Just so you know

All right. I have ideas. I think about stuff. So here is the spot for stuff I'm thinking about and want to be able to share more broadly and possibly promote. Like I have time for this.

Everything is provisional at this point and subject to change in the future - as far as the blog is concerned. In real life some things will remain unchanged.

Also, our children are not really named Lenny and Linus. We are not that cool.

Feel free to share, rant, disagree, but please remember that I'm an actual person who tries to be respectful. I'd love it if you are and do to.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Would You Pray about Buying a Time Share?

nuchylee, via

The minivan has a button for tuning the radio on the steering wheel.  I guess this could come in handy, but mostly I end up bumping it by accident.  Then there's some guy answering a caller's question with the phrase "Catholic birth control."  I hit the button again, hoping that it's in the opposite direction from the first hit and I'll hear NPR playing classical music again.  No.  Now some other guy is explaining why he doesn't recommend time shares.  You pay whether you use them or not.  Maintenance fees go up.  They can be very hard to sell. So don't rush into it, he advises.  Pray about it.  I hit the button again.  NPR.  Relief.

But... of course the little voice from behind me pipes up, "Why'd you change it Mommy?"

I try not to lie to my children.  I can explain (hopefully in developmentally appropriate terms) where babies come from.  I answered truthfully that yes, in some states men can marry other men (but you still can't marry your brother even if you do love him more than anyone).  But in this case I... don't exactly tell the whole truth.

I say, "We don't need to listen to someone talking about time shares.  We are not going to buy a time share."

I didn't feel like I needed to explain that I find this advice to pray about buying a time share irritating.  Because most likely he would again say "Why?" and I'd have to try to explain.  And it's complicated.  I guess.

I mean what does this financial and apparently Christian sage expect to happen when his listener prays?  Will someone miraculously knock on his front door and offer to sit down and map out his income and expenses so that he can see exactly how much money he can afford to spend on vacations each year?  Will he have a feeling of peace about his decision that will cause him to move forward?  Will an obviously "better" opportunity present itself?

I know.  The Bible says to pray about everything.  But if we're doing that then why point out the need to pray about this, particularly?  Just in case he forgot? 

I also know that the Bible promises that if anyone lacks wisdom he should pray for it and God will provide.  But either people are forgetting this promise or it doesn't work quite the way we'd hope because lots of decisions get made - especially regarding finances - that I would not consider to be wise.

But really, it's not bad to pray.  I didn't really change the station because I have a problem with praying.  I changed it because I have a problem with this casual way that we talk about praying.  As if it's.... what... some kind of magic eight ball that will reveal just enough of the future to let us know what to do?  What about common sense?  What about basic principals like spending less than our income?  What about charitable giving? 

If there are moral/spiritual issues involved they have to do with meeting obligations to people who rely on us and thinking about possibly helping people who don't have the basic necessities of life like clean drinking water and basic medical care.  But hey, maybe all those factors have been considered and the listener really does need a few weeks out of the year to rest and relax and maybe a time share would be great.  Maybe praying would help him reflect on all of this.

So I'm probably just being petty.  I'm probably jumping to conclusions about how people who are calling into radio shows aimed at Christians who have questions about their finances act and think.  I'm probably a little bitter that when I was growing up we spent so much time traveling around, visiting dozens of churches, hoping to convince enough people to give us money that we would be able to spend four more years bringing the gospel to an isolated "unreached people group."  While some guy here is sitting in a radio studio telling people to pray about whether they should buy a time share.

Or maybe I'm just frustrated and discouraged by years of pouring out the desires of my heart to God and feeling like it didn't make a difference.  Maybe I just don't know what to do with the fact that when I couldn't stand to pray anymore, when any attempt brought up a well of pain and sadness, when I decided I couldn't expose myself to that any more... that was when I found some measure of peace.  Not the perfect peace that the Bible promises, but a greater peace than I had known when I was hoping and yearning and reaching out. 

Maybe, in spite of a lifetime of teaching on the subject I just don't understand prayer at all.  But I do know that this kind of glib instruction to pray about an issue that might be better handled by careful study and thought rubs me the wrong way.  I think that the Christian community would do well to think about how we talk about these topics in such a public way.  Maybe I'll even figure out how to drive the minivan without hitting that button.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Third Culture Mom at the End of the School Year

photo credit: Lotus Carroll via photopin cc

Being a Missionary Kid (MK) or Third Culture Kid (TCK) is kind of like being a Preacher's Kid (PK).  Long after one stops being a "kid" the experiences and ideas encountered as a child leave a mark.  I'd say, though, that for a TCK the effects are farther reaching and more profound.  (Also MKs can also be PKs.  I'm not a PK but that's another story.) Here's an example of how being an MK still affects me today.

Lenny finished kindergarten a week ago.  It was amazing to me how casually the year ended.  Yes, they had a special school assembly (celebrating his elementary school's 60th "birthday" as chance would have it) and a field day (which was rained out in the afternoon).  He came home with a school t-shirt after the field day (they improvised in the gym).  On the last day of school he brought home a beach ball saying, "I had a ball in kindergarten!"

Lenny was sad to see school end.  He knew that it will start again in the fall but that he will be in a different grade and have a different teacher - across the hall from his old classroom.  He knows that he will be at school all day and eat in the cafeteria.  But he said, "It will just be for the same amount of time."

I didn't understand.  I reminded him about all day school.  "No, the same amount of days.  Then it will be over again."

Ah.  We needed a moment of melancholy to acknowledge the friendships that would be lost and the familiar routines that would change.  I said, "Yes, life it like that.  Every year you will have a new grade and a new teacher and some new friends.  For twelve more years you will start a new grade every fall, finish every spring and after the summer start again. Then, if you go to college there will be lots more changes.  Then when you finish college you will get a job and maybe buy a house and then things will be the same more.  Unless you become a dad and have kids.  Then all the changes will start again."

I may have overdone it.  But he said, "I like that last part."

"Which part?"

"The part about being a dad."

And the discussion was pretty much over.  We were on to what we were going to do after school.

I was more prepared for this non-event transition than I was after the first year that he was in preschool.  That year I felt myself panicking a little and pushing back a profound sadness.  My reason and time have taught me that in a small community in the Midwest transitioning from the school year to summer does bring changes, but FAR fewer than the changes that I dealt with growing up.  Most people stay in the community.  Even if we don't see them regularly there's a good chance we'll run into them at the library or the park or Lenny will encounter them in a class or other activity.  And then there's social media - a boon for introverts like me who really do care about people and want to stay in touch but dread picking up the phone and can't handle a crammed social schedule.

Growing up the end of the school year was a time of profound sadness mixed with eager excitement for me.  I didn't go to the same school for two years in a row until I was in fifth grade.  Even when I stayed for a couple of years in a row at a school for MKs lots of my friends left - either for good or for a year for "home assignment."  So at the end of every year I knew that I wouldn't see some people in the fall.  And I definitely wouldn't see them over the summer since I was about to climb onto an airplane and fly to the city my parents based their ministry out of.  Which also meant that the last few days of school were filled not only with painful partings, but with packing.  Everything that I considered mine had to either be taken home with me, gotten rid of, or put into storage.  But not much could be stored.  Especially if that particular year we were going "stateside."

As an introvert those intense last days of school were also tinged with a certain disappointment.  I'm most comfortable with a few close friendships but teenage years don't exactly encourage one to be satisfied with that type of social interaction.  Being part of the group - being able to join in with cliques and clubs and team sports - hold a pretty high value.  Sitting around for a day or two signing yearbooks is a great way to highlight the fact that one has a social circle that's smaller than seems to be acceptable.

And any relationship that had been difficult - whether with an adult or a peer - was now unlikely to be resolved.  It was much more likely to be left hanging, possibly for the rest of my life.

Much has been written about the importance of helping TCKs find closure in these types of situations.  That's good.  But nothing can change the fact that every time it happens it's emotionally and physically exhausting.  And even the best of intentions can't change the fact that relationships don't fit well into set time frames.  Hopefully today's TCKs benefit from the internet and the ability to stay in touch over long distances and time.  Getting back in touch with many from my past has changed my view of my connection to my past even now.  But when I was growing up I never would have imagined the possibilities.  Letters between the Philippines and the US could take weeks to arrive and phone conversations cost a dollar a minute.  Even with inflation that's too steep for keeping up with school friends!

So this year I approach the end of the year with some anxiety, but I try to be realistic about what the challenges will be.  I hope that we can manage to keep in touch with Lenny's best friend from this year in spite of her family's busy schedule and ours.  I set up activities for Lenny so so that he will have something to do in the afternoon while the baby and I rest.  As the schedule for the weeks fall into place I realize that the summer will be over before we know it.  I'm already dreading the return of short, cold days, cold and flu season and homework.

Yes, the cycle will continue.  But if the end of the year when I was growing up was like skydiving - standing by the open door of an airplane getting ready to jump into the void while hoping my parachute would open - then these transitions are like sledding - crouching on a sled at the top of the hill, anticipating a quick slide to the bottom followed by another long climb up.  There will be some laughter, a few thrills and possibly a harmless tumble.  It's memorable, but much less momentous.  Calmer and much more manageable. 

Saturday, June 7, 2014

A Quick Note About My Thought Process

From the zoo:  Don't waste your time searching for signs of life!

A friend commented that she hasn't seen much movement on my part regarding this faith journey I'm on.  I've been thinking about that.  I think that what I've been doing, actually, is settling in to the point I'm at right now. 

I've spent a lot of years avoiding thinking about what I believe about God and the Bible.  I went for two years, in fact, without going to church at all.  During that time I didn't spend much time praying, reading the Bible, or even wondering what I believed.  I assumed that I still believed in God, but I had some problems with the details of how my relationship with Him was supposed to work.  Putting myself through the ringer of trying to figure it out was too stressful, so I just stopped trying.

Then when Lenny was starting to really understand what was going on around him I felt that it would be good for all of us to go to church as a family.  I'd found some other ways to plug in to the community, but church was always one that was important to me growing up and I felt that it would be good to do that for my child.  We ended up staying at the church we had been going to (Allen never stopped).  Lenny loves it.  His biggest disappointment is that we always have to leave and he never gets to spend as much time as he would like with his church friends.  It's pretty much the complaint he has about any social interaction.

My biggest anxiety is that I am not teaching him about God the "right" way.  I don't want to fill his head with a bunch of rules and rote answers about who God is and how to please Him.  Perhaps as a result Lenny said, when his children's Bible suggested that he tell others about God, that he doesn't know very much about God and wouldn't know what to tell others.  We suggested he tell what he knows and, if more information is needed, ask an adult.

But when I went back to church things had changed pretty dramatically in my life.  Besides becoming a mom I'd gotten more involved in the community, made one of the closest non Christian friends I've had in my life, and seen an improvement in my health.  I felt more capable and less inclined to accept influences in my life that lead to emotional upset.

People say things like "I don't know what I would do without God in my life" or "God has blessed me so much."  I might have said that in the past.  But the fact that some truly positive changes came in my life at a time when I was feeling very distant from God is confusing to me.  Either I should be extremely grateful because He chose to work in my life at a time when I was doing everything "wrong," or doing everything "wrong" was really the right way to do it and the good changes had nothing to do with belief in, or the existence of God.

I would love it if tomorrow at church I had a supernatural encounter with God that reminded me all over again of the faith and hope I once had and restored my belief to the level it was then.  But I can't go back to the emotional wasteland I was in at that time.  I would rather be here, questioning everything to do with faith but with a tentative confidence in my ability to live a full life than clinging desperately to my faith while my hopes are shattered again and again against the rocky shore.  If God is real, if truth is revealed in the Bible and demonstrated by the church then that reality will withstand questions and even a more skeptical, distant examination.  Well, some might question that.  I've been hearing and reading some interesting thoughts about the nature of belief lately, but that will have to be dealt with another day.  Or night.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Capital T Truth: Examination of Faith

I claim on my Twitter bio to be "obsessively honest."  I should probably take that out.  I probably would be soul-searingly honest on this blog except that I don't want to hurt other people or violate their privacy by revealing parts of their lives they'd rather not have smeared all over the internet.  Also, I don't always want to deal with the feedback I might get.  On that count I should say that for the most part the feedback I've gotten so far has been very positive and helpful.  Some discussions offline have been... revealing.  And tended to leave me feeling a little more cautious about what I share here.

I read a blog post this week about honesty and how it can be good in relationships, but also used as a weapon.  I don't want to do that.  Ideally I would deal with the parts of my story that have to do with other people privately and just share the parts that have to do with me.  It's not really that simple, though.  Nothing that I think or believe or do is not somehow connected to some other person.  That's probably not the best way to say that.  Everything I think and believe and do is somehow connected to some other person.  I can't tell my story in any meaningful way without including parts of the stories of other people.  Maybe that means I just can't tell parts of my story right now.

So here's a story I think I can tell.  My husband and I met through a Christian group on the campus of the large state university we were both attending at the time.  We shared a Seder meal one year with some other group members.  It turns out that lamb does not agree with my digestive system.  I got terrible cramps.  Also at the meal was a Jewish man - an Israeli national who, although he identified as an atheist, had agreed to share the meal with us and explain some of the traditions.  When he saw that I was in pain and hard my explanation he said he thought he could help me - if I was interested.   I agreed - mostly to be polite, I think.

He asked me to sit down and close my eyes.  He asked me if I was a believer.  I was confused by this question.  I said, "I believe some things."  He said something to the effect that what he was going to do might not work without belief.  Then he reached out and placed his hand near my abdomen.  I don't remember anything else that he said or did.  After a moment a warmth spread over the area that had been hurting and the pain subsided somewhat.  He must have seen me relax somewhat and asked if I felt better.  I said I did.  The evening moved on, as far as I can remember, without much discussion of the event.

I still don't know what he did or why it worked.  It might have been Reiki.  That's the closest thing I've heard of to what happened.  This was outside of what I was comfortable with or expected to happen at that time.  But I didn't dwell on it much or question it.  I think that I thought that the mind/body connection is powerful and could probably explain it somehow.

The point is that the question about whether or not I was a believer has stuck with me all these years.  Growing up I was taught that it was not enough to simply believe.  One needed to believe the right truth.  Accepting a general idea of spiritual possibilities or even seeking a general good wouldn't get a person anywhere.  Capital T truth, as defined by the Bible and interpreted by the Evangelical Christian tradition was necessary.  For salvation.  To avoid eternal suffering and separation from God.  Other types of belief were only interesting to me in terms of how they compared or contrasted with "real" truth.  I didn't explore or consider them for their own sake.

Now I wonder if I have really even explored my own faith.  When I read about different ways of interpreting and thinking about scripture I realize that I have accepted some ideas uncritically.  I have been satisfied with the answers I was given growing up and have not really considered the alternatives.  Well, maybe satisfied isn't really the right word.  I accepted them, anyway.  There was a certain element of fear involved.  I think that I didn't want to look to closely at the alternatives.  Capital T truth, after all.  Salvation depended on it.  Eternity.

I thought I was well informed.  I went to church and Sunday school.  Bible class taken seriously at the Christian school I went to.  I have memorized so many scripture passages and they still roll off my tongue.  I took Old and New Testament Survey classes at my Christian college.  I think I know more about Evangelical Christianity than the average bear.  (Or person sitting in the pews or the plush purple chairs as the case may be.)

I also have made at least some effort to both live out and experience the truths I've been taught.  In high school I helped with a ministry to the "squatter" kids who lived near our school.  During summers when I was in college I worked at a day camp for inner city kids.  Once I moved away from home I picked churches that emphasized the work of the spirit and expected, but did not demand, God to "show up" in tangible and exciting ways.

And sometimes, in some ways, that has seemed to happen.  But most of them, like the incident with the digestive discomfort, can probably be explained by looking at the power of the human mind or the impact of good, loving people reaching out to each other.  Which, you may say, is one way that God works.  But I have also seen that happen, as it did that night, when the people involved made no claim to know God.  Which doesn't prove that He doesn't exist... or that He does.  It just... is.

The lonely, sick years wore away at my faith.  The times when I poured out my pain in prayer and begged for a reprieve and nothing changed.  The housebound years when for weeks at a time the only person I saw was my husband.  The lonely feeling of having an illness that required an explanation but was never really understood.  The disappointment of losing a career that I had labored so hard for.  God did not take that time away.  He did not change that situation.  It was like that for a long time.

It did change.  Now it is different.  And part of me thinks that I "should" be so thankful.  That I should be shouting from the rooftops that God is faithful and has finally answered my prayers.  But the career is gone, I think, forever.  And my children still feel the impact of my lack of health every day.  It's so much better than it used to be, but it's far from "good."

So now, in the midst of this full, overwhelming, extremely exhausting time, I try to think about Truth.  I try to understand how it can sit inside me and bring healing instead of constantly rubbing against the old hurting places.  I look at the "popular" ideas that have floated around in my consciousness for as long as I can remember.  They don't seem consistent with my experience.  Is my perception wrong?  Have I understood what I have been taught or the Bible wrong?  Is there a "Truth" out there that I can be at peace with?  It's hard for me to think about it without experiencing debilitating pain.  But it seems impossible for me to walk away from these questions. 

I've realized lately that I haven't really spelled out what my questions about faith are on this blog.  Maybe I can do that soon.  In the mean time, if you have a Pinterest account you can get an idea of what I'm thinking about by looking at the board "Spiritual Journey."  I'm not really trying to plug my Pinterest account here, it's just a great way to spy on people in general and me in particular.  Did I say spy?  I mean... understand??  Maybe I should do a post with links to some of the posts I've pinned with a summary and my thoughts or comments.

Is that enough of a conclusion for this post?  I hope so, because it's what I've got for now.