Sunday, August 27, 2017

I had an epiphany this weekend.

As a person of faith, I've never been much for learning a lesson simply by hearing a sermon, or reading my scriptures. Oh, no. I'm one of those folks who needs to be thrown into the fire; submerged in ugly, annoying real life; and then whacked upside the head with a 2x4 in order to learn a life lesson. 

I'm 90% sure God face palms often in reference to me and my inability to take a hint. He loves me. But I doubt he considers me the most perceptive of His children. 

I recently learned a lesson that I am completely convinced came from God himself, and it moved me so much that I had to share it with you all. Don't worry. It's not too "preachy" but it is frank. And sometimes my frankness is offensive to people. So if you're easily offended by blunt life experiences and excessive transparency.... you might want to click out of my blog, and go to YouTube to watch cat videos. Because I'm nothing if not blunt and transparent.

And so ye have been warned.

As most of you know, my family lives abroad. My husband's job took us to South Korea, which is where we've lived for 2 1/2 years now, with about 9 months remaining on his contract--not that I'm counting, except that I am

In living abroad in an expat community (I've blogged about my expat experience before HERE) I've been thrust into a melting pot of fellow trailing spouses (the nickname for spouses who have followed their significant other abroad) from all sorts of races, nationalities, religions, social standings, tax brackets, occupations, lifestyles, orientations, and pretty much every other defining factor between people you can possibly dream up.

We've all been tossed into this smallish social circle and told to "Buck up and make it work! Make friends! stay active! Friends are what make the expat experience tolerable!" 

Only change the name to Brooke.

Instead of having the luxury of being able to pick and choose friends based on common interest, similar lifestyles, or the simple pleasure of *liking someone*, often times in the expat lifestyle, you're presented with folks you might never have sought out a friendship with outside of the foreign country you're both stuck in, and told: make it work

(This is infinitely easier said than done. And if someone says it's not that difficult, they're lying. #fact) Though full disclosure: I've made some friends that I actually like and would pick, even if we weren't thrust into the melting pot together. 

It is within these forced friendships and connections that I learned my most recent life lesson. And here is what I learned:

So here in South Korea I met a woman who--at one time--lived in not only the same state, but the same city that my family hails from, but rather than loving it there.... she hated it. Her experience in Spokane, Washington was inherently negative, and really put her family through the ringer emotionally and spiritually. And when I heard that, I was like whaaaaaaa?

Yeah. I couldn't wrap my brain around that. In my mind, Washington is straight up next to heaven on the perfect scale. I mean, just look at that:

Uh huh. Perfection.

However, this woman had not had the same experience as me. She hated it. 80% of her memories there were terrible, and it had proven to be one of the biggest trials of her life. And because it'd been such a negative experience, she felt the need to tell people about it. Often. To anybody who would listen. For two years straight I listened to these complaints...

To say it annoyed me would be an understatement. 


It set my teeth on edge. It made my shackles go up. I turned into a very pro-Washington-State Incredible Hulk, wanting her to shut up, keep her negativity to herself, and focus on the positive. Griping about her bad Spokane experience wasn't benefiting anyone, and it was downright insulting and offensive to me, so why wouldn't she just shut up? What was wrong with her?!

I finally told her how it made me feel. I explained that it was insulting and offensive. I explained that some people really value the blessing of living in Spokane, Washington, and that her thoughts don't reflect everyone else's, and therefore should be kept to herself. 

Me. Telling that woman to stop talking.

She heard me out, apologized, and to this day has not complained about her Spokane experience in front of me again. And...for a while...I really appreciated her consideration.

Until this recent situation happened. Now I just sort of want to punch myself in the face.

So my family's experience in South Korea hasn't been tremendously positive. I won't go into details--mostly because it'll take all dang night, and my fingers are getting tired, aaaand I'll have a nifty band of haters down my throat within minutes--but in a nutshell: our experience here has been (mostly) negative. It put a strain on our marriage, as well as an unhealthy amount of pressure on our children that we will be UN-doing for long after we leave return home. There are too many examples to list, but one of the defining moments for my husband and I as parents was having our oldest child write home from his mission in Chile, saying, "You need to get my siblings out of there. It's so hard to live there. So much harder than I ever told you." 

Yah. Talk about mom guilt. 

So while we've definitely experienced some good times living abroad, unfortunately there has been more negative than positive, and our kids have asked us to please take them home. They're spent. They're tired. They've sacrificed more than most kids should have to, and they're ready to be done. And as a wife and mother, I feel the same way. Next summer when we go home it will be a relief. We will likely look back on our time in Asia as one of the biggest blessings we've experienced, as well as one of the biggest trials we've faced as a family. 

I am ready to bring that chapter to a close. 

Me, as they announce it's time to load the plane to go home next June.

Now, as most of you know, I am an avid fan of social media. I am as transparent as the day is long, and I don't mince words. My personal Facebook page is filled with grumbles about living abroad, sending my children to a pretentious private school, and perpetually feeling like a square peg in a round hole. 

In between posts asking for quinoa recipes and lamenting about how slowly my children move when they're late for school, I complain about it being as hot as the devil's crotch outside, and joking about how said private school made the most money last year off of our family thanks to my hyperactive uterus and our four children costing 100k in tuition. #sorrynotsorry

I don't mince words when I complain, and I don't filter who I complain in front of. Why should I? I'm allowed to have feelings. I'm allowed to say what I want. Freedom of speech isn't limited to political posts and Game of Thrones Fan Theories. Freedom of speech doesn't just mean marching or protesting, and shamelessly bragging about ones adventures on the slopes or on sandy beaches. What is good for the goose, is good for the gander, and in this scenario, I am a gander looking for the freedom to gripe/joke/whine/post as I see fit.

Plus, if I'm being honest, sharing my woes helps me to feel better. I am a writer. I eat, sleep, live, breathe, and die by my words. Bottling it all up, and acting fake for the masses makes me sick and stressed out. No, really... it actually makes me physically sick. I'm bald, remember?

 Remember the butt tumor of 2017? (Click here to read that story!) Holding in my stress literally makes me sick. When others internalize their woes, I externalize them. This isn't wrong. It's A-typical, but not wrong.

Which prompted me to have an epiphany recently.

Yeah. Kind of blew my mind.

When I complain, or joke more crassly than usual, or openly discuss problems we've had on our expat journey, it frustrates people. Folks who eat, sleep, and breathe the expat life. People who love the same places and experiences that our family has found unpleasant. People who find my displeasure of expat life annoying. People who presume my honesty reflects depression, mental illness, or instability--rather than what it actually is...which is just honesty, plain and simple? People who think my griping doesn't fix anything, so why can't I just shut up!?

Sound familiar?

Yeah. Me, too.

Don't require me to come down off my unicorn to deal with reality! I am having FUN in my safe space!

Side note: has anyone else noticed that we, as a society, have started to become overly sensitive to less-than-pleasant things. Because we're inundated with negativity from the news every day, and since we're tuned in to social media and news outlets 24 hours a day, we are just overwhelmed with unhappy stuff. Wars, nukes, racism, crappy presidents, crappy world leaders, deaths, ISIS, terrorism, shootings, etc etc's all over us, all the time. 

I think that on social media folks really try to control what their friends and family want to talk about. Don't say that it's offensive; don't post that, it hurts my feelings; do what makes you feel good; dump whatever makes you feel bad; kick negative people to the curb; only do what brings you joy; only surround yourself with positivity, go to your safe space....blah blah blah...

Has it ever occurred to us that we are brought here to earth to experience both joy AND sadness? To experience pain AND pleasure? Why is everyone so adverse to reading/seeing/FEELING anything remotely negative? Why is someone else's negativity treated like lice? Why do we exterminate ourselves of that person's negativity, and then shampoo that unhappy BS off like it's dog feces? 

Good grief, unhappiness is part of life. It doesn't necessarily mean someone is inherently sad or needs an intervention. It doesn't mean that they need to be talked out of their feelings, or that their feelings are somehow hurting you at all. They're just that: their feelings.

Just don't listen if you don't like it. Or don't read it if it's too negative for you. Click unfollow. Unfriend them. But don't try to police what other people say and share and feel. That's counterproductive to the purpose of our very existence here on earth. We as a human race have become addicted to trying to only focus on the positive. Plus, if we're all being honest here in Brooke's safe space, it makes you look like a jerk when you try to police what other people think or feel or say.

How can you know if something is all that negative if you only surround yourself with positive all the time?? You cannot feel joy without pain. Duh.

Yeah. That's deep. I went there. Anyway, back to my original point...

That woman I mentioned above? The one whose Spokane, Washington experience was obscenely negative? Yeah. She's amongst the few who haven't been offended by my complaining. Well, maybe she has, but she hasn't said anything to me. But surely she understands my plight more so than anyone else. She, too, had an extremely negative experience at a place far from home. She, too, found herself repairing her family and her children's hearts after leaving that place. She, too, liked to complain and whine about it publicly. 

Yet, I told her to shut up. To buck up. To get over it. To focus on the positive.

My, my, the tables have turned.

You see, I think God knows that I can't learn lessons by just reading scriptures or listening to a sermon. He knows I need to be thrown into that refiners fire, to be molded and sculpted, even though I fight it and scream and complain the whole time. He knows I can't be a compassionate, understanding representative of His love if I've never experienced angst. He knew I couldn't be effectively compassionate to someone who is feeling out of place, displaced, lonely, or ostracized if I never experienced these things myself? How can I know what it feels like to be insulted, judged, and told to shut up for sharing my feelings publicly, unless just that had happened to me? How can I allow someone the freedom of speech, if I've never been persecuted for using that freedom myself?

Yeah. Total epiphany.

I messaged that woman and apologized. Told her that God had put me into the refiners fire to teach me compassion, and that I now knew what it felt like to have a deep NEED to share my angst through my words, and to have those words met with judgment, anger, and inaccurate labels. I told her how much it sucks to be told to shut up, and to be persecuted for your words, when the freedom to share those words is the one saving grace you have left. Again, she listened, then she accepted my apology. 

She has yet to complain about Spokane, Washington to me again. But when/if she does, I won't be bothered. I've learned my lesson: 

I don't have to like what others are saying, how loudly they're saying it, or what platform they're saying it on. But I do not have the right to tell them to stop. I only have to right to not listen. 

I won't tell people she's crazy. I won't spread rumors about her mental stability. I won't complain about her views because they vary from mine. I won't tell her she needs to change. I'll just sit back, and enjoy the fact that *one* person out there understands what it feels like to detest living somewhere where everyone else seems to think it's the bee's knees. And I'll be grateful I don't have to explain that to her. Because she already gets it, when so many others don't. 

So. Many. Others.

It was a humbling moment for me. 

Humbling moments are good for me. They make me grow. They help me become more like Jesus Christ, which is what we're all working towards. Or should be. So I can't complain about this humbling experience. As much as I wish I could be more understood by the masses, I do know that God understands me, and appreciates me the way I am--probably because He made me this way. I'm grateful for that knowledge. 

I heard something in church today that hit me, and so I'll close with that. The teacher was telling the story of a man who was in prison for months at a time, who was well over six feet tall, but his jail cell was only about 4 feet tall, so he stood stooped over for all that time, and he had no access to bathroom facilities so he was forced to relieve himself in the same space he slept and ate in. He was separated from his family and grew deeply depressed during this time. 

Rather than pulling farther away from God during this time, like so many might've done--I can only speak for myself, but I would likely have grown agonizingly bitter during such a horrific time--the man in the story only drew closer to God. He used his time as a prisoner to pray, study, and ponder the words of prophets, and to devote himself to God more so than ever before. 

This really inspired me. My teacher said today: "Make your prison into a temple, and draw closer to God." 

Right now I am not in a cell, in fact, I am in an apartment, with my husband, children, and a deaf, dumb dog. But because of our circumstances, living here occasionally feels like a spiritual or emotional prison. Sure, there are good days. (Down, haters!) Days where the kids come home happy, days where my husband comes home early enough to spend some time together, days where the words flow and I'm able to work. But there are also bad days that remind us that we want to go home, and that the countdown is on until we can fly off this rock.

But in the meantime, rather than trying to fit in and mold myself into what I need to be to have a bigger, more exciting social life, I am going to focus on turning my prison into a temple, and trying to draw nearer to God. 

I'll start by seeking out more epiphanies like I had this weekend. Learning from my wrongs, and finding ways to be more compassionate in situations where I might be otherwise irritated. 

You should try it, too.