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.

Soul Food

No basil. After circling through the super store gradually acquiring all the ingredients necessary for the nostalgia of Thai curry, I looked up at the herbs. No basil. Deflated, I just gave up and walked out with most, but not all, of the ingredients I needed.

This time of year for the past many, many years we traveled to Thailand. Conferences, rest, and warmth drew us or required our presence. Thailand holds a special place in our hearts. Many of our family memories include Thailand.

Like this one of a favorite restaurant on a beach. What better fun than climbing a tree while waiting for your food? I wonder what that couple thought of a small person hanging out above them while they ate.

But my kids never really loved Thai food.IMG_0529 They ate all the western selections on the menu, countless smoothies, and chicken satay. My husband and I ate curry and lots of it.

I finally cooked my Thai curry last night sans basil. I opened the fish sauce and played jokes on the boys. “Smell this!” I’d tell them. Being the trusting sort, they did. They gagged. It smells awful. Just like its name. Fish sauce. Yuck. Yet, somehow, it is the ingredient that makes Thai food.

All the kids sat in front of bowls of chili while my husband and I sat in front of Thai curry.

Then, my daughter pipes up. That smell, its Thailand. Yes, I said. It is. And the girl who I never remember eating Thai curry dug into a bowl of rice with curry sauce. IMG_0201

My heart ached with nostalgia. Smells and tastes remind me more than anything else that part of my heart absorbed another place, and I’m not there anymore. I have words for this, my kids do not.

After observing my daughter’s reaction and how they consumed a huge Chinese meal on Friday night, I realize I must draw our hearts together over the dinner table.

The tendency in a move is to unknowingly leave things behind that matter. We left food behind and it’s just not working to leave it there.

It’s a good thing a new Asian grocery store opened not too far from us. Visits there are the piece we’re missing in our American life.

Our family needs more soul food and it’s not chicken fried steak.

What is your soul food? The tastes and smells that take you back to another place?

The Side View

You would think that dodging motorcyclists, pedestrians, and lane-crossers that my capacity for the relative calm and peace of the American roadway would usher in less stress.  I sure believed such things.

I believed I conquered driving stress as a road warrior in Asia, or at least I believed my experiences driving in Asia at least increased my immunity to stress on the road.  Oh, how wrong I was!  Driving in the U.S. of A. ranks among my most surprising sources of stress upon re entry.

I realized the level of my defensiveness, my learned behavior in Asia, was making me dangerous.  My husband and I joked about my PTSD on the road but it wasn’t a joke.  My inability to remain in a lane for fear the car next to me will drift into my lane was, among other behaviors, highly dangerous and I knew it.

The surge of my foot to the brake when any car pulls up to enter traffic from a parking lot is lightening quick.  I break whenever a car even looks like it is thinking about pulling into traffic.  Why?  Drivers in Asia never stop on the way out of a parking lot, trusting that all other drivers will just make room for them.  So, I have deep trust issues.

I drive slow.  Traffic in Asia is mostly pretty slow as it all happens in highly congested cities.  Most of the time I drove at about 30-40 miles an hour.  I was unprepared for traffic to move at 60-70 miles an hour on weaving highways with concrete barriers blocking out the shoulder.  Add to that, drivers seem to trust that others will stay in their lanes which makes them completely comfortable to hang out right next to me at high speeds.  This reckless behavior just sends adrenaline streaking through my body.

To make it worse, sometimes I wasn’t driving but my husband was behind the wheel.  Such losses of control in areas of fear are true tests of character.  Well, I failed them all.  My efforts to grab hold of anything in the car and my convulsive movements into crash positions when he was driving made me dangerous even in the passenger seat!  Fortunately, my husband is understanding and did his best to patiently ignore his crazy wife in the passenger seat.

There is always something unexpected in transition and I began to clue in that driving was my unexpected stressor this time.  Did not see that one coming!  Ah, pride, what a blinder of the soul.  I thought I owned the road and maybe I did just a little…in Asia…but in Texas?  Not at all.  The road was owning me.

So after much soul searching I began looking out the side window instead of looking out the windshield (only when I’m not driving of course).  It took me awhile to do this because, for some reason, I thought that yielding my ability to look forward would somehow negate my control of the future.  So silly!  But, fear usually does not go hand in hand with calm logic.

In this season of fear, I’m struck by the simplicity of living in the present.  Our present is full of boxes, half unpacked or in transit or in a storage unit.  It is also a season of road trips and visiting family and friends.  We are in transition and the longing of my soul is for that future point in which we are settled, so it is difficult to say the least to live in the present.

Living in the present is looking out the side window observing and noticing what is right next to me rather than reacting to all that might could possibly happen.

Even though the present passes by quickly it is beautiful and not to be missed.

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My Times and His Hands

After a week of holiday and travel topped off by a flu-sickened kid, we stayed home for church Sunday. Our kids love church at home not because we do anything awesome. No crafts, no games, no songs, just time.

Our littlest one is the sickie. He snored under a blanket clutching his tiger. Our middle perused through his comic book- styled Bible. The oldest paid attention to the sermon. We listened to Alistair Begg while my husband and I lounged around nursing a second cup of coffee.

My Times are in Your Hands was the theme. I’d heard it before and remembered it. Any time or situation is a good time to listen to that sermon by Alistair Begg, by the way. My times are in His hands. I always need to know it.

I’ll tell you this past year the worst moments were when I forgot. The Sunday sermon reminded me again. Lives are long. Stories are longer. God’s story is the longest of all.

Alistair illuminated the story of Joseph for us. What a story. My middle son’s eyes got wide when he heard that some guys sold their brother into slavery. I’m sure it gave him ideas. It’s good to cover these things young and the Bible covers quite a bit. No, you cannot sell your brother into slavery. But, if you do, God can still bring good out of it. Dang. I really wanted the answer to be just No! Don’t do it! 

Most of the time I don’t know why or for what purpose things happen the way they do. Oh sure, I can guess and I do try to guess. Much is said about purpose in the Bible. There are many benefits to suffering. I learn perseverance in trials. I learn joy through and in pain. I learn to give thanks in everything. But those things are more like keeping my blinders on and plowing my row. Most often I don’t see the bigger picture, I just take the next step trusting I’m on the right row.

A few days ago we sat in a group with many others preparing to go overseas to our former home. Someone mentioned that 7 years ago they sat in my home and that’s when they began to see themselves overseas. 7 years ago. That day I’m sure I changed diapers and stressed a little and scrambled and hurried like most young moms do when hosting a party. I really don’t think I did much but isn’t that the beauty?

Now these remind me that God was at work 7 years ago. I got to play a very small part and it was enough. I don’t know what part I play today or what part I played yesterday and I may never know. My times are in His hands and the Lord is always at work.

Joseph got a peek at God’s purposes years and years down the road. Somehow, his heart was still soft enough to receive the bigger picture God worked through his pain. What a gift.

My times are in His hands so He knows I’m at home and who knows but that in a few years or decades or in heaven I might see a glimpse of what He is working out today in my American apartment.

I tell you, that is freeing on a day like today when I feel cooped up inside with a 5-year-old who wants 4 more identical tiger lovies for Christmas. He cried for a while about that. I’m trying to manage expectations and his lovie is now a rare collector’s item, translated, expen$ive.

My times are in His hands. I can rest.

To listen to the sermon, follow this link:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pi4GvCCfbiI

resurrection

The dust of an international move filled the last many months of my life. Writing for the public during this swirl of emotions felt pretty risky. The things I post to the internet remain somewhere. I wasn’t sure what I was writing needed to remain anywhere except locked up in a journal!

We moved back to the U.S. of A. 5 months ago. The move began way before we told anyone. It began a year ago. Our life was shifting and we felt it long before we said it.

We felt weary. It wasn’t the kind of tired that a brief time in America or a vacation could relieve. At the same time our work went through major changes and while we could have stayed longer, we felt our best contribution was coming to an end. It was time. I don’t know how to say it more than that it was time for us to go.

Preparations and goodbyes consumed the next few months of our lives. Much of that time I mentally engaged in an ancient tradition straight from the Bible. I stacked the rocks of memories from our 13 years in Asia and attempted to give thanks for all that I’d experienced and learned during my time as a foreigner in a strange land. It was a bittersweet time of farewells, tears, and thankfulness.DSC_0109

Of course I engaged the Lord over a few regrets of things I wished I’d done, friendships I ran out of time to deepen, and work left to others to carry on. Releasing the past and the future was and still is my work these days as I continue to adjust to this new life I find myself living in America.

Over the past month my desire to write on my blog grew from a small spark to typing in my password and, now, writing a post. It feels good to arrive at the place in this transition to want to continue blogging. And, when I hit publish I hope the silence of the past months gives way to more regular posts!

 

 

Writer’s Block

Writers block plagues me these days.  It always does when events too big to fathom arise in my life and a big event looms huge on my horizon.  In 2 months we move to America.  We move to America and I’m trying to fit my brain around that reality.

So, my head is swarming with thoughts and emotions and details and, somehow, I can’t put them together enough to form a cohesive deep thought.  Thus is the reason for my weekly posts becoming not weekly.  I just don’t have the words for this yet.  I’m standing in front of this huge thing and I’m so close I can’t figure it out.

But that’s ok.  It’s ok that I can’t figure it out, say it nice, spin it well, or wax poetic.  When the words don’t come forcing them doesn’t work either so I’m learning to be still when all around me is moving.  Be still.  Ponder.  Move slow…while I can.

A day comes soon when boxes will gape at me waiting for me to toss them a bone.  I will thoughtfully sort through all our clothes and shove them into suitcases.

But now is not that time.  Everything in me revs up waiting to shift into gear…but its not that time yet.  It’s the slow down time, the ponder time, the be still time.  I am oh, so bad at it.  The woman in this picture looks like she knows how.  Maybe gazing at her will help me know how to be still!DSC_0449

The boxes and bags are the easy things really.  The people.  That is really what’s got my tongue.  Saying goodbye to the people we’ve lived and worked with for the past 13 years.  The people who knew us when we operated like children because our language ability was so poor in this new land.  They saw us grow up and we saw them grow up.  It is impossibly sad for us all.

But along with it is an excitement about what is to come.  An excitement that rises up and feels traitorous in the presence of all the grief of leaving stands right alongside it.

So, I find myself stumbling around for words and struggling to chain my thoughts together.  Be still.  Slow down.  Ponder.

Just putting pen to paper or, in this case, fingers to keyboard breaks through a bit.  Maybe it is the way God is showing me to slow down, be still, and ponder.  A new thought.

Entering the Rest

20140121-101129.jpgThese days I spend my days with family enjoying the warmth and sunshine of Thailand.

Mornings I read and journal on a balcony to the sounds of rustling palm trees.  Afterwards, we all suit up and head to the pool to swim and play.  The hotel room offers cool shade for the afternoon rest.  We walk on the beach at sunset catching hermit crabs and finding shells.  We sink our toes in the sand underneath our dinner table by the beach.  Idyllic, right?

But my heart grows restless in the midst of all this wonder.  Instead of an increasing relaxation I find an uneasiness rise up.  It’s hard to enjoy and enter the rest.

The world says we are entitled to this time.  Our Human Resources handbook says we accrued the weeks.  Our bosses approved our timing.  We saved to afford our accomodations.  Beyond that is the self-justification.  We never take all our allotted vacation time.

But my heart knows something deeper.  It knows I don’t deserve it and I didn’t earn it and I can’t pay it back.  It is a gift, a grace, a display of God’s generosity that I can never repay.  And I want to pay.  I really want to pay!  I feel that in repaying it I can more fully enjoy it.  But there is no way to repay it…no way.  I’m caught.

So God leaves me with a choice to accept the gift with thankfulness or do what I do now…struggle to find a way to pay and in doing so, rebel.  Because in wanting to deserve, to earn, to pay I strive to be equal with God Himself!  And I startle at the realization.  I want to be equal to God, always have and, this side of heaven, always will to some extent.

So I miss out on the rest…or I was missing out.

In the coming days I hope to enter the rest He provides.  Enter it boldly.  Not the vacation rest but the real rest my heart seeks…the rest from thinking I can earn, deserve, repay, prove.  To receive the gift of His Son who paid all on my behalf.  I need no longer strive.

I need only accept the gift with a smile, that gift that is so priceless I cease from all rebellious endeavors to repay it.  I bind myself to the Gift-giver heart and soul.  Even that is a gift for my wayward, wandering, rebellious soul.

To be anchored by His undeserved favor, the true rest for my weary soul.

Choking Down the Air

We started a new game in the car on the way to school this week.  Guess the pollution level.  My daughter wins more than I do.  I refrain from guessing until we round the corner that spits us out on the highway.  My guess always depends on how well I can see the large mountain.  Some days I can’t see it at all.  Like today.  On a clear day a tall hill rises in the distance with a pagoda at the top.  It stands a quarter mile away. IMG_0223[1]

I knew when I woke up and descended the stairs that the level bumped up from yellow, orange, to red, and most likely, to deep maroon.  It smelled like someone lit a campfire outside our front door.  The pollution app confirmed my suspicions.  It is a deep maroon day.  Bad.  I feel angry and exasperated.  Why, Lord?  Why do people still burn their fields?  Why do factories belch out particulate matter?  Why is the coal burned in its dirtiest state?  I rail in my mind against the injustices that I live in, but I choose to live here…in all these injustices.  How can I complain?  I don’t know but I find my way to complaining pretty fast!

Then, I ponder sending my kids to school.  Will it help to keep them at home?  Inside?  Not much.  The lack of seals anywhere at all means the pollution drifts into our home and we do not own an air filter.  Air filters help a little, I’m sure, but one doctor told me it’s about as effective as putting an air purifier outside.  I kept my one thousand dollars.  I decided to send the kids to school but request no outside playground time for them.

I think of my friend whose child is recovering from a bout of pneumonia.  How will he deal with this?  I heard my downstairs neighbor coughing continuously last night and then again this morning.  How will he deal with this?  How does anyone deal with the choking smoke?  Do I take him an emergency inhaler and teach him to use it?

My choices spread before me.  Ignore it hoping I can push down all the feelings of anger and frustration.  Hmmm not easy.  Or, I can scramble all the resources I have to lessen the impact knowing the limited chance of success.  At some point I must open my door for something.

My other choice is to escape.  We can drive to the airport and pass over a slim plastic card and our little blue booklets and leave.  Just get on a plane and fly away.  I like that choice when I only think of myself.  But when I think of my friends who have no slim plastic card or little blue booklet with an eagle on the front, my face sobers up a little.  It’s not fair.  It feels criminal to use my freedom and privilege that came merely through birth to escape what others cannot.

The choice I don’t want to make is to accept it and let all the mix of emotions play out while I live my life one step at a time in the midst of the smog.  It drives me to my  knees.  I pray for a strong wind.  I confess my anger and sin for dropping a cuss bomb at a reckless driver.  Thankfully the car was empty but still…but still, that is what dwells in my heart.

Actually, this is not a bad place to sit.  I realize my dependency on the Lord for my very life and the lives of my children and my spouse and my friends.  I face my sinful response to a sinful world.  My deep longings for a world without sin, pollution, sickness, death, and injustice rise up and I long for the Day of the Lord.

The apostle Paul comes to mind. He possessed the ancient version of a blue passport with an eagle on it, Roman citizenship.  And, he used it when it prolonged his life.  I wonder what he felt when he claimed all the benefits of citizenship to appeal to Caesar.  Did he struggle with his privilege?

I bet my Bible will crack open to that theme today at some point.  I want to dig a little deeper.

What trials drive you to the Word today?