Who Do You Want to Like You When You’re Eighty?

New YorkWith fireworks and champagne or sparkling grape juice (depending on your preference) my guess is you ushered in 2013 with a celebration. The obligatory kiss caught on camera  in New York City, the ball dropping, the “Happy New Year'” heard around the world – they all come in with pops and bangs, with excited anticipation.

And now, it’s New Years Day – the beginning of 2013. Undoubtedly social media sites, newspapers, and the blogosphere have already begun to inundate you with messages on what you want this year to mean, what goals you may have, what movies you should watch for.

Some of these messages may be meaningful: some may urge you to pick a word for the year – let’s say it’s gratitude, and live out that word; others might encourage you to set spiritual, vocational, physical goals.

But I’m not going to do that.

I’m going to give you one question by which to make decisions. If I was really holy, I would give you something about God and I hope you all know how much I love Him….but no, I’m giving you a different question, one that has served me well for years.

Who do you want to like you when you’re eighty?

In bold italics I write it.

It’s a serious question this one. Who, really, do you want to like you when you’re eighty? 

Your boss? Your work? Your book club? Your colleagues? Your hairdresser?

Make the list. Make it twice. And before you make a decision, particularly about work, ask yourself who you want to like you when you’re eighty. There are several times where I’ve come to a crossroad in my life, a point where work and home seem to conflict with each other, where work wants to crowd out that which is important to me. And though I pray and seek guidance sometimes it’s the practical question that gives the greatest clarity.

The choice sometimes feels unfairly weighted. On the one side is money, affirmation, yearly raises, a well-crafted resume. On the other, depending on the year, it can feel like doing needle point – taking painstaking care to get the stitches right, but knowing I won’t see the full picture, the results of the careful stitching, for a long time.

But in all of this, asking this question has never failed me.

And with that I’ll sign off and wish you a New Year filled with blessing, filled with Grace for what comes, filled with knowing more about this God who is “completely trustworthy and utterly unpredictable.”

And those of you who are older “of a more mature age” – What question would you encourage us to ask ourselves? Please share through comments! 

The Third Friday of Advent: What if I’m the Grinch who stole Christmas?

Grinch[1]Ok… I’m sort of sick of it all! I’m weary of the pressure and the competition. Who’s house has the prettiest outside decorations…who’s tree is the most elaborate and glamorous…. Who has the most gorgeous holiday ensemble…. I’m worn out by the mass frenzy to track down stuff! I’m tired of the ridiculous notion that I’d ever buy that for someone…and the hint that my love is in question if I don’t spend an enormous amount of money on my love, my child, my mom.

I’m sick of the activity—the cookie exchanges, the teacher appreciation, the office Christmas party, the choir concerts, the classroom parties, the youth group gift exchanges, the white elephant Sunday school party, the drawing of names, the sending of cards and packages, the lists of who to buy for, the lists of what to send to whom.

I’m even worn out by….and this is going to sound horribly heartless, the pressure to give-to local charities, to foreign charities, to missionary charities. The last-minute year-end appeals on the radio and in the mail as if we’ve all saved up all our money all year long and are just itching to unleash it all on someone, “pick me! Pick me”!

I’m nauseated by the Facebook posts, the meaningful comments encapsulating the good that my friends are up to. I’m seriously annoyed by the blog posts (Not yours Marilyn!) and the sappy sentimental YouTube clips all dripping with sweetness that seems imminently insincere!

I’m grumpy. I’m tired. I’m suspicious and I’m cynical.

I think I might be the Grinch.

What do you do if you discover you’re the Grinch and we’re half way through December? At the end of November I suggested that maybe we not get a Christmas tree this year. Our 10-year-old Bronwynn burst into tears. She cried and cried. Admittedly I was a little shocked by the strength of her reaction….and then horrified when she sobbed, “My mom is the Grinch”!

But maybe she was right.

The truth is I don’t want the Christmas de-cashing clutter, nor the crazy chaos to steal Jesus. I just wished we didn’t dress him up in such zany attire. Let’s strip him of these costumes we’ve forced on him: the baking, the frenzy, the shopping. Let’s embrace the Child alone in swaddling cloth—simple, plain, Jesus. That’s not Grinch-like is it?

Or maybe it is.

Maybe you must have a green face to shovel to the bottom of the glitter….in the end the Grinch himself had a heart that yearned for generosity and true joy. And that’s what I want too.

It’s time to launch another War on Christmas*. Grab the face paint. Paint your faces green. Stop shopping. Stop the frenzy train and get off. Come humbly with green faces and honest hearts to Jesus who actually invites us: ““Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.” (Matt 11:28-30 The Message)

*War on Christmas—It’s all over the conservative media–this notion that Christmas is somehow being squished out. There’s a fight to keep Christmas. I’m afraid I don’t see it….if anything Christmas – the commercial and crazy “Every Kiss Begins with Kay” Christmas – is slowly squeezing out Jesus. That’s what I’m resisting!

Let’s Occupy Christmas with Green faces and Jesus!

“Yeah, there’s a lot of bad ‘isms’ floatin’ around this world, but one of the worst is commercialism. Make a buck, make a buck. Even in Brooklyn it’s the same – don’t care what Christmas stands for, just make a buck, make a buck.” from Miracle on 34th Street

You Get What You Get and You Don’t Get Upset!

I travel often with a colleague/friend who is from Romania. We have no end of things to talk about – from feeling like ‘little immigrant girls‘ posing as grown-ups, to citizenship, to parenting – our conversations are involved and interesting.

Mariuca has a little girl who is four years old. Dark haired with curls and beautiful eyes, she is the image of her mama. Since my children are now older and more complicated I delight in hearing some of the stories of her daughter.

One day as we were traveling and talking about raising contented kids, she talked about teaching her daughter early on that you accept what you are given, take it gratefully and don’t get upset. She taught her the phrase “You get what you get and you don’t get upset!” 

I looked at her in happy astonishment as she told me. What a great phrase! Though it didn’t originate with my friend – it was the first time I heard it. It’s applicable to all of life from hearing that your favorite restaurant is out of your chosen entrée to finding out that you didn’t get the job you applied for — and so much more.

“You get what you get and you don’t get upset!”

Contentment Philippians 4-11 Coffee Mugs It’s the perfect phrase for a spoiled society. A society that tends to want more and more, never quite satisfied with what is in front of it.

It’s the perfect phrase for the disgruntled, the discontent, the restless, the disappointed – you get what you get and you don’t get upset.

It’s the perfect phrase for this season, where discontent and addictions to ‘more’ color the white lights and frosted beauty that surrounds me.

It’s the perfect phrase for me when I veer  toward wanting more; Not wanting the healthy sort of ‘more’ — more grace, more discipline, more passion that leads to doing more than I ever thought I could, but the unhealthy “I want more” that leads to discontent and dissatisfaction.

So today, with Thanksgiving but a memory and the Advent season in front of us,  can I commit this quote to head and heart?  That’s the big Monday question!

What about you? How have you learned to be content? How do you teach your children contentment? 

Blog Talk

Communicating Across Boundaries hit 600 posts published in less than two years of blogging yesterday! A continued thanks to all of you! That you spend time reading and commenting on Communicating Across Boundaries when there are so many choices on the web is huge to me.

You may have noticed that on the home page I have added a category at the top labeled Robynn – this will allow readers to go straight there if you want to browse and read through the posts by Robynn Bliss. She has been an amazing addition to Communicating Across Boundaries and her reading has resonated with you as shown by the number of views and shares on her posts.

I also want to give out a call for holiday posts. I’m looking for posts with a focus on Christmas and Christmas traditions around the world. So no matter where you live worldwide, if you celebrate Christmas, I’d love to hear from you. The post should be no more than 700 words and focus on a tradition unique to the place you live. Email communicatingblog@gmail.com with submissions. I plan to pick 4 to 5 to feature in December. Cannot wait to hear from you and publish this series on Communicating Across Boundaries.

Lastly, whether you are in Kuwait, the Maldives, Scotland, the United States or anywhere else, I hope you are enjoying this season. These photos taken at the farm where we picked apples in New Hampshire will give you a glimpse of my fall. Would love to hear where you are this season and what surrounds you!

Have a great weekend! 

Re-Post: Memories of an Expatriate 4th of July

At 52 years old, I have spent more fourth of July holidays overseas, celebrating with other expatriates and a grudging realization that I like the holiday, than in the US. Today’s post is a re-post from last year when many of you were not CAB readers. Enjoy!

In capitals like Islamabad and Cairo, the celebrations were a highlight of our year. Free food and entertainment combined with celebratory fireworks and raffle prizes enjoyed by all passport holders. Our children loved the chance to meet with friends and eat the uniquely American fare of hamburgers and hotdogs coupled with canned soda and topped off by ice cream cups.

In Islamabad the parties were held at the large compound that housed the American club and pool. As life has become increasingly more precarious for Americans living in Pakistan, I have no doubt the celebrations are far more low-key if at all. Cairo’s venue was Cairo American College, the large international school compound and hundreds came to these events.

One of my best memories came in the summer of 1992. We had received news of the death of my maternal grandmother only days before the 4th of July. She was my only living grandparent and a compassionate soul who deeply loved all of her grandchildren. My mom and dad had left Pakistan after making it their home for 35 years in December of 1988 to be closer to her, knowing that her earthly body was declining and longing to be near her during the remaining time she had left.

On news of her death I experienced a deep longing for family. The longing hung over me like the dust hangs over Cairo-heavy and impossible to remove. Coupled with that I had given birth to my fourth child, a baby girl, just six month before. The only relatives who had met this personality-filled baby were my sister-in-law Terry and my niece, Christi-Lynn. With a tiny, still breast-feeding baby in my arms and three other small children, I wanted the comfort of blood relatives but knew that the trip was financially impossible.

It was during this time that we packed up our young family and set off by foot to the large 4th of July party. There my sadness was in temporary reprieve as our kids got their faces painted, ate hotdogs until they were sick and played with friends.

There was also a raffle. Companies like Coca-Cola, Pepsi, and Swiss Air had donated large prizes like nights in hotels, and free airline tickets to the lucky ticket holders.

At the time my husband was taking a summer Arabic course at the American University in Cairo. He had befriended other classmates, some American, who had come to our home to escape the inevitable culture shock that had overtaken them. He told them about the “Free party on the 4th!” and as a result a couple of them had come. They were on their way back to “real Cairo” when they saw Cliff and asked him if he wanted their raffle tickets. Realizing that he would lose nothing, he took them and so we had in our possession 8 tickets.

You know the rest of the story before I put it down – Yes, we won. Not one prize but two. The first was a breakfast at the Marriott Hotel in Zamalek, renowned for its amazing morning spread. The second? A round-trip airline ticket, generously donated by Swiss Air from Cairo to my choice of anywhere in the continental United States.

To say I was over the moon does not adequately describe my excitement, or gratefulness. I felt in that time when I needed to know my heart was heard, God with great grace gave me a free pass. Like I was losing at a game of Life, only to land on a “Win a TV Game Show, Collect $100,000!” only this was real.

While other 4th of July celebrations have come my way, each holding their share of beautiful fireworks, fun foods, and a grudging recognition that it is one holiday where I proudly carry my U.S. passport, none will ever come close to that day when God met me at an expatriate celebration.

Blogger’s Note: Our 4th of July holidays have changed through the years. They now include a barbecue with friends, watching fireworks while sitting on the beach and a small town parade. For those of you who are from the U.S – Happy 4th! To the many other readers who are not – thanks for bearing with me and hearing about this holiday! I plan to give equal recognition through a blog post to Pakistan Independence Day on August 14!

Boston Christmas Trees – A Family Tradition

In our family the Hallmark picture postcard of a family out in the open air, bundled up with hats and mittens dragging the freshly cut pine Christmas tree across newly fallen snow is a picture that exists in an alternate universe. We live in a city and although we could go to the wilds and pick out a tree, we have captured a new kind of picture post card – that of a family bundled up, dodging traffic and praying for a parking space, finally picking a tree against a backdrop of city buildings and mural decorated brick.

That’s why we love Boston Christmas Trees. In the five years that we’ve lived in Cambridge it’s become a family tradition. Best of all is our “Christmas tree guy”, Tyler. This man has watched us argue, taken our pictures, and packed up the tree, placing it securely on the roof or our car every year. As my son said “He’s as much a Christmas tradition as red and green m&m’s, shrimp cocktail, and treasure hunts…”

Yearly we walk into the area with drama. We begin to look over the trees, arguing loudly about the merits and defects of each tree, oblivious to others who may find this annoying. Some go with the huge trees, some want the small; others go for the just right. We ultimately hold a democratic vote and the tree that wins is admired for a few minutes. “It’s just perfect” “Just the right shape” “I love the size”  are some of the appreciative comments murmured as we, satisfied with our choice, self congratulate.

At Boston Christmas Trees the anonymity that represents some places in the city is absent. Tyler knows us! Yearly we give him our family update and if one person is missing, he asks where they are. This year it was “There’s not as many of you this year! Where’s the one that usually films you getting the tree?” That’s Micah and we are missing him as he enjoys his first Christmas as a married man in Phoenix with his in-laws. “How about the one in Egypt?” he says. “We’ll see her next week!” we reply. And the talk goes on. In a most unlikely way, this Christmas Tree business feels like family. They are genuinely interested in who we are and have all the time and patience in the world to chat and participate in this once a year event – Christmas tree shopping.

The tree secured on top of our little car, we head home to decorate, accompanied by eggnog, green and red m&m’s and Mariah Carey belting out “All I want for Christmas is you!” It is a satisfying tradition, made more meaningful through a relationship and connection with our Christmas tree guy.