Trying to be a loving Uncle from 10,000 miles away

John Gunter and Flat Stanley

Here are my nephews in the fall giving me their “Flat Stanley/Wolfie”

As I type, I have just “shipped” my 7th and 8thFlat Stanley/Wolfie” to my nephews John Robert and Nathan.  If you are unfamiliar with “Flat Stanley”, you can learn more here.  “Flat Wolfie” is the variation of the program for the Whitefield Academy WolfPack.

Once again, I have put a good deal of effort in getting these done well.

My sleep was literally impeded as I completed “Flat Stanley” this week, staying up well past mid-night last night.

  You may ask, “Why in the heck would you do something like Flat Stanley with such vigor and intensity?”  I literally risked my life to get a cool picture with Mr. Stanley in the middle of Asian traffic (see the bottom of this article . . . maybe a little over the top)!

The simple answer is this; I killed it with Flat Stanley in order to love my nephews Nathan and John Robert well.

Perhaps my biggest personal sacrifice I have made in living overseas the past 12+ years is in not being present for my family, specifically my eight wonderful nieces and nephews.  I miss so much of their daily lives that it is difficult to reconcile in my heart.

Simply stated, there are many things in life I cannot be a part of with my family because I live 10,000 miles away.

However, instead of dwelling upon what I cannot do for my family, I have sought to do all I can do to love them through every means of which I do have control.  There ARE advantages to living overseas in serving and loving my nieces and nephews.  I try to focus on these.

I can love my eight nieces and nephews well during my brief stints in America.

Though my times in the States are few and far between, I do try to prioritize my nieces and nephews during such visits.  My last extended time in the States was fall 2010.  I took each of them out individually and did whatever they chose.

For Kathryn and Anna, it was separate times to the Japanese hibachi grill in Vinings.  For Cole, it was going to the Ferrari dealership and just walking around looking at the cars.  Stephen and I had a long conversation over hot wings and burgers at the US Cafe.  Great times.

Besides that, I try to get to games, school plays, dance recitals, and/or birthday parties when I am in Atlanta.  I know it’s not much, but I do try to do whatever I can in the line of “presence” for them while in America.

I can love them tangibly and creatively from afar.

Flat Wolfie wasn't a fan of my stache, but he took the pic with me anyway.

Flat Wolfie wasn’t a fan of my stache, but he took the pic with me anyway.

When my nieces and nephews were younger, this was easy.  I brought the coolest gifts back from the far corners of the world.  They were able to show them off to their friends.  Pretty cool to have an Uncle in Asia when “show and tell” rolls around.

All of the boys now have Tibetan swords.  The girls both have pearls and other pretty stuff I could probably not afford were I to buy them in America.  It is always fun being able to surprise them with special gifts when I come home.

They also might or might not have some pretty cool boot-leg items.

The latest way I can “love them from afar” has been the “Flat Stanley” competitions at their schools.  I have tried to go way overboard in “Flat Stanley” stuff over the years.  I think these have been special for all of them.

I can love my eight nieces and nephews by simply living as an example to them in life values and choices.

This is the one thing I cherish that I have hopefully been able to give to my eight nieces and nephews.  My brother-in-law Kevin Bracher once pulled me aside while I was in America.

He said something along the these lines. . .

“John, I know you miss living in America and being a more involved uncle.  However, know that by them knowing and seeing you prioritize your calling in Christ above all else, you have given them something uniquely special.  They know you.  They love you.  And they understand better what it means to be a follower of Christ by your decisions and priorities.”

I have never forgotten this and it still informs my prayers for my nieces and nephews these many years later.  Though the raw hours I will log with them over the course of their “younger years” will be limited, I pray the Lord will use our relationships to encourage them in growth and Godliness well beyond my years.

I write this for many reasons.  The main reason, though, is to help others like me who live overseas understand that we can still build into and impact our love ones in America.  It’s not easy, but it is possible.  As we take steps, the Lord will bless these relationships.

Have a great weekend!

John Gunter and "Flat Stanley" crossing an Asian street.

Risking my life for one my my many pics with “Flat Stanley” over the years.



  1. Tatuu says

    That last photo sent cold shivers down my spine! Goodness!

    The boys will definitely appreciate you risking your life for them and being an awesome uncle.

    You’ve mentioned Flat Stanley before but I never checked it out until today. Sounds like a fun project and a fun way for kids to learn. Mr. Stanley is quite the tourist I must say. I envy his having to travel via mail…okay not really that part.

    • says

      Yeah, “Flat Stanley” really is a cool way for them to learn about the world. They did not have it when I was going through elementary school. However, I am glad for my nieces and nephews getting to do it.

      Tatuu, the roads are always pretty scary around here, so I just wanted to take advantage of that for a humorous look in this pic!

  2. Kristy says

    Great post! I too live overseas, I get to see my nieces and nephews every two years or so. It can be really difficult to know how to connect and love them well from such a distance, this has been on my mind a bit lately. The Skype dates we have are fantastic, but I think we could incorporate something like ‘Flat Stanley’ adventures within the family. Thanks for posting!

    • says

      Kristy. . . kindred spirit! Yes, Skype and others are wonderful. I was here well before Skype, so it has definitely helped staying connected. However, as you know, it is a far cry from actually being around.

      Thanks for reading and commenting!

      • Kristy says

        I just wanted to add something here. This post has been on my mind A LOT since I read it. I have three weeks of my home assignment left. This last weekend I took the opportunity to travel away and spend some individual time with my niece and nephews. It was one of the best things I could have done for my relationships with them. We went bowling, to the zoo, shopping, and ate a fair amount of sushi! I was able to have some great conversations and make some wonderful memories with each of them. So, thank you so much for the inspiration!

        • says

          Kristy, I REALLY appreciate you letting me know you enjoyed this post. This one is very personal, obviously, to me. I wrote this for me as much as anyone. Good for my heart to know you have enjoyed/thought about it!

          Really love the idea of taking time to travel some with them. Great thought!

  3. says

    Unfortunately you cannot be within 100 yards of Whitfield Academy after that picture of you and your stache with flat woolfie went viral…
    Awesome article and really encouraging as I’m away from nephews and a niece as well.

  4. Pamela Walker says

    What a great post John! You’ve always been an awesome uncle! Thank you for sharing this. Praying for you often!!

  5. Alexis says

    Love Flat Stanley! He’s with me right now! And had my nephew’s was here in August. As a teacher, I always appreciate the love and effort of friends and family who ‘care’ for Stanley…I’m always amazed and a little jealous of the things he gets to see and do! ;-) As an Aunty, it IS one way I can love the nephews and niece from afar. I feel I’m failing all.the.time so, needed the encouragement and the hope. Much appreciate you giving both,John! Grace and peace…

  6. Jana Lopez says

    Well, I certainly know nothing about Flat Stanley but I read a little of your posts. I’m struggling with improving my relationship with God and I found your honestly and insight to be very encouraging in a gray time. I just wanted to thank you. I know God is blessing you. I pray he continues to do so. Thanks John.

    • says

      Thank you so much for reading and letting me know you have enjoyed some of my posts, Jana. Really means a lot to me to hear this from you.

      Thanks and hope you have a great week!

I would love to hear your thoughts on this. . .