Book Reviews

Book Review of “The Broken Way” by Ann Voskamp

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To suffer and to feel the weight of pain in your heart, leaking into your stomach are not shards of glass anyone wants to feel cutting into their happy comfortable lives. We fear pain and we fear the thought of suffering. We try to avoid being hurt because, duh, it hurts. But no matter how much we strive to avoid the sharp edges that cut and no matter how well we think we are doing, we know it’s only a matter of time. We all suffer and we all go through painful trials. We’ve been hurt by those we’ve loved. Hurt by cutting words and sharp glares. We’ve been betrayed by people we thought were our closest friends. We’ve had our trust and faith disappointed. Sometimes circumstances in life have gone terribly wrong and have ravaged our hearts to bits. Sometimes I think that heart pain is worse than physical pain. Heart pain takes so much longer to heal and it seems like the smallest sharp touch can rip a heart back to pieces.

Whenever suffering hits, no matter it’s form, I think we all ask the same question, Why? Why do we have to hurt? God, why are you allowing this hurt? Sometimes I think we try to avoid the hurt so we can avoid trying to answer those hard faith questions. We try to pretend nothing happened or we try to hurry up the grieving or suffering process to feel content again. I don’t think that any of us really think brokenness can lead to abundance. If we do, we think it is possible for someone else but not for us. And if it is even remotely possible for us it must be a long way off  like when we are on our deathbeds or something but not now. Not for us.

Ann Voskamp’s book “The Broken Way” faces suffering head on. In this book she talks about suffering and hurting and the walls we build up to protect our hearts from further pain. But more importantly she goes on a journey through suffering to realize herself, along with the reader, that brokenness is not bad and that just like a tiny seed must be buried in the dirt and go through a breaking death in order to sprout and produce life, maybe we too must go through the breaking. She talks about suffering as a way for us to find ultimate communion with each other. When Jesus took the bread as a symbol of his body, He broke it and gave it to the disciples to remember Him. His breaking body brought communion to us and Him and to each other. She questions that maybe we need to break in order to be re-membered. That maybe our suffering heart pressed into another suffering heart is how we find healing. Ann adds that to love means to suffer. But that love is a protective roof that accepts and hides away the wrongs and is free of judgments.

There is so much knowledge packed into this book and so many hidden treasures. I found while reading this book that I began to feel more closely connected to God and He to my suffering and me to those around me suffering. This book opened my heart to the power of loving even while broken and loving those who are broken. I felt myself becoming more free even through suffering. Yes, people can hurt me and abuse me. But they cannot stop me from loving. Suffering can hurt but the hurt does not have to have power over me. I can accept the suffering and decide to love and be all that a hurting heart needs. I found such wonderful light and grace streaming into my soul through this book. It is scary to think that yes, we must suffer, but there is a freedom hidden there.

I would definitely recommend this book to anyone struggling with the thought of what to do with suffering and how to grow as a person who has suffered. It is not a dreary, sad poor miserable me book to read. But an honest, soul searching and light enveloping book that introduces you to a way to have a more abundant life through Jesus and a closer heart to His. Ann uses poetic language that at times can be difficult to follow but once you get going you get used to her wording. She uses every day scenes and occurrences and shows you how to see God’s beauty beneath it all. At times I felt like I was secretly listening to a conversation God’s heart was having with hers. Like I was invited to have the honor of being inside a heart conversation. Overall,  I think you find your heart being warmed and growing closer to His without even trying. If you’re searching for freedom take a walk through these pages and let Jesus’s spirit light up yours.

 

Thoughts

Settling Down as a TCK

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I just read a post from the blog The Third Culture Kid Project that is titled “The Day I Compromised.” In it the author talks about how settling down is not a sign of failure for a TCK. This truth gently relieved a dormant wound I’d covered away until I could find a salve to soothe it. As a TCK you’re always told how much you have to offer the world since you have travelled outside of your home country- in my case America. It is true that as a traveler of the world your mind becomes more open and you learn how relate to people in other countries more easily – sometimes more easily than those in your own home country. You learn to appreciate different cultures and to see more of the outside world than wherever you happen to be living at the time. Those foreigners no longer seem strange but feel more like family. Because of this, you are told as a TCK you can work anywhere and you can help teach other people who never have been outside their own country to see the world a little bit differently. You have a perspective others don’t have the opportunity to have. You have a wealth of nations behind you and in you and a part of you. Think of how much you could do and accomplish!

So when a TCK -me- does “settle down” it can feel as if I am a failure for not living out the potential that is supposed to be in me. I see friends who are also TCKs living in other countries and helping the world and living up to that potential. And when I see them I am amazed and rejoice at all they are accomplishing and get to live through. But there is also a piece of me that becomes disheartened as I sit at my desk job back in the little town I was born in. Don’t get me wrong I have a wonderful life and I am so extremely grateful and am so blessed. I got to marry the man of my dreams who I never thought it would ever be possible to date let alone marry! We have a house and a very cute pitbull who is a huge baby we get to take all kinds of walks with through fantastic forests. We have electric and running water and warm beds and air conditioning when it gets too humid and heat when it snows. We get snow!!! God has blessed us with great jobs and He continues to provide for us and gives us more than we could need and want. Please believe I do not regret what all God has done for us.

Still, as a TCK, there is this restlessness at times to travel the world and absorb all I can. And see the beauties of God’s world before it’s all gone. There is this dark whisper inside that tells me I gave up because I’m not in another country and doing something grand and accomplishing more. That darkness makes it hard to see that settling down isn’t failing. Sometimes I feel like settling down means that all I have grown through and gone through and travelled through is being wasted. That more than half of my life was for nothing. I know this isn’t true. And I wouldn’t change anything. But it is something that I don’t like to dwell on. This is why when another TCK says that settling down is not failing it relieves a wound I know they deal with too.

And when I think about it, we’re all just living. Those TCKs living in countries that are not their passport countries home are just living their lives the same as I’m just living mine. We’re just on other sides of the world. We live with worlds inside us no matter where we are. We are still world travellers even when we “settle down” whether it’s in our passport’s home country or the one we decided to settle down in. Settling down isn’t giving up. It’s just living. And it doesn’t mean you will never travel again. It also doesn’t mean that those mixtures of cultures inside you die. They will still be there. They are a part of you and they helped to form you. You will always be a culture all your own. No matter where you decide to “settle down.”

Thoughts

Blogger Recognition Award

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First of all thank you so much to Lyndel Paris at Island Girl on a Mission for nominating me for the Blogger Recognition Award! I’ve never been nominated or won any sort of award before -except at the county fair when I threw darts at the correct amount of balloons to win a stuffed animal- but I’m not sure if that counts as an award. Anyway, I just want to say thank you from my sometimes ink-stained, typed-out fingers and emotional rollercoaster imagination but especially thank you from my very grateful heart for taking time that is all your own to read my blog. Sometimes, not just as a writer, you can start to feel like no one sees or hears you. Or maybe they hear but aren’t really listening. It can be discouraging. But that’s when we have to remember that we write, speak, and live and persevere not to receive praise or recognition but because of the kind of person we want to be. To build our integrity and character. But that is not to say that it does not feel good when someone comes along side you and says, “I see you and I hear you.” So thank you very much Miss Lyndel Paris for listening!

How Writings from the Cave Began

I started my blog, Writings from the Cave, after realizing I didn’t just want to write in silence anymore. At University I took several writing classes and it was encouraging to write with others who loved to write and who were also discovering our creativity and being challenged to continue to grow and think and write in new ways. After I graduated, that community was gone. I was back to writing in silence. I failed at finding a writing group to be a part of- schedules are busy and clash sometimes- but I knew I didn’t just want to stop writing. I believed God wanted me to write and I did not want to just sit and let my mind grow stagnant. So I decided to start a blog where complete strangers could read anything I wrote and give me accountability and community. They could give me advice and reassure me when I started to doubt myself. All of my life I usually only had my mom around to read anything I wrote and she’s my mom so of course she would like anything I wrote and of course she would think I was a great writer. And even though I am so grateful for my mom taking the time to read anything I handed her and for giving me unlimited encouragement and support, I still wanted to have a place where others could give me their opinions.

Besides needing accountability I also needed an outlet. A place that was all my own where I could just write truthfully and honestly about the goings on in my heart and mind. It was a sort of therapy to set free so much that had been hidden and trapped and built up in me over 20 or so years. So even though I was hesitant – what if no one likes what I write? Or I do it wrong? – I started a blog for my own sake and hoped for the best.

Advice for New Bloggers 

So, this leads to my first piece of advice for new bloggers. From a new blogger myself who is till learning how to do everything, I just want to say “Don’t be afraid.” When you feel that fear rising in you whispering doubts to your mind and attempting to make you feel as if you aren’t good enough, fight that fear back with bravery and post what is on your heart. Don’t write for others to like you or to notice you or write what you think others want to hear, write for yourself. Write from your heart and let your heart speak even when you are scared to. Your honesty and authenticity will  be what makes your writing beautiful even if you don’t know all of the “rules.”

Don’t write for a number of “likes” you want to receive. If you write a post and no one even takes notice of it you will start to feel worthless and as though your writing does not matter. I guess I am saying don’t base how good your writing is on how many people acknowledge it. Choose to be confident in your writing knowing you spoke from your heart and you spoke the truth whether it is noticed or not.

Believe that you do have something to say and a unique way of saying it that others need to hear. I used to get discouraged – and sometimes still do- when thinking about all of the awesome writers out there and all of the people writing and I thought who would choose to read me when they have so many options available to them. But then I thought about all of the different TV shows that exist and how each of them has their own story to tell even if the stories are similar they are told in different ways and people love watching even if they have heard the story before. So I ignored the failure voice inside my head and wrote anyway. So, believe in your voice and in your story and in the words you have to say. Believe that your voice will not get lost in a sea of voices.

Nominees

That being said I would like to nominate the following brave bloggers who have inspired me and encouraged me and allowed me to see their world:

Elaina M. Avalos

The Wild Heart of Life

Justified Ecstasy

Melody Chen

A Light Circle

Ashlin Horne

The Renegade Press

Freckled Foolery

OTV Magazine

Africa Far and Wide

In Passing Bye

The Third Culture Kid Project

Tea & Bannock

Sahaj Kaur Kohli

Live Original

 

Thoughts

Love Without Debate

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Sometimes I think we Christians think too much about the rules and about what people should or shouldn’t do. We have a measuring rod which we use to analyze how others measure up or don’t measure up to our rules or what we think God’s rules are. We try to figure out when it’s okay to judge someone and point out to someone when something in their life looks wrong. I think we try to plan out someone else’s life and how we think God thinks they should be living it. Why do we think that is our place? We don’t know what is going on in that person’s heart or mind or how God’s heart is speaking to theirs. God works in all ways and reaches one person’s heart in a different way than He reaches another’s. And He has all the time in the world to get to know someone and for them to get to know Him.

I think we try so hard to force Jesus on people and make them live the life we were instructed to  live and be as miserable in our legalism as we are because we think that’s what makes them a “true follower.” “As long as you reach this point you are good” “As long as you reach this level of knowledge or maturity then you know you’re a true follower.” But people don’t all grow the same. And reaching a certain level in someone’s eyes or in the eyes of the “church” does not make you a follower of Jesus. You can follow all the rules you want but not be following Jesus. You can grow up going to church every Sunday morning and night and every Wednesday and attend Bible studies. You can know the Bible word for word and quote it. But never have met Jesus. Faith isn’t following all of the rules. Your salvation doesn’t depend on your attendance or on how well you reach perfection. Your salvation does not depend on what you do. Your salvation depends on what Jesus has already done for you.

We won’t and can’t ever know what God’s plans for another person’s life are except that His plans are for the good and not to harm and to give hope. The only thing we can be absolutely certain that God does want us to do for other people is to love them and forgive them. And not the kind of love that debates on whether or not to give “tough” love. It is not our’s to determine whether or not someone deserves love. Jesus didn’t say “Love someone as long as they deserve it” or “Love as long as they reach your standard.” All he said was, “Love as I have loved you.” (John 13:34) And how did He love us? Did He hesitate to make sure we were good enough before He died on that cross for us? Did He make sure we deserved it before He gave us His abundant grace and mercy? Did He make sure we followed all of the rules and knew His words and could quote them before He said, “I love and accept you.” ?

God didn’t ask us to determine who is sinning and who is not. He only asked us to Love.

God does not love like us. He does not withhold love until we reach a certain standard. He doesn’t only accept you as long as you’re perfect and follow all the rules. He loves you completely no matter how incomplete you feel or no matter how worthless others make you feel. He sees your worth and your beauty. He sees your heart and how it hurts and what makes it happy.

We need to stop trying so hard to determine whether or not it’s okay to love someone and whether or not they’re good enough or living in sin and just love. God didn’t place us on the judgment seat or the determining-whether-you’re-good-enough seat. In truth, He warned, “Do not judge, or you too will be judged. 2 For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.” ( Matthew 7: 1-2) When we sit and try to figure out whether someone is “living as they should” we become prideful and self-righteous. Then in our self-righteousness we start living as though our goodness is what saved us. We stop living in God’s grace and then we stop giving grace to other people. We start living by the law and stop living by faith.

We have to remember or come to realize God’s grace is abundant. He didn’t hold back. He didn’t debate on how to love us. He just loved us. There is room enough in God’s grace for us.  For all of our failings. For all of our humanness.

Poetry

Remembering the Greatest of These

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I wanted people to rejoice with us. At the love we had and have for each other. To rejoice that we were finally able to give the love we’d been storing up for 27 years to one another. I wanted them to see that the love we have is real and not some shallow, naive choice made out of fear of being alone. But they don’t know our stories the way we do. They don’t know how long we waited and prayed for this day to come. They don’t know the faith it took to step out, even though we were afraid, trusting in God to hold us together. They don’t know how we risked our hearts. But faith is believing and hoping even when we can’t see the end.

I wanted them to understand and in understanding rejoice all the more. But this is our love story. So they didn’t see the years of heartache and heartbreak or cry our tears. They didn’t feel the lonely nights when all we had to hold were our cat or our dog. They didn’t ache when the movie theatre seat next to us was empty. They didn’t feel the empty crevices in our hands fisting up to just be held. They forgot how to appreciate someone else’s touch. What it’s like to go months on end without a hug so that your body physically jolts when someone puts their hand on your shoulder.

I wanted them to see our wedding as something glorious and beautiful as our two hearts became one after being oceans apart ever since we were children. But they didn’t see us as children. They didn’t see us swinging on my swing set when we were five. Or how our dads measured our heights by putting us back to back while we walked with them in the field where they would hunt deer. They weren’t in the truck on those multiple Sunday morning trips to church when we picked you up and then went to Taco Bell after the service. They didn’t see you fill your mouth with air and then stick your ears out and they didn’t hear me tell you that you looked like a monkey.

They didn’t hear that loud plane take off that took me out of your world for thirteen years. They weren’t there each time I came back into your world. Every three years we grew taller. We weren’t measured back to back anymore. But we still smiled at one another which were the only words two quiet people needed to share. They didn’t hear the prayers I cried in my bed at night on a different continent begging God to keep you safe and for you not to forget about me. They didn’t know that you never forgot me. They didn’t hear you ask your dad when we would be back in the states. And neither did I. But you did.

They didn’t watch the countless softball games you invited me to. They didn’t see you slide and catch that softball out in left field. They didn’t play Putt-Putt with you and defeat you with hole in ones. They didn’t come to your house on that sad Sunday and hug you hoping to take all your pain away. They didn’t show up at the viewing just to see you and make sure you were getting through. They didn’t care about your heart. They didn’t see the young boy who went through traumas that no child should go through. Or see the wonderfully kind, compassionate man you grew to become despite the evils that tried to break you. They don’t see your strength. Or your love that still survived so many heartbreaks.

They don’t know how every one of our empty spaces is filled by each other. They don’t feel how completely your hand fits mine. Or how your arms hold all my brokenness together. They haven’t heard your voice sing away the fears lurking in my heart. They didn’t dance with you to God Blessed the Broken Road or understand how completely He guided that broken path to one another. They were never a part of our puzzle so they can’t see how completely God fit the pieces of us together.

They weren’t there. They didn’t see, hear, or feel. So how can they know? How can they know the extent of our joy? I wanted them to know. I wanted them to rejoice with us. And it made me angry when they didn’t. Bitterness crept in. Satan tries to ruin even the most beautiful of God’s plans. But I will not let one scowl ruin all the smiles we shared. Because sometimes we humans only know the rules and not how to love. And it was never about them anyway. Even if they weren’t rejoicing or smiling as deeply as we were, there is one who saw it all from the beginning. He was there. And even though we don’t have pictures of us together as kids, He pictured us together when we were just children in a field.

He knew the paths we’d take and the paths that would take us away from each other. He felt our hearts aching and sat next to us in that lonely empty seat. He cried with us when our tears couldn’t be walled back anymore. He hugged us when no one was there to give us comfort. He read the sorrow in our eyes while our lips smiled. He knew the hand that would fill our clenched fists. He knew our brokenness. He knew the healing our hearts needed. And He rejoiced when our paths finally became one. His heart swelled with delight. His smile poured sunlight into our souls. He sees the beauty in our story and He knows every detail better than we do.

So instead of worrying about others rejoicing with us let’s remember His joy for us. Instead of hearing resounding gongs let’s listen to the sweet song of wedding bells. Instead of remembering hateful words let’s remember He was cheering us along all throughout our lives. Instead of  remembering the scowls let’s remember the smiles. His smile. Because it’s us and Him and that’s all that really matters. Instead of holding on to the bitterness and anger, let’s hold on to each other and learn to love like He does. Because without love we are nothing. Let’s learn to forgive like He does. Because they don’t know. And love is really what all of us ache for.

Thoughts

If God Could Write a Letter to You

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Dear One,

I’ve been thinking about you. I’ve seen how much you have gone through these past couple of years. I’ve felt your pain and even your numbness. I’ve counted your tears and collected them in a bottle along with mine. I’ve heard the lies and the rumors. I’ve seen the deceit and the misunderstandings. I heard your heart break and mine broke too. But I’ve also watched you accomplish so much despite all the struggles you’ve been through. I’ve watched you grow. And I see a confidence and self-assuredness in you that I know you can’t quite see yet. But it is there. There is so much I’ve wanted to tell you and so much I want to tell you. It is a good thing we have all of eternity for me to enjoy you and for you to see how amazing you are. Since I have so much I want you to know, I thought I’d tell you a few of my thoughts. Let this be the first of many to come.

I know you truly believe that you are annoying, and that you annoy every man and boy around you. But just because one man’s actions, or no action, left you feeling you were the annoyance of the world does not make it true. And if it’s any comfort to you, you could never annoy me. I will never shout at you to “Be quiet!” or tell you, “You’re too loud!” I will never shush the voice I gave you. I love to hear you talk. Whether it’s about Ryan Reynolds or about dance or how much you love your friends or how hurt you are by others words. I love to hear your voice. Especially your jokes. I knew I poured in the right mixture of humor for you. And your laugh is fantastic! If you find yourself in a room where no one is laughing, if they ever hear you laugh, it will cause them to smile and laugh too. So don’t get mad when you laugh at your own jokes. That was part of my plan. 😉

Although I do so love to listen to your voice, there are times when your words sadden my heart. When you call yourself fat and when you say you hate yourself, my heart breaks more every time. I wish you could see yourself through my eyes. And stop thinking I’m just being biased because I created you. I’m not. Remember I don’t show favoritism and I don’t lie. So when I say you are so extremely beautiful and perfect, it is the truth. I know others have made you feel less than beautiful and their self-centered words have pierced your heart. I know, because it pierced mine as well. Remember I am for you and never against you. So when you hurt, I hurt too. When you cry, your tears roll down my face too.

I know this relationship we have is hard because it is so long distance, sometimes it feels like an eternal distance, but I want you to know how close I am to you. You don’t have to see me for me to be with you. Do you see your heart? But it still beats. Since I can’t really show you how wonderful you are, I will tell you every day how delighted I am with you. So let my words keep you beating through this hard life. It will take time for you to believe my words about you but eventually you see how wondrous and amazing you truly are. And don’t let the enemy make you think it is prideful to see yourself the way I do. Every day I will remind you how special and beautiful and glorious you are! When the morning light wakes you up and graces its rays through your copper, brown hair and shines through your crystal blue eyes and glows against your soft white skin, I will remind you. And I will not get tired of reminding you.

I know that you are not used to such love like this, and I am so sorry it is such a foreign feeling to you. That is not how I wanted it. I also know that since you are not used to it, it can make you feel uncomfortable at times. But there is no catch. And I am not manipulating you or trying to take advantage of you as so many others have done. My intention is never to hurt your heart. I only want to help and heal and restore. I created you for such greatness. So much greatness it will be unbelievable at times. But believe it, my dear one.

When people call you “weird”, I call you wonderful and will whisper to you to continue to be who you are. When they call you a “bad role model” and a “troublemaker” and “just a girl with daddy issues”, I call you my beloved daughter who shines such light it makes the most brilliant star look dull in comparison. Remember when they say such evil things against you, that they are lost human beings who have not yet come to know my love for them. Do not allow their sinful words to live in your mind and seep into your heart. Replace their words with mine and I’ll repeat them until you believe them. Replace their scowls with my smile. Trade the darkness that imprisons for the light that frees.

So my dear one, listen to my voice. Speak loudly, sing courageously, dance poetically, and be your most silly, beautiful, wonderful self. You are not “too much” that you should be diminished or belittled. Be all of who you are. Do not let their words steal your voice away. Do not let your voice get lost in theirs. When you start to doubt who you are, I will be right here to remind you. When you feel lost and as if you don’t belong, remember you belong to me. I am your’s and all I have is for you. I have made you a conqueror. I will never leave you. I am here for you whenever you need anything. I will provide. I will take care of you. And I will always remind you.
I am delighted in you. I find such pleasure in you. You make me smile. You make me laugh. You make my soul sing. You make me proud to be your Father. And you could never do anything to diminish that pride. You do not disappoint me. And do not ever worry about disappointing me. Remember I am for you not against you. You make me love you. I don’t just love you because your my creation. I love you for all of who you are. You can come to me with good and bad and my love will not get any smaller. It only grows greater each day as I get to watch you be you. So shine, and don’t stop. You light up my world.

Never forget I love you. And that is a love you never have to earn.

Love,
God / Father 😉

My Book in Progress

Chapter 1

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Hello Everyone! Below you will find the beginnings of a book I have started working on. It feels rather shaky like I’m floundering around hoping it turns out right. So, your feedback is appreciated. Please let me know what you think!

Chapter 1

A Blessing and a Curse

Hot wind mixed with sand hit my face and my bare arms and legs. It was a suffocating heat. Every breath felt stifled with sun. It was hard to keep my eyes open because of the brightness and the sand but somehow we made it inside the airport. We had arrived. After about two days of flying we finally made it to Mozambique, Africa. The country I would call home for the next thirteen years. The country that would mold me with its sand and color me with its sun; that would awaken my soul with its beauty and crush me into pieces with it’s darkness.

It seems like people believe there is some sort of superpower about being a missionary. It’s like you and your family walk on water. Especially your father. And I thought he did. But there was so much my little heart didn’t know at seven years old. I thought we would live in a grass hut and have dirt for our floor and hunt deer for our food and I was excited about it! It was an adventure we were going on! And it was an adventure. A breathtaking, heart wrenching adventure. But it was also life. We lived every day just like other people, only we weren’t in America anymore. People say, “But you were doing the Lord’s work every day!” As if somehow that makes you more holy than any other believer. It doesn’t. And really, we weren’t. We were just surviving and living and trying to build relationships with other people.

While my father was trying to gain numbers for the churches back “home” and bring more to Christ, I was just a kid wanting to have friends and play outside in the dirt. But making friends was hard. Not just because they spoke Shangaan-their tribal language- and Portuguese- the official language- which I was learning; but friendships were hard because I was white. Being white was a sign of wealth, especially a white American. So while people in my passport country (America) upheld me and my family as water-walkers and somehow being more deep into God’s heart and mind than anyone else, the people in our home country (Mozambique) upheld us as someone wealthy and untouchable and “above” everyone else who should provide for everyone below.

But thankfully all kids don’t think like the adults modeling for them. Isabel was one of these kids. I met her when we both were seven. Her mom worked in our house and was my mom’s friend. Now before you start thinking we owned slaves let me explain. There were not very many job opportunities in our village. So in order to not just give hand outs we, including the other missionaries who lived on the compound, which was surrounded by a tall hedge of thorns, we would hire people from the village.

There, in Machava, there was no grass just brown sand. In order to grow grass you would have to plant it. And it wasn’t the soft kind but the snake like kind that vined along the ground. So we hired a gardener, Tio (Uncle) Louis, who planted grass and watered it. He also planted the towering eucalyptus trees in our yard. Under one of these I buried my pet guinea pig named Piglet. His tree grew the tallest. We also had white and pink “beja-me” flowers planted around our cement-not grass- house.

We also hired Isabel’s mom, Tia (Aunt) Florinda. Tia Florinda was a very strong independant woman who stood up for herself and for what was right no matter what other people said even if you were a “powerful white American missionary.” As a sign of respect,  you call all grown ups “Aunt” and “Uncle.” Or if there are younger people who are older than you, you call them “Mana” and “Mano” which means “Sister” and “Brother.” Really old people you call “Grandma” and “Grandpa.”

So Tia Florinda worked inside our house helping my mom. Her and my mom would cook together and clean together and talk about God together. She also washed our clothes for us because we didn’t have a washing machine or a dryer. There was this big cement tub with two sides and on one side there was a cement wash board. It is called a “tunky.” Tia Florinda always used to tease me about how I said the word “Tunky” and she would try to say English words I said.  After Tia Florinda and my mom would wash our clothes they had to hang them on the clothes line. We weren’t allowed to wear our clothes for 24 hours after they were dry because flies would land on the clothes on the line and lay their eggs. If you put your clothes on before the larvae had died it would borough into your skin and live there. But if you really needed a piece of clothing before the larvae’s 24 hour lifespan all you had to do was iron your clothes and the heat would kill it.

In addition to working in our house, Tia Florinda also ate dinner with us before she went home to sleep. This is how I met Isabel. Tia Florinda brought her daughter with her one day to meet me. At first it was difficult because I didn’t know alot of Portuguese and she didn’t know alot of English. But we managed with the words we knew. There was one time I spoke a sentence in English, Shangaan, and Portuguese, using different words from each just to ask Isabel something. Eventually I taught Isabel English with my first grade homeschool books and she taught me Portuguese which made communication much easier.

After the first couple of weeks, Isabel started coming everyday to play with me. She was my best friend, besides my cat Gray, who we had brought with us from America. Even though there were other missionary kids who lived on the compound the girls were mean teenagers struggling with their bodies and boys. The boys were going through their hormones and trying to pick out the right girl for that week and the youngest boy of them all was a mean little boy with a temper. My only other best friend besides Isabel was Joseph. Joseph was a small white, blonde haired boy who could squat for hours to play marbles in the dirt.

Joseph, Isabel, and I had many adventures together. We would go to Josh’s tree, which was one of the older missionary kid’s tree. We called it Josh’s tree because his dad had built a wooden board and put it up in the tree as a sort of tree house. He also had hung two orange ropes on either side of the tree which we would use to climb up into the tree by putting the knotted rope between our big toe and our second tow. To this day I still have a somewhat large gap between my two toes.

Josh’s tree was the best place to play because it had such great shade from the burning sun and the sand wasn’t scorching under its leaves. We used to dig holes under Josh’s Mafura tree. Holes so deep we found water. We each dug our own hole and called it our house. Then we would make sand balls with the wet dirt we had dug to. Then we would have sand ball wars and throw them at one another. I would get so dirty my mom told me I had to clean up outside before I could come in.

Isabel, Joseph and I  climbed alot of trees too. Our goal was to see who could climb the highest. I think Joseph always won. He was so small and quick he climbed better than Mowgli could climb an elephant. Since we were always searching for something to do, we would go down towards the front of the compound and “spy” on the guard. We didn’t have a guard who carried a gun or anything. He was just a sturdy, strong Grandpa who would greet people who came from the village to see a missionary and he would tell them which house to go to. But in our eyes we thought he must see and hear everything and it became our new goal to get as close to him without him knowing it. Usually it never worked and he always saw us and caught us before we got anywhere near him. I think he knew our game and sometimes he would play along with us. But one time we actually did sneak up on him. He was sitting on his bench facing away from us. Slowly and as quietly as we could, we crawled through the dirt on our bellies and got right up under his bench. He only knew we were there when we started laughing!

There were other times when we were really feeling adventurous when we would climb up the walls of the outdoor shower and jump off of the top into the dirt and grass. We also had an old broken down windmill on the compound. Next to it was a huge cement hollow square. It was sort of like a giant swimming pool will huge walls you couldn’t see out of but no water. We would go and climb the rusty ladder of the windmill and once we got high enough we would step over the 2 foot gap onto the cement wall. If we fell at any time on the ladder it was a straight plunge into the well beneath the windmill. Once we got on the wall we would jump down or slide down the 6ft wall to the floor. Inside we would draw with chalk on the walls and fill it with our hidden graffiti. One day it was so hot and had been so hot for some time that all of us missionary kids convinced our parents to let us fill the cement square with water. It was the best swimming pool ever.

So, no matter what adventure we went, Isabel, Joseph, and I were usually always together. Isabel had moved in with us because her mom wanted her to have a better life and since her mom was always at our house anyway it worked out really well. So Isabel and I were always together no matter what. We shared a room, toys, blankets, showers, food, fights, and love. I would braid her curled black thick hair while we watched movies. And her mom always talked about how much better it would be if Isabel gave me her thick, poofy hair for my straight long hair. And we really agreed to switch.

Isabel really was my best friend. But our friendship wasn’t always easy. Isabel got made fun of for being my friend. The kids at her school told her, “You’re just her friend so you can get something from her.” Isabel was almost in tears when she told me. I felt bad that it was because of me that she was hurting and being made fun of. But I didn’t want to lose my only friend and I didn’t want to mistrust her intentions either. So, sitting on the floor in our room in front of the Barbie house my dad built me,  I told her: “We know we are friends. And we know it’s not because you want anything from me. You have everything I have. We know the truth and that’s all that matters.” Isabel and I would remain close friends for the next 7 years until my dad made us move further out in the bush. I had hoped Isabel would come with us but when I asked her she said, “But all of my friends are here. I can’t leave them.” To which I answered, “But you’re my best friend. I don’t know what to do without you.” But I moved and she stayed. Later, I found out that Isabel had gotten pregnant at 17. Now, she has three beautiful little children who look just like her. And she’s just as hardworking as her mother and she’s happy.

Like I said before, being a missionary doesn’t make you walk on water and we don’t radiate a glorious light everywhere we go. We just live. We make friends and lose them. We make a home and then move. That is one thing that is different than other people’s everyday life. There is alot more moving. I think I moved about 20 times in my life as a child. That is counting returning to America to visit and then returning back to Africa again.

I think sometimes people think that returning back to America is the easy part. It’s your home, it’s where you were born, it’s where all your family is. But it’s not. Coming back is hard. You’re leaving a whole continent behind but bringing it with you at the same time only no one else can see it. But you feel it. You look like everyone else and you look like the little girl your family remembers, but inside you aren’t the same. You grew up with sand not snow. You grew up with green trees reaching for a blue sky not a playground on woodchips. You don’t know all of the unspoken rules. You know the rules you have learned at home.

Do you call people “Tia” and “Tio”? What is the polite way to call people? When people ask where you are from what do you say? When people come over to visit your temporary house or apartment, how do you explain why the walls are bare? How do you explain why you don’t know who is better, NSYNC or Backstreet Boys? When you see little orange grass flags in yards how do you explain why you just got shocked with fear since little orange flags mean land mines where you live? Or why you think there is a vehicle broken down up ahead every time you see a branch with leaves in the middle of the road? How do you explain you live in Africa but no, there are not lions everywhere you look? How do you explain why you don’t have very many friends? You’re from Africa who wouldn’t want to be your friend? How do you know when people are really interested in you and not just because you are from Africa?

What do you do when people look at you strangely when you say you’re homeschooled? I am still smart and no, I do not do school in my pajamas. I don’t get snow days. Sometimes I don’t even get sick days. I’ve never been to a prom or homecoming. So I’ve never been asked to a dance. But I have dreamed about it.

How do you explain a gorgeous sunset full of purple and pink and blue and yellow? Or why you cry when you smell smoke from a burning field? How do you show people the dark night sky twinkling with so many stars it’s like paparazzi surrounding you? How do you paint that galactic picture and the thrill that fills your lungs to know there is so much out there beyond the little world you’re in?

How do you explain why your feet are so rough? And why you don’t know how to tie your shoes and hate wearing them?  How do you explain you aren’t skinny because you don’t get enough to eat? You do, but rice and chicken and brewerst are better than Taco Bell. Which clothes do you buy when all you’ve ever owned are hammy downs? And you’ve never really cared before. What do you do when you can’t remember a word in English? Or don’t know the word in English?

Who do you talk to when your missionary dad shakes with rage at you because you asked a question because you didn’t understand? How do you tell the truth to a possible supporter that no, we did not stay in America this long because you weren’t ready to go back? How do you answer without lying without letting them know your dad lies? How do you plaster a happy smile on your face every time your dad tells preachers and supporters you are his “Number 1” when he yells at you in private about all your failures? How do you pretend you’re not afraid of your father when others worship him as the best advice giver but you understand why the mothers tell their children the white boogeyman will eat them if they don’t obey?

How do you pretend you’re not afraid of God when you’re a missionary kid and have the “closest” relationship with Him? You have a father who is not only a preacher but a missionary! How could you not be close to God? How do you get close to God when you’re already supposed to be close to Him? How do you explain it’s not wonderful living with someone who is so “into” God’s word and knows how to twist it? Where do you find hope when others expect you to already have it?

These are just some of the question that brought turmoil to my heart as a missionary kid and a preacher’s kid and a third culture kid. A third culture kid is someone who has two different cultures inside of them that have turned into a new kind of mixed culture. It means that even though I look American I still am African. It means two cultures have taken root in me but I don’t fit in either culture. Even though being a third culture kid is something unique and a topic that will flow throughout the poetry in this book, I still think even if you are not a third culture kid, you still know what it feels like to feel like you don’t fit anywhere. Everyone has felt alone and misplaced and overlooked and forgotten at some point in their lives. So even if you have the blessing and curse of growing up in one country in one house with walls marked to measure how much you grew, I hope you still find relief in the words I write. Even though we may have lived on different continents and speak different languages, we still have the same feelings. We still cry and laugh the same language.

There is too much that happens in a life, even a part of a life, to be able to write all that has happened. It’s hard to suck someone into your world so they see all you see and feel all you felt. But I want to try to give you a small taste. So, in this book I will tell stories mixed with poetry because sometimes poetry is the best way to really express deep feeling. This book isn’t going to be full of the glories of missionary life as you have already seen. It is just going to show life. Life with pain with joy with beauty and with destruction and loss. Even though our lives are different, I hope your heart can still sing with mine.