Tuesday, November 30, 2010
Thursday, November 18, 2010
Friday, November 12, 2010
(We leave for America early on Tuesday morning. Thank you for praying us off the ground, into the air, across the ocean, and into many of your homes over the next two months. We love you all, in every corner of the world, and are so thankful for your prayers. Receive Grace upon Grace this Christmastime!)
Three birthdays in a months' space means either three separate celebrations or one big blow-out. We opted for the blow-out. (Here, blow-outs are a regular occurrence. It’s foreign to them that I am giving my first-- ever!)
Not just for them to say Happy Birthday to us, but for us to say Thank You to them, I cook 9 hours with my helper on a Saturday. 4 pans of pizza, 80 hamburger patties, 5 whole chickens, 2.5 kg (6 lbs) of rice, a soup pot of potato salad, 2 birthday cakes, a double batch of apple cupcakes... We stir and fry and mix and bake and we laugh and talk and share bits of ourselves. Her long-awaited pregnancy. Me anticipating seeing my mother. The way her adopted son sleeps with his hand on her face. My dread of traveling with Ben at the stage he's in. Our joy in our children. Our frustrations with mothering.
And I think, if for nothing else than this, all this work is worth it-- to have a reason to spend 9 hours with one of my best friends, to feel this language in my mouth for this many hours together, to be so engrossed I can't emerge back out into English for James when he comes home for lunch, and so I just carry on speaking local even to him. We three laugh together then, in the kitchen smelling of baking and chickens and frying meat. And I am happy, though my back hurts and my feet hurt and my arms ache from stirring-- there will be enough, I think. There has to be. There is always more than enough.
And Sunday runs smooth, the minutes flying fast, and friends come. 10 children, 14 men and women, three ethnicities. All of them threads in this community, weaving themselves into our home, our children, our lives, weaving us in with them. And courses are served, one atop the other, and everyone eats as much as they can hold, and we Westerners “Happy Birthday” the cakes out quick to the tables before our guests think it’s the end, and we cut and scoop ice cream quick to 25 people…
And I think to say something profound before they go, some God-centered speech about how He provides for all our needs, how He’s provided for us through them… and even though I waxed eloquent in my mind, on the day amidst balloons and cut-the-cake cake and remember-to-pour-more-tea and keep saying “Take! Eat! Eat more!” -- eloquent words don’t come, and what comes instead is a bumbled smiling “thank you for welcoming us here and looking after us so well, us and our children, how can we thank you enough.” God isn’t mentioned, goody bags are handed out, noise-makers commence, the room is filled with shouting, the swift moment passes.
A party that was just a party, like any old party. All that work, and the heart of the moment missed? And I am filled with regret-- despite the outward success of Saturday’s 9-hour preparations and everyone leaving full and satisfied and no major cultural faux-pas-- that I didn’t seize the moment, and God was nowhere Spoken in the midst.
But I was, He whispers to me later, as I’m journaling, writing down the statistics, chronicling my own prowess for myself-- the most people I’ve ever cooked and planned for, and there was more than enough…. More than enough. I was there. In your home. I live here too, remember? I was there in you, in your smile, in James’ servant heart, in all the planning, in your efforts to lay the table like they do, make salads and food they would like… none of that is lost on the hearts I am drawing. All of it speaks of Me.
And I think, slowly, maybe He is right. Of course He’s always right, but my perfectionism won’t let go of those words lost. The opportunity to speak Truth slipped by, untaken.
But I am the Word, he whispers, made flesh. And made flesh again-- in you.
And the words I spoke to my helper, the words I spoke in tears of genuine joy and genuine pain over two lives already lost in her womb, two stillborn children delivered too early-- the words I spoke as I prayed over her unborn baby the moment after she told me-- maybe it’s those words, those private, personal, friendship words that matter more than party, speech words. Maybe the party is just the door into the deeper personal moments. And maybe it’s those moments where the words will be received and heard, and maybe the party was just that-- a Party, without words. No words necessary. All by itself, it’s an echo of the Supper of the Lamb.
(This culture lays a shining bridge to the Gospel in the way they show hospitality and the way lay their tables. So loaded with little plates of delicacies, not a centimeter of tablecloth is left showing. Each person with their own place setting, carefully counted out to the number of guests invited, each person with exactly the same amount of grace-- I mean goodies. The Invitation of Grace is equal to all, equally extended, equally rich, equally glorious. And the Table, already laid, stands waiting.)
Food served, cake cut, party over, friends blessed and full, they leave with bags of grace-- I mean goodies-- each promising to have us over before we leave. After the door closes behind the last guest and my helper and I turn to the cleaning up, I see the pile of presents in the hall, and I am humbled by once-again generosity we can’t outgive.
Grace upon grace from those we’re here to show grace to.
A neighbor I’ve hardly spent time with leaves sweaters for both boys and an entire 7-piece glassware set-- for me! I’m the only one not having a birthday! And I turn the bowls over in my hands, regretting the time not spent with her, the words not spoken.
A man who works for us who came on his own, without wife or kids, leaves a huge truck for William, big enough almost to ride on, and William is overjoyed. Grace upon grace.
And I think again of the words not spoken, but my heart is at peace. Sometimes, here, in this place, they have learned how to speak without words. And even though there are vestiges of politeness and things they do just because culture says they have to, there are nonetheless gleams of grace, above and beyond. Generosity to this family of strangers, sojourners who may never come back-- showered with love regardless. We come desiring to do the showering, and we leave feeling the most blessed of all. Grace upon grace.
Why is it, in doing God’s will, the more we give, the more we receive?
“For of His fullness we all have received, and grace upon grace.”
Friday, October 15, 2010
Monday, September 20, 2010
Past the brown, through the viscous, annoying brown, joy is in the center. The precious Center of life, in the Presence that fills each 60 seconds with Reality. True Reality. Mercy, lovingkindness, compassion. He is filling the moments, each moment, with Himself; it remains for me to press through and find Him, see Him, savor Him, golden in the midst.
My good friend and mentor Ann says the way to press through is to count gifts. All the time, without ceasing, count gifts. Big, small, insignificant—count, list, enumerate, recite. As you breathe, count.
And so, I count gifts:
#152 – 177 of the endless gifts
(and there are so many more that don’t get posted…)
5 golden minutes
dishes to eat from
hot water and soap and a sink to wash them in
two precious boys – wealth untold
a conscientious, caring husband
the chance to live in this place
an arm around my waist
our current house, lived-in and lovely
clothes to wear
a washer to wash them in so I don’t have to do it by hand, like most of my friends here
Internet of some kind
my son in his pajamas, twirling our beach ball globe
this journal open to record the gifts
the discipline of thankfulness, and
how it pulls my heart out of the doldrums
the way thankfulness bubbles up and overflows into Joy
Will singing out of the blue, “Chim-chiminey, chim-chiminey, chim-chim-cheroo,” from the indomitable Mary Poppins...
Will saying, upon first viewing my latest local acquisition (a polyester blue-and-teal 60s tie-died number), “Dat is your fwimming suit?”
a perfect afternoon today
visiting three different sets of friends,
with two perfectly behaved sons who made me so proud with their language and their smiles and thank yous…
and in the evening a thoughtful visit to me from my best friend here, who I’ve missed all week, who came bearing gifts of food and a willingness to help me sew a project for my music class,
and just as she’s arriving, her sweet daughter calls me from the city (where she’s gone for her senior year of high school), and we talk in English while her mother listens, rapt, and proud…
And after the mother leaves I call the daughter back, and we talk, and she says, “I was so sad today, so sad, and the only person I wanted to call is you… I don’t know what’s wrong with me… I think it’s because it’s turning to fall and my heart always sinks with the change of seasons… and all I want to do is be quiet and think by myself… “
I ask if she has a journal to write down her thoughts, and she says no, but she writes poetry, so I tell her I do too, and that I write down my prayers so I can look back and see how God has answered. And after a pause, I tell her that God brings seasons into our lives, heavier seasons, so He can grow our character and make us depend on Him. And I think about my own growing season of mothering, maturing, patiently waiting for fruit in all areas. And I tell her about “senioritis”, American slang, and how it means your heart is already on to the next thing and impatient to be done with now. And she laughs, and agrees, yes, that’s her.
And I tell her I will pray for her, that God will give her peace in her heart, and give her a love for her studies, and give her patience. She doesn’t know “patience” in English, and so I explain, “it means waiting, without being anxious.” She understands, and says yes, that’s what I need. And I tell her I will pray for sweet dreams and rest tonight.
In a year of friendship, our first real conversation.
And I think, today began with awful words and sad, angry hearts, attacks from our enemy and sickness and doldrums… and it ended in glory. In joy. Pressed through, into joy. And my heart is full to running over, and I know why I’m here.
And I resolve, by His grace: to press through,
and keep pressing through
Thursday, September 16, 2010
Right now, this moment, I’m feeling completely different about that same next-door neighbor I just wrote about yesterday. I’m trying very hard to stay gracious in my heart, and not succeeding. Isn’t that just the way? God tests our love is always, usually right after it emerges. Will you still love this new mother of yours, He asks, even if it’s her relatives who turn you out of “your” house?
We just barely woke up from much-needed naps, and someone is banging on our gate, and banging on our window (the window to Ben’s room—what if he’d still been sleeping!?!?) And I’m right in the middle of changing his poopy diaper, but I leave him lying on the mat, praying he doesn’t roll over, to run to his window and say, “I’m coming, I’m coming, I’m just cleaning my son!”
When I finally make it outside and open our gate (still in my pyjamas—we haven’t gone out today, recovering from a sick night), there stands my neighbor and her daughter, and behind them two little neighborhood girls inviting themselves over, and behind them the husbands… As soon as I open the gate, they all press past me, like they’re going to the circus.
With no preamble my neighbor says, “They’re selling the house, right?” This in present tense, as though there’s a big “For Sale” sign on our gate. (This from my new “mother”, as chilly and reserved and matter-of-fact as ever, tea at her house notwithstanding. Now I think maybe she was just being polite? Just humoring the foreigners, who won’t be here that long anyway?)
“Not til after next June,” I say, very firmly, as they stand not looking at me, looking around with the disconnected air of real-estate agents. “Our contract is until next June. We aren’t moving until then.”
“Uhhh”—the Central Asian noncommittal grunt-chinthrust. “She said they were selling.”
“Not til June, our contract is til June,” I repeat, even more firmly. “We love this house,” I add, a bit desperately. “We don’t want to move—where else will we go? We’re not leaving Central Asia, we’re staying here…”
But she’s not listening. She’s already pressed past me into the house, uninvited. And now she’s inspecting, her impassive-faced daughter right behind.
“Kitchen,” the mother points out, under her breath, playing the tour guide even though she’s never been inside our house either (this, I do think of with a pang of shame—I’ve just been in her house, but she hasn’t been in ours—who’s fault is that, after a whole year?)
I’m quick to add (possessively, desperately, clinging to something), “But everything in the kitchen belongs to us, and we’re taking it with us when we leave….”
I watch, helpless, as they finish their whistle-stop tour of the rooms, glancing around at this, at that… I feel sick. This is only the beginning.
“Because we’ve become friends,” our landlords said, ever-so-graciously (feel the sarcasm?), “we’ll honor our contract with you.”
Such is life in Central Asia. Contracts mean nothing, relationships mean everything. Well, most of the time. New, tenuous relationships like ours with our landlords could mean nothing at all when push comes to shove, contract or not. If an interested party wants this house, and our landlords are in enough of a hurry, they could force us out by Christmas. Or sooner. It’s a possibility that turns my stomach.
We might as well be living in a tent.
Oh wait. We are living in a tent.
The reason my stomach is churning is that this exact scenario just happened to some friends of ours. Their landlord told them he was planning to sell their apartment, and when they requested at least a month’s notice he obligingly agreed. Then, he calmly sold the apartment out from under them without telling them, and it wasn’t until the new owner showed up at their door, several weeks ahead of schedule, demanding they move out by 3:00pm the next day, that they discovered what had happened. And all the justified ranting and raving in the world and calling the former owner did no good—it merely bought them until 6:00, instead of 3:00. How generous. Best of all, the new owner lived several hours away, so their former landlord had to have known ahead of time that he was coming, but never bothered to call and tell them. How thoughtful.
Is this normal, I ask myself? Do all Central Asians deal like this with each other, or just with the poor hapless foreigners that happen to stumble into their midst? How can this be normal? To my translation, it’s a complete lack of common courtesy. But is that how they see it? Probably not… to them, I think it’s just normal life. They’re ready to pack up and move at a moment’s notice; they hardly own anything anyway. They’ve been nomads for centuries—it’s in their blood. It’s just this blasted Western penchant for control and permanence that gets me into trouble, and convinces me I have rights, and I should complain and get them enforced. People over here don’t think that way. They aren’t under any delusions about having rights—the people who control things are the ones who have money and position.
So, our house is not our own. And neither, actually, is anything else in my life. I just like to think I own things because it makes me feel safe and secure. Much as I’d like to resent my neighbors for waltzing in and taking stock of my personal surroundings (as my sister once said, it felt kind of like stepping out of the shower in a cloud of steam and seeing a stranger standing right there), I can feel my resentment draining away… this is just how things are done.
But my stomach is still churning because I’m still not used to this. I don’t know if I ever will be. It always throws me, this impermanence, this total lack of control. It’s constantly hard, constantly sickening as a mother to have no permanence to offer your kids, no guarantee we’ll be allowed to stay in this house when we get back from the States in January… no guarantees of anything.
It’s constantly hard that we’ve only lived in this wonderful house with the wonderful yard a total of about 9 months, and that is the longest William has lived anywhere in his entire 3 years of life.
Oh God, really? Where will we find another house in this town with a bathroom like this? I’m ready to get ready to move next June—but not next week! And I’m definitely not ready for a constant stream of callous Central Asians wandering through my private domain, my retreat in this exhausting setting, the place we escape and rest and rejuvenate… this place that, as I was just reminded so graphically, does not. Belong. To. Us.
“For we know that if the tent, which is our earthly home, is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For in this tent we grown, longing to put on our heavenly dwelling, if indeed by putting it on we may not be found naked. For while we are still in this tent, we groan, being burdened—not that we would be unclothed, but that we would be further clothed, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life (emphasis mine).” (2 Cor 5:1-4)
Press through email difficulties, crummy internet, coughs, runny noses, projectile vomiting, bad tempers, SIN, rats in the walls (?!?), sleepless nights, discouragement, power outages, interruptions…
Press through into joy.
This morning, after a really rough night, I heard my own voice, as though from far away, telling Will, “We need Jesus in our hearts, because Jesus is always wonderful, Will. He’s never sick or cranky or tired, like we are—he’s always wonderful.” And a song floats to mind and I sing, with forced cheerfulness, this song my Grandma used to sing (my Grandma who’s with Jesus now, this very minute):
“Jesus wants me for a sunbeam, to shine for Him each day…”
And I think Will’s not listening, until a few minutes later I hear him singing softly to himself, “A sunbeam, a sunbeam…”
and I smile, and, listening, I feel a bit more like a sunbeam myself… Obedient words to mother my son produce fruit in my own heart.
Some days life is just this brown, viscous stuff that slows me down, smears my lenses, smothers my joy in a barrage of tiny annoyances that thicken and swirl and drag me down into brown, melancholic, depressed, lack-luster living.
Press through to find that place of joy, shining through the viscous, gleaming gold through brown. At the center is always Joy shining golden, always Jesus, Who is always wonderful.
Press through into love.
Press through the every-day-ness, the tiredness, the aching muscles, the colds and bad tempers, the flagging spirits and interruptions, into real love for my neighbors, my precious boys, my precious husband, my precious Jesus.
Press through to arrive at moments like yesterday, when my reserved, elderly neighbor pulled me into her house for the first time in the whole year we’ve shared a fence. One arm around my waist, she pulled me through their gate, slightly awkward but determined… pulled me in, further in, through the yard, around to the back door and up the steps, leaving me standing empty-handed and awkward in her entry way, me protesting politely… returned with a plastic bag bursting with holiday goodies from their three-day feast… pressed it on me, smiling: “For your children,” this she said dismissively, brushed off the kindness as though it was nothing, instead of the fruit of a whole year.
And we walked back out to the street together, my arm around her shoulders this time. I leaned over impulsively and kissed her wrinkled temple, watched for her rare smile, and when it broke over her face, I said I don’t have a mother here, and would she be my mother here? And her smile widened more, eyes crinkling, and she laughed her sparse laugh, quietly pleased, embarrassed, and hugged me to her again as we walked back to her gate, invited me for tea tomorrow…
And I think of her expensive vegetables I’ve bought almost daily for a year, and her chilliness when we first arrived, the rarity of her smile, and the way she’s warmed to my children and my stumbling, laughing attempts at language-learning, and of the day I found out her birthday, and how Jesus reminded me to bring birthday cake and a gift on the day… and I mull over these precious 5 glowing minutes (for that’s all it’s taken just now to let me into her life, into her home)
—5 glowing minutes, the best minutes of yesterday.
Press through into love, for out of love springs joy. Glowing, real, lasting joy.
Wednesday, September 15, 2010
Isn’t God always that way? Doesn’t He make a habit of answering “above and beyond all we could ask…”?
Thankfully my tutor's mom kept her promise to come and help, although she was 20 minutes late and one of the kids arrived 15 minutes early! So then I had to figure out what to do with this little girl until other kids came (and since it was the first class I wasn’t even sure there were other kids coming…). And she’s been to our house before so she immediately wanted to play with Will’s toys, and threw a sulk when I said “not today”… they eventually wandered outside to play for a few minutes, and after my helper arrived we waited another 10 or so minutes to see if any more kids would come, and I thought, Well, I did say it would be worth all the planning even if just one kid shows up, and here she is!
("Twinke, twinke"? Honestly. We narrowly escaped singing about American junk food the first day!)
So we went in and started class with me, my boys, my helper, this little girl and her teenage sister who brought her. Before we had gotten through the first couple songs, the little girl’s grandmother arrived with her little brother, bearing a bunch of garden flowers and a bag of pears for me! She was the only one who thought to do that—one more thing I like about her. (She looks you in the eye like she’s got nothing to lose. And so she hasn’t— one of 7 siblings, never married, in her 60s, had a solid career of 40 years as a pediatric nurse, adopted a son and now has grandchildren, and is also bringing up her teenage niece, the daughter of a good-for-nothing sister. She’s different. I really like knowing her.)
And then, shortly after she arrived, my house helper and her 3-yr-old came in, bringing their neighbor with her 3-yr-old daughter, who I’ve never even met! Bless her heart, the neighbor looked none too sure of herself and probably hadn’t the faintest idea what to expect of this mysterious kids’ music class at the foreigner’s house…
By this time we were about a third of the way through my plan, so we backed up a bit and included them and I finished my plan and sang the Goodbye song, and the latecomers said, half-jokingly—“What!? That’s it?” Which made me feel good—at least they were having fun! So I sat and took down their names and put on some music for the kids to play, and pulled out the Rainbow Ring again, and someone found the instrument box… and they stayed until close to 6:00!! So if the goal is building relationships, I definitely think that’s going to happen. These people come late and stay late. Good to know.
Praise the Lord for 4 local kids for the first class, and the promise of potentially 2 more next week… with my kids that makes 8, a really good size! More than I’d hoped for. Like I said…
“…more than we could ask or imagine.” Silly me.
“The only prerequisite [God asks of us] is our complete inadequacy.”
– encouragement from my sweet friend, Mary McCulloch
Tuesday, September 14, 2010
Saturday, August 14, 2010
Except that I am writing this today—Tuesday. (and posting on Friday!) I’m counting Monday's gifts on Tuesday because yesterday was a blur of fussy baby and tired foggy brain—and not a very joyful Monday at all… have I missed the point by posting ‘late’?
Help me, Jesus, to count as they come, so my joy-tank is always filling.
#124-151 of the endless gifts, and the ways I’m trying to stay full of JOY:
My diligent house helper;
a clean house despite a fussy baby and belligerent toddler (if it had been up to me, housework would’ve been a distant pipe dream…)
Teething gel and
a gift of Infant Tylenol from our
My wonderful husband’s diligence to make
our new swing!
The cheapness of cloth diapers, and the way I feel so “clean-green-economical”.
That my baby’s bowels are regular (count your blessings, right?).
A toilet to wash diapers out in. (We have one of only a handful in our town.)
Running water to flush the toilet.
which powered the pump which ran the water to flush the toilet,
and also powered the oven I used to roast
our chicken dinner last night
(with potatoes, and
sweet corn from our
The thunderstorm that made the power go out (hence the generator) and washed summer air all cool and fresh.
Windows that open.
Email in the evening,
and the way heart-nourishing words show up in my inbox
from God’s sweet ones all over the world
exactly on time.