#OnlytheGood – Volume 4

Last night we walked along the Charles river. The moon was full and glorious. We looked across the river at the Boston skyline, the full moon gracing the sky, and for a few minutes, all was well.

This edition of #Onlythegood brings you a baby and a cat, an artist who paints for cancer patients, a story about a child of two worlds, and a link to third culture kid blogs and resources. Enjoy!

That Time #Ramona Made Everyone Smile for a Few Minutes. In the midst of all of the catastrophic news on Monday, National Public Radio had what they initially thought was a major failure on social media.  A personal post was put onto the official NPR site by a man named Christopher Dean Hopkins. It was a picture of his daughter, Ramona and a cat. The caption read as follows:

First Ramona post!

He realized his mistake a few minutes later and put up another post, apologizing. The unanticipated positive response was overwhelming! Basically, in the midst of all the awful news, people loved seeing a picture of a baby with a cat and the humorous caption along with it. People are begging for more of #Ramona. Tweets, posts, and more hashtags are popping up all over the place. The rallying cry is “Give us more #Ramona!”

It makes one stop and pause for a minute. We are starving for good news. We are aching to read something positive. We are overwhelmed with the bad, the horror, the tragedies and we long for good things – like babies and cats and funny captions. This doesn’t make us shallow – it makes us realize we are human and we can only handle so much that we can do nothing about.

But a cat and a baby? That’s something to smile about. 

Jonathan the Painter – Jonathan picked up a paintbrush when his father was diagnosed with cancer in 2003. He hasn’t stopped painting. As the artist in residence at both Massachusetts General Hospital and Boston Medical Center, Jonathan paints with and for cancer patients. On Wednesdays, my husband wanders up to see him and chat. They have become friends through a mutual love of art and Rockport, Ma. Jonathan’s studio is on Bearskin Neck in Rockport and you can browse his paintings to an ocean view. I love that Jonathan uses his work for cancer patients. His website describes his journey with these words:

“Welcome to my world of color and texture and energy and emotion. My artwork is inside out. Inspired by the stories, the journey, and the tides. By the victories and the defeats. The sunrises and sunsets. I first picked up a brush when my Dad was diagnosed with cancer in 2003, and I haven’t put it down since.” 

A Child of Two Worlds –  in Modern Love by Rachel Pieh Jones. This piece is an old beauty! Rachel gave birth to her daughter, Lucy, on the fourth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. This piece is beautiful and has now been turned into a podcast. Sit down with some tea and take a listen! You won’t be disappointed.

“Except for when I woke her to nurse, Lucy slept through the first night, her face serene and flawless. I kissed her rosebud lips and smoothed her hair and sang lullabies. This was my Djiboutian American daughter, a perfect combination of my two worlds. Born to American parents, in a Muslim country, on a day of infamy, she epitomized the people and places I had come to love.

While East and West became increasingly polarized over terrorism and religion and politics, Lucy would always remind me of the personal and the human nature behind the news stories.

Fardousa came to check on us during that first night. She stood in the doorway, silhouetted by the hall light, and we smiled at each other. We had done what women throughout the centuries have done and would continue to do, what no divisions or rhetoric or wars could ever stop.

We had brought life and beauty and love into the world.” read the entire piece here.

Blogs for TCKs and their Parents – I’ve updated the blog and book sections of the Third Culture Kid Resource page. You’ll find some excellent blogs and books on those pages so take a look and enjoy perusing some new sources!

#Onlythegood picture – I redecorated this window shelf and love it’s shapes and lines!


That’s all for now! 

We are Too Fortunate


This weekend we walked along the rocky coast, a bright sun beginning its journey to set and emerge on the other side of the world. It was so incredibly beautiful. “We are too fortunate!” I thought to myself.

Too fortunate.

The words are not original to me, but they came into my vocabulary a number of years ago through an artist’s pottery shop in the town of Rockport. On this Monday, where my Sabbath rest collides with my daily reality, I want to remind myself of those words “We are too fortunate.”


Travel to the end of Route 128 in the North Shore of Boston and you will end up in Rockport, Massachusetts – a charming town on the rocky Atlantic coast, where art galleries mix with unique shops and beautiful gardens.

Rockport is at the end of the railway line and there is not a better ending to that particular train journey.

Some of the well-known landmarks in the area include Bearskin neck jutting into the sea and the main tourist area of the town and Motif #1, an old fishing shack that is said to be the most painted site in all of the United States;

A number of years ago there was a small pottery shop in town called Too Fortunate Pottery. I first discovered this shop years ago when, wanting to escape the madness of an American mall at Christmastime, my husband and I chose to do all of our Christmas shopping in Rockport. Wandering in to the pottery shop I wanted to stay forever.  The shop was filled with light and creativity. It wasn’t just the pottery itself, beautiful though it was, it was the peace and the space transporting me to a world  beyond my current reality. Perhaps it was the timing since we found this shop in the middle of a critical process of culture-shock, experiencing our first Christmas in ten years in the United States after moving from Cairo.

On one of my future visits to the shop I began speaking with one of the owners.  I asked her about the name of the store. She looked at me, paused, and then replied “One day, as we were working and creating, we looked at each other and realized that we were too fortunate to have this shop and do what we loved all day long. The name came to us that day – Too Fortunate Pottery.”

I have never forgotten this conversation and this window into the creativity and gratefulness of the artists.

Perhaps it’s my limited view, but I see fewer people passionate about their work. I can’t think of many who could put up the sign “Too Fortunate” to describe their life’s work and calling. There are also many who may not be willing to give up their retirement plans, yearly raises, and that critical 2-week vacation that the west understands as the American Dream to do what they are passionate about. For others, it is finances and life circumstances that dictate their work, demanding attention to jobs that are not their life choice.

This is what makes the work of the artist so critical and desperately needed.  Because artists create spaces where the rest of us can relax and enter into places where time doesn’t matter and peace radiates all around.

In the words of another, art becomes essential not decorative* so that we too might consider ourselves too fortunate.

*Bono on The Psalms

This post was revised from one written in 2011. 

Live Slowly; Enter in Gently

I find it impossibly difficult to return to writing after summer time. It’s so maddening. I finally have the space and the quiet I need to write and … nothing. Brick walls. Dead ends. The words refuse to come. I have nothing to say. I have nothing more to write about.

Perhaps you haven’t noticed, but I really don’t write much during the summer. Like many I greet every summer with joy at the longer lazy days. Summer in Kansas smells like fresh cut grass and barbecues, sunscreen and chlorine. I enjoy my kids streaming in the front door and heading out the back. The youngest teenager still needs shuttling around and it pleases me to drop her off at the pool or at a friend’s house. One would think that with flexible scheduling would come serendipitous wide-open moments to write. However in my experience those moments never seem to materialize. I end up frustrated and greatly peeved at the people and perturbances that seem to conspire to keep me from picking up my proverbial pen! The problem perplexes me every year and then I’m perpetually surprised at my perennial seasonal shock!

The summer is now over. At least here in Kansas it seems that way. University students are pouring back into town and settling in on campus. Our local school district officially welcomed back elementary and secondary school students on Tuesday. The air is cooling off a little at night now. The fall football schedule is published. Summer is over.

I sat down to write yesterday morning. Granted, I did have some technical problems with my aging Macintosh computer, but that didn’t fully explain why I had the hardest time writing. Nothing would come. I started several attempts, bits of words, bobs of ideas, but nothing stuck. I couldn’t write. I contemplated messaging Marilyn that I’m done. I can no longer write. I really do have nothing to say.

I suppose it’s similar to how I felt when we got back from our family vacation on August 10th. August 11th I woke up completely overwhelmed. I sat in my chair with my morning cup of coffee and quietly contemplated the day and the daunting list of things to do. The amount of things on that list left me paralyzed. I wasn’t sure how to proceed. Lowell joined me on the other side of the room, in his chair, and he enquired after me. I took a deep breath and said, unbeknownst even to myself, “I’m determined to live slowly today.” I’m not sure where that bubble of wisdom broke loose from but it rose quietly to the surface in response to my own panic and Lowell’s question and it seems to apply to the writing thing too.

More wisdom came today when I finally prayed about my writing woes. I brought my stubborn fingers to the Father; I laid bare my broken word bank to his scrutiny. Any purpose in me that points to writing comes only from him. I’m created to bear the Divine’s image to the world…part of how I do that is through my words, my writing. Of course it makes sense to pray about it. And as I did another quiet thought floated to the top, “Enter in Gently, Robynn”.

It was balm and bandage. It was consolation and (hopefully) a quiet cure. I will live slowly. I will breath in and out the creative courage that comes from the very Spirit of God. I will enter in gently.

I know the application is broader than returning from a holiday or coming back to writing. We are given many opportunities to live slowly and enter gently. Oftentimes it seems more efficient to rush through our panic, to push past our own obstinacies or hesitations. But I think more often than not, even if the to-do is accomplished, we’ve only served to muddy the waters and stir up our spirits to greater anxieties. Living slowly and with gentle rhythms works against that frenzy and mysteriously frees us up to be more present, more whole hearted.

There’s an old song we used to sing at boarding school. I think the words went something like this: I want to be the pen of a ready writer; and what the Father gives to me I’ll bring. I only want to do his will. I only want to glorify my king. I knew it was from a psalm but for the life of me I couldn’t remember it well enough to find it. Until today. Psalms 45:1 is a writer’s holy mandate and when read gently reads like this (in a modern slightly me-modified version):

My heart bursts its banks,
spilling beauty and goodness.
I pour it out in a poem to the king,
shaping the river into words….slowly and gently!

 

 

Writing the Old Fashioned Way….With Pen and Paper

We’re ending the week with this great piece from Robynn! After you’ve read it, you may be compelled to pick up a quill and a scroll!

writing, blogging, pen, paperOur son Connor was recently inducted into the international honorary society, Quill and Scroll. The society exists to promote scholastic journalistic excellence among high school journalists. It was started in April 1926 at the University of Iowa in Iowa City, Iowa.

I love it that Connor gets to be a part of such a long-standing community of writers committed to good writing but it amuses me to think that it’s called the Quill and Scroll. Connor and most of his cohorts can hardly manage a pen and paper let alone a quill and a scroll.

Last week I was on my way home from Albuquerque and my flight was delayed. Here’s a little something that I penned in my journal:

It’s hard to write anymore with pen and paper. How did I become one of these writers that prefers the computer, the keyboard, the monitor? How did that happen?

I was always a pen and paper girl!

And now here I am stripped of laptop sitting waiting for a delayed plane, inspired to write and yet without my tools—like a knitter without needles or a mechanic without a wrench.

I criticize my own children for being paralyzed without their technology. They’ve developed an insane dependency on their screens. They constantly poke, swipe, tap on screens. They have phones. There’s Facebook and Pinterest and instagram. Games on the laptop. Games on the phone. Games on the Xbox.  Games on the iPod. Even the books they read are imbedded into their technology.

When we lived in India I was “sheltered” from modern devices. We did have a small box television and a VHS video player and eventually even a DVD player. Lowell took our laptop back and forth to his office. When it was at home the kids, considerably smaller then it’s true, had games they played on it…mostly reading games or math puzzles. Lowell had Riven and Mist which provided him some entertainment.

Life was busier there. The children were younger. I was kept occupied meeting their needs and really just living. When I was on the computer it was for the occasional administrative detail. I wrote letters on it, and kept up with our business accounts. I rarely did email–we didn’t have internet in our home in those days.

I remember when new people would arrive in our remote city how shocked they were at the lack of technology we had access to. It frustrated them. They were used to google searching everything. Weather.com had always helped them know how to dress. Allrecipes.com told them what to eat and how to cook it. Google told them where to find things and how to locate them.

But now? How were they to get along? Where could find plastic buckets? And how did they get there? In some ways we became their access to information. We were their search engine. We showed them how to dress, what to wear, how to cook, what to eat. We also encouraged them to engage their neighbours and community for what they needed. Aunties next door knew where to get buckets of every size and colour.

It was hard for me not to roll my eyes at the paralysis these new friends experienced without their technology.

That was before we moved back into the land of instant information! The shock of sudden access was almost as crippling. Almost every question I had was deferred to the internet.

Where do I find school enrollment information? Oh, have you checked the USD 383 website?

Where can I buy a whatchamacallit? You could try online.

How do I get a library card? Go online. Check the website.

How do I cook a turkey? Oh it’s so easy….just look online!

It was astounding. Bank online. Pay bills online. Listen to the radio online. Get news online. Get church newsletters in my inbox. Sign up online. Invitations sent via email. RSVP online.

At first it felt so disconnected and crazy to me. But how quickly I became that same person. I depend on the internet in ways I never did before. I’m used to it. I still have a flash of surprise when someone suggests getting information from there but it’s an “oh yes…I should have thought of that” kind of surprise not a shocking exasperation anymore.  I find recipes there and advice. The girls spilt dark purple nail polish on our light coloured carpet. No need to worry. The internet says apply rubbing alcohol and hairspray and rub like crazy. They did and it worked!! Thanks to the internet my carpet is restored and my anger diffused! I check the weather in far off places before I travel. I book tickets. I make reservations. I check on friends.

Now here I am. I wait for my flight and I’d like to write but I don’t have my computer. I feel the paralysis take hold. Do I even know how to write anymore? Can I still form the letters? Can sentences play out in my brain without a screen to dance on?

I pick up my pen determined. I can do this—

But before I start I better remove the laptop from my own eye before picking out the Xbox from Connor’s eye, or the Kobo and iPod touch from my daughters eyes!

The Little Church Around the Corner

We were walking back from a bookstore in NYC where the motto is “18 miles of books” when our daughter said “I have something special to show you! It’s less  than a block from here.” We had already walked over 45 city blocks on this crisp day after Thanksgiving – what was a half block out of our way?

We took a right on 29th Street just off 5th Avenue and immediately knew this was something special. A beautiful little church sat there – away from crowds and chaos, beautiful and hallowed. We walked into a small sanctuary with old benches facing the cross and altar and beautiful windows and woodwork carvings all around, but there was more. Walking up to the front and taking a sharp left we found ourselves in a tiny chapel, set apart and empty. A prayer kneeler stood at the front with the Book of Common Prayer lying open. Stained glass windows reflected the light offering a glimpse of another world.

It was perfect. As close to perfect as we can find in this world.

Someone had told our daughter about it – said that it was the ideal place to come to sort out thoughts and ask for peace when the city feels too overwhelming, too distracting, too much. She was right. 

It was difficult to remember that the Empire State Building was a block away, that millions of people lived and worked steps from this place, that here in this massive chaos that is New York City there is a place of such visible peace.

When life feels too overwhelming, too distracting, too much —  it’s important to know where to go to sort it all out. When we need to catch a vision and live life above the noise and beyond the crowds, when we need a “slipping away in a boat on the Galilee” moment, where do we go? Can we find a place that offers respite and quiet? A sanctuary where we can hear God?

This is what I long for this season – to find places of quiet that remind me of what Advent is and how I am called to live. A little church around the corner to offer a glimpse of another world. A place and space set apart offering me the eternal even as the temporal calls so insistently.

Today and through this season, may you find your little church around the corner, your space and place of peace that offers you rest and comfort — an invitation to set aside what seems urgent and spend time on what is it important.

An Epiphany at the Dress Rehearsal

I decided to watch the first dress rehearsal.

Our daughter, Adelaide, was in the kid’s chorus of Kansas State University’s The The Music Man, Kansas State UniversityMusic Man last week and I thought I’d stick around and watch. I was excited to see the costumes. I was anxious to see the show, to hear the songs in context, to watch for my Adelaide in the midst of the mayhem!

And so I waited. The house lights were on and the preparations were under way. The lighting guys were at their table studying computer screens, dials and switches on a fancy board. A man in a red t-shirt wore a head set and talked quietly to someone off stage. I heard the sound man behind me. He cussed dramatically at something. His colleague was quiet. The orchestra in the pit were working on measures 70-74 over and over and over again. I could see the gleam of light off the bald maestro’s head and the white of his director’s stick bouncing out the rhythm.

The wait continued. The director pecked out instructions and notes to herself on her iPad. She whisper-barked orders at an assistant who flurried around responding, checking on details, running for things. The man with the headset kept listening and talking to his invisible friends back stage. The sound man kept making noise. The light coordinator kept the house lights bright.

The announcement was made: “Ten minutes to Top of the Show” –which is theater talk for we’re almost ready to start. And then, “Two minutes to Top of the Show”… and then nothing happened. There was a delay. Unqualified. Long. Unexplained.

Suddenly, when I had begun to despair that it would ever start, the lights in the house dimmed. The reading lights in the pit went down. The theater was in the dark. And we were all filled with expectancy. Something was about to happen! The show was about to begin!

And then it hit me! When the lights go dim, the story is about to start. We can sit back with anticipation. We know the Playwright. We can peer excitedly into the darkness, as the curtain rises, the music starts and the drama of our lives continues to unfold. The twilight is pregnant with potential. Apprehension gives birth to anticipation; foreboding gives way to promise and prospect. We can relax.

That’s what I did. I sat and watched Act One. I laughed at the funny bits. I noticed when Marion the Librarian’s wig fell off and I tried not to snort. Pride crept inside when my Adelaide came on stage. She’s a complete natural. I kept glancing over at the man with the headset, at the director, at the costume mistress. I watched their faces too. I wondered how they thought it was going.

And I thanked my Director, who’s in charge of my soul and of my story.

He knows the plot, he hums along to the sound track, he’s producing character in me and it pleases him. He Lights up my moments. He gives me perspective on dimly lit days. The Playwright wrote these scenes before a single one of them had come to be. When the theater goes dark, I can sit back and watch. The curtain rises on this particular Act and I know the story is still unfolding.

If you would like to read more of Robynn take a look here

“Cultural Hope”

Wheelchair seating in a theater (i.e. giving a...

The painting was two feet wide and at least three and a half feet long. It hung on a wall in an art gallery, dominant despite sharing the space with several other paintings. While there were others that had caught my eye, this one in particular was striking.

It was a picture of an art gallery with a painting of Jesus on the cross on the central wall. Looking up at the painting, hope and longing pouring from the canvas was a man in a wheelchair. The painting was called “Cultural Hope”.

It was a moment of awe as we in the studio stood, invited in to this private moment between Jesus and a wheelchair-bound man. It was reminiscent of stories long ago where in a crowded room a paralyzed man was healed – only this man was still bound.

I wanted to stand there forever. Was it the longing in the man’s eyes? Was it the distinctive connection between the two. Was it that moment of shared suffering between cross and wheelchair that shouted of pain and only whispered of redemption?

I walked away strangely challenged and moved. While this man’s wheelchair was visual, my wheelchair is in my mind. While his paralysis was obvious, mine is hidden. But I, like the man in the painting, have my times of looking at the cross shouting with pain and hearing only the whisper of redemption.

But the whisper compels me, telling me to wait, reminding me that the cross was replaced by an empty tomb; that my painting goes beyond “cultural hope” to a living reality.