Oh Canada

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Today I’m boarding a plane and going home. While the Canada Goose is turning her beak to the south, I’m turning mine to the north. I’m off to Canada!

Canada is where my story started. There’s a warm and weird nostalgia that comes over me when I think about Canada and all things Canadian: Coffee Crisp chocolate bars, Shreddies cereal, Swedish fish, Tim Hortons coffee and donuts, Canadian Tire, London Drugs, Cheez Whiz, Nanaimo bars, Nuts and Bolts, Aero chocolate, homo milk, Beaver Tails, poutine, ordering French fries with a side of gravy, Kraft Dinner, the loonie and the twoonie, the Canadian flag, klicks.

I suppose my attachment to the Great White North is a little suspect. I’ve really only lived 15 of my 46 years there. But Canada served as a pivot place for my childhood. Although we left when I was 8 years old, Canada was where we always went back to. Canada housed my grandparents, most of our aunts and uncles, our cousins. Canada was the place of my parent’s childhoods, their stories, their romance and marriage.

Later, when mom and dad were back from Pakistan, Lowell and I would marry in a tiny church in a small town on the vast Canadian prairies. We honeymooned in the Canadian Rockies between Banff and Lake Louise. Come to think of it, those months leading up to our wedding was really the last time I lived in Canada. We’ve been married 22 years ago. That’s a very long time ago.

Although I self-identify as Canadian, and have a Canadian passport to prove it, I’m quite likely the most unCanadian Canadian you’ll ever meet. My connections are weak at best, based largely on sentiment and maple syrup. I know very little about Canadian history or folklore. Canadian politics still perplex me on occasion. I’m hardly fluent in the Canadian vernacular. My vowels are now too relaxed, my consonants too indistinct, my syllables too lazy. When I talk no one suspects that I’m from north of the 49th parallel.

I know it makes no sense but I suppose this is the crux of the TCK tale. There’s no accounting for how and when the heart feels momentarily at home. The math doesn’t make sense. Only 1/3 of my life has been lived in the True North strong and free. On the other hand I’ve lived 22 years in Pakistan and India. Only nine years have been spent here among the sunflowers in Kansas.

And yet Canada still represents something to my soul that really defies logic. For reasons I can’t explain there’s a part of me that still sighs with relief when I enter her borders. I exhale and relax just a little bit more when I arrive. This time tomorrow morning I’ll be sipping tea at my parent’s dining room table. I’ll take a deep breath and let it out slowly. I’ll set down my foreignness for a bit. I’ll be among my people and somehow that brings me a measure of consolation.

O Canada!

Our home and native land!

True patriot love in all thy sons command.

With glowing hearts we see thee rise,

The True North strong and free!

From far and wide,

O Canada, we stand on guard for thee.

God keep our land glorious and free!

O Canada, we stand on guard for thee.

O Canada, we stand on guard for thee.

O Canada! Where pines and maples grow.

Great prairies spread and lordly rivers flow.

How dear to us thy broad domain,

From East to Western sea.

Thou land of hope for all who toil!

Thou True North, strong and free!

O Canada! Beneath thy shining skies

May stalwart sons, and gentle maidens rise,

To keep thee steadfast through the years

From East to Western sea.

Our own beloved native land!

Our True North, strong and free!

 

Ruler supreme, who hearest humble prayer,

Hold our Dominion in thy loving care;

Help us to find, O God, in thee

A lasting, rich reward,

As waiting for the better Day,

We ever stand on guard.

The Welcome Prayer

I have to admit I’m really struggling this week. I’m angry at some recent news from an organization close to my heart. I’m disgusted by the political situation in the country where I live. I’m horrified by the people that excuse sexual indecency and the language of predatory sexual assault. I’m embarrassed by those Christians in leadership that refuse to remove their blinders and truly see what’s happening.

Meanwhile racial imbalance continues to effect communities across this country. More Syrians fleeing their ravaged homeland have died this week in trying to escape. Much of Haiti’s infrastructure has been erased by fierce winds and waters. Over 800 people died in the wreckage. Thailand’s beloved King has died leaving thousands mourning and in uncertain transition. Yemen is still reeling from the double bomb attack at a funeral last week which left 140 people dead and over 500 injured. The situation in Kashmir is heated and precarious. The Pakistani Christian woman Asia Bibi, once again on trail for blasphemy, has had her case adjourned for the time being with the threat of false accusation still hanging over her.

It’s too much. Never before have I been so tempted to cancel everything, stay in my pajamas, and curl up in my bed for a few days. I’m heart sick and worn out from it all. I want to make friends with denial and ignorance. I’m done.

I was awake early this morning working on a different blog post. It was an angry rant full of passion and fury. As I was madly pounding at my keyboard I realized that the piece had taken on a life of it’s own. The words were nearly typing themselves. Anger was colouring in ugly shades outside the lines of reason and wisdom. I pushed my chair away from my desk, poured myself another cup of coffee and paused.

Leanna Tankersley tucks into her very insightful book, Brazen: The Courage to Find the You That’s Been Hiding, a chapter entitled, Welcoming It All. In it she includes the Welcome Prayer as written by Father Thomas Keating, a Trappist monk:

Welcome, welcome, welcome. I welcome everything that comes to me today because I know it’s for my healing. I welcome all thoughts, feelings, emotions, persons, situations and conditions. I let go of my desire for power and control. I let go of my desire for affection, esteem, approval and pleasure. I let go of my desire for survival and security. I let go of my desire to change any situation, condition, person or myself. I open to the love and presence of God and God’s action within. Amen.

Tankersley goes on to say, “I love these lines, this concept, this practice. The Welcoming Prayer takes us out of our heads and into a space where we stop, even for a very few minutes, our analyzing and figuring. We relinquish our strategies and allow God to work within us, in the place where we are far more malleable than our mind. We are opening ourselves up to a divine encounter which is never a bad idea.” (Leanna Tankersley, Brazen, 2016. pg 200).

Admittedly it’s a hard prayer to pray today. I don’t want to “let go of my desire for power or control.” I don’t want to “let go of my desire to change any situation.” I’m rattling at my chain for change and decency and solutions and justice. But, if I’m honest, the rattling isn’t doing my soul any good. I’m worked up and out of shape. I’m a mess. I’d love to escape and avoid and hide.

Even as I sip my now lukewarm coffee, I think there might be a meaningful way to separate myself from the mess of it all. It strikes me that there’s a profound difference between burying my head in the sand and lifting my eyes up to see above the muck. Both refuse to focus on the crud and horror of what’s happening. But one gives me permission to welcome what God is doing. Looking up allows me to make eye contact with a broader perspective and with Hope itself! If I look up I see above the landscape, I see the horizon, wide and eternal, stretching beyond what I now know, making way for what’s to come.

Perhaps today is a day to breath deeply: in and out. I need to remember what is true. I need to be faithful to what I cannot see. I need to call to mind the presence of Christ and the Living Hope that dwells in me. I need to make space inside to choose to welcome what God wants to do in me.

My husband Lowell often quotes from the novel, Brothers K, by David James Duncan. There’s a scene in the novel where an old baseball coach is advising a young batter, “He said there are two ways for a hitter to get the pitch he wants. The simplest way is not to want any pitch in particular. But the best way, he said—which sounds almost the same, but is really very different—is to want the very pitch you’re gonna get. Including the one you can handle. But also the one that’s going to strike you out looking. And even the one that’s maybe gonna bounce off your head.”

Welcome, welcome, welcome. I welcome everything that comes to me today—even the pitch that’s going to strike me out, even the one that’s going to hit me in the head and knock me out— because I know weirdly enough it’s for my healing. I welcome all thoughts, feelings, emotions, persons, situations and conditions—including trying to sort out the world’s wounds. It’s not easy but I’m going to try to let go of my desire for power and control. I let go of my desire for affection, esteem, approval and pleasure. I let go of my desire for survival and security. I let go of my desire to change any situation, condition, person or myself and the anger and angst I feel when I can’t. Oh God please help me open to the love and presence of God and God’s action within. Amen.

 

Widening Our Embrace

Ronald Rohlheiser, in his book, Sacred Fire, addressed especially to older pursuers of the faith has a short section entitled, “Be Wide in Your Embrace.”

We are constantly being overwhelmed by otherness. Nothing is safe for long. More than any previous generation, we are being stretched beyond what is familiar. Often that is painful and disorienting….(p 267) The simple fact is that otherness frightens us and often brings out the worst in us. It is not easy to be comfortable with, at home with, and welcoming to, what is other, different, and often seemingly deviant. (p269)

However there is a side benefit of this widening embrace that I had never thought of before until a couple of weeks ago. Rohlheiser goes on to suggest an interesting correlation:

Ultimately we must move on to face and accept otherness, strangeness, difference, what is foreign. Our survival depends upon it. We can no longer live just among our own. Sooner or later, given that the planet is both limited and round, we will find it impossible to avoid what is foreign to us. What is strange to us will soon enough be part of our neighborhood, our home, our church, and our perspective on things.

 Moreover, welcoming what is other and different is in fact, a key biblical challenge… God is defined precisely as “Other”, as what is beyond imagination, outside the realm of the familiar. This is what scripture means when it calls God holy. Biblically holy is not primarily a moral quality but an ontological one—namely, otherness and different from us.

 Thus, biblically, we have the tradition within which revelation from God is understood to come mostly through the stranger, the foreigner, the unexpected, in the unfamiliar, in what is different, in the surprise. For this reason the scriptures insist on the importance of welcoming strangers. (p270)

 

Some of you know I’ve been working for ages on a book I’m calling, God is Weird. (And when I say “working” what I really mean is I’ve tossed the idea around, opened a file by that name on my computer and generated a very rough outline and a couple of chapters.) The notion of God’s weirdness struck home 17 years ago when a dear friend from childhood died too young. She left a four-day-old infant daughter, a desolated husband, grief stricken siblings and devastated parents. I was floored by God’s response to our prayers for healing. I couldn’t understand why he wouldn’t come barging in and restore health and order and a mother to the tiny child. I was beside myself with anguish and I was very angry. The only thing that made any sense in that moment was how obvious it was that God himself made no sense whatsoever. He was, in my mind, completely strange. He was weird.

And he is. He’s strange. He’s completely foreign to us. He does things differently than we do. Often we shake our heads, completely befuddled. We grieve, we stomp our feet—angry, our worlds upset. We cry out confused to the core.

It’s not like he didn’t warn us. Scripture is full of references to the Otherness of God. God is Holy and the word Hebrew word “qodesh”, holy means “apartness, set-apartness, separateness, sacredness”. It also means, “otherness, transcendent and totally other” (patheos.com).

“My thoughts are nothing like your thoughts,” says the Lord.
“And my ways are far beyond anything you could imagine.
   For just as the heavens are higher than the earth,
so my ways are higher than your ways
and my thoughts higher than your thoughts.” (Isaiah 55:8 NLT)

If we close off our hearts to anything or anyone that’s different than our souls will suffer. The unintended consequence is we risk closing our hearts off from God. We think we’re protecting ourselves—protecting our children—we build walls, put up fences, grow shrubbery to block out our neighbors. We keep our eyes averted. We look away. We cross the street. We pick up the pace.

Admittedly the temptation exists to protect ourselves from God himself too. I understand that. He seems so unpredictable in his strangeness it often feels super scary to continue to open our hearts to Him. We fear what he might do. We panic at the prospects of where he might push us. He might mess with our personal status quo. It’s too terrifying to think about.

But what kind of life do we want? It’s a dark death-life if we seal our souls off from living. It’s impossible to close off only the things that make us uncomfortable. When we shut down we shut out all of it: the good, the bad, the joy, the sadness, the exhilaration, the risk. We shut out the familiar and the Stranger.

In the moment we chose to accept strangers—those previously considered “strange” to us—we’re choosing to open ourselves to God’s wide mercy and to his wild ride. He meets us in those moments of choice. He sees our fear and he steps in with courage. When we deliberately incline ourselves to the other, we find not only a potential space for friendship and human kindness, we might also find God.

 

‘Whenever you did one of these things to someone overlooked or ignored, that was me—you did it to me.’ (Matt 25:40)

Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it. (Heb 13:2)

A Short Correspondence on the Issue of Feeling Trapped

Dear Robynn,

I enjoyed your “Friday’s with Robynn” post (A Hidden Pearl. January 29,2016). It really resonated with me, so thank you for posting it. It was very thought provoking for me.

Earlier this year I experienced a very similar feeling to the one you had having returned from Thailand. My friends and I arrived back from India on January 5th. But my first day of work felt so meaningless. I sat behind my desk and stared at my computer thinking, “who care’s about organizing this stuff….!?!” It felt so pointless and so mundane. And it took me a long time to get back into the swing of things and be motivated again.

It brings back fears I have of being trapped and not being able to move and travel or something. But at the same time I wonder what is it that I hope to find overseas that I cannot find here? Being in India this Christmas was fantastic, but it showed me that even if I was to move back it would not be the same as all the memories I cherish and the experiences I wish to recreate there. As a TCK am I cursed to always be discontent where I am living? Am I always going to be trying to re-establish what I lost? It scares me.

I found that book you lent me very challenging; The Wisdom of Stability, by Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove. I love the idea of building that strong community with the people around me and knowing a place and its people intimately, but putting down roots and making that decision that this is where I will live and work and help to build the Lord’s kingdom is terrifying.

Thinking of the Pearl of Great Price is comforting in the midst of all this going on in my head and in my heart. Jesus is here in America just as much as He is in India and Pakistan or anywhere else for that matter. I feel a level of guilt for not allowing Jesus to be my stability and the center of my affection and the source of my contentment. I need to move away from this idea that I will find peace in any country of this world and move toward knowing I will find peace in the One who created this world.

I think its high time I started to search for this Pearl! And like you said, that hunt for Him will never disappoint!

Dear Young Third Culture Adult,

Thank you again for reading what I write! And thanks for so honestly interacting with it too. I love your heart.

I can so relate to the fears you’ve articulated. I still fear being stuck more than anything. Sometimes when I think about the decision we made to stay here in Kansas I feel a sense of panic begin to creep up from my toes. The idea that we are trapped here, in this house, in this city, in this country freaks me out. I have to constantly present my heart to Jesus asking for daily grace and new mercies.

I think I probably told you this story already…but when my husband Lowell and I decided to buy the little blue house on Colorado Street I resisted. I was anxious to move out of the trailer court only because I really wanted a basement here in Tornado Town. But the idea of BUYING felt so permanent and so forever and so stocks and barrels like. I felt claustrophobic. It stirred up anxiety in me. After we had put our signature on hundreds of papers, initialed countless more and signed our souls over to the bank Lowell and I went out for lunch. Most couples, I imagine, celebrate the purchase of their first home. For me it was a bittersweet time. I cried, wet, salty tears. I’ll never forget Lowell’s response. He put his hand across the table and gently took up my shaky hand. He looked me in the eyes and said what I longed to hear. This doesn’t mean anything. We are not stuck here. If Jesus calls us to Mongolia tomorrow we’ll sell the house. This is not a big deal. There was such reassurance in those words. I felt such relief.

You are not trapped. You are not stuck. I think the enemy of our souls piggybacks on this issue for the Adult TCK. He wants you to think you are stuck. He wants you to feel that a life in your passport country is a purposeless life. Whatever he can do to undermine your sense of worth and calling and purpose He will do. He comes to steal and kill and destroy. Jesus comes to give us life abundant—“a rich and satisfying life!” (John 10:10)

Returning from Thailand in January was difficult at first. But then out of the blue I started reading a book about prayer. It struck me that our purpose is sure in Christ. We are here for the Kingdom of God. We are here for His Glory. We are here to make Jesus famous. Those things have not changed—no matter where we live. But our enemy likes to erode our sense of who we are. He likes to confuse. He steals our purpose. He makes us feel like we have nothing to offer, that we are meant to live somewhere else. It’s the same argument he used in the Garden of Eden with Adam and Eve. The enemy tries to tell us that God is cheating us, that God knows we thrive somewhere else but he’s stuck us here forever to rot away.

It’s changed the way I’m praying. I’m now asking God to protect my sense of purpose. I’m asking him to give me a divine satisfaction with the space he has for me. I’m asking for contentment and joy. And then I’m asking for protection over that satisfaction, over that contentment, over that sense of purpose. Understanding my sense of purpose as something the enemy is opposed to is a new thought for me but I’m trying this out and seeing Jesus victorious in it. To be honest, and this is surprising me even as I write it, I haven’t thought much about my purpose for the last couple of months since I started to pray that way. I think Jesus really is protecting that….declaring it off limits to the enemy of my soul who has tortured me there for so very many years.

Resist the guilt my friend. You wrote, “I feel a level of guilt for not allowing Jesus to be my stability and the center of my affection and the source of my contentment.”  What might feel like guilt is really an invitation. Jesus is inviting you into deeper places of stability and affection and contentment. He longs for you to find those things in him…

We are so in this together. I wish I could tell you that these things go away. I’m afraid this is your opportunity to find Jesus faithful for many years to come. This is your place of need. This is your thorn in the flesh. But I can also say with great rigor that Jesus WILL BE faithful at every turn. I’ve battled these things over and over again. I can see how Jesus has used this in my story to push me deeper into Who He Is! My faith has grown. I’ve learned that in this suffering He has been kind to me.

 

Get a Life

“Oh, for God’s sake…get a life, will you?”–William Shatner

 

Connor left nearly a month ago to return to the University of British Columbia. As he and Lowell pulled away from the house I felt the bottle of grief shaken within me lose its scarcely screwed on lid. Before I knew it I was drenched, inside and out, with sadness. I came into the house, sat in my chair, gently held my coffee cup and cried.

In my sad spot I remembered that this is our Adelaide’s last year of high school too and a fresh wave of grief dragged me under. It felt like my heart would break.

I wondered at the strangeness of parenting. We wrap our lives and our hearts around these miniature people. We tend, nurture, guide, direct. We attend concerts and games, plays and competitions. We give up our rights to complete thoughts, finished sentences, sleeping in on Saturdays, uninterrupted conversations, Sunday afternoon naps, free time, long showers, the late show. We trade it all in for diapers, runny noses, giggles, knock knock jokes, princesses, pirate ships, play dough, lego towers, swing pushing, nail painting, homework helping, eye rolling, door slamming, curfew pushing kids! And if we get a minute we’d admit that it was a fair trade. For the most part we’ve loved it—!

In that sad moment in my chair I wanted those days back again. I wanted another turn at it all. I wanted to hold fiercely on to the childhood of my children. They said it would go fast and for the longest time I thought they were mocking me…but now I realized with horror at how right they had been. It was over with my kids before it had really begun in me.

As I sat sipping my coffee, which now oddly tasted like nostalgia and sorrow, I thought to myself, “Robynn, You need to get a life”! I suppose it was a mild rebuke from my more sensible self to my emoting sobbing self. Even as I thought it another thought quickly jumped up in defense of me. Wait a minute…I do have a life!

I do. I have purpose. I’m a spiritual director in training. My brain is being stretched and stimulated by the program I’m enrolled in. I have a broad worldview. I’ve had the humbling privilege of travel and crossing cultures in varying places around the globe. I’m a part of an Environmental Missions effort. I’m passionate about climate change and its effects on the world. I care deeply about the oppressed and long for justice. I have deep friendships with interesting people who expand my world in significant ways. My thoughts are often outside of my inside domestic duties. I read books, I engage in conversation, I watch the occasional documentary, I listen to intellectually stimulating podcasts.

Honestly I think that’s one of the best gifts I’ve given my children. They’ve seen my heart for others. They know I have a wide circle. They’ve heard me rant about racial injustice, about welcoming the immigrant, about caring for the poor. They’ve seen my eyes fill with tears with concern for friends that are hurting. They know I have dreams and goals and longings outside of our home.

I attended an international boarding school in the Himalayan foothills of Pakistan. Multiple times a year we’d have to say goodbye to our parents. It was devastatingly difficult. But I’m convinced it was made marginally easier because we knew my parents had purpose. We knew they loved each other well. Their marriage was solid. We knew they’d be ok without us.

Kids need to know that their parents are going to be all right when they’re not around. It’s too much pressure for a child to believe that his mother’s or his father’s emotional well-being is connected to him. He needs to know they have a life without him.

There are ways we interpret our obsession with our kids that sound noble and self-sacrificing. But I wonder if we scraped those notions back down to the frame if we’d find something more self-serving than we originally thought? Does it give us a sense of importance? Are we tethering our identity solely to our role as caregiver?

I’m not saying that being a parent is not an important vital job. By all means it is! But the goal is to work yourself out of a job. We want to raise adults that are independent, that no longer need us for their daily cares. We want to train up people that know what it means to contribute in valuable ways to the world around them. They will not know about that unless we show them. It will be important to your health and the health of your progeny that you have some other meaningful thing to give yourself to.

I suppose there’s no real easy way to say this….but moms and dads –you have got to get a life! I don’t care what age your kids are now, begin, even today to imagine a little life outside of your children. Start researching ideas of what you might want to do. Pray it through. Take up a hobby that energizes you. Are there distance education classes you could enroll in even now? Are there places you could meaningfully volunteer? Are there courses offered in your community that might spark your imagination? Do you have dormant dreams that you used to think about? What would it look like to fan some of those back into flame? The little people won’t be little for long. Start now and get a life!

 

 

This is my Body–A Repost

I’ve been thinking about the aging process and how it plays out in my body. And then I remembered this piece I wrote three years ago. I think it relates. It seems like we need to do the work of coming to grips with our limited capacities, our weariness, our weakness. This is (still) my body, breaking and broken. 

Though they may be out there, I have never met a woman who is not consumed with food, and body image.There are those who are clinically diagnosed with eating disorders but all of us are to some degree disordered in our relationship to food and to our bodies. It started, of course, in the garden with Eve and the fruit. It was food and it spoke to her. Granted the fruit didn’t actually talk, but her soul’s enemy spoke to her and the message was mixed in with the food. Temptation with a spiritual marinade, a dipping sauce, a glaze.  Ever since then we’ve battled burgers and burritos; biscuits and beans. Our fight with food has been handed down to us through a long line of mothers.

I am no exception. I’ve wrestled food since I hit puberty. It’s a love-hate relationship. I love to eat. I hate how food gathers and stays on my body. I love the taste and smells of food; the texture, the flavours. I hate the pull and power of food. My history with food includes unseemly weight gain with entering and reentering cultures, with culture shock and stress.

Lately my body has been out of whack. My metabolism is on strike. My ability to burn calories seems to be deterred by fatigue and hormonal changes. I’ve never loved exercising. I love people. I’ll go for a walk if a friend will go with me. But a walk just for a walk’s sake seems like a waste of time. I don’t enjoy it. Now I can hardly eat anything and the weight still seems to creep on. It’s depressing. It’s disheartening.

Last week I was praying again for grace in this…. I don’t want to obsess about it. I don’t want to become consumed with myself, with food, with my body or with my feelings about my body. I was trying to release all that again up to Jesus who understands about bodies. He chose to be bodied, to take on flesh, to become a person. He came for our souls and for our bodies. He healed the lame, gave sight to the blind and hearing to the deaf. Jesus healed diseased bodies, broken bodies, bleeding bodies. He touched bodies that no one else would touch. He associated with bodies that others avoided.

As I was praying for my body and my emotions about it…these words came to mind. “This is your body.” It seemed a divine pronouncement over me, over my agonies, over my physical frame. I repeated it slowly, out loud, “This is my body. This is my body.” I felt somehow it was a remedy for my conflicted distorted soul stuck in this conflicted distorted body. This is my body. I’ve been chewing this over and over. It keeps coming to mind. As the negative thoughts come, this thought has dropped like a sweet warm blanket to cover the ugliness of my beliefs. This is my body.

At the last meal that Jesus shared with his friends he tried again to explain to them that he was about to be executed, that he would die, that he would come back to life. It was a mystery to them. They couldn’t understand it. Using what was right in front of him (the food!), Jesus, picked up the bread, and he broke off a chunk. This was a metaphor they could figure out. It was the language of survival and comfort. It was memory and mystery. It was bread. “This is my body,” he said, “Broken for you. Take it. Eat it.”

Jesus wasn’t just giving them a cute expression, a fun phrase, or a clever speech. When Jesus says, “This is my body, broken for you,” it’s significant. His broken body—his sacrifice—has the capacity to redeem me. All of me. My body. My relationship with food. All of it. His body restores my body. He offers us his broken body for our consumption. We are invited to, “take and eat”. We consume Jesus and we are satisfied. That alone means something for my food issues and my body issues and my brokenness.

In that moment at that last meal when Jesus proclaimed, “This is my body, broken for you,” it makes me wonder if in some sense Jesus himself had to come to grips with his own body and its impending brokenness. He was about to endure the profound breaking of his own body. He leans into it and he accepts it. That has implications for me accepting my own body and my own brokenness.

This holy truth, with its layers and layers of implication and revelation, has been slowly seeping into my soul this week. This IS my body. It’s the body I’ve been given. It’s no surprise to my Creator that my metabolism is malfunctioning. He’s not shocked by my disdain for exercise. He’s not horrified by longings for a piece of cake or a handful of snack mix. He actually loves me completely. From the freckles on my arms to the hair that’s coming in grey and wiry; from my ingrown toenails to my one short thumb; from the ski-sloped nose to my varicose veins…all of it designed and delighted in by my Potter, my Maker.

And it’s broken. Broken because of the Fall. Broken in childbirth for my children. Broken in India for the sake of my calling. Broken in aging. Broken in natural deterioration. Broken here for my holy now. Broken for Jesus.

We follow in his example. We mimic our model. We saw him lay down his body for the sake of his friends and so we lay down our lives for the sake of ours. It’s our way of participating in the redemption of others. We give ourselves up. We give ourselves over. And we experience that brokenness for the sake of others. Our bodies become a type of sacrifice, living and holy.

Part of the mystery includes offering to Jesus our brokenness. Our Catholic brothers and sisters understand this. When they write about suffering some of the first words out of their mouth are almost always that we get to give our suffering as an offering to Jesus. There’s certainly no sense that Jesus takes and eats us. He doesn’t consume us or use us up.  But we do get to offer up our broken bodies to him, our broken and stale bread, our broken and moldy connection to food.

That is a spiritual reality made present and tangible in our physicality. Hurting, aching, bearing, enduring, suffering. All in our bodies. St Paul wrote that he was glad to suffer, for his friends, in his body…somehow he knew he was participating in the sufferings of Christ that continue for Jesus’ body, the church. Paul understood that suffering bears fruit. He was “willing to endure anything” –and as preposterous as it sounds–he even considered it a privilege, a divine opportunity, if it would result in the rescue of another or in glory going to God.

This is my body, a holy temple filled with his Holy Spirit presence. Broken it may be. Damaged. Wounded. Lumpy. Chicken pock-marked. But there is a mystery at work in my members. And I give myself up to be consumed by others. I get to participate in that redemption-rescue mission work, where bread is broken and wine is poured.

And so, dear brothers and sisters, I plead with you to give your bodies to God because of all he has done for you. Let them be a living and holy sacrifice—the kind he will find acceptable. This is truly the way to worship him.  Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect. (Rom 12:1-2)

(Col 1:24, 2 Tim 2:10, Phil 1:29)

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.

Hospitable Me

One of the sweet daily habits of our marriage is that Lowell makes the bed. When we first got married and he was still dew eyed and love drunk he asked me what the one household task that I least liked was. I didn’t hesitate. I hate making the bed. I love a made bed but I really begrudge making it. From that day forward he has made our bed.

Not long ago as he was pulling up sheets, smoothing the bedcover and piling on pillows, he mentioned that he had once heard that making your bed is like extending hospitality to yourself. That captured my imagination and all summer long I’ve been thinking about the idea of being hospitable to myself. What does that look like? What would it mean if I greeted my weaknesses with grace, my strengths with kindness? What would change if I embraced my past and invited it into my presence? How might that level of acceptance of who I am—including my whole story—change the way I respond to me?

You see I’m very good at slamming the door in my own face. I’ve been known to shake my head and say, I Don’t Think So or No Thank You to myself! I’ve been known to meet myself at the door with shame and contempt: You don’t belong here. You’re not welcome. Some of me that has snuck past has been quickly boxed up and stored in the deep basement of my soul. There’s no place for that me here.

It still feels like there are large chunks of me that seem to be at odds with the world I live in. I’m very aware that I’m a foreigner. It seems that I should be more settled by now—I’m mean good golly we’ve lived here nine years—and yet somehow that hasn’t been my experience. There are so many things about living here that I don’t know. I’m often clueless and unsure of myself.

On the other hand there are lots of things I know that no longer are necessary in this current context. I know how to get around South Asia. I’m really good in airports. I know how to speak Urdu and Hindi. I know how to bargain and barter with joy. I know how to think in Celsius and kilograms. I know how to take a bath in a dipper of water. I know how to use a pressure cooker. But none of that matters any more.

A good friend invited me to read Leanna Tankersley’s book, Brazen (with the fabulous subtitle: The Courage to Find the You That’s Been Hiding) this summer. One of the chapters in this rich volume, Allow for Expansion, invited me to begin to open the door to myself with some degree of welcome. Please permit me to quote her extensively. This is good stuff!

            …there are so many different aspects to me. Like you, I’m not one self. I am a strange amalgamation of different, sometimes seemingly contradictory selves: athlete, creator, nurturer, ideator, homemaker, extrovert, introvert, football fan, poetry lover. I’ve often erroneously believed I must trade each of these in for the next, instead of learning the fine art of embracing all these different aspects of my identity, letting each of them inform the collective me that is becoming.

            …The temptation for me is to say, “That is no longer me; this is now me” and abandon parts of myself as irrelevant or no longer….In fact, the Hebrew word of life—hayim—is actually plural … we are a dynamic unfolding of many selves.

            If I would have known then what I know now, I would have realized I was expanding, not necessarily losing. Expansions can be so drastic that they feel disorienting. A new facet of me was arriving. One I had to meet and embrace and get to know. I was going through an incredible change, but that didn’t mean other parts of me were being replaced.

            Allow yourself to become, to expand. Don’t feed the temptation to replace your selves. Expand your self. Don’t be afraid of all these parts of you. Welcome the mother in you even as you are overwhelmed by her responsibilities. Welcome the achiever in you instead of rejecting her as soulless. Welcome the sensual in you instead of demonizing pleasure. Welcome the artist in you instead of believing she must be defunct now that you are running a household. We are both complete and becoming. Let yourself expand. (Leanna Tankersley, Brazen, 2016. Pgs 83-85).

I’m slowly changing how I greet myself. I’m giving me permission to be fully me. I’m learning to accept my whole story—including the pieces that I’ve previously poured shame on. I think I’m learning to welcome Robynn; to embrace her as God made her, with the story He gave her and for what she has to offer.

This is who I am—Robynn Joy Bliss—a combination of vast assortments of me! I choose to accept all those versions of me. I’ve been a foreigner most of my life. I often feel like I don’t belong or I don’t fit in. I choose to accept that piece of me too. I can be kind to the foreigner immigrant me, I can, because Jesus is. There are gaps in my knowledge but that’s ok. I am human. No one knows everything. Everybody has something they don’t know. I can be gentle to that me. I can ask for help. I can choose to humbly admit my ignorance and naiveté. There is no shame in that.

If I pigeon-holed myself, I, my family and friends and the world would miss out on the fascinating fullness that is Robynn Bliss (slightly paraphrased Brazen p84).

Admittedly looking up the word ‘hospitality’ in the dictionary did very little to satisfy my sudden longing to explore what it would mean to be hospitable to me. Hospitality is the, “generous and friendly treatment of visitors and guests.” But I was struck deeply by the example of hospitality that Merriam-Webster used in a sentence. “It was refreshing to be met with such hospitality after our long journey.”

Merriam-Webster is on to something. It would be refreshing to be met with such hospitality after this long journey. I’m determined to learn to extend this to myself with acceptance and joy; with generosity and warmth.

Welcome Robynn. It’s been a long journey. Have a seat. Can I get you anything? Please make yourself at home. Unpack your things. Take as long as you need. You are welcome here.

 

 

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!

 

 

Love Goes the Extra Mile

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We’ve just come back from a family vacation where we spent seven nights near the Smoky Mountains in northern Tennessee. Every morning we woke up to far off frothy fogs rising up between the hills and ridges across the horizon. Every evening we watched the sun’s benediction settle over and under and behind the mountains. It was glorious. And in between the rising and setting of the sun we lazed and lounged around. Exploring the area, we found a lake to swim in and a nearby state park ropes course to climb. We played board games. We watched the opening ceremonies of the Olympics on a large TV. We made a fire and roasted marshmallows. We slept at unusual times during the day. Everything that vacations are supposed to be, it was. Re-creation at work as we rested.

The plan was for us to leave on the morning of the seventh day and drive further east, over and beyond the mountains, across the dividing lines of states to Philadelphia to attend a nephew’s wedding. As the day came nearer I began to feel dread rise up like smoke around my own soul’s edges. I couldn’t bear to think about the long hours in the car. Driving east meant we were driving further away from home. The drive back to Kansas would be longer and harder. I was convinced our vacation would be erased. Our soul’s rest would be eroded.

The thought of it encroached on many of my Tennessee days. The idea of that future drive threatened to rob me of large parts of those glorious moments during those wonderful days. My inability to enjoy the moment made me mad at myself and increased my angst and my dread mounted on wings like crows. I finally asked Lowell if we shouldn’t think about maybe possibly skipping the wedding and head instead straight for home. The thing is I really was torn. I love this nephew of Lowell’s dearly. We really wanted to attend his wedding. And yet –It’s a long way to Tipperary. It’s a long way to go. Talking, praying, discussing it over with each other wasn’t necessarily bringing clarity.

It finally came down to this: What would Love do? The answer was immediate! Love goes the extra mile. Love celebrates. Love shows up for family and friends. Love attends monumental moments. Love sacrifices and enters into the joys of another. It’s what love does. Love makes the effort.

My friend Julie is one of the most lovingly loyal people I know. She once told me that her and her husband have come to realize how important it is to be present for life’s big moments: funerals, weddings, baby showers. They recognize how much these things matter to relationships and to community living and they choose to attend. Scott and Julie show up every time. I love that about them.

And so it went that we packed up the car on the morning of our departure and we turned toward the east. We crossed through Tennessee, drove up the length of Virginia, and scooted across bits of West Virginia and Maryland before entering Pennsylvania. Stopping for ice cream and to change clothes we arrived in plenty of time for a Sunday afternoon wedding. The sky was blue and pillow pocked with the fluffiest of clouds. The church was simply set and ready to host happiness. We joined those on the groom’s side with pride and deep affection. What a fabulous celebration it was! The profundity of the wedding promises were matched with a true reception party. We ate good food and goofed our way through hilarious dance moves.

When it was over and the car was once again turned to the west like a homing pigeon returning to the familiar, we felt deep satisfaction. There wasn’t room for regret in the lingering joys of the wedding. Being present to the union of the dearly beloved groom and his bride was enough. We love this new Mr and Mrs very much. At the end of the day, Love really does go the extra mile.

TCK Reunions – An Invisible Bond


TCK Reunions—an invisible bond by Robynn

A Third Culture Kid (TCK) is a person who has spent a significant part of his or her developmental years outside the parents’ culture. The TCK frequently builds relationships to all of the cultures, while not having full ownership in any. Although elements from each culture may be assimilated into the TCK’s life experience, the sense of belonging is in relationship to others of similar background.”—David Pollock

A TCK is “someone who, as a child, has spent a significant period of time in one or more culture(s) other than [their] own, thus integrating elements of those cultures and their own birth culture, into a third culture.” –Kay Eakin

TCKs tend to have more in common with one another, regardless of nationality, than they do with non-TCKs from their passport country.[3][4] TCKs are often multilingual and highly accepting of other cultures. Although moving between countries may become an easy thing for some TCKs, after a childhood spent in other cultures, adjusting to their passport country often takes years.

Before World War II, 66% of TCKs came from missionary families, and 16% came from business families. After World War II, with the increase of international business and the rise of two international superpowers, the composition of international families changed. Sponsors are generally broken down into five categories: missionary (17%), business (16%), government (23%), military (30%), and “other” (14%).[5] Some TCK families migrate for work independently of any organization based in their country of origin. –Wikipedia

                        *****

There are a group of us who bear no identifying marks. We don’t have the same accent, we don’t pronounce or even necessarily spell words the same way. We can’t tell one another at first glance. We don’t wear the “home team” t-shirt.

But when we meet, and we know we’ve met, it’s like we’re from the same place. We greet each other, we carry on, we tell stories, we laugh wholeheartedly. It doesn’t matter the age difference, the nationality, the gender. We connect.

It’s a very strange phenomenon.

This is what happens when Third Culture Kids meet other Third Culture Kids.

I’ve had this experience often. Two years ago I was sent to a college campus to recruit students for a non-profit agency. The other two representatives were both men, Peter and William. Peter grew up in Kenya and attended Rift Valley Academy. William on the other hand spent his childhood in the Ivory Coast where he attended Ivory Coast Academy. I was raised in Pakistan and went to Murree Christian School. The three of us all graduated in 1988, we all attended different colleges across North America, we all currently live in different corners of the world. And yet meeting up with these two men and working together for the weekend was like attending a reunion. We had so much in common. We laughed easily at the same jokes. Our banter was full of sarcasm and cynicism. We tried to outdo each other with airport stories and travel escapades.

What was interesting was the number of TCK students we quickly developed a rapport with who stopped by our booth. These students were from all over the globe. Instantly the three of us middle-aged adults bonded to these young college kids. We shared history and an invisible connection even though we had never met, had never visited their childhood homes, had never met their parents.

This past spring, I had the privilege of traveling to Turkey where I stayed in a retreat center surrounded by mountains. It was spectacular. However, the highlight of the trip was meeting a new friend, Ruth. Ruth too is a TCK. She grew up, in Iran, although her family left there when she was fifteen. The remainder of her high school years were spent in the US. Like me, she is a TCK. She’s eight years older than me but you would never know it. We were immediately close friends. I know it sounds trite and impossible. But it really happened. We jumped into each others stories and souls. We connected. We understood each other. There were so many things we didn’t have to explain, things we could assume. It’s a wonderful relief to meet someone from your “home town”.

My husband works closely with Ed Brown, who is incidentally Marilyn’s older brother. In March 2011 we travelled north to visit Ed and his wife Susannah. Both Ed and Susannah are adult TCK’s; like me they both grew up in Pakistan. Although they’re considerably older than I am, we were astounded by how similar we are. We share the same sense of humour, similar political views, similar passions and pastimes. It was uncanny.

TCKs don’t have the privilege of returning “home” for Christmas. We don’t run into each other when we’re back in “town”—we are spread globally, we’ve settled internationally. When we happen to meet another it’s a sweet treat, a kind reminder that we are not alone, that we’re not completely strange or forever foreign.

There are others out there just like me. That might worry those who know me…but for me, it’s a comforting reality that brings me joy!

Belonging & Fitting In

I was in the middle of writing a blog post when Lowell showed me this section in Brene Brown’s book Daring Greatly. The quote shot straight to a deep place in my soul. Brown had identified and articulated so clearly the struggle I was trying to capture in the post I was agonizing over. I’m abandoning my efforts this morning. Receive rather this from Brene Brown:

“One of the biggest surprises in this research was learning that fitting in and belonging are not the same thing. In fact, fitting in is one of the greatest barriers to belonging. Fitting is is about assessing a situation and becoming who you need to be in order to be accepted. Belonging, on the other hand, doesn’t require us to change who we are; it requires us to be who we are.”

She goes on to explain how she asked a large group of eighth graders to break into small groups and brainstorm the differences between fitting in and belonging. Their insightful answers were spot on.

“Belonging is being somewhere where you want to be, and they want you. Fitting in is being somewhere where you really want to be, but they don’t care one way or the other.

Belonging is being accepted for you. Fitting in is being accepted for being like everyone else.

I get to be me if I belong. I have to be like you to fit in.” *

Brown’s quote is tucked into a chapter on parenting. She emphasizes the importance of children having a sense that they belong in their own family. For me the issue is broader than parenting or family structure. Belonging and fitting in have been a part of my struggle to settle as an adult wherever I’ve landed.

I’ve been mulling these themes over in my head this week. I’ve been trying to come to a deeper place of acceptance of who I am –even trying to embrace those spaces that still don’t seem to fit in, or those times where I’m still not convinced I belong. I’m afraid I have yet to land on firm conclusions but I invite you into the process. I’m praying for insight. I’m asking Jesus for his opinion on these things. I’m telling my struggle’s story to a few close friends. I’ve met with my soul care provider and mentor, Diann. Certainly the struggle has served as an invitation to trust God in deeper ways and for that I can be grateful.

Brene Brown asked eighth graders, let me ask you. What has been your experience in the difference between fitting in and belonging?

*Brene Brown, Daring Greatly (New York: Avery, 2012), 232.

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.

Summer Survival Tips– Part II

 School is about to get out here in Kansas. For many moms that’s a sweet joy. They anticipate leisurely time with their children, afternoons at the pool, evenings in the park. For the rest of us summer is a stir-fry of a wide range of emotions. We feel joy, panic, loss of routine, guilt, anticipation, dread. These are the moms I have in mind as I write this. I am that mom.

 This is the second in a short two-week series with tips on how to successfully survive summer. For the first half of the list click here

I’ve had several moms contact me this week. The relief that they’ve expressed that they’re not alone in the deep and wide emotions they experience in their maternity is palpable. The notion that there are others out there that might also need help in surviving summer allowed them to exhale and breath a little freer. We are in this together!

  • Cultivate a creative hobby

When you have some down time avoid the temptation to always turn on your own screen. There’s certainly a place for that. But I think it’s also important for our souls to cultivate hobbies that restore and rejuvenate. That comes through creativity and creative expression: paint, needlepoint, woodwork, restoring an old piece of furniture, cross-stich.

  • Model self care

Your kids need you to look after yourself. It will be much easier for them to learn to do this as adults themselves if they’ve seen the adults in their childhood do it first. It’s ok to tell your kids no. It’s ok to say that you need some down time. It’s ok to tell them that you’re tired and you need to lie down on the couch for a few minutes. Even little kids can be taught to play quietly while mommy rests.

  • You are not responsible for the happiness of your child

You can set up great activities, you can provide safe structures and routines, you can ensure good nutrition but you are not responsible for the ways your child chooses to respond.

  • Be present

When my children were younger they weren’t competing for my attention. I didn’t have a smart phone that tempted me to quick check email or Facebook or twitter or Instagram. I do know the magnetic pull now though. It’s so easy, and it feels so important, to check in with my phone. I don’t know what the answer is but I know from the moms and dads I’ve watched in airports or church foyers or grocery stores or at the park that kids suffer from an “absent” parent. Adelaide’s choir teacher likes to say at concerts, “please turn off your phones or devices that make sound. Your kids can see from the stage the under glow of your nose if you’re on your phone and they know what you think is important.” It’s true. I wonder if it wouldn’t be helpful to have a planned moment or two during your day where you check your phone but otherwise plan on ignoring it. You might have to turn off your notifications. Maybe put your phone away until it rings with an actual phone call! I know this isn’t easy but I really wonder if it might not be critical to the emotional health of your children to know that there parent is present.

  • One activity a day is more than plenty

There’s a notion out there that says that kids need to be occupied from sunrise to sunset with planned activities– play dates, art classes, trips to the museums or the zoo, swimming lessons, crafts, yoga classes. All of those things are good things but it is possible to plan your kid’s life to death (theirs, yours, and the activity in question’s!). Years ago I found something online that simplified expectations in regards to activities but for the life of me I couldn’t find it today. The author suggested a rough weekly guide: Make it Monday; To the Library Tuesday; Wildcard Wednesday; Service Thursday; Road trip Friday. I’ve seen other ideas online that help simplify things as well. Come up with your own…as long as it gives you permission to extend grace to yourself, and freedom for spontaneous fun, it’ll work!

  • Down time is good time

I know I don’t have to say it but downtime is really good for you and for your kids. An unscheduled day seems longer. A free afternoon gives kids opportunities to dream and imagine and relax. They need that. You need that. Resist the guilt and the pull that says you need to plan out every minute of every day. Don’t do it!

Summer will not last forever. Summer will pass into autumn; autumn will yield to winter and winter will give into spring. Take deep breaths, abandon your expectations, allow your days to be pockmarked with joy and giggles. Find another parent who honestly admits her heart. Live in the here and now. Welcome the miracles of the mundane. We will get through this together. We will survive summer!

 

A Note to Moms who Work Outside the Home:

You women are amazing! Here are a couple of things I want to say to you in particular:

  1. Learn to marinate your soul in a daily GRACE wash. You are a good mother. Your mothering is broader than this summer.
  2. Arrange good childcare for your kids. Do what needs to be done to provide safe and healthy care for each of your children. It might look different for each kid each summer.
  3. Communicate that plan to your kids without apology.
  4. Don’t skimp on self-care and rest and adult conversation. This is vital to you continuing on in your mothering role with any amount of joy!

 

Surviving Summer!


In this two part series Robynn suggests ways to successfully survive summer! 

School is about to get out here in Kansas. For many moms that’s a sweet joy. They anticipate leisurely time with their children, afternoons at the pool, evenings in the park. For the rest of us summer is a stir-fry of a wide range of emotions. We feel joy, panic, loss of routine, guilt, anticipation, dread. These are the moms I have in mind as I write this. I am that mom.

  • Gauge your expectations

I think it’s really important to think through your expectations for the summer. Are you expecting some lazy days? Are you hoping to get a lot of home projects done? Is this the time you’ve set aside to teach your kids to cook? What’s your energy level like? Do you need to plan in extended quiet times? Is your family planning on traveling this summer? Think it through. Be honest with yourself. Schedule a family meeting. Communicate with one another what you’re hoping for from this summer. Monitoring expectations in your own heart, but also in the hearts of your family members is key to summer success. Expectations can dash and disappoint or they can serve to create anticipation and joy.

  • Grace, Grace, Grace!

This is your summer. This is the summer you’ve been given. It doesn’t have to look like anyone else’s. It can be as unique and interesting as you and your family. You can nap, or run, or hide in your bedroom for a few yours every other day. You can cry when your kids cry, scream when they scream, giggle when they giggle. This summer belongs to you. If a day goes awry —that’s ok. There’s grace wide enough for that. If you have a moment with your teenager that you regret–apologize, receive forgiveness. If you forget that you’re the adult for a spell–shake it off, choose to switch gears. There’s grace deep enough for that too. If nothing get’s done on your summer project list, don’t sweat it! There’s mercy that lingers for today and is new for tomorrow. You have what it takes to do this parenting thing with courage. Just show up. Pull your chair up to the table. Live in the grace that is present in each moment.

  • Resist Pinterest; Stay away from Facebook

I recommend severely limiting any type of social media that fosters comparison and secret maternal competitions. Seeing that your friend took her kids to an art class and the masterpieces they each produced makes your attempts to hand paper and paints and brushes to your kid with instructions to go outside seem minor and ineffectual. Watching your cousin’s vacation videos only serves to stir up envy and shame that you’ll never be able to afford to take your family to the same places. Even pictures of other families playing board games show the laughter and the joy, they don’t reveal the kid that storms off in anger, the older sibling taunting the younger for losing. Ugly moments don’t tend to get Instagrammed!

  • Screens aren’t as evil as they say—everything in moderation

Nothing brings on shame in parents quicker than admitting that their kid spent 5-7 hours watching TV or Netflix that day! I know because I’ve had that day. There’s nothing wrong with a little screen time. With Netflix and cable TV and a library full of movies we have endless options of good programming. Setting limits is probably a good idea but do so with grace and flexibility. Each day has enough worries of it’s own.

  • Books are better than screens

There really is nothing better than a good book. I love having my nose in a good book. I love it when my kids are all reading good books. Most local libraries have summer reading programs but if you don’t have access to a library or if your library doesn’t promote a summer reading program create your own! Set prizes and rewards for reading books. I know, theoretically the book itself is reward enough…but I’m not beyond bribery to help a kid live into that fact. We’ve even paid our older teens to read specific books on managing finances and creating budgets! If you’re stumped to know how to help your child find a good book there are countless lists available on line.

  • Summer Bridge

Early on when we first returned to North America I discovered Summer Bridge workbooks. These workbooks help a child stay tuned into math and reading. They prevent brain paralysis over the summer. Knowing my kids were spending fifteen minutes a day thinking made me feel better as a mom—and really, who are we kidding, that’s what matters!

  • Slow yourself down

This brings us full circle back to attending to our expectations. I think it helps to deliberately slow yourself down. It’s hard to herd cats. It’s hard to rush kids—of any age! Breathing slower. Relaxing your own pace helps significantly.

  • Boredom Busted!

Don’t fall for the Boredom blues! Boredom might likely be an indicator of a lazy brain or a restless spirit. One of my (many!) pet peeves is the line, “I’m bored!” Several summers ago I implemented the Boredom Buster jar. Every time a child of mine lamented, “I’m bored!” I pulled out the jar. In the jar I had written every conceivable chore I could think of –most were jobs I’d been putting off for ages, things I really didn’t want to do myself! Clean the ceiling fans, sweep the front porch, pull dandelions, empty the fridge and wipe it down, wash the stairs. For the first two weeks of that summer I got so much work done! After that the kids paused before singing the old “I’m bored” chorus, they found things to do on their own. My Boredom Buster jar encouraged creativity!

  • Plan in adult conversation

This is key! No matter the ages of your children, it’s vital to your sanity to ensure you’ve planned stimulating adult conversation into your week. Meet another parent and their tribe at the park. If you have older kids is there a mom out there with younger kids that you could connect with? Have your kids babysit her kids while the two of you connect over ice tea or frozen lattes. Plan it out. Knowing this is on the calendar will give you hope in the middle of another conversation about Sponge Bob Square pants or Dora the Explorer.

 

A Note to Moms who Work Outside the Home:

You women are amazing! Here are a couple of things I want to say to you in particular:

  1. Learn to marinate your soul in a daily GRACE wash. You are a good mother. Your mothering is broader than this summer.
  2. Arrange good childcare for your kids. Do what needs to be done to provide safe and healthy care for each of your children. It might look different for each kid each summer.
  3. Communicate that plan to your kids without apology.
  4. Don’t skimp on self-care and rest and adult conversation. This is vital to you continuing on in your mothering role with any amount of joy!

 

Look at My Face


Years ago I was flying from Calgary, AB to Hamilton, ON. It was December the skies were grey and the outside temperatures were formidable. The lady sitting next to me was visibly nervous. She fidgeted with seatbelts and arm rests. She adjusted the seat back several times trying to ensure it was in its full upright position. As the airplane doors were closed and the engines started up she clutched the arms of her seat and stared straight ahead. Her breathing was shallow and she seemed suddenly pale. I couldn’t help notice this frenetic anxiety building in her. I turned towards her and casually asked, “Do you fly often?” I already knew the answer but it seemed a good conversation starter and I thought it might help dissolve the visceral vibe. She turned to answer, her eyes full of unleashed fear, “No. Do you?” Even as she answered, the plane did a little jig and she startled.

I smiled, “Oh yes! I’ve been flying my whole life.”

She tried to smile, her lips stiff and strained. “Is that normal?” she asked as again the plane groaned and shifted into reverse. We were only just now leaving the gate. It was going to be a long flight for sure. I nodded using a reassuringly pleasant expression. “I’ve been flying since I was 8 years old when we moved from Canada to Pakistan. I can’t even begin to tell you how many flights I’ve been on, how many times I’ve traversed the globe. How about you watch my face? If I get nervous you should get nervous but if I’m relaxed you can relax. I’ll let you know if there’s anything out of the ordinary going on.” She nodded. Her eyes filled with tears. “Thank you,” she managed to whisper.

And then I started chatting. I asked her questions. I told her stories. I pulled out humour and anecdote galore. When the plane lurched, when the engines roared for take off, when turbulence tickled the plane’s underbelly, I would quickly reassure her, “That’s normal, we’re fine. That’s what happens. Those are the engines. We’re still ascending. That’s the beep indicating you can take your seatbelt off. That’s a little rough spot. Totally normal. Nothing to worry about.”

For three hours and forty minutes she watched my face. She never stopped looking the entire flight.

When we landed in Hamilton and the plane had come to a complete stop at the gate, she took off her seatbelt and stood up. She turned to me one last time, her eyes filled with tears again, and she hugged me! “Thank you so much. I couldn’t have done that without you. Thank you so much.” And she was gone.

Three weeks ago we had two back-to-back tornado warnings. Kansans are very laid back about such things. They take storms in stride. Many seem to love the cloud formations and the drama that unfolds in the sky. I, however, feel oddly queasy every time a storm comes to town. I feign a calmness that isn’t mine for the sake of our children but inside my own climate begins to change. I battle nervousness and fear each time. Panic piles up like the clouds. My insides turn that strange shade of green the skies embrace during tornado time.

I learned several years ago to watch Lowell’s face. When he’s relaxed during a storm I relax. Often I ask him several times during a storm, “Are you nervous?” He reassures me and I carry on. There have been a couple of times that I can see nervousness creep on to his expression. He gathers a few more emergency supplies. He calls out for us all to get shoes on our way to the basement. Then I know it’s serious and I pray different prayers.

I’m so grateful for people who have more experience than I do—people who’ve lived through things. I’m thankful for my friends who’ve survived the infancy, the middle years, the teenage years of their kids. I can tell them things and watch their faces and know we’re going to get through this. Some friends have already emptied their nests and I’ve seen the loss and the loneliness days pass and they’ve learned to live quieter with joy. I’m thankful for those who’ve survived financial fits. I can live simply, pray like crazy and study their faces. It’s going to be okay. Our needs will be met. God will give us this day our daily bread. I have friends who have survived menopause and mid-life crisis. I have friends who have lived through dark days. Some of my friends live with people with anxiety disorder or depression. I’ve watched their faces and I’m reassured. God is still faithful. We will get through this. I know others who have endured deep tragedy. Still others who have ridden constant waves of transition and change and they’ve come through. It helps to have someone who’s been through it lend you their face and their reassurance. Their story might not look exactly like yours but in many ways, in significant ways, they understand. And they know, because they’ve lived it, that it’s going to be okay. 

Even when I walk through the darkest valley, I will not be afraid, for you are close beside me. My eyes are always on the Lord, for he rescues me. My heart has heard you say, “Come and talk with me.” And my heart responds, “Lord, I am coming.” I love the Lord because he hears my voice and my prayer for mercy. Because he bends down to listen. –And so I walk in the Lord’s presence as I live here on earth keeping my eyes and my heart forever fixed on Him. (Ps 23: 4;Ps 25:15; Ps 27:8; Ps 116:1,9)

 

Brene Brown Would Have Been Proud


Chloe stood straight and as tall as her 4 foot 11 inch frame would allow for in her black floor length dress. Her ginger colored hair was pulled back into two tight buns on either side of her head. She had deliberate bangs that framed her face. Red circle rimmed glasses balanced on her nose. She looked up at the ceiling and took a breath. I smiled at her, she smiled back—tightly. Clearly she was nervous. The accompanist sat poised on the piano bench. Several of Chloe’s peers sat on the edge of the room. They had already performed in small groups or their vocal solo numbers. One girl balanced a saxophone on her lap. I was the only mother in the room, as far as I could tell. Another adult served as a room monitor of sorts. The room waited.

In the back of the room sat the judge. Papers and music books were piled up around her. She scribbled in pencil on a previous contestant’s paper. The room held its breath and listened as the judge erased something and then brushed the pencil crumbs to the side. She wrote again with brief strokes, circling numbers, making short comments. She was serious and deliberate.

Eventually she looked up at Chloe. Chloe took a deeper breath and introduced her self and the two pieces she would be singing. The pianist played the introduction and Chloe started.

Suddenly, without meaning to, I found my eyes filling with tears.

This situation would have made sociologist, Brene Brown, so proud. I’ve been reading her book, Daring Greatly. Brown talks extensively about shame and ways to develop shame resilience. In Daring Greatly she broadens the conversation on shame to the wider topic of scarcity. “Scarcity is the “never enough” problem.” (p 28) Shame, comparison and disengagement all contribute to the insidious nature of scarcity. Shame is that horrible knowing that something is wrong with me. I’m never enough. I’m flawed. Comparison also breeds shame and contributes to the “never enough” problem. I compare myself to those around me, those on social media, those on TV and I always come up short. I’m certainly not good enough, pretty enough, smart enough, skinny enough. Disengagement is the natural consequence of shame and comparison. I pull back. I choose to not show up. It’s too risky. And I’m not enough.

According to Brown the antidote to scarcity is not abundance. She doesn’t think the opposite of ‘never enough’ is ‘more than you can imagine.’ Instead she believes that the antonym of scarcity is quite simply ‘enough’. She calls that “Wholeheartedness”.

Wholeheartedness…at its very core is vulnerability and worthiness: facing uncertainty, exposure and emotional risks and knowing that I am enough (Daring Greatly, Brene Brown, p29).

Believing that I’m enough silences the shame, even if only for a few moments. The comparison track is paused and I’m given the space and the courage to engage. It requires risk and true bravery. It means being vulnerable. Showing up. Allowing myself to be seen.

Chloe finished her two solo pieces and she left the room. Our daughter, Adelaide, came in next. She stood in the very place Chloe had stood. Adelaide’s piano accompanist arranged herself at the piano. Adelaide smiled at her friends and at me. She wiggled a few fingers. She looked up at the ceiling and down at the floor. And then she took a deep cleansing breath and she locked her gaze on the judge. The judge was finishing up Chloe’s paperwork. Suddenly Adelaide smiled. The judge had looked up in anticipation and

Adelaide met her gaze. Adelaide introduced herself and the two pieces she’d be singing. The piano started up and Adelaide joined in, her voice clear and strong.

It took tremendous courage for Chloe and Adelaide to compete as solo vocalists at the state competition. They had the courage to stand up in front of others, to bring their strengths, to allow themselves to be seen. I’m sure they felt vulnerable and laid bare before their peers but they did it. They dared to show up, to remain engaged.

The willingness to show up changes us. It makes us a little braver each time…. vulnerability is life’s great dare. It’s life asking, “Are you all in? Can you value your own vulnerability as much as you value it in others?” Answering yes to these questions is not weakness: It’s courage beyond measure. It’s daring greatly” (Daring Greatly, Brene Brown, page 43).

I’m not performing in any competition. My day-to-day life doesn’t involve long black dresses and Italian operettas, vocal warm ups or practice sessions. Yet many a day comes where I feel afraid to face the next thing. My courage wanes. I don’t have a clue what I’m doing. I flounder. Emotions rise like the moon on a dark night and cast shadows. Watching Adelaide last Saturday was inspiring. Her courage was transparent. She dared to be there. She dared to do her best. She invited others to see her. As much as she might have wanted to, she chose not to recoil. She chose to show up.

As odd as this may sound, I want to be like my daughter when I grow up!

 

A Fit Bit (On belonging; Not on Electronic Step Tracking!)

One day, on our recent working trip to Spain, we were sitting around after an intense day. Lowell and I had been teaching a small-assorted group on leadership for a week. The day was over. The week was over. Several of us were sitting outside the villa breathing in the evening air, soaking up the last of the day’s sunshine. Into a conversation about introverts and extroverts one woman spoke out, “I’m an introvert and I’ve never really felt like I fit.”

I sat up and listened more intently. Fitting in has been a perpetual struggle for me. I often feel like I don’t belong. I constantly contend with a sense of disconnect. Here was someone else confessing to that same feeling.

Another woman in the circle admitted, “It’s not just introverts. I’ve never felt like I fit in the Anglican Church or in the organization I work with.” We all sat there and let that settle over us. Another bravely entered the conversation, “I’ve never fit either. It’s my personality or something. I always feel like I don’t belong.” A lady on the edge of the circle, “I’ve never fit either. I thought it was because I’m still single.” Others admitted their own sense of what it was that kept them at odds from belonging.

I really couldn’t believe what I was hearing in that circle of seemingly well adjusted, thriving individuals. These were all exceptional people—strong individuals with a well-defined sense of purpose. They were people other people want to be like. They knew their strengths. They had tempered their drive with gentleness and wisdom. And yet nearly all of them admitted out of a place of deep vulnerability that they felt like they didn’t quite fit. All of them had experienced some shame at not quite belonging. They all wondered if there was something wrong with them that they couldn’t quite fit.

I finally joined the conversation. I felt tears and emotion constricting my voice. I confessed to the same feelings. I’ve always struggled to fit. Whatever fitting I’ve found I feel like I’ve faked. All this time I thought it was because my childhood was so convoluted, my narrative so strange. Being a Third Culture Adult has been the excuse I’ve given myself for my not finding connection or belonging with others. That’s the reason I don’t fit. At least that’s the story I’ve been telling myself for all these years.

What if all of us struggle with these same feelings? What if none of us feel like we fit? What if that’s the connecting point that allows us all to find community? We belong to each other because none of us really feel like we do belong. Perhaps it’s universal. Maybe it’s not just those of us who’ve grown up elsewhere.

Something changed in me that evening in Spain. I looked around that group of people and some lights came on. I felt some reassurance and some relief. For the first time in a long time I felt like perhaps I do fit—mind you, with a group that by their own admission don’t feel like they do!