Wednesday, April 7, 2021

Stubborn from the Start

 I'm getting back to my blog after almost a year off!  Really, how do you post about life in another country when you're not there??  So, I was busy doing other things.  We're hoping to return in a few months, after our kids finish the school year, but until then, I was hit with a new idea: why not post stories that I can remember from my childhood?

Stubbornness didn't just appear when I hopped that plane across the ocean.  Stubbornness has been my constant companion since I was a little kid, running around a hog farm in the middle of cornfields, surrounded by my extended family.  It lived with me through my small-town school days.  It pushed me to keep going when I didn't feel like I fit in.  It got me in trouble sometimes . . . and screwed up my life once in a while.  So, until I have more stories from the other side, I'll tell some stories from the beginning.  I've been stubborn from the start.  Here's one to get started.  It's one of my first memories.  It's fuzzy to me, but I'll tell it as my Mom and Dad always did.

There was a day I didn't stay put.  My Dad was a hog breeder.  That meant that he was trying to raise pigs that were stronger, healthier, and better quality so that he could sell them to larger farms who raised pigs to sell to the market.  Every year, there would be sales, shows, and fairs that he would bring some of his best pigs to show.  If he could get prizes at these fairs, then it was good for his business.  It was also a place for him to see all of the other hog breeders and hog farmers who were his friends, "pig friends," we called them.

My sisters and I all enjoyed going with my Dad to these shows.  Sometimes the whole family would go or sometimes he would just take one of us, leaving Mom and the other 2 girls at the farm.  Sometimes, Mom would go and Dad would stay home.  On this particular trip, I was around 2 years old and still in diapers.  Dad took me to the National Barrow Show in another state.  We had enjoyed ourselves and I had played with some of the other kids while Dad showed his pigs.

It was the last day and we were packing up to head back home.  We had a pick-up truck with a topper over the truck bed where the pigs rode.  Dad had to go load up the pigs, so he put me in the cab of the truck and told me to stay put!  He'd be right back.  I remember sitting there, watching my father's back disappear into the crowd.  He was gone forever!!  What in the world had happened to him?  He had told me to stay put, but surely he didn't mean for me to sit still for this long?!  (My Dad would tell me later that he was gone for less than 5 minutes).

So, I decided to take matters into my own hands.  I hopped out of the truck and started walking around the pig barn, looking for Daddy.  In the barn, there were rows of small 8x8 foot pens that the pigs would be kept in until their turn in the show ring.  Most hog breeders would also have a pen where they would keep their feed, show brushes, and other supplies.  Also, most would have several folding chairs to sit in and relax.  As I moved through the rows, a teeny little 2 year old, looking around, walking with purpose, a kindly, older lady spotted me.  She could tell that no one was with me, so she called out to me, "Hi, there!  Are you lost?"

I can remember looking at her.  She was sitting on one of those folding chairs in a pen, gentle smiling eyes watching me.  I knew exactly where I was, so I responded, "No, my Daddy is lost!"  Well, I can't remember her response to that matter-of-fact information, but I do remember sitting on her lap, babbling away about this and that until I saw my Dad come running down the rows of pens.  I couldn't figure out why he looked so worried and upset!

It's easy to think we're not lost.  To think we have it all under control.  But, compared to our Heavenly Father, we have very little under control.  My Dad knew the plan.  He knew what was best for me.  He told me to stay put.  But, to me, in my little kid head, it seemed like a bad plan.  It seemed like it took forever.  So, I just had to wander around and mess everything up.  From my point of view, it was Daddy who had it wrong, who was missing.  God feels missing sometimes, too.  But, He's not!  Wait for Him!  Stay put!  I'm so thankful that this woman saw me and kept me from wandering into a bigger disaster.  By God's grace, I was reunited with my Dad and we were back on the road together!

Saturday, May 9, 2020


There was a day when I allowed myself to rest.  As the pandemic continues and we receive all kinds of information about its effect on people around the world, our family sits comfortably in a safe, country home with food, internet, clean space outside, and everything we need.  There are days where I can start to feel guilty that this crisis hasn't been harder on me or my family.  When people ask us how we're doing, I continue to tell them that this is the easiest crisis we have had to live through so far.  In other cases, we didn't have access to money, there was social unrest, there was no electricity or petrol, we couldn't use the internet or our phones, and other difficult things.  In this case, since we still don't know anyone personally who has died of the disease and we aren't in a hot spot, the hardest thing for us is just not knowing when we can get back home.

So, I can start to feel guilty.  Why do I have it so easy when so many others are suffering so greatly?  Why are my family and friends all safe when so many others aren't?  Why should we have a stable, normal time when others are feeling the strain so pointedly?  I start to feel that it's not fair that I should be grateful for the normalcy and stability our family is experiencing.

But then, thankfully, the Lord stepped in this week.  I was reading about creation from Genesis.  It hit me that God rested on the 7th day.  Did he need it?  No!  God is all-powerful.  He doesn't get tired or grow weary.  He doesn't need the rest.  WE need it.  It also says that God made us in His image.  That's true, but we aren't Him.  We aren't all-powerful.  He created us to need rest.  To live in the rhythms of sleep and wakefulness, planting and harvest, eating and drinking, and even instituted it in his Law through commandments of sabbath rest, sabbatical years, and years of Jubilee.  He rested as an example to us of its importance in our lives.

We are not often given permission to rest in our western culture.  Unless we have an extra job, work overtime, our kids are in one more extra-curricular activity, we join all the organizations, we can feel that we're not doing enough.  But that isn't how God made us to be.  I'm trying to let these false expectations fall off my shoulders.

What does God really want me to do today?  Didn't He know that I'd be here, in this community, during the pandemic?  He surely knows where I should be and what I should be doing.  So, I can rest.  Because of God's grace, I can let go today.  I can enjoy nature.  I can spend time with my family.  I can read a book, play a game, write a blog post . . . Because of God's grace, I can rest.

Monday, April 20, 2020

Working With My Hands

There was a day when I cleared some brush.  That may not seem like a big deal to you, but it's been a long time since I've done that!  In our home, a woman in my position would never clear brush, would almost never do any kind of manual labor.  Women with less money and status do work like that all the time.  Women walk by my house every day carrying wood, grass, hay, or other things on their heads.  A woman used to come to our house to cut the grass in the back of the yard for her cows.  I remember one day, after a big rain, when the grass was extremely wet.  She had piled the grass onto a piece of fabric, tied the edges around, and couldn't lift it to her head.  My neighbor came out to help her and the two of them couldn't lift it.  They called me over and we all strained to get that bundle -- well over 100 pounds of grass -- situated on her head.  She stepped up the steep bank, through my low gateway, and out the gate, heading up the mountain.  I've seen other women stacking 12 bricks on a padded circle on their heads while their husbands and brothers built a wall.  So, it's not that women don't work like that.

It's just that, in the culture where we live, if you have the money, you don't do the work yourself.  You hire someone.  And, if you're a woman with money, men won't let you lift anything or carry anything.  I can remember when we were moving from one house to another.  I was barely allowed to bring cushions to load in the back of our car.  They were struggling with an especially heavy chest of drawers, but when I tried to pick up a corner to help out, they scolded me away.  I tried doing some gardening one time and it was such a strange thing that the young men who were playing cricket behind our house stopped their game to come ask me why I was in the garden!  So, I learned to let the gardener do it, to hire someone when I had a big job, to not shame my husband or my employees by doing manual work that they could do.

It was a hard thing to get used to.  I grew up on a farm.  I pulled weeds, watered and fed animals, baled hay, and did lots of other tasks from the time I was little.  It would drive me nuts if someone assumed I couldn't do one of these tasks because I was a girl.  I would work even harder to prove that my Dad didn't need sons on his farm.  Whenever I moved, I carried my own boxes and furniture.  I did my own gardening.  I did my own housework.  It was such a change to pay others to do something that I had been taught was my duty.  I used to think that people who would hire someone to do a task they could do themselves were stuck up and spoiled.  But now, if I do those tasks, people think I'm stingy because I won't give someone a job who needs it.  It's a complete shift of understanding.

So, here I am, back at my Mom's until international flights start again . . . and she had brush to clear.  It felt so good to get moving, to break up those sticks, to feed the brush fire, to hack away at things.  Today my hands are raw because they haven't done that kind of work in so long.  I'm sitting here rolling my eyes at my stuck up, spoiled self -- as if that farm girl was seeing a rich city kid trying to keep up with her.  My muscles are sore today, but they feel great.  I'm tired today, but it felt worthwhile.

The other side of myself wishes that I could have hired someone to do that job -- someone who hasn't eaten well the last few weeks because their work is closed.  Not because I didn't enjoy it.  I loved it.  But, because they need it more than I do.  By God's grace, the two cultures I'm from won't constantly war against one another.  By God's grace, they'll keep educating each other and I'll be able to bless my Mom and the neighbors I'm missing.

Wednesday, April 15, 2020

Up From the Grave

There was a day my family was applauded at a cemetery . . . well, that might not be completely accurate.  Let me go back.  So, we'd gone to the little country church cemetery where my Dad and many other relatives are buried for Good Friday, so what better place to go on Easter morning?  Our kids were sad to not be back home, walking up the mountain behind our house to celebrate early Easter morning.  That had been our plan.  Then, a virus happened and we were not where we'd planned.

Turns out, Easter morning, Jesus wasn't where anyone else had planned.  Even his best friends went looking for him where they thought he should be, but he wasn't there!  God often has plans for us that are way better than the ones we have for ourselves.  They didn't think it was better at first, Mary was weeping, thinking someone had stolen him away.  I guess our family have shed some tears, thinking we should be back home by now . . . but I have to trust that God has a better way, much like he did on that day.

So, back to the present.  We walked up the hill at the cemetery at 6:30 in the morning.  The sun burst through the clouds that had been forecast to show us a glorious sunrise.  A few other family members joined us, while we stayed a safe distance away.  My Grandma found a seat on her own gravestone flower pot.  We sang, read scripture, took the Lord's Supper, and prayed together.  As we finished singing "He Lives," we heard clapping.  Turns out, the neighbor across the street, probably about a football field away, was worshiping along with us.  I'm sure she was applauding our Savior much more than us!  Maybe we weren't where we wanted to be or had planned to be, but in that moment, I was thankful that we were in that cemetery, letting Jesus know how amazing we thought he was, along with my family and our neighbor.

Maybe today you aren't where you'd like to be.  Maybe you're laid off.  Maybe you're stuck working from home with kids to teach.  Maybe you're sick.  Maybe a loved one is sick and you can't go see them.  Maybe you're on the front lines and seeing the pain first-hand.  I pray you will find God's grace and strength in these days.  He loved you enough to go to the grave and He's strong enough not to stay there!!!  By God's grace, we will be exactly where He wants us to be!  He will find us right in the center of His will, His hands, His Kingdom!

Saturday, April 11, 2020

On the Cross

There was a day I went to bed without speaking.  This may not seem like much to you, but I've always loved a good late-night chat!  Even when I was a kid, my Mom sat at my bed every night and she told me this was always when she would hear what was on my mind.  I tend to process things then and this particular night, I had a lot to process.  I wanted to tell someone, but we weren't speaking.  Let me back up . . .

Our family was worshiping on Good Friday without any formal gathering to go to.  So, we were looking for ways to make it meaningful on our own.  First, around sundown, we traveled to the cemetery where my Dad is buried.  We climbed the little hill there, overlooking farms and the sunset, and sang and read the story of Jesus' death and burial.  We were getting ready to leave the cemetery when James said, "I really like visiting graves.  Can we go to Papa's grave again?  It makes me feel kind of happy, like we're going to see him."  Well, how can you argue with that?  God has been so good to us!  This "Good" Friday is "Good" because when we walk through a graveyard, we can be happy!  We can know that we will see these people again.  We can be joyful because of where they are, what they are experiencing.  Without Good Friday, this joy would be turned to anxiousness: did they live a good enough life?  Did they do enough?  But with Good Friday we can rest knowing that He surly has done enough for us to rejoice.

After the cemetery, we went back to my Mom's house and watched the video from our church of the Tenebrae service.  This is a service where we read scripture, sing hymns, and the lights are gradually lowered in the church until the Christ candle is extinguished, symbolizing Jesus' death.  Then, we read from Isaiah 53 about the suffering servant and as the text finishes, the Bible is slammed shut to represent the tomb being shut on Jesus.  In our house, we had the kids go around and turn out lights in our house as the lights were being lowered in the church.

So, as the story of Jesus betrayal and crucifixion were being read again, I was meditating on how Jesus acted during this time (while I dealt with 2 half-grown boys squirming next to me!)  I often go back to His words in the garden when I am facing a hard time, "Father, if you would, take this cup from me.  Yet, not my will but Yours be done."  I take comfort in knowing that even Jesus asked to be delivered from trials that were coming.  It is okay for me to ask Him to take away my struggles, pains, or hardships.  But, then, I always want to include the second part of the prayer, asking for God's will above my own.  It's a pattern of prayer that I've grown pretty familiar with.  After this part, we read through the rest of the trail and execution.  Then, the pastor gave a short sermon that included a description of the truly excruciating reality of crucifixion.  I won't go into that now, but if you've never read a medical account, it is worth doing, so we can fully appreciate the sacrifice.

I was beginning to feel so much despair for what my Savior went through.  How could he have continued?  He said he could ask and be taken down and yet, he stayed.  He even experienced his Father turning completely away, "My God, My God!  Why have you forsaken me?"  But then, the most remarkable thing happened.  Right before he died, he said, "Father, into your hands, I commit my Spirit."  Woah!  This man, who has gone through all these multiplied agonies at the hand of his Father, committed his Spirit into those same hands.  He looked his suffering in the face and accepted it, knowing it was God's will.  He knew God was the one who was allowing . . . can I say, even orchestrating? . . . his suffering.  Yet, when the time came, he offered himself back to that same God.

Jesus told his disciples, right before he went to the cross, to take up their own crosses and follow him.  When I'm going through hardships in my life, maybe like these current ones, can I take up my cross in the midst of it?  Can I pray, like Jesus, "Not my will but Yours be done?"  Can I pray, like Jesus, "Into your hands, Father, I commit my spirit?"  These are the questions I was wrestling with as we neared the end of the worship service.

At the very end, after we were sitting in darkness, after we had finished singing our last hymn, our whole family went to bed in the dark, without speaking.  We used to leave the church in silence at the end of a Good Friday service, but since we had turned our home into the worship space, we just went to bed.  I was brimming with these ideas I was trying to flesh out and I couldn't process them with anyone.  I lay in bed, talking with the Lord about His example, asking Him to help me have the same response to suffering.  By God's grace, I won't shy away from the Father.  I won't begin to distrust Him for allowing suffering into my life.  By God's grace, I will throw my life, body, soul and spirit, back into the hands that made me, trusting in His mercy and grace.

Wednesday, April 8, 2020


There was a day when I couldn't get on the plane.  We had plans to return to Asia, but that day came and went.  First, we were informed that our visas were suspended.  Next, we were told that our flights were cancelled.  So, we realized that we were stuck.  As much as we wanted to make our way back, we couldn't.  As much as our hearts go out to our friends and coworkers there, we can't get there.

Even if we could, we'd probably end up in quarantine for weeks.  We'd probably end up in lock-down in our neighborhood.  We'd probably just be sitting in our home, letting our kids blow off steam in our tiny yard.  So, there's not much difference between being stuck here or there -- except that being stuck here is easier . . .

Have you ever felt guilty that your life isn't harder?  Have you ever looked at someone else's lot in life and felt guilty that you have it so easy?  I've been feeling this a lot lately.  Whether it's more difficult circumstances of work or living through this pandemic.  Whether it's more severe challenges of health or location or separation.  I'm realizing that I am so much better off than almost anyone else in the whole world -- stuck in a quiet, open, clean neighborhood with full pantry, gas in the car, and virtual connections by phone and computer.  Boy, oh, boy do I have it made!  And boy, oh, boy can I start to feel bad that I'm not suffering as much as others.

It reminds me of an experience I had years ago, long before I was married.  I was spending time with a friend who had grown up in a really difficult home situation.  She was telling me about the struggles of living in the household she was born into.  I told her about my growing up -- with two supportive, Godly, committed parents, food, clothing, and all my needs met.  I told her I felt sorry that I had experienced such an easy, encouraging life up to this point.  She stopped me: "Maggie, don't you ever feel guilty about that!  I would never wish for anyone to have more struggle than they've had.  Because you have been loved and supported, you can love and support others.  I'm still trying to heal from what happened to me.  You don't have to use any energy to heal, you can just bless.  Don't waste time feeling guilty when you can feel grateful and serve!"

I will always be indebted to her and that conversation.  Anytime I start to feel guilty that someone is having a harder time than me, I can remember her words and get on with being grateful and serving.  What a foolish thing to wish for more suffering!  There is plenty of it in the world.  I guess, my job today is to find ways to alleviate as much suffering as I can today.  By God's grace, we can use our energy for our neighbors -- and maybe realize just how blessed we are!

Monday, April 6, 2020

A New Kind of Shut-Down

There was a day when I was in lock-down.  I seem to find myself in a very familiar, yet uncharted predicament.  Our family has had multiple experiences where we found ourselves in a shut-down situation of some kind.  A few times, it was political, once it was a natural disaster, another time an economic event.  So, these days, with mandatory and voluntary shut-downs and quarantines because of Covid-19, we aren't terrible surprised, nor are we freaking out.  I have been processing the events of the last few months and am finding quite a few similarities, but also, some major differences between this current shut-down and our previous ones.  So, here we go:

  • Scarcity of necessities: Every other event we've experienced has been met with a scarcity of some kind of necessity -- or a difficulty in getting them.  One time, there was no electricity for weeks, so you couldn't get money from ATMs, couldn't use your fridge, couldn't use lights, etc.  One time, there was no way to get petrol for our cars.  One time, it was hard to find fresh vegetables or rice or lentils or flour.  This time, it seems that toilet paper and hand sanitizer are the new gold.  I'm kind of kicking myself because I would love to be able to put my hands on one of the many bottles of hand sanitizer I've been given or offered in my life that I quickly regifted or refused . . .  I used to scoff at the idea of keeping my hands completely germ free.  But today, I sure would like to do so, if only to protect my elderly and immune-compromised family, friends, and neighbors.  Still, I can find a bar of soap, so I'm making do.  The toilet paper fiasco has me chuckling.  Where we're from, most people don't use the stuff.  A pitcher of water and some soap takes care of it.  Some bathrooms even have handy spray-nozzles.  I'm sure wishing I had my well-equipped squatty-potty these days.  I guess, what I'm saying is, I'm not too worried.  If we could manage without money, electricity, petrol, etc., I think we can manage without toilet paper and fancy hand-cleaners.
  • Fearful News:  Each time one of these difficulties hit, the news was rarely helpful in keeping my spirits up or my head clear.  I understand it, they need to attract attention and seem indispensable.  Not that there aren't helpful bits of information out there . . . I'm sure someone needs to know what the death tolls are, what the possible grim outcomes might be if we don't take wise measures, or other things, but that someone might not be me.  If I can know the current expectations on me from my local government, enough information to pray, and get notification if expectations change, that seems like plenty of info for me.  The rest only amplifies my own concerns and robs me of the grace, strength, and hope to pray with faith.  So, I've adopted the same rule I've used during other crises: only check the news once a day, then, move on to what I can do!
  • Selfishness and Selflessness:  I could also title this one: human nature.  People can be ridiculously fickle creatures.  We can speak of love and justice and fairness, but when we feel ourselves or those we love are in danger, we can act in one of two ways -- generosity or self centeredness.  I've seen people give of their own meager supply to someone else who has less.  I've seen people put their own lives in danger to try to get someone else out of danger.  I've seen hospitality toward people who don't have the means to fend for themselves.   But, I've also seen needless hoarding.  I've seen complacency to the extreme.  I've seen intentional ignoring of real issues right next door.  So, we have a choice of which person we are going to be -- in each crisis that arises.
And Now, for the Differences:
  • Location:  This time, we find ourselves far from the place we call home.  We were visiting with our families in the land where we grew up and this crisis came and surprised us.  Our visas are not valid, our flights are canceled, and we are stuck waiting for this pandemic to settle and the world to open up again.  It is SO different to face a crisis in this part of the world instead of that one.  One big way is the amount of space we have.  We're staying with my mom in the country these days.  She lives on an acre of land, surrounded by fields, streams, and trees.  The kids can roam on about 5 acres of property that includes, among other things, a beaver dam!  We can also get into our car and go places.  We're still allowed to get groceries, gas, and other necessities.  We can go to my mom's cabin for a change of scenery.  In our home, I can remember two whole months where I didn't leave the small neighborhood we lived in -- even for the store or anything else.
  • Resources: Where we live now, there is electricity, there is fast internet access, there are restrictions that make sense and are easily adhered to, there are government programs to help the less financially secure, and there are riches beyond what most of the rest of the people in the world can understand.  I hear folks worried about losses of jobs, difficulties paying mortgages, possible stays in the hospital, and many other things that are valid concerns.  But, in comparison, in our home, most people don't have a car.  Most people don't have access to clean drinking water.  Many don't have running water in their homes.  There are no food banks.  There are no WIC or LINK programs.  There is no government bailout check coming to them because they don't have a bank account.  The hospitals are staffed by well-trained doctors and staff, but are horribly understaffed, underfunded, crowded, and dirty.  Not because they don't know better, but because they do an amazing job with what they have to work with.  My heart goes out to people in this area, of course it does!  I hear real concerns and know how they must plague people's hearts.  But, my heart goes out even more to places that don't have the abundance of resources in this place, places where the poor of our nation would be considered rich, places that will never get the kind of attention or assistance that we take for granted. 
  • How We Help: It seems pretty easy to me to find ways to help with this current crisis.  I can donate money to my local church who will help those in need in my community.  I can donate money or supplies to my local hospital or nursing homes.  I can donate to any number of charities working to help those who are most affected by the current pandemic.  I can donate to researchers who are seeking cures, medicines, etc. to help our world heal.  It is easy to help and it's regulated and it's not so personal.  Back home, when there is a crisis, it's much harder to help in these ways.  I don't have a local church.  I don't know how to donate to hospitals or charities in a way where the money would go to needs and not to a corrupt official -- I'm sure there are very good people in most of these institutions, but since I don't know who's who, it's harder to send money there.  When a crisis comes, we look for much more personal ways to help.  During the flood, Bill was out on a raft, helping people escape from the second and third stories of their homes, bringing food and clean water to people who were trapped.  During the financial struggles, we checked in with neighbors and shared the cash we were able to get with each other so that no one had to go hungry.  During this current pandemic, we're thankful that we can still help in some of these ways.  We just heard that a friend of ours, who owns a local grocery store, has been using our small van to pick up goods, since all transport has been shut down in our city.  Even though we're not there, we can still help in a personal way.  I'm seeing some people here helping in personal ways, too, and it's encouraging!  Some are sewing cloth face masks for neighbors, baking meals for families with new babies, making phone calls to elderly and isolated just to check in, ordering deliveries for people they know who might need it.  What can you do today?
I guess, as I've been contemplating all of this, I'm realizing that in every new 'crisis,' the biggest constant is that I am guided by my Savior.  His grace has brought me through all the past trials and it brings me through this one.  All the worst case scenarios I can think of still end in the same place that all the best case scenarios end: the presence of my Creator, Savior, and Lord!  He is faithful and we can persevere in these days as so many have before us and so many will after we're long gone.