A Brief Reflection on Airports and Life


I am bleary-eyed at the Orlando airport. There’s a reason why the infamous “they” tell you to get to the airport early – long security lines extended far into the lounge area. We sighed as we inched our way through, a bright green electronic sign informing us that the process would take 35 to 45 minutes. 

Earlier we dropped off a rental car. As I handed the gentleman the keys, he asked me if I was Parisienne. I smiled “no” pause “but is that a compliment?”  “Oh yes!” He replied. My children laugh at me as the glow of an early morning compliment radiates off my 57 year old non-Parisienne skin. 

And then we trudge our sleepy way to security. Unfortunately, the compliment did nothing for a bad hip, so my ego has been kept in check. 

A busy, international airport is an odd way to end a family funeral. You go from familiar to anonymous; from engaged in conversation to people-watching; from significant to one more passenger in an enormous travel machine.

Yet somehow it works. It’s a bridge between worlds, and I am not expected to communicate on this bridge. I simply cross it. 

Death and funerals are a pause in life’s paragraph. A pause before continuing into more sentences, paragraphs, and chapters. They are an important pause, sometimes changing the rest of the story. Many resolutions based on the brevity of life have happened at the death of a loved one. 

Many would voice sadness over this – the question of why it takes something as permanent as death to make us pause and reflect. I think it is a gift. We are usually far too busy with the ordinary to realize that perhaps change is in order. But then, in the middle of the ordinary, the everyday chores stop so that we can remember a life, and in remembering reflect on our own. 

So in this airport moment between worlds, I stop. I pause. I pray. 

I thank God for the gift of life, and the gift of death – the circle of a broken world on a journey to redemption. 

The moment passes, the flight is ready to board. We are on our way home. 

Dear Dorothy – A Letter to my Mother-in-Law

Tomorrow I will board a plane and travel to Florida for my mother-in-law’s funeral. Since we found out last week, I have been thinking about death – how final it is, how permanent it seems, and how unreal it is until you are actually back in a place where the person lived.

I read these words in an article on grief:

“Dying is not a technical glitch of the human operating system; it’s a feature. It’s the only prediction we can make at birth that we can bank on. Everyone will die, and it’s very likely somebody we love will die before we do.”*

They are true words in an otherwise mediocre article.

Memories have resurfaced – some that make me laugh out loud. My mother-in-law was a force of nature. It’s impossible to compress a life into a blog post, and I won’t try, but I want to share some memories of this force who was Dorothy. Thank you for reading.

*****

Dear Dorothy,

On a hot July Saturday in 1983, I received my first phone call from you. I had begun dating your son in February, but he headed off to the Middle East on a study trip in May. It would be a long summer for me; an exciting one for him.

So on that July day, your phone call was welcome. You introduced yourself to me as “Clifford’s mom” and I remember voicing surprise at your southern accent.

“Well, what did you expect” you retorted! “That I would talk like a Yankee.” And that was my introduction to your quick wit and comebacks, something you passed on in no small way to your sons.

In late summer, after Cliff returned from the Middle East, we took a trip to Florida to meet the family. We arrived on a gorgeous day and went straight to dinner at a restaurant.

I was nervous until you looked at me and said:

“The service has been terrible at this restaurant the last 12 times we’ve come.”

“Then why do you keep coming back?” I said. It was the perfect opener to help me relax.

Later that week, as I came into the kitchen ready to head out for a trip to Disney World, your eyes took in my outfit from head to toe, and you said “Well Cliff’s safe with you. No truck driver is ever going to pick you up in those pants!” Cliff looked at me and confirmed your opinion. No one had ever told me how bad I looked in them. Thank God I found out sooner rather than later.

Through the years, you amazed me with your artistic and creative ability. Whether it was China painting or sewing, you knew how to do it. My children wore sweatsuits with embossed designs, drank tea out of tiny china cups that you had exquisitely painted, even admired china cremation urns that you were making for a funeral home.

There are two memories that still come to mind after all these years. The first was a time when your youngest son, Greg, and your husband, Richard were sitting in the family room discussing the weight of football players. I could hear them from the kitchen.

“Did you see the weight on that guy? Wow! 240 pounds! How about that other player? He’s 300 pounds!” And on went the discussion by two men who didn’t have one extra pound on their bodies.

Suddenly I heard you come up behind me. You were laughing so hard you could barely speak. You finally stopped long enough to whisper in my ear “Did you hear them talking about weight? Thank God they don’t know what I weigh!”  I joined you in laughing. Both of us had a struggle with weight that wasn’t easily managed, and having two thin men discuss body weight just added insult to what was already difficult. But laughter was something you did well, even when it was at your own expense.

The second memory makes me smile hard. Again, I was in the kitchen and Cliff and the kids were resting somewhere in the house. It was early afternoon, and you had gone out to do some errands. I heard the living room door open, and then heard a “Psst.” You repeated it. I went to the opening between the kitchen and living room area, and there you were with two beautiful boxes.  You slowly opened them. In each box was the most delectable fruit tart that I have ever seen. The perfectly fluted crust was piled high with cream, then fruit, then more cream. They were magnificent.

As I surveyed them with shining eyes, I realized that there were only two of them.

“Shall I call Cliff?” I asked, thinking that you had bought one for him.

“NO!” you retorted! “This is for you and me! I didn’t even buy one for my son!”

We sat at the kitchen table, like two naughty little girls, savoring a stolen treat. We laughed and whispered, eating every single mouthful and then wiping the cream off of our upper lips. It was heaven.

Something about that moment has stayed with me all these years. Any mother and daughter-in-law combination has its challenges, and ours was no exception. There were times when I fought hard and you fought back. But the shared treat of that moment was a communion of understanding — understanding that sometimes moms need to forget the needs of the rest of the family and eat rich and creamy fruit pastries.  Perhaps also, understanding that sometimes the mother-in-law, daughter-in-law relationship needs those occasional moments away from the rest of the family to forge a bond.

Your life was not all easy, and there were times when I saw glimpses of that.  By the time you were in your early twenties, you had four active boys and were raising them all over the country followed by the world. You knew what it was to pack up and move multiple times, say a million goodbyes, and leave places you would never see again. Yet you made sure that those kids were able to see every sight possible during those four years in Europe. I imagine these last few years with increasing health problems, a husband who is struggling with his own health, and a scattered family were some of the hardest. But every day, you got up, and sometimes that’s all any of us can do.

And now you’re gone. It’s not real to me yet – it won’t be until I see Richard alone at the funeral. Your quick answers won’t be a part of this weekend’s gathering. You won’t be chiming in with opinions and laughter. But you will be there, because we will be celebrating you and your life. We will be celebrating the creativity, laughter, quick quips, tenacity, and personality that were uniquely yours.

I hope I will get to eat a creamy, fruit tart and as I do, lift my eyes to Heaven and thank you.  I love you and I look forward to the day when I see you again in another time and another place. Perhaps you are already saving a fruit tart for me.

*Time Magazine, 4.24.17

A Life Overseas – A Third Culture Kid’s Story of Faith

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Readers, I’m over at A Life Overseas today and I would love it if you joined me!

There is no single story when it comes to the third culture kid; the missionary kid. While we can learn and grow from research and the common themes that have emerged to form a perspective, each child has their own story. Like fingerprints, these stories are unique, formed by family of origin, personality, and life experience. There is no single story around faith either. Instead, the mystery of faith weaves through a life – sometimes accepted, sometimes rejected, but always present. 

When I set out to write my memoir, Passages Through Pakistan, I thought it would be about belonging. After all, wasn’t that what I had worked through for a number of years? Wasn’t that part of my identity? But the more I wrote, the more I realized that the common thread woven through the narrative was not belonging. It was faith. So today I have included two excerpts from the book. My prayer is that if you are a parent or a third culture kid,  you will know beyond doubt that your (and your child’s) faith journey is infinitely important to God; that he can turn ashes into beauty and mourning into oil of joy.*

*****

…the mystery of faith weaves through a life – sometimes accepted, sometimes rejected, but always present.

All adults can point to a time when they go from the naïveté and simplicity of childhood and cross over into the complicated world of the adult. Some of these coming of-age moments are dramatic, some are profound. All are life-changing.

It is easy to dismiss these moments. They may seem undramatic, insignificant. But to the individual, the drama they represent is a one-way passage out of childhood. Once we pass through we can never go back.

For many years, I would only tell happy stories about my childhood, stories of midnight feasts and camp outs, of traveling to beautiful places and life-long friends. Years went by before I could admit that some of my childhood memories were deeply painful. If I acknowledged just how difficult they were, I would be betraying my parents and my childhood. More than that, if I mentioned the painful parts, I would have to deal with the pain, and some of it went deep.

The real reason I didn’t want to tell these stories was more complicated than I wanted to admit. My parents’ faith had led them to Pakistan and sustained them through the years they were there. If I was a healthy child, then teenager, then adult, no one could criticize their life choice. Here was their best defense against those critical of the missionary life. If I admitted the pain, if I was truthful about the hard stories, their defense was stripped.

But was I really worried about them? Or was I more worried about what would happen to my own faith?

Read the rest at A Life Overseas – A Third Culture Kid’s Story of Faith

Lenten Journey: On Endurance

This piece was originally posted in May 2014. What a difficult season that was! Lent represents another type of season and calls for another type of endurance. I’m out of the country just now–but this struck me as an appropriate reminder to my own soul to hold steady and endure. “For the joy set before him, he endured the cross–“

2014 has been a long year.

We returned from an extended trip to India on January 4th. It took me two weeks to regain my equilibrium (meaning—to remember how to do laundry, make lunches and cook supper!) Toward the end of January I came down sick with a twenty-four hour violent flu bug. I had never experienced that before. It was intriguing and it took its toll. That led to a cough that settled and simmered in my soul as well as in my chest. Seven weeks later, one round of antibiotics and another of steroids, I was finally well.

In the midst of that we learned that the landlords at the retreat center we used to run in Varanasi had evicted the current leader. That was devastating and painful. Our whole family grieved it. It was our spot. It was a tethering point in our beloved Asia suddenly severed.

Soon after that dear friends in Pakistan were involved in a tragic road accident. My Auntie was killed as a result. Her daughter sustained serious head injuries. Her granddaughter broke both her legs. Meanwhile my Pakistani Uncle was still battling cancer.

No sooner had the shock of that worn off a little then my father in law was killed in a farming accident.
We remembered him at a memorial service on Tuesday evening. Thursday morning both my parents, visiting from out-of-town for the funeral, took ill. They left on Friday. By Friday evening I had a fever. Our youngest started on Saturday. Two others came down with it on Sunday.

Sunday evening Lowell’s brother’s father in law also died. More sadness. More grief. Another funeral.

This morning I broke down and cried. It’s been a long, dark tunnel. I’m worn thin.

And Lowell prayed that we would endure.

Honestly endurance is our only option. I see no light at the end of this particular tunnel. There are glimmers of hope but nothing substantive. All we can do is put one foot in front of the other. We keep walking. We are hard pressed. We are squeezed. It’s dark and damp where we are just now. I can’t see where I’m going.

This morning at the doctor’s office I thought about faith and truth and hope. What would it look like to wall paper the inside of the tunnel. I’m not talking about settling in permanently….but since we’re going to be here for a time it might help to make the place a little more cheery. What images would I stick on the walls? What verses would I write out in thick black marker? What photographs would I frame?

It’s in a tunnel that faith becomes oh-so-practical! There’s no faking it now. That’s not an option. Truth and hope have to hold strong. They have to work now or I’m done. I’ll throw in the towel. What I stick on the walls of the tunnel has to be life-giving and sustaining. It’s the reminders I need if I’m going to endure.

I looked up the word, endurance, in the Merriam-Webster dictionary. It’s “the ability to do something difficult for a long time; the ability to deal with pain or suffering that continues for a long time; the quality of continuing for a long time.” Lowell and I have done long-time stuff before. We have some experience at enduring. Perhaps we’ve grown to possess the “quality of continuing for a long time”. The thing with enduring is it’s hard. Enduring implies something needs to be endured. It’s the difficult, the pain or suffering, the continuing from the definitions that are the kickers. Enduring a picnic or a party aren’t as difficult! Enduring hard things, dark seasons, long tunnels —that’s the painful part.

When I look up the word endurance in scripture I’m astounded. We are called to endure suffering, temptation, persecution, hostility, testing, trials, unfair treatment. We aren’t left to our own devices. We’ve been equipped to endure: “We also pray that you will be strengthened with all his glorious power so you will have all the endurance and patience you need.” (Col 1:11).

But what is the most astounding thing I’ve discovered in my hunt is what endures even beyond our own calling to endure….. God’s love endures forever! His faithful love endures forever. His name, his kingdom, his throne—those all endure too. But over and over, a refrain in the perpetual rhythms of each story, the line is the same, His faithful love endures forever.

Are you stuck in a long dark tunnel too? I’m not naïve enough to think it’s just Lowell and I. Our darkest days probably seem grey to others. Cancer, unemployment, broken-hearted children. Tragedy, betrayal, divorce, loneliness, financial despair. These things come along at a merciless pace. They take our breath away. Our spirits lose vitality. Our bodies break down. Whatever we’ve been asked to endure there is a force that endures longer, stronger, past whatever limited capacities we have. His faithful love endures forever!

I’ve poured myself a cup of tea. My Christ candle is lit and I’ve pulled out the glue. I’m sticking that truth up inside the tunnel. I’m writing it out in large cursive letters. It’s the one thing I can hold on to right now. His faithful love endures longer than I have to. His love endures. Forever.

Lenten Journey: The Christ Candle

I wrote this years ago for a dark spring day. It seems appropriate again. Truth be told, my Christ candle has been burning every day since January 20. The candle has been a faithful reminder this Lenten season too. 

Advent is the season of waiting for the Christ. It’s typically celebrated during the month of December as the church collective waits, again, with eager expectation for the arrival of Jesus—joining in the ancient longing for His first coming and looking forward to His second arrival. Often a special wreathe with four candles encircling it is used to count down the weeks. Each week a different part of the narrative or a different virtue is commemorated. A pink or lavender candle is lit for joy or for hope or to remember the shepherds or the angel’s part in the Old, Old Story.

And normally there is a fifth white candle, the Christ Candle, which is lit in tremendous elation on Christmas morning. Christ has come. He is here. The waiting is over. He has arrived.

Obviously I put away the Christmas decorations months ago. But the past several years I’ve kept the Christ Candle out into the new year.

I light it when the worries are too consuming and I need to remember that Christ is here.

I light it when the world is in shambles—Egypt is volatile, Pakistan is again attacked, Syria is still unrested, political corruption spreads here and around the globe. I light it and I bring to mind that Christ is Ever Present.

I light it when my friends are hurting: someone’s roof is leaking, someone’s child is sick, someone is overworked, someone is facing a new job and is nervous, someone struggles at family reunions to remember she is truly loved. I light my precious white candle and I recall that Christ Himself attends to my friends. He cares deeply and personally for each one. He alone is the light in their dark night.

I light my Christ candle when I fear for my own children, when I see the anxieties of their souls creep out on to their faces, when I know by their eyes that they are weary and worn down, afraid or battling loneliness and longings beyond their ages. I light my candle then.

I light it for myself too. Sometimes the sorrow is too great. Sometimes the sadness threatens to steal all joy. Sometimes my own weaknesses, my own sins, my own selfishness consume me. Sometimes I worry, I fret, I fear. Anxiety and panic dance on the edges of my sanity. I light it then. I deliberately recollect that Jesus is very near, he is Emmanuel, God with us. The waiting is over. I can breathe. I can trust. I can rest. The flickering flame repeats these seemingly fragile truths back to my knowingly fragile soul and I am comforted.

 

During Lent we also are in waiting. We wait with the seeds sleeping in the soil. We wait with the dead resting in the grave. We wait with Friday for the news of Sunday. We wait for Resurrection! We wait for new life!

                                    ~St Patrick’s Prayer~

Christ be with me, Christ within me,

Christ behind me, Christ before me,

Christ beside me, Christ to win me,

Christ to comfort and restore me,

Christ beneath me, Christ above me,

Christ in quiet, Christ in danger

Christ in hearts of all that love me,

Christ in mouth of friend and stranger.

**********************

Full Heart at #FIGT17NL 


I’m sitting in bed in a modern hotel room in  The Hague – that famous city known for tribunals and the Peace Palace. 

There is much I could write about this city from the small amount of time I’ve been here, but it is nothing compared to what I could write about the people and new friendships budding at Families in Global Transition. 

From sun up until way beyond sundown  my heart has been full – of laughter, of reconnecting, of amazing conversations and new connections. But most of all, full of the best sort of belonging. 

When you move a lot, you pack up your life along with your material goods. And when you pack up a life, you also pack your heart. After awhile you stop looking for belonging. It’s not because you are cynical – it’s because you recognize that belonging shifts a bit with each move and there are places and people where you will always feel more of a sense of belonging than others. So when you find yourself in a room full of kindred spirits, you catch your breath. “Is this quite real?” “If I close my eyes, will I find it’s my imagination?” 

My favorite moment of the day came in mid afternoon, when in a crowded room I ended up with a Pakistani adult third culture kid living in Dubai, and a Dutch adult third culture kid raised in Pakistan. In the middle of a crowded room two people I had never met were immediate friends through country and experience.  It was more than amazing – it was pure joy. 

In a television show called “Friday Night Lights” a high school football coach works to make his football team the best they can be. Before every game, this group of teenagers, who come from many different family situations, gather for one purpose: to play their absolute best, to play with their hearts. The captain of the team leads them in what becomes a resounding cry in the show. Clear Eyes, Full Hearts. Can’t Lose. 

And that is how I feel tonight. 

Clear Eyes, Full Hearts. Can’t Lose.

Note: check out Mariam’s blog: And Then We Moved To… – it’s great! 

Lenten Journey: A Lenten Vent

Over my personal church history, I wasn’t really exposed to Lent as a practice. As a young girl we attended a Baptist church, and later I went to an interdenominational boarding school and a Bible college of the same variety. There was a brief season at St John’s Shaughnessy, an Anglican church in Vancouver, before I met Lowell and we headed to India. There we attended an international fellowship made up of a wonderful blend of countries and cultures. Now Lowell and I go to an Evangelical Free church of Scandinavian descent.

I suppose it was in India at the international fellowship where I was first really introduced to the idea of Lent. I remember my friend, Ellen, who had grown up Methodist, deeply contemplating what she would take up for Lent. That intrigued me. She seemed to really examine herself, she took her propensities and weaknesses seriously. Motivated by nothing but true longing that Christ be more fully formed in her she chose carefully a self-imposed discipline or a fast to serve as her trainer.

I had never really entertained the idea before but here was a close friend modelling what it might be like to intentionally choose a path of preparation for Holy Week. Since then Lent is something I anticipate. I look forward to the lean long days of discipline. I think and pray about abstinences and observances. I consider areas of my life where I seem to have given over control to calories, or indulgences, or sloth. I search out my sore spots, my weak places, my gluttonies, my greed and I seek out the Great Physician and his suggested treatment. Some years I’ve given up social media, other years sugar in my coffee or sweets. I’ve given up certain television shows. I’ve given up bread. I’ve written a daily thank you note. This year I’m going for a daily walk.

Last year just as Ash Wednesday was dawning and friends on Facebook were saying goodbye-announcing their intentions to be absent from that digital social space for the duration of their Lenten journey—another well-meaning friend, boldly posted that Lent is unnecessary and unuseful. He flouted his freedom to not participate. He proclaimed that he’s always aware of the death and resurrection of Christ, that no preparation is necessary for him, since Christ himself made all the preparations necessary for our redemption. His Facebook post stirred something up in me. To be honest, it made me more than a little angry. It seemed to me that he had missed the entire point.

I don’t have to observe Lent. There is nothing in scripture that commands that I do so. I do not assume that it impresses God, that my denial of self accumulates any heavenly points. I don’t fast during Lent because I have to, rather I observe Lent because I get to.

I think many Christ followers are so committed to grace and to the freedom they’ve experienced as a result of the deeply freeing knowledge that there is nothing they can do to earn God’s favour that they’ve thrown out many of the spiritual disciplines we can choose to engage for the purpose of deepening our faith. It’s as if, in a visceral response against legalism, they’ve actually legalized grace. Any ancient spiritual practice that hints at a rule or an imposition has been abandoned. They no longer want to think about obedience, or confession, or fasting.

But there’s great benefit in practicing Lent that I don’t want to miss out on. There is a sense that in observing Lent, we participate in the sufferings of Christ. We identify with the great sacrifices he made on our behalf. It’s a way to cultivate empathy with our Saviour. It’s a way to pause and remember all that he did for our great benefit, our great blessing.

Lent also humbles me if I let it. It’s big and long and beyond my normal capacity for self-deprivation. In order to do it well I must throw myself on the mercy of Jesus. I need his help in giving up myself: my cravings, my self-obsessions, my fickle wants. And when I fail I get to experience the humiliating reality that I have simply done that: fail. Nothing changes in the spiritual realm. I’m still deeply beloved. I’m still invited to continue to pursue, even as I am completely pursued. I can experience the profound God of A Million Second Chances. I can come back, soak in his undeserving grace and start again.

Lent also affirms the reality that our bodies and our spirits are braided together. We are wholly one—our bodies providing the container, the temple, the vessel– for our souls. How I live in my body matters. Our emotions, our faith, our food, our sleep habits, our exercise routines, the prayers we pray, our splinters and bruises are all inextricably linked. As I drag my body out the door for my morning Lenten journey/morning walk I know this full well.

In participating in Lent I’m joining together with my brothers and sisters worldwide who are also observing Lent. The communion of saints from yesteryear who’ve given something up to better remember the death and resurrection of Christ—I’m part of that circle. Those that have yet to be born, yet to choose to live leanly during their Lenten expression—I’m part of that circle too.  Lent connects me to a larger reality outside my own self. It allows me to join with others on a pilgrimage journey that winds around the wide world, picking up people from the far away gatherings of scattered believers, to the cross of Christ. From where I stand I can see people from every tongue, tribe and nation.

I, for sure, do not have to sacrifice for Lent but it’s what I get to do. It’s a privilege that I’m pleased to practice.

The purpose of Lent is the preparation of the believer through prayer, doing penancerepentance of sins, almsgivingatonement, and self-denial….In Lent, many Christians commit to fasting or giving up certain types of luxuries as a form of penance. Many Christians also add a Lenten spiritual discipline, such as reading a daily devotional or praying through a Lenten calendar, to draw themselves near to God. The Stations of the Cross, a devotional commemoration of Christ’s carrying the Cross and of his execution, are often observed. Many Roman Catholic and some Protestant churches remove flowers from their altars, while crucifixes, religious statues, and other elaborate religious symbols are often veiled in violet fabrics in solemn observance of the event. Throughout Christendom, some adherents mark the season with the traditional abstention from the consumption of meat, most notably among Roman Catholics. (Wikipedia)

 

Lenten Journey – Turn the Whole World Upside Down

city-street-with-quote

Around six years ago, an eye doctor named Tom Little was killed in a massacre of 10 international aid workers in Nuristan province in the country of Afghanistan. The story made international headlines as the largest massacre of aid workers during the entire Afghan conflict. Many who didn’t even know this man paused to take inventory of their lives. That’s what happens when a tragedy occurs. You stop for a moment; you reassess and reevaluate. Often you make changes.

Tom Little had been in Afghanistan for over 33 years. He was from Albany, New York, son of an eye doctor and he loved Afghanistan and the Afghan people. To say that Tom Little lived outside of any box is a serious understatement.  In an interview with a film maker who hoped to highlight the story of Tom Little, the producer said that all the news stories of the massacre focused on the last five minutes of his life. This film maker wanted to find the story behind the 33 years before he was killed.  

I’ve watched the trailer for this film called  The Hard Places five or six times – every time, I cry. The film challenges my comfort, my security, most of all challenges me to live life fully wherever I am called to go.

Now this is a hard call in my current situation. My “government-sponsored” cubicle is often a hard place to be. There are times when I feel underused and unproductive; times when I question whether I’m making a difference.

A grey cubicle is not sexy. It is not a place where the type of headlines that mean something to eternity emerge. It is a place that tests my patience, challenges my creativity, and often defeats my spirit.

But it is currently my reality. It is where God has placed me. And the call to live fully is no less applicable to me as it is to those in far harder places, far more difficult situations. I am weak in this context – and God delights to make the weak strong.

In the trailer, Libby Little, Tom Little’s wife who was by his side throughout their years in Afghanistan, is heard reading a poem by Hannah Hurnard:

O blessed are the patient meek
Who quietly suffer wrong;
How glorious are the foolish weak
By God made greatly strong;
So strong they take the conqueror’s crown,
And turn the whole world upside down.

As I embark on this  year’s Lenten journey, I am challenged to remember that the world is not changed through one momentous event, it is changed through the often boring, simple acts of obedience that I am called to every single day. The world is changed by showing up. Arguably, Tom Little’s life did not affect the Afghan people through his last 5 minutes of a martyr’s death; his life affected the Afghan people in his daily choice to deliver excellent eye care to people in need.

It is in the strength of God as shown through the weakness of men that the world is turned upside down. So it is today that I am called to be obedient to what I know. No more and no less, trusting the outcome to a faithful Creator in doing what is right. Today I am called to show up. 

Reflection Questions: This Lent, what does it mean to be obedient? How can daily obedience turn the world upside down? Where are you called to show up? 

Readers – Passages Through Pakistan is available on Amazon or Barnes & Noble

“Pardon Our Dust”

We invite you to follow along with Marilyn and Robynn, both grace-desperate Christ followers– one a newly welcomed Orthodox the other a patchwork Protestant– on their Lenten journey. This is the first in this honestly human series.

 

Lowell and I, together with some friends, attended the evening Lenten Service at St Paul’s Episcopal church on Ash Wednesday. The nave is under construction and we met in the basement of the annex. Father Patrick took that inconvenient and unfortunate circumstance and skillfully wove it into the homily. He recalled another renovation experience he had when he was in grade six. At that time the Kansas City airport was under a significant renovation process. To his boyhood mind it seemed to be in disrepair for years. What stands out in his memory is the sign that was posted all over the airport for the duration of the project, “Pardon our Dust.” He went on to use the same disclaimer in connection with the church’s current construction project, pardon our dust.

During the homily Father Patrick said something I’m not likely to forget, “Ash Wednesday is the most honest day of the Christian calendar.” And it’s true, isn’t it? Ash Wednesday is a day we intentionally declare our brokenness, our need of rescue, our deep understanding that there is nothing we can do in our own strength or ingenuity to bring about the transformation we all need. We are marked with the sign of the cross, “Remember that you are dust and it is to dust you shall return.” We are reminded of our fragility and our brevity. Wearing the ashes on our forehead we announce to ourselves and to the world that we stand in need of grace and perpetual mercy.

Pardon our dust.

When we lived in North India we rented an ancient old stone house on the banks of the Ganges river. When we first moved in there were walls down and thick weeds growing up over some of the debris. The room that would later be transformed into a guest room had a hole in the roof and bird nests in the rafters. Mold grew up the walls of the courtyard. There were rocks piled up in front of the house. Termites had eaten door frames and window ledges. Another building that would later be changed into a retreat center was completely over run with branches and buried in its own brokenness.  Slowly we began to clear things out. Working together with friends we hired a contractor who rebuilt the guest room, added a bathroom and toilet and a sitting room. Over time we reclaimed corners in the courtyard and we planted flowers. We cut back the mango tree to allow in some sunshine. A kitchen was built, windows were screened, doors were repaired. Rocks were eventually cleared out, grass was grown, more flowers planted. Friends moved in after we left and more space was sanctified. It became this beautiful sacred place.

The thing that used to irk me the most, was when visitors would come, and like us, they would see the potential in the property. They had, of course, no idea how much work had already been done. All they could see was what could be done. They saw implicit promise and they’d remark on it.

Wow… this property is amazing!

Think about what you could do with the place!

The possibilities are limitless.  

Have you ever thought about planting a garden?

How did you find this place? It has so much potential.

Perhaps we should have posted signs, Pardon our dust. Acknowledging the potential seemed to deny the ongoing agonies of transformation we had already embarked on. It didn’t honour the work, the tears, the frustrations, the sweat, the struggle, the effort we had already expended. What we needed was for our guests to Pardon our Dust. We longed for them to admit the work of transformation, to see our desperate need for grace in the ongoing work of redemption. To sit with us in the place of brokenness. To have eyes to see the beauty in all of it–the broken bits, the cleaned up corners, the salvageable spaces. To clearly imagine what yet might happen, what glory might yet be shed across the yard, what visions of continued growth might be just around the corner.

Pardon our Dust also serves to remind us that these are temporary times. There is an end in sight. It’s true we’re limping along now, accommodations are being made, we’re making the appropriate changes. Like any renovation or construction project there is a beginning, a middle and an end. We will get through this. We will be made over. Transformation will happen.

Lent gives us this profound opportunity to admit our great need for a savior. For a season we’re honest about our propensity to sin and selfishness. We acknowledge our need. As a community we readily admit we need each other. We journey toward the cross. We travel together, human and humbled, knowing we’re on the way to reformation, all the while aware we are dust and our terrible need for pardon.

Dear People of God: The first Christians observed with great
devotion the days of our Lord’s passion and resurrection, and
it became the custom of the Church to prepare for them by a

season of penitence and fasting. This season of Lent provided
a time in which converts to the faith were prepared for Holy
Baptism. It was also a time when those who, because of
notorious sins, had been separated from the body of the faithful
were reconciled by penitence and forgiveness, and restored to
the fellowship of the Church. Thereby, the whole congregation
was put in mind of the message of pardon and absolution set
forth in the Gospel of our Savior, and of the need which all
Christians continually have to renew their repentance and faith.

I invite you, therefore, in the name of the Church, to the
observance of a holy Lent, by self-examination and repentance;
by prayer, fasting, and self-denial; and by reading and
meditating on God’s holy Word. And, to make a right beginning
of repentance, and as a mark of our mortal nature, let us now
kneel before the Lord, our maker and redeemer.

Almighty God, you have created us out of the dust of the
earth: Grant that these ashes may be to us a sign of our
mortality and penitence, that we may remember that it is
only by your gracious gift that we are given everlasting life;
through Jesus Christ our Savior. Amen.

Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.

(from The Book of Common Prayer)

An Angry Diva and a Fragile Psyche

Yesterday my book, Passages Through Pakistan, was released. I have been looking forward to this day – a day when my 8-year-old baby is born and the world sees it. I’ve also been nervous. This journey of writing is a vulnerable journey. Whenever we put words on paper and they are released to the world there is a chance that they will not be well received. That’s life and it comes with any public creative process.

Advance copies were sent to several folks who would assist with the book launch. Everything was ready. Until we realized that the advance copies were poorly printed, the font color uneven and distracting.

It’s a small thing, but to my fragile psyche it felt huge. Emails and messages flew back and forth yesterday afternoon and I couldn’t rest. I became an Angry Diva, convincing myself that this was the most important thing that anyone could or should think about.

At seven o’clock, I collapsed on the couch in tears. My book baby with its eight year gestation had birth spots. Suddenly I wanted to pull the whole thing. Uneven color font be damned, I was done. Why on earth did I think I could write anyway? Why did I even try?

The downward spiral didn’t stop. Instead it continued and soon I moved on from questioning my ability to write to questioning why I existed. I was questioning my worth as a mom, as a wife, as an employee, and ultimately as a human being.

Earlier in February my husband and I watched an interesting film featuring Meryl Streep and Hugh Grant. The film is called Florence Foster Jenkins after a historical person of the same name. Florence Foster Jenkins was an opera singer who lived in New York. She had inherited a lot of money and no talent.

“The historian Stephen Pile ranked her ‘the world’s worst opera singer’. ‘No one, before or since,’ he wrote, ‘has succeeded in liberating themselves quite so completely from the shackles of musical notation.’*

The movie portrays the way her partner, a Shakespearean actor, protects her. He hides reviews of her concerts so she doesn’t see the criticism; he pays other reviewers to write glowing and effusive reviews; he even pays people to attend her concerts.

As you can imagine, one day the charade crashes. You can only hide the truth for so long. Sooner or later it will be revealed. So Florence reads some nasty reviews, and she is shaken to the core.

In a poignant scene toward the end of the film, she looks at her partner and says to him: “They may say I can’t sing, but they can never say I didn’t sing.” 

This morning as I was reflecting on how I acted like a diva to disguise my fragile ego, how I suddenly began questioning my worth in every area of my life, I began thinking about Florence Foster Jenkins and how her spirit was wounded, but not completely crushed when she realized the truth. And I thought about my writing, how its been an unexpected gift these past eight years, how no matter what happens with this book – it has been a cathartic, healing process.

I have put down memories and feelings. I have revisited my faith. I have processed boarding school joy and pain. And I have met incredible people in the process.

So in the spirit of Florence Foster Jenkins I give you the honesty of an angry diva, the humiliation of a fragile psyche, and the words “They may say I can’t write, but they can never say I didn’t write.” 

Also, the printing problem is almost corrected, so I can assure you that you will get a good copy should you choose to stroke my ego and buy my words! And I would love, love, love it if you did.

*

The Grand Unraveling

For several months I had been calling Trump’s impending presidency The Grand Unraveling. He made campaign promises that seemed horrifying to me, he boldly made declarations of things he would do, things he would undo. During those campaigning days things seemed bleak, ominous even, but most of the time I assumed he was using loud words that would surely prove hollow.

And now here we are. President Trump has been in the White House for just over a month and The Grand Unraveling has begun in earnest. Or at least that’s how I’ve felt over the past two weeks. To make matters worse I’ve also felt powerless to prevent it. Yes, we’ve prayed persistently, our family has participated in peaceful protests, I’ve made calls to Representatives and Senators. Still it has felt like I’ve been helpless to do anything. Things have been coming undone and the world has seemed scary and unstable.

Thinking about unraveling however, made me remember a story from my childhood which has given me cause for pause.

When I was a girl we used to go to the Lundah Bazaar on the main street of Layyah, the town where I grew up. Lundah Bazaar was a wonderful prequel to Good Will and other secondhand stores I’ve come to love. There were piles of used clothes laid out on plastic sheets on the ground. Rumour had it that these were clothes sent into Pakistan as foreign aid but sold instead to retailers who in turn sold it to eager customers. Auntie Helen, Mom and I were some of those eager customers. We loved to go and rummage. If we saw something in the stack, we’d reach in and grab it, hold it up, inspect it, and either toss it back on top of the cloth hill or hand it to the shopkeeper to add to our own growing pile of things to buy.

Auntie Helen always bought sweaters. She’d inspect them carefully before purchasing them. These sweaters weren’t examined for being fashionable or trendy, but for the quality of the wool or yarn that was used. Auntie Helen would take them back to her friends in the villages, who would unravel the sweaters carefully. Younger women would roll the recently undone sweaters into skeins to be later used in the making of something new.  Auntie Helen was always very generous with my brother and me. If she thought we might like something she went out of her way to make it happen. She doted on us with treats and new books; with silly games and impromptu parties. More than anything, Auntie Helen wanted us to have a happy Pakistani childhood. But, having said that, she was quite protective of the sweaters she chose that had potential to be remade. I remember a fuzzy pink sweater with wonderful buttons that I noticed almost at the same moment Auntie Helen did. I hoped against hope that it wouldn’t pass her inspection. I groaned inwardly when she added it to her pile. When I sighed a little and maybe suggested that I might like that sweater to wear myself, she simply smiled and picked up the next woolen garment.

Auntie Helen had bigger things in mind. She knew the procedure and normally I loved to see the process unfold as the sweaters were unraveled, rolled and reworked into booties, and baby hats, sweaters and sweater vests. It felt like redemption. Auntie Helen was careful in her selection. The women were gentle in the undoing of the sweaters she brought them. The rollers did so with precision. The new knitters took pride in their creations. The old was gone; the new had come.

The unravelling wasn’t in vain. Even the pink sweater I loved, lost, and grieved had a higher purpose. Eventually somebody’s grandbaby would be decked out in a matching layette with a bonnet, a sweater, and drawstring booties with lovely large tassels of the same bright pink.

If Auntie Helen were still alive I think she’d have us pick up the frayed bits and start rolling them up, start making skeins, start twisting what we have into some sort of coiled ball. I suspect she’d refuse to think this was the end. She’d insist that this ratty remnant of what used to be a stable country might be put to good use. She’d see potential and hope. She’d examine it and imagine new things made from the old.

It takes energy to stand ready to collect what’s falling apart, what’s falling off, what’s fraying away. It takes discernment to see which parts are worth salvaging. It takes strength and stamina to roll, and wind, twist and coil the strands of an unwound country onto a reel. It takes courage and creativity to see what might yet be. It takes a prophetic imagination to see the Kingdom beyond and past and outside the borders of the country. It takes a sacred vision to imagine a country so radically different that we wouldn’t recognize if but for the scant shades of blue, white and red worked under the tapestry of red and yellow; black and white. It takes hope to see past the present desolation to the promise of full redemption and restoration.

God bless us all as we do the work of collecting, rolling, sharing, knitting and recreating.

 

(*Photo credit: Kari Patterson)

 

 

 

Dear Seema: The Politics of Prevention

 

Note: Seema Verma is President Trump’s nominee to lead the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services in the United States.

Dear Seema,

I’m a Registered Nurse who works in Boston, Massachusetts. I have witnessed first-hand what it is like for people to go without insurance, to delay preventive health screening only to find out that cancer is a far more expensive problem.

There are not a lot of things that make my proverbial blood boil, but reducing access to preventive healthcare, including maternity benefits, does. It makes me so angry I can’t see straight.

Look, I get it. Health care is expensive. Someone has to pay for it. But everyone bears the burden of an unhealthy society and while the Affordable Care Act (aka Obama Care) was not perfect, it began to put some policies in place that have been needed for a long time.

I come to this not from any political party line. I am a proudly independent voter – in fact, prouder by the day that I don’t buy into that assanine system called “two party.” I also live in Massachusetts where a Republican governor put health care reform as a top priority over 8 years ago and we are slowly reaping the benefits.

 

When, at your confirmation hearing, you mentioned that coverage for maternity benefits should be optional, I shook my head in disbelief.

Optional? Optional? I had to repeat it to myself to believe that you actually said it. The argument goes that if you’re a man or too old to get pregnant, then why should you have to pay for someone to have a baby? The lack of logic and understanding in that idea astounds me! The logical conclusion is that I shouldn’t have to pay for any of the choices that others make. So, by your logic, I shouldn’t have to pay for the business man who has a heart attack and needs bypass surgery. After all, I wasn’t the one who ate and drank too much. It was him.

Maternity benefits are an essential part of a healthy society. Maternity benefits speak to the value of family and children, they provide essential care for a future generation.

As Linda Blumberg, a senior fellow at the Health Policy Center at the Urban Institute. Women says: “We buy insurance for uncertainty and to spread the costs of care across a broad population so that when something comes up, that person has adequate coverage to meet their needs,”  But insurance is not designed to be an  “a la carte approach”. “Women don’t need prostate cancer screening, but they pay for the coverage anyway.”

When as a nation did we allow politics to co-opt our health, to feed us misinformation about insurance and that terror-producing term ‘socialized medicine’? Truth is the term ‘socialized medicine’ is a made up phrase. It was first heard in the early 1900’s but came into wide use when the American Medical Association fought against a national health insurance plan proposed by President Truman. It conjured images of a hammer and sickle approach to health care that would lead us down the slippery slope to communism. That was in 1947 – and it was a public relations coup, for in the six and a half decades since that time we have allowed the term to rule us, to be thrown around willy nilly to produce fear and anger, obnoxious and ignorant voices leading the way.

Here’s what happens when you let politics coopt prevention: 

A breast cancer lump ulcerates and eats away the flesh of a breast; a cervical lesion, easily removed, grows and turns into a completely preventable cancer; a gnawing indigestion and bloated feeling turns into cancer eating away at your colon – fully preventable had screening taken place early in the disease process. You know what else happens when politics coopts prevention? Abortion rates, already far too high, go up. You can’t have it both ways – you can’t want abortion rates to go down and yet reject the notion of maternity care and birthcontrol coverage.

Preventive health is not about being Republican or Democrat or Independent or Green Party or Libertarian. Preventive health is about the health of a society as a whole; it is about being human, living in a broken world where illness and death and “pre-existing” conditions are a reality. Preventive health and being sick is not about politics. When will we in the United States get that?

What you should want to do in your tenure is make the Affordable Care Act better! You should want to expand on it and leave a legacy that puts Obama Care into the water. You should want to make a name for yourself as a person who makes health care great, not just tolerable.

Instead, I’m shaking my head and saying: “What in the name of Sam Hill is she thinking?” 

C’mon Seema! Be a Woman. Stand up for what is right. 

 

Yesterday I Baked a Cake

Yesterday I baked a cake. It’s my birthday on Sunday and yesterday I baked a birthday cake for myself. Later this morning I will spread a raspberry filling between the layers, I will make an almond-flavoured frosting and I will ice it generously. I’ll sprinkle the cake with almond shreds and I’ll carefully load the cake in to the car and take it down the road to share with a group of Catholic nuns and fellow spiritual direction students.

Over the years—the nearly 47 years, I’ve had many marvelous cakes lovingly prepared for me. When I was a little girl my mom made wonderfully creative cakes. She had a green plastic box small filing box filled with cards that each contained colourful and fanciful cake ideas. Mom turned out train cakes and clown cakes and heart shaped cakes. But the cake I remember the most fondly was the one that became my favourite, the one I’d ask for each year, it was her homemade angel food cake. She’d wrap coins in plastic wrap and push them deep into the light and luscious cake. She smothered the cake in a lavish layer of Quick Fluffy Frosting (because I loved it, but also because it was made from granulated sugar and good powdered sugar was impossible to find in our back corner of Pakistan).

My first birthday in India my friend Dianne made a delicious cake. She had heard stories of my childhood favourite and she went out of her way to replicate that nostalgic cake memory including the plastic covered rupee coins placed strategically in the cake. Ellen once made me this unbelievable lemon log rolled cake filled with a decadent lemon curd. The thought of that cake still make my mouth water.  Several years ago, Susanne, made me an almond layered cake drenched in almond liqueur. It was delicious! Other dear friends have made other dear cakes. There have been cakes at team meetings, cakes after our International Fellowship church service, cakes with friends at birthday tea parties or birthday lunches.

When I turned 40 my friend Yvonne made and decorated my birthday cake for the party that Lowell had organized and planned. It was perfect. Onto the sheet cake she designed a flag that incorporated the Canadian flag, the Pakistani flag, the Indian flag and the American flag. It captured my strange story so wonderfully and the memory of it brings tears to my eyes. I’ll never forget that cake!

Some of the most special cakes I’ve received have been ones that my daughter Adelaide has made and decorated. She’s mastered cake making and beautifying. It’s the perfect mix of math, science and creativity for her. She’s good at it! She made me a cake shaped like a tea cup once. A couple of years ago she made one that I especially loved with a bird cage piped on to it.

Yesterday I baked my own cake.

There are many years where making my own birthday cake would have made me very sad. I would have spread the cake with loneliness and sprinkled it with tears. Memories of other cakes from other years made by others who love me would have choked me as I creamed butter and sugar and eggs. The cake would be heavy and dry and tasteless.  But not this year. This year, as I baked, I was filled with gratitude and joy.  Lowell and I have taken a fast from sugar and carbohydrates. The anticipation of cake contributed to my happiness, I’m sure. But I also realized how much I am thankful for. I stirred that gratitude into the batter——for a warm house, sweet memories of cake and dear friends, for my children—all three passionate leaders true to their convictions, for my parents who are actively engaged in our lives, for my kind hearted mother in law, for Catholic sisters, my morning coffee, a refrigerator and pantry well stocked, bills paid, my one true Lowell.

I experienced wonder at the diverse and precious group of friends I’ve been given. I have close friends that keep my secrets. Each of the chapters in my story have included deep friendships—many of those friends I’m still connected to, they still very much matter to me, I miss them keenly.

There was worship blended into the cake dough too. I’ve been given so much. Jesus has been faithful. He’s been leading me, he’s been deepening my experience of the freedom he’s given me. I’ve learned so much these last years and months about the ways that I’m wired, the ways that I bear his image to the world, about my emotions, my personality, his emotions and his personality. I’ve discovered things about my identity—who I truly am—that intensify my connection with Christ himself.

Birthdays are a grace. I’m alive and I am loved. Cake is a luxury. I can afford sugar and flour and flavouring. Icing is mercy undeserved. I’ve been given so much I don’t deserve. There is so much to say thank you for. Yesterday I baked a cake and today I get to eat it. On Sunday Lowell and I plan to have dinner out with other beloved friends. By Monday this cake will be added to the list of treasured treats I’ve been bounteously blessed with.

Yesterday I baked a cake. Thanks be to God!

Finding Your Niche at #FIGT17NL

In 2014, I hosted a blog series called “Finding Your Niche: Using a Multicultural Past to Create a Meaningful Present.” The result was a set of essays from adult third culture kids, each different and each exploring what it was to find a niche as an adult. Writers talked about the jobs and communities they had found that complemented their multicultural past.

The series ended up being the inspiration for a panel discussion that will be held during the Families in Global Transition Conference in The Hague this March. I am excited to be facilitating this panel, featuring other adult third culture kids who will speak to the journey, joys, and challenges of finding a niche that connects their multicultural past to a meaningful present.

If you are an expat, a global nomad, a third culture kid, an adult third culture kid, or someone who loves and works with all of the above, then this is the conference for you! It’s not too late to register for FIGT17NL! Just click here and it will take you to the registration page. You will be so glad you came!

In the meantime, I am reposting one of the submissions from the series. Cindy Brandt has written for Communicating Across Boundaries before and I’m so happy to welcome her again with this repost of her essay for the “Finding Your Niche” series.

*****

TCKs and “finding your niche” seems to be an oxymoron.

 After all, we are TCKs, Third Culture Kids, as in, they couldn’t fit us in any category so they created an extra option just to throw us all in there.

 We are the miscellaneous crowd. We are the ones who can thoroughly enjoy the company of whoever it is we keep during the day, but when the sun sets, we look in the mirror and see a different color skin, or go home to speak a different language; we don’t ever fully belong anywhere. No matter which group of people we are with, there always seems to be a slice of insider information we can’t access. We scramble to uncover that knowledge, but feels a bit like flailing awkwardly at the fringes of each particular culture.

 I am reminded of my favorite children’s book, Giraffes Can’t Dance by Giles Andreae and Guy Parker-Rees. It’s a story of a giraffe named Gerald,

“whose neck was long and slim. His knees were awfully crooked and his legs were rather thin.” 

Each year at the Africa Jungle Dance, he freezes at the thought of dancing in front of his peers with his gangly limbs. Like Gerald, TCKs know intimately the feeling of crippling self-consciousness, and the fear of being found out we are not really one of them.

Of course, there are ways that TCKs are just like other people. We go through normal developmental phases in which we discover our own likes and dislikes; our skills and assets. We have different passions and desire to live into them. It’s just challenging to simultaneously walk this journey of self discovery while skittering on the outskirts of cultural worlds. It’s too difficult to hear the true calling inside of us over the noise of banging cymbals keeping us away from the mainstream.

In order to find our niche, we must cut through the noise and stop being led by fears of exclusion. TCKs are rich with benefits. We make the best spouses, friends, neighbors, and employees by bringing our dynamic stories and a myriad of experiences. We are strong from having endured difficult life transitions, yet sensitive from having been conditioned by a diversity of worldview. We are flexible from years of shifting from one culture to another, yet firm in our convictions having learned to hold on to core values while physically moving to and from. We are not either/or, we are both/and. We may not belong one hundred percent; but we can be one hundred percent present when we show up.

When we dart from one place to another, distracted by finding a place to belong, we miss investing the whole of ourselves in any one single space. In order to find our niche, we must bravely claim the life we’re in and start acting like we have already arrived. We don’t apologize for being different, instead, we bring our divergent ideas to sharpen the existing ones. We don’t dismiss monoculturals around us, instead we listen and learn from them, insistent upon building meaningful relationships. We vehemently find common ground until the fears and lies and insecurities of being excluded melt away by shared passion.

Gerald the giraffe was booed off the dance floor competition because he listened to the voices telling him there is no way he can dance. He retreated into a quiet clearing, lamenting his situation beneath the gleaming moon, when a small cricket coaxed him to cut through the noises of the jungle and listen to the music only he can hear. Slowly, he began moving his body to the rhythm of that music and by the end of the story, every animal stood in awe of his beautiful movements.

We don’t have to flail awkwardly on cultural perimeters. We need not continuously seek approval for being the unique persons we are. We can walk confidently onto the dance floor, clothed in the many colors of our background, take a deep breath, and just begin to dance.

It’s like what Gerald learns by the end of the story:

“We all can dance, if we find music that we love.”

You can find Cindy at http://cindywords.com/

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On Snow Days and the Waste of Hate

This piece was written last Thursday morning, when I had an unexpected and delicious snow day.

It’s a Thursday morning and I wake up to a world of white. Snow has been falling steadily since the early hours, providing much needed excitement for weather people who have been increasingly bored this winter by the warm temperatures and happy humans.

I have an unexpected snow day. It’s hard to describe how welcome this is — it’s like Paschal cheese after Lent; like your first meal after you deliver a baby.

Snow days are pure grace.

I used to hate snow. I couldn’t bear the flakes, the cold, the wet. I hated the shoveling, the scraping off of ice, the misery.

And in a way, all of those things are still true. Snow does wreak havoc. Snow does cause disruption, it does slow things down. Snow is not convenient.

As I look out on this world of white, I can’t help thinking about all the time I have wasted hating snow, wishing it away. I can’t help being reminded of the times that I have  hated that which life brought me.

Hate is such a waste. Hate takes so much energy. It exhausts your body and your mind, it plants itself and needs little water to grow. It is nourished easily and depletes us of that which is good. The roots need little encouragement to go deep, and they are painfully pulled. Hate depletes the soul.

Hate is a giant waste of time, and I have fallen for this trap. I have wasted time in hate – not only in hating snow, but other things. I have wasted time fighting life instead of accepting it. Hate destroys creativity and limits our minds. Hate takes away our motivation and leads us to settle for less.

Supposedly hate is the antonym of love, but I think hate is the antonym of life. Because you can’t really live if your mind is filled with hate.

I sit in complete quiet, the white world around me. Hate feels far away, its roots pulled, replaced by something so much better. And I am grateful.

 

 

Attending to Our Souls

A couple of years ago, over Christmas, we dog-sat an unusual Greyhound named Pickles. Pickles was a large and awkward canine. He stood taller than our coffee table and took up a great deal of real estate in whatever room he occupied. Connor and his girlfriend at the time had planned on exchanging gifts at our house, in our living room. They sat on the floor and gave each other their presents. Pickles oddly enough felt the need to stand right between them. For those of us looking on there was no way to see the other side. The dog was in the way. Connor and his sweet friend bent down a little lower to see through Pickle’s legs. Our youngest daughter peered around the dog’s back end. Necks were craned, bodies tilted. Eventually with amusement, Lowell told Pickles to go lay down and Pickles regretfully and unwillingly complied.

In English, we have this expression, “the elephant in the room.” Google explains it as, “a major problem or controversial issue that is obviously present but avoided as a subject for discussion because it is more comfortable to do so.” Cambridge Dictionary defines it this way, “an obvious problem or difficult situation that people do not want to talk about.”  Clearly, here in the United States, we have now an entire herd of elephants stomping and snorting, pacing and pooping in nearly every room we enter. The large, unpredictable, bull elephant is rumbling and trumpeting and he’s making lots of noise.

Marilyn feels very strongly that Communicating Across Boundaries should remain a politics-free zone. I understand that. Politics polarizes the public very quickly. Defenses go up, weapon-words are sharpened and launched and then people run for their corner. It’s virtually impossible, it seems, to have a calm conversation about these things. I suppose I shouldn’t expect anything different. We’re not merely musing over a distant theoretical system, we’re voicing values and convictions. Politics, on the level that matters, is deeply personal. It’s essentially about educating our children, keeping everyone healthy and safe, living peaceably within our communities, protecting the vulnerable, paving our streets, mending our bridges.

Last weekend our son, Connor, called from Canada. During the conversation, I made some comment related to the state of the Union and he balked, “I don’t want to talk about politics,” he said. I suspect my response was rather quick and a tad bit harsh, “I understand that. But you live in a different country where you have the privilege of breathing different air. Here it’s everywhere, it’s a part of every conversation, it’s the elephant in every room, it’s the air we breath! I’m afraid we no longer have that luxury–!”

Many of you know that I’m a Spiritual Director. When a Spiritual Director encounters elephants in the room he or she is trained to look past the elephant to the heart of the matter–to your heart which matters. We might name the elephant but we might not. What really is of critical importance is what’s being stirred up in you because of the elephant. A Spiritual Director helps you explore how you feel about the elephant, what uncomfortable places you’re avoiding and why, what it might look like to press into those places. A Spiritual Director is curious about your soul, about your responses to the world around you, about the ways you are encountering God.

It’s time to attend to our souls. There are activists among us who are resisting the elephant’s movement. There are fact checkers and ethics committee members that are scrutinizing the elephant’s loud bellows. Courts in the land, run by judges committed to “swear to tell the truth, and nothing but the truth,” are holding the elephant and his trainers to justice. But it’s our own responsibility to take care of our hearts.

How are you holding up? What emotions are surfacing in you? How are you dealing with those feelings? Can you recognize and name what’s happening inside you? Are there places of panic or fear or dis-ease welling up? Can you find the courage to step closer to Jesus with your troubled spirit? Do you know, has it been your experience, that you are deeply loved? Are there ways that you are trying to protect yourself from pain? Are you struggling to love your neighbor as you’ve struggled to love yourself? Are you isolating yourself? Do you need to seek out someone to help you hold steady to the soul work that’s ongoing in you? Are you being called to something beyond your soul’s borders? Can you identify what Jesus might be inviting you into? Is there something inside you preventing you from engaging?

This is a strange season. These are troubling times. The elephant is on the move and there’s a great deal of dust in the air. Can you take some time to tend to your own soul in the midst of the turmoil? Can you take a break from the resistance you might be involved in to ensure you’re not resisting your own center? Can you push pause on activity and contemplate your deeper core?  You might not be able to tell the elephant, as Lowell told the dog Pickles, to lie down, but maybe you can leave the room for just a little while. Give your soul a Sabbath from the messy elephant tromped up space. Take some deep breaths. And attend to your soul.

 

(*Photo credit: edie.net)

When Your Fear Goes Through the Roof–A Repost

I’ve worked for hours on a piece that isn’t ready yet…. I’m trying to wrangle some of my heart’s response to the past couple of weeks into words. It hasn’t gone smoothly. So until I get it done I give you this piece I wrote in November 2015. The situations have changed. Perhaps the fear hasn’t. 

Many people are sincerely afraid when they think on the events of the last few weeks: the twin attacks in Lebanon, suicide bombing in Afghanistan, the plane crash in Egypt, protests for justice and equal treatment on campuses across the US, the coordinated terrorist attacks in Paris. Terrorism and the threat of violence have paralyzed people. What once only happened far away creeps closer with every news broadcast. Our world seems hazardous and our safety in great jeopardy. Fear has taken root and has quickly converted to a deep paranoia that colours every opinion, every conviction, every decision.

Consequently there is a growing number of American States that have emphatically decided to close their doors to Syrian refugees. Kansas Governor, Sam Brownback, in a recent editorial in the Wichita Eagle wrote with words wreaking of worry, “My first priority as governor is the safety of all Kansans, and in this dangerous environment, we must take prudent and responsible actions to protect our citizens. That is why I signed an executive order directing that no state agency, or organization receiving grant money from the state, will participate in or assist in any way in the relocation of Syrian refugees in Kansas.” (www.kansas.com/opinion)

Fear is universally understood. When I hear fear in another person’s words empathy for them rises up in me. I have felt afraid many times and it’s not a pleasant place to be. Even this past weekend I spent a nearly sleepless night battling my own set of freak-outs. Friday late afternoon, along with thousands of others, I learned of the Paris attacks for the first time. Lowell is scheduled to fly to Paris on November 25th. He along with thousands of delegates and participants is descending on Paris for the COP 21 International Climate Summit. By Saturday night fear had stirred up my soul into an intolerable frenzy. I turned and tossed all night. I’d fall off to sleep only to be awakened by dreams with bad guys and chases and dark corners and Lowell. I lied there and tried to speak reason to my tortured thoughts. But reason was weak when the lights were off. My imaginings wrecked havoc on all rational thought. I was afraid.

When faced with fear we have choices. We can give into it and let it control our behavior—which is what I did Saturday night with less than restful results. We can ignore it, silence it, stuff it down. Or we can bravely name it and bring it to the only place of hope for healing. The antidote for fear is always faith. The only analgesic for anxiety is peace.

Something happened on Sunday. Whereas Saturday night I was convinced that Lowell should cancel his planned travel to Paris, by Sunday afternoon I knew he should go. I had found a place to put my fear. This may seem overly simple. To the unafraid or to the petrified this might sound shallow and silly, perhaps even trivial or trite. But trust me. I have found a safe place to store my fear and you can too.

I’ve written before about the story in the gospels where the four men—hopeless to do anything to solve their lame friend’s problem—load him up on a makeshift stretcher (essentially an old bed) and they bring him to Jesus. Out of complete desperation, and in full awareness of their own weaknesses and limitations, they actually dig a hole in the roof of the house where Jesus is staying. There in plain view of a large crowd, the same crowd that kept them from going through the door, they lowered their friend down on his stretcher right in front of Jesus.

In the past I’ve done that for my friends and family members that have suffered. I’ve done that for whole countries. I’ve lowered all of Pakistan down on a large charpai (rope bed) at the feet of Jesus. I’ve prayed “dragging, lugging, lowering, pleading prayers” for whole regions. And now, maybe because I’ve had so much experience in doing this for others, I’m doing this for myself. I’m taking my fear through the roof–from up where it’s crescendoed down to Jesus where he ministers. My fears, my anxieties, my perpetual little panics, my worries, my what-ifs, my worst-case-scenarios—they are all laid out on a bed with a tear stained pillow case and turmoiled linens…and I’m laying them out at the feet of Jesus.

Yesterday a young friend asked me what that looks like to, “lay our worries at the foot of the cross,” or to “give our fears to Jesus”. Author Tim Keller says the imagination connects what we know to be true in our heads with what we long to experience in our hearts. There is great power in our imaginations. I imagine bundling up all my fears and bringing them to Jesus. I imagine his expression as he sees me approach. Sometimes in my mind’s eye I throw all my worries at him…as if he’s somehow to blame for it all. He just gently catches it. Sometimes I picture myself pitching my panic at him. He doesn’t even flinch. I cast my cares on him knowing full well he cares for me (1 Peter 5:7).

Playing Whack-a-Mole with our emotions doesn’t work. We cannot bop these things away. We cannot stuff them down forever. Far better is to recognize what’s going on inside us. Allow our fears to surface—acknowledge their presence. Identify them. Name them. Be gentle with your worries. There is no shame in being afraid. And then lead your fears to the bed, to the stretcher. Help them climb on. Look around inside. “Search me, O God, and know my heart? See if there are any other anxious ways within me.” (Psalm 139:21) Trap the little fear foxes and tie them down on your makeshift stretcher.

I understand the fear that drives a person to curl up into the fetal position. I resonate with the temptation to shut down, to self protect, to hold on to those I love closer, tighter, with shorter reigns. But we are called to external living. We are called to step outside, to love others generously, to welcome strangers warmly. We are called to exit the constricting circle of our fears and to enter into the wide space of faith and grace. This will not happen unless we invite our fears out of the shadows and out into the light. When we openly admit we too are afraid, bravely carrying our strapped down fears to Jesus, even that is an act of trust and surrender. This is where the work of resisting the power of paranoia begins. The Spirit of God softens our souls and leads us courageously into the risky place of love.

I prayed to the Lord, and he answered me. He freed me from all my fears (Psalm 34:4).

Giving our fears to Jesus is not magical. Anxieties aren’t immediately silenced. Fear isn’t –poof!—instantly gone. In fact nothing fundamentally changes. And yet, something noticeable does happen. Jesus does not ignore the cries of those who suffer. With his love, he calms your fears, he separates you from them, he releases you from their power. Remarkably he intentionally stays close to your broken heart. He has a special love and affinity for those who call out to him when they’re hurting. With a tangible presence he surrounds you with unfailing love and comforts you in your troubles. It’s of great consolation to me that there is nothing that can separate us from that love—not even our frenzied fears for today nor our worst-case-scenarios for tomorrow, as hellish as they may seem.

(Psalm 9:12, Zeph 3:17, Psalm 34:4 & 18, Psalm 145:18, Psalm 32:10, 2 Cor 1:3-4, Romans 8:38)

The Therapy of Baking Bread

bread

I begin to bake bread when twilight comes quickly and a chill is ever-present in the air. I begin to bake bread when the dark of winter is not yet upon us and the glow of Autumn shines through orange candles. I continue baking it through the cold of winter, as snow piles up and then melts. I bake bread until finally, the forsythia breaks through and yellow blossoms stand tall, breaking the fast of winter grey.

Making bread is often better therapy than a counseling session.

I think about baking bread on my way home from work as I watch the sun too early and feel the icy wind on my face.

I think about setting the oven to 350 degrees as I start the yeast rising. I think about the ingredients: wheat flour, white flour, oats, yeast, oil, sugar, salt. So simple–yet yielding so much.

I mix up the oats, sugar, salt, whole wheat flour, and oil. I add boiling hot water.

I wait and then add yeast and the rest of the flour.

And then I take the slightly sticky dough and I knead. I knead and I pray.

I start global and I go local. I pray for Egypt and Pakistan, for peace, for mercy. I pray for the chasm of misunderstanding between East and West. I pray for Syria, that a miracle will happen. I pray for my family, that my children will know the joy of baking bread, of creating, of loving, of forgiveness and forgiving. I pray for my parents – thank God for them and what they have passed on to me.

I pray for refugees and the kneading gets more intense. I pray for those who are close and have no electricity, and for the ones who are far, who have lost olive trees and babies. I pray that reason will prevail, and that the Church will practice compassion.

And then I pray that I will forgive more and judge less, that I will find my strength and security in the One who is the bread of life,

I pound harder on the bread when I’m upset, when I feel hurt or anger rise to my eyes and heart. I concentrate deeply as I think about life in all its hard and all its good.  And as I do the bread becomes smoother under my hands.

This time in the kitchen, baking bread? It is holy time, holy work.

I set the bread to rise and I thank God for bread and for life.