Dressing for the Weather

DSC_0102It’s cold and rainy and February in America. While our heating and a/c work better, this old post from our days in Asia rings true here too.

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About December, meaning now, all my fashion concerns fly out the window in the face of bitter cold.  I don my huge white down vest, my fleece lined jeans, and Uggly boots solely because they are warm.  They are not attractive.  My husband makes endless jokes about tire mascots and marshmallows.  I laugh…because I am warm.

I’m no martyr.  I run the heat in winter, the cold in summer and fork the money over to the energy company but the cold and the hot still leak into my life.  The market is outside come bitter cold or rank heat.  Schools may heat classrooms sometimes but not hallways.  My home would rank “death star” or “black hole” on the energy star ratings.  It has no insulation.  Baby, it’s cold outside…and inside too!

For years we bought technologically advanced cold weather gear and still do.  State of the art long underwear. Polartec jackets.  Goretex.  They serve a purpose especially in the cold rain, but one summer I saw nainais (grandmas) knitting furiously in the heat.  Wool sweaters.  Wool pants.  Hmmm.  They informed me that hand knit wool is much warmer than store-bought.

I hate knitting.  I tried to knit once.  The only thing I knit were my eyebrows.  But when my daughter bundled up for school in the winter months and no amount of layers kept her warm, I realized I knew nothing about dressing for the weather.

No amount of technologically advanced long underwear could compete with the real deal–hand knit wool pants and sweaters.  She skipped the coldest part of the school year when a layer of ice lay in the sinks all day. We couldn’t keep her warm.  Chinese wasn’t worth frostbite and it was too late to learn how to knit.

I notice the same foolishness in my spiritual life too.  I’m spiritually cold and I want warmth.  Or I’m hot with conviction and I want some relief.  I look for the new idea or the new way to pursue God thinking new is better, new is more effective.  The new way to pray.  The new way to fast.  The new way to live simply.  There is no shortage of “new” in the Christian bookstore and I fall for it sometimes.

But there is so little that is truly new.  The old ways restore, feed, and penetrate deepest.  Reading my Bible slowly.  Talking to God like the child I am.  Admitting how often and far I fall short and then receiving the grace He freely gives.  Enjoying the people of God’s family in all their unique and different ways.  It’s like putting on my down vest, wool sweater, and sheepy slippers in winter.  I am so thankful for sheep!  And, go ducks, too!

There is not much new in the world and I smile at that.  God gave us what we needed from the beginning.  He held nothing back and still doesn’t.  What a great God!

Packing Up the Dreams

The man retold the story of his family’s escape from Saigon now 40 years before. He was 6 and his father told him to listen for the helicopter and, when he heard it, to come with his mother and 2 younger siblings. It was their escape plan.

As I watched the story unfold on public television 2 nights ago, my mouth was agape. The father flew the huge Chinook copter with his family out to the Pacific not knowing where to land. They spotted a US ship and approached. After his family jumped, yes, jumped to the ship and to safety, the pilot hovered for 10 minutes off to the side to prepare for his escape.

He took off his flight suit while flying the helicopter. Then, he tilted the helicopter one way while he jumped out the other way. He made it and they escaped to America against all odds. They came with nothing but the clothes on their back and a whole lot of courage to start a new life.

Read CNN’s version of Nguyen’s story here.

I reviewed the basics of a very familiar transition tool called R.A.F.T. developed by David Pollock for Third Culture Kids (TCK’s). I can tick off the acronym fluently, Reconciliation, Affirmation, Farewell, Think destination. It’s a part of me now having taught or learned or lived it more than 20 times in my adult life. It’s second nature.

When I watched the story of this family’s escape from Vietnam, I grieved for them, knowing they left everything with no hope of going back. There was no time to reconcile, affirm, say goodbye, or think about what was next. They just left and picked up the pieces along the way.

I felt some of that, albeit on a much, much smaller scale when we moved in 2015. A hasty move for us filled with grief, but we got to pack.11265229_10152990918247746_2789346580044480652_n

It is harder to glue the pieces of life back together after a hasty move. It’s easier to unwrap life neatly like carefully packed dishes–that’s what I thought RAFT would do for us. Wrap up our life so nothing got broken in moves.

Problem is, there’s always something broken in a move. It’s unavoidable whether you pack neatly or not. Of course, less gets broken with better packing and that takes more time.

But we don’t always get the time to pack neatly. It’s a gift when we have time to move through transition as best we can manage. But life doesn’t always allow that luxury.

Spring of 2015 brought such a move for us. All the books and models said it was all wrong but there was not much I could do about it.

We lived through my father’s terminal illness that spring then turned around and moved 3 weeks later. Its the kind of move people tell you not to do. We didn’t seem to have a choice, though. We had to move out of our apartment and we already bought a home in our new location before my dad’s diagnosis. It was one of those moves where you just get things in boxes and hope they survive.

We managed a couple get togethers before we headed out, but all I could think about was getting to our new home where I could unpack and throw, no, burn the boxes in an intense bonfire while sipping Dr. Pepper in my one glass I hoped survived the move.

So what do you do with such moves? I lived in that reality. I have no big answers or cures. It’s not just time that makes it better, but steps in the direction of life is always worth the work. My steps in that direction that year involved:

slowing down when I felt overwhelmed

abiding by some consistent routines like waking up early

reading the Psalms

gaining perspective by being part of something bigger than myself and my situation

relaxing and trusting the Lord to bring up what needed grieving in its own time

reaching towards community

Not all moves are pleasant and well planned. Not all are awful either. But they are all change. I learned through the “wrong” move of 2015 that it’s impossible to hold everything together through the tumult of a move…even in the good moves. The right moves where we had the goodbye parties and RAFTed like a boss.

What I can expect with every move is to know more of the God who walks by our side in the midst of it.

I have no idea what happened to the family who escaped Vietnam in such spectacular fashion. I know the child lived to tell his story… in English. Reading between the lines I can see that he lived and his family managed to make a life in the U.S.

Though they lost most every earthly possession, they kept going. They lived. Severe mercy, yes, yet mercy nonetheless.

 

 

Recent Good Reads

I’m a reader. Most people who know me know this about me. I read every night before turning out the light. When I’m not reading, I wane in creativity. I have trouble switching off my thoughts at the end of the day and reading helps me turn the page to a new day.

Haha. I punned.

Seriously, reading is awesome and I love sharing a good book with someone. I’ve read fiction for enjoyment. Non-fiction for education. Biography. Fantasy. Young Adult. Children’s literature. It’s great.

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Most books I read on my kindle, but I needed a photo. I’ll tell you what, 1917 encyclopedias make for interesting reading. 

These are my favorites of the last year.

A Gentleman in Moscow. Wow. So creative and smart. A joy to read and especially rich if you’ve read any of the Russian authors of the past. My personal take away was the challenge to live fully the life I’m given with all the parameters I face.

An added bonus is that you’ll feel smarter after you read this one.

Little Women. I ran out of books one night and trolled my Kindle for something to read or reread and found Little Women. I’d read it before but I read it again. This time, I came away with a renewed value for my role as a mother. She’s not the main character in the book in some ways, but Marmie is always there waiting, watching, knowing, and loving her girls.

I also identified with each sister in some ways and gained much from how they resisted their personal temptations. It gave me insight on my own road to maturity.

A Man Called Ove. I don’t want to give anything away, but this book is a must read. Do not watch the movie before you read it or you will lose the amazing experience the author unfolds in the way he tells this story. Be warned, there are some dark themes and some language.

In the end, it opened my eyes a bit wider to the importance of community in some very real and good ways. It’ll make you cry, so grab the tissues!

My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry. I read this because I read A Man Called Ove. This is by the same author. Its a bittersweet story of the loss of a grandparent from the eyes of a child.

In so many ways, we see our lives like children too. Maybe that’s why I liked the story. Again, Backman writes a strong theme of community. And, the writing is just great too.

Jane Eyre. Those Bronte sisters. So dark and gothic! I read Jane Eyre recently and was stunned. I’d read it before and the big thing I got was old, obsessive man. Young woman. Weird love story. Crazy lady in the attic.

Reading it again, I saw so much more. An orphan girl who never, ever had a place or belonged. No family. No love. No respect. She then faces the ultimate temptation. A family, a kind of love, belonging… but at a price. Loss of dignity.

Read it!

To Kill a Mockingbird. I recently read this book again as an adult. It is a literary and cultural goldmine. Told from the perspective of an 8 year old daughter, it challenged my soul to feel the pain of those around me who suffer under the heavy weight of prejudice and have for centuries.

I need to have a book club so I can process it. My brain is full of thoughts and questions!

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This is getting long, so I’ll stop here for now. Another post is bouncing around in my mind of those books that have mentored me more directly in ministry. Its kind of a silly division of lists, though. In some ways, both fiction and non-fiction alike are taken, evaluated, and incorporated into my life in some way.

So, don’t put down fiction because you think you’ll get more from a christian living or self-help book. Literature has a unique way of leading us too.

And, definitely never put down your Bible. Its at the top of all my lists.

The Outsider

For 40 days a giant came out and challenged the army. 80 times they heard the taunt. 80 times their king failed to answer. Talk about a morale buster.

One. They’re in a valley. A low place, not the high ground I understand as being preferred in battle.

Two. There is a real giant with huge weapons ready to battle.

Three. The king has no answer. The king is not leading. The king sees no soldier volunteering and he is not choosing the option to volun-tell one to fight the battle. The king seems afraid, overwhelmed, and desperate.

Then comes the runt of a family. A shepherd boy on an errand.

As my pastor read through the passage in 1 Samuel, my mind slanted to a new realization.

David came into the battle as an observer. What must he expect to see as he got to the top of the hills surrounding the battle? Probably a battle!

But, there was no battle. I picture him walking through the camp, observing, confused, trying to figure out what in the world is going on. The men were waiting, afraid, demoralized. Its one thing for this to go on a day or two. But 40? That will do something to a soul.

David came in from the broad fields filled with sheep, daily trusting God to deliver him and the sheep. Daily seeing God do just that. He came in with a fresh perspective and it was not welcome.

There’s been times in my life where I’ve felt like David’s brothers. 40 days in the valley being taunted. Scared and stuck. Then, someone comes into my life, looks around and says something to the effect of don’t be discouraged by this, fight! God can win this one. 

Its startling. It usually grates a little. But, when I’ve let it sink in, its moved me out of the valley.

By the way, does anyone else think its pretty crazy that Saul let David go fight Goliath? I mean, he put the whole fate of the nation on the shoulders of a boy he didn’t know who couldn’t even wear his suit of armor.

Talk about desperation.

Or, God at work, rescuing His people through the most unlikely of heroes and working through the most unlikely of people.DSC_0002

Ah, that sounds like a familiar story line in the Bible.

My gut check in this story is looking at how I respond to events.

Am I in a valley and in need of an outside perspective, that of a warrior who sees the battle as winnable?

Or, am I acting like an older brother, neglecting the input of the younger because of age, rivalry, or jealousy? Yikes, I hope not, but I won’t rule it out. I know myself enough to know it wouldn’t be the first time.

Or, am I like the king in some way, not leading, allowing the troops to get beat down because I won’t believe God is capable of winning?

Or, what if there’s a time where I’m the outside perspective, seeing things differently, more clearly and needing to speak up even at the risk of annoying and provoking those that are understandably beat down?

A lot of food for thought in this story. The Bible is old, but it never really gets old, does it?

 

Pretty Weeds

We strolled through the neighborhood, he in his bike helmet, me not. Chattering away, he admired the signs of spring–green grass, flowers, trees leaving out, and a weed.

It stood high in the ditch at the end of our street, proud and purple and almost as tall as my 8-year-old son. The multiple buds bloomed right in front of him as he commented on its beauty.

It’s a weed, I said. I hated to tell him.

A weed! But it’s so pretty, how could it be a weed? He exclaimed with a stricken, surprised look washing over his face.

You can tell by the leaves, how fast it grows, and the strange spiky leaves. It will also come up out of the ground quickly when you pull it. It is tall, but not well rooted. 

The look on his face saddened me. He’d been showing me something beautiful. Maybe he felt foolish for admiring a weed. Maybe he was just surprised, but I struggled wondering if I needed to point out that the flower was not a weed.

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Days passed since this encounter with the flower that was really a weed. I remembered it this week as I ambled back from a morning walk and discovered three tall weeds about to bloom in our flower beds.

Grabbing the gloves, I went to pull them and they came out so easily I was surprised. Their blooms were set to burst numerous flowers while my roses, the real flowers, are struggling.

What makes a weed a weed? I thought. By definition, it is a plant that is unwanted or one that is invasive, blocking out cultivated plants. Usually fast growing.

So, it’s just an unwanted, fast growing plant? Makes me feel a little sad for the weed to be so judged! The purple weed was kind of pretty, except when I remember the spiky, ugly leaves and how they overtake a flower bed or lawn. Being untrained, I often don’t recognize them until they are obviously not what I want growing in my lawn.

Its much the same with spiritual weeds in my own life. At first its hard to tell what they are, especially if I am not reading my Bible or practicing confession in my daily life. Something unwanted starts growing and I don’t notice until its big and really needing to be pulled!

The weeds can look pretty, I can even feel sorry for them because they don’t measure up. I can nurse them in pity, but they choke out the good things, the cultivated garden I want my life to be spiritually.img_6459

The weeds were mowed down a few weeks later by the neighborhood lawn care crew. They are not gone, just mowed down for a while until the time it takes them to grow back.

The struggle is real and constant. Growing a cultivated garden takes more work.

But, I think I’m going to enjoy my roses a bit more than the weeds that try to choke them out.

Do You Confess?

One of my kids has “reactive airways”, doc talk for asthma. Not all the time and not that sudden type but the type that whenever he gets sick, it goes straight to the chest.

Then he starts this distinctive cough that lets me know my next few days will be spent hauling out nebulizers, inhalers, Vick’s, netipots, and on and on. The cough’s purpose was to force out trapped air so when the airways relax, the cough goes away.

Breathing is a pretty essential activity to human life so asthma attacks are stressful. We’ve always been able to turn the tide and get out of danger. In the middle of it, though, you don’t know the end.

Spiritually, the concept of breathing has been on my mind. I talk often in ministry about spiritual breathing- a cycle of confession (exhale) and filling (inhale). A few tough situations over this past season, namely the August Smackdown, brought me close to exhaustion…and my own need to breathe.

That tightness in my chest would come, that prompt to take a deep breath. A sigh. Like an old lady lament. I was feeling it, the old lady weariness.

So I sighed. Then, with each sigh, I reminded myself of the need to breathe spiritually as well as physically.

Exhaling. Recognizing I was trying to take control of the humanly uncontrollable. Fearing that God was not in control. Releasing the toxic build up of the thoughts and emotions and very real sin so I could take in more life-giving breath. This is confessing.

Breathing in. Each time asking God for more of His resources, His oxygen to extend farther into my soul and strengthen me for the situation. To have mercy and help me. Filling.

So what about asthma? Asthma, if left alone and not treated, slowly suffocates the victim as I understand it. With no room in the lungs to take in more oxygen, and CO2 trapped inside the lungs, the body is deprived of the oxygen that keeps it alive.IMG_0587-0.JPG

All the while the body is trying to breathe in unsuccessfully.

The body begins using almost every muscle it can in the torso to bring air into the lungs. Retractions, where the skin sucks in at the collar bones and around the ribs, notify us that our son is really, really struggling to breathe. The lungs work overtime trying to cough out trapped air. Lips begin turning pale. It’s terrifying and it would be time to go to urgent care.

In the physical world, there is albuterol and steroids to resolve the problems of asthma. Steroids control the tendency to flare up. Albuterol treats a flare up.

Spiritually, there is ordering our lives to God and His revealed truth in the Bible, the fellowship with the community of believers, the Spirit of God convicting and directing us…and regular confession. These all serve as the anti-inflammatory control to prevent serious flare ups of spiritual asthma.

But asthma strikes still. When spiritual asthma comes and we struggle to breathe because we know we are not right with God. Or we are working overtime to win favor and status with God by doing, doing, doing…there is, again, confession.

Exhaling by agreeing with God about our sin or our human efforts to earn forgiveness. Inhaling by receiving the resources He gives through His Spirit to live a life pleasing to Him. Sometimes over and over about the same old things.

Slowly, surely the toxic is released so the pure and fresh can roll in and bring life again.

 

 

 

Taking a Look Back

A month of parties, concerts, gift lists, shopping, special food and I feel the overwhelming need to tame the frenzy. Get life back into order and move on to something more sustainable.

Maybe that’s why my desk suddenly needs clearing out, along with the craft cabinet. My bookshelves simply need editing and walls need a new coat of paint. The ugly chairs need recovering and the list goes on.

A combo of life running at top speed combined with a desire for order and a cup and a half of coffee sends my New Year’s resolve into high gear. My coffee infused to do lists are extensive at the beginning of the week. The beginning of the year? Well, I know myself better now than in years past.

Time for a year in review. This morning I scribbled some answers to seven questions from Michael Hyatt’s site. I highly recommend this exercise.

I found these questions many years ago when we lived in East Asia. Sitting in our cold living room on January 1st, I reflected on the past year. It was monumental for me at the time.

There are years since that I haven’t engaged in answering these questions, but this year I did again. The need to organize, redo, and clean out is subsiding perhaps because they were symptoms of disorder in my soul that needed the light of a reflection. It was a full year emotionally and physically.

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Rocky Mountain National Park

Looking back helped me acknowledge that and keep going. Like a break on a hike where you look back and see how far you came, how long and steady the incline. It was hard work, but look where it led? Look at the view now!

Did I make resolutions? It’s more like the desires that resolutions spring from rose to the surface. One was a continuation from last year. Another was to write more, also a desire from this past year that I didn’t make time to accomplish.

The third was just to have more fun with my husband and kids. He bought a fixer upper sailboat the other day which helps.  I can’t wait to get it on the water with him when it’s not freezing like it is right now!

Maybe that is what a yearly review does, helps us take look back and acknowledge the trail behind with all its hardships and joys so we can move forward with renewed resolve to reach the end.