Sunday, February 3, 2019

The Power of Hopeful Lament

In the furnace you know
It can burn away slow
Or come out like gold
And mine
Is walking the edge of the knife

“Gone are the Days” Gray Havens

If I could show you the unposted captions and draft posts and quiet journal entries from the last two years of our first term, perhaps I could give you a better sense of the internal wrestling than what I managed to publicly say. It’s such a dance, isn’t it, being honest in “public” on social media without making it melodramatic or seem like a cry for help when in reality you are sad or struggling but not fallen apart completely. 

I really wrestled though. I don’t know where the line is between discouragement and depression, sadness and hopelessness, but I was frequently in that range somewhere.  I struggled to know how to live in hope when the emotions and gut level experience I was having was very much walking through the brokenness of the world. 

I think the scariest thing was fear that I would always feel that way so long as the life situation was the same. If I was still here, doing the same things I’m doing now, I would always feel that way. 

That’s the one thing I would say to myself if I could go back  to a year ago, or two years ago. It will not always feel this way. Don’t be afraid. 

After having experienced a very long stretch of discouragement, it is so beautiful to be on the other side. I look out my window and see the tropical flowers and greenery and I love it. My kids come and climb all over me and instead of feeling so very smothered, I feel warmth and thankfulness for these precious three. I think of the next things I have to do or what we are planning next month and it doesn’t feel like it all weighs a ton.  When I read scripture in the morning it sings joy rather than being the one thing I hold on to to get through a day. 

This life is beautiful. That’s a gift, to be in that kind of emotional state right now. 

I have been hearing a lot recently in churchy circles about joy, or I will call it happiness because I think joy is not always happy. A song, a sermon, a facebook post, they all called for happiness and cast away our sadness or self-pity or grumpy face. I understand what they’re getting at, but I don’t have much patience for that because one of the lessons of the past years for me is that grief, sadness, discouragement, and anger all have a place.  What makes these responses appropriate or not appropriate is what motivates them. Death, sin, brokenness, sickness, injustice all merit negative responses. If we look at a broken world and a life which in reality is beauty AND pain and we only sing like canaries, we are in denial and are not of much use in the face of the darkness, are we?  Is happy the way Abraham, Moses, David, Elijah, Paul, Peter, or John primarily looked? Moreover, is happiness the way Jesus primarily acted on earth? 

No. The answer is no. 

I’m glad to be on the other side of a long period of wrestling with discouragement. Now my patience is thin with calls to buck up and smile and I hope we work not to just forget suffering or pretend it isn’t there, but to walk through suffering well, and to hold out hope as we walk together. 

However on the other hand, there IS something false when we are totally immersed in hopelessness. I mean not false in us, necessarily, but false in our thinking. Because core to our faith is that in the deepest of darkness, because of a God who loves His broken people, because of the Son who entered death and came out alive, because of the coming redemption of all things, THERE IS ALWAYS HOPE, even in the deepest darkness. So when there is hopelessness is when truly we drop everything to carry the hopeless, because they cannot go on alone. 

I must recognize the other side, too. I also know that for me, sometimes there was sadness and discouragement because of real brokenness and hard things. And sometimes there was also self-pity, or resentment, or selfishness. We are human, and sin mingles in our veins, clouding the motivations of both our praise and lament. Let us not deny it so that we can better see it, confess it, and change. 

In those two years in the midst of discouragement I would gather with my Indonesian church family and take deep comfort in singing together. Many times I sang in tears because the reality of daily life and how I was feeling was very low, and singing these songs of beauty and life and joy was quite a contrast. It isn’t false, though, to quote scripture or sing those beautiful songs of life. It is part of what we do in the world. We fiercely sing hope into the dark night. In this seemingly nonsensical liturgy we are witness to what God is doing, and what we are doing with Him in the world. The more we enter darkness and truly recognize it, the brighter and more necessary that hope that we proclaim actually is. 

And then, because we have seen the suffering and the darkness, the times of peace and rest and joy are all the more beautiful, for the promise of what they hold is no longer just about today but just a foretaste. 

Thursday, December 6, 2018

Furlough Ruminations

We did furlough. It was our first one. How did it go? What would we do differently? What worked?

What We'd Do Differently
I was worried going into it that we wouldn’t find a place to stay, and that was true, we basically didn’t, and because of that we did a lot of traveling from place to place in lieu of having a spot we could use as home base for six months. That stunk, we need space of our own and stability in a time of transition. We did put out the word that we were looking for a place, but nothing popped up and extended stay apartments were way out of our budget. Next time we’ll look for a six month home rental and see if we can swing it. 

On that note, we didn’t even really know where we were going. We left from Dallas, but we have no family in Dallas. We thought maybe in our time with family over furlough, we might pick one of their locations to settle in as our ongoing home base. However, our transient families are all either in the midst of moving or say they’ll move before too long, so…. There’s no way to make a home base where they won’t be in the future! We wondered if being in Dallas would be weird, like we were back where we used to be but everyone had moved on and was living life around us while we awkwardly were in town for a while. It didn’t feel like that at all actually. Dallas was familiar, comfortable, filled with dear friends, and so refreshing. The community that comes from our church was life-giving and so encouraging. I don’t love Dallas but I WANT it to be home now, because of the relationships and community there. So, I think we’re settled. We’re going back to Dallas.We want to base in one place and have shorter trips to visit family and churches. We need a home base for our kids to have some kinds of roots in one place in the USA. 

Next time also I will pack lighter to come back! We were under the baggage limit in the USA but over for Indonesia. And the cost of overweight from the capitol city to our city was like three times what it used to be, so we paid more than expected. It’s SO EASY when in the USA to think that I’ll just pop this small item in the bags because it would be so nice to have overseas. However, it has to be only the necessities that we take. Minimal clothes for the kids and I (I packed too much!), minimal office supplies and items that are higher quality and cheaper in the USA but are available here. The weight needs to be available for Isaac’s clothes (since he can’t buy here), medical supplies, and homeschool curriculum. Books just about killed me, they are so heavy and we can’t get them in English here. BUT there’s a website where I can order books with free shipping, as the kids get older we can do more on kindle, and so we should be able to cut down the book weight in the future. 

What worked? 
We also worried that we would end up more stressed out by all the furlough responsibilities, when we were coming back from Indonesia with high anxiety and stress and really in need of some rest. Well, although furlough is hardly a rest, it IS a rest from what we were doing overseas. I was away from document work, we are away from cross cultural stress, we can separate and take stock of our lives and work overseas, despite being busy with US-based responsibilities. So we were rested and refreshed in some ways despite having lots of transition. 

We had wonderful time with family and fun stopping various places on our road trips. We got to see the Grand Tetons, the Texas State Capitol, the Battle of Little Bighorn site, the Texas State Fair, and lots of scenery and cities. The kids played in the snow and got a feel for seasons and American holiday celebrations, libraries, stores, and parks. That was so great. We’ll still do that – take advantage of our travel time to do cultural exposure and education. 

I put the kids in swim lessons. That's what they picked over all the other options. They did learn and it was fun to have them in a class. I totally want to put them in extra curricular resources while in the USA. 

Things I'm Not Sure About
If we were in the USA for a full semester in one place, would I put the kids in public school? That would allow me a break from homeschooling, would give my kids cultural exposure, get outside educational input, and roots in the USA. But it also ties us down so we're not as free to travel, plus adds quite a bit of anxiety to the kids' lives. I don't know. I hated public school in the USA during furlough BUT I also learned a ton culturally and spiritually, really. I don't know what to do on that one. 

Furlough Goals

From TEAM’s perspective, we had three goals to fill. We had to fund raise, and we had to raise a significant amount because of inflation and lost support and support that was promised but never came in when we first left. That was scary, since fundraising isn’t our gift at all. It was really cool to see God open doors there, and in our last week to see the final amount needed come in. I was super encouraged there, it was great that my own natural relationship building and networking in Dallas was contributing to our work of fundraising. Since I struggle overseas with feeling trapped in the home, being able to be out quite a bit, using my natural gifts to meet our goals was really fulfilling. 

We had medical work to do too. We had a rough last couple of years medically, and we got a lot of questions answered. We were healthy while in the USA, a welcome relief. Allergies and asthma and stomach issues were all far more manageable there, and we came back with meds to use here. Having our old moldy kitchen torn out and replaced while we were gone might really help with those issues as well. It could be that we just will inevitably struggle with these things in the tropical weather, or it could be that with the right meds and time, we’ll do better. I hope we do better! In any case, we got medical clearance to return. 

We had some training and equipping to do as well. Isaac was glad to be at the Evangelical Theological Society conference, to network with friends and professors of his, put out feelers about a PhD and writing possibilities. I did some training on teaching English to kids as well as lots of homeschooling stuff. The homeschooling things I did, as well as assessment for Judah, left me feeling much more prepared for the teaching I am currently doing with my own kids. I'd love to go to another homeschool conference next time around. It was great to debrief with TEAM. 

Furlough Philosophy

Our supervisor here once told us to have a way you do things in America and a way you do things in the USA, so that you don’t try to recreate your lifestyle in one place in the other. That was great advice. It was good to come up with a family rhythm of life in the USA (American style dress, shop at Aldi, playgrounds, library, homeschool meetups, road trip school), and to return to our way of life in Indonesia and settle into it easily. 

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Back in Dallas

When we moved to Dallas I was not super enthused about being in Texas. I'd lived here for a year when I was in third grade and had neutral memories, and I was pretty afraid of Dallas Theological Seminary turning my husband into a scary fundamentalist. 

I quickly lost my fear and gained lots of respect for DTS, but I struggled with Dallas. It's not a city like Chicago, it had a pretty tame downtown and I viewed it as endless suburbs with a stereotypical American culture that I couldn't relate to. I struggled to adjust my city self to Dallas life, where I couldn't get around using the train and half the streets didn't even have sidewalks to walk on. I was super negative for a long time about Dallas. I didn't love my job. I was wrestling with my faith and pretty shocked by the Christian culture in the evangelical world around here (in contrast to Chicago, where there was quite a bit of diversity in political opinion within the church). I was lonely but at the same time held relationships at an arms length. It was only with time and walking through life with people here that I came to be rooted, deeply in relationship, and thriving in Dallas. By the time we left I loved my job, we were strongly connected to our community group, and I had discovered that Dallas had a ton of cultural and ethnic diversity (even in north Dallas!) that is usually hiding in strip malls and unassuming neighborhoods. 

And now. It's 11 years since we moved here. We came back on furlough and didn't know where to go. Where is our American home? I had thought that since I didn't super love Dallas, we'd probably make our furlough homes near family. However, almost every member of our family has moved recently or is moving soon. There's no roots put down for us to join in on! Plus we needed to be near our church in Dallas for fundraising purposes. We struggled to find short-term housing, though, so we ended up traipsing across the country for months and just staying here in Dallas for about two months, since that's all we could book and afford with what we found. 

By the time we were finally headed to Dallas, we were longing for it. We know our way around here. We have friends here. Being familiar, knowing what to expect, having our own place to land in, being able to be normal for a while... 

Would we be normal? That was sort of the question. Would it be super weird to hang out in our old lives for two months as if we still belonged when in reality everyone else's lives had moved on and we didn't fit anymore? Would it feel like we were these people hanging out in a megachurch trying to make connections and actually feeling lost? If that's how it felt, we would probably have given up on Dallas except as a short stop to visit friends and supporters. 

Ironically for me, the person that so resisted Dallas, being here has felt like being home. Even if Dallas isn't the coolest city, I know it. I drive around automatically. The familiarity is HUGE for us. People are surprised that we're here when we don't have family here, but oh the friendships are sweet. Old work friends, church friends, friends from wherever. The kind of friends you get together with and just have a good time and do a lot of laughing? Yeah. 

And our church? Yeah, it is huge. But as I've always said, it's like a network of house churches in the midst of a big Sunday gathering? This time around we have the great blessing of having our small group exist almost the same as when we left 4.5 years ago. So we hopped into those small group meetings just the same as before. It was kind of surreal, driving the same roads to the same houses with the same people asking the same questions as if all those years hadn't passed. It was just a place to belong, to be known. And community groups at our church are pretty counter-cultural in the way they work. We ask each other questions like, "Tell us about your last conflict with your spouse?" It would be scary except that it's not anymore, it's SO SO good to talk through hard things about marriage and parenting and finances and everything in the setting of a loving community whose goal it to point towards Jesus and redemption in everything. Saves on counseling, you know, to navigate things with community! Ah, I'm so grateful for it. 

And because of the way our church works, the friendships we have here from before, and even the new people we connect with, there's this common ground that has been built in all of us. Common values, common vision for life and purpose and meaning. It's unlike most of my experiences in trying to build new relationships and support-raising, in this community (despite it being enormous), there is such great commonality and connection and mutual understanding. It's downright enjoyable to sit down and get to know new people and talk about why we moved overseas and what our vision is for it. 

I really like the community of our church. It's not a perfect church by any stretch of the imagination, but oh I am so grateful for it. 

And because of that, yeah, being in Dallas has been unexpectedly like being at home. It has been a place of rest, a place to process, a place to sort through things. I think we'll keep coming back to Dallas as our home base, even though we don't have family here. 

AND this little apartment God brought to us. It's one-bedroom and the kids sleep in the living room but it's such a gift. It's stable. It's furnished. The back door opens to open space and a little playground. I'll treasure the memories of afternoons playing outside. Of going on nature walks and park dates with the kids. Of seeing summer turn to autumn. Of celebrating halloween and autumn and Christmas all at once because soon we'll be back where it's tropical and doesn't feel like holiday weather anyways. 

I'm thankful. 

Thursday, October 18, 2018

Like the Nations

When in the midst of discouragement in Indonesia I recognized that many who were born and raised in America and struggling with discouragement overseas would wish to go home and long for the easier/better life back in the USA. Since I was raised overseas and have been quite disillusioned with America, I did not feel that pull. I do not think that America is the answer, and I think the subtle message of, "Maybe you just need to go home and rest for a while" is that the wealth and comforts of America are where our healing and hope lie, which is .... totally not a Christian answer.

I have been in Dallas nearly two months now. It has been a balm for the soul, having our own space, our own schedule, a place to be for a while without traipsing all over everywhere. Stability. We know the city, so we have familiarity. We have friends here, really great friends who make being here just fun and encouraging because it's so great to be with them. I'm so glad that God is opening Dallas as an American home for our family (ironically. After all my years of complaining about Dallas when we first moved here!). However after two months my husband is ready to go back to teaching overseas, which he loves. And my kids are eager to go home "and never leave again" says Judah, and I am so glad he feels that his home is Papua.

But me? The truth is that though I deeply love Papua, when I think about returning my stomach knots, and it's purely because of how comfortable it is here. Shopping and cooking is indescribably easier here than it is in Papua. I like not sweating over the oven. I marvel every Sunday at the taken-for-granted air conditioning and comfortable seats and cups of coffee everyone is holding. We have had a cold or two in the 5 months we've been in the USA, but nothing more. I like being healthy. It is utterly remarkable that I can think of just about anything I need/want and order it on amazon for a decent price and get it in two days. Even what's in the Dollar Tree for a buck is... shocking. The library. The parks. Grabbing a warm coffee out on a cold Fall night feels like a scintillating pleasure. Guilt tripping is not really helpful but I'm still in the stage where I am looking at life in middle class America and am astounded at how lavish it is, how taken for granted. It looks good right now, ya'll. It looks so nice and easy.

Giving it up this time around to go back overseas is not at easy as it was the first time.  As I have evaluated how I'm feeling, I recognize that it is pretty much entirely the comfortableness that I am clinging to, that I am loathe to give up.

I'm going through a Bible study on 1 Samuel that The Village Church women's ministry made available online. I was struck by the Israelite's demand for Samuel to appoint a king over them, so that they would be like the nations around them. It's not an irrational request. From the perspective of history, tribal governance developed into kingdoms as civilizations evolved. The king is what provided order, power, and greatness to the powers around Israel (also oppression and taxation and great risk if the king happened to be bad, but nevermind). If they wished to be great for God, they needed a king.

Except that the point of Israel was not to succeed or find stability in the scale of the world. They were specifically called to holiness, to be set apart, to be a people for God. In submission to His leadership they provide a witness to the nations of something different, of a greatness that is defined by His glory, not by the measurement of military might or the sovereign's fame. But Israel found their own inability to actually follow God lead to a lack of stability and so they wanted a king to provide stability, which of course did not work out for them. They patched the external issue, the lack of governmental stability, instead of the core issue, the human inability to obediently submit to God's best. The internal rot of man remained.

I am the same. An idol, or perhaps THE core idol of my culture is comfort. Some part of me does believe that in comfort and convenience I find my rest. There's what I'm loathe to give up as we head back overseas.

In truth it is, like a king, a false promise. Comfort and convenience are nice. But they are not what provides peace (as is evidenced by our entirely comfortable society that is absolutely chock full of anxiety, depression, and meaninglessness). Comfort and convenience are only good for me when they provide space from overwhelming daily burdens and stress and in order to turn to God and deal with the pain. Generally, though, the human soul uses comfort and convenience to distract from pain and suffering and fill the soul. It is not enough so we look for more, distract more. In reality is that all good is mysteriously found deep in the heart of God, a path that is iscrutable by the values and logic of the world. Once changed by Jesus it is generally in self-denial and service and suffering that we find the glorious beauty of knowing God. It makes no sense.

It seems so silly, but I am in the stage where I am in a stage where I am declaring to myself that my hope is not found in a fulfilling career. Peace is not found in having a good doctor and medication readily accessible.  Love does not come from regular date nights or goodness from carefully curated shopping and meal lists that I can successfully execute to keep my family going. Being like the nations is not the goal, and so I can return to our life in Papua secure that whatever the external difficulties or instabilities, the promises of God for love, joy, peace, and hope are found in the path of walking with Jesus no matter where He leads.

The Spirit whispers this to my heart and I pray for the faith to walk in obedience.