‘It always seems impossible until it’s done’ ~ Nelson Mandela
The practice of peace among mankind seems impossible – until it is done.
Creating a level playing field for men, women and children everywhere seems impossible – until it is done.
Caring for those creatures that share our home seems impossible – until it is done.
Turning around the effects of our destructive use of this planet seems impossible – until it is done.
What cause does your heart burn for today?
RIP Nelson Mandela (1918 – 2013)
I think this article by Joel Hollier titled “I’m a Christian and my house just burned down” is a must-read for every Christian trying to work through the seemingly random occurrences of suffering.
He says “Those of us who have lost all of our physical possessions- whether they be cameras or photos, are now left with a gaping identity crisis as the facade of security is wiped away from our eyes and we realise that what we so often thought of as permanent was nothing more than a smoke screen.”
As someone who, like many others, has experienced recurring loss of homes, personal possessions, relationships and loved ones through the accumulated effects of successive moves and war, I realise that Joel and I are really on the same journey. And we come to the same conclusions.
That’s just a teaser, you will have to read the actual article (given here again), to find out what those conclusions are.
The suffering, in the last few weeks, of those who have fought and lost the battle for homes in the Blue Mountains of New South Wales, Australia, is heart-breaking.
“Girls should be modest and soft-spoken.”
“Women make bad leaders.”
“If a girl is too domineering, no man will want to marry her.”
If you are from a very Western upbringing, such statements would probably shock you.
However they are what I grew up with, in a culture where strong views of gender roles held sway, where shame was a big issue, and saving face for one’s parents, family and community was of paramount importance.
I was brought up to believe that it was bad form to be an assertive, ambitious, leader-like woman who spoke her mind. People spoke respectfully, yet in slightly derogatory terms, of strong women leaders like Margaret Thatcher. It was okay to be aggressive or domineering if one was a man – because you were then going to go places and do things. But a woman…?
For many years (and fueled by what I now realise is unbiblical teaching on the roles of male and female), I believed that women who were in high positions of leadership, who were assertive, driven, and who spoke their minds, were aberrations to God’s perfect plan for humankind. That is, the existence of such women was yet another example of the fallen, sinful nature of this world. One friend, who strongly opposes (to this day) the idea of women in leadership, said that women leaders existed as a concession – because there weren’t enough men stepping up to take their rightful roles as leaders.
Did I mention that this doesn’t just happen in the East, or in conservative Western Christian circles only? In the secular Western world, such sentiments still prevail, though perhaps more subtly. “She’s got him firmly under her thumb”, or “She wears the pants in the house.”
Personally, I don’t believe aggression and domineering are healthy qualities in either a man or a woman. If we wrote a list of why, we can start with the fact that both put a stop to open and honest communication, both are used to control people, and… then the list is endless. We have all read of countless dictators who were strong leaders gone wrong.
The point in this post though is that, to this day, society tends to have opinions on what a man can be and what a woman can be. Though that is, thankfully, changing.
You’ve probably guessed by now that I am one of those bossy, assertive women. And you can probably also guess that I had a tempestuous upbringing.
As a child, my strong-willed personality clashed almost continually with the other strong-willed assertive personality in the house, which was my father’s. All my relatives (who are mostly women) to this day attribute my strong personality to his influence. They seem to believe that, left to myself or a different father, I would never have turned out the way I am. I recall plenty of criticism, advice, and encouragement to overcome those assertive out-spoken personality traits. My family, and so I, treated these traits in me as if they were handicaps.
I learned to try to hide these traits from others around me. I tried to suppress my outspokenness, my urge to take over and rule the roost. But it would sometimes feel like trying to plug holes in a dam with a powerful river surging right on the other side. I would inevitably feel the injustice of something, and speak up strongly – and as I was not encouraged to do so, it would often come out inappropriately. Or my strong urge to take over would assert itself in the absence of what I perceived as a lack of leadership. And as I did not have practice, I would lead inappropriately, often in a way, my family said, that was disrespectful of those around me.
I am now in my thirties.
A little while ago I picked up Florence Littauer’s book “Personality Plus”, and found it insightful. Florence’s book is based around the basic Four Temperaments’, which is a theory of psychology that in turn is based on an ancient concept of classifying different personality types.
I know there are strong critics of this method of classifying – but though I understand what the critics are getting at, Personality Plus has been revolutionary in helping me understand that a lot of my temperament (which turns out to be Choleric-Melancholic) may actually be God-given, that I may actually be meant to be the person that I am.
It blows me away even to write it at this relatively late date! I have got so used to trying to be someone that I am not, and wallowing in guilt when I couldn’t be this non-existent person.
Another book that has recently helped me is Don & Katie Fortune’s “Motivational Gifts”. I have worked out that I definitely have up-front, speaking gifts. I don’t shy away from public-speaking in and of myself. Though the voices from my past do war with my desire to jump up and say something.
According to ‘Motivational Gifts’, I come out as primarily an Exhorter. Another ‘wow!’ moment – I felt amazingly freed to know that God actually made me to have words tumbling around inside my head, waiting to burst out.
It is going to be a long journey, retraining myself to fit back in my skin. I am enjoying knowing that my assertiveness, my ability to speak to most situations, my urge to organise and call out tasks to a team, are all a part of who God has made me.
I am enjoying knowing (whenever the truth sinks in) that I am not a freak or an accident of nature. I don’t have to feel guilty when I speak up in a situation. I do not have to beat myself up for being assertive.
It doesn’t lessen my responsibility to those around me. If anything, I have a better picture of what it looks like when we all, men and women, with our own individual characteristics, work together, each doing something significant, like the cogs in a wheel. When I lead, when I speak out, when I organise, I can now respect, honour, and be more appreciative of those around me with their own unique temperaments, opinions and gifts.
It is the beauty of God’s grand design after all, that He made each one of us different – for a reason.
I remember a time when I was strongly attracted to a man who appeared attracted to me at first, but was forever looking for the ideal woman. The world around him told him that he could do better. I don’t know if he ever found his ideal – but at the time, it made me feel rather small.
The challenge for me, as a woman living in a world increasingly obsessed with image, performance, and perfection in both those areas, is – where do I get my self-worth from?
It’s alright if – when – I meet the current fashionable standard for perfection in image or performance. But, honestly, those times, if they exist, are fleeting. I am more likely to feel deeply conflicted by all the different expectations I try to live up to – all at once.
There are three options. I could scoff at those expectations around me, and subscribe to lower standards to make myself feel better. I could keep trying to attain perfection – a rather desperate endeavour for me, but this is the option that I tend to choose – I am, after all, an approval addict. Or I could take a long hard look at where I get my sense of self-worth from.
In a world full of conflicting expectations, I believe that God’s expectations of us are the very best.
All He expects us to do is run into His arms, nestle, and lift our gaze trustingly to His.
Before tonight, I didn’t know what the musical Miss Saigon was about. Rather poor for someone who loves musicals.
Having recently enjoyed a concert by Lea Salonga, the original Kim from Miss Saigon, I was curious – and read up on the musical on Wikipedia.
The result? My husband walked into the room to find me in tears.
Having come from a place where conflict and poverty is a reality, and people covet any entrée into peaceful countries like the U.K and the U.S.A – and moreover being a mother myself – the story of Kim and her son Tam hit me in the gut.
Explaining why I was so deeply moved to my husband while within earshot of our children was a challenge, requiring a lot of coding. We generally welcome our kids’ active participation in conversations at home, but of course this wasn’t appropriate – the themes in Miss Saigon are almost without exception adult.
Thankfully, the conversation turned to the need to care for children who are struggling with poverty.
Something our kids could relate to, and enthusiastically talked about. Excellent – I had been wondering recently how to inspire our kids to actively think about this.
We spent several precious minutes talking about what we could do, in our own ways, to help.
My kids were all for giving out food, toys and money. Which in turn led to some thinking about what would happen when those commodities ran out – and maybe we weren’t around, or weren’t able, to send more of the same.
Which in turn led to a conversation about giving that supports sustainability and self-sufficiency.
From Miss Saigon to sustainability.
Sometimes it’s about letting conversation happen.
Wow – I finally dropped back in to check this blog, and found a load of lovely comments! It’s great to know that people have been visiting even though I haven’t been
It has been less than a year since my last blog update, but so much has changed that I feel light-years away from that time. I will – hopefully – write about some of these changes over the coming months.
The changes were radical enough to necessitate a temporary but almost all-encompassing reduction of all the extras which were crowding our lives. It has only been recently that we have been able to come up for air (so to speak).
This has brought into sharp focus some of the attitudes and mindsets that have weighed us (and especially me) down through the years.
One of those is that I am, essentially, an approval addict. “WHAT WOULD PEOPLE THINK?” drives 90% of my decision-making.
To illustrate. This week, we started planning our son’s birthday party. I had been putting off planning it for ages. I love my kids to bits, but feel seriously stressed out organising their birthday parties.
I obsess over:
- who to invite (would they want to be invited? would they feel offended if we did not invite them?),
- where to have it (if it’s at home, I would feel totally embarrassed by the mess, if it’s somewhere else, it has to be not too pretentious so people don’t think I’m stuck up, and it has to be somewhere that will take the number of kids my son wants to invite – he doesn’t want ten kids, and most places demand at least ten kids, which again goes back to the question of who to invite. Worst case, I can do what I did one year, and PAY for ten kids, regardless of how many I invite – which would blow our much-needed cash – besides making me look totally pretentious again)
- what food to provide (not too bad an issue until the last couple of days before the party), and
- what party-favours to organise (they need to be nice enough but not too nice to be pretentious).
My stomach’s churning, my heart’s pumping, and I just want to crawl into bed and wake up after the party is over.
Occasions like these freak me out – and consequently cause stress to the rest of the family – for many weeks ahead of time. This is crazy, as I actually love having people over – except that I feel intimidated by them, and have a deep, almost immovable need to gain their approval. Go figure. Almost like a love-hate relationship.
There are many other reasons why I know that I am an approval addict. That’s for another post.
I am unsure about the precise roots of this in my life. My being a Third Culture Kid may be a contributing factor, though interestingly others in my family who are not TCKs also appear to exhibit the same symptoms of approval addiction. I know that it is bound up in my TCK’edness in that when I move into any new cultural context, I work very hard at gaining the approval of those already in that context – generally by trying to emulate them as much as possible.
This often leaves me wondering who the real me is.
My deep desire is that I get to know God and His view of me to such an extent that my need for the approval of others simply fades into insignificance.
originally written 14th July 2010
I am a musician.
Did you know that?
I didn’t. Well, not always.
I thought I was a counterfeit one. A pretender. A person who could act and sound like a muso, but wasn’t really one.
Strange how the search for self has permeated something as trivial – or as important – as that.
Surely it’s simple.
Dan, meet Dave. Dave plays the guitar. He sings. He gets excited listening to other guitarists, and spends hours copying their riffs.
Dan, would you call Dave a musician?
I think Dan would be losing the plot if he said Dave wasn’t.
Of course, there are hierarchies of musicians – just as in any other field.
There are those who are just starting out. Or are always just starting out.
Then there are those who can only ever play from some kind of written music.
Then there are those who can play from chords, casually classed as ‘improvisers’. I fall into that category. Stick a chord sheet and a singer in front of me, and I’m set.
Then there are those who can wing it. They are the ones who play or sing ‘by ear’. When they play, we wonder why anyone bothered to invent music stands. This is the rarefied stratosphere to which I aspire. While I can sing by ear, I have only occasionally joined those ranks in my playing. Something holds me back – probably the fact that my ear is not reliable. Five times in ten, I will pick the wrong chord.
Then there are The Song Writers.
As you can see from my hierarchy, songwriters are considered it and a bit – by me.
And someone else would have a different pecking order. Perhaps that pop or rock musicians are just not any good. Perhaps not even jazzsters. Only the classical variety get anywhere near the top of the tree.
I digress. But not very far.
I was spun into another morass of self-doubt (yes, I love cliches!) recently by a comment from a highly accomplished muso, passed on second-hand to me, that people who need sheet music to play from aren’t real musicians.
So… back and forth I went. am I a musician?
I don’t think there is anything in my life that has been as much a part of it for the whole of it, as music has. To say the same thing clearly, music is so intertwined into my life, that to separate me and it would be impossible.
I find it interesting that I think of myself as a counterfeit musician – not the real deal. I also suspect most people who know me think of me as a real musician – I play with passion and sensitivity, and I know my music. Why the contradiction?
I have finally splashed out, and got ourselves (or should I say ‘myself’?) a Kindle.
It has taken us some years to get to this point. First, there was the financial side to consider, and then we had to process the whole pseudo-ethical arguments for and against traditional books.
Then there was the other important question: what would the Kindle actually serve? Jane Austen’s work was always going to be available – after all the Kindle isn’t going to thumb its nose at public-domain (i.e free), popular (read ‘extremely popular’) fiction. But finding that the works of Georgette Heyer are mostly all available too, tilted the scales – for me, anyway. Now the deed has been done.
Since placing the order, I’ve been eagerly tracking the progress of my our Kindle to us.
Only two days to get from the U.S.A to Australia. Wonder how long it’ll take from Australia to… Australia.
I wrote the pseudo-poem in blue below during a particularly dark mood. I think the darkness brought to surface questions that go on deep inside me about who I am. In that moment, I decided that I wouldn’t make my children TCKs (how long that decision will last, time only will tell )
This constant questioning about myself has great positive side effects – I get along with people particularly well, because I am able to put myself aside. I can get along with people that have been labelled ‘difficult’ by others.
But it has serious down-sides – at least, I think they are serious. Because I don’t know if I am being used, or being the ‘user’. At home, I don’t know if I’m doing my fair share of the dishes. Career-wise, I don’t know if I am earning less than others who have similar abilities to me – am I belittling my skills, or making too much of them? Also, in most conflict with other people, I find it very easy to blame myself.
I’ve titled it The Problem That Is Oneself, and wonder if it is a particularly TCK trait or not. Perhaps it isn’t even a TCK trait, but simply something that I am.
Perhaps the problem is that I don’t question myself enough… Perhaps I’m seriously blinkered, and don’t see how much my self intrudes.
There! See? That’s the questioning in action.
I can’t do this to my kids.
I refuse to pass on to them this particular TCK legacy.
Forever looking on from the outside. Judging, evaluating oneself.
The constant wondering if one is okay.
Continually questioning if one is taking too much air-time.
Never knowing if one should simply remove said self. Spare others the annoyance, the problem, or the downright pain of having to put up with whoever one is.
Why should my children have to spend the rest of their lives wondering if they are a problem?