The Evolution of a Writer/Blogger

blogging

  1. Dream about writing
  2. Write beginnings of articles and books in your mind
  3. Dream more about writing
  4. Write copious amounts in your journal
  5. Realize that blogging is a thing
  6. Read other people’s blogs and think “I want to blog”
  7. Consider starting a blog
  8. Talk to daughter about starting a blog
  9. Listen to daughter’s advice about said blog
  10. Start a blog on New Year’s Day
  11. Write your first blog and hit “Publish”
  12. Get a phone call from your mom who read your first blog
  13. Write your second blog and hit “Publish”
  14. Realize that there is something called “stats” that will tell you how many people have read your blog
  15. Write your third blog and see that two people have read it: Your mom and your husband
  16. Blog and realize your mom, your husband, and a lot of old friends from Pakistan have read your blog
  17. Blog and realize your mom, your husband, your friends from Pakistan and a whole lot of strangers have read your blog
  18. Get terrified
  19. Think that you’re supposed to blog about everything that happens everywhere
  20. Get exhausted at pretending you have a voice and knowledge about everything everywhere
  21. Get comments and emails from strangers who, amazingly, really like your writing
  22. Write a blog that gets a lot of response from a group you love
  23. Write, Write, Write and realize that even when people don’t read it, you really love to write
  24. Settle into a happy little corner of the big, wide, interwebz
  25. Write a blog that goes viral (it was bound to happen considering the sheer volume you write) and get mad because you know that other things you have written are better, but this one was the one that went BAM!
  26. Go to conference and have a stranger recognize you
  27. Write a book from your blog posts
  28. Go to another conference and watch the speaker click to a slide with a quote from YOUR BOOK (whisper to all the strangers around you “That’s me!”)
  29. Continually struggle with envy when others seem to have a bigger platform
  30. Confess said envy and take a break from blogging
  31. Go back to blogging refreshed and realizing that you are developing your own style and voice
  32. Realize that your blog will never send you rejection letters, so you should probably branch out to other magazines in order to grow as a writer
  33. Branch out and get a rejection email.
  34. Publish the rejected blog post on your own blog
  35. Decide that you are a terrible writer and no one should be reading you anyway because you’re a sheer waste of time
  36. Get an email that says “I never comment, but I love your writing!”
  37. Decide maybe you’re still a terrible writer, but someone loves you, and if even one person loves you – then maybe it’s worth it.
  38. Branch out again and send out more articles to magazines and journals
  39. Get articles accepted and work with editor that doesn’t know you or your writing
  40. Be humbled as you write and rewrite sentences and paragraphs
  41. See your work published outside of your own blog
  42. Proudly send out more articles
  43. Get email saying “You are a solid writer, but we won’t be using your article”
  44. Scream with rage “I DO NOT WANT TO BE A SOLID WRITER. I WANT TO BE AN EXCELLENT WRITER”
  45. Cry
  46. Pray
  47. Realize that your missing ingredient is generosity
  48. Seek to be generous with your writing, your platform, and your praise and affirmation of other writers
  49. Be humbled
  50. Continue writing because the heart of all of this is that you absolutely love putting letters into words, words into sentences, sentences into paragraphs, and paragraphs into thoughts and ideas. YOU LOVE IT – and no one can ever take that away from you. No one. Ever. 

PS – Oh, and also realize that when you first started blogging you linked everything to Wikipedia, and only found out about when your daughter said to you one day “Mom, why do you link everything to Wikipedia?”  So you lie and said “I don’t” and then secretly late at night you go through 120 blog posts and take out all the Wikipedia links…..

About a Book….aka Kill Those Darlings!

Worlds apart promo

Some of you may remember a big announcement last year. It was about a book. A book that I was so excited about. I talked about it on the blog and on social media sites. I had a book reading and signing. But something just wasn’t right.

That book, that precious book where I let my childhood memories in all their vulnerability out into the world, did not sell. Meanwhile, my previous book kept on selling.

I couldn’t figure it out. It was so defeating and so depressing. I had been writing that book for eight years. What happened? Why was it so poorly received? I didn’t talk to anyone about it, because when you love writing and you want people to receive your words….well you don’t talk about the hard stuff.

Right after the book came out I had major surgery. While I had hoped to spend my recuperating days writing, instead I ended up just healing. It was the hardest and most humbling work I’ve ever done, and it was a fulltime job. Soon after that, I realized that my dad was entering into his final illness. I needed to spend as much time as I was able with my mom and dad, which is never enough time. He died in October, and soon after that, some of the stuff you never talk about on a blog happened.

And the book got lost in all of the stuff that was happening. But I would still think about this book. Why on earth did I write it? What did I expect? Dear friends from Pakistan were writing me regularly telling me they would never read the book. It was just too hard for them. So what was it for anyway?

I realized I hadn’t written it for them. I had written it for a far more general audience, but the book didn’t reflect that. I also realized some things about writing. Just as an artist puts their heart and soul into their art, we who write put our heart and soul into our words. We craft and recraft sentences. We look for meaning behind things that happen to us and we invite others into those events, hoping they too will find meaning. As Joan Didion says: “We tell ourselves stories in order to live….We look for the sermon in the suicide, for the social or moral lesson in the murder of five. We interpret what we see, select the most workable of the multiple choices….” 

Writing helped me to understand more about how important stories are to our understanding of others and ourselves. I thought more specifically about the third culture kid’s journey, the stories behind the arrivals and departures, the narrative that captured the sweetness of hello and the bitterness of goodbye.*

In the middle of all these life events, I did a book reading.  It was there that one of my friends asked me about the title. She said it so graciously, but I took the words to heart. “What about the title?” she asked. “Why did you choose to call it that?”

My friend is Israeli and Jewish – in other words, we come from different countries and different faiths, but she loved the book. Her words took root in my heart.

It was in early winter that Doorlight Publications reached out to me. They wanted to reprint the book. It wasn’t selling well. What did I think about retitling the book and adding a foreword as well as a section that would take the reader from reading about my story to writing about their own journey?

There is a phrase in the writing world that talks about killing your darlings. In other words, the things that you hold onto the most in writing sometimes need to be killed off, taken out, severed from the body of the book.

The title was my darling. I so wanted ‘Pakistan’ to be in the title. And it seemed to make sense that I would put faith in it. But it narrowed the focus of the book too much. The book was my journey through my developmental years in Pakistan and included so much more than Pakistan and faith. Would I be willing to kill my darling?

I would, and I did.

Just last week the book was re-released under the title Worlds Apart: A Third Culture Kid’s Journey. I love it. I love the cover. I love the foreword by Rachel Pieh Jones, who is writing her own book to be released in 2019 by Plough Publishing. I love the ‘Mapping Your TCK Journey’ at the end, followed by book resources.

And I’m excited for this new start. You don’t always get another chance with a book, but I did with this one.

So would you give it a chance? Would you consider buying the book? I would love it if you did!

I would love to have you purchase the book! It’s on sale through Amazon and available wherever books are sold.

*Page 184 Worlds Apart: A Third Culture Kid’s Journey


barnes and noble

amazon logo

books a million


Happy Birthday Marilyn!

Six years ago, Marilyn Gardner picked up her metaphoric pen and she began to write. Her written voice called us together. We connected with her story. There were issues she highlighted that we were passionate about but for which we lacked language. There were hidden things we hadn’t considered until she pointed them out to us. She dared us to Communicate Across Boundaries. Marilyn brought us to tears and she made us laugh at her foibles and at our own fuss ups.

Marilyn has served as a sign post in a crowded spot. She stands straight and shows us things we need to see. Marilyn invites us to notice the invisible. She insists we stop and make eye contact with those that are different than we are. Issues we’d rather sweep away—because they make us squirm, or because they’re inconvenient or awkward –she walks right over to those things and asks that we hold steady in our unsettledness. She invites us to meet the refugee, the newly arrived immigrant, the homeless person on her street, the violent man on her subway. She’s takes us with her to Turkey and Egypt; Pakistan and India. We’ve been with her in refugee camps and in coffee shops.

Quick to laugh and quick to cry, Marilyn has a tender heart. She loves well and without judgement. Her own story has been pockmarked with suffering and personal pains and consequently she knows intimately the deep salve of grace. She’s generous with it. And I love that about her.  She pours coffee or tea or wine with ease. She delights in tasty morsels and makes the simplest sweet into an excuse for joy and celebration. I can hear even now her, “oooh! Let’s have….,” and I want to rush over to see what she’s cutting into!

One thing I really admire about Marilyn is that she writes her own story. She’s never betrayed another :–not her children, her husband, her family or her friends. She’s a loyal wife, a protective mother, a respectful daughter and a kind friend.

Don’t get me wrong—Marilyn isn’t perfect! I’ve seen her exasperated, angry and annoyed. I’ve heard her cuss and stamp her feet. She can be sarcastic and cynical at times. But I suspect it’s these very qualities when redeemed that reveal injustice and discerning insight to her world and to us.

These are dark days. Things are grim. More than ever we need people like Marilyn that will take a stand against injustice. People that raise their eye brow questioning the American dream. People that prophetically point out that things aren’t all hairspray and glimmer and shine. People that are willing to own their white privilege and look around for ways to align themselves with the oppressed and the marginalized. People like Marilyn—who do all that in high heels and lip stick!

Here’s to Marilyn Gardner, the founder and not-so-quiet Queen of our far-flung Communicating Across Boundaries community! Happy Birthday Marilyn! We wish you much joy as you come to realize how deeply beloved you are!

(Your much younger friend and CAB contributor also wishes you fresh pakora, a cup of hot chai, some Italian gelato, a quiet moment, lots of laughter, a good curry, and a really big spoonful of Nutella!)

 

“Technical Issues”

By Robynn


 I think my computer is beginning to show its age. This machine came to me secondhand by very generous friends. I’m not sure how old it was when I got it and really I’ve only had it for two and a half years but lately it’s been a little ornery and difficult to work with. The poor thing starts up nicely but then freezes. I will just settle my fingers on the keys and she clams up. I guess she startles easily. 

At any rate, I’ve had the hardest time sitting down to write lately. It’s disheartening to think that any minute the computer might shut down. The last piece I started I just can’t complete. What I was able to complete—maybe three or four paragraphs on Psalm 136– is there, started, safely saved in my documents, but I can’t convince my computer to let me have access to it. (Even now I’m typing this up on my husband’s machine.) 

Have you noticed how people always have their stated reasons for doing something but often there lurks a deeper reason, the truer explanation, for the choices they make. It’s like they don’t realize they have complete freedom to make whatever choice they want to make. Instead they cloak it and cover it with some other rationalization.

We’re leaving town so our daughter can get the medical care he needs.

​These visas won’t work for us long term so we need to leave the country now.

We have theological differences.

​I didn’t like the music style so I left my church.

Typically the given reason is one that others can easily understand. It makes sense. Of course you’d leave for the sake of your son, or your family’s sense of security or because of your theology or to find a more familiar worship style. That makes complete sense. Those reasons gather empathy and garner support. The community will rally around those reasons. There will be a send-off, a farewell party, a proper goodbye. The departee can hold their head high as they leave, the victim of unfortunate circumstances. 

It would be much more painful and require too much vulnerability to admit the real reason behind the decision.

​We’re deeply hurting. Our hearts are breaking with disappointment. Our ​​​marriage is in shambles.

​Our expectations have been dashed. We realize we made a mistake. What on ​​​earth were we thinking? We can’t possibly live here.

​You hurt me so horribly. I’m not sure I can ever get past this.

​I’m terribly lonely. My feelings have been hurt. I feel isolated and alone. 

“Technical Issues” is the reason I’m using for the writer’s constipation I’ve been experiencing in my blog posts. My computer isn’t working.  

If I’m being completely honest, if I peel back the layers of acceptable justifications, I would have to admit to a deeper cause for my wee writing crisis. I’ve been at a loss for words for several months now. The election process has overwhelmed me. This wasn’t your normal partisan divide. Meanness has seeped up through the mud. The creepy crawlies of cruelty have been released. Things are different now. I know I’ve written of this before. It’s as if the entire nation has a low-grade fever that we just can’t shake. There’s no getting over it. There’s no going back to how things were.

The wider world is chronically ill too. Aleppo has been obliterated while we all stand by and hopelessly, helplessly watch. Bombings in Italy, Turkey, Cairo bring death and destruction. ISIS continues to exert itself in Iraq. The Philippines continues to use violence to purge itself of their drug war. South Sudan is engaging in ethnic cleansing. Myanmar is guilty of active genocide too. If you think about it at all, if you let your heart wander to peer over the edge of your own bubble for even just a tiny time, it’s too much. It’s just way too much.

(For the other piece I was trying to write on my computer I made the mistake of Google searching acts of terrorism in 2016. Did you know that Wikipedia has an entire page devoted to that? Each month in 2016 is given it’s own spreadsheet. There were acts of terror around the world on nearly every single day of the year. It’s beyond horrifying and overwhelming.) 

At some point, I know, we do have to learn to live with this malaise. We have to learn to walk with a limp. We’re still called to faith and endurance. There is still joy to be found. Beauty still surrounds us and invites us to worship the Creator. There are countless blessings to be enjoyed. We have enough to generously give away. But for those who have eyes to see below the surface, for those whose ears hear the pain underneath the veneer, for those whose hearts break with the weight of sin and injustice, and hatred, it might take some time.

In the meantime….I’m having “Technical Issues.”

That’s my excuse and I’m sticking with it for a time.

“Give Your Pen to Me”

coffee-1246511_1280

 

Our public world is not the way to define our relationship with God. Who we are is defined when no one is looking. –Jennie Allen

 

“Give your pen to me” he says.

I slowly hand it over, unsure as to whether I really want to.

He is gentle with me, but daily I hear the same thing: “Give your pen to me.” 

*****

When I began writing, every day I would pray.

I would pray “Let my words tell your story. Let my words be bigger than I am, bear witness to a greater reality.” It didn’t matter whether people read or not, I wanted my words to reflect God’s glory.

Slowly, people began to read. I was so grateful. Then more people read, and I was excited and grateful.

But I lost sight of my original intent. I became a better writer, a more popular blogger, and a worse person. It began to be more about me, more about statistics, more about popularity. I lost sight of whose pen was in my hand and I focused on who I was.

I lost sight of God in the midst of my own noise. So I burned out. Because when it’s all about me, it’s uninteresting and unsustainable.

I wanted to blame it on others; I wanted to point the finger. But over and over the fingers pointed back at me.

Slowly I began to realize what I was doing. Slowly I began giving my heart and my pen back to God.

Slowly I am making my way back to the beginning, back to the bigger and better story, back to the Author.

And my longing grows stronger by the day – to bear witness to a greater reality.

*****

“Give your pen to me” he says.

Exhausted with self effort, I finally hand it over willingly. I – a slow learner, he – a patient teacher.

The pen is no longer in my hand and I sigh, realizing it was never mine to begin with. 

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!

 

 

A Look Back and a Look Ahead

volkswagen-569315_1920.jpg

May the wind be always at your back, and the sun shine warm upon your face, may the rains fall soft upon your fields, until the day we meet again. 

*****

After four years of blogging, this was the year that a couple of pieces here at Communicating Across Boundaries went viral. As of the beginning of this week, CAB had over 1,172,000 views and counting. And the great thing about this is that nothing changed. Absolutely nothing. I still love, but have to work hard at, writing. The same people who have read, encouraged, and emailed me during the last four years still read, encourage, and email.  I’m still the same person with the things I care about deeply  – like refugees, third culture kids, and cross-cultural communication. I’ve long known that in God’s dealings with me, he tends to wait on any sort of success. I’ve come to cherish that, because if success comes it is so clear that it has precious little to do with me, and a great deal to do with him.

So as we close out 2015 and move into 2016 I want to thank you so much! I never take it for granted that you will read. I am always touched, surprised, and delighted when you share what I write, when you like what I write, when you contact me or comment on a post.

You have helped me in more ways than you will ever know. And yet I’ve never met most of you. So to you who I’ve never met – thankyou! 

Top Posts of 2015

Stupid Phrases for People in Crisis – With 328 thousand shares, this piece, written quickly but passionately, resonated deeply with people. It made me so sad that so many of us have experienced a crisis compounded by the pain of words poorly chosen. But then there is also grace – and those pieces were shared a great deal as well.

There is something about suffering that longs for someone to sit with us through the pain. It’s the fellowship of suffering. It’s the words ‘you are not alone’ put into action. The sitting bears witness to our pain. More than a card or a casserole, the familiar, patient presence of another says to us ‘it’s too much for you to bear, but I will be with you, I will sit with you.’

If you haven’t had a chance to read the first piece and then the two inspired by it, here are the links:

Giving Grace to People in Crisis 

A Final Note for Those in Crisis

Dear Mr. Graham – Let me Introduce you to Some Friends... – You don’t have to spend much time on Communicating Across Boundaries to find out that I am passionate about correcting some of the misperceptions of Muslims and of Muslim Majority Countries. This article was written passionately in response to what I feel were some misguided and dangerous words spoken by Franklin Graham, a Christian leader and son of the beloved evangelist – Billy Graham. The piece was picked up by the Zwemer Center and I was honored that they used it. It was widely read and some people agreed with it while others vehemently disagreed.

Hear this Mr. Graham – You do not need to give up your truth claims to have dialogue. You do not have to give up the things that you hold dear, that you believe with all your heart, to be willing to form friendships and talk within relationship. In fact, your truth claims should guide you into those relationships without fear, without fear-mongering, but with humility and a desire to love and to understand. I am not asking you to not be angry about terrorism. I am not asking you not to express outrage at attacks against others that are carried out in evil malice. I am asking that you not stoop to the low-level of stereotyping all Muslims as terrorists.

Honor the Grief, Honor the Goodbye – I wrote this post over a year and a half ago, but it resurfaced this year and was widely read by a community that knows goodbyes. We know the joy of hello and the pain of goodbye, and I wrote this because I think it is so important to honor these feelings.

So if you are one of those people, one of those families that is saying goodbye…. I offer this: Sit with your grief, let it flow, don’t try too hard to analyze, don’t push yourself or others to some ‘right’ response. Just sit with it. Because as the grief comes, so will the comfort.

Saudade – A Word for the Third Culture Kid – This is the third year where Saudade has been one of the top viewed posts. It’s just something about that word. This essay is also featured in my book Between Worlds – Essays on Culture and Belonging.

I have often been looked at with impatience. “Third culture kids are not that different!” says the skeptic. “We all have times of longing,” but I would argue, gently, that our experience is different. We are neither of one world nor the other, but between. Our earliest memories are shaped by sights, sounds, and smells that we now experience only in brief travels or through movies and television. All of those physical elements that shaped our early forays into this world are of another world. And so we experience saudade. And the simple discovery of a word gives meaning to those feelings, and can validate and heal. 

A Poem of Hope – Two Rows By the Sea – Of all the pieces posted on Communicating Across Boundaries, it thrilled me that this was so widely read. It’s because it was written by a group of Egyptian Christians at the Bible Society in Egypt after Daesh killed 21 Coptic Christians on the banks of the sea. It is beautiful and it was a privilege to be able to post it on CAB.

One row stood steady, pall-bearers of death,
The other knelt ready, welcoming heaven’s breath,
One row spewed wretched, contemptible threats,
The other spread God-given peace and rest.

Paris is White, Lebanon is Brown, Mizzou is Black – As we collectively grieved the Paris attacks, I had some strong thoughts about internet outrage. Whether right or wrong, they were my thoughts at the time.

And I wake up troubled. The world feels so broken, so beyond repair.And I too weep for Paris, for the grief and loss that cannot be quantified. But I can’t help thinking about how little the other events matter to our world. I can’t help thinking that somehow we have been deceived into believing that the white, Western world is more worthy of empathy and concern, not only in our sight, but in the sight of God.

The last widely read post was Toward a Fellowship of Suffering. While it was written over two years ago, it surged in reading because of the topic.

Perhaps we feel helpless in the presence of the pain of others. We are not in control. We would do anything we could to make it all okay. But we can’t. We can’t make the pain okay. We can’t explain away suffering, and when we try, we tend to make up reasons for suffering. We end up forcing bad theology on people. A theology of suffering that has to have answers, instead of a fellowship of suffering that simply needs the presence of another. We speak too soon and our words are the salt in an already terrible wound.

_____________________________________________________

So what’s new for 2016?

  • I go to Lebanon and Jordan on January 7th, the same day as Orthodox Nativity. It will be a gift to go to be present with refugees in both of those countries and support those who work with refugees daily.
  • Robynn and Lowell Bliss will be starting a regular blog, so Fridays we will be linking up with that blog. I’m so excited for many of you to begin to hear from both of these gifted writers.
  • I hope to continue to write three times a week, more when something sparks my interest.
  • I have a new book coming! Passages Through Pakistan will be available sometime in 2016. I am excited and terrified about this book. It is a lot more vulnerable than my blog posts and tells more of the Pakistan story. But overall, it is a story of faith.

So thank you – for the myriad of ways you speak into my life. My hope is that I will be worthy of speaking into yours and above all, that I will not waste your time. Love to all of you!