On Viruses

“There’s really no such thing as the voiceless. There are only the deliberately silenced, or the preferably unheard.”

Arundhati Roy

I opened my email this morning to find a message from a friend who I’ve known and worked with for over ten years. The message was asking me to weigh in on a public service announcement (PSA). The subject of the email said just this:

“Anti-racism campaign PSA ideas – need your feedback by the end of today.”

In the body of the email were three scenarios. My job was to read them and comment on which one I thought would be most effective in reaching the public. She had asked for a quick turn around time so before I did anything else, I responded.

It was after I responded that the weight of the email hit me. My friend is from Taiwan. She has lived here for years and is an amazing community member and activist for Asian women’s health. We’ve worked on some extraordinary projects together through the years, projects that don’t make the news but have a powerful effect on the community.

In the midst of a pandemic crisis, my friend is having to worry about and work on an anti-racism campaign. She holds the dual burden of protecting her family and community’s health along with the weighty burden of protecting their safety

I know the excuses. I know the fear that is gripping people. I know what I do when I fear, when I’m insecure, when I want to blame – and I’m quite sure that what I feel is symptomatic of the rest of us. But it is so wrong.

I appeal to all of us, but especially those of us who are white and may have friends that are crafting and spreading memes and messages that spread laughter and racism. We must open our mouths, our keyboards, and whatever other ways we communicate to speak up and out against this racism.

The focus on anti-Chinese and anti-Asian sentiment comes from the myth that the corona virus is a Chinese virus.

Here are the facts: This corona virus was unknown until an outbreak in Wuhan, China in late 2019. “Shortly after the epidemic began, Chinese scientists sequenced the genome of SARS-CoV-2 and made the data available to researchers worldwide. The resulting genomic sequence data has shown that Chinese authorities rapidly detected the epidemic and that the number of COVID-19 cases have been increasing because of human to human transmission after a single introduction into the human population.” [Source: Scripps Research Institute]

Rather than blaming China, we need to begin thanking them for identifying the virus and going to massive lengths to quarantine a huge population. Yes, their government had missteps (just as most governments did and are daily facing the consequences of those missteps.) This piece is not about government action or inaction. It’s about the wrongs that are being committed against a group of people under the guise of a virus.

Here are some truths about racism: It is a virus. It has to find a host. It cannot be spread without people -it lacks the ability to thrive and reproduce outside of a host body. Racism can mutate. It takes root in a willing host, then it mutates and changes, depending on the particular issue or people group. The racism virus is also like other viruses in that it is unsophisticated. It lacks the ability to live independently. It can be invisible, but it manifests itself in outward, visible symptoms.

The outward symptoms we are seeing of this virus are many. Spitting on people, physical violence, racial slurs, yelling ‘there’s a corona’ as they pass by someone who appears to be Asian, memes that attack a specific group, hate mail, invisible blame that comes out in subtle ways are a few of this disease.

And here’s the thing – Corona virus will eventually go away. But the virus of racism? That’s a lot harder. It takes root and stays in its host a long, long time. It can’t be treated with traditional cures and medicine. Instead, it needs to be rooted out with repentance and healed in relationship.

So here is my plea to all of us: May we not be willing hosts to this virus. May we see it before it takes root and run far away. May we examine our hearts and souls. May we refuse to pass on memes and cartoons that can damage others. May we learn the facts about the illness. May we call or email our friends who are from Chinese or other Asian families and check up on them because let’s face it – the American public are not good at distinguishing where people are from – right now, if you even look remotely Asian, you can be a target. May we always be ready to speak up and speak out in support of someone who is facing racism in a store, on a street, or in a public place.

Most of all, may our inner examination of heart and soul continue – where does racism find a willing host and what am I going to do about it?


“We’ve all been exposed. Not necessarily to the virus (maybe…who even knows). We’ve all been exposed BY the virus. Corona is exposing us. Exposing our weak sides. Exposing our dark sides. Exposing what normally lays far beneath the surface of our souls, hidden by the invisible masks we wear. Now exposed by the paper masks we can’t hide far enough behind. Corona is exposing our addiction to comfort. Our obsession with control. Our compulsion to hoard. Our protection of self. Corona is peeling back our layers. Tearing down our walls. Revealing our illusions. Leveling our best-laid plans. Corona is exposing the gods we worship: Our health Our hurry Our sense of security. Our favorite lies. Our secret lusts. Our misplaced trust. Corona is calling everything into question: What is the church without a building? What is my worth without an income? How do we plan without certainty? How do we love despite risk? Corona is exposing me. My mindless numbing. My endless scrolling. My careless words. My fragile nerves. We’ve all been exposed. Our junk laid bare. Our fears made known. The band-aid torn. The masquerade done. So what now? What’s left? “

Clean hands Clear eyes Tender hearts. What Corona reveals, God can heal. Come Lord Jesus. Have mercy on us. As many as have been baptized into Christ, have put on Christ.


*I do not know the author of what I have printed. If any of you do, please contact me and I will give credit where credit is due.

On Turning 60

This is 60!

I’m turning 60 on Monday, and I’m here to tell you that if you let it be, life is terrifying. Just today, four days before the auspicious birthday, a news article made its way across the algorithms of social media to inform me of the “Wuhan coronavirus.” Evidently even as I write this, a patient is being isolated in a tiny room, treated by robots, as doctors protect themselves and others from this deadly virus.

And here I thought I would die of old age and wrinkles – but no – it’s going to be Wuhan coronavirus – virus 2019-nCoV to be more exact. By the time I had finished reading the article I was that patient. As a true trauma thief, I had stolen the identity and the disease and instead of celebrating me on my 60th birthday, my children were gathering to say goodbye.

It was a beautiful moment, though just in my imagination. Every mother secretly longs for the deathbed remorse of their children, don’t they? The “if onlys” and “I wish I hads.”

But these moments were not to be, because this was all in my imagination. So, in the spirit of Ann Lamott, here is my “I’m turning 60 and this is what I know…” post, here you have it. (Except that she was turning 61, but whatever.) Do with it what you will, but please be nice to me.

  1. 60 is not an age. 60 is a concept. “I’m turning 60!” I say to the mirror, trying to get used to is, but it won’t happen. My internal middle age self won’t have it. I’m going to be one of those people that looks in the mirror when I’m 80 and says “Who are you, and why are you in my mirror and where did you put my chin? Show me my real self!” Which leads me to my second point…
  2. Real is not what we see. Real is much deeper than that. We spend so much time curating and cultivating, pretending and posturing – but real is beyond all that. Real is wondering how anyone can truly love you, yet moving forward believing that anyway. Real is knowing that the eternal is forever and the now is just now. Real is knowing there is a greater reality in this thing called life. Real is the paradox and dance of joy and sorrow in this thing called life.
  3. God will never give you grace for your imagination – so, my mom taught me this many, many years ago. I believe I first heard it when I talked to her, crying, saying I was afraid that my husband was going to die. He didn’t die, though I went to his funeral that day and wept. It was a beautiful funeral and I was a beautiful widow…..of course it wasn’t real, and I wasted a lot of time crying that day. “God doesn’t give you grace for your imagination, he doesn’t give you grace for what you think might happen. He gives you grace for the real thing – and that in abundance.” Ask anyone who has gone through a tragedy, and they will echo this.
  4. Motherhood is hard. You will never love more, you will never have your heart so broken, you will never have more sleepless nights – and not because of babies that don’t sleep. But if you can get through it, and that is a big if, the friendships of your adult children and the grace that they find in their hearts to give you is just miraculous. Trust me on that one.
  5. Find yourself a faith. I borrowed that from this past season of The Crown. As Prince Philip’s Orthodox mother enters the scene, she says this to her son: “Let this be a mother’s gift to her child – the one piece of advice. Find yourself a faith. It helps. No. Not just helps. It’s everything.” Life is so dang hard. Faith for me has made it not just easier, but so worth it. Just the other day a stranger told me “you wear your faith in your cross and in your eyes.” I’ve never had a more lovely compliment. I just hope it’s true.
  6. Make friends with people who are younger than you. When our son visited us in Kurdistan, he looked at us and said “Mom and Dad! All your friends are my age!” It was true, and there were reasons for it within that context, but beyond that, we’ve always had friends – good friends – who are younger. They keep us grounded. They remind us that we don’t have to have our lives all together. They accept things in us that our peers find tiresome. They remind us that life will go on once we are gone.  
  7. There is nothing like a good cry. It’s like the first signs of spring after winter, like the longing and release when you see a stunning sunset. It’s the release of all those things we bottle up and think we can control. Have yourself a good cry when you need it.
  8. Get your preventive health care appointments. I mean it. That colonoscopy? It will find the polyp that turned into cancer for your friend 6 years ago when she was due for one. That mammogram? Get it – I mean it.
  9. Forgive, and forgive, and forgive again. The bitterness that wells up from lack of forgiveness is so much worse than the polyp that turned into cancer. It’s a poison that you drink every day. I have learned the hard way. Give people the proverbial “benefit of the doubt” – don’t assume the worst. It’s so easy, isn’t it, to assume bad intent. Especially when we’re tired, when we’re sad, or when we think we see the person’s middle finger angrily sticking out at us. But maybe they were just born that way. Maybe it’s not us.
  10. Love fiercely, protectively, and with abandon. You will get hurt – of course you will! You will want to smash things. You will cry. You will rage. But oh, to have on my gravestone “She loved God, and she loved others.” That would be success my friends! That would be true success.

Okay – I’m done. I haven’t died of Wuhan yet – but there’s always time before Monday.

Oh and also, if you are interested – what I really want for my birthday? I want my dear ones to support this community health initiative in a place that I called home last year, a place and people that I love dearly. Click here to give a dollar or ten! Community Health Initiative in Kurdistan

Love, Marilyn

Enlarging our hearts in Ranya ڕانیه

View from our front balcony/sunroom

It’s difficult to believe that we have only been in Kurdistan for 48 hours.

Our flight from Qatar was uneventful. We connected with another new faculty member just before boarding the plane. The fact that she spotted us so easily was a reminder that we are westerners and everything from the way we talk to the way we walk identifies us as such.

We flew into Sulaymaniyah, also called Slemani, a large city two hours from Ranya. The way the plane entered the air landing strip allowed us to see the entire area before landing.

The airport in Sulaymaniyah is small and customs and immigration was easy. We had our pictures and finger prints taken and temporary visas stamped into our passports in record time, then on to retrieve our eight large pieces of luggage on the other side.

A faculty member from the university was there to greet us and load our luggage into a truck and we took off on the two-hour journey to our new home.

Ranya is a town of 230,000, established in 1789. It is surrounded by a mountain range called the Kewa Rash (Black Mountains) and, for lack of a better word or because my thesaurus is not loading properly, nestled by a beautiful lake called Lake Dukan. Driving up a hill, you know you have arrived in Ranya when you see a large concrete statue of the number five. The statue commemorates March 5, 1991 when Ranya boldly rose up against the tyranny of Saddam Hussein. Though the most notable recent uprising, it is not the only time in Ranya’s history where they defied the ruling authorities. Indeed, this is part of Ranya’s story since the early 1900s. Because of this history, many Kurds refer to the city as Darwaza-I Raparingateway to uprising. It feels particularly important for me as a newcomer and stranger to acknowledge both the history and wounds of this place where we will work and make a home.

The University of Raparin (literally the University of Uprising) is at the edge of the city and we saw the buildings immediately after passing the commemorative statue. Going past the university, we arrived at the apartment complex where we will be living. Our apartment building is one of six buildings built specifically for faculty at the university. We arrived and were graciously welcomed by university staff. They also graciously carried our heavy luggage into the apartment, no small feat!

We walked up three flights of stairs and opening the door crossed over into our new home.

Earlier today I sat in a sun-filled room, listening to Georgian chant in a town in Kurdistan. An hour later I embarked on the task of heating water for a cup of tea for a guest. While this sounds simple, it didn’t feel simple. Still later, we made our first trip alone to the bazaar and the triumphal feeling of shopping in a language I don’t know in a city that is new is akin to giving birth. I, indeed, am Woman! Hear me roar – in Kurdish, no less.

The enormity of all of this converges with how normal it feels and I feel yet again how beautifully complicated Home can be.

But though all of this has expanded our hearts and minds, nothing compares to the conversations, afternoon snacks, and meals we have shared the past days. In just two days our hearts have grown larger and I marvel at the new friendships, primarily with young men and women who are our kids’ age. They are the future of Kurdistan and we are so honored to be with them during this time.

I will write more specifically about some of our new friends later, but for now, I am filled with gratitude and my heart is enlarged in the best way possible.

That Magic Word – Home

My younger daughter was recently in Toronto at the wedding of a friend. On return she had some difficulty with her ticket and had to go early to the airport in order to clear it up. As she was talking to a woman in security, she said “I just want to get home.”

Responding with wisdom, empathy, and an accent that indicated she knew the truth of her words, she said: “Somehow I understand that magic word – ‘Home’”

Throughout childhood we hear this word, used in various ways and forms.

Are we home yet?”

“How long until we get home?”

“I can’t wait to get home!”

“I hate leaving home.”

“It’s so good to be home!”

And then adulthood comes, and home becomes more complicated even if you don’t mean it to be. Is home where you grew up? Where your parents live? Where you now live? Where you are raising your family, or all of those combined?

You return home and home has changed, as have you. You leave, unsettled and discombobulated, happy to be leaving and sad that you are happy.

As life moves on, you become the one responsible for creating home, and in that space, home sometimes loses its purity and its magic. When we were little, magic and home happened. When we’re big, someone has to create it. Yet somehow along the way, most of us figure that out. We learn that home and what Wendell Berry calls “membership” are an incredible privilege, and we grow to protect that privilege. We learn that our connection to place matters, and our keeping of that place is vital for mental and physical health. Home may no longer feel like magic, but it has become so much more.

It is our anchor in a world that is fickle and our bridge that equips us to cross over to the outside.

Home. That place where we learn our first stories, where we lose teeth and grow inches, where we play and fight with siblings and grow nostalgic over time. For some, it is geographic; for others it is people, memories, and events that span the globe.

And one thing is sure–there is never more magic in the word then when we’ve been away, and we get to go back.

Home wasn’t a set house, or a single town on a map. It was wherever the people who loved you were, whenever you were together. Not a place, but a moment, and then another, building on each other like bricks to create a solid shelter that you take with you for your entire life, wherever you may go.”*

*Sarah Dessen, What Happened to Goodbye

An East-West Conversation

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“So – your parents chose your husband for you.” 

The women speaking to me was not posing a question; she was making a statement. I took a breath, not sure of how to respond. No, my parents did not choose my husband. Cliff and I met in Chicago and realized after a short time that we wanted to share our lives together. We traveled to Pakistan where he could meet my parents and ask my father for his blessing. He did this on his first night in Pakistan, a country he had never visited, after going into the crowded bazaar with my father. I didn’t think anything of it at the time. After all, I was fully at home in Pakistan and it was deeply satisfying to be back in the country introducing the one who I loved to my parents.

As I think back on the trip and the engagement, I realize how brave Cliff was; how willing he was to move into unknown territory and conquer it. Just days later we celebrated our munganee (engagement) in my parents’ yard in Shikarpur, Pakistan with Sunni, Shia, and Ahmediyya Muslims, Hindus, and Christians. There we served hot, spicy samosas and pakoras and sweet gulab jamuns and barfi. Fragrant garlands of roses and sparkly garlands of money were placed around our necks as we celebrated with a community that had hospitably welcomed my family and the entire missionary community.  It was a celebration to remember.

But I didn’t know how to relay all this to the conservative Muslim woman with whom I was speaking. We shared many similarities – but in this area, our experiences were different.

For as long as I can remember, I have analyzed and thought about both eastern and western traditions as they relate to love, marriage, and friendship. I have often felt the West displays a cultural imperialism and ethnocentric attitude toward some of the values and views of the East, namely arranged marriages and the concepts of extended family and their involvement in one’s life.

An Uncommon Correspondence is a book that is described as an “East-West Conversation on Friendship, Intimacy, and Love”. Anyone who has friendships that span cultural boundaries would not only appreciate, but also inhale this book. I found myself grabbing a pen so I could underline those phrases and paragraphs that put words together in perfect packages, like presents to be unwrapped by my heart and mind.

The book is series of letters written between Ivy George, a professor who is Indian by birth but living and working in the United States and Margaret Masson, an adult third culture kid, also a professor, who lives and works in England. The correspondence spans one year — from 1989 to 1990. While the book is primarily about love and relationships, more specifically a look at romantic love versus arranged marriages, it brings up the many cultural trappings that surround those two areas; values, expectations, and cultural views integral to how they play out. The result is a unique and readable discourse on the dynamics of love and relationships both sides of the globe.

“How deeply we are written by our culture” exclaims Margaret at one point, as she recognizes that just because she can analyze her reaction to her experiences with romantic love doesn’t mean she is free from falling into the cultural “pitfalls” that are part of the package. And later in the same letter: “It seems that neither of our cultures has got it quite right. But I’m sure that each could learn something from the other. Even if it is simply the acknowledgement, the realization that ours is not the only way, that there are alternatives to what our cultures seem to conspire to convince us is the ‘inevitable’ the ‘natural’.”

Ivy left India to study in the United States, partly to escape the pressure and path to an arranged marriage. But as she observes her peers and others in the United States, the concept of romantic love, carefully cultivated in her life through novels and myth, is shattered. She sees the broken pieces scattered through stories and on faces of those she meets. In an early letter to Margaret, Ivy says “While I was horrified at my prospects as a married woman in India, I was disappointed at my prospects as a single woman in the U.S” Ivy’s observations of “dating and mating” as she describes it fill her with anxiety and fear. “Alone as I feel” she says “I am still trying to understand ‘loving and losing’ and the worth of it all. The anxieties are deep, the stakes too high. While I came to the West believing in ‘choice’ for one’s life, I am struck by the absence of it. What’s so different from India? Thinking about it as a Christian sheds little further light on this. I can see the workings of God’s grace perhaps, but little perception of God’s will in these matters. There’s far too much human manipulation….”

As far as opinions on physical contact and touch between the sexes, Ivy learns to greatly appreciate some of the traditions she grew up with in India that stressed no touch until after marriage. “After living in the west so long I can see the importance of this value in my tradition when I see how many hands, lips, bodies, and beds have been shared before one chooses to marry. Surely such serial giving of oneself has an impact on so much of one’s present and future being!”

An area that comes up in the correspondence is close same-sex friendships. Friendships that are not sexual but intimate and life-giving. Both women are concerned that the west has not given enough credence to the importance of intimacy in these friendships. They fear there is no longer any vocabulary for friendships like these in the west; that “all of our longing for intimacy must be focused on a sexual partner”. This is contrasted with the deep and intimate female friendships that Ivy experienced growing up in India.

This book was freeing and I found myself nodding and speaking to it as I would to a person.  It gives words to so much of what I have thought, seen, and felt.

When my friend asked me about who chose my husband, I hadn’t yet read this book. In retrospect I see many similarities between her experience with an arranged marriage and mine. Though I chose my husband, it was critical to us that family be apart of the journey, that Cliff ask for my parents’ blessing, and that we recognize family as central to surviving and thriving in a marriage. It was also important to recognize that part of the way we show love is through commitment and sticking with a person through the awful and the beautiful.

But since that time, I’ve continued to ask these questions: Can we find a better way? Can we develop an approach to love, marriage, and intimacy that transcends both cultures? Because though my heart bends East, I think we can learn from each other.

The book  and my many conversations through the years challenge me to think deeper and wider about love and friendship across oceans and cultures. As Margaret says in the introduction, hearing a different perspective can be disturbing, but it can also be profoundly liberating.

An Old Love

mom and dad

Every night before they went to sleep, my dad would kiss my mom. Even during his final month of life, when he was feeling weaker by the day, the last thing my dad did before he fell asleep was kiss my mom goodnight. They would pray and then he would kiss her. He knew that time was running out and so he got his kisses in before death came and separated them.

My dad was 91 when he died, my mom 89. “I’m so glad we had nothing between us. There were no regrets.” My mom has a far off look in her eyes as she tells me this. They were one in body and spirit, a tremendous heritage to give those who come after you.

Their love was an old love, but it hadn’t always been that way. Old photographs showed their young love, crinkled with time. A faded wedding picture, honeymoon pictures of a young couple by a lake and that same couple climbing a mountain are all evidence that they were young once.

But the years came, and with them five children, then daughters and son-in-law, grandchildren, and finally great grandchildren. Before they could catch their breath, they had an old love.

Old loves are free from the false expectations of youth.  Old love passes by newsstands featuring glossy magazines with covers that guarantee sleek, well-chiseled bodies, amazing sex, and “real love”.  While the images suck others in like dust in a vacuum, old love is oblivious. The world’s obsession with “young lust” and “young love” does not faze them. They travel as beloved ones in their own world, a world that knows better.

I will remember these love gifts forever.  The look my mom would give my dad, a look that whispers so confidently of care and shared understanding that even strangers would know this was born of a lifetime of loving. Or my dad, his formerly strong body broken, still looking out for my mom’s safety.

Theirs was a love that had died a million small deaths to self and false expectations. It was a love that saw others as better than self, and gave people bouquets of forgiveness, something far more costly than roses. It was a love that understood the hard process of aging, and the losses that come with it.

My eyes mist over as I remember their old love; wordless stories of a lifetime of sacrifice and trial; hurt and healing; misunderstanding and forgiveness. Their old love may have limped at the end, but it shouted of strength.

There are many times when my dad wistfully talked about an inheritance and how he wished that he could leave his kids and grandkids more money.  But he left us so much more. He left us a lifetime of loving my mom and that is enough.


 

Amphibians, Chameleons, and Cross Cultural Kids

“But those people who are fishes out of water were often the most vibrant ones in the room. I’ve begun to recognize a social type, the Amphibians — people who can thrive in radically different environments.” David Brooks “The Rise of the Amphibians”

In a recent article in the New York Times, David Brooks writes about interviewing millennials. In all of the interviews he conducted there seemed to emerge a certain type of millennial, one that he calls the “amphibian”. According to him, these amphibians look beyond surface labels and across cultural identities. They seek to understand those who think differently. Their goal is not necessarily to agree, but to find common ground in disagreement.

As I was reading I realized that this is the concept of the cross cultural kid or CCK that Ruth Van Reken and Michael Pollock talk about in the 3rd edition of the TCK book.

Cross cultural kids don’t necessarily grow up in a different country. Rather, they are often raised in a subculture of their passport country. So it could be the southern kid who moves to the East coast and navigates the north-south cultural tension. Or it could be the kid from Navajo nation who is daily bussed to a school off the reservation in a suburban area. It could also be a kid who is raised in a faith-based subculture and homeschooled but navigates cultural differences between her home and life in a non faith-based university. There are many examples of kids who grow up understanding and navigating cultural differences. To be sure, third culture kids are a strong subset of cross cultural kids, and the literature and research on them is invaluable, but they aren’t the only ones who navigate cultural differences.

Cross cultural kids naturally seek to see beyond divisive labels. They seek common ground and try to understand the other side, no matter what that side is. They understand that each of us has a story, and that those stories have shaped us.

They are often called chameleons and accused of not knowing who they are. But knowing who you are and obnoxiously making sure your values and views are the loudest in the room are vastly different. Living and navigating effectively across cultures takes cultural humility and the ability to listen well, something that cross cultural kids have to learn early in life.

Cross cultural kids can be active negotiators – taking both sides of a story and finding space for agreement. It can be a lonely space, but it’s a vital one.

As I think about our world today, I feel tired. The level of incivility in Western societies and the amount of cyber bullying by grown ups is appalling. If you disagree with someone who is conservative, you’re quickly termed a liberal. If you disagree with someone who is liberal, you are emphatically called intolerant. I know- because I’ve been called both. We are desperately in need of of amphibians, chameleons, and cross cultural kids. Without them, we’re in deep trouble.

“The Amphibians’ lives teach us that backgrounds are more complicated than simple class- or race-conflict stories. Their lives demonstrate that society is not a battlefield but a jungle with unexpected connections and migrations. Their lives teach that what matters is what you do with your background, the viewpoints you construct by combining viewpoints. Their lives are examples of the power of love to slice through tribal identity.”

The Rise of the Amphibians

A Valentine’s Day Warning: Don’t Let Corporate America Dictate What Love Is

Happy Vlantim from Egypt – Source unknown

Happy Valentine’s Day!

I have mixed feelings about the day, but there’s one thing I know. It is far too easy to let corporate America dictate what love is to the eager masses. For weeks we have not been able to escape glossy images and advertisements about true love and how it’s best expressed through material things. From jewelry to roses, we are subject to a false understanding of love and relationships.

So here are some basic dos and don’ts about the day.

Some Don’ts

  • Don’t judge your relationships by Hollywood standards.
  • Don’t get swept up in what is purely a profit making machine.
  • Don’t get angry at your partner because they didn’t get the subtle and overt messages of what you wanted for Valentine’s Day.
  • Don’t walk around rejected and dejected because you aren’t in a relationship on a day when everyone is supposed to have somebody
  • Don’t confuse real love and tried and true relationships with the false image that will dominate the day.

Some Dos

  • Celebrate the people you love by letting them know you love them
  • Accept what comes your way with a gracious spirit
  • Realize that a partner washing the dishes and cleaning the kitchen is a much more difficult way to say “I love you” than buying a cheap box of chocolates.
  • Let your single friends know that they are whole people and don’t need someone to complete them.
  • Ponder the difference between real love and fairy tale romance
  • Some reading on love and Lent and Ash Wednesday

Most of all, do realize that you are God’s beloved, and nothing in the world will change that. No chocolate, no roses, no candlelight dinners can ever replace knowing that God loves you in the depths of your soul.

Valentine’s Day does a great job at communicating love for one day, but it lacks the impetus or mechanism to help us do the hard work of love. And one thing required for the hard work of love is a repudiation of the very things that keep us from loving well. Ash Wednesday, with its accompanying fast, is that repudiation. – Juliet Vedral

No Better Place Than This…

“Third culture kids, immigrants, refugees, foreigners.”

“We find each other in unlikely spaces. In the shared experience of other, we find belonging and rest, whether in a short ride to an airport or a long-distance phone conversation. These moments of connection seem to come at the right time, sustaining us until the next encounter, preventing us from falling into an abyss of self-pity and isolation.” (p. 181 of Between Worlds: Essays on Culture and Belonging)

I got together with a fellow immigrant (she – a real one, me – an invisible one) the other day. Talking together was easy and natural. Oh there were plenty of missed cues, and ‘what do you mean by that?” questions, but the ease with which we communicate across those boundaries are what was so refreshing.

We were at home in the shared experience of being outsiders. We are the ones who don’t completely fit into our surroundings, but work to live well despite the poor fit. The gift of shared experience lasted for a couple of hours, and then it was time to be on our way. We left the coffee shop, bound more tightly together by our vast global network of people, places, events, and memories. We left with more stories that link us to each other and to the world.

As I walked back to my apartment, a cold rain was falling. Slush and rain puddles crept through my boots, but somehow it didn’t matter. I thought about friendship and contentment, and how long it sometimes takes to accept our reality.

It has taken me a long time to live effectively in my passport country. For so long I looked and wished for a better place. Slowly, I’ve given up a dream idea that there is a better place than right here, right now. I no longer live with unrealistic expectations and frustrations with those around me (at least not most of the time!) Instead, I’ve realized there is no better place. Right here, right now – wherever that is for any of us – is the best place.

There is no ‘better place’ than this, not in this world. And it is by the place we’ve got and our love for it and our keeping of it, that this world is joined to Heaven…

Hannah Coulter by Wendell Berry

And in the “no better place than this” I will continue to meet strangers and soulmates, fellow immigrants and those who have lived here forever. I will connect immediately with some and tentatively with others, because that’s life.

And in all of this, I will learn more about loving and keeping place, and in doing so, join it to Heaven.

“This is My Fate” – A Lesson in Cultural Humility

As soon as the angry words came out of my mouth, I regretted them. I was speaking to Rehmet, the woman who helped me care for my kids and my home.

She was a Punjabi woman, uneducated, illiterate, with a smile that stretched across a beautiful, weathered face and a personality as big as her smile.

We were living in Islamabad, Pakistan and Rehmet had come into my life by way of her husband who had done some handiwork for us around the house. She had five children and lived in a slum on the outskirts of the city. She was tireless in her energy and her talking. At one point I despaired to my mom that I couldn’t understand her. “She speaks so quickly!” I wailed. “My Urdu can’t keep up”. My mom began to laugh – “Don’t worry” she said. “She’s actually speaking Punjabi”.

Fate - Homes in a Christian neighborhood in Islamabad, Pakistan. [1500x1000] - Imgur

(photo credit)

We had slowly developed a relationship that went far beyond employee/employer. I considered her my friend. We would sit down with tea, communicating with my limited Urdu and her fluent Punjabi. We would mate socks together, cook, scrub vegetables, and rearrange furniture. She loved my kids, and I thought I loved her.

But there we were. A Pakistani woman and an American woman side by side, me letting my tongue loose. She had ruined some clothes by bleaching them and I was angry. After all, I self-righteously reasoned, if this had happened at a laundry facility in the United States I would voice disapproval over the mistake and demand my money back.

But, I was not in the United States.

Looking back on the event, I cringe in embarrassment. I don’t even remember what the clothes looked like – but I will never forget the sadness and resignation on Rehmet’s face. She looked as though she had been kissed by a Judas, betrayed by one she thought she knew.

I began to apologize. My speech, so articulate while angry, suddenly lost any semblance of cohesion. I was fumbling over my words, over my grammar, most of all over my ugly heart.

She looked at me with tired, brown eyes, her gaze steady and unyielding. Then without pause, she shrugged and said, “It doesn’t matter. This is my fate.”

I went cold. I would rather have heard anything but this. I would rather she yelled, screamed, got sarcastic, quit the job… anything would have been better.

I, the person who talked long and wrote hard about wanting to empower people, had taken advantage of what I knew to be a cultural value – a servant is subservient to the employer. In a culture where she was a minority as a woman and as a Christian she would never have other opportunities, this was her fate. Even if she wanted to walk out on the job, she couldn’t have. Rehmet did not have choices and I had used that against her. I had taken advantage of education, relative wealth, and influence in my ridiculous reaction to a simple mistake.

And I had done this, subconsciously knowing that it would pack a mighty punch. That is what made it so painfully wrong. My white-skinned entitlement and privilege made me cringe. Who was I? Why had I reacted this way

It was important to confess – to Rehmet, but also to God. For I had acted in a way that hurt another, had wounded knowing she had no recourse.

Rehmet and I were able to repair the relationship, largely because of her generosity of spirit and sheer joy in life. In her bucket of life experience, this was small change and she would not remain low for long. But the story has stayed with me, for it reminds me of how important it is to have cultural humility.

For cultural humility demands a process of self-evaluation and critique; a constant check of attempting to understand the view of another before we react and recognizing our own tendency toward cultural superiority. Cultural humility gives up a role as expert, instead seeing ourselves as students of our host culture.

It’s a hard subject that demands honesty but what do you do when you have caused offense? When you have wounded in a place where you are a guest? When you have exhibited cultural superiority instead of cultural humility?

Note: This article was first published in A Life Overseas

Dear Dorothy – A Letter to my Mother-in-Law

Tomorrow I will board a plane and travel to Florida for my mother-in-law’s funeral. Since we found out last week, I have been thinking about death – how final it is, how permanent it seems, and how unreal it is until you are actually back in a place where the person lived.

I read these words in an article on grief:

“Dying is not a technical glitch of the human operating system; it’s a feature. It’s the only prediction we can make at birth that we can bank on. Everyone will die, and it’s very likely somebody we love will die before we do.”*

They are true words in an otherwise mediocre article.

Memories have resurfaced – some that make me laugh out loud. My mother-in-law was a force of nature. It’s impossible to compress a life into a blog post, and I won’t try, but I want to share some memories of this force who was Dorothy. Thank you for reading.

*****

Dear Dorothy,

On a hot July Saturday in 1983, I received my first phone call from you. I had begun dating your son in February, but he headed off to the Middle East on a study trip in May. It would be a long summer for me; an exciting one for him.

So on that July day, your phone call was welcome. You introduced yourself to me as “Clifford’s mom” and I remember voicing surprise at your southern accent.

“Well, what did you expect” you retorted! “That I would talk like a Yankee.” And that was my introduction to your quick wit and comebacks, something you passed on in no small way to your sons.

In late summer, after Cliff returned from the Middle East, we took a trip to Florida to meet the family. We arrived on a gorgeous day and went straight to dinner at a restaurant.

I was nervous until you looked at me and said:

“The service has been terrible at this restaurant the last 12 times we’ve come.”

“Then why do you keep coming back?” I said. It was the perfect opener to help me relax.

Later that week, as I came into the kitchen ready to head out for a trip to Disney World, your eyes took in my outfit from head to toe, and you said “Well Cliff’s safe with you. No truck driver is ever going to pick you up in those pants!” Cliff looked at me and confirmed your opinion. No one had ever told me how bad I looked in them. Thank God I found out sooner rather than later.

Through the years, you amazed me with your artistic and creative ability. Whether it was China painting or sewing, you knew how to do it. My children wore sweatsuits with embossed designs, drank tea out of tiny china cups that you had exquisitely painted, even admired china cremation urns that you were making for a funeral home.

There are two memories that still come to mind after all these years. The first was a time when your youngest son, Greg, and your husband, Richard were sitting in the family room discussing the weight of football players. I could hear them from the kitchen.

“Did you see the weight on that guy? Wow! 240 pounds! How about that other player? He’s 300 pounds!” And on went the discussion by two men who didn’t have one extra pound on their bodies.

Suddenly I heard you come up behind me. You were laughing so hard you could barely speak. You finally stopped long enough to whisper in my ear “Did you hear them talking about weight? Thank God they don’t know what I weigh!”  I joined you in laughing. Both of us had a struggle with weight that wasn’t easily managed, and having two thin men discuss body weight just added insult to what was already difficult. But laughter was something you did well, even when it was at your own expense.

The second memory makes me smile hard. Again, I was in the kitchen and Cliff and the kids were resting somewhere in the house. It was early afternoon, and you had gone out to do some errands. I heard the living room door open, and then heard a “Psst.” You repeated it. I went to the opening between the kitchen and living room area, and there you were with two beautiful boxes.  You slowly opened them. In each box was the most delectable fruit tart that I have ever seen. The perfectly fluted crust was piled high with cream, then fruit, then more cream. They were magnificent.

As I surveyed them with shining eyes, I realized that there were only two of them.

“Shall I call Cliff?” I asked, thinking that you had bought one for him.

“NO!” you retorted! “This is for you and me! I didn’t even buy one for my son!”

We sat at the kitchen table, like two naughty little girls, savoring a stolen treat. We laughed and whispered, eating every single mouthful and then wiping the cream off of our upper lips. It was heaven.

Something about that moment has stayed with me all these years. Any mother and daughter-in-law combination has its challenges, and ours was no exception. There were times when I fought hard and you fought back. But the shared treat of that moment was a communion of understanding — understanding that sometimes moms need to forget the needs of the rest of the family and eat rich and creamy fruit pastries.  Perhaps also, understanding that sometimes the mother-in-law, daughter-in-law relationship needs those occasional moments away from the rest of the family to forge a bond.

Your life was not all easy, and there were times when I saw glimpses of that.  By the time you were in your early twenties, you had four active boys and were raising them all over the country followed by the world. You knew what it was to pack up and move multiple times, say a million goodbyes, and leave places you would never see again. Yet you made sure that those kids were able to see every sight possible during those four years in Europe. I imagine these last few years with increasing health problems, a husband who is struggling with his own health, and a scattered family were some of the hardest. But every day, you got up, and sometimes that’s all any of us can do.

And now you’re gone. It’s not real to me yet – it won’t be until I see Richard alone at the funeral. Your quick answers won’t be a part of this weekend’s gathering. You won’t be chiming in with opinions and laughter. But you will be there, because we will be celebrating you and your life. We will be celebrating the creativity, laughter, quick quips, tenacity, and personality that were uniquely yours.

I hope I will get to eat a creamy, fruit tart and as I do, lift my eyes to Heaven and thank you.  I love you and I look forward to the day when I see you again in another time and another place. Perhaps you are already saving a fruit tart for me.

*Time Magazine, 4.24.17

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!

Loving People Well – Djibouti Jones

Readers, I’m sending you over to Djibouti Jones this morning. She has written a beautiful “post U.S. Election” piece called Loving People Well.

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Here is a just a taste of her beautiful piece:

What does it look like to love well? Listen to broken hearts, serve the needy, give up my tendency toward greed so that my neighbor can be clothed, welcome a stranger who needs someplace to sleep, bandage wounds, take financial and physical risks. I mean these things literally. Placing bunches of bananas near the head of a sleeping homeless man so he can wake to a feast. Giving a woman who just had a miscarriage money for the hospital. Or for drugs, how can I know? I can only know that she has no roof over her head and I have money in my wallet. Risking so much to start a school so there can be jobs and education and community. Caring for my family with zeal and creativity…

You can read the rest here.

I’d love to have you respond to this question in the comments – What does it look like for you to love well?  I would encourage you to be specific. That way we can all learn more tangible, concrete ways to love well.

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)

#Hashtags and Relationships

handshake

It’s difficult to write today, but it would be worse to keep silent.

“I don’t want to become a #hashtag. Becoming a #hashtag is a very real fear in my community.” 

Yesterday at the end of a long and good meeting, a few of of us began talking. The conversation was around race and privilege, power and perspective. It was rich and challenging. It was a Haitian friend who began the conversation by talking about being a hashtag.

She was referring to the common social media practice of writing or tweeting about shooting victims by using the # (hashtag) symbol. As a first generation Haitian immigrant, Maddie* falls under the ‘black’ category. She talks with her black friends about being a hashtag, a victim of the endemic problem of being black and being shot. They all worry about this.

“I think about this” she said. “I think about how I would be described and validated –‘she baby sat for kids down the street. She was a straight-A student. Her family was known in the community.'” We talked about the stress that she feels daily; the thought she has to put into decisions; the orientation she has to give to Haitians who are new to this country and don’t know what it is to be black in America.

I don’t know about you, but I never worry about becoming a random victim of a police shooting. I don’t worry about being stereotyped as someone who is dangerous. I don’t worry that my life would have to be validated by how “good” I was in order to justify that I shouldn’t have been shot. I don’t worry that I will become a hashtag on someone’s twitter feed.

My heart is heavy. For so many of my friends, none of this is theory. It is daily life.

I realize that I am privileged to know the people I do, to live and work in places where diversity is the norm, not the exception. Because you look at life differently when your friends come from all over the world. You experience life in new ways when you rub shoulders with a black woman who grew up in Roxbury, a Haitian woman who moved to this country as a child, a man from Malawi who sits in the cubicle next to you every day.

I’m convinced that the best way forward for individuals is through relationships. When black Americans are your friends, your conversations look different. While I can never know their reality, I can listen and learn about what is harmful and what is helpful. While I cannot walk in their shoes, I can learn what it is to walk beside them. While I will not experience their particular sorrows and pain, I can ask them questions and pursue cultural humility.

So I have no answers other than to challenge all of us on the value of having friends who look different than we do. If people all around me mirror my skin color, my hair color, my language, and my culture then it is difficult to see the world through the eyes of another.

My friend Jody writes from a perspective of living in a cross-cultural marriage and learning to navigate “a complicated world of race relations while living as the only interracial family in a small Midwestern town for eight years.” Jody is a bridge-builder and has written an excellent and practical book called Pondering Privilege -toward a deeper understanding of whiteness, race, and faith.

In her first chapter, Jody extends a call for cultural humility. She says this:

Instead of “Get over it”, cultural humility responds. “I don’t understand. Can you help me understand more deeply?”

Instead of replying with some variation of “quit whining” to someone who feels wronged, cultural humilty responds, “I’m so sorry this hurts you. How can I walk alongside you in this? What do I need to learn?” 

Instead of saying “Why do you keep causing problems?”, cultural humility responds, I’m sorry I keep hurting you. It seems like I’m missing something big. How would you recommend I start to better understand your experience?” 

Instead of keeping quiet because of cultural ignorance, cultural humility responds, “I’m a little embarassed that I don’t know much about your background. I don’t even know how to ask you questions about it, but I would love to learn more.” 

 

In closing I too want to extend a call – a call to build bridges and tear down walls. Every day we see the results of a fractured world; a world of people unwilling to listen and at the ready to defend and construct barriers. I am utterly convinced that we are called to build bridges, to tear down walls, to mend fences, to move forward in relationships. Indeed, there is no other way forward. 

The Painful Realities of White Privilege by Jody Wiley Fernando

You can buy Pondering Privilege here. 

*Not her real name.

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!

 

 

Exploring Third Culture Kid Bigotry – A Repost

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“It’s one thing to criticize a culture. It’s another to see that the culture being criticized is formed partly in response to other cultures, and that those cultures are, in turn, worth criticizing. This is why explaining human behavior is so difficult: the buck never stops. The explanations don’t come to an obvious, final resting place.”  The Lives of Poor White People, The New Yorker, September 12, 2016

Three years ago I wrote a piece called Exploring TCK Bigotry. It was an effort to better understand my own prejudice as well as some of the prejudices I have encountered in other third culture kids. I am reposting today with some changes.

To the non third culture kid – let me explain: Our life circumstances have gifted us with many things — a love of travel, flexibility, a strong identification with others who have lived abroad for extended periods of time, and a world view that extends miles, nations, and borders past our passport countries.

But along with that we struggle with being invisible immigrants – we may look like those around us but we think so differently that we feel like chickens in the midst of humans, or aliens in the midst of natives. We are those who feel ‘other.’ We don’t know the rules and make massive mistakes in our passport countries. We can be arrogant about what we know and insecure about what we don’t know. We are the ones without a driver’s license, without the understanding of the hidden rules of a culture, without the common language of idioms and pop culture.

And though it’s difficult to admit, we are prone to prejudice and bigotry in our passport countries. This is ironic. We who are marked by flexibility, adaptability, maturity and fun suddenly display disdain and inability to relate to those around us. What causes the disconnect? What causes the dissonance?

Mark Twain wrote these words years ago:

“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.”

Those of us who are third culture kids love the quote. “That’s right!” we loudly proclaim. “That’s what’s wrong with other people!” “That’s what’s wrong with Trump supporters.” 

We forget that people, that human behavior is much more complex than the quote. We forget that we have met travelers who display extreme prejudice and others who haven’t traveled who love learning about the one who is ‘other.’

So the quote turns on us — rather like pointing the finger at someone, suddenly realizing the other fingers point back in our faces?  What happens when we take all that life experience — travel, cultural humility established through many years of negotiating cross-cultural interactions, our ability to understand dual causality and be capable of complexity — and turn it into a weapon against those who have not traveled?

We become that which we dislike. We become snobs. We become narrow-minded in a reverse way. We become the dictionary definition of a bigot “a person who is obstinately or intolerantly devoted to his or her own opinions and prejudices.”

My faith tradition comes down hard on prejudice and arrogance. “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves.”*

“That’s simplistic” I want to cry out “It doesn’t take into consideration that this is hard for me, that I struggle with feeling ‘other’ and so out of step with those around me, that this is all I have.” The words above from the Holy Scriptures dance in my head but they need to be imprinted on my heart.

In a piece I wrote a couple of years ago, my brother Stan responded with this:

“So my problem is this and more – I find myself alternating among prejudices depending on where I am geographically. Sometimes I find myself feeling prejudice against my passport countrymen; then against my birth nation; then against my fellow TCK generation and, not surprisingly, mostly then against myself for feeling this way. Thankfully the opposite happens more and more where I find myself rejoicing in the diversity of cultures, appreciation for my passport country, and, again not surprisingly, at peace with myself.”

And hear this for it is critically important to the discussion:

“The degree of my prejudice seems directly related to the amount of direct and personal interaction I have with people of a variety of cultures (listening, learning) or, on the other hand, how much time I spend avoiding such interaction, leading to introspection and bigotry.”

When you sit down and learn about someone, see them as a person and get to know them, it changes the dynamic.

I learn that the person who has lived in the same town since childhood went to a Catholic school in a poor area of Boston and tells amazing and humorous stories about the priests and nuns.  I learn that a friend with an Irish background grew up in an all Italian neighborhood and learned early on, as she went from house to house eating pasta before finally heading home to her mom’s boiled cabbage dinners, that she liked Italian food better. I learn that someone who has lived in the same town her whole life is a voracious reader and can talk about all kinds of places that I’ve never been with a knowledge far beyond mine.

I remember that this is all about relationship. It was the key to loving my adopted countries, it continues to be the key to living in my passport country. As an Adult Third Culture Kid, I’ve had to re-learn the value of relationships, of give and take, of knowing and being known as a fundamental antidote to my TCK bigotry.

The antidote can be summed up like this: When I learn the story of another, when I’m willing to be in relationship, it’s hard to remain a bigot. When I hear someone’s story, I see them as a complex human being who is shaped by culture, background, and external forces. 

I still have a lot to learn – this is a process and my habits of dismissing people don’t die easily. But as my brother said: Thankfully the opposite happens more and more where I find myself rejoicing in the diversity of cultures, appreciation for my passport country, and, again not surprisingly, at peace with myself.

What about you? No matter who you are or where you live, prejudice and bigotry can be subtle. Do you struggle with prejudice and if so, what is your antidote? 

*Philippians 2:3

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.