Enraged

I had just sat down when she started banging on my stall door…yes, my bathroom stall door. What transpired is family legend—that time mom lost it in the bathroom in Asia.

Finding a decent bathroom is a challenge when traveling, especially overseas, maybe especially for the westerner in eastern lands. There’s this kind of toilet called the squatty potty. When mastered, it frees one from a consuming fear of being forced to learn under duress.

But beyond that, just finding a relatively clean bathroom with stall doors (yes, doors!) is notable. This bathroom on that day was not only clean, it had stall doors and it was not a squatty.

I don’t really take pictures of bathrooms much…butt here are some cool doors.

Toilet paper, you might ask? No bathroom really ever had toilet paper. BYOTP was the name of the game.

On this day, I made a point to stop at this particular bathroom to make a pit stop in loo (punny, right?) of the unknown I might face the rest of that day. It felt like the sun was shining on me because there was no line when previous times I’d waited in a long line for the privilege of this clean bathroom.

So, I commenced to commence behind a nice locked stall door. And a woman came in the bathroom and immediately started rattling my door telling me to hurry up because she needed the stall. She shook it so hard, testing the lock, that I feared she was going to break the door open!

And I immediately lost it. My language was good enough to say things I am ashamed of now. Looking back on it, there is an element of comedy. Here is a little of what I remember:

Hurry up! I need to use the bathroom! [rattled door]

I can’t go faster. Go find another bathroom.

I don’t know where one is.

Well! Go ask someone! I’d show you if I could, but, well…I can’t help you right now…I’m busy!

You are taking too long, let me in. I have to go! [more rattling]

I can’t let you in and I have to go too!! I’m using the stall! Stop shaking the door or it will take longer.

Hurry up!

I would if I could. If you’d like to teach me, go ahead!

And it went on and on like this. I was trembling angry when I finally finished, walked out, slammed the door and kept talking very loudly to her…ok, shouting in anger at her.

The look on this woman’s face when out walked a white girl was kinda priceless, really.

At this point, my dear friend was coming into the bathroom. I should mention that my daughter was in the stall next to me during this whole encounter, totally perplexed about why I was so angry.

To give you an idea of the level of my outrage, my friend thought someone was assaulting my daughter—that’s how mad I was.

The event passed and I’ve told the story a few times and thought many times about why, why, why I lost it so quickly and so completely that day.

People who have known me a long time know that I get angry but this was something different, it was rage.

The only conclusion I came to was that someone was threatening a basic human right of mine, to a space, to time, to perform a basic bodily function. It was like she was trying to shove me off the toilet mid-stream, and it was downright offensive.

And it enraged me to the point of a fluent, loud, trembling argument in my 2nd best language. There is a double edged-ness to fluency. Being able to really argue in a second language can get one into a lot of trouble.

What if it wasn’t a toilet stall though? What if it was a different, much more important space like a good school, a safe home for my family, healthcare, to life?

And I understand just a little more the rage one can feel when pressed and challenged for places way more important than a toilet stall.

Rage feels terrible and so it often gets labeled a negative emotion and we are often encouraged to get out from under it at any cost…mostly by suppressing it.

But anger is an emotion, a powerful one, but only an emotion. The wrong comes when we act on it in ways contrary to God’s truth—like when I berated this woman rattling my stall.

This might be why trying to pacify justly enraged people rings a false note in their soul. Asking others’ to bury rage because we may feel uncomfortable with the emotion is not coming alongside someone in pain.

This is where lament comes in—lament is agreeing about the wrong done that brings the rage felt. It honors the emotion while bringing the injustice together to God, the only one who can ultimately judge justly.

But in no way does falling on God’s ultimate justice excuse us from our God-given role to pursue justice on earth while we live here as His ambassadors.

What injustice we see more commonly is way more subtle than a rattled stall door…its more crafty and more insidious and more unseen…and, so, harder to understand.

So, listen carefully and listen well and listen long…observe…and I bet you’ll hear the rattle of a stall door. Something intruding on a space that should be respected and guarded and safe.

Truth and Morality

I like to peruse the Nextdoor app, well, daily. It’s fun to see what’s happening in the hood…sometimes its just entertaining. Other times its downright chilling to see how people respond to events in our community.

People are posting pictures of folks they don’t know who aren’t following the law of social distancing. They’re sharing some pretty extreme hostilities towards those who are stockpiling toilet paper. We don’t even know who’s stockpiling it, but someone is because there’s no toilet paper!

By the way, you can use this handy toilet paper calculator to assess how long your stash is going to last you. The advanced feature is pretty awesome. If its going to last you til September, well, you might be the one people don’t like very much right now.

But its really struck me how morality is at an all time high. There is a right and a wrong way to act during this crisis according to many, some of them actual scientists and doctors. The right way has to do with protecting others, looking out for others, and not thinking just about yourself.

And, its based on truth. This itty, bitty, tiny, little organism we can’t even see with our naked eye is passing between us, killing people, and bringing the entire world to its knees. The closer we stand and the more we interact, the worse it will get.

Facts. Math. They support this reality.

We cannot escape the truth though we act sometimes like it doesn’t apply to us. Acting like it doesn’t apply doesn’t make it not true. The reality of “the curve” will show us how well we are aligning with truth as a whole community.

Right now, it don’t look so good. And why should it? Morality and truth have been situational for so long that when we are backed up into this kind of wall, its so confusing! At the grocery store or neighborhood park, its not ok anymore that “you do you.” It means someone you may not even know will pay the price. The noblest act of love in the era of Covid-19 is to deny yourself for others.

And truth has never been so valued as it seems to be at press conferences right now. What people say and what they have said and done matters deeply. Did elected officials trade on inside information? There is a very significant and important judgement to be made that depends on what is true in that situation.

Do we want to elect such people to make decisions for our society. Most people, I think, would say no. So truth matters. We want people to follow a code that is fair and considers others, not just ourselves. We must judge these matters fairly in an age when not being judged is pretty popular.

Right now, there is a ban on elective surgeries where I am. The central basis is to look out for the life of others by conserving beds, medical supplies, and limiting risks for exposure. This week, my mother’s doctor had to defend, document in detail, and be prepared to explain the surgery my mom needed in ways he didn’t have to before. Waiting on her surgery would certainly mean an urgent risk to her life in the coming weeks when beds, supplies, and exposure will be much worse.

We hear of cancer patients facing different and limited decisions for treatment based on these factors. What a month ago would have been the best plan is now not because of risks of exposure. What a tough position to be in. Yet, there are law cases advocating for surgeries for non-life threatening, but very deeply difficult issues, like unwanted pregnancy.

Our society has to face these very moral questions now. Does one person get to use up medical resources to deal with a non-life threatening (but very physically and emotionally difficult) issue while another person with a life threatening issue cannot receive surgery?

When the main code for most behavior as it relates to our interconnected society is to preserve the lives of many we do not even know, our culture is inconsistent. We still want what we want and we still don’t really want to look out for others in key ways.

So, what are we to do with all our inconsistency? What do we do when we are backed up against a wall of morality and truth? When the issues don’t seem like life and death, its easier to squirm away.

My hope in all this upheaval and chaos is that we, as a world, will acknowledge that we all have an innate sense to some degree of morality and truth and it is a good thing. But it also leads us down a path we must follow to the end.

Where does this moral code and truth come from? Why do we have it? Why does everyone seem to agree worldwide that lives matter enough to shut down everything to save 1-2% of our population?

If you’re an atheist, it doesn’t make sense. You should welcome the culling of our weaker population. It is more consistent with an atheistic position it seems to me. No need to socially distance. Of course, I would think that the atheist must hope they are not considered in the 1-2%.

If you’re agnostic, the universal morality and desire for truth must mean something. If you can’t abide the atheistic mindset, its no longer the time to sit on the fence. If life matters, then its time to really decide who God really is. If God’s a God that values life and has fashioned us with a similar innate mind…to value life as well…wouldn’t life be better lived aligned with Him?

If so, who is God? The search must begin and be carried out in earnest.

To the Christian, this really exposes us. Do we care about lives as much as we say we do? As much as God does? Do we love like God loves? Do we know His love enough to trust Him with our futures economically, in matters of life and death, to talk about how much He loves people and doesn’t want anyone to die without knowing Him and His forgiveness of our incredible selfishness?

With the world at its knees, its time to talk. Or if we don’t really know His love for us, to dig deeper and get to know the trinitarian God of the Bible more deeply. My experience is that drawing closer to the God of the Bible has driven me towards His love and towards loving others.

Many will say God does not love the world. That He does not even exist or things wouldn’t be like this. That He is judging the world and He’s being really unfair and harsh.

Love like God’s love is not to be trifled with, true. It is pure and rejecting His gift does leave people in the cold. But it is fair and it should compel us to urgently invite everyone in to sit at His table.

But what is true about God—whether He exists, whether He has the right to say what is true and what is not, what is right and what is not—it matters whether we live by it or not.

Ultimately, at the end of life, there is no squirming away. If its true that God is the source of truth and morality, we will be at His mercy.

If its not true, what does it matter how we live our lives right now? There’s really not many people that would say that out loud right now. They’d be relegated to the depths of social hell for the rest of their lives for acting in their own interests.

So, Covid-19 puts us up against the wall. It’s time for us to decide about God, who He is and what it means for our life and the lives of those around us.

Spoiler alert, it’s not so bad, in fact, its so, so good to be at peace with God.

Exposed

Shopping is exciting these days. I’m used to empty shelves from time to time from my life overseas. Like when a rumor floated around in Asia that salt would undo effects of radiation after the Fukushima plant melted down. Then, overnight, there was no salt at the grocery store. None.

Or when I found Dr. Pepper overseas and cleared the shelf myself. I mean, why not?

Right now, shopping is a little too exciting, like a hunt. I’m not used to that in the US. I’m used to hunting food overseas, going to multiple shops, making expensive trade offs. I’m not accustomed to needing those skills in the land of plenty, America.

It’s unsettling.

Anyone buying a bidet soon?

Because it used to be that when I encountered such difficulty and lack, I knew that Asia would not always be my home. Someday I’d be back in the well stocked stores of the US. Now that I’m experiencing this here in America, I’m faced with another stripping away of the security I’ve placed in lesser things.

And the exposure of the pillars of my security is rather startling. I didn’t realize I placed such a large degree of confidence on the stock market until it started its roller coaster dips and rolls. I didn’t realize I relied so much on being able to control my schedule until my kids schools said don’t send them back to school…for who knows how long.

Early on, there was some talk that the disease spread correlated with national hygiene habits…and now America is pretty much proven unclean by that standard. And I didn’t realize how much I trusted my in my national identity as better than…until it was challenged.

All this upheaval and exposure brought about by a teeny, tiny, microscopic tenacious virus we can’t even see. Rather startling. Rather humbling that something so small has brought pretty much the entire world to its knees.

I’m still a bit stunned, wondering along with the rest of the world how this will all play out. There’s no escape hatch this time to a different land…a land of relative plenty. I’m pressed in to my circumstances and forced to look at what God exposes in me.

So, I wait, and trust, and do what I can do while I hopefully realign my heart more to depend on the Lord.

Dressing for the Weather

DSC_0102It’s cold and rainy and February in America. While our heating and a/c work better, this old post from our days in Asia rings true here too.

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About December, meaning now, all my fashion concerns fly out the window in the face of bitter cold.  I don my huge white down vest, my fleece lined jeans, and Uggly boots solely because they are warm.  They are not attractive.  My husband makes endless jokes about tire mascots and marshmallows.  I laugh…because I am warm.

I’m no martyr.  I run the heat in winter, the cold in summer and fork the money over to the energy company but the cold and the hot still leak into my life.  The market is outside come bitter cold or rank heat.  Schools may heat classrooms sometimes but not hallways.  My home would rank “death star” or “black hole” on the energy star ratings.  It has no insulation.  Baby, it’s cold outside…and inside too!

For years we bought technologically advanced cold weather gear and still do.  State of the art long underwear. Polartec jackets.  Goretex.  They serve a purpose especially in the cold rain, but one summer I saw nainais (grandmas) knitting furiously in the heat.  Wool sweaters.  Wool pants.  Hmmm.  They informed me that hand knit wool is much warmer than store-bought.

I hate knitting.  I tried to knit once.  The only thing I knit were my eyebrows.  But when my daughter bundled up for school in the winter months and no amount of layers kept her warm, I realized I knew nothing about dressing for the weather.

No amount of technologically advanced long underwear could compete with the real deal–hand knit wool pants and sweaters.  She skipped the coldest part of the school year when a layer of ice lay in the sinks all day. We couldn’t keep her warm.  Chinese wasn’t worth frostbite and it was too late to learn how to knit.

I notice the same foolishness in my spiritual life too.  I’m spiritually cold and I want warmth.  Or I’m hot with conviction and I want some relief.  I look for the new idea or the new way to pursue God thinking new is better, new is more effective.  The new way to pray.  The new way to fast.  The new way to live simply.  There is no shortage of “new” in the Christian bookstore and I fall for it sometimes.

But there is so little that is truly new.  The old ways restore, feed, and penetrate deepest.  Reading my Bible slowly.  Talking to God like the child I am.  Admitting how often and far I fall short and then receiving the grace He freely gives.  Enjoying the people of God’s family in all their unique and different ways.  It’s like putting on my down vest, wool sweater, and sheepy slippers in winter.  I am so thankful for sheep!  And, go ducks, too!

There is not much new in the world and I smile at that.  God gave us what we needed from the beginning.  He held nothing back and still doesn’t.  What a great God!

Dressing for the Weather

DSC_0102About December time, meaning now, all my fashion concerns fly out the window in the face of bitter cold.  I don my huge white down vest, my fleece lined jeans, and Uggly boots solely because they are warm.  They are not attractive.  My husband makes endless jokes about tire mascots and marshmallows.  I laugh…because I am warm.

I’m no martyr.  I run the heat in winter, the cold in summer and fork the money over to the energy company but the cold and the hot still leak into my life.  The market is outside come bitter cold or rank heat.  Schools may heat classrooms sometimes but not hallways.  My home would rank “death star” or “black hole” on the energy star ratings.  It has no insulation.  Baby, it’s cold outside…and inside too!

For years we bought technologically advanced cold weather gear and still do.  State of the art long underwear. Polartec jackets.  Goretex.  They serve a purpose especially in the cold rain, but one summer I saw nainais (grandmas) knitting furiously in the heat.  Wool sweaters.  Wool pants.  Hmmm.  They informed me that hand knit wool is much warmer than store-bought.

I hate knitting.  I tried to knit once.  The only thing I knit were my eyebrows.  But when my daughter bundled up for school in the winter months and no amount of layers kept her warm, I realized I knew nothing about dressing for the weather.

No amount of technologically advanced long underwear could compete with the real deal–hand knit wool pants and sweaters.  She skipped the coldest part of the school year when a layer of ice lay in the sinks all day. We couldn’t keep her warm.  Chinese wasn’t worth frostbite and it was too late to learn how to knit.

I notice the same foolishness in my spiritual life too.  I’m spiritually cold and I want warmth.  Or I’m hot with conviction and I want some relief.  I look for the new idea or the new way to pursue God thinking new is better, new is more effective.  The new way to pray.  The new way to fast.  The new way to live simply.  There is no shortage of “new” in the Christian bookstore and I fall for it sometimes.

But there is so little that is truly new.  The old ways restore, feed, and penetrate deepest.  Reading my Bible slowly.  Talking to God like the child I am.  Admitting how often and far I fall short and then receiving the grace He freely gives.  Enjoying the people of God’s family in all their unique and different ways.  It’s like putting on my down vest, wool sweater, and sheepy slippers in winter.  I am so thankful for sheep!  And, go ducks, too!

There is not much new in the world and I smile at that.  God gave us what we needed from the beginning.  He held nothing back and still doesn’t.  What a great God!

Presence

This past week a host of troubles loomed before us ranging from midnight trips to the emergency room for my son’s breathing problems to hiccups registering kids in their new school and everything in between and on the outside too.DSC_0090

What miraculously never left me in these and moments and others was the settled knowledge that God’s presence in my life never left…not for one second.  I still trembled with fear and shook with sadness but I knew He was in the storm with me.  I’ve not always been that person.

Presence is a powerful thing.  The past few weeks highlighted my need for the presence of the Lord who never leaves me.  What I learned anew was how desperately I also needed the presence of His family who stands with me.

When friends showed up on our doorstep one night, I reveled in their presence.  When another friend stood by us in a special way it moved me to tears.  I needed their presence.

And, there’s just something about being bodily present with the family of God that cannot be explained…something that overpowers the worries of the world in a way nothing else can.

So I stand humbled by the presence of God in the storm this week.  Beyond that I know much more deeply my need for the physical presence of the body of Christ.  I’m sure I have still more to learn about presence too!

I’d love to hear about a time in your life when you realized how much you needed the body of Christ.  Please share below!

Half the Sky

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.DSC02933

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.

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?

Thriving or Blending In

As we struggled to get back to thriving during a relationally dry time a few years ago, I struck out with plough in hand to turn up some ground for new friendships.  International playgroup was the ground and I was going to make some friends.  Mom’s from around the world in various stages of survival or thriving gathered to talk while kids played. So many interesting people!  Surely, a friendship could be borne.

Eventually, mom’s night out came around.  I, of course, went and ended up sitting next to a woman who loved to pepper me with questions about what we did, how we did it, how we got paid, what our plans for the future were and so on.  We’re not exactly forthcoming with all that information for some good reasons so to say I was uncomfortable is an understatement.  She then proceeded to ridicule another family in the city for doing religious work.  She did not know I did the same type of work.  And, now, I did not want her to know.  I really did not want her to know.

I shut down.  Survival became my goal.  Blend in to the group.  Be just another mom living life overseas.  Don’t stick out.  Danger!  It seemed an appropriate time to visit the lady’s room.

One friend who knew our more important work, observed the whole encounter.  She observed my walls go up, my survival instincts kicking in.  Later, as the cab dropped off first one and then another and another person until my friend and I were alone in the cab, she leaned forward and told me clearly she did not hold the views of this other woman.  In fact, she respected what we did.  I breathed.  I’d found a friend.

I realized after a long while and am still reminded now that blending into the group does not lead to survival but slow death.  It seems on the surface the right thing to do.  Friends are lacking, so go make friends…but not at any cost.  Never at the cost of who I am.  That’s not survival and it doesn’t lead to thriving….it’s just the long road to a slow death.  The wrong death.

The life Christ calls me to is so much more than blending in.  In fact, it’s the opposite of blending in.  It’s being willing to stand up knowing life as I know it probably won’t survive.  As I think on it more releasing survival seems to be the first step on the path to thriving.