Posted in Celebration, Childhood, Faith, Third Culture Kid

“You Better Watch Out” God

“Aslan,” said Lucy, “you’re bigger.”
“That is because you are older, little one,” answered he.
“Not because you are?”
“I am not. But every year you grow, you will find me bigger.”
(Prince Caspian, Chapter 10)

I lay on my bunk bed at boarding school in Ethiopia. I am just nine years old. My bunkmate stirs below me. I wind my musical Raggedy Ann doll over and over, hoping to get some sleep. Sleep does not come.

I rehash the day. Thoughts swirl: “I did a bunch of wrong things. Maybe that’s why I can’t sleep. I should confess my sins. Hey God, I’m sorry for all the bad things I did today. I hope you can forgive me.”

Still no rest for my eyes and tired body.  I go into a bit of a panic. “Maybe I didn’t mean it for real when I prayed the magic prayer asking God into my heart. If I did mean it, I would not be so naughty.”

I whisper the same thing for the umpteenth time, “Please come into my heart. I really mean it this time. I will be better tomorrow.” Still nothing. I lay there wide-awake.

My mind happily drifts to earlier in the evening, my dorm mother reading us another chapter in the story of Narnia. The image of Aslan, a loving lion who makes everything good and right in a strange land, and seems to adore children and even play with them, floods my mind. “I love Aslan. I wish God was like Aslan. Why can’t He be?”

As I finally drift off to sleep, resting in the comfort of the lion who loves children, I have a flicker of hope: “Maybe He is.”

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For decades, Santa has flooded the Christmas season. A jolly man with a jolly heart. A man who rewards good behavior with toys and naughty behavior with “a lump of coal.” My friend “prayed to Santa” all year and confessed her sins, much like I did to God as a young girl.

It makes a lot of sense. “He (Santa) sees you when you’re sleeping. He knows when you’re awake. He knows if you’ve been bad or good, so be good for goodness sake. YOU BETTER WATCH OUT! Santa Claus is coming to town.”

Sounds eerily similar to a song from those little girl boarding school days: “Be careful little eyes what you see, for the Father up above is looking down below, so be careful little eyes what you see.” YOU BETTER WATCH OUT.

Recently, Santa’s Elf (on the Shelf) has stepped in to “help Santa.” This Elf is dispatched from the North Pole at the start of Advent. He or she enters homes to keep a watchful eye on the children, ensuring good behavior during the rough parenting patch when kids are over-sugared and over-excited for Christmas. His or her “job” is to make sure they belong on Santa’s “nice” list. YOU BETTER WATCH OUT!

Santa. God. Elf on the Shelf. YOU BETTER WATCH OUT!

*************************************

Fast forward 30+ years. I’m a mom of four littles who loves celebrating Santa (in fact, my seven-year old just opened her letter from the North Pole). We don’t have an Elf on the Shelf (only because he/she is not invented yet). But me, this “desperate-to-please-God” young mom, believes wholeheartedly in a this YOU BETTER WATCH OUT God.

I’m stuck in my grown-up mom body as the little nine-year old girl on her bunk bed. God is no different than Santa or Elf on a Shelf. He’s up there watching my every good and bad behavior, ready to reward or “smite” me for each one, his main goal to get me to behave, to be good for goodness sake.

You yelled at your kids today. BAD!

You taught Sunday School. GOOD!

You told that white lie to your best friend! BAD!

You helped your twelve-year-old with their homework. GOOD!

You forgot to pray! BAD!

My relationship with this Santa/Elf on a Shelf/God is a little topsy-turvy. I’m filled with and act from the stranglehold of fear and guilt. Am I good enough today? Is God happy with me?

I hide or at least try to. Why wouldn’t I? I avoid Him. Who wouldn’t? I struggle to feel close, spending all my energy keeping my external, visible behavior under control, hoping it’s enough, trying to avoid that proverbial “lump of coal,” God’s utter disapproval of me. UGH!

My internal craving for love and belonging is completely sacrificed on the external “behavior management” altar. YOU BETTER WATCH OUT!

*************************************

In the middle of all of this, the stories of Narnia reenter my life and I have a reunion with Aslan.  I find three-hour-long radio theater dramatic renditions (absolutely a must-buy if you have kids) of these tales that I loved as a child. I kill two birds with one stone: share this amazing lion with my own children and at the same time, keep them quiet on long car rides (keeping it real people).

As I reconnect with Aslan, I find again that he is wise, playful, generous, kind, mysterious, terrifying, magnificent, beautiful and unconditionally loving all at once. He is the one I long for and need so desperately, my grownup heart still fragile from the many years of trying to keep myself in line.

That hopeful thought I had as a child flickers again in the darkness of my soul.

God is not like Santa.

God is not like the Elf on the Shelf.

God is not ultimately concerned with “behavior management.”

God is like Aslan.

God is wise. God is playful. God is generous. God is kind. God is mysterious. God is terrifying. God is magnificent. God is beautiful. God unconditionally loves and He unconditionally loves me.  Period. End of story.

No more YOU BETTER WATCH OUT!

My soul settles slowly (I’m talking years of retraining my brain) into a place of love and belonging. Yes, God sees me. He really sees me. He sees that little girl in the bunkbed, fearful, yet hopeful. He sees the young mom who longs to be known fully, and loved completely. He still sees me, the real real me. But instead of “setting me straight,” His beautiful, tender, kind heart sets me free!

My flicker so long ago, “Maybe He is,” burns brightly as a fire of hope that shouts, “YES. YES HE IS.”

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P.S. I have told people that, as a child, I loved Aslan more than I loved Jesus. I found out that a concerned mother once wrote C. S. Lewis on behalf of her son, Laurence, who, having read The Chronicles of Narnia, became concerned that he loved Aslan more than Jesus.

In his response, Lewis offered this relief: “Laurence can’t really love Aslan more than Jesus, even if he feels that’s what he is doing. For the things he loves Aslan for doing or saying are simply the things Jesus really did and said. So that when Laurence thinks he is loving Aslan, he is really loving Jesus: and perhaps loving Him more than he ever did before.”

 

***ONE MORE NOTE:  If you liked reading this, please go back out and “like” it on social media.  Means the world to me!***

Posted in Charity, Childhood, Faith, Third Culture Kid

I’m an MK. What are You?

“I don’t like that man.  I must get to know him better.”  (Abraham Lincoln)

TTYL – Talk To You Later
SSDD – Same Stuff Different Day
LMK – Let Me Know
PAW – Parents are Watching (my personal favorite…not really!)

We live in a world where we communicate with all kinds of capital letters.  It just makes it easier when using our thumbs to type words designed for five fingers.  And sometimes, things can get lost in translation.  Here’s my favorite:

“I heard your aunt passed away.  LOL.”
(If you’re struggling with this one, the person sending thought LOL meant “Lots of Love” and it really means “Laugh Out Loud”)

In the olden days, instead of #textspeak, we called these capital letters acronyms.

I grew up with one that identified me:  MK (Missionary Kid).  For as long as I can remember, I have used those two letters to tell people who I am.   In fact, I just did it again this week when meeting someone for the first time.  And I haven’t lived overseas for 4/5 of my life.  I guess it’s supposed to give insight into some depth of my being for the curious or just be used as a conversation starter.  Sometimes, people are fascinated and other times, I get the feeling they feel a little sorry for me.  It’s a funny dichotomy.

Life as an MK is BOTH fascinating AND difficult.  BOTH wonderful AND confusing.  Kind of like your life.  It does pose BOTH a unique set of challenges AND a particular group of rewards (CHECK OUT MINE HERE).  Just like your life.

For a long time, I felt strange and unusual, almost like an animal in a zoo for everyone to gawk at.  We were on display, especially when we came home on deputation…a fancy word for visiting churches to raise money (and believe me, my parents did their best to protect us from the insanity of standing up in front of churches and singing songs in Ethiopia’s native tongue).  **CHECK OUT MY PARENT’S BIRD’S EYE VIEW HERE**  I felt excluded, like everyone else was in some kind of inner circle and I was on the outside.  It was partly true.  I did have a different story than those I eventually went to school with here in the US.  I did have a life that didn’t resemble theirs.  But it wasn’t the whole truth.

The WHOLE TRUTH is that each one of us has a unique life story that encompasses sorrow AND joy, hardship AND celebration, beauty AND darkness.  The WHOLE TRUTH is that I can accept BOTH myself and my particular journey AND love others as I get to know theirs.  The WHOLE TRUTH is that instead of a wall of division between US (MKs) and THEM (RJs – Regular Joes – who might have lived in the same house in the same town for their whole childhood), there is solidarity that we ALL are in the same big giant circle as humans. After all, I now have a husband and children who are RJs and I certainly never want any division between us.  Blogger Janet Newberry calls this divided place a “two-circle world,” one that’s based on exclusion and isolation, not inclusion and community.  The WHOLE TRUTH (the one that sets us free) is that our distinct stories don’t divide us.  They unite us.  This makes room for a “one-circle” world.

We all tend to find people who relate to our stories, our beliefs, our way of living.  We tend to group ourselves according to these commonalities.  It doesn’t just happen to MKs and RJs.  It happens everywhere:  politics, religion, race, hobbies, life status, you name it. Just looking at groups on Facebook reminds me that this happens in spades.  If I look around me, I’m not sure it’s working great.  Yes.  It matters that we find others who are going through/have gone through what we have, share a similar story.  In fact, it’s important.  It creates a place of understanding, of being known, of safety, of belonging.   But again, it’s only partly true.  It isn’t the whole truth.  The WHOLE TRUTH is that excluding others because we feel excluded doesn’t ensure us true belonging.  The WHOLE TRUTH is that Jesus’ prayer that “we are one just as He and His Father are one” provides the love and belonging we all were designed to have and long for.  The WHOLE TRUTH is love and exclusion cannot coexist and that God invites us all into this great, inclusive love story.   We already belong!!

Screen Shot 2018-08-04 at 4.40.25 PM

I want to live out of that WHOLE TRUTH.  I want to live FROM a place of belonging, not FOR it.  I want to invite myself and others into this “one-circle world,” to unwrap the gift of each person God has for me to enjoy, no matter what their story, background, political affiliation, race, etc.  If I am honest, I’m not there yet.  My world is “two-circlish” right now.  I want that to change.  It might mean more work on my part.  But more work usually means more reward.  One way is that I would love to unwrap the gift that is you.  I would love to know your story.  Here’s one little step for me and you to take (this blog post is my part in it):

If you had to describe your life in #textspeak, what would it be?  Mine has now changed to PMKNRJ (Previous Missionary Kid, Now Regular Joe).  Let me know here in the comment section or out on social media.  Can’t wait to hear!

If you want to share your deeper story with me, please go to the contact page and send me an email.  Or “friend” me on Facebook.  I will count it as a very sacred privilege to get to know you.  Thank you.

**FOLLOW ME VIA EMAIL IF YOU NEVER WANT TO MISS ANOTHER POST**

Last thing:  if you are wondering where the pics are from up top, it’s from the Dr. Seuss book, “The Sneetches and Other Stories.”  Great read!

 

 

Posted in Celebration, Childhood, Faith, Third Culture Kid

The “You Better Watch Out”…God

“Aslan,” said Lucy, “you’re bigger.”
“That is because you are older, little one,” answered he.
“Not because you are?”
“I am not. But every year you grow, you will find me bigger.”
(Prince Caspian, Chapter 10)

I lay on my bunk bed at boarding school in Ethiopia.  My bunkmate stirs below me.  I wind my musical Raggedy Ann doll over and over, hoping to get some sleep.  Sleep does not come.  I rehash the day.  Thoughts swirl:  “I did a bunch of wrong things.  Maybe that’s why I can’t sleep.  I should confess my sins.  Hey God, I’m sorry for all the bad things I did today.  Please forgive me.”  Still no rest for my eyes and tired body.   I go into a bit of a panic.  “Maybe I didn’t mean it for real when I prayed the magic prayer asking God into my heart.  If I did mean it, I would not be so naughty.”  I whisper the same thing for the umpteenth time, “Please come into my heart.  I really mean it this time. I will be better tomorrow.”  Still nothing.  I lay there wide-awake.  My mind happily drifts to earlier in the evening, when my dorm mother read us another chapter in the story of Narnia and especially Aslan, a loving lion who makes everything good and right in a strange land, and seems to adore children and even play with them.  “I love Aslan.  I wish God was like Aslan.  Why can’t He be?”  As I finally drift off to sleep, resting in the comfort of the lion who loves children, I have a flicker of hope:  “Maybe He is.”

For decades, Santa has flooded the Christmas season.  A jolly man with a jolly heart.  A man who rewards good behavior with toys and naughty behavior with “a lump of coal.”  We all know of him.  Believe it or not, I had a friend who “prayed to Santa” all year and confessed her sins, much like I did with God as a young girl.  After all, how different are they?  “He (Santa) sees you when you’re sleeping.  He knows when you’re awake.  He knows if you’ve been bad or good, so be good for goodness sake.  YOU BETTER WATCH OUT…Santa Claus is coming to town.”  It is eerily similar to the Sunday School song from my childhood:  “Be careful little eyes what you see, for the Father up above is looking down below, so be careful little eyes what you see.”  Both of them are watching.  You better watch out.

More recently, Santa’s Elf (on the Shelf) has taken off as a new family tradition.  If you’re not familiar, this Elf (which comes in different sizes and even sexes in the form of a cheaply made elf doll that will set you back 30 bucks), is dispatched from the North Pole at the start of Advent.  He or she enters homes to keep a watchful eye on the children, ensuring good behavior during the rough parenting patch when kids are over-sugared and over-excited for Christmas.  His or her “job” is to make sure they belong on Santa’s “nice” list.   You better watch out!

I loved celebrating Santa with my children (we just dug out Rachel’s letter from the North Pole) and might currently have an Elf on the Shelf  if I still had littles.  But as you read above, and this is the point:  I believed in a “you better watch out” God very early and sadly, it continued well into adulthood.  God was no different than Santa or Elf on the Shelf.  He was up there watching my every good and bad behavior, ready to reward or “smite” me for each one, his main goal to get me to behave.  It’s not hard to figure out what my relationship with Him was like because of this.   I was filled with and acted out of fear and guilt.  I hid from Him, or at least (fruitlessly) tried to…who wouldn’t? I struggled to feel close, spending much energy and time on my external, visible behavior, hoping that it would be enough, trying to avoid that proverbial “lump of coal,” God’s disapproval of me.  My internal craving for love and belonging was completely sacrificed on the external “behavior management” altar.

Enter the stories of Narnia and a reunion with Aslan as the mom of four kids.  I found three-hour radio theater dramatic renditions absolutely a must-buy if you have kids) of these stories that I loved as a child.  I could kill two birds with one stone:  share this amazing lion with my own children and at the same time, keep them quiet on long car rides (keeping it real people).  As I came to reconnect with Aslan, I found even more so that he is wise, playful, generous, kind, mysterious, terrifying, magnificent, beautiful and unconditionally loving all at once.  He is the one who I longed for my whole life.  He is too good not to be true.

I had finally found the answer to that hopeful thought I had as a child.  God is not like Santa.  God is not like the Elf on the Shelf.  God is not ultimately concerned with “behavior management.”  God is like Aslan.  God is wise.  God is playful.  God is generous.  God is kind.  God is mysterious.  God is terrifying.  God is magnificent.  God is beautiful.  God unconditionally loves and He unconditionally loves me.  Period.  His agenda is a loving, intimate, close relationship with me.  He loves me because of who He is, not how I behave.  He actually can’t help Himself.  True, lasting change will come, but it will be born FROM of a place of love and acceptance, the inside out, not FOR love and acceptance, the outside in.

What relief!  What freedom!  Even as I write this, “you better watch out” is quieted again and my heart settles down with a big inner sigh.  A long deep breath of safety and belonging.  Yes.  Yes.  Yes.  This is what I long for.  This is a line I can get in, a lap I can climb up onto and take pictures of every day for a lifetime!  My flicker of hope so long ago, “Maybe He is,” is a burning light of hope that shouts, “YES.  YES HE IS.”

****************************************

P.S.  I have told people that, as a child, I loved Aslan more than I loved Jesus (see Ethiopia Tikdem post).  I found out that a concerned mother once wrote C. S. Lewis on behalf of her son, Laurence, who, having read The Chronicles of Narnia, became concerned that he loved Aslan more than Jesus. In his response, Lewis offered this relief:

“Laurence can’t really love Aslan more than Jesus, even if he feels that’s what he is doing. For the things he loves Aslan for doing or saying are simply the things Jesus really did and said. So that when Laurence thinks he is loving Aslan, he is really loving Jesus: and perhaps loving Him more than he ever did before.”

Posted in Childhood, Faith, Third Culture Kid

Ethiopia Tikdem!

“Narnia taught me we must all grow up and leave our childhood behind, but must never forget it.”  (Some place on Pinterest)

In my young years, I heard this shouted and chanted: “Ethiopia Tikdem!  Ethiopia Tikdem!  “Ethiopia First!  Ethiopia First!”  Sitting at one of my favorite Ethiopian restaurants not too long ago, it came to mind as I ate injera ba wat and savored every bite.

The year is 1966, the month is February and a little girl is born. Not in a hospital, but in a back-woods clinic in a tiny town called Deder, Ethiopia. I, Esther Joy Maret, was born the fourth child of missionary parents who wanted to serve God.  Having three older brothers, I was the answer to my mother’s prayer for a girl.  Much to say, I did not have your typical American childhood (I guess that has to be left to author Annie Dillard and many of you to describe).  Here is a peak at my Ethiopian childhood…

  • I had a Somali nanny who didn’t speak much English during my preschool years (see picture above).
  • I went to a local French kindergarten because I was wide-eyed, early reader at four years old.
  • I was in boarding school at just five.
  • We memorized Bible verses each morning at 6:45 am. Our end-of-the-year prize was going to the airport for a luncheon if we memorized all of the verses.
  • I knew “O Canada,” “God Save the Queen” and the “Pledge of Allegiance” because our school was filled with people from all different countries.
  • We learned the local language of Amharic.
  • I saw my brothers in passing as they were much older.  I never saw my oldest brother because he was away in Kenya for his boarding school.  We spent vacations and holidays together.
  • I played outside unsupervised after school with my dorm mates (it was like being a college student when you were seven).
  • We had field day, sporting events, Halloween parades, chapel, piano lessons, school plays and homework. Sometimes, parents showed up to these.
  • I stood in endless lines waiting for vaccinations. Gamma Globulin was the worst. It was hard to sit for a week.
  • We listened to the Chronicles of Narnia being read by our dorm mother each night after we were fed and washed up.  (And here’s a little secret: I loved Aslan, the kind, loving and gracious lion in the stories more than I loved Jesus. He seemed like the kind of Savior and friend that I wanted and so desperately needed, very different from the one I had learned about or conjured up in my head, the angry one who might just send me to hell if I didn’t behave or believe the right thing.  I still love Aslan.)
  • I saw my parents on random weekends and vacations or if I was sick (which was super fun because I got to listen to The Wizard of Oz on reel-to-reel and drink tea).
  • I lived in guarded and walled compounds when with my parents, being frequently robbed for our clothes and plastic, even our Kerplunk game.  (We got a kick out of that because when the thief got home, he or she would find that the plastic was filled with holes and useless for whatever his purposes were.)  So much for the guard and the wall.

A communist coup came in 1974 that brought the death of King Haile Selassie, many of his children and grandchildren.  War ensued.  There were communist marches and guns fired in the streets.  Famine came.  After two long years of brewing hatred for foreigners, my parents decided that they would leave all their belongings behind and take their four children back to the United States.  Not your typical childhood.

But like each and every one of our childhoods, even though mine was a little “out-of-the-box,”  it was filled with good and bad, scary and peaceful, happy and sad, ups and downs, boring and interesting.  These are the things that make our childhoods sacred and unique and help to form us into who we are today, the beautiful and broken and complicated and messy and wonderful us.  And probably like many of you, I wouldn’t trade mine for the world.

Would love to hear what things made your childhood typical or completely unique?  Is any childhood typical?  Who are you because of yours?

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