Thursday, July 25, 2013

Change of Mind

Two weeks ago I was atop a beautiful horse named Pistol, trailblazing a scenic mountain in Carbondale, Colorado. My two young guides were telling me their dreams of marrying ranchers and working with horses for the rest of their lives.

Today, I maneuvered my Prius around scooters, old men on bikes, and a billion other cars bustling around the streets of Kaohsiung, Taiwan.

The first few days I was back, my driving skills had noticeably gone rusty - having suppressed my driving instincts for the month I was gone in the States for fear of getting flipped off by drivers unaccustomed to my "moves". I had a few surges of adrenaline and heart pounding episodes as my brakes squealed and I avoided, you know, hitting people.  A week and countless errands later, I've regained my deft movements and finesse on the road.

Here's the thing: human beings are unbelievably remarkable at adapting. Sure, the jarring cultural dissonance knocks the wind out of me at times, and the process of acclimating to a seemingly upside down society requires breadth of time and energy, but we as a species come equipped with an astounding resilience to confront change. For evidence, look to stories of immigrants who uproot families and transplant their way of life to foreign lands.

Why then, within the world of ideas, religion, and faith, is there such a pervasive fear of change? This fear manifests itself in comments like:

"Oh, that'll take you down the slippery slope," and
"Don't blow with the prevailing cultural winds of today"

or sentiments which seem to suggest faithfulness equate a heel grinding resolve to maintain a certain position. Sometimes I feel like, in some circles, to change your mind is tantamount to the worst offense - a breach of integrity, weakness of faith, and the dirty word: compromise.

This is not to say our current generation doesn't have a problem with perseverance and commitment - I think we do (I know I do). It's just this phenomenon of vilifying change which is a bit troubling. Because it seems to me, a thoughtful awareness of the shifting societal landscape inevitably leads to a change in the way we relate to ourselves, to others, and to God.

Not all change leads to compromise. Sometimes the slippery slope doesn't end in the fiery pits of hell. Perhaps conversion is a life long journey of turns and turn-arounds. It's not always a bad thing to change our minds, even on important issues of faith. Like my close calls in the traffic of Taiwan, sometimes change is required to avoid, you know, hitting people.

Friday, April 26, 2013

Inbox Me

Yesterday I got my bangs trimmed.  Is the upkeeping of bangs not the most annoying chore ever? Every. Three. Weeks. Anyway, I looked pretty cute if I may say so myself, of course I narcissistically go to instagram myself. Did you know the rear facing camera on the iphone is much lower quality than the front facing one?

*Click* Freckles too prominent. *Delete*

*Click* Eyes asymmetrical. *Delete*

*Click* Double Chin. *Delete* Give up with a tremendous sense of lowered self esteem.

This was when I came to the realization of the ridiculousness that is this life. "I want to be informed immediately when Cindy gets her bangs trimmed with a super cute picture of herself!" said no one ever. When every mundane moment of the day is interrupted by an inexplicable mental urge to share, post, think of a witty status, reach for the phone - it's too much.

I'm walking away. Time to unplug. Internet fast. I'm spending time in nature to restore Zen.

Bwahahahaha.  That was funny, huh?!

You see, despite all the wise (they really are) people on the internet (irony) warning against oversaturation of the electronics, of not paying enough attention to the children (Mommy guilt, anyone?), of increasing levels of narcissism brought by the age of social media (point taken) - I cannot walk away.

Years of being brought up in a religious community has taught me you can be made to feel guilty of just about anything. As important as it is for me to be humble enough to listen to voices of reason and critique, I also need to remain true to who I am. And who I am is a woman who longs to be connected with others. and online is the way to do it these days. I am passionate about learning new things so the Information Age feels like the generation I was meant to belong to. I am fast paced so the instant feedback of the web pushes all the right buttons to power me up each day.

Lastly but not leastly, internet memes, hilarious "ship my pants" youtube videos, heartwarming puppy pics, live streaming of the daily show - can't live without them.  Just sayin'. Also, I am that person who would really like to see an updated post of my friend (even acquaintance) with their cute bangs. #cutebangs #AustraliansSayFringe #socute

However, in the last year or so, I have slowly shifted my activity online to the Inbox rather than the public sphere. It's all because of the Bad Experience. I'm sure you've had the Bad Experience. It was when I decided to post something which although was very important and close to my heart was also very controversial on my public wall. The debates which ensued between my conservative and liberal friends (the word $sshole was brought up) made me feel very Bad indeed. Friends of the facebook variety came out of the woodwork telling me I'm not a good human being, which made me ball up in a corner and weep. Since the Bad Experience, I don't do that anymore. I decided anything that is important and close to my heart is only worthy of sharing with True Friends who won't be mean to me.

I still slip up sometimes.  The other day someone was very wrong on the internet and I was raging. My husband warned me, "Cindy, just ignore them", and as I nodded to his wise advice inside my head I was scripting the quip I was going to post.  And I kid you not, in the very next moment I typed and sent it off into cyberspace.

*Click* Major facebook remorse. *Delete*

Ladies and gentleman, I don't want to repeat the Bad Experience, so next time you want to connect?

Inbox me.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

A Time for Everything

There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens,

a time to be born and a time to die,
a time to eat out and a time to order in,
a time to dress fancy and a time to go casual,
a time to learn and a time to veg,
a time to ROFL and a time to :'(

There's a time to post links, status updates, tweet, pin, and a time to lurk,
a time to write blogs (or stupid poems), and a time to read (like, a real book),
a time to laugh at silly cat memes and a time to sober up by serious famous people quote memes,
a time to #hashtag and a time to @MomandDad,

a time to exercise outdoors and a time to kinect dance,
a time to travel and a time to stay home (but still stay really busy doing crap around the house).

There's a time for self destructive overcommitment and a time for boredom,
a time for fulfilling, meaningful work and a time for a break,
a time for dreaming big dreams and a time for dream-less stasis,
a time to party and a time to mope,

a time for disgruntled frustration and a time for pure contentment,
a time for cynicism and a time for naiveté,
a time for critique and a time for indifference
a time for motivation and a time for reflection.

I love when the Bible says:  y'all, it's all good.

Friday, December 28, 2012

Home Makeover Edition

It is true.  In the past two weeks I have painted the walls of two rooms in my home, replaced the kitchen backsplash, installed a bookshelf, assembled a homemade bulletin board and ordered some wall decals for a finishing touch.  Don't mind me, I'm going through a phase.  I'm addicted to pretty, it's a thing.

Some quick reflections to the creative process.  We've been in our home for three years and it wasn't until recently I noticed the wall and the color it lacked.  It's certainly an indispensable part of our shelter, this wall, holding up the room and shielding our family from the elements.  But I never was aware of its existence much less the hues it reflected to my eyes.  Something inspired me to notice.  A reminder that behind every creative endeavor is a story, whether suddenly or subtly, rousing the creator to notice.

Once I started paying attention to the wall, the bland space became stifling.  Offensive, almost.  The empty canvas pleaded to be filled:  with color, a frame, or a focal point, something which will allow it to be more than an idle utilitarian prop, but to come alive and enter the story of our family.

Then comes the part where I suppose the creative industries throw the big bucks at.  Whether it's PIXAR hiring the best writers to imagine a story to capture the attentions of kids and adults alike, or the Apple design team innovating the most elegant tech gadgets, this is the part of the process when one simply dreams of what could be.  The possibilities are endless.  Anyone who has painted a wall has been overwhelmed by the myriad of color samples from the paint store:  every color in the spectrum further specified into infinite choices of shading.  A realist can never push boundaries, it takes that visionary, uninhibited by practicalities, to truly imagine into our limited finite world - beauty.

I'm painting walls.  Others are preparing a meal, teaching, doing research, writing books, designing buildings, crafting a project.  Could it be we are most like the Creator when we notice, become offended, and dream?  What stories are drawing your attention?

One of my favorite lines from the Disney Princess movie 'Tangled"when Rapunzel finally realizes her dream of seeing the lanterns and worries what will she do if they are every bit as wonderful as she thinks they are.  Flynn's response:  "You get to go find a new dream."

Dreams don't ultimately become reality unless you actually do it.  Finally, I did put on my scrubby paint clothes, recruited some help, and just did it.  It turned out okay.  However, I might be done painting the walls, but I'm not done dreaming.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Faith in Santa, and God.

Some old six-year-old soul broke the news to Lizzy in Kindergarten:  Santa is not real, it's just Mom and Dad.  We are not dogmatic about Santa.  As she has discovered the truth, we didn't force the fantasy.  What we didn't expect was for her younger brother by three years, to come along and convert her back into a believer.  Typically, Hayden absorbs all the wisdom passed down by his sister, but when it came to Santa, his adamant insistence in Santa's realness led to Lizzy's skepticism of her previous stance.  Now, at the ages of 6 and 9, both kids are unsure but hopeful.

This is faith, is it not?  Sometimes we believe, sometimes we don't, and sometimes we change our minds.  

When I was introduced to faith in Christ as a child, I learned as a child, in simple black and white categories.  If you believe in Jesus, you will go to heaven, if you do not, you will go to hell.  If you pray and read the Bible, you will grow in your faith, if you do not, you will be led astray.  If you make good choices in life, you will reap good consequences:  a good tree will bear good fruit.  There's a lot of good, biblical wisdom in these teachings and I will forever be grateful to the loving community who discipled me and sheltered me from making destructive choices in my life.  

I carried this childlike faith with me into a nice Christian college, married a nice Christian man, and then life happened.  Woven throughout our life adventures were instances of pain, betrayal, and heartbreak.  We saw some very bad things happen to very good people.  We reached out in love and received judgment in return.  We were surprised, when tested by cultural stress and lack of support, at our own depravity.  Each incident chipped away at the naivete of my child like faith.  Those black and white categories slowly blurred into a massive grey area, where faith and doubt mingled, one or the other intermittently bobbing to the surface.  

When my friend's 8 year old daughter was diagnosed with leukemia, out of anxiety and unrelenting cynicism, I swore to Jason:  "If she doesn't make it, that's it, I'm done with God."  My sweet husband, quite used to my dramatic proclamations, responds by pointing out children die every single day of disease, hunger, and poverty.  Not helpful.  Trying to reconcile a good and loving God with the crap that happens in our world requires emotional, intellectual, spiritual stamina I'm afraid I lack.  Pat answers in response to suffering physically hurt me.  These days,  if I vaguely pick up phrases like "God has a purpose" in a conversation about abused children, I die a little inside.  

These days I  have more questions than answers.  Ironically I seem to be more at peace with this internal arrangement.  Being okay with "I don't know" turns out to be more comforting to me than having all the right responses.  

Like my children, I am unsure but hopeful.  

This Christmas season is lovely because I'm on pinterest this year and wahhhhh, so fun.  Just kidding.

Christmas is hopeful for me because it is a time to reflect on the scandalous doctrine of Incarnation:  God stepping into the messiness of humanity.  God didn't come bearing pat answers.  God came as a Person, one who laughs, cries, gets angry, works, sleeps, and enters into relationship with people.  I have learned there's nothing in life messier and grey-er and has the most potential for beauty and devastation than relationships.  God chose this.  Immanuel, God with us.

Peter Rollins says, "To believe is human.  To doubt, divine."  Having faith doesn't mean an absence of doubt.  Sometimes it is in those darkest moments when we encounter the divine.

Behold, the light has come.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Give us this day our daily bread

Last week, the kids and I had dinner at our friend's house where she served homemade dinner rolls.  It was delicious and inspired me to make it myself.  The recipe was easy enough except it required kneading for, get this, SIX to EIGHT MINUTES.  People, this is ridiculous.  Is this actually how breads are made in this day and age?  In the 21st century?  I gave it my most valiant effort of two minutes and called it good.  Six to eight minutes is a freakin' eternity when all you're doing is kneading. I mean, that is a VERY uninteresting activity.

But it was wonderful to have the aroma of fresh bread baking wafting through the house pre-meal, and the whole family enjoyed the rolls.  Homemade dinner rolls, I'm in.

On my day off today I decided to tackle another recipe from my good friend the Pioneer Woman.  Jenny's recipe was convenient in that it can be done in an hour.  I thought if I tried a recipe which gave  the bread more time to rise it might turn out even tastier.  Here's the recipe:

(emphasis mine, you can see the appeal of this recipe for me)

I don't actually know PW, but she must be used to feeding her big hungry family because her portions are out of control.  I immediately made the executive decision to half the recipe, knowing my cute tiny family will probably only eat just half of that.

If you are familiar with PW, she posts beautiful pictures detailing each step of the process.  I swear to God, I followed the instructions to the T, but when the time came to roll the dough into three perfect little balls for the muffin tin,

my dough was such a sticky, gooey mess, there was no WAY that dough was going to shape itself into anything remotely similar to a sphere, it took on a personality of its own and just plastered itself relentlessly to every crevice of my hand.  Oh, it was very upsetting.  After many frustrating attempts, I gave up the presentation and figured if I can just somehow transfer the blob into my muffin pan and bake it, we can at least still enjoy ugly looking but hopefully tasty dinner rolls.

Oh wait, did I mention that as I meticulously made sure to measure just half of each ingredient (remember, we're halving the recipe?) I  made one tiny, teensy miscalculation?  Well, not so much a miscalculation as I forgot to half the salt.  So instead of ONE tablespoon, I dumped in the batter TWO.  This turned out to be the deal breaker.  The rolls ended up hideous in presentation but far, far worse tasting.

This is the part in my blog post where I typically derive some deeper meaning out of my mundane daily existence.  In this case, I don't have to exercise any mental gymnastics to dig for reflection.  Bread is used throughout Scripture as a sign of God's provision.  YHWH provided manna for the Israelites. Jesus taught us the Kingdom of God is like yeast working its way through the dough, and ultimately declared himself as the Bread of Life.

And I'm sure there's some spiritual lesson in here about humility (failure in the kitchen) or diligence (knead the dough, for goodness sakes) or neglect (salty rolls, anyone?) which I should absorb.

But more and more I'm learning our faith is not just about our individual piety.  Being spiritual doesn't just affect our attitudes and future destination post mortem.  When Jesus offers us bread, He's not just offering us a way to Heaven but an invitation to be a part of an exciting new world of redemption.  In this newly redeemed world, mistakes are forgiven, grace is offered, and we cry a little but then laugh over failed kitchen experiments.  We gather around the table and serve up three-day-old toast instead of warm fresh rolls.  We pray and chuckle over "give us this day our daily bread", but then we are sobered by remembering the people who still go hungry, without bread, in our world.  And then, we might cry for real.  Big, compassionate tears which moves us to advocate and act.

"And he took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, 'This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me."

I might not have remembered to halve the salt, but I remember this.  I remember Jesus.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Scarecrow: Some People Do Go Both Ways

When you grow up, as I did, in a Taiwanese family but schooled in a Western context, you learn to cope with dissonance.  When your "village" consists of parents and teachers from dramatically different cultures, you are raised to straddle two boats  floating in different directions.  I have blogged in the past about my TCK (Third-Culture-Kid) issues, and by issues I mean I really should pay top dollars to anyone who can help untangle the mess that is my background.  But because I like to keep my cash and avoid the stigma of seeing a shrink, I'm just gonna "process" out loud here and who knows, maybe a nice counselor will happen to read it and sort me out for free.  *qualified professionals only, please.  And no, watching Dr. Phil does NOT count.*

Here's the dealio:  you know how I can speak two languages?  Most people think that's really cool and stuff, but it also makes me really weird.  See, I grew up learning both languages at the same time, so I think my brain formed differently from the get go.  In order to interact in one language, I developed the capacity to hear, respond, and act according to one culture's set of rules and standards.  But then I was presented with an arguably opposite set of expectations delivered in another language and customs, and in order to resonate with both, I think I had to grow another brain.  No, you say, science has not proven multilingual persons to present with multiple brains.  Well, guess what, I'm not a scientist.  I'm a blogger and bloggers can say whatever the heck they want.  

Anyway, back to my alien brain formation, I believe my two brains are constantly trying to coexist within my average sized head, sometimes in tandem with each other, other times elbowing and shoving to make room for themselves.  So when my behavior and choices appear to other people as being "self-contradictory", I argue on the contrary, I am "self-consistent", it's just that my two brains have opposing functions and opinions but they are fully contained within oneself.  

Boy I can make up crap to justify my schizophrenia, split-personality, TCK issues.

How else do you explain why I am never content to belong to one group?  In school, as most of my friends gravitated to the Chinese crowd, or the English-speaking crowd, I had best friends belonging to both groups.  In college when time came to declare a major, I chose two: Business/economics and Bible.  And no, I do not sell Bibles now as a career.  When we were newlyweds, we tried out a "young marrieds" small group at church and I almost suffocated.  Why, would anyone in their right minds, want to hang out with people just like them?  We made a quick exit and joined an eclectic group with a leader who is now openly gay, couples with adult children, divorcees, and young singles.  In politics, I am pro-life but also hardcore environmentalist.  In theology, I believe absolutely in the resurrection of Jesus Christ, but am open to the theories of evolution.  As a woman, I had babies early, cook exclusively for my family, design craft projects around the home.  Yet I also work, dream big dreams about saving the world, and engage in conversations that are male-dominated.  

Heck, I even use Apples AND PCs.  

The truth is, I learned from a very young age how people can be different but have equal value.  I learned that ideas can be opposing but still worth engaging.  I learned how we can speak in foreign languages, eat different foods, believe different gods, and still interact in meaningful ways.  I learned by default to think outside the box because I was raised outside the box.  

I realize my circumstances as a TCK is quite unique.  However, it's not just me, is it?  Aren't we all inclined to resist being labeled as just one brand of human being?  We are inspired by great art and music and nature because we are given a window to something bigger than ourselves.  We feel our way around the walls of whichever box we are in, groping for an opening to step out.  We spend our lives trying on different labels to see which fits, then begin to resent the weight those labels add up.  

There is a certain comfort in belonging to a category.  Common threads bind us and give us strength.  The desire to put down roots grounds us.  But then let us grow a vibrant, diverse tree that branches out far and wide.  The fear of the unknown cannot keep us from living robust lives which shatters boundaries and break down walls.  It may feel like going down the road less traveled is going to be lonely, but that's simply untrue.  There are plenty of people there - people with big hearts, brave souls, generous charity, living dynamic lives.  Somehow, meeting them grows your heart bigger, injects courage into your souls, and prompts more generosity.  

Yes, I've got issues.  And just like the Scarecrow says in the Wizard of Oz, I go both ways, and that life can get conflicting and heavy-laden, but this less traveled road has led me to some beautiful places and people.  

What do you think?  Have I got the crazies, or am I not all that different from you?