Sunday, February 24, 2013


What do you do with desire?

I'm not talking about "I desire bacon" or, "I desire a tropical vacation." 

I'm talking about deep heart desires, like the desire to be loved, respected, needed, safe, important, powerful, competent, noticed. If I don't get bacon on any given day, I'm not going to be hurt. I'm not even going to be hurt if I don't get chocolate, though maybe a little disappointed. But if my desire to be loved goes unmet, there is potential for deep ache. So what do I do?

Most people would agree there are two main directions we sway. One is to demand that desire is met. This often looks like anger and contempt. My kids disobey, and I insist that they change. I yell and put my foot down and demand that they do what I ask. Why? Because that's what parents should do? No - there are other ways to obedience. I do it because at a deep heart level, I don't feel respected by them, and I hate that. Their disobedience feels unloving, and I want to be loved and respected.

So I could go another route. I could deaden my desire. This feels like the more "Christian" option. I can tell myself that I don't care. I deny. I kill the desire. I tell myself that I am selfish for wanting it, foolish for looking to children to satisfy a desire. This is nothing more than shaming ourselves for having a legitimate desire. The collateral damage of this is that we begin to shame others for their desires as well.

Is there a middle ground? I believe so. It's what a friend of ours last night called, "liminal space." It's the place where you acknowledge the desire and you sit with it. I believe it's a place where you honor the desire. You say, "This is a true desire, a God-given desire." The difficulty of this in between place is that there is no guarantee that the desire will be met. In fact, often it's not. So we sit with the ache. 

Why on earth would we do that? Why would we intentionally put ourselves in such a place of vulnerability? Personally, I think it's because that's what God does. God desires. He desires relationship with us. He desires our love, our respect, our worship, our attention. He doesn't demand it. He never says He doesn't care anymore whether or not we respond to Him. He sits in the ache, longing for us. Like the father in the story of the prodigal son, He waits every day, bearing the disappointment, in the hopes that something good will come. What He desires will happen. 

So I believe that the liminal space is the place where God wants us to live because He lives there too. He wants us to develop hearts like His, hearts that are alive and full of desire. Hearts that are soft and vulnerable and honest. He wants us to honor the desires He has created in us. 

What do you desire? And what are you doing with it? 


I've said it before - I feel weird.

I don't mean to be weird, but I find that when I try to participate in conversation with new people, I am now "the girl who tells strange, foreign, potentially exaggerated stories." My stories usually start with "In (fill in the blank of a foreign country)" and involve statements like, "and the bathroom just had boards over a trough in the ground . . . " or "so I was cleaning out the inside of the chicken . . . "

Bringing these stories up in conversation with new people feels like the social equivalent of dragging the needle across the record at a party, or jumping on a couch and yelling, "Boing!" It puts me in the category of "weird."

I don't mean to throw conversational curve balls, but I'm just sharing what I know. I'm reminded of an interpersonal communication class I took in college, where we were taught that each person in a conversation has a circle of experience from which they speak. Where our circles overlap with others, that's where we find common ground from which to interact and understand one another. When we try to share part of our circle that doesn't overlap with another's, it can be as though we are speaking another language. In living 13 years overseas, my circle has shifted away from others. I have shifted.

After awhile, I'm tempted just to not speak at all. At times it feels like the easier, safer option. I might not be able to participate in the group, but at least I don't feel like an outsider.

Then Friday morning and again last night I went to places populated with people who have also landed themselves in the "weird" category. And I heard phrases like, "In China . . ." and "the guy glued my Birkenstocks back together for $2!" and best of all, I heard, "I know exactly how you feel."

I guess that's all I need. I know I'll always be a little weird here. I'm ok with that, as long as once in awhile someone comes along and reminds me that I'm not alone in my weirdness, and that they are a little weird too.

Moving toward contentment

Nearly two months into 2013, I have to ask myself how I am doing with my word of the year. If I had chosen the word "chocolate," I bet I would be doing my best to live up to it. It's probably a good thing I didn't, though, because then my word for the year in 2014 would have to be "detox" which doesn't look very pretty embroidered on a pillow.

No, my word is "content." I had to look up the definition of it because that's what nerdy word lovers like me do. It means, "in a state of peaceful happiness; satisfied with a certain level of achievement, good fortune, etc. and not wishing for more; to accept as adequate despite wanting more or better."

Many words jump to mind for me as synonyms for "content" after reading this definition and pondering it: satisfied, accepting, peaceful, patience, submission, enough. It's a lack of striving, of trying to make life a certain way. It's receiving with gratitude and a quiet heart. It's freedom from being in control. It's taking a deep breath and saying, "This is ok."

In other words, it's the antithesis of my mode of operation. I've already started to think that a lot of my emotional woes would be solved if I could just grasp this state of being content. I think I've spent most of these two months simply becoming more aware of where I am NOT content and why ("the first step is admitting you have a problem").

This basically involves three areas - content with who I am, what I have, and what I do. The dissonance between where I am and true contentment stems usually from idealistic images I have in my head about the way those things could look. I am seeing how much what I look at - television, magazines, the internet - feeds my discontent.

I would like to say that I am ruthlessly eliminating the things in my life that breed discontent. I can say that I am trying to make choices to turn my heart away from them. It's little things - choosing not to watch the red carpet for the Oscars because I know it will cause me to be discontent with my body and my current state of non-famousness. Or trying to spend less time on Pinterest because after I look there, I find that I feel unsettled and uneasy about the lack of awesome DIY projects that could make my house look like a magazine ad.

Beyond that, it's mostly a conversation with myself. The number of conversations I have with myself on any given day are legion (the by-product of being a high communicator AND an introvert) but these are an attempt to be a little more directive with my thoughts. Meaning I am trying to be conscious to stop when I am feeling discontent and ask myself things like, "When you look at your own body, will you choose to be content? Will you say yes to what God has given you?" or, "When you look at the mess of things undone, can you smile and say, 'It's ok'?" and maybe hardest of all, "Will you be content to let God choose His own way of working your life and not demand your own ways?"

So am I more content? I don't know about that. I would say I'm more and more convinced that it is the key for me to live well here right now. I'm not there yet, but I'm moving toward it.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

How to Be an American

Just when I thought I was pretty good at being an American . . .

For our kids to be in this school, we need to have them up to date on their immunizations. The first obstacle in this endeavor is finding and compiling their immunization records from two different countries in the midst of all those unorganized files in our office. Lord help us.

The other part I thought would be easy - call a pediatrician and make an appointment. The last time they saw a doctor was in Singapore, where we just walked across the street to the corner clinic, took a number, and waited about an hour to see her. If we had to see a specialist, we might have to wait until the next day.

So I naively thought I could call yesterday and get an appointment for later this week. I think the receptionist snickered a little when I asked if that were possible. I was informed that the next available well check up time for our kids would be March 6th. This is problematic, given that I am supposed to turn in their records by February 22nd.

It's moments like this when I am reminded that I don't know how things work here. It's humbling. A little embarrassing. I'm tempted to try to explain myself, but the second I throw out something about living overseas, most people hear, "I have two heads!" and can't compute what I'm saying.

So I soldier on, putting another note in my "how to be an American" file.

Friday, February 8, 2013

The Good Life

The world would have us think that a good life is a "significant" one. It is one in which you have bigger, better, more; you have some combination of fame and fortune.

I believe God would differ.

And I agree with Him, especially after reflecting on the life of my grandmother.

The night before her funeral last Saturday, we sat around before the wake and shared stories of my grandma, what she was like. What emerged was a picture of a woman of integrity, a woman driven by her values and faith, who knew hard work, resourcefulness, and discipline, and intentionally passed them down to her children. She accepted what God gave her. She poured herself out for those around her. She took joy in little things.

My grandparents lived a small life in the eyes of the world. They lived in a farming community so tiny it doesn't even have its own grocery store. Not many knew them, not many outside our family will remember them.

But they lived in a way that I wish more people would imitate - humbly, faithfully, honestly. I am humbled when I look at the way they lived, and I hope to live like they did. As I think about my word of the year - content - they are a model for me.

That's how you live a good life.

Monday, February 4, 2013

All Things for Good

I wasn't supposed to see my grandma at Thanksgiving.

We had plans to drive to Wisconsin, but because our shipment had been delayed repeatedly, Erik had to go to Orlando to receive it. My parents were going to visit my grandma at the nursing home, and I decided to go with them because it might be the last time I saw her.

It was.

So often decisions we make, or things that happen to us beyond our control, upon reflection appear to be the orchestration of God. Her funeral could have been last Wednesday, but because of some family issues they scheduled it for Saturday. I probably couldn't have gone on Wednesday because Erik just got back on Wednesday morning from his trip. I found frequent flyer tickets. Erik had a couple days off of work to stay back with the kids. All these things added up to me being present for my first family funeral since 1999.

He works all things for good. I look back on my life and there are some events in my life - Ethan's birth, the last semester in China (the first time around), our move to Singapore, our move back to China - where, on paper, it didn't look the way I would have planned it. Circumstances I wouldn't have chosen, seemingly ordinary decisions, plus God's impecable timing - they all interwove to create something better than I imagined.

I might not have said it at the time, but afterward I can look back and see a God who is tender hearted, who cares about the details, who does indeed work all things for good.

If I can see it so clearly in these circumstances, how many other times have there been when He did work and I just didn't recognize it? And how many more will there yet be?