Poetry

Idols in Your Eyes

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You forget I lived a full life before you met me.
Just because you didn’t see that life doesn’t mean I was just born.
Since you didn’t see me grow up or what I grew up learning
You see me as naïve and young and unknowing.
You think I grew up in the wilderness where no evil could reach
Not surrounded by all this “American” evil.
But little girls still get raped where I come from
And 14 year olds are married off by their mothers to 25 year old men
And 90% of the eighth grade school girls graduate pregnant by their teacher.
African girls are still girls and think sex means love and a secure home.
African boys are still boys with raging hormones and charming words.
Women die in childbirth and children die from drowning.
Men still get drunk and beat their women and violate the weaker ones.
You think I lived a sheltered life because I didn’t live in your society
And go to your schools and attend your churches and shop in your malls.
You think I don’t know how the world works because I didn’t have internet.
Just because I don’t see the world your way doesn’t mean I haven’t seen the world.
Just because I don’t use the words you use doesn’t mean I don’t know their meaning.
Just because I am foreign to you doesn’t mean I am foreign to life.
Just because I didn’t live in America does not mean I don’t know how to live.

You see me as the innocent missionary girl who grew up in the Bible
And who can’t possibly know how bad and sinful people can be.
Since you glorify the missionary, you put me on a righteous pedestal
Praising me for not being like “other girls”
And believing me to be uncontaminated by the world.
But you don’t know the dirty hands that have touched me
Or the roaming eyes that have ravaged me.
You didn’t hear the threats I heard
Or the fearful footprints I left behind.
You see me as the girl who knows the Bible and knows nothing else.
Don’t you know the Bible is full of evil too?

On this pedestal you set up, you expected me to do everything right.
You said humans make mistakes but you didn’t see me as human.
And why would you? You crafted me into your golden image
And you expected me to be perfectly flawless.
The exemplary role model your children could admire and look up to.
Up on that pedestal.
You had expectations for me and advice for me to live by.
And I strived to live up to the idol you envisioned.
I wore the right clothes, smiled politely, stayed quiet and submissive
And knew all the right answers.
I was the perfect person you could manipulate because I was too afraid of letting you down.
I had to be the perfect example.
You needed hope
And you looked up to the obedient statue to give it to you.
So I served and I curtseyed and I pleased.
I said the words you put in my mouth to say
And lost my voice to yours.
Every idea you had of me I fulfilled,
Every thought you told me to think
I did.

Your words were sweet.
Telling me to be who I am and that it was okay to make mistakes.
You told me you have to make mistakes to learn
And to not be afraid.
You told me I could make decisions for myself because that’s what adults do
And I couldn’t remain a child forever.
I had to grow.
But when I chose, when I made decisions, when I spoke my mind
You didn’t like it.
You believed I was falling away from God
Because I was falling away from all the expectations you held for me.
You believed I was a deceived little girl because I didn’t take the path you planned.
I stepped off your pedestal
And you were bewildered without your idol.
I fell away from you because I chose to fall into God.
I stopped listening to your words and I could finally hear His.
I refused to please you and live up to your expectations
Because I was finally pleasing to God and fully accepted by Him.
Something you never gave me but I always strived for.
But I stopped striving.
And I found peace.
Or rather, He gave me peace.
Now you can’t stand to look at me.
Your eyes avert and your words no longer praise.
Maybe you’re jealous of the freedom I’ve found
Because to you love must always be conditional.
You wish me to be as sad as you because to you happiness is a sin.
You can only be happy when you’re miserable.
And you hate that I can be happy without your misery.

You forget I lived a full life before we truly met.
Even though you may have been present
You didn’t see the life that I lived.
Or the life that was pressed upon me.
You don’t see the paths that left their traces in my veins
And you can’t see the scars on my feet.
But more than this
You didn’t see the glorious calming light I saw
Or the clear blue sky singing grace.
You didn’t see the open field full of flowers
with freedom breathing from every petal.
You didn’t see his wide open door inviting me into love
You didn’t hear His truth filling words whispered in that quiet place
And you didn’t feel His assurance and joy in the light flooded air.
This is why I dance to Him and quit marching to you.
Your opinion used to matter to me.
But now
I’m free.

Thoughts

When the Phone Rings

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The phone rang.
And my stomach turned cold.
I held my breath.
My heart beat faster.
I tried to calm my heart so I could listen and watch for any signs that something might be wrong.
Oh, it was just a phone call about softball practice.
Everything was fine. Everyone is okay.
I didn’t know why I always tensed up and fear shot through my stomach and heart each time the phone rang. Zach never looked terrified when his phone rang. Why wasn’t he panicking?
Why was I panicking? Why was my body always reacting as if something alarming had happened on the other end of the phone?
I know I don’t like loud noises and phones can ring pretty loud but it wasn’t that. It seemed every time the phone rang I tensed up in fear just waiting for sad news. I knew something bad had happened.
It wasn’t until a few days ago when I wasn’t totally thinking about this strange, fearful reaction that the answer hit me upside the head making everything so much clearer.
We didn’t really receive phone calls as I was growing up. We had a landline phone – before cell phones – but since we lived in Africa making and receiving phone calls was very expensive. Every minute was charged. So we didn’t call people and people didn’t call us. Unless something bad happened.

Big Bill is in the hospital. He almost died and they don’t think he’ll make it. And you’re not there to hug Zach.
Grandpa had another stroke. It doesn’t look good. Grandma’s okay. We’ll let you know more later. What if later is too late?
Aunt Kimmey has a bad form of cancer. She’s taking treatments. But we need to pray. Because that’s all you can do.
Aunt Janie has brain cancer. They didn’t give her very long to live. Will you see her again?
Your two dogs died of tick bite fever even though you just saw them a few days ago and they were fine.
Your Grandpa had another stroke again. It’s worse than before. He may be waiting to say goodbye. You might have to come home again even though you just got home.
Your Aunt Vickie is in the hospital and your cousin Emilee needs you. But your 8,729 miles away.
Your friend’s father just died suddenly. And you can’t comfort her.

Because calling long distance cost so much money, people only called when really important things happened. And usually really important things were really bad things. Or maybe I just remember the really bad, scary things. I do remember a “Happy Birthday” call but that didn’t happen every year like birthdays do. And the bad hits cruelly. With the “Happy Birthday” call at least everyone was celebrating, wishing they could be there with you. But when the other, more frequent calls came, there was nothing you could do. You weren’t there to comfort and you weren’t there to say goodbye if necessary. You were thousands of miles away.

I think that was the problem. I was being informed of things happening an ocean away that I could do nothing about except sit in fear and suspense and pray. It wasn’t like we could just drive down to the hospital and see things for ourselves. No, one phone call could uproot my whole world. There would be plane tickets to buy, packing to do, plans to store our stuff somewhere, finding someone to guard our house and take care of our animals? What would happen to my cat Gray? I just got back. We were just united again. He was ten years old and I knew my constant leaving him was taking his breathe away a little at a time. It was taking mine away. He was my best friend. He was there when no one was. I didn’t have friends but he sat with me. He laid on my paper when I colored. He covered up the words of my Bible and books I tried to read with his paw as if he wanted to know too. He knew when I was sad and he just rubbed against me trying to cheer me up. He laid with me when I was sick and couldn’t move letting me know I would be okay. He slept on my pillow every night and was my alarm clock for school in the morning. Even on Saturdays. It was difficult for him to learn Saturdays were okay to sleep in on. He was my protector from scorpions and centipedes and my comforter. Anytime I packed a bag he climbed in it. And when I came home after furlough he literally hugged my neck and would not let me go. He was my best friend. He’d been with me from the beginning. Born under my bed when I was five and my traveling buddy to our new life. My constant friend. I loved him and I knew he loved me.

I remember one time we had just got settled in a place to stay after we had been gone for a long time and had just gotten into the slow flow of things again when we got a call one night that my Grandpa had a bad stroke. They thought he was dying and waiting on my dad to come back and say goodbye. I was terrified. Not because of my Grandpa. I was sad for him but I didn’t really know him. I knew my dad was sad and worried but he had reason to be. I heard my parents talking on the porch about what we might have to do. I went to the door shaking – I can still feel my heart pounding and my fingers have started shaking writing this- I went to the screen door. My dad said we might have to go back. And I dreadingly fearfully asked, “What will happen to Gray?” I knew in my heart it was not the right thing to say but I was terrified. And you will probably think it was selfish of me to be concerned about my “stupid cat” rather than my grandfather. My dad certainly made it clear he thought so. And maybe you all are right.

But it was more than that. I instantly started crying and apologizing. I saw the disappointed faces and heard the disappointed thoughts. But I couldn’t put into words all I was crying to say. So I went back to my bed and prayed for my Grandfather to get better. Because I did not want to leave again.

I think this call was the epitome of why I get struck with fear every time the phone rings. Even now. Throughout the following days we waited for the call. The call that would deliver the bad news or the call that would call us home. Or both. But we were never called to come “home.” So I didn’t have to leave home. And I felt relieved. But I still felt at fault. Like it was because of my selfishness that my grandfather didn’t die and my dad knew it. I knew that he would carry my selfishness with him for years and that he would blame me if Grandpa did pass and we weren’t there. It was my fault. It was always my fault.

So today, when the phone rings, all those fears and feelings come flooding back in. I expect bad news because that’s what I always heard after the phone rang. But realizing this and knowing this now I hope will help me stop panicking even though I don’t know what is happening on the other end. I have to tell myself “It’s okay now. You’re here. You’re home. You life will not be uprooted to a different life a thousand miles away. You’re not leaving anything behind.” Even though I won’t have to uproot my home there still will be calls that uproot my heart with pain. And still all I can do is pray. Even though I’m here now. But in the meantime I’m trying to teach myself that not every call is bad and scary. Just because the phone rings does not mean there is bad news on the other end.

Poetry

Dear Mom

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Dear Mom,
You’re the reason why I make my bed every morning
And spring clean the house every Saturday.
You’re the reason why I dust, sweep, and then mop.
And you’re the reason why no one is allowed to step on that recently mopped floor.
It’s your fault I lock my husband and pets out of the house until all is dry.
You’re the reason I do dishes as I cook; so there’s less to do afterwards.
And you’re the reason I wash my husband’s spoon before he’s done using it.
You’re the reason why I can’t sit down until everything is clean
And I can’t watch TV until I know I can rest.
You’re the reason why I walk into a room and forget what I was doing
And you’re the reason why I start to do one task and then get distracted by another.
You’re the reason I love flowers
And stop to pick and smell them.
You’re the reason I love the sunshine
And why I have sun wrinkles on my face.
You’re the reason I do the laundry
And why I always match.
Dear Mom,
You’re also the reason why I “Pray about it”
And give over my heart-sufferings to God.
You’re the reason I have faith during the times I can’t feel Him
And choose to trust He still sees me.
You’re the reason I love even when I’m hurt
And why I forgive even when it’s not deserved.
You’re the reason why I kept hoping there was a man out there for me
And why I chose the one who would love me the way we always prayed he would.
You’re the reason I don’t give up even when I’m exhausted
And why I still have time to listen even when I just want to sleep.
You’re the reason why I believe God will provide
And that He will pour out His blessings so much that there is not room enough for it.
You’re the reason why I don’t fret when evil men succeed in their evil ways
And why I see that quiet committing righteousness does shine like the dawn.
You’re the reason why I strive to do what is right even when it is blurry
And why I see that all things do work together for the good of those who love God.
You’re the reason why I am here today
And why I have become the woman I am.
So thank you, Mom,
For being all the reasons why.

“Her children arise and call her blessed … Many women do noble things,
but you surpass them all.” -Proverbs 31:28-29

Poetry

Dear Third Culture Kid

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Dear Third Culture Kid,
I know what it’s like to feel alone on the planet. Even though you have friends in multiple villages in multiple countries in multiple continents, you still wish you had that friend who lives just down the street. The one that comes over to just talk on your porch swing. Who with one look knows your heart is crying though your eyes hide the tears. Who knows exactly what to say or who doesn’t. Just being beside you would be enough.
Dear Third Culture Kid,
I know how wonderful it feels to find that friend you’ve been praying for only to know you’ll have to leave soon. I know the dark feeling that crosses your heart when you wonder if it is even worth it. I know how you feel when you think it is safer to live in your lonely world so your heart will never break with the never ceasing goodbyes. I’ve felt that cold sad ache in your belly knowing you could never see your friend again. I know how much safer it feels – but how hard lonely can be – when you block yourself off from everyone and choose to live in books and movies instead. I know you’d rather say “See you later” than “Goodbye.” And we both know when we say “See you later” it’s not true. But it helps us get by.
Dear Third Culture Kid,
I know how it feels to wonder if anyone remembers you exist. To watch your friends make other best friends and live out your dreams with someone more constant. You weren’t the one who went to the mall picking out prom dresses together and painting your nails and feeling beautiful and graceful for one night in your life. You weren’t the one who danced all night and laughed all night and slept all night at your best friend in the whole world’s house making memories to carry with you to university together. You weren’t the one to stand by her side at the altar watching her dreams finally come true with the man you cried with her over.
Dear Third Culture Kid,
I know what it feels like to be a lost puzzle piece that never finds where it fits. You aren’t really sure you want to find where you fit because you don’t want to lose what makes you unique. You don’t want to hide or lose half of who you are. But how you long for someone to be the puzzle piece that finally fits with you. Then maybe at least someone can see and understand that the parts of you that look so different really do make a beautiful portrait. Maybe then that restless feeling would go away and you could finally feel at home.
Dear Third Culture Kid,
I know what it’s like to feel like you skipped a beat or can’t even keep in time with the drumming rhythm because you’ve never heard it before. You feel like you’re trying to waltz at a tap dance and no matter how quickly you move your feet you still can’t count the same. Even though you use the same numbers. How do others move so smoothly? No one told you the rules. Even if you knew the rules you still can’t shake that feeling as though you’re missing something. Something unspoken. Something that is inherently learned that doesn’t match your multicultural heritage.
Dear Third Culture Kid,
I know you get scared and feel lost and alone and you hate being a nomad but you love it at the same time. You wish you could have a “normal” life but know you should be thankful for the opportunities you’ve had. Others tell you how fortunate you are and how blessed you are and you know it’s true but they don’t know how cursed you feel at times. How tortured your heart and mind have been with knowing your duty to be grateful and take full advantage of your experiences but longing for some sense of belonging and not always observing. You’re always on the outside. And no matter how many doors you pound down you never find yourself inside.
Dear Third Culture Kid,
I know how you feel. And I know it will be okay. You are not alone. There are so many of us hidden in the shadows you’re walking through. With one look we can see the foreign in your eyes and find a fellow comrade. We see the tears you’ve cried because they have run down our cheeks too. You don’t need words here. We can hear them all because they’ve come from our own lips. You don’t have to worry about keeping up here or learning a new dance. We’ve created a dance all our own. You can rest here. You can scream and yell and cry or you can just be silent and know you do belong. You’re the puzzle piece that makes our cultures beautiful. You’re the friend we all wished we’d had.
Dear Third Culture Kid, remember no matter how many times you move, no matter how many countries you’ve traveled to, no matter how many cultures you acquire, you are home here. You are inside an unseen but powerful world. And you are not alone. You are a beautiful portrait. So let your colorful cultures paint.

Thoughts

You Saw Me

Hide-and-Seek

It used to conflict me that you never asked about my life in Africa. You never mentioned it and you never seemed shocked or excited when I told you about the scorpion in my bed or the snake that tried to eat my monkey. Didn’t it interest you? Didn’t I interest you? Everyone one else had millions of questions for me but you never had one.
I didn’t realize it then but you were giving me exactly what I had always longed for.
I hid behind Africa for so long. I wasn’t interesting without it. When people found out where I grew up, I became exciting to talk to. I was like a foreign relic they could show off and brag about. Who was I without Africa?
But you were different. You gave me a place to rest where Africa didn’t define me. I defined me. Where Africa is not what made me interesting. A place where you were only interested in me. You weren’t talking to me because you wanted to safari my past. You weren’t interested in me because of the lions and elephants and snakes. You showed me you only cared about me. You didn’t boast about your souvenir from Africa. To you I was more than an airplane ticket to an adventure. I was the adventure.
I struggled with my past. I used it to feel interesting. Africa is where I got my worth. Other times I hid it because I wanted to see if anyone was interested in only me. That was a scary option though. And it was hard to tell a story without bringing Africa up. So most of the time I would just stay silent. But you are helping me to see that my past is not a story I need to tell to find worth. And it’s not something I need to hide either.
But it’s still hard. Sometimes I hide my past because I don’t want others to think I’m bragging about my history. When someone tells a story about when they were little, how do I tell a story about when I was little when all my stories involve Africa? I get afraid people will think I am trying to one up them. How do I relate to a normal childhood when mine was anything but normal?
How do I relate? I guess that’s the real question. One I’ve been asking since I became a third culture kid. I thought maybe the question would go away once I became an adult. But I’m still asking… why don’t I fit in? Why don’t I know how to hold a conversation? Or even start one? Why do I still feel awkwardly foreign? Why don’t I have friends? What am I doing wrong? What are the unspoken rules? I thought I had them figured out. But I don’t. How will I ever feel at home?
But that’s when your voice comes back to calm my fears. I’m your home now. You never have to wander again. I love you for you. Your past doesn’t define you. You’re worth more than the pink and purple sunsets and the dirt roads and the starry filled sky. It is beautiful but that’s not why you’re beautiful. Don’t be afraid to talk about Africa. It’s not just a story, it is your life. Your life is where stories come from.
Even though I tried to hide behind my stories or behind my silence, you still saw me. You still see me. You don’t see the awkward foreign girl who doesn’t know social rules. You don’t see the bilingual translator who can’t understand jokes. You don’t see African. You don’t see un American. You only see me. And you’re helping me to see me too.

Poetry

I Want to Die with You

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I want to die with you.
Holding your wrinkled, worn hand in mine
That still fits like a found puzzle piece.
Each of your wrinkles lines up with mine
To mark the paths that have travelled us.
Lying next to your warm, life weathered body
Snuggling me so close I can feel your steady heartbeat fading with mine.
Your  arms surround me like a blanket
So we don’t feel Death’s cold lips
When he creeps in frostbiting our breath.
You still protect me, and I still feel safe
Even though his numbness has stopped the ache in our limbs.
We can’t feel our bodies
But we can still feel each other.
Feeling your slow breath on my ear
Still whispering not to worry, “We’ll do this together.”
I want to lie like this.
I want to fade into peace like this.
I want to die with you.
But mostly I want to live with you.

Thoughts

I’m Tired of Dressing Up

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My husband and I were talking the other day about how churches should be more like AA meetings. To us, AA meetings are a place where broken people can go to find acceptance and support and friends and encouragement in their healing process. Where your past, or your present, aren’t held against you. It is a place where you already know that you are broken and you know that everyone you meet with are broken too. But the brokenness isn’t something to be hidden and ashamed of, but something to be celebrated because you are finally free in your brokenness. People don’t scowl at you when you enter for not measuring up to their standards. They don’t pre-judge you before they know you and they don’t judge you when they do get to know you because when they begin to form a relationship with you it is as fellow broken humans who need each other and can fight this together.

Perhaps we are glorifying the AA meeting which is very possible because we only know family members and friends who have gone to these meetings. But from the outside, standing at the doors of an AA meeting, at times, sounds more appealing to me than standing at the doors of a church.

I know several churches who say that they are a place for broken people. Who say that “Churches are a hospital for the sick not a hotel for saints” but in practice people don’t always live that out. Whether it is in the church’s spoken words or actions or attitudes, most of the time people visiting or even attending a church feel like brokenness is not accepted. Going into a church building, I think most people feel they need to hide their brokenness. Even if they don’t know exactly what is broken about them, there is a feeling that when you show up someone will see that brokenness and point it out.

Once inside, often there is not a feeling of acceptance, only a sense of possible acceptance if you can make yourself good enough and live up to all the standards and rules and do all that is needed to be done- confess, get baptized, become a member, go to every church meeting, don’t miss one day the doors are open, volunteer, teach, wear the right clothes, say the right things- basically “be perfect as your heavenly father is perfect” and don’t show any sign of humanness “because you are a new creation.”

Please know that the verses I am quoting are not supposed to be condemning or make one feel inadequate. I am only using them to show how Scripture can be twisted to make someone feel less than.

I have found that inside a church acceptance is conditional and love is conditional. Making the true God into a false god. Worshipped every Sunday as a conditional god who only accepts you when you are good enough, when you have jumped through all of the hoopes, when you have corrected yourself and made yourself righteous and holy and perfect all before you come to Him. Because if His children, who are examples of Him, treat us this way then it must be the same with God. There is no God to meet you in your brokenness here. If the church doesn’t go to this low level then there is the level where the unspoken word is “just do the best you can and cover up the brokenness so no one can see and then you’ll be accepted.”

And if ever a shard of glass from your brokenness falls out of your secure pocket on to the floor, scowls greet you. Once in awhile there are kind helping hands that stoop down and pick up your pieces and share the super glue they use with you. But most of the time, we all are just superglued broken glass trying to hide our cracks in dresses and suites and pretty words and judging others when we see through their stained-glass.

We have a problem here. A church is supposed to be the most welcoming and loving place ever. But more people find acceptance and genuine friendliness in a bar or an AA meeting than they do in a church. Judgments rain like praise songs in a church.“With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness.  Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be.” (James 3:9-10) It should not be, but it is. And I’m part of the problem too. There are several times when I wish I could have bit my words before they came out of my mouth. Whether I think someone deserved it or not, is that who I really want to be? If I want others to be loving and accepting, then I should be what I want. I still forget we’re not the super infallible Christian we all dress up to be.

I wish I could always speak kindly and always see the best in people even when they don’t show me their best. I don’t want to be someone who makes this problem worse. Someone who makes God out to be a conditional loving God. That is the worst place to be in. I used to be there. Always striving for perfection, or dressing myself up in the perfection everyone seemed to require of me. Giving the right answers, buying the best super-glue. I met all the standards they demanded-confession, being baptized, showing up every time the doors were open, teaching, volunteering- and soon I believed that meeting all of those standards is what made me a Christian. It was almost like if I even messed up on one of those “requirements” then I was a step further on a downward spiral to hell. I trusted in my own actions to save me. And it was exhausting. When you live like this everything becomes an obligation and not a joy. Everything is dependent upon you instead of Jesus.

If you believe that you are Christian because you show up every time the church doors are open and because you meet all the standards and requirements, that is the same as an addict believing they are sober because they show up to every AA meeting. Sobriety can’t happen if an addict keeps drinking. Christianity can’t happen if we keep hiding. There has to be a heart change. And our hearts can’t change if we keep locking them up because they aren’t perfect enough yet. We need to stop  judging and conditioning God’s acceptance. Nothing will change if we keep dressing up our brokenness. Let’s stop the scowls and stop the judgments and actually start treating others the way we want to be treated. Whether they deserve it or not. Who is it you want to be?

It’s going to be hard but let’s be broken together. Otherwise if we keep biting and devouring one another, we will be destroyed by each other. God didn’t condition His love for us, so let’s stop conditioning our love upon others.