According to dictionary.com, the definition of ambivalence is this:
1.uncertainty or fluctuation, especially when caused by inability to make a choice or by a simultaneous desire to say or do two opposite or conflicting things.
When I read the definition, I thought to myself, “It feels so good that at least the dictionary understands the story of my life.”
There are times when I know exactly what I want. If I would sit down and count them, I could probably count them on one hand.
Whether it’s ordering off a menu, or deciding on a career, I feel like Philippa Gordon in Anne of the Island, who was struck with such indecisiveness that when faced with the decision of which hat to wear, she would put them on the bed, close her eyes and jab them with a hatpin.
Sometimes I do it too. I can’t decide what to wear so I go “eenie meenie minie moe.” And sometimes I have to do it several times before I get to the point where I can be happy with the results. I know, it’s weird.
But what do ambivalence and hatpins have to do with hope?
Because hope is such a strange thing. It’s what keeps us alive, yet it’s also what keeps us in pain. It’s such an enigma, oxymoron, puzzle, whatever you want to call it. We love it, we call it, we lure it, but when we have it, it hurts. So we shelve it, we box it, we draw boundaries around it, we sit on it, we smother it, we numb its beauty with the narcotic of fantasy. And yet, we live on it. We can’t live without it. An old, old book says, “Hope deferred maketh the heart sick.” Yet, wouldn’t it be better not to hope at all, rather than to hope and have it deferred? A Thai friend of mine has this saying on his Line (a popular messaging app in Asia)profile picture. “Mai wang, mai pit wang.” Meaning, “If you don’t hope, you won’t be disappointed.”
I know that’s a lie. But the ambivalence inside of me rages. If I hope, I will be disappointed. If I don’t hope, I will die. Hope is what keeps me alive, yet sometimes that life feels like death.
To hope or not to hope?
This ambivalence is what keeps us standing on the edge of the river, dipping only a toe into the water when we could jump in. It keeps us wavering at the counter of McDonalds, keeps us paralyzed and unable to make long term commitments because of all the “what if’s”, and it keeps us jabbing hatpins at hats on the bed.
I wish I had some kind of profound way to end this post. Some deep, wise thought that seals it up and leaves a good, satisfying taste in my mouth and lets me finally go to bed, feeling like I’ve got it figured out and that I’ve left a wise impression on my readers. But that’s not what hope is like. This elusive, ethereal, yet powerful thing. It’s an emotion, yet not an emotion.
Perhaps, perhaps there’s something that lies in the choice. The act of choosing. Not the jabbing of the hatpin, but the deliberate choice to hope. And maybe it has something to do with faith.
Green is the color of life and today is full of it.
This Saturday morning I ride my motorbike up Doi Kham mountain, through some of the greenest foliage I have ever seen in my life to one of my favorite spots in Chiang Mai, Doi Kham Horseback Riding.
We ride through the thick green landscape, rich, rich, rich in all its greenness where two months ago it was a dry dusty brown. The green feeds my soul, my dry dusty soul.
Afterwards we sip coffee in a little cafe surrounded by rice fields in a small valley. Mountains rise on the side and light glints off the top of a temple spire built on the tip of the mountain. My coffee is perfect, not too strong with lots of milk. The sky has cleared from its early morning storminess, and color like I have not seen in a long time splashes the world with its life-giving vibrance. I savor the gift of friendship, the gift of coffee, the gift of being able to speak a language that 2 years ago was foreign, the gift of resting my mind from the daily challenges of work.
The day passes and the gifts keep coming. Sunflowers- yellow, brown and green- from a friend, cookies, summer sounds, tall, tall thunderheads towering in a brilliantly blue sky. Green grass in the shadow of palm trees with light shafting and glinting and dancing. I long for a camera since words cannot do justice. It seems like every waking moment is full of color. Why? Was it not there before? Or has God simply allowed my soul to see again? All through these sights and all through the day, two words keep on running through my mind.
Later rain torrents down from the thunderheads that now pour out their fury on the world. I am on my bike heading to the airport to meet a friend when it comes, and it is the worst rain I have ever driven in on a motorbike. But it brings a glory of its own— the challenge of driving in the rain with wind lashing and water coming up to mid tire at times. I feel at one with the rain at times like this. It seems to embody the human spirit— a lashing out at the sadness and evil of the world.
But the one most precious gift of the day keeps on coming back to me as I drive home late at night from a friend’s house. It is words that I keep on puzzling on, over and over again. This morning as we sat on the balcony of the cafe after our ride, drinking coffee, my Thai Buddhist friend says of his 14 year old son, “Chawin ok gab Pra Jao laao.” Literally translated he says, “Chawin is ok with God.”
I keep on mulling over these words, wishing I knew exactly what he meant. Chawin goes to a Christian school, and as I look back at memories of conversations about religion when he was present, I remember the look of understanding and empathy in his bright eyes as we talked about Jesus and Christianity. But does he mean that he believes in God? Does he mean that he has found peace with God?
I wish I knew. I wish I had asked.
But for now I am grateful at least this. Chawin is ok with God, whatever it means. And perhaps one day his father will be too.
The following are some ramblings from tonight. I seem unable to fully put into words what I really want to say, like usual. But I decided to go ahead and publish itself in its imcompleteness. Perhaps others will have another perspective. Also, this is not saying that foreign long term missions are the only way to go. What I’m trying to say is don’t be somewhere where you can’t be all there, and where you can’t stay and plug in your heart.
I love traveling. Few things thrill me like standing in the huge Suvarnabhumi Airport in Bangkok and watching the swarms of people, all of them going places. I love the feel of the airport, the delightful mix of ethnicities- from the turbaned Arab of the UAE, to the excited, jabbering Chinese tourists, to the veiled Islamic Iranian women, to the purposeful, striding Americans to the gentle Thai bathroom cleaners. The call of the unknown beckons. There’s the excitement of running to catch your plane, the interesting conversations with your seatmates like the man from Uzbekistan who is searching for truth or the Indian woman on her way home for the birth of her child. And sometimes you sit beside people who plug up their ears with earbuds as soon as they take a glance at you. Those are the times you look out your window and gaze in awe at the clouds below, glinting the rays of the afternoon sun, or at the sight of the gigantic blue earth so far, far away and so beautiful that you would never guess the sorrow and the pain that is rooted deeper than the roots of any tree.
Neither do I need to fly to get into the feeling of being a tourist. Chiang Mai has more tourists than a street dog has fleas. You can’t go into the inner city without stepping on them. They come from all over- Belgium, Germany, France, China, USA, Canada, Russia, and more. They walk the city with their hiking backpacks and long blonde hair and funny accents when they try to greet a native in Thai. And they’re always going somewhere. To the elephant camp. To the pottery shop. To the Hmong village. To the longneck Karen village. To Tiger Kingdom.
We are constantly on the go. We fill our passport with visa stamps and are a wee bit proud when we need to add extra visa pages in order to have enough to scratch the travel bug on our itching feet. (excuse my mixing metaphors). We go home with colorful stories of the people we met, or the food we ate, or the amazing pictures we took of the Akha child in her gorgeous tribal headdress, or the brilliant eyes of the Indian slum girl. We can even add in some stories that pull on heart strings and make others want to go view the same. And we’re always talking about the next place we’ll be going to. We want to do all these things, as many as possible, before we die, like we won’t have any room for adventure after we die.
I’m not saying it’s bad. The travel bug hits me hard and plenty. Words like “wonderlust” and “beyond the horizon” used to resonate with me.
But now they sound so empty.
People say travelers have rich experiences. And they do. But when we go and see and do and go home, we are denying ourselves some of the richest experiences of our lives. And that only comes when we go and see and do and stay.
We forget that the real treasure in everything we experience lies in the heart of God.
No matter how unique, or cool or amazing all those amazing sights are.
And one of the ways to knowing the heart of God as deeply as possible is to know and understand the human heart.
We forget that immersing into a new language and a new culture is one of the most beautiful experiences a human can have, as well as the most painful. Because if you learn to understand someone’s culture and their language, you begin to understand their heart.
Suddenly they are no longer just a picture, or a story, or even a random person you met on the streets of Vietnam.
They become a part of your heart. From being just a picture of an Akha girl with a stunning headdress, she becomes a friend, a student, or a daughter.The Indian girl with the deep black eyes becomes real too- not simply a photograph or a story, a memoir from your travels.
Instead of traveling and viewing magnificent or notorious sights, and grinning to ourselves as we cross it off our bucket list, while planning our next trip, we actually experience what we see. By living in it. By becoming a part of it. By making this people and this land ours.
When that happens, sometimes some of the glossiness gets wiped off the pictures. When we actually get our hands dirty and realize the extent of the pain this world has to offer, we would rather move on, skimming from country to country, not carrying these people in our hearts anymore.
Two weeks ago, I took a short trip to a hill tribe village way back in the mountains. We spent a night and a day there, traveling roads that curved and climbed impossibly, playing with the children, watching in the New Year on the lookout. We slept outside under stars that were deeper and brighter and closer than any I’ve ever seen, punched out of a sky of velvet. We ate rice and spice like nothing else I’ve had. I even got a bite of rat.
But it wasn’t enough.We had a less than 24 hours actually staying in the village. I needed to talk with the most of the villagers through the help of the children translating from my Thai to the Karen language. I had no idea what these people’s lives were like in the last 10 years before we met. I didn’t know their struggles, or their hopes, or their passions. Sure, I got an experience, something to write home about and something to shock my mom with (the rat part.) But it wasn’t much more than a passing experience.
It all seems so useless if you don’t stop and stay and become.
Awake and alert with pain. The pain of losing, although it did not come as a surprise, the dull pain of restlessness, the ache of unfulfilled dreams, the pain of wanting and waiting, and the pain of tears at night when memories of love crowd in. I am no mother, and perhaps never will be, and neither am I one of those people who pine for children of their own. But there is something inexplicably aching in the pain of having a child you love taken out of your hands.
God, why? And why twice in one year?
I was quite brave when I was told that the Little Girl Who Lives With Us would not be coming any more. But at 11:30 at night, sleepless in bed, I do not feel so brave anymore and hot tears flood. Instead I remember those times, singing at the top of our lungs on a motorbike, playing hide and seek at the park, shopping for presents for father’s day, faltering through the beginning stages of reading, baking chocolate chip cookies, watching Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and eating hordes of chocolate as we watched, praying together at night, stumbling through my Thai Bible stories, trying to read fluently enough to keep her attention.
And watching her sleep from my view on my bed- lustrous
black eyes closed in slumber, hair atumble, arms akimbo. Those were the times when I asked God for forgiveness for my sharp impatient words to her in the heat of the moment, or for being frustrated at my inability to spend a moment by myself.
Judy Unruh writes a poem called Foster Baby Bye. While my little girl was not a baby anymore, the poem rings within my heart.
I did not cry when they came for him, my goodbye was suitably gay; as if it were not a jagged-edged piece of my heart that was torn that was torn torn away.
After 3 ½ weeks at home, I’m back in the Far East, wondering sometimes if this is really where I’m supposed to be, wondering if I am equipped for this work, wondering if I’ll last the two years I signed on for, feeling at home yet not at home.
When home was within my grasp 4 weeks ago when I left for America, the thought wasn’t as delightfully welcome to me then as it would have been 3 months earlier. My time to go home came at a time when I was finally feeling more at home in this country and friendships were being built. But when I walked down those last few feet into the arms of my waiting family, I knew why I had come home. My nephew summed it up later. “Everybody was crying. But it’s ok for big people to cry.”
I didn’t do any super amazing things while I was home. Mostly I just soaked up being at home, yet on the last day, I still wished I had spent even more time at home.
My time was filled with those little moments that I love. Like when my 6 year old nephew sized me up on my first evening home and asked, “Can you still run?” Or it was holding my newest nephew for the very first time.
It was moments like these that made up my time, like when my sister and I made lattes with her new coffee and espresso machine on the evening before I left because this was the last time in a long time that we could do this, and then we took our books to bed with us and read late into the night because we couldn’t sleep.
Or it was milking cows in the new dairy barn and trying to see how fast we could milk. It was stumping around my sister and her husband’s farm in dirty boots, letting my niece show me the baby chicks and looking at the prize yearling filly of my brother- in- law’s. It was riding my horse one sunny Sunday afternoon through grassy fields and listening to the prairie wind speak to the world, or sitting in the silence of a late Saturday evening by myself, listening and praying.
It was just sitting at home and eating a simple supper with my mom and dad and sister. Or that time I spent with friends, around a campfire on a misty Friday night into the wee hours of the morning. That morning that I spent on a friend’s porch, enjoying a deluxe brunch and laughter and companionship. Or when I ate supper with a friend one evening and we shared our hearts, even after 8 months of absence from each other. And it was baking cookies with 4 lovable tykes, and even an afternoon of teaching former students. It was looking into chocolate brown eyes and listening to my nephew’s solemn dissertation on why Jesus is more powerful than Satan. It was visiting my grandma and wondering if I would ever see her again on this side of heaven. It was singing “How Beautiful Heaven Must Be” and letting the tears come, because that is my real-est home.
And somehow, no matter how much you might have prepared yourself to come back to your “other” home, and no matter how much of my heart is here in this country, good-byes always color those last few days with sadness. And that’s why tears rolled down my face as I opened a card from a friend at the airport, and as we taxied down the runway for the first flight, and as we flew over unknown territory on Qatar airways. And I was glad it was rainy that last day I was home. It fit my mood.
(I know I’m sentimental. There’s no getting around it.)
But God wasn’t angry with me for having a hard time leaving. Instead, He gently showed me again the burden He had given me as I sat in the Chicago airport, watching people. On my longest flight, I sat beside a young Indian woman flying home to India to await the birth of a child, while her husband stayed working in Arizona. In Qatar airport, I was doodling horses on my drawing notebook when the Arabic man beside me noticed and started asking questions. I was delighted to sit beside a Thai lady while waiting for my flight to board to Bangkok, and even more thrilled that Pasa Thai still flowed from my lips. On my flight to Bangkok, I sat beside an Islamic Thai student studying in Jordan and we had a few long worthwhile conversations. And as I read from John 3 and looked out the airplane window at the hundreds of city lights below me, and thought of the millions of people we were flying over, I realized again why I want to do this. Even when it is painful and I cry.