Tragedy and Our Souls

By Donna Kushner

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Tragedy is no stranger to the global community of missionary kids and their families. Amongst us grief is a common theme. Sometimes the grief is the result of a tragedy. Recently I experienced this sort of grief, but from a distance–three times in a few short weeks. Our wired world forces us to experience grief this way, now that social media can inform us of a death or other sudden loss within hours of it happening.

I have pondered on this today as I learned of the third tragedy. It is not unlike the grief that we talk about for MKs—sometimes geographically distant, sometimes experienced alone and, certainly, cumulative. Sometime I wonder how we can all bear so much grief, especially when it is accompanied by a sense of helplessness because of being several steps or possibly many steps, removed from the site of the tragedy.

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Who am I?

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Photo by Slava Bowman on Unsplash

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By Ana Tavsancea, adapted from Mindless Ramblings

Ana is an Mk from Romania who grew up in Hungary and now lives in the UK studying Education with Psychology. We are so excited to have her as a guest on our blog! If you like her writing, check out her blog.

 

 

I am a Third Culture Kid (TCK). What is a TCK? Basically, it’s a person who grew up in a different culture/country from that of their parents. This person then kind of creates his/her own culture. It makes questions such as ‘Where are you from?’ difficult to answer. Being a TCK, many times I have wondered, ‘Who am I?’ because I don’t have easy answers like everyone else.

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Learning to Be Culturally Shattered

By Genny Rice

Adapted from: Tea Time Traveler

Exploring Stripped Culture pt 2

 

For two and a half years, I have allowed my culture to be dissected and dressed, in order to gain cultural approval from Southern America. Do I regret that decision? Sometimes. Mostly on the days when I can feel my past glide off of my present self. Two years hasn’t been enough to make me forget who I used to be and it also hasn’t been enough to make me completely normal in this place. I still have trouble remembering to open doors for people and balk when asked personal questions at the check out lane at Walmart. Curving cobblestone roads and ornate facades on cloud caressing buildings are more comfortable than eight lane highways and brick behind white colonnades. Nevertheless, Walmart conversations pass quickly when you ask questions first. If you push the door hard enough, it will hover open for a few moments after you, effectively creating space for the person who may or may not be behind you to slip in after you.

Photo by Antonino Visalli

I have actively participated in the ritual called cultural stripping, but it has never been enough. My cultural differences still peek through the ill-fitting culture I have adopted.

Over two years, I have become adept at hiding my cultural ‘flaws’. At least, that’s how I began to see them. I saw my past, my history, my way of surviving in the world as flawed. I interpreted the blank look in my roommate’s eyes when I mentioned Hungary to be rejection. And what did that create in me? Shame. Shame over ‘not measuring up’, not being the local that I so desperately wanted to be. For once, I just wanted to blend in. And I let that shame make hurt, then anger. And no matter how hard I tried to rationalize away my anger, I couldn’t. I could make it fade temporarily, but the feeling of not belonging always returned and always brought back that shame.

My cultural stripping brought up so many emotions that I had trouble recognising what they were. All I could see was that my culture made people feel alienated or even hurt, which is something that I never EVER want to do—we are talking biggest fear kind of thing, here. So, I felt intense and overwhelming shame. It was only in the past few days that I have come to terms with what I have been perceiving the past almost three years.

Perceiving is the key word. Over the past three years, I have taken those blank looks and allowed them to create emotions. I then held onto those emotions. I allowed the people around me to be my criterion of worth, rather than allowing my creator determine my worth. I deemed my culture as less valuable, not because of actual words of condemnation (for the most part) but because of looks and inner feelings of un-belonging and homelessness. I allowed my emotions, my shame to turn me into their victim. However, the culture around me and the people who hold it are not those who determine my inner worth. Or they shouldn’t be. We are both finite, broken humans. What determines my worth should be God, who is above any human and who has already called me beloved.

This epiphany came to me while I was reading a chapter of Henri Nouwen’s The Inner Voice of Love, in a chapter called ‘Befriend your Emotions’. Nouwen hits my inner struggle on the head, effectively diagnosing me (so if you read the chapter after this blog, it will probably seem a little familiar). He also gave me the path to move forward.

‘The way to “victory” is not in trying to overcome your dispiriting emotions directly but in building a deeper sense of safety and at-homeness and a more incarnate knowledge that you are deeply loved.’

-Henri Nouwen, The Inner Voice of Love

My constant cultural loss had created shame, negative homelessness, and anger against others and myself. But by finally recognizing that so much of my cultural shame comes not from others, but from myself. Somehow, I had come to believe that I was culturally wrong because I don’t fit into the South like a lost puzzle piece. But my culture is not wrong, and need not be a source of shame. I will continually be stripped of the culture that was, but my ‘at-homeness’ must be found in the one who loves all of me, even my Papier-mâché past.

I know that I can’t release the shame, fear, and anger that comes hand in hand with cultural stripping in a day, or even a year, or maybe in all of my life. But I know that going forward, those emotions are not what define me in this current home. What must define me in order to release the shame, pain, and loss is a greater knowledge that, ultimately, ALL of me is loved and seen by the one who can redeem everything in my past. Cultural stripping will never be painless, but I don’t have to let it define me. It will forever be a part of my life. But I do not want shame to ingrain itself into my culture. My culture, no matter how shattered, can still reflect the beauty present in the world and in God.

Photo by Janko Ferlič 

Blank eyes of misunderstanding will never be unknown, or unseen. Pupils that widen as descriptions of foreign languages on far away streets fill their ears will hound my memories. Some things are unforgettable. And some things deserve to be forgotten

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Syzygy of Cultural Stripping

By Genny Rice           greg-rakozy-38802-unsplash

It hit me today that I am halfway through my junior year at college. I am closer to graduating than I am to starting. Two years that I chose to sacrifice on a cultural alter to the South. Freshman year I dedicate to culture shock, as I attempted to adapt to a culture that was familiar, yet different from my old life. I was never good at keeping secrets. My cultural differences are easily spotted; they are very friendly creatures. But over time, I learned to feel them coming. And then, my cultural alter would receive another sacrifice. I thought that, over time, my differences would disappear as I learned how the South operates. However, after two years, I have learned that this belief was wrong. I am not a local. I never will be. But I have recently stopped believing that that is so terrible.

The process of ridding yourself of your original culture to trade it for another is something called cultural stripping. It is the stage after well-known culture shock. It occurs after you learn the rules of the new culture. Over time, your personal culture rubs the popular culture the wrong way, and the stripping occurs. For me, this looks like referring to my past by my age not place, keeping up with college football (Go Clemson!), and pretending that my childhood in Europe doesn’t exist until I know that I can trust someone. The things that I had to change about myself weren’t easy. They took time to figure out. But when I did, I saw that each and every one of them were not my cultural core. That is why cultural stripping is possible—if painful. Everything that I changed about my culture in order to become a ‘local’ is something that I was prepared to let go of. They are not my core, my sense of self and value in this world.

As TCKs, cultural stripping is a part of everyday life. No matter where we go, it will follow us. Our host culture is stripping us of the culture that was our birthright—the passport culture. If we go to college in our passport culture, we are then being stripped of our host culture. The process never ends. And you can’t run from it, trust me I spent the past six months searching. Three continents, countless communities, and not one totally accepted my culture as-is. Cultural stripping permanently changes us. And to me, that is terrifying. Knowing that I will never perfectly fit somewhere. True cultural home will always be a figment of my imagination, a longing that was crafted in my soul. Absolutely terrifying—yet, utterly exhilarating, a syzygy  (any two related things, either alike or opposite) of emotions that makes the culturally homeless unique. My fear does not come from the cultural stripping that I can’t avoid. It comes from the knowledge that this longing for home can never truly leave me.

And yet, cultural stripping reveals the reason I flit from place to place with careless abandon to the cultural pain. After being stripped of my culture at least three times in the past year, I have learned something. I have learned that there is an extent to this re-wallpapering of my psyche.

When I try to fit into a new culture, I am forced to identify where my culture ends and my core values begin. Through the change, my spirituality is clarified and polished—exhilarating. I am stripped away of the culture that hinders my view of the one who created it all.

For so much of my life, I used culture as my solid ground, from which I could live my life in peace. But when that ground erodes, I am forced to rely on the one thing that doesn’t: God. Through the change, the pain, and the longing, I am forced to recognize the one thing that anchors my spirit, my sense of self. So, no matter how far I travel or how many cultural differences I sacrifice on my many alters, I can rely on God to be there beside me. Like Abraham, he has watched me raise the knife to kill my darlings. While he doesn’t always provide a ram, he has walked down the mountain with me to continue on the road that will one day lead me home. And that road is not always without wild flowers, as it gives me the courage to understand the world in a way that few can.

This is why I am not afraid of the stripping, and why I can face my fear of the road, long or short, that leads to a permanent home.

A New Beginning

Adapted from This Distant Reality

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I have been doing a lot of thinking during this first week of the new year, although very little reflection. The last year isn’t one that I really want to reflect on. It wasn’t the worst year of my life, but it wasn’t the best and it isn’t one I want to re-experience in any way.

Even though I am not new, the year is and I want this new year to be just that- filled with newness. Henri Nouwen who says everything I feel in a much more concise and beautiful way wrote this reflection explaining perfectly how I want to live this new year- in wonder at “God-with-us”, not in a fear of a future that mirrors my past.

“We must learn to live each day, each hour, yes, each minute as a unique opportunity to make everything new. imagine that we could live each moment as a moment pregnant with new life. Imagine that we could live each day as a day full of promises. Imagine that we could walk through the new year always listening to the voice saying to us: I have a gift for you and can’t wait for you to see it! Imagine!

Is it possible that our imagination can lead us to the truth of our lives? Yes, it can! The problem is that we allow our past which becomes longer and longer each year to say to us: “You know it all; you have seen it all, be realistic; the future will just be a repeat of the past. Try to survive it as best you can.” There are many cunning foxes jumping on our shoulders and whispering in our ears the great lie: “there is nothing new under the sun…don’t let yourself be fooled.”

So what do we do? First, we must send the foxes back to where they belong: in their foxholes. And then we must open our minds and hearts to the voice that resounds through the valleys and hills of our life saying:

“Let me show you where I live among my people. My name is ‘God-with-you.’ I will wipe the tears from your eyes; there will be no more death, no more mourning or sadness. The world of the past has gone (Revelations 21:2-5)”

Here and Now 

Awaiting Advent

Adapted from This Distant Reality

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Six months. Six months of waiting, of feeling stuck in limbo, of having no direction to go. Six months of “not” hearing from God, because I’m sure he is speaking, I’m just not recognizing anything he is saying except maybe wait. Six months feels like forever. At least it isn’t 400 years.

400 years is the length of time that the Israelites waited to hear from God. 400 years of recorded silence. 400 years of darkness, with no recorded word, no recorded direction, no hint given except those that had come in the past.

And then in a temple to a priest, named Zachariah, for the first recorded time in 400 years, the Lord speaks through His angel. Zachariah is terrified, astonished, and disbelieving, he laughs (while understandable, not exactly the right response to an angel bringing the first spoken word from God in 400 years). I think I would too, though.  Zachariah has spent his whole life waiting. Waiting and praying for a son who seems unlikely to come. Waiting and praying for a messiah; waiting and praying for his people to hear from God.

And God’s first recorded message in 400 years-

“Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer has been heard, and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall call his name John. 14 And you will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth, 15 for he will be great before the Lord. And he must not drink wine or strong drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother’s womb. 16 And he will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God, 17 and he will go before him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready for the Lord a people prepared.”

-Luke 1:13-17

God’s first recorded message to his people- a child shall be born, a child who will prepare the way for the Messiah, the Lord. When the angel brings God’s message, he is not only fulfilling Zachariah’s prayers for a child. He is fulfilling his people’s cries for a messiah.

The angel said, “Elizabeth will bear a son… to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.” The angel was not only proclaiming the miracle of birth to a barren woman, but was alluding to the much greater miracle. A miracle that was just six months out—another birth, this time the birth of the messiah, the savior of the world.

Since the fall at the dawn of creation, God’s people have been waiting for a Messiah. For 400 years God’s people called out to him and heard nothing but silence. For a lifetime Zachariah and Elizabeth prayed for a child. All of Israel’s history, all of this story, everything has been about waiting, waiting sometimes with the promise of words spoken, but sometimes waiting in silence. Waiting for the message that this angel is alluding to, the message that this angel will in six short months speak to a young girl named Mary.

In all of this waiting and seeking God, he was silent. And yet in the silence he wasn’t absent.

“God advents in our hearts every day – and surprisingly and willingly comes to us in the messy, scandalous, impoverished and difficult places of our lives, just like that first Christmas. That is the mystery. That is the gift. That is our invitation… to let God come to us as we are, not as we think we should be. Waiting is such a necessary part of our human journey… to learn that our own solutions and remedies for procuring the things we want/think we deserve or think will make life easier/better/more manageable, are rarely permanent or truly transformative.”

Gamble-Grant, Paula. A Wild and Precious Advent

So, this advent, and in this life as we wait and prepare for either our homecoming or the return of the Messiah take a moment to be still, to “let advent find you.” Because on our own no amount of seeking and searching will end our waiting. God in his own perfect time, whether that be 2,000 years, 400 years, 50 years, or six months will come to us. The word advent means the arrival of a notable person or event- the coming. So in our waiting let us open ourselves to the arrival of Christ into this world, and let God find us, come to us, just as he did on the first Christmas.

Adopted

Adapted from This Distant Reality

dan-kiefer-467645-unsplashLast night in our community group spoke about many things, but one was our adoption into the Kingdom of heaven. As we discussed we were asked a question. Would we willingly adopt a child we knew would hurt and disown us, just as we have hurt and disowned God.” I have always wanted to adopt so this question hit me hard.

In my mind adoption is not about the character of the child, a birth child could just as easily disown you. An adoption is a choice to love a child regardless of their history or future, to bring them into your own family and make them equal in every way. Adoption is not made on the merit of the child, that would be horrible, because inevitably they will disappoint us, hurt us, and disobey us. No adopted or birth child should ever be loved because of what they do or their personality. They should be loved because they are created in the image of the God of the universe and He loves them.

Similarly our adoption into the family and kingdom of God has nothing to do with who we are. No matter how good or bad we may be.  Our adoption has everything to do with the King of the universe choosing to love a fallen and broken creation, knowing full well that we would disappoint him, disregard him, and ultimately sentence him to die in one of the most perfected and painful ways imaginable- on a cross.

Our adoption wasn’t easy or painless. Our adoption was made possible through pain, blood, nails in flesh ultimately leading to death. Jesus had to die so that we could be a part of God’s family. Jesus had to leave his home. Jesus had to enter into over 30 years of being cramped in a skin not his own, being unseen and unknown by the people he wanted to make his brothers and sisters. Jesus had to give up everything. That is what our adoption cost. It cost Jesus, everything.

That is what love is. This is the family we have been invited into, made heirs of. A family that will go to any length, fight any fight, face all darkness and defeat it so that we can live in their light, together, unified, belonging.

But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God.”

Galatians 4:4-7

As Christmas nears, let us remember the great and beautiful gift we have been given. Adoption into the family of God to be co-heirs with Christ. Adoption made possible by the birth of the very God of the universe as a tiny baby, into our fallen and broken world. Adoption made possible by that tiny baby, who lived a perfect life, yet never fully belonged or was fully known by those around him. Adoption made possible by his death, death that we deserved. So let us rejoice and praise the one who gave his life so that we might gain ours, and let us look forward to his return and the fulfillment of our adoption.