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!

 

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When I Don’t Feel Like Running

emma-simpson-153970

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

Songs of Encouragement

God has used two songs to ingrain in me what He has been teaching me these past two years.

high and lifted up

One of them is High and Lifted Up by Zac Hicks. I can’t find a youtube video for it! Such a bummer. But here are the lyrics.

High and Lifted Up 

1. In the wilderness we wander
Bitten by our sin
We cry out for resurrection
Finding none within

2. Weak and fainting from our sickness
Feeling death’s dark sting
We behold our Substitution
Jesus Christ our King 

Come, come, see Him
Come, come, see Him

High and lifted up
Our Salvation’s come
Look on Jesus
forever, forever

3. Gazing at my bleeding Savior
Lifted, crucified
There I see my plague and poison
Traded for His life 

Bridge:
Look upon Him and believe He’s redeemed us
Look upon Him and believe He will heal us
Look upon Him for His scars show He loves us
Look upon Him and live

Words & Music: Zac Hicks & Julie Anne Vargas, 2015
©2015 Unbudding Fig Music (ASCAP); Julie Anne Vargas
CCLI #7056907

Love the invitation to come see Him – This is what I want for this series.

gray havens

The other song is by a group that quickly became a favorite: The Gray HavensStole my Fame: (To Grace) by Gray Havens has been really encouraging to me.

I think my favorite verses are:

“So please throw me down
And steal my fame
Please don’t stop until
You crucify my name

Take my boast
Put it in the ground
Bury it in water
Now the water’s showin’ how”

If the Lord has done anything while living away from home is to teach me to lose the love of seeing myself as strong. It has been humbling and hard and so good for Him to crucify my name and teach me to boast in Christ. Praise God my boast is buried in the ground! What a mercy that He would set my heart afire for the only One who is worthy of my praise.

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So, come with me, sister! Will you join me these next few weeks? Let’s see Him – let’s catch glimpses of the riches of His glory that give hope to the fainting, homesick heart. Let’s look upon Him over and over and over again. He is bound to thrill our hearts.

 

Look and Live: Sights of Christ That Thrill The Expat Heart

slava-bowman-161206Photo by Slava Bowman on Unsplash

Hello friend!

Maybe the title caught your attention because you are a fellow expat. Or maybe you, like me, are on a quest to know the Risen Jesus more and more. Either way, I am so glad you are here.

I have had at least 10 different addresses in the last 15 years. 3 of those moves have been cross-cultural. God has taught me to love the places I have lived in. I enjoy new places, meeting new people, discovering new cultures. I have tasted the faithfulness of our homemaking God who has made a home for me and for my family everywhere we have lived.  He really does prepare places for His people.

At the same time, God has used every move to  peel away the dragon-like clothes I have been wearing without knowing. Even though I have known God as mine for a long time, and even while being very acquainted with Romans 3, I lived for a long time with the delusion that I wasn’t as bad as other people. I rested on what I thought was the strength of my faith. I grounded much of my confidence in who I was.

But God in His mercy has orchestrated the places of my story to slowly remove the scales off my eyes. In her book Keeping Place Jen P. Michel says:

“No place is insignificant in our stories. In fact, in paying them attention, we pay attention to the salvific movement of God. Wherever we move, we may be sure of this: God always moves toward himself.”

Well, God has definitely been doing just that. This is my 3rd year living in a country in the Middle East. Moving over here was like being a in a pressure cooker. I can’t tell you how intense God’s dealings with me were the first year and a half or two. Initially I was crushed under the realization of how dark was my heart. But when I was drowning in the sea of self-contemplation, Christ rescued me.

He did it by telling me to do the same He told the Israelites long ago when they were bitten by fiery snakes and were dying in the desert. He had Moses set up a fiery snake on a pole. The Israelites were to look on the serpent and live (Numbers 21: 9).

Jesus told Nicodemus that serpent in the desert had pointed to Him: “As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in Him may have eternal life (John 3: 14).” Christ was willing to become sin to save us, to save me. Bearing all my sins and transgressions, Christ took them all to the grave and buried them. He crushed the serpent and its power over me. He rose up in new life by the glory of the Father (Rom. 6: 4) and the life Jesus lives He lives to God.

Christ raised me up to new life many years ago but He keeps sustaining me in the same way He saved me then: giving me faith eyes so I can look at Him and continue to live.

Over these next few weeks I am excited to share some of the glorious sights of Christ that have been sustaining and reorienting my expat heart. There has been nothing more life-giving over these past years than to search the word and discover the riches of His strength. There is none like Him.

You may be an expat living in a country other than your own. But even if you belong in an earthly sense to the place you live, I hope these posts encourage you. If you live by faith in Christ Jesus, you are also in exile. I pray that these posts stir your affections for the One who keeps you until you make it home.

I am far from Home and I am not what I will one day be. But instead of looking at my brokenness and despairing, as long as I am homeward bound, I will look to Jesus and live.

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I joined the write31 challenge this year. I am writing every day but due to the season of life am in, can only actually post 1-2 times a week.

These are all the posts related to this writing challenge:

Two Songs

When I Don’t Feel Like Running

Swirly – A Book For TCK’s

15 Ways to Celebrate Fall When You Live Far From It

What Matters To Me in Homemaking

A Truth That Rocks My Nomad Socks Off 

A Fall Poem

Helpful Resources on Union with Christ

Who Said We Have To Grow Up?

Thoughts From The Back Row

Yesterday morning we made it to church – Wes’ first time since he was born. It was sweet to be back! At one point I had to sit in the lobby to nurse him. I couldnt hear the sermon very well. The thought came to mind, “is it worth it to come if I wont be able to participate fully in the service, nor sit through a whole sermon?” And the Spirit in me answered with a resounding YES. 

Here’s why: 

1) I heard my brothers and sisters lifting their voices with joy, and saw them gratefully raising their hands. What a testimony to God’s power who has made His light shine in our hearts (2 Co. 4: 6), and given us eyes to see the beauty of His Son. How else can I explain the delight and affection I saw on their faces as they proclaimed Jesus is King?

2) When I looked at the gathered body of Christ from Ghana, Nigeria, Philippines, India, Brazil, Cuba, Panama, United States, South Africa (I may be missing other countries), Jesus reassured me that He is indeed saving people from every tongue and tribe & nation.

3) Christ served me humbly through my pastor and friend @andrewremke, who took my baby and said, “Go, enjoy the service; I will hold him for you.”

4) The Spirit strengthened my faith when I saw the faith of my sister who in the midst of difficulty and sorrow still went to church: worshipping Jesus and adoring His goodness toward her. Through her he deepened the conviction: Jesus is worthy of all of my praise at all times (Psalm 145: 3; 34:1).

5) Through the breaking of the bread and wine, my Savior gently and powerfully spoke of His faithfulness to me – his body given for me, his blood poured out for me (Matthew 26: 26-27). He knows my faith is weak. He tangibly and tastefully reminds me: “I am for you.”

6) He is not just for me. He is for all of us gathered at the table. He gave His blood to bind me not only to Himself but to all those brothers and sisters who are also feasting on Christ.

7) I saw the heart of Christ when my sisters lovingly embraced my children, sat down with them, asked them questions and cared for their needs.

8) Our joy over our newborn son is our church’s joy. Only through Jesus can others truly rejoice with those who rejoice.

9) I attended a meeting for children’s ministry and was so encouraged: he answers prayer and has provided volunteers for children’s ministry. 

10) Christ has given my friend and sister love for His church and faith to rely on His strength to lead Children’s ministry while I am on maternity leave. Through her, Christ is providing unexpected rest.

11) Jesus is great and greatly to be praised (Psalm 48:1). We are a young church; we all come from many different backgrounds, countries, denominations. We may not all believe exactly the same doctrinally – but Christ is our treasure. He is far above every ruler and authority. His name is precious. Truly, who is like our God?

12) Jesus dwells in the praises of His people (Psalm 22:3). He Himself was there yesterday- holy and enthroned in our worship. What an awe-inspiring truth. I got to be with Christ in a way that only happens when we are gathered as his people.

My husband once challenged my reluctance to attend church, “If you knew there would be a gathering of people from the age to come, what would you give to be there?” Yesterday I tasted once again the unspeakable privilege we have to be there. The Risen Christ has created a new people whose hope is in the age that is to come. Through them He is doing the work of uniting all things to Himself (Eph. 1: 21). All my brothers and sisters live and love in ways that only make sense because of Christ’s death & resurrection. 

At church, seen realities like bread, wine, raised hands and community link hands with unseen realities of covenant, love, eternity and Resurrection life to feed our faith. What a merciful Savior we have! He knows that we forget and that we wander. So He invites us week after week to feast: to come and taste and see and hear through His Word and through His people that He is indeed good.

So friend – when people from the age to come gather to worship, Jesus their Maker & Redeemer is there. What will you give to be there?


10 Things I Learned This Summer

 

Recently I went to Emily Freeman’s blog – it had been a while since I last visited it. I found her reflection of the things she learned this summer and her invitation to her readers to also share what they had learned. At first I didn’t think I could come up with an actual list, since I hadn’t really been thinking about it intentionally this summer. But when I sat down to jot down a few, I quickly came up with the list below. I wrote them down as they came to mind – nothing significant about the order.

jan-kahanek-184675 (1)1. In the Myers Brigg Personality test, I am very close to the middle in the P and J but when I go through transition and change, I default to J. Structure helps me to have a sense of where I am headed. So even if it is a very simple plan, it really helps me to think through it, talk about it with my husband and stick to it.

2. Being off Instagram on the weekends made me realize how mindlessly I turn to it and how much time I waste on it! I have been fasting off IG during the weekends. I uninstall it late Thursday or early Friday (since Fridays are the day of worship in the country we live in, and thus the first day of the weekend) and install it back up again on Monday. I use that time to focus on other things: reading, praying, memorizing the Scriptures or simply just enjoying those right in front of me. It is a weekly rhythm that is helping me realign my life and heart. 

3. Sons are the sweetest gift. We just had a son 12 days ago. Before he was born I was so scared of not loving him as much as I have loved my daughters. I had no vision for being a mom of a boy. But oh, my son melts my heart. In some ways I find myself bonding more quickly than I did with the girls (even though I adored my girls when they were tiny).

4. I enjoy learning language with my husband. We spent 100 hours studying the local language this Summer and I am thankful that we really liked being in class together.

5. I can DIY! I have always thought of myself more of a DIFM person – Do It For Me. I love the DIY style but I am not super gifted with my hands. But getting ready for baby I embarked on a few projects and I am super excited how they have been turning out!

6. My girls are awesome big sisters. They have been so helpful – bringing me water when I am nursing, throwing out diapers, holding their sweet baby brother.

7. I love memoirs. My go to reading books are usually on theology, but this summer I read memoirs by Madeleine L’Engle, Tsh Oxenreider and Jen Pollock Michel (her book is a part memoir, part theology)… and couldn’t really put them down. Memoirs might be very close to my favorite genre.

8. Sleeping with the phone outside my bedroom has helped me to unplug. It is so nice not to have the phone to reach for when I can’t sleep at night or to be the first thing I grab when I wake up. Having it physically out of reach exposed how addicted I can be to it.

9. I am often tempted to fear not being enough for people around me – instead of embracing it and resting that He is enough for them.

10. Nothing will take away the joy of holding an actual book – but during my sleepless nights of pregnancy and now while nursing, it is so nice to have a kindle that allows me to read while the lights are off in our room and my husband sleeps next to me.

 

Photo by Jan Kahánek 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.