Enraged

I had just sat down when she started banging on my stall door…yes, my bathroom stall door. What transpired is family legend—that time mom lost it in the bathroom in Asia.

Finding a decent bathroom is a challenge when traveling, especially overseas, maybe especially for the westerner in eastern lands. There’s this kind of toilet called the squatty potty. When mastered, it frees one from a consuming fear of being forced to learn under duress.

But beyond that, just finding a relatively clean bathroom with stall doors (yes, doors!) is notable. This bathroom on that day was not only clean, it had stall doors and it was not a squatty.

I don’t really take pictures of bathrooms much…butt here are some cool doors.

Toilet paper, you might ask? No bathroom really ever had toilet paper. BYOTP was the name of the game.

On this day, I made a point to stop at this particular bathroom to make a pit stop in loo (punny, right?) of the unknown I might face the rest of that day. It felt like the sun was shining on me because there was no line when previous times I’d waited in a long line for the privilege of this clean bathroom.

So, I commenced to commence behind a nice locked stall door. And a woman came in the bathroom and immediately started rattling my door telling me to hurry up because she needed the stall. She shook it so hard, testing the lock, that I feared she was going to break the door open!

And I immediately lost it. My language was good enough to say things I am ashamed of now. Looking back on it, there is an element of comedy. Here is a little of what I remember:

Hurry up! I need to use the bathroom! [rattled door]

I can’t go faster. Go find another bathroom.

I don’t know where one is.

Well! Go ask someone! I’d show you if I could, but, well…I can’t help you right now…I’m busy!

You are taking too long, let me in. I have to go! [more rattling]

I can’t let you in and I have to go too!! I’m using the stall! Stop shaking the door or it will take longer.

Hurry up!

I would if I could. If you’d like to teach me, go ahead!

And it went on and on like this. I was trembling angry when I finally finished, walked out, slammed the door and kept talking very loudly to her…ok, shouting in anger at her.

The look on this woman’s face when out walked a white girl was kinda priceless, really.

At this point, my dear friend was coming into the bathroom. I should mention that my daughter was in the stall next to me during this whole encounter, totally perplexed about why I was so angry.

To give you an idea of the level of my outrage, my friend thought someone was assaulting my daughter—that’s how mad I was.

The event passed and I’ve told the story a few times and thought many times about why, why, why I lost it so quickly and so completely that day.

People who have known me a long time know that I get angry but this was something different, it was rage.

The only conclusion I came to was that someone was threatening a basic human right of mine, to a space, to time, to perform a basic bodily function. It was like she was trying to shove me off the toilet mid-stream, and it was downright offensive.

And it enraged me to the point of a fluent, loud, trembling argument in my 2nd best language. There is a double edged-ness to fluency. Being able to really argue in a second language can get one into a lot of trouble.

What if it wasn’t a toilet stall though? What if it was a different, much more important space like a good school, a safe home for my family, healthcare, to life?

And I understand just a little more the rage one can feel when pressed and challenged for places way more important than a toilet stall.

Rage feels terrible and so it often gets labeled a negative emotion and we are often encouraged to get out from under it at any cost…mostly by suppressing it.

But anger is an emotion, a powerful one, but only an emotion. The wrong comes when we act on it in ways contrary to God’s truth—like when I berated this woman rattling my stall.

This might be why trying to pacify justly enraged people rings a false note in their soul. Asking others’ to bury rage because we may feel uncomfortable with the emotion is not coming alongside someone in pain.

This is where lament comes in—lament is agreeing about the wrong done that brings the rage felt. It honors the emotion while bringing the injustice together to God, the only one who can ultimately judge justly.

But in no way does falling on God’s ultimate justice excuse us from our God-given role to pursue justice on earth while we live here as His ambassadors.

What injustice we see more commonly is way more subtle than a rattled stall door…its more crafty and more insidious and more unseen…and, so, harder to understand.

So, listen carefully and listen well and listen long…observe…and I bet you’ll hear the rattle of a stall door. Something intruding on a space that should be respected and guarded and safe.

Oblivious

For 13 years, a third of my life by the time we left, I lived in a country where I stuck out. I was taller than most every other woman. My eyes were lighter and rounder than every other person. My hair was a different color and texture. I had the coveted crease in my eyelids. My nose was bigger. My feet were bigger. My clothes size larger, even when I was at an ideal weight. I have hips.

I stuck out in a crowd and drew attention most places I went. Everywhere I looked eyes were looking back at me…and did not look away when I made contact.

In the marketplace I was asked repeatedly where I was from, how much I made, how long I’d been around. Privacy was not a thing. These questions were not off limits culturally though they felt incredibly intrusive.

Most of the attention was positive when seen from a certain light. The advice given about how to dress my kids or myself was a form of care even if it was based on an assumption that I didn’t know anything. I learned to take it for what it was most of the time.

But there were those times when I just couldn’t wrap my head around the cultural differences. I spoke sharp words many times when I’d just had enough of being tsk’d at for what felt like the thousandth time.

Some of my friends embraced an effort to blend in by dyeing hair or wearing the shawl that hooked around the middle finger to protect from sun damage. I learned that an umbrella is not just for the rain. I became expert at transporting home a dozen eggs loose in a plastic bag hung from my handlebars, losing one only on occasion.

I adapted. But I never fit in. Ever. I was always a minority and never blended in. But I didn’t fully appreciate my status as a privileged minority until many years in my sojourn in Asia.

Intellectually I understood that my Asian-American friends had a much different experience than I did. At a large round dinner table at a restaurant, my Asian friend would be expected to order even when my language was better. They were assumed to be a tour guide and were questioned about their foreign friends as though we were celebrities.

I could identify remotely with the shame they experienced in the surprised reprimands when their grasp on the language wasn’t up to snuff. But even in recognizing it, I didn’t feel it personally. I felt it for them but could easily put it aside after a conversation and move on. It wasn’t my experience and it didn’t touch my lifetime of shame experience like it did theirs.

My empathy was something but I couldn’t ever really understand.

I felt confident taking trains and traveling alone, jumping in cabs and advocating for myself. My experience was that people listened to me, things happened when I acted. I got what I wanted more often than not. Doors opened for me, literally and figuratively.

But my Asian friends did not. When my friend once explained her fear in a travel situation when she was by herself, I finally grasped a little more of her world.

What if I blended in? What if I were one of the oppressed? What if I feared kidnapping, assault, and violence because that was how people like me got treated? Even if my nationality offered real protection, if my face appeared to be “local”, that protection would not help in the moment.

I’d be stuck and unprotected.

Her experience really impacted me because there was one time when the gravity of the big world and my helplessness in it hit me.

I was traveling, foolishly, alone for the day with my 6 month old baby stowed in the baby carrier to get immunizations a town away. My many other trips left me feeling confident that I could do this trip and it was easier than making a day trip with a 2.5 year old and a baby and my husband.

It all went well until I got out of the cab to catch the train back and someone was watching me put my wallet back. On the large bridge, I felt my bag move and looked down.

The zipper was gaping and my heart beat faster. A major rule of travel is always zip your bags up and I followed it. My wallet was gone, my train ticket was gone, I had no money and no ticket to get home. No ATM card to get money either.

I panicked but I had my phone and called my husband and others noticed my distress. A kind man bought me a return ticket and my husband met me at the station at home so I could pay the man back. He refused repayment.

We made it home and, besides a little panic and lessons learned, it didn’t change my life dramatically.

But when I heard my friends story years later, I wondered what my experience would’ve been if I blended in. If I was part of the class that was not minority privileged. What if I was an Asian woman? Or African?

I could finally see how someone could become the poor soul on the streets near the stations with sad chalk stories written about how they ended up far from home and just needed a ticket…a little mercy.

And I read the stories today and I know why we have such a hard time acknowledging the privileges of having a certain skin color or background.

It’s like living in a world of automatic motion-sensing doors, don’t they always open for everyone else?

They don’t but it can be very, very hard to notice when they always open for you.

What if…

So much news predicts such a grim future. Life as we know it gone. Futures forever changed. This generation will suffer the worst.

I’m glad I don’t know the future. Anticipating the unknown has usually proved more awful than actually walking through it for me.

But, what if all the adversity predicted is the severe road to a better future, a different life lived from a different source, for us and our kids?

Along those lines, I wrote the following lines…

What if all the losses taught us to mourn?

What if all the mourning taught us to empathize?

What if all the empathy taught us humility?

What if all the humility taught us our poverty of soul?

What if our poverty taught us to search?

What if in our searching we found God? Who knows loss. Who mourns. Who empathizes. Who endured poverty. Who meets our needs?

Our need for Him to restore our dignity. Forgive our wrong. Heal our wound. Feed our mouth. Guide our path… Replace our heart.

With a new heart. A heart warm, not cold. A heart alive, not dead. A heart that feels, not numb. A hear not sick anymore.

What if our hope was not on the stock market, the cure, the vaccine, the vindication, the political party, the back to normal?

But in Christ

Who makes all things new

Even this broken world

Even we broken people

Would we then welcome the losses that taught us to mourn?

The mourning that taught us empathy?

The empathy that taught us our poverty?

The poverty that taught our need?

And the need that taught us to search?

And the search that brought us to the heart of God?

To me, the stairs are the adversity and the joyful girl at the top, my daughter, like the joy of finding God along a hard steep, path in life.

Being Still

I expected Easter weekend to be full of far flung friends gathered for a special wedding celebration—a dear friend united in marriage in the witness of many other dear friends.

A big celebration surrounded by many other little celebrations of a community separated and once again united for a weekend.

As shut downs and shelter-in-places spread across the world, the celebrations are delayed, the wedding postponed as we all wait for the unknown.

Our plans all yielded…

We may never be so closely linked in experience or feeling with the followers of Christ this Easter season. The joys of Spring Break in early March feel like Palm Sunday when life seemed like it was going well. An expectation of wonderful Spring!

The snowball of our restrictions parallel the turn of events during Holy Week as Jesus went from a heralded king to a hunted and betrayed man. Life turned upside down for Jesus’ followers.

A much anticipated celebration season flipped to unexpected mourning.

As they witnessed Jesus’ procession with His cross, this man they had followed everywhere for three years, did they think what we think now about our plans…this should not to be? I never saw this coming?

And, when Jesus’ body was placed in the tomb and the Sabbath began, and they sat in their homes did they sit stunned like we do now?

I don’t know what is next? Life as I know it is flipped upside down. What happens when this is over? When we emerge from our homes to a new reality? The ones passed over and not taken by this pandemic.

We wonder about our jobs, whether our kids will go back to school, what our community will suffer. The disciples also worried about their jobs and their lives… what they would suffer when those in power came looking for them the first chance they could leave their home.

Our world, with so many people, has never been so still as on this Passover, this Easter weekend. I have never experienced alongside so many others such uncertainty about what is next.

With all the unexpected quiet and stillness in my home right now, all the itching eagerness to escape and do something, anything else…I identify with Jesus’ followers in a new way this weekend.

Unlike them, I have the hope of knowing the next part of the story for us as followers of Jesus. The joy of the resurrection. The assurance of redemption and the security of a new purpose as His follower that the disciples would soon discover.

But, this weekend, I can identify with them…a party weekend upset and turned into a weekend of wondering quiet waiting for a new, uncertain day.

Truth and Morality

I like to peruse the Nextdoor app, well, daily. It’s fun to see what’s happening in the hood…sometimes its just entertaining. Other times its downright chilling to see how people respond to events in our community.

People are posting pictures of folks they don’t know who aren’t following the law of social distancing. They’re sharing some pretty extreme hostilities towards those who are stockpiling toilet paper. We don’t even know who’s stockpiling it, but someone is because there’s no toilet paper!

By the way, you can use this handy toilet paper calculator to assess how long your stash is going to last you. The advanced feature is pretty awesome. If its going to last you til September, well, you might be the one people don’t like very much right now.

But its really struck me how morality is at an all time high. There is a right and a wrong way to act during this crisis according to many, some of them actual scientists and doctors. The right way has to do with protecting others, looking out for others, and not thinking just about yourself.

And, its based on truth. This itty, bitty, tiny, little organism we can’t even see with our naked eye is passing between us, killing people, and bringing the entire world to its knees. The closer we stand and the more we interact, the worse it will get.

Facts. Math. They support this reality.

We cannot escape the truth though we act sometimes like it doesn’t apply to us. Acting like it doesn’t apply doesn’t make it not true. The reality of “the curve” will show us how well we are aligning with truth as a whole community.

Right now, it don’t look so good. And why should it? Morality and truth have been situational for so long that when we are backed up into this kind of wall, its so confusing! At the grocery store or neighborhood park, its not ok anymore that “you do you.” It means someone you may not even know will pay the price. The noblest act of love in the era of Covid-19 is to deny yourself for others.

And truth has never been so valued as it seems to be at press conferences right now. What people say and what they have said and done matters deeply. Did elected officials trade on inside information? There is a very significant and important judgement to be made that depends on what is true in that situation.

Do we want to elect such people to make decisions for our society. Most people, I think, would say no. So truth matters. We want people to follow a code that is fair and considers others, not just ourselves. We must judge these matters fairly in an age when not being judged is pretty popular.

Right now, there is a ban on elective surgeries where I am. The central basis is to look out for the life of others by conserving beds, medical supplies, and limiting risks for exposure. This week, my mother’s doctor had to defend, document in detail, and be prepared to explain the surgery my mom needed in ways he didn’t have to before. Waiting on her surgery would certainly mean an urgent risk to her life in the coming weeks when beds, supplies, and exposure will be much worse.

We hear of cancer patients facing different and limited decisions for treatment based on these factors. What a month ago would have been the best plan is now not because of risks of exposure. What a tough position to be in. Yet, there are law cases advocating for surgeries for non-life threatening, but very deeply difficult issues, like unwanted pregnancy.

Our society has to face these very moral questions now. Does one person get to use up medical resources to deal with a non-life threatening (but very physically and emotionally difficult) issue while another person with a life threatening issue cannot receive surgery?

When the main code for most behavior as it relates to our interconnected society is to preserve the lives of many we do not even know, our culture is inconsistent. We still want what we want and we still don’t really want to look out for others in key ways.

So, what are we to do with all our inconsistency? What do we do when we are backed up against a wall of morality and truth? When the issues don’t seem like life and death, its easier to squirm away.

My hope in all this upheaval and chaos is that we, as a world, will acknowledge that we all have an innate sense to some degree of morality and truth and it is a good thing. But it also leads us down a path we must follow to the end.

Where does this moral code and truth come from? Why do we have it? Why does everyone seem to agree worldwide that lives matter enough to shut down everything to save 1-2% of our population?

If you’re an atheist, it doesn’t make sense. You should welcome the culling of our weaker population. It is more consistent with an atheistic position it seems to me. No need to socially distance. Of course, I would think that the atheist must hope they are not considered in the 1-2%.

If you’re agnostic, the universal morality and desire for truth must mean something. If you can’t abide the atheistic mindset, its no longer the time to sit on the fence. If life matters, then its time to really decide who God really is. If God’s a God that values life and has fashioned us with a similar innate mind…to value life as well…wouldn’t life be better lived aligned with Him?

If so, who is God? The search must begin and be carried out in earnest.

To the Christian, this really exposes us. Do we care about lives as much as we say we do? As much as God does? Do we love like God loves? Do we know His love enough to trust Him with our futures economically, in matters of life and death, to talk about how much He loves people and doesn’t want anyone to die without knowing Him and His forgiveness of our incredible selfishness?

With the world at its knees, its time to talk. Or if we don’t really know His love for us, to dig deeper and get to know the trinitarian God of the Bible more deeply. My experience is that drawing closer to the God of the Bible has driven me towards His love and towards loving others.

Many will say God does not love the world. That He does not even exist or things wouldn’t be like this. That He is judging the world and He’s being really unfair and harsh.

Love like God’s love is not to be trifled with, true. It is pure and rejecting His gift does leave people in the cold. But it is fair and it should compel us to urgently invite everyone in to sit at His table.

But what is true about God—whether He exists, whether He has the right to say what is true and what is not, what is right and what is not—it matters whether we live by it or not.

Ultimately, at the end of life, there is no squirming away. If its true that God is the source of truth and morality, we will be at His mercy.

If its not true, what does it matter how we live our lives right now? There’s really not many people that would say that out loud right now. They’d be relegated to the depths of social hell for the rest of their lives for acting in their own interests.

So, Covid-19 puts us up against the wall. It’s time for us to decide about God, who He is and what it means for our life and the lives of those around us.

Spoiler alert, it’s not so bad, in fact, its so, so good to be at peace with God.

Exposed

Shopping is exciting these days. I’m used to empty shelves from time to time from my life overseas. Like when a rumor floated around in Asia that salt would undo effects of radiation after the Fukushima plant melted down. Then, overnight, there was no salt at the grocery store. None.

Or when I found Dr. Pepper overseas and cleared the shelf myself. I mean, why not?

Right now, shopping is a little too exciting, like a hunt. I’m not used to that in the US. I’m used to hunting food overseas, going to multiple shops, making expensive trade offs. I’m not accustomed to needing those skills in the land of plenty, America.

It’s unsettling.

Anyone buying a bidet soon?

Because it used to be that when I encountered such difficulty and lack, I knew that Asia would not always be my home. Someday I’d be back in the well stocked stores of the US. Now that I’m experiencing this here in America, I’m faced with another stripping away of the security I’ve placed in lesser things.

And the exposure of the pillars of my security is rather startling. I didn’t realize I placed such a large degree of confidence on the stock market until it started its roller coaster dips and rolls. I didn’t realize I relied so much on being able to control my schedule until my kids schools said don’t send them back to school…for who knows how long.

Early on, there was some talk that the disease spread correlated with national hygiene habits…and now America is pretty much proven unclean by that standard. And I didn’t realize how much I trusted my in my national identity as better than…until it was challenged.

All this upheaval and exposure brought about by a teeny, tiny, microscopic tenacious virus we can’t even see. Rather startling. Rather humbling that something so small has brought pretty much the entire world to its knees.

I’m still a bit stunned, wondering along with the rest of the world how this will all play out. There’s no escape hatch this time to a different land…a land of relative plenty. I’m pressed in to my circumstances and forced to look at what God exposes in me.

So, I wait, and trust, and do what I can do while I hopefully realign my heart more to depend on the Lord.

What I learned in quarantine…

As I wrote this a few weeks ago, I was anticipating some disruption to our lives and now it is here. My kids are on extended break and we are working virtually as our nation attempts to slow the spread of a new virus. I thought about heavily editing this, but read it again and am hoping the Lord will work again in my heart through this unique time.

Currently, we’re in a bit of a strange predicament in the world. Coronavirus is all over the news and its a little scary out there. A couple months ago, none of us was thinking about a pandemic, except our family. (We have the game). (Yes, we’re nerds).

Now, the officials are saying to expect disruptions and make contingency plans for things like schools shutting down or quarantine. That’s kind of a weird concept, I think, for most of us Americans. We are a freedom loving bunch and quarantine, well, its just not that.

But it is important and there’ve been a few times where our family has been in quarantine.

Like the time I thought the chicken pox vaccine was more effective than it is and my two kids got it one after another. Bang, one month in quarantine because our community was not vaccinated and most had not had chicken pox as children.

Then, there was the time we got a bad case of hand, foot, mouth disease when it was kind of going around the world. We were responsible for passing it to another team in another city. Oops.

Then there was SARS in 2003. We were there and it was rather frightening at times. When we came back to the US in May, we self quarantined.

As a mom, I was dismayed to quarantine with my kids for the month we had to do that. It felt like it might just make me have a breakdown. Young mom + two kids + isolation= bad.

What surprised me the most was that it was really such a peaceful time for our family. I stocked up each week at the store. I had to say no pretty automatically to most things. And, I focused on my home and family life. My stress level went down and I enjoyed my kids a lot more than I had normally.

I’ve thought about it more this past month because, well, you know, the news. And, I realized how busyness robs me of so much. I was reminded of how much I keep so many plates juggling for many reasons but many I can distill into a desire to measure up in some way.

The question of what good am I if I’m not doing something morphs into this big bully and I don’t know God’s tremendous grace and mercy towards me. And, I also don’t know of His great grace and mercy to others for which He needs me much less than I think He does!

As I write this, I want to make clear that quarantine for many in the world today is very, very scary and difficult on a level I did not experience. My point is that times where we need to slow down and be still can bring a peace that highlights how striving we can become.

For those that are in the epicenters, isolated and alone or displaced, my prayer is that they would know God’s overwhelming presence, comfort, and love. And, I pray that this pestilence would abate but not so that we can go on with life as normal.

Hopefully, the knowledge of our fragile humanity would draw us closer to God.