Tag Archives: heart

The Rats in Our Lives

One of my housemates gives them names. The other one can’t bring herself to kill one if she has the chance. I throw water bottles at them.

They’re a constant problem at our house, these rats and mice. One morning a little over a year ago, I woke up at 3 in the morning. In my groggy, half-awakened state, I heard an odd rhythm, the scraping sound of furniture moving, belongings being shuffled around rather frantically, and a methodic thumping. I lay there for a good 3 minutes, trying to gather up enough mental energy to make a conclusion of what was happening. Finally, it dawned on me and I croaked as loudly as my 3 AM voice would allow.

“Brit, are you killing rats?”

A weak answer floated back, “Yes.”

When I got there, her room looked like a war zone. Everything was on the bed that could possibly be there and whatever couldn’t be was arranged in a path to channel the said mouse (not actually a rat this time) into a trap. The sad part was she couldn’t bring herself to kill it, so she handed me the broom.

At that time of the morning, you say odd things. I am told that I said, “I can’t kill them unless I’m really mad at them” and then went ahead and savagely killed it.

We’ve had them long enough that we’ve become calloused to them. They create material for good stories to freak out moms and sisters at home. Like the time one of them ate a snack on the drying rack and had the audacity to leave shreds of mango on my newly washed underwear. Or the time I heard one in my closet and as I was hunting for it, I leaned my hand against some blankets and it came squirming out from underneath them. Or the time they chewed up an entire cloth runner since butter had melted on it and they craved the flavor.

We’ve found ways of coping with them. They come in from the kitchen, so we close the door to the rest of the house so they can’t get in there. That doesn’t actually work since they can climb through the open window that goes from kitchen to the hallway. We’ve learned to cover up or put in the cupboard any food that is edible, even if it’s in a plastic bag because plastic bags are barely barriers to chew through. Lately I’ve started to put out poison. We found the smelly results under the couch a few days later.

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About a year ago, some friends of mine were here. The guys in the group had pity on us and went out and bought some dry cement and filled up the holes in the kitchen so the rats couldn’t come through again. It worked!

For a while. Then they learned that they could come up the washer drain. And the dry cement began crumbling and a little hole appeared large enough for them to come through again. Now at night we hear skitterings and crashings and all sorts of noises coming from our kitchen. And in the gutter, we can hear dreadful squeakings and shriekings. For some time I was sure there was one in the agonies of death, either that giving birth to another generation of unprincipled rodents. (Do rats have labor pains? I wonder.)

Every time another episode in the rat saga occurs, we look at each and shake our heads and say, “Guys, we really need to do something about these rats!”

But no one does anything. We get used to them. We work from Monday to Fridays in slightly stressful jobs and no one has the energy to do anything about them when we get home. They are a nuisance, but not a constant pain. And most of all, we don’t really know what to do about them. How do you fully plug up those holes anyway? We helplessly ignore them and secretly hope that eventually they will go away. Either that we’ll do something about them tomorrow.

But they don’t go away.

In a way, each of us has rats in our lives too. Rats of a different ilk.

It’s that niggling feeling that you get when talking with someone else and you’re not sure exactly what is niggling. It’s that sense of dread that comes over you when you’re listening to a sermon or reading a book and something is said that suddenly takes you in a deep, downward spiral. It’s that feeling of inadequacy. Shame. Anger. Bitterness. Fear. Or a feeling you can’t even name.

Sometimes the feelings are so quick and passing that we don’t even realize they exist. We rush on through our day, intent on doing our job right, so intent on getting to the next thing that when we have time to sit and reflect on what happened, it’s burrowed itself down deep enough we don’t feel it anymore and it takes too much digging to get it up again and deal with it. Or we forget that it even happened or we don’t have the energy to deal with it.

Sometimes it’s more obvious than that. Sometimes it overshadows whatever we do and we struggle to put one foot ahead of the other, because of this feeling of dread that hangs over us, but we feel helpless and overwhelmed when we even think about doing something about it

Usually these rats come stealing in at our lowest points, when we stretched thin, when we’re facing stress in our daily lives, when we’re dealing with raw pain, or when we’re  lonely.

And what do we do with them? Sometimes we put up walls. We put everything edible into cupboards so the rats can’t reach them. Or we only close the kitchen door to certain parts of our lives so they can’t enter into the living room. In reality we are saying, I will only be bitter about this part of my life, but I won’t let it affect the rest of my life. But eventually it does affect that part.

Sometimes we put out poison for the rats. This works to some degree, and there’s a need for this. But after a while we get tired of cleaning up the smelly mess and always dealing with new ones coming in again.

We need to plug up the holes. As long as the holes are there, rats will come in. And we will need to deal with them.

Those rats, those ugly thoughts and feelings that come twisting out of the woodwork when we’re not looking, aren’t really the problem. The problem is the holes in our lives.

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Most of those holes were created when we were very young, between the ages of 0 and 8. These are the formative years of a child’s life. Forgive me if this sounds cliché. Sometimes I myself get tired of people harping that you have to dig into your childhood to find the roots of all the problems that are present in your life currently.

But often the most cliché things are cliché because they actually are true. The painful things that happened when you and I were young and the way we reacted then becomes a pattern for how we twistedly deal with life presently on a daily basis.

That’s why if we don’t deal with that point of paint that happened when we were six, it becomes a building block for future patterns of “fixed” thinking.

Recently I heard it explained in this way. Painful or traumatic things that happen to us in our lives are like hooks that are thrust into our hearts. As long as we don’t forgive or don’t deal with that pain or issue, we provide a hook for future events to hang on to.

We can clean up the mess from the rats every morning (and believe me, they leave a mess). But until we plug up those holes and remove those hooks from our hearts, the rats won’t go away.

The rat analogy can only go so far. In truth, we shouldn’t stop short of just plugging up the holes. In a perfect world, we should go outside and kill all the rats in the field behind us. But anyone who’s lived in Southeast Asia realizes the futility of that. And we don’t live in a perfect world. (Duh.)

Here are a few thoughts that might help with the finding and plugging up of some of those holes.

  1. Find out what you are feeling! This is easier said than done. Our souls are intricate and our emotions a mess. Sometimes we don’t even know we are feeling something when in reality we are feeling it deeply. Ask God to help you become aware of emotions you feel daily. Sometimes He will give you a little push to help you see what you’re feeling, and it can hurt. Be prepared to be hurt. When we open our hearts to actually feeling, it is astounding how painful something can be.
  2. Write down what you’re feeling and find out where it comes from. The writing down part doesn’t have to happen—that depends on what your best way is of processing things. But for me, writing brings clarity and a new viewpoint. And most importantly, it helps you remember. But however you do it, keep track of what you’re feeling and when you feel it. Become aware of the world that goes on inside of you.
  3. Take it to God. Ask Him to show you where these feelings are coming from. Why do I feel inadequate when someone else can do a job better than me, even if I do it well? Why do I get angry so easily when one of my students disobeys me? Why do I feel like hiding in the bathroom when I have to be a part of a large group of people that I don’t know?
  4. Talk with someone about it. There are several reasons for this. Talking with others about it can bring clarity. Recently I emailed someone about an issue I was facing that I couldn’t quite lay my finger on. After the email, I felt like I was able to see the problem from a different angle and much more clearly. But even more importantly, talking about it brings healing, especially when done face to face. Recently I was a part of a group that spent time together talking about issues we were facing and walking through those issues with each other. There is something terrible and humbling in discussing our core pain with each other, but something freeing and healing as well. God can bring deep healing through true interaction with brothers and sisters. Like someone in the group said, “I didn’t know God can kick you in the butt and give you a hug at the same time.”
  5. Remember that it’s not a onetime fix all. I know, technically once you get those holes plugged up, and once you get those hooks out of your heart, it’s supposed to fix it all. But we live in a fallen world. And analogies can only go so far. Even though we do rid ourselves of the hooks, sometimes our old ways of living life, our old patterns of expressing still want to shine through. They are habits. It’s like someone whose been in the hospital and been on morphine for a long time. Once the pain of the health issue is no longer there, the craving for the morphine still exists. In the same way, we sometimes crave for our old patterns even though we have found something much better.

This is by no means an exhaustive look at rats in our lives. In fact, it’s only the tip of the iceberg. I’d like to hear from you. What kind of experience have you had with rats in your life? How have you dealt with them?

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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.