Your Marriage Might Need Extra Sauce (and other things you didn’t expect)

I’m delighted to share an excerpt from Dorothy Greco’s EXCELLENT new book Making Marriage Beautiful today. I’m so tired of the “30 days/5 ways to being a happier/sexier/better spouse” type of stuff out there. I long for real wisdom that has stood the test of time, and which holds out hope even for hapless folk like me. This is a practical, funny, biblical and HELPFUL book. It doesn’t have a single cheesy “just plan a date night!” suggestion. Instead, it has stories about looking at ourselves and our loved ones with kinder, better eyes, and making small, doable beautiful changes day by day which add up to a lifetime of joy. See for yourself.

The first time I went to my husband’s house for Thanksgiving, was the first time I was confronted with my ethnocentric tendencies. There was twice as much food as needed, including lime Jell-O and canned green beans submerged in a thick, gray sauce. The turkey was ceremoniously placed front and center, and then his mother brought out two huge trays of lasagna. Lasagna. With extra sauce (this is important) and meatballs. For Thanksgiving.

After a prayer, the curtain went up and the opera began. Unlike at my home, there was no turn taking or insightful follow-up questions. One person simply started talking—to no one in particular—and then another layered their thoughts on top but not before turning up the volume. Then a third and fourth jumped in, making it impossible to really listen to anyone—something I eventually learned was not a priority. I’ve never been a fan of opera and even less so when I’m thrust into it without an opportunity to rehearse my lines. This experience helped me better understand Christopher, but I was not able to extrapolate his genetically coded mealtime expectations until we had a substantial fight not long after.

At our inaugural dinner party, we invited three couples over. The conversation was lively and the food excellent. Everyone seemed to enjoy the evening—except Christopher, who made several less-than-affirming comments about my culinary efforts. This same scenario played out multiple times before I pointedly inquired, “Why are you so critical of how I prepare meals for guests?” He shot back, “Because you don’t cook enough food and you never put out extra sauce when you make pasta!” Want to guess how our evening played out? That fight opened our eyes to a shocking reality: our family cultures had so deeply shaped our preferences, biases, and beliefs that we each reflexively judged anything different as wrong. This discovery allowed us to start tracing other marital challenges directly back to our formative years.

Like us, many of you may have ended up with overweight luggage as you packed for your honeymoon because you unknowingly crammed the suitcase full of culturally bound expectations and historic wounds. If we lack awareness regarding our ethnocentrism and our scars, we tend to assume we’re always right, become oppositional, and endlessly criticize and judge one another.

Because Christopher and I are white, we have not been victims of racism.  However, many of you not only have been but continue to be affected by this systemic sin. The highly publicized race-related issues of recent times have shattered any illusion that racism is a thing of the past. If you are a minority, you have most likely been traumatized by racial disparity, intentional segregation, and overt discrimination. It’s nearly impossible to grow up with an intact sense of self if you have been repeatedly told that you are less than and flawed. These deep wounds guide not only how we understand ourselves but also how we interact with others.

Evan, a Chinese American friend, grew up in a predominantly white neighborhood during the seventies. He doesn’t look back on his neighbors as racists but rather “ignorant ethnocentrists.” In his words:

My personality was reduced to my ethnic identity. There was a sense that everything that represented my family of origin was not accepted in the culture. I had to put on different masks and code-switch [modifying the way you express yourself depending on who you’re with]. I remember as young as first grade, maybe earlier, looking in the mirror and wishing that my facial features were different because I didn’t look like everyone else. In Chinese culture, it’s considered beautiful to have a wide, flat nose, but in American culture, it’s beautiful if you have a long, thin nose. I would sit in front of the mirror and squeeze my nose, hoping that it would become long and narrow. Think about how powerful the messages must have been for me as a seven-year-old child to feel that I had to change my face to be accepted.

Regardless of how we got our scars and how they manifest, they don’t magically disappear when we get married. We bring all of who we are into our marital covenants: our gifts, talents, and strengths but also our weaknesses, limitations, and brokenness. Our spouse is typically the first people who has gotten close enough to notice these scars.

    Our scars and internalized cultural values not only inform our beliefs and actions, but they also become the foundation for many of our expectations. As we enter into marriage, we have dozens of unspoken expectations for the small, seemingly incidental details of life together (e.g., who cleans the bathroom?) as well as the major, significant components of life (e.g., who sacrifices their career to care for a sick child or aging parent?). Sometimes we’re not even cognizant of our expectations until others fail to meet them. Sometimes an expectation emanates out of our wounds, which makes it more difficult for us to identify the expectation, let alone discern what drives it.

For example, not long after we were married, Christopher and I started having conflicts about what it meant to be home in time for dinner. After we negotiated what seemed like a reasonable compromise and then he showed up an hour (or more) late, I felt angry. He would apologize, but then we’d have a déjà vu moment the following week. Though I had legitimate reasons to be frustrated, his offense was a level three (out of ten—not that big a deal) and my response was a level eight (in other words, out of proportion). This disparity clued me in to the possibility that maybe this dynamic was uncovering a historic wound.

When we have the same conflicts over and over again, it’s likely that there’s something deeper going on that will provide an opportunity for healing if we can stop reacting and start exploring what’s driving our broken patterns. That was certainly true regarding our ongoing discord about mealtime. When I was twelve, my grandfather died and our extended family fractured due to some poor choices and miscommunication. After two of my father’s beloved siblings moved out of state, he turned to liquor to numb his pain. This eventually led to a full-blown alcohol addiction lasting more than a decade.

During my middle and high school years, dinner could be a tense affair. Would Dad be on time? Would he be sober? If he wasn’t, how would Mom respond? There was an obvious connection between my childhood wounds and our marital strife. Christopher’s struggle with time management uncovered my unresolved pain and amplified my unprocessed anger. My response replicated my family of origin’s patterns and certainly did not help Christopher feel loved or grow in his time management skills.

Obviously, not all expectations emerge from brokenness and pain. Many are inspired by God. When we vow to love, honor, and cherish until death do us part, we expect our spouse to stick with us, even if we become unemployed, cannot conceive, or develop serious health issues. We expect our spouse to tell the truth, advocate for us, and remain monogamous. These are healthy non-negotiables. In order to have a healthy marriage that is free from judgment, we need to discern which expectations are godly and life-giving and which ones adversely affect our marriages.

    As my husband and I have pursued healing for our historic wounds and let go of our need to be right, we’ve become less dogmatic and more flexible. These changes manifest in small but welcome ways. When I need to talk through something, Christopher no longer expects me to replicate his family’s operatic style of communication. When we have company, I try to serve more food than I know we need. And sometimes, I even remember to put extra sauce on the table.

 

This article was adapted from Making Marriage Beautiful (2017) published by David C Cook. Used with permission.
Dorothy Littell Greco writes on how following Jesus changes everything. Her work appears in Relevant, Christianity Today, The Mudroom, and Start Marriage Right, among others. Her first book, Making Marriage Beautiful was published by David C Cook in January. You can find more of her work on her website or by following her on Twitter (@dorothygreco) or Facebook (Words & Images by DorothyGreco)

The Betta Mom (an unexpected story)

I’m delighted to have a guest post over at Melanie Dale’s fabulous blog, Unexpected, today (Remember Melanie? She wrote that awesome post about being a Cheerleader Mom). My post is about our pet fish, and it’s kind of a finny story, really…. Click right over to Mel’s place now to read the whole thing or get a sneak peak below…

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My kids have wanted pets for the longest time. It is entirely possible that the first thought that went through my newborn son’s head after “Whoa, it’s bright out here!” was “When can I get a puppy?”

Despite having had beloved pets growing up, both my husband and I have been the King and Queen of Reluctance about getting a pet. There were so many reasons not to: first, because we had no yard. Then, because we were renting. Then, because we traveled for weeks at a time. But as more kids and a piece of turf to call our own became realities, we finally took shelter behind one immovable excuse: too much poop. Mama has a poop-limit, and with three kids under the age of 5, she was maxed out. There was no margin for any extra clean-up, and thus no margin for furry friends, no matter how cute.

But then, friends, the day came when the skies parted and the Angelic Chorus sang Hallelujah. Our youngest child sat on his porcelain throne, finally depositing bodily fluids where they were supposed to go, and right in the middle of my victory dance, my older kids piped up: “Does this mean we can get a pet now?”

Seriously, can a woman not get a two-minute break?

(Continue reading here!)

Image credit: Bryce Gandy (Flickr Creative Commons)

On conquering the world

My friend Cara Meredith invites people to write guest posts on her blog, and she always has the best prompts. Last year she had us write about unexpected moments, and I got to tell a bit of my love story. This year the prompt is rituals, and I loved getting to write about one of the sweetest things that has developed in our home: the unexpected ritual of world-conquering. Here’s a snippet (and here’s the whole link..)

clotho98

It’s 8:11am, and there’s fussing by the front door:

“Where are your shoes?”

“I can’t find my library book.”

“Why didn’t you unpack your lunch bag yesterday?”

“Hurry up! I don’t want to get another tardy note!”

In the flurry, zips are zipped, snacks are packed, and finally, my husband and older kids tumble out the door. I stand with my youngest—both still in our pajamas and slippers—and call out to them: “Bye! Love you! Conquer the world!” My three year old echoes in a voice that echoes down the street: “Conquer! The! World!!!” and his Daddy rolls down the window as he backs out the driveway and shouts back, “bye! Conquer your little world, too!”

Tail lights disappear down the street, and we click the front door closed.

This is how it happens every day.

(Read the rest here)

Photo credit: Flickr Creative Commons/Clotho98

When Messing Up Is A Chance To Practice – {Sheli Massie}

Today’s guest is Sheli Massie: a brave friend and fellow writer in the Redbud Writers Guild. I love Sheli’s honesty, her grit, her gift of encouragement… and I love her message in this post. Leave her some comment love, won’t you?

What if, instead of seeing ourwe saw

There are things that start to happen to you when you are on the other side of healing. And by other side, I mean be brave enough to say you need healing. To acknowledge that you are a broken person who needs to slow down and that you have pieces to put back together. When things are clear in my head and I don’t feel like I need to be in therapy three times a week I find myself being able to complete thoughts and realize where they need to go and where they came from. For example why I repeat patterns when certain times of the year come around or something someone does triggers a reaction that is let’s just say is “not sane healthy “. Well to someone who has lived in trauma for so long I am met face to face with the crap I have kept in there. Like for instance. I can improve on relationships. ( I suck at it) Now before you go all “Pollyanna” on me, realize that I have learned coping strategies through the years and some are not all good. For instance.

I sabotage good things. Like relationships. Or big occasions. I sabotage things are new or make me feel uncomfortable. I sabotage anything that makes me feel afraid. Do you see how I am operating here? Out of fear. But I am a work in progress and Jesus in his sweet gentle voice tells me this is something I am ready to walk through and figure out. That He and I will uncover what makes me feel so insecure and bless me with someone to hold my hand into this brave scary place called freedom.

I never wanted my husband in the delivery room. And until now I didn’t think this was a big deal. I just stated that he drove me crazy and I wanted my girlfriends in there, who knew what I liked and didn’t like. Do you see the problem? I didn’t want him near me. I didn’t want him to be a part of a very intimate moment that lasted 22 hours for one child and thousands of hours for the rest. I wanted other people closer to me. So when you begin to unravel what healthy is and your head comes clear, Jesus reveals things to you in small doses that you still need to unwrap. Like my inability to trust. I didn’t trust my husband, I didn’t trust hum to take care of me. I didn’t trust that he could comfort me. I didn’t trust him with my safety. I didn’t trust him as my legs were up in stir-ups and every stranger was up in my business yet I didn’t trust the one I made a covenant with. Perhaps I had some issues….

Do you see how alarming this is? I know others think this is crazy and strange. But I am seeing it as a chance to “practice” (new word I am learning from my wise people). It helps me to realign my thoughts that I am practicing and not making mistakes. I have to catch myself saying that I “messed up again” but this is just “practicing”.

I am learning that this is my turn to practice trusting. Practice inviting myself to pause in the unknown and sit there. Practice staying in the quiet when it makes my skin crawl and I want to hide in my bed and binge watch House of Cards. Practice sitting in the moment and finishing the conversation when all I want to do is say something sarcastic that others would find funny. Practice telling the truth even though it may make others upset. Practice slowing down. Practice leaving space. Practice saying yes to what really matters. Practice filling my space with things that are only useful and beautiful. Practice connecting to those I claim to love. Practice being present when my mind wanders to wherever I am not.

Practice is hard. Practice requires that I show up and put in my best effort. Practice makes me cry and wish for another coach. Practice leaves me exhausted and wanting a water break. But from what I have learned practice makes me ready for the game. It helps me to show up when it matters most and be ready to do this life thing together. It helps me know what works and what doesn’t work.

So when we “mess up” and get overwhelmed with how many times we have yelled or pouted or ignored to get our way. We take a deep breath and acknowledge that this was “practice” and we can try again.

So what if we all practiced together? Instead of repeating the patterns of our past or blaming it on a personality trait what if we all were brave enough to show up. In the little things? In the big things? If we were all brave enough to reach out to someone and say “help”. If we were brave enough to write that letter and say “I’m sorry”. If we were brave enough to fall and get back up again. If we were brave enough to tell that story. If we were brave enough to say “no more”. If we were brave enough to look him in the eyes. If we were brave enough to walk away. If we were brave enough to stay. If we were brave enough to turn off the TV. If we were brave enough to say the first words. If we were brave enough to love. If we were brave enough to forgive ourselves.

You can. We can. We can be brave.

You are brave sweet one. You are.

View More: http://snohling.pass.us/massieloveAbout Sheli: ​I am a writer on good days when a child isn’t puking or screaming or the dog hasn’t run away for the zillionth time or when the house doesn’t look like a Hoarders episode or I didn’t forget to pick up one of the five children from school. I live in the western suburbs of Chicago with my husband who has pushed me to be a better version of myself for sixteen years. I adore my best friends and I get anxiety attacks around anyone pretty or skinny, so I stay in my yoga pants and write about my redemptive story at shelimassie.com. I am a proud member of Redbud Writers Guild.

 

Photo Credit: Georgio____, Silhouette (Flickr Creative Commons), edited by Bronwyn Lea.

Confronting my inner racist {Laura Droege}

Laura Droege is one of my favorite online commenters: when she writes something on my blog (or on her own), I always read it. Usually twice. I’d been hoping to entice Laura to write a guest post for the Words That Changed My World series, and when I read this post on her blog a few weeks ago – knew that this was it. Enjoy 🙂

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Where: Chaucer class.

When: Spring 2002

Who: Me, my buddy Richard, and the middle-aged classmate whose name escapes my memory.

What: Richard, always a wild card, had decided to share with us about the time he was thrown in the slammer for DUI. Not the typical intro into a graduate-level discussion of The Canterbury Tales. But somehow, between bipolar disorder and PTSD from Vietnam, his social filter had disappeared, and so we got the unfiltered version of him, somewhat like the unfiltered cigarettes he rolled during Elizabethan Poetry and Prose class.

The tale was in full swing, complete with Richard’s descriptions of being drunk and his jail cell. I sharpened my elbows, prepared to jab Richard’s ribs if he got too out of control. (This happened frequently.)

Our classmate was a serious man. He dressed in suits, behaved properly, and was as completely unlike a criminal as I could imagine. He shook his head slowly. “I hope I am never jailed,” he said soberly. “I pray I never have to go through that.”

He said it as if jailtime was a distinct possibility. Why, I wondered, would he worry about that?

A series of realizations tumbled through my mind:

He’s black.

He’s afraid he’ll go to jail, even if he’s innocent.

I know nothing about being non-white in America. Nothing.

——————————————————————

My own ignorance hadn’t gone unnoticed. Two years before, I had had a similar revelation while reading The Autobiography of Frederick Douglass and Toni Morrison’s Beloved. I read Douglass’s description of a whipping and had a physical reaction: my body hurt.

I flinched, paused to take in my surroundings—blue sky outside, glass window beside me, cold to the touch—before I forced myself to continue reading.

A second awakening happened at Walmart. As I walked in, I looked around and noticed the skin color of almost everyone else here wasn’t the same as mine. I’m the only white person here, I thought, and felt apprehension fill me. Then I was shocked. Why would I be apprehensive about being the only white at the entrance of Walmart?

A second question: Was this how many African-Americans felt when they were the only black in a room of white people?

Then a third question: Was I racist if I felt uncomfortable around people of a different race?

The answer made me ache.

Racism had torn apart my extended family when I was young. I remember sitting on the kitchen floor, crying, because I knew that it was wrong for anyone to hate another person for their skin color, wrong for family to be split in this way, wrong because God loves all people.

“Jesus loves the little children,” my little girl self sang in Sunday school, “all the children of the world. Red and yellow, black and white, they are precious in his sight . . .”

Was it possible that a deep-rooted prejudice against minorities was planted in my own heart?

—————————————————————

All of us are capable of prejudice.

When this ugly beast raises its head in my heart, it’s shocking and repulsive because it tells me how hateful I am capable of being. It is tempting to look away from this uncomfortable truth (like looking in a mirror and then forgetting my appearance when the reflection disappears from view.)

But it’s also an opportunity.

  1. First, it’s a chance to admit the depth of my sin and my need for Christ.
  2. Second, it’s a chance to struggle against this sin. Learning more about the people I am prejudiced against is a good start. (It’s not a guaranteed way of dispelling racism; it’s possible to hate someone even when we know them well.)

I signed up for African-American literature that fall. Maybe this wasn’t the most effective method, but I respond to literature, and this class seemed as good a start as any.

For the first time, I saw my own behavior as a white American reflected back at me from a non-white perspective. Some of my thought patters were racist, even when I didn’t intend them to be. It would be hard not to see that while I read books like Native Son or Their Eyes Were Watching God. It would be hard not to be uncomfortable in my white skin while I read the poetry of Nikki Giovanni, Imanu Amiri Baraka, or Countee Cullen.

Even when I meant well, I still might be doing something wrong. I might be trying to “speak” for the black community. (As if I understood the experience of being non-white—which I didn’t—and as if no one else could speak for him/herself—which wasn’t true.)

For example, during this time I went to a church (predominately white) where I knew several people who were racist. Some made remarks that blatantly misunderstood the African-American community. The remarks made me cringe; the appropriation of Bible verses to defend their stances against interracial marriage made me angry.

I wanted to say something because I didn’t want silence to be seen as agreement. But how could I correct the racist statements without trying to speak “for” other people who weren’t present? Also, these church people were my only “friends”; I desperately wanted them to accept me, and I was afraid that if I disagreed, they would reject me.

Sadly, I let my fear of rejection stop up my mouth. I let my fear of saying the wrong thing keep me from saying anything. I was afraid. I was silent.

My silence hurt me as much as anyone else. I lost the chance to confront the ugliness in my own heart—of racism and fear—and lost the chance to be honest with my fellow believers about the sin in their lives, too. I don’t have contact with any of them now.

If I did and if that conversation occurred again, I hope I would say:

You’re wrong. Look at the Bible. Look at how Jesus treats others. Do your attitudes reflect Jesus? Do mine?

I can’t speak for other people. I can’t pretend to understand what it’s like to have a different skin color.

But I can tell you this: Jesus loves us. He loves people of every race. He loves us when we’re racist and prejudiced and hateful.

But he loves us too much to let us to remain comfortable in that prejudice. He gives us the power to change so we learn to love others the way he does.

That’s what he’s teaching me. I hope that’s what he’s teaching you, too.  

71ac72bc4dce29e471f15efe1c931e1eLaura Droege is a wife of a rocket scientist, a mama of two daughters, and a novelist with three manuscripts in search of a good publishing home. She holds a graduate degree in literature and taught English as a second language for four years. Now she stays home with her kids and writes. Actually, scratch that: she drives the SUV to various kid activities and writes at bagel shops and in the carpool line at school and in her study, which is close enough to the laundry room to induce guilt, but far enough from the kitchen to (almost) ignore the siren-call of the M&M’s she shouldn’t have bought last week. She blogs at lauradroege.wordpress.com.

Photo Credit: morguefile.com

 

The Fierce, Strong, Wild Heart of God

If my memory was good enough to write a memoir: a story of spiritual significance and coming-of-age, this is the story I would want to write. It has moved me to tears more often than I can think of. I had heard many people say that having children was a blessing… but what I didn’t know was that for me, the greatest blessing of having children would be learning what it meant to be a most beloved child of God myself. 

When my friend Adriel Booker asked me to write for her series on the Motherheart of God, I knew instantly what I wanted to write. I know God as my Father, but Oh! It’s just amazing how becoming a mother has revealed God’s tender heart to me in a way I couldn’t have imagined. Here’s the beginning, and then head over to Adriel’s to read the rest. (And while you’re there, look around. I love Adriel’s blog.)

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I went into motherhood with carefully weighed expectations:  I knew there would be fierce joy, thousands of photos too cute to delete, sleep deprivation, tantrum-taming, and way more contact with bodily fluids than I’d ever had before.  I also expected a few years spiritual lethargy.  With less time and energy for church, bible study and ministry, I expected to change gears for a couple of years: from spiritual ‘drive’ to a humming ‘neutral’.

I could not have been more wrong.

Friends, nothing has revealed God’s heart to me like becoming a mother. Nothing.

***

In the early days, there was the taking of pre-natal vitamins, and watching what I ate, of giving up skiing and wine without complaint as I marveled at the tiny being utterly dependent on my welcome. In the minutes of the first ultrasound, tears spilled down my cheeks as I saw a heartbeat flutter on the screen: life within my life, a soul of another already contained within mine. Oh, how I loved! And I shivered when, in that moment, I felt the words settle in deep: If this is how you love the little one dependent on you and completely unaware of it, how much more do I not love you, dependent and unaware and so utterly precious to me? 

(Click over to read the rest, won’t you?)

Coming to terms with my racial privilege

Please welcome Jody to the Words That Changed My World Series! I have loved reading Jody’s thoughts over the past months – she’s a deep thinker and winsome writer on some tricky issues relating to race and culture, so I am more than thrilled to have her as a guest today. And, by the way, you should stop over at her blog to read some more of her stuff when you’re done!

Photo credit:  TheRealRanjitMakkuni

Photo credit: TheRealRanjitMakkuni

I sat in her office, desperate to convince her that I cared, that these issues of race were just as important to me as they were to her, one of the few African-American woman working in a predominately white institution.

“You don’t have to think about the issue of race,” she said to me point-blank.

I was taken aback, “Yes, I do. It’s really important to me to understand,” I tried to half-convince, half-explain.

“But you don’t have to,” she persisted. “I can’t ever take my skin off. It comes with me everywhere I go. You don’t have to think about yours if you don’t want to. I don’t have a choice.”

I paused, having never before considered that the privilege of my white skin was that it allowed me simple freedoms like walking into a rural gas station without getting suspicious looks, or keeping people from placing me under media-driven stereotypes. It was a moment in time when I realized that everything I’d ever understood about ‘normal’ was far from that very notion, and that no matter how much I did actually care, I would never fully understand the experience of people of color living in a broken and racialized society like the US.

At the time, I had no idea how formative her words would be as my life-steps eventually led me to marry across racial lines, teach in a wide variety of diverse contexts, move several times among the immensely diverse cultures of the US, travel around the world and raise biracial children. In order for me to fully step into the world of understanding another’s reality, I needed to first accept that I would need to accept their worldview without a complete ability to understand it.

Come to find out, this lesson had a much broader application than I originally realized. As I walk through life, there are a whole host of people I don’t understand, and walking alongside them with an attitude that reminds me that I don’t have a clue about their story allows me to listen more gently, walk more humbly, and love more mercifully.

It’s a bit paradoxical, I admit. However, the more I matured in my understanding of all things, the more I understood both the reality and beauty of paradox. To save your life, you must lose it. The first will be last and the last will be first. Blessed are the meek. Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.

Admitting my own limitations in my ability to walk alongside others has given me a freedom that I never knew in the days when I thought I had all the answers. It allows me to listen without judgment, to love without critique or skepticism, to speak and anger slowly. For those of us who have only ever known the experience of being the-ones-with-the-power, these skills must be actively developed and practiced when in order to truly hear those coming from a different place. Like a diamond, they form as a result of some intense and heated pressure within, creating something beautiful only after the conflict resolves.

My journey toward a deeper racial understanding has mirrored this very process. I am forever grateful both for the discomfort my African-American friend’s words created in my life as well as for her honesty that set me on a brutal and beautiful journey toward the reconciling of broken things – myself being first on the list.

DSC_0668Jody Fernando (@Jodylouise) does a lot of living between worlds. A midwestern girl from the cornfields, she is married to a man from the Indian Ocean. Together, they raise their bicultural and biracial children, and have family on four continents. She explores the ins and outs of intercultural living on her blog Between Worlds, helps amazingly resilient immigrants learn to speak English, teaches a few university courses, and makes a mean curry. Read more about her journey toward a deeper understanding of whiteness, race and faith in her book Pondering Privilege.