screaming down the mountain

'Screaming down the mountain' is not a description of the speed of my driving. I knew I would be hoarse by the time I reached the bottom, but I didn't care. It felt like my head and heart were being ripped off of my body as I drove out of the YWAM parking lot, watching Josh slowly wander back to the center of the camp that will be his home for the next 3 months.
As we unloaded his stuff, he found the cards I'd written, tucked into his backpack. 1 of them said, "to be opened when you think this was all a  big mistake."  He looked at me and quipped, "So, Mom, you mean I'm never supposed to open this one?" We laughed.
That attitude is 1 big difference between Josh and me.
Yes, he'll be ok.


leaving home to go home

Most moms cry when their kid leaves home. When my younger brother left home, my mom looked like something had died. I understand that now. You give birth to children knowing they will grow up, become adults, have families of their own. You work hard and pray like mad that they will become self-sufficient, trustworthy, honorable people who have whatever it takes to live meaningful lives, to see their dreams fulfilled, to be happy. But if you're a parent and you haven't experienced it yet, don't let anyone kid you: when it’s time for them to leave home, there is grief. And there are additional layers of grief for ‘expat’ parents. 
Many people who’ve raised their kids outside their own home country are taken by surprise when their children have difficulty adjusting 'back home’ or who choose not to go to college or live in their passport country. Understandably. It’s not ‘home’ to them. Those parents experience a grief of separation of identity. The parents are American or British, Indian or _______ (fill in the blank). But their children see themselves as something else.
Some parents fear for the well-being and the future of such children. Other parents feel rejected, distressed that they have somehow raised rebellious, ungrateful children. While I understand their worry, it seems to me that something my mom (my first cross-cultural coach) used to tell me, applies: "It's not bad. It's just different."  These parents have successfully raised 'third culture kids' who may not tied to their parents’ place or identify deeply with their parents' people, but who are blessed with broader relationships, bigger perspective, and a greater capacity to experience life. 
But my son can't wait to get back 'home'!  I asked him one day, "Has living in Dubai been so terrible?" With a look that let me know I must be a crazy woman, he replied, "No, Mom. I'm going HOME!" 
Did we do something wrong as parents? (Well, yes. But this is not the place to write about all of that!) But one thing we did well was to grow him up in a big world. Born into a cross-cultural home, to parents who were blessed with cross-cultural jobs, our son’s life has been filled with all kinds of people from all over the planet. He’s traveled internationally since he was a toddler. He’s eaten – and enjoyed - food from everywhere. He’s met – and loved – people from everywhere. So why is he so happy to ‘go home’ to the U.S.?
Did we wait too late to live overseas? Maybe. But couldn't be helped. Would he have been different if he'd have grown up in Madras instead of Madison? Surely. But what would not have been different, I see now, is that my son is tied to a place. He feels rooted to a particular country and culture. And that's not bad. It's just different. (Different from me anyway.)
It makes me realize again that this life we have chosen to live as foreigners in a country not our own is not for everyone. A lot of expats live overseas to pursue a dream or a lifestyle. Some have simply followed work. Or a spouse. But some of us are here because it’s who we are, what we're made for. 
So there’s an added grief for me as my son leaves home to go home. I'm an expat at heart. He’s not. I feel as if I was born to live cross-culturally. He’s an all-American boy. Yes, I'm grieving for all the 'normal' reasons as my son leaves home. But there's another grief.  As I accept that we’re made for different lives, perhaps destined to live on different continents, I’m grieving because I'm losing my son to my own country and culture.


head and shoulders above the rest

We got out of the taxi at the Madras train station, pulled our backpacks out of the trunk, swung them onto our backs, and huddled together to get our bearings. It was easy to see where we were supposed to be headed. As 8 white Americans in that churning brown sea of South Indians, we were all at least a head taller than anyone else.
These 7 university students had never been to India. Most of them had never been out of the U.S. at all! It was my job to guide them - culturally, emotionally, and physically - through India.
Standing there in front of the station, the smells that were undeniably “Madras” seemed to rise up with the heat from the steaming pavement. I fended off the inevitable string of taxi drivers and ‘tour guides’ and pleaded with these college students to ignore the growing swarm of scruffy child beggars. Making sure everyone understood which train we were going to catch, reviewing the procedures we’d follow to get our tickets and get on the train, explaining how to find the platform in case they got separated from the group, and reminding them to vigilantly protect their valuables, I smiled, looked them in the eyes, and took a deep breath. 
“Now, let’s go. And try to look inconspicuous.” 

There’s no escaping who we are. Our personality, our histories, our mannerisms and physical presence, often our very skin, becomes even more conspicuous in a new culture. Some of us, oblivious to how very conspicuous we are, carry on in expat life much the same as we did back home. Perhaps that makes life easier. It also cuts off any opportunity for self-awareness, personal growth, and expanding our capacity for relationship or even enjoying people and experiences outside those we already feel comfortable with.
I’ve also observed another group of expats. People who deny who they are in an attempt to belong, to fit in, to be inconspicuous in a new culture. It’s especially obvious when those people are Americans. You can identity these people by such remarks as, “I’m not like those Americans”, or “Those Americans ______ (fill in the blank with something negative.)”
I understand it. (In fact, I’ve done it!) Our dominant culture (the one that’s marketed so successfully all over the world), our history, even our own families or forebears have not always looked good or done good. It’s tempting to distance ourselves from a sketchy history, an unjust system, or the negative perceptions of Americans that dominate the world in this era in history.  
But there is no escaping who are. Even if we change our geography, our values and behaviors, our citizenship, those of us who have been brought up in the U.S., whose personalities, histories, and sense of self have been molded by the hands of American culture, we are Americans. And that’s not a bad thing.
Every culture, every race, every peoples are not all bad – or all good. If we can’t embrace both the good and bad of our own culture, our own social, political, historical and racial identity, then we are not able to embrace others, either, with all their good and bad.
Cross-cultural living is an immense gift. We can toss it in the trash, and carry on as if we are all good (or at least ‘better than those people’) and have nothing to learn from others. We can try to ‘look inconspicuous’, disconnecting ourselves from the very things that have defined us.  (It all gets to be a bit ‘emporer’s new clothesish’ unless you have a true friend outside your own culture who’s willing to tell you just how ridiculous it is to think that you’re ‘not like those Americans’, no matter what your personal values or foreign policy.)  Or we can accept who we are, the good and the bad, offering the gift of our true selves to others. Not because we don’t need to change. But so that we can. As we become aware of – and accepting of – who we are, we can make choices that honor others without dishonoring ourselves.


Lenten reflections on coffee

Not having grown up in a liturgical church, the 'church calendar' and some of the traditions that many Christians around the world take for granted force me to do what, I think, those seasons and traditions are intended to do: make me think. 

Today Lent begins. I'll leave the historical explanations and theological musings to others who know better.  All I know is that:

  • I am not big on fasting. Or giving up things. But I’m sure there is something good to be received by doing it.  
  • I know that whatever is given up during this season does not make God love me more or win any kind of spiritual brownie points with God, as if He can be bribed or bamboozled.  
  • I don’t believe in fake fasts. So I’m not ‘giving up’ something that doesn’t matter to me.  
  • But I am not giving up coffee.

Concerned for my health, my family talked me into spending 3 weeks at a natural health center in India, where various forms of fasting and a rigid regime of daily exercise and naturopathic treatments was to replace my far-from-healthy normal routine. After 3 days of a fruit juice diet, my doctor asked, “Are you ‘regular’ since coming here?” As I shook my head, she wrote something down on the card I was required to carry outlining my daily treatments and ‘meals’. I explained, “My body is missing coffee!” She smiled and said, “I have just prescribed coffee for you!” “Really?!” My eyes lit up with excitement. Showing me the card, I read “coffee enema”.


looking up remix

I thought I'd been there, done that. But here I am again - looking in front of me, around me, inside me for some light for my next steps. I forgot. I've gotta look up. 

Just as a reminder to self, I'm re-posting my first blog entry about the experience that prompted this blog in the first place. 

If I want to see the light, I have to look up.

I have been praying for months that I would learn to “walk in the light of God’s presence” (Ps. 89:15). Last week, in 5 minutes of silence, I understood the frightening reality of what I had been praying for. And it was too late to take it back.

There I was, standing alone in a beam of light. And all around me, only darkness. The whole world was full of darkness- except for a faint light on the other side. Sure, it was God’s light. Certainly it was an affirmation of God’s presence. A sign that He was, indeed, answering my prayers. But it surely was not what I’d expected.

As I’ve pondered that picture, one thing has become clear: I like to see. All it takes is a little bit of light in front of me to start planning next steps, to be encouraged that I’m moving in the right direction, to adjust expectations of what should be and to create expectations for what could be. When I asked God to teach me to walk in the light of His presence, I expected Him to shine a beam of light down the road, so I could step into that light. I expected to be able to move ahead - in the direction of “His will” or “my destiny” or “a significant purpose”. But the only thing illumined is me. My pitiful neediness. My inability to be still. My ineptness at intimacy.

Straining to see the significance of what’s past is useless. Behind me, only darkness now. Panicking to see something in front of me to hold on to is pointless. Ahead of me, I see darkly. I long to look into the light and move ahead. But yesterday, in 5 minutes of worship, I understood. If I want to see the light, I have to look up. It's there I see God’s encompassing love for me. His mercy poured out on me. His yearning for relationship with me.

The past is past. And the future, a mystery. But God. He is present. And He, not some plan or pathway, is my destiny and the answer to my prayers.

"Blessed are those who have learn to acclaim you, who walk in the light of your presence, O LORD." Psalm 89:15
Take 5 minutes in silence.What longings arise? Lift them to the LORD. Let Him lead you.What dark places in you become visible? Allow God to cleanse and heal you as they come into His light.
Take 5 minutes to worship.How are you experiencing God's love? Love Him back.How is God making Himself visible to you? Acclaim (applaud or to salute with shouts of joy!) Him.


what could be

I’m an activist. I can’t help it. I see ‘what could be’ and move towards it with all my might. That’s probably why it took over 20 years of hearing the same refrain from my husband AND my mom, “You should write a book”, for me to start writing.

Maybe it’s different for other writers. But for me, writing is a discipline. One I’m not very disciplined at. I paid for an online writing class last May.  But cold hard cash couldn’t seem to get me started. (Money's never been a motivator.) My friend, Dawn (who’s always keen to learn and is always looking for ways to grow that big, beautiful creative streak of hers) decided in December to take the class, too. So we started it together.

Even so, (sorry Dawn), by January it took a back seat – again - to activist pursuits. I could say I can’t help it. It’s how I’m wired. But when, at the end of a satisfying day of vision-driven activity, I sit down to think about what I need to do next to move towards ‘what could be’, I remember writing. And somewhere in the back of my brain (perhaps the part that’s connected to my heart) a wispy thread of a thought tries to break into my consciousness. Something I’m not quite able to grasp: some seed of unformed idea; some remnant of untapped wisdom; some fissure that might crack open a new reality...if I could only let go of ‘could’ and ‘should’ and my idealistic activist visions long enough to sit still and reflect on what is. And, if I’m brave enough, to give my imagination over to what isn’t.

Maybe that’s all this writing class is. An opportunity to see ‘what could be’ if I would just sit still and let go.


Don't be too harsh to these poems until they're typed.  I always think typescript lends some sort of certainty:  at least, if the things are bad then, they appear to be bad with conviction.  
Dylan Thomas, Welsh poet

Our first assignment in Write Your Life Story class:
Write about an experience of the first time you entered a place.
Do it in 15 minutes.
Don’t edit as you go.
Read it to someone who will 1) tell you what they like about it and 2) tell you what more they’d like to know.

We did it.
We enjoyed it.
I hope you do, too.

what Becky wrote

Oh the wonder of it all! Weaving our way through the crowds – the happy crowds – as my Dad, Mom, little brother and little me enter The Magic Kingdom. We went to Disneyland so many times while I was growing up that the experiences have merged in my memory as a single delightful event.
 “Here! Here!” screams Dee, dragging my Mom into the candy shop on Main Street. He’d spied the round rainbow suckers that were bigger than his head.
 “Where do you wanna go, Beck?” asks my Dad with that deep, slow Midwestern accent of his.
 “You know.” I reply with my eyes fixed on the castle in the distance. “The tea cups.” (It had always been my favorite ride. Spinning round and round until dizzy with laughing I begged, “1 more time!”)
 Buying us each a sucker (not quite as big as our heads), Dad gathered us up and steered us into the colonial blue and white theater where we watched as President Lincoln gave that speech of his that seemed to have the power to bring tears to my eyes, though I was too young to understand why. 
 Blinking in the light of the sun, feeling the joy of a bright blue day we couldn’t help but laugh out loud as Dee and I shouted together, “Tea cups!” and ran towards the castle gate.

what Dawn wrote

I didn’t know where to stand to not be seen. Heavy dark curtains fell around me. My heart was in my throat and thumped like a drum in my ears. Anticipation and excitement filled the air inside my enclosed space. I had never been a surprise at a surprise party before. I felt both honored and emotional. The vision of my cousin entering the family-friend-filled hall and seeing him for the first time in four years brought a tear to my eye. Deafening roars of “Surprise” and “Happy Birthday” were my cue– pulling me out of my melancholy state. I take the unrehearsed step from behind the curtain and tripped into the unsuspecting arms of the man I had once shared a playpen with.