Wednesday, July 16, 2014

How to Lose Your Voice, Part 2

In part one of this discussion on losing my voice, I talked of being too exhausted to continue to communicate.  The second part of losing my voice whilst I was in Germany had to do with perception and permission.  There were two (greatly generalised) types of ex-pats in my community in German.  There were the ex-pats who complained constantly about the German-way of doing things.  These folks had followed husbands to jobs, but were not necessarily happy about it.  And they complained. About everything. At every opportunity. To anyone who would listen.  Then there was the other type.  The ones who were embarrassed by type one and so who tried to only point out the positives.  In general, unless in the privacy of your own home with your own family, this group did not complain.  They were the eternal "Pollyana's" of the ex-pat world.

Since one of my least favourite groups of people are who we dub "The Ugly American" in our home, you can be assured that I landed in group two.  [The Ugly American is that person, American or not but most likely American, who spends all there time saying "in my home country we did it this way" and refusing to embrace anything about the culture they are visiting.]  I did truly enjoy much of our life in Germany, so it was not a stretch to focus on the positives.  Also, I tend to think if we focus on positives, the negatives are much less looming.

But to never feel able to express the negativity was draining.  Recently another blogger wrote about an entirely different subject, "I did not have the freedom to tell the truth and I no longer had the energy to pretend."  That sums up much of my time in Germany.  I did not have the freedom to express how hard it was.  DH was not having a great time at work and already felt guilty of having moved us yet again in the 3 years and I did not want to add pressure to him.  I knew in my head the first year in a new place is the most difficult and wanted to give it it's best chance.  And, we were convinced then, and I am still convinced, that God had a purpose for us in that place.  Therefore I didn't want to speak against where God had place me.  But it was hard.  Very hard.  And to not have an outlet made it even harder.

Another group-two friend, after she moved away from Germany, commented that she had not realised that she had basically held her breath and held her neck tense for two years until she was back home and could communicate without being afraid of saying it wrong.  Two years of holding your breath and biting back your true feelings is a long time.

But we do this all the time.  We spend years in church fellowships where we are afraid to show that we are hurting or doubting or in need.  We hold our breath and draw in the pain, paint that religious smile on our face and off we go to speak platitudes that are empty.  Why?  Because we don't have the freedom to be ourselves.  Because we are afraid that if we express doubts we will look like "The Ugly Christian" who needs it to be our way or no way.  Or we will not look like a Christian at all.  We convince ourselves that God can't handle it if we are real (and we know our friends can't handle our "realness" because they all have it all together).

Where does this lead us?  To being worn out and "not having the energy to pretend."  Which leads us to drop out of those religious circles that could be life-bringing because they might see that we are cracked and bruised and needy.  We stop communicating with the very ones who could bring us healing.  And we stop communicating the healing others' need.  We need to be able to lay down these masks of "having it together" and be real enough to give voice to our needs and to our ability to help those in need.

I am convinced, maybe even convicted, that we need to build I to our bible studies and our religious circles of friends the ability to be real. I am not advocating for a group one-everything-is-horrible reality, but a reality that is free to say I am having a tough time. I want a freedom to share the hard stuff that God leads me through as well as the easy things. I want to be someone that can handle hearing a friend say "life is tough" and not judge or try to solve it for them. I want to be a Christian community that enhances communication, not stifles it.  In some ways that is easier to build online than in face-to-face life. But I want it in both places.  So this may be a recurring theme that you see here.  As I try to regain my voice, I will advocate for you to have your voice as well. Let us speak in honesty, in reality and of course in love as we share our lives.

Thanks for listening to this rambling heart.

Tuesday, July 08, 2014

How to Lose Your Voice, Part 1

I have been reflecting upon how it was I came to lose my words, the very thing that had always brought me clarity and contentment in the changes of my life.  I think it all came to fruition during our time in Germany (although to a large extent it started earlier than that--but that is part 3).

Being in a culture where I did not speak the language was exhausting.  It was mentally draining,  physically tense, and emotionally depleting.  Try as I could, it did not and would not come easy to me.  I would tell my tutor that I was sure Tree (less than 2 at the time) was going to answer her questions before I did.  I was only half-joking.  The truth was, he was learning two languages at once and took delight when he said a German word and all the German-speakers around us would react with total joy.  They did not react that way when I spoke the language.  I tired of being laughed at or given blank stares--both common reactions.  It has long been my belief that if you live in another lingual setting it is your duty to make and effort to communicate in the common language.  But after a year of struggle, I now have an entirely new empathy for those who do not speak a country's native language.

It is hard. Very hard.

Simple things, like going to the grocery store, became things that I dreaded.  My little neighbourhood store had no English speakers.  To make it more challenging, you had to ask for anything that was fresh--vegetables, meat, cheese.  No just picking your own.  My first attempt at getting leaf lettuce (Kr√§utersalat) was met with giggles from the girl getting the vegetables.  She repeated how to say it correctly.  I tried. More giggles.  That rolling/hard r sound is impossible for me.  We repeated this scene for weeks before the day she threw her hands up and said "you got it right" (in English because she practiced with me after a while). Those first attempts were demoralising. To be laughed at week in and week out just to get lettuce.

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Or there was the day that I was buying a whole chicken (Huhn).  I knew how to ask and low and behold it worked she immediately pulled a chicken from the case.  My tutor had told me they would ask if I wanted it cut up (that word I don't remember).  She asked a question about cutting it, I said ja and she went away and came back with it cut and wrapped.  Success, I thought.  Imagine my dismay when I got home to discover that she had indeed cut it up--in half--and I only had half a chicken.  For dinner in an hour for my family of five.  Did I say demoralising?

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These are just easy examples of language difficulty outside native country.  I got to the point that I just didn't want to try to communicate anything when I was at home.  I was exhausted.  I just wanted to allow my mind to veg.  So I stopped writing much of anything.

This may sound like it is specific to living outside our home country, but I think it can generalize.  Sometimes, we stop communicating because the day-to-day communication is in a foreign language that exhausts us.  This world, this culture, is counter to our identity as children of God (more on this in a post to come).  We can spend the day trying to navigate a world between our sacred heart language and the world we live in.  We can become exhausted trying to navigate the negative and pessimistic culture around us.  We can get to the point that we just don't want to have to speak if not absolutely necessary.

You may recognise this.  You spend your day navigating the murky waters of a work place where ambition is more highly regarded than integrity.  You say the politically correct thing to stay afloat even when it doesn't come naturally.  Nodding and smiling takes the place of speaking your heart. Then you come home and don't have the mental energy to switch gears and speak the sacred. So you think you will do it tomorrow.  Or, if you are a student, you walk the path of choosing words that are true and what the professor wants to hear, but may not be your deepest truth. Then, when it comes time to speak or write of your inmost thoughts, there is no energy left to summon it.  We can lose our words as we navigate the foreign language of the world.  

I know that I must find ways to protect my energy, so that I still have the perseverence to speak my heart's language when so many around me do not want to hear or do not understand that language.  Becoming bi-lingual is a must or I become too exhausted to speak.  But, how?

I was struck this week, again, as I read the words of Mark 1:35,

Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed.

Jesus was navigating a "foreign" world with a "foreign" language.  He was away from the perfection of his world.  How did he cope?  He got by himself and he prayed.  He found a place to speak his heart language.  He didn't lose touch with who he was whilst he did the things he was called to do.
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I wonder, if that is the key for me to not lose my voice in a foreign world?  It is true, that quiet time and concentrated prayer times are often among the first things to go when I am overwhelmed with life.  That just adds to the spiral of being more and more overwhelmed.  If I am to navigate in a world that speaks a different language than my heart, I must find places and time to speak my heart language.  I must find the time to pray and stay in the word.  I must also find time to speak with those who speak the same language.  Otherwise my speech skills become rusty and I become discouraged, at best, or apathetic at worst.  Even this die-hard introvert needs people!  I need people to come along, encourage, commiserate and hold to account.  And, I need to be that for others.

My friends, if you are losing your voice, if you find you don't have the energy to say another word of anything important, please take some time and reconnect.  Reconnect with God and with others who can speak to the things of God. Reconnect with your heart-language.   Reconnect with me.  I need you.  I need your words, and I am certain others do as well.

God Bless!

photos from