standing still

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Ok. Here is the bare-bones truth of right now.
I haven’t really known what to write and writing the truth felt impossible. Impossible to face and impossible to share. Things have been rough. Really rough and I didn’t know how to share it.
I remember the lyrics to a song by a well-known Christian group from the 90’s;
What if I stumble – what if I fall?
What if I lose my step and I make fools of us all
…when my walk becomes a crawl’
I haven’t wanted to be the fool. I haven’t wanted to be the Missionary who isn’t coping. I haven’t wanted my voice of doubt and hurt to go out where so many people hear it.
I haven’t wanted you to read and think,
Oh here we go again… she’s struggling…
… she is stumbling…

You see, the truth of the last few weeks is that I haven’t stumbled or lost my footing.
The truth is… I haven’t been walking at all.
I haven’t been striving for the advancement of the Gospel the last few weeks.
I personally haven’t shared anything with anyone. I’ve barely even spoken to a National.
I haven’t been seeking to grow in godliness or pursuing holiness.
I haven’t been walking in faith and following hard after Jesus.

I have been standing completely still. Staring at my feet.

I have not even tried, to put one foot in front of the other.
I haven’t looked forward to the hope we have in Jesus.
I haven’t looked up and sought after my Father.
I’ve just stared down. At my feet.

There was a moment, a few weeks ago where I was lying on my bed, sick with (what appears to have been) Dengue Fever.
I was hurting, all over and the pain was only intensified by the heat of a fever which made my brain feel like it had melted into a swirling sloshing mess. I was on my bed staring into the eyes of my 2 year old son, Roo. Who was also battling the virus. Roo lay next to me motionless. At intervals the pain would win out over his lethargy and he would cry out, “Ow… owwww”.
His watery eyes stared back at me. Vacant and distant. Only an arm’s length away.

In that moment, I felt in the midst of storm.
I felt the wind of anger rushing forward. Why. Why God do you not care what happens to us?
I felt fear rain down in heavy drops. What next? What else will we need to endure? What else will you not spare us from?
Thunder claps of doubt. Am I not yours? Am I doing this wrong? Have I been trusting you and you don’t know me?
Desperation, like bolts of lightning, piercing prayers of accusation. I don’t have the faith for this again. This is enough. I’ve had enough. You have put me through enough. What else do you want from me?
Bitter cold. The temperature of hurt. Do you not love me? I love you… I love you. Why don’t you love me? Where is your love for me now?  I am HERE for You. Where are you? Where are you in this?

I looked down at my feet in that storm.
When I was crying and begging for my Hoosband to book tickets. Fly me out of here. Please. We need to rescue ourselves. We need to rescue Roo.
I looked down expecting to see sand.
I looked down expecting that the foundations of my faith were washing away. Crumbling in the storm.
I looked down at my feet and waited to be free from the storm.
To see nothing … and have no faith left… and to just walk away…

But I looked down and saw Rock.
I looked down, because as the wind howled and the rain fell, I was standing.
Though in my heart there was thunder and lightning and bitter cold… my foundation was Solid Rock.
My foundation wasn’t built on security. On health or stability.
It wasn’t built on fully understanding, or blind-following.
I wasn’t expecting an easy path or a wide gate.
It wasn’t built on irrational happiness or established in good times.
It wasn’t built on the quotable psalms or inspiring parts of Isaiah, alone.
The truth of who God is -is not measured and weighed by my experience, sustained by my strength or proven by my circumstance.
God is not diluted with my tears. He does not vanish in the darkness.
In the depths of my deepest… I looked down and I was not washed away.
I looked down and saw that there was Rock.
I looked down and saw that I was still standing… and I was surprised.
Still storming. Still standing.
That’s the truth.

“My Hope is built on nothing less
Than Jesus’ blood and righteousness
little lion manI dare not trust the sweetest frame
But wholly lean on Jesus’ Name

On Christ the Solid Rock I stand
All other ground is sinking sand
All other ground is sinking sand.

When darkness seems to hide His face
I rest on his unchanging grace
In every high and stormy gale
My anchor holds within the veil”

There was another moment… days after the first moment.
I was laying tentatively on the lounge. The Dengue virus had stopped punching me from head to toe. I felt bruised and beaten and tired. But not sick. Roo had stopped spiking dangerously high temperatures a couple of days earlier, had woken from his fever haze and was actually outside playing with his siblings.
I think I was talking with Hoosband about my stormy heart.
We were talking Job, pain and the sovereign rights of the Creator.
We were talking refining and trials. Spiritual warfare and Biblical promises.
I had a constant silent tear. One after the other.
Sore heart. Loud storm. Silent tears.

It was the moment when I thought about how, through all this. I had been spared one thing- I had been spared the need to take Roo back to a local hospital.
I had been spared facing that fear and reliving that pain.
(Last year, our son Roo ha been seriously burned in a household accident and treated at a local hospital before being evacuated, I’ve previously shared about that experience in earlier blog posts.)

It was the moment I thought that – and then heard the audible crack of head against tile.
I heard Miss E say something like, ‘Run get Mum and Dad. He has broken his head open’ I heard crying and I knew all my fears and dread and hurt were about to wrap around my battle weary heart and attempt to suffocate it.
Roo was hurt… again.

Roo had split his head open in a wide, deep wound. Roo was bleeding all over my hoosband. All over the floor.
Roo was going to need to go to hospital.
Storm. Panic. Storm.

There was another moment.
A moment after the first moment and only hours after the second moment. When the local doctors wouldn’t let me see my son. When they had taken him for a 15minute procedure and couldn’t wake him from sedation over an hour later.
There was a moment when I was sitting by his bed, in a room that was not at all sterile or even clean… when they began to slap his face, attempting to wake him.
Slap. He wont wake up. Slap. We didn’t actually measure the dose. Roo in Hospital
Slap. I am still covered in his blood.
Slap. unlabeled syringes are pulled out of pockets and injected into this arm
Slap. I’m sitting in a plastic deck chair watching… getting no answers.
Slap. Another injection. Slap. Another 10minutes.

Slap. Watching my son receive the best treatment this province has to offer.
As the best attack that could be levelled against me. Was. Yet again.

It was the small and lonely hours of the night that he finally stirred to consciousness, that  I carried him back to the ward and the level of care never improved, the longer we stayed.
The whole time. There was a storm.

And here is the truth…
I didn’t pray. I didn’t trust. I deliberately tried not to think.
I was on auto-pilot the whole hospital stay.
I slept in bloodied clothes in his hospital room, with bucket showers and wild cats. I got him out of there as soon as I could. Took him home to watch and wait for infection, or concussion or whatever else could be coming next.

And as soon as I let myself breathe… the air came in quick gulps.
Rushing winds, pelting rain. Peals of lightening. Icy cold and deafening thunder.
A storm of fear, doubt and hurt. A rage of anger and desperation.
A storm for every moment, on top of another moment in the space of 2weeks. 2 weeks on top of 2 years of moments.
Not only heart heavy and tired from battle – but physically wasted and worn down by illness.
I looked down and saw my feet on the Rock.
And I just cried.

So the truth is.
I am not walking. I am not even trying.
I am standing here just staring down at the Rock of my Salvation, as the storm rages on. I look down to keep sure of where I am. Still standing. Still Rock.

There is still doubt and desperation and hurt.
I haven’t found shelter, yet, from the drenching fear
or made sense of the angry wind.

But I know my house was built upon the Rock.
And that my Jesus has been known to calm storms.

And that;
It all the truth I know today.
And all I can tell you right now.

“His Oath, His Covenant, His blood
Support me in the whelming flood
When all around my soul gives way
P1100922aHe then, is all my Hope and Stay

On Christ the Solid Rock I stand
All other ground is sinking sand
all other ground is sinking sand

When He shall come with trumpet sound
Oh may I then in Him be found
Dressed in his Righteousness alone
Faultless to stand before the throne”

* DC TALK wrote the song, What if I Stumble, released in 1995, from the album Jesus Freak.
*Edward Mote is the original author of the above Hymn. Written in 1834, I couldn’t help but think of its verses. The words to this Hymn hung in my kitchen for the last 2 years.

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3 truths and a story

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Recently, I read an opinion piece which said that the key to successful blog posts that both engage and attract, is to include 3 truths and 1 story.
So, due to the fact that the last few weeks have been crazy, that I have totally dropped the ball on writing a blog post for May… and that I feel incapable to writing anything for June…. I will now lazily apply this apparently full-proof formula to submit a blog post that is engaging, attractive and successful, all without getting out of my pajamas.

Truth 1: I have lived in 2 cities in this country, and in both there seems to be a public love for 90’s power ballads… or corny love songs in general.  They are played at loud volume in the shopping centres, cafés and department stores. I have heard more Celine Dion in the last 18months than I probably heard from her in the entire 1990’s. I get to sing along to Backstreet boys, Guy Sebastian and Jordan Sparks whenever I visit a public building and I kinda not-so-secretly love it.

Truth 2: Toilets in Sth East Asia are squat toilets on the floor. They are built up 1 step. There is a normal toilet ‘bowl’ section and 2 drainage sections on the side. Now, I always assumed that to use these, you are meant to place a foot on either side of the toilet and squat down with the toilet directly beneath me.
I will admit publically that I do not have great squatty success.
Many toilets cubicals are also 2cm deep in water, seeing as how the locals use a bucket to splash flush which then gets on the floor etc. I spent a long time baffled as to how the ladies ahead of me in the toilet que do it! What do they do with their pants? Take them completely off? How do they NOT pee on themselves?
Granted they are better at squatting than me – but come on. So I asked a close frend. Apparently the key is to put your feet on the step lower, both feet out in front of you and squat to hang your bottom over the bowl. She gave me a demonstration (not actually on a toilet though) and it looked simple enough when she did it.
Even now that I know the inside truth, I still find it awkward and… honestly… don’t always come away completely dry.

Truth 3: In a neighborhood – everyone knows everything. We went out for the afternoon to a swimming pool. There are not really any changing rooms at this swimming pool and so we left our house in our swimsuits and returned wearing them – wet. I wear long board shorts that fall below my knee and a short sleeve rash shirt. It is not as covered as most women but it is ok for swimming. I walked from my house to the car (about 2 meters, maybe). We went out for about 3 hours and returned home where I walked the 2metres back inside.
About 20 minutes after getting home there is a knock at my door. My neighbor just wanted to know where I had gone – wearing shorts like that.
She was concerned,
Did I realize how white my legs are – they get noticed.
Did I know that women don’t wear shorts if they want to be respected?
She has discussed it with other neighbors and none of them could think of where I could possibly be going in such attire.

I thanked her for caring about my reputation, explained that I had gone swimming and that yes… I am aware my legs are white. She seemed to accept this explanation.
The next day a 9year old friend of my daughter told me that she had recently heard about how I like to go swimming.

our yardAnd now a story,
My (now 6yr old) was running around outside.
She, along with her siblings and some local kids were playing a run/chase game. Though, with language barriers, no one seemed to quite knew who was meant to be chasing whom and so there was just a blur of laughter and running kids.
In the chaos, Buddy stepped on a plank of wood with an old dirty nail protruding through.
It went through her rubber sandals and deeply into her foot.
As she squealed, lifting her foot with the wood now attached, the wood was pulled from her foot by a local boy who then carried her inside.
Of course blood was going everywhere, Buddy was screaming in pain and shouting melodramatic assurances that she would die, or need her foot cut off or that she could never walk again.
I was home alone, and as I tried to call Hoosband for back-up the signal was dead. I tried teammates and friends. All of whom did not answer their phones. So I patched up my holey daughter as best I could and sat covered in her blood hoping everything was just going to be ok.

There was an extremely old man working in our yard that day.
Apart from saying hello, I hadn’t paid him very much attention. He had worked for us for a few days already where he spent a lot of his time mumbling in 3rd person to the dirt and weeds. If he did come to tell us he was finished or ready to go home. He would just walk up to the outside of a window – any window  – and start repeating (in very hard to understand through a 3-teeth and mumble language barrier),
Uncle is tired. Uncle is going home. Uncle is finished. Uncle is tired. Uncle is going home”.
He would repeat this to the window until either Hoosband or I went outside to acknowledged him.
Then he would thank the window, hop on his bike and go home. He is a random friend-of-a-friend, he is little odd but he needed work and we were happy to pay him to pull out weeds for a few days.

So Uncle was working in the yard, the day Buddy stepped on the nail.
As she screams and the blood flows onto my lap and I hold various bandages to her foot – Uncle appears at the door. He has cleared the basket of his push bike, he points at Buddy and begins saying,
“Uncle takes her to hospital. Uncle will take her to hospital. Uncle put her in my bike. Uncle goes now. Uncle needs money. Uncle takes her to hospital.”
I answer him with, “No thank you Uncle. It’s ok”
“Uncle takes her to hospital. Uncle puts her in bike and takes her”
“No thank you. She is ok. I can do it. No thank you Uncle”
“Uncle needs money. Uncle will take her to hospital. Not too far. Uncle takes her in bike.”

As Buddy cries and begs to know if she will ever walk again, and I am trying in the chaos to examine the amount of swampy scum embedded in her foot – Uncle keeps edging into the room intent on taking my daughter to a hospital.
I don’t know which hospital and I don’t know how I would contact him once there or what they would do. I don’t think she needs to go. I keep thanking him (because it is genuinely nice that he really wanted to help her) – but insisting that I don’t think it is a good idea for this slightly eccentric man to take my daughter in this bicycle basket, to a unknown location for an unknown level of hospital care.
He keeps insisting.
Repeating to the floor or opposite wall, that he is taking her and that he needs money to do so and that she would easily fit in his bicycle basket.
I keep thanking him and insisting it is not needed. I keep trying to call someone for help, call my Hoosband for back up. I try to calm Buddy and find her records to confirm if she is up to date for tetanus.

And so, for better or worse (and you can judge me as either) I could no longer deal with the level of drama and oddity in the room.
I got up from the lounge and I thanked Uncle again, I said it clearly and loudly…. I said it twice… over and above his repetitions.
Then I slowly… shut the door in his face.
(I think he then stayed there, insisting to the door for a while and then… well… I don’t know. I think he must have gone home.)

As for Buddy and the hole in her foot, well I did get a hold of a friend via phone call.
Hoosband came home and I found her medical records -Buddy was up to date with tetanus injections.
She spent a while nursing a sore foot which thankfully (and honestly – surprisingly) never got infected.

And all was well.
And Uncle even came back the next day to pull more weeds and get paid.

Love Thy Neighbour

kidsonthestreetWhere I woke up today, it is less about where you live as it is about who you love amongst.
My house is generally not found using the number stuck to my wall – but by asking the neighbourhood which is my house, by name. (or the white people works well too)
I am not as often asked for my street name as I am asked which local leader’s jurisdiction I fall under.

Here, it would seem they work in communities rather than addresses.

The street on which we found a home is noisy with activity.
The noise of this community’s activities washes over my household in the early morning.
Although at the far end of the street, powerful speakers propel the morning’s religious call through the walls of our sanctuary & right into our sleep. More often than not, it stirs the children from sound sleep.
Roo will wake, wondering how he seems to have spent so long without the attention of his parents and if roused fully from sleep he pads his way across the living room to my bedside. He always wins a spot at my sweaty side with his sweet smile and the hope of precious snuggles… but as the shortest attention span ever combines with a sticky heat – Roo takes only seconds to abandon the idea of snuggling and he begins to beg for a start to the day.

By 7am the street is full, classes have begun at the local school which is only a few doors up from ours. Children have made their way during the morning, usually under their own supervision, though indeed most instinctively watch out for each other.
My girls play outside, enjoying the sunshine before the bright rays turn burning. There is a loudspeaker at the school which brings a woman’s voice right into my kitchen as I am rinsing breakfast dishes.  It competes with the sounds of my the pump which brings me water from the well and with the sounds of sweeping as the ladies of each household spend the cooler hours dusting and sweeping with rattan brooms.
The street is lined, as most streets are in this province, with water trenches.
The house across from ours have a little bridge driveway into their home, as we do, and the Elder of the house sits on the low concrete wall for a cigarette. He leans back and stretches out his legs. He wears a sarong of dark navy blue and a crisp white linen shirt. On his head is a small cap, specific to his religion.
He is an important man in this community, something we saw immediately. All who pass by call ‘good morning’ to him, and grown men show their respect by greeting him with a kiss and placing his right hand to their forehead. His wife stands by the gate in an airy, brightly printed dress; she calls back to the passers-by and raises her right hand in friendship. She has short black hair which is cut haphazardly into a bob style. Most of the time her head is uncovered and her dress code relaxed, and actually the times when I have seen her religiously covered up – it was hard to recognise her as my neighbour.
People draw up their motorbikes by this house to stop and chat with the relaxing couple. They turn and wave greetings to the four blonde heads running around in my yard,
“hey! Hey! Come here! You want to come to the market with me?”
“Hey! Want to ride on my motorbike?”
“Hey! Come to Uncle, want to come visit my house, its close by.”

I never tell these friendly strangers (who genuinely think my 3 year old son would climb on his motorbike for a whizz around the city… with a stop off at home for photos with the family and plenty of cheek pinching) that this is an inappropriate invitation in my culture and that it makes me uncomfortable in the greatest degree that it is even suggested.
No, I smile and apologise. He is shy, sorry. Maybe another time.
And if they assume that shyness will be quickly forgotten in the fun, or that Roo’s friendly waves signal permission and actually lift my 2 year old onto their motorbike…
I laugh nervously and apologise, I’m sorry we have an activity to do though he would love to go for a ride, maybe next time.
I then, somewhat counter culturally, physically take back my child and hold on to him tightly.
Sometimes I need to reinforce my position,
sometimes the process is repeated,
there have been times where I have been ‘called out’ on this rude parenting stance and asked for an explanation.
I walk away knowing that I am considered strange to these people, however nice they are to me.

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The prayer house sends out another loud call.
An old man walks the street banging his pot to advertise the selling of some local cuisine… or selling some wares or asking to entertain my family with a monkey on a leash.
The children are let out of school at midday and though many start a long walk home, some ride motorbikes laden with siblings and neighbours. Some ride push bikes and some play at the front of my home.
There are people mingling and playing and calling out, “hey mister!” in poorly translated greetings to me.
There are women who wait for their children to be finished school, who find themselves sitting on my front step and trying to take selfies with Roo. If he doesn’t comply, it is sometimes good enough to have him present in the background.

In the afternoons a quiet descends upon the street.
When the children habitually sleep and the adults all retreat from the sun to the cooler indoors. It is the time of day when the sound of a passing motorbike can get attention or the whizzing of our external electricity regulator controlling power surges… shows it’s value.

And as yet, the silence has been broken almost every single day at 3.30 when fingers scale my fence and beautiful brown eyes peep over the rail. The quiet is gone, Miss E’s eyes light up as she recognises the heavily accented call of, “EF-A-LIN” coming from the small group of children on the roadside.
For the next few hours there is noise.
Noise of laughing and children and broken English and awkward local words.
OF Little Lion Man’s happy cries of success for some new bicycle trick he has performed (while I keep my eyes shut). Buddy climbs trees or collects rusty nails and chipped tiles from the side of the road. Roo hollers and sings whenever attention passes him.
It is the sound of playing and it is good.
It draws onlookers and crowds who snap photos like we are enacting some live art piece for public viewing. It attracts more children who  shyly introduce themselves and test the waters slowly with these foreign children. It brings mothers and uncles and people to my doorstep.

The numbers dwindle slowly until the time is play is finally signalled by the sunset call from the end of the street.
The loudspeaker (aptly named, for it is loud) covers the street once again in sound.
It is a call to pray officially, and locally, a warning to find safety from the evil Spirits who roam the streets at dusk and nightfall.
“Children cannot be out at dusk, it is said that they are offerings for the Jin – the evil spirits who will take their souls.”
It is never ignored for this reason, and it always signals a swift exit for any remaining play friends.

My family will come inside now for the evening. Following on our heels are the sounds of the street.
They continue to remind us where we live… and so importantly, who we live amongst.

The sermons preached and broadcast. The brawl of a street cat or the clucking of the random street chickens. The usual claps of thunder and crack of lightning to signal this week’s tropical downpour. The crash of wild animals landing on my rooftop highway and the scratch of their claws across the tin. The traditional local music played for the men who sit together in the porch light to smoke and  chat away the night.

This is my neighbourhood.
These are my neighbours.
And I am called to love them.

By pointing out the Way
and speaking the Truth
and shining the Light.