a life overseas

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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.

What is Moral Injury and How Does it Affect You?

Quick link: Moral Injury

Last Friday I wrote about moral injury for A Life Overseas. I recently learned the term and it was so fitting for much of what I’ve felt and experienced. The essay gets pretty vulnerable about my own weakness.

I first learned the term “moral injury” in a Plough magazine article by Michael Yallend, Hope in the Void. He quoted authors Rita Nakashima Brock and Gabriella Lettini who say moral injury, “comes from having transgressed one’s basic moral identity and violated core moral beliefs…Moral injury destroys meaning and forsakes noble causes. It sinks warriors into states of silent, solitary suffering, where bonds of intimacy and care seem impossible.”

Foreign Policy magazine describes moral injury as “damage done to a ‘person’s conscience or moral compass by perpetrating, witnessing, or failing to prevent acts that transgress moral and ethical values or codes of conduct.”

Can you think of ways you have experienced this in your life abroad?

Read more here:  Moral Injury

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

Third Culture Kids Checking out Colleges

Quick Link: Third Culture Kids, College, and Culture Shock

I wrote this week at A Life Overseas about observations my kids and I made last summer while on college tours in the upper midwest of the US.

We saw some funny things. And some awesome things. And learned a ton.

Here’s a start:

Girls wear sport shorts, tight and short sport shorts, or pajamas (dressed to impress?).

Minnesotans play a lot of hockey and broomball.

If you grow up in a country with no snow or ice, you don’t know what broomball is (it is okay to ask, get used to asking).

TCKs are the only seniors in a room who have to clarify the question, “Where are you from?” (do you mean where was I born? where my passport says I’m from? where I go to school? where I keep most of my belongings? where I stay every few years in the summer? where my parents pay taxes and will get in-state tuition? where I came from just this morning?).

There are a lot of white people in the Midwest, especially in rural areas (notice, my kids are also white, but they barely realize it. What this means is that the color of a person’s skin tells you very little of their actual history and story. Ask questions, listen, be slow to judge).

Parents and students respond with more excitement to the prospect of a Starbucks on campus (as opposed to all the way across the street) than they do to a $15 YEARLY membership at a club that provides bikes, kayaks, paddle boards, sports equipment, and intramural teams to join. Or than they do to pretty much every other thing mentioned on tour. Starbucks is very important.

Click here to read the rest and to share your own observations: Third Culture Kids, College, and Culture Shock

Parents Need to Model Gratitude for TCKs

Quick link: Parents, Call Out the Beauty

Writing at A Life Overseas about how to help our kids see beauty, even in hard things.

I don’t think parents should ignore hard and ugly things where we live, but I know that what we emphasize, kids will emphasize. While we need to give our kids language for dealing with poverty and injustice and loneliness, we also need to model choosing gratitude. This might mean literally lifting up our eyes to see beyond garbage dumps to the mountains beyond.

Giving our kids a love for the unique beauty or kindness or hope in their place is a gift we give them.

I don’t know if there are studies about this or if it is purely anecdotal, but I have heard over and over that how kids respond to a life overseas is directly related to how parents, especially moms, respond to it.

No pressure, moms.

Seriously, no pressure. All is Grace.

But also, seriously, how ya doin’?

Some days are so full of purpose, language success, and cultural deepening that our joy overflows and we dance around the kitchen with our kids.

Some days are so lonely, breaking, hot, dusty, disappointing, and frustrating that if we had our first choice, we would be on the way to the airport right.now.

I absolutely think it is valuable to be honest and vulnerable about our struggles, but what we choose to emphasis around our children matters.

Especially when kids are little. As they grow and become teenagers, are able to see more nuance and are facing their own struggles, we can become more transparent about ours. But when kids are young, if we want them to thrive and enjoy living in our new location, we need to help them.

How?

Click here to read the rest, including several practical suggestions: Parents, Call Out the Beauty