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.

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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

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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.

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.

On Belonging


Recently I watched a group of younger colleagues. They seemed so at home with each other, so comfortable.  Like pieces in a puzzle, they all fit. There was without doubt some diversity among them, but they spoke the same language, had the same Masters of Public Health (MPH) after their names, had gone to similar colleges, and knew the same vernacular.

I sat in the background, observing.  I found myself in the place I’ve been so many times — not belonging. From my education to my background to my age, I was different. I was other. 

If we are honest, we have all experienced this — though some substantially more than others. That sense of being other, of yearning to belong.

It is this that has led me to really think about how I would live if I truly believed in my heart that I am loved by God as much as my intellect and faith tell me I am loved. How do we live when we are fully loved? How would I live if I truly felt I belonged?

And I know the answer. Because there are times when I feel a sense of belonging that is sto strong it drowns out any other feelings. I know what it is to belong. 

This weekend I will be at a reunion. It’s sort of like a family reunion, but only a few are blood relatives or relatives by marriage. It’s sort of like a school reunion, though many parents are also invited. It’s a reunion of place and people. It’s a reunion where, in a myriad of ways, I belong. 

I don’t have to explain early separation from parents or boarding school. I’m never asked at this reunion if boarding school was difficult – because we all get it. We all knew that it was difficult — and it was wonderful. I don’t have to defend a country that is always in the watchful eye of a military drone and on a terrorist watch list, because I’m with people that have a three dimensional view of the country of Pakistan. 

I get into conversations on how faith is hard and a long journey, and my words are met with nods and tears of understanding. I am with people that love curry and chapatis as much as I do, and we reminisce with our tongues burning just with the thought of it. 

We come from a line of people that shared text books, clothes, dolls, and teachers. We speak the same language, we know the same stories. 

For a short time, like pieces in a puzzle, we will fit. We will belong, and it will be glorious. 

And I will remember what it is to live like I really belong. 

Pondering Privilege – a Book Review

Pondering Privilege – Toward a Deeper Understanding of Whiteness, Race, and Faithby Jody Wiley Fernando could not come to us at a better time. As media and newsfeeds fill with images and stories, many of us who are white really want to know how to do things better. Many of us, as uncomfortable as it is, are beginning to acknowledge a system that benefits people based on the color of their skin.

Into this conversation and thought process comes Jody’s thoughtful, challenging, and well-written book.

At the very beginning, Jody states that the book “was born out of my life’s circumstances.” Jody is white, raised in the midwest, the place that some describe as the “heartland” of the United States. She married a Sri Lankan and through marriage and being accepted into his entire family, continues to encounter a completely different view of the world, a completely different way of being and of seeing.

A couple of years ago, Jody wrote a blog post called When White People Don’t Know They’re Being White. The post went viral, a clear indication that there was a lot to discuss and a single blog post was not enough. This volume takes the idea of the blog post and expands it exponentially, giving us relatable experiences and stories coupled with questions that challenge and convict. This makes it ideal for a small group discussion.

Pondering Privilege begins with something the author believes is critical to the conversation – and that is cultural humility. She gives several examples: “Instead of ‘get over it!’ cultural humilty responds ‘I don’t understand. Can you help me understand more deeply?” or “Intstead of replying with some variation of ‘quit whining’ to someone who feels wronged, cultural humility responds ‘I’m so sorry this hurts you. How can I walk alongside you in this? What do I need to learn?'”  

This first chapter sets the tone for the rest of the book. Jody gently but persistently challenges those of us who are white on how we are relating to those who don’t share the same skin color, and how we can do better. She addresses things like the reality of white privilege, why we need to talk about race, myths and emotions that prevent us from having these conversations.

Through out the book, Jody doesn’t cast stones, instead she walks the journey with us. She acknowledges the hard work involved and how inadequate and insecure we often feel. Significant in the book are the practical tips that she gives. They are invaluable, particularly the “21-day Race Challenge.” The challenge is a gold mine of resources, including films, books, articles, and practical steps toward further understanding.

I highlighted these words at the end of the chapter on Tips to Help White People Talk about Race, words that are deeply transformative when lived out:

“There’s a final tip that I’ve found the most transformative. It’s not so much a tip as it is a magnificent gift because it cannot be forced or created but rather arises organically and unplanned. By far, the most life-changing way I’ve learned to speak of race is under the umbrella of love…..When you love someone of a different race, part of the process is listening, learning, accepting, and affirming this part of their experience as well. When we love well, we offer the words I’m listening and I’m sorry to each other without reservation.” 

Jody’s humility and heart are evident throughout the book. In a small section towards the end of the book, she writes about speaking from our scars instead of our wounds. Her words deeply moved me, and I offer them to you here:

“While the scars remain, the wounds no longer gape. In fact, as I speak from my scars, I find a strength within them born from the painful process of healing. If only more of Christ’s followers would understand the same from this broken racial road we walk – that when we admit weakness to one another, and walk toward each other in humility, Christ’s Kingdom grows stronger, and so do we.”

…understanding begins with learning and practicing a discipline of cultural humility and seeking to understand another’s experience without judgment. May more of us boldly begin to walk on this long and winding path.

Note: This book is written for a Christian audience with the hope of increasing productive conversations and action within largely white churches.

You can purchase Pondering Privilege here. 

*I received and Advanced Reader Copy (ARC) of this book for review.

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!

The Places we Belong


“The place to which you feel the strongest attachment isn’t necessarily the country you’re tied to by blood or birth: it’s the place that allows you to become yourself. This place may not lie on any map.” – Jhumpa Lahiri

On Saturday we celebrated my father’s 90th birthday. 90 years! It is incredible to think that this man has walked this world for so long.

Our family gathered in Rochester, New York from as far as Kazakhstan and as close as Rochester to celebrate my dad. We celebrated his life through memories, songs, hymns, stories, and prayers. It was a beautiful time in celebration of a remarkable man.

Beyond the party were the connections to family: a cousin I haven’t seen since I was six years old; my beautiful Aunt Ruth who can outspell and outscrabble anyone in the family; my nieces – all beautiful women, some with husbands and children of their own, each doing remarkable things; my nephews – one an extraordinary musician and another like one of my own sons; my brothers and their wives – all so special to me.

It’s with in the context of this large, extended family that I feel that strong sense of belonging, that sense that I don’t have to be someone I’m not, that I can relax and be at home.

As I said goodbye, like I’ve done thousands of times before, I felt again that sweet sadness. Sweet – in that I’m glad I feel sad to say goodbye. How awful it would be to feel glad to wipe the dust off my feet and be glad it is over. How much better that I feel a sense of loss and sadness, because I love and belong.

As we drove away with the warmth of hugs and kisses, leftovers of our goodbyes, I realize again that no map can truly tell me where I belong. Because belonging is so much bigger than geography, so much greater than a physical location. Belonging is where you can become who you are supposed to be, where your existence matters not because of what you do, but because of who you are. Belonging is that place where people have stories about you, and you about them. Belonging is memories and laughter, and above all – grace.

Monday morning is here, and with it the smiles and delight of the weekend past. In the tired rush of morning, I barely see the impatience and resignation that surrounds me on the subway. The security of belonging paves my steps and I walk in peace.

A Challenge to Christians During Ramadan

Roxbury Mosque

I am on the mailing list of a large mosque in the Roxbury area of Boston. While Egypt’s minarets give us a journey through history and Turkey boasts Ottoman style mosques, the mosque in Roxbury is modern. It sits across from Roxbury Community College, its dome and minaret smaller than those in the Muslim world. I’ve been told that there were protests when the mosque opened.

Being able to express and live out our truth claims in freedom is a gift. A gift that I’d love everybody to have.

And because of this I’m glad that there is a mosque in Boston. I’m glad that my Muslim friends and acquaintances have a place to worship. When I lived in both Pakistan and Cairo I was grateful for a space where I could worship; grateful for the presence of churches in a Muslim country. These churches formed a good part of our community.  And controversial as this may seem to some, I want this for my Muslim friends. In a country that claims freedom of religion, they should have a place to worship.

Yesterday began the month of Ramadan for Muslims. I’ve written in the past about Ramadan – about loving neighbors more than sheep, about my outsider perspective. Once again, I find it a good time to bring attention to the 1.6 billion Muslims in the world, who in one way or another will be celebrating the month of Ramadan.

Ramadan is a month long period of fasting. It is intended to be a time of spiritual discipline, praying, and generosity. During the month of Ramadan, Muslims abstain from food, liquids, sex, and cigarette from the from sun up to sun down. Fasting during Ramadan is one of the five pillars of Islam, and the month of Ramadan is considered the holiest month of the year.

There are some good articles that you can read to help understand more about the month of Ramadan, and I have linked them at the end of this article, but today I want to issue a challenge to fellow Christians, those who hold to my faith tradition.

How many of us feel frustration when our faith is misunderstood, when myths abound, when others reject us because they disagree with what we believe?

But being rejected for our faith and truth claims is not fun. It’s lonely. It’s defeating. It’s discouraging. We want to scream when we hear misconceptions about Christianity and shout “No – that’s not the way it is! If we could just have a conversation….”. We long to engage with people about our faith because it’s important, because it’s foundational to who we are and how we live. Engaging with people over their beliefs does not mean we are watering down our own. How do so many come to believe that relationships, friendships and listening to others, means that we will fall down some slippery slope of forsaking our truth claims; of being false to that which we believe?

So as the month of Ramadan comes around, we have an opportunity to engage with Muslims.  We have a chance to live out what we want others to live at Christmas and Pascha or Easter.

With this in mind, I would challenge you to engage with Muslims. Get to know someone who is a Muslim.  Ask them about Ramadan and what it means to them. Ask them about the traditions that surround Ramadan. Just as Christians are not monolithic, so it is with Muslims, and traditions change according to country and family. Wish Muslims at your work place “Ramadan Kareem” or “Ramadan Mubarak.” Or better still, ask them – ask them what to say. We have the choice to engage with others and learn about what they believe. Are you willing to engage people during Ramadan?

We live in a world that quickly rejects based on appearance, religion, actions and more. How do we learn to live in truth to what we believe – which means that at some point we will disagree – and yet not be afraid to engage?  How can we remember the importance of friendships and relationships in living out our faith?  

I ask myself this question all the time – how about you? 

Aticles on Ramadan:

*An earlier edition of the post omitted the important detail of Muslims fasting only during the daylight hours. The piece has been corrected to reflect that fact. 

 

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.

On Making Recent History

I leave my Cambridge apartment mid-morning on a Friday. Usually I would be walking, but I am going to a store that is too far so I pull out of my driveway in our small, city car.

The first person I see is our neighbor, Christopher. I wave and he waves back, a smile on his face. Just steps away, So is walking toward her apartment that sits across from ours. She too smiles and waves. I stop and roll down the window. “Can I steal your mint again this summer?” She laughs. “Come anytime! You not stealing.”

On my right, John is watching as little Peter draws in chalk on the sidewalk. We have seen him grow from newborn baby to a seven year old. This week is school vacation and the weather is fully cooperating, enabling this city kid to enjoy the outdoors.

I drive slowly, marveling that I know my neighbors. But I need to move on – in the afternoon we will host a rehearsal dinner for a friend who will be married on Saturday, a dear friend I met when we moved to the area seven years ago.

I realize something. Our history is no longer just with people from “there,” no longer just with people from our past homes and lives. We have made history with people here.

Cecily Paterson’s excellent post Seven Stages of Reentry Grief takes the reader through the stages that Cecily has identified in order to survive and thrive in our passport countries.

Stage Four of Cecily’s post is called “Making Recent History.” She says this: “….I found that memories from 10 years ago appear more faded than memories from say, two years ago. ….” 

It is liberating and wonderful to realize that we’ve made recent history; that we can now look at people who we regularly see and say “Remember that time? Remember that Christmas Eve? Remember that holiday? Remember that small group?”  Photographs and stories have not only captured the old memories, but they are capturing the new. The album of our life story continues to fill, new pages added, recent history recorded.

My thoughts echo Cecily’s words: “Just by continuing to breathe and eat and live, I’d been able to make my own ‘recent history’.”

I smile and I drive on. Staying in one place for eight years has had its challenges. There are times when I have climbed the walls, and then rearranged the furniture; times when I couldn’t wait to head to Terminal E. But this day? This day I delight in recent history and in knowing the names of my neighbors. This is what it is to live in the present and I am grateful.

Sibling Pride

Ed brown

I have remarkable siblings. I am the only girl in a family of five kids, fourth in the family line up with three older brothers and my youngest brother, the exclamation point on the sentence of our family.

It is an understatement to say that my brothers are gifted. They are, without doubt, some of the smartest people I know. Each has their sphere of influence, and they work well within that sphere. My husband and I joke that if we could be the public relations representatives for my brothers, we would be wealthy. We would have no problem telling people how smart and talented they are. Unfortunately, or perhaps fortunately, they haven’t hired us.

But it is my oldest brother that I am thinking about today. Ed is seven years older than me, which makes him quite young…..! Like many firstborns, Ed has a confidence and drive that are admirable. But what he has accomplished has come with its share of disappointments, tragedy, and true grit.

Throughout my childhood, Ed was the big brother to look up to. He was personable, smart, and confident. When I was ten years old, we were on a furlough living in an industrial city in Massachusetts. At the time, Ed was a junior in high school. When the year ended, my parents and Ed talked and made the decision that he would stay in the United States for his senior year of highschool, while the rest of the family returned to Pakistan. He would be living with my aunt and uncle in a town nearby; he would be well cared for, but it left a hole in our family that was not easily filled. The next time we saw him, he was engaged. While we continued life in boarding school thousands of miles away, he became a man.

Through the years, my brother has grieved the deaths of those closest to him; faced church squabbles and pride; experienced poor leadership; and given up his retirement funds to fuel a passion. He founded an organization called Care of Creation to mobilize the church to care for God’s world, pressing on in the never-ending battle to convince churches that we are stewards over God’s creation. The organization is now over ten years old and does workshops and projects around the world, supporting staff in Kenya, Tanzania, and the United States.

Tomorrow night, my brother will receive an award from Gordon College in Wenham, Massachusetts. The award is the A.J. Gordon Missionary Service Award and is given to an alumnus who had demonstrated integrity and commitment in cross-cultural service for ten years or more. I think about all that Ed has done to make this vision of creation care a reality, and I am so proud of him. It has not been easy. For years he wondered if there would be a next paycheck; beyond that was the difficulty convincing people that caring for God’s world is part of the Gospel message.

So tomorrow night, in a public way, his work and his life will be honored.

A couple of years ago, in a post about another brother, I said this:

The sibling relationship is one of the strangest relationships in our world. We grow up with these people called ‘siblings’. Eat at the same dinner table, are loved and nurtured, disciplined and scolded by the same parents. We sit around Christmas trees or Eid feasts, go to churches, mosques, or synagogues with family. They hold similar features, characteristics, and memories.

But we grow older and often apart. And we’re left wondering what happened. When did the ease with which we communicated, laughed, and fought turn into difficulty trying to figure out what to say to each other? When did a solid relationship turn sketchy and strained?

Sometimes, but not always, we figure out this new relationship and move forward – tenuously at first, but then with more confidence.*

So tomorrow I will confidently and enthusiastically attend the ceremony, sitting in the audience as the unknown sister full of sibling pride.

Congratulations Ed! You deserve this more than Gordon will ever know. 

Care of Creation’s mission is to “pursue a God-centered response to environmental challenges that brings glory to the Creator, advances the cause of Christ, and leads to a transformation of the people and the land that sustains them.”If you would like to learn more about Care of Creation, take a look here.

*From “The Importance of Being Siblings”

Short Sunday Thoughts: On Politics and Facebook

breaking bread

Dialogue is best done in relationship, over breaking bread, over coffee.” From On Sharing Bedrooms and Dialogue

As I think about the next year in the United States, I look back on something I wrote in the past, and I pray I will stay true to that conviction.

“We all have strong convictions that could lead to ugly. Human reactions, emotions and interactions are complex. And there are some things that I won’t discuss online, not because I lack conviction but because the potential for misinterpretation is too high…”

And this from my friend Tara:

“…I don’t need to battle over politics because I have a massive fight on my hands as it is. 

The battle to walk closely with Him day-by-day. 
The battle to be salt, to be light. 
The battle against my own sin and depravity. 
The battle to love my neighbor well. 
The battle to act justly; to love mercy. 

The Kingdom isn’t so much about how I vote (or promote my vote on-line) – the Kingdom is more about the way I love and live and act toward the lost and hurting around me.”

“I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.” Ephesians 4:1-3