Growing Up With My Face On a Prayer Card: A TCK Experience

The other day my friend Daniel (it’s uncanny how many people I know with my some variant of my name) and I were talking about missionary kids and how we (he is one too) grew up with this pervasive feeling of ‘being known’. The feeling is, in part, a side effect of growing up in another culture where your entire neighborhood knows who that “little white kid” is, but I think has a lot more to do with all of the attention you get from people you don’t know.

As a missionary kid you get used to your family being treated like some sort of Christian rock star. Not rock star in the “Audio Adrenaline” sense, but rather in the “Superchristian” church hierarchy sense. Your face is depicted in its various iterations of maturity on numerous prayer cards which are distributed to anyone and everyone, churches rearrange their schedules to listen to Dad preach, and you receive birthday cards postmarked to an address you lived at four houses ago from Sunday School groups at churches you never remember attending. These cards were filled with birthday greetings scrawled in various shades of crayon and were brimming with eager questions about what missionary life was like.

Living in Japan, a highly developed first-world nation, did not exempt me from the ‘typical’ missionary questions. What is Japan like? Do you have TV? Do you speak Chinese? Have you ever eaten raw fish? Do you like Japan or America better? With all these kids clamoring to gain knowledge that you intrinsically possess, you start to feel a certain sense of power. I am super-special. People know who I am.

As I grew older I started to resent some of the attention - after all, it’s not like I chose to go and live in another country. Everyone I met had these ideas of missionaries that involved danger and sacrifice and hardship. I didn’t feel like my life reflected that at all. I had clean water, Western living standards, delicious food, a very good English education, and a faster Internet connection than most people living Stateside had. But none of that mattered. People in American churches still treated me differently.

As I experienced more of the world I started to realize just how different that “differently” was. I never thought it weird that a picture of my family was on a church bulletin board or a family’s refrigerator, or that Dad would send out prayer letters telling people in America how our family was doing, that we would sometimes open a letter and find an unsolicited check from a generous individual, or that people would come up to me and say “Hey, I’ve been praying for you since you were a baby.” But that stuff doesn’t happen to everybody; it’s a unique experience - one that I now treasure - but it also contributes to the aforementioned paranoia of feeling ‘known’.

It doesn’t matter where I go, there's a pervasive feeling that people know who I am, who my parents are, and where I are from. Maybe they even know my education history, friends I’ve had, or where I currently live. And all that means that I mentally prepare myself for awkward interactions with people I don’t know but who know me. People around the world have been vicariously following my life, and yet when we meet I have no idea who they are. It makes one-off interactions such as ordering pizza, making a reservation, talking to customer service, or asking for help locating an item in a grocery store irrationally daunting. It contributes to the insights behind this article I wrote about why I don’t like talking on the phone. I remember a time in high school when I had to find a somewhere to volunteer for class credit. Calling up a volunteer coordinator at a local rescue mission, something most people wouldn’t blink at, was one of the most harrowing experiences of my life. And why? Because I was used to people whom I had never met knowing a lot about me.

People in Japan knew me as the blonde, white kid, and people in America knew me as the missionary kid from Japan. Not only did people know me, but they had been following my life for a long time. They had, through pictures and family updates, watched me grow up. Who’s to say that they weren’t going to continue that? I assumed they did, and that I was going to have to watch my back. It took me a few years to come to terms with this and try to compensate for my skewed perception of the world. Over time I realized that not every new person I meet knows everything about me, and that most people I meet just see me as a tall, skinny white boy. Cool. I can deal with that.

_DZ submit to reddit


"23" - Then and Now

Have you ever listened to a song where the lyrics mentioned a specific age that seemed really far away and talks about the songwriters experience at that age? I just had one of those experiences.

In high school I listened to a mediocre electro-industrial band named God Lives Underwater, (I actually created that page, way back when) who I thought were one of the greatest things to happen to music. (Admittedly, they made some catchy stuff.) They sounded a bit like Depeche Mode meets Nine Inch Nails and I thought they were “gritty”, “advanced”, “unique” “underrated” and probably some other words that get thrown around by pretentious high school music fans. In reality all of their albums were about heroin addiction and produced on equipment that you could find in any aspiring twenty-something musician’s bedroom.

This didn’t stop me from developing a love for their song called “23”. The seventh track off their sophomore effort Empty, it's the one “slow” song (basically just a synthed-up loop for the verses and then an acoustic chorus) on an otherwise extremely sonically harsh album, which meant that I immediately labeled it “deep”, “emotional”, and “super good”. The lyrics go something like this:

I'm breathing the air
the air i always breathe
I don't have a lot
but i want someone to share it with me

I really only want a few things
they've all been taken away
what does the next life bring
I just want to feel o.k.

I'm searching forever
for someone or something
I want to be high
and i want someone to love me

I spent 23 years now
trying to get by
other people make it day to day
I still wonder why

I only really had a few things
they've all turned to tears
one tried to kill me
the other kept me

i'm still here

It’s so painful and hopelessly full of cynical optimism that I almost want to burn myself with cigarette butts in a way that the scars form a smiley face.

Listening to the song reminds me of not only how far my musical taste has improved, but of what kind of person I was before Jesus saved me. Obsession with the hopeless turned into a passion for God; depression was slowly replaced by joy. God Lives Underwater, a band I liked eight years ago, serves to remind me of what my life was compared to what it is. I was fifteen then. I am twenty-three now. I pray for joy, love, compassion, and wisdom in the years to come.

_DZ submit to reddit


Unbridling Your Speed

I recently attended a spectacular wedding of two high school friends, which was a nice treat in the middle of an otherwise predictable summer of work and cycling. The nature of weddings (gifts, dressing up, being clean and fresh) and the ceremony being a good 17 miles away made it difficult to make the trip by bike, so I borrowed a car. Being able to use a car was really helpful and saved me a lot of time. However, it did remind me of why I love to bike as much as I do. I think about the car/bike debate a lot, and while driving I had a new insight into why I prefer cycling.

On a bike, you don’t have speed limits.

Not relevant ones, anyway. (Actually, one of my life goals is to be issued a ticket for speeding on a bicycle. I can probably achieve this if I find a hill where upon descent I can hit 30+mph and then zoom into a 15mph residential zone.) More to the point, you don’t have limits on your “engine”. You go as fast as your legs will take you. If you are tired, you pedal at tired speed. If not, you pedal at normal speed. Regardless, you are pedaling at maximum comfortable output. This sounds simple, but it’s actually really liberating to not have to worry about how fast you’re going. So liberating, in fact, that I was experiencing a sort of anxiety over driving a car on the highway. Having to worry about going too fast was actually a painful psychological experience. Add to the the lack of wind blowing past me and the isolation from surrounding traffic, and I was mildly claustrophobic as well.

Driving is turning into a genuinely distasteful experience. Maybe it’s time to look into a cargo bike?

_DZ submit to reddit