High Places

Our bus roared up the side of the mountain as the announcer introduced our tour. The buses, he informed us, were specially designed for the steep inclines and sharp descents. As the intercom spoke calmly to us, telling us some history, the bus navigated turns with terrifying familiarity up a very winding road.

My palms began to sweat as I glanced at quaint villages shrinking below me. My stomach dropped and that familiar feeling of fear invaded. I believe I felt my adrenal gland squirt out all its adrenaline.

I’m not so good on the high places.

My children noticed my growing anxiety and jumped at the opportunity to claim superior courage. They were fearless, mom was not. They reminded me that clutching the armrest provided absolutely no help if the bus left the road and tumbled down the mountain. We were all goners.

Yes (tightly), I know!

They estimated how far we would roll and why we would need the tool hung up on the side of the bus to break the glass since, of course, there would be no survivors. They deduced the tool was there to calm the passengers on the ride.

Thank you for pointing that out. Good job on the deductive reasoning, children.

I became the focus of the ride as they did their best to exacerbate my fear and have some fun. We finally came to the top and the kids ran to the open fence that any large adult could slip through to see the views of the valley way, way, way below. They turned back with sly grins to wait for my inevitable, uncontrollable, completely expected, tense reminder.

Do not climb the fence!

It took me awhile to adjust to the high places. My view was initially limited because it was mainly the ground in front of my feet. By sheer will, I looked out tentatively. The villages below so tiny. The fences so non-existent. The air that stretched out before me when there should be hard ground.

I knew I was missing out on enjoying the spectacular sights because of my fear. Fear is so overpowering and irrational, it steals the moment. I didn’t want to miss out on this moment. The beauty, the grandeur, the awe of the high places.

I had a choice of whether I was going to embrace the high places with all their danger and beauty. My memories could consist of dirt and rocks below me, or vast distances of beauty before me.

When I did start looking farther out, I saw deep blue shimmering lakes nestled between mountains. Green and yellow patchwork fields rolled between quaint cottages. Blue skies stretched far with white clouds and jutting grey mountains meeting.

It was spectacular.img_7517

My husband and I agreed that the kids needed him to fully enjoy climbing the rocks. I wandered the high places, a bit farther back from the edge than some, reflecting on that book I love, Hinds Feet on High Places.

The ascents to the high places with God are terrifying. Medical issues suddenly come to light, conflicts arise, disasters happen and we’re on a red bus screaming up to the high places where we are forced to trust Him or be miserable.

No one wishes for these things. On those ascents, I often live in the very immediate circumstance rather than lift my eyes up and out to look at the expanse of His creation, the beauty and the majesty.

After many ascents, I know the views from the top with the experience of His faithfulness on the way up, they are not to be traded. When I clutch the armrests of life, thinking I can save myself, the control I exert ends up controlling me.

The trip down the mountain in the special red bus was better. I looked out the window and enjoyed the views. My palms didn’t leave as much of a slimy residue on the armrests. The kids gave up their antics as they saw mom had finally gotten a grip on reality.

I suspect surrender always involves a battle, a reckoning, and a white flag. My regrets looking back on those ascents are that I didn’t acknowledge God’s sovereignty sooner.

I might have experienced more freedom and seen more of His wonder had I surrendered earlier.

Stories Stir the Soul

We landed back in the U.S. late at night, like always. What was not like always was that my brother and his family, who normally reside in Europe, were also in the U.S. Christmas in the U.S. was the goal. All of us. Together. Our trip was to last a month.

Ha. It lasted about 3 or 4 months. A blur of doctor appointments, eye surgery, and stress.

In the late night hours of collapsing back in to bed after a day of it, whatever it was that day, I cracked the pages of a book with a black cover and a bird on the front. I was transported to another world and lost all track of time. It only took me a few days to finish the Hunger Games.

I was enthralled with the story Suzanne Collins wove, reportedly coming up with the idea as she toggled between reality TV survival shows and war coverage. That made sense to me during our re-entry. Her story captured my mind in a period of my life when it was hard to switch off all the details surrounding a one month trip turned 3 month medical leave.

Our daughter wore glasses from the age of 3 1/2 after she woke up one morning with one eye looking directly at her nose. We went to the ER and then a opthalmologist. We patched, we saw doctors, and it was working.

Until it wasn’t working. I hadn’t really noticed how her eyes drifted during our extended time away from the US and US doctors. Looking at pictures now is painful because it is so obvious. But, I didn’t know then.

In Asia, surgery was not as successful so not suggested as an option by the doctors we visited. When our doctor in the US saw us for a routine check up about a week after we landed, he was blunt. Surgery. In a month or two. We left shocked trying to figure out if our friend would let us extend our stay by, oh say, a few months! He did, because he is incredibly generous.

Then, a routine check up for our son got us a 2 day turn around follow-up with a pulmonologist. That’s usually not a good sign. Didn’t expect that or the cystic fibrosis test he did a little while later. It came back negative. Our nerves were a bit shot and our management of his asthma revealed we needed to learn much more. Again, there was a bit of a difference between Asian (manage symptoms) and American (slam that asthma to the ground!) methods.

Then, our youngest kept getting ear infection after ear infection until he got a series of three high-powered and very painful antibiotic shots. He would glow when he was done, our pediatrician told us. He didn’t really glow, but it was a very long time before he got sick again. His persistent baby acne disappeared.

The Hunger Games books were my series in all this, an escape and also an explanation for a rough bout of cross cultural living problems.  I identified with Katniss, feeling disoriented in a world where everyone seemed tatted, colored, or highly styled. Asia was a grey district. America felt like the Capitol.

I’ve read the series through another time or too and still refer to it when I talk about re-entry issues.

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Our shelves contain a dozen or so books on crossing cultures, raising third culture kids, and re-entry. They directly address great things and I refer to them and learn from them. We own many stellar books on spiritual growth and parenting kids too. I read them and recommend them.

But, my secret, which is now not so secret, is a good story. Good fiction, allegory, or memoir makes me feel and discover truth in a way a direct dealing just can’t. Stories let us discover ourselves through others. A good allegory like Hinds Feet on Hind Places can pull together half a dozen spiritual truths lurking in the sidelines of my conscious mind and connect my emotions too.

I just finished a weird selection even for me, Barbarian Days: A Surfing Life by William Finnegan. It’s cool. I feel cooler because I read it. My vocabulary now holds the option of some surf jargon if I want to look like a complete idiot. I still don’t understand surfing.

img_6782But the book was about surfing as much as it was about life, writing, and facing ourselves. The waves he described and his experience with them transcend surfing. It was a fascinatingly well written memoir and got me motivated to keep living my life and keep writing.

Not bad for a story. Now I need to find another one. My bedside table is never empty, but it doesn’t always have a truly good book to turn to when the sun goes down and that’s a pity.

 

 

Waste not…

DSC_0141Buried in my blog drafts from our life in East Asia 4 years ago…

Our family is reading Farmer Boy right now as our bedtime story.  It makes me feel a lot better about the minimal chores I expect my children to accomplish.  They understand their charmed life and gain vision on all they really can do!

We all listen with rapt attention to the descriptions of life before electricity, refrigeration, and machinery.  Clothes are precious because the yarn comes from sheep shorn on your own farm, wool spun by diligent hands, made into fabric and sewn by expert fingers.  A rip in clothing is no excuse to throw it away, mending is a crucial skill.

The food is fascinating too.  My kids salivate when Laura Ingalls tells of donuts, oatmeal, and apple pie for breakfast…all in one day!  Life on the farm seems like an adventure especially when you get your own oxen.  Little do they know, they observe daily a life similar to the one described in Farmer Boy.

We are city folk who live in the midst of an agrarian society.  We see strange things that are only strange because we are 2 generations removed from the farm.

Yellow millet sometimes covers the medians of roads right up to the solid white line. One time we drove over some crops laid on the road. The cars driving over beat out the grain.

Vegetables like the one pictured lay out to dry in odd places along fence posts, on house roofs, anywhere there is sun really.  Pickled vegetables make up an important part of the diet. I ate a wonderful dish of dried green beans the other day.

Many homes still don’t own refrigerators in the countryside or if they do they are unplugged when someone deems it frivolous to be on.  Lamps turned on inside a house in the daytime is an anomaly and deemed quite wasteful. A neighbor was seriously perplexed one day to see our whole family playing outside and our lights on in our apartment.

Cars rarely carry only one person and most people ride bikes or use electric bikes. They, too, often hold multiple people. Frankly, bikes are generally easier to use to get around the neighborhood than cars.

The average household trash can is the size of one normally found in an American bathroom.  It is emptied once a day and mostly contains vegetable peels. Ironically, while hosting many of the world’s worst polluted cities, the average citizen produces very little waste.

A few days before Thanksgiving, my friends began inquiring if anyone was going to use the turkey carcass after our meal. She, of course, was the lucky winner. As our friends divided up the leftovers from Thanksgiving including the turkey carcass (for porridge), the broth from the turkey (for noodles), and the side dishes (to eat the next day), I admired their skill in frugality.

I often choose convenience over limiting waste. I don’t fall far from my American heritage even after more than a decade overseas.

There is much to admire in the resourcefulness needed to live a life of such little waste and such thankfulness for what is provided from God.

Happy Thanksgiving!

 

Wilderness Nurtures the Soul

We woke up in succession, five of us in one hotel room. Everyone slept on a real mattress for once. Motels in the US seem to understand families with more than one child.

Our motel perched on the edge of the Everglades and the Keys in South Florida. I was ready to go see, my kids wanted to watch Discovery channel. They grumped and groused as we forced them out of the hotel and stuffed them in the car. We meandered down to Everglades National Park and took in the strange beauty of the marshes. With so many signs pointing out the various wildlife in the area, I stumbled across this one./home/wpcom/public_html/wp-content/blogs.dir/330/30512586/files/2015/01/img_0835.jpg

Wilderness nurtures the human soul. It was listed as one of the reasons to preserve wildlife. My heart and soul resonates with this statement. Wilderness nurtures my soul. Wilderness is quiet and I hear rustling and chirping that normally fades into the background of hustle and bustle. Wilderness leads me to contemplate my size. I am small yet unique and significant. Wilderness opens my eyes to new creatures and the wonder of the expansive creativity of a creative God. Made in His image, I also long to create. Wilderness feeds my soul.

I noticed it fed my children’s’ souls too. Discovering animals and plants delighted them. Alligators hiding in marshes. Birds floating in from far away. Manatees bubbling up to the surface with their speckled skin and mysterious shape. Fish rushing after food. Birds dipping down deep for a meal. Delighted they took it all in to their soul.IMG_0812

We are still searching for our way in America. At times it feels like a wilderness. At times it feels like a familiar home. We are always learning, always adjusting.

This was our first solo family foray into vacations in America. We’re learning that too. I think we learned we are a national park kind of family.

We won some, we lost some on this vacation. It wasn’t all smooth but I’m thankful for the reminder that wilderness nurtures my soul.

Lessons from the Breakfast Buffet

I took on the job of teaching the kids how to maximize the breakfast buffet. We are on vacation and my reasoning runs like this: well-stuffed children will not need a large lunch thus saving time and energy and money. We can just snack our way to dinner. A perfect vacation plan for me, a mom.20140112-120836.jpg

Except that the kids don’t know how to overeat. They naturally stop when satisfied! Unlike me, their parent, my children enjoy their most tasty treats on the buffet and then they do this weird thing…they stop. I get a few more bites in them but it is a challenge neither of us enjoys.

I, however, make sure I get the best of the buffet meaning that I eat the most delectable items. Cereal? That is cheap. Eggs Benedict? More please. I strategize to make sure I squeeze out the most from my experience before my stomach fills to the point of bursting.

Who enjoyed the feast more though? Me who got the most out of it? Or the kids who freely enjoyed it?

Ok. Ink on paper makes it clear. Of course they enjoyed it more! And I see how I miss out when I try to squeeze the last drop of value out of experiences like buffet breakfasts. Instead of taking in the delight of eating a meal I did not shop for, cook, or need to clean up I expend that energy trying to force a maximum perceived benefit. Striving after the wind.

I watch my kids receive with joy and I see what I want to become–an open receptor of these wonderful experiences. I want to receive with thanks what the Lord brings. I want to enjoy without the pressure of enjoying it the most. The most and the best add pressure and a drive that blocks my receptors. The most and the best increasingly seem like a trap that inhibits being in the moment and giving thanks for the gifts He gives.

I continue to decompress here on vacation. Maybe this realization is part of the casting off of the driven-ness I fall into in daily life. I do recognize this striving after the wind in more places than the breakfast buffet on vacation and I grieve what I missed.

A heart of gratitude and thankfulness for what is. Enjoyment of the moment. A settled confidence that another day will come with more to receive from the Great Gift Giver.

That’s a lot to miss out on. It is worth way more than a well-played breakfast buffet.

What blocks your ability to receive freely from the Lord?

 

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?

Things Lost

After 12 years of constant interaction, my passport is a familiar sight. Until a few weeks ago that familiarity lulled me into forgetting the importance of my proof of identity and my permission slip stuck inside.20130719-135640.jpg

My husband’s passport went missing and the hoops we jump through right now to get a new one…well…let’s just say we planned to do other things with our summer. Instead he looks forward to multiple days carrying papers around that prove his identity so he can one day receive back official proof of his citizenship and permission to live in a foreign country. Most of the process involves just showing up at the right place with the right paperwork so the official with the big red stamp gets the pleasure of bringing it down with force on the properly filled out forms.

Some things go missing and I give them up quickly as lost. Other things I turn the house upside down for like those gold earrings I misplaced for a time. When I lose things I closely retrace my steps in my head. We lost a fancy camera at the airport once and I didn’t notice for a week. I gave it up for lost with a sad heart but still checked when I took another flight that next week. I received it back from lost and found with tears! Some things come back.

But the passport never came back. We looked and looked.  We asked.  People helped us.  We reluctantly returned home.  Then we called from home.  Then he went back to look himself.  Security officers showed him the surveillance video and he discovered why we never found it.  Someone took it off the floor where it dropped minutes after it landed.  A man ignorant of its importance or purpose.  A man who stood to gain nothing from his theft while it costs us much.  Our hope that it slid under a trash can vanished.  We lived through the time to search and entered the time to give up for lost.

Trading stories this past week with friends about things lost brought a smile to my heart as I saw more clearly.  In searching, in wading through bureaucracy, in looking for things lost I share in the things of the Lord just a bit.  An understanding enters my heart.  He searches too.  He searches for people…he seeks to give a regal identity to the lost.  He searched for me.

I do long for the day when passports and visas and proof of citizenship fade away but for now I remind myself of the importance of contemplating things lost as I fill out yet another form or look up yet another important address.

He searches for the lost.