The Evolution of a Writer/Blogger

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

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

“Technical Issues”

By Robynn


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

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

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

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

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

We have theological differences.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Give Your Pen to Me”

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

 

“Give your pen to me” he says.

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

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

*****

When I began writing, every day I would pray.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*****

“Give your pen to me” he says.

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

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

A Look Back and a Look Ahead

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

*****

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

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

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

Top Posts of 2015

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

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

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

Giving Grace to People in Crisis 

A Final Note for Those in Crisis

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

_____________________________________________________

So what’s new for 2016?

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

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

Grace in the Space Between

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In a world of online noise, I often wonder where this space stands, what it can do. More and more, I’ve had to evaluate – does this blog belong? Is it useful? Does it really say anything different or new? I’m not sure. And I’m not looking for compliments when I say that – really!

When I first began blogging, it felt easy. I had so much to say and so little time. And then I realized, every time there was a controversy, everyone wrote about it, whether they were qualified of not. Because in online space it seems that to merely exist is qualification enough. Every time there was a major scandal, millions of voices spoke into the scandal, some screaming for grace, others screaming for judgment.

And I have become so tired.

Perhaps you too are tired. Perhaps you too are wondering where you stand. During the short break I took from daily blogging, I decided that Communicating Across Boundaries would continue.  So many of you honoured and encouraged that break. Through comments and messages, you spoke words that were like  gifts.  And the break was so good. It was so necessary.

But now I’m not so sure about this space.

More and more my prayer as I go forward is that I don’t waste this space. That I don’t waste time – either yours or mine.

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote the words below for the online community at A Life Overseas. They are the words I give you today as I think about this space.

My prayer for us today: That we may have Grace in the space between.

Between the taxi ride and checking in at the airport
Let there be Grace
Between the tears of goodbyes and the joys of hello
Let there be Grace
Between a warm bed at home and the halls of boarding school
Let there be Grace
Between Sunday rest and Monday work
Let there be Grace
Between doubt and faith
Let there be Grace
Between grief and laughter
Let there be Grace
Between bitter anger and redemptive reconciliation
Let there be Grace
Between life on earth and longing for Heaven
Let there be Grace
Let there always be Grace in the Space Between

State of the Blog

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Every year I look back on blogging and write about it. I look to see what your favorite pieces were, I remember what my favorite pieces were, and I think about whether Communicating Across Boundaries should continue. Is it just white noise in an ever growing amount of word clutter across this thing we call the ‘internet’? Does it have a place, a purpose? Is it worth continuing? I think these are important questions. I don’t want this space to be a waste of time. If Communicating Across Boundaries continues with myself, Robynn, guest writers, and you as readers, I want it to be something good and life-giving.

So it’s not only a time to look back and review favorites, it’s also a time to look forward and think about what may be ahead. I’ll continue the contemplative tone later, but first — a look at the favorites!

first off, a word about you:

You came from 168 countries with the top three being the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom. You came from Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Cameroon, South Africa, Kazakhstan, Argentina, Brazil, China…..and so many more. This makes me beyond happy! I couldn’t believe it when I looked at the map and saw the span of where readers came from. You found the blog primarily through Facebook, Twitter, A Life Overseas, Bloglovin’, and Freshly Pressed.

most read & shared pieces:

Saudade – A Word for the Third Culture Kid. You’d think people would be tired of this one, it’s been on for over 3 years. But people still come back to it. It reminds me that words are important, and finding words that we can use to describe difficult identities can be part of a healing process.

“I’m From…” by Adelaide Bliss. This amazing post by Robynn’s daughter spurred many to write their own “I’m from” pieces. I love that and I love that this piece was so widely read.

Behind the Persian Curtain: An American in Iran (3-part series on Iran) by Cliff Gardner. This post was Freshly Pressed and is a window into my husband’s trip last January to Iran.

The Third Culture Kid Dictionary. This was a fun piece that resonated with readers. Again – it’s partly a mystery and partly how much we rely on language to describe who we are and how we feel.

You Know You Married a TCK When…. Spouses and TCKs alike read this avidly. It was fun post to do and I think helps to describe those oddities and idiosyncrasies that make us who we are.

Mourning for Pakistan. This was a recent post and I am so grateful it was read, passed on, and read more. Pakistan has my heart in so many ways and to know people cared enough to read it and pass it on was a gift.

my favorites:

Moving is Hard or This Too is India – by Robynn. I loved this piece, reminding me that wherever we live, wherever we unpack our suitcases, there are challenges.

Experiencing the Gray: A Daughter’s Grief by Lauren Robertson Gardner. My daughter-in-law wrote this poignant piece on the anniversary of her dad’s death. It is lovely and I would also encourage you to read A Daughter’s Gift to her Dying Father.

The Forgotten Ones – this piece was so important to me. On my trip to Turkey and visit to a refugee camp I fell in love with the Yezidi people. This piece gives a glimpse into their plight.

We Speak the Language of Elsewhere – a post on being other and reaching out to those who are displaced.

On Sun-Drenched Elsewheres – a fun post when you’re cold and longing for places far away.

The Reluctant Orthodox #22 – On the Baptism of a Son – My love and respect for my youngest son grows by the day. This was written on his Baptism and Chrismation into the Orthodox Church.

what’s ahead:

It’s hard to know, right? I’m thrilled about being able to publish Between Worlds – Essays on Culture and Belonging and look forward to the Kindle version being ready any day now so it is more available to the many who are overseas and don’t have easy access to purchasing books made of paper and ink. If you do have access, I would love it if you picked up a copy! I’ll include some links to reviews at the end of this piece.

One of the things I have heard from people who have read Between Worlds is “Tell us more about Pakistan.” So a set of essays on growing up in Pakistan is in the works. I am embarking on a wonderful project with my friend and partner in all things related to cultural competency, Cathy Romeo, on culture and healthcare as that is what I spend so much time doing in my day job. And I hope to have something else to announce a bit later in January so stay tuned.

As long as you keep reading, Communicating Across Boundaries will continue. If blogging dies, I will say goodbye with drama and flair and book giveaways and more, with a hope to continue connecting in other ways!

quotes to consider in 2015:

“A cold, self-righteous prig who goes regularly to church may be far nearer to Hell than a prostitute.” C.S. Lewis

“God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks to us in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: It is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world.” C.S. Lewis

“…now at last they were beginning Chapter One of the Great Story which no one on earth has read: which goes on for ever: in which every chapter is better than the one before.” C.S. Lewis, The Last Battle

As we tell our stories we realize that these transitions and moves are all part of a bigger narrative, a narrative that is strong and solid and gives meaning to our lives. As we learn to tell our stories we understand not only the complexity of our experience, but the complexity of the human experience, the human heart. So we learn to tell our stories – because your story, my story, and our stories matter.” from page 162 Between Worlds.*

“For last year’s words belong to last year’s language. And next year’s words await another voice.” T.S Eliot

 “Remember not the former things,
    nor consider the things of old.
Behold, I am doing a new thing;
    now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?
I will make a way in the wilderness
    and rivers in the desert.”Isaiah 43:18-19

For now, I want to wish you a Happy New Year! Thank you so much for being a part of this space!

*[my brother says that now that I have published a book I’m allowed to quote myself]

Picture Credit: http://pixabay.com/en/old-books-book-old-library-436498/ Word art by Marilyn R. Gardner

Sometimes What I Write is Just Dunderheaded

Sometimes what I write is just Dunderheaded by Robynn. You can follow Robynn on Twitter

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As many of our readers know, this has been a difficult season for me. And now I find myself in that horrid spot of endless transition. We are moving but we’re not entirely sure when. The closing date on our new place hasn’t yet been established. Once we do close we’ll need to rustle us up some electricians, plumbers, wall paper strippers, painters, kitchen tweakers. Once that work is done we can set a date to move in. Thankfully we have willing friends and family that will descend on us from all corners to generously lend a hand. This move will happen.  Eventually we will be settled again in that new house.

In this dark no man’s land of transition and waiting I’m experiencing all manner of angst. I have sadness at the prospects of leaving our little blue house. I’m excited to move into a new space. I have virtually had to step back from everything in order to cope with all the changes. Most of those things will not be re-engaged. This next chapter includes becoming my mother-in-law’s primary care-giver. I will need to be at home more. I will need to move at a slower pace. My capacities have shrunk significantly as I’ve struggled to manage the place our extended family is at after the sudden death of my father in law two months ago. I can’t do as much. I’m distracted. I’m managing emotions and stability and decisions and details.  I’ve dropped all manner of the balls I was juggling. Some of those balls I’ve kicked under couches; some I’ve shoved under piles of papers; some I can’t even remember ever having had!

One of my friends is about to publish a book. I was highly honoured to be asked to write up an endorsement for the book. I dedicated time to it. It was one thing, outside of my things, that I was determined to preserve. I refused to drop this one. Somehow in all of the shuffle I wasn’t given a specific deadline. Imagine my shock and profound sadness to realize I hadn’t made it in time. The book is coming out and I will not be endorsing it. I cried. I was so upset. I sobbed. I felt so sad that I had missed out on this way to bless my friend. I felt angry at the miscommunication. I felt devastated that I had disappointed my friend.

Mostly I felt, what I’ve suspected is true, that I’m slowly disappearing.

This morning I woke early and was working on some writing. The house is yet quiet. The cool night air breezes by as I sit near an open window. Distracted, I started poking around in a file I have on this computer labeled, “Robynn’s Writing Blog”. I started reading some of my old pieces.

I read in one piece I published in March 2013, Boxes, that I found it particularly comforting to know that the boxes that I’m not currently rummaging through haven’t disappeared. They’re not gone forever. My dreams and plans, my longings to travel, the things I want to try my hand at—those are kept for another day, another season.  Robynn hasn’t been shelved…just some of my boxes are pushed to the back for now.

That’s dumb! I’m surrounded by literal boxes just now. I’m not even sure that metaphor works.

In a different article entitled The Gifts of Loneliness I wrote, Loneliness highlights my need. She gives me my emptiness. This is a good thing.

Seriously, Robynn?  A “good thing”?? What a heartlessly stupid thing to say!

But somehow it helped that I had already given God permission to embarrass me. I had let him off the hook. I said it’s ok for You to do things Your way. You are God. You can be in charge. I felt more relaxed. I felt my faith increase. Prayer is a vulnerable thing. Asking for prayer is risky. Letting God do His thing meant I could stand back. I didn’t feel the need to explain Him away, or defend Him in anyway.  God is God. He can be Weird and Wild; Awesome and at times, Awkward  (from Giving God Permission).

That’s just crazy talk!

Some of the stuff I’ve written is ridiculous.

Or it reads that way, when I’m knee deep in change and chaos. When I stop the sentences mid-paragraph and say them out loud they sound overly simplified and trite. I shake my head, embarrassed. Some of the stuff I’ve written is dumb!

However, when I let the paragraphs have their way, when I let the thoughts come to a close, when I remember the realizations, the end of the story, the resolutions, there’s some good stuff hidden in the blogs. It’s helpful to remember lessons I’ve learned. It gives me hope to see other difficult spots I’ve stopped in and then to see the ways I was gently led through. It’s heartening to see the greater context. Read the sentences within the paragraphs. Read the paragraphs within the blog posts. Read blog pieces within the greater context of Communicating Across Boundaries. There are bigger things at work. There is a higher source for hope and help.

And my friend forgave me for not getting my endorsement in on time. She entered my pain and penned me a precious message which included this, “You are not disappearing – I won’t let you disappear.”

I’m sorry if what we write here ever comes off as dumb, insignificant, overly simplified, dunderheaded. Keep reading. Read to the end of the piece. Read to the end of your paragraph, your chapter, your current story. See if any of it makes sense in the Broader Context. I think sometimes hope hides in the bigger picture. Hunt for it. But maybe wait for the end of the moment; the break in the story. 

What about you? Have you ever said or penned thoughts that you think back on and say – now that was just dunderheaded? But is it still dumb at the end of the story? 

I’m Not Sure I Know How to Write Anymore

You think a lot about writing when you commit to writing everyday. But as I think about writing, nothing captures what I’ve felt recently more than this post by Robynn. She wrote it right after coming back from India but it’s pertinent to how we’ve both been feeling so the timing is perfect. I think the question becomes – when is it time to give yourself a break? When do you need to free yourself from words and cameras and be present in the moment?

Both of us are asking this question and pose it to you. We’d love to hear from you through the comments. 

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I’m not sure I know how to write any more.

It’s been a long hiatus. I really haven’t written since early in November.  Although I’ve missed the routines and rhythms of writing, I’ve also enjoyed the freedom to just live and enjoy each moment –instead of secretly thinking how I might frame this split second up with words, how I might dress it up for a reading audience, how I might squeeze meaning out of it for my own good, but also for the good of others.

It’s sort of the same thing with photography. There are times I want to capture the now with a camera. I want it on record, digitally, that this thing happened. Relying on memory is no longer sure. My mind becomes fuzzy on the details. Over time my perspective magnifies certain details and erases others. I can’t trust it. I want the photograph. I want something tangible that I can look at remember the smells and sounds, the emotions and agonies of that one moment in time that I once lived through.

Other times the camera gets in the way of my enjoying that same moment. It dangles, an annoying appendage from my wrist, or it sits precariously against my cheekbones and my nose and it spoils my eye’s view. I can’t see what’s happening because of what I’m seeing through the detachable metallic intruder, my camera. I can’t relax and experience that particular point of time because I feel this nagging urge to capture it on my camera. The temptation exists to set things up for the sake of the camera. To live in such way that life is more photographable! As ludicrous as it sounds…I find it to be true.

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Our son bought a new camera for our trip to India. He captured his experiences on film. He journaled through pictures. But there was one day while we were in the city of Varanasi where he didn’t have his camera with him. I asked him if he had forgotten it. He shook his head and replied, “No, I didn’t want it to spoil my experience of this place.” He wanted to be there, in the city of his birth, in the land of colour and texture and noise, in the chaos of life that is India….he didn’t want to miss it, he didn’t want to hide behind his digital device.

For me, sometimes, writing is a little like that.

However writing does force a certain deliberation, an intentionality. When I write I become more contemplative. When I contemplate, I tend to be more thoughtful, more purposeful. I like that.

So I have missed writing. I have missed my interactions with Marilyn, my friend who never censors but tweaks my words and edits my commas. I have missed the comments readers leave. I’ve missed the discipline of it. To be completely contradictory I’ve missed the meaning that I often see in the midst of my mundane when I’m forced to write.

I’m back. I’m writing again. It’s time. I’ll try not to let it get in the way of my living. And I’ll try not to live in such a way as to promote my writing. I’ll write again, naturally and with sincerity because it brings me joy, because I have a few things yet to say, because there are a few people still listening.

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This post is about more than writing so what about you? Do you struggle with being present in the moment? Struggle to find a balance between living life in person and living life online? Social media has been a gift for so many of us who have moved often and frequently, a gift of connections we thought we’d lost. But how do we balance living in the moment with those next to us with connecting through writing, photography, and social media interactions?

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

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

So this is for you who are beginning this journey.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Between Worlds is available at Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

Blog Reader Love

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The connection started with an email that a reader of Communicating Across Boundaries sent me. She would be in Boston for a conference with her husband. She is a good friend of Robynn’s. Could we meet?

I sent back an enthusiastic reply. Yes! That would be great.

We exchanged dates and phone numbers over email.

Meeting readers in ‘real life’ is a gift. That someone would like your writing, your blog enough to contact you and want coffee together? That is remarkable. In October I had another reader contact me. She’d been raised in Pakistan and, though years younger, had recently begun following the blog. We met over curry in a local Indian restaurant and talked for three hours. Last year another reader contacted me. Turned out she knew my brother, lived a block away, and had recently been to Egypt.

But before you meet them there is always a hesitation, an insecurity. What if they don’t like the real deal? What if I’m not who they think I am? What if their perception through my writing is all wrong? What if I’ve not given word pictures of my world authentically?

If I’m not careful I’ll get stuck on the ‘what ifs’, and if I get stuck I’ll back out, not meet them, and be the lesser for it.

Because meeting readers keeps me honest and alert. If I make up stuff about my community, my neighborhood, they’ll know, they’ll call me out. And that is a good thing. Meeting readers is simultaneously humbling and affirming.

Using our words in the public sphere is vulnerable and opens us up to criticism from strangers. Using our words in public also carries with it a responsibility. A responsibility to truth, to not write just to get an audience, to pray over what is posted, to grow through the process. And meeting readers in real life reminds me of this. Reminds me that what I write matters, that I can’t throw frivolous words out and expect them to be heard.

But there’s something more. When I meet readers, I get a chance to hear what’s important to them. They know what’s important to me, they read my words. But it’s not reciprocal. Meeting someone puts a face and personality to a comment. I learn that one reader is in school to be a physical therapist, that another is applying to medical school.

So Jill and I meet over coffee. I get to meet her husband as well. I hear just a bit about what is important to them, about an innovative program to help the homeless, those on the fringes of society who live on streets and vie for spaces at shelters. I get to see pictures of children and learn a bit about how they know Robynn. We share hot cider, laughter, and exchange written words for spoken. The time was short – I had to get back to an evening commitment. But I am the better for having met her.

So to all of you who I haven’t met – thank you that in a time where words are used too often, and not always well, you read the words put forward on this blog.

About the picture: I was in an artsy store in Atlanta, Georgia browsing through cards when I found the card above. I got to laughing so hard I could hardly speak. I took it to the cashier, a young, artsy person, and as I handed it to him, I said in a little voice: “I blog.”  He didn’t get it at first, and then burst out laughing, and shook his head: “It would have been better if someone else had found it and given it to you!” So there you have it.

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Blogs are Relentless Critters….

By Robynn

English teachers always say, “Write about what you know”.

Well today I don’t know much. I think I’m all wrote out.

Being a part of the Communicating Across Boundaries blog has been a high privilege for me. I love the weekly discipline of writing. I love being forced into a corner and being made to put it all down on paper. It’s been so good for me, so cathartic, so healing. I love you, the readers. I cherish your interactions with each piece, your comments. The moment, although rare, when a friend or an acquaintance who, unbeknownst to me, reads the blog and tells me so when we meet…that moment is priceless! I’m humbled by the idea that you take time to read and interact with what you read.

But blogs are relentless critters. The weekly blog starts whimpering the minute the previous one has been submitted. Blogs refused to be ignored. They bark. They bicker. They belch and bitch.

And they make so many assumptions. Each week the blog presumes I have one great thought, or one brilliant insight, or at the very least one mildly amusing anecdote. There’s no room for nothing. I must generate something. I must encapsulate one moment and wrap it in clever jargon and serve it up with a discerning punch line or wise moral message.

Today my pen is dry. My thoughts are garbled. My moments mock interpretation. Wisdom is scarce. Amusing isn’t funny.

A friend of Henri Noewen, the prolific Catholic writer, once said of him, “Henri never had an unpublished thought.”

I guess some of mine aren’t worth publishing…at least not today.

Of course the bemused reality is that –voila! –I did indeed generate a clever blog piece for today and I did provide one thoughtful insight, namely that not all insights are that thoughtful. So the subversive blog wins again, proving my point and bringing up that old cliché: damned if you do, damned if you don’t.

Or perhaps it’s what that great writer Madeleine L’Engle says: “Inspiration usually comes during work, rather than before it.”
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Wrapping up the Week ~ 6.01.13

It’s hot. It’s as though all the passionate pleas for warmth during winter gathered in the Heavens and sunshine and heat have come in abundance. I love this weather with all its sweat and lethargy. The whirring fans spell ‘h-o-m-e’ and the heat takes me to palm trees and dust, to Pittman’s house in Karachi and Addleton’s in Shikarpur, to Islamabad and Rawalpindi and Cairo back to my couch in Cambridge. I love this.

The cottage 3And today we unpack ‘place’. A small cottage-condo by the sea will be ours for the summer until fall rolls round and new renters sign a lease. Rockport is a special place for our family. Rockport means slow weekends with no internet or television, piles of books, long walks by the rocky coast, and art projects galore.

And so my blogging schedule will change. I will be posting Mondays, Tuesdays, and Thursdays, Robynn will continue on Fridays, and Saturday wrap-ups will go on hiatus until the fall.  Any extra time will be spent enjoying summer life and working on a two book projects – one with Robynn where we explore more of our TCK roots and compile what we’ve already written and add fresh, new material; and another that is shaping in my head with input from my husband and brother, Dan.

Onto wrapping up the week….

On Photography: My brother Stan has submitted a photo to the National Park Photo Contest in the United States. Stan is a superb photographer and this picture does not disappoint. Take a look at ‘Realignment’ and pass it on to others. You can share on Facebook as well as vote on it.

On getting rid of books and moving on: All of us know what it’s like to go through that gritty, difficult passage from one stage to another. Sometimes it happens through moving countries, other times through other life events. In a NY Times op-ed Stanley Fish explores this in a piece called Moving On. He begins the article on looking at what it was like to get rid of books and look at empty shelves but moves it from there to looking at retirement. A quote from the piece:

“I’m not going to go on forever. I avoid this realization, even as I voice it. I say, “I’m not going to go on forever,” and at the same time I’m busily signing new contracts, accepting new speaking invitations, thinking up new courses, hungering after new accolades. My books are clearer-eyed than I am. They exited the stage without fuss and will, one hopes, take up residence in someone else’s library where they will be put to better uses than to serve as items in a museum, which is what they were when they furnished my rooms.” from Moving On NY Times May 27,2013

On writing: I was delighted to be asked to be a monthly contributor to A Life Overseas. I’ve contributed two articles to A Life Overseas and love the perspective I see from other authors there. They are working through thoughts and feelings on poverty, nationalism, saying goodbye, having household help, and faith with passion and strong voice. I feel privileged to join them on this journey.

On the amazing book by my bedside table: It continues to be Americanah and oh I am loving this book. The descriptions, the attention to detail, notions of home, flawed and fully relatable characters  – all of it wrapped up in a great package. I don’t want this book to end quickly so I’m taking it in sips.

And to you who read….last night I met someone at a wedding who reads Communicating Across Boundaries.  I had met her only once before and she found the blog through a link on someone elses’s site – so humbling and wonderful to meet her. That’s how I feel about you all – it’s an honor that you read and share. Thank you and see you on Monday!

Wrapping up the Week – 5.10.13

I’ve neglected the week wrap-ups these past couple of weeks so welcome back! Where I live spring has come with full force and the colors are extraordinary. New life is everywhere – in flowering trees, Lilac bushes, Azaleas, and eight baby goslings following a mama down by the river. Amazing Grace.

Communicating Across Boundaries had a lot of activity this week – particularly around the post on Grief. If you haven’t seen it take a look and be sure to read the extraordinary comments. People were deeply honest about grief and all its power and unpredictability. To those of you who are new here because of the post – thank you for reading and coming by.

On to the wrap-up.

On Abortion: Despite the world surrounding me being pro-choice (including most of my friends and all of my colleagues) I am unapologetically pro-life. At every level. From homeless to unborn to drone strikes. I like to think I keep my friends who disagree honest about the issues in a pro-choice world – they certainly keep me honest. This week The Daily Beast published what I felt was an extraordinary article by Kirsten Powers. Powers is a lifelong Democrat, served in the Clinton-Gore administration and by her own admission has never voted non-democrat. She wrote an article that I feel is a ‘must read’ on abortion calling the abortion rights community the “NRA of the Left” – for those of you who don’t live in the United States – this means they are militant without reason, militant even when all the evidence is pointing to them being in the wrong. Take a look at this article called: Abortion Rights Community Has Become the NRA on the Left published in The Daily Beast. My favorite quote is this:

I cannot legitimately say I am a person who cherishes human rights and remain silent about our country legally endorsing infanticide.

On Moms: I did a full post on the State of the World’s Mothers Report published by Save the Children. In case you missed that post, here is an article on the report from Huffington Post. Moms and babies are important and continue to be an important public health priority world-wide that we dare not ignore.

On Hope: Remember the horrific garment building collapse in Bangladesh? A woman trapped under that rubble for 17 days has survived and is now rescued. This is a miracle – that survival could come this late after the collapse, that the dead have grown in number day after day, this is Hope – this is life in the midst of a horrible tragedy.  The article will bring tears to your eyes today and hope to your world. This is a must read this weekend – 17 Days of Darkness, A Cry of ‘Save Me’ and Joy. Hope in the midst of Darkness, Joy at the end of the road. Unbelievable.

On American Mother’s Day: You’ll love this article posted in Babble Voices – Honoring Mothers, Djibouti Style by Rachel Pieh Jones. A great article giving you some cultural insight as well as a reason to thank your mom.

On My Bedside Stand: In true admission a stack of books that remain unread  – my hope is that will change as my work load decreases this week.

Have a great weekend where ever you live and thank you as always for reading!

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Spring time – Mount Auburn Cemetery

A Giveaway, Suggestions Solicited, & a Little Change

So as one who frequently rearranges furniture (in lieu of moving across international borders) I’m feeling Communicating Across Boundaries needs a bit of a change!

So – I’m doing a couple of things.

One: A Giveaway! Yes – it’s been a long time since I’ve done a give away, partly because it’s hard to do a giveaway when people from all over the world are involved. But with Amazon UK and Booktopia or Kindle I can still get a book or a certificate for a book to most of you. So here’s the deal: The give away is for a book!

Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity by Catherine Boo

or

Finding Calcutta: What Mother Teresa Taught Me About Meaningful Work and Service by Mary Poplin

or

A Book of Your Choice (provided it’s not Fifty Shades of Grey)

What do you have to do to participate?

Send or share your favorite post from Communicating Across Boundaries (this includes guest posts!) with a friend who doesn’t read CAB, then share in the comments what post you shared and why. You can also share on the Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/CommunicatingAcrossBoundariesBlog. Or leave a suggestion or comment on this blog post.  I will draw the name through a computerized program so it is completely fair. The giveaway will close on Monday, May 13. 

Two: What do you want to hear about? What’s of interest to you? Do you have a series you’d like to see on Communicating Across Boundaries? Are there other guest writers that you’d like to hear more from? Share that either through comments or send an email to communicatingblog@gmail.com with your suggestions. I’d love to hear more about your heart, what you want to hear, what resonates with you.

Three: I’m looking at changing the design a bit. I have committed to a ‘no advertising’ policy on my blog – partly because I could never make as much money advertising as I do in my day job as a nurse, partly because I hate busy blogs that interfere with content and my guess is many of you do as well, so the design will still be simple and easy to navigate, just a little change. You know like moving the dining room into the living room and surprising your family!

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What other changes would you like to see? What appeals? Do share through the comments or email!

And make sure you participate in the giveaway!

The Underbelly of the Blogging World

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAll the reader sees is the finished product, punctuated by  a picture that reflects the theme of the post. It’s well-groomed and ready for display.

But while housekeeping, indeed spring-cleaning, my soul I was struck by what I will call the ‘underbelly’ of the blogging world. I was convicted of how caught I have been in this underbelly – like a floundering insect entangled in the beautiful but deadly web of a spider.

For those of you who are not bloggers, which is most of my readers (and for that I am so grateful!) bear with me as I take you into this underbelly for just a moment. For those of you who do blog – I’m speaking our language.

It can be summarized in three words: Statistics, Link-ups, and Shares.

Statistics: No matter what platform you use, be it WordPress, Blogger, or another hosted site, there is an administrative page that gives you statistics. This page has numbers, graphs, data, and charts. It’s this page that will tell you how many views you have, how many unique visitors, where readers are from in the world, who read, how long they stayed, how many posts were read that day, that week, that month. It can be a fun page – when viewed in moderation and taken with a tall glass of confidence. But if not taken in moderation – this is an underbelly that sucks you in and bleeds you dry. At its most lethal, it makes you question your worth. You begin to believe that your worth is based solely on how many people have read your blog that day. This is a terrifying thought.

Mentions & Link-ups: CS Lewis in one of his writings speaks of something called “The Inner Ring”. He describes this as the hierarchies in the world and in the areas of expertise where we find ourselves. Every time we think we have reached the pinnacle, the highest place, the inner circle, we realize there is yet one more circle to penetrate. And so it goes – we never feel we will be inside that inner ring. It begins in elementary school with the popular kids, takes different forms as you get older, but always and forever it remains exclusive and feels elusive. It is capricious, this inner ring. One day you may be in it – and the next day you are outside of it.

And so it is with blogging. There are those who we perceive as being in the “inner ring”. They know each other and promote each others work. They do weekly links to each other’s blogs and get thousands of shares and likes on Social Media sites. And if we allow ourselves to enter and get caught up in the underbelly of the blogging world, we want to be in this ring – but it remains just out of reach. We write about the wrong stuff. We are just so far outside of this circle that we will always be relatively unknown. Or we are too old (It’s rare to find a successful blogger over 35) and therefore irrelevant.

“I believe that in all men’s lives at certain periods, and in many men’s lives at all periods between infancy and extreme old age, one of the most dominant elements is the desire to be inside the local Ring and the terror of being left outside.”

It’s easy to begin thinking it’s all about that inner ring – the mythical inner ring of the blogging world. We compare ourselves to those who we perceive are there, and we find ourselves wanting as we realize we are outside the ring, and will probably never enter it.

Shares: This underbelly is exhausting and never-ending. A place where we begin to judge our work and our worth based on the number of shares we have received on Facebook, Twitter, Linked-in, Digg, Stumbleupon, GooglePlus, Pinterest, Instagram, Tumblr….it is the underbelly of underbellies.

So what is the solution to avoiding this underbelly?

Identifying an area that needs work and a redeeming touch is only the first step. I have to be willing to either resist the underbelly or stop blogging. It’s that important.

And so I begin. Since Ash Wednesday I have not looked at the statistics page – Not once. It is so healthy. I don’t have a clue how many or how few have been coming by Communicating Across Boundaries. This past week I looked at only two other blogs, I stayed away from reading those who I perceive to be in the mythical inner circle, and was the healthier for it.

And I began praying specifically about blogging and writing, what it means to me, why it means a lot, what I would like Communicating Across Boundaries to be and more. It’s a journey and I have not arrived. But I do know that underbellies suck you in and before you know it, you are compromising to fit a mold. And molds have a way of stifling us instead of freeing us.

So this was one of the hidden places that needed to be cleaned and aired this past week. I wish I could say I am alive in this new found freedom, that my writing will reflect that and honor those of you who come by. But I’m more sobered than alive, more aware that I don’t want to waste your time – instead offering a space of light, rest, hope, and thought in the midst of a world that offers all kinds of underbellies that can catch us.

Thank you for listening.

“The quest of the Inner Ring will break your hearts unless you break it. But if you break it, a surprising result will follow.” CS Lewis

Wrapping Up the Week – 3.16.13

A long-awaited spring is still a distant thought as our temperatures plunged to the low twenties this past week. So.Cold. Our heat went out on Thursday night and Friday opened with cold nose, cold toes, and cold heart. While the nose and toes still feel cold, the heart is warmed through tea and talk. Pizza also helped.

This week Communicating Across Boundaries went from Outrage to Pity to Social Commentary to Roots – I loved what you added through your comments, some that agreed – some that called me out! Thank you.

St. Peter's Basilica at Early Morning

On a New Pope: Peggy Noonan’s essay in the Wall Street Journal on the new Pope begins this way: “I’ll tell you how it looks: like one big unexpected gift for the church and the world.”  And indeed her essay made me stop, pause, and give thanks. I am not Catholic – but as one who believes in the worldwide Church, this picking of a new Pope is important. The author goes on to give some personal observations of Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, now Pope Francis. It’s a beautiful and encouraging essay so I urge you to take a few minutes and head over to read Go and Repair my House.

From the article:

“He is orthodox, traditional, his understanding of the faith in line with the teaching of John Paul II and Benedict XVI. He believes in, stands for, speaks for the culture of life……He loves the poor and not in an abstract way. He gave the cardinal’s palace in Buenos Aires to a missionary order with no money. He lives in an apartment, cooks his food, rides the bus. He rejects pomposity. He does not feel superior. He is a fellow soul.”

On White Saviours: Be ready to be challenged and perhaps angered by this essay, written a year ago by Teju Cole. I gave you a couple quotes and a preview in You Can’t Empower Those You Pity but here is a link to the entire article. I would love to hear your thoughts, good, indifferent, or bad.

From the article:

“How, for example, could a well-meaning American “help” a place like Uganda today? It begins, I believe, with some humility with regards to the people in those places. It begins with some respect for the agency of the people of Uganda in their own lives. A great deal of work had been done, and continues to be done, by Ugandans to improve their own country, and ignorant comments (I’ve seen many) about how “we have to save them because they can’t save themselves” can’t change that fact.”

On Social Media: Do you use social media? Of course you do! Yo arrived at this blog via FaceBook! (Just Kidding) This chart is funny and has some smart advice. Take a look at the Social Media Flowchart! You can find it here. 

On the Printed Word vs. the Electronic: Remember that post I did on “Who ‘Kindled’ Your Parents?” Where the discussion went around the world on the merits of paper vs. electronic (or vice versa?) Take a look at this 30 second video that shows with surety: Paper is not dead!(Note – you don’t need to understand French to enjoy this!) 

On my Bedside Stand: And there’s nothing new….life has left little time for reading this week. So I ask you: What should I be reading? Thanks in advance for the suggestions!

Thanks so much for reading and responding so intentionally to CAB!

Wrapping Up the Week

Blizzard 2013 near the beginningI’m writing this while looking out at piles on piles of snow from what perhaps will be known as the famous blizzard of 2013! In the city we don’t have the luxury of pretty snow for very long, so soon does it bear the marks of the dirt and pollution of our world – but right this moment it’s a white wonderland. As though God took out a paintbrush and painted white across our canvas. Or as though we are in the movie Dr. Zhivago and Omar Sharif is inviting us into the ice palace.

But on to the wrapping up the week.

On Malala Yusufzai: This now well-known Pakistani teenager, Malala, is released from the hospital. Her story is amazing and I look forward to watching how she continues to change her (and our) world. Here is an update on her story.

On Abuse: I wrote a post this week called Out of Darkness, Into Light. I received many private messages and it was shared a good bit through various means of social media. I wrote it with fear and trembling, but more so a prayer that it could be used in some small way to bring healing and hope. Here is a comment from a reader posted on the Communicating Across Boundaries Facebook page.

“I think like all circumstances, the healing is an ongoing process. There are still some people I never want to see again, and some people I have yet to be able to forgive. Perhaps the greatest blessing is that I’ve stopped telling myself I *should* forgive, and just accept that I’m still hurt and angry. If and when all of it heals enough so that I can forgive, I will be grateful.”

Thank you Vivian Monterrosso for these words and for allowing me to share them. If you want to take a look at the Facebook page, here is the link: https://www.facebook.com/CommunicatingAcrossBoundariesBlog.

On Women: I haven’t announced this in the blog until now, but last year I had an essay accepted to a book project called What a Woman is Worth. The editor is a gifted writer named Tamara Lunardo. She is in the final editing process at this point so stay tuned for the release of what is sure to be a redemptive set of essays looking at the worth of women in the sight of God. Tamara wrote a beautiful and personal essay on her blog this week called Taking Back Buffet. Reading it will give you a preview into the pain and redemption of this project.

On my beside table: Can we maybe just not talk about how little I’ve been able to read of the books that I want to read?! I did read the first part of the essay Notes From the Underground by Fyodor Dostoevsky to the delight of my son! I’m still processing this in between shoveling, laundry, and eating homemade bread.

And finally, the view from my window! Enjoy and lend a virtual hand to us as we try and shovel our way out of the snow cave.

Year in Review

fireworksIt’s the last day of the year and as I write Boston is gearing up for its First Night Celebrations. I’ve felt too sick for reflections, preferring just to drown myself in tea and books, but I wanted to close out the year on this blog by highlighting posts that you have liked as well as introducing you to a couple of other bloggers that I’ve learned from through this year.

The following posts were this years top crowd-pleasers, meaning they received the most views and shares on Facebook, Twitter etc.

Regular Reader Pleasers – these were the posts that regular readers to Communicating Across Boundaries liked.

  •  Who ‘Kindled’ Your Parents? This post, inspired by my husband finding out that my parents had received a Kindle for Christmas was so fun in the comments it received, reminding me that the world divides on many things. Turns out people have strong opinions on print vs. electronic modes of reading.
  • What’s Mom Doing in My Mirror? Ahh – aging and the sense of connection we feel when others express what this whole aging thing feels like. If you’re over 50, this post is for you!
  • 14 year-old Courage. When Malala Yousafzai was shot in Pakistan in October I felt it acutely. It turns out so did many of you.
  • And God….. As an American citizen I am an Independent voter and felt compelled to write about God’s sovereignty no matter who holds the highest office in the land. Turns out those words landed on hearts that felt the same.
  • The Gifts of Loneliness. This post by Robynn beautifully put into words what can be learned through loneliness.

My Faves…..So, blogging is funny in that those posts that I think might be really good often don’t end up top of the list for readers. I wanted to point out a couple of my favorites from this past year.

  • They Want our Symptoms but not our Stories. I shared a personal story that happened soon after coming to the United States in this post, one that resonates with my immigrant friends and patients. This post is for anyone working with a refugee or immigrant population. 
  • Abigail’s Bread. I was struck by the story of Abigail in the Old Testament. A story of a woman who did what was needed to mend an offense.
  • Just One Click. This is one of my most important posts I believe. We have to be held accountable for attack drones.
  • It Was an Old Love. My response to seeing an elderly couple in our youth-obsessed world.

And Now….Bloggers that have inspired me. 

  • Intersections by Deanna Davis. Deanna’s writing is poignant and leads me to love Jesus even more. She has gone through a major crisis this year and leads us to the source of her strength. 
  • Making All Things New by Amy Lepine Peterson. I found this blog awhile ago but was delighted to find a personal connection. Amy is the sister-in-law of the son of one of my close friends.
  • Little Gumnut. Sophie is creativity personified. A fellow third culture kid from Pakistan, she now makes her home in Australia. She writes about everything from creative projects to belonging and what that means.
  • Cecily Mostly. Cecily Thew grew up in Pakistan and now lives in New South Wales. She is an award-winning author and her book Love, Tears, and Autism can be found here.
  • Outside-In. My friend Joanne, another TCK from Pakistan (I promise there isn’t bias here!) has a witty and insightful approach to all things cross-cultural.

It may sound odd but blogging continues to be something I do to make sense of the world around me. Truth is I’m a nurse and I’ve never even taken a college level English class. (you may have noticed some of the grammar and mixed metaphors?!) There are amazing writers one click away from your fingers but you still come here – I’m honored.

In 2013 you can look forward to more Robynn on Fridays. She has been a wonderful addition to CAB. Also I hope to bring on my daughter Stef. She is a great photographer and my hope is to weekly treat you to some of her work. And I’ll be bringing you more from the world around me.

Have a great evening celebration from Kuwait to Karachi to Kansas!