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?

Riding Waves

I have no business being on a surfboard. I am not in shape. I’ve never surfed nor participated in a surfing lesson. My bathing suit screams sit and look pretty on the beach. It is not sporty at all.

Yet, there I was on a surfboard in the ocean trying to catch a wave.

Actual surfing was never my goal. My husband’s goal for the day was to ride a few waves in. He was the one trying to surf, not me.

But he tired out. Surfing is hard work, folks! I guess that’s why surfers are in shape. My husband is in shape. I feel like I must add this part since he reads my blog. He runs distances and he runs them fast. He is a tough former Marine. He lasted light years longer than I did.

I felt strangely adventurous. Since my boogie boarding was paying off, I thought I’d try a little long board while he rested.

So, I sat on the surfboard waiting for a wave. Then, I looked down and it didn’t take long for the alarms to go off in my brain. The tip of the surfboard was under water and a big wave was coming.

20 years after high school graduation and physics is still paying off. I calculated and visualized myself in that wave and it wasn’t pretty.

I jumped off in time and didn’t experience that reality and I am so glad! I want to mother my children way into their adulthood whether they like it or not.

That day I managed to ride two waves in on the board on my stomach all the way until we crunched into the sand. I never pictured myself on a surfboard, never in all my life, not even on my belly. I tried a new, daring thing. Way to go me!

We debriefed our life overseas this weekend. We did it by the ocean which is why we rented a surfboard. I watched the sunrise and the sunset. I listened to the ocean and I reflected on our life overseas, the joys, losses, and how it shaped me.

Now we live a much different life. It can seem a bit dull sometimes when everything isn’t a challenging adventure. It’s a weird kind of hard when things feel too easy. This is the new thing we are doing for the first time.IMG_0396.JPG

The guy at the long board shop spoke to a customer. “We want to live the best life we can live.”

He did not speak it to me but I took it in. I, too, want to live the best life I can live for the Lord wherever He plants me.

I want to enjoy the constant breakers of life. The points where I watch, where I wait for the wave, where I try to ride it, where it wipes me out, and where I get up and go back into the surf. Low tide, high tide. I want to live it.

Those are my next steps. I will find real Chinese food like I said under point #1 in the official debrief packet I filled out. But, above and beyond and as the background to all that, I will live life for the Lord.

I also plan to stick with the boogie board. Like I said, I want to live.

Death by Paper Cut

One of the most difficult things about life anywhere, and life lived across cultures for sure, is that often it’s no one big thing that slays me…at least not yet.  It’s all the small things that add up and threaten to take me down.  Taken alone, each cut seems relatively minor and superficial, like a paper cut, but they sting.  Each and every cut stings and there’s no time to put on a Band-Aid before the next cut comes.

Talking about what hurts seems silly sometimes.  It’s just a paper cut, why am I so upset about a paper cut?  I minimize and compare.  I don’t suffer like that other person who really stood up for their faith in a stressful situation of direct confrontation.  No one really hurt me, right?  I’m still alive, aren’t I?  I discount the cut and fail to treat it.

Again and again the cuts come.   Forgetting my passport.  The person who cut me off again just this morning.  The man who makes me re-park my car so that the nose faces out warning me that I am breaking the law if I don’t.  He doesn’t understand that at least 5 people on the road endangered my very life and parking my car in a “cultured” way is the least important thing to worry about now.  The lady at the store who will not even try my credit card even though I know it works.  I did not bring cash.  Smog.

Here in Asia it’s called “eating bitterness” these paper cuts.  It’s an old saying about life and just taking it.  It results in kick the dog syndrome, though.  People just lose it for no clear or sufficient reason.  But I know why they lose it because I lose it too.

Unseen cuts cover us all and then someone pours salt on the wound.  The salt without the wound is nothing but with the cuts…it brings sudden pain and I react.  Kick the dog syndrome spreads like a contagion.  A woman picks up a brick on the street to throw at a man.  I’ve seen that.  A family fights in the apartment above us and furniture shakes and screams keep me awake.  I’ve heard that.

I wish for a formula to combat the paper cut plague but it doesn’t exist.  I know more now to look at the cut and say it hurts…to cry even if it seems silly to cry over a paper cut.  I know that real life seems more death by paper cut than death by some brave act of martyrdom though those stories also move me to tears.  DSC_0064

Death by paper cut is not as futile as it seems when I count the Lord’s view of suffering.  He calls me to die to myself as He died for me…even in the smallest things.  He calls me to persevere and endure and even do it joyfully because He gives me resources I just cannot muster myself.

As I contemplate more on this concept and acknowledge the cuts, I do find more joy because I find grace and mercy.  I still kick dogs some days…not real dogs but proverbial dogs.  I do a lot of apologizing.  It is coming easier to apologize because I get a lot of practice.

But His grace and mercy, this is the salve that allows my soul to lay down and rest.

Raising a TCK

“You can’t wear that shirt to school today.”  I said as I walked into my daughter’s room while in America.  The problem?  She wore the exact same shirt to school the previous day.

“Why can’t I wear it?  I love this shirt!”  she replied.  I struggled to for a satisfying answer.

“You wore it yesterday.  Is it clean?”  I asked hoping for a stain somewhere!  Anywhere!  I knew where this conversation led.

“Yes, it is clean.” she replied.

Having grown up in America I know the unspoken American rule that wearing the same thing twice in a week or even two weeks seems somehow shameful.  I remember one elementary teacher who, to my knowledge, never wore the same thing twice our whole school year!  On one visit to America I received the advice not to wear the same thing to church within the same month!  Pressure!

“Well…people in America just don’t wear the same thing often.  They take a break from it and wait awhile before they wear it again.”  I explained uncertainly.  It seemed so shallow to say it.  If the shirt is clean, looks nice, and she likes it, why not?

“Why?” she asks me.

“People don’t wear the same thing a lot because they tend to have a lot of clothes.  If you wear the same thing over and over, people might think its weird.”  Right here I started abandoning my line of argument.  Why can’t she wear a shirt she likes two days in a row?  What does it say about my home culture that I can’t wear a clean shirt two days in a row even when I know I will see the same people?  Or even once a week for a month?  I chafe at the norms.

She looks back at me confused.  “Why do they think it’s weird?” she asks.  I hate to open up to her the vanity that wealth creates.  I want her to stay untouched by such concerns as scheduling her outfits around others’ opinions.  I fight a losing battle.

“I just want you to know that you might get made fun of at school today because you wore that shirt yesterday.  It’s not right but it might happen.  No one cares in Asia but they might here.”  I explain.

She chose a different shirt and I grieve a little inside as this worldly knowledge sinks in to her heart.  I tell her she can wear her favorite shirt when she gets home from school.  She can wear it everyday in Asia if she wants…as long as it’s clean!  I tell her I don’t like it either.

Raising a Third Culture Kid means sailing in uncharted waters for me.  I grew up entrenched in American culture.  Coming to terms with my American self through the eyes of another culture means my mental dialogue abounds.  Sometimes my thoughts exhaust me.  I feel I must deconstruct my guidance to my children and hold it up to the Light.  It abounds with flaws and occlusions that remained shrouded…until I crossed cultures.

I cling to the hope that the things that sift out in all this sifting and shaking that happens in culture crossing will be the things that remain for eternity.  Things that shine brilliantly in the world.

We are in Asia now, so she gets to wear what she wants… for the most part…except to church…when I get a teeny tiny little opinion.

DSC_0277

Watching…

DSC_0012At any moment I can look up and be sure a camera is looking back.  Big brother is always watching…always.  Sometimes I look up and count cameras just to see if I can top my biggest number pictured here.

It wears on me from time to time.  I grow weary of being watched even if it is benign watching and I am not the target.  Then sometimes I forget until I look up and see a camera in a startling place like in church…watching me.

They watch on the internet, on the street, in the malls, in subway stations, in train cars, in airports.

This summer the watching helped us put together how a passport disappeared in the airport.  But something about seeing a passport stolen while four or five people watched passively is a lot to get over.  I now need to forgive faces and not just vague incidents.

I don’t want to see some things.  I don’t want to see the children that get run over by careless drivers and the people who stand by and watch but do not help.  Constant surveillance means video of such incidents condemns but doesn’t seem to change anything.  I become a watcher myself standing by outraged but nothing changes.

Knowing that most will stand by and do nothing for me, I face the question, will I still do something for others?  Will my desire for privacy, so defended in my passport culture, win out and I sink into resentment unable to forgive the sin of a sinful world?

Or will I count this as yet one more way to share in the path that Christ took?  A path with scant privacy?

From the Outside…

In August of 2001 we left a huge black trunk just outside the terminal exit in LAX.  That trunk held 70 pounds of items we guessed we might need for our new life in Asia.  When we realized we forgot it, my husband rushed back to the airport and easily reclaimed it with a big sigh of relief.

3 weeks later a midnight phone call from my mom awoke us in Asia.  Buildings collapsing.  Planes grounded.  Chaos.  A world away and half asleep I wondered what was going on.  The fatigue of transition meant that I fell right back to sleep.  In the morning we met with our coworkers and learned more.  We read Psalm 91.  The arrows that fly by day.  The pestilence that stalks in darkness.  The destruction that lays waste at noon.  The words lived.

Some visiting friends checked into a nicer than normal hotel.  We all wanted to watch CNN.  A few hours of coverage gave us enough idea of the seriousness of this act of terror.  War, we knew, followed any such act of violence.

Throughout the year, we encountered the new state of the world.  We heard of close friends going to war yet 9/11 occupied only a few minutes of conversation with our local friends.  We received a new Yemeni student in our language class and his dark stare made me pack up my shorts early.  Rumor had it that other foreign students participated in a huge brawl over an insult delivered about 9/11.  Another rumor related how a Middle Eastern student hung a poster praising the attacks.  But no one wants to wake the dragon so we felt pretty safe.

Upon returning to America 10 months later, I noticed drastic changes.  We deplaned on 4th of July weekend.  Lining the halls to passport control stood dozens of heavily armed guards dressed in black.  I looked up and noticed the sign that welcomed me to the United States.  Travelers donned t-shirts seeming to demand God Bless America.

This was not the America I left.  I didn’t know what to think but I did know that by not experiencing the fear and the terror in the same way, I was different.  Where others dressed in patriotic shirts and wore American flag pins, I had quietly packed away my baseball cap that displayed the American flag.  I retrieved it only on special occasions…like the 4th of July because I love my country.  DSC_0252

I guess I would say that living overseas post 9/11 challenged me to look at nationality and faith while standing outside my earthly home.  I’m still figuring out how it shaped me but in a few areas I know more than I did before 9/11.

This world is not my home.  I am an ambassador on assignment anywhere I live.  And, I long for my true home more than I long for the United States of America…and I long for the US a lot sometimes!

I know, too, that a 70 pound bag left on the curb is no small thing anymore and goodbyes get said barefoot at security because the world is not safe.  It never was.

For those of you overseas during 9/11, how did 9/11 affect you?

Plain Old Pain and Sore Pain

At 20 bucks an hour, medicinal back massages are a steal.  Last furlough I vowed to indulge in this overseas luxury more often.  Cross cultural life stresses the body and the mind.  Massage works wonders…if you can stand the pain.

Massage in America surrounds you in an experience of soothing luxury.  Relaxing smells and soft music with a fountain trickling in the background usher one into an experience of stressless comfort.  Not so in Asia.  A successful massage in Asia uses one hour to hit every pressure point and problem area with torturous force.  No music or fountains…just hard work.  It is not for the faint of heart.  If I scream, which I do, I only communicate a job well done, not a request to stop!

Two words describe pain in this language and we learned them from the masseuse.  There are more, but these two strike me with meaning.  Pain and sore pain.  Pain is just what it means…pain.  No purpose.  Negative.  Undesirable.  Bad.

Sore pain…now sore pain is good.   The masseuse explained that sore pain means new blood flowing to the knotted muscle and washing out the toxins.  Sore pain eventually allows the muscle to release the poison and relax resulting in more freedom of motion without limiting pain.

Sore pain is why I get a massage.  Sore pain serves a purpose.  Sore pain yields.  Sore pain is not futile.  Sore pain leads to loose muscles that enable me to enjoy daily life without as much plain old pain.

As in my spiritual life there is pain that leads to more pain and serves no purpose.  That kind of pain makes me act funny as I protect myself.  And, then, there is sore pain.  The word a friend speaks that brings to light a sin issue I need to face.  Or, maybe it is doing the thing I fear will incur disapproval from others.  Pressing these areas brings sore pain.  But, sore pain is worth it.  Sore pain brings new life.  Sore pain gets out the poisons.  Sore pain eventually brings peace and freedom.

Sore pain still hurts.  I scream when the masseuse hits certain pressure points.  I cry and can get angry when someone pushes on a stiff spot.   But the promise of cleaning out the toxins and moving unencumbered by a stiff soul makes me crave it even as I want to scream.

When I visit the masseuse I always try to go with a friend.  We bond as we listen to the masseurs grump about our physical problems and as we hear each other yelp.  Taking a friend along on the journey of sore pain of the soul helps me endure.

Between the screams, and sometimes through them, we laugh a great deal.

What stiff places in your soul need to experience sore pain these days?