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.

That Man, Joseph

In the midst of the Christmas season, I find it hard to rest and engage with the Story of Christmas. Maybe it’s all the presents to buy and send, the goodies to bake, the events to attend. Last year I encountered the same problem! Today I want to take the time to look at another person in the story.

When I found some time last week to take a longer look, I noticed Joseph, a man caught up in an event that centered around others.  Mary, the unwed mother who needed protection.  Jesus, the baby who needed protection.  The Roman government that offered no protection and Herod, the ruler, who pursued Joseph’s charge in order to murder him.

In all of this Joseph thought of himself only once according to the account in Matthew.  Before being let in on what was going on, he thought about his honor in marrying a woman pregnant by who knows who.  But even in that, he meant to keep it quiet and protect Mary from the society they lived in that stoned women in situations such as hers.  He still protected even in that moment…even in that moment when all appearances said he was the wronged one.

Then, an angel came to him and spoke to his heart.  I love this.  The angel first spoke to his fear.  Do not be afraid.  The angel went on and gave Joseph his role in this monumental event.  Take Mary as your wife because she is carrying the One who will take away the sin of the world.  And…he did it at great personal cost to his reputation.  A cost that stayed with the family all their days.  DSC_0093

The story takes some wild turns too.  Learned astrologers and scientists come from distant lands with loads of gifts far greater than what a carpenter ever saw in his life, I assume.  Then, another visit from an angel to the one, Joseph, charged with the protection of the One destined to save the world.  This time, marching orders.  Flee and flee now and then wait.

Joseph’s life again centered around protecting this Child and His mother and this time the cost was leaving their homeland under the dark of night without any explanation to loved ones.  They became sojourners in a distant land.  Jesus became a Third Culture Kid spending the young years of his life in Egypt.  Joseph made a way for them as a refugee. His profession as a carpenter served them all well.

I wonder if they heard reports of the massacre that took place after they left?  How did they feel when they returned and all those other families saw their son, Jesus, and remembered their own sons murdered?  I imagine the benefits of their departure caused friction in relationships. How could others restrain their feelings of jealousy in the grief of a lost son?  I bet Joseph endured a lot.

Joseph disappears from the story by Jesus’ adulthood and most suggest he passed away.  I don’t like that the story goes this way…that Joseph misses the chance to see the fulfillment of the promise the angel told him.  But the legacy this man leaves is truly tremendous.  He protected the Savior of the world at great personal cost but he also raised James and Jude, Jesus’ brothers who became pillars of the early church.

Whatever feuding existed during Jesus’ ministry gave way to broken hearts in His younger brothers’ chests.  I imagine that is Joseph’s legacy as well.  Raising humble men willing to sacrifice their lives for others because of the One who takes away the sin of the world.

That’s the mark of a man, humility.  Mary gets plenty of press, but I still think Joseph deserves more than he usually receives .

Writer’s Block

Writers block plagues me these days.  It always does when events too big to fathom arise in my life and a big event looms huge on my horizon.  In 2 months we move to America.  We move to America and I’m trying to fit my brain around that reality.

So, my head is swarming with thoughts and emotions and details and, somehow, I can’t put them together enough to form a cohesive deep thought.  Thus is the reason for my weekly posts becoming not weekly.  I just don’t have the words for this yet.  I’m standing in front of this huge thing and I’m so close I can’t figure it out.

But that’s ok.  It’s ok that I can’t figure it out, say it nice, spin it well, or wax poetic.  When the words don’t come forcing them doesn’t work either so I’m learning to be still when all around me is moving.  Be still.  Ponder.  Move slow…while I can.

A day comes soon when boxes will gape at me waiting for me to toss them a bone.  I will thoughtfully sort through all our clothes and shove them into suitcases.

But now is not that time.  Everything in me revs up waiting to shift into gear…but its not that time yet.  It’s the slow down time, the ponder time, the be still time.  I am oh, so bad at it.  The woman in this picture looks like she knows how.  Maybe gazing at her will help me know how to be still!DSC_0449

The boxes and bags are the easy things really.  The people.  That is really what’s got my tongue.  Saying goodbye to the people we’ve lived and worked with for the past 13 years.  The people who knew us when we operated like children because our language ability was so poor in this new land.  They saw us grow up and we saw them grow up.  It is impossibly sad for us all.

But along with it is an excitement about what is to come.  An excitement that rises up and feels traitorous in the presence of all the grief of leaving stands right alongside it.

So, I find myself stumbling around for words and struggling to chain my thoughts together.  Be still.  Slow down.  Ponder.

Just putting pen to paper or, in this case, fingers to keyboard breaks through a bit.  Maybe it is the way God is showing me to slow down, be still, and ponder.  A new thought.

That Man, Joseph

I slacked off my writing last week.  My parents dodged snow storms and smog storms to arrive for a Christmas visit a week and a half ago.  Snow storms delayed their departure and smog here changed our travel plans.  When freeways close because of smog I give thanks for trains!  In the midst of the Christmas season, I find it hard to rest and engage with the Story of Christmas.

When I found some time last week to take a longer look, I noticed Joseph, a man caught up in an event that centered around others.  Mary, the unwed mother who needed protection.  Jesus, the baby who needed protection.  The Roman government that offered no protection and Herod, the ruler, who pursued Joseph’s charge in order to murder him.

In all of this Joseph thought of himself only once according to the account in Matthew.  Before being let in on what was going on, he thought about his honor in marrying a woman pregnant by who knows who.  But even in that, he meant to keep it quiet and protect Mary from the society they lived in that stoned women in situations such as hers.  He still protected even in that moment…even in that moment when all appearances said he was the wronged one.

Then, an angel came to him and spoke to his heart.  I love this.  The angel first spoke to his fear.  Do not be afraid.  The angel went on and gave Joseph his role in this monumental event.  Take Mary as your wife because she is carrying the One who will take away the sin of the world.  And…he did it at great personal cost to his reputation.  A cost that stayed with the family all their days.  DSC_0093

The story takes some wild turns too.  Learned astrologers and scientists come from distant lands with loads of gifts far greater than what a carpenter ever saw in his life, I assume.  Then, another visit from an angel to the one, Joseph, charged with the protection of the One destined to save the world.  This time, marching orders.  Flee and flee now and then wait.

Joseph’s life again centered around protecting this Child and His mother and this time the cost was leaving their homeland under the dark of night without any explanation to loved ones.  They became sojourners in a distant land.  Jesus became a Third Culture Kid spending the young years of his life in Egypt.  Joseph made a way for them as a refugee.

I wonder if they heard reports of the massacre that took place after they left?  How did they feel when they returned and all those other families saw their son, Jesus, and remembered their own sons murdered?  I imagine the benefits of their departure caused friction in relationships.  How could others restrain their feelings of jealousy in the grief of a lost son?  I bet Joseph endured a lot.

Joseph disappears from the story by Jesus’ adulthood and most suggest he passed away.  I don’t like that the story goes this way…that Joseph misses the chance to see the fulfillment of the promise the angel told him.  But the legacy this man leaves is truly tremendous.  He protected the Savior of the world at great personal cost but he also raised James and Jude, Jesus’ brothers who became pillars of the early church.

Whatever feuding existed during Jesus’ ministry gave way to broken hearts in His younger brothers’ chests.  I imagine that is Joseph’s legacy as well.  Raising humble men willing to sacrifice their lives others because of the One who takes away the sin of the world.

That’s the mark of a man.  Mary gets plenty of press…and Joseph does too…but I still think he deserves more.

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.

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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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?

Things Lost

After 12 years of constant interaction, my passport is a familiar sight. Until a few weeks ago that familiarity lulled me into forgetting the importance of my proof of identity and my permission slip stuck inside.20130719-135640.jpg

My husband’s passport went missing and the hoops we jump through right now to get a new one…well…let’s just say we planned to do other things with our summer. Instead he looks forward to multiple days carrying papers around that prove his identity so he can one day receive back official proof of his citizenship and permission to live in a foreign country. Most of the process involves just showing up at the right place with the right paperwork so the official with the big red stamp gets the pleasure of bringing it down with force on the properly filled out forms.

Some things go missing and I give them up quickly as lost. Other things I turn the house upside down for like those gold earrings I misplaced for a time. When I lose things I closely retrace my steps in my head. We lost a fancy camera at the airport once and I didn’t notice for a week. I gave it up for lost with a sad heart but still checked when I took another flight that next week. I received it back from lost and found with tears! Some things come back.

But the passport never came back. We looked and looked.  We asked.  People helped us.  We reluctantly returned home.  Then we called from home.  Then he went back to look himself.  Security officers showed him the surveillance video and he discovered why we never found it.  Someone took it off the floor where it dropped minutes after it landed.  A man ignorant of its importance or purpose.  A man who stood to gain nothing from his theft while it costs us much.  Our hope that it slid under a trash can vanished.  We lived through the time to search and entered the time to give up for lost.

Trading stories this past week with friends about things lost brought a smile to my heart as I saw more clearly.  In searching, in wading through bureaucracy, in looking for things lost I share in the things of the Lord just a bit.  An understanding enters my heart.  He searches too.  He searches for people…he seeks to give a regal identity to the lost.  He searched for me.

I do long for the day when passports and visas and proof of citizenship fade away but for now I remind myself of the importance of contemplating things lost as I fill out yet another form or look up yet another important address.

He searches for the lost.

I Was Here…

What is it about our names that we feel the need to carve them in things?  Wet concrete.  Bathroom stalls. Trees.  The Luxor temple .  Names etched all over the world prove the reality of our experience and existence.  At least we hope they do.

I carved my name on the world one time.  After my first two years overseas I wandered my campus, the campus where I learned to speak an incredibly difficult language, and remembered the moments of my presence.  I purposely journeyed and recalled first days in class, first friends, and my purpose in undergoing such trying two years.

Towards the end of the journey I used my key to carve my name in a bamboo grove near a favorite meeting spot on campus.  A key is an unwieldy tool for carving a name.  My name etched in a particularly fat bamboo pole stared at me in all its amateur ugly but it stuck in there solidly white in a background of green.  I took no picture of my name but it looked worse than this one.DSC_0128

Carving my name felt permanent.  I know now that bamboo is grass.  Bamboo grows fast.  Super fast.  People cut it down to use as scaffolding or to hang laundry on to dry.  It floors houses because of its eco-friendliness which rests in its ability to replace itself and fast.  Did I say it grew fast?  Bamboo can grow a few feet a day which is why people feel not the least sad to hack it down.  Hardly the kind of media to use when one tries to make a permanent mark in the world.

But bamboo possesses a strength which makes it suitable for many tasks.  Asians love bamboo.  They sleep on it, eat it, eat from it, hang clothes on it, paint on it, paint it, carve it, write poems about it, feed it to pandas, and build walls using it.   If ever a perfect plant existed for such a numerous people, this might be it.  After 12 years in Asia I understand the Asian love for bamboo.

My name long since grew up and out and over that bamboo grove.  My permanent mark proved anything but permanent.  But the task of marking my name on something stays with me.  The fact that I chose bamboo of all things seems significant.

It reminds me of the strength that comes not from being brittle and hard and tough but from growing from a strong network of roots connected to the Source.

I think about the way it grows so fast and hope that I, too, grow in season.

Bamboo sways and whispers and sings.  I hope my life also sings a melody of God’s grace as I live among others.

Have you carved your name on something?  What significance does it have for 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?