A few thoughts on kindness

 

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photo 5Somebody let the cat out of the bag, I think.  Our mailbox has been inundated with birthday greetings and gift
cards and delightful packages, full of
thoughtfulness and love; even homemade donuts and hand-drawn/painted art by my extraordinary nieces.  And letters from my nephews!  That had “Mom is making me do this” written between the lines, but still!  They wrote me and I absolutely loved every bit.  Somebody didn’t get the memo that I requested mature birthday cards this year.  Thanks, brother.

IMG_2839IMG_2743Hj kindly sent me out for a morning alone, to take advantage of some birthday freebies and get myself a good winter coat.  I guess I got over-excited because I promptly wrecked our van and spent the morning with Geico instead.  I thanked God my kids weren’t along, I thanked God no one got hurt, and I thanked God nobody got mad at me, not even the guy in the brand new Honda Pilot.  The lady in the Ford had a Jesus keychain and she kept hugging me and telling me it was ok.  Later when I texted her that it was really nice running into her (thanks, Bob Goff) she sent me lots of heart emojis.  She was so sweet, I just kept thinking of what Amy Carmichael said about a cup of sweet water.  “For a cup brimful of sweet water cannot spill even one drop of bitter water, however suddenly jolted.”  She was suddenly jolted, alright, and she just spilled out the sweetness of Jesus.

IMG_2920Last Saturday I woke up from a deep sleep to find the sun had risen without me.  Ellie and her papa had risen without me too, and made me the cutest little stack of pancakes with a candle on top.  Life has been very sweet lately, with lots of little kindnesses that I think make all the difference.  Also, lots of laughs.  Adam is such a ham!  I have no idea where he gets it but he loves making people laugh.  He says quite a few words, but his favorite is “haaaaaaa” which is a Southern way of saying “Hi!”  Just watching him run around is enough for a good laugh.  When he starts falling, he just speeds up and speeds up, until he sprawls flat on his belly.  It reminds me of Miss Clavel, who ran fast and faster to the scene of the disaster.

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Ellie heard me say I had a headache and she promptly laid her hands on my head and prayed for Jesus to bless my “haircut.”  Her vocabulary exploded recently in both Dutch and English.  She’s proficient at making up words and is very confident about them.  She ordered that gigantic piece of carrot cake all on her own (see photo) and when we went out for breakfast for my birthday at 7am, she brightly asked the waiter for a “piece of pizza, please.”  She begs to go to a boulevard, (“nola-bard”).  I’m curious what she has in mind, but I suspect an ice cream parlor.
IMG_2810My long-lost cousin Josh popped in one evening, bearing flowers and gifts from my family.  That made me scramble for words for a minute but it was a true joy to have him.  We lived about an hour from him in NC, but as soon as we move to Colorado, he’s on our doorstep.  Perks of living in the west where the buffalo roam, I tell myself.  IMG_3062
Ellie and I spent a happy few hours with Meg and Emma, more long-lost friends.  I was buying Meg an old postcard last Saturday morning, since she had posted on Instagram how much she loves postcards.  At that moment, she emailed me and said she would be in town and could she stop by?  I texted her, “Come on over!  All we’ve got on the agenda is getting toilet paper.”  I got the wrong number, but someone graciously replied, “Uhh….. do you need me to bring Charmin?”  I tell you, I run into the kindest people.
Thank you so much to everyone who took time to bless my birthday!  I savored and loved it all, even the part about getting old and wrinkly.

Oliebollen

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(click on the links)

We start our year with Oliebollen, if we can get ahold of some.
Every year, to this day, my mom fries a ton of oliebollen for New Year’s Eve.
She makes the dough a day in advance and she puts it in big tubs, then she wraps them in wet towels and puts the tubs on top of the radiator to rise. On New Year’s Eve morning (old-years day) she goes to the schuur, heats up the frituurpan and starts frying the oliebollen.  Oliebollen come in all kinds of different ways but they are always deep-fried and delicious. That’s why on New Year’s Eve we eat them for breakfast, (when they’re hot) for lunch, (when they’re warm) and for supper (when they’re microwaved). We pretty much eat them until they’re all gone and then you’re so full of them you are good for a whole year.  The first sign of oliebollen isn’t my mom’s frituurpan but it’s the “Olliebollen Kraam”.  They appear months before December and charge at least 1.25 euro for one. Then the media goes crazy with the olliebollen tests to see where you can get the best ones.  Of course the newspapers don’t know that they are to be found on the Wilgenlaan, every year.

Happy Birthday

Dear Isaac,
I’ve been thinking so much about you, reaching deep down for all the memories I have of our friendship.  Sometimes thinking about you feels like trying to catch a shadow, because your absence seems more real than your presence.  Sometimes thinking about you is like a rainy day, because death can feel so gray and the clouds can hang so low and heavy on our hearts, and the rain, of course.  But today, thinking about you is like watching my favorite movie and I am cherishing every memory I have of you, the conversations I can replay in my mind; pause and rewind.
You were a good friend to lots of us, and we all knew a different angle of you.  I know you were funny and so adventurous, passionate and brave.  But I got a glimpse of your quieter, deeper side when we were wrestling doubts and crises of our faith.  We were both desperate for truth.  We ached for something real.  We had the freedom to argue about God.  We swapped books.  We even tried to run from Him, but we couldn’t get away from all those questions and nagging possibilities.  That’s the good thing about us skeptics: we want it so badly to be true, that we can’t just let it go.  We talked and wondered and dreamed about God; could He really be unfailingly good?

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There are all these little scenes tucked away in my memories.

I’m on the phone with you, reading to you from a book that’s just convinced me that Christianity is legitimate, and I’m driving in my green VW.  I’m excited, like “I really think this is it!  I’m pretty sure it’s what we’ve been searching for!”  You’re quiet and polite, always polite.
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It’s late at night, Kate and I are hanging out in the basement.  You burst in the door and your face is so bright.  Your heart is light and your joy is contagious.  “I did it.  I surrendered everything to God.”   I know how awkward those words can feel, stammering off a skeptic’s tongue.  You’re not just saying that.  You promise to give me the book that helped you admit your unbelief and embrace the cry, “Lord, I believe.”
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We’re having lunch at Outback, swapping good news, good stories, good faith.  You ask personal questions, the healthy kind that make me stop and think.  We talk a lot about the Bible, airing our mysteries and misgivings.  You apologize that it’s Valentine’s Day, you didn’t know.  We laugh; it’s all good.  You’re so excited to be an uncle.  You’re so excited to go to Honduras.  We say goodbye, flippant and naive.
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Everything goes black for awhile, deathly silent, as we say.
The next scenes are watery and blurred, I can’t see much.  There are snippets from my journal and letters, as I’m groping through the dark and fog.

These days…..they have been bloody with spiritual warfare.  I say, God!  How am I supposed to fight?  Doesn’t He see that I am wounded?    It’s not just that I’m not in the mood to fight.  I am not able.  I can’t.  I have said to Him, No wonder Isaac doubted you.  Somehow losing Isaac didn’t make me feel like snuggling up in Father’s arms.  His struggles with God seem quite justified. Sometimes I think it gets harder with time, as reality sinks in.  There are no new memories.  It feels like a long separation.  It is not easy to keep on living without him.  I want to stop life on earth now too, since he got to.  It feels like I need his perspective right now.  I need him to help me deal with this, and remind me that God is not at fault.

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My turning point in this grief came when I agreed with God’s perspective.  It was actually Micah who said it.  He said, death is actually just a big step of Life.  It’s the end of Isaac’s body as we knew it, and that in itself is quite a lot to grapple with.  But what is keeping us from Isaac right now?  Certainly not God.  Only our darned bodies.  That’s it.  His spirit is the same.  He is not some completely different person now.  He didn’t start over as some tame, boring person we do not know.  He is still the same spirit; that has not died.  I go as far as to say he is still with us, but his body is gone.  I’m sure he would show us his new body if only we could see him with these fallen eyes.  I’m sorry we can’t, not until we surrender our old bodies too.  I am quite ready to be rid of this body.  It suddenly feels much less like the center of my world and much more like an itchy skin that needs a molt.

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When God saved Isaac, He reached into Himself for the means, for the life that would not die.  He ripped off a part of Himself and put it into Isaac.  That’s a comfort.

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In a beautiful paradox that only God could fashion, your death pushed me over the brink into true Life.  The bitter sting of the grave gave way to tasting the goodness of the Lord, for real.  I don’t understand it at all but I don’t have to anymore.  Over and over I have cried, “Lord, I believe.  Help my unbelief.”
Isaac, I would love to have you over to my house tonight for birthday cake and ice cream, to hear your stories, what’s on your mind and in your heart.  And I would do my best to pry the truth out of you: what is He really, really like now that you’ve seen Him face to face?  Is He as good as we hoped?
Until the glass shatters and we too, see clearly, we miss you!
Love,
Joy

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Happy New Year

Last night we went to our friend’s house for a New Year’s Eve party.  We walked upstairs, one hallway, and their door was open: I think room 309.  We heard the kids from afar off, lifting up their voices in boisterous play.  We all brought snacks, mostly leftover Christmas goodies.
There were four couples, and each of us have two small kids.  We all live in two-room apartments here on the base.  One couple is Egyptian/American, one is Finnish/American, one is Austrian/American and then there’s us, Dutch/American.  We talked about New Year’s Eve traditions in our respective countries, poured over a world map and counted the countries we’ve been to and even learned about some countries we’ve never heard of.  We talked about long flights with toddlers and paying taxes on foreign-earned income.
I had to run home to put Adam to bed at one point, and I suddenly I realized in the next few months, these three couples will all be moving abroad:  One to Indonesia, one to Egypt, and one to Tajikistan.  It’s inspiring to see the passion these young families have to carry the Gospel to uncomfortable, unfamiliar places.  We taste their joy and see their sacrifices.  It’s hard to say goodbye, again.
It took awhile, but we finally got most of the kids put to bed in our own homes and then we played a couple fun rounds of Scattergories.  Ben and I tied at the top last time we played, so we needed to settle the score, kind of.  This time, he won like crazy because he is into agriculture and he just knows too many offbeat words.
We were keeping an eye on our kids via Facetime, and Adam woke up around 11:30 for a little snugglefest/feeding, like usual.  So we quickly said goodbye and ran home to room 126.  I had to tuck my yogurt in, to keep it warm overnight.  We talked about trying to watch the fireworks on Pike’s Peak but we couldn’t see anything and anyway, it was way too cold for humans to be outside.  I think fireworks are illegal in Colorado Springs because it sure was quiet, and we never found out when the clock struck 12.
We did, however, find out when it struck 1:30 because Adam was crying and Ellie was beside our bed saying, “Mommy, let’s eat and pee.”  When everybody didn’t immediately stop what they were doing (sleeping) and cater to her, she grew very disappointed and also started wailing.  I whisked her off to the kitchen, and she launched into a big old story about her birthday, complete with motions and singing.  I peeled an orange and tried vainly to convince myself to enjoy this moment, that it will be a fond memory as soon as I get a little more sleep.
This morning we tried to find a park Hj read about, because we needed to get out of the house and let our babies and brains out to pasture, so to speak.  This park had a cool bridge, and we could hike.  Blessed Siri took us to “Dirty Woman Park” which is a tiny playground park, oddly.  We passed on the park, but got a dirty chai to share, to continue the theme while we tried to convince Siri about going to a different park.  She never did find it for us, but we stumbled upon a frozen lake where lots of people were ice fishing.  That was pretty beautiful, with all the snow and the mountains in the background.
We have about a hundred dreams and visions for this new year, but they can all be summed up in this one statement: that I may know Him.

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