25 days of Christmas songs Day #1

It’s December 1st!  Or 1st Disember, as they say here.  One of our family traditions is to collect Christmas music.  Our computer has almost 24 hours of holiday music.  Over the next few weeks I will share with you a song each day, and maybe a random reflection of what our Advent is looking like.

Today’s song is by Peter Mayer.  There are 2 Christian Peter Mayer singer-songwriters – this is the one from Minnesota.  (They’re both great!)  It’s from his album called Midwinter, filled with gorgeous song gems.  You can find the album by clicking here.

Watch him perform the song by clicking here!

Today’s big event was that I couldn’t get home from the boys’ school because of an accident.  Accidents here are remarkably rare, even though few people understand merging.  When there are accidents, they are usually bizarre.  Today I was going up a hill to the boys’ school, and there was what looked like one car giving another a jump – then I realized, no, that’s a head-on collision.  The cars were rumpled but it didn’t look too bad.  But how one car ended up perfectly lined up with another (and no police or tow truck in sight) … I have no idea.  Twice I’ve seen cars on their side, again with no ready explanation for how they got there.  Each time I’ve seen people standing by unhurt.  Which is good, because there is no phone number here to reach the nearest ambulance – you need to have memorized the 10-digit phone number for the company in that neighborhood (if you drive 6 kilometres to school, that’s 4 different ambulance phone numbers you should know).  Makes me appreciate the simplicity of 9-1-1!

As it turned out, I needed to stay at school for an hour to work on gathering donations for a garage sale (a rare event) at a local school for young adults with autism and other diseases.  By the time I went home, there was only a pile of glass and a puddle of… I think… petrol.  Making me glad to get past that mess!

Sharing a brilliant blog and coping skill

Hi friends,

I’m new at this re-blogging thing.  Etiquitte dictates that I gife immense credit to the original blog so here it is — http://www.chicagotribune.com/lifestyles/stevens/ct-turn-kids-complaints-into-questions-balancing-0912-20160912-column.html .

Having just come from a weekend getaway, my kids complained a lot before they decided to *try* the amazing things — like floating in a mud volcano, or wave-hopping for hours on end, or enjoying very mildly spicy foods.  Once they started they couldn’t stop, but I had to be the enthusiastic cruise director, constantly correcting them with “just try it!”  I’ve been reading “How to talk so your kids will listen, and how to listen so your kids will talk” and the main thing I’ve learned is how often I swat away their complaints, not knowing how to deal with them.  What follows is a quote from the blog above… and some beautiful wisdom.  Pardon me misusing the quotes sign… bad grammar ahead!

”   “What if I put a “What if …” in front of my kids’ complaints? What if I trained myself to see their complaining not as evidence of their utter lack of gratitude, but as an opportunity to offer them the reassurance they’re seeking?  … My son has entered a phase that I’ll generously characterize as not my favorite, and it consists of a lot of statements that portend certain doom.

“I’ll never make a touchdown.”   “I’ll never be tall.”  “I’ll never lose a tooth.”

Even in my most exhausted, least charitable moments, I know those are statements of fear, not obstinateness. But when I throw a “What if …” in front of them, it reminds me to answer them like questions, rather than correct them like mistakes.  It’s a subtle shift, but it’s one that moves me away from pointless frustration and toward patience, which is always useful.”   ”

As a pastor, I always coached people and committees that our anxiety or worry is like one side of a coin – and the other side of that coin is excitement.  For instance, a Church Council might worry about finances (ha, might?) – which produces immense anxiety over something they can’t really control.  But the other side of the coin is that what you are anxious about is something that REALLY MATTERS to you, and it’s calling on you to recognize what it is about the thing (your Church spending plan) that can really excite you (fellowship? VBS? worship? helping others?).  So we see in our anxiety that something really has our heart.  It helps us focus on what we do want, rather than only what frightens us.

Another way of looking at it is the phrase, “can we be curious instead of furious?”  With kids, their constant complaints can drive a parent mad.  (“Wait, I brought you to a mud volano and you are complaining?!?”)  But adding in the “what if” lets us be curious, and actually address the issue.  If the kids are bringing it up, it matters to them, and me swatting it away will just create more anxiety, so more complaints, so more furor.  But curiosity is one of the great gifts of humanity.  It opens eyes, hearts, and doors.  It makes us merciful instead of haughty.  In the face of fear, it brings love.  That is incredibly powerful!

So, two words: “what if.”  6 letters that just made my day.

By the way… the mud volcano was even more fun than we had imagined! The kids took this picture while safely on solid ground… but the next picture showed their bravery!

 

 

 

 

 

Three Fundamental Truths… for who?

I set my alarm to wake me up to catchy music, so what better than Hamilton, the musical?  This morning I heard the scene where Angelica,  the elder sister, has to decide in an instant whether she will follow her love, Alexander, or make way for her younger sister, Eliza, to be courted by Alexander Hamilton.  In the song, she sings, “I realize three fundamental truths at the exact same time.”

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That rings a bell, right? (The liberty bell!)  Thomas Jefferson’s famous writing that man has three fundamental rights: life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

But for Angelica, she is not a man.  So her fundamental truths are different than those that Jefferson spoke of.  For her, the three fundamental truths of being a woman in 1780, were: 1. Her goal in life was to marry well; 2.) Her love for her sister meant they could not both marry for love; and 3.) Alexander is penniless and that may be why he is willing to marry one of the wealthy sisters.  So instead of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, we see that women’s fundamental truths were  pursuit of a husband, submission, and a life with very few real choices.  Even in this picture, you can see that the man is central, and that is how life worked then (and often, now).

This week I have been reading a book called Body Respect, which is currently blowing my mind.  It is about the Health At Every Size movement, which believes that science and culture are severely biased against people who are fat.  The book, which is available from Kindle and other sources, talks about the ways that privilege is given to thin people.  So for a fat person, three fundamental truths become:  life – shame for body; liberty – shame for choices; and the pursuit of happiness – which in our culture centers around thinness (check out any magazine cover and advertisements!).  The example is given of two people who both go to the doctor for knee pain; the thin person is given anti-inflammatories and physical therapy, while the fat person is told, “your knee hurts because of your weight; just lose some weight and then we can talk.”  But how to lose weight when injured and in chronic pain? That’s impossible! So the fat person gets shame and NO medical care, while the thin person’s needs are met.  That is just one example of privilege, of how three fundamental truths are different based on how a person looks.

(Let me also say, I have fat friends who have run half-marathons and thin friends who eat poorly and never exercise – but the fit fat people are still shamed and the thin person glorified.  Shame is so powerful, and creates so many more problems…  I highly recommend that everyone read Body Respect, as it blows up a lot of myths about fitness and fatness.  To back it up, there are also studies done of people after being on The Biggest Loser, and how even with diet and exercise, their weight over time returns to a set point.  The science is staggering – but mainline media ignores it, in the same way we ignored the dangers of nicotine.  I have old Life magazines with articles by doctors saying that cigarettes are absolutely not dangerous and are good for you.  This stuff is real.)

This led me to reflecting on how my white privilege is real, both here in Asia, where every single moisturizing cream claims to “whiten skin” (because pale is better … why?), and of course in the USA as moms of black sons speak about the fundamental truths that they live with, such as having to teach little boys what to do when stopped by a police officer, so that their kid doesn’t end up dead.  What are the fundamental lessons we teach our kids, and how are they based on privilege?

And personally, we are waiting on visas that may or may not come.  We are immigrants here, and immigrants in any country these days are unwanted.  The fundamental truth of “follow the rules and it will work out” is simply NOT true for immigrants.  Systems are complicated and rules constantly change, and the thought that at any point we could be told that we have 7 days to pack and move out is a reality.  We are doing our very best to follow the rules that we have been given; but faithfulness is not always rewarded – this is a fundamental truth of the immigrant experience, which those who hold citizenship (privilege) can often ignore.

The musical Hamilton focuses on a fundamental truth that “you have no control who lives, who dies, who tells your story.”  As all nations struggle with their narrative, it does us well to examine the assumptions that divide us, and how we can listen to others to hear what truths liberate or oppress them.  Here’s to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness for all people, including women, the disabled, people of color, people excluded because of their sexuality, fat people, immigrants, and so many Others – as the United States Pledge of Allegiance says, “with liberty and justice for all.”

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(For lyrics, see http://genius.com/Lin-manuel-miranda-satisfied-lyrics)

Learning Languages is HARD!

I have to admit: 4 years into living in another country, and I think I stopped learning new bits of the language about 9 months in.  There are a lot of reasons for that – a main one being that the only way to be immersed in the language here is to find a village that is willing to take you in, but the only way to find said village is to be able to speak the language.  Catch-22.  Plus, people mainly want to talk to me in English.  They want to learn, too!

Then there were the discouragers.  “When you speak the local language, it takes people so much energy to understand what you mean,” one hotelier told me.  “It is selfish of you to act like that.”  Then there was the ESL teacher who said, “Do not speak to children. You will stunt their language growth with your incorrect Bahasa.”  Yet children are often the ones who are willing to try to teach me!

There is also the oddity that there are no language schools here for foreigners to learn Bahasa.  Isn’t that bizarre?  But if you want to learn, you go to schools either in west Malaysia (I’ve done that for 2 weeks, but can’t get away for the 3 months I’d need) or Indonesia

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Back in 2013… a school for immigrant children I tried to volunteer at, but sadly, it closed that year. Leaders were so busy trying to salvage the school, they couldn’t manage accepting volunteers at all.

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A few weeks ago, I decided that I would try to learn a new sentence every day.  I saw the cleaning lady emptying office dustbins and I was holding some trash, so I asked her, “Bagaimana kata…” (how does one say…) and I motioned throwing trash in the bag.  She translated for me, and I repeated it, and in went my trash.  The next day I asked a student who is primarily Chinese/English speaking, but who knows Bahasa, the same question – “How do I say, can I throw this garbage in your bin?”  I told him what I’d learned, but he said I was actually asking, “can I enter your trash bin?”  He tried to translate my question for me but he clearly didn’t like his own translation either.

Eric and I were talking about this yesterday, and he pointed out that my question was, itself, a foreign one.  Here, if you have trash, honestly? You throw it on the ground.  You don’t search for a place to put it, and you certainly don’t involve someone else in your trash issue.  It’s a developing nation, and littering is still pretty standard.  So when I went to teach myself the language, I had started with something that culturally didn’t translate.  So of course the words weren’t there.

I have to ask myself: how much do I want this?  If I want it, I have to find a way.  And first, I have to find courage.  Courage, motivation, and then assistance, in that order.  I love languages, and I love people.  But I have to let go of “it shouldn’t be that hard.”  It IS that hard.  I don’t fit any of the patterns (like, the 2 times I took beginner classes, I ended up helping teach! I know just enough to be dangerous…)

I write this article to lay out both the challenges of the past, so I can look at them, and to find courage for the future.  There is good work to be done here, and here is my hope and prayer that God can use me to build community and care for it.  The first word I learned in Bahasa was “Boleh” which means “Can!!!”  So here goes…  I just have to choose my sentence for today.  Any recommendations?

Our latest newsletter

Here it is:

borneo-briefings-september-2016

One year ago today, we met Mae Boon Ma

One year ago today, we were resting in Thailand between respite care in our various homes and a required visa trip to India (we had to be out of Malaysia for 90 days, specifically starting on September 2).  While in Chiang Mai, which is a lovely town in the north of Thailand, we had the opportunity to volunteer for a day at an elephant sanctuar

'We met this elephant for the 3rd time and she let us hug and scritch behind her ears for over a half hour.'

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In the morning, every family group got to bathe/massage one elephant. Then the elephants went to play in the river.  We came across “our” elephant, Mae Boon Ma, after she enjoyed the river.  Mae Boon Ma has been at the Sanctuary since 1955; she was rescued from logging. Amazingly, in the 19080’s, Thailand outlawed logging, which has protected innumerable creatures, workers, and acres of wilderness.

At the end of our day, we were walking back to the vans, when who should appear but Mae Boon Ma and a group of mother/baby elephants.  Incredibly, she walked right up specifically to our family, put her trunk by Caedmon, and made it clear that she was waiting.  Our guide explained that this was very rare, for an elephant to let someone near its trunk so willingly.  Caedmon hugged her, and it was clear that this was not a chance encounter, but a real connection with an animal that is wise, kind, and has feelings.  It was a beautiful memory that we will carry, and it helps us to stand strong for care of God’s creation.

“Home” from Home Assignment 2016

A few days before we flew back to Malaysia after 10 weeks in the U.S.A., I came across some Malaysian money.  Just the touch of it transported me in all my senses to the island of Borneo, the city of Kota Kinabalu, our apartment and markets and views of sea and mountain.  As amazing as America is (berries! friends! smooth roads! cool weather!), we were all ready to come home.  Nearly three months without routine, having to pack up and move every three days, is a lot.  We were given wonderful, wonderful hospitality along the way, which made the trip much easier, and we got to enjoy so much storytelling – both sharing our stories and getting to hear stories of our friends and supporters in the Red White and Blue.  Maybe it is a bit of grace that we were ready to come home, even though we are never ready to say “good-bye” or even “see you later” to our USA crew.

During our last month in America, we got some messages from the seminary here in Malaysia, saying that a section of the seminary’s internet cable had been stolen (apparently, again.)  We expected to come back to zero internet, but miraculously, coming back we have (I think) had better connection than ever!  My desktop computer won’t turn on at all, but I can use Eric’s laptop to keep in touch.  Having internet is like salve on a wound – it calms and helps us do important things.  Like blogging!  And keeping in touch with not only internet banking and work emails, but also some really wonderful people around the world.

In closing out home assignment, and as one last reminder of the generosity of our American friends, we managed to lose both boys’ Kindles in the Seoul, Korea airport.  Kindles are our alarm clocks, our music libraries, our down time, our learning games center – in other words, they’re really important!  We mentally retraced our steps, and yes, we remembered where they had gotten left.  Airport lost and found (thank you, Skype calls!) had them, but could not mail them; we needed someone to come pick them up in person.  I broadcasted a Facebook plea – anyone know anybody in Seoul?

We received so many offers of connection and help within an hour – what a gift!  It was actually hard to choose just one person!  Needless to say, the Kindles are now in the mail – a friend of a friend (who is now OUR friend!) fetched them and went through the bureaucracy of mailing them (had to mail them separately, to two different addresses, because of their batteries and making sure we weren’t running an import business).  It was just one more reminder of the web of relationships – wherever we are, if we are in need, people offer kindness.  If there is one message to carry from Home assignment, that would be it: that we are connected, and loved, and blessed to be able to hopefully continue to return the favor in the days and years ahead.

 

(P.S.: Happy 16th Anniversary to Eric and I! Here’s to the adventures that lie ahead!)

Diving Off Gaya Island (Dante’s guest post as part of his school blogging project)

Beautiful fish and coral, what could go wrong? Sure there are damselfish, lion fish, wrasses, butterfly fish, and clownfish. But it is hard to learn to dive. Your mask gets water in it, your tank gets turned off, your regulator (mouthpiece) falls out of your mouth – all as parts of your training.

Imagine this: first you do the buddy check: B for BCD (air vest), W for weights, R for releases, A for air, and F for final check. Then you do a backwards roll into the water, fill your BCD, and signal the boat captain. Once your group is ready, deflate your vest, and down you go. Keep breathing and equalize pressure by swallowing or blowing lightly while pinching your nose.

Swim forward, belly down, and enjoy the dive.
This is how a dive should go.

Phosphorescent Zooplankton

Greetings, all.  I’ve decided yet again to get this poor old blog off of the back shelf and try to write more regularly.  It’s been quite the mental obstacle, as each blog topic I thought of, my brain would say, “Really? Is *this* more important than any other topic these past months?”  One of our family rules is:  Comparing does not make you happier.  I was comparing each individual idea with crazy wild adventures – and each comparison made my new idea seem weak and useless.  (Brilliant life lesson there! Yay for blogging!)

It was an adventure that got me writing.  An American pastor has come to teach here for three weeks, and so we have reason to go do the wonderful touristy things that we haven’t had time for in the past 2 years.  And so we found ourselves on a jungle river cruise, DSCF3154watching long-tailed macaque monkeys battling for a tree for the night.  Then after sunset we went on a firefly expedition.  But what no one advertised ended up being the coolest thing ever – phosphorescent river water.  When someone splashes the water, little zooplankton light up like fireworks.  It was so unexpected, and so amazing!  And, of course, impossible to photograph.  The takeaway is that getting out of routine to go explore can be life-affirming.

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And, you can come visit us and we will take you to see the Klias light show, have a Chinese scalp shampoo-massage, go starfish hunting, have a terrifying fish massage, watch wild monkeys play up close, and eat magenta dragonfruit.

The reality is that most of our time is in the humdrum grind of daily life.  Don’t let our facebook page fool you (unless you’ve been following my posts about our lack of internet, which is yet another obstacle to blogging – we just never know when we will have connection) – we do dishes and pay bills and nag the kids to do homework and play outside.  Life is life, wherever you go.  But what a gift when someone comes to visit and you have an excuse to see what is around you in a new way!

 

reminded that I’m a foreigner

Serving abroad, for me, comes with the caution to not be ‘the foreigner who comes in thinking they know it all.’  It’s a temptation; after all, Christians here honor me as a missionary, thinking I’ve made great sacrifices in order to be here.  I have a masters degree from the USA, so I’m treated as a scholar.  I speak several languages, have some free time now that the boys are in school, and seem to have an endless amount of resources that could help the local church and people.

But I’m still so clueless.  This week I started on a project meant to help pastors with preaching and thinking about theology after they leave seminary.  A quarterly preaching newsletter that offers ideas for sermons, reflections on scripture texts, and a short theological piece.  For our first newsletter, Eric took two of the topics (the cross, and Easter) and I thought, I’ll cover the topic of doubt, using the story of “doubting Thomas.”

I went to the library and immediately found tons of material.  (Did you know Thomas meant “the twin”? Maybe doubt is a twin of worship – the two not opposites, but connected?)  On my way out of the library, with all my handy research, I asked a local student if people here talk about “Doubting Thomas.”  No, it turns out that there might not be a Malay word for doubt.  We could translate belief and unbelief, trust and distrust, but doubt to me is something in between  – “finding it hard to believe.”  Wanting to believe but hesitating.  That’s not as cut-and-dried as belief or unbelief.  It just didn’t translate.

And so I was plunged into again realizing that I am a foreigner.  I don’t know language or the art of translation; I don’t know what stories from Scripture are the biggies for people here; I don’t know how local theology approaches belief.  I end up feeling like I don’t know much.

But, I didn’t give up.  Today I went backwards: find a good story (Zacchaeus) and a theme in it (promises).  And I ended up having a lot of fun, downloading the Malay language Bible on my phone and writing a draft of a topic that I think will be at least comprehensible.  That’s the key in all of this, not giving up.  An arrow has to be pulled back, and back, and back, before it can be “flung forth” towards its target.  Yesterday I was a little down, today I’m a little hopeful.  Cade’s French lesson yesterday was “comme ci, comme ca.”  It comes, it goes.  Sometimes I feel right at home here, sometimes I feel like a clueless tourist.  The key is being open to the idea that tomorrow might be better.