Tag Archives: diversity

our immigration story

We recently returned from a very un-planned trip to Boston. Essentially, due to some recent immigration policy changes, the UK government required us to submit our visa-renewal application from within the United States. Neither AJ’s company or we were prepared for this; therefore, we basically had a two-day notice to book our flights and get the heck out of the UK.

We’ve travelled quite a bit as a family, but never have we had to prepare in one day for an international, 7 hr flight, 5 hr time change kind of trip. We were all, “Hey kids, wanna go to Boston tomorrow?” and poor Tori thought we were moving there. “Are you going to miss your friends, Mommy?” she asked very quietly. “You know, when we move to America?” <Insert cracked heart here.>

As I printed out over 60 pages of application documents (printer courtesy of a dear London friend), news blurbs kept popping up, and all I could see were the words like “immigrants” and “border control” and “child refugees.” My heart wanted to stop and contemplate all of IT, but my head knew I needed to focus on the job at hand.

We boarded our plane and arrived in the US with no issues, other than that Anders was too short for the automated immigration photo-thingy upon arrival. (BTW, his passport/visa photos are The. Cutest. Ever.) We knew that, worst-case-scenario, our visas would expire while we were there, and the UK, for some reason, would not approve our renewal. And we’d be stuck in Boston indefinitely.

During our entire trip, my heart and head were in turmoil. Yes, we were stressed about the unknown. But in everything I did, my heart was feeling contradictory.

As the kids watched shows on the iPad and I read through Elle Décor on the plane, all I could think of were the thousands of people crammed into teeny boats with nothing but the clothes on their backs, trying to make their way across an ocean.

As we were escorted to the front of the line at the USCIS office, I was so grateful for not having to wait ages with my two young kids in the super-boring office. And my heart tugged as we passed non-American families with young children, waiting, looking as bored and cranky as we would have been.

As we were pulled aside to sit for 20 minutes in a “secure lounge” upon re-entry to the UK, (their systems hadn’t yet fully updated our status), I couldn’t help but think of the millions of families living in refugee camps, sometimes for decades.

And as I lay with my wide-awake, jet-lagged three-year-old son at 3:30am, my brain could not erase images of that tiny three-year-old body, limp and lifeless, washed ashore on a Turkish beach.

Were the last two weeks stressful? Yep, a type of stress we haven’t encountered before. Were the last two weeks exhausting? You bet. Were the last two weeks a strain on our marriage? Of course. But. Were they physically dangerous? Nope. Did they put us into major financial debt? No. Did they ever require that I put my children in a life-threatening situation? Of course not.

We’re back in the UK, after spending almost two weeks with family and friends. We have a five-year visa. And as small and cramped as our flat may have seemed before we left, it now feels quite adequate. We have a “long” walk to school in the morning, but now it doesn’t seem quite that bad, even in the rain.

AJ and I always try to look for God’s purpose in the events of our lives. Sometimes it’s really, really hard to see it. Often we can’t see it until well after the fact. But I do feel that perhaps God wanted to soften my heart toward the plight of others, and he used this “inconvenience” and “stress” as a means to do so. I’m still working through what it all means, and what I need to do next… I’m really not sure. When I figure it out, I’ll let you know. ;-)

How living in London is teaching me to love myself

The city of London now has over 8.6 million people who call it home. 44% of the city’s people are now of black or ethnic minority origins.* What does this mean for me? I love people-watching, and it’s AMAZING here.

I’ve always loved people-watching. I love seeing other people’s fashion choices, their hairstyles, shoes, umbrellas, hats. There’s just so much to take in!

I’ll be honest: I’m not accustomed to being around so many ethnically diverse people. I think because of this, I find them fascinating to look at. They’re all so very different – Chinese, Indian, Caribbean, African, Turkish, Eastern European, I just love looking at all of their faces and noticing the sometimes-obvious-but-sometimes-subtle differences between all of these races.

I pass dozens of people every morning on our walk to Tori’s school, then Anders and I will, once or twice a week, get coffee and a muffin at a café and just hang out. And I watch as people walk by or sit sipping their drinks. And I’ve come to this conclusion: ALL OF THEM ARE SO BEAUTIFUL.

Which leads me to my main point: LONDON IS TEACHING ME TO LOVE MYSELF, specifically my physical self.

I’ve struggled with poor body image for a long time. It’s the kind of body image that when I’m being rational, I feel fine about myself! But when I’m being irrational (who, me?) I can be overwhelmed with feelings of inadequacy, dissatisfaction and loads of self-criticism. This can vary daily. One day I’ll loathe my teeth. The next I’ll be stressing about my skin. And to be honest, I’m sick of it. I’m sick of one day feeling great, and the next day being afraid to eat a blueberry muffin because of its fat content.

I know at this point some of you are rolling your eyes. Because, in the grand scheme of things, I’ve really got nothing to worry about. But that’s not the point. The point is that I FEEL I have something to worry about. As irrational as it may be, it’s still true, and I think a lot of you can relate.

I now realize that I used to people-watch mainly as a way to critique myself. “Look at how well she wears that sweater dress. I couldn’t pull that off.” Or “Wow those jeans look amazing on her. I tried that same pair on and I looked like a mushroom.” Or “How does she look so great in that tunic and riding boots? I always look like Robin Hood.” And so on… (you guys, I’m not even joking about the Robin Hood thing.)

Perhaps it’s because I’m a bit older, or because I’ve had 6 months of truly unique people-watching, but today, as Anders and I sat in Pret and I drank a vanilla latte strong, I watched an Indian woman sitting across the café. There wasn’t anything remarkable about her, not fat or thin, not short or tall, not plain or striking, but in that moment, I truly thought she was beautiful. Then I looked at another woman, massively pregnant, with closely-cropped hair, zero makeup and clearly exhausted, and I thought she looked beautiful. And then there was the barista who called me Madame and had the clearest blue eyes amidst an otherwise plain face and I thought she was stunning. It was like all at once, everyone I looked at suddenly became beautiful just for the sake of being beautiful, not as a means to further my self-critique.

I feel like this is a huge deal. I know some people are naturally blessed with the ability to see all people as beautiful, unique beings, and they can do that without bringing it back to themselves. But clearly I’m not (or I wasn’t!) one of those people. The word selfish comes to mind. Because isn’t that what you call it when everything in your life revolves around yourself? The word selfish is usually used in relation to someone who thinks that they are better than everyone, therefore deserve to get everything they want, but really it’s just about being all-consumed with yourself, good or bad.

angelou8I’ve been selfish. And how lame is that? How exhausting. How boring, really, to constantly be comparing yourself to other people. It has blinded me from truly seeing people for who they are, and how God has created them, and has blinded me from seeing myself as I truly am, and how God created me.

I think this is a turning point for me. In a really cool, unchartered, might-screw-up-once-in-a-while-but-will-get-back-on-track kind of way. I’m so excited to start being deliberate in bettering my body image. I’m not really sure what this looks like in a tangible way. Perhaps I’ll move our full-length mirror to a place I don’t walk past as often. Or maybe I’ll stop meandering through clothing stores a bit less. I’m not sure. But I do know that this is new to me, and I’m really excited about it.

And I’m pretty sure I might not have had this experience if we hadn’t moved to London!

I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well. ~Psalm 139:14

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

*http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-london-31082941

Two other great articles about the modern issue of self-image:

https://lizboltzranfeld.wordpress.com/2015/03/17/what-happens-if-we-let-fat-people-be-happy/

http://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2012/jun/10/body-image-anxiety-eva-wiseman

Tough Questions: Handling Cultural Diversity with Young Children

quote-Albert-Einstein-if-you-cant-explain-it-to-a-106152_2

We were at our local grocery store in north London when my four-year-old daughter, Tori, tugged on my sleeve.

“Mommy. MOMMY.” She whispered fervently, eyes wide and face solemn. “There’s a MONSTER over there.”

She then, as children do, pointed. And when I saw who she was pointing at, I was taken aback. Not because of who I saw, but more because I wasn’t sure how to respond in the moment.

She was pointing to a woman dressed in a full abaya and niqab, a black cloak and veil Muslim women sometimes wear, which draped her from head-to-toe, covering everything except her eyes.

IMG_0935

London’s markets are rich with diversity.

I’m going to be brutally honest here. I wasn’t sure what to say to my daughter. What I did say (whisper) was something like, “Oh, no, that’s not a monster, she’s a woman just like me! I think she’s even a mommy! And do you see how by wearing those clothes we are forced to look at her pretty eyes?” And then we kept shopping.

Yeah… I still have no clue if that was the right thing to say. Here’s what I was feeling: “I know it LOOKS like she could be a monster to you. She is wearing the color of Halloween, she has a mask on, and she’s staring out at you through that mask. And you don’t see people like this very often, do you? It sometimes startles us when we see things we aren’t used to seeing.”

But of course I didn’t say that there. We talked about it more at home, but even then it was on the level a four-year-old could understand, and my main point to her was that those women are mommies and sisters and are just like she and I, and are nothing to be scared of, and should be loved just like everyone else.

Cultural diversity is one of the big reasons we chose to take our adventure to London, and we haven’t been disappointed! Tori literally had NEVER seen a woman in a niqab before. In fact, she had barely seen women wearing a hijab (head covering) until we moved here. I’ll be brutally honest again: our corner of Tucson just wasn’t very ethnically diverse. I’m not saying Muslims and Buddhists and people of MULTIPLE different religions, languages and race don’t live there, I’m just saying it’s not nearly as prevalent as in a city like London. (And, admittedly, we didn’t make a huge effort to leave our little corner often…)

Tori's adorable "Reception" class.

Tori’s adorable “Reception” class. She’s the one with the blonde pig-tails :-)

Tori, with her blonde hair, fair skin and light eyes, is a minority at her school. Many of her playmates are bi- or tri-lingual! They speak Spanish, French, Farsi, Hindi, Italian… One of Anders’ friends has an Italian dad and African-Muslim French-born-in-Paris mum! Tori has a playdate with a friend from India this afternoon, our babysitter is from Romania and we’ll be seeing some German friends later this week.

I love that we are here while my children are young enough to have this become a “norm” for them. One of our goals as parents is to provide our children with the opportunity to LOVE EVERYONE they meet, and to be able to look beyond race or ethnicity or religion or any other lifestyle that might be different from theirs, and show them the love Christ would have shown.

But I’ll admit, answering the cultural questions of a four-year-old is HARD. “Mommy, why does my friend wear a scarf on her head every day?” or “Mommy, is that a man or a woman?” or “Mommy, why is that old man wearing a skirt and a funny hat?” or “Why does my friend live with her mommy and not her daddy?” or “Why are there shops in that church?”

Ummm…. :-) It’s been a challenge for us, but a good one. A NEEDED one. We were getting too lazy and complacent in our little bubble. Answering Tori’s questions has forced AJ and me to really be thoughtful about all those topics, and to be very deliberate in answering them in a way that she’ll understand. Or, in some instances, say, “Um, I’m not sure” and go home and do an internet search to find the answer, haha! (Because, I’ll be honest, I had no idea what the Muslim woman’s face veil was called until I researched it, and even now I HOPE I called it the correct name!!)

How DO we want our children to view the world? It’s a very tricky question but one we’re excited to explore answering.