Category Archives: love

This My Son

                   This is a fictitious retelling of Luke 15

 

I am the younger brother.

I left home in a mixture of emotions, angry because of various reasons, mostly because of the realization deep down that what I was doing was wrong. Yet I did not see or want to see any other solution to life. Perhaps feeling inferior because I never felt like I could match up to my older brother. Discontented. Oh yes, discontented. Confused. Proud.  Guilty at seeing the pain and tears I was causing my father.

I didn’t know how many feelings were boiling in my heart that day I left, because I didn’t stop to think about them. Instead I stuffed them into the furthest cobwebby corners of my soul, determined not to think about them. I only delved the surface of my emotions and rode on the crest of them- anger, excitement about the future, and pride. Pride, that I was finally breaking loose from the chains of my home and the life I was expected to live, a life pleasing to my father who dearly loved me. I loved him too, but not half as much as he loved me. I called him the dear old man, and thought he was quite tame. Not nearly as exciting as the world ahead of me. So I left. I didn’t expect to come back- ever.

At first life seemed smooth and delightful. I was my own boss, my own decision maker, the manager of my own affairs. I was my own person, and I could live life doing the things that made me happy. Quotes like “live your dreams,” and “do what makes you happy” were my mantras.  I had friends all around me and my natural people-pleasing tendencies let the money flow loosely from my hands to treat my friends to the life I was learning to enjoy so much. I loved people and people loved me. Naturally, they flocked around me.  I loved the attention and reveled in the glamour, the sensual pleasures so long denied me, the social whirl, the feeling of being rich and important. I was finally someone.

But suddenly the music faded. As my money departed, so did my friends and somehow, somehow I ended up sitting in the muck and mud of a sow pen, a solitary figure of broken hopes and dreams. The filth of my surroundings mocked me, and depression and hopelessness set in. I was the offscourings of a world I had given my all. I had jumped on its merry-go-round, and it had used me, dizzied me, ruined me, spit me out in rejection, and had gone on its own never-stopping way without regard to what ever happened to me. As I sat, memories assailed me, and would not stop. Memories of regret and pain, of mistakes done and right decisions undone. And worst of all were the memories of home, memories of younger, happier years that seemed to assault me, while something whispered, “Remember? See what a mess you’ve made out of your life? You were this kind of person back then. But now? Look at you. You’re one messed up person who could never succeed in life even if everything were handed to you on a platter.”

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For days I listened to these thoughts, agreeing with them and not bothering to fight back. It was true, wasn’t it? I had made a mess of my life and where I was now was my own fault. I cowered in the pigpen, helpless to make anything better of my life without the help of someone else, but too confused  and worn and dizzy to do anything. Finally, one day, when I was at my lowest, in the rain-soaked squalor of the swine pen, I knew something had to change. Either my life had to go, or I had to leave the pigpen. I chose to leave the pigpen. What caused me to do it, I wasn’t sure, although I do now.

It was my father calling me home.

I am the Father.

             I loved my son dearly and I cried unashamedly when he left. For days, I watched the streets as I walked through them in hopes of catching a glimpse of his face. I knew he did not love me. He thought he did to some degree, but he had spurned my love and protection, and forsaken all that he was entitled to for only a slice of sensual glory. The day he came belligerently to ask for his inheritance I knew exactly where he was going. I begged with him to stay, but he refused. So I let him go. I knew I could force him to stay, but I could never force him to love me. So I let him go, but I did not give him my blessing. And he left the next morning, not even saying goodbye.

I do not know how often I cried in the next months and weeks and years. In the morning, I awoke and listened to the song of the birds beside the window, but my lips could not move to the song. During the day, I did my work faithfully, but my heart was not in it. Whenever some little joy would steal its way into my hours, I would smile with delight at its appearance, only to think the next minute that my youngest son was not there to share it with me and again my heart would wince with the swordthrust of missing him. At night, in bed, I lay awake, unable to sleep, the dull ache in my chest made worse by the darkness of midnight, longing and crying for him to come home. Oh, how I missed him!

Every day I climbed the castle stairs to the roof where I could see for miles around, including the road that stretched out in the direction he had left. Every day, I stood and shaded my eyes with my hand and watched for a glimpse of him, my son.

I am the older brother.

For a few days after my brother left, I accompanied my father to the roof of the house to watch down the road. Yet my heart was not in it, for I was sure he would not come back. I went to humor my father, and because I was a good son. When my brother left, I was sad, but I decided to put it behind me and move on. I had too much to accomplish to mourn long over his decisions. I spoke with my father in the same way, especially when I saw the sorrow that seemed to multiply day after day. “Father,” I said. “You must move on. You must forget about that ne’er-do-well and move on. You still have me here on the farm, as well as many servants. He has done too much wrong to be mourned over like this. You must move on.”

That was my mantra, “move on.” Get over it. I had “moved on”, or thought I did , and on the surface it appeared like I had. Life was comfortable and quite nice without the tension of working with my brother.

I was the good son and had always been. I was naturally gifted and organized, and became easily frustrated with my brother’s wild and lazy ways of doing things. I could do a job well, and often rejected my father’s offer to help, sure that I could do it as well by myself.

I never realized that my father was hurt by my rejection of his help and that he longed for me to ask him for something. I never knew the privileges that were mine as a son of his.

All I had to do was ask.

We are the servants.

When we heard of the youngest son’s return, we gasped in surprise. “Is it really him?” we asked. “Are you sure?” And then we came to see for ourselves and to rejoice. We helped kill the fatted calf, and set the table for the feast, and then we sat down amidst the music and the feasting and celebrated the return of the son.

You may ask why we rejoiced. Why would we rejoice the return of our master’s son, who had never done anything to ever make our life easier? If anything, he had only made it harder since we saw our master’s sorrow every day, wearing deeper and deeper. And our master’s sorrow was our own as well, because he was as a Father to us and we loved him dearly.

But when he came home, we rejoiced because the ache in our hearts had been ceased, and the crying of our souls had been answered. For we were the ones who had joined hands in prayer, rising early in the morning and interceding for him, as well as late at night. We were the ones the Father sent out into miles of the surrounding countryside to search for him for weeks on end and to speak to him when we found him. We were also the ones he rejected and laughed at when we did find him and pleaded with him to come home.

Because we loved much, we hurt much. But because we hurt much, the joy of his return was so much greater.

For the reward of love is joy, and to avoid the pain of loving is to kill the nerve of joy.

Which one of these four are you?

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Of Ambivalence, Hope and Hatpins

Two words have been on my mind lately.

Hope and ambivalence.

According to dictionary.com, the definition of ambivalence is this:

1.uncertainty or fluctuation, especially when caused by inability to make a choice or by a   simultaneous desire to say or do two opposite or conflicting things.

When I read the definition, I thought to myself, “It feels so good that at least the dictionary understands the story of my life.”

There are times when I know exactly what I want. If I would sit down and count them, I could probably count them on one hand.

Whether it’s ordering off a menu, or deciding on a career, I feel like Philippa Gordon in Anne of the Island, who was struck with such indecisiveness that when faced with the decision of which hat to wear, she would put them on the bed, close her eyes and jab them with a hatpin.

Sometimes I do it too. I can’t decide what to wear so I go “eenie meenie minie moe.” And sometimes I have to do it several times before I get to the point where I can be happy with the results. I know, it’s weird.

But what do ambivalence and hatpins have to do with hope?

Because hope is such a strange thing. It’s what keeps us alive, yet it’s also what keeps us in pain. It’s such an enigma, oxymoron, puzzle, whatever you want to call it. We love it, we call it, we lure it, but when we have it, it hurts. So we shelve it, we box it, we draw boundaries around it, we sit on it, we smother it, we numb its beauty with the narcotic of fantasy. And yet, we live on it. We can’t live without it. An old, old book says, “Hope deferred maketh the heart sick.” Yet, wouldn’t it be better not to hope at all, rather than to hope and have it deferred? A Thai friend of mine has this saying on his Line (a popular messaging app in Asia)profile picture. “Mai wang, mai pit wang.” Meaning, “If you don’t hope, you won’t be disappointed.”

I know that’s a lie. But the ambivalence inside of me rages. If I hope, I will be disappointed. If I don’t hope, I will die. Hope is what keeps me alive, yet sometimes that life feels like death.

To hope or not to hope?

This ambivalence is what keeps us standing on the edge of the river, dipping only a toe into the water when we could jump in. It keeps us wavering at the counter of McDonalds, keeps us paralyzed and unable to make long term commitments because of all the “what if’s”, and it keeps us jabbing hatpins at hats on the bed.

I wish I had some kind of profound way to end this post. Some deep, wise thought that seals it up and leaves a good, satisfying taste in my mouth and lets me finally go to bed, feeling like I’ve got it figured out and that I’ve left a wise impression on my readers.  But that’s not what hope is like. This elusive, ethereal, yet powerful thing. It’s an emotion, yet not an emotion.

Perhaps, perhaps there’s something that lies in the choice. The act of choosing. Not the jabbing of the hatpin, but the deliberate choice to hope. And maybe it has something to do with faith.

Perhaps. I really don’t know.

What do you say?

What Is Missions?

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What is missionary life? After reading an article called This Is Missions by Brooke Vanguard, a description of missions in China, I was challenged by a friend  to write our own version of missions in Thailand. This is a glimpse of what it is. The photos are a bit random, some having to do with the words, and some not.

Again, a small disclaimer. Sometimes I hesitate to write anything about missions here, simply because so many people get the  picture that missions is some sort of really special work that only really special people can do. It is not!! Sometimes I cringe when I am labeled as a missionary, because of this.  It is a really special work that people with a really special God can do. And being a missionary does not mean that you need to go to a foreign country. It can be done on your very doorstep.

This is missions…..

It’s reaching up and finding spiders in your hair and going on wild mouse chases in the middle of the night. It’s brushing off the ants from that precious banana bread — and eating the banana bread. It’s waking up at night hearing rats running around attic. It’s setting sticky traps in the kitchen and having to haul off the results later, while choking back nausea.

It’s trying to make food that your Thai guests will enjoy and instead, it’s putting way too much water into the rice which leaves it sticky and mushy. It’s feeling like a bumbling city girl who can’t cook anything because you simply don’t know how to make Thai food. It’s ordering fresh milk and feeling stupid and naïve because no matter how desperately you calculate, you can’t think of how much 10 kilograms of milk might be in pounds. It’s feeling silly because you don’t know how to change children’s diapers Thai style— pull off the diaper and spray ‘em with the hose!

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It’s being told that you are way too trusting when you invite the lonely stranger you met at the bus station to stay at your house. It’s being told by your neighbors and friends how you should arrange your furniture, how you should put up your shelves, how you should always close your door to keep out the mosquitos, and how you should not go out into the sun without  long sleeves, or let yourself get wet. It’s feeling frustrated when you’re constantly told by your coworkers at school that you need to speak harshly to your children in order to make them behave, and feeling like you can’t do anything right because you don’t quite do it their way.

It’s trying to impress your hosts with your ability to eat spicy food, and then paying for your pride the next morning in the bathroom. It’s feeling frustrated by not being able to communicate the way you want to and it’s being tired of feeling like a 3 year old who keeps on using the wrong words and saying silly things.

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It’s feeling totally comfortable telling a male friend at church how much you weigh. It’s laughing at jokes you would not have thought funny 2 years ago. It’s eating with your spoon in your right hand and your fork in your left without a thought. It’s being ok with changing plans at the last minute, or not even having any plans in the first place. It’s going home and asking your mom if the mattress in your room is new—- because it’s so soft! It’s asking people if they’ve eaten yet and what they ate, as a way of being polite. Or asking them where they’re going.

It’s feeling like you’re brain is permanently fried by language study and hot weather. It’s feeling like you use so much brain energy just surviving that all the profound, cool thoughts you used to think have simply vanished from your brain.

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It’s wondering how on earth to help the bouncing ADHD student learn to control himself and stop shooting things with his imaginary gun. It’s holding tightly an angry child bent on hurting whatever he can touch in his little world. It’s feeling like all you do is tell little people what to do.

It’s going to church and feeling a heaviness on your heart because you wish so badly that your unbelieving friends could be there too. It’s driving home late at night and feeling the sadness of the city circle around your soul.

It’s being ecstatic about the fact that in a little over a week you get to fly home for an entire month. At the same time, it’s feeling terrified too.

It’s being on cloud nine after being able to carry an hour long conversation all in Thai, and then it’s crashing down to reality when you can’t understand a simple question.

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It’s always feeling a little self -conscious, wherever you go. It’s being told you are sooo beautiful all the time and you speak Thai sooooo well. It’s being used to the stares that come from passengers on the backs of trucks as you drive down the road on your bike.

It’s listening to your friend recount with glowing face  her new found faith and the way God is working in her life and leading her to witness to her co-workers. It’s listening to her bold statement of faith before she is baptized on a rainy Sunday afternoon.

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It’s having a young student crying inconsolably after leaving school because she found out that Teacher Lori is going home to America, not realizing it’s only for a month. (Ok, not quite inconsolably. She was consoled by donuts eventually, I heard.)img_7065

It’s listening to a 4 year old student from a Buddhist family announcing to his friends, “When I grow up I am going to go to church!”

It’s watching the even rising and falling chest of a young girl as she sleeps and running your finger over her smooth cheek, praying that God would give her a hope and a future, even when all the odds are against her.

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It’s feeling that odd tug at your soul when you crest the mountain peak – on those few occasions that you do get to the mountain – and seeing smoke rising from a valley village, far below. It’s that heartfelt connection that you feel after stopping at a roadside stand to escape the rain for a few minutes and striking up a conversation with the vendors and customers, finding that they too know the true God. It’s seeing the delight on a market vendor’s face because you speak their language and eat their food.IMG_5290

It’s feeling the small strength of a child’s hand in yours. It’s seeing the solemn trust in a little girl’s chocolate eyes and hearing her say your name. It’s hearing the squealing laughter of 30 children loose on the playground. It’s giving piggy back rides and bouncing wildly on big rubber balls and roaring like a tiger and rolling on the ground and doing other quite unladylike maneuvers.

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It’s sitting at Wednesday night cell group, singing Thai songs and sharing struggles and realizing over and over again that we are brothers and sisters.

It’s knowing it is all worth it.

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I’m Alive

Today is rich.

Green is the color of life and today is full of it.

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Photo- July 2015, Chiang Dao, Thailand. Photo credit, Lori Hershberger

 

This Saturday morning I ride my motorbike up Doi Kham mountain, through some of the greenest foliage I have ever seen in my life to one of my favorite spots in Chiang Mai, Doi Kham Horseback Riding.

We ride through the thick green landscape, rich, rich, rich in all its greenness where two months ago it was a dry dusty brown. The green feeds my soul, my dry dusty soul.

Afterwards we sip coffee in a little cafe surrounded by rice fields in a small valley. Mountains rise on the side and light glints off the top of a temple spire built on the tip of the mountain. My coffee is perfect, not too strong with lots of milk. The sky has cleared from its early morning storminess, and color like I have not seen in a long time splashes the world with its life-giving vibrance. I savor the gift of friendship, the gift of coffee, the gift of being able to speak a language that 2 years ago was foreign, the gift of resting my mind from the daily challenges of work.

The day passes and the gifts keep coming. Sunflowers- yellow, brown and green- from a friend, cookies, summer sounds,  tall, tall thunderheads towering in a brilliantly blue sky. Green grass in the shadow of palm trees with light shafting and glinting and dancing. I long for a camera since words cannot do justice. It seems like every waking moment is full of color. Why? Was it not there before? Or has God simply allowed my soul to see again? All through these sights and all through the day, two words keep on running through my mind.

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Photo– July 2015, Chiang Dao, Thailand. Photo credit– Lori Hershberger

I’m alive.

Later rain torrents down from the thunderheads that now pour out their fury on the world. I am on my bike heading to the airport to meet a friend when it comes, and it is the worst rain I have ever driven in on a motorbike. But it brings a glory of its own— the challenge of driving in the rain with wind lashing and water coming up to mid tire at times. I feel at one with the rain at times like this. It seems to embody the human spirit— a lashing out at the sadness and evil of the world.

But the one most precious gift of the day keeps on coming back to me as I drive home late at night from a friend’s house. It is words that I keep on puzzling on, over and over again. This morning as we sat on the balcony of the cafe after our ride, drinking coffee, my Thai Buddhist  friend says of his 14 year old son, “Chawin ok gab Pra Jao laao.” Literally translated  he says, “Chawin is ok with God.”

I keep on mulling over these words, wishing I knew exactly what he meant. Chawin goes to a Christian school, and as I look back at memories of conversations about religion when he was present, I remember the look of understanding and empathy in his bright eyes as we talked about Jesus and Christianity. But does he mean that he believes in God? Does he mean that he has found peace with God?

I wish I knew. I wish I had asked.

But for now I am grateful at least this. Chawin is ok with God, whatever it  means. And perhaps one day his father will be too.

Thank you, Jesus.

 

 

Why Sightseeing Is Not Enough

The following are some ramblings from tonight. I seem unable to fully put into words what I really want to say, like usual. But I decided to go ahead and publish itself in its imcompleteness. Perhaps others will have another perspective. Also, this is not saying that foreign long term missions are the only way to go. What I’m trying to say is don’t be somewhere where you can’t be all there, and where you can’t stay and plug in your heart.

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Doi Tao, Chiang Mai. (photo credit JJ Burkholder)

I love traveling. Few things thrill me like standing in the huge Suvarnabhumi Airport in Bangkok and watching the swarms of people, all of them going places. I love the feel of the airport, the delightful mix of ethnicities- from the turbaned Arab of the UAE, to the excited, jabbering Chinese tourists, to the veiled Islamic Iranian women, to the purposeful, striding Americans to the gentle Thai bathroom cleaners.  The call of the unknown beckons. There’s the excitement of running to catch your plane, the interesting conversations with your seatmates like the man from Uzbekistan who is searching for truth or the Indian woman on her way home for the birth of her child. And sometimes you sit beside people who plug up their ears with earbuds as soon as they take a glance at you. Those are the times you look out your window and gaze in awe at the clouds below, glinting the rays of the afternoon sun, or at the sight of the gigantic blue earth so far, far away and so beautiful that you would never guess the sorrow and the pain that is rooted deeper than the roots of any tree.

Neither do I need to fly to get into the feeling of being a tourist. Chiang Mai has more tourists than a street dog has fleas. You can’t go into the inner city without stepping on them. They come from all over- Belgium, Germany, France, China, USA, Canada, Russia, and more. They walk the city with their hiking backpacks and long blonde hair and funny accents when they try to greet a native in Thai. And they’re always going somewhere. To the elephant camp. To the pottery shop. To the Hmong village. To the longneck Karen village. To Tiger Kingdom.

We are constantly on the go. We fill our passport with visa stamps and are a wee bit proud when we need to add extra visa pages in order to have enough to scratch the travel bug on our itching feet. (excuse my mixing metaphors). We go home with colorful stories of the people we met, or the food we ate, or the amazing pictures we took of the Akha child in her gorgeous tribal headdress, or the brilliant eyes of the Indian slum girl. We can even add in some stories that pull on heart strings and make others want to go view the same.  And we’re always talking about the next place we’ll be going to. We want to do all these things, as many as possible, before we die, like we won’t have any room for adventure after we die.

I’m not saying it’s bad. The travel bug hits me hard and plenty. Words like “wonderlust” and “beyond the horizon” used to resonate with me.

But now they sound so empty.

Empty.

People say travelers have rich experiences. And they do. But when we go and see and do and go home, we are denying ourselves some of the richest experiences of our lives. And that only comes when we go and see and do and stay.

We forget that the real treasure in everything we experience lies in the heart of God.

No matter how unique, or cool or amazing all those amazing sights are.

And one of the ways to knowing the heart of God as deeply as possible is to know and understand the human heart.

We forget that immersing into a new language and a new culture is one of the most beautiful experiences a human can have, as well as the most painful. Because if you learn to understand  someone’s culture and their language, you begin to understand their heart.

Suddenly they are no longer just a picture, or a story, or even a random person you met on the streets of Vietnam.

They become a part of your heart. From being just a picture of an Akha girl with a stunning headdress, she becomes a friend, a student, or a daughter.The Indian girl with the deep black eyes becomes real too- not simply a photograph or a story, a memoir from your travels.

Instead of traveling and  viewing  magnificent or notorious sights, and grinning to ourselves as we cross it off our bucket list, while planning our next trip, we actually experience what we see. By living in it. By becoming a part of it. By making this people and this land ours.

When that happens, sometimes some of the glossiness gets wiped off the pictures. When we actually get our hands dirty and realize the extent of the pain this world has to offer, we would rather move on, skimming from country to country, not carrying these people in our hearts anymore.

Two weeks ago, I took a short trip to a hill tribe village way back in the mountains. We spent a night and a day there, traveling roads that curved and climbed impossibly, playing with the children, watching in the New Year on the lookout. We slept outside under stars that were deeper and brighter and closer than any I’ve ever seen, punched out of a sky of velvet. We ate rice and spice like nothing else I’ve had. I even got a bite of rat.

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Karen children at Doi Tao, Chiang Mai (photo credit: JJ Burkholder)

 

But it wasn’t enough.We had a less than 24 hours actually staying in the village. I needed to talk with the most of the  villagers through the help of the children translating from my Thai to the Karen language. I had no idea what these people’s lives were like in the last 10 years before we met. I didn’t know their struggles, or their hopes, or their passions.  Sure, I got an experience, something to write home about and something to shock my mom with (the rat part.) But it wasn’t much more than a passing experience.

It all seems so useless if you don’t stop and stay and become.

 

 

 

Good-bye

Awake and alert with pain. The pain of losing, although it did not come as a surprise, the dull pain of restlessness, the ache of unfulfilled dreams, the pain of wanting and waiting, and the pain of tears at night when memories of love crowd in. I am no mother, and perhaps never will be, and neither am I one of those people who pine for children of their own. But there is something inexplicably aching in the pain of having a child you love taken out of your hands.

God, why? And why twice in one year?

I was quite brave when I was told that the Little Girl Who Lives With Us would not be coming any more. But at 11:30 at night, sleepless in bed, I do not feel so brave anymore and hot tears flood. Instead I remember those times, singing at the top of our lungs on a motorbike, playing hide and seek at the park, shopping for presents for father’s day, faltering through the beginning stages of reading, baking chocolate chip cookies, watching Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and eating hordes of chocolate as we watched, praying together at night, stumbling through my Thai Bible stories, trying to read fluently enough to keep her attention.
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And watching her sleep from my view on my bed- lustrous
black eyes closed in slumber, hair atumble, arms akimbo. Those were the times when I asked God for forgiveness for my sharp impatient words to her in the heat of the moment, or for being frustrated at my inability to spend a moment by myself.

Judy Unruh writes a poem called Foster Baby Bye. While my little girl was not a baby anymore, the poem rings within my heart.

I did not cry when they came for him,
my goodbye was suitably gay;
as if it were not a jagged-edged piece of my heart
that was torn
that was torn
torn away.IMG_5410

 

I Do Not Understand

I do not understand how there is no fear in love

Mine must not be perfect, because for me

Love has always held an element of fear


A fear of losing, a fear of a light snuffed out

Fading quickly into the cruel, cold darkness

Of unleashed desire. That, for you, I fear.


When I see that light in your eyes, little girlIMG_6100

That quick smile glowing, laughter rippling free

I love and I fear- so fiercely. For you.


That light of girlhood- of pigtails and pink

Of hugs and Jesus songs sung in the breath snatching wind

That light must never be the red light of the street


But I am not God, therefore I fear for you

Because my love is not perfect in trust and in the power

Of the greater Love that overshadows us


And I bare my teeth at the angry world around us

That wants to smother light into darkness

And let only fear, and not love be the guiding star.


Show me, Lord, how perfect love casts out fear,

Because I do not understand.

Child That Never Really Was Mine

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I miss you, I miss you, child of my heart

(Child that never really was mine)

Eyes so deep you’d think you’d drown

Drown in those tears of salty brine.

But child, child, I miss those hands

Brown and small that clung to my own

Clung to my hands and held to my heart

But now I hold alone.

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The last time I saw you, child of mine

You looked so fragile and skinny and small

And I don’t know if I’ll ever again

Walk this way and hear you call

But child, child, I’ll never forget

The way you hugged me that one last time

Child, I love you, no words can say

(Child that never really was mine)

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Father, take care of him!

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“Suffer the little children to come unto me, and forbid them not: for of such is the kingdom of God.”(Mark 10:14) KJV

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He shall feed his flock like a shepherd: he shall gather the lambs with his arm, and carry them in his bosom, and shall gently lead those that are with young.  (Isaiah 40:11) KJV

There and Back Again

There and Back Again

After 3 ½ weeks at home, I’m back in the Far East, wondering sometimes if this is really where I’m supposed to be, wondering if I am equipped for this work, wondering if I’ll last the two years I signed on for, feeling at home yet not at home.

When home was within my grasp 4 weeks ago when I left for America, the thought wasn’t as delightfully welcome to me then as it would have been 3 months earlier. My time to go home came at a time when I was finally feeling more at home in this country and friendships were being built. But when I walked down those last few feet into the arms of my waiting family, I knew why I had come home. My nephew summed it up later. “Everybody was crying. But it’s ok for big people to cry.”

I didn’t do any super amazing things while I was home. Mostly I just soaked up being at home, yet on the last day, I still wished I had spent even more time at home.

My time was filled with those little moments that I love. Like when my 6 year old nephew sized me up on my first evening home and asked, “Can you still run?” Or it was holding my newest nephew for the very first time.

It was moments like these that made up my time, like when my sister and I made lattes with her new coffee and espresso machine on the evening before I left because this was the last time in a long time that we could do this, and then we took our books to bed with us and read late into the night because we couldn’t sleep.

Or it was milking cows in the new dairy barn and trying to see how fast we could milk. It was stumping around my sister and her husband’s farm in dirty boots, letting my niece show me the baby chicks and looking at the prize yearling filly of my brother- in- law’s. It was riding my horse one sunny Sunday afternoon through grassy fields and listening to the prairie wind speak to the world, or sitting in the silence of a late Saturday evening by myself, listening and praying.

It was just sitting at home and eating a simple supper with my mom and dad and sister. Or that time I spent with friends, around a campfire on a misty Friday night into the wee hours of the morning. That morning that I spent on a friend’s porch, enjoying a deluxe brunch and laughter and companionship. Or when I ate supper with a friend one evening and we shared our hearts, even after 8 months of absence from each other. And it was baking cookies with 4 lovable tykes, and even an afternoon of teaching former students. It was looking into chocolate brown eyes and listening to my nephew’s solemn dissertation on why Jesus is more powerful than Satan. It was visiting my grandma and wondering if I would ever see her again on this side of heaven. It was singing “How Beautiful Heaven Must Be” and letting the tears come, because that is my real-est home.

And somehow, no matter how much you might have prepared yourself to come back to your “other” home, and no matter how much of my heart is here in this country, good-byes always color those last few days with sadness. And that’s why tears rolled down my face as I opened a card from a friend at the airport, and as we taxied down the  runway for the first flight, and as we flew over unknown territory on Qatar airways. And I was glad it was rainy that last day I was home. It fit my mood.

(I know I’m sentimental. There’s no getting around it.)

But God wasn’t angry with me for having a hard time leaving. Instead, He gently showed me again the burden He had given me as I sat in the Chicago airport, watching people. On my longest flight, I sat beside a young Indian woman flying home to India to await the birth of a child, while her husband stayed working in Arizona. In Qatar airport, I was doodling horses on my drawing notebook when the Arabic man beside me noticed and started asking questions.  I was delighted to sit beside a Thai lady while waiting for my flight to board to Bangkok, and even more thrilled that Pasa Thai still flowed from my lips. On my flight to Bangkok, I sat beside an Islamic Thai student studying in Jordan and we had a few long worthwhile conversations. And as I read from John 3 and looked out the airplane window at the hundreds of city lights below me, and thought of the millions of people we were flying over, I realized again why I want to do this. Even when it is painful and I cry.

You’ll Never Know

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You’ll never know

How often I sit

And gaze at your face.

When you lie on your mat, lost in unknown dreams,

As I watch you running, with young laughter in your eyes

Or when that defiant look crosses your face

And you don’t understand how much I love you.

Then my heart gives this funny little twist

(That I can’t really explain and I never will be able to)

And I want to hang on to you, and never, ever, ever let them take you away.