Healing Words

Steps souls stronger

In January of 2011, seven and a half years ago, 19 people were shot and six people died in Tucson, Arizona. The target was a U.S. representative, Gabrielle Giffords, who was shot in the head. She survived, but her life will never be the same. The tragedy caused a nation that was hyper focused on how to be as uncivil as possible to each other, particularly in disagreement, to pause and, for a short time, put away the rhetoric.

Barack Obama was president at the time, and he spoke words that were praised across the political spectrum at the Tucson Memorial Service.

Among other things, he said this:

“At a time when we are far too eager to lay the blame for all that ails the world at the feet of those who think differently than we do, it’s important for us to pause for a moment and make sure that we are talking with each other in a way that heals, not a way that wounds.”

I reread these words this morning, and I am again challenged by them.

Words that heal are rare and critically important in moments of tragedy.  But they are just as important in everyday life.  I look around as I walk the streets of my city and I see the “walking wounded”.  I go on social media, and I see more wounds. Yet our default mode is not to speak healing words, but rather words of criticism and disapproval. I’d love to blame just the media for words that wound and criticize, but I know differently.  I am far more guilty than I want to admit. The power of language and the way we put our words together is up to us; the way I put words together and how I use them is up to me.

My faith tradition has strong admonition and warning about the tongue. An entire chapter in the New Testament is devoted to talking about the tongue. “With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness.”  And elsewhere I am exhorted to watch what I say, make sure it is gracious and seasoned with salt. “Let your speech be always full of grace, seasoned with salt.” 

These are sobering challenges for me. Just recently I was called out by someone, and appropriately so. She knows what I believe, and what I believe was not reflected in what I publicly wrote. She held up a mirror to me, and what reflected back was not pretty.

Our world is desperate for healing words. Desperate. Anxiety, depression, and suicide are all on the rise. Public bullying is at an all time high, and we have a plethora of poor public examples and a dearth of good ones in every area of life – whether that be politics or faith.

We can’t change what other people choose to say. But we can change our own words. We can choose to speak words of hope and grace. We can choose to disagree with civility and respect.

We can choose to share words that “make souls stronger”.*

*Ann Voskamp

Learning Our Enemy’s Stories

Everyone has a story

“An Irish proverb says, ‘It is in the shelter of each other that the people live.’ We can give shelter to each other by telling stories of what it means to be human, and by listening generously.”*


A few years ago I had a long conversation with a physician. The physician was ethnically Indian, but had moved to the United States, become a citizen, and had built up a primary care practice in a suburb of Boston. She came up to me after I had given a talk on the importance of culture and health care.

She relayed the story of some Brazilian patients that came to her practice. “I didn’t like them” she said. They were noisy, always had a lot of questions, and came to appointments with lots of family members. She would dread it when she looked at her daily schedule and saw that one of these patients was coming. She just knew that visits from these patients would put her behind schedule and cause chaos in her brain and her office.

Then one day, she unexpectedly had a bit more time. She stepped away from her computer and stethoscope and into the realm of human dialogue with a Brazilian woman. This wasn’t the first time she had cared for this patient, but it was the first time that she had asked her about more than her symptoms. She ended up in a conversation about family, about Brazil, and about how the woman came to the United States. Instead of the appointment ending in a sigh of relief that it was over, she found herself reluctant to say goodbye. The next time the patient came, the doctor did the same thing. She ended up learning more of the woman’s story, and then the story of her family. She stopped seeing these patients as a bother, and began seeing them for who they were and the stories they carried.

It wasn’t long before the entire community had learned that this doctor was different. This doctor cared. This doctor liked them. Go to this doctor, they said to each other. She’ll take good care of you.

Our world faces a massive empathy problem, an inability to listen to, much less like, those who see the world differently. The story of this doctor shows that when we take a step back and really listen, really get to know someone, our attitudes can change. It is not the only story like this one. In fact, there are many more that tell of how perceptions and feelings toward people changed, once they heard the story behind the person.

A recent article in the Plough quarterly called Meet a True Story talks about the resurgence in storytelling in the United States. The article begins with these profoundly true words: “Technology feeds our insatiable hunger for stories, but fails to satisfy our need for human connection”

The article goes on to talk about a couple of different storytelling programs that serve to help build empathy. One of these is a program that helps people inhabit another person’s story. The idea is simple: You listen to another person’s story – not with the intent to respond to it, but with the intent to retell it as your own story in first person pronoun. It changes the dialogue completely because in order to do this you have to live in the story of another; often another who you don’t agree with or like.

Dismantling our enemies requires at least three steps: proximity, curiosity, and humility. We must be close enough to listen, curious enough to want to know more than we already do about the other’s story, and humble enough to wonder if perhaps we’ve been wrong about the other all along. If we can….get close enough to hear the story of our enemy, we may be able to subvert the narrative of fear that has controlled us for far too long.

There is a lot of fear in our world. I see and hear the fear every day. It is fear of the other, it is fear that “our way of life”(whatever that may mean) is going, and it is fear that the views of others may hurt our tightly held beliefs.

In the case of the doctor that I relayed above, her life and her practice became richer as a result of her willingness to move from prejudice to really getting to know someone. In really listening to her patient, she began to empathize. When she stopped seeing her Brazilian patients for the chaos she felt they caused, and instead entered into their stories, her attitudes and behavior toward them changed. The last I heard, she had decided to break down a wall in her practice to make more room for family members to come to appointments. She is beloved and trusted in the Brazilian community.

This can be us. If we take a step forward to listening to the story of another, we can learn and grow in respect and love for those who are different from us. We can begin to love the respect the one who is other and love the one who we used to fear. People are more than the views they hold. They are mothers and fathers, daughters and sons, friends and co-workers.

As the quote above says, there are three ingredients. We must be close enough to listen, curious enough to want to know more, and humble enough to admit when we might have been wrong. The ingredients are simple, but the work is hard. Can we do it?

If we want to change the current climate, I don’t think we have a choice. 


*From Plough Quarterly “Meet a True Story” – I highly recommend this article. It is excellent and goes much more in depth on what it means to hear and inhabit the story of another.

”I’m not from here…wherever ‘here’ is.”

Not from here

I’m from the edges of the map
the edges of the Pacific

I’m from the edges of the room
the outside looking in

I’m from Southeast Asia
unless you mean my nationality

I’m from the U.S.
unless you mean where my heart is

I’m not from here
wherever “here” is

by Cindy Montgomery Wyneken


A few months ago. I was with a group of global nomads and the “I’m From” poem exercise came up as an activity to do with students, third culture kids, immigrants, refugees, expats and all those who live between. We talked about using words to explore the complexity of our journey. These “I’m From” poems become mini memoirs telling a part of our story that otherwise remains hidden.

When I first arrived in the United States as a college student, holidays were the times when I struggled the most. The “Who am I?” and “Where am I from?” questions became much more acute.  I’m not in the same place anymore, but I remember well what it was to be in that space.

If you are around third culture kids, global nomads, or cross-cultural kids during this holiday season, it may be good to be aware that this is not an easy season for those struggling with identity. The families and communities that we create when we are away from our passport countries are close and unique, borne of mutual need and shared understanding. Our extended biological families do not always have the same intense connections. Auntie Anne may be wonderful and warm, but may not have much understanding of where the third culture kid is coming from both physically and ideologically.

These “I’m From” poems are a window into the world of those who may look like you on the outside, but have had a vastly different life experience because of where they were raised. These poems express in writing what can be so hard to articulate verbally.


If you are one who opens your home to these kids and adults, Taylor Murray at the blog A Life Overseas has some suggestions of questions to ask that may help you communicate and connect.  She divides the questions into “Church-Lobby Questions” and “Coffee Shop Questions”.  Taylor says this about connecting with third culture kids:

Most MKs/TCKs are asked hundreds of questions during their families’ home assignments. Ironically, many of us leave our passport countries feeling unknown. In all honesty, we usually don’t answer questions well. Our fumbling answers can create distance.  Many times we feel as though these questions are asked politely, without time or desire to listen to our answers. In order to avoid awkwardness or unintentional hurt, TCKs can detach and dispel memorized responses.

This makes it difficult for those who truly want to connect. Have you ever longed to know a TCK, but don’t know how to reach his or her heart?  Have you sensed that we struggle to respond to your questions, but don’t know what else to ask? As an MK/TCK, I’ve learned that certain questions can unlock the heart.**

These questions can be a way to bridge gaps of understanding and help connect the third culture kid to others in the room.

I have my own favorite questions adapted from Taylor’s piece:

  1. What is one of the funniest things that happened to you in your host country?
  2. Where do you feel most at home?
  3. What are some impressions that people from your host country have of your passport country?
  4. Can you tell me a bit about the political situation in your host country?
  5. What have some of the biggest surprises been about living in your passport country? Challenges?
  6. What are some of the things you had to leave behind?

*Recently, the “I’m From” poem that Adelaide Bliss wrote three years ago resurfaced on the blog. A new reader found it and, inspired, wrote her own “I’m From” poem.

**I have changed Taylor’s response to include TCK, not just MK (Missionary Kid).

 

On Perspective Taking

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One of the best things about the Families in Global Transition Conference this past week was the diversity of perspectives from around the world. While all of us had an deep interest in living between worlds, we all come to it with different perspectives.

Perspective taking – it’s something I think about a lot. Below is a short video where I talk about perspective taking. Enjoy, and please add your comments on what you think it takes to hear the other side.

On Perspective Taking from Marilyn Gardner on Vimeo.

After the Election:How to Build a Bridge

constructing-a-bridge-v2

At 2am I received a message from a Turkish friend living in Istanbul.

She wished me luck with the election. “I hope it will go well for you” she said.

I was deeply touched. Global friendships are a gift that God has given me and I am grateful. Right after I heard from Elif I went to bed. It was over. The United States had elected a new president.

The first thing I did when I got up today was to write some email notes to my Muslim friends. I didn’t talk about the election — I just said that I was grateful that they were in my life, I was thankful for what I learn from them. I told them that I needed them.

Then I got to work on a Muslim Women’s Health Project. This is a project that I have been working on since January and it has been one of the highlights of my career. It was a balm to my heart to be able to do work I love with people whom I love.

It was also a reminder to me that my job is to build bridges. 

In an old book titled Observations on the Re-building of London Bridge by John Seaward, he says this:

It is generally acknowledged that the construction of a commodious bridge over a wide, impetuous river is one of the noblest efforts of human genius. In no country that has made any advances in civilization has the art of bridge-building been neglected. On the contrary, it has everywhere been esteemed for its great utility and has engaged the attentive care of enlightened men.

I want to focus on these words:

In no country that has made any advances in civilization has the art of bridge-building been neglected. 

I’m struck by how much this applies to work of non-physical bridge-building and the hard work that is needed to move forward. How wise we would be to pay attention to these words!

In light of Election 2016, “bridge-building” is no longer just a nice idea. If we have any hope of moving forward, bridges need to be built. We cannot ignore the art and the process. It is our only way forward.

“Bridge is not a construction but it is a concept, the concept of crossing over large spans of land or huge masses of water, and to connect two far-off points, eventually reducing the distance between them.”*

There is an art to building bridges.

I am not an engineer, but I do know how to look things up on google. And there are a few things about physical bridges that can be used when we think about bridge-building in our communities.

Know what you want your bridge to accomplish. Understand why it is important to build a bridge. Maybe it’s easy to understand, maybe it’s about making a community stronger, or offering health care services. But maybe it’s more difficult to know what you want to accomplish. Be able to say in clear language why you think bridge-building is so critical in our world.

Phrases to use: “I’d like to understand” “How can I help you understand why this is important?”

Understand the ‘load point’. The load point is the area on a bridge that needs to be able to sustain the most stress. This is critical. What are the areas where you see the biggest gap or divide in thinking? Those will take the most work, so start with the easier pieces. Perhaps the easy points are around food and kids — focus on the commonalities and then move into the harder things.

Phrases to use: “Tell me more.” “What do you think?” “How else can I help?”

Gather the materials – or the right people. Everyone doesn’t know how to build bridges, but gathering the right people gives credibility and strength to your bridge.

Phrases to use: “Can you help?” “Thank you for being a part of this.” “Thank you for going out of your comfort zone.”

Build the bridge step by step, activity by activity, conversation by conversation. Bridge-building doesn’t happen overnight. A lot of people died building the Golden Gate Bridge until the bridge builders put a safety net under it. Be willing to be patient. Rejoice in small victories and progress that seems slow.

Phrases to use: “I want to learn.” I want to understand.” “I trust you.” “I’ve got your back, I’ll stick up for you.”

Evaluate and learn. Test your bridge, and if it breaks look at why and how. Ask questions, and humbly admit what you don’t know. Keep on building and learning and growing. An Arab proverb says this: “Those who would build bridges, must be willing to be walked on.” There’s a lot of wisdom in that proverb.

Phrases to use: “What else might work?” “What have we not thought of?” “How can we do it better?”

And now I speak to fellow Christians.  Whether you are Orthodox, Catholic, Baptist, Evangelical, Methodist, or Miscellaneous – you are called to build bridges. Because this I know, and I know it well: We know the ultimate Bridge-designer who bridged heaven and earth so that we could find our way. So we are called to build bridges and tear down walls. We are called to be gracious and give graceThere is no other way. 

“Strive always to love those who hate you. Never forget that we aren’t dealing with a fog-like ‘movement’ but with real three-dimensional persons, whom God loves just as much as he loves you. Christ saves only sinners—people like you. So be courageous, but always loving, for the battle is not won or lost on the public stage but inside the yearning heart of every person.”            Frederica Matthewes-Green

*The History of Bridges

Grace in the Space Between

long obedience quote

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

old-books with quote

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