The Thief in the Night

Dark places breed fear. Just ask my child who wakes in the night calling for me. Or, listen to my problems multiply in the dim light of evening. Troubles loom and monsters lurk in dark places.

I listened to my child tell of jaunts to the bathroom postponed until dawn, lamps switched on, and books read in the middle of the night. Being a fearful child myself, I relate. A bump in the day and a bump in the night? Totally different.

I talk myself out of fear with the lamp. “How silly!” I say to myself when I think of that thief that climbed into a third floor apartment. I turn on the lamp. Fear never feels silly. Totally justifiable. Proud in its awareness of dangers to be avoided. Telling someone to simply not be afraid falls short…far short.

Sunlight dawning in my soul says if the thief comes, he cannot take anything God does not allow for His purpose. Because, you see, the thief can and does come. The thief is real. Fear exists because evil exists.

Freedom comes as I acknowledge that the dark is dark but that the light overcomes the dark…and the light resides with me always.

How do you deal with fear?

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Thriving or Blending In

As we struggled to get back to thriving during a relationally dry time a few years ago, I struck out with plough in hand to turn up some ground for new friendships.  International playgroup was the ground and I was going to make some friends.  Mom’s from around the world in various stages of survival or thriving gathered to talk while kids played. So many interesting people!  Surely, a friendship could be borne.

Eventually, mom’s night out came around.  I, of course, went and ended up sitting next to a woman who loved to pepper me with questions about what we did, how we did it, how we got paid, what our plans for the future were and so on.  We’re not exactly forthcoming with all that information for some good reasons so to say I was uncomfortable is an understatement.  She then proceeded to ridicule another family in the city for doing religious work.  She did not know I did the same type of work.  And, now, I did not want her to know.  I really did not want her to know.

I shut down.  Survival became my goal.  Blend in to the group.  Be just another mom living life overseas.  Don’t stick out.  Danger!  It seemed an appropriate time to visit the lady’s room.

One friend who knew our more important work, observed the whole encounter.  She observed my walls go up, my survival instincts kicking in.  Later, as the cab dropped off first one and then another and another person until my friend and I were alone in the cab, she leaned forward and told me clearly she did not hold the views of this other woman.  In fact, she respected what we did.  I breathed.  I’d found a friend.

I realized after a long while and am still reminded now that blending into the group does not lead to survival but slow death.  It seems on the surface the right thing to do.  Friends are lacking, so go make friends…but not at any cost.  Never at the cost of who I am.  That’s not survival and it doesn’t lead to thriving….it’s just the long road to a slow death.  The wrong death.

The life Christ calls me to is so much more than blending in.  In fact, it’s the opposite of blending in.  It’s being willing to stand up knowing life as I know it probably won’t survive.  As I think on it more releasing survival seems to be the first step on the path to thriving.

How to Survive: Graceful Synchronize

Beneath the hustle and bustle of Bangkok rests a wonderful aquarium.  Fish swim serenely through beautiful blue tanks as skytrains intersect and the world shops above.  God’s creatures beneath the world’s creations.

Darkness shrouds aquariums which means I’m constantly counting heads instead of gazing into tanks and reading signs.  But, yesterday, four signs caught my eye.  “How to Survive in the Ocean” they read.  They could easily have said “How to Survive in the Hustle and Bustle of the World.”

I’ll go first…Graceful Synchronize.  I get this one.  This is the one I do more than all others.  Go with the flow, blend in, be careful, don’t offend.  Synchronize.  Don’t stand out too much.  And do so gracefully so no one notices either. That’s my method I’m learning to put aside…graceful synchronize.

Why put it aside, though?  I’m surviving right?  But that is not what God calls me to…survival.  The Lord bids me come and die.  survival at any cost is not His goal.  He bids me to come out of the masses, to reveal myself even if it makes me a target…even if it means I don’t survive.

Maybe that is the truth…the I isn’t supposed to survive, not when it’s the I ridden with selfish desires for personal comfort, glory, safety.  That’s the reason I gracefully synchronize to the pulse of the moment–for myself.  That I must die.

Graceful in Christ is the synchronization my heart truly desires.  Survival at any cost is becoming a cost too high.  I do not die, but yet I die.  I die in that I do not flourish in the unique ways God makes His creation to flourish.

To truly live is to not try so hard to survive.  How am I doing?  Well…I still try to survive a lot, but sometimes I share what the Lord puts on my heart and make myself a potential target…uncomfortable and unsafe.

Next week…”How to Survive: Be Dangerous.”

Not My Dad

I grew up in church. Every Sunday church let out and the narthex (who came up with that word?) swarmed with people. A very forest of legs to my pint sized perspective. Legs, legs, and more legs. I remember latching on to a leg one time only to have it jerk away unexpectedly. I look up and lo and behold, the face that is attached to that leg is not in any way familiar. Wrong Dad!

Isn’t that the way it is in life, though? Overwhelmed by the tall trees and feeling lost I grasp the nearest thing that seems familiar, that promises belonging, that makes me feel safe. But, like a child I don’t look up to see who it belongs to. When it jerks away and doesn’t provide what I thought it would I finally look up and realize, hmm, that’s not my Dad.

The alternative is wandering around in the forest longer, turning my head to look up, and risking. Faith is risky but it’s riskier when I haven’t lingered and pondered in the forest. When I’ve latched onto an intuition of who God is but not onto God.

Faith is the assurance of things hoped for. There’s probably a lot of things I’m sure of that I shouldn’t be. And a lot more things to ponder in the forest than I do. Some are deep, some are shallow. Where do dinosaurs fit into creation? Why does God say yes to prayers for impossible parking spaces?

So, I endeavor to ponder more in the forest these days hoping for more glimpses of the face of God.

Losing Face

Living in a culture of face wears on me.  Once I became aware of the importance of keeping face and giving face I felt pressure to remember and consider face.  In America we’d say its something like keeping up appearances or giving and receiving respect.  Really it’s just plain old pride.  I thought back to all the times I’d unknowingly lost face or caused someone else to lose face.  The effect paralyzed my relationships for a time.  Every step in the culture felt fraught with the danger of my unintentionally building a wall with someone because of face.

Last weekend I attended a wedding.  Half the dining room sat family and friends of the bride and groom’s parents.  The other half sat the Christian friends.  When it came time to toast the bride and groom the split down the middle became even more evident than the level of wine in the wine bottles.  One side belted out maxims and sayings of the culture that reflect nothing personal.  Prosperity!  Long life!  The other half bared their heart of appreciation for the individuals promising their lives together.  My heart heard and my eye saw the split open like a chasm.  Strong v. Soft.  Closed v. Open.  Tough v. Tender

I also saw the tears of the strong, closed, tough side when their soft, open, and tender children spoke face-losing words of love to their parents.  Hugs welled up from deep places in the soul that could no longer be held back.  I hear Asian families do not generally hug.  They rarely if ever say “I love you.”  Tears sprung from the eyes of tough men with crew cuts, bellowing voices, and cigarettes.  Had they lost face?  Not to me.  I pray their wall of face will begin to crumble with this first crack.

The fear of face passed through my heart to some extent a while ago.  The wedding gave me new encouragement not to believe that people want more than anything to maintain face.  I don’t think they really do.  I don’t think I do either because I have my face I like to keep too.  It’s not unique to Asian culture.  I think I (and others) really want love and our faces get in the way.

I respect my friends who step into soft, open, and tender in this culture.  It’s terrifying.  Their lead I endeavor follow.

Faith and Footballs

The doorbell rang.  A package!  A big package arrived at our doorstep.  An unexpected package!  I called my husband at work, “Come home! We got a package!”  The kids and I mused about the contents.  Something amazing for sure!

We waited in anticipation as the box opened revealing…a full-sized football complete with a stand.  We love football but we sighed and laughed at ourselves in disappointment.  It wasn’t as cool as our imagination imagined it to be.  You see, it is a full-sized football with a stand but it is a wooden full-sized football with a stand.

The thought of a hail Mary thrown by a 6-year-old inside our living room sent the wooden football to my husband’s desk at his office.  It sits on his desk bringing smiles to the Americans that come through from time to time.   Something pretty to look at but completely useless…laughable.

My “faith” is not unsimilar at times, a pretty wooden football for looking at but completely hurtful when I try to use it, as though faith can be used.  Strong, solid, and hard.  Unforgiving.

Real faith is made of my skin ready to be shed for others as He shed it for me.  Am I putting my skin into relationships?  It’s painful but I’m trusting it’s the pain that leads to life.

The Inevitable Fall

I hate falling.  All of the sudden I’m looking at the world from the sidewalk in pain and embarrassment.  I hurt!  Everything I held I rediscover in new and unexpected locations.  I snatch my pride from the pavement along with my possessions.  Did anyone see?  I sure hope not!

Thankfully I don’t fall that much anymore but each fall I do take is more painful.  My kids fall all the time.  The degree of their surprise increases with their age.  Now they even blame their nearest sibling to cover the slip as if they can’t believe their coordination could fail them so miserably!  It can’t be me so it must be you!

It’s not like falling down is a moral failure or a reflection of intelligence so why is it so stinkin’ embarrassing!?  I guess if someone falls because they’re drunk it does say a whole lot of something.  But most of the time its a misjudged distance or wet polished granite in high traffic areas, which I could write a lengthy blog about.

Why do I still get so supremely shocked when I fall and knock my soul against the pavement of life?  It’s not like God doesn’t tell us it’ll happen.  He does!  Why when I find myself looking up at the world from a different perspective do I rush to gather my wits and my pride and look around to see if someone noticed?  Why am I surprised?  He is not surprised.

The promises in Psalms comfort me.  I have a hand to hold.  I will not be hurled headlong.  The wise will rise up over and over and over.  I know I hold the hand.  I hope I’m wise!

If childishness is blaming the nearest sibling for my fall, maybe becoming childlike means falling and getting up without such surprise and embarrassment?  I really don’t want to practice this principle but it seems falling is inevitable.

The Jump

A thrillingly daring jump from a swing resulted in one of my more embarrassing childhood moments.  The jump culminated in triumph yet my shorts did not accompany me in my victory.  I looked up and saw them hanging from the swing!  Nothing shocks the mind quite like realizing one’s exposed their undergarments.  I clutched my torn shorts around my waist for the mile walk home.

Exposure evokes two responses.  Well, probably not only two but today I’m reminded of just two.  Fear and hope.  Either I know I’m doing wrong and I hide from and fear exposure.  Or, I practice truth and I seek, actually seek, exposure.  “Why, oh why would I want to be exposed?” my soul screams out as visions of annual check ups complete with fluorescent lighting flash through my mind.

But something resonates with John’s words.  For meaning.  I love the word my Bible uses…wrought.   Something beautiful created with skill and diligence and forethought in the depth of a skilled craftsman’s workshop.  Wrought in God.  To see my life’s work emerge from the mist of the everyday as having been wrought in God.

Ok!  Now I actually want to be exposed!  I want the sharp light of God and I want to see how He’s creating something beautiful and with purpose because it sure is hard for me to see sometimes.  Meaning!  My life wrought in Him?  Sounds like something I need to know on those days that feel more like a wet lump of clay spinning on an untended potter’s wheel.

It feels good to be inspired to come before God like this.  To be exposed in my misdeeds feels a little more frightening.  But, a close read makes me think John is talking about God exposing my misdeeds and my deeds–the whole package–when He shines the light on my life.  Somehow, He takes it all and wroughts something with purpose.  I don’t know how but I’m willing to come.

Giving, Receiving, Sharing

My daughter cried calling me to her bedside.  Pain.  I needed to do something and NOW!  She fully expected me to take it away immediately.  I could not and we both cuddled our broken hearts together.

So many times I hear heartbreaking stories of betrayal, abuse, disappointment and sadness over a cup of coffee and I struggle.  I want to take it—take the pain away—but I can’t.  They can’t give it either.  It’s their pain.

The community of The Giver  has one “Receiver of Memory”.   (see Eliminating Pain, my previous post on The Giver)  The community names the new Receiver of Memory and he goes to his mentor and asks what to call him.  “The Giver,” he answers.  So transpires days of Giving and Receiving memory.  The Giver gives memories and, once he gives them, he loses them.  The Receiver accepts the memories which become increasingly unbearable to hold alone.  Telling of emotion becomes actually feeling emotion.  True relationship between the Giver and the Receiver reveals all others as sorry manufactured counterfeits.  The status quo becomes unsustainable.

I want a Receiver of Memory!  Being free of painful memories would be so nice!  To share that deep pain and…poof… it’s gone!   But pain leads to wisdom.  So wisdom goes with the pain.  Do I want that cost?  To become increasingly foolish as I’m increasingly pain-free?

My daughter’s heart cry that I take her pain is impossible but can I share it?  Bear the weight of it together?  What about the friend in deep pain.  I can’t take it.  Can I share it?  For so long I felt discouraged at my helplessness in the face of deep pain.  I’m beginning to experience the freedom of sharing.

I love the ending of the Giver.  Spoiler Alert!  The Receiver escapes and in the final moments approaches a family by a fireplace.  Music is heard in the distance,the evidence that his old mentor is blasting the status quo and sharing his pain and also his most beloved memory, music.

Eliminating Pain

The fear of pain leads to a joyless existence.  Hmmm.  I recently read a little literature named The Giver by Lois Lowry.  If I attended a class on literature and needed to state one theme, well, there one is.  Fear of pain leads to a joyless existence.

To eliminate pain the community in The Giver lives by loads of rules in a very controlled and contrived life.  Love causes pain so families come together by committee instead of birth or romantic love.  Death causes pain so the old do not die but instead get secretly killed off.  Accidents cause pain so a multitude of rules govern every aspect of life.  In the absence of love, death, and pain life is grey, false, cold, and deceptively harmonious.

As one who struggles with fear, seeing such a bleak portrayal of fear’s destination shook me.  Things like escalators+children+crocs+developing nations=raw fear.  Pools+polished granite+kids=terror.  I see my daughter catching my fear like the contagious disease that it is and wonder if she will ever have much fun on an escalator again!  I name myself “Joy Stealer!”

Be safe!  As if I could do much to control most dangers.  Be safe is the popular replacement for goodbye in America these days.  My brother observed this for me.  Be safe!  Safety means avoiding pain.  Avoiding pain means making rules.  Making rules does take away some of the pain but it takes a free side of joy along with it.  Good and bad go together on the path to eliminate pain.  Grey is the color of safe.

Polished granite and water present real risks in this country I live in so I’m struggling through the difference between fear and appropriate caution.  What does it look like to nurture a child well in a world of unavoidable pain?  To raise a child and raise myself to take appropriate risks instead of play it grey?  To not be controlled by my fear or control others with my fear?  Fear and faith are incompatible.

The next theme I’m intrigued by in The Giver is sharing pain in community.  Bearing the weight of the wait means bearing the pain too.  And, the theme after that is the role of music and art in life.  Bearing the weight of the wait means a strangely joyful existence is promised us Followers.

So, I’m being bossy now, read The Giver!