems to be several resources for us to use when defining depression. We now know it is a clinical issue. We know that there are certain levels of chemicals in the brain that need to be in balance for an individual to feel at ease, clear minded, capable, happy. We know that there are medications that need to be prescribed when these chemicals are not in balance. Loads of events – trauma, change, growth, illness, etc – can precipitate imbalances and cause depression. Depression can be long term or temporary. We know that talk therapy is a clinically proven method of helping those with depression. But what does it mean to be depressed? And what are practical solutions to use in every day? 

 Depression is a state of mind and a state of being I struggle with constantly. There are some deep rooted lies I’ve allowed to set in about my depression. Perhaps you’ve heard them too. Depression isn’t real. Depression is a lack of prayer. Depression needs to be kept secret. All of these are sorely untrue. Depression is real, unfortunately but veritably. It’s discussed thoroughly in the Word, we know it’s not a lack of faith or trust. It’s the result of a fallen world, a world where we are struggling against flesh to be in communion with Christ. And, just as with other struggles, it needs to be exposed. 

Depression is not contagious – I’m always worried that it is. I’m afraid that if I open up just a little about my own struggle, it will surge out of me and infect others. That’s a misconception. Others are probably more equipped to help me than I am to help myself. Just as we don’t encourage people to suffer their physical ailments in silence we shouldn’t encourage people to suffer ashamedly with their mental illnesses in solitude. So, this is me sharing and exposing a bit of my own fight with my depression. 

The beast looks different every day, and every hour the same. Its dark tentacles wind up around my chest and pull tight, forcing the air out of my lungs. I gasp and breathe in only icy stillness. My eyes fill with unexpected tears while I try, I try, I try to refocus my thoughts. I’m at work. I’m at home, I’m at the kitchen table having a conversation with my brother-in-law about Spongebob. There’s no need to cry. There’s no need to feel this crushing weight beneath my diaphragm. There’s no need for my feet to be numb, my shoulders heavy, or my appetite gone. But they are. 

My constant companion. The shadow sits beneath my ears. Some mornings it greets me before I open my eyes, sitting on my stomach it prowls, waiting for me to drag a languid, tired body out of bed. Other days it tauntingly waits, under the rug, behind the bathroom door, to pounce all at once, just when I thought today would be light and good and free. 

They have many metaphors for depression – clouds, darkness, shadows, weights, numbness. I don’t think the people in charge of these terms know that depression is all of these bundled up in a messy package deal. And the absolute worst part is that it is, most often, utterly invisible for everyone else. I can feel the fog. I can feel the crushing weight gripping my intestines, slowly turning my insides into stone. I can feel the crumbling ground beneath my feet that will give way to a deathless abyss if I don’t keep running, keep working, keep talking, keep moving. I can feel that desperation racing inside of me to outmaneuver the shadows – but you can’t. And that makes it ever so difficult for people living with depression to explain it. It’s not a hopeless state, it’s not a faithless state – it’s just a state, a reality, a fact. 

In living with depression I’ve discovered a few methods to keep myself afloat. These are all, of course, blessings from the Lord, for without Him I would have no hope, no reason at all to keep moving forward. Yet with Him, I have Hope Eternal, and I trust that this world He has created is beautiful, it is to be explored and enjoyed while we are on it. That’s what I try to do with my days.

I work nights as a nurse. I don’t think working nights is a good idea if you have depression and I also wouldn’t recommend being a nurse. Stressful, long hours dealing with death and depraved humanity do not go hand in hand with healing. Alas, it is what I do for now, and it is where the Lord is teaching me much. 

Whether it’s on a work night or one of my days off I find comfort in routine. It’s vital for me to have some sort of routine to force myself out of bed. My natural bent in life is to live the artist’s lifestyle. I think, in another time, I would have fit in quite well with the Bohemian Revolution referenced in Moulin Rouge. A life whittled away with poems, books, mid afternoon drinks, and a thorough disregard for social norms of work and schedules is tantalizing. So, in order to not spiral into a lackluster drip, I have to find routine. 

My favored habit is making coffee. I know, I know. Caffeine is evil and probably precipitates depression. Well, driving precipitates car accidents but we still have to get places so I’ll take my chances with the cup of joe. I adore making coffee. It’s a coveted process I find comforting, mesmerizing, and gratifying. I fell in love with coffee in high school when I was given my first French press. It was a single serve. I would use our local Kenyan ground coffee, my dorms’ very sketchy water kettle, and make a single thermos of delicious, black gold each morning. It was my reward after a morning run. It steeled my spirit for the brutality of high school classes. It was a ritual, and has been ever since. 

When I’m with my husband he makes coffee in a percolator. Then he goes to work and I pull out the French press. Even though I’ve already downed a serving of espresso, I must make more coffee. I pour the grounds into the glass container, a full sized French Press. My mother gave it to me before I went to university and every time I use it I think of her – thinking of my mother reminds me of the comfort and safety found in my parents, found in home. The beast loosens its grip. 

I boil the water. I always stretch while I listen to the bubbles build. I lay my hands on the floor and remind myself that my body is agile. It works. It breathes. The blood is pumping, the muscles are exchanging ions, salt and water are making the necessary shifts all around to keep every organ in working order. This reminds me I am capable and I am blessed. The beast loosens its grip. 

The kettle dings. Boiled water pounds against the metal canister. I wait for it to settle. With one hand gripping the kettle’s handle I remember other cups of coffee I’ve made. I remember coffee I’ve shared over fires on mountain tops. Coffee I’ve shared with English teachers, mentors, friends. Coffee I’ve shared out of thermos mugs with hand colored pictures – ones to remind me of family. I remember coffee I’ve made as a barista, with careful instructions, a beautiful system designed to curate a tangible experience. Warmth, exotic, taste. As these memories pass swiftly through my mind, each one I had while living with depression, each one a testament that life with depression can be full and creative. The beast loosens its grip. 

I pour the water onto the grounds, watch the beads dance over the swirling water, the oils glisten and settle. Then I wait. Sometimes I’m rushing to work so I hurry to throw on my clothes, dry my hair, pack my bag. Other times I run back to bed and dive back under the covers, hoping their warmth is still inviting. Rest is coveted. I either take it for granted and rest lazily or I flood myself with guilt for having the time and resources to rest. It’s a gift, given by the Lord, to be enjoyed. I’m reminded of the freedom to enjoy this rest while my coffee steeps. The beast loosens its grip. 

By the time my coffee is finished and I’m pouring the deep brown drink into a favorite mug I’ve thought of at least ten things to be thankful for. Intentional gratitude is my most used weapon against depression. Being thankful reminds me that I am alive and there is much to be alive for. Gratitude helps me to keep moving forward, through each overwhelming day. My disproportionate love of coffee gives me a reason to get out of bed, it gives me a reason to stand in the kitchen, but it is gratitude – sheer thankfulness – that gives me a reason to stay awake, to keep moving, to keep living. 

I cannot tell you how to fight your depression. I can’t tell you how to comfort your spouse or sibling who’s struggling. You know them, I don’t. I can only share what has been an immense help to me – routine, a single task to keep me moving, a reminder to give thanks, and close, safe friends. Maybe those will help you, maybe they won’t. But I would encourage you to find your coffee making moments. Find the minute of the day where you are doing the one thing you want to be awake for. The one, maybe small, maybe menial, maybe immense task that loosens the beast’s grip and allows you to be in control once again. 

“The night is dark but I am not forsaken; for by my side, the Savior He will stay. I labor on in weakness and rejoicing; for in my need His power is displayed. To this I hold- my shepherd will defend me; through the deepest valley, He will lead. Oh, the night has been won, and I shall overcome! Yet not I, but through Christ in me.” 

– Yet Not I But Through Christ in Me, Johnny Robinson 

Related Pieces

https://imchaney.wordpress.com/2018/06/27/on-being-broken/

https://imchaney.wordpress.com/2016/03/05/on-being-marked/

https://noggybloggy.wordpress.com/2018/11/29/living-hopefully-with-depression-ionas-story/?fbclid=IwAR3BEYU3PvTr5uI6KkOppy1b_4IKeZft4o_bIEdu7jBC15LH5HII9tsOTAk/

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On Displacement – A TCK Story

At times we don’t know where we’re headed as TCKs. We can have the ticket in hand, the boarding gate memorized, the fluids packed in clear plastic bags but we cannot know where we’re actually headed. We just don’t stop moving. If we stop, we have to try to fit in. Tanya Crossman unfolds the pattern TCKs go through as they settle, blend in, find loneliness, feel displaced, and move on. 

“Some TCKs end up self-isolating, in what can become a vicious cycle. They feel different, that they do not belong, so they act to fit in; the acting makes them feel distant from people, so they feel more isolated” (Crossman 279).

Adaption is natural to a TCK’s life. It forms our being. It’s an essential part of our past and our present. We’re constantly uncovering different layers of our childhood moves, those layers continue to shape us and change us. We’re always moving – either in person or in place or in time – and to stop would be detrimental to our spirits. 

It’s striking to me that even as a TCK who welcomes change I can feel so displaced on certain days. The past few years have been full of life-changing transit. I should feel right at home in the midst of my ever swaying world. But I don’t. I feel lost and weak and moveable. 

Two years ago my husband and I made the decision to move to Cambridge, England. He was accepted to a PhD programme in the engineering department. We packed up our Tennessee flat, said good bye to our American friends and family and embarked on a great adventure. At twenty-two we felt very incapable and yet invincible. 

Invincible we were not. 

After a lonely, difficult year of struggling through our savings we were faced with another daunting decision. My nursing license for the U.K. had not come through yet, and my U.S. license was expiring soon. Our savings were down to about three hundred dollars – not even enough for one flight. I had spiraled into a deep depression fueled by loneliness and anxiety. We were desperately waiting for funding to come through for his programme so we wouldn’t have to take on loans for another year. 

Miraculously, in an answer to prayer, the funding came through – but my license did not. This led us to decide I would return to the States, live with his family, and work in Mississippi for a season. He would stay, continue his PhD, and we would work on finding a way for me to move back as soon as possible. As a wife, I was terrified of being away from my husband and my best friend for any length of time. As a TCK, however, I was delighted with our decision. I welcomed the change. Cambridge had been lonely, a year of depression and angst, a year of old wounds surfacing and tormenting me. I needed to leave. Moving seemed the right thing to do – moreover moving on my own seemed even more welcoming. I would be regaining some of the independence I’d lost. I was thrilled at this prospect of adventure once again – until it actually happened. 

Landing in Mississippi, we were lovingly greeted by family. My husband settled me in and then returned to his research. I sat. I slept. I waited to feel at home. 

After several months of waiting, I’m convinced that TCKs won’t know what it is to feel “at home” because the word “home” conjures up so many varied memories. Some come from tormented countries, others from too many countries, some from countries they’ve never claimed and others from countries they’ve never left. We try. We find hovels or nests we call our home. We drive ourselves insane with trying to blend old and new, past and present, forgotten and discovered. 

During my first year of university I spent Thanksgiving in D.C. with my mum and sister. As we toured the lovely, decorated capital city I asked my mum to take me to the archives so we could look at the Declaration of Independence. I bore my eyes through that bullet proof glass and stared at the old parchment and willed myself to feel American. I didn’t. I felt a great respect for history, for the courage of the colonies, for the penmanship of Thomas Jefferson but other than that all I could think was “I wonder if there really is a map on the back?” Deep rooted patriotism for the United States was something I desperately wanted to experience because I believed it would help me feel at home. I believed it would help me fit in with my peers, my church, my friends. I believed it would help me separate myself from all the other memories of different countries. If my heart was committed to one nation, then surely the rest of me would follow. But that wasn’t my experience. 

For a long time I resented myself for not feeling at home in America. I resented it because it deepened my feelings of displacement. Uprootedness. I’d left Scotland, Portugal, Angola, Kenya, the Middle East, all to land in The Southern States and will myself to be familiar with Cracker Barrel. Or Kroger. Or mispronouncing tomato. In every day though, something happens or comes to mind that reminds me of all those places and the farcical role I’ve written for myself unravels. Some days I convince myself I can forget all these countries and immerse myself enough in American culture to feel at home. Other days I sob while driving down the highway listening to American Kids on the country music station. Where is my little pink house, Mr. Chesney? 

When asked recently how to describe being a TCK and the ensuing loneliness I said this: “I’ll always be a little girl on the inside. That little girl lives in Angola. She plays in the dirt, her mum is her teacher, her dog is her friend, her dad takes her to ballet across town. She’s constantly changing her role: missionary child at church, at the embassy, at a mission meeting, in America visiting family, at boarding school. These all require different languages, different facial expressions, different clothes and mannerisms. She was never fake, but adaptable, continuously reconfiguring and challenging herself to learn what was needed to cope.” 

I still feel this way every day. I feel like the little girl from Angola (but not really from there) trying to determine what needs to be learned, what needs to said, what needs to be kept secret, what needs to be changed in order to cope. I feel displaced, disjointed, as if someone just picked that girl up from her make believe game and dropped her here – in the United States – and said “Okay, figure it out.” And each difference I notice between me and other Americans heightens the feeling of displacement. 

One difference I found immediately between myself and my American family were my driving skills. Mine are minimal. I studied for my license, took a very shoddy Tennessee driving exam, and somehow found myself legally able to operate a car. I used this newfound freedom to make Sonic runs, go to clinical, drive to Kroger parking lots to sit and listen to the radio. I used it to make myself more like everyone else in my university – American. Free. I drove a small Ford focus. That zippy, compact car was both a source of independence and a prop in my American facade. 

Since living in Mississippi I have driven my mother-in-law’s Volvo. It has taken several months to feel comfortable in a much larger vehicle. The most stressful bit of driving was backing out of the compound. 

Often at night there are more than four or five cars parked neatly in the gated courtyard. I work the night shift so I naturally have to leave when the parked cars are at their peak. For a few weeks I refused to reverse. The electric gate was a terrifying hazard, not to mention the carriage house walls or that awful green dumpster. It was a nerve wrecking prospect all around. I have brothers-in-law and a sister-in-law who were more than willing to zip the Volvo out for me on high pressure moments – but still, it grated me. 

Here was a blatant difference. It was brought up in conversation, often jokingly, that I didn’t reverse, or that I shouldn’t be afraid. It wasn’t easy to explain that this was one more thing I didn’t know how to do. One more thing that made me less a part of the family, less American, less here. I made a resolution to never ask someone to back me out again. One morning, it took about a 50 point turn for me to successfully maneuver myself out of the parking spot and into the alley. But I did it. Last week I backed all the way out of my spot, around another car, out the gate and around the corner in one smooth movement. No stopping and turning. No jerking forward or back. No breaking out in a nervous sweat. No panicked tears. An effortless reverse. 

I don’t know that I’ve ever felt more American. 

I conquered something so foreign, something I couldn’t even explain was foreign because for every one else it was banal. Nevertheless, I conquered it. The small, insignificant victory made me feel more like I belonged here, at least for the time being. 

All TCKs have a reversing story. We all have small wins that become defining moments for us in our culture reintroduction. We all have small failures that hold us back. I think most of us would say we still feel like children, running from one country to the next trying to figure the world out. If you know TCKs, be kind with their differences. Be gentle with their unknowns and gracious with their oddities. If you are a TCK, I would encourage you to know you’re not displaced. Or homeless. Or in any way out of place. You have an Eternal Home and an Earthly purpose to further and glorify His kingdom. Our loss of home on Earth only sweetens our anticipation of His return. This truth has comforted me so much as I’ve made Mississippi home for the past year. It’s not like any place I remember, and I don’t always fit in, but it’s where He has me, so this is where I’ll be, playing make-believe in a different garden and learning how to reverse out of car lots. 

And it’s where I belong – for now. 

 

Works Cited

“The Inner Lives of TCKs .” Misunderstood: the Impact of Growing up Overseas in the 21st Century, by Tanya Crossman, Summertime Publishing, 2016 p. 279.  

Resources for TCKs

Misunderstood – Tanya Crossman

A Life Overseas – https://www.alifeoverseas.com

The Stories of Noggy Bloggy – https://noggybloggy.wordpress.com

Grief Misplaced

I thought I could find you again

I thought if I ran fast enough I would break back into time 

I would land, panting, twisting in a sweat soaked bed, tangled in an old mosquito net 

I would wake, ceiling fan still again, roosters crowing, market calling, coal fires burning black ash up to the sky 

I would walk ten steps to school, countless with a dog, I would press my face up to a screen window willing the city electricity to come on – do other children even call it “city electricity”? I think maybe… some places it’s just power 

We would drive, two hours, one hour, three or four, to a ballet class where I was out of rhythm milk in a coffee colored dance  – a grammar mistake, different, again. 

We would sit, oil lanterns lit, eating home flipped tortillas and fajitas with maybe carefully rationed cheese. We would laugh – at our dog, at Harry Potter, at anything kept secret in our family of five, my safety. We would sit, wooden table with white legs, and revel in our little circle, the place where I belonged. 

I thought I could find it again. That corner of the kitchen where the tiles are always cool, where I sat in the dark and waited. I thought if i sat there, I could cry over you, Home, for the last time. 

Instead I cry for spilled pasta, for delayed flights, I cry for burnt pancakes, bumped cars, fast traffic lights, I cry at series’ finales, new songs, and discontinued teas. 

But every time I cry over something new, I’m just trying to grieve again, the very old, the very dear, and the very well remembered home.

On Crying -TCK memory

I cannot cry for countries that are not mine. 

I cannot cry for people who do not remember my name, know where I am, know where I’m going. 

I cannot cry for a life I’ve lived but cannot share – a life so foreign – so many twisted stories and backtracking explanations. 

I cannot cry for a life of love and loss I didn’t choose – for a calling that was not mine. 

I cannot cry for any of that – because they won’t understand. They’ll hand over a tissue and say “but it’s all in the past, why does it bother you now?” 

And I cannot take them into the deep furrows of my heart where heaves of emptiness are tossed back and forth – gaping spaces weighed with memories of a life finished living. 

So, I cry, with this open suitcase and this broken mug, I sob and wail and scream over a $6 factory made porcelain coffee cup –

Because I can’t think of anything else.

I can’t share, can’t explain, what it is I really want to cry about. 

In some places, a cat has nine lives 

I say we have a few more 

A cat jumps back in line swinging

And we crawl back, more dead than before 

 

You’ll look at me and say 

“But you’re young and bright 

Nothing can get you down” 

And I’ll look away. 

Fight or flight. Fight. Fly. Now. 

 

Let me show you how I became this way

A half shell person wandering the streets

A sleep-walker, stumbling between the painted lines

A ‘well rounded’ multi lingual ready to retreat

 

Let me show you, life by life,

How I had happy homes to spare

And lost them all. Each and every one 

How I wasted my time trying not to care 

 

The first one, quiet and quaint 

A holed up, stone faced flat 

Right in a moldy, Scottish lane 

Full of tea time, Jaffa, and a Winnie the Pooh mat 

 

A home they know better 

It wasn’t mine for long, mine for real

Four years really doesn’t mean much 

So when we left, did I cry at all?

 

The next, much sunnier than the last

A tiled square, in a foreign city 

A land of beaches, bread, seafood and new friends.

I remember being, more than ever, a family.

 

But we left there too, after just one year

What a life to lose, caterpillar leaves and stolen gifts and water park tears.

We packed up again and boarded our plane 

Shorter and shorter my love grew 

 

We landed, my third home in my fifth year

Greeted with dusty air and sticky clouds

A home of cinderblocks and barbed wire 

A home of war, gunshots, and swarming crowds

 

It was a home of strangled wholeness for years

Then we began to leave one by one

Until it was just me, staring through screened windows

Wondering when the loneliness had begun

 

Was it when we left our first home 

When the language changed for us all

Was it when they started to leave me behind

Choosing school in The valley over prolonging feigned childhood 

 

Or was it when I started jet setting alone

Perched by the wing, window seat, please 

No, nothing to eat for fear of being too much there. 

Is that when the gaps opened, the hollows in my previous peace? 

 

You know it too, my acronym-ed friends. 

The labels, the questions, the praises and approbation, the countless friends 

(around the world)

and the crushing silence right next to you. 

Right next to you. 

Desperate for shelter we wander 

Gasping for belonging we claw at one another 

  

They look at me through a lens that’s been

Evangelically tinted and praise me for graces

I’ve never committed 

While I think “Wouldn’t I give all the courage in the world 

For a roof that never moved and a home that never shifted?”

Maybe. Maybe. But even as I stand, swaying on my moving ground; 

I know. 

I know.

This is not the end. 

We spent our lives jet lagged, unpacking suitcases before emotions.

Truth spread, story told, good news shared, of a home far beyond this opalescent life. 

Heart beat to inhale till it all stands still. 

This is nothing but one more illusory home. 

He will greet us There. At last. 

On Cancelled Trains and Unanswered Prayers 

 “Our need to be in control, to orchestrate the perfect scenario for every journey of our lives, breeds anxiety in our hearts.” – Emily Ley

“There’s no train at 12:57.” 

“Yes…. Yes there is. I saw it on your website.” 

“Nope. No train at 12:57. There’s a train at 12:44 to London.” 

“But I don’t need to get to London – I need to get to Huntingdon.” 

“ Well… there’s no train from here that will get you there. At least not before 3 o’clock.” 

“Okay…” Deep breaths. Don’t cry. Just take your ticket and go to the information desk. This was the only advice I could give myself as I stood at the counter, frustrated with Trainline and with myself for wholeheartedly believing a website. 

I made the first train. An overly kind assistant at the information desk made up for the experience at the ticket counter. I stepped off the string of carts to make a connection – only to discover this journey was far from simplified. 

“All trains to Peterborough are cancelled.”

“But I need to get on a train in that direction to get off in Huntingdon.”
“All trains to Peterborough are cancelled, please stand with the other stranded travelers.” Only in England would missing your train from one county to the next qualify you as a “stranded.” I took my place amongst my fellow sojourners and we made quiet inquires. “Oh headed there. Very good. Be sure to call ahead.” 

“At least it’s not raining while we’re waiting.” 

I don’t think anything bad happens in England unless it is raining – because if the weather is dry you can always fall back on the cheerful caveat “Well, it’s not raining.” What a sadly optimistic reality. 

For me, I wouldn’t have cared if it had been storming. No ounce of water would have made me grumpier or more stressed. I had perfectly timed this journey to arrive in Huntingdon with 42 minutes to spare before an interview for a master’s programme. If I had 42 minutes to spare I could grab a coffee, find the office, sit down, use the loo, take a calm breath – I could be in control. But, the Great Northern line had other plans for my afternoon.

 We waited on the curb of the train station and watched busy workers in yellow jackets talk to bus drivers and cabbies. They piled people into taxis, pulled some out, rearranged themselves, crossed stuff off a clip board and threw furtive glances to the growing crowd of strays. Eventually, I was also piled into a private taxi with a slightly disgruntled driver. Apparently the rail system was having a week of melt downs that resulted in a high taxi bill for their travelers. At that moment, I honestly did not care about the railroad woes. I was in the taxi with two other ladies and I knew mine was not the first destination. We still had some time though. I could make it with maybe 15 minutes to spare – if there was no traffic. 

There was traffic. There was a lot of traffic. I didn’t know the Fens had the potential for so much congestion. We trucked along at a miserably slow pace. We dropped the first lady off, she gave me a sympathetic look and trotted off to her bus. We turned back onto the motor way. Maybe we weren’t that far off… maybe my stop was just ten minutes or so beyond this one…. As much credit as I give GPS systems they are frightfully brutal in their delivery of bad news. Once we were on the motor way the driver’s phone robotically told us my stop was 47 minutes away. Gutted. That would put me about 35 minutes late for my interview providing there was no traffic and assuming I knew how to get to the office. Fitting with the afternoon, there was plenty more traffic. 

I was losing it. I was sitting in the back of a strange man’s car inching along on the A1, late for an interview, hungry, thirsty, with my well-timed plans in tatters. If I didn’t have tears crawling down my face I would have been laughing. The absurdity of the situation was so thematic with the rest of my life and still so disappointing. I felt sorry for the driver and the other passenger. It wasn’t their fault some poor girl was falling apart in the back seat. It wasn’t the driver’s fault there was traffic. It wasn’t anyone’s fault the trains failed us. I wish I could have explained to them what I was feeling and why but I think I’ll just be an odd story for them to tell now. 

I was so desperate for control. This was the first event in ages I felt I really had well planned. My husband is looking for PhD funding. We don’t have it yet. I have applied for a nursing license and have waited and waited. I don’t have it yet. Neither of us have a job, neither of us have income, and we’re steadily using our savings. Neither of us know what is about to happen. We could stay in England with a fully funded PhD. We could stay in England with my husband working as an engineer and me as a nurse (eventually). We could move back to the states – to California, to Texas, to Arizona, to Washington D.C. – for my husband to work there. We could be stuck paying off student loans for the rest of our lives. We could be given $100,000 tomorrow. My eczema could flare up or it could go away for years. We could live to we’re ninety-nine and never have a cent more than we do now or we could die tomorrow and be in Glory. There has been so much out of our control. There has been so much uncertainty in our lives recently, all I wanted in that moment was to accomplish something according to plan. I had applied for a masters in family health. I had been accepted for an interview. I looked up times and directions, made plans, picked an outfit, practiced questions. I called my oldest sister for advice on the British education system. I read articles on the issues plaguing families across the country. I was prepared. The trains were not. 

So, I was sitting in the back of a very kind man’s car, crying, thinking about all the events I could not control – all the bits of my life that were floating haphazardly around me – and bitter that this was now going their orbit. Then, quite distinctly, the Lord gave me peace. I am not a particularly charismatic person but I do believe the Spirit is ever-present and has great influence on us. Sitting on that vinyl seat, listening to poorly chosen radio music and smelling an overwhelming amount of car freshener I was reminded of how perfectly fine my life truly is. I don’t have a job, but I have a passion and many dreams. We don’t have an income, but we have been blessed by our savings and we have a faith that extends beyond our human need. We’re not always in perfect health but we know these earthly bodies will pass away. We do not have a plan for the future – I don’t even know where we will be three months from now. That could be a terrifying thought – or it could be an exciting one. Let’s make it exciting. We don’t have any idea what tomorrow might hold but we’re fortunate to have one another and two families who love us dearly. I don’t have a career at the moment but I have a wonderful husband, a safe flat, and a faith that is growing daily. I don’t have any control but I have a constant reminder of Who is in control of my life. I have a choice to either be anxious about my lack of control or to surrender to His will. 

Let me tell you – anxiety tries to win 8 times out of 10. It usually has a good head start. Bad dreams, break outs, ulcers, fatigue, anxiety settles its symptoms right into my life and it could easily take over if I were to let it. The daily battle is against anxiety. The struggle every hour is feeling the sense of powerlessness and desperation grip my shoulders yet being able to shrug it off in confidence of my Savior. Whatever the issues is, He is in control. I know my problems seem small to many people. There are far worse issues than debt, unemployment, and loneliness. Many people face homelessness, persecution, terminal illness, loss of loved ones – in comparison what I’m facing at twenty-three is child’s play. Yet, the lesson is universal. The anxiety, the desperation, the need for control is well-known to all of us, and the call to rest in Him is for all of us.  This earth is but a withering field. These troubles are but specks of sand in the scheme of eternity. A father who cares for the sparrows will care for His children too. Regardless of our struggles, our mismatched plans, our failures, our situations, His love is secure. It does not change. It does not relent. His salvation is sure. If I lose all else in this world I can still cling to that truth – and it will be enough. He has a perfect plan and I choose to rest in that truth – even if the perfect plan means sitting in the back of a taxi for two hours, late, laughing, crying, and enjoying unseen English countryside.

On Being Broken

 

We’re all broken. We’ve all been broken. 

You. Me. Him. Her. 

All of us.

We’ve all been crushed, pressed. At some point, we’ve all turned into our dark corners and just cried. We’ve all been hurt, we’ve all been betrayed, disappointed, lost, lonely, isolated. We all know these feelings to some degree. It’s an insult to our own humanity if we say we’ve never felt these things – these terrible destructions. The deformations of happiness, corruptions of our peace, perversions of our true selves. 

And yet, despite being unwanted, brokenness seems to be more human than any other phenomenon. More than happiness, satisfaction, hunger, fear, it seems brokenness is the most universal and the most useful. The realization and acceptance of brokenness is what allows us to come to terms with our own frailty, our own mortality, and our vast capability to care for others. Brokenness forces us to realize there is weakness. There is a problem that needs a solution. It encourages us to turn to He who has been repaired, causes us to hope for our own wounds to heal. It also reveals to us the brokenness in others, which in turn can create compassion, empathy, love, healing, even peace. We cannot solve our own brokenness without also looking around us and seeing the cracks in everyone else. He’s been hurt too. She’s been lied to, she’s been talked about, he’s been hopeless. They’ve been marginalized as well. He knows loneliness. She knows regret. We all know brokenness. 

These are some ill-written observations I’ve made over the past few weeks about my own frailty, how it affects my faith, and how it should inspire my own change. I hope, maybe, this will be an encouragement to someone else who might also be struggling. 

Originally I wanted to speak to the vast amount of brokenness around us – it’s in our food, our bodies, our politics, if you’re in Great Britain right now you can see the brokenness of the National Rail system (Great Rails are coming in 2020!). Oftentimes it seems the world is simply falling apart, but you know that. I know that. So we don’t need to read more about it. Maybe we all just need a reminder to be raw, real and honest with ourselves and our loved ones. No one plans to be broken do they? We all wake up hoping for the best – great successes, noble reputations, immense satisfaction. Yet, some time after that first cup of coffee the reality of living in a fallen world sets in and brokenness emerges. We have to come to terms with it, with an eternal perspective and an immense amount of hope. 

When I was working in a hospital we would have patients who tried to convince the staff they were not ill. “I’m not sick, I’m fine, get me out of here.” “Well, sorry sir but you’re in the hospital, connected to a Pleura-Vac and some very unnatural fluids are coming out of your body – you’re sick.” Why do we try to pretend our bodies are impenetrable? Why do we try to deny that we have aches and pains and in some cases chronic ailments? Who does that benefit? It certainly does not help those who are trying to care for and love us. It does not make the discomfort vanish – it just makes us lonely, tired, and, frankly, liars. Conversely, we cannot depend on our brokenness for our identity. Just as we had patients who were adamant about their health we had others who were convinced they were knocking on death’s door while they had no abnormalities whatsoever. Our ‘malfunctions’ do not have to brand us. We must learn to see all things through the lens of Hope. Paul makes this quite clear in his letter to Corinth, 2 Corinthians 4:16 – 5:1 (NIV) states “ Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal. Now we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands.” Our physical brokenness is nothing compared to the immense joy we will feel in His presence. Even our earthly homes, everything we put our faith in on this planet – our finances, our degrees, our cars, our success, our power – if we lose it all we can only rejoice for what waits in Heaven is far greater. I say “if we lose it all” but I should say “when” for everything on this earth passes – even the brokenness and the discomfort. 

I have chronic eczema. If you’re unfamiliar with that condition it’s simple. My skin cannot make a complete barrier, the tiny cells cannot build a strong defense against outside particles. This leads to intense dryness, allergic reactions, and many, many moisturizers. My eczema flared when we moved to England, largely due to stress I believe, and it has since become manageable. When I was in the middle of huge flare ups I would return to the passage above and beg for a heavenly body now. The itching, the discomfort, the constant fear of being red or looking ugly were overwhelming for me. I put so much faith in having a working body, in being the whole picture of health – I forgot that this body is on earth for but a second and this spirit is in Heaven for eternity. A rash, however frustrating, is not much compared to endless time with my Creator. Physical illnesses, disabilities, inconveniences are serious and should be treated – but they should not rob us of our joy, our hope, or our identity. 

It’s easy, maybe, to discuss corporeal brokenness, find hope, dismiss the topic and move on. We see the body broken during every communion so we know this is what bodies are made to do – whither, crack, waste away. Looking to heaven we can see the promises of new, perfect bodies and it seems manageable to be content with our malfunctioning ones. I find it’s much more difficult to parse out the brokenness of our minds, our spirits, and our relationships. So many of us are plagued by darkness, anxiety, resentment, or despair and we seem so unwilling to discuss it. Why? Why are we poisoning ourselves by constantly swallowing our words of sorrow, pleas for help, cries of distress? 

Along with eczema I have depression. Have depression? Suffer from depression? Am chronically depressed? I’m not sure what the correct term is, it’s just my reality. Similar to eczema my depression is heightened during periods of great stress, there are good days and terrible days, and it is most likely a life long issue.. Unlike my eczema I have not had depression since I was a child and there is no amount of Aveeno cream I can apply to cheer my thoughts. Also, unlike eczema, depression is difficult to talk about. My eczema is very obvious – most people will kindly ask about the aggravated red rash on my arm. I reply. They’re sympathetic. We move on with our conversation. But we don’t always see depression – I don’t see it when I look in the mirror. I certainly don’t always see it in other people even if I know they are struggling. We are adept at keeping depression stuffed deep inside of us. There it can fester, latch itself onto our organs and begin slowly sucking our liveliness. What happens when it all comes tumbling out? What happens when we’re so desperately broken we can’t breathe? What happens when we’re despairing – and I don’t mean the dinner is burning kind of despairing – I mean the sitting on your bedroom floor with a sharpened knife sobbing and trying to remember how you got there and who you are and why your husband is there kind of despairing. Broken. What do we do then?

We’ve all had bedroom floor moments. We’ve all experienced loss, fear, disappointment, regret. We’ve all tried so hard to hide our own brokenness. We’ve all denied one another compassion, honesty, empathy, companionship. Why? If I had found a cream that really worked for eczema and met someone else who had it I would’t hesitate to give them my cream (or at least tell them about it!). But if I meet someone with depression or anxiety or someone who is just in a particular fragile state, I’m much more cautious about sharing my own story, and much less willing to help. Why? Why are we so afraid to show our brokenness? Why are we so unwilling to help others overcome their own struggles? We see public figures exposed for their sadness and sorrows after they’ve taken their own lives – when it’s too late. Why are we afraid to expose ourselves while we have breath to speak?

In April I had the opportunity to visit Israel. I was able to stand in the Garden of Gethsemane. There I was gently reminded by the Lord how much He understands us. We are not only shown Christ’s victory on Calvary. We don’t skip in the gospels from miracles to resurrection. No, we see Christ’s broken body and hear his desperate prayers. This is part of our salvation story – a Savior who went to great lengths to defeat sin. I think we see all of this plainly written for many reasons. It allows us to grasp the severity of Christ’s sacrifice and the solemnity of his crucifixion. It also allows us to gaze on Christ’s humanity and see how well He can relate to us in our own despair. Christ was in anguish, He was in pain, He was broken and humiliated. Nothing we feel on this earth will compare to the torment He felt on our behalf – but it does mean He understands. He is not lofty when it comes to human pain and suffering. He is the tender father who sits with a tortured child, speaking truth against the lies, bringing healing amidst the darkness. 

So, let us be more like Christ. Let us look at one another with compassion. Let us be the friends who know brokenness, who see it, who vow to help it. Let us not be the ones who say “toughen up” “Have more faith” “Pull yourself together” Let us be the ones who sit on bedroom floors, praying and pleading for peace. Let us be the ones who open our hearts with empathy, the ones who understand that issues such as depression, anxiety, PTSD, etc are real and active in people’s lives. If you truly wish to know more about such conditions please read this blog written by a friend, https://noggybloggy.com/2018/02/06/mental-illnesses-suck-so-we-must-talk-about-them/ – he spends a lot of time and effort de-stigmatizing mental illness and offering resources to the public. He does this so that we can be a people who offer help – not condemnation. It’s not a guarantee that we will make it through life without tragedy or ailment but it is certain that we are not without hope. Let us be the ones who know we are broken and are still determined to share our hope with others.  

waiting, again.

Deep within me.

Deep beneath the catatonic

smile.

Depths below the placated 

tone

There, I find them. 

Deep chasms. Great shifts. 

Wells of simply brokenness

Insatiable caverns, hidden within my 

frame. 

Gasping, deflated fleshy lungs flop lifelessly. 

Begging for a breath I cannot give them. 

Desperate for a hope I cannot provide 

Endlessly breaking. Endlessly waiting 

for it all to endlessly carry on. 

– M. I. R.

On Words

Political Flashback: Michelle Wolf. Thoughts? White House Correspondents Dinner. Response? Hopefully your reply is somewhere along the lines of “Yeah, a secular event with secular jokes, all went as expected.” But I have a feeling most people don’t share that sentiment. There has been too much slamming of Michelle Wolf as a comedian on social media for me to believe the general populous really understands what her job was. Personally, I was not surprised by Wolf’s jokes. I admit, I found most of them hilarious. She disarmed the audience, she exposed the truth, and she delivered her witticism in with great timing. What more do you want when you hire a comedian for a politically charged event? It has been difficult for me to reconcile with the outrage of many Christians I know. To what standard were you holding her? She has never proclaimed to be a spokesperson for Christ or the Church. She cannot have disappointed you in that regard. Perhaps you were holding her to the high standard of the American President? If so, Wolf could have gone much farther than she did. We, as a people, allowed a man with brutally vile language to take over a public position. We know what his tweets say. We know what he says behind closed doors. We know what he says to the faces of multiple women. Why do we expect anything more from anyone else? For those who are sharing “Protect Sarah Sanders” posts to your timelines, did you also share “Protect Rosie O’Donnell?” No? Hmm. Why not? Why is one member of the White House administration allocated your undivided protection when many women before her were slandered and disrespected? 

Of course, by the time this is public, Michelle Wolf and her ‘terrible’ speech will be old news. While this piece is not about politics, or about the White House correspondent dinner, it is interesting that now we have moved on from slandering Wolf to someone else. Even in our hate we have difficulty concentrating. Why? Are we so slammed with information that requires outrage we cannot pay attention to one event for longer than 24 hours? Or is our hate and anger so rampant that it requires a new target to devour every second? Are our words so incendiary we cannot keep them in our mouths – instead we have to purge them over coffee or during our daily media update – we must make sure we degrade at least ten people by night! That’s what good, upstanding people do! 

How twisted is that? How wrong is it for us to obsess over the flaws of others? Our mouths are teeming with derogatory vocabulary and we see nothing amiss with this habit? Why not? Why is so indoctrinated into our culture that we can say whatever we want, in whatever tone, to whoever is in earshot? When did it become okay for us to share hateful memes as casually as we say our morning prayers? When did it become habitual for us to demean people who think or act differently than we do – as long as they don’t hear us? Or even worse, when did it become commonplace to gossip, slander, or insult directly and expect the other person to ‘cover it with grace’ or to ‘understand because we’re family.’ If the premise of ‘family’ means you care more deeply than wouldn’t you be even more thoughtful and kind with your words? Perhaps not. Perhaps when we are in comfortable environments – our own home, with good friends, behind computer screens – we forget the need to work on our witness. Perhaps when we are in these closed-door situations we believe we have the freedom to act without consequences. We do not. We know this. We know that even that which we do in private affects our hearts, our minds, and our relationships with others. Words spoken and shared are no different. We should be even more aware of our words than anything else – words shape our image, they change our perceptions, and they create others’ impressions of us. Wouldn’t it be wise to treat words with utmost caution? Are we not warned to do just that in the New Testament? How then do we justify the cruel, inflammatory language spread so vehemently through Facebook, phone calls, group chats, or dinner conversations?

 “Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness. For we all stumble in many ways. And if anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle his whole body. If we put bits into the mouths of horses so that they obey us, we guide their whole bodies as well. Look at the ships also: though they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are guided by a very small rudder wherever the will of the pilot directs. So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great things. How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire! And the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness. The tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life, and set on fire by hell. For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by mankind, but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so. Does a spring pour forth from the same opening both fresh and salt water? Can a fig tree, my brothers, bear olives, or a grapevine produce figs? Neither can a salt pond yield fresh water.” James 3:1-12 ESV

This theme is repeated. It is evident we are meant to be careful with our words. 1 Peter 2:1 “So put away all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander.” Ephesians 4:29 “Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.” Look also at Titus 3:2 and Psalm 34:13. The most convicting for me is always Proverbs 12:18-19 “There is one whose rash words are like sword thrusts, but the tongue of the wise brings healing. Truthful lips endure forever, but a lying tongue is but for a moment.” My words could either heal wounds or pierce someone – why would I ever choose not to heal? 

A few weeks ago I was reminded by an old friend of the weighty power of words. She was writing an account of her own experience – the destruction that words can cause was very evident in that moment. Words are unlike actions in their pervasive and transformational manner. Albus Dumbledore wisely said, through the pen of J.K. Rowling “Words are, in my not-so-humble opinion, our most inexhaustible source of magic. Capable of both inflicting injury, and remedying it.” How true that is. Words are heavy, friends. They can either create or they can destroy. Words can either build up or tear down. They can give life to a relationship or they can corrode it. Words can bring healing – yet they can just as easily be the poison that brings death. Words are powerful, and we, for whatever reason, have become too accustomed to wielding power. We have forgotten the strength we possess. We act like children playing ping-pong in a china shop. We know the potential disaster but we’re so used to the crashing plates, the shattering saucers, the ruined cups that one more broken dish doesn’t seem to matter much. One more tasty tidbit of gossip is nothing in a swamp overflowing with it. One more unkind word about that race, that religion, that school, that team is nothing when our world is satiated with hateful slander against groups of people. But, here’s the thing, it really does matter. What you say, what I say, and how we say it really does make a difference. What is the advantage of gossiping about your children, your friends, your siblings and taking the risk of breaking those relationships when instead you could provide direct encouragement to those individuals and make a positive investment? 

I know, it’s an odd notion. Let’s be kind to one another and say nice things – how preschool right? Wrong. How Christlike. How can we justify what we say when we know the words of Christ, Love Incarnate? It is deplorable that Christians cannot set themselves apart from the world by conversation. Yet, we seem to think we don’t need to do this. Too often I have been in a believer’s home and hear them say a terribly hateful thing about democrats, or republicans, or refugees, or their neighbors, or their in-laws, or their co-workers. Too often have I been the one to share my own misguided sentiments without conviction. Too often I find myself feeling entitled to gossip, to slander, to disparage on any one who has irked me – how wrong is that? How warped. Even if I were standing alone in my kitchen it would not be right for me to voice an unkind, hateful word – because even in that moment of solitude I am standing as a representative of Christ’s love. What does it do to our witness, Believer, when we are heard misusing the tongue?

An argument you may have against this is easy to predict. I’ve heard it before – mostly from other Christians. “Oh Iona, how silly and soft you are. This is the real, tough world. Grow a thick skin and move on. People are going to talk about whoever they want however they want and you are wrong to think you can stop them. Just give everyone grace and get over it.” To number the times I’ve heard a variation of this message would be impossible. What is it about us, Christians, that desires to keep our secret vices instead of giving our whole selves to Christ? Is it weakness for me to listen lovingly and diligently to people I do not agree with or understand? Or is it weakness for me to shame those same people on social media – intentionally inciting anger and conflict? Is it weakness for me to know the weight of my words and to be careful with them? Or is it weakness to spout off “You’re stupid and your ideas are stupid” as soon as someone says something I don’t like in my house? I know this is a real and tough world. Most of you readers do not understand how well I know that. Most of you did not grow up hand in hand with impoverished children. Most of you do not remember living without electricity in the 21st century. But it is the coarseness of this world that makes me so grateful we have a tender Father – a Father who drapes us in Loving grace, a Father who does not want us to remain in our sin but wants to see us grow more like Him. How unkind it would be if God never convicted us. Similarly, how unkind we are to one another when we do not recognize sin for what it is and attempt to make a change. I know the hypocrisy of this post all too well. I am a sinner well acquainted with the depths of my sordid actions. I know that for every cruel word I have heard I must have said a thousands others. I know that for every piece of gossip I have heard I must have shared a hundred others. I know that until the day I am taken Home I will struggle to bite my tongue, evaluate my words, and say only that which will edify Christ. But, even as I know this will be a daily battle, I am beyond grateful for the believers I have in my life who hold me to a higher standard. I am thankful for friends who hold me above reproach, friend who call me out when my words are not gentle, not loving, not a reflection of my faith in any way. It is never easy to change our ways – but it is necessary. If Christians are to stand out in this messy, broken world, it must be through our words and actions in every moment. If we are to have any impact for Christ we must be aware of the effect our words can create. We must be attuned to the magic we are wielding – and we must choose to let that magic be good, healing, wholesome. I love you. I am sorry. I forgive you. Powerfully magical words. Transformative words. Words seldom misused or forgotten. Words like those are often replaced with I hate you. I deserve more. You’re not worth this. You’re wrong. You owe me. And countless others…. Friends, we have the capability to create great change within ourselves and within our relationships simply by choosing to be kind with our words, gentle with our tongue, and loving without intentions. For those not convinced, for readers still rolling their eyes and saying “Okay Iona… tell me when the real world hits you. You can’t be a pansy snowflake forever” – I beg to differ. If being a “pansy” in this world means I am sensitive to words, both spoken by me and to me, for the sake of Christ, then I’ll be a whole window box display. Hurting others, hating others, degrading others for the purpose of having the upper hand or the “right” opinion is not worth the cost. How could I, how could we, use our words for ill when they have the potential to do so much good? 

For further reading on this topic please look at these two articles from Desiring God. 

https://www.desiringgod.org/articles/know-what-not-to-say

https://www.desiringgod.org/articles/how-should-christians-comment-online 

On Grief Misunderstood – A Poem

You cannot go back. 

Excuse me.

You cannot go back. 

But.

Did you hear that? Did you know? 

Did you know, dear Dad, that when you moved your family there, we would be brutally uprooted?

Did you know, darling Mum, that while you raised us there we were losing a childhood we never really knew? 

Did you know, sweet family, what the coming years would hold? This grief unspoken, this grief unknown, this grief misunderstood?

You cannot go back. 

No. 

You cannot go back.

Please. 

There is no home there anymore. There’s only a house, an empty shell of a life that used to be, a once upon a time of young serenity. A house once filled with naivety and innocence – an illusion now shattered by heartbreaking reality. 

You cannot go back.

Just once.

You cannot go back.

They’ll never see.

No, your friend, your spouse, your dearest love, will know the swells and hollows of your body, the sorrows of your guilty soul but they will never know your home. They will never stand between the walls of your youth, see the making of your being. The foundation of who you are is washed away in a memory of used-to-be’s. 

You cannot go back.

Please.

You cannot go back.

Just me. 

Take a snapshot, write it down, think it through… because you know you’ll never see it again. Quick! where are you from? They mockingly ask you again and again while your mind reels, cartridge from another life, another time. Imported crops, traffic jams, gunshots, walls, barbwire, brancos, municipal de Angola, Boas Novas, aeroports, dripping ceilings, mobile radios, generator fuel, empty taps, visa exile, ballet classes, melted sweets, leaving on a dusty April day, returning indefinitely. 

You cannot go back. 

I know. 

You cannot go back. 

I know.

So, I’ve told you what I recall of a home I’ll never have again. Now I stand – rootless – swaying on a foreign kitchen floor. I live as a shadow, making the motions of my character come to life. Wake up, work, cook, pretend, smile, assimilate, nod, yes, appropriate. All the while, inside someone else is clambering to get out, someone yearning to remember, someone who knows this place is not my home. This place with cold rain and paved roads, working banks and quiet churches, I move as an alien, imposter, Israelite in Egypt. No, this place is not my own…And, yet the only home I’ve had is gone, shrouded in the darkness we call past (move on!)… and my eternal resting place is still many miles ahead. 

You cannot go back. 

No. 

You cannot go back. 

No, I must simply carry on. 

On Some of Those Countries

 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left. Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’” – Matthew 5:31-40 ESV

Some time ago I moved from boarding school to university. If I had been lost and confused moving to the Middle East from Africa, it was nothing to how I felt moving from over seas to the Bible belt. Jackson was a phenomenon beyond compare. Massive bill boards displayed endless options of fast food, adult stores, and shooting ranges. Slide your pick up truck into the next lane to catch flashing signs pointing toward one of 200 something churches in the city limits. It was loud, bright, and Southern – and everyone seemed to know exactly what to do except for me. And yet – I adapted. Even though it was different and terrifying (and there was a lot of resentment I had to work through) I adapted to my surroundings. Quickly, I learned how to order light ice so I wouldn’t receive an insane quantity of frozen slush. I discovered that denominations are a big deal in the South; Christian doesn’t cover everything for some people and my theology of loving Jesus Christ with all I am was not enough for the pre seminary men in my classes. Pop culture caught up to me very fast – or rather my lack of knowledge did. When I arrived at University my musical repertoire included every Taylor Swift album, ABBA’s Gold Album, an old Celine Dion CD and the sound track to Les Miserables.  Spotify has since changed my life forever.

I know these learning curves are shallow, insignificant even, but they were a vital part of my culture shock and my adaptation to the United States. It’s important to realize that people from different countries or backgrounds have a steep climb when it comes to naturalizing themselves in unfamiliar surroundings. I’m not sure we do any visitor (long-term or short-term) any favors by exonerating derogatory language regarding foreigners – have we forgotten that we all are foreigners in this broken land?

I was acutely aware of being a foreigner when planning a wedding. First, I had no idea what was required and second, I am the only bride I’ve met who’s mother was half way across the world while I was planning. My mother is a saint and used the internet to arrange my wedding with a skill unknown to our modern world. She might not understand emojis yet but my mum is first-rate when it comes to planning any event from a different country. When our wedding came around my mother and mother-in-law had some photos of us as children to display at the rehearsal dinner. I quite strongly opposed to this – probably very rudely as I was a bride, a full-time nurse, and my wisdom teeth had been removed seven days before my rehearsal dinner. Honestly, I was not the most gracious bride and most likely have many grievances to address from that weekend – but that’s not the point just now. I was against parading our childhood photos for several reasons.

I had seen my husbands’ childhood pictures many times. He has some posed, some candid, some hurried, all lovely and clean. He is generally surrounded by his family or his football team. He is almost always surrounded by white people and he has the background of a safe, secure homestead. There is nothing, absolutely nothing, wrong with the way he was raised. The Lord has blessed his family immensely. Yet I could not help look at the stark contrast between our childhoods – and I did not want to be reminded of it on my wedding day. My childhood photos consist of me wedged in a group of girls my age, we’re all wearing my sister’s hand-me-downs. My photos consist of me barefoot, blindingly white next to everyone else, with dirty hair and happy eyes. When I look at these photographs I recall the smells, sounds, and tastes of Angola. I also remember every belligerent, insensitive question about growing up in Angola.

“You grew up in Africa? Were you not terrified every day?? How awful – how could your parents take you there?” Terrified? Only when there were gun fights in my street. Oh I don’t know – how could they say no to God? “How many churches did your dad plant in Angola? Was it really worth him going there?” Are numbers the only way to convey worth? What about the friendships he built, the men he trained, the families we met with and share our lives with… what about the love of Christ seen and shared? “You grew up in Angola…. Where is that? Asia? If you grew up there – how do you speak English?” My parents were missionaries, not silent monks…. 

It’s an overwhelming smattering of memories to face the day before your wedding. It was a reminder of how much I had changed to fit into Jackson, TN – and how different I was from my husband. It was a reminder of how little he knew of my life, and how little he would ever experience of my hometown. It was also a deep source of guilt. As I looked at the faces of neighborhood girls I had grown up with I was ashamed knowing my parents were paying for a beautiful wedding, while these girls were on their third or fourth child, some of them already dead. Guilt had an unhealthy hold on my heart. I wish I had been forthcoming in the moment about those photos; it’s given me a lot to think about since. Mostly, I find myself realizing how much I have adapted to my husband’s world and how little he knows of mine.

One Easter, in university, I spent at a friends’ home in Clarksville, TN. She took me on her old running trails, old eateries, and local hangouts. I so desperately wanted to return the hospitality. I wanted to take her to Kenya – where I learned to love running with the Great Rift Valley under my shoes. I wanted to show her the dukas, eat chapatis, drink overly sweet chai at ten in the morning, watch the flying ants drizzle down after a heavy rain. The impossibility of showing any of my American friends my home weighed on me heavily. When my husband and I got married I was nearly obsessed with the reality that he would not see Angola any time soon – he would certainly not see the Angola I grew up in. So while we drove to Mississippi every other month and I experienced more and more of his home and family I realized this was becoming a one-sided adaptation – as it had been for all my relationships in America. I was morphing to their surroundings, their norms, their differences without ever having to express mine. This was highlighted for me at Christmas this past year. It was my first Christmas with my in-laws and it was truly lovely, yet any holiday filled with someone else’s traditions can be particularly lonely. Of course, it would be absurd to ask people to change the way they celebrate, or the way they live or vote or communicate with one another to fit your needs. If I had had a ‘familiar’ Christmas we would all have been sitting in Laurel, opening presents by candle light, waiting for a gingerbread house to melt with humidity, and watching films on a tiny battery-operated DVD player – again, it would have been absurd!

However, it does make one think about all the different experiences found in a large family and how one should respect them, show interest in them, even appreciate them. I have been convicted by that thought in regards to how I relate to my husbands’ family and my own. I also think I’ve failed my friends in many ways because I have been inhospitable in not allowing them to see more of my past.

Perhaps now is a good time, in such a climate, for me to speak about some countries I have called home. Countries I believe are good places, created by the same God who created the United States and filled with people made in the image of that God.

ANGOLA

A sub Saharan country with a land mass twice the size of Texas. Population 24.3 million, major religion Christianity, currency Kwanza, major languages Portuguese, Umbundu, Kimbundu, Kikongo, life expectancy is 50-53 years. It is second to the top for the highest mortality rate of children under five. Angola’s wealth is isolated in the highest government officials’ pockets. The money comes from oil – lots of oil. Many western countries have oil companies with bases in Luanda. There was a 30 year civil war after the Portuguese colonists left the country with no standing government. Cubans and South Africans fought in the war on opposing sides. Human rights have certainly been compromised in its history. All these facts can be found on Wikipedia. I would encourage you to educate yourself – whether you are European or American you glean oil from this country, maybe you should know a little bit about it.

Let me tell some about my corner of Angola – Graffanil, a slum right outside the capital, Luanda. That term President Trump so eloquently used to describe African nations? Well, my neighborhood would have been the literal definition of that term. Sewer ran along the street. Muddy paths eroded into deep pot holes with each rain. Concrete walls stained with urine, burning rubbish, and anti-government graffiti surrounded me. Every morning I woke up to a stale, lifeless ceiling fan – it was useless due to the lack of electricity but it certainly made for nice decor. We ate overly imported breakfast cereal with UHT milk (ultra pasteurized) and started our days in the sweltering tropic heat. Mum and I would walk to the prasa to support local vendors. Wafts of burning charcoal, salted fish, grilled corn all mingled in the dusky air. Some days we went to the Isla – meetings with oil workers, church planters, other missionaries, whatever the occasion it was a chance to see the ocean and breathe fresh air. We would sit on the seaside, salty warm wind caressing our sun burnt faces. On incredibly special days we would eat at one of the local, overpriced restaurants (usually if an oil company worker was present). On such blessed days I would order a prego no pão – French bread stuffed with marinated steak and a side of potato wedges. How delightful, how decadent I felt chewing mouthfuls of simple meat and bread while watching the sun dip dramatically over the Atlantic. I wish I had known in those moments to reel it all in, capture every second, every breath in a slide I could play back in my bleak dorm room. Everyone in Jackson raved about their sunsets – orange skies over grey horizons while I couldn’t help but pine for the magnificent sub Saharan tropical expanses.

Our church was as vibrant as the scenery. Praises, songs, proclamations of truth – for good news is to be truly proclaimed not simply announced, no? Dancing in the aisles, wailing during the grace offering, testimonies of remarkable experiences during the war and God’s sovereignty throughout every life. I cringe when I remember all the Sundays I didn’t want to go – because it was hot, the sermons were long, and I was the only white person in the service. If I could travel back in time I would tell myself to linger every Sunday, cherishing the swell of each note as angelic voices raised their accolades to the heavens.

That is my Angola. That is my childhood. It is a third world country. It’s government is corrupt, its infrastructure is pitiful and its people need prayer. Yet, broken as it is, I would board a plane bound for Luanda before heading to the first world country I’m supposed to call home.

KENYA 

Located on the eastern coast of Africa, Kenya holds part of the Great Rift Valley. Population 48.5 million, major languages include Swahili and English, Major religion Christianity, life expectancy 63-69 years, currency Kenya shilling. This country is NOT the birth place of former president Barack Obama. I only lived in Kenya for four years while I was attending high school so I cannot speak to its intricate political history or current climate with accuracy. I do know in 2009 there was a massive food shortage related to wide-spread drought. There was a camp for internally displaced people who had been relocated due to resources and safety. The high school I attended would arrange trips for us to minister to families living in tents in the valley. In 2011, when Al-Shabab began encroaching on the Somali/Kenyan border my boarding school tightened security and held frequent lock down drills to prepare for any political unrest that might affect us. This terrorist group led an attack in 2013 – targeting shoppers at Westgate shopping centre where many students spent their weekends.

These events are the reality of Kenya – they are not just headlines. And yet, Kenya is much, much more.

I know I’ve written plenty about the aggravations faced in high school – I can blame Kenya for none of those. It is an ideal country. The loping hills are adorned with graceful tea leaves barely seen in the morning due to rising mists. It’s mysterious and welcoming, even-tempered and still passionate.  From our boarding school my friends and I could run along old railroads, past tropical water falls, with mountains on one side and expansive valley on the other. For one of my interim trips I chose to go on a six-day cycle ride. We cycled through plains alongside zebra and giraffe. The most exciting creatures I cycle past in Cambridge are groups of Freshmen gaping at their calendars. During those six days we spent one night in a Massaii village. We experienced a hospitality I have never felt in the South, a genuine welcoming, happiness beyond compare. We spent our nights gazing into the never-ending sky of stars, drinking in every moment of the quiet wildlife around us. This is the Kenya everyone should experience. The Kenya I know includes warm beaches, cool mountain evenings, spectacular sunrises over far off ridges. It involves eating ughali on Thursdays, buying warm, greasy chapatis from the dukas on the weekends and washing them down with spicy, bitter Stoney. The Kenya I know means visiting IDP camps, playing with indescribably hopeful children on Sunday, eating smoky corn, and taking three-minute showers because of the drought. No, it was not always an easy country to live in – but it is the most beautiful.

I encourage you to look up your own country, learn about it, find pride in it, and appreciate it. These are only two out of the seven countries I’ve lived in but they were most impactful. If you’re from the United States may I suggest you read If You Can Keep It by Eric Metaxas. It’s a helpful look at the States’ history and the values its citizens need to uphold. If you want to know more about African nations’ attitudes read this article shared by my own father: https://www.msn.com/en-us/news/world/the-story-of-optimistic-happy-africans-is-more-complex-than-we-think/ar-BBI9dXM?li=AA4Zpp&ocid=spartanntp

I cannot convince you that any of these countries are first-rate. I cannot tell you that you should move your family there immediately. All I can say is this: there is not an inch on this planet not created by God. There is no tribe, sect, family, or bloodline not created in His image. There is not a single one of us who is superior to judge the others. Not. A. Single. One.

We are all created equal for we have all been made in His image. So meet them – all the others made in that same image! Meet your neighbor, meet someone from a different background, a different religion, a different country. Appreciate their life, all they’ve been through, and where they’re going. Hold an honest, compassionate conversation with them – don’t we all deserve to be honest and compassionate with one another? Share your life with them. Display the photographs I was so afraid to share with wedding guests. I was so afraid of being honest about my life with my friends, my family, and my husband’s family. Don’t miss an opportunity to be understanding towards someone who is different from you.

We gain nothing by demeaning people we have never met. Perhaps it is time for us, believers, to put to rest the inflammatory language and pick up words of love, compassion, and hospitality. How much more would we further the kingdom of God by opening our doors to people of all nations instead of standing behind people who wish to lock them out? I am not going to pretend I understand the economics of certain policies – but I do try to understand people. I understand that people want to be loved, they want to belong, they want to feel secure. I understand that as a Christian I am called to love people, all people, and I am called to let them enter my home as Christ has let me enter His. I don’t need any more convincing than that. Do you?