Thursday, March 31, 2011

Give Us This Day

Among all the other things we do when we are wrenched in the gut with grief, we grope for answers. Perhaps one of the more difficult things to do when you long to comfort the one who is most gripped by the grief is to keep those answers, the ones that may be comforting you, to yourself.

I heard sweet, salve words once from a deeply honest and personal talk given by Joni Erickson Tada, where she walked through the heart horrors of her tragic accident at age 17. I wept as I folded laundry on my living room floor, listening to her talk of a friend who crawled and crept through a closed hospital wing, to climb up onto the bed and lay next to her, weeping silent tears with her, singing "Man of Sorrows" to her bruised and broken friend. Joni talks about how in those dark days of questioning and grief, many answers (sure and true answers, answers that she would later grapple with and hold to with security) were given to her by well meaning friends and family who were hurting with and for her. But they fell flat and cold on her angry and stricken soul.

C.S. Lewis writes of the same thing in his A Grief Observed, the journal writings of one of the greatest Christian thinkers and apologists of our time, when his dear wife died of a horrid battle with cancer. It was not the answers that brought comfort initially. But God in his mercy knows how we are formed, and he knows that it is not the sterile feel of doctrine that we need to be blanketed with in those moments, but the Presence of our Savior- the one who knows our Suffering.

My friend, on her way to the hospital just a few days ago, not knowing what it was she could or would do for this family, this mother, this father who were sitting with their son on the threshold of death, was reminded as she prayed that because He lives and is present with us, she was going to be the embodiment of that presence. This is one of the Gifts of the Body of Christ- the church: to be His presence for one another. And yet He, our Great Comforter, goes beyond even that, to a comfort and a peace we cannot give to one another through our hands and feet. It is a mysterious, but promised thing. And He is always faithful.

Today, if it were up to me, I would think that what we need is this boy back in the thriving midst of his family, in the arms of his mother and father, in the throes of baseball and legos with his brother, holding his new baby sister on his hip. I would think that we need to be staying here in this place instead of planning to leave it in a few short months. But that is not what we have been given. And I cannot see, cannot imagine how to get through the days ahead.

So give us this day our daily bread... give us what we need for right now. And then, when it is given, help us to somehow take and eat and have it be enough.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Comfort My People

I don't know how or why even to write just now.

I want to scream this grief from the rooftops so the whole wide world will know just how dear and precious and sacred is even this one boy's life and how his mother and father and sister and brother are breaking wide open with the now very probable reality of losing him. And everyone, everyone ought to know about it because his life and theirs is on equal par with every God-given wonder of breath that walks the face of this earth.

But I want to hide them away too-- I want to wrap a wall around their hearts that are spilling and mixing with the pain of our own and keep them warm and safe from eyes that care only to gawk or read information without holding it as dear and precious and weighty as it ought to be held.

And yet I know some of you are praying. Some of you are grieving too, and you long for a glimpse of what is happening.

Forgive me for saying too little or too much. I long to honor this precious family and my own heart is so broken for them right now that it may be quiet here for awhile as we hold them and wait for what may come.

Would you pray for them to know Comfort of the One who holds them?

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil,
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff,
they comfort me.

Thank you for taking this matter upon your own heart.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Today I walked outside with two of my children, calling for the third to come down from the concrete hill he was playing on with his friends so we could walk to the store and grab lunch. An hour later, my friend called, breathless with the sound of her heart in her throat, and told me she was at the hospital. One of the little boys, the ones we had just left, had fallen through what looked like a skylight in the ground, several stories to the parking garage area below. He was unconscious, in critical condition.

This boy is just eleven years old. He has an older sister, a younger brother, and a new baby sister that was just welcomed home from China this year. He swings a bat and runs the neighborhood haunts with sweet but ferocious abandon. Each week at church I sit behind him and watch as he hold his baby sister with such devotion and delight, it nearly always makes me cry.

If you are a praying person, would you pray for this family? The prognosis is not good. His brain stem has been severed, and while they are waiting for a second opinion, the situation is very grave.This family is a close part of our community here and we are all grieving, reeling, stunned and beside ourselves. I can't stop thinking about his mother. If you can, would you think of them too?

My heartfelt thanks to you.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

We're Moving

The funny thing is, I think when I took this photo my son was just lost in one of his stares like he tends to be sometimes, and happened to reach his hand up to wipe away some itch on his cheek. But the look of shock and surprise on his face seems to perfectly capture the state I have been in. Well, that we all have been in.

A few weeks ago we were approached with a possible job change for my husband, and just one week ago today found out that the whole thing was in fact going to go down. Which means, we are moving. Not out of China, but to a city far west of here.

The Man will be taking a Secondary Principal position at an International School within our company. It is an adventurous change for us to say the least. We are confident but nervous. Mostly we are just grieving and sad. Leaving people is something I would liken to pulling my toenails out one by one with a rusty pair of tweezers and then eating them with a bowl of cornflakes. That's right. Nauseating. Excruciating. I've felt sick for weeks and it has barely abated now that I've gotten through all the painful moments of telling our close friends.

I know there will be good things about this move. I can't really see them yet, but I believe they are there. In the meantime there are sweet friends to love on and spend time with before we leave, and a lot of details to work out.

I have been pretty exhausted to say the least as these events have transpired. Maybe that sounds dramatic but for me and for our family, a decision and a move like this takes a lot out of us. I have felt a bit like a dry well as far as inspiration goes. My energy has been zapped a bit by the shock of recent events, but I know it will return.

In the meantime, I'm thankful for the many many wonderful and kind words and affirmations from our friends and family here and far away. They have given us so many life words and we feel like storing them up somewhere for future days when we may need them. I'm so thankful for the sweet though pained responses from some of my closest friends when I know it cost them much. I'm thankful for this opportunity, though it feels more like a hole in the head just now. I'm thankful for sleep, and chocolate, and the goodness of one day at a time.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

City Walks :: Part One

There is a section of this city that stresses me out. Not because there is anything inherently wrong or anxiety-ridden about it, but because most people go there to shop for all kinds of odds and ends...and you have to be ready to drive a hard bargain, as well as possibly find nothing even close to what it was you were looking for, while getting lost in the chaos of everything else you were not looking for. 

Some people enjoy this, but I don't and so I tend to avoid this area like the plague and only go there out of dire necessity. But lately, I've been wanting to just enjoy the city more and one of the ways that always seems to help me do that is simply to take it's picture. I like to think I'm taking this old girl on her own photo shoot, one street or alley or afternoon at a time. It makes me slow down and notice so much more. It helps me talk to people. It makes me see and appreciate even just the unique and textured world that is China and this city in particular.

Yesterday the Little Scout and I ventured out together, and she was a huge help. She's curious and friendly, and helps take off the edge that I have a camera in my hand. She is also increasingly easy to go on outings with, something that has not always been the case (thus another reason for my lack of city venturing).

I think there will continue to be more of these, so I'm calling this Part One. But don't worry, no new daily photo projects anytime soon!

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Eyes Wide Open

{a sweet and innocent stare from the baby of my good friend}

Eyes wide open, like a deer in the headlights, this is me right now.

Standing in the cross hairs of Tsunami devastation and Lenten meditations on caring for the needy and oppressed, crumbled by news articles of wanton neglect and shameless aversion of justice, grieved by hurting friends who are missing their babies, and little girls who are missing their mothers, angered by the tragedy of a new friend who was tricked by an agent when coming to China and ended up working for months without pay, holed up in a remote part of China in horrible living conditions. And that's not to mention the relentless oppression and violence that contiues in places like Libya, or that has been going on for decades in Zimbabwe.

Headlights. Deer. Me.

This morning as it all weighed down, I started to work in the kitchen-- setting yeast to rise for bread and milk to curdle for cheese making, slicing squash to roast in the oven and mixing oats with nuts for granola... when suddenly I looked around, realizing I had about six projects going at once in my closet-sized cooking space, and muttered to myself, what is going on??

The half crazed, half lucid muttering continued on for awhile, my hands punching hard into the soft dough, pulling pans out of the oven, stirring the steaming milk, watching a floury crust form on the rim of my daughter's face.

Is it just that this is my one piece of terrain I can do something with? Out there- so many problems, heartaches, needs, decisions- and all things we as people, me as a fellow human- are called to act upon. Yet, none of which I can do anything about.

I feel much like that baby up there: arms so short, seeing it all but unable to comprehend and even less able to act with any real or helpful capacity.

Most of the time I worry that I do far too little. Crippled by cynicism or a distaste for cliche responses to poverty- I seem to have relegated myself to the corner when jumping into the ring seems to be what is called for. Feeling cut off and minimized by my family, lifestyle, abilities, proximity and what have you, I fear I have sloughed off any sense of responsibility to fight and care for the oppressed, the needy, the imprisoned, the hurting.

I suppose part of what I want to understand is just what chunk of terrain is mine to care for. No one man can bear the weight of the world, and to bear and care for one small chunk is each man's calling. I wonder... I don't know, but maybe a life of true charity and generosity will enlarge that chunk whenever a need is pressed upon it, or grows from within it. Because sometimes it seems like all you can do is bake the bread in your kitchen, and feed it to anyone who has need of it.  

Saturday, March 12, 2011

the vioLENT bear it away

If you read her, she will stick to your bones. But first, she will burn away your flesh. It would seem a timely reading for Lent then, the season of ash heaps and dwelling in dark places. The Lenten season and the works of Flannery O’Connor, a Southern Catholic novelist whose oft misunderstood body of writing is deeply grotesque and violent, are both repelling to the first touch; the lips singe and the taste is bitter, unwanted. But swallowed down, taken into the whole of things, into the whole person, this tandem pair of observing Lent and reading O’Connor can absorb into the blood like liquid life — allowing you to see, not clearly or all at once, but into the distance, to things that are hidden, the stuff of prophets.

Flannery O’Connor wrote stories that explored the very worst in humanity. She was interested in that moment when grace is offered, but often rejected. She writes, “For me [the gravest concern] is always the conflict between an attraction for the Holy and the disbelief in it that we breathe in with the air of the times.” Her stories are violent and dark, the grace moments hard to see and understand. At first reading, you may wonder if the descent is worth the affliction. But wait for it...

to read the rest of this article, click over here

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Days of Gray :: 23 {last one}

Today the sky was decidedly blue, and when The Man came home from work the sun had just dipped below the horizon... which meant it was still light out and we were all out there enjoying the lengthening hours before darkness, which seemed fitting in an ironic way-- because tomorrow Lent begins.

Lent. That season celebrated by the Church since its earliest days, and one I am growing to understand and appreciate, though the trajectory of my own history and faith heritage has for centuries and a variety of reasons not recognized these weeks as legitimate practices. I understand why, and I think it helps to see some of the flow of thought that brought it about... so that instead of criticizing I can merely see things anew from the lens of time and place that I inhabit, with the work of the centuries resting underneath me.

The centuries are there though, and they seem to point to the goodness of a time set apart, even if it is to sit in darkness. So tomorrow it begins... as the days grow increasingly longer and the rest of the world begins to awaken, we grow dark. The Light is going out of the world, shrouded by the cross-beams of a tree. It is not the end of the Story, but in order to know the good ending, you have to start with the very bad beginning.

 "And that is what Lent is, a time to reckon with the reality of darkness and death. We do so with hope, beacuse this season of darkness ends in Easter, in resurrection, in new life. But we can be raised to new life only if we have first died to the old one. That is the challenge-- and the gift-- of Lent."
-Kimberlee Conway Ireton,

I don't think it will be all gloom and doom. In fact, I get strangely excited about this time of year. I think it is because, in a very practical way, giving up simple things and thinking intentionally about other areas creates space for God to work. It doesn't have to be fantastical work either, sometimes it just allows you to see things clearer, the way they really are, and to draw closer to him.

And just in case you were thinking I am Ultra-Spiritual-Woman by being so into Lent, I want you to know I think Lent is for the exact opposite... the Un-Spiritual, the ones who are needy and unable to do anything (like fast) with success. Lent is for you, for me, for the stragglers and the proud... all of us in need of some soul searching and the Light at the end of the tunnel.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Days of Gray :: 22 {snapshots}

There have been many things hanging around in the air of late. I find myself thinking about many things and people, and sometimes forgetting even to post on here (yesterday), or to mindfully notice what I want to capture during the day-- gray or not.

This week, on Wednesday, the season of Lent begins and that too has been on my mind. I should warn you ahead of time that I'll probably write more frequently on that subject (or not) as my world and that of so many around the world grows full with it. I have so many thoughts about it... probably many not worth sharing but I may not be able to stop myself.

One thought is that I may "go dark" during that time. I think it's a challenge to try and shoot black and white photos purposely. They take more thought because of the conditions and elements that make a colorless photo interesting. But I like the "thematic" idea of going dark just like the season of Lent does... taking you down the dark path in preparation for the celebration of Resurrected Light. We'll see. It's just a little thing.

In the spirit of those snippits of thought, here are just a few snapshots from the past day or two, which have not been gray at all by the way (except perhaps on a more personal level), but full of blue skies and encouraging temperatures.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Days of Gray :: 20 {friendly beginnings}

These two girlies love to play together. They share babies and cook breakfast together, they giggle and stare out apartment windows side by side, they "call" each other on the phone when they feel they've been apart too long, they pull one another's hair.

At this stage of the game, they are not sure if they know what it means to be a friend... to give when you don't feel like it and to give way when you need to make room for the other. Kind of like the relationship between the outgoing winter and the spring that is lurking under all this dead and crusty layer of earth.

I do believe though, they're going to make it.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Days of Gray :: 19 {a good read is hard to find}

Flannery O'Connor. She is, unparallelled. Like jumping off a cliff into the netherworld of dark reality. It's heartbreaking and ugly. But somehow magnetic and cleansing in a way that the being impaled by a white hot sword of righteousness might feel. Seriously, she's crazy. I didn't really like her much at first, but I think reading her letters has helped me see a little better into her mind and stories. They are not for the faint of heart (and I do think I have a faint heart... most of the time).

So somehow, sitting with her in the afternoon seems like the most wonderful way to spend a couple kid- napping hours. In a twisted and horrifically wonderful kind of way.

I'm off my head!

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Days of Gray :: 18 {snow and stuff}

It snowed last night, which so rarely happens here that when it does we rush about taking pictures of it and stuffing it down each others necks. I was so intent on getting the kids up the hill and through the hazing of snowballs (without drenched pants and tears or anything like that) that I momentarily forgot this is their one chance to slam ice into another person's flesh and still all come away laughing about it. It took us a little longer to get to the bus but no harm was done and according to Curls, it was just like Christmas. In March.

We then spent part of the morning at a friend's house, where we do a running-switch-off (one goes while the other watches the kids, and then vice versa). She just started learning to sculpt on a wheel this past year and has been trying to do it when she can use both hands for something other than hold a baby or the hand of her two year old. I'm so proud of her... and the light on her little back porch "studio" is so pretty, I couldn't help but snap a few pictures.