Worlds Apart: A Third Culture Kid’s Journey {book review}

I am so excited to review and promote Marilyn Gardner’s new book Worlds Apart: A Third Culture Kid’s Journey. This book is a chronological journey through Marilyn’s childhood as a Missionary Kid and Third Culture Kid in Pakistan and includes a brand new foreword from author and fellow A Life Overseas blogger Rachel Pieh Jones.

On the surface my TCK experience seems quite different from Marilyn’s, so I had initially wondered how much of her story I would relate to. Where hers involves missions and boarding school, mine involves military service and public schools. But my concerns were completely unfounded. There was so much to relate to, on so many levels. Truly, this is a story for everyone.

As I’ve said in other places, for me the mark of a good book is that I laugh all the way through and then cry at the end. Worlds Apart certainly measured up in that regard as well.

One of the funnier parts came when reading about her family’s visits to the ruins of the ancient Indus River valley. Somehow the ancient Indus civilization managed to install covered drains in their city, while during Marilyn’s childhood, Pakistan had not yet done so. I could relate — the lack of covered sewers in Cambodia is something I continually lament.

I also laughed over her comparisons of popular (but fleeting) camp songs to the steady and stalwart hymns of our faith. But by the time I finished the book, I have to tell you I was wrecked. Wrecked.

In the end, Worlds Apart is simply the story of a child’s faith in God. Marilyn holds her story loosely and tells it humbly, so it’s worth a read even if you’ve never lived overseas.

Here are Jonathan’s and my “official” reviews.


From Elizabeth:

For anyone who has wrestled with heavy bouts of homesickness or lived through long stretches of loneliness, Marilyn Gardner’s new book, Worlds Apart, is a gift.

For anyone who has walked through the valley of the shadow of death or of betrayal while simultaneously trying to hold onto faith in a good and loving God, this book is a light in your darkness.

For anyone who longs for the people and places of your past or has ever had to pack up a life and say goodbye, this book is a trustworthy traveling companion.

For anyone who has ever grappled seriously with their privilege or come face to face with their own shortcomings, this book is a safe place to land.

And for anyone who’s ever wondered if it’s even possible to raise a happy family in difficult or unusual circumstances, Worlds Apart offers hope and, what’s better, guidance.

But these stories are also a sober reminder to parents that no matter how much love and security we lavish upon our children, we cannot protect them from the sorrows and difficulties of this life — nor is it our job.

Marilyn’s book is a gem for all these reasons, and it is also a joy to read. The language is beautiful, and each story is seasoned with profound truths about life and faith. Somehow as we read, we are able to swallow the bitter along with the sweet. That is what grace is all about, and that is what this book is all about.


From Jonathan:

It’s been said that if you dig down into your story deep enough, you find the common things. I didn’t grow up in Pakistan, and I didn’t experience boarding school or life as a missionary kid. But that doesn’t matter, because in this book Marilyn digs down deep enough into her own journey that I found myself resonating throughout. And crying.

The cross-cultural connections and the cross-cultural stretching, the faith struggles, the reverence of older missionaries, the questions about God’s sovereignty in the midst of catastrophe, and the confusion surrounding the loaded word, Calling. It’s all here.

We need this story. The missions community needs this story. Yes, it’s one person’s history, but this is a book that missionaries and TCKs of all stripes need to read, because Worlds Apart ties us to our shared history. It links us with the bigger Story, and it reminds young cross-cultural workers that they’re not the first. Not the first to travel. Not the first to care about social justice. Not the first to raise children abroad. It shows us that we are part of a larger plot arc that both preceded us and will in fact follow us. These reminders are much needed and deeply enriching.

I am sure that Marilyn’s gentle storytelling and textured memories will encourage and inspire and heal many.

A Few of My Favorite Things {February 2018}

A little late, but here I am. This month’s reviews are separated by section in case you’re interested in particulars: TCKs & Global Nomads, Home School Guidance, along with Everything Else. ~Elizabeth


We attended the Family Education Conference as guest speakers. I tell the story of some things I learned here. After working hard at the FEC, we spent 3 days at the Juniper Tree, a retreat center for cross-cultural workers. We really needed that rest.

Good Earth Sweet and Spicy Caffeine Free Tea, a gift from my mom. So delicious. We drank a lot of it at Juniper Tree, and Mom promises to have plenty on hand when we visit this summer.

Ash Wednesday. My family isn’t as “into” liturgy as I am, so the yearly Ash Wednesday service at the local Anglican church becomes a sort of personal spiritual retreat for me.  Do you know what can happen when you give a mom an hour and a half of uninterrupted time with God? So much. I had some much-needed conversations with God. Conversations about trust, belief, and idolatry.

Teaching non-traditional math classes at our home school co-op. It’s so much fun to share my love of mathematics with teenagers and watch their curiosity for an oft-dreaded subject come alive.

School break week. This week is our last break week before the last 6 weeks of school, and then we head to the States for a 4-month furlough. We are all enjoying our break week and are looking forward to spending time in America, especially the month of May. We intend to spend the first two weeks of May at my mom’s house, cut off from work emails and just being a family. Looking forward to the cool-in-comparison weather too.

We’re going through a lot of transitions in our family right now, including the search for a new sending church. Our current sending church is merging with another local church. Our church is graciously providing continued funds, for which we are incredibly thankful, but they cannot provide continued leadership — thus the search for new spiritual authority and accountability. We loved our sending church, and they loved us. It was a relationship like no other. I wrote this memorial in honor of our sending church.

This transition is truly good for Christ’s church, but it is a hard change. We are grieving many other personal losses and goodbyes right now too. God has been meeting me in my pain, and I see how He can turn my mourning into dancing, but I still ache for my kids, who have goodbyes and grief of their own. I’m not sure that as parents we can avoid this. We know in this world we will have trouble, and our children will have trouble, and our children’s children will have trouble. We take heart, because we know who has overcome the world, but in the present moment, our troubles often remain.

Lastly, a little bit of girlish shallowness: Essie Nail Polish in Hi Maintenance (a light pink) and Guilty Pleasures (bright pink). I picked them up when I was in the States for my sister’s wedding. It’s pricier than most brands, but actually holds up over the course of a week. Wedding trip bonus: I got a bunch of hand-me-downs from my much-more-stylish-than-me sister and have been enjoying wearing them ever since.



“The Call of the Disciples” by Malcolm Guite. You know how a poem can just latch onto you and refuse to let go? Malcolm Guite’s poems do that to me a lot, and in this season of needing to trust God more, this has been the one with staying power.

Spiritual Warfare Lullaby by Jonathan Trotter. Nighttime is not good to me. I’m a good sleeper as long as I don’t wake up (in fact my husband is often amazed at how quickly I can fall asleep). But if I wake, the Anxiety Monster threatens to overwhelm me. All the heath worries that seem ridiculous and easier to dismiss during the day become realistic and looming fears at night. One morning this month we read the classic Psalm 91 and my  eyes alighted on verse 6: “Do not dread the disease that stalks in darkness.” That was it, that’s my problem — I dread the disease that stalks in darkness. Verse 5 right above it, “Do not be afraid of the terrors of the night,” is the basis for a verse in my husband’s spiritual warfare song. All the verses are lifted straight out of scripture (which is the best source of spiritual armor, anyway, right?). So the song has been in my head by day and by night.



Seven Daughters and Seven Sons by Barbara Cohen and Bajita Lovejoy. A read aloud. I cannot tell you just how deliciously good this story is. Read it!

A Long Walk to Water by Linda Sue Park. A sobering and hopeful read aloud. I have more thoughts on water here.

The Living Cross by Amy Boucher Pye. Instead of giving something up for Lent, I generally try to add something — a specifically designed Lent Bible study. Last year I wanted to read Amy’s Living Cross book, but by the time I received it in the mail, Lent had not only come and gone, but Pentecost as well. So I saved the book for this year. The focus of the book is forgiveness, but what I am finding are deep lessons on followership and what it really means to turn to God. Scripture that I know and love is hitting me in new ways, and I’m thankful.

Letters Never Sent: A Global Nomad’s Journey From Hurt to Healing by Ruth van Reken (coauthor of Third Culture Kids: Growing Up Among Worlds). I have had this book for several years but had avoided reading it because I sensed I would cry through most of it. And I was right: I cried through most of it. But I had found myself in a season of grief already, so I thought I might be ready to enter in to the sacred space of Ruth’s story. The book is about a Missionary Kid/Third Culture Kid who grew up in boarding school, but that is not all it is about.

Letters Never Sent is also for anyone who has grown up in Christian circles and, as a result, thought they had to be perfect or could never admit weakness. It’s for anyone trying to measure up and continuing to fail in their attempts. This book is even for anyone who grew up poor and wondered at the unfairness of the world (honestly it was refreshing for her to tackle such a seemingly “earthly” issue as that of money). And of course it is especially for those who grew up in boarding schools and didn’t feel permission to speak all of their feelings about it over the years. Ruth is a generation (or more) ahead of me in life, yet every issue she tackled felt modern and relevant. Don’t skip it just because her TCK experience differs from yours, or because you are afraid of facing the grief. This is an important book.

It’s also in this season of grief that I decided I was finally ready to read Madeleine L’Engle’s The Summer of the Great-Grandmother, which I had been avoiding for the same reasons. I should be able to review it next month.

The Complete Lord Peter Wimsey Stories by Dorothy Sayers. I confess I stopped reading Peter Wimsey after my last Sayers novel, because the novel was so stinkin’ long. But I’ve returned to this collection of short stories, which is very satisfying. I can read a finish a mystery in a short amount of time. When I finish it, I intend to start Chesterton’s Father Brown Mysteries, which I’ve been meaning to read for some time now, but somehow fiction always gets pushed aside during the school year. I manage to take it up again during school breaks.

The Quotidian Mysteries by Kathleen Norris. I finally finished this short little book. I had put it aside while preparing for the Family Education Conference — and also because I was struggling to accept some of Kathleen’s claims. But I have had more time to consider the ideas, and although I dislike the dailiness of many of my household tasks (how they have to be done again and again and again), I think she’s on to something here. Much of our work on earth is never done, because it was never meant to be done. It was meant by God to be repeated day in and day out, to teach us to depend on Him and to rest in Him. These are things I am learning to accept.

Close Calls by Dave Carder. This is a book my husband recommends through his pastoral counseling ministry, and since our Amazon accounts are linked, I thought I would read it too. The book describes how anyone can become embroiled in an emotional or physical affair if the wrong person comes along at the wrong time. It helps you identify where you might be weak (because we are all weak somewhere) and how to protect your marriage. If you don’t want to read a whole book on protecting yourself and your marriage from adultery, I recommend reading Jacque Watkins’s blog series What You Should Know Before an Affair.

I picked up Napoleon’s Buttons again because I have time on our break week. And I’ve started the spring Velvet Ashes book club books, Humble Roots by Hannah Anderson and Scouting the Divine by Margaret Feinberg. Humble Roots, especially, resonates. Anderson discusses the issues I talked about at the Family Education Conference, but couches them in the language of humility rather than grace.



How We Get Rootedness Wrong by Beth Watkins. “Maybe rootedness turns into an idol.” Convicted — and realigned — with that one phrase.

One Simple Way to Bless TCKs by Jonathan Trotter. Based on some of his teaching at the FEC.

Naming Your Grief — and Finding an Answer by Craig Thompson. Explains disenfranchised grief and gives you language for what is happening inside you.

6 Permissions Most Missionaries’ Kids Need by Michèle Phoenix. I only ever hear wisdom from Michèle who, as an adult MK, is uniquely situated to talk about these issues.

The Truth About Missions Is That It’s a Long, Hard Slog by Jen Oshman. Just plain truth that we often need reminding of.

I Have Nothing to Prove by Kathleen Shumate.



The Top Seven Reasons Homeschoolers Fail by Marlin Detweiler of Veritas Press. Based on 20 years of experience working with thousands of homeschooling families.

Dear Self: Why you stink at homeschool consistency by Pam Barnhill. I thought it was helpful and practical, but if you think it’s too harsh, scroll to the link at the bottom where she addresses concerns of harshness.

Who Actually Teaches Your Kids? by Joshua Gibbs at CiRCE Institute. Interesting food for thought. Can be applied to ourselves as adults too. Whoever is influencing me, the people I am imitating, that’s who my teachers are.

55 Things I Did NOT Do as a Homeschooler by Julie Bogart of Brave Writer (a podcast).

61 Things I Did RIGHT in My Homeschool, also a podcast by Julie Bogart.



5 Ways to Doubt Your Doubts by Timothy Keller. A helpful perspective.

Breastfeeding in Church, and Other Petty Crimes by Rachel Marie Stone for Christianity Today. With a tag line of, “The act of breastfeeding is a picture of the care God gives us.” Stone sees both the up-close and the big picture.

Blessed Are the Unsatisfied by Amy Simpson. Maybe we’re not supposed to be fully satisfied on this earth. Maybe we’re still supposed to want. Simpson pushes back against some ideas of God that can become burdensome.

Is Filling That ‘God-Shaped Hole’ God’s Plan for Our Lives? also by Amy Simpson, and along the same vein. Both are worth a read.

Understanding God’s Control When You’re a Climate Scientist, Rebecca Randall’s interview with Thomas P. Ackerman. Interesting to me as both a scientist and a Christian.

The One-Way Intimacy of Podcast Listening by Glen Weldon. I’ve found this to be true.

This is What ‘Self-Care’ REALLY Means, Because It’s Not All Salt Baths and Chocolate Cake by Brianna Wiest. Obviously contextualized for an American (or at least Western) audience, but interesting food for thought. We need to differentiate between self-care and self-comfort, we need to keep a private life (not everything has to show up on social media), and sometimes we need to flat-out reject society’s unrealistic expectations of us.



There’s No Place Like Home by Jen Pollock Michel on Right Now Media (you need a subscription to listen). I love Jen Pollock Michel. Her voice and her teaching are comforting and always resonate with truth.

How Movies Are Prayers, an interview with Josh Larsen for Forma Podcast. I always enjoy the cultural and Christian commentary on the Forma Podcast. This idea is the flip side to experiencing a movie as a message from God to us (i.e. when it “speaks” to us). A movie can also portray our communications to God. In my opinion this often happens better in non-Christian movies than in Christian movies. I’ve been known to say to my husband, “Hollywood gets it so right.” But of course when I say that, I’m talking about how Hollywood portrays the problem, not how they portray the solution (if they offer one at all). Hollywood can get brutally honest about the human condition. The answer they offer may not be biblical, but their painting of the picture can be much more accurate.

Black Panther. Ahem, speaking of Hollywood. We watched this movie for a family birthday party. The story is compelling, and the underlying themes are incredibly important for us to discuss as a society. Interestingly we watched it in the middle of a unit study on Africa, which gave us ample opportunity to discuss the harm Americans and Europeans have done to the continent. In the middle of the action, I was nervous about the outcome and whether the message would end up being that violence is helpful and even necessary to right wrongs done, but I think they handled the conflict well. (Although I will tell you my youngest daughter and I looked away during a couple intensely violent scenes.) The villain was portrayed sympathetically, which I thought was important. I cried at several points — there was a lot of wisdom thrown in here. And if you know me, you could probably already guess this, but Shuri is my favorite character — a brilliant, spirited female scientist on the silver screen. Can’t get much better than that.

Embracing a Healthy Body Image Overseas {Taking Route podcast}

Elizabeth recently chatted with Denise James, host of the new Taking Route Podcast. They discussed some of the issues surrounding eating and body image that many women deal with, regardless of where they live.  You can listen to that conversation here. And when you’re done, be sure to check out the other conversations on the podcast!


Avoiding Platitudes, Accepting Influence, and Loving Jesus (John 11:1-44)

Last Sunday I had the privilege of preaching at the ICF here in Phnom Penh, Cambodia.

To listen to the message, click here, or view on iTunes.

We looked at how Jesus allowed his emotions to be influenced (by a woman!), we talked about platitudes and why to NEVER use them, and we considered the different ways Jesus empathized with Mary and Martha.

He mirrored each woman and responded very uniquely, in fact.

We also talked about the one thing we must remember for this story to make sense: I am NOT the center of Christ’s universe. The Father is. Christ’s love for me is secondary and derivative. His primary goal is NOT to relieve my suffering or heal my disease.

So, although he loves, he sometimes “stays.”

— Jonathan T.



Reflections on public speaking, prayer, and believing God

by Elizabeth

Three weeks ago I was smack in the middle of a conference. To be more specific, I was in the middle of the Family Education Conference in Chiang Mai, Thailand as one of the plenary speakers. I didn’t talk much about it beforehand, and I haven’t spoken much of it since then. But that doesn’t mean I don’t have plenty to say about it.


The view from our hotel window.

The first thing I have to say about it is that it was SO MUCH WORK. I had no idea how much time and energy it takes to prepare one lesson for a large group, let alone multiple lessons. I’ve led small group Bible classes for years, but this is nothing like that. I don’t know these people; the sessions aren’t in the context of either long-standing relationships or long-term study topics.

Of course, this didn’t surprise my husband, who is well-acquainted with the privileges (and trials) of preaching. But I had never planned to speak at this thing. When we were invited to speak, I nodded my head and said, “Yes, we will come, my husband will speak and I will be the support person.” Because that is what I usually am. I am not the up-front person. I sit in the pews and listen.

The way things worked out, though, our workload was split in half. The topics the leadership thought were important to address and the topics that were heavy on our hearts, they fell out 50-50. I unexpectedly became half the teaching team. So I spent many hours out of the house in coffee shops, planning my talks. Each talk took more time than I had expected. I just kept needing more time to finish them. Until Jonathan left the country for his sister’s wedding, that is.

Our plan was to meet him at the conference location the night before it started. I would bring the 4 kids across country borders (something I’d never done by myself before), and he would fly in from the U.S., with about 10 hours to spare. I prayed about this. I knew one of his connections was tight, and I knew it was flu season in the U.S., a particularly bad flu season. And I knew my husband’s immune system was compromised due to his asthma.

So I prayed. And I asked a dear friend to come pray with me too. To pray for good health and flight connections for Jonathan. To pray that what we had to say would be what God wanted us to say, and that we would get out of the way and just preach a message of Grace to the parents at this conference. To pray that they would encounter the love of God for them personally.

In short, we prayed for everything possible except MY health, and my health is what took a beating. 60 hours before departure I spiked a fever. Now I know a few things about international air travel, and one is that traveling with a fever can get you grounded. And without a second parent to transport the kids to the conference, I knew the whole family could be grounded. I knew once sickness was in the house, it might spread to everyone else. We could ALL be grounded.

I immediately contacted the conference director to let her know, and she immediately got her prayer team praying. I didn’t know her prayer team was both so extensive and so intensive. They PRAY. And they pray. And then they keep praying. Every year they encounter resistance to the conference, which is a lifeline to many families homeschooling their kids in remote areas in Asia. This year the resistance seemed to come in the area of health, and not just mine. Others as well.

I also contacted one of our local prayer team members, who had the whole team praying for me. And then I basically lay in bed for 2 days, trying to rest. I wasn’t always successful, either. I would lay in bed, unable to sleep with worry, because I just HAD to get better, because people were DEPENDING on me. I had to heal myself, quickly. Which is of course impossible. And which is of course harder to do when you are not sleeping.

I had to depend on God to get me better, and I didn’t always do a stellar job of trusting. Truly, there’s nothing like preparing a lesson for a hundred people about Grace and then being tested in your belief in its truth.

Thankfully the fever did go away in time. But by then I was having symptoms of a separate bacterial infection, and the night before departure I hurriedly called an M.D. friend for advice. She got me the antibiotics I needed as yet another friend drove us to the airport the next morning. (It takes a village, right?) I was still weak and had to depend on my older boys to help clean up and close up the house and carry the luggage throughout the day. And you know what I discovered? They are far more capable than I had known.

Jonathan even arrived at the conference on time. But I have to tell you, I was so nervous about my message on Grace that I couldn’t sleep at all the night before. I knew I needed the rest, but my anxiety was sky high. So I prayed all night. I figured, if I couldn’t sleep, at least I could ask God to work through me. With my body still weakened from illness, and my mind distracted from worry over doing a good enough job and saying the exact right words to fix everyone’s problems, I had never felt so strongly that God’s strength would have to be sufficient in my weakness. I knew that Wednesday morning’s talk on grace had to be all Him.

And I did feel God come through for me, and a huge weight was lifted that morning. I could sleep again – I was so thankful for that. But I’m not gonna lie; I made mistakes at the conference. I failed at certain aspects of my job. I prayed and prepared hard, but I still had failures. I had to remember the truth of my own message on Grace – that it does not all depend on me. That there is forgiveness for failures, and room to grow, and room to try again. There is room to trust that God is going to take care of people, that it’s not my job to take care of everyone’s problems, but only to be as faithful as I can, and to listen as closely to God’s voice as I can.

So we survived that week and even enjoyed the fellowship. And if Jonathan or I said anything helpful to anyone, I know it is from God, and not us. Not that I didn’t work hard to prepare. I probably worked harder than I have worked since my engineering school days. But that when it came down to it, anything good came from God. It always does. It has to. That is the only way. And when people asked how I felt about our part in the conference, I said I didn’t feel like a success or like a failure. I only felt that I did what I went there to do. That I shared the messages I went there to share.

But that is not the end of these messages. These messages are continuing to do their work on me. Just like I was tested in my belief in Grace, that I am not powerful enough to either heal myself physically or to reach people’s hearts, I am being tested in my belief of other truths I spoke about. How true are they really? Do I live like I believe them? Do I really believe that the King is still on the throne? That I can rest in the fact that He is on the throne?

Because last week we received some news that’s going to change a lot of things in our life. A Lot. Can I trust God with them? Can I trust Him to take care of us, like He always has? Can I rest in Him even in this huge transition? There are so many details to be worked out. Can I lay down my worry for the future?? Can I lay down my worry over how I’m going to know that I’ve actually heard God’s voice in these future decisions and not just my own?? Can I even be *excited* for how God is going to work in our lives and show Himself faithful once again?

And do I really believe what I taught about Resurrection? That the best thing God ever did was to raise Jesus from the dead, and that the deadest things in our lives are where God does His best work? That we can trust Him to bring life from death, beauty from destruction? Because some of these big life changes feel like death. I need Resurrection as a living reality in my life. Can I actually believe in resurrection even as I mourn the death?

These are just three of the messages that I felt impressed on my heart in the last few months, that I communicated to the group at the conference, and that God is writing even deeper into my heart AFTER I taught them. Do I believe the messages He has given me? I say I do, and I know I want to. But I will also pray along with the father in the book of Mark, “I do believe. Help my unbelief!”


(In the next few months I will try to convert some of the teachings into blog posts.)


Our kids in the main conference room.

One Simple Way to Bless TCKs {A Life Overseas}

Jonathan is over at A Life Overseas . . . 


My book is called Misunderstood because that is how many young TCKs feel.” —Tanya Crossman

It’s true. Many kids grow up among worlds and end up feeling completely and totally misunderstood. They may feel misunderstood by the societies they’ve grown up in and the societies they’ve returned too. They may feel misunderstood by the nuclear families they’ve grown up in and the extended families they’ve returned to.

So what do we do?

What can parents do? Parents who know they don’t understand all the ins and outs of growing up globally?

Well, what do we do when we interact with anyone we want to get to know better? Read a book? Google them? Ask other people? Read an article? Maybe.

But typically the best solution is just to treat them like the unique human beings they are and start asking questions.

I think that one of the simplest things we could do to help the TCKs in our life to feel more seen, more loved, and less misunderstood, is to get better at asking questions.

And of course we have to care about their answers.

Questions give value and open the door to deeper intimacy. Questions are Christ-like, with one scholar identifying 307 individual questions that Jesus asked during his earthly ministry.

It’s hard to ask questions, though, because I have to shut up long enough to listen to the answers. Most of us simply prefer giving answers to asking questions.

Finish reading here.