The Evolution of a Writer/Blogger

blogging

  1. Dream about writing
  2. Write beginnings of articles and books in your mind
  3. Dream more about writing
  4. Write copious amounts in your journal
  5. Realize that blogging is a thing
  6. Read other people’s blogs and think “I want to blog”
  7. Consider starting a blog
  8. Talk to daughter about starting a blog
  9. Listen to daughter’s advice about said blog
  10. Start a blog on New Year’s Day
  11. Write your first blog and hit “Publish”
  12. Get a phone call from your mom who read your first blog
  13. Write your second blog and hit “Publish”
  14. Realize that there is something called “stats” that will tell you how many people have read your blog
  15. Write your third blog and see that two people have read it: Your mom and your husband
  16. Blog and realize your mom, your husband, and a lot of old friends from Pakistan have read your blog
  17. Blog and realize your mom, your husband, your friends from Pakistan and a whole lot of strangers have read your blog
  18. Get terrified
  19. Think that you’re supposed to blog about everything that happens everywhere
  20. Get exhausted at pretending you have a voice and knowledge about everything everywhere
  21. Get comments and emails from strangers who, amazingly, really like your writing
  22. Write a blog that gets a lot of response from a group you love
  23. Write, Write, Write and realize that even when people don’t read it, you really love to write
  24. Settle into a happy little corner of the big, wide, interwebz
  25. Write a blog that goes viral (it was bound to happen considering the sheer volume you write) and get mad because you know that other things you have written are better, but this one was the one that went BAM!
  26. Go to conference and have a stranger recognize you
  27. Write a book from your blog posts
  28. Go to another conference and watch the speaker click to a slide with a quote from YOUR BOOK (whisper to all the strangers around you “That’s me!”)
  29. Continually struggle with envy when others seem to have a bigger platform
  30. Confess said envy and take a break from blogging
  31. Go back to blogging refreshed and realizing that you are developing your own style and voice
  32. Realize that your blog will never send you rejection letters, so you should probably branch out to other magazines in order to grow as a writer
  33. Branch out and get a rejection email.
  34. Publish the rejected blog post on your own blog
  35. Decide that you are a terrible writer and no one should be reading you anyway because you’re a sheer waste of time
  36. Get an email that says “I never comment, but I love your writing!”
  37. Decide maybe you’re still a terrible writer, but someone loves you, and if even one person loves you – then maybe it’s worth it.
  38. Branch out again and send out more articles to magazines and journals
  39. Get articles accepted and work with editor that doesn’t know you or your writing
  40. Be humbled as you write and rewrite sentences and paragraphs
  41. See your work published outside of your own blog
  42. Proudly send out more articles
  43. Get email saying “You are a solid writer, but we won’t be using your article”
  44. Scream with rage “I DO NOT WANT TO BE A SOLID WRITER. I WANT TO BE AN EXCELLENT WRITER”
  45. Cry
  46. Pray
  47. Realize that your missing ingredient is generosity
  48. Seek to be generous with your writing, your platform, and your praise and affirmation of other writers
  49. Be humbled
  50. Continue writing because the heart of all of this is that you absolutely love putting letters into words, words into sentences, sentences into paragraphs, and paragraphs into thoughts and ideas. YOU LOVE IT – and no one can ever take that away from you. No one. Ever. 

PS – Oh, and also realize that when you first started blogging you linked everything to Wikipedia, and only found out about when your daughter said to you one day “Mom, why do you link everything to Wikipedia?”  So you lie and said “I don’t” and then secretly late at night you go through 120 blog posts and take out all the Wikipedia links…..

About a Book….aka Kill Those Darlings!

Worlds apart promo

Some of you may remember a big announcement last year. It was about a book. A book that I was so excited about. I talked about it on the blog and on social media sites. I had a book reading and signing. But something just wasn’t right.

That book, that precious book where I let my childhood memories in all their vulnerability out into the world, did not sell. Meanwhile, my previous book kept on selling.

I couldn’t figure it out. It was so defeating and so depressing. I had been writing that book for eight years. What happened? Why was it so poorly received? I didn’t talk to anyone about it, because when you love writing and you want people to receive your words….well you don’t talk about the hard stuff.

Right after the book came out I had major surgery. While I had hoped to spend my recuperating days writing, instead I ended up just healing. It was the hardest and most humbling work I’ve ever done, and it was a fulltime job. Soon after that, I realized that my dad was entering into his final illness. I needed to spend as much time as I was able with my mom and dad, which is never enough time. He died in October, and soon after that, some of the stuff you never talk about on a blog happened.

And the book got lost in all of the stuff that was happening. But I would still think about this book. Why on earth did I write it? What did I expect? Dear friends from Pakistan were writing me regularly telling me they would never read the book. It was just too hard for them. So what was it for anyway?

I realized I hadn’t written it for them. I had written it for a far more general audience, but the book didn’t reflect that. I also realized some things about writing. Just as an artist puts their heart and soul into their art, we who write put our heart and soul into our words. We craft and recraft sentences. We look for meaning behind things that happen to us and we invite others into those events, hoping they too will find meaning. As Joan Didion says: “We tell ourselves stories in order to live….We look for the sermon in the suicide, for the social or moral lesson in the murder of five. We interpret what we see, select the most workable of the multiple choices….” 

Writing helped me to understand more about how important stories are to our understanding of others and ourselves. I thought more specifically about the third culture kid’s journey, the stories behind the arrivals and departures, the narrative that captured the sweetness of hello and the bitterness of goodbye.*

In the middle of all these life events, I did a book reading.  It was there that one of my friends asked me about the title. She said it so graciously, but I took the words to heart. “What about the title?” she asked. “Why did you choose to call it that?”

My friend is Israeli and Jewish – in other words, we come from different countries and different faiths, but she loved the book. Her words took root in my heart.

It was in early winter that Doorlight Publications reached out to me. They wanted to reprint the book. It wasn’t selling well. What did I think about retitling the book and adding a foreword as well as a section that would take the reader from reading about my story to writing about their own journey?

There is a phrase in the writing world that talks about killing your darlings. In other words, the things that you hold onto the most in writing sometimes need to be killed off, taken out, severed from the body of the book.

The title was my darling. I so wanted ‘Pakistan’ to be in the title. And it seemed to make sense that I would put faith in it. But it narrowed the focus of the book too much. The book was my journey through my developmental years in Pakistan and included so much more than Pakistan and faith. Would I be willing to kill my darling?

I would, and I did.

Just last week the book was re-released under the title Worlds Apart: A Third Culture Kid’s Journey. I love it. I love the cover. I love the foreword by Rachel Pieh Jones, who is writing her own book to be released in 2019 by Plough Publishing. I love the ‘Mapping Your TCK Journey’ at the end, followed by book resources.

And I’m excited for this new start. You don’t always get another chance with a book, but I did with this one.

So would you give it a chance? Would you consider buying the book? I would love it if you did!

I would love to have you purchase the book! It’s on sale through Amazon and available wherever books are sold.

*Page 184 Worlds Apart: A Third Culture Kid’s Journey


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Passages Through Pakistan – Film & Reviews

The train rounds a bend.
The rest of the cars appear one by one,
all tied to one another
far into the distance.
It comes as a surprise to be tied to things so far back

Human Landscapes from My Country

by Nazım Hikmet

____________________________________________________

passages-cover

As many of you know, Passages Through Pakistan: An American Girl’s Journey of Faith was released in early March.

Below is a short video about the book with some amazing pictures of Pakistan taken by a couple of friends, as well as me. Enjoy!

 

Passages Through Pakistan from Marilyn Gardner on Vimeo.

Advance Praise for Passages Through Pakistan
“Passages Through Pakistan tells the captivating story of Marilyn Gardner’s childhood as a ‘third-culture kid’, raised by her Christian, American missionary parents in the heart of Pakistan. Gardner’s eloquent story of the trials, tribulations, and lessons of growing up as a bridge between these rich cultures serves as an important lens through which Americans and Pakistanis can learn more about one another and their important long-term partnership in a time when the gap between the two nations seems to be growing ever larger. By shedding light on how our faiths, our cultures, and our worlds are far more alike than different, Gardner’s story is a must read for those wanting to build bridges.”Ambassador Akbar Ahmed, Ibn Khaldun Chair of Islamic Studies, American University,Washington, DC
*********

Marilyn demonstrates sensitivity and understanding toward an often misunderstood part of the world…

“Marilyn Gardner’s Passages Through Pakistan is a wonderful book, presenting in both a descriptive and reflective way the wonder of her childhood that took place in the mountains of northern Pakistan, the villages and deserts of southern Pakistan and the small towns of New England, along with some of the places in between.
As the only daughter in a remarkable family that included four brothers, Marilyn emerges as a sensitive observer with an impressive eye for detail as well as a well developed memory for the small anecdote that often reveals a much larger meaning.

Part spiritual reflection, part childhood reminiscence and part travelogue, Marilyn’s book will be especially welcomed by those trying to make sense of their own personal stories, especially if they involve transitions across multiple cultures and geographic locations.

A deeply moving observer of the places, people and events that have surrounded her, she demonstrates sensitivity and understanding toward an often misunderstood part of the world, presenting the sights, sounds, landscapes and peoples of Pakistan in ways that are largely absent in both newspaper headlines and superficial social media accounts that all too often know little and understand even less.

Americans growing up in Asia and Asians growing up in America will especially gravitate toward this account, capturing as it does the complexity as well as the wonder and astonishment of childhoods spent in unlikely places. It will also resonate strongly with missionary kids and third culture kids everywhere.” – Jonathan Addleton, former US Ambassador to Mongolia, is the author of several books including The Dust of Kandahar:

A Diplomat Among Warriors in Afghanistan and Some Far and Distant Place

Passages Through Pakistan is available at the following locations:

An Angry Diva and a Fragile Psyche

Yesterday my book, Passages Through Pakistan, was released. I have been looking forward to this day – a day when my 8-year-old baby is born and the world sees it. I’ve also been nervous. This journey of writing is a vulnerable journey. Whenever we put words on paper and they are released to the world there is a chance that they will not be well received. That’s life and it comes with any public creative process.

Advance copies were sent to several folks who would assist with the book launch. Everything was ready. Until we realized that the advance copies were poorly printed, the font color uneven and distracting.

It’s a small thing, but to my fragile psyche it felt huge. Emails and messages flew back and forth yesterday afternoon and I couldn’t rest. I became an Angry Diva, convincing myself that this was the most important thing that anyone could or should think about.

At seven o’clock, I collapsed on the couch in tears. My book baby with its eight year gestation had birth spots. Suddenly I wanted to pull the whole thing. Uneven color font be damned, I was done. Why on earth did I think I could write anyway? Why did I even try?

The downward spiral didn’t stop. Instead it continued and soon I moved on from questioning my ability to write to questioning why I existed. I was questioning my worth as a mom, as a wife, as an employee, and ultimately as a human being.

Earlier in February my husband and I watched an interesting film featuring Meryl Streep and Hugh Grant. The film is called Florence Foster Jenkins after a historical person of the same name. Florence Foster Jenkins was an opera singer who lived in New York. She had inherited a lot of money and no talent.

“The historian Stephen Pile ranked her ‘the world’s worst opera singer’. ‘No one, before or since,’ he wrote, ‘has succeeded in liberating themselves quite so completely from the shackles of musical notation.’*

The movie portrays the way her partner, a Shakespearean actor, protects her. He hides reviews of her concerts so she doesn’t see the criticism; he pays other reviewers to write glowing and effusive reviews; he even pays people to attend her concerts.

As you can imagine, one day the charade crashes. You can only hide the truth for so long. Sooner or later it will be revealed. So Florence reads some nasty reviews, and she is shaken to the core.

In a poignant scene toward the end of the film, she looks at her partner and says to him: “They may say I can’t sing, but they can never say I didn’t sing.” 

This morning as I was reflecting on how I acted like a diva to disguise my fragile ego, how I suddenly began questioning my worth in every area of my life, I began thinking about Florence Foster Jenkins and how her spirit was wounded, but not completely crushed when she realized the truth. And I thought about my writing, how its been an unexpected gift these past eight years, how no matter what happens with this book – it has been a cathartic, healing process.

I have put down memories and feelings. I have revisited my faith. I have processed boarding school joy and pain. And I have met incredible people in the process.

So in the spirit of Florence Foster Jenkins I give you the honesty of an angry diva, the humiliation of a fragile psyche, and the words “They may say I can’t write, but they can never say I didn’t write.” 

Also, the printing problem is almost corrected, so I can assure you that you will get a good copy should you choose to stroke my ego and buy my words! And I would love, love, love it if you did.

*

Physical Therapy, Editing, and Sanctification

 

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I try to relax as a skilled professional stretches my muscles. My leg goes up, far above my head; far higher than I could imagine. He holds it in place for 30 seconds, teaching me, explaining what he is doing and why. He has me lie on my left side and works the muscles on my right leg. His name is Alex and he is a gifted therapist and teacher. I have already done the bike and the leg press machine. This physical therapy is hard work. I want it to be easy. I want a quick fix. But instead, it is a slow and arduous process. But I see results. They are small and don’t seem significant, but to me they are huge steps forward. Yesterday, for the first time in two months, I did not limp to work. I breathe deeply as Alex stretches my muscles again. There are so many times when I want to give up, when I want to admit defeat and say “I can’t do this. It’s too hard.” But I keep on going and my leg gets stronger.

///

This past year I have watched an initially chaotic set of writings become an actual book that is almost ready to be birthed into the world. Good editors have taken my words and they have worked and reworked them like Alex works my muscles. I have had to give up control and let others take away words and sentences and then tell me to add other words and sentences. The goal: that a cohesive story emerges and my voice is not lost in the process. It has been a difficult but essential process. The final proof to my book arrived last week. There have been months, weeks, and days of wanting to give up, wanting to admit defeat and say “I can’t do this. It’s too hard.” But I keep on going, and a book is born.

///

I went to confession last Friday. It has been weeks since I have gone. This process of admitting sin, admitting wrong doing – it is so hard. But when I finally go, I breathe a sigh of relief. This is not something that will get me to Heaven, it isn’t a litmus test, but it is so healthy and freeing. Like the Psalmist David, I can say “Against thee, and thee only, have I sinned, and done what is evil in your sight…” My spiritual muscles have been weak and mushy. Like my physical muscles, they need work – stretching to make them stronger. Like physical therapy, there are many exercises that I have learned. There’s confession, spiritual direction, prayer, meditation, being a part of a faith community that challenges you and forces you to forgive and grow. There is a big word for this used by theologians – sanctification. It is the “act or process of being made holy.”  There are so many times when I want to give up, when I want to admit defeat and say “I can’t do this. It’s too hard.” But I keep on going – because to give up would be to deny what I believe and love. So I keep on going and slowly, my faith gets stronger.

My body, my book, my beliefs – they have more in common than I could ever imagine.

“Technical Issues”

By Robynn


 I think my computer is beginning to show its age. This machine came to me secondhand by very generous friends. I’m not sure how old it was when I got it and really I’ve only had it for two and a half years but lately it’s been a little ornery and difficult to work with. The poor thing starts up nicely but then freezes. I will just settle my fingers on the keys and she clams up. I guess she startles easily. 

At any rate, I’ve had the hardest time sitting down to write lately. It’s disheartening to think that any minute the computer might shut down. The last piece I started I just can’t complete. What I was able to complete—maybe three or four paragraphs on Psalm 136– is there, started, safely saved in my documents, but I can’t convince my computer to let me have access to it. (Even now I’m typing this up on my husband’s machine.) 

Have you noticed how people always have their stated reasons for doing something but often there lurks a deeper reason, the truer explanation, for the choices they make. It’s like they don’t realize they have complete freedom to make whatever choice they want to make. Instead they cloak it and cover it with some other rationalization.

We’re leaving town so our daughter can get the medical care he needs.

​These visas won’t work for us long term so we need to leave the country now.

We have theological differences.

​I didn’t like the music style so I left my church.

Typically the given reason is one that others can easily understand. It makes sense. Of course you’d leave for the sake of your son, or your family’s sense of security or because of your theology or to find a more familiar worship style. That makes complete sense. Those reasons gather empathy and garner support. The community will rally around those reasons. There will be a send-off, a farewell party, a proper goodbye. The departee can hold their head high as they leave, the victim of unfortunate circumstances. 

It would be much more painful and require too much vulnerability to admit the real reason behind the decision.

​We’re deeply hurting. Our hearts are breaking with disappointment. Our ​​​marriage is in shambles.

​Our expectations have been dashed. We realize we made a mistake. What on ​​​earth were we thinking? We can’t possibly live here.

​You hurt me so horribly. I’m not sure I can ever get past this.

​I’m terribly lonely. My feelings have been hurt. I feel isolated and alone. 

“Technical Issues” is the reason I’m using for the writer’s constipation I’ve been experiencing in my blog posts. My computer isn’t working.  

If I’m being completely honest, if I peel back the layers of acceptable justifications, I would have to admit to a deeper cause for my wee writing crisis. I’ve been at a loss for words for several months now. The election process has overwhelmed me. This wasn’t your normal partisan divide. Meanness has seeped up through the mud. The creepy crawlies of cruelty have been released. Things are different now. I know I’ve written of this before. It’s as if the entire nation has a low-grade fever that we just can’t shake. There’s no getting over it. There’s no going back to how things were.

The wider world is chronically ill too. Aleppo has been obliterated while we all stand by and hopelessly, helplessly watch. Bombings in Italy, Turkey, Cairo bring death and destruction. ISIS continues to exert itself in Iraq. The Philippines continues to use violence to purge itself of their drug war. South Sudan is engaging in ethnic cleansing. Myanmar is guilty of active genocide too. If you think about it at all, if you let your heart wander to peer over the edge of your own bubble for even just a tiny time, it’s too much. It’s just way too much.

(For the other piece I was trying to write on my computer I made the mistake of Google searching acts of terrorism in 2016. Did you know that Wikipedia has an entire page devoted to that? Each month in 2016 is given it’s own spreadsheet. There were acts of terror around the world on nearly every single day of the year. It’s beyond horrifying and overwhelming.) 

At some point, I know, we do have to learn to live with this malaise. We have to learn to walk with a limp. We’re still called to faith and endurance. There is still joy to be found. Beauty still surrounds us and invites us to worship the Creator. There are countless blessings to be enjoyed. We have enough to generously give away. But for those who have eyes to see below the surface, for those whose ears hear the pain underneath the veneer, for those whose hearts break with the weight of sin and injustice, and hatred, it might take some time.

In the meantime….I’m having “Technical Issues.”

That’s my excuse and I’m sticking with it for a time.

“Give Your Pen to Me”

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Our public world is not the way to define our relationship with God. Who we are is defined when no one is looking. –Jennie Allen

 

“Give your pen to me” he says.

I slowly hand it over, unsure as to whether I really want to.

He is gentle with me, but daily I hear the same thing: “Give your pen to me.” 

*****

When I began writing, every day I would pray.

I would pray “Let my words tell your story. Let my words be bigger than I am, bear witness to a greater reality.” It didn’t matter whether people read or not, I wanted my words to reflect God’s glory.

Slowly, people began to read. I was so grateful. Then more people read, and I was excited and grateful.

But I lost sight of my original intent. I became a better writer, a more popular blogger, and a worse person. It began to be more about me, more about statistics, more about popularity. I lost sight of whose pen was in my hand and I focused on who I was.

I lost sight of God in the midst of my own noise. So I burned out. Because when it’s all about me, it’s uninteresting and unsustainable.

I wanted to blame it on others; I wanted to point the finger. But over and over the fingers pointed back at me.

Slowly I began to realize what I was doing. Slowly I began giving my heart and my pen back to God.

Slowly I am making my way back to the beginning, back to the bigger and better story, back to the Author.

And my longing grows stronger by the day – to bear witness to a greater reality.

*****

“Give your pen to me” he says.

Exhausted with self effort, I finally hand it over willingly. I – a slow learner, he – a patient teacher.

The pen is no longer in my hand and I sigh, realizing it was never mine to begin with. 

To You Whom I’ve Never Met


Last week, my husband came home with a package. After tearing off the brown paper, I opened a beautiful, decorative, handmade sign for our home. Someone who I’ve never met, who has never seen my world, took the time to make it for me. I couldn’t believe her kindness and generosity. And so I began thinking about so many of you, you whom I’ve never met. You who email, comment, and encourage. This is for all of you. 

To You Whom I’ve Never Met….

I read your messages and I alternate between weeping and laughing. We share so much – yet we’ve never met. From boarding school tears and laughs to awkward first days in our passport countries it is like we are brothers and sisters.

And yet – we’ve never met.

We know the joy of international terminals, and the tears of the word ‘goodbye.’ We share the cynicism that overpowers when we confront narrow world views and the fresh breeze that comes of kindred spirits communicating. We know what it is to grow up too quickly and yet be considered immature in many ways. We don’t have a clue what it would be to stay in the same place for life and yet we partially envy it.

We share all these things – and yet we’ve never met.

I receive your emails and your messages, your tweets and your texts. We might share our thoughts through a couple words, or through long paragraphs that detail our stories. No matter – there is a common thread that binds us.

We come from places of faith and places of doubt, from different countries and political persuasions, but something binds us together.

We know what it is to live in a world between, we know what it is to communicate across boundaries. Whether those boundaries be in our back yard or across the ocean, we navigate them regularly and learn through the hard and the easy.

And yet, we’ve never met.

Others of you have stayed in the same place all your lives. Yet, you read and connect with my words with warmth and empathy. You encourage me to be settled but not stagnant, to love places that are near and far.

Thank you. For being a part of this journey; for living between worlds so well; for being okay with home not always being a ‘place’; for laughing at the funny and crying at the difficult; for loving the world and understanding negotiation; for getting what it is to be ‘other’ and using that to make a difference. Thank you for being the third culture kid, global nomad, and lover of the world that you are.

Maybe someday we’ll meet, but until we do, I’m grateful. 

And Jenn Sforza, thank you for my beautiful sign! 

When Two Writers Meet–A Lunch with Elizabeth Trotter


Yesterday I drove across the great Kansas plain, over and down through the Flinthills, to meet someone, Elizabeth Trotter—a fellow writer, that I’ve only ever known on-line. It wasn’t a very long drive, I think it took me maybe an hour and a half, but it felt much longer. Truth be told, I was nervous. I admitted as much to my friend Marilyn in a gasping text message an hour before I left the house, “Here’s a stupid thing: can you pray? I’m meeting Elizabeth Trotter for lunch and I’m having all these second thoughts and insecurities and misgivings. And I think I might have been the one to initiate… which I never do! What was I thinking?!

It’s a little daunting to meet someone face to face that has only known you through your writing. I write my heart. She’s read my heart. I write my pain and problems. She’s read my problems and my pain. It’s one thing to think of the ‘reader’ as a nameless, faceless thing out there—it’s another to imagine your expression as my words are ingested by your eyes and taken into your brains. You’ll either spit out those words as irrelevant or meaningless or quite frankly wrong, or the words will land inside you. They’ll settle on your souls. An expression, a turn of phrase, a metaphor, enters and springs to life in you and takes up residence. It’s risky to write. It’s risky to write to readers. It’s riskiest of all to meet one of those readers, who has only known me through my writing, face to face.

I wondered if I had a headache yesterday morning. I didn’t. I wondered if my mother-in-law, who had woken unusually early, was well. Maybe I needed to stay home with her? She was and I didn’t. I wondered if the car, which did seem very shaky and who’s muffler must surely have a hole in it for the noise it made as I rattled along the I-70 highway, was safe enough. Perhaps I should turn back? I didn’t.

Instead I bravely went to meet Elizabeth Trotter.

There’s this thing that happens when two writers meet. So much ground had been covered by our writing and reading of each other’s lives, we jumped into conversations half way through. It’s like we’d been talking for years, we were mid-sentence in each other’s stories. We simply loaded up our plates with delectable Indian food, filled our mini-mugs with hot spicy chai, sat down and continued where we’d left off, transitioning without hesitation from the written words we’d read, to spoken words with voice.

Having shared written pains, spoken heartaches were easier to articulate. I found myself confiding in Elizabeth the stuff of blog posts I’ll never be able to publish. Those things landed safely on her. Elizabeth never flinched or gasped. She received with grace my various confessions.

Jonathon and Elizabeth Trotter are on home assignment. It’s a nebulous, often misunderstood, role. It’s hard work. There are joys of reunions and dreads of departures. Their time is consumed with connecting with people long known, reporting to churches and donors, attending to administrative details. I remember the ‘mixed-bag’ of emotions associated with home assignment and they have my sympathy. I also know how very busy and exhausting home assignments can be. I was deeply honoured that Elizabeth carved out time to meet me, a friend she hadn’t ever met. I was thankful to Jonathon for sacrificing the time to allow it to happen.

And I’m thankful for the graces embedded in our conversation. Elizabeth affirmed me as a writer. I often struggle to think this is real for me. I’m married to a real writer, I write with a real writer. But Elizabeth looked me in the eye and blessed the gift I’ve been given. We talked about being writers. We talked about being married to writers. She empathized and laughed a little at some of the writing arguments Lowell and I’ve had over the years. Elizabeth gave space to my current pains. She didn’t rush into fix them, or talk me out of them. She heard my heart and she let the pain come to the table and join us. She taught me some American Church history and it’s relevance to today. We reiterated the central role of Jesus in all of that—and in our own lives. We talked about mothering a little, the stages we’ve loved, the stages we’ve struggled through—all the while drinking masala chai from the lunch buffet.

I felt very brave, in the midst of my anxieties, driving down the highway toward Elizabeth. I felt deeply blessed afterwards driving toward home. Although the chai cups had been emptied many times, or maybe in part because they had, my heart was full. Whether a reader or a writer, it didn’t matter in the end. I had met a friend.

The Stories of Others

Learning to tell our storiesSince writing in a public space I have done a lot of reading and thinking about story – specifically writing the stories of others. I think about this as I come back from Iraq, full of stories, and I begin to tell these stories in this space.

Indeed, there is a lot to think about. The first question is if I even have the right to tell the story of another. Should I tell the story or not?

For help in sorting this through I have read several essays but the writer I continually come back to is Katherine Boo.

Boo is a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist who writes about poverty. She writes stories for those with no voice. In 2012 she was interviewed by Guernica magazine. The interview is a thoughtful, long-form piece and I encourage you to read the entire interview. What I love about her words is that she honestly addresses the struggle of writing with integrity. She addresses the criticism of telling the stories of others and the soul-searching that a writer who tells those stories goes through. While the topic she specifically writes about is poverty, it holds true for other stories as well.

Here is an excerpt from the article:

Guernica: At a lecture at American Academy, you recounted that during your reporting on that evacuation shelter for The New Yorker a woman told you, “Wait, so you take our stories and put them in a magazine that rich people read, and you get paid and we don’t? That’s some backward-ass bluffiness, if you ask me.” She seemed to sum up the moral dilemma that reporting on poverty raises. Can you speak to some of these ethical questions?

Katherine Boo: She said it better than I did. We take stories and purvey them to people with money. And in the conventions of my profession, which I try to adhere to, we can’t pay people for stories. Anyone with a conscience who does this work grapples with that reality, and if they don’t, I’d worry. I lie awake at night, and I think, “Am I exploiting them? Am I a vulture?” All of the terrible names anyone could call me, I’ve called myself worse.

But if writing about people who are not yourself is illegitimate, then the only legitimate work is autobiography; and as a reader and a citizen, I don’t want to live in that world. Because if you take a kid like Sunil, who’s been denied the possibility of an education that allows him to write his own story, and all of the people who lack the means and access to do so, they go down the memory hole. They’re lost. What it comes down to is, the only thing worse than being a poverty reporter is if no one ever wrote about it at all. My work, I hope, helps people understand how much gets lost between the intellection of how to get people out of poverty and how it’s actually experienced. 

There’s more to this than the telling. It’s also how we tell the story.

If someone is entrusting us with their story and has given us permission to share the story, it means we have an obligation, a responsibility to tell it the best way possible. If we are telling our own story or the stories of others, we have a responsibility to tell the narrative with integrity and truth. But we also have a responsibility to write and tell stories as well as we possibly can – and that means with descriptive language, with passion, with sensitivity. We have a responsibility to write so that people want to read and want to share. We are the voice for the one who doesn’t write. We are custodians of the story.

In the next few posts, I will be telling some stories of those whose voice would otherwise not be heard. I write, both grateful and fearful. Grateful, because I was able to sit with people and hear their hearts. Fearful, because it is important that I honor their story, and in an online space that is not always easy.

But if you as readers have shown me anything, it’s that you honor stories. So I hope you’ll join me as I tell some of the stories that I heard in Iraq. Thanks for reading along.

Grace in the Space Between

long obedience quote

In a world of online noise, I often wonder where this space stands, what it can do. More and more, I’ve had to evaluate – does this blog belong? Is it useful? Does it really say anything different or new? I’m not sure. And I’m not looking for compliments when I say that – really!

When I first began blogging, it felt easy. I had so much to say and so little time. And then I realized, every time there was a controversy, everyone wrote about it, whether they were qualified of not. Because in online space it seems that to merely exist is qualification enough. Every time there was a major scandal, millions of voices spoke into the scandal, some screaming for grace, others screaming for judgment.

And I have become so tired.

Perhaps you too are tired. Perhaps you too are wondering where you stand. During the short break I took from daily blogging, I decided that Communicating Across Boundaries would continue.  So many of you honoured and encouraged that break. Through comments and messages, you spoke words that were like  gifts.  And the break was so good. It was so necessary.

But now I’m not so sure about this space.

More and more my prayer as I go forward is that I don’t waste this space. That I don’t waste time – either yours or mine.

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote the words below for the online community at A Life Overseas. They are the words I give you today as I think about this space.

My prayer for us today: That we may have Grace in the space between.

Between the taxi ride and checking in at the airport
Let there be Grace
Between the tears of goodbyes and the joys of hello
Let there be Grace
Between a warm bed at home and the halls of boarding school
Let there be Grace
Between Sunday rest and Monday work
Let there be Grace
Between doubt and faith
Let there be Grace
Between grief and laughter
Let there be Grace
Between bitter anger and redemptive reconciliation
Let there be Grace
Between life on earth and longing for Heaven
Let there be Grace
Let there always be Grace in the Space Between

Choosing a Smaller Font

  
Choosing a Smaller Font by Robynn

Lately I’ve been struggling to write. There are several reasons I’m sure. It’s always harder for me to find quiet uninterrupted time when the kids are home from school. The rhythm in the house slows. A laid back lovely laziness seeps over this place. The kids sleep longer and later. There’s more television watched, more games played, more art created, more books read. I manage the absolute necessary: the laundry gets done, the place gets cleaned. Obligations connected to my job are usually completed but with less energy and enthusiasm. Things still get checked off my to do list, but the creative juices fueling my drive seem to seasonally run dry. It’s nearly impossible for me to write during the summers.

As I was exploring this yesterday with Lowell, he asked me why I write. What motivates me to keep working at it? I was surprised he had to ask–obviously, I have things to say. (Insert smiley face emoticon here!) There are passions in me that need voice, truths that need to be elaborated on, soapboxes I want to stand on. I write also to process what’s at work in me. When I don’t understand things writing seems to help me clarify them. When I’m confused writing often mysteriously brings clarity to my cloudiness.

I’ve developed relationships through writing. I have come to humbly love and appreciate my readers. I suppose on one level I must assume people read, but when I actually meet someone who admits to reading I’m astounded that people really read what I write. I feel a connection to those readers. Readers are a part of my community, my sense of belonging, my place. I take you seriously. I feel responsible to you, and in some cases, for you.

Deeper underneath those things there lurks another more ignoble reason. I think, if I’m completely honest, that I write to remain seen. I’m afraid that if I stop writing, I’ll somehow disappear.

All my life I’ve longed for a broader scope. I’ve ached to have a global impact. I’ve wanted to make a difference to the world. I suppose that’s what happens when, as a little girl, you watch your parents cross the seas to enter their vocation. The international collection of colleagues they worked with must have further cemented this in my mind. People leave their various countries to make a difference in the world. They came from far away corners of the earth and went into all the world. That must have rubbed off on me. It’s what I’ve dreamed of for years.

I remember, rather sheepishly now, telling Father Albert at Conception Abbey in St Joe, Missouri, several years ago, in a spiritual direction session, that I wanted to be famous. His hands escaped his dark cassock, slapped on his knees, and he threw back his head and guffawed. He guessed he’d never really heard anyone admit that before. But it wasn’t fame I wanted; it was that big stage with a big audience, a big impact on a big world. 

My life has shrunk. We used to live loudly in India along the banks of the Ganges River. Now we live quietly in Kansas, in the middle of a large country. We used to travel by airplane, with layovers in large bustling airports. Now we use the car and we stop at gas stations and rest stops. We used to need suitcases and carry-on bags, tickets, passports and visas. All we need now is my purse and an overnight bag thrown in the back of the car. We used to host countless people for meals and overnight stays. We were a destination stop and people came to see us. Now we rarely have guests for more than the occasional meal. We used to speak two languages regularly. Now we speak one. We used to have three kids living under this roof. Now one is preparing to move away to his own life experiences and adventures. Soon we’ll be down to two.

My life is shrinking. Deep inside, in a core, hidden corner, I constantly battle the dread that I’m slowly disappearing. My life is getting smaller and smaller and I fear that I am too.

Shrinking isn’t necessarily bad. Alice in Alice in Wonderland, had to get smaller and before she would ever meet the Mad Hatter, the white rabbit, and the Queen of Hearts. The children in the movie, Honey I Shrunk the Kids, came to truly know their father loved them only after he accidentally shrunk them. Hagar, in the Old Testament story, had a personal encounter with the God Who Sees, only after her world had forcibly squeezed her into smaller spaces. 

John the Baptist knew that if Jesus was the Bridegroom then he was simply the Groom’s attendant. Understanding that John said, “He must become greater, I must become less” (John 3:30). He must become bigger, I must become smaller. John the Baptist seemed to understand that Christ expanding mandated his own shrinking. He didn’t resent the size exchange. It wasn’t forced on him. He chose it with sincere joy. The friend who attends the bridegroom waits and listens for him, and is full of joy when he hears the bridegroom’s voice. That joy is mine, and it is now complete. He must become greater; I must become less” (John 3:29-30).

I’m feeling the squeeze. I feel hard pressed on every side. I fear myself shrinking. I know in my head that writing is powerless to stop the process. I’m trying to give myself over to this as a spiritual discipline, a holy refining process. Intentionally I want to choose small. The Apostle Paul seemed to understand this. He could volitionally choose to be shrunk and stripped away. He could choose a smaller size for a larger purpose. But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things…. I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead (Phil 3:7-11).

I think I’ll struggle on in my writing. I’ll push through this season of summer sludge. Perhaps, in alignment with the lessons I seem to be learning, I’ll choose a smaller font.

Like a Dead Man

machine-Anne Lamott

One day last fall I was speaking to my priest about self-centeredness and pride. In the course of our conversation, he relayed to me this story: It seems a man came to a priest one day and asked him how he should deal with people who praise him as well as with those who criticize him. The priest looked at him and told him to go to see a man who lay dead in a room, waiting to be buried. “Go and ask him what you just asked me and see what he says,” said the priest.

The man was puzzled but this was his spiritual father, so he did what he asked. When he came back to the priest, the Father asked him what had happened. “Well, nothing,” said the man “he was dead.”

“Then that is how you are to react to both of those  things.” said the priest. “Like a dead man.” 

I love this story because I struggle with both of those things. How do I act when people criticize and how do I act when people praise. I am incredibly sensitive to words and opinion. Far too sensitive. It is one of the things that I have had to learn as a nurse – when a doctor, another colleague, or a patient yelled at me, angry with what I was or wasn’t doing, I wanted to fall apart. I wanted to hide myself away and be able to cry until there was nothing left of me. But that wasn’t going to work as a nurse. I had to face it and act like nothing happened.

So why am I blogging about this? Because this past week Between Worlds came out on Kindle. Not only did it come out, but for a limited time it is free. I am delighted and overwhelmed by the response. It has been shared over and over – and I am glad! I want it to be available to people overseas who can’t buy it from Amazon. But there is another thing happening here. I’m also aware that the more people read it, the more vulnerable I become to criticism. Everyone will not like it. Everyone will not think it was worth publishing. There will be those who verbalize this in any way possible.

Because that’s who we are as humans. We find our own opinions valuable and feel they will benefit others. 

And so I go back to the story of the man who asked a dead man how to respond to both praise and criticism — and I find that is what I want to do. Perhaps not totally dead – but comatose, with a mere nod and squeezing of the hand that I hear the words, but they will not affect the core of who I am. Because I know this – I don’t want either criticism or pride to prevent me from doing what I have grown to love. 

Anne Lamott, a well-loved author, wrote a book on writing called Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and LifeMy friend Robynn gave me a copy this summer and I have loved reading it, underlining and nodding through the entire book. Because it’s not just about writing, it’s about the human condition and our insecurity, our anxiety, our fear of failure. In her case these things manifest themselves in the response to her writing, in other people these things may raise their strong, ugly heads over other things.

As I think about reacting as a dead man to praise and criticism, I also realize that there are those, like Lamott, who have walked this road a lot longer and open themselves up to far more criticism than I ever will. And so I close with some of the quotes that are helping me as I navigate this world of writing.

“You are lucky to be one of those people who wishes to build sand castles with words, who is willing to create a place where your imagination can wander. We build this place with the sand of memories; these castles are our memories and inventiveness made tangible. So part of us believes that when the tide starts coming in, we won’t really have lost anything, because actually only a symbol of it was there in the sand. Another part of us thinks we’ll figure out a way to divert the ocean. This is what separates artists from ordinary people: the belief, deep in our hearts, that if we build our castles well enough, somehow the ocean won’t wash them away. I think this is a wonderful kind of person to be.”
Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life

“If something inside of you is real, we will probably find it interesting, and it will probably be universal. So you must risk placing real emotion at the center of your work. Write straight into the emotional center of things. Write toward vulnerability. Risk being unliked. Tell the truth as you understand it. If you’re a writer you have a moral obligation to do this. And it is a revolutionary act—truth is always subversive.”

“What if you wake up some day, and you’re 65… and you were just so strung out on perfectionism and people-pleasing that you forgot to have a big juicy creative life?”

and finally:

Don’t look at your feet to see if you are doing it right. Just dance.

How about you? Do you find yourself vulnerable to praise and criticism? If so how have you handled it? 

[All quotes from Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life]

A Quote and a GoodReads Giveaway

I talked about my favorite book the other day — the book Christy.  Several of you said you loved it as well. A reader, Christie, who has been living in Melbourne, Australia the last few years and has been going through the reentry process, said that she loved it so much she memorized the last 10 lines of the book. Today, because this week has held so much awful and evil on the worldwide stage, I’m leaving you my favorite quote from Christie.

“Evil is real – and powerful. It has to be fought, not explained away, not fled. And God is against evil all the way. So each of us has to decide where WE stand, how we’re going to live our lives. We can try to persuade ourselves that evil doesn’t exist; live for ourselves and wink at evil. We can say that it isn’t so bad after all, maybe even try to call it fun by clothing it in silks and velvets. We can compromise with it, keep quiet about it and say it’s none of our business. Or we can work on God’s side, listen for His orders on strategy against the evil, no matter how horrible it is, and know that He can transform it.”
― Catherine MarshallChristy

May you rest well this weekend.

ATTENTION:  Not only is there a giveaway on Communicating Across Boundaries – there is also a giveaway on GoodReads! Take a look and enter by clicking the link below.

FBetween Worlds Essays on culture and belonging by Marilyn Gardner

Between Worlds Essays on culture and belonging

by Marilyn Gardner

Giveaway ends July 27, 2014.

See the giveaway details
at GoodReads.

Enter to win

Sometimes What I Write is Just Dunderheaded

Sometimes what I write is just Dunderheaded by Robynn. You can follow Robynn on Twitter

dunderheaded

As many of our readers know, this has been a difficult season for me. And now I find myself in that horrid spot of endless transition. We are moving but we’re not entirely sure when. The closing date on our new place hasn’t yet been established. Once we do close we’ll need to rustle us up some electricians, plumbers, wall paper strippers, painters, kitchen tweakers. Once that work is done we can set a date to move in. Thankfully we have willing friends and family that will descend on us from all corners to generously lend a hand. This move will happen.  Eventually we will be settled again in that new house.

In this dark no man’s land of transition and waiting I’m experiencing all manner of angst. I have sadness at the prospects of leaving our little blue house. I’m excited to move into a new space. I have virtually had to step back from everything in order to cope with all the changes. Most of those things will not be re-engaged. This next chapter includes becoming my mother-in-law’s primary care-giver. I will need to be at home more. I will need to move at a slower pace. My capacities have shrunk significantly as I’ve struggled to manage the place our extended family is at after the sudden death of my father in law two months ago. I can’t do as much. I’m distracted. I’m managing emotions and stability and decisions and details.  I’ve dropped all manner of the balls I was juggling. Some of those balls I’ve kicked under couches; some I’ve shoved under piles of papers; some I can’t even remember ever having had!

One of my friends is about to publish a book. I was highly honoured to be asked to write up an endorsement for the book. I dedicated time to it. It was one thing, outside of my things, that I was determined to preserve. I refused to drop this one. Somehow in all of the shuffle I wasn’t given a specific deadline. Imagine my shock and profound sadness to realize I hadn’t made it in time. The book is coming out and I will not be endorsing it. I cried. I was so upset. I sobbed. I felt so sad that I had missed out on this way to bless my friend. I felt angry at the miscommunication. I felt devastated that I had disappointed my friend.

Mostly I felt, what I’ve suspected is true, that I’m slowly disappearing.

This morning I woke early and was working on some writing. The house is yet quiet. The cool night air breezes by as I sit near an open window. Distracted, I started poking around in a file I have on this computer labeled, “Robynn’s Writing Blog”. I started reading some of my old pieces.

I read in one piece I published in March 2013, Boxes, that I found it particularly comforting to know that the boxes that I’m not currently rummaging through haven’t disappeared. They’re not gone forever. My dreams and plans, my longings to travel, the things I want to try my hand at—those are kept for another day, another season.  Robynn hasn’t been shelved…just some of my boxes are pushed to the back for now.

That’s dumb! I’m surrounded by literal boxes just now. I’m not even sure that metaphor works.

In a different article entitled The Gifts of Loneliness I wrote, Loneliness highlights my need. She gives me my emptiness. This is a good thing.

Seriously, Robynn?  A “good thing”?? What a heartlessly stupid thing to say!

But somehow it helped that I had already given God permission to embarrass me. I had let him off the hook. I said it’s ok for You to do things Your way. You are God. You can be in charge. I felt more relaxed. I felt my faith increase. Prayer is a vulnerable thing. Asking for prayer is risky. Letting God do His thing meant I could stand back. I didn’t feel the need to explain Him away, or defend Him in anyway.  God is God. He can be Weird and Wild; Awesome and at times, Awkward  (from Giving God Permission).

That’s just crazy talk!

Some of the stuff I’ve written is ridiculous.

Or it reads that way, when I’m knee deep in change and chaos. When I stop the sentences mid-paragraph and say them out loud they sound overly simplified and trite. I shake my head, embarrassed. Some of the stuff I’ve written is dumb!

However, when I let the paragraphs have their way, when I let the thoughts come to a close, when I remember the realizations, the end of the story, the resolutions, there’s some good stuff hidden in the blogs. It’s helpful to remember lessons I’ve learned. It gives me hope to see other difficult spots I’ve stopped in and then to see the ways I was gently led through. It’s heartening to see the greater context. Read the sentences within the paragraphs. Read the paragraphs within the blog posts. Read blog pieces within the greater context of Communicating Across Boundaries. There are bigger things at work. There is a higher source for hope and help.

And my friend forgave me for not getting my endorsement in on time. She entered my pain and penned me a precious message which included this, “You are not disappearing – I won’t let you disappear.”

I’m sorry if what we write here ever comes off as dumb, insignificant, overly simplified, dunderheaded. Keep reading. Read to the end of the piece. Read to the end of your paragraph, your chapter, your current story. See if any of it makes sense in the Broader Context. I think sometimes hope hides in the bigger picture. Hunt for it. But maybe wait for the end of the moment; the break in the story. 

What about you? Have you ever said or penned thoughts that you think back on and say – now that was just dunderheaded? But is it still dumb at the end of the story? 

Release of Between Worlds – Essays on Culture and Belonging

Between Worlds is available NOW! Order your copy by going here!

I began writing three years ago – “I want to have a voice!” I said to my oldest daughter, 26 years old at the time. And on July 1st the “voice” will be transformed into a book titled Between Worlds – Essays on Culture and Belonging. 

And I am excited. Really excited. And I am scared and I feel like achild who thinks she’s mastered the art of tying her shoes only to realize that one loop doesn’t make a bow” (author unknown)

And yes – I will be honest: I want people to buy it! Of course I do – it would be crazy for me not to. Though my identity is wrapped up in something far greater and stronger than the temporary tissue paper of public opinion and selling books, I want people to read and be able to say “Yes! that’s me!” or “Yes! That was my experience!”

So just as you have joined me thus far in reading, commenting, and encouraging both me and each other, I hope you will join me on this new book launch. There will be a give away next week of two books so stay tuned for that! In the mean time here is what some others have said about this set of essays:

Between Worlds

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“To read this remarkable collection of essays is to journey with Marilyn Gardner between the worlds of East and West, home and not-feeling-like-home, touching with her the boundaries of culture, the inspirations of faith, and the comforts of loved ones. Her stories are compelling and unforgettable. And while her essays will instantly resonate with those, like Marilyn, who have lived between worlds, they speak volumes to those like me who have not. Every one of us has been at some point between two worlds, be they faith and loss of faith, joy and sorrow, birth and death. Between Worlds is a luminous guide for connecting – and healing – worlds.~Cathy Romeo, co-author, Ended Beginnings: Healing Childbearing Losses

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“Drawn from her honest, penetrating blog writings, Marilyn Gardner’s Between Worlds invites us into her memories with loving hospitality, connecting the various and vivid threads of her fascinating life without over-sentimentalization. She is a wise raconteur, knowing that memories are living, formative things. Her richly evocative descriptions of the places that have formed her engage every sense (and will likely leave one a bit thirsty for chai), and the book is delightfully adorned with her daughter’s pen drawings. Throughout her essays, Marilyn presses in on the questions with which every human soul wrestles, particularly our God-given desire to belong, and to live securely and coherently with oneself and others.

In a world that has grown ever more globally connected, her recollections engage us all to think through how “God uses place” — and, at times, acute feelings of displacement — to make us into the people we are. Adult third culture kids will find in Marilyn a compassionate, empathetic friend, and anyone who has lived “between worlds” will appreciate her gentle approach to the more disorienting facets of a globally nomadic lifestyle.”

Laura Merzig Fabrycky, The Washington Institute for Faith, Vocation, and Culture

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Between Worlds: Essays on Culture and Belonging available NOW! 

Read reviews of Between Worlds here: 

Purchase here:

Readers – thank you! It really belongs to you – and I would love for you to walk with me through this whole “book launch!

I’m Not Sure I Know How to Write Anymore

You think a lot about writing when you commit to writing everyday. But as I think about writing, nothing captures what I’ve felt recently more than this post by Robynn. She wrote it right after coming back from India but it’s pertinent to how we’ve both been feeling so the timing is perfect. I think the question becomes – when is it time to give yourself a break? When do you need to free yourself from words and cameras and be present in the moment?

Both of us are asking this question and pose it to you. We’d love to hear from you through the comments. 

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I’m not sure I know how to write any more.

It’s been a long hiatus. I really haven’t written since early in November.  Although I’ve missed the routines and rhythms of writing, I’ve also enjoyed the freedom to just live and enjoy each moment –instead of secretly thinking how I might frame this split second up with words, how I might dress it up for a reading audience, how I might squeeze meaning out of it for my own good, but also for the good of others.

It’s sort of the same thing with photography. There are times I want to capture the now with a camera. I want it on record, digitally, that this thing happened. Relying on memory is no longer sure. My mind becomes fuzzy on the details. Over time my perspective magnifies certain details and erases others. I can’t trust it. I want the photograph. I want something tangible that I can look at remember the smells and sounds, the emotions and agonies of that one moment in time that I once lived through.

Other times the camera gets in the way of my enjoying that same moment. It dangles, an annoying appendage from my wrist, or it sits precariously against my cheekbones and my nose and it spoils my eye’s view. I can’t see what’s happening because of what I’m seeing through the detachable metallic intruder, my camera. I can’t relax and experience that particular point of time because I feel this nagging urge to capture it on my camera. The temptation exists to set things up for the sake of the camera. To live in such way that life is more photographable! As ludicrous as it sounds…I find it to be true.

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Our son bought a new camera for our trip to India. He captured his experiences on film. He journaled through pictures. But there was one day while we were in the city of Varanasi where he didn’t have his camera with him. I asked him if he had forgotten it. He shook his head and replied, “No, I didn’t want it to spoil my experience of this place.” He wanted to be there, in the city of his birth, in the land of colour and texture and noise, in the chaos of life that is India….he didn’t want to miss it, he didn’t want to hide behind his digital device.

For me, sometimes, writing is a little like that.

However writing does force a certain deliberation, an intentionality. When I write I become more contemplative. When I contemplate, I tend to be more thoughtful, more purposeful. I like that.

So I have missed writing. I have missed my interactions with Marilyn, my friend who never censors but tweaks my words and edits my commas. I have missed the comments readers leave. I’ve missed the discipline of it. To be completely contradictory I’ve missed the meaning that I often see in the midst of my mundane when I’m forced to write.

I’m back. I’m writing again. It’s time. I’ll try not to let it get in the way of my living. And I’ll try not to live in such a way as to promote my writing. I’ll write again, naturally and with sincerity because it brings me joy, because I have a few things yet to say, because there are a few people still listening.

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This post is about more than writing so what about you? Do you struggle with being present in the moment? Struggle to find a balance between living life in person and living life online? Social media has been a gift for so many of us who have moved often and frequently, a gift of connections we thought we’d lost. But how do we balance living in the moment with those next to us with connecting through writing, photography, and social media interactions?

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One-Dimensional Stories

No one is a Single Story

The problem with stereotypes is not that they are not true, but that they are incomplete.*

I was introducing myself at a party when the woman I was speaking with interrupted me and said “Oh, I know you. You’re that woman who….” She went on to describe one event that she had heard about from one of my acquaintances — someone who I wouldn’t have even described as a friend.

I was stunned. 

This woman thought she knew me. The conversation was closed. She went on to greet other people who were beside me but our conversation was over. She knew what she wanted to know and that was the end.

A single story robs people of dignity.

I felt robbed — robbed of identity, robbed of meaning.  In the words of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, I felt robbed of dignity.

As angry as I was over that interaction, the unfairness of the interruption, the gross simplification of who I was based on one event, the fact that she didn’t know anything, really, about me — I realized on analysis that I have done the same.

I have acted as though I knew someone purely on hearsay. I have made assumptions based on stereotypes. I have dismissed based on unverified stories.

We do it all the time, don’t we? Look at nursing homes in the west, full of the elderly. The residents are reduced to a single time of their lives — old age. Reduced to wrinkled, toothless, scattered, and forgetful. We forget that their lives are rich with memory and meaning. That they were once teenagers with rebellion on their hearts and stars in their eyes. Twenty year olds who could change the world with a single action. Thirty year olds struggling under the weight of toddlers or singleness. Forty year olds learning that life doesn’t last forever. Fifty year olds with the first quiver and fear of old age. Sixty year olds where they looked in the mirror and, for the first time, didn’t recognize themselves. Seventy year olds facing a future without a spouse.

We see one dimension. A woman in a bleak room with clouded eyesight and a shared bathroom.

There is a problem with one-dimensional stories.

It’s a problem with the old, it’s a problem with the young, it’s a problem in the city, it’s a problem with the homeless.

And it’s also a problem with mission trips and short-term stints overseas, including blogging trips, and I’ll say it loud and clear – it’s a problem with North American journalists in Sochi. The one-dimensional stories consolidated into 140 characters and labeled #SochiProblems display a troubling ethnocentrism, failing to give valid critique and thoughtful response to a city and an entire country. One article states that Russians are calling this “”zloradstvo,” or “malicious glee.” All of Russia is reduced to a single story called #SochiProblems.

“As faves and retweets on @SochiProblems explode, it’s clear that the meme is based on cultural misunderstandings borne out of sheltered ignorance: The posts reflect actual issues that directly impact the quality of life of Russia’s 143 million people.”* 

It’s not the full picture. It’s a one-dimensional story. And one-dimensional stories are problematic.

I can picture these journalists cramming notes into small, moleskin journals, crafting their words – not to give honest and credible story and critique, but to gain a following, to see how many will pass retweet their one-dimensional views.

When we are visitors we must above all be honest. We must be clear that we are rookies in our understanding, babies in our assessments. Recently I read an interview with Adam Klein on a book he edited called The Gifts of the State.  It is a selection of stories penned by Afghan writers. At one point, in talking about the disconnect between the East and West, specifically Afghanistan and the west he says this:

“It was a dusty night in Kabul. I had lived in Muslim countries for 8 years. I saw a man on his bicycle with a scarf wrapped around his face. My first thought was “if this was the cover of Time magazine, I would think ‘terrorist'”; in fact, it was a sand storm.”

A single story says terrorist, a more complex look at circumstances shows a far more realistic picture.

So as I ponder this and shake my head over my own telling of stories and the often one-dimensional view I give to them, I think about the master of story telling, Jesus.

Because that’s what I love so much about Jesus – he saw people fully, he saw their outside actions, and he knew their inside thoughts. He, the ultimate story-teller told three-dimensional stories so that those who had ears to hear would hear.

And I pray that I will learn to be more like this Master Story-Teller, better understanding the complexity of the human experience, the human heart, telling stories with humility of heart and pen.

What about you? Have you been robbed of dignity because someone reduced your story to a single event? Have you done this to others? How do we learn to hear and tell stories honoring the complexity of the human experience? 

*from Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie in her TED Talk The Danger of a Single Story

Blogger’s note: The Onion did a great job a couple of weeks ago writing an article called “6-Day Visit to Rural Africa Completely Changes Woman’s Facebook Profile Pictures” —  Like most satire it exposes an unfortunate truth.

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For a critical look at #SochiProblems see the article “#SochiProblems is More of an Embarrassment for America than it is for Russia.”

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