Tuesday, May 31, 2016

You, Me, and Kimchi

So.  Funny story.

About a month-and-a-half ago, I made a rather off-the-wall comment.  We had just watched No Escape, (which I didn't love), and I said to Matt, "You know, that movie may not have made the best
case for it, but I think it would be kind of fun to be stationed in Asia."

At the time, we thought we were moving to Norfolk, VA, which was okay with us.  But my older girls were having a hard time with it because of some painful memories.  I was promising that it would be different -- I would do everything in my power to make it a 100%  different and hopefully better experience.  But just three days after this conversation, Matt sent me a super short email saying there had been a change of plans.

Big.  Huge. You could say a 180 degrees different "change of plans."

I called him at work (which I almost never do), and in about ten seconds, maybe less, he said he was being asked to do a job in Korea, and then, "Gotta go, 'bye."

I stood there repeating, "Korea?"  I wasn't sure I'd heard him right, and I tried to think of other places he might have said that just sounded like that.  He called me back with more details a bit later, and let me tell you, that was a crazy day. I cycled through almost every emotion every five minutes.  I was happy for my husband for this opportunity, and excited about an adventure, but also terrified and a little sad.  If Jayna goes to college as planned next year, she will be so far away, and I'd been asking God to be close enough that we could drive to her in a day if we needed to.  I kept thinking about how I went to Korea as a very young girl for a few days and how wonderfully nice everyone was.  But... It was so far, and so SO different from what I'd been expecting.

I would love to tell you that I'm brave, and I threw on my Adventurer hat and shouted, "YAHOOOOO!"  But there are people that I think would and should call me out if I did that.

So the real story is: At the end of the second day, we were watching a House Hunters episode that takes place in Busan, where we will be living, and I just melted down.  It wasn't a matter of any one thing, it was just all of it.  I mean, I've lived overseas before -- I was born and grew up there!  I guess it was just the reality of everything sinking in, and facing what I was giving up.  And also, I was remembering that one of the hardest times in my life happened the last time I lived in Asia.  I cried myself to sleep that night, and before he left for work the next morning, Matt asked if he should turn down the job.  I said, no, I didn't think so... but without much conviction.

But I got up and was making breakfast for the kids, and Jayna -- who had heard me crying and talking to Matt -- said, "I just keep thinking of that verse where Jesus says, 'Do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear.' [Matthew 6:25]  I mean, if that's what we believe, then how can we not do this?"

Let me tell you, it's weird and enormously convicting when your kids say to you something you've been trying to teach them, and it's completely true and applicable.  Suddenly I knew I needed to email Matt and say, "No, don't turn this down."  And to my surprise, when he replied, he totally agreed.  The weeks since have had their fair share of crazy emotions, but when it became official last week, I can honestly tell you that I was excited.  The wife of the man my husband will be replacing has been so nice and emailed or messaged me answering my incessant and often unimportant questions, and has gotten me in touch with even more nice, helpful people.  Slowly but surely, they are making this move seem less scary and more fun.

I know the stress isn't over -- hahaha, definitely not!  Right now we are waiting to hear if we will be able to get packed out the day we were hoping for, or how much of our vacation time will we lose waiting for that?  And then there's the flight, which I might be doing with five kids and no Matt. (Please, God, no.) We are moving from a giant house (honestly, more space than I think we need) to a small high-rise apartment, maybe even just three bedrooms.  If that's not an interesting twist in figuring out "enoughness", I don't know what is.

But I'm trying to move forward while remembering this: "Attitude is the difference between an adventure and an ordeal." (Quote from unknown source)  

And most of all, I'm holding onto Psalm 139:9-10, which says, "...If I settle on the far side of the sea, Your hand will guide me, Your right hand will hold me fast."


Thursday, May 12, 2016

Time to Grow

When I was little and we lived in Bangladesh, we used to get letters from kids in Sunday school classes here in the States.  Almost everyone assumed we lived in a mud hut (we did not, though some of our neighbors did) and cooked our food in a giant cauldron over a bonfire.  Most weren't sure where in Africa it was (because it's in Asia), and there were often long paragraphs explaining things like baseball or football... Which I still don't understand that well.

One of my favorite letters, though, said something like, "It is Spring here.  Do you know what Spring is?"  My sisters and I laughed a lot about that one.  Did they think we were idiots?  I mean, of course we knew what Spring was.  We'd read about it in books!

Bangladesh had really only two seasons: the hot season and the less hot.  Okay, you might as well call it the cold season because even sixty-something degrees feels arctic when you have no central heating, and the house you're living in was built to stay cool in the oppressively hot, humid months that lasted the majority of the year.

As the less-hot months approached, we had the family tradition of "opening the barrel".  It was literally a barrel, about three feet tall and eighteen inches diameter, made of metal, and it stored all the clothes we kids had or were handed down to us.  We would get "new" clothes for the coming season according to what fit.  As the weather turned hot again, we put away the sweaters and pants and did the same with cooler clothes.  

My big sister Jenny was a long two years and eight months older than me.  I was always looking up to her, and I mean that literally.  Not only was she always infinitely cooler and better than me, she was taller than me (still is!), and I wanted so bad to be just like her.  Every time we opened the barrel, I had a chance to see if I had grown into her hand-me-downs yet.  It could be terribly frustrating when that dress I'd had my eye on for a year still didn't fit, and oh, it was a glorious moment when it FINALLY did!

When we spent a full year in Northern California, the year I was thirteen, though, I witnessed seasons for the first time.  (We had spent a year there when I was three and another when I was seven, but I hadn't really paid attention then, plus we'd lived in the Bay Area, which has more homogeneous, temperate weather.)  

And it was.... AMAZING.  I mean, there was summer, hot and dry and no rain at all.  Everything turned golden brown, and the air felt like the puff of heat when you open a hot oven.  And then suddenly it was getting cold at night, and the leaves changed color.  They really truly actually changed color!!  They turned orange and gold and red, and how lovely they looked against the crisp blue sky!

And then came winter, with its fog and California rain, which was so different from the torrential, warm monsoon rain that I knew from my growing up.  California winter rain is steady and cold.  And the fog... It was so thick sometimes that it swallowed trees in the front yard, just a few feet away.  I was cold all the time, and it was a cold that went deep into my bones.  But then...

Spring came!  Flowers started popping up everywhere!  The almond and plum and cherry trees blooomed till they looked like brides on their wedding days.  California poppies dotted the roadside with nuggets of orange-y gold, and lupine stood periwinkle on the velvety green hills.  It was amazing.  I wanted to tell everyone, "Look! The seasons changed!  They actually changed!  Do you see that?  It's just like in the books!  Isn't it the craziest, most astonishing thing?!" 

As I've continued to move around the world, I've watched the changing seasons in more places.  Spain and Florida offered more subtle changes while Washington state and Virginia were very impressive.  And here in Hawaii... Well, for the first couple years, I would tell you that one of the things I missed most was the changing of the seasons.  

But lately I've been rethinking that one.

I kind of started to notice it last year.  There are seasons here.  In the summer months, it can feel crazy hot, even though the temperature only changes a little, especially when there are no tradewinds. During the winter, most plumeria trees lose every leaf and flower, and since they are one of my favorite things about Hawaii, their absence feels kind of devastating.  Right about this time of year, the month that we arrived on the island, these certain yellow flowers that I don't know the name to light up the trees they grow on with this insane, almost neon, brightness.  I love it.  Then there are the mango trees.  Right now it's green mango season.  When the wind is blowing hard enough, unripe mangos fall to the ground, and trust me, they are so delicious in their own right.  And then when ripen... it's heaven.   

But I don't know if it's just living in Hawaii that has made me notice the more subtle changes in the seasons.  Maybe it's because I'm getting older, and I want to see some measure of progress in my life, even if I'm not trying on my sister's clothes to see if they fit. 

Just looking at the past three years in Hawaii, the obvious signs of growth are there.  When we moved into our current house from the one in Kailua two years ago, I did something rebellious (for me) that I hadn't done ever since I had kids.  I put pencil markings of their heights on the door frame of the closet under the stairs.  I measure them every six months, and I'm astonished by how much they have grown.  And we have the addition of Annalee, who is walking and clapping and copying everything we do -- so much growth.

But what about the rest, the things that can't necessarily be measured?

As I look back on three years of living in Hawaii, and think about how we will be moving again very soon, I feel that I was stretched and pruned as well.  I had to face challenges I didn't expect and fought battles I wish I hadn't had to.  I said words that I so badly want to take back, I learned to let go of things I had thought were so terribly important.  On the flip side, I made wonderful friends and received grace upon grace.  There were the hard seasons, the hard times that had no apparent end in sight, and there were, well, the mango and plumeria ones.

I know you're probably thinking, Come on, Joy, how hard can it be?  You live in Hawaii!

Time was, I'd have thought that, too.  But as I've mentioned before, our first year here was not great.  Not by a long shot.  In fact, I would say it was probably the hardest moves we ever made.  Sure, Hawaii is beautiful... But life happens, and it isn't always pretty. For one thing, I don't think I've ever prayed so hard for friends for my kids as I did here, and I was so thankful when we got them.  There are places on the island that put a lump in my throat because of a bad memory there.

Still, pushing through the hard times and learning to accept and love something (or someone) for what it is, though -- the good and the bad and everything else -- beyond the intoxicating allure of surface appearances, that's when real growth happens, I think.  

I've been looking around and thinking, I'm really going to miss this!  And even though I get an ache in my heart thinking about the day we will leave, I'm grateful.  Because I think the biggest sign of growth was that we made this our home.

Sunday, May 8, 2016

When You're Happy

When I think about my mom, there are so many things that come to mind.  But if you asked about how she loves me, there are two particular days that stand out first and foremost in my memory.

The first was when I was nine, almost ten.  It was that same summer when we were traveling around India with my cousins, and on this particular day, we had hired two taxis to drive us from Chandagar to Mussorie.  Mom taught us well; besides the toilet paper she kept in her purse, she made sure we all used the bathroom before we left.  But on this unfortunate day, shall we say, my liquid input exceeded the opportunity for output.  In other words, a couple hours down the road, I really, really, REALLY had to pee.

I whispered my growing desperation to Mom, and lucky for me, the taxi driver soon came to a town and announced he was stopping for gas.  Mom and I seized the moment and jumped out of the taxi, ran into the building and asked where the bathroom was.  Around the back, came the reply.  We nodded our thanks and raced around the building, where we found a small rectangle of grass, surrounded by a ten-foot brick wall.  All around the wall were three- and four-story buildings, each with plenty of windows that offered perfect views of the grass and anyone on it.

"Um, where's the bathroom?" I asked, even though I was afraid I already knew the answer.

"Sweetheart," Mom answered with a slight grimace, "I think... this is it."

I thought hard for a moment and looked again at all those windows.  Nope, I decided, not gonna happen. I didn't need to go that bad yet.  I would wait for a good bush or tree or rock.

Would you believe that the next hour or so was the straightest road with the greatest lack of bushes, trees, and rocks I ever saw (until we drove through the Sahara a few years later)?  There were rice paddies on either side of the road, and tallish grass, but I wasn't small enough to be hidden by grass any more.  Besides, this was India.  There was always the possibility of snakes.

I was in agony.  I thought I was going to die from an exploding bladder.  The situation had no end in sight and tears were welling up in my eyes when Mom leaned over and whispered to me, "Okay, when the car stops, just jump out and do what you've got to do.  Trust me.  No one will be looking at you."  Since I was almost past the point of even caring any more, I nodded miserably.

"STOP THE CAR!" Mom suddenly yelled so loud that the driver slammed on the brakes and screeched to a halt.  "I'm going to be sick!"  She patted my leg -- the signal -- and I ducked out.  She came right behind me as I scurried down the embankment and got to business.  Meanwhile, Mom went for the Academy Award for Best Enactment of Throwing Up.  She was retching and yelling so loud that I started laughing and almost fell over.  Yes, she was right; no one was paying attention to me. I scurried back into the car and Mom let out one more dramatic yell-heave as the driver stared with wide eyes.  She limped toward the car and got back in.

"Madam. You okay?" The driver asked, his voice deeply concerned.  She gave a miserable nod and wiped her mouth.  The rest of the drive was happy and uneventful, though I'm sure that for years, that taxi driver wondered what had gotten into that crazy woman.

The other time I remember was the day after homecoming my sophomore year of high school.  Mom was standing at the stove making pancakes because it was Saturday morning, and I was sitting on a bar stool talking nonstop about the events of the night before.  Our relationship for the previous couple years hadn't been the best.  Something about turning thirteen... But now at fifteen, I was sitting there telling her all about the football game and the dance and who I had danced with and who I wished I'd danced with.  It suddenly occurred to me, though, that maybe this wasn't the riveting information I thought it was.  Mom was working full-time then in a job that was very far from her dream job, but it was paying the bills we desperately needed to pay.  I felt a little guilty, and my voice trailed off and after a pause I said, "Anyway, it was fun.  I was happy."  

Mom smiled down at the pancakes she was about to flip and said eight simple words I will never forget. "That's good.  I like it when you're happy."

If there were a movie version of my life, I'm sure at that moment, she'd have put the spatula down and stared me deep in the eyes.  There would have been a close-up of her face as she said that, and then stirring music would have swelled.  But in real life, it was such an ordinary moment.  I don't think my mom gave it a second thought.  I, however, suddenly heard -- really, truly heard -- the words she had been saying or acting for the fifteen previous years.  And it was like a thunderbolt.  

From that moment on, I think, my relationship with my mother changed so dramatically.  I understood why she happily agreed to play the villain in the plotless "mystery" plays I wrote, why she let me crawl in bed next to her when I was afraid, why she she was room mom the year I had no friends at school, why she came to rescue me from the bad situation I was in at boarding school my freshman year in spite of the tremendous cost, why she cheered even when I was beating her at a game of cards, why she was doing that miserable job, why... Oh so much more.  

And when I became a mother, I understood it on a whole new level.  The middle of the night feedings and diaper changes, the silly faces and sounds and other ridiculous lengths I go to in attempts to illicit smiles from my little babies even in public, the painful drives through rush hour traffic taking them to various activities, the sleepovers I let them have with sweet friends even though I know they won't sleep much and will be cranky the next day...  It's because I hope and hope and hope they know, at least someday, what I mean when I say, "I like it when you're happy."