restoration

Flea Market Flip ran last week on HGTV while I exercised. Teams picked out old junky furniture and restored it in a nicely equipped workshop. Then, they resold it to people who found out they paid way too much when they watched the show a few months later. That show cracked open a door in my mind.

Can I be a Flea Market Flipper too?

I browsed Goodwill hoping to find a bike for my son a few days later. I found a bike for my son. I also found a table for me. Do I need a table? Why, no, I do not. But, the table needed me, so I took it home. Now it sits in my garage waiting for me to restore it.  IMG_0372

Which brings up a curious point of drama in this story because I don’t actually know how to do that. So, I pinterested.

I discovered a few options for this kind of project. One involved a few cans of superior grade spray paint. After that, there’s the small step up. I can buy a can of some kind of primer, sealer, base type paint and slather it all over before painting the table some daring color.

I’m not a particularly daring person so picking the color intimidates me. I’d leave that to my friend, Lori.

Then there’s classic restoration. It’s time intensive and complicated. It takes elbow grease and new tools. Sanding, staining, putty, glue, varnish, oils. The result is a beautiful, classical table in the style first envisioned by the maker.

I’m not sure I’m up for that. And, do I want another dark wood table? Not really.

Of course, all of this connects on a deeper level for me. If you haven’t gotten there yet. I am the table. A little loose and damaged needing quite a bit of sanding and staining to bring out what’s underneath all the crud. I’ve always needed restoration. I’ll always need restoration.  Until the end of days I will need restoration.

So, what kind of restoration am I opting for? It depends on the day or the hour or the minute. Mostly, I want the fast spray paint type of restoration. Just get me looking a little better. Cover over the worst of the transgressions. Blot out the huge blemish on the surface.

But, there are days when I understand that spray paint fails to do the job. It’s fast, easy, and noticeable on pieces that got a lot of problems. I got a lot of problems. I don’t really ask often because who wants to know the truth about themselves?  But we all kind of know, don’t we?

It takes creativity and time but in some areas I take a step further and really try to cover up the problems. It’s takes years to manufacture the hard shell that covers the really big stuff, those huge gaping wounds and gashes. Add a daring coat of paint to distract. Voila. I’m repurposed.

I’m longing more these days for more restoration in my life. I know its painful to feel sanded, stripped, and scrubbed but I want it. I can see a glimpse of what can be and I want more.

I’m in a good workshop now. Lots of skilled restorers of lives, lots of tools, lots of space, and gentle spirits that walk with the Lord. It’s a good time to restore. I’m realizing I need to keep a workshop in my life in years to come too. A place and people who restore. A place where I can be involved in the restoration of others too.

One person mentioned a few weeks ago that when we’re tired…bone tired…we need to work backwards from the physical through the mental and relational back to the spiritual. I ponder that these days and I wonder if the table is God’s answer to my prayers. I prayed that I’d connect with Him in a new way soon, that I’d see His hand.

Did He give me this flea market find to engage me in the ongoing work He’s doing in my life? Why, yes! I think that’s exactly what He did.

So, now back to the real table that is not me. I want to go buy that good primer, sealer, coater all-in-one paint today.

The allegory only goes so far, folks. I’m going to paint that table in my garage.

 

 

 

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.

Themes of 2013

Here in the beginning of a New Year, I like to plod through a few thoughts and pause enough to give some mental and spiritual nods at the passing of a year…a beginning and an end.  That pause took place on New Years’ morning while kids and kids’ friends slumbered away after a night of “partying”.

IMG_0172Usually I like to mark my pause a little more seriously but fever (mine), travel (my husband), and school breaks (one day only) conspired and I found myself sneaking in a moment on New Years’ Day.  I noticed a few things in my review of 2013, the root lines God grew deeper this year.

Farewell:  Flipping back and forth to my review of the year 2012, I noticed a theme of farewells in 2012.  It bit a little because today I bid farewell to another family with even more farewells on the docket later this spring.  Farewell was a theme for 2012, 2013, and will be a theme for 2014.  Hmm.  Not a theme I enjoy but a very present theme in life overseas.

Provision:  I shed a few tears that morning as I listed some disappointments and remembered some painful turns in our path this fall.  That tearfulness stayed with me a for a few days.  In fact, it’s still with me now.

But what brings me to tears is not so much the disappointments as that I was never alone.  And, I saw that I was not unprepared for the journey the Lord prepared for us.  Lots of little provisions and preparations flooded my memory.  That brought tears to my eyes.

Fellowship:  When I hear this word, a picture flashes through my mind of cheap coffee in Styrofoam cups in the midst of a din of talking.  Growing up, the main gathering place at the church was the “Fellowship Hall”.  But that is a cheap and incomplete image of fellowship, I know.  It makes me smile and give thanks for my roots.

No, the fellowship I’m talking of is more of the Fellowship of the Rings type of fellowship.  I only half slept through the movie so I won’t pretend to know all the ins and outs of that series.  But, I do know that the fellowship of the rings was about a mission.  It was a calling followed together by a band of misfits and unlikely heroes that desired to do something necessary  and sacrificial no matter the cost.  The bonds formed in this kind of journey transformed all involved.

That is the true fellowship of the brotherhood of believers and I experienced more of that this year.  Even as I write that sentence I want to say more…but it must wait for another time.  It changes one, that kind of fellowship.  Know that.  It is much more than coffee in Styrofoam cups inside a church.

Farewells, Provision, Fellowship.  Rich soil, I think, for the plantings of this next year, 2014.

What themes did you see in your life in 2013?

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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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.

From the Outside…

In August of 2001 we left a huge black trunk just outside the terminal exit in LAX.  That trunk held 70 pounds of items we guessed we might need for our new life in Asia.  When we realized we forgot it, my husband rushed back to the airport and easily reclaimed it with a big sigh of relief.

3 weeks later a midnight phone call from my mom awoke us in Asia.  Buildings collapsing.  Planes grounded.  Chaos.  A world away and half asleep I wondered what was going on.  The fatigue of transition meant that I fell right back to sleep.  In the morning we met with our coworkers and learned more.  We read Psalm 91.  The arrows that fly by day.  The pestilence that stalks in darkness.  The destruction that lays waste at noon.  The words lived.

Some visiting friends checked into a nicer than normal hotel.  We all wanted to watch CNN.  A few hours of coverage gave us enough idea of the seriousness of this act of terror.  War, we knew, followed any such act of violence.

Throughout the year, we encountered the new state of the world.  We heard of close friends going to war yet 9/11 occupied only a few minutes of conversation with our local friends.  We received a new Yemeni student in our language class and his dark stare made me pack up my shorts early.  Rumor had it that other foreign students participated in a huge brawl over an insult delivered about 9/11.  Another rumor related how a Middle Eastern student hung a poster praising the attacks.  But no one wants to wake the dragon so we felt pretty safe.

Upon returning to America 10 months later, I noticed drastic changes.  We deplaned on 4th of July weekend.  Lining the halls to passport control stood dozens of heavily armed guards dressed in black.  I looked up and noticed the sign that welcomed me to the United States.  Travelers donned t-shirts seeming to demand God Bless America.

This was not the America I left.  I didn’t know what to think but I did know that by not experiencing the fear and the terror in the same way, I was different.  Where others dressed in patriotic shirts and wore American flag pins, I had quietly packed away my baseball cap that displayed the American flag.  I retrieved it only on special occasions…like the 4th of July because I love my country.  DSC_0252

I guess I would say that living overseas post 9/11 challenged me to look at nationality and faith while standing outside my earthly home.  I’m still figuring out how it shaped me but in a few areas I know more than I did before 9/11.

This world is not my home.  I am an ambassador on assignment anywhere I live.  And, I long for my true home more than I long for the United States of America…and I long for the US a lot sometimes!

I know, too, that a 70 pound bag left on the curb is no small thing anymore and goodbyes get said barefoot at security because the world is not safe.  It never was.

For those of you overseas during 9/11, how did 9/11 affect you?

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.

I Was Here…

What is it about our names that we feel the need to carve them in things?  Wet concrete.  Bathroom stalls. Trees.  The Luxor temple .  Names etched all over the world prove the reality of our experience and existence.  At least we hope they do.

I carved my name on the world one time.  After my first two years overseas I wandered my campus, the campus where I learned to speak an incredibly difficult language, and remembered the moments of my presence.  I purposely journeyed and recalled first days in class, first friends, and my purpose in undergoing such trying two years.

Towards the end of the journey I used my key to carve my name in a bamboo grove near a favorite meeting spot on campus.  A key is an unwieldy tool for carving a name.  My name etched in a particularly fat bamboo pole stared at me in all its amateur ugly but it stuck in there solidly white in a background of green.  I took no picture of my name but it looked worse than this one.DSC_0128

Carving my name felt permanent.  I know now that bamboo is grass.  Bamboo grows fast.  Super fast.  People cut it down to use as scaffolding or to hang laundry on to dry.  It floors houses because of its eco-friendliness which rests in its ability to replace itself and fast.  Did I say it grew fast?  Bamboo can grow a few feet a day which is why people feel not the least sad to hack it down.  Hardly the kind of media to use when one tries to make a permanent mark in the world.

But bamboo possesses a strength which makes it suitable for many tasks.  Asians love bamboo.  They sleep on it, eat it, eat from it, hang clothes on it, paint on it, paint it, carve it, write poems about it, feed it to pandas, and build walls using it.   If ever a perfect plant existed for such a numerous people, this might be it.  After 12 years in Asia I understand the Asian love for bamboo.

My name long since grew up and out and over that bamboo grove.  My permanent mark proved anything but permanent.  But the task of marking my name on something stays with me.  The fact that I chose bamboo of all things seems significant.

It reminds me of the strength that comes not from being brittle and hard and tough but from growing from a strong network of roots connected to the Source.

I think about the way it grows so fast and hope that I, too, grow in season.

Bamboo sways and whispers and sings.  I hope my life also sings a melody of God’s grace as I live among others.

Have you carved your name on something?  What significance does it have for you?

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.

Me and Marius

I weep every time I see Les Miserables but the part I cry harder in than any other is when Marius remembers his fallen friends. He stands and sings of empty chairs and empty tables. Empty chairs. Empty tables. I’m choking up even as I recall the song.

Too many empty chairs and empty tables. Chairs and tables where friends once sat, where we talked, laughed, dreamed, ate, played games, argued, reconciled. My friends did not die, but many have moved which is a kind of death. It is death to daily life together. Death to easy conversation. Death to a kind of friendship even though the friendship itself is not dead. Death to seeing their faces practically whenever I felt like it.

I feel like Marius these days. A little war torn…the one left and not knowing why. So, so many people come and go in our lives. When I count them, I move from fingers, then to toes, and then I run out of digits to help me. Why us? Why are we left? I know it is not because we are better, more fluent, more adjusted, more spiritual, more capable. No, no, those are not the reason we are still here.

Going back to the café is so hard. Remembering my friends. Remembering the good times. Remembering even the hard times, those times when we did not get along as well as I wanted or they wanted. Times when we disappointed each other. The times we sinned against each other. And also the times when we did it good. When we stood by each other and offered a shoulder to cry on, a heartfelt word of encouragement, a meal, forgiveness, grace. My life is full because of my friendships forged in the heat of battle.  I wouldn’t give it up even as I cry the tears of missing them.

My tears begin to dry up when Marius comes to the part where he talks of the futility of his friends’ deaths. I gulp back my choking and depart from his line of thought. While futility is a part of life, it is not part of the battle I pursue. It is not in vain that we put our lives out there for the miserables of the world. We strived to look down and that is close to God’s heart. It is not futile even if my eye does not see as much progress as I hoped. The cause is worth it. I am not giving my life for nothing.

It is the season of departures and this year they start early and go late.  So, here, now I revisit the café of friendships and cry my tears as I remember times gone by with the hope, too, of good times yet to come.