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.

 

 

Fancy Pants

We sat and waited,my brother and I, all dressed for the Christmas Eve service at our Bible believing evangelical church. Somber colors were the tradition for men. Black suits, white shirts, maybe a Christmas tie or a daring green sweater would be seen in the narthex, a fancy word for the place where children wait for their parents to leave church.

My brother and I loitered around the living room, waiting for our parents to come down the long hallway ready to go to the service. Would he wear them, we wondered? Would this be an off-year? We never knew until we heard his footsteps and he turned the corner.

He liked to present himself holding his hands out to the sides, squatting a little with a goofy smile. A “ta-da” befitted his presentation though I’m not sure he ever said it. He just acted it. And we knew he was wearing the pants.

They were hard to miss. Brilliant red, black, green, and yellow plaid pants. A little tight after 20 years of ownership and life. A little short, a side effect of the little too tight. They did not break at the ankle as well-fitting traditional pants should. Tight rolling was the phenomena of the early 90’s. These pants were bell bottoms.

The pants were social suicide we knew we’d never live down.

We usually protested a little but we knew it was a lost cause. We rolled eyes. Groaned. Some years he changed in response to our complaints, but most he stuck with the pants, loyal to a fault. One year he wore a white sweater he probably got the same year as the pants.

Pendleton! Mom reminds us when we laugh about this story that lives on in legend at the family dinner table. They were nice, Pendleton wool pants! As though our roasting was unbefitting the dignity of Pendleton wool with its long history quality and tradition. She was personally invested in the pants and may have even bought them as a gift in their early married days when they were in style.

The joke’s on us now. Pendleton is back in the cool column now. I eagerly expect to see a hipster with a weird beard and funky glasses at church wearing my dad’s pants this year along with a vintage white sweater. Different is cool. Tacky is a sign of courage and independence.

My dad was a man before his time. A hipster before hipster was hip. We didn’t appreciate his genius.

And it was genius. His slightly snotty teenagers needed a little bit of his devil-may-care attitude. I was too much concerned with others. I missed out on the levity of not caring what other people thought. Of trying to climb the social ladder that never ended. Only as an adult and a parent do I see what a gift his red pants were to us.

My dad when the pants were first in style.

My teenage self found that the world kept spinning. We were no more and no less socially advantaged by our dad’s pants when school started back up in January. I lived, and I laugh more and care a little less because of those pants.

The pants made fewer appearances as the years went on. Sadly, we don’t know where they are now. My dad is with the Lord, probably reunited with his red pants, and my kids are approaching those teenage years when people loom large.

I may just have to find my own pair of Christmas pants to continue the tradition of bringing the world into perspective.

The Zombie Apocalypse is Real

I always flip the channel when the zombie previews air. With three youngish kids around, I notice a direct correlation to sleepless nights and the walking dead. I don’t sleep and I like sleep. They don’t sleep so I don’t sleep. Nobody sleeps and we become the walking dead we tried to avoid by flipping the flippin’ channel! DSC_0153

Ok, joking and sleep issues aside. There is something to this whole zombie apocalypse thing. As much as I want to call foul, evil, and bad every time the walking dead comes on air, it strikes a deeper tone to me.

Whoever conceived this idea of zombies is saying something important. There are the living dead, and they are among us. This show is a major, major hit. This message is resonating with people.

In the show its real zombies and, of course, we all know…hahaha…they don’t exist and you are only really afraid when your brothers prank you after your wisdom teeth are extracted, right?

I think it goes deeper than that, though. Artists write about these things because they think about them. They think about them because they are imaginative. They imagine them, I suppose, because they sense them. People watch this stuff because it is entertaining, and it touches on reality.

There’s some truth in what all this zombie stuff says.

People feel like zombies. I feel like a zombie in the early morning before coffee, late at night when I’m played out, and all times of the day when I’m jet lagged. I can identify physical reasons for my zombie-ness.

Many times I can also identify spiritual reasons for my zombie-like state. I’m mad at God. I’m mad at someone else. I’m sad. I’m grieving. I’m hopeless. Life is overwhelming. We go through the motions and no one notices we aren’t alive.

Some feel like zombies most of the time because their soul condition is fatal and their bodies are still alive. And they know it. And its true. They’ve never seen the cardiologist, they just know. Impending doom. Dead dread.

It’s the opposite of the living hope offered to us. Living hope is life-giving blood running through our spiritual veins, soft hearts of flesh, and woundable bodies because there is more to this life. Living hope comes through the blood of Jesus who died for us and provided the cure for the virus of sin that overtakes us.

My hope is those that feel like the walking dead in their soul and bodies would tell someone who understand the cure and extend it.  It is the antidote to the death that will come to all of us in the flesh.

Our flesh speaks to this death. We all know we will die. It is a horror. It is shocking. And it is scary to watch.

While we will all die one day, death need not come to all of us in the soul. And, when the soul lives, the flesh will live again one day, too.

That is the living hope. Because of Jesus, though we die, yet we live.

The hope is not just for the deathbed, though, it is for the now, too. I may feel like a zombie sometimes, but it is not my true and permanent state.

That’s also the living hope.

 

What is Narrative?

Narrative plays at the forefront of my life as a writer.  I googled the definition of narrative yesterday because the extent of my definition was “story”.

nar·ra·tive
ˈnerədiv/
  1. 1.
    a spoken or written account of connected events; a story.
    “the hero of his modest narrative”
    1. the narrated part or parts of a literary work, as distinct from dialogue.
    2. the practice or art of telling stories.
  2. a representation of a particular situation or process in such a way as to reflect or conform to an overarching set of aims or values.

I noticed a handy graph below the definition. It told me the use of the word “narrative” doubled in the past 60 years. My skills of deduction aren’t awesome, but I know this means narrative is an important word today.

Dan Allender writes in his book To Be Told, “We grow up in a sea of stories told in a way that fits what we want others to know about us.” Whether we know it or not, I believe we often fashion our lives to “reflect or conform to an overarching set of aims or values.” To build a narrative.

Maybe our narrative is the religion we practice, the philosophy of life we hold, or even the nickname given to us in childhood. Whatever it is, it is a system of beliefs and we live accordingly.

Narrative, like this cross-stitch piece, is one story with all elements serving the theme.
Narrative, like this cross-stitch piece, is one story with all elements serving the theme.

YOLO. The bucket list. Original sin. Science. Angst. Goth. Fame.

In my life I’ve discover my narrative acutely when I’m disappointed, angry, or sad. When things don’t turn out they way they should, I’m left with puzzle pieces. Sometimes it seems like I have pieces from different puzzles jumbled together.

I think I believe one thing, but I act according to a different assumption. Crisis, pain, transition, betrayal. They open my eyes.

Sometimes the crisis is minor like speeding around to get my errands done. Why do I feel anxious about time? Does time run out? Obviously, I think it does. My actions portray it.

Perhaps its a little deeper. I like Keurig machines for convenience but the sheer square footage of shelf space bugs me. Then, I read that none of those little cups are recyclable. Yikes. Why do we save the environment? Do we only live once? Is earth and all it holds all that ever will be?

We parent our kids. It’s easy to want to avoid pain in their lives, to shield them from heartache. Yet, I also think that pain builds muscle. Are the highest goals in life safety, happiness, well-adjusted kids, kindness, generosity, or productivity.

Often evil leads me to the deepest questions. War rages and I despair about the state of the world. Are people basically good? What do I do when people who share the same faith die for their beliefs? Does my narrative answer the questions that arise from the atrocities and apparent blessings visible in the state of the world today? Are the other narratives out there as benign as the news seems to want me to believe? Or is there something at their core that leads them down a violent path?

I’m still thinking about this concept of narrative and how “story” plays out in our lives. It’s a popular word these days. Just listen to the latest Presidential address. It’s what drove me to look up the definition. I’ve heard it too many times to not know what it means.

What’s your story? Do you live by a certain narrative? How does it affect your life? Do you see inconsistencies? What do you do with them?

Here is a link to the usage graph for narrative:

https://books.google.com/ngrams/graph?year_start=1800&year_end=2008&corpus=15&smoothing=7&case_insensitive=on&content=narrative&direct_url=t4%3B%2Cnarrative%3B%2Cc0%3B%2Cs0%3B%3Bnarrative%3B%2Cc0%3B%3BNarrative%3B%2Cc0%3B%3BNARRATIVE%3B%2Cc0

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?

Wilderness Nurtures the Soul

We woke up in succession, five of us in one hotel room. Everyone slept on a real mattress for once. Motels in the US seem to understand families with more than one child.

Our motel perched on the edge of the Everglades and the Keys in South Florida. I was ready to go see, my kids wanted to watch Discovery channel. They grumped and groused as we forced them out of the hotel and stuffed them in the car. We meandered down to Everglades National Park and took in the strange beauty of the marshes. With so many signs pointing out the various wildlife in the area, I stumbled across this one./home/wpcom/public_html/wp-content/blogs.dir/330/30512586/files/2015/01/img_0835.jpg

Wilderness nurtures the human soul. It was listed as one of the reasons to preserve wildlife. My heart and soul resonates with this statement. Wilderness nurtures my soul. Wilderness is quiet and I hear rustling and chirping that normally fades into the background of hustle and bustle. Wilderness leads me to contemplate my size. I am small yet unique and significant. Wilderness opens my eyes to new creatures and the wonder of the expansive creativity of a creative God. Made in His image, I also long to create. Wilderness feeds my soul.

I noticed it fed my children’s’ souls too. Discovering animals and plants delighted them. Alligators hiding in marshes. Birds floating in from far away. Manatees bubbling up to the surface with their speckled skin and mysterious shape. Fish rushing after food. Birds dipping down deep for a meal. Delighted they took it all in to their soul.IMG_0812

We are still searching for our way in America. At times it feels like a wilderness. At times it feels like a familiar home. We are always learning, always adjusting.

This was our first solo family foray into vacations in America. We’re learning that too. I think we learned we are a national park kind of family.

We won some, we lost some on this vacation. It wasn’t all smooth but I’m thankful for the reminder that wilderness nurtures my soul.

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.

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