Monday, January 28, 2013

Acquainted with grief

This past year, through a variety of means, I feel like I have become more acquainted with grief. I am often caught off guard by how quickly I am brought to tears by a song on the radio, a gracious comment from a friend, a conversation with a loved one, ponderings about all that we have been through this year.

This reminds me of a couple things: first, of Much Afraid from Hind's Feet on High Places. She is given two companions which are Sorrow and Suffering. When I first read that book, I was in college and I can't say I was much acquainted with sorrow or suffering. The argument could be made that I really don't know them now either. I would say I am coming to know them.

That's what "acquainted" means, after all. It's from the Latin, "to come to know." I believe most people want to avoid sorrow and suffering. They even believe that as Christians we are meant to avoid them, not to experience them, that if we do we are somehow lacking faith. Me, I just want to avoid them because they aren't much fun.

But my other thought about being acquainted with grief is: Jesus was. In Isaiah 53:3, it says he was "a man of sorrows, acquainted with grief." I find it interesting that of all the things we could be told about Him, we know that. I don't doubt that Jesus was a man who exuded joy, who could throw His head back and laugh. But we are told specifically that He was no stranger to sorrow and grief. Why? I think to tell us, "It's ok. This is part of the journey."

I feel like my heart can't even wrap itself around this knowledge completely, beyond, "This is a good thing." If Jesus knew it, He knows what it is like for me, and He knows that it is working something necessary and good in my heart. Most of the time, when I rub up against grief I am grateful (although I confess when it comes in the presence of others it throws me because I'm still not particularly comfortable with falling apart unexpectedly). I am grateful because I sense that it means my heart is being opened by this, that it's hopefully developing in me a greater capacity to enter in to the grief of others and to say, "I am coming to know this too."

Friday, January 25, 2013

Better Things Ahead

This week has left me a little speechless. On top of the emotional roller coaster of starting our kids in school and Erik being gone, death came twice: a dear family friend, and my sweet grandma. The first was wholly unexpected, the kind of death where you say, "But I just saw him . . . but he just . . ." It's stunning.

The second was a long time coming. My grandma was nearing 100 years old, and in recent years has been in a slow decline physically and mentally. This last week she'd stopped eating and wasn't responding much to people. She's finally free. 

All this brings into sharp focus the frailty of life, the fact that at any moment things could change. So I find myself delighting more in things I could easily miss - the sound of my son's voice from the back seat of the car, the new blossoms on our lemon tree, the sun rising through hues of pink, breath in my lungs. 

But it also makes me realize how far we are from Eden, how this world is nothing compared to the next. I think of our friend, who had a beautiful voice, and I imagine him singing praises to his God in a way he never has before. I think of my grandma whole, restored, full of joy. I think about how all that we enjoy and love here is but a poor substitute for what is to come. 

So let's love well and be people of gratitude and wonder for the gifts we are given, but let us put our hope in eternity where all will be made new. 

“There are far, far better things ahead than any we leave behind.” C.S. Lewis

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Week One

It's been a week. I haven't even been sure what to write. The kids started school, which I hope will be the last major hurdle of "adjusting to life back in the U.S." I'm not saying there will be no more hurdles, just hopefully none so high as this one that threatens to pull some muscles.

Pull it has. Monday was our first at home day, and since we were jumping in to the middle of things, we didn't have quite as much as the other kids. We wrestled with feelings of anxiety throughout the day. I was trying to keep a positive outlook, but when we put the kids' books into their fresh new backpacks right before bedtime and they didn't all fit, all the wind got knocked out of my sails. Unfortunately, the kids were sailing in my boat, so we all sank a little bit.

By the morning, after a quick online order to L.L. Bean for larger backpacks, we were back on track. We were ready 1/2 hour early, God be praised! I am expected to help in each of their classrooms 2-3 times per semester and the only open day for Megan's class was Tuesday. No, I don't sit by the side of the pool and acclamate. I jump in!

It turned out to be just what Megan needed to calm her nerves. I sat in the corner and graded papers while her teachers amazed me. I saw Ethan at lunch and he was happily sitting with his best friend and some other 7th graders. All seemed well.

And then Wednesday happened, when they had to face the reality of what days at home entail, except we got to throw in things like "daddy's gone" and "we're still in major transition" to make it more interesting. Lets just say there were a lot of tears and a mom who needed a bath and a stiff drink by the end of the day. Not pretty people, not pretty.

Today was another school day, and they loved it. I dropped them off, ran some errands, came home and thought, "Wow. Now what?" then proceeded to do a little work and a little fun (hello OPI Samoan Sand on my finger and toenails). The kids came home and decided they love school and hate the work they have to do at home. I hope that evens out a little as time goes on.

Stretching emotional muscles. So often this week I just had to sit and cry with the kids and say, "Yeah, I get it. This is really hard. I think it's going to get easier. Let's remember that we're in process here ok?" But there were plenty of times I wanted to say, "I can't do this any more. I have my own mess. I don't know that I have anything to give you in yours."

Even as I type that I am reminded that His compassions are new every morning. That's what I need to remind us each day - that He sees us in our process, He cares for our hearts, He will carry us through.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Our Traffic Sign Coffee Table

In China, the concept of color is a little different, particularly when dealing with household items. I spent half an hour arguing with the men who delivered carpet to our first apartment because we had ordered tan and what they brought was gray. They insisted it was the same color. Later, we ordered dark forest green couches and they came a lovely bright grass green. Again, we were told essentially, "same same." The worst was when I chose chocolate brown curtains and what arrived at my house was, well, what would you call the color of what comes out of a baby the first few weeks? Yeah, that. And I was told, "sometimes the color is a little bit different."

So I shouldn't have been surprised when I asked for a coffee table to be made to match this lovely antique piece:

And what I got was this traffic sign yellow table:

 I was warned that it wouldn't look totally like the top piece because it wasn't actually going to be antique, but this really wasn't what I had in mind. With it laying on its side, you can't fully appreciate how incredibly bright yellow it is.

But honestly, this seemed like a fun challenge to me and truth be told I'm kind of bored these days so I went to work sanding off the brightness. I did it once already, but it was still pretty bright, so here's attempt #2:
 You can see that on the legs they did make the effort to antique it up a little, and I was able to keep the look of it there. The top I've just managed to tone down.

I'm not sure if I'm quite done (well, I haven't sealed it so I know I'm not) or if I might try to even out the color on top, but at least it isn't stopping traffic anymore. Now useless note to self: be more specific when describing colors to Chinese workers.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Known, Needed, Have a Future

Known. Needed. Have a future.

These are three things that we talk about in our organization that we hope our staff are experiencing. In transition, these things go AWOL easily. As I look back on the major transitions of my life, I can see how most of the stress and other yuck I felt was because I didn't feel one or more of these things.

So because this isn't my first rodeo, I have been trying to be aware of my need for these things as we've moved to Florida. The problem is that awareness doesn't bring satisfaction. It just gives you an answer to the question, "Why do I feel like curling up in a ball today?" But sometimes that's enough.

Happily, I can feel these things creeping into my life in small ways: Going to a party where I actually know people and can have meaningful conversations and where I am invited to a small group. A nearby neighbor asks if her son can spend the night while she and her husband get away for some time to make a major decision. We visit our kids' school for an interview and I talk to people about when I'll be there helping this semester. Our neighbor invites us over to meet another family who has a daughter Megan's age and since we all work at Cru we have common ground.

Place where I feel known. Needed. I have a future. These are good moments.

Friday, January 4, 2013

Word of the Year

Recently I was invited to a "word of the year" party. When I explained to Erik that this means we need to choose a word to focus on for the year, he decided his word is "beef."

Ok then. So I am excited to go purely for the fact that a) there will be other women there and b) we will be talking about something meaningful. These two things alone will get me almost anywhere. But before I go, I need to decide on my word.

My friend suggested thinking of something I feel like I need in 2013, or a word that maybe God keeps bringing to mind, something that won't get out of my head. Well, the word most often in my head is "overwhelmed" which is certainly not something I need. Maybe I need the opposite. What is that? Underwhelmed? Just whelmed?

I'm tempted to think that what I need is lots of warm fuzzy words like safe, comfortable. Chocolate. Who doesn't need chocolate? I feel like what I need is to not look around my house and see a million things to do. I feel like I need to be known, on top of things, competent, in a routine, loved, needed. And also, chocolate.

I've tried a lot of words on for size, but like most of my clothes shopping, something's always just a little off. I blame my hips. Well, for the clothing at least. But for the words, I realized that I go back and forth between wanting some word that will make me not feel messy or undone, and my strategy for that is either to go great guns and "get 'er done-ish" about life, or, if I feel it's insurmountable, I retreat to something like "rooted" or "fetal position." Or chocolate.

But can I be in between? Can I be in the midst of the mess and the undoneness with a whole heart? And what would that look like?

Content. It would look like being content. So that is my word. I want to be able to look fully in the face of my circumstances and say "yes" to what God has for me this year, whether my house be decorated to my satisfaction or no, whether I am known or not, whether I get into my groove or live one disheveled day after another. I want to receive what He gives me each day, each moment, with a contented heart.

Right after this word came to mind, I opened a Dove chocolate wrapper (that could be the framework for a lot of my sentences, "After I ____________, I ate chocolate") and the message inside said, "Take this moment. Enjoy it." and I thought, "That sounds a lot like contentedness to me."
Interestingly, this is not the first time God has spoken to me through a Dove chocolate wrapper. I guess He just plays the odds, "At some point today this girl is going to eat chocolate. That's when I'll get her."

I'm excited to see how God will use this word in my life this year. I hope at some point He chooses to use chocolate again to speak to me. I listen well when He does.

So if you had a word for the year, what would it be?

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Libraries as God Intended

It amazes me, shocks me, really, that I have been in Orlando a full month and, until today, had not found the library. I have heard it calling me all this time, "Gina . . . I have books . . . books from your Good Reads list . . . come and play!" But I've been busy doing a million other things. Plus I planned for this like some people planned for Y2K by bringing a stack of unread books with me.

So I wasn't desperate, but I was feeling a little incomplete without a library card, so I loaded the super happy kids in the car (they have books to read too so they really didn't want to go) and drove to the main branch in downtown Orlando.

As I did, I reflected back on my library experience of the last 13 years. Mostly it was non-existent because eight years of Asia we were in China which had no libraries. In Singapore we were blessed to have a children's library (yes, they have a whole children's library chain throughout the country) one block from our house and main library locations all over town. The downside of libraries there was that they are not free. It is also easier to vote in America than it is to obtain a library card in Singapore, although I guess that's not saying much.

So I'm excited that now I live in a place that has several library locations and is free - the best of both worlds. Better still, we'd heard a rumor that they will not only transfer books from one location to another for you, but they will actually deliver books to your door, and it's true! Finally - libraries as God intended!

I'm off to order my books.


Pinterest and HGTV have given me unrealistic expectations for my house and overinflated views of my DIY prowess. How hard can it be? Those people on TV are doing it! Never mind that they have professionals standing off camera to keep them from stapling their own hands to the wall. I can do it! This is how I think.

So given a new house and a limited no budget for professional helpers, I have chosen to embrace the unrealistic and overinflated parts of me in order to make a few changes.

Nothing crazy - just some painting, refinishing, nailing, that kind of thing. So far it's turning out pretty well. The first thing was a coffee table I had made unfinished because I didn't know what color I wanted. I was doing well on my own until I tried to add a wee bit more color of a stain/polyurethane mix that ended up clumping and generally looking terrible. I resanded it and tried again. I was trying to match the Chinese doors in the corner but this was as close as I could get.

Coffee table before 

And after 
For my next trick, I wanted to redo the dining room. In the original pictures, I liked the chair rail the previous owners had, but upon inspection it wasn't a style I liked. We decided to keep the two color theme, but I bought new chair rail, sprayed it white, and Erik installed it last night during my Benadryl induced stupor. 



The lighting isn't as good in the second picture, but you get the idea. On the left something I got from Hobby Lobby - this heavy black metal thing I painted yellow and distressed a little. It's going to go on the wall as soon as I figure out what else to put with it. 

There are other projects in the works. So far so good! Lots of fun.