All in the Family

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When my Grandpa Mast was 45, he sold his business, they packed up their stuff, said good bye to friends and family, and he and his wife and 4 children moved to El Salvador. (Their oldest was my mom, who’d married 3 years before.) Grandpa was deacon at their church, so the church ordained someone else to take his place. There was no reason they couldn’t go, he said. Business, church responsibilities, teenage children weren’t reasons to stay.

Some of my earliest memories are connected to visiting El Salvador. I remember holding a bowl or basket on my head and screeching “Quiere papusas!” through the house when we got home because I was selling them like the ladies outside the bus had done. Grandpa learned to preach in Spanish and became Papi Juan to lots of children and locals. He would happily have stayed the rest of his life, but Grandma couldn’t settle there, and the family came back after five years.

They were back, but El Salvador marked them for life. Their world and their hearts extended way beyond their zip code. In Indiana, my aunts worked for the ministry of Georgi Vins, immigrant from communist Russia. One of them travelled to Europe and brought back egg cups and showed us how to eat soft boiled eggs in them.  Now when our extended family gets together, we have food featuring the Middle East, El Salvador, Europe, Belize, Paraguay.

My parents and aunts and uncles trot off to serve in other places whenever they can. Last year, reports came in from Haiti, Iraq Greece, Romania.  In our last family gathering, the aunts talked about their time being house parents in Iraq. They compared books about girls who’d been with ISIS and women who helped them. And one aunt served us tea like this.

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I’m so proud of my aunts and uncles. They have big worlds, but they value the person beside them, and prioritize things that matter, and release their children to serve. One cousin wrote from Iraq this week and told us of friendly shopkeepers and drinking chai with families in Internationally Displaced People camps.

When my dad was 45, he sold the business, they packed up their stuff, we said goodbye to everyone, and dad, mom, and us six children moved to Ireland. I was the oldest and 21; the youngest turned six the morning we landed in Dublin. Dad was deacon in our church, and the church had ordained someone else to take his place. There was no good reason that we couldn’t go. Business. Church responsibilities. Teens who would miss their youth group. None of these were reasons to stay.

That was 23 years ago. The move to Ireland has marked us.  Now my parents and siblings live in the Middle East, Greece, and Ireland. I’m the only one in the US. We are Third Culture Kids, not at home here or there, but mostly at home there. People who speak other languages and eat other comfort food are like our family. We claim each other because our relatives are far away, even though they’ve loved us the longest.

Now it’s me who’ll be 45 this year, but I have no plans to pack up and relocate just now, though this kind of action is in my genes from the last two generations. It’s an odd mix. This belonging and not belonging. This lifestyle of new horizons and home.

Though I make my own decisions and ask God daily to guide my feet, it’s clear to me that the person I am is largely shaped by the generations before me. If it weren’t for my parents and grandparents and siblings, aunts and uncles and cousins, however distant in miles and personalities, I’d be a vastly different person.

I didn’t choose them. They didn’t choose me. But somehow, we benefit, learn from, and shape each other. I’m rich and grateful beyond words.

Related post: A Tribute to Grampa

An Epic Search

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Note to the stranger sitting across from me at a social function: After you ask my name, pleeeeeeeease don’t ask me where I’m from. You can ask where I live, how old I am, what I like to do for fun–that’s all fair game, but I am still fractured enough in the present transition that I can’t believe how easily I fall apart when I’m asked where I’m from.

Honestly, I get all shaky and whimpery at the simple question.

Today it’s twenty years that my family landed in Ireland–my parents and me and my five siblings. All but two of us still live there.

Twenty years is a good long time to find a place and call it home. But am I from Ireland? I wasn’t born there, and now it’s six years since I’ve lived there.

I don’t even like to write this all out; it wants to overwhelm me.

Meanwhile, I’ve just finished reading The Odyssey and completely fell in love with the lyrical words. Now when I open the blinds to see the morning, I have words to describe it. It’s “rosy-fingered” or “golden-haired.” In addition to the poetic prose (it was epic poetry in its original Greek form, after all) was its theme: nostos, the deep longing to return home. Odysseus has been gone from home for ten years, fighting battles, and his wife, Penelope is waiting for him while audacious suitors take advantage of the palace and try to win her favor.  (Another beautiful theme woven throughout was xenia, the honoring of guests, giving them piles of food and honeyed wine and making them comfortable before ever even asking their names and where they’re from.)

So since literature is an on-going conversation about what it means to be human, in reading The Odyssey, I entered a teeny tiny bit into the story of another human’s nostos, because I know what it’s like to not have a home. Well, I do and I don’t. I go back to my parents who now live in a house I never did, and my family gives me huge deference and mom cooks all my favorite food (always chicken curry and always chocolate mousse) and I go to all my old haunts, but in many ways and for many reasons, I feel I don’t have a place there now. And every time I’m with relatives and/or friends in the US, I’m overwhelmed with their love and inclusion, and I don’t feel homeless but actually home-full: I have many homes. I am very rich. It feels like my story will be many interesting, fascinating things, even its own kind of epic, but not nostos.

Extended singlehood is one layer in the story of having no home. Extended foreign service is another. I have no place to go back to and slot in, like the place Odysseus wanted. I’m still in media res–in the middle of the story. This plot line hasn’t resolved yet. Hence, the rabbit-in-the-headlights feelings when someone asks where I’m from. I hope that some day I can come to some kind of peace about it and have a sensible answer, but somehow the current answer feels like an idiot is talking: “I don’t  know where I’m from.”

Trust the resourceful Germans to have a suitable word for my current state: Sehnsucht. It’s the intense longing for a place I’ve never been to; raw homesickness for a place I’ve never seen. It’s the search for Eden, the place we were created for, and life is constantly bumping us against the reality that we can never go back. There’s an angel barring the entrance. Deep inside every human is that cavernous hole that wants to be filled, satisfied, rested in the comfort of home.  For those for whom nostos will never be reality, as well as for those who enjoy the deep, satisfying sense of home now already, Sehnsucht beckons all of us farther in and farther on.

Let’s go!

 

Rates and Over-Rates

According to the numbers, I lost more than half of my blog readers when Google Reader finished. Am I supposed to do something about this?  I’m a little sad about it, but not too much because I’m not writing/blogging these days anyhow. This is the season when teachers rest their brains and give themselves permission to be dormant. At least this teacher does.

I think mostly in single words or lines these days.

Over-rated:

first impressions

clothes’ brand-names

color-coordination. So why doesn’t blue and green work?

silk ivy leaves

whitened teeth

chevron stripes

blog stats

bloggers’ opinions

Can’t over-rate:

going barefoot all day every day

babies’ peach-skin cheeks

wild fuchsias in hedgerows

spicy nachos and cold Coke

breakfast in the sun

swimming in a wild sea cove

To mull:

Most people, most of the time, are doing the best they can.

“The cure for everything is saltwater–sweat, tears, or the sea. “–Isak Dinesen

Good relationships come from large helpings of grace and redemption mixed with a little amnesia.

 

Happy, Fractured Dreams

I used to insist that Christians should be happy all the time. They’re the ones living without condemnation from sin, they have joy and peace and fulfillment in Christ, they have everything! Why should they squander a perfectly good day by talking about difficulties and disappointment?

Thankfully, I think I’ve grown up a little bit since then. Or life has knocked me around and showed me some things.

I still don’t have answers for this crazy, surprising life. I just know that when you talk with emotionally-healthy people, you can be having a normal conversation and then only a word will trigger tears you didn’t know were coming. And I’ve learned that tears don’t mean something is terribly amiss. It just reveals the fact that tears are often just under the surface, even for people who deeply love Jesus and know His joy. Maybe this is true especially for those people, because they are the ones who can be better equipped to have emotional integrity and deal with pain and discomfort and grief and don’t need escapes from that.

In others words, I can say that my world shifted when I heard a widow speak with tears running down her cheeks: “You know, life really stinks sometimes. It really, really stinks.” Then over her tears, her eyes lit up and she talked about God’s nearness and love and wisdom in her desperate grief.

So I’m trying to give up insisting that life feels good all the time. Because it’s not going to happen, but it doesn’t mean that life is all bad.

This morning I met a student for coffee. She’d asked if we could meet, and I said my brain isn’t working to have a lesson during vacation, but we could go for coffee, and we did, and it was lovely, and she wants me to come to her house next week to look at her vacation photos and eat food. Last Sat. morning I was in Ireland and met an old friend for coffee too, and I felt so loved and cared for and relaxed and happy. And it was at the end of a week with my whole family, in which we didn’t do much more than take care of little children and make food. And swim and go canoeing.

I’m living a lot of happy dreams. Of course good coffee always makes me happy anywhere, but living in Europe, meeting with women who want to meet just because they like me, having a student-teacher relationship grow to a dear friendship–this is the stuff of my dreams.

Which means that other dreams haven’t come true (because–surprise!–you can’t have everything) and my life stinks in places, and I cried pretty much every day this week.  Life is wonderful and terrible, and that’s about all I know about it, and for now, it’s ok.

He Leadeth Me

I’m in that twilight zone of being back in Poland, feeling at home but not home. I was home in Ireland for the last month. Now, these familiar smells and sounds flood my senses, and it’s as if I was never gone. Except that it’s all better because I was gone. I am refreshed and revived, my head feels clear, and my soul is calm. Maybe it would’ve happened here, but the break helped me see things with new eyes, and it’s good.

At home, things were incredibly, wonderfully comfortable. I fell in love again with everything–the lush scenery, (July, in Ireland, in the sunshine, is heaven–sunshine being the important qualifier there). The accents–I couldn’t believe the wonder of understanding the bus drivers and shop clerks, and always wanted to talk with them as long as they had time because it felt like such a novelty. The food–I’d only mention that I’m hungry for something, and mom would cook it. My church family–their support and love overwhelmed me. My family–especially the littles who I couldn’t fully get to know in 1 month because they are so deep and fascinating.

It’s not logical that I prefer living in a place without those aspects, but it’s reality. I guess it has something to do with being called to fill a place, and knowing without any niggling question that I belong at this place at this time. Even if there is no ocean down the road, and no shopkeepers with whom to make small talk. I am being led here for some reason, and somehow, it is good.

At my sister’s wedding 3 weeks ago, the ensemble sang an exquisite arrangement of “By His Hand.” As the words and harmonies washed over me, I felt deepest awe, mystery, and confidence: by His own hand He leadeth me…His faithful follower I will be.

It suits me to live somewhat in transit: at home but not rooted, fulfilled but not complacent. I’m led by a hand that is big and wise, by a will that is higher than mine, and I stumble and get distracted, but He keeps leading, and that is my confidence.

Yes, Gideon Yutzy is Married

My blog dashboard tells me the terms people write when they come across my blog. Usually the phrases are normal and predicable, like ‘gift to receive’, or it’s an author’s name or some poetry line. This evening it cracked me up to read one search term: is gideon yutzy married.

The question deserves an answer, and besides, other readers have been wondering about it, so even if this isn’t really a newsy kind of blog, I’ll say a little bit. I’d been thinking about writing about the wedding, but didn’t know how, because it was so special and intimate that I didn’t feel like gushing or blabbing about it.

But yes, Gideon Yutzy married my sister Esther just over a week ago.

For a long time, I’ve thought that to celebrate a wedding for only one day isn’t nearly long enough. Now I’ve discovered the solution: the bride’s family must be in a more remote place like Ireland, to ensure that guests arrive before the day. The wedding was Sunday, and the first relatives came Tuesday, with more guests arriving every day after that. Our house was the hub of action to serve meals and socialize. Oh, yes, and to play volleyball in the evenings.

I soaked up the hours of seeing Esther and Gideon surrounded with their friends and relations, eating and talking and laughing. It was as it should be.

The day before the wedding, I cut blooms and buds of antique-white roses from one of mom’s gorgeous, over-flowing rose bushes, and walked down the road to cut flowering privet greenery from a lane. I played with roses and greenery in the sun for the morning and had way, way more fun than anyone else had that day. Esther’s bouquet had a few red roses added to the white ones like the bridesmaids carried. It felt idyllic and right: roses from mom’s garden, greenery from the lane. Less is more, and simple is better.

The wedding was in a lovely old church in the village. You could see the sea from it, and hear the gulls crying. The entire service was weighty with significance, beautiful and sacred, happy and holy. Afterward, I even had a little turn with the bell-pull, but I had a nephew in one arm, and couldn’t manage the rhythm very well.

That evening, our house and yard were alive with people socializing and playing and eating and discussing. I loved it. And I had a priceless conversation with my four-year old nephew about the wedding, the flowers we’d been carrying and where we’d been sitting in the church.

Me: And I saw you and you were sitting pretty close to me, weren’t you?
He: Yes, but why were you crying?
Me: Because I was happy AND sad, and so I cried. Does that ever happen to you?
He (very seriously): No, I’m just happy.

Leaving Them Behind

It’s booked: Dublin to Warsaw.

Friday morning I plan to fly to Poland, to teach English for two years. I look deep into my nephews’ and niece’s eyes, and stroke their hair, and try to absorb their light and dimples and smiles. I weigh suitcases, deliberate, and cull. And run my hands over the spines of books I need to put back on the shelves. I’m needing to leave my friends behind. And I don’t mean only the friends who walk and breathe and love me and pray big, magnanimous prayers for me.

My books are my friends too, and I wish I could take them with me, to enjoy repeatedly and share. But like real friends, the books will remain a real part of my life, even though we will live in separate countries.

I don’t know how to transport my life in two suitcases and leave behind what is familiar and embrace what is strange, and do it well. Part of it is to make hard choices and leave some things behind. It will be ok. I’ll make new friends there, and keep the old. Both the kinds with hearts and the kinds with pages.

My Saviour has my treasure, and He will walk with me.