Come, Follow Me!

It probably looks really sweet to the observer. My boys with a hand around my waist and close by my side guiding me. Little do they know this action is totally self-serving and only happens when they think mom has talked to enough people and we really need to get home and eat, for goodness sake.

My boys seriously detest waiting around while I talk to people. Schools, grocery stores, on a walk, in church. There are so many places we see friends and I do what most women do, I seize the opportunity to gab.

They’re pretty effective at moving me along while I’m talking to them about poetic things like the gift of community.  But, they’re not buying it yet. I get it. I grew up waiting in this big room called the narthex (what kind of name is that?) staring at a world map while my parents spent hours, I’m sure it was hours, talking to people at church. I’ve always been pretty good at geography.

Sometimes I wish it was possible to do this for people in their spiritual lives. Escort them a little forcibly to the next destination. But it is not so. My husband pointed out to me simply, God is on the move and people have to leave stuff to follow Him.

I should know this. It’s not like I haven’t seen it time and time again in the Bible. Come, Follow Me! But my eyes have skipped over this passage so many times, I began to miss it.

Each person He invited had to leave something. A job. A task. An appointment. A lifestyle. Friends. Family. A home. To answer the call, they had to move physically from their present activity and start walking. img_7629.jpg

Jesus didn’t come over and force them. He didn’t escort them around their waist along the road. He invited and only the willing accepted the invitation. They left what they were doing, and followed Him.

Sometimes I find myself trying to do a little more than just invite. I smooth the path extra flat. I try to make an offer they can’t refuse. I bend over backwards to wait around and hope they start moving towards Jesus.

But I can never make the choice for someone. There is no detour around the fact that we must leave things to follow Jesus. And the truth is not everyone will answer the call to become a disciple, a learner of His way. Some people will not leave their way to follow Jesus’ way.

It saddens me as it must have saddened Jesus. They’re missing out. There’ll be a price.

But I cannot ever force someone to be a disciple. I can only invite. They must answer the call themselves. They must make the decision to put aside what they’re doing to move with Him. Only then can they be with Him.

As a former youth pastor said, wherever you go, there you are.

So stupidly profound.

Before Surrender

We stood there on the tallest point overlooking a historic town, an historic river. Clouds puffed in the sky and I snapped pictures of the scene before me. Rolling hills, a picturesque river, quaint buildings, and boats on the water. All was at peace that warm summer day.

That tallest point? A fortress more than 500 years old. That town? Passed back and forth between warring kingdoms for most of its existence.

The people who faced each other across the river were not always part of the same kingdom either. The vacation boats on the river now used to be vessels of war, of conquering. Hence, the need for a fortress to fight off invaders.

Surrender is a word that comes up frequently in my spiritual life as a Christian. Surrender. Surrender anything that stands between me and the Lord. Surrender my way for His.

Recently, I’ve sensed that my romantic view of the word (picture hands raised and a white bird flying up to the blue sky while sunlight shines down ready to accept the glowing bird), fails to grasp the brutal reality that surrender is more a battle front term.

Back track a little and before surrender comes division and a battle of two or more opposing forces. Similarly in my own life, a battle usually rages until I face that I’m losing, big time. My way, my army, my kingdom is weaker than the one I ultimately fight. God.

Then, there’s an honest reckoning, a realization that I will not win. I cannot win. I will be defeated. At this point, I face a choice. I can continue fighting a losing battle out of pride or I can make some tough calls.

I can be…

A Captive: I lose the battle but think I should have won it. I nurse the idea that I could have won it if I’d just done a little something here differently or fought a little harder there. My allegiance has not changed. I’m still fighting. Life is full of strife as I live in rebellion to the King, constantly seeking a way of escape.

A Deserter: I turn and run from the battle. I live to fight another day thinking I can still win. I live on the run not knowing when I will need to turn and fight again. Life is about escape and hiding from the more powerful and ever pursuing King.

A Defector: I change sides because I reckon that the other side is better, more worthy of allegiance. Now I use my weapons for another King and His kingdom. I live at peace in the protection of the King’s fortress, guarded by Him and sent to do His work. My former identity as an enemy combatant is known, yet I am not sidelined out of suspicion or fear. I’m fully accepted.

The choice to surrender now starts sounding more like a laying down of arms than a moment with a dove.

Sometimes I figure out things fast and lay down my weapons before serious blood is shed. But there are times when I don’t and I come in wounded to my own surrender, a little beat up in the battle. A bit chagrined that I misjudged my allegiances so poorly.

This week it was about a kid’s homework, surrendering a better grade to preserve our relationship. A few weeks ago it was about choosing to happily do a task I didn’t fully want to do.

Every day it is choosing to step out and follow Jesus, rather than stay on my own path, fighting for my own way.

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.

 

 

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.

The Mercy of Not Knowing

Occasionally I go through my blog drafts and pull from them. I found this one today and edited a few words. It was originally drafted in late May 2015 after my dad’s funeral, while we were packing to move to Texas, and in the fresh stages of grief.

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Death is the ultimate disruption. A friend warned me early on in this brain tumor journey with my dad that death is evil. It takes away life and it is shocking. It is disruptive.

The three month marker came and went 2 days ago. Three months since doctors diagnosed my father with an aggressive brain tumor. Three months they gave him to live. He enjoyed 2 months and a half. My father passed away, went to be with Jesus, breathed his last, died, May 9th.

It was the longest two and a half months of my life. Every day a constant checking, wondering, anxious watching for signs of the end, wanting to know the times. When? How long?

But, I didn’t really want to know. I know now and I can tilt my head in acknowledgement that God was…is…merciful. When I count what I saw as merciful, I ache for all the seemingly merciless deaths. It is not fair the father who loses his whole family. The parents that discover their teenage son without a breath left in him. The long, slow decline of Alzheimers or old age.

What do you do with all the grief?

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I chose this picture, taken in an urgent care office while waiting for a doctor, because it captures the soul of this post–relating to loss.

Mourning, for me, increases the emotional nerve endings to all the losses of life, all the griefs not ending with death alone. The marriages that struggle, the kids that hurt, the strife in relationships are all brought right up to the surface.

When will the suffering end?

Yet, when I think about my father and what knowing would bring to my life, I realize it was merciful to not know.

Now I’m left taking the next step, eating the next bite sized portion of life, packing just the next box for our move and it is right.

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.