How do you Thrive Overseas?

IMG_7017

Photo by MaDonna Maurer

For the past few years I have chosen a word to be my theme for the year. Gone are the list of resolutions. Instead, I just choose a word. This year it is THRIVE.

Since I’ve chosen this word about a month ago, I’ve been spending time thinking, “How does one thrive in a country not their own?”

Here is what I came up with – though it not an extensive list, it is a start.

Get out – Maybe you just arrived, or maybe you are stuck inside with your kiddos, but either way you have to open up the door and step outside. Go to a local park or a playground to let your kids run around. Take time with your ipod and go for a run/walk by yourself. Sometimes we just need to unplug, and we know that exercise is good for the mental health, too.

I’ve found that living in the city has taken a toll on us. We need to get out of the city regularly, so we’ve planned times to go to the mountains or the beach every few weeks. Being in nature is just good for the soul – so even if you can’t get that far away, be creative and try to find some place where you can be outside and get some natural Vitamin D. Plants don’t thrive without some sun – and neither will you.

Get connected – Find friends. Be proactive (and this is very difficult for this introvert to do). The reason you have to be proactive is that most likely, they will not find you. They have their circle of friends, their needs are met. I have found that this circle of friendship is open to others, but the outsider has to break in. Ask someone to go for tea or a coffee. Ask them over for a dinner. Meet up to go to the beach or to the mountains. Either way, make some friends – local or expat, but really a mixture of both is even better. The locals can teach you so much more about the country you are living in and the expat can relate to your blunders and heartaches. The catch to thriving in this connecting way is to make sure that your connections encourage and strengthen you, not bring you (or the country) down. Most of the time, these friends end up being extensions to your family tree.

Get positive – This can be tagged to the last thought. It’s easy to find the negative in a culture you don’t understand completely. Sure maybe the people stare, touch, want pictures, or maybe the country is dirty, smelly, just a hard place live. Try to look past all of that to see the beauty in the place. Find others who know the beauty of the people and places and connect with them. If you really despise the place you are living in or agitated with the people, you won’t connect, you won’t go out, you just won’t thrive. Something has to change – either your location or your attitude. You attitude is a whole lot cheaper – just saying.

Please note that you will have days where things are hard – this is normal. It isn’t your culture, and you won’t understand and will get fed up, but DON’T stay in that place. Don’t let those days become weeks and then months – you will find yourself wilting. And a wilting flower is not very pretty to look at…

Get the language – I put this last because, well you can get out and start to get connected before you “get the language” like a pro. Trust me, charades and mime like gestures has gotten my cabinets filled with food many of times. And though smiling and nodding to the neighbor and her toothless grandmother can begin a connectedness, it isn’t going to go any farther until you learn the language. And this takes lots of work, but so worth it. If you have kids, it’ll amaze you how fast they pick it up and end up being your walking translators – but don’t let that become your crutch. Sign up for a class, get a tutor, have a language exchange with another mother – just get out there and learn the language. All this to say, if you can understand and be understood you will thrive – but just as a seed takes time to bloom, so to will language. So be patient with yourself, but keep pushing yourself forward.

It’s not easy to thrive in a country that is not your own, where your comfort food from “home” can’t be found, or where you find you can’t be understood at the local market – but it can be done. And though I’ve lived overseas for some time, I still have to work on the above list because well, to be honest, I do slip back into old habits once in a while – and my kids do make very good translators these days.

Your Turn: What has helped you most to thrive where you are? Please share in the comments below.

Remember, if you like what you are reading and you want to get updates of the next posting, please subscribe. It is just on the top right. ~ Thanks!

Todays posting was inspired by Velvet Ashes, The Grove.

Advertisements

Joy…sometimes you just have to choose it

Christmas is supposed to be a time of great joy – time with family, gifts, laughter, food – oh, the food, and the time when many celebrate the birth of Jesus. Yes, Christmas is the time for joy, but sometimes it’s just not all that joyful or peaceful. I find that can be true for the expat. Like…

It is hard to be a single living in a foreign country during this holiday. I remember…

It is hard living in a country that doesn’t celebrate the holiday. December 25th is just another workday, just like all the rest.

Some years the entire family is sick… (I’m sure we are not the only family that can relate.)

You grew up in a place where “White Christmas” was not just on a postcard, but now you live in the tropics where it is warm all four seasons. Or you grew up where Christmas was spent celebrating on the beach and now you need to wear three layers in the house because the radiators just don’t kick out enough heat to your liking.

And the family Christmas picture. To take one that has everyone smiling and looking at the camera is next to impossible. My photographer friend posted on Facebook their “other Christmas pictures that didn’t make the photo for the Christmas card” to show all the drama behind the perfect shot that did. (We haven’t even really tried this year yet…that is on my list to do this week.)

This year we went “home” for the holidays…home to my husband – well sort of “home” since he’s a TCK. Honestly, we’ve all had some culture shock moments at one time or another. We’ve been upset or frustrated sometime during this holiday of peace and joy. Yet, at each of those times for me (yes, I’ve had multiple) I have found myself having to make a choice…to choose frustration, anger, or to find and choose JOY. Let me give you an example.

Germany is known for their Weihnachtsmarkt (Christmas Markets). They are beautiful, full of food and crafty trinkets to buy. It was on my list to do while we were here. Oma found one that was nearby. Perfect! Except, we had also planned for that day a visit to an aunt and a little shopping to kill time before the market opened. All this, and our kids were still on jetlag! We had taken the train, so we were bound by the train schedule. We had given ourselves less than an hour to eat and roam around the lit-up booths. I was disappointed, but decided not to say anything.  Instead chose joy and thankfulness as I grabbed my mug of gluehwein (spiced wine, or what I call Christmas in a mug) and marveled at the scene around me. I was surrounded by beauty – white lights outlining the buildings, the market stands, the trees; Christmas music playing; people laughing and smiling; and my kids enjoying their second round of warm waffles because you know bribery helps during those times of jetlag. Yes, I could have stood there angry at the less-than-perfect situation, but instead I wanted to make a memory that I could look back on and smile.

We did end up catching the later train, so we could have time to eat in a relaxed manner and enjoy wandering around and looking at each booth.

Here are some pics of that magical evening:

SAM_0480

Life-size nativity set up on a staged area.

SAM_0487

Can you see the remains of a castle on top of the hill? One of the many things I love about Europe in general…all the history!

SAM_0490

Kids with Oma finishing up the first round of waffles. Notice my cup of gluewein on the table?

SAM_0492 SAM_0493

*This post was inspired by Velvet Ashes’s The Grove and their theme of Joy.

 

Expectation

20141207_162621

It’s the season of Advent, a time of expectation, a time of hope, a time to put up decorations, make cookies, and this year it is a time to pack and get ready to board a plane to Germany to visit family. So much excitement and expectations going around in our little apartment.

The biggest expectation comes from my daughter with special needs, little Jie Jie. She wants snow. It doesn’t snow in Taipei. She hasn’t seen snow in about five years, I think, but wants it so badly. Everyday she either prays or asks us to pray for snow at Oma and Opa’s. Her expectation has really gotten me thinking on a deeper level.

1. She prays consistently. She has been praying everyday – sometimes more than once a day – for the past week that there would be snow. This is a long time for her…She understands that God is who she should ask for things that are dear to her heart.

2. She believes. Sometimes after her prayers she will go to a window and look out at the city below. Then with a bewildered look she turns and silently asks “Why?” Other times, she gets excited and pretends to throw snowballs. She knows that God is going to answer her prayers…we’ll have to wait and see how. It could be a “No” – and we’ll have to deal with that if that time comes. But for now, I am enjoying it. I love the excitement she draws out of her siblings as they begin to think about the possibility of building a snowman or getting to maybe try cross-country skiing for the first time.

I’m challenged by her, though. I mean, here is this nonverbal child for the most part who is intellectually disabled praying consistently in belief that God can do this. Do I consistently pray for people or situations? And if I do, am I praying in belief that God can change a heart towards him or turn a hard situation into something beautiful? Or do I get sidetracked by all the “To Do” lists I’ve created, the prepping for this trip, or the many worries and doubts that tend to fog my mind. Or has that expectancy I once had  waned-out due to lack of persistance or dare I say, belief?

Well, those are my thoughts this evening as I sit quietly alone staring out over my screen at the just decorated Christmas tree.

I’m linking up with Velvet Ashes this week at The Grove. This week’s theme was “Expecting.”

Counting My Gratefulness…round two

A year ago or so I wrote this post.

Last year I was…

whining, complaining, surviving – and then God smacked me over the head with pictures on Facebook of others who were far-off worse than myself. Families who had lost their homes, lost family, lost everything. That was the devastating typhoon that hit the Philippines.

I hung up a “Blessings” poster on the wall. I got the whole family involved… some evenings might have involved some twisting of arms, but they did it. It was so good for us all!

I wanted, and still do want,  my kids to have a thankful heart – to be grateful without me telling them that they should be. I don’t want them complaining about the small stuff. That chart, I believe, has helped all of us to find something each day to be grateful for.

And this evening, I’m grateful that my kids are usually….

  • happy to get a piece of chewy-type candy from our guard (really he is just an elderly man who sits on first floor to sign for mail). I’m grateful that they don’t complain about not getting the imported candy.
  • super stoked, though, for the times they do get the imported candy.
  • always excited about a bag of new-to-them clothes (read secondhand).
  • most of the time grateful for whatever is put on the table to eat.
  • happy to do odd jobs for little cash – they’re learning to appreciate the value of saving money.

I don’t have perfect children, by any stretch of the imagination. They are normal children who are sometimes ungrateful, who whine, who try to bribe me to get their way, who disobey, who test my nerves – but they have their shining moments. And it is in those shining moments that I can see God working in their life. That He is walking them through the process of life – and teaching them to be thankful. I know He’s been teaching me!

By the way…..here’s a recent picture of our Blessing Chart from last year. I’m pretty sure I’ll be putting up a new one at the beginning of the calendar year. I believe we’ve just started a new tradition.

20141129_082333

What do you do to teach your kids to be thankful? 

I’m linking up with Velvet Ashes this week at The Groove. This week’s theme is “Thank You!”

Changing the Way I View Good-bye

“Good-bye!”

I’ve never really liked that word, though I’ve written quite a bit about it. I’ve written about how we should teach our kids to say it, how important it is, a great tool to use to go through it, and how I just feel that it stinks. I mean it sounds so final and ending. When I moved to China I learned the word for Good-bye (再見/zaijian) really meant “see ya later!” ~ my translation, but fairly accurate as it has a meaning of seeing the person again. I remember grabbing that meaning soon after my arrival. It was the bandage to my bleeding heart just after having left my family. The hope that I’d see them in a few years, that the good-bye was not final.

But, what if something happened to one of them and it was my final Good-bye?

The thought had plagued my mind at various times that were usually not convenient – like staff meetings or in the middle of the night when I should be sleeping. This thought turned into a fear. The definition bandage was not enough. I needed something stronger. Out of my comfort zone, away from dear friends and family who had always wrapped up my fears with encouraging words and support, I clung to God’s Word. Hebrews 11:13-16 spoke loud and clear to me.

“All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance. And they admitted that they were aliens and strangers on earth. People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own. If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return. Instead, they were longing for a better country – a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them.”

(Heb 11:13-16, NIV)

Note that this passage is in the middle of the “Great People of Faith” list in Hebrews. Namely, Abraham came to mind. He left his home and family and just started out on a journey that he had no idea where he was going or when the traveling would end. Yet, he went in faith. I am no Abraham, but his example encouraged me to stay where God had placed me.

My fear became reality.

Death eventually did come. My grandfather. My grandmother. My own father. Each was difficult. There was grief. A few days before she died I talked on the phone with Grandma, the tomboy of a grandmother whose farm had been my second home. We both knew it was coming, and yet she encouraged me to keep doing what I was doing. We talked like we’d see each other again. I grieved, but understood and knew that we would see each other…one day.

A few years later, the phone call came that my dad was on his deathbed. He had battled leukemia for many years, and it had began to attack his body again. His immune system was shot – pneumonia snuck in. My siblings shared with me on the phone that he was peaceful those final hours. My mind raced to the last time I had seen him just five months earlier. I remembered as I hugged and told him good-bye wondering if it would be my last. As I hung up the phone I realized that my dad knew it would be. I remembered the look in his eyes as it seemed he wanted to tell me something, but being a man of few words he patted my back and choked out “I love you.”

As the years pass I know I’ll experience more deaths. We are mortal. It is part of life. Through these years of moves and watching countless others move out of my life, the Chinese meaning of Good-bye has changed from a bandage to more of a reminder of the passage above. Taipei is not my home; nowhere on this planet is really my home. I’m just a traveler passing through this life until the Lord decides to take me to my real home. A place where there is no more tears, no more pain, no more Good-byes!

Until then, I feel that I must live the life that God has asked me to live – not for myself, but for Him who through his death and resurrection made the harshest of good-byes of this earth just a “see ya later!” I know there will still be grief, but in the midst of that grief there is hope – that sure knowledge of knowing what will come. And for that I’m forever grateful for his saving grace.

This post was inspired by The Groove and is part of a link-up with Velvet Ashes. Thanks for letting me share a bit of my heart today. Please feel free to comment below or to contact me via email.

 

Enjoy the Summer

 

 

 

SAM_0313

This week I’m linking up once again with Velvet Ashes and their Friday “The Groove”. This week the topic is on Enjoy.

Summer is here and it should be easy to enjoy the break, but I’m actually finding it hard this year. Maybe it is the heat. Maybe the kids picking, picking, picking on each other- on me…. or maybe it is because we didn’t go visit family this summer. Or because our plans of moving didn’t happen…probably a mixture of it all dolloped with a topping of disappointment.

Last week I caught myself wishing school would start sooner.

I KNOW….CRAZY! Wait, you had that same thought? I’m not the only one?

Shame on you…I mean me. I mean, I only have a few more years left with these kiddos before they head off to whatever the next chapter in their life leads them. I’m not going there because I only have 6 more summers left with my oldest. SIX! 6! That is like almost counting down on one hand.

Okay, I’m not going there ~ but do you see what I mean that this wishing school to start up again has got to stop? The school year is crammed with homework, practices, quick breakfasts, and early bedtimes. Summer is slower mornings, no homework, and well many times just slower days.

So, how can we make this hot, humid, kid-fighting summer blues turned into enJOYable?

Find the joy in the simple, and then stop what you are doing and DO them….

  • water fights
  • boardgames
  • blowing bubbles…in the house
  • go to the library to read a book, or read a book at home together
  • sipping cold tea at sunset
  • watching the World Cup together at odd hours of the day
  • baking together – with the fan blowing on you at all times and a large cup of cold tea always full
  • hike, bike, anything outside together
  • swim or splash

Make memories – ponder these days because honestly they will slip by, sadly some may already have.

So, I raise my cold styrofoam cup of grapefruit tea and salute Summer. May it slow down enough to enjoy the pace, may it bring some memories that will bring a smile to my face this winter, and may I never forget that simple pleasures can be some of the most enjoyable things in life.

Your Turn: What have you done this summer to make it more enjoyable? Please comment below. I love to hear from you and get more ideas.

Coming out of Grief

I’m joining in today with Velvet Ashes in their Friday “The Grove” linkup. This week the topic is on what every expat knows well – GRIEF.

Grief comes in various forms for the expat.

  • Every spring we say good-bye – either we are moving or someone we know and have grown to love is moving.
  • We say good-bye after every “home” visit – each getting a little harder as we see our grandparents, parents aging.
  • We miss family gatherings for birthdays, Christmas, Thanksgiving, World Cup parties, or whatever…fill in the blank.
  • Death of dearly loved ones – either family or tragic accidents

For me, those have been true – but as a parent to a child with special needs I seem to grieve regularly. I don’t mean it is there every single day all the time. No, my grief hits me when I least expect it. It sometimes hits hard like a punch in the gut. It is strong enough to bring instant tears – but not strong enough to leave me in a pit of despair. I wrote a story for the anthology MONDAY COFFEE & OTHER STORIES OF MOTHERING CHILDREN WITH SPECIAL NEEDS. The section below, I feel, illustrates how grief tries to pull me down.

 I’m told that parenting a child with special needs stays difficult. It doesn’t just “go away.” I have found that to be true. Grief finds me at odd places. It finds me at the park where I see girls playing and laughing together while my daughter stumbles up the stairs to go down the slide. Grief finds me in the hospital holding the results from yet another developmental testing and I see she isn’t mentally where I thought she was. And Grief brings tears to my eyes when party invitations are passed out and she didn’t get one. Grief reminds me that she doesn’t have friends her age. She doesn’t seem to notice, but I do. I hurt.

Through all the grief and mourning, joy does come. It always does. It comes with a kiss and a hug. Joy comes with each new word she speaks. It comes when she dresses up in her cowboy hat, boots, and comes out swinging her pretend lasso. Joy comes from watching her love life in the way I sometimes wish I could.

Yes, joy does come after the mourning.

 

I read a recent blog post from another parent of a child with special needs and she stated it, too.

She is happy. She is totally fine. She doesn’t feel like she’s missing out. It’s not her dream, it’s mine.

Grief comes to everyone – unless you are a hermit who lives in a cave with no pets. As expats we must learn to go through the grieving process, to embrace it knowing that it will pass. And as a parent of a child with special needs, I’m learning that it’s okay to grieve – but that I need to not stay there. Here’s how I get out…

1. Count my blessings – you know that song, “10,000 Reasons”. I made a chart on the wall – but even just saying them out loud helps.

2. Sing Louder – speaking of songs, I put on praise music and turn it up real loud and usually break out dancing. It gets all of us into giggles.

3. Remind myself that my daughter is not sad – in fact she loves life to the fullest (most of the time). Just yesterday I used this…at the water park I started to feel sad because she couldn’t run off with the others to zip down the slide, but I looked up at her jumping in her life vest laughing and splashing around. She was fine – so I would be, too.

4. Take note of the gifts and talents that my children, especially my daughter with special needs, have. Not in a “I have the best kids in the world” kind of way, but in a “Wow, look how they are growing and giving to others” kind of way. (but, just so you know….I do have some pretty awesome kids!)

Your Turn: How has grief affected you? What has helped you through the process? Please share in the comments below.