I wrote on the chalkboard this week. The one that hangs by the kitchen door I pass through a hundred times a day. The board I write stuff on so my scattered ideas have a fighting chance to hone onto a task or two…or ten.
“2 boxes” I wrote. 2 boxes to hold my home school teacher’s guides and workbooks used and unused. 2 boxes to clear off at least two precious bookshelves. I needed two boxes because we enrolled our children in an international school a month ago.
I fully expected to need these notebooks and guides this very month. But, life overseas sometimes…no…often means rapid change. In mid-June I began praying about a change for our kids’ education for the coming year and by early July we filled out the forms. That’s nigh on the speed of light to me.
As I sort out all the factors that go into making a decision like this it slowly distills into a phrase I hear in Asian culture. Half the Sky. Women hold up half the sky so the saying goes. It’s a beautiful phrase and I love it. But, I saw myself growing weary because I was going to try to hold up the whole sky if I continued homeschooling.
Even now I want to say I could’ve done it. We didn’t have to enroll them. And those statements ring some truth but I say them because I want people to see me as strong…as someone who can hold up the whole sky not just half. The phantom rears its ugly head. The lie that strength is found in toughness and survival and capability rather than in resting on the One who holds everything together.
As a very hot summer month slipped by, I took up a few new and exciting responsibilities for the coming year, I stopped buying the kids winter clothes because they will wear uniforms, and I mentally planned to shop and drink coffee at Starbucks their first day in school.
At home, I looked more and more at those two bookshelves in our homeschool room and the books that laid on top of other books on other overfilled shelves above and I embraced reality in a more physical way. I began pulling things off for storage. It is not the time to give them away but it is the time to pack them away in the two boxes I keep forgetting to get at the grocery store.
A new season begins for our family…and I still don’t know what new name to give the homeschool room.
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.
Some 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?
Then, 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?
Better 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?
My name in Chinese sounds like “I love you” in some dialects. Imagine me standing in an apartment helping negotiate a rental contract and introducing myself. Picture the surprised expression on the landlords face as he replies, startled, “you love me?” Why didn’t I change my name at that point? I have no idea. I’d already picked it? I knew how to write it in characters? I’m stubborn.
Learning a new language means becoming a child again. It means people laughing at you for the cute ways you say things, for the mistakes you make. People don’t understand even when you’re sure you say it right. I become a two-year old with a temper tantrum as I try to ask for food to feed myself and no one understands me. I use my hands and face to express what I cannot with my words. It’s humbling.
It’s also funny. Fast forward 11 years and you have me now. I hate sharing that I’ve lived here 11 years when people ask me. The admiration for my language abilities fades into the truth that after 11 years I should be more fluent! Sometimes I muddy the truth…ok, I mislead people…ok, I repent from my lying…and share only how long I’ve lived in this city to avoid the faded admiration.
But, recently I made a pretty funny foible and it brought a smile to a sad face. I didn’t orchestrate it, I was asked if I understood something and I shared what I thought I’d heard, “something about old chickens” I said. No, it was something totally not about old chickens but the damage, or the benefit, had already been done. A sad face smiled and my foolish misunderstanding brought some heavy things into a little perspective.
The “Old Chickens Incident” reminded me afresh to embrace the childlike nature of being a continual learner. To laugh at myself, to share what I don’t understand instead of giving the fluent impression, to be weak and let God be strong.
Fluency would be awesome but He sure does show me a lot in the areas I lack fluency.
How does God used your lack of “fluency” to show you more about Himself?