The Hidden Pearl

Ages ago, when we still lived in South Asia, Lowell stole one of my pearls from a pearl necklace I had. He took it out into the city and he deliberately “lost” it. As momentarily annoying as that was, Lowell wanted us to always be on the look out for a pearl in what often felt like a dark and oppressive town. Somewhere in the crowds of people, in the open sewers, on the polluted banks of the Ganges river, in the monsoon muds…somewhere there was a hidden a pearl. The hunt for it gave us a sense of anticipation and expectation. The pearl was out there! Would we find it?

Jesus told this tiny little story to his followers: God’s kingdom is like a jewel merchant on the hunt for excellent pearls. Finding one that is flawless, he immediately sells everything and buys it.

I’ve been thinking about that jewel merchant these days. I’ve been thinking about the search for something more. I’ve been keeping my eyes open for that ‘excellent pearl’.

I recently returned from a trip to Thailand. A group of expats, that normally live scattered across South Asia, had gathered at a resort on the edge of the ocean for a retreat. I was one of four invited in to offer soul care to those who might sign up. Over the course of 5 days I met with 21 people –some of the conversations were more intense than others. A few were reunions with old friends and were held over iced lattes looking over the ocean and the palm trees and the beach. But all of it….all week long….all of it felt so incredibly purposeful.

To be honest, it’s been hard to come home from that meaning drenched week and the joys of international air travel to laundry and lunch making. I’ve felt my sense of self being swallowed again by the mundane, by the endless question of who I am and what am I doing here. I’ve wondered again at my purpose.

I know my life has meaning here. I firmly believe we are here on purpose. I just need to find it again.…I need to uncover it. Sometimes it seems to be more hidden for me than for others. And often it seems illusive. Just when I stop looking and settle into my routines I find it in between spiritual direction clients or under a pile of clean clothes. The moment, however, I go to grab it always seems to disappear.

Before we left Asia in 2007 my dear friend and I went down to our favourite silver smith shop, Sunita Jewelers. There in a shop the size of a small walk-in closet we chose matching silver rings. Set into each simple band was a stunning creamy white pearl. It symbolized to us both that we live our lives in deference to the Pearl of Great Price. Our friendship was important to us. Raising our children together was something we treasured. Doing life and meaningful work together was of value to both of us. But Jesus seemed to be leading Lowell and I away from that…and my friend and I needed to remember that the Flawless one, the Pearl of Great Price, was worth whatever sacrifice he was asking us to make. We needed to be like the jewel merchant…we needed to do whatever it took to follow that Pearl!

Last October the pearl fell out of my ring. I noticed it at supper time on a Thursday evening. I was devastated. Errands and cleaning the house had taken me all over the town that day and all over the house. How would I ever find it? I was so sad and so disappointed. Suddenly I ached for my friend, for our old town, for my former life, for all that was. That ring, a generous gift from a precious friend, had been a companion in my adjustments to life in the US. It had served as marker of God’s faithfulness, a token reminder that he is near. I had worn that ring for over 8 years!

And although we searched fervently we never found it.

That pearl is still here somewhere. Probably it’s rolled under a piece of furniture. Perhaps it’s tucked under a cushion. Maybe I lost it in the grocery story. Maybe it’s at the post office. I’m still looking. When I vacuum the front room or sweep the kitchen, I find myself still searching, under and around and behind things. The metaphor isn’t lost on me–especially during these reentering, resettling days. I think I may have been looking for the wrong things –my purpose, my calling, my sense of significance and belonging–surely Jesus’ tiny story taught me to search out the most important thing. I’m joining the jewel merchant. I’m looking for the Excellent Pearl, the Flawless One, the Pearl of Great Price. He is here and I know the hunt for Him will never disappoint.

   
  

(*Matt 13:44-46)

Mothering Matters

  

Mothering Matters by Robynn 

 

We have this precious picture that sits on Lowell’s dresser upstairs in our bedroom. It’s one of the rare professional pictures we had taken of our children when they were younger. I love it for how it captures their personalities. Each of them: Connor, Adelaide and Bronwynn are present and the photographer caught their essence. I also love it because it brings back memories of one of the best days I ever had in India.

 

For whatever reason the children had the day off school.  I remember agonizing over how we would spend that day. There were obligations that I could have attended to. There were certainly things that needed doing. But there was also list of things that I had been wanting to do with the kids. Things we had talked about for a long time but never done. We decided that would be day!  

 

Adelaide needed new shoes for school. We stopped at the Bata shoe store and found a pair of black Mary Jane shoes with shiny buckles. We met my friend Ellen and her two girls for lunch at one of our favourite restaurants. I can’t remember what we ate but I can imagine it—all spicy and gravy yumminess with fresh roti to scoop it up. I’m sure the kids had sweet lassis. I’m sure I had chai.  After lunch we popped into an “Archies” store-–India’s Hallmark equivalent and then into a neighbouring bookstore. We browsed the toys and booksPerhaps Connor got a new Tintin book to add to his collection. I can’t remember.

 

We hopped on to a cycle rickshaw and continued into our beautiful day. Just as we were passing a large cinema, the kids squealed let’s go see Lage Raho Munna Bhai and I said, shockingly, sure! The kids ran ahead, as I paid the cycle wallah. I met them at the ticket counter. We hurried into the darkening theater and found seats. It was a great movie—full of silly slapstick, occasional dance scenes, blinged up saris and lehengas. There was colour and music, laughter and tears. At intermission the men came around with crates of pop on their shoulders. We indulged and had pop and maybe some numkeen.

 

From the cinema we made our way, again by cycle rickshaw, to the photographers studio. This had been my one thing I really wanted to have done. We arrived a little hurriedly, afraid we were running out of time. The kids, all three, were glistening with sweat dulled only by a little grime and left over movie giggles. I spit-shone an orange Fanta mustache off Connor. I tried to smooth Bronzi’s sweaty bangs to the side. Adelaide attempted to rub some dirt off her capris pants. The three of them bounced on to the bench. The photographer giving them instructions in Hindi, they scooted closer to each other, tilted their heads according to his demands, sat up straight as he indicated. And then it was over. I admit, I was hoping for a little more session and a little more photo from our photo-session. But the photographer just tilted his head to the side and nodded that he had what he needed. We could come back in a week to collect his masterpiece!

 

Next to the photographer’s studio was a small corner store. I ran in and got cold mango “Frootie” juice boxes to keep the kids hydrated. Humidity and heat were part of the day’s adventure.

 

The sun was beginning to dip low on the horizon but there was still one more promise to be fulfilled. We took an auto rickshaw halfway across town so that the girls could get their ears pierced. The beauty salon was clean and cool. They were pleased with their pale faced clients. Bronwynn opted to go first. She sat, brave and four, tiny and focused in the big chair. Holding my hands tightly in her little fists she didn’t breath. Her little nose squinched up into her forehead as the pain registered. Adelaide, watching it all, decided she didn’t quite want her ears pierced anymore. She would wait. We stopped for ice cream and a few groceries on the way home.

 

As we tumbled into the courtyard, spilling our stories all over daddy who sat waiting for us under the mango tree, there was so much joy. We had had a good day.  I couldn’t stop smiling. I had been a mom that day. I hadn’t tried to juggle ministry responsibilities or team expectations. I had shaken off all guilt and had immersed myself in the day with my children. It felt like a dream day.

 

Even now the kids all remember bits and pieces of that wonder-day. Adelaide, then 7, remembers ice cream and how Bronzi didn’t wear the matching outfit to hers (I think Bronwynn probably had it dirty before we left the house)!Bronzi was only four but she remembers the juice boxes and the ride to the beauty salon. She remembers the auto rickshaw and seems to think the auto walla drove past the salon and had to turn around. Nine year old Connor remembers how much fun we had that day. He remembers the movie: it was a comedy, set in Bombay, with music. He remembers going to the studio for pictures. His face lit up as I asked him about it.

 

During those years in North India I battled seemingly conflicted roles. I never felt I had the freedom to just be a mom. To be fair, it was my own agonies that made this an issue for me. No one else was demanding anything else of me. I was determined to mesh my mothering with my other passions and responsibilities. In the end I fear I downplayed my maternity. My children got the brunt of this “philosophy”; they were the ones that suffered. They endured my leftover bits of energy at the end of full days with other people. When my best was given to those who came to my gate, or those who called on the phone, it was my little people, my tiny loves, that saw the grumpy side, the impatience, the inconsistent temperament. I regret that so keenly now. I wish I had known so many things back then, most importantly, I wish I had known how very much mothering matters. Those other things–teammates and ministries, work responsibilities—those matter too. But I really wish I had known how much mothering matters.

 

And so this picture reminds me of an immensely happy mom-day. I’m pleased the kids remember the day too. That matters to me somehow. We’ve had other good days too. We’ve laughed lots. We’ve had other ice creams and countless juice boxes. We’ve shared lunches with other friends and we’ve been to other cinemas to watch other films. But I’m grateful for the sticky sweet memory of this mothering day in September some time back in 2006.

Hospitality—a changed fuse, a restored gift

Ganges

Hospitality—a changed fuse, a restored gift by Robynn. Follow Robynn on Twitter @RobynnBliss and read the rest of her posts here! 

Hospitality is a dying art here in the West. Martha Stewart and Pinterest have made simple gatherings with friends seem too small or insignificant. There is some invisible pressuring force that perfection is a prerequisite to hospitality. If our homes aren’t impeccably decorated, if our housecleaning isn’t at a professional level, if our cooking isn’t gourmet we dare not invite someone in. This says nothing of the personal pressure we feel. Our children must be great conversationalists, extreme servers, polite passers. Our spouses must be engaging. Our marriages should seem as flawless as the table center, as wrinkle-free as the tablecloth.

When we lived in South Asia we continuously had people in and out of our home. There were those who popped in for a cup of coffee and a conversation. There were others who came and settled into our guest room for weeks at a time. If Lowell met travellers out in the city who seemed to need a place to unwind, or the comfort of a home cooked meal, he didn’t hesitate to issue them an invitation.  Colleagues, teammates, friends often joined us around our supper table. A tray of tea, a plate of biscuits or cookies, a bowl of spicy numkeen snacks, cane chairs under the mango tree were all the ingredients for many an impromptu tea party! We had this wonderful roof with a broad expansive view of the Ganges river. That was also the perfect spot for coffee, or later in the evening, with the sky darkened and the stars out, for drinks with friends under the Indian moon.

Somehow in the move back to North America I lost my capacity for hospitality. As I think on it now, I wonder if it wasn’t a combination of burn out, deep weariness and culture shock. At the beginning I was simply too tired. And then I was too intimidated. I had no clue what the rules were here. How did you invite someone over? What needed to happen for it to be a successful moment? What food should be served? On what plates? What time? What date? It seemed too high of a mountain to climb. It seemed to risky. I couldn’t manage it. My years of hosting seemed over. My hospitality fuse seemed blown.

In the first seven years we’ve been back I can count on one hand the number of people we had into our home—and those mostly family and friends from our India days. I knew what the expectations were for those friends. I knew how to do that type of hospitality.

I’m not sure what changed. Suddenly last Fall I had the random idea that I might like to have some people over for dinner. There’s a man in our community, a teacher, a father of two sons—one grown, one yet at home, a kind-hearted man, with whom Lowell and I have both enjoyed conversation. Bless his heart; unbeknownst to him, he became our first victim! I sent him an email and asked if he and his son would like to join us for dinner. He seemed pleased by the invitation. That felt like a good sign. I forged ahead. I planned a simple menu that I thought his son would appreciate. I cooked the food and set the table. It didn’t seem terribly different from a normal night. I was doing what I knew to do. When Roger and his son showed up they brought flowers. My stomach betrayed the confidence I feigned. I pretended we did this all the time.

At the end of the evening I felt such joy. It had gone well. We had enjoyed stimulating conversation and wholesome food. The guests seemed to feel welcomed and valued. I had done it! And it hadn’t destroyed me! My unease and discomfort were made smaller. I had a growing sense of accomplishment and pleasure.

In December we had our youth pastor’s family of six for dinner. As the pasta bowl was passed around I couldn’t stop smiling. There was community for supper and happiness for dessert. It felt right and good. Not long afterwards we hosted a couple from Chicago, with their two young children, his sister and their sixteen year old Pakistani exchange student! That was an incredible evening. Less than a week after that we had dear friends from Louisiana and New York join us for supper. Our friend Roger and his son came too. Looking back on that evening still brings me joy! We laughed and told stories. We talked about books and good movies. We shared thoughts on politics and Kansas, on spiritual direction and liturgical services. It was a wonderful night.

Last Saturday evening we hosted our first party since leaving India. For those who knew us there these admissions will likely seem fictional and untrue! Those years in India were punctuated by many a celebration and party: birthdays and Thanksgivings and Christmas. We hosted many such events and we did it with joy! But none since we returned to this side of the sea. Last Saturday I felt extremely nervous! We were hosting a Corner Gas party for a small group of friends that have come to enjoy the Canadian sit-com set at a small gas station and restaurant at the heart of a small town, Dog River, in the vast Saskatchewan prairie. The show hasn’t run for several years, but they recently released a movie! We ordered it on line! It seemed like the perfect excuse for a party.

I made my to do list several days before the party. Clean the bathrooms, sweep the kitchen, move the TV, change the kitty litter, vacuum the living room. Make brownies, make layered dip, set out carrot sticks and chips. On Saturday morning Lowell suggested we should have chili cheese dogs (it’s the food of choice of one of the main characters on the show). I nearly panicked. I didn’t know how to make those. And they weren’t on my lists. Lowell slowly talked me through the “recipe”. But how much chili for each sausage? How much cheese? What were the ratios? Lowell calmly offered to be in charge of this last minute addition to the menu.

Our friends all came—good people with years of shared stories and shared snacks! We loaded up our plates, crowded around the tv and watched our movie. It was an enjoyable evening sprinkled with laughter. It was a good time.

Later I confessed to my mother in law how very nervous I felt hosting this party. She was surprised. She reminded me of the dinner parties and the gatherings of people I’ve recently hosted. Some how the party felt different to me. But she was right, really it was an extension of this recovered gift, this restored grace.

To me December’s gatherings and January’s party seem like marks of healing. I’ve unpacked another piece of me. I’ve found again, a part of my true self, the other self, that lived far away, and I’ve brought her here. I’ve dusted her off, and I’ve found, much to my delight, that she still fits. It feels right and good and whole. It brings me joy.

Kindle edition of Between Worlds is available now and FREE for the next 2 days! Get your copy downloaded today! Includes bonus material of a discussion guide. Click HERE NOW!

Picture Credit: http://pixabay.com/en/steps-river-side-ganges-ganga-bank-314190/

The Good Ole’ Days: Remembering Thanksgiving in the “old” country!

We (Robynn & I) wish you a Happy Thanksgiving from the United States! Enjoy this post by Robynn about the “Old Country.”

thank-you

Those were Thanksgivings where kimchee lay down next to the roast chicken and we celebrated with true gratitude the extraordinary community we got to be a part of.

One of my favourite days of the year when we lived in India was always Thanksgiving Day. I’m referring to American Thanksgiving with sincere apologies to Canada and other nations who have similarly marked days for thankfulness or to celebrate a successful harvest:  The Netherlands, Grenada, Australia’s Norfolk Island, Liberia, Germany’s Erntedankfest or Japan’s Labor Thanksgiving Day. Thanksgiving Day isn’t celebrated in India, except of course among expatriate communities of Americans tucked around the country. On the second Monday of October, Thankgiving in Canada, it was always far too hot to celebrate with any vigor! But by the end of November, the temperatures were favorable. The hot summer was over, the messy monsoons after-mud was all dried up and there was nearly, if you used your imagination, a Fall-like atmosphere in the air! It was time to party! We took that celebration to a whole new level in the way we honoured American Thanksgiving. In fact the day became affectionately known as, the International American Thanksgiving Hosted by a Canadian! (And I was that Canadian!)

Our house was perfectly situated for such an event. We lived in an ancient stone house built right next to the Ganges River. Our house was built around a central courtyard with a massive mango tree growing out of the center. There was a staircase up to the roof with a glorious view of the river on the eastern side, a view of the city from the other three sides. From the roof top you could also look down into the open courtyard in the center of our home. While the house was actually quite small, the courtyard was large and hospitable. The last year we were there 111 people attended our Thanksgiving day and all managed to find a place to sit down: on chairs , on mats, on cushions, on the roof, in the living room, in the tree house!

With no turkeys available and no pumpkins in the market we had to improvise. We hosted a potluck. People from all over the world find themselves living along the banks of the Ganges river in the vibrant little city of Varanasi. Those same people are often nostalgic for their favourite foods. Once a year, at our International American Thanksgiving, they’d give into their memories of home and food and family, creatively substituting ingredients where necessary, they’d bring amazing dishes to share at our table. Typically we’d have mountains of mashed potatoes and gravy with roasted chickens and stuffing piled high. But we’d also have kimchee salad and fruit platters and sushi and tandoori chicken. There was often rice pulau with chunks of lamb and oodles of raisins. There was cabbage salad and sweet glazed carrots and green beans cooked up with onions and garlic. If the season cooperated, and we were lucky, someone might have found sweet potatoes in the bazaar. Those were smothered in a syrup made from coarse sugar and raw molasses to make a tasty vegetable side dish. Often we had curried dishes next to more traditional thanksgiving fare. Aloo Gobi. Muttar Paneer. And one of my favourite eggplant dishes: Baingan Bharta. Usually someone’s mother had sent a tin or two of cranberry sauce to complete our meal. Those were shared with joy and rationed out by the teaspoon! The dessert table was always divine. It held squash and carrot pies, apple pies, banana cream pies, lemon or key lime pie without the key limes. There was milk tart, dumplings, spice cakes, lamington and Ute’s special tiramisu. It was an international feast of international treats lovingly prepared by international cooks with whatever ingredients they could find, or had saved especially for the day.

After everyone had eaten their full and the coffee and tea had been served, we cleared the plates and got ready for the afternoon’s entertainment. With no football game to distract us, we found our own fun! A stage was created to the west side of our courtyard. Everyone turned their chairs, or their cushions on the courtyard floor to face the stage. People sat on the roof and watched down below. Babies crawled through and around and over the legs and laps of aunties and uncles. Toddlers toppled and played with leaves fallen from the mango tree in the center of our courtyard. Every year we had a talent show as part of our unique Thanksgiving Day celebrations. There were classical Indian dances from our little girls in dance class, there were silly songs and sad songs, there were painful magic shows, my husband Lowell would demonstrate our dog, Koyla’s, ability to understand 5 or 6 languages, someone would tell a story, another would have a series of jokes. And then the afternoon would be over. We’d linger long over another piece of leftover pie, another cup of hot chai. Slowly people would trickle out, no one really wanting the day to be over.

Our first Thanksgiving back in the US was in 2007. As we were making plans for it, our kids asked what we were doing for the talent show. Lowell laughed gently and then told them that the talent show wasn’t really a part of a traditional Bliss family thanksgiving in Kansas. Our children were aghast. How could you have thanksgiving without the talent show?

Making plans for a different type of Thanksgiving this year, with Lowell’s mom now living with us, and Lowell’s brother’s family now out at the farm, I wonder what changes we’ll see. It makes me remember those other Thanksgivings, a world away, on the banks of the Ganges. Those were Thanksgivings where kimchee lay down next to the roast chicken and we celebrated with true gratitude the extraordinary community we got to be a part of. Those were, in my mind, the good ole days.

(Although, truth be told, I don’t miss the annual awkward moment in the talent show where Lowell played his tin whistle with his nose….!)

Picture Credit: http://pixabay.com/en/thank-you-gratitude-appreciation-490607/ adapted by Marilyn Gardner

Moving is Hard or This too is India

Moving is hard or This too is India by Robynn. Today’s piece is longform – and you will be glad you read it. Especially if you are in a move or frequently support those that move. You can follow Robynn every Friday in Fridays with Robynn. You can also follow her on Twitter at @RobynnBliss

 moving is hard 2

Our family is moving this summer. It’s the shortest move we’ve ever made but in someways it feels the most daunting. We’re simply moving four blocks away and yet the process of packing and sorting isn’t greatly diminished. I wonder if moving will be hard this time too? Since we’re not really leaving the neighbourhood I wonder if much will change? I wrote this for others whose move involves actually leaving the city, or the state, or the country but perhaps I’ll need to re-read it in a couple of months time.

When we moved from India to the United States, 7 years ago, we were astounded by how difficult it was. Packing up a family of five had been stressful. Leaving one beloved country, travelling through two more en route before unpacking in a fourth was tiring. However, settling in was shockingly hard. I wasn’t expecting it to be like that. This was America. Things were supposed to run a little easier.

Part of our job in India was to welcome new expatriates and help them settle into the chaos of our North Indian city. We answered thousands of important questions, we walked people through hundreds of frustrations, we held their hands, we cried with them as they grieved their losses, we laughed at their surprises and delights and celebrated each of their new discoveries. It was an intense part of our lives there.  During that time we heard repeatedly of their frustrations with the Indian systems. Bureaucracy was a nightmare. Systems didn’t work. Loopholes were deeper, thicker, higher, and impossible to jump through.  Simple errands were complex. Nothing made any sense. The newly arrived were often angry, frustrated and exasperated. India was blamed for most of their troubles.

I’m not denying how agonizing it can be. Original copies of this certificate. Photocopies of that form. Four copies of passport-sized photos. Notarized copies of this application. Signed duplicates of that original. Go there. Get that. Return there. You still need this. The office is closed on Tuesdays. Office hours on Fridays are limited. It was often ridiculous and relentless. But I’ve come to see that very little of it was actually India’s fault.

Those first few months of life here in the US were (equally?) maddening. To apply for a phone we needed an address and a phone number. To sign up for gas and electricity we needed a phone number. We couldn’t get the phone number until we had a phone number. There were, nearly hilarious, systemic loops that we fell into. We couldn’t get internet service until we had a phone number. We couldn’t get a phone until we had an address. We couldn’t get our address until we could meet with the previous owner for him to sign over the deed. But we couldn’t fill out the deed until we had a phone number. Often Lowell and I would look at each other, remembering the angst that our newly arrived friends would experience upon arriving in India, and we’d say, “This too is India”!

Enrolling our children in school was also confusing. We had to have copies of their birth certificates (which birth certificate? Two of our three children have three birth certificates each!) and copies of their immunization records (which were unreadable and confusing and had to be redone by the local pediatrician’s office).  I didn’t have an American social security number at that time. My Canadian social insurance number confused everyone as it didn’t fit into the prescribed number of boxes. It was awkward and embarrassing. It wasn’t just my identifying number that didn’t fit into their boxes….our whole family seemed to be out of place.

I recently read a well written piece by a woman who was reflecting back on moving with her young family to a foreign country. I found the article a little annoying, if I’m being honest. Somehow it felt like the new country, let’s call it Papua New Guinea, was blamed for all their struggles. Her children struggled at settling in. Papua New Guinea was blamed. She and her husband struggled with the guilt of bringing their kids to this new and strange place. Papua New Guinea was blamed. As I was processing it with my friend Marilyn, I wrote, “It’s really an unfortunate piece. The fact of the matter is any move is hard on every member of the family. Just ask Jill about moving their 10-year-old and 6-year-old from Kansas to New Mexico. It’s hard to move. Period. It is a really narrow perspective to blame a cross cultural move for all the troubles you and your kids will have. Life is hard. Parenting is hard. Moving is hard”.

Two years ago, my good friend Jill and her family moved from Kansas to a nearby state, New Mexico. They transplanted their two young children and all their earthly goods to that new place. Both Jill and her husband were familiar with the city they moved to and yet it’s been a very difficult transition for them. They didn’t leave the country. They didn’t need to learn a new language. And yet…nothing is the same there. They’ve struggled to find a new church. The school system seems strange. New doctors, new hair stylists, new rules, new systems, new neighbourhoods, new friends. It’s been hard.

moving is hard

In a major move it’s easy to idyllically reinterpret your past. It was so much easier when we were there. Remember how fun that was? Remember how tasty that treat was at that restaurant we loved? It’s much harder to be present where you are, especially when where you are is new and strange and your responses to it are less than perfect. You aren’t the same person you were there. Your marriage looks different. Your parenting changes. But it’s also true that had you stayed where you were you still wouldn’t be the person you had been. You’d be older. Your marriage would have taken new turns. Your children move into the next developmental stage. They have new growth spurts and hormones and rebellions, new friends, and new circumstances. Everything is constantly changing. Resisting the temptation to blame the new location for the new you, the new (and strange) struggles your children experience, the new pains in your relationships, the new sins that surface in your soul is difficult but necessary.

This new place where you find yourself is a new opportunity to grow. There are fresh beginnings and unfamiliar experiences ahead. Train yourself and your children to be here now. Present and stable. Certainly there is value in remembering….but focus on remembering how faithful God was in that old place. Recall some of the hard things from that last chapter. Call to mind how you managed to get through it. Remember circumstances that were foreign and frantic. Remember how the Peace that few understand melted over your family then. And then be assured that it will sustain you in this new place too. That hasn’t changed.  The mercies of God, which were new every morning there, will also be new every morning here.

I’m not for a minute trying to minimize the pain of a move. It is painful.

There are a thousand losses. Nothing remains the same. None of your previous routines and systems seem to translate. Everything must be relearned. It’s very very hard. And it takes far longer than you think it will to truly settle in and be at home. But there is little to be gained for blaming the place for the heartache and dis-ease you feel. Pain is always an invitation to grow deeper. Jesus meets us in our pain and offers to lead us through it. Through to the other side of settled. Through to a new normal. Through to a new sense of home and being settled.

And who are we kidding….

Through to a whole new series of change and loss and opportunity and joy…through to a whole new invitation to go deeper.

This too is India! 

Photo Credits: http://pixabay.com/en/delhi-road-india-chaos-282933/ and http://pixabay.com/en/bellman-luggage-cart-baggage-104031/

On Graduation an Open Letter to a Young TCK

writing letters

A bit under a year ago Robynn wrote An Open Letter to a Young TCK. With graduation either just past or approaching we wanted to repost this one today. It’s a good one, full of wisdom and honesty so grab a cup of tea and enjoy. 

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I recently wrote this to a young Third Culture Kid. She’s been struggling to settle in and my heart has nearly broken several times as I’ve watched her trying to find who she is and where she’s from in the midst of her agony. This is a letter I wrote to her. I open it up for you to read too.

“There is no doubt in my mind that God has a very important, unique, purpose for you. He chose you well before the beginning of time to grow up in your family…. And then he gave you the experiences he did with the first chapter of your life in India, and the second chapter in the Europe and the third chapter at College…all for a very specific purpose. No one else has your history, your collection of memories, your experiences, your family, together with the amazing ways you’ve been gifted, your talents, your passions, your convictions! Your Father God is thrilled with you. He’s crazy about you! He loves watching you! And he has great and grand plans for you! I firmly believe this!

As your “auntie” I want to give you some advice. Like all advice, you can take it or leave it! But there are so many ways that I relate to you. So many things we share in common. I speak this advice from that place, but also from the place of age and a little more maturity (although certainly not always!). I’ve watched you. I’ve prayed for you. I have come to deeply love you. These are the things I’d like to say. They aren’t in any particular order but here you go (you might want to make yourself a cup of tea! This got kind of long!):

1. Live here and now. You are too young to live in the past. Connect with life in the present tense. You no longer live in India. You no longer live in the UK. I know this is not necessarily where you would choose to live (it’s not where I would choose to live either!) But God calls us to live where He has placed us.

There is something holy about those two words: Here and Now.

He has gifts for you each day…but unless you begin to live NOW you’ll miss them because you’ll be remembering gifts from yesterday, gifts from the UK, gifts from India. Those yesterday gifts were precious, no doubt about that, but I don’t want you to miss out on what God has in store for you today! Jesus really convicted me of this about three years ago. I was still living in Varanasi. He was asking me to live here in Manhattan. I read a great book called “The Wisdom of Stability” by Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove and it  changed my perspective on this issue. I highly recommend that book to you.

2. Get involved. Connect. Engage with what’s happening around you! This is similar to “Live here and now”– maybe it’s even the application of living here and now. One of the ways you can stop living in the past or in the future is to make an effort to consciously connect with the place and the community you are placed in. Get involved! You have so much to offer! Find a local community orchestra. Join it. You’ve talked about theater….is that something you’d be interested in again? If so, track one down. Audition. Get involved. I know you’re scared and nervous…but EVERYONE is!

Not just you, not just other TCKS—every single person enters the world afraid. Some people fake it better than others! you can do this! But it takes effort and initiative. Do it afraid!

Ask God to help you and then walk into things. The reward far outweighs the risk. Remember Bronwynn going to camp, in spite of her terrific fears and worries. She did it! She did it afraid…but she did it! And you and I both know she had the time of her life. If she can…so can you!

3. Say thank you. I’ve ranted about this before. You’ve heard this speech…but it’s a really important one. Say thank you A LOT. For everything. This will make life in this next chapter much easier too. Tell your mom thank you for everything….tell your dad thank you! No one likes to be taken advantage of, or used…. remember the day we picked up Blake from IHOP? He used me that day and it wasn’t pleasant! Remember how much I went on and on about saying thank you?

4. Clean up your messes. When you’re a kid you learn to clean up your own mess but when you are an adult you learn to clean up community messes. Jump in! Learn to see the “messes” around you and pitch in. Clean up. Take care of your things…but not just your things, the things of others. Don’t leave it for later. Don’t ignore what you see. Clean. Wash up. Scrub. Fold. It  is part of being an adult.

5. Make choices. That’s a vague way to say this….but what I mean is, it’s time to start acting and living like an adult. You get to decide how to spend your money. You get to choose your own phone plan. You get to choose where you go and how you get there. You have so much freedom now! It’s exciting! You want to go visit a friend, you can! Buy a ticket and Go! You want to buy some special software for your computer? You can! Go for it! Being an adult is actually fun!

Of course – there are other choices, the not so fun ones. You also get to decide where you’ll apply for a job, how you’ll get to that job. But you can do this. And you’ll discover joy along the way. Your relationship with your parents is different now too. You no longer need their permission. I know you still want their approval and their blessing (that’s perfectly normal….) but you get to make your own decisions. And surely you know that if they don’t approve of what choices you make they will still love you forever and ever. NOTHING will ever change that!

6. Listen to God. He has so much he wants to give you….so many adventures he wants to take you on. Ask him. Listen to his responses. Step out in faith. Take some time even this summer to inquire of him. What contribution does he want you to make to the world around you? Who are the people he’s given you to love? Reach out in faith. Think about the things you love, the things that bring you joy…lay those things out before God. Does he want to use you in some way connected to those things? Think about the things you are good at, the skills you have,the experiences you’ve had…lay those things out before God too. Does he want to use you in some way connected to those things? Talk it out with him. Listen to his answers.

He’s not playing hide and seek. He is here. Ready and excited. He loves you so very much.

7. Take your eyes off yourself.

a) I know your pain has been so big. I know it must feel like it’s going to consume you. I know life here in the US hasn’t turned out quite like you thought it would. And I know that’s very very hard.

Pain is the one thing we share in common with every other person on the globe! Everyone is hurting. Everyone has a story of sadness and great grief.

Everyone has been affected by sin. And while it’s true no one person can completely understand another’s pain, and it’s also true that pain has the capacity to isolate people because of that. It’s a lonely place. Having said that, if we take our eyes off ourselves and place them on Jesus, he begins to point out people around us who are also in pain that we can minister to. When we do that we begin to see how pain connects people. You can better comfort and reach out because of your own pain (not that it’s the same as someone else’s but that you both share a story of pain). There are so many people who need comfort and connection. You can do that….if you see who those people are. The wonder of it all is that when you do that…when you reach out to someone else in pain…. your own pain begins to diminish just a little. It doesn’t go away but it doesn’t consume you in the same way either.

b) Along the same lines…but a little different…. The people around you have lives too. I don’t mean this to sound harsh, I’ve said it many times to my own children too, but you are not the center of the universe. Life does not revolve around you.

Part of growing up is trying to understand life from another’s point of view.

You are uniquely qualified to know what it must be like to move cultures and countries…. You’ve experienced grief in leaving people behind. You can sympathize with others in that way. Ask them how they are.  Ask them if they’re doing ok.

There…you’re done! You made it through Auntie Robynn’s Rants and Raves!

Above all, I want you to know this one thing: There is nothing you can do that will change God’s love for you. He is with you. He walks with you into this next stage. You can fully lean on him. He is pleased with you. It doesn’t ultimately matter what anyone else thinks… God is pleased with you. Deeply. Completely. You can rest in that sweet sweet reality.

Are you an Adult TCK? What would you add? Have you spent time with third culture kids? What do you have to say to TCKs on their transition? 

Picture Credit: http://pixabay.com/en/home-office-workstation-office-336378/

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It’s a Question of Identity

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It’s a Question of Identity by Robynn. Today’s piece is long form so sit back with a cup of tea or coffee. What are you tethered to? Where is your identity anchored?

I distinctly remember the feeling I had when my parents moved away from Pakistan.  It was a powerful sense of being untethered. Suddenly I felt disconnected, unmoored. The feeling I felt when they moved from my childhood home hidden in the dusty lanes of Layyah to a different house a mile or two down the road wasn’t nearly as poignant as the feeling I had when they actually left Pakistan.

I no longer had a reason to return. I no longer had an excuse.  As long as they were there, part of me was explained. With their departure, that explanation no longer made sense.

I’ve just had a relapse of that emotion. Only this time it feels stronger and more alienating.

We’ve just had word that the landlords of our house in India where we spent our last 6 years have asked the current tenants to vacate the property. It’s not just a house. When Lowell first happened upon the land it was an overgrown green mass with ruins and a suspicious looking snake pit. Tucked in that was a temple, a bungalow and an ancient little haveli house.  The ancient little haveli house was where we eventually made ourselves at home. It was built right on the banks of the Ganges river. Originally it had no kitchen but we had one made in a former storage room. There was a lovely old mango tree in the center of the courtyard. On the other side of the courtyard we renovated another old storage space into a proper guest room with an attached sitting room. The dilapidated rock structure with the snake pit we helped to cultivate and transform from a place of ruin to a vibrant spot for rest and recovery. Together with a small team of friends who had a heart for it we started an Ashram there—a place of beauty where people could come and meet God.

It’s the only place our kids remember as home in that ancient city. It’s where we went back to on our return trip in December. We were thrilled to see it going on. The couple from Australia who took it over after we made the decision to not return to India have really seen it reach its potential. They’ve had guests come by the hundreds into that space. Travelers from around the globe have found hospitality and beauty there. They’ve found welcome, food, art. Many of them have encountered a Deeper Reality. Some of them have found Jesus.

When I heard they were being asked to leave I felt so very sad. And strangely, I felt again, my soul untethered. My ties to that country that I grew to love have been cut. The explanation of our connection to that place no longer makes sense.

There are so many places we can tie our identities to. Clearly, I’ve anchored part of mine to faraway places where I’ve lived. But if I was completely honest I’d have to admit I’m also tied to my marriage, to my passport, to my sense of humour, to my love of coffee and conversation, to my children. Others might say they’re tied to their work, their calling, their sexual orientation, their politics, their cause, their style, their wardrobe. These alliances are all so fragile. One phone call can sever those connections. One confrontation and your identity is challenged. One piece of bad news, one email, one knock on the door and suddenly you find yourself, as I found myself earlier this week, untethered. Unfastened. Insecure.

It’s like I’m having this odd out-of-body experience and I see myself floating. It doesn’t make me feel free or bouyant….it feels scary, unsettling, disconcerting.

I remember a conversation I had with a young TCK. She was adopted when she was tiny. Indian by birth, American by adoption, she was raised in part in India but then her family moved mid-childhood to Europe where she spent the rest of her growing up years. When we talked she was thinking about having a DNA test done. She wanted to know where in India she was from.  I felt so sad for her. A DNA test wasn’t going to give her the answers she longed for. She wanted to know who she was. She wanted to know where to tie her identity threads to. Where should she tether herself? A DNA test couldn’t give her those answers. The DNA test wouldn’t know her story.

On Sunday at church a woman, who we love, approached Lowell to ask him a question. She had just read Frank Schaeffer’s book, “Sex, Mom and God”. Deeply troubled, she wanted Lowell’s help in understanding how Schaeffer, the son of missionary Francis and Edith Schaeffer, could deviate so from the God of his childhood. While I’ve never read the book, Lowell’s comment to me as we talked about it, intrigued me, “It seems to me Frank Schaeffer never identified himself with Christ. He identified himself with radical thinking or with a type of evangelicalism perhaps.” – In Lowell’s mind, the younger Schaeffer, never seemed to tether his identity to Jesus.

It is certainly okay for me to grieve the loss of those places: my childhood Layyah; my adulthood home on the banks of the Ganges. The places mattered to me. They were part of my formation. I grew up in Layyah. I grew up more in Varanasi. Pieces of me are left buried in the soil in the both of those precious terrains. Grieve it, I have. Grieve it, I must.

But I suppose it’s a case of identity. I think I need to reevaluate where I have tethered my identity. It is true that I’m married, I have three children, I have a great sense of humour (at least I crack myself up at regular intervals!). I love to travel. I’ve lived longer abroad than I have in my passport country. But when I completely identify myself by those things I flounder.As hard as it is, as nebulous as it seems, I firmly believe I need to connect and reconnect myself daily to the One Firm Place, the Changeless Christ, to Jesus my Rock and Redeemer. Knowing who I am to him and in him anchors me. That truth connects me firmly, fiercely to what is true. It’s really the only thing I know for certain.

On December 27, 2013, two Russian cosmonauts left the safety of the International Space Station. Their mission was to attach two cameras to the outside of the Space Station. That particular amble outside broke the record for the Russian’s longest spacewalk. Watching it on the TV, with our bottoms firmly in our seats and our feet on the planet, was an agonizing experience. They moved slowly, carefully. They had large hooks that they moved to secure metal loops to keep themselves attached to the space station. Becoming detached was a life or death reality for them. Both Oleg Kotov and Sergey Ryazansky had experience at these things. They didn’t lose their sense of humour as they worked. Methodically they connected their hooks to the loops. They worked. They detached the hooks, one at a time, carefully reattaching each one before moving on. It was painfully slow but they knew who they were in the moment. They knew what their purpose was. They knew what they were connected to.

Down to earth, practically, it still feels so fragile and so uncertain. I have to make this choice, while seemingly afloat, by faith, to reattach my sense of self, my core, my soul, to what is unchanging, to what is certain, to what is true.  Jesus said it himself in the gospel according to St John, “Yes, I am the vine; you are the branches. Those who remain in me, and I in them, will produce much fruit. For apart from me you can do nothing.” Many read this as a recipe for fruit. How do I make fruit? I remain in the vine.  In my mind, it’s not about the fruit, it’s about the attachment. We are connected. We belong. We are stuck to something eternal, permanent, fixed.

Apart from him we can do nothing.

Nothing but falter and float– flailing and unfastened.

So by faith I move, ever-so-slowly, through my grief, one hook at a time—attached, connected, harnassed–praying to feel more tethered than I do. Apart from him I can do nothing. Even in him I can’t do much but grieve very slowly.

So we ask again – what are you tethered to? When have you felt untethered? 

 

 

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Traveling With Kids

Today’s post is an excellent piece by Robynn. I love the way she works through the complexity of facing a culture, familiar to you, yet foreign to your children. And you’ll notice it’s not Friday! Tomorrow I’ll be sending you over to A Life Overseas for my monthly post on that site.

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Traveling with Kids by Robynn

We knew it would be an experience taking our three, now very American, children back to India. Two of them were born there but we left when they were 10, 8 and 5. The older two still have memories of India but the younger one really couldn’t remember it all. She was nervous returning. She knew it was an important place, she was born there after all, but she was still anxious.

Our oldest son, Connor really just slipped back in. He remembered the city. Much to our astonishment he still knew his way around. Memories bounced back into his brain faster than he could articulate! It was such a joy to watch him. He came back to who he was.

For my husband and I, returning to India was like putting on our old shoes. We slipped them on and off we went. There was a little chafing where our foot had forgotten that old strap. There were a few moments of uncomfortableness as we got used to wearing sandals again…but really it was all so very familiar and strangely comforting to be there again!

As many of you know, my childhood was spent in Pakistan. Thirteen of our nineteen years of marriage were spent in India. Two of our three babies were born there. I am very at home in South Asia. Parts of me that lay dormant while out of context here in the US suddenly are revived and I find myself more fully alive than ever when I am in India or Pakistan.

For our two daughters, however, it was a different story. Bronwynn just turned 12 years old. She is emotionally intelligent and extremely articulate. Like most children her age, her social filters are limited. Should a thought pop into her head, it will invariably pop out of her mouth. Her experience with India was like most new comers. She loved it. And she hated it. Her running commentary on her own culture shock was hard to take seriously. She made us laugh with the observations she made. She was certainly typical, in that she knew instinctively that her way was the right way. What she saw around her was wrong. She was adamant. Helping her process her experiences took a great deal of discernment and energy. It was nonstop! She couldn’t come to grips with men urinating in public. It didn’t make any sense to her. The horns honking incessantly drove her insane. She spoke to every vehicle that used it’s horn, “Why are you honking? We see you coming. There is no one in your way. Why are you honking? That car can’t possibly move. Look around. See, everyone is stuck. Stop honking!” She was in great angst with these things but it provided a hilarious backdrop to our travels.

The older one, Adelaide, spent the first eight years of her story there. She excelled in Hindi and Bhojpuri, another local language. She started in an Indian school when she was three years old, by the time we took her away from there at age eight she was in Standard 3 and knew her 20 times tables. When we left India she was a little girl. When we returned this December she was a blossoming young, nearly fifteen year old, woman. She is beautiful and tall. Blond hair and hazel eyes, further prove that she isn’t Indian. She felt like a foreigner. She felt the stares of strangers and it made her uncomfortable.

One afternoon we took a cycle rickshaw to a nearby market. As we mounted the rickshaw, she said, “When I was little girl I got stared at because I was cute. Now they are staring at me for different reasons…” My first instinct was to deny it. I hadn’t noticed the stares. My own story makes me oblivious to it, I suppose. I’ve been a foreigner my whole life, being stared at for those foreign-peculiarities is part of that. I didn’t see them seeing us. But then I began to watch. It was true. She was being stared at…some probably because she is so stangely lovely—in a sea of dark hair, her blond hues stand out….other stares were laced with lust and leers. I was horrified. This is my baby. She learned to walk in that place, how dare they now watch her walk. I wanted to protect her. I wanted her to be invisible. I felt in me an odd temptation to somehow quieten her beauty. But it wasn’t her fault. She was modestly attired, well covered. By personality she is reserved. It wasn’t her behavior or her dress that was inviting the jeers. I felt in me a raising familiar feeling from my own childhood. There is no shame in being woman….and yet…there in South Asia it feels like there is.  It is the woman’s fault for being curvy and lovely, for having breasts and ankles. My own emotional response to our Adelaide’s observations was visceral and unnerving.

When they were little and we were scooping them up to climb up on to the rickshaw or pushing them into the autos, things were easier. Most problems were solved with a kiss, a cuddle and a Mango Fruity juice box. That life was their normal. They knew nothing different. Taking three (nearly) teenagers, who’s life experiences have widened and somehow narrowed all at the same time, meant bringing along three real people with real hearts and real emotional responses. I expected them to have a wide range of responses but I didn’t anticipate reactions to culture and context. I knew they would remember vague and half-baked moments from when they were little but I had no idea that they might not fully embrace the place in the ways that I did.

In the end, I suppose, I was the most surprised by my own Kid Shock. I was completely taken off guard by the depth of their delights and the weight of their horrors. I have a new appreciation for families that transplant midway through their children’s childhoods. But more importantly I gained a new esteem for my own three prodigy. They handled their shocks and surprises with so much grace and flexibility. They ate new foods without complaining. The girls wore unusual outfits (from their perspective) in an intentional attempt to better enculturate. They spoke English slowly but not condescendingly. Articulating their responses and emotions was difficult but they attempted it. Travel schedules that went awry, trains that were late, unexpected changes to our carefully made plans—all of it was met with maturity and courtesy.

There are hundreds of books and articles written about travelling with your children. For me it was a wonderfully good, impossibly heart-aching, experience. I loved seeing them in that other place. I loved watching their expressions. Most of all, I loved hearing their reactions. Now sitting around our kitchen table here in Kansas, eating supper, I look at their faces again with new appreciation. They are growing up just fine. This trip back to India will always be a part of who they are. It revealed to me more of who they are as people. They are gracious, complex, and kind. They have a capacity to cross cultures gently and with joy.

This gives their Canadian-raised in Pakistan-lived in India-now settled in the US mom great pleasure!

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How to Give Yourself Grace: Advice to someone returning from a long journey!

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How to Give Yourself Grace: Advice to someone returning from a long journey! by Robynn

We arrived back in Kansas, on January 4th at 3:00am, after having been away for 5 weeks. The morning after Thanksgiving, while it was yet dark, we drove to Kansas City to begin our grand adventure! And what an adventure it was! We flew to Buffalo, NY, spent one night in Ontario, one day in London, three weeks in our beloved India, another night in London and then 10 days in Ontario again with family for Christmas. Actually it was 11 days in Ontario, because our family got stuck in the first snow storm of the season and our flights were cancelled from Buffalo, NY –flights that were intended to bring us safely back to Kansas. Rescheduled flights meant being rerouted and more cancelled flights enroute (in Houston!?) and a missing bag and a later than anticipated arrival in Kansas City and a long drive home.

It was a trip of a life time. We visited our old lives, old haunts, favourite places and people. We ate delicious food at every stop. We cried at old memories and laughed at new jokes. Our children were steeped in the places of their early childhoods. It was rich and full and we left with hearts overwhelmingly grateful. What an undeserved joy to be able to travel back again to that precious place!

However coming back to my regular routines has been difficult. I anticipated grief and a sense of loss but that’s not really what’s characterized my return. A friend recently inquired on Facebook as to how I am doing. My response to her was, “I have this relapse of culture shock. I feel at odds once again. That nervous uneasiness has reentered my stomach. I feel overwhelmed and easily anxious.”

Each time I try to explain what’s circling inside my soul to friends, in person or online, they respond gently, kindly, “Give yourself grace!”

Just give yourself some grace.

It was a big trip. You were gone a long time.

Give yourself grace!

You planned for it most of last year. It was a big deal. For heaven’s sake…you just went to India!

Give yourself some grace!

But I have no idea what that means. Looking it up in the dictionary does little to help. I don’t know how to do that. What does it look like to give myself grace?  I’ve spent some time stewing on this. If this is the advice I repeatedly receive I owe it to advice givers and, perhaps also, to myself to figure this out!

Here’s what I’ve come up with. Here’s what I think it means to Give Yourself Grace:

  • It’s going to take time. It took time to prepare for the trip. There were passports to renew and visas to apply for. The kids had to finish up their school work. Christmas presents had to be bought in advance. Bills would need to be paid while we were gone, plants would need watering. It all took a lot of time to organize and coordinate and arrange. It’s going to also take time to come back in. Returning requires time too. Unpacking, putting away suitcases, sorting through mail, making to do lists. There will be photos to sort through, piles of paper work to process, routines to reestablish. These things all take time.
  • Whatever you’re feeling is normal and to be expected. At least I hope this is true. I remember once in a moment of profound grief after the death of a close friend, a psychologist who was related to the family said, “Whatever you’re feeling is normal.” That actually brought a lot of comfort at that time. I was feeling some sadness but I also felt anger and exhaustion; I felt bitter and guilty at not being more upset than I was. Her pronouncement over my emotions gave me some relief and some freedom. I find myself repeating that over my heart when I don’t even necessarily know what I’m feeling.  Emotions are so complex. How can I sort through them all? Surely, whatever I’m feeling just now is normal and to be expected!
  • You can expect waves of grief and relief. There are these moments of deep sadness after saying goodbye to South Asia, to close friends, to the place, even to myself. (I often leave large chunks of me there!). But there are also waves of relief. Life in India is hard work. Electricity is unpredictable. Pollution is intense—both in the air and on the ground. If I’m completely honest with myself, I also feel some relief that I don’t have to contend with those things every day. The relief is mixed with the grief which is mixed with equal parts of guilt and sorrow. It’s an odd cocktail but it’s the cup I’ve been given to drink.
  • You can anticipate some cultural confusion. When you switch a baby from breast-feeding to bottle feeding and then back to breast-feeding often the baby experiences some “nipple confusion”. As earthy as the metaphor might be, I think it describes some of what we feel when we return to our beloved places and then reenter our regular placements. We are confused. Our souls are unsettled. We knew a particular way and then we became used to a different way and now we’re back to the old way, but only temporarily and now we race to what was sort of familiar and yet now not so much. There has to be some cultural confusion….some yanking of our tethers, our leashes. We are whiplashed from culture to culture. You can expect to be out of whack!
  • There’s no rush. What’s the hurry? Where’s the deadline? It’s going to take time. (I think this really is the heart of “give yourself grace” and it begs repeating….)
  • Tap into God’s grace, his “unmerited divine assistance.” He specializes in going with people from place to place. He goes before and behind, encircling those he’s fond of. Certainly he understands and he can help. Ask him for some of that “divine assistance!”

“You know when I sit down or stand up. You know my thoughts even when I’m far away. You see me when I travel and when I rest at home. You know everything I do. You know what I am going to say even before I say it… You go before me and follow me. You place your hand of blessing on my head.” (Psalm 139:2-5)

  • Maybe the dictionary can help! Give yourself, “a temporary exemption:  REPRIEVE,” a “special favour,” or, “disposition to or an act or instance of kindness, courtesy, or clemency.” In other words be nice to yourself! Pamper yourself. Make yourself a cup of hot tea. Sit quietly in your favourite chair. Watch a cathartic something that will make you cry! Watch something that will make you laugh out loud! Read through your journal again. Pour yourself a hot bath. Be very nice to yourself.
  • Resist the urge to return too quickly. Try not to rush back in. Breathe deeply. Move slowly. Go ahead and do the next thing on your list but don’t hurry. Your poor body has been around the world and back again. Let your soul catch up! Come home slowly.
  • Make to do lists. It’s pathetic, I know, but one thing you’re likely feeling is completely out of control! And of course you are! Regaining control is a mirage….it can’t really happen. But there is something to be said about doing the next thing. And it’s easier to know what that is when you have some good lists to work from.

So this is what I think it means to Give Myself some Grace! And it’s what I’m trying to do just now. The return journey from India is a lot longer than the one that took us there. I’m giving myself grace.

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Image credit: afhunta / 123RF Stock Photo

Glory Tea – Sunsets in Goa

She’s back from India! Robynn is back and with it Fridays with Robynn. Communicating Across Boundaries is not the same without her voice so I welcome her with virtual open arms. Her piece is a delight of words and pictures, bringing solace and beauty into my mid-January funk. Welcome back Robynn!

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Glory Tea – Sunsets in Goa by Robynn

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In the heart of December, when life here in North America is typically grey and cold and long and dark, we luxuriously spent five nights and four whole long days on the beaches of Goa, India. Four days we basked in Sun and Nothing. It was a soul’s bubble bath: rejuvenating and restful. Those four days gave us a chance to process our time in that great nation, to reminisce and tell stories of other times in India and to look forward and imagine when we might be back. We laughed a lot, we layed around a lot, we walked on the beach, swam in the sea. It was pure bliss!

Each night we returned to the sand to watch the sun set.  Slowly the sun would turn bold and golden and would begin to dip across the sky. She would tiptoe backwards toward the horizon, gathering her skirts in her hands, ever so slowly she would go. And we watched with bated breath, curious, expectant, even though we knew how the story would end. She would eventually curtsy and take her leave. It’s happened the same every day since the beginning of suns and seas.

The sea, in anticipation of the great farewell, would change her clothes as well. She would quietly don radiant ambers and glorious golds; molten and melting; shimmering and alive—a roseate sari with an exquisitely embroidered border of embossed brocade. Every evening seeing her so transformed was exhilarating and breath-taking.

And we watched…

We came to experience the holiness of it all, but so did everyone else! It was a community event. People who had been at work all day, came. Vacationers, holiday makers, the lazy and the idle came. Whole families came with their grandmas and grandpas, the babies, the toddlers, the gangly teenagers. Newly married couples came shyly, hands held quietly. The lame, the lonely, the isolated, the misunderstood, they too came. Groups of friends, laughing, teasing, pushing stopped to see. Brown people. White people. Skinny people. Round people. The young and the old. The smooth spread of sand welcomed everyone.

It was glorious.

As the ocean rolled out the red carpet for the sun’s final curtain call, many of the bystanders stepped out into it. It was as if it called to us. Deep to deep. We were all invited to be steeped in the glory of it all. The community some with their toes wet, and ankles splashed, the waves sprinkling up across their faces; others immersed and fully drenched watched and waited.

And it was holiness and it was glory. For me it was also a sweet reassurance that God is and that he invites us out into the mystery of life and faith. We are steeped in His Glory Tea.  We are dipped in the sweetness of His presence. Everyone watches but few really see. When you catch a glimpse….you’re speechless and out of breath. The sun set is proof that the sun rises daily with glory and joy and radiance and great spectacle.

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I’m trying to remember that, now, today. Winter has locked Kansas in. The slush is the closest thing I have to sand. The snow is my sea. And it pulls me in and under and I feel myself drowning in the grey and cold of it. It’s not as easy for me to remember the warmth of His presence, nor the glory, nor the holiness when I feel tired, and cold and sad. I pour myself a cup of ginger tea. I dip the tea bag up and down, reverentially into the wet…and if I squint my eyes just a little I can call to mind the sun’s golden setting and feel the mist of the sea. And I sip my tea and a slow tear slides down my cheek.

There is glory here too…in tea and warm places. I will savour it and sip in His holiness.

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Waves of Panic

Waves 2

(Join Robynn as she sorts through circumstances that have jumbled her emotions and mixed up her metaphors!)

My passport application is being processed. It was rejected the first time because the photo had some flash glare on the forehead and some shady shadows lurking along behind my neck. That put us at least three weeks behind schedule. We frantically searched out a place in Kansas that successfully takes Canadian passport photos. That took a couple of days and involved an unexpected drive into Kansas City. I couriered the application with a new photo again to Passport Canada in Quebec.

Now I wait.

Once we receive the passport back we’ll need to quickly send it to the Indian Consulate to get a tourist visa. That takes 10-14 days too I imagine–although maybe longer since I’m a Canadian applying from the US.

We have tickets to fly out at the end of November.

To further complicate things, a couple of days into the waiting, we received notice that our credit limit on our credit card was over-extended. Of course there are tickets on there and a large order of Lowell’s recently published book. Lowell’s visa to India and the children’s visas are on there too.

I wrote a check to cover our credit card bill. Lowell called and had our credit extended.

And then it hit me: That’s the same card we charged the passport to. The panic wells up inside my stomach and up into my chest. When did the book charge go through? Would Passport Canada already have tried to charge the card for the passport? Or maybe not yet?

I want this trip to India so badly. It’s a trip home for me. It means more than a simple trip overseas (although are those ever simple travel trips for anyone?). To me this trip is an oasis. It’s a true holy-day. It’s childhood and memory. It’s revisiting deep friends, deep places. It’s revisiting me.

And yet, I am completely out of control in this situation. There’s nothing more I can do. I’ve done everything I can….including plead-praying and soliciting others to pray more steady prayers. All I can do now is wait.

In the waiting I do have these waves of peace. The dates and deadlines become fuzzy and I can just about see past the timeframe to Jesus. He stands there reassuringly. I can nearly hear him whisper that it will be okay. I breathe in and I breathe out. I am consoled.

Suddenly, without warning, another wave washes up on my face. Saltwater is in my eyes. I can no longer see Jesus….or anything at all, really. It’s blurry and teary and water stained. I’m blinded by fear. It wears me down pushing me into the surf, the mealy sand down below. I hurt. I’m disoriented. I’m confused. I’m walking visionless. But I manage to stand. Sort of. And I toddle back in toward the beach.

Straightaway another wave hits. But this one is calmer and quieter. Peace wets my toes and washes up my calves. My soul is once again ordered and stable, serene. Life is good. I can do this thing. I am at rest and confident. Jesus walks with me. I sigh with relief and contentment. My faith is restored. It will be okay. I will not be destroyed. The trip will happen.

I’m walking up the shore and unexpectedly I’m soaked from the rear with yet another huge wave. It washes the sand out from under my feet and I fall face first into the grit and grief. I didn’t see this one coming. It soaks me through. Once again I can’t see: water in my face, grief-grit in my eyes. I’m choking on salt-sobs. Panic-drenched I shiver with fear. I can’t swallow. I do the math. I count the days. There’s no way this can possibly work out.

Waves of peace; waves of faith; waves of panic; waves of fear.

I’m tossed and in turmoil.

I used to think being a person of faith meant that I would never doubt. Any flicker of doubt was met with disappointment. Did I not believe? However, now I think that having faith means experiencing a range of emotions, some even seemingly in conflict with true faith. Faith is shallow and meaningless if it cannot handle my queries and my questions. I need to be able to express my fear and my rage, my angst and my agonies to God in order for it to qualify as sincere believing faith. It’s going to be messy and untidy. Faith doesn’t organize well. You can’t alphabetize it and file it. It involves a type of continuum tight-rope-walk crossing. The continuum that lies between belief and doubt, strength and weakness, bravery and fear. Faith takes us out across that continuum. It walks us through those waves of fear, panic, peace and faith.

So I wait, with my faith in my throat, by the mail box. I keep looking and believing and hoping and wondering how this story will end. I brace myself for the waves. I squint my eyes and try to see Jesus in it with me…sometimes I think I catch glimpses of him; sometimes I don’t.

The apostle James wrote in a letter once, “But when you ask him, be sure that your faith is in God alone. Do not waver, for a person with divided loyalty is as unsettled as a wave of the sea that is blown and tossed by the wind.  Such people should not expect to receive anything from the Lord. Their loyalty is divided between God and the world, and they are unstable in everything they do.”  I am certain that my loyalties are not divided. I keep coming back to God. I know He really is my only option. Where else can I possibly go? But in the believing there are real waves of wet emotion. And it’s the emotions that toss me about, wave after wave.

As long as we come back to faith, come back to our Solid Ground, come back to Jesus our forays into fear and sinking sand don’t destroy us. They don’t weaken us. We come back and we find that reassurance and rest available in Jesus…who’s perfect love casts out our fear.

Until it resurfaces.

And then His love casts it out again.

And so the cycle goes on….in an honest real experience of faith. Meanwhile I’ll keep checking the mail!

Waves

Kaleidoscope of Colors

Life feels like a kaleidoscope of colors and fabrics, textures and sounds. So much of life here in Goa is lived in living color.

The northeast and its chic black is miles across oceans and through airports, a world away from color.

This area is new for me, yet feels so similar to the memories of the heart and soul with its vibrant colors, sights, and sounds– all the things that those of us who grew up in the east miss so much in our western world of efficient grey.

This kaleidoscope of color feels like it brings a flash of light and hope to seemingly desperate situations. Is it an illusion?

I don’t know.

All I know is this: I love the colors.

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A letter to Marilyn as she travels to India

For over 21 years I lived in Pakistan and never made it to India, despite her being right next door.

For those from the region, this will not surprise you. At any given time India and Pakistan struggle with a tenuous relationship, and growing up there were wars and rumors of wars that kept us from heading across the border. So as I’ve prepared to go to India, Robynn has been a wonderful friend and resource. Having lived for long periods of time in both countries, her heart has a divided loyalty – but she wears and articulates this division well. So here are her words to me this day.

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Dear Marilyn,

Today you are traveling to India. There’s a few things I want to tell you, a few things I want to share.

  1. First off, you need to know that the idea of you traveling to India is killing me. I have a terrible case of travel-envy. I want to be you just now. I want to pull out my passport, push you out of the queue and travel in your place. Please enjoy every minute of it…because I’m traveling there vicariously through you and if I were there, I surely would!
  2. India is NOT Pakistan. I know you have a deep love and loyalty to Pakistan. I do too. We were both raised there. Our hearts have “lugged” there. We are attached to that place. But India is not Pakistan. Don’t assume they are the same country. Although they may be twins that were cruelly separated at birth, they are paternal twins, not identical ones. On the surface they share similarities but at the heart they are vastly different. Indians are more reserved, more contained. It’s a shyer country, if that’s possible. People from Pakistan tend to be more gregarious, friendlier, louder. They dress in different clothes. They prefer different foods. Indians eat more rice. Pakistan loves it’s chapatti.
  3. India gets in your blood. She has a way of moving in and forever ruining you. There is no ambivalence permitted: You will always feel a pull toward India or a push away from India. India calls for an emotive response and she always gets one!
  4. There is an intensity to Indian culture that will immediately strike you. The extremes, the contradictions, the climate, the population –all of it arduously affects the soul.
  5. Did I mention that India is not Pakistan?
  6. There are a few street foods that are worth getting sick for! You’ll never see this in a guide-book or a travel blog, but let’s face it, Gol Guppa (or Pani Puri as it’s sometimes called) is just about to die for…and you might nearly die for it if you try it from a street vendor…but it’s really almost worth it!
  7. Don’t expect India to meet your expectations! She will surprise you time and time again. Don’t try to make sense of her. Resist the effort to understand all that you see. Just experience it. Enjoy it. Engage. Your world will be changed, but you can sort that out later.
  8. Indians aren’t the same as Pakistanis but they do share certain values. You’ll enjoy expansive hospitality in India, akin to what you’ve known in Pakistan. Pakistanis and Indians love families and are quick to include you as one of theirs. Both countries love colour and conformity. Both countries understand chaos and a little confusion.

I guess that’s it for now. Really I’m so very pleased you get to go. India has a big space in my heart. Right next to the Pakistan space.

Travelling mercies.

When the Animals State the Obvious

From Fridays with Robynn

Sometimes the obvious has to be stated before it resonates.

I learned this the hard way.

In 2009 Lowell had the unfortunate and momentous task of returning to India to retrieve our things. We had made the painful decision to not return to India. But there was the issue of our junk, our stuff, our years of accumulated goods. We booked the trip to coincide with another side trip he was doing in the region. We also booked it to overlap with my mom and dad who were also on a trip to Asia. They had generously offered to help Lowell sort and pack (Heaven knows they have experience!).

I had made detailed lists. I had racked my memories and our children’s childhoods. I had sifted and sorted and I had written it all down. These were the things I wanted them to find and bring back to us. Of course there were countless things I forgot. But the marvel of modernity meant that Lowell could call me and ask. I received several such calls from my mom. She knew better what a woman might wish she had.

I’ll never forget the day Lowell came home! He couldn’t bring all of our claimed trophies with him but he brought as many as he could. The rest would come later. The Rubbermaid tubs he brought were better than secret treasure found in an exotic location. They contained our secrets, our treasures from our own place, our home. It was a trip back into our past. Each prize was carefully unpacked and remembered. We cried, we laughed, we reveled, we remembered.

And oh how it all stunk! Mildew and mothballs, mold and dust, smoke and spices—all had journeyed with our things from our old world into our new. The aromas of Asia, unleashed in America, were suddenly permeating our present. It was astounding.  And, admittedly, a little overwhelming!

When the joy of discovery and memory were over I began the work of sorting it all again and finding new places for these things, suddenly so out of context, and yet so powerful and poignant to our family.

I stacked books on to our bookshelves. I placed my old favourite dishes and plates in with the assorted collection I had begun to accumulate. Table clothes, bedding, towels were all thrown into the laundry basket to be laundered.  Our girls cried when I pried stuffed animals out of their arms. The animals reeked! They needed to be washed before they could join their families of other stuffed animals.

Different types of stuffed toys

I threw the zoo in to the washing machine and then into the clothes dryer. When I started the dryer a terrible banging noise started up. The girls were in the living room playing. They wondered out loud what the horrible noise was. I was washing dishes and started to laugh, “Oh the animals are wanting out!” As soon as I said it I somehow knew. Suddenly a chill ran up my back. The animals want out!

I raced over to the dryer and opened it. There in the middle of stuffed rabbits, elephants and the odd bear sat our real life cat, Canyon! I gently removed him from the dryer. He couldn’t have been in there more than 2 minutes, but already he was very warm and his breathing betrayed his anxiety. Poor poor cat! I gave him over to our daughter, Adelaide, his favourite human. She held him and consoled him and comforted him. It took about thirty minutes for his breathing to return to normal, for his hair to stop standing on end, even longer for him to forgive me.

To this day our cat has never jumped back into the dryer. He learned an important lesson that day. And I did too. Sometimes the obvious has to be stated before it resonates. It wasn’t until I said it out loud, “Oh the animals are wanting out,” that it occurred to me: THE ANIMAL WANTS OUT!!

This is true of less amusingly traumatic things as well. Sometimes the truth has to be stated before I can learn it. I walk blindly, dimly in the dark until suddenly the light is turned on and I can finally see what’s been real the whole time. I have to acknowledge something, the truth of it, the reality of it before my soul catches on.

I am fully known.

I belong to Jesus.

I am truly loved.

Canyon, the cat, taught me that day–with his raspy irregular breath, and the hair on his back standing on end!! Sometimes the truth just needs to be declared for it to be truly heard.

The Aerogramme/Aerogram

English: 1967 US aerogram issued to accommodat...

This week I received a letter written on a blue aerogram! I hadn’t seen one of those in years and it pleased me immensely to hold it, to slice open the side and the two ends, to read it, to flip-up the bottom and read the back side.

So many memories came rushing back in that moment. So many letters in so many mailboxes.

The aerogram, although no longer sold in US Post Offices, has a rich history. It was first introduced in Iraq in 1933 by Major Grumbley of the Royal Engineers. That original aerogram,weighing less than 2/10 of an ounce, was preprinted with the likeness of Faisal I of Iraq on thin grey paper. The aerogram didn’t gain popularity until the middle of the Second World War, however, when airmail service started up between Britain and the Middle East. It was a private and inexpensive way to send letters back and forth. The US didn’t issue an aerogram until April 1947. Twenty-five different designs, with increasing postage costs, were issued until they stopped printing them in 2006. David Failor, Postal Service executive director of stamp services at that time stated by way of explanation, “Demand for these has been next to nothing for the past five years.” People send emails to their globally scattered friends, I suppose. Or perhaps they skype them.

Long gone are the days when the nearly weightless blue aerogram was used to convey love and affection, news of births and deaths and family.

For the me the aerogram has significant sentimental value. I remember receiving letters from home when I first went to boarding school at age nine. One of the “aunties” would appear at tea time to distribute the mail. She’d call out the names of the fortunate few. I distinctly remember the swell of hope that my name would be called. I remember the pains of sadness when it wasn’t. More often than not my name was called though. My mom sweetly wrote us most every day. Often she used a small domestic Pakistani aerogram to convey little pieces of news from home. She’d tell of her and dad’s deep love for us. She’d tell stories of life on the Thal Desert, her life in a courtyard surrounded by tall walls.

Later on in junior and senior high school our mail from home was put in a mailbox down in the “Big School”. There was a box for each grade and so now we could see who got mail and who didn’t. Casually looking through the few letters in hopes that one of them had your name on it conjured up the same little girl feelings but now there was the mildly applied pressure to pretend you didn’t really care much. Friends that had moved on from boarding school wrote too. Amy Jo, my loyal best friend from fourth grade on wrote regularly and often after their family moved back to the US and then relocated to the UK. She routinely wrote on a blue aerogram form. I still have most of the letters she wrote. They are tied together with ribbon in a box in our basement.

When I left the safe space of boarding school for the broader world of college and Canada I found myself often in the post office. My world might have profoundly changed, my self deeply shaken but I knew the post office and her mistress. Everyday I’d check for mail. Sometimes two or three times a day. Hoping. Longing. Needing some reassurance that the world I had left wasn’t imaginary, needing to know I wasn’t completely going insane, needing to know I was missed. Those letters kept me tethered. Mom and Dad wrote, there were a few teachers who wrote (Ann and Stephen, Marie, Phil and Ruth), there were friends that wrote, classmates, my dorm mother Deb.

Years later, when Lowell I courted through the precarious marriage of the Canadian and the Indian postal systems, the aerograms revealed the man I came to love and to cherish. Each aerogram he wrote under the ceiling fans of a lonely India settled into my heart. I read and reread them. I studied his pensmanship. I tried to read between what he had written and what he might have meant. I looked for humour and affection. Those aerograms might have survived international air travel but they quickly became worn from overuse! We still have all those letters, our courtship by correspondence, safely ensconced in plastic page protectors and stored in a three-inch binder at the back of our closet.

Our years in India saw the great change of communication march before us like a momentous Republic Day parade.

Early on we relied on those blue letters for comfort and the assurance of prayers. After the aerogram marched past, the faxes came and went. No sooner had they moved on then we watched, to our great astonishment, the entrance of email, slowly at first, but quickly gaining momentum. Letters and packages still came. Blue aerograms still came, in the wrong spot in the parade line, but always an absolute delight to receive! Cell phones and international texting joined the procession. The internet,with speed and information and Facebook, still marches on but we left India before that line swept past us.

The aerogram yet speaks to me of nostalgia and a collection of sweet serendipitous memories. This letter from my friend, who maybe only lives three miles away, contains more than just the bits and pieces of news she wrote. Her letter speaks to me of the past.

With her one letter, a whole rush of forgotten letters have arrived. My mailbox is full! Thank you Tammy!

Ants, Birds, Cake and Kids

Marilyn’s post on wistful mothering memories yesterday reminded me of this story. It’s a story of perspective, childhood wonder, and the worthlessness of so much of my stress.

The year was 2003. Adelaide was turning four. These were the years when their mother was energetic and creative. I had decided on an elaborate cake design. Four little princess dolls would be stuck into four little upside down cupcakes which would serve as their skirts. The princesses would all be dancing on a 9 by 13 dance floor of frosting and flowers.

But it was a disaster from the start.

I made all the cakes and was just making the frosting when I realized I didn’t have enough powdered sugar. Lowell ran out to the market to hunt some down. Not twenty minutes after he returned and the icing was mixed up and the “dance floor” was coloured and the construction of the cake had begun in earnest, our bell rang. Lowell went to answer it.

We had guests.

I set the cake and the sugar and the icing and the dolls to the side and I made chai. We had a lovely visit with our friends on the roof of our house. The Ganges river flowed quietly below, the winter sunshine danced on her surface.

After the guests left and the tea things had been brought down from the roof, I once again turned my attention to the cake. While we had been peacefully enjoying friends and winter warmth an entire city of ants had discovered the cake. They too had enjoyed their friends and the warmth of fresh cake and the sweetness of gooey goodness. It was ant paradise! I was horrified. Tears welled up in my eyes. The party was inching closer by the minute and I was now delayed by families and families of ants in my cake.

Rama, my dear friend, and our house-helper, came to the rescue. Don’t cry Didi! Put the cake in the sun. The ants will leave.

So I did. I carefully placed the princesses skirts and gowns, the dance floor, the frosting–all of it—on to a table in the courtyard, in the sun. And I went inside to finish other preparations for the party.

Returning a few minutes later to see if Rama’s theory was working, I started to shriek! A sweet family of sparrows had planned their reunion around a princess theme! There they sat pecking at the dance floor, sampling the ball gowns, chirping with serendipitous delight! Ahh…! the glories of a warm winter afternoon with friends and cake.

By now I was furious and fuming and frantic. Rama came and sat by the cake, a real life scare-sparrow with a swirling tea towel she stood guard. The ants went marching one by one, hurrah, hurrah. And the birdies in the treetops sang their songs.

All creatures great and small bemoaning the interruptions to their various tea parties.

When Rama sounded the all clear I went to work like a mad woman. I frosted frostily. My joy was gone but there was a party to be planned. The princesses kept sliding backwards, off the now warm and melting dance floor! I broke off long pieces of raw spaghetti noodles and used them to pin the protesting princesses in place. When it was all assembled, I hurriedly wrote, “Happy Birthday Adelaide” on the front.

Just as I placed down my knife the children filed in. They were fresh from their baths. Daddy had scrubbed them and clothed them in party attire. Connor, then 6, was the first to see the cake. His face burst into a sunny smile and he sincerely iced my heart with his generous response, “Oh girls…isn’t this the most amazing cake you’ve ever seen!? It’s beautiful mummy. It’s the most beautiful cake I’ve ever seen!” He was so genuine. His words were so heartfelt. Adelaide pushed over a stool, climbed on , stood on tippy toes to see her cake. Her heart was in her eyes. She was thrilled. Lowell held baby Bronwynn up to see it too.

The three of them were in awe.

Birthday Cake

I cried. It really was a horrible looking mess of a cake. And it has been a horrendous day full of bugs and bitterness, birds and bite and yet to see their faces was worth it. The sugar rush of sweetness had little to do with the cake itself and everything to do with my sweet babies and their kind blindness and sweet gratitude and true joy.

I love that memory. It speaks to me of so many things…but I’ll always remember the innocence and grace that allowed my children to see that cake from another perspective, and in so doing, they found delight!

The Amazing Robynn and her family! They really are as fun as they look.
The Amazing Robynn and her family! They really are as fun as they look.

“Embrace the Chaos”

Lowell used to tell visitors to “Embrace the Chaos” when we lived in India. Anyone who’s ever been to India can quite quickly agree that there’s always so much going on! Just stand on a street corner in Old Delhi and try to identify all that you see and smell and hear and you’ll be hard pressed to not admit that it feels a little chaotic, a little out of control!

I guess this week I’m feeling some of that sort of chaos…but of course we’re still far from India!

When my dad comes to town we find projects for him to do. He loves to stay busy and we love to have the work done. Dad can do anything really. He works with wood, electricity, plumbing, tinkering, motors, moving parts, engines, paint! You name it, my dad can do it!

This visit we thought he and Lowell would build us a deck. The back porch has been precarious since the day we moved in. The plan was to knock it down and build a new porch with an attached deck. Being good citizens meant applying for a permit. There was some confusion about the placement of the posts and the size of the porch. The permit people took some time in approving our plan.

Meanwhile dad destroyed, at my request, our ancient box style closet in our bedroom. Our bedroom is small and it seemed to me that we should knock out the closet and put up one of those more streamlined, tidy looking, “easy to install” closet kits you see all the time on TV. But then the permit for the porch arrived. All work on the closet came to a screeching halt.

All of our closet stuff was in our son’s room. Our son was all over the living room floor. Mom and dad stayed in our room. We slept in Adelaide’s room. Adelaide slept in with Bronwynn. And we still have a guest who’s staying in Lowell’s office.

Nothing was where it should be.

Lowell went out to borrow his dad’s truck so he could load up the lumber they’d need. On the way home he discovered he had forgotten his phone. On the second attempt back toward home the old truck blew a tire. His dad had neglected to throw in the spare.

This week we’ve also had dance rehearsals and recitals. Adelaide auditioned for a specialty dance company earlier in the week as well but yesterday I got a phone call from the dance school that Adelaide hadn’t made the dance company she had auditioned for. I knew I’d have to break that news to her later in the day.

To top it all off I was scheduled to speak at a live webinar with a friend on expectations and burn out. I discovered that our headset was broken. My computer is still dead (did I mention the hard drive expired while I was away?). Thankfully I could use Connor’s new machine but it has a new fandangled version of windows on it and it seemingly does random things at odd moments. After getting kids out the door, painting two walls in our bedroom (because since the closet is down it would make sense to paint now!), and settling everyone else, I zipped over to Best Buy to purchase a new headset. With a new headset in hand, Connor’s machine, my notes, I drove through the drive through for a sandwich (I forgot to eat!) and raced to the church in search of some quiet. I couldn’t figure out how to navigate the internet but one of the pastors quickly helped me sort it out.

It was a day!

It was chaos!

And if we’d been in India Lowell would have said to embrace it!

When I was preparing to speak on the spiritual habits of Silence and Solitude for the retreat I was just at (the irony is not lost on me!) I happened upon these verses in the gospel of Mark,

“That evening after supper, many sick and demon-possessed people were brought to Jesus. And the whole city had gathered at the door. And he healed many who were ill; and cast out many demons…and in the early morning, while it was still dark, He arose and went out and departed to a lonely place and was praying there”.

Talk about chaos: “And the whole city had gathered at the door!” That’s how I felt yesterday. The whole town was banging on the door of my sanity–paint buckets and stacks of stuff, daughters and dance rejections, the truck and the tires, piles of wood, piles of clothes, piles of people, electric drills and saws and hammers, broken headsets and dead computers. Mom can you take a look at this new game? Robynn can you run to the store and get? Where do you want me to put this? Mom I need you to remind me. All of it banging at the door.

How did Jesus respond? He had already had a full day….his chaos continued on into the evening, after supper, in to the night. Jesus responded to each person. He healed and ministered to the hurting, the sick, the confused, to the oppressed. He brought freedom and peace. But in the morning, knowing his own soul and his own needs, he woke early and went off on his own to pray.

When I arrived at the church, my phone buzzed with an incoming email. I paused and took the time to read it. A friend had emailed me the prayer she had prayed for me. The words for peace and rest and restoration, in the midst of the crazy, washed over me. I sat in the car alone and breathed. I shed a few tears. I let those wash over me too. There was a moment to stop and I did. I sat quietly and prayed out my own heart’s prayer: for endurance, for joy, for the capacity to embrace it all!

I survived yesterday’s chaos. Today will have its own share, I’m sure. When it’s all gathered at the door, I hope, I’ll remember to pause, breathe, pray. I think that’s the way we embrace it.

A text message I got yesterday from a friend read, “Just lean into chaos and find shalom”. That’s what happened when I sat in the car. I found a small piece of shalom.

Re-post: Bright Pink Razais

Before Fridays with Robynn began, Robynn did a piece that I loved. I’m reposting today as Communicating Across Boundaries has so many new followers that have not seen this amazing piece. Enjoy Bright Pink Razais.

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We have two little girls that began their childhoods in India. Just before we brought them to the US they received bright pink razais for their birthdays. Each razai was bordered with a red, black and quite pink block print. They were gloriously Indian. They were cozy and comforting and warm. The girls loved those blankets.

The razais covered their beds those last months in India. They were the last things packed in to the suitcases for the long journey into their new world. They were the first things unpacked in our new home here in Kansas. The pink bulky comforters were immediately spread on their new bunk beds on top of the pale bedspreads  provided by generous women from our church. In a way the razais represented the identity of these little girls.

The razais said” We are Indian. We are bright, we are alive and we are not from here. We are different.”

Traditionally a razai is a thick cotton stuffed comforter. A large brightly patterned cloth bag is blown full of white fluffy cotton. That stuffed balloon is sewn shut, trampled down and harnessed with stitches and knots to keep the wild, wind-blown cotton in place. These blankets, to the uninformed might seem like carpets. They are heavy and immovable. During the winter in the villages, when the goats are tethered and the water buffalo are fed, families circle around a metal brazier filled with hot coals. A thick razai covers the coal plate and everyone’s toes and knees and arms. And under the light of a lantern and the weight of a razai stories are told, rumours fabricated, news exchanged. The razais serve a limited purpose each year. The temperatures drop surprisingly low in the desert. But the winters are short and the razais are locked into large aluminum trunks for the long summers. Modern razais are filled with polyester. They’re much lighter in weight, easier to wash, easier to roll and to store. But the colours are still as vibrant and the purpose is still the same.

Over these last 4 years since our return to North America the girl’s beloved razais have served as tents, as sleeping bags, as magic carpets, as reading companions, as dear friends. Although now our girls have picked more subtle bed covers, the hot pink razais remain among the blankets. Our older daughter prefers to have her Target-purchased, light pink and pale green floral bedspread on top of her razai. It’s still there, but not as visible as it once was. She still pulls it up to her chin at night, sees it, smiles and reaches for the bedspread.

Our younger little girl, however, vacillates between her two options. Some days the bright Indian blanket is on top, other days her lavender and mauve striped comforter rises to the surface. She’s our child that struggles to remember India. And it grieves her. I can see it on her face. The razai for her assures her that her birth place is a vibrant part of who she is. She snuggles up under that reassurance with stuffed elephants and tigers to keep her company. Some mornings the American cover is kicked off. On other days the pink razai is balled up at her feet and her only covering is her newer, softer bed spread.

I pulled the pink razais out of the wash machine yesterday morning and tears flooded my face. It comforts me to have bed-clothes from Asia enveloping my girls as they sleep. Somehow the connection to my own Pakistani childhood is strengthened. These heavy, bright, seemingly silly blankets keep me warm and remembering in the cold blast of a place I still struggle to settle into and embrace.

Bloggers Note: Just a reminder that Fridays posts are written by Robynn Bliss (née Allyn), a fellow Third-Culture-Kid and invisible immigrant. A Canadian who grew up in Pakistan, she married an American and then lived in India for many years. She has entered into the western hemisphere and now lives in Kansas with her husband Lowell, and three children Connor, Adelaide and Bronwynn. She is as bright, alive and colorful as her writing.