...be ye stedfast, unmoveable,
always abounding in the work of the Lord,
forasmuch as ye know that your labour is
not in vain in the Lord.

21 July 2016

"AHSH-AY-AIR BLO-KUH!" or "Yeah, I guess you could say context counts!"

It had been a crazy, insanely busy day -

I knew from the get-go that I'd be running, literally, from before sun-up until after sundown. 

Just in case you are wondering, officially there were 13 hours and just shy of five minutes of daylight on that particular day. I checked when I started the draft for this post...

So, at just shy of 4:00 pm, walking through the door of the house after picking up the kids from school so that I could get our kitty and have her to the vet's office 20 minutes later for a very important appointment (after which, hopefully we will all be sleeping better), I was most definitely a little distracted. 

And... the phone rang.

"Oui, Allô..." I said, slightly breathless after hopping over, around and through a rather large conglomeration of snow boots, backpacks, gym bags, lunch boxes, coats and other assorted items that six school kids tend to rapidly drop just inside the door when first arriving home.


"Bonjour! C'est AHSH-AY-AIR BLO-KUH..." and THAT was all I heard before the typical panic that strikes every time someone starts speaking French to me over the phone began to set in.

Really!



You'd think I'd be over this by now. 


I've been receiving phone calls in French for 16 years. 

It shouldn't still be causing such a brain freeze. 

But I really hate sounding like an incompetent fool...

Fortunately, I caught three words out of the next several that the speaker said: Monsieur, Wright and impôts (or taxes)... and those three words were all it took to give me a desperately needed context to aid comprehension. 

In fact, at that moment, literally EVERYTHING the caller had said suddenly made sense.

H&R Block (a name I've heard for years) was calling to speak to my husband about our taxes. It was, after all, April. Deadlines were looming. The office only had our house number and not Tim's cell - and needed to speak to him. I recited the needed number, we politely wished each other a nice day and I was back off and running to get our kitty to the vet.

When I walked through the door, before the phone rang:

  1. my mind was fixed on the next thing I had to do, 
  2. we'd been listening to an audio drama in the car (about Dietrich Bonhoeffer - what a story!)
  3. the kids were yattering about their days and worrying loudly about how the cat would do at the vet, 
  4. it was 4 in the afternoon (i.e. preferred sieste time), yet 
  5. I had more than half of a very full day looming, and
  6. the land line rarely rings at the house ~ unless it is hubby calling and, not surprisingly, we tend to speak to each other in English. 
And, even though H&R Block is a well known business name to me - it is something I've heard of literally all of my life - the name sounded totally foreign when pronounced with French phonetics.

Which brings me back to what seems to be a bit of a resounding theme lately ~

It is difficult to make good decisions or knowledgeable judgments if I don't have sufficient context to have any real comprehension. 


It is impossible to participate in profitable discourse concerning the pertinent and difficult questions that trouble our present times.


Yet instead of slowing down, 

rather than gathering more information and 

discerning a context...

there's this strong temptation to plunge ahead, regardless of collateral damage. 


Arrogant, egocentric, lazy and impetuous, I quickly assume that my perception from my point of view is, if not exactly identical to that of God, it is most certainly the next best thing.

Yet, without context... without understanding... 

without any recognition of how my present perspective prejudices... 

or possibly even perverts... 

How can I arrive at an equitable and more complete understanding of the reality in question?

This attitude, so prevalent - today, and, apparently, in Jesus' time - closes conversations rather than encouraging dialogue, learning and change for the better.

And in John, Jesus is pretty clear that I have no business judging, without first having enough knowledge to do so correctly.

19 July 2016

that "action of bringing two parties face to face"

So... that doesn't sound so bad, does it?

I mean, there are lots of times I really like being face to face - with my hubby, for one.


Or sitting across the table from a good friend, sipping tea or coffee and having to lean forward... in close... to actually hear what my friend is saying because the concrete walls echo, magnifying the background noises of all the other conversations taking place in the restaurant.


Or my littlest munchkin smashing her nose and forehead against my cheek, her preferred mode of snuggling as she falls asleep. It IS sometimes suffocating, but always sweet. It's also really hard to snap a picture of that, but trust me... it happens at some point, every single day... still. She's not always falling asleep, but at 7.5 years, she still needs a snuggle cuddle every day.

How, then, could it be? 

That a word defined as the "action of bringing two parties face to face" strikes dread in the hearts of so many. 

That it is something most of us (siblings don't count) avoid it at all costs. 

Or...

we simply strive to avoid those people who don't choose to...


...avoid [this word], I mean.


Have you figured out what "it" I'm talking about yet?

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CONFRONTATION!

Conflict, altercation, disagreement, and argument are all common synonyms.

Or, more idiomatically,

"going nose to nose"
and
"butting heads!"

The etymology of the word confrontation, 

     which originates in the Latin and probably made its way into English via French, 

           looks something like this:


Essentially, it means the act of (according to dictionary.com)
  1. standing or coming in front of; 
  2. standing or meeting, facing; 
  3. presenting for acknowledgment, contradiction, etc.; 
  4. setting face to face; 
  5. bringing together for examination or comparison; 
  6. facing in hostility or defiance, opposing; and/or 
  7. being in one's way. 
Some of those have clear negative connotations... but they don't all have to, especially if we'd take the time to learn how to "do" well this thing we are calling confrontation: first how to receive criticism/confrontation... and then why, when and how to actually confront another.

Biblical confrontation was a topic I studied in depth with the women in our church in Niger. The pastor's wife asked me to lead a study on this topic because the younger women were intimidated by the older women, particularly when the older women let the younger gals know they hadn't met "some" expectation set by the older ones.

Here's what we looked at ~
Check out these links above if you want to see how our conversations/studies went. Personally, I felt I learned a lot more than I taught, and in those posts, tried to include the very interesting and insightful implications, as well as the conclusions drawn and applications suggested - all by the ladies in that church. One thing I think is important to remember - most of these women were, at that point in time, illiterate. Thus, it was quite likely their first exposure to some of the different Bible passages, in any way, shape or form.

I love the example of Nathan (as confronter) and David (as confrontee), in 2 Samuel 12. Nathan confronted gently and well, as well as for the right reasons. David received that confrontation humbly and brokenly. But then...

But then, we read 2 Samuel 13, a horrifyingly difficult account in the Biblical record. 

In chapter 13, we also read a story of several additional confrontations... or ones that should have taken place... 

Sadly, none of which were handled correctly by both participants, if they were handled at all.

As was my typical strategy when leading a Bible study, we read/reviewed the story. Then I asked them to identify any confrontations that did occur... and then to think about and identify where confrontations might have/should have occurred. The goals was to consider and then discuss:
  1. what went well (if anything), and particularly,
  2. what didn't go well 
between the confronter and the confrontee in each situation.

Here's what the ladies notices as we worked our way through the first half of the chapter.

A confrontation between Jonadab and Amnon


The two were cousins and apparently close friends. This confrontation actually started off okay. Jonadab showed himself to be an attentive and observant friend. He clued in to Amnon's distress and went to him, confronting him, saying "It's obvious something isn't right. Tell me what's going on." 


Amnon's initial response was also good. He very transparently answered his cousin and told him the whole truth of what was bothering him: Amnon desired his half sister. 


This was the point where I, from my perspective and with my cultural baggage, felt this encounter went wrong. Instead of encouraging Amnon to seek counsel, or instead of giving good advice himself, Jonadab recommends deceit and a selfish pursuit of what Amnon thinks will make him happy. Jonadab suggests an immediate and temporary alleviation of Amnon's discontent, rather than digging deeper to find out why Amnon was feeling as he was, instead of seeking lasting answers and a changed heart. Jonadab also recommended what could appear to be a deceitful ruse.

Thankfully, I held my tongue and allowed the ladies to speak first, because in the Nigerien culture direct confrontation rarely happens.

Instead, the women quickly pointed out a difficulty in judging with knowledge - completely and accurately determining Jonadab's motivations behind his counsel.


Here's what the ladies thought:

Jonadab's counsel provoked a visit from King David, Amnon's father. David clearly had the authority to confront Amnon - from a position of wisdom and personal experience (Temember the previous few chapters?). Whereas Jonadab could only address Ammnon's issues as a peer, David could speak as a father. Culturally, Jonadab could not directly confront his friend, but he could suggest a scenario where one, David, who legitimately and authoritatively engage would be made aware of the issue.

Out of curiosity, when I got home I looked up the meaning of the key word used to describe Jonadab: "shrewd" or "crafty." Hearing those words, I can quickly conclude deceitful.

However, the original Hebrew word meant wise and was often used in conjunction with prophets and those who had good discernment. It was also frequently used to describe sorcerers and false prophets.

My next step was to see what else, if anything else, the Bible says about Jonadab. He is mentioned in one other place - he accurately informs David of Absalom's revenge upon Amnon.

Thus, at least at a cursory glance, it appears that there are three plausible interpretations of Jonadab's actions: 1) he immaturely counseled his friend to use deception to get what he wanted; 2) he wisely set up a scenario where a more qualified person could potentially confront Amnon regarding his foolish desires; or 3) he was no true friend to Amnon, engaging in, for whatever reason, a sophisticated subterfuge, using royal court liaisons to remove a potential successor to David's throne.

Thus, what did we learn through this example of "two parties coming together, face to face?"

Confrontation can be done in many different ways, and probably should be, depending on the circumstances and need. 


We had already seen the example of an indirect confrontation by two who might be considered equals - King David and Nathan.

That day, we had looked at another confrontation - perhaps between equals (two friends) or perhaps between two unequals - the king's son/potential successor to the throne and the king's nephew. That day, the ladies tended to see Jonadab's actions as wise - indirectly confronting by bringing Amnon into a position where his father would better be able to confront his inappropriate, sinful desires.


What do you think?

Does one of these interpretations seems most plausible to you? Which one?

What is your reaction to women from a different culture understanding a Biblical passage differently than what you may have traditionally been taught, simply because they come from a different cultural context?


Trying to give credit where credit is due:
from whence came that title 
here's where I found that picture of the rams-butting-heads-statue
originally posted here on July 19, 2012

03 June 2016

One Proud Mama... of her TCKs



Fridays, I usually link up with Five Minute Friday... you know that "blogging thing" where a topic prompt is posted and participants write for 5 minutes, unedited, on whatever thoughts trickle... or flash floods... out, based on that prompt, and then link back to the original post.

I'm not participating today, because I want to take a minute to brag on my gang... and give a quick update as to what's up with them. Frankly, these musings are motivated by last night's "Gala de Reconnaissance" - or end of the year awards assembly at the kids' school. 

You see, I was really hoping we wouldn't have to go. 


I've done the awards assembly thing many, many times... Let's see... Brendan will be 21 in November and he started school when he was 4. That means I've been at awards assemblies for my Wrightling crew for 16 years - even more if I count  AWANA and also throw in the ones I attended to just be there for siblings, nieces, nephews... 

I get frustrated by the "everyone must receive an award so that everyone feels valued and appreciated" mentality yet at the same time, there are those 3 or 4 really exceptional students who end up dominating with 8 or 9 genuine and accomplished awards compared to the normal student's one or two participation certificates. I'll be the first to admit that my perspective is probably skewed - so I'm not pronouncing a judgement as to right or wrong; simply understand that I JUST DON'T LIKE awards assemblies. Because of this, I was super delighted to receive an email from the school that said we could swing by the office and find out if any children in our family were receiving awards; in other words, we wouldn't have to go and sit for three plus hours if no one was actually going to parade across the stage and shake the principle's hand and receive an award. Since we had visitors arriving from the States that day, I figured we had a pretty decent excuse to skip IF there was no real reason to be there. Please note the IF in all caps... even though I detest these assemblies, I am a pleaser and wanna-be obedient rule follower who always tries to do what I think others expect, even when I don't want to. So, in my mind, I needed a more legit reason to not be there other than a whiny "But I don't wanna..."

Much to my surprise (and, if I'm honest, disappointment), I was told that 4 of our 6 WOULD be receiving awards.

We WOULD be going. And our visitors, such good sports, WOULD be joining us. For the whole kit and caboodle. I baked a layered cake and had ice cream ready to serve at home afterwards, hoping to soften the blow.

It was an awards assembly.

It was the best awards assembly I've ever been to. Those in charge kept things moving. People weren't afraid to laugh at themselves. Improv seemed to be encouraged and kept everyone laughing. Kindergarten grad was included - and was completed in about 15 minutes. The orchestra's "musical selections" were frequent, used to help with transitions and short (read 30 seconds - 1 minute). Only the top students received awards. All of the participation and other recognitions had already been presented at school during the day, in a pre-gala celebration that was much like a class party.

It was still a three hour marathon with a 15 minute intermission, but it was okay.

I was glad I went.

Now, back to the bragging on my gang ~ Four received an award, and I was a proud mama. Especially when you see the comments that went with each award.

,
The student who has demonstrated determination and remarkable perseverance in accomplishing her goals. She has demonstrated, in the whole of her work, a desire to learn and the will to apply that knowledge, aestheticism, attention to detail, cleanliness and a high quality of work as well as respect for her peers and for different artistic materials.


for her perseverance in the face of academic challenge and her desire to learn.

for her love for the Lord and her desire to serve Him.

for having met the academic requirements of two school years (Secondary 4 and 5), in French (her second language) with exceptional diligence devoted to her studies.
Yeah.

You could say I'm proud of these Wrightlings.

And just because Jon and Anna didn't receive a certificate, I've watched them work and progress and take risks and succeed - all year long.

Anna in Haiti

Anna working with a team and painting a school in Haiti

M&M and Elsie Mae at a park on the Wendake reservation in Quebec

Tori, playing the monkey at a park in Quebec

Bren, with college friends

More of the same

Tori with soccer buds

Rebekah and friends

Nadia and classmates on wear-your-pjs-to-school day... a really cool tradition here in Quebec

Rebekah, hard at work (??) at her school coffee shop/student center this past year

M&M's class participating in an all school painting project... and dressed in garbage bags

our soon to be graduated one

Little munchkins... just two summers ago.. Elsie's rocking some TCK style... sundress and snowboots


Jon enjoying the a Quebec fall

One of the "describers" or characteristics used when talking about TCKs is that they experience loss, lots of it, and as a result of choices not their own. And it is true. My Nadia walked out of school yesterday afternoon in tears. I asked her what she was feeling and she said something like this: "In Niger, it took me 3 or 4 years after switching to Sahel (the international school, with other TCKs) to feel like I belonged. And we left. Then in Michigan, I was feeling a part of things after two years. And we moved here. This year, I've made some great friends and feel a part of this class. But we're all graduating and going different directions. They are great friends and I'm going to miss them. These goodbyes are hard." I cried with her. I think Anna and Tori were a little teary eyed, too. The littles just begged to continue with the next "Adventures in Odyssey" episode. Believe me, I know all too well that this is a hard as in ripping-your-heart-apart-hard part of their lives as I try to listen and love my gang through these sometimes moments, sometimes seasons.

I find it sad that this seems to be the most discussed, almost to the point of ad nauseum, aspect of their lives. Because it is only a part of the TCK experience, and may not even be the defining one - certainly not for all. 

But back to that conversation with Nadia. 

After a few minutes of tears, I asked her who she was talking to as they were walking out of school. She named her friend and she said they were talking and crying and commiserating together. Her friend is not a TCK - but they were both sharing the pain of impending loss together. And I really don't know if my girl has said more goodbyes... had more grief and loss in her life than her friend. I did follow up with another question. I asked Nadia why she was able to make deeper friendships faster with each place. Her response was insightful: "Because I've matured and I've gotten better at figuring out what I have in common with people. It is easier to make friends when I find something that can be a bridge."

I guess as a mama to my TCKs, I know there will be grief and loss. I guess I don't think we have the corner on that market, however. We try and deal with all the grief, the loss and those never ending transitions when needed and for as long as needed. But we don't want to let that define our family. 

It was eye-opening for me to see, at this awards assembly, what bridges others perceive my children to be building. They weren't necessarily the ones I would have expected... or even felt to be their natural areas of talent and inclination. 

I also know that my crew agrees with a sentiment currently circling among several of their TCK friends... who are spread across at least 6 continents: "How lucky I am to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard." (AA Milne as Winnie the Pooh). That's their words, not mine (although I guess they could just be parroting words to keep up some image that they feel they have to project ~ I don't think so). That "something" is those past friendships with such a wide variety of people  and is what allows them to build bridges, resulting in new relationships that may blossom into new friendships.

20 May 2016

Five Minute Friday ~It wasn't what I expected to see at the park yesterday


We went for a walk yesterday. Across the street to the bike path, through the Indian reservation, across the St. Charles River on the old-railroad-trestle-converted-to-foot/bike-traffic-bridge where we stopped for a few minutes to watch the rapidly flowing water. Then, we turned off the bike path to follow a different path that runs parallel to the river, and heads toward a park and playground where our kids always enjoy a few minutes to romp. Greening grass, sun peaking through the clouds, and gently blowing breeze - it really was a beautiful day for a walk.


Not too many meters in front of us was an elderly gentleman walking his dog. Although it was nothing more than a small "lap" dog, I noticed the man tensing, appearing hyper aware of my little girls rapidly skipping his way; he moved to make sure that he blocked the dog's direct path towards my girls. I motioned to them to move off the path, giving the man and his dog a wide berth and also giving them the subtle message that this wasn't an occasion to see if they could stop and pet the animal. Animal-fanatics that they are, they were too intent on reaching the playground to consider a protest.



We hung around at the playground for 20 minutes... maybe a half hour. There was only one other family hanging out - two women with three young girls dressed in matching school uniform jumpers and leggings. After several minutes, the older man and his dog reappeared. They had almost completed a circuit following the perimeter of the playground - but instead of continuing along that path, he decided to cut through the playground before heading back the direction from which he'd originally come. He'd just about rounded the corner when one of those little uniformed girls noticed his little dog. She respectfully ran up to him and started to speak to him. I wasn't close enough to hear the conversation, but the man knelt down and securely held his dog, close to his body with its head directed away from the girl while leaving his back exposed so that she could gently scratch its back. At that moment, the two other little girls came running up - also wanting their chance to pet the dog - but one of them approached from the side where the dog's head was. She reached out to pet it. It promptly snapped at her, catching her with its teeth... or perhaps even biting her. She immediately started to scream and cry - at which point the mother, who'd been sitting on a swing next to her friend and busy on her cell phone - looked up. The little girl when running towards her mother. The two other little girls jumped back from the dog with terrified expressions on their faces. The horrified and worried man immediately ran to the mother to let her know what happened and they spoke for a few minutes. He left the park and the little girl continued to sob. Eventually, her mother took her up to their car, where they pulled out a first aid kit while the other woman put down her cell phone to watch the other two girls.

I was immediately plagued by two very judgmental questions...
  • Why in the world walk a dog - with the potential of aggressive behavior around kids - through a playground?
  • Why take your kids to the playground if you aren't going to enjoy watching them play and aren't going to keep an eye on them regarding potential dangers?
...because
  • while I love dogs, I also tend to be quite vigilant when it comes to potentially aggressive dogs after having owned a little one that became less and less tolerant of unknown children as she aged (and resulting in me being on the receiving end of a few bites when I ran interference) and after a few scary incidents between my oldest and unknown dogs - many years ago now. 
  • after all of the vitriol via social media and ensuring the safety of children (i.e. public bathrooms), it seems obvious that when you take your children to a location where an increased potential for danger exists, you must be watching and at the ready to protect them should the situation so warrant.
My judgmental attitude resulted because I held others to the same expectations of behavior that I hold for myself... with nothing more than a cursory surface knowledge of their reality. 


As I've thought about what I observed and my reaction, I've realized that the elderly gentleman probably expected to be able to control his dog so that he wouldn't have to disappoint a really cute little schoolgirl sweetly asking to love on his pet. He didn't expect another child from the same family to run up from his blind side and assume she could touch his dog without permission... I've also considered that the mother, like myself, didn't expect someone with a more aggressive animal to take that animal for a walk through a place typically set aside for children and that perhaps her involvement with her phone included making plans to best care for her children. 

Obviously, our expectations will greatly influence choices - right and wrong, selfish and sacrificing, knowledgeable and ignorant - that we make, potentially leading to positive and/or negative results and outcomes. 

It isn't wrong to expect... 

Sometimes what we do with those expectations is, however.


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If you think you might like to join this week's Five Minute Friday, check it out here!

09 April 2016

Five Minute Friday ~ Whole


Ever noticed there's a "hole" in the word "whole?"

I hadn't, but then I typed "w... h... o... l... e... " as a part of the title of this blog post, wondering what in the world I was going to write about...

... and I thought about a song I hadn't heard in a really, really long time.

But, first a bit of context... pieces of a conversation this past week, between myself and another mama of third culture kids... and a song this other mama shared with me about how we are all broken people who become broken parents who then break their children. I get the point, but I don't think that word picture gives the right picture.

My kids know I'm an imperfect parent. Inadvertently as well as sometimes very much by choice and out of anger - I do things that hurt, or in the above terminology, "break" my children. Afterwards, I apologize - probably need to do so more than I actually do - and ask forgiveness. So I get what this other mama, my friend, was saying, but I disagree, for there is a very large, very key, difference:

We are all BORN broken.

We live surrounded by people who were also born broken and struggle with that brokenness every single moment of every single day. My parents didn't break me... they did (occasionally still do) things that hurt me. It breaks my heart to say this, but until the day I die, I will probably continue to do things that hurt the very ones I love most, including and particularly, my children.

There's only one road to completeness, wholeness and healing, that road is the work of God in our hearts and lives - and even his work is a process that is not completed in this lifetime.

So...I don't want to "accept" myself as I am.

I DO want to see myself truly as I am...
I DO want recognize my brokenness...
I DO want to know who I was before Jesus...
I DO want to see with ever growing clarity what Christ HAS DONE...
I DO want to comprehend who I am - in Him, now and forever...
and then I DO want Him to begin His process of transformation in me.

I DO NOT believe "it" - however you want to define it: life, ministry, parenting, etc. -  is about me, my story, my voice...

but, as I heard someone somewhere last weekend say,

"It is all about His story lived in and through me."

And so, now back to that song, called "Unredeemed ~ "

The cruelest word, the coldest heart
The deepest wound, the endless dark
The lonely ache, the burning tears
The bitter nights, the wasted years

Life breaks and falls apart
But we know these are

For every choice that led to shame
And all the love that never came
For every vow that someone broke
And every life that gave up hope

We live in the shadow of the fall
But the cross says these are all

Places where grace is soon to be so amazing
It may be unfulfilled, it may be unrestored
But when anything that's shattered
Is laid before the Lord
Just watch and see, it will not be unredeemed

Oh, He will wipe every tear
Will not be, be unredeemed

Places where grace is soon to be so amazing
It may be unfulfilled, it may be unrestored
But you never know the miracle the Father has in store
Just watch and see, it will not be
Just watch and see, it will not be unredeemed


When, as God redeems, every hole will be filled and we will be made whole.

It is something He must do.

Thankfully, He promises...



(PS In case you were wondering, this post took more than 5 minutes... probably more like 8!)

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