Book Review: Becoming All Things

Becoming All Things: How Small Changes Lead to Lasting Connections Across Cultures

By Michelle Ami Reyes

Becoming All Things: How Small Changes Lead To Lasting Connections Across Cultures by [Michelle Reyes, Thabiti Anyabwile]

I am a white American Christian. I have lived in Muslim-dominant countries in the Horn of Africa since 2003. I tell you this before beginning my review of Becoming All Things because my position in the world impacted my reading of this book. I have struggled and grown, struggled and grown, in how to talk about and understand the racial dynamics of my life and I’ve been hungry for three things specifically. First, how do race and faith intersect and interact? Second, what are some practical things for me to engage in that will help me continue to learn and grow? And third, how do I help the people I shepherd grow in this area?

Becoming All Things addresses each of these three questions. Reyes writes with courageous compassion, refusing to shy away from difficult topics, refusing to let people remain stagnate. She writes with vulnerable hope. It is evident in these pages that Reyes has examined her own heart and perspectives and believes that the combination of vulnerability on her part and her push for Christians to do better will make a difference.

Reyes urges readers to explore our own cultural history. “Learning to value your cultural identity means delving into your family’s specific history” (18) and this is an excellent place to start. I confess that I grew up as a White suburban Minnesotan Baptist with the idea that my life was somehow “normal”, that I didn’t have culture. Life in the Horn of Africa quickly disabused me of this naivete. For readers not immersed in a place so different from their own, Reyes provides questions as a launching pad from which to begin learning your culture and history. She also asks us to explore how that culture impacts our faith.

Moving beyond looking inward, Reyes urges people to consider the other person’s position in the world, and their perspective. She writes, “The most honoring thing we can do for a person of another culture is to give them the dignity of defining themselves. This practice takes the power and ability to place value judgments on others out of our hands and challenges us to see someone the way they want to be seen, not according to how we want to label them.” (41) Again, to look at my own experience, bringing this attitude toward Somali and Muslim friends has made a profound difference in how we relate. We must be humble and curious as we allow others to define themselves. This will help us to ask better questions, to not operate out of harmful assumptions, and to get to know people as individuals, created in the image of God, each one unique.

Grounded in scripture and rich with practical steps, I highly recommend this book. In particular, I recommend it for groups: book clubs, Sunday Schools, neighborhood gatherings, families. I plan to use some of the material with our staff in Africa as we reckon with race in our context. Books like Becoming All Things are useful individually, but the concepts and lessons will become even more memorable and life-changing when read in concert with others on the same journey.

I encourage you to go find a copy of this excellent book and will conclude with Reyes’ words: “Justice is not a distraction from the gospel. It is a core message of the gospel. The life of Jesus declares this to be true, and if you want to prioritize the gospel in your life, then the pursuit of justice on behalf of others must be an essential component of your faith.”

Find Michelle Reyes on Instagram and Twitter

Find Becoming All Things

Human Dignity in a Broken World, Two Book Reviews

Shalom Sistas, by Osheta Moore

I read this book on Saturday evening (if you want to read a lot, have surgery and have friends who bring you books, that really helps). Loved it.

I don’t know that Osheta would use the words human dignity, but that’s what shalom is about – peacemaking, peace building, relationships of healing and hope. And the only way to do that is to offer one another dignity. Her book is an honest and brave siren call to live in our neighborhoods and schools and workplaces with courage. I heard Osheta speak recently and loved her combination of passion for the hard work of pursuing justice with the freedom to enjoy simplicity, like an afternoon at the dog park. She offers 12 ways for women to actively and intentionally be peacemakers in our communities.

I love this quote, especially because I have experienced the truth of it. Peace is not passive and it is not an end goal, it is a way of life. “Peace is fierce—it has to be, because violence and discord won’t go down without a fight. Those who wield peace in the face of the world’s violence do it fiercely.”


Perfectly Human, nine months with Cerian, by Sarah C. Williams, PhD in philosophy and a professor at Regent College.

*I received a copy of this book from the publisher, Plough Publishing.

I read this book in one weepy afternoon post-surgery. (Books make great post-surgery gifts, in case you have someone heading in for a procedure). My publisher gave me this one while I was at their offices last week. It is heartbreaking and beautiful, a mother’s love story and ringing testimony to the value of every single human life.

After a devastating diagnosis declared her unborn baby would not survive, Sarah and her husband choose to carry the pregnancy to term anyway. This has a terrifying and painful impact on her body and their family, but it also profoundly changes them for good as they declare with her body and with their baby, the worth of a life. What makes up a human life? How is worth determined?

Not everyone will agree with their choice, but that doesn’t matter. Few of us agree with each other about almost anything (American political situation, anyway?). What matters, is this is one family’s story and testament to beauty and life, and it is stunning.

Here is another review in Christianity Today.

And Sarah also wrote in the Huffington Post about her experience.

Worlds Apart, a Book Review

Worlds Apart, by Marilyn Gardner

This is the revised version of Passages Through Pakistan and I had the incredible honor of writing the forward. Marilyn has been an online shepherd for me for over five years now. Though we haven’t met (yet) in person, she knows and holds, with gentle wisdom, the deep waters of my heart. When I’ve agonized over boarding school woes or needed someone to pull me together after writerly rejections, Marilyn always has a word of hope and perspective.

Just because I love her, doesn’t mean you will. But. I’m sure you will, after you read her words. Don’t take my word for it, delve into her wisdom on your own. If you haven’t found her website yet, check out Communicating Across Boundaries. If you wonder about her thoughts on being a Third Culture Kid, read Between Worlds. And if you want to know what made her into the generous, creative, thoughtful, joyful person she is today, here is Worlds Apart.

Through trauma and laughter, boarding school in Pakistan to transitioning to the United States, Marilyn opens up her experiences so we can benefit from her perspective and example.

One scene, among many, that pricked my heart is of Marilyn’s mother attempting to plant a garden in Pakistan. She longs for the vibrant colors of the place she left behind but the earth is unrelenting and nothing will grow. Finally, she gives up and plants fake flowers, for the splash of brightness. From a distance, at least, it is beautiful. And then, it is stolen. Marilyn remembers thinking, as a child, “I thought we were loved.” Why would someone steal flowers from someone they loved?

The story captures the hard work, creativity, delight, devastation, and recovery inherent in so many experiences of living abroad.

The last chapter is especially pertinent to me personally, as I’m about to launch my twins back to the US for university. She offers practical tips and deeper, heart-level suggestions on how Third Culture Kids can process and grow in their unique lives.

If you are a Third Culture Kids, or know or love one, if haven’t lived abroad but you’d like to glimpse the realities of someone who has, if want to see beauty in crossing cultures, you will love this book.

Pondering Privilege, a Book Review

Jody Fernando has written a beautiful, practical, and challenging book: Pondering Privilege: Toward a deeper understanding of whiteness, race, and faith.

Jody blogs at Between Worlds and if any Djibouti Jones readers have read When Rich Westerners Don’t Know They’re Being Rich Westerners, know that that blog post was inspired by Jody’s superb post When White People Don’t Know They’re Being White. That’s how I first met Jody, three years ago now and I continue to be challenged and inspired by her writing.

Pondering Privilege takes what Jody started with that viral post and deepens it. As a white woman in a brown family, her perspective is uniquely helpful to someone like me – a white woman in a white family, living in a brown country.

The book could be a quick read but Jody raises such important issues and asks such challenging questions that it is a book one could sit with for weeks. It will make readers uncomfortable and this is a good thing – anyone who wants to grow in their ability to communicate about race, to understand, to seek forgiveness, and to deepen community and move toward healing, should read this book.

Jody takes concepts like ‘cultural competency’ and replaces them with ‘cultural humility,’ examines privilege, and calls out white people for our ignorant ways of thinking and acting as well as addressing the issue of entire systems of privilege. She will not let us sit in complacency.

Each chapter ends with questions to ponder, which makes this an excellent book club choice for people who are ready and willing to wrestle, to be brutally honest with themselves and others, and who want to grow.

For me, the best part of Jody’s book is the utterly practical but radically transformative 21-Day Race Challenge. This alone makes buying the book well worth it because, if you take her up on the challenge, you will be changed. This isn’t a book to read and put away on the shelf, it is a book that can, if you let it, seep into your life and actually change things for the better.

*I received an ARC (advanced reader copy) of this book for review.

Letters Never Sent

If Kleenex boxes could be sent via email, she should have sent me one of those too. I promised to write a review and I’ll say upfront that parents of Third Culture Kids should buy this book (I am not an affiliate of anything and earn nothing if you do). I tried to read the book while in the lobby of a hotel and had to put it away so I wouldn’t snort and sniffle and otherwise disrupt the peace. I finished it at home.

The sub-title of the book is: a global nomad’s journey from hurt to healing and that is a perfect description of this book. As the mother of boarding school kids, my eyes and heart burned while I read about her loneliness and the lies she told herself, and that seemed to be perpetuated by the environment, that she must be strong, must not feel the hurt.

The book is a series of letters Ruth didn’t write until later in life and chronicles her journey that began the first day of boarding school as a six-year old in the 1950s when, in her words, “her heart got pulled out.” Ruth writes bluntly and honestly and compassionately about her years in boarding school, high school in the US while her parents stayed in Nigeria, college, marriage, having children, and eventually moving overseas herself. She walks through separations and brokenness, loss and deep questions of faith.

Where was God when she was sick at boarding school and there was no comforting mother’s hand to soothe her? Where was God when she had to say good-bye, again, to parents and siblings and Nigerian friends? Where was God when she felt like a failure for crying?

And, I think ultimately, where is God when the pain is unbearable and is it okay to say that something good hurts like death?

She writes, “I wish someone would acknowledge that pain of what He is asking. Just once, I wish someone would give me a hug and say, ‘I understand. It’s okay to say that the right thing to do hurts. Go ahead and cry.'”

Through depression and wrestling, Ruth comes to a fuller understanding of grace and experiencing the comfort of God. The end of the book has a reflection on this comfort and on what it means to be a person made in the image of God. She also describes her journey of coming to write Third Culture Kids, which I found delightful because the process of writing always fascinates me.

Along with prayers and questions for my own children, I came away from this book with a longing to know this comfort of God, and with hope. Hope that through pain, Jesus shines beautiful and true and that the gospel has power. This is the only hope parents can hold when we know our choices are affecting our children for better and for worse, like Kelley wrote about on Tuesday in the Painting Pictures series.

Ruth writes, “There is great richness in this Third Culture Kid lifestyle and there is also great pain – ironically often because of the richness.”

Thank you Ruth, for your vulnerability. Thank you for contributing to this blog, for bringing my soul comfort, and for being a gentle shepherd of so many parents and TCKs.

Have you read any of Ruth’s books? Heard her speak? Other insights to share?

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