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…]

COMPLETING 2013 and CREATING 2014 as a COUPLE, Guaranteeing a Better Expat Marriage

One sure way to make 2014 a successful year as a couple is to take time to connect around what went well last year and what you’d like to see happen this year.

3 Steps to A Better Relationship in 2014

[Read more…]

5 Ways To Nurture Your Spirit This Holiday Season

Out of nowhere, a sudden and deep longing… a kind of emptiness appeared.

December is a time of anticipation – lots of preparations for the holidays. Whether you believe in the Christ of Christmas or not, there’s cultural, religious and family traditions and celebrations to get ready for.

Kuwait ChristmasLast week I was getting that last present for my husband. With cheerful Christmas music playing on the radio, I was in high spirits, feeling great about the pace of my preparations so far: baking (accomplished with my adult daughters) was neatly stored in plastic containers, now daily disappearing from the freezer! That’s what happens when baked too early, with a teen and husband! Ok, I’m sneaking them too! Since our years in Cambodia, malls and shopping in Canada overwhelm me, so I purchase and wrap gifts early. Our tree is hung and decorations being enjoyed. We’ve given time to new immigrant families and packed Shoe Boxes for Operation Christmas Child. Yup, I felt prepared and ready! Then the Christmas carol “Joy to the World” started playing. I gustily sang along:

Joy to the world! The Lord is come
Let earth receive her King!
Let every heart prepare Him room
And heaven and nature sing
And heaven, and heaven and nature sing

Out of nowhere, a sudden and deep longing… a kind of emptiness appeared. A feeling that there is something more, coming from the depth of my heart. And suddenly it was made clear: preparing for the holidays is really preparing my heart! [Read more…]

Living Gratitude: An Ingredient of Resilience for Every Expatriate Family (Part 4)

I don’t know about you, but sometimes I got discouraged, teaching my kids gratitude. Why weren’t they more grateful? Did I miss something along the way? Maybe they got given too much? Had too much? Maybe not enough of this or that? Was I not modeling appreciation and gratitude like I could have?

Looking back, I saw lots of hope:

• Doin’ It Right (1st born son) was the kid who gave his shirt to a homeless Cambodian boy at age 10.
Missionary Picture• Princess (oldest daughter) wrapped her most treasured Etch a Sketch as a present for her Indonesian friend (even though I asked “are you sure?” until she finally screamed “yes and I’m not going to say it again!”). She always had the most polite “thank you”.
• La Di Da Girl (2nd daughter) was so creative, sending drawings and notes of appreciation frequently. She never saved allowance because she was forever buying gifts for others.
• And Munchie Crunchy Bar had the most endearing “please” and “thanks” – around his little finger, he had us wrapped! He loved helping, and would often say “I like it when you…” and could finish the sentence with more ideas than I could imagine.

Then came the teen years and I wondered what alien had overtaken their persona and character! Years of little behavioural or voiced gratitude. Now that 3 of 4 are grown, we’re reaping the benefits of trying to teach well. Don’t get me wrong – we failed many times. We forgot at others. We weren’t consistent and didn’t model like we could have. Yet children grow up… most often, in spite of us! Thank God! How grateful we are to have raised kids who are now adults, who live gratitude. You can too… [Read more…]

Living Gratitude: An Ingredient of Resilience for Every Expatriate Family (Part 3)

Couple relationships are richer when we express our gratitude to and for each other. Research done by Robert Emmons, Couple walking hand in hand(READ HERE), took three groups of volunteers and randomly assigned them to focus on different things each week over many months. The first group focused on everything that went wrong, like “This place is so irritating, I couldn’t get done half of my to-do list because it took 5 times longer than what I’m used to”. The second looked for situations they felt enhanced their lives, like “even though I didn’t get too far today, I’m so thankful I was able to get us hooked up with cell phones”. The third just recalled daily events, such as “I went to three different places, trying to find cell phones and it took all day.” The results: those who were grateful enjoyed a higher quality of life and a deeper connection with their partners. According to a study recently published in “The Journal of Personality and Social Psychology,” by Dr. Amie Gordon, couples who express gratitude reported being more committed and saw an improvement in their sex lives. Now that’s always a wonderful bonus!

Why is it so hard for us to practice an attitude of gratitude, especially in our marriages? One reason may be that scientists have found that the brain has a negativity bias, written about in Sticks and Stones and Broken Marriage Bones. We tend to have Velcro for negative experiences, but Teflon for positive ones – we dismiss the positive aspects of our marriages while vividly remembering the negative ones. That means we need intentionality when it comes to gratitude.

How can you count your blessings as a couple? [Read more…]

5 Emotional Love Languages For Expat Partners

No one knows as well as an expat what it’s like to try communicate without speaking the language of the host country. Gestures, nods and smiles only go so far. Feelings of confusion, frustration, misunderstanding and anger are felt when communication is blocked.

The same emotions can be felt within expat marriages when we can’t convey our love as we’d like. Dr. Gary Chapman, a marriage and family psychologist, in his book “The Five Languages of Love”, states that people speak different love languages. Your emotional love language and the language of your spouse may be as different as Cantonese and English. Once you know what love language your partner understands, you can learn to speak their language, connecting you deeply.

The 5 Emotional Languages of Love [Read more…]