Category Archives: Global Nomad

How Our Social Circles Shape our Identity

In our earliest days, all of our communities– our circles of influence– are chosen for us.

Our families, churches, schools, neighborhoods.  All chosen by those responsible for our lives.

But, the day comes–on the playground, in the lunchroom– when we start to build our own communities.  To choose the people we tell our secrets to.  To forge friendships and gather tribes.

This happens in the context of the universe that was already predetermined.  But, the process has begun.  Some kids are friends and some are not.

We begin to choose groups with common interests:  band, soccer, drama, chess club, youth group.  Now we are with people who have similar gifts, goals or passions.  We share time pursuing activities that we are mutually interested in.

Belonging to a group shapes our identity, and in turn, our identity shapes the group.

We jockey for position, for a pecking order, for our role in the group.

Someday we will leave that circle.  But the memory of that group and the part we played in it becomes an integral part of ourselves.

Eventually, we move on as autonomous adults who choose the communities they belong to.  At least, most of them.  You might not choose to be a prisoner or a widow, but you choose your church and job and spouse.  You choose book club or AA or Mary Kay.

This is one of the many reasons why family reunions and schools reunions are so important.  Our identity is formed by the communities we didn’t choose as well as the ones we did.

The better we understand what shaped us, the better choices we can make in choosing and creating the communities of our present and future.

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When the world stopped spinning I got dizzy

“I grew up transient, with change as my constant. I lived a privileged life in many ways, and benefited from a plethora of experiences denied many of my more settled peers. In fact, I felt competent to handle most of what my spinning world threw my way. It was when the world stopped spinning that I got dizzy.” Dr. Rachel Cason

I resonate with Rachel’s words, because her experience mirrors mine.

I’ve lived on the East Coast, the West Coast and the Mid-West.

I’ve lived in the Middle-East, the Far East and Mexico.

My nomadic life began before I was old enough to decide and continued when it  was my turn to choose.  I developed coping skills for transition, not for rootedness.

And now, my world has stopped spinning.

I have unexplained confusion in my life. This is why I write. To untangle it.

One thing I’ve come to believe to my core is the critical importance of community for emotional health.

Maybe for the nomad it looks different.  Maybe for the nomad it becomes more challenging to find people who understand you.

There’s two different ways to incorporate healthy community into your life:  find it and create it.

Two essential elements that both require initiative. In general, they are not going to fall in our laps.

What are some tips for finding community?

Be patient.

Looking for community can be hard. You can feel uncomfortable, awkward, on unfamiliar ground. It might take time to build relationships and bridges. You might feel like people don’t really “get” you.

Trust takes time to develop. New communities don’t look like old communities.

Contribute. Participate. Even when it’s awkward and uncomfortable.

Accept the limitations and imperfections of new communities.

Take advantage of reunions with old communities, but don’t compare. Every community has it’s own personality and timeline.

How about creating community?

We start creating community when we meet someone for coffee or dinner, when we invite them over and even when we bump into them by chance at the store and stop to catch up. Those are the seeds.

But, it can grow to form a group. It could become a party, a retreat, a tradition. It could develop a purpose and a mission. When we start to do life with other people, we create community.

Community is built on individual relationships. Brick by brick. One by one. So strong communities are built on the foundation of strong relationships.

Friends that will help you when you are in trouble, when you need help.

Friends who will listen. Friends who will accept you for who you are, warts and all. Friends who are faithful.

These are the elements for building community.

It doesn’t hurt to have two or three tribes. It’s probably necessary to have overlapping community.

With the internet, it’s easier than ever to find your people, but maybe harder than ever to establish and maintain real relationships.

What truths have you discovered while finding or creating community?

You might also like:  3 Ways Global Nomads Find Community and the search for community as told in metaphor.

 

 

 

 

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Ensuring Emotional Health, No Matter Where You Live

What happens when you move somewhere new and have to re-establish your life?

Is there a way to ensure emotional health no matter where you live?

Based on my experience of living in different countries and moving in the States as well, I believe there’s areas you can focus on to create a life that is emotionally healthy.

Community

I believe emotional health is connected to community.

I was trying to capture that when I wrote Another Campfire.

You have to have friends that are close geographically. Sometimes you have to connect with friends that don’t live close by.

You have to have a safety net. You have to have people that you see every week. You have to have people that you can call for help.

You have to be in some give and take relationships.

Spiritual Disciplines

Corporate worship.  Prayer groups.  Meditation. Bible study.  Inspirational songs.

The better you know yourself, the more you will know which spiritual disciplines are critical for your emotional health.

Physical Health

We can’t divorce our emotional health from our physical health.  Diet and exercise are critical to how we’re feeling physically, and that affects how we feel emotionally.

Hundreds of books have been written on diet and exercise.  That’s way beyond the scope of one blog post.

But, a commitment to improving physical health through diet and exercise will pay off dividends in improved emotional health as well.

Margin

Richard Swenson gets credit for introducing the concept of margin, but the idea is that you don’t use up all your resources, you keep some in reserve. He addresses margin in time, finances, physical and emotional resources.

You have to know your limits.

How much socializing you can handle? What do your spiritual disciplines need to be? How much music and art and creativity you need in your life?

How much exercise? How much time off from work? How much rest?

It’s really hard to find those limits at first and test those boundaries. It’s hard to know yourself.

But, it’s so important.

Meaningful Work

It’s important to know what constitutes meaningful work for you. It’s important to know your why.

It’s important to have a creative outlet, some hobbies.

You can build a life that works for you, but it does take some insight, some intentionality and some practice.

Gratitude

Focusing on the negative is bad for emotional health.

Structures and habits can be put in place to turn that around. I know because I’ve experienced it. What a huge difference it makes. Focusing on the white page instead of on the dark spot on the page.

In every situation, there’s something we don’t like. We miss certain foods. We miss people. We miss an identity or persona or a position that we held. We miss weather conditions. We miss living conditions. We miss luxuries. We miss access to goods or services. We can miss a whole way of life.

Also, in every situation, there are things to enjoy. The pace of life. The time for deep friendships. The fresh fruits and vegtables. The view. The pursuit of meaningful work. The anticipation of seeing people we love. A simpler life without luxuries. Not having access to goods or services.

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These are the areas I’ve noticed that contribute to emotional health.

What would you add to the list?

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Another Campfire

The sun filters through the leaves of the trees.

The time has come.

Moving slowly indicates your lack of enthusiasm for the task. This is reluctant packing for sure.

You sweep out the tent with a tiny brush. You wrestle with the sleeping bags, trying to squish them back down to the size they used to be.

You collapse the tent.

You pull the stakes. One is stuck. You grab and tug. The hard plastic grinds into your hand.

Pain.

When you’re nomadic, pulling up the stakes always hurts.

Unexpectedly a strong arm reaches around you and pulls effortlessly in one smooth motion.

You finish the job in tandem then, folding the worn pieces of tent fabric into each other forming an unwieldy mass. Together you stuff it into the tent bag. But, as usual, it refuses to fit, making it impossible to zip.

You give up and leave it messy, unable to find closure or feel the satisfaction of a job tied up neatly.

You load coolers in the van. Duffel bags of clothes, squishy sleeping bags, the bursting tent bag. Boxes of cooking supplies, camp chairs, a pair of shoes, sunglasses, purse, phone.

The campsite clears out when everyone heads to the camp store for last minute snacks.

You sit down under a tree and stare at the campfire ring, the contents black, charred and sooty.

You think about last night’s fire blazing and roaring and mesmerizing.

Because that’s what camping’s all about, isn’t it? The fire? The warmth and heat. The circle of camp chairs around it.

The joking and singing. The stories and jostling. The sticky fingers and burnt foil packets. The meat sizzling in the skillet. The feeling of being and belonging. The dark creeping in and the whine of mosquitoes and the chill in the air.

It all happens around the fire, the heart of camping.

But now it’s over.

It’s time.

Time to get in the van and drive away.

The chatter in the vehicle dies down and you are spent.

Empty.

Dusk settles and then darkness cloaks, and eventually, pinpricks of light punch through the velvet sky.

And still you ride.

Following the ribbon of highway straight in front of you, with only the lulling sound of tires on pavement.

Peaceful.

Content to be traveling.

Confident in the knowledge that somewhere down the road there will be another campfire.

  Related posts:

Frozen Grief: Why It Matters to Global Nomads

Ties that Bind: Understanding the MK Connection

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Anna’s story, part 3

“Weep deeply over the life that you hoped would be. Grieve the losses. Feel the pain. Then wash your face, trust God, and embrace the life that he’s given you.”

John Piper

Missed part one of Anna’s story?  Or part two?

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All the volunteers from church had cleaned up and gone home. The sun was setting. This was the last day for everyone to come and work on the memory garden.

She walked around it, touched the statues and stone work. Traced with her fingers the names of her husband and son etched into the monuments. Even though they were buried several states away, her tribute to them was here. Their words and names etched in stone, trees in their memory, a fountain and flowering bushes. There was also a stone with the names of her parents. Her tribute to their lives. Her memory of love lost.

She looked over at the stone in memory of Ben’s brother with his name on it. Someone she had never met.

Then the tears came, heavy with wracking sobs. This was not what she expected from life. To be left alone. This is not what she asked for. This was not what she wanted.

The sun was completely gone. The chill in the air felt appropriate.

The tears slowed, the sobbing quieter. She was spent. Empty.

Everything was quiet.

Sitting there, completely alone, she didn’t feel lonely. She felt a warm presence with her. She felt peaceful.

No, this was not what she hoped for, not what she planned, but she knew she would survive.

One foot in front of the other. One step, one day at a time.

She could rewrite a different ending. She could create a different path. Just like the renovation of the barn, repurposed for something new.

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Epilogue

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Anna sat on the back porch swing with the letter from the doctor in her hand.

The test result said that abnormal cells were detected and further testing was needed.

She smiled to herself and felt inexplicable peace.

Maybe this was the beginning of the end. Maybe it wasn’t.

Whatever the future held, she was content to be in this moment. Content and fulfilled with where her life was right now, the life she had crafted out of the rubble of the past.

As she glided back and forth, she heard the voices and laughter of Ben’s kids running and playing. It was a balm to her soul.

On the refrigerator were pages that they had colored for her.

On the table were wildflowers they had picked for her.
Cooling on the counter were three pies she had just pulled out of the oven.

Seventeen expected at the big house for supper tonight. Since there was still some lemon cake leftover from last night, three pies would be enough.

She breathed gratitude for the changes in her life in the past seven years.

She was thankful to be living in community. She was thankful for meaningful work, for a chance to invest in eternity. She was thankful for the joy that three happy, healthy kids brought into her life.

She loved looking at the renovated barn and the memories of the gatherings it had hosted so far.

She loved looking at the Missionary Care Center: The stone walls, the slate roof, the cornerstone with immortal words engraved to stand the test of time.

She loved hearing the dull roar of ATVs racing through the distant fields.

She looked over at the memory garden.

That’s what she loved the most.

Bittersweet.

And, yet, this peace.

Knowing that reunion awaited.

Still content. Right here. Right now.

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Anna’s story is not meant to be a literary masterpiece.

It’s written as an encouragement for the discouraged.

We transcend our own life for a brief moment and walk with fictional characters in their journey. We temporarily forget who we are and live vicariously through them.

After they conquer their dragons and descend from the mountain victorious, we return to our own lives.

But we bring their courage with us.

That’s the power of story.

When Katherine Patterson was asked if her work of fiction were true,answered, “It was meant to be.”

Because every discerning reader knows whether or not a story rings true. Whether or not it resonates deeply in their soul.

We were made for story.

We’re living it out.

And although I believe in an Author who is writing history, I also believe He gives us the freedom to choose how our story will play out.

I believe we can re-write the ending the way Anna did.

We are not stuck. Just because we’re up against a roadblock does not mean we’re at the end of the road.

At that point, though, our biggest need is hope.

That’s what I want Anna’s story to be for you. Your ray of hope.

The pain is what we identify with, but it’s also the hope.

The desire to build something, to put down roots and build a memorial to someone’s life. It’s the deep rooted desire we have to make our life count. To have a meaningful purpose and to live in community.

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My favorite book of 2017

I wrote 55 book reviews in 2017.

That translates into quite a few hours reading.

I get it.  Your life is busy.  My life is busy.  We want to spend our time reading good books.

That is why I read book reviews.  That is why I write book reviews.

Out of the 55, one rose to the top.

I want more people to know about this book.

I want more people to read this book.

(Note: This post contains affiliate links.  At no extra cost to you, a percentage of your purchase will go to support this site.)

Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus: A Devout Muslim Encounters Christianity by Nabeel Qureshi

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This is the raw, treacherous journey that Nabeel Qureshi took to find faith in Jesus. The sacrifices he made. The intellectual and emotional and relational barriers that kept him from finding faith in Jesus. And the story of overcoming those barriers.

Why do we need to know Nabeel’s story?

Because no man is an island. His pain is our pain. His victory is our victory. His story is our story.

There are millions of devout Muslims on the planet. If we understand Nabeel’s story, we come closer to understanding them.

There exists a great chasm of beliefs between us, but we share the same humanity. Our desires and dreams are common to the human experience.

To understand the Muslim mindset opens the door to greater compassion, to a better chance of building bridges to individuals who are seeking.

Statistics are one thing.

One person’s story is something else altogether. What difference can one person’s story make?

I can be inspired by their story. I can travel the road with them and return to my own life and take the courage with me. This is the power of story.

We are faced with the same choices Nabeel Qureshi faced.  Are we going to accept what we were taught growing up? Or are we going to search for something else?

We have no say about the situation we were born into. But the time comes when we accept or reject the life we were given. Do we perpetuate the values, attitudes and beliefs we were given or turn from it to something else?

These are the questions that individuals from every devout family faces. These are the issues that we wrestle with. These are the answers that we must find. This is the peace that we must come to.

It might be a life long journey. It might takes years to find that peace. Our foundational beliefs might be shaken to the core.

But, we must search. We must know if the values, attitudes and beliefs that we were handed without our knowledge or consent are truly ours. Every person must choose.

And that is why Nabeel’s journey is everyone’s. Coming of age has nothing on coming to faith.

We need to struggle deeply with these critical issues. We need to come to peace.

Irregardless of the belief system we choose, the struggle is universal. It’s the dragon we all must fight.

Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus: A Devout Muslim Encounters Christianity by Nabeel Qureshi

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What are the elements of community?

 

I’ve been thinking about community versus isolation.

Community is the safety net that keeps us from hitting the ground. It’s the people that we connect to, identify with and a place to belong.

It’s the place where we feel understood and known.

It’s the Cheers Bar–where everybody knows your name, and they’re always glad you came.

It’s where you share life. You walk the road together. It’s your tribe. Your home base.

At birth all the communities you belong to are chosen for you.  But, there comes a time in the journey when you accept or reject the communities you inherited and, potentially, seek out new ones.

I believe this process is more complicated for the global nomad.

Maybe because he’s been exposed to a wider variety of communities.

Maybe it’s an identity issue.

Maybe it’s the difficulty of finding a community where he feels at home.

What are the critical elements of community?  What is he looking for?

identity

belonging

purpose

connection

similarity

communication

freedom to choose

a safety net

a network

celebration

shared values

The point is, the global nomad might need to actively search for a group where he feels at home.  A place where he belongs, where he can connect and be understood.

The problem is, with a new community, it’s not going to feel familiar and comfortable.

But, you have to jump in anyway and look for common ground.

To know and be known is to be vulnerable.  The risks are real.

But the risks of isolation are even greater.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Frozen Grief: Why it Matters to Global Nomads

I was not aware of the concept of frozen grief until I stumbled across an article by Marilyn Gardner of Communicating Across Boundaries. All of a sudden pieces of the puzzle started falling into place.

Yes, this is what is happening.

The Frozen Sadness of Ambiguous Loss explains how the grief process is arrested when we don’t even realize we need to grieve.

Ambiguous loss is a psychological term meant to apply to those losing loved ones to Alzheimer’s or those with an absent father who might reappear at any time.

Marilyn makes the point, and I wholeheartedly agree, that this is what Third Culture Kids deal with.  The very fact that the losses are not recognized and acknowledged causes the grief process to be frozen.

The ambiguous loss is an important piece to the puzzle.

It’s hard to put a finger on what is lost when a TCK (or any global nomad) moves from one life to another.

I think loss of identity is one of the key factors.

Maybe being a white face surrounded by dark ones.  Maybe the status that comes with having more or knowing more than the people in your circles.  Maybe the respect that comes with a certain level of achievement. Maybe the loss of a position or job that defines us.

Of course, there’s the loss of good friendships and the positive memories. That’s something that needs to be grieved. How do you memorialize that? How do you thank people for what they’ve done for you?

That doesn’t take into account the food. And the rituals and the traditions which were meaningful but are not supported by a new culture.

It’s all very ambiguous.

Just having a name for it validates me. Lets me know I’m not alone. Isn’t that what community is all about? Knowing that we’re not alone?

I remember the first time I read about phone phobia in The Introvert Advantage.  It was so exciting to discover that other introverts felt the same way I did about phone calls.  I wasn’t defective.  I was part of a group.  My tendency had a name.  Other people were like me.

I wasn’t alone.

The frozen grief of ambiguous loss isn’t a cheery subject.  Maybe even a little disheartening.  But, a successful cure is more likely after a good diagnosis.

The fact that it has a name is encouraging.

It means I am not alone.

And it means you are not alone.

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3 Ways Global Nomads Find Community

One of the greatest challenges for gobal nomads is finding community.

Connecting with others is difficult for the nomad because not everyone understands his life. Finding kindred spirits takes more effort and probably isn’t the person living next door.

Another factor is the taste of community that the nomad has already experienced. He’s trying to replicate that in another context and finds it doesn’t work.

There’s also the matter of personal identity. With which culture does he most identify? Where’s his tribe? If he’s a fish out of water, where can he find some water?

(note: this post contains affiliate links. At no extra charge to you, a percentage of your purchase goes to support this site.)

There are three ways to face this challenge.

1. Embrace Imperfect Communities Right Where You Are

Geography is a critical factor.

It’s natural to cling to a community that grew in another part of the world. With Sykpe, Facebook, What’s App and internet phones it’s easier than ever to stay in touch with people all over the planet.

Technology is amazing, except when it keeps you from connecting to people where you actually live.

The community that you plug into in the new place will not measure up. Push yourself to do it anyway.

2. Re-connect With Former Tribes

Reunions are important.

When you’ve logged a significant portion of your life with a tribe, it’s good to re-connect and catch up.

Last week, we went to the funeral of a mentor from a decade ago.  We shared a meal with former colleagues.  Because our lives intertwined so closely with these people in the past, years of separation melted away.

The same thing happened at a wedding in May.

Doing life with these people has marked us indelibly.

We need to touch base or we lose a part of who we are.

3. Create Your Own Culture

Establish traditions, celebrate holidays, eat the ethnic foods.

Marry someone who sees the value in preserving observances and ritual.

Create a family culture that incorporates  world cultures.

Influence churches, clubs and schools to reflect values and traditions you want to perpetuate.

Of course, these efforts are fluid. They will only last for a season if someone else doesn’t pick them up and carry them on.

But, the encouraging fact remains that the nomad isn’t doomed to a lifelong search for community: he can create it.

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The best book I’ve read this year about globe-trotting and the search for belonging is Tsh Oxenreider’s book At Home in the World.  Tsh and her husband took their three children and circled the globe. The book traces their journey as well as Tsh’s reflections on travel, life and personal growth.

  Buy now from Amazon

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Five Minute Friday: Place

It’s  Friday!  This has been a stressful week.  Glad to make it to Friday.

Linking up again with Kate Motaung and the FMF crew, writing for five minutes prompted by a word.

This week’s prompt is place.

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Where is my place in this world?

The question needs to be answered by everyone, but it gets trickier for global nomads.

That longing for belonging feels harder to satisfy when you’ve already lived several different versions of yourself.

What is the essence of belonging?

I believe it is living in community.

And, to me, the essence of community is connection.

So, now, the question remains– how do I connect to others in community to find my place of belonging?

The way to do that is to search for kindred spirits and create connection, community and culture with them.

Sound like a tall order?

Maybe.

Or maybe you could just call it an retreat or reunion. That feels doable.

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