The Agitator

Two or three times a month I wash my clothes
(I know, it’s embarrassing how infrequent)

The reason why I do it so seldom is:
1. It’s a physical hassle
2. I’m suspicious of whether or not my clothes actually become cleaner

My friend referred to our washing machine once as “the clothing agitator.”

In America (or anywhere where there is running waters) most washing machines have a wash, rinse, spin and drain cycle.

Here there are 15 minutes of agitation.
No rinse, no drain and “spin” is in a separate compartment that you manually have to transfer everything to
Any rinsing has to be done manually in a separate bucket, though usually I just add a couple of scoops of water in before the spinning.

At the end the dirty water has to be drained and dumped into the toilet outside

Because there isn’t any rinse cycle I feel that I’m just adding soap to dirt and mixing it around Adding a fresh laundry smell to still dirty clothes.

The funniest thing is that usually I think I do a fairly good job of washing…
Until I visit America

Then I realize that my fresh smelling clothes don’t smell so fresh
(More like I rolled around at a petting zoo and then went to work at a coal mine)
And my white clothing isn’t quite so white as I thought it was

In my 4 years in Mongolia God has put me through the “agitator”
Getting the dirt to fall out

Sometimes I wonder, am I worse than I was before I came to Mongolia?
I’ve seen things come out of my heart that I never knew were inside

But the thing is, all of it was already inside.
It just took Mongolia to “agitate” it out

Like my clothes being shockingly dirtier than I thought
Inside my heart was also much worse than I thought

Doing laundry in America, I don’t get the “privilege” to see how dirty my clothes really are.
I put them in the machine, close the door, and 45 minutes later open the door to clean clothes

But here, I have to get my hands dirty, draining the murky water
Feeling its weight
Dumping it out

In America, I had the same stuff inside, I just wasn’t in circumstances where I could get a close view of my true condition

So take heart.
When it seems like you are far worse than you could have imagined

When it seems like you’re spinning in murky water
Have hope

It might mean that the agitation is a cleansing process
Removing the dirt
Even healing

If I want my clothes to be especially clean, I have to put new water in for each cycle
I usually don’t and reuse the same water for 2 or 3 loads because it uses so much water and requires more work of draining and dumping

And for us, if we really want to be healed of the muck inside
We will have to feel its weight
And dump it out
Away and irretrievable

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Over and over again

The final step is to hang my clothes up to dry
No dryer here except the sun

And sometimes after exhausting heart work, we too have to just wait
Wait and let the Son do the rest.

 

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Why a New Road Makes Me Emotional

There have been many emotional happenings lately.
For example- a new road

There is now a real road going from the bus stop up to about 100-200 meters down from my home.

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What the roads nearby look like (before)

As weird as it sounds to be emotional about a road, bear with me.
I never thought
Never dreamed
Never hoped
To see a road in my ger district- complete with speed bumps, crosswalks and a potential bus stop.

It’s exciting
But weird
And oddly a little sad

It means that things do change
But it also means
Things change.

My ger district is developing but I won’t be here for the new era.
The work (on the roads and in the hearts) is never done, but it seems like just as the road construction is finishing up, it’s a visual representation that my own “building” is ending.

And how happy and sad it is!

It’s one road out of thousands in the ger districts of Mongolia- not even a mile’s worth of asphalt. The country’s infrastructure has not become anywhere near first world standards since its construction and as great as it is that my road was one of the chosen ones, many other roads may never become more than dusty flattened dirt.

But for my neighborhood
It mattered.
Our lives are now just the tiniest bit less inconvenienced now.
Our street looks a little bit less ger district, a little bit more city, and a lot more beautiful.

And the comparison is this:

My 4 years here- just a drop of asphalt amid thousands of roads

I didn’t solve Mongolia’s problems- or even those of my kids
Usually I wonder if I did enough, or enough of the right things

But to me,
And God willing, maybe to a fewIMG_1848 2

It was beautiful.
It mattered.

Each day that I’ll drive up and down the new road over the next 2 months and 3 weeks
I will be reminded that, even though I won’t be around to see the big changes,
How thankful I am to have seen my handful of small ones.
How thankful I am, to have been able to travel up and down that dusty and bumpy half excuse of a road
How thankful for the things I learned on that road
The things I learned over these years

But now,
Now the new thing.

Hope is a Thunderstorm and a Lost Mitten

Yesterday I lost my mitten.
It was only a mitten.
But
It was the warmest and my favorite.

I thought it had fallen between the seats of my car
I would look for it later

This morning was a morning to write about
Unfortunately not in a good way

I had a mini meltdown in front of my students.
It wasn’t a great moment.

I was trying to teach the past tense.
It wasn’t the most exciting lesson, I admit
If we could have gotten through some irregulars we would have played some games.

But we didn’t get through them
The interest level was at about 3%
4 out of 7 kids wouldn’t have noticed if I had turned pink and started to fly.

I’ve experienced worse
But today I felt especially helpless.

After 35 minutes of feeling invisible
The emotions started to well up
The class was supposed to go on for another 25 minutes
But I couldn’t do it

I stayed calm but told them that we would finish for today and that they could go.
I sat down and attempted to maintain composure.
Unsuccessfully.
They started to notice me then but it was too late.

They didn’t leave, but because my tears were at their breaking point
I excused myself and locked myself in the bathroom for a few minutes

I wasn’t exactly angry with them.
I just felt helpless.
I want these final two months of classes to go well
But it’s the same problems I’ve always had.
Maybe it was my fault for not making class more interesting.
They were just kids after all.
I get it.
I was there not long ago.
But I still felt bad.

I had hoped that after returning and reestablishing some measure of composure they would be gone.
They were not.

It took some persuading for them to leave.
“We still have 15 minutes left”
“Are you sad?”
“Are you crying?”
Some stayed back to ask

I had discovered a way to get full silence and attention
But it was an awkward moment for all.

After classes were finished I was driving up the road to my home
When I spotted something in the middle of the road
There’s usually lots of trash in the roads so it wasn’t unusual
But this object looked familiar

“Is that my mitten?” I asked aloud as I drove past

I realized that it was indeed my mitten and turned around.
I was especially surprised because I thought it was somewhere hidden in my car
Evidently it was not and had spent the day and most likely the night in the middle of the road.
Miraculously it was still intact though very dusty!

I was going through an old sketchbook later on and saw a drawing from a few years ago
Titled “Hope Looks Like a Thunderstorm”

I thought of the title and drawing in light of today.

Thunderstorms aren’t usually a positive thing
They can be scary

But for my drawing
It was positive

The downpour was about to come on the dry cracked ground
All at once

So I thought
Maybe today was a thunderstorm
It was a downpour and we all got a little wet
It was uncomfortable

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But if God cares so much to preserve my favorite mitten in the middle of a dusty street

How much more does He care about the important things
Like when your day feels like a downpour of difficult
And you can’t keep it all together

Maybe it wasn’t a bad thing that my students saw that I don’t always have a smile plastered on my face
Maybe it was ok that they saw me as a little vulnerable and uncomfortable.

Because hope looks like a thunderstorm
And a mitten in the middle of a street
And maybe somehow, a teacher crying in class

Into Our Deep Darkness

Nativity
The process of being born says the dictionary.
Reckless
Acting without caution regardless of the consequences

When we were at our lowest
At our weakest
God’s nativity

When we were the most difficult to be around
When we pushed Him away
His reckless love

I’ve had some low points this month after my second surgery.
I haven’t been pleasant to be around.
I haven’t rejoiced and celebrated the good.

I’ve thrown fits at God and at others because there is pain.
I’ve put unrealistic and misplaced expectations on others.
I haven’t clung to Christ.

But although I’ve complained that all this is happening during the holidays
I am thankful.

I’m thankful that, because of Christmas
I am reminded
I am surrounded by what’s true.

I’m reminded of the ramifications of God who will not give up on me
I’m astounded that even in our great darkness
He birthed Himself into humanity.
He didn’t turn His face away, sigh and claim,
I’ll come back another time after you’ve calmed down and pulled yourself together
Our neediness didn’t overwhelm Him.
I throw tantrums because, It’s just not fair
But nothing will turn Him away.

God’s nativity came recklessly into our deep darkness
My deep darkness
Your deep darkness

And today the ramifications 2,000 some years later are that
He will not let us go.

Because of our God’s merciful compassion, the Dawn from on high will visit us to shine on those who live in darkness and the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.

 

 

Waiting in the Pain

Sometimes we have to sit in our pain.
There is no quick fix.

I had bunion surgery less than two weeks ago.
I’ve heard since that it’s one of the more painful surgeries to have.
-of course I only found that out post surgery.
The first 36 hours after the anesthesia wore off were the worst.
I had never experienced any surgeries or broken bones so I thought that after I took the medicine the pain would disappear.
It didn’t.
I’m sure it would’ve been even worse without the medicine but at the time I felt like it offered no relief.

Now over a week later I’m able to hobble around in a surgical boot and get out of the house a bit.
But it started with small, painful steps.

For the first couple days after the surgery I didn’t want to try to start walking and was content to hop on one foot to get to the bathroom- which at that point was the only place I was able to get to outside of my bed.

I was not happy when my mom called the nurse and confirmed that I had to start wearing the surgical boot.
No more hoping.
I was not excited to take those first difficult steps.

Sometimes we don’t want to take those first steps to healing.
It hurts.
It’s scary.
We’d rather cradle the painful thing, protect it, and hop around thinking- when it hurts less I’ll try.

But then healing, real healing can’t happen.

After lying in the same position for over a week I felt like I was about to go crazy.
I needed to do something.

But sometimes in pain we can’t do anything.
We can only wait.

It’s true that time heals.

After that painful conversation or revelation
After the news of some tragedy

Sometimes there is nothing to be done but to sit and wait.
Only after a little while can we take those first few difficult steps.

If I gave up because of the pain of those first few steps I would never be able to get healed.
My muscles would become weak and I wouldn’t be able to make them strong again.

These days I long to be back in Mongolia and three more months of waiting seems like an incredibly long time. There are many things that I value and am thankful for here but it would be untrue to say that, although I’ve built relationships and put down a few roots here, my heart isn’t still split.

But as painful as it is to not be where I want to be I know that it is God’s loving grace that He has given me these 4 months to wait.
I have no other option but to be still.

The key is, what is my mind dwelling on during those times that my body is still but my mind is fully active?

Am I dwelling on things that will heal my soul and give my heart peace?
Or am I dwelling on things that wound my soul and make 22812594_10214363493304258_551564941_omy heart ache?

I can choose.

We can choose to dwell on our disappointments
Or on God’s faithfulness.

To dwell on the pain
Or on the healing

And wait

A Reversal of Roles

Several weeks ago I experienced a reversal of roles.
From foreigner to Mongolian.
For an hour it was not a Mongolian giving a group of foreigners a tour but a foreigner giving a group of Mongolians a tour.
It was a tour of the shower house
And the tour guide was me.

Seeing how it’s been one of my weekly highlights for the past three plus years, I am a little bit of a shower house expert- at least, as I was about to find out, compared to some.

Besides the obvious part of the actual taking of the shower, sometimes I also walk away with a something extra.
For example:
An enjoyable political discussion about Mongolia in Mongolian with the shower house owner
Discussions over what is and isn’t a cult (also in Mongolian)
A free popsicle from the owner’s daughter
et cetera

But I never expected to be a shower house tour guide.
One day after camp this summer we were short on time before dinner with the team.
There wasn’t enough time for everyone to go home so we went straight to the community center.
With time to spare everyone was thrilled at the idea of a shower after a long week of camp.

What I didn’t know, was that no one else had never been to a shower house!

After leading about them through the maze of dirt roads to the house I soon found out.
And the questions started..
What do I do?
Where do I get soap?
What about shampoo?
Does anyone have a towel?
How much does it cost?
Is there a comb I can use?
What about a hair dryer?
How do I close the door?
(And these were all questions coming from guys!)

The shower lady kindly went to the store and got all the necessary items.
In their confusion I took advantage of the situation and headed towards an empty room
Happy that at least I knew how to take a shower!

My personal highlight was when one of the guys tried to take someone else’s clean laundry for his own personal towel.
Because the shower house doubles as a laundry service other people’s clothes were hanging out to dry and so one of the guys picked out a towel from the rack and innocently asked if he could take it. The shower house lady kindly explained that it was someone else’s personal towel and no he could not just take it.21682429_10214027791231916_864121219_o
Somehow someway everyone got their shower without much further chaos.
It was a pretty funny situation and even the shower lady was amused.
“I didn’t realize they were Mongolians! I thought they were Hong Kong people!” she remarked as we left.

And that was the afternoon that the foreigner played tour guide.

The next time I went she told me that when she sees me she doesn’t see a foreigner. She told me that because we speak in Mongolian she feels close to me and sees me just like a Mongolian.

And that made my day.

When You Can’t Harvest What You Plant

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The garden thing has been going on since the end of May.

It’s been a growing experience (literally!), I’ve learned a lot and have been pleasantly surprised that things grew as much as they did.

However after short notice I’m leaving for America for awhile and won’t be around when it’s time to harvest everything.

I was most looking forward to my sunflowers and although they keep growing tall, I don’t think I’ll be able to see their sunny faces in the next 3 days before I leave.

But it’s another life lesson that I’ve heard over and over again and yet never fully appreciated until now.

That sometimes you don’t get the chance to harvest what you plant.

In work
In relationships
In life

Sometimes you put in all the effort
All the work
All your heart

But you never see the outcome.
You never see the results.
Or maybe you see something but it’s not the results you were hoping for or they were small in comparison to what you had wanted

Those of us who grew up in the Church hear this often:
Some plant
Some water

And some get to harvest

We nod
But I think we all hope to be the ones who harvest
To see results

If I knew in May that I wouldn’t be able to eat any of the things that I planted and wouldn’t be able to experience the final result after months of effort I wonder if I would have put in all the work?

Would I have thought that it wasn’t worth doing?

Maybe.

Would we start a job
A relationship
A dream
Cross the world or country
Make the big move

If we knew that the end wouldn’t be what we had in mind?
If we knew that we wouldn’t see visible results?
If we would have to walk away for whatever reason and have it all end only in heartbreak?

Maybe not.

The garden is a small example and although I’m a little sad it certainly isn’t heartbreaking.
But I think the concept is the same.

Maybe if I knew that I wouldn’t be able to see the end product
To literally taste the fruit of my efforts
I wouldn’t have done it.

But I’m glad I did.21222781_10213851769031471_788669956_o

I learned a lot.
What a beautiful thing it was to watch enormous plants come from small seeds
To see the changes and growth every week
To take part in it all

And it wasn’t all a loss.
I was able to harvest a grand total of two carrots.
Which was actually quite the accomplishment!

And there is always next year.

Cheering Them On

Performance night is my favorite night of the week. fullsizeoutput_2d66.jpeg
It always makes me feel a bit emotional.

I feel like my heart might burst with pride for the kids.
I admire how they’ve grown.
Taller- yes
But I also remember the other ways that they’ve grown
How they’ve matured

During the year I’m their teacher.
I try to give advice, to teach, and sometimes I have to scold.

But here at camp
These evenings when I am in the audience I get to simply be their biggest fan.

On these nights they have a whole audience of biggest fans.

They have a crowd full of admirers from around the world cheering them on in the summer so they can make it through the rest of the year.

When we yell and clap, we are not just impressed because of their excellent singing and dancing.
It’s an applause saying,
“I’m so proud of who you are becoming!”
It’s, “I see you and you are known and cared for.”
“You are loved.”

And I think my throat might give out from the cheering and my hands grow numb from clapping.

How easy it is for me to watch- but how hard it is to put myself in their place.
How difficult it is for me to believe that my audience- of only One that really matters feels the same and much more.

It’s hard to accept that in my life- performing one way or another or just living day to day
He is applauding
He is captivated by me!
He is not impressed by my works but applauds saying,
“I’m so proud of who you are becoming!”
“I see you and you are known and cared for.”
You are loved.”

And what a beautiful thing if only we could accept this truth.

Three Years

Sometimes I feel like I’ve aged 10 years since coming to Mongolia instead of 3.

I look at this picture from the day I left.10469684_10204455412373347_3897149755265944682_n
June 24th 2014
The room I would never return to.
The home I would never return to.
The me I would never return to.

Maybe I was more carefree.
Naive- yes.

I’m still joyful, still can laugh uncontrollably and easily break out into song.
But everything has more depth.

I had never experienced suffering.
Sadness yes.
But I had never walked with a person who had truly suffered- at least not that I knew of.

I had seen brief snapshots
But it was never passed out in front of me lying on the street.

I had never looked into the eyes of someone who had been broken over and over again yet still walked on.

And it has changed me.
God has changed me.

I don’t think I’ve changed anyone in these three years to the extent that God has changed me.

One thing I’ve noticed is that many times those suffering don’t know they are suffering-especially children.

They may look normal- beautiful and talented.
Only sometimes you see tiny cracks show
A story leaks unexpectedly
A reaction a bit too strong

And you remember.

Some days are just unpleasant.

You can do the right planning
But it can still all go wrong.
Fighting same battles even after three years

Those are the days when, not only do I wonder what strange body part of what strange animal am I eating for my lunch,
But also what in the world is this thing that God has given me?

What does He want me to do with these ashes?

But then there are days full of joy.
– The big win of finding blueberries for the first time at the store
– The victory of driving across town with car and sanity in tact.
– The excitement of my garden growing
– Completing 3 levels of language study

And the true victories.
-When the kid I baptized is now bringing others to church and still going strong today.
-Words of hope I’ve been allowed to speak
-God bringing dark places in my own heart to light.

I know for many missionaries 3 years is merely a walk around the block but for me each year has been so FULL- full of immense growth, of joy, of sadness, of hopes.

If someone told me in 2012 during my first visit to Mongolia that I would be living at Flourishing Future’s community center and working with the kids at LET I would not have believed them.
But here I am and I realize that I really have put down some roots.

Some days my roots feel shallow like I could pluck them up at any moment and travel back.
The days when my relationships don’t feel close or numerous and my work seems less than meaningful. But when I stop and think of how far I’ve come it’s amazing.

I made a list of all the things I have experienced as a result of these 3 years in Mongolia and it’s quite long.

But the most important experiences are the wonderful Mongolians and other foreigners that I have met these three years and have had the privilege to call friends family and neighbors.

That and knowing God in a way that He couldn’t have taught me from another place.

These years I have laughed.
I have loved.
I have cried.
My heart has broken.
I have hoped and have been disappointed.
I have struggled and have thrived.
I have hurt and been hurt.
I have dreamed.
I have failed and I have succeeded.
I have made mistakes but I have learned.
I have grown.

And so here’s to one more year
Of thankfulness and experiencing more of God’s faithfulness
Whatever may come.

Bloom Where You’re Planted

Currently there are about 7 things that I’m trying to grow.
I started in small separated containers.
Hopefully in a week or so I will transplant them to the real garden behind my house.

God might also be trying to grow about 7 things in my heart.
Patience and perseverance among other things.

I’ve been through a few transplants.
He started small.
A weekfullsizeoutput_2b6a
Months
A year
And now it’s been nearly 3

Transplanted to bigger plots of land

Do my tiny sprouts try to jump out?
Wanting bigger space to grow?
Once they are placed in the garden will they want to go back to their tiny containers?

I imagine my tiny carrot sprouts growing legs and sneaking away to the garden plot while I’m asleep.
Or once they’ve developed I imagine them trying to sneak back and fit into the now cramped containers.
I laugh.
Both are funny things to imagine.

But they would die either way.
They would go before they are ready- and freeze.
Or they would be too cramped in their old space and their growth would be stilted.
Sometimes I want bigger space.
I try to force myself into God’s mind.
What would I do with me if I were God?
Where should He transplant me next?

Sometimes I want to jump back to those comfortable places I used to be at.
I decide that I’m not ready for this new spacious area.
I liked my warm safe container near my friends.

The saying goes, “bloom where you’re planted.”
Because where you are planted is actually the best place for you to be
Whether you are enjoying that particular soil or not

Don’t rush the process one way or another.
When it’s time you will be transplanted.

In the meantime we just have to do what we have always been supposed to do.
Live.