The Tidal Wave

We saw something coming a few months ago. We didn’t know what it was, but my dad was acting strange. More strange than usual. He’s a funny guy.

Reckless driving, clumsiness, memory skips. He’s 73 so we expect some sliding. But, this was more.

Then he decided not to drive because he wasn’t safe. He didn’t want to hurt anyone else. That’s my dad. Thoughtful of others.

What we saw coming grew larger in our minds and hearts.

Then, he saw the eye doctor who says he’s lost 50% of his vision. But in a way that means it’s not his eyes. It’s his brain. MRI’s happened so fast we knew this wasn’t good. Doctors rush when it’s bad.

The call back came with a next day neurosurgeon appointment. Something was in his brain besides what was supposed to be there. The tidal wave bore down.

Then it hit.

Large, rapidly growing, tumor, malignant, decisions, no cure. Mere months of decline I can count on one hand. Or months of painful, invasive treatment that buys extra months I can only count with two hands. None of that factors in a God who can heal, yet healing doesn’t always come here on earth.

Life and death and never enough time. But enough time, too. Heaven. And sleep until the day for us who believe.

And he knows whose he is. He has a hope that lies steadfast beyond the veil. That hope stands strong even as my heart is slayed. I am weak and strong. Mourning and possessing some strange, deep peace all at the same time.

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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.

Themes of 2013

Here in the beginning of a New Year, I like to plod through a few thoughts and pause enough to give some mental and spiritual nods at the passing of a year…a beginning and an end.  That pause took place on New Years’ morning while kids and kids’ friends slumbered away after a night of “partying”.

IMG_0172Usually I like to mark my pause a little more seriously but fever (mine), travel (my husband), and school breaks (one day only) conspired and I found myself sneaking in a moment on New Years’ Day.  I noticed a few things in my review of 2013, the root lines God grew deeper this year.

Farewell:  Flipping back and forth to my review of the year 2012, I noticed a theme of farewells in 2012.  It bit a little because today I bid farewell to another family with even more farewells on the docket later this spring.  Farewell was a theme for 2012, 2013, and will be a theme for 2014.  Hmm.  Not a theme I enjoy but a very present theme in life overseas.

Provision:  I shed a few tears that morning as I listed some disappointments and remembered some painful turns in our path this fall.  That tearfulness stayed with me a for a few days.  In fact, it’s still with me now.

But what brings me to tears is not so much the disappointments as that I was never alone.  And, I saw that I was not unprepared for the journey the Lord prepared for us.  Lots of little provisions and preparations flooded my memory.  That brought tears to my eyes.

Fellowship:  When I hear this word, a picture flashes through my mind of cheap coffee in Styrofoam cups in the midst of a din of talking.  Growing up, the main gathering place at the church was the “Fellowship Hall”.  But that is a cheap and incomplete image of fellowship, I know.  It makes me smile and give thanks for my roots.

No, the fellowship I’m talking of is more of the Fellowship of the Rings type of fellowship.  I only half slept through the movie so I won’t pretend to know all the ins and outs of that series.  But, I do know that the fellowship of the rings was about a mission.  It was a calling followed together by a band of misfits and unlikely heroes that desired to do something necessary  and sacrificial no matter the cost.  The bonds formed in this kind of journey transformed all involved.

That is the true fellowship of the brotherhood of believers and I experienced more of that this year.  Even as I write that sentence I want to say more…but it must wait for another time.  It changes one, that kind of fellowship.  Know that.  It is much more than coffee in Styrofoam cups inside a church.

Farewells, Provision, Fellowship.  Rich soil, I think, for the plantings of this next year, 2014.

What themes did you see in your life in 2013?

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.

Doors and Tigers and Reading to Children

DSC_0169 One thing about home school I despaired giving up was reading to my kids…until my husband reminded me it just might be possible to still read to them before bed every night.  I love reading to my kids maybe because I love reading.  I also love how good literature sparks conversations we might never have otherwise.

Like the time our home school curriculum told us to read The Door in the Wall by Marguerite de Angeli a month after we learned two of the families we were closest to would move…and we would stay.  The Door in the Wall is the tale of a crippled and abandoned boy rescued and taken in by a priest in the Middle Ages.  This boy with real suffering both emotional and physical must find a way.  The guidance from the priest?  “Thou has only to follow the wall far enough and there will be a door in it.”

My kids, one in particular, looked at their future and saw a big wall.  Life as they’d known it would change and the future contained real challenges.  The encouragement to hope and to keep following the wall…to run your hand down the wall…to stay close to, even touch, the challenge, suffering, and pain while looking for a way through resounded inside us.   I had no good vocabulary to draw their hearts into the light of conversation about all this transition in our lives but this book provided the means to talk and I am grateful.  For the other child, the wall is what keeps us from God and the door is Jesus.  Needless to say, I recommend this book often.

After sitting on a shelf for a couple of years, my daughter recently discovered and devoured Tiger Rising by Kate DiCamillo.  Having received the book as a gift from a thoughtful friend, it sat on our adult bookshelf (by the way, what do you call places that you store things for adults but that are not profane…I really wonder this!) after I read and pondered it.  When she pulled it down and began raving and telling me to read it to her brothers I felt compelled to understand what touched her so deeply.

The first chapter describes a boy with tremendous loss in his life that he will not allow himself to grieve.  He stuffs his thoughts into an imaginary suitcase and mentally sits on them so they won’t escape.  He has every reason to cry buckets but not even the mean bullies at school can squeeze a tear out of him.  Hmmm.

As we continue to grieve losses, I see what my daughter sees.  It is the time in grief where it is tempting to just stuff in the sadness and pain and just not remember what Halloween was like last year and the year before that and the year before that.  It would be so easy to not talk about our old friends even as we make and deepen new friendships.  It seems it would be easier to not remember but the need to avoid the pain begins to need something bigger and fiercer to keep all of it in.

In a way, we all as a family need these books to talk about the doors and the walls and the memories and the tigers in our lives.  The books mediate our conversation better sometimes than a one-on-one coffee date.  Something about dialoguing our struggles through the lens of someone else brings up what’s underneath in a way my efforts at direct assault fail.

So, we keep reading and we keep talking.  I don’t know what my kids will treasure about their childhood but this is one aspect I will treasure.

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?

The Cup

In Chinese, the word for cup and life sound the same so giving a cup means inviting someone in your life for a lifetime.  A cup is a symbol of enduring friendship.

The tradition of gifting cups started in pain for me.  After 3 years of living life side by side my dear friends felt led on a different path.  After 7 years of leaving others I now understood what it feels like when someone leaves.  It feels terrible.  What once filled up areas of life goes and it leaves a painful vacancy along with not much energy to fill it.  I had not come to peace with it yet.  I fought someone…God.

I gave my friends (and myself) the first cup trusting that God was in this and that He had a plan for my future and for theirs even if it meant thousands of kilometers of distance.  A white cup with green leaves covers the outside.  I hoped that our friendship, once they left, would live like the green leaves and continue to grow.DSC_0010

Every year we continued to meet and each year someone brought a cup as a gift or we bought one together to remember the year.  God grew our friendship in a unique way.  The cups became a sacred remembrance like the stones the Israelites laid in the desert to mark something the Lord did for them.  We cried and laughed, shopped and sat on those weekends. I cherished and looked forward to them all year.

Those meetings in the spring in the historic streets of the Far East will ended.  I am the last still living in Asia.  Still more friends left after them and I snatched cups from their give away piles.  Cups fill my cabinet, each one reminding me of a special friend.

Being left with a void after saying goodbye is something I’m thankful for with tears and still a frequent stabbing pain.  A void the Lord fills better than any beverage, movie, book, or ministry I know…but the pain still resides as well.

Living with the void hurts but the filling of the void by the only One who truly fills anything is worth the wait.

Yet again, I wait.

In the House of Mourning

The sweltering heat presses down on us in the hidden cemetery.  I pass by inscriptions of women, children, missionaries, diplomats, and seamen.

I imagine some died from mosquito-borne illnesses as I nervously slap away hundreds of the pests.  My children flee to higher ground to avoid the onslaught.  I and my daughter remain and wander as the clock hastens towards closing time.

DSC_0040Some inscriptions move me to tears.  The small crypt of an infant inscribed with words of surrender even as grief slays the soul.

Others give my heart pause to wonder…was it worth it?  The sailor whose greatest achievement, the one that took his life, was war to open a port of trade to opium.

Most received their burial in the presence of friends or shipmates, not family.  Etched in the side of one stone tomb I read, “The Tomb Erected by a Mournful Friend.”  Who was the mournful friend?  What does mournful friendship look like in this era?

DSC_0062Then, the lengthy inscription of Robert Morrison who translated the Bible into Chinese and created the Chinese dictionary all in the age before computers.  We stand on his shoulders along with hundreds of millions of others who daily benefit from his labors.  I’m sure my contribution pales in comparison.  Am I content to continue even if my labors never amount to such fame?

DSC_0048Better to go to a house of mourning…this theme echoes in my ears during the season of goodbye gatherings that recently ended.  Do they ever end though?  Goodbye parties and cemeteries…my current houses of mourning.

Walking through this cemetery anchors my soul to the crucified life.  Through the tears I manage to glean something of the realities of a life surrendered.

To conquer?  To serve?  To give my life?  To accept loss that comes to my doorstep?  To be the mournful friend?

Me and Marius

I weep every time I see Les Miserables but the part I cry harder in than any other is when Marius remembers his fallen friends. He stands and sings of empty chairs and empty tables. Empty chairs. Empty tables. I’m choking up even as I recall the song.

Too many empty chairs and empty tables. Chairs and tables where friends once sat, where we talked, laughed, dreamed, ate, played games, argued, reconciled. My friends did not die, but many have moved which is a kind of death. It is death to daily life together. Death to easy conversation. Death to a kind of friendship even though the friendship itself is not dead. Death to seeing their faces practically whenever I felt like it.

I feel like Marius these days. A little war torn…the one left and not knowing why. So, so many people come and go in our lives. When I count them, I move from fingers, then to toes, and then I run out of digits to help me. Why us? Why are we left? I know it is not because we are better, more fluent, more adjusted, more spiritual, more capable. No, no, those are not the reason we are still here.

Going back to the café is so hard. Remembering my friends. Remembering the good times. Remembering even the hard times, those times when we did not get along as well as I wanted or they wanted. Times when we disappointed each other. The times we sinned against each other. And also the times when we did it good. When we stood by each other and offered a shoulder to cry on, a heartfelt word of encouragement, a meal, forgiveness, grace. My life is full because of my friendships forged in the heat of battle.  I wouldn’t give it up even as I cry the tears of missing them.

My tears begin to dry up when Marius comes to the part where he talks of the futility of his friends’ deaths. I gulp back my choking and depart from his line of thought. While futility is a part of life, it is not part of the battle I pursue. It is not in vain that we put our lives out there for the miserables of the world. We strived to look down and that is close to God’s heart. It is not futile even if my eye does not see as much progress as I hoped. The cause is worth it. I am not giving my life for nothing.

It is the season of departures and this year they start early and go late.  So, here, now I revisit the café of friendships and cry my tears as I remember times gone by with the hope, too, of good times yet to come.