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.

Monday, August 18, 2014

First Day of School in Borneo

I pack Evan’s backpack and hope I remembered everything on the list. This week is my firstborn son’s very first day of school in a two-room schoolhouse on our small island in Indonesia. And I’d hate for my baby to not have his pencil box.

Find out more about what Evan's school is like in my guest post at MAF's blog site here.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

12 Tips for Surviving Transitions

I know how to move. (Unfortunately, not the dancing kind.)

I’ve made 15 major moves in my life, 8 of those times as a kid, once to bush Alaska, twice within Indonesia. I’ve gone through other major transitions, too. I’ve had three kids in Singapore, then returned home to Indonesia two weeks later, each time having to adjust to life with a new baby. 

I’ve made two several-month visits to the States from Indonesia, traveling from Alaska to Idaho to Texas to Colorado to Missouri to Indiana. And living in Indonesia, I’ve seen a couple dozen expat families move here and leave from here.

I may not be able to tell you where I’m from, but I can tell you a thing or two about how to survive transitions. And I can tell you that though I’ve done it my whole life, it breaks my heart every time I have to say goodbye.

So today I’m going to focus on the heart stuff during a transition, and how to cope with all the change.

1.       Transitions are a process, not an event.

Sometimes it’s filled with the events—the goodbyes, the traveling, the selling and buying, the first day, etc. But the real transitions happen little by little, over time. You’re not going to plop down into a new place and love it on day one, or week one, or even month one. Sometimes it will be fun, sometimes you’ll hate it. Sometimes you’ll feel sad to what you’ve lost (and you must allow yourself to grieve) and some days, you’ll be giddy with all the new possibilities. Give yourself and your family time to adjust and know that various stages of acceptance take different people different lengths of time.

2.       Your house (and stuff) do not make a home.

When you put stuff in boxes and moving trucks and suitcases and crates, you end up with broken stuff, missing stuff, stolen stuff. And when you move overseas, especially, you might find a hard time finding stuff you like, quality stuff, stuff that creates the home you always pictured. It’s natural to want to create a haven in your house, but it’s also tempting, especially in this Pinterest, DIY world, to become obsessed with how things look. Don’t forget that the beauty of a real home  is made by the love of the people inside of it—no matter the chipping paint on the walls or the geckos in the cupboards.

3.       Treat this as an adventure.

In other words, when things aren’t easy or comfortable or expected, look for the humor, the fun, the adventure, the lessons, the growth.

4.       A life in transition looks very different than a settled life. Don’t expect too much too soon.

If you’re joining a team of people who are settled, don’t look at their homes, their productivity at work, their relationships in the community, their kids, their language ability (if you’re overseas), their knowledge, and their stress levels and try to match yours with theirs. They may have spent years getting to the point where they are. And remember, they’ve probably been where you are, too. They can be a great source of wisdom and help on how to deal with where you are now.

5.       Don’t hate the hard stuff—let it grow you.

It’s easy to want to hide from the hard stuff, run from it, be angry about it, try to change it, resent it, and complain about it. But it’s better if you let it grow you, change you, make you stronger, even make you weaker. Not only will your attitude be better, you’ll learn some amazing things about the situation you are in, and about you strong you really are.

6.       Be ready to change—it’s the real treasure of any transition.

You can’t move well, or make a transition well, if you aren’t willing to change. Places and people and cultures and jobs and houses and situations are different. If you dig in your heels about how you view the world, you’ll just get stuck.

7.       Every place has hard things and good things (even the home you just left and miss terribly).

There is tremendous loss in transition, but there is gain in that loss. It’s easy to look back at the last home or job or friendships and remember only the good things. It’s easy to look at a new situation and only see the challenges. But if you embrace the reality that you’ll always encounter a mixture of both good and bad, frustrating and encouraging, stressful and fun, you’ll be able to handle them better.

8.       There are amazing friendships to be had in your new home or situation.

I know you miss your friends. And your old neighborhood. And your favorite barista. And your mom.  I do, too. But believe me, there are people you can grow to love anywhere and everywhere. Since I’ve spent most of my life leaving friends and finding new ones, I can promise you that you won’t be lonely forever, that if you open yourself up to new people, you’ll soon find friends you never want to lose (and who you would never have known if you hadn’t made this change).

9.       Don’t let your house become your cage. Get involved.

It’s easy to hunker down in a new place or situation. But the sooner you can get out of your house, out of your comfort zone, out of your expectations, the sooner you’ll find good things in your new home. Ask the locals questions about what their life is like. Find a way to volunteer. Visit a neighbor. Join a club or a church. Try a new restaurant. Make the choice to really live where you are.

10.   Be afraid BUT be brave, too.

Transitions are really scary. You may cry a lot. You might be angry. You’ll certainly be overwhelmed…often. But don’t want until you’re no longer scared of the new situation to get out there and figure out life. While you’re afraid, be brave, too. Do the things you don’t think you can do. Introduce yourself to the people who look scary (they might just be scared, too.) And let yourself get a little lost…it’s amazing what you might find out about your new world and yourself.

11.   Expect the unexpected.

You might have spent months planning for this transition. You’ve read books and blogs and packing lists. You’ve been through training and talked with people who’ve gone through it. You’ve sold your stuff and bought new stuff. And you think you’re as ready as you can ever be. Now, take all your plans and your ideas and your expectations and pack them away in some box that you promise not to open for at least a year after you’ve made your transition. 

Those things usually hurt you more than help you. Be ready for anything—both the good and the bad. If you’ve been told you’re moving to a place where there is absolutely nothing to do for fun, you may spend the first couple of years blind to the things that ARE really nice about your new home. On the other hand, if you expect to have a certain kind of house or a certain kind of food item available, you may just end up being disappointed. Better to go in expecting the unexpected and be pleasantly surprised.

12.   Remember why you did this.

Whether it’s a new baby that’s changing your life, or a ministry you chose overseas, or a move to follow a job you or your spouse loves, remember why you made this decision. Remember your real purpose, your goals, the things you want out of this. Remember that you want to be a mom, that you want to serve those in need, you want to expand your abilities, you want to go to college, you want your spouse to enjoy his or her job. So as long as those things continue to be true, then the things you don’t want can be counted as simply the cost for the the dream.

Monday, April 28, 2014


I shouldn’t still be here in Indonesia.

It’s been eight years on the same narrow street on the same tiny island. And I just can’t believe it.

That’s twice as long as I’ve ever lived anywhere in my whole life.

Find out more at MAF's blog site where I'm guest posting today.

Monday, April 7, 2014

What it's Really Like Living Overseas

 I had slept for only two hours in two days. We’d just flown from Colorado to our home in Indonesia, with our three small kids.

So that January day as we drove from the airport to our home that we hadn’t seen in eight months, I turned to my husband, Brad, and said, “Look at all those trees they’ve planted since we left.”

“Um, no,” Brad said. “Those were always here."

Oh, yeah. This town does, after all, sit on the edge of one of the world’s largest rainforests.

Besides being very green, my world here in Indonesia is pretty small. The island where I live is only about nine miles by 13 miles in size. And as a mama to three little kids and with no roads off the island, I don’t get out of here much.

So, when I get asked, “What’s Indonesia really like?” I have a hard time answering.

So, I’m taking advantage of the somewhat fresh eyes I have after my time away to tell you.

I sit here in week one of returning to Indonesia. I am busy cleaning out the shrew droppings and the cobwebs and taking stock of what’s moldy and what’s broken in the Indonesian house we rent. I have lots of errands to do…police station to renew my license, grocery store to get all those raw ingredients for making yogurt and bread and granola and pickles (actually I visit three tiny stores to get everything I need).

I’m surprised at some things…that I can remember the language, and can remember to drive on the left side of the road.

But I’m not surprised at how much I still dread those power outages that can last for hours. And those long lines at the gas station—how will I keep my kids quiet for the hour that it will take to wait to fill up the car?

But overall, it all feels very exciting and adventurous to be back. My birds of paradise plants are thriving in my backyard. I get to eat fresh pineapple almost every day. I get to catch up with all my friends.

But then I learn that my Indonesian neighbor just lost her 20-year-old son.  I visit her and listen to her story as her son’s body lays there in his simple open coffin in their tiny front room. He was healthy until one day he started vomiting and coughing. My neighbor took him to a local hospital and he was dead by the next morning. She thinks it was because they gave him a blood transfusion of the wrong blood type. The doctor never explained what he was sick with or why he died.

And I am mad and heartbroken and then I remember what it’s really like here.

It’s a lot of things. Hard. Poor. Confusing. Exciting. Mundane. Dirty. Smelly. Beautiful. Friendly. Exhausting. Hot. Hospitable. Fun. Boring. Adventurous. Scary.

It’s home, but it’s also foreign. It’s where I want to be, but sometimes, on the really hard days, it’s where I want to flee.

But as I think about my friend’s son and about the mistakes made, I think, too about my own kids. I think about the times they’ve been sick and the choices we have and don’t have. I think of all the bad things that could happen to them and to me and to my husband and my friends. And it helps me come up with a word that best explains what it’s really like living here.

It’s personal.  

This is where I spent half of my 20s and now half of my 30s and almost two-thirds of my marriage.

It’s where I first became a mom and where my kids’ first steps were taken and where I wonder if I can even do this motherhood thing right.

It’s where I’ve made lifelong friends with people from everywhere and where I’ve lost some of them and where I meet new ones all the time.

It’s where I sit with my insecurities and my growth and my homesickness and my deep sense of purpose and my fears and my mama-bear courage.

It’s where I bake lumpy bread that my family still devours and where I forget about the  yogurt I’m making until it’s long ruined and where I have a pile of dirty cloth diapers to clean.

It’s where I’ve learned about the hearts of these dear Borneo peoples and yet still don’t understand why the bad things happen or how to fix it all.

It’s where death feels way too close and life is so intoxicating and love is sacrificial.

It’s where I live and breathe and sometimes feel like I can’t catch my breath.

And in many ways it’s not so different from your world wherever that may be. There are things you like. And don’t like. People who make you feel great about life and people who break your heart. There are kids to raise and sleep to long for and dreams that are shelved and dreams that are happening right now.

But here we are in the midst of the hard things and good things, the doubts and the faith, the lush trees and the drab winter. Living.

One deeply personal moment at a time.

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