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Cancer Candy

You know how when it rains, it pours?

My twins graduated and moved to two universities in the United States of America.

My husband remained in Djibouti to run our start-up, the International School of Djibouti.

My singleton, the youngest, returned to Kenya for school.

I stayed in MN to be close by while the older two transition to this country and new phase of life.

We recently made some organizational readjustments that were positive and complicated and also, to be honest, difficult, as most changes are.

Parenting adult kids is really hard, harder than I thought.

I turned in my book manuscript this week.

I told you recently that I started seeing a counselor for “stuff.”

And then, I recently bought this:

Why is a pile of sugary goodness on this list of challenges and changes?

Because I labeled it:

#cancercandy

Because I bought it a few hours after being diagnosed with thyroid cancer.

Yeah.

Me, for whom health is a high value. Who takes doctor appointments and nutrition seriously, who loves to run because it makes me feel strong. Who was strict about natural family planning as birth control because I didn’t want to take hormones or pills. That person has cancer and will go on hormone therapy for the rest of her life.

I talked to my mother-in-law a few hours after the doctor’s phone call. She and my father-in-law are nurses, he was a cancer nurse. I asked what I needed to think about. She said,

“Today, you need to think: Shit. I have cancer. Tomorrow, you can ask questions.”

#bestmotherinlawadviceever

I took her advice literally and headed straight out to the grocery store for candy and ice cream.

What’s next?

A second biopsy on a suspicious lymph node. (*biopsy came back clean)

Then, surgery, removal of my whole thyroid and the monstrously large lump attached to it. We are trying to come up with a nickname for the beast but I’m revolted by all the family’s suggestions so far.

Then?

I don’t know yet.

I’ll try to keep writing. I’ll try not to write all the time about cancer, Lord knows there’s enough of that out there for you to read elsewhere. But I might because, Lord knows that’s what’s on my mind (and in my neck) these days.

I plan on being just fine.

But, my hope is not in odds or doctors or my own body.

I don’t rely on human plans, not even my own.

This is what some people call a “good” cancer, which means it is fairly treatable. I gotta say, I’m not ready to claim that yet. While I am thankful for many things (that there is treatment, that I’m here in the US for this time period, that I don’t feel sick at this point), it is still cancer. And cancer sucks. Cancer combined with an international life super sucks. The treatment will be hard, the disruption to our life will be hard, the future slightly foggy.

May I suggest a more appropriate response, if someone (like me) tells you they have thyroid cancer? Don’t say, “Well, lucky you, you got the good one!” Just say, “Shit. You have cancer. I’m so sorry.” Feel free to modify to “shoot” or “gosh darn” or whatever floats your boat.

I’ll let you know how all this pans out in the coming months.

What Happens Every Time I Write about Sexual Harassment

Quick link: Let’s Talk about Sexual Harassment

I wrote about sexual harassment for A Life Overseas today but I still had more to say. So here is the follow-up piece.

I’ve written about sexual harassment in the past and inevitably, a friend will tell me that they’re surprised by my stories, that they have never been harassed. I immediately whip through a range of internal reactions. One, great! I’m so glad for them. Two, shame. Why me? Three, doubt. I don’t believe them. Four, anger. Why are they saying that to me? Do they not believe? Do they think I’ve “asked” for it in some way? Am I doing something wrong?

Like I said, I’m glad other women don’t experience harassment.

But.

I think there are reasons other than that I’m just asking for it.

  • I speak the local language. It is hard to know someone is insulting you when you don’t know the language. I’ve been called a whore more times than I can count but not one single time has been in English. I’ve been told that I will be the first one someone would choose to kill, but it wasn’t in English, or that my breasts are nice and my butt is jiggling but never in English.
  • I spend a lot of time outside. I run, outside. Most of the time I am encouraged and cheered on by men on the streets. But not always. Not always. I bike, I walk. Apparently, a woman on a bike is cause for boys or men to shout, “Sex! Sex!”
  • I spend time in certain sections of town. I don’t spend time only at the upscale hotels or grocery stores or neighborhoods.
  • I understand the culture. I know the hand and facial gestures, at least some of them. I know the lip and tongue noises. I know some slang, some history. Some words seem benign but they aren’t when you know the backstory.
  • I’ve been living internationally for sixteen years. I’ve been a woman for forty years. I’ve built up a lot of stories.
  • I used to live by several schools. Never again. Things got so bad on one particular street that even my daughter was being harassed: touched, pinched, stopped on her bike, chased, mocked. We spoke to the director of the school, we spoke to our landlord, for a while a police truck patrolled the street. Eventually, we moved.

I know I’m not the only one because I’ve spoken with other women and hugged them and cried with them. I’ve been with them when it has happened, both local and expatriate women. But sometimes it can still feel like I’m the only one, especially when I hear others express that they haven’t experienced these things.

Should I stop biking? Should I drive the car two blocks to pick up a baguette? Should I move into a neighborhood with rents higher than our salary? Should I stop running? Should I wear a cardboard box from head to foot? Should I never speak or laugh when outside? Should I not tell these stories?

Should I, as a few commenters have suggested, pack up my children and leave? But where would I go? Nowhere is safe from harassment, it has happened in every country where I’ve spent significant time. Should I concede, as one commentor suggested, that harassment can’t happen to me because it happens at the American military base? As if the harassment of women in one location cancels out the harassment of women in another?

Should I feel bad that I seem to be one of the few expatriate women to be on the receiving end of harassment?

Should I say, kids will be kids, with the feel of my breast in their palm and the reality that if they actually do trip me while I’m running, I might be seriously injured? Should I pretend like these boys won’t grow up to be men, stronger and faster, with wives and daughters?

Should I pretend I was terrified when a man punched me in the butt, his fast swinging with the force of the motorcycle he rode? Or that I wasn’t disgusted when someone dumped a bottle of liquid on me and for a moment I had to wonder whether or not it was urine or something even worse?

Should I pretend it doesn’t happen here? Didn’t happen in Italy? Didn’t happen in Turkey? Didn’t happen in the United States? Didn’t happen in the UK? Didn’t happen in Kenya?

No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No.

I hope I’m the only person who experiences sexual harassment but I don’t believe that’s true. So I’ll keep talking about and keep hoping it stops and keep hoping other women will be willing to talk about it, even through the shame or anger.

The Expat at Rest

I recently started seeing a counselor.

Not for anything specific, really. But for fifteen years in the Horn of Africa. For gritting my teeth and bearing it all these years. For current challenges, for good/hard things, for traumatic events, for heaps upon heaps of sorrow over all the ways the world and her people are broken.

I came in rather skeptical. Not about the particular person I am seeing, and I told her this before we even started, but about the process.

I had all kinds of excuses for why it wouldn’t be helpful.

I waited too long. The years have been too many.

I don’t really need to process any of this, I’ve been fine, I am fine, I’ll be fine. Mostly. Except when I’m not.

No one in the US will understand.

I don’t have the energy to dig around deep.

The specific method won’t be useful for me.

Mostly, I live a beautiful life and I’m thankful for 15 years in the Horn.

I remain skeptical, I think its partly my nature. However. One shining moment (among others) encourages me to press forward.

She gave me a coupon.

Not really, not a paper coupon, but with her words (I think I remember accurately) she even said, COUPON.

It was for rest.

It felt really silly, cliché, gimmicky.

She told me to stop feeling guilty for needing to rest. Of course I need to do work, I still have responsibilities and job requirements to fulfill, but I can easily take an 8-hour work day (on things for the International School of Djibouti, for example, or transcribing and editing an essay) and keep on going into the night. She lightly suggested that the world would not fall apart if I took a nap on a Saturday afternoon.

***

And so, I found myself at a park on a Saturday afternoon.

I had dropped off my son at university that morning and had a few open hours. I sat down at a picnic table with my laptop. I have several rough drafts of projects that needed editing, activity flyers to design, school documents to create.

I was so tired.

I had dropped off my daughter at university only a few days earlier. My husband and other daughter are back in Africa, while I stay in the US as the twins transition to this foreign country of the US. In many ways, life has turned upside down.

I was so tired.

My computer was warm on my lap and ready for work.

But I was at a park. In Minnesota. In late August.

Behind me, a father and daughter hit softballs and the sharp twang of her bat against the ball spoke everything that is summer. Ants crawled over my sandals. The sun filtered through leaves and danced on the grass like drops of gold.

I was so tired.

All I wanted to do was curl up in the grass and fall asleep.

Just for a little while.

Can people do that here?

Would I be safe?

Would someone approach me? Touch me? Stare at me? Steal from me? Harass me? Kick me out?

I closed my computer and sat down in that green, green grass.

I laid back with the sun now dancing on my cheeks and my backpack a computer-shaped pillow behind my head.

I fell asleep.

Did you feel the world stop? Did anyone notice?

Not a thing.

Not even the father and daughter playing softball noticed.

I dozed for maybe twenty minutes.

And then I woke up.

And the world kept right on spinning. You kept right on living. My work was still there and I had plenty of time to get it done.

So, if you need it, super dorky cheesey and cliché as it is, here’s your coupon. No, I take that back. I know you need it. So when, not if, here’s your coupon.

Print it out. Stick it to the fridge. And when you need to sleep in the grass, or sit at a café and just stare at your lovely cappuccino foam, pull it down and go do it.

I’ll still be here when you get back. The sun will still be shining. Your work will still be waiting.

And you’ll have energy to approach it, a fresh spirit to engage with it, new joy to experience it.

Go and rest.

By |September 24th, 2018|Categories: Expat Thoughts|Tags: , , |1 Comment

A Quiz about Fear

Quick link: 10 Dangerous Things for Kids and One True Danger, a Quiz, at A Life Overseas

I recently heard an interview with Kim Brooks, the author of Small Animals, parenthood in the age of fear, and was reminded of how irrational fear can be. Understandably so, but still, in an age of fear and also judgment and rage, parenting can feel fraught with risk.

I had written this quiz several years ago, but found it again in my drafts and pulled it out to publish now. What are we generally afraid of? What should we actually fear (if anything?)

A quiz:

  1. Are Americans more at risk of dying by terrorist or dying by an appliance falling on us?

Death by appliance.

  1. Is a predator more likely to attack a child walking home from the playground alone or to attack a child playing in the home?

Child playing at home.

  1. Does a child face more of a health risk while climbing a tree or while staring at an iPad?

Staring at an iPad.

Click here to continue with the quiz and to read my conclusion: 10 Dangerous Things for Kids and One True Danger, a Quiz, at A Life Overseas

Rethinking, Rebuilding. Love in International Service, a book excerpt

Today I bring you an excerpt from Ryan Kuja’s new book: From the Inside Out. I resonated strongly with his words on wholeness. The world is broken and we are broken. I don’t even have to look outside my own mind and heart to recognize the need for healing and restoration and that reality is amplified as soon as I lift my eyes up to the broader world. What can promote and facilitate healing? Love. Unity. Integration belief and action. Peace.

If you enjoy this excerpt and would like to read more, you can find Ryan’s book here and his website with links to more of his published work here.

Book Excerpt- Chapter 5

Making All Things Whole through Love

“Those who follow Jesus,” wrote Franciscan sister and professor Ilia Delio, “are to become wholemakers, uniting what is scattered, creating a deeper unity in love.” The deepest call of Jesus followers is to be wholemakers— acting in ways that bring about the wholeness that underlies the fabric of the cosmos. We seem separate but in our roots we are part of an indivisible whole. There is an integral connectivity that links us. If this is how reality is construed—through a substrate of love, a fabric of connection and deep unity—than participating in mission as if this were true means looking at our task differently, through the lens of the hidden wholeness that exists in Christ prior to and beneath all things. Jesus followers are tasked with intentionally participating in completing the world; mission is nothing less than action toward the fulfillment of the cosmos itself.

The reconciliation of all things is not only a possibility, human flourishing is not only an idea, shalom not a mere word to be adopted, but realities ingrained in the fabric of creation itself.

Placing ourselves in alignment with the shape of God and thus the shape of the universe itself so that we may be conduits of shalom means bringing together the inner and the outer. It means reintegrating contemplation and action. Our logical Western-trained minds say prayer and work, spirituality and ministry are distinct, autonomous aspects of life, but that is a fairly new invention based on Western philosophy and Greek metaphysics, based on the thought of Descartes and Plato more than Paul and Jesus.

What would happen if we began to reimagine mission as relationship in which we recreate each other through a deep mutuality? Participating in the ongoing creation of the world through mending and being mended, healing and being healed, becoming wholemakers as we are being made whole?

This missional spirituality is radically grounded in materiality while simultaneously oriented toward a cosmological horizon that is coming to us from the future, a future in which “Christ is all, and is in all” (Col 3:11). We experience a foretaste of that eschatological future in the present. From the very heart of reality itself, from within the messes, the brokenness, and the tragedy, Christ redeems, restores, reanimates, and resurrects. The world is being reconstituted, day by day, moment by moment, breath by breath, to reflect the new reality which Jesus referred to as the kingdom of God. It is all heading into renewal.

Every act of peace, each move toward courage, every act of selfless love is an act of new creation, small and often unnoticed perhaps, but powerful nonetheless as it is a participation in God’s being. In this way we don’t merely believe in God, worship God, or work for God, but we participate in God’s life.

(I confess that I have not read the entire book yet, but after I read the excerpt Ryan sent me, the book jumped to the top of my list. If you have read it, share your thoughts in the comments or over on Facebook.)

A global citizen with a background in international mission, relief, and development, Ryan Kuja has lived in fifteen cities and rural villages on five continents. He holds an M.A. in Theology and Culture from The Seattle School of Theology & Psychology as well a Diploma in Humanitarian Assistance from Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine. A spiritual director and writer, he has written for Sojourners, Missio Alliance and several theological journals. His first book, From the Inside Out: Reimagning Mission, Recreating the World, released in June 2018. Ryan is currently serving as the Field Director of Word Made Flesh in Medellin, Colombia. You can find him online at ryankuja.com and on twitter as @ryankuja.

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