The Boarding School Paradox

My friend Rachel wrote a piece that she published on Brain Child Magazine called “What Not to Say to the Parents of Boarding School Kids”  – a vulnerable post to be sure and one written based on the countless comments she has received since making the decision to send two of her children to boarding school in Kenya. As I read it I thought “I know countless moms who can relate to this.” For this is the reality for many I know.

And it also got me thinking about the things people have said or asked of me about boarding school. All I can honestly give is my perspective, and others could have completely different experiences. But I do know this – nothing is simple and when it comes to boarding school and attitudes to boarding school we have to be capable of complexity. So I invite you to join me now in my perspective.


“You went to boarding school?” 

“Yes, actually. I did.”

– Pause –

“That must have been really hard.” 

It’s always a matter of fact statement. And I appreciate it. I appreciate that the person is trying to communicate, to move into my world and understand it. But nothing is ever that simple.

Yes it was hard. It was bone chilling sadness and unstoppable aches.

And it was wonderful. It was stomach aching laughter and tears of joy.

Many of us find it hard to be able to reconcile the good with the bad. For years I thought it would be disloyal to my parents if I talked about the hard. I have come to realize that some of the same things I found hard, they too found difficult.

In a word, boarding school – like the life of any third culture kid – was a paradox.

Boarding school was tears at train stations, and pit in the stomach goodbyes; it was waking up early that first morning, confused and disoriented; it was homesickness and misunderstanding, wishing for your mom only to feel an inability to communicate once you saw her. Boarding school was rules and institutional living, eight roommates and dividing our dresser space in half; it was one bath a week in three inches of water, and one hair wash unless we melted snow. Boarding school was separation from siblings, even when you saw them; it was relating to family in a whole new way. Boarding school was crowd control and learning who could make your life miserable, or comfortable. Boarding school was community living – at its worst and at its best.

But there’s more. Boarding school was life-long friends and deep talks, it was train parties and hot chai at train stations; it was story time at night and putting on plays after school. Boarding school was midnight feasts and picnics at Big Rock; it was playing Kick the Can and Flashlight Beckon until we were called in for bed; it was secrets and friendships, boyfriends and discussions. Boarding school was camping trips and late night chai around rickety tables; it was Sunday night walks where a Boy would hold hands with a Girl and singing for hours to an old guitar. It was figuring out more about who you were and what you believed, it was conversations that I remember to this day. Boarding school is what laid the foundation for beautiful reunions where I reconnect with others of my tribe.

Boarding school was a paradox. It was the good and the terrible, it was the happy and the sad, it was the laughter and the tears. It was community living at its best – and at its worst. And it was all a part of life in Pakistan – a land full of contradictions.

Boarding school was learning that memories can be laced with grace and magic can happen in unlikely places; that one bad houseparent doesn’t define your life and forgiveness is a necessary ingredient. Boarding school is like life – a whole lot of hard and a boat load of good. Boarding school was most of life’s lessons crammed into 12 years. 

Readers – Today I am featured in Tayo Rockson’s podcast featuring TCKs. If you want to hear what my voice in real life is like as opposed to my writing voice have a listen! Click HERE!

Pink Punch and Lemon Squares


They served pink punch at the funeral.

Pink punch with sherbet in it. And lemon squares and those little finger sandwiches stuffed with different fillings: egg salad, ham, salmon salad, tuna. There were vegetables cut up neatly, in bite-size pieces. And there was dip for the vegetables and more sweets – chewy blonde brownies, Rice Krispies squares, dark chocolate cookies.

It was a spread to make a church proud; the sacrificial hands of church ladies who had done this before were there, waiting to direct and refill plates.

And I sat idly back, an observer feeling the pain of the widow. A widow who was burying her life partner, the man who had wooed her as a young college student and grown old with her; a man of integrity and faithfulness, by all counts a man of God – now dead. She would go home to a bed and a house half full, echoes of a life lived well all around her.

To live means to lose. To live means to experience death. To live means loss.

In Ann Voskamp’s book One Thousand Gifts she writes “I will lose every single person I have ever loved.Either abruptly or eventually. All human relationships end in loss. Am I prepared for that?”*

All this loss wrapped up in pink punch and lemon squares

And if the end is just a service, pink punch, and lemon squares then it’s pathetic. The human heart cannot handle sustained loss on a diet of sweets. That every single relationship ultimately ends in loss is too much for the heart to handle without a Saviour.

I think about words from my faith tradition, words to an ancient church in Thessalonica, a church that had experienced death and loss: “Therefore we do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope”. There’s a mystery to the words. The mystery of Christ conquering death — Christ, risen from the dead, trampling down death, bestowing life.

Bestowing life so that serving pink punch and lemon squares is not an act of irony, but rather an act of sweet hospitality and grace to those who have come to offer comfort, to grieve with hope.

And as I think about all of this, the life and the loss, the hope and the hospitality, I realize I want pink punch with sherbet in it and lemon squares at my funeral.

*page 85 of One Thousand Gifts

It’s Not the Way It’s Supposed to Be!

“It’s not the way it’s supposed to be” – the cry of the mother whose child has been shot in a kindergarten class on a seemingly normal Friday in December, presents already purchased, hidden in a closet in anticipation of a Christmas morning. The “hurry up! we’re going to be late” already a memory of the day. The “make sure you tie your shoe laces, don’t forget your lunch, honey you can’t wear that shirt, it’s dirty” now poignant reminders of a life that was, that is no longer.

It’s not the way it’s supposed to be.

The cry of the husband burying his wife and little one – deaths from a complicated childbirth; the cry of the husband who buried his 28-year old wife, dead from a brain tumor; the cry of the young woman who watched her husband die on their honeymoon; the cry of the mother of a soldier – killed during the war on terror; the cry of thousands of mothers in Afghanistan and Syria – all of whom have watched a child die.

It’s not the way it’s supposed to be.

And the cries echo toward the Heavens, in agony, in fear, in anger, in the deepest grief imaginable to man. And the throat catches, and the grief is wordless and boundless and rips the soul, the Whys and the Hows echoing all around. Hearts broken with grief, words of “how can we go one? how will we heal?” whispered through sleepless nights.

And on this third Sunday in Advent I look up and shout toward Heaven “It’s not the way it’s supposed to be.” And in the quiet, still of the morning, He whispers in my heart “I know child, I know.”

And so “I lay my ‘whys’ before your cross — In worship kneeling. My mind too numb for thought. My heart beyond all feeling. And worshiping realize that I – in knowing You, don’t need a ‘why’. “*

poem by Ruth Bell Graham, wife of Billy Graham.