Remembering

I’m amazed at how quickly I forget things. Important things. Things people have just told me seconds before. Like names. Hometowns. Family events.

While I wish my brain worked better and I imprinted important things into my mind the moment they happen so I’d never forget them, but I still forget. Like a fog some things get obscured over time by other events that choke out the memory. Other times I feel like that device in Men in Black is out there and someone zapped my memory!

One time, I forgot to pick up my friends child at day care. I didn’t know it until the next day when she called and confronted me about why I had left her there. It was really lame to have to say I had just forgotten. It wasn’t enough.

Or what about the time I forgot I put my husbands keys in my purse after church. I drove an hour and a half away on a short trip before he called me and asked me if I had all the keys to the other car. Yes, yes I did and I drove three extra hours so that he didn’t have to rent a car for the week.

Lately I see where this forgetfulness is present in my relationship with God too. I forget the times when He rescued me or how bad things were going when He rescued me. I forget what I was like in the past. Pain fades in my memory but so does joy.

It’s just weird.

And it reminds me how finite my body is including my mind. Did you know that neurologists believe we use only a fraction of our brain? When my dad was diagnosed with a brain tumor, the doctor lamented the location of the tumor. If it was in the front part of his brain we could take it out no problem because we don’t use that much of it!

In a complete and perfect world without death, my brain cells would operate at 100% capacity and I would use 100% of my brain. I theorize that I would remember everything. It is an attractive thought, but actually…

People with awesome memories may actually have a harder time in life. Take this Time article for example. Maybe a bit of forgetfulness is actually grace? There are definitely things I would rather not remember or feel with the same intensity as when the events happened…like grief.

It’s a double edged sword, this forgetfulness, it cuts both ways. For good and for bad. For the good, I can thank God that He allows certain feelings and memories to fade so I can live and thrive in the present.

For the bad, I can forget how dependable He is, how available in time of need, how much I need Him and His wisdom and direction. I can forget that I’m not God so, so fast.

When I began writing I wanted to highlight all the negatives of forgetting, yet I’m struck by the grace that is there too. The grace that we have a finite life and finite abilities.

To live in this world forever with all that is not right with a perfect and ever-present memory would probably be too much to take.

Waste not…

DSC_0141Buried in my blog drafts from our life in East Asia 4 years ago…

Our family is reading Farmer Boy right now as our bedtime story.  It makes me feel a lot better about the minimal chores I expect my children to accomplish.  They understand their charmed life and gain vision on all they really can do!

We all listen with rapt attention to the descriptions of life before electricity, refrigeration, and machinery.  Clothes are precious because the yarn comes from sheep shorn on your own farm, wool spun by diligent hands, made into fabric and sewn by expert fingers.  A rip in clothing is no excuse to throw it away, mending is a crucial skill.

The food is fascinating too.  My kids salivate when Laura Ingalls tells of donuts, oatmeal, and apple pie for breakfast…all in one day!  Life on the farm seems like an adventure especially when you get your own oxen.  Little do they know, they observe daily a life similar to the one described in Farmer Boy.

We are city folk who live in the midst of an agrarian society.  We see strange things that are only strange because we are 2 generations removed from the farm.

Yellow millet sometimes covers the medians of roads right up to the solid white line. One time we drove over some crops laid on the road. The cars driving over beat out the grain.

Vegetables like the one pictured lay out to dry in odd places along fence posts, on house roofs, anywhere there is sun really.  Pickled vegetables make up an important part of the diet. I ate a wonderful dish of dried green beans the other day.

Many homes still don’t own refrigerators in the countryside or if they do they are unplugged when someone deems it frivolous to be on.  Lamps turned on inside a house in the daytime is an anomaly and deemed quite wasteful. A neighbor was seriously perplexed one day to see our whole family playing outside and our lights on in our apartment.

Cars rarely carry only one person and most people ride bikes or use electric bikes. They, too, often hold multiple people. Frankly, bikes are generally easier to use to get around the neighborhood than cars.

The average household trash can is the size of one normally found in an American bathroom.  It is emptied once a day and mostly contains vegetable peels. Ironically, while hosting many of the world’s worst polluted cities, the average citizen produces very little waste.

A few days before Thanksgiving, my friends began inquiring if anyone was going to use the turkey carcass after our meal. She, of course, was the lucky winner. As our friends divided up the leftovers from Thanksgiving including the turkey carcass (for porridge), the broth from the turkey (for noodles), and the side dishes (to eat the next day), I admired their skill in frugality.

I often choose convenience over limiting waste. I don’t fall far from my American heritage even after more than a decade overseas.

There is much to admire in the resourcefulness needed to live a life of such little waste and such thankfulness for what is provided from God.

Happy Thanksgiving!

 

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.

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.

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.