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.

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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Watching…

DSC_0012At any moment I can look up and be sure a camera is looking back.  Big brother is always watching…always.  Sometimes I look up and count cameras just to see if I can top my biggest number pictured here.

It wears on me from time to time.  I grow weary of being watched even if it is benign watching and I am not the target.  Then sometimes I forget until I look up and see a camera in a startling place like in church…watching me.

They watch on the internet, on the street, in the malls, in subway stations, in train cars, in airports.

This summer the watching helped us put together how a passport disappeared in the airport.  But something about seeing a passport stolen while four or five people watched passively is a lot to get over.  I now need to forgive faces and not just vague incidents.

I don’t want to see some things.  I don’t want to see the children that get run over by careless drivers and the people who stand by and watch but do not help.  Constant surveillance means video of such incidents condemns but doesn’t seem to change anything.  I become a watcher myself standing by outraged but nothing changes.

Knowing that most will stand by and do nothing for me, I face the question, will I still do something for others?  Will my desire for privacy, so defended in my passport culture, win out and I sink into resentment unable to forgive the sin of a sinful world?

Or will I count this as yet one more way to share in the path that Christ took?  A path with scant privacy?

Summer Heat

DSC_0039If I ranked seasons…and I do…summer ranks last.  Dead last.  For some reason God planted me in place after place that heats up to unholy temperatures in summer time.  The furnace of Texas and now the furnace of Asia.

Because I know it is the right thing to say, I say God must know what He’s doing and somehow the heat will lead to greater sanctification of my soul.  And, because I know a seed must fall to the ground and die before producing anything I can give mental ascent that the feeling of dying in the summer heat might serve a purpose.

Yet…I still enter the heat of summer dragging my feet and fighting a dull, pervasive grumpiness of soul.  For three months makeup slides off my face and I feel ugly.  For three months, my kids want to swim everyday in the blow up pool and spray each other with the spray nozzle set to the “kill” setting.  For three months, the grocery store refuses to turn on it’s a/c until 3 pm.  For three months…

I admit I deserve a prize for being a brat.  We do run our home a/c day and night in summer.  Ice constantly occupies our freezer drawers.  My suffering is slight compared to some.  But when it comes to discontentment, comparing with others rarely nips my disease of complaining up at the roots.

Instead my eyes opened a little this week to my need to come before the Maker of summer and submit to His seasons physically and spiritually.  Is it possible I can grow in the Lord just by being willing to live in the heat that He brings for a while?  To even cheerfully set up the pool for my kids in the heat?  To put on makeup every once in a while to cheer my soul even knowing it’s going to disappear in an hour?  To go to the grocery store and refuse to open my mouth to complain about the a/c schedule?

Learning to come under the reality of my days instead of fighting and wishing and complaining is no small task for me.  I just now begin to accept that possibly my whole summer’s spiritual assignment revolves around cheerful submission to the heat of summer.

I wonder what He holds on the other side as I choose to walk through this barrier to contentment.  I bet it’s good whatever it is.

What season ranks last on your list?  Why?

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?

Slop

photo (1)Some men occupy their days and fill their pocketbooks carting slop.  Bicycles carry huge, blue, open vats of slop to unknown places where the pigs live.  It sloshes around, a thick, chunky mixture of food scraped from plates or expelled from woks.  The muck on the containers repels a pedestrian before the smell ever reaches the nose.  No one washes the containers between loads.  I do not ask to know this…I see it clearly.

I never pictured slop in my mind until I encountered it overseas.  America is clean.  Slop travels mysteriously through some opaque tube into a closed truck with some words about sanitation written in green or white on the outside.  Only a few come face to face with this ugly reality of life.

My children, however, grow up smelling smells and seeing things I never set my eyes on as a child.  Slop is one of them.  I say slop and they know…their minds pull up a picture of a nasty blue container crusted with who knows what.  Slop is real to them.  Their faces contort when I talk about slop.

So, last week when I read the story of the Prodigal Son and they listened again…I added some detail and brought it home to them.  I told them that pig food he ate?  He ate slop.  Their faces dropped.  Unimaginable.  How desperate.  How disgusting…eating slop.  Anything is better for dinner than slop…even slavery in your own home.  Going back as slave became a totally reasonable and necessary choice to avoid slop.

photo (2)We walked along puce green for a few minutes as we imagined eating slop.  I hope they remember slop for the rest of their lives.  The smell, the look, the grime…because maybe the grace of the Father offered to them will astound them.  Instead of slop…or slavery…a beef barbecue as a treasured son?

I hope and pray they choose the barbecue because they know a life apart from God resembles eating slop.  I pray they know the grace of the feast that the Lord offers when the best they dare expect hope for is slavery.

And, for myself, I hope I receive the gift daily to enjoy the barbecue instead of trying to earn a meager meal…the best I fear I deserve…as a slave.

Escape to Ikea

ikeaI go to Ikea for a cultural break.  The blue and yellow bastion of  order speaks my language in the midst of a chaotic culture.  At Ikea I know how life works.  I understand the products that sit on the shelves.  The model apartments reflect the dream I dream of one day achieving order in my own home.  The prices allow me to take home a little piece of Swedish brilliance.  And, they take care of some of my kids for an hour so I can browse in self-centered silence!  What’s not to love?

Ikea surrounds me in western-conceived orderliness.  I understand the world for the time I walk their halls.  I relish the way I know how things work for once and it’s not just a knowledge gained over time but a deep-seated knowing rooted in the basics of my identity and western upbringing.  For an hour or two I retreat from Eastern thought and indulge the part of myself that will never quite be put to rest overseas.  I vacate in the walls of a store where I need no passport or expensive ticket to feel more at home.

Now that my daughter exceeds the play area age limit, Ikea means mother daughter time.  She finally appreciates shopping and she understands that our family mostly looks.  We laugh at the 5 aunties chatting it up on a model king-sized bed while the baby in the middle sleeps.  We exchange ideas about style–good style, not-our-style, bad style.  We notice some furniture is very, very inexpensive and some quite expensive.  We define quality.

We pick up the few things we came to buy and try our hardest to resist the intriguing but unnecessary items.  We fail…often.  The arrows on the floor herd us along.  We note the items we might purchase next time if they receive approval when discussed at home.  We never miss the “as is” section.  I still wonder who buys the mattresses no one wanted after their 90 day trial period!  We purchase and pick up the boys and follow the path to get hot dogs and an ice cream cones that are too cheap to refuse.  Everyone wins at Ikea.

At Ikea I embrace a part of myself that I can never put aside completely no matter how long I live in a foreign land.  I speak the language, grasp some of the mindsets, eat the food, survive, and often thrive but I am foreign and always will be a foreigner.  Escaping to Ikea for a few hours a month used to feel like a personal weakness.  Now I just enjoy Ikea for what it is…a break and an acknowledgement of my identity.

What escapes exist within your host culture?  Do you take advantage of them?  Why or why not?