Running Afraid

Y’all did it. You helped me raise the funds for the marathon and education fundraiser in Somaliland. Thank you.

And now that means I have to do this.

Uh, I mean get to do this.

But kind of? I mean I have to do this.

I’m kind of a chicken type of person.

You might not believe me. People call me brave. I rarely feel brave. I rarely feel competent. I often doubt my decisions, question my ability, cower before negative self-talk.

I am also stubborn. That’s one thing I have going for me. Stubborn works well for long-distance running. It works well for long-term cross-cultural living. It works well for the years of research and rejection and revising that go into book writing.

But stubborn is not the same as brave.

So I confess that I’m feeling nervous.

I have my plane ticket. I have my visa. I paid my fees and made our donation. I won’t back down (thank you Tom Petty), but I’m doing it afraid.

Anything can happen.

Anything can happen at any time and in any place. I know this full well. I’ve written about it several times.

There’s the marathon nerves that any runner feels before the start of a big race. We’ve spent months training our legs and lungs and brains. We’ve read for inspiration, woken up way too early, pooped in places we wish we hadn’t, downed GU by the bucketfull, kept pasta-makers in business. We’ve tweaked training plans and figured out the best shoes and running gear. We’ve given up on ever having ten toenails all at the same time. So we’re ready, but also not ready.

Its a frickin’ marathon.

That’s a long way.

26.2 miles. 42 kilometers.

It hurts.

The nerves are excited-nerves. I love this stuff. Running, education, the region, the people I’m meeting and spending time with. I love it.

But it is also outside my comfort zone.

So I’m nervous.

I’m nervous about being one of only a few women, only a few international runners, about the location, about what I’ll wear (I’m bringing several options). I’m nervous about the meetings I have arranged for before and after. I’m nervous that not everyone will be thrilled about this event.

My husband tells me to stop being so self-conscious. To not worry about what to wear or what to say or who to talk to, to not doubt myself, to be strong and assertive. He says, “Its all strange.” Meaning: female, running, white, foreign, Somali-speaker. He says to stop thinking so hard and to enjoy it.

He’s right.

I think that’s what it takes to do something while afraid. To jump in with both feet. Forget about dipping one toe in at a time. Forget about self and focus on what I know is true. This is such a unique opportunity. I should not waste time being timid or afraid.

I should be all me. Meaning: curious, interested, hopeful, excited.

Instead of bringing all my baggage of:

I’m too slow

Women don’t run here

I stick out

Its unsafe

I look ridiculous

What was I thinking? (this will come in mile 22, if not before)

I should bring:

My love for Somali culture and the ways it has molded into my American-ness

My dreams of competitive female athletes from this region

My thrill at being part of this unique experience

All the Somalis who have loved me, welcomed me, helped me laugh my way through these years abroad, all the people who have fed me and clothed me (quite literally) and embraced my kids, and forgiven my faux pas, and shown me how to create a home here, and given me their courage when I lacked my own.

So yeah, I get to do this.

Here we go!

(Here are a couple of videos I made of my last two long runs, if you want a peek at running in Djibouti)



Word Made Art, a Book Review

My friend Heather Lynn Caliri is releasing a book today, a Lent devotional unlike anything you’ve probably read before. It takes the Word and makes it art, it gets us to engage physically with the Bible again, rather than just reading it on our phones: Word Made Art: Lent: A Scriptural Encounter for Ash Wednesday through Easter

The book itself is short but that’s because it is mostly suggestions and directions and then sends you to the Bible to interact with the pages, the words, the ideas, and your own self. Heather asks deep, probing questions that can guide your time and she has you do art projects with the word. I love this unique way of getting back in literal touch, after spending the past few years on my phone.


I already read the book myself, but am going through it again, with a small group. Each time, it can be fresh, which is something I long for and need, in my faith walk. Lent isn’t a practice I knew growing up and I enjoy this guided way to think about this time before Easter. I really loved this book and am happy to recommend it. Head over to Amazon and get your own copy, Kindle versions are just $2.99 and a paper copy just $7.99.



I received an advance review copy of this book

Good Things, the Seventh. January 2018.

Taking note of one good, beautiful, hope-filled thing each day of the month.

1 fresh starts

2 thorns that puncture volleyballs turned into thorns that plug volleyballs

3 a run less than five miles #marathontraining

4 Draft #4, McPhee

5 a two-year old touching the sea for the first time

6 going on a cooking strike

7 12-year old giggles on facetime

8 our school donating almost 300 books to refugees

9 sneaking leftover hidden Christmas candy

10 friends who tell me the truth without apology

11 soccer captain and an A in chemistry (living vicariously through teenagers)

12 I ran fast! So fast! (its all relative)

13 varsity soccer, winning their first tournament

14 families from around the globe, serving each other well

15 the Djiboutian Institute of Art

16 first-time volleyball player acing her serve

17 college acceptance letters

18 a happy go fund me donation surprise

19 sunrise over shipwrecked sailboats and the desert

20 fresh-squeezed lime mint juice

21 quiet evening, alone

22 how-to Insta Story with a friend (#feelingold)

23 old friend from far away, at my table for lunch, laughing until we cry

24 paper mache piggy banks

25 catered Somali food

26 5k with barefoot teens, nuns, families, street kids, soldiers *unity and diversity*

27 post long-run yoga day

28 a new way to do ‘church’

29 building the school library (I should have been a librarian)

30 volleyball, more talking than playing

31 celebrating a job well done

What were some of your good things in January?

10 Reasons Expats Should Start a Blog, Even in 2018

Blogging is so, like, 2010, isn’t it? Everyone is podcasting now, or vlogging, or has a YouTube channel. Right? Has blogging turned into MySpace? Who even remembers MySpace?

Blogging has changed, I’ll admit that. There are far fewer comments on blogs these days. Blogs are far less likely to get anyone a book deal or catch a literary agent’s eye.

But, there are a lot of good reasons to have a blog that have nothing to do with a writing career, and the comments that used to be on blogs have simply moved to places like the blogger’s Facebook page, or Facebook Group or Twitter live chat the blogger opened. Community engagement and finding that ‘me too!’ person from across the globe can still happen through blogs.

But what are some other, valuable, reasons to start a blog today, in 2018? (Here’s 11 things I learned, from way back in 2013, about blogging that might help you get started)

Keep a Record. We all want to journal, right? We wish we had the discipline and the time and the creativity and that our hand-writing muscles hadn’t atrophied after all these years away from pen and paper. But who among us really, truly, honestly keeps a regular journal? I don’t. Except, I do. Its more polished and far less vulnerable than a Dear Diary would be, but I have a pretty good record of the last eleven years, including photos.

Keep family and friends back ‘home’ informed. You can’t email everyone, you can’t Facebook everyone. But you can post a story or a photo and pass it along.

Have a landing place. You don’t know what the future holds. Maybe a book or music or painting…why not carve out a little place for yourself right now on the internet and see where it goes?

It will be good for you. You’ll learn some HTML, you’ll grow in courage every time you hit publish, you’ll work on ‘finding your voice’ or your art or your dreams. It can be a creative outlet that isn’t language learning or changing diapers or whatever your daily mundane is right now. You can grow in discipline and play with a new creative outlet.

Motivation to learn. You want to learn about local marriage customs but have lacked motivation? Want to try a new skill but can’t find the up-and-go energy? Maybe the idea of putting something on a blog can get you out the door or help you ask a friend new questions.

Earn money. It is still possible to earn money blogging. This is also super hard. I’ve been blogging for eleven years and still don’t make enough from my website to even pay for the website. I use Amazon’s affiliate program (which, by the way, it would be awesome if you clicked through when you’re doing your shopping, at no added cost to you, a few pennies kick back to Djibouti Jones, help keep the site alive!). I sell ebooks (slowly: Djiboutilicious Cookbook and Welcome to Djibouti). I host Google adsense. I’ve recently signed up for more affiliate programs. In total, I earn enough to buy myself a cup of coffee some months. So yeah, not a great income generator. BUT…that can really depend on your niche. Blog about tech, about cooking, about something people actually spend money on, and it is still possible. Blog like it’s a hobby, not so much. Blog like it’s a full time job, you could earn something.

Build a community. Albeit, online, but some of my online friends have become in real life friends, or at least on real phone calls friends. They are people I love, people I pour my heart out to, people I never would have met if I hadn’t started blogging and for whom I am eternally thankful.

Provide a service. You have a unique skill set or knowledge base that you could give to the world. Travel tips, cooking where there is no refrigeration tips, raising children in a multilingual environment tips…your information can be incredibly useful to someone out there.

People do still read. Yup. A-mazing. But true. They still read. I still read.

It is easier to skim a blog post than a vlog or a podcast. Yes, people still read, but we also skim. A lot. Sometimes I just want a recipe I can follow and listening to one isn’t helpful. Or I want some tips on transitioning Third Culture Kids to university or I need to figure out how to fix my TomTom watch. Vlogs and podcasts can be a waste of time when I want something specific. Blogs are better for this.

No, it is not too late to start a blog in 2018. Yes, you should start one if you’ve been considering it.

But how?

I’ll tell ya next week. For now, consider checking out Master Class where Annie Leibovitz Teaches Photography and Wolfgang Puck Teaches Cooking.

James Patterson Teaches You To Writer A Bestseller. Learn More.


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Expatriates and the Comparison Trap

Quick link: The Expatriate Balance Sheet

At A Life Overseas today, writing about comparison and envy and the grass that’s always greener.

A friend visited me once, coming from a country further east. She brought boxed blueberry muffin mix, Cheerios, and other American brand name goodies. I thought, ‘oh, her life must be wonderful and easy.’ When she left, she packed a few cans of Dr. Pepper and bags of Doritos and thought, with such luxuries at my fingertips, ‘Rachel’s life must be so easy.’

I also read Under the Tuscan Sun, or From Paris to the Moon and I think, well of course they love being an expatriate. They live in Paris. They live in Tuscany. For crying out loud. What are they whining about?! This makes me feel both proud, look where I’ve lived! And sad, look at where I could have lived!

Expatriates easily succumb to this lie that the grass is always greener. This is especially true when there is no grass, like where I live. If you have grass, even dead grass, I guarantee you it is greener than my grass. That small truth aside, believing the euphemistic meaning of the phrase is dangerously easy.

*image via Wikimedia