Lessons on Homecoming

It’s been a little under a year since I started living in Southern California, 2,711 miles away from my family. Previous to that I was living in Boston, 1,471 miles away from them in Fort Lauderdale, Fl. I’ve had several years’ experience trying to get the most out of trips home to visit. I usually say that I love my life, but one caveat is being so far away from dear family and friends. I’ve made mistakes in my relationships throughout all my trips home in trying to make up for lost time and mixing up my priorities in my relationships. In the age of social media and FaceTime it’s completely possible to maintain healthy, long-distance relationships. My own experience is highlighted here in the lessons I’ve learned about making the most of homecoming trips.

Simple Starbucks outing with siblings

1. You Can’t See Everyone

This might seem like an obvious point, but what really needed to change in my heart was the guilt. I might make two trips home per year and if I see a certain special friend only one of those trips then that’s okay. I have even come to realize that if I don’t see someone for a year or two, that’s okay too! I’ve learned to lean heavily on healthy social media relationships with the people I might not be able to fit into a tightly scheduled or short trip home. It’s so easy to keep up with people now that there’s really no excuse for losing those few important relationships. Holiday trips are especially complicated due to the huge number of family members to see and many houses to visit. On those trips I have to choose to feel no guilt over lost time with friends because family comes first.

2. Enjoy the Everyday Stuff

When I visit home I’m the only one who’s really on vacation. My family might take a couple days off or an afternoon, but no one will have as much free time as me! So, if my sister has to open at the coffee shop in the morning, I’ll go and sit at the table next to the espresso machine and chat between customers. When I let go of some grand idea about fancy outings and everyone hanging out with me every minute I have a much better time. The everyday life is what I miss spending with my loved ones anyway. I choose to take pleasure in the small things like taking my parent’s dogs out or tagging along with my mom running errands.

It’s the simple things like hanging with dogs…

3. Rent a Car

This one is so simple that my husband and I have overlooked it on past trips. If home is a place that doesn’t have great public transportation then it’s easy to be trapped or limited by the ability to borrow someone’s car or have someone pick you up. I have felt like I missed out on hanging with certain old friends because I couldn’t easily get to where they were. I used to think of renting a car was a prohibitive cost, but using a discount company solves this problem. We tend to use the same company and have found terrific prices through them. Let’s be honest . . . a Hyundai is a Hyundai no matter who you rent it from. Sometimes we pick up the tab, or sometimes we’re blessed to have parents willing to splurge on us, but for us, renting a car has become essential to having a full and complete trip.

Me and my best friend’s baby, Jordyn. She’ll only know me as “Aunt Jessica” who lives far away . . . and that’s okay! I can still love her lots anyway.

4. It’s All Different and That’s Okay

I used to get depressed by trips home and then get mad at myself for being depressed because I was supposed to be on vacation. It was a vicious mood cycle. Anyone who’s moved somewhere different knows that the life you left back home continues on and people change. Other people leave and new people are added. It’s the way life is supposed to work. I used to feel miffed that people didn’t know who I was in a social situation or that people had made new close friends. It all came down to me being selfish and acting like the world revolved around me. We’ve all been there. By managing my expectations ahead of time, I usually have a great time.

By implementing these four ideas into my trips home, I’ve turned them from “Hey, this was supposed to be fun,” into refreshing and energizing trips. Now if only I could find a few extra bucks for those cross-country flights!

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The other day I was doing what I do every Wednesday: working out on the elliptical (aka the “grasshopper”) at my gym next to my BFF. I was thirty minutes in, starting to feel the sweat trickling, reading a super intense part of the book I’m currently obsessed with on my Nook, when my phone lit up. Joe was calling. (We’ll call him Joe because he wishes to remain anonymous. He’s a dear loved one.) Normally I don’t answer the phone when I’m working out, but he’d been trying to reach me for days and it just hadn’t worked out for us to connect. I decided to answer really quickly and tell him I’d call him back when I finished.

By the end of the phone call, I was choking back sobs.

“Lynds, I hear your writing retreat over the weekend went well,” he began.

“Yeah, it was a great time away to just focus on the book. Very needed,” I replied, slowing my pace and trying to catch my breath. “Sorry, if I sound funny. I’m working out at the gym right now.”

My subtle hint was not caught.

“What’s this I hear about you wanting to go to a writer’s conference?” Joe asked.

“Oh, it would be really nice, but at this point it’s just a dream. Those things are way too expensive,” I said, wiping sweat from my face and becoming aware that several people are staring at me wondering why in the world I’m talking on the phone.

“Well, you’re going,” he said matter-of-factly.

“It would definitely be nice. Maybe some day,” I answered, my cardio machine yelling at me to step faster.

“No, I mean you’re going. I’m paying.”

“What?” I came to a dead stop.

“Lyndsay, I believe in what you’re doing. I believe you have what it takes to accomplish it. If going to a writing conference is what you need, then I want to help you get there. So you’re going.”

I blinked back the tears that were blinding me. “Joe, that is so amazing. I don’t know what to say. . . . Thank you.”

“Well I’ll let you go then,” he said happily.

“Is that all you called about?” I was about to lose it.

“Yep. Love ya. Bye!”

Fast forward one day. I found out a family member was in some pretty urgent need of help in a way that I couldn’t give. In fact, no one in our family could. Her circle is small, so I reached out to some of my friends. Maybe they knew someone who knew someone who could help. Within seconds one of my friends told me she would volunteer. She has never met this family member of mine. She has no relationship with her at all. It would require a full day of her once a week for 3.5 months.

I couldn’t contain the tears as I sat at my desk.

This thing called generosity is selfless in a way that absolutely overwhelms my heart and reflects the face of God to me in a way that few other things do.

Joe is not wealthy. I know it will personally cost him and probably make him uncomfortable to support me in my literary efforts, but he has this incredibly selfless way of being generous even if he is in need.

My friend has four kids and a husband to take care of. I would think her generosity bank would be completely depleted day in and day out. But she is volunteering what she has to help a total stranger.

I am completely undone.

The Bible tells us to be generous: “But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him?” 1 John 3:17

Generosity, as I have heard it preached on frequently, has often included some sort of enticing reward. “If you give, you will receive blessings in return.” While that’s true (1 Tim 6:17-19), whether the blessings are earthly or in heaven, the motive is what matters. If we are generous in order to earn accolades from other people, we are actually prideful. If we’re giving in order to issue a deposit from which to make a withdrawal at a later date, our generosity is actually selfish. (While this act is not wrong, it should not be confused with generosity.)

When we give, it is meant to be out of a loving heart, without the expectation of something in return. Why? Because He tells us to. Because it’s what Christ did.

Christ gave every single thing he had. He literally gave His blood, His tears, His sweat, and His last breath to generations of people who would mock and reject Him. Their ungrateful responses didn’t hinder His generous love, spilling from His side, dripping down His brow.

Personally, I’m being very challenged in my application of true generosity in my life. I’m asking myself how often I allow myself to give something that really costs me something without expecting something in return . Having been so frequently on the receiving end of this kind of generosity, I know how impactful it is. I know it can change peoples’ lives. It blesses me to tears.

I want to be that kind of generous.

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Somen Salad

This is one of my favorite Japanese dishes—it’s quick, easy, refreshing, and yes, even my Caucasian husband loves it (Clay wanted me to make sure that was clear). Somen Salad is a traditional Japanese dish that can be prepared with any variety of ingredients, but it is always served cold and generally has several types of protein, which makes it perfect for the summer and perfect for husbands (and wives) who like working out.

It has a cold noodle base and a variety of vegetable and protein fixings. I have my favorites, but you can do any combination of the following: kamaboko (bright pink fish cake), cocktail shrimp, sliced turkey or ham, char siu (Chinese barbecue pork), scrambled egg (cooked very thin and cut into strips), cucumber, tomato, green onion, and iceberg lettuce. It can be made in individual servings or as a big dish, family style, and can easily be prepped a day in advance.

Somen Salad

Serves: 4 (but can easily be halved for two, doubled, tripled, etc.)

Prep Time: 20 minutes, additional 10 minutes to chill the noodles


½ lb. Cocktail shrimp (I just buy the frozen, pre-cooked shrimp. It’s quick and easy.)

1 block Kamaboko (fish cake)

1 cucumber (preferably Japanese, but any cucumber will work)

3-4 small tomatoes

1 pkg. sliced deli meat (turkey or ham)

4 bundles somen noodles

Thaw the shrimp (or cook it and peel it). Slice the kamaboko. I usually cut it while it is still on the block and then pull the pieces off the block, but it can be done either way. In order to give the kamaboko a scalloped edge, cut with your knife halfway at a 45 degree angle and then jiggle your hand from side to side as you cut the rest.  If that’s too confusing, just cut straight pieces.

Partially peel the cucumber and thinly slice. The thinner the better since it will absorb more flavor. Cut the tomatoes into chunks, and cut up the deli meat into small pieces.

Boil water and add the somen noodles. Make sure to mix immediately so they don’t stick together and then mix occasionally. Bring them to a boil again and add cold water. Do this three times to make sure that they are extra soft. After they are finished, strain them and immediately run cold water through them. If you want to serve the salad immediately, push ice cubes into the noodles to cool them down. If you are preparing this in advance, put them in the fridge to chill.


4 T. sugar

4 T. soy sauce

2 tsp. sesame oil and/or 4 T. roasted sesame seeds

4 T. vinegar (I use rice vinegar)

4 T. cooking oil

1 tsp. salt

Mix all the sauce ingredients in a bottle or bowl. Before serving, always make sure to shake or stir because the ingredients will separate.


You can either arrange all of the ingredients in individual bowls or mix everything together family style. Japanese value aesthetics, so my grandmother always makes her food look beautiful. She cuts her radishes, tomatoes, carrots, and other brightly colored things into stars and flowers. When I’m feeling particularly Japanese, I arrange each bowl individually by placing noodles on the bottom and arranging each of the other ingredients on the top. I spoon the sauce over the top, but often will provide an extra dish of sauce on the table.  Chinese don’t worry too much about aesthetics – my mom said she never thought about arranging a salad bowl until she met my dad. When I’m feeling particularly Chinese, I throw everything together, including the sauce, and toss it.


If you can, use chopsticks. Not that it is particularly important to your enjoyment of this meal, but I think it is significantly easier to eat this meal with chopsticks rather than forks.  According to my dad, Japanese chopsticks are far superior to Chinese because they are pointed rather than blunt. My mother begs to differ. See if you can tell the difference.

Finally, enjoy!


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Grace for the Ungracious

Everyone knows we should forgive the ones who hurt us. We should love our enemies, and we should love our friends and family. No one is perfect, so when someone makes a mistake, even if they never acknowledge how wrong they are, we still must forgive. When I left to teach in Thailand in April 2012, I was determined to have grace, not just for others, but for myself.

Lesson number one: forgiving someone for their mistakes is hard, but not as hard as forgiving myself.

Shortly before I left America, I realized I was living under my own condemnation. It was like carrying a shock collar around my neck that zapped me anytime I made a mistake, and not just any kind of mistake. I could forgive myself for the bad decisions and the errors. That was easy. Doing the wrong thing when I thought I was doing the right thing was difficult to forgive. Once someone pointed out how my actions were flawed, I felt a gnawing in my stomach and a clenching in my throat, sometimes keeping me up in the middle of the night or snapping me awake in the early hours of the morning. It was unhealthy, literally. For a couple of months teaching at the new school, all my mistakes piled up. Most of them were done with good intentions, and as my faults were being recorded in the back of my mind, I lost sleep, I lost my appetite, I lost weight, and I grew sick more often. I even lost my voice several times.

There is something paralyzing about being a Christian but not knowing the importance of grace. I wonder how many people have accepted the fact they are sinners but never finished their transformation. We know that before we accept Christ, our sins condemn us to hell, but if we don’t have the assurance of grace, if we don’t fully believe that one man’s death on a cross saves us forever, obviously there is no freedom. But we are supposed to be secure. Jesus died and rose again, right? So why is it so hard to forgive ourselves even if we find it easy to forgive others?

Lesson number two: you still have to forgive yourself even if the other person doesn’t.

Failing is easy if the people you see every day forgive you easily. Now imagine, despite your best efforts, you fail miserably and there is no one to clap you on the back and help you up. The people you’ve grown to love don’t have enough grace for you to make you feel okay. Failure without grace from others is like getting a punch in the stomach—and I’m back to self-condemnation because the blanket of grace has been removed and the truth remains—I have not fully accepted the most important aspect of my religion: forgiveness! Of course, the last person I learn to forgive is myself because I am a selfish person, and it’s my own feelings I hold most dear. I don’t blame me for this because I know I am human, and loving others well begins by loving myself well. Also, this condemnation I feel should not be confused with humility. If being humble means resenting my mistakes, then this resentment will only pass on to others, which leads to lesson number three:

You still have to forgive the person who doesn’t forgive you.

Forgiving unforgiveness is perhaps the hardest thing I have ever done. When my first instinct is to protect myself from the pain of my mistakes, a person who wrongfully convicts me can stir up coals in my stomach—resentment. Resentful feelings are icky. They stick to the inside of my stomach, they kill my appetite, and they give me bad acne. In Thailand, there have been times I was wrongfully accused about things, mostly due to misunderstanding or lack of communication. I would be in a daze for weeks at a time, figuring out ways to justify myself instead of accepting what I did wrong and rejecting what I was wrongfully accused of doing.

Finally, I realized I wasn’t really a forgiving person. Not really. If I can’t forgive unforgiveness, I haven’t freed myself yet from my condemnation. Turns out, it is an issue of pride. An accusation injured my pride, and instead of forgiving, I would think of rebuttals and my own accusations in return. I was still thinking up ways to stand up for my pride even when I was alone in my room. Why? I was trying to convince myself there was nothing wrong with me so I could escape the inevitable feeling of condemnation.

Lesson number four: forgiveness is way cooler than resentment.

Once I learned to let things go, I put myself in the shoes of others, I turned off my negative thinking, and I sympathized with my accusers. They must also feel the weight of condemnation pressing them down. With the shock collar and the icky, resentful feelings gone, I realized what I was missing. Freedom, man. Freedom to make mistakes and demand grace from myself, and if challenged, speak confidently by saying: “I’m doing the best I can, man. That’s all I can do.”

Also, Jesus has my back. I’m covered. Now that the weight of condemnation is gone, I have enough energy to improve myself, whereas before, all my energy was spent protecting my pride. Since I’ve learned these lessons and begun to put them into practice (or at least attempt), I’ve regained my appetite, my sleep schedule, my health (plus better skin!), and even my voice. I still have my pride, but it is getting healthier and stronger, not weak and in danger of breaking under pressure. I see the reality of who I am: imperfect. Now that I have realistic expectations, I have a fair chance to feel like a success.

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Posted in Adversity, Relationships, Self Esteem, Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Our Favorite 4th of July Pins!

The contributors of On the Willows have compiled our favorite 4th of July pins from Pinterest in hopes of inspiring your party, day at the beach or whatever it is that you’re doing to celebrate Independence Day this year. Feel free to leave a comment with a link to your favorite pin! Happy 4th from  On the Willows !

Our Favorites from:

Pinned by Stephanie VanTassell: Berry Cheesecake Parfaits “My sister’s famous vanilla bean cheesecake plus my mom’s homemade jam makes for a fun family Fourth!”
Pinned by Kirsten Smith: Whole Berry Pizza. “LOVE fruit pizza on the 4th! Enjoy!
Happy 4th!”
Pinned by Adrienne Sandvos:
4th of July Wands
Pinned by Emily Butler:
Patriotic Parfait
Pinned by Stephanie Krier:
Cheese and Fruit Bites “I’m a sucker for cheese and fruit, I might just have to make these!”
Pinned by Melissa Lester: American Flag Fruit Kabobs
“I did this last year with my son and he loved it! We will do it again!”

Pinned by Lyndsay Wilkin: 4th of July Napkin Ring
Pinned by Lyndsay Wilkin:
4th of July Lantern Table Decor
Pinned by Lyndsay Wilkin: “Love this for a buffet-style picnic or BBQ! It’s silverware, napkin, and drinking cup all in one!”
4th of July Silverware Jars
Pinned by Evita Gahagan: 4th of July Learning Activities
“While my husband takes over the BBQ, I love enjoying the time with my younger kids, making messes and memories on the Fourth of July, and this site has some fun projects we’ve done.”
Pinned by Sarah Maizland:
DIY 4th of July Decor Ideas
Pinned by Sarah Maizland:
Stars & Stripes Mason Jars
Pinned by Lyndsay Wilkin:
4th of July Water Bottles
Pinned by Lyndsay Wilkin: “Wrap your glass vases in red, white and blue paper! Quick festive transformation.”
4th of July Flowers & Candles
Pinned by Lyndsay Wilkin: “Blue glass with red flowers for a touch of chic in your décor, or fill with sand and flags or sparklers!”
Blue Glassware Centerpiece

Don’t forget to share your favorite 4th of July pins by commenting on this article! (Please note that they will probably not appear right away as we usually have to approve comments that contain links!)

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