Monthly Archives: September 2015

Words do matter

I was sitting on my couch the other day and mindlessly watching photos of our family scroll through our computer screen. One of the signs that we encountered on our 2013 trip to China floated by. It reignited the desire to share these sometimes amusing, sometimes confusing, and occasionally head shaking Chinese to English translations. Chinglish is alive and well in China. I hope you enjoy.

It is interesting that when creating public signage, native English speakers are not consulted. The results are varied. Sometimes the main idea is clearly conveyed with just a bit of extra thought from the reader.




The most stomach dropping sign encountered on this trip was discovered in an airport inside the women’s bathroom. China certainly has no equivalent to the ADA, and political correctness is not of concern, at least not in the way an American would define it. It is a positive step that there are wheelchair accessible bathroom facilities, but…


Surely, this is in no way what the sign creator desired to communicate.

Most people I know do not consider going to the dentist a “merry” event, but I suppose that Merry could be someone’s name.


At times, it takes more than a brief moment to figure out the English messages in China. Some are confusing and left open to the reader’s interpretation.



Sometimes visuals attached to the words really help.



At times, gentle and warm feelings come when reading the signage.


Other times, the gist is conveyed, but words are out of context.


Most native English speakers would not consider this to be a yacht.


Many of the signs have to do with trash, spitting and bathrooms.The word trash would have sufficed, but the basic idea is  well communicated.


I personally used this facility and though I don’t know the universe of comparison, I would disagree with this designation.


And this one seems to be a bit wordy. It seems that “put all of your different types of waste in the proper place” would have sufficed.


Though it is fun to emotionally react to these signs, they are a reminder that choosing words carefully is often important. As a writer and a human being, I am faced with the truth of this everyday. Hopefully as we move along our various paths, we will each remember that words do, in fact, matter.

Three grace encounters

A test

A Sunday interaction. Concern and confusion about how the world has changed, the morals of the young people, the stubborn uncooperative ways of her very own body. So much shifting and switching at rapid speed.

“Well at least we don’t have anybody with a sex change”, in the family, that is. Dropped awkwardly right in the middle of the exchange. Where did that come from? The recent headlines? A secret fear? A worst case scenario?

Her squirming discomfort at the silence on the other end of the phone after expressions of dismay at the changing morals of the society. She certainly isn’t the first older person to feel such. “Which morals are you referring to?” I really didn’t know for sure. Not sure she exactly knew either.

Confession that she was working hard to accept the tattoos of someone who had entered her life. Someone who snuck into her world through the door of kinship. This tattoo bearer is loved by someone that she herself loves dearly. My unhelpful response that tattoos are mainstream now.

“But I don’t judge people”, she said. An earnest expression of desire to be such a grace bearing soul bubbled up from below the surface. Then an honest admission on the judgment issue. “but I haven’t really been tested yet.” What will she do when the test comes? What will each of us do?

You are not alone

Crossing paths in a quiet place, a peaceful alcove inviting those who are weary to soak in nature, God’s presence and the joy of watching children at play. A chance for parent to rest and breathe and remove self from the hustle and bustle of the everyday. Two Adirondack chairs side by side.

We have history, this mom and me. A meandering path that has crossed, run parallel and diverged over twenty plus years. We caught up, surface level at first, then quickly went a little deeper. We have shared experience and been in vulnerable and painful places together. Yet it took almost an hour before the current core fear and vulnerability trickled up to the surface. Hints were dropped and then connections made.

Tapes of abomination and wrath of God put in place early in life. Now crippling suspicion that my child, my beloved and precious one, may walk and live life in a place that was so condemned. Fear and terror strike at the heart’s core. What will this mean? Can I do something, anything, to change this story? Am I at fault? Will my child be rejected? Will I be cast out?

Tears welled up. Human to human, mother to mother, turning to face one another. Grasping hands, eye to eye, the words flowed out, “you are not alone.”


Stopping by on a mission, party in hours. Intimate, fun and eclectic shop full of wares with appeal to young and old. The aura slowed my pace. The clerk wanted to engage in talk. Clearly things were on her mind. There was space for interaction and the mission could idle for a time.

Suddenly, she poured out her heart. A broken relationship and the pain of a secret life kept from mom and dad. Fear of rejection and damnation by the childhood religious folks so interwoven in her family story. Working on a letter, a desperate plea for acceptance and love even when minds and hearts and souls would need to be changed.

Neither of us quite knew how we got to this vulnerable place, but my own heart whispered to treat this with tenderness and care. A response welled up from deep within. A place of kinship with a heart that wants to be known and loved. “Most mothers given time and space, will come to accept and love unconditionally their child.”

Sharing this story over cards with a son, a relationship where occasional dreams of a do-over touch this mother’s core. His response, “mothers should rule the world.” In many ways, we do. If we wear garments of grace, a compassionate and kind kingdom will come.

Two perspectives from another generation

I got a lot of feedback on the last blog dealing with social media and life events. I loved hearing from peers as well as from a younger generation on this topic. With permission, two young friends agreed that I could share their perspectives. My personal goal isn’t to solve or come down on a side around this topic, but to be mindful of what and why I do things.

The guest writers are two people that I enjoy tremendously. First is Sarah Millsaps who is on a very short list of “best Wilson babysitters ever”. She shares a piece that she wrote as a college sophomore. It is good to know that there are such thoughtful young people in our world. I have read much of her writing over recent years, and I fully believe that she may be the next Wendell Berry.

The second is recently married and faithfully pursuing a doctorate degree in psychology. I met Emily Wynsma through one of our sons, and her passion is to work with adopted and foster children in helping them on their healing journey. We have discussed many topics over the years. We share common interest and passion and I am so very grateful to people like her who put so much talent, time and energy into understanding and walking alongside children from hard places.

As a teaser, two quotes from their writing and thoughts. I hope you enjoy.

“The constant flood of photos and videos recording events allows our society to build itself on a virtual reality, eliminating the irreplaceable worth of being present and it ultimately fosters unhealthy comparison”. Sarah

“A good rule of thumb: would I still do this if it wasn’t going to go on social media, and nobody knew about it ?” Emily

From Sarah:

Social Media continues to be a popular topic of discussion as our society weighs the advantages and disadvantages of the technological developments. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and other sites allow users to remain connected and in uninterrupted communication. The virtual realm of Facebook and Twitter have invaded physical realities as young adults adopt words like “hashtag,” “profpic,” “friended,” and abbreviations into everyday speech. The extreme accessibility to share and keep one’s followers up to date has created a perceived need to share every experience. A mindset has developed suggesting that one’s experience is not finished or legitimate until you take a picture of it and post it on your Instagram feed. While superficially this value seems to be harmless, the pattern is poisonous. Whether it is a proposal, a victorious finish line shot, or simply what you ate for dinner, sharing photography on social media disconnects us from the present moment. The constant focus to capture the moment obscures the true motive of experience. Our cameras and phones become physical barriers to present reality as the constant sharing mentality diminishes the quality of the moment. The constant flood of photos and videos recording events allows our society to build itself on a virtual reality, eliminating the irreplaceable worth of being present and it ultimately fosters unhealthy comparison.

The growing trend of creating “engagement videos” or hiding a photographer to capture the proposal exposes the increasing value in digitally sharing our experiences. The growing opportunity for documentation encourages our society to publicize intimacy. Traditionally an engagement is held precious because it is a moment shared by two people who are embarking on a shared life. The relationship and proposal ritual is special because it is exclusive. A growing trend in social media is to pay a professional photographer to capture the entire proposal so that the moment is not only eternalized but it also is able to be shared. Some couples have taken this to an extreme. One man designed a “music video proposal” in which he videoed an entire performance and posted it on YouTube. His intimate act of asking to spend the rest of his life with someone transformed into a showcase. By including the third party audience he devalues his relationship with his girlfriend.

The constant thought of “what to tweet next” or what angle to capture the sunrise encloses our experience into pixels and small digital frames. Most of the American population now walks around with a camera at all times. With the constant updates and live feeds I question what is the truer reality, the moment unfolding or the representational pictures? Are we going on a hike to live an experience or to show that we’ve done it? Personally, I have recognized that in certain situations I remember an event not by what I physically experienced with my own senses but by the Facebook album I looked through afterwards. My memory is handicapped by this but so is the photographer of the album. How limited was her time at the event if she was hidden behind a camera; was she focused on capturing the best shot or actually living the moment? When I think of how special it was that my friends surprised me on my birthday, I envision the still frame shots that are not even from my vantage point instead of the moving, breathing perspective I experienced.

From Emily:

I have been thinking on this since you posted it!

I have some thoughts.

So… I think the thing for me on this is WHY someone is making someone “a thing”. Is it out of obligation- because now it is lame or not allowed to “just ask” someone to be a bridesmaid, or to prom? Is it because they feel a need to prove their creativity, coolness, etc. on social media? Is it because they feel a sense of perfectionism, or whoever they are asking is going to be disappointed if it isn’t impressive or cooler than their friends’ ask/proposal/invite?

On the other hand:
Some of these things, I see as a really fun way to just add some magic and sparkle to things that could be mundane. Dying eggs green on St. Patrick’s Day makes an ordinary breakfast special and fun. I heart-attacked some friends’ who have little kids houses last year on Valentine’s Day- just taped up some paper hearts from the Dollar Tree on their front porches for them to find when they woke up.
I didn’t do particularly special asks for my wedding party, and most of the weddings I’ve been in they didn’t do anything particular to ask me. And that was totally fine. But one friend and her husband made us all little funny videos asking us in some way that was relevant to our friendship (in mine they were all, “Hey do you want to journal??!!!!!, and then they wrote in the journal “Will you be our bridesmaid?” and held it up to the camera :-)). I don’t think they did it because they thought they had to, I think they just had fun doing it.

My close friend Kim is the QUEEN of making something small into “a thing”, and she LOVES it. Her five year old is life threateningly allergic to so many things it is hard for them to leave the house, and so she and her husband fight super hard for joy and making memories inside their home when they can’t do them in the normal ways. They celebrate President’s Day, Valentine’s Day, first days of the seasons, birthdays to the max…. it is a way for her to enjoy motherhood and “make some magic” on hard days, and make sure that her kids remember fun and “special things” even when they can’t go out for ice cream, to the zoo, etc.
Her sister-in-law, inspired by her, wrote an awesome post about this view of “the Pinterest moms”:

A lot of times a little bit of extra effort or five minutes of forethought can bring something from boring to feeling special, and make something just feel more fun, more happy, more exciting. If it’s stressful, then that would defeat the purpose! But if it doesn’t really make a difference in time or money or effort… why not make it just a little more memorable? For me a lot of times honestly it’s been an anti-depressant decision to throw a spring tea party (yup did that) or mail a snail mail card to someone in town (yup)- just a way to make a day more joyful, for me and hopefully someone else.

I think my personal feelings on it: the purpose of making something into “a thing”- should be for joy, and/or love (aka, if it makes the other person feel joy :-)). The goal should be to show that that person is worth your thinking beforehand, *****is worth you being intentional****. If it creates stress, grumpiness, exhaustion, resentment, then it obviously defeats the purpose. And when I find myself in that position, I should check my heart: ****Am I doing this because it will make that person feel like they are special to me, or because it will make this day feel more full of life and happier and not just like daily grind****? Or am I doing it because I want other people to notice that I rocked something or am impressive or really good at crafts/planning/forethought, or because I “have to” since everyone else does.

A good rule of thumb: would I still do this if it wasn’t going to go on social media, and nobody knew about it ?

So. There are my novel’s worth of thoughts! In summary: if making things a thing is out of joy, sense of magic and fun, and desire to make someone feel special, then I am all for them.

When everything becomes “a thing”

Warning: I may sound old and scroogey and like a killjoy in this blog, and I would truly love to hear the thoughts and ideas of others around this topic.

With one son recently married and another very freshly engaged, the trend toward hyper experience in the realm of previously more routine life events has struck a chord. Weddings are certainly a good place to start given the multi-_illion dollar industry all around these celebrations – I am not sure which consonant/s to put into the blank – m, b or tr?

The escalation of expectations around such events seems to be rapidly increasing. My personal struggle with social media has been documented here several times. Its’ impact on how we do life certainly has a role in these escalations. The other night, I was scrolling through my facebook news feed and came across a friend who posted a picture of herself displaying the clever way she had been invited to be a bridesmaid. I turned to my daughter in law and said, “is this ‘a thing’ now?” She confirmed it.

A fellow mom and I were chatting last spring and she enlightened me on the new phenomena of “promposal”. Her son had asked a girl to prom but her friends informed him that he needed to step up his game and ask her in a much more creative way. Ultimately he caved to the pressure and re-asked her in a way that somehow involved spelling out an invitation on volleyballs, her sport of choice. I wonder what the expectations of these teens will become by the time they are ready to be married.

I understand why it is fun and practical to know the gender of a baby before they enter the world, but personally, an intentional decision not to know was part of the surprise and mystery and day dreaming that kept me going during the rougher days of pregnancy and childbirth. The pressure to creatively and sometimes in large group settings reveal the gender of an unborn child is increasing. Gender reveal parties and announcements have become “a thing”.

Within the wedding sphere, from proposal to engagement to asking your wedding party to save the date to the actual event, the pressure to be creative and “social media ready” seems to be quickly and progressively ramping up. Pinterest is a wonderful place to get ideas and spark imagination, yet it also can create unrealistic expectations and dissatisfaction when the realities of budget, energy and some desire for life balance are realized.

I am curious about the source and direction of this trend. Is it technology, social media and the ability to constantly compare and contrast ourselves with the image that others choose to put out there? Is it somehow in the DNA of the wealthier segment of our American society – keeping up with the Joneses on a whole different level? Will this trend ever downshift or subside?

I think about friends who desire to go to prom or marry and have not. Of those who desperately want to be pregnant and called parent, but so far, can not. I completely understand why a friend who lost her child has chosen to leave the social media world all together.Yes, engagements, weddings , prom invites and pregnancies are times for celebration but I imagine that they often offer little heart stabs for those not yet partnered or pregnant or invited to be a part. These struggles and situations are not new, but somehow the constant barrage of technology and connectedness make it more daily, and sometimes hourly, in our face.

My fear is that all of this hype and comparison leaves many feeling less than, anxious, empty and at times profoundly disappointed in their own lives. At times, this is my response. Often when I desire to genuinely celebrate and be joyful with others, there is a social media performance component on my end or their end that seems to creep up and dull the joy. I start to think in facebook status updates rather than take time to savor and internalize the good news. The rapidity with which a profoundly life changing announcement becomes yesterday’s news somehow cheapens and minimizes many of life’s deepest occasions.

This is the technological world in which I and my children live. We can’t change it but we must navigate it. My personal time on social media offers a chance to stay engaged with many that I care about, but it can also become a bit like junk food to my soul. For me, it is elsewhere that true and deep and meaningful life is experienced.

What about you? Is this a generational divide? How do you feel about these things? Please share your thoughts and ideas around this topic. I hope we can have a conversation and learn from each other.