I Like Family – Family is my Favorite

In a faded, old photo album I read the words “Family makes you feel whole and strong – vibrant and needed.” The words are typed on an ancient typewriter, long gone in our travels and moves from house to house and country to country. The pictures that surround the words have lost their color and appear true vintage with no filter.

I typed those words when we were living in Islamabad, Pakistan – miles from blood relatives. I wanted to create something special for my husband, a photo album of our family at the time. We were young and had a boy and a girl. We were all quite perfect in those days. Pretty and fresh-faced, without the weathering that life brings with its hard fights and its days of no return.

The truth is that in this age where family often loses its meaning, I like family. Family is my favorite. I more than like family – I love family.


We have just returned to Cambridge from a family wedding. My niece, Allison, married Paul. Paul comes from a large Italian family and I instantly loved his mom, Patty, and his Aunt Joan. They are women I would go to war with – or at least gossip with at a family wedding.

The wedding took place outside in a rustic setting, on the shoreline of Irondequoit Bay.  Chairs were set up outside beside a small dock, while the dinner was set to be served at the waterfront lodge, with stunning views of the Bay. A sudden, and violent summer storm had all of us scrambling and rearranging the ceremony venue to take place in the lodge. It was a picture of a family willing to go with whatever happened, determined that marriage would win over weather every time. A more brilliant metaphor for marriage is not possible and I know in my gut that these two will make it.

My niece was dressed in classic vintage – lace, a netted veil, and stunningly beautiful. She walked down the unexpected indoor aisle, and the ceremony began.

Who gives this woman? 

‘Solemn vows that none of us can possibly keep without the grace and mercy of God.

Readings from the Songs of Solomon and Wendell Berry.

Rings exchanged.

In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.

The sacramental pronouncement of a union authored by God, ordained by God, kept only by God’s goodness. 

You may kiss the bride. 

And then wild cheers and the song “Will the Circle, be unbroken, by and by Lord, by and by?”

A celebration followed where there wasn’t enough time to talk to everyone that we wanted to; where we enjoyed great food and amazing company; where family gathered, at one with each other and the spirit of the day. Even a nest of bright, blue robin’s eggs joined in the celebration. Not a sacrament, but a symbol of our God’s love of beauty and life.

In a world that is fearful and cynical, a world where marriage is discarded for something far easier and less permanent, a world where the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit have little to do with daily life, I once again bear witness to a family willing to live counter-culture. I once again witness the proclamation of the truth of marriage, once again hear vows that are humanly impossible being promised. 

For better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness, in health, to love and to cherish, until death parts us and we are ushered into something even better then the best marriage possible.

I fell into bed that night in happy exhaustion.

Because I love weddings and the families that go with them. Because family does make me feel whole and strong, vibrant and needed.

So, Yes – I like family. Family is my favorite. 

Everyone’s Gone!


Sun shines through lace half-curtains, creating a whimsical shadow on the floor. Through open windows, birds are loudly and happily communicating the joy of what life brings to them. 

It is a picture-perfect day – and it is also absolutely quiet in our home. 

Everyone is gone. 

For the past eight days, there have been many people in and out of the apartment.  One daughter, who flew from Chicago to help me post surgery, my gorgeous grandson, with his crinkled nose and interest in all of life, other adult children, friends, visiting nurses, physical therapists, and occupational therapists. Toward the end of the week as my youngest son’s graduation came closer, even more people arrived – my parents and my brother. 

Yesterday, graduation day could not have been more beautiful, and we proudly watched our son, first deliver the Valedictory speech, then walk across a stage to shouts and cheers as he was awarded a Bachelor of Arts degree from Hellenic College. 

Recently I remarked to my husband that we are at the stage of life where things are not going to get easier and better. I think for years people think “When this happens, then we will feel settled” or “When I’m in my [insert age] then life will work itself out.” Those sentences can be substituted with a plethora of different scenarios, but the underlying assumption and expectation is the same: Things will get better. Life will get easier. 

My epiphany with this recent surgery and the assault on my body and emotions is quite simple: things won’t get easier. Life won’t necessarily get better. 

I don’t write this with any sort of pessimism or self-pity. I am profoundly grateful for life’s gifts. I am acutely aware of the shortness of life, of some of life’s tragedies. But now is the time to take each day and recognize that the health and strength I have today will at some point weaken, simply because of the aging process. The activity I can keep up with, the common good I can seek will inevitably become smaller and less significant. 

There is, in all of this, a profound sense of loss. That which I have been given, I slowly lose. It is the Old Testament book of Job that  bluntly reminds me of this reality: 

Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return.The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.” (Job 1:20–21).

So this post surgery time comes as a tremendous gift – a gift of healing for the body, a gift of rest for the soul, a time of contemplation of losses. 

I read these words from another: “Nothing is a given — everything’s a gift.”

Who am I to complain in losses when what I lost wasn’t mine to begin with? – Ann Voskamp

Everyone is gone. At first, the words feel sad and empty. But the longer I sit in the quiet, the more comfortable I become relaxing and meditating in the gift of now. 

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

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

I read these words in an article on grief:

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

They are true words in an otherwise mediocre article.

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

*****

Dear Dorothy,

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

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

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

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

I was nervous until you looked at me and said:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*Time Magazine, 4.24.17

On Death and Living in the Moment

Today’s post is from my daughter-in-law Lauren. She is amazing and I love her words in this piece. You can read more about her work here. Thanks for reading!

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“Bikini Baby” Baby Lauren and her dad. 

New Years Eve, four years ago. 

It was 9 days before my dad died, but we didn’t know that then. Cancer doesn’t give you a timeline. It just kind of chooses to detonate in weird increments – it progresses quickly when it wants to and chills when it wants to. All we knew was that the doctors started sending over hospice nurses and we had reached a point where they no longer could help his body, but just give morphine to help while his body drowned.

New Year’s Eve was never a crazy important holiday to us, but it was still a holiday. And something about holidays sort of illuminates the cracks of your life, the good and the bad. I remember reading people’s Facebook statuses of “this year was blah blah blah”. Be it good or bad, I couldn’t read what people were saying without comparing it to my current misfortune. I was angry that good things could continue while he was suffering and I was mad when people talked about how they had a hard year because their car broke down. Get over it. And then I’d feel wildly aware of my selfishness. It was a horrible cycle.

We knew the upcoming year brought death. It brought dread and we knew it. We didn’t know when exactly or what it was going to look like, but we knew it was coming. So to survive, my heart changed its syncopation with time. I switched from the typical “new year” grandiose thoughts and dreams and wishes of the upcoming year to thoughts and dreams and wishes for the next minute. The next hour. Looming death bends time a little bit like that. It makes you despise and cherish purgatory.

My dad was watching TV and I was watching my mom watch him. We both saw the space between his spirit and his body getting bigger and bigger. I was receiving texts from friends and family asking “how are you doing, Lauren?”. Well, I’m watching the coolest dude on earth suffer slowly and I know I’m not very emotionally articulate right now but like, I’m really f&%ing mad. And helpless.

This cocktail of emotions would start small as a pit in my stomach and then it would slowly overwhelm my entire body until I couldn’t breathe. I couldn’t be in the room for another second. I wasn’t okay with it.

So. I forced my husband (God bless him) to make up a “New Year’s Eve show” with me to perform for my dad. Just like I had done when I was young, except with more alcohol this time. We slaved over this performance (honestly, “performance” is giving us way too much credit, but we really tried). My mom would come out and ask what was happening and I’d tell her to go back because she was ruining the surprise and I’d catch her making “I’m so sorry” looks to my husband. When we went in for the “performance”, I was legit nervous. I wanted to make my dad laugh and I wanted to take the weight off of the night and off of his chest. We stumbled through it. It was bad and we started over so many times but my parents watched like they had always watched for my entire life. God bless them, too. That’s A LOT of questionable performances they had to endure. At the end, my dad turned to my mom and earnestly asked her “Did I miss something? Was that it?” The four of us erupted in laughter. What I wouldn’t give, to be back there in that small Arizona room, cackling with the three of them.

And then the ball dropped and my dad reached over and kissed my mom at midnight. I remember wondering if he didn’t move all day so that he could reserve enough energy so that when it came time, he could kiss his wife at midnight. I remember the sheer gratefulness that he made it to midnight. That my mom didn’t have to be alone for it.

I’m trying to focus on that feeling. I know a lot of people are scared for the upcoming year. There’s a lot of dread and fear surrounding general humanity, not to mention political changes happening. I get it and I feel it. And we can’t ignore it. That’s ignorant and irresponsible. 

But I also think we can incorporate other feelings that come with choosing to live in the moment and being open to the small gifts of the moment. And we have to love each other and have sympathy for all pain, however big or small the world tells us it is. Selfishly choosing insecurity of how to handle and acknowledge our neighbors’ pain, over empathy, is barbaric. 

Anyways, happy 2017 – I hope that we are able to find the silver linings in the dark and gratitude in the now.

Foundations & Generations 


We traveled to Los Angeles this weekend for an early Christmas with our son and daughter in law. It was a beautiful weekend with sun and palm trees, the warmer temperatures a welcome change from an arctic freeze. Our East coast cold can chill the bones and the soul. 

From eating our fill of great Mexican food to sharing an early Christmas, we made the most of our short time. 

As parents, we watch our kids exit our homes to create homes of their own with nostalgia and some tears. Memories of toddler kisses and bedtime stories will never completely fade.  Instead they remain, packed into the boxes our minds create for these things. But there is incomparable joy in watching our children “become.” That is what we now get in Los Angeles, Chicago, and Boston.

As I grow older and watch my children enter into adulthood, I ponder a recurring theme of foundations and generations. This circle of life depends on both to be successful. To function well as adults we need secure foundations; foundations of nutrition, of physical nurturing, of spiritual guidance. A healthy new generation will not grow without a solid foundation. 

Moments of connection with adult children are both hopeful and nostalgic, seeing a new generation ‘become’on the foundations of the past. 

When we are in the middle of building foundations, we make mistakes. There are times when we fail our kids and we fail ourselves; times when the foundations seem shaky, built on sand and not on rock. Still other times, by grace we get it right. We shake our heads in disbelief and amazement – it worked! The foundation is strong and secure, the next generation can build on what came before. But only a foolish parent takes full credit, refusing to see that this is all grace. 

We travel back on a lonely Sunday night flight, the plane full of weary travelers, perhaps others like us who have traveled to see a new generation springing from an older foundation. 

I look at the man by my side, and I am so grateful. We’ve navigated some rough waters together, some that threatened to drown us. But they didn’t. Instead we travel together, united in our prayers and love for this next generation. 

And so it is, foundations and generations–as old as the human race, reminding me that our journeys matter. 

To the One Who Got Pregnant too Soon

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I woke with a familiar pressure on my bladder. It was the middle of the night, and I needed to go to the bathroom. I came back to bed in tears.

“I think I’m pregnant.” I whispered to my sleepy husband as I shook his shoulder. “That’s ridiculous” he said as he turned over and fell back to sleep.

I, on the other hand, stayed awake. I knew I was pregnant. We had a toddler and a baby who was six months old. I was exclusively breast feeding and hadn’t yet gotten my period back after the pregnancy, so my husband’s response was completely reasonable.

But when you know your body, you know these things. Nine months later we had a beautiful baby boy, born two weeks earlier than his due date. He was 6 lbs and 10 oz of beauty and joy. But the inbetween time was not so much. People who saw me pregnant would look at me in astonishment and say “Haven’t you had that baby yet?” thinking it was the previous pregnancy gone on too long.

Yes – I actually had given birth to THAT baby. This one was a different one. This one was THIS baby. That one was THAT baby. Sheesh.

There were a few things that I discovered about myself and about other people during that time. I offer them here in this space, knowing that your situation may be different, but hoping that you will feel some nuggets of encouragement.

  1. You owe nobody, I mean nobody, an explanation. When people say things, when they comment about your pregnancy you don’t have to tell them anything that you don’t want to. When they ask if you were planning this, if it was a surprise, if you’re happy …. those are intimate questions, and you don’t have to let people know the answer.There will be people that you can share with and cry with, but the average bystander and acquaintance is not worthy of your explanations. Whether you used birth control or not – it’s none of their business. Whether you were planning this or not – none of their business. Don’t feel any pressure to give people a response.
  2. Your baby is not a mistake. Your baby may be unexpected; your baby may be a surprise — but your baby is absolutely NOT a mistake. Mistakes are supposed to be erased, they are supposed to be corrected. Surprises are unexpected and take some rethinking and adjusting, but ultimately you do adjust. There is a massive difference between a mistake and a surprise.
  3. You need safe people. You need people who will listen to you, judgment free as you rant and rave about your body, your mother-in-law, your oversexed husband, your life in ruins, all of it. You need to be able to say that you want to run away to safe people who know that these feelings will pass. Safe friends who will love you and protect you from a world that feels overwhelming are a gift.
  4. Be okay with asking for help. I made a vow that hurt me for years when I got pregnant unexpectedly. That vow was that no one would ever see me out of control. It was such a mistake. I carried such a heavy burden of having to keep it together. People who knew and loved me knew that I wasn’t keeping it together, but I tried to hide it under the vow that I had foolishly made. When I finally broke free of that, I cried and cried, ending the crying session with a soul-deep sigh.I was finally free to admit my need for others, my need for help. Don’t be like me. Ask for help.
  5. Routine could be your best friend. When you find yourself pregnant and you have a toddler in the house, routine is a wonderful gift. Routine means you can say “No, I’m sorry – I can’t do that. It’s nap time.” Routine builds security in you and your children. Routine gives you time to recharge and drink tea. Routine is not binding – it’s freeing.
  6. Be okay saying “No.” “No – I can’t make a dessert for the women’s brunch.” “No, I can’t chaperone the preschool field trip.” “No, I can’t baby sit your kids.” “No, I can’t work those extra hours.” “No, I can’t fill in for a sick nurse, or a sick Sunday school teacher, or a sick anyone anytime anywhere.” No. No. No. For some reason, I was an easy yes. I remember one time sitting at someone’s house helping her fold her clothes and make apple crisp. Suddenly I thought “This is ridiculous! I’m the one with five kids! I’m the one who needs to fold clothes and make apple crisp – AT HOME! I realized that I needed to put healthy boundaries around my time.
  7. Toddlers and preschoolers don’t need everything that western society says they do. They don’t need hundreds of outings, they don’t need a bunch of different play groups. They need you. They need Grandma if she’s around. They need security and safety. Self-actualization is way far away on Maslow’s hierarchy. Don’t worry about it. If play groups help you – well then, have at it. But if they don’t – then don’t worry about “socializing” your child. Believe me, there is a lot of socialization that your kid can do without.
  8. On days when you are so tired, and you just can’t do it anymore, there’s always tea and reading time. Put quiet music on in the background and read to your little ones. Then, put them in their happy places while you read yourself.
  9. One day you will get your body and your sleep back. It won’t be the same, it can never be the same. That’s the price we pay for having these little humanoids who grab our hearts with their vice-like grips and create a gap in our well-oiled shiny armor. But there will come a day when you put on a little-maybe-big(ger) black dress and go out with your true love again. There will come a day when you have a full night sleep. There will come a day when all of your children – even the surprise ones – are potty trained. There will come a time when you watch your own television shows and movies. There will come a time when you miss your kids. But it won’t be for awhile.
  10. Allow people to celebrate for you. You may think this is the worst thing ever, the timing is all wrong, you were going to go back to school to get a masters degree, you had finally lost all your baby weight, your husband is looking for a new job, you just started back to work — there may be all kinds of reasons that you have for not being able to celebrate. But others can celebrate for you. When I arrived in London, unexpectedly pregnant with my fifth child, no one in Cairo knew. I hadn’t told anyone. I arrived in London and my best friend met me at the airport. I hugged her and then burst into tears. “I’m pregnant!” “You’re so lucky!” she said. She had had a couple of miscarriages and she knew what it was to be gratefully pregnant. It was perfect. No – I didn’t feel lucky. No – I felt totally overwhelmed. But her reaction was so wonderfully spontaneous and lovely that I began to feel a measure of hope with her response.

You could still be wondering why you are pregnant when you are in labor and about to deliver the baby – but once you see that tiny, little person, you will be in utter awe and the heartburn will be gone.

So to you who got pregnant too soon – I hear you. I’m with you. You join the multitudes of us around the world in that special “I got pregnant too soon and I realize I can’t control my life club.” It’s a club that humbles you and grows you up quickly. No one intends to join the club, but once you’re in it, you realize that it’s a pretty great club after all.

Oh Canada

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Today I’m boarding a plane and going home. While the Canada Goose is turning her beak to the south, I’m turning mine to the north. I’m off to Canada!

Canada is where my story started. There’s a warm and weird nostalgia that comes over me when I think about Canada and all things Canadian: Coffee Crisp chocolate bars, Shreddies cereal, Swedish fish, Tim Hortons coffee and donuts, Canadian Tire, London Drugs, Cheez Whiz, Nanaimo bars, Nuts and Bolts, Aero chocolate, homo milk, Beaver Tails, poutine, ordering French fries with a side of gravy, Kraft Dinner, the loonie and the twoonie, the Canadian flag, klicks.

I suppose my attachment to the Great White North is a little suspect. I’ve really only lived 15 of my 46 years there. But Canada served as a pivot place for my childhood. Although we left when I was 8 years old, Canada was where we always went back to. Canada housed my grandparents, most of our aunts and uncles, our cousins. Canada was the place of my parent’s childhoods, their stories, their romance and marriage.

Later, when mom and dad were back from Pakistan, Lowell and I would marry in a tiny church in a small town on the vast Canadian prairies. We honeymooned in the Canadian Rockies between Banff and Lake Louise. Come to think of it, those months leading up to our wedding was really the last time I lived in Canada. We’ve been married 22 years ago. That’s a very long time ago.

Although I self-identify as Canadian, and have a Canadian passport to prove it, I’m quite likely the most unCanadian Canadian you’ll ever meet. My connections are weak at best, based largely on sentiment and maple syrup. I know very little about Canadian history or folklore. Canadian politics still perplex me on occasion. I’m hardly fluent in the Canadian vernacular. My vowels are now too relaxed, my consonants too indistinct, my syllables too lazy. When I talk no one suspects that I’m from north of the 49th parallel.

I know it makes no sense but I suppose this is the crux of the TCK tale. There’s no accounting for how and when the heart feels momentarily at home. The math doesn’t make sense. Only 1/3 of my life has been lived in the True North strong and free. On the other hand I’ve lived 22 years in Pakistan and India. Only nine years have been spent here among the sunflowers in Kansas.

And yet Canada still represents something to my soul that really defies logic. For reasons I can’t explain there’s a part of me that still sighs with relief when I enter her borders. I exhale and relax just a little bit more when I arrive. This time tomorrow morning I’ll be sipping tea at my parent’s dining room table. I’ll take a deep breath and let it out slowly. I’ll set down my foreignness for a bit. I’ll be among my people and somehow that brings me a measure of consolation.

O Canada!

Our home and native land!

True patriot love in all thy sons command.

With glowing hearts we see thee rise,

The True North strong and free!

From far and wide,

O Canada, we stand on guard for thee.

God keep our land glorious and free!

O Canada, we stand on guard for thee.

O Canada, we stand on guard for thee.

O Canada! Where pines and maples grow.

Great prairies spread and lordly rivers flow.

How dear to us thy broad domain,

From East to Western sea.

Thou land of hope for all who toil!

Thou True North, strong and free!

O Canada! Beneath thy shining skies

May stalwart sons, and gentle maidens rise,

To keep thee steadfast through the years

From East to Western sea.

Our own beloved native land!

Our True North, strong and free!

 

Ruler supreme, who hearest humble prayer,

Hold our Dominion in thy loving care;

Help us to find, O God, in thee

A lasting, rich reward,

As waiting for the better Day,

We ever stand on guard.

Conversation and Laughter at a Funeral Home

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The New Comer Funeral Home is in a primarily residential area in Rochester, New York. It is a one story, unassuming building and the only indication that its business is death is the word “funeral.”

We arrived at the funeral home on a bleak and rainy Friday afternoon for an appointment at 1pm. No one had died. There was no funeral on the calendar and there were no frantic, tearful phone calls explaining to relatives far away what had happened. Instead, it was a preplanned appointment to talk about a funeral, to talk about death.

Years ago, a friend of mine made the observation that everyone feels free to talk about sex, but when you bring up the subject of death, for some reason, it isn’t proper. Our family has never been one to live up to the cultural standards of any society we have lived in. Most of us have always lived counter culture, so making an appointment to talk about death not only seemed reasonable, but also wise. My mom and dad are 88 and 90 years old, respectively. For their ages, they are healthy and happy. This is largely due to my mom’s bran muffins, and the care she gives to eating healthy. I also believe it’s due to their general attitude toward life and their belief that life is not really life at all if God is absent. An autopsy would never show that as a factor, but I believe it none the less.

But Mom and Dad will die someday. And the someday will come sooner rather than later. As they have talked and planned with each other, they brought their children into the conversation. This appointment was strategically made to include my brother Tom, who they live with, as well as me while I was visiting them.

As we walked through the door, my dad said “Should we set a date?” “Then we could send out ‘save the date’ cards!” I enthusiastically replied. This casual response to a fate that awaits all of us set the tone for the entire visit.

The conversation ranged from the price of coffins to what the funeral home could provide for the family to how to pay for the funeral. We found out that a one paragraph obituary would cost 300 dollars. We all saw the absurdity of that. “I’m a blogger” I said. “I’ll let people know.” We talked about style of coffins. “Do you have a cheap, steel coffin that looks like wood?” asked my father. The answer was yes – but the cheap price didn’t seem quite so cheap to us.

The man we spoke to was down to earth and frank. “No matter what kind of coffin you get, Mother Nature always wins.” A coffin will not prevent decay – earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust – our bodies are our earth clothes, not our eternal garments.

He said they take all kinds of payment – at which I grabbed my brother Tom’s arm and said “Which of the brothers shall we give?” We joked, told stories, and talked seriously. My parents talked about some of the deaths and funerals that they had been a part of in Pakistan, and I told the story about how the first flowers I ever received from my husband were from a colleague whose aunt had died. Turns out, the aunt had been my patient at a hospital 45 minutes away. The difficult conversation was made easier because we made it so.

A movement has begun in the western world called “Let’s have dinner and talk about death.” It is based on a book of the same name. The movement began because this is one of the most important conversations that people in the West never have. We spend so much time and energy on trying to look younger and live longer that we forget the importance of addressing the inevitable. The idea is to engage families in the conversation and provide them with the tools to have a good conversation about end of life care.

I believe that talking about death while we are still alive and well is an unselfish and important conversation. As it says on the web site for “Let’s have dinner and talk about death,” difficult conversations can sometimes be the most liberating.

We left the funeral home in peace with no small amount of laughter. My parents have lived well – and now they plan to die well.

The day will come when we will grieve and cry deep tears over the ones that we love; when the conversation at the funeral home will no longer be theory, but reality. Talking about these things before they happen helps us to know that we can face that day with the certain truth of these words:

“Earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust:
in sure and certain hope of the resurrection to eternal life through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died, was buried, and rose again for us. To him be glory for ever. Amen”

Until Next Time

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His eyes are so much like his mom’s that I am startled. He nestles into my shoulder, knowing that I’m not his mom, but that somehow – I am safe.

I stare and stare and I have no concept of time. I realize that I could stare at this wonder all day.

This wonder is my grandson.

I look in the mirror and I am somehow less concerned about getting older. I know that this is the way it will go, season after season, year after year. The proverbial circle of life is continuing, and somehow this is right.

He is all sorts of perfect. His soft, clear skin is a contrast to my sun-spotted aging arms. Yet my arms are still strong enough to hold him, to cuddle, to be there as an extra set when parents get tired or need time away. His eyes follow me, then crinkle up. For a moment I’m unsure – will he cry or will he laugh. He laughs, proving our connection in more ways than he knows.

I get chuckles and grunts, coos and yawns. I am smitten by this child of my child, baby from my baby.

Too soon our time comes to an end. The house is empty – only shadows remain as the day wears on.

I smile at the memories. “Until next time Baby” I say softly. Until next time.

Love Goes the Extra Mile

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We’ve just come back from a family vacation where we spent seven nights near the Smoky Mountains in northern Tennessee. Every morning we woke up to far off frothy fogs rising up between the hills and ridges across the horizon. Every evening we watched the sun’s benediction settle over and under and behind the mountains. It was glorious. And in between the rising and setting of the sun we lazed and lounged around. Exploring the area, we found a lake to swim in and a nearby state park ropes course to climb. We played board games. We watched the opening ceremonies of the Olympics on a large TV. We made a fire and roasted marshmallows. We slept at unusual times during the day. Everything that vacations are supposed to be, it was. Re-creation at work as we rested.

The plan was for us to leave on the morning of the seventh day and drive further east, over and beyond the mountains, across the dividing lines of states to Philadelphia to attend a nephew’s wedding. As the day came nearer I began to feel dread rise up like smoke around my own soul’s edges. I couldn’t bear to think about the long hours in the car. Driving east meant we were driving further away from home. The drive back to Kansas would be longer and harder. I was convinced our vacation would be erased. Our soul’s rest would be eroded.

The thought of it encroached on many of my Tennessee days. The idea of that future drive threatened to rob me of large parts of those glorious moments during those wonderful days. My inability to enjoy the moment made me mad at myself and increased my angst and my dread mounted on wings like crows. I finally asked Lowell if we shouldn’t think about maybe possibly skipping the wedding and head instead straight for home. The thing is I really was torn. I love this nephew of Lowell’s dearly. We really wanted to attend his wedding. And yet –It’s a long way to Tipperary. It’s a long way to go. Talking, praying, discussing it over with each other wasn’t necessarily bringing clarity.

It finally came down to this: What would Love do? The answer was immediate! Love goes the extra mile. Love celebrates. Love shows up for family and friends. Love attends monumental moments. Love sacrifices and enters into the joys of another. It’s what love does. Love makes the effort.

My friend Julie is one of the most lovingly loyal people I know. She once told me that her and her husband have come to realize how important it is to be present for life’s big moments: funerals, weddings, baby showers. They recognize how much these things matter to relationships and to community living and they choose to attend. Scott and Julie show up every time. I love that about them.

And so it went that we packed up the car on the morning of our departure and we turned toward the east. We crossed through Tennessee, drove up the length of Virginia, and scooted across bits of West Virginia and Maryland before entering Pennsylvania. Stopping for ice cream and to change clothes we arrived in plenty of time for a Sunday afternoon wedding. The sky was blue and pillow pocked with the fluffiest of clouds. The church was simply set and ready to host happiness. We joined those on the groom’s side with pride and deep affection. What a fabulous celebration it was! The profundity of the wedding promises were matched with a true reception party. We ate good food and goofed our way through hilarious dance moves.

When it was over and the car was once again turned to the west like a homing pigeon returning to the familiar, we felt deep satisfaction. There wasn’t room for regret in the lingering joys of the wedding. Being present to the union of the dearly beloved groom and his bride was enough. We love this new Mr and Mrs very much. At the end of the day, Love really does go the extra mile.

The Places we Belong


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Spelling Bee–A Primer in Parenting

Over the past several weeks I’ve met several moms that are, by their own admission, floundering. They love their children but they experience moments of great rage. They love their children but they long for quiet times without them. They love their children but guilt falls thick when they experience other longings.

I want to write more for these moms. I am one of them. I understand those wide ranges of emotions connected to maternity. In thinking about pieces I’d like to write–on grace, on truth, on self-care, on pursuing other dreams simultaneously—it struck me that it might be beneficial to start again at the beginning. This mini-series on parenting really addresses just the basics. I’ve posted these before but it’s some of the best that I have to offer these moms.

Part one: The Spelling Bee: G.O.S.P.E.L!

When Connor was in 6th grade he was in the school spelling bee. He had won the class bee. He had won the bee for all of 6th grade. And now he was in the all school spelling bee.

I quickly decided that as a mom, attending spelling bees is one of the most stressful things I’ve ever done. You sit there quietly in the audience and wait for the word to be announced. Once you hear the word, you spell it out in your mind, quietly, slowly and then, still in your mind, loudly, insistently. All of your brain tries to will the spelling of the word to the mind of the young speller. It’s agonizing. When it’s your child standing, waiting for the word to materialize in their heads, it almost hurts you as a parent spectator to watch. It’s excruciating.

E.X.C.R.U.C.I.A.T.I.N.G.

Younger spellers were quickly eliminated. Soon there were only 6 spellers left. Now 4. It was Connor’s turn to spell. The word he was given was ‘gospel’.

Lowell and I squeezed hands. Connor seemed to hesitate. There was a long pause. The audience had time to spell out the word in their heads several times over. Still Connor seemed to struggle silently.

Gospel. Can I have it in a sentence please? Can I have the definition?

He was using all of the familiar spelling bee participant’s stall tactics. He was grasping for the spelling of his word. Until hesitatingly, falteringly, he began,

Gospel. G…..O…..S……P……E…..L? Gospel?

Altogether, parents, teachers, students exhaled. He had spelled it correctly. The Principal of the school, sitting just in front of us, turned and said with a smile, “Wouldn’t that have been awkward to have the missionary’s kid go out on ‘gospel’?!” We all chuckled with relief!

It’s an amusing little story but the truth is I really don’t want my kids to go out on the gospel. I don’t want them to lose faith or to abandon God. We’ve made ourselves a sort of silent checklist…an unspoken, yet agreed upon “How To” guide…to help us parent our three. I have no idea if this stuff works—we’re still very much in process…but here’s the frame work Lowell and I are using, in hopes that, by God’s grace, our kids will not go out on the gospel:

  1. It’s time to simplify!

It really is time to strip down our Christianity back to the simple Jesus underneath. Really the only thing that matters is Christ. It doesn’t matter what my kids wear to church, or how they do their hair. Their choice of music might be obnoxious; the volume might be too loud. But at the end of the day Jesus is the only thing that matters.

Connor came out of youth group several months ago fuming mad! Someone had said something that infuriated him. As he climbed into the car he spouted, “I hate Christians, I hate the church, I hate all of Christianity.” Admittedly I was a little alarmed. What had happened to provoke this type of visceral response? We talked it through on the way home. As soon as we walked into the house, Lowell asked how youth group had gone. I repeated what Connor had said when he got in the car. Lowell, in response, casually said, “Well Connor, what do you think of Jesus?” Connor’s reply was immediate and full of conviction, “I love Jesus very much.” “That’s all that matters then,” Lowell said. I was a little flabbergasted at Lowell’s nonchalance. I had gotten a little bit more worked up about it. But Lowell is right. Really, at the end of the day, the only thing that matters is that our children embrace Jesus. Only Jesus.

  1. Remove the measuring sticks.

We’ve never forced our children to read their Bibles. We’ve never forced them to have a “Quiet Time”. Growing up in boarding school, especially when we were younger, there was a time for “personal devotions” –we were supposed to read our Bibles and pray. To help us in that feat we were given little Scripture Union devotional books. First you worked through the red one and then you could graduate to the Blue one. There was a green one and yellow one and I think, even a purple one. Spirituality became a competition all based on which little workbook you were in. When we were older, I remember reading my Bible in less than private spaces to ensure, subtly, that others might catch a glimpse of my devotion.

Lowell and I could set up a system. We could offer rewards. But I don’t want to raise “white washed tombs”—I want children who want to know God. I don’t want children who look like they want to know God. When Connor makes his bed, he pulls up the top bedspread only. The rest of his blankets lay in a nested mess at the foot of his bed. I don’t want his faith to be like his bed –only one blanket deep and thinly veiling the hypocrisy and mess underneath.

  1. Don’t be afraid of the slippery slope.

It’s scary to parent without the measuring sticks because we have no idea what’s really going on inside the souls of our children. We are out of control. If we have those types of rules in place we know if they’ve been obeyed or if they’ve been broken. They allow us to feel better about ourselves as parents. And without those rules, those mile markers, the measuring guides we have no way of knowing what’s going on. Not only are we out of control but there’s nothing to contribute to our sense of well-doing.

There is a prevailing idea in Christendom that suggests that we can’t completely throw out the law or the rules. Those suggesting this insist we need a balance. Too much grace leads to permissiveness….before you know it you’re on the slippery slope. A little bit of law regulates our behavior in good and productive ways. This type of Christianity results in us controlling behavior; it’s really just sin management.

And it simply is not true. Grace is generous and complete. The law has been erased. The only rule that remains now is the rule of love.

Our worst fears lie on the other end of the slippery slope. Sin. Licentiousness. Paganism. Hedonism.

Jesus calls us to camp out on that slope. To trust ourselves and our children to the depth of his grace. We are called to love: the Lord our God, our neighbours, our families, ourselves. If we do sin, grace pursues us and welcomes us back. We need to remember nothing is wasted by God. He takes the meanderings, those mistakes and he uses them for His glory in our story. We can know he does that with our children too.

Some Thoughts From Adult TCKs to Those Who Raise Them – Part 2

A year and a half ago I put out a request to a group of adult TCKs asking what advice or thoughts they might have for the parents of TCKs. The response was excellent and informative. Responders ranged from 25 to 60 and everything in between.

I have been asked ever since then to do a part two to that post. This time, I put the question out to several different groups, mostly people I have never met. There is diversity in age range, countries represented, and in the occupations of the Adult TCKs parents.  In a couple of cases I edited the quote, just because of length, but mostly these are raw and unfiltered actual quotes, either written or spoken, from Adult TCKs.

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“Home” is something different for parents of a TCK and the TCK. In some internationally living families, every family member has another place or feeling they call “home”. The sooner parents accept and recognize this, the sooner they will be able to help their children and support them during the most challenging periods of their lives.

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I think the most important thing for me is to let the TCK experience things on their own terms without imposing the parents’ views on them about different cultures and places. For me it was extremely disorienting to move to my passport country only to find out that I did not find it nearly as amazing as my parents did. Conversely, the place where I grew up was a location where my parents experienced a lot of heartache and so we rarely share memories of it. My parents did a lot of things right in raising TCKs, but it would have been so helpful if I had felt the freedom to legitimately disagree with them on what felt like home and what felt foreign, especially in my early adult years.

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 Remember that tcks tend to breed tcks and that once you have sowed the seeds of the sojourner, the eternal wanderer, then be prepared when you grow old to live apart from your kids and grandkids.

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Treat your kids as well as you do the rest of the world

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Give your kids permission to share their problems. Let them know that the work of the gospel will not fall apart if their needs are considered.

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Moving overseas as an adult and moving overseas as a kid are not the same. It shapes you differently, in your mind, your heart. I know sometimes its people trying to relate, but saying that it’s the same can be hurtful too. Let your kids be tourists sometimes, and let them be kids too. Even when they act really grown up, they need time and space to just be “normal” kids.
Give them people to whom or opportunities where they can ask the “dumb” questions. How are we supposed to act? Why do we do that? What is that? Nothing causes stress like not knowing those things you think you are SUPPOSED to just know.

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Don’t put the weight of “representing God well” etc on their shoulders…let them be kids.

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Be prepared for your children to have different national loyalties than you do.

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ALL TCK parents should read up on TCKness! I returned to England aged 20 after 6 years and 2 countries…My parents and brother had moved to yet another country. No one in my extended family had lived overseas. No one I met through college or otherwise had either. No one ever suggested I treat my passport country as another new country where I needed to learn how everything worked. It was assumed I would know because I was ‘home.’
My re-entry was so painful I hid my TCKness away from myself as well as others and lived a somewhat crippled life….Mine, I know, is a fairly extreme example of how unrecognised and unsupported TCKness can affect someone. Life wasn’t all bad before but I’m sure it would have been a lot happier if I’d been more prepared for the reverse culture shock of returning to my passport country, been able to stay in contact with friends overseas and parents who were at least aware of potential problems.

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Give your child hard copies of photos and help them create a treasure box of mementos. A picture, a blanket, a couple keepsakes. These become precious tangible reminders of their life, little pieces of home. Then, in each new place, set up their bedroom filled with treasures first so that they have a sanctuary of familiarity in all the new. I still do this whenever I move into a new place.

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When you move a lot your nuclear family becomes “home.” My parents gave us a safe place to be together and encouraged us BE in the culture and create relationships. We cried all together as a family when it was time to go. I wouldn’t change a thing. I learned to love and open my heart to people even for a short period of time. It opens me up for sadness, but the relationship is worth it every time.

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In my late 30’s, a packet in the mail delivered the surprise gift of letters I had written my parents during grades 8-12 at the Alliance Academy in Quito (and my sister received hers as well). All these years later, the detail in those written conversations carries the health history of our siblings back in Lima, and the names of friends with whom we shared extraordinary experiences and trips.Combined with yearbooks, these are the archives of our memories… a treasure we never anticipated would be saved. In a modern era of emails and social media, it still matters to create a form of “hard copy” that can be “read” in any country, any decade. It’s a gift beyond price.

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Allow us to remember. Don’t try to deny memories, don’t be afraid that our memories will make us discontent. Rather, remember that there is strength in remembering. 

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Quote from Between Worlds: Essays on Culture & Belonging 

“The losses felt by those of us raised in a country that was different from that indicated on our passports can be heavy. To be sure, the gains are also real: the way we look at the world, the wonder of travel, our love of passports and places, our wish to defend parts of the world that we feel are misunderstood by those around us.

But along with these come profound losses of people and place. For many of us, the only thing we feel we have left are our memories. We cannot go back to the place that was home. Either it does not exist, will not let us in, or danger and cost prohibit a casual trip to indulge the times of homesickness. In its place is memory. Our memories may be biased, or relayed in a way that would make our mothers say, ‘That’s not quite the way it happened,’ but it is inalienably ours.”

Eight-Acre Woods


 Growing up overseas, we had no family home. Rather, every place we lived had a different name, generally given to the house by the previous owners or missionaries gone by. Through the years we lived in Baker Building, the Johnson’s house (later named Shah Latif), Park House, Rosenheim, Kuldana Cottage and Forest Dell. All these houses became homes and hold in their walls the secrets of our childhood and adolescence, but they were never ours to keep. 

It was on one of our furloughs that my parents and my oldest brother made the decision to buy some land. Land was cheap and they could decide what to do with it later. It was a wise investment. Within two years the land had doubled in value and ultimately, that land in the woods became the site for my parents’ retirement home.

It was a modest home – a Cape Cod style with two bedrooms downstairs and two bedrooms upstairs. My mom wanted a house big enough to host her children “one or two at a time.” The house was set back from a dirt road on eight-acres of land. While Christopher Robin had his 100-Acre Wood, we had our eight-acre woods. In the summer, flowers and green grass colored the world around with a green glow. In the fall, a picture postcard couldn’t do justice to the golden beauty. In spring, everyday brought new buds, and in winter, the world was white and thick with snow. A wood stove in the living room kept the house toasty warm throughout those cold New England winters. When we moved from the eternal sunshine of Cairo, it was the only place that I could be truly warm.

Eight-Acre Woods was a magical place. There were family dinners crowded around a wooden table by the bay window; times of reading by the wood stove; games and forts in the woods; picking vegetables out of Grandma’s garden in the summer; sitting on a picnic table while Grandpa grilled chicken – these were the sights and sounds of extended family at Eight-Acre Woods. No matter what chaos was going on in our lives, it would disappear at Eight-Acre Woods.

A neighbor across the road had two horses named Annie and Caesar. Our kids would walk over to feed them bright orange carrots before being hoisted onto their backs for rides down the road. The nearest grocery store was 20 minutes away, the nearest movie theatre an hour. It was a place of calm creativity, made more so by those who lived there all the time – my parents.

All of the memories of Eight-Acre Woods came back to me in a flood of emotion on Saturday night. We were at a family reunion in Ocean City, New Jersey. The cousin generation planned the reunion with relatively little input from the parents, aunts and uncles, or grandparents. Perhaps this was the reason for its success – the recognition that we could, without fear, pass on the baton to the next generation. It was a gift of time together. There was little formal activity, instead informal games, walks on the beach, and times of singing and eating took up most of the weekend. But Saturday night we gathered in the living room for a slide show. In thinking about the weekend, my mom wanted to have something to offer the family in the way of documented memories. With the help of a granddaughter and my brother, she scanned in hundreds of pictures of children and grandchildren – all at Eight-Acre Woods.

For twenty minutes, we were taken back in time to Eight-Acre Woods. Taken back to a time where our children were small, and their problems smaller. There were birthdays, Christmases, and Easters all celebrated at Eight-Acre Woods by different families at different times. There were pictures of cousins playing dress-up in Grandma’s wedding gown; there were pictures of kids blowing out candles, surrounded by their cousins. There were pictures of Grandpa doing his back excercises, a granddaughter perched on his legs. Pictures of Easter baskets and sleepy kids. Even a picture of our son Joel getting breakfast in bed on his birthday. Through the magic of photographs, we were given the gift of these memories.

In the big scheme of life, my parents only had Eight-Acre Woods for twelve and a half years. Yet, they had it at the perfect time. They had it at a time when many of their own kids, following in the family footsteps, were overseas and had no secure base to hang their hearts.

My extended family knows what it is to be travelers. We know what it is to learn to hang our hearts in different places around the globe. On Saturday night, we remembered a place that brought us in and gave us strength for the journey.

Eight-Acre Woods now belongs to another family. Some of the grandkids talk about buying it some day – making it a family homestead. But for now, we have only the memories.

Family is never easy, but it’s always necessary. Gathering together this weekend gave us yet another chance to strengthen these bonds, constructed through the years with the super glue of life in all its celebrations and sadness. It’s the super glue of forgiveness, grace, patience, and humor.

And if you’re lucky, you sometimes get an Eight-Acre Woods to hold it all together. 

Thank you Taylor Swift!

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Thank you Taylor Swift by Robynn

All summer long our youngest daughter has been dreading entering the eighth grade. Seventh grade wasn’t a positive experience for her. She really loathed it. Friendships changed. She bravely tried out for tennis and basketball but didn’t make the teams. She ran for student council but didn’t win the position she hoped for. It was a year of serious disappointment. Anyone who knows this kid, knows she processed all this pain and heart ache out loud, at home, all the time, with me. It was a really hard year. None of this endeared her to the prospect of another year in middle school.

Before the school year was even out she presented a fully developed PowerPoint presentation on why we should take her out of school and begin immediate homeschooling.

In May I received a phone call from a lady named Erin. Erin indicated that she was calling from the state of Kansas’ online education office. She was calling to speak to Bronwynn Bliss in response to her request for information. Bronwynn was across town enduring the last weeks of seventh grade, I was home receiving her phone calls. I was afraid Bronwynn wouldn’t be able to come to the phone.

When school let out in May, Bronwynn, waited three or four days before beginning her discernable dread of returning to school in August. We heard about it all summer long. She couldn’t possibly return to school. In her mind a conversation would convince us. Passionately she presented other options: Catholic school, private Christian school, online school, homeschool, another local middle school. She created pros and cons lists, ranking each entry with a score, adding up the results, doing the math. The results, mysteriously, always revealed that she couldn’t return to school.

On the last Friday of the summer I was sick in bed with a residual migraine that would not lift. Bronwynn camped out next to me and began her pleas with greater vigor and determination. The poor kid knew that summer was coming to an end. Her time was running out. She was trapped and in greater and greater anguish. Pulling out a fresh page in a new notebook she began her lists again. There had to be a solution and she was bent on finding it.

Sunday afternoon, in the middle of the growing agonies, flowing tears, knowing looks, we got a simple text message from a friend, “Would Bronwynn want to go to the Taylor Swift concert with me in September?”

That’s all it took! Taylor Swift saved the day. Bronwynn went from dejected to delirious faster than an Aston Martin One-77 can go from zero to sixty miles an hour! Everything changed. Hope was in the air. We had something to look forward to beyond the horrors of the present realities.

Emotionally I felt like I was strapped into a roller coaster going at unnatural speeds, taking head jerking turns and twists. She had gone from tears to squeals. Her personality morphed right in front of my eyes. She had been transformed, converted, changed. Suddenly. In the blink of a text message. I was astounded and if I’m honest, a little whiplashed!

It struck me that there is great value in having something to look forward to. The mundane is monotonous. Routine often seems to rip up our happiness.  Our real lives are marked with pain and frustrations. The news from around the world is bleak. We slug it out, day in, day out and it feels like the joy seeps out with the day. We push past ‘hump day’ (Wednesday) to the weekend but even our weekends seem bleh: yard work, errands, laundry. Having something further out on the horizon to look forward to seems to change everything!

There is coming a day when all will be well. Things will be set right. Peace will be restored. Beauty and order and loveliness will be reinstated. It’s a day just past what we can see. We have to live through this week, and the next, and possibly a few more but the day will come. The promise of it gives us something to think about in the midst of what we currently endure. We can fix our eyes on what is unseen and get through what we see, up close, relentlessly in our faces all day long. Somehow—and this is pure mystery—that upcoming day gives hope to this day. It infuses today with meaning and a sense of purpose. It gives us something larger than ourselves to look forward to, something beyond our own particulars to anticipate.

The Taylor Swift concert was all it took! Monday midway through the day, Bronzi casually sauntered through the kitchen, “I think I’m ready for school mom.” As she continued out of the room, I literally felt myself reel from the effects of emotional vertigo. I held onto the kitchen counter and breathed a steadying prayer of gratitude. Thank you Jesus for Taylor Swift. Thank you Jesus for our friend who thought of Bronwynn. Thank you for hope and expectation.

Photo Credit: https://pixabay.com/en/concert-performance-audience-336695/

National Middle Child Day

Today is National Middle Child Day. I didn’t know this until this morning when the joys of social media alerted me. I’m glad they did. Because my middle child, Micah, turned 27 on Monday and with traveling I had not had a chance to celebrate him through writing.

The following is a blog post that I wrote five years ago, but it describes the amazing person he is and I celebrate him today as a man who has survived being in the middle.

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It’s difficult to describe my son Micah.

Born between countries, he entered the world on August 10th in 1988. We left Pakistan two weeks earlier and were transitioning to the United States with Florida as our base. I well remember our shock at re-entering the United States. When we left for Pakistan, we had a tiny 3 month old baby and had never lived anything beyond the student life. We went straight into working overseas for three years.

On return a lot had changed. We realized that with 2 children and one coming any day, we could no longer subsist on our fine student cuisine of Ramen noodles and generic soup. We realized that to get money, people put a card into a slot, punched some numbers and out came the cash. Our first visit to an ATM was memorable. We realized that the cost of living in Pakistan was vastly different from that in the United States, and we realized through our first fast-food meal at Kentucky Fried Chicken that one thigh and breast piece of American chickens were the equivalent of a whole Pakistani chicken.

I went to a doctor who was willing to take on a pregnant woman in her last month of pregnancy and at my second visit she breezily told me that she was going to be on vacation for the following 10 days. I looked at her in shock “But what if I go into labor?” She dismissed this saying I was nowhere near ready to deliver and we parted, me with the “just in case” number to call should the baby decide it was time.

The “just in case” number was used just a few days later as I felt those familiar pains that were not a stomach ache over dinner at a restaurant. By midnight that night I was at the hospital and delivered Micah in the wee hours of the morning in Daytona Beach,Florida– just blocks from the famed Daytona Speedway.

He joined Annie, an almost three year-old and Joel, a 14 month old. For years we called them twins born 14 months apart and indeed they were inseparable.

As parents we were warned about middle children – that is was easy for them to lose their way, lost in the shuffle of a big family and struggling for their identity. I don’t know why, and I can only attribute it to the hand of God on his life, but that was never the case for Micah.

Born in the middle, he was never lost.

As a young child, he had a quiet confidence in who he was. When I went into labor with Jonathan a day before his 7th birthday, he looked at his father and I and said “If our baby is born, I won’t be able to have a birthday party!” We assured him that he would have a birthday party no matter what, and so sixteen years ago with Jonathan just hours old laying on my lap, eight little boys ran through our house in Cairo, playing games, going on a treasure hunt and eating their fill of ice cream and cake. I’ll never forget that birthday. My guess is that if it was up to me, I would have promised that we would be sure to celebrate his birthday as soon as we could but maybe not that day.  My husband, who knows what it is like to be a middle-child, made sure that the expectations of a little boy were not lost in the chaos of labor, transition, breast-feeding beginnings and new-born wonder.

As his personality developed, so did his sense of humor and unique personality. At 12 he walked into the kitchen and said to me “Mom, Just so you know, I’m probably going to be the boy in this family that dates the most!” “Oh really?” I replied “Why’s that?” “Oh, I don’t know, I just have that feeling”, and off he went.

Micah had a strong sense of justice and clear view of right and wrong. He exercised that view fearlessly through middle school, unafraid of the opinions of others in this most cruel of ages, the slandering, insecure, gossiping breed that defines the developmental stage of those in grades six through eight.

When we moved to Phoenix in 2003, Micah saw this as a chance to grow and embrace a bigger school and more opportunities. And he did with determination and drive – he was the lead in almost every school play that was performed in a school of three thousand students; he excelled in speech and debate, writing his own pieces as a senior under a pseudonym so the real authorship could remain anonymous; he became president of National Honor Society and gave such a memorable speech that when he smashed our car into someone else’s later that week, instead of being angry they looked at him and said “Hey, you’re that kid that did that speech at National Honor Society! That was great!”  They said it with complete admiration and their smashed car seemed to fade into the background.

Micah graduated from university and a year later married Lauren, his soul-mate. He found his match for humor and love of life in Lauren and their life together will surely not be boring as they negotiate the worlds of acting and film, striving to be themselves among narcissistic competitors. Micah is now editor of a popular, zany television show called Portlandia and his gifts of humor and film-editing can be seen throughout each episode.

So I celebrate this child of ours on National Middle Child Day. Thank you Micah, for who you are in our lives. We salute you. 

He Won’t Have a Pancake this Year

Connor pancake (1)

He Won’t Have a Pancake This Year by Robynn

Yesterday my sixteen-year-old daughter was trying to teach me how to upload the pictures on my phone to the cloud. It’s a frightening prospect, one I’ve resisted, for several months now. I don’t want anything happening to those pictures. What if they never make it to the cloud? What if there’s a sudden downpour and they’re lost, washed away, forever?

As she was showing me the new cataloging potential Google has kindly (and freakily!) put in place to organize all my pictures, I happened to see pictures of last year’s pancakes. And before I could reason with myself, before I could dispel the rising grief with an attempt at humour, before I could distract myself with a sip of tea, before I knew it, I was in tears.

Every year, since the kids were tiny, on the first day of school, I make pancakes.

These aren’t any ordinary pancakes. The recipe is my dad’s old recipe that he perfected at Utopia House on the backside of Murree Hills in far away Pakistan. Dad would measure and mix cautiously the ingredients into a coloured Tupperware bowl. He’d raise the wick slightly in the kerosene stove, wait the appropriate time and then gently light it while holding his breath and praying for success. Once the flame was burning blue and clear, the ancient cast iron griddle inherited from Auntie Sadie Philbrick (or was it Auntie Helen Gamble?) would be wiped off and placed on top of the enamel stove. When the griddle was hot the batter was portioned out…sizzling pancake batter would slowly rise up and bubble before dad would turn the hotcakes. There was always homemade syrup and Nurpur butter. Usually there were fresh peaches or apricots cut up. Often there would be freshly made black raspberry jam. Occasionally dad would make a shape with the batter. He’d cover the design with more pancake and our round cakes would be embossed with faces, or animals or figurines.

Those were the pancakes I wanted my children to grow up on. Those pancakes became a part of their childhood, as they’d been a part of mine.

On the first day of school I always wake up a little earlier. Using dad’s recipe I carefully blend the dry ingredients before adding the milk and the eggs, the oil and the vanilla. I pour out the pancake batter on the modern electric griddle, shaping for them the number representing the grade they are about to start. When Connor was starting grade six his pancake was a “6”; Adelaide had a “4” that year; and Bronzi a “1”. It’s what we’ve always done.

I saw last year’s pancake photos and I started to cry. Connor won’t have a pancake this year. He just graduated from high school and he starts at University in the Fall. He won’t be here on the morning I make Adelaide an “11” and Bronzi an “8”. I walked into the kitchen and there he was. “You okay mom?” he asked. “You won’t have a pancake this year,” the tears started up again. With a crooked and caring smile he came over and hugged me. He let me cry a little.

Grief bubbles up in odd places—I didn’t quite expect it to rise up to the cloud in a picture of a pancake. I really had no idea letting Connor go would be so hard. I’m afraid no amount of syrup is going to sweeten his departure.

Dad’s Original Pakistan Pancake Recipe

(He’s since changed it to include whole wheat flour and flax seed and more baking powder and who knows what all! ….but this is the original…this is the one I’m keeping near the griddle!)

2 cups flour

2 teaspoons baking powder

pinch of salt

2 cups milk

2 eggs beaten

1/3 cup oil

1 teaspoon vanilla

Mix dry ingredients together. Mix wet ingredients separately. Gently add wet to the dry and stir carefully. Avoid over mixing. Ladle batter onto a hot griddle. Make shapes! When pancakes begin to bubble flip them. Serve hot with ice cream and sliced fruit, or maple syrup, or fruit syrup, or peanut butter or cheez whiz or nutella!

The Photo Albums of Our Marriage


Our love, our marriage is like a series of photo albums that is kept through the years. 

The old albums show the beauty and arrogance of youth. We were young and lovely. Best of all, we knew everything. The smiles and laughter shine through every picture, every page. The trip to Egypt and Pakistan to get engaged, the wedding in July with 200 people from all over the world, the short shorts on our honeymoon. Even the faded photos can’t deny the sheer joy of it all.

Then came the kids. Blonde-haired and blue-eyed for the first two, clear evidence of the strength of your genetics. Then darker-haired with brown and hazel eyes for the next three – as though we were in competition. But we weren’t. They were so incredibly cute and bright and fun – a unit of littles all connected through blood and family. People would stop to watch our unit pour out of a little red Zastava car. We were like an Egyptian family that fit as many as possible into whatever vehicle we had. Those photo albums make us laugh. We laugh through super man pajamas and picnics at the Pyramids. And our kids? They were so perfect! Not like other kids.

But then there’s the photo album that we sometimes want to keep hidden. The photo album that feels heavy with pain. These were the hard years, the ones where we didn’t know we would make it. This album is sparse – no one wants to view photographs of the hard years. The camera is put away and all energy goes to survival. A few photos make it in, evidence of the strength of our commitment, of sheer grit and determination. The grace is that even those photos show sparks of joy, like life could throw us all kinds of awful, but we would defy the naysayers, we would make it. This album shows the stain of tears and the bruises on knees bent in prayer. But family still continued through beach trips to Sanibel Island and Harry Potter Halloween costumes; through prom glamour and community theater productions. Because you just can’t stop family. Because what God joined together, let no one separate.*

The albums continued through college trips and cross-country moves; through late night phone calls and times of crisis. We looked in envy at younger families with their perfect kids, because we remembered what it was like to know everything and to have perfect kids.  But even as we envied, we loved what our kids were becoming: Passionate young adults with hearts that beat hard for justice; young adults with creativity coming out of their pores.

And now we’re in a new album. The pictures now are less of us and our five, and more of – well, just us. This is the album where we learn how much fun we still have, the album where we begin to dream again of far off places, of making a difference during this time of our lives. In this album, the prayers for our children take on new urgency and meaning. They are creating their own albums, and we are desperate for those albums to last. 

Through all of these photo albums, we glimpse the mystery that is marriage and we shake our heads in awe. As we watch while all around us marriage is stripped of its mystery, boxed into a man-made definition where love is the main ingredient, we remember the photo album that is our marriage. We remember the Garden and we desperately look to the wedding feast of the lamb. A feast where our albums fade into insignificance as we celebrate that greatest mystery of all — the wedding that will last into eternity.

Happy 31st Anniversary to the man behind the blog!

*Matthew 10:9