English isn’t English and other truths I hope my son learns

I enrolled my son in his new high school yesterday. Or I should say, his new “I-school”. A lot has changed since I was his age. My son will be 16 this summer - the same age I was when my family first moved out of the U.S. I still remember how mad I was when my parents told me we were moving to England. Moving again. Leaving friends I’d barely known (because of moving last time). Creating yet more distance from extended family. Having to start all over again – again. Yep. I was mad. But, I thought, at least they speak English.

That summer before my junior year of high school, I realized that I had an opportunity in front of me. A chance to redefine “me”. Who do I want to be, I wondered? Well, I knew who I didn’t want to be. Me. So I decided to choose a new name. A new identity. The New Me.

I always liked my name. (I’ve always been very grateful to the Doctor who took the liberty to name me while my parents wrangled over names, some of which should only be in baby name books, but never given to a baby!) “Rebecca” is a beautiful name. But too stuffy for every day use. “Becky”, the name I’ve always been known by, is cute. Too cute. But I wanted to be someone different. Cool, not cute. Unique, not normal. A girl who stands out in a crowd. Admired, popular, sought after.

What name would I choose for my new life in this new country? How could I introduce myself to my new high school? What was the right name for The New Me? I turned options over in my head, getting a feel for each name, weighing each nuance. Then it came to me.

For months, waiting in Florida for the Air Force to say “move”, I dreamt of the day I would no longer be “Becky” but “Randy”. I envisioned how people would see “Randy” (“wow! cool!”) What fascinating, intelligent, and witty things Randy would say in school hallways (“ooh! awesome!”). What kind of friends Randy would make ("yeah! groovy!") What fun adventures Randy and her friends would have in this new country ("oh! baby!"). Dreaming of becoming Randy helped me to let go of my life in the U.S. and move eagerly towards this unknown life in England. And towards The New Me.

Some good can come from TV. Even British TV! During our first month in England, we lived in a hotel in London. I was introduced to a lot of new and wonderful things that first month. Including the BBC. As we watched TV in the hotel, I kept hearing the word “randy”. It wasn’t a boy’s name. It wasn’t a name at all! It didn’t take long to realize with dismay that my plans for my new name had to be scrapped. And to realize that my English was not their English.

At 15, I didn’t understand that redefinition of self is deeper than a label. But something deep happened to me as result of that move that I was so mad about. Though the name had to be scrapped, the reality of becoming a different person wasn’t. The sudden revelation that English isn’t English, the growing realization that people who look like me are not like me, and the ever-repeated words from my mom, that all of these things are “not bad, just different” changed my worldview, my life’s direction, and my self-perception. And that’s way better than being Randy.

At 15 I didn't know that I was already well on the way to becoming a "tck". There are so many resources now for Third Culture Kids. He doesn't know it yet, but they will be good gifts to my son on his journey. And, perhaps, for you. www.tckworld.com is a good place to start.


the wrong f word

If I hear one more person saying that f word about me I’m going to scream. Why do I feel like it’s the wrong f word? What’s wrong with “faithful”?
“Faithful” implies doing the right thing without result. Weak. Ineffective. Akin to another f word that I hope is wrong: failure.
Yes, of course, I want to do the right thing. But I don’t just want to have been faithful in my work. I want to have been fruitful. That’s the right f word. The one I long for.
A friend – the one I’m married to – points out that “faithful” is the highest affirmation a follower of Christ can obtain. So why does that f word make me feel like a failure?
In the Bible, in the book called Matthew, chapter 25, Jesus tells this parable:

Again, it will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted his property to them. To one he gave five talents of money, to another two talents, and to another one talent, each according to his ability. Then he went on his journey. The man who had received the five talents went at once and put his money to work and gained five more. So also, the one with the two talents gained two more. But the man who had received the one talent went off, dug a hole in the ground and hid his master's money.
After a long time the master of those servants returned and settled accounts with them. The man who had received the five talents brought the other five. 'Master,' he said, 'you entrusted me with five talents. See, I have gained five more.'
His master replied, 'Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master's happiness!'
The man with the two talents also came. 'Master,' he said, 'you entrusted me with two talents; see, I have gained two more.'
His master replied, 'Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master's happiness!'
Then the man who had received the one talent came. 'Master,' he said, 'I knew that you are a hard man, harvesting where you have not sown and gathering where you have not scattered seed. So I was afraid and went out and hid your talent in the ground. See, here is what belongs to you.'
His master replied, 'You wicked, lazy servant! So you knew that I harvest where I have not sown and gather where I have not scattered seed? Well then, you should have put my money on deposit with the bankers, so that when I returned I would have received it back with interest.
'Take the talent from him and give it to the one who has the ten talents. For everyone who has will be given more, and he will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken from him. And throw that worthless servant outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.'

So why does “you’ve been faithful” feel like a backhanded compliment - or even a slap – when people say it to me after 29 years of service? Why am I so sorely disappointed that “faithful” is all they can say?
Perhaps it’s not the wrong word. It’s the wrong voice.
Maybe I’m turning my ear in the wrong direction, straining for the affirmation of people, instead of the Master. People have limited perspective, personal constraints, their own fears about failure. There’s no way they can know what I have accomplished. It’s impossible for them to see into me and understand how I experience their well-intentioned words.
I have to listen up. Turn my ear to the voice of the One who not only sees what I’ve done with what He’s entrusted to me, but knows the words my heart longs to hear. Words like “well done”, “good work”, “faithful and fruitful”, “I can trust you”, and “let’s celebrate”.
“Faithful” suddenly sounds a lot better.

We all know faithful people who inspire us to offer up our talents for the good of others, for the glory of God, and for the sheer joy of being who we're meant to be. Denis and Margie Haack have been that kind of inspiration to me since I met them in Albuquerque in the late 70's. They were faithful then. They're faithful now. And it's a beautiful thing to behold. You can see for yourself some of the fruit of their faithfulness on their blogs:

Who have been models of faithfulness to you?
What impact have they had on your life?
Thank God for them.
Now let those folks hear that beautiful f word from you.



Nearly 3 years ago I sat across a table in S. Africa, sharing my story with an African Christian leader. He said, “The pain and unsettledness you’re experiencing now is God digging around your roots. He is getting ready either to fertilize you for greater growth or to transplant you.” Since then, I’ve been watching for signs - sniffing to discern whether that smell was fertilizer or something else. It turns out to be something else.

When I realized last November that we were being transplanted, fear set in. I worried: will the soil be good for us to grow? I wondered: how can we put down roots in a desert?

Then I heard them chatting nonchalantly in the lobby as I lay on the table, face down, in the chiropractor’s office.

“You just cut if off, put the end in water, and it re-grows roots. That’s what those plants are made for.”

“That’s me!” I thought with great surprise and a little bit of pride. That’s what I’ve done my whole life. Every few years, as an “air force brat”, and then as an ever-moving adult, I’ve been cut off, transplanted, and have re-grown roots. So this is nothing new. Nothing scary. It’s what I was made for!

When I thought I was a normal plant, I feared being cut off. (Cut flowers are beautiful and portable. But they fade, wilt and die. Keeping them in water at that point just makes them stinky.) But I’m not normal. (No comments.) I’m made to put down roots again in a totally new environment. I don’t even need soil! Just plenty of water. And God has already promised to be that for me.

The beauty of this kind of plant is that it can easily be multiplied. The roots left behind – the ones that have gone deep into Madison soil for 12 years, the roots that have been going down into InterVarsity soil for 29 years - will grow a new thing after I’m gone. That’s a comfort. And it’s comforting, too, to know for sure that I’ll be able to grow roots again. It’s what I’m made for!

Nairy Ohanian is a former colleague and an amazing, cross-cultural woman. She's a beautiful example of a plant that's made to put down roots even after being cut off. Her book, Now, Can You Trust Me, is a collection of often humorous, always inspiring stories from her years in Armenia.http://www.nairysstories.com/

Are there signs in your life that God is either fertilizing you for growth or preparing you for transplanting? Ask God for insight into your life circumstances and for receptivity to His work in your life.Looking back on your life, do you see similar experiences cropping up? Is there a pattern that gives you insight into what you are made for? Ask God for clarity. What skills and wisdom have you gained through those experiences that can be leveraged in your current circumstances? Thank God for giving you everything you need to grow and to thrive.


cleaning up

I’d say “Saying goodbye sucks” if I didn’t have to put a quarter in the “crass case”.

That’s Josh’s idea. We (meaning me) decided that 1 way we need to prepare for moving to the Middle East was to clean up our vocabulary. Words and expressions that are fit for Madison do not fit Dubai. (Of course my mom thinks that some of our expressions aren’t for fit anywhere!) Certain sayings and specific words – whatever we’ve labeled as “crass” – have a 25 cent fine. (And there are a few that will cost you 50 cents!) At the end of the week, whoever has had the least infractions gets the money. (So far, it hasn’t been me.)

It’s surprising how hard it is to let go of even useless words once they’ve become part of your daily life. But we’re making progress. If we work hard to clean up our words now, when we get to where we’re going it won’t be so hard.

I’m already mentally cleaning up our house. There’s so much stuff that’s just taking up space. We have a lot of things we don’t need anymore (and lots that we never did!) My mom is moving in when we’re gone. I want to free up space for her to make it her home for as long as she lives there. Even though we know we’re not going to live here soon and that if we ever return to this house we’ll need to begin again anyway, it’s hard. Hard to let go of stuff – even useless stuff. But we’re choosing to clean it all up knowing it’s a necessary part of moving ahead. And of saying goodbye.

I’m cleaning up relationships, too. Working hard to forgive where needed. Doing my best to say “goodbye” well. I don’t see these people every day. Or even every year. But knowing that I’m going to be on the other side of the planet makes a difference in our relationships. I have to let go. And so do they.

This trip I’m on now is a gift. I’m grateful to spend time before I leave the country with people I love and who love me. But I ache when I think of how long it will be til I see them again. And I wonder if it may be the last time I see some of them or hug them goodbye. It’s painfully hard. Crying hard. In fact, it sucks.

Gotta go put another quarter in the jar.

"There have been a number of times in my life when my reaction is "No, no, no!" to whatever possibility looms on the horizon. But with hindsight, I can see that sometimes God is like water, slowly eroding whatever objections my false selves may present. The important question for discernment of these experiences of discomfort is this: will this new possibility enable me to live with greater faith, hope, and love, responding to God's will? Even if the answer is not clear, keeping open the possibility that God is moving me gives me the chance to listen for the ways God may be trying to get my attention. Perhaps God is trying to melt my objections."
The Ignatian Workout, Tim Muldoon, p. 40

There’s a lot to clean up not just on the outside, but on the inside. Transition can feel like a good house-cleaning of the heart, it we'll let it be. Fears that can be managed under normal circumstances…character flaws that can be hidden or disguised when things are going smoothly…all rise to the surface when the future is uncertain, nothing’s going according to plan, and we can’t see how any of this is really going to happen. Grab some courage and listen to your heart. What are you feeling about life circumstances and letting go?
How is God working in your life to expose fear, pride, independence, complacency, or other variations of a lack of faith or hardness of heart?
Will you choose to let God clean house? (It’s an opportunity to get cleaned up a bit now so that when we get to where we’re going, it won’t be so hard.)