Friday, February 7, 2020

My Freedom Day

At first glance, this is just a picture of me taken of me earlier this week, being silly while holding a macaron.  I was going to delete it, because it was me goofing around, but just before I did, I stopped myself.  Because this picture, and the moments surrounding it, are actually something of a miracle.

On this day, twenty-seven years ago, I was stepping out into a cold and rainy February day in Northern California — stepping out from a hospital where I’d spent the past almost-month due to an eating disorder.  

I don’t like talking about this time in my life.  It embarrasses me a little, it makes me kind of sad, I worry about what others will think, and I wonder if I do say something, does it even do anyone any good?  

But every time I’ve tried to write this week, this was all I could think about.  So I here I am trying to put what’s on my heart into words — words that I hope and pray help and don’t hurt.

That day that I left the hospital, I was far from “healthy.”  I still weighed less than I should have at that age for that height, and I still had enormous anxiety about control that I would struggle with for another good year or so.  But I was no longer in danger of my heart failing, of actual death, so they let me go home.

Trying to explain the why’s and how’s of what had gotten me to that point would be take longer than I want because that’s not really the reason I’m writing this today.  It was definitely a struggle for control, and a search for value everywhere but where I’d really find it, and like matches being dropped into a tinderbox, everything blew up, way out of my control.  What I can tell you is that it started with me wondering if I could just lose a little weight (weight I absolutely did not need to lose!), because maybe then people would like me more, and it spiraled from there.  

My family was overseas at the time, and I was attending a boarding school.  One of my roommates said one day, “I don’t think there’s such a thing as ‘too skinny.’”  She said this when I had a patch of raw skin on my backbone from doing so many sit-ups, and a bone on my sternum was sticking out.  I know now that it was just a dumb thing to say, as I have done many times myself, but at that moment I believed her.  I bought into her words, and I almost died.  

My parents brought me home from the boarding school first, desperate to get me healthy again.  They took me to a psychiatrist in Bangkok who told us I didn’t have any markers for an eating disorder, so I just needed to eat more.

“Do you like milkshakes?” he asked me.  I nodded.  “Do you like peanut butter?”  I nodded again.  “Well, then, my prescription for you is to go out and a get a peanut butter milkshake from Swenson’s.  Do that every day.  You’ll be fine.”  He sat back in his chair and folded his hands on his chest with a satisfied smile.  Case solved.

But... I just couldn’t.  I was trapped in a prison of anxiety that if I listened to him and just ate whatever, my life would spin way out of control.  Already, I told myself, no one liked me (this was also as untrue as my roommate’s words, but when you’re fourteen, you believe these lies), and no one ever would.

I remember Christmas that year and always being cold, even in Thailand, always being so tired.  Everything in my body hurt.  Then one night I had a dream.  I was taken to this hospital.  I could clearly see the pattern on the curtain around the bed, and I walked over to the window and looked down into the courtyard, taking in the fountain below, and the brick wall of the hospital building.  A voice began talking and said very clearly, “You are going to die.  You are never going to have friends, never fall in love, never going to get married, never have children, never see any of your ideas or goals come to pass.”  I started crying, begging for whoever spoke these words to be wrong, begging for a chance to live.  Then I woke up.

My dad took me to California in early January.  I knew I needed help, but I didn’t know how to help myself because “drinking a milkshake” was somehow physically impossible to me.  I literally choked when I tried.  En route, we stopped in Singapore.  The air conditioning in our hotel room made me shiver from cold, so while my dad was watching television, I drew a hot bath.  As I stepped into it, I caught a glimpse of myself in the bathroom mirror.  We didn’t have a full-length mirror in our home, so this was the first time I’d seen my body in its entirety for quite a while.  

I didn’t like looking in the mirror ever.  I’d believed the boys on my bus in fifth grade who told me for our entire 20-minute bus ride both ways every day that I was the ugliest thing they’d seen and had a hard time disagreeing.  So that evening, I flinched and looked away quickly, but what I’d seen alarmed me, and I looked back. 

I knew then, for sure, there was such a thing as too skinny.  

The reflection in the mirror was just bones with skin over them.  The sore on my back had grown so that most of the skin over the vertebrae in my middle back was raw, and my chest was just bones sticking out at weird angles.  My face looked like little more than a skull.  I stepped into the bath and hid my face from my reflection, sobbing.  This was not what I wanted, but I didn’t know how to get better.  

I slept almost the whole flight back to San Francisco.  I was too tired to fight when my dad drove me to the hospital, and they decided to check me in.  I was taken to a room and as I looked around, terror filled me.  The curtains were exactly the print I had seen in my dream.  I walked to the window, knowing what I would see, but still having a pounding heart as I looked into the courtyard below, seeing the brick wall and the fountain I already knew from my dream.

I cried that night begging my dad to take me home, swearing I would figure out how to get better, that I’d do whatever they said.  I know now how it must have nearly killed my dad to leave me there.

What happened over the next few weeks was that all control was taken from me, then slowly,  in incremental steps, granted back.  I had counted calories before, but now everything was measured: how much I ate and drank, how much I peed.  I was walked down a hall every morning wearing nothing but a hospital gown to be weighed.  It was humiliating.  My heart and blood pressure did crazy things as I began to put on weight so that I was literally bed-ridden for days because my heart could fail if I got up and walked around.  My skin all over my body ached like a bruise, like I’d been beaten everywhere.

The day I left, they told my parents, “She’ll be back.  It might be just once or twice, but she’ll be back.”  Because the people who worked there knew well the prison of eating disorders, and that escaping them is no easy feat.

But I didn’t go back.  I knew that it would mean death.  I fought, and sometimes it felt like an impossible battle, but eventually I was healthy again.  

I’m sharing this — the ugly and terrible and painful and humiliating — because I want you to know just how horrible it was.  I think the term “eating disorder” gets casually tossed around without an understanding of the actual hell it is.  I want you to know that this is the reality of where an unhealthy attitude about eating, and mostly about yourself, can get you.

But also, I truly believe that eating disorders are not at all rare.  I cannot tell you the number of people I’ve heard say, “I mean, it’s not like I have an eating disorder or anything,” but seeing the way food consumes and controls their minds, their lives, I would beg to differ.  True, not everyone gets to the extreme point I got to where actual medical intervention is needed, but I think a lot of us have unhealthy approaches to eating.  Eating disorders don’t always look like a skeletal teenage girl; they have many different appearances.  If you are reading this and can relate at all, please know that you are not alone.

More than that, I feel like eating disorders are looked at by some as “totally crazy.”  I beg to differ.  If things were bad twenty-seven years ago, they’re far worse now.  We live in a world where so much value is placed on appearances and especially on weight.  Numbers are everything to us.  How many followers do I have?  How many people liked that last photo I posted?  And all this can get so muddled up to where it suddenly makes sense that the number on the scale will dictate love and approval.  

It’s strange — on the one hand, that experience feels so far removed from my life now.  I love eating, my hanger is scary and real, and I’m a healthy, happy weight.  I’ve got an amazing and loving husband and a bunch of kids running around.  I weigh myself only at the doctor’s office and almost never think about the number of calories in what I’m eating.  I never do fad diets or even fast for faith purposes.  I make it a point not to say to or in front of my kids, “That food is bad for you!” or “Ugh, I look so fat today,” because I know the slippery slope that kind of talk creates.  I can (and sometimes do) happily try to pretend that it never happened, or dismiss it as “a crazy thing I did.”  

But the thing is, I think any of us can, very easily, be “crazy,” even if it isn’t an eating disorder at all.  I have for years loved the Susanna Kaysen quote from Girl, Interrupted

“Crazy isn’t being broken or swallowing a dark secret.  It’s you or me amplified.”

The truth is, I thank God every day for rescuing me out of the hell that is an eating disorder, but I also know there are daily battles I need to fight with Him to stay on this side of sane.  I think if we are honest with ourselves, that’s true for all of us.

And that’s why I’m writing this.  I might sound like a broken record by the time I finish, but I want everyone who reads this to know: you are NOT alone.  You are not alone, you are not alone, you are not alone...

So even though that time in my life almost seems like a glitch now, even though I don’t want to dwell on that dark time in my life, my heart needed to address it here.  I want you to know that I didn’t just take a picture with that chocolate macaron, I ate it. And as I ate it, didn’t think about fat or sugar or calories; I just thought about how delicious it was.  I didn’t even at the time remember those hospital walls, I just looked at my daughter across the table, laughing about something she had said.

And I tell you, that’s a miracle.

Sunday, February 2, 2020


This picture is one of my favorites from last year.  It was a total scam, one that we knew about before we even took off on our week-long trip to Vietnam last April, and still we were somehow suckered into it.  But I think we’d all agree it was some of the best two dollars we spent.

Here’s the deal: a “fruit vendor” comes up with her hanging baskets and asks if you want a picture.  We (being educated about this scam) say, “No, no, that’s okay,” and she says, “Free! Just take picture! Try!”  And we’re still protesting as she hangs her wares on Skyler’s shoulder and plops her hat on her head. And at that point, we say, “Wellllll... okay, I guess....” and she takes my phone and snaps this picture and then asks for equivalent of two dollars.  I think the only thing we could have done differently was to run the other way, but we had found a rare quiet spot in Hoi An to enjoy some gelato.  So we are two dollars poorer, but we have this amazing picture.

Last week, I hit “purchase” on our plane tickets for spring break this year, and it occurred to me that I never wrote about one of my favorite things we did last year, which was our trip to Vietnam.  Normally I would not do a post about a trip I took nine months ago, but it was so much fun.  Since I’m spending a good chunk of my time daydreaming about warmer climes and making plans and chatting with local friends about their spring break plans, I am pretty sure others are as well.  So I thought that I’d do this long overdue post just to have all the information in one place.

Our itinerary:

Two nights in Hanoi followed by five nights in Hoi An (with day trips to Da Nang).


Our hotel in Hanoi was the Serene Boutique Hotel in the Old Quarter.  

I cannot recommend this place enough.  It was everything I wanted — an intimate atmosphere brimming with personal touches, impeccably clean, beautiful décor, fantastic location, gracious staff, and an incredibly delicious breakfast included in the rooftop restaurant.  One of our favorite touches was that our rooms came with bowls of fresh fruit that were refilled every day.  We had passion fruit, mangos, guava, rambutan, and mangosteen, all perfectly ripe and delicious.

I had arranged an airport pick-up through the hotel, and after a somewhat frustrating and tiresome experience in the passport line at the airport, it was so nice to walk out and see our van driver waiting for us while others from our flight were still waiting for their rides.  We arrived at the hotel and were greeted by the staff with juice and snacks.  They asked us our names and used them in all our conversations during our time there.  They were incredibly helpful, providing maps and recommendations (which we should have listened to more).  The only problem with our stay is that it kind of ruined our expectations for all hotels since.

Our first night there we walked to dinner through the Old Quarter, which is an experience in and of itself.  There were motor scooters EVERYWHERE.  I mean, I have traveled a lot in my life, and I know the prevalence of scooters in most countries outside the United States, but I can’t think of a time I’ve seen anything like this.  We also passed several small streetside restaurants with short stools pulled up to low tables and the locals gathered around these.  By the time we found the vegetarian restaurant we were looking for (delicious but I don’t remember the name of it) and finished dinner, we were fairly tired so returned to the hotels for baths and bed.

The next day, we were up early thanks to the two-hour time difference.  We headed to the infamous prison Hoa Lo, aka The Hanoi Hilton.  To be honest, I have mixed feelings about taking my young kids there.  I did because I felt like it was educational.  I mean, Matt and I remember how when we were kids (born in the 70’s), Vietnam was almost a bad word.  We didn’t want to dwell on the pain and turmoil of the past, but at the same time, we felt like it was important for context, and it would be the one place directly related to the war that we would see.

There was an almost palpable darkness, though, for lack of a better word.  Some of the displays were a lot to take in, like a guillotine that was used for several years and some photographs and testimonies I don’t even want to describe here because they still turn my stomach.  I mention this because I’ve been asked several times since if I would take the kids there again, and... I’m not sure.  I don’t think it scarred the kids, but they unanimously say it was the worst part of the trip.  If you do plan a trip, just know it will be an extremely heavy experience, and that might be too much for young children.

We spent the rest of the day around the Old Quarter, visiting the beautiful St. Joseph’s cathedral 

and strolling around Hoan Kiem lake, taking in the atmosphere.  Skyler and I got massages in the spa of our hotel, and they were wonderful.  Then I took Skyler, Lilly, and Wyatt to the amazing Bamboo Circus 
while Matt took Annalee on a rickshaw tour of the Old Quarter since she was below the recommended age for the show.

The next day we got up and walked around some more before heading back to the airport to fly to Da Nang, just taking in the sights, sounds, and atmosphere.  We loved the architectural style, especially around the Old Quarter.  But I have to admit that two days in Hanoi with the bajillion or so scooters 

felt hectic and stressful to navigate especially with the younger contingent of our family.  By the time we left, we were ready for some beach time and a change of pace.

Da Nang/ Hoi An:

We arrived in Da Nang after a short flight that afternoon, and once again, I had pre-arranged a driver to the hotel, which was outside Hoi An but about 45 minutes from Da Nang.  We stayed at the Ally Beach Boutique Hotel.  It had a very different vibe about it, and while still nice, it was a little more basic.  We found an amazing place for dinner, Baby Mustard,

a farm-to-table kind of outdoor restaurant with the most charming garden.  

The next day I met with Tommy Dao of Tommy Dao Tours who had come recommended to me by a friend and was able to arrange two tours for the week.  This was one of the best things I did for our trip.  Our hotel had a tour as well to the same places, but it cost more and meant a longer day with lots of people.  I just couldn’t see doing that with my kids.  Tommy put together itineraries to exactly the places we wanted to visit with a private van for less money.

After spending the rest of the day at the beach, 

we headed to town in the evening.  Hoi An was a bustling and colorful city.  We loved all the lanterns.  This was the night of the photo scam, but honestly, it made us laugh.  We ate dinner at Phi Banh Mi.  It was incredible.  The sandwiches were so good, and our entire dinner cost less than $7!   
Matt headed back to the hotel with the younger kids while Skyler and I stayed in town to shop and explore.

The next day was our first tour.  We visited Ba Na Hills, which is an amusement park with the famous Hands of God bridge.  We were advised to go very early in the day, and while we were waking up early thanks to jet lag, breakfast at the hotel wasn’t served early enough.  I didn’t want to take my kids out on empty stomachs because I knew how tiring and stressful it is to look for food, so we went later than recommended though still quite early.  It was very crowded as you can see from the pictures, but we still got some decent pictures, thanks to our amazing guide.

From there we went to lunch in Da Nang.  Our tour guide took to a vegetarian restaurant with incredible food.  Unfortunately, I didn’t get the name of it.  The price was also low based on the menu, but our lunch was included in our tour price. Da Nang has a very different vibe than that of Hoi An, in spite of the proximity to each other.  Da Nang feels more like Miami Beach (in fact, some call it the Miami Beach of Vietnam) while Hoi An feels older and seems to have more cultural charm.  Both are good in their own ways.

We went to the Marble Mountains and visited a temple and a Buddha in a cave.  It was really beautiful.  I loved the use of broken blue-and-white ceramics, for instance, and the green tile roofs.

Dinner was again at Baby Mustard (why mess with success?), and the next morning, Matt took a quiet day with the younger kids while I went with Skyler on an all-day snorkeling tour to the Cham Islands.  This was the one tour I booked through the hotel, at the recommendation of Tommy.  The younger kids could have come along, but they wanted to stay at the hotel pool and go to the beach.  I think they were nervous about our any boat rides after our terrifying return trip from Fukuoka the year before. (Hahaha!)

I was honestly a little nervous about that too, especially when we arrived at the pier and everyone was loaded into small speedboats with two long benches.  But suddenly, the guide said, “You two!” (motioning to Skyler and I) “This boat over here!” And we were taken to a huge boat that kind of looked like a pirate ship.  It was slower than the others, but much more comfortable.  There were drinks included (we opted for just bottled water), and a sun deck with an awning stretched over it.  I’m still not clear how this happened, if it was a fluke or what we’d paid for, but gosh. It was nice. 

We stopped at one small island after about 1.5 hours on the boat and snorkeled for 45 minutes, went to another island and snorkeled again.  Then we went to another island for lunch. Vegetarian options were provided as well as water (and alcohol if desired, but I don’t really drink), and hammocks where we could watch monkeys scampering around the trees. 

Our last day, we took another tour to a traditional Vietnamese farm,

 rode in a basket boat (I told Matt I felt like baby Moses), 
and then went to lunch at another charming restaurant in town called the Blue Gecko.  That night we girls got mani/ pedis in the hotel spa, then swam.  We biked to Mate Cafe, a little cafe/ restaurant run by our tour guide to Bana Hills.  We were absolutely delighted by the waffles and coconut coffee we had, plus the lime sodas and mango milkshakes.
 We wished we’d gone there sooner in our trip.

We flew back to Korea the next day, all having loved our time in Vietnam.  My only regrets are that Jayna wasn’t with us (she was at university stateside and couldn’t join us) and that we didn’t hire a driver for a tour in Hanoi, but other than that, I just wish we’d had more time.  It felt like we were going and doing things every day and a busier itinerary would have been more stressful, but we still missed so much — like going to Ha Long Bay.  While we aren’t spending this Spring Break there, we had to fight ourselves to decide to go anywhere else.  We’d go back in a heartbeat.

Wednesday, January 22, 2020

Lessons from a Wardrobe Malfunction

Several years ago, I had this skirt I loved.  It had pockets and was a good length even when I was chasing around a preschooler and had a baby on my hip.  But it also had an zipper down the back.  (Cue Jaws soundtrack as you focus in on that for a minute.)

One day as I was out running errands and was putting baby Skyler into the back seat (which tells you how long ago this was since she is now 17!), and I had a brief moment of appreciation for this skirt, realizing how breezy and comfortable it was, and what a great purchase it had been.  And then the horrible realization came over me: I should not be feeling a breeze there.  The zipper had broken, and everyone in the parking lot now knew what color underwear I was wearing.

Fast forward sixteen years, and I’ve learned a few things.  I love wearing skirts and dresses; there is really nothing more comfortable.  But I’ve also steered (for the most part) far, far away from skirts with zippers down the back.  I don’t love when my skirt is particularly flowy or twirly, lest a breeze catch it.  And I’ve become quite adept and holding my skirt down when a little one comes along and decides to play “camping” with my skirt as the tent.  

Most of all, though I’ve learned to wear a slip.  Always.  One of my friends was shocked when I recently told her this, calling me an old lady.  But I strongly disagree; it’s just a smart thing to do.   In the summer, it provides a layer of modesty when my clothes are more sheer, and in the winter it adds a layer of warmth and protection from static cling even when I’m wearing my favorite fleece-lined tights.  They are close enough to the body that you can wear them without any four-year-old coming along and, just for kicks, decides to show everyone around your undies, and if a frisky breeze comes along, well, it’s still a little embarrassing, but not nearly as bad as your underwear showing.

Still, it’s and UNDERgarment and as such, should stay UNDER clothes.  About a month ago, I had walked to the market with the youngest two kids and was on my way back to the car, juggling several bags of produce while trying to hold onto Annalee’s little hand, all while a stiff, cold breeze blew.  I was grateful for every layer of clothing I had on.  I’d just crossed the street, though, when I found myself stumbling as if someone had something wrapped around my ankles.  Okay, that’s embarrassing, I thought to myself.  I couldn’t imagine what was tripping me up like this, but then again, I’m not best known for my gracefulness.  I rearranged the bags I was carrying and tried to keep walking, but I tripped again.  This time I glanced down and to my horror I realized that my slip had just fallen down.  It was a little old, true, but it was as if the elastic in the waist had just all of a sudden that moment said, “Nope, I quit.” and given up on its one purpose in life.

I gasped and dropped my shopping bags, calling Annalee and Wyatt to come close and provide some coverage so I could sort of hitch it back up.  Selective hearing turned on, though, and they acted like they couldn’t understand a word I was saying, nor did they, for that matter, know who I was, wandering as far from me as they knew they could.  I did this weird, bizarre shimmy of the slip up under my dress and grabbed it around my knees, hobbling and sort of hopping extremely awkwardly a hundred yards or so back to the car.  

Once I was back in the car, I pulled the slip all the way down over my boots, trying to recall if I’d seen anyone I knew in the passing cars and praying I hadn’t.  My pride had taken about all it could for one day.  I glared at the slip in my fist, “You had ONE JOB!” I said.

A couple weeks later, I was playing the keyboard for the Christmas Eve service.  There were two services that evening, because of the number of people on our base, and this was the second service.  The keyboard led the introduction to the song, and I thought all was fine until the acoustic guitar joined in.  Something was terribly off, and it took me only a split second to realize what it was.

Just before the first service, we’d decided that the last song we’d be singing, Silent Night, would be better one step down from the key we had practiced it in.  I can transpose chords on the fly okay, but I was worried that going from B flat to A, I might forget a chord, and that was one night when I really didn’t want to mess anything up, since this was leading a song for so many people.  Fortunately, the keyboard comes with a handy-dandy little transpose button, which I pressed, then played the last song no problem.  Unfortunately, I forgot to change it back before the next service.   

I know this doesn’t necessarily make sense unless you play an instrument or sing, but here’s the bottom line.  It sounded so bad.  You know the scene in A Quiet Place where the alien hears the whine of the girl’s hearing aid and loses his mind?  It was kind of like that.

I felt terrible.

Fortunately, I get to do this worship music thing with a great group of people who laughed it off with me instead of raking me over the coals.  Unfortunately, I’m afraid I set a bad tone for the service and hope and pray that’s not what the congregation remembers. 

I was reflecting on both incidents — the runaway slip and the forgotten button— later that night.  God is really trying to keep me humble! I thought first, reminiscing on how these occasions were merely weeks apart.  But the thought struck me then that actually, they had something in common more than my mere embarrassment: both were intended to prevent humiliation.  

Isn’t it funny how that happens?  Reading the news these days, we see this kind of thing happening over and over, on much larger scales.  Someone tries to hide a secret, and instead it creates an incident that blows up in their faces.  In our communities, with our friends, we hide things we are embarrassed about until they turn into ugly monsters that result in intense humiliation.

The fact is that embarrassment sells, and the media loves this.  We all seem to love this. We love to see people brought down at least a notch or two, because it makes us feel better about ourselves.

What if we didn’t?  

What if we let our guard down a little more and were free to admit mistakes and weaknesses?  What if we said things like, “I’m having trouble with this right now,” or even, “I messed up really badly”?  I can’t help thinking that a whole lot of people in the world would feel less alone and more normal.  What if we let others make mistakes without holding them in judgment forever?

As I think about this year, I’m thinking about my reaction when someone tells me they’re struggling with something or that they made a mistake.  How do I deal with it?  Am I gracious, remembering all too well the times I’ve also messed up (which is what the worship team did for me on Christmas Eve)? Or do I judge them harshly?  When I read the news about someone,  what are my reactions?  Do I immediately label them and let the story tarnish my opinion forever?  Or do I seek to find out more?  And do I hide my own embarrassing moments from people who maybe need to hear so that they can know they’re not alone?  Do I try too hard to act like I’ve got my life together perfectly?

This year, I want to be more attuned to the things I’m trying to hide and why.  If it doesn’t hurt someone else in the process, I want to admit to my own failures and shortcomings and offer a hand to others who are having a hard time too. 

If I’m going to be embarrassed anyway, I’d rather have company.

Sunday, January 12, 2020

What I Can’t See

Wyatt was about six months old that night.  He was mostly asleep, so I carefully carried him into our room, where he slept with us, to put him to bed.  Matt was already asleep because he had an early flight, and as I closed the door behind us, we were enveloped in the pitch dark.  Suddenly Wyatt was awake; his body tensed noticeably, and he tightened his grip on me.  

“What’s wrong?”  I whispered.  He burrowed his face against my neck.  And then I realized: he was afraid of the dark.

I know it’s not a strange thing for a child to be afraid of the dark.  But he was so young, and my heart broke a little for him, holding him close, wondering how he could be afraid.  This was a familiar place to him, even in the dark, a place where we had cuddled him and tickled and played with him, where I’d spent hours nursing him.  No one had taught him this fear; nothing had ever hid in the shadows and jumped out to startle him.  Still, here he was, every muscle in his body tense.  

I knew that if I flicked on the lights, he would be the bold, gregarious baby boy I knew, belly-crawling across the room as fast as he could toward whatever mischief he could find, his deep dimples grooving his chubby cheeks with that impish grin.  But here in the dark, he was full of fear, holding me as tightly as he could.

“It’s okay, buddy, Mommy’s right here.”  I eased him onto the bed and began to nurse him, slowly feeling his body relax.  It struck me that even though no one had taught him this fear, it was present nonetheless.  But in that moment, it dawned on me that we don’t have to experience something jumping out of the dark to be afraid of us.  Darkness terrifies us because we don’t know what’s there.

This probably should have made sense to me sooner.

The summer I turned thirteen, my family visited Jordan and Egypt.  It was an incredibly memorable summer (I’ve written a little about it before on this blog), and one of the amazing things we got to do was snorkeling in the Red Sea at Sharm-El-Sheikh.  My cousins were living in Egypt at the time, and since they had been there before, they served as our tour guides.  I remember the first time we went out, walking carefully across a coral reef.  It was late morning, and the sun beat down from a cloudless sky.  We got to the drop off at the edge of the reef, and my cousin said to put my face in the water and push away.

I did as he said, but when I looked down, I suddenly realized how far the reef went down.  It was clear for at least twenty feet, and you could see further down, too.  But wasn’t the floor of the ocean.  No, in fact, I couldn’t see the floor.  It was like trying to jump off a tall building when you couldn’t see the ground.

I stood up, shaking my head and spitting the snorkel out of my mouth.  “I can’t do this,” I said.  My cousin looked at me with at least a little annoyance, repeated his instructions, and I tried again, but I just couldn’t bring myself to do it.  I don’t know how many tries it took, but finally I pushed away from the reef, swimming with my eyes closed.  Then I turned around to look back at the reef, and it was utterly breathtaking.  I’d snorkeled before in Thailand and Malaysia, but never had I seen so many different kinds of fish — parrotfish, lion fish, clear jellies that didn’t sting, vivid corals, so many more, and yes, even a dark crevice with a moray eel tucked inside.  

We snorkeled there a few times before leaving, and it never fell short of amazing me.  But at the same time, whenever I looked down and realized I couldn’t see the bottom, cold fear knotted my stomach.  I could just imagine all sorts of horrors lurking below, maybe an enormous shark suddenly surging upward and eating me in one bite.  I loved it and hated it all at the same time.

I tend to feel this same way at the beginning of the year — any year.  I don’t know what the future holds, and it feels black and inky and oppressive, or blue and mysterious with who-knows-what lurking where I can’t see.  My natural assumption is that what I can’t see is probably going to hurt me.  Some people can charge into a year with bold plans and proclamations, while I would rather stand there, dipping my toes in cautiously, trying to work up the courage to actually jump.  Except you can’t really do that with a year. It happens, “ready or not.”

It’s especially hard in years like this one when I am fairly sure that there will be some significant changes.  I think this will be the year we move from Korea.  But I don’t know where we will move to or what my family will be doing there.  I don’t know where my kids will go to school, or if I will still be homeschooling most of them on December 31st.  We have two dogs to move to wherever that is, too, and I wonder how that will all go.  Will we have a good church?  Will we have friends? What will the kids be doing for fun when they leave the parkour and rock climbing classes here, when we don’t have this wonderful neighborhood full of friends?  What will our housing look like?  (Will we be in an apartment again?)  Skyler is planning to graduate early in June; will she be leaving for college, or will she spend a gap year with us?  Jayna is hoping to do an internship this summer, as it’s the last summer before her senior year of college.  So when will we see her again?

There are just so many questions, and very few clear answers.

But I started reading Paul David Tripp’s New Morning Mercies: A Daily Gospel Devotional on a January 1st.  It’s been one of those books that makes me think Tripp knows me, personally, very well.  As I was struggling over these thoughts and anxieties about the new year, the devotional I read pointed out Daniel 2:22, “He knows what is in the darkness and light dwells with him.”  Tripp goes on to write, “Remember today there is One who looks at what you see as dark and sees light... He holds both you and mysteries in his gracious hands, and because he does, you can find rest even when the darkness has entered your door.”

There’s a lot I did wrong in 2019 (like completely failing at my writing goals and blogging consistently), but I think I did some things well.  It was a good year, all in all, with so much for which to be grateful.  And instead of doing the usual listing of what I did right versus what I failed miserably at (don’t worry, I know what I did) and writing down some lofty aspirations, I just want to admit that I’m a little bit scared right now.  But I’m also closing my eyes and falling into what I can’t see, knowing that He who created me is holding me in His hands.  He knows what is in those places, and I’m trying to trust that He will work it for good.

Saturday, January 4, 2020

We Were Together: Holiday Wrap-up

Walt Whitman wrote, “We were together.  I forget the rest.”  

That’s kind of exactly how I feel after this holiday season, when I had all five of my kids home with me and it was all a blur of fun and together-time.  And today, the day after Jayna headed back to college, I’m kind of feeling a bit empty, wondering if it was all just a nice dream.  But since I know it wasn’t, I thought I’d write down a little bit of all that happened.

— We took a little staycation in Seoul.  Matt was working there anyway, so we headed up and spent two nights at the Dragon Hill Lodge, which is where we stayed on our first visit to Seoul which was three years ago already!! and where always stay.  This was the first time, though, seeing it fully decked out for Christmas, and it was so fun.  

We stayed there ostensibly for going Christmas shopping at Insadong, eating at Petra which is probably our favorite restaurant in all of Korea, and seeing the lanterns in Jongno.  It was a pretty chilly day, with a high just around freezing, so it took some willpower to leave the warmth of the hotel lobby, but once we got out and walked briskly to the metro, it didn’t seem as bad.

We did some shopping — I would say “a little”, but apparently we were there quite a while because the younger contingent of my kids complained quite a bit.  But we broke it up with lunch at a vegan restaurant that was really delicious.  

This was a traditional style Korean restaurant, with low tables that require you to sit on the floor.  You also must remove your shoes upon entering these restaurants.  Very few Korean restaurants offer truly vegetarian and definitely not vegan options, so we don’t get to do this often.  I realized how seldom this happens as we were putting our shoes in the little closet by the front door, and I surveyed what was a truly embarrassing sock situation (though not as terrible as the socks in the microwave incident). 

Now, we take off our shoes at home too, but I guess I’m not paying as much attention.  So here’s the thing: as the chief laundry-ist of the family, I get pretty frustrated by our socks.  Read: I have stopped bothering to actually match them.  As I’m folding, my criteria for matching are as follows:

1) Are they mainly the same color?

2) Do they look like they at least came from the same package? (i.e. Wyatt’s Jurassic Park socks, a triceratops + a spinosaurus = a match)

3) Do they appear to be the same size?  

Yep, I’ve gotten that lazy. OH. WELL.

I normally do not care a whit about this, but as I was looking at our feet as we shuffled through the restaurant, I was kind of horrified, sheepishly smiling at the other customers.  But I also wondered if other busy moms would just high-five me? 

It was very quiet in the restaurant, but my kids waited at a mostly polite volume because I had brought along this Christmas paint-by-sticker book recommended by one of my favorite bloggers, Janssen at Everyday Reading.  These books have been a big hit!

Anyway, the food came, and it was so delicious.  We ate to our hearts’ and stomachs’ content, then headed back out into the cold.

— We went from Insadong to the War Memorial of Korea.

 I don’t know how I’ve lived here so long and not visited it, (actually, come to think of it, most of my visits to Seoul have been on Mondays when it is closed) but it was truly incredible.  It is so well done and informative.  And the art is incredibly moving.

I stepped out of the Tear Room with actual tears in my eyes.  
Some of the displays led to interesting discussions too, like one that featured Korean villagers laden with packs which were all their belongings as the moved to escape the war.  My kids talked about what they would take if it came to carrying just what they could manage on their backs.

— After the museum, we headed to Petra.  Matt had been in Seoul all week and had eaten there earlier, graciously sending me a text of his feast so I could be eaten up with jealousy.  This is where I’ve eaten my birthday dinner the past two birthdays.  It is my favorite.  I love that even though a few months go (sadly) between most visits, the head waiter always remembers us and asks, “So how many falafels today?”  Some restaurants are good most of the time, but miss the mark occasionally.  At Petra, this never, ever happens.  Also, I have been eating Middle Eastern food my whole life.  I have been to the Middle East twice, and the summer I turned 13, I spent about six weeks in Jordan and Egypt.  So I think I can speak with at least some authority when I say this is excellent Middle Eastern food.  Especially considering it’s in Korea!

— The plan had been to go from there to the lanterns.  But Matt, who had been working hard all day, said he was tired and would take the younger kids back to the hotel.  Jayna, Skyler and I were determined we would see the lanterns, but then we stepped out into the cold and suddenly remembered that there was a hot tub at Dragon Hill and hey, we’d seen lanterns before.  So we headed back for a good soak while the younger kids swam in the indoor pool.

— The next day we went to Seoul Grand Park and Zoo.  Somehow — I think because snow clouds had moved in — it felt so much colder even though the forecast said it was supposed to be warmer.  We rode the chair lift at the park and decided that was about enough for us, so we stopped for a picture in front of the zoo sign 

without actually going in and walked back to the car, shivering the whole way as a few snowflakes started to fall.

— Christmas Eve and Christmas were wonderful, especially Christmas.  All this season, I’d been craving time to just relax, and that’s exactly what we did.  We opened presents in the morning, went out to lunch at our favorite local Thai restaurant (another tradition we’ve started while living in Korea), and then parked ourselves in front of the TV for a Christmas movie marathon.  It felt just about perfect.

— The rest of the time was spent similarly relaxing hard.  I took Jayna and Skyler to see Little Women, and we absolutely loved it.  (Lilly was invited too, but these days she finds hanging out with her dad to be more fun if she’s given the option.)  I think the script was probably the best of them yet because it allowed so much more development of the characters and a chance to build the rapport that I felt with them when I read the book (a million years ago).  So good.  Have you seen it yet?

— We didn’t get a white Christmas but did wake up to a sugar-dusting of snow on New Years! It was thrilling especially to the kids.  (Please note: Annalee’s hands aren’t that big; it’s her new Frozen 2 gloves. 😂) 

— The trees are put away now, but my favorite new ornament that went on my favorite tree was this hedgehog by Annalee.  She’s obsessed with hedgehogs right now (though she’d tell you cats are her favorite animal, which... I just don’t get it).  I love the ingenious use of dental floss too!

We are starting this year — and decade — with full hearts, which is good because I know this year will be one with plenty of change again.  But more on that soon.  Our holiday was lovely.  There has been goodness and rest.  We were all mostly healthy except for some colds,  but no one was too miserable.  There were things I wish we had done, like taking a family picture, but at least I know we were all there.  There was laughter, and we were together.  

I hold it all tight in my heart.

How were your holidays?  I hope that they were equally wonderful and year is off to a great start!