Tag Archives: home

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.

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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…