Repatriate With Resolve

FamilyRepatriation. Not a neutral word. It illicits a response. Eyebrows raised in curiosity. Bristled hairs on the back of the neck in panic. Hands over ears in avoidance.

Quotes from expatriates who have been there and done that:
“Coming home was more difficult than going abroad because you expect that you know what it’s like. I felt like an alien in my own country. I had changed. Friends weren’t interested in our experiences. Emotionally I was fragile. I felt like I had Alzheimer’s because I couldn’t remember things. I kept thinking ‘this can’t be me’.” Accompanying spouse from 3 year assignment in Malaysia to USA

“I felt a sense of loss when we returned to the UK. I miss the mixing with different nationalities. I was no longer a part of a small community where everyone looks out for each other. The kids went through a messy time and I wondered if I’d ever get my life back!” Expatriate wife and mom

“I stayed with the same company, but lost benefits. They gave me less responsibility at a lower management level and didn’t recognize or seem to appreciate the tremendous experience I had as a senior manager or the skills and expertise I had gained. I felt demoralized.” Employed partner transferring back to Canada from China

When we returned from Cambodia to Canada, I’d stare blankly at the aisles of choice in the grocery store and go home empty handed and overwhelmed. Decision making was hard. Worry consumed me – Would the kids be safe? Would they do well in school and make friends? Would I find a job? We longed to share our experiences with others, but found within minutes their eyes would glaze over. As a family we called it ‘lizard eyes’ and at the dinner table would ask, ‘how many lizard eye looks did you get today?’! Deeper than that was the tendency to judge, the emotional rollercoaster ride, and the sense of ‘misfit’ that seemed would never end. [Read more…]

What the New Year Needs Most: Reflection and Invitation

I sit alone this morning, a cup of tea in hand, looking out the window. Snow blankets the ground. Tree branches are bare in the cold. Winter stillness. The neighborhood is unusually quiet, after all night New Year’s parties. It’s my time to reflect.

I’m not always good at reflection. My mind scatters… taking rabbit trails into the experiences and feelings of this past year. Part of remembering is retracing hard times. This is ok because remembering means going through the entire year. And each year brings its challenges. Yet these memories can come with guilt or regret. I can ruminate and get stuck. This isn’t what New Year reflection is about, because it’s not healthy.

Reflection is looking backwards and noticing without judgement and with openness.

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4 “R’s” For September Settling (aka Getting a Grip)

The carefree days of summer are gone – sipping iced tea on the deck, putzing around the garden, riding bikes to the farmers market and savouring late night conversations around the mesmerizing fire. I already miss summers’ sights and sounds – children’s laughter in back yards, birds chirping while flitting amongst the tree branches, and the feeling of sun-kissed warmth on my upturned face.

On my walk this morning, I breathed in crisp air, my cooled lungs reminding me that the season is changing. A squawk overhead called me to look up and marvel at the perfect “V” shape of Canadian geese, flying in formation to warmer climates.

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Tribute to Mom

With Mother’s Day on the weekend for the majority of countries around the world, I pay tribute to my mother, who modeled for me living resilience with joy as an expat and ministry partner. She passed 7 years ago May 5th. There are times I sense she’ll just show up. Occasionally still, my chest constricts and tears come with her loss, especially when life’s hard. There’s nothing like mom when the going gets tough.

Mom’s Early Years

The 6th of 13 kids, mom was raised in a Mennonite farming family in Saskatchewan, Canada. She really did walk 5 km. to and from school! As a young girl she was feisty. When she started school, she only knew ‘yes’ and ‘no’ in English. She chose ‘no’ to answer all questions and wasn’t at all popular with the teacher. She loved learning and had a mischievous twinkle in her eye that always said she was up to something.

Mom lived as an expat missionary in 3 different countries over a span of more than 20 years. In 1949 she began her expat life in China, after a long boat trip across the Pacific. Not the cruise ships we enjoy today. Fleeing after only 6 months because of the communist insurgence, she moved to Hong Kong, continued with language study and served a city of people living on boats.

As if that wasn’t quite enough change in 5 years, she chose to work for another mission agency, which meant candidate school (so it was called then). There she met my father, an eligible bachelor. Both were assigned to Malaysia. The mission’s policy for outgoing staff was once engaged, wait 2 years for marriage. Determination and commitment followed and they were married in a little village church, far from their family. Four of her five babies were born in Malaysia.

Mom raised us through many relocations and 2 repatriations, between the countries of Malaysia, Hong Kong and Canada.  [Read more…]

Soul Retreat: Living From Your Truth

I had a stunning view of the Rocky Mountains in front of me and the river meandering along a stony bed below, sitting in a Muskoka chair high on the ridge. The sun gave the large popcorn-shaped clouds above me a bronze ruffled-edged glow. The mountains were snow peaked, rugged and immovable.

This was my reality last weekend, out with some girlfriends away from Calgary to find soul rest. We were at Kingfold Retreat Centre. Time tends to consume me with its responsibilities and demands, pressures and challenges, moving me along the river of life at a frantic and tumbling, turbulent pace. I find I’m weary and longing for rest. Spiritual and soul renewal. I have learnt to take time; to swim, often it seems, upstream, to the river’s edge. This is where the water is less frantic, cool and calm. An ebb of peace and quiet. At first it feels foreign – lots of ‘what if’s’ and some fear that I won’t come away with what I expect. In the end, it’s what I need.

The quality of our outer life is always dependent on the quality of care we give to our soul.

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Spring Awakening ~ Highlights From the FIGT 2014 Conference

My anticipation grew as the plane took off from Denver, headed to Washington Dulles airport. An early morning flight had brought me from Calgary, one on which I dozed off, trying desperately to keep my head from falling onto the unknown shoulder next to me.

Families in Global Transition Conference 2014 was about to begin. My 5th time attending and 4th time having the honour of presenting – excitement brewed within. Memories of FIGT’s past flashed across the billboard of my mind: unknown feelings at the 1st conference, quickly replaced with a sense of “at home” – an unusual feeling for an ATCK (Adult Third Culture Kid). As a professional, I have gained new learning and tools to add to my tool kit. Networking is always a favourite part of FIGT. Their move from Houston to Washington – an “I-fit-here” sense with each conferences I attended. A place where understanding, respect and open-mindedness were mutually shared through presentations and amongst relationships. A bond created from both the excitement as well as the pain of international living.

What would make FIGT 2014 unique? It didn’t take long to find out. I hadn’t stepped both feet into the lobby, when I heard my name, and there was a friend. Someone I had met at a previous FIGT. Others that were on-line acquaintances. Many this year were new to the FIGT community, which added vibrancy. It felt like a family reunion – the kind where you’re enveloped in hugs, accepted for who you are, and challenged through questions and thought provoking conversations. [Read more…]

Renewal – A Different Way to Look at Transition

Change happens so frequently in our lives that one isn’t complete before another bombards us. This puts us into “transition”- coming to grips emotionally and spiritually with the change itself.

We experience continual mini-transitions daily – coping with interruptions and adjustments to our schedule and to relationships. If it isn’t too major, life gets back to equilibrium quickly. There may be a sense of stress, impatience or overwhelm, but we recalibrate and move on.

If it’s a positive change, we still feel a transition, but because there’s positive emotions, we get on with the adjustment easily and without too much challenge.

However, if it’s a major change, or several changes happening at once, it can become a full blown life transition, and we feel it greatly – grief from losses, ambiguity from chaos and an emotional rollercoaster ride (check here)[Read more…]

Surviving Winter – 5 Dimensions of Resilience

It’s been a cold, unrelenting winter here in Calgary. As I write, the temperature is a frigid -27 ‘C, with wind chills at -39’C. For American readers, that’s -38.2 Fahrenheit! My son walked 10 minutes home from a friends’ place. He had multiple layers of thick winter clothing – for a Canadian teen, highly unusual and unnatural! Usually it’s an open winter jacket no matter the cold! He looked like an overstuffed Easter egg! Upon his return, ice crystals lined his eye lashes and brows.

The interesting thing about Calgary is its Chinooks – warm air, coming from the ocean over the Rockies, can see rises in Iciclestemperature within hours of 15-20 degrees. We enjoy a yo-yo of weather consistently through the winter (a killer for migraine sufferers). Surprisingly, my perennials return each spring, able to bear these extreme fluctuations. As a gardener, I’ve learnt the stronger they become during the summer months – with deep roots and sturdy stems, the greater their chance of winter survival.

And that makes me wonder, what is it about us as expatriates (who have regular doses of transition – often more than we anticipate or desire), that allows us to thrive the winter weather of our souls? Those times when we feel the extreme challenge of life and wonder if we’ll suffocate… or survive?

Last blog we looked at 6 Keys To Understanding Resilience and found that there’s no resilience without challenge. Neither is there a scientific formula – each of us has different ingredients for resiliency. Today we look at…

5 DIMENSIONS OF RESILIENCE [Read more…]

6 Keys to Understanding Resilience

Resilience is the ability to withstand and rebound from crisis and overcome life’s challenges, strengthened and more resourceful. Froma Walsh

purple iris

What transition or trying time are you experiencing? Where you wonder if you can make it through? Life includes hardships – short and long seasons that take us deep into thick jungle valleys, far from the spacious delight of mountain tops.

Excerpts from my journal these past months read:

woman holding her head with one hand“I am bone weary. Shoulders sag, heart is heavy.”

“I feel like giving up… walking away… checking out of life for a while.”

“One crisis dissipates and another replaces it. Let me catch my breath- I haven’t recovered from the last one yet.”

“At night, my mind ruminates a stew of thoughts, unable to sleep. I cry out. Where is God? Has He walked away, given up as well?” [Read more…]

Navigating Uncharted Territory

I started well, leaning into the uncharted territory of 2014. Spending a week at a get-away in Radium, British Columbia I pondered, prayed and penned my intentions. Two words came for this year and they brought hope and excitement: POSSIBILITY and SAVOUR!

Now, I gaze toward the window. My focus is blurred and unseeing. I feel shaky. What will today hold? I am hesitant and uncertain. Hope wavers. I stare at the blank page before me. Time to write this blog, yet my mind is empty – crazy when usually there’s many thoughts intersecting. Never stopping. Keeping me awake at night.

What happened between paragraph one and two? A call came from the high school principal “Please come in, Mrs. Matchullis. There has been an incident.” We’re in the midst of navigating unknown territory again … this time it felt like it came out of nowhere – like stepping on a landmine (figure of speech and somewhat dramatic, somewhat not)!

Helping HandUnknown territory. It’s rigorous, because it’s uncharted. Not yet investigated or mapped out. Investigation takes risk and focus. There’s rugged mountains to climb and valleys to survey. Forests are so dense, it may take months to find a way out. There are rivers to forge. Climate can be severe and relentless. Mapping takes experimentation and perseverance. It takes time and energy to rightly mark observations and learnings. Such a metaphor for expatriate life.

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