You Don’t Have It All Together . . . but Neither Do They

June 16, 2017 § Leave a comment

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Episode four of CNN’s Mostly Human is about tech-company entrepreneurs, but when I watched it, I couldn’t help but think about another kind of entrepreneur—cross-cultural workers. Both invest themselves in often risky start ups that can put pressure on their financial and emotional well-being. Both feel the need to live up to the expectations of stakeholders.

Jerry Colonna is a venture capitalist turned certified professional coach. He works in Manhattan’s Silicon Alley, and he knows firsthand the prevalence of depression in the tech world and sees daily the mental-health toll that the start-up culture takes on its CEOs. In Mostly Human‘s “Silicon Valley’s Secret,” he talks about the disconnect between public success and private struggles, saying emphatically,

Nobody’s crushing it. Nobody is crushing it. Nobody is killing it. Nobody has it all figured out.

I have authority to say that because I’m honest with myself. It would be a mistake to think, Oh these poor little rich kids. Nothing that we have talked about is unique to the technology industry, but because the lens happens to be particularly sharp and clear right now. . . . It’s that the tech industry and the startup community in general brings to the surface forces that are at play in every aspect of our society. The human condition includes broken heartedness. The myth is that it doesn’t.

Author Anne Lamott sees the reality behind the myth, as well. She recently recorded a TED Talk with the title “12 Truths I Learned from Life and Writing.” Her truth #4 is this:

Everyone is screwed up, broken, clingy and scared, even the people who seem to have it most together. They are much more like you than you would believe, so try not to compare your insides to other people’s outsides. It will only make you worse than you already are.

Also, you can’t save, fix or rescue any of them or get anyone sober. What helped me get clean and sober 30 years ago was the catastrophe of my behavior and thinking. So I asked some sober friends for help, and I turned to a higher power. One acronym for God is the “gift of desperation,” G-O-D, or as a sober friend put it, by the end I was deteriorating faster than I could lower my standards.

And author and pastor Kyle Idleman writes that each week he gets to sit down with newcomers to his church and listen to their stories. “Typically,” he says, “we have two separate kinds of people in that room.”

There are some who have been around the church and God for a while. They know the rules. They know what to say and how to say it. They know what words to include and what parts of their stories to leave out. They’ve learned to wear a mask.

Then there are those who are new to Christ and the church. They haven’t learned the rules. And when they tell their story they will include a family that fell apart. It’s not uncommon for their stories to begin “I’ve been sober for . . . ” and sometimes it’s been years. Sometimes it’s been days. They don’t know any better. I’ve heard ex-cons talk about their crime. I’ve heard men of every age talk about pornography and women tell about credit card debt. Parents will talk about how much they are struggling with their kids. Kids will talk about how they’ve been lying to their parents and going behind their backs. They’ll tell about eating disorders, gambling problems, suicide attempts, and drug addictions. They just don’t know any better. And I hope nobody tells them that they’re supposed to act like they’ve got it all together. You don’t often get to see people without a mask. And it’s such a beautiful thing.

(“Silicon Valley’s Secret,” Mostly Human, Episode 4, CNN; Anne Lamotte, “12 Truths I Learned from Life and Writing,” TED, April 2017; Kyle Idleman, Not a Fan: Becoming a Completely Committed Follower of Jesus, Zondervan, 2011)

[photo: “Broken Strings,” by Teunie van Hernen, used under a Creative Commons license]

Lost in Mistranslation: It’s Always Darkest before. . . When?

June 4, 2017 § 2 Comments

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Political commentator Bill Kristol, speaking earlier this year at a Harvard forum titled “The Future of News: Journalism in a Post-Truth Era,” had some good things and some bad things to say about the state of modern media. For the most part, he said, he’s optimistic; but he understands the need for caution, closing his talk with the following:

I ran into John McCain this morning, actually, at National Airport—he was coming in from somewhere, I was flying out. I asked him how things were going, and he responded with one of his favorite quotations. I think it’s a fake quotation, actually—he really said it to me, but I think his description of it is fake. He said, “As Chairman Mao always liked to say, ‘It’s always darkest before it turns pitch black.’”

I’ll cast my lot with Kristol: I think McCain is misquoting Mao Tse-tung. And McCain probably knows it, too, but that hasn’t stopped the senator from Arizona from making it one of his go-to lines. In fact, he used it so much during his 2008 presidential campaign that it caught the attention of China’s news outlet Huanqiu.com. The author there, Wang Qichao, writes that McCain’s catch phrase is no more than a parody of what Chairman Mao really said: “It’s always darkest before the dawn.”

Now that’s an expression I’m familiar with. But is it truly a Mao-made metaphor? According to Wang, it comes from Quotations from Chairman Mao Tse-tung (also known as The Little Red Book). But I’m thinking this may be one of those cases where a well-known saying is misattributed to the kind of well-known figure who gets credited for most everything quote-worthy (think Benjamin Franklin and Martin Luther King, Jr. in the US).

In the article, Wang writes that Mao’s saying is “黎明前的黑暗,” which is a Chinese idiom that translates as “darkness before dawn.” The closest thing from Mao I could find in Quotations is “黑暗即将过去,曙光即在前头,” which originally comes from a report given by Mao, “The Present Situation and Our Tasks,” in 1947. Here’s the relevant passage in English, with the specific phrase in bold:

The Communist Party of China, having made a clear-headed appraisal of the international and domestic situation on the basis of the science of Marxism-Leninism, recognized that all attacks by the reactionaries at home and abroad had to be defeated and could be defeated. When dark clouds appeared in the sky, we pointed out that they were only temporary, that the darkness would soon pass and the sun break through.

Regardless of how close either of these may be to “It’s always darkest before the dawn,” a form of that phrase predates Mao by a few hundred years. Back in 1650, preacher and historian Thomas Fuller wrote,

[I]t is always darkest just before the Day dawneth.

Here is the passage that includes the phrase:

Afterwards, whilest David was marching (at least wise in presence) with Achish against Saul, the Amalekites in his absence burnt Ziglag, carrying away all the people therein captive. Griefe hereat so prevailed in Davids men at their return, that in anguish of their hearts, they were ready to stone him. Could better be expected from them? Behold their originall, they were at first, men in debt and distress, whose severall discontents made them generally contented to join together; so that not David, but his necessities chose them to attend him, who now in adversity discovered their impious dispositions. But David to avoid this showre of stones ready to rain upon him, run for shelter to God his Rock, in whom he comforted himself. Thus, as it is always darkest just before the Day dawneth, so God useth to visite his servants with greatest affli∣ctions, when he intendeth their speedy advancement. For immediate∣ly after, David not onely recovered his loss with advantage, but also was proclaimed King of Israel: though some war arose for a time between him and Ishbosheth.

It’s an interesting saying, “It’s always darkest before the dawn.”

Scientifically speaking, is just before dawn the darkest part of the night? That depends on when you say dawn begins. Certainly, at midnight, it stops getting darker as soon as it starts getting lighter.

But the phrase’s deeper meaning, at least the way we use it today, is that we shouldn’t give up, no matter how grim the circumstances. Victory is undoubtedly ahead. The trouble with this thinking is that it’s self defining: If things get worse, then you’ve not yet reached the darkest point. If they get better, then the worst has ended. And if you surrender, then you can’t know that the sun wasn’t about to rise.

Does darkness sometimes signal a coming dawn? Yes, I believe it does. But always? It’s not quite that simple. As memorable as they may be, six words aren’t enough to handle all the philosophy and theology needed for that topic.

Stay tuned: On August 21 of this year, many in the US will see the first total eclipse observable on American soil since 1979. I wonder what McCain will have to say about that.

(Bill Kristol, “Bill Kristol: Remember, demagogues Thrived Long before the Internet Disintermediated the News, Too,” Nieman Lab, February 1, 2017; Wang Qichao, “McCain Repeatedly Misquotes Chairman Mao,” translated by Mark Klingman, WorldMeets.us, August 7, 2008, Chinese version at Sina.com; Mao Tse-tung, “敢于斗争,敢于胜利,” 毛主席语录, People’s Press, 1965; Mao Tse-tung, “Dare to Struggle and Dare to Win,” Quotations from Chairman Mao Tse-tung, Foreign Languages Press, Peking, 1966; Mao, Tse-tung, “The Present Situation and Our Tasks,” Selected Works of Mao Tse-tung, Foreign Language Press, Peking, 1947; Thomas Fuller, A Pisgah-sight of Palestine and the Confines Thereof with the History of the Old and New Testament Acted Thereon, 1650)

[photo: “Breaking Dawn,” by B Gilmour, used under a Creative Commons license]

When Your Parents Wish You Weren’t Far Away: An Interview with Diane Stortz [at A Life Overseas]

May 29, 2017 § Leave a comment

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Diane Stortz knows firsthand what it’s like to have children serving overseas, to want them to follow God’s calling, but also to want them close by. In 2008, she, along with Cheryl Savageau, wrote Parents of Missionaries: How to Thrive and Stay Connected when Your Children and Grandchildren Serve Cross-Culturally (InterVarsity Press). Since joining the ranks of parents of missionaries (POMs), she has ministered to and heard from hundreds of parents walking the same path.

Tell us a little about your personal story as a parent of a missionary.

My husband and I never expected to be parents of a missionary, and becoming POMs was hard. Our daughter and son-in-law married while still in college. She was training as a vocalist, and he planned to be a youth minister. But they spent their first anniversary as missionary interns in Bosnia. Over the next two years, they made the decision to serve as missionaries after graduation. Our heads and hearts were reeling! We really hadn’t been prepared to “lose” our daughter to marriage so soon . . . and now we felt we were losing her all over again.

Making it feel worse, our church was their sending organization, they would be joining a team already in place, and our congregation was excited and thrilled. We heard “You must be so proud” a lot. Yes, we were proud and very supportive, but we were also hurting.

Book person that I am, I went looking for something to read to help me adjust, and found nothing. About the same time, Cheryl Savageau (counseling director at our church) and Judy Johnson (missions minister) were talking about ways to help us and the other POMs in the congregation (all of us were struggling). That’s how our ministry to POMs eventually was born. Cheryl and I wrote a book and, for about ten years, we led groups and workshops for POMs and for college students and missions recruits too.

Head over to A Life Overseas for the rest of this interview.


[photo: “Atardecer en el Palmar” by Carlos Calamar, used under a Creative Commons license]

Marriage with an E: Anne of Green Gables’ Plans for a Missionary Husband

May 20, 2017 § Leave a comment

1428639669_a1709477b8_oNetflix is airing Anne with an E, a new series based on the novel Anne of Green Gables, written by Lucy Maude Montgomery in 1908. It’s getting a lot of good reviews, such as The Atlantic’s, titled “Anne with an E Is the Best Kind of Adaptation.” But not all of the press is positive. The show has a darker edge—for instance, revealing more of the harshness of Anne’s back story before her adoption. This has prompted Vanity Fair‘s critique, “Anne of Green Gables: Netflix’s Bleak Adaptation Get’s It All So Terribly Wrong.”

I haven’t seen any of the show, but I’d be willing to give it a shot (if I had Netflix). I like Anne Shirley and her way with words and, by her own admission, words and words and words and words.

I heard a clip from the opening episode, in which Anne is with the stoic Matthew Cuthbert on the way to her new home on Prince Edward Island. She sees a tree filled with white blooms and can’t help but rhapsodize on its beauty. And this segues into her opinions on missionaries as possible marriage partners. To Anne, there’s more to a missionary than just standing in the gap overseas. He can stand in the gap back home, too.

Here are Anne’s remarks from the novel:

“Isn’t that beautiful? What did that tree, leaning out from the bank, all white and lacy, make you think of?” she asked.

“Well now, I dunno,” said Matthew.

“Why, a bride, of course—a bride all in white with a lovely misty veil. I’ve never seen one, but I can imagine what she would look like. I don’t ever expect to be a bride myself. I’m so homely nobody will every want to marry me—uness it might be a foreign missionary. I suppose a foreign missionary mightn’t be very particular. But I do hope that some day I shall have a white dress. That is my highest ideal of earthly bliss.

In a later book, Anne, now in her twenties, is preparing to marry Gilbert Blythe. Her friend Diana asks if she will wear a veil for the ceremony:

Yes, indeedy. I shouldn’t feel like a bride without one. I remember telling Matthew, that evening when he brough me to Green Gables, that I never expected to be a bride because I was so homely no one would ever want to marry me—unless some foreign missionary did. I had an idea then that foreign missionaries couldn’t afford to be finicky in the matter of looks if they wanted a girl to risk her life among cannibals. You should have seen the foreign missionary Priscilla married. He was as handsome and inscrutable as those day-dreams we once planned to marry ourselves, Diana; he was the best dressed man I ever met, and he raved over Priscilla’s “ethereal golden beauty.” But of course there are no cannibals in Japan.

(Lucy Maude Montgomery, Anne of Green Gables, L. C. Page, 1908; Anne’s House of Dreams, McClelland, 1917)

[photo: “Victorian Bride ~ Postcard,” by chicks57, used under a Creative Commons license]

Repost: 11 Ways Moving Abroad Is like Skiing to the North Pole

May 14, 2017 § Leave a comment

In May of 2004, explorer Ben Saunders completed a solo, unsupported trek to the North Pole—on foot. He set out on his trip from the Russian side on March 5, reached the Pole on May 11, and was picked up by plane on the Canadian side on May 14. So here’s a repost, in honor of the thirteenth anniversary of his return.

Also, today is notable because it’s Mother’s Day, and point #9 below is a shout-out to moms, including a very emotional and very long-distance telephone call. Have you called your mum today?

 

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Ben Saunders sits on top of the world, the youngest person to reach the North Pole alone and by foot.

In 2004, 26-year-old Briton Ben Saunders became only the third person, and the youngest ever, to ski unaccompanied to the North Pole. As it turns out, there are a lot of ways that making a solo trek to the North Pole is a like moving to another country. Here are 11 things that the two adventures have in common, all taken from Saunder’s February 2005 TED Talk, “Why Did I Ski to the North Pole?”

  1. Luggage is a drag
    Saunders describes his specialty as “dragging heavy things around cold places.” He says, for his trip to the North Pole, “I was dragging all the food I needed, the supplies, the equipment, sleeping bag, one change of underwear—everything I needed for nearly three months.” That sounds like trying to put every necessary item in your carry-on bag, just in case your checked luggage gets lost. (If you think your bags are heavy, Saunder’s supply of food and fuel weighed 400 pounds.) Sometimes your destination has harsh conditions. And sometimes it doesn’t have chocolate chips. How many bags of those should you bring? Can’t be too prepared.
  2. It can be lonely out there
    One of the challenges of Saunder’s voyage was that he had to make it alone. Very alone. When he arrived at the northern-most point on the globe, he was the only “human being in an area one-and-a-half times the size of America, five-and-a-half thousand square miles.” Most of us don’t go to such remote places, but even if you’re in the biggest city, surrounded by millions of other souls, you can easily feel all by yourself.
  3. No, Virginia, there isn’t a Santa Claus
    When Saunders got to the top of the world, he didn’t find Santa. No Santa’s workshop. No elves. In fact, he says, “There isn’t even a pole at the Pole. There’s nothing there, purely because it’s sea ice.” When you go to another country, expect the unexpected. Don’t be surprised when what you find doesn’t match the photos in the magazine article. “I’d read lots of books,” says Saunders. “I studied maps and charts. But I realized on the morning of day one that I had no idea exactly what I’d let myself in for.” Photoshopped and cropped pics don’t do us any favors. If GPS and street signs say we’re in the right place, don’t waste time—or emotions—trying to find something that doesn’t exist.
  4. Sometimes it’s one step forward, two steps back
    According to NASA, during the year of Saunders journey, the ice conditions were the worst on record. Ninety percent of the time he was skiing into headwinds and the drifting ice pulled him backwards. “My record,” he says, “was minus 2.5 miles. I got up in the morning, took the tent down, skied north for seven-and-a-half hours, put the tent up, and I was two and a half miles further back than when I’d started. I literally couldn’t keep up with the drift of the ice.” When you’re in a new place, learning the language and culture, get used to those backward drifts. But always keep your compass set on your true north.
  5. The only constant is change
    Because the ice is constantly drifting over the North Pole, Saunders says that if he’d planted a flag there, it wouldn’t be long before it would be heading toward Canada or Greenland. Like Saunders, don’t be surprised when the emotional flags you plant aren’t permanent. The ground may not move under your feet (earthquakes not withstanding), but other kinds of landscapes certainly will. Find a special restaurant that serves your favorite dishes? Wake up the next day and it’s become a plumber’s shop. Make friends with some other expats? You may soon have to say goodbye. But, repeat after me, “Change can be good. Change can be good. Change can be good.” Maybe, just maybe, that plumber’s shop will end up being exactly what you need.
  6. Culture stress can be a bear
    Literally. On his first try at the North Pole, Saunders went with a partner, but they failed to reach their goal. Saunders says that from the outset “almost everything that could have gone wrong did go wrong. We were attacked by a polar bear on day two. I had frostbite in my left big toe. We started running very low on food. We were both pretty hungry, losing lots of weight.” Yup. Sounds like culture stress to me.
  7. Coming back can feel like the bear wins
    When his first attempt fell short, Saunders says he “was physically exhausted, mentally an absolute wreck, considered myself a failure, in a huge amount of debt personally to this expedition, and lying on my mum’s sofa, day in day out, watching daytime TV.” His brother texted him an encouraging quotation from Homer Simpson:
    “You tried your hardest and failed miserably. The lesson is: don’t even try.” Repatriation can feel that way. Maybe all the people who’d said you shouldn’t go were right. But Saunders didn’t let his failure define him. Instead, three years later he made history.
  8. People aren’t sitting around waiting to hear your stories
    When Saunders reached the North Pole, he got out his satellite phone. After warming up the battery in his armpit, he made three calls: “I dialed my mum. I dialed my girlfriend. I dialed the CEO of my sponsor. And I got three voicemails.” OK, that’s unfair to say they didn’t want to hear what he’d done. They were just busy at the time, that’s all. But . . .
  9. Some people really do want to listen
    “I finally got through to my mum,” says Saunders. “She was at the queue of the supermarket. She started crying. She asked me to call her back.” There are special people who will make time to listen—when they can focus on your story without distractions. Thanks, Mum.
  10. Don’t let others draw boundaries on your map
    When Saunders was 13, he got a school report that said, “Ben lacks sufficient impetus to achieve anything worthwhile.” Saunder’s response—”I think if I’ve learned anything, it’s this: that no one else is the authority on your potential. You’re the only person that decides how far you go and what you’re capable of.”
  11.  One of the three most important questions will always be “Where is the bathroom?”
    Saunders gave his TED Talk to answer three questions:
    (1 ) Why?
    (2) How do you go to the loo at minus 40?
    (3) What’s next?
    That second question is very important at the North Pole, because it seems that “at minus 40, exposed skin becomes frostbitten in less than a minute.” Your question number two will be more like “Where’s the bathroom?” or just “Bathroom? Bathroom?” Then, once you see the facilities, you may ask yourself, “How?”

As for the answers to those question, in short, Saunder’s responses go something like this:

(1) “For me,” says Saunders, “this is about exploring human limits, about exploring the limits of physiology, of psychology, and of technology. They’re the things that excite me. And it’s also about potential, on a personal level. This, for me, is a chance to explore the limits—really push the limits of my own potential, see how far they stretch.”
(2) That’s a trade secret, no answer here.
(3) Antarctica. Saunders and Tarka L’Herpiniere are currently on the first leg of their trek from the coast of Antarctica to the South Pole and back again—1,800 miles in all—unsupported and on foot. You can follow Saunder’s daily blog posts here. Why the South Pole? See answer number one above. Somebody’s got a severe case of wanderlust. [Saunders and L’Herpiniere completed their expedition on February 7, 2014.]

[photo: “North Pole (3),” by Ben Saunders, used under a Creative Commons license]

Three Authors and the Coming-to-America (and Back-to-Their-Roots) Stories They Share

May 4, 2017 § Leave a comment

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I can’t say that these are newly published stories. All of them have been out for a while. But I’ve come across them over time, and I’d like to highlight them here together. They all share the topic of crossing cultures at a young age (well, one is about a 22-year-old)—and they’re all skillfully told.

Thanhha Lai
Thanhha Lai was born in Saigon, Vietnam, coming to Alabama with her family following the end of the Vietnam war. In Inside Out and Back Again, she writes about her experiences through the story of a fictional 10-year-old named Hà. After losing her father in the war, Hà, along with her mother and brothers, travels by boat to a tent city in Guam, then makes her way to the American mainland, where she encounters the difficulties of fitting in. Written in 2011, Inside Out was named a Newberry Honor Book and won the National Book Award for Young People’s Literature.

In 2012, she followed up with Listen, Slowly, about another girl facing cross-cultural issues. Mai is California born, the daughter of Vietnamese parents. When her grandmother travels to Vietnam to find out the fate of her husband (he disappeared during the war), Mai reluctantly follows and learns about her family’s, and ultimately her own, story. This book won its own accolades, honored as a New York Times Book Review Notable Book and a Publishers Weekly Best Book of the Year. But Lai doesn’t count her writing accomplishments as her greatest achievement. On her author page, she says that “most importantly” she has started the not-for-profit Viet Kids, which purchases bicycles for poor students in her birth country.

Jung Henin
Jung was born in Korea, and at the age of five was adopted by the Henin family in Belgium. Now a graphic artist, one of his creations is the graphic novel/memoir Couleur de Peau: Miel. The title is French for “Color of Skin: Honey,” which is written in his adoption papers. In 2012, he turned his story into an animated documentary, interspersed with real footage, including scenes from his trip as an adult back to Korea. Titled in English Approved for Adoption, it’s a raw (PG 13-ish) look at Jung’s life—that ultimately has a positive message.

Before his adoption, Jung stayed for several months at Holt International’s Ilsan Center, along with other children, orphaned and abandoned as a result of the Korean War. About the film, Jung tells Holt, “I’m adopted, so I tell that story, but the different thematics—identity, uprooting—it’s universal. It’s a story about relationships.”

Linda Sue Park and Salva Dut
Linda Sue Park was born in Illinois, the daughter of Korean immigrant parents. As an adult she moved to London, where she taught ESL and married an Irish man she’d previously met in Dublin. She currently lives in New york and is now a successful author of children’s and teen’s books, including A Single Shard, for which she was awarded the Newberry Medal in 2002.

In 2010 she wrote A Long Walk to Water, telling the true story of Salva Dut, along with the fictional story of Nya, a girl living in South Sudan. Salva is from Sudan, one of the “Lost Boys” of the country’s civil war. At the age of 11, he joined thousands of others who escaped to refugee camps in neighboring countries. Eleven years later, he was selected to come to the US as a political refugee, and was taken in by a family in Rochester, NY. When he later heard that his father was alive in Sudan, he traveled there to see him, finding him sick from drinking contaminated water. After returning to the US, Salva founded Water for Sudan—which became Water for South Sudan following the vote for independence. As of this month, the organization has drilled 300 wells in the world’s newest country, where “millions of women and children trek for up to eight hours a day to collect water from marshes, ditches, or hand-dug wells where water is often contaminated with parasites and bacteria.”

(Billie Louwen, “Approved for Adoption,” Holt International Blog, April 29, 2014; Thanhha Lai, “Author,” Thanhha Lai; “Water for South Sudan Transforms Lives,” Water for South Sudan)

[photo: “Child’s Globe,” by John Cooper, used under a Creative Commons license]

When It’s Hard to Want to Want to Be Back [at A Life Overseas]

April 26, 2017 § 3 Comments

Our pictures are on the walls!

It’s been a year since I wrote about the long process I and my family were going through fitting back into life in the States and not yet feeling at home—still not having our pictures hung up. Since then, quite a few things have changed, and I would be remiss if I didn’t pass that on as well. I have a new job and my wife is able to stay at home, and we’ve unpacked our pictures and they’re all hanging in the house we’ve been able to buy.

We are so grateful for the ways God has helped us move forward.

But though it’s been over five years since we came back, we can’t say that the transition is completely behind us. It’s still there, just now in less obvious ways.

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This post is about reverse culture stress, but it’s not about the difficulties of fitting back into a home culture or family culture or church culture. It’s about the undercurrent of feelings that flow in the opposite direction of our physical move. It’s about the difficulty of wanting to fit in. It’s about the difficulty of wanting to want to.

What are some of the things that hold returned missionaries back from pouring our whole hearts into settling in? What are the feelings—good or bad, right or wrong—that can keep us from jumping into this new chapter? Here are a few I’ve noticed. . . .

Finish reading at A Life Overseas. . . .

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