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Friday, January 5, 2018

Round Like the Circle

Growing up, we weren't really encouraged to wear a lot of jewelry. My mom didn't mind the friendship bracelets we wove ourselves from embroidery yarn, I remember making matching black ones for me and my on-again-off-again boyfriend when I was a teenager, and later I wore a small silver ring my Muslim friend from the building across from us threw down to me in a paper packet. It said Love on the front. My sister desperately wanted earrings but we were raised in a conservative church setting in the mission field so her wish wasn't granted.

We bought matching silver chains with another friend once and we all dressed in blue jeans and black t-shirts to best show off our necklaces as we posed for pictures by the tall pine tree in the middle of the campus. I was 17 and my sister and friend were 14. That was the year one of the guys I had a crush on wanted to buy me something when we went on a school trip together and I chose a silver chain with my initial on it. I'm not sure which one I was wearing under an oversized t-shirt, ready to head down to the basketball court to play a game with the guys, when my dad saw me and proceeded to read to me from the Bible about how slaves wore chains.

After I entered my late teens, I lived for more than 15 years in yet another conservative closed system where any kind of jewelry was heavily frowned upon as it denoted lack of spirituality and commitment to standards. Then I finally left and found myself completely free to wear what I liked when I liked. I could pierce my ears if I wanted, I could wear a ring on each finger, I could load up on the bangles, and while I might get a look or two, eventually people would get used to it as my look. Yet I had too many years of conditioning to feel completely comfortable with figuring out who I was.

Today I wear a silver twisted ring with a familiar phrase on it. The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step. It's a constant reminder that in the midst of uncertainty and a cloudy future, taking those single steps forward are what eventually add up to the thousand miles.

My biggest journey that I have been walking on in the past year and continue to walk is learning to trust God. Our heavenly Father does not close the avenues of joy to any of His creatures. . .He will. . .satisfy the heart-longing of all who consent to wear His yoke, to bear His burden. It is His purpose to impart peace and rest to all who come to Him for the bread of life. Steps to Christ Chapter 5

I'm very good at planning out my life. I budget my money for big expenditures, I book international trips to see the world, and I prioritize my free time with friends. Being single means I have more control over circumstances as there is nobody to throw me off course with their unpredictable humanness. However, I'm finding that the closer I get to others, the less I can control my life. This lesson of trust is one I'm having to learn not only with God, but also in my relationships with others, and it's not an easy one for me. I'm a Type-A personality, I need to know reasons behind decisions being made, and I expect others to act from a similar framework of reference to mine.

Then I find out that is not the case. The reality is that I would be just as frustrated if someone else assumed I should operate from their viewpoint on life. So I'm learning that this journey of a thousand miles begins with one step--acceptance. I used to think I was good at accepting others, after all I'd lived my life across continents and cultures, learning how to adapt and adjust so I could fit in with the least amount of turbulence in the community around me. Yet the more introspective I grow, the more I see that my tolerance for accepting others who are different than me needs to be put into a cocktail shaker and turned upside down.

A lack of trust is closely connected to struggling to accept others. All this time I'd been frustrated with those who failed to see my opinions as valid and valuable while I was failing to accept others as valuable regardless of how they deal with life, biases, prejudices, and all. I cannot dictate to another how they should approach life. I can only learn to adjust my pace so together we can walk towards a common goal--perhaps their stride is longer than mine at times or I may forget and rush ahead occasionally--but if we can take that first step of acceptance the trust will be close behind. Then the thousand miles will soon seamlessly weave itself into our lives as a single step of a journey worth living.

Thursday, December 28, 2017

Questionings

I paged through the anthology, looking for words that would describe the somewhat empty echo inside me, twisting the spiral silver ring on my finger with its inscription The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step, and found myself wondering which step I was on. Did my journey have more than a thousand miles, because it must needs be one that had traversed the globe multiple times, criss-crossing until my life map looked like a badly tangled ball of yarn a kitten had given up playing with?

It was a melancholy night. Swirls of life seemed to be mixing together faster than I could put them into their proper boxes, labeled work and friend A and friend B and creativity and adventures and so on. Being the strange mix of personality I was, where I treasured quality time with a friend but floated in more than 5 or 6 circles which did not overlap, I did not know how to balance the internal expectations I had to ensure everyone's holiday season was filled with joy and good cheer.

Having made the grown-up decision to stay in the country during the extended Christmas break meant that my days were spent either in my dorm room or out with friends. I kept my phone close by, ready at any invitation to leave the cold tiled all-purpose room where I would sit on my bed avoiding the chores I knew I should be doing. Why did holiday seem to spell baseboard and fridge deep cleaning, sorting of that drawer I'd been stuffing papers into for the last six months, and such like?

To a friend I wrote, Christmas will be strange this year, as I do not know where I belong. I'd always spent Christmas with family, even last year when my dearest sister had flown thousands of miles, on a peak-season ticket, to spend 10 days with me out of which she was sick with a bad cold for half of them. Suddenly I found myself facing a holiday by myself that used to mean sleeping in, waffles and fake turkey and warm dinner rolls with cranberry sauce, a plastic green miniature tree on top of the heavy-duty wood stove we hadn't used in years because of its fire hazard, and stockings filled with little surprises stacked next to brightly wrapped boxes of various sizes. I wasn't quite sure what to do with myself.

Then Christmas Eve found me in the home of two dear friends sharing food and laughter, leaving the house just in time to catch my very first midnight mass. On Christmas Day we spent another evening together and I found myself steeping in a deep sense of peace that reassured me I was indeed where I belonged.

Perhaps this wistful questioning was not one limited only to the adult TCK who couldn't return to childhood traditions, feel comfortable spending Christmas with relatives, or prepare familiar family recipes to celebrate the season. Perhaps there were others who also didn't know how to best handle a time defined by family--by those closest and dearest to our hearts. Perhaps some wished for the days to hurry by so sad memories would not linger long.

Am I already in the middle of the thousand-mile journey, or is each morning the first step on an ever-evolving revolution of a wheel set within a wheel? I am not today who I was yesterday and tomorrow I will once again change, perhaps micro-cosmically but still significantly. In the midst of the Olympiad symbol where I stand, parts of me split between realities that still do not inter-mesh, I pause for a moment and contemplate. I am where I belong. I belong where I am. This is the simplistic beauty of it all. Each step brings me closer to integration yet further from definition, because who I am will never be the same. Perhaps I will only ever find the stillness in your calm certainty. I am where I belong. I belong where I am. I belong with you.

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Of Sesame Doors and Falling Stars

So I'm a bit of a wreck, really, when it comes to trusting God. I go through this cycle over and over and over again, and I imagine He's up there wondering why I don't seem to be able to grasp the simple fact that He loves me very very much and would never do anything to hurt me. Perhaps it's because I've rarely stopped to allow myself to think that God may not be like the one who was supposed to model Him best to me, or like the many other broken human beings in my life who were just trying to keep their own lives from falling apart.

I started reading a book today titled The Way to God and How to Find It by Dwight L. Moody. I was sitting in a grand cathedral with more than half an hour to spare while I waited for a Christmas choral concert of John Rutter selections. Idly opening up my Kindle, I realized there was nothing really interesting to read, so I decided to browse the book by Moody. I had set out on the evening by myself, determined to go to the concert alone as nobody else could make it, because I needed some quiet time alone with God. Hence, the book.

Two chapters later, I reluctantly turned off my phone to concentrate on the concert as the musicians began to enter. Though I don't often read religious books voraciously, this one caught my attention from the first sentence and it was difficult to put it down. The topic? God's love.

Moody writes in an interesting fashion because he sprinkles in many short illustrations, stories I had not heard before, and his old-English style is much welcomed after reading the sentences classified as English but really, they are so low on the rung that it is almost impossible to agree. Yet these are not the main reason why I continued to read page after page, though I am rather loathe to read on electronic devices. It was the topic that caught my attention.

So, many of us have discovered something of the love of God; but there are heights, depths and lengths of it we do not know. That Love is a great ocean; and we require to plunge into it before we really know anything of it. . .the love of God is unchangeable. (ibid)

I've been having some heart-to-heart talks with God lately about something we've been talking about for quite some time now. Every time I try to take matters into my own hands, I find myself getting stressed and anxious and certain that things will fail. Every time I pray and ask God to guide my life, I find my heart filled with peace and joy. Yet for some reason I can't seem to learn the lesson well enough for it to stick. I keep trying to do things my own way, having unrealistic expectations, or believing the devil's lie that God won't fulfill His promises and doesn't want me to be happy.

I came home after the concert feeling somewhat down. I recognized the melancholy feelings immediately, and instead of staying in my room, I grabbed an old blanket, my headphones and phone, and headed up to my quiet place on the roof. After spreading the blanket on one of the pillars, I hopped on and stared out at the city, whilst scrolling through my YouTube mix to find the perfect song.

Several fails later, I decided on one I knew would speak to my heart as it had so many times before. I pressed play and then answered some unknown nudge to look up. Hillary Scott sang, Thy Will Be Done as I watched a falling star explode into a perfectly bright white cylinder of light before trailing off into nothingness right in front of me. I could have almost reached out and touched it.

As the star vanished, my first thought was, how could a falling star be so close? Isn't it supposed to be up in the sky somewhere far away? Then I realized, why couldn't God place a falling star right in front of me? It was His star, after all. It was then that I cried.

I've been here for 1 year and 10 months now. During that time, I've never seen a falling star. I've always wanted to see one. I'm just enough of a romantic to believe that you can wish on a falling star so every time I was up on the roof at nighttime, I would gaze up in the sky, squinting my eyes to see if perhaps somewhere there was a glitch of light that would poof into oblivion. Alas, there wasn't. Most nights it was hard even to see the stars as the smog would obscure their crisp twinkle.

Then, in the perfect moment, the star appeared.

I can imagine God looking down and saying gently, See? I'm listening. I'm here. I know what your heart is longing for and this special message is just from Me to you to remind you that I will answer in My perfect timing. Just like this star.

Friday, December 1, 2017

Hashtag Blessed

He was dressed in a sky blue shirt and dark blue suit that complemented his warm brown eyes, standing outside after church talking to a friend. When the little tyke stumbled on the step nearly as tall as she when hurrying by, he quickly reached for her hand and steadied her. She smiled shyly, studying the next step, and he held her hand until she'd reached the last one and could toddle off to her mother.

That afternoon, though it was technically his day off, he went to visit a refugee family living in a small apartment, 8 of them crammed into a 2-bedroom place with peeling paint on the ceilings, black mold insistent on growing anytime it rained, and furniture limited to beds for the grandparents while the rest managed on sagging mattresses or on the third-hand sofa that sat with mismatched chairs in the living room. Yet, in spite of their distressful situation, they still produced a beautiful tray with four bone china coffee cups thick with Turkish grounds.

He politely took a sip, as they spoke from their heart. Papers had come through and half the family was relocating to Sweden while the other half was going to the USA. They were excited of the hope of a new life but sad because these were the last days they had together as a whole family. Soon they would be separated by thousands of miles of ocean that would be too expensive to cross for perhaps years. Thank God for WhatsApp video chat, they all agreed. He listened quietly, gently encouraging them to see the joy ahead.

His phone lit up, someone wasn't feeling well, could he come and pray with them? He turned the car around and instead of heading for home, he expertly navigated the angular side streets, searching for the address they'd sent him. Finally he found the apartment complex, stepped into the cubicle lift, and pressed the 3rd floor button. When they opened the door, he quickly assessed the man needed medical help. Two family members came along, supporting the man who was pale and not doing well. Then the search began for a hospital that would treat the patient who clearly was a refugee.

Finally, three hours later, a friendly Christian hospital welcomed them in. After filling out several forms and waiting in the lobby for nearly an hour, the nurse called the man and the family members followed where the man was settled in a hospital bed and an earnest prayer was sent up. The nurse promised to call if anything else was needed and he left. He slipped into his car, plugged in his dead phone to the car charger, and waited for it to light up with messages. One name brought a smile to his face, even as he felt a twinge of sadness that he hadn't been able to reply sooner. He sent a quick answer and started the car. Juice? 

Friday, November 17, 2017

The Fridge Hums At Night

It's that feeling I get, when I know I have to protect myself from crumbling into a million pieces. When I've been vulnerable and nobody reaches out to hug me and say, You're going to be okay but for now it's okay to cry. When the familiar voice echoes in my head, You know what you have to do, right? and I know. It hurts like hell, but it's preferable to withdraw now, to quickly throw up that glass wall everyone thinks they can see me through, me smiling on the other side, but when they come close they realize I'm merely a hologram.

There is a secret key, though. Only the one who can look into my eyes and see the pain and fear of being alone will know where to find that key. And so very few try. . .

I've always put my entire being into connecting with you, trying to understand you, to encourage you, to build you up. But who wants me? Not the platonic--you're such a good person--type of dedication. Who is fascinated by me, wants to understand my mind, looks to dream my future with me?

When I fear you are only being polite, I backtrack hastily. I have no need to intrude. I only want you to smile at me if my round belly, blotchy skin, ragtag curly hair, and uneven jaw are the most beautiful parts of me.

Sometimes I think my grief and need for you is too much for anyone to handle. So I go silent and I refuse to make eye contact when we pass, as I fold in on myself like an armadillo, the polite greeting dismissively relegating you to a corner of my mind, even as you will never know that I will hurt for the rest of my life.

It's because I loved you too much. I didn't know how to let you know without losing you. So I pushed you away. Somehow that was easier. One less person to care about--one less person to love me, but I never trusted that you loved me out of free will. Maybe in the beginning, because I was new and interesting, like a shiny toy, but nobody stuck around for long.

I tried. God knows I tried. Even though I was the one to leave, I wrote, I called, I flew the thousands of miles to see you. And it was fun for a while, and we swore we would always stay connected. Boyfriend to best friend to aunt, it mattered not who, I tried my hardest to thread the connecting strings between us, like a game of cat's cradle, except you quickly lost your concentration and dropped all the strings so I was left holding a jumbled mess that only you could make sense of.

Only this time I decided I wasn't going to hurt again. So I walked away. Maybe not physically, but in my mind, the glass wall went up. At least now I knew I was safe. Even if I hurt for a thousand years.

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Thy Will Be Done

I grew up reading my Bible, whether it was the little white NIV my Granny gave me for my baptism which I covered in stickers both on the back cover and every blank page I could find, or the little red NIV I found for sale in the library, or the large leather-bound NASB I toted religiously to church, feeling proud that I was reading a literal translation which would meet the scholars' approval. I brought a small blue ESV with me when I first arrived, as space was limited and I knew I needed an actual Bible to read from. I was still old-fashioned enough to want to read from a proper book instead of on a device that could never feel real and personal. It was hard enough not seeing my God, hearing Him, or touching Him, so I needed some form of tangible connection to Him.

In the summer, though, I returned with a larger Bible. This was a translation I had not allowed myself to read before, having been taught for 17 years at the conservative campus I lived on that anything other than the KJV, the NKJV, and possibly the NASB, was not sanctified or holy enough of a translation. I fought that stereotype for those 17 years but it was ingrained enough in me that I was somewhat suspicious of translations that leaned more towards the paraphrase than the literal.

Then one day, I was browsing in the library and my fingers touched the beige cover of an NLT. I casually opened it, and my eyes filled with tears as I saw a familiar name inscribed inside. It was the name of a man who had become a dear father to me, he estranged from his daughter and I from my father, we found acceptance in the not-by-blood friendship we shared. I paid the 50 cents and, taking it home, carefully wrote in my name after his, knowing he would never see it yet knowing he died with the assurance of what he'd never seen.

Even in hospice, battling the cancer that had viciously returned to eventually claim his life, he painstakingly typed up emails to me. They weren't long, but each word conveyed his love and how proud he was of me. I remembered his flowery Hawaiian shirts, his gruff manner that hid pain from the evil disease eating him up, and how quick he was to go to battle for me so I could work as a student in a job that helped me grow rather than stifled me. When I heard he'd died, I buried my face and cried. Was he afraid of death? I hoped not.

Yet even though the Bible was meaningful to me because it belonged to someone special, the words still didn't reach past the outer protective armor I'd learned to don at an early age from my TCK experience. You didn't allow the emotions to sink deep because then you felt and when you felt, you started to crack. And there were only so many cracks you could handle before your pieces couldn't be put back together again.

Until recently. I was reading a verse and instead of it automatically marching past my sensory grasp like many other verses had done in rote manner before, it seemed to assume a life of its own. The verse was no longer a fact--it was now a reality. My reality. Instead of being black lines on a page, they were words being spoken from a Father Who loved me even more than the man whose last name I never had.

The LORD has chosen me. He chooses me. At just the right time He will respond to me. He has written my name on His hand. If I wait for Him, I will never be put to shame. (Isaiah 49 & 50, paraphrase mine).

Those cracks? They are slowly being glued together piece by piece, with each word of truth that I allow to sink deep into my heart. Til one day I will be whole again.

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Holding Hands Across the World

Sometimes we can't do it all on our own. Sometimes we need to reach out and ask others to hold up our hands. There is nothing to be ashamed of in doing this. Nobody should be strong enough that they never need their community. For that I am grateful.

I've been having a crash course in learning to trust God lately. Of course I recognize this is a course that will likely be repeated again in the future for even if I get a passing grade, I will need a refresher as I tend to, like with most of my university courses, forget the information learned as soon as I pass through the next open door. I'm amazed at how patient God is with me.

In the midst of my ashamedly toddler-like trantrumming at God's failure to follow my timetable or shape events in the way I envisioned them to be, the insistent drumbeat of my frustration increasing in volume like the militant band accompanying the shouts of young schoolchildren in the valley at 10 o'clock at night, I was still not blind to God's persistent yet gentle reminders that He was with me.

The daily verse on BibleGateway, Matthew 6:33, which I'd just finished reading an entire book on. Practicing songs for Friday home vespers and one was, you guessed it, based on Matthew 6:33. The courageous director of the Beirut Marathon whose accident with a bus 16 years previous and 36 surgeries had failed to deter her from walking again and creating a movement that would bring together peacemakers from around the world who would stop running from and run towards--determination, endurance, perseverance. The script I edited for my freelance side project, reminding me that God loves to show up in the impossible. A simple bowl of warm rice for supper when my lunch had consisted of hastily made cold couscous salad.

As I thought about the need I had to understand God's will in my life, I felt the impression that now was the time to reach out and connect the hands that were holding me up around the world. From Asia to Europe, from Africa to North America, from islands to continents, I knew I already had a small army praying for me for a very specific request. Now it was time to press the red button and ask for help. I had been praying by myself and I had been praying with a friend here and there. But I hadn't been praying collectively.

I began to send messages and emails to my friends in different time zones. Please pray for me, I said, giving a short synopsis of the specifics. The replies began to come, some short and affirming, others taking more time to encourage while talk through implications of answered prayer in either direction. And as the prayers ascended, the peace descended.

I'd spent several days coexisting with a restless heart and soul. With no outlet at the gym, as it was under renovation, no social outlet as friends canceled for activities I planned off campus, and despite listening to songs that echoed my questions while promising hope, the deep sense of peace that had floated over me the week before seemed to have vanished like morning mist in Scotland.

Yet God is the God of miracles even when it comes to calming the storm inside of me. I felt like the windows that you see flung about buildings slipped in between glass skyscrapers all over Beirut, their glass panes shattered, metal railings long since peeled or wooden shutters missing brown slats. I knew I needed the intercession of others who could pierce the ceiling of indifference with their faith. So I asked. And God heard.

I do not know the future. It could be that the answer I hope for is not to be. This is one of those trusting times when I have to learn the very difficult lesson written on a fortune cookie slip that The principle part of faith is patience. I keep that by my bedside to remind me daily. This is a testing time when I have to stand very still, as my Father allows the thick fog of uncertainty to surround me even while He knows what is beyond the cloud. What I cannot see must remain unseen for now. It has to be enough to know that someone is praying, God is listening, and all He asks me to do is to find my safe place in Him even as I wait.

I know the LORD is always with me. I will not be shaken, for He is right beside me." ~Psalm 16:8