Redefining Success for the Faith-Based Expatriate

Quick link: You Are Not a Failure

Over at A Life Overseas today, writing about something that’s been bugging me a bit lately.

I’ve read lots of blog posts and essays about failure lately, about people who grew up wanting to change the world and end up discouraged. Jonathan Trotter wrote about this a year and a half ago. Sarita Hartz wrote about it just last week. Abby Alleman wrote about it in February. I guess its my turn.

To people who made youthful commitments they didn’t follow through on, to people who moved back ‘home’ earlier than planned, to people who don’t see what they dreamed of seeing, I want to say: You’re not a failure. And, you didn’t even fail.

You were on a date and you’d been trained to think this was a marriage. You got on a train and mistakenly believed you could never, ever get off. You’re lost in a new city and you think U-turns are not an option here. You fell in love and like most first loves, you fell out of it again. Or, it was in truth just a crush. Thankfully no one expects us or pressures us to marry our sixth grade ‘boyfriends’ and none of us feel guilty for abandoning them on the playground. But if, in our youthful naiveté and with the emotional high of a summer project, we make grand pronouncements of a lifetime commitment to service in the name of faith and turn our backs on that – we call it failure.

No one should be berated, by themselves or anyone else, for getting lost and making a U-turn. Even with Siri and GPS, we are not infallible. And when it comes to lifelong decisions, even with the Bible and the Holy Spirit, we’re allowed to change direction as we grow and evolve.

Click here to read the rest of You Are Not a Failure

In Which I Am Played By Mireille Enos. Or, the Modern Love Podcast.

So, this crazy thing happened.

My Modern Love essay was published on the Modern Love Podcast.

Sometimes Tom and I talk about who would play us in the movie of our lives. I usually say I don’t want a movie of my life and I don’t want anyone to play me because it just doesn’t seem interesting enough. He usually says he wants to play himself. That can give you quite a view into our marriage and personalities. But…Mireille Enos (Big Love, The Catch, The Killing) plays me in this podcast!

It took me hours to summon the courage to listen, and some encouragements from people who said they cried.

Lucy and I listened to it together this morning and she was enraptured by the story, her story.

It feels a little surreal. But, yeah, Mireille Enos (of the TV show The Catch) chose my Modern Love essay, A Child of Two Worlds, to read and this week it went live.

I wrote the piece almost 6 years ago, the birth it describes took place almost 12 years ago. So much has changed. The hospital mentioned doesn’t exist anymore, there are more options for women to give birth in other locations, but some of the same issues persist. It all seems so long ago.

Mireille did an incredible job with the reading, evoking emotion and depth. Her voice is gentle and rich and descriptive. It is strange to hear your work read by someone else, but I enjoyed it and the quality doesn’t get any better than the NYT and this lovely actress.

I’ll tell you more about producing this and about how I nearly vomited after the recording in another post.

For now, click here to listen to the Modern Love Podcast and A Child of Two Worlds.

Save

Save

Save

Cinematic Diplomacy

Today’s guest post is by Paul Seaman (read more of his insightful work on Third Culture Kids and the legacy of those who coined the term and imbued it with meaning here). This piece is an excerpt from a longer work and in the piece is about, in his words, “among other things, the importance of connection, how everything is connected, and how stereotypes and prejudice keep us from seeing those connections.” Enjoy, and thank you Paul!

******

My parents worked in Pakistan as an agriculturist and a nurse from 1963 to 1973. Most of my childhood was spent in that country until I was fifteen. Yet, that cross-cultural experience was also a somewhat sheltered one: I went to a boarding school for the children of missionaries, which itself was geographically isolated in the foothills of the Himalayan mountains. Even so, I had plenty of opportunities to interact with the local people, people who admired and envied the United States, and despite an embarrassing amount of stereotypes about life in the Land of Plenty, they were genuinely curious about America. I’ll never forget the many cups of chai, earnest conversations on trains, taking bicycle trips with Pakistani friends, and swimming in the Indus River.

When I returned for a school reunion in 1996, the famed Middle Eastern hospitality was still as gracious and overwhelming as I remembered. In Lahore I took my wife to a Pakistani cinema, for old times’ sake. (Their movies are made with the same melodrama and obligatory song-and-dance numbers that still characterize most of India’s “Bollywood” films.) It turned out to be opening night and the movie was sold out, but two college students—complete strangers to us—offered to help my wife and I get in. They refused any reimbursement, even though the pair of tickets probably cost them the equivalent of $50. Later, when I asked one of them if he could help me get a movie poster as a souvenir, he brought several to our hotel the next morning, just in time for our flight back to the States.

Today, Pakistan is in many ways a different country from the one where I grew up. It has been sad to watch the growing social chaos of the past few decades. The reasons are complex, but knowing that our country’s global policies have contributed significantly to hardening attitudes against the West increases my distress. And when I hear Americans lumping together all Arabs, Iranians, Pakistanis and Indians as America-hating religious extremists—egged on by the bigoted, inflammatory rhetoric of radio talk-show personalities and a clueless president—I think of those college boys at the cinema.

***

Paul Lives in the East Bay area of Northern California with his wife Catherine Lockhart-Seaman.

Save

Save

How is Being Married Like Being an Expatriate?

Quick link: How Marriage is Like Living Abroad

Today I’m writing at A Life Overseas about the various stages of being an expat and the various stages of building a marriage.

Compatibility is an achievement of love. It shouldn’t be its precondition.

Alain de Botton

The same could be said for living abroad. I hear many people say they ‘fell in love with Africa’ as soon as their feet touched the ground off the plane. I’m not sure how Kenyan or Nigerian or Burundian tarmac has developed this incredible ability to inspire love for an entire continent, while American tarmac is just tarmac. But. I think the above quote by de Botton applies to living abroad as much as it does to love. We achieve compatibility with the new places we live in as foreigners, we don’t arrive perfectly adjusted. We need to know this and we need to know this is okay.

Here’s how living abroad can be like building a marriage (aka: achieving compatibility in love):

Week One

Everything in this country is awesome and fascinating and I just want to know, like intimately, know it. I want to be one with it. I think that is totally possible. I want people to see that I belong here because I’m so good at communicating, I can even do it just with my hands. Who needs words when I’m such a good fit? I fit in so naturally; wearing all the beautiful clothes and eating all the fascinating food. I adapt so easily to all the things that are done differently here. This country is the best country I could have chosen, it will make me better, smarter, funnier, more attractive. People will think I’m amazing, just because I live here. I’ll probably never leave. This country can do no wrong…

What, oh what, do the next years have for our marriages and our expat life?

Click here to read the rest of How Marriage is Like Living Abroad

Save

Save

Passages Through Pakistan

Marilyn Gardner, author of Between Worlds, published her second book this week. Passages Through Pakistan: an American Girl’s Journey of Faith is a beautifully rendered story of growing up between worlds.

One scene, among many, that pricked my heart is of Marilyn’s mother attempting to plan t a garden in Pakistan. She longs for the vibrant colors of the place she left behind but the earth is unrelenting and nothing will grow. Finally she gives up and plants fake flowers, for the splash of brightness. From a distance, at least, it is beautiful. And then, it is stolen. Marilyn remembers thinking, as a child, “I thought we were loved.” Why would someone steal flowers from someone they loved?

The story captures the hard work, creativity, delight, devastation, and recovery inherent in so many experienced of living abroad.

Marilyn writes about going to boarding school. Oh, the complicated, loaded topic of boarding school. Marilyn handles this with so much vulnerability and grace. She refuses to shy away from the pain or to sink into defending her parents’ choice. She lays it out bare, the sorrow and the joy, hand in hand, that have made her into the incredibly wise, empathetic, and openhearted woman she is today.

This is the woman who oozes out through the words of this book – compassionate toward herself, her parents, toward God, and of course toward Pakistan. I don’t want to write spoilers, but at a moment of horrific tragedy and facing the question, “How can I live with this?” Marilyn remembers her mother saying, “You will live with this because of forgiveness and because of grace.” Again, she captures truth through sharing vulnerable stories.

Passages Through Pakistan is a book for Third Culture Kids and their parents, for churches, for people who live internationally and for the people who send them out, who love them, who pray for them. It isn’t always an easy read because Marilyn doesn’t gloss over the hard parts of her childhood but it is a hopeful read, because she finds joy and God in those hard parts.

When I finished reading, I had one overwhelming urge: to buy this book for my teenagers. This  is the perfect graduation gift for TCKs. Parents out there, with kids at the boarding school my kids attend (I’m talking especially to you guys) – I’m serious.

I’m buying copies for both my kids, even though I received an advance copy for the purpose of reviewing. I want them to have a hard copy to hold between their hands. Even if your kids hate to read, urge them to read the final chapter. Give the gift of wisdom and perspective as they head out into the wide, wild world.

You can read Marilyn’s blog Communicating Across Cultures here and you can buy Between Worlds and of course, Passages Through Pakistan here.

 

Save