Coming Home: a story in 3 parts

by Elizabeth

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1. We landed in L.A. for an 18-hour layover after what was perhaps the Most Turbulent Flight Ever. Then we headed to an airport hotel to sleep off some jet lag (courtesy of my husband, the Expert Trip Planner).

The next morning after breakfast, we walked around to get some sun so we could keep fighting off the dreaded jet lag. And lo and behold, what did I see? Only my very favorite plant: the magnificent palm tree.

(There were also succulents, which may just need to be added to my list of favorite plants.)

And I thought to myself, maybe the part of my soul that longs for palm trees really can be satisfied on this soil. I think on some level I knew America had palm trees, but I’d never been in a place to see them before. It was a welcoming sight.

 

2. That next day as we settled in to our last flight, we ran into an old family friend. (Actually, it was the minister who performed my husband’s grandfather’s funeral, and his wife.)

As we chatted, the husband said, “Heading home?” And I nodded and said, “yes” — because we are, and that’s the way most people talk about these trips anyway.

But then he paused, for maybe only half a second, and said: “Heading home, on your way from home.”

Yes. We’re heading home, on our way from home. And I THANKED him for that statement, because it’s the truest way of describing this strange mobile life, and not everyone takes the time to acknowledge that truth.

We are, ever and always, heading home on our way from home.

 

3. Friends and family greeted us at the airport and helped us load our luggage into their vehicles. In the car I talked with my parents some and listened to my parents talk to my kids some. I was tired.

We passed plenty of places that looked just the same, and we passed plenty of places where new homes and businesses had sprung up. The highway doesn’t look quite the same as it did when I was growing up.

But the moment we turned onto the street that heads to my parents’ house, I knew I was home. It may have been 2 1/2 years since I’ve seen it, but it seemed like I had driven that road only yesterday.

And so I am Home. It’s a good feeling.

Worlds Apart: A Third Culture Kid’s Journey {book review}

I am so excited to review and promote Marilyn Gardner’s new book Worlds Apart: A Third Culture Kid’s Journey. This book is a chronological journey through Marilyn’s childhood as a Missionary Kid and Third Culture Kid in Pakistan and includes a brand new foreword from author and fellow A Life Overseas blogger Rachel Pieh Jones.

On the surface my TCK experience seems quite different from Marilyn’s, so I had initially wondered how much of her story I would relate to. Where hers involves missions and boarding school, mine involves military service and public schools. But my concerns were completely unfounded. There was so much to relate to, on so many levels. Truly, this is a story for everyone.

As I’ve said in other places, for me the mark of a good book is that I laugh all the way through and then cry at the end. Worlds Apart certainly measured up in that regard as well.

One of the funnier parts came when reading about her family’s visits to the ruins of the ancient Indus River valley. Somehow the ancient Indus civilization managed to install covered drains in their city, while during Marilyn’s childhood, Pakistan had not yet done so. I could relate — the lack of covered sewers in Cambodia is something I continually lament.

I also laughed over her comparisons of popular (but fleeting) camp songs to the steady and stalwart hymns of our faith. But by the time I finished the book, I have to tell you I was wrecked. Wrecked.

In the end, Worlds Apart is simply the story of a child’s faith in God. Marilyn holds her story loosely and tells it humbly, so it’s worth a read even if you’ve never lived overseas.

Here are Jonathan’s and my “official” reviews.

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From Elizabeth:

For anyone who has wrestled with heavy bouts of homesickness or lived through long stretches of loneliness, Marilyn Gardner’s new book, Worlds Apart, is a gift.

For anyone who has walked through the valley of the shadow of death or of betrayal while simultaneously trying to hold onto faith in a good and loving God, this book is a light in your darkness.

For anyone who longs for the people and places of your past or has ever had to pack up a life and say goodbye, this book is a trustworthy traveling companion.

For anyone who has ever grappled seriously with their privilege or come face to face with their own shortcomings, this book is a safe place to land.

And for anyone who’s ever wondered if it’s even possible to raise a happy family in difficult or unusual circumstances, Worlds Apart offers hope and, what’s better, guidance.

But these stories are also a sober reminder to parents that no matter how much love and security we lavish upon our children, we cannot protect them from the sorrows and difficulties of this life — nor is it our job.

Marilyn’s book is a gem for all these reasons, and it is also a joy to read. The language is beautiful, and each story is seasoned with profound truths about life and faith. Somehow as we read, we are able to swallow the bitter along with the sweet. That is what grace is all about, and that is what this book is all about.

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From Jonathan:

It’s been said that if you dig down into your story deep enough, you find the common things. I didn’t grow up in Pakistan, and I didn’t experience boarding school or life as a missionary kid. But that doesn’t matter, because in this book Marilyn digs down deep enough into her own journey that I found myself resonating throughout. And crying.

The cross-cultural connections and the cross-cultural stretching, the faith struggles, the reverence of older missionaries, the questions about God’s sovereignty in the midst of catastrophe, and the confusion surrounding the loaded word, Calling. It’s all here.

We need this story. The missions community needs this story. Yes, it’s one person’s history, but this is a book that missionaries and TCKs of all stripes need to read, because Worlds Apart ties us to our shared history. It links us with the bigger Story, and it reminds young cross-cultural workers that they’re not the first. Not the first to travel. Not the first to care about social justice. Not the first to raise children abroad. It shows us that we are part of a larger plot arc that both preceded us and will in fact follow us. These reminders are much needed and deeply enriching.

I am sure that Marilyn’s gentle storytelling and textured memories will encourage and inspire and heal many.

Embracing a Healthy Body Image Overseas {Taking Route podcast}

Elizabeth recently chatted with Denise James, host of the new Taking Route Podcast. They discussed some of the issues surrounding eating and body image that many women deal with, regardless of where they live.  You can listen to that conversation here. And when you’re done, be sure to check out the other conversations on the podcast!

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To the Returning Missionary {A Life Overseas}

by Elizabeth 

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You have walked with God in this place a long time, and He has walked with you. He has been beside you and inside you this whole time. The same Spirit remains in you and with you in your new place.

This place has changed you, and you have changed this place. Do not be distressed if you don’t understand everything that has happened and that is happening. Remember that the stories God writes are always long. They unfold over generations, not days or weeks or even months.

You have been here long enough to understand some of what God is writing, for both yourself and the people you’ve served, but some things may not make sense yet. Do not fret, and do not fear. The Father will show it all to you One Day. Until That Day, remember that you leave with our love, even as you live within God’s love.

Many years ago you came to this place as a foreigner, and the place you’re going now may also seem foreign to you. Everyone and everything has changed, including you.

So in the days and months and years to come, when you feel misunderstood, remember that no one understands your foreignness like Jesus, the One who came to the most foreign land to show his beloved creatures Truth and Light. He will understand your sorrows like no other.

You have seen so much change in your years here. Change in the people around you, change in yourself, change in the people you’re returning to. And you are tired. So tired. No one can work and live as long as you have and not be tired. Remember that Christ is your rest. (And on your journey, also remember to sleep.)

Circumstances change, and communities change, and in the end, He is all we have to hold onto. So don’t lose hope: He IS our hope. Hold onto Him, and remember that His love never fails. It will never fail you.

Though organizations may fail you, though supporters may fail you, though cultural acquisition may fail you, though years of experience may fail you, though people you love and invested in may fail you, though you may even feel you’ve failed yourself, still one thing will not fail you: the love of the Great Three in One will never fail.

And One Day, this squeezing in your heart and this aching in your bones from all these years and all these travels and all the years and travels to come, it will all be undone. Everything will be made new. Remember this.

Originally appeared at A Life Overseas.

On Fundamental Sadness and the Deeper Magic {A Life Overseas}

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by Jonathan

Some call it pessimism. Unspiritual. A sickness best treated with peppy music and cliché-riddled Christianese. They caution and guard against sadness, considering it a rabbit hole (or a worm hole) leading nowhere good. Others call it holy. Jeremiah-ish. Defending it with the label of realism – open eyes that see things as they truly are.

It is Fundamental Sadness.

Do you know what it feels like, this fundamental sadness? The sadness that seems to be part of all things?

Sometimes the sadness is very personal; it’s the loss of a sister or a father or a good friend. Sometimes it’s the loss of a country or long-treasured plans.

Sometimes the sadness is more global. It’s the emotional darkness that comes after you hear about Las Vegas, Mogadishu, the Yazidis, Paris, the Rohingya, or Raqqa. Sometimes its triggered by hashtags like #MeToo or #BringBackOurGirls.

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It is the blazing sunset that sears, not because of who’s present, but because of who’s absent.

It is the baby’s cry in a mother’s arms that taunts your empty ones.

It is the background sadness, fundamental, and seemingly underneath all things.

It’s the threat of miscarriage behind every pregnancy.

It’s the one who sees the beauty of the dawn, but feels deep in his gut that the dawn comes before the dusk – that sunrise precedes sunset.

It is the lover who knows, at the beginning of a beautiful kiss, that it will end.

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“…of all conceivable things the most acutely dangerous thing is to be alive.”

— G.K. Chesterton

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For me, this foundational sadness is not necessarily depressing, but it is always pressing: exerting force, demanding to be heard, demanding to be observed.

Do you know this feeling?

People get scared when I talk like this. I sort of do too. What will people think? This doesn’t sound right. Or mature. Or Holy.

And yet Jesus wept.

“And yet.” A powerful reminder, hinting at the deeper magic.

Jesus knew Jerusalem would destroy the prophets, and he knew Rome would destroy Jerusalem.

And yet.

Though the sadness feels fundamental, the deeper magic is there, waiting, pulsing. It absorbs the sadness, bearing it, transforming it, then re-birthing it.

Continue reading at A Life Overseas.

Five non-missiony books to help you live and minister across cultures

by Jonathan

These aren’t mission-y books. They’re not even about cross-cultural life or transition. Nevertheless, these books have been fundamental to my life (and sanity) abroad. In no particular order…

Walking with God Through Pain and Suffering, by Timothy Keller
Because if you didn’t have a good grasp on these concepts before moving, you’ll need to get one pretty quick after moving. I very much appreciate Keller’s deeply theological and yet tender writing in this book. Those two things do not often coexist, unfortunately.

Prodigal God, by Timothy Keller
This one makes the list because the basic story is known but the deeper message is typically missed. This book and the truths in it have the power to reshape our understanding of God’s character and of his view of us. In the world of cross-cultural ministry, God’s character and how he views us are pretty big deals. I recommend this one all.the.time.

The Psalms
I had to not-so-subtly sneak this in. Of course, this one is not co-equal to the others, but it’s often overlooked. I’ve written here and here about the importance of the Psalms in the lives of missionaries and cross-cultural workers.

Emotionally Healthy Spirituality, by Peter Scazzero
There’s nothing wrong with being a pastor at a suburban, wealthy, primarily white church. But this guy isn’t one. So, although he writes from an American context, he also writes from a cross-cultural, multi-ethnic, church-centered context. I also love how he assumes that the majority of people are going to be truly transformed and discipled, not through professional counselling, but through consistent and loving relationships.

A Year with G.K. Chesterton: 365 Days of Wisdom, Wit, and Wonder, by Kevin Belmonte
Life is serious, the world is a mess, and we need the aged brilliance of Chesterton. His humor, his levity in the face of a world that was no-less troubled, his talk of fairies and mysteries and paradox, it’s all for our time. Get to know the author who pretty much gave the world C.S. Lewis. You’re welcome.

Welp, that’s it. Have a great day! Oh, and if you have a book that you’d add to this list, link to it in the comments section below. Thanks for dropping by!

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Why I Can’t Care About Every Crisis {A Life Overseas}

Elizabeth is over at A Life Overseas today. . . .

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“What are people there saying about Syria?”

This question was posed to me during a Skype conversation with a friend back in the States. My answer? “I’m not talking to anyone about Syria. I’ve got things to deal with in my own personal ministry, and I’ve got things to deal with in my team ministry. I’ve got the daily work of homeschooling – a career unto itself – and your basic ‘how do I get food on the table?’ questions. I’m also living in a culture that has its own political and safety issues. So finding out what other people in my life think about Syria is pretty much not going to happen.”

I ended my rather lengthy explanation by saying, “I just can’t care about everything.”

While my statement might sound a bit cruel, I think it also sums up the struggle of overseas missionaries and expatriate Christians in general. How can we stay connected to our world back home while also embedding ourselves in our lives here? How can we tend to relationships in our host culture and relationships in our sending culture? How can we care about global politics and local politics and politics in our passport country? (And just to be clear here, that actually makes three worlds we’re expected to live in, not two.)

Here’s how I deal with these challenges, but I also hope to hear how you balance the many relational and cultural needs you face.

Finish reading here.