“Home is where my best shoes are,” said Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, tongue-in-cheek, once in an interview.
Where is home? Not so simple a question to answer anymore, for many. It throws another shade of complication for those who have left the country of their birth, for one reason or another, and stayed out for a while.
I’ve been thinking about home a lot lately, not only in terms of locality, but also in terms of identity. For home is tied to identity, to personal anchors, to our origin and who we are. It’s precipitated by several things. One, I’m nearing that point in my life where half of it is spent in a country that’s not my origin. All this time, I’ve always called Indonesia home, and America is the place I live in.
I left home when I was 17. But now, I’m almost here for equally the same amount of years, and certainly I’ve spent all of my adult life here. And so it’s come to a point where I’m not exactly Indonesian–in contemporary terms–anymore, since the Indonesia I experience and I imagine is more than a decade old. Yet I’m definitely not American, culturally, although a lot of my neural DNA is probably American by now.
Two, I am now bearing a child who will be culturally different, of a different citizenship, of a radically different time, from me. I suppose this is true for practically every parent–there’s always a cultural gap between different generations. In my case I mean culturally different literally, geographically.
It’s a kind of double identity crisis. Now I have to think about who I am and who this child is going to be. How will this new identity evolve? So far I’ve gotten away with calling Indonesia home even though I’ve married and even owned a house. Yet the saying starts to feel out of place now that I’m becoming a parent, tasked with the responsibility of creating a home, being a home, for another human being.
The truth: I don’t have an answer to Where is home? I say, “I guess, Colorado,” to get people off my back.
Home-longing, is this non-descript feeling, a craving for belonging and kinship. It’s a bit of a nebulous question, and in the search of hopefully-less-nebulous answers, I’ve been drawn to authors who write eloquently about being outsiders, about experiences of being displaced and removed from your people, and about reconciling the experiences that you belong, yet not, to two worlds.
This is sort of a prequel to what I suspect will be a series of articles about identity, home, and belonging. Along the vein of last year’s articles, A Child of East and West. There is no answer yet–one of those “I write to find out the answer” type-thing. But my search and discovery have led me to hang out with these books so far.
Have you ever felt a longing for home and belonging? Have you lived in a different country from your birthplace? What are your experiences finding out what home means to you?
What better way to spend time waiting for my siblings’ flight to land than to be thankful for them. This Thanksgiving holiday, the Elia’s are reuniting in DC (awesome), and it will be uber fun!
My siblings and I are pretty close in years. As a result, we fought a lot when we were young. Because there are 3 of us, each of us used to feel like the other two were ganging against us. We were always, always trying to get even. If my sister got to sit shotgun, I had to get it next, then my brother, and so on. You bet someone always kept track. Rotation systems were always in place for TV channel choice, for who had to turn the light switch off, for who got to clean up the toys, for who got to play the video games, etc. Everything was counted.
We started getting along after I left for college. Why? Who knew? But I sure am glad to have siblings that I get along so well right now. They’re the people I love to hang out the most, and there is no time limit when we’d have enough of each other. I can hang out with them indefinitely.
And what a blessing it is for all of us to be into ministry right now and being able to talk about these things with each other. It hasn’t always been the case.
What I love the most about hanging out with my siblings is that I can be as weird as I can be when I’m with them. Actually I’m the weirdest when I’m with my siblings, especially my sister. We’d just about roll on the floor laughing most of the time.
So, I’m super thrilled that they’re over on the East Coast this weekend, with this incredible weather, in one of my favorite places, and yes, also for my birthday.
Oh, I just got the notification that their plane landed. Let the laughs begin.
November is a big month in my family, since it contains five big celebratory events: both of my parents’ and my birthdays, my parents’ anniversary, and my baptism anniversary, with the latter two having the same date. When my father passed away, two of the five events couldn’t be celebrated anymore. Today would have been his 62nd birthday, and I want to celebrate him in a non-birthday-cake type of way.
In the recent months, I’ve found myself often asking the question, What made my life the way it is and what made me who I am right now? A lot of those times, I found my pseudo self-analysis ending up at my father. In decision making, in thinking about life issues, in managing finances, and in planning, I’d catch myself realizing that I was thinking like my father would, and I couldn’t help it. Although sometimes it could be frustrating being ‘trapped’ in certain ways of thinking, some of these things have been playing crucial roles in my professional life. Some helped me avoid drama. Overall, I’ve found them very useful, and thus I’m thankful.
It’s pretty crazy how large a role upbringing plays in someone’s identity, character, personality, and in a way, destiny.
My father did many things in his life for me that have propelled me to this stage. But the legacy that still lives on and continues to bear fruit is the stamp of his character in mine. My siblings too bear aspects of his character in their own way. We have not seen the full effect of his training that he imparted in our childhood, and I have a feeling more and more of this will come out in our adulthood.
Losing my father and not being able to ask him for advice has made me more intentional in going to my heavenly Father for counsel and for wisdom. I ask for Him not only to show me what to do, but how to think rightly. I ask for discernment and good judgment, and trust that He would grant it somehow. And just like my father’s character is imprinted in me from being brought up by him, perhaps God’s character can too be imprinted the same way from His training, to the point where I can’t help but to think and act like He would. Because to be like Jesus is not just to imitate Him in a try-hard, behavioral kind of way; it is to be like Him in thoughts and character. Everything else will follow.
So today, despite the fact that I would have loved many more years with my father, I’m thankful for the 23 years I had with him and for my heavenly Father who ever lives.
One of life’s greatest joys is meeting new people and finding kindred spirits, those you can resonate in particular ways of thinking. The effect is energizing, it’s as if you’ve been friends for ages, or should have been friends before.
What I love about this experience is that it can happen anywhere in the world, with any person of whatever background. This is what I love the most about my friends whom I count as like-minded: they come from all over the world.
Take my closest knit of friends, for example. I’m Chinese Indonesian. My two closest friends are a Zimbabwean girl (with a U.S. green card now) who philosophizes over many things in life, and a half Cuban, half black, American lawyer girl who is super articulate. Each of us is about one-tenth Korean because of the foods we eat and the people we hang out with. We love food and we love books. And because of that, we get along so well with our (just a tad bit) older, Korean American sister whose company brings out the nuttiness in us even more (in a good way. I hope I don’t get in trouble for saying this).
What is the likelihood that four people from, literally, four corners of the earth can get along so well? And not just get along, but totally in sync in almost every thought and opinion. Don’t underestimate the amount of talking we can do with each other and the breadth of topics that gets covered. (And no, we don’t just talk about girls stuff. Absolutely not!). We have different personalities, different areas of expertise, and even different ways of approaching problems. By most natural standards, we shouldn’t even like hanging out with each other. But we do. Hanging out is our life philosophy.
In the larger circle of friends we belong to, the ethnic composition varies even more. At any given hangout session with different permutations of people, at least three continents will be represented easily. In multiple occasions when some 30 of us went out to eat, random people approached us asking if we were part of some program, like a mock UN or global youth type thing (except we don’t look that young). They thought someone forced us to be together. The response, No, we’re just friends.
And we’re not together just for special events. We can roll like this all day long, for multiple days. We actually like each other (most of the time), and find the communion of minds invigorating.
I’m talking particularly about the family of friends I’ve gained in Seventh-day Adventist communities in Boston, Michigan, and the Mid-Atlantic. More specifically, those who love to talk and think about how to reach and change the world, and those who love to hang out. These are they with whom I resonate in the deepest core. It so happens that they are the same people whose lives are intertwined in public campus ministries.
Really, there is no likely reason why we should be friends. We don’t even like the same food, at least not in the beginning. But the wonder is that we are friends, and there is one core reason why this is so: God. We know that each of us subscribes to a culture that supersedes any of our individual cultural and ethnic background, namely the culture of Christ. As a result, our lives are enriched by each other.
This culture of Christ and embracing diversity is something I’m very adamant about in my personal life, and especially in the church. (Read articles on racial segregation that some of us have written here). I don’t get cultural insularity, especially when there is a greater purpose to serve. In the community of faith that I belong to, this purpose is to bring the everlasting gospel to every nation, kindred, tongue, and people (Rev 14:6).
When people see a diverse group of people who actually like and want to be with each other, no matter what skin color or hair texture, it tells the world that God has done something special not just in the individual lives, but also in the community. It bears witness that there is Someone who has “broken down the middle wall of partition between us” (Eph 2:14), more powerful than any cultural ties.
I’m not saying that this multicultural friendship experience can only happen to a Christian; I’m saying that this experience takes place in my life because I’m a Seventh-day Adventist. When I gained Christ and started letting Him order my life, I gained a family of unlikely friends as well.
The first great gift God gave to me came in the form of my parents. Today is my mother’s 55th birthday and this post is dedicated to her.
Born in Bali, my mother is the validation of my weak and thin claim that I have roots in a most exotic and fascinating place. She’s the second of four children. She was essentially my math teacher all throughout elementary school, and the early foundation of the engineer in me is credited to her.
She was the one who quizzed me before every exam until 6th grade, and she was also the one who punished me when I underperformed. She accompanied me to dance lessons, English lessons, piano lessons… and for the last one, also sat nearby to pinch me when I pressed the wrong notes, which happened all the time. She bore with me through my ugly teenage years, and now, waiting to see what will become of my life.
My mother’s life is a continuing, open lesson book for me, especially as a woman in the brink of adulthood. Or maybe I’m in it already. I don’t know. It’s debatable.
To the youth, phases of life seem to line up in a predictable way. We start as students. Then comes early working life. Singlehood is the given status around this time, and then comes marriage, kids, middle age, empty nests, and retirement. It seems sometimes that these are the way life should be.
My mother’s life, however, has given me a slightly varied perspective. She lived with her family until she was about 26, moved in with my father when they got married, had kids, lived comfortably, saw her kids went to college overseas, and perhaps experienced early phases of retirement. But when she was 51, everything changed.
She became a widow then, and instead of cruising along in comfort and safety, she began a new phase that she never experienced before, living alone. Her kids are living half the world away, and no one is settled yet. And not only that, she now has to be a full time working woman, inheriting the family business that my father had built almost all of his life. The pressure is high and the burden is heavy, and she bears it day by day, with a degree of uncertainty on what will become of her family.
If there’s anything I learn from her, is that none of us is entitled to live an easy, comfortable, or predictable life. But one thing is sure: God is enough in all seasons of life, and He will sustain through it all, somehow.
Happy birthday to my dearest mother. I love you tons!