In the Market

Perusing through unpublished drafts, I found this post written while we still lived overseas. Its strange to think these markets are cut off from me right now in our current reality of a global pandemic. I still miss many aspects of our life overseas and this ranks up there–the fresh (or wet) markets.

I grew up accompanying my mother to the Piggly Wiggly to buy our food.  The shrink wrapped packages of meat beckoned me to poke them. Poke them I did! The vegetables in the frozen section came in neatly packaged bags. Milk sloshed around in large plastic gallon containers.

The checkout line tempted one with magazines, gum, candy, and a fun conveyor belt with a cashier and a whole person dedicated to placing items in bags for you. Sometimes…often…the cashier called you by name and actually thanked my mom for shopping in the store. Then the bagger pushed the cart to your car and loaded them up for free!

Fast forward several years and I find myself slipping around in the mud at the open vegetable market buying my family’s food in a foreign land. Yes, I chose this. I can drive or walk to the grocery store, but recently the parking garage is always full because it is free. So now I walk or bike to the fresh market across the street.

Biking gets tricky when I have to buy eggs because eggs are packaged loose in plastic shopping bags. I find it takes special skills to hang the bag over the handle bars and arrive home with all eggs intact. 

At the vegetable market I bump into neighbors, hear multiple invitations to come shop at different stalls, and all is accompanied by the occasional cluck of a chicken back in the live animal section. Unrefrigerated meat hangs on hooks all day and vegetables are so fresh they still have mud on them. Tofu comes in a hundred different varieties.

Tofu is kinda pretty!

It’s a social gathering place where any number of opportunities beckon the curious shopper. You can get a spare key made that may or may not work.  You can buy really expensive Tupperware or a really delicious and cheap breakfast. 

I love the excitement and the challenge and the people. I love the fruit vendor who always asks me to give up a kid for adoption because three is just too many and she would like to take one home. When I refuse, she concedes and gives me a few bananas with a smile. My kids always stand far from her.

Then there’s my preferred vegetable vendor whose produce isn’t the greatest but she has three kids too. We share a connection. Families with three kids are very rare and I support her in her choice to support lives by buying her slightly older vegetables.

Sometimes I surprise even myself. Last week I took a risk and bought unrefrigerated beef off a wooden slab from the Muslim butcher. I heard many years ago Muslim beef was the best. I am finally ready to try it.  It is not wrapped in plastic. I’m not tempted to poke it. 

The butcher speaks English much to the astonishment of her neighboring vendor. He gapes at her in surprise and she smiles and hangs her head, chagrined to reveal this special skill. I imagine this gossip will spread like wildfire later that day and her prestige will grow. I smile too.

It all now seems more normal to me than the Piggly Wiggly. I still enjoy the order, cleanliness, and service at the stores of my youth like one enjoys Disneyworld. When I visit, I indulge in being thanked and smile wide when baggers take my purchases to my car.

The Piggly Wiggly model often seems like the answer to the messes of life. Shouldn’t life be more orderly? I often think I’m missing out somehow when life is messy. But in striving for neatness, there’s often sacrifice too. 

I think the fray and disorder of the marketplace may be more like real life than the pristine order of the Piggly Wiggly. Real life is dirty and slippery and involves compromise and risk but also standing firm and knowing when to do which one.

And grace for ourselves and others because there’s just going to be some broken eggs on the way home in life.

We don’t know what to do but…

I encounter more people now as our community stumbles forward and we try to feel each other out. How close is it ok to approach a person on a neighborhood walk? What criteria do I use to decide if I go back to church in-person or watch online? What level of risk is appropriate to be with people and for what purpose?

Figuring out this new world, learning how to live in it as we hold in tension so many competing realities is a weight we are all learning to carry.

The other times in my life that I remember talking this much about how to interact with people on a daily basis was when we first moved overseas. My husband and I experienced an onslaught of new our first few years overseas that left us speechless, staring at our McDonald’s cheeseburgers.

We are now back in the country we grew up in. But, with the sudden shift of culture caused by this pandemic, it again feels like we are learning a new world. We are in the same place physically as last year but doing so many things so differently adding to the strangeness of it all.

It’s like the world tilted and I’m left again grasping for firmer ground.

A passage of the Bible that captured my attention this past week was the story of Jehoshaphat (yes, like in Great Jehoshaphat!). He was one of the good kings in the Bible. He went around to the whole kingdom to talk to the judges and tell them, look guys, you’re working for God and He’s not a God of injustice, bribery or partiality so let the fear of God guide you.

Wow! I really appreciate that kind of leadership.

A lot of times you read these stories about the good kings and generally things go better for them, but not Jehoshophat. He soon learns a huge army is coming for them and they’re pretty powerless to stop it. He prays this great long prayer but at the end he says, We don’t know what to do, but our eyes are on You. 

So then, another guy stands up and says he’s got something to say from God. He basically says, don’t be afraid or discouraged. Go out to the battle but you will not need to fight in this one. Stand firm and hold your position. God ends up routing the enemy before they even get to Israel’s army.

There is something beatiful and right in determining you’re up against something bigger than you can deal with and saying I don’t know what to do. And, then, still showing up to the battle even when it’s not clear how it will all play out, just that God will be there.

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In all this upheaval, I’m realizing the importance of showing up to see what God will do. When I say show up, I mean open up opportunities, be available and trust that God can do something no matter how meager and anemic the method feels.

Somehow, he’s not limited by our physicality. I can tell you, God shows up on video calls, phone calls (they’re back in again–just give younger folks a pre-call text), and conference calls.

I guess that’s where I am today, I don’t know what to do often. I feel overwhelmed some days. But I want my eyes to be on Him.

Sometimes its more that I don’t know how to do it this way, but I am trying to take the step and trust Him to be there in the middle of it with me.

Each time, as I look back I can see that He’s never deserted me.

 

Thanksgiving

Our first year overseas Thanksgiving surprised me by ranking my most difficult holiday.  My cultural adjustment curve dipped lowest right around Thanksgiving making it the perfect storm for a flurry of emotions that first year overseas. I figured I’d be sad at Christmas so Thanksgiving sadness caught me off guard.  Add to that the fact that it was my first time to celebrate a holiday away from family and…well…Happy Thanksgiving!

Thanksgiving each year since delivered a host of treasured memories.  One year I picked up our roasted turkeys at the local hotel.  The staff and I tried to figure out how I was going to take them home.  None of us considered this problem beforehand for some mysterious reason.  I ended up riding home in a taxi with two hot turkeys stuffed into plastic shopping bags!  DSC_0031

Then came the year when a terrible stomach virus passed through our midst at Thanksgiving.  26 of us gathered that year and, well, sickness spread pretty fast in that environment and through the following weekend.  Leftovers did not get eaten that year and it took me a year or so to overcome my aversion to some traditional foods.  Some even gave a very descriptive name to the weekend following Thanksgiving which I will not share here.  Let’s just say that year lives on in infamy.

A few year later we started celebrating Thanksgiving with more than just Americans.  I regret it took me that long to take Thanksgiving across cultures.  A turkey is huge but to someone who never laid eyes on anything other than a skinny chicken, a turkey is…well…it’s hard to give you a good picture of the excitement that bird caused.  My friends sampled all the traditional items and we thoroughly enjoyed our feast.

But what really moves my heart at Thanksgiving now is that I learn to celebrate Thanksgiving more and more each year.  We all love a feast and we all love food and we all love the decorations.  But, what I love more than all of that is the time of thanksgiving.  It is the point of our celebration and my non-American friends do not forget it like I am prone to do.  They do not get as distracted by pecan pie, turkey, and stuffing or American football.  I enjoy all those things but I fall prey to making them too central.

Last year I remember the tears we shed as we gave thanks to the Lord for the years events.  Every year has its pain and its joy.  We cried, we laughed and we sacrificed the sacrifice of thanksgiving.  Because giving thanks is a sacrifice.  The painful things yielded fruit and we knew it but we still cried.

These celebrations go to the heart of the first thanksgiving.  I think the Pilgrims knew the sacrifice of giving thanks in a foreign land, with foreign food, with native people in the midst of a year marked by death and suffering.  They gave thanks and I’m sure they cried in the midst of such a sacrifice.  The foods they ate were not traditional to them…I remember this as I dip into some delicious fried rice and watch my children sample lumpia from the Philippines.

This week we celebrate Thanksgiving and I anticipate spending a lot of time cooking and preparing.  But I also anticipate even more the time when we express our thankfulness with laughter and tears.