Saturday, April 23, 2011

The Long Losing

Today, on the longest day in history... the day between Good Friday and the Resurrection, the day when death seemed to reign and all was quiet and hopeless, we attend a memorial service with our dear friends for their boy who died here just a few weeks ago.

Do you ever stop the losing?
In that ever present moment, when
if he were here
with those doleful eyes like his dad
and the sun flecked hair like his mama
the freckles sprinkled across the bridge of his nose,
he would be here.
Three weeks older than he was
just three weeks ago.

And when you’re all sitting around the table for dinner,
And his seat is empty.
When the grades come home from school,
But for the first time there is his card,
And next time, there won’t be a card at all.

Does it stop five years from now,
When he would have been sixteen,
When you imagine his body grown and firmed up,
the muscles sinewy and the hair on his legs coarse and man-like.
His eyes, still doleful like his dad’s
Still the sunflecked hair and freckles
Like his mama.
But he isn’t here, and you are still
Losing him
In these ever present moments,
days and years
That keep passing by without him
Though you still can’t imagine it so.

Do you ever stop the losing?
When it’s the year he would have worn the cap and gown
And you would have said a different goodbye
Sending him off with pride and expectation
And maybe a little sadness and apprehension
Except now you’re closest memories are still
Those of his eleven year old face
Still fresh from boyhood,
The year you lost him
And began the years
of the Losing That Never Stops.

Sister gets married and maybe younger brother next
And all the while you can
Imagine him standing there,
Clasping their shoulders,
Laughing with a teasing smile.
But his smile is lost to you,
To all of you.
Because he is not here
And you always imagined he would be
So you lose him all over again.

Does it ever stop?
Twenty years, thirty years? Fifty?
Do you want it to?
When you held him small and red faced,
Fed him through the night and
Watched him toddle first steps,
Did you think that if you might lose him,
You would rather not have these moments at all?

His life, a gift.
And your life, forever threaded and branded with it.
To stop losing him would be a sort of death to your own soul.
To lose him over and over means
You never stop magnifying the gift he was to you.
But will it ever stop hurting?
Can you endure this, the losing
Of him—your son?
Your precious, God-given
And taken

The Son of Man once said,
If you lose your life for my sake, you will find it.
So maybe in the losing
All is not,
And he,
your doe-eyed, sun-flecked, freckle-faced boy,
 is not

The Son of Man once said,
Cast all your burdens on him.
So when the losing grows too great,
Or swells with too many years,
Or even long before then,
May He, who was once lost to his own Father,
Carry the Losing for you.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Good Friday Thoughts On What Looks to Be a Bad Weekend

A repost from the archives... last year at this time I was in Cairo walking the Lenten path to Easter with a group of students on a trip for Model United Nations. This year we are home and tomorrow is the Memorial Service for our dear friend's son who died here just a few weeks ago.

Today I stand in a land where nearly three thousand years ago a bruised and battered nation saw a miraculous deliverance out of a dark and brutal enslavement and into the shining glory of freedom. I walk on sand and look up at a sky that could have seen the same footsteps and felt the gaze of another Foreigner who came to  live and walk among us.

Yesterday was the first of four conference days we came all the way to Cairo to take part in. That means for now, the sightseeing is on hold. The issues being discussed at this conference by hundreds of high schoolers from all over the world are swirling around in my head as I also try to reflect on the significance of today... it is Palm Sunday, the first day of the final week leading up to Easter.

The moon has risen warm and bright, full and luminous like  a freshwater pearl dropped kerplunk in the middle of the deep midnight sky. It is a vivid reminder of the truth that surrounds me: the world is very dark. There is beauty there, the remnants and glimspes of it so wonderful that sometimes you can almost forget the burden of pain that we all live under. But in spite of all that reminds us of joy, we don't escape the reality that this world, and each of our lives, are shadowed, darkened, marred by all that destroys what we long and hope for in life.

I sit in a city full of people living in buildings that are crumbling, crusted with dirt and surrounded by piles of  trash and refuse from its inhabitants. I sit in a lavish hotel with marble floors and bath towels the size of my living room and listen to passionate debates about issues like genocide, human trafficking, violations of treaties, civil wars, and thre rise of nuclear powers. I see the effects of poverty, corruption and human fallenness all around me. The cries for collaboration, peace, and mutual consideration seem to fall dead and silent on the floors of high walled conference rooms. They are necessary talks, but will they truly bring about the "hope for a better tomorrow" that these youth dream of?

As I return every day to the comfort of my hotel room and look out onto the scene of depravation and struggle, knowing its sorrow is known to millions of people in every nation on earth, the darkness can seem to close in. I listen to the heartwrenching issues and feel overwhelmed, hating the small feeling of problems so large and the heavy burden of my small, protected life. It is easy to look out and ask, "Where is He?"

He was here. He came into the darkness but the darkness has not understood it. Nevertheless, He came still. He entered our darkness and broke its power over us. Some can see it  and believe, others cannot or have not. It is a thing of faith- for we are faith creatures. But it will not always be this way.
This is the beauty of the Easter preparation, of enjoying the season of Lent as it leads you through the Word and gives you time to think about all that this great moment in history, the Resurrection, means for us. The world can seem so dark to me, but the Light of the World stepped down into darkness, and madea way for us to be free. This Friday we will remember the darkness that Jesus friends and followers felt as all they had believed and hoped for seemed buried and dead with the broken body in the grave. But in the early light of a Sunday sunrise, the light of Truth will remind us again that though all seems lost, we know for certain who is Victorious, and who is working even now in the midst of all that still remains broken. He is making things new, and He will make all things new when the time is right.

Tomorrow we head back to the conference rooms and delegation proceedings. It will be Monday and the streets outside will be the same as they were today. But I know whom I have believed and I am persuaded that He is able... because He was stronger than the grave, and the death that could not hold him.

May you rejoice in the Light that came, comes, and is coming into your darkness!

Monday, April 18, 2011

City Walks:: Part Three {Zhongshan Park}

I had slightly higher hopes for photographing this absolutely beautiful park in the heart of our city. It is not a place we drive out to often, but this time of year it is just bursting with blossoms everywhere, especially the cherry trees, and they flutter about in the sunlight or just hover over you in an endless pale pink canopy, as if you were lost in the folds of nature's wedding gown

But surprise, I wasn't alone with my brilliant idea, and so there happened to be a million other drooling souls thronging to see the pretty trees, which made lovely silhouettes and landscape shots pretty challenging. Then there was the fact that we (well, I- but Scout did so figuratively) stood head and shoulders above all the other nice little Chinese grandmothers and grandfathers and young, happy couples, so they drooled over us (well, her) too and that meant I spent quite a bit of time saying, "I'm sorry, she's embarrassed... no picture please... hello, hello, no thank you... please don't try to pick her up... I'm sorry, she's just embarrassed."

We've been quite fortunate actually while living here, with no major traumatizing incidents to report and I also find the interest in and love for children quite endearing. But it can be overwhelming and also tricky not to be downright rude when the boundaries get pushed and the kids are uncomfortable. So anyway, I ended up spending a lot of time dealing with that issue, which I had not anticipated since in the area we live, it is not usually that extreme.

And then, we had bubbles. Which meant we had sticky fingers, and soapy water often spilling and being dropped, which meant we had dirty soapy water or pine needle soapy water. And then we had bathroom issues. Which meant I turned around and there was my dear, China-happy daughter with her pants around her ankles in the middle of the lane, squatting and grunting like it was anybody's business, which apparently it was. My son asked if I got a picture of that. No, I did not.

But regardless it was still such a lovely morning and we both had a wonderful time drinking in all the spring beauty. And maybe I will go back for more without my sidekick someday.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Coming Out of the Cold

It is beginning, the faithful March of warmer weather and new life that comes every year. It comes every year! With all the things we can't know for sure, how can this simple act of creation not be some measure of comfort, beyond the simple (and important) enjoyment of the aesthetics?

It's like someone you love telling you they will come visit you the same day, every year, no matter how far away you go, no matter what your relationship is like or what is going on in their life (or yours). They will be there. Who can keep that kind of promise? I know of only one who has the power to be a one hundred percent Promise-Keeper.

Outside of being so thankful for the return of Spring, I am determined to capture more of this city before we leave it. Bear with me while I run around like a madwoman, finding minutes here and there to grab images that are important to me and to this place. The two below are from the famous May 4th Square in Qingdao, which is a memorial to the student led May Fourth Movement that began in Beijing in 1919.

Friday, April 15, 2011

The Perfect Plan

Does anyone really have it?

They say you should have five year plans, and ten year plans, and twenty year plans
and that you should have daily plans
and weekly plans
and an eighteen month plan just to be safe.
But even then, the timing of events so often lays outside the realm of your control
And most of the time you spend fretting, or working, or wondering if things will pan out
just like you planned.

Is it silly then to be trusting?

They say that it is all in His hands
and that all things work together for good for those that love Him
and that we need not worry because He knows about it all
and that He is in control.
But then, why bother to make plans at all?
And so what if He's in control,
if He's just making a big mess of it all.

Except that I think of how my kids hold my hand
when we're going someplace they've never been.
And how trusting they are,
except when they're not.
They ask questions and wonder how long,
and why we're going, and if it will be fun,
and why we're not doing things a different way.
But they just don't know enough.
So they have to hold my hand.

I have to hold a Hand too.
Because I don't have good timing.
And I can plan all I want, but I can't make plans happen.
The plans I make,
they fail and get twisted or poofed into nothingness
or stretched past the limits I set for them
and set on the wind like a kite ripping towards the heavens.

And I hold the Hand because I know that even when it looks to be a mess
He said He is not messy.
This is just me saying I'll walk through whatever you want,
Go wherever you go,
through tears and joy
I'll trust in You.

Loving that song today "With All I Am", imagining myself running along beside my Daddy, holding onto his hand for dear life.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

{book}worm wednesday :: cry the beloved country

A repost from the archives... one year ago today.

I want to share about books tonight because it's been awhile since I've been able to do that, but also because I've been reading some good ones. I am so thankful for the books we have here, the old friends that have followed us from place to place and even over oceans. And the children's books, the ones that the grandparents have blessed us with time and time again, they are priceless. Many an early morning, long afternoon, sick in bed day, or be quiet while I put the baby to bed, has been saved by these precious books. I love that in all her clambering, the Busy One has started to sit and look intently through her books. She's clearly catching on to what is expected of her. Her little board books may be discussing belly buttons or runaway rabbits, but she is getting the idea.

The books tonight are some of my old favorites. I have also been weeping openly nearly every day now as I've fingered their pages and held their words in my mouth. I have got to stop crying over these coon hound pups. So, as a form of thanks, I offer up this short list-- of books.

Where The Red Fern Grows by Wilson Rawls
As you can tell from anything I've mentioned about the coon hounds in the past few posts, this story has left me a soppy mess of tears nearly every time I try to read it. This week its just me and the boys, waiting for Daddy to return home and needing an "interim" story. So because the oldest has been talking every day about wanting two puppies, and has already named them, as well as planned out an entire training regimen for when they arrive (which will be when we live on a large farm in the country), I thought this was a fitting story to begin. They are loving it, and I am too- when I can speak without my voice quivering and tears welling up in my eyes. Billy is just so darned determined, and sweetly passionate, and burning up with dog-love. His grandpa is so moved and bewildered by the coins dumped out on the store counter, his parents so torn up about the lack of money and the heartsick dreams of their young boy. Then there's the way he loves his family, and that he buys his sisters candy so their eyes will light up, and his mother material for a new dress. The names carved in the tree, the generous fishermen. I could go on and on. 

I also love that the mother and father are highly concerned about living in the country, at the foothills of the mountains, far from town. "It's no place to raise a family," the father says. And they want to move to town so their children can get an education... "more to an education than reading, writing, and arithmetic." I love this because it is so ironic to me, who worries that living in the city is no place to raise a family. "More to an education than reading, writing, and learning a language..." Like throwing rocks and splitting wood and romping through streams and feeling dirt between your fingers and seeing where the food you eat comes from.  Not sure all of why, but I am thankful for this sweet story right now. 

Cry The Beloved Country by Alan Paton
If I had to give a list of my all-time favorite books, I believe this one would top the list. Maybe at some point in my life this will change. For now, it reigns secure.

The story is tragic. An old minister who is from the hill country in South Africa, where the "lovely little road that runs to Ixopo" lies, goes to Johannesburg in search of his wayward son who has been missing for some time. What he finds brings deep suffering. The road he travels in the city is full of humbling moments, of finding grace through the love of God's people, of temptation and failure, of grief and mercy, of great joy in simple acts of love, of uncertainty and provision. 

Some of the things that stood out to me this time were things I didn't notice the first couple times through. At several points, a friend who sacrifices much to help the suffering minister is thanked, and he with some chagrin states, "I am a weak and sinful man. But God laid his hands on me. That is all." It is no small statement, and has come to my often as I think through all that I am that is not of me, and all that I am not that is not counted against me. All of him... his hands on me and that is all.

I love how it ends. I love how it begins. I cry for South Africa, for all that happened there and all the crying out for humanity and a country torn and fearful. I am humbled by how much this man who wrote these words loved his country, and the people, and knew that what was needed when the hating had turned to loving was forgiveness. I love how he lifts up the way God meets us in our need with mercy and grace, but also questions why some people receive the healing of their suffering and some never see an end (because I too ask these questions), and answers that it is a mystery, but not in a way that makes you question God's goodness, just how much we are able to understand.

I hope you read it. I hope you like it. Given my infatuation, maybe just pretend or say something vague and polite if you don't.

One Morning in Maine by Robert McCloskey
For some reason we've been picking this one up frequently these days. I think the Middle One likes the pictures. He will sit and slowly leaf through them for long periods of time. A simple story of a little girl, Sal and her Saturday morning on the coast of Maine, where she helps her father dig for clams, and loses her first tooth, takes a boat ride to town, and gets ice cream with her sister. The wildlife, the townspeople, the new spark plug, it's all very Maine-ish and delightful.

The Prodigal God by Tim Keller
A friend gave this to me for my birthday and I'm just getting around to it. A quick, but insightful read into the real issues of the Prodigal Son story. Perhaps it's not the younger brother who really has the more serious problem. And if you've grown up religious, or with your moral ducks in a row... it's likely you'll find yourself in the hot seat. 

Les Miserables by Victor Hugo
My faithful husband is still plugging away at this monstrosity of a book. He is loving it and often reads sections to me aloud (sweet, but not recommended in a house with several children under 5, who are not sedated with television or benadryl). 

I Can't Believe I'm Knitting (no author)
I feel like I'm reading this book only because I constantly have my nose buried in it, trying to figure out the directions. I am sooo thankful for it and the simple directions which are guiding me through my baby steps as a knitter. And I am pleased to say that I am halfway through my first simple sweater!! I can't believe it... hopefully I will be proud enough of the finished product to be able to share pictures soon. 

There you have it, a short but important list and one that I truly am thankful for and all the joy it has brought me these past few days and weeks. If you want to share, I'd love to hear what you are reading. Of course that means you'd have to leave a comment... which I know is like public speaking or something awful like that.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Needing a Drink

I moved the plants outdoors. The past fourteen days they have seen little to no water. Actually, I should just stick with "no water" even though "little" softens it a bit. They are literally on their last leg with wilting arms hanging limp and all pathetic and requiring a grooming session of dead and shriveled leaves that felt more like an afternoon of fall raking. We could have jumped in the pile they left.

So I took them outside onto our little porch in the hopes of restoring some new life to these poor neglected souls. Fresh air, sunshine, and daily (hourly?) baths of cold, clear water. They actually looked remarkably better just by sitting in the sun, and having the dust wiped off their tired leaves. I am feeling like a terrible plant mother.

As with the plants, so goes the spirit, and mine has felt in need of freshness, light and living water too these recent days. The readings for Lent continue and today's was no less on the mark. I love the pairing of John 8 and Numbers 21... anyone who looks up and believes will live. It's funny how thin that line between life and death can suddenly appear. Most days we live with it as if it were unbreakable, or something we can navigate with choice and power and sophisticated capability. But really, we're all chaff in the wind, made strong by the One and only Bread of Life.

Friday, April 8, 2011

City Walks :: Part Two {seaside}

This time I snuck out early in the morning without any kids in tow, and enjoyed the calm but very chilly waters creeping up the shoreline where an old fishing boat was moored.

This is part of the beauty of living in a seaside city, along with the endless amounts of fresh seafood... if you like that sort of thing.

Please forgive me for a few too many pictures of an old fishing boat. I just couldn't help myself.


Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Park Family Photos :: Because I Love Them

This is one of the reasons I can barely stand the thought of leaving this city in a few months. David and Mimi and their three delightful, spirited, thoughtful children are some of our closest friends here. We came across the oceans with them four years ago, first meeting each other in the hot and tearful days of Pre-Field Orientation in Houghton, New York. Who knew that four years later they would be so dear to my (and my whole family's) heart?

So even though I have NO DESIRE to go into family protraiture as a business, I more than willingly went out with them for an afternoon to try and get some family photos. If for no other reason than I love to hang with them. And I do enjoy taking pictures. We did laugh at the irony of the very foreign looking westerner following around this Asian-looking family and snapping away at them. Usually it would be the other way around.

To view the entire set of photos, click over here and give them some love!

Little Things

Obviously, the past week and a half has been life changing and tumultuous. I can only imagine that the days will continue to be so, at least for some time, but I don't expect this space to reflect my daily emotional journey, so I will try to be honest without spilling myself or my dear friends all over these posts in a way that is not appropriate. My heart is heavy, but buoyant with hope. Our friends will head home to have a funeral for their son, and then back to life here for a time- though an uncertain one. Thank you to so many who have been praying for them. The days ahead are not easy ones.

In the meantime, life goes on, as it does... even when you think it ought not to. But there is something hopeful in that too.

Yesterday I took my two boys out grocery shopping, and we stopped for a snack and a coffee (or vitamin water depending on your age). I told them that when you have coffee, you have to "talk." Skills promptly responded with, "About the government, right?" Sure, the government is always a good place to start. He wanted to talk about North Korea's government in particular and how they don't let people leave their country. It was fun to ask him why he thought that wasn't right and what he thought the responsibility of a government was.

 Meanwhile, four year old Curls was staring at us through his berry flavored water and interjected with, "you guys look  really red right now..."

Then I told them that politics is great conversation, but sharing a coffee also means you have to talk about what's going on in your heart (this is my version of a coffee date... stimulating topics and baring your soul), which elicited some "secrets" that had been lurking about some older girls who reportedly have a crush on this, my oldest son. He's six. We discussed who their best girl is right now (me) and how long that will be the case (til their married), to which Curls replied that even after he was married he would still love me the best. We'll work on that later... don't worry future daughter-in-law.

Other gems of the day included when I was making dinner and Curls asked, "what are we having???" to which I replied, "blah blah blah blah blah blah blah.... and vegetables."
"Which vegetables?"
"Broccoli and cauliflower."
"Broccoli and hedgehogs???" (we think he may have hearing issues)
"Have I ever served you hedgehogs for dinner?"
"Never mind."

Sweet moments, and full of nonsense. And each one of them seems more precious than ever when I think of how little separates us from here and eternity.