Open Your Door

There was a note in my mailbox yesterday: “You weren’t home when we tried to deliver your package, so we dropped it off at your neighbor’s apartment.”

This happens quite often since mailmen normally show up when I’m at work. What was different, though, was the name on the note.
A neighbor I hadn’t heard of or met yet.

When I rang, nobody answered.
I was already walking further up the stairs when the door opened.
An older man sat there in his wheelchair and invited me in.

I have lived in my apartment for three years, but I have never been in any of my neighbors’ apartments. I roughly know the names, but I haven’t really talked to anyone. Everyone seems to live their own life and is happy to enjoy quiet evenings behind closed doors.

With a heavy accent he told me about his life, how rough things have become after his leg had been amputated some months ago. His wife had died two years ago and the depression had made his whole body suffer. When his granddaughter showed up, they spoke Portuguese. He was sad about the lack of care from so many and yet wanted to enjoy living.

When I left I was deeply touched.
Here’s a story of a man, an individual behind the cold walls of my apartment building. Someone who makes it a bit more alive, more human.
And I wonder who and what else is behind closed doors, everyone with their own stories and problems. Maybe we have to challenge ourselves a bit more to look behind the scenes, to invite others into our homes, into our stories, into our lives.
Often things aren’t as shiny and happy as they seem on the outside – looking at them together might make us more alive, more human.


Writing for Five Minute Friday today.

Why You Should Make Less Money [and Have More Life]

We have just started school last week and I am glad to be back in my routine, back with my students and colleagues. I teach a lot of the same classes with most of the same material in buildings I’m familiar with. There’s a schedule and a curriculum and all that. At the end of the month, there’ll be a pay check.
Same old, same old.

And yet, this year will be a little different.

This last year has really exhausted me. There was too much on the agenda, too many lessons, too much travel and projects on the side. Everything I wanted do for myself was pushed to the future and life seemed to be only about work.
I seemed to function during the week and try really hard to be alive on weekends and the breaks in between, which didn’t always go that well. I struggled with doubt and questions like, “What are you even doing here? Is this what life will always look like?”

Somewhere in between, a thought started to nag me.
What if you could change the way you work? 
What if you could make more time for the things besides your tasks? 

Maybe you feel caught up in the busyness of your life, trapped in people’s (or your own) expectations and long for space to breathe and create.
Maybe you question your work and doubt when and where life will actually happen. Maybe you want to change something and don’t know how.

Can anyone relate?

Rearrange your week
In order to make more time to create, you don’t necessarily have to quit your job and invest every minute in art or whatever you want to pursue. Sometimes it might just take another way to arrange your week.
In one episode of her podcast The Next Right Thing, Emily P. Freeman mentioned a technique I’ve tried out for a couple of months with some surprising results. Creative people who have so many different things on their plates can easily get overwhelmed. We have our jobs, our passions, our projects, our friends and family…and we never seem to have enough time to do it all. Our to-do lists are endless and leave us feeling unaccomplished and unfinished because we’ll never manage all of them in one day.

Emily suggests assigning each day a category of work, may it be chores at home or a passion project or meeting a friend. That way you don’t need to accomplish everything everyday and actually feel like you did something on that day. Whenever emails or requests come in, you can sort them into the day they belong to and don’t allow them to bother you today.
I have tried this method for a while now and it’s really helped me to calm my stress level. The different aspects of my life don’t overwhelm me as much and I have the impression that the actual days have become more productive and creative. 

Live curiously 
In her book Big Magic, Elizabeth Gilbert speaks about creative living – which, by the way, has nothing to do with being an artist, a writer, or a rockstar. We are meant to create, to make something of our lives and to discover hidden treasures in our souls. But far too often, we don’t do anything because we’re held back by fear.
Fear of not earning enough money,
of not being good enough,
of not being successful with what we create.
We deny ourselves the joy of creation and discovery because we give in to anxiety (which is often irrational). A sentence that really hit home for me was this:

Let your life be driven more strongly by curiosity than by fear.
Liz Gilbert

What would change in our lives if we listened to our curiosity some more? If we became more like children sometimes who simply follow their interests instead of necessities, their passions instead of their chores? 

At the beginning of my journey I pushed these thoughts away as foolish desires and utopian fantasies: You can’t just change things, you just don’t do that. 
I wrestled with my own fear and need for financial security and a stable routine:
What if I don’t make enough and will be lost in my week? 
I listened to advice from friends and wise words from those who’ve done it before me:
You might like it and you could always come back. 

And most of all, I couldn’t get rid of the feeling, “I don’t want to regret to not having done it.” What if I wake up with fifty and realize I have functioned all my life, but haven’t really lived?

You can’t create if you don’t try 
The other day I shared my writing ideas with a friend and immediately added, “I’m not sure I should even write about it, maybe no one will read it. Who am I to think I could write something like that?” She listened and then said very firmly, “Why don’t you think you could? You’ve already proven that you can.”

For so many of us, the biggest hindrance towards change is self-doubt. We don’t believe that we have a right to do or say certain things, we hide behind other people who might be better (or pretend to be), we question our place to be here.

Well, it’s not about being always right or becoming famous with our words or deeds, it’s about showing up and giving it a try. It’s about listening to the passions and nudges deep inside of us, uncovering them and having the courage to share them with others. They will always speak to someone – even if it’s just our own timid souls. Or, as the brilliant Liz Gilbert puts it:

You will never be able to create anything interesting out of your life if you don’t believe that you’re entitled to at least try.
Liz Gilbert

So, this is me trying.
When the pay check comes in at the end of the month, there will be less money on it because I chose to work less hours. I have taken a step back from going to work in order to make time for being a work in progress: Listening, creating, wondering. I don’t know if it’ll work out, I don’t know if it’ll be successful – but at the end of the day, I want to be able to say I tried. 

What are some areas or aspects of your life you’d like to have more time for? 
How could you rearrange your week in order to make more time for the individual tasks? 
What keeps you from believing you’re entitled to try? 
What could be a first step towards trying and creating?


Writing for Five Minute Friday today. This goes way beyond the five minutes, but the prompt is START and it felt appropriate to share a writer’s progress.

The Grass on this Side of the Fence

So here’s a confession: I compare. More than I actually should.
No matter how much I seem or am content with my life right now, no matter how many good things I have going on – I will always peek across the fence, observe what other people have, who they are with, what I seemingly miss in my life.
A slimmer figure.
Money to travel the world.
Better skills at writing, photography or cooking.
Success in marketing and sharing my craft.
A stable place I can call home.
A partner who loves me unconditionally.
A deep sense of belonging.
More self-confidence.
An unwavering faith.

Grass is always greener on the other side of the fence. 

As I spiral down into my hole of despair, I wonder how people got to the other side of the fence. Were they lucky or did they just work harder than me? Do they know more people or did they just wait until something happened? Were they given better opportunities than me?

And that’s when it clicks and somethings shifts in my mind and heart.
It’s about opportunity.

Opportunity is actually an interesting concept because it’s not something we can earn or work for. Opportunities are undeserved gifts of grace that present themselves. 
But it is up to us what we make of them.

I am challenged to open my eyes for the many gifts that I have already been given in my life. The many little chances that could make a change in my story.
I see a woman with a nice coat – do I go over and make her compliment?
I discover the talents that are inside of me – do I use them for my career and relationships?
I hear of someone in need – do I offer my help?
I have this insane understanding of a certain topic – do I make it accessible for others?
I am a rather quiet and stable person – do I use it to create an open space for people to feel welcome?
I question a lot of things and think aloud – do I help others on their journey and engage in conversation?

The more I marvel at the many opportunities I’ve been given, I realize how green the grass on this side of the fence actually is.

I challenge you to look at the opportunities in your life: which gifts of grace have you received and what do you make of them? Which opportunities can you seize today? 


Writing for Five Minute Friday today.

We Need More Life in Our Days

Adulting is a funny thing. We can’t wait to be done with school, graduate from university and find our first job. We move into our first home and finally create the life we’ve always dreamed of.
And before we know it, we’re knee deep in busy work schedules, endless to-do lists, messy apartments, tired feet, complicated relationships, challenging life questions.
We try to keep up with the insane pace life seems to dictate, wondering where in the world our time has gone.

I recently had an epiphany about that.

After some very intense weeks at work, I decided life could not be this way. I had worked for school all week and prepared some more for it on the weekends. If I wasn’t too exhausted from working and worrying, I managed to squeeze some cleaning in between. Everything else – connecting with friends, reading, meeting for coffee, shopping, summer plans – had been pushed to the next school break.

Wait, what? All the things that somehow made life enjoyable and ‘normal’ would only happen every seven-eight weeks? Insane. 

“How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.”

Annie Dillard. The Writing Life.

Yes, there is still a lot to in my days and I can’t just drop everything and leave (and I also don’t think it should be). But I want to give my tasks the appropriate place in my week, so that I still enjoy doing them at the end of the day. I want to create rhythms, so that my days actually have more life. 

Like setting time aside to answer emails and do school work. And not be bothered by it outside of these times.
Like unsubscribing from emails I don’t read anyway and rather focus on some healthy food for thought.
Like being present for the tasks and people in front of me.
Like being more conscious about what I buy and eat.
Like treating myself sometimes .
Like taking time to reflect and practice gratitude.
Like cleaning out the messy parts and making space for new thoughts and new life.
Like taking a walk after a few hours at the desk.
Like being still and resting in the peace of the Almighty.

Something fundamental had clicked inside of me: I don’t have to live that way – haunted by my lists and unfinished business. I actually have the privilege to work and create and network – all in its appropriate time. 

When I told a friend about my epiphany, she just smiled and said, “You know, I’ve been watching you work and toil for months now and wondered when you’d come around.” Well, I finally did. It just takes a while to grow – especially as an adult.

Which rhythms can you create to give your days more life? 


Writing for Five Minute Friday today.
Incidentally, Emily P. Freeman has just released a podcast episode on theme days on The Next Right Thing, if you’re interested! 🙂

When We Feel Like Imposters to Our Own Lives

When I first started teaching, I would sometimes stand beside myself as if someone else was teaching in the classroom. Even though I had spent quite a few years at university preparing myself for this job, I didn’t feel ready to be a teacher. I was waiting for the day when a student would jump up, point his finger at me and discover who I really was: a fake, pretending to be someone else. An imposter to my own life.

Sometimes in life we might do exactly that: we stand beside ourselves and watch life happen to us.

We compare ourselves to the shiny projections others share online and wonder why we don’t seem to be so happy, well-traveled and balanced.
We long for authentic relationships and a sense of belonging, but we are scared to be vulnerable and rather hide our true selves.
We carry all these big dreams inside of us that we’re too timid to share, so we stick to the same old.
We want to have it all figured out, to know exactly who we are and what we stand for. We want to go far and grow deep, but we lack the courage to take the first step right in front of us.
We think of who we will become.
One day.

In all of this, we might overlook the most important part: We are the ones who can make it happen. In fact, we need to make it happen. No one but us can build the life we envision to have.

The life before had happened to me as childhood happens to everyone. The mark of adulthood is when we happen to life.

Jedidiah Jenkins.
To Shake the Sleeping Self.

If we want to grow and go anywhere in this life, we need to take responsibility for ourselves and the person we want to become.
We can’t escape from the seeming imposters in our lives – we need to get to know ourselves and fall in love with them. We are the only ones who will always be around. We can’t chase someone else’s dream – we need to figure out what we truly want in life. We cannot just repeat what others say – we need to craft our own words.
We can’t hope for answers to come by naturally – we need to sit in the waiting and embrace the unknown.
We can’t expect relationships to grow out of the blue – we need to give away some of our time, our thoughts, our selves to build something that lasts.

We can’t just stand by and watch life happen to us – we need to understand what kind of crucial impact we can have to this life.


Writing for Five Minute Friday today.

Why You Matter in this World (Thoughts on the New Year)

I know I’m a little late to the game, but welcome back to a new year on this part of the internet!
Here’s to a new year of making plans, hard work and great achievements.
Here’s to a new year of self-doubt. 

You’re not good enough for this task. 
Don’t overestimate your own talent. 
You will never be able to see it through to the end. 
This has never been done before. 
No one will read your writing anyway. 
So you want to become famous?

I am not saying that this year all your dreams will come true. And if you’ve been around here for a while you know that I am not a big fan of New Years resolutions. I can’t guarantee that this year will be a good one for you.

But there’s something that might make a difference:
Let’s focus on influence this year.

Seek inspiration for your work and creativity. If something or someone doesn’t strike a chord deep inside of you, don’t waste your time comparing yourself to them.
Discover the magic of the unsubscribe or unfollow button.
Slow down and notice the beauty around you.
Dig into a good book and marvel at other artist’s craft.
Challenge yourself and listen to someone outside your bubble, you might just find treasure.
Find your people who are brave enough to dream with you and step into the groundwork together.
Surround yourself with friends who are willing to hold your heart as it cracks open with vision and vulnerability.
Become aware of who you’re around every week and how you might influence them. Take responsibility for the impact you make on others and the world around you.

Here’s to a new year in which growth and strength will slowly, gradually conquer the spaces in our heart where self-doubt once used to sit. 


Writing for Five Minute Friday today.

 

Faith in the Wilderness

It has been four years since my faith bubble burst and I began my journey into the wilderness.
Four long years of deconstructing what I actually believe.
Four years of questions why I do the things I do.
Four years of doubts if this makes sense at all.

Many months of anger at people, the church, God himself.
Many months of loneliness when I just couldn’t go back in there.
Many months of exhaustion when I was about to give up.
Many months of fear if it would always be this way – uncertain, tiring, grey.

Yesterday I spoke with a friend about our journeys and she said: “If I had to boil down faith to one word, it would be still.” 

In the midst of all the questions, I still come to you for answers.
In the midst of the broken down buildings of my faith, I still find new treasures in the rubble.
In the midst of all the unknown, I still experience a peace that is not of this world.
Even though there are a lot of lonely moments, I still discover you in the least expected moments and people.
Even though there are days of exhaustion and surrender, you still surprise me and encourage me to keep going,
Even though there is a lot of grey, I still learn that it has more colors than I could ever imagine.

So I still make my way into the wilderness and find that you’ve been waiting there for me.

I’ve discovered something beautiful: the loneliest steps are the ones between the city walls and the heart of the wilderness, where safety is in the rearview mirror, new territory remains to be seen, and the path out to the unknown seems empty. But put one foot in front of the other enough times, stay the course long enough to actually tunnel into the wilderness, and you’ll be shocked how many people already live out there – thriving, dancing, creating, celebrating, belonging. It is not a barren wasteland. It is not unprotected territory. It is not void of human flourishing. […] The walk out there is hard, but the authenticity out there is life.

Jen Hatmaker in: Braving the Wilderness . Brené Brown 2017.


Writing for Five Minute Friday today.

What If?

Sometimes I wonder how stupid we as human beings can be.

In the attempt to understand our world and with our innate desire for everything to make sense, we have simplified so many of life’s big stories and happenings. We have put everything and everyone in boxes, sorted all the world’s mysteries into logical categories.

We seem to have done everything right.
And maybe gotten it all wrong.

What if there is more than one answer to the nagging questions in all of us?
What if issues are more complex than we wish them to be and we need to wrestle with them for days, months, years until we experience a breakthrough?
What if “I don’t know” is actually an honest gift in a conversation?
What if people are more than they let on initially and we actually need to take the time to dig deeper and uncover the treasures inside them?
What if the ‘others’ are more like us than we allow them to be within the walls of our hatred and prejudice?
What if God has more shapes, faces and character traits than we have boxed him in and we have barely scratched the surface of the truly divine?

What if we miss out on so much beauty, color and abundance if we narrow our view to just the one thing?


Writing for Five Minute Friday today.

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.