Hotel Life

Tonight is the ninth night in the third hotel over the past month. Such is not our normal life but, then, I wonder if normal really exists. It is our chosen life.

Yes, I chose this, I remind myself as my son emerges from the connecting room with his nose gushing blood. Did I mention Asian hotels love white duvet covers and sheets? Something about a broad, fluffy white bed drives my kids bonkers with desire to wrestle and jump but tables often get in their way.

Hotel manners must constantly be reviewed in such months as this one. Quiet in the hallways. Avoid pushing the doorbells to other rooms lest a sleepy man open the door on you.

Sometimes we discover that the fire in the lobby is actually an illusion you can stick your hand into. Then we converse long and hard about fire dangers.

New arguments begin about buttons in elevators and key cards to rooms. A confusing rotation ensues and I seem to always be the last to find out but the first to mess it up.

For all the extra stressors of hotel life, I started learning a lesson seven years ago when we spent 3 weeks in a hotel with a 2 year old and a 6 month old. I dreaded it, assured in my heart that boarding the flight for that trip meant entering some level of hell. Instead I discovered that hotel living yields its own sweet fruits.

An afternoon break means we pile on the bed together and watch cartoons in foreign languages. Bed time means scouting out creative places to make pallets. Two year olds and four year olds can share a bed but they do tend to use each other as pillows. We explore and sometimes our hotel hosts an Indian wedding with real Kuwaiti princes who own airplanes.

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Our transient months surely take their toll but today my heart fills with the treasured memories made when I chose to slow down and enjoy our crazy life.

Another day I may write a horror story or ten…we don’t always get connecting rooms…

 

Lost!

20121101-132501.jpg“Mommy! We’re lost!” my son piped up from the back seat. We cruised around previously unexplored sections of our side of town. Our new car made it possible to explore more extensively and I like exploring. As I pondered the intersection I replied, “I’ve never been here before, but we’re not lost.”

How often I feel like him! I sit in the back seat, out of control and my soul is screaming, “I’m lost! I don’t know where I am or how to get home!” I hold no roadmap or sense of direction. I sweat and scramble to make a plan and carve a path in the thicket of life so I know where I stand or how to arrive at a destination, any destination. So I feel secure. I pretend to save myself.

5 years ago a host of friends moved away and I felt abandoned on a road I wanted to abandon, too. I enjoyed the journey before with my friends but now with the space cleared the openness and silence overwhelmed me. The expanse left felt like the valley of the shadow of death to me and I was no happy, contented sheep. Why was I on this road anyway?

I knew little of the shepherd on the next stretch though I learned. By the rod and the staff I learned as I felt poked and prodded through my fears. I learned His voice and His ways more in the coming years. Now, 5 years later I experience the same phenomena, a host of friends moving at the same time.

His peace and His rest reside in green fields and bubbling brooks but before that, and after and all around sometimes, come the valleys of death. I know my weakness and fear. I feel lost and I hear His voice more clearly now echoed in my son’s words.

“You have never been here before but you’re not lost.”

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?

Climbing Past Restlessness

Every so often I travel alone.  I pack my bag with only my things.  Anticipation takes over greater parts of the days leading to my departure.  The expectation of caring only for myself looms on the horizon.  No one to dress but myself.  No one to feed but myself.  No time to eat but when I hunger.  Before the horizon zooms into reality I stock the fridge and imagine what might bring my husband some comfort for the task of all three children, all day, all alone.

Then, I journey.  Traveling alone means stretches of silence interspersed with bursts of speech…to the check-in agent, to passport control, to buy food, to the one who sits beside me.  But more silence accompanies me than usual on journeys alone.  More silence than children talking over each other talking to me.  More than the constant communication that makes home life run, soothes hurt feelings, or delves into deep issues of the heart.

I welcome silence…for a time.  I open books, ponder deep thoughts, fill pages in journals, watch movies.  Then I approach the seeming end of my thoughts or stack of books and my heart grows restless.  Like a mountain to be tackled with the promise of rest on the opposite side, I climb increasingly anxious to summit.

Activity fills most of my days.  Preparing food, giving direction, teaching, answering, asking.  The abrupt halt throws me forward like a passenger into a taut seatbelt.  Responsibilities pause yet I keep moving.  I require longer to slow down.  The mounting rise of restlessness washes over me.  I now know to wait and be still.  God has more for me than restlessness.

Given long enough I overcome the peak and enter the meadow of rest.  True rest.  Allowing inactivity and not labeling it “lazy” or “selfish.”  I see life marching on without my voice when I call home.  I know He values my voice but the knowledge that God does not need me frees me somehow.

I observe more of nature and life around me.  New, quiet thoughts come to me.  I feel lighter.  He upholds all, maintains all, sustains all.  I sustain small pockets of valuable life as He permits and because He sustains me, but He sustains all.

Rest acknowledges God is God.  I am not.  True rest puts me in my place and God in His.  He is Father, I am child again.

What do you learn about God when you rest?  What do you learn about yourself?

When Boundaries Get Crossed

Picture me standing in line for the lady’s room at a coffee shop with my daughter mentally pondering my spiritual growth.  Just a year before at the same shop I’d struggled with impatience.  Women in our host culture seem to take eons in the restroom. Eons.

Maybe its just that personal spaces are few and when privacy comes, it must be enjoyed…for awhile.  Now, look at me waiting patiently! I felt thankful to be in such a place and be able to recognize this growth. I mentally patted myself on the back.

A few minutes later, after stepping in to have our moment, an older women enters the restroom and waits about 2 seconds before she starts pounding on our doors.  Literally, pounding.  The locks rattled, the door shook.  It was a shocker!  She loudly complained of how long we are taking and asks us to get out so she can have her moment.  She continued to grumble and berate us loudly and did not cease to pound.

I know enough language to be sassy.  I can express things I wish I could not.  What proceeded to transpire still fills me with a mixture of pride and shame.  Pride at the fluency and shame at my use of my fluency.  We conversed…ok…spoke loudly…ok…argued.  I suggested she find other places to have her moment.  She asked me to show her one.  I replied I could not do that at this moment.  She continued to loudly complain and urge me to hurry up.  I offered to learn from her vast experience about how best to do that.  And it went on. It was a charged conversation.

Ten minutes later when the adrenaline dissipated in my veins, I doubled over in hysterical laughter at the absurdity of what transpired in that restroom. To have someone literally try their level best to evict you from a bathroom stall, well, it just crosses a boundary.  Apparently, it’s a boundary I did not want crossed.  Isn’t that how it is with boundaries?  We realize their importance to us when they are crossed.

I’ve heard it called “Hulking Out”, what I did.  It’s not pleasant, attractive, or in the slightest bit useful.  I had to explain and apologize to my daughter.  Actual repentance in my heart occurred later that day.  I realized just how short my fuse can be…so very short…which humbled me.  All that pride of how I learned so much patience?  Gone. Back to square one, I stood there with a truer picture of who I was and it was not who I wanted to be!  I hulked out, tried to force my right and win by argument…by power. It’s not the first time in my life that I’ve hulked out.

A crossed boundary often kicks in my survival instincts. I try on being dangerous. But that’s not the dangerous God wants for me.  His power came in His laying aside His life and rights for others…not claiming them for Himself.  He gave everything.  Am I willing to forgo survival?  To pass on using my strength which is no strength at all?  To be truly dangerous God’s way is to be the right kind of dangerous.

I think being dangerous for God’s kingdom that day would have been using my 10 minutes of language ability on my captive audience toward a much different end than protecting my right to a bathroom stall!

Old Chickens

My name in Chinese sounds like “I love you” in some dialects.  Imagine me standing in an apartment helping negotiate a rental contract and introducing myself.  Picture the surprised expression on the landlords face as he replies, startled, “you love me?”  Why didn’t I change my name at that point?  I have no idea.  I’d already picked it?  I knew how to write it in characters?  I’m stubborn.

Learning a new language means becoming a child again.  It means people laughing at you for the cute ways you say things, for the mistakes you make.  People don’t understand even when you’re sure you say it right.  I become a two-year old with a temper tantrum as I try to ask for food to feed myself and no one understands me.  I use my hands and face to express what I cannot with my words.  It’s humbling.

It’s also funny.  Fast forward 11 years and you have me now.  I hate sharing that I’ve lived here 11 years when people ask me.  The admiration for my language abilities fades into the truth that after 11 years I should be more fluent!  Sometimes I muddy the truth…ok, I mislead people…ok, I repent from my lying…and share only how long I’ve lived in this city to avoid the faded admiration.

But, recently I made a pretty funny foible and it brought a smile to a sad face.  I didn’t orchestrate it, I was asked if I understood something and I shared what I thought I’d heard, “something about old chickens” I said.  No, it was something totally not about old chickens but the damage, or the benefit, had already been done.  A sad face smiled and my foolish misunderstanding brought some heavy things into a little perspective.

The “Old Chickens Incident” reminded me afresh to embrace the childlike nature of being a continual learner.  To laugh at myself, to share what I don’t understand instead of giving the fluent impression, to be weak and let God be strong.

Fluency would be awesome but He sure does show me a lot in the areas I lack fluency.

How does God used your lack of “fluency” to show you more about Himself?