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.

One Simple Way to Bless TCKs {A Life Overseas}

Jonathan is over at A Life Overseas . . . 

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My book is called Misunderstood because that is how many young TCKs feel.” —Tanya Crossman

It’s true. Many kids grow up among worlds and end up feeling completely and totally misunderstood. They may feel misunderstood by the societies they’ve grown up in and the societies they’ve returned too. They may feel misunderstood by the nuclear families they’ve grown up in and the extended families they’ve returned to.

So what do we do?

What can parents do? Parents who know they don’t understand all the ins and outs of growing up globally?

Well, what do we do when we interact with anyone we want to get to know better? Read a book? Google them? Ask other people? Read an article? Maybe.

But typically the best solution is just to treat them like the unique human beings they are and start asking questions.

I think that one of the simplest things we could do to help the TCKs in our life to feel more seen, more loved, and less misunderstood, is to get better at asking questions.

And of course we have to care about their answers.

Questions give value and open the door to deeper intimacy. Questions are Christ-like, with one scholar identifying 307 individual questions that Jesus asked during his earthly ministry.

It’s hard to ask questions, though, because I have to shut up long enough to listen to the answers. Most of us simply prefer giving answers to asking questions.

Finish reading here.

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.

Daughter

by Elizabeth

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This picture. I love it. Not because it’s particularly elegant or beautiful, but because of what it means to me. It means so much to me, in fact, that I taped it to our home school wall so I would remember and not forget.

We’d been studying China, and the art materials came from our curriculum’s China Kit. We mixed the ink ourselves, used special brushes on special paper, and stamped our work in red at the bottom.

Now, I’m not particularly artistic, but I thought I could paint some crude mountains. Mountains speak deeply to me about who God is, about His power and love, about His majestic greatness and His vast creativity. And they give me a place to meet God, in much the same way that mountains gave the ancient people of Israel a place to meet God.

The kit provided about a dozen examples of Chinese characters to try our hand at copying. Most of the characters concerned everyday family relationships. Brother, sister, Mother, Father. But when I saw the character for Daughter, I immediately knew it was the one that belonged on my mountain picture.

Of all the characters, it was the one I was drawn to most strongly. Magnetically almost. More than Wife and more than Mother, the way I most strongly identify myself is as a Daughter. Not necessarily as a daughter of my biological parents, though that’s true too, but as a Daughter of God. Most of my daily responsibilities revolve around Wife and Mother, but “Daughter” is, at my core, how I see myself and how I define myself.

Daughter: it’s who God says I am.

And Son or Daughter, if you are in Christ, is who God says you are, too. Your sonship is more important than your career, more important than your ministry, more important than your marriage, and more important than your parenting. It’s more important than any reputation or renown. It is an eternal identity, and valuable beyond measure. You have been born again. You have been adopted into God’s family. You are Sons and Daughters of the King above all Kings.

Remember this.

 

(Originally shared on Facebook)

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.

Two Things We Need to Teach Our Kids About Sex

by Elizabeth

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This spring Jonathan and I participated in a panel discussion on issues of sexuality and parenting. During the course of our conversation I verbalized two things I think are important when it comes to talking about sex with our children. First, from very early on we need to be cultivating a mistrust of friends’ information. And second, virginity is not the point: purity is.

Long before we ever thought about talking about sex with our children, we encouraged them to come to us with the things their friends told them. Then we could tell them if their friends were giving accurate information — or not. We happen to be a very talkative family (you probably can’t imagine that, can you??), and our children report back to us with gusto.

The things they tell us their friends said are, almost without exception, incorrect. By now it’s almost a family joke. We started this approach early and are hoping it continues into the teen and young adult years. We’ve now started telling our older kids that when it comes to sex, their friends will most likely not be correct. They appear to believe us because this has been the case for so many other topics over the years.

One more thing about the friendship issue: we need to include Google as one of these untrustworthy “friends.” There are a couple reasons for this. The internet may very well give scientifically or Biblically accurate information — but not necessarily. And young people have difficulty discerning reputable sources on the internet. Additionally, finding porn during a Google search is literally 1 second away. {I know this because it happened to me. Ew.} The internet is not our friend when it comes to sex education.

Cultivating a mistrust of friends’ information is something we can do from very early ages, before we begin talking about sex or even begin thinking about talking about sex. But when we do begin talking about sex, we need to start steering the conversation away from virginity — which has been a traditional way of talking about sex and marriage — and direct it towards purity.

Virginity refers to an event. Its loss might be a past event or a future event, but it is still a one-time occurrence. Purity, on the other hand, is a state of living and a state of being. No matter what our past is, because of Jesus, purity is possible in the present and in the future.

Purity is what Paul means when he tells us to press on. Purity is what Jesus means when He tells the woman caught in adultery to go and sin no more. Virginity will fail us, but purity is always available.

Our virginity status isn’t a pre-requisite for marriage. God cares more that we are currently living in purity than whether we enter marriage a virgin. (Of course, if you’re a virgin, that means God wants you to remain so until marriage.) But if sexual immortality has been confessed, repented of, and forgiven, those specific sins don’t matter anymore. We — and our children — are clean now.

So let’s not talk about virginity, other than to define what it is. Instead let’s teach our children to walk in the way of purity and commit to walking in that way ourselves.

 

In the future I’d like to address various questions about sex and relationships that I’ve received from teenagers over the years. So stay tuned.

10 Ways to Choose Life in the Middle of an Eating Disorder

by Elizabeth

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Last fall I taught a class to international teen girls which I entitled “Life After ED,” where ED refers to eating disorders. I borrowed that title from a book I have not read because it so perfectly encapsulates what I want people to know: there is life after eating disorders. People need the hope of a life abundant when they’re in the midst of a struggle with scarcity.

When we talk about eating disorders, we’re talking about a range of struggles, including anorexia, bulimia, binge eating disorder, orthorexia (obsession with “right” eating), and eating disorders not otherwise specified (EDNOS). The research I’ve read indicates that 75% to 80% of women will deal with some sort of food or body image issue in their life, and many are easy to hide, so when I talk about eating disorders, I’m not just talking about extreme cases. Food and body image issues are struggles for all of us.

[Men deal with eating disorders too, but I don’t know those stats, nor do I have significant knowledge of that subject.]

Most of the girls in that class were Third Culture Kids, and most of them didn’t know my story. It feels like such a healed part of my life that I rarely think about it nowadays — and I often forget to tell it. So I started out by telling my personal story through the lens of a cross-cultural transition, because that was my experience. Then I touched on some theology regarding our bodies (including the concept of Imago Dei), and finished with a discussion of ways to seek healing and freedom in this area.

Today I’m only going to share some practical ways to choose life in the midst of a body image or food struggle. As I’m still in the early stages of truly understanding “the theology of the body” (yes that too is a borrowed book title), I’m going to skip that section of my class. And because I’ve published my eating disorder story before, I won’t rehash it here, even though the story I told these girls had some additional (and also very personal) details.

So without further ado, here’s my list. And since this list is relatively short, feel free to ask for clarifications on any of the items, whether publicly or privately.

 

  1. Break the shackles of shame. I want to take away the shame of struggling with these things. They’re common to women. They’re not terrible or shocking, whether it’s to me or to God or to so many other women out there. So take a deep breath. These struggles with food and body hatred are just part of your life right now. The only way to move forward and get them out of your life is to acknowledge them. And remember, you are NOT alone.
  2. Get some help. You really need some outside help to fight your food and body image battles. It’s very hard to walk this path alone. So talk to someone – a parent, a counselor, a pastor, a teacher, another safe adult. But NOT a peer. Not a friend. It’s not that you can’t confess these things to your friends, but you can get into trouble partnering with a friend in fighting an eating disorder. It can become about competition. Or it can become about endorsement, where you and your friends all know you struggle, and you “accept” each other, but there is no accountability to grow or change. A counselor, on the other hand, will help you delve into the reasons why you stumbled into this eating disorder in the first place. A Christian counselor, in particular, will help you stand on the truth of God’s word and seek Jesus for the healing of your mind and your body. But make sure your counselor feels safe to you. If you’re not comfortable with one, look for another.
  3. Don’t expect a quick fix. There is no special prayer or special person’s prayer that will magically and instantaneously cure your struggle. There is only consistently walking with Jesus toward healing and restoration and consistently realigning your mind with the truth of God’s love. There is only “a long obedience in the same direction” (to reference yet another book I haven’t read).
  4. Don’t be thrown off guard by relapses. They are normal; I had three. Three separate times I stopped eating enough, lost too much weight, and stopped my normal female functioning too. It happened twice in high school and once after I had my second child. Remember, relapses are NOT the end of recovery or healing, and they don’t mean that no healing or recovery has occurred. They are just a temporary setback. So take a deep breath and start again to walk this road of healing.
  5. Don’t get your ideas of what your body is supposed to look like from magazines or images on the internet. This is simple to understand but difficult to live. I know how tempting it is to look at those pictures and compare yourself to them. I know how tempting it is to compare yourself to your own personal idea of a perfect body. But those images, whether on a screen or on a glossy magazine page, or inside your own head, don’t tell the truth. They aren’t real. Don’t let them lie to you about what is beautiful or valuable or what you must look like. Reject those ideas, they’re not from God. Put down the magazines or turn off your phone or your computer if you have to.
  6. Know where your value and worth come from. When God formed us from the dust, He stamped us with His image, something He didn’t do for any other creature. This is the idea of imago dei: the belief that all human beings, regardless of status or creed or “usefulness” or even likability, are valuable, because the God who created them is the one who gives them their value. Imago dei is what needs to be restored when we struggle with disordered eating, body image distortion, body shame, body hatred, or the effects of sexual abuse. So remember how much you are worth — body, soul, and all.
  7. Look in the mirror and declare God’s Word over yourself. This can be really hard and uncomfortable at first. Get into your underclothes and stand in front of that mirror and speak out loud statements like, “I am fearfully and wonderfully made,” or “I am created in the image of God, and God himself says that’s very good,” or “I am a child of God,” or “I am in Christ Jesus, and there is no condemnation for me, not even from myself,” or “The Spirit is setting me free from these things.” It’s hard at this stage to accept your physical body as something good, but try practicing these things and see if they help.
  8. Work on portion control, but avoid calorie counting. Portion control can be hard. Whether you’re accustomed to restricting OR overeating, it’s difficult to learn to listen to your body’s signs of hunger and fullness and to eat a normal, regular amount of food that’s not too big and not too small. Look up recommended portion sizes if you want, but don’t pay too much attention to calorie counts. Calorie counting is both legalistic and addictive and tends to be used in fear, not freedom. So don’t get hung up on calories.
  9. Hold onto hope for healing, restoration, and life abundant. I stand before you today free of obsessive thoughts of body hatred. I may have occasional thoughts of dissatisfaction, but I am free of obsession and the accompanying depression that my body is not good enough (and that therefore I am not good enough). So I want you to have HOPE: hope for freedom and wholeness and a full life after dealing with eating disorders.
  10. Remember that God is not giving up on you. God longs to live in you, in body, soul, and spirit. He will not give up on you, no matter how many times you binge, purge, or starve. He loves you the SAME. Always the same, eternal, everlasting, pure, perfect love. Of course we will make mistakes and let our beliefs and thoughts get all messed up. Of course we will make mistakes and make poor choices: that’s why Jesus came. God knew we would need Him, and He never gives up on us.

 

Linking up with Velvet Ashes