In July of 2016 I found myself facing questions I couldn’t answer at a customs counter in the Prague airport, and I looked at my husband, son, and daughter and realized I knew exactly where I felt most at home in the world.
Tsh Oxenreider, an author and podcaster who has become a significant voice in my life these days, just released a book this week called “At Home In the World,” and as part of her book release launch, she has asked her readers and listeners to consider where they feel most at home in the world and to share their thoughts. When I first heard her question, I had two or three significant places come to mind immediately. My family’s farm in central Saskatchewan. Nose Hill park overlooking the Calgary skyline. Walking our old street nestled under Mount Cheam in the Fraser Valley. All those places hold a special place in my heart and were once places I lived. They are in many ways, places I’m from. But the truth is, they no longer feel exactly like home to me.
And then I remembered this moment last summer when I had my most intense feeling of contented at-homeness. We were leaving Abu Dhabi after 2 years as expats in the UAE. We were eventually returning to Canada, but were first setting out on a 6 week adventure in Croatia, Slovenia, Hungary, Austria, and the Czech Republic. We landed at the Prague airport and the woman at the customs desk asked me if we lived in the UAE. Since we had just cancelled our visas and given up residency, I answered, “No, we don’t live there anymore.”
“So, you’re going to Canada?” she asked.
“Well, not for six more weeks.”
“So where do you live?” she asked as if it should be such an easy question to answer.
I looked at Dwayne and the kids and thought, “Where do we live?” We were residents of no country, we owned no home, we didn’t even have a rented apartment. We had some suitcases stored at a friend’s house, but otherwise we were just carrying our summer belongings. We actually lived nowhere.
I thought, though I wisely kept my thought silent, “Lady, right now we live right here in front of you.”
I don’t ever recall a time in my life where I felt so completely grounded in the present moment. I felt peace. I felt free. I felt at home in the world. My home was where I was presently standing, and I knew the next place I stood would be my next home.
The thing is, I’m 41 years old, and I’ve lived in 18 different homes in 4 different Canadian provinces and 2 different countries. All my life, wherever I’ve lived, I’ve felt home there. The truth is, I’m pretty good at creating a home. I’m a firm believer that we don’t have to look for a beautiful place, we make a place beautiful. We make it beautiful with our spirits and with the physical belongings that remind us most of who we are and what we love. I think back to some of the places I’ve lived, and they haven’t always been the most inspiring upon first glance. Even the most recent home we left in Al Ain was a pretty depressing discovery when we first arrived in the UAE. We cried the day we were given the keys to our assigned housing. But, two years later, we cried harder when we had to leave it. It had become home to us. More importantly, we had made it our home. With intention and effort, we had made it our home.
So, as I stood in front of the customs agent and considered our apparently homeless state, I felt such peace because I was confident that home would always come to us. “Us” being the key word. It turns out, wherever I land with Dwayne, Josiah, and Abby is where I feel most at home in the world.
I’m not someone who generally leaves things unspoken. Whether it’s something that fills me with joy or something that has been hurtful, it’s not my natural inkling to let things quietly blow over. I’d rather talk about the elephant in the room than pretend he’s not there because I have found that, more often than not, an honest conversation can cut that elephant down to size. Words are my thing. I’m a talker and a listener. So, it should come as no surprise that, as we have recently made the decision to leave our church, I cannot let this slip by without saying something. And the two somethings that I want to say, dear church family, are that this was not easy and I love you.
Leaving a church family is no small matter.
First of all, if you’ve really loved well and invested fully, this involves an actual ripping away, and it’s painful. We’ve wrestled and grieved and felt all the feelings, and I’ve spent more time crying in the last few months than I would have liked. Nothing about this decision was easy.
Secondly, we are a family of four, and factoring in all of our needs and desires and spiritual states makes staying at or leaving a church very complicated. Navigating this road as a parent has been an emotional challenge, and choosing to uproot after a couple of years of uprootedness was really the last thing we wanted to do right now.
Also, the decision to leave a church comes with a sort of stigma. After all, God commands his people to work out their grievances and to love one another in spite of all differences in order to demonstrate his love and transformative power to the world. Time and time again, I have seen God mend very broken relationships and very divided people and it is truly one of the most beautiful things about the Church. So, we’ve had to ask ourselves in the midst of our own church struggle, if God was asking us to stay and model this kind of reconciliation to a world that is so in need of it.
But, the thing is, we weren’t facing broken relationships. We weren’t needing to be reconciled to anyone in our church. Truly, I have nothing but love and tenderness in my heart toward the pastoral team, the lead team, and all the other wonderful folks we have served with and worshiped beside for years. Our decision to leave wasn’t because of anger, lack of forgiveness, or un-mended hurt. It was simply a change of direction. Our church came to a fork in the road and chose a path we personally felt we couldn’t follow. Our collective end goal is still the same. Our joint mission hasn’t changed. We all want to see the kingdom of God grow and people come to saving faith in Jesus. But the roads we take en route to that goal are not always the same.
Christians are often referred to as brothers and sisters. John 1:12 says, “Yet to all who did receive him (Jesus), to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.” The men and women in my church family are my brothers and sisters in Christ. We are children of God, loved by our Father, and this will never change. But sometimes brothers and sisters see things differently. Not in an angry, divisive way, but just a difference of opinion, and that’s okay. We can all seek to bring glory to our Father and lift up the name of Jesus, wherever we worship on a Sunday morning.
So, to my Central church family, I want to say, bless you, bless you, bless you, for you have been nothing but a blessing to us for 10 years. Thank you for loving, challenging, encouraging, and nurturing us. Thank you for calling us out to serve with you and be used by God. I pray that God would continue to pour out his favor on you and that many would come to a saving faith in Christ because of your faithfulness. You still feel like home to me and I’ll miss you.
I already do.
This fall I found myself feeling emotionally battered for being a woman.
It came at me totally out of left field and it took me a while to identify what was happening. How, in the year 2016, did I find myself feeling diminished and devalued as a women? Life is never really cut and dry, but I realized that two factors were especially significant in how I was feeling:
#1. Our personal church crisis
#2. The American election
First, Dwayne and I are in the midst of a church crisis. This is too heavy and difficult for me to process on this blog and I don’t want to get into all the details, but I do want to say that our hearts are broken. Both Dwayne and I have been left feeling that my value, contribution, and who God created me to be has been diminished by people we dearly love.
And then there was the American election. I honestly don’t want to get into a political discussion any more than I want to get into a church leadership discussion, so again, I’ll just say that in the end I felt that, as women, our voices, accomplishments, and capabilities are still viewed as ‘less than’ by so many in our culture.
But in the face of these devastating realities, do you know what I heard from my heavenly Father? Do you know what God whispered to me, over and over and over?
Rise up, my beloved daughter. Rise up and be who I created you to be without hesitation or apology. You don’t need permission from any government or religious institution to be who you are, because I rule the universe. I call you, empower you, and equip you. I have woven together each of your life experiences to form you into the woman you are today and you are beautiful. Rise up, my beloved daughter, I have important work for you to do.
This is what God has been whispering in my ear when the other voices get loud. I know His voice and it’s the only one I’ll follow. Listen carefully, my sisters, because if you’ve been feeling battered down, he may be whispering this to you too.
Sometimes it feels like living overseas for a couple of years has ruined me for life in my own country. My heart is a little bit torn and kind of confused almost every day. I’m trying to go easy on myself because it’s only been 2 months since we arrived back in Canada, but since so many people kindly ask us if we’re feeling all settled and fully transitioned, I thought I’d just say, we’re not feeling either of those things.
I am not alone. I am very well loved and supported. But I can’t deny that there is a “loneliness in having a mind spinning with images, lessons, and memories that can never adequately be shared” and I do feel confused about how and what to incorporate into our old but new life. (Thanks Rick Steves for the words I needed to explain myself.) I’m struggling to write about it, so I haven’t blogged. I’m struggling to do much, in fact, other than connect with people as that seems to be what matters most to me these days.
So, I’m embracing a season of adjustment and waiting on God. He has been slowly revealing the pieces we’re meant to hold onto and the pieces we’re meant to let go of for this next chapter. I know he is intentionally crafting a new life for us here, different from the one we left 2 years ago, and while it’s exciting, it’s also still really hard. I am clinging to God who remains our constant through the trial and the change. He is the same, no matter where we are.
We arrived back in Canada exactly 2 years after we left for Abu Dhabi. Of the 104 weeks we were gone, we traveled for 18. Not including the exploring we did around the UAE, we roamed the planet for the equivalent of 4 and a half months. People often commented on how amazing this must have been for our kids, which is partly true. Seeing so many countries and people and cultures has definitely impacted them, even if it takes them half a lifetime to recognize it. And there were countless interesting new experiences and tons of fun activities for them. But, I’m gonna let y’all in on a little secret, which pretty much every parent actually already knows deep down.
Traveling with kids is about as awesome as living at home with them.
You know what I’m sayin’? Its full of ups and downs. Of expectations, frustrations, and complications. It’s laughs and fights and great stories. It’s moments of amazing family bonding followed by reaching the end of your rope with family togetherness.
Our kids are truly amazing people. Honestly, they are incredibly flexible, open-minded, and patient. In all our travels they handled uncertainty, long waits/rides/flights, and glitches with poise. They agreed to every tour, day-trip, and itinerary we asked of them. Watching my little family breeze through airport security like a well-oiled machine made me smile every time. But they have their limits.
We hit those limits this summer.
After two years of intense travel, they just really didn’t want to see any more cathedrals or pretty views or cool city squares. Seeing street after street of beautiful European architecture just doesn’t make their soul sing like it does mine. They’re happy to be out for a few hours every day, but by this summer, that was about all they could handle. So we embraced that and all found our happy place. Because you know who’s not tired of cathedrals or views or city squares? Dwayne and I. We’d happily spend all day and all night out exploring, but we knew none of us would enjoy ourselves if we asked that of the kids this time around.
So, we found a new family travel groove. Day time plans, regroup at the apartment, night time plans. Kids choose one or both outings. Whenever they opt out, Jen & Dwayne enjoy date time. WIN-WIN-WIN-WIN!! Four happy campers.
The last stretch of our trip included 4 amazing European cities: Zagreb, Croatia; Budapest, Hungary; Vienna, Austria; and Prague, Czech Republic. Every day we enjoyed some family time out and about, and almost every day, Dwayne and I got to explore these cities on our own. (This piece of family travel heaven is brought to you by comfortable airbnb apartments, wifi, an almost-teenager, and two family cell phones.)
I had moments of wondering if this meant that all this travel was wasted on our kids, but this is just one issue on a long list of things I’m working on releasing control of. My kids’ experience of the countries we visited is just that- their own experience. Me forcing them to participate or berating them for not fully soaking up some amazing venue just isn’t going to help them appreciate it more. If Abby looks back one day and wishes she’d gone out more in Zagreb, she can choose to go back on her own. If Josiah wishes he’d said yes to the segway tour in Budapest, he can choose to go back another day and do it. Or not. Maybe they’ll never get these opportunities again, but that’s their lesson to learn. But, more likely than not, they won’t regret these things. They’re children who will vaguely remember the fun things they did do, the way they felt in each city, and the stories we gathered as a family.
Dwayne and I, however, are grown ups who soaked up all we could of these amazing cities. Zagreb far exceeded our expectations, Vienna was a bit of a disappointment although we managed to fill it with the Hansen version of family fun, and Budapest and Prague both blew us away. I could have done a blog post about each stop, but I’m gonna save those endless photos and stories for my photo album, spare you all the details, and share our highlight shots from each city. (Click or hover over any photo for a description.)
This leg of our trip wrapped up 2 years of world traveling adventures. Individually we all collected new insights and joyful moments, and as a family we made memories I know we’ll cherish and enjoy together for many years.
Sometimes there’s just so much to say about life, it feels impossible to start. I’m just gonna pick up where I left off with my last post. Eventually, maybe I’ll get all caught up again.
After 2 weeks on the Croatian coast (aka. God’s sweet gift to us), we spent 10 days in Ljubljana, Slovenia. We traveled there last year and loved it, so when Dwayne was looking for a spot to take his first level paragliding course, we knew the kids and I could happily spend over a week in that beautiful city. I call this second phase of our summer trip, the brainstorming phase. While we spent Croatia grieving and processing and coming around to immense gratitude, we spent Ljubljana investigating and dreaming of life possibilities upon return to Canada. We knew our goals and priorities for our life upon return, so how could we live those out? How can we focus on building God’s kingdom instead of our own? How can we pursue His joy in our life? How can we live on less than what we earn so that we’re truly free to serve and love and enjoy God’s blessings?
So while Dwayne spent his days sweating and climbing and jumping and flying, I spent my days researching and presenting him with a different idea every day.
We considered a lot of options. Could we live in an RV? How about a tiny home? Or maybe a mobile home? I have to say, I’m super proud of my family for working through this process. We were open to every one of these possibilities and we worked through a lot of ideas and clarified what is really important to each of us.
So. What did we choose? Now that we’re back in Chilliwack, how did it all unfold? Which option did we go with?
I’ll keep you posted.
We didn’t know the answer when we left Ljubljana, so I don’t want to get ahead of myself. We left Ljubljana with our heads swimming with possibilities. But in the midst of all the processing, we enjoyed the delights of Slovenia in an even deeper way than last summer. Slovenia is a lot like BC’s Fraser Valley- parks, lakes, rivers, and caves. But Ljubljana is full of European flair- castles, markets, monuments, and beautiful architecture. If you didn’t catch my recommendation fully enough last summer, let me reiterate: visit this country if you can. You won’t be disappointed.
Dwayne’s paragliding bunny hill. Climb hill loaded with equipment, set up, fly for 30 seconds, repeat.
Skocjan Caves, Slovenia. We couldn’t take photos in the main caverns, so this is all I’ve got. Some sights are too amazing for cameras anyway.
At Ljubljana’s annual beach volleyball tournament, under the shadow of the castle. We happened to be in Ljubljana last year for this tournament too. Maybe this should be our annual summer tradition.
My camera wasn’t out for most of this leg of our trip. It was full of regular life family days and down time. More of what we needed, when we needed it.
If you need some therapy after a sudden and unexpected life change, I highly recommend a couple of weeks on the coast of Croatia.
If you’ve been reading along lately, you know that we spent three very stressful and emotional weeks packing up our life in the UAE and saying goodbyes. In the midst of that storm, Dwayne accepted a teaching job back in Chilliwack for the fall and we had to decide what to do for the summer. Because we had anticipated still being in Al Ain this coming year, we had already planned and booked another 6 week European adventure. This year’s itinerary included Croatia, Slovenia, Hungary, Austria, and the Czech Republic. Our flights and the deposits on 8 different apartments were non-refundable, so when we found out we wouldn’t be returning to the UAE, we had to decide quite quickly whether we would cut our losses and return to Canada for the summer, or use the money we’d already saved for the trip and carry on as planned. We figured it was highly unlikely that our family would ever get an opportunity to do this trip again, and hey, we’d need place to stay all summer anyway….so, Europe it is!
And honestly, the reality of our return to Canada was still sinking in, and we really felt we would benefit from some space and time to grieve the life we were leaving behind and prepare for our new life back home. Europe seemed like a pretty appealing buffer.
So we flew to Croatia and spent five days in Dubrovnik, aka the “Pearl of the Adriatic,” five days in Jelsa on the island of Hvar, and five days in Zadar, voted one of Europe’s best destinations of 2016, for good reason. We swam, scootered, hiked, ate, and strolled inspiring city streets. We slept, read, wrote, played, and talked. We bantered back and forth about what we’ll miss about the UAE, what we’re looking forward to about returning to Canada, and how our new life might look.
I sent a few of my friends a photo of me on the sea wall watching a sunset in Zadar and some of them commented on how relaxed I look. And that’s exactly how I felt. Relaxed. Content. At peace. That’s no small matter, all things considered. I feel blessed to have had the life experience we’ve had the last two years and ready to return, with new perspective and altered priorities. Croatian therapy. Worth every penny.