Saturday, January 28, 2012

On Planning, Knowing, and...Control

I used to say things like this all the time: "I just need to know, because I'm a planner." 

When we got to China, it didn't take long to realize that China isn't about planning ahead.  There was nothing that culture shocked us quite like the total inability to schedule life in advance.  "So, there's a national holiday, week.  Does anyone know what day or days we won't have class?  Anyone?"  The vast amount of unknowns and unexpected changes that we experienced in our first years in China simply staggered us.

And so we would gripe and groan and vent and moan each time another plan would change.  And we would turn to the Chinese and expect them to, you know, be just like us, right onboard our bandwagon of outrage.  Only they weren't.  And that was mindboggling.  How can this NOT bother you?  And they would never say it to us with words, but you could see it in their eyes, "WHY does this bother you?"  

Over time we began to watch and learn that in general the Chinese don't fret about what they can't control.  And they accept that unexpected change is (gasp) a part of life, so just...expect it.  This mindset, to a small degree, began to rub off on us, and it was quite astounding the freedom we experienced because of it.  All that griping and groaning we like to do?  Turns out, it's a big waste of energy!  Who knew?

Here's what I learned about myself:  I like control.  And most of my efforts to plan and to worry and to know stuff, boil down to my attempt to control.  Last I checked, that's not...good.  Living in China encouraged me to stop grasping at straws of control and to instead live life with open palms, ready and willing to accept life as it comes with all its beauty and mess.

Then I came back to America.  And those dangerous things called expectations creeped back in.  This is America where people plan ahead, and things happen on schedule, and people communicate clearly and there are no last minute changes.  Right??  Ha!  But somehow, we Americans believe this lie!  We feel it's our right for life to be this way and then feel violated when it's not.            

Remember how I'm trying to practice eucharisteo?  Well, a lot of days I'm royally failing.  There haven't been so many of those blissfully content days of that first week.  But here's what I'm learning.  If I do give thanks for the daily beauties all around AND for the hard, the unexpected, the violating, it gives me that open palm kind of life.  If I stop trying to control out all of the bad or even the possible bad, those very things can become the good.  That thing about God working all things for the good, it's actually true...if we let him.      

Saturday, January 7, 2012

My One Word for 2012

This week has been quite unlike any other week. Ever.  For this week my eyes have been discovering gifts all around me.  I have been reading Ann Voskamp's "One Thousand Gifts."  I'm not yet halfway through it, but already this book has meant something very deep to me.

I heard of the book some months ago and since then have been reading the author's blog and the blog posts of others who have joined the ranks of counting gifts.  Really it seems so very simple, too simple and too faddish to mean anything life-changing.  But that was before I began my own list.

The cornerstone of her book is built around the Greek word Eucharisteo.  She descibes it much more eloquently than I can, but wrapped up in this word are the ideas of grace, thanksgiving and joy.  What a trifecta.  We see it throughout Scripture, the seeing of grace, of gift unmerited and turning it into thanks and the result?  Joy.  So simple!  Yet if you had asked me a week ago what I am thankful for, I would have stammered something like, "Uh...Jesus... family... friends."

I didn't intend to start this book and this list on the first week of 2012.  I just happened that way.  I'm not really one for New Year's resolutions.  But I love the idea of choosing just one word, something you feel God wants to weave into your life this year.  My word for 2012?  EucharisteoBecause in just one week I have tasted the joy, the oh-so-longed-for contentment that flows from giving thanks.  Rather than following my human bent to focus on frustrations, my eyes have been hunting for blessing.  And here's what I've found.

I don't know what if anything it will do for you to read my list.  I just know what it has done for me to write this list.  It has slowed me.  It has filled me.  It has given me fifty moments of connecting to my Father, of opening my palms to receive the gifts he has for me.  I'm not saying that this week has been without it's diffuculties, it's weariness and moments of lost patience.  But that's the heart of Eucharisteo, the giving thanks in all things, of seeing even the hard as...grace.   Oh, so far to go!  But here is my humble start. 

One Thousand Gifts: My Eucharisto List
  1. Beginnings
  2. New hopes for new habits
  3. Discarding discontent
  4. The silkiest softness of my son's white blond hair
  5. Tapping into the mystery of my child, meeting a need before unknown
  6. Morning's first hour, met without screaming
  7. Butterfly shadows dancing on the sidewalk
  8. Morning's grayness burning to blue
  9. Christmas ornaments, oh the memories there in, snug in their box, all settle in for a long year's nap
  10. The longing of hearts apart
  11. The wild banshees squeal, “MONSTER!” when the vacuum cleaner roars
  12. Little boy sneezes and big sister blessings
  1. The hairlike softness of new grass...yes, in January
  2. A neighbor's heart expressed in unabashed song
  3. My toddling toddler bringing smiles to stranger faces
  4. Children don't have to be taught to go slow and notice the details of life. They have it hurried out of them by grown ups. Maybe that's what children are for, slowing it back into you...if you let them
  5. My squatting boy, meowing into the bushes, on the hunt for feline friend.
  6. Growing beyond co-existing and competing into sibling friends
  7. Ellie's fascination with all things mail – envelopes, stamps, cards and words
  8. Though cords were cut the day they were each born, cords still are there connecting me to them. What flows out of me, seeps into them. Today, contentment.
  9. The little one sparking the imagination of the older one.
  10. Rain forests made from couch cushions. According to Ellie, “What a grand idea!”
  11. Ellie for the first time counting to one hundred (with help), first in Chinese, then English
  12. Aiden being Simon in “Simon Says.” Truly nothing could be cuter.
  13. Light blond streaking perfectly through dark blond. Will I ever have it in me to cut her baby-grown-big-girl locks?
  14. Shiny and dripping, wrapped warm and fuzzy, my two bath toweled baby burritos, “baby rito” for short.
  15. Connections made, perhaps another piece of the project being birthed.
  16. To be heard and heard well by one with whom I share the gift of years gone past. Love you, Melissa!
  1. A darling old pair, wrinkled hands clasping each other, grasping life, grasping love.
  2. A flash of color round the grocery store aisle. Velvety red swishing round ankles. She pulls it off with charm and grace.
  3. The little boy dimple...oh, that dimple.
  4. Baseball cap on, sunglasses in place, mini-flashlight turned whistle, Ellie is now...the coach.
  5. His turn now, cap all cockeyed, glasses askew, with the innocent look of “Why do you giggle at me?”
  6. Learning to open my eyes to the gifts now, in the warm, in the calm. That the habit might grow deep to receive the gifts in the cold, in the fast, in the...hard.
  7. Aiden counting to ten in Chinese.
  8. My bouncing boy on trampoline, eyes wild with delight.
  9. Gracious friends. Thank you, Leanne!
  10. Ellie still asking for her bedtime song to be, “Hark the Haver Angels Sing.”
  1. Love exchanged in written word
  2. A wee bit of baby bum peeking out of a slightly crooked diaper.
  3. Spontaneous picnics
  4. Close, cheap, good food
  5. The lil' slugger swinging his “beeball bat”
  6. Seeing progress in Ellie's obedience
  1. My breath catches as whirring wings dart before my eyes, the tiny beak, ever so gently sipping the sweetness of life
  2. Tantrums will be transformed, and in the process help me know grace
  3. Aiden running out with frog puppet on his hand, eyes wide and proud.“Heh-Yo!” he says waving froggy's hand.
  4. Ellie's dinner prayer, “And bless to Aiden and please help him to not scream at me.”
  5. Little arms wrapped round my neck.  Oh, toddler hugs.
  6. A zerbet (or “raspberry” to some) planted right on my neck.  Oh, toddler boys.