Talking Together Makes Wise

In a book titled Tomorrow, God Willinga Norwegian anthropologist writes from her experiences befriending a family in a poor neighborhood in Cairo.  The book gives a portrayal of life in Cairo, primarily through the perspective of Umm Ali (Mother of Ali) with others from the extended family lending their voices to the narrative.  It is one of my favorite books for a variety of reasons, one of those being my love for the city of Cairo and Egyptians.

The prologue quotes Umm Ali saying: “I like talking with people, Talking together makes wise. Where had we humans been and what had we understood if we did not tell each other what each of us thinks and feels….it is a life necessity to be able to talk.”

She then proceeds to invite the author into her world, a world of loss and tragedy, poverty and joy, anger and love and then communicate those stories on paper.  She gets the importance of ‘talk’ in communicating the ordinary and extraordinary events of her life.

The back streets of Cairo are an unlikely setting and Umm Ali perhaps an unlikely source of wisdom, but wisdom it is. She viewed talking as a gift to “purge you of sorrow/anger and invigorate your soul.”  This quote is from an Egyptian woman living in poverty with no formal education.  In light of a media frenzy over the power of words over people, Umm Ali recognized their power in the best way possible.  To communicate in order to express her feelings and life story and in doing so create understanding between people who don’t live or think in the same way that she or those around her do.

Cairo is a city of over 16 million people. That’s a lot of voices and a lot of stories but sometimes  one story is all it takes to “make wise.”

I’ve been thinking a lot about the wisdom of Umm Ali in recent weeks. It’s been quiet on the blog because I’ve realized that too often in the past I’ve been quick to react, and much slower to really read and understand different perspectives. I’ve far too often made the narrative around the world about me instead of about others and the stories and perspectives that create their world view, the history that creates their living reality.

Our first task in approaching

Another people

Another culture

Another religion

Is to take off our shoes

Max warren

What I hear loudest in the discussions that are taking place both on and offline is the plea to listen, to study, and to take a step back. This sits well with the words of Max Warren, a man described as a “perceptive historian” who lived from 1904 through 1977. He said this about approaching people:

Our first task in approaching

Another people

Another culture

Another religion

Is to take off our shoes

For the place we are approaching is holy

Else we find ourselves

Treading on another’s dreams

More serious still, we may forget that God was there before our arrival.We have to try to sit where they sit, to enter sympathetically into the pains and grieves and joys of their history and see how those pains and griefs and joys have determined the premises of their argument. We have, in a word, to be ‘present’ with them.‘”

Max Warren – 1963

I love these words, and I desperately want to be someone who reflects this reality – for the places I am approaching are holy.


[Picture credit – Image by Ahmed Sabry from Pixabay]

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

img_0777

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

The Value in a Good Vent

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The Value in a Good Vent by Robynn

There are times when I feel I might explode! I’m furious. I’m so mad I might just this once really lose it. I had one of those times a month or so ago. I was so angry I was spitting nails.

Just as quickly as the storm clouds gathered, and piled up on top of each other in varying shades of black and gray and green, and the lightning flashed three times, a blaze of fury across the sky, and the thunder cracked her whip across the elements. Just as quickly as all that my rage was over. My storm passed. The sun came out. The clouds cleared. My emotional barometer found its normal center and I was fine.

What changed? You might ask. Absolutely nothing! I found relief through the simple power of the vent.

On that particular weekend my sister-in-law hosted another garage sale. It’s the second one of the season. There’s been a lot of family treasures (read: “junk”) to sort through and find homes for (read: “get rid of ” or “trash”). Death and moving have a way of forcing those issues. My sister-in-law has taken a major lead in organizing the stuff, cleaning it, dragging it into town, pricing it and laying it out to sell. It’s a huge amount of work and I’m very grateful. My mother in law and I drove over to look through the stuff before it sold. Mom wanted to see if there was anything she actually wanted. I wanted to claim the canning jars.

The day before the sale mom informed me that she was actually thinking of selling the jars. I was a little taken aback. She had promised me those jars for months. I’m the only one in the family who still cans. I make jam. I can peaches, apples and pears. I really had my eye on those jars.
That little moment sent my blood pressure rising. It really wasn’t a big deal but in the moment I felt like it was. It’s not that I don’t already have a lot of jars–just ask Sarah and Jill who helped me pack them for the move. But I had been promised those jars and I wanted them. There’s been a lot of letting go of these things lately, a thousand little sacrifices. The canning jars represented something bigger, clearly, given my over-reaction to the possibility of not getting them.

Everything changed in a short little moment in the kitchen. Lowell, calm and collected, heard my outrage. Like a sponge he soaked it in as fast as I could pour it out. My angst and anger splashed all over him. He listened with sympathy. He didn’t offer any advice. He entered into my emotion without dismissing me. He quietly asked if there was anything I wanted him to do in response. There wasn’t. I just needed to vent.

And then it was essentially over! Speaking it out loud I realized it wasn’t a big deal at all. I saw my response from a healthy distance. I could see a way through and passed the jars.

There is great power in a simple short vent. Like a pressure cooker releases steam and pressure, the vent relieves emotional stream and pressure before it can buildup. You only have to have your pressure cooker blow up one time to know it’s not ideal to have boiling hot kidney beans, tomato sauce and onions coming out of a small space at high speeds from the stove and all over your kitchen ceiling and then down the walls and on to the floor. It’s worth avoiding at all costs. Venting prevents explosions.

Lowell has recently been training to become a Court Appointed Special Advocate for children in the court system. At one of their last classes the instructor encouraged them to seek out their supervisor should they feel the need to vent. They might process generally and vaguely with their spouse but a nitty-gritty true vent should be reserved for the safe confidentiality preserving space a supervisor could provide. I was curious that they respected and saw the benefit and power of a vent.

If you feel it building inside you– if you feel cracks forming in your thinly veiled veneer–if you feel the pressure pounding inside your person–Seek out a safe person who will listen without judgment, someone who doesn’t fan the drama into higher flames, someone who doesn’t speak folly disguised as wisdom. If such a person doesn’t exist it doesn’t mean you don’t have venting options. Talk to your dog. Pour out your heart to your cat. Get a notebook, preferably spiral bound, that can take the beating, and write it down. Get it out. Set it down. Step back from it. Walk around it. See your angst from another angle.

There is great value in a veritable vent. Somehow, mysteriously, it changes the emotional barometer. Storms pass, winds change direction. Life calms. A level lived life resumes after the vent!

Do you find value in a good vent? Would love to hear from you in the comments! 

Picture Credit: http://pixabay.com/en/monkey-screaming-yelling-loud-wild-20182/

Guest Post – Finding Common Ground

Today I’m delighted to introduce you to Tayo Rockson through a guest post — Finding Common Ground. Tayo has a passion to see third culture kids use their diverse backgrounds to make a difference across many spheres of society and in early fall will be hosting a podcast featuring different third culture kids. He also generously read through my book and gave an endorsement! You can read more about Tayo at the end of the post. 

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Every 4 years, a variation of a sporting event brings groups of people together, whether it is the World Cup, Olympics, or the Winter Olympics.

These events inspire:

  • cooperation where there might not have been one before

  • hugs with strangers

  • smiles and head nods of acknowledgement from opposing groups and

  • an open door policy from anyone with the game on the TV

If it takes just a simple sporting event to cause people to set aside their differences then maybe more effort should be spent on finding common ground instead of emphasizing differences. 

I have lived in 5 countries across 4 continents and each time I move I realize I have a choice: I can either emphasize our differences, or find common ground. Here are some of the ways I’ve learned to find common ground in the place where I currently live – New York City.

Say Hi With A Smile: This does wonders for people especially ones having bad days. It also makes you appear welcoming and approachable.

Ask How Their Day Was: If you follow up that “hi” with a “how was your day?”, you might be on to some communication gold. The trick here though is not to say “how was your day” and walk away. Make sure you look him or her in the eye and have your shoulders squarely facing the person when asking the question. You will come across as someone who cares genuinely for them and easy to talk to.

Ask Where People Are From: Everyone has a story to tell and you can often hear that story by asking where they come from. Stories are important because they give you a glimpse of who people are. This a great way to understand someone and withhold judgement because you know why they think the way they do. Also, this is often reciprocated by them asking you same question. CONNECTION!

Be Complimentary: This has everything to do with being observant. Pay attention to the people around you and you will be able to notice different things that they do or wear. If you make it a mission of yours to just pay attention to people then you will notice the subtleties in their lives.

Learn Phrases, Sentences, And Mannerisms In Foreign Cultures: This is SO important for one to be accepted in foreign lands because it gives foreigners the impression that you are making an effort to communicate with them and not just be a tourist. You’ll often find locals more welcoming to you this way.

Turn Ignorance Into Education: When I first came to Virginia for college from Nigeria/Vietnam, my college mates asked me why I spoke such good English and if I lived in huts or walked among lions. Instead of getting angry, I simply told them that lions were not common in that part of Africa and that English is the official language in Nigeria. Education!

I’ll be the first to say that none of this is necessarily easy, but trust me — it’s worth it! 

tayoTayo Rockson grew up in four different continents so he considers himself a citizen of the world. He has lived in Sweden, Burkina Faso, Nigeria, Vietnam and the United States and his goal is to ultimately leave the world a better place than it was before he came into it. Once he discovered that he was a Third Culture Kid (TCK), he vowed to use his global identity to make an impact in the world. He tells positive uplifting stories via different mediums and works with people of all sorts to help them become the best version of themselves. Feel free to connect with him on Twitter @TayoRockson or his website www.tayorockson.com where he is actively making new friends every day.

 

 

Picture credit: http://pixabay.com/en/network-networking-networked-358063/

Unfinished Conversations

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We have family visiting this weekend. My younger brother and sister-in-law, my mom and dad, a niece and a baby I just met, another niece.

And with these people who I love comes the wonderful problem of unfinished conversations.

I think you know what I mean. You are with people you love and the words come fast and furious. Sitting around the table eating dinner you jump from one topic to another – first we are talking about family, then a friend, then a situation, then a feeling, then more feelings, then an event that sparked deep growth in our souls – but we are talking so fast and furious we want to get so much in that the conversations remain unfinished. So we see them the next morning and it starts up again over tea and coffee. “Finish telling me about this.” “I wanted to ask you about that.” “When we get a minute remind me to tell you about the other.” It continues through the day and all the activities of the day.

Lunch – another unfinished conversation. Afternoon tea with solid, chipped mugs or fragile, china cups – unfinished conversations. Night time talk over dessert and mint tea – unfinished conversations, more to talk about, more to say and discuss. 

Unfinished conversations – when you have so much to say, but so little time to say it.

Unfinished conversations – when your world includes many people in many places and you always feel like there isn’t enough time to talk about all the things there are to talk about.

Unfinished conversations – when the goodbyes come too soon and you board the plane, tears forming in your eyes thinking “I totally forgot to tell her about that!” When you live far away from the ones you love, and you know in your hearts, there will never be enough time for everything you want to say to each other.

But there is something far worse than unfinished conversations – and that is living close to someone your whole life, be it a family member or neighbor, and never having a substantive conversation. So I will take these unfinished conversations every time – because they tell a story of relationships, real-life lived hard and well, and joy in communicating with people you love.

I better go. An unfinished conversation has just finished taking her shower and I wouldn’t want an electronic device to interfere.

And to you? I wish you many unfinished conversations and the joy and difficulty that comes with them.

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A Dream Becomes a Reality and I Become Afraid

I like to communicate. A lot.

I love speaking and leading workshops – in fact, it’s my favorite part of my job as a public health nurse. Hand me a topic and a microphone and I’ll have at it with pleasure. (In a way this blog feels a bit like a microphone but I digress)

I do all my speaking in a non-religious context. While I’ve gone across the country to speak on culturally responsive health care or patient navigation and community health workers, I am never asked to speak about faith. Ever.

Truth be told – this is hard for me. I long to communicate my faith across boundaries and barriers and I’ve long prayed for opportunities. But they have not come and I have slowly realized that it’s okay. Very few people who are regularly asked to speak in faith circles have the speaking opportunities that I have in my professional role, the opportunities to connect with people from a broad spectrum of beliefs and world views, and I need to continue to embrace these opportunities doing them as well as I know how.

But in the spring, the seed of an opportunity came and, with my husband’s encouragement, I decided to move out in faith and see what happened.

Let me explain. For about four years now I’ve been involved in the Alpha program at a church in a nearby town. Robynn has written before about Alpha, but to recap – Alpha is a program to introduce people to Christianity. It is based on a lot of listening and an environment that values questions, even and especially the hard ones. A church in Goa, India asked the church here to send a team to teach them how to do the Alpha program. A ‘train the trainer’ if you will. The trip would involve going to India and introducing the Alpha program through live demonstration talks and discussion.

20130829-074331.jpgSo I applied and was accepted to be a part of this team. The visa is stamped into my passport, tickets are purchased and I’m going. Tomorrow.

I didn’t know when I applied what I would end up doing, I didn’t know if I would end up working on the sidelines or speaking. It turns out that I will be speaking along with a few others. The leader has asked me to do two talks – One is “How can we be sure of our faith?” and the other is a practical talk on presenting the Alpha program.

But here’s the deal: Now that this dream of communicating faith,communicating what I believe to be the most important thing in the world, is a reality – I have lost my words. I sit down to prepare my talks and fear creeps up like a figurative hives rash and suddenly I’m itching and red and so uncomfortable. My breath starts coming faster and I realize I am panicking. What is this about?! I can do an interesting talk about a vacuum cleaner if you ask me, make people want to buy that sleek, expensive Dyson. In fact, they’ll be lining up for back orders.

But this, this most precious, beautiful story of a faith and how to be sure of it and how it matters….tongue tied, fingers paralyzed, mind spinning.

I always thought I’d be ready for a dream becoming a reality. But here I am, confessing before all that along with the dream becoming a reality is a fear. A fear of inadequacy, a fear that I will not communicate clearly, a fear that I will not do this amazing topic justice. A fear that deep down I am an impostor, uniquely unqualified.

In the middle of this I looked back on a blog post I wrote a year ago. It’s called “And Failure Comes on Like a Virus” and I said this:

…truth is that I join the “march of the unqualified”, that group of people I read about who were inadequate, who failed. The King who stayed home from battle and slept with another man’s wife; the prophet who ran from the call of God and ended up in the belly of a whale; the man raised in the Pharaoh’s household who said ‘I can’t do it! I can’t speak! Let my brother speak for me’; the woman who said ‘Let’s trick your dad into thinking you are your brother so that you can get the birthright’.*

All these, uniquely unqualified, somehow survived the virus of failure, and were met by God, were used by God.”

The panic slowly dissolves in what is overwhelming Grace. This fear? It’s grace in disguise – the best thing that could have happened to me. It places me solidly at the mercy of God. It brings me to my knees (literally) and I beg God to give me words, words that bring glory to God.

I have no idea how this will go, but I know a couple of things:

  1. God is so much bigger than my words
  2. I am so much smaller than his Work.
  3. Over all of this – the visas, the plane ride, the funding, the preparation – is a blanket of Grace that reminds me God is in the business of using the unqualified.

And there you have it.

Readers – I’m not sure how much I’ll be writing from Goa – I hope to do a few updates so stay tuned and thank you for tuning in to my fears and his Grace.

A Life Overseas – Words Matter & Muffin Monday

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Readers – today I am at A Life Overseas talking about words. And how they matter. Would love it if you would join me.

Here is an excerpt from the piece:

In health care we have a story we call “The 71-Million Dollar Word Story”.

It involves a young man from Cuba, the absence of a skilled interpreter, and a misdiagnosis.

The man was 18 years old and had just graduated from high school. He was riding around with his friend when he complained of a bad headache. He thought it was because of the strong smell of gas in his friend’s car but by the time he got home the pain was so severe that he was crying. He went into a coma soon afterward and he was transferred to a local hospital in a comatose state. The family was sick with worry as they waited in the emergency room for this man to be assessed. The word ‘intoxicado’ was used and, in the absence of a professional interpreter, it was assumed that the young man was ‘intoxicated’, had taken a drug overdose and was suffering the effects. The family had no idea this was the way the words were interpreted. Had they known they could have attested that the young man never used drugs or alcohol, that health was extremely important to this young athlete. Rather, ‘Intoxicado’ was a word used in Cuba to mean a general state of being unwell because of something you ate or drank. It was the only word they could think of to express the sudden onset of his symptoms.

The misinterpretation of this word caused a misdiagnosis resulting in an 18-year-old becoming a quadriplegic, for in reality he had suffered a brain bleed and lay for two days in a hospital bed without proper treatment. Had the hospital staff made the correct diagnosis the man would have left the hospital in a few days, on his way to college and a normal life.

This tragic event resulted in a lawsuit and if this man lives to be 74, he will receive a total payment of……Read the rest of the piece here!

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Thyme Chevre Blackberry Muffins

And don’t forget the new addition – Muffin Monday. Today’s muffins are Thyme Chèvre Blackberry Muffins and they look amazing! Head over to Stacy’s blog to get the recipe here or just click on the picture!

When a Piece of Bread is not a Piece of Bread –

In 2008 HSBC Bank unrolled a brilliant advertising campaign. Called “Different Values”, the campaign showed three pictures side by side.

Sometimes it was three identical pictures with a different word across each picture:

oriental-rug

Other times it was three different pictures with the same word across each picture:

HSBC_accomplishment

Weekend of Connecting

The Downton Dowager’s words ring in my ears as I head to work this Monday morning. “What is a ‘week-end’?”  For those of us who are middle class, we are keenly aware of the word and meaning of ‘week-end’ (emphasis on the ‘end’). And for us it was a week-end of connecting.

Sitting around a small table, leisurely eating blueberry pancakes, talking and sharing, connecting with our kids. Sitting on ocean rocks and absorbing the world around — a world of sea gulls, ocean spray and early morning scuba divers, connecting with the world around us.

It was a weekend of connecting, connecting with old friends — one of my husband’s closest college friends and his wife. It is one of those friendships that was able to evolve past two single guys to include their wives and families. We walked together through early marriage, tiny apartments and minuscule pay checks and continued to connect in the tiny kids/tiny problem stage all the way to later stages of houses with mortgages and bigger kids/bigger problems. With this couple, more than any other, we have shared hours of laughter.

The weekend continued with more connecting. This time it was my friend Pegi, my closest friend during my first year of marriage. We were both enrolled in a year-long program at a Bible school in Chicago getting the mandated credits that would make us eligible to join a mission organization and move overseas to remote and not so remote places. There we would labor and our husbands would be martyred while we became the famous, lovely, gracious red-haired and dark-haired women of faith. We would speak to crowds of thousands about faith and trust. Only of course, that didn’t happen.

Instead we both cried non-stop during the psychological testing and decided we were either under or over-sexed and knew that those who oversaw said mission organizations would surely disqualify us.

Pegi was my gift during that year. And we saw each other for the first time yesterday since sitting in a small Chicago apartment in late August of 1985. Over curry and chicken tikka we talked and laughed. It was too short.

I know these connections are precious. We know life can change quickly, and we’ve little control over many of those changes. So to the Downton Dowager and any others who don’t know the meaning of the glorious weekend I say that weekends are made for connecting.

How was your weekend? Was it a weekend of connecting? Would love to hear through the comments. 

Sharing Bedrooms and Dialogue

“See! If more people shared a bedroom when they were juniors in high school, we would have better dialogue in this country!”

This was my comment to a high school friend as we exchanged views on the strong reactive response to Chick-fil-A  last week.

Tina and I were fast friends in high school. Although we knew each other when we were younger, we met again in Pakistan during our junior year. She had just come from school in Iran and I from the United States.

We roomed together. We double dated with Tim and Skip. We talked and laughed late into the night. We fought. We went on 14 hour bus trips, all the time. We shared life in a way most high school kids don’t because it was a boarding school.

I love Tina – I haven’t seen her in years but I still remember her laugh, her acerbic wit, her anger, her tears, and her smiles. In fact she’s the only person from my past who still calls me Mare Bear.

Reconnecting on Facebook I get to see glimpses of all those again — but we are no longer in high school. We have both faced life in all it’s beauty and ugliness; life in all it’s complexity. And we don’t agree all the time. There are strong opinions on various issues – sometimes expressed openly, other times in more subtle ways through posting pictures, articles or the iconic thumbs up Facebook like button.

Dialogue is best done in relationship, over breaking bread, over coffee.

We both have strong convictions that could lead to ugly – but we don’t let ugly happen. We share Facebook bread. I don’t think it’s even conscious; I think it’s just an unspoken recognition that we shared much in the past; a past that very few could connect with or understand and this relationship is foundational to our online communication. It’s not planned – it just is.

I  don’t think it’s easy. Human reactions, emotions and interactions are complex. I also know there are some things that I won’t discuss online, not because I lack conviction but because the potential for misinterpretation is too high, the possibility of offense equally so.

But there are other areas where I think it can and does work and that’s what I want Communicating Across Boundaries to be – an online bedroom of sorts where we dialogue with respect, at the same time not watering down our convictions to please.

And that’s precisely what I see more and more. I am honored  by the thoughtfulness and intelligence in comments; by the real questions asked and the open sharing of conclusions and convictions.

Keep it coming! Share the Communicating Across Boundaries Bedroom. This blog is nothing without you.

Stop – Think – Comment

My morning walk from subway to office is five blocks. It’s just long enough for me to be lost in my own thoughts before entering into my institutional setting. Today I took a side street and passed a large truck parked opposite a sporting goods store. There were two people unloading brown boxes while another was going over inventory.

I passed them without notice when the wording on one of the boxes caught my eye. The words in black lettering were bold and commanding.

Stop – Think – Lift

It was a reminder to those moving the boxes to think about body mechanics, properly using their bodies to not put a strain on their backs.

But I took a picture because with one change of the word you could use this in many areas.

Stop – Think – Decide; Stop – Think – Talk; Stop – Think – Discipline – In all of these we need a reminder to think before we act.

But the one I settled on was Stop – Think – Comment. So many of us are guilty of losing control of our brains when commenting, particularly on controversial subjects. We use anonymity to our benefit and, knowing the likelihood that we will be identified is slim, let all manner of speech spew forth.

How do we help each other in this area? Help each other make thoughtful comments that add to the conversation? I’m asking you because I am particularly impressed at those who comment on Communicating Across Boundaries. Whether agreeing or disagreeing, you all add to the conversation.

Is it because I’m not controversial enough or because in a smaller setting we feel like we know each other – we’ll see each other again tomorrow as we weigh in on culture, immigration, communication and faith?

As someone who has had too many times where my brain has disconnected from my words the paraphrased command on the box hits me where it needs to. I don’t want to be so self obsessed that I care nothing for others who are in conversation; whether I ever meet them or not is immaterial.

The Bible has some strong words for the tongue – and I’ve no doubt that these words from the book of James apply directly to comments on the internet.

“With the tongue keyboard we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in God’s likeness. Out of the same mouth keyboard comes praise and cursing. My brothers, this should not be. Can both fresh water and salt water flow from the same spring? My brothers, can a tree bear olives, or a grapevine bear figs? Neither can a salt spring produce fresh water.”

James goes on to speak of wisdom – an apt ending to this chapter and a good ending for this post. There is false wisdom, assumed through letting all know who I am and what I stand for, a ‘selfish ambition’ is described by the author. And true wisdom – wisdom from Heaven; wisdom represented through peace and consideration, mercy and sincerity.

Stop – Think – Comment strikes me as the beginning of wisdom when it comes to online opinion and communication. What do you think?

“But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. Peacemakers who sow in peace raise a harvest of righteousness.”