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blood ties

blood ties

“Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their work: If one falls down, his friend can help him up.  But pity the man who falls and has no one to help him up!” – Ecclesiastes 4:9-10

“Whoever eats my flesh, and drinks my blood, has eternal life.” – Jesus of Nazareth

When I was 5 or 6, my dad was teaching me how to ride my bike and I fell pretty badly onto the curb.  I banged my elbow and cut my leg open and scraped my knee and I remember being really scared because that was the first time I had ever seen blood.

I couldn’t have explained it to you when I was 5 or 6, but what happened when I hit the ground was that my outermost layer of skin opened up in an abrasion, a contusion, and a laceration.  The Internet and my First-Aid merit badge have taught me that the first of those things causes a shredding of the epidermis, the second, internal hemorrhaging (which means a big fat bruise), and the third, open bleeding.

All of which meant that at 5 or 6 years old I was sitting in the street terrified and covered in my own blood.

My dad rushed over and brought me inside to clean out my wounds.  My mom met us in the kitchen and together they shushed my frantic sobs, bandaging me up and patiently explaining what blood was.  By the end of it, I’d forgotten about the pain and was actually proud of the scars.  I showed them off to my friends at school the next day.

It’s one of the only memories I have of my parents doing anything together that wasn’t beset by fighting.

After they were done, my dad plopped me on the countertop.  As I observed him washing his hands over the sink, I watched a drop of blood spill onto his starch-white shorts.


storm – photo by Ashley Berg Grabb

Sometimes I get really overwhelmed living in Costa Rica.

There’s no water pressure here.  We’ve got Dengue, Malaria, Chagas, and Traveler’s Diarrhea (I haven’t had those first three yet, thank God).  I’m almost entirely surrounded by the opposite sex (there are almost 15 girls in the program and only 2 boys) and the female to male ratio honestly drives me crazy sometimes.  The estrogen, it gets under your skin.

It’s oddly comforting to know that I’m directly connected to my hometown by land, but if I wanted to take a ride to see my family, I’d have to drive through about 6 different developing countries (Nicaragua, Honduras, El Salvador, Guatemala, Mexico, the American South) just to get back to Chicago.

Internet is also pretty shaky here, so I feel…disconnected.  I’m writing a draft of this blog offline right now, and hopefully I won’t lose everything if my computer freezes up again.

Cold showers, culture shock, language barriers, no support network, cockroaches, non-flushable-toilet paper, ridiculously unsafe drivers, rice and beans literally every day.

Basically, I’m not in Kansas anymore.

Suffice it to say that living in a developing (not a huge fan of the term third-world) country and having a Costa Rican family is extremely educational but it is hard being apart from my home home.

I’m sure other students in my program (some of whom read this blog) feel the same way, but I haven’t heard it articulated in many of our conversations, so I’ll just say it here:

I miss my family and friends back home desperately.  I just typed out about twenty names of those on my heart right now but decided not to list them here because I feel like y’all know who you are.  Both boys and girls, friends and family, some at home and some in other countries, some I’ve done a good job keeping in touch with, some relationships I’ve let slip by the wayside.  But I do hope you know who you are my friends, I love you and I care about you.

I miss my dad and my mom.

I miss my sisters.  I miss having my own apartment.

I miss crosswalks and It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia and having my own bed and swisher-sweets.

I miss sushi.

I miss – I’m surprised to say – having such easy access to my network of support from my  fellow Christian bloggers.  These and other Internet friends are people I feel very tied to – even though we’ve never “met.”

Anyhow, what all of this is leading to is that I thought I’d take all of the pent up energy and angst I have about friends and family and relationships and briefly explore how the traditional Christian conception of God relates to these blood ties.


yes, because writing always cheers me up.

Throughout the history of the Christian faith, both orthodox and less-than-so believers have been insistent upon a couple of things relating to our God: 1) that there is just ONE God, and 2) that this one God is somehow more than just a singular God.

Many believers (myself among them) would rest upon the fact that God is One but Many, separate and self-sufficient but somehow together.

Various metaphors and ideas and helpful diagrams have been advanced to describe this God’s relationship with Godself (that ice-steam-water are all, in the end, H20; the Godhead as some sort of crystal of light; Creator, Redeemer, Sustainer; Father, Son, Holy Spirit) but none of them capture the concept perfectly.

the trinity

This is one of those diagrams that is nice but doesn’t really make sense to me.

Put simply, the closest conception we can come to God is that God is some sort of friendship, relationship, community.

A God who is tied to Oneself not by higher obligation to some object holiness, but by the immutable bonds of tenderness and community and love itself.

All of which leads me to another thing that’s worth pointing out:

If the closest we can come to conceiving of God is as some sort of Trinity – a friendship, a relationship, a community – then committed, self-sacrificial relationships become absolutely central to life. Our blood ties – our bonds with our closest friends and family – aren’t peripheral to human growth and flourishing, not somehow divested from living a fulfilling life, but essential to it.

It’s almost like the most satisfying parts of life are designed to be the things that relate to our closest relationships.

One of my new friends on the program claims she doesn’t stand for friendship – another girl said sometimes, the strain just isn’t worth it.  But I’m not sure either of them meant their words they way they were received, because I can’t imagine a happy life without powerful blood ties.

I realize I’m using that term a lot and I haven’t quite clarified it: when I speak of blood ties I’m talking about the people who, if you lost them, it would feel like you’d lost a liter of your own blood.

I’m talking about the pathogens, the DNA, the enzymes, the mitochondria in your blood being so supernaturally and inextricably linked to the thick coagulated blood and enzymes and mitochondria of certain friends and family members, that you’d give them your own blood in a second.

Your blood, tied to theirs.

Type A, type B, type whatever.

This connection, it’s almost covenental.

I think friendships and relationships like that are what God is all about.

My good friend Brett likes to say that we most imitate Christ when we are in a relationship.

That we reflect God’s nature the most when we’ve got blood ties so strong that you’d give that person a kidney, an eyeball, a blood transfusion without a thought.

That’s how God is.  That’s how people are.  That’s what life is about, sharing the power that courses through our veins with our neighbors and enabling each other to be more and more open to the life Jesus keeps insisting is right here in our midst.


No wonder I’ve felt so alone lately.  We’re built, hardwired for community, but when our blood ties are scattered across the world, it’s easy to fall down.  And it’s hard to get back up out of bed some days.

So please keep me in your thoughts and prayers because tiredness has gotten into my blood lately.  I’ve been running a bit dry on the stuff.

I’d ask my host family for a drink of H20, but you know what they say – blood is thicker than water.

So I’m heading out the door on my way to mass with my abuela right now.  Maybe that will help quench my thirst.



check out blood diamonds, part 1 of the series, here.

UPDATE: welp, she left without me.  So I’m still here.  Still thirsty.

8 Comments Post a comment
  1. You remain in my thoughts and prayers as you navigate through the messiness of life and life far from the familiarness of home. Continue to find God in the nooks and crannies of life. Know that the one of the blood ties we share is celebrated in communion that spans all places and all time. Savor God.

    May 27, 2013
    • thank you Rob, your words always mean a lot. God indeed lives in the nooks and crannies. I’m not sure when I’ll get to see you again, but I pray that it is soon. It is now painfully obvious I didn’t appreciate you sufficiently / spend enough time with you while you were around campus. I value our friendship and your ministry so much, and I thank you for thinking of me! 🙂

      June 1, 2013
  2. dad #

    We think about you every day handsome. You are our sunshine on a rainy day and our gift from God. The two most important days in your life are……1) the day you were born and…2) the day you find out why..(KK-said Mark Twain said this)…she saw the video of the guy born without arms or legs and he is such a strong Christian……God loves you and We love you and are very proud of you….Bring honor and glory to God and help advance the kingdom

    May 27, 2013
    • thanks for keeping me in your thoughts and prayers, pop. love those quotes. love that video 🙂

      the kingdom marches forward. I’ll do my work in bringing it in, but it may be more accurate to say that Jesus is actually ahead of us, pulling us forward always. This was, after all, his idea. I’m just struggling to keep pace.

      June 2, 2013
  3. Cuidese mucho ryan. embrace it, this experience is one you’ll never forget

    May 28, 2013
    • Gracias mi amor. Cuando regreso a los eeuu, tendrémos que compartir una cena y historias del verano. Y un día espero que pueda visitarles en el DR!

      June 1, 2013
  4. Do you find the book of Ecclesiastes to be somewhat harsh? The internet says it teaches avoiding a meaningless life. I guess King Solomon was a little bit embittered by his life, which stands to reason since he didn’t seem to take his own advice and never got out of the way of the wisdom God gave him.

    June 1, 2013
    • Qoheleth (which perhaps was the name King Solomon went by), who wrote the book, seems to be talking about the overarching emptiness of life, and the importance of being fully engaged in celebrating it despite this meaningless. What’s been very blessing to me is seeing how the scripture’s author describes EVERYTHING as “vanity,” “wind,” “breath,” “meaningless”… It’s scary to hear at first, but when you come to realize that this is to some extent true, it is incredibly freeing. It liberates you to a life in service to God that is not clouded by trying to always be satisfied. I think it’s by far my favorite book in the Bible 🙂

      June 1, 2013

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