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Posts Tagged ‘Coping’

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 thinking a lot about goodbyes lately. In the US, May and June are the months when school ends, so there are graduation ceremonies, end-of-year parties, and various other ways to say goodbye to the year and the people in it. May and June are also popular wedding months. Weddings, while happy occasions, bring their own kind of goodbyes – leaving one’s respective families to create a new one together.

Like many global nomads, I shy away from goodbyes. Endings aren’t my strong suit; I’m much better at beginnings. Over the years, I’ve wondered: what’s the point of dwelling on an ending? Partings are inevitable. Why not just move on to the next new start?

Victor L. Hunter*, in his thoughtful and provocative essay “Closure and Commencement: The Stress of Finding Home”, challenges this typical TCK mentality. He writes,

“Goodbyes are important. Without a meaningful goodbye, an effective closure, there cannot be a creative hello, a new beginning, and hopeful commencement.”

Hunter’s thesis is that there cannot be a proper beginning until there has been a proper ending. In fact, beginnings become better because of effective goodbyes.

This may seem strange at first; it did to me. As a seasoned traveler, I was used to getting on planes and saying “see you later!” to friends, only to never return. I thought I was handling this lack of closure until I started to notice the pull within me to avoid starting new relationships. Much like we noted in our discussion on grief, I was in denial about what it had meant to leave. But my heart knew. The resistance bubbled to the surface and confronted me when placed in yet another situation where I had to make new friends, get to know a new place, create a new “home”.

Pollock and Van Reken** discuss the importance of leaving well. They say that taking the time for closure makes the inevitable transition that much more bearable. Not only that, but by being intentional about goodbye, we are able to highlight the meaning each person and place has held for us. Goodbyes are commemorations – they create a lasting place in our hearts and memories for those relationships and experiences which have shaped us. We mark them in time and space, and carry them as pieces of our stories.

Pollock and Van Reken suggest the acronym RAFT to help remember the aspects of a good goodbye:

Reconciliation: Leaving is the time to make amends; heal old wounds; resolve grievances. Global nomads are notoriously poor at conflict because they often aren’t in relationships long enough to work through conflict. Rather than leaving with disagreements still intact, take the opportunity to address any open conflict and resolve the relationship so that you don’t carry resentment and bitterness with you.

Affirmation: Seize the opportunity to tell people how much they mean to you. Savor time together and acknowledge the difference the person has made in your life. Reminisce about favorite experiences. Give gifts or write cards that express how they’ve influenced you. Make time to say out loud how you feel about loved ones while you’re still with them.

Farewells: Take time to say goodbye to people and places that you love. Hunter talks about walking through the city with his wife and stopping at their favorite places one last time. He writes, “Each place had its corner in our memory which we acknowledged with gratitude” (p. 184). In addition to saying goodbye to specific places, find sacred objects to carry with you to the next location. Give yourself space to begin to grieve leaving what you love.

Think destination: Begin to look forward to what’s ahead. As Hunter mentioned, closure allows for commencement. Even as you say goodbye, recognize that new hellos are coming too. It’s okay to be excited about these, and to begin preparing for them. Think ahead to where you’re going and what it will be like so that you’re prepared (or as prepared as you can be) for what you will face upon arrival.

Following these steps of building a RAFT allows for a smooth transition from one place to the next. Nothing about leaving one place and entering another is easy, but by actively acknowledging the change, you can give yourself the tools to face it more effectively.

I’ve begun trying to mark the significant events and endings in my life. I attend graduations and hug the students embarking on new adventures. I share a meal with friends moving out-of-town. I spend time in favorite places before my own moves. I write letters and give gifts to those who have impacted my life. These rituals are bittersweet, as any goodbye would be. I feel the weight of loss. But I also feel the fullness of connection, the warmth of love and friendship that supersede location. And to my surprise, there is greater joy in acknowledging the goodbye than ignoring it ever brought. Denial was empty and void; it left me numb. Acknowledgement, however painful, makes me more human, more alive. In this living, I have come to embrace goodbyes. I do not welcome them – I’d rather not be parted from those I love – but I have found a way through the inevitable partings, a way that leads to brighter, more hopeful beginnings.

* p. 179 in Hunter, V. L. (1986). “Closure and Commencement: The Stress of Finding Home.” In Austin C. E. (Ed.), Cross-Cultural Re-Entry: A Book of Readings. Abilene, TX: Abilene Christian University Press.

** Based on pp. 181-185 in Pollock, David C. and Van Reken, Ruth E. (2009) Third Culture Kids: Growing Up Among Worlds, Revised Edition. Boston: Nicholas Brealy Publishing.

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Sacred Objects

If you were to look at my desk, you’d probably wonder at the eclectic mix of objects it contains. There’s the mug with “St. Louis” emblazoned across it that serves as a pencil cup, the small rose-and-violet-colored soapstone elephant that I use as a paperweight, and the woven basket that’s a catchall for paperclips and other miscellaneous items. Oh and don’t forget the ebony letter opener topped with a carved head. Each of these items represents somewhere I’ve lived, objects I’ve collected over my lifetime and carried with me from place to place.

In the article “My Well-Worn Blankie,” Amy Casteel writes of an item—a yellow patchwork quilt—that she took with her on her family’s travels. As Casteel explains, this quilt represented home:

But my yellow blankie always reminded me that home was made up of people, love, food and things that are not changed by moving. While I had an insatiable sense of adventure, I had the same need to know and be known that all humans carry within them. We nomads are not the only ones with this need, nor the only ones who find it goes unmet. That gives us a great sense of empathy with people in all manner of situations. When my own need could be met by a person, I suppose that I turned to the quilt. It became a sacred object. It represents more to me than its composition of fibers. It is connected to a whole series of memories, ideas, and emotions. And it has been present in every single place that I have lived. Rather than my childhood memories residing inside the borders of a particular town, they are scattered across states and continents. The quilt was there. It was a constant” (p. 10, Among Worlds December 2010 issue).

Like Casteel, I longed for home, for a place to “know and be known.” And, like her yellow blankie, I found things to help create this sense of home. I collected my “sacred objects,” each item representing a piece of my experience, carried from place to place as tangible evidence of my life. Side by side, they seem incongruous, but together they make up a map of my history, my own patchwork quilt of memories. Whenever I sit at my desk to work, they are there, reminding me of where I have been, and anchoring me as I move forward.

As fellow world-travelers, what have you found has helped you in the transition between places? It doesn’t have to be a literal object; family rituals, traditions, or customs carried from place to place can also help to ease the way. We all need a way to connect the past to the present. How do you do that? Share your stories in the comment section.

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