An Expat’s Independence Day

We sit in our living room watching a YouTube video of fireworks while we reminisce about the Fourth of July we spent in America two years ago.

Two years!

Before that it had been four years since we had celebrated American Independence Day in America. And I never quite know how to feel about it.

As Americans, we are often met with various reactions to our nationality. Mostly, we find people generally love Americans but aren’t too fond of America itself.

We, too, find ourselves with opinions and thoughts about our home country that surprise us. After living outside of America for a certain amount of time, if can be easy to see our homeland with a critical eye, seeing quicker the most detrimental aspects of our culture than the wonderful aspects.

All these things are magnified ten-fold on the Fourth of July.

An Expat's Independence DayEvery year we wrestle with a veritable hodgepodge quagmire of feelings, thoughts and emotions, never quite sure which ones, if any, are right.

We miss home. We know our families are getting together for Mexican food or a BBQ or swim party, or, or or. Then there is the inevitable fireworks display. And we ache knowing we are missing out. Social media outlets like Facebook and Instagram become equally loved and despised as we scroll past photo after photo; grateful we can be a part, albeit a tiny one, of the festivities…and aching inside as the images just hammer home the fact that we aren’t there.

We are grateful for home. Nothing will make you more grateful for the freedoms Americans enjoy like spending an extended period of time away from those freedoms. Our family has been blessed to be able to spend all our time overseas in countries that also enjoy vast personal, political and religious freedoms but it is different. I always feel such a deep, flowing sense of gratitude that I grew up in a place in which I could live, work, play and worship without fear for my life.

We are grateful for our host culture. We love the diversity and learning how other people “do life.” We are so grateful for the opportunity to experience life in a new culture, language, geographic location. We love the food, the people, the way they see the world. We are keenly aware that only a very small percentage of the population gets to experience what we experience and we don’t want to waste the opportunity. And as strange as it sounds, spending a day celebrating our home culture and country can feel like we aren’t fully appreciating the opportunities we’ve been given to fully embrace our host culture.

We want to celebrate. Part of us wants to deck out in all the red, white and blue we own, fire up the grill and chow down on hotdogs, watermelon and cakes topped with strawberries, blueberries and whipped cream arranged carefully into the image of Old Glory while gathering with every other Expat in our area with whom we have had any modicum of pervious contact. We want to play all the patriotic songs and shout from the rooftops our pride in our nation and Her freedoms. We pin every patriotic recipe, craft, and home decor we come across….and usually make none of them because we have no time or cannot find any of the ingredients/items needed. It’s funny how “You can find these at literally any store” makes you laugh when you live outside the States.

We want to ignore the day altogether. No one else in our host culture is celebrating. They go to work and school and carry on as if it is any other day – because, for them, it is. It is tempting to just go with the flow and act like nothing special is happening. Then, of course, you have the awkward political views that can put a damper on your American patriotism. You don’t want to invite a debate, or worse, some kind of anti-American incident. It’s difficult to find the line between not losing your sense of patriotism and cultural identity and being sensitive to the cultural and political climate in which you currently live.

For the most part, this particular holiday is spent wading through a complicated bog of homesickness, denial, culture shock, joy and deep sorrowful ache that you can’t quite put your finger on. We worry that no matter how we choose to acknowledge and celebrate the day might be insulting to either our homeland or our new home country – its a delicate balance and one I constantly worry I carry flippantly at best, irresponsibly at worst.

Of course, I write from an American perspective, but I’d venture to say these thoughts and feelings would be similar for any Expat on the national holiday of his home country.

Are you an Expat? How do you handle your national holiday while living in your host culture?

 

The Writer’s Battle

*This is a free-write exercise. I was wrestling with all kinds of thoughts and ideas and was getting nowhere. So, I sat down and wrote whatever came. Being a free write, I am publishing it unedited (except for spelling).Thanks to my friend Deborah for the idea of stepping away and just…writing*The Writer's Battle

Words pound in heart and head, threatening to destroy you if not released, shared, shepherded from mind to hand to paper.

Characters beg to be introduced; stories told; lessons unpacked. And it’s like a free fall, this opening of heart and mind. Exhilarating, exciting, terrifying. You can think of little else until you at last, once again, are free to  catapult into the stratosphere of creation. Words flow, ideas materialize and you’re left breathless, heart pounding with the beauty and grandeur of it all. Pictures so moving tears flow alongside the words; scenes so breathtaking the one writing them must stop for fear of suffocating in the sheer beauty of it.

Then, inevitably, there is that moment just after liftoff when the tether has yet to pull taut and you no longer see the beauty, the wonder, the magnitude. You see only the ravine floor rushing up faster and faster and you wonder why in the world you put yourself through this. And why you do it voluntarily again and again. You remind yourself that the last time was the same and you are still breathing but logic flies off in the wind along with your screams and you see only failure. Fear. Regret.

The successes of before now reek of mediocrity and are left in a pile like picked over bones because you comb over them again and again never quite able to get them just right.

Why waste my time? Do I write only for me? What if I pour my heart and soul onto this page and it turns out to be merely…okay? What yesterday burned like a beacon in the night, no more able to be held back from the page than the light from a candle on a stand in a darkened room, now seems small, insignificant. A mere shadow of the flame it had once been.

You close the book, unplug the computer. Enough raw bits of your soul etched for today.

It’s  not worth it anymore. I don’t need to write. It’s just a hobby. No one cares what I have to say anyway. I’ll be happier when I just let it go and move on to more important endeavors.

And then the morning comes and stories beckon once more and the characters call and the lessons burn deep and the cries are deafening and you’ll explode if you don’t let them out.

So you take Hemingway’s advice and you sit down at your typewriter, or notepad, or computer…and bleed.

When Your Dreams Disappear

“What are you longing for, deep down in the depths of your soul?…Use your imagination…go on, close you’re eyes and dream.”

I stared at those words on the page in front of me and blinked hard.

What are you longing for?

Sleep!! Came the cry from my heart. Ha!

Beyond that…what are your dreams? Your callings? What makes you come alive?

Alive?!

I can’t remember the last time I would’ve used the word alive to describe how I felt.

There was a time that I had dreams, longings; things that I would desperately love to do “if time and money were no option.” Yet now, when faced with that question, I couldn’t even venture a guess. What do I want? What are my dreams? Do I even have dreams anymore?

Longing for ParisIn her new book, Longing for Paris (Tyndale House, releasing August 2015), Sarah Mae asks us these very questions and helps us discover that the God who created us does, in fact, care about our dreams. The creator of the universe who has painted uncountable sunsets in unimaginable colors and beauty made us in that same imaginative, creative image.

We – as humans and as women – were made to long, to dream, to create, to laugh, to enjoy. However, sometimes, life has a way of stealing those things from us. We lose our ability to relish the beauty of a sunset or revel in the coolness of a soft summer breeze because we are so caught up in just surviving the day to day grind.

If we are married, we are called to devote ourselves to our marriage, making it our top human priority. If we have children we are, of course, called to raise and nurture them, training them in the ways of the Lord and how to navigate the great big world.

However, recognizing and respecting our dreams does not necessarily have to drag us away from the calling of home and family. In fact, when we are fulfilling the longings and giftings the Lord has intentionally placed within us, we are able to fulfill our roles of wife and mother even more fully – and flourish doing so.


So, what do we do when we go to explore our dreams and realize they are no longer there; no longer recognizable?

When Your Dreams Disappear

1. Observe. Pay attention throughout your daily and weekly tasks and routines. Is there anything you do that energizes you? Makes you feel alive? Feeds your soul? What drains you, leaving you feeling dry and dead inside? Anything that answers any of these questions can give you good insight into what your dreams my be. Don’t forget prayer, too! Ask God to show you those gifts, talents, interests and dreams that He’s given you.

2. Experiment. In Longing, Sarah Mae talks about how she embarked upon experiments and adventures with her family in order to find and bring more beauty and enjoyment into her life. If you don’t come up with much in the way of answers after some observation, experiment a little. Try a Zumba class. Join a baking group at the local community college. Start a blog. Write a song. Take a woodworking class. Just find something that piques your interest and try it. You don’t have to be great at it, but you may just find something makes your soul feel alive and free in the process.

3. Prune. We can’t have it all, and we can’t do it all. Sometimes the reason we’ve lost sight of what fills our souls with color and life is that we’ve said yes to some things we should’ve said no to. After you’ve observed and experimented, you’re in a good position to find things which you can prune from your life. Things that drain, time suck, or serve no real purpose for your personal/family goals. Sometimes the biggest thing we can do to rediscover our dreams is to give ourselves room to breathe.

If you do these three things, you will be well on your way to reconnecting with the things that make you tick. Those things which bring light and life to your heart – which make it easier and more fulfilling to pass that light and life on to your family. It may not happen overnight, but it’s a process that can be highly freeing, and make for a happier, healthier, more well rounded wife, mom, and daughter of the King.

Happy dreaming, sisters!

 

So…Where is this relationship going, anyway?

It’s funny the things that stick in your craw when you learn a new language. For some its pronunciations. For others its words in the new language that sound like swear words in their mother tongue (Irish had some real humdingers!).

For me, one of the hardest things to adjust to with German is the use of formal and informal speech when addressing others.

For those of you not familiar, in some languages you use one set of personal pronouns (the second tense, so “you”) when addressing people in a formal setting: your boss, people older than you, people you’ve just met, your teachers, etc. Then there is a second set of informal personal pronouns you use the rest of the time: with family, close friends, people much younger than you, and so on.

Other than adding a “Sir” or “Ma’am” into the mix, we don’t have this in English. For example, we have other words that we use (called modal verbs for the grammar geeks among us) to make our speech more formal – or polite. For example, with some with whom we are very close we might say, “Can I please have the peas?”

So...Where is This Relationship Going, Anyway?For someone with whom we are well acquainted, but want to add an extra layer of decorum we might say, “May I please have the peas?”

And for extra special situations when we want to afford the person in our company with the utmost respect and polite discourse, we might bust out with, “Might I trouble you to please pass me the peas?”

Well, in German (and many other languages) the formality (aka politeness) is communicated mainly through the manner in which you address the person. In short, there are two different ways to say “you.”

When you first meet someone, you always, always speak to them with Sie (pronounced zee). You continue this formal speech until you both decide you have become close enough to move to du.

However, in order to come to that decision, you have to embark upon the incredibly awkward conversation akin to a dating relationship in which one person asks the other, “So…where is this relationship going, anyway?”

Someone has to brooch the subject by saying something along the lines of, “So…we’ve known each other awhile now and I feel fairly comfortable with you. Should we switch to du now?”

I’ve only had to endure this conversation one time, but I assure you it is just as awkward and tedious as it sounds. I don’t know if its as awkward for the native German speakers as it is for someone like me, who has never spoken a language with the formal/informal set up. But I’m telling you, people…its weird. I mean, what if you suggest moving to du and the other person doesn’t want to?? The shame and embarrassment felt is similar to changing your Facebook status to “in a relationship” after the first date, only to have the other person never call back. Awesome.

And then comes the inevitable time that you accidentally du someone you should have Sie’d. Although, I’ve found most people to be quite gracious in understanding the slip. And, from what I’ve heard this can also be a less awkward way of beginning the “so…where are we?” talk.

Where I’ve found the most offense to happen is when you accidentally Sie someone that you’ve previously du’d. I did that once by complete accident with one of my best friends here. She was obviously insulted because for me to Sie another adult that wasn’t in a position of authority over me meant that I saw her as aged. We laughed about it and she knew I didn’t mean any offense – it was truly just a slip of the tongue – but it definitely knocked the wind out of her at first.

After living here a year and a half I still stress over whether or not I should du or Sie people, and I know more “So…where are we?” conversations are coming. I just hope over time they will get to be less awkward.

How about you? Do you speak a language that uses formal/informal? Is it difficult for you? Or do you find it more awkward speaking a language like English in which there is no distinction?

Ripples of Grace – A New Perspective on the Mommy Wars

The internet has been all a flutter recently over the arrival of the new royal baby. You would be hard pressed to visit any news website or social media outlet and not see something about the big news.

And for each media outlet post, there has been every manner of remark about Kate herself, and the timing and fashion in which she left the hospital. I have seen everything from undying devotion and awe to downright hatefulness. She went home too soon, too fast, she was dressed too nice, and on and on.

April was C-Section Awareness Month and for every article I saw float across my Facebook feed, I saw hundreds of hateful, argumentative and judgmental comments from all sides of the C-Section “debate.” Even an article I wrote about my own experiences with my third baby received some of the most spiteful and downright vicious comments I’ve ever heard in my life. Ripples of Grace: A New Perspective on the Mommy Wars

How is it that we who nurture sweet babes at our breast, who lovingly tuck notes into lunch boxes and blankets under chins long after the lights go out, can be so destructive to one another? How can we who love, hug, cry and defend; we who care for and nurture because it’s in our nature suddenly become divisive, angry and hateful to the very ones with whom we should declare unity – all because of the way in which our children came into this world; or how soon we came home from the hospital; or how we choose to educate; or immunize; or, or, or…

I truly believe that all women mother someone, whether or not that’s what we call it. LisaJo Baker just wrote a stunningly beautiful article on this very idea. As she says so beautifully:

We mother because we can’t not. Because there are friends in the cubicle next to us who have been hurt and need a soft, safe place to come undone. We mother because we’ve watched our grandmas make slow, determined soup for the sick. We mother because the next door neighbor can’t change her tire in the blistering March wind and of course we call AAA for her and wait and shuffle feet and rub cold hands because she asked for help. Because, of course. This is what we women do. We give ourselves away — little bits and pieces of who we are, of our courage, of our deep faith even on the nights we’re the most afraid. We bear down and we find ways to bring life to people desperate for air.

Every decision we make is a global decision.

Like the dropping of tiny pebbles into a pond, every word and deed splashes deep in this world and then ripples out unto the farthest reaches of the shore. One standing on the other side might see the tiny motion of a minuscule wave and not realize the point from which it began, so small and insignificant it seems, but it reached that shore none the less.

It is the same with us, dear sisters. Each harsh word, every divisive comment, every hateful and smug action against one of our sisters ripples round the world and shakes deep the core of our humanity.

Likewise, every act of kindness, each word of compassion, every hand extended in peace changes the landscape of this world. Though they may not seem to splash as loudly, I believe they reverberate far deeper and reach far wider than any act of hate could ever hope to.

What if…

What if it started with me, plopping a pebble of grace here, a stone of kindness there, as I walk alongside you, my sisters? Then, what if you joined me? And then your neighbor? My teacher? What if one by one we made our mark? What if the ripples of grace and compassion surged and spread until the whole good earth resonated with the weight of it until one day, pulsed to action by the rhythm of grace, we moved together so that our grandchildren awoke to find this world a very different place? 

What if they found themselves raising children alongside one another with support and love regardless of homeschool, public school, un-school, under-the-sea-school? Whether home birth or VBAC or in-the-car-on-the-way birth, each woman discovered herself and her story truly valuable? Truly beautiful?

So, sisters, on this Mother’s Day – and every day after – let’s give one another the gift of grace…and maybe a piece of cake that we don’t have to eat hiding in the bathroom…and together let’s start a ripple effect that will change this world.

%d bloggers like this: