Home.

“You can never go home again”

They say that once you have left a place, you can never return. Once you’ve left home, nothing will be the same… that includes you. Social media is littered with posts about the things you learn living abroad, why you’ve changed once you’ve been overseas, how your life is so different, your perspectives so altered, how you will NEVER fit back into your pre-experience life. I am guilty of posting such articles too and I have found comfort in knowing that I’m not alone on this expat adventure. It’s fun to be part of a semi-if-not-entirely-self-proclaimed special group of people but… I’m tired now.

Because in all of my travels, all of my overseas experiences, all of my attempts to make and create a “sense” of home miles and oceans away from my original one, I have come to see that for me, my first home is where I want to be.

I have been blessed to meet people who were my temporary “family”. I have lived in nice places that I have called “home”. I have worked on blending into a new country that I can call my “land” but… I miss the original.

Because you see– through all my travels I think I’ve realized the other cliche truth that you can go around the world and realize that the thing you want most was there all along.

Because I want to feel like I belong somewhere. Being a foreigner is fun and exciting and makes you automatically quite interesting. You can get away with things by playing the “Dumb foreigner card” and you can get extra perks because “you’re new here”. But I’m tired of standing out, I’m tired of not being entirely sure what is going on around me and I’m tired of feeling like I don’t belong. I’m looking forward to being in a place where I do belong and am accepted.

Because I want to be close to MY people. There is something thrilling about meeting people and realizing that they only know the you that you have been since you moved to that country. You can reinvent yourself, you can change as much about yourself as you want, you can choose to leave out huge chunks of your life when you’re telling stories BUT there is something so wonderful to be around people who have always known you. People who know your family and where you came from. People who “get” you and love you no matter what. People who remember your mid-nineties obsession with all things denim and still talk to you. I have been fortunate enough to find myself in some wonderful communities and I have made some incredible friends but it’s time to go back to my roots because I really miss the people who really know me.

Because I want to be part of “every day” life with my family. I am really close with my family and I have enjoyed our intense bursts of time together during the summers and Christmas time but I want to be able to spend random Thursday nights with them or Sunday lunches. I want to be able to just go for coffee with my sister or walks with my parents during crazy times like… October or April. I’m tired of missing out on the every day stuff. I think I’m kind of homesick for the mundane.

I feel truly blessed for the last 10 years, for the amazing relationships/friendships I’ve had, for the experiences I’ve been part of, for the things I’ve seen and the places I’ve been. I am quite aware that most of the memories I take with me will be rose-coloured and I know that once I’m settled into life back home, I’ll miss these places like crazy. But I also have an ache for all things Canada and for now, that’s where I want to be.

I know I have changed a lot during the past 10 years. I know that people and circumstances at home have changed too. That’s life. I know that things will not be exactly the same as when I lived there 10 years ago but that’s okay.. and actually for the better. I’m excited to “start over again” in a familiar place.

So maybe it’s true that you can never go home again– but I’m going to try.

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A Note to the Single Ladies

December 2014

Dear Fellow Single Sisters,

It’s the most wonderful time of the year…! While we are heading into a time of picture perfect moments, coziness galore, good lighting (who doesn’t look good by the light of a fireplace or Christmas candles?), Christmas sweaters, warm socks, hot cider, and every other “Christmassy” moment, it’s hard not to get totally swept up in all of the hoopla. Yes, I just used the word hoopla.

This isn’t about the materialism that occurs at Christmas, but it’s about what happens when a single girl starts to notice that there aren’t any special presents under her tree.
Wait! I’m not going to moan, I’m just explaining. The fact is, I get totally swept up in the romanticism of the holiday. I’m sure you do too. I love the Christmas chick flick movies and the ideas of cuddling by the fire or walking in the snow with a well-built, chiseled-featured, strong man who looks wonderful in cream-coloured, cable-knit sweaters, red scarves and jeans. A man who can have meaningful conversations but also knows exactly the perfect moment to crack a joke, a perfect combination of mature yet playful. A man whose very presence is a gift but who also knows how to give the most thoughtful and meaningful presents all while still being able to chop firewood, shovel the driveway, and bring me a mug of hot chocolate. But I digress… a lot.
So what do we do about the fact that he hasn’t shown up? How do we deal with watching people celebrate the holidays who do have good men and maybe a few cute little munchkins? It can really get a girl down. One thing we know is that no one wants to hang out with Debbie Downer during the holidays, so what do we do?
Well.. to be blunt, I think part of the “whoa is me I’m alone for the holidays” comes from a rather selfish place. It happens when our eyes are on ourselves and what we need to be happy. We obsessively start focusing on all of the things we want, instead of all of the things we do have. This is not the key to any sort of happiness. It’s hard not to be selfish when you’re single. We spend a lot of time tending to our needs and emotions and it’s okay to be aware of our wants and needs, but also I think that in order to be happy, we need to get our eyes off ourselves and onto others. Focusing too much on ourselves, especially this time of year, can be dangerous.
I think the only way to really combat these feelings of loneliness or sadness over the holidays is to simply be thankful. Get out that “attitude of gratitude”.. sorry I said that but I’ve been thinking about it and really, that’s the only way. Because the thing is, I do have some pretty amazing things in my life and my life is filled with all sorts of love… maybe not of the axe-swinging, cable-knit sweater wearing variety but still– there is a lot of love in my life. Start looking at your own life and I’m sure you’ll see some pretty amazing things to be thankful for. Wishing for something or someone we don’t have, isn’t the key to having a happy time this holiday, being thankful for what we do have automatically guarantees a certain level of happiness.
And so while we go about the very important business of practicing gratitude during the holiday season, we must not let ourselves get sidetracked or derailed. I think the biggest culprit is social media and I think it’s particularly dangerous during this time of year. Being constantly bombarded by filtered photos of Christmas trees, lovers, children dressed up like elves, big parties, presents, family, etc… it’s very hard to maintain a feeling of contentment. It’s very easy to feel like you are the only one in the world who is single for the holidays. It’s very easy to feel lonely. And so– I know that we need to really limit the amount of time we spend checking these sites. Maybe you don’t have issues with social media but I certainly do. Yes, I’m an instagram addict, and sometimes it’s okay but when I feel myself getting jealous or resentful, it’s time to put the phone down and focus on what I do have in front of me.
It’s not only about being happy about what I have in front of me but being happy for those who do seem to be having a picture perfect Christmas. When I was little and would go to friend’s birthday parties, I would come home feeling jealous about how Jenna was so lucky cause she got a Barbie camper van AND the My Little Pony Castle. My parent’s taught me to say: “Oh wow, I’m so happy for you.” I think we need to bring that phrase back out again. No matter how we are feeling, we should be happy that our friends (and all of those complete strangers on instagram), have the great things in their lives that they do. I’m so happy for them! Say it a few times and you’ll eventually start to believe it.
If that doesn’t work.. the whole: ‘it could be worse’ game works. I don’t suggest you play this out loud as people will worry about you. But seriously, life could be a lot worse. You could be stuck in a bad marriage, you could be terminally ill, you could be homeless, you could be locked up in prison for a crime you didn’t commit, you could be stuck in an airport, you could be stranded on a desert island, you could have a flesh eating disease.. you get the idea? Not having a boyfriend at Christmas is hardly the worst thing in the world.
And then– really. Who are we to mope and complain anyway? If we believe what we say we really believe then we believe that God is working out His perfect plan. Maybe that includes us meeting someone amazing, maybe it doesn’t and if it doesn’t, we can trust that His plan is still the best one. (I am still working on happily believing this.. it’s a process) I do know that we can relax and be content in this particular set of circumstances because they aren’t for no reason. Whoa double negative. Reword: This set of circumstances is important to your story and who you are now. We must believe that these experiences are also important in making and shaping us into the people we are meant to be.
So this Christmas, instead of feeling sorry for ourselves, let’s practice being thankful and grateful and loving the people God has placed in our lives…
Simple.
Do enjoy this holiday season.
With lots of love from me to you!

That time I had a birthday…

I’m older now. I just had a birthday that pushed me from the early thirties to the mid thirties category. A little bit alarming. When I play the rather dangerous game of remembering myself at 24 and thinking about what I thought life would be like at 34 and then actually looking at my life at 34.. well things are not how I thought they would be.

So yes, if I was being 100% honest, it is sad to be single, without kids, living far away from family. It is strange to think that certain things I was counting on happening, may not happen and it’s a lot of work to be okay with that.

But.. and there is ALWAYS a but… this weekend I was reminded that even though God hasn’t filled my life with certain people, He has definitely filled my life with the right people. I had a lovely birthday dinner on the weekend. I kept things small so that I could actually talk with my friends and enjoy their company. We went to a Smokehouse restaurant because apparently I’m into smoked meat these days, and had some drinks and ate some great food, laughed a lot and left the night feeling happy and satisfied. I was made aware that even though I’m far from my family, I have some great friends who do act as family and support me and care for me. That’s pretty nice.

On my actual birthday, a group of former students breezed into town and took me for dinner. They had made the arrangement months ago and it was so fun to have it actually happen. There was a group of 10, all guys who I had taught for 1-3 years back when I lived in Indonesia. I was their age when I first met them and now, 10 years later, they are all grown up, with jobs and girlfriends and real lives going on. It was such a fun evening catching up and telling stories. It was fun because we were all equally excited to be spending time together and I don’t think I’ve laughed that hard in a long time. They told me stories about things they remembered I had told them way back when and we reminisced and I remembered how important they were to me back when I was a brand new teacher in a new country trying to learn the ropes. They were a really special group of students, kind, caring, bright, talented, funny. They were my first class and the first group of kids I loved and it was a good reminder that sometimes students are actually listening to my words, and while I don’t have kids of my own, God has given me lots of kids or little brothers and sisters to fill that void.. sort of.

And then there was all the love I received from back home. Messages and emails from my family, who while they are far away, are still able to be a regular part of my life thanks to the wonders of social media and the interwebs. I am very fortunate to have parents and siblings who I’m crazy about and who I know are there for me and love me. I am also extremely blessed to have a strong group of friends, amazing people who are all so different but so important to me. I might be on my own but I’m definitely not alone.

And true– I am single and quite honestly speaking, at this moment the dating situation is bleak but I’m trying not to fret myself. The fact is, this birthday has reminded me that God is taking care of me, that He is filling my life with the people I need and that I am not going to worry about the things that are so easy for a single woman to worry about. Instead I’m going to focus on how He has blessed me and continues to bless me, while holding firmly onto His promises as I head into another year.

In which pain and joy co-exist.. because that’s the deal.

This post was supposed to be a more trivial one about running and relaxing. Originally I was going to write about the time I spent at a cottage and how each morning I liked to “torture” myself a bit (a hilly run followed by a dip in the lake) all in the name of taking the rest of the day off in the most delightful guilt-free kinda way. You see, I’m very good at relaxing but we can talk about that another time. Anyway I was going to write about the idea of needing to experience the pain in order to enjoy the pleasure later and how great pleasure feels when you went through a bit of pain prior. I had drafted out something about the idea of putting yourself through something bad to enjoy something good. It was pretty decent actually but as time went on and I didn’t press the Publish button, I started to think a little differently.

You see, in a few days I will be heading back to Japan after 9+ weeks in Canada. It hasn’t been an easy summer but it has been so good to be home. In taking things one-day-at-a-time, I have learned so much about valuing moments and really living in them. I have learned that pain is temporary, tears come and go as does laughter. I have learned that through tears there is joy. I have become increasingly aware of the link and co-existence of joy and pain.

I have learned that to experience pain or hurt or sadness does not mean that I’m doing something wrong or being punished or missing a part of life, it means that I’m living. It means that I’m loving. It means that I’m able to be joyful and I’m able to be sad and so I am able to experience what it really means to be alive. It’s not always great but it’s life.

I read a lot of C.S. Lewis this summer and he so clearly understands the link between joy and pain and between bravery and fear and hope and despair and how all of these human emotions are coursing through our veins and making us alive. There is that great line from the film Shadowlands where, in discussing her upcoming death, Lewis’ wife says: “The pain then, is part of the happiness now. That’s the deal.” And not only was that a highly emotional cinematic moment but there is truth in seeing that pain and happiness and joy are so completely connected. We can be happy even when we know that sadness is coming. We can experience pain and yet search for joy and there always is some, even if it takes some searching to find it. That’s the deal.

Back in January I was reading Ann Voskamp’s One Thousand Gifts and copied this quote in my journal:

“Joy and pain, they are but two arteries of the one heart that pumps through all those who don’t numb themselves to really living.” She gets it. She knows the deal.

And so, as I think about a summer that was filled with laughter and tears, I think about the pain that most likely does lie ahead of us, I remember that it’s all part of being alive and living.

Sorrow and Joy.

Pain and Happiness.

To experience these things is to be truly awake.

On (happily) Taking Things One Day at a Time

“We are just going to have to take things one day at a time,” my mother said to me, shortly after I arrived in Canada for the summer. She was referring to the fact that this summer is very much about my dad’s sickness and helping him get through treatments and all the ups and downs that go along with such business. We had been having a bit of a “what if” conversation which always seems to have the potential to derail us into a bit of an emotional frenzy. But this is not the time to do that because as we all know.. we cannot determine the future. That’s not our job, and if it was, we’d stink at it.

And so we have been taking things as they come. Looking at what is on our plate for the day and dealing with that alone. And you know what? It’s been a good way to live. As a girl who loves to have a one week, one month, one year, five year plan always running through my head, this has been a new challenge but it’s been very helpful. I find that I’m learning to be mindful of my time and to think of my life inside one day instead of freaking myself out about the future and all the scary “what ifs”.

In May I bought a 365 journal (like this) and every night I write something in it to remember the day I just lived. Sometimes it’s a list or random thoughts or a meaningful quote. It’s been helpful to look and note all of the good moments and happy things that have happened. Sometimes the day isn’t that great but there is always something little that happened… words spoken, little treats, happy moments and I do think it’s important to keep track of those things. Sometimes I write about sad things too, as they are still part of life but I must say, that it has been a good exercise to really think about my day in detail. It also helps to keep all of the days from blending into each other.

This brings me to another idea.. which is the idea that even when you are going through something really difficult, it’s important to look for little silver linings and happy moments and things that can sweeten up a fairly dire situation. My dad was telling me a story about how he was needing to take public transport in the dead of winter and how waiting for a bus to show up in Canadian temperatures could in fact be quite miserable, until he realized that if he timed it right, he could get a Starbucks and stand sipping that while waiting for the bus. That little thing made the whole experience quite a bit better. Looking for ways to make miserable times semi or completely enjoyable is a skill. It’s called having a talent for happiness and I believe that it’s something I need to continue to incorporate even more. Just because life isn’t 100% happy these days, doesn’t mean I can’t enjoy the little things. I need to be awake to all that is going on in my life. Maybe I just need to enjoy a conversation with a friend, or a few words exchanged with a family member, maybe I need to let myself really love the taste of a vanilla latte or be excited about how great it feels to wear a new shirt. Maybe I need to let myself enjoy reading a good book and sipping on tea in the waiting room of the clinic. It’s okay to do this. It’s okay to look for happiness in little, somewhat trivial things. I think it’s part of being awake and alive.

And so I work at concentrating on the now, the whole now. I look at all the things in this one day that make me happy, I deal with the things in this one day that sadden me and I trust God to be exactly what I need Him to be for me today. All the while, I am firmly believing and trusting that He will be everything I need tomorrow and the next day too.

I run because he can’t.

Hanging in my parent’s basement is a calendar. My dad put it there. He uses it to keep track of the many miles he runs each month. The calendar has been blank since April. You see he, the man who has been a healthy runner for as long as I can remember, has become very sick. About 18 months ago he had a non-cancerous brain tumour removed. He miraculously recovered from that and we spent Christmas running together, for the first time. We ran lots of miles, he and I, talked about many significant and insignificant things and I loved (almost) every minute of it.  I planned to return to Canada for a bit this summer and continue to run with him as he added miles to the calendar.. but that was not to be.

You see, at the end of April he was diagnosed with a very serious kind of cancer. The word “terminal” has been used by health care professionals. This Thursday he started radiation and chemotherapy. I came home as soon as I could and will spend the summer taking care of him and being with him and just loving him. It’s all kinds of horrible. To see a person you have loved for your entire life, in pain, sick, weak… is really quite earth shattering. We are believing, hoping and praying for a miracle but at the same time, trying to accept the reality that he is indeed a very sick man.
And so the calendar continues to hang in the basement. He told me that if he can’t add miles to it, I should definitely do that. And so, with all sorts of heavy emotion, I lace up my shoes, head out the door and run along the roads we ran along together, not so long ago. In a time when I feel so helpless and unable to do that which really needs to be done… unable to cure horrible diseases and fix scary medical conditions– I look for simple solutions and coping techniques and so, I run for him because he can’t.

The Power of Love

And no, this is not about a Celine Dion song…

As I’ve mentioned before, my family is going through a pretty trying set of circumstances. I would have to say that this is probably the first really big thing we’ve had to deal with. Due to the fact that my father is a pastor, I’ve seen a lot of people go through painful circumstances but they have not directly touched me in the way that this situation has.

I have written about how I have people around me and how God has been good to me through all of it so far. I have talked about how I have good people here and at home and that has been such a blessing.

Being so far away (but not for long), adds a certain amount of extra stress. It’s quite easy to feel rather removed from the whole thing but that’s just the bad part about living overseas. I’m not complaining and honestly, with Skype and email and Viber and Whatsapp and iMessage and Facebook, I really don’t feel THAT far away but truthfully there are times that I feel alone and just want to be home.

What has been amazing is the amount of love I’ve received. Lots and lots of thoughtful emails and kind words and different people expressing genuine concern, I know that I’m not alone.

What I have learned is how helpful it is for me to know that people do love me. People can’t fix this situation, they can’t make it better but they can tell me that they are praying for me or thinking about me and that they do love me. And knowing that, helps me feel a little less alone.

Love is a powerful thing. I didn’t really realize that until just recently. To know you’re loved is its own sort of cure. I read over and over again about God’s steadfast love for us. I think it’s mentioned in nearly every Psalm. If I had a concordance I’d let you know for sure. What I do know though is that it’s important to know that such love exists.

And so, I think about all the things I have been learning through this trying time and I try to write it down so I’ll remember it in the future, whether that be on this blog or elsewhere. The next time one of my friends is going through something difficult, I’ll remember to tell them how much I love them. It is so meaningful to know that I am surrounded by love and that despite the dark times, love is present and love wins.

You don’t have to fix the big problems.

You don’t need to say the perfect words.

You don’t need to remove all the pain and sadness.

You just need to let the person know they are loved.

It often takes very little to convey that feeling but it means the world to the people receiving it. And so, all through these sad times, I know that there is still love.