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.

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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.

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!

Waste not…

DSC_0141Buried in my blog drafts from our life in East Asia 4 years ago…

Our family is reading Farmer Boy right now as our bedtime story.  It makes me feel a lot better about the minimal chores I expect my children to accomplish.  They understand their charmed life and gain vision on all they really can do!

We all listen with rapt attention to the descriptions of life before electricity, refrigeration, and machinery.  Clothes are precious because the yarn comes from sheep shorn on your own farm, wool spun by diligent hands, made into fabric and sewn by expert fingers.  A rip in clothing is no excuse to throw it away, mending is a crucial skill.

The food is fascinating too.  My kids salivate when Laura Ingalls tells of donuts, oatmeal, and apple pie for breakfast…all in one day!  Life on the farm seems like an adventure especially when you get your own oxen.  Little do they know, they observe daily a life similar to the one described in Farmer Boy.

We are city folk who live in the midst of an agrarian society.  We see strange things that are only strange because we are 2 generations removed from the farm.

Yellow millet sometimes covers the medians of roads right up to the solid white line. One time we drove over some crops laid on the road. The cars driving over beat out the grain.

Vegetables like the one pictured lay out to dry in odd places along fence posts, on house roofs, anywhere there is sun really.  Pickled vegetables make up an important part of the diet. I ate a wonderful dish of dried green beans the other day.

Many homes still don’t own refrigerators in the countryside or if they do they are unplugged when someone deems it frivolous to be on.  Lamps turned on inside a house in the daytime is an anomaly and deemed quite wasteful. A neighbor was seriously perplexed one day to see our whole family playing outside and our lights on in our apartment.

Cars rarely carry only one person and most people ride bikes or use electric bikes. They, too, often hold multiple people. Frankly, bikes are generally easier to use to get around the neighborhood than cars.

The average household trash can is the size of one normally found in an American bathroom.  It is emptied once a day and mostly contains vegetable peels. Ironically, while hosting many of the world’s worst polluted cities, the average citizen produces very little waste.

A few days before Thanksgiving, my friends began inquiring if anyone was going to use the turkey carcass after our meal. She, of course, was the lucky winner. As our friends divided up the leftovers from Thanksgiving including the turkey carcass (for porridge), the broth from the turkey (for noodles), and the side dishes (to eat the next day), I admired their skill in frugality.

I often choose convenience over limiting waste. I don’t fall far from my American heritage even after more than a decade overseas.

There is much to admire in the resourcefulness needed to live a life of such little waste and such thankfulness for what is provided from God.

Happy Thanksgiving!

 

Stooping to Look Again

From four years ago….

I don’t like to wait. I try to find ways to avoid waiting. Call ahead. Go do something else and come back when the line is shorter. I especially don’t like to wait when I don’t know how long the wait will be. That’s what it feels like to be left, to wait for the unknown. When leaving, I think about the future, to what comes next. It’s exciting. When left, I think about the future, too, but what comes next? I know not.

The tomb scene in John spoke to my heart this week as I contemplate the departures of a few friends and teammates. Mary came to the tomb early and left late. She saw the men come and stoop to look inside and then they returned home. She, too, looked and saw emptiness inside, I suppose. The text doesn’t say specifically. She was left, so she thought, but she lingered anyway, weeping and waiting.

I don’t like to wait or to weep. I don’t like to be left.

But, then she stooped and looked again where others looked before and saw nothing. Amazing. Why did she look again? I don’t know but if I were her, why would I look again? I want to see. I want more. I want a different reality. Maybe I’d think that if I looked one more time, just once more before I left I could leave and go home and start to fill the emptiness on my own, sure that there was nothing left to wait for anymore. The act of stooping to look again is so full of faith.

She stooped and looked weeping and she saw angels…heard angels, spoke with angels!  She saw the Risen Christ, clung to Him, and He gave her a message to pass on.  For others who came and went, the tomb lay empty, just empty.  But for Mary, who waited and wept and stooped to look again, the empty tomb became a place of joy and comfort and hope and purpose.  The emptiness of feeling left by the Lord filled up with so much more.

So, I wait weeping more and more.  I stoop to look in the emptiness and wait for His explanation of the reality I feel so deeply.  He fills the emptiness more and more with the comfort, joy, and hope in His Word.  And, He challenges my view of reality.

I am not left.  I am not alone.  The emptiness of the tomb is the reality but the explanation for what my eyes see is far from empty.

Twilight

I rounded the corner in our orange car. Yes, orange. People do strange things in foreign countries like buy orange cars. I sped up in my orange car to merge into traffic. As I met the sight of the hills I saw everyday, a word sank into my heart.

Twilight.

The setting of the sun on a time, a day, an era. We were still living in Asia, but I knew then in my heart, not for much longer. It was the beginning of the end and the knowledge settled warm and uncomfortable in a deep place in my soul.

In the coming weeks and months, time was infused with meaning. Knowing our life in Asia was passing away, we visited people and places to enjoy them, but also to say goodbye.

I tried to remember the roots of the word, “God be with ye” in the moments that felt too final. I wanted normal. I wanted conversation not to revolve around the present, the twilight time, me, but it often did. Such is the reality of saying farewells. They exist in the present. They are personal. They are hard.

Twilight is also the time for good photos, I hear. The light casts warmth and enhances beauty. So it is with the end of things, or it should be. The harsh light softens the edges. The beauty of what was and is and the hope for what will be comes through in twilight.

I wish I always saw people in the glow of twilight, but I don’t. I forget and I focus on the wrong things. I take measure at the wrong time. I’m human. Flawed.IMG_1282

Now, I’m experiencing twilight again with my father. The soft glow of what matters and the ache knowing the sun continues to sent on his life. Feeling and significance infuse normal life with meaning. But the sun keeps setting and the shadows cast longer and there’s no stopping. How I wish I could push pause.

But, life moves on.

Dad and I eat in the roar of a good diner full of people in their own worlds and we in ours. We prepare for the night in this twilight morning. How to walk through widowhood with my mom. We talk about finances and relational anchors and the practicalities of funeral arrangements.

I’m not as frightened by the night of grief and sadness that comes. It weights heavy on my heart as grief is prone to do, but I know morning comes after the night. There is a time for everything. The trouble is not knowing how long is the night.

Grasping at time, as I’m prone to do, exhausts me. Not every moment can drip with significance. Sometimes you have to do the dishes and vacuum the floor. I’m left with the aching experience of living the times and receiving the gift in all its broken beauty.

We call it a severe mercy from time to time.

P.S. There’s a good book by that title, A Severe Mercy. Worth a read.

Stooping to Look Again

I published this around Easter two years ago. As I read it again, I am struck by how the Lord is calling me, yet again, to stoop and look into the tomb. I reposted it this year. It is still a very current place for me.

I don’t like to wait. I try to find ways to avoid waiting. Call ahead. Go do something else and come back when the line is shorter. I especially don’t like to wait when I don’t know how long the wait will be. That’s what it feels like to be left, to wait for the unknown. When leaving, I think about the future, to what comes next. It’s exciting. When left, I think about the future, too, but what comes next? I know not.

The tomb scene in John spoke to my heart this week as I contemplate the departures of a few friends and teammates. Mary came to the tomb early and left late. She saw the men come and stoop to look inside and then they returned home. She, too, looked and saw emptiness inside, I suppose. The text doesn’t say specifically. She was left, so she thought. But she lingered anyway, weeping and waiting. I don’t like to wait or to weep. I don’t like to be left.

But, then she stooped and looked again where others looked before and saw nothing. Amazing. Why did she look again? I don’t know but if I were her, why would I look again? I want to see. I want more. I want a different reality. Maybe I’d think that if I looked one more time, just once more before I left I could leave and go home and start to fill the emptiness on my own, sure that there was nothing left to wait for anymore. The act of stooping to look again is so full of faith.

She stooped and looked weeping and she saw angels…heard angels, spoke with angels!  She saw the Risen Christ, clung to Him, and He gave her a message to pass on.  For others who came and went, the tomb lay empty, just empty.  But for Mary, who waited and wept and stooped to look again, the empty tomb became a place of joy and comfort and hope and purpose.  The emptiness of feeling left by the Lord filled up with so much more.

So, I wait weeping more and more.  I stoop to look in the emptiness and wait for His explanation of the reality I feel so deeply.  He fills the emptiness more and more with the comfort, joy, and hope in His Word.  And, He challenges my view of reality.

I am not left.  I am not alone.  The emptiness of the tomb is the reality but the explanation for what my eyes see is far from empty.