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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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.

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.

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?