Time once felt like ketchup resisting movement from it’s glass bottle encasement. For instance, it took forever to reach the age of 13. FOREVER. By the time November 25, 1983 rolled around, I had long since given up on it ever arriving.
Now time feels like slick and skinned, parboiled peaches for canning handled with swollen, late-pregnancy hands; literally shooting away as I try to grasp at it. June 30, 2018 is coming for me, for us, and I cannot for the life of me, hold onto the moments between then and now.
In the midst of wrangling over the price of strawberries at the corner fruit wagon, weaving through traffic like salmon swimming upstream to get the kids to school, or catching a warm and genuine hug from a twelve-year-old who once rejected me for adopting him…it will hit me…time is moving at a pace inconceivable. My babies that I once wept over nursing from lack of sleep are independent, strong young women ready to advance the Kingdom through their own lives. Ages that I once thought “old” are well behind me and seem “young” to me now. People who are my age on television decorating shows look MIDDLE-AGED! Memories shared with family and friends are now 20, 30, and 40 years old! How did this happen?
Most of the time I’m far to busy to notice how quickly it’s gone. But today, I’m looking up and around me and I see the road I’ve traveled is getting longer.
Don’t think me too melancholy, though I am right in this moment. When these brief realizations catch up to me I have a choice. Do I sit in sorrow for what has passed? Or do I move on in gratitude? I choose gratitude.
I’ve long said that when I reach the end of my days, I want to fall into the grave exhausted, having saved nothing, but instead having spent everything I had lavishly on this life. I am grateful that I have had the grace to live that way and intend to do so in the seasons ahead.
June 30th brings with it a massive change in our lives. We know that the transition will be difficult. It will be messy. It will be fraught with stumbles and miscues. Yet, I will choose to gratitude. This life is racing along and every moment is a gift from the Father. “This is the day that the Lord has made, I WILL rejoice and be glad in it.”
Last evening we attended a conference meeting.
In short, I have a level of expectation about these events. Like the Sunday services of my childhood, where we always sang verses 1,2, & 4 of the hymn, omitting the equally poetic third stanza, to more-assuredly manage time. (I always felt a bit sheepish skipping that verse, that surely the hymn-writer would be crestfallen to know that his/her efforts for stanza three were an utter waste.) I was confident in my biased opinion that all such conference/church events, are predictable. Bearing that in mind, I had a nearly out-of-body experience last evening! The leader of our group stood up and gave a presentation about despair and discouragement. Not a speech aimed at the listener alone, but a surprisingly vulnerable message about his own life-struggles with those dark emotions. It wasn’t a gory tell-all, aimed at shocking us and sparking our interest, but a humbling unveiling that was done with palpable sincerity. A few times my husband and I resettled in our seats and gave each other raised-eyebrows glances as if to say, “this is REAL.”
The speaker then ended his talk by picking up a guitar and singing songs he’d written decades before about those besetting dark feelings. I will admit, I was squirming a bit in my chair as he prepared to sing. I could hardly imagine that a self-styled thirty-year-old song performed by a man not already acclaimed for his song-writing would be anything other than awkward for the audience. The voice was nice, the guitar played well, but the heart of what he sang…it reached a deep space within me that made me suddenly tender.
I came away considering my own life-long clumsy dance with vulnerability. I grew up with a strong “performance-based acceptance” ethic, and so revealing any unsavory sores carried on my soul was stultifying. Only in the past two to three years have I had the joy of surrounding myself with a group of girlfriends, our own version of a “Mutual Admiration Society,” in which we tell the truth about our stories and our current conditions. The security of those uncommon friendships brought on pangs of desire for more freedom…to be really known. When I first started engaging the practice of vulnerability with others, it was at once thrilling and horrifying. Chipping open the shellacked exterior of my “identity” to tell the truth about who I was, what I felt, where my ugly places were, was more difficult than reshaping my beloved Aqua Net bangs in 1986. But once I did it, I felt like an elephant got up off my chest and walked away. I felt so much lighter, I wanted to rush and find something else I could throw-off through a vulnerable conversation!
Perhaps three years ago if I’d heard my leaders talk I would have been unaffected. I am now someone who has chosen to tell the truth about me, and that new woman celebrates another soul who is doing the same! (I wanted to give him a standing ovation when he finished!) I was charmed, in the purest sense, by his story and his songs.
My life is speeding by. I no longer want to waste my relational capital on friends who measure me by my appearance, and I, theirs. To those of us who are embracing vulnerability, the unsavory and the joyful, we must press on!
Maybe I should pick up a guitar…
February 17, 2018
Tonight I find myself in Thailand…
…on a non-touristy stretch of beach clamoring with village dogs, washed-up jellyfish, and the occasional topless European.
For ten years we’ve wrestled our way here, collapsing at a sacred retreat center, to thaw and breathe.
During Chinese New Year, droves of cross-cultural workers come down to Thailand for their annual organizational conferences. This is due to the fact that nearly all of China takes 2-4 weeks off at this time of year. All productivity sputters out as the Chinese press onto overloaded trains and make their way to their hometowns. Some will ride 30+ hours on a train, without a seat, to reach their families. For most, even parents and their young children, they’ve been separated for 12 months.
Thailand is an inexpensive, tropical country that warmly welcomes the many conference attendees like us. Street food of spicy curries, savory pad Thai noodles, and mango sticky rice can feed a family as large as ours for about $35 a meal. The Thai people are friendly and beautiful. The beaches are unspoiled, and the morning and evening air is warm enough that sleeping in light pajamas feels like heaven.
Thailand is far more than a holiday destination for us; is a place of healing.
For our children, eight of whom are Chinese, our time here is the only respite from the daily barrage of questions and painful comments that they endure in China, “Where are your real parents?”, “I want to put my grandson in the boarding school with your private foreign-teachers!”, “Why did your parents get rid of you?”, and the unbelievable, “Is it because of your (insert visible special need here) that you’re with the foreigners?”
For Ezra, our eleventh child, his entire life in a wheelchair has been lived in China where the concept of wheelchair accessibility does not exist. His every desire is dependent on others.
Here our children can just be Hostetlers. No effort is needed to shade themselves from the burn of constant challenges to their identities. Here Ezra can go outside, go inside, go outside again, enjoy the sunshine, stare at the grass, or go get an ice cream from the freezer…he has the freedom of self-determination…and it is like Miracle-Gro for his soul. Here the oldest sisters, dad and I can relax our collective ninja-stance and be confident that no one is on the verge of wounding our tribe.
It takes a while to discharge that tension and dial down from fight or flight.
Oh, but when that golden time settles upon us, we SEE each other with clear eyes! We HEAR each other’s hearts. We FEEL the contentedness of being present, together. We begin to DREAM. We RECEIVE what the Lord is speaking into our lives. Our VISION and CALLING are shared and affirmed. We HEAL!
Next year we’ll be living in Seattle.
We’ll be in the land of wheelchair accessibility, politically correct conversations, and staggering volumes of choices daily that will strain the seams of our 24 hours. Though the thought of such conveniences and comforts awakens my saliva glands, I likewise taste a worrisome foreboding.
Gonna have to keep my boots on.
It’s been a few years since I penned my last post here. There were periods of time over years when I wrote there everyday. Especially as we picked up our family (then only numbering seven) and moved to China. Daily my brain and emotions were so thick with input that writing that blog helped me clean out the clogged filters. It allowed me to process and it forced me to think. As the household grew to 9..11…12…13 members, and as my everyday life in China became, well, an everyday thing, I slowly stopped writing.
Today I’m beginning again.
I’m venturing out again into the world of capturing thoughts, straining through my mental pea soup, and marinating in vulnerability through writing.
In full disclosure, the season ahead is forcing my hand. We’re about to mobilize our household of 13, leaving our host country and home of 10 years, to expand our vision and dreams in a new place.
A location at once foreign and familiar. A roost inviting and terrifying. A field full of promise and staggering expense.
Most of our children have never lived in America. Those who did, remember America as Disneyland and barbecues. Of course I look the part, as one who spent my first 37 years there, but I’ve changed so radically on the inside that my gut churns at night as I wonder if I will ever feel at home again.
How will our children transition? Will we find community? Will my marriage be strong enough? How will we afford to live there? Where will we rest our heads? Will our children suffer? Can we keep our family united and safe? A billion swirling questions besiege me and there are no answers from this vantage point.
Oh, we’ve got vision. We’ve got big dreams about expanding our ministry. We have Words spoken over us by brothers and sisters who are praying for us. We have faith.
So, with faith I am beginning again. I want to tell this story. It’s His story. He will reveal His goodness and faithfulness as we carry on. If I hide inside the unanswered questions and whisper in the caverns of fear and lack, then I rob Him of His glory when He shows off His brilliant compassion again.
So I invite you to journey with me on this adventure of expansion and faith.
Ours is a path of the daily miraculous.
Philippians 1:6 – being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.