Tag Archives: Friendship

When God answers “Yes” and it Hurts

It was a year ago today that I was enjoying one of the most thoughtful gifts anyone had ever given me. My aunt paid for me to fly across PNG and paid for my registration fee so that I could attend a Thrive Retreat, an amazing retreat designed to encourage and sustain North American women who work around the globe. I almost did not go. It was my first time spending a night (well three nights) away from my son, but my husband graciously encouraged me to go and the time was incredibly refreshing. I had an amazing roommate who also knew what it was like to live in a remote village. The speakers were challenging, the music uplifting and the small group discussions were especially life giving. Just being with other women who understood the joys and challenges of living and working in a country different from your passport country was beyond incredible. In our small group discussions, we were encouraged to honestly share prayer needs or personal struggles. I remember sharing how hard it had been for me to make friends in the expat community.

During my first year in PNG, after spending a good chunk of time in my husband’s village (where I am the only foreigner) I was so excited to attend a conference which was being held on one of the larger missionary bases in PNG. The conference was over the 4thof July weekend, and I was so excited about the possibility of connecting with some fellow Americans around my same age. As the days drew to a close, I found myself surprised at how hard the expat community, in which you have no connections, can be to break into. In PNG, I find that it is easy to get to know someone new. When someone comes into a room they often take the time to personally shake hands and greet each person there. Then there is the Wantok system where if you are travelling and see someone else from PNG or someone carrying a bilum (a string bag from PNG) often there is an instant connection and friendship simply because you are from the same place. This beautiful idea does not exist among Americans. Without having a previous connection or a mutual friend it is rare for two strangers, even from the same place, to strike up a conversation. I felt this deeply as I stood in line at the grocery store on the mission base. I was surrounded by Doritos and other familiar brand names that I had not seen in months. Two Americans around my age laughed and talked loudly in the line in front of me. Everywhere I looked, I saw people who looked similar to me and a lifestyle that felt familiar. But, even though we shared a common space and accent; no one made the effort to even say a simple, hello. No one bothered to ask me where I was from. I went away from that conference with several new PNG friends, but not a single new expat contact. As I shared a bit of this experience with my new small group friends at the conference, (several of whom lived on the very base I had visited) my group leader commented that often, “it takes a friend to be a friend.” Wise words that reminded me that maybe I needed to be more intentional at pursuing friendships with expats and not just expecting them to magically happen or waiting for someone else to always initiate.

Less then two months later, God answered my prayers for an expat friend in a similar stage of life. My heart longed for someone who understood the joys and pains of raising toddlers, someone with whom I could have a conversation with without worrying so much about saying something culturally inappropriate, a friend to pray with and pray for and a friend to share things with. God graciously allowed me to meet Erin. I first met Erin’s husband at a Bible Study that I love but do not often have the chance to attend. When I heard that their family had two boys one just a bit older then my son and the other just a two months old I got excited about the possibility of meeting someone who could relate to late-night feedings and attempting to have a conversation while managing an active toddler.

We met for the first time at the Bible study Christmas party. My almost two year old had never seen a Christmas tree before. He loved the colored “balls” and with lightening speed managed to throw and break several of the ornaments on the tree in the lobby of where we were meeting before I could get to him. Great first impression, right? But somehow in the midst of sweeping up broken Christmas ornaments and attempting to get toddlers to, “please just eat something.” We managed to exchange numbers and a friendship started to grow.

Now, nearly a year later; I cannot even properly express how much this beautiful friendship has meant to me. Our boys have become best buddies (even though half the time they are fighting with each other). We have laughed together, cried together, prayed for each other and shared so many sweet every day memories. As we’ve celebrated birthdays, enjoyed play dates, and have had many fractured conversations while our boys also bonded; my heart is just so thankful for Erin and what her friendship has meant to me this past year. Erin, and her whole family really, have an incredible gift of hospitality and connecting people. Through her I’ve meet even more incredible friends who have become like family.

And now they are moving. Her husband recently accepted a new job in a different country and, as often happens in the expat community, we got together recently for one more goodbye party. It hurts to see them leaving. Honestly, I’m still probably in a bit of denial about the whole thing; but I know God has great plans for their family as they start this next journey and I’m just so thankful that our paths crossed. We do not know when we will see each other next. Maybe we will have to take a trip to Canada to catch up again if our home assignments ever overlap. But another thing you learn when your life involves a lot of traveling is that friendships, the real ones anyway, continue even over distances of thousands of miles. God brought us together, and I am sure He will allow our paths to cross again in the future.

We have an Irish wall hanging up in our living room that a good friend gave to my husband and me as an engagement present. As people weave in and out of our lives the words serve as a fitting reminder that God goes with us and watches over us wherever our journeys take us.

 

May the road rise to meet you

May the wind be always at your back

May the sun shine warm upon your face

And the rain fall soft upon your fields

And until we meet again

May God hold you in the hollow of his hand.

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Another Nun Deserts the Abbey

It’s a rare thing in life to be blessed with a true, life giving friendship. I’ve been extremely blessed by several and one of those is with you. I guess that’s why I have a twinge in my heart this week as I’m miles away on the week that you’re about to say, “I do” to the love of your life.

I wish I could be there to see you walk down the isle in a room decorated with burlap and lace. I wish I could help you set up tables, iron dresses, and arrange flowers, but, since it’s not always possible to be where you want to be, please know that my thoughts are with you both as you begin this journey together.

You were one of the first people I met when I moved onto the 10th floor of Houghton Hall. One of my first memories with you is getting kicked out of Lincoln Park for rollerblading on the premises. I should have known right then that being friends with you would be adventurous. There was that time you convinced me to chop my hair off, Redbox movie nights, senior retreat, basketball games, two road trips to Georgia, getting our ears pierced on a whim, combined birthdays (my favorite being our trip to San Francisco). I’ll always remember the random Cubs game we went to, Junior/Senoir banquets, graduation, Chicago reunions, the time you stopped to see me on your way to Texas, phone calls, breakfast together on the morning of my big day, and having you standing there with me just eight months ago when I said, “I do.”

Now it’s your turn pretty lady, and (in regard to our college floor The Ten North Nuns) you’ve become the latest deserter of the abbey. I cherish all the memories, but what I probably appreciate the most are all the “little” things like the time I had intended to make brownies for the newspaper staff but in the midst of a crazy week ran out of time. I hurried back from my internship with just enough time to make it to the all night newspaper paste up to find that you had made the brownie for me. Now that’s a true friend. I won’t forget all those early mornings when we were roommates and you had to be at work super early, but you’d get ready so quietly that I barely even noticed. I won’t forget that time I had meant to apply for what I thought would be a dream job, but in the midst of the busyness of everything didn’t apply before the job was given to someone else. You told me to have a good cry and then move on. I needed to hear that.

Thanks for steaming the wrinkles out of my wedding dress and making sure I got some sleep the night before. I needed that too. I wish I could be there to do the same thing for you, but since I’m not able to be there, here are some pearls of wisdom about marriage that I’ve actually found to be useful not just nice sayings to put on the wall. As I was entering an intercultural marriage, I made a point to collect advice from intercultural couples, but I find their answers to be universally helpful so here goes:

Don’t always expect the other person to change, be willing to change yourself- Easy to say, but hard to do. Really though, this piece of advice really stuck with me. It’s so easy to assume that things should be done the way your family does it, or the way you’ve been doing it as a single person, but those single days are over. You’re a new family, so be willing to let go of cultural preferences and family traditions in order to build a new unique life together.

If you want to start a habit, such as reading devotions together or a regular date night, do it early on- Start forming those daily habits early even during the honeymoon because that’s a time when people give you some slack to take the time you need. Life gets crazy, and it’s easy to let things slide if you don’t start early. So, use those early days intentionally.

People (especially those church ladies) can be opinionated and often critical when it comes to issues like when to have kids. Decide what works best for you as a couple and then stand by your decision– Don’t let people imposing their views on you (it will happen and happen often) upset you. With many issues it’s not so much a case of right or wrong, but what works for both of you. At the end of the day you are the ones who have to live with the decisions you make, so focus on what works for you as a couple not on what will please people.

Don’t sweat the small stuff- It’s called small stuff for a reason. Are toothpaste tubes and toilet paper rolls really worth even arguing over? Just let it go. There are bigger things in life to focus on, and if you find that you just can’t stand the whole toothpaste tube squeezed or rolled get your own tube. Find solutions to things not things to nag about. 1st Corinthians 13 says, “love bears all things.” Part of marriage involves getting over yourself and bearing the imperfections of another person. Remember, your spouse is bearing your imperfections too. A little understanding and patience can go along way and help keep everyone sane.

Find the positive side of a negative- Most negatives have a positive it just takes some time and thought to find it. For example, there are times when my husband runs late. I like to be on time and not waste time, so it is easy to see this as a negative trait and be frustrated. But, usually the reason he is running late is because he has stopped to help someone or to talk to someone who needed a kind word. This people oriented heart is one of the traits that I admire most in him. When I stop and realize the reason for the lateness it’s much easier to let go of my feelings of annoyance and appreciate his people oriented instead of time oriented ways.

Communicate- Just about everyone I talked to said this first. No one is a mind reader, so talk about what is on your mind. Marriage involves a lot of adjustments, highs, lows, and everything in between. Talk it out, but also talk during a time when you’re not tired or stressed. Sometimes it’s OK to sleep on it so that the issue can actually be discussed without emotions getting the upper hand.

And finally my own personal pet peeve…

The first year doesn’t have to be the hardest– Maybe it is for some people. I’m sure it can be quite a challenge/adjustment especially for those who marry young, but the idea of, “just survive the first year and then things get better after that,” really bothers me. Enjoy each year don’t be waiting for some inevitable dark cloud to roll in over your honeymoon happiness. Sure, life will change as the months pass, but they are still good times. The first year can be full of such happy memories and adventure as you start building a future together. Don’t loose that by adopting a survival mentality. Take each new day, week, and year as it comes. Most of all enjoy life with your best friend. Wishing you the very best my friend. Enjoy your day and know that I am thinking about you and celebrating with you from miles away.

Too many memories to count.

Too many memories to count.

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Cultural Conundrums

How do you do it? I mean really? How do you live the day to day in a culture different from your own without losing your sense of self? I can eat ugali with my hands, brush my teeth outside, wash my laundry in a bucket, but those are methods of daily survival. How do you move past mere survival to actual relationships? How do you develop friendships when culturally people are open with their lives, but can be very private with their thoughts and feelings?

“Just tell me what you’re thinking,” I want to mentally cry. “Does 2pm actually mean be there by 2 or does it mean I’ll be sitting by myself for half an hour before anyone else ambles in? Can I ask questions about your life or is that seen as intrusive?” I’m not trying to be intrusive. I just want to know who you are? I want to be your friend past surface conversations about food and weather.

Then I realize that’s not how it works. You don’t ask questions without first building trust. Information can be seen as a form of power. What you know about someone has the potential to be used as a tool to hurt or shame them. So the focus is not as much about how individuals feel or think, as it is about how a group functions and how it works within the fabric of tradition. The reputation of the group as a whole is what is important. Individual lives fall within that carefully built structure.

The last several months of coming back to live in Kenya have reminded me just how much culture affects relationships. Living within a mix of cultures can teach so much, but those lessons can be painful at times as cultural misunderstandings leave one or both people with hurt feelings or a sense of frustration.

I’m from a “cold” culture as defined in the book “From Foreign to Familiar” by Sarah Lanier. Cold cultures (so named because they are usually found in cold regions like Canada, the northern states of the US, the UK and many European countries) value individualism, punctuality, and personal expression. I’ve also spent a lot of time in “hot” culture countries spending formative childhood years in the Democratic Republic of Congo and now living parts of the last year and a half in Kenya.

People from hot culture countries tend to focus on the group over the individual, are more event focused then time focused, and place a high value on community. Life often has more of a laid back feel and communication is frequently done indirectly so as to avoid hurting someone’s feelings or causing embarrassment. In hot climates there is much more of a communal sense of belongings so what you have is usually shared with the group.

From a theoretical perspective I love and appreciate both hot and cold cultures. But on a more practical level, it can be difficult living within a mix of the two. I want to share my belongings with the group but get frustrated when a DVD comes back scratched. I want to live a more laid back lifestyle but also find myself feeling anxious when not much was accomplished during the course of the day. Finding that elusive middle ground is a constant challenge.

I’ve been learning lately that it takes time—time to build trust, time to establish a reputation, time to understand yourself and why you think the way you do so that you can understand someone from another culture better. But, the breakthroughs do happen. Often when you least expect. As a westerner, I’m learning that I sometimes need to throw out my schedule so that when those times do come, when that trust has finally been built, I can cultivate the moment instead of rushing off and missing it completely. Like last week when my roommate asked me about my family for the first time. The week before she had briefly told me about hers opening the door for future conversations. Now a second opportunity surfaced.

I was able to linger in the moment while we chatted. She was sewing a skirt so I sat down on the floor and painted my nails in order to continue the conversation without standing there awkwardly. As we talked one of our neighbors walked in, and I ended up painting her nails as well. While the nail polish dried we watched a movie. Unplanned, unscheduled but slowly friendships were forming.

I’ve found that it may take weeks even months sometimes but relationships do happen if you stay flexible and are willing to adjust your own ways of thinking. People are more important then DVDs. I’ve had to learned in this communal context that building relationships often involves some scratches. I’m learning to be ok with that. I’m learning to wait and to enjoy the differences. I’m learning that my way of approaching life isn’t always right. I’m constantly learning to be flexible, but the payoff is beautiful as slowly genuine friendships start to form.

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Just a Page

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I was still a bit jet lagged, sitting at my sister’s bridal shower party focused on rediscovering the sensation of flavorful food, when a friend of mine turned to me and said, “so what did you bring back from Kenya?”

“Ringworm,” my jet lagged brain replied. We both laughed and then went on to talk about her daughter’s current trip to Honduras and the joys and pains of living outside your home country. What did I bring back from Kenya?—memories of emotional highs and lows, stories that probably wouldn’t make much sense to someone who wasn’t there at the time. I brought back the burden of the hurt that I saw but couldn’t fix. But, I also brought back feelings of unexplainable joy from being a part of a community that loved God and sought Him constantly.

I think the question is more how have I changed as opposed to what did I bring back. Because I have changed—so much sometimes that I don’t know how to explain it. Travel does that to you mostly because of the incredible people that you meet along the way. There is some sort of desperate connection that can take place where two people who have never met suddenly find themselves thrown into circumstances so overwhelming and unfamiliar that fast, almost unexplainable friendships happen.

Maybe it’s the type of people that travel attracts, but I think it has more to do with the layers that are torn off when you leave everything that’s comfortable and enter somewhere where you can barely communicate, break cultural norms on a daily bases, and become completely dependant on people who yesterday were total strangers. It’s completely petrifying at times, and once you live through it you leave changed.

I think that’s why travel is so addicting. Once you find that yes you can survive outside the “safe” the “comfortable” of what you know, so many incredible doors are open to you, so many adventures, so many amazing new people that you never would have met if you’d stayed safely in your own home. Yes, sometimes you come back with ringworm, or other unwelcome side affects, but it’s worth it for the way that you are molded into someone new—someone who sees more then just the familiar.

I’m getting ready to get on a plane again. I’m trying not think too much as it’s a bit scary standing, once again, on the edge of the unknown. What’s it going to be like this time? Is it safe? Will I have enough resources to make it? What will the day to day look like? I have no idea. All I know is that this is where God wants me. He has given me that peace. He has given me this opportunity to travel, and it’s all in His capable hands. So here we go. One more page, one more chapter to a story that I never could have written for myself.

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Hidden Moments

It seems the older you get the less “wow” moments you experience. Maybe it’s because our imaginations have developed to the place where we can imaging almost anything, and reality rarely meets those high ideals. Yet most people still keep dreaming, imagining, hoping for something to stir that illusive place in the soul that begs for the magic of being completely in awe.

I was privileged to experience one of those moments the day before my 25th birthday. During a birthday getaway in California two of my friends and I decided to explore the country side. After consulting guide books and getting a recommendation from another guest staying at the hostel, we decided to hike the Skyline to the Sea Trail in the nearby state park.

The hike began on the coast of the Pacific Ocean. We lingered at Waddell Beach for awhile admiring the waves and seagulls, but then we left the surfers in their wet suits far behind as we heading up trail.

 

The trail wasn’t one of those sissy trials carefully lined with boards and smoothed out gravel. It was a real rugged trail with a steep inclines, and fallen trees which served as bridges for crossing the creek.

For me, the wow moment came when the path took one of its many turns opening up what looked like an enchanted forest. So far the many red wood trees we had passed stood quite stately. The sunbeams streaming through the giants’ branches was a sight to behold just as I had imagined it would be. But then we turn a corner, and the forest turned into a mystical secret garden exceeding even my dreamy expectations.

 

The trees were white and still. I felt like I had entered a place where no other human had been- some kind of tangled land where elves lived. I felt at peace and empowered at the same time. It’s in those moments when I feel God’s love the most. Something inside of me finally gets it and I think, “God you’re an artist. Your world is more beautiful than I can imagine, and your love deeper than I can express.”

I took a picture of my friend Lydia walking underneath the trees. Beth was already up ahead. In my mind I froze the moment that feeling of complete peace mixed with wonder and silent admiration. As Louis Armstrong used to sing, “I see tress of green, red roses too… and I think to myself, what a wonderful world.” At lest those hidden moments make it wonderful, and that’s what I want to hold on to.

 

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No Regrets

A friend of mine showed me a short youtube film the other day called “Fifty People, One Question.” It was interesting. A camera crew went to a busy area and filmed fifty different people going throughout their day and asked each person the same question. I loved watching how people reacted to the question, processing how they will respond, then sharing a part of their heart. The beauty of the film is not only seeing a wide the variety of faces but hearing about what really matters to people.

The question in the particular video I watched was, “What is your biggest life regret?” A couple people said they didn’t have any regrets, another said I have so many. Some wished they had pursued their dream to be a musician, a couple wished they were younger. One man flat out said, “I can’t answer that question.”

A lot regretted something in regard to their education, not spending enough time with a family member, or losing connection with a friend. One man said, “Not taking enough deep breaths.” A girl regretted not traveling more when she had the opportunity. One of my favorite answers was from an elderly man who wished he had married his childhood sweetheart 50 years ago. She moved away, but they reconnected 50 years later and had now been married a year.

One lady answered, “I try not to regret anything. Take life as it comes, enjoy it, and don’t bother with regrets. They are not worth the effort.” There is so much wisdom in the film’s collage of answers. People matter, dreams matter, traveling is enriching, family is important, learning is essential.

You can’t turn back the clock and become ten years younger. You shouldn’t spend life agonizing over regrets, but it is helpful to learn from other people’s. I found it interesting that not one person said they wished they had bought a nicer car, or TV. No one agonized over not spending more time collecting designer shoes because in the end, it’s not about stuff.

Next month I’m going to take a trip with two very good friends from college. Our birthdays are all around the same time, and I’m so excited about being able to spend time with both of them. My friend Lydia found some super saver economy tickets to San Francisco, California, so we’re just going to go.

I’m looking forward to reconnecting with friends, visiting a city I’ve never been to, taking time out to breathe (hopefully by the ocean) and doing some journaling. I don’t want to look back at life and regret not taking out more time to actually enjoy life. I don’t want to look back and wish I’d spent more time staying connected with friends. I’m so thankful for the opportunity to go on this trip. Yeah, someday I probably should save up money for a better car, but my little retro-mobile (while nothing fancy) still runs, so I’m happy. This trip is going to be priceless, something I know I won’t regret.

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