Restoration & Reconciliation, Social & Political Issues

What I wish we’d remember a little louder on 9/11

I’m usually fairly quiet on 9/11 as it’s a day that holds a lot of memories. We lived 5 minutes from the Pentagon at the time and the plane crash shook the windows of our small apartment right along with my personal sense of stability. A family member worked in the WTC and we spent the entire morning awaiting his phone call. Thankfully, it came and we breathed deep sighs of relief.

Over the years, 9/11 has become a day where we honor the ones who ran toward rather than running away. When all of human instinct screams to protect itself, those brave souls did not. They were heroes in the truest sense of the world, and none of us will ever forget their sacrifice.  I hear a lot of references to this idea that Fred Rogers encapsulates so well:

Screen Shot 2014-09-11 at 9.12.35 PM

While so much of me resonates with these words and the value they place on so many who sacrificed that day, I also find myself feeling a lingering hole in the dialog about who matters when 9/11 rolls around.

“My dad says that all Muslims are bad,” a boy in my son’s third grade class shared this week. It’s become a norm – this alienating story of the West vs. the Middle East. Media stereotypes from both sides have flown for over a decade, and now, as I honor the heroes, I also mourn the victims that have been born from the political rubble of 9/11.

As a kid from the 80s, I saw the exact same story play out with the Russians. I remember distinctly thinking that Russians were evil, dangerous, and scary and that Nancy Reagan was the most beautiful woman I’d ever seen (which of course meant that Reagan’s policies had to be right…).

Like so many today, I missed the critical reality that people are distinct from political agendas. In his song, Russians, Sting captures the hole I feel every 9/11:

We share the same biology
Regardless of ideology
What might save us, me, and you
Is if the Russians love their children too*

In my heart today, I hold all of those mothers on the other side – Russian, Iraqi, Saudi, Afghani – who love their children too, who hold them in their arms at night, tears brimming over what the world has come to. I picture the fathers tickling little ones, teaching them simplicities of daily life and the hope for a better world. I remember stories of widows like Susan Retik and Patty Quigley – women who lost their husbands that day and now fight for the plight of Afghan widows.

They are heroes, too, all the ones who love their children. May our remembrance of them honor the hope they offer to the world.

swirl *Listen to the whole song here:

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Culture & Race

Some big words (and helpful ideas) for when the race conversation explodes

Some big words (and helpful ideas) for when the race conversation explodesIn spite of decades of diversity awareness and training, race continues to be an explosive topic, and the media headlines attest to a continued struggle of our multicultural country to come to grips with its multiple realities. There are microagressions and macroagressions, accidental insults, and purposefully racist rants.

While I don’t believe we can do much to change the extreme ends of the spectrum that refuse to think, question, and consider other viewpoints, I do have great hope for all of those who exist in-between to establish a culture of respect for diversity within society at large. Most white people I know have no desire to be actively racist, but usually either don’t know that they don’t know or have no idea where to begin and no understanding of how to consistently deepen their perspectives.

When a colleague who teaches social work first introduced me to the term cultural humility, I instantly connected to it as a fabulous starting point for cross-cultural relationships. Working in education, I had not yet heard this term that has been gaining popularity in the public health and social work fields for nearly a decade now.  While I am quite familiar with the terms cultural competency and being culturally responsive, cultural humility had a whole new feel to it, one that I believe the general public would benefit from significantly given all the public sparring over our differences.

In his recent response to the Donald Sterling fiasco, Kareem Abdul Jabar captured the state of the country well, “Moral outrage is exhausting. And dangerous. The whole country has gotten a severe case of carpal tunnel syndrome from the newest popular sport of Extreme Finger Wagging. Not to mention the neck strain from Olympic tryouts for Morally Superior Head Shaking.”

Something has to give. 

We simply can’t keep finger-wagging and head-shaking if we truly want to affect change. This is where I find the concept of cultural humility such a great place to start. Its three basic concepts include:

  1. Lifelong, reflective learning
  2. Respectful partnerships that recognize power imbalances
  3. Institutional accountability

Melanie Tervalon, one of the researchers who coined the term, explains that the ultimate goal of cultural humility is a “sense of equity, equality, respect that drives us forward” (Chavez, 2012). These concepts turn the idea of competence upside-down, for they shift the focus from simply attempting to gather information about people who are different to an approach that shapes how we think and act toward others.

If you’ll indulge the ‘think-y’ side of me for a moment, I want to pull a few more academic/theological terms into the conversation because they address an idea that I believe needs to gain some solid traction in the public conversation. In Christianity, the white evangelical church has spent a great deal of time focusing on orthodoxy (right belief) and orthopraxy (right practice or behavior) of individuals, but not so much time on orthopathy (right passions, emotions, attitudes) in relation to how we interact with society at large.

This lop-sided growth has resulted in some significant holes in our interactions with each other. We can wave our carefully crafted orthodox flags while simultaneously finger-wagging and head-shaking, but we have a long way to go before our we actively lay our flags down, cross lines, and extend a hand of kindness and humility to someone who holds a belief that violates our carefully carved theology.

Lisa Boesen offers a helpful acronym as a guide to ASSESS how to develop consistent cultural humility:

Practicing Cultural Humility -

As I write about and live out racial and cultural understanding, one of the strongest realities I’ve seen is that what creates the deepest change in relationships is who we are, not what we know.

In think-y words, this means that orthodoxy, orthopraxy, and orthopathy must be deeply intertwined rather than separate values from which we pick and choose. “We have drawn upon a negative, hostile, and confrontational form of orthopathy,John W. Morehead reflects on recent evangelical interactions, “and out of this has come an expression of orthodoxy and orthopraxy that has been interpreted as less than compassionate by those outside our faith.”

Rather than perpetuate a hostile orthopathy, Morehead suggests evangelicals (and I would also add quite a few other Christian traditions) have another option, “Evangelicals can reflect on the scriptural call for love of neighbor, and for hospitality to the alien and stranger, and this can then can provide the basis for a reformulation of the form of orthopathy from which our orthodoxy and orthopraxy springs.”

Essentially, what it boils down to is that right theology (orthodoxy) and right practice (orthopraxy) should also foster compassion and empathy in our interactions with others (orthopathy) – not ‘farewell tweets‘, dismissively harmful comments, or polarizing reactions over disagreements.


It all leaves me wondering who we would be if the church-at-large and individuals-in-it spent our primary energies cultivating these notions of cultural humility, orthodoxy, orthopraxy, and orthopathy rather than defending our own interests? How would this reshape the imbalanced power dynamics and segregation in the western church as a whole? What if loving-one-another took the face of humility and respect for each other rather than igniting hostility and condemnation?

Instead of exhausting each other with our moral outrage, perhaps such steps would nurture our ability to respond to one another with the kind of sacrificial love Jesus himself taught us. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another,” Jesus told his over-confident disciple just before he predicted Peter’s ultimate betrayal. Ironic, eh? 

While we’re clearly not the first ones to stumble over ourselves in our feeble attempts to follow Jesus, may our imperfections not prevent us from seeking the deep-wisdom of those around us as we walk the winding path of loving one another.

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Culture & Race

35 conversation-starting videos about race, stereotypes, privilege and diversity

YouTube has taught us all that sometimes nothing is as powerful as a video clip that delivers a powerful, memorable message in less than 5 minutes. I’ve found videos endlessly useful as a means of starting productive and thoughtful conversations about issues of issues surrounding diversity, whether in the classroom, on Facebook, or in personal conversations with family and friends. The videos below are the best I’ve found (with a little help from my friends – thanks to those who gave me ideas for this!).

On race & stereotyping

What kind of Asian are you?


Scene from Crash


Racist harrasses Muslim cashier


Guy brings his white girlfriend to barbershop in Harlem


How to tell someone they sound racist


Moving the race conversation forward


The Lunch Date


A look at race relations through a child’s eyes


African men. Hollywood stereotypes


The women of Nyamonge present: Netball


UCLA Girl’s Offensive Asian Rant

(be sure to watch the response below)


Asians in the library of the world: a persona poem in the voice of Alexandra Wallace


A trip to the grocery store


(1)ne Drop

Make sure to watch their other videos about race here.


5 Things White People Should Do to Improve Race Relations


Harvard professor Henry Gates Jr. on his arrest


Lin’s success crosses racial boundaries


On privilege

Africa for Norway


Cadillac Commercial (Make sure to watch Ford’s response to this commercial below)


Ford’s response to the Cadillac Commerical


On white privilege


Make Poverty History


Giving is the best communication


 On diversity

America, the beautiful


It’s beautiful, behind the scenes


Ethnicity matters: The case for ethnic specific ministries


Move – Around the World in 1 Minute


 Where the hell is Matt? 2012


The world’s most typical face (National Geographic)


Reconsider Columbus Day


 On Immigration

A new dream: Evangelical undocumented immigrants tell their side of the story


Accents and fair housing

 See more videos on immigration here.


Longer Documentaries

A class divided with Jane Elliott

 Watch the whole documentary here.


Who is black in America?


America’s Promise: Black boys in America

This is a trailer. Read more about the series here and watch a few more clips here.

Did I miss your favorite clip? Leave it in the comments below!

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Culture & Race

30 Day Race Challenge

When I saw the 30 Day Mom Challenge, I was inspired to create a similar challenge for people who want to develop a deeper understanding of race.  So, I developed the resource below with links to some thought-provoking resources available on race out there. (Click on the image to open the file and access the links.)  I’d encourage you to spend some time slowly digesting and learning from the resources here.

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You can also download this file here:  30 day race challenge.

Culture & Race, Families, Children & Marriage

Why toys need to reflect racial diversity (Here’s lookin’ at you, Lego!)

Image credit: Chinian

Our petition to ask Lego to make their minifigures more diverse is beginning to make the rounds on Twitter (Way to go to those who are sharing it – keep it going, especially on Facebook!), so naturally I’ve received some push back.  It made me think that my mama-bear reaction to fight for what benefits my biracial kids would also benefit from a more thorough reflection of the issue.

I distinctly remember the first time, nearly 15 years ago now, that I saw an ad on the wall in a Springfield, Virginia Wal-mart containing people who weren’t white.  It’s hard to believe now, but back then I did a double take because it caught me so off guard. As a white person, I was so accustomed to seeing only people who looked like me in advertisements that I hadn’t ever considered the fact that they only represented one portion of our country’s population.

A lot has changed in advertising in those fifteen years, and the change had to start from somewhere.  I appreciate the variety of voices who have spoken up for better, non-stereotyped representation of all sorts of people in mainstream media (no surprise that my new BFF is Cheerios!). While there are certainly issues far more serious and pressing than the color of Lego minifigures, in the process of pursuing justice, there are a lot of little stories that matter right alongside the really big ones.  I believe this is one of those little stories.

As we’ve raised biracial children, we’ve searched long and hard for toys and books that reflect a wide variety of experiences, backgrounds and perspectives.  It hasn’t always been an easy or successful effort, but it’s been an important way we affirm this piece of our children’s identity. As a result, while a few may view such a petition as ‘silly’, I view it as yet another small step toward leveling the playing field in our broken racial history, and an opportunity to tell a new story to our children.  Here are a few reasons why:


1. Duplo already did it.  When my son was little, his aunt bought him a whole set of multiracial Duplo figures.  We loved them and are still waiting for the Lego minifigure versions.  Strawberry Shortcake, Dora, Diego, Backyardigans, Little Einsteins, Sesame Street, My Little Pony, Wild Kratts, The Electric Company and so many other brands incorporate characters representing a range of physical appearances. Why not Lego?

2.  People aren’t all one color.  Even if I could buy the rationale that yellow is a neutral color, there’s still the problem of Legos minifigures only reflecting one color. If Lego wants to keep with the ‘neutrality’ theme, then at least they could create a variety of skin tones – green, purple, blue, pink, etc. – if yellow is really neutral, then so are these colors.  Creating more hues would at least acknowledge that skin color varies among people.

3.  Children see yellow as a color for light-skinned people.  When you give children crayons to draw a picture, they reach first for peach to draw light-complected people.  If it’s not there, they pick yellow.  By creating only yellow-skinned figures, Lego leaves brown children wondering why they were left out and doesn’t allow white children to encounter anything but themselves.


1. Children believe what they see.  There is a long history of studies tracking children’s views of race, a recent one being CNN’s doll study on Anderson Cooper that clearly shows both white and black children picking white children as “better, smarter, nicer, more behaved.” This study and many others highlight the need to positively reframe how all children understand and view race (not to mention other characteristics like gender and ability and economic status), and one way we can shift this from a young age is through the subliminal story their toys tell them.  

We need to ask ourselves if all children encounter representations of themselves in what they play with or read, and if they ever encounter representations of children who aren’t like them? When one color is dominant, it sends clear messages to both the privileged and the oppressed that the story isn’t changing for anyone. This story hurts us all.

2. Children internalize what they see. It’s no secret that light colors are symbolically good and dark colors are symbolically bad, but we need to pause to consider the deeper story this persistent symbolism teaches our children, particularly in regards to race. By making broad and intentional efforts to redefine the subtle stigma attached to the colors used to represent skin color, toy companies have the opportunity to tell children of all racial backgrounds a story of value for everyone, not just the light-skinned hands that have traditionally held the power.

3. We live in a broken racial story.  Probably the most concerning piece to me about the yellow Lego minifigures (and the predominance of white dolls in general) is the underlying story it tells our kids:  Valuable people are one color only – the lighter the better. This isn’t only damaging to all the brown children out there, but also to the white ones because it never disrupts their perception of the world as just-like-them.  

When people suggest that Lego mini-figures don’t have a race, they say it in the context of a world that has struggled under the hand of white racial domination for centuries.  This argument may have been valid in the Middle Ages when skin hue didn’t carry the historical baggage it does today, but this is not our story and we must live within the reality we have, not the one we wish we had. In a world that is rapidly globalizing, we are closer to one another than ever, but the decreasing distance doesn’t automatically produce increased understanding.  To dismantle this broken racial piece of the story we’ve told ourselves, we need to create a new one, one that does a better job sharing and representing power.

So in the end, while yes, making Lego minifigures in brown and peach and tan and butterscotch and caramel and chocolate and beige (or in purple and green and blue and pink and orange for that matter) might be a Little-Story, it’s the good Little-Stories that ultimately make up the good Big-Stories.  

The first time I saw someone who looked different than me represented in an advertisement, it made me pause and think, “Oh, yeah. There are more people than just me. Maybe I should consider them, too.” It was only a little story in a blip of my life, but combined with so many other little stories, it’s shaped my Big Story into a more beautiful one than I could have ever imagined.

All the little stories. They matter.  

Let’s tell them well – especially to our children – so that we can all tell a better Big Story someday.

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Don’t forget!

Culture & Race, Travel

Foreigner at a train station

train station

What happens when you shift from foreigner to friend without actually moving to a place? Such has become my reality in Sri Lanka, my husband’s homeland, as we have travelled there repeatedly over the past 15 years. I wrote this reflection for She Loves Magazine on my experience of returning year after year to the complex and beautiful country where my family and I love and are loved deeply. While it is not our home, it remains a precious piece of our life together.


I enter the train station trepidatiously. A foreigner-with-fancy-suitcases-and-tennis-shoes, I stand out against the locals in a sea of sandals, sarongs and saris. We board the train without incident and peer out the windows, eager to begin our journey. The train jolts and lurches forward; we travelers settle in.

We peer our heads out of the windows, breathing in a combination of warm-wind and train-smoke. The train clacks and bounces, while the intensity of both the beauty and the poverty rolling past our windows leaves me silently choked up.


How do people manage to live like this? I wonder. But they don’t appear to be asking themselves any such questions.

“The people seem happier here,” my ten-year-old daughter observed. I have not spoken with them – I don’t know if this is really true or not – but from my train window, I notice the same thing: there is a contentedness to simply be that I do not often see in my wealthy-and-developed-world.

Shop owners chat. Children walk alongside mothers. Three-wheeler drivers await customers. There is no urgency to hurry or consume or buy.

Who am I amidst this place? I wonder. My external trappings carry no label except white-and-wealthy-foreigner. There can be no other put-on identity – funky, classy, intellectual, hip – except for this very obvious one.

It is undeniable that I do not belong here; but in spite of this, I cannot shrug the sense of strange belonging that comes with being a foreigner-wife. I am not merely a tourist in short-shorts trekking the ancient ruins and soaking in the breathtaking shores, but a family member, returning to the same people journey after journey, eager to see the small changes, check out the new developments and embrace the arms that have held my babies. We may not share language or culture or skin or fashion, but we share the same love for the same hearts. This bond holds us steady.


Click here to finish reading at She Loves Magazine.

Families, Children & Marriage, Travel

The value of traveling with young children

trainI watched my children peer out of the bouncing train’s window, absorbing the views and smells and sights of Sri Lanka. In a sense, it was not at all a ‘new’ place to them – we have traveled here to visit grandparents and aunties and uncles and cousins every few years since their infancy.  But in another sense, it is a brand new experience every time we come because with each trip, they know more, understand more, process more.

The sites from the train whizzed past us, poverty violently contradicting beauty, and I watched my children’s reactions to this just as carefully as I watched the scenery passing by.

DSC_2069 DSC_2050 DSC_2066 DSC_2081These were not views we saw regularly in our lives at home.  On the train, their strongest reaction was quietness (which is significant if you know my chatty son), and they didn’t say much about it at all until we came back to the States.

Two days after our return, my son climbed in the car after school and commented, “Mama, I think I’m just really into the world,” he declared matter-of-factly.

“What do you mean by that?” I’ve learned it’s best to always ask him for further clarification.  He has a bit of a history of mind-stretching conversations.

“Well, you know.  All the kids at school, they’re really into video games and stuff.  It’s all they talk about.  Me, I think about other things, like poverty and stuff.”

The views from the train entered my mind, and I waited for more.

“I mean, can’t someone do something about it, Mama?” he asked the very question I asked every single time I see injustice.  “Why do people have to live like that?  Can’t Barack Obama help them?”

I rejoiced for the awareness he showed and smiled at innocence.  Those train-views were sinking in, and he was starting to sort them out.

My intuitive daughter made a different kind of observation, “The people seem happier there, mama.”  Already she senses the emptiness of accumulation and busyness, noticing the up-side of living without.  My father-in-law used to say that it takes a long time to see the good in a place like Sri Lanka, but she sees it without delay.

Over the years, I’ve had my moments of wondering if we’ve been crazy to repeatedly take our children to a developing country plagued by war, dengue fever, and flying cockroaches.  When they were babies and toddlers, I was nearly convinced we were crazy.  Nine hour jet lag didn’t look too great on any of us except my energizer-bunny-of-a-husband in those years, and it would be a bit of an understatement to say we had some rough moments on those trips.  So why do we embrace the difficulty, the seeming risk of it all?  

One of the strongest lessons I learned when my husband and I were dating was to make decisions out of conviction and not fear. I’ve carried this concept with me into parenting, and it has helped clarify many decisions – especially the idea of traveling with our kids.  Though we don’t always live close by, we value our families deeply, and want our children to have the opportunity to know and learn from them.  This value of family connectedness held more conviction than my fear of bombs or dengue or flying cockroaches.  While the conviction didn’t erase the fears, it certainly put them in perspective.

In the earliest years of parenting, our decision to travel with our children was merely a hunch that it would be good for them in the long run.  “Start as you mean to go on” became our motto, for we wanted the world to be something that was as much a part of them as their hometown, and we knew that to do this, it should be something they had always known.

As they grow up, periodic responses like my son’s are confirming our hunch.  Trip after trip, I watch them connect with bits of themselves that they can’t find here in the US.  I rejoice quietly when I hear them use mulli and akka (the Sinhala words for little brother and big sister) for each other, when they call their father Thaathi with a Sri Lankan accent instead of an American one, when my daughter asks me to put her hair in a really low ponytail because “that’s how a lot of people wear it here”, or when they critique each other on proper finger-eating techniques.  While these are small and simple details, to me they speak loudly that our children are embracing all sides of themselves, proud to be shaped by both sides of the world.

They are by no means walking this path between worlds perfectly – their penchant for pizza and entertainment rivals most kids – but they’re doing it well, leaning in with whole hearts and open eyes.  It’s the sort of thing that brings a mama to her knees, grateful for the chance to walk alongside the unfolding of wonder and compassion.

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Books, Culture & Race, Families, Children & Marriage

9 ways to help children develop global awareness

Before our kids were even born, my husband and I knew we wanted to raise our children with an awareness of global reality.  Once they actually arrived, however, we found this easier said than done – especially when living in either isolated or wealthy communities.

When our kids were old enough to process more than Cheerios and Elmo, we wanted to help them develop an understanding of concepts less prominent in American mainstream culture like community, respect for elders, simplicity and generosity that was shaped by something other than the Disney Channel and their peers. Since my husband spent half of his childhood in a developing country at war and the majority of his family still lives there, we were especially keen to help our children growing up amidst privilege understand these realities more deeply. We’ve made attempts at this in a variety of ways, hoping that a few of them will stick:

books header

Beatrice's GoatAn early favorite was reading Beatrice’s Goat by Page McBrier, a true story about a girl in a village whose life changes all because of the gift of a single goat.  There is a developing genre of children’s books telling stories of empowerment instead of pity that includes other titles like One Hen: How One Small Loan Made a Difference and The Good Garden: How One Family Went from Hunger to Having Enough.  These books are all part of Citizen Kid, a book series designed to help children become better global citizens.

Screen Shot 2014-01-01 at 10.24.12 AMProviding a glimpse into a positive view of diversity, Norah Dooley and Peter Thornton have written an absolutely fabulous series about a child who explores the world in her neighborhood by sampling the variations of foods they each enjoy.  Titles include Everybody Cooks Rice, Everybody Bakes Bread, Everybody Brings Noodles and Everybody Serves Soup.  My other all-time favorite storybooks that showcase the world are How to Make an Apple Pie and See the World and Abuela.

A life like mine

Another genre of children’s books we’ve loved are illustrated non-fiction books about actual children around the world.  Our favorites include A life like mine: How children live around the worldChildren just like me: A unique celebration of how children live around the world, If the World were a Village, and The Usborne Book of People of the World.

Screen Shot 2014-01-01 at 2.50.40 PM

Having grown weary of too many depictions of a white Jesus loving on only white children, I’ve also been in search of children’s bibles that reflect the whole world God created.  My favorite is The Jesus Storybook Bible, and World Vision also recently published God’s Love for You Bible Storybook.

videos header

Videos can provide a more tangible reflection of global realities than books, and watching has helped our children get a better sense of how other children live around the world.  Citizen Kid and World Vision both feature child-appropriate videos that explain concepts like the need for clean water, microenterprise and education.  MamaHope also has an excellent series of short videos called “Stop the Pity” which portray those living in poverty with dignity and respect.  Compassion International has a great site (that includes a downloadable study guide!) for kids to learn about poverty called Quest for Compassion.  I’m also a fan of fun videos like Where the Hell is Matt which show the joy and humanity that span the globe.

service header

My son chasing a chicken in Ecuador
My son chasing a chicken in Ecuador

While much more challenging when our kids were younger, we’re now in a stage where we can actively participate as a family in service projects.  We’ve helped serve meals for the homeless, visited nursing homes and participated in a service learning trip to Ecuador together.  (While taking toddlers to another continent was certainly a challenge, it has been helpful to embed a personal connection to other realities in their minds.)  I know other families who help at food pantries or tutoring programs.  Serving helps children see beyond themselves, and I’ve been pleasantly surprised by how much my kids genuinely enjoy it.  I’m also a thrift store fan and enjoy talking with my kids about how this kind of shopping serves more than just our own purposes.

food header

We eat at ethnic restaurants as frequently as possible, and have worked hard to help our kids learn about other cuisines.  When we lived in an area where the closest thing to ethnic food was a Chinese/pizza buffet, I buckled down and learned a whole variety of Asian recipes to cook at home.  As a result, we eat Sri Lankan food (check out my curry recipe here) at least twice a month and Asian food about half the time at home.  While they still prefer pizza and chicken nuggets, they don’t scoff at Chinese food anymore and are willing to try a wide variety of foods.  This wasn’t a simple process (there have been a lot of ‘eeewwws’), but our insistence to always try new food is starting to pay off.  Here are some ethnic recipes to try with kids and some tips for introducing your kids to ethnic food.
travel header

jehan horn
Entertaining aunties and uncles

We’ve also made intentional efforts to help our kids experience a bigger world, whether it be exploring the town down the highway or crossing the globe to see family.  Being an intercultural family, we wanted the world to be something that had always been a part of our children, not something new to which they would be suddenly introduced.  While they don’t remember trips they made as babies, the family we visit remembers, and it has helped our kids develop a comfort with and attachment to another side of their background.  They’ve wrestled with uncles, played cricket with cousins, and kissed aunties.

We also make it a point to visit lots of museums to help the kids can see worlds beyond their own.  My favorite find is the Association of Science and Technology Centers Passport Program which allows free entrance to over 350 museums worldwide.  We recently visited a science center in Kuala Lumpur on a layover for FREE!  For those who travel around the US at all, it’s a quite economical way to visit a lot of different museums while only paying for membership to one.
hospitality headerWhile hosting guests was less possible during the PhD and toddler years, we’ve recently been enjoying welcoming others into our home.  Whether it’s our neighbors who recently moved from China or international students I teach, hosting guests from a variety of places and backgrounds in our home helps our children put a face to the world.  Whenever the news media about a particular country (particularly the Middle East) doesn’t match with the reality of the people they know, our kids notice the discrepancies and often make comments like, “But so-and-so wasn’t like that.”

My introduction to the world began in part because my mom’s family hosted an exchange student from Thailand when she was in high school. We hosted another student from Finland when I was a teenager, and building a sisterhood across cultures proved to be one of the most cherished and foundational experiences of my life.

generosity headerWe openly talk about giving with our kids, and two of the primary means we give are World Vision and Kiva.  Both fund the empowerment of people living in poverty.  I’ll often sit down with the kids and let them pick the microloans or projects we support.  The World Vision site is great because it often includes videos that we can watch with the kids to help them understand just what it means to lack clean water or education.  Watching these videos and then donating money to the projects have opened some great conversations.

imagination headerBecause children naturally love to play and imagine, stories of other worlds  like Narnia and Harry Potter have been helpful allegories in our house.  Such stories help children begin to understand how other lands may have differing customs and realities than their own.  The power dynamics between good and evil also help us explain the comple dynamics of world politics in more kid friendly ways.

simplicity headerI am not naturally a simple person.  I love shoes, ice cream, and soft beds.  I like to shop and window browse and decorate.  However, being married to a spouse from the developing world, I’ve had many occasions to grapple with what is necessity and what is luxury.  Hence, I’ve spent a lot of time over the years sorting out my materialism, and looking for ways to simplify my life in light of how much of the world lives.

It has in now way been a perfect journey (I still have a weak spot for shoes), but as it turns out, pretty much most things are luxury past food and shelter.  As a result, we do the best we can to live within our means – no credit card debt, used furniture (my favorite chair has a big hole in the arm), simple schedules and intentional budgets.  While we live in a small house and drive old cars, we often discuss with our kids how wealthy we are because we have these things at all, regardless of whether or not they are new.  In turn, our imperfect efforts toward simplicity remind us to be grateful for the abundance we do possess, and enable us to give generously as well.

What about you?  What are ways you help your children learn about the world?

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Spiritual Formation, Travel

Living in light of global reality

The heaviness of the tropical air settled on us as we waited for our baggage, two pieces of which had been lost. It was an instant reminder that life marches to a different beat in the developing world than in our Organized States of America. After a seeming eternity, we pushed our overloaded baggage cart through customs to finally embrace my husband’s parents who were convinced we’d missed the plane. As we left the airport, our arrival into another world descended on us quickly.

Driving in Sri Lanka looked more like a chicken fight gone bad than cars following rules of the road (what are those, anyway?). Piles of trash covered random street corners, their putrid odor overwhelming passersby. I breathed it all in deeply – finally, a vacation!

For me, the word vacation usually conjures up images of resorts, beaches, and relaxation rather than of bad driving, inconvenience and trash heaps. Yet as we’ve spent our days in Sri Lanka over the years, I’ve experienced a vacation of a different sort, for I did not occupy myself with the same kinds of expectations I carry with me in the U.S.

In the US, when I sit in an uncomfortable chair, I curse under my breath at the negligence of whoever must be at fault. In Sri Lanka, I was grateful to get a chair under the fan, comfortable or not. Here, I concern myself greatly with the tastiest brand of apple sauce or ice cream. In Sri Lanka, I’ve recognized that eating these foods at all is a luxury. Here, I rush to the hardware store to buy ant poison upon the discovery of a few ants roaming my living room floor. In Sri Lanka, the ants roam so freely and abundantly that on occasion, I’ve stopped on occasion to study their resourcefulness, order and determination.

In America, vacations nourish my self, surrounding me with opportunities to be served and relax. In Sri Lanka, the vacation was from myself, from my daily list of expected rights and materialistic consumption.

In Sri Lanka, I do not have the luxury of ignoring the reality of the harshness in our world, for it has all been in my face at once: poverty, injustice, beggars shadowed by a history of war, tales of child soldiers, land mines, suicide bombers. I do not step outside the gate without a breath of prayer for the safety of myself and my family, or pass a beggar-in-front-of-a-mansion without seething at the inequitable distribution of wealth around the world. I do not read the paper without shaking my head at the greed, selfishness of the-hands-that-hold-the-power.  I do not walk into the homes of my family with out breathing deep their resilience, faithfulness and fortitude amidst all of these realities.

Even in light of such immediate chaos, I still find myself easily consumed by my own humanness. Daily life settles in, and a battle between the global and the personal ensues.

My children wake up from jet leg four times in one night = despair … but at least they have a bed to sleep in.

The heat is so exhausting I can barely keep my eyes open = whiny attitude necessitating an afternoon nap … but at least I have a place and time to take a nap and a fan to sleep under.

A taxi driver cheats me because I am a foreigner = indignance! … but at least I have enough money to even be a foreigner, let alone get cheated.

My in-laws don’t get to see my sweet kids actually be sweet due to their 10 hour jet lag = pouting … but at least they get to see them at all.

Clothes are sooo cheap here.  I want to buy as much as I can! = greed … but the break from the obsession of American materialism is so refreshing.


“The mind wants the world to return its love, or its awareness; the mind wants to know all the world, and all eternity, and God,” writes Annie Dillard in Teaching a Stone to Talk. “The mind’s sidekick, however, will settle for two eggs overeasy.”

When I taught at a wealthy Christian university, I would dialog with students about what my husband calls “living in light of global reality”. We would discuss such complexities as the inequitable distribution of wealth, the lack of proper health care, the travesties of ethnic conflict and corrupt governments and what that meant for our personal and professional lives.  Occasionally, I’d run into an unusually naive student (usually a freshman) shocked at the prospect of poverty, but overall, the students were more trying to grasp a reality they had never known themselves.  Their background of privilege and sheltered lives made it difficult to understand another world, and even more challenging to determine how to make daily decisions in light of this reality.

It meant a lot of paradox for all of us.  Great compassion for children with AIDS or sex-slaves or racial inequities vs. buying new shoes to keep up with the trends.  Seeking a deeper understanding of the world vs. obsessively following the coolest music scene.

As I grow older, the questions only magnify.  Public schools or private? Suburbs or city? Safe or risky? Internally, I see that there are things far more important than my trendy new shoes or funky hair-cut. However, I continually grapple with the concept that ‘just because I can, doesn’t mean I should’ acquire, accumulate, and keep-up-with-the-Jones. As much as my mind throws its weight around by trying to be aware, my will acts far more often as its sidekick, settling for eggs over easy and a cute pair of shoes.

After years of ‘vacations’ in a war-torn tropical paradise, I’m slowly understanding this word paradox. It surfaces not only in the breath-taking beauty and heart-wrenching injustices of Sri Lanka, but also in my truth-seeking mind and self-seeking will. Living in the developed world, I face a constant tension to live in light of global reality because the pressure to keep up with the neighbors usually outshouts the hungry stomachs and unseen injustices in my direct line of sight.  (Even my dear mother-in-law comments when she visits how tempting it would be to buy things when they’re packaged so nicely).   In light of this tension, I count it a great gift of intercultural marriage to have reason for this reality to be part of my own family.

For Western believers, living in light of global reality means we need to spend far more time facing our role in better responding to these paradoxes, not shying away because we don’t understand. We begin this process by seeking to live humbly with each other, by listening for voices big and small, and by examining where our treasures truly lie.  A daunting task to be sure, but one that our Father clearly calls us to.  “The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it,” the Story tells us.  May we care for more than just our little corner well.

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Mental adjustments in crossing cultures

We’ll be heading around the world again soon, and I often think back to this moment of mental readjustment on a previous trip.  Surely there will be more, and I am ever grateful to these opportunities to reset my Western mind of abundance and consumption to a global reality.  

Four a.m. on an empty street in Sri Lanka. A man rides his bike. The shops wear their night dress of metal doors and barred windows. A few stray dogs catch a nap on the curb before the noise of the day begins. I am arriving in an air-conditioned taxi, complete with red velvet seats and Buddha figurine dangling from the rear view mirror.

We’ve just arrived from the States for a holiday with my husband’s family, and my cultural adaptation gears are shifting a bit too slowly. Somebody at the airport broke a piece off my fancy new stroller, and I, in my Western expect-efficiency-now-mindset foolishly tried to get a responsible looking employee to find it. He smiled at me, nodded his head agreeably, and walked away. I never saw him again.

Working out of my bad mood over the stroller incident, I stare out my window at the barefoot, lone man pedaling a bike. His feet are dusty, his shirt worn. Stick thin legs extend from the sarong wrapped around his waist. I wonder about his life. Does he have a family? How many children? Does his roof leak in the rain? How many people sleep in his bed? Does he have enough food to eat?

“What is he doing out so early?” I finally ask my mother-in-law. Inside, I really wonder what he thinks of me, the rich Suddha in the luxury taxi.

“Probably going to work.”

I feel ignorant and privileged. Where I’m coming from, no one commutes to the office barefoot on a bike. I can’t reconcile this, however, and feign understanding with a nod, “Oh.”

I wonder more. Is he Tamil? Sinhalese? How has the war affected him? Who is his God?

“Work?” I respond after a few moments. “Why so early?”

“He probably sells fish. Has to be at the market early.”

I gulp. The priority of the missing stroller piece plummets in importance. A man on an empty street riding a bike at four in the morning to sell fish – rancid, slippery fish – to eke out a living that might not even put food in his children’s mouths (if he has any). Yet he doesn’t seem to notice.

He also doesn’t even seem to notice me or the privilege of the nine suitcases piled high behind my seat. While the weight of abundance descends heavily upon my shoulders, he is simply riding his bike to work, at four in the morning, to sell fish at the market.

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Books, Families, Children & Marriage

Resources for raising a family between worlds

One of my primary reasons I began to write here in this space was for the connections it provides to others in similar life circumstances.  When we lived in the rural Midwest, we felt very culturally isolated and it was my only means of connecting to those who understood.  Having just started out in marriage, family, career, my husband and I often felt alone on the road without any role models of people walking this particular road ahead of us.

I am grateful to live in the age of and the internet, for it allows me to find some ways to integrate more of our family’s multi-cultural identity into our very monocultural context.  Every so often, I get an inquiry about good resources for children and resources for global families.  Since I’m an educator by profession, books are an easy and immediate way to bring the world to my family regardless of where I live.  I thought I’d point you to a few of my favorites.

  • I did a presentation several years ago on incorporating the world into daily family life.  The link is a power point with a lot of recommendations for how incorporated into our children’s lives when they were very young.  It’s a bit old, but my recommendations still stand.
  • I’ve also created a few Amazon widgets to keep on the sidebar which link to my absolute favorite multicultural children’s books and books on intercultural marriage, along with a few reasons why I like them.

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Belief, Social & Political Issues, Spiritual Formation

Where my treasure is


Materialism is not a welcome subject to my ears. Ask my opinion on the matter, and I silently wish the word itself did not exist. It is a loaded subject for me – full of implications with which I would rather not deal. I am a product of the American dream. I work hard and “deserve” special treats on occasion.

So I attempt cover-ups, convincing myself that I am not materialistic, I am simply taking care of my well being (and my feet).  In spite of my best efforts to ignore my materialism, it is slowly (and by that, I mean s-l-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-w-l-y) become something I protest within.  

On a global scale, modern protestors decry materialism because it reflects an imbalance of power existing in the world. While I don’t disagree with their arguments, my protests against this vice are more personal: the strangling grip it has on my soul.  

In spite of my best attempts to avoid acknowledging my own materialism, I battle it on a regular basis.

  • The homeless man on the corner holds a tattered sign that reads, “Hungry.  Will take anything,” and I clutch a little tighter to the granola bar in my purse before rolling down my window to give it to him.
  • Asylees who have fled their countries, leaving everything behind to relocate in a new country tell me their stories of separation and adjustment to a new life as  I battle the impact of how listening to their stories messes up my tightly arranged schedule.
  • I see photos of refugees posing with their most important thing and then head on over to Zappos to check out some new shoes.

I have no excuses for my actions.  I am a paradox.  I care, but I don’t.  My heart aches at poverty, but my actions value my own comfort more. The world’s need undoes me, but if it makes my life inconvenient, I blissfully ignore it.  

Sometimes, I white-knuckle my way past the lure of materialism by denying myself every slight pleasure. Other times, I throw my hands up in the air and go on a really great shopping spree. 


The shock sunk slowly in as I heard my husband’s voice on the cell, “The airport has been attacked.”

I was running errands, navigating the busy streets of our metropolitan home, and for the life of me couldn’t figure out what airport he was talking about.

Then it hit me.  We had returned three days before from my husband’s home of the war torn island of Sri Lanka.

While there, we didn’t think of it as “war torn”, but “home”. Suddenly, though, “home” for me had become a war.

A short three days after our departure, terrorists had invaded the country’s only international airport and had incurred over $300 million damage. The attack commemorated the 1983 riots that had launched the beginning of a 25 year civil war.

The media reports such atrocities so often that it is easy to become calloused. Yet for me, this was different – it was up close and personal, a place I knew with my own heart and hands and feet. It held beloved family members, cherished memories, deep attachment. Having grown up in the relative stability of Midwestern America, facing the devastation of war was way outside of my frame of reference. While I have traveled in many developing countries, wrestled intellectually with issues of poverty and injustice; the ever-repeating story of violence, corruption, and fear had never crept so close to my own heart. 

Although many disturbing images surrounding the terrorist attack crept into my mind, the most personally convicting was that of my own struggle against materialism. A strange (and perhaps egocentric) connection, I know, but I’m no longer speaking solely of the materialism associated with houses, cars, clothes, and the like, but of those unseen things in the material world that I routinely place in the box of “fundamental rights” – conditions I deserve by very nature of being human. 

Personal safety, physical comfort, financial opportunity, and convenience rose quickly to the top of the pile as I examined what I feared losing had I been in the airport three days prior. Though physically intangible, these very material commodities are a large part of the world to which I am inextricably bound. I just happen to live in a place where I have the option to numb out such realities by buying a pair of shoes.

Certainly God does not ask everyone to live in a war torn country. Yet he does allow difficult circumstances in the lives of all his children at one point or another, whether they be facing the death of a loved one, coping with chronic illness, losing a job, moving to a different city, or dealing with a difficult family member. Perhaps one step toward surrendering materialism lies in our response when these difficulties arise. In my life, this surrender plays out by letting go of the notions of my “expected rights.”

I must ask, “Who am I, really? Who am I that I should not have to face the ravages of war (or illness or financial collapse or the loss of a home I love or a sick child)? God may not ask that of other people, but if God asks it of me, am I willing to face it and not run away?”


The ramifications of these questions run so deep that I shudder to imagine what the future might hold if God really asked such things of me. And yet, God asks these questions of each and every one of us – not always about such extremities as war, but about our own unique tragedies of life.


At times, much of the Western church reacts to materialism just like I do.

Run. Hide. Rationalize. Ignore. Spend money on myself.

Sadly, as we continue to order our world with more things and self-centered expectations, I fear these actions will only lead us toward more confusion, distraction and disillusionment. In sitting with the scriptures, I am confronted with three attitudes that often hinder my ability to confront materialism: greed, fear, and pride.  


“Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

Jesus spoke emphatically against the greed of our hearts in this world, pushing us to examine what use it would be to gain a whole world of material possessions, and yet still lose our souls (Mark 8:36). He cautioned us to keep free from the love of money, and to be content with what we have (Hebrews 13:5).

Living in a wealthy society, it is easy for me to rationalize my materialistic habits. To many American eyes, I am not the poster child for materialism. I’ve stayed at home with our kids, sacrificing salary by working flexible, part-time jobs. My husband is a professor, and we live on a modest income. We rent a small house and drive practical cars far longer than we’d like to. We budget carefully, pay off credit cards, tithe regularly, and prioritize spending. 

Yet when I examine my life in light of global reality, I see how tightly I hold onto the material aspects of my life, meager that they are. I hang my head, ashamed of what resides within. Jesus’ words pierce my heart, and I am forced to reevaluate the conditions of the faith I offer Him.


Fear takes on many forms, some quite subtle. It drives me to surround myself with things and live in environments that protect my insecurities. By focusing excessively on the management of both my possessions and the comfort level of my life, I build a fortress around myself rooted in earthly things, not godly ones. 

This is why Paul challenges us to pursue godliness with contentment (1 Timothy 6). By reminding us that we brought nothing into the world, and can take nothing out of it, he challenges us to pursue fulfillment in our Creator and not to use possessions to mask the fear that God alone cannot truly satisfy.

Another way I distinguish my fear of being unfulfilled is by examining my level of contentment. Whether I worry about how to pay the bills (and there has been plenty of that), if I look fashionista enough (or if the cellulite is taking over for good), or what kind of car I drive, each concern reflects a lack of contentment. And each lack of contentment reflects fear that God cannot, or will not, care for my needs. 

In reality, I do not deserve the safety or convenience or comfort of this country one ounce more than a Sri Lankan child caught in the middle of crossfire. While my intellect may agree with this statement, my materialistic mindset subtly convinces me that living in a physically safe environment will preserve not only my body, but also my soul.


Just as the Pharisees’ pride blinded them to the Messiah, so this same pride blinds me to the grip materialism has on my soul. When Paul writes that he has learned to be content in whatever circumstances he is, he speaks to being content both with humble means and in prosperity, both in being filled and going hungry, in having abundance and suffering need (Philippians 4:11-12).

In the frustration of combatting materialism, some may find it oddly tempting follow Jesus’ challenge to the rich man of selling everything we have and giving it to the poor (Luke 18:22-23). In such a vague issue, it can often feel easier to go to one extreme or the other rather than balance precariously in the middle.

While God legitimately asks such aestheticism of some people, for most of us the more difficult task lies in Paul’s lesson to the Philippians. He acknowledges his powerlessness to determine both the good and bad of life, and places himself in a position to trust God by seeking contentment regardless of his external circumstances. In a similar way, pride threatens contentment by creating either 1) a sense of entitlement to what we have or 2) a sense of superiority because of what we have given up.


Every era has a currency that buys souls,” writes sociologist Eric Hoffer. “In some the currency is pride, in others it is hope, in still others it is a holy cause. There are, of course, times when hard cash will buy souls, and the remarkable thing is that such times are marked by civility, tolerance, and the smooth working of everyday life.”

Upon close examination, what buys my soul and what buys the soul of a Sri Lankan suicide bomber may not differ as I much as I would like to imagine. In fact, my soul is probably bought with much less sacrifice.

Where does my treasure lie?”, I sheepishly ask myself, feet shuffling, eyes to the ground. If I am unwilling to face the answer to this question, I am equally unwilling to acknowledge where my heart and my soul lie as well.

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