March 22, 2018

The Dog


For almost our entire time in Indonesia, we’ve had a dog. It started out for security reasons.  When we first arrived in Tarakan, we were shown around our house then handed a puppy.  “Here’s your dog,” we were told.  A bit baffled – not having requested a dog – we took it and in time grew to love Sydney.
Carter and Sydney, aka "Christmas Dinner"

Sydney, unfortunately, was not very bright.  The whole point of a dog was to provide security, but instead she barked at us and wagged her tail at strangers.

So we weren’t too sad when – through a misunderstanding – Sydney was eaten one Christmas. Which is a whole other story.

Our next dog, Sandy, was an improvement.  She was a wonderful guard dog, and even alerted us to snakes and other critters in the yard.  She was great with the kids, and gave us puppies when we forgot to give her birth control (one of the weirdest moments of my life – me, about seven months pregnant, at the apotik, buying birth control pills and trying to convince the gal behind the counter they were for the dog).


Good ol' Sandy (photo by Tripp Flythe)


Sandy grew a little snippy over the years so when we left Tarakan in 2011, no one really wanted her, so some friends of ours helped put her to sleep.

When we left Tarakan and moved to Papua, I swore off all mammals.  I was done. I was done with the smell, the hair, the making of the dog food (rice mixed with sardines – yuck), the barking, etc.

Then an email went out that the local vet had a litter of beagle/golden retriever mix puppies available for purchase.  The kids begged.  I said we’d go look.  I wonder how many people have ended up with a dog after just going “for a look”?
The most beagle-looking one in the bunch captured the kids’ hearts.  The vote was 5-1.  Guess who dissented? Charley was ours.

It's a good thing he was so cute.

I will admit, he was a very cute puppy.  “I almost can’t handle the cuteness!” one of the kids exclaimed.  But then there was the puppy-training, the whining, the messes.  And the bigger he grew, the more the beagle in him came out.  He was a master of escape.  Our yard is fairly large with lots of fence to escape through. It became a two-year project to get our fence escape-proof. I about lost my mind in the process.

"What, me escape?" -- Note barbed wire on bottom of fence. 

Because of his constant escapades out of our yard, everyone on Pos 7 knows him by name. The neighborhood kids love him.  Sometimes we let kids come in the yard to play with him.  Once we saw a little boy bury his face into Charley’s back while hugging him, saying, “Oh, you make me so happy!”

It’s not like there’s a shortage of dogs for these kids to love on.  There are kampung mutts all over the place, but they’re always scurrying around with their tails tucked between their mangy legs, casting furtive glances, and yelping at all hours.  They live a hardscrabble life.  They don’t exactly invite play and affection.

I think that is Charley’s appeal.  He’s happy-go-lucky – doesn’t have to scrap for food, doesn’t have to fight off would-be rivals.  He can afford to be friendly and lovable.  He’s never met a stranger.  As a guard dog, he’s not worth much.  He’s just a presence.  He just loves people too much to be a threat. Maybe there’s a lesson there for us.

The kids have about a dozen nicknames for him, including Charles, Beaglicious, the Sleek One, Pharaoh, Charley Chumbles, Chumb, and their favorite, the Beag.

I admit, he’s grown on me over the years.  We take regular walks around the neighborhood, or I should say we go out for regular sessions of Charley pulling me up and down Pos 7.  He is always my buddy anytime I’m out in the yard. Every now and then, the kids catch me petting him and they say, “See! You do love him!”

As our time in Indonesia draws to a close, I’ve been contemplating all the goodbyes we’ll be saying.  I would not have said this a few years ago, but I’m saying it now: I am going to have a hard time saying goodbye to Charley.

March 12, 2018

Sniff the Butter


This past week I helped watch my friends’ four kids while she and her husband were on a getaway to Bali. One morning I had the three-year-old with me and we ran into a store to buy some vegetables before we had to do kindergarten pickup.

I was just hoping for some carrots or maybe some green beans, but on this auspicious day, the store happened to have broccoli, which is quite a treat here.  I was in a hurry, and the broccoli – individually wrapped in plastic wrap – looked decent enough (i.e. no visible bugs and not too much mold) so I grabbed four and checked out.

When we got to school to pick up the kindergarten boys who live on Pos 7, I noticed the car was starting to smell weird.  The boys confirmed it for me when they hopped in the car.

“Ew, what’s that stinky smell?” one exclaimed, pinching his nose.

I glanced to the back of the car, where my groceries were, hoping it wasn't the broccoli I just bought.  “Ah, who knows.  We’ll just ride with the windows down.”

“But – but – there might be drunks!” one boy protested.  Our neighborhood is known for drunks and even our kids know the "windows-up" protocol for driving up our road.

“It’ll be ok,” I assured him. “I just came from Pos 7 and there were no drunks out today.”

When I got home and finally dealt with the groceries, the first broccoli I unwrapped released a terrible rotten smell into the kitchen.  Into the pig bucket it went.

‘Maybe it was just that one,’ I thought hopefully, gingerly opening the next one.  Nope, all four stalks were rotten – they looked fine on the outside but were positively nasty once opened.

I related this story to some friends this past weekend and they laughed and commiserated with me and we started to share rotten food stories.  One friend had just bought some cream cheese that was all crumbly – if cream cheese is frozen this is what happens.  Another friend recently had a UHT box of milk explode on her at home, just after buying it from the store.

You never know what you'll find in the grocery store


We shared all the things we have to do at a grocery store. Sniff the butter (recently David and I were at a store and saw a friend by the refrigerator - David sidled up to me and said, 'Did you see her? She was surreptitiously smelling the butter.' I shrugged. 'What's the big deal? How else will you know if it's good?'). Squeeze the flour to make sure it’s not got a hole in the bag (that means bugs). Make sure something is still vacuum packed if it’s supposed to be. Squeeze fruits and vegetables for freshness. 


We learn these things the hard way. Some things we can catch before we buy them. Others are truly a gamble – like meat.  Once I bought ground beef that smelled like a donkey when I cooked it up. 

But we soldier on – because, well, we gotta eat.  And we laugh, too. And we don’t judge each other when we see one another sniffing butter at the store. 



March 04, 2018

No Graven Image, and other books


I love to read, and last year I read some great books.  If you know me in real life, you probably heard me go on and on (and on and on) about whatever my current read was. Sorry about that.  I’m sure I drove my family nuts last year talking about the books I was reading, especially The Last Great Walk about the decline of pedestrianism and Mayflower about early settlers in America.

One of the more thought-provoking books I read, and one worth mentioning here, especially for global workers and anyone working cross-culturally, is Elisabeth Eliot’s No Graven Image, her only work of fiction. A friend told me about it, and that it was not well received.  A book by Eliot, whose writing I love, not well received? I had to read it and understand why.

No Graven Image, published in 1966, is set in the Ecuadorian Andes Mountains and tells the story of Margaret Spearhawk, an idealistic young woman embarking on her career as a missionary to a group of Quichua Indians.  As her story unfolds, she is forced to reconcile her preconceived ideas of what missionary life would be like with the mundane and sometimes tragic reality she faces in Ecuador. 

As I read the book I thought about the title, a reference to one of the Ten Commandments, and wondered what the “graven image” would be? Something that the Quichua worshiped? Turns out (spoiler alert), it was Margaret’s own presumptions about mission work and how she viewed the people she came to serve. 

Margaret has some interaction with an older missionary woman who challenges her thinking on what it means to serve God overseas.  What if you don’t see the results you were hoping to see?  Can you still call your work ‘good’? What about how you view the people you are serving?  Do you see them as people, or as your project?

At one point this older woman says to Margaret: “Gradually I came to see that the results which can be called good are few.  And they cannot be the criterion for whether or not what we do is worthwhile.  It is hopeless to try to weigh up the good, the bad, the futile, and the merely harmless, and hope there will be enough of the good…to justify all the rest…Jesus told us to do what is true. I think the truth needs no justification, no defense.”

I haven’t been able to find much background on the writing of this novel, but I imagine it was inspired by Elliot’s own experiences in Ecuador.  I wonder if she remembers herself as being idealistic like Margaret, and the older woman is perhaps herself as an older, more seasoned missionary.

Eventually Margaret comes to the point when she says: “The Indians had become people to me – they were no longer my ‘field.’ While I had once declared them to be my equals, I now regarded myself as theirs. Instead of saying, ‘Oh, you are as good as I – let me help you,’ I now said, ‘I am as poor as you. God help us all.”

I remember being brand spanking new in language school, in Bandung.  The first Lord of the Rings movie had just come to the local theater, so David and I went. There was quite the crowd there, and not much of a line, more of a mass of bodies crowding the ticket counter.  At this point in our overseas life, I was not terribly familiar with how Indonesians queue.  I was very much in “go with the flow” mode, trying not to do anything too terribly stupid or culturally inappropriate.  We stood near the back of the mob/line, and near us was another expat couple I recognized from language school.  The woman was all in a huff, and kept gesticulating at the crowd.  At one point I could hear her say, “We’re never going to get in because of these people!” This woman – who had left her home country to come serve in Indonesia - was miffed at the very people she had come to love, and for the simple reason that they weren’t lining up according to how she would in her home culture. Her outward display of frustration made me feel embarrassed to share a nationality with her. 

I’ve had my own “these people!” ugly moments through the years – and I’ve found this can happen anywhere, among any people – even in your own passport country.  When we see people as a group and speak of them in generalities, we can fail to see them as individuals, created and loved by God.

I love a happy ending in a book, or at least, a satisfactory ending. However, No Graven Image does not have one. I can understand why this book was not well-received in its time.  It messes with our preconceived ideas of what the missionary life should look like, and presents a less-than-newsletter-worthy version. But I prefer this version, because it meshes better with our reality – that some days I feel defeated, my faith is small, the challenges feel insurmountable, but we keep going. As Eliot says, "...anyone who tries to help people in any way soon becomes overwhelmed with the endlessness of the task. So he has two choices. He can give up at the start, or he can accept his limitations and go on doing what he can."

I think it should be required reading for any global worker.

Other noteworthy reads from last year: Eagle of the Ninth and Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry – two of my all-time favorites that I re-read with Luke and Zoe; Wonder; Food: A Love Story – Jim Gaffigan is so funny; A Long Letting Go helped me with my grief after my mother-in-law passed away; Boys in the Boat – took me a while to get to this one, but I’m glad I did; The Reason for God; and bird by bird, a wonderful book on writing.

What about you? What did you read last year that inspired you, or made you laugh, or made you stay up too late reading?


February 01, 2018

What's the Word for Whistle?

Last week I learned the Indonesian word for a whistle – peluit.  I learned it because I needed one.  I needed one because I’m coaching Zoe’s basketball team, which is another story entirely.  You can’t be a coach without a whistle.
So I set out for a store that I thought might have one, but I didn’t think to look up the word beforehand, and, having Luddite tendencies, I did not go ‘to the cloud’ and thought I would just wing it at the store. I knew the verb for ‘to whistle’ and I figured I would start there.

I walked around the store, scanning the shelves for a whistle but I couldn’t find one.  So I faced the three employees who’d been watching me do circuits around the store and started the I-Don’t-Know-The-Word game of charades that I often get to play here.

“Hi, I’m looking for a thing, and it’s small and you use it to make a whistle sound,” I said as I pantomimed the act of using a whistle, which must have looked like I was sucking a lemon or possibly kissing a toad. 

They openly laughed at me, then one of them got all bright-eyed and said, “Oh!  I know what you mean. But we don’t have any.”

And she told me the word for it, which I promptly forgot and had to look up again at home.  So the next day I headed out to another store, one that I was told would have my whistle.  I approached one of the store workers, who looked bored out of her mind, and considered briefly if I should repeat my pantomime of the day before, if for nothing else for the entertainment factor.  She could tell her friends later about the crazy white lady who was so stupid she didn’t know the word for ‘whistle.’ But I played it cool and asked if they had a peluit and they did. Two minutes and 70 cents later I was a legit coach with a whistle.

Peluit - pronounced sort of like "I blew it"

I can’t even tell you how many times I repeat this little exercise, and every time I do I am amazed (and more than a little embarrassed) that I went so long without knowing certain words.  In over sixteen years of living in Indonesia and attempting to speak this language, have I really managed never to need the noun ‘whistle’? 

It happened to us again just last night, when we were outside marveling at the super blue blood moon eclipse (side note on the eclipse: with all those adjectives, I was expecting a bit more than a hazy-looking  moon). David took our binoculars over to our night guard so he, too, could view this wonder.  When David walked back to where the kids and I stood, he said he explained to our guard how the eclipse happens.

“So what’s the word for ‘shadow’?” I asked him.

Bayangan,” he said.

“Oh,” I said, impressed that David knew that.

“Yeah, I had to look it up on my phone.”

So, there’s another word I’ve managed not to know all these years.

Language learning can be an arduous, at times humiliating process, and, as clearly demonstrated by my anecdote above, it may take a lifetime.  I may never be fluent – I know that now – but I try to maju terus – keep moving forward, one word at a time.

And now, I can easily tell someone, “When I saw the shadow on the moon, I blew my whistle!”



March 03, 2017

Anxiety

*Disclaimer: The other day I heard someone say, “I’m not qualified to write anything about anything,” and that is exactly how I feel.  I’m not a professional anything, so the following post is based solely on my experience, and my hope in writing it is that it may help someone.  What worked for me may not work for you, but sometimes it helps to know we are not alone in our struggles.* 

Recently David, Grace, and I were watching an episode of “Madame Secretary.” (Do you know this show? We’re just now getting around to watching it, and I’m not sure why I’m enjoying it so much – maybe it’s the depiction of the family dynamic, or maybe because it imagines a Washington D.C. environment very different from the current reality). In this particular episode, the main character Elizabeth was dealing with some heavy issues, and started having chest pain.  Her staff, fearing a heart attack, rushed her to the hospital.

“Panic attack,” I murmured to myself, watching as the doctor came in to tell Elizabeth and her husband that her heart was just fine and what she experienced was the result of anxiety.  And then I knew what would happen next; a look of confusion then embarrassment came over Elizabeth’s face.

I knew, because I have experienced it myself.

I never considered myself a fearful or anxious person, not until we moved overseas.  And I never really knew what it meant to have a panic attack. I always imagined someone going completely berserk – flailing arms, babbling incoherently, wild hair, etc.  I didn’t know that actually it can feel like you might be dying.

Just over two years ago, I was over-committed and working way too hard to keep too many plates spinning.  The littlest things made me jumpy, and the combination of the big things just about sent me over the edge: windy season, drunks in our neighborhood, driving, and teaching.

It all came to a head on my younger son’s birthday.  As we were preparing to take him and a few of his friends to a local swimming hole, I was in the kitchen packing up a picnic lunch when a feeling of dread came over me.  The room spun, my heart raced, and I got the sense that something awful was about to happen.  My left arm went numb, and I felt like I was watching myself from outside my body. I tried to ignore it, and we loaded up in the car.  But as we were about to pull out of the driveway, I stopped the car and told David, “I can’t do this.  Something doesn’t feel right.”

Not wanting to alarm the kids that were packed and waiting in the car, I urged David to carry on with them, and a friend went with me to the clinic at our kids’ school. I was convinced I was having some kind of crazy heart issue.

After the nurse checked me out and did an EKG, she put her hand on my shoulder and told me gently, “I think you had a panic attack.”

I was shocked.  There had been no thrashing or hyperventilating.  Could I really have been experiencing a panic attack? And why did I feel embarrassed and ashamed? And guilty? What kind of lame missionary was I, having a panic attack after almost fourteen years living overseas?  I felt like a failure.
Our family, circa 2014

Over the next few weeks I consulted with our local expat doctor and educated myself about anxiety.  I limped along as best I could through the next few months of the school year.  I knew things had to change but I wasn’t sure what, or how to move forward.

That summer we went home to the U.S. for a short furlough.  I met with two different counselors, both of whom advised me – right off the bat – to take antidepressants or anti-anxiety medicine, without really offering other tangible suggestions for dealing with the source of the anxiety. I know that these medicines can be very helpful for some people, but for whatever reason, I did not have a peace about pursuing that type of treatment in this particular situation.
  
Towards the end of our furlough, I met with a friend who is a psychologist. After I explained to her what life had been like for me over the past few years, she said, “Well, it’s no wonder you have anxiety. Stop beating yourself up. Your stressors are reasonable.”

Her words brought tears to my eyes.  I HAD been beating myself up, and didn’t even realize it.

She then told me that one of the keys to overcoming anxiety is to try to exert control over your situation, even if it is minute control. She had me list out my stressors and one by one we went through them to see what could be done about each one.

“Windy season – that stresses you because of the trees around your house? So cut the trees down.” she said.
“Cut the trees down? That’s it?” It seemed too simple.
We talked through other ways I could combat anxiety, including exercise.  Studies have shown that exercise is a powerful combatant against depression and anxiety, so I recommitted to making exercise a priority.

She also told me my brain would have to “un-learn” anxiety, which wears down well-worn paths which the brain automatically goes to when stressed.  Having a phrase, prayer, or song to repeat when anxiety rears its ugly head helps with this.  Mine is a simple prayer, combined with a slow breath in, slow breath out: “Father, I belong to You.”  It reminds me of who is ultimately in control.

The last thing she told me was probably the hardest to hear: “You cannot leave Indonesia until you have been aggressive to the 9th degree in every situation.” Her words surprised me.  I guess I was half-hoping she’d say, “Your life is too hard; better stay in America till you’re better.” She has been tracking us for several years, and knows our life overseas is not always easy.  I know she wouldn’t want me to “gut it out” if the situation were dire. Her challenge to make it work, where I was in Papua, helped me realize it was doable, even though it might take hard work.

An integral part of working through anxiety has been a group of friends who pray with me and I know I can go to or text when I’m feeling anxious.  Having support from them, and my husband, has been so helpful.

This whole journey through anxiety has taught me much about myself, and it’s made me face some preconceived ideas I had about anxiety.  In the past, I was probably less than compassionate toward those who struggled with it.  I may not have said it out loud, but probably somewhere in the back of my mind, I thought, “Why can’t he/she just GET OVER IT!” and now I understand there is no just getting over anxiety. 

While I haven’t shouted it from the rooftop, I have tried to be open in sharing my struggles with others.  And I can’t believe how often someone comes up to me and says, “Me, too.”  My struggle with anxiety has driven me to the Lord, and I pray this experience will be redeemed and used by Him.  A friend shared the following poem by Jill Briscoe, which expresses this better than I can:
Don’t waste the pain, let it prove thee;
Don’t stop the tears, let them cleanse thee.
Rest, stop the striving, soon you’ll be arriving in His arms.
Don’t waste the pain, let it drive thee deeper into God.
He’s waiting and you should have come sooner!

                                                


September 05, 2016

What It's Like

I remember being massively pregnant for the first time and anticipating what childbirth would be like.  Everyone had advice; everyone had a story to share. I remember asking friends what to expect during labor and delivery, and what life was like with a newborn.  I did my best to prepare, but until I felt that first labor pain, I didn’t know exactly what it would be like.

I feel like this has how it’s been with “launching” my first child.  Anticipation, questions, advice – but until it happened, I really had no idea.

Granted, we’re three weeks into this, but so far, this is what it’s like.

It is not even knowing how I would get on that airplane that would carry me away from him, and then there I was, at 35,000 feet and flying over the Rocky Mountains and away from him.
It is telling the hostess at a restaurant “6, no wait, 5.”
It is leaving the radio on a certain station when that one obnoxious song comes on, one that drove me crazy not so long ago, but now I like it because he does.
It is rescuing a praying mantis from a shopping cart at Target, because it’s what he would do.
It is thinking my emotions are in check, then suddenly busting out the tears at unexpected moments – walking past his empty room, hearing the song “Dear Theodosia”, seeing one of his friends.
It is trying not to obsessively look at my phone for messages from him.
It is feeling sad for my other kids, who are missing him, too, in their own way.
It is second-guessing parenting methods, and wondering did we cover everything? Did we talk through all the important stuff enough?
It is being full of hope for him, yet also worrying over small details, like is he warm enough?
It is catching my breath when I think of the vast ocean that now separates us.
It is wondering how I’ll get through the next eight months without a hug from him.
It is experiencing a resurgence in my prayer life.

But let me say this: the heaviness I feel is mitigated somewhat by the many women in this community who have walked and are walking the same path.  I am so thankful for them during this time and their kind words of hope and encouragement.  I am also so thankful for my faith that allows me to trust in a sovereign God who is not one bit surprised or overwhelmed by a mom separated from her son by an ocean.  He knows.  He sees us both.  And that is a comfort.






What It's Like

I remember being massively pregnant for the first time and anticipating what childbirth would be like.  Everyone had advice; everyone had a story to share. I remember asking friends what to expect during labor and delivery, and what life was like with a newborn.  I did my best to prepare, but until I felt that first labor pain, I didn’t know exactly what it would be like.

I feel like this has how it’s been with “launching” my first child.  Anticipation, questions, advice – but until it happened, I really had no idea.

Granted, we’re three weeks into this, but so far, this is what it’s like.

It is not even knowing how I would get on that airplane that would carry me away from him, and then there I was, at 35,000 feet and flying over the Rocky Mountains and away from him.
It is telling the hostess at a restaurant “6, no wait, 5.”
It is leaving the radio on a certain station when that one obnoxious song comes on, one that drove me crazy not so long ago, but now I like it because he does.
It is rescuing a praying mantis from a shopping cart at Target, because it’s what he would do.
It is thinking my emotions are in check, then suddenly busting out the tears at unexpected moments – walking past his empty room, hearing the song “Dear Theodosia”, seeing one of his friends.
It is trying not to obsessively look at my phone for messages from him.
It is feeling sad for my other kids, who are missing him, too, in their own way.
It is second-guessing parenting methods, and wondering did we cover everything? Did we talk through all the important stuff enough?
It is being full of hope for him, yet also worrying over small details, like is he warm enough?
It is catching my breath when I think of the vast ocean that now separates us.
It is wondering how I’ll get through the next eight months without a hug from him.
It is experiencing a resurgence in my prayer life.

But let me say this: the heaviness I feel is mitigated somewhat by the many women in this community who have walked and are walking the same path.  I am so thankful for them during this time and their kind words of hope and encouragement.  I am also so thankful for my faith that allows me to trust in a sovereign God who is not one bit surprised or overwhelmed by a mom separated from her son by an ocean.  He knows.  He sees us both.  And that is a comfort.