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Blessings for Expatriates

Quick link: A Blessing On Your Life Overseas

Today I’m at A Life Overseas writing about blessings and writers block/brain fog.

I’ve walked through darkness this year. In the lowest moments, a friend sent me blessings every day. I started reading John O’Donohue’s To Bless the Space Between Us. I am now sending blessings to someone I love dearly, to walk with her through her own dark days. My brother is getting married to a woman I adore, so I wrote them a marriage blessing.

I don’t believe in writer’s block (refuse the concept!) but I did struggle this month with brain fog. I have all kinds of excuses, but instead of listing them, I’ll tell you what I decided.

I decided we need blessing. We need to insist on it, to wrestle with God until he gives it to us, to turn to one another and offer it. We need to speak blessing, not rage. We need to receive blessing when it comes to us from unexpected places. We need to discover, anew, all it can mean to live as a blessing among the nations.

And so, I bless you, expatriate, and your life overseas.

I tried to write my own blessing but alas, brain fog. Or #blamethecancer? So I’m borrowing from other, wiser people…

Click here to read the blessings these other, wiser people have written and with which I bless you, expatriate.

By |December 19th, 2018|Categories: Uncategorized|0 Comments

Gifts for Runners, 2018

Shalane Flanagan’s second cookbook (link to the first one below) Run Fast, Cook Slow, Eat Slow I want this. And the first one. I read them both on my Kindle, from the library. And then my friend had a hard copy and they are gorgeous books. Highly recommended.

Kara Goucher’s book, Strong. Yup, want this one too. Kindle books are awesome, but hard copies are also awesome, especially for beautifully produced books.

Destination race or running retreat, like the Podium retreat with Kara Goucher.

Desert Runners movie (free on Amazon Prime). I watched this recently and loved it. Especially after my own desert marathon in Somalia which included tears and vomit, too. This is gorgeous documentary of some of the world’s most intense ultra marathons. Even better than gifting it only, consider offering to watch it with them.

Baby-sitting so they can get out the door

Flip belt. I bought this one after reading lots of reviews. So far, it worked fantastic. It can hold my phone if I need it, Gu, keys, even large hotel keys for when I travel. It doesn’t slide around on my waist.

Garmin Vivoactive Watch


I used to wear a TomTom Spark but the battery quick charging and they stopped making the same model. But, when I was gifted the watch for Christmas, I also was gifted insurance. I used that insurance, got a full refund and put it toward this watch(!). I love the watch – GPS, music, heart rate, all kinds of activities including swimming and biking, and so much more. If you do get this, I highly recommend the insurance, at least if you live in a harsh place or use it a lot, like I do.

*For even more ideas, check out the list from 2017

*Runners World also has some great gift ideas, all for under $30

*includes affiliate links

By |December 17th, 2018|Categories: Running|Tags: , , |0 Comments

A Belated Merry Advent Letter

*please note! I wrote this last year and then never published it. It felt kind of scary and raw. I have another letter drafted for this year’s Christmas/advent letter. But then I read it again and while parts are not relevant because I’m in the US and the twins graduated, parts were exactly what I needed to be reminded of personally, again. So maybe it will resonate with someone else who needs to choose joy this season. So, I’ll publish it now.

Merry Christmas from Abroad,

Our four-foot tree is up and shedding quite sadly. The Santa costume is being borrowed by a very Saint Nicholas type of fellow. The stockings, for once, are hung on steps and not over the air conditioner with care. The temperature is a chilly 87 degrees. The kitchen smells like ginger snaps and apple cinnamon candles. The grocery store has a horribly skinny Santa, barefoot, with no shirt under his costume, a rather sexy Santa with bright blue eyes. More stripper than Santa.

Its beginning to look a lot like Christmas.

This is our Christmas letter, the one in which we tell you about our exotic summer vacations (Minnesota is, truly, exotic to desert-dwellers) and about our children’s stellar performances at school (define ‘stellar’), about all the things we are really good at (like forgetting new vocab words in one of the three languages we’ve learned), and then show pictures of things we secretly hope you envy, ala the humble brag (like our incredible, rundown house with rats in the ceiling and roaches in the bathrooms).

What if, instead, I’m totally honest? What if, instead, I told you that this year I’m tired?

A few nights ago as we drove to church, a local boy made the shape of a gun with his fingers and shot at my face through the car window. A few days before that while I was running, a man drove by on a motorcycle and punched my ass. I miss my kids almost the whole year ‘round because all of them are at a boarding school two countries away. My husband and I started up a big new project, thirteen years in the dreaming and our hearts bleeding all over our sleeves, and no one told us that start-ups in Africa take a toll on a marriage.

I would like to go to a movie theater and disappear into the cool darkness and forget about it all. There aren’t any movie theaters in the country. I would like to enjoy a nice evening out with my husband but if we go for a walk we are harassed or are simply just bored of the same, limited, not beautiful route. We’ve tried almost every restaurant in town, there aren’t many cultural events like concerts or plays or dances. Plus, sometimes it takes too much energy to go out the front door.

It can be lonely here. This year, I have a full life, rich with new staff and new friends. People who speak my language, people I enjoy deeply and am coming to love. But I feel lonely creatively, if that’s a thing. Lonely for my people, people who pursue a life of creativity and words and I don’t even know if I have people anymore because I don’t seem to fit anywhere. Lonely spiritually, for a community that speaks my language – both the language of my tongue and of my heart.

What a depressing Christmas letter. At least, that’s what I thought when I reread this. But you know what? This isn’t a Christmas letter after all. Its an advent letter. A letter of longing, of waiting, of seeing the holes in things and the struggle of being alive while being fully convinced that hope is never in vain.

Someone asked me what I want to experience of Jesus this advent season. I want to experience joy. Not happiness, not glibness. Deep, abiding joy that acknowledges there are so many broken things in the world but that chooses to delight in the healing, beautiful things in the world. Joy that says, all is not right in the world. But, “all will be well and all will be well and every kind of thing shall be well.” Julian of Norwich

So, I conjure up joy because that is what I want. Joy is what I need. Joy is what my family needs. It feels like the snow falling in a snow globe. The flakes rest on the bottom and then the world is shaken with strenuous effort and a veneer of cheer falls over the scene below. The scene is the same old one, the flakes change nothing, but for a few minutes while they fall, it is Christmas. It is beautiful. And maybe that’s enough for this year.

Merry Advent,

Rachel

Good Things the Seventeenth, November 2018

Hey! I missed this. I never posted it on December 1, for good things from November. I did have the list. Here it is now, one good thing for every day from November. I get to still say #blamethecancer because, well, I’ve still got it and still got foggy brain, too.

1 soup. hot soup from my dear friend. And an orange. I can’t talk to even say thank you. That’s why she brought soup. So, now, thank you.

2 sleeping with a big fluffy cat on top of my legs

3 resting with my mother-in-law while the men went hunting (I am so thankful for my in-laws, doubly so during cancer, they have been wonderful)

4 fresh venison on the grill

5 one, last long-ish run around the lake and feeling my heart race and my legs move and my breath, foggy in the cold, and feeling happy I’ve had this running joy for ten years and hopeful that I will have it again eventually

6 post-surgery nurses, especially the one with whom I had this conversation.

Nurse: “How is your pain? Honey? How is your pain?”

Me: (rolling from side to side and moaning and almost vomiting and mumbling) “Idontknow maybefour.”

Out of a ten-point scale.

Nurse: “Oh honey. Let’s say it’s a six.” And then she gave me more meds. That was awesome. And a good reminder that being tough isn’t always the right thing.

7 at least one morning post-surgery with my husband before he left for Djibouti. Not long enough and I miss him like crazy already, but it was better than no time and choosing gratitude doesn’t mean being nit-picky

8 emergency room doctors and parents who make healthcare decisions for me when I can barely finish a coherent sentence

9 something not-cancer related: going to my soon-to-be sister-in-law’s wedding dress fitting. She picked a gorgeous dress but she makes the dress move from gorgeous to stunning. So happy for my brother and for her.

10 old friend from far away, one of my first-ever friends drove through multiple states to visit me and sit with me and drive me around

11 walking in the snow on a silent Sunday morning

12 talking about Third Culture Kids with women who love them deeply

13 one week post-surgery, one week sans thyroid, feels like a milestone

14 being an extra at an extended friends Thanksgiving dinner party

15 hearing about a childhood friend’s dream for serving single mothers

16 meeting a writer friend at the Loft

17 high school friends (we haven’t changed at all)

18 Austin Channing Brown, preaching

19 Kenyan tea with an old friend who oozes gentle wisdom

20 one college student, home for the weekend

21 second college student, home for the weekend

22 American Thanksgiving

23 American Thanksgiving #2

24 young cousins attacking their oldest cousins with pillows

25 good conversations with my adult(!) children

26 post-op appointment: cancer didn’t spread

27 raspberries

28 brunch with new friends who have big hearts

29 turning in the final draft of Welcome to Djibouti, a guidebook

30 the Nutcracker Ballet with my mom and pork chops with cherry glaze for dinner

Gifts for the Cancer Patient and Caregivers

Comfort and Warmth

Socks. Seriously. Socks. I got wool socks and slippery fuzzy socks and If You Can Read This Bring Me Coffee socks. And my feet would have been so cold otherwise. But now they are both warm and funny. Before that, I only had running socks, not great for the hospital or Minnesota winter.

Softest blanket in the world. Softest anything in the world. Don’t worry about color or style. One of my best friends sent me a red and white blanket and what I see when I snuggle up with it (literally every time I sleep or sit ever since surgery), I only see her, our friendship, and her care for me. Of course the color is beautiful because she is awesome and has good taste.

Cute and comfortable clothes that fit around their particular cancer. Shirts or sweaters with low, open necks for head or neck cancers, that easily pull over their heads or are button up so they don’t have to pull them on at all.

Slouchy pants. For the hospital, for after, for looking relaxed but stylish, with pants that are easy to pull on and off if they are in pain, exhausted, or need to get them off right.now! (like this pair from Athleta)

Ice packs or heating pads. These might be for the wound, if surgery. For the burning sensation after radiation, or for snuggling with during the wild roller coaster rides of hot flashes and chills.

 

Soul Food

Soup. Chicken noodle, chicken wild rice, tomato, black bean, tortilla soup…soup. Warm, easy to swallow, healthy, delicious. Homemade or from a restaurant or the deli section of a grocery store…

Chocolate. Any and all. (the link is for Lindt. Hint, hint.)

Mints. Something to suck on during waiting room periods or after bad tasting treatments or to counter the grossness of medicines. (this is a link for specifically Fight Cancer mints. Starlite mints are also delish.)

Gift card to Trader Joe’s or Whole Foods. Some kinds of chemo or radiation (or my treatment: RAI radioactive iodine) can affect taste buds. Either by burning them, swelling them, or just changing them. I threw out a cup of coffee one day because it tasted like burned metal. Made a second cup, from the same beans, and it tasted great. Weird. #blamethecancer So a gift card enables the patient to get what might taste right that day, to their weird taste buds.

 

Beauty and Humanity

Pedicure or manicure. Also, pretty nail polish, again a gift idea for people like me, who don’t have a lot of disposable cash. Or, ask if you can give them a pedicure or manicure yourself.

Do their makeup, or hold up a mirror so they can do it. Especially if they are in the hospital for a few days. The first day I put on makeup (and I am an extreme minimalist in terms of beauty products), I felt my morale swing upwards.

Lotion. Skin dries out from treatments, cold, surgery.

Essential oils. My doctor even had some for me to put on my surgical gown. Hospitals and sick rooms smell gross. This can really pick up the mood. (I haven’t used the product specifically linked to here, full disclosure)

Cute headbands, scarves, or hats. Even if they haven’t lost their hair, or won’t, they might be cold if they’re in the hospital for a while, or just want to feel pretty while their face is puffy and their scars heal. There are a lot of cute ones out there.

Hair appointment. Depending, this one is sensitive, I know, so check in on how they are feeling and doing with their hair. My kind of cancer and treatment (most likely) does not affect hair. Maybe a hair cut or color, maybe just a fun up-do.

Time out together, or in their home or hospital room when you don’t talk about cancer. I’m so thankful that I got to participate in my soon-to-be new sister-in-law’s wedding dress appointment and cake tasting. I was exhausted and have foggy memories of these events as they were three days post-surgery, but I’m so glad I could participate and feel human and also celebrate and focus on someone else for a while (she’s awesome, way to go, Kevin!). A friend had to drive me to these events, and wait for me, and drive me back. What service and practical love that showed me.

 

Entertainment

Movies (even a list of suggested titles, no need to spend a lot of money. Chemo brain fog or post surgery exhaustion makes it hard to make decisions or even remember things, like what we were watching before)

Puzzles. I do puzzles as mindless, relaxing therapy. In fact, I have an article forthcoming from the New York Times(!) about just this thing. A friend sat with me, three days post-surgery, and we did a hot air balloon puzzle as long as I could stay sitting up. We talked and I felt like I wasn’t utterly boring to her, and also that I had been mildly productive.

Books. Audio or print or digital.

Or gift cards for these things.

 

Stress Relief

Tea. Chamomile, turmeric, lemon ginger, apple cinnamon, vanilla…

Sleep mask.

Massage. A gift card or just give them one when you visit. Again, this isn’t about big money. You’re visiting, that’s awesome. Rub their feet or their hands or their shoulders. Post-surgery, my upper back ached like crazy, from the position my head had been in during surgery.

Cancer Sucks mug. I put this under stress relief because it is funny, which relieves stress. My sister sent me mine and when I drink from it, it gives me a little reminder that yeah, this is hard. Coffee (or tea or hot chocolate) is also delicious. It tells me to enjoy the deliciousness in the midst of the sucky thing. In other words, to fight for joy and to be thankful.

Something for their spouse and children. Babysitting, date night, something fun and not cancer related, a chance to be a kid or a man or a woman.

**

Merry Christmas and I hope that whoever in your life has cancer will feel blessed, held, comforted, provided for, and loved. And that, you, the caregiver and loved one also feel blessed, held, comforted, provided for, and loved.

Any other great ideas for cancer patient gifts?

p.s. This is also a list for cancer patient caregivers. You need lovin’, too.

*contains affiliate links