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Archive for the ‘Relationships’ Category

We recently had our last week of meetings for Tarmac, the group we do at Covenant College. I always have mixed emotions about our final session. I’m proud and grateful for the growth that’s evident after a semester spent journeying together into deep places. Yet these conversations by their very nature forge heartfelt connection, and saying goodbye (never easy for TCKs) is sad. I’ve learned to embrace the bittersweet aspect of these endings, but I’ve also learned that I need to do something tangible to mark it for myself, to acknowledge the meaning and impact of these relationships.

As a lover of stories, writing is a vital way in which I honor these moments. A few months ago, Paul and I took some time to put into words what we wanted Covenant students to know as they left Tarmac. Inspired by Rachel Pieh Jones’s moving letter to her children, we compiled our own list of 15 things we would say to the global nomads in our lives. I revisited the list the other day and found solace in its words of affirmation and hope.

So, to the cross-cultural travelers in Tarmac this semester and to all of us who need encouragement on this journey between worlds, here are 15 things to remember:

1. You are courageous. You have faced a lifetime’s worth of loss, change, new cultures, life & death experiences, and emotional upheaval. You continue to bravely face each new experience and relationship. Most of all, you face yourself with courage and grace.

2. You are complex. Your life has not been straightforward. There aren’t easy answers to questions like “Where are you from?” and “Where’s home?” This complexity, while frustrating at times, is also rich and full.

3. You are unique. There is no one else exactly like you, with your particular blend of attributes, preferences, experiences, and emotions. These combine to create a beautiful mosaic of character and personality. You are amazing and a gift to the world.

4. You are valued. We love your complexity and uniqueness. We appreciate you. It is a joy and a privilege to know you.

5. You are a whole person. Your experiences as a TCK are as important a part of who you are today as they were when you were going through them. Yet they are not the only thing that defines you. Your current experiences matter too. These experiences, combined with your unique attributes, make you a fully-rounded person who remains constant no matter your context.

6. You are seen and heard. Your stories matter to us. We love hearing them. We see the pain and the joy they’ve caused, the questions with which you wrestle, the hopes for your future. It’s our honor to be a witness to your life story.

7. You are not alone. When it seems like no one understands, or cares, or as if everyone who knows you has left, remember that there are others who get it—others who see you, understand, and are with you. Even greater than that, God is with you. He has been with you from the start and He will never leave.

8. The pain of feeling like an outsider can still run deep. Creating community with other TCKs can be a vital part of being fully yourself.

9. Pay attention to the voice inside of you telling you how you’re feeling and what you need. You possess the resources to care for yourself, and the Holy Spirit will meet you there, if you make space to listen.

10. Relationships are risky and challenging, but they are worth it. Life is better when we share it with others. Draw on your courage and be willing to open yourself to others

11. Every person, including you, is at their own place on this journey. God can be trusted to walk through it with you.

12. You will have grief, but it will not overcome you. It will come in waves, often at the times you least expect it, and it will feel overwhelming. Yet, just like an ocean wave hits the shore and the ebbs back out, so your grief will not last forever. Feel it when it comes; talk about it; let it be; but also trust that it will recede. Going through the grief is worth it. Even when it feels easier to run away from it, bury it, get around it or blow it up, it is meaningful to face yourself and the grief and emerge richer.

13. The things you have lost have value. Your cultural knowledge and experience are treasured no matter what culture you’re currently in. Honor your losses and remember them. Look for the ways that your experience of loss can open the door to step into the stories of others, help you learn from them, and hone your character.

14. You cannot lose you. No matter where you go, what you do, or what you experience, you cannot lose who you are. The places you’ve been, the people you’ve met, the cultures you’ve experienced – all of these have shaped you, and they stay with you. Whether you travel the world or stay in the same place for the rest of your life, those memories and those experiences will always belong to you; they will always define you. No one can take them away from you.

15. You are strong and resilient. Life will continue to be hard; there will be transitions, losses, and unexpected hurdles, but you will be able to withstand them. With God’s help and the resources you’ve developed over a lifetime, you can face whatever comes with grace and courage.

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I’ve been pondering the significance of the connections we form. People are complex. Relationships are tricky. I find myself marveling every day at how we manage to attach to others in spite of the things within and without us that cause confusion, friction, and disconnection. Our capacity for intimacy is enormous and resilient, surviving the many obstacles to being known.

This is a great comfort to me, as I have lived out many of the typical relational patterns of the TCK lifestyle. Global nomads tend to go deep quickly, making the most of the short time afforded them to form friendships and relational connections. I love meeting new people and making new friends. I’m eager to really get to know others, and find great joy in deep conversations about life experiences, beliefs, and values. At the same time, my highly mobile childhood primed me to expect that most relationships won’t last; one or both of us will leave at some point. With every new friendship that starts, I subconsciously prepare myself for the day when it will end. Thus, the connection goes only so deep: enough to feel bonded, but not enough to get too hurt when the inevitable goodbye comes.

Like many global nomads I hold things loosely, keenly aware that life could change at any moment. I don’t invest too much because I’m not certain it will last. This creates flexibility, but also produces rootlessness – a sense of not being tied down anywhere. Like TCKs before me, I found a way to survive the ongoing, inescapable loss by quickly moving onto the next person, place, or thing. Yet, I’m often plagued by restlessness, a desire for regular movement and change. At times, this pattern of alternating attachment and release can leave me feeling disconnected from life and relationships altogether.

All hope is not lost, however. My life as an adult TCK (ATCK) has taught me a few things about relationships that counteract these feelings.

First, relationships are worth fighting for. Like most TCKs, I often turned to the technique of “quick release”* in the face of conflict or anything that seemed to threaten the end of a relationship. I didn’t believe that a friendship could survive a fight or an absence. Yet, as I’ve learned more about what it takes to truly connect with another person, I’ve come to see that conflict is part of the natural flow of friendship. Two people will never agree on everything. They will hurt each other’s feelings. But this doesn’t have to be a reason to run away. Instead of a closed door to further connection, conflict can be a pathway to greater understanding, if both members are willing to stay and work it out.

Second, relationships can last. They may not look the same as they did in the beginning, but friendships have the capacity to grow and change as individuals’ lives grow and change. I clearly remember a conversation with a friend towards the end of my time in graduate school. I was preparing to leave the academic community in which I’d invested the past 3 years and I was mourning the loss of people who had become dear to me. My friend looked at me and said, “Laura, just because you’re graduating doesn’t mean we’ll stop being friends. We’ll still see each other. We’ll still talk. Our relationship isn’t over.” His words were a revelation. Prior to that, I hadn’t experienced many friendships that were maintained after I left the context in which they had formed. Yet, he was right; over these past three years, we’ve stayed connected. I don’t see him quite as often as I did when I was on campus every day, but I’m still a part of his life and he is still a part of mine.

Third, relationships have seasons. Global nomads are used to “old friends” fading into the background and new ones coming to take their place. This pattern does happen; there are times and places in which certain friendships thrive. Yet, it is also possible to maintain friendships over many years while also adding new friendships into the mix. It may be that different friendships take precedence in one’s life at different times, with some friends becoming closer after a period of separation, while others are present in particular circumstances. I’ve recently reconnected with some of my college friends after a few years’ distance. It’s been fun to reminisce about our school days and discuss current life events. I’m enjoying the way our friendship has resurfaced in this time and place in our lives.

Fourth, relationships can root us. Friendships provide a place of connection and knowing that we don’t receive elsewhere. We may not have the traditional ties to a particular place or culture, but we are rooted to all the friends we’ve made in all the places we’ve lived. We are tied to them by cords of shared memory, and we pick up those cords every time we are together. These roots stretch across time and space, and they remain, even as locations change and priorities shift.

Despite the legacy of our developmental years, we aren’t doomed to repeat the particular patterns of rootlessness and restlessness that led us away from connection and community. We have the opportunity to be intentional about forming attachments to people and places. This requires learning a new way of relating: working through conflict, reaching out, opening up, and allowing others in. It will feel strange; all new things do. Nevertheless, it is worth doing because friendship nurtured over time offers richness and depth that cannot be experienced otherwise.

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*Quick release: a relational technique in which the TCK pulls away from a relationship in advance of an approaching departure, acting as though the separation has already occurred. This can happen whether the separation is going to be temporary or permanent; often conflict can provide a way to “leave” the relationship without facing the more difficult part of working through differences. While the quick release may offer a reprieve from the short-term pain of saying goodbye, it does not relieve the more enduring grief of multiple losses. (Adapted from p.140 in Pollock, David C. & Van Reken, Ruth E. (2001) Third Culture Kids: The Experience of Growing Up Among Worlds Boston: Nicholas Brealy Publishing).

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