Monday, October 16, 2017

I Am Strong: Finding God's Peace and Strength in Life's Darkest Moments


By John S. Dickerson

A year ago a friend placed this book in my hands. We had just spent an hour together sharing our journeys through MS. She's been on this path longer than I, so I understood the wisdom of her words when she gave my hands a squeeze and encouraged me to read the book. I gladly took it knowing she was sharing encouragement that would travel with me.

This book has gone with me on airplanes where chapters covered the miles, the MRT back and forth to work where I absorbed a few pages, and in the safety of my own home where I've shed a few tears letting the truth and encouragement sink in. I've spilled my coffee on this book–not just once, but twice. My copy is worn around the edges, stained, wrinkled and bent. It's ok, because that's how my life is too. It sometimes feels battered and beaten and this is just the place where this book meets you. 

I remember sitting in the pew when I was young, my pastor greeting the congregation and preaching a sermon. Pastor Mark baptized me. I visited his wife, Anne, at their home after he passed away. I treasured the handful of times I spent visiting and learning from an older woman. Mark and Anne Dickerson were the author's grandparents. His father was my pastor though high school, sending me off to college and participating in my wedding. He greets me with a warm smile every time I return home. My most recent memories of Pastor Dan are sitting in the hospital waiting room as my dad went in for heart surgery. He was there for my parents and our family. Although I don't know the author, I was long gone by the time he came around, I know his family. I've watched them go through very difficult times and they've been there with our family as we've gone through difficulties. When I read the first few pages of the book, I knew that this wasn't just another pastor writing about how to handle difficult times in life. This book was based on experiencing those hard times. John has gone through extremely difficult circumstances and because of that, I knew I could trust his words. They were tried and true. The coffee had been spilled on them and they didn't fade away. 

We are going to face difficult times, there's no doubt about that. I think of the last time I read a few chapters. I was laying on the couch resting. The day before I had awakened with a sharp pain in my side. It didn't take me long to figure out that it was a kidney stone. The pain was so intense, I could think of little else. I knew I needed medical help. My mind only thought: pain, don't throw-up, taxi... Laying on the stretcher with a morphine drip in my arm, I could only think pain, pain, pain. There was no time to think, What passage should I read to encourage me right now? or Why is God doing this? or Where is God? We have to have those questions sorted before the traumas in life happen. During the trauma we go into automatic mode where what is tucked deep in our hearts is what's going to come out during the situation. The truths laid out in "I Am Strong" are the gentle reminders of the truths our lives need to be based on.

I'm honestly tired of reading Christian books or articles that are paragraphs of fluff with a sentence of purpose to wrap it all up. I like meat. I like the flat-out here is what the Bible says. John's stories and examples are the introduction to the solid, genuine Biblical teaching that I need. Every word is written with grace yet honest in truth. 

If you are in the midst of those difficult moments, or have walked through them but are still suffering the pain, I encourage you to pick up a copy and read it.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

A Little Encouragement for Those Trips Home


I spent a few weeks this summer getting my girls settled in school and visiting friends and family. The few precious moments at home are filled with obligations, wants and needs. There are people to see, doctor's appointments to do and shopping to accomplish. Sorting it all out is like untangling a box of fishing lures. It's exhausting before, during and after the trip. Every expat that I've talked to goes through this, whether missionary, diplomat or other. 

I struggle with finding the correct balance every single time. I've done trips home with specific purpose and other trips where I have a more flexible schedule and freedom to spend time with people. We've lived out of suitcases moving from home to home every few nights, spent a month in a camper, and stayed with friends. Each option has its pros and cons and meets different needs. By far, the best trip home was staying in the camper. It gave us our own space to decompress each day with unlimited freedom to make our own schedule. Each evening we made a bonfire and unwound with a book or conversation and few roasted marshmallows. 

I think Paul from the New Testament was a bit like me. He moved around a lot. A group of friends  traveled with him from time to time, but he didn't seem to have a home to go to. He didn't return to the same place every summer to blow the dust off the cabinets, settle in and enjoy lazy days. His things were scattered across creation, stuck in the corners of friends' homes until he returned to use them again. There were the things he wished he'd brought with him as well–scrolls and cloaks that he needed in his daily life. He had times of loneliness and opposition. In all my travels, I haven't met an expat yet that lives as out of a suitcase as Paul seemed to do. I have it easy, yet I struggle with the returning home aspect that a transient life brings.

I'm also like Paul because I'm a communicator. Paul was always developing relationships, writing letters and encouraging the church. I don't write to churches, sending out encouragement, but just like Paul had his tribe of Priscilla, Aquila, Mark and Titus, I also have my little tribe of friends that I stay in touch with and long to see in my travels.

Since this last trip home, I've thought a lot about Paul's words in his letter to the Romans: "I long to see you so that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to make you strong–that is, that you and I may be mutually encouraged by each other's faith." (1:11-12) 

Paul had a pretty specific goal in wanting to see his friends. It was a little give and take; he needed encouragement and he wanted to give encouragement. I love how honest he is about this. He was ok in saying "I need you, my tribe, to come alongside me and give me a boost of encouragement." He got that his friends needed a boost of encouragement in their lives too. Life is hard. We all have work day in and day out that we do. We encounter situations that are difficult and we have to wrestle through how to react to them. We can't do it alone, we need other Christians along side us to talk to and figure these things out together. We need some cheerleaders on the sidelines screaming "You can do it!" Paul needed to see his friends doing the daily life and choosing to live it God's way. He needed that sort of encouragement so that when people tried to kill him, he knew that he wasn't the only one choosing to live for God. 

This gives me a little focus as I think about home. I know that some relationships are going to fade. I don't live there anymore and I can't hold onto every single one. But how am I choosing the relationships that I do keep? Are they mutually encouraging? Are they a little give and take? Honestly, it's very easy to have the mindset when I'm home of take, take, take. I need rest. I need to talk to you, I need to go to this store... The list of "I needs" is endless. So how can I balance this? 

I would love to hear from you. Whether you moved 100 miles or 10,000 miles, how do you balance needs and relationships when you are home? How do you give and take? Do you return back to your place of living worn out and exhausted or encouraged and rested?

Sunday, March 12, 2017

I Hugged My Dog Today


It's been a loooong week.  I become an emotional disaster with dogs–I really do.  I can go from complete sanity to monster woman in the blink of an eye.  It's a horrible thing to watch, it really is.

The Doc. has been away this week leaving the dog responsibility to our daughter and me.  We are in full housebreaking mode and I've been determined that we can conquer where to go to the bathroom.  I keep reminding myself that she is little and we've gone through this with all puppies, but that never makes it easier for me.

The week has consisted of peeing in the lobby, peeing in the elevator, peeing outside our door.  She pees while eating and all over the apartment.  She no longer piddles small, little spots but rather creates lakes that I inadvertently step in.  Thank goodness for tile floors.  I've washed the floors daily, often more than once.

She chased the cat and a glass shattered on the floor.  The turtle died.  Ok, that has nothing to do with the puppy, but it was pet stress none-the-less and I have no idea why she died.  I keep forgetting to feed the fish, fortunately it has not died.  I'm considering a trip to the market to secretly replace the turtle, but I don't think I'll have the energy.   Whoever thought I was capable of caring for animals and left them in my care??  The dog pooped in her pen and rolled in it.  Another morning she sat in it.  Our daughter has graciously given her the baths because she can see mom is close to tears.

The tears have come.  Then suddenly, early in the week she figured out how to poop outside.  Check one, the stress alleviated a little.

We set timers.  If Matcha doesn't pee when we take her for a walk she goes straight into the cat carrier.  I can hardly bare to see her sad eyes.  Mommas' hate that sort of thing.  In and out we go–the guards of our building must think we're crazy.  It's exhausting and there are moments that I want to say "Fine, the apartment can be your bathroom.  I don't care anymore."  But I do care and we continue with the training.  I can't focus on anything.  I function from moment to moment.

Then a little while ago our daughter asked if I had cleaned up any pee this afternoon.  I stared at her astonished, I had not.  Neither had she.  Matcha has actually gone outside on every trip we've made.  I'm shocked.  We went from 0% success rate with me crying on the couch to 100% success rate today.  So I hugged her.  I hugged her and danced and squeezed her tighter.  Fortunately she didn't throw-up on me.  I know tomorrow will be a complete reverse of behavior, but today was a victory and I'm still doing a happy dance.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Moments with Matcha - The Naming


We are the worst at picking names.  Think about it, our cat in Moscow was Koshka or cat in Russian.  The cat we got in Taipei is Mao, or cat in Chinese.  Mao was also a controversial dictator whom our cat actually believes she was named after and she is doing everything she can to live up to the name.  We should have just gone with Hitler.

As soon as we decided to get a dog and narrowed down the breed, we began to ask, "what will we name her?"  We needed a head start.  Lot's of time was spent at the dinner table discussing names.  I laid on Elena's bed brainstorming good ideas with her.  
What cities do we love?  St. Petersburg - St. Pete is a great name!  Wellington - Welly!  Luca - LuLu!
I looked through lists online of dog names - There were no contenders there.  
Do we have favorite literary characters?  Anne - no human names.  Sherlock - too trendy.
Spanish words kept popping up - Chica, Ita?  

I thought that when we got our little dog we would be inspired in unison and a name would quickly settle upon us.  Nope.  We struggled.  She is cute with bright blue eyes and a floppy ear.  Patches of black and grey spot her coat.  She has a sweet personality and is loyal and trusting, but nothing seemed right.  The doc. commented that she looked like an opossum.  Mrs. Possum?  Pogo?  Other people commented that she has a pig-look about her - Wilbur?

We sort of wanted an Asian sounding name like Xiao long bao (dumplings), but that really doesn't roll off the tongue.

One night Elena said "That's it!  Tomorrow we have to have a name!"  I don't know, Puppy and Baby were working just fine for me.  We narrowed it down to Pogo (a possum in an old comic strip) and Matcha.

Back and forth we went.  We actually decided upon Pogo, but that only lasted a day.  None of us had ever seen the comic so there was just no sentimental association.  In the end, Matcha stuck.

What is Matcha?  It's a special green tea ground into a very fine green powder.  Think lime green.  Here in Taiwan there seem to be two favorite flavors of desserts - red bean paste (a name considered that just seemed rather clunky when calling a dog) and matcha.  Matcha is bitter and something that constantly surprises us.  Matcha donuts?  Matcha frosting?  Matcha frappuccinos (yes, it's really a Starbucks thing here)?

When we're out an about with our puppy, strangers want to pet her and inevitably ask her name.  Matcha?  Why did you name her green tea?  Even here at work, the locals just don't get the name.  And I get it.  If a foreigner got a dog in London and named it High Tea at Noon, it would make no sense to an English speaker.  But this name achieves everything we wanted.  It's cute and two syllables.  It's unique and most importantly, the name Matcha brings our family's memories right back here to Taiwan. This is where she's from and she's part of a great package of the moments that make these years unique and special.

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Moments with Matcha


The house has taken on a rather flat, silent routine.  We work and go to school during the day and at night my daughter studies, the doc reads and I tidy up.  It's a comforting routine, but lacking the spark that Carbon brought to our home.  

Because I'm the one who's not keen on animals, I broke the ice and commented that maybe we should get a dog again.  Within a matter of hours, research had been done and the search had begun.  With a little (or a lot) of help from the nurses, litters of puppies were found down in Kaohsiung.  The timing was right, it was the beginning of the Chinese New Year holiday, so we had a bit of extra time to devote to the dog search and find.  

We decided on a Border Collie.  Not too big, but big enough to run with us and hopefully be a bit of a deterrent as we wander around foreign cities that become our home.  Because this breeder had litters to choose from, born every four weeks, we knew it was going to be more of a puppy mill.  I've always wondered exactly what a puppy mill is.  People talk about them with such distaste.  Now I know.  

We took the MRT to the end of the line then got in a taxi to a medium sized property in a remote neighborhood.  The driver stopped and asked several neighbors where the house was.  I never understand what's going on in these conversations.  Isn't it rather simple?  "Where's the house that has all the dogs?"  Yet we drove back and forth between a stretch of about five houses, with long conversations along the way.  We finally arrived at the correct house - the one with all the empty dog cages in the driveway - duh.  

I felt at ease because there was no dog stench in the air and I couldn't hear any dogs.  Then the owner walked through the door and a secluded courtyard where the adult dogs were.  He greeted us and pulled out a computer.  No English was spoken, we just waved our hands a lot.  He opened the screen and began scrolling through puppies.  We picked some numbers next to the photos.  We had no clue what we were doing.  He disappeared back through the mesh covered gate.  The dogs began barking. How did the neighbors not know this place existed?  We were not in the country, these were like 1/2 acre lots with large cement homes.  I took this opportunity to peek through the mesh.  Inside the courtyard were 25-30 adult dogs.  They didn't look unhealthy, maybe they needed a bath, but it wasn't awful.  It was clean in there too.  That counts for a lot in my book - the whole "cleanliness is next to godliness" thing.  

The owner reappeared with laundry baskets full of puppies ranging from 1 week to 16 weeks old.  We picked them up and cuddled them.  We watched them to see how they interacted.  Truth be told, my  favorite was the male who walked all over everyone else, and pulled himself up the sides of the crate.  He was an ambitious climber, full of energy.  He had so much personality!  There was a cute one with  a patch of black on one eye.  In the end, we decided on a 6 week old little girl.  We missed the tiny puppy stage with Carbon.  He was 5 1/2 months old when we got him.  We decided a girl would be smaller, thus better for all the moving we do and she was cuddly and quiet - what we need for apartment living.

Her first day with us was rather traumatic I think.  We put her in our cat carrier, took a taxi to the MRT, then the MRT back into Kaohsiung.  I gathered her in my arms and carried her through the city.  The doc. warned me of every curb and bump.  He held my elbow at moments to be sure I didn't stumble.  We had dumplings for lunch then got the train back to Taipei.  Settled back in our apartment, we are a mom and a dad again.  We are looking forward to this next gig!  Welcome to our home little girl.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

When Life Gives You Lemons, Make Lemonade

Why do I think it's going to work out getting my hair done by someone who doesn't speak English?  I do this to myself all the time!  Why do I tempt fate?  When will I learn?  I typically take a picture into a salon and then sit there while they do their thing to my hair, fiddling my thumbs and worrying about what's happening.  Typically I walk out a bit disappointed, but able to deal with the cut and color.  The next time I try a different salon.  Yeah, I ask around and try other places that people like but I'm never completely happy with the results.  It takes me at least a year in a country to half-heartedly settle on a place.  Why can't I just bring my stylist from Hudsonville with me?  I've never left her chair unhappy!

My hair has been past the point of needing freshening up for awhile now.  With no trip home in sight to get a proper job done, I made an appointment at a nearby salon I knew others had used.  I walked in with a photo of the color I wanted.  I even picked a famous person thinking maybe a little background in this celebrity's hair history would be helpful.  The stylist glanced at the photo and began mixing chemicals.  I immediately got an uneasy feeling.  How could she know what I wanted with a simple glance?  Wasn't she going to attempt to verify what I wanted?  Two people worked on my hair, folding foil in place and brushing on white goop.  More solution was put on my scalp than I've every had before.  I shifted uncomfortably as the assistant continued to dab at my part with her dripping brush.  The stylist opened a foil, stared for a moment then ran into the backroom.  She returned with her phone in hand and a triumphant smile on her face, and showed me a picture of a color that was silvery white.  You know, the color where all color has been removed then a silvery grey has been added?  It might be fine for the runway, but not for my everyday, mundane life.  Through gasps of astonishment I told here that there was not any dark in the photo and I need dark - like the photo I had shown her.  I felt a mess settling on my head.  She called over another stylist who spoke better English.  No questions asked, he just told me that if I wanted brown in my hair, it would have to be the next time I made an appointment with them.  In other words, my crowing glory was past the point of no return.
The stylist continued to work on my head with a smile on her face.  She kept exclaiming how beautiful this color was, how this was exactly what she had envisioned.  Wait!  What happened to the picture I showed her?  She didn't have to walk around town and go to the grocery store and work and church with this head of hair!  I did!  What about me and what I want?  I don't have the personality or wardrobe to pull off this urban look!
She began to pull the foils off.  It was all I could do to keep breathing as I stared in the mirror at my light bulb of a head.  She was over the top happy - I was not.  I held it together as she started snipping away.  I have to give her credit here - she did a fabulous trim, not too short and something I could manage.  My hair got lighter in color as she blew it dry.

When she asked me how I liked it, I was honest and told her  I didn't.  This is a big cultural faux pas.  You lie to save face here in Taiwan.  You don't hurt any one's feelings.  This may be why when I told her it wasn't dark enough earlier, she didn't believe me.  She finally relented and told me I could return and she would add some dark for free.  She made it very clear that if I wanted my hair washed, I would have to pay for it.  Customer service is a bit different here.  Rather than make an appointment right away, I decided to wait and get a bit of feedback.  Honestly, I wouldn't know how to tell her to fix it and I really don't trust her judgment at this point.

I made it home, had a good cry and began considering how I could get this to work.  Was there anyway this could be fun and doable for a few months?  My hair was so dried out that I didn't need to wash it for a few days which gave me a bit of time to mull this problem over and get some input from friends.  Vintage kept coming to mind.  I love how the victory rolls from the 40's have made a bit of an appearance in hair fashion.  Someone also mentioned to check out Gwen Stefani's hairstyles.  I found that she did an amazing victory roll and contrasted her bleached hair with bright lipstick.

I began playing around and each day I'm trying a new style.  I'm mixing up my wardrobe and have changed my makeup a bit.  It's fun!  Things were really getting in a rut and this certainly has shaken them up!  When I left that shop, I thought I had a disaster on my hands - lemons.  It turns out, I've been enjoying stretching myself - lemonade!

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Wherever You Go


Missions tends to "look" a certain way.  You pick a platform, raise money and move to another country to tell people about Jesus.  But if you are a Christian, it shouldn't matter where you live.  You should be intentionally living your life for God.  Hannah uses her own experience of moving to China and having a job where she intentionally lives out her faith in every day circumstances with those around her to develop this story.  

In this book, she created two characters who moved to China to immerse themselves in the culture and language.  Through an email relationship, they encourage one another in the everyday aspects of living as a foreigner.  One character moved to China in response to direction from God and the other  for work experience.  

Hannah does a good job of weaving true to life situations and challenges into the conversation, theological ideas on missions and aspects of being a single, especially a female, Christian into the story.