Stories Stir the Soul

We landed back in the U.S. late at night, like always. What was not like always was that my brother and his family, who normally reside in Europe, were also in the U.S. Christmas in the U.S. was the goal. All of us. Together. Our trip was to last a month.

Ha. It lasted about 3 or 4 months. A blur of doctor appointments, eye surgery, and stress.

In the late night hours of collapsing back in to bed after a day of it, whatever it was that day, I cracked the pages of a book with a black cover and a bird on the front. I was transported to another world and lost all track of time. It only took me a few days to finish the Hunger Games.

I was enthralled with the story Suzanne Collins wove, reportedly coming up with the idea as she toggled between reality TV survival shows and war coverage. That made sense to me during our re-entry. Her story captured my mind in a period of my life when it was hard to switch off all the details surrounding a one month trip turned 3 month medical leave.

Our daughter wore glasses from the age of 3 1/2 after she woke up one morning with one eye looking directly at her nose. We went to the ER and then a opthalmologist. We patched, we saw doctors, and it was working.

Until it wasn’t working. I hadn’t really noticed how her eyes drifted during our extended time away from the US and US doctors. Looking at pictures now is painful because it is so obvious. But, I didn’t know then.

In Asia, surgery was not as successful so not suggested as an option by the doctors we visited. When our doctor in the US saw us for a routine check up about a week after we landed, he was blunt. Surgery. In a month or two. We left shocked trying to figure out if our friend would let us extend our stay by, oh say, a few months! He did, because he is incredibly generous.

Then, a routine check up for our son got us a 2 day turn around follow-up with a pulmonologist. That’s usually not a good sign. Didn’t expect that or the cystic fibrosis test he did a little while later. It came back negative. Our nerves were a bit shot and our management of his asthma revealed we needed to learn much more. Again, there was a bit of a difference between Asian (manage symptoms) and American (slam that asthma to the ground!) methods.

Then, our youngest kept getting ear infection after ear infection until he got a series of three high-powered and very painful antibiotic shots. He would glow when he was done, our pediatrician told us. He didn’t really glow, but it was a very long time before he got sick again. His persistent baby acne disappeared.

The Hunger Games books were my series in all this, an escape and also an explanation for a rough bout of cross cultural living problems.  I identified with Katniss, feeling disoriented in a world where everyone seemed tatted, colored, or highly styled. Asia was a grey district. America felt like the Capitol.

I’ve read the series through another time or too and still refer to it when I talk about re-entry issues.

img_6502-1

Our shelves contain a dozen or so books on crossing cultures, raising third culture kids, and re-entry. They directly address great things and I refer to them and learn from them. We own many stellar books on spiritual growth and parenting kids too. I read them and recommend them.

But, my secret, which is now not so secret, is a good story. Good fiction, allegory, or memoir makes me feel and discover truth in a way a direct dealing just can’t. Stories let us discover ourselves through others. A good allegory like Hinds Feet on Hind Places can pull together half a dozen spiritual truths lurking in the sidelines of my conscious mind and connect my emotions too.

I just finished a weird selection even for me, Barbarian Days: A Surfing Life by William Finnegan. It’s cool. I feel cooler because I read it. My vocabulary now holds the option of some surf jargon if I want to look like a complete idiot. I still don’t understand surfing.

img_6782But the book was about surfing as much as it was about life, writing, and facing ourselves. The waves he described and his experience with them transcend surfing. It was a fascinatingly well written memoir and got me motivated to keep living my life and keep writing.

Not bad for a story. Now I need to find another one. My bedside table is never empty, but it doesn’t always have a truly good book to turn to when the sun goes down and that’s a pity.

 

 

On Egg Hunts

Months after the Easter egg hunt in our apartment complex in Asia, the kids and their friends found another Easter egg. A real egg. Left rotting for months outside in a climate of 110% humidity. Yuck.

We hid them pretty good, I guess. It was the find of a century in their minds, a marvel of discovery for a kid who played multiple times a week in that area. Then, one day, bam, an Easter egg!

It was disgusting. They didn’t eat it, fortunately. But, it provided tons of laughter amongst the childhood community in the area. That time we found the Easter egg! It gave them hope to continue looking for a plastic egg that might still have viable candy. They gained new focus in their outdoor play for a while.

Still, yuck.

Watching kids hunt for Easter eggs is pretty hilarious. Early on, we had to teach them to go get the egg. They were uninterested until they realized there was candy inside the plastic ones. Our oldest would then find the plastic eggs, pop them open, eat the candy, drop the egg. She preyed upon her little friend who hadn’t yet discovered the treasures inside her eggs by eating her friends candy too.

As they get older, the hunt evolved. It became about winning. Getting the most eggs. So, we met the challenge and tried to teach consideration. We established quotas and hid the eggs with a little more craftiness. But, whoever met their quota first “won”. What can I say? Human nature gravitates towards selfishness.

We urged them to hunt even when they didn’t want to hunt and the only eggs left were the second class citizens of Easter egg hunts, the hard-boiled eggs sweating off their color dye in the grass. Go get the half-cracked, weird grey egg that got dipped in all the dye cups! we cheered to no avail.

Kind of explains the mystery of the undiscovered egg I guess.

One year I had to intervene to prevent a potty training kid from practicing in the Easter hunt area. Hey, don’t judge. We were in another country where this was not frowned upon for kids. We took advantage of the freedoms! It was a great place to potty train. Not the egg hunt area, the country.img_5535

Then there were adults who wanted to continue their family traditions of ultra competitive egg hunts. You know who you are. Those were the most fun to watch. Grown ups dressed in their Easter finest in an all out physical scramble to find the most eggs. Hilarious!

Last year, we introduced Cascarones to our celebration. Smashing eggs filled with confetti on each other fits our family life stage. It’s fun. Its violent. We play together. We’re adapting.

In all of the evolution of Easter traditions in our family, though, the one thread through it all is new life in Christ. The symbol of the egg in Easter.

Go find it, search aggressively for it, don’t let others get in your way, enjoy the treasures that reside within, help others find it, celebrate it with others.

Just find the new life, the breath of life, offered to all through Jesus’ sacrifice to free us from the deathly effects of sin.

Read more here and here.

The Mercy of Not Knowing

Occasionally I go through my blog drafts and pull from them. I found this one today and edited a few words. It was originally drafted in late May 2015 after my dad’s funeral, while we were packing to move to Texas, and in the fresh stages of grief.

~~

Death is the ultimate disruption. A friend warned me early on in this brain tumor journey with my dad that death is evil. It takes away life and it is shocking. It is disruptive.

The three month marker came and went 2 days ago. Three months since doctors diagnosed my father with an aggressive brain tumor. Three months they gave him to live. He enjoyed 2 months and a half. My father passed away, went to be with Jesus, breathed his last, died, May 9th.

It was the longest two and a half months of my life. Every day a constant checking, wondering, anxious watching for signs of the end, wanting to know the times. When? How long?

But, I didn’t really want to know. I know now and I can tilt my head in acknowledgement that God was…is…merciful. When I count what I saw as merciful, I ache for all the seemingly merciless deaths. It is not fair the father who loses his whole family. The parents that discover their teenage son without a breath left in him. The long, slow decline of Alzheimers or old age.

What do you do with all the grief?

img_5566
I chose this picture, taken in an urgent care office while waiting for a doctor, because it captures the soul of this post–relating to loss.

Mourning, for me, increases the emotional nerve endings to all the losses of life, all the griefs not ending with death alone. The marriages that struggle, the kids that hurt, the strife in relationships are all brought right up to the surface.

When will the suffering end?

Yet, when I think about my father and what knowing would bring to my life, I realize it was merciful to not know.

Now I’m left taking the next step, eating the next bite sized portion of life, packing just the next box for our move and it is right.

How to Doubt

Every night I peek in the garage to make sure the garage door is closed. Then I glance at the front lock and the back lock. After perusing the kids bedrooms to turn out errant lights and music, I head safely to bed.

Everyone pays when I don’t do it. Snuggled all cozy in bed, I’ll ask did you check the back door? That’s always a fun marriage question. No one wants to check it, that’s what the question is all about. I’m not sure. Are you sure? If you’re sure, I can be a little surer, but not completely sure. The preferred response asker wants is always, always…that the other person goes and checks.

That, my friends, is what multicultural books call indirect communication.

Don’t get me wrong, I feel bad that I don’t want to check…but not bad enough to go check. Lest I not properly warn those thinking about marriage, this question has many forms. Locks, babies, water faucets, lights, and coffeemakers are all eligible subjects of this annoying habit.

Now, don’t you want to get married?

But what about when it comes to doubt that goes deeper than a visual spot check? Doubts about God. Questions about future direction in life. Qualms about how honest someone is being with you. All these eject us into much murkier territory emotionally.IMG_1282

For me, doubting has come in many forms. Doubting my faith is less my thing than doubting whether God is going to take care of me or my family. My questions about God has of yet to plunge me into an existential crisis. I’m no philosopher. In fact, I just looked up existential crisis on wikipedia to make sure I was using it correctly!

So, when I doubt God, its not like doubting whether my garage door is closed or not. You can’t just go look and say, oh, God’s good because I can see x, y, or z has happened. There’s a lot of ways to explain away the good in life or get stuck on the evil we all experience to differing degrees. Doubts don’t seem to just go away.

So, how should we doubt?

  • Face to Face. Its tempting to discuss my doubts at length with others, to live in the philosophical, to totally twist my mind in knots on my own without ever addressing my issues to God Himself. If I’m to cast my cares on God, to pray without ceasing, to not worry but pray, then it makes sense that when I feel anxious about God Himself, He wants me to talk to Him about it. Is it impertinent? Or rude? Or prideful? I would say it depends…
  • Expectantly. Kinda weird. What I mean is, that we should expect that God wants us to know Him, wants to guide us, and has all power to do so…in His time. Expectant means we wait for His answer which can come in many ways. My basis for this is Psalm 23. A shepherd feeds his sheep and leads them through danger. I cling to this passage when I need to be reminded that He is my shepherd.
  • Actively. Check things out. Read your Bible. Seek. Its easy for doubts about God to live in the realms of our head and the hallways of our emotions instead of treating them more seriously. The first place to seek is the place where He communicates to us. The Bible. Read. Read. And read some more as you wait expectantly on the issues you have talked about with Him face to face.
  • Shamelessly. Distancing yourself from others because you feel all over wrong, because you have doubts is the wrong move. Shame is the all over I am wrong feeling we all get at some point in our lives. Shame isn’t all bad, its like an indicator light on the dash to get you to pay attention. We are made in God’s image but we are fallen so life will mean experiencing shame in various degrees. Jesus came and took care of sin, the primary reason for our shame, so that we could live shamelessly in fellowship with him. By shameless, I mean like children. Kids ask the darnedest questions because they are young and curious. They get answers too. Why? Because they ask the questions! If we are to come to Jesus like children, he wants us to come with those darnedest questions–the ones everyone is dying to ask but because we fear looking foolish, we don’t. That’s when we lose out. When we don’t ask the questions.

Am I saying you should doubt? No. Don’t seek it out. I’m saying if it comes to you, think about how you are doubting. Doubts should prompt us to search for God. He wants to be found.

Kind of like playing hide and seek with a child in some ways. The goal of most of my kids when we used to play hide and seek was to be found. They felt they had lost when I didn’t find them right away and would bark and cough to give away their position.

I suspect God does the same when we search for Him. He wants to be found so don’t stop seeking.

 

On Inheritance

I bet I’m not the only one who’s ever thought man, I wish some free money came my way. Lately, this crops up in my heart because I want to do something to my house like Joanna Gaines does to everyone’s house in Waco. Maybe I should move to Waco. Or stop watching Fixer Upper. 

In line with this thinking that I want to purge from my brain, I’ve been filing away thoughts on inheritance over the past few months. One of which comes from a book I received at Christmas.

C.S. Lewis wrote about his early experience as a Christian in his Reflections on the Psalms. Get this, for the whole first year after bowing his knee to God, C.S. Lewis didn’t know anything about the inheritance the Bible says awaited him in heaven. He didn’t become a Christ follower because he expected an awesome return on his life investment.

And, he doesn’t think that was a bad thing for his first year as a Christian.

It got me thinking again about inheritance.

What would it look like to serve someone based on a promised inheritance v. based on it being the right thing to do. Seems like C.S. Lewis bowed his knee in a much truer devotion than I usually do. He did not expect his life to get easier. Even called himself the most reluctant of converts. He expected no inheritance.

Then, there’s the prodigal brothers. The prodigal sons. I read the story a few more times. Both brothers received their inheritance in the beginning of the story. One brother took his. He owned it. He took it away and, then, he wasted it. He got to thinking as he was eating slop, my life would be better as a slave in my dad’s house. I can’t be a brother, but slavery is better than this. So, he goes back home prepared to serve as a slave.Actual Factual Slop. Yuck.

His older brother received his inheritance but stayed at home but not happily. He complains to his dad about how he never got to have a fattened calf with his friends. Wah, wah.

But, why not? Wasn’t the calf technically his? Hadn’t the father given his inheritance to him too?

The older brother didn’t ever seem to clue in that he owned the calf himself. He never took his inheritance. He never enjoyed being at home with his dad, it seems. He inherited but he didn’t own his inheritance. He could’ve invested it, stewarded it, spent it. Point is, he could’ve enjoyed it.

Neither brother lived out inheritance in a good way. One took it and wasted it. One didn’t take it and resented the lowly position he made for himself.

And neither one realized the true benefit and riches they had as sons. They had their father’s love. The one who wasted his inheritance didn’t lose his sonship. Neither did the one who labored reluctantly. Relationship and love was free for the taking all the time.

Oh, how things could be different if we really understood it’s not about the inheritance as much as being part of the family and all that brings with it when the family we are talking about is God’s family.

The Final Semester

My best friend and I shared a hotel sized dorm for 3 years and had known each other for 4, but the time came to part ways. Nothing changed about our friendship or desire to be friends.

We didn’t have a falling out. We were graduating.

The stink of it was, I was her Resident Advisor so I had to ask her to sign the check out line through my tears. It was awful! We would never again be roommates but we knew each other like sisters.

All spring, I had these weird feelings. I knew graduation was coming. I was also engaged to be married. My life was changing and would change radically in the months to come even though I didn’t leave my college town after graduation. That spring, graduation was always out there. It loomed and my emotions rode this weird roller coaster that I can name now as transition.

Looking back at myself, I know how unprepared I was for this change. All the boxes of life were checked. Grades. Check. Apartment. Check. Job. Check. Health Insurance Rider. Check.img_5704-1

I was even one of those annoying senior girls that was actually engaged! The dream, right?!

But, emotionally, I did not expect to feel such turmoil.

So, you seniors in college, you are in a pivotal semester.

You are waiting to hear from potential employers. Wondering about a current co-ed relationship. Trying to figure out where to live. Needing to pass classes. Planning celebrations. Its a lot to take!

So, how can you leave college more ready for the next phase of life?

Reconcile relationships. 18-22 are volatile years of change. One big step to graduation should involve thinking back on your time in school. Are there any friendships that went south? Any lingering, nagging feelings of resentment towards old roommates, boyfriends or girlfriends, organizations, leaders, or professors that are creeping up in your soul? Pay attention! When classes end in May, it will be much harder practically to reconcile these relationships.

Forgiveness, hopefully, is a choice you’re making. Reconciliation is the next step. Think through your time in college. Is there anyone you need to talk to? Consider talking to anyone you’ve hurt or who has hurt you and expressing forgiveness or a desire to forgive. It may not fix things the way you might want, but it goes a long way.

I had to do that my senior year and it was one of the harder conversations of my life to ask for forgiveness. As an adult, I’ve had to have many more of those conversations. Get started now and enter adulthood on a track of freedom from your past.

Affirm. Many people, most likely, came into your life during college and provided the encouragement, teaching, friendship, and support you needed to finish. Let them know. Think through these people and contact them personally or write a note. Not only will it grow your gratitude, it will also remind you that you were not alone in a season where loneliness can creep in.

Farewell. Say your farewells. Don’t avoid them. It doesn’t have to be a huge graduation shindig. In fact, that may be a really difficult way to say a meaningful farewell. Farewells happen best for me when they are personal and specific to my relationships. Did you always work out on Fridays with a friend? Mark a last workout, get a treat afterwards,  and tell them you’ll miss them and that tradition.

Why say farewells? Graduation marks that a change is taking place in your friendships. You are entering the work world in different cities. You will make new friends. Trying to hold onto all of your friendships the same way is impossible. They need to change and saying farewell to the college student phase of your friendship is a good idea. Some college friendships will continue, but they will be different. They will take more effort and not all of them will last.

And, friends aren’t the only farewells to say. What about professors? Favorite study haunts on campus? A place where you had an epiphany about yourself, your life, or your future? One of my favorite things to do when we are moving away from a place is to walk around and remember my favorite places and what happened there.

Think Destination.This is the practical of moving. How and when are you going to pack? Where is that nasty couch going to go when you move out? Where will you stay in the in between? What will your job be and when do you start? What will your budget be? Where will you go to church or find friends?

It could be as simple as answering some of these questions. Zoom out and also consider, what do you want your adult life to be like in your new location? How will you get there? What can you do now to smooth the path?

Are you looking for a church? Ask friends about churches in the new town, go to one the first Sunday, visit a few, and make a decision.

Then, serve in some capacity. You will meet far more people and probably have a better attitude if you are in the game rather than bench-warming.

~~

So, I must give credit where credit is due. These four points aren’t my own. They come from David Pollock who helped many, many adults and children make international moves with this model of transition called RAFT. I’ve used it many times myself for moves.

It became so internalized for me that I also went to it when my dad received a death sentence from the neurosurgeon in 2015. You can read more of that here.

This process doesn’t eliminate the hard things of moving, but it will help you move through them a little more smoothly. It’s a RAFT to get you across some bumpy waters of life change from graduation, moving, marrying, or saying the ultimate farewell.

I hope it helps anchor your soul and give some direction in a very tumultuous semester.

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.

~~

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!