Plastic Tubs of Memories

Basements have never been a part of my overseas homes so having one as part of my present rental feels extravagant.  A concrete floor, plastic draped ceiling and cement blocked walls make up the environment for the washer and dryer (another item I never had before), my bike, various gardening items and shovels, and a number of big plastic tubs.  These plain tubs are labeled with dates or words. They consist of memories from my six decades of life.  Other tangible memories can be found in my office’s filing cabinet, perhaps the most significant being letters I wrote by hand from overseas to my mother and are now in my possession.  Digital photos and emails are also floating around in cyberspace somewhere or stored on an external hard drive. But the tubs are the most obvious because they are tangible, labeled and rather organized.

I have downsized considerably over the years, so it amuses me to see the tubs and consider: That’s my life.   Baby Clothes (that looked like they were never used), Photos, Slides, Yearbooks, Journals, Diaries, Artwork, Report Cards, Diplomas,  Sympathy Cards, Birthday Cards, and more.

On-sale-at-Walmart plastic tubs with hand-written labels on equally cheap note paper.  Generally organized by years or categories.

But life isn’t like that.  And so, memories aren’t either. My life and memories don’t fit into organized plastic tubs with labels.

These summery days I hear the locusts screeching as the summer heat of the day cranks up and I’m transported to the hot days in northern China where the cicadas were so loud and shrill that they would practically hurt my ears.

The humid weather and bursts of rain from towering thunderheads remind me of the weather of Hong Kong and life with perspiration and typhoons and wet feet.

My backyard zinnias in the USA here are huge and thriving, and I am reminded of the pathetic zinnias I tried growing in a small plot of dry, poor soil in my one China apartment complex, and then the thrill I and the neighbors had when miniscule  flowers appeared on fragile, spindly stems.

When I go to buy fruit and vegetables at the farm stands nearby here I still struggle paying so much knowing that years ago I would pay a fraction of the cost for the same or similar produce overseas.

About a year ago I had a Chinese friend come for a visit, and in a trip to Canada next week I may be able to see a Chinese friend there.  My worlds merge and separate.

Memories fly from place to place, from year to year, from person to person, intertwining, backtracking, looking ahead, analyzing, comparing, and enjoying.  The memories don’t just stay in a box.  Perhaps it’s a reflection about how my mind work– how our brains are wired! A memory jumps to another, smells, sights and sounds activate a series of memories that race back and forth and trigger other memories and even create new ones.  It’s no wonder that my dreams are filled with a  combination of people and places and situations that could not possibly happen  in real life.

Plastic tubs of memories. 

I visualize how true memories could be stored–  tubs labeled by dates but then strings would link people, events, photos, journals found in the tubs. They could be strings of different colors perhaps symbolizing emotions or importance.  This tangled mess of colored strings emerging and entering plastic tubs would discourage any suggestion of organization, but perhaps then this would be the picture of what memories really are–all so intricately connected in very complicated ways, yet mysteriously beautiful and intriguing.

Three Years Back

Three years ago I was in the midst of packing and repacking bags as I came down to the last days of my China life. Thankfully I was able to leave many household items for the new resident of my apartment — an expatriate teacher who would need everything.  Nevertheless, my cherished house plants needed to find new homes, and I continued the emotional interactions of good-byes and last talks and meals with friends. My checklist shrank and grew as I would tick off a finished task but then add a new one.

Settling into life in the USA after decades overseas would be hard.  I knew it would be and was forewarned.  And I could make a quite a long list why it is so difficult and continues to be so.

But, today I thought, why don’t I reflect on, for lack of a better descriptor, the good things I have encountered these past three years back in the USA?  So, I will do my best to keep my naturally melancholy heart less vocal and my pessimistic thinking less obvious , and will not try to give into the temptation to add a cynical remark.

Family:   Within these last three years,  I have been at the bedside of my mother and now recently my sister when they gave their last breaths.  Many overseas workers don’t have that sacred honor of spending the last days and hours with a loved one on earth.

I also have had that deep joy of holding two  great nephews soon after their birth.  This delight I don’t take lightly as I am reminded that many years ago I had to wait over two years to meet their mother, my niece,  who I never held as a baby.  She didn’t come on time, so I had to board my plane without being able to see her as a newborn.  However, looking back, perhaps God knew it would have been harder for me to see her, hold her and then leave right away.

Nature:  Clean air and blue skies with the changing panorama of clouds, multitudes of flowers with every hue and shape, green woods full of trees and wildlife, streams that wind and water, and the rolling fields of corn, wheat and/or soybeans will always touch my soul in a deep way.   I now nurture my own flower garden outside, experimenting with species and colors, cursing the beetles and worms, and pleading for rain, and am awed how plants grow and flourish, bloom and die.  Houseplants sustain the green within my home and during the winter months,  they hint of hope for life ’til springtime.

Convenience:  I can drive around most of the time without much care of the weather.  My car is conveniently steps away from my apartment’s front door.  I have room in my car, trunk, and can fill it without thinking how I’m going to get it on my bike.  Shopping carts are available, and I can push the cart right to my car and unload.  When driving, I can expect most people to follow the laws.

I can make an appointment by phone call for the doctor, dentist, beautician, and am expected to be there.  I can get service at a bank or the post office or grocery store after lining up, and many places will even up another line/cash register/window to keep people from waiting.

I blend in quite well around here, so I actually seem quite invisible.

I am expected to pay the price of the item or produce at the farm market as labeled.

Different Worldview:  I have a different outlook on life that has been shaped from living as a foreigner in a different culture.   I know what it’s like to be a minority.  I have a belief system that has been become more sensitive and attuned to what real truth is based on what God’s Word –the Bible– says and not only what my upbringing and culture has taught me.

And as I writing this, I’m realizing, the list may not end.   These past three years have been HARD but there has been a lot of GOOD, a lot of GOOD.  And I smile.

 

 

Sitting Among Pots of Meat

“There we sat around pots of meat and ate all the food we wanted . . .”

What?? You have to be kidding.  But that’s what they said.  The whole community of Israelites had just left Egypt where they were slaves.  God sent Moses to lead His people out of captivity and eventually to Canaan– “The Promised Land.”  He used ten supernatural plagues to show His power and to convince, or rather force,  Pharaoh to let His people go.  God also miraculously parted a huge body of water to allow His people to flee from Pharaoh’s army, and then destroyed that army with the same water.  Anyone familiar with the Bible know of these stories.  The people then sang, danced and praised God for his power and deliverance from their enemies.

But 2 1/2 months after these events the people are complaining that they have nothing to eat in the desert and they wished they had died in Egypt.  And they actually recalled that they sat around pots of meat and ate all the food they wanted in that land.

Did they forget they were slaves?

They actually sat around? What slaves would have the time or freedom to sit around?  In fact, the Pharaoh thought they were lazy when they talked of worshipping their God and then increased their workload.

They had pots of meat? I may be wrong but I’m guessing in ancient times, only the wealthy could afford large portions of meat.   Poor people may be able to afford a little meat and maybe only for special occasions.  But slaves?  The ones on the bottom of the social ladder?  I can’t imagine they tasted much meat at all.

And they ate all the food they wanted?  I doubt that. I just don’t think they had a lot of food.  Or owned much of anything. They were slaves!

So why did they say this? I’ve been thinking about it and wondering. . .  is it because their former life seemed so much easier than what they were facing now?  Perhaps they forgot that they did not have meat and unlimited food.  But they did have stability, security, predictability in many ways.

They probably had a roof over their heads, and every day was a long work day with maybe a few breaks for rest and nourishment if they were fortunate.  They knew the routine.  They knew the people around them.  They knew it would be like this for the rest of their lives.  It was the life of a slave. It was predictable.

But now they were no longer slaves.  They were free!  And they had a new life. But they weren’t so sure it was a better life.

It was an unknown life.  With an unknown future.

They saw incredible miracles and yet they didn’t really know this God who sent all kinds of plagues on their enemies, killed babies and soldiers, and provided a dry path in the middle of the sea and deliverance from slavery.

He was leading them by a pillar of fire at night and a cloud by day. And the human leaders, actually two brothers,  that this God had picked out, seemed very unsuitable and had questionable backgrounds. Moses was not eloquent, was easily angered and as a youth he was a prince, then an exiled murderer, and finally  ended up for decades as a shepherd among foreigners.

And now here they were all in the middle of desert with no water, food and an unknown destination.

All at once, the life they knew of a slave morphed into an imaginary pampered life they had never experienced.  It seemed so much better than the present.

And it seemed so much easier than this life of unknown they were now facing.

And it seemed simpler than trying to have faith in a God they didn’t really know and were afraid to know.

I shake my head in amazement and puzzlement.  Yet I stop and think.  Wait, a minute,  I, too, do the same.  I would rather stay in a place or situation I know, or long for the past or the life I once knew, then to move on in faith.  It’s human to feel that way. But the fact is, my past life is gone. And it is not as perfect or painless as I may remember.  And so I must realize that God wishes for me to move ahead in faith, a step at a time, and to know and experience Him in deeper and different ways than before.  And not to complain or dwell in the past that never really happened. I can’t say it’s easy, but then who said life would be easy?

 

Contented and Thankful–Memories Past

My first Thanksgiving away from family. Wearing summery clothing, the tropical air surrounded me as I sat on the floor with a plate full of traditional food in front of me–turkey, dressing, mashed potatoes,– the whole works. The table was not big enough for all of us so I made my chair my table as did some of the others.  I was surrounded by new friends and living in a new world totally different from what I had ever experienced. It was the first of countless holidays that would be different from what I grew up with.  I had signed up to teach in a small Christian school on the island of Puerto Rico after graduating from college in 1980. One of the teacher’s family lived in the capital and had us over for Thanksgiving. Sitting in front of my feast and tasting many familiar foods  I felt content.  I missed being with my family but I realized my colleagues also missed their families and somehow that soothed our hearts and bonded us together.  We decided to accept each others’ friendships (and food) that day as beautiful substitutes which would create new holiday memories.  We ate, laughed and talked.  No, we could not tell stories from past celebrations which we never shared, but we could talk of the present and… enjoy and be content with that.

Never again did I share a Thanksgiving with those same people but that day began a list of  many unique and special holidays which followed…

–My last Thanksgiving as a family, before I headed to Asia in 1983.  It was an early Christmas for me too at my brother and his wife’s first home.  But also it turned out to be the last time our whole family was all together before our parents divorced and thanksgivingbegan separate lives.

–Thanksgiving celebrations in Hong Kong with teammates making delicious dinners in tiny kitchens with even tinier toaster size ovens and large Chinese woks.   Also the fun of sharing American traditional Thanksgiving foods with local Chinese friends who would bravely taste the new foods.   Mashed potatoes were always a great hit.

Then as I headed to Mainland China the celebrations continued.  Finding the right foods we cherished for our American  Thanksgiving meals even in the capital during the early ’90s was one of many challenges.  When they were found and not too costly, transporting the goods without a car became quite an adventure. Bikes were the most common transportation mode those days since buses were often too crowded and taxis were hard to find. Small kitchens provided both amusement and frustration as we would juggle a limited assortment of pots and pans on one or two burner stoves and in toaster ovens, all the time fearing the fuse would blow or the electric wires and sockets would melt.

But oh the fun!   The meals those days were more international and creative.  We Americans got to introduce one of our favorite holidays with other expatriates.  An early one I remember while living in a filthy dorm for foreign students was spearheaded by an Aussie couple who wanted to make a traditional American Thanksgiving. (The husband enjoyed cooking!).  Others joined in and we had a wonderful meal but I’m thinking we must have had chicken instead of turkey.   The next year or so as a teacher I joined other foreign friends for a huge potluck meal in a small apartment.  That one included chicken from a western restaurant that had recently opened  as well as all kinds of hot dishes and desserts — some locally bought, others shared from care packages sent from the States.  (I remember sharing about Thanksgiving with my Chinese students then but I don’t remember sharing food with them at that time; Christmas cookie making was an easier tradition to do with them.)

There was also another well-remembered Thanksgiving celebration shared  with a Finnish-Dutch couple and an Chinese-Australian lady.  Another American gal and I figured out how to make two stuffed chickens with our little ovens. I can still remember vividly the two of us standing in front of a table with a cookbook opened for directions  (years before Google), two small raw chickens in front of us and  then realizing we didn’t have a string or thick thread to sew up the chickens after stuffing them.   We refused to waste our precious dental floss (probably impossible to buy there at that time), so instead my friend went to the front desk of the building (housing for foreigners on campus)  and got some string from the gal in charge.  Neither of us had ever done anything like this before and were delighted that some time later the chickens turned out cooked and delicious from our little ovens.  Also for that meal we could not decide what pies to make.  Her husband loved all kinds of pies.  So we ended up with: pecan, pseudo-pumpkin, coconut cream, chocolate cream, banana cream, and apple.  I made the apple and pumpkin pie (out of sweet potatoes) and she did the rest with ingredients she had gathered or had been given.  I think we all felt a bit guilty with all the desserts  (basically a pie a person),  but it was a memory we will always have… and never repeat.

Not all Thanksgivings overseas were great. I remember living in one city when Thanksgiving was approaching and having no invitation for dinner that evening.  And I was not new and also there were a lot of Americans around. Perhaps an oversight of others but still it was really hard.  I’d rather not think about it but it has made me more aware of those who may not have a place to go on Thanksgiving.

So now I’m back in the USA and I have had a place to go these last three years.  My sister-in-law’s family has invited me over and I have enjoyed a truly delicious traditional meal– American all the way.  There’s even the Macy’s Parade on TV and American football.  So even though I miss the international atmosphere, the mixture of various backgrounds and unshared histories and  even the adventure of finding foods  and making them (although for me personally to make a turkey would be quite challenging),  I  am learning that even here and now God wants me to be thankful and content. And I am.  But I can’t help but think about what future Thanksgivings may be like.

Labels

English-speaking, wealthy and… promiscuous — labels attached to me as a Caucasian American living and working in China.  True I spoke English and even have a degree in teaching English but I didn’t enjoy strangers shouting “Hello” to me or inquiring if I had time to teach their child on the weekends. Yet I did enjoy interacting with my English students and helping friends with their English (sometimes).  But I was also comfortable in speaking Chinese with those who weren’t my students. Wealthy?  Well, compared to many of the poor who lived in poverty, as farmers in the countryside or migrants in the city, yes, I was rich.  However,  as more and more folk around me began to make more money over the years, their evident assets were quite in contrast to mine.  I wrote bike and they had cars.  I rented, they bought apartments.  I looked for nice but cheap clothes, they wanted brand names.   Promiscuous?  No, not me at all.  But American movies and TV, enthusiastically watched over the years by those in my adopted land, promoted the erroneous idea that “all” American women had and enjoyed affairs and would go to bed with anyone. Also, being single may have had further supported this wrong thinking.  Far from being any kind of beauty and even as I got older, I would encounter advances– both subtle ones and not so subtle ones.

After returning to the USA I realize that there are labels here too.  Perhaps I wasn’t as aware of them decades ago when I first left for overseas.  But now I am getting more settled here … and more aware.

My last name labels me.  Stauffer.  It’s a very common Lancaster County name so locals here will invariably try to figure out what Stauffer I am related to.  (By the way, I am not related to the Stauffer’s of Kissel Hill.)  Truth be told I’m as much of an outsider as those moving into the county or even more so since I lived most of my adult life overseas.

Being single is another kind of label.  This area is very family focused so to not have children or grandchildren for some locals is hard to imagine, and it’s difficult for some (not all!)  folk to find other topics to talk about.

And the label list continues.

During this messy election year I look again at the labels and stereotypes I myself have attached to our major political parties as I grew up: Republicans — conservative, pro-life, small government (and do I dare say, evangelical Christian?!).   Democrats — the opposite.   But to me personally, the lines are muddled now.  I see and analyze and question.   I am  definitely pro-life but do I, or do the Republican politicians do enough to help those who want abortions?  Are we actually doing something about the root causes of these baby deaths rather than just voicing how terrible they are?  Are we doing something to help the poor, the drug addicts, the helpless who may not see a way out of an unwanted pregnancy?  Are we doing anything?

Labels.

I call myself a Jesus-follower.  Another label.  Saying I’m a Christian is true but so many others use that label and really don’t know what it means.  Some say they’re a Christian because they go to church once in a while and they’re not a Muslim, Hindu, or Buddhist. Or maybe they were baptized as an infant or their parents were Christian. They believe there is a God but have no real personal relationship with Him.

I want to be a true Jesus-follower.  He cared for the poor, the sick, the unlovely, the foreigner, the minority, the ones living on the fringes of society.  He condemned those who wrapped themselves in religious piety and didn’t live the words they eloquently spoke.   He followed His Father’s will and wasn’t influenced by those around Him who were of a culture twisted by pride and evil.

And so my heart cry is … May I be given a label that reflects Jesus, and nothing or no one else.

 

Funnel Cakes and Waffle Cones

The smell of frying oil (grease) greeted my nose as soon as I walked onto Main Street.   Colorful stalls of food and games lined the street as people began looking for their favorite fair food or game.  The Ephrata Fair had begun!   Just down the hill and only a few minutes from my home this annual event, labeled “the largest street fair in Pennsylvania,”  has been around for almost a century.  Apparently it has quite the history yet memories of past fairs I attended are what make me smile.

As I child I went with my mom and siblings and remember…

  • Ferris wheel rides that seemed so high and terrifying as we rose up to the heights of neighboring buildings; I still wonder if the single bar clasped in front of us as we sat on the rocking seat would keep us from sliding out
  • merry-go-round rides when I would unleash my imagination allowing me to believe I was riding a real horse for a few minutes as I went up and down and around
  • kiddy rides that included mini-roller coasters, spinning tea cups and helicopters
  • oh, and the food– greasy and good– hamburgers, hotdogs and waffle cones

And the parade on Wednesday night! I can’t remember the first parade I saw but I believe I was quite young and I can still relive the excitement of hearing the drums approaching and knowing it was soon to begin.  I remembered how I longed to be part of the parade– feeling special and pretty sitting on a float smiling and waving at everyone, or marching in cute outfits and smart boots twirling a baton or flag to the beat of the music.

img_20160921_112619Living and working overseas for most of the last three decades I have missed many parades and fairs. However, not too many years ago I was still around and decided to go see some of the exhibits.  I was rather impressed with the skills shown in the crafts especially since I generally do not enjoy doing crafts at all.  I thought I would get a quick lunch and head home before the crowds came. However I found out that the food stalls don’t start up til closer to noon. In fact the “midway” was very quiet.  But soon the grills began warming up and the grease began getting hot once more.  Some folk say that’s the best part of the fair– the delicious (greasy) food.  And for sure there is quite the assortment of fried items available!  Yet others say they just enjoy walking the midway and running into friends they hadn’t seen since the year before.

Memories.  And perhaps I’ll have to make new fair memories for the years ahead.  I’ll have to work on that. But as I do I have a fair-related memory that still amuses me which occurred in my early years living overseas (early 80’s).   Smells have a way of triggering memories and emotions deeply embedded in our brains and that’s what happened one autumn evening walking in an underground subway station after getting off a train in Hong Kong. I was approaching the exit that led to the street above where vendors sold various snacks.   A cool breeze brought the smell of frying oil down below and into my nostrils and for a split second my mind raced to identify that smell. Then it came.  I was back at the Ephrata fair with the crowds, noise and smells.  My heart sighed a bit as I thought of family and friends and my home area.

And now I’m back to my roots thinking of the fair down the hill and figuring out how to make new fair memories… yet cherishing memories of life, friends…and food from my overseas world.

 

China in my Home

My chair rocked back and forth.  A young couple with a backpack and phones sat in their rocking chairs nearby busy connecting with someone somewhere.  Rays of the setting sun streamed through the windows above me.  Next to me the security checkpoint was closed and below me down the escalators on the first floor, check-in counters and kiosks were dark and silent.  It wasn’t that late but this was a small airport.  And my favorite one.  The Harrisburg International Airport.

I reflected on the countless times over the past decades my family sat on these chairs waiting for me.  No matter what time of day or night they came to pick me up.  Hugs and smiles greeted me and helping hands accompanied me to the baggage claim area.  But there were also memories of good-byes. In this same area I would also give and receive the final hugs and tears as I began my long journey back to China.  This venue marked my travels back and forth, beginning and endings of life chapters marked by geography and time.

But now I’m in a different chapter of my life.  And for the first time, I am waiting for someone while sitting on the rocking chair at this airport. I’m watching and then I see an Asian face behind an older couple walking through the doorway.   I did not recognize her at first.   We had both been teachers at the same university and I had said good-bye to her two years ago.  Already she was in the midst of her doctorate work and had spent the last year in California working on her doctorate thesis.    She seemed so much more slender and petite than what I remembered. (Only later did I realize that I had become accustomed to the larger statures of Americans around me and no longer used to being in crowds of Chinese).

A Chinese friend had come. A taste of China.  China in my home.   Chinese words– heard and spoken face to face  (although I was very rusty and her English was better than my Chinese).   A person from my life abroad,  from my adopted country living in my place for a few days.

I could write about so many things and perhaps I’ll write more some day but I think one of the most amusing aspects was how I was expecting her to like certain things and how wrong I was.  I thought I had the Chinese figured out–but  I had stereotyped her the same way I would get stereotyped in China!   So I loved the surprises and embraced the realization I still have a lot to learn about China and the Chinese people.

Here were some interesting discoveries:

  • She did not want rice every day or hot cooked food every meal– actually we didn’t have ANY rice
  • She liked my home-made baked oatmeal– even cold out of the refrig;  drank iced coffee all day;  loved fresh lettuce–  even eating it plain leaf by leaf with her hand
  • She was aware of gluten and was avoiding a lot of wheat things because they seemed to cause her headaches
  • She loved the Re-Uzit shop ( a second-hand store in nearby New Holland)– there she bought a few Christmas hot pads and mats (made in China!) that she thought were so pretty
  • YaYaShe took a shower in the morning and not at night (like most Chinese do)
  • She was deeply moved by the contemporary worship music at my small church even though she is not a Christian and never attended a service before

But some things I wasn’t totally surprised:

  • She brought her own bath towel– which actually I should have thought of and told her she didn’t need to do that
  • She totally loved Ethan– my great-nephew who is of course a fun and lovable toddler
  • She liked sweet corn which is so much sweeter than China’s corn and thought red beet eggs were good and whoopie pies were also good but too sweet
  • She truly enjoyed the countryside, Amish, buggies,  farms, farm markets, trees, etc.
  • She gave me a number of gifts including beautiful scarves which she knew I love
  • She helped with food preparation and  washing dishes and insisted on paying for a few things on our last day together
  • She made sure I got my rest and reminded me not to drive fast going home from the airport
  • She used her phone often to take pictures and share through social media, and of course we also shared photos through our phones (via Wi-Fi)  while  sitting at the table

She was my first Chinese visitor and I trust many will follow her. She made my heart happy with her Chinese presence and friendship, but also she made my heart ache for other Chinese friends I have not seen for over two years.  I wonder if I would recognize them. I wonder too if I would think I  have them figured out and then be surprised in a fun way.

How soon again will I be back on a rocking chair at HIA waiting and remembering and anticipating?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Gluing is Not My Thing

Copper colored bottles of craft glue sat strategically on tops of  folding tables.  Clusters of smaller bottles with cheerful glitter and beads also sat inches away from the bigger bottles. Sheets of every color of the rainbow stood in a neat stack a hand length away and smaller pages of flowery and wordy stickers laid happily about.

Crafts.  Anywhere, anytime, anyone.  Schools, churches, nursing facilities,  children’s clubs, women gatherings.  Any month or day but most prolific during the holidays.  And often connected with women.  It’s almost a given– if there’s any kind of a women get-together, there has to be some kind of craft.  Why?  Because everyone likes to make something. Right?

Sure, most women seem to like making some kind of craft.

But surely there are others like me who really don’t. We’re pretty much the silent minority and have to tolerate craft-time unless we can find an acceptable alternative (like cleaning up something).  I don’t like to glue. I don’t like fumbling with little objects and putting them on something else.  I personally wonder at times what I would do with the finished product anyway, yet I know for many that is not an issue at all and they’ll find a home for it somehow, somewhere. Perhaps just doing it is the fun part.

IMG_20160506_164457

It’s wonderful so many like crafts (and it’s great for craft businesses too). I’m somewhat in awe of those who really seem to get absorbed into making a craft or of those who can spend hours in a craft store. Stepping inside the door can trigger a flight response within me.

I am not totally ignorant of crafts (although I must say the variety found in the USA probably makes me appear that way as well as my general lack of involvement in doing crafts).

My mother spent a lot of time at her sewing machine. She made amazing quilts, crafts and clothing.   She knew how to put patches together using remnants of cloth and then pinned it to a big wooden frame that filled the basement of our childhood home .  But I never learned how to quilt. I really wasn’t interested in learning nor had the patience.

I did try various crafts.  I sewed clothes because I wanted new clothing. I did try knitting and even cross-stitching and  embroidery.  But I did not enjoy it and the push and stress to get it finished correctly zapped any sense of fun.

But the appreciation of beauty and art and music began at a young age and continues today .   Every aspect of life hints or explodes with color and variety: a new box of crayons untouched and in rainbow order;  store shelves with colored towels or bolts of material stacked according to hues or designs; fresh fruit and vegetables placed in eye-catching piles; flower gardens–both the manicured ones and the messy ones– and contoured farm land; mountains; wildlife; quilts and all kinds of  handmade items; paintings and drawings; interior decorating; dishes and plates of food; literary works; great music; drama; dance… and the list goes on and on.

I personally have always enjoyed drawing and sketching– even drawing and writing about horses when I was a horse crazy kid. More recently I’ve been experimenting with water-color pencils. I love the surprises of color they bring with water and a brush.  I draw. I don’t glue.   And I’m trying to write more too as well as have fun with flowers and photography. I will never be a master of anything but I can enjoy these things and perhaps delight others or encourage others to try new creative hobbies.

So where am I going with all of this?  Crafts aren’t for everyone but yet I’m sure many folk can create in different ways and are creating items of beauty that they may not even be aware of. I believe there are some ladies who really do not want to hold a glue gun or pick up a bead, but would rather play and experiment with words, musical notes, spices, a new exercise or dance movement, or something else?

Am I right?

 

 

 

Grief and Hope

Unexplainable … And almost uncontrollable.
Sometimes it happens. And you are not prepared.
In a microsecond,  memories deeply embedded in your heart are touched,
And the emotional strands of joy, sadness, grief and longing intermingle and engulf you.

All at one time.
And you want to stop and sob.

It happens.
And it happened the other day to me.

I was walking the path at a nearby wildlife management area where I love to frequent.
It’s the time of year of the massive yearly bird migration—snow geese, tundra swan and Canada geese stop by the large man-made lake on their journey north.
Bird watchers and nature lovers also gather every spring to watch them.
I chose a weekday, parked my car and began the short pleasant walk out to the viewing area. Earlier bird-watchers were already walking the path, as the pleasant honks of the waterfowl and the more melodious twitters of other wild birds floated through the air.
Quiet
Warm
Peaceful
As I walked by the stretch of an open meadow, a soft breeze drifted over the warming earth and the fragrant smell of fresh spring ground touched my nostrils.

Then it happened.
And emotions exploded within.
Thankfully no one was near me and my sunglasses hid the tears welling up in my eyes.
A strong sense of sadness, hope, peace, and ache filled my heart.
I just wanted to sit and sob.
But didn’t know why.
I quickly controlled my emotions as I walked, yet baffled by what I was feeling.

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The mixed emotions seem to stem from a variety of memories flooding my mind.  Emotions of a wide spectrum ranged from grief to hope.The smell had reached into the deepest hidden recesses of my memory banks.
The smell of fresh warm ground– missed so much over the decades living in Asian cities brought forth a sense of longing and homesickness even though I could now enjoy this smell every spring.

There was also a pleasant connection between farming and childhood days. Times of fun and games. I didn’t grow up on a farm but my parents did and most of my relatives were farmers, so many childhood memories include playing with cousins on their farms.  And there was also a field and farm right behind our backyard growing up. As children we would sled down through the field and hide in corn shocks.

For me, the earthy smell is also forever linked to spring announcing that winter is gone and the earth is warming up with life and creatures and plants. It announces the entrance of hope and life.  My heart soars as the season takes off and sighs with happiness that now every year I can enjoy the smells, flowers, fresh air, and wonder of Lancaster County’s spring.

However connected with the smell is a reminder of spring a year ago– the last season I spent time with with my mother here on earth.  At that time, I drove back and forth between my home and her home, and saw spring come forth in all its beauty.  At home I would work the ground and plant flowers releasing pent-up emotions before I would go back to sit with her or feed her.  The smell of the spring ground soothed my heart but also reminded me of her work in her garden and flower beds years ago.

The smell and place also reminded me of last year when I came for the first time to observe the tens of thousands migrating water fowl. Even though I had known of the place and the phenomena, I had never witnessed it before.  My heart was deeply touched.  I was reminded I would not be flying anywhere back to any place like the birds:   I had moved back to the USA and I was grieving.

Yet the smell also brought hope.

That healing, life, joy are still happening. And yes contentment and hope do exist.

And in the midst of tears, a deep realization that this is life. And that grief and hope can exist together.  And this God allows. 

Not a life absent of grief or sadness but a life that allows hope to exist with grief.  And that tears and laughter can happen at the same time.

“It Came to Pass”… a Time Warp

I was just reading along in Genesis using a version I normally don’t use– the NKJV and the phrase “And it came to pass” jumped out at me. But when I looked a bit closer I was surprised to discover that the time frame in that particular section had to cover a number of years. Why? Because there was one baby born after another.  Then I  saw in  another passage that “it came to pass” referred to only a few days.  My mind then began to jump around to other Biblical passages that were about people and events involving time, but various spans of time.

I was reminded that my concept of what time and how I think events should line up aren’t the same as God’s. When I look at God’s timing through my own human perspective, there seems to be serious time warp.

For example, one of my favorite Old Testament characters, Joseph was sold into slavery by his brothers, falsely accused of rape, imprisoned, forgotten, but then miraculously rose to power to become a leader of Egypt after interpreting pharaoh’s dream. Eventually he was reunited with his family and actually provided food and shelter for them.  But there are years, even decades between some of these major events in his life. However when I read the passages, verses flowed into verses and a brief statement or two could actually be covering years. What happened during those years? Those months? Those days?

And then there was Moses:  an adopted son of royalty who became a murderer and fugitive. For forty years, FORTY years, he’s a shepherd, herding sheep and raising a family, until God met him through a burning bush and had him lead his people from slavery. But FORTY years?! What did he do all those years? What did he think about? The Bible doesn’t say anything. Yet that is one significant stretch of time.

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Somehow I don’t want to think of the time needed for things to happen.  I want events to come to pass… quickly.  Maybe in a day, …well, maybe a week.  I  expect a reply to a  text message or email right away.  I also hate wasting time  or waiting around with nothing to do when I know there are things that need to be done or should be done.

Even in the New Testament I see that Paul did not start his preaching right away.  Wouldn’t it have been sensational or the “natural thing” to do?  I mean here we have Paul, persecutor of Jesus’ followers to becoming a follower himself, just like that! This day and age he would have had already a massive following through social media.  Nope, instead he spent three years … in Arabia!  (Gal 1:18). Why?  Again no clear answers given in the Bible.

A different time frame, time line, agenda than what I would come up with.

I think what’s hitting me as I dwell on this is that I’m having a hard time (no pun intended) with God’s time line for me.  I had thought I would be doing all these wonderful “ministries” after returning to the USA. And I’m not.  I feel like I have so much to offer and so much to give.  Yet who is seeking me out? I have inquired. I have asked. I have pursued.  And I found out rather quickly that there are ministries all around that I could get involved in; however, they wouldn’t be able to meet my growing financial support needs.

So what I’m doing is not what I thought I would be doing… working three part-time “jobs” one of which I would never have imagined doing a few years ago.

My plan or dream  is not happening. It’s not coming to pass.

Yet, that’s my problem.  It’s not a time warp problem.  It’s me– my perception of time.  My thinking. And I’m already realizing that my thinking has some major issues. It’s not only me coming to grips with timing but also what I think I should be doing.  So maybe  the “it” that I hope to come to pass needs some changing as well as my understanding of the passage of time.

So I come once again to God and look and wait on Him… so that “it will come to pass”… whatever that is… and whenever. He knows. And it may never happen the way or timing I had thought.