Exposed

Shopping is exciting these days. I’m used to empty shelves from time to time from my life overseas. Like when a rumor floated around in Asia that salt would undo effects of radiation after the Fukushima plant melted down. Then, overnight, there was no salt at the grocery store. None.

Or when I found Dr. Pepper overseas and cleared the shelf myself. I mean, why not?

Right now, shopping is a little too exciting, like a hunt. I’m not used to that in the US. I’m used to hunting food overseas, going to multiple shops, making expensive trade offs. I’m not accustomed to needing those skills in the land of plenty, America.

It’s unsettling.

Anyone buying a bidet soon?

Because it used to be that when I encountered such difficulty and lack, I knew that Asia would not always be my home. Someday I’d be back in the well stocked stores of the US. Now that I’m experiencing this here in America, I’m faced with another stripping away of the security I’ve placed in lesser things.

And the exposure of the pillars of my security is rather startling. I didn’t realize I placed such a large degree of confidence on the stock market until it started its roller coaster dips and rolls. I didn’t realize I relied so much on being able to control my schedule until my kids schools said don’t send them back to school…for who knows how long.

Early on, there was some talk that the disease spread correlated with national hygiene habits…and now America is pretty much proven unclean by that standard. And I didn’t realize how much I trusted my in my national identity as better than…until it was challenged.

All this upheaval and exposure brought about by a teeny, tiny, microscopic tenacious virus we can’t even see. Rather startling. Rather humbling that something so small has brought pretty much the entire world to its knees.

I’m still a bit stunned, wondering along with the rest of the world how this will all play out. There’s no escape hatch this time to a different land…a land of relative plenty. I’m pressed in to my circumstances and forced to look at what God exposes in me.

So, I wait, and trust, and do what I can do while I hopefully realign my heart more to depend on the Lord.

What I learned in quarantine…

As I wrote this a few weeks ago, I was anticipating some disruption to our lives and now it is here. My kids are on extended break and we are working virtually as our nation attempts to slow the spread of a new virus. I thought about heavily editing this, but read it again and am hoping the Lord will work again in my heart through this unique time.

Currently, we’re in a bit of a strange predicament in the world. Coronavirus is all over the news and its a little scary out there. A couple months ago, none of us was thinking about a pandemic, except our family. (We have the game). (Yes, we’re nerds).

Now, the officials are saying to expect disruptions and make contingency plans for things like schools shutting down or quarantine. That’s kind of a weird concept, I think, for most of us Americans. We are a freedom loving bunch and quarantine, well, its just not that.

But it is important and there’ve been a few times where our family has been in quarantine.

Like the time I thought the chicken pox vaccine was more effective than it is and my two kids got it one after another. Bang, one month in quarantine because our community was not vaccinated and most had not had chicken pox as children.

Then, there was the time we got a bad case of hand, foot, mouth disease when it was kind of going around the world. We were responsible for passing it to another team in another city. Oops.

Then there was SARS in 2003. We were there and it was rather frightening at times. When we came back to the US in May, we self quarantined.

As a mom, I was dismayed to quarantine with my kids for the month we had to do that. It felt like it might just make me have a breakdown. Young mom + two kids + isolation= bad.

What surprised me the most was that it was really such a peaceful time for our family. I stocked up each week at the store. I had to say no pretty automatically to most things. And, I focused on my home and family life. My stress level went down and I enjoyed my kids a lot more than I had normally.

I’ve thought about it more this past month because, well, you know, the news. And, I realized how busyness robs me of so much. I was reminded of how much I keep so many plates juggling for many reasons but many I can distill into a desire to measure up in some way.

The question of what good am I if I’m not doing something morphs into this big bully and I don’t know God’s tremendous grace and mercy towards me. And, I also don’t know of His great grace and mercy to others for which He needs me much less than I think He does!

As I write this, I want to make clear that quarantine for many in the world today is very, very scary and difficult on a level I did not experience. My point is that times where we need to slow down and be still can bring a peace that highlights how striving we can become.

For those that are in the epicenters, isolated and alone or displaced, my prayer is that they would know God’s overwhelming presence, comfort, and love. And, I pray that this pestilence would abate but not so that we can go on with life as normal.

Hopefully, the knowledge of our fragile humanity would draw us closer to God.

Paint Lessons

From January…

After multiple trips to the hardware store and the paint store, I washed the brushes, threw away the trash, lidded the cans and ditched my 2015 Old Navy t-shirt that was streaked with paint.

Done. I was done.

While the paint dried I took a shower, put on my comfy chill clothes, and popped my seltzer water. Such a great feeling after 3 days of painting.

Later I went back to admire the fresh, unmarked hallways while they last–I do have 3 children and it was their hallway–and noticed some problems. The second can of paint, the second coat, the gallon that I begrudgingly went and bought when one coat coverage was “guaranteed”–was every so slightly lighter than the first coat. All the edging, was just a little bit darker.

Note that I even painted the ceiling including the not fun physical task of “cutting in”! I rollered 2 coats and spent 3 days on this project. Everything was cleaned up, put away, washed.

I was comfy and clean. With my seltzer water reward in my hand! This was not good news.

My daughter quickly noticed the problem. Bummer. I could maybe live with it if it was just me that noticed. My husband didn’t notice until I pointed it out. Hmmm. I couldn’t escape that nagging knowledge that it just wasn’t done.

Soul searching ensued. Did I really want to look at that paint job for the next 5+ years and notice it every time?

Nope. So, today I’m correcting the job. Yay.

Some of my drive to do these complete-able tasks is that my life is full of things that are never done. Raising children and student ministry are constant and slow endeavors. The celebrations usually come at waypoints along the journey instead of finish lines.

Taking on a job like dishes or painting brings some welcome order and satisfaction. I used to not like those things, those kinds of chores. Now they give me some energy to keep engaged in the constancy of other areas of life.

They remind me that there is a finish line in life. There was a point where certain jobs were done and changed the course of history. Jesus declared His work finished on the cross for one. We may not see it fulfilled in our day to day life, but it is done–all this mess of living that we live has hope because Jesus finished His gift of paying our debts through His sacrifice.

Life is not just one long unending circle or journey with no fulfillment, no completion. It can seem that way though.

When life seems to be just about the next thing, then the next, and the next. When, day to day, its hard to see any change taking place in our kids maturity and we fear for them and doubt our parenting. When pain and sickness go on and on, chronic to life, its hard to imagine a point when life takes over and death and destruction are no more.

For all these reasons, I paint walls from time to time. I take pleasure in a pile of neatly folded laundry or freshly washed dishes. Because in them, I get the hint and assurance that this world is not all there is and the futility of life will one day give way to the fulfillment of God’s promises for His creation.

So, today, I’m finishing my hallway paint job in hope and agreement that things do get finished…one day.

Come Spring

Somehow, I see spring with my eyes but feel it more deeply in my soul. Spring always comes with a growing urgency of life and all that goes with it. Spring seems to be a season of change but for a certain stretch of my life, spring became a time of repeated grief. Back to back seasons of paid full goodbyes as friends moved, I moved, or as my father moved from life to life.

Right now the world has yet to burst with color and green but its there, its beginning down here in the south. A week or so and my neighbors’ home will be obscured by leaves, the highway noise will dull a bit as trees block the sounds, and the sound of lawnmowers will mark the weekends.

My body seems to harbor the stress of these springs past so that they come back to life each year. Spring comes and with it a kind of pressure and hurry I feel compelled to obey. It’s become familiar, that feeling. And, I know more where it comes from but I long for the spring when this feeling doesn’t come with it.

Even with the reminders of sorrow gone by, I love the spring with all its color and new life. In the midst of grieving, spring reminds me that all the grief that gets buried can grow into something beautiful in its time. All the heartbreak and worry and missing hold a kind of hope.

A hope that there is more to come from those places of sorrow…more life, more peace, more love.

Time doesn’t heal all wounds…but time for truth to soak in, time to gain perspective on what God is doing, time to marinate in God’s grace and mercy, time to reflect and give thanks and let anger recede. That kind of time is healing. That kind of time is what I am still buried in, the kind of time that heals wounds and dries tears.

I saw a woman with flowers in her grocery cart yesterday and I wondered if I should buy some too. I contemplated buying some wildflower seeds last week and now wish I had. I’m ready to see the bluebonnets along the side of the road and enjoy the promise God offers of new life through these displays.

I’m ready for spring…I think. Of all the season to wrestle through memories of grief, I’ll take spring.

Note: the photos included were taken in the Fort Worth Botanical Gardens.

On Christmas Lists

It’s that time of year when its 80 degrees outside, supposed to be fall, yet holidays are coming. The main way that I know the holidays are coming is that there are holiday things in the grocery store seasonal aisle. And, all that really means is that there will be that holiday sometime in the next 6 months.

But, each year the whole Christmas List thing gets a little stressful. I see that seasonal aisle and I know I cannot escape it much longer. Christmas shopping.

Follow along to see how it plays out in our family. Beware, you might get stressed.

In our house, I usually start asking our kids what they’re thinking for Christmas in about October. Kind of a shot over the bow type situation on a casual walk…just feeling them out.

Our kids lists’ are kind of funny sometimes. One year our middle kid asked for a new mattress after discovering that the absolute cheapest mattress at IKEA wasn’t his jam after a few months. He’s all in to comfort.

This year he asked for a certain gaming controller then we looked it up on Amazon. We decided maybe he should go to college rather than have that controller.

Then, my husband and I think of things they might like or need. Ok now, that is truly a deep experience in figuring out how well we really know our kids. Are they still in to LEGO Star Wars or have they moved on? Is my daughter going for atheleisure or is she going for smart casual these days?

I don’t know! Who am I as a mother to not know these things!? Ack. Insecurity.

My husband is a very frugal man. Not cheap. Frugal. There’s a difference. The wish list then morphs into an ever narrowing target as he hones in on the bulls eye of Christmas gifts. The gifts that will be used, loved, and passed on to grandkids. The criteria is tight and rigorous.

They usually like the gifts he thinks of the best, better than my gifts. Yes, we compete for the affections of our children and we don’t like to face it.

My contribution is usually in the category I’ll call whimsy. What will be fun for them? Refer back to that paragraph on whether I really know my kids and you’ll see that’s like shooting an arrow with absolutely no archery training.

Ha. It could land literally anywhere and sometimes hits the bulls eye but only sometimes.

So, if you have powers of interpretation, are you seeing that my husband and I have some interesting conversations as we put together the list on our pretty modest budget?

You’re smart then. Give yourself a pat on the back. I bet you’re trying to figure out what number on the Enneagram we are. We are too.

I haven’t even gotten to the list strategy wherein we need to give suggestions to other members of the family. In the past, I’d make the mistake of giving out the choice bulls-eye gifts to other members of the family, much to my husband’s consternation.

Then we, the parents, would have another “date” breakfast to deal with more stress trying to figure out still more great gifts so our kids knew we loved and knew them the absolute best on Christmas morning.

Ok, maybe you’ve noticed that we haven’t even gotten past the kids at this point? True, true. We have not! Next up, what do we get parents and grandparents and cousins and siblings and….phew.

Merry Christmas? Not feeling it yet.

The past few years, I’ve come to the end of all this gift listing, strategizing, planning and just could not muster up the energy for my own list. What do I want? I have no idea…go figure it out. It probably has to do with clothes, kitchen gadgets, or travel.

Heck, just give me cash if you’re as worn out as I am and I’ll decide in March after I’ve recovered from the holidays.

So, the holidays are coming and you can pray for us. That’s the point of this blog post. We need prayer!

Twisty Paths

A friend called me in the days before we left Asia having dreamt a dream about us. A dark being was in our home, he was dangerous and it was scary. We were on the tarmac at the airport in the crosshairs of an enemy. The overall perception was of impending doom and danger.

I had no idea what to do with my friend’s vision except to rest in the knowledge that the enemy is not greater than my God. I took refuge in the Lord whenever I thought of my friend’s dream, knowing that if this dream was a warning of what was to come, I could do nothing about it except walk closely with the Lord.

When we came back to the United States in 2014, we could name about 5 things that brought us back. There was an order in what we named as our reasons to return. Sometimes we just couldn’t wrap our minds around them and felt so grieved that we chose to leave.

The reasons didn’t seem enough. It was hard, hard, hard to swallow that we left. It still is at times.

That list is still true but the longer we lived in the US, so much more was added. I’m glad I didn’t know what would be added. It echoed themes of the vision my friend shared with me our final week in Asia.

The Lord gave us 10 months to get our feet on the ground, provide mentors, community, and some time to transition. Then, my dad was diagnosed with a terminal brain tumor. Over the past 4 years, we’ve walked through grief–our own and together as a family.

My mom’s had her own cancer diagnosis twice in the last 2 years on top of other sickness that seems to descend on the grieving. Two mastectomies exactly a year apart and now radiation ahead. The outlook is very good but there’s still a hard road to walk.

There’s been other things too–dyslexia interventions, shoulder surgery, rear-enders, and adjustment to our “home” country that doesn’t feel so familiar anymore.

Part of the reason I haven’t written much at times is that it’s been hard to know what to say. I’m often little tongue-tied with all the reality of these things–which is saying a lot since I do like to talk.

Every once in a while I remember my friend’s dream. How gracious to have that small taste of a hint that life might be hard in the next season. As we live through it, I’m thankful that God is more powerful than any scheme formed against us.

There’s also been so much joy as well mixed in by God’s grace.

Those 5 reasons we came back? We now look at those and realize there was so much more God was doing.

He prepared a way for us, a smooth path, for the journey He knew we’d face.

Remembering

I’m amazed at how quickly I forget things. Important things. Things people have just told me seconds before. Like names. Hometowns. Family events.

While I wish my brain worked better and I imprinted important things into my mind the moment they happen so I’d never forget them, but I still forget. Like a fog some things get obscured over time by other events that choke out the memory. Other times I feel like that device in Men in Black is out there and someone zapped my memory!

One time, I forgot to pick up my friends child at day care. I didn’t know it until the next day when she called and confronted me about why I had left her there. It was really lame to have to say I had just forgotten. It wasn’t enough.

Or what about the time I forgot I put my husbands keys in my purse after church. I drove an hour and a half away on a short trip before he called me and asked me if I had all the keys to the other car. Yes, yes I did and I drove three extra hours so that he didn’t have to rent a car for the week.

Lately I see where this forgetfulness is present in my relationship with God too. I forget the times when He rescued me or how bad things were going when He rescued me. I forget what I was like in the past. Pain fades in my memory but so does joy.

It’s just weird.

And it reminds me how finite my body is including my mind. Did you know that neurologists believe we use only a fraction of our brain? When my dad was diagnosed with a brain tumor, the doctor lamented the location of the tumor. If it was in the front part of his brain we could take it out no problem because we don’t use that much of it!

In a complete and perfect world without death, my brain cells would operate at 100% capacity and I would use 100% of my brain. I theorize that I would remember everything. It is an attractive thought, but actually…

People with awesome memories may actually have a harder time in life. Take this Time article for example. Maybe a bit of forgetfulness is actually grace? There are definitely things I would rather not remember or feel with the same intensity as when the events happened…like grief.

It’s a double edged sword, this forgetfulness, it cuts both ways. For good and for bad. For the good, I can thank God that He allows certain feelings and memories to fade so I can live and thrive in the present.

For the bad, I can forget how dependable He is, how available in time of need, how much I need Him and His wisdom and direction. I can forget that I’m not God so, so fast.

When I began writing I wanted to highlight all the negatives of forgetting, yet I’m struck by the grace that is there too. The grace that we have a finite life and finite abilities.

To live in this world forever with all that is not right with a perfect and ever-present memory would probably be too much to take.