Tuesday, April 12, 2016
For one reason or another, we have been sorely in need of some wind on our faces. And for a host of other reasons, we just haven't been able to get the air to move.
Then this past weekend, it finally materialized... what is so often an almost elusive dream in China but was such a sweet and foundational part of my life pre-Asia... mountain air and waking up to the sound of rivers and a gust in the trees.
Getting outdoors here can often feel like rolling a boulder uphill. There is little to no infrastructure for camping, we are without a vehicle, and time seems always to be taken by commitments outside of our control. So as a plan finally took shape, and the morning came where we stood on a path overlooking peaks and valleys laid out below, I felt a little ridiculous that it could make me tear up, that something this simple could make me feel like we'd had some wind put back in our sails, and we would be okay.
It was misty and cool, which no one complained about even though it meant working a little harder to keep the fire going and hunkering down in the tents an hour early one night to avoid the drizzle. We played Rook, and listened to David McCullough's newest biography on the Wright Brothers, and told stories about the earliest years with our kids. Highlights of the few days for me were watching my crazy man and the kids after his own heart all take a freezing dip in the river, fresh pressed coffee while the sun came over the ridge, and hearing the kids talk about how cozy they were in their tent and pointing out every time a peak was shrouded in beautiful mist.
They don't solve every problem and heal every hard place in life, but surely these glimpses of grandeur and intimate encounters with the natural world breathe some kind of life into our souls we were made to be formed by. I just know I need that mountain air.
And the morning we left, the sun broke out, bold and strong and glorious.
Tuesday, March 22, 2016
All these girls. They have about ten minutes to shuffle awkwardly in front of the camera, and I have about ten minutes to make them shine. Posing and all that is not my usual game, but in this once a year opportunity that comes around every spring, I love to try to somehow show these girls, heading off soon into the big, wide world, how lovely they are.
Just a peek at some of these beauties...
Sunday, March 20, 2016
When I was young, Palm Sunday was this weird, pre-Easter worship service that didn't make a ton of sense. All the kids got palm branches to wave around, and we talked about how Jesus rode into Jerusalem, hailed and celebrated for this crazy magical few hours as the king. But unless it was the first time you'd ever heard the story, you knew a few days later he was going to be betrayed, tortured, and finally crucified. So, the celebration seemed like a strange kind of party that as a kid I thought could not have meant much to Jesus himself. I always pictured him as extremely somber, and sort of sad while everyone around him was jubilant and, what seemed to me, kind of shallow in their adoration.
But for centuries the church has been remembering this somber and strangely celebratory beginning to the Holy Week, a week that has so impacted the world with it's events that it is still influencing and instructing even parts of culture that are not religious institutions. The recent film Calvary (2014) depicted an Irish priest and the events that took place in his small town of parishioners over the course of a week. The film was dark and gritty and not a little hard to watch, but no less so than the actual events that took place in that first Holy Week, and there was something impactful about the deeply human realities the film reflected. So as strange as this Sunday of celebrating a Triumphal Entry that really seems more like an anti-triumph is, there is something about it that shapes and informs us.
Henri Nouwen said this in his book, With Open Hands,
"When your life is more and more becoming a prayer, you notice that you are always busy converting yourself and gaining and ever-deeper understanding of your fellow [human beings]. You notice, too, that prayer is the pulse of the world you live in. If you are really praying, you can't help but have critical questions about the great problems the world is grappling with, and you can't get rid of the idea that a conversion is not only necessary for yourself and your neighbor, but for the entire human community."
I felt that this week. That feeling that the more my heart poured out and pored over prayers for people, the more it seemed I had so far to grow in understanding and loving them. And the world, both in my small localized community, and in the swaths of humanity at large-- the political mores of our homeland and our home here abroad, how could it not make me feel that anything less than conversion and renewal is still our greatest human need?
One of the students in our high school wrote a poem that took first place this week at the local Literary Festival. In it, she talked about how her life is one shaped by a family that calls upon the God we celebrate at Easter, and yet her heart is filled with questions about the sufferings and tragedies, the seeming unfair advantages she has been dealt in this world compared to so many. And at the end, she says that these questions won't go away, but neither will you, God. And that he came once and gave what was needed, not what was asked for, and this is what we look to when we don't understand the hand we've been given.
So Palm Sunday is about crying "Hosanna!" which means, Save, I pray.
I can't help but think on this remembrance of the Triumphal Entry, when inside I'm feeling less than triumphant about life circumstances, and sometimes not even sure about what the work of God looks like in this world, that this is not new territory. I remember the old old story, to speak to me about the one I'm presently living. Jesus walked into the city, a false celebration and misunderstanding rampant all around him, and surely he must have felt burdened about the way the world was turning. Surely the irony of circumstances was not lost on him. And yet he did not give in to cynicism or despair, but entrusted himself to the path laid out for him on that fateful week. He knew salvation was coming. He knew the cost.
Looking back, but living in the present, and wanting so badly for hope to shape how I walk forward into the future, how can I do less on this day than cry out, Hosanna... Save, I pray. It's a declaration, and a prayer; a living with the present realities, but walking in faith that we will never be resigned to them.
Saturday, March 12, 2016
"The rain stopped. And look... it's so beautiful!" Quinn's childish exuberance and genuine delight made me smile considering his age and the view...looking out over the city rooftops, a mixture of the old and new, a short history for short-sighted eyes.
The students in my classes this week, they stamped cityscapes with black ink, building a skeleton of a city out of prints held in their little hands. They were the architects, I told them, the artists who could create beauty out of building line upon line and block upon block. And only the one with a soul can impart soul into his work.
I think the bones of this city are haunted, even if it sees no ghosts. There is a soul dormant here that is made of more spirit than the mere bones of economy and political machines, or of the hardware of handheld devices and fiberoptic information. We spend our days in these hollowed out places, made hallowed by the Breath of Life. In a city teeming with so much man, numbers and figures seem more accurate than any individual narrative. But I have a hope for the stories to rise up like smoke and fill the air with a pungent reality.
Tuesday, March 8, 2016
But what has not become routine is these very real lives being knit together. In a swift moment. It breaks and builds up my heart every time. I walk away thinking about all the dynamics this new family will be dealing with, and then my own family, my kids, my parents, other families, children in this city, and the list goes on, until I come back to-- thank you. Thank you for each good creation of one family that reflects the heart of God.
Yesterday I had the intense pleasure of spending just a few hours with one such family. I loved their vibe from the first moment I met them. And they were so real, relatable, and intensely sweet with their new daughter, who in turn surprised everyone with her slow but then genuine turn to joy and sweet interaction. I was happy for them, and for her. Not everyone in the room had the same experience, and it was sobering to realize again that adoption is anything but glamorous. I was grateful we were able to get happy, light filled pictures for this family that truly reflected their first moments with their daughter. And it doesn't take away from the fact that this is just the beginning, that the road to being known and knowing your family is lifelong. But it was one sweetly, surprising good start.
Booe Gotcha Day from christine on Vimeo.