Leaving and Arriving Well — what to do when your time comes {A Life Overseas}

by Jonathan

You’re probably going to leave the field.

Someday, somehow, the vast majority of us will say goodbye, pack up, cry tears of joy or sorrow or both, and depart.

How will that work out for you?

Well, frankly, I have no idea. But I do know that there are some things you can do to prepare to leave and some things you can do to prepare to arrive. And while a cross-cultural move is stressful no matter which direction you’re going, knowing some of what to expect and how to prepare really can help.

The first part of this article deals with Leaving Well, while the second part deals with the oft-overlooked importance of Arriving Well.

In Arriving Well, we’ll look at

– Embracing your inner tourist,

– Making movie magic,

– Identifying your needs, and of course,

– Grieving

We’ll wrap up with an Arrival Benediction, which is a prayer for you, the transitioner, from the bottom of my heart.

Click here to read the full post.

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The Temporary Intimacy of Expat Life (and my search for rootedness) {A Life Overseas}

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

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It’s not hard for me to put down roots in a new place. Roots are all I want. That may sound unconventional coming from a Third Culture Kid, but Army life was unsettling, and even small tastes of stability were tantalizing to me. I’m always searching for roots.

Specific places can be very healing to me, but I almost wonder if the place itself doesn’t matter as long as the place seems permanent. I could settle anywhere as long as it’s forever. I know this need for stability points somewhere. It points to a longing for a forever home. A hunger for the new city. A desire that can’t be completely fulfilled in this sin-tarnished world.

So whenever I move to a new place, I pretend it’s a permanent home. I decide I never want to move away. I give myself, heart and soul, to this new place and to this new people. I make plans for future years, future decades even. I tell myself that I will settle here and live here forever. I imagine everything in the future taking place in this place.

While some TCKs want to move places frequently, that hasn’t been my experience. I don’t want to leave a new place after a few years of living there. I don’t become unsettled at the thought of settling somewhere. Sometimes I tell myself that this desire I have for roots is good. I tell myself that it means I’m stable and secure. But then I have to ask, if I’m so stable and secure, why would I become so unmoored by goodbyes?

A desire to move frequently can be unhealthy, it’s true. But it is equally true that this insatiable desire I have never to move homes or see life change can be unhealthy too. For see, God is the God who is doing a new thing. And growth in Christ never happens without change — sometimes painful change. So I sometimes live in denial, for this overseas life is not, and can never be, permanent. I will have to move eventually. My friends, the dear people with whom I live my life and to whom I’ve pledged my undying love, must also move at some point.

You can finish reading here.

“Fernweh” and “Heimweh” — words for the one who’s far from home {A Life Overseas}

Elizabeth is over at A Life Overseas today . . .

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I found a new word on the Facebook profile of a missionary writer, and it’s the best new word I’ve heard in a long time. It’s called fernweh, and it’s a German word that means “a longing for faraway places.”

The feeler of fernweh carries a desire — whether met or unmet — to travel to distant countries, to visit new places, and to have new experiences. Its nearest English equivalent might be the idea of “wanderlust.” When transliterated, fernweh means “farsickness,” in much the same way that heimweh means “homesickness.”

Fernweh and heimweh: these sister words draw me in. Ever since I found them, I cannot get them out of my head, for I live in a faraway place.

At least, it’s far away from the Europe and North America in which I grew up. It was far away, but now it’s near. I find now that the faraway place has become home, and home has become the faraway place.

Finish reading this post at A Life Overseas.

Our first book!

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We’ve compiled over 50 of our short essays into a new book. The book covers topics like transition, TCKs, grief and loss, conflict, marriage on the field, and more. The Kindle version is $1.99 and is available here.

Here’s what Elizabeth has to say about the print edition:

What I like about the paper copy is that it’s in 8 1/2 X 11 inch format, so it has lots of white space and (ahem) margin to make your own notes, to sort of journal through it, as it were. A lot of our posts really are like journal entries of what God is taking us through, so having a hard copy allows you to journal through those issues on your own, too. Hopefully that’s a blessing to someone!

We are ordering a bunch to have with us here in Phnom Penh, so if you’re local and you’d like a hard copy, check back with us in a couple of weeks. Thanks so much for all your support along the way.

all for ONE,
Jonathan T.

 

7 Thoughts for Graduating TCKs {A Life Overseas}

by Elizabeth

Dear Graduating Senior,

This spring I hugged you. I cried with you. I said goodbye to you. And then I looked into the faces of your parents as they said goodbye too. How can I express the depth of my love for you and your parents? I don’t know. All I know is that if we were sitting down to coffee again, these are the things I’d want to tell you.

They’re the things I’ve mostly stumbled across on my journey as an Adult Third Culture Kid, though they’re by no means comprehensive or applicable to all people. Much like every other human on the planet, I’ve had to sort through my childhood as an adult, and these are the things that have helped me along the way. I hope they help you too.

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1. IT’S OK (AND NORMAL) TO HAVE DELAYED ISSUES

When you were young, home was where mom and dad were (or perhaps where grandma and grandpa were), and most likely, you were almost always with one of those people or in one of those places. But TCK angst is something that tends to catch up to people later in life. That’s the way it was for me, anyway.

Issues of home, belonging, and identity are all higher level, more complex topics. And now that you’re launching out on your own, your old idea of “home” probably won’t be as accessible. The Third Culture world of your childhood will be out of reach, and these issues might come crashing down on you. All of this is OK.

Maybe you felt settled in life before, but feel unsettled now. Maybe you thought life was good or even great before, but feel lost now. Maybe you were part of a happy, healthy family as a child and now find yourself dealing with some thorny emotional issues as a young adult. Don’t worry; it doesn’t mean anything is wrong with you.

Or perhaps you’ve already experienced a lot of transition and upheaval in your life, and you’ve already had to grapple with issues of belonging, identity, and home. That’s ok too. You’ll probably still find that TCK issues pop up in your life over the next several years, often when you’re not expecting them. This is normal. It’s part of the process of growing up. I just don’t want you to be surprised by it.

2. SYSTEMS ARE A HELPFUL LENS

Growing up as a military kid, I didn’t have a vocabulary for what was happening in my life. For example, why was civilian life so different and so hard for us?? Answer: because we had suddenly exited a military system (or culture) and entered a non-military one. I didn’t know that back then, but I know it now, and the idea of viewing the TCK experience through the lens of a system has been very helpful to me.

This is one way to explain the idea: your parents made a conscious choice to enter a system (whichever system it was), but much of your TCK experience was then dictated by that system. Even graduating from high school and having to leave your childhood home — as painful as that can be — is dictated by the system you’re living in. You can even be part of more than one system. There’s your third culture system with other TCKs. Then there’s your parents’ organization’s system. And there are probably more.

Being able to see my life as part of a system (or systems) with a lot of moving parts has allowed me to look at some of the TCK issues I’ve faced as an adult without faulting my parents. Yes, the many moves were traumatic for me (and in ways I didn’t realize, feel, or fully understand until I was an adult), but I don’t see that trauma as being inflicted on me by my parents. Yes, they chose the military, but it wasn’t their fault when the military moved us mid-school year. It wasn’t their fault when kids at my new school didn’t accept me right away. Rather, it was a result of the system I was in.

The ability to have conversations without shame or blame is vital to moving forward. And the more we can understand the systems we’re in, the easier it is to talk about our experiences and make connections instead of disconnections. So remember that you’re living in (and have lived in) a system. Remember that accepting your TCK experience doesn’t mean you have to become estranged from your family. Admitting that you struggle to find belonging or to define home or self doesn’t mean you’re labeling your parents as “bad.” These things are results of your systems.

3. ALL PEOPLE ARE SINNERS, SO REMEMBER TO GIVE GRACE

While it’s true that you don’t need to blame your parents for the challenges of TCK life, it’s also true that they are human beings. They’re sinners, just like you and just like me. And they may have made some mistakes in life as well as in parenting. Forgive them.

There’s no way around the fact that human parents do hurt their human children: all humans hurt other humans. So while you don’t have to carry around some burden of thinking your parents “ruined your life” with their nomadic choices, you probably also need to forgive them for things. All children — mobile and non-mobile alike — are faced with this question.

I love my parents deeply, and they deeply love me, yet we still found it necessary to have these kinds of conversations. We avoided it for a long time, perhaps for fear of conflict or discomfort, but the healing never came until we did. So talk to your parents. Have conversations with them. Process through the painful stuff. Wade into the murky waters, and find healing and wholeness together. Your parents are invested in your continued health and healing, so let them be a part of it.

Your situation may be more complicated than what I’ve just discussed. Someone may have hurt you deeply, even abused you. In that case, you need more than simple conversations with your parents or other trusted adults. You also need to get some outside help. You need to find trustworthy, compassionate counseling. Both Lisa McKay and Kay Bruner have good insight on how to find a counselor in general and while living overseas. I pray you find someone to guide you through the healing process.

4. GET COMFORTABLE WITH PARADOX

As you pack up your boxes and your suitcases, there’s one more thing I want you to pack. That thing is your ability to accept and even embrace paradox. Most likely, your life has been neither one hundred percent good, nor one hundred percent bad. The truth is, TCK or not, no one’s life is one hundred percent one thing. So resist the temptation to spin the story of your childhood in only one direction, either all good or all bad. Don’t pit the good and bad against each other in a futile effort to discover which one outweighs the other.

You don’t have to minimize the bad in order to accept the good. And you don’t have to minimize the good in order to accept the bad. Simply hold them both in your hands and in your heart, and accept them together, side by side, as the things that have shaped you into the person you are and as the things that are continuing to shape the person you are becoming.

We can’t strain the bad out of the good or the good out of the bad; we can’t separate them like cream from milk. They’re a package deal, a paradox, the “and” of this life. So let’s agree together not to outlaw the good or outlaw the bad. Let’s accept all the parts of ourselves, even the parts that make us (or other people) uncomfortable.

5. GRIEVE YOUR LOSSES

About those negative experiences . . . I know this has been talked about before, but it’s so important I’m going to say it again: you’ve got to grieve your losses. List out your losses, and then mourn them. Grieve the hard things that happened to you.

Maybe it was leaving your passport country to move to your host country, or moving between host countries, or within the same host country. Maybe it was losing a close friend or teacher to transition or even death. It’s probably graduating and leaving your host country this summer. Regardless of the cause, there have been so many goodbyes in your life, and you need to acknowledge how hard they’ve been for you.

Grief follows us wherever we go; we can’t outrun it. So spend the time now, on the front end, to grieve your TCK losses. You need to learn this skill because you’ll have to use it again later. We live in a fallen world, and bad things will keep happening to you, whether you’re living cross-culturally or not. That means the need to process grief is ever-present, regardless of who you are or where you live.

Learning to grieve well now will help you for the rest of your life. And you might have to grieve some of your losses more than once. You may feel old losses cycling back around again, and you’ll have to stop and re-grieve them. That’s ok. Be gentle with yourself and grieve them again.

6. GET SOME OUTSIDE HELP: TCK COUNSELORS AND MENTORS

I personally used to think something was wrong with me. Why did I have all these problems fitting in? Why did I feel so rejected all the time? I thought the problem was me. Then — and this only happened a couple of years ago with a counselor who specializes in TCKs — I began to see that the trouble I had fitting in was a consequence of something that happened to me.

It wasn’t me that was the problem; it was all those moves and having to fit in someplace new over and over and over again. But learning how to fit in takes time, and there’s always a period of uncertainty before friends are made and acceptance is granted. I cannot even explain how much that realization helped me. I felt less like a broken object and more like a person who’d had experiences that shaped me but who wasn’t inherently and eternally screwed up. I had previously faced a lot of insecurity and social anxiety in my life, but when I started seeing their roots in my nomadic childhood and addressing them that way, the fear and insecurity stopped trailing me so doggone much.

Likewise, you may need a counselor who is familiar with the TCK world. In fact, in her book Belonging Everywhere and Nowhere: Insights into Counseling the Globally Mobile, author and counselor Lois Bushong tells us that a counselor who is not familiar with TCK issues may not know how to treat an adult TCK struggling with depression. In actuality, he or she is probably dealing with unresolved TCK grief, a completely normal response to a globally mobile childhood. (Incidentally Lois is also responsible for my understanding of systems.) So if you are in any way “stuck” in your emotional, mental, or spiritual life, consider finding a counselor who understands TCK life. 

Counseling has been massively helpful in my life, both for TCK-related issues and non-TCK-related issues, and I highly recommend counseling to all people who are breathing. But sometimes you just need someone to talk to, someone who will listen to you and empathize with you and even pray for you. Just talking to an older, wiser adult TCK whom you trust can be very helpful in sorting through your thoughts and feelings. In fact, I’ve done that a lot with Marilyn Gardner, fellow writer and editor on this blog. So if you do nothing else, find a fellow TCK friend to talk to.

7. YOU SHOULD PROBABLY EXPECT SOME FLARE-UPS

I can give you all the advice in the world — advice you might even follow — but you might still turn around one day and be taken by surprise at the intensity of your feelings of loss and isolation and lack of home and belonging. When this happens to me, whether it’s triggered by the yearly May & June goodbyes or by feeling the sting of some rejection, my husband usually asks me, “Is your TCK acting up again?”

Yes, I tell him. The answer is almost always yes. Yes that my TCK is acting up again. Yes that events from my childhood creep into my adulthood. Yes that from time to time issues I thought were settled and resolved feel suddenly unsettled and unresolved.

But simply naming it can take the edge off the pain. Then I can go back to the truths I’ve learned about myself and about God. And you can do that too. When you find your TCK acting up again, name it. Grieve what you need to grieve, and then remind yourself of the truths you’ve learned over the years. Be kind to yourself when this happens, and remember to give yourself some time to recover.

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Even though there was pain, I don’t regret my TCK experience. For me every experience (in the end) brought me closer to Christ. Though at times it might have seemed a wandering path, every wound was a road leading straight back to God. The relationship I have with God primarily because of painful TCK “issues” is something I wouldn’t give up for anything.

So take heart. If you let them, the questions of home, belonging, and identity that your TCK childhood has asked you to answer can take you deeper into the heart of God than ever before. If you’ll take the time to look for Him, you’ll find Jesus on the other side of every question you have. Only Jesus can help you live an unhindered life. His is the face of love, and He is the answer to every question you’ll ever ask. So go with Him: there is redemption on this road.

Originally appeared at A Life Overseas.

7 Tips for Stayers and Goers

by Elizabeth

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As a military kid I grew up hearing about these things called “Hail and Farewells.” I didn’t really know what they were; I didn’t even know it was two separate words. I thought of it more as “hailenfarewell” and was at a complete loss as to what it was.

But as I began to contemplate this upcoming season of expatriate goodbyes, I couldn’t get the phrase out of my mind. So naturally I went to my mom and asked her to tell me everything she remembered about Hail and Farewells. Her answers blew me away with their spiritual applications.

Let’s have a look, shall we?

1. “Hail and Farewells were an integral part of military life. Whether we were stationed at a military installation or a university in the States, or were stationed abroad, we all took part in these monthly events.” Hellos and goodbyes happen at regular intervals, and they touch the entire community. Nobody gets to skip out on the goodbyes (or hellos), and nobody is immune to the transience – either the Leaver or the Stayer.

2. “It always involved food, whether it was at someone’s home and everyone brought food, or at a restaurant and we purchased our meal.” Ok, so we need food. It’s perhaps kind of obvious, but this answer stood out to me. As humans we celebrate—and mourn—with food.

3. “They were usually more dressy events, except those that were barbeques, etc. There was always a gift, usually a memento that represented your unit and also some kind of plaque that commemorated your time there.  Oftentimes others would gift you with items that spoke personally to the officer leaving.” Whether we’re leaving or whether we’re staying, we honor our friends with something special. Whether it’s a physical gift representing our relationship or our country of service (for the gift-givers among us), a special event (for the quality-timers among us), or something else, we don’t let them fade away without that special honor.

4. “The commanding officer would do the introductions of new people, and we would find out where they came from and a little about them and their family. Then the farewells were saved for last with the usual good things said about people. Those that worked closest with the departing officer would also have an opportunity to share about them.” We honor the newcomers by trying to find out a little about them. And we honor the Leavers by sharing our cherished memories about them.

5. “Something I always saw in the groups we were in was the total willingness to accept and ‘get behind’ a new commanding officer. Oftentimes the departing commander was beloved and the idea of someone else coming in and taking over could be hard in a way, but your dad and I and others were intentional about welcoming and following new commanders just as we followed the departing one.” This gets to the heart of welcoming new people, whether they’re in leadership over us or not. Being new is hard, and the least we can do is welcome new people even as we say a painful goodbye to beloved friends. Whether we’re the Leaver or the Stayer, no one can replace our friends, but our hearts can expand to love more people.

6. “We were usually notified about 6 months in advance of our new duty station, and something strange and wonderful always happened after we found out where and when. Usually it was met with, ‘Uh, okay,’ but that time in between notification and actually leaving, our minds turned it into something good that we were actually looking forward to, and we were very ready to leave.” If circumstances allow (and I know they don’t always allow), we plan time between the decision to leave and the actual leaving. That time gives us the space to say goodbye well to people and places, to mentally and physically prepare ourselves for the next step, and to physically and mentally prepare our friends and co-workers for our departure. We realize that nothing can completely prepare us for our next stage, but a little time to reflect and say goodbye is helpful.

7. “It was sad to say goodbye, but many times we figured we’d meet up again.” To a certain extent, expatriate life also allows us to meet up again. (And I’m always thankful when that happens!) But even if we never see each other again on earth, as Christians we know we will meet again in Heaven, and (at least for me) that reminder does cheer the aching heart.

 So to recap my mom’s advice:
  1.  We accept that hellos and goodbyes will happen regularly.
  2.  Sharing food is a good way to commemorate these hellos and goodbyes.
  3.  Whether we’re departing or staying, we need to honor our friendships at each goodbye.
  4.  We need to welcome new people into our lives too.
  5.  We accept that goodbyes are hard.
  6.  When possible, we need to make space and time for these goodbyes.
  7.  We remember we will meet again, whether on earth or in heaven.

This time of year is painful. I will not deny that. April and May are months of many tears for me. I’ve written about these heart-rending goodbyes before. Each year I feel the feelings afresh, and sometimes I fear they will break me. But I do want us, as the Body of Christ, to carry on in a way that honors both our earthly fellowship and our faith in a mysterious God. With that in mind I offer you my Expat Manifesto:

We acknowledge that we will always have Hail and Farewells. We will bid farewell to our people. We will honor them with our tears, with our laughter, with our food, with our stories, with our hugs, and with our time. And we will bid farewell to seasons, whether satisfying or sad. We will welcome new people. We will honor them with our open (though sometimes wounded) hearts and remember that they may one day be our old people. We will remember that in Christ goodbye is never forever, but only for a time. And with Christ as our Anchor, we will embrace each new season, whether dreaded or longed for. We will Hail, and we will Farewell: This is how we carry on.

What traditions do you have for Hailing and Farewelling?

How do you carry on?

 

(Originally published at Velvet Ashes and reprinted here with permission.)

‘Tis The (Leaving) Season!

by Jonathan

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It’s that time of year when a lot of folks return to their passport countries; some for a visit and some for good. Which means it’s that time of year when returners get upset that folks “at home” don’t really care all that much about life abroad, or our ministry, or our former country, etc.

But what if the returners cared as much about the home team as we want the home team to care about us?

What if the returners asked their senders questions of the same quantity and intensity that we desire the senders to ask us?

Maybe you’ve been abroad for two years or four years or six months. That’s awesome! And maybe you’ve got stories and you’ve experienced love and loss and grit and glory.

So have they.

Those who “stayed behind” lived life too. And while you were living two years, they were living two years too. And most likely, they’ve got stories and they’ve experienced love and loss and grit and glory too.

And while we’re so desperately wanting people to listen to and care about our stories, perhaps we should spend some time listening to and caring about theirs.

Turns out, pretty much everyone likes being heard.

And I think that’s a gift we should give. These people send us, pray for us, sacrifice for us. The least we can do is actually care about their stories of love and loss.

Remember, they lived life too.