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daily life… on the move

It seems somewhat ironic to be finishing this post in the midst of the Corona crisis. It’s been three weeks now since I’ve been on public transport. Talk about being cocooned…


Going from a small box on wheels to a much bigger box that I share with lots of people. That was one of the biggest changes when I moved cities and countries.

You see, where I lived before, I had a car. I would go about daily life somewhat sheltered from what was going on around me. I’d get in the car, turn on the radio and that was it. I would pay attention to anything relevant to traffic (obviously 😉 ) but be pretty oblivious to everything else.

Quite how oblivious I didn’t realise until I moved. Public transport in Berlin is amazing – no need for a car. So suddenly, I would spend a good chunk of my day not cocooned in my car but out there with everyone else. All of what makes Berlin amazing and infuriating was (and is) right there in my face.

You hear every language under the sun.

There are the “musicians” who sing the same verse of the same song every time you encounter them. Every. Single. Time.

And occasionally, there is someone who really can sing.

You see the homeless and the drug addicts. Up close, as they make their way through the train asking for money.

You see artists sketching, as they observe their fellow travellers.

And lots of ordinary people.

Beauty and brokenness.

Day after day after day.


On good days, I enjoy it. Or get so lost in my book that I don’t even notice what’s around me 😉 Other times, it all feels too much, too overwhelming. So much need and hopelessness. So much suffering that invades my space. My heart and soul get tired.

Compassion. Again and again, as I read through the Gospels, that’s what drives Jesus’ response to people. To crowds. To individuals. Compassion. That is not generally how I respond.


I have no easy answers, no quick fix. I suspect this is a struggle that will be with me as long as I live in this city. I also know this reality is forcing me to wrestle with God through some tough questions. And to recognise that my own compassion runs out pretty quickly, that I need to rely on Him. Which are good things. And so I cry out, for myself and for this city


Kyrie Eleison. Lord, have mercy.


Leaving you with some of Berlin’s amazing creativity, making even the everyday sounds of public transport appear beautiful!


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Books of 2019

The image above seemed appropriate since most of my reading happens on public transport 😉


Without further ado and in no particular order, here are some of my favourites from this past year.




Find of the year! Happened to come across it on the bookshelf at our holiday cottage and loved it! Such an insightful depiction of life as an immigrant. Very moving and relatable for anyone who has lived cross-culturally.


LIFE AFTER LIFE by Kate Atkinson


What a fascinating exploration of the different paths each of our lives might take if circumstances were just slightly different or we took different decisions in seemingly insignificant situations. For example: the doctor makes it before the snowstorm hits and the baby lives. Or he gets stuck and the story ends on page one. And so it continues. Entertaining and thought-provoking!




Beautiful and enthralling. In the midst of the horrors of WW2, two lives inexorably drift towards each other (and not in a love story kind of way).  A captivating story beautifully told.


BRITT-MARIE WAS HERE by Fredrik Backman


Another year, another book by Fredrik Backman. And again, he did not disappoint. A wonderful story of hope, restoration and the difference each one of us can make. In true Backman style, all of the characters are multi-faceted and as the story unfolds, we understand more of what has shaped them and why they react in certain ways.




When you read the book after watching the movie and still love both, that has got to be a good sign! Somehow this classic had eluded me until now but I’m glad I finally discovered it! Lots of unexpected twists and turns, and sometimes you want to yell at the characters (which I reckon is a good thing) – highly recommend it!


GLOBAL HUMILITY by Andy McCullough


You might have noticed that I read A LOT more fiction than non-fiction. However, each year there seems to be one non-fiction book that leaves a lasting impression. This is the one for 2019. It makes for challenging and at times uncomfortable reading but each topic is so worth wrestling with. Would be great to discuss as a team as well.


So there you have it – some of my 2019 highlights! And let me tell you, my reading for 2020 is off to a good start already 🙂

Any recommendations of things to read this year?

Photo by Soroush Karimi on Unsplash

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Free To Celebrate {The Grove: Party}

Today, I’m over at Velvet Ashes, reflecting on celebrating the good!

“Picture this. It is a cold December night in Berlin. Suddenly, as if on cue, people stream out from every building onto the streets. Most of them are armed with champagne and lots of fireworks. For a good half hour, it’s as if the whole city explodes. It’s midnight but the sky is brightly lit and it’s hard to know where to look first.

Are you with me? Are you picturing the scene? Ok, try again. Whatever you saw in your imagination likely wasn’t loud enough, crazy enough, scary enough, or breath-taking enough. Oh the fun it is to experience this with someone who has never spent New Year’s Eve in Germany! We try to prepare people, to tell them what to expect. But invariably, when midnight strikes, it goes far beyond anything they imagined! It seems all the cultural norms they had learned (like being quiet in public, not striking up conversations with strangers, not littering) no longer apply. The whole city, the whole country, is partying!

I always find it a bit jarring to go from a quiet, contemplative few days (in German, there is even an expression for it – “zwischen den Jahren,” meaning “between the years”) to that. And then, within a day or two, back to normal life.

Truth be told, I am more naturally drawn to the quiet, reflective times. Exuberant parties aren’t so much my thing. Yet as I’ve been reflecting on the contrasts this season brings, I’m beginning to wonder if they might be not so much contrasts but rather parts of a whole. ”

Read the rest of the post here!

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Getting Started (book review)

Sometimes you know a book will be good just because of who the author is.

Sometimes you get to have a few sneak peaks along the way and wish the whole book was already available.

Sometimes you even get to be part of the process in a tiny way, by contributing thoughts to some of the issues covered, and you can’t wait to read what others said.

And then the book arrives and it’s every bit as good as you’d hoped and expected.

This is one of those books!

Amy Young does a great job of painting a well-rounded picture of many of the dynamics people typically experience in their first year of living cross-culturally. She unpacks these enough to go beyond the headlines, without getting bogged down in too much detail. Just the right balance!


Added bonus: Amy includes a lot of real-life stories – shorter and longer quotes by a wide range of people, describing the highs and lows, joys and challenges of their first year living cross-culturally.


All in all, this book is an amazing resource for anyone who is about to move cross-culturally, who is in their first year overseas or who knows someone in that situation. Highly recommend it!

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An Activity To Help Returnees Bloom (at SPS)

Earlier this week, I was over at Small Planet Studio, sharing about a fun activity that helps you process major transitions:

Any gardeners among us?

I’m definitely not one! But I’ve got a fun and meaningful gardening and transition related activity that I think you’ll enjoy – whether or not you enjoy gardening!

Why don’t we go ahead and do this activity together right now? 

As I explain how to facilitate the activity, I’ll share a few snippets of my own reflections in italics.


Continue reading at Small Planet Studio!

Posted in cross-cultural, Spirituality, The Grove Velvet Ashes, Uncategorized

The Annoying Question That Turns out to Be a Gift

„Why are you single?”

If I had a penny for every time I was asked that question, I’d be rich by now!


Right now, I live in a place that’s full of single people (almost 50% of Berlin households). Around here, I am not odd. Well, I probably am in lots of ways but not for being single. It used to be a very different story. For a number of years, I lived in a South Asian community in England. In that context, there were no single women around. Girls got married at a young age and generally started having children pretty soon after that. I was the odd one out. In many ways – but the thing that my friends had the hardest time getting their heads around was my singleness. There was no category for me. And so the questions came. Sometimes that was annoying, often hard. I’d always wanted to be married, have a family. A real, honest answer to their questions would have been painful and very vulnerable. I wasn’t always ready to go there. Not with everyone, not in every context. At the same time, I didn’t want to give a glib answer. One that was maybe correct but not always real in my life. And so I fumbled through.

It was only years later that a friend encouraged a group of us to enter into that question more deeply. We were all serving (or preparing to serve) cross-culturally. Our backgrounds were diverse – we were from Eastern and Western Europe, and the Middle East. Mostly women but also some men. My friend, who was leading us through this, was from Eastern Europe herself and for many years had served as a single lady in a neighbouring country. And it was hard. There weren’t many single women around. Certainly not in ministry. And so the questions came, as they had for me and for so many of us. Eventually she realised it wasn’t enough to find peace in her own heart with being single (important though that was). She also longed to respond to the ever-present questions in a way that satisfied her own heart and faith, that reflected God’s love and care for every person, married or single, and that caused her audience “to bless God for her” (as my friend put it).

What an amazing way to think about this! Those awkward questions are actually a gift and an opportunity! An opportunity (and an invitation) for me to wrestle more deeply with God about my own doubts, fears and insecurities. And an opportunity to speak words of hope and healing into hearts that are equally as broken and vulnerable as my own. Because isn’t that what’s really behind many of those question. Am I enough? Whether single or married, we all ask that question.

That question, that oh so annoying question, can help open the vista beyond the immediate, the culturally strange. It can be an opportunity to share about identity, about worth, about God’s care. Beyond marital status, gender, success – the value of a person created in the image of God!

I still don’t have the perfect answer, and maybe I never will. That’s ok. It’s a journey. But I do look at those questions quite differently now.


If you are single, how do you answer this question in your context? If you’re married, how do you respond to comments or questions about your team mate’s singleness?


This post has been linked to Velvet Ashes, an encouraging site for women serving cross-culturally.


Photo by Emily Morter on Unsplash

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Social Media, Lent and Literary Citizenship {Velvet Ashes}

How fun to be reminded of my own thoughts from almost a year ago in a post by Melanie Weldon-Soiset over on Velvet Ashes, offering a very interesting perspective on social media!


“In hindsight, I see how my ad-posting friend was practicing a certain form of citizenship. God taught me new delights and duties of denizenship after my five years in China. Many Christians, including Amy Young here on Velvet Ashes, have also explored what it means to be a good citizen. What should our proper posture be to citizenship in God’s Kingdom, and to the countries of our passports, postal addresses, and passions? As Bayta Schwarz observed after she took part in a volunteer day planting flowers in a local park, “beyond passports and visas, I realized I started to feel like a citizen of this place when I began to be invested beyond my little niche.’ 

Read the whole post here.

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Books of 2018

In no particular order, here are some of the books I enjoyed in 2018. Have you read any of them? What did you think?

This year, I read along with quite a few of the Velvet Ashes Book Club picks, and those are marked VA.


THE PIANO TUNER by Daniel Mason


If you enjoy being transported into a totally different world (in this case, Burma in 1886), I highly recommend this book! You’ll enjoy this tale of West meeting East, of discovery and misunderstanding, of pain and joy. (VA)


LITURGY OF THE ORDINARY by Tish Harrison Warren


What a unique and intriguing way to look at life and its rhythms, and how they mirror (and remind us of) sacred rhythms! (VA)


WALK TWO MOONS by Sharon Creech


I don’t often read Young Adult literature and was surprised by how much I enjoyed this book! “Walk Two Moons” is a clever, beautiful, moving story of loss, of love, of starting again – and of the emotions that go with all of those. It is so well told and completely drew me in. (VA)


ARRIVING WELL by Cate Brubaker, Doreen Cumberford, Helen Watts


Five personal stories of re-entry, of building a new life after living abroad. Each one unique, yet with each one, I found myself laughing out loud, and tearing up, at different points. If you’ve experienced re-entry, here are some good people for you to hang out with.




I was worried this might be too much like “A Man Called Ove” but ended up falling in love with it pretty quickly! I enjoyed the layers, the way different stories are woven together, and how with each character, we find out more of who they are, and what has shaped them, as the story progresses. Highly recommend it! (VA)

(NB: for some reason, in the US this booked is called “My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry”)




One of the most help, practical, yet insightful books about cultures and how they operate, I’ve come across so far! I learned so much and enjoyed the positive approach towards differences!


I am also working my way through the “Anne” series by L.M. Montgomery, and the Discworld series by Terry Pratchett. I’m enjoying them both immensely, different though they are!


Over to you – what should I be reading in 2019?

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A quiet moment at the end of the day. Sitting in my almost dark living room, by the light of the tree. Disconnected from the world, it’s a moment of stillness, a moment to just be. Not even reflecting, just being still, giving myself a moment to arrive in the here and now.

Not reading the latest news, whether global or from friends and family. Not distracting myself. Just enjoying the beauty of the tree, of the lights. Getting caught up in the wonder of the season.

The stillness of this moment brings peace into all that’s happened today. Fun times with friends. Stressful times on public transport. Information coming at me from everywhere. Cares and concerns that weigh on my heart and soul.

Stillness. A gift I don’t give myself often enough.


Linking to Five Minute Friday – Still


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Layers of a City

So often I walk the streets of this city without really seeing. Everything is familiar, always the same. Until suddenly it is not.

I had enjoyed a wander around one of my favourite craft stores. It’s a cool place, so many fun things to get those creative juices flowing.

As I was leaving, I turned around to take a look back at the façade (which incidentally is pretty funky). That’s when I spotted it. A memorial plaque telling me that on this very spot, there used to stand a synagogue. The building was destroyed during the Reichskristallnacht of November 1938. At my feet, an indication of what likely happened to the people who would have attended the synagogue. Stolpersteine commemorating (what appear to be) three members of the same family, all deported and killed.


A sudden glimpse of the many layers that make up this city. There’s the obvious – the many tourists, the expensive department store, the fun craft shop. Then there is what has gone before. The things we normally don’t see, made visible and brought into the present.

So much else I’m not seeing as I walk through my days. Stories happening in the lives of individuals I encounter. Hidden people, hidden groups, hidden dynamics. Layers upon layers.

I wonder what those layers look like in my apartment, on my street, in my neighbourhood? What’s gone before – what joy, what sadness, what tragedy, what ordinariness? All of it has shaped the place, has shaped who and what we are now.