Plain Old Pain and Sore Pain

At 20 bucks an hour, medicinal back massages are a steal.  Last furlough I vowed to indulge in this overseas luxury more often.  Cross cultural life stresses the body and the mind.  Massage works wonders…if you can stand the pain.

Massage in America surrounds you in an experience of soothing luxury.  Relaxing smells and soft music with a fountain trickling in the background usher one into an experience of stressless comfort.  Not so in Asia.  A successful massage in Asia uses one hour to hit every pressure point and problem area with torturous force.  No music or fountains…just hard work.  It is not for the faint of heart.  If I scream, which I do, I only communicate a job well done, not a request to stop!

Two words describe pain in this language and we learned them from the masseuse.  There are more, but these two strike me with meaning.  Pain and sore pain.  Pain is just what it means…pain.  No purpose.  Negative.  Undesirable.  Bad.

Sore pain…now sore pain is good.   The masseuse explained that sore pain means new blood flowing to the knotted muscle and washing out the toxins.  Sore pain eventually allows the muscle to release the poison and relax resulting in more freedom of motion without limiting pain.

Sore pain is why I get a massage.  Sore pain serves a purpose.  Sore pain yields.  Sore pain is not futile.  Sore pain leads to loose muscles that enable me to enjoy daily life without as much plain old pain.

As in my spiritual life there is pain that leads to more pain and serves no purpose.  That kind of pain makes me act funny as I protect myself.  And, then, there is sore pain.  The word a friend speaks that brings to light a sin issue I need to face.  Or, maybe it is doing the thing I fear will incur disapproval from others.  Pressing these areas brings sore pain.  But, sore pain is worth it.  Sore pain brings new life.  Sore pain gets out the poisons.  Sore pain eventually brings peace and freedom.

Sore pain still hurts.  I scream when the masseuse hits certain pressure points.  I cry and can get angry when someone pushes on a stiff spot.   But the promise of cleaning out the toxins and moving unencumbered by a stiff soul makes me crave it even as I want to scream.

When I visit the masseuse I always try to go with a friend.  We bond as we listen to the masseurs grump about our physical problems and as we hear each other yelp.  Taking a friend along on the journey of sore pain of the soul helps me endure.

Between the screams, and sometimes through them, we laugh a great deal.

What stiff places in your soul need to experience sore pain these days?

Me and Marius

I weep every time I see Les Miserables but the part I cry harder in than any other is when Marius remembers his fallen friends. He stands and sings of empty chairs and empty tables. Empty chairs. Empty tables. I’m choking up even as I recall the song.

Too many empty chairs and empty tables. Chairs and tables where friends once sat, where we talked, laughed, dreamed, ate, played games, argued, reconciled. My friends did not die, but many have moved which is a kind of death. It is death to daily life together. Death to easy conversation. Death to a kind of friendship even though the friendship itself is not dead. Death to seeing their faces practically whenever I felt like it.

I feel like Marius these days. A little war torn…the one left and not knowing why. So, so many people come and go in our lives. When I count them, I move from fingers, then to toes, and then I run out of digits to help me. Why us? Why are we left? I know it is not because we are better, more fluent, more adjusted, more spiritual, more capable. No, no, those are not the reason we are still here.

Going back to the café is so hard. Remembering my friends. Remembering the good times. Remembering even the hard times, those times when we did not get along as well as I wanted or they wanted. Times when we disappointed each other. The times we sinned against each other. And also the times when we did it good. When we stood by each other and offered a shoulder to cry on, a heartfelt word of encouragement, a meal, forgiveness, grace. My life is full because of my friendships forged in the heat of battle.  I wouldn’t give it up even as I cry the tears of missing them.

My tears begin to dry up when Marius comes to the part where he talks of the futility of his friends’ deaths. I gulp back my choking and depart from his line of thought. While futility is a part of life, it is not part of the battle I pursue. It is not in vain that we put our lives out there for the miserables of the world. We strived to look down and that is close to God’s heart. It is not futile even if my eye does not see as much progress as I hoped. The cause is worth it. I am not giving my life for nothing.

It is the season of departures and this year they start early and go late.  So, here, now I revisit the café of friendships and cry my tears as I remember times gone by with the hope, too, of good times yet to come.

Renovating

Nomads move around. We are nomads. I think true nomads like moving. I do not. It’s not exciting like those international home buyers shows. We’ve pondered apartments with toilets in closets, bathroom sinks in dining rooms, and grime beyond belief. I’ve moved, pregnant with two small kids, into an apartment sight unseen.

The gold used to be an unfinished apartment. We looked for the apartment shell–concrete everywhere and holes in the walls and ground for piping. Then, we put in floors, cabinets, sinks, tubs, and toilets…just how we liked and not in the closet. Times changed and that’s out of our budget now. Now, gold is an apartment with everything but a kitchen. I like to do my kitchen my way.

The worst, though, is having to renovate an apartment. Renovate sound so exciting and new. Made to order. But first, the sledgehammers come in. The dust is kicked up and grunge never seen gets revealed. People traipse in and out. People I don’t know. Renovating is messy, loud, and if we never had to do it again, I’d not be sorry.

My life is full of some ugly stuff. I’m not an unfinished apartment and I don’t like renovations on my heart either…at first. I don’t just put on Christ over a blank shell. There’s also this bad job I did on my own that needs to be ripped out.  The trying to be functional and pretty apart from Christ that needs to go. It doesn’t come out easily either.  I usually don’t even notice how ugly it is until someone walks into my life and points it out. Or, I see the job that Christ can do in someone else and then notice the grunge I’ve lived with so long.

Then comes the bashing, the knocking down, and the unsettling. Things are removed, but behold, there’s always more!  It comes down with a bang and a cloud of dust that chokes me and the people around me. Thankfully most of them see there’s a renovation going on and are excited about what’s happening even as they cough on my dust.

What is God tearing out of your life as He renovates you? How has someone come alongside you recently and shared in the joy of what God is doing?

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.

Feast

DSC_068015 minutes.  Maybe 20 minutes.  That’s the time limit doctors and scientists and people on the web say we get to stuff in all the goodies before our stomachs send desperate signals to our brain to stop already.  My husband and I joke at buffets and Thanksgiving that we have 20 minutes.  20 minutes to stuff in as much food as we can before we won’t enjoy it anymore.  Feasting.  It’s really an art.

I think God’s people nailed it though.  Days.  They planned days of feasting, not just one day.  They traveled and prepared and ate and rested for days.  They even had whole years God told them to eat off the land–plant nothing–just eat what grows.

We have one day for Thanksgiving.  One day, maybe two days off, for Christmas.  A barbecue for the 4th of July.  I really need days to enjoy the feast though.  I require days to enjoy all the myriad desserts and side dishes.

A few weeks ago we took a sorrowful ride home from the airport after saying goodbyes to my parents.  I’m always so happy to see them.  We eagerly anticipate their visits.  We plan, we dream, we expect.  We prepare for the relational feast.

But, remember that 20 minute rule?  At some point I’m faced with reality.  I want to eat more at the familial relational table but I’m stuffed to bursting.  The food is good but now I’m full.  I know beyond  shadow of a doubt I’ll be very, very hungry in the weeks and months afterwards.  Famine will come.  I’ll crave the feast intensely but at the present moment, I’m about to burst.

I hate that I get full, that my words get used up, that I crave routine even.  Oh, to have a bigger stomach!  Feasting without end!  That’s what my soul craves with my spouse, my children, my family, my friends.

Maybe that’s what we’ll experience in heaven.  No.  I know that is the experience, the promise.  A place for me in the family house.  The family feast without end where I never get tired or full or stressed and neither does anyone else.  All the children gathered at the table of the Lord released from our weakness and sin.  Feasting without end.

What a day…what a day.  I do long for it!  The wait feels eternal right now.  My hope and joy is that I know it is not.

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.

Smells

I made the mistake of parking next to our trash dump. I’d pulled in late and all my regular spaces were taken. The dump spaces stood vacant and for a very good reason. Years of half-rotted trash juice fermented into fully rotted trash juice. The stench fills nose, inches its way to the tear ducts before it reaches down the throat and grasps the gag reflex. Merely squeezing your nose does no good. The brief walk from the car stuck to my shoes. They smelled for days.

Smell holds the strongest memories. We learned this at our last debrief. Be aware that you might be brought to emotional tears during transition based purely on a familiar smell they told us. I don’t really like to be brought to tears without some preparation so this bit of information lodged in my brain. My heart whispered, “this is true.” Each child I’ve associated with the smell of the particular lotion I used around the time of their birth. My second child is pink grapefruit. Every time I smell pink grapefruit I’m transported to a small house with a blue swivel chair and late night feedings. Every time.

It really irks me that when I put on perfume my brain blocks it from my senses within five minutes. Everyone else smells it but me, and I really like my perfume! Sometimes I wonder what my personal odor is to others. And, before you make a funny, I’m talking about those fragrance verses in the Bible! Did that joke I thought so funny poke a tender spot? Does that expression on my face, the one I must wear a lot because a deep groove between my eyebrows says so, what does that say about me? About my worries, cares, concerns? What did my, ahem, loud voice tell my children the other day?

I guess my question is this, am I living out Christ’s love such that I’m turning hearts to notice His fragrance or my not so great one? Ironically, whether I’m reflecting Him or not, I’ll still smell like death to someone. My desire to please people doesn’t like this truth. I don’t want to smell like death…ever! But the death that leads to life is worth the turned heads and the comments…and maybe the jokes.

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.