It’s not that I can’t swim, I just don’t do it often enough to cause an injury. I’m in physical therapy for my shoulder now, but I actually started PT because of pain in my hip, and then my shoulder started acting up. I wish I could say that my hip problem was caused by swimming, or by mountain climbing or power lifting. Instead, I think it’s from stepping out of my car the wrong way. And my shoulder? It might be caused by painting our dining room. Or who knows? It could have come from brushing my teeth with too much reckless abandon.
I know what you’re thinking. But before you say that it’s clear I’m getting old and my body’s falling apart, let me first say that it’s clear I’m getting old and my body’s falling apart.
So every day I go through my series of exercises. If only my routine included things like “reverse suspended monster crunches” or “overhead double infantry lifts.” But no, I have “supine gluteal sets” and “seated shoulder flexion towel slides at table top.”
It’s not quite the stuff of a Rocky training montage. (If you haven’t seen any of the five Rocky movies, seven if you add the two Creeds, then just think about any film that includes a music video of the main character getting ready for battle.) In preparation for the next ultimate fight, set to stirring music, Rocky boxes with frozen meat (da-da-daaa), rips off dozens of one-handed pull-ups and push-ups (da-da-daaa), lifts log chains over his head (da-da-daaa), guzzles raw eggs (da-da-daaa), and outruns a car (da-da-da-da-da-da-da-daaa-da-daaa).
Here’s the thing about training montages in the movies: They’re in the movies. When you’re tackling challenges in real life, it’s not bigger than life and it’s not condensed down to just a few minutes. Seen from the inside, the real stuff of montages can feel slow, tedious, and monotonous, not monumental.
Dr. Anna Hampton, along with her husband, Neal, have lived and worked for nearly 20 years in war-torn Islamic countries. This includes almost 10 years in Afghanistan, where they started raising their three children. Their experiences led Anna to write Facing Danger: A Guide through Risk (Zendagi, 2016), which is based on her doctoral dissertation at Trinity Theological Seminary.
Many cross-cultural workers recognize the need to develop a theology of suffering, but you write that a theology of risk is also necessary for resilience on the field. You cover this in depth in Facing Danger, but could you give a short elevator speech on how the two are different?
A theology of suffering asks a different question than a theology of risk asks. When I was a young mom facing daily threats of all kinds but especially kidnapping and murder, I needed to be able to evaluate what God was calling me and my children to that day. We hadn’t suffered the reality of kidnapping, but we were facing the risk of it. So how was I to think, to process my emotions, hear God’s voice, and then make a decision on what I was to do?
While risk and suffering are closely related and really go hand in hand, they are not the same thing. A theology of suffering does not answer the challenges of how to think, feel, and make decisions in risk. Instead, a theology of suffering answers how I am to respond to God in suffering, how I am to think, feel, and view God’s heart once I am in suffering. Suffering in many ways is more of a “static” scenario, whereas risk is inherently dynamic—one is moving toward or away from risk and danger, and the situation is often unstable and confusing. A theology of risk answers how I am to act on the opportunities presenting themselves in risk: Risk equals opportunity for both great loss and great gain.
Normally, clickbait headlines are created simply to grab clicks—and clicks and clicks and more clicks. But you can’t click on the titles below, since there aren’t any stories linked to them. Instead, if being an expat is in your past, present, or future, the stories are up to you, to write or live out yourselves.
So here’s to the new year . . . and all the stories ahead!
They had no idea why all the nationals were staring at them
She said the same thing to her neighbor every morning for a month—until her language teacher explained to her what it meant
Only 1 in 1000 people can identify these countries by their shapes—can you?
He thought his carryon would fit in the overhead bin, then this happened
I wrote the following in a newsletter a few months after moving overseas. That was a long time ago, but my thoughts on language learning haven’t changed much.
Our main goal right now is to learn the language, and we’ve been taking classes for almost three months. One of our teammates, who was here before we arrived, wrote a while back that learning Chinese is the hardest thing he’s ever done. As for me, I think I’ve done harder things, it’s just that I quit doing them after a couple hours.
Maybe you’ve heard it said that a difficult task is “like trying to nail Jell-O to a wall.” Learning Chinese isn’t quite like that, but it’s not far off. It’s more like hanging a king-sized bed sheet on a clothesline in a strong wind. (My apologies to everyone who’s only used a clothes dryer.) Every word or sentence pattern we learn is a clothespin that holds up another part of the sheet. With enough clothespins, the sentences and stories make sense. Little by little, there are fewer and fewer sags in the sheet as we pick out and are able to use more and more words and phrases.
The trouble is, on some days, the wind whips the sheet out of our hands. On some days we run out of clothespins or drop the ones we have. On some days it rains. On some days our arms are tired and hanging up sheets is the last thing we want to try to do. And on some days, the sheet just simply turns to Jell-O.
On the evening of the Fourth, as my wife and I were getting ready for bed, the fireworks in our neighborhood started kicking in. Boom! Boom! Ka-boom!
“Here we go,” said my wife as she pulled back the covers.
Then I crawled into bed . . . and fell asleep. Maybe it was because our neighbors ran out of bottle rockets. Or maybe it was because fireworks don’t bother me as much after living in an Asian city—where the lunar new year is like one big month-long Fourth of July. In fact, we got used to sleeping with a fan on while we were in Taipei, to mask the loudest of the city’s sounds. We still use a fan now that we’re back in Missouri, but it’s not because of the noises outside. Instead, it’s the lack of noise that we’re masking. Sometimes quiet can be so loud.
So last week, when I saw this T-Mobile commercial, I could relate.
I couldn’t find this couple’s ambiance video, but that didn’t stop me. If you’re soothed by urban clamor, here are two loooong tracks that should get you well on your way to slumberland (population 5 million).
And if your city soundscape needs some pyrotechnics to complete the full auditory scene, try mixing in one—or both—of these below. Ahhh. I can almost smell the stinky tofu.
It was during our first term on the field, and our pastor asked me this question in a Skype chat in front of our home congregation. My answer? As I remember, it was in the neighborhood of “Well, I’m not sure we’re thriving, but, uh, hmmm, something, something, something, not always easy, but . . . uh . . . we’re doing fine.”
Thriving is a big topic when it comes to living and working overseas, as in “Don’t just survive, thrive!” It’s a great goal, and there are many who reach it, including some whom I know well. But I’m afraid that thriving was something that eluded me during my time as a missionary. And experience tells me that I’m far from alone. A missionary who came back to the States a few years ago told me that while he had hoped to thrive, “just” surviving was a more pressing need most days. Any amens?
But let’s say you’re able to put a check mark in the survival box, but thriving still seems out of reach. Where does that leave you? Is there another alternative?
Earlier this year, Anisha Hopkinson wrote here about what success looks like overseas. Struggling, she says, is not the same thing as failing. In fact, “struggling” is another way of saying “endeavoring,” “going all out,” “making every effort,” “plugging away,” “trying your hardest,” . . . and “striving.”
Maybe it’s because it rhymes, but I think striving is a great third way.
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?
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?”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 . . .
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.
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.”
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.]