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 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 Losing Control

I close my eyes. Water surges up to the doorstep. Wind howls outside, trees are ripped up from the ground. Branches beat brutally on the weak frame. The waves outside push against the window, glass shatters. I run up to it and press my bare hands over the broken glass. Stay put, please stay put, don’t break, don’t break. I plead with the forces of nature. Too late. I blink and water is flooding in, rising past my ankles, knees, waist. I blink. My family is floating all around me, rushing past, pulled by the uncontrollable water. Stop! I scream and scream for the water to stop. I blink. I’m crashing into the walls myself. The water carries me onto the freeway, lorries and cars race past me, skidding on the massive puddles. They all collide, cars topple, bodies fall out, people scream and cry and beg. I’m swept away, unable to help anyone, unable to even help myself. I open my eyes. The living room is in one piece. My husband is reading in a chair. Rain falls ever so gently on our windows, drops racing one another down the glass. No flood. No crash. No need to be afraid.

“We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about the hardships we suffered in the province of Asia. We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired even of life. Indeed, in our hearts we felt the sentence of death. But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead. He has delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us. On him we set our hope that he will continue to deliver us.” – 2 Cor 1:8-10 (NIV)

At times anxiety can be crippling. It often creeps into my life just like the above story, I’m unassumingly going about my day and suddenly scenarios beyond my control (and at times beyond possibility) grip my mind. As a child, a vivid imagination was my best friend – now it’s a haunting picture book of horror. Slowly, with God’s immeasurable grace, I’m learning how to come to terms with anxiety – but when you prefer to be in control any thought or situation that boots you out of the drivers’ seat is unwelcome.

Recently, we’ve been through a long, difficult, exhausting season of uncontrollable circumstances. My husband, Jeremiah, was accepted into a graduate program for Edinburgh University in January last year. We were preparing ourselves for one year in Scotland. I have a sister and brother-in-law in the same city and was looking forward to spending some time near my family. Come early May, Jeremiah, received an offer for a four-year program in Cambridge. After some consideration he chose to take the offer from Cambridge. We were then preparing ourselves to move to a city to which neither of us had been and in which we knew no one. To say I was disappointed about the change is an understatement. My home town is only an hour and a half from Edinburgh – I was relishing the dream of being so close. I would be able to train up for a weekend to run familiar trails, have dinner with family friends, and be surrounded by a recognizable place. It would be vastly different from the past four years of making the unknown city of Jackson, TN into a home filled with friends. I was gutted at the thought of moving to England instead but what was there to say? No loving wife is going to tell her husband to turn down a PhD from Cambridge University?

We rallied after the change of plans were set. We spent several weeks having friends over, sharing last meals and final glasses of wine. Boxes were bought and filled, then unpacked and repacked, time and time again. Jeremiah spent hours working on his visa, only to find out we had the wrong paper work several times. There was no way to expedite the process – visas are objectively sticky. I worked on switching my U.S. nursing license for a U.K. one but soon found that it was nearly impossible to work, pack, say good-bye and plan for nursing exams. We moved all our belongings from Jackson, TN to Laurel, MS in a last-minute UHAUL. Jeremiah’s younger brothers helped arrange everything we own into a neat corner in his parents’ basement. We waited for the visa. Grandparents were visited, aunts and uncles were seen, siblings, nieces, nephews, cousins – all hugged goodbye. We waited for the visa. My father took Jeremiah to a consulate in Houston for a meeting. They returned just hours before Hurricane Harvey hit. We were in my grandmother’s Huntsville home – no electricity, no open roads, and no visa. We waited.

In that suburban home, nestled next to a golf course, I was struck with the reality of how little control either of us had. We could not even turn on the lights, much less produce a visa for Jeremiah, money for tickets, or a job for me. While I wanted to hold every task in my hand, line them up in neat little rows and knock each one down as we completed it – I could not. Not only was it nigh impossible to complete our tasks, at that moment I did not know the extent of our to-do list.

I did not know that when we finally arrived in Cambridge, after receiving the visa on a Thursday, flying on Sunday, quick good byes to siblings, and a long drive from Scotland, it would be lonelier than any other experience. I could not have prepared my heart, with all the task lists or post-its in the world for the sense of total loss, confusion, and despair that were to come.

Pridefully, wrongfully, I had believed being an MK would have prepared me for another move. I thought I would excel at transition by now, my adaptation would be stellar and I would be able to comfort Jeremiah in all his inexperienced despondency. I was incredibly wrong. Rather than enforcing my ability to accept change, this move illuminated all the changes I have not embraced. Through it Angola resurfaced, the move to the Middle East, each good-bye from boarding school, each good bye from university, each manipulation, however slight, to my life over the past 23 years was brought to the surface with overwhelming force. England is lovely. A bit dark but charming nonetheless. I have no reason to fear this change other than the fact I haven’t dealt with the previous ones. Why?

I want to be in control.

I want to be the one calling the shots, cueing the lights, writing the lines. I want to be the one in the know – and I’m not.

And what a relief it has been, after sleepless nights and anxious days, to finally realize this truth. I am not in control – but I believe in the One who is. I am not privy to tomorrow’s realities – but I pray each morning to the One who’s mercies are new, the One who holds my path, the One who has ordained my days. So often we find ourselves trying to over prepare our earthly lives for the next great change instead of preparing our hearts to serve Him fully. I could wear a bullet proof vest, carry two hand guns, own a garage of dry goods, and wear a N95 mask and still I would not govern my next breath.

He does. He always has and He always will. The moment I stumbled on that blessed reality the clearer my life became. Once I can let go of my pride, I can enter more fully into His grace. Once I can relinquish my selfish desire to be in control I can enter more fully into His sovereignty – what a blessed, lovely thought.

C.S. Lewis writes in The Weight of Glory “The present is the only time in which any duty can be done or any grace received.” On reading those words I palpably felt my heart ease, my very spirit relaxed. Far too often I spend my days thinking how I will accomplish something – whether it is motherhood, a career, continuing education – whatever it may be, when I should spend my time praising the Lord for the trials He has already brought me through. So much of my day is spent begging for grace for tomorrow instead of looking at today and seeing that He has already provided for me, why would I doubt His provision for tomorrow?

As we find in 2 Corinthians 1:8-10 times of uncertainty or troubles, are brought upon us so that we may rely fully on the Lord’s provision – nothing else (Paul was speaking of troubles much greater than moving to England). In these months of change I have had everything I relied on stripped away. I no longer have a steady job, my friends are in a different country, the pastor who married us is in Tennessee, and though this is trivial, I really miss having my own car. These cornerstones of my life in Jackson have been removed, leaving me with my husband and my faith. The past few months have pushed me to the brink of loneliness and anxiety – requiring me to seek solace in Christ with a fervor I never had before. It has been wondrously frightening to feel my faith in the Lord strengthen with each day I spend in His word. I shudder to think what would have become of me if I had carried on as before – never allowing the Lord to shake me, move me, deliberately force me into His Presence so He could work on the very intricacies of my heart. He has been gracious to me and allowed me an opportunity to develop faith I did not know I lacked. I can only imagine the amount of growth in store for the years to come.

And you? You also could carry all the guns in the world and never be safe from violence – or death. You also could take all the vaccines (or take none!), follow all the right diets, always wash your hands and still you will not be free from your broken, fallen body on this earth. Only death, the death which leads to life, will draw us into a perfect eternity. Until then, we can only live our lives day by day – in faith that He who is the God of Jacob is also the Lord of our lives now. And isn’t it much better to live resting in His hands than fearfully fighting with our own?

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 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.