Thursday, November 19, 2015

From the other side of things

Fellow Americans,
I’ve spent the last decade living on small islands on the other side of the world from you. I’m called an expatriate, which when I first learned that word felt like some kind of betrayal of my home country. Now I just know that it means I live away from my old home, in my new tropical home, and just happen to be the foreigner, the one who looks different, the one who can barely pass a driving test in my second language.
For 10 years, I’ve lived in cities along with 200,000 Muslims. And since it’s been on islands, we live closely. I can smell the garlic cooking on their small stoves from my own kitchen. I’ve heard the calls to prayer over dinner, have drunk countless cups of tea in homes with Arabic verses scrawling the walls.

I’ve been asked often by Americans if I’m scared living here. Sometimes, yes. But most of my fears revolve around other people’s driving skills and REALLY BIG SPIDERS and mosquitos’ disease-carrying propensities—the same fears my Indonesian friends have. I also have three small children depending on me and motherhood just makes me feel vulnerable. I send my husband into the jungle every day to fly small single-engine airplanes in remote places with no other safe alternatives for travel. And sometimes my fears are about silly things, like when I care way too much about what others think of me.

But I know what you’re asking.

You mean, am I afraid of the head-covered neighbor who shares cookies with my kids when I come for visits? Am I scared of the friend who drove my husband to the hospital on the back of his motorbike when he had dengue fever? Am I nervous about the elderly couple that passes my house on their way to the mosque, holding each others’ hands? Does my kids’ doctor terrify me? What about the lady who stocks her small store with mozzarella cheese at the request of her few American patrons? Do I duck and hide from her?

I don’t have any easy answers to the questions in the news today. I know there are weighty security issues  to consider. And I don’t talk politics here. But one thing I know and love about America is that it’s the home of the brave. 

I yearn for more of that in my blood. I want to live more bravely tomorrow than I did today. To make a difference in someone’s life.  To answer “yes” when it’s my chance to give.

I’ve already got a mixture of America swagger where I’m pretty sure “freedom” is the answer to many problems, along with a big dose of church-learned sacrifice where I know “love” is the answer to them all. And now, after watching my friends here drop whatever they’re doing to welcome me into their home and country, I’ve got a bunch of Asian hospitality running through my veins.

And yet, I want even more. I’m itching to save a life today. To free someone who’s in bondage. To heal another in pain.

Before we get started, it’s good to recognize that helping people is messy and full of risk. We must be wise and thoughtful in how we do it. No one knows that better than this extremely safety-conscious pilot family, in which there are checklists for everything, abort points, weather reports, weight-and-balance formulas, etc. In order to get the job done well, we must have a plan, assess the risks, consider the what-ifs.

But whether it’s flying into the jungle or opening our home to someone different than us, helping people will cost us. To be honest, many of those risks are emotional ones. The mess of other people’s situations will dirty our own hands.(My own mess of cultural mishaps certainly costs this gracious host county of mine.) And yet what it does for our souls? I’ve said many times that Indonesia both breaks my heart and fills it. Living here both wrecks my life and resurrects it.  It teaches me to be brave, and leaves me feeling utterly vulnerable.

Things that cost a lot are worth a lot, too.

I watched this principle lived out again and again in how many of my Indonesian friends live. I've seen Indonesians with almost nothing, generously give all they have for someone else in need. I've witnessed gifts handed to orphans, funds raised for earthquake victims,  prayers whispered for the hurting. All done by those who check a different religion box than I do.

The bravest things I do here are small, coming from a very personal place, with my small children in tow. Are you a friend who gets terribly nauseous, too, when you’re pregnant? I’ll bring you my favorite morning sickness snack—popcorn made on my stovetop. Are you lonely in motherhood, wondering if you yelled too much at your kids today? I’ll meet you under the mango tree to tell you I did the same, too. Is your child sick and you’re sure you’re about to lose the only thing that matters to you? Call me and I’ll sit by the hospital bed and plead with a God I’m learning to trust for both your child and mine. I know you'd do the same for me. 

Want to be truly American today? Whatever you do, whatever you believe, be brave. Risk what you fear losing to gain what no one can ever take away from you.

"Fear is such a powerful emotion for humans that when we allow it to take us over, it drives compassion right out of our hearts." Thomas Aquinas

Thursday, July 16, 2015

The wrong/right day

I knew the runway we were going into was the shortest and one of the most difficult strips in north Borneo. But when, on short final, I could make it disappear out the cockpit window behind my thumb, I grabbed the seat tight.

Brad  flew the plane perfectly onto the runway and brought it to a stop halfway down the dirt strip. We stepped out into the calm, sunny morning, surrounded by gorgeous jungle and mountains. Here we were, listening to birds chirp and bees buzz around our heads.
But I was a mess.

Brad does these kinds of flights all the time. And most days while I’m home on this small island breaking up fights over Legos, I don’t even think about what it must be like to fly single-engine planes into tight valleys in uncontrolled airspace over unforgiving jungles.

But that recent day that I got to fly with Brad, I couldn’t help but think how everything can go so wrong.
Actually, the reason we went into that strip on that day was for Brad to show me where he’d had one of his hardest days of flying last year when he was called for a Med-evac flight. And not just a hard day of flying. His airplane broke, so then Brad had to hike to a remote village of four rustic homes, where he spent the night, to wake up the next day and hike over a mountain ridge to get to a village where another MAF plane could pick him up. It was a long, lonely night, followed by a long, lonely hike, followed by a long, but not-so-lonely few months.

I’ll spare you the technical details of what happened that day, but this much is true.
Everything went wrong that day. And everything went right.

As Brad and I walked along the airstrip, he relived with me some of that hard day. But not just the hard stuff. He told me about the grace stuff. The words, Brad believed, God spoke in his heart. The thankfulness Brad spoke, out loud, to God. He knew immediately that that day was a beginning of many good things. And eventually, when we had some perspective, we discovered it was an ending—a healing—to many hard things, too.
Let me just tell you, there have been some wrong, hard things in these years I’ve spent in Indonesia. When you live and work among so many broken systems, it’s hard to ever feel like anything can be made right—including the stuff in my own heart. And honestly, I have a hard time separating out the things that happen to others from the toll it takes on me and my family. This is our home. My kids have grown up here. My husband risks his life here. So much is at stake for us, personally. This country, its people, its cultures, they fill my heart. But so many times, they also break it.

So, when a dear friend dies in a completely preventable accident or a Med-evac patient ends up not making it, sometimes it can feel like the only thing we can count on is that things will go wrong.
There have been moments when most of what I’ve heard in my mind were doubts and disappointments, lies and fears. And some of the hardest things have happened recently—just these past couple of years when you’d think all these years of being here would provide some kind of buffer. But time and experience don’t take away all the questions I’ve had about the wrong in this world. Sometimes they just take away the naïve optimism that things can actually get better…and that we can make a difference.

Yet, I see now, that though sometimes everything goes wrong…everything is also going right. Often in the same moment.
I’d call that grace.

Sometimes the best things come from the hardest moments. Sometimes the depth we so wish for in our lives, in our seeking of God, in our relationships with others come when we have to sink into darkness for a while.

Sometimes the wholeness and healing we seek comes through brokenness.

A couple years ago, when I was particularly burned out, I started searching for the later parts of stories. I looked into the lives of people who I’d seen go through something completely hopeless—and usually preventable—and looking for how they’d survived, how they’d grown, how they’d made life happen again.
I saw a woman who’d endured being abused by her husband, growing a deep compassion for those who suffer. I saw how a death in a family can be the start of a richer, more God-seeking life for those who remained. I saw how a girl with seizures and brain issues that seemed to have no cure become a strong young woman, and how she carried building supplies an MAF plane brought so she could help build a tiny jungle church.  I saw how a friend’s repeated miscarriages paved the way for a choice to adopt.
I see myself, more fragile than ever, finally knowing my valuable worth.
You must know, that some of the stories aren’t over yet. The hope still seems very distant in those lives. And  honestly, some days I still doubt in my own place, my own purpose in this midst of all this. But I can say, that my once very-small-and-once-shrinking-faith is growing again.
After some recent hard days in my life, I can confidently say that good—really big good—can come out of the worst kind of bad. And though I wish there would never have to be suffering ever, there’s something amazing about the goodness, hope, heart change that can come out of pain and loss. Beauty is at its most stunning when it rises from the ashes.

Looking back, that wrong/right day was also the worst/best day of my year. And this hard/good life is also the one I’m both fighting for/surrendering every day I’m here. And this growing/deepening faith I have now has come about in the vulnerability/hope of life here.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Are you saying good-bye, too?

I hand over my gift and fumble at the words.  And my friend looks at me, her face stoic, almost nonchalant and it’s hard to know if I’m even doing this right.

I should be better at this. How many times have I said “good-bye” over the years? There were the zillions of moves I made as both a kid and an adult. And overseas, people come and go and good-byes are anticipated or very sudden. But they happen all the time.

I’m moving to another part of Borneo in a few weeks. And I’m saying goodbye a lot like I’ve lived life here over the years…sitting on the floor of a friend’s house, bouncing back and forth between awkward small talk and serious heart stuff, my kids fighting for a space on my lap, knocking over drinks of glasses of hot tea onto the splintered wooden planked floor, a light morning rain tapping on the metal roof.

Throughout ten years of these types of visits with friends, I always feel both way out of my comfort zone and totally in my element.

I guess you could say the same thing about my relationship with moving. Somehow I feel very at home with packing up and starting over. And somehow it still makes me feel very lost every time I do it.

I wish I could say there is more “good” in all my “good-byes” so far here. But just like daily life here, they’re a bit messy, confusing and almost always sweaty. I go, intending to say the right words of thanks, and hope for some kind of satisfying closure, but usually it all still feels like we’re in the middle of something.  Maybe the friend is still in a crisis and I’m not really sure if it’ll all end up OK. Or I’m still learning how to love in this culture, this foreign language, but I’m pretty sure I’ve just left a long list of misunderstandings and offenses.  Then there’s the lack of emotion shown to me, the stoicism that makes me wonder if any of this even matters. If I matter to them.

I bet I look stoic sometimes, too. But really, I’m just distracted…by my kids hiding in my shoulder so they don’t have to have their picture taken again, or the mosque’s call to prayer, or my own desire to just have the good-bye over with so I can go home and hide, too.

Sometimes I get a text later with more honest feelings, and that should feel better. But that just makes me sad, too.

I know it’s going to be OK. The next place is really exciting and the people are great and the work there is amazing and I need to just get there and move forward and plant roots and a bunch of other clichés that do actually work.

But still… right now, I’m in that “lost” period. And I’m just wondering if anyone else out there is here with me?

One small decision helped me this week. I plan to take a branch off my plumeria tree—the one Brad gave me for a birthday a few years ago—take it on the MAF plane ride and then plant it in my next home. I thought it would be silly and a bit indulgent especially when there are plumeria trees there, too. But then I remembered how my mom would pack up all her plants and stick them in the back of our station wagon to head to the next Army post.  Like she knew, too, that taking some living things from her last home would help her figure out life in the next one.

Sometimes I just need a reminder that life doesn’t end just because your time in that last place does.

And then there are the needs. I set a date for myself when I’d force myself to pull out of everything. The orphanage. The hospital visits for the patients Brad brings in. The visit to a neighbor in need. And then I keep extending it. And then moving it up. Can’t decide if it’s better to put it off until I’m neck-deep in boxes and still dashing off for one more visit, or better just ripping off the bandaid. Both sound bad.

And then there are my fears. There are people coming after us who will never know me here in this place, on this team, a family member here. And what happens to this place I had here in this place? It’s small, I know. I’m small. The island is small, too. But me here in this place for this time mattered to me. All the hurts and fears and adventure and growth and friendships and faith and pregnancies and flights and prayers and disappointments and doubts and grace—they all happened to me here. What happens to all that?

I know. Some of it will go with me. It changed me, after all, broke me to pieces, then healed into something new.

And some of the stuff will stay. This part is the hardest to believe, but in the off-chance that you’re going through a good-bye or a bad-bye, too, I’ll say it anyway so that maybe we can help each other believe true, good things. This is what I am trying to believe:  I, here at this time, changed something here, maybe even someone. And hopefully, in some good ways.

One of my childhood tricks for coping with moves was to sagely remind myself that every tear-filled good-bye started with a scared, but hope-filled hello and many hellos end up in teary good-byes. That sounds like a lot of tears. But the point was, those good-byes have to happen so the next hellos can happen so the next goodbyes happen and I’m starting to wonder how I ever found this fact comforting.


It seems I’m not in the mood tonight for my own pep talks. So, I’ll just finish by saying this, is there anyone else out there saying goodbye, too? OK. I thought so. Then, let’s be a little bit lost in all the good-byes and hellos together. 

photo credit: first and third photos, Kelly Hewes

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Our big news

Every time I walk through my house in Indonesia, I can’t help but look outside. My bunga kertas “paper flower” bush has spilled out from its base, spreading bright pink wispy blooms against my kitchen window.

I forget the English word for this tree. Bougainvillea? I like the Indonesian way to say it better. Much easier to spell.

Well, I planted it. Can you hear the smidge of surprised pride in my voice? Two reasons. 1: I’m not good at planting things.  2: I’m not good at sticking around to see how they end up.

Today I'm guest posting at MAF's blog site. To read more and to find out our big news, go here.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

The Missing Piece

It’s been ten years since I packed my bags for Indonesia. Remember that time—early 2005? Indonesia was constantly in the news because the tsunami had just happened.

I bet I remember those months better than most of you do—I knew my life was about to change

You know that feeling that you’ve left something out of your suitcase? Like your toothbrush? Or left the oven on back at home? Well, I didn’t have that feeling as I got on that airplane to move to the other side of the world. But now, ten years later, I know I should have.

Something was missing.

But before I get into these last ten years, let me tell you (in a nutshell, bear with me) about the first twenty—the twenty I thought would give me exactly what I needed to go to Indonesia.

I grew up as an Army kid, moving all over the place as often as every six months to three years. When I didn’t move, everyone else did around me. So, I developed some important skills over those years.
                Skill #1: Be comfortable with being uncomfortable. 

                Skill #2: Make friends really fast, then say goodbye just as fast. 

                Skill #3: Leave everything behind and don’t look back.

So, when I left for a country where I’d never been, where I didn’t know anybody and didn’t know the language or culture, I knew these three skills would come in handy. And in some ways, these things certainly helped. It wasn’t too difficult for me to leave a home that wasn’t really a home and friends who I knew would forget all about me soon enough to go to a place where I didn’t belong when I never did belong anywhere anyway.

This was my thing: finding my way in new places. And now, I could do it for a good purpose.

I stayed a couple of years in Indonesia , did my thing while sweating it out, and then I was ready to do it again—move, I mean. I thought I was ready. I’d kept all my boxes stored under beds just like I’d learned to do as a kid. I braced myself for the goodbyes that I figured would come soon enough. And I waited for the news of a move.

 It didn’t come. We stayed. On this very (very, very) small island.

And it felt like the opposite of what I knew about how to do life. My life really did change when I moved to Indonesia. Just not in the way I thought. 

I grew up knowing the world was a huge place and that I was a tiny part of it. Miniscule. Forgettable. And if my part started to grow, like say, my problems were getting too big, I learned to hide my struggles away and become as small as possible so as not to bother any of the friends I figured didn’t need the new girl who was too much trouble already just by being new. My family and home (whatever the address was) were a life-giving haven, but I felt a bit disconnected from everyone else around me, afraid to truly trust friendships. Afraid to let anyone see me.
So, when we stayed on this small island with many of the same friends, and then when my part started growing—literally—as I started having my babies, I felt less like I was finding my way, and more like I was about to get lost.
When you can hardly get through a day of pregnancy without throwing up or fainting and when your other kids are sick and when the electricity goes out all the time and things are breaking and other hard things are happening, you don’t really have a choice. You have to become trouble to those around you.
But I did my best to do as much as I could without help and when people helped me, I did my best to repay it. Quickly.
But then it kept happening. I kept staying. And many of my friends were staying. And pretty soon, I was living life with friends for double, then triple, then quadruple the amount of time I’d ever done before. And it was scary because these people saw me and my mess and I knew the island was too small for them to get away from me. I felt trapped, too, in the staying sometimes. I knew it would only be a matter of time before these people would leave me anyway and if I wasn’t leaving, too, I’d be stuck with no one and nowhere to go.

Besides, who was I and what good were my good adjusting skills if I didn’t keep moving?

And then life got even harder.

These past couple of years happened and fears were becoming reality, but then grace was coming after the fears. And soon I felt exposed, vulnerable. My struggles and I were forced out of hiding.

But when the dust settled, I looked around and things looked the same. Same people. Still with me. Same life that I’d grown to love. Same place where I still am living with my flattened boxes that are getting moldy.

And yet it all looked very, very different. 

I looked different, too. 

When I first moved to Indonesia ten years ago (and really up until recently), I thought that what I was good at was living life wherever, whenever, with whomever until the next set of whatevers. I grew up feeling tied to nothing, and I thought that was my thing. My strength. The way I was supposed to serve God.

Send me, God. And I’ll go wherever. I can take it. It (almost) doesn’t even hurt anymore. And when it does, I can just call it ‘worship.’
But now I know it was a cheap, painful imitation of Christian devotion.

Because something was missing out of that calling. Me. The real me. The one God really created.

I figured out I was more than the pain I’d experienced, the struggles I’d (kinda) overcome and the skills I’d developed to survive life up to that point. I had things to offer this world that were good for the world, and good for me, too. I figured out it was much less about me trying to sacrifice myself and more about God already sacrificed for me, and then inviting me to live more fully in Him.

So, here it is. This is me. What I most like to do is connect. Connect on a deep level with people. Connect people to other people. Connect people to their dreams in a way that can help with broken, hurting things in this world. Connect people to God. 

That’s pretty much the opposite of what I thought I was good at. 

So, after ten years of knowing I was called to this life, knowing that I was supposed to be here, I’m now seeing who that “I” really is.

I’m learning that God didn’t make me to hide away who I am—even the struggling, messy, getting-things-wrong me. He didn’t make me to be a nobody who doesn’t belong anywhere. He made me to be a big part of this hurting world that needs connection, that then gives me the connection I’ve always needed, too.

I’m sure I’ll move again sometime. I hope I do because there's still a part of me that enjoys new things. And at that time, those old adjusting skills will come in handy. But wherever I go or not go, I plan to stop hiding who I really am.

And as I figure out the “I,” I see God more clearly, too. He’s not the sometimes distant, confusing, hard-core God I thought He was. He’s the loving, creative, attentive God I’ve been telling others He was…for all these years. Now, I see it more clearly. I believe it more strongly. 

I live it more fully.

Join me?

Monday, December 15, 2014

Wishing My Oven a Very Merry Christmas (posting at MAF's site today!)

All I wanted for Christmas this year was an oven that works.

It may not look like much, but believe me, my oven is quite a character with quite a history. Some friends of ours bought it for us way back when we still lived in America and way back when I thought cooking from scratch was heating up a frozen lasagna from Wal-Mart.

It’s a special oven, in that it uses gas and has a gas-ignited pilot light. I didn’t even know what all those words meant back when we stuck it in a crate heading to Indonesia. All I knew is that some MAFers told me you couldn’t buy ovens here, and to make sure it uses no electricity and wait, what? No electricity? 

Yeah, that really scared me way back then when I was convinced I’d never make it over here.

Today I'm guest posting at MAF's blog. Find out the rest of the story there.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Hard things, Good things

I’ve been a bit quiet this year. On this blog, anyway. I could blame it on many things—traveling back from the States to Indonesia, caring for my young kids, busy overseas living, chances to serve, homeschooling my kindergartner, time spent on other writing endeavors.

But it wouldn’t be completely true.

And one thing I wanted to do when I started this blog a few years ago was to write true things. But not just true things, hope-filled true things.

Writing helps me make sense of the sometimes heart-breaking life here and my own frustrating limitations and my usually too-small faith. Writing takes the fatigue-filled, sweaty, confusing muddle in my head and creates some sense and hope and connection with you.

This year, there’s been a lot of muddle.

And this year, too, I’ve written a lot. I just haven’t put it on here.

Some of it’s stuff that didn’t have enough truth in it yet. Other stuff, not enough hope yet. But most of it is just too private to share as specifics to the whole world. Or at least to whoever is listening here.

But as I think and process and write, this is what I can say now. This year has been full of hard things, but also full of good things. And they came together, like the life-sucking heat and humidity that come with these gorgeous life-giving blue skies here in Borneo.

We see it all the time in the world: war happens and we hear of heroes, sickness spreads and we learn about acts of compassion, terrorism attacks and we see stories of forgiveness.

But then you probably already know that in your own life.

When we are stretched, we grow.  When we are at our weakest, that’s when we see how strong we can be. When we think we can’t do it anymore, we can look back and see how far we’ve already come.

When we are stuck thinking God is small, He brings us through something that shows us how big He really is.

And for me, I’ve spent years fighting things in this place—culture shock, hard things that just shouldn’t happen, my own exhaustion, disappointments in others, in myself, by others in me. And then there was a moment this year when I wondered if I’d lose this place, wondered if I’d have to leave, wondered if the struggle would finally be over and I could just go home. 

Whatever "home" means anymore.

And that’s when I realized I wanted to stop fighting this place and instead, wanted to fight for this place. Fight for my place in this place. Fight for the right to struggle and be stretched and grow and change, And the right to be here, being a part of the lives of others I know who are doing the same.

I’ve seen other good things in the midst of the hard things, too. I know now what grace means. The kind of grace that comes in the form of friends who take us in at our lowest, our worst, our weakest and just sit with us in it, then walk with us out of it.

I know now what trust is—how it means opening my hands that have been clenching tight my most valued treasures. Not many treasures at this point. Nothing material. I’ve left my home country, given up watching my siblings’ babies grow up, given up ever having non-frizzy hair. But as I open up my hands with those few deeply valued things left, I watch God—not take them from me as I’d always feared—but fill my open hands and life with more amazing things

I know that while this life often demands sacrifice, it’s not my sacrifice that saves others, that saves my family, that saves me. It’s His.

I know that while I’m still shaking a bit on the inside, it’s no longer from fear, but from wonder.

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