(Several weeks ago, I mentioned wanting to introduce you to some fabulous people I know. What I had in mind was posting interviews, and while that will happen eventually, I decided to start with this.)
She was born Hideko, but by the time I knew her, already twenty years the wife of a small town factory worker, she was simply “Aunt Heidi.” Standing not even five feet tall, she had thick raven-black hair, skin the color of golden sand, and dark eyes that always seemed to be smiling. And somehow, despite my western European ancestry, my fair skin, blue eyes, and blond hair, it never was odd to me that this woman should be my aunt.
She was simply my uncle’s wife, my aunt whose nut rolls, lady fingers, and apricot drops showed up at every family gathering from birthdays to graduations. She was my aunt who at Easter made individual plates of chocolate crosses and peanut butter cups for her nieces and nephews. She was my aunt who on Christmas Day handed out much anticipated envelopes with ten-dollar bills inside, and in her heavily accented English, wished us each a “Me-ly Chlis-a-mas.”
But before she was my aunt, she was Hideko.
Born on a small island in the Pacific, she was a toddler when WWII invaded her tropical home and turned it into a major battlefield of the war. To escape the firestorm, her family and neighbors fled to isolated caves where provisions and medical care were scarce. When she contracted an infection, there was nothing to do but move her to a separate part of the cave, administer meager doses of black-market drugs, and endure the shunning of the other refugees.
She survived and eventually the war ended. But the lush paradise she once knew had been destroyed and rebuilt and repopulated by US military bases with an ever revolving collection of American GIs. By her early twenties, she had adapted to this new normal and caught the eye of a young Marine far from his home in rural Pennsylvania. One whirlwind romance later, they were married and welcoming a daughter with the same dark eyes and black hair as her mother. Eventually he was discharged and hoping to find a quiet life as a family, they left her Pacific paradise for his home in the States
But what she found there were the wintry hills of Pennsylvania, trees stripped naked of all green life, fields of mud crusted with ice, and skies that never cleared but forever changed from gray to black to gray again. Instead of pots of rice and freshly caught fish, she found rice mixed with greasy ground meats wrapped in boiled cabbage leaves. Fish was strange frozen rectangle coated in yellow batter and plunged in hot oil. And yet, she blossomed. She soon had a son and despite her limited English, quickly learned to navigate the continuous cycle of doctor’s visits, bus schedules, PTA meetings, and after-school practices. She became a faithful member of a church, mastered the pot-luck, and saw her husband become a deacon.
All this, seven thousand miles from where she had been born.
After her death, my uncle confessed his misgivings about bringing his bride to such a foreign place. Early in their marriage, he had opened a bank account in her name and deposited $1,800 in it. He told her that if she ever found her new life too overwhelming, too lonely, or if she simply wanted to return to her family, she was to use the money and go.
She never did.
Instead she stayed and chose to be part of our family. She left her own mother, father, brothers, and sisters and embraced her husband’s mother, father, brothers, and sisters. She left her own nieces and nephews and embraced me and my cousins. She traded life on a Pacific island for life in rural America with the man she loved. Growing up, it seemed pretty unremarkable to me that Hideko was my uncle’s wife, my aunt.
Today it does not.
Although we’re hardly consistent, my husband and I try to communicate our faith to our children and so recently we all memorized this passage from Ephesians: “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you (ESV).”
And because we’re also concerned about communicating a living faith, my husband decided to give us each a project to work on. As with any plan that daddy comes up with, it was met with resounding praise and immediate approval. (He’s so cool that way. Mommy on the other hand, to quote my daughter, “isn’t very good at activities.”)
Our project was this: each of us had to do one kind thing for another person before dinner the next evening. That’s it. Just one kind thing. One.
You’d think that in the course of twenty-four hours this would be easy, but the next day as we gathered for dinner, several of us were unprepared. Even I found myself desperately scanning my memory to figure out whether or not I had done one intentionally kind act. So we tried again the next day.
And the next. And the next.
Eventually after several days of practice, we finally began to get into the routine, and although we’re still not at 100%, we’ve definitely learned one thing: while self-centeredness comes naturally, kindness does not.
Part of the problem is that we tend to think that if we don’t actively hurt
others, we’re doing okay. No harm, no foul, right? And like my daughter when she realized that she didn’t have anything kind to report, we easily justify ourselves by saying, “But, Daddy, I didn’t do anything un
I realized this week that that may not be enough.
You see, Christ calls us to something better. He calls us to be
kind—to actively love our neighbor as we love ourselves, not simply to avoid harming him. Because let’s be honest, not harming someone is easy enough; all you have to do is stay away from him. All you have to do is pass to the other side of the road like the priest and the Levite. But being kind, actually loving someone? Well, that’s different.
Actively loving people requires engagement, thought, and investment. It means thinking about their needs and figuring out a way to help. It means loving them the way Christ loves us. And ironically, if we don’t, our lack
of kindness will eventually end up looking very much like unkindness.
Because as my (so very wise) father once told me, “The worst thing you can do to people isn’t to think about ways to hurt them; it’s simply not to think about them at all.”
So this week, I’m learning that, despite the bumper sticker, random acts of kindness simply aren’t. Instead, they require attention, purpose and commitment. They require care and compassion. And they are well nigh impossible apart from a God who has already shown us the way.
This are not my kids...
Today is the last day of the first week of school for my daughter. And while it’s been a successful first week, it’s not been without its challenges. Truthfully it’s been an adjustment for all of us. We’d been homeschooling for the last two years and a lot of our family rhythms were built around that. But with changing family dynamics, new opportunities, and a budding social personality, it was clear that, at least for now, it was time for her to head to second grade in a traditional setting.
One morning after dropping her off at school as I was bemoaning how much I’d miss her, my five-year-old son piped up from the back seat.
“Not me, Mommy. I’m glad the sister’s at school and not here. Now she can’t bother me anymore.”
To be absolutely fair, SHE is not the bothersome one in the relationship. Let’s just say that if there were a competition for little brothers, well… he’d be taking home a trophy. It seems like her very presence flips a switch inside of him, and he instinctively begins acting up, pushing her buttons, and irritating her in every way his little brain can possibly conceive.
...and neither are these.
Still I’m sympathetic to him. He’s sandwiched between a talkative, over-achieving, older sister and a loud, demanding baby brother. From his perspective, sometimes it’s just a struggle to survive. And while, my husband and I have done our best to give him the attention he needs, for some reason, he perceives that he is less loved, less important, less significant when sister’s around. To overcome that, he instinctively fights and struggles to one up her.
But over this last week, minus the competition, he has blossomed. Suddenly the need to keep up is gone. Getting in the car is no longer a race to see who can buckle in first and walking to the library no longer means stopping every block to referee a fight. In fact, he doesn’t have to fight for my attention at all; he knows he already has it. And amazingly my usually rowdy, troublesome, agitated son has become calm, peaceful, and content.
As I watched him this week, I remembered a comment one of our pastors made several months ago. In the middle of a sermon, he casually remarked that each of us is God’s favorite child. At first it puzzled my word-oriented brain. It was so ludicrous, so nonsensical. You can’t say that everybody is the favorite. It just doesn’t work that way.
But as I sat there thinking about it, I realized that maybe the significance wasn’t in the linguistic accuracy, but in my perception of being loved. Maybe what I needed to understand was that being God’s favorite child means that He loves me no less than He loves anyone else. It also means that nothing I do can make Him love me any more or any less than He already does.
And suddenly, just like my five-year-old in the absence of an older sister to compete with, I was at peace, calm and content. There was no need to fight, there was no need to agitate, and there was no need to try to get my Father’s attention.
I already had it.
I’m sure that as my son matures and begins to understand our love and God’s love for him, there’ll be less and less rivalry with his sister. In turn, he himself will be able to love her more fully. But until then, I’m just going to enjoy these fleeting years and do my best to make sure that each of my children at least thinks he's the favorite.
Occasionally, I’ll be posting about books that I have read recently or have been especially helped by. So even though there’ll be no coffee or pastries, consider this our little book club. And by all means, if you have favorites of your own, especially in the same genre or on topic, please share them with the rest of us.
I remember the day eleven years ago when a college classmate met me in tears saying that our modern philosophy class had been canceled due to the unexpected death of our professor’s wife. In a small liberal arts college, with an even smaller English department, the loss hit everyone. When class resumed about a week later, I remember the profound need to choke back tears as our professor, Dr. Ron Horton
, walked through the door and all I could think was how vulnerable he must be. He came in, arranged his things on the desk, quietly thanked everyone, and proceeded to lecture about 20th century philosophers.
Dr. Horton is the essential college professor complete with chalk dust on his blazer, illegible handwriting, a quiet demeanor, and absolute brilliance. He taught some of my most formative classes and was the first to show me the link between thinking and writing. Thanks to him, I learned that if I couldn’t write about an idea clearly, I hadn’t yet thought about it clearly.
Still as valuable as these lessons were, some the greatest ones he would teach me would happen years after graduation.
In a previous post
, I referenced a difficult time my family has experienced. As with any loss, our initial instinct was to batten down the hatches, deal with immediate physical needs, and suppress any emotional reaction until later. But suppress it as we might, there was going to be a day of reckoning. So, several months later when the emotions and moods could no longer be contained, it was time. And there, up on a shelf, as unassuming as its author, was Dr. Horton’s book, Mood Tides.
Born out of the unexpected loss of his wife and rooted in his years as a Christian professor, Dr. Horton’s book is more robust than the typical self-help manual. With a healthy dose of philosophy and a firm, Biblical understanding of the human condition, Dr. Horton presents a direct, thoughtful exposition of the self and the emotional fluctuations that we all experience. To be fair, this isn’t a book about healing after a personal crisis – it’s more about understanding and embracing the divine order in our emotional makeup, about accepting the ups and downs of life as God-imagined and God-ordained. And though Dr. Horton would probably cringe to hear me put it this way, the message is this: “In the good times, it’s okay to laugh and in the bad, it’s okay to cry. God made you this way. He is ordering your life, and this is how you know Him and glorify Him best.”
Welcome advice for those of us who were taught to be suspicious of our feelings and schooled in controlling them.
Many of us mistakenly think that God’s grace in life means not giving us more than we can handle. From this, we conclude that if something bad happens to us, we must be meant to "handle it." And so we develop complex ways of managing pain by our ration and will; and when that fails, we often deny it altogether. But the truth is that God’s grace and healing come only when we’ve reached the point that we can’t
handle life on our own anymore, when we’re hopeless, helpless, and desperate. God’s grace and healing come only to those who need it, to those who need Him.
There were nights over the last year when I would go to bed absolutely wracked by the pain of loss, my mind swirling with a sea of questions. At that point, there was no ration; there was no will. At that point, all I could do was lay my head on the pillow, weep, and let Jesus to hold me. All I could do was cry out to a God whom I desperately needed.
And that, according to Dr. Horton, was exactly what I was supposed to do.
Well, I’m now nearly three weeks into this little experiment
called blogging and after recovering from the initial panic that hit me immediately after I clicked the “publish” button, I’d like to think that things are going well. Namely, I haven’t lost my mind, my children are still dressed and fed, and my husband continues to be my number one cheerleader.
But there are a few things I need your help with. So here we go:
1.Thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you
all for reading along. The comments and notes of support have been overwhelming—just what I needed to fight back my secret doubts and persistent fears.
2. My utmost
apologies to those of you who subscribed on your feed reader only to have it update multiple times a day. I’m still getting the hang of this and have had to do several edits. *sigh*
Any suggestions appreciated.
3. Again, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you for reading along.
4. Over the next several weeks, I hope to mix things up a bit here. First, I’ve got several fabulous people I’d love to introduce you to. One goal of mine is to use this blog to highlight individuals who are using their gifts to serve others. Also, I hope to do some quick reviews of books that I’ve found helpful or inspiring. So keep your eyes open and make sure you tell me what you think about the changes.
5. Have I said thank you yet? No? Well, THANK YOU!!!
6. Finally, I’m having a bit of a dilemma regarding virtual etiquette and need your advice. I’m trying to avoid becoming the inspiration for letters like the one below:Dear Miss Manners, I have a “friend” on Facebook who consistently clogs my news feed with links to her blog. And while I understand that SHE finds her insights brilliant and life-altering, I don’t. However, I don’t want to lose her as a friend because I really need her help to get some kangaroos for Gardens of Time. What should I do?Sincerely, Ready to Click the Hide Button
So what do you think? Is it bad form to link to my FB profile every time I have a new post? Does it come across as self-absorbed or do you find it helpful?
Now it’s your turn to do a little writing. Please leave your feedback, comments, critiques, suggestions, concerns, and observations about the last three weeks below. I’d love to know what you’re all thinking and once again, thank you
for reading along!
We’ve been dealing with a lot of irrational fears lately—it’s bound to happen wherever there are small children and large imaginations. My five-year-old son has been particularly afraid of group situations, hiding behind my legs when we attend events, pressing his face into my skirt as we greet people, and generally refusing to engage anyone he doesn’t know well.
Of course after several weeks of this, my justifiable fears, kicked in. Had he had a bad experience recently? Was he fearful of someone in particular? Had he been harmed and we didn’t know it? So one day, after yet another battle to enter a crowded room, my husband and I decided to talk with him, our own hearts equally terrified by what he might tell us.
The conversation went something like this:
Why didn’t you want to go into the room, honey?
There might be a bad guy in there.
*sharp fear, remain calm*
Well… what would he look like?
I don’t know. Big.
*more fear, this time accompanied by stomach churning*
Have you ever seen a bad guy in that room before?
No. But he might be there.
*yep, still fear, breathe deeply*
What would this bad guy do if he was there… (*small voice* ) would he hurt you?
No, he would steal the money and run away.
Yeah, like on Superman. Are we done? Can I go play the Wii?
So for now, we’re putting away the Batman and the Superman and the video games until his overachieving imagination can distinguish between fantasy and reality.
But all this has only reminded me how powerfully controlling fear is. How it can paralyze us and make even the most everyday occurrences absolutely terrifying. How, in a very real way, we can get sucked into a vortex of emotion and possibility and even begin to fear fear itself. And as if our own minds weren’t predatory enough, how other people can manipulate our fears and use them to intimidate and oppress us.
Each one of us has our own set of “bad guys in the room.” For me, it’s worrying whether my children will grow up well, whether we’ll ever settle down in one place, whether people will like and approve of me. Some days I’m the courageous warrior leading her small army onto victory; other days I just want to hide behind my mother and retreat from the world.
And when I let my fears dictate my choices, I end up doing just that – retreating from situations that are uncomfortable, from people I don’t know, and from opportunities that are uncertain. I end up retreating from life in all its glorious, messy complexity. And in the end, I teach my children to do the same.
But I’m also discovering that there is something tremendously empowering, something unexpectedly emboldening about faith.
Because when you believe that there is a God in heaven, there is purpose and meaning to this life, and there is joy in loving other people, suddenly instead of retreating from the world, you can take it on. When you believe that all things work together for good, that He has plans for your future, and that He loves you with an everlasting love, you can risk finding out what that future is.
And when you believe that He is the everlasting, almighty, just judge of the universe, you realize that even if there are bad guys in the room, they won’t be there for long.
Ten years ago today, when my husband and I were young enough to be confident, we stood in front of friends and family and promised things to each other. We promised to freely give our love, our time, our bodies, and our wills. We promised that to the best of our ability we would model Christ and His Church.
And it was beautiful.
Almost too beautiful, because little did we realize what we were actually promising; little did we understand that giving all those things actually meant sacrifice. And not in the poetic way we had used the word. No, it meant what it is: broken, bloody, excruciating death. It meant dying like Christ. It meant crucifixion.
And it meant failing because even our best promises that day were destined to be broken. Instead of loving, we have been selfish, we have been petulant, we have been angry. Instead of faithful, we have been faithless. We have suffered, not simply for each other, but because of each other--we have driven the nails into each other’s hands.
But there was another thing that we didn’t realize that day--Someone else was making promises too. Promises like,
I will never leave you or forsake you.
I am close to the brokenhearted. I rescue those whose spirits are crushed.
When you pass through the waters, I will be with you.
I know the plans I have for you… plans for good, not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope.
I am the resurrection and the life.
And it has been these promises that have brought us through the last ten years; it will be these promises that will carry us through even more. It is the promise that in the thousand deaths we have and will die, He will raise us up again; that when everything seems beyond hope, He will stretch out His hand with mercy and love; that He will be our resurrection and life.
So, today, I smile a bit to think how blissfully ignorant we were ten years ago, how utterly incapable we were of keeping our promises. But today, I’ll also laugh out loud with sheer joy to think that He wasn’t and He isn’t.
My little girl turned seven last week and if it hadn’t been for the fairy birthday cake and her exuberantly toothless smile, I probably wouldn’t have believed it.
Wasn’t it yesterday that I was bringing her home from the hospital, looking over my shoulder the whole way wondering when the staff would wise up, realize that I didn’t have a clue what I was doing, and try to stop me?
Wasn’t it yesterday that she was sick in the middle of the night with a fever and I held her, simultaneously praying for relief and raging at a world so unfeeling that it would continue to sleep while my baby couldn’t?
Wasn’t it yesterday that she discovered that dirt and water make one of the most glorious combinations known to mankind and that mommy really can’t get everything clean in the magic clothes machine?
Wasn’t it yesterday that “a” suddenly said /æ/ and “b” said /b/ and p-o-t spelled pot and then somehow unbelievably, blissfully, she was reading all day long and late every night and telling me things that I didn’t even know? ("The baobab tree swells up like a balloon because it keeps water in its trunk.")
No, it wasn’t yesterday.
It was yesterday’s yesterday, and each moment takes it further into the past and her one step closer to the future.
And I find some days it is almost impossible to keep from screaming, “NO!!! Stop! Please stop growing up; please just stay little. Don’t you understand – I need you to stay little. I need you to stay little because I need you to need me.”
But on the good days, on the days that I can see past my own insecurities and neediness, on the days when I love her best, I see that God has planned a bright, beautiful future for her and all I can think is how lucky and grateful I am to be part of it.