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

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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 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?

On Praying for Change – Me Too

As I sat in my new flat in Cambridge, scrolling through Facebook, I was struck by the overwhelming amount of “Me Too’s” from my friends. If you’re not familiar with the movement women across the world have been posting “Me Too” as their status if they have experienced sexual assault or harassment. It is a movement of solidarity – an effort to not only show women they are not alone in their experiences but to raise awareness on a global level of the immense impact this problem has. I see sisters and friends sharing and it is heartbreaking. And what is there to do? It seems there are innumerable blogs, articles, studies, courses, or sermons on sexual assault & harassment, its causes and its perpetrators. Yet we, as women, are still swimming through an epidemic of fear and vulnerability.

I did not realize how specific this fear was to women until a few days ago. I walked home at night from the town centre, when I was back inside our flat I told my husband “I made it through the dark part just fine, I wasn’t even too scared.” He looked at me blankly, “What dark part?”

“The dark part… in the park… where they only have those little lights on the pavement and you can’t really see where you’re going? There’s always a food truck near by…?” I replied, a little taken aback.

“ Oh, yeah. Why would you be scared? It’s a safe town.”

It was in that moment that I realized how different we were – not because of background or experience or religious beliefs – but simply because my husband is a man and I am a woman. He grew up in a safe town, a safe school, a safe church, because he was a boy. He went to a safe university, to a safe job, and continues to cycle around a safe town, because he is a man. He could not understand the fear women know all too well. He could not understand that I walk with my hand around my keys in my purse because someone from some seminar told me if I didn’t I would be raped and I would have no excuse. He could not understand the fear I felt walking home in the dark – because he has never been painted as a victim in this world, no he has never been told he will be attacked, pursued, abused, and it will be his fault for walking home at night. In that moment I also realized I was ashamed to explain all of this to him. I was actually ashamed to tell my husband that I was afraid of men and what they might do to me, my friends, my sisters, my mother, and someday my daughters.

Now, my husband is a patient, understanding, and safe man. Of course he listened to my fears without condemning me. But why was I ashamed of being afraid in the first place? I can easily answer that – from the time I was a child people in authority around me have said if anything happens it is my fault. People have told us, women, if we are afraid it is because we put ourselves in a bad situation and we should have known better. I have never heard from anyone in authority, outside of my own parents, that men are culpable for their actions against women. I have never heard someone claim that there is a dire issue with the hearts of men in this world, and it is women who are victims of their sin.

An article my sister shared explains this phenomenon expertly. It was written in response to the Weinstein investigations. The author explores the causes of abuse in the workplace while exposing that this is not a new problem at all. This is an issue women have been dealing with long before Weinstein was ever born.

All women know this. Early lessons about the abuse of male power are stitched on our minds like aphorisms on a Victorian sampler. If, by our early 20s, we haven’t personally experienced it, then we have held the hand of someone who has. So many shared confidences: of eyes on cleavages, hands up skirts and tongues down throats; of being forced into corners or trapped in lifts; of the shame and the fear and the not-knowing- what-to-do. And the laughing it off too. After all, it happens to so many of us, it must be the norm: an inconvenience of biology, like menstruation; not something to get het up about.  – Garavelli, Dani

When I was in high school we had to take a Sunday school class each semester. Sophomore year all the girls took a class on being godly women while the guys learned how to be godly men. They went camping, they played games, they pulled broken down cars to test their strength and were allowed to come to church in dirty t shirts. The girls sat in the library, we were taught to not date, to not kiss, to not wear short skirts. We were taught that men are the rulers of relationships and if a man is tempted to have sex with us, we are to blame. It is our fault, it is our body that led that man into sin and we should be ashamed for letting our shoulders ever see the sunlight. You might laugh at the absurdity of these lessons but I’ve learned it’s not so uncommon. The church has a massive lack of instruction and love when it comes to teaching women to value their bodies rather than fear them. Evangelical Christians need to stop telling high school boys to see girls as their weaker sisters and needs to teach them to see girls as individuals made in the image of Christ – people to be respected, valued, and loved – not diminished, objectified, or abused.

Of course, these Sunday school classes were not useless. Girls do need to learn how to carry themselves in a godly manner. However, there are other ways to instill these lessons.

This goes back to the differences between myself and my husband. He grew up watching guys harassing girls in school. I grew up listening to my friends cry in the bathroom because of something a guy had said. My husband never feared his teachers being inappropriate. One of my bible teachers told my friend her shirt had been too distracting for him to teach his lesson properly, she should never wear it again unless she wanted to keep tempting men. When a 40 something husband says that to a 15 year old girl (who was wearing a shirt that passed an insane dress code) he walks away feeling no guilt, while my friend sits in our room, ashamed, embarrassed, sobbing. We felt helpless. My husband did not grow up being afraid adults would not believe him. I had five girls convince me to call the dean after a boy in my class made a pornographic comment to me. My husband did not grow up listening to his friends talk about how guys took advantage of them “but it wasn’t sex so it wasn’t that bad…” He didn’t listen to his dorm sisters, best friends, or roommates make excuse after excuse for guys who touched them, hit them, told them they “would be more f**kable if they were skinnier.” But we did. We, women, we’ve listened to it all. We’ve heard all the stories – from “he pulled all her clothes off and raped her”  to “he told everyone I gave him a hand job when we just kissed” and all of the in between. We make sure we give our friends a safe word before going on a date. We’re certain our clothes are not lewd. We sit in our rooms and talk about the things men said that destroyed us and instead of telling someone, we punish ourselves. We have convinced ourselves we deserve this. Why?

I certainly do not believe all men are evil. I don’t believe every woman is innocent. But I do believe the culture surrounding assault and harassment is twisted against the victims. An older brother figure at university gave me pepper spray when he graduated. Though I was grateful for the gift we’ve both talked about how sad it is that he knew, even at a Christian University, I was prey – and I would have to fend for myself because there’s often no one to tell during those situations. And so I want to make a plea with Christians around the globe. We cannot keep the evil from this earth. We cannot eradicate the Evil One, but we can learn to better love and protect one another.

My oldest sister shared another fantastic piece about the patriarchal theology in churches and how it promotes the idea that women cannot be in authority of anything, not even their own bodies. Please, read it here https://www.cbeinternational.org/blogs/breaking-silence-implications-rape-culture-body-christ?platform=hootsuite. As Christians we are held accountable to the Lord of Heaven for our actions, our words, and our silence. We are the ambassadors of His Kingdom and yet we are the ones who fail to love women, fail to protect them, and fail miserably at counting them as equal and valuable beings.

Jesus, Our Lord, explicitly tells us the world will know we are His disciples by our love for one another (John 13:35). These words are a piece of his parting to the twelve apostles, a new and final command we continue to break. Are we loving our men by not addressing the issue of pornography in Christian circles? Are we loving our brothers and sons by not teaching them how to value women as individuals – with opinions, feelings, and worth? Are we loving anyone by judging victims of rape? Are we loving anyone when we hold bitterness and anger against those who have abused us? Are we loving our sisters and daughters when we tell them they are outspoken and brash instead of saying they are strong? Are we really loving each other when we justify a politician’s sexual assault because of his conservative assets? Are we loving our daughters and sisters when we’re too afraid or too proud to call men like Donald Trump what they are?

Or are we showing love when we forgive and repair. Are we showing love when we behold each body and each life as a manifestation of the Lord’s making? Yes, men and women have said hurtful things. Both have made me doubt the worth of my body and my being. Yet, I ask them to see me as the Lord’s creation. And that is how I choose to see them. To hold onto the anger of injustice is too much when I can instead hold onto the hope of the Lord’s healing. The hope that this generation will pray to be different. The hope that we, men and women alike, will not let our sons and daughters experience what we have. The hope that Christians will address this problem head on, fearlessly fighting against this sin and its extensive reaches. I gain nothing from being angry, bitter, or upset at men. Instead I choose to spend my energy praying for change.

Since getting married I have six sisters and one niece, all women I love and respect fiercely. I pray for them, for their daughters, for their friends, for their coworkers. I pray we will no longer let this be the norm, especially in Christian circles. I pray we will have heard the last of these confessions. I pray that any daughter I have never listens to her friends’ stories of assault. And I pray we will continue to persist. I pray we, as women, will never quit loving one another, protecting one another, or believing there is a better future for us and our daughters.

 

Works

Asproth, Rachel. “Breaking the Silence: The Implications of Rape Culture for the Body of Christ.” CBE International. CBE, 07 June 2016. Web.

Garavelli, Dani. “Dani Garavelli: Faux Outrage Adds to Agony of Weinstein Revelations.” The Scotsman – Scottish News. The Scotsman, 14 Oct. 2017. Web.

On Love and Loneliness

On Love and Loneliness

I am a nurse. Often this means my days are long, busy, and exhausting. I am on my feet running from room to room with cocktail cups of drugs while alarms echo in the fluorescent lit halls for 12 hours. Most days, that is the extent of those twelve hours. I go to work, give medicine, chart, turn people, lift people, talk to doctors, chart again, and leave. Some days, though, are much more trying. Some days, like this past Sunday night, I sit beside a dying man and his family. Two weeks prior this man was up and talking, making jokes with me, and telling me his oxygen cannula was in his way – and that he really didn’t need it. Then, he got worse, and I spent the next five shifts caring for him and his family, along with my other three patients. He had been my friend, his family knew me by name, they made sure I was their nurse when I was working. It’s a strange thing to be wanted by a family experiencing death. During the early morning hours, after a long night shift, this man’s son came out to find me. He was crying. I knew. I knew I would have to go in and listen to a hollow, empty chest. I knew I would have to feel for a pulse that was not there. I knew I would have to page the on call doctor, who did not know this patient, so he could sign a piece of paper saying “Yes, death happens.” As we waited for the doctor the patient’s son said to me, “Thank you for being here. I know you have to deal with this all the time. That must suck. I’m so sorry.” His words broke me a little. He was apologizing to me because I have chosen a profession that handles the whole spectrum of life. He was sorry for me that I was young, watching people die, and crying at work.

I replied, “We see a lot here. We see death and healing and we see a lot of families. Watching your family has been a blessing. I don’t often see families who love each other so well. Families who have been loved and have reason to mourn. Thank you.” I had to leave the room to take care of paperwork, he was left alone in a room of solitude and grief.

Nursing can be a lonely job, but it has been teaching me so much about the power of love. Love observed, love given, love rejected, and love returned. Yet, as I learn about love I am realizing it is a lonely endeavor at times. There is much to glean from being lonely and much more to glean from being loved.

Recently a friend recommended Lysa Terkeurst’s new bestseller “Uninvited.” She walks through the lies of loneliness, rejection, and defeat to bring the reader back to His Truth. Using personal hardships and revelations Lysa teaches the reader the struggle of loneliness, how it is perpetuated by the sin in this world, and how the Truth combats it if we’re willing to seek Him. Halfway through the book Lysa talks about the gift of loneliness. She states,

This [being lonely] will develop in you a deeper sense of compassion for your fellow travelers. But in addition to the blessing of compassion being developed in me, those lonely times also seem to be when Jesus lavishes His most intimate compassion on me. (pg. 111)

How true is it that in our moments of deep loneliness, deep darkness, the Lord brings forth great blessings? One example Lysa brings forth of this compassion is the Samaritan Woman. If she had not been alone, outcast from her town, she would not have been approached by Jesus at the well. They would not have had a private, intimate conversation in which she was blessed, convicted, forgiven and loved. Often, in our loneliness, we have time to build up lies and shame to keep compassion at bay. We can tell ourselves we don’t deserve love, we’re not good enough, we’re too different, too screwed up. We can simultaneously tell ourselves we’re too good, we’ve done too much good to repent, we’re too strong to open up, we’re too solid in our faith to admit our flaws.

We’re too solid in our faith to admit our flaws.

I’ve said that to myself before. I’ve told myself all of those lies, time and time again. I have in the same day said “I’m not worth His time or His grace. He will forget me” and “I’m too good to get down on my knees. I know too much about the bible and theology to admit my own sins to anyone else.” The first lie is easily discounted. The Lord loves. That’s it. He loves and He forgives the repentant heart. He loves to comfort and console. He loves to hold the broken heart and make it whole in Him – because that’s the only place it can be healed. The second lie is pride with a lot of fear. When I tell myself that lie, I’m terrified if I start to admit my sins I’ll suddenly realize I’m not saved at all, my sins are too great. I’m terrified people who listen to my struggles, people to whom I confide, will doubt my faith. They will doubt my knowledge of God and His grace. So I keep my sins to myself, do good works, and keep everything in line.

And the loneliness grows.

A few weeks ago my husband and I went to visit some relatives in the mountains of eastern Tennessee. The setting is always lovely and welcoming, and this visit was particularly gracious. It has been a rough season in our lives. We’re constantly battling our own sin as we try to fight for the other’s good. We find ourselves exhausted, and exhaustion leads to miscommunication which leads to tears (on my part) and frustration on both sides. We needed a space to be vulnerable, to be honest, to be messed up, and to be loved. The Lord provided that for us. We were given such good counsel. The most poignant piece of conversation for me was, of course, a Harry Potter reference. As a friend and I were discussing different lies that cloud my mind and make life nearly unbearable, she brought up the illustration of Ron Weasley stabbing the Horcrux with the sword. When the heavy, evil, toxic locket opens a Horcrux Harry and Hermione appear. Ron’s worst fears and greatest insecurities are laid out for him in dark poison. He lifts Godric’s sword, stabs the locket fiercely, and obliterates those false images. She encouraged me to, in a similar fashion, use the Sword of Truth to stab at the lies that feed my loneliness. The devil’s loneliness says you are not loved, not able to be loved, and not at all good at loving others  – and that statement should be stabbed with the tender, honest truth. To wash yourself in His Word is to bring yourself into His presence each and every day – and in the presence of our Maker, with the promise of eternity, how can our hearts long for more?

With battling loneliness comes generously giving love. I’ve always been a huge proponent of the idea of love – you can ask any of my friends from high school and they’ll tell you I was in favor of love. As I’ve grown older I like to think I’ve grown wiser but I never want to reach a level of cynicism that keeps me from loving others, and loving them well. Unfortunately, I think I have much to learn in the area of loving. My husband loves me well. He loves me well because he refuses to let me turn my dejection and loneliness into bitterness and anger – which I do more often than I really want to admit.  When I’m rejected, hurt, or slighted, I all too often bottle up my victimization. It shows its nasty, putrid self during outbursts of vile anger. When I’m hurt and lonely and all too consumed with my sin I say the most terrible things. My husband doesn’t stand for it. He doesn’t address the issue I say I’m angry about, he asks me what’s really wrong, what’s hurting. And then I fall apart, the loneliness, the scars, the refusal to accept grace all comes tumbling out of my trembling mouth. He holds me close – a reminder of God’s grace never letting me go. He loves well.

We all need that. We all need the space to be a sinner, because that’s what we are. We all need someone firmly reminding us that we are broken but we are also forgiven. We all need a mountain top garden to feel vulnerable and safe. I tell my husband frequently, if I had control of any room at any given moment I would tell people to recognize that we are ALL sinners, we have ALL been hurt and we have ALL hurt someone else (probably in that same room), we are ALL recipients of the same love, same grace, and the same command to give that love freely. No strings. No expectations. No bitterness. Just love. Of course, I don’t think I’ll be brave enough to stand on a chair some day and make people talk about their issues and then make everyone bond over the intimacy and closeness that comes with honesty and a strong pot of tea – but if I do you can bet I’ll write about it.

Love is hardest when it involves the people in the same room. It’s easy to love strangers – or it should be. It should be easy to look at the world of broken people and love them, because we too are broken and loved. It should be easy to love those so vastly different from us – politicians, the ‘other’ side, radicalists, whoever – because they too are people. They aren’t just figures on our screens. They are plagued by Satan’s attacks day in and day out. Some have given up fighting for good and have been taken by the world. Weep for them. Pray. Love.

It is much more difficult to consistently love those closer to you – your friend who’s been hurtful (or even hateful), your spouse when life isn’t too peachy, your fellow church members who don’t know you, or those family members you don’t know how to bond with very well. It’s too easy to say “Of course I love them! They’re family/friend/etc.” It’s even easy to hug people and say “I love you” and walk away with no commitment. It is gut wrenchingly difficult to look at people’s hurt, their sin, their past, their loneliness, their struggles with Satan’s lies and share your love with them. It’s desperately hard when you feel rejected, ignored, or dismissed. But we must keep loving. We were created by a loving God to be a loving people.

Jesus looked on those close friends who would desert him, deny him, betray him – all much worse than anything I’ve ever experienced – and He loved them. He didn’t hug them, give a thin lipped smile and say “Yeah, love you.” He gave His life for the ones throwing rocks in His face. He loved us so that we might love others. He loved perfectly so that we may learn how to love well. He loved in the midst of heartache and loneliness so we might know we are never too hurt, too discouraged, too exhausted, too rejected to love others. He is infinite love. He loves us infinitely, when we seek that Love we have a source that cannot be depleted – it must be shared.

Now, I’m not an expert. I’m not in seminary. The bible classes I took at university were required, and they weren’t very interesting. You might read this and think to yourself that I know nothing of love or life or faith. You may be right. I’m only twenty two, I’ve only been married ten months, I’ve only been a nurse for a year. I have so much to learn about love, forgiveness, and the Lord. But please don’t dismiss all of this because of my age or inexperience. I know loving others does not fix them. Love will not bring back my patient or fill his void. Forgiving your friend doesn’t mean she’ll call you back. Reaching out to family does not mean they want a relationship with you. Being honest does not mean you will be liked. But loving people is obedience to the Lord. Loving people well is a reflection of His great love and mercy.  I write this only as reminder that while there is much to do, much to accomplish and much to say in this world there is nothing greater than love.

I love thee Lord, but with no love of mine,

For I have none to give;

I love Thee, Lord; but all the love is Thine,

For by Thy love I live.

I am as nothing, and rejoice to be

Emptied, and lost and swallowed up in Thee.

-Charles Spurgeon

On Being a Woman – Tender and Fierce

Before I dive deep into the quirks of being a woman I must first assure you all of something. Though I wish I did not have to preface this post at all, I know the world to be misunderstanding and at times, cruel. So, before I write a long post empowering women, let me remind you I am happily married to a kind, loving, and gentle man. I will not insult his masculinity, his intelligence, or his place as a husband. I do not expect him to fit any sort of mold for a man. I expect him to be the God fearing man he promises to be every day – a faithful servant, a seeker of peace, a generous giver, and a devoted husband. I expect the same from myself – to be faithful, respectful, supportive, generous, and kind. With that being said hopefully you will know that as I write about women role models and share stories about high school I am not discrediting the male gender.

Some eighteen years ago, I was a small, tan little child running up and down the coasts of Portugal. We were there for a single year of language training. It was beautiful. In my room I had a carpet with roads and houses on it. I drove my little cars around the map, right next to the barbies who lived happily on patches of greenery. My sisters had chosen to live together, which they later told me was a plot to not let anyone live with me, and it was a bit lonely in my room. It soon filled up however, with my dreams and make believe games. There was no one I could not be, no hero who’s shoes I could not fill. At four, I was unstoppable. If you look at pictures from that year you will most likely see me wearing a dress up veil. That veil was worn for about a six solid months. I don’t know why, my best guess is that we had watched The Princess Bride too many times and I fancied myself a new Buttercup. Whatever prompted the veil, it wasn’t disputed. My parents were not particularly bothered that their daughter was wearing an embarrassing headdress. No, they were more concerned if I was being kind and compassionate to other children. There is unfortunate footage of my four year old fist punching another child, and I can assure you that incident received much more grief than any piece of dress up clothing I wore. My parents were not concerned whether I played with dolls or cars or reptiles or teacups.  When I begged for a doctor’s kit for my birthday another missionary bought it for me and I was overjoyed – I could be a doctor now. Some days I was a doctor, some days a pioneer, some days a scientist, some days I was just me, playing with some other kids. My parents never tried to reel in my imagination, they never stunted my dreams or tried to fit me into a box. I can never remember being asked “Why are you not like your sisters?” I can never remember my parents asking me why I was not someone else. Their love for me, knowing all my flaws and seeing first hand my sin, is what gives me the courage to share these posts.

Little girls eventually grow up. While we don’t always want to leave our make believe games behind, there is a time when whispering conversations to yourself is no longer acceptable. For me, that time came when I went to high school. I’ve mentioned before that high school is a gruesome place for even the most stoic of people. It is, though, absolute hell for dreamers. Unless you have Robin Williams teaching your English classes, you’re forced into cramped rows of wooden desks, a strict list of dos and don’ts, and an overwhelming amount of scrutiny. I did of course have friends in high school, but only one of my friends would appease my need to play make believe. I’m not sure why I had an insatiable imagination even then, but I know it fueled in me a belief that things, this earth, these people could be better. It’s not wise to be caught up in dreams, and forget reality (Thank you Dumbledore) but sometimes, they’re the only way of making it. So, with this sensitive belief that people will always be good and kind, I walk into high school. Brutal. Quickly I learn – not everyone is nice.

The next three years are a blur of speaking out in class and getting shut down, being called too quiet, too loud, too bossy, too enthusiastic, too dramatic, too weak. While dating is in general messy business, I think dating at boarding school is particularly destructive. Rather than healthy guidelines or mentors we were given rules. Girls who dated, or girls who were outspoken, girls who thought a little differently, girls who wore blue in November 2008 were all given stern talks and daily warnings. These years were filled with fleeting friendships ending abruptly. They were filled with the dread of going to class, and being surrounded by people by whom I wanted to be known. A particular nasty memory of being called naive and shallow in front of my entire class resurfaces daily. And while we know class superlatives are not definitive, I was absolutely horrified at being named the class flirt. It was a reminder that I had either not been true to myself, or was entirely misunderstood. I was not shy around boys, I felt I had every right to be included, as every other girl did. That superlative hung over me for two years after graduation. I was terrified to talk to boys at university, wondering if they would presume something or the girls would judge me. The superlative also bothered me for a different reason. During my third year of high school I was locked into a racquet ball court by two of my classmates. They were boys. One had a cast on his arm – he used it to hit me. I remember walking away, being called weak, and I remember reading that superlative, wondering ‘who in their right mind in this school thinks I enjoy being around these boys?’ By the fourth year of high school I remember shutting down during classes. I just stopped listening, stopped debating, stopped commenting. It was easier to be silent than disputed. It was easier to be apathetic than told I cry too easily. It was easier to be invisible than to defend myself.

Again, I did have several wonderful friends at school. I am not discounting those friendships at all, but the nature of my high school did damage the spirit. Imagination withers when it is consistently told it’s too much. I believe someone more resilient than me may have walked into high school with the same dreamy determination and walked out just fine, but resilience wasn’t my strong point then.

So I arrived at university, distraught and confused. I knew who I had been as a child, but that girl was not adequate for this world. She was too weird, too emotional, too head strong. All of these were traits I had been told were not for a woman. I kept quiet during my first semester. The second semester introduced me to Honours, a class where I was surrounded by outspoken and quiet women alike, all intelligent, all diverse, and all willing to speak their mind. It was a terrifying breath of fresh air. Through these classes I met one of my closest friends (looking at you Lauren), and one of the first words she used to describe me was fierce. Fierce. Me. No. Over dramatic maybe. Overly passionate perhaps. Bossy yes. But fierce? Fierce was too empowering, too positive. Fierce made me think of a lioness, she prowls for prey, hunts and kills then returns to gently bathe her cubs. It took over a year of running with this friend, and her continuous use of the word, for me to eventually embrace it.

Yes, I am a woman, and yes I am fierce. I am not powerless or distraught. I am also not emotionless or all assuming. I cry frequently, because I feel fiercely. These were truths I had not questioned as a child, but had lost sight of as a young adult. It took ages for me to be okay with being the flawed, passionate, sensitive woman I am. I am no longer afraid to cry freely, to have a strong opinion, to be silly or weird. I am no longer afraid of being called ‘too girly’ when I dress up or ‘too tough’ when I work out. My identity is not in the labels given by others but in the freedom of Christ’s atonement. When I think about the chances I had to encourage other girls or women and didn’t I am ashamed with myself. We, as women, can either be a network of support or a force of destruction. I hope to invoke you to be kind to one another, as our friend Ellen persistently says. Men may always make inappropriate remarks and be unchallenged. Some of them mean every word, and some are just ignorant to how women feel. But we have no excuse. We know the daily struggle against doubts, insecurities, and fears specific to women. We know the constant pressure to fit into a certain picture – whether it’s the athletic girl, the pageant girl, the academic girl – whatever our label becomes we feel we’ve failed if we don’t maintain it. We know, and with our knowledge we should relentlessly encourage one another. Whether we march for women or not we must be kind. We who march must remember that we are taking steps for all women regardless of age, colour, religion, or position in life. We must remind one another that there is hope, strength, and dignity within every woman.

In ending I would like to share a story about a most remarkable woman, a true role model. It’s not Audrey Hepburn or Blake Lively or Michelle Obama. When we lived in Angola we had a housekeeper come to our compound twice a week. Her name was Bibianna. She came to help my mum clean the house, this was so mum had time to spend all day teaching her children. Bibianna was a mother, a wife, a worker. She had birthed 7 children. She and her husband had taken in their special needs family member to care for her. They had all lived through a devastating civil war yet remained faithful Christians and avid evangelists. You would think Bibianna would be callous, toughened by the bleak circumstances of Angola, but rather she was tender. I remember listening to her sing praise songs around the house. Often I would come inside for lunch to find my mum and Bibianna doing laundry together. Bibianna would be sharing a story about a tragedy in their family, or their neighborhood, or their church. She would be crying. My mum would be crying. These two grown women would be crying while working, then they would encourage each other, pray, and carry on with the day. It was an exemplary picture of friendship and vulnerability. Bibianna helped my mum start a bible study for teenage girls in our neighborhood. We would sit on the floor together, carefully stitching “Maranata” into cotton squares while Bibianna led us in songs of hope, songs of strength, songs of persevering after faith. All of these images bring back the comforts of being in our little cement home, but by far the favourite story took place in the midst of the Angolan jungle. Bibianna often went with my dad and other pastors to the interior. She made the long, grueling journey to translate for them and to lead women’s groups. One trip, the car lost a tire. It fell off the road into the gulch. Another missionary tried to pick it up but he could not. So, Bibianna went down and hauled the tire back up to the road. This incredible strength was not limited to her physcial ability – it was shown daily in her faith, her ferocity, her tenderness, and her hope in a country deprived of opportunity. I wish with all my heart I could visit her, to thank her for being a steadfast example of a woman for 12 years of my life.

Women, I plead with you, in times of opposition or discouragement – be true and tender with your words. Be fierce with your love, your compassion, your hope. Be ferocious in your faith. Be courageous in the face of adversity. Believe in your strength. Embrace your emotions, whether you’re a weeper or a stoic. Embrace your dreams, your imagination, your pursuits, your goals. We may not all be meant to be doctors, or writers, or comedians, or athletes or mothers – but we are all indeed meant to be kind, to be loving, to be strong, to be tender, to be fierce.

On This Earth

In light of recent political events the world seems to have shifted slightly, or rather it’s rocking back and forth subtly – like an earthquake that’s just powerful enough to knock your glass off the table but not quite enough to shatter the windows. Perhaps you have felt no difference, or perhaps you are one of those who has picked up a sign and protested alongside a diverse crowd. Perhaps you’ve read and written countless blogs or analyses on the past US election. Perhaps you’ve posted your praises on Facebook, or your sorrows. Or perhaps you’ve reacted as I have – at first in harrowing tears, and then after a sleep and a cup of tea you felt okay, almost serene. After all, this isn’t the final world, this isn’t the last call, “this too shall pass” right? And then you go to work, log on to social media, or go to Thanksgiving, and you remember – this is a different world now, something has been unleashed, something has been terribly, awfully distorted. You return home feeling a bit like Alice, as though you’ve grown a lot and shrunk just as much in very little time. You’re not quite sure where to put your feet, or your hat, or your teacup, and you’re certainly not sure of what to say next. You’re trying to live your life, day in and day out, as peacefully and lovingly as possible. But how? When there is this much adversity, this much convolution of the Truth, being propagated? How do you go on acting as if this political tectonic shift didn’t collapse your world? How do you find the balance between reacting in love and acting in defiance?

If you resound with any of these sentiments, we really should grab coffee sometime. These are the qualms I have wrestled with the past few weeks. At last, after several long runs and a few more cups of tea, I feel I have a few words to write. Now, I do not pretend to be a political science major. I am not a journalist or an economist or a campaigner. I never even ran for school government. What I am is a believer of Jesus and a lover of all people, and I desire to share my heart on these current issues. I write this not in confrontation, I write not to condemn those who voted differently from myself. I do not want to make snide jokes or derogatory comments towards those who have varying opinions from mine. I write only out of my own convictions. During my time on this earth I will strive to follow Jesus, my Lord and Saviour, though many Christians in this country will say I have abandoned my faith for how I voted. So I want to write this post correlating Jesus’ life and actions, to how we as Christians should react in this political climate. There will be a thesis with three main points, because that’s how my sophomore English teach taught me how to write.

Jesus exemplified love. He WAS and IS love incarnate. We, as Christians, have diluted our faith and our churches with so much stuff other than love. We have filled our congregations with desires for success, happiness, comfort, safety, elitism – the list is extensive – we must return to love. There are several factors within this political season that have struck a chord with the church and the secular world. For my purposes, I will focus on these – diversity, entitlement, and hatred. The vagueness of these categories may frustrate you, but I assure you it is much more frustrating to write out every single incidence of racism, violence, economic equality, sexism, immorality, and hate crimes. So, I spared you. Now Jesus’ reaction to these three issues was the same – love.

“The universality of the church was illustrated in a marvelously effective manner. White, black, yellow members of religious orders – everyone was united under the church. It truly seems ideal” – Dietrich Bonhoeffer

The above quote is an exert from Eric Metaxas’ brilliant biography of Dietriech Bonhoeffer, a man who dutifully loved the Lord and people in the bleakest of times. The quote refers to a moment during which Bonhoeffer is visiting a church in Rome. He is attending Mass for one of the first times, and he is confronted with a picture of diversity, different colours all under the same order, the same purpose, the same Lord. While these colours refer to religious orders, it is made known throughout Bonhoeffer’s life that he believed Heaven’s promises were for all colour’s of people as well. The words that haunted me while reading this chapter were “It truly seems ideal.” I saw a post from a conservative several days ago, he was telling liberals to go live in their “idyllic utopia and stop stomping around the real world.” At first I was angry at him for insinuating liberals do not have a grasp on reality, and then I was at peace with his demand. Of course, as a Christian, I seek the Kingdom of the Lord. I know that while I’m on this earth that kingdom will not be actualized. We as humans have done a fine job screwing up this world, it is nowhere close to being His eternal kingdom. And yet, that is what we are called to strive for – each and every day we breath this soiled air we are called to look for ways to illustrate His ideal kingdom on this earth. One simple way to do this – invite diversity into your life. Invite the spectrum of the human race – white, black, yellow, red, American, European, Asian, African, bring them all into your life and your church. Revelations 7:9 states “After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands.” Should we not make an effort to represent eternity in our limited lives on this earth?

Several people I know have expressed pro Trump feelings via social media or other outlets. It wouldn’t be difficult to hear their remarks or read their statements if they were not also professing believers. One instance was particular disturbing. A friend of mine shared a popular article “The painfully obvious reason Christians voted for Trump (that liberals just don’t understand).” Of course, there are several comments to make from the title alone. For one, articles like this completely write off Christian liberals. I, as a Christian who votes blue, am now incapable of understanding ‘painfully obvious’ truths. In fact, I’m not even included in the “Christian” category, because I did not vote for Trump. The article went on to speak about Christian persecution within the United States. It made several good points about the American Christian’s struggle against the secular world’s regime. But it missed the point of being a Christian. It is true – being a believer is difficult. The world will not become progressively more Christian, regardless of who is president or which party has the Senate, the United States of America will not gradually become one big evangelical church. We will not be meeting for coffee and shallow conversation on Wednesday nights before returning to watching Game of Thrones, all while complaining that the foreign, secular world has become too gruesome for our liking. And yet this seems to be the expectation of Evangelical Christians. They seem to think that they’ve done their time being persecuted and trodden on in America, that now is a good time for two white men to stand in the oval office and say, “Let’s get rid of Planned Parenthood, the Christians don’t seem too happy with it.” When this is entirely against what we are called to believe as Christians. Hillary’s administration wasn’t an atheistic one, as some people believe, God’s hand is in every choice and every change. Trump’s administration is not a God send for Christians, because (despite everything else wrong with that statement) we are not promised a government that follows our agenda. No, we are promised the opposite. In Matthew 20:20-28 we read a story about a mother asking Jesus to allow one of her two sons to sit at his right hand. She desired for her sons to be honoured, to serve the Lord faithfully and be rewarded in eternity for their work. To her sons Jesus said “Can you drink the cup I am going to drink?” He was referring to the cup of death, a death brought about by the people persecuting Him, and the government being unable to stop them. Later in the passage Jesus says “whoever wants to be first must be your slave – just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” If we are to truly emulate Christ’s life on this earth then we must know we are owed nothing from this world, our reward lays in heaven. We have nothing to gain from being represented by a vice president if we are not ourselves representing Christ in our actions. We have nothing to be gained by fighting the progressive acts of this secular world, if we are not loving those who think and act differently from ourselves.

John 15:20 “Remember the word that I spoke to you: ‘No servant is greater than his master.’ If they persecuted Me, they will persecute you as well; if they kept My word, they will keep yours as well.” This is our promise for this earth. As for American Christians, they need to realize that persecution is not defined by being asked to make a cake for two people who love one another. The peak of persecution is not Target deciding to make unisex bathrooms. No, those are realities that make us uncomfortable because we are aliens in this world. Persecution is when a shooter breaks down the doors to a Kenyan university and asks students if they are Christians. The Christians answer faithfully and are killed. Our citizenship does not lie in this country and the rights its constitution seemingly gives us. Our citizenship resides in His kingdom, and if you are a believer, you know of the cup you are asked to drink. So please, do not fight triflingly against the changes of this world as if we are entitled to a holiday bible school like nation. We are not promised acceptance in this world, but we are called to love its people all the same.

Lastly, hatred. I was reminded recently by my sister in law about my own hypocrisy involving love. She, of course, didn’t use the word hypocrisy but we are all our own worst critics. We were discussing the difference of opinions within our wider family. I had mentioned to her, after a comment made by another family member, that it was difficult for me to understand how professing believers carried so little love for others. She gently told me the same could be said of me – I will leap at the opportunity to defend the oppressed, the marginalized, the different sorts, the diverse, but I struggle when it comes to people who are outwardly more like me. My circle of acquaintances, here in southern TN, is largely other white, college educated, straight, church goers. And yet I have the most difficult time loving them. I’m convicted daily to remind myself that they too are His children, and they too deserve the understanding and respect I am asking them to give me. I think I have trouble freely giving them love because there is so much contempt in the words they speak, and the words of the mouth reflect the state of the heart. When I hear a Christian proudly reminiscing a bombing it’s difficult to imagine that same Christian on their knees in prayer for those affected by devastation. When I hear Christians defiantly calling for the destruction of Planned Parenthood, it’s difficult to believe they have a heart for the poor, the afflicted, the abandoned women. Planned Parenthood, incidentally, does much more good than the Christian world would like to admit. It gives treatment freely to those suffering from HIV/AIDS, an ailment the church is not quite willing to address in its monthly givings budget. (But that is, perhaps, for another post.)

And yet the Lord has called for love. He has called for us to pay our taxes, whether they are going to welfare programmes for unemployed people or not – because we are called to love those people. He has called us to fight for the oppressed and underprivileged, as He did when He walked this earth. Christ befriended all the people the modern Evangelical Christian would shun. He walked with those who had immoral livelihoods, those who had debilitating diseases, those who conned the people out of house and home. He loved them all, and called for us to love them as well. He did not call for us to cut funding, to be stingy with our charity, or to pass judgment on the secular world. He called for us to give, to forgive, to accept, and to love. This does not fit into the modern American’s practical world. It really does not. Love does not fit into the budget, but it must be given. If you desire to love the widows and the orphans, then give to organizations that are truly helping women across the country. If you desire to love the people of the nations, then give to organizations helping refugees resettle themselves in a foreign land, and open your doors for more. If you desire to love the poor and the oppressed then be an advocate for standardized healthcare and socialized education – yes be an advocate for people with more money paying more taxes so people with less money can have a better life. Listen to Hamilton and decide what you’re willing to both stand and fall for.

Now, people may have backlash to this post. They may be able to talk about the economy and the essence of the working American, all the practical reasons explaining why the liberal platform is not feasible but I do not care right now. Because the moment we choose to put wealth and security above compassion is the moment we choose to forsake our humanity. And I, while I am on this earth, will choose love and humanity, until the day I am called home.

 

Colossians 3:14-15 “And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. 15 And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful.”

On Going Home

Earlier this week a friend asked me when I was going to take Jeremiah to see my home. They were speaking of Scotland, naturally. They were asking when I was going to take Jeremiah on romantically historic trails. When were we going to sight see ancient castles and survey the vibrantly green countryside? When were we going to sit in quaint tea shops eating our soups and sandwiches while the rain lashed charmingly outside? When were we going to visit the land full of quiet houses and a surprisingly uproarious population. This is what they meant when they asked me about home.

And I cannot blame them. If one has to be named, Scotland is home now. It is where I worked during my university summers. It is where I return for holidays. It is where my parents own a flat. In all respects, it is home.

But the answer that immediately sprung to my mind when the question was presented was a simple “never.” Jeremiah will never see my home.

 

When I think of returning home to Angola, I’m overwhelmed with the amount of childhood memories I have from the sub-Saharan country. In this incident I vividly remembered the chickens.

In our second compound, we moved there within two years of living in Angola, there was a consistent hen and flock of chicks. I adored these animals as a child. I would chase them incessantly, running alongside the hen who angrily flapped her earth bound wings. I would laugh with glee at the sight of new yellow chicks tumbling over themselves in an effort to keep up with their disgruntled mum. In the mornings, before I had to study math or science, I would check on new eggs, huddled safely under the cargo containers we used as car garages. There I would lie, tummy down, head poked into a dark, dirty cavernous space. Mother hen would squawk and ruffle. But I just wanted to watch. I just wanted to be with them, and for them to belong to me. So I spent hours in the dirt, inhaling the feces infested dust, collecting feathers, counting eggs, and loving chickens that were not mine.

These chickens, of course, did not have momentous lives ahead of them. They were not nursery rhyme chickens, set out on great bread making missions. No, they were scrawny African chickens, destined for the coal heated pan from birth. I don’t remember being traumatized by the fate of these chickens. Maybe my parents remember some awful realization I’ve blocked from my mind. But I remember just knowing, some days there would be less chickens than the day before, and that was okay. The chickens didn’t belong to me, they belonged to the street, to the guards’ families. They were not entertainment, they were food. And though they kept me company for many years, eventually they were all gone, and that was okay.

Jeremiah will never meet those chickens. He will never lay on his stomach in ashy red dust and watch as angry hens cluck under a MAERSK container. But that is a memory I call home.

Home, home is waiting for that light on the guardhouse to switch on so your mum will stop worrying about the freezer. Home is begging your dad to turn on the generator so you can have coke, pizza, AND an episode of MASH on Friday night. Home is turning off the telly to listen for gun shots. Home is the acrid smell of burning rubbish wafting over a cement wall, a scent I would give all the Glade candles in the world to smell again. Home is always being a different colour, and never really belonging but not knowing anything else. Home is having malaria and fitting in with everyone else. Home is long, bumpy car rides listening to a Walkman full of Billy Joel and Dixie Chick CD’s I took from my sisters’ room while they were at boarding school. Home is melting gingerbread houses, tangled mosquito nets, and a furry, loyal watchdog.

Home is the place no one can go. My home, the house, the compound, the country that sprung to my mind after that question is a place to which I will never return. On the off chance we were to procure visas for Angola, there is no guarantee that house in Graffanil is still there. There is no way of knowing about my dog, or the guards, or the church. There would be no more chickens, and it wouldn’t be my home.

 

So here I am, with a wedding in the imminent future, waiting. People shower us with gifts and cards. Phrases such as “it’s so exciting to make a home for each other” hit hard. How am I supposed to make a home for someone else, when I can’t go back to mine? How am I supposed to make this tiny, university owned flat a home when it’s in a country foreign to me? How am I supposed to make meals, home-style dinners, when going to the nearest Kroger is still overwhelming? How am I supposed to invite people over to “our” home when I feel like a stranger in its walls? How am I supposed to make this space a home for Jeremiah, when I don’t even belong in it?

 

This thread of questions keeps me up late at night, wakes me in the early morning, grips me at work. These attacks on my future fatigue me, they call for me to give in, to put the ring back in the box, say a polite good bye and move on to the next place. But I can’t. I can’t leave. I can’t give power to the lies saying I’ll never have a home. I can’t give truth to the lies saying it’s better to run. I can’t give in. I almost do. Really, ashamedly, I’ve taken my ring off more times than I would like to say. I have come so close to pulling out old suitcases and packing them with new clothes, ready to board a plane and leave a life I don’t understand. What stops me is my question – where else will I go? Where, within this universe, can I go and say I will feel like I belong?

 

I do not have a home on this earth, and I never will. I do have a home, in the heavenly realm, with the perfect Father. I have a home free from turmoil, I have a home secured. I have a home overflowing with love. But it is not here. No, here I will not belong – not just in America or the UK, but on this earth. I will not belong. It is terrifying to know that, to think that there is no place my parents can conjure out of brick and mortar that will make me feel at home. It’s daunting to realize that daily I will walk alongside co-workers and find them complete strangers. I will not belong, but I will not be alone. Each day I will come back to Jeremiah’s waiting arms. Each night I will sleep folded in with one who loves me deeply, one who loves me well. Each morning I will wake wanting to know him more, and he will wake wanting the same. And we will go through our lives, day in and day out, not belonging to this world, but belonging to one another, and looking ahead to a heavenly, heavenly home.