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Confessions from an American Christian Expatriate

Quick link: Dear American Church

I wrote this week for A Life Overseas about the complicated feelings I have as an American expatriate toward the American evangelical church. The essay required a lot of humility and vulnerability because I confess how judgemental I can be.

Its gross.

But it is also good because I relearn, every time I’m back in the USA, why I love the church, in all her imperfections and mess. Because she loves me back, in all of my imperfections and mess.

Here’s part of the piece:

Dear American Church,

Sometimes I feel cynical about you. This should not sound surprising, especially coming from an expatriate. I haven’t engaged deeply with you in almost sixteen years. My ‘church’ has been a motley crew of people from all nations and all denominations and all manner of theological bent in terms of eschatology, gender roles, predestination (or not). My pastors rarely speak English. My family is usually the only white family.

My other church, the BODY, has been women I take long, sweaty, dusty walks with, sometimes chased by wild dogs or men with AK-47s. We pray, we hold hands, we shout, we weep, we fight, we forgive and ask forgiveness. We try to untangle the world’s brokenness and our own. We babysit each other’s children, counsel through hard marriages, donate blood in the hospital. We do Christmas, Thanksgiving, Easter, baptisms, baby dedications, and grief in each other’s homes. We don’t attend services together inside a building but we live worship together in the world.

We are a small community and a constantly changing one, which means we cannot stagnate. We have to try, really hard, to not close ourselves off to each new arrival or to isolate in sadness after each fresh departure. We know we are a hot (literal) mess.

So sometimes when I come back to America for a visit, the church feels so big. So impersonal. So unengaged in relationship. Focused on politics and national pride. So rich, so much pressure to buy certain books or to dress well enough to look presentable in services. So homogeneous.

And I judge.

Oh God, forgive me, I judge. While I’m away, I cry about loneliness and limited relationship options and the exhaustion of the revolving expatriate door. But then while I’m in the US, I judge.

Click here to read the rest.

When Things Crash and Stories from the Horn

Don’t let me hold your phone, drive your car, or borrow your computer. Don’t ask me for tech help on your blog, newsletter, Facebook account, or anything else.

I have been run into twice in the past few months by motorcycles. They literally ran right into the car. Once on the driver’s side and once on the passenger side.

Both times the motorcycle driver was at fault, like going the direction on the road, passing on the wrong side, not using turn signals, multiple witnesses all agreeing with them being at fault, all kinds of at fault. I will not publicly go into all manner of not okay-ness in how I was held to blame.

Sometimes, Djibouti wins.

I downloaded an update on my phone and it never worked again. Go to the Apple store, says the internet. I say, “The nearest Apple store is off the continent.

The water proof bag I used to carry items wasn’t actually water proof. Not for me. For so many others, yes. Me? Not this time.

My website crashed.

My computer crashed.

I ruined my newsletter list.

I can fix it. We can fix it. The technician and mechanic can fix it.

But what a headache. Aren’t all these things supposed to make life easier?

I’ll tell you what was easier: not having a phone because it broke. No pressure to take photos – just memorize the moment, just experience the moment. No pressure to respond to messages. No need to post updates.

Still.

Writers gotta internet. Or something like that.

And nowadays, writers gotta newsletter.

This is what is drilled into us everywhere I go online. Build your email list. Facebook and Instagram could crash or close (like they did on July 3 this year – anyone else have image issues? I swear I had nothing to do with that). Don’t let someone else have control of your work.

And I’ve discovered that I really love working on my newsletter and building that email list. People don’t comment on blogs that much anymore and Facebook and Twitter sorta overwhelm me. But in my newsletter, I get to be myself without blabbing it all over the internet. And I get to respond, one on one, to comments and questions and feedback.

I get to work on essays that in the past I would have tried to pitch to magazines but now I love keeping them just my newsletter.

Here are some of the wide-ranging recent topics:

  • How love in dating is different to love in marriage
  • Female genital mutilation from the voices of Djiboutian women
  • The story of a man who lived with a bullet in his head for 18 years and what happened when it came out
  • The next one will be about the cheek kissing greeting. Ever wonder if people accidentally kiss on the lips? I don’t know about people, but I do know about me

I curate stories from the Horn of Africa and Somali news from all over the world. I love doing this – keeping myself and readers up to date on what’s happening in the places we care about, super cool stories about the new superfood: camel’s milk or about Somali yoga lessons on the beach in Mogadishu or about the apparent new Cold War between China and the US taking place in Djibouti, about disastrous White Savior problems in Uganda…

I give loads of book recommendations, including Kindle Deals for the best books, usually under $3.00.

And we do this silly thing where I take quotes from famous people from Gandhi to Oprah to Mr. Rogers and replace the word “struggle” with the word “snuggle.” Because we could all use a little more snuggle in our lives these days.

Its kind of like letting people see the things I love to talk about. Like if we sat down over coffee, I would probably ask you what great book you’re reading. Or what fascinating story has gripped you lately? Or do you have any idea how to untangle the mess or how to celebrate the successes in the Horn lately?

Last week, I switched email providers because I wanted to be better able to provide great content and meet the needs of readers.

Alas.

Remember how nothing was working?

That didn’t work either.

I feel like an idiot. I probably am one. Or didn’t read the instructions well enough, though I felt certain I did. I don’t know.

In any case, a lot of people’s emails fell through the cracks. Like a lot, a lot.

And if you don’t want to read Stories from the Horn anymore and your email fell through – no worries! I’m glad you hung around for a while and you’re welcome back any time, but you are also totally free to head out in other reading directions.

If you do subscribe and still want to, Aweber has assured me, they have solved the problem. So hang tight, some of you have contacted me and I will make sure you’re all added in correctly. I’m so sorry for the hassle and confusion.

If you have never subscribed but are intrigued by what is on offer, I’d love to have you join in. Its totally free, I will never sell or give out your email address. You’ll get a free download: 25 Things You Need to Know but No One Will Tell You about Moving Abroad (and a bonus, secret free download too, once you confirm.)

And if you do subscribe and hit reply to the email when it comes into your inbox, to send me a message or ask a question, I promise to respond. I read every single email and (so far) am able to respond to them all. It might take a day or two, but I love hearing what drew you to Stories from the Horn or ideas on what you’d like to hear more about from me, suggestions on how I can serve you better, or just a “hi!”

Here’s a link for signing up, if you haven’t already seen it posted like, everywhere, on the blog.

Do you have a newsletter? I’d love to check it out.

Send me your link or include it in the comments.

Expat Focus Podcast

Quick link: Expat Focus Podcast

Check out my interview with Carly at Expat Focus!

“Today on the show, we’re talking about raising children abroad, specifically as Third Culture Kids.

‘TCKs’ are people raised in a culture different to that of their parents, and the country named on their passport.

My guest, American Rachel Jones, is a mum of three TCKS. She left the USA with her husband and their young twins to work in northern Somaliland, and later Djibouti, where she still lives.

So what’s it like raising your kids in a country that’s so different to your own? How does the experience influence their development, and shape them as adults? And what challenges are you likely to encounter along the way? Rachel’s going to share her insights, which she hopes will help other parents create a thriving family culture while living internationally.”

*photo by Jessica Lee

Another Mother Runner Podcast

I am:

a mother

a runner

another mother runner

and…a running nerd.

By nerd, I mean I love all things running. I used to think: what is there to talk about? You wear shoes and you move your legs. Done.

Now? I get it. I read the shoe descriptions in Runners World magazine. I delight in every mile, in hearing people say about a race, “And I ran…and I finished…” and I want to hear all about the in between parts.

So talking to other mother runners was just plain delightful.

Here is the podcast episode, a bonus 45-minute length one, thanks to my wonderful mother (who is not a mother runner but she is a mother walker) who nominated me for mother of the month!

Have a listen, maybe on the run or after listen, lace up your shoes and hit the road/trail/treadmill.

 

10 Essential Expatriate Travel Skills

I recently met a woman who heard I have lived in the Horn of Africa for sixteen years WITHOUT AMAZON PRIME. She figured that was probably the hardest thing about those sixteen years. If she only knew…

Being sans immediate doorstep delivery of all the things does not constitute suffering in my worldview. That said, it does make expatriate life a bit more challenging and requires a bit more creativity. There are some important skills to develop. When prodigious amounts of travel are required to see your children, attend a wedding or funeral, pick up your life-saving medications, purchase new running shoes, or simply get a break in an English-speaking country, there are some important skills to develop. When navigating two worlds, there are some important skills to develop.

If you already live abroad, you know of what I speak. If you don’t, but are planning to move, here’s some skills to start developing now.

travel skills

  1. Packing the right amount of peanut butter. How long will you be away from peanut butter? How many children do you have? How lazy are you when it comes to dinner (if you’re anything like me, the answer is: very)? If you’re packing a load of this liquid gold, here’s an easy link to order it. Via Amazon. Because why not just buy the 80 ouncer?
  2. Knowing exactly what 50.0 pounds feels like. Airline staff will be impressed and you won’t have to literally spread your underwear all over the airport floor in front of everyone, re-shuffling.
  3. Accurately guessing what style and size shoes your toddler/tween/teenager will wear eighteen months from now.
  4. Purchasing the right running shoes to get through the next 2,500 miles. My go-to’s lately are Brooks Ghost and Altra trail shoes, nice and wide for my toes, and great for off-road.
  5. Sitting nearly upright for fifteen hours at a time without losing your mind.
  6. Walking off those fifteen hours in preparation for another 8-10 before doing it again, while in a cramped airport lugging carry-ons, purses, computer bags, backpacks, diaper bags, strollers, and 1-3 zombie children.
  7. Filling out visa and immigration paperwork with one hand, the paper balanced on soft-sided luggage which is balanced on top of your thigh which is leaning against the metal bars that hold up those red ropes, so that you can stand in line while filling it out instead of getting stuck at the back of a group of not-from-around-here tourists, while hollering at your children and passing out Cheerios, while holding your pee and ordering everyone else in the family to hold their pee because you are NOT going to the back of the line.
  8. Peeing from any level of squat regardless of the availability of toilet paper or hand sanitizer or bathroom stall doors or bathrooms.
  9. Calling two countries home.
  10. Knowing that ‘home’ has multiple meanings.

What have been some of your essential skills?

*image via Flickr

*contains affiliate links to things you can order on AMAZON PRIME!

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