Let Us Mourn.

“I once read the sentence ‘I lay awake all night with a toothache, thinking about the toothache an about lying awake.’ That’s true to life. Part of every misery is, so to speak, the misery’s shadow or reflection: the fact that you don’t merely suffer but have to keep on thinking about the fact that you suffer. I not only live each endless day in grief, but live each day thinking about living each day in grief.”

― C.S. Lewis, A Grief Observed

What a week. What a month. I am certain we are all still sitting at our kitchen tables marveling at the speed with which the modern world came to a crashing halt.

For us, this ‘near apocalypse’ meant another unsettling transition. We were living in college accommodation in Cambridge, U.K. when Covid19 disrupted our quiet lives. It was unfortunate timing. We had just seemed to settle into a gentle routine. I had a part time job; Jeremiah was enjoying his research. We had started running together in the mornings. Friday evenings had become regular pub nights with our friends. Life was more settled than it had been in a while, more settled than it will be for a while.

This global pandemic has upset nearly all of our lives. We can all share a story of cancelled plans, work uncertainty, or altered lifestyles. Jeremiah and I are no different. Last Friday we were strongly advised to leave our college accommodation as the university was essentially closing. All international students were told to quickly return home, if they could. In a matter of hours Jeremiah had to decide whether we would pack up and fly to the States or pack up and head to my parents’ home in Scotland. Either way, we had to pack all our belongings and leave our flat. We had to say an abrupt goodbye to our home, to our friends, to our barely established life.

We chose Scotland. Our unbelievably kind brother-in-law drove down, helped us box up our stuff, crammed it into a rental car and brought us up here to Crieff. We hurriedly unpacked in my parents’ flat. Childhood photos peered oddly at me as I haphazardly swung suitcases onto the floor. My twenty-five-year-old self stared back, feeling just as powerless, just as unprepared as the one year old looking at me.

My parents are in the United States. It’s odd to be in their home with no intention of seeing them. It’s sad to be somewhere I attribute to being with family yet we are alone. Even though my mum said I could use her stash of Nestle chocolate chips to make pancakes (which, anyone who has parents living overseas knows this is a huge honour) there is still an emptiness to living in your parents’ home without them.

It’s not only sad for me to be here without my mum and dad, it’s difficult not knowing when we will see them again. It’s difficult to process another transition, another forced move, another sudden goodbye.

While I have moved enough times to win an Olympic medal in ‘packing while crying’ it does not become easier. Actually, I think for those who have moved a lot, each time is more challenging. The change causes the lumped-up pain of previous moves to resurface. All the stuffed away emotions of hopelessness, sorrow, anger, guilt have not disappeared, they have just been hiding in that one rarely used footlocker with your mismatched shoes and old boleros.

It was not a surprise to me that, as I yanked all my clothes out of the closet, thoughts of boarding school rose in my head. Suddenly, I desperately missed my dorm sisters, packing together, returning borrowed clothes. I missed returning home, to my mum who had been saving Nestle chocolate chips for three months to make pancakes for me. I missed unpacking in university, in a quiet, cream coloured square with a flowered duvet. I remembered leaving Tennessee, saying goodbye to my best friend at one in the morning after an evening of wine and avoiding the inevitable. It may seem trivial to you, impossible, or even silly for all of those memories to overcome me while I was folding summer dresses in Cambridge.

That’s fine. Maybe you have never moved.

Commiserating a life lost is difficult. It’s almost impossible to digest an unfinished farewell – a farewell to a home, to a city, to a season of life, to friends, to familiarity, to a world that was not collapsing with panic. Mourning a life destabilized is just painful. And this world has been nothing if not destabilized. This is miserable. So, are we allowed to mourn.

Or are we afraid to?

It is quite obvious that this Western world does not know how to process grief. We, Christians who should be so familiar with the brokenness of this world, are averse to even mentioning it out loud.

I did not grow up in a Western church, I grew up attending a sweltering church in Luanda, Angola. The Angolan response to loss is nearly the opposite of the Western church’s response. When there was a funeral or a marked loss in our congregation, it was preceded and followed by a time called an óbito. An óbito consisted of several days spent at the family’s house – singing hymns, praying, weeping, wailing, eating, sharing stories, lamenting. It was, clearly, grieving – several days of it.

There was no pat on the back at the door of the memorial service. There was no “Well, the Lord is good, and you’ll get through this.” Instead, there was space and time committed to mourning. Cultures that embrace loss and allow themselves to process it fully seem to be spiritually healthier. Instead of jumping back into a rat race of mindless productivity they grant themselves the freedom to experience a dark and indubitable piece of humanity.

It seems we are more concerned that our Wednesday night budget meetings have been placed on hold instead of the visceral loss our communities are feeling at this time. Why are we so afraid to recognize pain? Why are we preoccupied with learning how to work multiple facets of the virtual world so we can reconnect with our busy lives instead of giving ourselves a few days to cry, to be upset, to lament?

We are so against the idea of presently experiencing grief in our modern, happiness centric world that an article had to circulate defining it for us: That Discomfort You’re Feeling Is Grief. While is a really good read, it may be helpful for us to find much more material on grief because we, as a society, are not good at embracing affliction. We are impatient. We are demanding of success and productivity and value. Grief holds none of that. Grief promises you will experience deep, breaking pain, and it will remind you that you are a human in need of a great God.

Grief is not the absence of hope – it is the recognition of loss. Grief is not isolation from God, it is recognition of this broken world. And He is well aware of this earth’s brokenness.

I hope we use this time to learn how to grieve well. I hope we learn how to mourn fully, for ourselves and for others. Mourn for those who have had to cancel family holidays. Mourn for those who have had to move. Mourn for those who have lost jobs. Mourn for those who are experiencing financial tension. Mourn for the relationships that will dissolve – either due to distance or too much time together. Mourn for those who were days away from graduating, from being promoted, from their wedding. Mourn for new mothers who will not have their family nearby. Mourn for every previous move, every uncertain change, every moment of loss before this. Mourn for those who truly have no home to hide away in.

I hope this season teaches us compassion. I hope it unveils the brokenness of the world to us and teaches us to pray fervently. Pray that we may learn to be patient with one another’s pain. Pray that we may only grow in mercy and grace. Pray that we will yearn to be more loving – to our neighbors and to our enemies. Pray that we will be inundated with grace, that we will know what it is to lose a little and learn to empathize with those who have lost much.

We are all unsettled. We have had to say goodbyes. We have been uprooted. We are living day to day with uncertainty. These circumstances are unprecedented. We, collectively, have experienced a tragic loss of normalcy. Tomorrow may be the time to rejoice, but let today be the time to mourn.

Perhaps you will find this piece as useful as I did in learning how to grieve well – Dare to Hope in God – How to Lament Well. I do not want to encourage anyone to embrace resentment or anger. I do desire that we remain authentic in our expression as we live in this sorrowful world. I hope we learn to experience grief with the same faith we experience joy. I hope we learn to cry out to the Lord in anguish with our hope unshaken.

Our sorrow, our loss, our wounds are apparent to Him. Our attempts to veil our pain with chants of “it could be worse” or “look at the bright side” are meagre attempts to cheat God out of His promises – promises to comfort the broken hearted and the down-trodden. Promises to bring relief to the worn out, to bring rest to the weary. If you serve a god who does not believe in grief then you do not serve the God of the Psalmist. If you serve a god who cannot grieve you do not serve Christ. If you serve a god who cannot handle your grief, if you serve a god to whom you cannot bring your tear stained, sleepless nights and ask Him for comfort, then you serve a much smaller god than I do.

The Lord I serve, whole heartedly and unabashedly, knows this world is filled to the brim with terror and heartbreak. Thank goodness.

Thank goodness there is a God who knows the deep pains we are all experiencing at this time. There is a God who knows about each canceled plan, each lost job, each broken relationship, each life put on hold. There is a God who knows – there is a God who mourns. There is a God who promises relief and comfort. There is God who created us in His image – mere humans who breathe, rejoice, praise, wail, and grieve.

So, let us mourn. It’s okay. It’s really alright. My mum said we can. In fact, she said we should.

On the Road to NOLA

Childhood

 Exhausted.

Little eyes twinkle closed

to dreams of grape juice laughs

and grass stained knees.

 

Child, you are savage, wild, and brave

how I miss finding innocence and heart

laughs on the hardwood floors of

your, our, childhood.

 

Bleary eyes blink open,

to a room much smaller,

dreams dusty and cobwebbed.

Trapped in that perpetual haze,

to sleep and dream of

childhood insouciance, or

press forth while

the dry rot planks push us out.

 

Weary, heavy, off we are,

To make tired heroes of ourselves.

 

-Sidney Hughes

Tucked safely in the back seat of the car, we drove smoothly over the sweltering asphalt. The late September sky was unrelenting yet the heaviness inside the car was unrelated to the weather. It was the end. This was the drive to the aeroport. The drive to another goodbye, another change, another move, another hectic uprooting and another opportunity to unravel. It’s a drive all TCKs know. It’s a drive all parents and children know, and, regardless of family relations, it is never an easy one.

The year in Laurel, Mississippi was over. My husband had come to collect me and move me back to Cambridge, England with him. While delighted to be living with my husband again, I was torn by the change. Laurel had become a place of soft continuity for me. With the overbearing humidity, the summer thunderstorms, the noisy, lovely family meals, Laurel had embraced me when I desperately needed a place to call home. Now, that season had come to an end. Home had to again become Cambridge, a place I’m learning to love but a place I don’t really belong.

Once the Yukon had maneuvered New Orleans streets much too small for it, we found ourselves at the aeroport. Dinner had been eaten, with conversation carefully tiptoeing around the inevitable end of the evening. It was a meal I’d had with my own parents countless times. We stood with our overweight suitcases and began the arduous process of checking in and saying goodbye. My husband’s parents walked us to the beginning of security. There we hugged and cried and promised to call as soon as we had landed. We forced ourselves to pull away and join the trudging queue to the TSA checks. Just before passing through the doors, we turned to give that final wave to our parents.

When I was thirteen, I traded home schooling in for a missionary boarding school in Kenya. My mum accompanied me for orientation, settled me into my dorm room, and left too soon. I stood in the school parking lot and watched her board a bus with my best friends’ parents. Then, in true high school girl fashion, my best friend and I collapsed despairingly on the bottom bunk of my dorm room. We wept and wailed and promised not to tell anyone else how much we were crying at our parents’ departure.

Although, I don’t think we were really sad because our parents had left. I was thirteen, fighting with my parents on a weekly basis and desperate for some sort of experience close to my older sisters’ adventures. Boarding school held so much potential – friends, sports, theatre, advanced classes, and, of course, the downfall of all high schools – dating. Anticipation for the next four years overwhelmed me, as did the reality that I was saying goodbye to my mum, to a life at home, a life known and familiar. I was saying goodbye to being a child – and thirteen is a tender age to do something as bold as that.

While in boarding school, saying goodbye to parents at aeroports became routine. The last night of holiday would inevitably arrive. A final meal would be made, and shared, normal conversation would be had. In reality, all everyone wants to say is that they love one another, they’re sorry for anything that went wrong, and they’ll miss you. But even the closest families aren’t always good at telling those truths.

My parents would wake me up on the last morning, I would give my dog a final pat, climb into our Toyota Hilux and off to the aeroport we would go. There, one last café latte, one more picture for Mum, a few more hugs, and onto the aeroplane I would walk. Just before boarding I would turn and look at the window where my parents would be standing until the plane took off into the sky. I didn’t wave. I should have, but some things are just too embarrassing for a teenager. I did try to look back though.

While in high school, leaving home felt so normal and grown up. I would saunter down the aeroplane aisles blasting All American Rejects in my headphones. I would walk off the ramp mouthing Good as Hell and thinking about all the fun (or heartbreak) ahead in the new semester. But now, as an adult, saying goodbye to parents feels unnatural, and painfully difficult.

As an adolescent, I broke off ties with childhood to keep up with my peers. Boarding school doesn’t allow for people to be homesick, or to play pretend, or to spend days crying alone.  Lately, I’ve been trying to find my way back to the tenderness of childhood, say a soft farewell, and grow up properly – without the jolted interruption.

Saying a premature goodbye to childhood is natural for third culture kids, I believe. We’re asked to see much more of the world than our original neighborhoods. We’re woefully unprepared and still asked to face situations, stresses, and battles that are not ours. We’re asked to see wars, despondency, and spiritual barrenness knowing our family back “home” will never understand.

It is no one’s fault, it’s Lord’s will, part of our journey in this world. It’s the same plight for those whose families fall apart, or those who are abused, betrayed, abandoned. Once the innocent safety of childhood is cracked, in floods the unprecedented pressure. Grow up. Toughen up. Deal with it. Move on.

And so, we do. But anyone who knows anything knows that when something grows too fast, it eventually breaks. Its weak foundation forsakes, crumbles. Its proud head topples down to the sinking earth. You can’t grow strong on a collapsed foundation. Forgoing childhood – denying the need to be kind, soft, curious, safe, whole – will lead to confusion and loneliness as an adult.

As most women my age did this January, I went to see the latest Little Women film. Jo has a short, knowing line about childhood. As she lays on her older sister Meg’s lap she says, “I just can’t believe childhood is over.” Meg replies, “Well, it had to end at some time.” Then Meg marries her love and Jo runs off into the homesick angst that overwhelms us when too much changes too fast.

It’s a tender moment. As a sister, it reflects so much of what I want from life and family – just a moment to breathe in and mourn childhood, before it’s out of my reach. It may not happen, and that’s okay. If Jo’s sisters hadn’t moved away, if their club had never dissolved, then the attic wouldn’t have been left empty. She would not have had all that space to dream, to write, to lay pages of her book bravely down and create something new and good and wonderful. She would never have been able to realize her own dreams if she had remained in childhood.

Maybe, it’s the same for TCKs, or for anyone struggling to say goodbye to their younger selves. We have to let go of the lives we knew, whether they were beautiful or traumatic or mild. We have to say goodbye. We can’t move fully into the next season of life if we’re still clinging to the leftovers of years gone by. But we grow in faith, knowing that at some hour we will be called Home. There we will be children, safe and contented, whole and innocent.

Recently, I was speaking to that same best friend who cried with me on our first day of boarding school. I was sharing the dark weight of loneliness, the fear of the unknown, the general upheaval I felt in moving. We cried again, together, across miles of ocean and through computer screens. We shared the same sorrow of saying goodbye to old homes and familiar knowns. We shared the same knowledge of that in between place – not quite grown up, no longer a child, but teetering dangerously between responsibility and abdication.It is the same coming of age story for anyone who’s previous life was steeped in change or upheaval. We spend our minutes carefully watching others, wanting to imitate correctly but always taking it a bit too far. We’re distorted figures of our friends and families’ reflections. Almost normal, but not quite, and exhausted from trying.

It’s good to have friends who knew you as a child, who can remind you of your lost wonderment and compassion-driven spirit. It’s good to have friends who remind you to cry, to mourn, and to put the fear away with prayerful hope.  It’s good to have friends who remind you this life is not full of endings or changes, even when it feels that way.

My husband and I have countless aeroport goodbyes ahead of us. We have many more aeroport hugs waiting for us in NOLA. We just had a tearful train station goodbye with my parents in Scotland. During those final hugs I felt more like an unhinged fifteen-year-old girl than I ever did in high school. And I think that’s okay. Growing up takes time. It’s painful. It takes time to heal and repair. We’ll always be saying goodbye to someone, some place, some version of ourselves, some season of life. It’s much kinder to let yourself look forward to the adventures ahead, instead of mourning the hazy, memory dimmed days of what-might-have-been’s. It’s much grander to walk with bold faith through that final TSA line than to stay – straddled between aeroport and aeroplane, this life or that. As I said in my previous post, we cannot go back. So let’s go forward with faithful anticipation.

 

 

Author’s Note: While I never want to discourage open discourse, I do want to give a brief disclaimer. The reader may find themselves thinking I am a naïve and privileged girl who’s overly dramatic about spending time away from family. The reader is entitled to this opinion. I can only combat that by saying that I did not share extensively my personal experiences, nor my families’ experiences in Angola and elsewhere. The upheavals of personal or family life disrupts us all in different ways. While my challenges may not be yours, I hope that in some way, you find compassion through what I’ve written. Compassion for TCKs, for others, for yourself as you fight internally between childhood and adulthood. We all have to endure this fallen world together, may we do it with grace.

On Their Home, Not Mine

“So, where is home? Where do you call home?” 

“Where do I call home? Hm. Interesting question… my parents own a flat in Scotland.” 

 

Often, as a TCK (third culture kid) this is my default answer. I don’t have a particular hometown. There is no one house or one place that’s hoarding all my childhood memories in boxes, waiting for my return for the holidays. No, there are footlockers on three different continents, each guarding some things I deemed important enough to store for who knows how long. There are long awaited aeroplane trips to see family and friends. 

They always ask me where I call home. I am not sure why. Would it make a difference to other people if I offered a secure answer? It must, because I consciously choose my answer depending on who is in the room. In a group of  Americans I will without fault say, “my parents live in Scotland, but they are originally from Texas.” It gives Americans a tangible note, something they can understand, relate to. They feel more comfortable. 

With the British I will be more specific, “My parents live in Crieff, but they travel a fair bit and they’re originally from Texas. I grew up mostly overseas.” They have a town, a name they can pin on a map and associations they can group with it. They have a reason for my accent, which is a far cry from Scottish and they have a reason for my name, which is most definitely not American. They have all they need. 

In a group of internationals, I can be selectively specific, “I grew up in Angola, my parents are American and they live in Scotland.” A global context, an understanding that I grew up elsewhere, but it stays within the three country limit. Most people are not seriously interested in the cultural nuances surrounding your upbringing, they want you to provide context so they can better understand you. 

With those I’m pursuing a friendship with, or relatives, I try to be more thorough, “I was born in Scotland, to American parents living there. They now own a home in Crieff. When I was very young we moved to Angola. We lived there until I was nearly finished with school then my parents moved to the Middle East. I went to university in the States and now I live in Cambridge with my husband.” But even with my “in-depth” explanation I leave out the year we spent in Portugal between Scotland and Angola. I omit boarding school in Kenya – partially because it is another story altogether and because it is difficult to explain that I left home at thirteen, flew across the continent every few months, lived in a dorm with other teenage girls who were also far away from home, and didn’t see my parents often. I don’t mention that my husband and I spent a year apart last year while I lived in Laurel, Mississippi to work and he lived here, in Cambridge. It’s overwhelming for others to hear. 

As a naturalized TCK, I adopt someone else’s home whenever it’s convenient for me and for the conversation. The easiest home to adopt is my parents’ – Scotland. They own a flat there. The flat in Crieff is dependable. It’s not changing anytime soon. The highland town itself, despite what the facade of the Drummond Arms suggests, is not going anywhere. It’s a place I’ve worked, shopped, met friends, made new friends, run, walked, spent holidays. For all intents and purposes it is a home. It’s just not mine. And saying it is, is a lie.

This past year, while in Mississippi, homesickness overwhelmed me. It would be easy to say I was homesick for Cambridge, as my husband was here, but I wasn’t. It would be easy to say I was homesick for Texas, which was close enough for me to touch and holds almost all my extended family, but I wasn’t. I was homesick for a place I have not seen for nearly ten years. The same place I immediately think of when someone says “Where is home?” 

As I lived and worked in my husband’s hometown it was easy to be envious of his steady background. Almost every visit to Kroger I would run into someone from his church, someone who knew him as a child and could now talk to his wife in between the El Paso Fahijta seasoning and the WooHoo deals. The doctor who delivered my husband was delivering the babies of my co-workers. It was surreal. It was as if I had stepped into those towns I’d read about or seen in movies, where people live continuously in a humdrum of happy community. It was my husband’s home, now it belongs to his parents. It is their home. Graciously, it was also mine for a year and now it’s returned to being their home, not ours, not mine. 

I started following a Scottish Instagram page one night in Mississippi. They post photos of walks, scenery, animals, camping trips all over Scotland. Some are taken by their team and others submitted by the wider Instagram population. I joined it believing I missed Scotland – and I do, in a way. It is my place of birth. It is my parents’ home. My sister and brother-in-law live there. I love the familiar walks, the wistful scenes, the dramatic landscape whispering of fairytales. From the traipsing heather to the misty clouds Scotland is a magical home – but it is not mine.

 I’m not homesick for oatcakes and cheddar cheese. I’m not homesick for Ribena or Millions. Those are holiday moments. Holiday home. I wish I was. I really do. As I scroll frantically through pictures of islands and Monroe’s and glens and woods I yearn for a deep homesickness to take root. I long to be infected with a desire to see and be in this tangible, available country. I can visit Scotland. I can walk on Skye, eat on the pier of Anstruther, ride a ferry from Oban – I can do all of this again and again in a wild attempt to feel at home. But I won’t, and I know that. I know, even as I am desperately following every Scottish wilderness account I can find, I am only substituting countries. I am forcing Scotland to be a stand-in home because the home my heart aches for is gone – the cinder block house, painted cream, in a red dirt slum, with a guard dog and guns, a fridge with pineapple Fanta and a freezer with a lock – that home has no Instagram page. It no longer exists in time, possibly no longer in space either, so I’m forced to find another place, forced to make my heart attach itself and lie, saying no, I’m homesick for here. 

But I’m not. Scotland belongs to my parents, not me. It is their home, not mine. 

And that’s a terrible reality as a TCK. The world is overflowing with other people’s homes while ours are trapped in memories. We try to share as much as we can and then feel just as lost and empty as before because we’re looking for the wrong thing. We’re waiting for our homes to be validated by others, to be recreated in our current situations. That is not going to happen. We can celebrate our past homes, all that they meant to us, we can carry on with our traditions, we can explain ourselves over and over to others but we also have to realize the undeniable truth. We are living in a world that will not be our home. 

I have written excessively about Angola. In part, maybe I write to explain it to others. I know my family and friends will never visit, so it is my responsibility to illuminate the muddy, rubbish strewn street I called home. Perhaps, more truthfully, I write about Angola to say good-bye. With each carefully remembered paragraph I am able to transport myself. Once again, I smell the burning piles. I feel the humidity swell and break with buckets of water from a yellow sky. I hear the calling mama’s, the playing children, the singing church. I can create, in time, an Angola that never changes from my perception and I can safely enjoy it in my far removed living room.

It is an illusion. And it is an illusion that hinders me from moving forward into reality. Each time I write about Angola, I am trying to say good-bye, entirely, as difficult as it may be. I am hoping every word I write on Angola will soothe the gaping wound left in sixteen year old Iona as she flew away for the last time. Maybe, if I am lucky, thoughtfully crafted sentences will provide relief from burning homesickness. Then I will be free to relish in the present day, the present homes in my life, the new ones on their way. 

Perhaps that is an impossibility. I will never not have grown up in Angola (excuse the poor grammar). It will always be part of my story. When mentioned it will always lead to an exhausting plight of questions. Angola is a certain part of my past, but it does not have to be a source of pining in my future. Angola will remain where I grew up, just as Laurel will remain where my husband grew up. But the Angola of my childhood has grown, changed, moved on, just as the Laurel of my husband’s childhood will continue to grow, change, move on – though in different ways. We both have to make a conscience decision to close the screened door, turn and look fiercely toward our future. 

We will both go back, in our own ways. For him, we really will visit Laurel, as often as we are able. We’ll walk past the old houses enjoying the waft of sweet olive blossoms on warm spring days. We’ll sit in the basement eating pop corn and watch What About Bob just as he did when he was younger. We’ll eat the best buttermilk fried chicken in his mom’s kitchen. We’ll laugh with his siblings and their spouses about stories, relationships, and the strange nuances of family life. 

For me, visiting will look different. I will visit Angola when I read what I have written, when I find books on it, when I recreate old recipes, when I speak to my parents about my home. I will visit when I retell stories to my husband so I can make sense of my out-of-reach country. I will visit. But I cannot return. In writing, I hope to be able to fold up the mosquito net and close that door with some finality. I can safely leave childhood Iona there, playing in the red dirt with her dog, reading Harry Potter by lantern light when the power is out, eating Portuguese bread and South African cheese. She’s fine. And wishing I was her again is only disabling me from moving forward – to new, unwritten adventures. Angola is her home, not mine. 


The Eternal Home is a reality; earthly home is a concept. It is a poor shadow of what lies waiting for us in the Kingdom beyond. We waste so much time worrying and waiting for the ideal home here, a home filled with child like nostalgia, we forget to be adults. We’re waiting to recreate our Angola’s or our Crieff’s or our Laurel’s and we forget to be present in our moving world. We forget to look around us and see others, broken and hurting just as we are. We become obsessed with finding the same feeling from the past, we forget to extend our hand into tomorrow. My hope, my very great and mighty hope, is that by writing, maybe even by writing this piece, I will be able to grow up and say good bye. I hope I will hold on to the treasures home gave me, but let them rest in their proper place. I hope I will cultivate space in my life for others, for new homes, for new experiences, for new stories and new identities. I hope I will let the homes be what they are, in their own time and in their own place. Maybe they belong to someone else now and that is okay. I hope I will be desperately homesick for my Eternal Home, remembering that all in this world will turn to dust. And I hope the same for others, whether they’re TCKs struggling to find a place in a new country or simply someone caught between the cusp of growing up and the safety of turning back. We cannot go back, but we can be grateful and move forward in faith.

 

 

On Depression & Coffee

Friend, 

I heard you. 

In the depths of my grief.

Your voice reached the furrows of my curled heart. 

I heard you

In the coils of my foggy sorrow

I heard your voice, breaking, waiting for me

Please. Don’t stop talking. 

I’ll find my way back. 

– Sidney Hughes 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Related Pieces

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

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

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

Grief Misplaced

I thought I could find you again

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

On Crying -TCK memory

I cannot cry for countries that are not mine. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Because I can’t think of anything else.

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

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 Words

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

On Breaking Ties and One Sided Good Byes

They say it takes the human mind six weeks to adapt to a new habit. Supposedly, after six weeks of waking up at 5:45 and running two miles, your mind should automatically prepare itself for that seventh week. There should be no more early-morning struggle against your own will. It should be natural, normal, a new part of your daily routine. But if your mind is weak, just once, if your fingers follow nasty habits and hit snooze one morning, and your eyes stay closed until 8, your new routine is devastated. The six weeks have to begin again. You can’t have a remote lingering shadow of your old ways in order to move forward. You can’t live side by side with your past and try to make a future.

Earlier this week I was searching through emails to find information on Angola. In a blur of looking through emails from years ago I stumbled across some from an old boyfriend. Intrigued, and hoping to find something amusing, I opened the most recent exchanges we had shared. I should have known better. I should have reached deep into my memories and pulled out the heart grating emotions these emails had created, then I would have had the sense to close the computer and move on with my present life. But I am not that wise.

His words, typed neatly across the screen so many years ago still stung.

“You’re too emotional.”

“You and I have nothing in common”

“You’re too different.”

Three opinions from one eighteen-year old. Three phrases burned into my mind. Over the years as scar tissue grew over the wounds my mind became calloused. It had accepted those sentences as truth, they had become an integral part of my mind’s being, leaving no room for new thoughts. Funnily enough, I can recall saying these exact words to every man I dated in university.

“I’m too emotional.”

“We have nothing in common”

“I’m too different”

Many of them brushed those words aside and said something along the lines of “I’ll overcome that, don’t worry.” They made it into a chivalrous opportunity, as if they knew those things to be true of me, but they wanted to be the brave man to look past them and succeed. My husband, on the other hand, simply shook his head –

“Yes you’re emotional, your heart for people is what I love most.” “yeah we don’t have a lot in common, but we love the Lord, and we have a desire to serve Him. That’s enough.” “Yes, you’re different from anyone I’ve ever met, and I hope I get to spend the rest of my life learning all your differences.”

These were truths that should have performed that figurative plastic surgery in my mind. His honest, good words should have extracted the hold the lies had in me. And for a few weeks, I thought they had. I thought the surgery had been successful, that recovery was going better than expected, that my mind and heart were healing splendidly – they were already up and loving again! But, alas, no. Lies, past ties, truths that have evolved without us realizing, are toxic. They grip onto cells, they infest the mind and await, dormant, until a flash of words on a screen, or a memory, or a smell, or the finding of an old yearbook, evokes them into action. Then they proliferate, attacking each cell they can sink their virus teeth into, they travel through vessels and make themselves known through tears, sleepless nights, and silent days. They infect and metastasize when you thought they were eradicated.

It takes so much more than an overlay of current truths to eliminate the damage done by the past. It takes so much more than a few stitches and a band aid to fix a botched lobotomy. And until I realized that, I was walking around like a mental Frankenstein. I wish I could have entered this new life in America, taken six weeks to adjust, and been content. But I didn’t. Besides all the set-backs in life that make adjusting nearly impossible, I was my own detriment. I kept slamming on the snooze button, letting all the un-faced memories sneak their way into my warm covers, tie my hands down, and keep me from running my two miles every day. I let them in for a moment, then shoved them under the bed, allowing them to fester until I was a weak, ideal host for their disease once again. I think this happened because I don’t want to untie myself from my entire past, but I do need to find a balance. I need to be able to say good bye to the bad, and remember the good with an honest perspective – it was good. It was all I knew for a time, but it is over, and life moves on.

So I’m writing today to dismantle that figurative snooze button. I’m writing to put down once and for all my good byes to certain haunting thoughts. I know, however, that someday they may find their way back into my life, but I hope, having written this, I will be a little less susceptible to their infection. And again, I do know that not everything I’m saying a figurative good bye to is bad or hurtful, but it is something that does not fit into this life, something that cripples me from running full force into marriage, into nursing, into Jackson, TN and all that may come after this. So, to begin six weeks of a new habit, I am breaking ties, and saying good bye to people and places who let me go many years ago.

Good bye to the concrete safe house, the red dirt and sticky floors. Good bye to power outages and late nights listening to gun shots. Good bye to sipping Coca-Cola on Friday nights, good bye to imprints of the window screen on my face, as I eagerly watch for the city light to come on. Good bye to a faithful watch dog, a morning greeter, and an afternoon sleeper. Good bye to homeschooling alone, listening to my sisters cry from loneliness and wishing I was enough company. Good bye to long aeroport lines and never understanding the stress of a visa, but always knowing I can never lose my passport. Good bye, a childhood Iona, playing safely in Angola.

Good bye to being called weak. Good bye to raising my hand in class, and quickly putting it back down, afraid of being wrong, or worse, of someone disagreeing. Good bye to spending lunches in my dorm room, watching baboons and birds play in the tall tree outside, waiting for the final bell. Good bye to running alone on a hill after field hockey practice, because dinner just has too many people. Good bye to sneaking into counseling on Tuesday mornings, making sure no one sees my flaws. Good bye to being afraid of caring community, because the ones I enjoyed weren’t there, but I had to pretend, because these were the good ones and the house belonged to the dean. Good bye walks to the dukas, lingering freedom in the vegetable market. Good bye to the name calling, the bullying, the terrible confusion. Good bye, to an Iona eating Korean noodles in high school, finding safety in a few friends and a single burnt pot.

Good bye to being afraid of red trucks and empty houses. Good bye to hating Virginia and never wanting to meet another doctor’s son.  Good bye to being the newest one in a new country, to keeping to myself, to not understanding, to hanging out with the wrong people time and time again. Good bye to letting compliments go to my head, and letting insults go to my heart. Good bye to spending summers without my parents, drinking with strangers in several continents, and always going home alone. Good bye to an Iona, writing papers in the library, running through Kroger with once upon a time friends, to an Iona safely making an illusion, just getting through the next four years.

To the friends with whom I didn’t stay in touch, good bye to something that could have been great, but we both know we don’t have the time. To the friends with whom I tried, and tried so hard, good bye. If I was a better person I would keep trying, I would keep writing unopened texts and making unanswered phone calls. But I’m only human, and I’ve reached my capacity for pouring out to people when I’m clearly cut out of their life. I’m sorry for what I may have done, for the choices that led us slowly in different directions, I’m sorry if I wasn’t worth keeping in your life, and I really wish you all the best. Good bye. Good bye to an Iona trying too hard to keep everyone safely happy, when some people will walk out anyway.

Good bye to trying to build a safe world, one where I’ll never be hurt, and hello to facing the real world – one raw and vulnerable and ever changing. Hello to new mornings with my love, hello to new cities on my own, hello to new traditions and memories with ourselves. Hello to living a life free of illusion, one fully dangerous and fully real, a life I really could get used to.

On It Goes

The key scrapes in the lock, turning the metal knob until the door gives way into the living room. We tumble in, suitcases in hand, bringing with us the lingering scent of holiday. Greeting us remains the staleness of an apartment left to its own devices for a week, along with the familiar smell of oldness that comes when a place has not been renovated since the 70s. A pile of wedding presents neatly resides along a bench, leftover food is carefully stored, and the remnants of a remarkable day are found in various lodgings. They seem quite out of place next to the drably stained carpet and the off white dry walls, as if their story is much more remarkable than any that could be told within these rooms.

Of course that might be true. The wedding, with its white dress and smart ties, its gay music and soft flowers, its scrumptious pies and luxurious drinks, is no doubt considered the star of any marriage. It is the culmination of months full of anticipation and planning. It is the visual representation – to all family and friends – that two people love each other desperately enough to commit their lives to one another. Guests eat, drink, and dance in merry celebration of this declaration – but they are not there after the honeymoon.

No, there are no cheers or sparklers when that week of marital confusion is finished. There are no toasts when two newlyweds unlock the door to their shared home, their shared future. The remnants of peoples well wishes lie in torn wrapping paper and opened envelopes. It’s over. The wedding is finished, the vows are said, the music is silent. On the guests go.

Day in and day out we learn to be married, we learn to live up to the purpose of that celebration. For the wedding, with all its wonder, was just a precursory party. It was a preemptive celebration of all the shared joys and trials to be faced. It was young and old, friends and family, joining hands to sing on our behalf. It was people of all sorts telling us – we will celebrate now, today, because we know what a blessing into which you are entering. I do wish however, someone told me how to mourn the hard times ahead. I do wish someone taught me as I was zipping up that white dress, how to combat the insecurities found in a secure marriage. I do wish someone wrote in their congratulatory letter “this is hard, celebrate the difficulties with joy, and mourn the hard times fiercely, because this is real, it is real and painful and true and good.” But we missed that bit. We had honest toasts, and heartfelt prayers, but no one can really convey how resilient you have to prepare to be in marriage. You have to wake up each morning knowing – the wedding is over, it’s up to us to celebrate the marriage now. The family has gone away, and our life goes on. And that is hard.

So for newlyweds wondering – how does this bliss end?? How could the joy of the wedding, the smiles, the laughs – how could all of that NOT propel itself into our future? How could that immense, cheek torturing happiness not erase all the potential discomfort and sadness??

It just doesn’t.

The happiness, those fleeting moments of purest joy, move on, they go. They’re commemorated in delightful photographs, captured in sunlit memories, but life goes on.

Day in and day out, with grocery shopping, meal cooking, carpet cleaning, working, and friend making, life goes on. It goes on without invitations to celebrate, it goes on without RSVPs, it goes on without pies and popcorn, without dresses and bare feet, it goes on without any plans at all (and that’s the most terrifying part).

But, just as the good things go, as they are meant to, the bad things go too. When you’re fighting, screaming, crying, and you think “how could this be the very thing people raised their glasses to, merely weeks ago?” Know that it goes on, the fights pass, calm comes, and love remains.

Arguments are essential for forgiveness, forgiveness necessary for growth, and growth needed for you to move forward – towards a deeper, fuller marriage, one well worth all that preemptive celebration. So yes, the wedding is wonderful, the fights are terrible, and the days are unknown – but amongst it all one thing is certain – on life really does go.