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. 


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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A Life Overseas – To the Parents of Third Culture Kids

Readers – it’s Marilyn and today I’m back at A Life Overseas where I write specifically to the parents of Third Culture Kids. I would love it if you joined me, even more if you contribute to the conversation through comments!

To the Parents of Third Culture Kids

If you are raising your children in a country other than their passport country, you are raising third culture kids. The definition used most often is this one from the late Dave Pollock: A Third Culture Kid (TCK) is a person who has spent a significant part of his or her developmental years outside the parents’ culture. The TCK frequently builds relationships to all of the cultures, while not having full ownership in any. Although elements from each culture may be assimilated into the TCK’s life experience, the sense of belonging is in relationship to others of similar background”

I was raised as a third culture kid and went on to raise third culture kids for 10 years. There is much I don’t know, much I can’t articulate. But some things I do know and in these next few minutes I offer them. They are not comprehensive and they are not formulaic; there are far better and wiser voices that have documented research on the topic. But these words are offered with humility and a prayer that they will resonate with grace and hope.

Guilt will get you nowhere. If you feel guilty for raising your children overseas, I encourage you to seek counsel. Guilt is an unproductive emotional pitfall that will warp your parenting. Guilt is defined as “the fact of having committed a specified or implied offense or crime.” Living overseas is not an offense, nor is it a crime. For many it is a high calling, for others it is a career move. No matter, guilt cuts deeply and helps no one, instead causing stress, undue anxiety, and ultimately destroyed relationships. The guilt felt over raising children overseas is false guilt. No child has a say in what their parents become. My husband’s father is a mechanic. He did not consult my husband and ask him if that would be okay, and rightly so. This overseas life is not about kids agreeing or disagreeing with your life calling. It is about living well and faithfully within that calling. Lose the guilt – take a helium balloon, write the word GUILT in big letters, then release it and watch it go until you see it no more. That’s where guilt belongs – out of sight, leaving your body and your heart free to live faithfully right where you are.  Okay – so you live in Somalia or Mumbai and helium balloons are nowhere to be found. A piece of paper will do just as well. Write the words, then light a match and burn them. Watch them burn away through the light of the holy fire of faith.

Your ‘back home’ is not your children’s ‘back home’. You may have grown up in a small town, surrounded by generations of family and friends who are still in the town. That is home and that is what you miss when overseas. You miss the smell of newly mowed grass, the sounds of downtown, the feel of putting on a heavy sweater in the fall as you walk through vibrant colors of red, gold, and orange. Your children don’t miss those things. They never knew them. Their reality is not your reality. Their ‘back home’ is not your ‘back home’. When they go to their passport countries for periodic visits, that’s exactly what those trips are: they are visits. They are not going ‘home’.

Read the rest of the post here.

Announcing a Week of Parenting (& Muffin Monday)

I knew as I held the tiny 6 pound body in my tired arms that I had never loved this way before. She was a scrunched face and dark eyes growing accustomed to a world beyond the womb wrapped tightly in a baby blanket. She was perfect and she was ours — the baby that ushered us into parenthood with a 15 hour labor and an ideal ending. I thought I could never love another the same way I loved my baby girl.

2 years later. After 6 hours of text-book labor in Islamabad, Pakistan I gave birth to the most beautiful boy in the universe. His blonde hair and dark blue eyes captivated me and all night long we stared at each other. I thought I could never love another the same.

14 months later. I went into unexpected labor 2 weeks before my due date. Six hours later another little boy is born, perfect, calm, coming into this world as though he knew he was coming to tired parents. I thought I could never love another the same.

3 years later. An hour after arriving at Nile Badrawi hospital on the banks of the Nile River, a second girl came into our family. Tiny at 17 inches and 6 plus pounds, her rosebud lips and clear eyes stared up with a statement “I will love the world, and the world will love me!” I thought I could never love another the same.

3 years later. The surprise of my 30’s came with the birth of our fifth and final child. A baby boy who looked so tall that I thought he couldn’t possibly belong to this short family. But he did, and he does. And again I thought I could never love another quite the same.

Parenting is like that – it is realizing that the human capacity to love is beyond understanding. It’s realizing you would do anything for this little person who captured your heart and daily taxes your patience. Parenting is the worst/best thing I’ve ever taken on — second only to marriage. 

Robynn and I are talking about parenting this week. And we’re doing so with our hearts in our throats. We are doing this with halting words and faltering pens. Because parenting is beyond difficult. It is faith stretching, tear jerking, knee bending, heart pumping, work. And it is a gift — but we’d be lying if we claimed anything beyond grace.

Because there is common sense and there are good tools and there are mentors, but even with all that, grace is the most important ingredient, the thing you can’t forget.

Parenting means putting self aside and being willing to be hurt. It means finding out how inadequate is our love, how obstinate are our hearts. It means physical labor and emotional exhaustion.

And it’s a fair bit of mystery isn’t it? You think you’re doing something right one day and the next you fall on your knees, hands outstretched to the God of the universe, begging for answers, longing for grace.

Parenting is part puzzle, part common sense, part admitting mistakes, part humor, and fully humbling. And the ingredients to good parenting could be mixed together in a bowl, stirred up with a heavy dash of mercy and a double scoop of grace. But when you put it in the oven you’re still given no guarantees. 

Just like God. He mixed the ingredients together, added overwhelming grace and redemption, but there are no guarantees. No guarantees that we will get along, that we will learn to love with heart, soul, mind, and strength, that we will accept unconditional love and indescribable relationship.

So this week we’ll speak to parenting. You’ll hear from Robynn Tuesday through Thursday, and I’ll be back again on Friday with a post from A Life Overseas.

And in speaking to parenting, may we learn more of a God who loves fully and parents perfectly. 

Caramel Apple MuffinsCaramel Muffin Apples by Stacy are this week’s muffin. They are actually from last week but because I took a short break I was unable to post. These look amazing so head over to Food Lust, People Love to get the recipe. Click here or on the picture.

The Importance of Being Siblings

I went to boarding school at an early age – 6 years old to be exact. I have selective memories of these early years; most are happy and laced with grace. Others are poignant and bring up the expected sadness caused by an early separation of child and parent. Some memories are sharper when I read through letters written home in a child’s uneven script. Letters that my mother kept through the years.

20130326-212906.jpgEvident in those early letters is a concern for the welfare of my younger brother, Dan. As youngest of 5 he was still at home with my parents. The letters reflect a zealous, sisterly concern for his welfare. I want to know ‘How is Danny? Is Danny lonesome? Does Danny miss me? Is Danny having fun with the kitty? Say ‘hi’ to Danny. I miss Danny”. Every letter holds a sentence or two specifically about Danny, the importance of Danny.

And today Danny – Dr. Daniel Brown – turns 50.

It’s been a long time since those letters. A long time since the small cares of childhood turned into the big concerns of adults. Years since that first grade penmanship that crafted words into sentences into letters home was checked and rechecked by hawk-eyed teachers, deeming it worthy of the eyes of parents.

The sibling relationship is one of the strangest relationships in our world. We grow up with these people called ‘siblings’. Eat at the same dinner table, are loved and nurtured, disciplined and scolded by the same parents. We sit around Christmas trees or Eid feasts, go to churches, mosques, or synagogues with family. They hold similar features, characteristics, and memories.

But we grow older and often apart. And we’re left wondering what happened. When did the ease with which we communicated, laughed, and fought turn into difficulty trying to figure out what to say to each other? When did a solid relationship turn sketchy and strained?

Sometimes, but not always, we figure out this new relationship and move forward – tenuously at first, but then with more confidence.

And that is what has happened with all of my brothers, specifically in this context – Dan.

It’s impossible for me to imagine what my life would be without him. From my concern for his welfare as a little boy to watching him enter his 5th decade of life, I am profoundly grateful for his friendship. He has wisely walked me through crises, soundly rebuked me when out of line, and shared his family and home with ours for years.

He is brilliant, stubborn, and wise. He is a husband, a father, a pastor, and a professor. He writes books of his own and edits those of others, all with a quiet humility.

While I am loud and opinionated – he is quiet and equally opinionated. While I am dramatic – he tends toward the practical. And while I am short – he is tall.

Sibling relationships have always been complex and perplexing. And my guess is that they will be complicated until the end of time. We have only to look at Jacob and Esau, Isaac and Ishmael, and Joseph and all those brothers to know we have excellent company in our struggles.

But as I look at my children and at times despair at the sibling ‘stuff’ – I have great hope. For blood is thick and family ties are strong, carrying with them an innate recognition of the importance of being siblings.

Because somehow in the life journey siblings matter.

Today, thousands of miles away in his new home in Istanbul, Turkey, my youngest sibling celebrates 50 years of life. With the 21st century ability to communicate I will be able to talk to him, to wish him a happy birthday. But it’s not enough – not the same as being in person. And so in a week and a half we will head to Istanbul to celebrate birthdays, siblings, the skyline of Istanbul, and Turkish coffee.

Because there is an importance to being siblings.



Repost Because It’s so True! ~ A Penny for “Don’t Worry”

If I had a penny for every time one of my children said “Don’t Worry!” I’d be a gazillionaire! I don’t even know if there is such a thing but I would be one.

Me: “Make sure you get the paper in to your history teacher!”

He: “Don’t Worry! I’ll get it in!” …. 9 hours later

Me: “Did you get the history paper in on time?”‘

He: “Oh no – Mom, I’m so, so sorry!”

Next scenario:

Me: “Make sure you’ve let your work know that you won’t be available this next weekend”

She: “Don’t Worry! You know I won’t forget”….. Weekend comes.

She: “Oh crap, I forgot to let my work know I wouldn’t be there”

Me (under my breath): “Don’t Worry!” (Said the way no mother should ever speak: with sarcasm)

The scenarios differ but the words are always and forever the same. Need the garbage taken out? Don’t worry! Need the cat fed, plants watered, dishwasher emptied? Don’t worry! Need a GPA that will allow you to graduate from high school? Don’t worry! Need to save yourself from going crazy? Don’t worry!

It’s amazing the power those two words hold for teenagers. In their minds this is the answer for everything, better still, isn’t it what moms want to hear? Somehow the words sink into their brains and convince them that their moms really don’t need to worry, that they have everything under control. They, with their tiny bank accounts, hair from hell, and inability to get to school on time are in control?  Awesome.

But worst of all, when they use those dreadful words, and later come and look at me with big, sad eyes and true conviction that I am right, I melt and forgive them on the spot. I temporarily forget that the words exist and hug them thinking how boring my world would be without these ingrates.

When I look closely at the penny there are four significant words at the very top. It is these words that challenge me and make me think maybe my kids are right about this  “Don’t worry!” mantra.  In reality, the only words strong enough to combat my worry are the words “In God We (I) trust”. It’s those words that will sustain me until the next “Don’t worry.”

And now I need to go and phone one of them. Somehow I know the conversation will go like this:

Me: “This is your first day of work. Make sure you’re not late!”

He: “Don’t worry!”

One more penny for my growing savings account.

A Dwelling Place Secure

My parents are moving. At 84 and 86 they are once again packing up their bags, lives, and their hearts and heading for a new place, a new space.

They have done this many times before – the routine is not new. But that struggle of change versus permanence is written all over this move. They are leaving a community they love, they are leaving an area that has become home.

Watching this move is part comedy, part tragedy.

My mom comes up to me whispering “Your father wants to keep that!” Her eyes roll and I giggle. My dad hears the giggle and comes in and we try to hide “that”.

Or my dad looks at the casserole dishes and pans on the kitchen counter and says in a barely audible voice “Boy, we have a lot of kitchen stuff! Do you think we need all that?” He shakes his head and goes off to rescue an efficiency light bulb from my mom’s give away pile.

I take a banana out of an old tin dish that has a floral pattern with a bird in the center. It’s a pretty dish but I need to ask “Do you want to keep this”. She pauses “You know! That belonged to Ralph’s mother – Ralph – what do you think?” Big Mistake. “Oh if it belonged to my mother we keep it.” “Ralph, we’re the kind that would be on the Antique Road Show and they would interview us and we would have to say ‘Yes, we brought this old thing but we found out it’s worth…..Nothing!'” She shakes her head in disgust.

I love these two people. So. Dearly.

When I asked my mom how many times she had moved she said “Oh I don’t know! I would have to sit down and count!” They have ‘set their hearts on pilgrimage and they go from strength to strength’; whether it be a small town in Massachusetts or a small city in Pakistan, the strength is the same.

And I don’t have to ask the secret of their strength. It’s in the index cards taped on the refrigerator or sitting by the bedside. It’s in the prayers that are prayed each morning and evening. It’s in the decisions they make from big to small. Their secret will never make it to Oprah – it’s far too big and good.

Their secret is in the Psalms and Proverbs, Genesis and Revelation, in the Alpha and Omega.

A tea cup sits empty by my mom’s bedside, a yellow index card full of writing beside it. “O Lord, you have searched me and you know me. You know when I sit and when I rise;you perceive my thoughts from afar.You discern my going out and my lying down; you are familiar with all my ways.”

The verse is written in my mom’s familiar handwriting and sits at the top of a stack of cards an inch high. Each one is filled with verses, written evidence of her strength.

Though they are surrounded by boxes and tensions come and go, their foundation is rock-solid and depends not on the contents of the boxes, nor where those boxes ultimately land. Their dwelling place is secure, secure and strong as the words written on cards placed at the bedside.



Guest Post at Tamara Out Loud – Unfair Grace

Today I have the privilege of guest-posting at Tamara Out Loud: Thoughts on Real Life and Real Faith. I am honored for a couple of reasons. The first is that Tamara is one of the best writers I know. At times she puts together words and thoughts in ways that go straight to your heart and work their way into your soul; at other times she is laugh out loud funny with an irreverent humor. The second is that Tamara is editor of the upcoming book What a Woman is Worth. This is a book that will be released sometime this summer and I have the honor of being a contributor to the book. I’ll be writing more on that in a future post but right now take a look at the beginning of the post and wander over to Tamara’s blog to read the rest!

Unfair Grace

“I read Ann Voskamp’s book” pause “And I was thankful for a few days”

This came from my friend as we recently sat together drinking free coffee from an inn on the rocky coast of the Atlantic Ocean. The inn thought we were guests – they offered us both the coffee and cookies embossed with a cursive E, (“Signature cookies!” we were told with a smile) free with no questions asked.  A good lesson that there is free lunch if you walk with confidence.

We both laughed at her statement about the well-read and loved book “One Thousand Gifts”, for reading a book is one thing and working out the details of the challenges presented within is completely different.

Whenever I get together with this friend we go for the jugular vein of faith conversation. We don’t waste time or words. Both of us are in something of a waste land when it comes to friends who share our faith so we go deep. Quickly. The conversation was like rapid gun fire going from head to heart, from  gratitude to grace. And there is where we stopped and struggled. You can read the rest of this post at http://tamaraoutloud.com/2012/06/07/guest-post-unfair-grace/

I Remember

Me & My Mom – Easter, 2019

Today is Mother’s Day in the United States. For the first time ever as a mom I am neither with any of my children or with my own mom. I have hungrily devoured messages, emails, and phone calls that are filled with love and words of affirmation of this amazing and difficult task called ‘being a mom’. In honor of my own mom, who I am fortunate enough to still have on this planet, I post this piece that I wrote a number of years ago. 

To My Mom

I remember sleeping on the rooftop of our house in Ratodero. We would wake at dawn when we heard the call to prayer from the nearby mosque and despite your maternal pleadings, we couldn’t go back to sleep.

I remember being tucked into bed at night, you would read me a story, kiss me, and then sit by my bedside and sing. It’s what I missed the most in boarding school.

I remember that first trip on the train party. In my memory I had just turned seven years old and we were in Hyderabad. I cried tears from my soul the entire way to the station. As the train pulled out, I stopped crying and you began. I never saw your tears and it wasn’t until later that I heard about them.

I remember you never let anyone call me chubby, even when I was.

I remember our fights. Stone-faced cold I could be to my mother. And I think I may have been the child that could bring on your fiery temper better than the others. I remember your forgiveness. Sometimes I think we both thought the fights would continue forever, but we were wrong.

I remember the picture you hung on our wall, a snow scene of New England, reminder of your home so far away from the desert of Sindh. It wasn’t until I became an adult that I realized that there must have been times when you missed your home so much that it hurt.

I remember seeing you every morning. No matter how early I got up, you were up earlier, praying and reading your Bible, strength of your soul.

I remember your presence in the first couple of weeks of me becoming a mom. Your common sense wisdom was a gift.

And I remember the first time I realize that you were aging. I fought it. Because if you were aging it meant there would come one day when you would no longer be available to talk to and ask questions of; to pray for me, my marriage, my children.

But you are still here and still speak into my life. So today I remember that I want to Thank You publicly and privately, from my heart.

Happy Mother’s Day. On this day it’s good to remember.

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