Wanderers and Wrestlers

(Picture credits go to wonderful friends who dragged me up a mountain a few weeks ago. So exhausting, but so worth it).

A few weeks ago, Addie Zierman started to pick apart the meaning of the all-too-familar phrase “Let go and let God.” And she put out the challenge to process this concept for September. So I’m linking up with my two cents on her blog today.


A few weeks before my twentieth birthday, I left my family and flew to South Africa to do ministry in townships for a year. As a Third Culture Kid who had spent her teenage years in Uganda and lived through a difficult re-entry to Germany, I couldn’t wait to get my feet onto African soil again. Little did I know that this year was about so much more than curing my fernweh for this continent.

When I arrived, things weren’t the way I had expected them to be. I shared a room in an open space with little to no privacy; we had to improvise our youth programs with the little material we had and worked in diverse teams. Living with people from all over the world and working together in the South African culture (which, in itself, is already a conglomerate of cultures) led to quite a few challenges.

It didn’t take long until I began to resent my environment, including the work and the people around me. I was knee-deep in culture shock. 

When we transition between cultures, we tend to experience a sequence of emotions.
On arrival, everything is new and we take in new places, smells, tastes. It is fascinating meeting new people who are so welcoming and different from us.
Over time, though, these differences rather exhaust than fascinate us. Communication, daily work and even downtime have suddenly become hard work. We run into conflicts and quickly become angry at the people around us and the circumstances. Everything seems too much, too overwhelming, too tiring. The new is no longer a gift but a burden.

IMG_8280Sadly, there’s no timeframe how long this period of exhaustion and struggle will take.
For some people it’s only days, others need years to adjust to a new place. As a TCK, I have had my fair shares of transitions: I have moved from place to place, from university to a proper first job, in and out of friendships. I have experienced the beauty of the honeymoon phase, battled the depths of culture shock and basked in the joy of coming out stronger on the other side of it.

And yet there is one transition that seems to be unlike all the others.
What happens if the faith we grew up with is no longer this safe haven, this firm foundation, this comforting conviction we sometimes need so desperately in life? 
How do you deal with an evolving belief system that feels like a completely unknown territory to you? 

Leaning into the battle of culture shock is both scary and liberating.
When we enter a new culture, we don’t just leave behind our familiar environment, food, people, jobs. We lose parts of ourselves and the way we used to function in our home culture. Not knowing how to speak a different language or adapt a new style of driving, working or relating to others is like taking a billion steps back in our development. We once again become little children who need to be taught the basics of survival in a new environment.
This is a stressful, enduring and often exhausting process – a journey we often aren’t willing to embark on.

But if we practice patience and presence, we might observe the changes taking place in and around us:
The first time we connect with a stranger over food, laughter and sign language.
The beauty of making a friend who opens up the mysteries of this new culture to us.
The moment we realize that our differences are what make us truly beautiful.
The strength of finding new words for new experiences.
The comfort of learning that we are still here, behind all the struggles and unfamiliarity. The joy of discovering new facets of our own personality and the richness that is now embedded deep inside our souls.
The peace that sweeps over us when we understand that this new normal is our new home.

mountain 1

And I wonder if culture shock can teach us something about our faith battles as well.
When the honeymoon phase is over and we learn that the world is darker, more lost and broken than we could imagine.
When our questions and doubts have become so big that easy answers won’t do.
When that hunger inside of us has turned into this giant hole eating us away.

When we wrestle with our beliefs and the nature of faith itself, we might have to lean right in rather than run away.
We might have to get lost for a while and return to the basics.
We might have to let go of who we used to be in our old lives with our old selves and grieve our losses.
We might have to fight for survival, keep asking, seeking, waiting and feel exhausted most of the time.

mountain 2
We might have to practice gratitude and patience and presence to observe the changes taking place in and around us:
The first time we connect with people from other backgrounds, belief systems and lifestyles to find out that our differences are what make us truly beautiful.
The strength of speaking our thoughts out loud and putting new words to new discoveries.
The beauty of meeting others out there in the ambiguity of it all who hold and protect our thoughts and questions.
The comfort of encountering God in unexpected places and learning that He is so much more than we could have ever known.
The pure joy of allowing him to unearth the depths and richness that are still inside of us.
The peace that sweeps over us when we understand that this new normal is our new home – the beautiful wilderness, the familiar unknown – the place where He has always been waiting for us. 

This Is Not What My Life Was Supposed to Be Like (On Turning Thirty)

I turned thirty last week – a time to look back and reflect on the big things in life. 

I distinctly remember the first day at university, when I walked around campus and saw students dipping their feet into the fountains at The Square. They sat together in little groups, laughed about something and obviously enjoyed their life. I was twenty-one and had just moved to the city to open yet another chapter in my life’s story. 

And I remember imagining what the next few years would look like: I would complete my studies quickly and then move abroad for work. I would meet new people and we’d be the best of friends who make embarrassing and beautiful memories that would last forever. I would find a handsome guy and we’d get married until we started our own family around thirty. Together we would roam this planet, always in search of our next adventure. I would say later that my twenties were the best years of my life. 

Fast forward a couple of years.

Even though I was never really sure if I wanted to be a teacher, I discovered that I enjoy teaching very much and I might stay a while. So I still live in Germany, have become a full-fledged teacher and just moved into my first ‘grown-up’ apartment. I own a dishwasher and seem to be really settled.
I have graduated from university with a lot of effort and good grades, but all of this had its price. After my finals I had a burnout because I hadn’t taken care of myself. In times when I needed them the most, I had to say goodbye to a few dear friends and learn that some relationships are not meant to last.
There have been countless weddings I have attended and many happy moments when I rejoiced with friends and their kids, but with the years I couldn’t help but wonder why I am still alone. Nor the fear of always being on my own.
I have walked through the valley with friends and had to let go of seemingly strong foundations. I wrestle with questions and doubts why and how I can live my faith in this complex world.

No, this is not what my life was supposed to be like. 

As I take a walk down memory lane, different images flash before my inner eye. 

The many packed bags and suitcases that carry us from one apartment to the next and accompany us from one continent to a completely different culture. A symbol for the tension of having no real home and longing for the world that’s lingering inside of me. 

The five of us squeezed into too small cars or way too little motorbikes riding through the African jungle. Sleeping in tiny rooms and having improvised breakfasts on hotel beds. The many days and nights when we come together from all over, holding our bellies from laughing so hard and forgetting that we’re all adults by now. No matter how scattered we are: It’s always us five against the world. 

The delayed flight to Johannesburg where my twenty-year old self lives away from my family for the first time. I am culturally challenged, but gain a better understanding of myself as a TCK and my role in this world. 

Sweet memories of late nights with study friends watching movies, cycling around town and discovering what food can do for a person’s soul. 

The tiny bundle of fluff who made me a godmother and grew into such a brave, funny, intelligent boy. I can hear his chuckling laugh long after I have to leave again. 

All those weekends with my TCK family that leave all of us physically exhausted but emotionally filled to the brim. Because it’s exactly this: We have become family; people who share similar experiences and honest questions about home, identity and belonging. 

The breathtaking beauty of canyons, oceans and landscapes in all the countries I was lucky enough to travel. I have swum in all the seven seas, overcame my fear of water to go diving and climbed mountains. I got to live with people from all across the world and discovered that they are the real adventure. 

The first TCK conference I attended completely clueless only to be blessed by people who took me under their wings and taught me about the vastness and beauty of the TCK world. Together we have pulled off quite a few conferences and learned from experts all across Europe. 

What started out as a temporary student job became an unexpected learning experience when I ended up organizing a congress for several thousand people and was surprised how much responsibility people trusted me with. 

I have come to understand the necessity of saying No which enables me to say Yes to the right things and invest my time, thoughts and money into causes that really matter. I learn to treasure the beauty of admitting, “I don’t know.” 

I have learned to take better care of myself and open my eyes for the many blessings already out there. God was and is bigger than my concepts, questions and doubts. When I pay attention to it, I am overwhelmed by mundane gifts and the faithfulness of old companions. 

In times when saying goodbye to friendships and much-loved beliefs became really painful, I discovered writing as a helpful way to reflect and process. Many people blessed me with their encouragement and comments on-and offline, but I never imagined that my writing would end up in a book. 

I sense for the first time what it means to settle down at one place for a while and create a home – a feeling unknown, yes even forbidden, for a TCK. I meet the right people at the right time who challenge me to take risks, to stay and rest, to give something of myself. I can talk to friends who feel the same and we wait in this uncertainty together.

Why do I write these things? I don’t want to brag about myself and everything I have achieved. No, these stories are a reminder for myself to not lament the things I don’t seem to have, but to celebrate that my life has turned out so different from what I imagined it to be all these years ago. 

My life is full.
Full with tasks that challenge and inspire me.
Full with loving, creative and inspiring people who join me along the way and enrich my life with their presence, actions and words. 

My life is deep.
In the midst of my hunger and desires I discover gratitude that brings a new depth to my life. 

My life is rich.
Rich with experiences with and in this world.
Rich with memories of all the necessary steps that have brought me here.
Rich with dreams and excitement for what’s to come. 

My life is a collection of puzzle pieces which challenge me at times, but make everything more colorful, meaningful, beautiful. 

No, this is not what my life was supposed to be like.
But life is good. 

[Five Minute Friday] Here

One of the ‘perks’ of being a missionary kid is the travel during furlough.
Well, ‘perks’ in this case might be ironic because it’s not really fun, especially not as a kid.
You travel from church to youth group to ladies’ breakfast to small group meeting and talk about your work as a missionary in some remote place. And the kids are shown around like a trophy or support the ‘performance’ with a funny story.
Tons of people look at you and talk to you as if they were your best friends. They know so much about you, you don’t even remember their names.

And all of them are very, very excited about what God is doing in Africa.
Because that’s what missions is all about, right? 
Going to a foreign country to share the gospel.

I think this is the first things that comes to a lot of people’s minds when they hear missions.
It’s not here, it’s somewhere out there.
It’s with people of a different country, language, faith.
So you either have to pack your bags and go, or you make sure you support a few missionaries while you earn your money at home.

It has been six years since I came home from South Africa.
Six years without being a missionary kid or missionary myself.
But does that mean I have not done missions?

We’re not all called to go to different countries, but we are all called to be witnesses. 
To share the gospel with our lives.
With our weaknesses and failures.
With our successes and joys.
We are called to stand beside those who are alone.
Walk with those who struggle along the way.
Listen to those who have no one to talk to.
Bless someone in small ways.

We can all do missions right here and right now. 
Why? 
Because it is not our job to save the world. 
We are called to see.
See what the Lord is already doing and join him in His mission.
Then missionary stories and excitement will no longer just be other people’s stories, they will be our lives.

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Linking up with Five Minute Friday today. Congrats to Kate Motaung for one year of hosting!

This Little Storybook that Holds My World

My passport expired a few months ago, and since I’m about to go traveling again I needed to get a new one. When the lady at city hall asked for my old passport I was startled. Did she want to take it away?
It left me wondering, Why do I care so much about this little booklet?

Among TCKs there’s a joke that the most valuable book you’ll ever possess is your passport.
This little booklet tells stories.
Stories of travels to foreign countries.
Stories of adventures in unknown cultures.
Memories of people, smells, and food so different from who you are.

Like the story when we were stuck at the airport in Entebbe/Uganda for hours because the officer wouldn’t accept our residence permits. We didn’t want to pay the customary “fee” (we would call it a bribe), so he made us wait in this unknown country. Our work and lives for the next two years would depend on this little piece of paper. When he finally let us go after lots of questions, it felt like a relief and the stamp of entry like a triumph.

Like the story when we traveled to Tanzania, a 10-12 hour bus ride. Crossing the border was a matter of hours again because the border patrol enjoyed talking to the only Mzungus (white people) on the bus in the middle of African bush land. Only when they were sure my dad was Jesus (because of his beard and longish hair), they let us pass, and we had a new stamp in our passports to remember this trip.

These stamps are not just stamps on a piece of paper. 
They serve as a conduit to our memories. 
Images of sun-drazed hills, humble yet elegant and amazingly friendly people, and the most
breath-taking sunsets come to mind when I flip through the pages of this little booklet.

Many pages are filled with visas, but in between there are also a few surprises. Like the entry stamp of Abu Dhabi I had not intended to get.
My flight to Johannesburg, South Africa was delayed, so I had an extra night to spend in this desert metropole. At immigration I was searched by a completely covered-up woman, which felt intimidating since she asked me to take off my clothes. As soon as I left the nicely cooled airport a heat wave hit me and made my clothes stick to my body. The cab passed by simple white houses in the desert, the skyscrapers downtown looming in the background. I was taken to a hotel which could’ve easily been the scene of a Persian fairytale and met some friendly fellow travelers.
The Arab letters in my passport remind me of my first encounter with the Oriental culture, even though it was just a peek.

To get a visa or entry stamp from the US is quite a journey which starts a few months before actual departure, when you go to the embassy, wait a few hours, and endure security protocol. Just to get a five minute interview in which you state that you definitely don’t want to emigrate to the US or have a secret fiancé there. The long line at the airport and a suspiciously looking border patrol officer in Charlotte, NC almost seemed like a piece of cake afterwards.

Passports tell stories.
Our stories.
Just like photo albums they take us back to adventures and memories of the past.
An invaluable treasure you don’t want to give up.

And yet, I guess that many TCKs might agree that their passports can be a burden for them sometimes.
This little booklet doesn’t just tell what you experienced, but also who you are. 
Your place of birth, your family name, your nationality.
You’re a citizen of country x. You belong to the people of y.

But what if I don’t feel like it?
What if my heart doesn’t match what it says on that paper?
What if my soul is lost in the beauty of Africa, the hospitality and openness of people with a different skin color? 
The allegiance of my heart cannot be described by one single country code.
I am German and yet I’m not. I feel African, but so many things drive me crazy about it.
I’m a mix of everything, which sometimes feels like nothing.
My passport reminds me of this cultural conflict I find myself in, this search for a sense of belonging, a sense of myself, a home.

After a bit of paperwork the lady at city hall handed me back my passport.
With “expired” written across the page in bold letters.
Even though my old passport has expired, my stories are not. 
Because I’m still here to treasure and tell them.

A few weeks later I got my new passport – many more pages to fill with new experiences.
New memories.
New stories.

[Five Minute Friday] Leave

 

It’s the last Friday of October and as usual, I am linking up with Kate Motaung and a fantastic writer community. It’s also the last day of October, which means it’s Day 31 of the 31 Days in the Life of a TCK series! You made it to the end, yay! If you’re just starting now, you can find more info on the series here. Don’t forget to subscribe!
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We went to see the animals at Lake Victoria. 
We went to sit at the beach. 
We went for dinner at a nearby hotel. 
It all seemed unreal. Our last day in Uganda. 
 
And finally, finally we went to the airport. 
I watched my parents check us in, drop off our luggage, say goodbye to friends and teammates. And then we walked down to the gates. 
I felt like in a trance. 
This was happening, but not to me. 
We were just dropping someone off and tonight I would sleep in my bed in our house in beautiful Namutamba and everything would be alright.
 
It was already dark outside when we walked onto the airfield and towards the plane. 
The tender summer breeze brought the smell from the Lake and you could see the lights glitter on the water’s surface. 
We boarded the plane, had layovers in Nairobi and Amsterdam, and then we were home.
Really?
 
I didn’t realize what had happened to me until a week later. 
I asked my mom when we’d be going back, but she said, “We’re not going back. 
We will stay here now.”
 
That’s when it hit me. 
I had really left. 
And I hadn’t even said goodbye. 
 
 
I am not a cryer normally. Which doesn’t mean I am not sad. 
But now I cried. 
For all the friends I hadn’t hugged one last time. 
For my best friend who I had left the day before as if I didn’t know we wouldn’t meet again the next day. 
For the village I had called my home. 
For all the memories I had made there and would never be able to repeat. 
For the piece of my heart I had left in the Pearl of Africa, Uganda.
 
I have had to leave quite a few other places since then. 
My family, South Africa, my teenage years, the US, university. 
Familiar faces, cozy houses, a certain lifestyle. 
Dreams of how my life should look like, dear relationships, broken hopes. 
I’m sure if you added your losses we’d get an entire novel together. 
 
Make sure you say goodbye. 
You never know if you’ll have the chance again.
Make sure you cry. 
 
Crying is a way to cleanse the soul and I have come to appreciate my tears sometimes. After the tears have ceased, another feeling wells up inside of me: thankfulness. 
My heart is overwhelmed with deep gratitude. 
 
For the beautiful places I got to live in. 
For the amazing people I had the privilege of meeting and who continue to be in my life. For the sweet memories I could make and can now hold on to. 
For God, who continues to walk with me and already knows where I’m heading to next. 
 
Well, and now I am leaving this series. 
It’s been a great month and I’ll surely reflect a bit about it after I had a short blogging break. 🙂
THANK YOU for staying with me on this journey, for your comments and thoughts, all your encouragement! 
I am leaving you with hopefully a lot of impressions, things to ponder, and the wish to embrace your TCK life a bit more…
 
What did you learn in the course of this series?

[31 Days] Day 28 Expect

It’s Day 28 of the 31 Days in the Life of a TCK series! Welcome! You can find more info on the series here. Don’t forget to subscribe!
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I came home from a year in South Africa being in love with the country and its people. The goodbye was incredibly hard and the re-entry to Germany was, too. 
I settled back into life, began university, started making new friends. 
But this deep longing and feeling of homesickness were my constant companion.

A few months later I had my debrief with the mission agency and they told me that for various reasons I would have the chance to go back for a short time. What a game changer! The summer semester couldn’t go by faster as my eyes and heart were set on July 29th, departure for my second home South Africa. 

A week before I left I had dinner with a few friends; we sat outside in the summer night and talked about my trip. And then one friend asked: 

What do you expect of this trip? 

This question stuck with me during my trip, which turned out to be different than I expected. 
Did I go back to cure my homesickness? 
Did I expect I would go back and everything would be alright again? 
Did I expect time would have stopped and I could just continue where I had left things? 


It was a bit of a homecoming. 
Flying into Johannesburg and driving to the farm from the airport felt so familiar. 
I recognized houses, towns, shops. 
Seeing “my” town again made my heart leap. 
And holding dear friends in my arms again felt a bit like healing. 
So yes, a bit of my homesickness was stilled, at least for two months. 

It was also a bit like a revelation. 
A shattering of expectations. 
The bubble of nostalgic idealization burst and I was left with reality. 
Things had changed, people had left and the perfect community we had had a year before did no longer exist. 
The people had made the experience so unique, and without them I couldn’t just simply replicate it. 
Things that had bothered me in the first year were still there, and I wondered how I could’ve idealized them, too. 

So no, my expectations were shattered. But in a positive way. 
When I returned to Germany the second time I knew a little bit better how to handle my homesickness. 
I still missed friends and certain things deeply, and they will always be close to my heart. However, I don’t give in to nostalgic longing for things anymore that are more of a burden than a blessing. 
My expectations were refined. 

For those of you who returned “home”, what were your expectations and experiences? 


[31 Days] Day 15 Away

It’s Day 15 of the 31 Days in the Life of a TCK series! Welcome! You can find more info on the series here. Don’t forget to subscribe!

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Do you have good friends? 
The ones you can call in the middle of the night? 
The ones you can walk over to for a spontaneous chat? 
The ones you can be quiet around and still be understood? 
The ones who make you laugh? 
The ones who know things about you you’re not when aware of yourself because they grew up with you? 
The ones who help you in the small and big crises life can bring?
I hope that we all have at least one friend like that. 
You might be able to just walk over to your friend or call at no cost. 

Well, TCK friendships are often a bit harder. 
We travel a lot and friendships normally have an expiry date. 
Far too soon you or the other person mögt away and friendship has to be redefined.  

Quite often I discover a desire inside of me to be near my friends. 
But where are they? 
I don’t always have money to fly around the world and attend a friends wedding. 
I first have to think about time difference before I call a friend to tell her good news. When I need a shoulder to lean on, a distant face on a computer screen just isn’t the real deal.




Friendships change so quickly. 
As the quote says I sometimes feel like my part is ripped into pieces; everywhere I plant myself I leave a piece of my heart behind with beloved people. 
And the more I move the more I yearn for these pieces far away.

But it works. 
It’s still worth it planting myself in new places and discovering wonderful new friends. And the scarce time I get to spend with dear friends virtually is still a blessing. 
Especially since we know that far away won’t last forever. 
One day we will all be together and our hearts will be whole again.

How do you live friendships with people far away?