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

Grieving Mandela and the Dreams of my Youth

This past Friday’s week’s “word” over at at Lisa-Jo’s Five Minute Fridays was: Reflect
and so I am linking up again with this writing ‘flash mob’ to reflect on a great man and the state of my heart!

2013 Mandela

My sobs over Mandela’s passing surprised me….
His death was not unexpected to me or the world.
It must have been a relief to his poor ailing body and the family who loved him.
Even though it is unlikely the world will see such a unique man again, even though I am overwhelmed by his sacrifice and his forgiveness (two traits I’m not able to consistently emulate, even with the indwelling Divine) my choking-moans as I watched the coverage of his death and legacy surprised me…

I remember missing the Southern Cross most desperately when I first moved north across the equator. The constellation had always been a symbol that grounded me: the first thing I looked for in the night sky. It seemed unappreciative to my new culture to mention its absence and the longing in my heart.

We were in the Great White North when Madeba was released from prison and in spite of having been active in the anti-apartheid movement and having anticipated the glorious moment of his freedom I remember a dull quiet ache as I watched my hero leave captivity behind. I contained my disappointment of not being able to share more actively with those I had stood alongside in the struggle and so I watched from afar in my heart.

This December our family will gather in the Caribbean for Madeba’s funeral and watch this iconic man being honoured and buried in part of a faraway country that owns much of our hearts. We live disconnected lives, with fragments remaining everywhere, close relationships scattered globally, loss and pain continually repeated. These official days of mourning will be added to the list of those times where the pain of separation, from a country and people we love, is deeply felt.

27. Grieving Mandela and the Dreams of my Youth - Mandela Statue and H

Personally, his death has exposed me.
I mourn this humble, noble man who achieved great things but it is clear there is more to my loss. I have a sense that I am also be laying to rest some of the longings and dreams I have in relation to this place at the tip of the continent of Africa… the yearning within me for that red soil and those unmistakably African sunsets; the melodic, throaty music and songs of celebration and resistance; the poverty, pollution, smog, dust and wildness of the continent; and the dreams I walked away from….

27. Grieving Mandela and the Dreams of my Youth - Sunset 

Five Minute Friday

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.

2013 Chameleon Children 42013 Chameleon Children 52013 Chameleon Children 32013 Chameleon Children 2

Imagining a Different Life

Late again, I’m belatedly linking up with the other writers at Lisa-Jo Baker’s Five Minute Friday (a flashmob of writers who, for five minutes, write on a prompt without over editing, backtracking or worrying too much about getting it “right” AND then go on to encourage others who have participated)
This week’s word: Imagine….

Five Minute Friday

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Wet wheels crossing …and we’re back….

With both familiar and foreign eyes I take in the warm and welcoming surroundings of our South African home. Moving across yellow floorboards I stand to look out on a garden rich in quince hedges, roses and wild olives and I wonder what it would be like to live only in this reality…..
To know no other homes, no confusion of goodbyes, splintered friendships or different time zones, to never know the complexity of my multicultural life…

I try to imagine the simplicity and slower pace such existence would allow…
…and for a brief moment the idea appeals….

Before the reality and the loss such a choice would impose, sinks in….

And so, standing quietly hand to glass pane, I give thanks – for the opportunity this life has afforded me – rich in different cultures, landscapes and friendships…
Full of tension, complexity and loss…
But always pointing me towards the need for dependency on Him as my Identity
and real place of rest.

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Cry the Beloved Country

2013 Song 3

Under African blue skies,
on the red soil of the continent of my birth,
they sang and danced,
their song turning poverty into art!

This is the way of things….
The complexity and the conflict.
To appreciate their melodic voices and enthusiasm for the task,
while hating the exploitation and vulgarity of the begging.

My heart sings the song of Africa…..
It knows the tension…
ashamed but proud
beauty in the messiness
glory amongst the indignity
pain and Love entwined

Under African blue skies,
my heart’s song:
“Cry the Beloved Country” 

2013 Song 1  2013 Song 2

Today I’m linking up again with the other writers at Lisa-Jo Baker’s Five Minute Friday (a flashmob of writers who write for five minutes on a prompt without over editing, backtracking or worrying too much about getting it exactly right AND then go on to encourage others who have participated)
This week’s word:  Song….

Five Minute Friday