Parking Limited

After we bought our car overseas, I noticed that cars seemed to multiply like rabbits in our neighborhood. Every day, at least every week, a new shiny car found a home in a parking spot near me. Each new car made parking a bit more competitive.

Parking spots close to our apartment took it to a new level. The stakes were high with kids, shopping bags, strollers, and a third floor address to herd them all towards. A close spot made everything easier.

I’d actually get resentful to the new cars and their owners who made life harder for me. Where did they live? Would they compete for my favorite spots? What right did they have to get a car after me?

Ha. Well…every right! Just because I bought one first, how does it exclude others from pursuing the same goal?

Driving home late began to mean that I didn’t even have a slot in the complex and had to park on the street. Not fun. Why would so many people want to get cars when it was becoming so inconvenient?

The same reason we got a car! It made some parts of life easier and more peaceful.

At some point I began to see how my annoyance revealed my arrogance. Just because I bought a car first, I deserved to have a parking space. Anyone who came after me was now a threat to my comfort and ease. In my mind they even had less right to the life I lived for no other reason than timing.

Kinda ugly. Even as I write it, it strikes me how easy it is to drift down that lane.

Eh…its just a parking space and it doesn’t really matter, right?

I’m not so sure. I feel like this same mentality gets played out in much bigger issues daily. It hinges on the tendency we have to believe that resources are limited. The pie is only so big and welcoming another threatens our livelihood.

Yet, if God is really God, He is able to provide for us and for others. If His plan really was to multiply and fill the earth, why are we afraid when that happens?

Probably because we’re human and our world is filled with oppression and injustice for which we all suffer–some much more than others. There doesn’t seem to be enough and that proves we need to compete, right?

I think that’s what the enemy wants us to think–it goes along with his mission to steal, kill, and destroy and we play into it by taking the bait.

But there’s hope because the fullest meaning of humanity is that we are made in the image of God. We don’t have to live in human competition fighting for limited scraps.

It’s fitting that Jesus described Himself as a spring–a constant stream of clean flowing water that fulfills us eternally.

And He describes Himself as the bread of life–sustenance for all who come to Him.

Throughout the Bible is clear condemnation of injustice, oppression, and selfish power. There is also clear guidance for how to live a generous life that takes care of the poor and the immigrant.

It is part of God’s plan everywhere that His people know that everything they have is from God so everything they have is to be stewarded with a view to sustaining all those created in His image.

So we can hope and expect that life can be different. I can be different. Our world could be very, very different.

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?

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?

Yielding in an Unyielding Culture

100-0031_IMGI’m astounded by the risks pedestrians and bikers take on their road back home or to work.  The shortest distance between two points consists of a straight line.  Conservation of energy reigns supreme to most foot and bicycle traffic so hoe-bearing old farmers tramp across eight-lane highways looking neither right nor left.  On a rainy night people invisibly weave in and out of cars on dark, soot covered bikes cloaked in black jackets.  Have I explained why I dislike driving in the rain?

From the comfort of my car, I remind myself of the days I rode bikes in driving rain.  The days I arrived home with mud spattered up my back into my hair and my hands turned to ice on the bars.  The early days when I achieved my personal challenge of keeping my feet on the pedals all the way to school to avoid sinking into piles of  mud.  So, now, stopping to allow a horde of pedestrians cross a busy street on a rainy day brings a wide smile to my face.

Yielding defies all local logic.  Most become paralyzed in disbelief when I give way.  I see the confusion on their face as they struggle to decode the situation and then discover the unbelievable.  Someone stopped….for me.  Often they spring forward when the idea dawns that the coast is clear, a new surge in their energy.  I especially like stopping for one person in this country who believe to the core of their beings they rank only one of “too many.”

Giving way.  Yielding.  Such a small thing to give way yet what a difference it makes to give away a few seconds, to not be first that time, to not claim my right according to the law, to surprise someone with a small kindness, to recognize an individual soul.

I do not always yield, believe me, but I like the state of my heart when I do.

What uncommon courtesy puts a spring in your step?  What uncommon courtesy do you like to gift others?