September: A Month in the Life

I’m not quite sure where September went, actually, but apparently it will be October in a couple of days! In spite of missing all of September though, nothing much has happened, other than:

  1. I was a bit overconfident and am now teaching TWO online English classes to high schoolers in America. This means I have around forty students now. This also means I have to grade around forty assignments every week, while simultaneously trying to talk to the toddler. DSC_1100.jpgI used to think I could multitask, but now I’m not so sure! Of course, some things do get in the way of staring at the computer screen trying to think of some constructive comments that don’t sound EXACTLY like all the other comments I’ve written that day, like….
  2. taking JQ out to the playground every morning so we can get some moving time in (it’s so easy when you’re in the house to sit all.the.time even if you’re an active little two-year-old, and especially easy to just stare at screens while sitting). So we try to go outside most days except when it’s pouring rain, because I just don’t want to deal with the little drowned rat that would result from playing outside in a downpour.
  3. Speaking of rain, when we DO go outside in the rain, JQ is very insistent about taking along the umbrella (which he can’t say but thinks he can, so it comes out something like “brella,” but not exactly that intelligible.)  But he’s very proud of himself for being able to carry it while we walk.
  4. Usually Singaporeans are polite and nice to us (if a bit insistent on staying out of puddles and always wearing shoes), so yesterday at the playground when I noticed a random guy (he looked to be around 30) hanging out by the playground I didn’t think much of it. He was staring at his phone so I figured he was maybe checking his email or whatever–until he came up and starting asking random questions. They started off innocently enough: “How old is he?” “Where are you from?” but when he went from asking questions about JQ’s naptime and whether he eats food to asking how often he breastfeeds during the day, my weirdo alert went off. It didn’t help that he was following me around and kinda getting in my personal space. Anyways, JQ and I made a less-than-graceful exit of the screaming-toddler-who-doesn’t-want-to-leave variety, and now I definitely scan the playground for creepy weirdos before even venturing out of the house!
  5.  Bubbles! JQ has just discovered the magic that is bubbles. He runs around with his little bubble wand shouting “Bubble, bubble! Mama, bubble!” DSC_0925.jpgDSC_0909.jpgBubbles are also an automatic attraction for all the other kids at the playground. I guess the moral of the story is, everyone loves bubbles. Even as I’m writing this, he’s sitting here looking at his pictures, saying “Bubbles!”
  6. Some days (most days), living life with a toddler feels like living on top of a mountain of unfinished projects. I start grading papers, then two minutes later have to get JQ a drink. Sit back down, and he wants me to read him a story. At the end of an hour, I’ll have spent lots of time with JQ, but not much time with my grading!
  7. To counteract this never-ending-job-list effect, I’ve been trying to at least wash the dishes every day and keep the house picked up so SOMETHING is getting done. I’m proud of myself too! And we’re even managing to get laundry done fairly regularly (a MUST because it gets so stinky so fast in this humidity that soon we have nothing to wear). And with that I’ll leave you with an ugly picture of me doing laundry next to a sink full of dishes. Because everyone cares about my housework.

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Will There Be Stories in Heaven?

Humans love stories. And all the best stories have something in common: a conflict that’s central to the story, ending with a resolution. Whether it’s the common trope of a secret agent saving the world from the machinations of a criminal mastermind, or a person coming to terms with who they are, or a detective finding out who committed a crime, all of the best stories involve some kind of conflict that is resolved. Story is even central to Christianity—a story of sin, loss, and death culminating in the final solution: redemption and heaven.  Stories like this resonate with us, make us long for our own resolution and redemption, remind us that not all of life is in the conflict.

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And in a way, it seems that’s what life on earth is all about. Falling, fighting, failing, learning, and going on again as each new challenge is passed and redeemed. Life is not a static progression of good things continuing to happen to good people. Whether it’s a tough job, a bad marriage, a broken family, or all the other things that happen in life, we each have our own struggles.  And life is marked by these struggles. We feel stronger when we’ve resolved an issue, fought through the bad times, kept going.

Of course, things don’t always turn out well in our stories. Sometimes we keep fighting, only to see no change. Sometimes people give up and commit suicide. Sometimes our problems are irreversible, like infertility or health problems or the pain of a severed relationship. But always, always, there’s a conflict. There’s never been a person yet who’s lived a conflict-free life.

But it makes me wonder—will our stories matter in heaven? In heaven, we’re told that all our tears will be wiped away. There will be no more sorrow, no more pain. There will be only joy. Our stories will be neatly divided into a dichotomy—on one side, heaven, is the resolution and the peace and the joy, and on the other side, hell, is the conflict and the pain and the brokenness.

Will a story made up only of the good things mean anything? From my limited perspective, humanity longs to hear stories about terrible, horrible, no good, very bad days, not wonderful, amazing, fantastic, perfect days. There’s a reason fairy tales end with living happily ever after—no one wants to read about what happens when the dragons are killed and the prince and princess are married. It’s enough to know they’re happy.

In the story of Christianity, heaven is the resolution, the happily ever after. This life is short, fleeting, ephemeral. Yes, there’s conflict and pain and sorrow, but that’s not the final answer. The sun shines after the rain; joy comes in the morning. But once we have our final answer—will we remember the conflict leading up to the joy? Will our pain and struggle count for something? Will there be stories in heaven?

Growing Up Is Hard to Do: Becoming an Independent Adult

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Our neighbors here have the most amazing roses. They’re so beautiful.

When you’re young, you think once you hit the magical age of, say, 18 or 21, you automatically become an adult, with adult ideas, responsibilities, and respect.

Unfortunately, it’s not that easy. There’s no magical age at which you cease to feel like a child and begin to feel all grown up. I sort of suspect that even when I’m in my thirties and forties I’ll still feel some of the same insecurities and childishness I did when I was twelve.

When I was four, I was adept at spotting self-centered adults. Generally, they were the ones who didn’t have any children of their own yet, or the ones who were high on their own importance. They were the ones who told me I couldn’t have a tiny cup of coffee even though I knew my parents let me, or who wouldn’t let us climb four feet in the air on our playhouse because DANGER, or who yelled at us for being kids and talking somewhat loudly in a hallway. They didn’t care to get to know me, to learn that I was, in fact, the world’s most cautious child (and also generally obedient) and would never do anything that was in the least frightening. Getting me to climb four feet in the air was a real feat. Now that I’ve grown up, I think I can manage five–on a good day.

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Of course children need adults in their world, people to give them boundaries and security and love. But with an overbearing culture of adultishness, where adults are always right and children are always wrong, how do we expect these same children to grow up and have opinions and ideas of their own? As a four-year-old, I felt miffed because no one thought that I had ideas or was a person. As a twenty-something today, have I gained the right to personhood yet?

So here are some suggestions for those twenty-somethings (or teenage-somethings) who are hoping to gain their independence, but don’t know how to balance that fine line between respecting authority and making up their own mind.

1. Start making your own decisions about small things. The small things are a great place to start for people who aren’t confident in their decision-making abilities. Decide what books or clothes you’ll buy or when to do your homework and when to hang out with friends. Don’t always rely on your parents or friends to tell you what to do.

2.Don’t always ask advice from people who you know will tell you the same thing. Seek out different viewpoints and ideas, because how can you really grow if you’re hiding behind other people’s opinions? And once you have the advice, it’s up to you to make the decision.

3. Learn to say no to people. This has been a hard one for me, especially, as I don’t like disappointing people. But sometimes you just can’t take on that 32nd violin lesson, even if you DO have an open hour right at that time. So say no if you have to, even if it might make someone sad or upset.

4. Learn to take responsibility for your own decisions. It’s your decision, not your parents’ or your pastor’s or your friends. And if it goes wrong, saying “The parents you gave to me!” in a whiny voice to God doesn’t make you any less culpable for a bad decision, and it’s not any cuter than when Adam first blamed Eve. Of course you should still honor your parents—and respect their ideas. But that doesn’t mean they’re perfect, and it definitely doesn’t mean that they’re still in control of your life once you’re an adult.

5. So, you should transition from asking permission to seeking advice. Parents should become friends instead of authorities, wise people in your life who you seek to learn from instead of people you fear who seek to run your life.

6. Don’t be afraid to make different decisions than other people around you would make, or even than you would have made a few years ago.  Ending up in China was never my original plan–when I got married, nothing was farther from my mind (or from Jared’s mind)–but it’s been a good decision. We’ve met new people, found a whole new culture, and started learning a language. So don’t let fear of the unknown or of public opinion stop you from making a decision.

7. After all, good or bad, decisions have to be made. And what most of us forget (at least I do!) is that doing nothing is also making a decision. Inactivity can be worse than boldly stepping out and taking charge. And who knows–it might just lead you to your same hometown doing what you’ve always dreamed, or it might just lead you to China!

And since there are conveniently seven points,  I’m linking up at This Ain’t the Lyceum for Seven Quick Takes this week!

Whither Sex?

Some days you just feel so. . .assaulted by messages from everywhere. Everyone’s obsessed with sex—who’s having it, who’s not having it, who’s complaining about people having it, who’s trying to “stop two loving people” from having it. Can we just say “Enough?!”

All this obsessing about it makes me think that perhaps you’re actually not happy in all your many sexual relationships because you feel the need to shout to the whole world that you’re happy with what you’re doing and it’s really wonderful and OMG everyone should be doing it. You’re not fooling anyone.

Yes, sex is vitally important. It’s so important, in fact, that the survival of the human race depends on it. And that’s a fact that tends to be forgotten in all the hullaballoo. Sex isn’t only something created to fulfill our personal needs. It does do that, and it’s wonderful, but it’s far more than that. And for this very reason, it should not be taken lightly.

Perhaps it’s your body and you’re consenting—but if you happened to create a new life, would you desire to destroy it with your next breath? Then you’re not ready to have sex.

Perhaps you’re overcome with longing for a person and want to express your commitment to them. But you’re not ready to really make that commitment, to say, “I give you my body, my soul, my whole life—I am wholly yours.” If that’s the case, then you’re not ready to have sex.

Sex isn’t just about love, or about consent, or about any of the other things we’re told it’s about (growing up, becoming a man/woman, expressing yourself…you name it, we’ve all seen it). It’s beautiful, and heartbreaking, and vulnerable. And, at its core, it’s about creating life.

That’s why sex belongs only in marriage between a man and a woman. When a man and a woman have sex, they truly become one. They’re not just making love: they’re creating love. And if they happen to be fertile at that time, their love may truly take on the tangible form of a new human life.

That’s why marriage matters. Marriage matters because life matters. If marriage, or sex, is only about two people who love each other blah blah blah, then they’re both meaningless. Go ahead, enjoy your vain life with the girlfriend or boyfriend or wife or husband whom you love all your pointless days on earth. Lots of people love each other all the time and don’t solemnify it. But marriage is different. Where else can you incarnate love?

Not only in having sex, not only in being open to having and raising children, not only in living together through everything—but in combining all those things. Marriage isn’t about any of them separately. It’s when they combine that they make a marriage. In marriage, two people are united, and marriage itself is an expression of their unity, a strong and true commitment.

Sex isn’t just another way to say “I love you.” Nor is it simply a way to provide yourself with a physical good, like, say, eating is. It’s a giving of yourself, a profound, meaningful, and quite ridiculous way to truly become one with another. And for that reason, it can only be completely experienced where it was designed to be experienced–within the confines of marriage.