High Places

Our bus roared up the side of the mountain as the announcer introduced our tour. The buses, he informed us, were specially designed for the steep inclines and sharp descents. As the intercom spoke calmly to us, telling us some history, the bus navigated turns with terrifying familiarity up a very winding road.

My palms began to sweat as I glanced at quaint villages shrinking below me. My stomach dropped and that familiar feeling of fear invaded. I believe I felt my adrenal gland squirt out all its adrenaline.

I’m not so good on the high places.

My children noticed my growing anxiety and jumped at the opportunity to claim superior courage. They were fearless, mom was not. They reminded me that clutching the armrest provided absolutely no help if the bus left the road and tumbled down the mountain. We were all goners.

Yes (tightly), I know!

They estimated how far we would roll and why we would need the tool hung up on the side of the bus to break the glass since, of course, there would be no survivors. They deduced the tool was there to calm the passengers on the ride.

Thank you for pointing that out. Good job on the deductive reasoning, children.

I became the focus of the ride as they did their best to exacerbate my fear and have some fun. We finally came to the top and the kids ran to the open fence that any large adult could slip through to see the views of the valley way, way, way below. They turned back with sly grins to wait for my inevitable, uncontrollable, completely expected, tense reminder.

Do not climb the fence!

It took me awhile to adjust to the high places. My view was initially limited because it was mainly the ground in front of my feet. By sheer will, I looked out tentatively. The villages below so tiny. The fences so non-existent. The air that stretched out before me when there should be hard ground.

I knew I was missing out on enjoying the spectacular sights because of my fear. Fear is so overpowering and irrational, it steals the moment. I didn’t want to miss out on this moment. The beauty, the grandeur, the awe of the high places.

I had a choice of whether I was going to embrace the high places with all their danger and beauty. My memories could consist of dirt and rocks below me, or vast distances of beauty before me.

When I did start looking farther out, I saw deep blue shimmering lakes nestled between mountains. Green and yellow patchwork fields rolled between quaint cottages. Blue skies stretched far with white clouds and jutting grey mountains meeting.

It was spectacular.img_7517

My husband and I agreed that the kids needed him to fully enjoy climbing the rocks. I wandered the high places, a bit farther back from the edge than some, reflecting on that book I love, Hinds Feet on High Places.

The ascents to the high places with God are terrifying. Medical issues suddenly come to light, conflicts arise, disasters happen and we’re on a red bus screaming up to the high places where we are forced to trust Him or be miserable.

No one wishes for these things. On those ascents, I often live in the very immediate circumstance rather than lift my eyes up and out to look at the expanse of His creation, the beauty and the majesty.

After many ascents, I know the views from the top with the experience of His faithfulness on the way up, they are not to be traded. When I clutch the armrests of life, thinking I can save myself, the control I exert ends up controlling me.

The trip down the mountain in the special red bus was better. I looked out the window and enjoyed the views. My palms didn’t leave as much of a slimy residue on the armrests. The kids gave up their antics as they saw mom had finally gotten a grip on reality.

I suspect surrender always involves a battle, a reckoning, and a white flag. My regrets looking back on those ascents are that I didn’t acknowledge God’s sovereignty sooner.

I might have experienced more freedom and seen more of His wonder had I surrendered earlier.

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.

 

 

How to Doubt

Every night I peek in the garage to make sure the garage door is closed. Then I glance at the front lock and the back lock. After perusing the kids bedrooms to turn out errant lights and music, I head safely to bed.

Everyone pays when I don’t do it. Snuggled all cozy in bed, I’ll ask did you check the back door? That’s always a fun marriage question. No one wants to check it, that’s what the question is all about. I’m not sure. Are you sure? If you’re sure, I can be a little surer, but not completely sure. The preferred response asker wants is always, always…that the other person goes and checks.

That, my friends, is what multicultural books call indirect communication.

Don’t get me wrong, I feel bad that I don’t want to check…but not bad enough to go check. Lest I not properly warn those thinking about marriage, this question has many forms. Locks, babies, water faucets, lights, and coffeemakers are all eligible subjects of this annoying habit.

Now, don’t you want to get married?

But what about when it comes to doubt that goes deeper than a visual spot check? Doubts about God. Questions about future direction in life. Qualms about how honest someone is being with you. All these eject us into much murkier territory emotionally.IMG_1282

For me, doubting has come in many forms. Doubting my faith is less my thing than doubting whether God is going to take care of me or my family. My questions about God has of yet to plunge me into an existential crisis. I’m no philosopher. In fact, I just looked up existential crisis on wikipedia to make sure I was using it correctly!

So, when I doubt God, its not like doubting whether my garage door is closed or not. You can’t just go look and say, oh, God’s good because I can see x, y, or z has happened. There’s a lot of ways to explain away the good in life or get stuck on the evil we all experience to differing degrees. Doubts don’t seem to just go away.

So, how should we doubt?

  • Face to Face. Its tempting to discuss my doubts at length with others, to live in the philosophical, to totally twist my mind in knots on my own without ever addressing my issues to God Himself. If I’m to cast my cares on God, to pray without ceasing, to not worry but pray, then it makes sense that when I feel anxious about God Himself, He wants me to talk to Him about it. Is it impertinent? Or rude? Or prideful? I would say it depends…
  • Expectantly. Kinda weird. What I mean is, that we should expect that God wants us to know Him, wants to guide us, and has all power to do so…in His time. Expectant means we wait for His answer which can come in many ways. My basis for this is Psalm 23. A shepherd feeds his sheep and leads them through danger. I cling to this passage when I need to be reminded that He is my shepherd.
  • Actively. Check things out. Read your Bible. Seek. Its easy for doubts about God to live in the realms of our head and the hallways of our emotions instead of treating them more seriously. The first place to seek is the place where He communicates to us. The Bible. Read. Read. And read some more as you wait expectantly on the issues you have talked about with Him face to face.
  • Shamelessly. Distancing yourself from others because you feel all over wrong, because you have doubts is the wrong move. Shame is the all over I am wrong feeling we all get at some point in our lives. Shame isn’t all bad, its like an indicator light on the dash to get you to pay attention. We are made in God’s image but we are fallen so life will mean experiencing shame in various degrees. Jesus came and took care of sin, the primary reason for our shame, so that we could live shamelessly in fellowship with him. By shameless, I mean like children. Kids ask the darnedest questions because they are young and curious. They get answers too. Why? Because they ask the questions! If we are to come to Jesus like children, he wants us to come with those darnedest questions–the ones everyone is dying to ask but because we fear looking foolish, we don’t. That’s when we lose out. When we don’t ask the questions.

Am I saying you should doubt? No. Don’t seek it out. I’m saying if it comes to you, think about how you are doubting. Doubts should prompt us to search for God. He wants to be found.

Kind of like playing hide and seek with a child in some ways. The goal of most of my kids when we used to play hide and seek was to be found. They felt they had lost when I didn’t find them right away and would bark and cough to give away their position.

I suspect God does the same when we search for Him. He wants to be found so don’t stop seeking.

 

On Inheritance

I bet I’m not the only one who’s ever thought man, I wish some free money came my way. Lately, this crops up in my heart because I want to do something to my house like Joanna Gaines does to everyone’s house in Waco. Maybe I should move to Waco. Or stop watching Fixer Upper. 

In line with this thinking that I want to purge from my brain, I’ve been filing away thoughts on inheritance over the past few months. One of which comes from a book I received at Christmas.

C.S. Lewis wrote about his early experience as a Christian in his Reflections on the Psalms. Get this, for the whole first year after bowing his knee to God, C.S. Lewis didn’t know anything about the inheritance the Bible says awaited him in heaven. He didn’t become a Christ follower because he expected an awesome return on his life investment.

And, he doesn’t think that was a bad thing for his first year as a Christian.

It got me thinking again about inheritance.

What would it look like to serve someone based on a promised inheritance v. based on it being the right thing to do. Seems like C.S. Lewis bowed his knee in a much truer devotion than I usually do. He did not expect his life to get easier. Even called himself the most reluctant of converts. He expected no inheritance.

Then, there’s the prodigal brothers. The prodigal sons. I read the story a few more times. Both brothers received their inheritance in the beginning of the story. One brother took his. He owned it. He took it away and, then, he wasted it. He got to thinking as he was eating slop, my life would be better as a slave in my dad’s house. I can’t be a brother, but slavery is better than this. So, he goes back home prepared to serve as a slave.Actual Factual Slop. Yuck.

His older brother received his inheritance but stayed at home but not happily. He complains to his dad about how he never got to have a fattened calf with his friends. Wah, wah.

But, why not? Wasn’t the calf technically his? Hadn’t the father given his inheritance to him too?

The older brother didn’t ever seem to clue in that he owned the calf himself. He never took his inheritance. He never enjoyed being at home with his dad, it seems. He inherited but he didn’t own his inheritance. He could’ve invested it, stewarded it, spent it. Point is, he could’ve enjoyed it.

Neither brother lived out inheritance in a good way. One took it and wasted it. One didn’t take it and resented the lowly position he made for himself.

And neither one realized the true benefit and riches they had as sons. They had their father’s love. The one who wasted his inheritance didn’t lose his sonship. Neither did the one who labored reluctantly. Relationship and love was free for the taking all the time.

Oh, how things could be different if we really understood it’s not about the inheritance as much as being part of the family and all that brings with it when the family we are talking about is God’s family.

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!

Do You Confess?

One of my kids has “reactive airways”, doc talk for asthma. Not all the time and not that sudden type but the type that whenever he gets sick, it goes straight to the chest.

Then he starts this distinctive cough that lets me know my next few days will be spent hauling out nebulizers, inhalers, Vick’s, netipots, and on and on. The cough’s purpose was to force out trapped air so when the airways relax, the cough goes away.

Breathing is a pretty essential activity to human life so asthma attacks are stressful. We’ve always been able to turn the tide and get out of danger. In the middle of it, though, you don’t know the end.

Spiritually, the concept of breathing has been on my mind. I talk often in ministry about spiritual breathing- a cycle of confession (exhale) and filling (inhale). A few tough situations over this past season, namely the August Smackdown, brought me close to exhaustion…and my own need to breathe.

That tightness in my chest would come, that prompt to take a deep breath. A sigh. Like an old lady lament. I was feeling it, the old lady weariness.

So I sighed. Then, with each sigh, I reminded myself of the need to breathe spiritually as well as physically.

Exhaling. Recognizing I was trying to take control of the humanly uncontrollable. Fearing that God was not in control. Releasing the toxic build up of the thoughts and emotions and very real sin so I could take in more life-giving breath. This is confessing.

Breathing in. Each time asking God for more of His resources, His oxygen to extend farther into my soul and strengthen me for the situation. To have mercy and help me. Filling.

So what about asthma? Asthma, if left alone and not treated, slowly suffocates the victim as I understand it. With no room in the lungs to take in more oxygen, and CO2 trapped inside the lungs, the body is deprived of the oxygen that keeps it alive.IMG_0587-0.JPG

All the while the body is trying to breathe in unsuccessfully.

The body begins using almost every muscle it can in the torso to bring air into the lungs. Retractions, where the skin sucks in at the collar bones and around the ribs, notify us that our son is really, really struggling to breathe. The lungs work overtime trying to cough out trapped air. Lips begin turning pale. It’s terrifying and it would be time to go to urgent care.

In the physical world, there is albuterol and steroids to resolve the problems of asthma. Steroids control the tendency to flare up. Albuterol treats a flare up.

Spiritually, there is ordering our lives to God and His revealed truth in the Bible, the fellowship with the community of believers, the Spirit of God convicting and directing us…and regular confession. These all serve as the anti-inflammatory control to prevent serious flare ups of spiritual asthma.

But asthma strikes still. When spiritual asthma comes and we struggle to breathe because we know we are not right with God. Or we are working overtime to win favor and status with God by doing, doing, doing…there is, again, confession.

Exhaling by agreeing with God about our sin or our human efforts to earn forgiveness. Inhaling by receiving the resources He gives through His Spirit to live a life pleasing to Him. Sometimes over and over about the same old things.

Slowly, surely the toxic is released so the pure and fresh can roll in and bring life again.

 

 

 

Taking a Look Back

A month of parties, concerts, gift lists, shopping, special food and I feel the overwhelming need to tame the frenzy. Get life back into order and move on to something more sustainable.

Maybe that’s why my desk suddenly needs clearing out, along with the craft cabinet. My bookshelves simply need editing and walls need a new coat of paint. The ugly chairs need recovering and the list goes on.

A combo of life running at top speed combined with a desire for order and a cup and a half of coffee sends my New Year’s resolve into high gear. My coffee infused to do lists are extensive at the beginning of the week. The beginning of the year? Well, I know myself better now than in years past.

Time for a year in review. This morning I scribbled some answers to seven questions from Michael Hyatt’s site. I highly recommend this exercise.

I found these questions many years ago when we lived in East Asia. Sitting in our cold living room on January 1st, I reflected on the past year. It was monumental for me at the time.

There are years since that I haven’t engaged in answering these questions, but this year I did again. The need to organize, redo, and clean out is subsiding perhaps because they were symptoms of disorder in my soul that needed the light of a reflection. It was a full year emotionally and physically.

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Rocky Mountain National Park

Looking back helped me acknowledge that and keep going. Like a break on a hike where you look back and see how far you came, how long and steady the incline. It was hard work, but look where it led? Look at the view now!

Did I make resolutions? It’s more like the desires that resolutions spring from rose to the surface. One was a continuation from last year. Another was to write more, also a desire from this past year that I didn’t make time to accomplish.

The third was just to have more fun with my husband and kids. He bought a fixer upper sailboat the other day which helps.  I can’t wait to get it on the water with him when it’s not freezing like it is right now!

Maybe that is what a yearly review does, helps us take look back and acknowledge the trail behind with all its hardships and joys so we can move forward with renewed resolve to reach the end.