Be “Swirly” to the Nations Around You

Driving into the run down apartment complex in North Raleigh, I remind the boys that we are going to practice being “swirly” – a term Gaby and I have borrowed from a favorite children’s book that describes Lila’s, a TCK (third-culture kid), diverse and adventurous life. Her parents are missionaries called from their blue country to live and work in the yellow country. Lila adapts to her surroundings in her new home by adopting new mannerisms, a new language, and new habits. In doing so she changes colors from blue to a mix of blues, yellows, and even some shades of green.

Walking up the stairs to the children’s classroom, JR, Xander, and I talk about the kiddos they’d meet, how those boys and girls may or may not know English yet, but how they could still enjoy playing together. We also discuss what the apartment might look like. Would it be like our home, would it be messy? How would it be decorated? I want my boys to understand that even though their surroundings may not be what we are accustomed to or expect, we can still enjoy our time with those who may be behind that door. We can practice being “swirly.”

Upon entering the small apartment, we are greeted with a beautiful array of colorful kiddos; some from Afghanistan, a few from Ethiopia, others from Myanmar, and one Honduran boy. JR and Xander join right in with Abed, a little boy who is busy smashing cars into a tall tower of lego blocks. 

Much like my boys, I have the opposite reaction as I walk into the classroom. Be still my heart. The room being packed full of “covered” women (women wearing dupattas, traditional head scarves), I find myself overwhelmed by nostalgia. I feel for a moment that I have returned home, for a sensation of the warmest affection floods my heart, much like it would after that first bite of freshly prepared Gajar Halwa (recipe below).

I sit myself with Zia, Farzana, and Razia; three women from Afghanistan. We work through an intensive lesson on clothing, and I reminisce about the days of old. While I lived in Pakistan for only 3 years, I had the privilege of working with South Asian women for 7 years while living in Chicagoland. I’m pretty sure intertwined in the red, white and blue weavings of my heart, there also exists a beautiful thread of green. 

BUT, outside of this room, I find myself serving an entirely different culture, the American Hispanic Church culture. My heart has found itself butting up against a new system of thought as I’ve struggled to adjust to the new cultural values that are so very foreign to me. Take my nose ring for example; having acquired it in Pakistan, it is a culturally-appropriate, almost mandatory, accessory. It represents submission to one’s husband, which is a highly coveted distinction. But to the Hispanic Christian eye, it is a disgrace. “It represents slavery” as one brother put it. While not all hispanic believers define a nose piercing this way, it’s almost intolerable for many. 

Let’s revisit Lila’s story. After spending some time in the yellow country, her parents decide to uproot the family, dog and all, and move to a very different “red” country. While there she begins to question her identity and where she belongs, but she meets a friend who shares with her the story of Jesus. Jesus is “swirly,” just like her. As a young boy, Jesus’ parents move the family to a new country to avoid persecution from the King. Later he would return to his country, but to a new home. He would then spend his adult life traveling spreading the truth and love of the Gospel message among different cultures, like and unlike his own.

Mom, can you tell me what “swirly” is again?” JR asks as we climb down the staircase of the apartment building. “Sweetheart, it’s loving those who are different from us. It’s celebrating who God made them to be. And maybe we even become a little more like them so that we can share God’s love with them.” God is calling me to weave a new thread into my heart, and though it may be painful at times, humorous at others, it is all for the sake of the Gospel. 

What does it look like for you to get a little swirly, or to teach your kids to be swirly? Let me end with this scripture as a challenge to us all… to the nations. Paul writes to the church in Corinth,

…I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some. I do it all for the sake of the gospel that I may share with them in its blessings.

1 Corinthians 9:22

Gajar Halwa (Carrot Pudding) 


  • 1 tablespoon Ghee (Clarified butter)
  • 2 cups Carrot grated
  • 2 cups Milk
  • ⅓ cup Sugar or more, as per your taste
  • ⅓ cup Khoya (Mawa) optional, 
  • ¼ teaspoon Green cardamom seeds powder
  • 1 tablespoon Almonds, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon Cashews, chopped
  • ½ tablespoon Raisins


Making gajar halwa recipe with khoya:

  • Heat the ghee in a small/medium sauce pan on medium heat.
  • Once hot add grated carrot and saute for 2-3 minutes or till the carrot starts to soften.
  • Now add milk and let it come to a boil.
  • Turn down to low-medium heat until all the milk evaporates. Do stir in between so milk does not stick to the bottom and sides of the pan.
  • Add khoya, mix and let it melt completely.
  • Add sugar and cardamom powder, and continue cooking till all the liquid dries out and becomes thick halwa consistency again. This time you need to stir it more frequently.
  • Mix in almond, cashew, and raisins.
  • Halwa is ready to serve (warm/cold).