A Year of Memories

A Year of Memories, Chinos In Scotland

In celebration of the fact that we have now been in Scotland for one year, here’ s a quick look back at the last twelve months of life at the Chino House.



We moved to Scotland.



My mom came and we discovered some castles and made a trip to Edinburgh.

Oh, and Taido and I went camping.



I went to Dublin for TBEX and got to experience another, wilder side of Ireland.

Then we all went to the Lake District and fell head over heels just like Wordsworth.



We discovered Glen Tanar on one of our many walking quests.

Mary Polly and I had a getaway weekend in Edinburgh where we saw the Christmas Market and took a side trip to Glencoe and Loch Ness.

Also, I made my first trip to London for World Travel Market.

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In December I decided to finally declare myself a writer and I wrote 12 Days of Stories.

Even better, my parents came to visit.



I started #48walks, which made us get outside, even in winter.

I took Ben and Simon to Edinburgh to see The Lion King.

And I went to London for one night to attend a dinner for Out of Office Bloggers.



I am not going to lie. I was really down in February, but I kept putting one foot in front of the other. I kept walking and telling stories. Also, we moved from our tiny flat to a house.

(Let’s go ahead and draw straws to see who’s going to visit me next February so as to avoid the sinking to the dark places, ok?)



We went for more walks, along the coast and in the shire.

We had our first non-family visitor.

And we continued waiting patiently for spring.



The kids had two weeks off from school in April. For the first week we along with Taido to Durham, England, where he was speaking at his first academic conference. We also explored North Yorkshire a bit.

Then my mother-in-law flew us all to Ireland for a week. We walked and walked. And it was all green and sunshine and wonderful grace.



My sister came and walked St Cuthbert’s Way with me.

Simon and I went to Mauritius.

Snapshots of Paris, Go with Oh Apartment, #IGTravelThursday


Mary Polly and I went to see One Direction in Edinburgh.

My friends, Kristie and Jermaine came to visit.

Taido went to Kenya.

My friend, Sarabeth and her daughter, Elizabeth came to visit.

Mary Polly and I went with them to Paris.



My brother and sister-in-law (Peter and Whitney) + nephews came to visit! We had an incredible week in Scotland and then we went to London, Paris and Switzerland. (#CousinsTakeEurope)

After they went home, we stayed in Switzerland for three more weeks. It was bliss.

Lake District, A Year of Memories, Expat Life


We made a long journey home through the EuroTunnel. We dropped Ben and Taido off at the airport in London so that they could head to Norway for Ben’s 13th. The rest of us took our time road tripping up the M6, with stops at BlogStock and the Lake District.

What a whirlwind!

When I look back over the year, I really cannot believe all that we have gotten to do and see. And on a tight budget to boot. My travel writing has opened up new worlds, literally and figuratively. I am ridiculously thankful.

I am hopeful that the next year will continue to bring all kinds of new adventures.

We already have a few up our sleeves.

I am going back to Arkansas next month to speak at Arkansas Women Bloggers University, which I am super excited about. Then when I come back to Aberdeen, I’ll have about a week before I hit the trail again with my friend, Diane and Macs Adventure. This time my family is going to come and hike with us for a couple of days in the middle of the Coast to Coast Walk. Before it’s over, we will walk the entire width of England and will log almost 200 miles. (In fact, considering my tendency to get lost, I feel fairly certain that we will pass the 200 mile mark before our two weeks is over.)

Then in October I will go back to TBEX, this time in Athens and with my friend Sarabeth who is speaking. November will be quiet, so hopefully I will finish the book I am writing. And in December we will all fly home for Christmas.

In 2015, a world of possibility and wonder awaits! I am going to keep walking in 2015, but I’m inviting you to come along with me. And not just on the internet but also in real life! (Subscribe to my newsletter to be the first to hear news about walking with me.)

Thank you so much for following along and walking with me this year. Every time you post a picture with #48walks or leave a comment or send me an email, it makes my day.

Here’s to another year of walking.  Into the dark, into the light and into the unknown.



Reflections on Moving Abroad: The Hard Stuff

One Year Ago, Chinos To Scotland

Summer 2013

One Year Later

Summer 2014

When we told people that we were moving to Scotland, for the most part the responses fell into two general categories.

1. That sounds crazy!

2. That sounds dreamy!

And you know what, both of these descriptions are spot on.

Moving abroad is crazy AND it’s a dream come true. At the same time.

Like many life experiences, living in a new country is hard and amazing.

My life strategy of trying to find the beauty in the world has helped me (for the most part) to look on the bright side of our first year abroad as a family, but I would be lying if I never mentioned that there are some really hard things about facing two more years here in Aberdeen. I really try to stay away from negativity in general, and especially on this blog because it is my “happy place,” but I want to try to strike a balance of remembering our first year in Aberdeen as it truly was.

So as I look back on our first year, I want to share how God has richly blessed us with new experiences and places to live and dear friends. When I think about all that we have gotten to see, I am just dumbstruck with wonder. But before I post the “LOOK AT EVERYTHING WE GOT TO DO IN ONE YEAR” list, I thought I would list some of the things that have been hard about moving abroad, and more specifically, to Aberdeen.

Hard Stuff about Moving Abroad:

1. Schools

You know how people say that children are resilient and flexible and they will benefit from being thrown into new situations and new cultures. Yep, that stuff is totally true. But the part that we might not mention is that making those adjustments to new schools, systems and cultures is really hard.

Without divulging too much of their personal journeys, I will just say that each one of my kids faced some serious challenges in our local Scottish schools. Collectively, between the four of them, they were bullied and cyber-bullied, were hit and kicked, failed courses, felt completely alone, skipped lunch to hide in the library and missed opportunities because of cultural and even language barriers.

I don’t want to make them sound like victims. It’s just that it has taken us our entire first year to figure some things out about the way the systems work. They also (again collectively) made friends from all over the world, learned the history of a new country and continent, earned awards for being top students, learned new languages and new sports and (I think maybe) have a new appreciation for each other.

I’m incredibly proud of all four of them and I believe that this move has been good for them. But there is a little place inside of my heart that twinges and makes me tear up when I think of all we’ve put them through in the last year. And as they reluctantly head back to school this week, I hope desperately that this year will be brighter.

2. Money

I have mentioned once or twice that it is quite expensive to live in the UK, even more so in Aberdeen. We have watched the dollar decline slowly in value all year. Filling up our gas (petrol) tank costs us roughly $200. A trip to the grocery store for about a week is around $300. A return bus ticket in Aberdeen is $5 and for the six of us to eat out at a casual restaurant is between $80-$100.  We try not to eat out and we eat a lot of lentils and rice.

Still, when we gasp at how much things cost, we have to acknowledge in the same breath that we have had everything we need. And more. We have a place to live and a van that holds all six of us. We have food to eat plus we have Europe on our doorstep.

Every month is a new journey of faith in figuring out how we are going to make it all work, and in fact, most of the time it does not look like it is going to work at all, but we have been provided for all year long. I keep reminding myself of this staggering truth as September and a new round of tuition payments looms around the corner.

3. Family and Friends

Before coming to Scotland, we lived for over ten years in Arkansas in a close community of family and friends. We were so loved. And we loved so much. Those kinds of relationships and circles of people who love you and who even love your kids do not come easy.

We have the beginnings of what I believe will be life long relationships here in Scotland for which I am truly thankful, and we’ve also been blessed with the visits of many dearly loved ones. I’m encouraged by both and relieved that as we start year two here in Aberdeen, that we are in a place of nurturing friendships already made instead of starting all over relationally like we did a year ago. We’re also super encouraged by the fact that we’re going home for Christmas this year!

4. Weather

Ok, now I’m just being petty. I know, I know. I might as well list not having a dryer or Tiny Oven as hardships as well. Or not having access to corn tortillas and real Mexican food. (The Struggle!) But sometimes it’s the little things that are the hardest. I feel a heaviness in my heart when I start to think about what time the sun is going to set in November. It’s almost like I’m dreading it more because I know it’s coming.

But the knowledge of how very dark it is in the winter in Aberdeen has made me so grateful for summer’s light. I have spent every possible minute outside that I could.

And as the rain falls even as I type this, I am thankful that I have learned the art of getting outside regardless of the weather and that I have acquired some waterproof pants.

I’m also thankful that I have learned how to fix lentils about twenty different ways and I am undaunted by another winter of beans and rice.

However, I’m not sure I can go another year without a dryer.

Still, it is strange how when I look back and think about the darker parts of the last year, I truly am grateful for them. Because probably even more than the sunny holidays, they are the ways in which I have seen God. He has shown us again and again that we are not alone.

We are not abandoned to aimlessly wander a new place, but rather to wonder at how He leads us along every step of the way on this crazy + dreamy journey!

In The Pipeline + One Year In Scotland

The North Sea, Aberdeen, Scotland, Week 2

Y’all this week we mark a year of being in Scotland. I have some fun “retrospective” posts coming up next week because I think it’s important to remember the good and the bad from our first year here. I was just reading my first post from our new home town and it seems like yesterday that we were walking the city of Aberdeen for the first time. Also, I had to smile because just like those first days, I still walk down to the North Sea and stare out at the horizon, letting all my question and worries wash out with the waves.

Aberdeen, Scotland, In The Pipeline

It was a good reminder to me that there will always be unknowns, but that I only ever have to take life one day at a time.

We’ve had a string full of amazing days this summer and as the kids get ready to go back to school next Tuesday, I am gathering up all the memories of this incredible season. Expect a flood of stories + photos in the coming weeks.

In the meantime, I’ve been collecting links for ages since it’s been over a month since my last pipeline. Enjoy the randomness!


Like me, you’ve probably consumed 1011 pieces of media this week about Robin Williams. I loved Russell Brand’s thoughts for The Guardian. Here’s a quote:

We sort of accept that the price for that free-flowing, fast-paced, inexplicable comic genius is a counterweight of solitary misery. That there is an invisible inner economy that demands a high price for breathtaking talent. For me genius is defined by that irrationality; how can he talk like that? Play like that? Kick a ball like that? A talent that was not sculpted and schooled, educated and polished but bursts through the portal, raw and vulgar. Always mischievous, always on the brink of going wrong, dangerous and fun, like drugs.

A VSCO tutorial on how to get those moody pictures.

We were obsessed with watching the paragliders in Switzerland, so I thought this paraglider’s view of the Lake District was pretty much amazing.

A great round up of photos from the UK.

I wrote about Simon’s new friend on Monday, and since we’re both just smitten with Flea, I thought I would share her blog post about our holiday in Mauritius which includes a hysterical (and slightly embarrassing) video she made with her iPad of all of us dancing on the beach.

Things British people say AND what they actually mean. Hysterical. And true. h/t Joy Allen

I also enjoyed this one on dead giveaways that someone is American.

If you’re planning a walking holiday, you might enjoy these suggestions of places to walk in September.

We used this little guide to Swiss German in Switzerland a LOT! I still have the urge to say Grüezi! to everyone I pass on the street! It’s such a happy greeting.

Fun collection of quotes from Malcolm Gladwell.

I listened to my Daddy’s latest sermon while cooking this week. A treat as usual, but added bonus was hearing about his time in Africa with my hubs.

Whitney has posted our new family photos and her first blog post (of many, I hope!)  of their visit to Scotland.

And some walks: Stacey on Walking in Kenya, Bruges and the UK. Ellen is walking in the Pacific Northwest, one of my favorite parts of the world. Kate logged her 13th walk around her neighborhood.

And a few things I’ve written lately for other websites:

Hanging out at Heifer Village

After School Trips to the Zoo

Reasons to Go All Inclusive Travel with Your Kiddos

INSTA-Paris at GowithOh

My #BlogStock Takeaways over at Arkansas Women Bloggers

Hope your weekend is lovely! I’ll be digging out sweaters/jumpers because I forgot that it is cold here, even in August. I’m trying to resist the temptation to turn on my heat!



{More} Snapshots of Mauritius


Snapshots of Mauritius

Back in June, I shared some of my favorite images from our trip to Mauritius, but here are a few more of my favourite shots + animated GIFS from this exceptional getaway that Simon and I took in May to the tropical paradise of Long Beach. Before I move on to blogging about the rest of our amazing summer, I wanted to share these images + a little round up of all my Mauritius posts just in case you want to read about every possible detail of our trip!


If I had to use only one word to describe Mauritius, it would be colourful. Or colorful. Either way you spell it, it sums up being in this corner of the world.

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I think the best moments of a beach holiday might be the view of a beach umbrella or a palm tree that you have when you are lying on a beach lounger. These images remind me of being completely relaxed.


These boats were on our beach and we could check them out to use whenever we wanted as part of our resort package, which I included in my list of reasons to go all inclusive with kids.


I might have an alarming number of photos of beach loungers, but I was just smitten with all the lovely corners of the resort where you could relax with a view.


There were so many spots to choose from each day and we made a point of trying out as many as possible.


This outdoor setting was one of the restaurants in our resort. We ate here several times because of its proximity to both the beach and the pool.


Just this week I got to re-live our catamaran trip to the Ile Aux Cerfs by writing about it for First Choice. {Happy sighs.}




Also, I did a piece on this dreamy spa and I wrote A Story about Yoga on the Beach, because you know how I love yoga.


This is the sun hitting our room at our resort. I took this picture when walking back one morning from watching the sunrise and I loved how the sun was flooding all the porches.


This is the pile of shells and coral that Simon brought home from Mauritius. I love collecting these treasures on a beach holiday, but I’m never quite sure what to do with them when we get home.


I love how these little animated memories make me feel like I am still in the moment, watching these guys have the time of their lives! Watching Simon and his new friend, Flea, was one of the greatest delights of the week.

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When I look at these pictures, I am incredibly grateful that Simon and I had this amazing escape this spring. It was the first time I was actually warm in a very long time, and we both caught the sun on our faces and in our hearts!


Simon and I went to Mauritius, along with Sally and Flea, as part of our role this year as First Choice Out of Office Bloggers


A Story about Making New Friends

A Story about Making New Friends

“Hi, I’m Flea.” she said as she sat down next to me in the airport.

“Hi! I’ve been so excited to meet you! I’m Alison.”

“And this is Simon.”

“Simon, can you say hello?”

“Hi.” (small quiet voice)

I’ve mentioned before that Simon and I are introverts. In fact most of us Chinos fall on introverted side of the scale.

Sometimes when I meet someone who is truly extroverted, I think that they must be faking it. The notion of being truly comfortable talking to strangers is so foreign to me that I feel like it must be some sort of a show.

But then every once in a while I meet a truly extroverted child, and I’m reminded that some people are truly born this way. Some people really and truly, have never met a stranger.

Flea, who is nine years old, is one such child, and Simon and I had the sublime pleasure of her company on our recent journey to Mauritius. Watching Flea make friends with Simon will forever be one of the gifts of 2014 to me.

Like Harry and Hermione, Simon and Flea were fast friends, so inseparable after only a couple of days that Sally and I were scrambling to rearrange meals and excursions so that we could all be together.

Sally and I are both bloggers who love to write about travel. We were assigned to travel together as First Choice Holidays Out of Office Bloggers, and I was not at all worried about traveling with her. We met briefly in London at a pre-trip event, sans children and we both have experience with going on holidays with strangers as part of publicity campaigns. However, adding children to the mix is always a bit of a gamble. Simon and I were ecstatic about going on a sun-soaked holiday together, but I was not sure how he would get on with Sally’s little girl.

As soon as I met Flea at the airport, I knew we were going to be just fine. Sally warned me that she was chatty, and I was completely taken with her ten-minute-answer to the question, “What book are you reading?’

Simon watched me talk to Flea for a little while before he joined in, but it was not long before the two of them fell into their own little world, without any need for me.

Of course it helped that they had an awful lot in common. A mutual love for Lego and Doctor Who proved to be the breeding ground for what blossomed over the week into a sweet friendship.

They played together in the crystal blue swimming pool and on the long stretch of beach at our resort. Invented games and imaginary worlds ensued. And Sally and I relished the hours by the pool in our loungers. It was bliss.


On our excursions, they sat together on the bus rides, heads together over one of their devices, laughing at the Lego Movie or reading Big Nate. They chased monkeys around a Holy Lake, seeing who could get the closest to one.


Flea is a bit of an adventure addict, which turned out to be great for my little cautionary guy. When Simon was hesitant to come out on the deck for the catamaran ride, Flea persuaded him that the best place to drink a glass bottle of Lemon Fanta is directly underneath the sails. She also talked him into going tubing behind a speed boat. They confused the boat driver because Flea was signaling to go faster while Simon was signaling to go slower.

However, when Flea went parasailing, Simon was content to go along and just watch. But they celebrated together with fancy drinks at the pool bar afterwards.

At meals, they would head to the dessert case, tasting different offerings each night. Then they would go back to the ice cream bar to chase down their chocolate cake or macaroons with their favorite, vanilla ice cream.


Flea and Simon sat together on the flight back to London and after we parted ways, Simon told me that he was really going to miss her.

I absolutely loved watching them all week, and I was grateful that my older children were not around to taint it by teasing Simon about ‘having a girlfriend,’ which they most certainly did when we got home and Simon talked and talked about Flea.

I delight in the thought of their paths crossing again one day.

Simon and I went to Mauritius as part of my role as an Out of Office Bloggers for 2014. I’m super thankful to First Choice Holidays for such a lovely trip and for partnering us up with such fab folk! And I’m grateful to Sally and Flea for being extroverts and for jumping in and helping to make the week so much fun!

Snapshots of London from the Thames

Snapshots of London from the Thames

On a recent visit to London, we booked a river cruise with City Cruises.


I love walking along the Thames in London, so I thought it would be fun to get out on the river and enjoy the sights from a different perspective. Also, I knew we would have four children with us in London whose legs might need a little break from walking.


I was a little worried when we woke up to rain on the day of our cruise, but one thing I have learned from living in Scotland is that you can’t let the rain hold you back. Besides, the boats have an indoor place to sit just in case, so we decided we would make the best of it!


When we got on board, the rain had stopped so we opted to spread out our raincoats and sit on the upper deck. We ordered tea and coffee from the boat bar to keep the chills away. (Chills in July? Yes, there’s a reason so much tea is consumed on the British Isles!)

Thames River Cruise, City Cruises, London, England

One of the benefits of the rain was that our tour boat was almost completely empty. I asked our captain why our boat was so empty (some of the other boats on the river had loads more people on them) and he explained that some of the other boats are commuter boats. I think you can hop on the commuter boats without pre-booking, so I was glad we had pre-booked the Circular Cruise instead.


Even on a dreary day, London is a gorgeous city!

Thames River Cruise, City Cruises, London, England

It was my boys’ first trip to London so they loved spotting all the familiar London buildings from years of watching movies set in London and Doctor Who.


They took about 1000 photos of The Shard.


And of course, everyone was excited to see the London Eye!


And Big Ben of course!


Our boat turned around at the Parliament buildings, and on the way back down the river, our boat driver told us a bit of history. He was super knowledgeable and made us all laugh.


We enjoyed our time on the Thames so much! All the kids listed it as one of their favorite things we did during our three days in London!

I also took a little video of our cruise! IMG_3186.JPG My brother and his wife, Peter and Whitney, along with their two boys, accompanied my boys and me around Europe in July. They were such great sports and we had a fabulous time! I have lots more posts coming up about this great adventure. We called it #CousinsTakeEurope.

I received our circular cruise complementary from City Cruises, but you can book a family ticket (2 adults, 3 children) on the same Circular Cruise for under 25 GBP. That’s a great deal in any weather!

Also, while we were in London in July, we were hosted by YHA in one of their centrally located hostels. More to come from our fun family visit to London!

Do you travel + Instagram? Join in IG Travel Thursday!

More of my IG Travel Thursday posts.


A Story about the Man in Seat 68

A Story about the Man in Seat 68

If Kings Cross is the heaven of train stations, clean even when it is not serving as the setting for Harry Potter’s interlude between death and life, then Gare de Lyon is hell. Deceptively gorgeous from the outside, the inside is filthy and chaotic, more keenly felt when you are with of a group of children, trying to keep them near and waiting for the computers to announce your platform number.

There is an art to arriving at a train station at the right time. In contrast to the two hours you need before an airport departure, a train ride only requires a few minutes. However, if you are leaving from an unfamiliar station, you might need a bit longer to find your way, or you might not know exactly how long it will take you to get to the station so you give yourself some extra cushion. As a result, we found ourselves at Gare de Lyon an hour before our departure. An hour at Kings Cross or even Union Station in Aberdeen is a welcome amount of time to have a coffee and a seat in one of many lovely spots. But an hour in an overcrowded and dirty train station is way too long. Especially if you have four children in tow.

But you just do your best. You gather yourself in a corner and wait. One of the adults goes to find a bite of food. So you’re in a corner with your babies and your seven backpacks and the low point is when a man who has a piece of burlap wrapped around his otherwise naked body kicks something at you. You look away but you can’t help but notice that he is spitting on the ground as he walks by. And you just hope that he’ll keep walking. You feel a little badly later for thinking things like, “Please Lord, let him leave me alone.”

Thankfully, the man and the hour ticked on by.

We were all pretty spent when we boarded our train in Paris, bound for Switzerland. Seven of us in all. My brother Peter, Whitney and their two boys plus me, Ben and Simon. I had booked seats facing each other around tables, so we could all talk to each other. The seats around tables come in sets of four, so we let the four boys sit down on one side, while Peter, Whitney and I settled into the other side. Peter hadn’t quite realized what the seating situation would look like, so he made jokes as he pointed to the empty seat next to him about the mystery person winning the lottery by joining our (loud) party of seven.

“Hope this person likes kids!” he said.

“I just hope it’s someone nice,” I answered.

Then he walked through the sliding doors with his ticket. He had a big smile on his face and as he swung his big backpack up into the baggage racks, he immediately offered a long drawn out, practically Southern,


It was one of those moments in life when I was super thankful for that stereotype about Americans being gregarious.

Caleb took the seat across from Whitney and over the next four hours we enjoyed swapping travel stories and snacks from our packs. He was not remotely bothered by the kids reaching over him to get pieces of macaron, apples or baguettes. In fact, he even expressed gratitude at his having being seated with us, like it was a gift.

We all realized almost immediately that besides being Americans, we had a lot in common. He mentioned being a youth pastor near DC and he was taking the summer to travel and visit his brother who is serving in the Peace Corps in the Republic of Georgia before starting seminary in the fall.

Then, just to prove that the world is still So Very Small, we had the following exchange,

Him: I went to a small college, you’ve probably never heard of it, out in the Midwest called Wheaton.

Me: Um, when did you graduate?

Him: Last year.

Me: Did you ever eat/study at a place in Glen Ellyn called Blackberry Market?

Him: Of course! Everyone LOVES Blackberry Market!

Me: That’s our sister’s restaurant.

Him: No way!

Me: Yes way! She and her husband went to Wheaton.

Followed by many more, Did you know such-and-such? Or did you ever do such-and-such?

Dozens familiar threads ran between us all. It was delightful and way too much fun and over all too soon. We were all a bit sad when we told Caleb goodbye, we joked that we would probably run into one another again.

When we changed trains again, we missed our friendly companion. Especially when we sat the next hour on a train with a gal who had her bags in Peter’s seat and glared when she had to move them. Actually she kind of glared for the whole hour, and when we pulled out our dinner on the train, she managed to look down her nose and hold it at the same time. She was about the same age as Caleb, but not nearly so endearing.

Young and open and full of life, he was. I emailed him a couple days later to check on him and he had been off canyoning in Interlaken with folks he’d met in the hostel where he was staying.

He was a breath of fresh air, and a reminder to me of how wonderful it is to take step out and travel alone in those years when you are still deciding what your life will look like. He mentioned that there were moments of loneliness on the road, but that God had been so faithful to put people in his path to encourage him and show him the way.

He said one of the reasons he felt he was supposed to take this journey in the first place was that he thought that God had some things to show him.

I have no doubt that He will, and that Caleb will have the eyes and heart to see. I wish him many more gift encounters on his journey.

A Story about Trying Something New

A Story about Trying Something New
Or alternately titled, Stepping into the Arena

Once upon a time I stood up in front of people and made a fool out of myself.

I’m not sure how else to put it.

I acted (badly) in plays, I sang some especially mediocre ‘specials’ with my sister in church. I performed about one thousand skits, many of which were not even a little bit funny. I did an entire season of Improv Duets with a partner that turned every single sketch into a rap session.

Right now I want to die that you even know that.

But there’s more. I once participated in a month long series of group mimes, most of which I never understood, all directed by a man who was certifiably insane.

Dear Lord, save me.

Then I came to my senses.

I gained a little something I like to call discretion.

At some point in my twenties, I discovered and pounced upon this proverb.

Even a fool is thought wise if he holds his tongue.

Wisdom has always been attractive to me, so if quiet = wise, or even the appearance of being wise, well, that seemed like a no-brainer to me.

Embracing the fact that God created me as an introvert has been one of the greatest gifts of becoming an adult. In great contrast to my adolescent attempts to command the attention of a room, it is now a rare occasion that I am the one talking when there are more than ten people gathered, and for the most part that has been a good thing. I would even say that it has been a gift.

Blogging has allowed me to use my long kept habit of journaling to meter my words out into the world in a way that I am way more comfortable with than public speaking, and that has also been a gift.

But something happened in the taming of the ridiculous performer I once was. In exchange for the quiet (and wisdom) that I so cherish, I lost the ability to be willing to be thought a fool. To laugh at myself. And more specifically, to take risks that involve being in front of people.

A few years ago, I started to do a little bit of yoga teacher training and I was caught off guard by how I had lost the ability to speak in front of people. I had been quiet for so long that it was like I had to re-train myself to hear my own voice.

It was super uncomfortable, like middle school speech class all over again.

I had to find that girl who didn’t mind riding an exercise bike in front of an audience as part of a comedy sketch. Where was she? I needed her. Or a more Zen form of her.

One of things Anne Lamott says about growth is this,

Put something on your calendar that you’re scared to do.

I love that. Just schedule it. Write it down in pen on your calendar and then you have to do it, right?

I’ve tried a few new things this year. A long walk in May. And another longer one coming up in September. Then there was that whole move to another country.

But also, I’m speaking in front of people again.

I’m going to lead some workshops this summer, at BlogStock next week and then again in September for Arkansas Women Bloggers. They will be touchy-feely Finding Your Bliss type workshops. So yeah, that should be fun.

I’m also going to speak about StoryLiving in Arkansas in September. What even is that? I hear you asking. Well, I’m not exactly sure yet, but I am going to find out. Because I am committed. I’m flying home to Arkansas courtesy of a wonderful sponsor, to talk about it. And to see old friends and meet new ones in a conference full of my favorite kind of people, Southern Women.

So there it is. I’m committed to something new. It’s on the calendar. And I’m pretty sure I’m going to make a fool of myself all over again.

As I get ready for my first season of leading workshops and I don’t feel quite ready, I’m reminded of something wonderful I heard Brene Brown say,

It is tempting to stand outside the arena your whole life and think I am going to go in there when I’m bullet-proof and perfect and kick some ass.

But then we’ll never go in and even if we did get to that point and go in, bullet proof and perfect is not want the audience wants or needs anyway.

Cheers to not being perfect, but showing up anyway!

PS The ridiculous photo of me doing story time at a church VBS was taken by Sarabeth Jones, and miraculously, we are still friends.

A Story about Westminster Abbey

A Story about Westminster Abbey

She stood at the end of a row of empty seats, searching the arriving crowd with anticipation. She would wave when she saw them, familiar faces in the crowd of mostly tourists come to hear the Eucharist sung in one of the most glorious, most celebrated cathedrals in the world. But the splendor of the church was beyond this woman as she ushered her friends and families into the seats she had saved for them. She greeted each one with a kiss and gratitude for their coming.

As I watched the choir boys file in, I wondered which one was hers, this proud mama who had gathered a crowd to witness a confirmation.

Her last guests arrived holding a baby just as the music began. She made room for them and then took her seat at the end of the row. Head held high, she was all excitement and smiles.

Mary Polly and I had arrived early enough to be seated towards the front of the visiting section and enjoyed watching the seats fill as people wandered in. As the scene in front of me unfolded, I wondered at what it would be like to be a regular Sunday morning attendee at Westminster Abbey. To attend church in a place that held coronations and royal weddings.

I was caught off guard by how moved I was by the service. Traditions different from my childhood but similar to our Aberdeen church life, the songs and words were sweet to the ears of this traveler. I miss the word of God read aloud for corporate worship when I’m on the road.

My attention never left the woman in front of me and she participated in the liturgy with an enthusiasm I could appreciate.

The homily preceded the confirmation and I listened with awe to the man in black speak not in pompous tones as I had expected but with grace and gratitude about Jesus.

My Jesus, the same in a hot Arkansas YMCA gymnasium as He is in the hallowed halls of Westminster. All grace and good will toward men (and women).

‘If we follow him closely,’ the man preached on, ‘Jesus will always lead us to unexpected places.’

Don’t I know this to be true? My life this last year has been a series of unexpected journeys, all of them part of one great adventure, a story with no clear ending. Only mystery.

I scribbled notes into my program as the sermon drew to an end and the confirmation began. We sang together words that remind me of the great truths of the gospel, the incredible freedom we have in Jesus.

And then the people came forward who were to be confirmed. Mostly choir boys in long white robes, but also a few adults. She stood up, this woman I’d been watching. I thought that she must be helping in some capacity, that perhaps there were certificates to be handed out.

Not until the minister began to speak to the row of them did I realize that it is her and not her child being confirmed. Her face holds all the joy of one who has found faith in Christ.

When the Liturgy of Initiation began, she spoke the corporate words with confidence. She had clearly memorized the affirmations that I was reading from the pages of a program.

The minister finished the corporate questions, and then he addressed each candidate by name. Tears were rolling down my cheeks by now. How precious to be able to point back to this moment in your life that a man of God spoke simple and true words to you and you alone.

Then he called her by name, this woman I have been watching all morning. Her heart is so full as he says the words to her,

Morgan, God has called you by name and made you his own.

Then he anointed her head with oil, placed his hands on her head and said,

Confirm, O Lord, your servant with your Holy Spirit.

And we all answered, Amen.

After all the candidates had been anointed, the minister stepped back and said to them all,

Shine as a light in the world, as one of God’s chosen ones, beloved and accepted in Jesus Christ our Lord.

And again we answered Amen, mine a bit louder than those around me. Unfamiliar with corporate reading of liturgy, I find my cadence is always a bit off. But I could have stood on my chair and shouted Amen in solidarity with Morgan, a woman I had never met.

To watch a child affirm faith in Jesus is beautiful. I have had the great honor of seeing it in my own children and it makes my heart swell.

But it is a special kind of wonderful to see an adult come to Jesus. I love to see a grown man or woman stand alongside children in a baptism or confirmation, whether they are returning to the faith of their childhood or coming to God for the first time. Either way they understand Jesus’ command to become like a little child.

Humbled by life that brings me again and again to my knees, I cried tears of joy with Morgan. We both hold our hands up to Jesus in our different ways.

When the service was over, I wanted to tell her that it was a special privilege to watch her confirmation of faith. But she was surrounded by the happy friends and family who had come to watch. So I just gathered it into my heart. I turned to Mary Polly, who had found the entire service intolerably long and somewhat boring, and she was only a little surprised to find me in tears.

She rolled her eyes at my whispering, That was just so beautiful.

As we exited the Abbey in the same uniform manner in which we’d been escorted inside, someone tapped my shoulder and asked if I would take their family photo.

Of course I would. It would be my privilege.

And as I snapped the picture of Morgan with her family gathered around her in front of Westminster Abbey, I thanked The Lord for these small priceless gifts. That I was the one asked. That I caught one more glimpse of this daughter of God, beaming with joy.

We are partnering as a family with GowithOh this year as we travel around Europe, and our visit to Westminster was part of our June stay in London in a GowithOh apartment. Stay tuned for more glimpses of our life on the road.

Beauty from Ashes

Twelve years ago today, we received one of those phone calls you never want to get. A family friend called from Switzerland to let Taido know that his father had tragically drowned trying to recover his daughter, Maya, who had also drowned. Maya, Taido’s half-sister, was five years old at the time, the same age as our oldest son, Cole.

We were living in Seattle and some dear friends offered Taido their frequent flyer miles so that he could leave immediately for Engelberg to lay his eyes on his father one final time before he was cremated, and to be present at a small ceremony.

Kobun, who I only ever knew as Taido’s father, was a celebrated Buddhist priest, so many ceremonies followed. In all corners of the world, people gathered to remember this man and his daughter. Two years ago, for a 10 year memorial of the tragedy, a book of essays was published about Kobun and Taido wrote the closing piece. I am a bit biased but this chapter remains one of the most beautiful pieces of writing Taido has ever penned, and that I have ever read.

I was reading it again today because, thanks to the radical generosity of the same friend who called Taido twelve years ago, we are spending much of our summer in the very home in Switzerland where Kobun and his family were living at the time of his death. I had never been here before and I was concerned before coming that it would be too difficult to be here, but the opposite has been true. The place (both the home and the surroundings) is soaked in beauty and peace. Our time here has been, in many ways, redemptive.

We spent a small part of this rainy anniversary remembering and praying together. As I light candles around the photos of Kobun and Maya, I pray that the memory of their deaths will be an instrument of grace for others today.

And if you have a minute today I highly recommend reading Taido’s chapter remembering his father, which can be found on his blog.