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Change

I cried that time when I came home

From the land across the sea

When I walked across the autumn grass

To see my favorite tree

 

We stood there in the evening light

My favorite tree and I

Remembering the countless times

I’d climbed its branches high

 

I tried to climb the strong old limbs

As I had done at eight,

But I could not, for those limbs were gone;

The changes were too great.

 

So when I left my friend alone

Beneath the darkening sky

I cried and cried with unchecked tears

For he had changed and so had I.

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Those Poor Children

Author’s note: I am not disclaiming the need in any way for humanitarian aid, justice for those oppressed or at risk, or education for those who lack it. Those who know me best will attain to that fact. However, I am simply restating the well known fact that wealth and prosperity have  never been known to bring happiness. 

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I’ve seen children sitting afloat pieces of junk in a murky little sewer stream, splashing in the water, challenging each other to jump across, or pretending to push each other into the smelly depths. I’ve seen these same children fight out a game of “sabaa” on a dirt road, similar to bowling but using small round stone-like seeds, plucked from a tree in the mountains. They squat in the dust and with screams and squeals play the game, squabbling as they play, but usually emerging from the argument with a smile and laugh. Dirty- faced younger siblings play in the road as well, fighting mock battles with sticks, or other trash pulled from the dump that borders the Thai slum village. It’s dirty. It’s dusty. It’s smelly.

And then….. I turn around.

And see immaculate houses filled with toys, crammed with food, with all the comforts you would want. I see children with no siblings and with abnormal levels of self -entitlement screaming their wrath to the world because they were denied a certain color crayon.

I see parents bowing to all wishes—- Child, “I want this toy-a!”

“But honey, you’ve got one at home!”

“But not just like this-a!”

“Ok, ok, honey! We’ll get you one as soon as we can!” Heaven forbid that we cause another tantrum!

I see parents with their children on an unseen leash, protecting and wrapping them in invisible bubble wrap—“Dear, don’t run! You might fall!”

“Darling, don’t go out into the sun! It’s so hot!”

“Honey, don’t get wet! You might catch a cold!”

Disobedience is met with a “Oh- you’re -so -cute -and –so- bad- and- what –on- earth- will- we –ever- do –with- you” shake of the head and a sigh.

Forgive me, parents. I know that if I ever have children of my own, I might look back with a little more understanding.

But please….. Let the child climb that tree and stomp in that puddle and make that mud pie and use that hammer! Let him fall! Let him bleed! And please, please, don’t, don’t give him everything he wants!

I endured one of the happiest childhoods of anyone. We swam in the dirtiest water you could imagine— the algae infested cattle tanks on our farm. We made mud pies and shot baby sparrows and set them in the middle of the mud pies. We painted our faces and made teepees in the grove of evergreen trees and made paper boats and floated them off down the ditch after a hard rain. We built dusty houses out of small square straw bales and climbed the barn walls in search of sparrow nests and built tree houses in as many trees that God allowed to be suitable for tree houses. We had tea parties on the roof; we woke up at 4:30 to watch a summer sunrise; we rode our pony full speed down dirt roads and through grassy fields; we drank out of hoses; we ran through the sprinkler; we acted out Indian powwows; we rattled around on one speed bikes, reenacting the Kentucky Derby. We used our imagination where our resources were low.

We also worked. We planted potatoes and green beans and corn. We picked strawberries until we thought that we were going to die and threw the rotten ones at each other when we were bored. We pulled weeds. We harvested potatoes and green beans and corn and vowed to never, ever plant 5 long rows of green beans when we grew up. We fed baby calves. We milked cows. We brought cows in from the pasture and on sweltering days stepped into the manure patties in an attempt to cool off our bare feet. We broke ice for the calves’ water when the weather turned freezing.

We were deprived of TV, computers, and internet. We got to go to town at the most about once a month. We went out to eat as a family at the most 3 times a year.

Were we happy? Yes. Were we perfect? No.

But …. I sorta feel like we turned out ok.

And none of us grew up with the belief that the world owed us anything. If anything, we owed the world. Sheltered as we still were, we still knew there was a big, mean world out there, and we were inwardly, as much as children can, grateful that we could live the simple life we did.IMG_0816

My growing up years were far from being that of a street urchin. However, sometimes I see the two pictures in my mind—one of the slum children squatting by the dirty little stream and one of the rich little girl demanding the right kind of toy from her parents.

And I wonder.

Which one should I really feel sorry for?

 

 

 

That Terrible Word- Grown Up

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A terrible thought occurred to me today as I was sitting on a bench at the park reading 1000 Gifts.

I might actually have grown up. It’s a very disturbing thought.

I remember one day in my childhood distinctly when I was sitting on the porch and my mom came around the side of the house. Instead of climbing over the side of the porch – so much faster!—she went all the way around to the steps and climbed up the steps to get to the top of the porch. I remember wondering in my 11 year old mind if I would ever get to that point where instead of just climbing up the side of the porch, I would take the steps instead.

And I never thought I would reach that point.

I was the sort of child that mothers despair over. When I was younger, I wanted to be a boy. I wanted to wear pants, I wanted to train horses, I wanted to go fishing with my brother when my uncle took him, I wanted to drive the tractor at the same age my brother did, I wanted to do all sorts of things that were not quite kosher in our conservative circles. So I made do. Actually, as far as being able to do things boys normally did, I was really privileged. I wore sweat pants under my skirts as I tore down the road on my copper colored pony, Penny. I went on long walks by myself or with my younger sister, exploring every inch of our unromantic and boring farm and in my mind’s eye, converted every unromantic part of the farm in a fairy nook, or a an exciting Indian realm. I milked just as many cows as any male on the farm did, and gave shots to calves, and waded through mud carrying a newborn calves, and nearly froze my toes hunting in the dead of winter.  I loved basketball and baseball and followed the Kansas City Royals avidly with my brother and pitched tennis balls to him overhand so we could re-enact our beloved team.

And my mother despaired. I didn’t want to learn how to quilt. I didn’t want to play with dolls (or so I said.) I wanted to wear the same red dress every day. I didn’t care if my hair was wild and sloppy. I didn’t care if the dress I was wearing had a gaping hole in it. I didn’t care if I was reading a book on my back on the floor with my legs in the air. I didn’t care if my room was an absolute pigsty. Neither did I want to hear one word of growing up and getting married and “settling down.” Yet, even though I am sure my mother sometimes felt very impatient with me, she never pushed me much to become more ladylike.

But slowly, as I grew older, I began to change and see the beauty that there is in being a woman. Not that I still don’t love a wild gallop down a dirt road at dusk, or the challenge of getting a calf to drink a bottle for the first time. Granted there also are things that women cannot or should not do, but I still love doing the things that I did 15 years ago, only with more dignity.

But today as I sat in the park, thinking about my work, teaching 3 and 4 year old Thai children, as well as the Little Girl Who Lives With Us, and I realized that maybe I had GROWN UP. That terrible word that I vowed I would never be.

I no longer think that rolling around on the floor in undignified positions for no reason at all is necessary. Nor do I think that incessant giggling and silliness and walking into walls on purpose when you are supposed to be walking in a line are needed. I tell little people to behave themselves every day and wish, wish, wish that they would just grow up a little bit. But do I really want them to grow up? What really does growing up mean? I wish someone would tell me. Does it mean becoming staid and practical and bossy and sensible and climbing the stairs instead jumping over the side? Does it mean never doing things that would shock other people or rock the boat? Does it mean becoming mature and thoughtful and wise like a guru on a mountain? Or does it mean being organized and neat and on time and never getting into awkward scrapes? If it’s the latter, than I have most definitely not grown up.

In working with children every day, sometimes I feel so old, because I am always the one giving commands and being the good example. I can’t do un-grown up things because if I do them, then guess what?! A troupe of 12 others would probably follow suit. So I don’t do un-grown-uppish things and it makes me feel old indeed. There are days when I get this inexplicable urge to jump out of the office window into the padded play area below. Or hide under my desk in the middle of the day. Or try to squeeze through the bathroom window which is about 2×3 feet in circumference just to see if I could. It would be so easy. And so fun. And so un-grown up.

Maybe, on second thought, I haven’t grown up after all. Or maybe I have, and being grown up means knowing when jumping out of windows and sitting under desks are appropriate – and when they’re not.

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.

The Drive

At the end of a warm day, I sit on my bed, hot, tired and restless, still not feeling the best from a 3 day bout of either food poisoning or flu. Too tired to continue the letter I am composing, I toss it away and switch off the light, dozing off and on for about an hour.

I awake, feeling discontented, disgruntled and disoriented and with one underlying thought- I need to get out of my house. Somehow its walls seem confining, and my restless brain and body yearn for something else, yet I’m not sure what.

The question is, where? I didn’t need any food supplies and in this mood, I am certainly not prepared to go into Big C’s WalMart atmosphere, I’m not hungry for supper, and I have no errands to run.

I don’t have any place to go, but my one driving thought is, “go.”

So I go, go, go, riding my motorbike down the small street, letting the cool night wind caress my warm face, praying as I go, wishing the bike beneath me would be a flesh and blood horse.

God, where should I go? Why am I doing this? Where am I going?

Around curves and corners, take a left here and a right there. Draw a deep breath. Inhale the sweet greenness of a rice field. Lean into a curve to the right. Slow down to gaze in awe at a thousand glimmering lights. Turn around and head back this street. Take a left and see what’s down here.

I am relaxing. Slowly but surely, the night is doing its work.

And then I turn the corner and see it. In front of a small building, a sign with large English letters:

“God loves you.”

It’s like a drink of cold water on a Kansas harvest day. Deep inside I want to stop at the little Thai church with music spilling out of its doors, but I keep on driving, wanting more.

I drive down a dimly lit street. It turns out to be a one way street, and at the end of it a howling fury of dog comes hurtling out of the gate. It’s been a long time since my hair stood up on end like that and with the nightmarish rapidity of a sluggish turtle, I finally manage to turn my bike around on the narrow alley and flee with a prayer of thankfulness on my lips.

I keep on, always planning to turn around at the next corner and return home. But I keep on going and going and going. I drive past dimly lit houses and shops that are closed for the night. I stop at a stoplight and listen to the friendly banter of two men on motorbikes. I follow some tuks tuks laden with tourists into some more winding streets and then turn around. Suddenly a thought hits me as I glance at the people and the bikes all around me.

All of them are going somewhere. All of them are doing something. Going home to their family. Spending time with friends.

And then I realize why I am driving out on my bike and what I am looking for.

Without realizing it, I am looking for home.

I have friends here, I have a God family here, I have people to connect with here on this side of the world, but there always seems to be some sort of a loneliness that accompanies everything I do. Many times I relish it, this loneliness and disconnected feeling that drives me closer to my real home in heaven, drives me closer to the Father of fathers that I know is watching out for me.

But sometimes it can be overwhelming. Like tonight. And I realize why my hungry senses breathed in the lushness of the rice field. I realize why I stopped and gazed thirstily at the sign that said, “God loves you!” I realize why the flickering lights lured me and why the friendly conversation between the two men on bikes grabbed my attention. There was something about home in each one, not just my earthly home, but my real one as well. I can’t explain exactly what, but as I realize that, something clicks for me.

I turn left at the next stoplight and head home, exhausted, but relaxed.

Thank you, God.

Ramblings on Culture

Culture….

The odd, inexplicable, almost undefinable phenomenon.

Everywhere I go, this word stalks me. It follows me from the plains of Central USA to city life of Thailand.

It explains a hundred things and raises a thousand questions. No one article can fully describe or do justice to what culture is or what its far -reaching effects are. There are too many ‘if’s’, ‘and’s’ or ‘but’s’ surrounding its definition.

Culture, while not spirit deep, defines an underlying layer of your soul- of your mind, will, and emotions. Which would  you  be the most offended at-   someone spitting at your feet, hearty belching at a meal, having the sole of a foot pointed at you, someone eating in front of you without offering anything to you, or someone sticking out their tongue at you? Culture will define largely which one of those is the most offensive.  But it goes further than just dictating what you are offended at. Culture, whether good or bad, dictates how you react to the behavior of others, how you perceive the world, how you look at the people around you, what you think is healthy or unhealthy, how you view respect and much, much more.

To take a man out of his culture and order him to deny it to the fullest, is like wresting a blanket from a child and ordering him to sleep without sucking his thumb.

Nearly impossible. No man, however long that he leaves his own culture, will be able to deny, even with bad experiences, how his home culture has defined him. There are some things implanted into the deepest threads of your being that will not be changed easily even by years of immersion into another culture. (That’s when it gets really confusing for someone who has spent years in a foreign culture returning home. It is his culture, deep down, yet it isn’t.)

The human soul is fragile, flexible, and easily imprinted.  Culture defines so much of what we do, thus creating a very delicate tightrope that each Christian striving to live the way God has called him to must walk. Culture can too easily become religion, or a dogmatic set of practices that overrides the true worship our spirits were created for.  A Christian who really lives in the kingdom of God will never quite fit into his surrounding culture. We can create sub cultures wherein it is easier to walk out our Christian life, yet, even no subculture here on earth is perfect.

Yet, although cultures are not permanent, although they are of earthly making, somehow, they are a part of the very fabric of our souls. To make fun of a culture, to demand someone to change their culture, to disregard the importance of culture is like driving a nail deep into one of the most tender parts of our being. It is like saying, “You and what you do are not important. What you do is weird, therefore you are weird.” Those who genuinely know their position in Christ and know that they are defined by more than actions and culture will be able to handle that. But that kind of maturity is rare and most of us have yet to come to the fullest recognition of that truth.

I love my people, although I am willing to spend the rest of my life living away from my people, if God so calls me to that. Or maybe I should say I am willing to be made willing. But I am like the New Englander in the O’ Henry story who has traveled the world around and claims that he has no home, but smacks the first person who makes fun of his Boston.

Yet moving yourself out of your own culture for a time into the unfamiliar, unanchored oceans of life in another realm can be one of the healthiest things you can do, if you are prepared for it. Stripped of your own culture, life demands that you define what is cultural and what is really spirit-deep. God becomes your anchor, instead of the familiar things that seemed so solid, and you are forced to cling to Him, the only One who never changes and the only Being that transcends all cultures.

What are some cultural experiences you have had, whether in relating with a new culture, or having your own culture belittled?

Homesick

Homesick….

I hesitate to write about this, because I don’t want people to feel sorry for me. I am not pining away and not eating and wasting into nothing. (more like the opposite).

My question is, why do we feel homesick? Or more correctly, why do I feel homesick? Why can’t I live to the fullest where I am right now instead of thinking of what used to be, and being pulled back to the past? Why can’t I embrace to the fullest this dream that has been God’s and mine for so long- serving Him where ever He leads? When I was at home, I was homesick for this country. Last year when I was here, I was homesick for home. Am I just some wavering, emotional person who can’t be satisfied with what God gives, or is there something deeper? Is there another reason I get homesick?

I know I’ve wrestled through this before, this feeling of longing for something that is no more. I went through it at the age of 16 when I left our home for a week to help my cousin with her newborn baby. That one week felt like a year. I cried every night, lost weight, and counted down the days until I could go home again. That was one week. One week!

Sometimes at times like this, especially in the morning, one little thing, or item, or thought, or word, can stir up a memory of things that used to be, and we long for those people again, and home, or even those other hardships that seem easier to bear now that they are in the past and time has smoothed away the pain. Childhood memories, things I haven’t thought about for ages, come rushing back. And yet, my question is, why, why, do I find it so hard to embrace the present, and live life to the fullest when I am in the moment, instead of waiting until it is past to realize how much it meant to me? Like right now, why can’t I embrace to the fullest what I am experiencing right now, instead of missing the things that are past?

And I wonder, where is home exactly?

Usually I try to tell myself, just get over it. Being homesick shows you don’t have the ability to live in the present, and you’re never satisfied or grateful with what you have. You’re not there, you’re here. Get over it. (that doesn’t really work.)

But then something else says, wait. Perhaps there is something deeper than what you are seeing now.

Perhaps the real reason we get homesick is because we really weren’t created to have this world as our home. We get homesick for our earthly home because deep inside, where perhaps we don’t even realize it, we are homesick for our real home, for what actually is reality. The home we’ll never leave once we get there.

And knowing this, I let myself grieve the past.

October, 2014

So often in the morning as I awake

In the early hours of the dawn

When snatches of a windblown dream

Dance on the edges of my awakening

My heart is turned to home

And fleeting sprites of memories

Wisp in and out of my thoughts

And my heart that is still not large enough

Aches with the loss of what it cannot have

And longs to embrace what it does have.

Then in the presence of these memories

That danced in my half-awakened dream

I give in to the pain of being mortal

And unable to understand it all

And then I bow my head, and let the… tears… fall…