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Perusing through unpublished drafts, I found this post written while we still lived overseas.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.

 

Enraged

I had just sat down when she started banging on my stall door…yes, my bathroom stall door. What transpired is family legend—that time mom lost it in the bathroom in Asia.

Finding a decent bathroom is a challenge when traveling, especially overseas, maybe especially for the westerner in eastern lands. There’s this kind of toilet called the squatty potty. When mastered, it frees one from a consuming fear of being forced to learn under duress.

But beyond that, just finding a relatively clean bathroom with stall doors (yes, doors!) is notable. This bathroom on that day was not only clean, it had stall doors and it was not a squatty.

I don’t really take pictures of bathrooms much…butt here are some cool doors.

Toilet paper, you might ask? No bathroom really ever had toilet paper. BYOTP was the name of the game.

On this day, I made a point to stop at this particular bathroom to make a pit stop in loo (punny, right?) of the unknown I might face the rest of that day. It felt like the sun was shining on me because there was no line when previous times I’d waited in a long line for the privilege of this clean bathroom.

So, I commenced to commence behind a nice locked stall door. And a woman came in the bathroom and immediately started rattling my door telling me to hurry up because she needed the stall. She shook it so hard, testing the lock, that I feared she was going to break the door open!

And I immediately lost it. My language was good enough to say things I am ashamed of now. Looking back on it, there is an element of comedy. Here is a little of what I remember:

Hurry up! I need to use the bathroom! [rattled door]

I can’t go faster. Go find another bathroom.

I don’t know where one is.

Well! Go ask someone! I’d show you if I could, but, well…I can’t help you right now…I’m busy!

You are taking too long, let me in. I have to go! [more rattling]

I can’t let you in and I have to go too!! I’m using the stall! Stop shaking the door or it will take longer.

Hurry up!

I would if I could. If you’d like to teach me, go ahead!

And it went on and on like this. I was trembling angry when I finally finished, walked out, slammed the door and kept talking very loudly to her…ok, shouting in anger at her.

The look on this woman’s face when out walked a white girl was kinda priceless, really.

At this point, my dear friend was coming into the bathroom. I should mention that my daughter was in the stall next to me during this whole encounter, totally perplexed about why I was so angry.

To give you an idea of the level of my outrage, my friend thought someone was assaulting my daughter—that’s how mad I was.

The event passed and I’ve told the story a few times and thought many times about why, why, why I lost it so quickly and so completely that day.

People who have known me a long time know that I get angry but this was something different, it was rage.

The only conclusion I came to was that someone was threatening a basic human right of mine, to a space, to time, to perform a basic bodily function. It was like she was trying to shove me off the toilet mid-stream, and it was downright offensive.

And it enraged me to the point of a fluent, loud, trembling argument in my 2nd best language. There is a double edged-ness to fluency. Being able to really argue in a second language can get one into a lot of trouble.

What if it wasn’t a toilet stall though? What if it was a different, much more important space like a good school, a safe home for my family, healthcare, to life?

And I understand just a little more the rage one can feel when pressed and challenged for places way more important than a toilet stall.

Rage feels terrible and so it often gets labeled a negative emotion and we are often encouraged to get out from under it at any cost…mostly by suppressing it.

But anger is an emotion, a powerful one, but only an emotion. The wrong comes when we act on it in ways contrary to God’s truth—like when I berated this woman rattling my stall.

This might be why trying to pacify justly enraged people rings a false note in their soul. Asking others’ to bury rage because we may feel uncomfortable with the emotion is not coming alongside someone in pain.

This is where lament comes in—lament is agreeing about the wrong done that brings the rage felt. It honors the emotion while bringing the injustice together to God, the only one who can ultimately judge justly.

But in no way does falling on God’s ultimate justice excuse us from our God-given role to pursue justice on earth while we live here as His ambassadors.

What injustice we see more commonly is way more subtle than a rattled stall door…its more crafty and more insidious and more unseen…and, so, harder to understand.

So, listen carefully and listen well and listen long…observe…and I bet you’ll hear the rattle of a stall door. Something intruding on a space that should be respected and guarded and safe.

Oblivious

For 13 years, a third of my life by the time we left, I lived in a country where I stuck out. I was taller than most every other woman. My eyes were lighter and rounder than every other person. My hair was a different color and texture. I had the coveted crease in my eyelids. My nose was bigger. My feet were bigger. My clothes size larger, even when I was at an ideal weight. I have hips.

I stuck out in a crowd and drew attention most places I went. Everywhere I looked eyes were looking back at me…and did not look away when I made contact.

In the marketplace I was asked repeatedly where I was from, how much I made, how long I’d been around. Privacy was not a thing. These questions were not off limits culturally though they felt incredibly intrusive.

Most of the attention was positive when seen from a certain light. The advice given about how to dress my kids or myself was a form of care even if it was based on an assumption that I didn’t know anything. I learned to take it for what it was most of the time.

But there were those times when I just couldn’t wrap my head around the cultural differences. I spoke sharp words many times when I’d just had enough of being tsk’d at for what felt like the thousandth time.

Some of my friends embraced an effort to blend in by dyeing hair or wearing the shawl that hooked around the middle finger to protect from sun damage. I learned that an umbrella is not just for the rain. I became expert at transporting home a dozen eggs loose in a plastic bag hung from my handlebars, losing one only on occasion.

I adapted. But I never fit in. Ever. I was always a minority and never blended in. But I didn’t fully appreciate my status as a privileged minority until many years in my sojourn in Asia.

Intellectually I understood that my Asian-American friends had a much different experience than I did. At a large round dinner table at a restaurant, my Asian friend would be expected to order even when my language was better. They were assumed to be a tour guide and were questioned about their foreign friends as though we were celebrities.

I could identify remotely with the shame they experienced in the surprised reprimands when their grasp on the language wasn’t up to snuff. But even in recognizing it, I didn’t feel it personally. I felt it for them but could easily put it aside after a conversation and move on. It wasn’t my experience and it didn’t touch my lifetime of shame experience like it did theirs.

My empathy was something but I couldn’t ever really understand.

I felt confident taking trains and traveling alone, jumping in cabs and advocating for myself. My experience was that people listened to me, things happened when I acted. I got what I wanted more often than not. Doors opened for me, literally and figuratively.

But my Asian friends did not. When my friend once explained her fear in a travel situation when she was by herself, I finally grasped a little more of her world.

What if I blended in? What if I were one of the oppressed? What if I feared kidnapping, assault, and violence because that was how people like me got treated? Even if my nationality offered real protection, if my face appeared to be “local”, that protection would not help in the moment.

I’d be stuck and unprotected.

Her experience really impacted me because there was one time when the gravity of the big world and my helplessness in it hit me.

I was traveling, foolishly, alone for the day with my 6 month old baby stowed in the baby carrier to get immunizations a town away. My many other trips left me feeling confident that I could do this trip and it was easier than making a day trip with a 2.5 year old and a baby and my husband.

It all went well until I got out of the cab to catch the train back and someone was watching me put my wallet back. On the large bridge, I felt my bag move and looked down.

The zipper was gaping and my heart beat faster. A major rule of travel is always zip your bags up and I followed it. My wallet was gone, my train ticket was gone, I had no money and no ticket to get home. No ATM card to get money either.

I panicked but I had my phone and called my husband and others noticed my distress. A kind man bought me a return ticket and my husband met me at the station at home so I could pay the man back. He refused repayment.

We made it home and, besides a little panic and lessons learned, it didn’t change my life dramatically.

But when I heard my friends story years later, I wondered what my experience would’ve been if I blended in. If I was part of the class that was not minority privileged. What if I was an Asian woman? Or African?

I could finally see how someone could become the poor soul on the streets near the stations with sad chalk stories written about how they ended up far from home and just needed a ticket…a little mercy.

And I read the stories today and I know why we have such a hard time acknowledging the privileges of having a certain skin color or background.

It’s like living in a world of automatic motion-sensing doors, don’t they always open for everyone else?

They don’t but it can be very, very hard to notice when they always open for you.

Truth and Morality

I like to peruse the Nextdoor app, well, daily. It’s fun to see what’s happening in the hood…sometimes its just entertaining. Other times its downright chilling to see how people respond to events in our community.

People are posting pictures of folks they don’t know who aren’t following the law of social distancing. They’re sharing some pretty extreme hostilities towards those who are stockpiling toilet paper. We don’t even know who’s stockpiling it, but someone is because there’s no toilet paper!

By the way, you can use this handy toilet paper calculator to assess how long your stash is going to last you. The advanced feature is pretty awesome. If its going to last you til September, well, you might be the one people don’t like very much right now.

But its really struck me how morality is at an all time high. There is a right and a wrong way to act during this crisis according to many, some of them actual scientists and doctors. The right way has to do with protecting others, looking out for others, and not thinking just about yourself.

And, its based on truth. This itty, bitty, tiny, little organism we can’t even see with our naked eye is passing between us, killing people, and bringing the entire world to its knees. The closer we stand and the more we interact, the worse it will get.

Facts. Math. They support this reality.

We cannot escape the truth though we act sometimes like it doesn’t apply to us. Acting like it doesn’t apply doesn’t make it not true. The reality of “the curve” will show us how well we are aligning with truth as a whole community.

Right now, it don’t look so good. And why should it? Morality and truth have been situational for so long that when we are backed up into this kind of wall, its so confusing! At the grocery store or neighborhood park, its not ok anymore that “you do you.” It means someone you may not even know will pay the price. The noblest act of love in the era of Covid-19 is to deny yourself for others.

And truth has never been so valued as it seems to be at press conferences right now. What people say and what they have said and done matters deeply. Did elected officials trade on inside information? There is a very significant and important judgement to be made that depends on what is true in that situation.

Do we want to elect such people to make decisions for our society. Most people, I think, would say no. So truth matters. We want people to follow a code that is fair and considers others, not just ourselves. We must judge these matters fairly in an age when not being judged is pretty popular.

Right now, there is a ban on elective surgeries where I am. The central basis is to look out for the life of others by conserving beds, medical supplies, and limiting risks for exposure. This week, my mother’s doctor had to defend, document in detail, and be prepared to explain the surgery my mom needed in ways he didn’t have to before. Waiting on her surgery would certainly mean an urgent risk to her life in the coming weeks when beds, supplies, and exposure will be much worse.

We hear of cancer patients facing different and limited decisions for treatment based on these factors. What a month ago would have been the best plan is now not because of risks of exposure. What a tough position to be in. Yet, there are law cases advocating for surgeries for non-life threatening, but very deeply difficult issues, like unwanted pregnancy.

Our society has to face these very moral questions now. Does one person get to use up medical resources to deal with a non-life threatening (but very physically and emotionally difficult) issue while another person with a life threatening issue cannot receive surgery?

When the main code for most behavior as it relates to our interconnected society is to preserve the lives of many we do not even know, our culture is inconsistent. We still want what we want and we still don’t really want to look out for others in key ways.

So, what are we to do with all our inconsistency? What do we do when we are backed up against a wall of morality and truth? When the issues don’t seem like life and death, its easier to squirm away.

My hope in all this upheaval and chaos is that we, as a world, will acknowledge that we all have an innate sense to some degree of morality and truth and it is a good thing. But it also leads us down a path we must follow to the end.

Where does this moral code and truth come from? Why do we have it? Why does everyone seem to agree worldwide that lives matter enough to shut down everything to save 1-2% of our population?

If you’re an atheist, it doesn’t make sense. You should welcome the culling of our weaker population. It is more consistent with an atheistic position it seems to me. No need to socially distance. Of course, I would think that the atheist must hope they are not considered in the 1-2%.

If you’re agnostic, the universal morality and desire for truth must mean something. If you can’t abide the atheistic mindset, its no longer the time to sit on the fence. If life matters, then its time to really decide who God really is. If God’s a God that values life and has fashioned us with a similar innate mind…to value life as well…wouldn’t life be better lived aligned with Him?

If so, who is God? The search must begin and be carried out in earnest.

To the Christian, this really exposes us. Do we care about lives as much as we say we do? As much as God does? Do we love like God loves? Do we know His love enough to trust Him with our futures economically, in matters of life and death, to talk about how much He loves people and doesn’t want anyone to die without knowing Him and His forgiveness of our incredible selfishness?

With the world at its knees, its time to talk. Or if we don’t really know His love for us, to dig deeper and get to know the trinitarian God of the Bible more deeply. My experience is that drawing closer to the God of the Bible has driven me towards His love and towards loving others.

Many will say God does not love the world. That He does not even exist or things wouldn’t be like this. That He is judging the world and He’s being really unfair and harsh.

Love like God’s love is not to be trifled with, true. It is pure and rejecting His gift does leave people in the cold. But it is fair and it should compel us to urgently invite everyone in to sit at His table.

But what is true about God—whether He exists, whether He has the right to say what is true and what is not, what is right and what is not—it matters whether we live by it or not.

Ultimately, at the end of life, there is no squirming away. If its true that God is the source of truth and morality, we will be at His mercy.

If its not true, what does it matter how we live our lives right now? There’s really not many people that would say that out loud right now. They’d be relegated to the depths of social hell for the rest of their lives for acting in their own interests.

So, Covid-19 puts us up against the wall. It’s time for us to decide about God, who He is and what it means for our life and the lives of those around us.

Spoiler alert, it’s not so bad, in fact, its so, so good to be at peace with God.

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.

Parking Limited

After we bought our car overseas, I noticed that cars seemed to multiply like rabbits in our neighborhood. Every day, at least every week, a new shiny car found a home in a parking spot near me. Each new car made parking a bit more competitive.

Parking spots close to our apartment took it to a new level. The stakes were high with kids, shopping bags, strollers, and a third floor address to herd them all towards. A close spot made everything easier.

I’d actually get resentful to the new cars and their owners who made life harder for me. Where did they live? Would they compete for my favorite spots? What right did they have to get a car after me?

Ha. Well…every right! Just because I bought one first, how does it exclude others from pursuing the same goal?

Driving home late began to mean that I didn’t even have a slot in the complex and had to park on the street. Not fun. Why would so many people want to get cars when it was becoming so inconvenient?

The same reason we got a car! It made some parts of life easier and more peaceful.

At some point I began to see how my annoyance revealed my arrogance. Just because I bought a car first, I deserved to have a parking space. Anyone who came after me was now a threat to my comfort and ease. In my mind they even had less right to the life I lived for no other reason than timing.

Kinda ugly. Even as I write it, it strikes me how easy it is to drift down that lane.

Eh…its just a parking space and it doesn’t really matter, right?

I’m not so sure. I feel like this same mentality gets played out in much bigger issues daily. It hinges on the tendency we have to believe that resources are limited. The pie is only so big and welcoming another threatens our livelihood.

Yet, if God is really God, He is able to provide for us and for others. If His plan really was to multiply and fill the earth, why are we afraid when that happens?

Probably because we’re human and our world is filled with oppression and injustice for which we all suffer–some much more than others. There doesn’t seem to be enough and that proves we need to compete, right?

I think that’s what the enemy wants us to think–it goes along with his mission to steal, kill, and destroy and we play into it by taking the bait.

But there’s hope because the fullest meaning of humanity is that we are made in the image of God. We don’t have to live in human competition fighting for limited scraps.

It’s fitting that Jesus described Himself as a spring–a constant stream of clean flowing water that fulfills us eternally.

And He describes Himself as the bread of life–sustenance for all who come to Him.

Throughout the Bible is clear condemnation of injustice, oppression, and selfish power. There is also clear guidance for how to live a generous life that takes care of the poor and the immigrant.

It is part of God’s plan everywhere that His people know that everything they have is from God so everything they have is to be stewarded with a view to sustaining all those created in His image.

So we can hope and expect that life can be different. I can be different. Our world could be very, very different.

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.