Book Review: STRONGER THAN DEATH by Rachel Pieh Jones

Be sure to read the author interview at the end. Rachel shares some of her memorable moments while researching for this book. You don’t want to miss that.

STRONGER THAN DEATH by Rachel Pieh Jones

Genre: Biography/Memoir

My Review:

STRONGER THAN DEATH tells the story of Annalena Tonelli, a woman from Italy, who was passionate about serving the poor, especially those affected by tuberculosis in the Horn of Africa. If you should Google Annalena’s name, you’ll find that she pushed the limits in most everything to accomplish all that she was involved in and honestly became well known in the world of humanitarian aid work. She has been described as a humanitarian aid worker, a missionary, a nun, and a social activist, though after reading this book I don’t believe she’d claim any of those descriptions. Through extensive research and countless interviews, Rachel shares a much broader picture of who Annalena was as a sister, a friend, a co-worker, a mother, and yes a Christian working with what many would label as “the least of these”. Annalena struggled, but as her story unfolds we see that her faith and love for the people she served came from God alone. Interwoven throughout this biography is historical and cultural facts about the people that call the Horn of Africa home, but it is also a memoir of sorts as Rachel shares how she and her family were affected by Annalena’s murder. On top of all this, there is some journalist reporting, as Rachel shares her own thoughts and questions regarding some of the decisions that Annalena made. I believe that if you are interested in the Horn of Africa, humanitarian aid work, female genital mutilation, or Muslim/Christian relationships than you should read this book.

My Take:

I cannot lie – this is a must read for any adult. You will be challenged in the way you think and live your life. I highlighted many sections of this book because the quotes are THAT good. Rachel’s style of writing was so refreshing to me – the threads of Annalena’s life, the culture of the nomadic people, the hot topics that are still relevant today, and Rachel’s own life all woven together really create just a beautiful wall tapestry that can be read in a book. Because honestly, a beautiful life comes from what we learn and gain from the hard and challenging, and yes even suffering that we go through.


I can tell you’ve done extensive research for this book. It not only covers the life of Annalena, but some very hard topics and places in Africa. How long did it take from research to final draft? 

 I kind of started the research, without knowing it, when my family moved to and then fled from Somaliland in 2003! But that was just research by experience. The actual digging in and finding people and documents and dreaming of a book started around late 2013 with some conversations with my research partner, Matt Erickson. At first we talked about a film project, but it morphed into this book. I was finally able to gain access to her family members and other key people in 2016 and sold the book in 2017.

Were their times you just wanted to give up? If so, how did you stick with it and finish?

So many times! But two in particular. The first was when it became clear that her family in Italy weren’t initially excited about this project and wouldn’t answer any questions or engage with me. But after a full year of slowly massaging that relationship, of explaining that my goal wasn’t to sensationalize but to tell the real story (which had been sensationalized and manipulated in the past, and this hurt them, so they stopped talking with people), and through the quality documentary Matt Erickson produced for the UNHCR about her life (again demonstrating that I wanted to be respectful and accurate), they were willing to talk with me. And once they opened up, they really opened up! Other people were then willing to talk with me, they shared papers and photographs and it was absolutely incredible. The second time was when it took me so long and so many rejections to sell the book. I went through two agents and multiple conversations with editors but nothing worked out, nothing felt right, until I found Plough Publishing. I think I just felt compelled to press on, convinced there was an audience for this and even simply value in doing the work, because of how I was so personally impacted by what I found – which started to find its way into the manuscript as well.

Of all the people you interviewed, of the countless places you traveled, who or what stands out most in your mind?  

Oh wow. So many. So many good, beautiful people. The exchange of some of her items – that really moved me. Maria Teresa, her best friend, gave me one of Annalena’s prayer books. And Antonio, who had been held hostage with her, gave me her red blanket. Both times, I cried. That people would trust me and share these treasures was powerful. In a way, it was like they were urging me to carry on her legacy – both through telling the story and in learning to live a little bit more like her – more love, more courage. Also, Elmi Mohamed, a nurse who worked with her in Wajir, to hear his stories about the Wagalla Massacre…and to see his continued service to his people in Kenya, it was powerful.

What genre would you label STRONGER THAN DEATH? I mean, it is a biography, but really it seems more than that.    

Biography, but also history, science, maybe spiritual? Memoir a bit…the largest term I use is narrative nonfiction, but to non book nerds, that doesn’t communicate a whole lot. Well, to this book nerd, it makes sense. I think that is one of the reasons I liked it so much because it was such a mixture of different genres.

Is there a story or an inspiration for the title?

Titles are so hard for me. We probably spent hours, days even, with list and lists and white boards and spread sheets, tweaking every word. Ultimately, it was the title Plough picked.

Do you mind sharing your favorite quote from Annalena?

She once said, about people doing humanitarian aid, “our coming here only has meaning if we are joyfully willing to be manure.” When I read that, I thought, WHAT?! Manure? That wasn’t what I wanted to be, for sure, in doing humanitarian work. And yet…she was right. To be effective, to truly help, we need to be humble, low, learners, we need to help other people flourish. She wasn’t just saying be like a pile of crap! But manure, at least in composting, also helps people flourish. So be low yourself, so that others can rise up and be great.

So, as I was reading Annalena’s story a few other names came to my mind: Amy Carmichael and Gladys Aylward. I didn’t think of them as the “Mother Theresa” figure types, but more that these ladies all had high expectations for themselves in living and working, but also for those who wanted to “help” them in the work. I find in them what Angela Duckworth wrote about in her book, GRIT. I see it in them. Any thoughts on this idea?

You know, her family balked at the term Mother Teresa, and I did at first too. It almost can seem cliché. But it also captures a certain way of life and character of being with just two words. And that helps, when talking about a book! She certainly had grit, she could be stubborn and hardheaded, which I think is often what is necessary to also be productive.

Do you think that other women from our generation or younger that will pick up this baton that these women had and carry it out in other parts of the world?                 

I hope women will pick this up, I know some Somali women themselves who are serving in the Horn – Kali for example, one of the girls Annalena took in, is now the headmistress of a deaf school in rural Kenya. I think there is a kind of push-back about race and colonial attitudes and I agree that white people need, myself included, to be wise and sensitive and humble. We have made so many mistakes and need to do better. But I don’t believe that means we, or black and brown people, shouldn’t do service across race and cultural boundaries. I think that is what makes the world beautiful – that we aren’t confined to one culture or one location or one racial community, but that we can learn to love and support and be supported by people different from ourselves.

Okay lighter questions… Do you have another project started or thinking about a new one? Can you share or is it too early for sharing. =)  

I do! I’m under contract for a second book with Plough, manuscript due in April. I can’t say a whole lot about it except that it explores similar themes but from a much more personal perspective. Ooh, can’t wait to hear more about this when you can share more.

Have you come to love the desert, yet? 

Haha! Sometimes. Isn’t that a terrible answer? I do miss Minnesota lakes though.

Thank you so much, Rachel, for your time and answers.

If you would like to learn more about this book, check out this book trailer. You can pre-order (release date is 10/1/19) your copy of STRONGER THAN DEATH at these locations: Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Indie Bound


After the review be sure to read the author interview and find out how you could win a copy of this book.

Keep Calm and Carry On, Children by Sharon K. Mayhew

Genre: Middle Grade Historical Fiction


I’ve added this book on WWII to my book list for a couple of reasons. First, it is about WWII and we should not forget. Second, the author is a TCK. She grew up in England and moved to the US when she was eight. Be sure to read my interview with Sharon at the end of the review.

Keep Calm and Carry On, Children is set in England during WWII. It follows the lives of Joyce and her sister who live in London during the time of air raids, bomb shelters, and death. Their parents make a hard decision to move their children to the far countryside away from danger. This move is what is known as Operation Pied Piper. WWII is taught in many schools around the world, but I believe that this part of history is not well known. As the story unfolds, Joyce and her sister make friends on the train and have quite an adventure of their own in the quiet village of Leek. It is here they learn that black and white is more of a grey when times are hard and the country is at war. War has changed the lives of all – no matter where you live or how old you are. Sharon creates adventure that any reader is bound to keep turning pages to see what becomes of Joyce and her friends.

My Take: War is hard and this time period is something we don’t want other generations to forget. Sharon has brought to life a hard to tell part of history. She created characters who struggle and endure making Keep Calm and Carry On, Children a memorable story that will cause you to want to research more about Operation Pied Piper.

Insights from the author…

Where did the idea for this book come from?

That’s a great question! It all started with the seed. I go to England once a year, or twice if I’m lucky, to visit family. I’ve taken my daughter on several of these trips, so she could connect with her English roots. My grandparents, one of which passed away six years ago, have played a huge role in my life. That kind of sounds funny as I only saw them a couple times a year until about 2008 when they stopped traveling to America. But Grandad (yes, I spell it that way) is now 98 and still has a wealth of wisdom and stories to tell. And I’ve been listening…

So, the initial seed came from them tell stories about days gone by. His family, like so many patriotic families joined the war effort in any way they could. One thing his mum did was take in two evacuees for the entirety of World War II. They didn’t really talk about war time until about 2010, at that point I would sneak back up to my bedroom and write down notes of his and Nanny’s stories. As the years went on, I started taking notes on my Iphone while they were telling me about their youth’s. When they saw how interested I was in the history of the British people during that time period they started taking me to historic places related to the war and I started buying books, fiction and non-fiction, purchasing reprints of wartime documents, and doing independent research on Operation Pied Piper. As a former elementary school teacher, I read THE LION, THE WITCH, AND THE WARDROBE every year, but just considered it fiction until the conversations began with my grandparents. I was shocked, amazed and a bit horrified that people sent their children to live with complete strangers in the countryside in the north of England. Those children had to be incredibly brave to persevere through the Blitz, through the uncertainty of their future with strangers and if or when they would reunite with their parents. 

The title of your book is somewhat different, isn’t it? I did some research and found that it is from a British WWII poster. Can you elaborate on that some? 

LOL! It is! KEEP CALM AND CARRY ON  is iconic! But it was true to the British spirit…You’ve heard of having a stiff upper lip, right? I wanted to show that attitude in my title. Thankfully, KEEP CALM AND CARRY ON was never copywrited, so I was able to use it in the title.  I think Black Rose Writing did an excellent job with the cover! They even let me have some input on it. My main requests were to use the KEEP CALM font and to have an English flag in the background. 

You were born in England and moved to the US at the age of 8. You were not much younger than your main character, Joyce. You both moved to different cultures and had to adapt. How did this experience help you understand Joyce better?

This is a really interesting question…I hadn’t thought about how my immigration affected my writing in this book. Some of Joyce’s story is my story. I lived in a rural village in England before I moved to the States. We didn’t have an indoor toilet and we bathed in a big tin tub with water heated from a coal heated stove. I think I must have compared that to what a change it was in America for me. I tried to put myself in Joyce’s shoes for each scene/chapter. I think you are right. I used my emotions for the unknown and uncertainty in my childhood to help create Joyce and move her forward in her journey. Wow! Lightbulb moment!

How else did being a TCK influence you as your wrote this story?

I really wanted to write a book that showed children (or adults) that they could overcome anything, if they just pushed forward…persevered. Facing the unknown is hard. Knowing that others have done it, hopefully, is helpful to readers of any age. 

Where is “home” to you? 

That’s a really hard question! When I get to England I am home, because of my grandad, but when I get back to the States I am home because of my husband and daughter. I’m still holding a British passport. That will change when my grandad passes, so looking deeper…I’m at home in America. I love going to England but there are so many people in such a small land area…and the roads! OMGoodness the roads! They are so narrow!!!

Fun Question….

What is your favorite British dish that you had to learn to make as you live in the US? Or what is the first thing you want to eat when you go back to England?

So I’m definitely not a chef, but there are two things I must have when I’m in England: fish and chips and a scone with clotted cream and strawberry jam and of course a cup of tea.

Thank you for inviting me to share my story. I’m humbled by every person that reads my book and reviews it or reaches out to me. I’m so blessed in so many ways.

And thank you, Sharon, for such a delightful interview. I love hearing from authors about how they created their characters and the background information. I’m so glad that your grandad got to read it.

And thanks to Sharon, you all have an opportunity to win a copy of her debut middle grade novel KEEP CALM AND CARRY ON, CHILDREN. For those of you living out of the United States, you will have a chance to win an e-book and a signed bookmark. For those within the 50 states, you have the chance to win a signed copy of the physical book.

I’m keeping it simple…simply comment about why you would like to have this book or a question you have for Sharon. I’ll enter all the names into an online random name picker to choose who wins. The name will be drawn on September 26th at 9pm Eastern Time Zone.

Book Review: GETTING STARTED by Amy Young


GETTING STARTED helps cross-cultural workers manage their first year better. It is written with missionaries in mind, but I believe that anyone that is moving abroad would benefit. Amy doesn’t just use her experience from living in China, but the experiences of countless others from around the world. GETTING STARTED touches on so many preconceived ideas a person can have about culture or language, to even daily living and working with teammates. Amy doesn’t gloss over the difficult, nor does she spotlight the magnificent. She keeps it real. GETTING STARTED isn’t a self-help book in that if you follow each step perfectly your first year will be a breeze. Amy is passionate about helping people be successful their first year – but from reading this book you will realize that her idea of success is not a year where everything is smooth, easy, and problem free. That’s just not how life works. I think Amy summarizes the idea of this book best in her introduction, “This book is designed to help you begin to release the ‘shoulds’ and allow yourself to be wherever you are in the process of adjusting to the field.”

My Take: I believe that this is an important topic for missionaries or Christian workers going on the field – or even those who have been on the field for that matter. It would be a great resource for sending organizations to have as they prepare their people to go out.

Amy also has a new website, Global Trellis, that offers help for cross-cultural workers. Check it out here.

My Mother’s Day Surprise

Celebrating holidays while living overseas and far from extended family is hard. I come from a large family who once a week regularly sits at my mother’s large table for the Sunday meal. Most holidays everyone is there – it is how I grew up. So, I love hosting get-togethers with other families, especially when they become like family. It makes me feel at home.

Mother’s Day was no exception. We had a potluck lunch after church. People ate between conversations and laughs. Kids splashed in the small pool. It was just a beautiful day.

After everyone left and I had a lovely nap, my husband asked if I’d like to try a new coffee shop nearby. “Bring your writing stuff,” he says.

I grabbed a notebook, my draft of my novel, and the book/handbook PLOT WHISPERER by Martha Alderson (if you are a writer, I highly recommend them). I glanced at my laptop, but decided time was too short for that. I noticed Uwe’s bag bulging, and figured he would work, too.

Oh, well, my Mother’s Day has ended.

I sat at a sidewalk table while he went inside to order. It wasn’t too hot with the shade of the umbrella. It almost seemed like we were in Europe, sort of. We talked about the day and the upcoming things that we were going to be involved in. I wondered when we were going to pull out “work”. Okay, honestly, I was thinking about when would I get to pull out my writing.

Uwe then looked at his watch and mentioned that we should probably go. I looked at my unopened bag and sighed.

“Wait, I think you should see the inside. You want to see this funny/cute French style hotel, don’t you?” he asks.

I followed him in. We checked out the restaurant.  We took the elevator, which has a ceiling to floor Eifle Tower painted in it. We got off on the 7th floor. While I looked at the view, he entered an empty room. I peered in nervously because he just entered without knocking as far as I could tell. I mean, who just wanders into hotel rooms without a key? 

I stood in the hall peering into the room. “What are you doing?” I yelled in as much as a whisper as I could without actually yelling. My mind told me this was all wrong, but my feet seemed to have a mind of their own and pulled me in.

It isn’t your typical hotel room with one bed, desk, TV, and carpeted floor. This room has wooden walls and flooring. All the furniture had a dark wood, including the tiny wardrobe. It had two beds facing each other, not side-by-side. And to top it off the two windows, one long and narrow and the other short and set low to the ground, had wooden shutters! It was mesmerizing in a cheesy cute sort of way.

Uwe rested his bag on the bed and began empty out the contents.  I watched as my toothbrush, toothpaste and brush bounced on the bed. He continued with my clothes and a few other books.

“Did you get us a room?”

“No, I got you a room. You have your writing books. I brought your Bible and journal. One night for you,” he said as he handed me the keys (which had an Eifle tower key chain).

“What?!? Excuse me? Uhh, What? Man, you are good. I had NO idea.”

With a kiss on the cheek he vanished out the door. I’m sat on the bed and stared out the window. I love my family and I love spending time with them – but sometimes as a person, a writer, I need to break away with no distractions. No guilt. Freedom to be creative. My husband knew this – he knew I needed a surprise.

So, that is just what I did. I began deepening my characters and hashing out scenes – all are steps to finishing this novel I started a few years ago.

And that was my Mother’s Day surprise.

Have you ever been surprised by someone? Share your story in the comments below.

















It’s that time of year when ‘good-byes’ are being said for expats around the world. Today’s post is by guest writer Dion Bos. I met Dion a few years back at a workshop. She is fun, insightful, and I love what she wrote about her transition she is going through. This post is copied (with her permission) from her Facebook status.
I recently received an IMessage from a friend living in the U.S. that read, “I heard a rumor that you are moving home. Is it true?” It caught me off guard as we had not publicly announced that we would be ending our expatriate experience in Taiwan and returning back to the Chicagoland area within a few months. As I stared at the message considering how I should respond, my eyes locked on the word HOME.

Was I moving home?

Or was I leaving my home?

I started to get a sick feeling in my stomach realizing I wasn’t sure where home was. I mean, at times when I’m going to visit my parents in the farm house I grew up in, I still find myself saying, “I’m going home for the weekend.”

So what exactly is home?

According to the Webster Dictionary Home is: “a place where one lives permanently, especially as a member of a family or household”. This simple definition seemed so off to me, when here I was, almost 40years old, holding back tears and completely struggling with the realization that I no longer knew where my home was. So, I quickly shut down my computer and closed my eyes to take a few deep breaths and think about MY home.
I realized “Home” is not a building or structure, nor is it the name of a certain city or state where you physically live. Rather…
  • It is everything and everyone that surrounds you.
  • It is everything you drive by on a daily basis.
  • It is everywhere you shop.
  • It is the school where you drop your kids off every morning.
  • It is the teachers you trust with the minds and hearts of your children every weekday.
  • It is all the friends that you can count on to help protect your family.
  • It is the coffee shop where you always meet people to share your stories.
  • It is the restaurant you love to eat at.
  • It is the park you love to sit at or the mountain you love to hike or the route you love to jog… and so on and so on.
Webster also defines Expatriate as: “a person who lives outside of their native country”. Once again I felt so let down by Webster. That this book could downplay the craziness of packing up your family, moving to a foreign land and completely altering the way you have been living your life up until that point. To me living as an expatriate is so much more.
  • It is the people that take you under their wing immediately that you can call when you are lost.
  • It is the Facebook groups you can ask where to find whatever it is you are looking for.
  • It is the community members who take on the challenge of making homemade goods and selling them because you can’t find them easily at the local stores.
  • It is the parents and teachers who volunteer to coach every sport, substitute teach, chaperone culture trips, lead Chapel, and so much more.
  • It is the abundance of people who choose to accept everyone around them instead of looking for inadequacies because we know we need each other.
  • It is taking a challenging and scary situation and instead of calling it what it is, everyone reassures you that it is just an adventure.
  • It is the confidence you gain when you accomplish a task in a foreign language.
  • It is the thrill of exploring land or even countries that would have terrified you in the past.
  • It is the remarkable ability of placing complete trust in tour guides or local people to take you out into the middle of the ocean, or the jungle, or in sidecar rides down the busiest streets in town.
  • It is gaining a true understanding of WHY another culture acts, reacts, believes or denies WITHOUT discrediting them or immediately telling them they are wrong.
  • It is putting complete trust in God that no matter how difficult things may seem, no matter how often you have to play charades to communicate, no matter how much you think you can’t live without real bacon, Reece’s Peanut Butter cups and Dee Dish Pizza, no matter how many stores, markets and fruit stands you have to shop each week for your weekly groceries, no matter how long or short you have lived there or how many hard goodbyes you have had to say, it still becomes your HOME.


It is not a simple noun. Home is the most complex word that encompasses the entire life of any individual. Now, when people ask where I AM FROM-that is different. Sometimes I’m from a small farm town, sometimes from Chicago, sometimes a suburb of Chicago, sometimes I’m just from America and sometimes I’m from Taiwan. I may always give a different answer here and hopefully I even add more replies as my life continues. But one thing I have definitely learned through this process is that where you are “from” is not the same as where your “home” is. Home is not a single place.

Home is your life story. I am not moving back home and I am not moving away from my home. I am simply adding to my home. The experiences I have had, the memories that are ingrained in my mind, all of the people who have infiltrated my heart and embraced me and my family at the different stages of my life are all home. And those things will never be taken from me. Each place I have called “home” brings me comfort in many different ways. Memories resurface and familiar faces fill my mind. Life will continue to evolve and people will come and go, but I will always be home no matter where I end up. My only wish moving forward is that I never settle in one place. I pray to God each day that he just keeps adding to my home and that I never forget those that have helped make each physical place I have lived a part of MY HOME.

Dion Dillavou BosBio: Five years ago I packed up my two daughters (age 4 and 7) to move to Taiwan for my husband’s expat assignment. I was terrified at the time, but soon realized It was one of the best decisions I have made. My girls know so much more about the world,  my marriage has grown in amazing ways, I have jump started a fitness career. Our faith and walk with God has grown in so many ways. Now the tables are turned and we are facing repatriating. Once again the feelings we face with change are real and I know so many of you out there feel or have felt the same.
Your Turn: Let us know what you consider part of YOUR home? How do you process this change yourself? What are some things that you have done or will do before you get on that plane for the next destination? Please share in the comments below.

The Art of Letting Go – “Letting Go”


Today’s guest post is from a new friend, Jodie Pine, that I’ve “met” online through Velvet Ashes, but then realized that we have MANY common friends on Facebook. Jodie has offered to re-post this article from 2013 from her blog Jodie’s Journal

Yesterday I watched my boys run off into the rain. One of them caught sight of a bus ahead and said, “That’s us. Do you want to run for it?” The other one immediately responded, “Let’s go!” And the next thing I knew they weren’t beside me anymore. As the distance between us grew, one of them turned around to yell, “Bye, Mom!” over his shoulder, while the other was so focused on the bus he never looked back. One of them was balancing an umbrella as they jumped and splashed their way through the puddles in hopes of reaching the bus in time. The other one didn’t want to bother with a silly umbrella. Because it’s manly to get wet.

My boys. The bookends of my life. Strong and sturdy. One on each side. So very different from each other. But so close. They’ve always been together, and they just seem to belong together. But one turned 18 yesterday. Soon he will go off to college in America and life is going to change. And as I watched the two of them, stride for stride, turning the corner together my heart ached. For them and for me. It’s hard. This leaving behind business. Because it involves letting go. And sometimes I just want to hold on. But time passes through my fingers like water. And I can’t stop it.

When I reached the end of the street and turned the corner, I smiled to see them huddled with the crowd at the bus stop. They told me, “It wasn’t the right bus.” And I thought about waiting with them until the right  bus came, just to get a few more minutes together. But I decided instead to encourage them to have a good time and to continue on in my wet walk (even with an umbrella) to the shopping area of our old neighborhood to get some things they needed for camp. And this time I was the one leaving them. But it was ok. Because I knew they would get on the right bus that would take them where they wanted to go. They would have a good time with their friends. And I would see them after dinner.

But this morning the boys left on a 40 hour train trip with three of their best friends to a TCK camp in southern China and it didn’t feel ok to me then. Because it wasn’t just this goodbye. It was the projected big goodbye and the reality that they will be gone for two weeks. After they get back to Lanzhou, our family will have less than two weeks together before CJ leaves for a month wilderness program in the US. And then we’ll have just about a week together in mid-August when we take him to freshman orientation at Notre Dame.

This morning, it seemed to me that during our past two weeks in Tianjin, I have been like a trapeze artist. Able to catch the outstretched arms of whoever is out there in a choreographed kind of rhythm. What activity is next. Who needs to be where. Graduations. Meetings. Medical appointments. MUN. Times with people. Kids’ sleepovers. Parties. What can we fit in. What needs to wait. How to coordinate. But this morning I couldn’t catch the hands out there anymore. My emotions hit rock bottom.  God, this is hard. I don’t want to do this. If I can’t go back in time and can’t stop time, could I push the fast forward button to get past this pain of letting go?

As I’ve been battling both migraine pain and emotional pain today, I’ve felt like my physical body and my heart have been like a wet towel in someone’s hands, who is twisting the ends in an attempt to squeeze all the water out. And all my energy and capacity have been drained.

Jordan decided to have a final sleepover with  her friends tonight before she leaves for the same TCK  in southern China tomorrow night (she’s flying instead of training) and I will be on my own here for another week of various activities, as Charly is already back in Lanzhou.

My rock bottom emotions today have brought me to a place of deep sadness. But even as I am typing this, I have a sense of renewed hope because I know that God will meet me right where I am, in this painful ache of my heart. He already has. It is comforting to know that I have heart friends close by who are praying for me, and that I can easily arrange to spend time with someone if I need to. But I really want to turn to God and hear from Him in this time of being alone right now.

I asked Jodie how things were now after four years. Here is what she wrote:

Four years after I struggled with CJ leaving for college on the other side of the ocean from us, we attended his graduation at Notre Dame (amazed that he had the honor of giving the valedictory address). Our family of 5 had grown to 7, through God’s fulfillment of our 6 year long adoption journey by bringing our Chinese sons David and Daniel to us just after CJ left for college. We then moved from Lanzhou, China to the US two years ago and launched Joshua into college (he chose Notre Dame as well). One year later I helped Jordan move into her dorm room at Calvin College. Through all these major changes for our family these past four years, God has remained faithful. CJ shared in his graduation speech that the song “Your Love Never Fails” really helped him through the transition across borders. “Your love never fails, it never gives up, it never runs out on me.” God has continued to hold my hand through the ups and downs and it’s been a blessing to see each of my kids, both at home and on their own, develop their own personal faith in the God who never changes.

Thanks Jodie for permission to repost!

If you have a story about “Letting Go” you’d like to share, please email me at mdmaurer135(at)gmail(dot)com.

Book Review: HOMESICK by Jean Fritz

HOMESICK: My Own Story  homesick

by Jean Fritz

Genre: Middle Grade Memoir/Fiction


Jean Fritz shares her life as a child growing up in the middle of China during the mid-twenties. She longs to go “home”. To a place she has only read about in letters from her grandmother, a place where she can feed chickens. And though this desire grows stronger as the date for departure gets closer, Jean shares her love for the Chinese people, especially her dear Lin Nai Nai. As with any good story, there is trouble and heartache. Through the eyes of a ten year old girl, Jean shares about the unrest that was developing in China towards the foreigners. Jean also shares her confusion of how her parents reacted to the death of her baby sister. We get a glimpse into the heart and mind of a young child who experienced so much.  At the beginning Jean informs her readers that most of the stories are true, that all of the people were real, but the events are not in chronological order. As a NF writer, this was very important to her to clarify. 

My Take:

Jean Fritz is a TCK. If you want to see examples of grief, frustration, and raw emotions from a TCK, sprinkled with humor and wit, get this book. Yes, it’s written for a middle grade child, but it really is a beautifully written memoir of a young TCK. If I write too much more, I’ll have to write a spoiler alert. I cried and I laughed – maybe partly due to the fact that we used to live in Wuhan, which is now a large city that includes Hankou and Wuchang, two cities that play a huge part in this book. Or maybe just the pain of saying “good-bye“. Either way, it’s good.


Next week I will be starting the series on “The Art of Letting Go“. If you would like to write a guest post you can go back to the original post for the details.

The Art of Letting Go



Mothering a TCK has it’s up and downs. At times it is not for the faint at heart. The older my children get, the more I respect my mother-in-law. She raised three TCKs from birth in a country not her own, but also in a school system very different than the one she grew up studying under in Germany. Then as they graduated, she watched them board airplanes to travel around the world to begin their own life. Now her grandchildren are spread between three continents.

My kids have not started university, yet. My oldest has three more years, but it won’t be long until I say my “good-byes”. But, then again, I did just say good-bye to him a few weeks ago. He is not going to a dorm, but he does have the opportunity to play soccer with one of the international schools on the island. Unfortunately, it is too far to commute to from our home, so he is living with some friends for the next few months. As I write this post, I know he is in the middle of a game and it is killing me (and my husband, too). We wonder if he’s made a save (he’s the keeper), or if the wet ball has tricked him to dive in the wrong direction (it’s been raining the last few days). We both try to focus on other things, but then my phone lets out a BING. A friend sends me a video clip – the ball slipped between his hands. On my phone we watch the mini version of our son draw his hands up behind his head then smack his legs, a sign of frustration. This isn’t the first clip we’ve been sent. During previous games other friends have slipped us glimpses of him making some pretty good saves. This clip, though, is hard to watch – he can’t hear us cheering in our heads, “It’s okay. You’ll get the next one” and “You’ve got this, Bud.” And my heart is screaming…

This is so hard.

This isn’t what I signed up for (I don’t care if Dave Pollock told me 20 years ago that one day this would happen if I had children while living overseas).

Why isn’t teleporting invented yet?

As I lament, I’m reminded that I’m not the only one who can’t watch their son play a high school sport or long to have him sit at the supper table. I have friends who dropped their children off at boarding school. Some won’t see their children until Christmas. Others left their child, now an adult, at the university dorm room. They are not the first to do this. My mother-in-law was not the first. Parents of TCKs for over a century have had to learn the art of letting go, or maybe it’s thrust upon them.

I feel I’m just at the beginning. I know that there may be other sport seasons he will want to tryout for. He may even have the desire and opportunity to board someday. But, I do know that one day he will leave. He should leave. He must leave. He will become an adult. And though I know this in my head…

I miss him.

As moms we begin this letting go when our children take their first independent steps. They teeter, they wobble and most likely they fall, but eventually they get up and begin walking or possibly with some running. Or maybe it was when you dropped your child off for the first time at school. Walking away as you entrusted your child to another adult, possibly a stranger that spoke a language you barely understood. Those are the first phases of this process. So, whether you are at the beginning stage or getting closer to what seems like the final stage, I believe we could learn a few things from those who have gone before us.

I’d like to start a guest series called “The Art of Letting Go”. I know many of you have stories or tips that helped you. Letting go to allow your child to grow is an art – it is terribly painful, and even scary, but the artwork can be beautiful. So, if you have a story you’d like to share, a humble fail that you learned from, or even some tips to help those of us just starting on this journey please send a post. This can be as broad as a child going to university, into a dorm, or first time attending kindergarten.

You can email me in a Word doc. Each post should be around 500-800 words. If you feel you have something to share, but you are uncomfortable with writing, we could even set up an interview type post as well. I’m flexible. Please include a bio with any social media that you’d like people to follow. You can email me at mdmaurer135(at)gmail(dot)com.

*Photo from Creative Commons by Pexels

Overseas+Summer+Teens=what you make of it

Living overseas has it’s ups and downs. Most summers people “go back” to visit relatives and family friends. This summer we stayed put. We didn’t stand in any immigration lines. We didn’t hold boarding passes. We haven’t gone anywhere. Previous summers when the kids were little, we’d take them to splash pools, to the river to jump cliffs, or to the beach.

1507780_10152415025996143_7165777199028718453_nNow that they are older and want to make some money it is a bit tricky. If we lived in our passport country, they could easily work at a restaurant washing dishes, local grocery stores, or even line up odd jobs of mowing lawns. Here in Taiwan, that isn’t possible. They don’t have a work visa, so they are not allowed to legally work at establishments and there really are not many places that have yards that need to be mowed.

But, here are a few things they have been doing. Some is fun and some is for cash.

  1. Camp: The girls are still old enough to attend camp. It’s great because it’s mostly in Chinese, which is great for their language. And, it’s all day with kids their age doing fun things.
  2. Odd jobs: Family friends have hired our kids to do some odd jobs around their house. They’ve cleaned balconies, water and fed dogs, and even painted a deck.
  3. Bake Sale: Yes, in this heat our daughter plans to bake some treats to sell. This will have to happen after camp ends, of course.
  4. Apprenticeship: Our son is spending time everyday at a car mechanic shop to learn a bit about how to take care of cars and such. It is not a paying position, but he is learning and that is more often than not a payment in itself.

Other ideas?

  1. Babysitting
  2. “House sit” for another family that is gone – water their plants, check on their home

Just because we live overseas doesn’t mean our kids can’t learn the value of working for some money. From working they learn valuable life lessons that can help them with any job they may get when they get older. They also can learn how to handle their money in a responsible way.

What other ideas do you have? Share in the comments below. I know my kids are always looking for ideas to make a little cash.



by Amy Young


Amy Young shares her life as a single English as a Second Language teacher in China. Her early years in China (mid-nineties) were spent at the Sichuan College of Education. This memoir is shared through her monthly newsletters to her supporters in the United States. This was an interesting time to be in China as the country was changing drastically from a poor quiet country who opened it’s gates wider to “foreigners” allowing more “western” influences to try to take root. The reader has the chance to “see” China during those transition years. Amy’s letters are fun and humorous as she relates the cultural differences in a loving way. She shares her traumatic experience of almost dying in a Chinese hospital and how she recovered and then chose to return afterwards. But, this book isn’t just a memoir, it’s a ‘how to’ book on writing newsletters. Amy shares how to write a better newsletter from what she has learned and from others who have read/written countless newsletters written by others.

My Thoughts

When I first heard about Amy’ health issues in China, I wanted to know more. Here was someone who also experienced trauma in China and not just survived to tell about it, but thrived and returned. Someone I could relate to. I was pleasantly surprised by the fact that it wasn’t just a memoir – though I do love reading memoirs of people who have lived overseas. I felt that her addition of a ‘how-to’ manual for writing newsletters was a brilliant idea. After reading her book, I still think it’s brilliant, but also I’ll add inspiring. I vowed to never write another newsletter again – but instead to write heartfelt letters, with stories and fun unique ideas for interaction –  not facts and a report.

I definitely recommend this book to anyone who is in a position of writing newsletters. You’ll be inspired and challenged to write them in a different way. And, who knows, maybe you’ll even like writing them.

The Give Away:

Amy has graciously offered to give away one copy of her book, LOVE AMY, AN ACCIDENTAL MEMOIR TOLD IN NEWSLETTERS FROM CHINA.

OPEN TO ALL READERS! If you live in the US, she’ll send a physical copy of the book, but if you live overseas she’ll send a digital copy. 

DETAILS:  Just simply leave a comment about why you’d like to read this book and your email address. I’m still “old school” in many ways, so I’ll just put names in a hat on July 7th and have one of my daughters pick out a name. I’ll make the announcement later that day and contact you via email to let you know.

DEADLINE:  July 7th at 10PM (let’s do US Eastern Time, as it is exactly 12 hours difference for me. So, easy to remember.)

Now, go comment and share this post with others. =)