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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In some places, a cat has nine lives 

I say we have a few more 

A cat jumps back in line swinging

And we crawl back, more dead than before 

 

You’ll look at me and say 

“But you’re young and bright 

Nothing can get you down” 

And I’ll look away. 

Fight or flight. Fight. Fly. Now. 

 

Let me show you how I became this way

A half shell person wandering the streets

A sleep-walker, stumbling between the painted lines

A ‘well rounded’ multi lingual ready to retreat

 

Let me show you, life by life,

How I had happy homes to spare

And lost them all. Each and every one 

How I wasted my time trying not to care 

 

The first one, quiet and quaint 

A holed up, stone faced flat 

Right in a moldy, Scottish lane 

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

 

A home they know better 

It wasn’t mine for long, mine for real

Four years really doesn’t mean much 

So when we left, did I cry at all?

 

The next, much sunnier than the last

A tiled square, in a foreign city 

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

I remember being, more than ever, a family.

 

But we left there too, after just one year

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

We packed up again and boarded our plane 

Shorter and shorter my love grew 

 

We landed, my third home in my fifth year

Greeted with dusty air and sticky clouds

A home of cinderblocks and barbed wire 

A home of war, gunshots, and swarming crowds

 

It was a home of strangled wholeness for years

Then we began to leave one by one

Until it was just me, staring through screened windows

Wondering when the loneliness had begun

 

Was it when we left our first home 

When the language changed for us all

Was it when they started to leave me behind

Choosing school in The valley over prolonging feigned childhood 

 

Or was it when I started jet setting alone

Perched by the wing, window seat, please 

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

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

 

You know it too, my acronym-ed friends. 

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

(around the world)

and the crushing silence right next to you. 

Right next to you. 

Desperate for shelter we wander 

Gasping for belonging we claw at one another 

  

They look at me through a lens that’s been

Evangelically tinted and praise me for graces

I’ve never committed 

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

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

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

I know. 

I know.

This is not the end. 

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

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

Heart beat to inhale till it all stands still. 

This is nothing but one more illusory home. 

He will greet us There. At last. 

On Cancelled Trains and Unanswered Prayers 

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

“There’s no train at 12:57.” 

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

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

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

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

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

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

“All trains to Peterborough are cancelled.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

On Grief Misunderstood – A Poem

You cannot go back. 

Excuse me.

You cannot go back. 

But.

Did you hear that? Did you know? 

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

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

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

You cannot go back. 

No. 

You cannot go back.

Please. 

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

You cannot go back.

Just once.

You cannot go back.

They’ll never see.

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

You cannot go back.

Please.

You cannot go back.

Just me. 

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

You cannot go back. 

I know. 

You cannot go back. 

I know.

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

You cannot go back. 

No. 

You cannot go back. 

No, I must simply carry on. 

On Some of Those Countries

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ANGOLA

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

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

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

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

KENYA 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.