A Salute to All of Us

Photo credit – Stefanie Sevim Gardner

Here’s to the moms, homeschooling when they always said “I’ll homeschool when it snows in Djibouti… or Miami … or Chiang Mai.” In other words “Never” and never has suddenly become now.

Here’s to the restaurant worker, who is suddenly furloughed from an eighty hour work week.

Here’s to the teachers turning their carefully thought out lesson plans into online classes.

Here’s to the young woman who just got a job at Target excited for her first paycheck only to find out there will be no more.

Here’s to the nurse, carefully isolating herself from her family to keep them safe.

Here’s to the student, lonely and feeling trapped.

Here’s to the graduate who will not be able to walk.

Here’s to the bride, who tearfully postponed her wedding Unsure of when it can be rescheduled.

Here’s to the women and men setting up home offices and new systems, trying to continue their jobs.

Here’s to the grocery store employee, wiping down carts and checkout counters with bleach.

Here’s to the healthcare workers, on the frontlines of care.

Here’s to the priest and the pastor, the imam and the rabbi, praying for congregations in crisis.

Here’s to the homeless, fighting one more difficult day, one more crisis in a long list.

Here’s to the families trapped on three sides of the globe, to the third culture kid trying to get home, to the parents and siblings, brothers and sisters separated.

Here’s to the family grieving with no funeral, the community rallying with no physical contact, the church seeking to function while apart.

Here’s to the poor and the refugee – those whose reality has changed little, but whose hope looks even bleaker.

Here’s to the helpers, the doers, the prayers, the seekers, the scholars, the researchers, the neighbors, the givers, the comforters, the organizers, the activists, the optimists, the pessimists, the realists, the pragmatists, the lonely, the sad, the fearful, and the angry.

Here’s to our collective humanity and image bearing. May we reach across what divides us and open our hearts wide to the God who loves us. May we be willing to give of our abundance and receive from our need. May we have patience and resilience, may our eyes be open wide to the world and our small part in that world.

And may God be with us and comfort us.


Advice from a friend in Shanghai:

Since we got a head start with the COVID-19 over here in China, some friends have asked me for advice in navigating this time. Take only what’s helpful for you!

  1. Stay at home. Yes, I totally understand the urge to resist this, but the sooner you can accept it and stay home, the better it will be for everyone, including you.
  2. Assume that you could be the carrier. I haven’t been too worried about contracting the virus myself, but I became much more careful when I started thinking how I could potentially spread it to others.
  3. Don’t bring germs into your house. Wash your hands as soon as you come home. In Asia, we take off our shoes at the door, and this might be a good practice for everyone right now. Consider changing your outer clothes or showering if you’ve been out in a public place. Don’t forget to clean your phone and your keys!
  4. Focus on what you can control (yourself). There are too many things that are outside of your control right now. Instead, find ways you can boost your immune system and/or prevent your exposure. For many Asians, that means wearing face masks and opening the windows. I personally use essential oils to support to our immune systems and buy fruit for my family like a mad woman. Whatever strategies can strengthen you, whether it’s making grandma’s chicken soup or deep cleaning your house, I say go for it!
  5. Take care of your own physical, emotional, and spiritual health. The stronger you are, the better you can survive and even thrive during this time. Get enough sleep, eat well, exercise daily. Pray like crazy. Turn off the news. Watch something funny. Call a friend. Do a conference call with a group of friends. Listen to a podcast. Read a book. Get e-therapy. Learn something new. Go for a walk or a drive. If you have a balcony or a yard, sit outside in the fresh air and sun.
  6. If you have faith, put it into action. Trust in God. Meditate on His promises. Listen to worship music. God is greater than our circumstances, and He provides for us even in times of uncertainty. Be a light during this dark time. Don’t give in to fear or settle for mere self-preservation; your neighbor needs the hope and the love that you give, albeit in creative ways. Look out for those who are isolated, struggling, or vulnerable to domestic violence.
  7. Be generous. Give a gift card to someone who is not able to work during this time. Support your church even though the services have been cancelled. Pay your employees. Order take-out. Support small businesses. Donate blood. Give a phone call to someone who is vulnerable. Send a card to someone in a nursing home. Offer to shop for someone else. Donate to a food bank. Sew cloth masks. There are endless possibilities to sow seeds of generosity during this time. [From my friend Ruth and used with permission.]

Social Distancing and Beth March

“There are many Beths in the world, shy and quiet, sitting in corners till needed, and living for others so cheerfully that no one sees the sacrifices till the little cricket on the hearth stops chirping, and the sweet, sunshiny presence vanishes, leaving silence and shadow behind.”

Anyone who knows and loves the book Little Women knows the story of Beth. Beth is the third sister, quiet and shy, not quick to pour herself into social occasions like her younger sister, Amy. And though Beth is timid around a lot of people, she is quick to notice those who need help. Above all, Beth is kind.

The story begins at Christmas time. Beloved Marmee has gone to visit a poor neighbor family, huddled in one room with sick children. Later on in the story, when Marmee has to leave to go be with her wounded husband she charges her daughters to not forget this family. The only one of the sisters who remembers and is willing to go see them and care for them is Beth.

Beth ends up with scarlet fever, a disease that she caught directly from the family she had been assisting. It was an illness that we know now is untreated strep infection and includes a sore throat, high fever, and a bright, red rash that covers the body. For her kindness, she ends up teetering between life and death. The family desperate to see her well again, and she does recover from this initial illness. But scarlet fever can carry with it some residual damage, and she later dies from complications of the disease.

Does Beth’s kindness kill her?

History is full of people who die helping others. The “Chernobyl Three” who stepped into a radioactive area to drain a pool, and in doing so averted another explosion; Annalena Tonneli, who fought TB in the Horn of Africa and ended up killed by terrorists; Corrie Ten Boom whose family helped Jews escape by hiding them in their home – there are far too many to count.

We are in an unprecedented time in this century. A global pandemic has been announced and “social distancing” has been strongly advised. As a public health nurse, I agree with this approach. It slows down the spread of the virus, giving hospitals and health care workers opportunity to catch up and be able to treat those who are the sickest. But those health care workers – doctors, nurses, pharmacists, community health workers, physicians assistants, nursing assistants – they don’t have a choice. They work to keep the rest of us safe. They don’t have the luxury of “social distancing.” Some of them, inevitably, will get the virus. It’s the price they will pay for helping. My prayer is that they will not die, but will instead be cared for by people who are as kind and dedicated as they are.

Social distancing is something of a privilege – a privilege reserved for those who live in single family dwellings, a privilege for those who have the resources to stock up on many months worth of supplies. Millions around the world don’t necessarily have this privilege. Maybe we also need to rethink the phrase “social distancing” a public health term used to apply to actions that a health department deems necessary to slow the spread of disease. Could we change that phrase to physical distancing instead? Social distancing gives us room to ignore the other, caring only for ourselves, all in the name of containing a virus.

A culture, like the United States, that prides itself on individuality could happily distance themselves physically and socially, but maybe some of us need a little prodding to go help others. There may be a neighbor who is really suffering, and you may be the one to help them. There may be someone who needs a ride from the airport, and you need to go pick them up. There may be families that need you to not socially or physically distance yourself so that you can bring them food and supplies.

This social distancing may be the right thing for the majority of the population, but there may be some of us who will be called upon to give up that distancing and help others.

It will be easy, if that happens, to opt for fear, to use social distancing as an excuse. I’ve said it before in this space – fear is not good currency. Fear is more viral than the virus itself. There is, and will always be, something to fear.

In the past 24 hours, I’ve watched some of my family members and friends come together to help another part of our family who have been rerouted from their home in Thailand. They are tirelessly gathering clothes, food, a car, and other resources that this family needs. Any one of them could have said “No. We have our own families to care for, to feed, to stock up for.” None of them have done that – they have stepped up and they have stepped in. I am beyond grateful for this coming together, moving in to help instead of moving away.

Please hear me – I don’t advocate being foolish. I don’t advocate walking in to harm’s way just to be noble. But I do think there are times when we need to put others above ourselves, and in this country, we have a lot to learn about what that looks like.

Social distancing may be the kindest thing for some people; for others, we may have to step up and move in. May we recognize the humanity of the other more than ever. May we have wisdom on what is needed, and above all – may we fight fear and be kind.

And these thoughts from C.S. Lewis are apt, though written long ago:

It is perfectly ridiculous to go about whimpering and drawing long faces because the scientists have added one more chance of painful and premature death to a world which already bristled with such chances and in which death itself was not a chance at all, but a certainty.

CS Lewis

This is the first point to be made: and the first action to be taken is to pull ourselves together. If we are all going to be destroyed by an atomic bomb, let that bomb when it comes find us doing sensible and human things—praying, working, teaching, reading, listening to music, bathing the children, playing tennis, chatting to our friends over a pint and a game of darts—not huddled together like frightened sheep and thinking about bombs. They may break our bodies (a microbe can do that) but they need not dominate our minds. CS Lewis on the atomic bomb

The Goers and the Stayers

We arrived at Logan Airport at 6:30 in the evening after an 18 hour day of flying. We were tired and bleary-eyed, but also excited. We got through immigration in record time and then waited with other weary travelers for our luggage.

Four pieces later we were on our way to pick up a rental car.

The road to our friends home never felt so long. It had been too long and now we were almost there.

We turned the corner onto Essex Street in Hamilton and drove up the dark road. We could not see the beginning signs of spring, even though we knew they were there. We also knew that just ahead was the home of a couple who have walked through life with us for many years.

A few minutes later we had arrived. There in front of us was an unassuming Cape Cod style house with a yellow garage. This was the house where a friendship had flourished for many years. A house that had hosted more hours of talk and laughter than we could possibly count. This house spelled comfort in some of my darkest days and provided refuge from many a New England snow storm.

But what is a house without the people who make it a home? Our friends have stayed as we have gone. They have continually offered shelter and friendship to our wandering feet. They are the roots to our wings and the solid wisdom to our sometimes too restless souls.

They are our stayers and I could not love them more.

The goers need the stayers. The travelers need the port. The ones who pack up and leave for far off places desperately need the ones who wait for them, encourage them, love them, and welcome them back. This couple does that for us and I am so grateful. They have been in our lives for 23 years and they will continue to be our people until our lives on this earth are over. If you are a traveler, find your people and never, ever forget how precious they are.

If you are a goer, find a stayer. If you are a stayer, find a goer. We need each other more than we know.

Someday I will be a stayer, and I will remember how much the goers need me.

On Longing

Longing. What is it? How would you describe this word? Not the dictionary definition, but your own heart definition?

A couple of weeks ago I asked folks how they would define “longing” on the Communicating Across Boundaries Facebook page. Your responses did not disappoint. The thing that made them so significant to me is that I know some of the stories behind these responses. I know the ones with chronic illness who fight against pain and don’t complain, longing for a day when that pain may go. I know the ones who have lost a son or daughter and carry that cruel act against the natural order of life in their hearts. I know the ones who have said too many goodbyes, the ones who have experienced significant loss of place and people. So as you read these, know that they come from hearts and lives of those who have suffered but continue to live. And to you who read this, may you feel hope in our shared experiences of longing.

The ache that lives somewhere between the fossa jugularis sternalis and the solar plexus. It both hurts and comforts – like Chopin’s Nocturnes (see below). It needs no solving – as it cannot be “fixed” from the outside. Only the soul can move things in such a way that longing gets released – either into sadness or into action. – Eva Laszlo-Herbert

I am reading a great book right now, Pilgrimage of a Soul: Contemplative Spirituality for the Active Life by Phileena Heuertz. She has an entire chapter titled “Longing” and here is one of the ways she describes it: “Longings are like growing pains in that their origins can be difficult to trace, and yet they give indication of something deep and profound, something immediately true of us. In that respect, noting our longings and looking more deeply into them can function as a sort of ‘thin space’, in which God pierces our desires and then redeems them with a more devout understanding for how we can live in relationship to God, one another and all creation”. – Dana Miller Baker

At times it feels like a dull ache and at times it feels like a stab in the gut. It is a soul hunger that is ever present. It is both hope and despair. – Joyce Lind Terres

Longing is feeling the distance between where you are and where you want to be – a place, a time, a person, a community, a stage of life, a depth of relationship, or even a version of yourself. – Tanya Crossman

A feeling of being distant…but yearning to be close to something or someone that makes you feel like your most authentic, truly alive, living your purpose self. – April

At the moment I would describe it as an unquenchable ache in the very fibre of my being that sucks the joy out of life. I find it hard to pinpoint where longing ends and grief begins as longing is such a large part of grief. It physically hurts to think about how much Im longing for five more minutes with my mum. – Jo Hoyle

Yearning can be animated or subdued. I sense ‘longing’ as something that might be initially inexplicable because it is “subconscious” in nature, and under the radar of our overly expressed emotions. – Brooke Mackie-Ketcham

A yearning…perhaps for something or someone lost to you, or for something you are working to accomplish. – Betsy Merrill

It’s a reaching with every fiber of your being… – Laurinda McLean

A deep desire for something someplace or someone that doesn’t go away. It is always there consciously, and or sub-consciously. The desire is more than just in your head, it’s in your soul and deep in your bones. To put it in the words of the Psalms, it’s in your innermost being. – Susan Haglund

Missing something so badly it hurts inside. – Laura Keenan

SaudadeLinda Janssen & Annelies Kanis

What do they mean by Saudade? I’ve written a lot about this word, as have others who have lived mobile lives. It’s a Portuguese word that originated in the 13th century by Portuguese diaspora who longed for the places and people they had left behind. 

The famous saudade of the Portuguese is a vague and constant desire for something that does not and probably cannot exist, for something other than the present, a turning towards the past or towards the future; not an active discontent or poignant sadness but an indolent dreaming wistfulness.


A. F. G. Bell In Portugal of 1912

I’m so grateful to those of you who shared these soul-deep responses. What about those who are reading? How would you define longing? Please share through the comments, and thank you – as always – for the gift that you give in reading and being a part of this online space. I will never take it for granted.

#OnlytheGood – Christmas 2017

It’s Friday and I’m sitting by our Christmas tree. I could sit here all day, just writing, thinking, dreaming, and reading. I know that December 25th is a constructed holiday, that most probably the birth of Christ did not happen in winter, yet I am so grateful that we have this joy to brighten days that could feel too long in their gloom; too sad and cold and lifeless. Instead, for a brief time we get tree lights and the Advent, the anticipation of a birth that changed the world.

I miss my dad this Christmas. It’s the little things – talking to him on the phone, ordering an LL Bean sweater for him, buying him small gifts. He was a wonderful man to buy gifts for – always appreciative, always surprised. I miss his smile and his enthusiasm for life. I miss his presence. Those people who we lose are never too far from us. We can be reminded by the smallest things that they are gone. Tears come unexpectedly, but I am reminded in these thoughts and memories that to love is to hurt.

We usually have a houseful, but this Christmas it will just be a few of us. These are the times when I’m grateful for good friends to share Christmas Eve, grateful that through the changes life brings, there is a foundation of faith – not in an outcome, but in a God whose very character is consistent. In the words of my sister-in-law, Tami, he is “Utterly faithful and completely unpredictable”.

In this Christmas edition of #Onlythegood, there are a few lovely things to share.

The first is this beautiful piece by One Voice Children’s Choir. My brother Stan shared it and I’ve listened to it several times. I’ve included the words for you to ponder.

Starlight shines, the night is still
Shepherds watch from a hill
I close my eyes, see the night
When love was born
Perfect child gently waits
A mother bends to kiss God’s face
I close my eyes, see the night
When love was born
Angels fill the midnight sky, they sing
Hallelujah, He is Christ, our King
Emmanuel, Prince of peace
Loves come down for you and me
Heaven’s gift, the holy spark
To let the way inside our hearts
Bethlehem, through your small door
Came the hope we’ve waited for
The world was changed forevermore
When love was born
I close my eyes, see the night
When love was born*

A baby born on a Pakistan International Airlines Flight! 

On December 12th, on a flight from Medina, Saudi Arabia to Multan, Pakistan a woman gave birth to a baby girl. The airline staff handled it beautifully and all is well. The baby girl will fly free for the rest of her life!


My friend Rachel has a book deal! She will be writing the story of Annalena Tonelli!

Plough Nabs Bio of ‘Somalia’s Mother Teresa’

“Sam Hine, acquisition editor at Plough, took world rights to the first English-language yet-to-be-titled biography of Annalena Tonelli, often referred to as Somalia’s Mother Teresa. An Italian native, Tonelli’s story features her work in East Africa, including tuberculosis and HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment campaigns, establishing special schools for deaf, blind, and disabled children, and ultimately, her murder in 2003 which remains unsolved. The book will be written by American expat and journalist Rachel Pieh Jones, and it is expected to be published in fall 2019.”


New York Today: Alone in an Empty City

This is a beautiful essay about New York City when everyone leaves.

“Computer screens gone dark. Unanswered emails. Co-workers hauling luggage to meetings so they can head straight to Grandma’s. And for some of us, the unglamorous response to the question, ‘Where are you going for the holidays?’

Nowhere.

At first, we feel a pang — the kind that sets in as we hug loved ones goodbye at airport security or watch their taxi pull away, only to remember we’re going home alone.

But then we become the lucky ones.

We get to watch the city boil down to its barest form. And, like a candle burning brighter as it melts away the wax, this empty New York becomes more radiant than ever.”

Quote from my friend Jo: 

I thought you might like this quote from a book I’m reading (Crossing Borders) by Sergio Troncoso a Mexican American writer who writes about his two cultures.

“I am in between. Trying to write to be understood by those who matter to me, yet also trying to push my mind with ideas beyond the everyday. It is another borderland I inhabit. Not quite here nor there. On good days I feel I am a bridge. On bad days I just feel alone.”


Lastly, my husband and I went to see the Star Wars movie last night. It is non-stop action, tension, and humor. The best line for me was this one: “You don’t win by fighting what you hate, but by saving what you love” said by a lovely new character – Rose.


And with that I’ll wish you a Merry Christmas. May it be a time of contemplation and joy that is much deeper than happiness. It’s hard to believe that 6 years ago I began writing. Thank you for reading, emailing, sharing, and making this into a space on the interwebz that doesn’t hurt the world.

With love to all of you,

Marilyn ♥️

Song by Bernie Herms / Mark Schultz / Mark Mitchell Schultz / Stephanie Lewis When Love Was Born lyrics © Warner/Chappell Music, Inc<<<<<<<<<<
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Lewiston, Maine – It’s a Good Story

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“The way they play together, the way they get along, that’s the future of our cultures together…” – Coach Mike McGgraw

The story of Lewiston, Maine is a good story. It’s a story of integration and resilience and how a group of refugees and immigrants can revitalize a dying community.

It all began in the late 1990s when Lewiston was a dying city. Historically a mill town, Lewiston had long seen an economic downturn and jobs had vanished like the leaves off a tree in late fall. In 2001 that changed.

An extended family of Somali refugees found Lewiston. They decided it was cheap to live and may be a good place to begin their lives anew, far from the refugee camps that had been their homes for many years. It was a secondary migration from where they had originally been settled. They told other Somalis about the city, stating it was a place with low crime, cheap housing, and decent education. Soon more refugees and immigrants began to arrive from Somalia, Congo, Kenya and more.

It wasn’t all easy. At one point soon after the arrival of the initial group, the mayor wrote a letter to community leaders asking that they discourage others from coming. There was a public outcry to the letter, with community members and supporters rallying around the community and pointing out the gift that they were and could continue to be to a city that badly needed a new face and spirit.

That was around 16 years ago. Today, Lewiston is a picture of what can happen in a community when refugees and immigrants are welcomed and invited to flourish.

By all accounts, most credit the influx of Somalis, Sudanese, Congolese and other immigrants to Lewiston’s successful comeback. Businesses have sprung up, adult education classes are booming, but nothing represents this community more than their champion soccer team.

The change to the team began when a group of teenagers from the community approached the coach and asked about the soccer team. They assured him that they could play, and that they would play and make the team good. In 2015 the soccer team won the state championship and were ranked as high as 17th in the entire nation.

The story of the soccer team has been filmed and is a poignant picture of a group of kids coming together, playing above the fray of national politics and national and local prejudice. It is a good story to remember during a year when good stories are difficult to find.

Changing demographics and communities makes for hard work. It is hard on the newcomers, and it is hard on the old timers. It requires far more than mere tolerance; instead it requires first identifying, and then challenging our own cultural assumptions. It asks that we look at our own values and beliefs, and commit to communicating across those boundaries. It has taken a lot of time, but Lewiston, Maine can teach us much about what this change looks like, and how to continue the hard work of communicating across boundaries in order to make our communities stronger.

When asked about the team, one of the coaches said that though his own background is far from the refugee camps of East Africa, it doesn’t matter. The players bring something to the field that transcends geography.


On Thursday night, I will have the privilege of speaking at a conference in Lewiston and I am honored. I’ll be writing more about this, but for right now take a look at this short film.

Until Then….


Early mornings are the best. Those dawn hours when the sun has broken over the horizon but the world is still sleeping; the hours of slow wake-up, sounds of birds breaking the silence of night.

It is early morning and right now it is easy for me to believe that someday this will all be redeemed. 

I remind myself of this when I feel particularly burdened by our world. It is the lifeline of my faith, and I believe it in the marrow of my bones. 

So if one day this will all be redeemed, how am I supposed to live? It would be easy to dismiss this as God’s problem, not mine; to decide that I needn’t go out of my way to do anything special. But the privilege of partnering with a redeemer in “Thy Kingdom Come” is compelling. 

I learn daily more of what it means to participate in kingdom building. I learn that my job is not to ridicule, to withold grace, to tell people to stop having thin skin, to condemn, to gloat, to despair, to withdraw, to be disgusted. My job, my mandate is to build bridges and seek the kingdom. My job is to love God and my neighbor, to seek the welfare of the places I live, to fight for human flourishing. 

My job is to walk in the words of the prophet Micah and do justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with my God. 

There will be a day when the Kingdom of Heaven will come, and on that day I know this – all of this will dissolve into nothing in the light of the Glory of God Himself.

Until then may God heal my eyesight. May he heal our collective eyesight. 

Until then, nations will come and go. Party affiliations will change. Politics will swing from right to left and back again. This is not the Kingdom of God. Every system on earth was designed by imperfect people who were all about life on earth and not about treasure in Heaven.

Until then, may he show us his beloved ones of every tribe and every nation. May we not dismiss stories or perspectives. May we be ones who listen and learn, who are willing to admit we are wrong. May we not justify our wrongs or rationalize our sins. May we be people who see beyond the crisis of the day and beyond our own inadequacies. May we comfort the hurting, give grace to the angry, hear the other side, build bridges of peace, and always fight for the persecuted. 

May we see the world through the Creator’s eyes of love and grace.

Until then…, 

When the Elephant in the Room is Bigger than the Turkey on the Table!

We here at Communicating Across Boundaries know that this might very well be an awkward holiday season for all of us. Families divided must now come back together around the Thanksgiving table. What on earth are we going to talk about? Here are a few suggestions to promote pre-Christmas “Peace on Earth” and “Goodwill toward all men.”

*Talk about the weather! Here in Kansas the weather changes frequently. That allows you the opportunity to go back and talk about it again and again throughout the day. If the weather in your part of the world is more stagnant I invite you to talk about the weather in Kansas!

*Talk about sports! I personally don’t know how to talk about sports very well but usually if you insert, “So…how about those Royals?”, into the conversation, something will take off. Every once in a while you can nod and exclaim, “Yeah!” with authority and a suitable degree of incredulity. (Feel free to insert whatever local team you’ve heard batted around in your part of the world).

*Talk about other Thanksgivings. Remember the time 67 wild turkeys crossed the yard on Thanksgiving Day all those years ago? Remember the time my sister in law and I both brought the same cheesy corn casserole but everyone liked hers better? Remember last Thanksgiving–when everyone came from all over the world? That was such a special holiday.

*Talk about T.V. Has anyone seen anything good on TV lately? Try not to reference reality TV shows as someone might accidentally start talking about the conversation we’re all trying to avoid: Politics!

*Talk about TV in the “olden” days. What show did you use to watch when you were a kid? What time of day did it come on? Who did you watch it with?

*Talk about tattoos. I mean it can’t hurt! If you could get any tattoo what would you get?

*Talk about weird or interesting talents. My husband Lowell can play a recorder with his nose. I can pack a mean suitcase. One of our daughters can impersonate Julia Andrews, the other can swing the hula hoop remarkably well. Our son Connor can talk like Goofy—it’s pretty obnoxious-but it an interesting or weird talent.

*If they were going to make a movie of your life who would they get to play you? This always gets people going in pretty harmless ways!

*What’s the strangest or scariest restaurant you’ve ever eaten at? Why did you go there?

*Talk about Bucket Lists (Unless you’ve got family that are close to kicking their bucket—that might be too morbid!) –What do you still have on yours? Have you crossed anything off recently?

*Talk Thanksgiving Trivia. I hate trivia games. My brain wasn’t wired for them but they do take up conversational space and there are some in our family who are actually quite good at remembering useless bits of information!

            Who was president when Thanksgiving became an annual holiday? (Abraham Lincoln)

            In what year did the Macy’s Thanksgiving parade become a thing? (1924)

            (Skip this one if it’s too close to a political theme!) Which President was the first to give the Thanksgiving turkey an official pardon? (Ronald Reagan)

            What are Turkey chicks called? (Pults or Turkeylings)

            In what year did the green bean casserole first appear on the scene? (1955)

            During Chuseok, the Korean Thanksgiving / harvest festival, they traditionally eat a stuffed food but it isn’t a turkey. What food do Koreans stuff and eat during Chuseok? (Rice pastry dumplings)

            Where is the only place in Australia where Thanksgiving is celebrated? (Norfolk Island)

            Who do children in Japan give drawings to on Labor Thanksgiving Day? (Police Stations)

*Talk about Thanksgiving! Talk out loud about the things you are thankful for. Acknowledge one another with gratitude. Tell each other about the tiny and the tall blessings you’ve been given. Practice being thankful!

 

We here at Communicating Across Boundaries wish you a Thanksgiving marked by sincere gratitude and deep hope.

 

 

*If you’re still struggling to think what to talk about there are countless websites with conversation starters. Who knew?

http://conversationstartersworld.com/250-conversation-starters/

http://www.popsugar.com/smart-living/Easy-Conversation-Starters-34313495

http://thefamilydinnerproject.org/tag/ages-14-100

**Photo credit goes to Bronzi!

The Simple Pin

Since November 8th, the day that shall live on in infamy, people have started wearing little safety pins. I was unaware of this until my friend Jill explained their significance and gave me one to wear.

To wear a safety pin is to make a statement. Where this began is a little uncertain. There are stories from World War II of Dutch resistance members wearing the safety pin in loyalty to Queen Wilhelmina. More recently, after the Brexit vote in the UK, there was reportedly a woman, who used the twitter handle @cheeahs, who wanted to demonstrate publicly that she stood in solidarity with the immigrant community. Immigrants were treated with suspicion in the UK. The Brexit vote seemed to open up a door for hatred, threat, and violence. Hatred had a voice. What about a voice for safety? So this woman wanted members of the immigrant community to know she was a safe person. She wanted to stand with them. Here in the US people are wearing the safety pin to similarly align themselves with people of color, women, members of the LGBT community, and immigrants.

On Thursday, following the election, our youngest daughter came home and reported a story about her Muslim friend. His mom was nervous to go out of the house wearing her hijab. The world now felt like an unsafe place for her. I know of another young woman, this one white, who is a victim of sexual abuse. Fear and a renewed sense of her vulnerability left her paralyzed for several days after the election. I wish with all my heart that these two women would know that I and so many many others are safe spaces in this new atmosphere.

While the safety pin has been a meaningful symbol to many it’s also been met with eye rolls and it’s share of sighs and “Oh brother!”s. The Internet is full of sarcastic posts and tweets and articles that disclaim it. Perhaps it’s another meaningless attempt by white people to band aid up a fatal wound.

I’m not naïve enough to think that wearing a safety pin is all that we have to do. But surely we have to do something even to communicate hope to those suddenly a feared? Maybe the safety pin is a good place to start.

Perhaps the pin serves as more of a statement to myself. I will do something. I will respond. Maybe it emboldens me to reach across community divide, to smile at a stranger who looks differently than I do, to make conversation with someone I don’t know at the grocery store, on the bus, at the library. Maybe it reminds me that there is always something I can do—something small, something a little bigger, something bold.

My friend Jill is a perfect example. Jill is a gregarious extrovert. She loves people without restraint. This election cycle has been hard for her too. She sees the ostracized further marginalized and it’s hurt her. She hears the racial slurs, the negative stereotyping and she sees what it’s doing to her country, her community, her family.

A week ago, Jill donned a silver safety pin. She wore it to the airport, through security, to the departure gate. In the departure lounge she looked around to see who might need someone to connect with. She approached a black man across the way and commented casually about his t-shirt. He was wearing the team mascot from the same high school where her freshman son attends. They struck up a conversation about teenage sons and sports.

Fully aware of the pin on her lapel, she crossed the lounge again and sat next to an elderly black woman. Jill struck up a conversation. Before long the two women discovered they had Albuquerque in common, and interesting family systems and a love of cookies. After they boarded the plane and were en route to Dallas, Jill escaped her seatbelt and sought out her new friend. She handed her a card with her phone number and address on it. She told Ms. Johnson she would be bringing her cookies. “No you won’t!” Ms. Johnson responded in disbelief. “Oh yes I will,” Jill laughed!

When the plane reached Dallas and Jill was deboarding, the flight attendant made eye contact with Jill’s safety pin and then with Jill. Tears filled her eyes and she reached out and hugged Jill.

Jill sent me this text message: I think the safety pin has meant more to me as a reminder to be bold and seek out others. I was not afraid to look for those who might need a smile. Honestly I have not worn my cross necklaces lately-even before election. It just has too many negatives. But the safety pin felt right-be an ally, just be there, show that you care and are not judging. 

White people wear your safety pins! Don’t pretend to think that this enough…but understand fully that this is a beginning. You’re making a statement even to yourself. We have work to do…. We are going to need all the courage we can get and if a pin can poke our consciences and wakes us up to do something it’s worth it!

I just got another text message from Jill. “I just took my new friend, Ms. Johnson, cookies! It was very special.” Wow! Maybe the safety pin can also serve the same function as strings tied around our fingers, reminders to actually act on our best intentions.

 

You can read more about the pin:

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/the-poignant-reason-people-are-wearing-safety-pins-after-brexit_us_5773da43e4b0352fed3e8368

http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/world/2016/11/11/safety-pins-brexit-donald-trump-election/93639074/

https://www.bustle.com/articles/195044-wearing-a-safety-pin-isnt-enough-here-are-8-concrete-ways-to-be-an-ally

 

We Had a Prayer Meeting

On Wednesday evening we had a prayer meeting. Our church isn’t big on prayer meetings. Prayer, yes. Prayer meetings, not so much. They happen very rarely. And this was no ordinary prayer meeting. The leadership of the church called us together to pray for racial reconciliation. The announcement read like this: “In light of the racial unrest of this summer, please gather with our elders on Wednesday, August 31st at 7 p.m. to pray for racial reconciliation in the Church and in the world.”

True to my nature I was in the foyer of the church visiting with a friend and arrived in the sanctuary just as things were about to start. Lowell guided us to a circle across the room, close to the front, where we knew one single mom of young black sons. He wanted us to pray with her. The circle also included other friends we’ve known for a long time and two young black women we had never met. We quickly introduced ourselves, shook hands and sat down as our pastor stood to welcome people and begin the prayer meeting.

The format was pretty straightforward. We sang a song or two, Pastor Steve shared some scripture and some thoughts, suggested prayer requests were projected on the screen, and then we prayed in small groups around the room.

It would have been better had I had a chance to chat with the young black women before we started. It would have been much easier to pray about such weighty emotionally charged issues, issues that are far from black and white, had we known everyone in our small group. As it was I felt so uncomfortable and so awkward. Who were these women? What was the condition of their hearts on this topic? Were they students at K-state? Were they from Manhattan? Were they from places torn apart by fear, prejudice and violence? What were their stories? Who were they?

I joined in the prayer, praying haltingly, hesitantly, tiptoeing around the deeper places, always aware of the place in my stomach that felt so very uncomfortable. I wanted to leave the room. I wanted to find some excuse and leave the room. The discomfort and dis-ease I felt in the pit of my stomach were poignant. It didn’t help that the two black women for reasons unknown to me (were they shy? did they know anyone in the circle? were they feeling as uncomfortable as I was?) didn’t pray out loud.

Midway through the evening, Pastor Steve invited Dr. Kimmery Newsom to the front to share before launching the next round of requests and prayers. Dr. Newsom is my personal friend. A strong black woman with unbelievable drive and determination, she’s a professor at Kansas State University and knew most of the people at the meeting. Her quick wit and expressive face diffused the dynamic with laughter. You could feel the room exhale and relax.

Kimmery greeted the elephant in the room. “Many of you are probably feeling uncomfortable. And that’s ok.” She read scriptures about love: the love of God and the love we are called to. “They will know we are Christians by our love,” she quoted. And then she ended matter of factly with this, “This isn’t a race issue, it’s a sin issue.” When you’re told to love, not loving is a sin. It’s that simple.

Love compels us to join a circle that includes people we don’t know. Love is willing to feel uncomfortable. Love sits with the discomfort in the belly, admits it, attends to it, but chooses to stay in the room. Love holds steady. Love takes a risk. Love is willing to step into the places that feel uncertain, awkward, and vulnerable for the great cause of unity and reconciliation.We are called to love. In this way we participate in the healing of our country, our community and of our own soul’s core.

The prayer meeting finally came to an end. My distress did not destroy me. I was not undone. As soon as the final amen had been said I turned to the tall young woman sitting to my right and enquired after her. My inner disquiet was silenced and we chatted freely. The holy work of prayer still encircled us, giving space for true communion graced with love.

Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance (1 Corinthians 13:7).

Yeah, so we had a prayer meeting.

Summer Fun Ideas that Promote Sanity and Potentially a Wider View of the World

These are ideas for (mostly) free stuff that can happen anywhere in the world. Teenage daughters should take note.

Go for a walk.

Create a scavenger hunt in your house, backyard or courtyard.

Make playdoh. Play with playdoh.

Brainstorm strange flavours of pancakes…make the top three strangest even if it means making up the recipes!

Make window paint. Paint on the windows!

Bubble bath!

Plan an at home spa day: make fancy drinks, give massages, do manicures and pedicures, put cucumber slices on your eyes, make homemade facial masks.

Go camping in your living room, or backyard, or courtyard!

Go for a picnic!

Make cards or postcards. Mail them to someone who might need a burst of joy!

Colour or paint.

Have ice cream Sundaes for supper.

Choose books to read that are written by International authors.            http://www.nypl.org/blog/2014/07/22/around-world-childrens-books

Work on a puzzle. (Puzzles can be expensive…but I buy them at thrift stores or garage sales. It’s true you don’t know if all the pieces are there but you’ll never know unless you do the puzzle!)

Watch an old western TV show or a Bollywood movie without the sound. Choose characters and dream up the dialogue as you go!

Play a board game but not monopoly. Monopoly causes family drama. Every time. These days we like Ticket to Ride, Forbidden Island, Pandemic, Probe.

Sidewalk chalk art!

Visit a pet store and pretend it’s a zoo!

Start a family book club: Each person share for 10 minutes about the book they’re reading. Serve cheese and crackers and lemon squash!

Have a water fight –with squirt guns or water balloons or spritzer bottles.

Throw a party—just because! Blow up balloons, hang paper chains or streamers, mix      juice with sprite and pour it in fancy glasses, invite friends over! Play silly party games (pin the tail on the monkey, upset the fruit basket, charades).

Create a fitness challenge in your front yard! Pull out the timer and see who can get            through it fastest, with their eyes closed, with their arms behind their backs, on one foot etc.

Make cookies or brownies with a secret ingredient!

Turn on some classical music and take turns telling the story of the movie the music            is a sound track for.

Pretend you’re a tourist in your own town. Go on a walking tour of a part of town you’ve never been to before. Try a local restaurant you’ve never tried.

Find a new recipe for an odd or interesting snack. Make it!

Set up paints and paper and watch an episode of Sister Wendy on DVD or on Youtube –A TCK in her own right.

Hand each kid a roll of masking tape—send them outside for an hour to see what they might make!

Read aloud from a really good book!

Try some games that kids in other countries play. Google it! There are tons of ideas out there. Here’s a simple spot to start if you have younger kids:    http://beafunmum.com/2012/11/games-from-around-the-world/

Create a new beverage! What would chai mixed with lemonade be like? Or Orange Fanta with orange sherbet?

Make a pillow fort. Make a really big pillow fort!

Pull out the scissors, construction paper, a pile of old newspapers or magazines and             the glue: Collage!!

Visit an international food store. Choose a snack from some place faraway that you’ve never had before!

Visit the Aquarium Supply Store near you and look at the fish.

Hang a white sheet from the side of your house or garage and use a projector to watch a movie. Make popcorn. Serve root beer floats.

Geocaching—see if that’s a thing where you live. Try it with friends or family.

Borrow kayaks or canoes from friends and explore waterways near you.

Presuming someone in your family has a smart phone have a selfie competition. Make a duck face, a sad face, a I’ve just lost my pet face, an ecstatic face, an oh no my ice cream is melting face.

Play Chopped or Cupcake Wars at home in your own kitchen.

Pick a country—plan a pretend trip there. Research where you’d go, where you’d stay, how you’d get there. Rent or download a movie that features that country. Check out books from the library about it. Make a meal or a snack from that country (google it!). Do you know someone from that place or someone that’s been there? Invite them over and ask them to tell you about it.

Climb a tree.

Fly a kite.

Visit your local zoo.

Get multiple copies of a one act play. Or make copies of a segment from  Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Host a reader’s theatre complete with props and costumes.

Sit down as a family with a very large piece of butcher-block paper. Make a family history timeline.

Invite friends over for a joke telling night. Each guest brings their best ice cream topping and their best joke. Dish up the ice cream and prepare for the belly laughs.

With the help of YouTube learn a Bollywood dance!

Sit down with a stack of thank you cards. Think of random people that live thankless   lives. Send them a card. Do this with a friend or with your family.

Set up a lemonade stand. Use the money you make to do something frivolous as a family.

Get out a map. Pick a place within a 50 mile/100 kilometer radius. Go for a drive.

 

Explore this town or place as a tourist might. Take pictures.

The Four C’s of Crisis Care

Kintsukuroi-Collage
[Photo Credit – Godfuel.org]

With many thanks to Melissa Dalton-Bradford 

When you first meet Melissa Dalton-Bradford, one of your first thoughts is “She is the sort of beautiful that makes me feel beautiful.”  Your second thought is life is not fair because she is incredibly smart, speaks at least three languages, and is a talented performer.

But when she begins to talk and you learn her life story, you are convinced life is not fair. Melissa buried her 18-year old son a few days after he began college. She laid a son who had been full of life and joy and talent into a coffin. The tragedy belongs in the album of the unexplainable and my throat catches when I think about this, about the loss of this boy to the family, to his church, to his community.

As I listen to Melissa, I don’t stay in that album for long, because she compassionately moves the listener to a different album – an album of hope.

I had the privilege of meeting Melissa in Amsterdam this past weekend. She was the last speaker in what was a conference full of excellent breakout and main stage sessions. I walked away with thoughts on grief and comfort whirling in my mind. It will take a long time to process.

Today however, I want to share the four C’s of crisis care: Compassion. Community. Comfort. Commitment.  These thoughts primarily come from Melissa and are just the briefest summary of all she has to say. I would urge those who want to dig deeper to like the Facebook page On Loss and Moving Forward as well as take a look at Melissa’s second book On Loss and Living Onward: Collected Voices for the Grieving and Those Who Would Mourn with Them. 

Compassion

“When others help us heal, they too suffer in some way. Suffering is the modest price of real friendship.” Wayne E. Brickey in Making Sense of Suffering.

I’ve spoken about compassion before in several pieces, but here was another reminder that we begin and we end with compassion.  We don’t “patch grief with proverbs”[Melissa Dalton-Bradford] We sit with them. The root of the word ‘compassion’ means “to suffer with.”  Melissa quoted a line “To comfort me you have to come close. Come sit with me on my mourning bench” from a piece called Lament for a Son. * So we come close, we sit, and we wait.

Commune

To commune means to ‘show up.’ If you talk to people who are grieving about what helped the most, they will tell stories with tears running down their cheeks about how people showed up. They came to appointments and to drop off dinners and desserts; they came to funerals and they made phone calls or just dropped by. We can’t do grief without communing and community. And we must bring community to the grieving.

Comfort

Melissa reminded us that we each bring a strength to the grieving process and to those who grieve. Your strength may not be casseroles. Mine certainly isn’t. But we all have something to bring. She gave the illustration of two artists who painted pictures of her son that captured his life through their art. They gave what they could. Are you an artist, a blogger, an accountant, an organizer, a driver? Come and bring your strength to the one who is grieving.

Commitment

“All grief will outlast conventional comfort”

“Grief is its own country, its own land mass.”

Melissa Dalton-Bradford

Whoever created a ‘time line’ for grief should be challenged to rethink that idea.

Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, pioneer of the conscious dying movement, lived to regret having described the common features of the grief journey as stages. She came to see that everyone grieves differently and that science collapses in the face of the mysteries of the heart. There is no map for the landscape of loss, no established itinerary, no cosmic checklist, where each item ticked off gets you closer to success. You cannot succeed in mourning your loved ones. You cannot fail. Nor is grief a malady, like the flu. You will not get over it. You will only come to integrate your loss, like the girl who learned to surf again after her arm was bitten off by a shark. The death of a beloved is an amputation. You find a new center of gravity, but the limb does not grow back.

When someone you love very much dies, the sky falls. And so you walk around under a fallen sky.**

Grief knows no timeline. Three months from now, your friend will still be grieving over her failed marriage. Two years from now, even as she moves on, there will still be times of grief.  Ten months from now, your other friend will still dream that her child is coming back, well and whole.  Fifteen years from now, a wife will still go to the grave side of the man she pledged her life to and who she thought would be there on her 15th anniversary. Ten years from now the third culture kid or refugee will still feel the weight of grief when they read the news and see “their” countries on the front page. Compassion, community, and comfort need to continue for the long haul.

I wish all of you could have heard this talk on grief and the hope that emerged from the ashes of Melissa’s healing. If she is speaking in your area – GO! But in the meantime, her books hold her story and her story brings comfort.

As I was thinking about Melissa’s talk, reflecting and writing this piece, I saw a picture of the fine art of Kintsukuroi. Kintsukuroi is the art of repairing a broken pot with gold:

“When the Japanese mend broken objects they aggrandize the damage by filling the cracks with gold, because they believe that when something’s suffered damage and has a history it becomes more beautiful.” *

When we are willing to sit with people in their grieving, we are part of this restoration. We help to fill the cracks with gold instead of sawdust, and the damaged, grieving one heals and becomes stronger and more beautiful.

*Barbara Bloom | Photo of Kintsukuroi

*http://www.iskandar.com/waleed911/griefwalterstorff.html

**Excerpt from CARAVAN OF NO DESPAIR forthcoming from Sounds True (November 1, 2015)

A Look Back and a Look Ahead

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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!

A Free Cart

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A Free Cart by Robynn. Follow Robynn @RobynnBliss and see all her pieces here.

Earlier in the week I went grocery shopping. It wasn’t that the cupboards were completely bare, far from it, but certain teenagers couldn’t find the snacks of their preference and they were beginning to protest: “There’s nothing to eat!”

I did an Aldi run! I don’t know if you have Aldi where you live, or something equivalent, but Aldi is an extremely low cost grocery store. In order to keep their prices low it’s a pretty bare bones experience.  The grocery carts are kept chained together outside. In order to get one you have to insert a coin into a metal slot. Later when you return your cart the coin pops back out. The food is kept in cases on basic metal shelving. You put your choices into your cart and then onto the conveyer belt for the check out clerk to scan it. When they’re done doing that they throw it into your cart again. If you want it bagged or boxed you do that yourself, later, over to the side, out of the way.

On Tuesday morning, as I arrived at the store, I began my routine rummage for a quarter, the magic coin that will unlock the all-important cart. (For the record Canadian quarters or Indian 1 rupee coins don’t work. I’ve tried!) My specially reserved quarter had been stolen (probably by the same “hungry” teenager). I searched in the bottom of my purse, in the car’s cupholders, under the seats. Finally I found one. With coat zipped to my chin and a tightly pinched quarter between my be-gloved fingers, I made my way toward the carts.

There was a bit of a ruckus at the cart stop. It seems someone, long gone before, had left their quarter in the slot. They had not taken the coin with them. How scandalous! One lady pulled that particular cart out of the way. “I can’t take this one. I have a quarter,” she snorted. The gentleman behind her, clearly a little confused, started mumbling, “I don’t need that. I’m okay. I have a quarter.”  Another elderly lady, just shook her head, back and forth, perplexed. Someone approaching shouted to the gathering cart seekers, “I don’t need that. I have my own quarter.”

It was beginning to be a bit ridiculous! With my silver quarter obviously out and ready since leaving the car, I wasn’t sure what to do.  I put my gloved hand in my pocket and bravely declared, “Well, I have a quarter too, but I’m happy to receive this!” It broke the independence ice. People started laughing and chuckling. Suddenly there was community in the air. And a little joy.

People here in the Midwest are very proud of their independence. We don’t need anything from anybody. We take care of our own. Asking for help is a sure sign of weakness. Midwesterners never want to appear needy or insufficient. These are a proud independent people.

In times of disaster—an earthquake, a prairie fire gone out of control—the people of the Tall Grass are undeniably the first to generously step up to help. Tell us what you need and we’ll be there; quickly, with a casserole, and cleaning supplies. We love to give. We love to help.

But on the other side, receiving from others seems to be a difficult thing for the people of the prairies.

True community is formed in the give and take of life. As we reach out to one another, and let others reach out to us, there is a depth of friendship and strength of relational network formed. It’s beautiful. It’s winsome. I would argue, it’s essential!

I remember an old song we used to sing, The Servant Song. The words went like this:

Brother, let me be your servant.
Let me be as Christ to you.
Pray that I might have the grace
To let you be my servant, too.

We are pilgrims on a journey.
We are brothers on the road.
We are here to help each other
Walk the mile and bear the load.

Recently I was convicted of independence. A family member offered to change the oil in our car. It was a very kind offer, one we weren’t expecting, nor deserving. I was tempted to blow it off and say no. In some ways it would have been easier to take it down to the Jiffy Lube and pay a stranger to do it. But here was someone offering to be our servant in this simple task. I felt in me the quiet voice of God saying I should receive. I should say yes. I should accept the gift. Let this person do this. It was important for my soul. It was also important, somehow, for his.

Receiving from others is humbling and quieting. It makes us feel small and needy. Receiving from others is also a sweet sacrament. We admit our humanity. We admit our need. We have a moment to see that we cannot do it alone.

Put your quarters away. Receive the gift.  Push the cart with your head held high. There is no shame in receiving from others. Ask for the gift to be occasionally in need.  Pray for the grace to let others minister to you and meet those needs. Refuse the temptation to believe that independence is strength. In the grand metaphor of life we are all weak and frail. We need each other.

What about you? Do you feel weak when you need help? Do you struggle accepting gifts of grace? Would love to hear from you through the comments.

Picture Credit: http://pixabay.com/en/shopping-cart-shopping-supermarket-58863/

Our Shared World

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I entered the bus with relief. It was dark from the early sunset that comes in December and raining hard. Cold wind blew raindrops that stung against faces and bodies as people tried to shield themselves as best they could.

But inside the bus was bright with light and warmth. Even though I was one of the last to get on, a seat was available at the front facing passengers on the other side.

“It’s pretty wet out there!” the bus driver looked at me and smiled. I returned the smile and nodded my dripping head in agreement. “But better than the white stuff – huh?” I laughed “yeah – way better than the white stuff.”

It was rush hour but no one was in a hurry. There was a sense of companionship and collective relief that we were all in this space – safe from the elements, warm, dry. The windows began to steam from all of us. There were nods, smiles, and shaking heads about the cold and the wet; the bus driver greeted each person with a laugh or smile.

We were a group of every color, size, and age. You couldn’t tell a nurse from a gas station attendant, a factory worker from a teacher – together in this space we were all on equal footing. City bus rides are not usually like this. There is always jostling, always someone angry, always someone taking offense. There is usually someone with serious mental illness and bus drivers are rarely patient in these parts. But this? This was different.

Like sitting in the warm sunshine, a feeling of belonging and contentment came over me. I was in the shared world of the city. I heard not a cross or angry word, instead all were just relieved to be there, safe in this space.

I thought about our world, so fractured so much of the time. Yet you don’t have to go far to find a group of people just like us – strangers all brought together by the circumstances of the weather, yet acknowledging each other as human beings, at the mercy of bad weather and difficult days.

I sat back and smiled, content for these moments, content to just be. 

Recently a short essay called “Gate A-4” that made its way around social media last year, resurfaced. The essay is a true story about a Palestinian American woman whose flight was delayed by four hours. While wandering the airport she heard an announcement asking if there was anyone who could speak Arabic and if so, would they please come to gate A-4. It was the gate where her delayed plane was to leave from, she spoke Arabic so she responded to the call. She arrived to find a woman, hysterical, who did not understand the message. She comforted her, explained the situation in Arabic, and the story ends a couple hours later with the previously hysterical woman passing around little date cookies called maamoul, common in the Middle East but not well known in the United States. The author makes this observation as she looked around at other passengers, tired but all laughing and sharing small date cookies covered in powdered sugar.

“And I looked around that gate of late and weary ones and thought, This is the world I want to live in. The shared world. Not a single person in that gate— once the crying of confusion stopped— seemed apprehensive about any other person. They took the cookies. I wanted to hug all those other women too. This can still happen anywhere. Not everything is lost.” *

Here in this bus I know what the author is talking about. I know what she means. Because I look around and see the same – weary travelers on a journey, but no one apprehensive, no one worried about the other, all grateful to be there, warm, dry, away from the rain. The only things missing are the date cookies.

All too soon, it was time to push the yellow bar indicating to the driver that my stop was coming. I left the bus, entering into the cold and wet for my final walk home. But my heart was light and glad.

Daily we watch and read stories about a world that is not shared, a world that is fractured by disparities, suffering, killings, racism, and wars. But moments at airport gates and in crowded buses remind us that there is hope. Hope in humanity, hope that a stranger who is frantic and afraid can be calmed down and share date cookies, hope that people are better than they sometimes seem. It’s in these spaces that I feel belonging and hope. Hope for humanity and hope for community.

In these moments, in some inexplicable way our stories are linked together and we understand the truth:this world we live in is a shared world. It’s up to us whether we will serve date cookies or angry words. “Not everything is lost.” 

Blogger’s note: Be sure to take a look at the original story. You can read it here. 

Picture Credit: http://pixabay.com/en/blur-blurred-bus-city-motion-16706/

Designed to be Dependent

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Central Square, Cambridge is a 10 minute walk from our apartment. It’s not a tourist attraction, nor is it the prettiest square that Cambridge has to offer. Central Square is utilitarian. Bus and subway stops are easy to navigate. Several banks, a couple of churches, and all the major chain drug stores dot the streets surrounding the square. Restaurants and coffee shops are in abundance and whether meeting someone for business or pleasure it’s an easy place to gather.

A couple of years ago the Central Square Wendy’s closed. While we rarely frequented this fast-food establishment, known by the red-haired, freckle-faced little girl on the signs, many others did. Large groups gathered near the front of the restaurant — they were regulars.

It was their place to gather.

I thought of this recently as I read an article about a McDonald’s in Queens that was ‘evicting’ a Korean group for over-staying their welcome. The restaurant has a prescribed 20 minute customer dining period and this group was staying for hours at a time. The writer of the article wanted to find out why – why this McDonald’s? Why didn’t they go to the senior center, a place designed to be used by retirees as a gathering space? What did this group, picking this restaurant, have to do with urban space?

This McDonald’s had become a “Naturally Occurring Retirement Community” or a NORC. There were several reasons why this happened. One was just proximity. When questioned all but one said they lived within one or two blocks of the restaurant so they could come without assistance at any time they chose. The second was that this particular McDonald’s had large picture windows, perfect for people watching.

But ultimately – it was all about community and finding a place in the city. 

All this makes me think about community and finding our spaces. We are designed to be dependent on one another, to not live in isolation. This is an undeniable thread in our DNA. So we will search and search to find that community, whether it be at a McDonald’s in Queens or an online chat room. The places and spaces we find may not make sense to outsiders looking in– why this McDonald’s and not a burger king down the road? And some of the communities we find are not healthy, not life-giving. But if questioned, we all have our reasons for why we have picked the community and the space that we pick.

If anything proves our deep longing and search for community it is the results you get when you google “How to find community”. In under a second I got 1,810,000,000 results. My jaw dropped when I saw this. In fact I had to count the zeros.

We want to be welcomed in to a physical space that is close to us, to a place with those who are like us where we can sit together and watch the world outside go by, to a place where time stops and all life makes sense while we’re together.

We are designed to be dependent.

Which leads me to ask these questions: Do you have a “McDonald’s” in your life? A place where you gather for community and friendship? Where do you find community? Do you believe we are designed for dependence? 

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Stacy is in Uganda and says this about today’s muffins which are Banana Sour Cream: “Since I’m still in Uganda, once again, I’ve chosen an ingredient that is produced here in abundance, bananas. We’ve been eating them every day and the farm where we are staying grows several types, including ones called Matoki that the Ugandans served cooked and mashed.” Click here for the recipe.

*Image credit: ronfromyork / 123RF Stock Photo. Words added by https://communicatingacrossboundariesblog.com/

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Living in the Blue Zones

Globes

In 2004 a man named Dan Buethner along with National Geographic went around the world looking for places where people lived well; where people had longer lifespans and healthier bodies. They identified 5 places with the highest life expectancy. Once they identifies these places, they took in a team of scientist to find out why.

Were there characteristics that these communities shared that could be replicated in other places?

They found 9 specific traits or characteristics of centenarians who lived in these communities. They called the communities “Blue Zones” and the nine characteristics the “Power 9.”

These are the 9 traits they found:

  1. Move naturally. The healthiest communities in the world did not have fancy exercise machines. They did not have expensive gym memberships. They participated in no exercise classes. Instead they lived in communities that forced movement. They planted gardens, they walked, they did house work.
  2. They had purpose. Each community called it something different, but the idea was the same. They had a reason for getting up in the morning. Researchers found that having a sense of purpose added years to the life expectancy.
  3. Routines to ‘shed stress’ — the researchers called it “down shift”. None of the places were stress-free. But they all had ways to relieve the stress. Some communities napped, some had a happy hour, but all had something.
  4. Something called an 80% rule. Each community had the belief that you stop eating before you’re full. You stop eating when you’re at 80%. And all ate their lightest meal in the evening.
  5. They all ate a lot of greens, a lot of plants. Meat was not eaten in much in any of the communities, rather it was a diet high in plants.
  6. They belonged to something. All but 5 of the people studied in these communities were part of a faith-based community. Belonging was critical, faith was critical.
  7. They put family first. They were part of extended families, committed to one life partner, cared about the elderly. Family was critical.
  8. Something researchers called the “right tribe”. To age successfully, free of chronic disease, you either have to choose, or be born into, the right social circles – circles that support healthy choices.

So why am I writing about this? Because I find this fascinating, particularly the last three:

Belonging. Family. Tribe.

I grew up with a strong sense of community and family. There was my immediate family, but beyond that was my extended missionary family, and within that were Pakistanis that were part of my community. Back in the United States there were extended family–blood relatives that cared. Faith was equally important – faith as foundational to all we did, faith as a hallmark of our lives. Lastly I felt I was part of a tribe – a group of people who, though different, were tied together by common purpose, similar culture, and equal economic status. None of us were rich in money, many of us felt rich in family, community, and purpose. In a way, I grew up in a blue zone. 

Turns out that these things matter to our health, because health is about so much more than our physical bodies.

I no longer live in a blue zone. And it makes me wonder, can we create our own blue zones? Our own places of health for both body and soul? Since we are created for community and connection, I don’t think living in our self-created blue zones is enough. There have to be others who are a part of our lives, who become our community and ‘tribe’.

What do you think? Do you currently live in a Blue Zone as defined by the common characteristics? Do you wish you did?

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Today’s muffins are Dark Chocolate Cherry Muffins. As always Stacy has managed to come up with a creative, delicious muffin. Click here for the recipe.

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“So You Think You Can Blog?” Advice for New Bloggers

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In September of 2015 one of my posts went viral. I had been blogging almost daily for four years and had built up a loyal and amazing group of readers. The law of averages could have predicted that given the sheer number of pieces I was writing, at some point one of them would get picked up. Of course it was the post that I spent fifteen minutes on instead of a week. The piece is Stupid Phrases for People in Crisis and to date it has been shared on Facebook 596 thousand times. (596,000) That being said my first piece of advice is Do not blog because you want to go viral. No. NO. NOO. That’s not why you blog. You pick a reason, and you stick with it. I wanted to repost this piece because in the last week I’ve spoken to at least 20 people who want to start a blog.

So this is for you who are beginning this journey.

It’s the new year and last night you had a blast of inspiration – as you were thinking about 2014, you suddenly realized you wanted to start a blog.

That’s what happened to me in 2011. And it’s one of the best activities I’ve ever started.

So there’s some things that I want to pass on to you who are beginning this journey in 2014.

  1. Keep it real. Be yourself – don’t try to blog about something you don’t know. Your blog will attract people who are interested in the subject, they’ll stay connected because they begin to like you, your style, your writing. Don’t try to be someone or something you’re not. Readers are smart – they’ll figure it out.
  2. Be fully present. In other words — Care about your readers. If readers come to your blog and take time to comment, reply to their comments. There are literally millions of things to read on the internet. They’ve chosen to read you. Be fully present and willing to respond to them. Read the comment well and think about how to respond. Don’t treat comments like discardable, inanimate objects when they come from real, animate people who took the time to put fingers to keyboard and type out words. That being said – watch out for spammers. If they have a dot com website and say inane things like “I have looked all over web and truly I found this site to be quite surprisingly wonderful how do you do it” then don’t approve their comment. They are spam.

Don’t treat comments like discardable, inanimate objects when they come from real, animate people who took the time to put fingers to keyboard and type out words,

3. Connecting happens when you least expect it. Rachel Pieh Jones said this recently “Some posts will resonate with people and some won’t. Sometimes it is surprising to me which way things go. I think a post will fall flat or almost don’t publish it ….and it goes nuts. I think a post is wicked good and it barely raises a flicker on the traffic stats. I’m still trying to figure out what it is that makes a post spread.” Sometimes what you spend the least amount of time on ends up making the biggest impact. There is a mystery to this. Don’t spend too much time analyzing. Just continue connecting and writing.

4. Freshly Pressed is wonderful….but even more wonderful is when the post that didn’t get Freshly Pressed gets some traffic. I was incredibly grateful to WordPress for highlighting 3 of my posts on Freshly Pressed. The two on Egypt were purely because Matt Mullenweg found them. I will always love Matt for this. That he found these posts was a gift and allowed my unknown blog to be seen by a record number of people. What I found however is that readers will arrive from Freshly Pressed, but only a fraction, say five to ten percent, will stay. You want the readers who will stay, the readers who will engage with the piece and each other. 

5. Don’t write controversy for the sake of controversy. It’s tempting to get on the social media circuit with what’s enjoying its fifteen minutes of fame, but there is no staying power in those posts. Once the controversy is over, no one cares about your post anymore. Besides that, there are hundreds of other articles written on the same subject and you are a new blogger so people won’t find your post. You want the post that can be resurrected two years later and still be shared. If you feel strongly about something like this or this, don’t hesitate to write about it, but don’t do it just to get views. It won’t last.

6. Blogging takes time. There are other people in my family that are far better writers than I am. The difference is that I do it. Every. Day. Every day I write an average of 500 words. I can’t tell you any secrets, any suggestions — it’s a bit like the Nike commercial: “Just do it”. Just write. Even if you post once a week, just write. And always, always do the spell and grammar check. All mistakes won’t be caught but a number will and for the rest you will have cousins and friends who take the time and mercy to gently let you know where you erred.

7. Keep posts relatively short. We’re in an age of short attention spans and vying websites. 700 words for a post is ideal. If it will be longer, just warn people to get a cup of tea and sit down. That way they’ll be ready and willing to sit down and spend a bit more time.

8. Keep a note-book on hand. Always. Small moleskin journals are perfect for this. Ideas for blogs will come when you least expect and you can’t always rely on your memory. The idea for this one came while I was sautéing onions to put in an egg dish on New Year’s Day. A note-book where you can write your ideas down is critical to keeping your blogging fresh and real.

9. Promote your blog to non-bloggers. While most people will tell you to connect with other bloggers — and that is great and sound advice — I would also encourage you to try to connect with non-bloggers. Other bloggers are working towards their own blogging goals and audience. The people who don’t blog? They will be a huge encouragement and impetus to write and write well. Use social media of all types to do this – Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, Pinterest — all of it. Sometimes you’ll connect with people who don’t have a blog but want to write. Encourage them to write by asking them to do guest posts.

10. Have fun with your blog. Above all, have fun. Enjoy learning to craft a post, to put words together, to learn how to respond to others. Don’t do it for the money you think you might make! Making money on a blog takes a long time and more than our allotted 15 minutes of fame. Along with that, you become a slave to the products that you write about. Do it for fun – do it to find your voice – do it to become a better writer – do it to connect – but don’t do it for money.

So you think you can blog? I know you can! And if you just started, leave a comment with a link to your new blog.

Note: WordPress always does some great posts at the beginning of the year encouraging new bloggers or those who want to revive and old blog. Take a look here and here. Rachel Pieh Jones wrote a great post with lessons learned from her last year of blogging. I’ve linked above but if you missed it go here. 

Pick up your copy of Between Worlds – Essays on Culture and Belonging today

This book is a set of essays on living between worlds. It is divided into 7 sections and each section is illustrated by my talented daughter – Annie Gardner. Home, Identity, Belonging, Airports, Grief & Loss, Culture Clash, and Goodbyes set the stage for the individual essays within each section.

Between Worlds is available at Amazon and Barnes & Noble.