Rachel Pieh Jones

Home/Rachel Pieh Jones
Rachel Pieh Jones

About Rachel Pieh Jones

This author has not yet filled in any details.
So far Rachel Pieh Jones has created 784 blog entries.

When Do You Grieve? Pre, Post, or Present?

(this is a bit delayed, I have good reasons which I’ll keep to myself. In any case, I’m posting it now)

When my twins went back to boarding school last April, I was a hot mess. A throwing myself on the bed and sobbing, holding my head in my hands and yelling at my husband (so the kids wouldn’t see), kind of mess. It was a really hard goodbye. It was the goodbye that closed the door on their childhood home, the goodbye that meant an ending. Sixteen years in the Horn of Africa (Somaliland and Djibouti) and it was over for the twins, at least over in the sense of living under my roof and being children here.

The goodbye was sweet, too. We celebrated, we had a graduation Open House and friends from all the varied and diverse sectors of our decade and a half in Africa came, we did all their favorite things, we laughed hard and played a lot, like we Joneses do.

But it was a goodbye without a hello, there was no new adventure to move on to just yet, simply the final semester of boarding school.


When they then graduated from boarding school in July and we spent the afternoon saying goodbye to roommates and dorm parents, best friends who had become more like family, and packing up dorm rooms to fly things back to the United States, I was a mess. Crying, taking all the pictures, hugging all the people, watching the kids say goodbye to their friends and feeling my heart explode. So much love, so much loss.

It was also a sweet goodbye. These people, both other students and particular staff members, have been sources of life, hope, laughter, challenge, community, strength, and rescue for my kids. One group in particular, watching them say goodbye to each other was one of the most beautiful and heart-wrenching scenes I can imagine.

But it was also a goodbye without a hello. It was goodbye to Kenya, goodbye to these people, but it was not yet time to move on to the next adventure.


Now, with both of them going to University, the goodbyes still sting. It is still hard and strange and new. But it is also a great big hello. It is hello to exploration and adventure, to curiosity and new community, to the next step.

We are really dragging out this goodbye. We’ve been saying goodbye since April and the goodbye will last until January, when I leave Minnesota and go back to Djibouti to join my husband and our other daughter. It is a real good, long Minnesota goodbye.


As I questioned why my emotions have drastically shifted from grief and loss to pride and excitement, I realized that I am a pre-griever.

I anticipated this pain and cried it all out at the start of the grieving season.

Some parents have shared how they were surprised by the hurricane of emotions that struck them in the dorm room when they said goodbye and turned to leave. They would be present-grievers.

Other parents have shared how a week or two after dropping their student off, the emotion hit and took their breath away. They would be post-grievers.

Knowing this about myself and my response has helped me not feel guilty for not crying in the dorm room. It helped me understand why I rushed out two weeks before they left to buy them surprises and why I wrote them long letters ahead of time, but also how I am okay when they don’t call or text me for a few days after the separation.

It also helps me understand my husband and our youngest, as we talk through how we are each doing.

Helps us not compare our specific emotional states in time.

Helps us not judge other parents.

Helps us not judge ourselves.

Helps us do the grieving so we can do the healing, too.

How about you? Pre, Preset, or Post griever?

By |October 5th, 2018|Categories: parenting and family|Tags: |0 Comments

Good Things the Fifteenth. September 2018.

1 launching the second to university

2 kayaking

3 driving two freshmen back to school

4 wisdom from a sage mentor while sitting on the veranda while rain pours down around us

5 handing my mom my 280-page manuscript and saying, “Would you like to read it?”

6 my first Minnesota autumn in seven years, I can smell it coming

7 candy corn (kinda hate it, kinda love it)

8 pumpkin patches

9 Jamie the very worst missionary ever, speaking at Last City Church in St. Paul

10 cooking class with my mom

11 she’s thirteen

12 breakfast bonanza and studying with women

13 community education photography class with a dear friend

14 free neighborhood library shelves (I scored The Martian, The Liars Club, and The Banner of Heaven)

15 Prairie Burn YMCA and music festival

16 skipping church to meditate, hearing Jesus gently ask, “What do you want me to do for you?” (p.s. it was church for me)

17 leaves starting to change color and crunching on the sidewalk

18 doctors who make jokes while sticking needles into my neck and who then laugh at my own jokes, post-procedure, and say, “Well played.” Walking out with a sore neck but full of the feeling that, hey, I might be sick, but I’m funny.

19 cute boots

20 walking along the river with my nieces and nephew, sister, and brother-in-law, overwhelmed by gratitude that I get to live in the world and know these people

21 Thai lettuce wraps with a friend from Djibouti, in Seattle, going so deep in such a short time, soul-to-soul

22 XXX friend-voice, the hoarseness that comes when we finally are in the same room for hours upon hours of talking and crying

23 a maple bacon cinnamon roll literally the size of my face

24 playing Exploding Kittens with my dear friend’s kids (I won. 3/3. Go Rachel, way to crush those little children!)

25 a gracious, tender pastoral presence in pain

26 my mom’s listening and compassionate ear

27 lunch at the University of Wisconsin, Eau Claire with my son

28 first run while wearing mittens in six years

29 a day with the twins along the north shore, throwing rocks into Lake Superior and being WITH

30 hot cinnamon tea and chocolate covered graham crackers

By |October 2nd, 2018|Categories: Uncategorized|0 Comments

The Bookshelf, September 2018

I am in love with libraries. Always have been. My mom used to have to limit me on the number of books I could check out. I still had to use a grocery basket to carry them all.

I recently put about twenty books on hold and then realized that, when they call came through at the same time, I should probably stagger my holds. Ah well.

I’m also in love with the free neighborhood library stands. There are three within a mile walk of where I am staying. The other night I took a walk, talked to a friend on the phone, and scored a pile of excellent books. Tonight, I will take another walk and drop off books for others to enjoy.

Here’s what I got (haven’t read them yet):

Liars Club, by Mary Karr

Under the Banner of Heaven, a story of violent faith, by Jon Krakauer

The Martian, by Andy Weir

Sideways Stories from Wayside School by Louis Sachar (okay, I read this like a hundred times as a kid and want to share it with other kids)

Here’s what else I’m reading this month (some, I’m skimming, because I want to get all the words in that I can, while I have access to the miracle that is a library)

A Moonless, Starless Sky, ordinary men and women fighting extremism in Africa, by Alexis Okeowo. This is a heart-wrenching and fascinating look into the lives of several people across the continent of Africa, including a child soldier and his forced bride, who end up married to each other after they escape the Lord’s Resistance Army in Uganda, and the story of young girls trying to play basketball in Somalia.

You Are a Badass by Jen Sincero (not the money one, the in general you one)

Demon Camp, a Soldier’s Exorcism by Jennifer Percy, which, as my doctor noted when she saw what I was reading before an appointment, sounds incredibly creepy. It is about PTSD and war and, well, demons.

The Gospel of Trees, by April Irving, a memoir of growing up as a missionary kid in Haiti. Here’s a quote I highlighted:

“If only this place wasn’t so beautiful! You want to love it, to make it your own, but it won’t take you. It only looks at you strange, then laughs behind your back. Rather humbling, you know? But it’s good for us tet cho Americans to know we can’t have everything.”

The Very Good Gospel, how everything wrong can be made right, by Lisa Sharon Harper

Practicing Resurrection, a memoir of work, doubt, discernment, and moments of grace, by Nora Gallagher

Finding God in the Waves, by Mike McHargue (aka Science Mike)

What are you reading?

The Expat at Rest

I recently started seeing a counselor.

Not for anything specific, really. But for fifteen years in the Horn of Africa. For gritting my teeth and bearing it all these years. For current challenges, for good/hard things, for traumatic events, for heaps upon heaps of sorrow over all the ways the world and her people are broken.

I came in rather skeptical. Not about the particular person I am seeing, and I told her this before we even started, but about the process.

I had all kinds of excuses for why it wouldn’t be helpful.

I waited too long. The years have been too many.

I don’t really need to process any of this, I’ve been fine, I am fine, I’ll be fine. Mostly. Except when I’m not.

No one in the US will understand.

I don’t have the energy to dig around deep.

The specific method won’t be useful for me.

Mostly, I live a beautiful life and I’m thankful for 15 years in the Horn.

I remain skeptical, I think its partly my nature. However. One shining moment (among others) encourages me to press forward.

She gave me a coupon.

Not really, not a paper coupon, but with her words (I think I remember accurately) she even said, COUPON.

It was for rest.

It felt really silly, cliché, gimmicky.

She told me to stop feeling guilty for needing to rest. Of course I need to do work, I still have responsibilities and job requirements to fulfill, but I can easily take an 8-hour work day (on things for the International School of Djibouti, for example, or transcribing and editing an essay) and keep on going into the night. She lightly suggested that the world would not fall apart if I took a nap on a Saturday afternoon.


And so, I found myself at a park on a Saturday afternoon.

I had dropped off my son at university that morning and had a few open hours. I sat down at a picnic table with my laptop. I have several rough drafts of projects that needed editing, activity flyers to design, school documents to create.

I was so tired.

I had dropped off my daughter at university only a few days earlier. My husband and other daughter are back in Africa, while I stay in the US as the twins transition to this foreign country of the US. In many ways, life has turned upside down.

I was so tired.

My computer was warm on my lap and ready for work.

But I was at a park. In Minnesota. In late August.

Behind me, a father and daughter hit softballs and the sharp twang of her bat against the ball spoke everything that is summer. Ants crawled over my sandals. The sun filtered through leaves and danced on the grass like drops of gold.

I was so tired.

All I wanted to do was curl up in the grass and fall asleep.

Just for a little while.

Can people do that here?

Would I be safe?

Would someone approach me? Touch me? Stare at me? Steal from me? Harass me? Kick me out?

I closed my computer and sat down in that green, green grass.

I laid back with the sun now dancing on my cheeks and my backpack a computer-shaped pillow behind my head.

I fell asleep.

Did you feel the world stop? Did anyone notice?

Not a thing.

Not even the father and daughter playing softball noticed.

I dozed for maybe twenty minutes.

And then I woke up.

And the world kept right on spinning. You kept right on living. My work was still there and I had plenty of time to get it done.

So, if you need it, super dorky cheesey and cliché as it is, here’s your coupon. No, I take that back. I know you need it. So when, not if, here’s your coupon.

Print it out. Stick it to the fridge. And when you need to sleep in the grass, or sit at a café and just stare at your lovely cappuccino foam, pull it down and go do it.

I’ll still be here when you get back. The sun will still be shining. Your work will still be waiting.

And you’ll have energy to approach it, a fresh spirit to engage with it, new joy to experience it.

Go and rest.

A Quiz about Fear

Quick link: 10 Dangerous Things for Kids and One True Danger, a Quiz, at A Life Overseas

I recently heard an interview with Kim Brooks, the author of Small Animals, parenthood in the age of fear, and was reminded of how irrational fear can be. Understandably so, but still, in an age of fear and also judgment and rage, parenting can feel fraught with risk.

I had written this quiz several years ago, but found it again in my drafts and pulled it out to publish now. What are we generally afraid of? What should we actually fear (if anything?)

A quiz:

  1. Are Americans more at risk of dying by terrorist or dying by an appliance falling on us?

Death by appliance.

  1. Is a predator more likely to attack a child walking home from the playground alone or to attack a child playing in the home?

Child playing at home.

  1. Does a child face more of a health risk while climbing a tree or while staring at an iPad?

Staring at an iPad.

Click here to continue with the quiz and to read my conclusion: 10 Dangerous Things for Kids and One True Danger, a Quiz, at A Life Overseas