Paradox at Christmas

This Christmas, as a global nomad, joy looked like…

… being able to decorate the same house for Christmas two years in row (we’ve moved a few times the last two years so this was a sweet gift)

…having both sets of grandparents visit us during the holidays

…receiving packages from dear friends with pumpkin spice coffee, peppermint candy canes, clothes, stickers, red and green chocolate chips — so. much. love!

…opening up our home to friends from all over the world for our traditional chocolate fondue

…baking Christmas cookies with fellow TCK buddies

…doing a cookout at the park with grandparents

…fall and winter scented candles that made home in the US feel a little closer

…practicing Advent with our girls

…slowly rebuilding our Christmas ornament collection with handmade, bought and gifted ornaments (because we didn’t bring any from the US)

…going to the zoo in 80’s weather

…holding Wes – I carried him inside me most of the year and the thrill of having him in my arms doesn’t get old.

…listening to City of David by Gray Havens and Emmanuel by Caroline Cobb

…being able to drink dairy free hot chocolate mix from clean ingredients (not always easy to find here – especially clean coconut powdered milk !)

…Feasting with fellow expats in our home even if the reason for feasting is that two of them are moving away.

…enjoying rain in the desert after 8 months of no rain.

But in the paradox of life we know joy co-exists with sorrow…

…Wesley began his first Christmas throwing up and ended the day at the hospital getting checked for a fever and a cough (thankful it wasn’t pneumonia)

…having my parents here for Christmas meant my family in the DR didn’t get to be with them

…sending Christmas gifts back with grandparents to sisters and brothers and niece and nephew meant one more Christmas that we are not together

…enjoying amazing weather here means missing snow there

…living in a country where the majority of people don’t celebrate Christmas is a tangible reminder I don’t live in my birth country nor my passport country (which are not the same for me!).

…we are moving in 4.5 months which means this is not only our second Christmas in the same house and same city but also our last.

…every time we enjoy sweet community here we are painfully reminded we are soon leaving community behind once more. Ethan and I find ourselves mourning this often.

…the day after Christmas I hugged my parents goodbye, with my heart breaking & tears flowing as I did so.

Paradox at Christmas is just as it should be. Christ’s first coming was filled with paradox. When Simeon saw Christ in the temple, he both rejoiced and prophesied sorrow. Even as he praised God when he saw the long awaited salvation of God’s people, he also told Mary that this baby that she had just delivered, and who would deliver her, would do so at a great cost to her. “A sword will pierce through your own soul.” The same baby would bring judgement to some and exaltation to others (Luke 2: 34-35).

His second coming will also be filled with paradox. What will mean glory for all those who have longed for his appearing, will mean wailing for those who pierced him. While His children sing, His enemies will bow in terror (Rev. 1: 7).

Growing up, Christmas was such a joy but once death entered our family through the death of my grandpa & later my cousin’s, Christmases were never the same. Since then, unfulfilled desires, sickness, separation from loved ones and homesickness have been unwanted guests that expose brokenness especially at Christmas.

I am so glad we practiced Advent again this year. For the first time in a long time I did not resent that Christmas was polluted with grief.  It just heightened the reality that I am a woman in waiting. The small story of my life is simply joining the history of the world. I am doing what history has always been doing: groaning as it waits for one of the two comings of Jesus.

The beauty and comfort of being one with Christ is that I am not on my own as I wait for Christ’s return. Emmanuel, God with us, has come. And through His Spirit, He has come to me. By taking on flesh, Jesus took on my sins and my sorrows and made them His very own. As I wait, I do so knowing He is for me and with me.

“We can’t be reminded enough that though Christ is physically present in heaven, he is spiritually present with all those who are in him (1 John 5: 20). To belong to Christ means to have His Spirit, and to have His Spirit means having the risen, ascended, reigning Christ within you, wherever you are.” (Rankin Wilbourne, Union with Christ)

Practicing Advent helped me to fix my gaze – and my hope- past Christmas to the Resurrection and the return of my King and Brother. The deep desire of my heart is that Jesus is known, loved and worshiped all over the world. Because I love Him, I hasten his return by living a godly and holy life wherever I am (2 Peter 3: 12).

Christmas is a joy not because it is filled with undiluted joy. It is a joy because it testifies that just as the Incarnation truly happened, He is certainly coming back again. Because of Christmas, I am waiting for and hastening the coming of Resurrection in clouds of great glory.

What were some of the paradoxes of your life this Christmas? What are specific ways that the return of Christ comforts you, emboldens you and gives you hope as you live in paradox?

 

Picture by Ginger Ivey PhotographyView More: http://gingeriveyphoto.pass.us/merck

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A Truth That Rocks my Nomad Socks Off

It dawned on me this morning that for the past 15 years I have been saying goodbye.  I have repeatedly left family, friends, church, country and home. Each time I have left, there has been gain: college education, sweet friends, adventure, a husband, teaching experiences, discipleship opportunities, outreach ministries.

But leaving so much also sucks. I yearn for a house where we can stay for a while; one I can decorate freely without wondering how long it will be before I have to take it all down again. Relationships are tricky to navigate when you know you won’t likely get to grow deep friendships. I am perpetually longing to be deeply known: the kind of known that only comes with roots and with being in one place long enough. And it hurts to think about uprooting my children away from the people and the places they have grown to love.

A Truth That Comforts
Over the past two years there is a reality that has become increasingly dear to me: When I repented of my sins and put my faith in Christ, Jesus made Himself one with me. He took all that is His and gave it to me. This leaves me breathless.

I was just a little girl then – I didn’t quite understand the magnitude of what was happening. But it didn’t matter. Right there and then, through His Spirit Jesus made his home in me, giving me his life. Paul puts it like this:  “But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved” (Ephesians 2: 4-5). Christ crucified all my sin and put to death everything I was without Him (Gal. 2: 20). To be a Christian is to have no life apart from the life Jesus lives inside of me.

These are wildly good news for every believer. As an expat and global nomad, this fact has secured my hope in many ways.

Moving has meant a lot of relational loss. I have felt very vulnerable and insecure in opening up to people over and over again. It has been very tempting to seek safety, identity and approval in people and what they think of me. But I am one with the Beloved Son. This means God loves me as much as He loves his Son. His delight in me through Christ never changes: I am safe there. I am therefore freed up to love others more and need them less.

Union with Christ also encourages me when I consider the glory of the Incarnate Christ who is one with me (John 1: 14). When I believe His hope, obedience, humility, faith, holiness are all mine, he enables me to be faith-full, obedient, holy & humble. This feeds my hope for the incarnational ministry He has called me to as a mom and as a cross cultural worker. I see his sufficiency and I hold fast my confidence for a life that I am not enough for. 

Lastly, even though change, uprootedness and all around culture shock have revealed profound darkness in my heart, union with Christ tells me all that sin actually died and lost its power over me when Christ died. The Light of the world became my darkness, endured God’s wrath for it, buried it in the grave and when He rose again (Rom. 6: 3-4), he freed me from being a slave to it. There is spiritual darkness around me and there is remaining sin inside of me but I need not be afraid.  I am hidden in Christ (Col. 3: 3). None of those temptations and sins will have the last word.

Moreover, united to Him I have assurance that He will complete what He started. Who He is now as the ascended, risen Christ is my destiny. As I face brokenness – both my own and that of those around me – I am thankful for a vision that transforms me and pushes me onward. I am thankful for how Gerritt Dawson puts it in this fantastic article:

“Our destiny in Jesus is man in communion, man in glory and harmony, man in loving dominion over a flourishing earth, man restored to a glorious destiny. The ascension is the guarantee, the down payment on all God is going to do to restore his redeemed race. Behold the man! If we are in Christ, we are meant for heaven. We are bound for glory.” 

“You Are Home”
I once had a pivotal conversation with Ethan, my then-boyfriend-now-husband. We had been getting to know each other for several months. We had been careful not to voice our feelings for each other. We didn’t want to do or say things that would cloud our judgement. When we finally became “official,” it took Ethan a few days to realize that it was now appropriate to express more of his heart to me. I was unsettled. We had a tearful conversation where I expressed my insecurity. He asked, “Are you asking me if I love you?” I nodded, fearful of what his answer might be. “Oh Aylin, I have been looking for home for two years. I found home with you.” **cue all the melting hearts!**

I love remembering that story because it is a shadow that points to a wonderful, heavenly reality: home is a Person. Just as Ethan is my home here on earth, Christ is home for the one who puts their trust in Jesus. 

Union with Christ enables me to enjoy God and his unchanging goodness everywhere I go. I have been in Christ ever since before the foundation of the world (Eph. 1: 4). I will still be in Him a billion years from today. He is my one place of permanence in this transient life.

There are more goodbyes ahead, but union with  Christ guarantees that my last goodbye on this earth will be followed by the most glorious hello to joy with Christ forever. 

I. Can’t. Wait!

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How does union with Christ encourage your heart?

Swirly – TCK book review 

Nothing has brought more tears and sobs than counting the cost of the impact on our kids of our life overseas. My husband and I have had many conversations about this. From the day moving was merely a possibility (and our girls were just 3.5 and 1.5) till now, we regularly assess how our children are doing as they process loss and as they learn to love the life, the people, the places that are home for now.

A third culture kid (TCK) is “a person who has spent a significant part of his or her developmental years outside their parents’ culture. The third culture kid builds relationships to all the cultures, while not having full ownership in any. Although elements from each culture are assimilated into the third culture kid’s life experience, the sense of belonging is in relationship to others of the same background, other TCKs” (Ruth Van Reken).

One of the things that TCK’s struggle most with is feeling like they don’t belong anywhere. I know that feeling all too well. It makes me sad to think my kids experience that too. We are learning to entrust them to Jesus’ care, who chose this global nomad life for them by placing them in our family. His sovereign faithfulness over them gives us rest.

swirly book review

I was so grateful when a friend told me about Swirly by Sara Saunders. It is a book for kids that describes the TCK experience so well. It tells the story of a little girl, Lila, born in Blue country to blue parents. Her family moves to Red Country and eventually to Yellow country. With every move, she discovers she is less and less “blue” and more and more swirly – each country’s color shaping who she is becoming. Lila wrestles with not knowing where she belongs. But when she meets the swirly mom of a friend, the mom explains why she doesn’t wonder anymore where she belongs….

I won’t say exactly what she explains because I want you to get this book and read it for yourself :). But I will say that what is lovely about this book is how it sets the children’s sight on Jesus Christ, who also left his home more than one time and lived far from home. This story beautifully teaches children that who you belong to is much more comforting than where you belong.

Almost every time I read this book I well up in tears. It moves my affections deeply to remember the extent to which Christ identifies Himself with us. I love that through this book I can celebrate with my children the beauty of the Incarnation and how it affects us so personally and dearly.

As parents of TCK’s we have so much hope – not only because there is actually lot of gain and not just loss in the TCK life (that would be another post!). We have hope because Christ knows the expat life well, he sees our kids and He is their Keeper (Psalm 121).

Jesus does loves the little children, all the children of the world. Red, brown, yellow, black and white…and even swirly little ones. Glory!

 

When I Don’t Feel Like Running

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Just a few months ago, I was pregnant, exhausted and ravenous all the time. Some days I waddled faster than others; other days I could barely crawl. Running? Not so much.

When a friend suggested I speak on running with faith at a retreat for expat women in our Middle-Eastern city, my heart sank. I had not only literally not felt like running, but spiritually as well. In the last 7 years I have moved twice cross culturally. Just in the past two years, our family has lived in two different cities in the Middle East  – losing home, friends and family in multiple places. While my Father has been very good to us, and has provided in countless ways, this town doesn’t feel like home yet. Roots don’t go deep enough in any direction. Ministry is challenging and unrelenting stress is a phrase that describes our life.

There were moments when I didn’t want to face life here. I just wanted to quit and go back. Go back to a life that seemed less complicated, to lush green, to friends that know me well, to a place where memories run older than a year, to everything that is familiar, comfortable and safe.

To read the rest, visit the Velvet Ashes website, my writing home today.

 

Photo by Emma Simpson on Unsplash

The Day I Heard Him Say, “You Are My People”- How Christ Satisfies The Homesick Heart

longing-for-home1The longing to belong has been my ever present companion the past 6 years since I got married and left the Dominican Republic, my home country, for good.

For 28 years I had taken for granted what it was like to belong. Being together with our church people was a way of life in the DR. We vacationed with other families from church almost every time we went on holiday. Birthdays, graduations, holidays, Friday nights, Wednesday night ice cream after prayer meeting, pizza after church on Sunday nights, long weekends at the beach – always, always, always meant being with multiple friends from church. My family (from a strong Arabic background) was not the only one that lived that way but many families around me. Grieving, just as joy, was a community affair. So any given month there were many reasons to gather with family and friends. Together was just the way to be. A lot of my grounding and identity came from being well known and deeply loved.

On my wedding day -in a two hour long greeting line- I tearfully hugged my family and church goodbye. I moved to a new city in the United States. I was eager to discover who would be “our people.” We loved hospitality and opened our home consistently to our church family. But the first 3 years I couldn’t quite tell who wanted us to be their people (mostly because I misread cultural cues.) I yearned to do life together – not just to invite others into our life but to have others invite us into their life – especially the way I had been used to in the DR.

I compared our family with other families who seemed to have what I longed for. At times I was jealous and dissatisfied. I had friends. We had our small group from church. But something was missing from my life that had been a big part of my life. I looked for home in people and developed sinful habits of seeking refuge and safety in what they thought of me.

Over time, the Lord kindly used my new church– especially our women – to give more of that sense of belonging. Towards the end of my 5 years there I was very grateful for all the relationships the Lord had grown over the years and was so sad to leave them. Just as I felt like I was starting to understand my American friends more fully and their way of doing life, we gave up life with them to move to the other side of the world.

I didn’t realize, though, that I was still grieving that belonging didn’t feel exactly like it had in the DR. So with unresolved grief and with patterns of seeking refuge & safety in people as a way of coping with that loss – we moved to a very international city in the Middle East.

Our time in that new city was relatively short due (10 months) to my husband’s work. I jumped into trying to do life with God’s people there, because I knew it would be for a very limited time. I think I expected to belong in an expat community – where everyone far from home is aware of how hard it is and would embrace us into doing life together. But metropolitan life, ministry, distance, extreme busyness, no car, children who get sick – all made doing life in community very challenging, not just for me but for every woman. We tried to join a small group at different times and were not able. I asked questions, served others often, invited people into our home. Most of the friends I pursued the first 6-7 months were very helpful and kind but were not able to give themselves in consistent relationship as they focused in loving unbelieving friends around them, cared for the many needs in our church and they themselves adjusted to living far from home. I am thankful for the way they blessed our family and how Jesus provided through them. But my longing to belong was not met in those relationships the way I hoped. This exposed my heart to me as much sin was revealed during those months.

Thankfully, in God’s mercy and grace in spite of my sin, the last few months there, I definitely tasted the sweetness of community life in multiple ways. God provided friends through discipleship relationships and God’s people served us lovingly. I am very thankful especially for the way God bound our hearts together with two families and our last two months there we had very sweet times of fellowship.

We were beginning to feel a little bit at home when we had to pack up our apartment and say goodbye – again. As I thought of moving to another city in that same country and start all over again, my heart shrank and many tears flowed. I wasn’t sure I could do it. But the Lord used losing that sense of earthly belonging a third (or fourth time?) to show me something about Him that I desperately needed to understand.

“You Are My People”

One day, late in May, reading Isaiah 51: 12-16, the Lord broke into my soul. His Word – alive and piercing – brought clarity to my heart:

“I, I am he who comforts you;
who are you that you are afraid of man who dies,
of the son of man who is made like grass,
and have forgotten the Lord, your Maker,
I am the Lord your God,
who stirs up the sea so that its waves roar—
the Lord of hosts is his name,

establishing the heavens
and laying the foundations of the earth,
and saying to Zion, ‘You are my people.’”

When I read the phrase, “You are my people” I burst out crying. I had been longing for 6 years to hear other people say clearly (in a way that made sense to me in my culture and personality): “You guys are our people.” But that day I heard God himself telling me that. I’d feared man and ran for refuge in others – I’d forgotten my Maker and Redeemer. Yet, the eternal God, the one who comforts me and gave Himself for me, was saying, “Aylin, you are mine!”

God’s Spirit through Isaiah opened my heart to understand the longing to belong is good and right. God gave it so we long for Him! Yet I had been ruled by the functional beliefs that:

· the longing to belong would ultimately be met by people.
· I am entitled to have this longing met completely in this earthly life.

The Lord reminded me of the precious promise woven through all of Scripture: “I will make my dwelling among them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.” From the beginning, home was always meant to be where God was. Sin entered in and ruined that. We could no longer be at home with God because of our sin. But our homemaking God had a plan. Jesus Christ left His home so he could come and make his home with us. Through His death and resurrection he opened the way to bring us home to God.

When the Lord says, “I will make my dwelling among you” He is giving us the gift of doing life with us. In Christ I have been welcomed into the life of the Trinity – and I now have the same relationship with the Father that the Son has. Through the indwelling of His Spirit, Christ does life with us and through us. In Christ my longing to belong was met!

A Gift (Not A Right)

When God made us His, He also welcomed us into His family. But sometimes we don’t experience that sense of belonging among them as we would like. Experiencing belonging is a gift, not a right. Yet ever since I left the DR I had been functionally living as if it was a right. And when I didn’t experience it – either because of my own cultural definitions or due to the Fall (my own or the brokenness of others around me) – I would at times experience jealousy, anger, fear or deep sadness. He has led me to repentance from idolatry and unbelief by comforting me with the promise of who He is: He is my home.

Onward and Upward

As I move to a new city, He has emboldened my heart by making me realize I have been looking for home, but Home has found me and will never let me go! At the same time, there is also a very real sense in which I will be homesick all my life until I reach my lasting Home. God’s promise in Revelations 21: 3,

“Behold, the home of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God”

has not yet been fully realized. There is deep suffering and grief that comes from not being Home with our Father. Jesus Himself tasted both while he lived on this earth. I am learning to recognize the grief and restlessness of my heart as signs of homesickness for God Himself. I am also learning to actually grieve instead of stuffing my emotions down.

Thankfully, the grief of the heart far from its Home is filled with hope. The Spirit in us guarantees we will receive the city we have been seeking and longing for (Hebrews 11: 14). We can embrace our “exile” status with joy, become friends with grief, and like Jesus, set our face to fulfill our purpose on this earth to worship God and make disciples. We no longer set our face to satisfy a longing that can’t ever be completely and ultimately satisfied on this earth.

There is a day coming when God Himself will comfort each one of us as a nursing mother comforts her child (Isaiah 66: 11). What a tender, intimate picture! We will be deeply satisfied with the glorious sense of belonging found in God alone as soon as we see Jesus face to face. Then, we will be finally Home.