Friday, March 20, 2015

Holding Hands with a Stranger


Some say that a stranger is a just friend you haven't met yet. Sometimes that person might become a life-long friend or maybe just the one you need to get you through a leg of your journey.

Last Sunday, I had an early morning flight from North Carolina. After spending two whirlwind days with lots of different people (and loving every minute) with a long evening ahead, I was looking forward to some introverted recouping time and maybe even a little more sleep on my short hour and half flight home.
I learned a long time ago that when I am tired, I am a lot more open. When I am too exhausted to get in my own way, the walls come down. And that is usually when God wants me to learn something. So getting little sleep the night before may have been just as much His doing as the late night slurpee.

Sitting next to me is a Chinese woman, I would guess to be in her early 20’s. As the plane began to leave the gate, she leaned over and in a quiet voice I could barely hear above the roar of the engines asked if she could please hold my hand. Flying made her nervous, even though this was not her first flight. I told her I understood. My sister is the same way, I said. I tried asking her questions to help take her focus off the plane, but as soon as the plane began its takeoff she became statue still and held tightly to my hand.

Once we leveled off, she let go and thanked me for my kindness. I went back to playing my game. A few minutes later we hit some minor turbulence and suddenly she had wrapped herself around my arm and laid her head on my shoulder. Once again, I put my game away and spent the rest of the flight getting to know my new friend.

Between the broken English and her quiet speech, I gathered that she was flying home to China to return to work after visiting her husband in the states. So I asked her how long she had been married. Ten days she replied, she just finished her honeymoon but now needed to get back to work. She spoke so matter of fact, not like newlyweds here who are all giddy and gushing. She works for the Chinese government, something to do with retirement. She tried to explain it but she struggled with the words. I just nodded as if I understood. She also shared some of the pressure from the family she is facing due to her husband being in the states. 
About halfway, the plane hit some significant turbulence. She tightly grabbed my hand again and turned to me and asked, “How are you so brave?” I explained to her how I thought of the bumpy ride like a road with potholes in the sky. (I think something might have gotten lost in translation on that one)

We settled into a comfortable silence for a few moments, quiet but still holding hands. It’s as I am praying for her silently that I see/hear/sense it.

THIS IS A GIFT

It was a gift to be able to give comfort and strength. It was a gift to be able to pray for her. It was gift to share a few moments. It was a gift to connect on a human level. I can't explain it, but it was a holy moment.

This flight. Sun Ling next to me. It was God’s gift. To us both.

We are made to connect with one another. Me in Michigan, you in China, South Africa, North Carolina or wherever… for 1 minute or 100 years… we need to connect. We need to offer the gift of our presence more, look someone in the eye, give a pat on the back, a big hug or just agree to let a stranger hold our hand. As I sat there I was so thankful I was offered such a gift and chose to accept it.  

And hey, if I ever find myself in Peking, China, I already have a friend.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

UNCHARTED

Looking back, 2014 was my turning point after spending the last 15 years wandering a wilderness I knew how to survive but failing to thrive. I had few expectations of the year back in January. I almost didn't dare to even dream for anything different, but halfway through the year I came upon a bend in the road.

I honestly believe I was only able to reach the bend because even when the days were long and seemingly monotonous, I kept walking. Even when I got sidetracked and lost for a time, I kept walking and found my way back to the road. In May, I was dared to dream, encouraged to run, and reminded to embrace the unexpected. Perseverance became my word for 2014. But it wasn't just for that year... It was a testament the years of wandering. It was inspiration to keep going, the breath of a second wind. The bend was coming just ahead. I ran all the way through December.

Now 2015 is beginning... Uncharted

While I likely won't be headed overseas for the first time in 5 years, I will be traversing new territory. A mission of love into a potentially hostile land where endurance, perseverance and dreams are desperately necessary. On paper, I may not appear to have the experience one might expect, but I see the ways God has been preparing me all along, day by day in the wilderness.   

If I've learned one thing is that I will stumble and fall many times along this path. There will be days that seem long and monotonous. I will get sidetracked and lost at times. And it's okay  as  long   as  I  keep  walking (and maybe even running).

I don't have a map to navigate the year ahead, but I do have a compass. It always points me to the One who has the map!

As I round the bend in the road, up ahead I see the starting line for a next leg of life.

Life... uncharted. Let's go!   



Friday, December 5, 2014

Where to find Hope


Hope.

Have we lost it?

The month of November started with the death of a beautiful, young woman. While many applauded and spoke of a courageous victory, I ached.

News of suicide attempts over the Thanksgiving weekend. While many shopped for the latest and greatest, I wept.

I read a book, while fiction, still represented so much of the “right to die” acceptance that I felt heavy from it. At the end while others said, “What a great book,” I raged.

People resorting to violence because their sense of justice wasn’t satisfied. Women being told that giving life to a child who may have a “defect” is unloving… and it goes on and on. I prayed.

I still can’t let it go.

Honestly, I know a little bit of what it’s like to feel that desperation to have some control over the pain, especially in November. I clung to hope.

And here we are now in December. A month to celebrate the Life and Hope that came into the world.

With all this in my heart, I wonder… Is this happening because we have lost hope?

When did we toss aside the only real Hope for a get-what-you-want-right-now gumball machine that will run out?   

Hope didn’t come into the world in a box with pretty tissue paper and a bow. He came amidst a mother’s pain. He came bloodied and weak and crying. We will find the seed of hope in the very place where it hurts. It’s the only place to find it.

Hope is not in the boxes under the tree, we must look up and see Hope hanging from it.

As I pass the lighted houses and bell ringers at the beginning of December, I hope.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

The Journey Towards Home - A reflection of the last year

Almost exactly a year ago, I spent a week in Romania. The trip was supposed to force me out of my comfort zone and be something like a life-reset. I anticipated an experience where I saw the hand of God at work through me, soaked in his presence, was given revelation and I expected to be re-filled with joy. That wasn’t what I experienced. Instead I felt physical and emotionally alone, led to the wilderness and left there.

 Romania was my desert journey.

He rebuked the Red Sea, and it dried up; he led them through the depths as through a desert. (Psalm 106:9)

The sand dune days that followed sifted by.  Like the unbelieving ones who died in the wilderness, old thoughts and patterns had to die in the desert. Remember this post. There were still things I was holding onto. Sometimes it takes the slow process of wearing those desires down with sandpaper. Eventually they become so smooth, they slip away. When you reach an oasis, you discover you've left them behind

Six months ago, I found an oasis. With fresh water, I regained strength and life. The joy I had been searching for was poured in. The sand of the desert had blasted off the old layer, leaving a new empty heart to be filled. With life and joy, hope and new dreams were able to thrive. The parched land of my life was flooded.

South Africa was my crossing of the Jordan.

Now the Jordan is at flood stage all during harvest. Yet as soon as the priests who carried the ark reached the Jordan and their feet touched the water’s edge, the water from upstream stopped flowing...So the people crossed over opposite Jericho. The priests who carried the ark of the covenant of the Lord stopped in the middle of the Jordan and stood on dry ground, while all Israel passed by until the whole nation had completed the crossing on dry ground.  (Joshua 3:15-17)

Since then I've been watching God win the battles before me. Giving me a place to make a home, a family, a future. I am not the same person who was crawling through sandstorms alone on her knees a year ago. Today I am a desert survivor, river crosser, giant defeater, milk & honey savor-er, so very thankful daughter of the Universe Maker.

I’ve entered the Promised Land... home.

But he brought us out from there to being us in and give us the land that he promised... (Duet 6:23)

Stay tuned because next year will be a crazy brave adventure!

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Never Joke About Snakes

The idea was to get some good shots along the water, but when we finally found a place to stop there wasn't anything interesting to photograph. Still, I didn't want to come away without a picture as I had been the one to push for us to keep driving out further along the peninsula.

I spotted a little outcropping of rocks down near the shore and asked my sister to carefully climb down and pose on them for a photo. Despite the look that clearly indicated she was not enthused by the idea, she proceeded to try and make her way without falling into the water. With some help from Dad, who was more appropriately shoed for this little rock climbing adventure, they sat and posed for my photos.



While not the beautiful landscape I had planned for, a wonderful photo of daddy and daughter to commemorate the visit was success. I walked toward them as they stepped off the rocks. I noticed in the grass a large brown lump. At first I thought it was just more goose droppings, but for the size it would have had to been a pile of goose poop. Then I realized it was a snake, coiled up in the grass.

And so, as my sister was about to cross the grass back to the path I am standing on I warn her. “When you step, watch out for the snake right here.” (you know where this is going, right?)

She steps right in the direction of the snake, the snake moves and lifts its head. My sister screams and jumps several feet in the air and lands on the path.

“I told you to watch out for the snake.”

“I thought you were joking,” she says.

For the life of me, I can’t figure out why she would think this. I know I’m funny and enjoy teasing her, but snakes… I never joke about snakes.

In life, there are all kinds of hidden snakes, many whose bite are toxic.

There have been times in my life that someone has called out to me. “Hey, there’s a snake over there. Avoid that direction.” Ignoring them, I continued heading toward danger. Often I've been bitten, and the "anti-venom" has been a painful process and never a quick fix. 

Why does it often take the stinging bite or the scare of a near miss for us to heed the warning? 

People who've been bitten before… they never joke about snakes.



Friday, August 1, 2014

Thoughts from a Family Reunion


Family.

A word, concept and people that have brought much joy, sadness, confusion, support, and love throughout my life.  Somewhat unexpectedly, God has been reshaping me and rebuilding family around me. Life is always moving forward. We joyfully welcome new generations at one end and wonder how long we have left with the generations beyond us. There has been reflection on past memories and a look toward the changes coming in the future.


Last weekend I attended a family reunion with my dad and granny. As the oldest one there, Granny seemed to be the one everyone wanted to meet. I was proud to be there with her, to hear her say, “This is my granddaughter Tia.” One day she may not remember. I got to hear stories from her cousins about growing up that she can longer remember. But I can remember them. Once again I was reminded of the power, purpose and love of family. 



I have so many wonderful memories with Granny, some big events and others just little moments.

I remember… she always called me Alice because of my long blonde hair. It always made me feel special and incredibly loved. (I asked her last week if she remembered that. She said she did and that I was still Alice to her and still in Wonderland.)

…when she gave me my stuffed dolphin for Christmas (his name is Bubbles and I still have him)

… the Christmas we had up north with everyone. It made her so happy to be in her home surrounded by her family.

… I went on a road trip out east. One afternoon her and Auntie told me stories of their teens and early twenties and gave me (unsolicited) advice. At 19 some of the conversation seemed a bit awkward at the time, but what a gift to be poured into and loved like that

… the trip to Vegas and the Grand Canyon where we saw a coyote and Tiff and I took a different trail than we expected and weren’t sure we’d be found. 


… the back and forth banter between her and Grandpa that sounded harsh, but in a weird way expressed their love for each other

… being able to spend Christmas Eve with Granny and Grandpa in the hospital, our last Christmas with him. Back at the house that night, Granny, Tiff and I put on trash bag dresses and modeled them, laughing hysterically.

… while driving Granny home from a doctor’s appointment asking her to tell me honestly if I was the favorite grandchild. She replied, “If I say it’s not you, you’ll drop me off and leave me. Of course you’re my favorite.”  No offense to you other grandkids. I hope you can accept your fate ;)

and so many more…

I have to admit, these days it can be a bit draining to spend time with Granny. Sometimes I still see the sassy, spunky grandma I knew and sometimes I only see the woman in a fog surviving day to day. That’s what makes it hard and hurts my heart. God alone knows the number of our days, both hers and mine. As long as there are days left, I want to make the most of them. Every opportunity I have to honor her, respect her and show her I love her I want to choose to take no matter what it cost me. The sacrifice is temporary, but the memories last. 

I may have over 30 years of amazing memories already, but I am not done making them yet. 


Tuesday, July 22, 2014

It could be better


I watched a recent episode of Extreme Weight Loss. At the beginning of the episode the girlfriend was not happy about her partner losing weight. She was comfortable the way they were and afraid of what else might change in her partner. She was more concerned about her own status quo than the health of the one she claimed to care about. Perhaps she couldn’t fathom that beyond the unknown of change could actually be something better for the two of them. The fear of losing what she loved is exactly what caused her to lose it in the end.

I’ve been there probably more times than I’d like to admit. I wonder how many people have watched me make decisions based on fear that ended taking me right down the road I had been trying to avoid. How many times has God reached out his hand and said, “Trust me. You can’t see the other side, but I promise it’s better” and I’ve pitched my tent right at the bottom of that mountain only to get pummeled by the avalanche? How long have I wandered in the wilderness when a little more faith than fear would have taken me into a promised land long ago?

I’m learning.

The other day I had a conversation with a friend about a lack of deep friendships, distant family members and feeling lonely. She admitted that while she desires meaningful relationships she often pushes people away and keeps them at arm’s length. Being asked to open the door, she responds politely through the screen. Perhaps she doesn’t see her value. She could have more but stays with none.
 
I’ve been there too. How many friends have I lost out on by living in fear of losing? Wanting to be loved and known and yet the fear of being not-enough, not-chosen or rejected was stronger. The known comfort of being alone and in control kept me from risking something momentary for something amazing.

Still learning.