Juggling Lives

Night Juggler

The difficulty with juggling is keeping the balls in the air.

But keeping inanimate objects airborne is not nearly as intractable as when it feels as if one is playing with other people’s lives.

Our family’s life is spread over three continents. There is almost always a ball dropping. From inconsequential mistakes (like forgetting to book a return flight) to deeper hurts and misunderstandings; moments where negative emotions and a loss of identity cut deep; where unavoidable choices are inadvertently wounding; the pain of feeling excluded by both the ‘home’ culture and by the ‘adopted’ culture; endless losses and family gatherings missed… each of these quietly taken to heart in different ways by our different personalities.

The hardest part of this Third Culture family’s story is being unable to safeguard and protect our children from the harsh reality of complicated lives. Living in the tension is not easy. For years I felt like the stabiliser ribbon holding the family’s kite steady, but these days I understand that I can never offer enough security, protection, love or encouragement to bind the wounds.

And so I watch our beloved offspring strive, unravel and overcompensate.

I am constantly undone.

But God…

2014 Kite - At Last 2008

Night Juggler Image Source:
Flickr – Creative Commons Some rights reserved by garryknight

Anticipating Christmas….

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There is always plenty to do in preparation for Christmas. Our family, however, does life this way – not just in December, but through-out the year. Living on different continents to our children and siblings mean that weeks of being apart culminate in times of coming together for intense, fun and food filled days that fly past too quickly.

Not finishing with a sense of disappointment seems a critical component to planning time together. Sadly, I have learnt that being fully prepared with lengthy “to do lists”, pre-cooked meals, planned activities doesn’t always hold off the feeling of regret or dissatisfaction at the end of happy days spent in each other’s company.

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Consequently, as I have gone about preparing for Christmas I have been wondering what might contribute to a sense of discontent at the end of holidays and my thoughts have had me asking the question:

“Maybe holidays lead to disappointment when prefaced by unrealistic expectations; and so perhaps it’s better to anticipate them without a required outcome?”

The Webster definition of the adjective expect is: to think that something will probably or certainly happen or to consider (something) to be reasonable, required, or necessary.
i.e. a strong belief that something will happen or be the case in the future.

And the definition of anticipate: to think of something that will or might happen in the future; to expect or look ahead to (something) with pleasure.
i.e. a feeling of eagerness.

Whether these two words are enough to convey what I think might be one of the secrets of enjoying holidays and family time I am not certain, but I cannot find better ones that indicate the subtle but critical difference.

I have got to a point in my life where I am happy to be fully prepared for times together, but no longer feel the need to try and control the outcome of every day and activity (ok, not as much). I have precooked meals and plans on offer but I am more open than ever before in waiting to see how things unfold. I now consider time with my loved ones more important than anything else and I am not concerned about what form that takes. I want to spend my energy on being present: watching, listening, as well as participating and not on worrying about where we are or what we are doing. Said another way: I am as happy with the PROCESS of being together (with some of its mess) and less worried about ticking anything off my list or what the actual activity is.

 The joy of ‘being together’ is the reward.

Disappointments will still happen and none of this takes away the chance of pain and mess but it does allow me to receive rather than dictate outcomes; which involves my heart being far less fraught both during and when thinking back over the holiday.

Lisa Jo Baker said it this way in her Tired Mother’s Holiday Creed … “I shall not be intimidated by how the holidays, the turkey, the tree or the memories “should” be celebrated but love the people I’m celebrating with instead”. See: http://lisajobaker.com/2013/11/the-tired-mothers-holiday-creed/

2010 Family on Beach 2

Remembering Alan Paton’s ‘The Discardment’

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In a few months we’re moving… to a beautiful new home, with a wonderful view and lots of clean, white space. In the meantime, we are clearing out cupboards and giving away things we no longer use or want. Having a practical personality and having moved countries twice and homes seven times (this move), I am not controlled by huge bouts of sentimentality….therefore getting rid of “stuff” is relatively easy for me.

Nonetheless there is a tension within …

One of our school set-work poems “The Discardment” by South African literary giant, Alan Paton, still haunts me. It is a brilliant work of words that shaped my social consciousness and influenced my heart towards political activism. Studying it at school changed how I thought and eventually how I acted as a person in apartheid South Africa….It came to mind while I was writing my 5 Minute Friday post on the 17th May: Cry the Beloved Country.
I have wanted to share it ever since…..

The Discardment
We gave her a discardment
A trifle, a thing no longer to be worn,
Its purpose served, its life done.
She put it on with exclamations,
Her eyes shone, she called and cried,
The great bulk of her pirouetted
She danced and mimed, sang snatches of a song.
she called out blessings on her native tongue
She called out to her fellow-servants
To the strangers and passers-by
To all the continent of Africa
To see this wonder, to participate
In this intolerable joy.
And so for nothing
Is purchased loyalty and trust
And the unquestioning obedience
Of the earth’s most rare simplicity.
So for nothing
The destruction of a world.

Chameleon Children

2013 Chameleon Children 1 One of our wonderful, intelligent, conflicted Third Culture Kids recently said something that confirmed for me that we have chameleons for kids!!

In that moment, I realised that they were guarding themselves and pretending to be exactly the same. I was both appalled and relieved. My gut response, as I watched in silence, was both to whimper in pain (knowing that what they portrayed was not the whole story of who they are) and yet almost simultaneously I was comforted that they were giving the ‘right’ answer (that they were honouring the lives of those around them and were not introducing complications that their peers were ill equipped to understand).

My reaction surprised me. I have always been able to acclimatise. I see it as a gift. I enjoy understanding the intricacies of lives that are not like mine. I happily bend and try to fit in. This God given ability has allowed me to move more easily between cultures and groups. Being able to empathize with others by moving into their situations has allowed my life to have a richness that I am grateful for. I have wonderful friends in many different places and situations. Furthermore, I think my ability to modify my preferences has meant that I have probably not known the same degree of loneliness that I might have if I was less able to adapt.

Yet watching one of my children do just that, shocked me….

And I’ve been mulling over my reaction ever since….

The problem is that fundamentally my man and I made the choice to lead this life
but our children’s lives are now riddled by complexities brought about by our decision.
We didn’t know it would be like this….
….and even if we had,
I don’t think we would have necessarily made a different choice…

It’s painful because I know (not just intellectually) that their lives are forever influenced by the reality that they are kids without a singular home culture…
Yet, I remind myself…
This God allowed….

I now know that no matter how good they get at ‘fitting in’ (and they already do that with differing degrees of success), they will never fully be ‘belong’ or have one national identity. Part of what defines them (and what is hard to watch as a parent), is that they have spent their lives being the minority.

This is the reality that has shaped them…
It is both a blessing and a curse…

We are proud of our kids’ compassion, desire to serve, stick-up for (and perhaps finally work among) the marginalized in society. They are mature individuals with strong voices, each one of them. Brave souls that are sometimes seen as strange, who know what it means to stand outside the circle and yet who have got up and are moving forward believing, like I do, that this is the life God ordained for them … and that, like all of our lives, our deepest pain and hardest experiences often get used for the greatest Glory! Nothing is wasted.

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Remembering Home

One of the themes behind my blog’s inception was being content to “Live Home Free” – both on a temporal level as I accept my current transient lifestyle and on a spiritual level as l continually move towards embracing the truth that “this world is not our home”.

For the last 3 weeks I have been hooking up with Lisa-John Baker’s Five Minute Fridays. It wasn’t what I planned to do but her words have inspired me. It has put me “out there” and that scares me; it also has me writing every week and enjoying it. Today’s word is a timely one for me – HOME. Not only because it ties back to one of the reasons I started blogging but because this Friday I am writing while visiting the city of my birth: Johannesburg.

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START
From outside the country and places across the ocean there are many who wonder if I am crazy to return to a country who hasn’t been getting very good press recently and whose statistics of crime, violence and xenophobia support that view. From people within her own borders, this trip is the first in a long time that I have not encountered normal South African optimism. So in many different ways this trip has been clouded by layers of negativity.

But…
The city skyline, far from beautiful or favoured in the country, evokes in me a deep response of affection. There are friendships and relationships here that shaped my life. Much of the fabric of my story was woven in this place and so I come back eager to feel and remember.

This city is a vibrant one, full of colliding African cultures; businesses and people always pushing to be seen as “world class”; with progress and promise alongside poverty and hopelessness; here the depressing is humorous and the ordinary courageous. This is not a city where people live small… it’s life on the edge …exciting and exhausting at the same time. The smell of a Highveld early morning, the dust laden sky, the faces, the languages and accents all comfortingly familiar.

It is not only the physical that confronts me here me but also my spiritual Life. This is where my eternal Life began. In this city, I took my first small steps of faith and had my first experience of community/ family within the church. Here in Gauteng, I developed the courage to stand for what I believed in: my faith against my non-Christian family and for justice against the then apartheid regime.

The memories run deep as does the nostalgia of the physical…In coming back, I am reminded again of the complexity and the roots of who I am!
STOP

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